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Opinion

The Weekly Independent Comics Page for Sept. 21, 2017!

The Weekly Independent Comics Page for Sept. 21, 2017!

Thursday, September 21, 2017  |  Staff

On this week's action-packed weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles has an issue with the Emmys; This Modern World looks into a parallel Trump universe; Jen Sorenson examines white poverty; Apoca Clips shows Trumpy receiving visits from Harvey, Irma, Maria and others; and Red Meat goes throu...

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Know Your Neighbors: Meet Shirley Spork, a Palm Desert Woman Who Paved the Way for Generations of Female Golfers

Know Your Neighbors: Meet Shirley Spork, a Palm Desert Woman Who Paved the Way for Generations of Female Golfers

Wednesday, September 20, 2017  |  Anita Rufus

The Coachella Valley is a place where retired celebrities, in some ways, are taken for granted. Among us are retired movie and television stars, business tycoons, writers, NASA scientists and sports professionals—including Shirley Spork, one of the 13 original founding members of the Ladies Professi...

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Ask a Mexican: What Can I Do to Help My Adopted Mexican Son Appreciate His Heritage?

Ask a Mexican: What Can I Do to Help My Adopted Mexican Son Appreciate His Heritage?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017  |  Gustavo Arellano

Dear Mexican: I’m an Arizonan of the anti-SB 1070 ilk who has just adopted an Arizonan 5-year old boy who is obviously (visually anyway) of Mexican descent. I want to do right by my son where his heritage is concerned; I have my own ideas about what that means, but I value your opinion.

I’m enrolling...

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The Weekly Independent Comics Page for Sept. 14, 2017!

The Weekly Independent Comics Page for Sept. 14, 2017!

Thursday, September 14, 2017  |  Staff

On this week's Category 5 weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson ponders the immigration fixation; The K Chronicles celebrates yet more of life's little victories; This Modern World puts on MAGA-vision specs; Red Meat calls Milkman Dan to the office; and Apoca Clips eavesdrops on a chat between ...

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Ask a Mexican: Does My Well-Off Chicana Friend Have a Victim Mentality?

Ask a Mexican: Does My Well-Off Chicana Friend Have a Victim Mentality?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017  |  Gustavo Arellano

Dear Mexican: I have a Chicana friend who comes from an upper-middle-class family, goes to a prestigious Ph.D. program, and has never had to take out student loans or work a real job—but she is constantly complaining about how “oppressed” she is.

Examples she gives are seemingly trivial things, such ...

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Community Voices: Words Matter When It Comes to Describing Our Warming World

Community Voices: Words Matter When It Comes to Describing Our Warming World

Thursday, September 07, 2017  |  Alex Lee, High Country News

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of the Forest Service as well as several agricultural and food-related research agencies, recently told its staffers to avoid using the term “climate change.” The business-as-usual term “weather extremes” was recommended instead.

While dropping t...

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of the Forest Service as well as several agricultural and food-related research agencies, recently told its staffers to avoid using the term “climate change.” The business-as-usual term “weather extremes” was recommended instead.

While dropping the word “climate” may seem like a defeat for those of us who remain convinced that human influences are harming the global environment, this federal directive made in the spirit of changing the narrative might be good advice. Could it be that the term itself has failed us?

Suppose, for a moment, you are in a restaurant, and someone yells, “Help, she’s having a heart attack!” Being a good person, you would no doubt spring into action, call 9-1-1, look for aspirin or a defibrillator, and so on.

Suppose that same person had instead yelled, “Help, she’s having a myocardial infarction!” You would probably react the same way … but wouldn’t you perhaps pause for just a second? Unless you’re a medical professional, wouldn’t you first have to engage in some type of internal translation? I would. The ailing woman might get better care at a hospital with such detailed wording, but the immediate danger she faces in the restaurant hides behind the wrong language.

Here’s the problem: Although most Americans today say that climate change is a real and serious issue, most probably don’t understand what the term “climate” means. The difference between climate and weather, the moving target of climate averages, and the intangibility of climate experience all make “climate” a problematic word to rally around. I know the Northwest has a rainy climate, and because I experience getting wet frequently, I know in my bones that this is true. The same goes for Palm Springs: You have a warm climate. But, alas, the word “climate” can become jargon.

Yes, the climate is changing, but it is an acute global environmental crisis—global warming—that is touching the realities of daily life for millions of people around the world.

Houston just turned into a gigantic lake. Hurricane Irma, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, is on the march across the Caribbean, one of three hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico as of this writing. Furnace Creek, Calif., the hottest place on Earth, posted its hottest July on record. Unprecedented peat fires burn in Greenland. Extreme weather events across the globe abound, and they are tied not just to generalized climate change, but directly to heat. The term “global warming” comes with baggage stuffed full of 30 years of politics, but for now it is the best we have.

Both global warming and climate change been used to describe what’s happening to the planet since the 1970s. Conventionally, global warming refers specifically to the rise of average global temperatures, and climate change refers more broadly, to shifts in prevailing environmental conditions, including the odd spot that is getting colder.

As the 1990s and 2000s saw popular culture build concern for global warming, the issue got entangled in bitter politics. Because “global warming” was accused of sounding alarmist, some researchers hoped that the term “climate change” would sound more scientific.

But climate change has been the wrong phrase for the job, because it is too scientific. It has failed to provoke urgency and been easy to pooh-pooh. (It’s probably not a coincidence that a Republican political strategist recommended using the term “climate change,” because he said “it is less frightening than ‘global warming.’”)

“Change” is a neutral term that does not convey that humanity is the culprit behind what’s happening. After all, it is entirely correct that the climate is always changing—a frequent retort from climate-change deniers. Furthermore, many shifts caused by global warming are not climatic—think sea-level rise, ocean acidification and melting glaciers. This further confuses the terminology.

Al Gore has recently taken to talking instead about the “climate crisis.” While I find this a laudable step, there is still a challenge with the word climate—we just can’t touch the climate. “Global weirding” and “global environmental change” both offer alternatives, but both have failed to catch on.

If I look south outside my window, I can see a small patch of dirty blue ice on a mountain in Denali National Park. Just eight years ago, when I first came here, this patch was significantly larger and snow-white all summer long. Now there is a tan bathtub ring around what used to be a glacier. This change is personal, precise and experiential.

Words matter. Words invoke, connote and direct attention as we move through the world. Discouraging use of the term “climate change” might just turn out to be a good thing. As long as we continue to talk about the subject: Let’s stick with global warming.

Alex Lee is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He is an assistant professor of philosophy at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage.

The recently concluded BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells has grown into one of the biggest events here in the valley; people flock from all over the planet to watch the greatest tennis players in the world ply their trade.

Along with the players and fans, members of the media also come from various places around the world—and one tournament volunteer has the job of making sure they all get what they need.

Judy Strobl of Oceanside is in charge of the press room of the BNP Paribas Open. She has been a volunteer for the tournament for 13 years. It’s no secret that any large event here in the valley is dependent on volunteers—and the BNP Paribas Open is no exception.

“We have over 1,500 volunteers who handle everything from the media, to ushering duties,” Strobl said. “It’s impossible to understate the impact these volunteers have. Without them, there is no tournament.”

Strobl is very diplomatic when asked what it’s like to deal with members of the media. When asked if they can be difficult, she replied: “They want what they want, when they want. I try to take into consideration that many of them are jet-lagged and are used to working on deadlines. We work very hard with the PR staff to try to be as accommodating as possible.”

Of course, there’s always a chance that problems will come up—such as what happened last year when a French TV crew arrived.

“They airline had misplaced their luggage,” Strobl said. “They literally only had the clothes on their backs. We set up appointments with local thrift stores so they could be properly attired. It was a mad scramble, but eventually, they were able get clothes and get it done. I don’t know how, but we got it done.”

As the tournament grows, so, too, does the workload in the media room. “We have already over 400 media members here,” Strobl said. “It will require more and more finesse, but we are ready.”

As part of the multi-million-dollar improvements made to Stadium 1, the press room just received major improvements. Everything is now state of the art, with TV screens and digital hookups throughout the press area.

“Even though the modes and methods of communication and media are changing, the media always needs to see a friendly face—and that one hopefully will continue to be mine,” Strobl said.

Steve Kelly can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow him on Twitter @skellynj.

One of the keys to the success of the big sporting events here in the Coachella Valley is the ability to attract top-notch volunteers. It is a not-so-secret fact that without volunteers, these tournaments would grind to a halt. After all, volunteers are the people work in the trenches and help with everything from parking to general information.

Meet Ellen Roy. She’s an Indian Wells resident who will begin her 20th year of volunteering this week at the local PGA Tour event, now known as the CareerBuilder Challenge, taking place Jan. 19-22. One of Ellen’s jobs is to keep a walking scoreboard, which allows fans to see the tournament leaderboard. The grandmother of four says she does it to help the community—and to meet new people, too.

“I consider many of the volunteers my friends,” she says. “We share the same interest in golf, and I have known some of these people for many years. If you are new to the valley and sitting around feeling lonely, this is a great way to get out of the house and meet some new people.”

Ellen is also competing in PGA Tour Volunteer Challenge. The winner can get up to $10,000 for the charity of their choosing. Roy—along with three other volunteers—is supporting the Boys and Girls Club of Coachella Valley.

“I have been very fortunate in my life, and I want to pay it forward,” she said. “Two of my grandchildren lost their father when they were young, and they spent a lot of time at the Boys and Girls Club, so I know firsthand how valuable the clubs are. They do marvelous work locally, especially in the East Valley.”

People can vote for Ellen’s team—or for the CareerBuilder Challenge volunteers as a whole—at PGATour.com/volunteer.

Steve Kelly can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow him on Twitter @skellynj.

Wednesday, 02 November 2016 07:30

Ask a Mexican: Special Election Day Edición!

Written by

Dear Mexican: Why is it that even though we Latinos have similar backgrounds (Indian-Spanish) across America, there is a lack of unity among us here in the USA? We could be a powerhouse during election times, and definitely obtain a friendlier immigration deal.

El Peruano

Dear Cholo: I usually only answer preguntas about Mexicans, but I’ll make an exception here because of Election Day. And it hierve down to this: Who wants to be united? Latinos certainly don’t. In the Latino world, only Cuba is a country with the same political thought throughout—and look how good it’s working out for them.

Although the Mexican’s politics are Marxist of the Grouch variety, I’m also of the escuela that we need Latino conservatives, anarchists, vendidos, progressives, libertarians, Zapatistas, sinarquistas (ok, maybe not them)—all political thoughts. Such diversity keeps us in balance, teaches us about democracy, and will make us stronger as gabachos continue to align themselves into puritanical camps of caca. Let us squabble away—oh, and #fucktrump.

Dear Mexican: In America, the candidates for president spend millions of dollars in other peoples’ money for a job that could never pay that money back. Is it the same for Mexican candidates, or does it even matter, since those fucking Mexicans can never get the elections right anyway?

Conservative, but #fucktrump

Dear Gabacho: For most of the 20th century, Mexican presidents came from the PRI, and their method of picking a new leader was simple: el dedazo. The finger—not flipping the pájaro, but a symbolic pointing of the finger toward someone.

Yeah, that’s totally corrupt—but at least we don’t spend billions of dollars like fucking gabachos who can never get their elections right anyway, you know? Oh, and #fucktrump.

GET OUT EL VOTO!

Gentle cabrones, the Mexican doesn’t endorse candidates not named Alfred E. Neuman (source of the greatest quote EVER: “English is a language in which double negatives are a no-no!”), but I can tell you who NOT to vote for: Donald Trump, and anyone supporting the pendejo.

He represents the greatest threat to raza since NAFTA, an agreement he claims to hate, but he only says that to gain gabachos’ votes to toss Mexicans across the Rio Grande with a deportation cannon. Hillary Clinton is nowhere near the perfect candidate, and the Mexican won’t be voting for her because she’s the beneficiary of the Democratic Party’s own dedazo system—but even a candidate as terrible as her is un chingo better than Trump. If you vote for her, no hate on my part—just tell her to hold her tacos right.

More importantly, vote in your local elections, and RESEARCH. Don’t just vote for the people with the paisa name—sometimes, our own people are worse to Mexicans than any Trumpbot. And if you can’t vote because you’re undocumented? Volunteer for those politicos who are striving for amnesty and who oppose walls.

May you celebrate Election Day with one giant fiesta instead of tragos amargos. Oh, and #fucktrump.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

For most of us, birthdays are happy occasions, when friends and family pay fond attention, lavishing us with gifts to prove that we are loved and valued. For one day, our foibles are accepted with a smile—or at least diplomatically ignored.

The National Park Service’s 100th birthday this August has been less joyful. In fact, anyone paying attention to the news might think that the proud agency, which oversees 412 units across more than 80 million acres, has had its centennial celebration ruined by a series of uncomfortable revelations.

In January, the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General released a report detailing two decades of sexual harassment by boatmen in the Grand Canyon’s river district and the failure of senior officials to adequately respond. In March, the agency abolished the river district and announced that it would increase sexual-harassment training and conduct an agency-wide survey to ascertain how widespread the problem is.

Then, in February, Chief Jon Jarvis was reprimanded by his bosses at Interior for publishing a book on the parks through a private company without federal approval.

Meanwhile, the Park Service remains hobbled by byzantine bureaucratic policies that have contributed to its struggle to hire a workforce that reflects the nation’s racial diversity, despite decades of “we’re-on-it” rhetoric. Today, 83 percent of its 23,000 employees are white—no more racially diverse than it was a decade ago.

The agency also lacks an adequate funding base, not only to maintain current operations, but to address the crumbling, neglected infrastructure at parks around the country. Annual appropriations from Congress, which make up about 88 percent of the Park Service’s roughly $3 billion budget, declined 8 percent between 2005 and 2014 after adjusting for inflation, according to a December report from the Government Accountability Office. The funding crisis is so bad that the agency is considering corporate sponsorships, a move that has some worried that “America’s Best Idea” will end up auctioned off to the highest bidder: Arches National Park brought to you by McDonald’s.

It's enough bad news that some park officials probably wish that they’d planned a low-key event at some remote park in, say, South Dakota, rather than the yearlong media-saturated, Subaru-sponsored celebration that is keeping the agency in the public eye.

But I’m glad the Park Service went big on its centennial—and I’m even glad that its dirty laundry is getting an airing. After all, birthdays are more than just celebrations; they’re also a time for reflection and redirection. The fact that we are having such deep, passionate discussions about our national parks and their problems is proof that they are loved and that they matter.

Besides, there are some bright spots: The agency continues to lead the way in helping us understand how climate change effects ecological systems; over the past five years, its new climate response program has studied climate change impacts on national parks from Acadia in Maine to American Samoa in the Pacific. Director Jarvis has also convened a panel of independent scientists, who, in a report called Revisiting Leopold, urge the agency to stop trying to preserve each park as a “vignette of primitive America” and “act immediately, boldly and decisively” to prepare for volatile conditions, including severe wet seasons and deep droughts. That is forward-thinking all land agencies need to embrace.

The Park Service has expanded its vision beyond protecting gorgeous landscapes to embracing parks and monuments, some brand new, that spotlight America’s unique cultural heritage in all its remarkable, complex and occasionally ugly glory—places like Cesar Chavez National Monument in California’s Central Valley and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park in Maryland.

The centennial may not go down as the Park Service’s happiest birthday celebration ever, but hopefully it will be the most memorable and transformative one. We can all raise a glass to that.

Paul Larmer is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News, where this piece first appeared.

Soldiers Organized Services, known to locals as SOS, has provided free airport transportation for more than 100,000 of America’s heroes since 2007—saving active-duty military personnel, as well as their loved ones, in excess of $15 million.

The mission is funded through the generous donations of corporations, philanthropic organizations and patriotic individuals from all over the Coachella Valley.

Explosive growth has created new challenges for this Palm Desert nonprofit—and its new Veterans Communications Center is playing a key role in the expansion.

SOS plans to offer free transportation for area veterans to the Veterans Affairs Hospital at Loma Linda, and help with that mission came from Desert Adventures, operators of the popular Red Jeep Tours, which was about to retire a 1994 Dodge Ram minivan. It had some good years left, so with the help of local businesses and donors, it has been restored and donated to SOS.

“The van needed repair, and I was trying to decide whether to fix it or junk it when I saw a news report about SOS,” says Bob Schneider, of Desert Adventures. “I have always liked what that organization did for our Marines from the Twentynine Palms Marine Base. So I approached my mechanic and several local organizations to come on board for the donation.”

Schneider approached Erica Stone, founding director of SOS, about the donation, and she was thrilled with the idea. “It needed about $4,000 in repairs to make it reliable enough for freeway travel, so with the help of the Palm Springs Hospitality Association, The Rotary Club of Palm Springs, and Palms to Pines Automotive, the van is now in tip-top shape.

“Bob was tireless in seeking out collaboration for this project, and thanks to his efforts, and the time, money and expertise from the other benefactors, we can now safely transport our valley veterans to important appointments.”

All of SOS’ services—including free transportation, the Resale Boutique, and the Veterans Communications Center—are offered by local volunteers. These men and women, some retired and some still working, offer their time and talents to make life easier for our brave men and women of the United States Marine Corps, and now all valley veterans, through the efforts of the new Veterans Communications Center, and the Resale Boutique.

The SOS Resale Boutique, 77851 Las Montanas Road in Palm Desert, not only offers a wide range of gently used clothing; it also offers an abundance of household items, including appliances and furniture. All proceeds from the sale of these items go to support the mission of SOS to provide active-duty military personnel transportation to and from the Palm Springs and Ontario international airports. Now, with so many elderly veterans living longer, and needing more assistance, the boutique has found a new mission. Just recently, with recommendations from the Veterans Communication Center staff, SOS was able to furnish an entire apartment for a veteran in need—from bedroom furniture to living room furniture, with everything in between. Needless to say, that proud veteran was shown how much his fellow countrymen and women value his service.

The Veterans Communication Center is expanding its offerings. In addition to free transportation to the VA Hospital, the center will continue to be a clearinghouse of information regarding benefits—federal, state and local, for all honorably discharged service men and women. Adult-education classes will also be held at the center, on topics such as remedial banking, computer literacy training and household budgeting. Erica Stone talked about an elderly veteran, widowed after more than 50 years of marriage, who was unable to write a simple bank check, let alone balance a checkbook. His beloved wife handled all of their monetary affairs. With the help of volunteers at the center, that man can now write his own checks and be sure his bills are paid on time.

These are just a few examples of the community outreach SOS provides to a segment of the population that is too often overlooked: Men and women who have served their country with honor and bravery, perhaps decades ago, are somehow forgotten.

“They’re easy to spot,” Stone says. “Go to any parade, and watch to see who stands up and salutes the flag, sometimes out of a wheelchair, while the youngsters simply ignore it. They have paid their dues, and did their duty, and never forgot why. For that reason alone, we owe them our deepest gratitude.

As with most charitable organizations, SOS and its subsidiaries are in constant need of volunteers to help fulfill its many missions. Not only does SOS need a steady army of daily drivers; the organization is also looking for people to do office work, serve as sales and stocking clerks for the boutique, reach out to the community, assist with public relations and teach the adult-education classes.

For volunteer information, or to donate, visit www.sosride.org, or call 760-200-2345.

John DiViggiano is a volunteer driver and offers public-relations support for SOS.

The more things change, the more those changes echo on into the future. Today, we need to listen more carefully than ever to a voice from the mid-20th century—that of writer and Western historian Bernard DeVoto.

At the recent Republican National Convention, the party faithful approved a platform that directs Congress to give “certain” public lands to the states. It’s an old strategy, trotted out like a broken-down show horse at a county fair.

In the mid-1940s, Western policymakers, mainly Republicans, sought to eliminate the federal Bureau of Land Management, remove grazing areas from Forest Service control, and put public land on the path to state control and private ownership. One privatization bill passed the House in 1946, and even enjoyed the support of Interior Secretary Julius Krug, a Democrat.

Sounding the alarm against these terrible proposals came DeVoto’s prescient voice from his “The Easy Chair” column in Harper’s magazine. His warnings are still relevant seven decades later.

The noted writer knew something of the West; he was born and raised in Ogden, Utah, and later wrote prize-winning regional histories. To DeVoto, the land-divestment scheme amounted to a full-frontal assault on the country’s entire conservation program. He was right: The naked power grab he warned us about continues today, with stockgrowers now joined by powerful oil and gas interests. They bristle at any restraints on their self-interests and argue that what they call “local control” is always the answer.

But DeVoto identified a deeper problem that had—and still has—the potential to eat away at democracy itself. In the summer of 1947, the House Subcommittee on Public Lands began holding hearings in picturesque Western towns. Its short-term objective was to stop the Forest Service from reducing the number of grazing permits on public lands, even though overgrazing had seriously compromised many of those rangelands.

The legislative hearings were stacked with sympathetic audiences who had been primed by stock-grower trade journals to believe the worst of any federal agency, and to disbelieve “long-haired scientists” who showed that overgrazing was a problem in the West. A slew of so-called experts, ranchers and their politicians made the case again and again for giving free reign to the stock industry. Conservationists and witnesses who agreed with the Forest Service were allotted 10 percent of the time for testimony.

Unfounded rumors that the agency planned to disallow all grazing were permitted without rebuttal. Entered into the record without clarifications or corrections, these fabrications circulated like crumpled dollar bills. Inflammatory rhetoric and showmanship overcame evidence, much as it does in our time. In trying to expose the plot and set the record straight, DeVoto demonstrated that public hearings—just like party conventions—work as political theater.

Back then, as now, national monuments were in the news. In the mid-1940s, Rep. Frank Barrett, a Wyoming Republican who chaired the traveling public-lands subcommittee, hoped to abolish the Jackson Hole National Monument, which is now mostly protected in Grand Teton National Park. Today, Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, hopes to prevent the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument by establishing two national conservation areas instead, a designation that offers less protection from development.

Bishop and his supporters like to tout their Utah Public Lands Initiative, which includes an alternative that they call the Bear Ears National Conservation Area. The bill’s proponents like the collaborative process it enacts, yet the initiative in its flexible management plans clearly favors grazing and energy producers. The Nature Conservancy, long a partner in the process, recently announced that it cannot back this bill. In addition, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, representing dozens of tribes, has declared that it wants the area protected by a national monument. Meanwhile, Bishop has proposed a “Partner Act” that would end the president’s power to use the 110-year-old Antiquities Act to create a national monument for the Bears Ears area.

DeVoto saw this coming. There is a clear line from those hearings in 1947 to the ones we’re seeing now, in 2016. The ultimate goal then was not just to stop grazing reductions or stymie national monuments; it was to discredit the federal government and its rightful concern for conservation. “The future of the West hinges on whether it can defend itself against itself,” DeVoto said.

During this presidential campaign, we can expect the Republican candidate and his followers to cite the party platform and offer yet more half-truths about public-lands management. As DeVoto showed 69 years ago, lies told often enough erode public discourse and weaken governance. “Against such psychology as this,” DeVoto implored, “only the force of the ballot can defend the public interest.”

Adam M. Sowards is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News, where this piece first appeared. He is an environmental historian at the University of Idaho.

When we decided to put a story about police-involved killings on the cover of our July print edition, we had no idea that the month would be dominated by news about police-involved killings—and the killings of police.

Yet that’s exactly what happened. The deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., sparked yet more outrage about the excessive use of force by law-enforcement officers. The country watched in horror as Micah Johnson mowed down police officers who were watching over a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, killing five officers and injuring nine other officers and two bystanders. Then came the murder of three law enforcement officers, and the wounding of three others, again in Baton Rouge, La., by Gavin Long.

These terrible deaths prove, yet again, that our country has some deep and serious problems. Way, way too many people are dying at the hands of law enforcement. On the flip side, while the vast majority of police officers in this country are fantastic, some troubled souls view all cops as being bad. And, of course, systemic racism is alive and well.

None of these problems will be solved overnight—especially considering the fact that one of this country’s two major parties is pushing an agenda that marginalizes LGBT Americans, Mexican immigrants, Muslims and many others. Sadly, more blood will be spilled before things get better.

That’s not to say there’s no reason for optimism. That aforementioned July cover story was about the fact that for the first time ever, the country has access to the fairly complete Fatal Encounters database of law-enforcement-related deaths—and that data can be analyzed and used to create better public policy.

It’s also important to note that violent-crime rates are much, much lower today—about two-thirds lower, in fact—than they were in the early 1990s. So even though it may not seem like it at times, our society today is way safer than it used to be.

Finally, despite all of the political rancor, many amazing people are working hard to unite us and develop understanding. For example, there’s Tizoc DeAztlan, a young local Democrat who’s working with his friend Hugh Van Horn, former president of the Coachella Valley Young Republicans, to hold a series of “Perspectives” discussion groups. Anita Rufus recently wrote about him in her Know Your Neighbors column; read that here.

You can also read Anita’s column in the August 2016 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, which is being distributed across the valley and High Desert this week. Enjoy, please, and drop me a line if you have any questions or comments.

He was one of nature’s biggest gifts, and the country owes him thanks. —Charles M. Russell, 1925

The bald eagle has been the national symbol since 1782, but the Western artist Charlie Russell was right: The buffalo was far more important to the story of the American West.

Congress agrees on very little these days, but this May, it successfully passed a bill that was quickly signed by President Obama. The National Bison Legacy Act designates the American bison, most often called the buffalo, as our first national mammal. What’s more, the bill enjoyed the support of a wide array of ranchers, environmentalists, zoos, outdoorsmen and Native Americans. As the Wildlife Conservation Society put it, the animal “is an icon that represents the highest ideals of America.”

The story of the buffalo, once roaming in immense herds, also touches on some of the lowest points in American history. As settlers and gold-seekers pushed toward California throughout the course of the 19th century, tragedy often followed in their wake, including the brutal repression and massacre of the American Indian, the wide-scale exploitation of wildlife resources, and the near-extinction of North America’s largest land animal, the buffalo.

With notable candor, the National Bison Association’s Dave Carter says “the fact that we almost screwed it up” back then did not prevent diverse and sometimes conflicting groups from agreeing on a united effort to help restore the buffalo. The end goal: everything from sustainable commercial meat production to Indian spiritual revitalization.

In the early 1800s, there were more than 30 million buffalo in North America, ranging in massive herds from Alaska to Mexico. By 1890, only about 500 animals were left. By the early 1900s, there were only about 30 genetically pure animals surviving in isolated areas, such as private ranches and the Yellowstone caldera.

In his book Last Stand, Montana author Michael Punke depicted the collapse of the buffalo in a sad telling of historical events. This included the scourge of hide hunters, who sent 1.5 million hides back East in the winter of 1872-1873, leaving carcasses to rot on the plains. In 1874, the Sharps Company issued the Sharps Old Reliable, “the rifle to end all rifles.” Hunter Frank Mayer used one to kill 269 buffalo in a single hunt, shooting from 300 yards away.

Railroads sponsored buffalo-killing expeditions, during which one Kansas man is said to have shot 120 animals in 40 minutes. Passenger trains on the newly minted transcontinental railroads would stop for hours while a single herd passed—and sportsmen took aim. And the rail workers had to be fed. A young man who came to be known as “Buffalo Bill” Cody wrote in his diary that he killed 4,280 buffalo in 18 months to feed construction workers for the Kansas Pacific Railroad.

Mercilessly, the U.S. Army participated in wholesale slaughter of the buffalo. Author Larry Barsness, in Heads, Hides and Horns, chronicles the relationship of the buffalo to North American Indians, and why the Army worked to wipe them out: “Either the buffalo or the Indian must go. Only when the Indian becomes absolutely dependent on us for his every need will we be able to handle him. If we kill the buffalo, we conquer the Indian.”

Yet thankfully, the buffalo survives, and Native Americans have a big role in the animal’s restoration. The InterTribal Buffalo Council represents 63 tribes engaging in, or planning, management to restore buffalo culture, and in some cases to manage herds for commercial ventures, which in turn will aid Indian communities. Executive director Jim Stone says the new national animal designation is a vehicle that will allow tribes to be “buffalo-centric” again.

People talk about oil and gas as the new buffalo, or gaming as the new buffalo. “There’s still the old buffalo,” Stone says. Stone, a Yankton Sioux, says his South Dakota tribe harvested its last buffalo in 1886. It wasn’t until 1993—107 years later—that the tribe could conduct another ceremonial slaughter of a buffalo. Stone believes a national buffalo designation resembles the effort to put the image of Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad “conductor,” on the $20 bill.

Buffalo, you’re the national mammal. You deserve no less.

Gaynell Terrell is a contributing writer to Writers on the Range, an opinion service of High Country News.

Editor’s Note: On March 8, the Independent published an opinion piece titled “Community Voices: It’s a Terrible Waste of Time to Argue for Bikes in Wilderness.” Here’s a piece that takes the opposite viewpoint.

It hasn’t happened yet, but one day, bicycles and baby strollers will be welcome in wilderness.

That’s the goal of the nonprofit Sustainable Trails Coalition, which seeks to permit forms of human-powered trail travel—beyond walking—in wilderness areas.

Congress never prohibited biking or pushing a baby carriage in wilderness. Both are banned by outmoded decisions that federal agencies made in the 1970s and 1980s. Over time, those decisions became frozen into place by lethargy and inertia.

It is true that the Wilderness Act forbids “mechanical transport.” By this, however, Congress meant people being moved around by machines, not people moving themselves with mechanical assistance. Now that wilderness acreage is larger than California and Maryland combined—vastly larger than when the walk-only rules were imposed—there is a pressing need to restore Congress’ original vision.

In 1977, renowned conservationists Sen. Frank Church of Idaho and Arizona Rep. Morris Udall explained what they thought Congress’ intentions were. Church said, “Agencies are applying provisions of the Wilderness Act too strictly and thus misconstruing the intent of Congress as to how these areas should be managed.” Udall warned against “stringent ‘purity’ criteria” that have “led to public opposition to wilderness proposals based on what is, and what is not, perceived to be … permissible in wilderness areas.” As early as 1964, some Forest Service staff wanted to ban even rowboats.

The Sustainable Trails Coalition’s proposal is modest. It would not permit mountain biking or walking with a baby stroller everywhere. Instead, local land managers would be given the discretion to allow forms of human-powered travel where they believe it’s appropriate. The United States has 765 wilderness areas, each one managed by officials who know the terrain.

Opposition to the coalition’s proposed bill apparently rests partly on unjustified fears that federal employees can’t manage land. Another argument is that where bicycles go, motorcycles and ATVs will soon follow. But members of the coalition have talked with staffers at many congressional offices, and none of them show any interest in using our proposed bill as a stalking-horse for motorized uses that, unlike bicycles, have never been allowed in wilderness.

We suspect that our opponents’ real fear is not that reform will fail, but that it will succeed. If we cease limiting wilderness travel to methods available in biblical times and thereby achieve better-managed wilderness, the previous cries of “wolf” will look foolish.

Some opponents accuse us of being pawns of giant bicycle companies with large cash reserves and a thirst to get bicycles back into wilderness. But the coalition is a grassroots effort, funded by individuals and a few small businesses.

Opponents of biking in wilderness are like pen-and-ink types opposing manual typewriters: It might be comical if the effects weren’t so grave, disconnecting more people from the outdoors and increasing their indifference to conservation.

Some people also worry that bicycles would “shrink” wilderness, and argue that we already have enough places to ride. But backpacking technology allows for more invasive intrusions into wilderness than bicycles. Most bicyclists leave the wilderness at dusk and don’t camp.

As for the call for us to “go somewhere else,” we would never patronize these critics by saying they’re not welcome in wilderness unless they travel by bicycle. We prefer to bicycle, but we don’t insist that everyone else has to ride. Bicycling is clean and environmentally benign, and has that wonderful quality of “flow,” which the human psyche rejoices in experiencing. Mountain biking may be richer in flow than any other recreational endeavor—that’s one reason so many of us prize it.

There’s a grim backdrop to the struggle over wilderness that this quarrel only worsens. In the 52 years since Congress passed the Wilderness Act of 1964, national forest wilderness has fallen victim to a number of contradictions that have warped the original vision. Some areas are overrun and loved to death, like the Maroon Bells in Colorado. Others are no longer managed and seldom visited, and marijuana growers reportedly have filled the vacuum, as in California’s Yolla Bolly. Still others, including the Pasayten in Washington, are despoiled by pack outfitters, whose abuses are ignored by many wilderness activists and the government.

Fixing these problems will take a generation, lots of money and new leadership. Cyclists can’t do it alone, but we can help, if we’re accepted as partners, and not treated as interlopers into the wilderness private club.

The Sustainable Trails Coalition loves wilderness and thinks Congress got the law right in 1964. Now, we seek restoration of the original vision. There is nothing to fear about granting federal employees the discretionary authority the coalition proposes.

Ted Stroll is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an opinion service of High Country News. He is an attorney and president of the Sustainable Trails Coalition in California.