Human majesty and misery

Expanded from the 3-6-2005 Daily Sparks Tribune
An edited version appears in 3-11-2005 Comstock Chronicle

Years ago, while motoring home from Gomorrah South, my wife and I stopped for a late breakfast in Goldfield. The food was great and the people were right out of central casting save for one, a clean-shaven young man who looked like a geology professor.

The gentleman took a seat by himself and began to thumb through a heap of newspapers. The café's bartender couldn't resist what appeared to be a regular ribbing of the professor.

"What do you think of someone who dwells on human misery," the tall, goateed mixologist asked as he refilled my coffee cup with an artful flourish.

"Every morning, he comes in here and reads those things, then tries to tell me about them," said the outback philosopher. "I mostly don't want to know."

I'm now just a bit younger than was that impresario from long ago. I can better understand his world-weariness.

No matter how freakin' dumb or brutal people have been, they will always repeat their bloody stupid mistakes. "Never again!" swear the multitudes who decry Hitler's Holocaust. But genocide has happened so often since that it's almost unremarkable. Yugoslavia. Rwanda. Cambodia. And on and on.

In a turn of the millennium commentary, a writer whose name I don’t recall oversimplified recent history (which is probably why I remember it.) The 19th Century, he said, concluded an era of imperialism. The 20th was a time of totalitarianism and the 21st would bring an age of extreme nationalism.

The trends were obvious, but his prediction is nonetheless tracking rather well. From the U.S. twisto-constitutionalists who think every county should be a separate nation to the ongoing rebellions in Basque Spain, Northern Ireland, the Philippines and countless other backwaters, everyone wants to be chief of his own tribe.

This extreme self-absorption appears hardwired into humanity. Some men who feel powerless everywhere else abuse their families. At times, it seems like everybody needs to step on somebody just to feel worthwhile. If you are poor or unpretty or the wrong color or talk funny, there's something wrong with you. You are the other, the outsider, not from our clan. If you want to see this vicious tribalism at work, go to any high school.

The fearmongers who rise to the top usually do so via threats, no matter whether real or imagined. A majority will support the warriors desirous of defending the tribe from invaders.

Once some of our more shallow leaders attain a degree of prominence, they become more expert at manipulating their constituents and soon believe that they can do no wrong.

Proving that booklearning is wasted on the dumb, Sparks-educated Congresscritter Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., recently advocated putting anti-war liberals to death by making them into human shields on the sands of Araby. (Flesh and bone are certainly cheaper than buying adequate armor for the troops, so I guess he was just being a fiscal conservative.)


Disgraced state controller and potential congressional candidate Kathy Augustine, R, wants her plea-bargained ethics fines reduced. This chutzpah comes despite the fact that her impeachment, trial and conviction cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars last year and much more in legislative delay this year.

State Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, last week revealed that she's taking $3,000 a month to give advice to the owners of KRNV TV-4. Somewhere, somebody forgot that the media are supposed to be adversaries of government. Perhaps she's just following the president's example. If the Bush administration thinks nothing of buying reporters, why shouldn't money flow the other way?

Mayor Oscar Goodman, D-Las Vegas, sees nothing wrong with advocating hard liquor as sport while guffawing to a group of Gomorrah South fourth graders.

I wish my friend Tom Stoneburner were still around so that we could share our customary laughter at such foibles of human foolishness. The founder of the Alliance for Workers Rights died of a ruptured aorta last month at age 60.

At his Sparks and Reno memorial services, the more people talked about him, the bigger he got. Stoney practiced what every major religion preaches: take care of your fellow humans and the place where you live. Christians, Jews, Moslems and the non-aligned came to praise this great and good leader. Stoney was a common man whose transition to greatness came with his defense of his fellow commoners.

Those are the elements of sainthood, but Stoney would chuckle at that characterization. Like the old bartender said, dwelling on human misery is repetitious, tiresome and burdensome. But doing something about it is the most important work you can do.

KEEP THOSE CARDS AND LETTERS COMING IN. Those who want to send memorial letters and remembrances may upload them to I will post them permanently at the website. Tom Stoneburner wanted the Alliance for Workers Rights to survive him. Donations to continue his work may be sent to One Booth Street, Reno, NV 89509.

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Copyright © 1982, 2005 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 36-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of He sits on the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee.

Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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