Water weary warnings of the fire next time


God gave Noah the rainbow sign.
No more water.
The fire, next time.

--from an old spiritual.

Do you believe in warnings from God? Distant thunder and lightning? Locusts and plagues loose upon the land?

Just an overly used book or movie plot, say you? What if it's not? What if our recent diluvian devastation was just a gentle warning, a soggy two-by-four upside the head of the jackass to get his attention. What then? How bad might a future fire get?

Flames come in many forms. As a species, we have refined self-immolation and general conflagration to performance art. The annual Burning Man ritual on our Black Rock Desert may really present a potent portent of a perilous future.

The trees killed by the flood of '97 were probably matched by those mulched for paper to print stories about it. Despite the square miles of newsprint, oceans of ink and endless eons of electronic expounding, nobody caught the cosmic symbolic. The plastic fantastic was easier. Just the facts, ma'am.

Just look around you. The complexion of decadently dirty-faced California was hard-scrubbed down to the endodermis. Perhaps the juicy juggernaut of January washed some pollutants out of the Golden State's wrinkles and furrows. Perhaps she can breathe easier now that her pores have been forced open by removing some man-caused pimples.

Here in the High Desert Outback of the American Dream, we took a bath instead of the tourists. We needed one. Mark my words well as you watch for the rainbow sign. A fire is coming. The smaller and weaker you are, the more likely you will get burned.

The warning shots of January came in liquid form, and we apparently didn't notice. Place a frog in a pot of boiling water and he'll jump clear. Place him in cold water before turning on the burner and he'll sit calmly until cooked to death.

What have we done to deserve such a fate? Look around at what kinda place you live in.

If you've got kids, raising them here increasingly borders on child abuse. The gambling-industrial complex gives lip service and cosmetic contributions to education. Token support of colleges and churches allows them to trumpet the legitimacy of an illegitimate enterprise, a bastard business which markets vice and all the corruption which comes with it, a fact which cannot be papered over with PR in the papers.

A recent national survey reported that fully 12 percent of Americans believe Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Anybody want to bet that in at least that one category, Nevada exceeds the national average? In reality, the attitude of the gambling-industrial complex has long been that an educated populace is bad for business. So is economic diversification. They want no competition for the low wage labor pool. Non-gambling companies provide it, education undercuts it.

Life may not be fair, but God - whatever your concept of her/him/it - probably is. The Lordly entity sent angels to Sodom and Gomorrah to seek 12 just men in order to spare the cities from holocaust. The lowest standard ever erected was nonetheless not achieved, fire and brimstone were liberally distributed with only a salt lick left standing.

We live in a state infested with pimps, thieves and pickpockets. Contrary to myth, our taxes are not low - save for those personally and corporately wealthy. The rest of us make up the difference every day, paying sales and gas taxes which penalize those who earn the least. Our principal industry is now bringing proposals before the legislature to give it tax breaks to fund low cost housing. Why not just pay people better?

I know, I know. There's never enough profit. Tell that to all the full time workers who still must depend on St. Vincent's for food. As John Ascuaga's Nugget did last year, a passel of very profitable Reno hotel-casinos are now requesting huge property tax reductions, trying to spread their pain. They say they are just not making enough money, and tax law backs up their case.

The law does not allow tax equalization boards to take into account the many other areas where the industry has stacked the deck. Taxes from increased property values in downtown Reno, Sparks and Las Vegas go to a special fund to promote the casino districts. Taxpayers in other parts of town pay for the impacts of the growth generated.

Washoe County taxpayers got no benefit from hotel room taxes until just a few years ago. Right after the public was propagandized into supporting room taxes four decades ago, local officials promptly forgot the promises made to put money into frills like parks. It took almost 30 years before anyone remembered, but the lion's share remains under control of gamblers who use it for themselves. They've done such a lousy job that they now want more. After all, what they've been doing is demonstrably not working.

We've got a river walk that never gets up and running, save when the river runs through it. We've got an anemic auto collection bearing Bill Harrah's name, which constitutes false advertising at public expense. We've got a convention center and bowling alley which sit vacant a lot of the time in a community that has been literally, as well as figuratively, lost at sea.

We will change as we destroy ourselves. Reno is showing all the signs of dying a hard death, strangled by her own narrowness. Apparently, not even the wicked waters of winter would shock her into self-realization.

Las Vegas? San Jose with pink neon, spilling sewage into its dwindling fresh water supply. Well on its way to becoming an anti-theme park, bringing to life the polluted worlds of Bladerunner, Soylent Green and A Clockwork Orange. Somebody will probably start developing an apocalyptic theme casino right after they read this.

Can we keep hope alive? If so, where does hope abide? Among the very transplants we love to hate, with women, outsiders and newcomers. With women at the top, you would arguably have a less sexually-charged work environment at the Reno airport. With women at the top, the good old boy casino network might become a little less cruel to its workers. Female workers might get to dress like people instead of whores.

Perhaps female CEOs would see that treating people fairly and paying them well contributes to corporate profit and a less stressed community. Perhaps firing women for pregnancy would finally become a thing of the past.

In addition to women, outsiders can make a great contribution. We should listen to our critics, but not give them executive power. Just as a critic should never produce a show, outsiders should never get that far inside. Their value lies in their ability to tell the emperor he has no clothes. They can't do that if they moonlight as tailors.

Finally, an ode to the converts, the new Nevadans who see the possibilities in our incestuous small town. They can be the executives, the implementers, those who listen to the critics.

Can the new triangle of women, outsiders and newcomers cure what ails this adolescent cowboy community? I submit they comprise the only hope of forgiveness for our trespasses.

We were warned by the waters of the winter of '97.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks Tribune since 1988. This column originally published 2/9/97.
Reprints from the beginning of the university newsbreaks remain available for the cost of copying at
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