Reno's unspeakable sin
From the 5-21-1997 Reno News & Review

Nevada serves up all forms of sin as her principal business. We shape our communities in that image and likeness. For the sake of profit and propriety, our marketable vices are at least subject to some degree of regulation.

But we don't sell incest, so its chronic symptoms go unaddressed. From potholes to prostitution to teen pregnancy, the unspeakable inbreeding of our decision makers renders progress impossible. Ancient taboos against incest turned out to have a sound medical basis: the practice spawns sickliness, sterility, even mental instability. The same holds true for leaders of a growing community. Reno's always-reviled city council can thus rightly plead not guilty. It merely reflects the city's narrow genetic code: self-destructive, divided and divisive. Last year, in a typical public relations coup, Nevada was named the most dangerous state in which to live. Our teen suicide rate remains world class.

Problems fester because, while our upper and lower classes may speak English, they do not communicate. The landed gentry only listen to the opinions of their peers concentrated in a few key places. A quarter-century ago, the Elks Club and two local hospital guilds provided a cross-section of Reno-Sparks power. Today, the Elks have largely been replaced by the university hierarchy. Washoe Medical Center and the University of Nevada now front a myriad of community advisory boards designed for one purpose: insulating the institutions against criticism. The Reno Gazette-Journal has taken the hint and started its own juice club, the Forum for a Common Agenda. Common folk need not apply.

Cliquey Reno's rarified ruling class is largely comprised of descendants of immigrant Italian farmers or casino cowboys. They may seem unrelated, but share a common gene for iron fists. In turn-of-the-century immigrant ghettos, old Italians felt perfectly justified shooting a competitor who opened up across the street. Taking bread off someone's table was a capital offense. Old Reno gamblers had the same mentality. Like the old Italians, they knew somebody lurked out there just waiting to rustle their livelihood.

These traits distilled down to the sweatshop mentality still afflicting Reno today. The haves live like royalty, while the have-nots are royally screwed. Health care remains elusive and expensive. Schools stay separate and unequal. Fatigue blunts a feeling of vague rage at low wages among workers with no rights. The poor cough up increasingly higher taxes to benefit the rich. The plantation prospers.

A decade ago, some well-meaning executives started a broadly-based community betterment organization. For the next two years, Reno and Sparks buzzed with energetic task forces. Then, downtown interests suddenly pulled the group's funding and ordered the leadership to fold. All the research reports were pointing to the inescapable conclusion that the gambling-industrial complex was not paying its fair share.

The incestuous hierarchy once again spawned sterility instead of solutions. The community continues to bleed.

Be well. Raise hell.



Copyright © 1997 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
This Barbwire by Barbano was published in the Reno News & Review 5/21/97

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Barbwire by Barbano premiered in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988, and has originated in those parts ever since. Tempus fugit.

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