Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Anaconda, Montana

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On TV here in Big Sky Country, as elsewhere in this land, the meat puppets are engaged in a frenzy of speculation on what might be called Debtmageddon. Just when you thought you were safe here on earth, another horrible deadline looms, one after which the world as we know it will cease to exist, they say.

One of the more risible lines I hear often is how, if the budget impasse isn't solved somehow, consumer credit interest rates are going to skyrocket. That makes me rethink my naive preconceptions, because I figured interest rates were in the stratosphere already. Silly me, assuming that 19.99% per annum, with ceilings of 30% or more, was already enough to make even a Shylock blush. Apparently, if Obama and the Teapartiers can't get their heads together by August 2, your interest will go up even higher. What those heights might be, God only knows. Maybe 10% per week, collected in person by a guy named Vinnie. Meanwhile the poor beleaguered banks, to make up for the extra expense of having to hire all those goombahs to collect their vigorish, will have to lower the amount they pay on savings accounts from the current rate of practically nothing to, well, nothing.

Somebody in a speech (I think President Obama) harked back to the Eisenhower administration recently for purposes of putting our financial situation into context, and my memory carried me to the days when the local bank on Dixie Highway actually paid little old me something like 4% interest on my tiny savings account. I have no idea what the credit card rates were then, since such things barely existed, but I'm betting they were in the single digits--still enough for banks to make a handsome profit and to ensure that the bank president would be the richest guy in town, but not quite enough to make him, as is now the case, richer and more powerful than God.

The other thing that amuses me as I hear it repeated by the Barbie and Ken dolls who give us our news is the fictitious idea that the American people are now demanding that their elected officials act like adults and compromise for the good of the country. Of course if people hear this kind of nonsense often enough, they come to believe it, and indeed to think they came up with the idea themselves, this being the essential nature of propaganda. But the notion that we want our two political parties to agree on things is not and never has been the case. What the American people want now, and what they've wanted since the dawn of partisan politics (some time during Washington's second administration in the 1790s), is for the elected officials they don't like to grow up and start acting like the ones they do like.

With all this in mind, I suggest that everyone quit worrying and above all quit watching the news, and let the folks in Foggy Bottom do what they're going to do anyway. If we voted for assholes (and in 2010 boy did we ever) then we should expect to be governed by assholes. In other words, relax, just as we did when they were predicting the end of the world in May. If the worst happens, we're all screwed anyway. If it doesn't, we'll never notice the difference.

And one more thing. I'm tired of all this talk about trillions of dollars. Forget trillions. I'm waiting for the first quadrillion dollar deficit. Bring that bad boy on. (Just like I'm skipping the 4G network, whatever the hell that means, and waiting for 5G, or 6G.)

Back to Montana. When I was a kid in music class in elementary school, we had a book full of songs that practically nobody sings any more. In some cases that's absolutely a good thing. Songs like "Old Black Joe" and "Camptown Races" are mercifully laid to rest. But one of my favorite songs from that book started,

I'm Captain Jinx of the horse marines
I feed my horse on corn and beans.
I like young ladies in their teens
'Cause I'm the pride of the army.

I always enjoyed that one because I felt then, as I do now, that it captured the essence of what it means to be a military officer. Or a Mormon or a U.S. Congressman for that matter. But another ditty that's come to mind recently is about the very wild west in the grip of which I find myself at this moment. Maybe some of you will remember this one:

My home's in Montana, I wear a bandanna,
My spurs are of silver, my pony is grey.
When riding the ranges my luck never changes,
With foot in the stirrup I'll gallop away. (Etc.)

Anaconda, Montana is, or was, a copper mining town. They mined it and above all they smelted it. The process of smelting copper ore created--as solid, liquid, and/or gaseous byproducts--things like sulphur dioxide, mercury and other heavy metals, and arsenic, the fumes of which wafted through the air like the smell of money, at least for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, which owned the town. Anaconda Copper's history reads like a who's who of notorious capitalists, as the company passed through or was pawed by the sticky fingers of folks with names like Hearst, Rothschild, and Rockefeller. Although the grass and trees refused to grow to any extent in Anaconda, and people routinely died of cancer, the money grew and the mining and smelting processes created lots of jobs for Irish, Italian, and Welsh immigrants. When the smelter closed in the 1980s, many jobs were lost. On the other hand, as I see it, many lives were saved.

As a means of subsisting, I'm not sure having a job is necessarily all it's cracked up to be. For centuries the English and European aristocracies have lived quite comfortably without having any jobs at all. And behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, as the Good Book says. We should start seriously questioning the politicians who promise to create jobs for America. They could be trying to kill us. Perhaps they're the real subversives.

Well, I digress again. On a cool sunny day in Anaconda, I decided to climb what's known as the "A Hill," the slightly vulgar name for one of the now quite grassy peaks overlooking the city from the south. It's called that because along the side about three-quarters of the way up there's a large white letter "A," perhaps fifty feet high, made of boulders painted white. It signifies Anaconda, and especially Anaconda High School. There's also a "C" hill next to it, for another school, which I think is Catholic Central. I'm told the high school kids go up each year to repaint the "A" and no doubt also to drink and carouse. I took a steep one-lane road about halfway up the hill, then began pulling myself up a very steep and perilous incline of stones about the size of trap rock, hanging on to aspen saplings and a stout walking stick for support. I think only someone at least half drunk and embued with the sense of immortality that the very young have would be foolhardy enough to try to carry paint while climbing up there. From right next to it, the "A" doesn't even look like a letter, just a large collection of white rocks about a foot in diameter shaped and held in place at the appropriate places by railroad ties anchored by heavy rebar. Up beyond the "A" another few hundred feet is the top of the hill, which affords a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains, some still snow-covered, as well as the town sprawling at its feet looking tiny and the smokestack of the defunct smelter that once spewed out the toxic lifeblood of the city.

The Anaconda of today is only a remnant of its former self, with the typical half-empty downtown of the typical American industrial skeleton. A low mountain of inert jet-black tailings, the slag that remains when all the copper has been gleaned from the stripped rock by whatever means, runs for the better part of a mile along Montana Route 1 on the way into and out of town, defying vegetation to even consider rooting in it. The tailings look like pebbles of anthracite coal. The closed Anaconda smelter and its environs today are a gigantic superfund site, an inherited liability for the oil giants ARCO and its parent BP, who bought it just a few years before the operation closed down.

The sky in this part of Montana is clear and sweet and the rivers run reasonably clean, all things considered, and the mountains and valleys are beautiful. The miners and smelter workers are gone. Elsewhere in Montana, and throughout the Rocky Mountain states, copper is still being mined and smelted, as it must be, as it has been for 10,000 years or more. Also, quite extensively, down in the Andean countries of South America, where Anaconda Copper has long been doing its capitalist magic for the benefit of the Indians and mestizos of that area. Copper for electric wiring, for roofs and plumbing. Copper for brass and jewelry. But not here in Anaconda, where even the slot machines in the city's dozens of small low-stakes casinos rarely accept the copper coin of the realm any more. I don't know if the machines take only paper money or if they accept Social Security checks as well. That wouldn't be a bad idea. Maybe they've already thought of it somewhere else.

If Debtmageddon comes and those government checks stop, it'll be another nail in the coffin of Anaconda. But not a copper nail. No more copper here.


Anonymous said...

Did you see anyone on a pigmy pony tending to his dental floss?

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Looked for lonely dental floss farms along the way. With a pair of heavy duty zircon-encrusted tweezers in my hand.

Ted said...

Every other wrangler would say you were mighty grand! I miss that guy. I've got tickets to see the Dweez in a couple of weeks - he's doing a pretty respectable job of keeping his father's music alive by exposing the next generation. Frank's "I'm the Slime" has become something of an anthem for me. Yep, I've become that old geezer standing on the street corner holding, up a "Kill Your TV" sign.

Billie Bob said...

I suppose yellow snow is out of season.

Billie Bob said...

By the way. I love that observation:

"What the American people want now, and what they've wanted since the dawn of partisan politics (some time during Washington's second administration in the 1790s), is for the elected officials they don't like to grow up and start acting like the ones they do like."