Sunday, August 19, 2012

Governor Muzzles Staff to Help Industry Weaken New Mexico Pit Rule

Between the mid-1980's and 2003, New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division recorded nearly 7,000 cases of oil and gas waste pits causing soil or water contamination. In 2005, the OCD released data on nearly 400 incidents of groundwater contamination, including the presence of carcinogens and heavy metals.
Unlined pits damage people’s water supplies, kill livestock and wildlife, and endanger New Mexicans’ health.

In 2008 the OCD recommended, and the Oil Conservation Commission adopted, a strong "pit rule" that banned unlined pits, strengthened pit-liner requirements, ordered better protection of private property and water, and required closed-loop (pitless) operations close to water and homes. The rule followed an 18-month process that included industry participation.

Now Governor Susana Martinez wants to eviscerate the pit rule, and one of her minions is muzzling the state officials in charge of analyzing the proposed weakening of the rule. This would suit oil and gas industry political contributors, but is not in New Mexico’s interest.

The proposed changes rip the guts out of the pit rule. Below-grade tanks with more than a 500-gallon capacity would no longer require a permit. Operators would merely have to "register" and could "file a single registration for all below-grade tanks." Instead of requiring a permit, letting state regulators assess the reasonableness of an operator’s plan, the industry-proposed wording says vaguely, "A closed-loop system shall use appropriate engineering principles and practices." What might that mean to an operator scrambling to maximize profits?

The existing rule says you can’t put a temporary pit or below-grade tank within 500 feet of a private water well or a spring from which people or cattle drink. The industry’s proposed change would allow below-grade tanks as close to your water well as the operator likes; and for a temporary pit, the minimum distance would shrink from 500 feet to 100 feet. Industry would also delete the requirement that "The operator shall use a tank made of steel or other material which the appropriate division district office approves, to contain hydrocarbon-based drilling fluids."

Essentially, the industry proposes a return to oil industry self-regulation.

Carl Johnson, 74 testified to the OCC in May concerning damage he’s seen first-hand. The Lea County rancher said that under the pit rule, companies have been "more careful, less destructive. They use less water. They are totally, absolutely different than when they had the open pit rule."

Johnson added, "There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way. Oil industry knows it. There are good operators and there are lousy operators. I’d say 10 percent are good operators." Those aren’t good odds for letting the oil industry regulate itself.

One of the "decision-makers," Martinez appointee Jami Bailey, not only has voiced her opposition to the pit rule, but is abusing her position by muzzling the state watchdogs who recommended the rule. (Ms. Bailey knows staff would rather speak up about the pit rule’s importance. "Some OCD personnel would like a more active role," she wrote.)

The rule exists because OCD staff needed it to protect our environment against industry carelessness. But by Bailey’s direct order, the Commission will not have the benefit of staff views this time around. Bailey has ordered staff to be "neutral" – that is, not take a position, but stick to "operational and administrative issues."

That’s like a President telling the CIA not to report its findings and analysis because s/he knows what s/he wants to do and facts or expert analysis might muddy the waters

Do the states experts think the proposed changes would be technically feasible or would adequately protect clean water and human health? Guess we won’t know. Ms. Bailey has directed them not to put those opinions on the record – because those opinions, and the facts and analysis behind them, might be inconvenient for her and Governor Martinez.

These folks have their minds made up. Martinez’s Director of Policy made that clear in a 2011 summary of "examples of changes made" by Martinez: "Working to reverse the pit rule amendment. . . The authority to change this rule rests with the Oil Conservation Commission. With a composition that is more favorable to the industry, we expect this rule to be reversed."

Less honestly but with a better PR sense, Ms. Bailey suggested changing that to: "working to have the Pit Rule re-evaluated for balance between encouraging the oil and gas industry and protecting the environment. Both are important to the state of New Mexico, and the Governor has ensured that Oil Conservation Commission is committed to finding that balance through science-based regulations and sound judgment."

I’m hoping my fellow New Mexicans will speak up on this issue partly to show Governor Martinez we’re not that stupid, and will look to what she does, not what words she uses to disguise bad conduct.

You can and should call or e-mail her.   You can contact the Governor's Office by phone at (505) 376-2200; or you can leave a written comment at
If you feel like making one more call, make your comment also to John H, Bemis, Secretary of Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Dept. (505) 476-3200.

(You don’t have to read as much as I did on the subject; but my blog post today contains links to sources of much of this information, including testimony and reports, and a NMOGA site showing the specific changes industry wants.)

This may not seem urgent, unless you have a water well in oil country; but the rights and wrongs are inescapable. Please speak up!


[The foregoing column appeared this morning, Sunday, 19 August, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.  Below, I've added some links to relevant web-sites on both sides of the issue, as well as supplemental comments for which there wasn't room in the column.]

What struck me about the New Mexico pit rule was that the rights and wrongs were probably clearer than in just about any subject I've looked into as column material. 

Initially I heard someone speak briefly on the subject.  I started researching it, and quickly read both some posts from environmentalists and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association's site.  The latter discussed the proposed changes as "based on sound science" and committed to "maintain[ing] environmental safeguards." . .  
That sounded reasonable.  It certainly seemed possible that overzealous regulators had imposed unnecessarily stringent rules on the industry.   So I started reading the red-lined version of the proposed rule.   It was quickly clear that the NMOGA gloss was sheer nonsense, and that the proposed changes would eviscerate the rule and leave industry free to do pretty much as it chose.  (The red-lined "proposed changes" document starts at page 5 of this document.this document .

The ostensible reason for all this was also nonsense: that drilling was down in New Mexico.  However, 
economists and even industry spokesfolk say worldwide oil prices determine drilling decisions. The number of operating rigs in NM continued to increase for six months after adoption ofthe pit rule, and declined only once worldwide oil and natural gas prices dropped sharply.

I haven't read all the testimony, but it appears that the industry hasn't even made it clear that lining the pits doesn't ultimately save the industry money, long-term, particularly when you factor in possible liability and clean-up costs.  At least one expert says that's the case.  I don't know; but if the industry can't prove that this important rule causes it real and significant difficulties, why should anyone even consider weakening it?  Among the sites with relevant information on the pit rule and its importance are Earthworks Action and its Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

The pit rule places the responsibility on oil and gas operators to clean up their contamination -- rather than making us pay for it.  The changes relax contamination standards and allow multi-well fluid management pits, which are potentially huge "artificial lakes."  NMOGA wants to treat them like temporary pits (where fluids and solids go temporrarily during production), which currently have to be closed within six months (a year under the proposed change); but multi-will pits could be open for a decade, and unlimited in size.

One further point no one mentions: sooner than we wish, water may become scarcer and more valuable than oil, in New Mexico.  Governor Martinez may be too dumb to know that or, more likely, politically unable to mention knowing it; but it's true, and thus it's particuarly important, now more than ever, not to risk fouling water supplies for the convenience of the oil and gas industry, particularly where the existing rule is one the industry can live with.

So I do hope folks will speak up.  The web-site makes it easy to leave a brief comment. Whether the governor's office will read 'em, much less heed 'em, is another question; but we might as well try.   (Certainly for the next few weeks when folks tell me how much they like the column or the blog, they can expect my reaction, rather than, "Oh, Thanks," to be "Have you left a comment with the Governor's Office concerning the pit rule?")

For the record, I tried the comment site and left this comment last week:

Subject: New Mexico Pit Rule
Message: I strongly oppose the effort by the oil and gas industry to eviscerate the pit rule. Despite NMOGA's web-site's claims that the proposed changes are "scientific," they clearly are a laundry list of what's convenient for industry, without regard to water supplies and the environment. I further oppose the move by your appointee Jami Bailey to muzzle Oil Conservation Division staff, telling them they may not offer substantive testimony concerning the strong pit rule's importance.

by the way: I'll have a small photo show up in September at the Rio Grande Theatre Gallery on Main St. -- opening will be Friday 7 September, during the 5-7 p.m. Art Ramble.  Mostly photographs from outside the U.S.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Great Confederate Flag Float Controversy

[Note to readers from beyond Doña Ana County: 4 July this year, at an annual Electric Light Parade, First Place (and $ 1,000) went to a Tea Party float; but because the float had, among various flags, a Confederate Flag, the award understandably sparked controversy.  Like the drunken mayor in Sunland Park, it made national news for a day as one of those features about the stupid stuff that happens out in the sticks; but it has remained quite a topic of discussion here.  Lots of letters to the editor and remarks at City Council meetings -- on both sides.   Weeks ago now I wrote this as a possible column, but also didn't want to contribute unduly to the publicity over it.  I had more urgent things to write about than Tea Party mischief.]

The Great Confederate Flag Float Controversy? What’s sad is that the Tea Party is too cowardly to be candid. What’s important is not to let this nonsense lure us into an overreaction that would intimidate free speech.

I know that flag. I saw it on cars driven by people who threatened me and chased me back out onto the dirt roads (where the colored stayed), when I was a civil rights worker in the South in 1965.

It was the flag of a "nation" created to defend slavery.

As Walt Rubel has noted, the Civil War was followed by a widespread and largely successful effort to erase the uglier aspects of the Confederacy and portray the rebels as glorious gentlemen who fought to defend a beautiful lost world of southern belles and darkies who laughed and sang.  Think "Birth of a Nation" and "Gone with the Wind."

Still, the Confederate flag on a float in a 4th of July parade, in Las Cruces should offend us, as it was meant to do.

The Tea Party, of course, sees things differently. Many of its pals, including Bristol Palin’s parents and the coyote-killer in Texas, have cheerfully threatened or advocated secession. Just as the Federal Government protection of freed slaves offended the post-war South, the Tea Party rages against the Federal Government’s attempts to protect our air, lands, water, and jobs. And poor people’s health.

Including the Confederate flag on the float was a sly slap at the Federal Government and those who don’t share the Tea Party’s views. Along with John Paul Jones’s "Don’t Tread on Me," it was meant to express the Tea Party refusal to adhere to political correctness.

So far, so good. Or at least somewhat honest.

I don’t know why the Tea Party turned tail and responded to the public outcry with a very ludicrous explanation that, well, the Confederate flag briefly flew over Santa Fe during the Civil War. "It’s just history.  Our float showed flags that flew over New Mexico."

Excuse me?

If it’s "just history," why didn’t we see a Mexican flag? Mexico possessed this territory for a good deal longer than a weekend.

"Flags that flew over New Mexico?" Did John Paul Jones sail down the Rio Grande?

If it’s "just history," would the Tea Party in Maryland or Washington, D.C. have included a British flag? The Brits sacked Washington during the War of 1812, chased the President and Dolly from the White House, and undoubtedly ran up a flag or two. Why shouldn’t a parade celebrating our independence include a British flag too. It’s just history.

The pretense of surprise that "just history" offended anyone is an added joke. If a Japanese flag had offended a former POW, would we be surprised? If a Nazi flag on the float had offended people whose parents and grandparents perished at Dachau, would we be surprised? Gee, let’s fly the flag of a "nation" that enslaved and tortured blacks, a flag which continued to accompany harassment and even murders of southern citizens for more than a century after the war’s end. If it offends those citizens or their kids and grandkids, we’ll feign surprise.

That feigned surprise? If it were real, it would be even more damning.   Is the Tea Party telling us "We're so clueless that we'd never guess the Confederate flag could offend anyone n the contemporary U.S."?   Is it saying, "Look, we're so ignorant we didn't realize that the flag flew over a "nation" that came into existence solely to protect and extend slavery"?  Are its spokespersons confessing that they didn't realize that black people were enslaved (and discriminated against for more than another century after that) and that black people live in Las Cruces and might notice the flag?

Had those folks had the courage of their convictions, they might have said, "We see the U.S. Government growing nearly as evil and imperial as the British Monarchy, and the Confederate Flag symbolizes a spirit of rebellion we share, even if we have no intention of expressing that spirit violently.  We want to thumb our nose at that government, and we don't much care if that offends some people."

Surrounding society should not be goaded into overreacting and curtailing free speech. Neither the Tea Party nor the American Nazi Party nor some nut holding a sign saying the world is coming to an end justifies departure from our beliefs and constitutional protections.

Sure, it’s offensive. My first reaction was to wonder about the judges, but I must accept their reported explanation that they just looked at the lights and didn’t see the flag.

Our part of the world has now made the national news for the drunkenness of Sunland Park’s former mayor and the childish bad manners of the Tea Party.

We have a lot more to offer the world. But the way to make that clear isn’t to exacerbate an embarrassing situation. It might be to ignore the Tea Party. It might even be to overcome their arguments against an Organ Mountains / Desert Peak National Monument and invite the world to see our unique mix of beautiful country and interesting history.

Should the Tea Party put the Confederate flag on a float that’s part of a public parade, where people of all ethnic groups could be watching with their children? Of course not.

Should the City of Las Cruces regulate the content of political expression at such an event? No. Any thoughtful person must feel tempted; but no.

Besides, as with children who act out, why should we give the Tea Party the attention it so craves, particularly at the cost of abandoning our deep tradition of freedom of expression?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Painful Past Worth Facing

The building opened in 1915. Designed by a famous Czech architect, it boasted a bright green dome. Large windows overlooked the river where it split around a long, slender island. Near the building, branches of a large camphor tree wound their way toward the sky, as if beseeching the heavens for mercy.

For decades, the building was a commercial exhibition hall that also housed art exhibits. The was neighborhood known for its artists, actors, and artisans.

The river still teems with life. A raven works his way along the water’s edge, turning over small rocks with his beak to reach his prey. A stately blue heron stands motionless under the big stone bridge. A black cormorant takes off like a seaplane. Frogs croak from a small lily pool near the Peace Bell, their sound drowned out whenever someone rings it.

As the sun pierces grey clouds, I realize that on the last day they used the building, my father, just back from flying bombers in the Pacific, had just met my mother.
Everyone inside the building died so fast their minds could not even have started to ask "What is it?" Less than two football fields away, and about six football fields above the city, something unthinkable had happened. Even with more time, the folks working in the Exposition Hall could not have understood that an atomic bomb had been dropped.

Almost everything in this part of Hiroshima was completely destroyed. The exposition hall remained partially standing, though bereft of its proud green dome. (Supposedly, some of the center walls remained because the blast struck from almost directly above.) Its windowless walls testify eloquently to the destruction. Around it, the bustling, noisy streets of the rebuilt city would give no hint of what happened..

Mito Kisei approaches us to tell his story. In the U.S., he would be seeking money or not all there. He is neither. He is simply a man who knows a painful truth he believes we all should know.

His mother lived in this neighborhood. On August 6, 1945, she was five months pregnant with him. He was born into a world of horror and pain. He believes passionately in disarmament – and that the use of nuclear power is a grave and dangerous mistake.

Of course I have always known what happened to Hiroshima. I had even read Japanese novels about the aftermath.

It is different to stand here and see, yes, it happened exactly here.

It is different to walk, numbed, through the museum. To file past the memos and letters and journal entries documenting the decision to use the bomb, then to file past the artifacts, like the twisted tricycle on which a three-year-old boy was riding. His father, feeling the boy was too young to lie in a grave away from home, buried the tricycle with the boy in the backyard, so that he could still play with it. Forty years later he dug it up and donated the tricycle to the museum.

The museum rightly criticizes Japan’s militaristic government and initiation of the war; but the facts about the U.S. decision raise sad questions. My father believed that dropping the bomb had been necessary to save the lives of numerous U.S. soldiers. But the actual military predictions of loss of life in an invasion of Japan involved far smaller numbers than President Truman claimed. (His estimate of the saved military lives saved increased over time.) The bomb was used largely to intimidate the Soviet Union. An important factor also was to quiet Congressional critics, who knew a lot of money had been spent on a mysterious military research project, with nothing to show for it. The U.S. general in charge of the war in the Pacific learned of the plan about twelve hours before the bombing. He never believed it was necessary, because Japan was finished. Whatever one concludews about Hiroshima, bombing Nagasaki a couple of days later can’t be justified. It was done mostly to complete the experiment.

To inflict unimaginable horror on vast numbers of civilians to save a significant number of soldiers may be more reasonable than it seems to Mito Kisei or me. To risk an even worse catastrophe to provide nuclear energy seems less defensible.

Building more nuclear power stations is wrong. Not for emotional reasons. Because we cannot operate these time bombs for decades and dispose of their waste safely for millennia.

To think otherwise is pure arrogance. Our record as human beings is that we err over and over. We squabble over borders or religions or gold. Yet we promise to protect nuclear waste for a far longer period than any nation has ever existed on earth!

Nuclear weapons have existed for one lifetime – and already there are literally hundreds of lost or stolen weapons unaccounted for, and many others in the hands of governments that may not be stable. Yet nuclear energy proponents promise nuclear waste will be kept safe for a hundred generations. Seems unlikely.

That late April day in Hiroshima seems a long way off.

Yet last Saturday at the Farmers’ Market a nice young couple handed out leaflets concerning a hunger strike and anti-nuclear demonstration August 3-6 in Los Alamos.

I wish them well.

[Note: The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 5 August 2012.  Some photographs relevant to it appear below, on Saturday's post "Hiroshima and Miyashima Island."

We visited Japan 10-24 April this year.  It was cherry blossom season.  I psted observations and photographs from other aspects of the visit in several posts in May and in one yesterday concerning Hiroshima and Miyashima Island.  As well as photographs relevant to the column, Saturday's post contains, at the end, links to the five earlier Japan posts.

For further information on the hunger strike and protest activities, go to  or to .

I noticed recently that the "in utero survivor" who wpoke to us near the A-Bomb Dome is the subject of a ten-minute video posted on U-Tube at:
Within the first minute, the video explores what’s left of the building.
Shortly after the one-minute mark, the videographer meets up with the gentleman with whom we spoke.
Finally, I notice now that Harry Truman's grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, is among those attending memorial services this week in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The 55-year-old former hournalist met Masashiro Sasaki in New York a few years ago, and wanted to work with him to help deepen understanding between their two countries.  (Masashiro's brother Sadako, an A-bomb victim, died of luukemia at age 12.]  Said Daniel, "I think this cenotaph says it all -- to honor the dead, to not forget, and to make sure that we never let this happen again."  He also said he made the visit partially to understnad more deeply the consequences of his grandfather's decision.
One 78-year-old Hiroshima native wrote in a Tokyo Shimbun  op-ed that although he was enraged to learn that many Americans still support the cidsion to drop the atomic bombs, "When I heard on the news that former President Truman's grandson is visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I felt as if I lost some weight from my chest."
The U.S. government sent a representative (the U.S. ambassador to Japan) to the annual commemmoration for the first time just two years ago.]

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hiroshima Peace Museum and Miyajima Island [ Japan VI ]

Near the end of our stay, Dael and I go out to Hiroshima, to visit the Peace Memorial and stay a night in a small ryokan on Miyajima Island that Don and Midori recommend.

The shinkansen bullet train is as fast, smooth, and comfortable as its reputed to be.   People also pass through frequently with food and coffee -- or so I'm told.  I napped most of the trip, but remember a lot of long, dark tunnels and rushing past rural vistas and peaceful-looking small-towns with grey slate roofs.  Some day I want to wander around this country on a motorcycle.

If you found yourself in this city, without having heard of its history, you would not immediately think "atomic disaster."  It's a crowded, bustling place  Not so vast as Osaka, let alone Tokyo, but a modern city.

But once you step off the trolley at the Peace Park, you enter a different world. 
You have always known that something horrible happened here.  Maybe, as I had, you've also seen a few films or read a Japanese novel describing the horror Hiroshima was. But it happened before you were born, a long way off.

My father flew in that war.  He was a much-decorated bomber pilor. A Marine.  In the Pacific.   And although he was back in Washington, D.C. by 1945, he believed  that the A-bomb had saved a million lives and shortened the war tremendously.   One of his best friends had worked on the Manhattan Project -- and discovered, after the war, that his father had also been working on it, at a much higher level.  Father and son had both maintained strict secrecy.

Although my youth had taught me that the U.S. could do some vile and stupid things in foreign policy -- not only Viet Nam but Guatemala, Iran, and a shameful list of other places around the world  -- I had more or less taken for granted that the dropping of the A-bomb was justified -- although the probability that it had been aimed more at deterring the Soviet Union than at ending the war with Japan had concerned me.

Visible from the trolley stop is the dome of a building -- or at least, the dome's skeleton.  As you approach the building, surrounded by sinuous camphor trees, you realize that it is just the shell of a a building, mostly rubble inside.  In a somewhat controversial decision, it was left as it was, a reminder.

It had been the Hiroshima Commercial Exposition Hall.  It had opened in 1915, designed by a noted Czech arthitect.   It must have been a nice place to work, too, as it commanded a view of the river at a spot where the river split aroound a long, slender island.

The epicenter of the atomic explosion was less than two football fields away, less than five football fields up in the air.  Of course everyone inside the building was killed.  Instantly.  It is doubtful that anyone could even have had time to wonder what was going on.  One hopes so, certainly.

We walk slowly around the building.  It induces a certain numbness.   There is a horror here the mind does not wish to grasp fully and honestly.  After the disaster, it was one of the few structures standing in the area -- an the closest to the epicenter.  Years later they decided to leave it just as it was, a remindeer -- and it bears eloquent witness to what happened.

We talk awhile with Mito Kisei.     He was born into the horror.  His mother was five months pregnant with him on 6 August 1945.   On that day my mother had known my father a couple of months -- and they would conceive me about six months later. 

It is hard not to reflect on our very different lives. 

Understandably, the circumstances of his birth have dominated his life.  He passionately opposes both nuclear weapons and nuclear power -- which, naturally, remains a frequent conversational topic (and hot politicial issue) in Japan during our visit, less than a year after the tidal wave.

He speaks quietly and reasonably.   

We cross the bridge to the island, where the museum is. 

We pause for a long time, contemplating a heron contemplating the fish in the river.  He seems so peaceful.  So natural.  So strange in these surroundings -- of which, of course, he knows nothing.  Of course, he is no kinder to the fish than the U.S. and Japan were to each other; but he has the obvious excuse that he needs to eat.  He is not attacking the fish because of imperialist ambitions and a blindly militaristic ideology, nor is he destroying all the fish in the river to make a point to some other heron somewhere.

Across the bridge we walk among gardens and sakura.  We sit for a while on a bench, watching people bicycle past, watching several groups of uniformed schoolchildren on tours listen to their teachers, with that dome in the background across the river.  We ring the peace bell.  Standing near it, among tulips, we here an odd sound that turns out to be this frog, as ignorant as the heron concerning the nature of his surroundings. 

We consider walking over to the nearby museum.  But the fact is, we are already tired.

The dome in context -- with heron at bottom
Ghostly remains of the dome, reflected

We sit for a long time across the river from the dome.

Flocks of uniformed schoolchildren pass and pause while their teachers tell them about the dome.

Occasional photographers crouch in front of us facing the river and the dome.

Now and then someone rings the Peace Bell.

Eventually we decide we're too tired to face the Peace Museum today.  We get back on the trolley and ride to the end of the line and board a ferry for the short ride out to to Miyajima Island.

Miyajima Island
Nearby Miyajima Island is a welcome escape.

From the Atomic Dome, we take the trolley to the end of the line, then take a short ferry ride.
Deer greet us.  They're everywhere -- wandering around by the harbor and temples, and munching on vegetation near the top of Mt. Misen.

Across the street from the ferry landing they beg food from tourists, accept treats and petting from local human friends, and pose compliantly for pictures by the tourists, the vast majority of them Japanese.

Our ryokan is quiet and welcoming, and after a late aftenoon stroll we return to it at dusk for a delightful supper.  I'm not one who writes much about food, but the multi-course meals, portions small but delicious and beautifully presented, are a wonderful treat after a long day.

The island is mostly hilly and unpopulated, and the populated portion is dominated by temples from various periods.  The name means "shrine island" -- which fits it.  It is most famous for the bright orange torii gate to Itsukushima Shrine. 

This closed shrine stood on a hill just above a little shop where they brewed and sold wonderfully fresh coffee, which one could carry up the steep steps to here and contemplate the bay -- or just contemplate.

This last picture summarizes something about Japan for me: the small cherry tree in foreground, and the Hseian shrine in the background, for which the isalnd is perhaps most famous.  The bright orange Torii Gate (background, center) stands in the sea (except perhaps at low tide).  In between, temple roofs.

The highest point on the island is Mt. Mizen, reached by a lengthy climb or, more easily, by a cablecar followed by a more moderate hike to the summit.  There are temples along the way, and the path contains attractive views of nearby islands.
Deer are up here too.
So, amazingly, are Japanese girls in dangerously high heels.

At the summit there's a small tower.  It was windy and cold.   The only other person up there was a Japanese sports reporter on holiday.  She had with her a comic figure -- which I gathered would be as recognizable to anyone in Japan as Charlie Brown or Wily Coyote would be here -- and, as she does everywhere, photographed him enjoying the majestic view.

Miyajima is so peaceful and pleasant that after wandering around for a day we decide to stay a second night.

The Peace Museum in Hiroshima

When we return to Hiroshima the next day, we go to the museum itself.

The Exposition Hall
It is a numbing experience.  We see maps and aerial photographs and models of the area as it was before and after the bomb.  There are also abundant documents -- memos, letters, diary entries, etc. -- regarding the decision to drop the bomb.

The message here is not "Japan good, U.S. bad."  The story does not fail to include Japan's militarism and its initiation of war.   There is no question, in history or in the materials in the museum, that Japan's militaristic government started the war and was both wrong and somewhat stupid to do so.  (I have read, long ago, John Toland's "The Rising Sun" and an excellent biography of Admiral
The Exposition Hall
Yamamoto, the latter an admirable figure who did not favor attacking the U.S. but, when ordered to do so, carrried out his mission with a high degree of competence and imagination.  (Yamamoto, who had studied at Harvard in 1919-21, also received much criticism in miltaristic circles for his opposition in 1938 to the Tripartite pact with Nazi Germany.)  I read the Toland book so long ago that I've forgotten the content, but recall that I found it highly interesting.   It chronicles the war years, starting in 1936, from the Japanese perspective, and was basedon extensive interviews with high Japanese officials who survived the war.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1971.  I came away from the book with an enhanced understanding of the reasons for Pearl Harbor, but nothing justified it.) 

However, it is difficult to walk through that museum.  The documents leave little doubt that the bomb was not necessary to end the war and avoid having to invade the Japanese mainland, and not much doubt that the folks in charge, in the U.S., ought to have known that.  The documents establish that major reasons for the use of the bomb were to intimidate the Soviet Union, to quiet Congressional critics carping about the vast expense on a secret project of which Congressmen knew no details, and to learn just how the bomb would actually affect a populated area. 

I cannot judge Harry Truman.  (I try not to judge anyway.)  For one thing, Truman learned of the Manhattan Project only after FDR's death, and had only a few months -- as a new president knowing FDR and the military folks had been working on these problems for years -- as President before August 6th.  I also well understand, as a lawyer and reporter, the distinction between the legal evidence in documents and the unknown territory in someone's mind or heart.

Still, the documents appall a neutral witness.
Then, after the documents, are the artifacts.  The maps show the overall destruction, but the bits and pieces of people's lives -- stories and clothing and burnt tiles and what-not -- place the harm on a more human level.

The sign reads:
Shinichi Tetsutani (then 3 years and 11 months) loved to ride this tricycle.  That morning, he was riding in front of his house when, in a sudden flash, he and his tricycle were badly burned.  He died that night.  His father felt he was too young to be buried in a lonely grave away from home, and thinking he could still play with the tricycle, he buried Shinichi with the tricycle in the backyard.
In the summer of 1985, forty years later, his father dug up Shinichi's remains and transferred them to the family grave.
This tricycle and helmet, after sleeping for 40 years in the backyard with Shinichi, were donated to the Peace Memorial Museum.

There are many more. 

Leaving, we feel exhausted -- yet very aware of how lucky we are never to have lived through any such thing.
Although most of my newspaper columns are local in nature, walking through the museum and riding back toward the reailway station on the trolley I find it unimaginable that one could visit this place and not write about it.  I resolve to do so, Sunday, August 5th.

Note: We visited Japan 10-24 April 2012.  This is the sixth in a series of posts concerning that visit.  The series begins with Japan I - The Cherry Blossoms
and this one follows Japan V - Another Outing to Kyoto
The others, published in May, include:

Japan II - Two Weeks in Osaka

Japan III - A Day in Kyoto

Japan IV - Miniature Worlds and Ancient Gardens

In addition, the page Ten Tanka contains a somewhat less journalistic view of the same visit.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Southwestern Summer - Images from July

   Here are a few images I liked from the month just ended.

   In mid-July I spent a night and a day on a ranch 4-5 hours away from here.  I went in connection with a video we're working on, and shot mostly video, but managed a few still images of the remote ranch.  (This visit is mentioned in my 22 July Sun-News column.)
   Sunday night, as we returned from dropping some cattle off in a pasture far from the house, when we reached one cattle-gate the driver asked, "That supposed to be a real fence" and pointed.  A length of fence was down -- somewhat to the surprise of the man who owned the place, who'd just returned from a family reunion in another state.  Although it was nearly sunset, the driver suggested they fix it immediately -- and had with him the necessary tools, just in case.

Mending the Fence
The next several images are also from the same ranch:
Sunset on the Ranch

Windmill at  Dawn

Windmill at Dawn

Windmill and Young Cowboy at Dawn

Among the others I liked this month:

This one's no great shakes as photography, but not a lot of folks even see vinegarroons.  One old friend who's lived in Cruces 40 years says he's seen two.  This month we're sometimes seeing two or three in a day, including one that seems to think our garage is a good spot to crash.  They ain't pretty, but mean no harm to humans -- and, in fact, eat scorpions.   Name because a defense mechanism is to emit something that smells like vinegar.  Maybe we'll try to get one mad and see if the vinegar tastes good on salads.

It's rainbow season here.  If I weren't so lazy I'd go see whose house that is, and offer 'em a print.  But then again, if I weren't so lazy, maybe I'd be up on that hill-top looking for the proverbial pot of gold.

This one is part of a series I'm working on -- same flag the first Friday of each month, the evening we ramble from gallery to gallery around Main St. and the Mesquite area.

Happened to see interesting light one Friday, shot this flag with that light behind it, then did it again first Friday in July. 

By the way, if you're from Dona Ana County and haven't tried the First Friday Gallery thing, I recommend it.  We enjoy it: there's some interesting art to see; it's a good event to support (with your presence even if you can't afford to buy); you might get a free glass of wine; and almost every Friday we have some really enjoyable conversations, both with old friends we run into there and with new folks we meet as we wander.

Come to think of it, I'll actually be having a show at the Rio Grande Theater Gallery throughout September.  It's a small but pleasant space adjacent to the lobby in the old theater.  Maybe see you Friday, September 7th?

Meanwhile, out where we live, the sunsets have looked sort of like this for much of July: