THE MYSTERY OF DAVID VELA
Given that the President is environmentally toxic, it would follow that all of his political appointees would also be toxic. This was the case with Scott Pruitt, Trump's choice for head of the Environmental Protection Agency and Ryan Zinke, head of the Department of Interior.
Strangely enough, this is not true in the case of his nominee for Director of the National Park Service, David Vela.
On the contrary, Trump's nominee may well be the best-qualified choice for Director in the history of the agency. Yes, better than Stephen Tyng Mather or Horace Albright or even Wizard George Hartzog. (Blasphemy!) Only William Penn Mott, who ran the California State Parks, and perhaps one or two other Directors, can challenge Vela on entry qualifications.
Please note that we are saying "most qualified" not "most accomplished." That remains to be seen.
Are we sure?
First of all, if confirmed, David Vela will be the first Latino to lead the NPS.
Vela is not just a white guy with a Spanish last name, he actually has the hide to prove it; skin dark enough to cause security guards at certain gated communities to ask pointed questions before admitting him.
Is this important?
Yes it is, if the NPS is to seriously maintain a commitment to the changing racial demographics of the nation.
David Vela grew up in Wharton, Texas, an agricultural town of around 8,000 some 60 miles southeast of Houston. Wharton is one of the flatter parts of Texas, so much so that when his family took the quintessential American road trip "Out West" and the Teton range rose like exclamation points, young David vowed that he would someday live there. He is currently superintendent of Grand Teton National Park. (Soon to be removed to Washington, DC.)
Vela is a graduate of Texas A & M in Parks & Recreation and has spent 28 years with the NPS.
He started out in San Antonio Missions, and has done time in LBJ, Palo Alto Battlefield, George Washington National Parkway, Appomattox, Independence, and four years as Regional Director of the Southeast Region. He graduated from the Senior Executive Service Program in 2006 and was assigned to an SES park, Grand Teton as superintendent. Clearly, great things were expected of him, judging from his experience both in and out of the National Park Service.
Surprisingly, he was not a "Green blood." (Someone who is totally dedicated to the mission of the NPS to the point of fanaticism.)
Vela was quite willing to leave a permanent job with the NPS to advance himself in other federal jobs.
After Independence NHP, he took an 11-year break in NPS service to work a variety of prestigious jobs in federal or state service. Among other things he was Special Agent for the Department of Health and Human Services, Special Assistant for Hispanic Affairs for Congressman George Leland, later became a federal investigator for EEO, then became Director of the Texas Child Support Program, supervising 74 offices and 2,400 employees.
In 1998, he returned to the NPS as Superintendent of Palo Alto Battlefield NHS.
Vela is unique in that, apparently he has made only one serious enemy in his 28 years with the NPS, something of a record.
Senator Murkowski speaks well of him and Theresa Pierno, CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), had this to say:
"Vela is a problem solver and is poised to take on the many obstacles facing our parks, including threats from development, air and water pollution, climate change and record visitation."
Muted criticism of Vela from the ranks of the NPS seems to revolve around the possibility that he often makes decisions based on what's best for David Vela.
Oh, come on! Unless your name is Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi, that's the way most non-military humans tend to make decisions.
Now who would be "Vela's one serious enemy?" That would be Jeff Ruch of the environmental gadfly outfit "PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility). PEER has attacked Vela for failing to protect wilderness areas in Florida's Big Cypress Preserve while Regional Director, and failure to prevent cell tower building in Grand Teton National Park.
Ruch himself draws mixed reviews from NPS personnel, both retired and active; members stating that "Jeff is a grandstander" and "Being attacked by PEER is a badge of honor! Confirm Vela!" Are these charges by PEER true? Don't rightly know, neighbors. We'll have to ask the folks at Big Cypress and Grand Teton (Which should result in the most artful tap dancing since Fred Astaire.)
PEER grudgingly admits that Trump's choice could have been much worse than Vela. (DISCLAIMER: Your editor has never met David Vela or communicated with him and thus has no dog in this fight.)
Actually, The Great Malefactor's choice of Vela is not half bad.
The mystery is why did Trump choose a relatively decent candidate for the job?
Was there a shortage of Bad Guys? Not bloody likely.
Cleven Bundy and his vile son, Ammon, could have been on the short list, but they were likely under consideration to fill the top slots at the Bureau of Land Management and Fish & Wildlife (Ammon has experience running the Malheur Wildlife Refuge).
Then there was Chuck "rent a riot" Cushman who would have been the ideal anti-park candidate, who could oversee the privatization of the parks with great alacrity.
So, what happened?
Well now, if we are to believe Bob Woodward's book, FEAR, it seems that there is a gallant band of Republican patriots (Yes, there are such creatures!) who snatch bad decision papers from the desk of President Trump before he has a chance to read and implement them, thus saving the nation.
If this is true, then it is possible that the dossier of David Vela was substituted for the dossier of Trump loyalist, J. Mortimer Krumholtz, who is hell bent on opening the parks to hunting and commercial exploitation?
This is a very romantic suggestion, proposing the present day existence of progressive Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir or Nat Reed.
A more likely view is that there is some semblance of order in Crazy Town and at least some of the Trump operatives know what they are doing.
You see, Americans, most of them, love their national parks. They don't want anything bad to happen to them. They also love the National Park Service. Polls and studies indicate the NPS is the most beloved of all the federal agencies.
In short, it is bad joss to mess with either the national parks or the NPS. The Trump regime has enough bad press without taking on the National Parks.
Even the greediest of Republicans gives at least lip service to the idea of National Parks, forgetting that by definition, they are precursors of Demon Socialism. Our conservative politicians wish only that said parks not be so big and that the agency not impose those annoying regulations about clean air, clean water, no hunting, no grazing, no logging, no mineral extraction, and no off roading. (The NPS is no fun at all!)
Despite all these restrictions national park status is a dearly sought after commodity, not because our Neanderthal politicians wish to preserve the razor back chub, or magnificent views, but because of the tourist dollars, which remain remarkably constant even during a recession.
These dollars flow into the wallets of countless small business people who are understandably upset when anything interferes with the perpetual motion money machine that goes with an NPS designated site; no sense culling the Golden Goose.
Then there is the matter of size. At only 84.9 million acres (55 million being in Alaska) The National Park System is the smallest of the four major civilian land agencies. Most of the NPS units are small historic sites of a few hundred acres, hardly worth looting by even the most rapacious of greedheads.
Finally, there is the matter of resource dollarability. Proposed national park lands are severely vetted for anything of commercial value before being consecrated as national parks (Great Smoky, Redwood, and Olympic were heavily logged before they became parks) There is simply no economic incentive to loot the NPS holdings.
This is not the case with the Bureau of Land Management (247 million acres) or the US Forest Service (193 million acres) or Fish & Wildlife (150 million acres). The sheer size of their holdings plus their enabling legislation encourages the idea there is something worth stealing. Now there is nothing wrong with the "Multiple Use" Mandate as practiced by these agencies as long as sustainability is guaranteed by good science and the land is properly reclaimed after mineral extraction. This mandate allows for a modest profit for participants.
The problem is that Trump's friends do not want a modest profit. They want a "hellaciously bigly" profit. This would mean cutting some environmental corners.
This would mean bad press and unkind words for the President.
This is where David Vela comes in (and why he was nominated as Director rather than one of the Bundy boys.)
Vela has a relatively bullet proof resume and his boss Ryan Zinke is on record as favoring using royalties from the extraction of fossil energy from other federal land holdings to pay down the 11 billion dollar shortfall in NPS maintenance.
This will allow President Trump many photo opportunities to pose as a practical savior of the environment, showing up with golden shovel in hand to inaugurate some restoration project, a smiling David Vela at his side.
Meanwhile, considerably more than 11 billion will also be removed from the public domain to private pockets at an environmental cost yet to be reckoned.
As George Bernard Shaw once observed: "He who robs Peter to pay Paul will get no objection from Paul."
A HOME FOR THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
Recently, your editor received e-mail from Tracy Baetz, Chief Curator of the Department of Interior Museum.
Now if there is a shared trait among museum curators, it is a desire to have all ducks in a row and all loose ends tied up. Tracy is no exception to this occupational trait.
She had discovered six early copies of THUNDERBEAR in the Interior Museum files. She was intrigued. Obviously they were part of the history of the Department of the Interior and thus museum fodder.
Could she ask me some questions about THUNDERBEAR?
Couldn't see why not.
After our short interview, Tracy graciously thanked me for the information and asked if she could do anything in return; a tour of the museum, perhaps?
Actually, what I really wanted was a tour of the South Interior Building, one of the most opulent federal buildings in Washington, DC.
A little explanation is in order. You see, you don't just walk into a federal agency building in our nation's capitol unannounced and uninvited. You have to have a mission and you have to know someone in the building. This is to prevent theft, harassment or terrorism from our less well-hinged citizens.
My mission was to see The South Interior Building and its famous office.
Why in God's Green Acres would anyone want to see a federal office building?
Well, Jerry Rogers, late of the National Park Service and Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places and myself, Your Most Obedient Servant, both agree that the 100 year old National Park Service deserves its own home and South Interior is a logical candidate.
Well, by all polls, the NPS is the most popular agency in the federal government and more people would be interested in visiting its headquarters that in visiting the headquarters of, say, the Internal Revenue Service or the Department of Homeland Security.
Jerry also agrees that in keeping with the historical preservation doctrine of the Park Service, the headquarters of the NPS should be a historical structure; something on the National Register, something big, beautiful and impressive, with a great address, right on the Mall.
That would be the South Interior Building. just a stone's throw (depending on your arm) from Main Interior. Best of all, South Interior has an entire block of precious Mall frontage between Constitution Avenue and C Street making the location ideal if expansion is contemplated (and yes, neighbors, this administration will not last forever.)
South Interior is a three story neoclassical structure faced with white Georgia marble. It is shaped like the capitol letter "E", with the long part of the "E"facing the Mall.
According to the General Service Administration (GSA) architect:
"The primary façade is faced in white Georgia marble and features a 13 bay engaged double height colonnade of fluted Doric pilasters flanked by shallow projecting corner pavilions. A large entablature composed of a plain frieze and enriched cavetto cornice surmounts these pilasters. A single height entrance pavilion composed of three pedmented formal entryways is centered on the façade."
(Now if you can figure out that architectural jargon, you will have an idea what the place looks like. If not, consult the photos.)
You have probably figured out that South Interior was not built by the Department of Interior. (The Main Interior Building, done in Mediocre Mussolini Modern style, lies next door for comparison).
South Interior was completed in 1933 as the headquarters of the Public Health Service.
The architect was Jules Henri De Sabour, who had designed many of the embassies in Washington, DC. The style is Beaux Arts, a sub form of neo classic architecture; the idea being to look substantial and serious, yet friendly.
De Sabour's building gets that job done.
Now it was the custom of the time for Congress to appropriate a sum of money for the construction of a building and tell the chief of the agency to build what he wanted within the parameters of the appropriation.
The Chief of the Public Health Service at that time was the Surgeon General of United States, Dr. Hugh S. Cumming. Dr. Cumming knew what he wanted; a beautiful building and a nice office for himself.
He also knew what he didn't want: Air conditioning.
The miracle of air conditioning was just coming into use in the Washington of the early thirties. Dr. Cumming was a skeptic. Rather than accept that climate control could overcome the summer jungle heat of Washington DC, Dr. Cumming believed that air conditioning was "unnatural and unhealthy" and would render his bureaucrats subject to colds and lost time. (To be fair, a not uncommon belief at the time.)
As is often the case, his prejudice dovetailed with his desires. By eliminating the cost of air conditioning, there would be money left over to build the office of his dreams. It is big; bigger than the oval office in the White House, octagonal in shape, has a working fireplace, parquet floor and pecan paneled walls. Anyone entering this office is going to be impressed by the occupant.
Now Dr. Cumming was not a bad man, but he wasn't a good one either. He was a man of his times. He won a medal for his research on Yellow Fever, but he also inaugurated the infamous "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male," a study that made sure that the poor black subjects of the study did NOT get the penicillin cure when it became available. He was also advisor to the American Eugenics Committee, sponsors of a pseudo science that ruined thousands of lives and for which Shenandoah National Park is still apologizing.
Whatever his moral faults, Dr. Cumming had an eye for a beautiful building.
Bureaucratic life flowed uneventfully in the Public Health Building until 1942,
War came. Churchill and Roosevelt agreed that the general staffs of their countries should be combined to meet the Axis threat.
Where should these people be stationed? They were Very Important People; No Quonset huts for them! They needed an important building.
So the Public Health Service was evicted, the Combined General Staff moved in and the building became The Combined General Staff Building, (It was this incarnation that got it the National Historic Landmark rating.)
After the war, the building became headquarters of the Atomic Energy Commission; another star boarder
In 1965, The Bureau of Indian Affairs, part of the Interior Department, took over the building and it became known as "South Interior".
On November 3, 1972, Interior South was quite literally taken over by around 500 members of the American Indian Movement (AIM ) to protest "The Trail of Broken Treaties." The occupation lasted three days.
In 1977, the Office of Surface Mining, another Interior Department agency, joined the BIA in South Interior. BIA later found other quarters.
This left the Office of Surface Mining in charge of one of the crown jewel properties on the Mall.
Now the Office of Surface Mining is sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of federal agencies. It gets no respect. The OSM is sneered at by coal companies and attacked by environmental groups. Its principal job is to see that mining companies properly "remediate" the land after the company blows the top off a mountain, dumps it in the valley and digs out the coal vein. It is a Sisyphean task and a job from hell.
A beautiful building on the National Register of Historic Places should be in the hands of an agency that can appreciate it rather than fossil fuel flunkies.
Ah well! Such is fate!
Still, I wanted to see the famous Octagonal Office, the biggest office in DC, bigger than Trump's. (Don't tell him that!)
So I asked Tracy, the Chief Curator, if it were possible to take a quick look at South Interior if the folks at Surface Mining wouldn't mind.
Tracy's answer was an unequivocal "No."
It seems that the Office of Surface Mining could not pay the rent on South Interior and GSA had evicted them. South Interior was now locked up with the keys in the pocket of the GSA, which would soon be looking for a tenant for the building. GSA was not offering tours unless you were a prospective tenant.
I was amazed! South Interior was now backing in play as a potential home for the NPS!
Wait till I tell Jerry Rogers! Wait till we tell David Vela!
South Interior has much to recommend it. It has a huge lobby with a sweeping staircase, a lobby that would lend itself to a visitor center for the 419 units of the NPS; something that the NPS does not presently have. The building has an auditorium for presentations throughout the day, and then there's that spectacular office which the Director will probably want to share with members of his/her immediate staff.
As previously noted, the grounds of South Interior are quite spacious and will lend themselves to a campfire amphitheater for evening programs in the summer, a day use picnic area, and of course, a small campground.
"A SMALL CAMPGROUND!" You recoil in horror! "SURELY YOU JEST!"
Not at all. It's about time that Washington DC caught up with other units of the NPS that offer camping in cities such as New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Urban campers seem to survive quite happily, with the NPS charging a quite reasonable $30 a night for the experience.
As the environmental gadfly Edward Abbey once remarked, "National Parks are one of the few things that a remote and suspicious government actually does for its citizens." So, yes, a national park headquarters on the Mall should be a place where the taxpayers (and even foreign devils) can wander in and out, seeking and finding information on things to see and do, as well as providing office space for managing America's most popular agency.
What about security? It is necessary but should be no more obtrusive than that provided for the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, which are remarkably safe.
But is it possible for the NPS to acquire South Interior?
Don't see why not, neighbors.
A contact in the DOI tells me that Director Zinke is agnostic on the subject. The President could care less, having no particular interest in parks. David Vela's opinion is unknown.
That leaves us with South Interior's present owner, the General Services Administration (GSA) the housekeeper of the federal government. GSA provides gadzillions of ball point pens, fleets of automobiles, billions of reams of paper and of course, millions of square feet of rental property to house Uncle Sam's agencies.
Now most federal agencies do not give a good goddamn about the buildings they occupy, asking only that the toilets work, the heating and air conditioning is successful, the elevators are not cranky and the neighborhood safe. This was probably true of the Office of Surface Mining.
The exception is, of course, the NPS, which is legally charged with worrying about the fate of historic buildings. Presumably, the agency would love to acquire a historic structure as headquarters.
Now the GSA meets some of its maintenance expenditures by leasing out its properties; (Most famously, The Old Post Office, to a real estate promoter by the name of Donald Trump who turned it into a luxury hotel).
The GSA can also "make money" by transferring a white elephant property to another federal agency and thus getting the property off its books.
According to the DOI contact, South Interior will require some renovation before it can be leased to the private sector. GSA can save the cost of renovation as well as getting it off their books by simply donating it to the NPS.
There you have it, neighbors: A (very) rare win -win outcome for the Trump Administration and the American people, with Trump appearing on TV congratulating the GSA chief and Zinke on a "money saving" deal and Zinke passing the keys to South Interior to David Vela. Sarah Huckabee Sanders could revel in the unaccustomed role of not having to defend her boss.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THUNDERBEAR
People sometimes ask the Christian Bureaucrat about the origins of the Gospel according to Thunderbear in relation to the other Gospels.
Students of the Bible (or at least the Christian part) are aware of only four government certified gospels; the works of the Four Amigos, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Were there other gospels? Quite a few as a matter of fact. They are called the Apocryphal Gospels.
Why are they apocryphal? Well, Webster's Ninth defines "apocryphal as "Being of Doubtful Authenticity": Sort of like grandpa's war stories. They COULD have happened, but maybe they didn't.
Consider the case of The Gospel of Judas Iscariot.
In the May, 2006 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, the magazine rather breathlessly announced the discovery and translation of an ancient manuscript that became known as "The Gospel of Judas Iscariot."
Yes! The most infamous betrayer and informer of all time; the one and only Judas!
HOWEVER, according to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC article, the New Testament got the story all wrong! Judas was not the villain but the hero of the Last Days of Christ.
Actually, according to the Gospel of Judas, Christ and Judas were the best of pals. Indeed, Christ liked Judas better than any of the other apostles. He therefore entrusted Judas with a special secret mission.
What was that mission? Well, somebody had to betray Christ in order for all the prophecies to come true. You see, Christ couldn't just walk up to a Roman soldier and say "Hi there! I'm King of the Jews and if that isn't enough, I'm God Almighty!"
The bored legionnaire was likely to say "So? What do you want me to do about it?"
Somebody had to convince the authorities that there was a real, seditious plot afoot and that he was willing to provide information for, say, 30 pieces of silver, so that Jesus could get arrested and killed.
That somebody had to be convincing: That somebody had to be Judas Iscariot.
"What an honor!" Judas must have exclaimed.
Anyways, according to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, that's the way the deal came down; subjecting the memory of poor Judas to centuries of hatred.
"Is this stuff true?" You ask.
You see, our version of Christianity had a little competition in the first couple centuries of the Christian era. There was an outfit called The Gnostics and they were forever writing gospels that nobody else had heard of.
There was a "Gospel of Mary Magdalen, and a Gospel of Philip, and a Gospel of James and a couple of Gospels of Thomas and a whole slew of other Gospels.
The Gospel of Philip claimed that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalen and they had a passel of kids. (Dan Brown made a fortune out of that one with his "Da Vinci Code.")
The Gospel of James claimed that Joseph (The carpenter) was a widower with several children when he married Mary and was actually her guardian and protector and there was no hanky-panky.
The two Gospels of Thomas are interesting because they allegedly fill us in on the childhood of Jesus.
Surprisingly, according to the Gnostics, Jesus was a pretty ornery kid.
One day, the child Jesus was playing near a pond. To amuse himself he took wet clay from the bank of a pond and molded the clay into figures of birds. Having nothing better to do, Jesus endowed the clay figures with life and the clay birds flew around him; a charming story.
Unfortunately, one of Christ's playmates was sort of a young Donald Trump. He said the equivalent of "Think you're pretty smart, doncha?" and proceeded to smash the clay birds.
Jesus responded by saying "I will cause you to wither and die like a diseased tree."
And that's what happened. The poor kid got all gnarly and scraggly and his arms and legs dried up and fell off and he died right there in front of everybody.
Later in the same day, another kid gave Jesus a shove. Jesus responded by striking him dead without any preliminaries.
Understandably, the neighbors were upset and sent a delegation to Joseph and Mary to complain that Jesus was killing all the kids in the neighborhood and couldn't they do something about it.
When Jesus heard about the complaints, he blinded all the parents.
Clearly, you didn't mess with the Gnostic Jesus.
The Second Gospel of Thomas consists of the 114 sayings of Jesus, and these words of wisdom are about what you'd expect from a Gnostic Gospel.
Here are a couple of quotes (So you don't have to read all 114)
"Perhaps people think that have come to cast peace upon the Earth, but they do not know that I have come to cast dissention upon the Earth: Fire, Sword, and War.
"For there will be five in one house: There will be three against two and two against Three; father against son and son against father."
Jesus says: "Whoever does not hate his mother and his father cannot become a disciple of mine and whoever does not hate his brother and his sisters and will not take up the cross as I do will not be worthy of me."
(So much for Gnostic family values! One begins to see why Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were more acceptable.)
So is their yet another apocryphal gospel: Perhaps one not so cruel?
Well, yes. There's The Gospel According to Thunderbear.
Who is Thunderbear?
Thunderbear is a beer drinking flying bear whose job it is to report on the Environment and to protect the protectors of the Environment He is a member of the Celestial Civil Service; God's representative on earth.
"Now just a darn minute!" You say indignantly "If God has a representative on Earth, how come the planet is so screwed up! How come we have Donald Trump and other miseries?"
"Good question, neighbor!
"You see, it has to do with God's hobby".
"God's hobby is Evolution?"
"What did you think it was: collecting baseball cards?"
"But isn't God all powerful? Can't he see into the future?
"God is all powerful, but he is not All dumb. Being able to see into the future for all Eternity would be the greatest curse imaginable, and God has no plans to be unhappy. God wants to see what happens next as Evolution occurs.
"But how did the Gospel of Thunderbear get started?"
"Like most gospels, somebody thinks of something and writes it down. Over the passage of years, the gospel is either accepted as God's own truth or it becomes an Apocryphal gospel, accepted only by THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC or Trump's base.
"Then you are the author of The Gospel According to Thunderbear?" you say skeptically.
"Actually, I just take dictation, like Mohammed or Joseph Smith. The Great Bear does all the talking".
"And what does he say?"
"Mainly complains and explains."
"He is a member of the Celestial Civil Service; God's Bureaucracy. It seems they are short staffed and underfunded. You will recall from Sunday school that upwards of one third of the Heavenly Host defected to The Other Side in the War between good and evil.
"One third! I had no idea Evil was so popular"
"Neither did God."
"Can you describe Thunderbear?"
"Typical flying bear; about ten feet tall, weighs around 2,000 pounds, dark brown fur, green pants, gray shirt, boots, fur lined wings, 28 foot wing span, and beer bandoliers.
"Yes. You've seen photographs of Mexican revolutionaries with belts of ammunition across their chests; same thing only with liters of beer cans. I believe he favors Grizzly Beer."
"Is Thunderbear's mission to save Humanity and the planet?"
"No, that's our job. Thunderbear is not allowed to interfere with Evolution ."
"But what's the point of having a superhero if he can't do anything?"
"Can't" is such a depressing word. Thunderbear is a Celestial Bureaucrat. He writes reports and he files them. Perhaps something will be done. Who knows? Something good might happen. Thunderbear does have one power, however."
"He has the power to whisper good environmental thoughts into the ears of powerful people while they are sleeping and their Cruelty filters are down."
"But can't Thunderbear just appear to the President and tell him that climate change is real?"
"The President is unstable as it is. The sudden appearance of a ten-foot tall flying bear in the White House might unhinge him. He might order a missile strike on Congress. Besides, as noted, no "Deus Ex Machina" gimmicks are allowed.
"Then you are the only one who can see Thunderbear?"
"So far. He prefers it that way. Being visible is what gets superheroes into trouble.'
"Is Thunderbear related to Smokey Bear?"
"No. Smoky Bear is a purveyor of misinformation. Thunderbear would never misrepresent a problem. According to Smokey, 'Only you can prevent wildfires.' This is patently untrue; God's lightning rather than human's match's cause most wildfires."
"How did you meet Thunderbear?"
I was chief historian of John Muir National Historic Site. I was living aboard my sailboat, The Christian Bureaucrat in the Martinez Marina. It was a dark and stormy night. This caused the Great Bear to make a navigational error. He crashed into my mast and landed in the cockpit of my boat.
Flying bears are sort of hard to ignore, so I inquired after his health and asked him where he was going.
He said he was trying to find the grave of John Muir, the great naturalist.
I told him that he had come to the right place; that I would be delighted to guide him to the gravesite after the storm was over. I offered him a mug of mulled wine and we became fast friends.
Over the years he told me many things, all of them true, unlike the apocryphal gospels. I have faithfully compiled them into the ÔTHE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THUNDERBEAR' (with a modest accompanying commentary of my own).
I once asked the Great Bear about the nature of Heaven.
"Would you like to go? He inquired slyly.
"No! Yes! , Not quite yet!" I responded hastily.
"The Nature of Heaven; The Nature of God. These are complicated, important questions. They are also beyond my pay grade. However, you will find the answers in the Gospel according to Mark."
Strange. I did not recall a discussion of God and Heaven in Mark's Gospel.
(It was only much later that I learned that to Thunderbear, all "Marks" were the same. The "Mark" he was referring to was Mark Twain and the "Gospel" was Twain's story "Captain Stormfield's Journey to Heaven" which does indeed explain everything.)
I asked the Great Bear if I would see Jesus.
"Probably not." Thunderbear replied.
"Why not?" I insisted.
"He's a VIP; probably off on another assignment."
"Very Important Person?"
"No. Volunteer in the Planets. Very similar to your Volunteer in the Parks. You see, if you are a famously kind, good, and helpful person you are given your own planet to run, sort of like a god. "
"But isn't that part of Mormon belief"? I inquired. (A tired joke among Utah gentiles is that Mitt Romney planned to use the Presidency as a stepping stone.)
"Indeed it is." The Bear responded Jovially. "But we can't let the Mormons have all the fun, now can we? So just about every reasonably good person gets a planet and population to play with: You have to admit that it beats being handed a harp and a pair of wings as a final reward."
Naturally, the god can't come from the same planet he/she is managing; that would be a conflict of interest, settling old scores etc.; that sort of thing; cant allow it.
"But what of Jesus." I asked.
"Hell of a nice guy! Everyone liked him; with the exception of that crucifixion thing of course.
"Who was he?"
"Originally, he was a Klept from the Planet Cranos. If I recall correctly, his original name was Torgon Xanta. The Klept are pretty scary customers; body about the size a railroad car, not counting the 47-foot tentacles. There is a triple row of venomous barbs running along the spine. The Klept's breath is poisonous as is its vomit, which it can project for 20-30 meters. It is the dominant species on Planet Cranos.
Despite their rather terrifying defensive appearance, the Klept were rather a kindly, helpful lot, so it is no surprise that many Klept won the right to become VIP's.
Torgon was assigned Earth as his VIP planet.
"Frankly", said the Bear, "I was pleased with this choice as I believed the humans, a dirty, brutal, selfish, superstitious species, could be terrified into being virtuous. Having a monster running their planet would do the humans a world of good."
"The problem was that Torgon didn't like the idea of being a monster or even the idea of terrifying people into being good."
"Now one of the many perks of going to Heaven is shape shifting; you can assume any appearance you desire, anything that makes you feel good."
"Torgon, who was something of an idealist, told me that rather than appear as a fearsome monster, he would shape shift into a simple, harmless Jewish carpenter and lecture the Earthlings into loving each other. Toss in a few miracles and special effects and problem of human cussedness should be solved.
The Great Bear dubiously asked Torgon if he were familiar with the human species. Torgon, ever the optimist, said "No, but he was sure that Goodness would prevail and, oh yes, please call him 'Jesus Christ' from now on."
The rest, as they say, is theology.
THE SAFETY MESSAGE
Yes neighbor, The Safety Message can occur at any point in an issue of THUNDERBEAR.
This means that an employee must search around for the all-important SAFETY MESSAGE and therefore cannot be blamed if he/she happens to read other articles enroute to the safety message. Remember, Safety is job # 1 with the NPS! This means that neither Ryan Zinke nor P. Daniel Smith or any of their toadies can criticize your choice of THUNDERBEAR on your government computer. (You have less of a leg to stand on if you Google up Stormy Daniels on the belief that she has the latest severe weather report.)
On to the latest Safety Message.
Now the best safety messages are based on personal experience and I can assure you that my experience with TIA was personal.
What is TIA? It is Transient Ischemic Attack, and as President Bush memorably described Trump's Inaugural Address, "It is some weird Shit!"
What happens is that you start babbling in tongues like a far out fundamentalist preacher in the hills of West Virginia.
Now I was not thinking about Jesus at the time; wasn't thinking about much of anything, just weeding my garden.
My wife walked by and suggested that I might consider watering the begonias.
I replied "GLUCK INAX GLUNK SINOK!
Joan said, "What did you say?
"SHRUK CANTU WHURK!" I said convincingly.
"Once more" Joan asked uncertainly.
"RUCKO URK SOLEX!" I said urgently.
I was obviously having some kind of stroke, but here is the weird part: I felt just fine. There was no pain, blurred vision, paralysis, blinding or headache. The only thing missing was the English language. I could speak fluently but only in a language that no human could understand.
Joan asked if I needed an ambulance. I nodded "Yes."
In 6 minutes I was on my way to the hospital, siren whooping and lights flashing importantly. (I could see how Trump got used to this stuff!)
By the time we reached the hospital, I could speak English again, though with a slur. By the time they put me to bed, the slur was gone: Classic TIA.
So what is TIA?
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is a set of symptoms that lasts a short time and occurs because of a temporary lack of blood to part of the brain. It is sometimes called a mini stroke. (The word "Ischemic " means a reduced flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.)
The cause of a TIA is a tiny blood clot that becomes stuck in a small blood vessel in the brain. This blocks the blood flow and part of the brain is starved of oxygen.
Unlike a major stroke, the TIA clot soon breaks up quickly and the symptoms go away.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that you have joined the club of people who are ten times more likely to have a major debilitating stroke within the next few months.
That stroke does not have to be, however. There are preventative measures you can take.
The first thing is to call 911: Never ignore a TIA just because you "got over it".
Think of the TIA as a "dress rehearsal " for the real thing: Indeed, you are ten times more likely to eventually suffer a stroke.
When you arrive at the hospital, you will be given a battery of tests to find out what is going on.
If your kindly editor is average, they will include an electrocardiogram to see what your heart thinks of all this drama. (A stroke is a brain attack not a heart attack; people often confuse them)
Then you will get a CT scan and/or an MRI to check if you've had brain damage. The CT scan is a walk in the park; the MRI is a bit psychologically unsettling: You are immobilized and pushed into huge cylinder and subjected to weird loud sound effects for approximately twenty minutes. (Editors note: If you have claustrophobia, you might ask for a Valium before this test.)
Your blood will be tested for high cholesterol and to determine if you have diabetes, both are high risk for TIA's and strokes.
You will also get an ultrasound scan of your carotid arteries (The ones in the neck.) As the narrowing of these arteries can be disastrous.
Strokes can occur at any age, but are more likely if:
Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. and for survivors, the after effects are debilitating.
Speed is of the essence in surviving and/or mitigating the effects of a stroke.
Practice the FAST drill with your significant other BEFORE either of you need it.
F is for Face. Ask the person to smile. If the smile is lopsided or droopy: STROKE.
Get to the ER as quickly as possible.
Here's hoping you will not need it.
PJ Ryan can be reached at: