Unsafe? Legalize It!

copyright 2014 Bil Lepp
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Of all the bills the West Virginia Legislature passed this session, I think the most important is the ban on owning exotic animals such as tigers. Thank the stars above the state managed to enact this legislation.

It is clear that the state is determined to follow a new rule: If it seems unsafe, legalize it!

Owning tigers may seem exactly the sort of unsafe practice the Legislature would legalize, even require, but if that is your line of thought you are not thinking like a West Virginia elected official. Studies show that pets are beneficial to physical and mental health. The simple act of petting a cat makes us feel less lonely and lowers blood pressure. If petting a normal size cat lowers your blood pressure a little, it stands to reason that petting a tiger would lower your blood pressure even more. And we can’t have that. Recent polls show West Virginia is the most depressed state in the Union, and lawmakers don’t want to squander that notoriety. Our legislature is determined to keep us sick, addicted and depressed.

Meth makers, however, can rejoice. You are the darlings of the conspiracy to keep us sick and sad. If everyone in West Virginia is hooked on meth, unemployed, in poverty and depressed then sustaining an inept state government will be so much simpler. If we are depressed and high we will be more apt to believe the root of our problems are federal regulations aimed at clean water and clean air, rather than zillion-dollar companies who want to make a few bucks.

As a voting population, we West Virginians must be high to think our industries are overregulated when the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, the 2011 natural gas pipeline explosion, and the Freedom Industries chemical spill all happened, at least in part, because of lack of inspections and lack of governmental oversight. “Dude, oops,” seems to be our state government’s default response to industrial disasters and the drug problem.

They are hoping we are too high to notice, or too sick to get out of bed to do anything about it.

I do applaud the West Virginia Legislature for taking away the rights of individual municipalities to make decisions about gun laws. We clearly cannot trust our local governments to keep us safe. After all, right here in Kanawha County, some officials thought funding the library was a good idea. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and funding has been drastically curtailed. A literate population is a healthier population, and we can’t have that. How can we possibly allow county officials who want kids to read to also make gun laws?

I am a gun owner, but I have never felt the need to take a gun to the rec center. I guess I need to reconsider that choice. But if I did take a concealed gun to the gym, where would I put it? I wear shorts and a t-shirt when I work out. Where would I conceal my gun? If I have to put my gun in a locker, that negates the whole purpose of bringing it. I’m gonna have to mull this one over.

Do I really think there is a conspiracy in West Virginia to keep us unsafe and get us all high? Of course not. The pharmaceutical industry’s effort to keep medications containing the pseudoephedrine used to produce meth available over the counter are purely altruistic. Big Pharma is truly, deeply, concerned for all the billions of West Virginia cold sufferers who just might not pull through if they have to rely on readily available cold medications that cannot be manipulated by meth manufacturers. Mississippi and Oregon, two states that have passed laws requiring prescriptions for meth making medications, have suffered a staggering number of cold related deaths, half the populations moved to Texas, and both states are facing financial ruin. Oregon has gone so far as to adopt legislation to be annexed by British Columbia. If only Big Pharma had done for those states what they have done for West Virginia. Thank you Big Pharma. I know you never once thought, “What? Really? We make a lot of money from people who buy our legitimate products to produce highly addictive and destructive illegal drugs? Dude, oops.”

In parting, I have a final word for exotic animal owners. You either need to become part of the conspiracy or figure out a way to use your animals to make drugs. If there was a chance your critters were going to leak toxins into the environment, or be ingested for the purpose of getting high, of if you could conceal you giant beasts for the purpose of self-protection, you would become immediately invisible to the West Virginia Legislature. And then, if one of your critters did something wrong you could just say, “Dude, oops.”

Lepp, of South Charleston, is a professional storyteller. Read more at leppstorytelling.com.
As seen in the Charleston Gazette http://www.wvgazette.com/Opinion/OpEdCommentaries/201403180192

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Softball Re-Enactors

copyright Bil Lepp 2014

I play in a co-ed summer softball league that is quite similar to what Renaissance re-enactors do. We all show up in costumes that resemble uniforms worn by actual ball players, and many of the us harbor the fantasy that we can actually play softball. We even go to places where real softball games have been played and we try to act out what happens in a softball game. We say historically correct phrases such as, “Swing batter,” “Atta boy,” and “There is no crying in baseball.” Like re-enactors, we learned these phrases from movies and books.

In truth, some of the players are very good, but they are in our league simply to pass the time when they are not playing in a real league. The rest of us tend to group together like wounded water buffalo, hoping the rest of the herd will keep us hidden from the carnivores. We are an entire league of people socially conditioned to migrate to right field, people who believe the coach must be talking to someone else when she says, “Go play second base.” We are the people for whom participation trophies were invented.

We should have team names like ‘The Last Picks,’ or ‘The No, He Was on My Team Last Times.”

The truly good players are at shortstop, left, left center, and first. I say ‘left center’ because we field ten-player teams with four outfielders because, as I said, most of us are natural right fielders so the rules provide double the opportunities to play out there. So, ‘right center’ is a person with just slightly more skill than ‘right field.’

Even losers have a hierarchy.

Our team actually has a good right fielder, which is a conundrum I often ponder while playing right center.

A short history of my softball experience would include two years in T-ball during which I never got a hit, and then in college our theater group had an intramural softball team. We were called Wounded Goose. We figured out that the frat boys on the other teams assumed we were homosexuals, since we were thespians. We encouraged this assumption, which was not entirely wrong, and wore pink turtlenecks as jerseys. The other teams didn’t want to tag us out because they were afraid they would ‘catch gay’ if they touched us. This came in handy on the rare occasions when we got a hit.

Our current league is designed to get the games over with quickly. Each batter steps to the plate with one ball and one strike against them. It is not a league full of great pitchers. Even mediocre pitches are called-up to the better leagues. Because the pitching is bad, there is an unwritten rule that you are supposed to swing at anything you don’t have to turn around to hit. A pitch has to be way out of the strike zone for you to let it pass without suffering scorn from the ump. The ump has to officiate four or five games a night, and he often starts drinking beer before Game One, and doesn’t let up until the last out is called. Beer doesn’t make him a worse ump, but he will call you out so he can go pee.

I shun the shame of walking. I like to walk. It is not only my best chance of getting to first base, it is my best chance to get to second base. We bat male, female, and if the pitcher walks the male, then the woman behind him in the order can walk as well, if she wants to. This keeps pitchers from just walking all the guys. I bat second to last in the line-up, which means the person who bats after me is an equally bad batter as I. So, it is strategy. If I walk, she walks. I’m on second, she’s on first. If there are already runners on base, they advance as well. With one walk I can produce two RB(W)Is and put myself in scoring position. So why swing?

You know why. There is little more satisfying in the world then swinging the bat just right, hearing the smack as the ball changes trajectory, and then watching the ball curve over the raised the glove of the leaping shortstop as you run toward first thinking, “My ball is going to land in the grass!”

Even when the only people in the bleachers are the teams waiting for the next game to start, even when the left fielder lights a cigarette when you step the plate, even though your manta is, “There is no shame in a walk,” the reason that even the losers return the diamond year after year is because even in the worst league, there is merit in a hit, and great satisfaction in making the ump have to wait even longer to pee.

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Pinewood Derby: Hands Off, Dad!

Copyright 2014 Bil Lepp

Every year, Cub Scouts have a Pinewood Derby. Each Cub gets an officially sanctioned block of pine about 7 inches long, an inch tall and 2 inches wide. The block comes with four plastic wheels and nails for axles. The theory is that each boy will take his block of wood, a pocketknife, a saw, sandpaper and some paint to create a race car to compete against cars made by other boys. Adults are supposed to help, and to be prepared to administer first aid, but the adults are not supposed to actually build the cars.

Yeah. Right.

Each January I received my kit. My eyes glazed over. Ideas raced through my brain. I could make an Indy car. Or a wedge. Or 1950s hot rod. Oh, the plans I made! I contemplated how I was going to saw it, where I was going to place the wheels, and how I was going to paint it. I’d sketch my car with little lines coming off the back to depict great speed as it blazed by the other boys’ cars. Each year I received that hunk of pine and, like Michelangelo, I could see the speedy David locked in the wood.

Then I would go home and give the hunk to my dad. His eyes glazed over. Ideas for cars raced through his brain. Oh, the plans he made! He sketched his car with little lines coming off the back to depict great speed as it blazed by the other dads’ cars …

I had two older brothers, so my dad had already “helped” build six derby cars. He’d never had a winner. I was his last chance. I’d watch as he measured, jigsawed, power-sanded, graphited, smoothed, carved and crafted “my” car. Sometimes he let me sand the car – but only on the back or the bottom.

My mom would call down, “John! He’s supposed to be building it!”

My dad would call up, “He is! He’s sanding it right now!”

I also got to help ensure the car was the proper weight. Each car was supposed to weigh 5 ounces. Dad would drill holes in the bottom of the car and fill the holes with molten lead. We got the molten lead by melting fishing weights with a propane torch. Dad let me hold the torch.

Dad worked hard on those cars. And, year after year, our cars failed to take home the gold.

My final race came when I was 10. This was Dad’s last chance, too. I watched Dad putting the finishing touches on “our” car. It was about 10:30, the night before the race. The phone rang.

Dad said, “What? Oh, hello, Christian.” Christian was a kid in our Cub Scout den. “Well, why didn’t you call last week?”

Dad hung up. “Christian needs a car.”

Dad went to pick up Christian and his hunk of pine. Christian sat beside me while Dad did what he could. He’d spent weeks making my car, he had mere hours to build Christian’s. My dad rounded the edges with his knife, touched the wood with the sander, and let Christian apply a coat of paint. Dad slapped the wheels on without adjusting or balancing them.

Well, you guessed it. Dad had his winner. Christian’s hastily carved, barely sanded, poorly painted car won the whole competition.

My car didn’t even place.

You may think the moral of this story is, “If you leave things to the last minute, you’ll probably win the whole race,” but that is not the moral. In fact, it’s not even moral time because that isn’t the end of the story.

I grew up. I had a son. He joined the Cub Scouts. In January, hunks of pine were handed out. My son stared at that piece of wood, dreaming of how his car would look, how he would cut it. …

And I remembered how much, when I was a kid, I’d wanted to make my own Pinewood Derby car.

I said to my son, “Let me help you with that.” And I cut and I sawed and I sanded and I chiseled and I painted and I balanced and graphited – and you know what? We won second place.

I got home from the race and called my dad. “See? You should have let me build my own cars. You might’a won!”

So, kids, wrestle that block of wood from your dad’s hand and do it yourself. But don’t be selfish. He really wants to help. Maybe let him sand the bottom, or the back.

as seen in the Charleston Gazette (WV) 3/9/14


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I Don’t Date American Men

copyright 2014 Bil Lepp

“I don’t date American men.” That’s what I heard one flight attendant say to the other flight attendants. She said it in that supercilious tone reserved for statements like “I don’t watch TV,” or “I don’t eat meat,” or “I don’t follow NASCAR” that are said to convey utter contempt for the mere, moronic mortals who are too stupid to know that they behaving like, well, American men.

She said it so that others would ask, “Why don’t you date American men?” She was an American woman, as far as I could tell. The other flight attendants must have known her reasons because none of them asked why she didn’t date American men. Or they detected her pretentiousness and didn’t want to hear her reasons for not dating the sort of men they presumably dated.

I wanted to know her reasons on the off chance someone asked me to write an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or Chicago Fire. Imagine the pathos of an attractive female doctor who was attracted to an attractive male doctor whom she believed was truly her attractive soul mate, but alas, he was American!

One of her coworkers said, “My boyfriend…” followed by some harmless story. Our girl chimed in: “Is your boyfriend American?” But her tone said, “Well, my boyfriend never contracted hepatitis getting a jailhouse tattoo while serving a life sentence for killing old ladies.” Some folks have a way with tone.

Like a true fanatic, she found ways to insinuate her convictions into every conversation. She asked me, “Would you like a beverage?” I said, “Yes, cranberry juice, please.” She said, “If you break ‘cranberry’ into syllables, you get ‘cran,’ ‘ber,’ ‘ry.’ ‘Cran’ rhymes with ‘gran’ which is part of ‘grandparents.’ Most people have two sets of grandparents. If you had two sets of grandparents that were both American, I would not date you. I don’t date American men.” Her powers to bring the subject into the conversations were formidable.

This line of reasoning gave me pause. Two of my grandparents were immigrants who became American citizens after being born foreigners. Well, they weren’t born foreigners. They were born natives of their own country, became foreigners thanks to Stalin, then they were immigrants, and finally Americans. Would she date a naturalized citizen? Would she date an expatriate? Johnny Depp? What about my nephew? He was born in Mongolia, adopted by my sister, and will grow up American. I hope she’s thought this through.

She was she was so obsessed with telling everyone that she didn’t date American men so that someone would ask her why she didn’t date American men that people instantly clued into her insanity and ignored her most tenacious efforts. I mean, if she had been an innocent blond from the Arctic Circle with three crossed-out Os in her name who said, “I haff neever dated American man,” guys would have lined up to prove why neever haffing dated an American man wasn’t such a bad thing. But she wasn’t. She was some pretentious American girl who probably couldn’t get a date in the English speaking world. She had to date guys who didn’t speak English because she prattled-on so much about foreign born cranberries, or something.

And, let me just ad on behalf of the entire American Male subspecies, I bet we’re not the worst of the lot. I suspect that most males around the world, viewed as a group, are a pretty sorry lot…even if they can speak a foreign language.

I’ll say this for her, we all create ways to make our own lives more difficult and she has crafted a doozey. In my dreams Andy Kaufman rises from the grave, or admits he fooled us all in the first place, dons his Foreign Man persona and sits down on that young woman’s aircraft. She falls in love. And I get some freaking cranberry juice without the extra commentary.

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Waning Olympic Aspirations

copyright Bil Lepp 2014

It used to be that the Olympics inspired me. I remember watching the 1984 Summer Games. I ran track at the time. I was a distance runner. Distance running is one of the most unglamorous and unheralded sports in the whole sports cosmos. To save you the trouble of looking it up, distance runners are those folks who run all the way around the track more than once. Really good milers can run a mile in around four minutes, but hardly anyone has the stamina to watch someone run in circles that long. Sure, sports fans can watch the last two minutes of a college basketball game for ninety minutes, but they can’t watch a miler run around a track four times.

The only thing more boring than watching distance running is watching distance swimming.

I watched the 1984 Summer Games and thought, “If I buckle down I could run in the ’88 games.”

I did not compete in the 1988 games, nor any subsequent Olympic games. I would have mentioned it earlier, and often, if I had competed in the Olympics. I’m pretty fast, I still like to run. I hold the record for the mile on the treadmill at the YMCA , but so far I have not developed the fire to compete on the world stage. I’m not even positive ‘Mile on the Treadmill’ is still an Olympic event.

I was 14 years old in 1984. Now I’m like… 22 years old, or some multiple there-of. I’m aging out of my chance to compete in the Olympics.

It is a bad sign when the Olympic announcer says, with awe and reverence, “At thirty-two years old she is by far the oldest competitor in this event.” I can’t help but think, “Thirty-two? I’m three Olympics older than she is!”

I watched the Dark Knight trilogy enough times to make it clear why I wasn’t in the 2012 Summer Games. In those movies Bruce Wayne does approximately twelve pull-ups and eighteen push-ups to be cut and toned enough to be Batman. I wish I had that kind of drive. If twelve pull-ups and eighteen push-ups can make you Batman, I bet half that many will get you into the Olympics. But when would I have time to do six pull-ups? Plus, the Summer Olympics are hot. And the Winter Olympics are cold. Is there a Spring or maybe Early Fall Olympics?

Even if I take up Skeleton sledding and become a citizen of East Timor there is no guarantee I will medal. Part of my problem is that I don’t want to do it if I don’t medal. What truly moves me watching the Olympics is seeing the athletes on the stand, bending down to have someone hang a medal around their neck. That is so cool. It speaks of accomplishment, hours training, a dozen pull-ups, and the culmination of a dream. It also bespeaks of peaking too soon. If you win your first Olympics at twenty, what then? People are going to have huge expectations for you. You can’t just become a car salesman after that. Sure, you can sell plumbing fixtures at Lowes while you are training for the Olympics. That’s noble. But, if you are still selling plungers twelve years after you medal you may have not only peaked too soon, but over focused.

I don’t over focus, and as far as I know I haven’t peaked yet. I’m still on the up-slope, I hope, and medaling in the Olympics would only dispel any illusions of success I still harbor.

Another part of my problem is that I have a Johnny Fever attitude toward sports. I want to be in a lawn chair way out in right field with an umbrella giving me shade, and another umbrella floating in my drink. Of course, if Johnny fever ran the Olympics I think the slogan would just be Higher Faster.

Last Olympics I discovered I have a deep affinity for curling. I’m not sure I had even heard of curling before the last Winter Olympics, but I watched with all the fervor of a fresh convert. It is just another sign that I am getting too old for the Olympics when the sport I most anticipate is also the sport most like shuffleboard. If I start training now, and move to Djibouti, maybe I can curl for the Gold in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

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Missing Peephole

I stayed in a hotel recently and there was no peephole in the door. There was a hole in the door, drilled straight through, but instead of the little brass and glass device thingy, there was a wad of toilet paper.

This led to a series of thoughts on the missing peephole.

I first assumed the peephole had been stolen. But who steals the peephole? A really small pirate was the only answer I could come up with but I had to reject that idea because a pirate small enough to use the peephole for a telescope would not have been tall enough to steal the peephole, nor would he be big enough to wield the tools necessary for the heist.

Then I thought perhaps I was jumping to conclusions, thinking the worst of humanity. Maybe no one had stolen the peephole. Maybe no peephole had ever been installed in the door. The door had been manufactured, the hole drilled, but no peephole installed. I was not staying in a classy joint. It could have been a cost saving maneuver. There had to be fifty to a hundred doors in the hotel. Management may have decided to not have the peepholes installed to save $50 to $100 dollars. They had, after all, decided that clocks, coffee pots, and basic cable were superfluous, why not skip the peephole?

I investigated. The other rooms seemed to have peepholes installed.

So I was back to thinking the worst of humanity, back to someone having pilfered my peephole.

It had to be nefarious. A passage from a book I had read came to mind. The bad guys knocked on the hotel room door and when the guy inside the hotel room looked out the peephole to see who it was, the bad guys held a pistol to the peephole and shot the guy inside the room through the eye. Nasty.

I looked around the room but saw no signs of splatter or gunshot residue. That wasn’t immediately reassuring. The room was not particularly clean. There were hairs and nail clippings aplenty from other guests, but no body in any of the obvious hiding places. So, if there had been a killing, a shot through the peephole, then it had to have been a professional job. After the murder the killers had entered the room, removed the body and cleaned the blood and splatter as to leave no evidence. I started to worry that the same fate might befall me, but smiled when I realized that since there was no peephole, I would not be falling for the ol ‘looking through the peephole’ ruse and thus I would not be shot through the eye.

But why, if these killers were so competent, had they not replaced the peephole? That’s easy enough to figure out. If you are on your way to a professional hit you ask yourself, “Do I have my gun, latex gloves, tarp, rubber booties, jumpsuit, bullets, silencer, bucket, scrub brush and bleach?” It is a long list. You can be forgiven for forgetting to bring a replacement peephole in the proper caliber. Once.

The most boring explanation for the missing peephole was that someone on the outside of the door wanted to see inside the door and since peepholes only work one way, said person somehow jimmied the peephole out of the door and had a look. To make this scenario more exciting I postulate the following: I doubt the task of removing the peephole was accomplished silently and so maybe when the outside guy put his eye to the now empty hole, the inside guy had his gun ready. Or least a pencil.

Of course the perpetrator could have been a highly skilled, proficient peephole remover and thus carried out his task without noise, but I doubt there is a separate class of criminal who specialize in clandestine peephole removal.

In each of these cases I have assumed that a guy removed the peephole. This is not sexism. You know as well I do that no woman removed that peephole.

My last thought on the missing peephole at that time, and I say ‘at that time’ because I have obviously dwelt on the missing peephole, was “What genius thought the best, most secure, way to fix a missing peephole is to shove toilet paper in the hole?”

I shrugged and lay down on the bed hoping I would not need the peephole. Or toilet paper. And I sharpened my pencil.

copyright 2014 B. Lepp

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People Throw Beer Cans at Me

People throw beer cans at me when I jog. This would not bother me except that the beer cans are empty.

I blame this behavior on the fact that we resent people who are bettering themselves. It is easier to throw a (empty) beer can at a jogger than to improve yourself. There is a Chinese proverb that states, “A run of thousand miles ends when you donk the jogger on the head with a can of Stroh’s.”

We all have a deep and abiding resentment for those who are improving themselves. It is a recurring irritation, like poison ivy. Poison ivy does not bother me until I stick my hand in it. Then, for the next week I am constantly reminded that had I been more mindful I would not be in the throes of itchiness. I look at people who do not have poison ivy and think, “Why is that person so much more blessed than I?”

People more physically or financially prosperous than myself, like poison ivy, only bug me when I make contact with them. “Friends don’t care if you have unrealized potential,” said Ed Chigliak on Northern Exposure. People who don’t care about my unrealized potential are exactly the sort of folks with whom I want to consort.

Not surprisingly, people throw things at me.
I don’t want to see you doing better than I’m doing anymore than you want to see me doing well. I don’t even like to see people raking their lawn. All I can think is, “Lordy, that person’s life is so complete that he has time to rake! I lament my misguided decisions. If I had saved even a fraction of every paycheck I could have saved enough money by now to buy my own rake.” However, I do not think, “I ought to clobber that guy with a beer can.”

I was jogging recently. I saw an SUV with four dudes in it coming toward me. A hand came out of the sun roof and lobbed an empty beer can at me. I stopped. The SUV screeched to a stop. I faced the SUV thinking, “How stupid am I? There are four guys in that car. Watching the Dark Knight Trilogy does not make me Batman. ”

The doors of the SUV, all four doors, opened. I swallowed. Then all four doors closed and the SUV sped away. I assumed that they realized their beer would get warm if they stopped to pound me, but I sincerely hope the following conversation took place:
“Let’s pound him.”
“Yeah. There are four of us and only one of him.”
“Dude, hold up, there are four of us and only one of him. But he’s just standing there. Waiting. I bet he’s Batman.”

Incidentally, Bruce Wayne does not irritate me. Nor does Tony Stark. Sure, both those guys are one percenters, but they give back. Also, they are so much better than I am that there is no reason to resent them. It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I will never be a billionaire-genius-superhero (as far as you know). We all say, “If I were as rich as Bruce Wayne I’d be a superhero, too,” sure and certain in the knowledge that we will never have to prove it.

I’ll never be a one percenter in the financial sense, but I am a social one percenter. My wife and I enjoy the TV shows The Middle and Raising Hope. They are funny shows but we like them mostly because, deep in our hearts, we know that we are exactly one percent better than the families portrayed in those shows…exactly one percent of the time.

If I were a better writer I would have come up with a conclusion to this piece by now. I’ll just leave you with some advice: If you see a jogger, throw a beer can at him. Chances are it won’t be me and by the time you get to me you will be out of beer cans, or too drunk to toss one. Wait, that doesn’t seem right. Oh well, it’s good enough.

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“… It’s a prison from which we would like to be released.” Charleston, WV, Mayor Danny Jones

A Not Entirely Comprehensive Compendium of Quotes and Articles From the Chemical Spill

The Spill
Jan. 9 John Raby “CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — At least 100,000 customers in nine West Virginia counties were told not to drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes using their tap water because of a chemical spill into the Elk River in Charleston, with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declaring a state of emergency Thursday for all those areas.

The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries, overran a containment area and went into the river earlier Thursday. The amount that spilled wasn’t immediately known, but West Virginia American Water has a treatment plant nearby and it is the company’s customers who are affected.

“The water has been contaminated,” said Tomblin, who didn’t know how long the emergency declaration would last.

“I don’t know if the water is not safe,” said water company president Jeff McIntyre.

“It was chaos, that’s what it was,” cashier Danny Cardwell said.
“Don’t make baby formula,” McIntyre said. “Don’t brush your teeth. Don’t shower. Toilet flushing only.” (http://bigstory.ap.org/article/wva-gov-declares-emergency-after-chem-spill)

It’s Been an Extremely Long Day
Jan 11 Greg Botelho and Tom Watkins, CNN, “President Gary Southern tried several times to walk away from a press conference Friday evening, saying “it has been an extremely long day,” only to be called back by insistent reporters — including one who noted how long a day it has been for all the West Virginians now without drinkable water or a full explanation as to why.
“This incident is extremely unfortunate and unanticipated,” Southern said.”… This has been a very, very taxing process.” (http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/09/us/west-virginia-contaminated-water/)

Deregulation Disaster
Jan. 11 “Since the inch-wide holes in the retaining wall were big enough to see, there is a chance Freedom Industries might have known that their 70 to 80-year-old tanks were in need of replacement or repair. It is therefore possible that the company did not incur the expense of fixing them because they didn’t have to.

If ever there were a classic case of deregulation disaster, this is it.” -itobin53 (http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/16321999-west-virginia-chemical-spill-company-was-exempt-from-epa-inspections)

To Hell With…
Jan. 12 Eric Waggoner, Phd.: “To hell with every single screwjob elected official and politico under whose watch it all went on, who helped write those lax regulations and then turned away when even those weren’t followed. To hell with you all, who were supposed to be stewards of the public interest, and who sold us out for money, for political power. To hell with every one of you who decided that making life convenient for business meant making life dangerous for us. To hell with you for making us the eggs you had to break in order to make breakfast.” (http://culturalslagheap.wordpress.com/)

EPA Interference
Jan. 12 Coral Davenport and Ashley Southallian , NY Times: “West Virginia has a pattern of resisting federal oversight and what they consider E.P.A. interference, and that really puts workers and the population at risk,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a lecturer in environmental health at George Washington University.

But Mr. Huffman disputed that accusation, noting that West Virginia’s economy is more heavily dependent than other states on the coal and chemical industries. “Based upon the types of industrial activity, how does it compare to the rest of the country? It’s not in context.” Although he added, “That’s no excuse for any incident where someone gets hurt.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/13/us/critics-say-chemical-spill-highlights-lax-west-virginia-regulations.html?_r=0)

Gov. Tomblin Makes a Good Statement
Jan. 13 Alexandra Field. Meridith Edwards and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN: “Absolutely,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told CNN. “We need to do what we can to see that this kind of incident never happens again. There’s no excuse for it.” (http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/13/us/west-virigina-chemical-contamination/)

Sen. Manchin Takes a Side…says We are Willing to Do the Heavy Lifting
Jan 18 Trip Gaberial, Michael Wines and Coral Davenport Reporting, NY Times: “You feel like everyone’s turned against you,” he said. He assured his audience that he would continue to fight back against proposed new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal, quoting the state motto in Latin: “Montani semper liberi” — “Mountaineers are always free.”

In an interview the next day, he expounded on the theme. “Coal and chemicals inevitably bring risk — but that doesn’t mean they should be shut down,” Mr. Manchin said. “Cicero says, ‘To err is human.’ But you’re going to stop living because you’re afraid of making a mistake?”

“I don’t know where else you want the chemicals to be produced,” he said. “Another country? People say, ‘Not in my backyard.’ But in West Virginia, we’re willing to do the heavy lifting.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/us/chemical-spill-muddies-picture-in-a-state-wary-of-regulations.html)

Freedom Industries Files for Bankruptcy…You Try to Follow It
Jan. 18 Kate White and Dave Gutman, Charleston Gazette (CG): “Freedom Industries, the company that fouled thousands of West Virginians’ water with a chemical leak into the Elk River last week, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Friday.

Freedom owes $3.6 million to its top 20 unsecured creditors, according to bankruptcy documents. The company also owes more than $2.4 million in unpaid taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, and the IRS has placed at least three liens on Freedom’s property, demanding payment.

About an hour after its bankruptcy filing, Freedom filed an emergency motion for what’s called “debtor-in-possession,” or DIP, financing, which would allow it to secure up to a $5 million loan to continue to function in some capacity. The loan would, according to the filing, “provide additional liquidity to [Freedom] in order to allow it to continue as a going concern.”

The lender in a debtor-in-possession case generally gets first priority when it comes time for the debtor, in this case Freedom, to pay money back.

“Under the bankruptcy code, when there is DIP financing from a DIP lender, 99 percent of the time, they get priority over all the other creditors,” said Bob Simons, a prominent bankruptcy lawyer with the Pittsburgh firm Reed Smith. “You’re putting your money in at risk, and the debtor is not going to have a lot of options, so the bankruptcy clerk permits the DIP lender to get priority over all the other lenders.”

Freedom’s proposed lender is a company called WV Funding LLC. That company does not exist in West Virginia, according to business records on file with the West Virginia secretary of state. Pennsylvania’s secretary of state also has no records online for it.

The DIP agreement has places to sign for Freedom Industries and for WV Funding “by Mountaineer Funding LLC.”
Mountaineer Funding was incorporated with the West Virginia secretary of state on Friday. Its one listed member is J. Clifford Forrest, Freedom Industries’ owner.” (http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201401170030)

“It’s Your Decision… Gov. Tomblin Makes a Goofy Statement
Jan. 20 Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (CG Ken ward Jr.)): “It’s your decision,” the governor told reporters during a news conference at the Capitol. “If you do not feel comfortable drinking or cooking with this water, then use bottled water.” (http://www.wvgazette.com/News/politics/201401200041)

Regulated, Not Regulated, Underregulated???
Jan. 25 Ken Ward Jr. Reporting in the CG: When asked how he could call the Freedom Industries tank farm — which held a water-pollution permit approved by the DEP — “unregulated,” the governor had agency Secretary Randy Huffman explain. Huffman carefully clarified what the governor had said.

“Unregulated is probably not the right word,” Huffman said. “It was under-regulated.”

Policymakers are beginning to respond to the leak of the chemical Crude MCHM into the Elk River, just upstream from the West Virginia American Water regional intake.

Some confusion continues, though, about exactly what authority the DEP had over the facility. A front-page New York Times story, for example, paraphrased Huffman as saying that, “because the facility stored chemicals, but did not produce them, his department had no responsibility for regulating it.”

However, in several interviews with the Sunday Gazette-Mail, Huffman and other DEP officials have made it clear — as Huffman did in his appearance with the governor — that Freedom Industries was absolutely not unregulated.” (http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201401250131)

Charleston Business Lose at Least $1 Million in Revenue
Jan. 29 Rachel Reporting (CG): “Although the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau has heard from only 12 businesses so far regarding financial losses from the Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply, CVB President Alisa Bailey said they’re already totaling $1 million.” (http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201401290176)

Not the Sort of People to Put in Charge of Chemical Storage
Jan. 30 Paul M. Barrett, Bloomburg Business Week: “These people who were running Freedom Industries weren’t the sort you’d put in charge of something like chemical storage that could affect the whole community,” Danny Jones, Charleston’s current mayor, says. “Who are these guys, anyway?”

Gov. Tomblin Makes a Good Statement
Jan. 30 Ashley Alman, Huffington Post: Quoting Gov. Tomblin- “Immediately following West Virginia American Water’s DO NOT USE order on January 9, I began working with the West Virginia National Guard and Office of Emergency Services to provide water and supplies to impacted citizens,” Tomblin said. “While the DO NOT USE order has been lifted, we continue to receive calls from constituents and organizations requesting water be made available to their communities. To address this need, I have asked West Virginia American Water Company to make available potable and bottled water to West Virginians in the affected areas.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/30/earl-ray-tomblin-water_n_4698536.html)

Unknown Effects of Chemical
Jan. 30 Ken Ward Jr. Reporting in the Charleston Gazette (CG): “Researchers from three universities have received emergency funding for studies of the long-term impacts of the Jan. 9 Elk River chemical leak, including an examination of whether the “flushing” advised by state officials and the water company adequately cleared toxic chemicals from home plumbing systems.

“The grant announcements come as West Virginia’s government continued to insist that the water is safe, and harshly criticized at least one local scientist who has raised questions about the way the crisis is being handled.

“The main challenge for authorities managing the spill has been how little researchers know about the chemical and how it interacts with other substances,” said William Cooper, director of the NSF’s Chemicals, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems division.

“Starting Jan. 13, water company officials and the state government began a weeklong process of lifting broad “do not use” orders for sections of the nine-county area impacted by the MCHM leak. After the order was lifted, residents were advised to run their hot water for 15 minutes, their cold water for 5 minutes, and their outside faucets for 5 minutes, to flush the chemical from their homes.

“State officials, in announcing their guidance for flushing, rejected an earlier recommendation from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that residents be advised to flush their plumbing systems until the chemical odor is gone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had said in internal documents that flushing the chemicals out of the system “may require a fairly prolonged time to complete,” perhaps two to three weeks.” (http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201401300040?page=2)

Easy, Not Too Fast With All These New Regulations, Folks
Feb. 1 Ken Ward Jr. Reporting (CG): “House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, sent a Senate-passed storage tank bill to three House committees. Such a move, called “triple-referencing,” often is seen as a maneuver to kill a bill.

Miley said his intention isn’t to block the storage tank bill but to ensure a complete debate on it. He also said he wants to continue discussions about whether the DEP properly enforced existing regulations that apply to the site.

“My concern is that there may have been plenty of regulations on the books that could have prevented this from happening,” Miley said in an appearance last week on the statewide Talkline radio show. “We need to be sure that we’re doing what is already required to be done before we start adding additional regulations.”
“At the very least, if [the] DEP had inspected the site, their first question should have been to ask for the [storm-water pollution prevention plan] and [the groundwater protection plan], and they should have reviewed them at that time,” Hansen said. “But [the] DEP chose not to inspect the site and enforce this permit.” (http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201402010083?page=2)

Feb. 4 What the CDC Has to Say About the Chemical
<a href="http://emergency.cdc.gov/chemical/MCHM/westvirginia2014/index.asp“>

Feb 8. Is The Water Safe to Drink?
Dayton Carpenter CG Op-Ed …having trouble making the link post…

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How WV is Like Justin Bieber

Dear National News Media,

I know that Justin Bieber is in danger of being deported and that that is critical, vital news, because he is a poor little rich kid who derives his power and status from your constant coverage of him and because all cable news shows seem to aspire to the journalistic greatness of People and US. I understand you guys need each other to thrive… but should that story become tiresome please remember that there are 300000 people in West Virginia who are still dealing with a water crisis.

And for all you hick-haters who think we are just a bunch of hillbillies, this does not mean that someone upstream shat in our crik.  Hold on, that is exactly what it means.  Three weeks ago 10000 gallons of chemicals spilled into our water system, but that does not make us hicks.  In fact, it makes us very much like Justin Bieber.  And here’s how:

Like Justin Bieber, West Virginia has an abundance of raw material that is valuable on the open market.

Like Justin Bieber, people have taken advantage of our resources.  In Mr. Bieber’s case, there were adults who saw how to exploit his talent to make money.  In West Virginia’s case, there were companies and government officials who saw the value of our resources.

In both cases, those folks who should have been responsible- managers, parents, government officials- neglected the physical and mental well being of their charge or charges in order to make a profit. (Granted, Mr. Bieber and the citizens of WV are not blameless in these cases. There had to be some come along.)

Justin Bieber has, or so the reports suggest, ingested chemicals that are not supposed to go in the human body.  If he took drugs and drank alcohol, and I am in no position to say he did, then he likely did it willingly.  We West Virginians also ingested chemicals, only we were just drinking water and showering.

And finally, as with Mr. Bieber, all West Virginians have great hair and drive Lamborghinis.

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Teach Your Children to Lose or Some Adults Are Stupid and Kids Know It

Copyright Bil Lepp 2013 blahblahblah


We play a game at our pool called Bulldog.  Here’s how you play:

First, somebody yells, “Who wants to play Bulldog?”  Children assemble at the deep end; a fight breaks out to see who will be It first.

A new fight breaks out over whether we will allow various rule modifications such as “Add-ons,” “Drains,” and “Chains.”

The It swims to the middle of the deep end.  All of the Non-Its line up along the edge of the deep end.  The It shouts, “Bulldog.”

The Non-Its dive in and try to swim to the other side of the pool without being tagged.  The It is merciless and tries to tag as many Non-Its as possible, thus making them Its.

Several fights break out as to whether the It actually tagged particular Non-Its.

During the second round, all of the people whom the It tagged are now also It.  Several Its now dog-paddle in the middle of the deep end.  “Bulldog,” is called.  The Non-Its dive in, and the Its try to tag all the Non-Its, thus making them Its.

Eventually only one Non-It has managed to stay a Non-It.  One kid always manages to not get tagged for the duration of the game despite having to swim back and forth across the pool against ever increasing odds.  That person is declared “The Winner.”

A fight breaks out as to whether “The Winner” or the “First Person Tagged” is It first for the next game.  The conclusion is that The Winner will be the It.

Bulldog is a fast paced, grueling game.  I believe it was one of those games that stupid adults invented to teach kids teamwork.  I also think that some kale-eating, socialist peacenik (wait, I eat kale) devised Bulldog to hip children to the notion that if you work diligently trying to sway a callous populace determined to avoid you, you can eventually turn the tide until all Peoples work with you.  And once you have converted the masses you have not Won, you have simply shared your inner peace with a needy and wanting world… and the one person who was never tagged did not Win but was simply too full of hate and anger and malice and greed to ever want to bathe in the unity of a community struggling to overcome.

Cough.  Gag.  Splutter.

Only stupid adults think there can be a world where people neither create winners nor strive to be Winners.  We want Winners.  We like Winners.

Looked at it from the Darkside: Bulldog teaches that if you are It you must hunt all the prey to Win.  It teaches you that the easiest way to hunt the prey is to subjugate others, to make them part of your pack, so that you can more effectively continue the hunt.

If you are not It, Bulldog teaches you that the whole world is against you and even those people you consider your friends will turn on you and try to subvert and pervert your desire for freedom and independence.

Either way, the world is a hard and ugly place.

However, there is some middle ground here.

Stupid adults don’t want one kid to win because then all the other kids will feel bad.  Some stupid adults would rather their child revel in mediocrity, sure and certain that they need not strive because no one is any better or any worse then they are.

Other stupid adults believe that the only victory is winning.  They believe that if their child does not win, then they have lost.  That is a lot of pressure.

I never get tired of saying that getting a Silver medal in the Olympics probably sucks…for about three days.  And then it dawns on you, “Hey, I am the second best person in the whole world at spinning ribbons.”

Somebody always wins Bulldog, but nobody wins Bulldog twice in a row because the Winner has to be the It in the next go-round.  You know who invented that rule?  Not stupid adults.  Kids invented that rule because kids want a Winner, but kids also have an innate sense of fairness.  Not all kids are willing to admit that innate sense of fairness, but it is there.  It is often displayed as an innate sense of unfairness.  You hear a lot of kids say, “Hey, that’s no fair.”

All kinds of kids play Bulldog at our pool.  Skinny kids, fat kids, older kids, younger kids, good swimmers and poor swimmers.  Stupid adults assume that the slow kids and the poor swimmers are at a disadvantage because the It will naturally single those children out to tag first.

Attack the weak and the slow.

Not so.  Okay, certainly some of that happens, but it is not always the case that the weakest kids fall first.

Every It has her or his own strategy.  Some Its deliberately go after the fastest Non-Its first, thus increasing the overall power of the collective It.

The poorest swimmers, and this is where it gets interesting, the poorest swimmers want to what?

I can’t hear you.

Say it louder.


The poorest swimmers, knowing that they cannot rely on their physical ability, look at the playing field and engage their smart, smart kid brains.  They learn to dive in when all the Its are engaged chasing others.  They learn to hold their breath long enough to outlast all the Its.  They learn to swim in the wake of others.  They determine to become better swimmers so they can win.  The will to win makes them better people.  They don’t always win, but they always strive to win.

Mediocrity is getting tagged It like everyone else.  No kid wants that.

My favorite part of Bulldog is watching the kids build each other up.  Kids know that it sucks to lose every time.  Kids know that there are degrees of ability.  Big kids, strong kids, kind kids, will sacrifice themselves by swimming into the Its, or drawing the Its to the far side, so that less able kids can make it across the pool.  Kids who constantly cheat, who forever deny that they were tagged, or who brag too much, get ignored.  Kids who constantly try to better themselves get noticed by the group and encouraged by the group.  Right there in the swimming pool, because there are Winners and Losers, kids teach each other humility, sympathy, mercy, community and empathy.

“I Win!” shouts the last Non-It standing.  “Hooray,” answers the crowd, “Now you are It.”

I’m a loser.  Great God Above I have lost so many sporting events and so many board games and so many foot races.  I played T-Ball for two years and I never got a hit.  That is not a joke.  I could not hit a baseball sitting still in front of me.  I did not get a ribbon or a trophy for “Best Effort” or “Most Misses.”  No, I got a look of pity that said, “You are the worst person ever to play T-Ball.  Perhaps your talents lie in other areas.”  And you know what?  It turns out my talents do lie in areas other than the athletic arts, but if I had not lost in sports I would not have sought out activities in which I might excel.

I had smart adults.  I had adults who said to me, “You are not very good at baseball.  Or tennis.  Or swimming.  Or sprinting.  Or Chess.  Or Math.  But keep looking and you will discover that at which you are good.”  And I did.

Smart adults equip children to face a world that is filled with activities at which they will probably not exceed.   Smart adults also equip children to continue exploring until they find an activity at which they do exceed. Very few people are good at everything.  And nobody really likes those people, anyway.

Teach your children to lose.  Teach your children to lose with grace.  Teach your children to play Bulldog and, in the process, teach them to identify ways they can improve themselves and ways they can help others.

Oh, and don’t make kids eat canned peas.   Only stupid adults make kids eat peas.

Check out other useful parenting advice in my book Muddling Through available on www.leppstorytelling.com, amazon.com, barnes and noble and so forth.  This little book went #1 in it’s category on Amazon.

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