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Americans for Burning Man Reform
by Andrew Kiraly | posted July 31, 2014
Grover Norquist at Burning Man. Grover Norquist at Burning Man. Grover ... Norquist ... at ... Burning Man. I can’t be the only one getting images of a shirtless, sunscreen-slathered Norquist dancing riotously on the dust-swirled playa, his marshmallowy form stuffed into a leather loincloth.
Sorry. But, inasmuch as the National Journal can be believed, the conservative activist and founder of Americans for Tax Reform will be there this year:
So, how did a conservative activist like Norquist get interested in Burning Man? He tells the story like this: A couple of years ago, Larry Harvey—the founder of Burning Man—was in Washington to negotiate with the National Park Service about land use for the festival, which takes place on federal land. Harvey later stopped by Americans for Tax Reform's weekly Wednesday meeting, and ending up going to dinner with Norquist and his wife, Samah Alrayyes Norquist. "You've got to come out!" Harvey told them.
And the seed was planted. But the why is more interesting than the how. How to reconcile the apparent tension between a conservative anti-tax activist and an ostensible counter-culture festival of organized, mass-scale, art-fueled, communitarian whimsy — or what the National Journal, lips grimly pursed, disapprovingly refers to as an “annual festival of debauchery”? What could the two possibly have in common? A-ha:
"There's no government that organizes this," Norquist said. "That's what happens when nobody tells you what to do. You just figure it out. So Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature."
Finally, someone comes out and says what Burning Man is all about. Why, all along, turns out it was a living crypto-libertarian diorama that shows noble, Rousseauean pre-government humankind living, sharing and partying, free of the bonds of the state! And here we thought it might be a spectacle-fueled rejection of passive consumer society, or a playful pop-up barter economy, or even an example of successful private-public partnerships that promote responsible, profitable and culturally productive use of federal lands. Of course, it’s all those things, and more. An event as large, resonant and unusual as Burning Man is bound to become a mirror that reflects our fears and desires — whether we’re nunnishly worried about debauchery or we dream of a utopia where we can trade Fiji water for Marlboro Lights without The Man looking over our shoulder. 
That’s what’s troublesome about Norquist’s assertion — besides the fact that this “Burning Man-as-‘refutation’-of-government” requires permits, contracts, negotiations, fees, and besides the fact that Burners are subject to a suite of very un-Mad Max-like rules and regs — not to mention the existence of Burning Man cops known as The Black Rock Rangers or the litter police known as the Earth Guardians (yes, breaking news: Even in this fugitive desert utopia, there are cops): the reductionist mindset of ideological appropriation that turns an international cultural wave into a conservative talking point. 
Drawing notice to the necessary organization of Burning Man isn’t intended as a gotcha! move on a naked emperor. It’s merely to point out that Burning Man has become a big, interesting, complex thing. Some observers, considering Norquist’s gaze to be some evil, curdling beam, have declared that Burning Man is dead — that his sanction signals a hopeless infestation by powerful corporate egos that the festival’s spirit militates against (see also Burner Google CEO Eric Schmidt). That could be one unfortunate scenario — but only if the Burners who embrace the festival in all its muddled, manifold ethos flee to leave room for the guys in ties who want an intoxicating taste of Ayn Rand boot camp.


The med school learning curve
by Heidi Kyser | posted July 30, 2014

For the August issue of Desert Companion, I checked in with the state’s higher ed officials to find out where they are in the ever-evolving effort to get a new public medical school in Southern Nevada. (Check back for that story, coming any moment to this very page.) You can’t talk medical education without talking graduate medical education — aka residencies and fellowships — since both are required to not only train doctors, but also keep them in the state. And getting more doctors is something this state desperately needs to do.

… as Congresswoman Dina Titus pointed out in her conversation with KNPR’s State of Nevada this morning. Titus, who is a member of the Veterans Administration committee in the House of Representatives, was on the program to explain a $17 billion VA overhaul that a bipartisan, House-Senate committee unveiled earlier this week. Turns out, the doctor shortage is a big part of the problem for the VA — particularly in Nevada, according to Titus.

“It doesn’t do any good to push vets into private practice for the care they need if there aren’t enough doctors to see them,” she said. “If you look at statistics for Nevada, we’re 46th in the country for primary care, 50th for psychiatry and 51st for surgeons. That’s why I want to create more residencies.”

She and recently appointed UNLV Medical School Dean Barbara Atkinson are thinking along the same lines. While I was reporting the public medical school story, Atkinson told me that she’s keen on working with the VA, both for possibly housing UNLV’s new medical students until a building gets built and for starting residencies to train those students after graduation. And, she specifically mentioned psychiatry as an area of great opportunity for medical residencies in Southern Nevada.

Meanwhile, the Reno-based University of Nevada School of Medicine and private, nonprofit Touro University Nevada are also working on getting more graduate medical education for their existing students — in primary care and surgery, among other areas.

It’s encouraging to see officials from various factions getting on the same page about how the state can solve its health care crisis. Now, they just have to convince the public to pony up its share of the dough.


The Yucca Mountain hangover
by Andrew Kiraly | posted July 29, 2014
Hey! Want to have a nice chat about Yucca Mountain? Of course you don’t! You’re over it. You’ve had enough. You’re not ready yet. You’re still savoring your luxurious sigh of relief after the Obama administration wrenched the Yucca spigot to OFF, and you really, really just want to fast-forward through this nebulous, woozy denouement we’re living in now, the age of the Great Yucca Hangover. 
You may be done with Yucca Mountain, but, oh, it’s not done with us. Don’t worry (at least not yet!), this isn’t a blog post about some fresh and disheartening reversal in the decades-long saga that sees the high-level nuclear waste dump rearing its ugly half-life again. I’m referring instead to a more metaphorical kind of radioactivity: the ways in which the would-be Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, in all the troubling majesty of its thorny hypotheticals — an engineered underground nuclear graveyard expected to exist many millenia into and perhaps beyond human history — continues to force us to grapple with tricky questions about human language and culture. For instance, after we build a burial site capable of containing high-level nuclear waste, here or elsewhere, how do we warn the future? Indeed, the nuclear cemetery that never quite was has borne fascinating fruit. 
One of the latest entries is this academic paper slated to be published in Cornell University’s Science & Technology Studies journal, titled “Adjudicating Deep Time: Revisiting the United States’ High-Level Nuclear Waste Repository Project at Yucca Mountain.” Reams have been blogged and written about the challenges — some would say absurd, imagination-staggering challenges — of building a DANGER! KEEP OUT! sign that could last, both physically and semantically, through thousands of years of erosive weather, natural cataclysms, geopolitical upheaval, human evolution, morphing language and who knows what else (alien colonization? hyper-evolved cats? hostile global AI takeover by a sentient Facebook in the year 4039?).
This paper (warning: at times, it’s a dense, punishing bog of opaque academese) considers the superhuman intellectual acrobatics required to impose today’s accepted notions of personhood to tomorrow and beyond. Or, as the paper’s author Vincent F. Ialenti writes, “As such, an anthropologist might see the Yucca Mountain Project as just another site in which humans have drawn upon fragments of the past to reinvent them in the present to serve new purposes in new contexts.” In the legalistic regime of YuccaThink, today's person is bureaucratically recast into the future-flung unknown as a “reasonably maximally exposed individual.”
 The tenuousness of such constructions is laughable; you can almost read them as exasperated code words for a gasping admission of “We don’t know!” Well, it would be laughable if it weren’t utterly headache-inducing — another symptom of the Great Yucca Hangover. 


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