Unwanted dead or alive: the market price of life in Nevada


From the 10-10-99 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

The price of human life remains cheap here in the wild, wild west. A person is worth less than a cow.

In Fallon, two dunderheaded sailors face trial accused of shooting and killing eight head of cattle. Defense attorney David Houston pointed out that the young men face more jail time than many perpetrators of murder and mayhem against people. Some Churchill County cowboys just wanted to get a rope and handle things the old fashioned way.

As a result of continuing the same old way, the Silver State's rangelands and forests lay denuded by corporate exploitation or fouled by military weaponry of the deadliest variety.

Rouged and red-skirted Nevada has always made her living in what are politely called the extractive industries.

Strip mines rape her landscape, export the profits to foreign countries, leave the soil barren, foul and full of old holes — one of which claimed the life of 11 year-old Michelle Davies near Beatty on October 1.

Our casinos run a rigged shell game designed to extract all the money from patrons' pockets by perpetuating the pure illusion of widespread winning.

We all live off the earnings of this dame of ill fame to which the shallowest among us try to add a veneer of self esteem by using words like "gaming" instead of "gambling."

Our most expensive attempt at nouveau riche respectability is centered in the University and Community College System of Nevada. The U is now in the process of conversion from token of legitimacy to outright tawdry tourist attraction.

The Reno City Council's latest overpriced, out-of-town miracle worker, David Cordish, wants to move large parts of the university into the gambling district. Some of it's already there.

The priceless Mackay Silver Service remains the apparently permanent possession of the Dukes of the Silver Legacy. Instead of one day being returned to its rightful owners up on the hill at the Mackay School of Mines, the mountain of higher education will now come down to the casinos.

UNR President Joe Crowley immediately stamped his imprimatur on the latest downtown redevelopment scheme. Joe's an old poly sci professor who knows that good politicians pay tribute to their most powerful patrons.

Consider it professional courtesy between fellow shell game operators.

The university system launders millions through a web of secretive foundations in order to obscure its finances from public view. Don't expect the elected regents to lift a finger. I caught the former chancellor committing perjury in front of a legislative committee and no one cared. (See this column of 1-19-97 in the Barbwire archive.)

The foundations also provide great vehicles for constructing new facilities with cheap, out-of-state labor.

They operate in a legal twilight zone, claiming privacy when convenient, but using the university name when needing credibility or when courting tax deductible contributions. When I asked to review UNR Foundation finances as part of my 1996-97 investigative series, officials curtly told me to go to court and to hell, not necessarily in that order.

The university is basically in the business of selling cement, the price of which provides an accurate measure of its priorities.

If you have enough money, you can get your name engraved on what is derisively called Stonehenge, a rock gallery where the rich hope to become famous forever. Writing an adequate check will fetch the etching of evidence of the benefactor's existence onto glorified headstones planted immorally near Morrill Hall.

If you contribute obscene amounts, you can get a whole building named after you.

But what if you are a humble workman of modest means? What can you offer to merit bricks and mortar?

Your soul might be enough for a deal with the devil, but not even your life will do at the U.

University of Nevada Police Sgt. George Sullivan gave his life in the line of duty. Has any university building been named after him?


There's a memorial bench someplace with his name on it. And a floor of the new student services building. Somebody with enough millions can get that entire structure named after whomever he desires.

Has Sparks named its new police headquarters after slain officer Larry Johnson? What has the state done in memory of murdered Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Carlos Borland?

For all the northland's criticism of Gomorrah South, Las Vegas does seem to respect its fallen cops a little better. Metro Officer Marc Kahre was killed in the line of duty about 10 years ago. An elementary school now bears his name.

That's refreshing if you work in a state where the principal employers remain brutally old fashioned and extractive.

SPEND 33 CENTS TODAY. Velma Bishop, one of the longtime stalwarts of local Democratic politics, lies very ill after several surgeries at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center. The local chapter of the National Council of Senior Citizens is named after her late husband, Gail, a longtime member of Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3 who once served as deputy Nevada labor commissioner.

Mrs. Bishop can only see family members and St. Mary's allows no fresh-cut flowers in critical care, so please send cards and letters to her at the hospital, 235 W. Sixth St., Reno NV 89520.

Tell Mother Bishop to...

Be well. Raise hell.


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copyright © 1999 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the 1996-97 University of Nevada series may be accessed. The oldest column in the archive from October 27, 1996, begins the series which continues almost uninterrupted for the next six months..Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 10/10/99.

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