Touring Silicon National Park, Oil on Canvas, 48" x 32", 1999, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust2

I do not presume to understand Touring Silicon National Park. My father made the painting during a grieving period, when he was deconstructing and attempting to rebuild certain received beliefs he came to understand were deeply flawed. I discuss that in a prior post (iv), Making American Straight (or at Least Closeted) Again. Touring Silicon could be the artist's comment on authenticity, quality, depth of character or beauty, an absence or presence of some or all of the above. Maybe it’s just about women's breasts. You be the judge. I cannot say whether the images fall within the conceptual radius of issues at the center of the Bears Ears National Monument debate: ownership, control, maintenance and management of national treasures, in this instance portions of the Colorado Plateau which some deem sacred and a birthright to indigenous people. In my view these are treasures entitled to protection for their own sake with all future generations as beneficiaries.

Given where we are—meaning President Obama’s recent designation of Bears Ears National Monument is a fait accompli—my question is who is more trustworthy to steward irreplaceable national treasures for Native American tribes and future generations into perpetuity? Of the available choices, is one less likely than another to exchange national treasures and Native American birthright for a bowl of red pottage?3

On December 28, 2016, by proclamation President Obama designated Bears Ears a National Monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906 out of an unprotected 1.35 million acres of federal land upon which indigenous people pursue spiritual and temporal sustenance in a landscape made of stunning vistas, archeological treasures and irreplaceable religious and cultural resources. The final designation contains approximately two-thirds the acreage advocated by the intertribal coalition. The proclamation established a tribal council to advise and oversee the monument’s federal management.

Untitled, Watercolor, 21.5" x 29", Richard J Van Wagoner, Circa 1970, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust

Bears Ears was a controversial "lame-duck" proclamation uniformly opposed by Utah's uniformly Republican federal delegation conjoined in its opposition with the uniformly Republican-controlled state regime. That partisan opposition was a continuation of the Sage Brush Rebellion, the decades-old effort by locals to gain control over federal lands in order to help economically depressed areas, increase the state’s ability to assess and collect tax, assure its sovereignty and stature in these United States and, simply, to have the unimpeded power to put the land to what locals believe is its highest and best use. Utah was ready to waste $14 million to fund a land-transfer lawsuit against the feds. That prospect made good political theatre but little legal or constitutional sense. Utah really wants the land as a means to help economically depressed rural areas and increase revenues for public education. Those are perfectly legitimate objectives. Assuming Utah were ever to wrest ownership and control from the US government, what would Utah do and allow to be done with the land to generate the tax revenue it so desperately wants?

While the Chaffetz/Bishop-inspired Utah Public Lands Initiative was in process but could never gain momentum inside the beltway, the archeological looters and vandals set out to plunder the treasure before the clock ran out. That Initiative and Utah’s legislature wanted large swaths in and around Bears Ears available for mining, development and oil and gas exploration and drilling. Regardless, Bishop opined that the Antiquities Act, “the most evil act ever invented,” itself was antiquated in the face of more recent state and federal environmental protections. He suggested that anyone who liked the Act as written should “die. I mean get the stupidity out of the gene pool.” Under the Dismantling Trump Administration (T & A), the environmental argument may carry less weight, giving anyone who supports the Act “as written” some reason to live. Parenthetically, Mr. Bishop had better be careful what he wishes for.

Untitled, Oil on Masonite, 28" x 32", Richard J Van Wagoner, 2010, Courtesy of Stephen C. Clark

Concerning the assessment of whom to trust, elected officials who make the obvious and conscious effort to remain obtuse on relevant issues simply to advance a partisan agenda are, in my opinion, less qualified stewards. Climate change provides a close analogy with a fair measure of actual overlap. Elected officials who refuse to see beyond the next election or the next oil or gas lease or potash mine or the next tax assessment, favor shorter-term economic benefits while willingly enabling mechanisms that threaten permanent damage within the scientific probability they are wrong. Erosion of the unique characteristics that qualify these as national treasures would likely occur gradually over time, not unlike climate change, without the appearance of abrupt harm. Utah doesn't have rapidly melting glaciers and isn't surrounded by coastlines. (We do have shitty air.) The people who seem more willing to forego preservation over the long term for some perceived urgent or shorter-term need or gratification are, in my view, wrong on this one.

Speaking of getting stupidity out of the gene pool, leading the charge at the Utah State level is Republican Michael E. Noel out of Kanab. In 2010 the Utah House passed HJR 12 56-17, I suspect along party lines. That Resolution claimed the existence of “a well organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome.” The response from the scientific community included a letter from 18 BYU scientists: “We feel it is irresponsible for some of our legislators to attempt to manipulate the scientific evidence in order to support a political agenda.”

Noel’s history and resume seem tailored for T & A’s objective to dismantle the Administrative State. In a thinly disguised effort to chill and suppress First Amendment rights of association and expression, for example, Noel asked State Attorney General Reyes to investigate the relationship between tribes and extreme environmental groups, an insult one Ute Councilwoman likened to espionage Southern states used against black people during the Civil Rights era. Noel is the gentleman who claimed climate change was a conspiracy to control world population. (Did he not know China has that hoax covered, albeit for different reasons?) Unless I am giving Noel too much credit which is entirely possible, his obtuseness on that issue is nothing less than contrived, as suggested in this exchange with climate scientist Joseph Andrade who expressed concern that Utah was headed the wrong direction on investing in clean energy:

Noel: "Are you saying on the record that CO2 is a pollutant? Are you saying that CO2, carbon dioxide, is a pollutant, are you saying that?"

Andrade: "I’m saying that carbon dioxide has a unique molecular structure which absorbs infrared radiation, and that that is in part responsible for the effects that you’re concerned with, Representative Gibson is concerned with, and Representative. . .”

Noel: "I want to get this on the record, ok? Are you saying that we have to rid the planet of carbon dioxide?"

Andrade: "Of course not!"

Noel: "It’s not a pollutant then, it’s not going to kill you. It’s not going to kill plants. Is that correct? I also have a degree too, professor. So I want to get this straight. Is it a pollutant?"

Since our bodies need trace levels of certain metals to sustain life, as Noel’s educated reasoning goes, we are able to consume copious quantities of those metals without concern. Toxicity? Nonsense. What's all this fuss about parts per million anyway? One commentator compared Noel’s more recent proposed resolution to address the concerns of climate alarmists to “smoking more cigarettes to cure lung cancer.”

In the short term at least, the concern for National Monument enthusiasts is that Noel may get some of what he wants should he succeed in his bid to run the BLM, an agency he despises. Perfect fit.

If the choices are between the status quo and Utah's regime, the call doesn't seem all that close. The Monument designation has in place the framework and mechanisms to preserve and protect irreplaceable national treasures, in collaboration with indigenous people who rightfully consider the land their sacred birthright. My vote, if I could cast one, would be to keep President Obama’s designation in place and implement its provisions. Turning over some or all of the land to Utah's one-party regime—which has a proud history of politicizing inconvenient science and is enthralled with its own rhetoric regarding the state’s need for educational funding—seems in the long run much less likely to end well, although Bishop's desperate hunger would be satiated.

Capital Reef Butte, Watercolor, 20.5 x 28.5", Richard J Van Wagoner, Circa 1970, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust

The Chaffetz Embarrassment (CE 1/435) (Continued)

CE 1/435 is unhappy because President Obama may have shared the good news with proponents of the Bears Ears National Monument designation before he shared the bad news with opponents of Bears Ears National Monument Designation. "Now that's something worth investigating."

*My brother the fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to


  2. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed nearly 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in are hers.

  3. That parable reference comes from Genesis 25:29-34.


Natural US Citizen. Caucasian. Shamed into blogging by DSM-V Cluster B 9/9-led regime, Utah's most embarrassing congressperson, and Newton's Third Law of Motion. The views expressed are mine.

USA, Utah, Salt Lake City


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