Egypt, Mubarak and Me

Me, in Egypt, in 2005. That's the Sphinx in the background, not a larger-than-life statue of Mubarak.

This is a cross-listed post from Boom State, my blog from work. With some edits it ran as a column on the opinion page of today’s Casper Star-Tribune.



My cell phone bleeped Friday morning, as I got into my car on my way to work.

One word, written by a friend I first got to know while living in Egypt:


Hosni Mubarak had fallen, resigned as president of Egypt. It’s an end to a 30-year dictatorship that mired Egypt in poverty, unemployment and waning international power.

For some reason, I’m always in transit when important things happen.

I was driving a work dump truck when I heard my wife was on her way to hospital to give birth to our daughter, Alaina. I was driving to a college class when I heard about the jet hitting the second World Trade Center tower on 9/11.

I can’t explain why this happens to me. But I can explain why Mubarak’s fall matters to me, and why it should matter to you.

I last visited Egypt in August of last year, on my way home from a summer in Yemen. I had stopped there again earlier last summer and loved the chance to visit old friends and break out the Arabic words I had polished for years while I was away.

I lived in Egypt for a year between 2005 and 2006, studying political science, Arabic and Egyptology at the American University of Cairo. Many of my classmates were Egyptian elite or foreign students such as myself, so it could be said many of us were untouched by Egypt’s suffering and repression.

But it was hard to miss the yearning for change, for a chance to make a better life, that permeated that place.

Taxi drivers I would meet had advanced degrees, but little hope of employment or the expensive proposition of marriage. Classmates I got to know hailed from wealthy Egyptian families and could spend their lives enjoying trips abroad and other trappings of the good life.

Yet even they discussed political reform and advocated on behalf of their fellow Egyptians and bemoaned the stink of corruption and lack of freedom.

Egypt’s future is still unclear, and it worries me that the military has replaced Mubarak as the leader of Egypt. Many are still concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood, who are certainly conservative but are absolutely not the Egyptian version of the Taliban.

Ideally, free, fair and transparent elections will come soon, and the people of Egypt will finally chart their own path of peace and power.

Why should any of this matter to you? It should matter because what just occurred in Egypt embodies the very essence of values enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and ones you should hold dear: the right to peaceably assemble, the right to petition the government, the right to speak freely.

The Egyptians, young and old, men and women, conservative and secular, took to the streets and held Tahrir Square in Cairo to demand a government which answers to them and represents them.

They did so at a bloody cost but in a largely peaceful way, holding aloft signs of protest, not weapons of hate. It took them a mere 17 days of courage and perseverance to topple a regime.

Now the future is in their hands. I think we can all appreciate the freedom they’ve just earned.

Friday afternoon, I texted an Egyptian friend a note of congratulations.

“Has to be a whole new feeling to be Egyptian,” I wrote.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“I’m free.”



Filed under Alaina, Current Events, Wyoming, Yemen

Love In Two Notes

The time of their lives, they said, and looked away.

Right, it felt. Right. Right?

Her thrown rock fist, watching her sleep as he held all the wrong wounds. Again on the morning watch, without a care.


That flight, that dream, that tangle of heat — embrace her, surround her, as the rush comes and quickly now, quickly quickly, go go go brum brumm brmmmm … Stop.

Not again. But

Breathe in, breathe me, breathe out, and

Pour a little salt.

We were never here.


Filed under Poetry

Wyoming: Not for Liberals


The dark entrance leads to another entrance to a door to a cavern to a fireman pole to an escalator to a doggy door an undisclosed location.

Turn the corner onto A Street in Casper (“a street,” said my GPS, probably wondering if it should switch to the definite article) and look to the Left.


It’s the Dick Cheney Federal Building. I hear tell former Vice President Dick Cheney actually hunkers in that building, on its top floor, staring out at his domain of oil rigs and open-pit coal mines. No, that’s actually not true. What a liberal lie.

See look! Photo proof!

In fact, the building was named after Cheney before he got (and recommended himself for) the vice president’s job and became, as many people to one side of the political spectrum claim — Star Wars’ evil Emperor Palpatine or even Darth Vader.

Robert Bruce “Dick” Cheney is a Wyoming boy who attended Casper College, the University of Wyoming, and represented the state in Congress. He also flunked/dropped out of Yale and got enough deferments to stay out of Vietnam, but who cares about that liberal ivory tower and that failed war started by Democrats and abandoned just when the Troops could’ve claimed victory.

Just across downtown, the Natrona County Public Library holds the Barbara Bush Reading Room. She was married to the father of President George W. Bush.

Casper is an interesting town that way. It’s a place where big red semi-trucks with “Halliburton — Houston, Texas” drive by and nobody points and makes a joke about how it’s probably holding the elusive Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It’s a place where a man eases out of Eggington’s restaurant wearing the standard Wyoming male uniform (hooded sweatshirt, dirty ball cap, jeans), but he’s upgraded to a relatively clean, Halliburton-logoed hoodie. He is out with the family, after all.

There are numerous snooty independent coffee shops, organic locavore eateries, and far-far-far-left universities where this man would be assumed to be an idiot or the wearer of a wonderfully ironic joke.


Some jacked-up truck in California. In Wyoming, this would be known as "not trying hard enough."

Worried about pollution? Don’t look at the pickup trucks, you dirty Liberals. Not only are pickup trucks Wyoming’s new version of horses, there’s a particular obsessions with jacking them up as high as possible.


Then again, what do I know? I saw that pickup parked outside a coffee shop where I went to think leftist thought. The pickup truck had a back window sticker with good advice I’ve been trying to internalize:

“This is Wyoming. We don’t f**king care how you did it somewhere else.”

Wise words to ponder for Liberals who think their slogans and arch, know-it-all humor can survive Wyoming’s wind and cold.

Yeah, I’m looking at you.


Filed under Wyoming

Wyoming, Deadlines and the Cow/Sheep Battle


Look at those grass munching statues in front of the Dick Cheney Federal Building in Casper, Wyo.. Better not cross the deadline to the south!

Deadlines are a way of life in journalism. There’s always a point at which something needs to be done, finished, ready to be edited or put on the page.


It’s a deadline, and it matters, even if my editor isn’t standing behind me holding a samurai sword.

Turns out, the word “deadline” has ties to Wyoming.

Stay with me.

Apparently the first use of deadlines was during and just after the Civil War — a way to refer to line drawn in the dirt that encircled the inside of the notorious Andersonville prison — a certain distance from the wall. If a prisoner crossed that line, they were treated as if they were trying to escape and were shot dead. Literally, a dead line.

The word came up again,  in a publishing context, in the early 1900s, referring to first a border within was useable print space, and the way we use it today as a point in time by which something needs to get done.

Yet, between the 1860s and the 1900s, it got used in Wyoming, in a very real use of the term.


A cowboy carrying a calf -- the statute representing the poem "20 Below", in Casper. It's right across the street from the grazing sheep.

Cowboys ruled the land. That is, until the sheepherders moved in in the late 1800s. Sheep crop the grass close to the earth, making land unusable for cattle grazing. Never mind that weather had recently killed large amounts of cattle, the cowboys weren’t going to stand for the new people and just like that, it was war (watch for the music if you click the link):


In Crook County, Silas A. Guthrie (1867-1938), of the Empire Sheep Company, along with other sheep growers received warnings that if they did not discontinue bringing in sheep they would face the consequences. One of Guthrie’s sheepherders was shot and a wagon burned. Mary B. Guthrie recounted the story that her Grandmother Guthrie, as a precaution, would carry a pistol in her father’s diaper bag. See Wyoming Lawyer, “From the Desk of the Executive Director,” October 2005. In Upton, the sheep shearing pens were burned down. In the Green River valley in July, 1902, masked men killed 2,000 sheep and one sheepherder who crossed the “deadline.”

This was no joke, just like the deadlines I face in my job.

Then again, I don’t have to worry about getting shot by a prison guard or losing my sheep shearing pens to fire.

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Filed under Readings, Reporting, Wyoming

Prowling Casper, Finding Shoefiti


Shoefiti -- shoes strung over power lines -- in an alley between First and Second Streets in Casper, Wyo., at midnight.


It’s odd but not uncommon — this tossing of shoes over wires suspended in the air. Nobody really seems to know why it’s done.

It’s not a gang thing, claims Snopes. Yet even that illustrious myth-debunking website presents a list of possible reasons, as does this debunking site, The Straight Dope. There’s even a website dedicated to this kind of thing, although the creators don’t pretend to know why it’s done, either.

Wikipedia perhaps sums it up best:

Of course, only each individual shoe-thrower knows why his/her pair of shoes now hangs from a wire.

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Filed under Wyoming

The way Journalism Really Is.

Ah yes, the frenzied people who live in it.

Just the facts, ma’am . . . although I’ve never dated a source. Scout’s honor. (Courtesy of Joe O’Sullivan‘s fridge door).


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Filed under Wyoming

Journalism and Death — The Tragedy of Kyle Rooke

Kyle Rooke, 1968-2011

His name was Kyle Rooke. He was 42, a native of Drummond, Idaho.

He was working on a gas drilling rig near Pinedale, Wyo., Wednesday when the drill exploded, severely burning him.

By the time emergency crews reached him, he was dead.

It looks like he ran a self-named carpentry company in Idaho. I don’t know for sure, but if it was like a lot of small construction firms, he probably did contracting during the warm months and did indoor renovations or another job in the winter.

Rooke worked as a roughneck for QEP Resources on its gas drills in Wyoming, after working 18 years as a carpenter. My guess is that carpentry stopped paying the bills when the housing market crashed. A man’s gotta find work somewhere. I doubt he was on that gas rig because he loved the job.

“He loved the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing. He loved to spend time with his family,” the obituary reads.

Rooke’s wife, Brenda, just lost her mother (and Brenda somehow became Beverly), Wilma Gean Overlin, last month — dead at 71. First her mother, then her husband. Double tragedies.

Rooke was born in Washington on Sept. 9, 1968. Now he’s dead.

To quote from Oleg Steinhauer’s book The Tourist:

It had been years since he’d faced this, but even back then, when he saw death more often, he’d never gotten used to it. The sudden heft. The fast cooling. The fluids that leaked from the body. . . The quick cessation of consciousness, of everything that person — no matter how despicable or virtuous — had experienced. . . A whole world had suddenly ceased to exist. In a snap, right in front of him. That was death.

A whole world, gone, in an instant.

How do I write that? How do I explain it, as something more than a statistic? How can I tell Rooke’s story right?

The statistics story are easy. Energy industry deaths aren’t overly surprising in the state of Wyoming, which is at the top or near the top each year in the number of workplace fatalities. Before too long, I’ll likely be writing a story tabulating workplace deaths from 2010. Did the number go up? Did it go down?

Yet if I leave this to a numbers story, I’ll have failed as a journalist and as someone who values life and respects death.

Rooke’s story should be told. Both to remember his life and death and as a way to illustrate the dangers faced by others who do similar work.

Life matters. So does death.

I’ll see what I can do.


Filed under Readings, Reporting, Wyoming