Borderlands Digest

Reading, Writing and Photography about

Justice, the Environment, Chaos,

and Cooperation in the Western U.S.A.

Craig Rock, editor and photographer,,

All images copyrighted unless otherwise noted

What is Borderlands Digest?

Welcome to the online journal Borderlands Digest. Stories, poems, and photographs on this site center on the environment and people along the culturally diverse communities of the western United States. How we cooperate because of this diversity? How we are kept apart? It is really an attempt to capture the spirit and humanity of people who, since the 1849 Gold Rush, have lived in regions heavily influenced by the migration of new settlers from every country in the world. The articles and links will usually concern the environment, immigration, criminal justice or injustice, and healthcare, four major issues facing us today. The borders are not just the physical borders separating countries but the borders in our minds that we all bring with us from our respective rural and urban backgrounds. This is better defined by artist and Stanford University professor Enrique Chagoya, “Now, the borders are in our heads and within us. Social, religious, gender, economic and class borders (that) are hard to cross.” Submissions are welcome with photos (jpg) and Word documents. Send to Craig rock via

Calico Basin Red Rock near Las Vegas NV

Covid and Clean Air

by Joanne Leovy

Las Vegas, Nevada: Covid-19 presents many questions. Among the most vexing, why are some people asymptomatic or mildly ill while others develop severe disease? In the absence of a cure, can we predict who might require hospitalization, need ventilation or die? Can anything help to reduce the risk of severe illness in the absence of a highly effective treatment or vaccine?

Epidemiologic analyses clearly show that Covid-19 more severely impacts older people, men, and those with obesity, heart disease and immune-compromising conditions. A combination of health and social factors likely increase the risk in communities of color. Another fascinating and potentially modifiable factor is exposure to air pollution.

Air pollution causes myriad health problems. The strongest evidence implicates two pollutants emitted primarily from vehicle tailpipes and fossil fuel combustion, ground level ozone and fine particulates. These pollutants cause acute and chronic respiratory, cardiovascular, perinatal and neurologic problems. Ground level ozone and fine particulate pollution cause reversible lung function impairment, airway inflammation and leaky blood vessels. Long term ozone exposure is linked to an increased risk for ARDS, the form of lung failure common in Covid-19 patients. Because ozone forms in sunny and hot conditions, it is a major pollutant in Las Vegas and Reno in the summer. Particulates raise lung levels of IL-6 and other cytokines believed to be major drivers of the hyper-inflammatory response seen in seriously ill Covid-19 patients. A 12 year study of 60 million U.S. Medicare recipients demonstrated substantially increased mortality in people who lived in areas of either high ozone or high particulate pollution. A 2019 study estimated that Nevada has 97 excess deaths and nearly $900 million in health costs due to air pollution.

What is the link to Covid-19 disease? At least two studies now show a tantalizing correlation between high levels of fine particulates and high levels of Covid-19. A preliminary Italian survey revealed that the highest concentration of fine particulates are in the same region of Northern Italy that had catastrophic numbers Covid-19 infections, raising an interesting hypothesis. An April 2020 study from Harvard shows a clear trend between cases per million residents and fine particulate pollution. Pollution-related pre-existing health conditions and acute inflammation could play a role in a higher Covid-19 burden. Other data suggests increased virus transmission areas with particulate pollution as some viruses can bind to fine particulates in the air and travel distances.

Reducing pollution quickly improves health. Both short and long term studies show mortality reduction with modest measures to clean the air. Technologies available now including higher fuel efficiency and electric vehicles, non-fossil electricity and energy efficiency have the potential to save many lives. A 2019 study estimated that just electrifying factories and industrial facilities that burn coal or oil, and replacing residential wood stoves with electric heat would cut particulate pollution enough to cut the pollution-related death rate in half, and would save much more money in health costs than the cost of transition. A small bright light in the pandemic has been the clearer skies across many cities as people ceased much of their travel. A recent study in China estimated that 77,000 fewer people died during the mandatory shutdown due to reduced air pollution. Perhaps our Nevada experience of unusually clean skies in March and April will lend support to efforts to work for cleaner air. Clean air saves lives. ( For article references open Word file on the bottom of this page.

Citizens Divided

by Craig Rock

how do you write a poem

about living:

in the “richest” country

in the world

so many burying their futures

in daily funerals

of dreams and ideals,

instead stuffing dollars

in mattresses

or off-shore accounts.

in the most “organized” country

in the world

power centered

black, not so black, white, not so white,

progressive, liberal, conservative, far right

radical, not so radical, not interested,

straight, gay, mixed

young, not so young, old, not so old,

God, no god, many gods

citizens divided.

in the “freest” country

in the world

if you can afford it

concealed or disguised

in mansions, mini-mansions,

gated and guarded

five-star restaurants

great hospitals

grand universities

if you can afford it

if not

one will be appointed

your choice of chains

high rents or endless mortgages

on homes or student loans

slums or prisons

and don't even mention

iPhones with invisible leashes,

video games that keep

eyes, fingers, and minds


into the middle of the night

awake or asleep, no matter

bumper to bumper traffic

on our streets, sidewalks

and commercial TV.

in our long waiting lines

with too many

too quick

to shoot

in so many different


and its all “free.”

citizens divided.

how do you write

a poem

about that?

Exhibit at Library of Congress

Social Justice has come a long way since the early 1900s. Note the young age of coal mine workers in the first couple rows of this 1911 Lewis Hine photograph. The Library of Congress (LOC) reports that Hine was an "investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). He documented working and living conditions of children in the U.S. between 1908 and 1924. NCLC photos are useful for the study of labor, reform movements, children, working class families, education, public health, housing conditions, industrial and agricultural sites.....

See Page 3 for more photos

Dead Horse Point looking at the Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

Corporations and Community

"those who pillage and run...

those who settle"

edited by Craig Rock

As corporations outsource our good jobs, and buy up our lands, our public buildings, and even our prisons, our attachment to places in the West is threatened. Even though he is not a Westener, Wendell Berry is one of the leading advocates in protecting "places" and reminding us of their value in life.

If you get a chance, listen or read Wendell Berry’s talk on Youtube, "The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer." Berry has a knack of applying local history and a sense of place to today’s most important battle: impersonal corporations versus the individual and community. Here’s a snippet of his talk that will hopefully interest people with diverse political perspectives.

“My effort to make sense of this memory and its encompassing history has depended on a pair of terms used by my teacher, Wallace Stegner. He thought rightly that we Americans, by inclination at least, have been divided into two kinds: “boomers” and “stickers.” Boomers, he said, are “those who pillage and run,” who want “to make a killing and end up on Easy Street,” whereas stickers are “those who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.” “Boomer” names a kind of person and ambition that is the major theme, so far, of the history of the European races in our country...The boomer is motivated by greed, the desire for money, property, and therefore power.

“Sticker” names a kind of person and desire that is, so far, a minor theme of that history, but a theme persistent enough to remain significant and to offer, still, a significant hope. Stickers, on the contrary, are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it.

Of my grandfather, I need to say only that he shared in the virtues and the faults of his kind and time, one of his virtues being that he was a sticker. He belonged to a family who had come to Kentucky from Virginia, and who intended to go no farther. He was the third in his paternal line to live in the neighborhood of our little town of Port Royal, and he was the second to own the farm where he was born in 1864 and where he died in 1946.”

Why Get Involved in Workers' Rights -

It's All Connected

by Craig Rock

Photo of painting by Vicki Richardson, Left of Center Art Gallery, Las Vegas.

The 1970s, it was a time of great hope - hope that we should not and would not continue supporting dictators - dictators who arrested, tortured, and even murdered those who spoke out for worker rights. Jimmy Carter was elected president. The words “human rights” became popular. And as you walked the streets of Berkeley, you could hear the words, daily chants, “El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido.” The people united, will never be defeated. And today, for the most part, our country no longer supports dictators around the world.

However, we still face a similar challenge with some employers who rule over the lives of their workers through the use of fear, so they do not complain about unfair working conditions or harassment, so they accept wages insufficient for a reasonable standard of living, and a health insurance plan inadequate for decent medical and dental care.

Younger generations may have hoped for some resolution of these economic justice challenges in the early 1990s when the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union. All the funds allocated to that war could now be spent on housing, hunger, and health care. But the war machine (the military industrial complex) found other wars and weapons to spend trillions of dollars on.

We can only hope that some day society will not look the other way when it comes to a humane standard of living for everyone, not based on the size of a person’s fortune but on the mere fact that we all are human beings on the planet together for a relatively short time.

Near Genoa in northern Nevada.

Copyright Craig Rock unless noted.

These are all breaker-boys. (See photos taken at Ewen Breaker, later.) They were very suspicious of my motives. Sam Bellom (boy on left end of photo), 58 Pine Street. Been working in breaker #9 for two years, he says. He says, also, that he is 14 years old, but does not appear to be? Sam Topent (next to Bellom), 52 Pine Street. Been working at Ewen Breaker two years. Said, "I'm fourteen years, an' if you don' believe me, I kin show you de proofs." (They were all suspicious.) This boy had told the School Principal the other day that he was 13 years old, which may be too high. James Ritz (in middle), 28 Pine Street. Been working one year at Ewen Breaker. Said, "14 years old," but this is unbelievable. Mikey Captan (small boy on James' left) 45 Pine St. Been working one year at Ewen Breaker, said he was 12 years old, but doesn't appear to be that. Tony Captan (right end of photo), 45 Pine St. Been working in Ewen Breaker one year. I found these boys and many others, working at Ewen Breaker, and photographed them (see photos). Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. January

Some History on Child Labor

and Social Justice Photography

Social Justice has come a long way since the early 1900s. Note the young age of coal mine workers in the first couple rows of this 1911 Lewis Hine photograph. The Library of Congress (LOC) reports that Hine was an "investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). He documented working and living conditions of children in the U.S. between 1908 and 1924. NCLC photos are useful for the study of labor, reform movements, children, working class

families, education, public health, housing conditions, industrial and agricultural sites.....