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November 16, 2009

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Roy Elson is almost 80 and, I suspect, not as sharp as he used to be. He spent years abusing alcohol and amphetamines. He had a late-career crash that led him into bizarre entanglements with criminals. That said, he was the son Hayden never had and served the master faithfully.

Elson hoped Barry Goldwater would take a seat on the Space and Aeronautics Committee back in the early 60s. Arizona's geographic position between California and Texas could have paid huge dividends in the aviation industry. But Goldwater was more interested in the Armed Services Committee since he was already planning on running for president.

Elson, like Hayden and even Goldwater, had his own post-triumph regrets about Arizona and the CAP. He grew up in Tucson and remembers the charm and the beauty of the place. He fought hard for Arizona's destiny but that destiny ended up disappointing him. Hayden himself saw water bankrolling a new and different Arizona, one so alien from his early years. He was like a character by Cormac McCarthy or Wallace Stegner who lived by a different code only to see that code shredded by modernity.

It's an amazing story altogether, one where you can both admire the titans of Arizona's history and wish they had not been quite so successful. Elson came to see Arizona's history as an improbable victory against an implacable reality - the desert. There really isn't another place on Earth where millions migrated to such a hostile environment only because technology and geology allowed it. He knew the desert could be tamed only temporarily and that it would eventually overpower us. As much as we can admire these great men, the civilization they fought for is collapsing from its own contradictions.

I agree with soleri except towards the end. Arizona and Phoenix are hardly alone in the migratory patterns of millions into arid environments in the past and present (from the Cradle of Civilization to present large migrations into regions of Spain, Egypt, much of California including L.A. and San Diego, and the Middle East (UAE and poster child Dubai, Riyadh, and Tel Aviv).

Some of the decisions made in the past have certainly paved the way for a sprawling mess in parts of Phoenix. That mess must be contained and not allowed to spread. This is something that the nation must tackle as a whole; from Atlanta to Seattle. The only difference is much of the nation can hide its hideous sprawl underneath trees whereas it is in your face in Phoenix. This was evident during Atlanta's water crisis and that isn't over by any means. This is a bigger problem and a national crisis.

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