Gregory Hill's dispatches from the depths of Yuma County

Inherit the Wind

The Great Renewable Land Rush: Part I

Jan 28, 2022

Wind power is heading to Yuma County, and it’s a big deal. After reading some of the silliness in the Pioneer’s Letters to the Editor and otherwise getting a sense of the local gossip, I’m endeavoring to assemble a series of columns with the aim of clearing up misconceptions that have arisen due to the fragmented manner in which the details of this matter have been unveiled. 

This discussion is personally relevant; my family owns land in Yuma County and we are currently considering the pros and cons of introducing 500-foot-tall wind turbines to that land. Rather than pretend to be objective on this matter (anyone who claims to be objective on any subject is in fairyland) I intend to be as transparent as possible about the implications of what would be a hugely significant change to the landscape and economy of not just Yuma County in general, but to the world as a whole, and to each of us as individuals. 

Alas, before we can get to the useful stuff, I must first swat away some false notions that have entered this debate courtesy of the misinformation spread via Facebook, Epoch Times, and other sources of fantasy-news. I say “some” false notions because these sorts of lousy arguments reproduce like gnats. If I learned nothing else last year, it’s that trying to counter each and every ridiculous notion that emerges from the fact-free community is like trying to kill a swarm of gnats with a bow and arrow. Consequently, I’ll confine this to the greatest hits (misses), and then, in later columns, I’ll proceed to the more serious-minded portion of this discussion.

Notion #1: Wind-Turbines can't work because they would violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Please don’t confuse renewable energy with perpetual motion. The former derives its power from the big yellow fusion reactor that rises from the horizon every morning. The latter is a fantasy. 

Verdict: Laughably false.  (And, yes, wind is powered by the sun.)

Notion #2: Wind turbines are no better than fossil fuels because their gearboxes are lubricated with oil; or because their construction requires energy and raw materials. 

Of course it takes energy, raw materials, oil to generate wind energy. Guess what else requires energy, raw materials, and oil?  Fossil fuels. The relevant question is, which of the two generates the most net energy? The answer is wind and it isn’t even close. From a 2021 article from Forbes: “Amortizing the carbon cost over the decades-long lifespan of the equipment… wind power has a carbon footprint 99% less than coal-fired power plants, 98% less than natural gas, and a surprise 75% less than solar. More specifically, they figure that wind turbines average just 11 grams of CO2 emission per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. That compares with 44 g/kwh for solar, 450 g for natural gas, and a whopping 1,000 g for coal.” While the numbers will vary, the overall truth of that quote can be buttressed by plenty more legitimate sources, if you are willing to venture beyond the Facebook feed-trough.

Verdict: False.

Notion #3: Wind turbines are loud. 

Yes, they do make noise. But the noise is negligible. After standing directly beneath one of the wind turbines just north of Burlington, I can confirm that the rhythmic woosh, woosh, woosh was barely louder than the ambient sound of the wind. If you don’t mind trespassing, you can find out for yourself. The turbines that are coming to YC are going to be larger, and will therefore have a lot more surface area than the one I visited, so they will likely be louder, but I sincerely doubt it will be an issue. It’s in the interest of the engineers to make these things as quiet as possible; they want to turn wind energy into electricity, not sound waves. The turbines coming to YC would be a minimum of 1,400 feet (roughly a quarter-mile) from any domicile. I am confident that they would barely even register on a sound-meter at that distance. Trust me, we will not see a replay of the 80’s, when our summers were polluted by the 24/7 howl of internal-combustion sprinkler engines. (You want loud? The hearing in my right ear was permanently damaged while helping my dad work on one of those things.)

Verdict: False, unless your definition of “loud” is “audible”. 

Next up: I’ll discuss the logistics that would be involved in bringing these things to Yuma County, followed by an examination of some of the legitimate concerns, including bird mortality, income disparity, visual aesthetics, and corporate domination.

Why Wind, and Why Here?

The Great Renewable Land Rush: Part II

Feb 11, 2022

In this, my second column addressing the Great Renewable Land Rush in Yuma County Colorado, I shall endeavor to answer the question: Why wind?  

(Note: I do not get into debates about global warming. There is no debate. It’s settled, it’s happening, and it’s serious. If people think otherwise, they’re wrong.  End of discussion.)

If we want future generations of humanity to enjoy the benefits of electricity as well as the benefits of a habitable planet, well, that ship has probably sailed. But renewable energy can at least mitigate the damage. To that end, wind farms are currently the most pragmatic option, at least on the Great Plains of northeastern Colorado.  

First let’s compare wind to solar panels, hydroelectric, hydrogen fuel-cells, or nuclear power.

Nuclear power has the largest upside (virtually limitless energy) and the largest downside (the potential for large-scale radiation poisoning, either thru a malfunction at the power plant or from poorly-secured waste materials). Although nuclear accidents are rare, they do occur — any process that involves human oversight is vulnerable to failure — and those accidents can be both devastating and terrifying. Given the downsides, nuclear power is unlikely to be embraced as the large-scale solution to our energy needs, at least not until the industry can convince the public that there will never be another Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima. 

Hydrogen fuel cells are compelling — they take advantage of hydrogen’s high potential for energy and the fact that water is its only byproduct. Pretty cool, except the technology still isn’t there. My only qualification as a scientist is that I had a subscription to Popular Science throughout the 1980s, so take the following as speculation on my part: Once fuel-cells are up-to-speed, they may find a place in the high-capacity batteries that will eventually be needed as a buffer for those times when, say, the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Until the batteries are ready, that role of buffer will likely be filled by fossil fuels.

Hydroelectric power requires moving water. There’s precious little of that in Yuma County.

Solar: After a solid thirty minutes of web-browsing (discounting, of course, the preposterous numbers that show up on your totally-non-cultish friends’ Facebook pages) followed by some rapid guesswork (see previous note about my BS degree in Popular Science Magazine) I’ve concluded that it’s hard to find a definitive answer as to the efficiency of solar versus wind power. It depends on what metrics are being measured and what technologies are being considered. Overall, wind appears to have better net numbers. However, the wind/solar debate mostly comes down to location. In cities, where wind turbines are rendered impracticable due to their giant vertical profile, rooftop solar panels are an excellent option. In Yuma County, where there’s sufficient wind and enough space to accommodate the towers, it would seem prudent to take advantage of the superior efficiency of wind.  Furthermore, solar only works when the sun is shining. Since we do not yet have affordable, durable batteries to store this energy, solar would have to be buffered by other energy sources (fossil fuels being the most likely stop-gap, for now).

The wind company reps that I’ve spoken to claim that each quarter-section can accommodate two wind turbines. Each tower would occupy only two or three acres, as opposed to solar farms, which would cover entire fields. With wind, the vast majority of the land will remain usable for agricultural endeavors — even center-pivot irrigation, as long as the farmer is able to “windshield wiper” sprinkler so as to avoid the large obstruction. And while wind can certainly wax and wane, it can also blow 24 hours a day and it’s generally more consistent than the sun. Wind would still need a buffer for the low times — a role that could be acheived by limited use of fossil fuels and a combination of other renewable sources.

The final argument in favor of wind renders moot everything I’ve just written: it’s what we’re being offered. A few months ago, when Yuma County’s Great Renewable Land Rush began, my family was approached by reps from a wind company as well as a solar company. For reasons that I will outline in a later piece, the solar company has since dropped out of the race. This leaves us with wind as the only option in Southwest Yuma County. 

The next column in this series will address the relationship between the renewable energy companies that are promising grand profits to landowners, and Xcel Energy, the company that’s building the powerline that would convey all these electrons to their final destinations. 

Why Now?

The Great Renewable Land Rush: Part III

Feb 23, 2022

In this, the third piece in my series on The Great Renewable Land Rush in Yuma County, Colorado I’ll provide some background on the logistical machinations behind what could prove to be the most significant revolution in land use since the homestead act invited thousands of settlers to break sod in a semi-arid region that had never before seen a plow.

(Obviously, the primary motivation behind this (potential) revolution is global warming. As I stated in my previous piece, I do not get into debates about this subject. Global warming is real and it’s serious. If you believe otherwise, you’re wrong. End of discussion.)

In 2019, in response to the threat posed by global warming, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed the Climate Action Plan To Reduce Pollution. Within that bill is a state-mandated goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. All electric utilities must comply with this reduction.

One of those electric utilities is Xcel Energy, a company based in Minnesota which distributes electricity (and natural gas) to millions of homes and businesses in eight states, including 80% of Colorado’s population. With the goal of meeting the Climate Action Plan’s 2030 deadline, Xcel is preparing an ambitious project called Colorado’s Power Pathway. The pathway is a transmission line that will consist of several segments that will eventually convey electrons from eastern and southeastern Colorado to a pair of sites near Denver and Greeley.

The final destination of those electrons will not necessarily be within Colorado; power demands and economic considerations could see a portion of them distributed into the larger US power grid. And some of those electrons could end up back in Yuma County, where our wonderful quasi-socialist co-op, YW Electric (whose workers fear neither wind nor snow nor gravity), is likely to have a tough time affording the infrastructure that would be required if they were to try to meet the 80% reduction in carbon emissions on their own. 

With sections due to be completed between 2025 and 2027, the transmission line itself is going to be a massive project. The cables will be stretched between towers that’ll range from 120 to 190 feet tall. Construction will require cooperation from landowners, attention to wildlife, and a million other factors, some of which will doubtless prove to be inconvenient. Xcel clearly believes that these inconveniences — which include aesthetics (there’s nothing pretty about powerlines), politics (there’s nothing pretty about hucksters inventing Chinese hoaxes), land rights (there’s nothing pretty about excursions into private property), and so on —are outweighed by the potential benefits (i.e., meeting the Climate Action Plan’s deadline while simultaneously turning a profit).

With the Power Pathway, Xcel is providing the means of transport for the electrons but they will not be generating the electrons themselves. It’s sort of like the Panama Canal. Once the canal was built, the US Army Corps of Engineers packed their bags and moved elsewhere; the ships would arrive on their own. If the Panama Canal analogy doesn’t work for you, try Field of Dreams: the Climate Action Plan is Shoeless Joe’s phantom voice whispering “If you build it, he will come”, Xcel is Kevin Costner clearing out his corn for a baseball diamond, and the Power Pathway is the baseball diamond itself. 

Remaining within this analogy (and, perhaps, stretching it beyond its usefulness), who is going to play Kevin Costner’s dead father, the “he” in “if you build it, he will come”? 

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you Engie, the French-based, multinational, super-huge, utility company that hopes to introduce hundreds of ginormous wind turbines into a landscape whose primary visual appeal is the absence of vertical features on the horizon.

I’ll have more to say about Engie in part four of this series.

As I prepare my next column, I’d like to leave you with the answer to one of the more controversial issues around wind turbines: how should one pronounce “turbine”? I generally pronounce the second syllable to rhyme with “bin”.  Sticklers will tell you that the second syllable should rhyme with “fine”. Those same sticklers will tell you that “coyote” has three syllables. (Here in Yuma County, we typically pronounce it as “kai-oat”). As far as I’m concerned, the actual speaking patterns of regional dialects take precedent over the dictionary’s theoretical generalizations any day of the week. Conclusion: ignore the sticklers and pronounce “turbine” however you want. 

So You've Signed a 70-Year Lease...

The Great Renewable Land Rush: Part IV

March 9, 2022

It begins with a large white envelope, delivered to your mailbox. Within that envelope is a folder whose cover depicts a flat landscape and endless blue sky familiar to anyone living on the High Plains of Eastern Colorado. Except, in this iteration, the prairie-grass sea is punctuated with a series of slender white towers, each of which is topped by three delicate-looking blades whose design simultaneously evokes a peace sign and the logo of a Mercedes-Benz.

Opening the folder, you’ll find a series of graphics that outline a process that just might conclude with you raking in thousands of dollars per year in exchange for signing a deal to allow the installation of 550-foot-tall wind turbines on your property, and to keep them there for 60-70 years.

Congratulations, you are a landowner in Yuma County, Colorado, and you’ve just been contacted by Engie, a multi-billion-dollar corporation. Welcome to the Great Renewable Land Rush in Yuma County.

As I outlined in my previous piece in this series, once Xcel Energy announced their plans to build the Colorado Power Pathway — a massive project that’ll pass just west of Yuma County as it stretches from the northern front range to southeast Colorado — a power vacuum (pun acknowledged) was created. And Engie has rushed in to fill that vacuum. 

Let’s set aside for a moment the (inexplicably-controversial) environmental benefits of wind power, and look instead at profit, a benefit that’s been known to stir the blood of folks irrespective of persuasion or party. There’s money to be made in these here flatlands, or, to be more precise, in the air above these flatlands. But since wind turbines don’t float in the air, they need to be planted in the firmament, and the vast majority of Yuma County’s firmament is in the hands of private landowners for whom “get paid handsomely to sign an easement with a wind turbine company” was never on the business plan.

Point being, this is unknown territory for virtually all of us. I say “us” because, as mentioned previously, my family is currently weighing the pros and cons of allowing Engie to build on our land. 

To be clear, I’ve heard rumors that there may be other power companies canvassing the area; I’m focusing on Engie because they seem to be dominating the field(s).

Okay, let’s get to know Engie a little better. They’re a utility company based in France. For decades, they’ve been a major supplier of France’s natural gas and electricity, with most of the latter generated by coal plants. Since 2014, Engie’s been divesting from fossil fuels — coal in particular — and instead focusing on renewable energy and, apparently, world-domination: they have expanded from France and now have projects in 48 countries. You can read plenty more online, but, in a word, they are huge.

Being huge can be good (they know how to build wind farms, their checks are unlikely to bounce, and we can assume that Xcel isn’t going to do business with a company they can’t trust) and it can be bad (giant corporations are typically more concerned with profit than they are with the betterment of humankind). Between the good and bad, it’s easy to get tied into philosophical knots over this. In my case, I’m trying to weigh the dangers of global warming against a suspicion of corporate behemoths … all without letting potential profits talk me into compromising those morals I so righteously trumpet in these columns. Other people, with their own moralities, will have their own versions of these philosophical knots.

In any case, if you’re wrestling with this decision, that means you own land. Owning land, generally speaking, puts you in an enviable economic position relative to those who do not. In other words, this is a desirable problem.

Let’s say that, after you’ve unraveled the philosophical knots, you decide to sign the easement with Engie. What’s next? First, you’ll wait. Construction isn’t going to begin for a year, or two, or three, or seven. It could be a while; once Engie sews up all their land deals, they will have to coordinate their timelines with Xcel’s construction of the Colorado Power Pathway (see my previous article for details on this). And there’s always a chance that things could go haywire and the whole thing could be canceled. It’s a gamble for everyone involved. 

While you’re waiting for construction to begin, you’ll get paid an annual fee just so Engie can hold onto the option. The per-acre numbers may vary from contract to contract, but I can assure you that the option fee will be nominal; it’s certainly not going to be putting any kids thru college. For this duration, you may farm, graze, keep your land in CRP, whatever you want.

At some point, you’ll be told, “Here we come!” Within a couple of months, the crews will start showing up and you’re going to need to keep out of their way. Engie promises that they’ll compensate farmers for any complications in CRP calculations, or if crops have to be destroyed — if you’ve planted a circle of corn, you’re probably going to have to plow it under. During construction, your nominal per-acre fee will be more or less doubled. Again, this can vary from contract to contract. All of this would be outlined in the easement agreement. (By the way, I’m using “contract” and “easement” interchangeably.)

The construction will be unpleasant. There’s no getting around this. For roughly a year, Engie will be building roads into fields, excavating holes, pouring concrete, raising power lines, and installing the turbines. Although we’re accustomed to sharing the roads with large machines (tractors, trucks, yadda yadda) it’ll still be jarring to see semis hauling giant turbine blades down our dirt roads.

From speaking with Engie reps, it appears that there will be no more than two towers per quarter-section, and all of the towers will be set back at least 1,000 feet from any roads and 1,400 feet from any domicile. I say “appears” because those setback numbers have changed since our first conversations. Rest assured that towers will be situated in such a way that none of them could topple onto your rooftop.

Eventually, the turbines will be completed and the crews will pack up and move onto their next site. Engie will be contractually obliged to restore any land that has been disturbed, which will presumably include re-seeding any prairie grasses that were torn out. In the end, assuming Engie holds to their promises, the only significant change to the land should be the giant towers poking toward the heavens.

Once completed, each turbine and its access road will occupy two-to-three acres of land. The rest of the acreage will remain available for farming/ranching/CRP, etc. Engie promises to cover any losses to CRP income, and they aim to minimize interference with center-pivot irrigation. To the latter, I suspect they’ll try to place the turbines in corners and/or in such a manner that would allow the sprinkler to “windshield-wiper” back and forth, as opposed to running in a complete circle.

I’m told that the turbines will require very little maintenance; maybe a yearly check-up, and occasional equipment upgrades.

When the turbines start spinning, the payment structure shifts away from the option fees and into something far more substantial. How substantial? It can vary from contract to contract (depending on what you and Engie agree on), and on the state of technology at the time (payments will be based on the amount of energy generated by the towers), but this is definitely where we move out of “nominal” and enter the realm of “paying off debts and sending kids to college”. Engie doesn’t like to give specific numbers (I suspect because they don’t yet know for certain what those numbers will be), but from what I understand, you’re probably looking at more than $10,000 per tower per year. Those rates will be tied to a cost-of-living metric that’ll be adjusted over time to reflect inflation. This is important because, again, these contracts will be for 60-70 years.

Engie will be contractually obligated to set aside a large fund that will guarantee that, should everything go to hell and they go bankrupt, they’ll at the very least be able to dismantle the towers and remove them from Yuma County altogether.

Let’s now travel in time, to somewhere in the mid-to-late 2020s. All the cranes are gone, the dirt is back in place, farmers are farming, wind is blowing, and cash is flowing. Cool. But what about the birds? What about the horizons? What about the jobs? And are Yuma County’s landowners going to rake in the dough while everybody else just sits and waits for the crumbs? And, perhaps the most pressing question … will I have finally finished writing this series?

More in a couple of weeks…

Wherein Your Stalwart Opinion Writer Decides to Move Things Along

The Great Renewable Land Rush: Part VI

March 22, 2022

Howdy.  This will be my second-to-last piece on the Great Renewable Land Rush in Yuma County.  There is certainly much, much more to be said on the matter, but, well...I'm getting bored.   There have been moments when this series has veered dangerously close to journalism, a prospect that absolutely terrifies me.  I'm a novelist, for crying out loud.  The only things I want to research are historical lunar calendars so I can keep my moon phases straight when my characters look at the sky.

Plus, I'm going on vacation in a few days.

Anyway, if I'm getting bored, then you, dear reader, must be positively comatose.  So, in the interest of laziness and mercy, let's hammer out some final details for this penultimate piece.

Here are some questions I posed to Greg Brophy, MAGA lackey and Colorado director of The Western Way a conservative environmental group (or a cynical lobbying firm...I'm not sure) that, amongst other things, advocates for solar and wind power on the High Plains:

GH: Will the power companies [such as Engie, whom I profiled in my previous piece] hire local folks for the construction/maintenance of the wind turbines?

BROPHY: Yes.  Typically, the labor pool is a mix of local vendors/workers and skilled construction workers who specialize in building wind (and solar) projects, some of those may live in the area also.  Plus, the crews stay in the area, renting houses and buying food.  Construction is a really big shot in the arm for local economies. For operations, there are typically two full time local jobs per thirty-five wind towers.  A 500-megawatt development will place 7 or 8 workers in the area.  It’s highly likely those workers will have been trained at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling as their wind tech training program is renowned in the industry.  

GH: Will Yuma County collect taxes (or other fees) from Xcel and/or the power companies?

BROPHY: Wind and solar projects pay local property taxes based on how much energy they produce.  They pay substantial taxes to the taxing districts in the counties.  The great thing about wind farms is that once they are built, they require almost no services from the county, so their payments are hugely beneficial.  Basically, the front range is sending money to rural counties to use in the county general fund.  Most counties also charge an impact fee. Typically, this is a 1% fee on the value of the development, so a $500,000,000 development would pay a one-time fee to the county of $5 million.  Transmission power lines pay property taxes to the county also.

GH:  Essentially, I’m looking for a greatest-hits answer to, “Other than lining the pockets of landowners, will the local economy see any direct economic benefit from the wind farms?”

BROPHY: “Lining the pockets of landowners” an interesting statement on your part.

Thanks to former State Senator Greg Brophy.

You can get more info, including a comprehensive report on The Economic Benefits of Colorado's Eastern Plains Renewable Energy Industry at  In a nutshell, Yuma County is going to rake in a good chunk of dough via the Great Renewable Land Rush.  It'll be up to the county commissioners and the voters to decide where that money goes.  Given our good country manners and finely-honed love of community, I've no doubt that this process will go off without a hitch.

In a final attempt at something close to journalism, I asked Xcel if the Power Pathways transmission line would introduce permanent jobs to the area, what kinds of jobs, at what salaries, and requiring how much training.  They said they'd get back to me.  They haven't.  I would have pestered them, except, see the opening paragraph of this piece.

Next up: Horizons and birds.

Wherein We Enter the 3rd Dimension

The Great Renewable Land Rush: Part VI

March 31, 2022

Welcome to the sixth, and final, entry in this series in which I've been examining Yuma County's Great Renewable Energy Land Rush in Yuma County from a variety of perspectives.

Today, I'll focus on the looming physical reality of the 550-foot tall wind-turbines that appear to be headed our way.

First, a word about cats, the cuties whose only wish is to one day devour us all.  In their lust for blood, it's estimated that, per year, domestic cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds in the continental US.  My farm cats are responsible for roughly half of those deaths.   I'm not happy about this.  But I've also done nothing whatsoever to mitigate it.

More death-tolls, from a 2014 article in U.S. News and World Report that seems to have been well-sourced, especially considering how hard it must be to collect this data:

Birds killed in oil fields annually: 500,000 - 1,000,000

Coal: 7.9 million

Nuclear: 330,000

Since wind turbines will be replacing coal power, there's a strong likelihood that wind energy will actually prove a net reduction in bird deaths.  Conclusion: while I hope that future designs will make turbines more bird-friendly, I suspect that bird conservationists have far bigger battles to fight than this one.  In any case, let us salute those feathered friends who shall be sacrificed to the altars of the electron. 

Onward, now, to the matter of horizons. 

Sometime within the next seven years, wind turbines are going to become a physical reality in Yuma County.  And that reality will usher in a profound alteration of a landscape that has, for roughly fifteen thousand years, shaped the human experience of the High Plains.

Over the past 40-odd years, dozens and dozens of folks from the front-range have visited us on the farm.  Virtually all of those visitors arrived having known the plains only as the interminable stretch of boredom that forms a barrier between the Rocky Mountains and invaders from the Midwest.  But after one or two days of walking in the grasses, watching sunsets, and gazing at the night sky, something wonderful happens.  Stop me if you've heard this before: "It's so calm.  I didn't expect so much wildlife!  And those clouds!"  And then, "When we can we come back?"

I don't have a spiritual molecule in my body, but even I cannot deny that there's a magic about this place. 

And yet, I was gobsmacked when one of my Yuma County neighbors--if you live within ten miles of me, I consider you my neighbor--recently expressed disgust at the prospect of wind farms.  When asked about this disgust, my friend--who is most definitely not a red-hatter--reminded me that she lives where she lives because, after years of living and working on the front range, she chose to retire on that particular spot precisely because of the magic of this landscape.   She's got a beautiful place.  From her front porch, it's nothing but grass and sky divided by a snap-line horizon. 

Part of the magic of this landscape is its ability to conceal just how industrialized it has become.  When you're at ground level, yes, you see mostly sky and a snap-line horizon.  But this illusion disappears once you're on an airplane at cruising altitude.  The land is revealed as a checkerboard of squares and circles, divided, plowed, irrigated, and grazed into something that bears little resemblance to what it was only a century ago.    

The introduction of massive wind-farms will put an exclamatory end to our ground-level illusion of uncluttered nature, and, in the bargain, my neighbor's dream view could find itself punctured by dozens of giant turbines.  And there's nothing she can do about it; she lives in a sea of private land, and she has no say in how it's used.

I tried to cheer her up:

"Think of wind turbines as inverted oil rigs," I said.  "Rather than extracting energy from the depths of the earth, we're drawing it from the sky above."  (Another example of wind power rendering visible an industry that has otherwise gone largely unseen.)

Then, because I like to be clever, I said, "Wind is the new natural gas!"  Then, because I insist on explaining my quips, I added, "Wind is a gas."

And then, because I'm really bad at cheering people up, I said, "Anyway, you'll get used to it."

"Oh, I know," she said.  "I understand all that. It's just...well, this wasn’t part of the plan."

Nope, it wasn't. 

Thanks for reading, and to all the folks who answered all my questions--especially Keith Parks, who, in a 30-minute meeting, cleared up a thousand mysteries. 

"Let’s You and Me Talk

Wherein I Set the Stage for a Year of Lousy Columns

Feb 11, 2021

I’ve always been befuddled by the way politicians choose to ignore the concerns of the constituents of theirs who do not belong to their base. 

To that end, in 2019, I wrote an article wherein I asked then-Senator Gardner to “teach us, lead us, bathe us in truth… . Are we all freaking out about [the president] for no good reason?”

Gardner did not respond to my appeal. But I remain genuinely curious as to why this sort of thing doesn’t occur to politicians: if your policies/stances/votes are unpopular with wide swaths of your constituency, why not make a persuasive argument in your favor? Rather than exploit raw human emotions with fear-mongering (a boogeyman for every circumstance!), instead use facts, reasons, and examples to bolster a convincing argument. 

In order to make an argument, one must know what one is arguing against. And to do that, one must listen to those with differing opinions. Politicians are experts at pretending to listen (See: “I feel your pain.”), but too often (always?) they choose to either ignore their non-base constituents or to communicate with them in the language of transparently phony sincerity (See: anything Ted Cruz has ever said.). Irrespective of intent, either approach comes off as an unhelpful mix of thoughtlessness, condescension, and arrogance.

Before one can offer comfort, one must first care about one’s detractors sufficiently to take interest in what they believe. Furthermore, I would argue that “what” people believe matters less than “why” they believe it. And you can only ascertain this “why” by listening. Listening, that is, beyond the talking points, the viral memes, the knee-jerk hostility, and the petty insults that we fling at one another (See: my dig at Ted Cruz two paragraphs above.).

Dear reader, I am not merely interested, but fascinated with your beliefs; there’s just so much I don’t understand.  And so, I invite you — specifically those of you who are concerned about the new presidential administration — to please tell me what’s driving you crazy. Socialism, Covid-19, Antifa, Governor Polis, racism, guns, the weather, whatever. If you think America’s headed toward disaster, I want to understand why. 

Please send me a message at Using your own words, share your concerns and perturbations. I’m not interested in reading a list of recycled talking points, I can find those on social media, and they’re universally unconvincing. The idea here is to, if not change my mind, then at least help me understand the moral/legal/sensible basis for your beliefs.

If I hear from you, I’m sure I’ll ask you some follow-up questions, as there will be some things I’ll need clarified. I will be persistent in this, but also — to the best of my ability — gentle and kind (my New Year’s resolution was to be more compassionate). And then, well, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Ideally, I’ll be able to use our conversation in a worthwhile column. Or, I might just leave it between you and me. It all depends on whether or not we can find a way to communicate.

If I don’t hear from anyone, I’ll have to go back to making gross generalizations about the state of right-wing America. Trust me, that sort of thing is just as tiresome for me as it is for you.

I'm Glad I Asked

We Have a Winner

April 14, 2021

Several weeks ago, I wrote a column wherein I expressed my frustration with politicians who don’t make an effort to speak directly to the people who didn’t vote for them. To that end, I invited readers to send to me any concerns they have about the Biden Administration. My ambition was not to defend the president; more so, I’d hoped to get a root sense for what drives anti-Biden anxiety, and then, with that knowledge, I’d try to offer a reasoned response to those anxieties.

Within a few days, the column had netted me four messages. Since this suggested that at least four people read my columns, I was delighted. Then I read the messages. The first three were so indecipherable as to suggest that whoever had written them had not actually read the column, or, if they had, my message had not been received. This lessened my delight. 

But then I read the message from Leona. 

I want you to know at the outset, that my response will be rather lengthy. This is due to the fact that not only do I wish to share my views with you, but also because I cannot share my views until I first correct your paper.

This was followed by a lengthy critique of my grammar, which was followed by this beauty of a paragraph: 

Do I think America is headed toward disaster? Absolutely. Why? That requires a lot more of an answer than just the traditional simple ones you have mentioned in your article. All those issues are just the symptoms of a much bigger problem which started long before either of us was ever born… Not only have we kicked God out of our schools and society in general, in general, we have become very irreligious and immoral. This did not happen overnight. As I look at our history, I believe the ‘Great Reset’ started over 100 years ago. Even in John Adams’ day we can see that irreligious people who simply wanted power were trying to get into positions of our government for their own aggrandizement. Aaron Burr is a prime example of that. George Washington had the attitude of a servant. He understood that a government of ‘we the people’ meant that those in office were to actually ‘serve’ the people rather than expecting the people to serve those in government as if they were royalty. The behavior of people like Pelosi, McConnell, Schumer, and others tells me they consider themselves above the people they are supposed to be serving. The same is true of Polis.

Leona then summarized (if thirteen-hundred words can be called a summary) a few of the issues that she finds concerning. In a nutshell, she's concerned about a lot of things that I didn't even know were problems.

The letter closed with:

I’ve tried to keep my answers much shorter than I would if I was only addressing one issue, and I’m not even halfway through with explanations. However, in the interest of time since I have a lot to do, I will end this diatribe. If you got this far and are interested in continuing the conversation, please feel free to reply.

Hell, yes, I was interested in continuing this conversation. How could I possibly turn down the opportunity to engage with someone so confident in opinions so contrary to my own? And continue it has. I would estimate that, so far, Leona and I have exchanged forty-thousand words, enough to fill a short and tedious book. While we disagree on a million subjects (including my facility at English grammar), we agree on a million others, including just how fulfilling it can be to engage in civil discourse with someone who sees the world differently from oneself.

In the coming weeks/months, I hope to plumb this ongoing conversation for some fantastic points of discussion. I’m not so delusional as to think that any of these points will cause a single person to re-examine how they view the world, but I am just crazy enough to hope that it might inspire some readers to reconsider how they view the people with whom they share the world.

Listening to the Ground

Wherein I Make the Assumption that Definition Has Been Defined

June 14, 2021

My great uncle John Hill liked to say, “Before we can discuss anything, we must first agree to a definition of terms.” (He may have cribbed that line from Socrates, but the wisdom persists.)

I am convinced that, when the left and the right attempt to discuss virtually any subject, they are actually talking about two different things that happen to share the same name. And so attempts at civil conversations inevitably collapse into two parties sharing one argument about two different ideas. 

And so, it is in the memory of Uncle John that I’ve invited my brave and specifically-religious correspondent Leona — who agrees with me on virtually nothing politically or theologically — to join me in sharing our respective definitions of socialism. 

Leona has agreed to go first:

Socialism (not that different from communism) according to the dictionary, means having the government own all major industries (and perhaps all property) rather than allowing private ownership. This is one step further down the road from Fascism which allows private property, but the government steals all private property through excessive taxation – thus destroying the middle class (which is the hallmark of a free society), and ends in Socialism. One of the first goals of socialistic dictator wannabes is to take away the means of self protection from the proletariat. That form of government works to get the approval of the people by giving handouts and getting everyone to be dependent on the government. They also work toward getting people to hate each other.

That explains quite a bit. If this is the definition of socialism that’s floating around conservative circles, then it’s no wonder that so many people are wary of things such as socialized health care. 

Of course, within liberal ideology, there’s an entirely different definition of socialism. Here’s my clumsy attempt at summarizing it:

Socialism is any system into which a group of people pool some portion of their collective wealth or energy as a means of providing mutual assistance in times of need.   

Whereas the idea of socialism as defined by Leona would seem incompatible with the Christian Bible (or any philosophy which concerns itself with human decency), this second definition seems to fit perfectly well with the virtuous human ideals of loving one’s neighbor (and enemy), and caring for the weak. With the understanding that there’s a Biblical quote for any argument, I shall pluck a line from Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Now, I shall ask Leona if she can picture a version of socialism which, rather than attempting to take possession of all private property and thereby barrel towards a fascist state, instead takes the form of limited programs whose sole purpose is to engage citizens to contribute to the greater good of the country? And is there any imaginable circumstance in which such a program — one geared toward helping those in need (aka potentially anyone) — could be useful, or even righteous? 

Leona, the floor is yours:

I am fully aware of the fact that many good people on both sides of the aisle would agree that it is indeed a righteous and noble goal for people to want to help their fellow man. But isn’t the real question we need to ask actually: Is mankind capable of achieving such an altruistic state? I would posit that such a universal paradise is not possible here on earth.

Yes, there are many good people, but when put into a situation of live or die, most good people would put themselves first over their fellow man. Whether you choose to attribute this to evolution and survival of the fittest; or to the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden as written in the Bible, for eons we have seen man want to dominate his fellow man.

“While there have been small communities that have practiced this sort of lifestyle, from what I have read, most have only lasted short term.

“I would ask you, Greg, if you have any actual examples of where Socialism, as a form of government has actually worked.

I will be delighted to answer you, Leona, in my next column.

Ironclad Proof

Proof That I'm an Idiot, That Is

September 1, 2021

It Hi. Remember me? I’m back, and I’m still talking to my brave volunteer, Leona, about the idea of socialism. Over the past six months, I’ve discovered that conversations of this nature (that is, conversations between people with completely divergent ideas of the established facts of existence) can take a long time to unfold. Good news: things are about to start moving much more quickly. There might even be a moment or two of conflict to sweeten the pot. Onward.

When we last parted, Leona had asked me if I had “any actual examples of where Socialism, as a form of government has actually worked.”

Here’s my reply to Leona:

Does your definition of “Socialism as a form of government” include the governments that have forms of socialized health care? If so, then here’s a partial list (I’m limiting myself to nations that presently exist, as any that have perished would not qualify as “working”):

Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Belgium, Bhutan, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guernsey, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Oceania, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Scotland, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, and Wales.

Clearly, this reflects a great variety of styles of governance, ranging from democracies all the way to dictatorships. And while there are exceptions (China and Cuba stand out, for instance), I’m sure that we can agree that the vast majority of the countries I listed do not, strictly speaking, employ Socialism as their exclusive, overarching political ideology.

Do all of these countries “work”? I suppose that depends on how you define “work”. For example, all of these countries exist, and I suspect they’ll continue to exist for many decades to come. So, as far as persistence goes, they do work. If we’re looking exclusively at gross national product, the listed countries range, from “struggling” to “thriving”. When we include factors like quality of life, state of the environment, human rights, respect for intellectual property, or whether or not a government endorses any particular theology, things start to get complicated. Point being, unless we use extremely simplistic arguments, it’s not that easy to define what is a “working” government. 

But that’s not really the point. No matter one’s criteria for “a working country”, socialized health care has clearly been successful in dozens of countries (pretty much all of Europe, for example) and within a wide variety of systems of governance. Given that the vast majority of these nations are not teetering toward fascism, it would seem that there’s little correlation between socialized healthcare and the downfall of humanity.

COMING SOON: Leona’s exasperated reply.

Righteous Wrongness

Wherein it Begins to Dawn on Me That Things Are Worse Than I'd Previously Thought

September 8, 2021

Let us now rejoin my conversation with Leona on the subject of socialism (she believes it’s evil, I believe it’s an idea.)

To recap: We started by trying to agree on a definition (or definitions) of socialism. That didn’t work out, exactly.  Next, Leona asked me for some examples where socialism as a form of government has worked. In response, I provided a list of 73 countries that currently employ some form of socialized health care and then I offered this observation: “It would seem that there’s little correlation between socialized healthcare and the downfall of humanity.”

Here is Leona’s response:

When I asked about an example of where Socialism as a form of government has actually worked, I need to add a number of qualifiers to that question. Even if there appears to be a good economy, such as China’s, that does not mean the system is truly “working.” When I see news clips of university students holding signs that say “Freedom is Bad’ or “Communism is good” or “We want Socialism” etc., I believe these students have been taught by their professors that these other forms of governance is superior to what was established in this country. These students believe freedom of speech is only good if it’s the speech they want to hear. Those of us who want to offer a different point of view should be burned at the stake as in days of old and as happens in places like China, Russia, Cuba, etc. If this form of government is so bad, why do people flee those countries you listed (sometimes risking their lives to do so) to come here? Yes, there are countries that have tried to combine a form of Socialism with Capitalism such as Australia and others on your list, but they are not truly Socialist countries.

When I think of Socialism, I think of what Bernie Sanders, who is a self proclaimed Socialist (even though he acts far more like a greedy Capitalist with the 3 mansions he owns,) talked about continuously on the campaign trail, i.e. Free healthcare, Free education all the way through college, Free money, Free…Obviously, someone has to pay for all this “free” stuff. Prior to last year when a lot of travel was shut down, the “socialists” in those various countries who needed medical care, often came to the USA to get it because “socialized medicine” means waiting, and whenever the government gets involved in anything, the red tape, ie. government interference, goes through the roof, and people don’t get served as well as they wait in line, and the quality, more often than not, goes DOWN.

Countries like Colombia not only have just a form of socialism as they also embrace Capitalism, but I know that Colombia has a “class” system as well. You might be able to work your way out of one class and into another, but your class determines where you can live, where you can go to school, and how much you will pay to go to university. So while they may have a form of socialism, education is not entirely free, and you are allowed to have your own doctor and go to the pharmacy to get your medicine without going through a lot of red tape. I know this from Colombians who have worked for me and from personal experience. 

So, to get back to my initial comment on the qualifications of “working governments”, I would list:

1. government respects and treat ALL of its citizens the same — doesn’t commit genocide of any sort — that eliminates a number of countries on your list

2. dictators and others in power aren’t living in HUGE mansions while the vast majority of the citizens can barely keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables — this eliminates the rest

There was a great deal more to Leona’s response, but, in the interest of space, we’ll have to leave it there.

NEXT: My frustrated reply, and the reasons behind that frustration.  

The Depth of It

Struggling on, Thanks to My Combination of Hubris and Obsessive Behavior

September 15, 2021

For the past seven months I’ve been corresponding with a reader named Leona, who holds very strong–and typically conservative–opinions largely based on a specific understanding of Christianity.  Leona and I have spent thousands and thousands of words in a civil debate on matters that have ranged from the nature of English grammar to the age of the universe, with our main focus being on American politics.

Because our letters tend to be insanely long, and because an opinion column cannot possibly accommodate unedited contributions from sufferers of both chronic logorrhea and congenital tangentialism, I’ve tried to focus on a single topic, socialism–and even then it’s been a monumental challenge to keep ourselves on any sort of linear track.

The resulting columns, by my own reckoning, have not been very good. They’re published sporadically, which means that by the time a new piece comes out, the reader has forgotten the contents of the previous piece.  Further, for a debate to be compelling (either viscerally or intellectually), there must be at least some sense that the two parties are honing in on, at the very least, an understanding of each other’s positions. It’s also nice to have a proper dispute now and then. We have not exactly managed to do either of these.

My larger point here is that, while Leona and I will continue to correspond, I’m nearing the end of my attempt to share this correspondence within my columns, if not with the glassy-eyed innocents I frequently corner at social engagements.

But first–and thanks to a normally-useful obsessive streak–I must make a couple more attempts to vanquish this windmill. And so, once more, into the world of socialism.

Previously, Leona and I have attempted (to little success) to come to an agreement on a definition (or definitions) of socialism. Later, in that same column, Leona challenged me to name a country that has successfully worked socialism into its government. I offered her a list of seventy-three countries (including most of Europe, Scandinavia, and, well, lots of countries) that seem to be doing just fine with socialized health care. Leona’s rebuttal included the following: [edited slightly for clarity]

So, to get back to my initial comment on the qualifications of a “working government,” I would list: 1. A government that respects and treats ALL of its citizens the same — doesn’t commit genocide of any sort.  That eliminates a number of countries on your list. 2. Governments where dictators and others in power aren’t living in HUGE mansions while the vast majority of the citizens can barely keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables — this eliminates the rest.

I was not pleased with this argument.  

Here’s my reply:


I ask you to take a moment to reflect on your recent assertions.  Ask yourself if they consist of anything more substantial than generalized assumptions which happen to reinforce your own beliefs.  And then ask yourself if any of your assertions could apply to the USA. 

It troubles me to think that this message may leave you feeling resentful or defensive or contemptuous, and that, in writing it I may be hastening the conclusion of our correspondence.  My desire to avoid making you uncomfortable is outweighed by my desire to offer honest feedback in hopes that you might consider a more effective means of engaging with someone of a different mind. 

If you so choose, this liberal heathen would happily assist you in this endeavor.  If not, neither my respect nor my gratitude will wane one bit, but I will be left wondering if we haven’t perhaps reached an impassable and discouraging barrier in this conversation.  

I had hoped this would inspire Leona to revisit her words and quickly sus out the multitudinous flaws within her logic. My hopes were based on the assumption that Leona’s definition of logic is the same as mine. That assumption was misguided. You see, Leona’s threshold for proof is entirely different from mine. And so her reply, rather than including an acknowledgment of her arbitrary movement of the goalposts, instead consisted of several different ways of saying more or less the same things she’d already said. In the end, it was clear that I could point out all the logical fallacies I wanted; nothing was going to make the slightest dent in her beliefs.    

This marked a profound failure on my part. At the beginning of this endeavor, I had been convinced that, if I could just sustain a civil discussion about a single controversial subject (in this case, socialized health care), I could, by the sheer force of reason, offer someone (in this case, Leona) a fresh–and less terrifying–perspective (Leona thinks socialism is evil) on that subject. This has not come to pass.  Beliefs, once they’ve become established, seem to be impervious to logic.

The ramifications of this, at least to me, are almost entirely depressing. But there is one silver lining, and we’ll examine that in my next column.  


A Shred of Light

It Hasn't Been a Complete Failure

September 24, 2021

For several months, I’ve been attempting to engage in an in-depth political discussion with Leona, one of our loyal readers. Leona’s worldview is formed out of an evangelical Christian ecosystem that seems to have a particularly strong grip within certain realms of the political right. This is in contrast to my worldview, which is not.

Now that you’re up-to-date, let’s jump into our latest:

With the realization that Leona and I communicate our philosophies to one another in same way that toddlers share toys, it’s clear that there’s little reason for us to continue our discussion of socialism in America. (What’s the point? Hell, we can’t even agree on a definition of “rationality”, much less “socialism”, much less discuss the relative validity of our respective perspectives.)

In other words, this experiment is cooked. Which means it’s time to analyze the results. 

To that end, I asked Leona to describe what she’s learned from our conversation. As has been the case with every other request I’ve made of her, she has graciously accommodated me.

While outside of grammar and linguistics, we have only had 2 major discussions [on the validity of evolution–which I have not included in these pieces–and the aforementioned train-wreck that became of our socialism conversation–GH], we found ourselves in complete disagreement on both with no middle ground on either. Yet, we were able to keep our conversations civil for the most part, but always polite. I say for the most part because both of us occasionally leveled a bit of sarcasm at the other, but neither of us ever resorted to outright ad hominem attacks or belittling.

Even though we started as total strangers, I believe we both feel we have gotten to know the other through our discussions, and even though we find ourselves on the opposite side of a very wide chasm, I also am sure that we both agree that we want the best for the other.

Thus, as opposed to the name calling done on both sides by far too many, we know that it might be possible to bridge that chasm one day on minor points if more people would simply learn to treat their fellow man with the respect that should be accorded to all of us. We agreed up front that we would agree to disagree. That is exactly what we have done. This has sometimes been difficult for both of us, but this conversation has done a lot to restore my respect for those with whom I disagree.

Prior to this conversation, I had the impression that all of those on the other side of the chasm weren’t even interested in understanding what I believe or why I believe it. It has been a breath of fresh air to have discussions with someone who is willing to listen and respond to my objections rather than just trying to over talk me. It’s been a joy to learn that we can disagree without being disagreeable. I do know that many disagreements stem from our definitions of words and whether those definitions are objective or subjective. All too often definitions of what we believe to be true is subjective rather than objective, and until we can come to an agreement on terms, definitions, etc., we will consider the other to be illogical at best. None the less, a very odd friendship has been born through disagreement rather than through the normal route of agreement.

The best part about this exercise has been the use of email. Neither of us even knows the phone number of the other, so we have done all our conversations through the written word, just like they did over a century ago. I know that Darwin and Wallace exchanged numerous letters as Darwin wanted Wallace to agree with him, and Wallace continuously explained to Darwin why his theory was wrong. The main difference here is that we don’t have to wait weeks for the letter to arrive. Thanks to technology, we get to have our conversations in a timely manner.

Thank you Greg, for agreeing to have the conversation.

I’ve got plenty more to say about the depressing ramifications of “…until we can come to an agreement on terms, definitions, etc., we will consider the other to be illogical at best”, but for now, let’s take a moment to appreciate the value of trying. In spite of what we haven’t done, Leona and I have managed to treat one another as human beings. A low bar, indeed, but one that seems to trip us up altogether too often.

And so, Leona, I reciprocate your gratitude. Thank you for your time, your sincerity, and most of all, your willingness to correspond with me.

Next time I’ll try to parse what all this dialogue has really meant.

It's Not You. It's Not Me. It's Inevitablity.

People Are Fucked Up

October 1, 2022

This concludes a series wherein I was lucky enough to debate various issues — nominally socialism, but in reality everything — with a conservative reader named Leona. After this piece, I’m gonna take some time off. See you in a month or two.

Over our seven months of emailed correspondence, Leona and I established a relationship that was both deep and shallow. 

On the deep end, we discussed issues such as the nature of good and evil, whether or not our universe is governed by supernatural forces, and the validity of anecdotal evidence. I suspect that either of us could anticipate with some accuracy how the other might react to any subject that could come up in the news. In itself, this is not a grand revelation; read any anonymous comment below any online article and, within a couple of sentences, you’ll find yourself performing this exact same magical feat. 

The grand revelations came from Leona’s source materials. She, more so than I, liked to send links that might buttress her arguments, and those links were remarkable.

A bit of context:

When mingling with a crowd of liberal-types, the conversation will inevitably work its way thru the Perplexing Allure of Donald Trump to the Inexplicable Behavior of Our Fellow Citizens Who Refuse the Covid Vaccine. (I assume that, within conservative crowds, there’s an equivalent, but inverted conversation. I can’t say for certain, because, as a liberal-type, my very presence in a conservative-type crowd spoils the ideological homogeneity required for these sorts of — well, you know where I’m going here.)

I hate these conversations, especially when they move into their third stage: How Stupid Can Those People Be?  And when the “Those People” in question are ruralians, I start to take it personally. Not because I think I’m a shining example of a non-stupid ruralian, but because it’s absolutely ridiculous to suggest that rural Americans–who are overwhelmingly pro-Trump and anti-Covid-vaccine — embrace their beliefs because they are dum-dums. Geography might influence one’s ideology, but it does not influence the intellectual capacity of millions of human minds. 

My obvious point here is that context — peer pressure, local customs, religion, population density, and so on — is hugely influential on one’s beliefs, way-the-hell more so than one’s SAT scores.

Which is why I’m constantly spoiling liberal get-togethers with some variation on, “I’ve been talking to Leona again. And I’ve learned that, as absurd as it might seem, there’s a perfectly-understandable explanation for why people make these self-defeating choices.”

That perfectly-understandable explanation is that there’s a whole freaking parallel universe of websites and television programs and preachers and products whose entire appeal is: trust us and we’ll show you the answers to everything, and, by the way, if you stick with us you will not be tortured and exterminated after the messiah returns. 

Seriously, go to Epoch Times. Yes, it’s… weird. But don’t just look at the headlines and run screaming; dig in, watch some of their interviews. Check out Turn on the radio and listen to one of those religious stations you always skip on your way to NPR. Consider how their arguments are structured. The entire ecosystem seems to be based on statements that begin with, “Many people…” and end with, “…therefore it is so.” Think about how that might affect one’s threshold for proof/rationality/reality.

Add this all up and —

Oh, for crying out loud, I’m running out of space and, once again, I’m about the botch the landing. I always feel compelled to write The Column That Solved All the Problems. Instead, I always end up with The Column That Forgot Its Opening Paragraph.

Let’s see… Leona and I… profound/shallow/source materials…

Even though Leona and I tried to tackle fantastically complex subjects, we never delved deeply into our personal histories. Consequently, on the one hand, I feel like I know her extremely well, but on the other, she’s a mystery (for instance, what kind of relationship does she have with her kids?), and I assume she feels the same about me. It’s as if we spent seven months seated next to one another on a flight, and now that we’ve landed all that remains are some awkward glances as we wait for our suitcases to show up on the baggage carousel.

I hear the music. Fine, I’ll wrap it up, but I warn you, it’s not going to be elegant.

As I look over what I’ve just written, I feel like an asshole for spending all this time talking about Leona as if she were some sort of a science project.

Leona’s a human being, and I’m honored that she willingly shared so much of herself with me, and you as well.

What the Hell Was That?

A local mystery weird enough to make international news

(The Guardian published two pieces on the subject. When, in 2021, I told them that the mystery had been solved, they said, "We followed up on your source and he proved to be unreliable." Well, duh.)

Feb 14, 2020

After several weeks of unexplained and inexplicable drone sightings in and around Yuma County, Michael Spicer, founder of "ArchAngel RECON" presented the Yuma Pioneer with a press-release that claimed to be an explanation for the drone sightings that have been worrying folks in this region for the past few weeks. 

Here's the press-release in its entirety, interpersed with my on-the-fly rhetorical criticism:

Jan 23, 2020

To the good people of Yuma and surrounding towns and states:
This will serve as our official statement. It’s important to us that we have the opportunity to provide this unedited written document, as unfortunately this same information has already been misquoted and represented, and folks have attached our name and reputation to those words.

We did notice the attention the so-called mystery drones picked up, both local and worldwide; however, it was unlike anything we have encountered or seen in our almost five years of doing this work.

Congratulations on noticing the fact that your squadrons of flying robots picked up some attention.  You are very observant, sir. 

As to your phrase, "so called mystery drones," what the hell else were they if not mysterious?

Our actions will also back this statement as we made contact with and have the file reference numbers and email copies for the FAA, FBI, DoD, Homeland Security and various sheriff’s departments. When we were contacted by the FAA due to our contact with Yuma County Sheriff Department, the special agent in charge was unaware of the file with six documents we sent in to the FAA much before. We provided that document reference number to him.

Most of the local small-town sheriff’s offices have emails that come back invalid, contact forms that don’t work and so on. Again, keep in mind it’s important for us to maintain a documented conversation as even five words on the phone can be and have been misconstrued. We did our part to tell them all exactly what we will provide here to you.

You allege that you've filed all the necessary paperwork, contacted the appropriate offices, and that you did your "part to tell them all exactly what we will provide here to you."

Translation: "We've covered our legal hindquarters."

We are a group of professionals who track a particular high value aerospace target.

Well, that clears everything up! Mr. Spicer belongs to a guild of dentists who like to track the flight patterns of Lear jets.

We have never referred to ourselves as UAP enthusiasts and never will. Our tracking takes us through many areas that most would describe as the middle of nowhere — that’s the flight path. Kansas, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona as well as many other states we travel and have chapter members who are involved.

I prefer to call this area "the middle of America."  And although it is rural, Yuma County is populated by actual humans.  And when humans--even humans in low-population areas--encounter mysterious squadrons of flying robots, they will react in a manner that I'd describe as "entirely predictable" (i.e., we will generate any kind of explanation that makes sense).

There is no home base or group location status other than where we are at the moment and where we are going. Currently we will be an hour outside of Yuma Jan. 25-26 doing repairs to our monitoring equipment.

Drones represent one layer in an eight-layer system we use to do our work. Drones were 100% in your area with flashing lights flying in grid patterns during this time the concern of mystery drones was born.

So, Mr. Spicer, you acknowledge that the existence of your squadrons of flying robots happened simultaneous to the birth of the concern of the mystery drones.  Of course they were present for the birth, they were--to borrow your metaphor--the mother of that concern. 

I don't know what your intent was with that phrase, but to me it seems as if you wrote it with a lawyer whispering in your ear, "Under no circumstances shall you explicitly acknowledge that your drones caused any sort of anxiety to the people over whom they were hovering."

It’s also important to note that the concern then grew to a scare, which did indeed produce an environment unlike the actual scene that likely started this whole thing, and undoubtedly, in my view, that will be the mass hysteria explanation given to this story. In order to prevent the truth from being buried due to lack of proof and evidence, let me submit that now.

We track and capture the aerospace target nicknamed the TicTac or UAP from various encounters such as with the USS Nimitz ship. This is a human made aircraft with human made technology that happens to defy known physics and outperform the best current known radar and fighter jet capabilities while operating on a power source that would in theory also change our entire knowledge in that sector.

Here's what I think Mr. Spicer is trying to tell us:  "A flying object called a TicTac, or UAP, had an undefined encounter with a supercarrier ship (presumably over a body of water).  The TicTac/UAP is now being monitored by my squadrons of flying robots in a region a thousand miles from any ocean.  By the way, this TicTac/UAP thing can disobey the laws of nature and it includes a fantastical power source.  But don't worry, it was designed by humans.  And we're going to capture it."

Am I mis-reading this?  'Cause it sounds completely bonkers.

As professionals, unlike enthusiasts, we don’t ask you to believe us. We challenge you to prove us wrong.

In documented contact with the FAA, FBI, DoD, Homeland and local sheriff’s departments, we have asked and encouraged them to administer a polygraph test to us of the highest caliber under the agreed condition that failing the test would be subject to available charges, both local and federal.

Unlike older polygraph tests or those you see online, there is no way to cheat a modern test, which is the reason these government departments, such as FBI, CIA, DoD, Homeland Security and Border Patrol use them as both a means of pre-employment screening as well as testing for current employees, not to mention on individuals who they are investigating.
Where is our opportunity to prove on government record these statements we have and are about to make? Our pass rate on more than one testing subject right now is 100% through private polygraph test companies, all which have been run by former government polygraph administering employees with decades of experience under their belt.

If there were an infallible lie-detector test, we could dismantle the legal system.  Alas, there is no infallible lie-detector test.  There isn't even a reasonably reliable lie-detector test. 

Not that a lie-detector (even an infallible one) could prove you right or wrong.  It would only prove that you believe what you're saying.  And right now, it sounds to me like you might be suffering from the delusional malady known as mass hysteria.  I'm sure you're familiar with the phenomenon; your article posits that it's affecting the people terrorized by your squadrons of flying robots.

We have with our own eyes and equipment viewed the TicTac and more importantly the aircraft under it. We have done so numerous times, including at less than 50 feet away for over 10 minutes where not a single blade of grass moved under it while it sat in the air almost perfectly still and silent for this entire duration. We know every panel and line of the aircraft from the lines of the sensor under the nose cone, past the cockpit and up the single tailfin. Allow us to back this all up by polygraph test.

Coming out of the shadows for us was never going to be easy due to the media blitz this has gathered that we have never wanted or encountered in almost five years of work. We have done that now. If the government agencies continue to refuse to let us put facts on the record, then we will look at doing a town hall type meeting to go over information with all of you as well as bring in a polygraph test and take that on location with the results read by the administrator right then and there.

We will be providing details in newspaper space in the Yuma Pioneer in the coming weeks once we do or don’t hear from the government agencies. As for right now, you can sleep easy. Technology is in the airspace above you. You are under absolutely no threat or concern whatsoever.

That does not make me sleep easy (am I the only one who's had nightmares about these stupid drones?).  Rather, it makes me wonder what kind of person thinks there's any comfort in the phrase "technology is in the airspace above you."

Should you or anyone reading this encounter the same event, keep in mind you made a great mistake. Rather than going out at night in the darkness to look up at lights, go out in the light in the daytime and look at the ground to see what these drones were hunting.

...which is...snipes? 

Only trust our one account for any and all statements and contact @ArchAngelRECON on Twitter. If you’d like to help arrange this proposed town hall or otherwise, please reach us at that contact point so it can all be documented.

If there's one thing you've established, sir, it is the opposite of trust. 

Michael Spicer
Founder of ArchAngel RECON

ArchAngel RECON is not a government organization, it would appear.  So what is it?  Best guess: a group of UFO hunters chasing conspiracies.

God damn, I hate it when conspiracy theorists tell me not to come to conspiratorial conclusions about their crazy-ass bullshit.

(NOTE: The commentary above was written under the generous assumption that ArchAngel RECON is a real organization and that Mr. Spicer's press-release is not a deliberate spoof.)

About Getting Out

From the early days of Covid, before the red-hats lost their shit

March, 2020

You've probably had a similar experience recently:  Last week, Maureen and I went to Fort Morgan to buy groceries.  After two (three? four? I can't remember any more) weeks on the farm, a drive to Fort Morgan felt like a cross-country road trip, like something from the 1969 film, Easy Rider, even though we were driving in a VW hatchback rather riding groovy motorcycles.  Freedom, man!  The world is ours!

Where was I?  I'm losing my mind.  Back to the story.  We get to Fort Morgan and we get to the supermarket and our movie suddenly switches from Easy Rider to Dawn of the Dead.  Whereas Easy Rider is a masterpiece late 60's hippie cinema, Dawn of the Dead is a 1978 Zombie movie that scared the everloving crap out of me when I saw it in the early 80's.  It takes place mostly in a shopping mall.

So we're in the supermarket and I'm pushing my cart one direction, and Maureen is pushing her cart the other direction (she wrote two shopping lists, one for each of us, targeting different areas of the store; she won't be appearing again in this story), and the first thing I think is, "Whoa.  Look at all these people."  There was hardly anybody in the store, maybe fifteen shoppers plus the staff, but it seemed like an absolute mob.

Keep in mind that although our address is Joes, we live five miles outside of town, in the suburbs ,where the nearest neighbor is a half-mile away; I expect many of the folks reading this can relate to how weird it can be to go from staring at corn stalks to trying to maintain six feet between myself and the potentially infected person who's approaching me in the cereal aisle.

You ever notice how, when you're at the grocery, you end up running into the same two or three people over and over again?  You take similar paths, stare at the same frozen pizzas, sometimes even end up in the same checkout line.  I always feel like that shared experience builds up a weird little relationship, even though you aren't even having a conversation.  By the end, I find myself doing little things, such as sympathetically raising my eyebrows to my shopper buddy when an obnoxious parent starts screaming at an obnoxious kid. 

Which brings me back to the zombie movie.  In Dawn of the Dead--a brilliant social commentary which I cannot in good conscience recommend to anyone--the zombies compulsively return to a shopping mall where they wander around mindlessly, taking no notice of one another...except to avoid bumping into other zombies.

In my first visit to a post-viral supermarket, none of my fellow grocery shoppers would look me in the eye.  And I realized that I wasn't looking in their eyes either.  What the dickens was going on here?  Clearly, we were very aware of one another, otherwise we wouldn't have been so careful to maintain our distance.  And we were maintaining our distance because ANY ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE COULD BE A VECTOR FOR DEATH, INCLUDING MYSELF.  This is sensible and necessary behavior.  But the not-looking at each other, that's zombie behavior.

While surreptitiously slipping the last two packages of tofu into my cart, I quickly psychoanalyzed myself, as well as the rest of humanity.  Conclusion: in avoiding human contact for the good of humanity, we felt simultaneously threatened by each other, and ashamed of ourselves for fearing our fellow shoppers.  And I suppose we all felt a little insulted--on a subconscious level--that no one wanted to be near us. Shame plus fear plus humiliation equals no eye contact.

To counter this, I was tempted to turn into Mr. Gregarious.  "Hey!  Howzit goin'?  Weird vibe in here, eh?"  In what was probably a good decision, I instead tried to present cheerful, non-creepy smiles of solidarity-in-a-time-of-crisis.

And you know what?  Nobody looked at me.

(Caveat: I'm horrible at interpreting and generating facial expressions; it's possible my attempts at outreach made me look like a serial killer.) 

Well, okay.  These are extraordinary times, and we all have our own perfectly natural human reactions to these times and I'm not going to rail about that sort of thing.  Nevertheless, I want you (you? my fellow shoppers? everybody, I guess) to know a few of things:

1. As far as I'm concerned I'm not keeping six feet of distance between you and I.  Rather, there's a bubble around me with a three-food radius and there's a similar bubble around you, and we are mutually respecting our need to keep each other safe.

2.  We're keeping each other safe because we're humans.

3.  Eye contact is not lethal. 

Don't Stand So Close to Me, Please

One month later...completely bonkers

April 14, 2020

When I started writing this article last Friday, 33,000 Americans had died of covid-19.  That's 33,000 corpses.  33,000 people who died because they couldn't breathe thru lungs filled with viral sludge.  33,000 death certificates: "Cause of death, complications due to covid-19."

The flu didn’t kill those 33,000 people.  Old age, diabetes, cigarettes, car crashes, bullets, terrorism---none of those things created those corpses.  Those corpses would be alive today if they hadn't contracted covid-19.

It's now four days later.  In those four days, the number of corpses has increased by 10,000. 

That's 10,000 more funerals that won't happen, 10,000 more families who can't properly grieve.

Covid-19 is the second-leading cause of death in the United States. 

This is not a hoax.  This is not a referendum on who is or isn't a 'fraidy cat.

One might argue that the economic risks of social distancing restrictions, closing of non-essential businesses, and other safeguards are creating long-term problems whose consequences will be more severe than the virus itself.  43,000 dead Americans would disagree. 

An April 20th NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed 58% of Americans are worried that the government will move too quickly in loosening restrictions and the virus will continue being spread with more lives lost.

If you were already convinced that everything I've thus far written is false, it's highly unlikely that this column has changed your mind.  A mind, once it's found a comfortable version of personal truth, tends to be incredibly resistant to change.  

For those readers who dismiss the restrictions as an overblown reaction, I do have one request.  It's a reasonable request.  It does not ask you to change how you vote, or what you believe, or whom you trust.

I simply ask that you respect your fellow humans enough to ask their permission before you approach within six feet of them. 

Preventing disease is not just an ideology, it's good manners.

Pity the Poor Ostrich

Struggling to Understand the Un-understandable

May 20, 2020

In a speech last week at a medical supply distributor in Allentown, PA, President Donald Trump proved once again that he is incapable of rational thought.

At the prompting of no one--not even a journalist asking a "nasty question"--Trump claimed, incorrectly, that "we have the best testing in the world."   Then, “It could be the testing’s, frankly, overrated? Maybe it is overrated." Then, “And don’t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing.  When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”

Coming from anyone who doesn't suffer from malignant narcissistic personality disorder, "If we didn't do any testing, we would have very few cases" would be breathtakingly stupid.  But in Trump's mind, appearance supersedes reality and so reality is unwelcome.  Ratings, crowd-size, twitter-followers, those are the only things that matter to the President of the United States.  Meanwhile, in this pesky reality, it remains breathtakingly stupid.


I'm applying it here specifically to President Trump; a man who once mused that the sound from wind turbines could cause cancer, and who claimed earlier this week that he's been taking a drug that appears not only to be useless against Covid-19, but which could cause serious heart rhythm problems, but which he's compelled to defend because, as with his dumb stunt with the sharpie and the Hurricane Dorian weather map, he's not only a fool, but a vain fool whose attempts to distract from his stupidity only make him appear more stupid. 

Do I therefore think that Trump supporters are stupid?

Absolutely not.  All humans, every last one of us, are vulnerable to lies.  We crave power, we're insecure.  Trump is masterful at turning those qualities into support.  Why do certain people follow Trump while others do not?  I'm far too stupid to know the answer to that question. 


The reality is that we've now lost over 90,000 Americans to a highly contagious virus.  If those numbers were suppressed--which is what Trump, in his warped personal logic is suggesting--would those dead Americans cease to be dead?

Wherever his head was when he said, "If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases,” it wasn't anywhere near the sunshine.  And, I'm sorry, but there just isn't enough room for the rest of America to fit in that same hole.


Yuma Dodges Destruction

Chicken Spittle Misses the Spitton

June 20, 2020

Early last week, the editor of Yuma Pioneer shared on the paper's Facebook page an invitation from Pastor Jamie Fiorino to join her in a gathering to express solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In an impressive demonstration of the efficacy of years of indoctrination via the right-wing propaganda machines of talk radio, cable news, and online conspiracy garbage, that one innocuous posting inspired a comment section filled with what I can only describe as a strange ballet of fear, anger, and misinformation. 

The post has since been deleted--wisely, it was a cesspool--so I shall paraphrase:

Beware of outside agitators!  The looters are coming!  Those miscreants better not mess with my livestock!  How dare the Yuma Pioneer publicly share this!  Don't you realize that this post can be viewed by ANYONE, even members of the dreaded boogeymen known as ANTIFA?!?  Something or other about prayer or God!  Our town is has no problems with race!  Dear Lord, they're coming for us!  Hide!   

There was no way I was gonna miss this adventure.

When I arrived in Yuma, right on time, the event was nowhere to be found.  Fortunately, I was able to ask of one of the twenty-six law enforcement officers who had been deployed to quell the violence, "Can you point me toward a protest?"

"Sure," he said, even though this meant interrupting his amiable conversation with one of Yuma's many non-rioting citizens, "They changed the location. It's at Freedom Park."

Arriving at Freedom Park, I was met by a line of people standing quietly while wearing masks (there's a virus going around). 

One of these quiet people asked me, "Did you come in on the bus?"

"Which bus?"

"The one that was sent from Chicago.  It's supposed to be full of violent protestors."

"Seriously?" I said.

"You didn't hear?"

I hadn't.

Paraphrasing again: "People actually thought folks from Denver and--apparently--Chicago had learned of our act of solidarity and had decided to--or were planning to--or were suspected of being sufficiently aware of the existence of our Very Important Town to take the time out of their busy schedules pillaging Denver and Chicago to do the same to Yuma, Colorado."

"Seriously?" I repeated.

"Someone took it seriously.  Shop-All closed early.  Ambulances are being directed not to drive thru Yuma.  See those gentlemen over there?" 

I looked at the gentlemen over there.

"They're veterans, here to protect the memorial, just in case."

The veterans seemed unconcerned with the memorial.  Rather, it appeared to me that they were engaged in pleasant discussions with the very people who--per the scuttlebutt at Facebook--posed a threat to the memorial.

Seeking further clarification, I spoke to a member of the law enforcement community.

"How's it goin'?" I said.

"We're just here making sure that the things that were never going to happen, don't."

"I heard about something about buses."

He shook his head and laughed.

"Well," I said, "Thanks for joining us today."

"Sure thing.  Thanks for coming."

There followed an hour of standing and visiting with fellow protestors and waving at the passing cars whose drivers sometimes waved back, sometimes took photos and videos, and often pretended they didn't see the line of their heavily unarmed, frighteningly peaceful neighbors, friends, and colleagues.

At the end of the hour, Pastor Jamie spoke eloquently of human rights and asked us to consider what it had felt like to stand for justice for an hour in full view of our neighbors, friends, and colleagues who might not understand our motivations or our intentions.  It was a genuinely moving moment, as had been the event itself.

But what about the commenters at Facebook--the ballet troupe that had managed to amplify and exaggerate the fear that's been pounded into them by one conspiracy after another until their version of reality has been warped into a sad circle of self-pity and pain?  Had they really managed to shut down Yuma for an evening, over nothing?

I suspect not.  I mean, yes, Yuma had been shut down over nothing; but, no, I wouldn't put the blame at the feet of a few local Facebook commenters.  Rather, it's plausible that our righteous friends and neighbors were manipulated into their frenzy by something more malignant than small-town gossip. 

Here's a June 2nd headline from the Associated Press: False Claims of Antifa Protesters Plague Small U.S. Cities.

Quoting that article, "Facebook, using information shared by Twitter, announced Tuesday night it...took down a handful of accounts on its platform that were created by white supremacy groups like Identity Evropa and American Guard, some of them posing as part of the antifa movement."

Fox news, June 2nd: Twitter Shuts Down Fake Antifa Account Linked to White Nationalists, Misinformation Tied to George Floyd Protest Spreads.

Quoting: "The messages first spread by bots, before then being shared by real people and falsely claimed the government or police had “jammed” cell phones, preventing people in the streets past the D.C. curfew from making calls or posting online."

A June 6th headline from NBC News: In Kalamath Falls, Oregon, Victory Declared Over Antifa, which Never Showed Up

Quoting: "On local social media, rumors were swirling that buses filled with outsiders were planning to infiltrate Klamath Falls to wreak similar havoc."

Sound familiar? 

Whoever is generating this garbage wants to increase paranoia, to divide us, to reap chaos, and hasten the meltdown of this country.

Let's not do their bidding, okay?

Here's a suggestion, which I offer with sincere respect: Next time there's an event of this sort, don’t look to Facebook for comfort; Facebook only offers anxiety.  Instead, come to the event.  You will be welcome there.  Visit, ask questions, debate, listen.  Peer beyond the imaginary masks that others have superimposed on the faces of your neighbors and colleagues.  I promise it'll be worth your while

On Racism in Yuma County

Wherein I Try to Remove the Trigger Words

Auguste 15, 2020

It's not easy writing about racism in Yuma County.  Certainly, I could write a great deal about racism in Yuma County.  I've witnessed it for years.  Hell, I participated in it when I was a kid. 

Maybe we should start there. 

One day, when I was in fourth or fifth grade, my mom was driving me thru Joes and I said, contemptuously, "The Mexicans are taking over this place."

Mom's response?  She laughed.  Not because what I had said was funny, but because it was ludicrous.  At the time, I think there was a grand total of one Mexican family in Joes.

When she stopped laughing, my mom said, "Where'd you get that idea?"

Now we come to the part that's hard about writing about racism in Yuma County.  Because, even when talking about my own youthful idiocy, it's impossible to avoid talking about the other racists I've known.  And this community is small. 

I replied to my mom, "[NAME] told me so on the bus."

She said, quite seriously now,  "What's wrong with Mexicans?"

I didn't have an answer.  I could have recited some of the racist jokes I'd heard from [NAME], or maybe I could have complained that everyone should speak English all the time.  But somehow I knew that those weren't exactly compelling arguments.

I'm not sure if that was the precise moment when I decided to change my behavior, but it certainly sticks in my mind as the moment when I realized that I'd been acting like (and therefore was) a racist.  I knew racism was wrong, after all.  Everyone knows racism is wrong, right? 

Eventually, after a few other similarly unfortunate incidents, I cleaned up my act.  I began to contradict [PLURAL NOUN] when they made racist statements.

This earned me the nickname "[RACIST TERM]-lover."

I was briefly a hero after I screamed at one of my [PLURAL NOUN] after he decided to start telling racist jokes in the classroom.  Unfortunately, I was a hero not because I'd defended minorities, but simply because I'd freaked out on a [NOUN]. 

(Shakes head, returns to present.)

Today, I'm happy to report that I hear and see much less overt racism in my corner of Yuma County.   (The reasons for that might not be so rosy as they seem, but I don't have time to go into that here.) I'm also happy that I've gotten better at dealing with racists. I no longer scream at them; turns out screaming is rarely effective in the long-term.  Instead, I try to set a good example just by being the [ADJECTIVE] guy I am.

For instance, a gentleman recently wanted to show me a video on his phone, and he prefaced this by saying, "I know you're not prejudiced, but I think you'll think this is funny anyway." 

I said, "Fine.  Show it to me." 

The video, which was of a black comedian using [POPULAR RACIAL EPITHET] satirically, not only wasn't funny, but it was a sharp critique of white supremecy, a fact that had been completely lost on the gentlemen who was waving his phone in my face. Although the video wasn't remotely funny, I politely (?) pretended it was, and then I directed the conversation into a less annoying and more patriotic direction, which is to say, we talked about [PLURAL NOUN].

I was setting a good example, I guess.  But sometimes setting a good example feels an awful lot like turning a blind eye.

I think it's time to reconsider how I approach racists.  Anybody have any suggestions? 

Good Lord, writing about racism in Yuma County is fucking difficult.

The Time I Went Autistic on Corey Gardner

I'm pretty sure Gardner lost his senate seat because of this interview. You're welcome, America. (Also, the interview got me a new gig: The Colorado Times Recorder now reprints my Pioneer articles.)

October 12, 2020

I live on the high plains of eastern Colorado, just outside a town called Joes, population eighty. Joes is in Yuma County; a county that went 85% for Trump in 2016, that voted 60% against the 2018 state constitutional amendment to prohibit slavery, and which is the home of Senator Cory Gardner. This is where I grew up, and this is where I choose to live today.

I pick guitar in a local country band that normally plays the Joes Community Center once a month; these days, we’re limited to tailgate concerts, and soon we’ll have to shut down for the winter. 

Just like you, dear reader, the folks in Yuma County are humans. And while my neighbors and I don’t always agree on abstract political concepts, we can all agree on basic human values, including decency, kindness, and honesty.

Where we do disagree, I make every effort to avoid the insulting language that is so often directed at rural voters. Rather, I prefer to focus on the subtleties of the rural-urban divide. On the rural side, these subtleties include: the advantage of a shared ideology within a small community; limited real-life exposure to diverse behaviors and opinions; the complete absence of liberal perspectives in broadcast radio; and the peer pressure of maintaining “face” in a region that celebrates being tough above nearly all else.

These efforts at civility are mutual, and I’m proud that my neighbors and I generally manage this well; and when we fail to do so, we apologize.

I am unable to extend kindness and civility to those who would lie, obfuscate, or otherwise deliberately and cynically manipulate the emotions of good, honest people.

To that end, since the election of Donald Trump, I’ve been contributing an opinion column for my local paper, The Yuma Pioneer

On a whim, back on July 18, 2017, I submitted an insincere request for a meeting via Cory Gardner’s website. If I recall correctly, I was particularly disgusted by Gardner’s confirmation votes for Trump’s cabinet members, including Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, and Rex Tillerson. 

I had absolutely no expectation that he’d agree, certainly not if he’d read any of the earlier emails I’d sent him, which were almost universally profane and (in my humble opinion) fucking hilarious. 

Eight days later, July 26, I received a message from Gardner’s office.

Hi Mr. Hill,

Thank you for reaching out. We would love to set something up. Is there any chance you are available for a phone interview on Tuesday, Aug 1 at 9:30am MT? Let me know if that works.


Jerrod Dobkin

I’m not a political reporter. I don’t conduct interviews. I write opinion pieces and weird novels. I’ve got High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder; which leaves me flying-by-instrument in social settings, a situation further complicated when I can’t analyze facial cues. With a phone call, the invisible person on the other end consists exclusively of the words that I hear thru the receiver. If those words come across as insincere, look out.

I spent the next several days reading up on the senator’s stances on various subjects. With global warming as my primary concern, I made a list of questions, all of which were designed to gain a peek into Cory’s soul.

Here’s the annotated transcript.  For clarity and brevity, I’ve omitted several chunks of the conversation. If you’ve any concerns about contextual integrity, you can hear the whole thing, unedited, here or at the end of this article.

August 1, 2017, 9:35 am

Cory Gardner: Hey, Greg. It’s Cory Gardner callin’. How are you?

Gregory Hill: Hey, Cory.  How’re you doin’?

CG: It sounds like you’re down in Joes today.

GH: Yes, I am.

CG: That’s a 358 number if I remember correct.

[Cory is establishing his knowledge of Yuma County telephone prefixes.]

GH: I’m putting in ground rods after a lightning strike rendered much of our electricity problematic.

CG: Oh, man.  Have you guys been gettin’ this rain like we have the past three or four nights?

GH: Yeah, we got three tenths. And I think, what’d you guys get? Four inches over the last week? That’s crazy!

[I don’t actually think that’s crazy. But this isn’t the time for a lecture on meteorology.]

CG: You know, it’s nice to have it, but in typical farm fashion I’ll complain about it.  We just need to spread it out next time. 

GH: Well, we can’t do anything about the weather.  Well. Well, um uh.  What’re we talkin’ about here today? 

CG: Well, you know, it’s up to you. Whatever you’d like to talk about.

GH: Right. Well, let’s get down to a subject that doesn’t seem to matter to anybody in Yuma County: global warming.

CG: Yeah.

GH: Climate change. I haven’t been able to find any definitive statement from you on that subject. I saw that you voted for an amendment that clarified that climate change is not a hoax. Which was nice to see.

CG: Right.

GH: Um, but I haven’t been able to get a—seen any statements to whether or not you believe—or acknowledge—that it’s being caused by human activities. 

CG: I certainly think that the climate is changing and that’s what that—

GH: I’ve heard you say that before. But here’s my question. Is it changing as a consequence of the human introduction of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds into our atmosphere?  

CG: Well, I don’t think there’s any doubt the humans have an impact on the environment around us.

GH: Okay, so but, but, so let’s be clear. Because when I step outside and exhale, I’m having an impact on the environment. But are humans, essentially, causing climate change?

CG: Well, I think that humans do have an impact on the environment.

[Failure to Answer a Yes/No Question is an irredeemable, contemptible sin in the Autistic Mind.]

GH: Okay. So that’s Cory the Politician. But Cory the Person. I know you have an opinion on this. 

CG: But, Greg, I think, I think—

[My voice is rising.]

GH: It’s not even an opinion. I know you know what’s going on. But I just would like to hear you state it clearly. 

CG: Yeah, I think it gets into a loaded political debate because you have…

GH: It’s not a loaded political debate. It’s a debate about whether–Well, go ahead, go ahead.

[I’m using the rhetorical technique of Interrupt The Subject With the Intention of Going Ballistic, but Realize That Going Ballistic Would Not Be a Good Look, and so Immediately Grant Permission for the Subject to Complete Their Thought.]

CG: Well, no. What I think you get into is a debate over what happens. Is this statistic right? Is this number right? Is this research right?

[Somehow I don’t think he struggles over numbers and statistics when he’s wondering about the existence of God.]

GH: Well, let me put it this way, Cory.  If somebody had cancer and there was a 97% chance that a particular cure would save them, and there’s another cure, and there’s a 97% chance of killing them, which one do you think most people are gonna choose?

CG: Well, here, here, lemme–

GH: I’ll tell you the answer. It’s the one that’s gonna save ‘em.

CG: Well, uh, Greg.

GH: Do you agree with that?

CG: Here’s what I would say.

GH: You would not agree with that.

CG: No, no. Let me answer the question on climate change. 

GH: Okay.

CG: People get back and forth in a fight over is climate change, is it human?  What we ought to do is what’s better for the environment by reducing the emissions of all kinds—

GH: So are you at all concerned with climate change?  It seems like simple question to answer.

CG: I’m absolutely concerned about anything that affects our climate. 

GH: So, wait a second. Wait a second. This is a simple question to answer, Cory. And apparently it’s hard for you to say it, but are human beings causing climate change? 

[You don’t want to be on the phone with me when I get like this.]

CG: I think that humans have an impact on the climate. 

GH: Okay. You’re not answering the question. And it sounds like you’re not going to. So this is Cory the Politician and this is not the Cory I wanted to talk to.  I wanted to talk to Cory the Person. 

CG: (chuckles)  Well, Greg. I’m sorry that I’m not giving you the answer that you want. 

GH: Well, the answer that I want is the answer to the question that I’m asking.  Anybody can say that human beings, uh—‘cause you’re evading the question. We both know this. We’re not dummies, you and I. And I know why you’re doing it, because it has political consequences, but…

CG: And I would like to address is the policy concerns that both people, both sides…

GH: There’s not two sides. Go ahead.

CG: (chuckles)  There are people who wish to control the economy as a result of their position on climate change. Absolutely, there are.

GH: Wait. So. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re saying that. I think that.  Well, go ahead and finish what you’re saying. 

CG: Well, what I’m saying is that there are people who want to control the economy as a result of their belief about the environment. 

GH: Okay, hold on here. So who are those people? And how do they want to control it?

CG: People who want to shut down fossil fuel production, people who want to ban hydro—

GH: Wait a second here. If, Cory, this question that you can’t seem to be able to answer, humans are causing climate change, if that’s the case, which it is, then that is a consequence of fossil fuels.  And so we have fossil fuels causing climate change, which we can both acknowledge, whether or not you’ll admit it, is leading our world to a very, very dire place.  And if fossil fuels are the cause of that, then perhaps it would behoove the people who recognize that climate change is happening to slow down the usage of fossil fuels.  Do you follow that logic?  Do you follow it?

[The logic, as it were, may have been lost in the increasingly desperate tone of my voice.]

CG: And if you follow what I’m saying, Greg, I am saying that we should advance renewable energy—

GH: So, but, but let me ask, did you follow my logic?

CG: I understood what you’re saying, which I think is the same thing I’m saying, except I think you want to take it a little further than I wanna take it.  And you want to have a government solution for it when I want to have a market solution for it. 

GH: Wait a second.  You’re saying that a free market, whose primary purpose is to remove capital from people who don’t have money and bring it to people who do have money—

[Great.  I’ve just turned this into a high-school debate.]


CG: Greg, you know.  I don’t know what.  I thought we were just gonna have a conver—

GH: I’m sorry.  You thought you were gonna call down to Yuma County here and have a good time instead of being asked serious questions.  I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to put you on the spot like that. 

CG: Greg, I’m not upset at all to answer any tough questions or anything like this—

GH: Okay.  Well, I would like to hear an answer then.  Is climate change caused by human activity?

CG: I think that humans impact the climate.  And if science says that this is happening, science is saying that. 

GH: Whoa, whoa.  You know what, a um, what’d you just gave me?  A tautology.  ‘If Cory Gardner is saying nothing, then Cory Gardner is saying nothing.’

[That’s right pal, I just said “tautology”.]

(two seconds of silence)

CG: Greg, here’s what I think I heard you say. 

GH: I just accused you of using poor logic, is what I said. 

CG: Well, I’ve been accused of far worse than that. 

GH: Well, let’s see if you can improve upon it. 

CG: (Chuckles)  Thanks, Greg.

GH: You’re welcome. 

CG: Do you believe we ought to ban fossil fuels?

GH: Pardon?

CG: Do you think we should ban fossil fuels?

GH: I think that we should phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

CG: So, why? Is there no technology that addresses your concerns?

GH: I’m sorry. That question doesn’t make any sense to me. Can you clarify that?

CG: What do you mean it doesn’t make any sense?  Is there a technology solution that we can find, achieve, reach that takes care of your concerns when it comes to fossil fuels?  Are you saying that the same way we use fossil fuels today is the same way we always have to, that there will be no change in emissions, there’s no way to address carbon dioxide outside of banning fossil fuels?

GH: Ultimately, we are going to have to drastically, and very quickly, reduce fossil fuels, and anybody who thinks otherwise is confused. 

CG: Well, uh—

GH: And here’s the question I put to you, Cory.  Why would you allow these myths about the fossil fuel industry and the, uh.  By not speaking up about it, you’re allowing your constituents–and by your constituency I actually mean, your fans, because most of your constituency believes that climate change is a real thing–why do you allow these poor people to be propagandized and to believe in this nonsense? 

CG: To believe in economic development in a free market—

GH: Hold on here.  Here’s a core question.  I think we can answer a lot here.  Capitalism and our economic market, our “free market” is motivated by the understanding that people will do the right thing because the right thing is going to reward them with profit.  Is that essentially, or at least a component of it? 

CG: (cross-talk) I think capitalism is a free market where there’s an exchange of goods because I’m buying something from you because I believe what you’re selling to me is undervalued and that you’re giving it to me at a price that I’m willing to accept because I think you’ve underpriced it, and you’re willing to sell to me because I’m willing to pay more for it than you think it’s worth. 

GH: Okay.  So it’s sort of the pursuit of the deal.  People will choose the thing that’s gonna economically benefit them the most. 

CG: Well, it’s a free market.  They’re going to choose what they want in a free market.

GH: But their choice is gonna be motivated by the economic realities of it.  You know, I’ll buy a better car for less money before I’ll pay more for a worse car. 

CG: Yeah, I think I understand what you’re saying.  I’m not willing to buy something that’s overpriced.  Yeah.  I believe it’s right.    

GH: All right. And a lot of people, I’ve heard say, “If climate change is a big deal, then it’ll address itself.  It’s gonna self-correct.”  Right?

CG: Well, uh—

GH: Via, via the invisible hand of the free market. 

CG: Well, I think that there are ways, that if you look at the technologies.  Renewable energy, batteries, solar power, the efficiencies of wind, I think there is a free market solution, yes. 

GH: Now, but we both know that a free market untethered turns into a basically a shark fest to prey on the poor. 

[Perhaps I’m overstating my case.]

CG: I think capitalism has done more to lift people out of poverty than any other economic system in the world. 

GH: Okay.  Cite one. 

[I’m angry, I can’t think, and I’m in the midst of a debate about capitalism.]

CG: I think capitalism has done more to help people of free will to create businesses and opportunities—

GH: What’s capitalism doing to solve our problem with climate change?

CG: Why do we have wind power?  Why do we have solar power?  Why do we have—

GH: Why do we have a head of the EPA [Scott Pruitt, resigned less than a year later] who’s doing everything he can to destroy all that?  And why did you vote to confirm him, Cory?  That seems bizarre. 

CG: Well, Greg, because—

GH: Why do we have a man whose stated goal was to destroy the EPA—

CG: I hate to say this, but our time is up, I apologize—

GH: Well, we’re not gettin’ anywhere anyway.  Hey, before you go, would you be willing to meet me for a beer at the Main Event in Yuma?

[Apologies to the Main Event.  I mis-spoke here.  I meant to say “the Tavern”, a bar that, last I heard, had a pig skull hanging from its wall.  The pig skull has a turban on it.]

CG: Well, I’ll let my team know.  I’m not sure when we’re gonna be back.  We’re gonna be on the Front Range and Western Slope, but we can figure it out.

GH: Well, maybe I’ll see you at a town hall, then.

CG: Yeah.  Nope.  We’ll, we’ll figure it out, all right?

GH: Oh, so I won’t see you at a town hall? 

CG: If you’re gonna come to a town hall, I’m sure we’re gonna have some, so I don’t know…

GH: Oh, you are?  When?

CG: (Chuckles)  Greg, hang on, buddy.  This—

GH: These are just questions.  These are questions that people wanna know the answers to. 

CG: We are gonna have a tele-townhall this week.

GH: Oh, those aren’t town halls.  Those are AM call-in shows that you can screen the callers and, and you can’t get anywhere.  Well, you have a good day, sir.  I hope you have a good time saving the world.  Bye.

CG: Okay. Wow. 


Immediately after the call, Cory’s staff contacted the Yuma Pioneer to confirm that I was actually affiliated with the paper, and to tell the editor, Tony Rayl, that I’d yelled at the senator. 

I felt like a complete fuck-up, as I always do after I get super angry.  I sent Tony the transcript and the recording of the interview. We both agreed that:

1) Although the interview may have some news value, I’d not been–strictly speaking–professional in my conduct.

2) If it ran in the Pioneer, we could expect blowback from the paper’s readership and advertisers.

3) Because the interview had been conducted for the Pioneer, we agreed that I would not share it with any other outlets.

For three years, the piece sat unpublished. If I knew someone who might get a laugh out of it, I’d send them a link to the transcription as well as the audio recording. 

And so, when Alexander Kaufman of the Huffpost expressed interest in writing about my ridiculous conversation with Colorado’s junior senator, I immediately agreed. The threat of climate catastrophe ought to trump my personal insecurities, don’t you think? 

So that’s that.

Goodbye, Cory. You’ve earned this. May you never again squat in front of a wind turbine and pretend that you give a damn.

Listen to Gregory Hill’s phone interview with Cory Gardner, as recorded on Aug. 1, 2017:

When the Dust Settles

In anticipation of election day, a grounding excercise

October 19, 2020

Today is Thursday, October 15th. The air is swirling with dust and smoke; cornhusks are blowing across the road; the future of the United States will soon be up for vote; and we’re all a little crazy right now.

Perhaps you worry that the Other Candidate is going to try to manipulate the results of the presidential election. Certainly, at least one candidate will make claims that the results are not legitimate. But those claims will not change the facts, and the fact is that the winner of the election will take the oath of office on January 20th.

Or you’re concerned that the losing candidate won’t capitulate, that no matter the results, and that we’ll be plunged into a civil war that won’t conclude until the streets are filled with blood and half the country is bulldozed into mass graves.

Don’t worry. The vast majority of the agitators for violence belong to small, insular groups. Those groups are small because the vast majority of humans find their beliefs abhorrent. There may be skirmishes here and there — and those skirmishes will be used as battering rams by your favorite for-profit news outlets — but there will be no Great Reckoning.

Given the way Covid-19 has necessitated changes in the voting process, the presidential election results will probably be delayed, even if it’s a landslide. This could take days or weeks, and those days or weeks will be filled with accusations, condemnations, and outrage.  

It’s entirely possible that we’ll see some shenanigans at polling places. It’s almost certain that one party will claim there was significant voter fraud. The claims will likely go unproven, as has usually been the case.

But the winner of the election WILL take the oath of office on January 20th.

And so, I invite you to skip all the speculative drama and instead consider a reasonable prediction for what our political landscape will look like in a couple of months.  I won’t pretend that this landscape will be reassuring, but I’m fairly certain that this is how it’ll be, irrespective of anyone’s wishes and agitations.

1. Ken Buck will likely keep his job in Congress.

2. Cory Gardner will likely lose his Senate seat to John Hickenlooper.

3. Donald Trump will be defeated by Joe Biden in the presidential election.

4. Barring a change-of-heart on the part of at least two Republican Senators, the Supreme Court will have a 6-3 conservative majority.

5. Democrats will probably retain control of the House of Representatives

6. The Republicans are likely to lose control of the Senate.

The dust will never settle completely, the smoke will never leave the skies, and the cornhusks will still blow across the road, but I have the teeniest, tiniest bit of confidence that things will ease up long enough for us to at least see one another again.

Also, vote.

A Study in Contrasts

I lost a few friends over this one. Made me wish I'd written something like this sooner.

October 26, 2020

We saw in last week’s Yuma Pioneer a note-worthy pair of letters-to-the-editor.

The first of these was submitted by Gabe Harper:

I was raised in Yuma, but for the last few years lived in both Denver and Chicago. Making new friends I found myself debunking what I thought were misconceptions about small-towns. After I moved home in March I soon realized it was my mistake to believe stereotypes of community were misguided.

He then gives several examples of precisely the stereotypes he’d previously attempted to debunk.

While on a walk in April, passengers in a passing pickup threw garbage at me and called me "girlyboy." In May, white supremacists on Facebook discussed arming themselves and intimidating attendees of the peaceful Black Lives Matter vigil. In June, a man (not wearing a mask) called me a ‘faggot’ at the grocery store. In July employees at a business pointed and laughed at my rainbow shirt and refused me service. In August, I heard someone casually use the N-word…Smalltowners are quick to villainize ‘PC-culture’…but who will point out their participation in the division? I wish it weren’t true, but now I know better than to defend Yuma the next time someone assumes our community is close-minded, ignorant, and bigoted.

Do any of our readers dispute that these sorts of things regularly occur in our great county? Does it bother you?

By chance, directly below Gabe’s piece was a letter that offered an illuminative contrast in how to speak directly to difficult issues. It was written by someone called Name Withheld:

In America, freedom of expression is under attack.” Withheld writes, after a paragraph that attempts to establish legitimacy by invoking the First Amendment. “Instead of engaging in honest debate and allowing people to decide for themselves, many Americans label any views they disagree with as ‘hate speech’ or ‘racist.’ They even try to pass laws that ban undefined ‘hate speech.’ We are all aware of ‘hate news’ which the media outlets engage in blatant bias and pretend it is honest reporting.’ It’s true, not all media is like that, but we as humans tend to be drawn more to that type of reading, not only in the news but on the internet as well!…We as Americans should develop a healthy skepticism about what we hear or read online, as well, and that truth prevails. American democracy depends on it.

What, precisely, is Withheld objecting to?  I sort of agree with some of what Withheld is sort of saying (for example, humans do tend to be drawn to alarmist stories). But what is Withheld actually saying? If Withheld longs for an honest debate, then Withheld must first honestly declare what he/she believes.

Since we have no specifics, we’re forced to guess, which, unfortunately, leaves Withheld at the mercy of our imaginations. 

Does Withheld perchance get his/her ideas from Fox, OAN, Newsmax, Facebook, the ol’ gang at the coffee shop, maybe an influential pastor? His/her rhetoric suggests that this is the case. Does Withheld long for the days when it was acceptable to call someone a faggot, to use the N-word, or to refuse service to someone wearing a rainbow shirt? One hopes not. Then again, what sort of hate speech (or, using Withheld’s telling punctuation, “hate speech”) is Withheld withholding from us? 

Instead of making vaguely-phrased complaints about suppression of free speech, and thereby inviting wild suppositions such as the ones I offer in the above paragraph, Withheld could simply say what he/she clearly wants to say. But something tells me that Withheld knows perfectly well that his/her views are too loathsome to share in a family newspaper. Maybe Withheld can clarify his/her stances in some future letter-to-the-editor. (I will apologize forthwith if I’ve mischaracterized Withheld’s statements.)

Ultimately, one of these letters-to-the-editor was submitted by someone who had the courage to call out the cowards and bigots who have harassed him.

The other letter was written by a coward who wouldn’t even sign his/her name.

When Does the Party Start?

Hold the gloating, okay?

December 18, 2020

Those of us who understand just how important it is to rid the White House of its current occupant are in a bit of a conundrum: when to celebrate Joe Biden’s landslide victory over Donald J. Trump in the 2020 presidential election? 

November 3? Early returns were in Trump’s favor. But if one looked at the trends of in-person versus mail-in voting, it seemed plausible that Trump’s lead in various swing states would evaporate. But plausibility was little solace for those Americans who’d been so traumatized by the past four years that it seemed nothing good would ever happen again. 

Nope, no parties yet.

By the end of Nov. 4, it already appeared that Trump’s endless and bizarre complaints about mail-in voting had backfired. Mail-in voting, he’d claimed, would be a “scam,” “a disaster,” a “terrible time for this country.” 

In order to understand his hysterics, we must keep in mind that, within Donald’s cranial Palace of Versailles, “country” equals “Trump.”  By his illogic, mail-in voting would be unfair simply because it would be the preferred method for Biden voters, as doing so was less likely to spread the virus than in-person voting.

Naturally, a significant number of Trump’s fearless followers obeyed his orders, ignored mail-in ballots, and voted in person. Early returns were always going to show Trump with the mirage of an early lead. 

But it’s best to save the party until the mirage has evaporated.

By Nov 7, enough votes had been tallied to declare Biden the landslide winner. Here’s what Biden said on December 11, “We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College. I guess the final numbers are now at 306.” 

Oh, wait. Biden didn’t say that. Trump did, in 2016. Apparently, not all 306 to 232 landslides are equal.

But we still couldn’t truly celebrate, because Trump is incapable of grace.  Gimme what I want, he whines, or I’ll destroy everything. So he invited a cast of clowns to file dozens of ridiculous lawsuits that repeated unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. Something like fifty of those lawsuits (which is to say, virtually all of them) have been withdrawn, denied, or laughed out of the courtroom, proving that no matter how many judges you appoint, reality still matters, sometimes.

As of this writing, the electoral college has just certified Biden’s win, which, in a sane world, would be the final word on the matter. Bring out Kool and the Gang, it’s time to CELEBRATE!

Except…in the insane world, the president tweets things like, “Tremendous evidence pouring in on voter fraud. There has never been anything like this in our Country!” 

(Thanks to this sort of never-give-up-on-the-fight-to-destroy-democracy hutzpah, Trump has raised over $150 million via donations to his “Official Election Defense Fund.” Did his donors read the fine print? Seventy-five percent of that money won’t actually go to the defense of anything. Rather, it could be used in any way he sees fit: to pay down his campaign debt, or to fund a sham 2024 presidential run, or to commission a brand-new golden toilet with “I won 2020 by a Landslide” engraved on the lid. It must feel good to give money to a billionaire.)

Further complicating our party plans, we still have to endure more than a month of absolute dereliction of duty as Donald J. Trump golfs, whines, pardons his pals, manipulates weak-kneed congressional Republicans into licking his boots (Hey, Cory, how’s the job-hunt going?), and watches Nazi swine protest on his behalf. Keep the cork on the champagne.

Even on Jan. 20, after he’s been evicted from the White House and Joe Biden has been inaugurated, I still caution you to hold off on the celebrations. Because as soon as Trump’s gone, the right-wing nonsense factory will rev-up their ludicrous claims that Joe Biden and his nasty vice president want to turn America into a socialist/Marxist hellhole. Oh, and Hunter. Don’t forget Hunter! 

I’ll know it’s time to celebrate on the day that I wake up and say to myself, “Donald who?”; the day when I can’t remember the last time I wasted a thought on this creature George Will described as a “sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.” 

Only then will Donald J. Trump have gone the way of his fellow cartoons Rocky J. Squirrel, Bullwinkle J. Moose, Homer J. Simpson, and, yes, John J. Rambo. Only then will Donald J. Trump, whose soulless husk cares only that we recognize him, have ceased to exist.

I Think I've Figured this Shit Out

In retrospect, I hadn't

January 8, 2019

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to announce, here in the Yuma Pioneer, that I have found the solution to all of our problems. What I'm about to reveal to you will end the arguing and consternation about all subjects that have been grinding this country's humanity into tiny, shapeless chunks for the past several years.  If my solution is implemented, it's all gonna be okay: immigration, racism, foreign policy, healthcare, abortion, all sorts of welfare (including farm subsidies), income disparity, uppity women, global warming, the whole doggone list.

As we all know, there's an ongoing debate about the definition of reality in American politics.  And, if you read my column in November, you know that I think it's a waste of time to try to reason with people who believe in unreasonable (aka unreal) things. 

But if we can't reason with one another, then there's no hope. 

Or is there? 

Surprisingly, the answer lies in lies

Nobody chooses to believe in nonsense.  I believe that, in spite of all the horrible things we do to one another, humans are decent, optimistic creatures.  We all believe that we could get along if only everyone could just see things from the same perspective. 

Alas, because we are optimists, we humans are vulnerable creatures.  Our hunger for justice can be fed by a few decontextualized quotes, a clever-but-dishonest meme posted on a social media site, or hours and hours of dishonest cable news programming.  It feels good to be right, and it feels even better to be told that you're right.

When somebody accuses you of being wrong, it hurts.  I suspect it's especially painful for patrons of the beloved Fox News.  What's worse than being told that your heroes are liars?  All those hours of television; the breathless NEWS ALERTS; the endless commercial breaks for Citracal, Expedia, Celadrin, Zyrtec...has it all been a waste? 

No! It has not been a waste.  There's no need to humiliate anyone by insisting that they're making catastrophically horrible decisions based on cynical fantasies spread by a malicious, fear-mongering, manipulative propaganda machine.

Instead--and I can't believe this has only just occurred to me--the solution lies within the problem.  The optimistic nature of the viewers of Fox News has led them to believe in fictional solutions to fictional problems.  I won't rehash those fictions here, as that would subvert my argument.  And here's my argument: Fox News needs to start lying more.  You read that right. 

If one segment of society is willing to believe what Fox tells them, and if another segment of society refuses to believe Fox News, then there's really no way that this country is ever going to see things from the same perspective, and so there's no way we'll resolve our problems.  But perhaps we don't need to resolve these issues!  Why fight it when you can embrace it?

One thing you'll learn if you ever spend time with someone with dementia is that sometimes it's easier just to let them believe in things that are demonstrably false.  "You think I'm your grandfather?  Okay, I'm your grandfather."  No one gets hurt, and you get to hone your acting skills. 

That's just what Fox News needs to do: ease the suffering by telling the audience what they need to hear.

Imagine these headlines:






Imagine the relief!  It won't matter that none of these things are true.  Because the truth is irrelevant as long as the lies feel better.  So, I implore you Laura, Tucker, Sean, Bret, Martha, Shannon and the rest of the gang, take that extra step, give your fiction a happy ending, and give the people the satisfaction they deserve.

The Scourge of Socialism

I actually got positive feedback from this one

March 15, 2019

The time has come, friends, to unmask the monster that lurks in the shadows of our great country.  For, even in the face of the yawning gap between reality and nonsense, there is one foe so vile, so revolting that we, as morally decent Americans must stand up, link arms, and shout it down.  That foe is SOCIALISM.
When did this disease first infect our country?  You may think the socialist takeover began with  Obamacare.  FALSE! 

Let's go back to the 1930's, when FDR used the Great Depression as an excuse to cram the New Deal down our throats.  For over eighty years, Roosevelt's package of reforms has been infecting our country with the spidery tendrils of social security, food stamps, and all manner of government handouts to those who lack the discipline and work ethic to take care of their own families.   

But I would argue that socialism-in-America began long before Roosevelt, even before America was America.  I'm no historian, and so I'm plucking examples out of my undependable memory, but the year 1736 is worthy of mention.  That's the year that a drunken sex-fiend named Benjamin Franklin co-founded the Union Fire Company, the country's first volunteer fire department. 

Seems like a worthwhile idea, right?  But consider this quote from the 1884 book, The History of Philadelphia: "The Union Fire Company was an association for mutual assistance." What's more socialist than "an association for mutual assistance"?  (NOTE: I'm ashamed to say that I found this quote at Wikipedia, a socialist institution.)

But Mr. Franklin wasn't done yet.  In 1751, he created something called the Philadelphia Contributionship, America's first fire insurance company.  So this bozo drafts volunteers to put out fires, and then he asks people to cooperatively pool their money to help cover their neighbors' expenses in the event of a fire.  Which of course leads in a direct line to such wealth-redistribution scams as car insurance (which we car-owners required to buy, even if we don't want it), health insurance (which, thanks to the 2017 Tax Bill, we are no longer mandated to buy into), and crop insurance.

I'm especially troubled by crop insurance.  First of all, if I put money into crop insurance and my crops don't suffer any hail damage, then that money should be refunded to me at the end of the year.  But no, those insurance companies keep that money and re-distribute my wealth to people I may not even know.  Disgraceful!

But socialism existed even before Ben Franklin.  Plucking another example out of my undependable memory, I would argue that it was a swarthy liberal from Nazareth who started all this nonsense.  Here, from this man's biography, is but one example of the his wealth-redistribution plan:

The Son of Man will put the sheep [the good people] on his right and the goats [the bad people] on his left. Then the king will say to those good people on his right, 'Come and get the kingdom God promised you. You can have this kingdom, because I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink...I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you came to visit me.' Then the good people will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink?...When did we see you sick or in prison and care for you?' Then the king will answer, 'I tell you the truth. Anything you did for any of my people here, you also did for me.'

Irresponsible teachings of this sort have led directly to such reprehensible ideas as Medicare-for-all.

Given how deeply ensconced socialism has become, I suggest that, before we focus on the latest batch of upstart commie Democrats, we must first tear down any existing program, government-based or otherwise, that takes money and labor from hardworking Americans and applies it to some bureaucrat's idea of "the public good."   A few obvious examples: Libraries, schools, the Highway Department, the Center for Disease Control, crop subsidies, social security, retirement benefits, welfare, Cory Gardner's salary, anything called a "co-op," and, the biggest socialist scam of all-time: the US Military.   

Rip 'em it down and replace them with…what? 

Something more Christian, I guess.

How About We Make Yuma County a Sanctuary for Democracy, Instead?

As far as I know, Sheriff Combs let this foolish idea drop

June 14, 2021

And now a word from Sheriff Todd Combs, as posted on the Yuma County Sheriff’s Facebook page:

“I do not and will not support [HB 1177 aka, the Red Flag Bill] because of failure to recognize the rights of the citizens of this nation which are guaranteed under the Constitution...The board of County Commissioners, who share a similar view on the Red Flag Bill, have met earlier this month and voted on this issue. They are waiting for a legal review and then it will be official that Yuma County is a [Second Amendment] sanctuary county.”

This was the first time I’d heard the term “sanctuary county,” but it sounded like a fascinating concept, so I did some reading.  Here’s what I’ve learned:
The “Second Amendment sanctuary county” movement is an outgrowth of the Constitutional Sheriffs movement, which is an outgrowth of the Posse Comitatus movement.

As far as I can tell (Tony, can you spare me some dough to hire a research assistant?) Posse Comitatus originated in the Dark Ages.  It gave medieval sheriffs the right to conscript any able- bodied person to assist in keeping the peace.  In other words, a sheriff was allowed to assemble a posse.

Fast-forward 900 years to 1878. President Hayes signs the Posse Comitatus Act, a law that limited the federal military’s right to enforce domestic policies on the US.  This was related to post-civil war occupation of the southern states.  Or something like that.  I’m a little cloudy on the details, and I’d be lying if I suggested I had a clue what any of this has to do with the Second Amendment.

But in the early 1970’s, one man apparently did have a clue.  His name was William Potter Gale.  Among other things, he believed that the US Constitution was a divine document from God, and its purpose was to elevate whites Christians above all other races and religions.  In other words, he used the Holy Bible to justify his delusions of white supremacy.  A classy man, that one.  In 1971, Gale, using a pen name borrowed from a pro-Klu Klux Klan character from the pro-Klu Klax Klan film, The Birth of a Nation, wrote: “The county Sheriff is the ONLY LEGAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” 

The legal basis of this argument is unclear to me.
Somehow, the word of this KKK enthusiast/self-proclaimed constitutional scholar has become the legal inspiration for hundreds of county sheriffs across the US to operate under the illusion that they have the authority to enforce the constitution as they saw fit, irrespective of state or federal laws. 

So, we have a dubious legal argument presented by a white supremacist who claimed that a county sheriff has a higher authority to interpret the US constitution than state legislature, the US congress, and the US supreme court.  And, for some reason, the only area in which I see county sheriffs actually enforcing this “constitutional supremacy” is by declaring that their counties are sanctuaries for...guns. 

Let us visit a 2016 essay written by our former sheriff, Chad Day, a man who, in addition to deputizing a 72-year-old New York hedge fund magnate for his “posse”, clearly approved of portions of Gale’s gobbledy-goofus philosophy.  In the essay, titled “The Second Amendment Protects You from Me” our former sheriff wrote: “The purpose of the Second Amendment was, and still is, for Americans to be able to protect ourselves from inappropriate and extreme over-each by our own government, in a word, tyranny... As a public servant, it is the job of the County Sheriff, elected by the people, to protect the people’s right to arm themselves for the expressed purpose of protecting themselves from government tyranny, even if that tyranny, God forbid, were to come from me.”

So, it’s tyrannical for a state legislature to pass laws based on its interpretation of the constitution, but it’s NOT tyrannical for a county sheriff to ignore those laws based on his interpretation of the constitution?  Given the fact that Mr. Day lost his recent re-election campaign, I’d suggest that it’s democracy that protects us from him.

The constitutional sheriff’s movement is trying to climb a slippery slope.  What if, for instance one of these non-tyrannical constitutional scholars of a sheriff were to declare that, oh, I don’t know, all gun-owners had to belong to a well-regulated militia?  God forbid, it could happen.   Once you open the door marked “I Get to Make Up My Own Rules,” it’s kinda hard to shut it. 

I’m extremely pleased that the Sheriff and the County commissioners are seeking a legal review of this absurd plan to ignore state law; and I’m crossing my fingers that this legal review is being overseen by someone who knows the difference between a democracy and a fiefdom.
NOTE: The Sheriff’s office did not respond to my request to clarify its stance on these issues.

Caution For Courage

Cory Gardner was a turd of a senator

July 4, 2019

Who’s gonna get us out of this mess? 

We learned last week that the law isn’t going to protect us from Trump and his amoral attention addiction.  With their refusal to allow the Southern District of New York to proceed with the case in which Trump directed his attorney/scumbag friend, Michael Cohen, to pay hush money to prevent porn actress Stormy Daniels from telling the world about the extramarital affair she had with Trump, the Justice Department, starting with Attorney General William Barr, has basically said, “The president cannot be indicted for any crime while he’s in office.”

Michael Cohen is in jail for, among other acts, funneling the hush money, but Trump will not be punished for his role in this crime. The $130,000 that Trump himself directed Cohen to give to Daniels violated campaign finance law by exceeding the legal donation limit, by funneling that money thru a potentially illegal source, and by failing to disclose it.  Not only is this a crime, it’s a crime that, by hiding Trump’s adulterous behavior, very likely helped him eke out his electoral college victory in 2016. 

(Trump needed a LOT of help in order to win that election; the case for obstruction of justice related to Russian interference is clearly laid out in the Mueller Report.  And it’s another example of criminal behavior that Barr refuses to address. )

Now that the law has been neutered, the most plausible solution to the matter of our racist president will have to come via politics.  There are two potential solutions: vote him out in 2020, or impeach him right freaking now. 

Nancy Pelosi favors the first option.  Although the House of Representatives would almost certainly find enough evidence to pass articles of impeachment, the Senate, controlled by Mitch McConnell, is currently unwilling to convict Trump, and so he would remain in office to continue his campaign of pathetic ineptitude. Pelosi claims that there would therefore be no point in impeaching him.  Instead, she believes that the House should continue their investigations without taking the route of impeachment. 

However, with Trump stonewalling the House’s attempts to investigate these crimes, it’s unlikely that this approach will achieve anything of substance. 

Impeachment proceedings would give the House the tools to speed up these investigations.  Among other things, subpoenas wouldn’t be ignored (or, if they were, the consequences would be harsh), and witnesses would be compelled to testify. 

Impeachment would provide a clear, coherent picture of this administration’s actions, which may well include high crimes and misdemeanors.

The process—which would be a circus--would overshadow Trump’s endless attempts to dominate the news cycle with his absurd outrage-baiting declarations, and thereby introduce a hint of rationality into our corrupted, facts-optional public discourse. 

This might, maybe, perhaps convince Fox News addicts of Trump’s incompetence.  If they get on board the truth-train, then the Republican Senate might remember the meaning of patriotism.  

This is unlikely, but that’s no reason to avoid impeachment. If the House doesn’t impeach him, they’re essentially agreeing with William Barr’s claim that the president is above the law.  The president is not above the law.  The House has the tools, and the obligation, to extract the truth in a public setting.  That alone would justify the process.

We can’t simply wait for Pelosi to change her mind; we can’t wait for some hero to stand up and save us.  People like Justin Amash (who abandoned the Republican party due to its subservience to Trump) or the batch of freshmen Democratic lawmakers (whom Trump clearly fears; otherwise he wouldn’t be spouting his racist nonsense in their direction) are in short supply. 

But American patriots (real patriots, not the folks who think a flag T-shirt grants them exemption from human decency) number in the millions. 

You want a hero?  Be a hero.  Speak up when someone spouts off racist nonsense.  When your misinformed friends and family repeat the lies of Trump and Fox News, explain that you prefer to live in reality.  And call Ken Buck, Cory Gardner, and Nancy Pelosi and tell them that it’s time to trade caution for courage.

Grab Bag

Some half-baked thoughts

September 8, 2019

I have a thousand topics I’d like to write about, and I can’t choose which.

The Schadenfreude-Based option: The 40% approval rating of the invisible, junior senator from Colorado, and the likelihood that he will get clobbered in the 2020 election.  But let‘s not get ahead of ourselves; after all, Cory’s main rival is probably going to be the milquetoast maverick, John Hickenlooper.

The Cynical option: The bizarre theatre of watching Donald Trump (allegedly) commit yet another impeachable offense, and then watching him and his various enablers lie, distract, obstruct, and obfuscate, while the people who should be overseeing investigations into this behavior choose not to take action due to their steadfast fear of offending the portion of the voters who are in favor of impeachable acts.

The Bafflingly-Allegorical option: I considered writing a fable about a man who invented a ray gun that rendered gunpowder inert.  Would such a gun be allowed under the NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment? 

The Cautiously-Optimistic option: I considered writing a piece about how much I like Elizabeth Warren.  She doesn’t treat voters like idiots, she has thoughtful answers to complex questions, she comes across as earnest, and I like her ideas. Believe it or not, I like virtually all of the Democratic candidates.  Mostly because all of them can utter coherent sentences.  I have low standards at this point.

The Self-Improvement-Testimonial option:  I could write about how happy I am that I’ve (mostly) stopped paying attention to the NFL. I’ve regained hours of my life, and now I don’t have to feel like a hypocrite for supporting a business/sport that operates contrary to my personal ideals.  (Lucky for me, I have plenty of other opportunities to feel hypocritical.)

The Wow-I-Didn’t-See-That-One-Coming option: Getting to jam with Sherriff Todd “Funky” Combs at Community Music night in Joes this past Saturday.  It was a pleasure picking with you, sir.  Come back any time.  (PS And please allow the campaign to make YC a 2nd Amendment “Sanctuary County” to wither and die.)

There’s so much stuff, to discuss, but, ultimately, I’m going to go with the Something-That-Made-Me-So-Freaking-Proud-of-Humanity-That-I-Actually-Smiled option: Greta Thunberg’s visit to the US. Depending on where you get your news, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish, sixteen-year-old kid with high functioning autism spectrum disorder (aka, Asperger’s), is an irrelevant, loudmouth, obnoxious, deluded twerp...or she’s a spectacularly brave, passionate, well-spoken, morally centered, heroic voice on behalf of the planet.

You can guess where I stand.  To see this young woman pushing back so aggressively at the adults who are leading this planet into’s the most punk rock thing I’ve witnessed since, oh, the time I saw Kurt Cobain smash a guitar on Saturday Night Live in 1992 (which, in retrospect, really wasn’t as punk rock as I thought it was.) 

She’s doing this in a very public space, in spite of the fact that, if she’s anything like the writer of this article (also a beneficiary of autism spectrality), it must be fantastically difficult to handle the crush of attention she’s receiving. 

What’s not to admire about this kid?  She’s single-minded, uncompromising, and—most importantly—absolutely correct.  She stood before a collection of world leaders last week and said, amongst other things, “The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.”

Thanks to all the young people who are calling out the older generations for their irresponsible, lazy, greedy approach to the future of this planet.  Y’all are giving me hope, and hope’s been a scarce thing.

Help Us, Cory

He didn't

December 12, 2019

It is alleged that senator Cory Gardner recently sent a letter to potential donors that included this motivational sentence: "To help me fight back the radical liberal hoard that is descending on Colorado to try to defeat me, please make a commitment to my campaign today…" 

There is much to suggest that this letter is a phony.  First, Cory Gardner has made it very clear that he's a bipartisan kind of guy.  Here's one quote attributed to the senator: “I’m proud of my bipartisan record of results for Colorado, and I will always place the people of Colorado first.” 

Or this one:  "I’m fighting for every corner of Colorado, whether you’re from Hotchkiss or Holly, or Kersey or Kim. I’m going to fight for every single person in the state."

Clearly, this is a man who has no use for partisan politics.  And so, clearly, he would never try to appeal for funds with such--pardon the expression--deplorably partisan language as "radical liberal hoard." 

I could certainly understand why the bipartisan senator would have an axe to grind with the radical liberal hoard.  He's not getting much love from them these days.  Read the comments at Gardner's Facebook pages; talk to anyone who answers the phones at his offices or reads his constituents' fan mail; or follow the (non Fox) news: every time his name is mentioned it's preceded by "embattled" or "vulnerable."  Why are so many people so down on Cory Gardner?

I'm no political savant, but I reckon the answer is: Trump.  Gardner joined the senate in 2015, two years before Trump moved into the White House.  I'd wager my grandpa's hat that Gardner's effort to brand himself a bipartisan was doing okay until such time as he started voting for Trump's cabinet picks and subsequently substituted his own opinions for robotically recited talking points.

Without going thru the laundry list of ethical and intellectual lapses, let's just say the creature in the White House is...hard to understand. One thing I do understand is why Gardner is keeping his head down (avoiding town halls, avoiding public comments on anything remotely controversial):  everything he says is going to be met with a tsunami of anger.

But--and I'm not screwing around when I say this--Gardner would be wise to poke his head out of his burrow.  Stand in front of his constituents, listen to their chants and shouts, take a deep breath, and then try to help the radical liberal hoard understand what we've gotten wrong about him and Trump.    

Help us, teach us, lead us, bathe us in truth, senator Gardner.  Are we all freaking out about Trump for no good reason?  Are we just imagining the bigotry, bullying, incompetence, and criminality?  Have we failed to recognize a modern King Cyrus?  Should we forgive Trump's moral lapses because a supernatural being is using him as a means to lead us to the rapture?  Will this rapture allow for the inclusion of the radical liberal hoard? 

Give yourself some credit, Cory.  You have an astonishing amount of power, don't waste it as a partisan puppet.  What would happen if you burned Mitch McConnell's script, if you stopped taking advantage of the goodwill of the good people who've been deceived by Fox News, and if you raised your fist to the madness in the White House?  Yes, you'd have to admit that you made mistakes, and you'd catch hell back home.  But once the smoke clears, people will forgive you.  Shucks, you might even become a hero.  Stand up, buddy, and you could change the course of this country, alter world history, and make true your promise to fight for every single person in the state that elected you.

I'm So Confused

Feb 11, 2018

Every year, apparently because I like to torture myself, I evaluate the political landscape and try to confirm that I'm registered with the party that best fits my ideals.
This year, the decision has been particularly painful, and so, being a generous cuss, I figured I'd share that pain with the readers of the Pioneer

Let's look at the four most popular political parties:

A vote for the Green Party is like a vote for the Easter Bunny--a neat concept, but entirely fantastical.  Next! 

Libertarianism confuses profit-motive for morality, which, to me, is like gargling with lava; and it, too, is a wasted vote (see: Bunny, Easter).  Next! 

Just like that, we're back to the same old, creaky couple: the Donkey and the Elephant.  I've danced with the Donkey and it's always the same: timid promise-makers who can't decide whether to serve the American people or to serve their own corporate interests.  (Say, Mrs. Clinton, any regrets about those Goldman Sachs speeches?)  Democrats, you're on time-out until you can figure out how to say no to greed.

That leaves me with the GOP, the party of Lincoln, of fiscal responsibility, gun rights, and good morals (among other things).  It's been a while since the GOP's been under my consideration, but given the barren landscape, I reckon they deserve another chance. 

My main requirement for a political party is simple: Have a coherent, consistent message.  There are other requirements, of course, but without coherence and consistency, we're never going to make it past the first date.

Let's start with the Party-of-Lincoln test: Let's say someone told Honest Abe that we're still arguing about the Confederate Flag 150 years after the top of his head was blown off by a Confederate sympathizer.  "Mr. Lincoln, in today's America, people still proudly display a symbol that represents folks who loved slavery so much that, rather than give up their chattel, they started a war that killed more Americans than every single other US war combined. Meanwhile, according to our current president--a Republican--believes that if a person expresses his First-Amendment right of free expression by kneeling in favor of racial equality, he's an unpatriotic, military-hating traitor."

Wait!  Wait, Mr. Lincoln!  Where are you going?  And why are you sticking your finger down your throat? 

I find it unlikely that Abraham Lincoln would join the "Party of Lincoln" today.  Verdict:  inconsistent. 

Gun rights: I'm familiar with the Second Amendment (let's say it together, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed").  But I've yet to meet anyone who belongs to well-regulated militia, or even a poorly-regulated militia. 

I'm no strict originalist constitutionalist, but I can read, and I'm clearly missing something.  Until someone can explain to me how the "well-regulated" portion of the Second Amendment became irrelevant, I will consider the Republican Party's stance on gun control to be incoherent and inconsistent.

Fiscal responsibility: How fiscally responsible are massive corporate tax cuts that leave the country with a 1.5 trillion dollar debt?  I thought trillion dollar debts belonged to undisciplined Democrats.  But wait, with their tax breaks, the ultra-rich are going to shower that wealth upon the rest of the country?  Let's give a wolf a steak and see if it shares it with a sheep.

Verdict: incoherent, inconsistent, inconceivable. 

How about morality?  Within the laws of this country, isn't it illegal to obstruct justice, collaborate with a foreign entity to win an election, grope women, directly profit off of the Office of the President?  And within the Christian faith, aren't vanity, lying, pride, lying, sloth, lying, gluttony, lying, and adultery considered sins?  Apparently, those things only matter if you aren't Donald Trump.

Verdict: I don't even know where to start.  

Dear reader, space has limited me to these select few of the GOP's internal contradictions.  If someone could please help me to resolve these issues (and no, "At least Trump isn't that nasty [you know who]" isn't going to do the trick), I'll gladly register as a Republican, and then I'll eat a stovepipe hat.

Friend Request

Believe it or not, this piece seemed to have a small effect

April 15, 2018

Hello, friend.  I'm glad I know you.  When we see each other, it's always pleasant.  You say hello, how are you.  I say, I'm doing fine, how are you.  You say you're doing great.  We discuss this and that and then we shake hands and bid each other good day. 

I recently made a visit to a website called Facebook.  Usually, when I make such a foray, I keep it as quick as possible; get in, get out, get back to reality.  This time, I lingered.  Facebook has been in the news lately and I figured I ought to see what all the fuss was about.  In my lingering, I found myself looking at your profile.  And what a profile it is!  Look at those photographs superimposed with bumper sticker phrases! What a fascinating, efficient way to share your personal philosophy with the world!  What a revelation it is to see into your mind! 

We've known each other for years, and yet I never knew how much you loathed me!  You hate "brainwashed, anti-American, liberal, pieces of s**t"!  According to your pictures, I'm a snowflake, a libtard, even a Nazi! I'm a spoiled, ignorant, entitled teenager in need of a strict father figure!  I had no idea what a vain, soulless monster I am!

80% of all gun violence is gang related!  It says so on that picture you posted!  I'm not going to fact-check your picture!  There's a man with scary face tattoos!  It must be true!  George Washington once said that "When any nation mistrusts its citizens, it is sending a clear message.  It no longer trusts its citizens because such a government has evil plans."   I can't seem to find any evidence of him actually saying that, but there's a picture of George Washington right there and those words are in an old-fashioned style font!

You are terrified of evil!  And there's a lot of evil in the world!  Scary gangs!  Black people who need to pull their pants up!  Withered, unconstitutional wimps who want to rob you of your gun collection!  I don't know who those people are, but they definitely exist, because it says so right there on your Facebook page!

Kids who get shot are wimps!  If they only had the discipline to stand up to bullies, their schools would be safe!   You love flags, two of them.  One that hangs over the US capitol, another that represents a group of heroes who bravely fought for their right to own slaves!   

"Men with the biggest hearts have the worst tempers, because they are passionate about every aspect of life."  I thought ill-tempered men were annoying!  But now I know that when some aggressive drunk pokes his finger in my chest, it's because he's got a big heart!

Discipline!  People need more discipline!  It must take a great deal of discipline not to pummel me when we're saying hello to each other!  That's the sort of discipline that makes a civil society!  But now that I know what a pathetic little b***h I am, I'll make sure to apologize next time I see you! 

Since I'm such a sensitive little snowflake, I should probably share some pictures of my own, ones that express my personal beliefs while at the same time lobbing insults at anyone who disagrees with me.  Surely that'll help me be less pathetic!

Alternatively, I could log out of that pixelated cesspool altogether.  It's a nice day, after all, and I want to breathe some fresh country air, maybe go strum my guitar at our lovely community center.

But first, because I lack discipline, I scroll down, look at one more of your pictures, this one of Vin Diesel, the handsome actor who drives fast and furiously: "I'd rather have an enemy who hates me instead of a friend who puts me down." 

That, my friend, is something we can agree upon.

Thinking About Thinking

June 18, 2018

When I was a kid watching my dad build stuff in his shed, he'd occasionally put down his tools and sit on a chair and close his eyes.  This always surprised me, as he was the kind of fellow who preached the gospel of Hard Work is the Supreme Manifestation of Human Worth.  Sitting on a chair with his eyes closed?  That looked suspiciously like laziness to me.  So I'd ask, "Why'd you stop working?"  He'd say, "Hush.  I'm thinking.  You have to imagine a thing before you can build it."  What I realize now is that he'd built a mental, 3-D model of the carburetor or differential or whatever other gizmo he was about to create and he was checking it to make sure he had the proper tools to build it, that it would function, and that it wouldn't fail under stress.  Over the years, as I've figured out my own ways to imagine things (things that are decidedly not carburetors and differentials, we're different people after all) into existence, his patience and faith in his own mind have been an unwavering inspiration.

Sometimes I wonder what it'd be like not to think.  The world is ugly right now, as ugly as I've ever known it, and I find myself thinking about this ugliness to the point where I suspect it isn't doing me any good.  What if, for instance, I quit reading books, quit pondering the hypocrisies of our politicians, quit trying to understand this ugliness, and instead found someone else to do my thinking for me?  It'd be simple.  

1) Listen to talk radio.
2) Stare at a particular cable news channel.
3) Visit web sites that do zero investigative journalism.  

Were I to allow these sources to guide my principles, all my worries would disappear like a midday sun melts away the morning fog.  The simple answer to all things is: The President is Right.  Four simple words and, poof!, I won't have to smash my head against a wall wondering how any honest Christian could endorse a serial philanderer.  I won't have to twist my cerebellum into knots pondering issues like racism, health care, voting rights, nuclear war, tariffs, the economy, women's rights, gay rights, religious rights, border walls, education, free speech, corporate corruption, fake news, real news, national anthems, police shootings, school shootings...pick a controversial subject and the controversy disappears, just so long as I agree that The President is Right. 

Not only would all the controversy disappear, but I'd be able to gloat!  I could shut down my sanctimonious claptrap and instead become the type of happy-go-lucky Facebook warrior I was complaining about in my previous article.  Hey, wimps, you think the world is imperfect?  Get over it!  The president is the 766th richest man in the world (according to Forbes), therefore he's a genius!

That'd feel good.  No more worries.  No more fretting about hypocrisy, mendacity, or what it means to be a human being.  And best of all, no more ponderous thinking.

But I'm afraid I can't follow that path.  I'm just not cult material.  Blame it on my dad, a lifelong Republican who, in the mid-eighties introduced me to the concept of global warming, and who lived by a quote from the mechanical genius Archimedes: "Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth."

Toward the end of his working life, when he was waist-deep in his Alzheimer's experience, my dad and I were working on my pickup, trying to replace the pilot bearing.  It was a bear of a job, not least because I had no idea what I was doing, and made worse because he barely remembered what he was doing.  But we allowed ourselves plenty of time to hunt for missing tools and to re-trace missteps.    And whenever we got lost, we'd sit down, close our eyes and think. 

At one particularly frustrating moment, with the engine hanging on the hoist, he closed his eyes for a long, long time and, finally, declared, "I wish it wasn't so hard for me to think."  We eventually sorted out the problem, found the pilot bearing, put the truck back together, and everything was perfect, for that day at least.

There were many more imperfect days he had to endure as his brain devoured itself, but his lessons stayed with me: Use your mind while you still have one, son. 

Were he still alive, I suspect my dad would disagree with many of the things I write.  But I'm certain that he'd have the independence of mind to tell me so in his own words rather than repeating some simple-minded nonsense he saw on the TV.  And,for that, we would respect one another. 

And so I humbly submit this article as something to perhaps think about during the commercial breaks.

Taken for a Ride

August 15, 2018

You know how sometimes you really believe in something and then it turns out you were dead wrong?  In 2008, a man named John Edwards was running for president.  He said all the right things.  He seemed like righteous dude for a politician.  Yes, people complained about his vanity, his $400 haircuts, his smarmy attitude, and his waffling on the Iraq War, but his policies seemed more or less reasonable, especially his focus on poverty in rural America.  And so, in spite of my misgivings, I found myself hoping he'd win the Democratic nomination. 

But then we learned the truth. 

His former aide, Andrew Young, claimed that, contrary to his overtures to rural America, Edwards had hated campaigning at state fairs where "fat rednecks try to shove food down my face." Further reinforcing how out of touch he was with his own message of inclusion, he was quoted as saying, "I know I'm the people's Senator, but do I have to hang out with them?"

Worse, we learned that he'd cheated on his wife while she was dying of cancer, and that he'd allegedly used campaign funds to cover up the affair.  He was eventually indicted on six charges related to illegal campaign contributions meant to cover up the affair.  Although the charges were eventually dropped, the scandal destroyed his political career.  In 2008, in a moment of contrition, Edwards wrote, "In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.”  Yes, sir, you did.

Millions of people, myself included, had respected and admired this man and then he turned out to be a hypocritical creep.  It took me weeks to accept that this slick-talking con artist had played me for a fool.  I had contributed to his presidential campaign, for crying out loud.  My first impulse was to blame the media, blame his opponents, blame, blame, blame.  I was like a delusional parent defending a cretinous child who bullies his classmates.

Eventually, I had to allow that I'd been wrong; the man I'd believed in had been a lie.

Having gone thru this experience, I feel a solidarity with the folks who've vigorously supported Donald J. Trump's rise to the White House.  We want to trust our heroes, to defend them against all accusations.  Our brains will do incredible gymnastics to in order to justify our misplaced loyalty.  But sometimes we just have to admit that we've been conned.

As Donald Trump's presidency continues to unravel, as he is increasingly revealed to be pack of lies, immorality, frightening incoherence, and juvenile incuriousity wrapped in a husk of self-deceit, I suspect his supporters are going to find themselves in states of denial, similar to what I experienced with John Edwards.  Eventually, after all the tweeting and the firings and lord knows what other foolishness, Trump will exit office as a disgraced stain on Democracy.  At that point, his supporters are going to be left to decide whether they should cling to increasingly preposterous conspiracy theories (Qanon, anyone?) or to swallow their pride and move on, chastened, cynical, but grounded in the humility that reality often thrusts upon us.

So, to all the Trump devotees, I offer my sincere sympathies.  I admire your dedication.  There's no shame in believing a lie, especially when the liar is so damned good at telling you what you want to hear.  Here's something you don't want to hear: there will never be a wall, Obamacare will not be replaced with something wonderful, he will not faithfully execute the law, he will not stop playing golf, he will not make college more affordable, he will not drain the swamp, he will not lower the national debt, and he'll never, ever lock that nasty woman up.

The next several months are going to be difficult, but I know you will make it thru this, and when you do allow the pain of reality to puncture your dreams of hope, you--and America as a whole--will emerge wiser and stronger than ever.

I've been down that road.  It's bumpy.

Increasing the Resolution

An ambitious project, soon aborted

October 5, 2018

Let's talk about resolution.  By "resolution" I don't mean the promises we break on January 2nd of every year; rather I'm taking about density of information.  If you have eyes (likely, given that you're reading this) you're at least casually familiar with this concept.  As a zygote in your mother's womb, you had no eyes.  A few months later, now floating in amniotic fluid, you developed eyes, but they remained closed until you were born.  For the first few months of your life, you could barely make out shapes.  Over the course of three or four years, your brain learned to process visual information and you ended up with something close to 20/20 vision (hopefully).

Ever since, you've been taking in the splendor of the material world: nature, human faces, etc.; all of this filtered thru two optical orbs and sent to your brain, which combines those images into a stereoscopic, highest-possible-resolution account of your surroundings. 
(I suspect I'm either over-explaining this or under-explaining this, but I promise I'm going somewhere.)

In addition to the material world, we spend a lot of time pointing our eyes at TVs, computers, phones.  By definition, screens offer radically lower resolution than simply looking out the nearest window.  Even a 60" 1080p super HD TV limits your field of vision to a two-dimensional, radically shrunken version of reality.  Which leads to the obvious statement: TV is not the same thing as reality.  In other words, the very act of looking at the world thru a screen lowers the amount of information our eyes can take in.  Less information, at least by my definition, equals lower resolution. 

On the other hand, there's a lot of stuff that we'll never experience first-hand.  Raise your hand if you've ever seen a presidential press conference.  Me, neither.  But I've seen one on TV!  Even though watching the nightly news on TV is a low-resolution version of reality, it's the only version of that particular reality that's available to our eyes.  It might not be perfect, but it's better than nothing.

Many of this article's readers (as well as its author) were not alive for Walter Cronkite's heyday as a newscaster.  At his peak, he gained the reputation as "the most trusted man in America."  At a time when there were only three TV networks, his job at CBS was to explain the day's news to all of his viewers: Republican, Democratic, and otherwise.  By most accounts, he did a bang-up job.   And yet…viewers were only getting his version of events.

Fast-forward to the ongoing explosions of the internet and of cable TV.  We now have hundreds of news outlets offering gads of perspectives, a flood of contradictory information, which, if you pick the right channel or click the right link, can be used to validate any conceivable argument.  Pick an "ism"--anarchism, liberalism, conservatism, evangelicalism--somebody right now is shouting into a camera about how awful it is.  And someone else is shouting into a different camera about how great it is. 

Our access to information is unprecedented; the resolution is limitless.  We should be in a golden age of knowledge.  Except for one thing: most of this information comes us via the limited perspective of our screens. 

And, while screens may offer a glimpse into unseen realities (such as presidential press conferences), they are not reality.  And that complicates things considerably.

We'll have to leave it there for now, otherwise Tony's gonna start charging me for extra ink.  But I'll be back in a couple of weeks to address some of those complications in my next column (okay, my next Lecture on Philosophy), wherein I'll examine conspiracy theories, one-dimensional space, and the importance of a quality focal point.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Can't Make it Self-Aware

This piece cost me a friend. I felt badly about it.

November 13, 2018

Have you ever met one of those people who believes that Sandy Hook was a fraud?  I did, once.  The person in this case shall remain unnamed, out of respect for…whom?  People, I guess. 

He was eating a sandwich, conversing with my wife and I in our dining room.  I'd been working with him all morning and he'd seemed like a more or less normal person: sensible, clever, generous.  I never would have suspected him for a conspiracy nut, until, out of the blue, he explained that the Sandy Hook shooting (this was a few years ago, so he had fewer mass-shootings to choose from) had been faked.  It was all a sham intended to convince soft-minded Americans to support gun control.
Not being familiar with this theory, my wife and I assumed our guest was joking.  He wasn't joking.  He continued his tale, ranting about some online video that clearly showed something or other about a trunk and a non-existent gun, which proved definitively that hundreds of people had successfully (or nearly successfully) pulled the wool over our eyes. 

With a rising voice, he explained that It couldn't have happened the way it was reported.  They're just trying to take our guns. I suppose I could have called him out on this garbage.  But that would have been rude.  Who am I to say what another human should believe? 

There was a moment  of monumentally awkward silence as my wife and I madly blinked  Morse code to each other: "Is this guy a lunatic?"

Somehow, our guest concluded that we were not the ideal audience for this particular line of whatever-the-opposite-of-thought-is.  We finished lunch without another word on the Sandy Hook massacre and our guest and I returned to the task of the day (trying, unsuccessfully, to start a decrepit Caterpillar).

Over the next year, I would spend many more hours working alongside this gentleman.  We kept the conversation to anodyne topics, such as what kind of oil you should use in an air compressor.  By "agreeing to disagree," both of us had effectively saved ourselves from what surely would have ended in a shouting match (or, given my friend's firearm fetish, my funeral).  We'd made a mutual, unspoken agreement to avoid controversial subjects.  Thanks to that agreement, we still communicate.

By not confronting my guest, I had passively approved of his paranoid delusions.  And these delusions are not unique to him.  I can't help but marvel at the nonsense that finds its way into people's brains.  Global warming is a hoax, Seth Rich was murdered by the Clintons, Cesar Sayoc was a patsy for the Democratic party, vaccines cause autism.  What's next?  The earth is flat?

People are vulnerable to lies, especially lies that exploit fear, outrage, and a sense of persecution.  It helps if the lies are spread by cable news, poorly-made online videos, talk radio, or, Lord have mercy on us all, the President of the United States.  Nobody really bought into all of Trump's crap about Obama being born outside the US.  Right? 

Wrong.  Trump's lies worked and they're still working.   The man is an incoherent manipulator of incoherent hate.  He cares about two things: himself and his reflection.  I sometimes try to come up with  explanations as to why his septic froth could tempt otherwise sensible people.   In fact, I had intended this column to be a "rational examination of what happens when people are pulled headfirst into the fantastical world of demagogical propaganda." 

But why bother?  When rational thought takes a back seat to, "There were good people on both sides," then what good is a rational discussion?  It'll only be met with the arrogance of ignorance.

If eleven dead bodies in a Pittsburgh synagogue can't change minds,  if fourteen mail bombs can't sober us up, if Trump's popularity among white supremacists doesn't make his followers rub their chins, then what could I possibly hope to achieve with an argument based on something so silly as facts?

No longer will I politely change the conversation next time someone tells a racist joke, or repeats half-baked baloney about invading hordes of barefooted asylum seekers, or describes the cabal of evil climate scientists who are trying to take down the fossil fuel industry.  These creatures can go ahead and believe what they want, and they can say what they want.  I'm not going to waste my time trying to talk them back to reality.  Instead, I'm going to let them know that it's time to grow up, get a clue, and stop embarrassing us all with their foolishness.

A Few Things I Learned From Playing Six-Man Football at Liberty High School in Joes, Colorado

Toe, meet pond

Feb 2, 2017

My name is Gregory Hill, and today I’m writing as a former, and really awful, six-man football player for Liberty High School. When I was a freshman, we lost all of our games   Because of this, and because I didn’t like getting my butt kicked all over the field, I skipped the next two years.  As I senior, I returned to the team, but only because I lost a bet.  (The story of that wager is funny, very long, and would impugn the dignity of several humans if I were to tell it here.)  We won one game that year.  (For the record, in the two years I didn’t play, the team was phenomenal.  You do the math.)

No matter how I felt about the sport, it did, as coaches always promise, impart some valuable life-lessons.  In this column, which I hope to write once a month, I shall divulge some of those lessons.  Today’s lesson is:

Six-Man Football is a Reasonable Approximation of the Urban-Rural divide. 

If you’ve ever looked at an electoral map, you are at least casually familiar with the Urban-Rural divide; the cities are blue and the rural areas are red.  Why is this?  One depressingly popular answer is, “It’s because those people in [insert region of your choice] are dummies.”  Or they’re elites, or they’re vulgar, or violent, or lazy, or…   

I’m of the radical opinion that people are the same from one region to the next, it’s just that different regions require us to behave in specific ways in order for us to get along within those regions.  It’s no wonder then, that when people from red areas meet people from blue areas, there’s going to be some cultural confusion.

Which brings us back to six-man football.  First, is six-man football actually football?  My broken pinkie and crummy knee would say yes.  However, if, in 1987, someone had plucked me off the 80-yard field where I played a position known as  guardtackletightendwidereceiver, and then brought me to Denver and tossed me onto a 100-yard field in the midst of a varsity eleven-man team, I would have been dead within moments.

Because, while six-man football is football, it is not eleven-man football.  You can’t play eleven-man when there aren’t even eleven boys in your entire high school.  Which is why somebody had to invent six-man football, a game similar to eleven-man, but with significant differences in the rules.

In six-man, it takes fifteen yards to get a first-down, hand-offs are illegal, quarterbacks can’t run the ball, anyone is eligible to receive a pass, and so on.  My favorite rule was the 45 Rule, aka the Slaughter Rule.  When I played it went this way: if a team got ahead by 45 points, the game was over (but you had to play the entire first half). Without the Slaughter Rule, my teams would have lost most of our games by sixty or more points, and lord knows how many more pinkies I might have broken.

The six-man rules exist primarily to prevent one person from dominating a game.  I’ve always thought about it this way: In eleven-man football, if nobody blocks, then the poor sucker with the ball is going to be chased by 11 bloodthirsty kids.  In the same scenario in six-man, you’re only gonna get chased by six kids, at least one of whom will stand 4’11” and weigh 106 pounds. 

There’s nothing unusual about a 6’7” 270lb kid in eleven-man varsity football.  In six-man, a kid of that size is so rare that, assuming he has the teeniest bit of athleticism, he’s going to dominate like a Newfoundland at a Chihuahua party.

Six-man rules (aka regulations) exist for two reasons.  One, to make sure that schools with small populations are allowed to field a team.  Two, those rules exist to make it harder for one player to completely take over.  Which is to say, the rules make it easier for the little guy to have a chance.  It’s almost as if someone said, “Kids in rural America are entitled to play a version of football that suits their limited resources.”

Let’s now return to the Urban-Rural Divide.  Because of high population-density, people in cities have to play by different rules from people in rural America.  If you live in Denver, you will probably interact with hundreds of strangers every single day; in traffic, walking down the sidewalk, waiting in line at the grocery store.

There’s an implied rule that you must get along with every one of these strangers, even if it means that you have to pretend they don’t exist.  For instance, don’t stare at people on the bus unless you want to make them very uncomfortable.  Confusingly, there are other times when you absolutely must acknowledge the existence of strangers.  If you’re driving down a busy street—or any street, frankly—use your turn signals.  Otherwise, you could potentially throw the whole system into chaos, and maybe clobber a bicyclist, which is not only rude, but painful.

Country life has its own rules and regulations, some of which are the complete opposite of city rules.  For example, in those rare situations when a stranger sits next to you in the bleachers of a six-man football game, you’re absolutely going to pay close attention.  You may even find yourself staring.  Because, compared to an urban setting, strangers are uncommon out here, and humans tend to be fascinated by uncommon things.  Or, if you’re the type of person who religiously uses his turn signal, even on a dirt road in the middle of the night on your way home from Music Night at the Grassroots Community Center, there’s a good chance your passenger will call you a nut.

You can’t just pluck someone out of Joes, Colorado and expect them to thrive in the city.  And you can’t take someone from Denver and expect them to thrive on the Great Plains.  Because humans, by necessity, behave by different rules in different places, and those different ways of interaction lead to wildly divergent ideas of privacy, courtesy, and fellowship.

Fortunately, as long as we can acknowledge these differences and respect the appropriate societal rules (either formal or implied), we can all still find a way to enjoy the game.

Catching Vinegar with Flies

March 14, 2017

In 1990, the Liberty Black Knights won a total of one football game, against the Bethune Bobcats.  Given how crummy we were, the Bobcats must have been having a very bad day.  But we clobbered them (by two points) and in doing so, I learned what it's like to crush an opponent (by two points).  For once, my team got to smile as we went thru the end-of-game good-sportsmanship handshakes.

Also during that game I learned what it's like to earn an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.  That was awesome, too.  (Cue Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days.")  It was the second half and we were on defense.  Just as Bethune hiked the ball, our nose guard leapt over the center and smashed Bethune's four-foot-tall quarterback into a two-inch-tall pancake.

In my excitement, I hugged our heroic nose guard and shouted, "You're a humping motherfucker!"  Which got me a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.  Our coach yelled at the ref, "What's the hell was that for?"  The ref replied, "He used the F-word."  Our coach then yelled at me, "What did you say, Hill?"  To which I, playing the role of a dumb seventeen-year-old boy (which I was), replied, "I dunno."

After the game, as my teammates and I were celebrating our victory, somebody asked me what I’d done to earn that flag.

I glanced around the locker room to make sure Coach wasn't nearby and confessed my linguistic transgression.  Everyone laughed, because it was funny [1].  And then Coach, who had been standing right behind me, said, "So you lied to me?"

I nearly leapt out of my uniform, and then I said, "Yes, sir."

Coach then shook my hand and said, "Good job." 

There are many lessons to be learned from this incident.  First: in a sport where adrenalized young men are encouraged to beat the everloving snot out of one another, it's ridiculous to expect them to speak the King's English at all times, especially when their coaches routinely employ profanity during practice, during games, and in casual conversation.  Second: When you win, you can get away with things that would otherwise earn you a couple of laps around the football field on Monday.  Third: I totally deserved that penalty.

It is the third lesson that I wish to address here.  Sure, I could argue that, "Coach cusses, so why can't I?"  But that's a terrible argument.  Just because somebody else is vulgar, that doesn't mean I should be, not when the rules of the game clearly prohibit that kind of language.  That's like saying, "Come on, Mom!  Little Johnny blew up a frog with an M-80, so why can't I?"  Or, to take a totally random example from an otherwise unrelated pre-Super Bowl interview, "There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers.  Well, you think our country is so innocent?”

Or, if you’re biblically inclined, you can consult the Book of Peter: "Do no repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing." [2]

I bring this up today because I recently got into a conversation with someone who believed in certain things that contradicted observable reality and, in my frustration, I failed to wonder, much less ask, why she might hold these strange beliefs.  Consequently, I said many, many things that would have warranted flags for unsportsmanlike conduct   After our conversation, which did not end well, I felt like a schmuck.  This was not a football game.  I did not win.  At best, I had managed to humiliate the person I was speaking to.  And if humiliating a person is the best one can hope for, one has failed miserably.  So, after a period of reflection, I tucked my tail and called her up and apologized.  To her credit, she accepted that apology.  She didn't have to do that, but I'm grateful that she did, and we've made plans to resume our conversation, and this time I intend to extend to her the proper human respect we all deserve.

And so, thanks to six-man football I'm reminded that if I, or you, or even an inexplicably successful, um, TV personality feels compelled to change minds, it's probably best not to insult the very people whose minds we're trying to change. 

[1] To be clear, I do not object to the use of sailor-speak.  In fact, I'm a big fan of it, as long as it's used for constructive purposes.

Food Fight

April 20, 2017

Today, rather than discuss 6-man football, I'll focus on the NFL, with a particular focus on referees.  As a reminder, a referee is someone who wears a black and white shirt, who exists in a land where nothing is black and white, and who is loathed because he [1] has the final say.  Let's examine the previous sentence clause by clause: 

A referee is someone who wears a black and white shirt… The striped shirt is not very fashionable.  I wouldn’t recommend wearing one to a wedding, or funeral, or any non-sports engagement.  However, the design stands out nicely in a crowd and so it works well in a ball game.

…who exists in a land where nothing is black and white… You know how, when you’re watching the Broncos and you throw popcorn at the TV because the refs didn't see the defensive back interfere with Demaryius Thomas?  Meanwhile, on the same play, a fan in Massachusetts is throwing Boston cream pies at his TV because the officials failed to flag Demaryius Thomas for interfering with the defensive back.  Two fans watching the same television broadcast, but seeing opposite things.  Clearly, at least one person is mistaken here.  So why is everybody throwing food?  Because, when it comes to judgement calls, nothing is black and white.

…and who is loathed because he has the final say.  This, to me, is the key to this discussion, because it’s not entirely true.  The referees do not have the final say.  They have a say in the final say, but I'd argue that the players have a greater say in the final say than the referees.  After all, the players are the only people in the game who can actually score the points that end up on the scoreboard, and the scoreboard is the final, final say.  
Still, the referee is a convenient, easily loathe-able punching bag.  Referees don’t have fans, they’re just supposed to be invisible while simultaneously keeping both sides honest.  It’s an endeavor that frequently fails because:

1) Referees are humans and humans make mistakes.
2) Fans are humans and humans don’t like to accept reality (Rahim Moore! Jacoby Jones!) when it doesn’t agree with the desired outcome (Superbowl!).

This is why you get people in Denver and Boston throwing food at their TVs for the same play but for opposite reasons.  Which is fine; a little cognitive dissonance within a football game isn’t going to hurt anyone.

But what happens when we disagree about the nature of real reality?  Turns out, we do the same thing: blame the referees.  In this case, the refs are the press.  If we don’t like the news, then the media must be lying.  Fortunately, we live in an age of wonder, where it's easy to find a  media outlet that'll validate our beliefs.  And once we find that outlet, we stick with it.  This is fine in the world of sports, which is entertainment.  But in the real world?  Not fine.  It shouldn’t be difficult to come to a consensus on such apolitical topics as whether or not, for instance, adding carbon emissions to the atmosphere will lead to catastrophic global climate change.  Take the measurements.  Analyze them.  Come to a conclusion.  Done. 

Instead, we’re debating the very nature of the scientific method.  The scientific method, as we all recall, is a common-sense, logical approach to problem-solving.  There's not much to debate there, and yet we can't help ourselves.  Because we pick our favorite press outlets, with their sculpted personalities who share demographically-tested talking points, and then we offer them the same unconditional love we reserve for football teams.  No matter how you approach the topic of global warming, you must admit that it's absolutely nuts to approach serious issues as if they were entertainment.

Here’s some good news.  Just as with referees, the media does not have the final say in political matters.  That belongs to us, the voters.  But there’s some really bad news: most of the popular press exists purely as profit-driven entertainment, dominated by organizations who care about ratings more than the truth.

Consequently, in order to re-establish a common reality, we owe it to ourselves to stop thinking of the media as the referees, and to instead think of ourselves as the referees.  It's up to us to decide whether we want to get all our news from the same TV programs, the same radio personalities, the same websites, and the same community of friends, or whether we're willing to challenge our preconceptions (that cornerback mugged Demaryius Thomas) by exposing ourselves to different points of view (Demaryius Thomas mugged that cornerback).  Ultimately, we may stumble upon a greater truth: we're not as right as we think we are.

This starts when we stop asking the media (press, TV, radio) to define our reality, and instead ask ourselves if what we’re seeing is real.  Otherwise, we’re just throwing food at the TV. 

[1] I say, “he,” but with the understanding that women are also perfectly capable of officiating sporting events.

Letting the River Run Dry

May 25, 2017

I used to hate Arickaree School.  Really, really hate them.  In the eighties, Arickaree had an incredible run in basketball and football where they beat Liberty, like, a thousand times in a row.  Arickaree was Gargamel and we were a bunch of Smurfs[1] .  I didn't hate just the athletes, I hated the coaches, I hated the parents, I hated their school colors (green and yellow), and I hated the Yuma Pioneer for printing articles with headlines like "Osthoff Scores 112 Points on Struggling Liberty Hoopsters." [2] 

My Arickaree-hate continued even after I'd graduated high school.  When some of my friends married, had kids, and then moved close to Cope, I actually thought they were traitors for sending their kids to Arickaree.

I remember when I finally came to my senses.  I was at a Liberty School reunion and I ran into someone who'd graduated from Arickaree and I told him that I hated everyone from his school, himself included.  His reply was, "I have no idea what you're talking about."  

I spent ten minutes trying to explain why I could never befriend an Arickaree graduate.  The more I tried to explain, the more I felt like a dope.  How can you not feel like a dope when you find yourself saying things like, "I loathe you because you are associated with a school that had some good athletes in the eighties"? 

The poor guy I was talking to, he calmly walked away before I'd successfully made my point.  This was wise, because I didn't have a point to make. 

You see, I had mistaken a sports rivalry for real life, and those are two entirely different things.  A sports rivalry is an invention designed to make games more interesting.  For instance, whenever we played Arickaree, I knew we were going to lose.  Everybody knew we were going to lose.  But, because we considered them our rivals[3] , I was able to stoke the fires of indignation in my brain.  As far as I was concerned, Arickaree were dirty cheaters[4] .  I used this as extra motivation, and sometimes it translated into better performances.  Okay, fine.  That's a sports rivalry. 

But then I took the rivalry out of the context of gamesmanship and I dragged it into the real world.  When I told the gentleman at the Liberty School reunion that I hated him, I wasn't being true to my school or loyal or patriotic or anything of the sort.  I was just being angry, and for no reason whatsoever.  I wasn't for anything, I was just against Arickaree, because it felt good to hate them.  I can't think of many things that are more pathetic than hating someone just because it feels good. 
Still, it's fun to yell and it's fun to be angry, especially if a bunch of other people are shouting along with you.  Whole segments of society operate on that principle.  Entire careers, entire political movements, entire television networks, are based on this premise that, no matter what “we” may be doing, “they” are doing something worse, and so they deserve our contempt, and so that makes us superior to them.  Again, this is not a big deal when you're getting ready to watch a homecoming game, but it's ridiculous when placed in the context of real life.  

If you want a real-life example of anger masquerading as morality, go to a political website that you disagree with.  Read the comments below the articles.  Many of those comments are condescending, tribalistic, vitriolic nonsense.  Now go to your favorite political website and read those comments.  What's the difference?  Same anger, different cheerleaders.   

When I watch high school sports these days, I couldn't care less who wins.  Instead, I try to enjoy that fact that I can sit in the stands and see a bunch of kids toss a ball around.  I enjoy the good plays, the goofy mistakes, the odd coaching decisions, and the crunchy concession stand hamburgers.  One thing I don't want to bother with is anger, and my life is much better for it.

And, to that anonymous gentleman I confronted at the Liberty School Reunion all those years ago, I thank you for your grace in the face of my pointless hostility.  I no longer hate you, sir.  However, I am still jealous.  But that’s a subject for another column…

[1] I'm assuming everybody on Earth knows who the Smurfs are.  If do not know who the Smurfs are, consider yourself lucky.

[2] This is not a real headline.

[3] Anybody who beats you all the time is your rival, even if that rivalry isn’t reciprocated.

[4] One example: Their basketball coach drew up this clever screen play for missed freethrows, and it tricked us every time.  That wasn't cheating, it was thinking. 

To the Victors Go the Spoiled

June 12, 2017

We’re all aware of Vince Lombardi’s legendary quote, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." [1] Today, I shall argue that winning isn’t a thing at all. 

I like to brag that the 1990 Liberty Knights only won one football game.  This isn’t entirely true.  At the end of the season our record was 1-7.  But then someone discovered that the Woodlin Mustangs had allowed an ineligible player to participate in their victory over us earlier in the year, which meant they had to retroactively forfeit the game.  And so, due to a technicality, the Liberty Black Knights doubled our win-total.


Changing our final record didn’t change the fact that, in our newly-discovered victory, Woodlin had forty-fived us before the fourth quarter, it didn’t change the fact that our running back twisted his ankle and had to sit out our next game, and it didn’t change the fact that Woodlin would have beaten us even if half of their team had been on the down-list.

In reality, Woodlin “won” the game.  The players they put on the field trounced the players we put on the field.  In another reality, Liberty “won” the game.  The players we put on the field did not violate eligibility rules.  Even though we lost the game, we won the game, simply by not cheating, which is the equivalent of passing a test because you spelled your name right at the top of the paper.

But I don’t care about any of that, because, as I mentioned five paragraphs ago, winning isn’t a thing.

Well, obviously, that’s silly.  Without winning, how would we know for certain that the Broncos won Super Bowl 50?  How would we know who earned the most money on Jeopardy last week?  Without winning, how would we know that we live in the greatest country in the history of the world?

Hang on a minute.  How do we know that we live in the greatest country in the history of the world?  It’s not like the United States competes in an annual Greatest Country in the World Contest.  And if we did, and if we won, I’m fairly certain that someone would claim that the referees were being paid off, and therefore declare the results invalid.

I mean, I sure do like living here.  But I really don’t know a whole lot about the other 195 nations on Earth.  I hear things are pretty good in Norway; low crime, great health care, lots of fjords.  Maybe Norway’s the world’s greatest country.  Maybe it’s Canada, or Costa Rica, or some place in Africa.  Who knows?  Who cares?  I like it here.  This is where I'm from. [2]  I love our free press, free speech, and freedom of (and from) religion.  The Bill of Rights is awesome!  The constitution was a brilliant document!  I love Colorado!  I love Yuma County! 

That’s good enough for me.  My self-esteem ought not to hinge on whether I’m a citizen of the world’s greatest country, or if my football team won one or two games, or if I’ve once again failed to write a coherent column.

In fact, there are many cases I’m just as happy to lose as to win, which is why I often do things that might seem nutty to an outside observer. When I fail at something--which is often--I endeavor to examine where I went wrong, take note of where I managed to go right, and then move on just a little wiser for having taken a risk.  Or, in the case of six-man football, I was able to move on with the understanding that, no matter how many games we won in 1990, I would be wise to never touch a pigskin again.   

[1] For the record, Lombardi appropriated the quote from a guy named Red Sanders, coach of the UCLA Bruins, who was apparently saying it as early as 1950.

[2] Speaking of which, George Bernard Shaw may have been onto something when he said, in 1893, “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it....”

Headbangers' Heaven

July 14, 2017

I used to love concussions.  I reckon I had two of 'em in my time as a six-man footballer.  We'd kick off, and then everybody would sprint at each other like a pair of Red Rover teams gone mad.  The objective was to knock somebody's block off, preferably someone from the opposing team.  On two occasions, I'd actually managed to tee-up someone and slam into him.  Boom!  Next thing you know, I'm peering out of the earhole of my helmet and one of my teammates is saying, "Dude, do you know where you are?"  And then, as the sparkles melt away from my eyes, my muddified brain tells me to say, "Blue."  Which is hilarious because blue is a color, not a place.  And then my teammates would gently turn me around because I was walking toward the wrong sideline. 

Sit on the bench, helmet off, dreamy haze.  A little while later, Coach asks if I'm ready to go back in and I say, "Yes," because I don't fear concussions, because they're fun!  So I'd go back in and play the rest of the game, badly, which always went unnoticed because I played badly under all circumstances.  Then, after we lost the game, everyone would have a laugh at how discombobulated I was.  It's a blast, seriously.

Even after my football days were over, in my mid-twenties, a buddy and I played a game where we'd roll up a newspaper and whack each other on the forehead.  Why?  Because it was fun!

Let's be clear: rolling up a newspaper and hitting someone on the head is a really stupid way to get yer kicks. 

Is running full speed into a guy holding a football any less stupid?  As football players in the late 80's and early 90's, we kind of knew that concussions were kind of bad, but we also figured we'd be fine once the old cobwebs had cleared out of the old noggin.

Now, thanks to our good pal, science, we know just how unhealthy concussions can be.  And yet I still hear arguments that go like this, "NFL players need to stop acting like wimps.  They know what a concussion is and they get paid too much money to start whining when they develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy." (I've just employed a strawman argument, which is bad writing.  But, just like Loretta Lynn in a cornfield, I stand by my strawman.)

I can't think of a single thing about that argument that holds merit.  Unless, of course, you consider If you get paid a lot of money, then you shouldn't be a wimp to be a valid point of debate, which it isn't.

("Don't be a wimp" is something third-graders shout at the indecisive kid lingering at the edge of the high dive, not something adults shout at someone who (a) played professional football and (b) can no longer remember his own address.)

Certainly, all football players know that they're going to bang their heads.  But do they understand the true consequences of all that headbanging?  Way back when, in the distant year of 2010, who knew that linemen could develop CTE simply due to an accumulation of micro-concussions that occur on play after play?  The NFL did. (For evidence, the documentary League of Denial is a good place to start.) and yet they denied it.  In doing so, they deceived their players (and fans).  Give the NFL credit, at least they had a sound argument.  If players (and fans) were to understand the consequences of concussions, they might stop playing (and watching), and that would slow down the river of money.

The NFL put its players at risk in the name of profit.  Yes, people have always kind of known that playing football was unhealthy.  But they didn't always know the extent to which the sport could destroy their lives.  And that kind of makes me sick.   

All of this begs the question, "Given what you know, Mr. Righteous Pants, do you still watch football?"  I'll have to think on that one.  Can I get back to you after the Superbowl?

[1] For the record, Lombardi appropriated the quote from a guy named Red Sanders, coach of the UCLA Bruins, who was apparently saying it as early as 1950.

[2] Speaking of which, George Bernard Shaw may have been onto something when he said, in 1893, “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it....”

"Yes, sir"? No, Thanks

August 24, 2017

When I was a gangly freshman on Liberty's six-man football team, I once made the mistake of calling our coach "sir."  He had told us to do some push-ups or something and I said, "Yes, sir."  To which he replied, "I like the sound of that.  Everybody shall call me 'Sir' from now on."  And so, from then on, Coach was 'Sir' and we were his obedient--if not athletic--soldiers [1]

Once we figured out how it worked, this chain of command business really wasn't so bad.  If you do what Sir says, then you don't have to bother with thinking, which only has a tendency to complicate things anyway.  What was bad was our offensive line, of which I was a member.  We couldn't block worth a lick, which played a significant role in our 0-8 record that year.

By the time I was a senior, we still couldn't block.  But then, one Saturday in 1990, I was watching a college football game and the announcers started talking about a CU player who was doing a crummy job of blocking.  As I recall, they stated that, on a running play, one must drive forward into his opponent, opening up a hole for the halfback.  (That's how I tried to block on every play.)  However, the announcers continued, on passing plays, the linemen should take a step back and focus primarily on keeping the opponent from getting around you to sack the  quarterback.  That was a revelation.  My teammates and I had been pass-blocking incorrectly all this time.  For our next game, I switched up my technique and it worked[2]

But here's the ridiculous thing, I didn't share this insight with anybody.  I vividly remember thinking, Should I tell my teammates?  Nah, that would just make me sound like a smarty-pants.  Should I tell Sir?  Nah.  It’ll make him insecure and when he’s insecure he makes people run laps. 

I was more concerned with my own status within our football culture than I was with the success of our football team. 
Clearly, this was foolish on my part.  Coach Sir had failed to see a glaring flaw in our technique. I was in a position to correct that flaw.  And yet, because of a fear of upsetting the status quo, I chose to keep my mouth shut and, in doing so, I chose to let our  quarterback got sacked over and over. 

What pithy lesson did I learn from all of this?  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure, but I'll make a guess: For the good of the team, it's sometimes necessary to speak up to Sir, even if you don't think he'll take it well. 

With this in mind, you can look forward to next month's column, in which I'm going to take an unpopular view on the controversy around Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who refused to stand for the national anthem.

[1] I'm definitely overstating my role in all this, but the "Sir" story is a convenient narrative tool, so let's use it.

[2] By "worked" I mean, "I was slightly less horrible."  And it goes without saying that we lost.

Shout it From the Mountaintops

The Kaepernick Effect: Pt I

September 11, 2017

As I mentioned last month, I’m going to spend a few words on Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who, in the name of civil rights, refused to stand for the national anthem, and the brain-ripping controversy that has followed that decision.  I had hoped to whip up a quick little piece that’d capture the various perspectives on this subject and then wrap it all up with an amusing life-lesson-learned.  As with most of the things I leap into, I was altogether too hopeful.   Quick little piece, my eye.  To get to the bottom of this one, I’d need to write roughly five hundred pages, annotated, footnoted, and illustrated with pie charts and nineteenth-century woodcuts.  Something tells me that our dear editor, Tony, would rather not give over the next three years' worth of the Yuma Pioneer so I can talk about the history of patriotism, nationalism, civil rights, and whatever else might pop into my head.  And I rather suspect that you, dear reader, would be even less inclined to endure such a thing.  On the other hand, it’d be an insult to your intelligence if I were to try and boil down my thoughts until they could fit in a single column.

What, then, shall I do?  I guess I’ll do what I always do, and write until I’ve finished, and hope you’re willing to read until the end.

Let’s begin with a recap of the Colin Kaepernick saga. 

Last year, Kaepernick, who played for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem, which is traditionally played before the beginning of an NFL game.  His explanation:  "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”  He’s talking about the numerous cell-phone videos that show black men being killed by police officers.  Specifically, he’s referencing those videos in which there is no clear indication that the dead men behaved in a manner that would warrant an instant death sentence.   

Kaepernick faced a massive backlash for his protest.  And then the backlash was faced with backlash.  With your permission, I’ll summarize those backlashes with an imaginary conversation between two imaginary people drinking coffee at an imaginary diner: 

ORVILLE: Kaepernick’s protest was an insult to the soldiers who fought to keep our country free!

WILBUR: The protest has nothing to do with soldiers!

ORVILLE: The NFL is a private business.  They have the right to tell him to stand his butt up or get the heck out!

WILBUR:  You’ve got a point there.  Except, last year, the NFL commissioner said, “Players have a platform, and it's his right to do that.”   

ORVILLE:  Tell me, smartypants, why won’t any team hire him?

WILBUR:  Good question!

ORVILLE:  He’s a coward is what he is!

WILBUR: Does a coward risk his career to call attention to issues that affect groups of people he doesn’t even know?!?

ORVILLE: His message is incoherent!  What’s he trying to accomplish?

WILBUR: He’s trying to get people to think about the value of black lives and the value of proper training for police officers!

ORVILLE: Go fly a kite!

WILBUR:  No, you go fly a kite!

And that’s more or less where we currently stand.  As always, we’re got two schools of thought, shouting at each other from mountain peaks that are so far apart, they can’t even hear one another.  Welcome to America in 2017. 

As humans, we’re all biological creatures who simply want to enjoy long, productive lives.  It’s only when we talk about abstract concepts—such as race or politics--that we start to diverge.  As those abstract concepts stack up, they can isolate us from one another, until we’re so far apart that we can’t communicate.  And so, as I continue writing about this subject, I’d like to climb down from my mountain and I’d invite you to do the same, for here at the bottom of things is where we all meet.  Hopefully, by the time I’m done, we’ll have made our mountains a little closer to one another.  With that being said, I’ll continue this next month (or maybe sooner if Tony has room) with a discussion about Old Glory, The Star Spangled Banner, and a suicidal albatross.

...And Whisper it in the Valleys

The Kaepernick Effect: Pt II

October 1, 2022

Okie dokie, gang.  Back to the subject of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who knelt.  As I mentioned in my last column, I going to try to climb down from my "Mountain of Truth," and I invite you to do the same, with the hope that we can meet in the "Valley of Things We All Have in Common [1]".  As you would expect, this conversation starts  with a suicidal albatross.

Imagine, if you will, the following nightmarish scenario: an  airplane is innocently flying above Washington DC and it just happens to strike a despondent albatross who just happens to have eaten a can of starter fluid for breakfast.  Upon being struck, the bird catches fire and then plummets like a comet 50,000 feet straight down and thru the roof of the National Archives where it smashes into the display case containing the original version of the US Constitution, which is burned to a crisp. 

Were this to occur, two things would happen.  One, we, as a nation would be very upset that such a valuable historical document has been lost in such a ridiculous fashion.  The other thing that would happen is...nothing.  As in, even if the physical copy of the Constitution were destroyed, its meaning would remain the law of the land.  The United States of America would still have three branches of government, the Bill of Rights would still apply, and so on.

In other words, while the physical copy of the Constitution is a legitimate historical treasure, its true value lies in the system of government it established, and which will persist for as long as we honor the spirit of the document. 

The same goes for the American flag.  Old Glory, with its  stars and stripes, is a symbol of America, but it is not literally America.  Alas, while the Constitution clearly spells out the structure of our government, the flag is far less specific.  With the flag, we are left on our own to define what it stands for.  At the very least, we can agree that the flag is:

A) A symbol of the concept of America.

B) Not literally America.

The concept of America as represented by the flag, will continue unabated no matter how the flag is represented, be it flying above the US Capitol building, hung upside down as a distress signal, silkscreened on a tee-shirt superimposed with the words I support the troops.  Sit on my lap and raise the flag pole[2], or stretched out across the length and breadth of a football field.

My point being, some depictions of the flag are respectful and some are disgraceful, but none of them have any direct consequence to the ability of this country to function as a democratic republic based on the rule of law. 

This is because, just as with the Constitution, the flag is a symbol of America, but it is not literally America.  This is all obvious, I know, but we need to establish common terms before we can proceed to the subject of kneeling football players.

Let us now discuss our nation anthem. As we all remember, The Star-Spangled Banner is a poem by Francis Scott Key which was set to music that had been originally composed for a British mens' social club[3]. Key's lyrics, which include three verses that have never been sung at a football game, were inspired by the sight of the flag the morning after the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814.

Just as with the constution and the flag itself, the functionality of the United States of America will continue unabated whether The Star-Spangled Banner is performed by Whitney Houston, Rosanne Barr, or an electronic doorbell.

I understand why people don't like to see the Constitution, the flag, or the National Anthem disrespected. They represent American ideals, and to insult those ideals is to insult the very essence of the USA. But, paradoxically, one essential component of the USA is that people are allowed to speak freely, and that includes the right to make dumb tee-shirts and to screech the National Anthem.

I am sufficiently secure in my belief in the ideals of this country that I don't get offended when someone toys with one of our symbols. Because symbols are one thing and ideals are a far greater thing, a thing that cannot be touched by fire.

Next week, I'll talk about the different interpretations of "American ideals" and American's "essence." Because even those terms are vague and so it's perfectly reasonable that not everybody will agree on what they mean.


[1] Not to be confused with the "Valley of the Shadow of Death," which is a whole 'nother proposition.

[2] Yes, this exists.

[3] The club was called the Anacreontic Society and it was dedicated to "wit, harmony, and the god of wine."  Good info if you want to win a bar bet.

This is Not a Pipe Dream

The Kaepernick Effect: Pt III

November 30, 2017

Imagine somebody who's driven the same pickup for forty years.  Over those forty years, every single part of that truck has at some point become worn out or busted or dented.  The owner has dutifully replaced those parts, to the point where there is not a single molecule remaining from the original truck.  Which raises the question, if every single part of a pickup has been replaced, then is it the same pickup the owner originally purchased in 1977?

When does a thing cease to be itself?  It's a question that has stumped philosophers for at least two thousand years. (The Greeks called it Theseus's Paradox.  In their version, they used a ship rather than a pickup.)  Which, naturally, brings us back to the ongoing discussion of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who knelt in the name of civil rights.  In recent weeks, the number of NFL players participating in pregame protests during the playing of the national anthem has ballooned from less than forty to more than a hundred.  This increase coincides directly with a speech delivered by Donald Trump in Alabama in which he stated that any player who protests during the anthem should be fired.  And then, presumably because he needed a break from all the work he was doing to get disaster aid to Puerto Rico, he sent several tweets about the subject, suggesting, among other things, that people should boycott the NFL until the protests stop.

If there's anybody whose desperation for adoration can compete with that of our president, it's a group of highly paid professional athletes and their billionaire employers.  Trump insulted them, so they showed him who was the boss by turning the sporadic protests into a movement. 

In doing so, Trump has once again taken an issue and turned it into a referendum on himself as a person.  Make no mistake, the players who have recently joined in the protests are doing so as referendum on Trump as much as they're doing it as a reaction to unjustified police shootings. Even a couple of team owners joined the protests.  Those team owners are the same people who have made sure that Colin Kaepernick doesn't have a job in the NFL (I believe the term is "blackballing".)  If those owners truly believed they were protesting in the name of civil rights, don't you think they might consider hiring Kaepernick, the very player who started all this kneeling business?  Nope, it’s got nothing to do with civil rights.  Instead, they're like the cocky kid who's been poked in the chest and who now feels compelled to prove that he ain’t no sissy. (For some particularly rich irony, do an online search for the terms: “Jerry Jones” and “hypocrisy.”)

Kaepernick began his protests to bring light to the communities that suffer from unjustified killings of innocent people.  Now they’ve become an excuse for the NFL to demonstrate solidarity in the face of an egomaniac’s tweets.

No wonder people keep asking, "What are they protesting?"  At this point, it's anybody's guess.  It’s sort of like asking if a 1977 pickup that's had all its parts replaced is still a 1977 pickup.

Meanwhile, what’s Colin Kaepernick up to? 

First, there’s a bright side to not playing football: he’s not getting concussions, and he’s not in a league that turns a blind eye to sexual assault, domestic assault, and child abuse. (There's not room here for a full list of the NFL players who, unlike Kaepernick, remain in the league in spite of some truly abhorrent behavior.) 

With his newfound free time, he pledged last fall to give a million dollars, plus any profits from jersey sales, to various charities, $100,000 per month.  As of today, he's donated $900,000 to more organizations than I could possible list here. (For the full list, go to He's helped organize a Know Your Rights Camp, whose point is to "raise awareness on higher education, self-empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios."  In doing so, he's taking specific action to counter the social forces that have led to the disenfranchisement of people of color, and he's doing what he can to give them the tools to prepare themselves for the awkward scenario of being confronted by a poorly-trained police officer who might mistake walking down the street for a capital offense. 

It seems like Colin Kaepernick is still behind the wheel of his good old truck, but now he’s learned how to drive the thing. 

It’s human nature to be outraged at things that make us uncomfortable.  But remember, we have the option of seeing beyond that outrage.  To that end, we, as citizens, would do well to notice that, while our president stokes anger in order to stroke his ego, Colin Kaepernick is trying to make this a country worth standing up for.  It's up to you whose example you'll choose to follow.

Thanks for reading.


Guitars, Narcissists, and Hillbilly Music

December 8, 2017

First off, thanks to everybody who heeded Tony’s recent call for letters-to-the-editor.  I love to see what people are thinking, especially those who see things differently from me. 

Second off, starting in 2018, I’m going to be writing fewer articles for the Pioneer so I can focus on my next novel.

This being the case, I’d like to return to a subject I addressed in the first column I wrote, back in February.  That one was about the differences between rural and urban living, and how I believe those differences have less to do with the people who live in those places and more to do with how those places require people to interact.

This past weekend, I was able to witness firsthand some of those differences.  Let me set the scene:  

I’ve been a wildly unsuccessful musician, mostly based in Denver, for over twenty years.  In that time, I’ve established a wildly unsuccessful recording studio, also mostly based in Denver.  Now that I spend most of my time in Yuma County, I’m hoping to re-locate my studio to this area.  With that in mind, I recently invited a Denver-based country band spend a weekend recording several songs at my house.  Since they would be the first band to come out here, and since that meant I’d have some bugs to work out during the process, I agreed to charge them the heady sum of five dollars per hour, with half of that going to a friend who would co-engineer the recording.  My only requirement was for the band to perform at the monthly music night we host at the Grassroots Community Center in Joes. 

When the band arrived on Thursday afternoon, the first thing they said was, “Half the guys won’t be able to make it to the show in Joes.” 

Okay, fine, I guess.  The rest of you can still play right? 


Good, let’s get to work.

We got to work, everything sounded splendid, and everything went terrifically.  For one night. 

Something strange happened on the second day of the session.  It became clear that the band hadn’t adequately rehearsed their songs; the phrases “thank you” and “please” evaporated from their vocabulary; and I came to suspect that these guys thought my buddy and I ought to be honored to sit on our butts for nine hours while they struggled to record four songs that should have taken them two hours to knock out.

At nine o’clock that night, they completed their final take, much to our relief.  We figured this meant they were done.  Instead, they decided to record several of their songs AGAIN, but this time with my buddy now shooting a video so they could post it online. 

Seeing no end to this, I asked them to wrap things up by ten o’clock.  They ignored me, which did not please me.

When ten o’clock rolled around, I shut off their microphones, which did not please them. 

Relations were strained for a while, but there was a minimum of swearing and we managed to keep things more or less civil. The next afternoon, I sent the whole group (I won’t be naming the band here, but feel free to call them Ego and the Session Men.  Or The Ungrateful Red) home with a fantastic recording, having fulfilled my end of our informal contract and feeling more than a little unhappy with the way things had turned out, not least because I’d missed the 6-man football championship game on their account.

That evening, I had to explain to the folks who came to Music Night why the featured band would not be in attendance.  While it was disappointing, nobody was heartbroken about it. 

As soon as soon as our local gang of stalwart kooks, The Rural Roots, began to play, my opinion of humanity, which had been at an ebb, rose again.  There are few things I enjoy more than playing music with my friends and for my friends.  We can joke around, play great or play sloppy, and the audience can tease us without mercy. Given the frustrations of the previous day, Saturday’s show was a reminder of what it means to live in a close-knit community.

While there are real and profound differences between rural America and urban America, I would argue that virtually all of those differences are a consequence of how close you live to your neighbors. (I could go on about this for days.  I will not. You are welcome.) Furthermore, I would argue that if people in the rural and urban versions of America could acknowledge that these superficial differences are the root cause of our utterly ridiculous cultural divisions (which are relentlessly exploited by various news outlets), then maybe we can stop screaming at one another for a little while.  But first we have to spend some time with one another.

That is precisely why, in lieu of payment, I had asked the Denver band to join us at our community center. They did not take that obligation seriously because they were far more concerned with putting their country music on a computer hard drive than they were with sharing it with a bunch of strangers in a country town they’d never heard of. The poor suckers really missed out.  Sure, they got themselves a record. But an evening with the gang at the Grassroots Community Center could have given them a glimpse of something far more rewarding than the mirrored finish of a CD.

But fear not; cultural exchanges can go in two directions. So, gang, who wants to come play a gig in Denver?

Post-Script: A few months later, Maureen and I brought the community band to Denver. We killed, naturally.