Plastic Straw Feel-Goodery

Teachers here recently put children up to sending a letter to this newspaper proclaiming that “plastic straws are toxic and are destroying our planet” because they wind up in the oceans. The letter asked Aspen to ban them.

Not that I really care about straws. I don’t like straws — or vegetables or little umbrellas — in my scotch anyway.

But notice that the kids weren’t asked to make any real sacrifice. I’m guessing they too don’t like straws or vegetables in their scotch, though they may like the little umbrellas.

I wonder if the kids would have completed this assignment from theater class (I hope it wasn’t from science class, for reasons I’ll get to) if they’d been asked, say, to sacrifice their rides in mom’s gas-guzzling SUV each day and instead take that icky bus.

Aspen Skiing Co. also has jumped on the plastic bandwagon. Always on the lookout for a cheap gesture to signal its virtuous (or is it virtual?) greenness, their marketing gurus boast of banning plastic straws in their restaurants.

They evidently think this little plastic straw ban buys them green indulgences to consume gigawatts of electricity generated by burning fossil fuels (elsewhere of course) to haul people up snowy hills so that they can slide back down on plastic skis, over and over, till they get cold and sit by a fossil fuel fireplace before burning barrels of fossil fuel to fly home.

OK, before someone pries my plastic keyboard out of my cold dead hands, let’s look at some facts.

The average American uses about 300 pounds of plastic a year, or nearly a pound a day. According to the most extreme estimates of plastic straw usage, that includes 1.6 plastic straws a day. (That sounds high, but I’ll go with it.) One plastic straw weighs about 1/67 of an ounce.

Do the math. Plastic straws account for about 0.15 percent of the average American’s use of plastic.

Hardly any plastic from America winds up in the oceans because American law generally prohibits dumping trash in the ocean. American trash is instead put into stable landfills.

And so according to an oceanographer’s report in the respected scientific journal Physics.org, the great majority of plastic in the ocean doesn’t come from America but comes instead from third world countries. Over half of it comes from just five countries — China, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. And 90 percent of it comes from just 10 rivers in Asia and Africa.

Of all the plastic that winds up in the ocean worldwide, only about 0.02 percent is plastic straws. The few American straws who are illegally dumped in the ocean are a tiny fraction of that 0.02 percent — they’re a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction.

Of those few straws, I doubt a single one came from Aspen where the nearest ocean is 1,000 miles away.

So why the local hate-fest about plastic straws?

It’s for the usual reasons. By banning plastic straws, people can feel and show that they personally are saving the planet, and it costs them nothing they care about. It’s the perfect enviro cause du jour.

Of course, they could just stop using plastic straws themselves, rather than forcing others to stop. But feel-gooders and virtue-signalers drunk on their feelings and virtue (I wish they would just use scotch) always feel extra good and extra virtuous when they not only feel and signal their supposed virtue but impose it on others.

Here’s an alternative approach. First, let’s note that the environment is cleaner than it’s been for generations, though most school children are taught the opposite. When I was a kid, city air was often opaque, country highways were lined with litter thrown out car windows and oil-polluted rivers sometimes caught fire.

Today, city air is relatively clear, highways are mostly tidy and salmon have returned to the Connecticut River where they swim past moose and an occasional bear.

We can make it even better, and we should. With regard to plastic in the oceans, let’s start by insisting in trade talks that those five countries listed above stop their dumping.

That might entail some actual sacrifice. The parents of school children might have to pay a few extra dollars for their children’s iPhones assembled in China, and the ski company might have to pay a little more for the foreign-made steel in its ski lifts. Those costs would be passed on to phone users and skiers.

People like the easy feel-good of preening, parading and pontificating. Some will even use children to satisfy their craving for it. But solving the real problem of plastic in the oceans will require more substance and sacrifice.

(Published July 15, 2018 in the Aspen Times at https://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/glenn-k-beaton-plastic-straw-feel-goodery/)

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We will not worship the Colorado Civil Rights Commission

The bigotry of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission earned it a spanking from the United States Supreme Court this month. Here’s the story.

A born-again Christian named Jack Phillips ran a bakery. Aware of Phillips’ heartfelt religious beliefs, a gay couple demanded that he violate those beliefs by designing and creating an artistic cake to celebrate their marriage. This was even before Colorado had legalized gay marriage.

Phillips politely told the couple that they were welcome in his bakery and that he would be happy to sell them anything off-the-shelf. But he could not violate his faith. He even offered to find them an alternative bakery for their cake (which is easy).

But the couple weren’t satisfied. They didn’t really come to Phillips for a cake; they came for his scalp. Continue reading

Here’s how I went from Marxism to conservatism

As an impressionable 17-year-old in 1973, I enrolled in engineering school at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It was the end of the Vietnam protests and the start of streaking. I did a little of both.

I did it because it seemed cool. Chicks didn’t dig guys in ROTC uniforms, and so I wasn’t one. I decided that I was instead a Marxist.

What’s more cool than dressing up in a Che Guevara costume and taking stuff from successful people you envy and giving it to your friends to make yourself popular with them, all while taking a cut of the proceeds?

It would be just like the song “Imagine” with “all the people sharing all the world.” And I would be the one to allocate the shares.

Besides, it pissed off my dad, so it had to be cool. Continue reading

Do You Want a Good Person or a Good President?

“Faith without deeds is dead”

— James 2-26

Those words were spoken about 2,000 years ago by a Jew to other Jews in their ancestral home and capital, Jerusalem. Several millennia after the founding of ancient Israel, and exactly 70 years after the founding of modern Israel, America finally moved its embassy there this month.

The move fulfills legislation passed by Congress in 1995. That legislation passed the Senate by a margin of 93-5 and the House by 374-37. Continue reading

Let’s help vagrants, not use and enable them

Alcoholics go to Alcoholics Anonymous, and they can only leave on the wagon. Obese people often go to camps where their caloric use and intake are closely monitored.

So why do we encourage vagrants with drug problems to visit “shoot-up parks” to descend deeper into their sewer of dangerous and addicting drugs?

For that matter, why do we encourage their vagrancy?

This isn’t just a big city problem. Here in the beautiful Roaring Fork Valley, we have vagrants. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent recently reported that many vagrants illegally camp on private and public lands on the outskirts of town. They litter the area, defecate and urinate on the ground, often start illegal campfires and frequently panhandle and worse.

An online commenter on the news story from Boulder reported that upscale Boulder also has a problem:

“They panhandle, camp whenever and wherever they can get away with it even in town and leave trash and human excrement when they leave. When one helping group started dispensing food and other things by Boulder Creek and the library, the Boulder Creek Path (the most beautiful area in town) became the transient hangout and smoking, drinking and camping spot. … There have also been shootings and rape there, found to have been committed by transients.”

A bad economy is typically the reason offered for vagrancy, especially whenever there’s a Republican president. But that’s not very convincing when unemployment is at 3.9 percent and vagrants are panhandling outside stores with “Help Wanted” ads in the window.

So what’s the real reason for booming vagrancy in the face of a booming economy?

Officials down in Glenwood Springs think they know the reason. It’s because various community organizations inadvertently attract vagrants by offering them free stuff. They note that other nearby towns don’t offer free stuff, and those towns have very few vagrants.

The online commenter from Boulder said something similar:

“We have a serious problem with a large number of transients, who have admittedly and openly come to Boulder from other cities because of more and better free stuff. According to some of them, they refuse to use the shelters and services offered by agencies because they don’t like the rules and often want to keep drinking.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that everyone in this country should be offered basic food and shelter, no questions asked. America is too rich to allow people to starve or freeze to death, regardless of the reason. If someone is starving or freezing, I personally will feed them and clothe them.

But beyond basic food and shelter, the issue becomes problematic.

Vagrants typically fall into one of several categories. They either have mental or emotional problems or they have substance addictions or, in a few cases, they just enjoy the life of vagrancy.

Here’s what they are hardly ever. They’re hardly ever people like you and me, but who have suffered a string of bad luck. “There but for the grace of God go I” may make you feel noble but, deep down, you know it’s a contrived nobility.

There’s hardly anything that could reduce me to a vagrant, and, if you’ve read this far, there’s hardly anything that could reduce you to that.

That doesn’t mean vagrants are bad people. Some are bad, some are not. But it usually does mean that they have underlying issues different than yours and mine. They need help in addressing those issues.

The ones with mental or emotional problems shouldn’t be reduced to feral humans; they should be treated in mental health facilities.

The ones with substance addictions should not be enabled to continue their abuse; they should be put on the wagon. The few who just enjoy the life of a vagrant should not be given handouts to pursue that life at the expense of society and the truly needy.

Health care and law enforcement professionals mostly agree with this analysis. But delivering real help is hard work and it takes time and money.

Casual community activists seeking their daily fix of feel-good want more immediate gratification and they want it at no cost. And some on the political left like vagrancy because they think it reflects badly on America.

Enough. Let’s stop using this problem and these people to treat our own emotional needs and for political purposes. Let’s instead help these people and fix this problem.

Let’s get vagrants off the streets and into the treatment they need. We owe it to them, to our country, to our culture and to ourselves.

(Published May 13, 2018 in the Aspen Times at https://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/glenn-k-beaton-lets-help-vagrants-not-use-and-enable-them/)

Continue reading

It’s Sunday, what do the Dems hate today?

For nearly a century, the Democrats loved Russia. Not the Russian people, mind you, who were being oppressed, starved and enslaved, but the Russian system.

That system was communism. Forget that communism murdered about 100 million people in the last century. And forget that communist socialism failed economically every place it was tried, from the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela to East Germany to North Korea.

Because the real goal of communists was never economic prosperity. Their real goal was tyranny.

They succeeded so wildly at tyranny for a while that the Dems thought the Russians might rescue us from Western civilization. Then we could all be reborn into their utopian alternative where it’s from each according to his (or her, etc.) ability and to each according to his (or her, etc.) need, while Republicans get sent to a gulag.

And so as late as the last American presidential administration, the Democrats exhibited a soft spot for Russian tyranny, even though by then Russia had moved from hardline communism to communism-Lite. President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary (“What Happened?”) Clinton, famously reset relations with the Russian tyrants.

The Russians liked the reset; they promptly annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine and slaughtered Syria. Continue reading

Galvin, RIP

“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too damn much room.”

— T-shirt worn by John Galvin, Mountain Rescue Aspen

Back when I was a member of Mountain Rescue Aspen, it was months before I realized that “Galvin” was not his first name. Everyone called him that because I suppose “John” was just too prosaic for his personality.

Galvin was one of the strongest and most skilled members of the team. And in grit, he was the undisputed king of the mountain. He had the true kind of grit, the kind that made you wipe your feet and pick your teeth after spending time with him.

The kind that made you want to tie into his rope when you’re on the sketchy stuff. He took risks, but he calculated them.

Years ago, I was with Galvin on a body recovery mission in the Bell Cord Couloir, which separates North and South Maroon Peaks. The couloir is a steep, loose, ice-paved death trap that channels falling rocks and boulders and accelerates them to ballistic velocities. It has claimed novices and experts alike. You can do everything right, and still die in the couloir.

That was the case with the victim whose body we recovered that day. He had been knocked into the top of the Couloir by a falling boulder the size of an oven. He slid and tumbled 600 vertical feet before being caught by the bergschrund separating the ice face from the rock wall.

A Blackhawk dropped off our rescue team at the base of the couloir. And I mean “dropped.” In full rescue gear, we jumped 5 feet out of the hovering heli onto a steep boulder field.

Three of us were chosen to ascend to the victim about 1,000 vertical feet up the Couloir. The leader of that three-man team was an excellent, local mountaineering guide. Galvin and I were the other two.

A debate ensued as to whether we should climb unroped or, alternatively, rope into a three-man team and drive pickets and ice screws for protection.

The couloir is over 45 degrees and was hard ice that day. We wore crampons and carried ice axes of course, but a slip onto the ice would be perilous. If we were unable to self-arrest our fall using our ice axes within a few feet, we would be goners. Imagine a hockey puck on a frozen waterfall. The leader insisted on roping up.

Galvin disagreed. Roping up would cost us a lot of time and it was already mid-afternoon. Moreover, if one of us fell in a three-man rope team, the yank on the rope — a dynamic force that could amount to hundreds of pounds — could easily pull the others off their feet. The three of us rocketing down the mountain could then rip out the pickets and ice screws, and all three would be goners.

Because I was unsure myself of the best approach and was the newbie on the team, I kept quiet. Ultimately the leader exercised his authority to decide, as leaders should.

Galvin cursed and complained about that decision for the next five hours as we climbed. I remember thinking, “Man, this climb is close to my limit, and your bitchin’ makes it no easier.”

We finally reached the victim in the evening, and with a lot of effort hauled the body out of the bergschrund.

But how to get the body down the couloir?

There was no way to get the Blackhawk into the narrow couloir. And a long line from a Blackhawk hovering hundreds of feet above the couloir would be dicey.

Galvin then did something amazing. He wrapped the body in a tent (we had no body bag on hand but did have an emergency tent) and then tied up the packaged body with a spare rope. He tied the other end of the rope to himself.

We also still had our separate team rope. On that rope, Galvin would be the low man in charge of managing the body package. The leader would be the high man managing the team rope and the belays — a feat in itself. I was in the middle and didn’t do much.

The body package was nearly 200 pounds of dead weight. Galvin positioned it downhill from himself, edged into the couloir and began a side-stepping descent. The idea was that the package below him would slide down the slope. Gravity was our friend.

And our enemy. The descending package exerted a huge and jerky downhill force as it bounced over the steep and rough ice. Stowing his ice axe, Galvin held the package rope firmly in both hands and dug his crampons into the ice.

A single slip could have been catastrophic.

But Galvin didn’t slip. He descended in the dark for hours — over 1000 vertical feet. It was a stunning exhibition of problem-solving, brute strength, phenomenal endurance, balletic balance and true grit.

It was pure Galvin. The man lived on the edge — till the edge gave way.

As for what happened April 8, some may say he miscalculated the risk on the edge that time. I can imagine him replying in his salty way that it is they who miscalculate by missing the view out there.

(Published April 15, 2018 in the Aspen Times at https://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/glenn-k-beaton-galvin-rip/)