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.

The Vietnam draft ended the year before I was eligible. I often boasted that this temporal happenstance saved me from a long vacation in Canada. I don’t know what I really would have done if I’d been drafted — I’m guessing I’d have been too chicken to go to Canada — but I liked my line about the saved vacation. It was cool.

My hair was long, my bottoms were belled and my skull was thick. I had sideburns. For a while I had a moustach. I smoked a pipe and might have owned a suede beret. I played the rebel, with one eye always in the mirror.

I even voted for Jimmy Carter.

After graduating, I went to work for Boeing in Seattle. It was a blue-collar town back then. Everyone was unionized including the Boeing engineers. I found an older, conservative workmate who served as a dad substitute. I taunted him with Marxist nonsense.

That Marxist nonsense bit me in the butt when I was asked — told, really — to join the engineering union. It was my first experience with what we now call “identity politics.” I refused to join because I wanted to be judged on my own personal merit.

But even as this tiny counter-revolution germinated in me, I still cultivated Marxism. A little hypocrisy, after all, is a small price to pay for coolness.

After a couple of years of this preening, I went to law school. I was told we would be taught to “think like a lawyer.”

As it turned out, thinking like a lawyer just meant applying rules and logic to facts. I learned more about “thinking like a lawyer” in undergraduate physics classes than I learned in all of law school.

One thing law school did teach me was to grow up. I stopped caring what the cool kids thought, and started thinking for myself. I started thinking about political issues with the same analytical rigor that I had used with legal issues and, before that, with engineering problems.

And I realized that while Marxism sounded nice, made people feel good about themselves and was “cool,” it was an utter failure in solving societal problems.

In fact, Marxism typically makes problems worse. So too with Marxism lite in the form of socialism, “liberalism” as Americans have corrupted the term and, more recently, “progressivism.” (Have you noticed how they keep changing their brand as soon as people catch on to them?)

Witness how Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs created a permanent underclass. Witness how the recent obsession with “diversity” and “inclusion” have created entire fields of monolithic political correctness such as academia, journalism and nonprofits where diverse thinkers are largely excluded, censored and even vilified.

Witness how giving free stuff to vagrants has increased vagrancy. Witness how student loan programs have encouraged kids to take on crushing debt to pay outlandish tuition at colleges where they’re indoctrinated more than educated.

Each of those programs was well-intentioned. But economists would say that these unintended consequences are to be expected. If you subsidize a behavior, it’s natural to get more of it. To expect otherwise is like pouring water into a glass and expecting the level not to rise.

Interestingly, that principle seems not to penetrate the progressive mind. The reason, I think, is this:

Progressives are like me in 1973. They’re not trying to solve problems. They’re trying to look cool to the world. Failing that, they’re trying to look cool to themselves; they’re trying to feel good about themselves.

And so each failed government social program is not a failure at all to a progressive. Because by their metric — did it make me look cool and feel good? — it was a success.

I get that. I was there 40 years ago.

But now I have a different take. I now realize that spending other people’s money on destructive programs for the purpose of making myself look cool is not cool, despite what the group-thinking cool kids say.

That’s why I became a conservative. My aim is to solve problems, not to milk them.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us.

(Published June 10, 2018 in the Aspen Times at


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

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

Is that all you got, Aspen liberals?

“That all you got, George?” — Muhammad Ali

It was called the “Rumble in the Jungle.” It was the 1974 boxing match in Zaire witnessed by 60,000, between an aging Muhammad Ali and the seemingly invincible George Foreman.

Foreman was bigger, stronger and in his prime. Everyone knew Foreman would win easily, especially Foreman himself who thought he’d put Ali away in three rounds. Foreman was the hardest puncher in boxing history.

Punch he did. He hammered Ali through the early rounds.

But Ali had a plan. He called it “rope a dope.” He backed onto the ropes and protected himself, a little, against the fury of Foreman’s near-lethal punches. Many landed but many others glanced off his arms and gloves.

In the seventh round, Foreman was still punching himself into exhaustion but Ali was still standing. After Foreman delivered a particularly hard hit to Ali’s jaw, the two men became entangled and Ali taunted Foreman with the words quoted above.

In the next round, Ali knocked Foreman out. Foreman later described it as “the fastest punch I’ve ever been hit with.”

Here in Aspen, the sparring is mostly verbal. They don’t box, they preen — of their purported diversity, intellectualism and tolerance.

That often bleeds into sanctimony, priggishness and stultifying political correctness. Continue reading

When the shooting starts, would you go in?

Armed sheriff’s deputies appeared on the scene of the recent school massacre in Florida while kids were still being murdered inside.

But the deputies failed to storm the building to apprehend the killer, to rescue the assaulted, to stop the bleeding and to comfort the dying. They failed to do their jobs.

Instead, they cowered behind their patrol cars waiting for, well, apparently waiting for the shooting to stop. Some 150 bullets and 17 lives later, it finally did and the killer walked away. Only then did the deputies enter the building.

About that, President Donald Trump characteristically said what he thought. He went on to say, “I really believe I’d run in there, even without a weapon.”

I don’t know Trump well enough to judge whether he would, but I suspect he would. He’s a bundle of contradictions, complexities, conundrums and occasional cartoons. But I’ll say this for a guy who took on the entire political establishment and won: He’s not a coward.

Today’s topic, however, is not Trump. Today’s topic is the issue he raises. Continue reading