Meet Walther Ramos, American

As we celebrated the birthday of our nation last month, I thought about a Brazilian friend named Walther Ramos.

Walther grew up in an ordinary middle-class family in Brazil. As a teenager he became a terrific swimmer.

Walther has always been headstrong and didn’t get along with the Brazilian swimming establishment. But a Jewish swim team in Brazil noticed his talent and invited him to join. He thrived, and later came to America on a college swimming scholarship.

Walther stayed in contact with his Jewish friends back home and they introduced him to Israel. He got to know the Israelis and their admirable culture, religion and cause.

It culminated with his conversion to Judaism. His official position is that he converted only to qualify for a spot on the Brazilian swim team competing in the Maccabiah Games (which are something like Jewish Olympics) and that he isn’t religious.

I don’t believe him.

After injuries and open heart surgery ended his competitive swimming career, Walther went on to become a prominent investment banker here in America. He has always had a green card and was completely legal.

Now at age 58, my Jewish Brazilian brother still swims about as much as I walk, pushing each pulse of blood through the artificial heart valve installed by American surgeons. Something about this gives him an unfair advantage, I tease him.

In summertime he hikes up the 3,200 vertical feet of Aspen Mountain. He once ascended four times in one day. Even then he didn’t run out of ascents, he ran out of day.

In the winter he skis, but mainly uphill. “Skiing downhill is not exercise,” he explains.

He became a member and served on the board of Aspen Mountain Rescue. His aerobic capacity was near the top of that elite group, and if there were an ocean around here he would have been their go-to guy.

He is married to a beautiful American woman and they have two successful adult sons. They split their time between Aspen and their old home near Philadelphia.

Years ago I asked Walther why he had never become an American citizen, since America has been his home for decades. He said he simply saw no need for that.

I badgered him a bit. I told him that America needs him. I told him that he needs America.

I told him I don’t have anything against Brazilians — some of my best girlfriends are Brazilians — but I’d be proud to call him my countryman.

I told him lots of things, but none of it took. It just irritated him. You wouldn’t like Walther when he’s irritated.

He finally asked in his adorable Brazilian accent, “Glane, why are you paystering me about dees? Why do you care?”

“Walther, Walther, Walther,” I replied. (As instructed, I took care each time to pronounce the “W” as a “V” and to pronounce the “th” as well.) “I’m playing matchmaker. I think you and America could have a wonderful long-term relationship.”

It still just irritated him.

Over the years, however, Walther has become less irritable. Especially after I taught him to drink. But even so, don’t get him going on liberals or illegal immigrants.

Then something amazing happened this summer. Walther became an American citizen, even though — or perhaps because — I’d stopped badgering him about it.

He underwent the usual background check and then studied for an exam on American history. If you ask him, and even if you don’t, he’ll tell you he aced it.

He knows why there are 13 stripes on the flag. He knows the position that Benjamin Franklin held in the infant United States of America. And he’ll proudly recite the Pledge of Allegiance — with his hand over that American artificial heart valve.

At the conclusion of his swearing-in ceremony this month, he did exactly that. He later admitted there was a drop of moisture under one eye but was vague as to its source.

And so Walther has been reborn twice, once in his religion and once in his nationality. That means he’s bested me again. But this time by only one.

By the way, I have two other good friends who weren’t born in America. The one from Oceania became a successful commodities broker before retiring to Aspen.

The other was born in Morocco as the granddaughter of a Russian Jew. (What an honor for both foreign-born Jews and native-born Americans that their oppressed religion is drawn to our free nation!) She is now a prominent tax attorney.

Both these friends came here legally and are now proud citizens. Like Walther, and like you and me, they have pledged their allegiance to this extraordinary land that they love, this place in history that is “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In other words, here in America we all swim together.

(Published August 6, 2017 in the Aspen Times at

Aspen City Council to the people: Shut up

Here in Aspen, our city council has announced that the taxpayers who decided to elect them are too stupid and lazy to decide properly how to spend their own tax money. Here’s the story.

City bureaucrats for years have wanted to spend tens of millions of dollars on lavish new offices. The most recent price tag is over $23 million. This is for a city with a population of only 6,500 people.

Do the math: These nice new offices for the government bureaucracy would cost over $3,000 per resident — or over $12,000 per family of four residents. That’s on top of a city budget that exceeds $100 million a year, or about $15,000 per resident and $60,000 per family of four.

Part of the reason the building is so expensive is that they want to put it right in the middle of town, naturally, because that’s where the action is. Most of the rest of us can’t afford the middle of town because real estate there costs thousands of dollars per square foot. But it’s easier if someone else is paying for it.

Just to make sure this monument to themselves is sufficiently monumental, it will rise to 46 feet in an area where other development is capped at 28 feet in order to preserve the mountain views. Obscuring the view is evidently OK if the rule-makers do the obscuring.

There’s just one snag in this plan.

The snag is those people whose views would be obscured and whose money is being spent. You know, the people. Those pesky people would like to put the plan to a vote.

Bravo! Democracy lives in Aspen.

In a democracy, elected representatives occasionally do put controversial issues to a vote of the people who elected them. In that way, they make sure they are effectuating the will of the people.

They respect the judgment of the people. After all, the people and their judgment are what got them elected in the first place.

But alas. Democracy dies in Aspen.

The Aspen City Council decided not to put this plan to a vote of the people. That’s bad enough, but their stated reason for dodging a vote has left people incredulous.

Their stated reason is that the people might vote it down. Because people might not “comprehend” the issue. And because people opposed to the plan might spread “false information” about it. And because some people are just always opposed to taxing and spending. Darn those people!

One councilman stated at the outset of the meeting that he was “100 percent” in favor of putting the question to a vote of the people. But by the end of the meeting, his position for the people had declined by exactly 100 percent. He later lamented the lambasting he received from the people on social media for abandoning them.

But he said found a way to comfort himself, if not the people: He turned off social media.

Another councilman at the meeting scolded some people who were urging a vote. He said they “need to be more careful about the words you are using to challenge us.” It’s telling that he sees a request for a vote of the people as a “challenge.”

As for the words used by the people in issuing their “challenge,” it sounds like he’d be more comfortable if those words started with “Your Excellency.”

There’s some history here. A few years ago, City Council had a leaky idea to dam a tiny local stream near a wilderness area in order to generate a miniscule amount of hydroelectric power. The people voted it down.

Then City Council wanted to allow an oversized “affordable” hotel to be built on Main Street — as if people who need affordable lodging come to Aspen. The people voted it down.

Then there was the time the term-limited mayor wanted to end-run the term limit law by getting himself elected to City Council. Virtually the entire Aspen establishment endorsed his scheme. But the people overwhelmingly voted him down (in favor of the candidate who became the sole dissenter in City Council’s current decision to dodge a vote of the people, Bert Myrin).

Democracy is a bitch, huh? Sometimes the people say things that their elected representatives don’t agree with. Sometimes the people say it in a way the elected representatives don’t like. Sometimes the people don’t “comprehend” very well. Sometimes they make the “wrong” decision.

But City Council now has a creative solution to this problem of noisy and uncomprehending people making the “wrong” decision: City Council will prohibit them from making any at all.

There’s still one decision they can’t take away from us, however, at least not yet. That’s the decision whether to vote for them. Next time around, let’s throw the bums out.

(Published July 23, 2017 in the Aspen Times at

Is the Aspen Art Museum a Parody or just a Joke?

03_1430C_09_4At the imposing new $48 million Aspen Art Museum that looks vaguely like a big, square bird’s nest, a new exhibit has hatched. You have to see it to believe it.

I did and still don’t. Here’s my story:

The first thing I saw upon entering the museum was a nice sign. It listed all the wealthy people who have donated big bucks to the museum.

In the old days, donating big bucks to the right recipients could make you semi-royalty, like a count or maybe a baron. Really big bucks could even buy you eternal salvation.

Today, big bucks buys you the title “patron of the arts.”

It’s disappointing. In a better world, patrons of the arts wouldn’t need their names on a list. They would just buy art. Then artists would flourish and culture would thrive.

But museum donators don’t do that because Continue reading

Don’t Fall For The College Scam

One of my friends (yes, I have some, even in liberal Aspen) is a mountaineering guide.

He communicates concepts of climbing and safety to people who have never been in the mountains. He has a spatial ability to see the terrain in his mind’s eye. He provides emergency medical treatment for injuries ranging from foot blisters to pulmonary edema. He’s smart, articulate and well-read.

He never went to college.

I have another acquaintance who owns a concrete company. His idea of a “concrete solution” is something that is poured out of a cement truck and into a set of forms. And I don’t mean the printed kind.

He figures out the cost of a project. He lines up and manages the necessary staffing. He knows both how low he must bid and how high he might. He does well and, like my mountaineering guide friend, in his spare time he also does good.

He too never got a college degree.

Meanwhile, Continue reading

Does the Pitkin County Sheriff Think He’s Bull Connor?

Here in Aspen, the Democrat sheriff for the county recently announced that he doesn’t like a set of federal laws duly enacted over the course of decades by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress and signed by both Democrat and Republican presidents.

Therefore, he boasts, he won’t cooperate with the enforcement of those laws.

The laws at issue, of course, are the immigration laws.

Our local sheriff is not the first political opportunist to defy the nation’s laws while entrusted with enforcing them. Back in the 1960s, there was another Democrat law enforcement official who refused to enforce federal law. The laws at issue then were the new civil rights laws, and the Democrat at issue was the commissioner of public safety for Birmingham, Alabama.

His name was Theophilus Eugene Connor, better known as “Bull Connor.” He’s now buried in Birmingham, but still lives in infamy. Continue reading

The “Artisan Salmon” of Whole Foods

“Charlie, they don’t want tunas with good taste. They want tunas that taste good.” — Charlie the Tuna advertisements from the 1960s to ’80s.

I recently visited the local Whole Foods that is 21 miles downvalley. (Aspen itself has banned chain stores because customers like them more than City Council thinks they should.)

I overheard a conversation between a customer (or what they surely call a “client”) and a fish monger wearing a purple earring (what they probably call a “pescateur”).

Client (looking over a counter of iced salmon): “But are the salmon farmed sustainably?” She asked her question a little too loudly so that other customers could hear it.

Pescateur: “Are you kidding? This is artisan salmon. Our partnering salmon supplier — which operates off the coast of Norway using special deep water salmoniniums — harvests two salmon eggs for each salmon they sell.”

“What happens to the eggs?”

“They’re at the other end of the counter.”

“OK, I’ll take 4 pounds of salmon.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’ll take 4 pounds of the salmon, please.”

“Lady, we don’t chop these up. This is Whole Foods and we sell only whole salmon.”

“Fine, Continue reading

Should Toledo Taxpayers Pay for Aspen Art?

Here in the billionaires’ playground of Aspen, the politicians waived the zoning laws a few years ago for a monstrosity they call an art museum.

It’s a huge square wicker basket dominating a city block, with zero setback and zero architecture. This place that is supposed to display visual beauty is itself an eyesore.

Almost everyone hates it.

But not the director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson. In an artistic burst, she created for herself a $900,000 salary. Her salary is about the only permanent or valuable piece in the collection. To put that number in perspective, it’s higher than the salaries paid to the directors of real museums like the Guggenheim and the Getty.

Even so, this director of the Aspen Art Museum has a bone to pick, now that she’s picked off the easy flesh. She’s grousing that budget-conscious legislators in Washington might reduce taxpayer funding for her shtick.

It’s not that there isn’t any money in Aspen to take up the slack. In perhaps the understatement of the year, I’ll say this about that: There is. Continue reading