Envelope: Jeffree Peas, Colorado
We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.
PolySci at 12,000 Feet
Mr. Fayhee: My first letter to your publication. Feel ever free to edit liberally. I always manage to miss the submission deadline for poetry, for your Rivers issue and photos of The Best Dog on the Planet (who is named Dylan and is Hopi, born in Tuba City to the Rez Dog clan, for the Rescue Dog clan) for your Mountain Dogs issue. But something happened yesterday that warrants recording in some public venue, and since I’m sitting beside the Dolores River in the foothills of our beloved San Juans, and the story took place on the Continental Divide at Monarch Mountain Ski Area, your mag comes most to mind.
There was a contingent of soldiers at Monarch this week. I showed up on a Friday, day-six in a row tele-skiing five different areas in a last hurrah with my Monarch pass. The mountain was bedecked in desert-camo fatigues, which I took notice of before I’d even leashed my skis, being newly not-quite-single-it’s-complicated. The kid soldiers on the slopes had minimal cause to shave yet, which was heartbreaking. The guys in the lodge were older — thinning hair, some graying — and wore more of a “been-there, done-that” look, and I’m sure they had been, and had done.
I hadn’t talked much to anyone all week, riding chairs by myself, masticating on life and love. This day I wanted intel. I have a dear friend in the Special Forces who had been deployed to Afghanistan at the age of 50, just after 9-11. I learned from him only weeks after that invasion that not only was an attack on Iraq in the works, but that SpecOps was already there. Inconceivable — what the hell did Iraq have to do with anything? A few months ago, an Iranian handyman named Farhad was building me a new deck. His father was secret service for the Shah before the revolution, and every male in his family had been beheaded. Farhad himself had escaped as a teenager through the snowy mountains of Iran, found asylum in Japan and then America, and will soon have U.S. citizenship. He told me back in December that the reason Obama pulled the U.S. troops out of Iraq early was to have them available for the planned invasion of Iran. What? Three months ago this sounded ridiculous. Now, not so much. A lot of saber rattling lately.
From quizzing my civilian chairmates, I quickly learned the skiing soldiers were army, made up of units from Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, and were on the mountain for “winter conditions training.” I did not get into geopolitical discussions of why this was ominous until I rode up with a 65-year-old retired CSU professor who was also a Vietnam vet. I told him that he certainly had earned the right to voice whatever he thought about a potential U.S. invasion of Iran, and he chuckled a little, “yeah, I do get to have a kind of street cred on this one.” We pretty much finished each other’s sentences about why Iraq and why Iran, and the last word was habitually “oil.”
The next chair I shared with a third-year poly-sci student from Florida, out on spring break. His university-version of upcoming events was analytical, but surprisingly inevitable. At 20 or 21 years old, he’d been a kid when the towers came down, and he was not so much callous as cavalier about the need for us to invade yet another Middle-East country. He guessed that Israel would strike first and we’d have to go in to clean up the mess. But he was certain from his university-led discussions that the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan had not been learned, that the U.S. was still hopelessly naïve about what comes after the invasion, and that it was a shame what would happen to these guys in camo fatigues skiing here today.
Which brings me to an aside: desert camo fatigues in the snow? Really? Please tell me that our guys and girls in the Hindu Kush are not wearing desert camo. Reminds me of the jungle camo worn by the soldiers on the spaceship in “Aliens.” Jungle camo in outer space — really?
Eventually, I rode up with a young volunteer, in his desert camo fatigues, nary a facial hair yet sprouted. So polite, and willing enough to answer my open-ended questions. He talked about how hard it was on the lungs at 12,000 feet, coming from sea level, that he’d never seen snow in his life until yesterday, and how it was important to learn to snowshoe and set up camp in the cold. He said, “Well, we went into Iraq because we thought there were weapons of mass destruction. Turns out we were wrong, but this time we KNOW there are, so we have to go take care of them.” Lord, I wanted to hug the kid and say — no, not “thank you for your service,” but “sweetheart, please be here next year.”
A couple evenings before this, my 12-year-old god-daughter in Avon had been working on a homework assignment on the Iraq war. “We went to war with Iraq because Saddam Hussein threatened President Bush’s dad, right?” I held my tongue and my breath until her mom — a nurse in her late-50s with street cred similar to the Vietnam vet’s — answered, “We went into Iraq because of oil, Emma.”
“Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
… Oh when will we ever learn?
Oh when will we ever learn?”
Here’s to the young soldiers whooping it up at Monarch Mountain in March 2012. I hope to God you’re back next year, and I’ll buy you a beer, if you’re old enough to drink by then.
Remembering Cal Glover
Dear John Fayhee: My husband and I have been traveling to Teton Valley for the past seven years. We were drawn to the area because of my husband’s friendship with Cal Glover. They were both in high school together, specifically in the same German class — Cal would introduce us to all his friends out west in German, quickly adding that they met way back when in Ft. Lauderdale High School, but Bob went north to Massachusetts and he jumped on his motorcycle to head West as a young man of 18 to Yellowstone. If you know Cal, you can just picture him saying this, and in the same breath asking “Where you all from?” and maybe even adding a story or two. His passing was a sad shock to us. Our visit there in February was difficult but glad to be able to see Kim Carlson, his widow, and offer our sympathy to her in person. Reading the Teton Valley newspaper, I saw your notice/website about his writings from past issues and the most recent story about his dog, Toby. I just wanted to tell you it was a fitting tribute to Cal and we so appreciated seeing his collective writing in print.
Thank you for honoring his life by his stories.
Sir: Had to respond to the “Arrested Development” Smoke Signals column in Gazette 186. Wow. I mean … wow. I guess nobody likes to give up their freedom unnecessarily, but really …
Let’s see: You admit to disliking law enforcement even as a kid because you engaged in “recreational windshield smashing” and they presumably stopped you. Not a single word about how the folks whose windshields you smashed felt about it. I suppose now if some young punk does some recreational windshield smashing on your personal vehicle, you wouldn’t have anything to say about it, right? Since any kind of infringement on a kid’s desire to wantonly destroy other people’s property is just, like, the man being all heavy and stuff.
But, okay, what you did as a kid was totally cool, and nobody should push you around and tell you to stop destroying other people’s things. Hmmm. But then you get your panties in a twist about living in an area with lots of drug smuggling going on, and having to be waved through checkpoints. I had to reread the piece just to be sure I understood. You object to being waved through checkpoints, or, at the absolute most, having to answer the simple question “Are you an American citizen?” This you equate with living in “police state.”
Would you like to know what it’s actually like to live in a police state? The cops don’t just wave you through a checkpoint. They stop you and demand money. Or they haul you off to pokey. Then they demand money. And that’s if you’re a white American, ergo privileged. If you’re a local, it can be much worse. They are most definitely not “courteous and professional.” And Lord help you if you write a public column, or even private letter, describing them as “zygotes” or “midgets.”
I might agree with the all-cops-are-pigs line if you could describe behavior like, oh, a dirty cop who breaks taillights like some redneck Southern sheriff from the ’50s. Then you might have a point in your screed. But as you say repeatedly in your column, the police you by your own admission were “messing with” were nothing if not courteous.
When folks treat you respectfully it behooves you to return the favor. If you want to carry a chip the size of Texas on your shoulder, well, that’s your right. But while you do it, you ought to be da** glad you’re living in America and not an actual police state. I thought the Mountain Gazette was a fun, funky, independent paper. This one column just made me a future non-reader.
Pro-‘Arrested Development’ #1
Hi John ! Recently I spent 10 days in beautiful Southern Colo. Stayed a few days in Durango, a few in Pagosa Spgs. Ski’d both & totally enjoyed myself & the wonderful San Juan Mtns! I happened to pick up a copy of Mountain Gazette #186 and enjoyed several interesting & well written articles. My favorite was your piece: Smoke Signals — “Arrested Development.”
I can’t tell you how very similar we are in our feelings regarding law enforcement and especially the Border Patrol. I won’t go in to all the details, but needless to say, you and I share a lot of common feelings and have had many very similar experiences. Interestingly, pretty much all of my friends feel the same.
I have lived in southern AZ (Tucson) for 40 years, and in the last few years, the Border (where I used to trek and explore backcountry and camp a lot!) has been ruined by BP! There are so many things wrong with this. Your article covered nearly all issues, very well. Additionally, I will add that gun trafficking into Mexico has been enabled by “border police.” (I forget the name of the incident, but it was in the news). Also, the most horrendous murdering along the border was actually done by that deranged Minuteman (Anglo) crew that broke in and killed that family down in Arivaca.
I am much more nervous & afraid of meeting BP than I am the occasional “illegal(s)” along trails or backcountry roads.
Thank you for your writing and your work putting out a top-notch publication.
Pro-‘Arrested Development’ #2
Dear Mr. Fayhee: Like many of your other works, “Arrested Development” packs a punch with refreshing lack of inhibition, factual accuracy and entertaining prose. While I largely agree with your portrayal of modern law enforcement, I submit that the problem is much worse in scope and severity than unpleasant traffic stops and intrusive questioning by “pimply faced” tweenie cops near the Mexican border.
From forest rangers issuing parking tickets at trailheads to TSA strip searches at the airport, the number and variety of uniform-wearing, gun-toting agents of the law is at an all-time high. In spite of state and federal budget crises, there’s seemingly no lack of money to wage war, abroad or domestically. But our military-like buildup is not limited to our Southern border. For example, that notorious hotbed of crime and illegal immigration, Fargo, North Dakota, recently acquired bomb-detection robots, digital combat communications equipment, Kevlar helmets and a $265,643 armored truck with a rotating turret. Google it if you dare. At roughly 100,000 Fargoan souls, that’s $2.65 for every man, woman and child spent on one police truck. Sure, it comes with a gun turret, but, aside from Fourth of July parades, what the hell are they going to do with it in Fargo? This isolated example is representative of a nationwide trend. If this stuff can happen in Fargo, well, so go Billings, Boise and Bend.
Though I might sleep easier knowing that the streets of Fargo are safe from wayward Canucks, I’m deeply concerned about America’s troop withdrawal from two wars. While the thousands of returning combat soldiers have honorably served our country, they are going to be largely unemployed and possessing of a skill set centering around warfare. Because we’ve been an occupying force in Iraq and Afghanistan the past 20 years, today’s soldier is also highly trained in traditional police functions including detective work, interrogation techniques, crowd control and arrests. Thus, since 9/11, cops have been trained & armed like soldiers and soldiers like cops, and it’s a safe bet that many returning vets will seek a career in law enforcement.
As for the mushrooming police population, consider it a federal jobs program like the CCC of the 1930s, but with PTSD thrown in. I say this with no disrespect, but out of common sense and legitimate concern. I’m sure that some of these men and women will make fine police officers. Many, however, will have not only discharged their weapon in the line of duty, but taken human life in combat. On the other hand, very few cops ever discharge their guns directly at another human being while on the job, let alone actually shoot and kill one. The prospect of a new generation of hardened combat vets filling our swelling police ranks should concern us all.
On a more mundane level, the very nature of police work has changed radically in the past 20 years, and for the worse. Increasingly detached from the people they supposedly protect, cops no longer help old ladies navigate crosswalks, drive Otis to the Mayberry jail to sleep off another bender or even perform basic crime-solving. Such fuzzy-bear love is a waste of good money. Police cruisers are now profit centers on wheels whose captains are expected to meet predetermined quotas of money that is poured back into the system in a self-perpetuating cycle.
Though your editorial is limited to encounters with cops, most people who don’t work in or around the legal system typically don’t appreciate the fact that cops are but robotic minions to the Darth Vader of law enforcement, prosecutors. These hyper-religious, politically motivated, self-righteous, suit-wearing, briefcase-toting demigods, who are promoted on the basis of successful and high-profile convictions regardless of truth or justice, have been given god-like power by the United States Supreme Court in the form of “prosecutorial immunity” for all deeds and misdeeds committed in the course and scope of employment. Completely immune from their often-miscreant behavior, prosecutors answer to absolutely no man and certainly not the people they purportedly serve.
The methods by which prosecutors do evil include the obfuscation,
distortion and, if all else fails, complete fabrication of the facts, suppression of evidence, lying, engaging in nefarious legal tactics, advancing absurd interpretations of the law and basically doing most anything to obtain a conviction upon which their financial, social and political lives depend. To make matters worse, the vast majority of prosecutors are non-elected, government employees, no different than a city building inspector, but with the power to destroy another’s life. Prosecutors’ actions are all too often motivated by their religious beliefs, personal agendas and the delusional belief that they have the omniscience of god. But absolute power combined with absolute immunity will corrupt any human.
Unfortunately, your statement that we are declining into a “police state” is a fait accompli. Good luck to us all.