Friday, August 14, 2015

Celebrating Fair Time

August in Utah and Idaho is a time for county fairs.  Unfortunately I missed one of my favorites last week, the Duchesne County Fair.  As part of the fair this year, Duchesne County celebrated 100 year anniversary of its founding.  This included a song written and performed by Charley Jenkins honoring Duchesne County.  I won’t lie; I may have felt a bit emotional as he talked about each of the county’s high school mascots.  Here’s a link to the video:

It’s interesting to note that while our family moved there in 1979, a Van Wagoner played a significant role in the creation of Duchesne County.  In 1913, William L. Van Wagoner of Wasatch County, a member of the state legislature, sponsored an amendment to the state constitution authorizing the creation of new counties.  The amendment was introduced specifically to allow for the creation of Duchesne County.

While I didn’t make it to the Duchesne County Fair this year, I did make it to the Oneida County Fair in Malad, Idaho.  My oldest son showed a pig this year as part of the 4-H program.  In the past we’ve watched him and my two older daughters show and sell lambs and pigs.  Before that I watched as my wife’s brothers and sister showed and sold lambs, pigs, and steers at the fair.  For over 30 years my father-in-law, as the University of Idaho County Extension Agent, he ran the county 4-H program—needless to say the fair is a deeply ingrained part of life for my wife’s family.

This year we arrived on Wednesday night, the day before the pig show.  My wife and I slept outside under the stars, as we like to do, just in time to see the amazing Perseids meteor shower.  Living in the Vegas Valley we don’t get to see many stars in the night sky.  In the span of the twenty minutes I managed to keep my eyes open, I counted over a dozen meteors streaking across the Milky Way.

My son had a good year showing his pig.  He and this year’s pig were much more prepared than he was last year.  He came in number three for showmanship in his class.  Unfortunately, his pig barely made weight so he got a red ribbon for quality—a source of embarrassment for his grandfather.  The auction is tomorrow.  We’ll see if he can match the $900 plus he made from his pig last year.

Thursday afternoon we had to bring in the flock of ewes so that twenty of them could go to the rodeo for the mutton busting.  Anyone who has ever tried to herd sheep, know that they can be contrary.  In the end I managed to get all thirty of them to follow me while shaking a bucket with just a few cups of grain.  I felt like a political candidate from the Democrat Party—a large group following based on the hope and promise of something insufficient to provide any relief and that actually ended up with them in servitude—but I digress.

For a number of deep-seated reasons, I always get emotional at the beginning of a rodeo, when Old Glory comes streaming into the arena on horseback.  I feel a deep sense of love for my country and the power of the small, close-knit communities that make this country great.  To properly celebrate the event, we bought hamburgers and fries right there on the rodeo grounds.  It’s hard to beat the taste of fair burgers.


Two things made the night memorable.  First, was the Calcutta auction as part of the stock saddle event.  In the Calcutta auction, the person who bids on and wins the winning rider wins 60% of the funds raised through the bidding process.  The person who wins the second place rider wins 40% of the pot.  A number of the riders were well known for their skills or were local riders.  As a result, they each managed to bring in anywhere from $60 to $120.  One rider, Anthony Brown, was receiving no bids—he was an unknown commodity.  In an act of confidence, he placed a $25 bid on himself.  Nobody tried to outbid him and he won the marker for his ride, a chance at the pot that totaled just over $600.

Anthony Brown came out as the fifth rider and scored 84 points, a score that would not be beat.  Mr. Brown paid $25 in the winning bid on himself when nobody else believed in him.  He walked away with an additional $400 in his pocket because of his belief in his abilities.  There is a powerful lesson in that.

Second, at the end of the rodeo we found we had an interesting companion with us as a spectator.  I took his picture (below).  He looked back at me just as intently as I looked at him.

Next month my father-in-law will be the Grand Marshall for the Eastern Idaho State Fair.  Here’s to many more fairs and many more rodeos and the celebration of a wonderful way of life. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Trump, a Statesman? Not even -ish.

Donald Trump is running for the GOP nomination for the office of President of the United States.  The more he opens his mouth, however, the more it seems he is suffering multiple personality disorder.  

Consider what he said about Mitt Romney’s suggestion about self-deportation during the 2012 presidential campaign:

Interview with NewsMax
“He had a crazy policy of self deportation which was maniacal.  It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote.”

“The Democrats didn’t have a policy for dealing with illegal immigrants, but what they did have going for them is they weren’t mean-spirited about it. They didn’t know what the policy was, but what they were is they were kind.”

And what is he saying about immigration today?

 “I like Mexico.  I love the Mexican people.  I do business with the Mexican people, but you have people coming through the border that are from all over.  And they’re bad.  They’re really bad.”

“You have people coming in, and I’m not just saying Mexicans, I’m talking about people that are from all over that are killers and rapists and they’re coming into this country.”

In terms of politics, do we really know who or what he is?  Consider some of his previous political donations as detailed below.

“The real estate mogul and ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ host has made more than $1.3 million in donations over the years to candidates nationwide, with 54 percent of the money going to Democrats.”

“Recipients include Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), former Pennsylvania governor Edward G. Rendell, and Rahm Emanuel, a former aide to President Obama who received $50,000 from Trump during his recent run to become Chicago’s mayor…”

“The Democratic recipients of Trump’s donations make up what looks like a Republican enemies list, including former senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), Rep. Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and the late liberal lion Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.).”

Of course, he made donations to Republicans during the same time.  It makes sense for such a prolific businessman to cover all his bases and grease all the necessary palms.  Still, such patterns of donations for one who is running for president as a Republican should raise some eyebrows.

Most recently Donald Trump elected to disparage the service and courage of Senator John McCain.  Interesting coming from a man who likely has someone pick out his socks and underwear for him each day. 

“He’s a war hero because he was captured.  I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”

Rumors are circulating that Donald Trump may be a secret Democrat trying to dirty the waters for Republicans.  What would such a plant do?  Say derogatory and inflammatory things about a growing voting demographic in the United States?  Donate money to all of the major political players in the opposing party?  Offend veterans by disparaging the service of a decorated war hero and prisoner of war?  Shoot, it seems almost any time Trump opens his mouth he’s offending someone.

I think the more likely explanation is that he has one of the largest egos in America and loves attention.  But I repeat myself. 

Republican support for Donald Trump is more than a bit embarrassing.  I think he is managing to drive dialogue on some important issues but not in a positive way for Republicans.  He is making it more difficult to talk seriously about issues vital to the nation.  The more fringe, and some main stream, members of the GOP continue to humor him, the more damage that will be done.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer Politics - 2015

We've had a number of politically significant events this summer from Supreme Court decisions to exponential growth of GOP presidential contenders to confusion about ISIS/ISIL.  As I read the news, nobody hears as I shout my opinions.  (Of course, I usually just shout internally, giving myself a headache.)  Here's a brain dump on a few issues.

First, the issue of the Confederate Battle Flag in South Carolina.  My mind cannot comprehend the hatred that would lead someone to commit such an evil act that led the nation to a discussion of the Confederate Battle Flag. My heart cannot plumb the depths of the sorrow and heartache experienced by the family and loved ones of those killed.  The fact that the Battle Flag flew on the grounds of South Carolina's capitol building had little to no affect on those shootings.  Yet, the flag is a reminder of an unsavory past.  While for some its symbolism may capture the sacrifices of southerners committed in an attempt to maintain a way of life and state sovereignty, to many it is a reminder of slavery, rebellion, and Jim Crow laws.  When you add the fact that the Battle Flag was added to the grounds of the state capitol as a protest against civil rights, sort of a flag raising for those in support of segregation and racism, it becomes more understandable of why people would question its location.

The debate regarding the state flying the flag was timely and appropriate.  The decision in South Carolina to remove the flag from the capitol grounds was, in my opinion, the right one.  The Confederate Battle Flag was not outlawed.  Individual citizens may continue to fly and display it.  Other groups and organizations may continue to display it.  The state government simply elected not to display it, in essence removing government support for a complex symbol that brings pain to many.

(On the issue of state sovereignty and state rights, I'm of the opinion that the southern states have done more to strengthen the Federal government than anything any liberal state has done.  How?  First, by committing rebellion and giving cause for the Federal government to enforce its will and existence by force.  Second, by the introduction, promulgation, and defense of despicable Jim Crow laws.  We would have been better off if the South had figured out how to get rid of slavery on its own and how to introduce and practice fair treatment under the law.  Their unwillingness and inability to do so resulted in the Federal government doing it for them.  This has had a negative impact on the federal-state relationship for other states on many different issues.)

Second, what a big summer for the Supreme Court!  Without getting into depth on my opinions, I just want to mention one name--Chief Justice John Roberts.  Reading his opinions on the same-sex marriage case and on the Obamacare case, I really have a hard time believing that the same person wrote the same things.  Is multiple personality disorder sufficient cause for impeachment from the Supreme Court?  It seems the man will say whatever to justify what he wants to do with no thought for the Constitution, the meaning of words, or the proper role of the Supreme Court.  I bet his wife hates making his dinner--one day he loves potatoes au gratin and the next day he doesn't.

Third, I'm throwing my hat in the ring for the GOP presidential nomination.  I think we all should since it seems everyone is.  We're looking at a potential His Excellency, President Bush the Third or the Return of the High President Clinton.  I think there a couple of potentially good choices on the GOP side and some terrible ones (Trump, Christie, Cruz, and Paul).  And just to understand how far left the Democrat Party has now shifted, the best alternative they have to Hillary Clinton so far is a Socialist.

Fourth, it now appears that President Obama's primary national security advisors believe that our greatest threats are Russia (chuckle at Mitt Romney) and ISIS/ISIL (good thing they're just the JV).  But, we have managed to give Iran a pathway to nuclear armament. 

I'm sure there's more, but for now I'm out of wit.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bridging the Gap: Law Enforcement and Community Relations

Today parts of our country seem ready to come apart along racial and social seams.  The causes and solutions of the larger program are beyond my scope of understanding and problem solving.  Racial issues, while not what they once were in this country, linger.  Racial tension has morphed into an institutional problem that is difficult to trace to any one source, making any one solution unlikely.  Answers can’t be found in political ideologies.  Both parties have tried to fix the problem.  Both have failed.  Both parties have those who sincerely want to create the conditions for a positive change.  Both parties have those who will use race as a stepping stone to greater power and influence.  Ideological fixes have exacerbated or mutated the problem into something more complex. 

One key societal interaction continues to impact communities at large, often leading to violence and calls for more violence.  The intersection of members of the black community and law enforcement, specifically in areas with poor economic performance and a large number of minorities.  Such areas are potential tinderboxes.  In places were the interactions, perceived or real, are bad enough, any tragedy can lead to greater tragedy.

While I don’t think we have the knowledge, wisdom, or capacity to address the root causes of the overall crisis, I do think we can alleviate some serious symptoms.  Perhaps by taking some first steps in addressing this symptom, we can develop the ability to see more clearly, understand more clearly and make other meaningful changes aimed at the root causes.

Two key elements are at the center of troubled relationships between law enforcement and the affected black community and individuals—trust and communication.  Without one it’s very difficult to have the other.  At some point both sides, all sides, involved in the relationship need to agree to begin doing one or the other—trusting or communicating.  It would be best if they could do both at the same time, but baby steps may be required.

I propose the following steps be taken by law enforcement and municipal leaders and respected leaders in the black community in cities where there is a recognizable problem.

First, there should be a sit down meeting of law enforcement/municipal leaders and a variety of leaders from the black community.  Each person in attendance should express their goals for the community and their perception of the problems in terms of racial interaction with law enforcement.  This session should be a listening session that is moderated by a third-party.  I believe that they would find some common ground in terms of desires for a safe and more prosperous community.  I also believe that, if the various parties listen, some understanding of other perspectives will begin to have an impact.  The very act of being able to speak clearly to the other side can be beneficial.  I suggest that the conversations take place privately, behind closed doors without the media present.  A report of this initial conversation can be released to the public after it takes place.  This may not be viable, but it may help reduce the likelihood of participants grandstanding to score political or public relations points with their constituencies.

Second, all parties should agree to an in depth look at the situation.  A third-party should be hired to do the following:

-       Conduct community polling among all ethnicities regarding the perception of law enforcement-community relations and the role of race in those interactions.

-       Conduct a polling of all law enforcement officers in the agency and their perception of community relations and the role of race in those relations.

-       Conduct a review of conviction rates and sentencing statistics broken down by crime and race.

-       Conduct a review of the law enforcement agency’s policies and history of race-based complaints.  The goal would be to present findings that show which complaints are founded and which is not.

-       Conduct a review of public statements made by law enforcement/municipal leaders and black community leaders.  The goal would be to identify statements that were helpful and which were needlessly inflammatory or harmful.

Third, all parties will attend another meeting where the results of the third-party review are discussed.  This meeting once again will focus on listening.  Attendees should be open so that they can develop a more clear, unbiased picture of reality and the steps that will be necessary to find common ground and to begin a serious dialogue.  Not everyone will agree with all of the findings.  That is not necessary to begin the dialogue.  The goal is to identify gaps in perception relative to a more objective look at the big picture.

Fourth, a series of interactive meetings will take place.  The parties will discuss each of the major findings.  Attendees initially will focus their remarks on what they can do to improve the situation relative to the findings.  As each attendee offers up ways they and their constituents can improve the situation desires and perceptions will move toward common ground.  Productive dialogue has the potential to allow for concessions on issues that are meaningful but not restricted by principled beliefs or values.  Law and order can be maintained while recognizing and protecting the rights and concerns of the black community.  This concept is central to the dialogue.  Law enforcement and municipal leaders must not be asked to sacrifice law and order in exchange for anarchy.  The black community can demand and receive fair and transparent treatment.

Fifth, a robust community-policing program must be put into action.  The program must be developed by and specifically for the members of the community and the law enforcement agency.  Among many possibilities, a community-policing program should consist of at least some of the following:

-       Law enforcement and municipal leaders should attend community events and arrange for moments of meaningful dialogue.  Community and cultural understanding must be deepened.  They must come to understand the challenges facing community members and the impact they might have on law, order and potential interactions. 

-       Community leaders and members should participate in appropriate law enforcement activities to understand the perspective of law enforcement.  They should go on ride-a-longs.  They should participate in various training events to include use of force training.

-       A board of review should be put in place with members from law enforcement and the community.  The board will review community complaints and questionable issues of use of force.  Recommendations and findings by the board should demand serious consideration.  The reasoning for actions and decisions of law enforcement agencies should be explained clearly to the board and open for discussion

What can we hope to gain by all of this?  Trust through dialogue and transparency.  Law enforcement leaders need to be able to trust that when a community leader comes to them with a concern or a complaint, that it is something credible.  Community leaders need to know that they will receive the information that the information they receive from law enforcement leaders is timely and credible while accepting the fact that at times legal concerns may delay the release of that information.  With this type of trust, law enforcement agencies and community members will begin to work from the foundation of shared goals and understanding.  The lives and rights of community members and those of law enforcement officers will be placed on equal ground by all of those involved.  Police officers will monitor themselves to make sure they are behaving properly.  Community members will monitor themselves to make sure that their members are behaving properly.  Both sides will address actions and reactions to poor and improper behavior civilly and legally.  The law will be enforced and crime punished more fairly.  Communities will be safer for everyone.

To reiterate, these steps will address a symptom only.  They do not have the power to heal some deeper issues.  They do, however, offer a start, a place of beginning.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Escape on the Lake

Quiet and gray, crispness in the air

Clouds and surface combine in one

Snowflakes fall heavily into dark water

Pulling on the oar, my breath freezes

The shore recedes, gray water surrounds

Mountains rise above our cabin set on a hill

Snow attaches slowly on evergreen needles

Ripples run outward from the silver canoe

Horses in the pasture stamp feet

Field lays fallow, yellow stubble wetted

Fowl paddle by as all shapes fade away

Isolation embraces and nature encircles

Lying back, staring up; sky is falling

Thick, wet crystals land gently on bare skin

Solitude is my blanket; silence my music

Weight and worry slide off, melting away

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Memories of the Duchesne County Fair

Who remembers watching the horses come off the side of the mountain as they would sit back on their haunches and slide down?  Usually their rider would be out in front holding onto the reins, running and sliding just in front of the horse.  Eventually they would reach the bottom and drop out of sight momentarily…then in a mad rush horse and rider would come galloping through the river and into the rodeo arena.  As a young boy I knew of a few people who rode in the Crazy Horse Race year in and year out.  It seems most of the riders were younger guys who didn’t know better yet, but there were a few experienced riders that continued to race.

At the end of every summer I looked forward to the Duchesne County Fair.  Shortly after my family moved to Duchesne my dad was put to work fixing the old wood rodeo stands, repairing seats, gates, and fences.  I loved to spend time with him as he put up new lumber and painted it as the fair approached.  My dad, Reed Van Wagoner, would go on to serve on the Fair Board for several years and as Chairman for some of that time.  His service on the Fair Board and his work as a deputy sheriff allowed me to spend a significant amount of my time around the fair as it was set up, executed, and closed up.  I remember when the Blue Fair Building was brand new.

For a year or two I had plans to be a bareback rider in the Little Buckaroos rodeo.  I never made it, but one year, with a brand new set of school clothes on my body, I won the greased pig contest.  Both my dad and I got in trouble when I got home that night, but I did win a bag of Jolly Ranchers.

My dad was on the Fair Board the year the old rodeo arena was replaced.  I think he was Chairman of the Fair Board that year.  It was fun to go down every day or two to check on the progress, to watch the new chutes and announcer stands put together and to watch the huge light poles go up.  

That year Charly McClain put on a concert at the fair.  Sitting up front with my parents and family friends was a cool treat.  At one point in the concert Charly McClain asked for a ten year old boy to come up to the stage.  I happened to be 10 that year, the summer before I started sixth grade.  My dad shoved me a little and told me to get up there, but I hesitated, not sure if I wanted the attention and uncertain what would happen.  Suddenly one of my dad’s friends sort of grabbed me and threw me out in front of the stage.  Pretty soon one of the stage hands had me by the shoulder leading me up on stage where the beautiful Charly McClain took me by the hand.  I was thrilled and terrified at the same time.

She told the crowd that she was going to dedicate the next song to me.  Before she started she leaned over and whispered in my ear.  In the days and weeks afterward several people asked what she whispered to me.  I told most of them it was a secret.  But, here is what she said to that ten year old:

“The music is going to be really loud.  Don’t let it scare you.  Just smile and squeeze my hand.”

As they started the song I recognized it from the radio.  My mom always listened to KNEU 1250 AM at the house and car and I had heard this song more than once.  She started to sing the song “Men”.  Here are the lyrics and a link to the video.  Looking back, it may have been a little grown up for a ten year old, but I just kept thinking that a beautiful woman is holding my hand in front of my family, all of my friends, and everyone in my hometown.

Some men treat you just like a lady
Others treat you just like a child
And they can drive you so far away
Or they can drive you wild

Some you wanna show to your mama
And some you wouldn’t show to your dad
Some wanna take you straight to the altar
And some just wanna take you to bed

Women, I’m here to tell you about ‘em
Men, we couldn’t make it without ‘em
I’ve loved a few and I’ve a few that need a friend
There’s nothin’ better than men to hold
There’s nothin’ better than men

Some men are as cold as December
Some are ‘bout as hot as July
Sometimes they fill your life with happiness
Sometimes they make you cry

Women, I’m here to tell you about ‘em
Men, we couldn’t make without ‘em
I’ve loved a few and I’ve found a few that need a friend
There’s nothin’ better than men to hold
There’s nothin’ better than men

As she finished singing the song she turned to me and leaned over to give me a kiss.  In shock I turned my face away…I think I remember hearing a few gasps in the crowd.  Then, I came to my senses and turned back.  She kissed me on the cheek leaving a beautiful mark from her dark red lipstick.  The crowd roared and my knees felt weak. 

As I left the stage, I was given an autographed picture and a Charly McClain hat.  I took that hat to school every day for the first month of school.  I remember when Mr. Lowell Caldwell, our principal, came to my desk.  He saw the hat and asked: “What was better? The hat or the kiss?”  It wasn’t even close between the two.  (I was jealous later when I found out that my mother had lunch with Charly McClain and her husband Wayne Massey at the El Cid.)

Other concerts followed through the years—Pam Tillis, Earl Thomas Connelly (who was very drunk during his concert), and others, but none were as good as the Charly McClain concert.

I loved watching the rodeos from the announcer’s stand where I could watch the cowboys with their gear preparing to ride the rough stock.  I loved watching the demolition derbies and the horse pulls.  I loved listening to the corny clown jokes.  I loved walking through the displays in the Blue Fair Building.

Two summers ago I took my family back into town and we spent some time at the fair and the rodeo.  My kids loved the parade down Main Street, even with the rain.  They loved the food from the vendors outside the rodeo grounds.  Growing up my mom always warned me not to buy food from a certain food vendor.  As we asked one of my friends for a recommendation she shared several, and then, more than 20 years later, she gave me the same advice regarding the same food vendor—“Don’t buy food from there.”

As I’ve lived all over the United States and traveled abroad, I’ve come to realize how truly special it was to grow up in a place like Duchesne.  The Duchesne County Fair was and is an amazing opportunity for family, friends, and neighbors to come together every year and celebrate the community and way of life.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

When Fear Replaces Faith, Cowards Act: Terrorism in France

There are no justifications for the terrorist act that took place in Paris this week.  The cowardly and coldblooded murder of 12 individuals is a sign of weakness of those who committed the act.  I am no fan of satire directed at religion, except perhaps in those cases where religion crosses the line into international and domestic politics.  Radical, and other forms of Islam, cross the line into politics which invites the commentary of the world at large.  Some of the commentary, especially with such a diverse pool of believers, is going to be painful to many.    

While I may not agree with some of what was published by Charlie Hebdo, I do believe in their freedom of expression.  Our French compatriots know that free expression can and does make for a stronger and freer society.

Often satire can feel painful to those who are the targets, especially when sacred things are ridiculed or made light.  As a practicing Mormon, I’m familiar with the feelings generated by occasional public or personal ridicule for my religious beliefs and practices.  Words, however, are truly dangerous only when they present a threat.  While I do not know of the actual motivations driving the cowards who murdered 12 individuals, I will venture a guess.  I suppose that they felt their faith, either personal or that of the wider world of Islam, was threatened.  Perhaps they felt that the cartoons in the magazine threatened to destroy their personal beliefs.  Or perhaps they felt that it threatened to destroy the beliefs of their family, friends, and personal believers.  Either way, it seems to me that these terrorists, and any and every person who cheers or supports what they did in any way or measure, sees the foundation of Islam as a delicate structure, one that could be pulled down or damaged by the work of some French writers and cartoonists.  It seems in a moment of their own crisis of faith they sought to punish others. 

How sad this reality must be for those terrorists and their supporters?  Faith cannot be strengthened by meaningless acts of violence.  Anytime faith rests upon the need to commit violence against those with opposing ideas, it is no faith at all but only fear.  The words of non-believers, no matter how harmful, should not be a cause for violence.  If words of criticism are accurate, make positive changes.  If words of criticism are inaccurate, seek to correct them.  If you can’t correct inaccuracies or vulgarities, ignore them and live by faith.

Peaceful followers of Islam should condemn the violence of these terrorists in no uncertain terms.  Condemnation of these terrorists does not equate to approval of the work of Charlie Hebdo.  Condemnation of these terrorists equates to recognition of the value of life and freedom.  Condemnation of these terrorists equates to a faith that is strong and firm.  Then peaceful followers of Islam, if they so desire, should defend their faith through words and kind deeds.

My heart bleeds for the freedom loving people of France.