Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Humanity and Security: Can There Be a Balance?

How should the United States and other countries react to the current refugee crisis?  As we read and watch stories of families, women and children in particular, fleeing the violence, death, and hunger in Syria, we see an obvious and evident need to provide meaningful humanitarian service to include a place of refuge.  Yet, in light of the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the possibility of terrorists making it into the the US on the coattails of refugees, it makes the safety and security of the homeland a legitimate concern.

How do we provide needed humanitarian relief while ensuring the safety and security of our homes and families?  Does our own security outweigh the plight of all of those refugees who now have only their lives to lose?  Do we freely open our borders to 10,000, to 100,000, or to more without question?  Do we shut our borders and allow none of those from Syria into our country?

I believe we can retain our humanity and help without being reckless with our security, but it will take caution, patience, and understanding.  We need to observe closely what has happened in Paris.  Did those terrorists truly come into Europe with the Syrian refugees?  If so, how did they do it?  Can we prevent something similar from happening here?

We need our government to explain to us in sufficient detail, while maintaining necessary operational security, how they will vet refugees coming into the United States.  Where are they coming from before they enter the US?  What is the vetting process and demographic parameters?  What will we do to keep track of refugees once they enter the country?  Our government should provide us a review of the success and failures of previous refugee relocation programs.

We need to think about and discuss how we can best help any refugees who will be relocated into the US.  Where do we place them?  What assistance do we provide?  Is it good to provide them employment opportunities or should they not be allowed to work in order to protect jobs for Americans?  How long do we allow them to stay?  How long have we allowed other refugees to stay?  What is the cost of bringing them in and how will we pay for the program?

We need to avoid making judgements based solely on race, ethnicity, and religion.  Refusing help and engaging in hateful dialogue will only make such problems worse and more widespread.  I believe we will be playing into the terrorists hands if we engage in such behavior.  Too many people in this country and throughout the world don't understand the methodology of terrorists.  Violence and fear are not the aim of the thoughtful and resourceful terrorist.  Rather the terror and violence are aimed at eliciting certain responses from various groups.  One common response that terrorists seek is an increase in hate and decrease in trust.  Much of the dialogue we are seeing today is playing into that desired response.

But again, at the same time, we cannot label caution as ill-aimed hate and fear.  

A wise response has room for humanity and patience, but it requires a good degree of transparency.  Let's develop a well-thought out assistance and relocation plan and take the time to do it right.  Let's set aside the hateful dialogue.  Let's demand that our government provide us answers and explanations for what will happen without simply lecturing us.  

Our biggest challenge is and will be the unwillingness of Americans to set aside political agendas, hate, fear, and uncertainty.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Coat, the Russians, and the CIA

After almost five years in Henderson, Nevada my blood has thinned to dangerous levels.  Temperatures in the fifties tonight forced me to don a heavy coat to watch the Green Valley High School Marching Band.  It was almost embarrassing, but with everyone else wearing coats I didn’t stand out.  The coat, a heavy black wool one, I wore tonight is one of my all-time favorites.  Since I bought it about a year before we left Colorado Springs to move to Henderson, it still feels like a new coat.  I wore it for a winter in Colorado Springs and now just rare occasions when visiting Utah and Idaho or when coolish weather hits southern Nevada. 

Anyway, tonight as I put the coat on, I felt some crinkly paper in the interior pocket.  Curious about what receipt or candy wrapper I may have had in there, I unzipped it and pulled it out—a newspaper clipping from the English version of The St. Petersburg Times dated Friday, February 19, 2010.  I pulled it from a paper during my last visit to Russia.  The article that drew my interest is titled “Dispersing the CIA Myth”, by Yevgeny Bazhanov, at the time a vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.  (He is now the president of the Diplomatic Academy.)  Looking back through the haze of Maidan in Ukraine and the subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russia, I find the article intriguing.

So, for everyone’s reading pleasure, here is the article:

It has become customary in recent decades to blame the United States for every catastrophe afflicting the planet — from tsunamis to revolutions. Before the United States, it was the Jews who were blamed for the world’s problems. In medieval Europe, for example, Jews were said to have spread the plague — and, ironically, the accusations were most virulent in those regions where Jewish people didn’t even live.

Governments have often blamed foreign elements for instigating revolutions. Opponents of the 1789 French Revolution considered it the fruit of an English and Lutheran plot, and Russian authorities considered the Decembrists to be French agents. Bolshevik leaders were thought to be agents of the German military, and Adolf Hitler viewed the Bolsheviks as part of a global Jewish plot. The capitalist West invariably implicated Moscow in national liberation movements of the 20th century, and the Kremlin was convinced that every right-wing dictator was a puppet of Uncle Sam.

But the truth is that all of these political upheavals were the result of internal forces. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many Russians thought that it was caused by the Central Intelligence Agency. No doubt, Washington did concoct various schemes during the Cold War to weaken the Soviet Union and possibly hasten its collapse — for example, drawing Moscow into an arms race by launching the “Star Wars” program and conspiring with Saudi Arabia to precipitate the collapse of oil prices in the 1980s.

But accusations that the CIA alone caused the Soviet Union to collapse are ridiculous. Why do Russians seemingly hold the CIA in such high regard? It can’t even uncover the simplest intelligence, much less cause the collapse of the Soviet Union. Take, for example, the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Shah Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, a close ally of the United States, had been ruling the country, and various individuals operating as U.S. agents filled his inner circle. Nonetheless, the Islamic revolution, which had been brewing for years, came as a complete surprise to the shah and his cohorts. Then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter summarily fired the CIA chief and decided to conduct a thorough housecleaning at the agency.  

Nor did anybody in the CIA expect that the collapse of the Soviet Union would occur as soon as it did. After it happened, the U.S. Congress ordered an investigation to determine why the intelligence service did not predict the Soviet collapse, much less organize it.

The key reasons for the Soviet collapse had little to do with the United States. The reasons were internal, of course — not least among them were the perestroika reforms introduced in 1987 under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who understood that the economy had no chance of surviving without at least a modicum of democratization and economic liberalization. But those democratic reforms ultimately caused the already weak Soviet foundation to collapse. The political kettle had been boiling for years, and as soon as Gorbachev opened the lid even a tad, the country experienced a violent overflow of opposition to Soviet rule in the Baltic states and an outbreak of interethnic fighting in the Caucasus. The political explosions sharply exacerbated the country’s acute economic woes.

Things did not go well for the former Soviet republics either after they gained independence. People expected conditions to improve, but instead they witnessed the emergence of oligarchic “bandit capitalism,” which resulted in a huge gap between the few rich and the many poor. The great disappointment, disillusionment and chaos in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union paved the way for new “color revolutions” in three former Soviet republics. The West may have funded some of the opposition forces, but it is ridiculous to claim that it caused these revolutions.

The Feb. 7 Ukrainian presidential election proved that the hyped-up claims of Western subversion in its color revolution was patently false. Conservative groups in Russia love to claim that the Orange Revolution was designed in Washington and that Yushchenko’s victory allowed the United States to control Ukraine and dictate Kiev’s “anti-Russian” policy. But when Yushchenko received only 5 percent of the vote in an election declared democratic by all international monitoring groups, this was a crushing defeat not only to Yushchenko, but also to the fearmongers in Russia who claimed that Washington had completely orchestrated the Orange Revolution. On the contrary, thanks to the democratic Orange Revolution, Ukrainians were able to remove an unpopular, pro-Western president through free elections.

Yevgeny Bazhanov is vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.

(The article was also in The Moscow Times; see link above.)

Also, for an exciting recap of my last trip to Russia, please check out this post:

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Master

Today the master woke me from a sleep, well deserved and peaceful.  
“Opportunity is slipping by,” said he, “with each tick of the clock.”
I cleansed, dressed, and groomed; my meal did not make me full.
“Quickly to the shop,” demanded the master, “It’s time to shape rock.”

A lump of material in hand, the master insists I give it meaning.
Upon the shelves sit forms and figures, successes and failures bygone,
My present task a thing new, a challenge perhaps beyond my doing.
“A skill tried, a talent gained. a basic step to progress won.”

Exhaustion, tedium, excitements, distractions beset, entice, and mount.
Perchance it is enough, I consider, this small creation mostly fashioned.
Yet the master drives me, “Halfway, partway does not, can not count.”
“The best, the most, must be given for effort as worthy to be deemed.”
The piece now complete, but not in harmony with my plan designed.
“Oh, it is well.  You gave the day your full measure, the best was done.”
Experience past employed, knowledge and skill new is obtained.
“You know now what you lack; lasting failures there need be none.”

At end of day, on my knees thanks, glory and honor given to my King
Firm is my commitment, deep and solid is my resolve for the morrow.
I, I am the master answerable for the effort and desire that I bring.
My own reason essential, my will vital; As master, those I cannot borrow.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Mass Shootings in America: Solution Out of Sync with National Culture

Another mass shooting under our belts here in America.  Somehow it happened in a gun free zone, where the only one armed was the shooter.  I've listened as the news has lauded how quickly the police department responded and saved more people from being shot.  I applaud the efforts and actions of law enforcement, but the eight minutes it took them to respond was sufficient for the shooter to kill several people and wound others.

In terms of gun control laws, unless you're in favor of banning all vehicles on the road, I'm not really going to listen to your arguments to restrict access to guns.  Vehicles kill more people than guns, and that's mostly by accident.  Get rid of the bigger threat first and then I might listen to you about the guns.  (Kind of feel the same way about those opposed to vaccinations.)

Instead let's look at some other likely causes of violence wherein a firearm is the weapon of choice.  First, mental health problems tend to be a leading factor in mass shootings in the US.  What has changed in our country in terms of mental health that leads to and allows for such public violence?  What did we do in the past that worked that we aren't doing now?  Second, the disintegration of the traditional family unit and strong neighborhoods where everyone was interested in raising responsible and well balanced children.  The destruction of the family and a cancerous sense of entitlement free of responsibility, I think, prevent people from developing into responsible citizens.  In connection with this trend, I think that more parents are hesitant to provide the help needed to children that are suffering from personality issues and mental health problems.  There seems to be a fear of reaching out for additional help, maybe because that help isn't proving effective.

Because of the second amendment, and because places like Detroit and Chicago that have strict gun laws lead the nation in gun related murders, it is unlikely that the government will succeed in removing all guns from the hands of all citizens.

Do we have the courage, or even the capability, of addressing the other issues that contribute to such events? If we don't, they will continue to happen.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A New Reality: Putin, Obama, and Syria

Think back to conditions in Russia in 1998.  Russia’s already struggling economy is bearing the cost of the first war in Chechnya and the weight of declining production and severe exchange rate problems.  A financial crisis in Asia, which began in 1997, and a decline in demand for crude oil, negatively impacted Russia’s financial reserves.  As a result, in August of 1998, the Russian government defaulted on domestic debt, devalued the ruble, and declared a moratorium on payment of foreign debts.  It was an embarrassing and painful outcome after years of struggling through attempts at democracy and experiments with the free market.  Granted the efforts at reform were stunted by rampant corruption as oligarchs enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of the economy.

Less than a month before the default a former KGB officer, with a career that was not more than average before the collapse of the Soviet Union, was appointed head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), one of the successor organizations of the KGB.  As an employee of the KGB, Vladimir Putin burned sensitive Soviet documents in East Germany as the Berlin Wall fell.  While he sent requests to Moscow for directions, he received silence in response.  A defender of the Communist Party and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics watched as the Party and the Union crumbled. 

Fortune changed for the former KGB officer in 1990 when Mayor Anatoly Sobchak of Saint Petersburg appointed him as an advisor on international affairs.  Following a new path to power and wealth, it appears that Putin began to enrich himself during that time.  Other opportunities and promotions in the city government followed, including an appointment as First Deputy Chairman of the Government of Saint Petersburg.  When Mayor Sobchak lost his bid for reelection in Putin was brought to Moscow, having gained a sufficient degree of recognition. 

Despite his personal successes, appointment as the head of the FSB and increasing personal wealth, Putin was forced to watch again as Russia was embarrassed and weakened domestically and internationally.  To the West, Russia was seen as a sick patient, worthy perhaps of pity and care, but not of too much fear.  Some fear was warranted due to fears associated with the security of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.  In fact, the US and other nations sent in teams to make sure that Russia was correctly safeguarding their nuclear stockpile.  The weakness of Russia, a sign that its greatness was in the past, was highlighted by the first post-Cold War expansion of NATO.  In March of 1999 the former Soviet satellites Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO, taking the expansion to the borders of Russia in Kaliningrad and to the borders of Belarus and Ukraine.

A year after the 1998 government default, Putin was appointed acting Prime Minister of Russia by President Boris Yeltsin.  In December of 1999, a few short months after being appointed Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin became the acting President of the Russian Federation.  Putin won his first election as president in March of 2000.  He served two successive terms as president, a four term as Prime Minister, and is now in his third term as president.  During that time he has continued to watch as the EU and NATO have expanded.  In 2004 Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined NATO followed by Albania and Croatia in 2009. 

For now, let’s set aside the fact that Putin, a defender of the Soviet Union and a believer in Russian greatness, watched everything collapse and experienced the shame of economic, political, and military weakness underscored to the world at large.  Now let’s turn to focus on the historical and political thought that drives and forms concepts of Russian national security.

Russia’s geography has left it open to invasion from multiple peoples and nations.  In response the Romanov family spent centuries building and expanding the Russian empire.  Russia’s leaders believed that security and safety were possible only by created a large buffer around its borders.  These expansionist policies meaningfully impacted international relations and domestic politics.  Russia’s neighbors were subsumed into the Russian empire, some to gain independence for short periods of time.  Other nations, on the periphery of the Russian Empire, lived in varied degrees of fear of invasion or armed intervention.  The advance of Russian troops into Paris to defeat Napoleon frightened all of Western Europe.  While the nations of Europe adhered to the balance of power concept encapsulated in the Treaty of Westphalia and the Congress of Vienna, Russia sought security by subjugation of border states, or near abroad.

In terms of domestic policy, the sheer size and geography of the Russian Empire required, in the minds of its leaders, a firm, domineering hand to ensure stability.  Competing ideas and programs were not tolerated.  The creation of a civil society involved in political issues was not encouraged.  In fact any attempts at civic participation was quickly dissolved and dismantled.  The influence of foreign political thought into Russia was often severely curtailed.  Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, while admiring the accomplishments of Europe, concluded that western political ideas were anathema to Russia’s political stability and continuity.  As a result, the ascension of the Communist Party through the soviets was not too different politically in terms of Russian history, culture, and tradition.  (The drive to modernity, however, was a significant change, seen by many Russians looking back as painful and beneficial.) 

Today we have a Russian nationalist, Vladimir Putin, who experienced a considerable defeat of his country and who is now in power.  For the past decade and a half he has patiently reasserted state control over the body politic while strengthening the military and positioning the country to regain control of some of the near abroad to include the Ukraine, seen by most Russians as a natural part of Russia.  Vladimir Putin is behaving, as we should have expected in seeking increased national security and the ability to project power at home and abroad.  The expansion of NATO occurred, in large part, to forestall a return by Russia to past policies and behaviors.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, Putin has the advantage of a US president with a weak foreign policy, who is beset by repeated failures.  While Russia has returned to a historical pattern of international relations in pursuit of traditional national interests, the United States has experienced a departure from policies that worked in the past.  President Obama has turned away from using its economic and military power to help maintain the balance of power in the world’s trouble spots to include eastern Europe and the Middle East.  While President Barack Obama has dreamed and acted for a better world in violation of reality, President Vladimir Putin has stepped into the power void. 

Here’s a short list of what President Putin sees as US failures and proof of US weakness:

-       Abandonment of missile defense system in East Europe

-       Failure to obtain a status of forces agreement in Iraq

-       The return of the Taliban in Afghanistan

-       The rise of ISIS/ISIL in Iraq and Syria

-       The abject failure of moderate groups to come to power in the Arab Spring in places like Egypt and Libya

-       The unwillingness of the US and Europe to react significantly to the seizure of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine

-       The willingness of the US to enter into an agreement with Iran that will heavily benefit Russia

Today we are seeing another significant sign and a step to reassertion of Russian power in Syria.  The failure of President Obama and the West in the Arab Spring increased the instability in Syria.  ISIS and other rebel groups rose up against Assad, a brutal dictator.  Today there are no good options for helping Syria; there is no way to put anyone in control of the country.  (We learned in Egypt and Libya that we it is unlikely that moderates will rise to power in the face of Islamic radicalism and despotic state actors.)  As a result of this weakness and confusion, President Putin has put Russian forces directly into Syria with aims that are not in line with US aims.  Putin had the audacity, because of the low risk involved, to demand that the US cease all flights in Syria and then attacked CIA backed rebels in Syria.

If the seizure of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine was a strong enough sign of defiance and resurgence, then Russian military action in Syria should be seen as over the top.  Unfortunately, the facts on the ground and in the region essentially leave the US powerless to limit the actions of the Russians.  Our ineptitude and weakness make the prospect of Russian military action almost seem desirable because it likely will bring stability to Syria.  But, at what cost to US power and overall stability in the region?  What will a strong Russian influence in the Middle East mean for Israel and access to energy resources for the rest of the world?  Today in Syria, a single pilot from the United States or Russia may decide national security decisions of significant import as they face the prospect of opposing missions in the same air space involving the same forces.  This is where we find ourselves today.

At this point many of our NATO allies in East Europe are wondering what the future holds for them.  The states of West Europe have failed for decades to provide any meaningful military value to NATO.  Their militaries are small and underfunded.  Instead, they have relied on the US.  In the past this reliance meant that the US had significant influence in foreign affairs in Europe.  Too many states in West Europe thought the threat of Russia was gone forever.  As a result, they dropped funding for their militaries even further and thumbed their noses at US influence in favor of pursuing the economic goals of the EU.  Add to this the abdication of leadership by our current president, and you have an Alliance that appears unwilling, and perhaps unable, to flex its muscle or use its teeth.

We are starting to see the states of East Europe react.  Some are moving willingly toward the Russian embrace.  Others are looking for greater assurances from their NATO allies, especially the Baltics and Poland, those states who have regularly been subsumed by the Russian Empire of the past. 

How will the US and NATO respond?  Will they allow themselves to continue to fade into obscurity and ignominy?  What will that mean for the region?  What has it meant in the past when an aggressive country has been appeased for the sake of peace and economic pursuits?  How long before the US realizes the danger of foreign policy based on hopes and dreams that ignore reality and the national interests of others?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Improving our Dialogue in Social Media

Social media, in all of its forms, has provided us with an amazing method for communicating with family, friends, colleagues, and perfect strangers.  Personally, I think it is an effective way to keep up with my parents and siblings, who live in different states.  We are able to provide updates and photos.  On short notice we can ask about a favorite recipe or for a needed fix-it tip.  I also enjoy using social media to track reputable news sources in order to stay current on the local, national, and world happenings. 

Different social media platforms also allow strangers connected by issues and interests to carry on a dialogue.  I enjoy the opportunity to learn from those that share my opinions, values, and beliefs; and I value the opportunity to discuss topics with those that have different perspectives, beliefs, and values than I do. 

As a forum, the Internet makes people comfortable behaving in ways that most probably wouldn’t in polite, personal company.  I’ve reached the point where I avoid the comments on the most innocuous of Internet articles.  Some people seem to have a need to be negative in the case of any level of disagreement.  Some want to argue with others on every issue.  Anger and an overwhelming desire to be right drive many people in their online dialogues.  Sadly, they fail to realize that, (or don’t care), that anger-based arguments are ineffective.  Belittling and belligerent language doesn’t change minds or hearts; rather it tends to push those with other ideas to entrench themselves further.

Social media is an amazing platform for freedom of speech, but many individuals seem to lose their minds whenever someone states an idea, belief, or principle that doesn’t match up with their own.  People will argue for the right to speak their minds, but would refuse others the same right in case of any disagreement.  It’s seems, almost, that with the advent of the internet people finally began to realize that there are multiple, competing ideas and beliefs in the world—and even more shocking, we have learned that some of our very own family members, friends, and colleagues have ideas different from ours.  Being offended shouldn’t be our default, or even reasoned, reaction to most dissimilar ideas.

People cling to the rights granted by the First Amendment in support of their one-sided dialogue, but have no problem when others are quieted.  Confusion also seems to drive claims to the protection of the First Amendment.  Many seem to think that the First Amendment gives them the right to say anything they want with absolutely no consequences.  In their mind, those who agree with them should be able to say anything, no matter how potentially offensive, in any setting without consequence.  Yet, they would never consider it acceptable to allow someone that disagrees with them to come into their homes, their places of worship, their businesses and spout offensive ideas.  Of course, we have the right, in this great country, to say what we want and to share our ideas, but there will be consequences of saying things at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or to the wrong people.  I can lose my mind on my boss at work; tell him what I think of his poor management.  It’s unlikely I will be prosecuted, but I probably will lose my job or opportunities for promotion.

Another result of social media and Internet is the decaying value of news on the internet.  Opinions are now represented as facts, and facts as absolute truth.  Multiple news sources, of questionable integrity and reliability have arisen, many with competing viewpoints and agendas on all sides of different issues and political persuasions.  Even “reputable” news outlets are becoming looser with their reporting, giving into the need to scoop stories and internal agendas in exchange for accuracy and importance.

Hopefully this blog post doesn’t fall into the categories that I describe above.  My goal is to call all of us, especially me, to a higher standard of dialogue.  More often than I would like, I find myself feeling offended by what others have written or shared on social media.  I’ve had to work hard to be careful about my reactions and what I write.  It’s important for me to avoid strident and aggressive language.  I think I can do that while still expressing myself, and formulating arguments in support of my ideas and values.  If I can’t do so without getting angry or engendering anger, then I may not have a very good argument. Today I’m careful about engaging on controversial topics and I’m very careful about who with I engage.  I’m not shy about sharing items in support of my values and beliefs, but I’m careful about how I do it—careful, but of course not perfect.

As I struggle with the climate on social media and my response to it, I fall back to the ideas shared by Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I think he teaches a better way, a higher way, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ without being offensive to those who might not share his beliefs.  He said the following:

 “Many in this world are afraid and angry with one another.  While we understand these feelings, we need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions.  This is especially true when we disagree.  The Savior taught us to love even our enemies…there are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as Jesus Christ lived and taught.  I invite each one of individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior.  It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable.  Violence and vandalism are not the answer to our disagreements.  If we show love and respect even in adverse circumstance, we become more like Christ.”

I also hold to the concept taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said:

“We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

Meaningful dialogue can only take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

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.