Tag Archive: Colorado


Un-American in the name of Jesus?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally printed in PULP)

I used to go to a lot of basketball games with my dad in Dallas. We have both been enthusiastic Mavericks fans for almost three decades, so you can imagine how excited I was when they won their first NBA championship this year.

YES!

Anyhow, before each game they go through the typical ritual of playing the Star Spangled Banner, and I would always stand up, face the flag and put my hand over my heart. But then a new announcer one year asked people to “please rise to honor God and America with the singing of our National Anthem.”

“That’s messed up,” I said.

“What?” said my dad, “They do the same thing every game.”

“Yeah but this new guy says that the Star Spangled Banner honors God,” I said, “but there’s nothing in the verse they sing at the games about God anywhere. It has nothing to do with God.”

My dad grumbled something about my lack of patriotism and turned back toward the flag. But ever since, that moment has stood out in my mind as a perfect example of one of my biggest annoyances with American culture: our tendency to comingle a Christian identity with national patriotism.

So I was particularly interested to hear that Goshen College, a relatively small Mennonite school in Indiana, had decided to no longer play the National Anthem before any sporting events sponsored by the college. The reasoning, offered in a public statement issued by the college, was as follows:

“Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”

Unsurprisingly, the decision caused a ruckus, especially once news outlets such as Fox Radio got hold of it. But even local city councilmen decried the move, suggesting that those in charge were violating “the American way,” and should relocate to somewhere like Cuba or Iran for a while until they learned to appreciate what they have here at home.

I posted a link to this news story on my Facebook page and asked people to respond. Following are a handful of comments from the many I received:

“It’s such a hard issue because the song is both a symbol and a song … I agree with the college that it isn’t a very Christian tune. It is about war. However, to ban it is, I fear, short-sighted. The song is a symbol of American unity. To ban it risks saying ‘we don’t want to be a part of the nation.’ I’m not sure that’s what they want to say.” (From a lawyer)

“I support the ban, the choice and the school’s right to make their own decision independent of the city council or any other political body.” (From a minister)

Ashley Quinn: “I wonder where the whole tradition of the anthem at sporting events started anyways. Probably something to do with the whole combative, competitive nature of many sports. I don’t think it makes any sense for a group of people devoted to peacemaking to sing it before they do anything.” (From a bartender)

Carl Gregg: “For anyone who watched the Super Bowl, there is a breathtaking mix of sports, nationalism, and military imagery. Ultimately, Christianity is trans-national, seeking to build the Beloved Community irrespective of national borders. The school is making one small step against the massive idolatry that is ubiquitous in our society of putting biological family and nation before God.” (From another minister)

“In the article I noticed people calling this anti-American. I don’t see it that way at all. Americans are at our very best when we are tolerant of others. You know, that whole ‘land of the free’ verse.” (From a retired Marine)

I’ll gladly concede that my circle for friends doesn’t represent the full socio-political spectrum, but I found the comments generally encouraging. For most of my life, it’s been sold to me that being a good Christian also meant supporting our country, wars, death penalty and all. But I think we’d be doing both our faith and our patriotism a favor if we made clear in our own minds that not everyone who is a Christian, as grateful as we may be for the freedom we’re afforded here, agrees morally with how we got here.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Energy Independence: From Crop to Tank
NewSpin
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

Energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric have a long way to go before they can begin to replace our energy consumption derived from oil. So aside from locking up our cars in the garage, what options are we left with?

One local group believes that biofuels may be at least part of that answer. Hal Holder, Joel Lundquist, and Rick young are all Rocky Ford farmers and co-owners of Big Squeeze, LLC a biofuel production facility here in our own back yard. And although most such projects are either concept projects only or tied to some nameless government or corporate entity, Big Squeeze is actually accessible by anyone with a diesel engine.

The concept is pretty simple. The Big Squeeze facility has presses and centrifuges that yield oil from plant seeds than then can be combined in a four-to-one ratio with diesel and used in everything from cars to tractors and industrial generators. This reduces the use of fossil fuels by eighty percent and attacks some other issues along the way, such as global warming, water shortages and in-state economic development.

I talked with Dr. Perry Cabot, a Water Resources Specialist in the Colorado State University system, about why this seems like a good idea. Biofuels, he explained, include anything that is considered a renewable resource that can yield usable energy.

“Biofuels are considered ‘carbon neutral’ with respect to CO2 emissions (i.e., CO2 produced during combustion is offset by CO2 used during photosynthesis to grow biofuel crops),” says Dr. Cabot. So although CO2 is released in the process, the idea is that the same amount will be re-absorbed by the plants grown for your next use.

But what about water? In a state where we’re already fallowing land so water can be used in growing urban settings, how can we think about expanding our farming?

“In desert climates, we’re always shooting for ‘more crop per drop,’” says Cabot, “Ethanol from corn takes a fair amount of water (24 inches or more) and the energy balance is tough to pin down. Some reports have documented substantial net-positive direct energy balances, while others contend that ethanol production is an ‘energy negative’ situation (takes more energy to produce than is contained in the final product).”

It should also be noted that the byproduct left after the oil is squeezed out is perfect for livestock food at feedlots. Ever seen a cow munching on a petroleum byproduct? Didn’t think so.

But crops like winter canola, which is ideal for diesel-based biofuels, use much less water than corn or other common crops. In fact, using limited irrigation techniques, Cabot suggests that farmers can even use land temporarily fallowed due to the sale of water rights to grow winter canola. This is where water wonks like Dr. Cabot come in, working with the farmers on irrigation plans, and striving for the ideal seeds that yield more canola with less water.

Cabot believes that such ideas can allow farmers in other arid climates grow valuable crops on land they have not been able to farm before due to lack of water storage or transfer. This could include economically struggling economies such as those in sub-Saharan Africa or other arid parts of the United States.

One argument against biofuels is that they impinge on land already being used for edible food, and when the product they yield is more valuable as a fuel, those depending on the crops for sustenance are out of luck (i.e., the poor and those living in developing countries). This is where using a low-water crop is particularly value, says Cabot. Ideally, the process adds arable land available to farmers, increasing their overall production rather than trading one for another.

Dr. Cabot acknowledges that the system isn’t perfect, but that it’s a critical step toward our collective goal of energy independence. “I like quote General George Patton,” he says “who used to say that ‘a good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow.’ So, until electric cars really come on line, or algae biodiesel bears out, we need something that will keep the trains moving, keep interstate commerce going, and keep tractors running so farmers can farm.

“I think oilseeds are the ‘good plan today’ that will bridge us to the newer generation of fuel that we’ll see in the next 20 or 30 years. So, my end goal is to increase the demand and production of oilseeds in Colorado, in tandem as an energy solution coupled with a water solution.”

So do we just drive up to the Big Squeeze facility with our diesel car and fill ‘er up? Not just yet, says Cabot. “Oilseed cropping, particularly canola and sunflower, is practiced in numerous regions of the Arkansas Valley,” he says. “There are ongoing variety trials in Rocky Ford (Otero County) and Walsh (down in Baca County). There is also a growing interest and some cropping of canola and sunflowers down in Lamar (Prowers County).”

The reason, Cabot says, that growth of such crops is increasing is specifically because farmers know they have a facility like Big Squeeze where they can have their oilseed processed. “Historically, the lack of crushing facilities in the area has stifled interest in using these crops for fuel, he says. “But now, with (Big Squeeze) in Rocky Ford and the expansion of the Colorado Mills facility in Lamar, the seed can be crushed locally.”

Basically, those interested in using such fuels contract with farmers to lease a certain acreage it is estimated will be needed to fulfill their energy needs for the coming year. This lease converts to credits at a biofuel co-op that can be cashed in at the time of fill-up. Currently, there are no local stations that the average Joe or Jane can access, but Cabot hopes this will change in the near future.

For more information, read a recent article on the Big Squeeze and CSU’s collaborative efforts: http://tinyurl.com/3dkn3mz.

By LORETTA SWORD | lroettas@chieftain.com

Local author and musical pastor Christian Piatt’s latest book delivers answers to questions many Christians likely have pondered but never asked anyone aloud.

“Banned Questions about the Bible” shares responses from more than a dozen contributors — a recovering consumer, a religious satirist and a seminary president among them — to questions Sunday school teachers are afraid to answer.

The respondents don’t tell readers what to believe about a book that many pastors have always insisted be taken as literal truth.
Instead, they encourage readers to give deeper thought to each topic and to draw their own conclusions.

Questions discussed include:
“Where did Adam and Eve’s kids find spouses?”
“Does God justify violence in scripture?”
“Does the Bible call for sexual purity? (and what qualifies as pure and impure?)”

Piatt says an experience he had when he was younger led him to create the Banned Questions series. The newly released book is the first.

“When I was a teenager, my youth minister threw a Bible at my head for asking questions. Too often, for various reasons, people don’t have the opportunity to ask the hard questions they have about faith, religion, salvation and the Bible. And when questions are left unanswered in communities of faith, people either seek answers elsewhere or lose interest all together,” Piatt said.

“The purpose of the series is to collect the most compelling and challenging questions from various theological areas and pose them to a panel of ‘experts’ who are challenged with responding in 200 words or less in plain English. This volume addresses challenging or controversial questions about scripture collected from people on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking media.”

The book has been endorsed by several nationally known Christian authors and is getting positive reviews.

The second book in the Banned Questions series, “Banned Questions about Jesus,” will be released in July.

Piatt, a former Chieftain religion columnist, is the music minister at Milagro Christian Church, where his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, is founding pastor.

For more information or to order “Banned Questions about the Bible,” call 800-366-3383 or visit http://www.ChalicePress.com. The book is available at Amazon.com or direct through the author.

Newspin

Pueblo Going Nuclear?

(Originally printed in PULP)

Everyone’s aglow about the prospect of nuclear power coming to southern Colorado. Given the ongoing plant disaster in Japan, it seems the timing for such a proposal could not be worse, though the plans for the 24,000-acre Clean Energy Park southeast of town were moving ahead well before then.

Lawyer and local resident Don Banner is at the helm of the proposal, which would develop in three phases. At present, he’s seeking rezoning for the giant swath of land in eastern Pueblo County for a PUD, or Planned Unit Development.

As Banner himself noted, there are scores of factors that would have to fall into place for his plan to work, only one of which is local support. But he claims, too, that the only way to bring together other green energy components of the park. such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal, is to go nuclear, to the tune of a 1,000 megawatt plant, give or take a few watts.

There’s plenty of hyperbole around such an explosive issue, so let’s set aside the Simpsons-like images of fish with three eyes long enough to get a little bit more perspective on what’s at stake.

PRO

It’s easy to hedge at plans for a nuclear power plant, reacting with a knee-jerk sense of fear. From Chernobyl to Three Mile Island, the fallout from a nuclear plant failure ain’t pretty. But Banner argues that the fears are generally overblown. Chernobyl’s substandard engineering doomed it from the start, and Three Mile Island – the only nuclear plant to fail on US soil to date – cannot be connected to any actual deaths, according to Banner.

The new plant would be far superior to either of the aforementioned plants, he says, and it would be located in a relatively remote area, buffered on all sides by thousands of acres of the Clean Energy Park. As for security, the storage facilities where the spent fuel rods are kept after use have been tested against the heartiest potential air attacks, standing firm in the face of fire.

On the upside, we would enjoy hundreds of Davis Bacon-wage jobs over the several years it would take to build the plant, followed by up to a hundred permanent jobs that pay well above average for power plant work. In addition, more than a dozen interest groups organized by Banner, from local schools to nonprofits, would share in hundreds of thousands of dollars donated back to the community.

The average Joe Consumer would stand to benefit from Banner’s proposal to contractually require the utility company that builds the plant to sell power generated to Pueblo residents, the price of which would be equal to the cheapest rate offered to any other community. Pueblo would benefit from the taxes the plant would push back into the local economy, and Banner suggests that the number of secondary jobs due to the new plant could grow into the hundreds.

Another big question is water.  We’re more or less in the middle of the desert here, and nuclear plants require water to keep the fission process under control. Though Mr. Banner points out that the volume of water needed will depend largely on what kind of plant a developer can place on the land, he projects that consumptive water use (the amount that can’t be returned directly to the water system) could be as low as 125 acre-feet per year.

CON

It’s well and good to claim no lives lost during the Three Mile Island catastrophe, but some studies have projected that upwards of 5,000 will eventually die because of complications related to radiation exposure from the site. This is not to mention the risks to the livestock, land and other natural resources which could be affected for hundreds of years or more, should an accident happen.

So the silos where the radioactive spent fuel rods are stored (on-site, by law, for at least sixty years) may be sturdy, but are we inviting terrorist attacks by having such materials lying around? And, current US law requires that the uranium be removed from reactors and stored before it reaches weapons-grade level. This means it still has the potential to be converted to weapons-grade uranium, which seems to invite trouble.

Most of the construction work would be temporary, and yet we’d be left to contend with nuclear waste for generations. And who is responsible for decommissioning the plant after its projected 60- to 80-year life? If history is an indicator, the plant operators will walk away and leave local taxpayers with the bill.

Pueblo is developing a reputation for being the dumping ground for power plants other folks need but don’t want in their own back yards. How much of the power created will actually stay in Pueblo? And doesn’t having the plant in our county warrant a little bit more of a homeboy discount?

Jobs are fine, but if folks don’t have water to drink, what good is economic development? How many hundreds or thousands of acres of farmland will dry up as a result of water purchased for the power plant, and how many agricultural jobs will dry up as a result? Will the water that passes through the plant damage the streams into which it is released? Is nuclear power our last, best hope to stem the effects of global warming, or are we just passing on the problem in another, possibly more dangerous, form to future generations? Can we afford the water? Are we even sure the net to Pueblo is positive when all is told?

And the debate rages on.

My Take

Comparing the proposed plant to the one in Japan impacted by a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami really isn’t fair. Neither is in the cards for Pueblo. And yes, modern plants have many more safeguards than those from decades past. But aside from moral, safety and security arguments, there’s the question of what we want Pueblo to be.

Will we continue to produce for wealthier communities what they need, yet refuse to provide for themselves? And will we use our limited water resources to do so, for the promise of a fleeting handful of jobs and some negligibly cheaper power? Or are we something more?

Our bountiful sun and wind position us to be industry leaders in renewable energy, setting a standard that others around the world will long to follow.  Do we want to invest in decades-old technology that may be at its apex, or should we focus on developing energy technologies that have more potential without the negative environmental impact?

We’ve gotten a start with the likes of Vestas and the proposed solar arrays here and in the San Luis Valley. But we have to believe that we’re more than a repository for the rest of the state’s undesirable industries.

Finally, we’ve created this beat of need for power with our own unbridled consumption habits. If we’re really worried about what the risks of such power sources will be for any community – not just ours, the only real solution is to reduce consumption.

It’s been said that the two-fold path to happiness includes both making more and needing less. Only one is a path that leads anywhere. We have to choose our own path.

NewSpin@ PuebloPULP.com

This is a recording of an radio show I did on KCSJ 590 AM with Randy Thurston for his show, “Pueblo Now.” We discussed the need for alternative media for a community and how consumers figure out what agenda lies behind a media outlet.
Click on the link below to hear the show on my podcast.
Christian

Deconstructing Pueblo’s inferiority complex

By Christian Piatt

(Originally printed in PULP)

If I had but one wish for our community in the new year, it would be to eliminate the qualifier “for Pueblo” from our collective vocabulary.

I went downtown a few weeks ago to hear a screaming jazz ensemble with my friend Barclay Moffitt, that took the group to new melodic heights with his tenor sax. Though still a college student, Barclay has worked on several studio recording sessions with pros, and currently is on a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Back for his winter break, he sat in with a handful of other musical savants and cranked out some of the finest bossa nova, bebop and ballad standards anyone could hear most anywhere, especially on a Tuesday night.

“These guys are really good for Pueblo,” a person nearby said in a tone that clearly was not meant to be secretive. “Where are they from?” When told all of these folks were home-grown talent, they blinked in disbelief, as if such cultural sophistication defied the laws of Pueblo physics.

These guys were good enough for most anywhere, not just Pueblo. So, why say such a thing? And why the surprise? After all, in a country of some 130,000 people, can’t we figure that there will be at least a smattering of folks who are really pretty amazing at most anything we can think of? Or do people believe that Pueblo is an exception to the rule when it comes to quality?

I asked some of our local public leaders their thoughts about this, since I’m sure they bump up against this kind of mentality even more than I do. Angela Giron, our recently elected state senator, offered an interesting anecdote related to this very subject.

“I have a friend, Theresa (she managed my campaign),” says Giron, “who is a community organizer in Pueblo with the Colorado Progressive Coalition.  Following the election, she was diagnosed for the second time in five years with breast cancer.  She is committed to receiving treatment in Pueblo but has received lots of ‘advice’ to leave town to get a second opinion.

“People seem to be genuinely shocked that she is opting to be treated in her home community.  We have had several discussions about this.

“I believe the inferiority complex stems from our identity as a blue-collar steel town.  That class bias, coupled with a geographic identity and culture that seems to find greater affinity with Northern New Mexico than the Northern part of Colorado, has historically left Pueblo (and much of Southern Colorado) on the outs.

“When you come from a community that is working class and 50 percent Latino, it is no surprise, given the history of this country and region, that we have issues with internalized inferiority.”

County Commissioner Jeff Chostner has a different perspective. “I don’t think Pueblo has an inferiority complex,” he says, “but I do think our history has made us look more inward than outward. I believe that is one of our challenges, particularly with regard to economic development, and in other areas as well.

“We are trying to do more outreach with the rest of the Front Range in integrating our economies and cultures.  As more businesses locate in Pueblo and more folks come to Pueblo County, I think you will see us take a more prominent role in Colorado and there will be less introspection.”

So is it a matter of internalized inferiority? Or are we buying the baloney that’s peddled about us up north? Maybe, as Chostner suggests, it’s more a matter of cultural isolation than it is an issue of a “less than” mentality.

Though I’d like to lean more in the commissioner’s direction, my gut tells me Sen. Giron is more on the mark. And based on my discussions with lifelong locals, it doesn’t seem like a state of mind that’s only come along since the steel bust some decades ago. Maybe it starts with what we’re telling our kids, how we help them understand their own worth and, by extension, the value of the community in which they’re raised.

I expect that, as institutions like CSU-Pueblo and international businesses like Vestas broaden the scope of who is drawn to live here, the negative self-doubt ethos will be diluted. That, or it will simply become more concentrated among “lifers” who see themselves as somehow inferior to new imports, simply because of where they come from.

I hope, for the sake of our city and its residents, that we come around to the mindset that it’s the imports who are lucky to have found us, rather than the other way around.

The flaws of biblically-based sex education

(Originally published in PULP)

It’s no shock that teen pregnancy and other related issues are a big problem in this community. It’s been that way for a long time. Various people have offered ideas about why this is and what to do about it, but little ever changes. Children keep having babies, generation after generation raise little ones in poverty, grandparents step in as parents to grandkids and the nuclear family suffers because of it all.

Everyone seems to be on the same page about one thing: Our kids need some kind of education about anatomy, sex and sexuality. But as for when that should happen, how it should be accomplished and what should be included or kept out is incredibly divisive.

One of the biggest problems is the pressure to teach abstinence-only sex education. First off, that’s not sex education. It’s propaganda for a narrow social agenda that is in denial about reality. Generally, this approach goes hand-in-hand with conveying an aura of shame about one’s body and sexual urges, and suggesting that if you act contrary to the “just say no” ethos, you are a failure, and maybe a sinful one to boot.

I agree that it would be just swell if all of our young people waited for that one lifetime monogamous relationship to come along to have sex, but this ignores some basic truths about how our culture treats sex. While a health teacher or pastor is telling you not to do it, the rest of the culture obsesses about how awesome sex is. Somebody’s not being honest here.

Oh, and did I mention that comprehensive scientific studies have shown, with little room for ambiguity, that abstinence-only sex education hasn’t worked and continues not to work?

Many people claim the moral authority of the Bible for the basis of their argument for abstinence-only sex education. But let’s consider this in a little bit of a broader context.

For one, although women of the biblical eras were not allowed to have sex outside of marriage, there were lots of cases in which men had extramarital relations. So is it just girls we’re telling to say no? Do the boys get a free pass?

Also, the whole idea of no sex until marriage presumed a different way of life back when the Scriptures were written. Most young people were married off soon after they reached the age when they could reproduce. So the time between when most folks got the urge to procreate and when they had a chance to within the bond of marriage was not that long.

Nowadays, kids are not only are entering puberty at increasingly younger ages, but we’re also waiting longer and longer to get married, if at all. So whereas a young girl might have been matched up with a suitor within a year or so of being fertile in days of yore, now we often wait 10, 20 or more years to settle down.

So maybe the solution, if we’re so hung up on literal adherence to biblical rule, is to marry all of our kids off at age 13. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

It seems to me that if leaders in faith communities focused much more on the “Greatest Commandment,” not just rhetorically, but also in modeling how to conduct our lives as individuals and as community, we’d be much better off. For those who are unfamiliar, Jesus is asked (in an effort to frame him for blasphemy, mind you) which of the Judaic laws is the most important. His response: love God with all you have and all you are, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

What Jesus lays out in this relatively simple statement is a blueprint for an entire way of living. If we remain focused on love for ourselves and for others, as fellow creatures of God, this daily practice of doing so will inform all of our moral decisions. We don’t have to worry so much about checking off an exhaustive list of rules if we simply treat everyone else as if they were a precious gift from God.

Unfortunately this is not something we can simply drop on kids in a few hours when they hit seventh grade and hope it changes their worldview. They must be taught what it means to love their own bodies, and to love others’ bodies, hearts, minds and spirits, from the time they can speak, let alone have sex. We have to get over the shame and self-loathing for our bodies that many mistakenly seem to think equals piety.

The arguments about how to conduct sex education points to a deeper neurosis we have as a society about our lack of control over our children. Nothing – no matter what the message – can make kids not have sex. Ultimately it’s their bodies and their choices. Focusing on love, and on the responsibility that loving self and others carries with it, puts us at least in a healthier frame of mind for those heavy and important discussions.

Finally, if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that people err. From Genesis on, we’re told one thing and then do another. But God’s response inevitably is to lean in favor of grace over condemnation. We’d be well served to follow such an example.

NewSpin: House of the Rising Stench
Written by Christian Piatt
December 2010

There’s a home down the street from us that’s affectionately known by neighbors – particularly those within smelling distance – as “The Toilet.” On warm days, the distinct smells of decaying garbage and slow-rotting feces waft through the air.

Gross, right? Try living by it.

The Toilet, which some might call a rental property, sits at 1724 N. Grand and is the bane of the block. In a neighborhood that has been designated “historic,” The Toilet stands alone as a monument to squalor. From the couch on the front porch to waist-high weeds and crumbling façade, the place looks like it should be condemned.

How can anyone live in such conditions? For most of the past decade no one has lived there, which is part of the problem.

The house, title to which is under the name of Robert P. Mourning, was consistently rented until mid-2003. After the last tenants moved out, the utilities were disconnected and the house sat vacant for the next six years. In the meantime, homeless people regularly broke in and made camp – bathroom included – inside the house, alongside wild animals that found shelter within the decaying walls.

For years, neighbors would occasionally mow the lawn and pick up trash left by homeless visitors in an effort to keep the place from looking even worse. The owner was nowhere to be found, and would not return messages.

When some renters finally moved in, the carpet, which by now was drenched in sewage from a backup in the lines, was tossed into the backyard along with animal excrement, garbage and other goodies. What wasn’t thrown into the yard or the garage was burned in the fireplace, creating a noxious stench that caused several neighbors to call everyone from the sheriff to the health department in an effort to get the place cleaned up.

Oh, and although the new family moved into the place, they did so without reconnecting any utilities, including water. So they used candles to light the space despite the many clear code violations. When regional building staff finally deemed the home uninhabitable until utilities were turned back on, the family simply tore down all warnings and camped inside until the sheriff’s department threatened them with serious consequences if they were found on the grounds except to clean it during the day.

More than a month later, the utilities were reinstated and the young family moved back in, along with at least eight cats and a dog. There seemed to be a revolving door on the house, with various newcomers crashing there from one night to the next. Meanwhile, the animal excrement was tossed into the backyard to mingle with the carpet and other garbage.

You get the picture.

A number of complaints were filed with the health department, and a few times Mr. Mourning was ticketed. But there were a couple of problems with the system. First, the fines cost significantly less than any of the repairs would have been to remedy the issue. Second, no one with any authority followed up to enforce the violations.

Instead, Mourning’s paid a few hundred dollars to satisfy citations over the past decade, and the festering heap of a house continues to decay before the community’s eyes and noses.

When challenged by neighbors of such properties about the relatively impotent code enforcement power the city and county seem to have in such cases, officials balked, saying that their hands are tied by state regulations. This, however, is false, since local communities can establish their own codes and consequences, so long as they are at least as strict as the state’s.

It would be bad enough if this was an isolated incident, but Mourning himself owns more than a dozen properties around town, many of which are in similar shape – or worse. If he were the only culprit, a handful of run-down homes wouldn’t be enough to create a larger negative perception of our city. But he’s not.

So, if slumlords have little incentive to change their ways, and our local officials hedge at giving more teeth or funding to the anemic code enforcement we currently have, what’s a resident to do? For one local citizen, the answer is to take the cause online.

Lori Winner started a Facebook page called Pueblo Houseofshame, inviting people to post photos of decrepit properties with the hope that community pressure would push owners and residents to clean up their act. One can also email photos taken from the street (please, no trespassing) to pueblohouseofshame@yahoo.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , along with the address and details about the condition of the site, and Lori will post it for all to see. [See sidebar.]

We all know that Pueblo struggles with an image problem with many tourists and residents from the north. But until we become more proactive about making the change ourselves, and unless regional building officials and other code-enforcement bodies get serious about making it painful for owners to let blight continue, whom can we really blame for the bad rap we have, other than ourselves?

An Update

Over the weekend prior to publication, Lori Winner, moderator of the Pueblo Houseofshame page on Facebook, posted that she had received a “proverbial shot over the bough” and was considering shutting the page down.

In response to P.U.L.P.’s inquiry, Ms. Winner said she had received word from her husband – Jay Winner, Executive Director of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District – that Pueblo police captain Troy Davenport wanted to speak to her. Though her husband gave Davenport her number, Ms. Winner claims he didn’t call her.

The week of November 20th, Ms. Winner wrote to me, stating, “[My husband] Jay’s board member told Jay on Tuesday that Davenport said that ‘police were laughing because they are going to drive by her houses.’ On Friday I [received] 3 citations on 3 different rental properties,” though she claims her properties all are “nice” and that, “The violations are ridiculous, and easily fixed at no cost.” She added, “however I am seeing this as a warning shot.”

Following her husband’s call to one of the board members who had heard the conversation noted above, Ms. Winner received a call from Capt. Davenport, who denied that her properties were being targeted in retaliation for her publicity against run-down properties and the lack of enforcement by local officials.

Davenport told P.U.L.P. that the reason he originally intended to call Ms. Winner was to invite her and her husband to observe how the code-enforcement process works in person. However, when seeking permission for this, other officials from the city told him the Winners already had been offered such an opportunity, so Davenport saw no point in calling her.

Davenport also said that he has no recollection of any such comments being made at any meeting where he was present. He also clarified that the three items issued to Ms Winner’s properties were notices of violation, and not citations, which means the property owner has ten days to remedy the violation without further action.

Davenport said that it is the policy of the code enforcement department to respond to any citizen complaint, including the cases involving Ms. Winner. He also noted that, since all complaints are allowed to remain anonymous, he had no way of knowing who had lodged the complains against Ms. Winner’s properties.

Newspin
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

By the time this goes to press, political satirists John Stewart and Stephen Colbert will have conducted their “March to Restore Sanity” and the “Rally to Keep Fear Alive,” respectively, in Washington, D.C. Seen by many as a direct response to Glenn Beck’s rally in the same city on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Stewart explained in a recent interview on National Public Radio, such a mindset gives Beck too much credit.

Sure, he’s great fodder for comedy, says Stewart, but Beck’s rhetoric really lacks any more substance than the comedy shows that parody him, though it’s arguable that Beck isn’t in on the joke.

For those who see the emergence of more vocal conservative pundits and politicians as distressing, figures like Beck, Sarah Palin and the like as fodder for derision and even fear, it seems that the tea ,party movement is giving such people a platform that is bending the public’s ear, and for some, the prospect of someone who listens to Fox News as a legitimate source of “fair and balanced” information is nothing short of terrifying.

Not so, argues Stewart. He suggests that the worry about a Palin presidency or the like actually is overblown. If we can survive a civil war among other things, he says, we can live through a less-than-capable conservative presidency.

Sounds strangely familiar, in a way, actually.

In fact, there’s a case to be made that electing someone like Palin or Delaware’s GOP senate candidate Christine O’Donnell might actually be good medicine. If moderates and progressives already are asleep at the wheel after only two years to the point that they’ll let more extreme leaders win political office, perhaps the wakeup call of the 2000-08 Bush presidency wasn’t harsh enough.

All of this begs the question: Why do the media and those who consume their product seem content to reduce political figures to little more than caricatures, and to establish fear and contempt as the baseline emotions upon which our political system operates?

Because it’s easier than taking the time and effort to learn about issues of any real importance and substance.

Who wants to read about the latest arbitration over water rights when we can follow the developing story about O’Donnell’s dalliances with witchcraft or her positions, so to speak, on masturbation? Why debate the appropriateness of NAFTA or how to tackle immigration reform when it’s so much more fun to speculate about Barack Obama’s birth certificate or read an e-il about how he’s a closet Muslim?

This dumbing down of the American voter would be easy to blame either on politics or the media, but I’d argue it’s only a viable market because we, the end-user, have created such a demand.

In a culture where People Magazine outsells The New Yorker four-to-one and there are two Maxim subscribers for every U.S. News & World Report reader, it’s easier to put analysis and critical thought into its proper perspective. And while the emotional tide of good feeling that helped usher Obama into the White House was heartening in many ways, it’s also discouraging to see how quickly such fickle emotion can fade.

And, yes, this is an entirely appropriate time to point out the irony of my observations in the pages of an alt-monthly that also contains columns on sex, nightlife and the related fluff that accompanies them. No more ironic, I suppose, than the fact that some of our most poignant contemporary political commentary comes from 30-minute shows on Comedy Central that sandwich their wry observations between fart jokes and hyperbole.

John Adams, James Madison and other of our political progenitors are no doubt turning in their graves over the dim-witted offspring their revolutionary system of governance, based upon the nobility of human integrity and the value of rigorous intellectual debate, have now produced.

In a culture where substance takes at least second chair to sensational rhetoric and character assassination, those who shout loudest garner the brightest spotlight. Politics has entered the compressed news cycle as one more distraction to be picked from an ever-running stream of detritus when we have a moment. The winners in such a context are those shiny morsels that grab our attention, which helps explain why every political speech now sounds like a string of unrelated sound bytes.

Sometimes, we have to laugh to keep from crying, which is why I’m grateful for people like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Love or hate their take on issues, it’s hopeful to have a pair of comedians who have the nerve to point out that the political emperor has no clothes, or, in this case, no substance.

NewSpin
Privacy, partisanship and political punditry
(Originally published in PULP)

I love my privacy.

In an era with more information coming at each of us in a month than previous generations experienced in a lifetime, we have to be vigilant about our mental and physical personal space. Whereas we began as hunters and foragers, now we expend a similar amount of energy holding things at arms’ length.

I have three different spam filters on my e-mail accounts, siphoning out nearly all of the junk from my e-mail box before it lands on my laptop. I’m on every do-not-call and do-not-mail list I can find, and the absence of clutter that results is nothing short of blissful.

Then comes election season.

For years I identified myself as a progressive independent, reserving my fidelity to a case-by-case assessment of the candidates available. This varied widely, by the way, as I lived everywhere from Chicago to Seattle and several points in between; it seemed to make more sense to stay neutral until someone provided me with enough motivation to pick a side.

It wasn’t until I ran for Pueblo school board several years ago that I saw the inherent advantage of being a part of a political party. Registering as a Democrat for me was almost like finally taking the plunge with a longtime girlfriend and popping the question. Our values had largely aligned for long enough; now we were official.

My fellow Democrat activists did their part to support my candidacy, for which I remain grateful, despite my loss. But since then I continue to question my affiliation with a major party once again, given the blizzard of mailings, robo-calls and TV advertising that we get buried under for months around every election.

There’s a fine line between being informed and being overwhelmed or even coerced. Though I believe the major parties act more or less above board and in accordance with election laws, I can’t help but feel that I’m just barely surviving every election cycle. What’s more, having been a candidate, I know that many political rainmakers actually can ascertain whether you voted or not. I can’t help but feel like someone — Big Brother? The godfather? — is watching me.

Finally, My biggest concern remains the continuation of a broken, two-party system. It seems we’re caught in a loop where the Republicans take the majority, then suffer ignominious loss under the white-hot microscope of modern media, being exposed and then leaving the door open for the Democrats to claim the next cycle. The Dems, in turn, get beaten up for similar allegations of fiscal impropriety, scandal or, more likely, just routine ineffectiveness. And on and on it goes.

So the balance shifts back and forth every two, four, six or eight years, rendering the whole system somewhat impotent as more and more time, money and energy go into which party has 50 percent plus one, and thus is able to subjugate the other almost-half to its will.

I’m starting to believe that the only solution is for a third party (or maybe more) to gain enough of a foothold that neither major party can expect to hold the majority. I’m no friend of the teabaggers — excuse me, tea partiers — but I certainly understand their discontent. As a Democrat, I’m actually encouraged by the potential effect they’ll have on the Republican base, but it’s only a matter of time before the greens or some other progressive group kicks the donkeys in the proverbial rump.

So what’s the solution? Do I break away and support a third party, hoping it will someday lead to consensus-building, but also knowing it may hurt the cause of those candidates with similar ideals to mine? Or do I toe the party line, helping continue to feed a political beast I am afraid is actually doing more harm than good to representative democracy?

With November looming, it’s only a matter of months — maybe days — after that until we start talking presidential politics and the 2012 showdown. It seems there’s so much at stake, both in the short and long terms, that neither solution presents a satisfying outcome.

On the upside, these political pamphlets and flyers are going to make one hell of a bonfire, come winter.