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Neil Peart, R.I.P.

Posted by Richard on January 10, 2020

It saddens me greatly to learn that Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart has succumbed to brain cancer at the much too young age of 67. He was one of the best ever and a fine human being. If you’re a Rush fan, I’m sure you feel the same way. He will be sorely missed.

I agree 100% with Jonathan Adler about the award-winning film “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.” It’s wonderful, and rewarding viewing for Rush fans and non-fans alike.

Thank you, Neil, for the wonderful music and memories.

Dave Grohl:

Grohl on Peart

UPDATE: I just finished watching a documentary I hadn’t seen before, “Rush: 2112 and Moving Pictures.” It’s available for free on Amazon Prime Video, and I highly recommend it as well. It traces the band’s history with a primary focus on the two albums that are arguably their most important and enduring, and includes some fascinating commentary by the band and others regarding the music on those albums.

The song “Limelight” (from Moving Pictures) is Neil’s effort to come to terms with the positive and negative effects of celebrity. Regarding that, he uttered (with a laugh) this memorable quote: “I didn’t want to be famous, I wanted to be good.”

You were, Neil. You were the best.

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Yappy Hew Near!

Posted by Richard on January 1, 2020

It’s well past midnight here in the nationally neglected Mountain Time Zone, and thus 2020 for me. The fireworks off to the west have begun to die down (all those Latinos in Lakewood sure do love their fireworks). In the living room, a 2003 Fleetwood Mac concert is playing on AXS TV (“Landslide” sounds pretty good). The prosecco bottle is getting pretty low, and I’m trying to ignore the two slices of anchovy and jalapeno pizza in the fridge.

To anyone reading this, I wish you and yours a wonderful new year. I’m going to drain that prosecco bottle, maybe listen to a little more Fleetwood Mac, and call it a night. And a year. And a decade.

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Champagne, or something like it

Posted by Richard on December 31, 2019

Happy New Year’s Eve! Planning on celebrating with some bubbly tonight? Here’s a marvelous ditty from the musical Gigi to get you in the mood:

[YouTube link]

(Yes, I’m a politically incorrect, toxically masculine, cis-hetero gun nut who also happens to like good musicals. Wanna make something of it?)

There are many sparkling wines. But by decree of the French government (a.k.a. cheese-eating surrender monkeys), only sparkling wines bottled in or near the Champagne region of France may be called champagne. And you pay a premium price for that appellation.

So here’s a pro tip: you can get an Italian prosecco sparkling wine of similar quality for a fraction of what you pay for a bottle of champagne. There are also plenty of California sparkling wines. The good ones are probably similar in price to a good prosecco.

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Give thanks for property rights

Posted by Richard on November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you’re enjoying this day with family and/or friends and thinking about all you have to be thankful for. It may not occur to you, but you should spend a moment being thankful for property rights. That’s the point of a decade-old post of mine about the real story of Thanksgiving, which I urge you to read. Back then, this blog was hosted at, and a search for that phrase returned my post as the first, or at least top 5, result for several years. Those canny Scots who ran Blog City had some mad SEO skills, I guess.

John Stossel, whom I consider a national treasure, addressed the same topic at Reason yesterday (emphasis added):

The Pilgrims were religious, united by faith and a powerful desire to start anew, away from religious persecution in the Old World. Each member of the community professed a desire to labor together, on behalf of the whole settlement.

Actually, he’s wrong about that. As my post (link above) noted, they were forced into this communal arrangement by their sponsors.

In other words: socialism.

But when they tried that, the Pilgrims almost starved.

Their collective farming—the whole community deciding when and how much to plant, when to harvest, who would do the work—was an inefficient disaster.

That went on for two and a half years before Bradford and the others decided something needed to change. For more details, see my post above or Bradford’s book.

His answer: divide the commune into parcels and assign each Pilgrim family its own property. …

Private property protects us from what economists call the tragedy of the commons. The “commons” is a shared resource. That means it’s really owned by no one, and no one person has much incentive to protect it or develop it.

The Pilgrims’ simple change to private ownership, wrote Bradford, “made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.” Soon they had so much plenty that they could share food with the natives.

The Indians weren’t socialists, either. They had property rules of their own. That helped them grow enough so they had plenty, even during cold winters.

When property rights are tossed aside, even for the sake of religious fellowship or in the name of the working class, people just don’t work as hard.

Why farm all day—or invent new ways of farming—when everyone else will get an equal share?

But once Bradford created private lots, the Pilgrims worked hard. They could have sat around arguing about who should do how much work, whether English tribes or Indian ones were culturally superior, and what God would decree if She/He set rules for farming.

None of that would have yielded the bounty that a simple division of land into private lots did.

When people respect property rights, they also interact more peacefully.

At this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, if people start arguing about how society should be run, try being a peacemaker by suggesting that everyone should get to decide what to do with their own property.

If your uncle wants government to tax imports or thinks police should seize people’s marijuana, tell him that he doesn’t have to smoke weed or buy Chinese products, but he should keep his hands off other people’s property.

If your niece says everyone loves socialism now, remind her she has enough trouble managing her own life without telling the rest of the world what to do. When families don’t agree, they certainly shouldn’t try to run millions of other people’s lives.

In America today, religious groups practice different rites but usually don’t demand that government ban others’ practices. Private schools set curricula without nasty public fights. Businesses stock shelves without politicians fighting about which products they should carry.

All those systems work pretty well. That’s because they are private.

In most of our lives, private ownership makes political arguments unnecessary.

I’m thankful for that.

Amen. Did anyone bring blueberry pie? What time does the game start? Pass the wine!

And again, a most Happy Thanksgiving to all who read this!

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Remember the vets

Posted by Richard on November 11, 2019

On this Veterans Day, please make a contribution to an organization (or two, or three) that supports veterans or active-duty military personnel. A couple of my favorites are the VFW and the Wounded Warrior Project.


To those who have served, and to those who serve today:

Thank you.

It Is The Soldier

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Charles Michael Province, U.S. Army

Copyright Charles M. Province, 1970, 2005

The Signaleer has a nice history of Remembrance Day, which begat Armistice Day, which begat Veterans Day, and he includes the classic World War I poem, In Flanders Fields. Well worth a visit.

On this Veterans Day, as always, I remember my late father, Col. Samuel R. Combs. The obituary by Robert Denerstein published in the Rocky Mountain News on August 28, 2006 (copyright Rocky Mountain News 2006) follows. I especially appreciated Denerstein’s line at the end of the second paragraph, highlighted.

Samuel Raymond Combs stopped celebrating his birthday in 2001. It wasn’t that Combs, 85 at the time, fretted about his advancing age. No, scrapping birthday plans had more to do with the fact that the 27-year military man was born Sept. 11, 1916. For the deeply patriotic Col. Combs, celebrating on Sept. 11 became impossible after the events of 9/1 1/01.

Col. Combs, who died Aug. 16 at age 89 in Knoxville, Tenn., as the result of complications from a fall, neatly fits the profile of what has become known as “the Greatest Generation.” He answered his country’s call even before the phone rang, volunteering for the Army after Pearl Harbor.

Born in Joplin, Mo., and raised in Colorado after his father relocated to Glenwood Springs, Col. Combs attended Glenwood Springs High School and graduated from Colorado State University.

He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps. A few days after DDay, he landed at Omaha Beach, serving with the Seventh Army, 26th Infantry Division. Col. Combs later was part of the postwar administration in Berlin and Heidelberg, Germany, and in Vienna, Austria.

Col. Combs also fought in the Korean War, but like many of his generation, he wasn’t big on war stories.

“He didn’t talk much about it,” said his son, Richard Combs, of Denver. “He talked a little more about going to CSU and playing football.”

Despite his father’s reticence, Combs noted his father’s military accomplishments included the Legion of Merit, Military Order of Scabbard and Blade, Defense Department Commendation Medals and four Battle Stars.

“My dad was a complex person,” said Combs. “The relationship he had with us kids was pretty rocky for a long time. But I’m glad of the fact that we became friends and were able to express our love for each other.”

Combs knows his father’s strengths were of a kind that turned men like him into the country’s backbone.
“He didn’t talk about how he reacted when Pearl Harbor occurred,” Richard said.

“But I know he expressed a number of times that he really loved the Army: the discipline, the structure and the camaraderie. By the end of World War II, he probably decided to make it his career.

“He had some great strengths, and I guess that’s what we talk about when we talk about the ‘Greatest Generation.’ They came out of the Depression and into the Nazi threat. We owe those guys a lot. They really sucked it up when they had to suck it up.”

Col. Combs’ daughter Linda Palmer of Alcoa, Tenn., concurred. “He was very brave,” Palmer said. “He was so devoted to his country.”

If old soldiers are supposed to fade away, Col. Combs didn’t quite follow the plan.
“A week before he died, he was out driving his car,” Palmer said. “He was determined to live life his way to the very end.”

Col. Combs married several times and settled in Knoxville in 1968 after his retirement from the military. His former wife Margo, the mother of his children, died in 1973. Another former wife, Mary, died in 2004.

“He had the virtues of the others of his generation,” Richard Combs said. “He had a great capacity to love others and especially to love his country. He had a great sense of honor and duty, and he took pride in his military career.”

Services for Col. Combs were held Aug. 19 in Knoxville; burial followed on Aug. 20.
Col. Combs is survived by his wife, Dorothy, of Knoxville; a son, Richard Combs, of Denver; daughters Margo Walsh, of Punta Gorda, Fla., and Linda Palmer, of Alcoa, Tenn.; three grandchildren; and three greatgrandchildren.


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Posted by Richard on September 19, 2019

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day! Please enjoy the day responsibly. You could run afoul of federal laws.


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The story of The Falling Man

Posted by Richard on September 11, 2019

it was, to my mind, the most horrifying, gut-wrenching part of a horrific day: perhaps as many as 200 or more people plunging to their deaths at 150 miles per hour because that was better than the fate that awaited them if they stayed in the upper floors of the World Trade Center North Tower.

There was one iconic photo, taken by AP’s Richard Drew, that quickly became famous and then quickly disappeared. Hundreds of newspapers published it once, and many readers expressed outrage. It was just too horrifying, too painful; it was exploitative; this man had a family! All the photos and videos of people falling to their deaths disappeared. People don’t want to see them, to be reminded of what happened. It’s too disturbing.

And yet, I think we should see them. Those of us who watched at the time should be reminded. Those who didn’t, those who are too young to have witnessed that day, should know—and feel—what it was like.

Three years ago, Esquire published Tom Junod’s The Falling Man. It tells the story of that picture and its photographer. It shows that picture and others. It explores why this part of our history has been erased. It recounts the efforts to identify The Falling Man and suggests who he most likely was. It’s a long and grim read. I urge you to read the whole thing.

They began jumping not long after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building’s fatal wound. They jumped from the offices of Marsh & McLennan, the insurance company; from the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading company; from Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors—the top. For more than an hour and a half, they streamed from the building, one after another, consecutively rather than en masse, as if each individual required the sight of another individual jumping before mustering the courage to jump himself or herself. One photograph, taken at a distance, shows people jumping in perfect sequence, like parachutists, forming an arc composed of three plummeting people, evenly spaced. Indeed, there were reports that some tried parachuting, before the force generated by their fall ripped the drapes, the tablecloths, the desperately gathered fabric, from their hands. They were all, obviously, very much alive on their way down, and their way down lasted an approximate count of ten seconds. They were all, obviously, not just killed when they landed but destroyed, in body though not, one prays, in soul.

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Eighteen years ago today

Posted by Richard on September 11, 2019

Eighteen years ago this morning, in the words of Rep. Ilhan Omar, “some people did something.”

On September 11, 2001, barbarians with box cutters — primitive 7th-century savages who could never build a World Trade Center or a 747, but whose insane ideology is dedicated to making the building of such things impossible — murdered 2,996 innocent people and changed Lower Manhattan from this:

Lady Liberty watching over the twin towers before 9/11

to this:

1st tower falls

Fleeing as the tower falls

Fleeing through the choking dust

Falling to his death

Never forget.

Flag still stands

Never forget.

raising the flag at ground zero

Never, ever forget.

9/11 tribute of light

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Must-avoid TV

Posted by Richard on September 4, 2019

My deepest sympathies to anyone having to spend time at an airport tonight. CNN’s climate crisis town hall is on the air. This won’t matter to most folks not at an airport, since very few people who have a choice of channels ever tune into CNN anymore.

I predict that CNN’s viewership will be even lower than usual for the next six or seven hours. Yes, that’s how long this ten-candidate tirade against capitalism, modernity, and progress will go on. Even hard-core environmentalists and socialists (but I repeat myself) are going to have a hard time staying conscious throughout.

Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown (emphases in original):

What’s a worse TV programming idea than six straight hours of Democratic campaigners talking climate change? Honestly, I’m not sure. But this is the fresh hell that CNN has planned for America this Wednesday night. And while, sure, you can choose not to tune in to this particular political pageantry, there’s no avoiding its fallout, as Democratic 2020 candidates compete to outdo each other with grand regulatory plans.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) wants a plan similar to the “Green New Deal” proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) and company. It would entail an initial $3 trillion investment over 10 years. That’s the same price tag we see for Sen. Cory Booker’s (D–N.J.) plan, which includes $50 billion for an Environmental Justice Fund and a promise to plant 100 million trees.

Julián Castro’s plan would cost $10 trillion and includes a plank to dismantle “environmental racism,” which is:

a type of discrimination where communities of color and low-income communities are forced to live in close proximity to environmentally hazardous or degraded environments, such as hazardous waste sites or pollution. To that end, Castro said he’d propose new civil rights bills like requiring all federal actions be reviewed for environmental and health impacts on low-income and marginalized communities.

Joe Biden’s plan is cheap in comparison, at a projected $1.6 trillion.

Biden, Booker, Castro, and Warren will all appear as part of the CNN climate extravaganza starting tonight at 5 p.m. EDT, along with Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), and Andrew Yang.

“Most candidates have the goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, although some aim to accelerate by a few years to 2040 or 2045,” notes CBS News. “Many candidates also hope to cut emissions by half by 2030 and get to net-zero emissions for electricity by that year,” and all have vowed to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords.

Actually, it might be a good thing if more Americans were aware that the Democrats intend to spend mind-boggling sums to reduce our CO2 emissions, crippling the economy and wrecking their household budgets, while India, China, and others are building over a thousand new coal-fired power plants.

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Stormtrooper ziplining

Posted by Richard on July 27, 2019

I believe this is the longest zipline in Colorado, on the Animas River near Durango.

Shoot straight he does not.
Zipline well he does.


Stormtrooper Zip line from Hank Blum Photography on Vimeo.


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Happy Pi Approximation Day!

Posted by Richard on July 22, 2019

For those who use the dd/mm date format, today is 22/7, which is the best fractional approximation of pi using a numerator limited to two digits.

I’m going to celebrate by having approximately one thin-crust pepperoni pi(e) for dinner. And beer. Because beer.

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The success and failure of Apollo

Posted by Richard on July 20, 2019

On July 20, 1969, I was a 19-year-old student at the University of Tennessee and an Air Force ROTC cadet, just a few weeks away from beginning my junior year and being sworn into the Air Force. I hoped, under the relaxed Vietnam-era vision requirements, to qualify for flight training; becoming a pilot had been my dream since a very early age (that dream was later shattered when I failed the eye exam by a hair).

I grew up during the dawn of space exploration. I remember Sputnik in 1957 and Explorer in 1958. I remember Laika the dog and Yuri Gagarin. I remember Alan Shephard’s flight in Freedom 7. I followed the Mercury and Gemini and Apollo programs closely, and with a combination of wonder, excitement, and anticipation.

You see, I was also an avid science fiction fan and had by 1969 read every SF book I could get my hands on. Larry Niven, Jerry Pournell, Poul Andersen, Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov… but especially Heinlein. All the Heinlein.

Red Planet and The Menace from Earth in particular had made strong impressions on me at an early age, especially the latter. In it, Heinlein posited lunar colonists filling a huge underground cavern with air. In that cavern, they could strap on wings and fly like birds in the 1/6th gravity. I dreamed of being able to do that someday, and every step forward in space exploration brought that dream a little closer.

So needless to say, I was glued to the TV on July 20, 1969. My heart raced at every critical moment before the touchdown and leaped with joy when Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface and declared, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Yes! From that moment on, humans would no longer be confined to Earth!

I was convinced that in the future—the relatively near future—there would be permanent colonies on the moon, large Earth-orbiting space stations to serve as way-stations and perhaps tourist destinations, and trips to Mars. Surely all this would happen within 30 years. After all, look how far we’d come in just over a decade since those first small satellites were launched! Later, there’d be asteroid mining, perhaps terraforming of Mars, and who knows what other wonders.

These weren’t just the idle dreams of a starry-eyed teen. Jack Fowler quoted from the August 26, 1969 issue of National Review:

Critics of the space program are jumping all over Vice President Agnew and others who have urged a go-ahead for ambitious space ventures in the Seventies and Eighties. The attacks take a familiar line: We cannot afford more space extravaganzas while there are pressing needs to be met here on earth.

But NASA’s plans for the next two decades—contingent, of course, on the necessary funding—are much less extravagant than they are awe-inspiring. They fall, as Aviation Week & Space Technology has pointed out, “into four major categories:

“Earth orbital space stations of large, eighty- to one hundred-man capacity . . . supplied by maneuverable, reusable space shuttles.

“Lunar exploration and establishment of permanent scientific bases on the moon.

“Manned exploration of Mars with a 1981 launch target date for a 24-month mission by two six-man crews in tandem spacecraft using nuclear power. . . .

“Unmanned exploration of the far planets in the solar system. . . .”

Thomas O. Paine, NASA administrator, has assured President Nixon that all these plans are feasible if the government will commit annually 0.5 to 1 per cent of the Gross National Product. This spending rate is no higher than the rate for the Sixties. NASA’s budget reached a record high of 0.9 percent of the GNP in 1966 and is now hovering just below 0.5 per cent.

With the frontier of space and its unlimited potential ahead made suddenly accessible by Apollo 11, it is hard to believe the nation will permit the liberal wailers to force it back into its earth-bound shell.

And yet, the nation did. Oh, sure, the shuttle came along, and the ISS. But we remained confined to Earth orbit, if not strictly to Earth. No moving forward, building on the Apollo missions.

* * * * *

My joy at the triumph of Apollo 11 wasn’t just national (or species) pride. I was excited for selfish reasons. I wanted to go to the moon, or at least to some giant circular space station, rotating to provide artificial gravity. And it looked on that day as if that would become possible well before I became an old man.

Fifty years later, I’m an old man. And none of what I’d hoped for has happened. Barring some major gerontological breakthroughs, I’ll never have the opportunity in the years I have left to “break the bounds of planet Earth.”

So although the Apollo 11 mission was a stirring success and a marvelous technological achievement, and I have great admiration for all the men and women who made it possible, to me the Apollo program turned out to be a failure, a sad false start, and a personal disappointment.

I should have known better. Already a libertarian at that age (although I didn’t know the word at the time), I should have known that truly successful exploration and colonization of space would depend not on a government bureaucracy, but on entrepreneurs driven to achieve great things, leave their mark on history, and make a profit. I should have known, because Heinlein predicted exactly that in The Man Who Sold the Moon.

It looks like, thanks to billionaire investors like Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Richard Branson, and others, along with the end of legal restrictions on such private activities, the Heinlein vision is finally starting to be fulfilled.

If only it hadn’t taken most of my lifetime…

* * * * * * * * *

Apollo 11

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Our hero dead

Posted by Richard on May 27, 2019

“Flags In” for Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo from Isaac Wankerl (
The grave of his father, Maj. Max W. Wankerl, is in the foreground.

Memorial Day

by Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day,
Is not a rose wreath, white and red,
In memory of the blood they shed;
It is to stand beside each mound,
Each couch of consecrated ground,
And pledge ourselves as warriors true
Unto the work they died to do.
Into God’s valleys where they lie
At rest, beneath the open sky,
Triumphant now o’er every foe,
As living tributes let us go.
No wreath of rose or immortelles
Or spoken word or tolling bells
Will do to-day, unless we give
Our pledge that liberty shall live.
Our hearts must be the roses red
We place above our hero dead;
To-day beside their graves we must
Renew allegiance to their trust;
Must bare our heads and humbly say
We hold the Flag as dear as they,
And stand, as once they stood, to die
To keep the Stars and Stripes on high.
The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day
Is not of speech or roses red,
But living, throbbing hearts instead,
That shall renew the pledge they sealed
With death upon the battlefield:
That freedom’s flag shall bear no stain
And free men wear no tyrant’s chain.

Today, please remember those who died “that liberty shall live.” I’m remembering my dad, Col. Samuel R. Combs — who, in the memorable words of Robert Denerstein, “answered his country’s call even before the phone rang.” I miss you, Papa.

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Denver election reveals something interesting

Posted by Richard on May 8, 2019

Yesterday was municipal election day in Denver (see results here). It’s not something I generally get excited about, since it’s such a leftist electorate (Democrats outnumber Republicans almost four to one). The battles for mayor and city council were mostly between mainstream Democrats (meaning semi-socialists of varying degrees of corruption) and challengers from the radical left. Six candidates were vying for two at-large city council seats, and I couldn’t bring myself to vote for any of them.

But we did have two significant ballot issues. Initiative 300 would have given the “homeless” who won’t use shelters or accept help getting off the street (a.k.a. vagrants, hobos, junkies) the right to camp as long as they want on any public property. Even most of Denver’s bleeding-heart liberals couldn’t swallow that. I guess they’d seen the news stories about “homeless encampments” with mountains of trash, the stench of urine and feces, and syringes scattered about. Or maybe they’d encountered feces or needles in their alleys or parks (someone took a dump on my garage apron a while back). It was rejected overwhelmingly (17% to 83%). Good.

Initiative 301 would have decriminalized possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms. I supported it, but expected it to fail bigly. It’s apparently failed, but the margin surprised me. The “magic mushroom initiative” trails by 48% to 52%.

UPDATE: 301 has apparently passed, with just under 51% of the vote (pending all the usual verification stuff). There was a surge of voting on election day, and those votes weren’t counted until this morning. Apparently, about 55% of election-day voters favored 301. I wonder where the nearest cow pasture is.

Here’s what’s interesting: the incumbent mayor, Michael Hancock, received 39% of the vote and thus faces a runoff. Magic mushrooms outpolled the mayor by 9 percentage points! So significantly more Denverites are OK with psilocybin than with the mayor. I guess they’re not as dumb as I thought.

I suspect some version of the shroom initiative will be back next year. The mayor’s future will be determined in June.

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Is Beto the John Edwards of 2020?

Posted by Richard on March 14, 2019



Say what you will about John Edwards, but at least he didn’t campaign on coffee shop counters.

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