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Aspen, CO, Colorado

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November 13, 2012
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Andy Stone: A Stone's Throw

As they (sort of) used to say on that infernal television machine: We now take you back to our regularly scheduled confusion, already in progress.

The election is over (except for a few rogue states like Arizona, where they're still counting their ballots, and Florida, where they're gearing up their lawsuits), but that doesn't mean anything has been decided.

Either nationally or locally.

Oh, sure, Barack Obama will take the oath of office in January (and let's hope our chief justice, oddly challenged in 2009, will get it right this time).

But what that actually means is very much up for debate - and likely to remain so for at least another four years.

Was the election result a mandate or an accident? Voter fraud defeated or voter fraud triumphant? A trend or an aberration? A new dawn of hope or the beginning of the end? (And while we're at it, is Obama American? Hawaiian? Kenyan? Martian?)

Take your pick. You'll have tens of millions on your side.

By the same token, what did our local election results mean?

One thing they apparently do not mean - at least as I write these words on Tuesday morning - is that we have any clear idea who will be sitting in the district attorney's chair in Glenwood Springs for the next few years.

That item will eventually be decided - if not necessarily accepted by the loser.

Much more lacking in clarity - even though all the votes have been counted - is the ballot on the city's hydroelectric plant.

The meaning of those results is even murkier than the presidential results - distressingly murky for an issue involving crystal-clear mountain creeks, which either will or will not be (or would or would not have been) turned into dry ditches (or muddy backwaters) by the now-defeated (or not-defeated) hydro plant.

The situation is as confused as that last sentence.

The hydro plant's defeat was by a painfully narrow margin. The ballot question was "advisory," not "binding."

So will the city (or should the city) accept the results of a 100-vote-margin nonbinding decision and abandon a partially completed, multimillion-dollar project? Or will they try something else, based on teenagers chewing bubblegum?

And was the ballot result skewed by (or wisely informed by) an expensive advertising campaign funded by outside interests (or concerned residents)? Or did the city's years of lobbying mean that the outside money only leveled that slippery playing field?

I could go on, but I'm as bored as you are.

The point is that elections seek clarity, but there is no clarity to be had - perhaps no such thing as clarity.

Not knowing what anything means is one of our national pastimes.

It gives us something to talk about.

And, Lord knows, we all need something to talk about.

Or scream about.

And let's be clear (clear? hah!): This is not just a question of politics.

Sure, Aspen's hydro-plant battle pitted stream-hugging enviros against alternative-energy enviros (and, for that matter, solar-energy enviros against hydroelectric enviros).

But, elections aside, we just saw the environmentally super-conscious Aspen Skiing Co. hugging a coal-mine-owning member of the Koch family, which is notorious when it comes to environmental plunder and pillage.

The corporate hug was motivated by a joint project to use excess methane from a coal mine to power an electric plant.

Coal mine, bad. Methane, bad. Using coal-mine methane to generate electricity ... good? I guess.

No one, it seems, is always good (except maybe the Dalai Lama). And no one is always bad (and I would have said, except maybe the Koch brothers ... but there you go).

And if we're going to talk about lack of clarity, how about Skico itself: an environmentally conscious, defense-industry financed company operating heavy machinery in the mountain wilderness.

As I said, there is no clarity.

And you can't vote on it.

You can't vote on truth - not because truth is an absolute but because truth is unknowable.

Oh, sure, two plus two equals four - unless you're operating in a base-4 system, in which case two plus two equals 10.

But never mind math (which I don't really know a darn thing about anyway); I'm talking about boiling everyday reality down to simple truths, things we "know."

And if we're honest, we have to admit there aren't any of those.

I heard a story on Aspen Public Radio recently that reported on advances in our understanding of the nature of memories - taking memory clear down to the chemical level.

And those studies show that we are re-creating memories every time we remember them. Every time we recall something, we rebuild that memory all over again.

And so, they reported, the memories about which we are most certain, the memories we hold closest and return to most often, are the least likely to be true.

The more we know something, the less we know.

We're like skiers in deep powder, skiing the trees on a moonless night. With our eyes closed.

We have no idea what's going to happen before it happens. When things are happening, we have no idea what's going on. And when it's all over, we really don't know what happened.

We now take you back to our regularly scheduled confusion, already in progress.


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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 14, 2012 06:21AM Published Nov 13, 2012 10:52PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.