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She Said, He Said: Boundaries key to avoiding break-up ‘backslide’ in small towns

Dear Lori and Jeff,

My boyfriend broke up with me a few months ago after a two-year relationship. We seem to run into each other fairly often as we share the same core group of friends. The problem is that on several occasions, we've ended up going home together, only to regret the decision in the morning. We've both promised not to let it happen again, but it does. How do we stop this cycle and move on?

Signed,

Backslider

Dear Backslider,

Lori and Jeff: In an episode of the sitcom "Seinfeld," Elaine talks about her running into her ex-boyfriend, David Puddy, with whom she had recently broken up. Jerry predicts that they will get back together, continuing their on-again, off-again relationship.

Jerry: "The bump-into always leads to the backslide."

Elaine: "David and I will not be getting back together."

Jerry: "Elaine, breaking up is like knocking over a Coke machine. You can't do it in one push. You gotta rock it back and forth a few times and then it goes over."

While it's often true that break-ups take a bit of rocking to finally take hold, they certainly can be facilitated more quickly and cleanly by setting stronger boundaries. We often don't want to hurt the other person, so we're not clear about our intentions. Finality can be difficult. Words like "divorce," "break-up," "done," "finished" and "over" have a painful sting to them, and we may have mixed feelings about shutting the door for good.

Jeff: In order for the break-up to stick (if that's what you both have agreed to wanting), it will be important to understand the reason why you are getting back together, even if it's just for sex. As the one who was broken up with, are you trying to use sex as a way to win him back? Or are you not willing to accept that you might not have been the "one" for him? As for your ex — the one who initiated the split — the backslide may be more about convenience, comfort and familiarity. Does he still have unresolved feelings for you? Does he have doubts about the break-up? Is he suffering from FOMO where he doesn't necessarily still want to be in a relationship with you but doesn't want someone else to have you either?

Lori: Being newly single can create a flurry of feelings and fears. Instead of facing our emotions head on, we can cover, avoid and numb the pain. Backsliding can be a form of numbing that offers temporary relief to a deeper yearning. It's important for you to get in touch with any emotions that might be driving the choice to jump into an old bed. Are you lonely? Do you want to feel attractive and wanted? Is there something you're trying to prove to yourself about being able to still have him? Take the time to identify the real discomfort, fear or vulnerability, then find healthy ways to address it — spend more time with friends, pamper yourself, and connect to your confidence.

Lori and Jeff: We know that ending relationships in small towns can be complicated. Shared friends and limited options for socializing are a recipe for run-ins with the ex. But backsliding only delays the grieving and healing process. Try changing things up a bit. Create opportunities for new connections that can better fulfill your needs and desires. Most importantly, ask your friends to be wing-women who help you move forward and let the past lie.

Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.

Deeded Interest: Lake Christine Fire put home sales, insurance in spin for a bit

Somewhat out of sight, out of mind, I read an update last week reporting firefighters were still mopping up hot spots from the Lake Christine Fire, which started in early July. More than two months later, the fire is still active but now 90 percent contained. It was surprising to learn flames from our mid-summer conflagration are still licking up under some pinyon in the middle of nowhere. Then again, officials did tell us this thing would likely not be completely out until mid-October.

Unfortunately, three homes were lost. That said, what could have been utter devastation was prevented by the valiant efforts of first responders and those near and far that came to help. We are indeed a community in their debt.

The fire, the response and the constant smoke lasted for weeks and stopped showing and sales activity in Missouri Heights dead in its tracks. Activity has resumed, however, with a few closings just in the past few weeks.

But uncertainly and questions remain for buyers and sellers and provide a valuable learning opportunity. The issue of insurability instantly came up in the area as soon as the flames began to spread.

Homes under contract before the fire and set to close after had to be extended during what local insurance experts say was a moratorium. If insurance for the property had not been previously bonded, no new policies were allowed to be written nor any changes to existing policies made. It goes without saying no one in their right mind is going to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new home no one is willing to insure.

The local real estate market aside, of more consequence were the homeowners in the fire's path who found themselves either under-insured or uninsured as flames flickered on hillsides outside their window with no recourse whatsoever.

According to Todd Fugate, owner of the State Farm Insurance Agency in Carbondale, the moratorium affected Basalt proper, the El Jebel area (including Willits and Blue Lake) and a good part of Missouri Heights along and above Upper Cattle Creek Road. Fortunately, the ban was lifted a couple of weeks back, but for at least six weeks one of many factors affecting the nerves of existing residents as well as potential home-buyers was the uncertainly regarding what was covered, not covered and temporarily unavailable. The result was insult to injury and fury after the fire.

In terms of what the future holds for policies and premiums after the last flames are snuffed out, Fugate said he's not anticipating any immediate rate increases. Unlike a hurricane or an earthquake that affects an entire region, thousands of homes and businesses and millions if not billions of dollars in losses, this event was relatively isolated in terms of its scope and damage.

Even so, Fugate said he's heard from many of his clients since the fire not only asking about a possible rate increase but asking questions about their policies and coverage, something he welcomes but encourages well before potential disaster strikes rather than after the fact.

"Folks shouldn't wait for a catastrophic event to understand their coverages and policy details," he said.

When I asked about the possibility of mudslides and water damage from potential future flooding now that stabilizing vegetation has been damaged or destroyed, the answer was, to say the least, disconcerting. Mudslides in the aftermath of fires are typically not covered by regular insurance and are not considered "Act of God" events.

The remedy for that is something called a difference in conditions rider. Additionally, many major carriers do not offer this type of coverage, but Fugate said there are companies that do that is he actively referring his clients to. He did not discuss the cost as difference in conditions is not his expertise.

That brings us to the ever-present but oft-overlooked issue of FEMA flood insurance. As we saw in places like Houston this time last year — even those within the designated 100-year flood plain — many chose not to secure this coverage, which must be obtained through and paid to the federal agency. For those who went without, it was a fateful choice with devastating financial repercussions. With climate change, we are now seeing 500-year events and flood plain maps are being rewritten. Around here, it's not surprising very few have flood insurance. However, all in the fire zone should strongly reconsider. You should know any water than might penetrate or even destroy your home as a result of water heading downhill is not covered by traditional policies.

It's a new world out there and with home values in our area so high, and with so much at stake, it's critical homeowners protect their largest investment.

Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a Realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty with more than a decade of experience with buyers, sellers and investors. He can be reached at scott.bayens@sir.com.

Guest commentary: Where do we stand now with health care?

In this series of weekly articles, I will describe the current status of health care in America and how we might improve it. Inasmuch as most people younger than 65 have no great need to understand what Medicare is, and as Medicare may be a good model on which to build a universal system, I'll briefly explain a bit about it.

Medicare began over 50 years ago, in response to poor medical care and high poverty rates among our seniors. It has succeeded in alleviating both of these crises and continues to be a very popular and efficient health insurance program. Medicare is a universal, single-payer system, meaning that it covers everyone in the designated group, and that payments for medical care are all made via a single source — the federal government. Funding comes from both taxes and premiums. In striking contrast to some European-style socialized systems, medical care under Medicare is privately delivered, at private hospitals by doctors in private practice. Every Traditional Medicare enrollee has free choice of doctors and hospitals.

Notwithstanding its many successes, Medicare is not a perfect system. Its most glaring deficiency is that it pays only 80 percent of charges, leaving the enrollee to pay the remainder, either out-of-pocket or through Medigap plans sold by for-profit private insurers. While seemingly small, this 20 percent difference, along with deductibles and copayments, can become an insurmountable financial burden in complex cases. Seniors are filing bankruptcy because of medical debt.

Another major deficiency when Medicare began was that it did not cover prescription drugs. As medicines became unaffordable to many seniors, Congress attempted to remedy this in 2003 by adding Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program, available for an added premium. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical lobby arranged for a provision to be included in the law that forbids Medicare from negotiating drug prices. As a result, we in the world's largest pharmaceutical market pay the world's highest prescription drug prices. Productive young people are dying because they can't afford insulin, once one of the least expensive and most life-saving prescription drugs.

Traditional Medicare still does not cover dental, hearing or vision care, aspects which can have large impacts on our overall health. I once operated on a man whose tooth infection spread to his brain. Dental problems contribute to arterial disease, and poor hearing and eyesight lead to higher injury rates and accelerated mental deterioration. These and other deficiencies can be readily corrected in a national Improved Medicare for All program.

Where do we stand now overall? Unfortunately, we don't have the best health care system in the world. We do have many great doctors and hospitals, but we pay about twice per person what most other industrialized countries pay for their excellent health care. Yet nearly 30 million of us remain uninsured and 40 million underinsured. You may know someone, or find yourself, among the underinsured. These are folks who believe they have good insurance, often through their employer, but when a health issue arises, the high deductibles and copayments are daunting. If you're underinsured, you may be forced to choose among wiping out your life savings to pay for care, filing for bankruptcy when the bills come in, or delaying or declining needed care, if that's possible.

Even people with good insurance are often surprised by its deficiencies and disruptions. In order to maximize their profits, insurers seek discounts from doctors and hospitals and form provider networks of those low-bid participants. These narrow networks become very inconvenient when you are covered only at a remote hospital or forced to change doctors. There are dozens of stories of people being stuck with $25,000 to $60,000 bills from air ambulance companies that were not in their insurance networks. How were they to know that beforehand? Health insurance isn't what it used to be, and it's getting worse.

You might think that paying such high prices gets us good results, but it doesn't. Reports by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) show that we rank below most industrialized nations in many health outcomes, including life expectancy. Our maternal and infant mortality rates are among the highest. We pay the most, and get the least for it.

In subsequent articles, we'll see where all our money is going and how it might be redirected to improve our nation's health. The short answer is by expanding Medicare to cover everyone, and improving it to remove the deficiencies described above.

Spoiler alert: In the end, we'll spend less overall. It's a mind-boggling thing.

Dr. George Bohmfalk practiced neurosurgery in Texas before retiring to spend half of each year in the Roaring Fork Valley. He is active in Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP.org), a physician-driven group advocating for a single-payer health care system. His series will appear in The Aspen Times on Fridays.

Zinke is letting corporations profit off our national parks

What if I told you that a multibillion-dollar company decided to trademark the name of one of America's most prized national parks? And that the company then sued the United States to defend its purported trademark? And that to top it all off, that company has been invited into the inner circle of government by a now-indicted member of Congress, meeting in private with a Cabinet secretary and also sitting on a government advisory panel?

You'd probably reply that it all sounds outrageous, and that, if it's true, it's a genuinely shocking example of a corrupt presidential administration. Unfortunately, it's true.

This story begins in 2015, when Delaware North, a New York-based hospitality and concessions business, lost the contract to run Yosemite National Park's hotels, restaurants and gift shops. The company had held the contract for more than two decades, during which time it quietly trademarked names and images associated with iconic landmarks inside Yosemite, including the Ahwahnee Hotel, a national historic landmark, the likeness of Half Dome, and even the phrase "Yosemite National Park."

Scott Gediman, the spokesman for Yosemite National Park, wasn't happy with the name grab, telling The New York Times, "We feel strongly that the names belong to the American people."

Rather than refocusing its expansive concessions business after losing the Yosemite contract, the company decided to take the U.S. government — and by extension the American public — to federal claims court, demanding $50 million for its surreptitiously acquired trademarks. The National Park Service, of course, maintains the trademarks aren't valid. Even if they were, they would be worth no more than $3.5 million. A review of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database indicates that Delaware North is unique among concessionaires in holding trademarks to America's parks.

The litigation between the National Park Service and Delaware North remains far from resolved but, in the meantime, the National Park Service was forced to rename historic landmarks inside the national park. Now the Calvin Coolidge-era Ahwahnee Hotel is the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, the Wawona Hotel is Big Trees Lodge and Curry Village is Half Dome Village.

Despite Delaware North's questionable business practices and the company's ongoing legal fight with the U.S. government, it is no pariah in President Donald Trump's Washington. The Trump administration has welcomed Delaware North with open arms, granting the company's executives an audience at the highest levels of government. When Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke announced his "Made in America" Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, included in the list of 15 members was Jerry Jacobs Jr., the billionaire co-CEO of Delaware North.

Jacobs Jr. joins a group of business executives and industry lobbyists tasked with expanding so-called public-private partnerships in national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other publicly owned American lands. Setting aside the important question of whether we should be privatizing park functions, it's hard to defend an individual who has so blatantly abused the public's trust.

Delaware North's presence on the "Made in America" Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee is not an isolated incident. Last month, CNN reported that Zinke held a private meeting with three executives from Delaware North, including Jacobs Jr., along with New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins. Collins, who federal prosecutors have charged with insider trading, counts Delaware North as his largest campaign contributor during his congressional career.

Likely realizing the unfortunate optics of the Zinke-Delaware North meeting, the Interior Department went to great lengths to conceal the names of the participants on the secretary's official schedules. But when briefing materials of the meeting were released through a Freedom of Information Act request, the true purpose of the meeting was there in black-and-white. It was "for company executives to provide an overview from Delaware North regarding how the Park Service works with concessionaires."

A company this greedy, whose founders are cashing in by fleecing American taxpayers and our prized public lands, should not be welcomed in the halls of power. But we have come to expect this kind of behavior from members of Trump's cabinet, Zinke included.

In less than two years on the job, Zinke has thrown open the doors to campaign donors, family business friends and the executives of the very corporations he is supposed to be regulating. All the while, he has consistently ignored input from the American public, as well as from pretty much anyone who isn't a potential donor. Now under the cloud of more than a dozen investigations, Zinke might have become so besmirched that even Trump finds him too much to stomach.

Greg Zimmerman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is the deputy director at the Center for Western Priorities, a public-lands policy organization based in Denver.

Giving Thought: Making space for science after school

Do you remember the first time that the wonders of science commanded your attention? Was it a meteor shower on a starry night, or dinosaur bones embedded in sandstone? Maybe you saw an exhibit in an observatory or natural history museum?

Since 2005, Aspen Science Center (ASC) has delivered science to local youth through events, hands-on demonstrations and out-of-school STEM programming (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). ASC president David Houggy says the center plans to expand its footprint with a new home in the midvalley.

Aspen Community Foundation: Why create a new 'base of operations' now?

David Houggy: Originally, most of our activities were in Aspen, such as the Physics for Kids barbecues and the annual Science Fair. As we've grown, we've discovered a large need in downvalley communities. Effective STEM programs are best delivered in the communities where children live, so we intend to open our first permanent space in the coming years. It's tentatively named the Discovery Center and will be located in Basalt.

In the middle and lower valley, STEM activities are less prevalent. Aspen Science Center has extended several of our programs downvalley in the past few years, and we've had an enthusiastic response from children and parents alike.

ACF: Will the Discovery Center change ASC's existing programming?

DH: No. This is an expansion of our programming, and a response to STEM-related needs throughout the valley.

A permanent home will allow us to deliver learning experiences that we simply can't provide now. ASC currently operates as a "science center without walls" because we don't have a physical home. Everything has to be portable and easy to set up and take down in only a few hours. This makes it impractical to offer the kind of project-based educational opportunities that yield longer-term benefits for kids.

The Discovery Center will be a relatively small, 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot storefront location, intended specifically for local youth. It will be open every day after school, potentially on weekends, and in the summer. There we can set up more permanent, complex and compelling activities, and we can operate more efficiently and effectively. Our professional staff will run the Discovery Center along with high-school Intern Educators (IEs). Our IE positions already provide part-time jobs, training and experience for highly motivated high school students, but at the Discovery Center we'll expand the IE program and offer richer educational opportunities for the IEs themselves. We'll also use volunteer staff, allowing senior citizens and others to give back and impart their wisdom to young people.

ACF: How would you describe the role of science in American culture today?

DH: Science is an indispensable tool for understanding the world around us. Science allows us to make new discoveries and create inventions that better mankind and lead to economic and social progress. STEM jobs pay higher wages and are growing at 1.7 times the rate of non-STEM jobs. These positions are responsible for a lot of the United States' growth and they're critical to our national defense.

Moreover, STEM training has proven to be extraordinarily valuable to individuals in other fields. The scientific process entails formulating questions about our world, seeking relevant data to answer the questions, thinking critically and arriving at tentative conclusions. Professional scientists then examine and re-examine the conclusions and seek additional data that may alter the original conclusions. This critical-thinking process is valuable in any endeavor.

ASC has been offering adult programs that we call "The Science of What Interests You." Examples are our Science of Music Program (a collaboration with Aspen Music Festival and School) and Science of Cooking (with Cooking School of Aspen).

ACF: If the Discovery Center is successful, then how will the Roaring Fork Valley be different?

DH: Imagine growing up as a young child today with a penchant for science. If you're lucky, your parents understand science and the importance of a STEM education, and they will nurture your budding interests. Kids who live in large metropolitan areas often have a good science center, a plethora of after-school science programs, and universities and research labs with outreach programs. They often have teachers and mentors to guide them.

But if you grow up in the mountains, this may not be the case. There may not be abundant after-school science programming or other resources. If your parents are not science supporters, then you may be on your own. The Discovery Center will be Aspen Science Center's attempt to ensure that all children in the Roaring Fork Valley have access to quality after-school science programming.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

Judson Haims: ‘Sandwich generation’ needs to find help faster for elder loved ones

No matter how digitally connected our world is today, too many older adults are socially disconnected. Studies from AARP estimate elder isolation is believed to be prevalent in 1 of 5 Americans 65 and older.

As more families enter the sandwich generation category — caught between caring for older adults, children and sometimes grandchildren, as well — the problem is compounded.

Distance is not always the problem. For adult daughter Linda, who lived two doors down from her parents and cared for both through Parkinson's, dementia and strokes, it was the overwhelming responsibility of being on call 24/7. Her mother was not able to drive, so Linda took her to doctor's appointments, managed her medications, did her grocery shopping and laundry and even helped with meal prep after her first stroke limited her ability to get up and down the stairs (her kitchen was upstairs, her bedroom downstairs).

Her mother also needed help getting dressed in the morning and getting into bed at night, and after a traumatic health emergency, Linda lived with the constant fear of kissing her mother goodnight for the last time or finding her mother unresponsive or distressed when she'd come to help her in the morning.

Overnight care wasn't the only concern. Though she was fairly independent during the day and lived in a multigenerational household, Linda's mother was frequently alone in between the times her daughter came to help — as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren were often tied up with school, work and other personal obligations. Linda was overwhelmed as her siblings were not able to contribute support on a regular basis, which often left her feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Raising children and caring for aging parents often leaves many people of the sandwich generation feeling emotionally torn.

The Reality of Isolation

The reality is, many family members are willing to help — and do so, faithfully — but the needs of isolated seniors, like Linda's mother, are not easily or adequately met by just one person, whether that person lives over an hour away or two doors down.

Part of the challenge is that meeting the social and emotional needs of an older loved one can be incredibly difficult in the midst of balancing other family and social commitments, especially when health care-related support such as medication management or getting to a doctor's appointment must take precedence.

Grief and depression further intensify the daily need for companionship among these isolated seniors: many have lost spouses, friends, siblings and other close relatives. Many also are feeling like a burden and are unable to manage life or enjoy hobbies as they did before.

Pets do provide companionship, but their care often presents an added responsibility for an already taxed family caregiver, or an increased risk for a senior prone to falls. Pets may also be the reason an older adult refuses to leave home — even for a necessary medical appointment. This is the main reason Alicia's grandmother does not want to leave her home and move in with family, or to a care community.

This reinforces the need for more consistent, daily supervision, companionship and support to alleviate the pressures and risks of isolation. Unfortunately, many family members caring for a loved one wait too long to implement that daily presence through home care, or they're stymied by the refusal of their senior to let so-called strangers into the home.

It Doesn't Have to Be This Way

Companionship is powerful. But the diminishing loss of ability and independence is not easily overcome. And seniors can be stubborn at accepting help or support, no matter how much we need it.

Even if our older loved ones could benefit from home care, it's a conversation and decision families should ease into, which means starting the process sooner.

Still, there's help for the sandwich generation. Home care, even for just a few hours a week, can make a life-saving, life-changing and independence-prolonging difference for older adults. It also reduces the burdens of time, energy and the emotional toll on primary caregivers, allowing them to provide support for a much longer duration.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He can be reached at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.

Guest commentary: Roots of land management found in Fence Wars and Taylor Grazing Act

Not long ago, the loudest advocates for government regulation were the ranchers of Colorado. One man who heard them was Edward T. Taylor, a representative to the United States Congress from Colorado and former District Attorney for the 9th Judicial District.

It was the early 1930s. Vast herds of cattle owned as financial investments by Eastern businessmen ran rampant over public range. It was common for cattle barons to instruct their workers to fence in public land and any small-time rancher who dared cut a fence risked his life, no matter the law. Despite the supposed Fence Wars Truce of 1884, illegal fencing continued and range management was nonexistent.

Investors who owned mega-herds were indifferent to ecology from which they profited. Their minimum-wage cowboys were paid for one thing only: to maximize profit. Foreshadowing how many present-day companies maintain a culture of environmental irresponsibility, a cowboy who hesitated to graze the land into dust was quickly and easily replaced. The people financially gaining most were too far removed from the land and the land suffered.

Local ranchers and homesteaders were in the impossible position of competing for grazing and water in an unregulated public-land free for all where violence ruled. They saw ecological devastation and understood its causes, but what could they do? They could not win the Fence Wars on their own.

They demanded action from their elected officials. The combination of ranchers' protestation, and economic devastation from the worsening Dust Bowl, moved Rep. Taylor to get the Taylor Grazing Act passed by Congress in 1934. It was not foresight that led to the passage of the Taylor Grazing Act; by 1934 it was obvious that many ranges were on the brink of desertification. The Dust Bowl was a warning sign that no one could miss. Congress finally saw the need for scientific management of public rangeland — this act was a rough first attempt, but it was a start.

The structures set up by the Taylor Grazing Act became the Bureau of Land Management and set the stage for Land Management Departments at state and county levels all over the country. Legislation specifically for the control of invasive plant species came later but is rooted in the same history.

The overuse and ecological devastation that led to the Taylor Grazing Act is still healing; it caused dust bowl conditions on the Front Range and opened the entire state, including Pitkin County, to invasive plants. These invasive plants (legally named "noxious weeds") often arrived in contaminated hay and took root in weakened native ecosystems. By the 1920s, millions of acres of the West were covered in cheatgrass. Increases in other invasive species followed.

These plants are not evil ­— in nature, a plant is simply living how it evolved to live. Each plant evolved in different conditions, with different survival strategies. A plant that evolved in the dry climate of North Africa, like cheatgrass, may do well in Colorado and may do even better if native grasses are too damaged to compete. If a monoculture forms, ask: What is the history of this land? Was it overused? Is it recovering from historical overuse? Is there more recent overuse, or a change in the type of use? What disturbance happened here recently? What did this land look like in the 1800s? The 1300s?

The Land Management Department of Pitkin County exists to help with these questions and to continue the work started in 1934 to restore ecological conditions that will aid native plants. The department manages 277 properties and more than 300 miles of roadside for ecological health, enforces Colorado's Noxious Weed Act on private land in unincorporated Pitkin County, and offers plant-health advice to landowners.

Edward T. Taylor, who stuck his neck out to protect the ranchers and ecosystems of Colorado, rests in Rosebud Cemetery in Glenwood Springs.

Liz Mauro joined Pitkin County in May as a land manager and environmental compliance specialist. She has a background in natural resource management and is an avid knitter.

Guest commentary: Is there a moral basis for universal health care?

Is health care is a right or a privilege? Discussions about health care commonly break down over this moral disagreement.

In a series of articles over the next six weeks in The Aspen Times, I will explore many aspects of the U.S. health care system and how it might be improved. I will not express an opinion on the right-versus-privilege dilemma, because it is a false argument. We each have our own moral systems, and mine may conflict with yours. Just like religions, I can't claim that my moral pillars are any more valid than yours.

As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt described in his book, "The Righteous Mind," conservatives and liberals feel differently about several moral values, and those values affect almost every decision we make. Liberals feel very strongly about fairness and caring, as seen in their traditional support for civil rights for the poor and the disenfranchised. They certainly also value loyalty, liberty, sanctity and authority, but fairness and caring take precedence. Conservatives hold all of these values in about equal regard, such that questions of fairness and caring may at times take a back seat if an issue of authority or liberty arises. Most conservatives are comfortable that a few innocent prisoners may have been held in Guantanamo, as they regard national security as being morally more important than fairness to certain individuals. Given our differing moral systems, it's no wonder that we often find it difficult to discuss politics and religion.

Many conservatives feel that it's unfair to ask them to pay for anything that will benefit someone else. They believe everyone who is capable should be self-sufficient and not depend on the government. I don't know any liberals who are opposed to self-sufficiency, but liberals tend to be more empathetic to those who, for any number of reasons, need help. Let's look at one industry that everyone supports: fire departments.

Until the mid-1800s, most fire departments were formed and run by property insurance companies. Insured buildings were marked by plaques, just as we erect signage of our home security companies. An insurer's fire brigade would only extinguish fires in buildings carrying their sign. This system was very profitable for the companies.

As you might imagine, terrible things happened, as unattended fires from uninsured buildings spread to insured ones. Public demand prompted cities to form their own fire departments as a community service. Insurance company fire brigades disappeared, many merging into municipal fire departments. Fire departments were fully socialized, with governments owning and operating all aspects. We all pay for them in taxes and hope never to have to use them. As a nation, we decided that for-profit fire departments were not a good idea, and that universal protection, for everyone, simply made more practical sense.

What moral values led to that decision? Perhaps the main one is group loyalty — we're all better off putting out fires as a community than as individuals. Another is authority — putting someone in charge of the overall situation, rather than responsibility being spread around a myriad of companies. Sanctity and liberty also play roles — we protect our sacred homes and enjoy some freedom from worry and loss. Municipal fire departments are fair — everyone gets the same protection, regardless of ability to pay. Fire departments care for their communities. Accordingly, fire departments enjoy broad bipartisan support. But in the end, tax-supported municipal fire departments are just a good, common sense solution, immune from any contentious moral debate.

Similarly, providing health care to everyone is a good, common-sense community service. It also would satisfy both conservative and liberal moral values. Insurance companies should not be motivated to withhold care in order to make profits, like the old fire brigade companies. Health care protects individuals and families and strengthens the entire nation. Universal health care brings everyone together, under clear public, not-for-profit leadership. In helping all Americans, and providing liberty from financial ruin, universal health care would be patriotic and fair.

So, is health care a right or a privilege? It doesn't matter. As I hope to demonstrate in this series, providing health care to everyone is simply the common-sense, correct thing to do, regardless of your moral pillars.

Dr. George Bohmfalk practiced neurosurgery in Texas before retiring to spend half of each year in the Roaring Fork Valley. He is active in Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP.org), a physician-driven group advocating for a single-payer health care system. His series will appear in The Aspen Times on Fridays.

She Said, He Said: Question his feelings and needs, not his pot use

Dear Jeff and Lori,

My husband and I met in college and have been together for 13 years. When we started dating we were both proud dirtbaggers, spending as much time as possible climbing and biking, and smoking our share of pot. Over the last half of our relationship, I've mostly left it behind, and really love the life we're building together. We still get outside at every opportunity, I have a great job, we have a nice home, and I'm ready to have kids. I'm worried because my husband still smokes pot almost everyday. He also has a good job, and says smoking is how he likes to unwind. He tells me he's not addicted, but also won't go more than a day or two without it, even though I've asked him to. I've noticed since I've cut back, how checked out he really is when he's high, and worry what it will be like when we have kids if he keeps smoking this much. Should I be concerned about his use?

Signed,

Pothead's Partner

Dear Partner,

Lori and Jeff: There's a big misconception in Colorado that because pot is legal, and some have even argued non-addictive, it's not problematic. The truth is any substance or activity can be unhealthy and create challenges when done excessively or to numb emotional discomfort — even eating and exercise. So marijuana use in itself (by an adult) is not problematic; it's the "why" that needs to be explored.

Recreational use of substances is based on a premise of having fun and/or being social. Substance use becomes unhealthy when it's utilized to address a deeper purpose — including taking the edge off, dealing with stress, or having more social confidence. In each of these scenarios, using is a way of feeling something different from the discomfort that's present. When a substance becomes the means for coping, emotional well-being is affected. Our feelings need to be acknowledged, addressed and resolved. When we avoid them or numb out, these emotions continue to simmer and build under the surface. This can lead to depression, anxiety and even deeper dependence on substances. The DSM (the manual mental health providers use to diagnose) also looks to the effects of use to determine if there's a problem — legal consequences, job (or school) performance, and, most importantly in this case, issues in relationships.

Jeff: It sounds like there have been some significant changes in your relationship, transitioning from a life of fun and adventure to one with more responsibilities, expectations and stress. Have you sat down and discussed the changing dynamics with your husband? He may be trying to subconsciously deal with his underlying fear of new roles and responsibilities by continuing to smoke pot. There are many examples of feelings he might not have the awareness or emotional maturity to manage: fear of commitment, fear of intimacy, vulnerability and deeper emotional requests. He also may be feeling overwhelmed at the expectations often placed on men — that we can do it all. The perception of failure in doing so can be a potent source for shame.

I'm also curious about what kind of impact your husband's habit has on his sex drive. Does he avoid sex and intimacy by getting high? If so, this may also be a topic about which the two of you should have a deeper conversation about.

Lori: It's nearly impossible for your husband to have this strong of a relationship with marijuana and also be able to maintain a deep emotional bond with you. Emotional intimacy requires both partners to be connected to their feelings, and a willingness to feel vulnerable. When an individual avoids feelings that are uncomfortable, they also create distance from all of their emotions — feelings are all connected. You can't shut down worry or sadness and still experience joy and love to their full extent. You may have reason to be concerned if your husband doesn't seem fully present. If he's struggling to cope with stress or emotions now, know that having kids is only going to add fuel to the fire.

Lori and Jeff: Rather than focusing specifically on his marijuana use, be curious about what his underlying feelings and needs might be. As your lives become fuller and more complex, continue to check in and support each other through the journey.

Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.

Guest commentary: Eagle County open space program still has work to do

Acquiring, maintaining and permanently preserving open space — this is the mission of the Eagle County Open Space Program. Since its creation, projects across the Eagle and Roaring Fork valleys have protected hundreds of acres of wildlife habitat and miles of river frontage, while providing access and connections to the outdoors that are vital to our quality of life.

These values are just as important now as ever, and we believe is it our responsibility to ensure the open space program continues. According to our recent polling and community survey, you agree.

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners, in consultation with our Open Space Advisory Committee and our partners, is considering asking voters to approve an extension of the existing open space tax in November. Originally approved in 2002, the 1.5 mill levy property tax will sunset in 2025. While community response has been very positive toward an extension, a few questions and themes have emerged that we'd like to address.

Why now, when there are still years left before the sunset?

We need to plan for the future of the program. In the open space world, it is not unusual for acquisitions to take years, or even decades, to come to fruition. A longer planning horizon will allow us to ensure we maintain our existing properties while also looking ahead strategically at projects our community and our partners want to see completed.

What types of properties will the program pursue?

Eagle County Open Space will continue its approach of ensuring a diverse portfolio. We have been very successful at creating a program that supports conservation, recreation and quality of life values. Our wildlife advocates celebrate the protection of ranch areas as critical to animal populations. River enthusiasts are using our boat ramps in record numbers. Kids and families are walking, hiking and exploring neighborhood open space parcels. And hunters, backpackers, equestrians and off-highway vehicle users are getting out onto open lands beyond our properties through pass-through accesses we've created.

What about the effect of open space on affordable housing?

We strongly believe our housing and open space programs can and should work together to ensure properties are put to their highest and best use. In addition to conservation potential, every property considered for open space is evaluated on overall community value, potential for partnerships, local sentiment and more. This consideration is not done in a vacuum. Done correctly, projects that address our housing and conservation needs will complement, not compete with, each other.

We look forward to continuing to work with the community and our partners to further the success of our open space program. As always, we invite your comments and feedback on this or any other issue. Please contact us anytime at eagleadmin@eaglecounty.us or at 970-328-8605.