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The tornado alley of money

Andy Stone

Here’s something to remember: Money doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t care about your hopes and dreams and bright ideas. And it certainly doesn’t care about your precious little town.Money is a force of nature, and it cares about the world just like any other force of nature. It cares about you the way the same way a tornado cares about a trailer park.Here’s something else to remember: Money is patient. It doesn’t give up and go away. If money doesn’t get what it wants, it just piles on more money. And if that doesn’t work … it piles on some more money. And more. And the pressure builds like the pressure of the water at the bottom of the deepest ocean until it finally crushes the hull of your resistance like a robin’s egg under a steamroller.So why am I telling you all these screamingly obvious insights? Because Aspen’s at the center of the vortex. It’s like chasing funnel clouds in Tornado Alley. Like watching the hurricanes slam on shore along the Gulf Coast. And if you want to do battle, you need to know what you’re up against. You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. You don’t bring logic to a knife fight. And you don’t bring your drug-addled brother-in-law to a battle of wits.If we want to fight the power of all that money for the soul of Aspen, then here’s something to think about: We have to stop being so damn reasonable. Oh sure, I can hear the laughter right now: Growth control in Aspen is “reasonable”? Yee-ha! That’s a knee-slapper. But it is reasonable. Worse. It’s too damned reasonable.Oh sure, you hear the screams of pain and outrage when the latest development gang-bang gets stopped. But (and please pardon the mixed metaphors) that’s just the screaming of a hyena that’s been deprived of its prey. It’s screaming now, but you know it’s coming back. And not just one hyena, a pack. And they’re going to tear you limb from limb.Look around. Does Aspen look like a town where greed had been stopped in its tracks? Government feels an obligation to be reasonable. To, at least, play by the rules. Developers have no such qualms. The developers and their planners and their lawyers lie and twist the truth and plead and cry and say any damn thing. I once watched an octopus slip through a quarter-inch gap in a wooden crate on a pier in Spain. It looked like a wave of pure slime that somehow turned back into an octopus once it was free. That’s the way a good land-use lawyer can slip a dozen condominiums and a 15,000-square-foot mansion through a legal loophole in a air-tight code.They ask for 10 times what they want – and then they howl with rage at every tiny reduction … until finally, with bloody tears running down their cheeks, they walk away with twice what they ever imagined they might get. And they walk away cursing the unfair, thieving, dictatorial government that just gave them more than they ever could have imagined. With a cherry on top.But I don’t blame them. It’s not really them talking. It’s the money. The money speaks through the developers the same way the demon in “The Exorcist” spoke through that poor possessed little girl. (OK, she wound up vomiting torrents of bright green bile; they wind up sipping fine champagne. You shouldn’t push these metaphors too far.)We’re not going to stop them by being reasonable. No great battle has ever been won by men of reason. In “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” one of Butch’s rebellious gang members challenges him to a knife fight.”First,” says Butch, “we have to get the rules straightened out.””Rules?” asks the hulking villain, confused for an instant. “No rules in a knife fight.”Butch immediately throws dirt in his eyes and kicks him in the groin. As the huge man falls to his knees, Butch shouts, “Well, if there ain’t no rules, let’s get started” and he knocks the lunk unconscious.Take a lesson from Butch Cassidy. It’s time to stop being reasonable – because money never is.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is andy@aspentimes.com.


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