Stone: Fighting ‘First World Problems’ |

Stone: Fighting ‘First World Problems’

The world seems to be going pretty directly to hell right now. We are engulfed in the fog of war: poison gas and vicious sectarian slaughter — and that’s just on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

Sorry, I’m just trying to lighten things up a bit, but I’m really not in a joking mood. Things really are bad right now. People are being slaughtered by the thousands, and our government is paralyzed by bitter infighting. Even if you say “To hell with the rest of the world” — which is always tempting — we are still teetering on a nasty edge right here at home.

On the national level, we have threats to default on our national debt as part of a fight over providing health care insurance. Right here in our happy little state of Colorado, we have legislators facing recall elections because they voted to require background checks aimed at making sure felons do not buy guns.

As a human being and a U.S. citizen, I have some strong feelings on all these things. At times like this, it’s shameful not to have strong opinions.

But as a local columnist, I have learned to hesitate when it comes to expressing opinions on matters of national and international importance.

Oh sure, I’ve tried in the past.

I did my level best. I wrote with passion and conviction, and looking back, I have to insist I was very, very right. But George W. Bush went right ahead and invaded Iraq anyway.

He didn’t give a damn what I had to say, did he?

Fair enough: Local I shall be.

But locally we are suffering from some pathetic “First World problems” — or, as politically incorrect troublemakers say, “white people’s problems.”

We have a spoiled Ukrainian beauty queen raising hell over a noisy midafternoon hot-dog-eating contest at the bar below her penthouse condo.

How’s that for “poison gas”?

And, just by the way, we have that same beauty queen and her multimillionaire husband fighting the city over whether the poor and the disabled should be allowed to use the front door of their building.

We have people in a frothing rage over the obscenity of a few concrete “eggs” that decorate bus stops valleywide.

We have a simmering — and certain to be resumed — squabble over local businesses suffering a bad day as the result of an international bicycle race in downtown Aspen.

And speaking of bikes, some of the same people who are frothing-mad over those concrete eggs are undoubtedly still all twisted up inside about a system of publicly available bikes scattered through the city.

And don’t forget that horrible predicament of women in high heels who cannot walk two blocks to the restaurant for dinner. Oh yeah, we absolutely have to tear up a park in the middle of town to solve that one.

We are living in a prelapsarian Garden of Eden and complaining about the quality of the apples the snake is handing out.

“Outrageous! There’s a worm in this apple, Mr. Snake. Besides, no one eats Red Delicious apples. They’re so — ordinary.”

High heels. Bike sharing. Concrete eggs.

White people’s problems.

And — forgive me for this one — we do have some problems involving darker-skinned Latinos. But a major stumbling block there is getting the community to recognize that Latinos have problems — instead of insisting the Latinos are the problem.

Sure, I can whip myself into a frothing frenzy about this stuff because, yes, it really does matter.

This valley is a special place, and the battle to save its best qualities is worth the effort.

But still …

Dictators are gassing thousands of people, and the world doesn’t know what can be done — or if anything should be done.

Religious fundamentalists are murdering people throughout the Middle East (and even, within memory, right here in the United States), and no one has any kind of solution that doesn’t involve even more killing.

The Egyptian army has overruled the results of a legitimate national election in Egypt — and the Republican Party is trying to do the same thing right here in the U.S.A.

Oops! I just slipped in one of my nasty personal opinions on national/international matters, even as I was saying that I really need to stick to local affairs.

But that’s the problem.

Sometimes the world just floods in, washing right over the walls of privilege and wealth that protect our little mountain valley (just the way a flood on the Fryingpan River might someday flood all those beat-up trailers full of Latinos in Basalt. But never mind — we can solve that problem with a moving van or, for the holdouts, a bulldozer).

Some of us look in horror at those who reject science by insisting that evolution and climate change are frauds — even as some of those same horrified people reject science by refusing to have their children vaccinated. And now whooping cough is on the upswing.

We pull the pin and throw the grenade without knowing exactly who will get blown up.

I’m not just talking about cruise missiles. The CIA’s efforts to track down Osama bin Laden may be leading directly to a resurgence in polio in Pakistan. (Really. Look it up.)

Damn. I’m doing it again.

It’s what I call “keyboard disease”: Sit me down in front of a keyboard, and I’ll churn out an opinion. I may or may not be qualified (probably not), but what the hell — it’s what I do.

So forgive me this week if I opt for a kind of semi-silence. I know a few cheap shots and sneaky opinions have crept in here. (I’ve got this keyboard, see? And a deadline.)

As Mr. Wordsworth said, “The world is too much with us.”

Next time I’ll shake off the world and focus on our grave local problems: beauty queens with sensitive hearing! Women in heels! Bike sharing! Concrete eggs!

I promise.

Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is

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