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Ray Peterson: Now The Legislature Will Be Forced to Act

in Column/Ray Peterson

By R. Ray Peterson, Cowley

As we still seem to be in the grips of this pandemic, folks are starting to wonder when they can go back to work or if they still have a job at all. 

I’m sure our Governor is considering options of setting a date when our workers can return to their jobs. 

And I know that our Legislature is considering a special session to adjust the budget they set just a little over a month ago.  It’s a tricky thing, setting 2-year budget six months in advance but that is exactly what we do in Wyoming. Over the years, we’ve gotten pretty good at estimating revenues and expenditures but lately it has become more of a challenge as past revenue estimates and histories have faded with new events that we face. 

Who could have guessed an entire economy would be brought to almost a standstill, effecting our businesses and industries?  Who could have guessed that oil would be valued at negative amounts?

Add to this our value of coal  and natural gas, and the cost increase to our state in building schools, providing services and you begin to see a pretty gloomy picture of what is facing our lawmakers as they revise our state budget.

Over the last 6 years, the state legislature has been trying to make reductions to the budget.  Many will question why then the expensive remodel of our State Capitol Building and Herschler Building?  

As I was serving at the time we pulled the trigger on these projects, we had saved up a majority of the revenue it would take to complete the task from our boom years of saving and planning for the much-needed renovations.  It was a plan put into place ten years previously.  Construction began about the same time our recent downturn began. 

Folks were not too happy about the timing of it all, but it was planned and the money was set aside years before.  It was a necessity and I for one was proud to be a part of finally biting the bullet to ensure we had a functioning capitol for years to come.  I’ve never been one to pass on problems to the next legislature or next generation to deal with.

Which leads me into the topic of this column.  I’ve often said that our legislature will one day be forced to act on major reductions or major tax increases only after our surplus revenue is gone and we are forced into such decisions. 

With this latest crisis and the downturn in our economy, perhaps that day is coming even quicker than I had imagined. 

Everyone was hopeful that history would repeat itself and something would come along to save the day such as ninety five dollar per barrel oil,  larger volumes of coal being extracted, or the demand of natural gas increasing but today it seems to be the perfect storm and it seems to be beating against our best effort of a budget. 

Now what do we do? 

Well, the legislature will have to consider a special session to address the changes necessary to produce a balanced budget.  They will decide on how to distribute any possible stimulus money from Washington as well as consider further reductions to expenditures or increases to revenue. 

In the recent past, our cash reserves have been used to balance our budget and still could be again but with the concern of depleting this reserve over the next few years rather than the estimated 10-20 years. 

So, what is a legislator to do? Cuts to any budget are not an easy thing to experience.  The phone starts ringing, and they want to know why services have been reduced or eliminated altogether. Tough decisions for closing services or buildings. Eliminating jobs or closing schools but we possible could be looking into the barrel of such decisions. 

The first to go will be the non-essential positions and programs.  Tricky thing is defining what non-essential means. 

Then the services and departments that are not required by our state constitution.  Then finally reducing the services and budgets to the required departments and programs.  In short, I’m glad I got out when I did.  If things turn out to be as bad as today has looked, our legislators will not have an easy road ahead of them.

But if you know Wyoming like I know Wyoming, we will be fine.  This round might be a little rougher than most, but we still live in a state where our government finances are in pretty good shape.

We take care of each other and watch out for each other.  We know the folks next door and we help even when our help might not be needed. We have good leaders that love this state as we all do, and will do their best to ensure that Wyoming will still be the best place to live and raise a family, regardless of what the future might throw at us.

These might be challenging times, perhaps unlike any other, but I’m grateful to be living in a state where I feel safe, represented by good folks, and trusting those around me to be caring and trustworthy. 

My prayers will be with our leaders who might have to make tough decisions soon. They will need to know of our support and concern for the issues they face and the decisions they make on our behalf.

Stay strong Wyoming. You haven’t let me down yet.     

Ray Peterson is a former state legislator in Wyoming.

Bill Sniffin: Wyoming Man Predicted Pandemic 15 Years Ago, At World Economic Forum

in Bill Sniffin/Column

By Bill Sniffin

Hank McKinnell of Jackson predicted today’s worldwide pandemic during a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 15 years ago.

McKinnell recalls making a joint presentation with Dr. Julie Gerberding of the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, where they said the world was overdue for a pandemic. When it comes, he asked the crowd, you may be asked to isolate yourselves in your home for six months. “How many of you are able to do that willingly?”  He said that only himself and Gerberding raised their hands.

So here we are one and a half decades later and the people are in a pandemic for the COVID-19 coronavirus. And folks are practicing the social isolation McKinnell both predicted and recommended in that speech.

McKinnell knows all about this stuff. He is the retired CEO of Pfizer, a worldwide pharmaceutical company with 110,000 employees. He has worked with President Trump’s chief advisor Dr. Tony Fauci for years. McKinnell spent 50 years in the healthcare field and has been on several presidential commissions.

Some weeks ago, he approached the Teton County Health Officer about coming up with a way “to test everyone in our valley for the virus.”  He believes data is the key to solving this crisis.  His plan was thwarted at the time because of the inability to locate enough tests.  He is still hopeful this effort could be done, especially with the arrival of the new same-day tests coming down the line.

He is huge proponent of social distancing. “Since we do not have tools right now, we have to flatten out the effects,” he says. “Keeping people apart is the best tool available.”

He is hopeful that a treatment will be available in 3-4 months.  “We may have a treatment by September,” he says.  He said his son is an infectious disease specialist in California and is also working on this. “The medical profession is learning how to manage this disease,” he said. “The death rate will go down.”

McKinnell published a book in 2005 called A Call To Action, which outlined a new prevention-based approach to employee healthcare. He also pointed out why pharmaceutical companies had lost the public’s trust and how they could regain it. One of the key chapters in the book detailed “how we can lose the race between the world’s most insidious virus,” which is a subject he knows a lot about. He was talking about the HIV virus which had killed millions.

In his book, McKinnell writes about the HIV pandemic, which is the worst the world has ever known. He writes that it is beyond the scope of governments acting alone – and how, even in the face of devastating global catastrophes, public-private partnerships can deliver real hope.

McKinnell was a keynote speaker at the Governor’s Business Forum in Cheyenne about 10 years ago.  

While CEO of Pfizer, he founded the Infectious Diseases Institute in Uganda, one of the most respected facilities in the world when it comes to pandemic-style viruses.  The building there is called the IDI- McKinnell Knowledge Center.  Horrific viruses like HIV and Ebola have come from Africa, thus creating the need for such a center. Dr. Fauci was of assistance in helping to set up the center.

In other news related to the current times, McKinnell recently announced the donation of $250,000 for scholarships for young men and women, to attend the state’s community colleges to learn “trades.”

He was not always a businessman.  He explained that he grew up wanting to be a ship’s captain and worked on boats while growing up in British Columbia. As a young person uncertain of his future, his father convinced him to go to college. He ended up going to Stanford for a Masters and Ph.D., which led to his five-decade career at Pfizer.

“I was sort of drifting along,” he recalls. “Much like many young people in Wyoming today probably are, too.”  He said it occurred to him that many of them may have needed a helping hand.

He responded to an announcement by his friend Foster Friess who also granted $250,000 for students headed to the state’s community colleges, as a way to learn well-paying trade jobs and improve their lives. McKinnell said they are still working out details to see if they should double the number of scholarships or increase the amount of each scholarship.

McKinnell is an inspiration. He is an example of a person using his unique talents to help his fellow man. 

Tom Jones: You Have My Permission To Kill Yourself. You Do Not Have Permission To Kill Me

in Column/Tom Jones

Guest Column by Tom Jones

To all of you who are ready to open the gates again:

You have my permission to kill yourself. You do not have permission to kill me or my family.

You say Wyoming is doing better so it’s time to go back to normal. We are doing better because we are doing it right. The curve will turn into a U if we open too soon.

I fully understand the desire to get back to work, either as an employee or a business owner. You say the cost to the economy is too great to remain closed. What level of dead will change your mind? A quarter million, half a million, ten million. 

If we can avoid deaths we need to try. In the whole scheme of things I believe this will be relatively short lived. Dead is dead but economies do rebound.

It scares me that Wyoming’s congressional delegation continues to drink the Kool-Aid of the President. For once, please look at what is best for our citizens. Sen. Barrasso needs to remember his medical background: “First do no harm.” Pay attention to science and scientists. They know better than anyone.

I am amazed at the way so many, especially Congress, the president and the media, continue to politicize this event. Let’s work for a cure. Let’s work to protect ourselves and our families. We are all in this together. Let’s work together.

Some of you may recall the adage from the AIDs infection. “When you have sex, you are having sex with every person your partner ever had sex with.”. There is a corollary to that today.

“When you socialize with someone, you are socializing with every person they have socialized with.” You will probably never know where you got the infection.

Thank you to everyone out there who is working to help keep the rest of us safe. Health care providers, grocery workers, truck drivers and so many I can’t name them all. We have a new appreciation for so many people we ignored before. Don’t make their efforts and sacrifices be in vain.

Stay home. Stay healthy.

Bill Sniffin: Okay, Now What To Do? Open Fast? Open Slowly? What’s A State To Do?

in Bill Sniffin/Column

By Bill Sniffin, publisher of the Cowboy State Daily

So, is Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon ready to gently lift restrictions on everyday life here in the Cowboy State?

He has been saying we will be in our current shutdown status until April 30, but perhaps there is some wiggle room here.  Gordon says data will drive his ultimate plans.  He will need good data and good advice from a myriad of people working on his committees studying all aspects of the state’s economy. 

Data is based on statistics. And therein often lies the problem. 

Legendary American Humorist Mark Twain is credited with pointing out that there are three kinds of lies:

1. Lies.

2. Damned lies.

3. Statistics.

I always loved that line because it would come into play so often during major discussions of local, state, and national policies.  Sure, there are statistics, but which ones can you believe?  Don’t you naturally believe the ones that favor your side?

On local, state, national, and international fronts, we are facing two of the biggest crises in our history. One is a health crisis (pandemic) and the second is an economic crisis, caused by governments reacting to the first crisis. 

The two are totally related but sometimes it is hard to feel that way.

For example, a person infected with the COVID-19 might be fighting for his or her life and could care less about whether the economy opens up or not. That person probably believes it should not. In this group also fall those senior citizens or people with underlying health issues who literally are fearing for their lives. 

Then there are the working folks and the owners of small businesses who fear a different kind of demise – economic death. They risk losing their lifetime investments or their seniority or whatever prosperity they were enjoying just six weeks ago.  And these folks are not sick and do not know anyone who is sick.  They feel like victims of a drive-by shooting.  The emotions these folks are feeling are serious. 

Today, I am seeing three sets of statistics that seem to be affecting our lives here in Wyoming. 

The first is a medical question:  how many people got sick from COVID-19?  Wyoming has done many things well but a huge deficiency is the lack of testing.  It is a shame that so few people in Wyoming have been tested by now. How can you get a real picture of the extent of COVID-19 infestation without more tests?

The second is an economic question:  with the state entering possibly its worst depression ever from a state government perspective, where does Gov. Gordon and the legislature cut to balance the budget? I would predict there is a group of hard-nosed legislators lining up to cut the money allocated for education.  This is a fight that could go to the state Supreme Court for a third time. 

The third is how to restore our economy.  Six weeks ago, our hospitality industry was booming.  Can it bounce back?  Will there be a pent-up demand to come see our wonderful state?  I would think people across America would favor going to wide open spaces rather than Disney theme parks or Las Vegas casinos. 

Oil rigs were working and oil was flowing in Wyoming this year until the Russians and Saudis destroyed that market with their recent price war. Now those countries have agreed to cut back dramatically, which will raise oil prices. This will be good for Wyoming. 

One of my biggest fears are the local-owned stores up and down our Main Streets across Wyoming. Right now, these businesses are running on fumes. A few actually made money on the federal CARES act but a lot of them might just have to call it quits.  This is such a tragedy.

Gov. Gordon concludes: “We have got to get this right,” he said. “We are living in a time where the new reality is that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future. Until we have a vaccine or a treatment, things are going to be different.” 

We wish Godspeed to the governor and his committees when it comes to how to solve all this.  It seems like he might open the economy but request that folks more prone to catch the illness still maintain their shelter-in-place recommendations. 

In the end, we are all soldiers in this world-wide battle against one of the world’s greatest plagues. Few people alive have experienced what we are going through.

Please follow the rules. Be careful. Reach out in a safe way to stranded or lonely people. We will emerge from this as a possibly much different people than we were before this all started.  

We are a resilient people and we will be stronger in the end. 

Check out additional columns at He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to

Dave Simpson: Why We Support Trump, In Four Words

in Column/Dave Simpson

By Dave Simpson, Columnist for Cowboy State Daily

It’s not like we don’t see the humor in this.

And that’s what separates us from our liberal friends. (We have so many. And some seem so angry.)

Our liberal friends are mystified that we still like a president who sometimes rambles, who repeats himself, who often blusters, and who rips the hide off reporters. How could educated people like us, they wonder, like a president who has told us many times about that “perfect” call to the president of Ukraine?

At first, that one gave me pause. What is a “perfect” call? Did he get the phone number correct? Did he make all the points he wished to make? Were his parting words hopeful? What about that call was perfect?

I spent decades as an editor, and often wish I could fix something someone wrote. I cringe when a public official speaks awkwardly. I can almost always think of a better word or phrase. So supporting Donald Trump has been, well, a minefield. I avoid watching his press conferences, because I dread what his mortal enemies will make of every hyperbolic utterance, every awkward rejoinder, every word that seems an unfortunate choice.

“Oh gosh,” I think, “I wish he hadn’t said THAT! Imagine what Joe and Mika will make of THAT on ‘Morning Joe’ tomorrow.”

And they do, in full Trump Derangement Syndrome contempt.

After almost four years, however, we have decided that while we would almost always put things a bit differently, it was Donald Trump who was elected president, not us. And we have seen the humor in his hyperbolic interludes ever since.

“Did you call your brother back?” my wife will ask. I respond, “Yes. And it was a PERFECT call. Absolutely PERFECT. Couldn’t have been better in any way! One of the GREATEST CALLS ever made.” And we laugh at the oblique reference to our president, who often gets a little carried away, but whom we still like very much.

We have started to view people we don’t like as “TOTAL LOSERS, absolute DISASTERS,” who are probably “FAILING” and “CORRUPT.” We laugh at that, as well.

When I mow the lawn, I say I did a “TERRIFIC JOB, FANTASTIC! INCREDIBLE.” When I barbecue burgers, they are the GREATEST hamburgers ever barbecued in the HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE.

We’ve gotten a lot of laughs out of this, even as our liberal friends meticulously dissect the utterances of our president, examining every word under an electron microscope. And they are uniformly appalled, horrified. When you hate a guy enough, if he says “good morning,” you can read it as shocking lack of empathy for those poor souls who are not having a good morning.

Our president gives them countless things to get their guts in a knot over, every day, and make them sputter in disbelief at the uncouthness of the man. How dare such a person be our president?

The other day, my wife – who has more advanced degrees than you can shake a stick at – summed it up in a mere four words. We still like the man, despite the disbelief of our liberal friends, for one reason:

“He’s got our back,” she said.


He talks about American greatness at every opportunity. He’s an optimist. He’s determined to restart our shuttered economy. He stands by those who have saved their money so they can live the American dream. Despite relentless opposition, he gets things done. He helped make a massive run-up of the stock market happen, and promises to do it again. He put solid justices on the Supreme Court.

And he has cut federal regulations. (Can our liberal friends justify government declaring a creek and stock pond in our state “navigable waters,” and defend suing a rancher into near oblivion? Even liberals have to admit that previous administrations got carried away with regulations.)

And despite all the people who hate everything about him, he still seems to like the job.

Just about every day he makes us laugh, saying something we wish he hadn’t. Something no other president would have said.

But, after almost four years we remain sure of that one thing:

He’s got our back.

Dave Simpson can be contacted at

Cat Urbigkit: Rejecting an Unsustainable System

in Cat Urbigkit/Column

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

The COVID-19 crisis has presented various lessons for our country, but I fear that once the crisis has passed, we’ll forget those lessons – until the next crisis.

I’m not referring to the lack of readiness for a global health pandemic, and the shortages of medical supplies, personnel, and facilities. Instead, I’m referring to everyday items used and consumed by American households: Food.

In a country with such an abundance of food production, communities found themselves with food shortages, and when stores were able to restock certain items, they were mobbed and quickly sold out again.

Even in small-town Wyoming, staples such as eggs, milk, bread, and meat were in short supply. At the same time, food waste occurred at staggering levels, as producers of food were unable to get their products to consumers.

The consolidation of meat processing in America into relatively few facilities owned by even fewer giant corporations has caused bottlenecks in the supply chain as their plants are shut down due to COVID-19.

In my view, the consolidation of the meat supply has resulted in companies selling an inferior product that costs them less, providing for huge profit margins for the companies while livestock producers get shafted.

Meatpacker margins for beef has surged during this pandemic, yet the price that processors pay for live cattle has plunged. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the request of congressional members, has said it will investigate. When the food supply is captured by big ag, it’s not operating as a free-market system.

The Smithfield Foods pork-processing plant in South Dakota is the nation’s ninth-largest hog-processor and was shut down after COVID-19 swept through the plant, with more than 600 infected employees. The plant is part of a much larger Chinese company that is the largest pork producer in the world.

But Smithfield wasn’t alone in having to shutter. The JBS plant in Colorado shut down with more than 100 infected employees and several deaths from COVID-19.

JBS is owned by a Brazilian company, the world’s largest producer of beef. At least one Tyson Foods plant in Iowa is shut down after several workers died and nearly 200 workers were sickened by the coronavirus.

Tyson is an American company that proudly wields the title of being the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork (second only to JBS).

All three of these industrial food giants have also launched their own “alternative protein” companies, creating laboratories and factories for manufacturing these food products.

While they claim to be doing it to meet the protein needs of our increasing world human population, it’s another move that will result in human dependence on only a few food suppliers for actual human survival.

I am fortunate to look out my living room window to beef and lamb on the hoof, raised in a sustainable grazing system that follows nature’s rhythms. I know that in a food shortage, we can feed a lot of people.

But our family won’t be doing it by sending our livestock to huge meat processors. Expanding the network of small meat processing companies (like Laramie’s 307 Meat Company) is desperately needed throughout the country, so that we can reduce the miles that food must travel between the field and the table.

The dwindling sheep industry has it even worse than the cattle component. Lamb prices have dropped 40%; wool prices are down 43% from last year and sales have come to a screeching halt; and American sheep producers are now paying to dispose of beautiful sheep pelts that were once considered a premium product – thanks to tariffs imposed by China, where many sheep pelts were exported for processing (because America tends to export industries it finds inconvenient).

With no market for our fine wool this year– wool that has been used to create military dress uniforms and fashion lines in Europe – it’s time to make a change. Continuing to participate in this warped market system is not sustainable.

My family is going to join others in making the change to local market systems. From marketing our own meat products, to working with companies (like Mountain Meadow Wool) to create a product line from our wool, we’re making the move to invest in ourselves, and investing in Wyoming’s future.

And for those who discount the importance of livestock grazing on public lands in the arid American West, as the Brits say, “Sod off.” This pandemic has proven the importance of food production at the local level.

As we saw during this worldwide crisis, agricultural industry workers at every level are deemed essential – because we produce food for human survival. Yet only 2% of American population has any connection to production agriculture.

How I wish every family in America could at least plant their own gardens and have a few laying hens. Then there would be much less food insecurity, and families would be better able to sustain themselves during a crisis like this one.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email

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Wyoming Runner Barely Missed Boston Marathon Bomb 7 Years Ago This Week

in Column

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Column, by Tiffany Piplica Hartpence

Some seven years ago this week, I lined up at the start of the 2013 Boston Marathon not having the slightest idea what was coming.

Every runner has their own reasons for running Boston.

For me, the Boston Marathon was one of the most relaxed races I’ve ever run. I had just had my second baby and just qualifying for Boston was a huge feat. It’s really hard, running a sub-3:35 marathon means 8:00 minute pace for 26.2 miles.

It was a tremendous accomplishment for me to qualify, just to be there. As a busy, working mom, I knew the time commitment and level of fitness to for me to run Boston may be a once in a lifetime event for me, so I savored it. I didn’t look at my watch, I looked at the city. I didn’t pay attention to my breathing, I talked to other runners.

I didn’t care about my form. I gave high-fives to spectators. I remember seeing my husband Sam and a sleeping baby Chase somewhere around mile 17. My son Alden and my mom were at the finish line. For hours my boy sat at the finish line, by a bomb!

By the time mile 20 rolled around I started to feel anxious to be done, I figured four-year old Alden was getting stir crazy and baby Chase was probably getting hungry. I kicked into gear.

By the time I crossed the finish line I didn’t have the typical joy of finishing a run. I didn’t jog back to the finish to cheer on other runners. I didn’t stop at the food table despite having just finished a marathon. I didn’t do any of the things I normally would do after finishing a marathon.

My lighthearted, happy vibe marathon shifted in an unexplainable way. I crossed the finish line and had a bad feeling so I called my mom from the finish area, who had Alden at the finish line, and asked her to meet me a couple blocks away.

She and Alden left and missed the explosion by about a minute; they were about a block and around the corner from the explosion site.

My gut feeling helped save my Alden, and that day I learned to never ignore it.

So that is my Boston Marathon bomb story – 7 years later. Here’s to #Bostonstrong. I’m so proud to have been there.

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Finding Hope Will Be Important As Coronavirus Crisis Deepens

in Column/Glenn Arbery

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Column by Dr. Glenn Arbery, President Wyoming Catholic College, Lander

This past weekend, I got an email from one of last year’s WCC graduates. He said that he missed the Wyoming landscapes that I described in a recent column.

He also thanked us for making his class memorize W.B. Yeats’s poem, “The Second Coming.” As he put it, “It’s been stuck in my head lately like a song.” That might sound heartwarming at first (a student fondly remembering a poem that moved him), but the reality is a little darker. 

Yeats wrote “The Second Coming” almost exactly a century ago in the immediate aftermath of World War I—that enormous refutation of the Enlightenment—when the Spanish influenza raged across the world and new, godless ideologies were rising to power.

Developing his own mythology of history, he anticipates the end of the Christian era as part of a complex series of interlocking “gyres” that represent the expansion and contraction of historical civilizations. He imagines a different and ominous “second coming” of an ancient Egyptian civilization, not the return of Christ. Like Nietzsche, Yeats recognizes the devastating consequences of the loss of God at the center of European civilization:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world….

In the poem, the falcon turns in the widening circles of his flight until he “cannot hear the falconer,” the central figure, whereupon “Things fall apart.” Political and cultural Christendom, which once heard Christ in the Church and the Gospels, hears Him no longer—in fact, is no longer “Christendom” at all, as the European Union demonstrates today. 

“Things have felt strange lately,” our alumnus wrote, “in the sense that, well, the falcon is spiraling too high and has temporarily lost his connection to earth.” It’s easy to see why this poem sticks in this graduate’s head. Within a few weeks, the world seems to have lost its way.

No one knows what will happen with COVID-19—whether it will spread and peak and go away, or whether it will stay around for years, even centuries, as the plague did in Europe. Whether the economy will recover depends on what happens with the virus. The political wrangling that recently occupied everyone’s attention has not stopped, but everyone’s focus now rests on Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is not running for anything.

So much has changed. Last night I was crumpling some newspaper to light a fire, and I glanced at the headline from September—the whistleblower, the beginning of what eventually became the impeachment proceedings. It was almost a nostalgic moment: Remember the impeachment?

I predict a great resurgence of hope and imagination after this crisis. Who knows whether it is not just for an occasion like this that our College came into existence—to find the unheard-of things preserved for a world that had forgotten them?

It’s good to remember how fortunate we have been not to suffer these massive disorientations more frequently; it’s also good to remember that true culture arises out of the joy and beauty we find anyway.

Our graduate also asked what books or poems I would recommend. As I said a few weeks ago, the great books of the Western tradition begin with plagues like the one in the opening lines of the Iliad. Look at the history of smallpox, and then read Dickens’ Bleak House, one of the great novels in the English tradition.

Reread the epics, especially those that center on a hero who lives for a long time in a condition of uncertainty and fear and who must give up even temporary security in order to accomplish some great task. I think of Aeneas, and there are many others. And Tolkien is not a bad companion when it feels like the shadow of Mordor is coming over the world. 

As for poems, it’s a small gesture, but I have started a blog, “A Ragged Patch of Glow,” just to look at a lyric poem a day—insights, glimpses of emotion, intuitions of beauty. I don’t have a program of instruction in mind, just a way to draw on the heights and depths of the capacities of language. I hope that the poems bring a moment or two of clarity.

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Jim Hicks: Friday Let’s All Make Some Noise About 7 P.m. And Feel Better . . .

in Column/Sagebrush Sven

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By Sagebrush Sven, (translated by Jim Hicks)

BUFFALO – At first, we were having a hard time remembering time it was. Had to look at the clock in the kitchen because the hours were either dragging or flying by. 

After a couple more weeks were found ourselves trying to determine which day of the week it happened to be.

And then, this week Maudie caught me studying the calendar that hangs in the hallway. 

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Trying to figure out what week of the month it might be.”

This was last weekend when the wind was blowing, the temperature was in the low teens and we were getting five inches of snow.

“I really thought maybe it was still February,” was my excuse.

So, the “stay-at-home” and “isolate” continues. For those who really like to be left alone, this may actually change some attitudes. 

I’ve talked to so many spam callers we are starting to get less and less of them.

It can be fun if you go ahead and listen to the recorded pitch and then punch the number to talk to the “IRS Agent” or the “Social Security Representative” or even the lady who wants to sell you an alert system in case you fall and can’t get up.

Believe it or not, if you sound dumb enough, they will spend 20 minutes trying to explain why you should take all your money out of the bank, wrap it with foil and overnight it to their headquarters in California.  Just make sure you invent bank account numbers and a social security number as well. 

You can get such satisfaction to drive them crazy while you are keeping them from calling some other poor sucker.

And this week Barb Mueller and some of her friends came up with a great idea (she says it’s been done in other places). She wants everyone to come out of their house at 7p.m. sharp, and get rid of a lot of pent-up emotion by “whoopin’ or hollerin’ or banging on pans or blowing a bugle if they have one. 

“It will relieve a lot of stress at the end of a day of isolation.”

They have scheduled he first “Isolation whoop-up” for 7p.m. this Friday, and will continue every evening at 7 sharp.

“It will make us all feel better,” says Barb and her co-conspirators.

So, get the dishpan and a big spoon out and head for the front porch Friday evening. 

And the “stay-in-place” humor just keeps coming if you are on the “net” or have a cell-phone. Every new idea goes around the globe instantly. But the Bench Sitters still like to pick a few special ones to share.

Their “picks of the week include –

Frustration is trying to find your glasses without your glasses.

Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.

The irony of life is that, by the time you’re old enough to know your way around, you’re not going anywhere.

I was always taught to respect my elders, but it keeps getting harder to find one.

Every morning is the dawn of a new error.

And so, the Bench Sitters have agreed to send their best wishes, a bag of patients and a bowl of brotherly love to help you handle the nest week . . . whatever week that might be.

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Dave Simpson: When Hunkering Down Isn’t Enough

in Column/Dave Simpson

By Dave Simpson, Cowboy State Daily columnist

We’re a month into this Coronavirus imbroglio – probably the worst case of cabin fever we have ever suffered – and you have to wonder how long this can go on.

Some thoughts from solitary confinement:

– I live in one of the eight states that are not currently under “shelter in place” orders. The governor of Wyoming has urged us to stay home, but hasn’t ordered us to shelter in place. And he gets right testy when asked about it.

Reporters and many Democrats (they’ve got a lot in common) suspect we’re not doing our part. Why haven’t we joined the other 42 states, they ask, in issuing a shelter in place order? Our local paper ran a long editorial last Sunday, beseeching the governor to order us to shelter in place.

What are folks in those other states doing, however, that we’re not? Beats me.

Our schools are closed. The university is closed. Churches are closed. Restaurant dining areas are closed. Coffee shops are closed. Bars are closed. Exercise gyms are closed. The library is closed. Bank lobbies are closed. Barber shops are closed. Beauty shops are closed. You can’t even get a commemorative Coronavirus tattoo or piercing, because those joints are closed, too.

You can still go to the grocery store, but try finding a bottle of hand sanitizer.

I don’t know how to shelter in place any more than I’m already sheltering in place. I’m as hunkered as I can hunker.

Even rock star doctor Anthony Fauci said last week that folks in our state are doing a good job avoiding each other. (It’s easy. We have tons of distance, and people are scarce as hen’s teeth.)

So, what’s all this “shelter in place” fuss about?

– Speaking of rock stars, if the barber shops stay closed for much longer, I’m going to look like Meatloaf.

My wife cut our son’s hair, but he wears his hair like a recruit at basic training. Cutting his hair is about as complicated as mowing the lawn. She wanted to cut my hair, but I said, “Uh, no thanks.”

My father cut my hair when I was a kid, and whatever directions you gave him, you always got a crew cut. Every time. One time I said I wanted sideburns like Elvis, and he laughed out loud.

The barbershops better reopen before a man bun becomes an option.

– I’m wearing a mask when I’m at the grocery store. I get a little dizzy if I wear it too long, and my glasses fog up. (In scuba diving, they teach you to spit in your mask to keep it from fogging, but that’s not an option here.)

Wearing a mask takes some getting used to, but an old saying comes to mind:

“Nobody’s going to get down off his horse” to notice that I’m wearing a mask.

It’s the least we can do.

– To stay busy, I’ve cleaned out the file cabinet, tossed out old magazines and newspapers, tested the sump pump (it works), serviced the lawn mower, cleaned off my workbench, made peanut butter cookies, read four books, made onion soup, finished watching “Breaking Bad,” and started watching “Making a Murderer.”

This is an amazing opportunity – time to get things done. I’ve even hung a tennis ball on a string from the ceiling of the garage, so I know exactly where to park my pickup.

You can’t get much more organized than that.

– Little things can become issues when cooped up like this.

My wife and son pick their favorite jelly beans out of the jar, leaving the rejects for me.

It’s starting to get on my nerves.

– President You Know Who caught a lot of flak for saying it, but didn’t we all want this to be over by Easter? Was that so crazy? And don’t we all hope that HCQ drug helps people with this disease? And don’t we all want businesses to reopen and everyone to get back to work? Don’t we?

Our politics, however, have become so hateful and deranged that expressing any optimism at all is politically incorrect.

Didn’t these folks once embrace “hope and change?”

I guess it depends on who’s president.

Dave Simpson can be contacted at

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