I’ve touched on this before — mostly in a rambling, pseudo-lyric BS piece that I did early on for this publication while I was still trying to figure out exactly what the hell my job was (if anyone can tell me, feel free to write in to the Whine Line; I don’t read it) — but, almost five years ago, I worked for one summer on a trail maintenance crew out in western Colorado. To this day, I’m still not entirely certain why I did it: the pay, at under $600 per month, was lousy, even compared to what I was making as a graduate school peon, and the $175 ticket to fly out there only served to put that figure, depressingly, into perspective; it was completely outside of my comfort zone, pertaining to both geography and work responsibilities; also, I knew no one west of the Mississippi.
Still, the distance and type of work appealed to me. I would be working in full view of snowcapped peaks, sbarro and natural wetland fens at 13,000 feet; sleeping, when I could, in a hostel in Salida and, when I couldn’t, in the hills just outside of town; I would be drinking some great, classic Colorado craft beer (Oskar Blues Ten FIDY w/cherries, I’m looking at you). I would be truly, and for the first time, alone.
I revisit this comparatively truncated period of my life because, just today, I read a news story that pretty much sums up all of Colorado’s endearingly bats**t insanity, the bulk of which I experienced firsthand while living and working out there (remember, sleeping in the hills here). Take it away, Raw Story:
A small Colorado town is considering whether to issue hunting licenses that would offer residents a bounty for shooting down unnamed drones operated by the U.S. government.
Deer Trail resident Phillip Steel told KMGH that he had already collected enough signatures to put his proposed measure on the ballot.
“We do not want drones in town,” Steel explained. “They fly in town, they get shot down.”
“The Town of Deer Trail shall issue a reward of $100 to any shooter who presents a valid hunting license and the following identifiable parts of an unmanned aerial vehicle whose markings and configuration are consistent with those used on any similar craft known to be owned or operated by the United States federal government,” the measure states.
Considering the justifiable jitteriness of the American populace when it comes to drone activity, be they operated by the NSA or by Amazon (which may or may not be the same thing), this sort of reaction comes as little surprise. But just when you think you may have something ideologically in common with these small-town crusaders:
Although Steel admits that he has not seen a drone flying over Deer Trail, Customs and Border Protection does fly Predator drones on surveillance missions over the U.S. border. Those drones come at a cost of about $18 million each — and the destruction of federal property is against the law.
Steel’s proposed ordinance requires that applicants “read and understand English” and be at least 21 years old. Applicants would be anonymous and no background application would be required.
That’s right: in a turn so predictable you’d chide yourself for seeing it coming, three facepalm-worthy elements of this story lurch fully and awkwardly into view: 1) there is no proven danger of drone spying in the town of Deer Trail (population 598, and owner of what appears to be an AngelFire-supported website); 2) the would-be marksmen must “read and understand English,” a provision the implications of which I shouldn’t have to delve into; 3) there is no background check required, because we’ve all seen how well that works out when dealing with firearms.
To be fair, Steel, a former Psychological Warfare officer (essentially a propaganda specialist) in the armed forces, has implied that he’s doing all of this in an effort to raise awareness of drones through the use of satire — and it’s telling, surely, that shotguns, or any firearm included for use in the permit, can’t shoot that high and far anyway. It’s tempting, then, to view this as a non-story. But though Steel’s methods and execution may be satirical, his final aim remains the same: to speak out against drone use.
It gets complicated, here, for those of us willing and able to empathize. If we’re being honest, not many American citizens, in any political camp, are comfortable with drone use. Their increasing prevalence is just one more thing — along with GPS tracking and online monitoring of civilians — that Americans are forced to deal with in order to live and work in this country, at least those of us unwilling and/or unable to go off the grid. Most of us, myself included, just to try to put it out of our minds — and it’s surprisingly easy, considering how all-enveloping the whole thing is. As Albert Goldbarth said, “the sun is too here” to catch our attention.
At the same time, the fact that this ties into what seems to be an escalating (at least in volume) anti-government sentiment is troubling. In general, government is a good thing; we all saw that made painfully clear in the recent shutdown. Plus, this “anti-government” sentiment has really, simply, become synonymous with “anti-Obama” during these last two terms, so it becomes difficult to take people like Steel seriously (inasmuch as he wants to be taken seriously) in this type of context. Would people like Steel be all up in arms about this if it occurred during the Bush years, or if any other Republican (or, hey, libertarian) were in office?
Maybe, maybe not. There is, again, a good point to be made outside the trappings of political sniping, but it’s nearly impossible — something we just have to live with, something that is too “here” for anything to be done.