Hugos, Sad Puppies and the Political Theory Problem


Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for Sale

Do Gatekeepers keep the Barbarians beyond the walls?  Or do they keep the Sheep inside? Or put another way, what point a Gatekeeper without a Gate?  Cathy Young at Real Clear Politics notes:

The latest pitched battle in science fiction is not between space pirates and alien monsters but between fandom factions, with the Hugo Awards as the battlefield. Depending on where you stand, this fight pits either forces of progress against reactionary barbarians or the elitist establishment against anti-authoritarian rebels. The progressive elites have decisively won this round; but was it a pyrrhic victory? One thing is certain: this culture war is here to stay.

This year’s Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy (SFF) were dominated by drama, reported by venues as diverse as the Wall Street Journal and Wired magazine. As I understand it, a group of SFF writers and fans—tongue-in-cheek dubbing themselves the “Sad Puppies” since they were sad at the state of the awards—voted as a bloc on nominations of not-so politically-correct (PC) writers this year.  The progressive bloc, that had nominated nominations and awards the last few years (and who were dubbed “Social Justice Warriors, SJWs) were not amused, and urged voters to award “No Award” in all categories.  And that’s what happened, mostly.

So who won?  Some say the SJWs won when “Noa Ward” took the night.  Others say the more radical “Rabid Puppies” won when the voters ‘burned their own house down’, giving no awards rather than choose among the nominees.  Nobody much says the “Sad Puppies” won, other than the fact they wrote the agenda for an awards ceremony that was about the authors, not their works.

And why should I care?

I’m not a die-hard SFF fan.  I listen to Americana music and keep track of some folky music blogs.  I read public policy and economics non-fiction, flavored by classics in western fiction from Louis L’Amour or Wallace Stegner.  Ivan Doig is about as radical I get.  But I do occasionally go on a SFF jag—last winter I spent a lot of time with Diana Gabaldon‘s Outlander historical time-travel novels, and George R.R. Martin‘s Game of Thrones dysfunctional medieval-ish fantasy world.*  (Hint: Outlander > GoT)

I came to these series late.  I heard their TV buzz, yes, but I didn’t pick the books up until more than one friend/relation made a personal recommendation.  I guess you could say in my backward way, I read these authors Despite their renown.  And despite their awards.

Traditionally, awards and reviews have been a good way to recognize quality artistic material, but also for consumers as a way to choose among the variety of material available.  When you face a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf at the local bookstore) or page-upon-page at Amazon), how do you choose?  At my local bookstore, the paperback HBO tie-in is obvious on name-recognition alone.  On the far side is a local author, who signed the book, so that’s interesting.  Between them, Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem, translated from the Chinese in hard-cover, with a “Hugo Award Winner” tab prominently displayed.  And a thiner little novel with a “Recommended by Staff” tab.

How do we choose?

I’m interested in the story—the author’s reputation is an indication if they are skilled at their craft, but I don’t really care if they are white, brown or blue, who they sleep with or what their politics are.  I mean, Hemingway was a jerk, but we still read his stories today because they are good.  So in the year of “Noa Ward” from the PC voters, does the Hugo Award recognize a quality story worth $30 on a budget?  Or does it bless a PC storyline I’m not at all interested in?  I’m not a Puppy, I’m not an anti-Puppy, I just want to spend my limited time and funds on good content.  So I skipped the Hugo to browse the staff selection—a more-trusted intermediary.  And I’ll likely check my local library before my next binge reading session, as an even-more-trusted intermediary.

The digital revolution was predicted to empower those authors whose writings had been marginalized, shut out of mainstream publishing, to overthrow the old monastic self-selecting order of cultural gatekeepers (meaning professional critics). Thus would critical faculties be sharpened and democratized. Digital platforms would crack open the cloistered and solipsistic world of academe, bypass the old presses and performing-arts spaces, and unleash a new era of cultural commerce. With smart machines there would be smarter people.
—Steve Wasserman, In Defense of Difficulty

The idea of the intermediary has be thinking more generally of political economy, moral philosophy and public-choice theory.  So much of life comes down to how we choose among limited resources.  There are only so many hours in a day, to work or to read, to produce or to consume or to volunteer for the betterment of mankind.  The Internet was supposed to eliminate intermediaries, to allow all manner of artists and producers to skip the middle-man and interact directly with consumers.  And it has.  And it hasn’t.  For every direct-purchase I make (music mostly, but humor me) I’m finding I just don’t have time to evaluate all the other opportunities available.  So it seems with the demise of trusted editors and middle managers, I rely even More on what trusted intermediaries I can find.

Sadly, groups like the Hugos basing awards on “diverse” authors rather than the “quality” of their works—choosing sides in the culture wars—speaks for itself.  I’ll devote my time elsewhere.

 * G.R.R. Martin is quite vested in the Hugo Awards and has made interesting commentary on the Puppies and his own alternate Alfie awards.




Posted in Policy, Pursuit of Happiness | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Falls Creek

Falls Creek Falls

Falls Creek Falls is a moderate hike along Fourmile Creek into the Weminuche Wilderness north of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  You can find a dozen hiking ideas (easy to difficult) and scenic drives (on road or off) at


Posted in Pursuit of Happiness | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wolf Creek Pass


Wolf Creek Pass, way up on the great divide, trucking on down the other side.

Posted in Pursuit of Happiness | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

My Mountain Home—Americana new releases so far this year

Pagosa Folk Bluegrass FestivalIt feels good to be back in Colorado, home to some of the best Americana music anywhere.  I missed the Pagosa Folk & Bluegrass and Telluride Bluegrass festivals earlier this month, but I could sneak up to Lyons for RockyGrass next month.  And the Four Corners Folk Festival will come up too soon as the other bookend of summer.  Do not mourn yesterday’s music festival, for these shall always be another in my Rocky Mountain Home.

The first half of 2015 gave us a wonderful variety of Americana new releases.  And the best news of all may be that the classic No Depression magazine (1995-2008) is coming back to print soon.  It’s going to be a good year.

Fast Tube

Some of my favorite albums so far:

  • Ryan Bingham, Fear and Saturday Night (don’t forget this early-year release)
  • Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow Is My Turn
  • Justin Townes Earle, Absent Fathers (a follow-on to last year’s Single Mothers)
  • Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, The Traveling Kind
  • Chris Stapleton, Traveler (I’m sensing a trend here)
  • The Mavericks, Mono
  • Asleep at the Wheel & co., Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
  • Aaron Watson, The Underdog (a bit pop country, but he’s a good guy)
  • Gretchen Peters, Blackbirds
  • James McMurtry, Complicated Game
  • Winkle Neck Mules, I Never Thought It Would Go This Far
  • Nora Jane Struthers, Wake
  • Whitehorse, Leave No Bridge Unburned (a bit pop, too, but some fun tunes)
  • Steve Earle, Terraplane

I’ve heard some of the new Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard Django & Jimmie album on the radio, so far not as catchy as Willie’s release last year, but hey, it’s Willie and Merle.


Posted in Pursuit of Happiness | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Archuleta County, Colorado

Lake Vista, Pagosa Springs, CO

Dear Friends,

I am moving upstream, as the new Planning Manager leading the Archuleta County Development Services—Planning Department in beautiful Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Archuleta County, population 12,244, is located at 7,000′ elevation in the Rocky Mountains of Southwestern Colorado, west of the Continental Divide on the New Mexico line.  The trout waters of the the San Juan River come together here, just off Wolf Creek Pass, and leave the state in Navajo Reservoir at the unincorporated community of Arboles.  About half of Archuleta County’s 1,350 square miles is Federal land, and an additional 15% of the Southern Ute nation, leaving about 1/3 in private lands.

After a rapid period of growth before the Great Recession (Archuleta County was the 2nd fastest growing county in Colorado at one point), the year-round population has been stable with slight growth.  In addition to ranching and forestry, the Pagosa Spring area is a tourist-oriented economy, with a good deal of seasonal housing… and (love it or hate it) a new Wal-Mart.

As a dedicated Small Town & Rural Planner, I can’t think of a better place to work and live right now.  Thank you to the many friends and colleagues who helped me out with my job search(es) over a sometimes winding route.  The Good Lord works in mysterious ways.

-John Shepard


Posted in Economy, Policy, Pursuit of Happiness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mega-polis Times 10

The U.S. Census Bureau has released current population estimates for U.S. cities and towns.  Their PR:

1 Million Milestone

1 Million Milestone

Ten U.S. Cities Now Have 1 Million People or More

Half the Top 10 Gainers This Year in Texas

San Jose, Calif., is now among the 10 U.S. cities with a population of 1 million or more, according to estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

California now has three cities with 1 million or more people (Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose), tying Texas (Houston, San Antonio and Dallas) for the lead among states.

When the 2013 estimates were originally released last year, San Jose stood just shy of the 1 million mark. The 2014 population estimates released today show the city passing the 1 million milestone in the updated 2013 estimate. Each year, the Census Bureau revises its time series of previously released estimates going back to the 2010 Census. The updated years in the time series supersede the previously released estimates to reflect additional data used in the population estimates.

New York remained the nation’s most populous city and gained 52,700 people during the year ending July 1, 2014, which is more than any other U.S. city.

Half of the 10 cities with the largest population gains between 2013 and 2014 were in Texas — Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth. Each added more than 18,000 people. The Lone Star State also had six of the top 13 fastest-growing cities by percentage — San Marcos, Georgetown, Frisco, Conroe, McKinney and New Braunfels.

San Marcos, situated between Austin and San Antonio, was the fastest-growing city for the third consecutive year, with its population climbing 7.9 percent between 2013 and 2014 to reach 58,892.

The West was home to eight cities among the top 15 fastest-growing cities with a population of 50,000 or more. Four were in California. Each of the 15 fastest-growing cities between 2013 and 2014 were in the South or West, as were all but two of top 15 numerical gainers. The lone exception, aside from New York, was Columbus, Ohio, which gained 12,421 people over the period to make it the nation’s 13th largest numerical gainer. Ohio’s capital was the nation’s 15th most populous city in 2014, with 835,957 residents.

The only change in the rank order of the 15 most populous cities between 2013 and 2014 was Jacksonville, Fla., and San Francisco, each moving up one spot to 12th and 13th place, respectively, passing Indianapolis, which fell from 12th to 14th.

The statistics released today cover all local governmental units, including incorporated places (like cities and towns), minor civil divisions (such as townships) and consolidated cities (government units for which the functions of an incorporated place and its parent county have merged).

Full story here.


Posted in Economy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Coworking in Southwest Colorado

DurangoSpace, Durango, ColoradoThere’s an awkward time in the life of a startup, when the idea outgrows the garage but maybe isn’t quite ready to commit to anything long-term.  It may be time to graduate, but not yet time to settle down—as an entrepreneur, you want to focus on the project, not real estate.  Enter “Coworking”.

Coworking is a flexible working environment that can provide a variety of spaces and resources, from common office environments and meeting rooms to specialized equipment and networks.  In addition to the new enterprise, coworking can offer a convenient meeting space for the home office professional, and might even provide a relief from the social isolation of going solo.  Where private “executive suites” may offer a desk and a phone, coworking tends to be more of a cooperative, collaborative space—coworking is very much about creating a culture of creativity.

DurangoSpace on Main Street in Durango, Colorado, is a model the City of Aztec, New Mexico, has been looking at adapting for their proposed Aztec Hub project.  DurangoSpace offers flexible daily, weekly, and monthly memberships to use their common office environment with broadband internet connectivity, teleconferencing and small to large meeting rooms.  They also have a waiting list for private offices, offered on contract.  At their recent 4th Anniversary open house, I met an amazing variety of people using the space, from two partners in a software startup networking with a team of engineers in the Ukraine, to an oil & gas worker putting in 10-hour days in the field then coding his startup four hours every afternoon at DurangoSpace.  I also heard about professionals from other Four Corners communities using the office as their touchstone close to the Durango airport, allowing them to live and work in more isolated parts of this mountainous rural region.

The project in Durango is somewhat unique among coworking operations.  They occupy an entrepreneurial middle ground, but keep strong connections with local business incubators, Ft. Lewis College Small Business Development Center, and the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs (SCAPE), with strong support from Region 9 Economic Development District.  The broadband component is a major draw in Durango, where service in the rest of the community is lagging.  The Main Street location, in the transition between retail hot spots downtown and the traditional neighborhoods of this college town, also provides a variety of restaurants and other 3rd places for creative gatherings and off-site meetings.

Jasper Welch, a co-founder, emphasized with me that flexibility and adapting to local conditions are key to long-term success.  As it is in any organization.



Posted in Economy, Policy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jefferson Davis Captured—May 10, 1865

Chas-ed Old Lady of the CSAIrwinville, Georgia

Confederate President Jefferson Davis ran until he could run no more.  Early in the morning on the 10th of May, 1865, the First Wisconsin and First Michigan Union cavalry caught up with the remaining Rebel leadership in camp in Irwin County, Georgia.  Davis had covered himself with his wife’s overcoat in the cold—when captured trying to flee on foot, he set up a perfect picture for the Northern cartoonists of the coward disguising himself as a woman.  The Library of Congress notes:

Confederate president Jefferson Davis’s capture by Union cavalry on May 10, 1865, while allegedly fleeing in women’s clothing, inspired a rash of prints exploiting the tale’s comic possibilities. According to Davis’s autobiography, at the time of his capture he was wearing his wife’s raglan overcoat, which he had mistakenly put on in his haste to leave, and a shawl, which his wife had thrown over his head and shoulders. The Northern press made the most of his “last shift,” transforming the shawl to a bonnet, and sometimes even portraying Davis wearing a hoopskirt and full female dress. Since Davis had apparently tried to escape casually with a black servant carrying water, he was often pictured carrying a water bucket. Another detail added by the cartoonists was a Bowie knife.
Here the artist shows a camp in the woods where Davis, wearing a dress, shawl, and bonnet, and carrying a water bucket labeled “Mom Davis” and a Bowie knife, is accosted by Union soldiers. One Union soldier (center) lifts Davis’s skirt with his saber mocking, “Well, “old mother,” boots and whiskers hardly belong to a high-toned Southern lady.” Davis implores, “I only wish to be let alone.” At right another soldier, speaking in a Germanic accent, says, “Mein Gott, ter “olt mutter” vears ter pig gavalrie poots! . . . ” He may be intended to represent the Norwegian-born tanner who first spotted Davis. The soldier at left exclaims, “Jerusalem! her “old Mother,” hey! Its ld “Leach'” in petticoats–That’s so.” Behind Davis a woman warns, “Do not provoke t̀he President,’ he might hurt some one.” A black youth, presumably Davis’s servant, looks on, exclaiming, “Golly Marse Yank, de old Missus is “done gone” shu-ah! . . .” At far right a waiting Confederate carriage containing barrels of “Whiskey” and “Stolen Gold” is visible. This impression was deposited for copyright on June 5, 1865, less than a month after Davis’s capture.

While Lee’s surrender at Appomattox began the final chapter of the Civil War, and Johnston’s surrender to Sherman in North Carolina closed the book on organized military action, it can be said only Davis’ capture truly ended the Confederacy.  Armed resistance continued in the West through June.  President Andrew Johnson did not formally declare the end of the war until 20 August 1866.



Posted in Pursuit of Happiness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

At the Wilsall Rodeo

Cowboy Poetry Week, April 19-25, 2015, got me nostalgic for the pure American joy I am blessed with living and working in the rural West.  It took me a week longer than Cowboy Poetry Week to dig this back out, but here’s a throwback from Montana Days, my tribute to small town rodeo.

Cheyenne Frontier Days Bull Riding

At the Wilsall Rodeo (2001)

Bucking horse breaks bareback out of the old wooden shoots
And heads for the corral gate now bare of his rider
Who limps away and cowboys up
Like he did last night at Gardiner up the road.

Today is the 48th showing of the Wilsall Rodeo.
Peaceful Shields Valley and Crazy Woman
Mountains framed behind the stock shoots
The very picture of what Montana is supposed to be.

Calf ropers school in the far end of the arena, horses nervous, skittish, pacing
You know Rob Kountz gets his cow but his Mrs. misses hers again
Rope twisting and laughing sudden winds
Link they did last night at Gardiner up the road.

Dust, wind, snow, rain, clouds, shadow, dirt, hay,
manure, beer, chew, too much perfume,
chattering teenagers, the rodeo dance,
former beauty queens who really need to wear more not less anymore.

Young bucks on broncs, off them broncs and bulls,
Steer wresting and steers are winning.
Calf ropin’ calves that don’t care to be roped.
Timer’s horse tears out, rears up, but he keeps his flag
in the air until that cow’s down.

What is the attraction in this internet age?
Man vs. beast? Real danger? See Lane Frost ride again?
Support Americana in Culture Wars?
Or maybe just the annual real life dusty drama unfolding,
Like it did last night at Gardiner up the road.


The Wilsall Rodeo, sanctioned by the Northern Rodeo Association, will take place 20-21 of June this year.  Gardiner holds their rodeo, also a Northern Rodeo, on 19-20 June.  The season will open with the Conrad Whoop-Up Rodeo 6-7 June, 2015.  I like the local rodeos where you can get right up in the dust on the rail.  Plus they tend to be more affordable than the Pro Rodeo events.

Rob Kountz of Bozeman was Montana Pro Rodeo Federation All-Around Cowboy of 2001.  The summer Pro Rodeo circuit kicks off in Montana with the Bear Paw Roundup 19-20 June, 2015, and Little Belt Rodeo at Belt 20-21.  Lane Frost was a popular PRCA cowboy, who was killed by his bull on 30 July 1989, in the arena at Cheyenne Frontier Days, age 25.



Posted in Pursuit of Happiness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Diary of Orrin Brown—May 4, 1865

David's Island, New YorkDiary of Orrin Brown, Davids’ Island, New York

Thursday–May 4th

We lay anchor till 10.30 AM when the Hospital Boat Thomas PWay came alongside took us on board and at 11 AM we were on our way for Grant, U. S. Hospital situated on Davids Island 20 miles up east river from N.Y. City. We passed on our trip some of the most beautifull scenery that I ever saw. We arrived at the barracks about 1 PM and found it a very beautifull place and every thing kept in the very best of order. I expect there are representatives here fron nearly every county in the U. S. We have a good comfortable beds and good living, I feel tolerably well today with the exceptions of a slight cold taken on the boat. They are sending men away from here to the City to be discharged every day so I think my turn will come after a while and I will be as patient as possible. I read 5 Chapts. today. I wrote a letter home today.

Davids’ Island is a 78-acre island off the coast of New Rochelle, New York, in Long Island Sound.  The island was leased by the U.S. Army during the Civil War from hotelier Simeon Leland for De Camp General Hospital.  The U.S. Government purchased the island after the war, and later became known as Ft. Slocum.  It served as a recruitment and training center until 1965.  The City of New Rochelle purchased Davids’ Island in 1967.  In 2008, the city demolished the remaining army structures, with plans to turn the island into a park.

Brown - Record of Service Michigan Volunteers 14th RegimentPvt. Brown continues his daily diary for a couple more weeks at the hospital until he is discharged on 23 May 1865.  I will leave his journey here, however.  Orrin will recover enough to go home to Berrien County, Michigan, and return to the sawmill and farm his brother kept going during the last six months.  It must not have been an altogether happy return, as he was soon divorced, though he eventually remarried.  His son Elroy Orrin Brown, born in 1859, married, had three daughters, and died in 1943.  His daughter Rhoda E. Brown, born in 1862, also married and had a daughter and a son, before she passed away in 1894.  Orrin and his second wife raised Rhoda’s children—the daughter, Lucy Marie Pugh, I knew when I was very young.

You can read the entire story here in PDF, as transcribed by my sister, Mary, and I.  Credit to Mary as well for today’s photo from New York.



Posted in Pursuit of Happiness | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment