Saturday, December 6, 2008

On "The Tragedy of the Commons" by Ray Mangum

“The Tragedy of the Commons”, is the title of a 1968 essay by Garrett Hardin. It refers to the phenomena whereby public or collective ownership of resources leads not to conservation but rather degradation. It is often referenced in debates over environmental resources, either to argue for stricter government controls over public resources, or for their privatization. Although it is now brought up almost exclusively in discussions over the use of land or water, it is generally forgotten that the main argument of the original essay is that citizens should relinquish their liberty in reproductive matters. Libertarians often invoking Hardin in the name of privatization forget this fact as well as that Hardin argued in favor of more government regulation.
While I find the general dilemma Hardin examines to be a real one, I find some problems with the specifics of his argument, as well as his conclusion.

Where a resource is in high demand and can be freely accessed by anyone, the resource eventually becomes degraded and depleted. This principle was identified at least as early as Aristotle, who critiques the communism of Plato in his Politics, noting that, "that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest." This is ironic, since it is usually the private sector which is accused of ruining everything with its greed, and it is argued that putting matters into the hands of some sort of collective body elevates it into a higher, more altruistic sphere. Hardin uses the example of a pasture collectively used by herders for their cattle to graze, with the positive effect of increasing the stock of cattle for each herder, but the negative effect of the gradual degradation of the pasture. Since, with each head of cattle a herder adds, he reaps all of the benefit, while the negative effect of the land degradation is spread out among all, each herder will be inclined to maximize his use rather than use it efficiently. It is essentially the inversion of Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand” argument for free trade, where individuals, motivated only by self-interest, promote a good to the public which was no part of his intention. It is important to remember that the invisible hand phenomenon (often caricatured as “greed is good”, most memorably by Michael Douglas as corporate raider Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street) only works its beneficial effect within a legal framework of private property rights. The exact opposite occurs under a regime of collective ownership. Hardin puts it in fairly bleak terms: “Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit--in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all”.

We can all likely understand the tragedy in common-sense terms. In an episode of “The Office”, for instance, Pam becomes outraged at how filthy the microwave that everyone in the Office uses has become. Nobody is assigned to clean it, but using it is essentially cost-free. Only Pam is concerned, but she won’t do it herself, because- well, why should she, if nobody else will? And why should they?

Pollution as well as depletion is the result of the Tragedy of the Commons, the latter resulting when individuals take a good out of a public resource for their own benefit (without having to bear the full brunt of the cost), and the former when they put a negative in. There are only three possible solutions to this problem: 1) privatization of the commons, 2) regulation of the commons by a governing body, or 3) some combination of the two. Hardin says of these solutions, “They are all objectionable”, but strongly favors regulation. I argue for the first option, because it is the most just, allows for the maximum of human freedom, and gives us the greatest potential for adapting and creating new solutions to problems concerning resources. I argue the second is coercive, and is therefore neither just nor allows much freedom, and that it creates new problems even as it attempts to solve this ancient one. Where solution number one is not feasible, I prefer solution number three, though I am not enthusiastic about it.

Garrett Hardin argues that coercion is the only way out of the tragedy of the commons. We must “legislate temperance”. He readily concedes that his regulations are coercions, but says “The only kind of coercion I recommend is mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected”. This statement is nonsensical. Any action or exchange mutually agreed upon is not coercion, by the very definition; it is a free activity in a market. It would therefore be coercion only for the minority affected, not the majority. Hardin says, “To say that we mutually agree to coercion is not to say that we are required to enjoy it,” and he uses the example of taxes, which we do not enjoy, but to which we assent. But think of a market exchange for a moment instead. I might not enjoy paying two and a half bucks for a gallon of milk. I would probably prefer having the milk for nothing. But the fact that I buy the gallon of milk proves that I prefer having the milk to having my two and a half bucks, and that the grocer prefers my two and a half bucks to keeping the gallon of milk. Otherwise, the exchange does not take place. I cannot get the milk if I pay less than two and a half bucks: this is coercion by Hardin’s extremely odd definition. Now back to the example of taxes. I might prefer the services they pay for rather than keeping my income, but I might not. The only thing this exchange says is that I prefer paying taxes than going to jail. Therefore the real exchange is paying a portion of my income for not going to jail. Now let’s say that, as Hardin thinks, both of these situations are coercions (which he seems to be confusing with limitations or provisos). What is the difference between them? In the coercions Hardin sanctions, they are agreed to by a majority of the persons affected. In the market scenario, they are agreed to by 100 percent. Like many people who say they don’t mind paying taxes, indeed are proud to, Hardin makes no argument as to why it is legitimate for a majority to make decisions which are binding upon a minority. He does not invoke any Social Contract theories or Utilitarian arguments (especially since his paper argues that Bentham’s goal of “the greatest good for the greatest number” is impossible). He seems to think it is self-evident that what a majority deems bad should be forcibly abolished.

Resources which are controlled by a government are said to be “public”. The “public” is, in theory, everyone, or at least everyone recognized by the government as a citizen. Does this mean that everyone has equal and open access to public resources? Nowhere is this the case. Public resources are controlled by a governing body. Regulation in a democracy is at base a political game, a mix of ideology and rent-seeking, with various special interests competing to influence the rules, skewing them to their own advantage. Regulations tighten or relax depending on which party is in power. The view of the State’s “neutrality” needs to be seriously questioned.

Perhaps the greatest contradiction of Hardin’s essay is that while it is generally perceived that the value of government regulation comes from its being presided over by disinterested technocrats, Hardin actually admits of “no technical solution” to the problem. What he wants is a moral transformation. And yet the weakness of the old Malthusian fallacy that unlimited human reproduction is a recipe for disaster comes from an implicit analogy between humans and other animals such as cattle, which merely eat, sleep and reproduce, with neither moral nor rational capacity to asses the future consequences of actions. While I believe a capitalistic organization of society increases the future-orientation of actions, I think that even in such a primitive communal situation as Hardin describes people would recognize some future consequences, and come to some arrangement for management of resources, if not the most efficient one. It should at least be pointed out that Hardin’s example of the communal pasture is hypothetical, not historical.

He also says that “Space is no escape.” Why? He gives no reason. The universe is enormous, and we have no way of knowing what technologies to navigate it may be produced in the future. Hardin and other Malthusians condemn us to a lowly earthbound existence. Of course his statement, “A finite world can support only a finite population; therefore, population growth must eventually equal zero,” is logically unassailable. But how far in the future is this “eventual”? Malthusians always see it just around the corner, and they are usually wrong. Eventually, I will die, and so will everyone else. Eventually, the universe itself will cease to exist. This is no reason for such short-term pessimism. Applications and extensions of Hardin’s theory have been used extensively by libertarians, particularly by economists of the Austrian school. Many argue that the financial crisis is a kind of commons problem, where profits (the benefits of a commons) are privatized, but losses (the monetary degradation of the commons) are socialized. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, while not explicitly invoking Hardin or the commons, makes a very similar argument about government in his book Democracy: The God that Failed, where he presents the controversial thesis that democracy is actually inferior to monarchy because in the former government is an un-owned resource and its use is temporary and (at least theoretically) open-entry, leading to gradual increase in degradation and exploitation. All that said, the original essay is thought provoking and well worth reading. It can be found online here: Also see Murray Rothbard’s “Law, Property Rights and Air Pollution” (, for a private-property solution to the tragedy, as well as a number of “free-market environmentalist” resources at For the kind of “fundamental extension in morality” that Hardin recommends, see Herschell Elliot and Richard D. Lamm’s article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “A Moral Code for a Finite World” (at, and coming to a college near you).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Weekend of Successes!

Well, this last weekend, the in-laws and I all took a trip down to St. George to stay at my brother-in-law's swanky timeshare condo. Swanky because I'm on vacation and I'm not in a tent and there's TV. Deluxe! St. George is like Salt Lake's spoiled little sister that isn't as successful as Salt Lake, yet still acts like a totally spoiled brat (only with more golf courses and strip malls). It's the most luxurious thing that's within a day's drive from the city that isn't Vegas or Twin Falls.

I ended up having to go into work early, so we got going a little later than I thought we would, but we still made good time, cruising fast over central Utah's flat, unremarkable prairies. People do well in St. George. The town is surrounded by some picturesque bluffs and boasts a mostly warm climate year round. The landscape is populated with newly built condos, timeshares, hotels and motels by the freeway, cookie-cutter family-friendly restaurants and shops, and sprawling spas probably housing celebrities from LA convalescing from their massively expensive drug addictions, guarded by high adobe walls and dangerous desert plants and patrolled by robotic, night-vision equipped, dobermans. I got to thinking about the real-estate crisis and I wondered how many tracts of houses, maybe whole neighborhoods, stood there brand new and deserted like one of those a-bomb test site facade cities that they built in the 50s. No, nothing of the sort. Business is booming in St. George. I saw a lot of construction on nice looking tax shelters that were probably already bought up by all the nice looking people. Swells, I mean.

Well, today we were the swells. Except, that when we drove up to the brand-new spic and span timeshare development, we found out that my brother-in-law and his family hadn't yet arrived to let us into the place. Good grief! Travel weary, I pulled myself out of the car and into one of the management's buildings to find a place to pee and get a drink of water. Inside, was a burly looking man in his early thirties with a backwards hat and a Minnesota Vikings shirt. This was the weekend of the big annual cross-town football game where The University of Utah would be hosting some little religious school based out of Provo. I had my bright red Utah sweatshirt on and this husky individual approached me and poked a finger into my chest. "You think Utah's gonna win that game?" he asked. "I know so," I said, "BYU's quarterback is used to having a cushy time slot when he's in the pocket, but our pass rush will make short work of that."
"Bullshit!" shouted the hulking neanderthal, his cordiality vanishing like one of the creatine shakes he wolfed down probably twenty times a day. "I used to play football for Vanderbuilt and the CFL. Now, I'm a sportswriter for CBS and I've got a blog and I live in the presidential suite at this here timeshare and who are YOU, buddy." I introduced myself. He kept talking. Talking about himself, his many adventures. I felt suddenly very tired.

Then, he kidnapped me. And he kidnapped my wife and my sister-in-law and he forced us to keep him company up in his hot-shot little presidential suite. He got all het-up on about all the football things he's ever done and football thoughts he's ever had. He was one of those hopelessly extroverted people that always tells you more than you would ever want to know. "I come up here to get away from the wife," he said, clenching and unclenching his massive fists. "Sometimes, I can't stand it when she's around," he confessed to me. I shifted my feet a little. "Maybe, you should see a therapist?" I said.

It was a nightmare. But Amanda was having a great time. She was swept away by this mysterious, psychotic barbarian that lived in the desert. Later, that night, she said that we should go over to his suite AGAIN and maybe see if he had any beer and maybe sit in his hot-tub. Who IS this woman? I can only imagine how that night would've turned out if we had done that. I'd probably watch him crush 57 beers on his forehead and then he'd force feed me Keystone Light until I threw up. Maybe, after that, he would confide to me about his broken marriage and broken dreams. Maybe, he'd cry. Maybe, he'd try to hug me. Thank god, it didn't come to that.

Fortunately, we weren't detained by him for very long. We all beat a hasty exit and went out and got a bite to eat. In a couple of hours the rest of the fam-damily arrived and the requisite commotion for everything got underway. People moving up and down stairs, carrying bags, bargaining, goofing, talking a mile a minute, kids tearing the whole damn place apart. But that all settles down. The evening ended with the kids going to bed, and the grown-ups and teenagers playing board games. Amanda busted out the good bottle of wine like the stand-up dame that she is. I don't know how I'd live without her.

Most of Amanda's brothers and sisters don't drink, but I swear to god they get secretly drunk sometimes. I had a little buzz on and I'm trying to understand this damn crazy game that everybody's playing. They kept giving these answers out that are either secret inside jokes, or they're non-secret outside jokes that I just don't get. They all get very giddy and elated. Naturally high, these people. Maybe we had a gas leak or something, who knows?

The next day we fooled around at the swimming pool and played table tennis in the rec room before going over to a sports bar to watch the big game. St. George, as far as I can tell, is cougar country. But BYU fans are the same everywhere. They're pretty quiet and tend not to cheer very loud for their team. That much happiness can't be moral, can it? The Heavenly Father would probably expect them to guide themselves out of the risky behaviors that are the results of too much mirth and excitement. It could lead to horseplay, and that can lead to harder things. Like dancing. Anyway, I'd be pretty quiet if I was a BYU fan that day, too. Utah put a hurt on the cougs and all of the steroidal maniac's predictions were proved dismally wrong thanks to the Ute's excellent pass rush and stellar defensive backs. Checkmate, random unstable stranger!

The next morning I received a pretty upsetting phone call. My cousin, a troubled fifteen year old living with my father's brother in Illinois, had been killed in a car accident the night before. The last time I saw him was when my grandmother passed away in 2001 and my family made a trip out to Minnesota to pay our respects. He was only eight years old then; cheerful, athletic, exuberant. Everything good about an eight year old boy. I had always thought that some time later down the line I'd see him again. He'd be older and taller. He'd be shy instead of excited to see his older cousin who he hadn't seen in years. He would be starting high school. He'd have a girlfriend, maybe. He'd still play baseball, but more seriously, thinking about his future. I really thought that was a cinch to happen someday. It was a safe inevitability. I just took it for granted.

Later that day, we all got into Amanda's mom's mini-van and went about forty miles east into Zion's National Park. It was a beautiful time to be there. The leaves were turning yellow and red. The sun was just setting over the towering rocks. Everybody else was playing around me, but I started moving inward. It wasn't just about my cousin, but about what a fight it is to be alive anyway. I'm still pretty young and I know for sure that I haven't done everything that I want to do yet. Really, I don't know how to get it done without pulling pieces out of it one at a time. Until, one day I'm sitting in a rocking chair having gotten the whole thing done and over with, and there I am. I don't know how anybody does it. Does anybody really get what they're after, or is it all about the fight to get that thing. Maybe, that's the only thing that really resonates; that's all that matters. I don't know.

I looked up at the tall cliffs; the dying sun casting red onto the towering, indestructible monuments around me. And I thought, as I often do, about ancient people maybe discovering this place. Maybe, a man in the bygone past looked up at the same red rocks that I saw. Maybe, like me, he was filled with fear and wonder. He thought about the menace that nature was, and what a struggle it was just to buy the air to breathe and the food to eat. But that nothing could be more powerful than that instinct to breathe and to eat. And it just didn't matter. The needs of one person, or even very many people, just didn't matter to the secret, evil machinations of nature. At that moment, I knew that I was just as much a man against nature as he was so long ago. And, slowly, carefully, I was walking into the same fire that lent those rocks their beautiful, momentary glow.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Carving Out Its Legacy

Last night, my wife and I went to a free showing of the 1974 classic horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at Brewvies. By now, you probably already know how the story of this movie goes, because you've seen it aped in hundreds of other horror films since it's been made. Bored, suitably affluent, oversexed teenagers decide to pile into a van and go on a trip to spend the night outside of their hometown in a kooky, spooky mansion. Lo and behold, a family of cannibalistic rednecks terrorizes and murders them one by one with chainsaws and the kids find out very quickly that "they ain't from around here."

By now, this plot is all-too-familiar territory for anyone who's seen a horror flick in the past thirty years and, while breaking a lot of new ground in 1974, this formula had been used before (Psycho is perhaps an earlier example.) What endures with Tobe Hooper's film is the heat, the grime, the noise, and the escalating nightmare that suspends the film goer in that sense of being horrified but unable to look away that is the signature of any horror masterpiece. The way that the camera jogs from one tiny semi-lit room to another only to be transfixed on some gruesome and unsettling thing, like a piece of cannibalistic artwork, and how it locks its gaze momentarily on that thing so that it just treads over the limit of your comfort zone. The way that the heat boils and simmers in a room until you're convinced that there can never be any escape for these people, that they have only these few hours of madness left in their lives before their brutal death. All of these elements are so carefully forged that it can only result in a celluloid sledgehammer of a horror film like Texas Chainsaw.

I have to admit that I haven't seen the 2003 remake of this film, but I can tell you that I'm not particularly interested in seeing something as perfect as Texas Chainsaw warmed over and made palatable for a jaded, modern audience. The film can't be duplicated because what makes it scary, unnerving, and brilliant is inextricably tied to a particular time and place. The original Texas Chainsaw is scary because it was made in 1974 in richly saturated, violently red 16mm by crazy Texans who were working with a shoestring budget and had completely involved themselves in the nightmare of making their movie.

Texas Chainsaw was filmed over a period of four weeks in record breaking heat in rural Texas. The actors had to spend long hours in unventilated rooms being filmed by cameras that required extra hot lamps to receive adequate lighting. During the immortal dinner scene, Marilyn Burns, the actress playing the girl who gets kidnapped by the cannibal family, gets her finger cut with a knife by the chainsaw wielding Leatherface and her blood gets gruesomely sucked up by the corpse-like grandfather of the family. During the filming of this scene, Icelandic-American poet and writer Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface) got so fed up with the malfunctioning blade that was supposed to squirt fake blood onto Marilyn Burns's finger, that he replaced it with a real blade and actually cut Burns's finger deep enough to produce enough blood for the actor that played the grandfather to slurp up. This is footage of people that are overheated, exhausted, and at the end of their rope, and the only outlet they have is to play this mania for the cameras. It's just one of the many things that brings out the authenticity of the horror in this story.

Seeing the film again, I was particularly struck with how well Gunnar Hansen brings Leatherface to life. You almost feel sorry for the big slobbering maniac. He lumbers over the scenery, waving his chainsaw like it's the only thing capable of cutting through all of the things that have made his life horrible, trapped as he is in a house full of rotting corpses and lorded over by his domineering brothers. There's a scene where he hangs one of the teenagers on a meathook and beheads another with his chainsaw, but then he pauses and sits down and starts hitting himself on the forehead with his palms. The camera closes in and we see his all-too-human eyes peering out of a mask of human flesh. We get the sense that he hates what he's doing, but can't find a way out. And he can't pull off the mask of Leatherface without risking something that's grown to be terribly important to him. It calls to mind the scene in Frankenstein when the monster accidentally drowns the girl when he attempts to play with her. Leatherface is ultimately too savage and too inarticulate, and he's been brought up in such brutality by his family, that the possibility of happiness for him has been completely foreclosed. At the end of the film, he's left entirely alone, piroetting madly with his chainsaw in the sun's merciless red glare.

It's been a few years since I've seen it, but I can say for sure that the film only improves with multiple viewings, and it got some good screams out of my wife to boot, which is the whole point of taking your best girl to horror flicks. This Halloween, make sure to include the immortal Texas Chainsaw Massacre in your candy-corn stuffed monster movie lineup.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fire and It's Antecedents

In addition to biting social commentary and satire, The Nightwatchman's mission is to greatly expand general interest in the arts. It's also a convenient way to reel off some of my poetry and hock my bloody wares in the smelly and crowded bazaar of the internet. Here, is a sample of some of my poetry with all of its unabashedly cloyed earnestness and hackneyed splendor. I am compiling all (well, most) of my poetry into a book that I will self-publish some time next year. Without any further ado I give you...

Fire and It's Antecedents

Perhaps I am like the bird.

A glance, a fleetness of

Posture. Always seeing and

Hurtling towards the seen.

Perhaps I am like the bird.

I am afraid.

A fistful of dry grass

And I remember when

The wetness of new grass

Was the sheen of rabbit’s

Fur. “I am with you,”

Was spoken. The rabbit

was the fist of silence.

The night has no grandfather

On the lake’s other side

Rocking, whispering. We

Want for commandment

Censure, approbation

When we have no hill’s

Lean hunter, gamesman,

Or senator to unmake

Such a forest

Of bright little eyes.

As a boy I stood up

In the short stubble, nothing

Else around, maybe juniper,

Tamarisk. My skin white

A blasphemer, my arms

Turning, working themselves.

I thought I was an eminence

A thought like a tall white cloud

Or an invader, omniscient

Like a train.

When I see the moon in its maddest geography

Will my mask be red enough to remind him of me?

As a man its altogether

Too much.

It’s time now. Can you tell?

She has forgotten how brief

All of it has been

And how I am so delicate

To the vapor of peanut

Shells, newspapers, coffee.

I cannot sort

The sudden promenade

Of indisputable life

from the meat of the self

There’s the headaches

The coral profuses

Itself redly against

The stony parts of my head

Corrupting the straighter corners

of their cleanness.

Too much.


Red, blue, forgive me forgive me

My hands are weaker now

My shears unyielding.

I want the white flowers

At the grace of decline

When their frills become partial

Folded, indefinite

Their color richening,

Comprehending the sun

In its blush of death

And then severed, floating

In a cool gray bowl.

I want for them

What I want for myself.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thomas Friedman's Mixed Emotions

Folks, Thomas Friedman, op-ed columnist for the New York Times and renowned author of the books The World is Flat and The Lexus and The Olive Tree, has some good news and some bad news. The good news is that 2.00 gas prices are back. Last week the average price for gas fell to 2.91 a gallon - the lowest it's been in nearly a year. The bad news is that with cheaper gas prices, we just might be tempted to go out and buy more of the stuff.

Mr. Friedman is given pause when Americans are finally feeling some modicum of relief at the gas pump while commodity prices rise ever higher and stock indexes spiral towards an uncertain fate. Surely, now is not the time to congratulate ourselves for using public transportation, walking, carpooling, or biking to work during those hard months this past summer. According to Mr. Friedman, now, more than ever, is the perfect time for us to feel more guilty.

He's afraid that affordable gas will be the death knell for the green revolution. That Americans, drunk on their maniacal power to freely consume affordable gas, will stop demanding green-tech cars from Detroit and will stop seeking alternative means of transportation and energy altogether. Never mind, that food, clothes, and shelter (read:houses) are now more expensive and harder to get than they have been in decades. Friedman thinks that at the first whiff of lowered gas prices, Americans will go back to buying gas guzzling SUVs and sports cars. We will abandon our dreams of a cleaner environment and better energy alternatives, regarding them as faddish and naive, to drag our cigarette boats with our Dodge Rams over America's congested roadways and into steadily more polluted lakes and reservoirs. Only, when our planet has been polluted beyond habitability will we lift our clenched fists to the sky and cry, "Why? Why, didn't our governments and authority figures regulate our horrible, irresponsible choices?"

Never fear. Mr. Friedman has the solution. He wants a government standard put on all utilities to produce at least 20% of their emissions from clean energy sources - wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, biomass - by 2025. He points out that more than half the states already have this standard, but apparently states can't be trusted not to pollute the environment, so the feds have to step in and take credit for a standard that already exists in most states in America. But, what happens if a state is not particularly abundant in clean energy resources (no wind, very little solar, etc.) or if the people of a state oppose nuclear energy? What if meeting the standard just costs a state too much money? Too bad, says Friedman, you have to save the environment or go broke trying.

It gets better. Friedman also wants Washington to require state utilities to switch to a system called "decoupling-plus." As far as I can tell, this is fancy economist-speak that means that utilities pay you more for getting you to use utilities less. Constant reader, I am no economist, but let me try to understand this. Let's say that a utility company sells bananas instead of heating gas. Using decoupling-plus, the banana company convinces me to buy less bananas because my banana consumption is completely out of control and the company is being forced to conserve the world's bananas. They actually pay me NOT to buy bananas. Their plan works. I only buy one banana per week. So, they keep paying me not to buy their bananas, but if they keep paying me more than I pay them, they're losing money. Who will bailout the poor, beleaguered banana company who now has no more money after decoupling-plus? I'll give you three guesses.

He also suggests "targeted investments" to mass-transit and clean-tech manufacturing, which is an old stand-by for social engineers like Friedman who see American tax dollars as so many pawns on a chessboard. If the government throws enough money at new ideas, maybe they'll work. The government's track record for keeping pace with innovation is lackluster to say the least. Remember, when Bush was first elected he invested in hydrogen without really doing the homework on hydrogen actually being expensive, scarce and overall not a good energy alternative? Still, will we ever get that money back to put it into something more worthwhile? Moreover, why would Friedman suggest more government spending when, by nearly all accounts, we are teetering on the brink of recession? As Ronald Reagan once eloquently put it, "Here we go again."

To read Friedman's article for October 22, 2008 visit:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

ME, ME, ME....

Hello! Thanks for stopping in. Pull up a red velvet wing-backed chair and pour yourself another generous snifter of brandy, while I bore you to death with the details of my long, sad life. My full name is Michael Robert Gillham, and I was born in 1983 in a tiny shit-kicking outpost in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming. My father was a fly-by-nighter whose name I don't know and face I'd never recognize. My mother came from hearty frontier stock and had a passion for cross-stitching, Christianity, chores, and the actor stylings of the late Michael Landon. Not long after my birth, my mother met and married a diminutive yet highly efficient civil servant named Larry Gillham (hereafter referred to as "Dad"), whose name I share. They had one son, who is my half-brother a bespectacled, energetic little hobbit named Jason. And we were accompanied by my half-sister, Sheila, who was from an earlier marriage of my mother's and was several years my senior.
Early in my life, my mother contracted cervical cancer and we had to move to the bustling metropolis of Salt Lake City, Utah (where I still live) so that she could receive the care she needed. Sadly, she passed away from her illness in the fall of 1988, and only a matter of weeks later, Sheila was killed in a tragic shooting accident. This left Mr. Gillham with the burden of raising Jason and I by himself and with very little help.
My dad is an extraordinary parent by any measure. My brother and I ripped each other apart when we were kids and he gave us a very nice home and managed to send us both to a bizarre social experiment that masqueraded as a private high school. On the surface, this school appeared to be a good environment for teenagers; small class sizes, open teaching styles, and strong academics were at all times visible. But, bubbling just beneath the surface, was a conspiracy formulated by the teachers and administration to kill us by subjecting us to backpacking, white-water rafting, and rock climbing in such exotic and dangerous locales as Vietnam, Costa Rica, and Mexico. I was lucky to escape with my life. Others have been less fortunate.
From 2003 to 2007 I attended the University of Utah where I graduated with a BA in English with a minor in keg-stands, football stadium vandalism, plagiarism, and napping. That same year I married a smart and sassy lady named Amanda McFarland and we now live near downtown Salt Lake City in our shoebox apartment with a muskrat/chinaman/dog hybrid named Frida Kahlo. I am a devoted libertarian, an atheist, a vegan, an avid swimmer and runner, a man of letters, and a gentleman and PATRIOT, to the last. I like reading, watching TV, wine, beer, sex, profanity, sleeping, and maybe writing if there's still time.