by: Wes Ishmael

Hooter's reading in recent days had become more eclectic because of and in spite of the government shutdown. He found himself reaching for history books and trolling policy issues more often in an attempt to understand how folks elected to represent a nation could fail so miserably that they couldn't even keep their own doors open. And, he had more time to do so at night because there weren't any market reports for him to check and double check.

On both ends of the motivational spectrum, Hooter also found himself reading more westerns again—good guy versus bad guy and justice wins. This from one he'd found the night before:

Harold spied the bunkhouse. It was only a couple of miles north of town, but riding his smooth mouthed, foul-tempered donkey named Rex, the trip was nearly an hour.

A prospector passing through a couple of years back was getting ready to shoot Rex, right in the middle of Main Street. Rex belonged to the prospector, but as donkeys have been known to do, Rex declared it was the end of the trail, pulling back on the lead rope and sitting on his haunches.

As bystanders gathered, gawked and laughed, the prospector got angrier. He pushed, dragged, kicked and cussed. Finally he raised his Sharp's and announced, “You no-good, evil, lazy pile of worms..!”

Harold dove between Rex and his would-be assassin, simply because he couldn't stand to see an animal hurt. In disgust, the prospector lowered his gun and told Harold, “You get that ill-mannered %$#*& out of the street and he's yours. I'll be in the saloon.” Once the man was gone, just like that, Rex got up, let Harold remove the tack and lead him to Joe Master's livery. It was the last time Rex did what Harold asked him to when he asked him to.

To be fair, Billy wasn't making the trip go any faster. Though he had relented to tag along, he made sure to stay ahead of Harold and Rex so he could throw taunts over his shoulder about their slovenly pace.

“I swear, Harold, you sure that bag of bone's ain't crippled. I seen turtles that could run circles around him,” shouted Billy, running back toward them, then further ahead again.

It was hot, even for West Texas. The kind of heat that makes you think breathing from inside a wet gunnysack would take less effort. Even the Mesquite trees looked as if they were gasping…”

Hooter could relate to all of that.

Then, there was Bugsy. Between her history class and the headlines, Hooter found himself thinking of things he hadn't dug too deeply into for years.

Just last night, Bugsy was doing her homework, looked up and asked, “So, it was the British marching on Concord that started the American Revolution?”

Hooter thought a spell.

“That may have been the final drop in the bucket, but there was lots of other stuff that got the bucket to that point,” Hooter explained. “Best as I remember, it was a whole lot of little things that all had to do with the colonists wanting to be treated as equals with Britain rather than as second-class citizens, since they were supposed to be citizens of England.”

“Like what?”

“Like taxes, for one thing. They didn't think it was fair that they should be taxed without fair representation about how those taxes were being spent, that kind of thing.”

“The Boston Tea Party, you mean?”

“Well, that was one of the visible protests a few years earlier; it's sure the one folks talk about the most.”

“So, once the United States became independent, it had taxation with representation,” Bugsy asked.

“Well, that was the general idea, although there'd be plenty of folks who would disagree with how their tax money is spent these days, and even who pays taxes and how much compared to other folks.”

“How's that possible?” wondered Bugsy.


“Well, we're a democracy, right?”


“And, in a democracy, everybody is supposed to have equal say in what the government does, right?”


“Then if people don't agree with what government does, why don't they do something about it?”

Hooter looked at the clock. Surely lifetimes had been spent trying to answer that very question.

“Apparently, either because the majority are satisfied with what government is doing, or because too few who disagree can get enough others involved to make their views the majority.”

Bugsy tapped her pencil, lost on momentary thought. “Maybe Plato was right,” she said.

“How's that?” Hooter was amazed that Bugsy would be learning about philosophy already, and even more amazed that she would consider it outside the classroom.

“Well, I don't understand it all, but he seemed to think the best form of government was a republic, where only those trained to govern could govern. Our teacher asked us if we would go to the blacksmith to get a cavity filled. Or, if we needed to get shoes put on a horse, if we'd go to the dentist. She said that's the way Plato saw people who governed—they ought to be people trained in how to do it and only they should be the ones allowed to do it.

“There were lots of rules, too. Like, to be one of the governors, you couldn't hold a job anywhere else and you couldn't even be married. You couldn't have competing interests, that's what the teacher told us.”

Hooter had read Plato's philosophy on government a long time back. He remembered thinking there was merit to the logic, but in his own mind the problem always came back to who figured out who was qualified to be a leader and who trained them.

More recently, during his broad reading, he'd uncovered this, attributed to a book called Educating Rita and Other Philosophical Movies by Jorn K. Bramann: “The challenge that Plato's critique of democracy still poses is the question whether the citizens of today's democracies are interested and informed enough to participate meaningfully in the democratic process. Are today's self-proclaimed democracies in fact societies where people are ‘their own governors'-- where they are well enough informed to be effectively in control of their commonwealth and their lives? Do the citizens of these societies really understand why wars are declared, resources committed, debts incurred, relations denied, and so forth? Could it be that a majority of citizens live in a cognitive haze that reduces them to voting on the basis of uninformed convictions, catchy slogans, and altogether vague hunches and feelings?”

Ouch! That's what Hooter thought when he read those words, promising himself to become better informed before stepping into the voters booth next time.

Hooter shared that with Bugsy and said, “You've got great questions. Keep asking them. Some questions don't have answers, exactly, but its in asking them that we have a better chance to understand. I suspect that's what your teacher is getting at.”

After Bugsy went to bed, Hooter picked up that western again, figuring he deserved a break from the philosophy discussion:

“Henry Longbaugh was a bounty hunter, gunfighter-fast with the irons; a former Union tracker who now worked for Governor Pile out of New Mexico Territory. He'd been in town about a month, told the sheriff he was looking for someone the governor wanted. Told him he was just waiting, wouldn't be any trouble.

When Harold finally found Longbaugh south of the Medicine Mounds that afternoon, he couldn't believe his eyes. The bounty hunter had a row of bottles lined up on the side of a hill. He was unleashing a barrage of bullets at the immovable prey that would have made a small army proud.

All of that shooting, but none of the bottles were even chipped far as Harold could tell. Here was someone who supposedly made his living with a gun but couldn't even hit the broad side of a gyp hill.

Even Harold, unschooled but enthralled with the ways of lead and gunpowder could see the problem. Champ would raise his pistol with one hand or both and then shake so uncontrollably that only dumb luck could have joined his gaze and aim at the same instant.

“Mr. Longbaugh!” Harold shouted over the top of the racket, about 20 feet behind him. “Mr. Longbaugh!”

Champ heard the second salutation. It undid him, hat to boots. He jumped about three feet in the air, yelped, then hit the ground rolling until he was behind a mesquite tree.

“Wh-wh-wh-what you want?”

Harold was equal parts amazed at the acrobatics and the slightest bit proud that he had been the cause of it.

“Sheriff says he wants to see you.”

“I-I-I-I'm busy.”

“Sheriff said for you to come right away when I found you.” Harold was trying to stifle a grin; the thought of a stuttering gunfighter had never crossed his mind.

“Wh-wh-wh-what's it about?” called Zollinger, peering through the mesquite leaves.

“Mr. Pickens. Somebody shot and killed him yesterday.”

“Oh, th-th-th-thank the G-G-G-Good Lord,” Longbaugh said, finally stepping from behind is his cover.

“You OK, mister? I sure didn't mean to scare you.”

Henry Longbaugh, all 130 lbs. of quivering flesh grinned at Harold. “You d-d-d-idn't. S-s-s-cared myself.”

Hooter made a mental note to tell Bugsy that fear was surely another reason some folks sat on the sidelines of government.

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