A full day of hunting, picking, and processing huckleberries in the Selkirks yesterday derailed my best intentions for writing an email for this morning. Time for a day off. 

Besides reading a wide variety of newspapers and periodicals I look forward to reading several email blogs to which I subscribe:

The Weekly Sift, written by Doug Muder, comes out as two or three separate emails each Monday morning that summarize and offer perspective on the last week’s news. 

Letter From an American, written by Professor of History Heather Cox Richardson, comes out nearly every day late in the evening. 

Popular Information, by Judd Legum, features independent reporting, often on the media and on money in politics, comes out irregularly.

Update From an Epidemic, written by Betsy Brown, M.D., a family physician in Seattle with research experience and a particular interest in infectious disease, comes out most days. To subscribe go to and enter your email near the bottom of the page.

I value all four of these emails for the perspective and for the links they offer. I encourage you to check them out. 

Back on Wednesday.

Keep to the high ground,

Covid-19: A Way Out Before a Vaccine

Contrary to the brainless boasting about “saving lives” heard from the Republican National Convention this week, we in the United States lead the world with 180,000 deaths from Covid-19. Brazil, with similarly abysmal national leadership and coordination, runs second with nearly 120,000 dead.  (You can slice and dice the numbers without a paywall at )

Fall and winter are coming. Most of us will have to spend more time indoors. There is ample evidence that the virus spreads not only in droplets (most of which fall to the ground within 6 feet), but also as aerosols, particles that float on currents of air. We will return to buildings that often lack ventilation systems to clear indoor air.  Since 20-40% of the people infected and shedding virus with every breath, song, shout, or cough never experience symptoms, that shared indoor air will sometimes contain virus. (Temperature checks might catch the rare person “powering through” their symptoms, but will miss all of those without symptoms) 

To be sure, the current downturn in the numbers is modestly encouraging. A great many sensible people are practicing some level of social distancing, wearing masks, and engaging primarily in outdoor activities. Viral spread and Covid deaths would be far worse without these sensible behaviors. Meanwhile, the economy is teetering (regardless of the stock market) and a safe, effective, and available vaccine in which enough people have enough confidence to actually receive it is at least many months away. No amount of wishful thinking or premature “all-clears” are going to convince the majority of our citizens to go out and engage in all the economically important activities in which they used to participate. 

A Way Out

Imagine a test that would tell you in a few minutes at home or on the way into a movie theater or a work place, a test that would detect clinically relevant amounts of virus in a small sample of spit or snot. “Clinically relevant” means enough virus to make it likely that you might actually spread the virus. (The current PCR based tests for viral RNA are so sensitive that they can detect clinically irrelevant amounts of virus and even viral RNA remnants that are no longer infective at all. Furthermore, PCR-tests are laboratory-based, relatively expensive, and, with a few exceptions, they are relatively slow, i.e. 2-14 days to yield results. In even two days your viral shedding status may have changed.)

Imagine this test is really cheap, widely available, and widely accepted, pushed by a massive educational campaign by the national government. Imagine that the national government spent a few billion dollars to further develop such a test and to ramp up production, the kind of government involvement appropriate to war time investment. (Recall that a few billion is a pittance compared to the trillions already spent to try to help companies and citizens to hold their lives and businesses together.)

Combine such widespread testing, isolating and further testing of people with positive results with continued social distancing and mask wear, then diligently trace the declining cases. It is a way out–a way back to a more normal life. 

We are close to approval of such rapid test-strip type tests. If we had national leadership that worked as one instead of floating contradictory information and adding to confusion, if we had national leadership and news media that could offer a consistent message about what testing was even being talked about, we could get this done and we could start crawling out of the hole we’re in–before there is a vaccine. 

This will not work without scientifically literate leadership, without leadership that speaks with one clear, honest voice. Remember that when you cast your ballot.

Further recommended reading and listening:

A fascinating podcast on Fresh Air entitled Why We Need Widespread Rapid COVID Testing from August 27, an interview with Alexis Madrigal, journalist with The Atlantic Magazine. (47 minute listen)

Alexis Madrigal’s print article The Plan That Could Give Us Our Lives Back in The Atlantic from August 14, 2020. 

For more detail on the various types of test for Covid-19, my article Testing – Fast and Slow, also from August 14. (It covers a lot of the same basic ground as the Atlantic article but might assumes less science background–and I wasn’t aware of some of the tests Madrigal discusses.) 

Finally, concerning Covid more in general, I’d like to recommend an almost daily email “Update on an Epidemic” written by a Seattle based physician, Betsy Brown, M.D. I found this one Kids: camps and schools particularly interesting.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. On technical note. Once the spread of the disease is down to a point where contact tracing can be used to find and isolate new cases the utility of the rapid test we’re talking about here will drop off. In a population with very few infected people the number of people flagged incorrectly as positive (false positives) will overwhelm the number of true positives detected. (This is based on Bayes’ Theorem.) At that point the contact tracers can take over. When that point is reached depends on the specificity of the test.

Spokane County Government-A Change

On Monday, August 24, I wrote about the mostly unrecognized concentration of power and influence in the hands of the three Spokane County commissioners.

Last Thursday, August 20, as I was researching Monday’s post, news on county governance in Washington State appeared in the Spokesman: Washington Supreme Court: 5 county commissioner bill is constitutional. That title sounds pretty dry. The full story is much more interesting than that title suggests.

In school we were taught about the U.S. Constitution, Congress, the Presidency, and a little about state government. I recall no mention of how county governments are formed and the rules under which they function–and yet this is part of the “rule of law” under which we say we are proud to function in this country. 

It turns out that in the State of Washington the structure and function of county governance is provided for in Article XI, Section 4 and 5 of the 118 page WA State Constitution. It states, “The legislature shall establish a system of county government, which shall be uniform throughout the state except as hereinafter provided, and by general laws shall provide for township organization.” In 1948, Constitutional Amendment 21 added an elaborate process by which a particular county might establish a different “Home Rule” charter for its county government different from the basic 3-commissioner system specified in state law. (I suspect this amendment was passed to allow a densely populated county to adopt a form of local government more suited to a population center than the 3-commissioner system specified in state law. Since 1948 and the 21st amendment, 7 of the 39 Washington counties adopted “Home Rule” charters. King County, the most populous county, was first, in 1969.)

In 2018 a law with bi-partisan sponsorship (from all three state legislative districts that are wholly contained in Spokane County, i.e. LDs 3,4, and 6) was enacted by the legislature that required counties without a “Home Rule” charter and with a population over 400,000 to do two things: expand from 3 to 5 county commissioners and to elect those commissioners by districts drawn in the county instead of by county wide general election. You can read the law here. The law was to come into effect for the 2022 election., The law passed and was signed without much fanfare in Olympia as a sensible acknowledgment of the need to expand county government in response to population growth. 

Case closed, one might have thought. Well, no. It turns out the Spokane County Commissioners (and Washington State county commissioners in general), when their power was threatened, didn’t take it lying down. Spokane County Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns along with the Washington State Association of Counties filed suit in February, 2019, to declare the new law “unconstitutional” (under the state constitution). The suit was first filed with the Spokane County Superior Court where the commissioners’ case was dismissed by Judge Maryann Moreno six months later (August, 2019). The commissioners appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court. The case was argued before the Supreme Court in June, 2020. Finally, unanimously agreeing with Judge Moreno and slapping down the commissioners’ suit, last Thursday the Court handed down a unanimous (9-0) decision that the 2018 state law expanding commissioner seats in counties with a population over 400,000 from 3 to 5 is constitutional. In legal terms the Supremes granted the State’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the commissioners’ case “with prejudice.” The “with prejudice” terminology means “we’re done with this, it’s settled, don’t bring this up again.”

Case closed, right? Well, maybe not quite. Shortly after Spokane County v. State of Washington was argued before the State Supreme Court on June 25, 2020, powerful Commissioner Al French, perhaps sensing that the argument had not gone well, requested that the state legislature postpone the expansion of commissioner seats (and changing to districtwide as opposed to countywide general election of commissioners) by two years. He pointed to Covid-19, census delay, and county finances as his rational. It cannot possibly be a coincidence that of the three Spokane County commissioners currently sitting, the only one up for re-election in 2022 under the current system is Mr. French. Delaying implementation of the law would see him through one more county-wide election. 

And that’s still not quite all. The Spokesman reported in the article on the Supreme Court decision, “French said he had not yet talked to Kerns or Kuney to see if they were also interested in pursuing a freeholder process.” Mr. French is wondering if he can pull together the complex process described in the Washington State constitution by which he could remodel Spokane County governance before the expansion law set in. That statement rings of a certain desperation.

Al French, arguably the most powerful elected official in Spokane County, has held office for nearly ten years. (Commissioners are not limited to two terms like City of Spokane officials.) Commissioner Mary Kuney was likely French’s favored appointee in 2017 to replace Shelly O’Quinn. She generally takes her cues from her senior commissioner. The third commissioner, Josh Kerns, running from the right of an appointed Republican, Nancy McLaughlin, was elected to office in 2016. 

Both Kuney (finishing out the last two years of O’Quinn’s four year term) and Kerns are up for countywide re-election in November. They are opposed by Ted Cummings and accountant David Green. Visit that link. It is time to question the overriding power of Al French and consider some new blood among the Spokane County Commissioners.

Keep to the high ground,

One more note on the excess of power and prestige vested in the Spokane County Commissioners:

A Spokane County Commissioner salary is $110,693 (as of 2017). In contrast, the annual salary of a Spokane City Councilperson in 2017 was $45,100.

Concentration of Local Power

The Spokane County Commissioners, Al French, Josh Kerns, and Mary Kuney, on a per capita basis, wield more power than any in county elected official in the State of Washington. (Some change will come in 2022–I’ll cover that on Wednesday. It’s a story in itself.)

Spokane County is the largest county in the State of Washington that retains the 3-commissioner system of governance set in state law. The estimated population of Spokane County is 522,798.* That is roughly 175,000 people per commissioner, elected (in the general election) countywide. In contrast, the population of the City of Spokane is 222,081 with six city council members, two serving from each of three districts from which each pair is elected. That’s one councilperson for 37,000 people. In addition to these six city council members from the districts, the City of Spokane has a separately elected city council president (Breean Beggs) and an elected mayor (Nadine Woodward) who heads up a separate executive branch. Both the council president and the mayor are elected citywide. In contrast, the three Spokane County commissioners answer only to themselves. Issues are decided by a vote of 2 out of 3, no veto threat, no president. One of the three commissioners (Al French) serves as chair and runs meetings. Furthermore, consider that the three Spokane County Commissioners rule county government as both the executive and the legislature.

The three commissioners of Spokane County have immense influence on what happens throughout Spokane County. The Assessor, Auditor, Clerk, Prosecuting Attorney, and Treasurer of Spokane County all serve under the direction of the three County Commissioners. Visit and click on “Your Government” for a quick look at the additional bureaucracy nominally under their control. For contrast, visit and click on the “spokanecity” button on the upper left. Compare the departments listed for City of Spokane vs. those listed for Spokane County. There are a multitude of examples of government function in which the City depends on the County, for instance, property value assessment, records, and property tax collection. And there are examples of overlap or potential turf issues: city police and county sheriff departments, parks and recreation, solid waste, water management, and public health. In a multitude of ways, Spokane County government overarches the government of the City of Spokane (as well as other cities in the county). 

One example is the Spokane Regional Health District Board, which covers the entire county. Half of the  twelve member board consists of the three county commissioners and the three members-at-large whom the commissioners appoint. (The other six members are appointed from the councils of the City of Spokane [3] the City of Spokane Valley [2] and one representing smaller towns.) That structure gives the commissioners near majority power. Furthermore, the discretionary funds available to the Spokane Regional Health District for things like local epidemiology come from funds under the control of the commissioners. (The SRHD receives outside money, but earmarked for specific uses, i.e. not discretionary.)

Surely the Mayor of the City of Spokane holds more local power than a Spokane County Commissioner, right? Maybe not. Spokane County commissioners serve in four year terms with no term limits. In contrast, elected officials of the City of Spokane, the mayor, the city council president, and city council members also serve four year terms, but each position is limited to two terms. Consider, for instance, that Spokane County Commissioner Al French was elected in 2010 and is now nearly two years into his third term in office. Moreover, Mr. French has a reliable second vote on the Commission in his favored appointee (subsequently confirmed by election in 2018), Commissioner Kuney. 

Finally (to be changed in 2022), the method of electing the commissioners is somewhat bizarre. Currently, commissioners stand for election in a top two primary within their district, but then the top two in each each district advance to stand for election in the entire county. Hence, in 2018 Al French garnered fewer votes in the primary in his district than his opponent, Robbi Katherine Anthony, but prevailed in the countywide general. 

Most of us, including me, barely distinguish between city and county governments. It is time to pay attention. A county commissioner like Al French holds immense power within the county–and most of us are only vaguely aware of that power. For those of my readers not in Spokane County, have a look at your county’s governance structure. Chances are high (unless you live a highly urbanized county) that you will find a similar three commissioner governance. 

More on Wednesday.

Keep to the high ground,

* The next closest Washington State county with only three commissioners is Thurston County with population of 290,536, with each commissioner representing 97,000 people. Thurston County’s largest city is Olympia, the state capitol, with a population of a mere 52,882 (in contrast to the City of Spokane’s 222,000). Information from wikipedia and

Note: throughout this post population numbers cited are estimated 2019 numbers.

Covid Musings

Mr. Trump and objectivity, last Monday, August 17, at a campaign rally in Minnesota (quote and video here)

Referring to some nations now seeing a new wave of coronavirus cases, Trump said “they were holding up names of countries and now they’re saying ‘whoops’.”

“Even New Zealand, did you see what’s going on in New Zealand? ‘They beat it, they beat it.’ It was like front page, they beat it, because they wanted to show me something,” he added. “The problem is, big surge in New Zealand … it’s terrible.”

Surely, his comments were received with glee. His message: “Sure Covid is bad here, but I’m doing a great job. See how these other countries are doing worse!” No one in the Fox News silo will be discussing what is actually going on elsewhere in the world. The context of quoted numbers is almost never presented.

The population New Zealand is around 5 million (comparable to our South Carolina). The U.S. is population is roughly 330 million. Trump was giddily riffing on a report of nine, count them, nine new cases of Covid 19 recently reported in a community cluster in Auckland. Trump, of course, offered no numbers and no context. New Zealand had just gone 102 days without evidence of community spread. The total death toll in New Zealand from Covid-19 is 22 souls. (2,401 have died of Covid to date in South Carolina.) New Zealand had cautiously returned to something close to normal. In response to the new cases Auckland immediately went into a three day lockdown to facilitate contact tracing, limit the spread from asymptomatic cases, and to give time for other infected people to emerge. This is exactly the sort of contact tracing and flexibility in dealing with the virus that epidemiologists were recommending here early on–at the same time that Trump was declaring “We have it under control.” When Trump spoke last Monday the U.S. logged 42,000 new Covid-19 cases and reached approximately 170,000 total Covid dead. The comparative, cumulative score: 4.4 Covid dead/ million people in New Zealand; 515 Covid dead/ million in the U.S. 

I used to wonder if Trump were truly ignorant or if he were dissembling, sly like a fox, twisting facts he actually understood for his own rhetorical benefit. I no longer wonder. If you are still wondering I recommend this video featuring Miles Taylor former chief of staff for the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration. 

So what is happening with Covid-19 in the rest of world? Surely, no one at the Trump rallies (or Trump himself) analyzes Covid news from across the globe. To do so would risk acknowledging that other countries strategies for dealing with virus might be superior to ours. Trump followers are led to believe we are doing great (or, at least better than the rest of the world). The truth is that, indeed, America is First! We currently have the highest number of Covid-19 deaths (absolute numbers, not per million), at around 176K. Brazil is second at 111K. Argue about the accuracy of reported numbers all you want, it is hard to discount differences this large. 

I recommend a fascinating on-the-ground, first hand factual account of what is going on in southeast Asia in this podcast: “How South East Asia Flattened the COVID-19 Curve” at . In our smug “we’re the best” nationalism we tend to think of every other country as in some way horribly backward. Even our mainstream media report numbers in a way that fails to offer perspective. (Before I had traveled much, I was guilty of a similar bias. For decades, my mental image of China was Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, a book I read in high school.)

A Russian Vaccine Breakthrough? Anyone who greets Putin’s Sputnik V vaccine announcement without a great deal of skepticism needs to review the story of Trofim Lysenko, the Soviet agronomist and biologist. His ideas, based more on ideology than science, were supported by the Soviet state under Stalin. Lysenko rejected Mendelian genetics and natural selection, setting back the Soviet biological sciences by decades and resulting in the starvation of millions of Russians and Chinese in the mid 20th Century. (Read the article-there are many cautionary parallels to Mr. Trump’s embrace of junk science and opinion.) Russia beat the U.S. into space in 1957 with the original Sputnik. That was rock solid physical science and technology. Biology is a different bear. It would be lovely if the vaccine, Sputnik V, were proven safe and effective in carefully conducted and published clinical trials, but Sputnik V has barely gotten past square one.  

A Breakthrough in Covid-19 Viral Testing? On August 15 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to a new test test for presence of Covid-19 virus. Its name, “SalivaDirect,” also tells us of its major advantage. Developed in a collaboration of Yale University, the National Basketball Association, and the National Basketball Players Association, it tests saliva you can spit out rather than the material collected by a professional inserting a nasopharyngeal swab deep into your nose.

SalivaDirect has been tested against the conventional tests and has proven very nearly as accurate. Processing the samples is also a bit simpler and the cost of the test should be around ten dollars per sample. (Of course, in our non-free market health care system there is no guarantee that price will carry through to the patient or the patient’s insurance. 

So SalivaDirect does sound like an incremental improvement over the currently available tests. BUT, this is not the fast and cheap Covid-19 equivalent of the home pregnancy test I wrote about last week. SalivaDirect is still a lab-based test with all the attendant complications of sample transport, tracking, and reporting. It is not a dipstick. It still relies on detection of the viral genetic material, that is. it is a”molecular” test, not a test for viral antigens (bits of viral proteins) using manufactured antibodies to detect them. A viral test before you go out the door to school or work in the morning is still beyond our reach.

Keep to the high ground,

Pedophiles Against Sex Ed!

Pedophiles Against Sex Ed in Schools, Keep the Kids Ignorant and Vulnerable! 

An altar boy who has not learned what constitutes inappropriate sexual behavior is easy prey for an adult authority figure like a pedophile priest. Surely we can all agree it would be lovely if every family taught their children at an early age about the boundaries of acceptable sexual behavior, but even the most well-meaning of parents often find these topics difficult and tend to put off addressing them.

The same goes for discussion of sexual health as children approach adolescence. Many a sexual encounter and many an unintended pregnancy could be avoided if every family provided a realistic orientation to sexual health rather than children learning about sex from their friends or from graphic videos on the internet. For most parents sex is a delicate subject easy to avoid and put off, necessary “homework” delayed. 

In my youth, my first serious relationship was with a young woman I met in the context of the Methodist Youth Fellowship. My parents provided me with a detailed, realistic discussion of the realities of sex around the time I turned twelve. It was a talk that kept my friend and me out of dangerous territory. Later we went off to different colleges and drifted apart. Years after that we met and shared our stories. She confided that she had been entirely ignorant of the details of sex, that her actions in our relationship had been governed by natural urges, urges that, a few years later, led her to a surprise pregnancy with an irresponsible man several years her senior, a pregnancy she would have avoided had she possessed the necessary information. Her parents, well-intended, God-fearing, church-going Methodists, lovely people, never got around to having “the talk.”  At that time in this country abortion was only safe for the well connected for whom it was quietly performed in hospital and labelled a D&C (dilation and curettage). With family financial and emotional backing she flew, alone, to Japan, where she underwent an early and safe abortion. Needless to say this was no tourist trip. It was terrifying. The message of her story is indelible: to be informed is to be empowered, ignorance is dangerous.

Every young person needs sex education to function safely in our society. I was pleased when  ENGROSSED* SUBSTITUTE SENATE BILL 5395, mandating comprehensive sexual health education in Washington State public schools became state law in March. I’ve written about it before. The law is entirely sensible with multiple options for communities to chose among curricular options or adopt their own.

My happiness was short-lived. Even before Governor Inslee’s signature was dry on the Comprehensive Sexual Health Education Law, Republican political operatives were hard at work on Referendum 90, a referral of the law to the voters for approval or rejection,.They advocate a vote to “Reject,” which would prevent the law from taking effect. Signature gathering during the pandemic was accomplished through Evangelical (Fundamentalist), Mormon, and Roman Catholic church congregations purposely riled up with an online campaign of misinformation about what the law says. The campaign to “Reject” relies on people’s squeamishness around sex and on their protective instincts concerning children–and completely ignores that many children will remain ignorant and vulnerable because their parents are uncomfortable with the information and never provide it.

Political operatives (and marketers and sociologists) know that anything with sexual content immediately captures attention, even more so if it also contains a perceived threat to children. Knowing that virtually none of their signers would read and understand the law, they are comfortable framing sexual education to ignite the worst fears of sex, sexual exploitation, and governmental overreach among their followers. 

Referendum 90 is a means to stir up enthusiasm among a certain kind of right wing religious voter without running afoul of campaign finance law. Repealing the Comprehensive Sexual Health Education law is not about protecting children. On the contrary, withholding information endangers children.

There is great irony in a celibate Roman Catholic cleric, Bishop Muggenborg, lecturing us on the evils of sex education ( May 24th). A church beset by scandals involving predatory priests is solemnly arguing to keep children ignorant? 

This needs an airing–and soon. Tell your friends and acquaintances about the new “movement.” Someone with the skill to do so needs to construct a meme:

Pedophiles Against Sex Ed, Keep the Kids Ignorant and Vulnerable! 

Or, perhaps, since irony is lost on many, perhaps just 

Vote Approve on Referendum 90. Protect the children.  (Voting “approve” means approving the law.)

Keep to the high ground,

*”Engrossed” in a legal sense means “produced (as a legal document) in its final or definitive form.”

NW Far Right is No Joke

I am spurred to write on this ordinarily “off” day because I want to share an uncomfortable perspective of the Inland Northwest I’ve been brooding since the time of the Aryan Nations compound outside Hayden Lake. Today the local chief protagonists are Matt Shea, Heather Scott (ID State Rep), and Ammon Bundy, all linked ideologically and all comrades in arms (literally, it turns out). All are a part of the Republican Party that dare not dismiss them or ignore them for fear of losing votes. Of course there are many minor players with greater or lesser links to and sympathies with those protagonists, several of whom have also been in public office: Caleb Collier, Rod Higgins, Rob Chase, Josh Kerns, to name just a few, all names you should study and remember.

I knew we were in crazy conspiracy land when I wrote about Matt Shea (Rep. LD4, Spokane Valley north to Mt. Spokane) as a featured speaker at The Red Pill Expo in Spokane in June of 2018. Leah Sottile, former music writer for the Inlander, filled in a lot of blanks with her podcasts Bundyville and Bundyville, The Remnantthrough Oregon Public Broadcasting and She recently added much to the background in her article on Extremism in High Country News (I hope that isn’t hidden behind a paywall. It is an informative and engaging read, as is this article in which Matt Shea is mentioned.)

But Shawn Vestal brought it all home to roost with “Tale of Bundy and his melon highlights this sick, but silly, season in conspiracy world” last Sunday, August 16th. I subscribe to Spokesman, and encourage my readers to do the same. I would do so just to read Mr. Vestal’s column. I have copied below just in case you missed it. It should be widely aired and shared.

Shawn Vestal:

It’s been a season of extra pungency in the pastures of the alt-reality-right.

The moronic inferno burns online with anti-mask zeal. Nutty, perverse conspiracies about pedophilia and cannibalism thrive. The stupidest virus and vaccine memes are shared as faithfully as Bible verses. Macho talk about violent insurrection, naturally, flourishes.

The pandemic is simply excellent fodder for conspiracists, and not just online. More and more, the alt-reality-right has a small but potent presence IRL – mask protests everywhere, “liberty” shindigs all around the region and growing instances of armed vigilantism.

It’s absurd, but it’s no joke. When people come out of that echo chamber into the real world, with their guns and those ideas, others can get hurt. The history of our region, and our country, is peppered with examples.

Still, what’s underlying these zealous calls for resistance and revolution is often little more than simple, entitled selfishness: Don’t wanna wear a mask. Don’t wanna pay a tax. Don’t wanna follow a law.

The absurdity is sometimes so extreme you’d think it was created by Monty Python.

Take the tale of Ammon Bundy and the Truckload of Melons, a recent “constitutional crisis” saga bouncing around the echo chamber.

In a video posted earlier this month on Facebook, Bundy – the instigator of the Malheur wildlife refuge standoff who now stays busy as an anti-mask crusader in the Boise area – walked along a street in Perry, Utah, carrying a single melon , wearing his cowboy hat and telling yet another story of his heroic resistance to oppression.

Bundy says he was driving a rented truck full of melons grown on his father’s Nevada ranch to a prospective customer in Perry. On his way there, he came upon a port of entry inspection station, where large trucks are required to be inspected for weight and safety standards, and where agricultural products might also be inspected under certain conditions.

Bundy, though, doesn’t do ports of entry. That’s police state nonsense.

So, according to his video, Bundy drove on until he was pulled over for some reason by a police officer, who discovers he didn’t have his required inspection.

“I give him the insurance and I give him my driver’s license and then he goes back and basically tells me I have to take my load all the way to the port of entry and have it weighed and inspected and all that,” Bundy said, in the tone of one who has become wearily resigned to the daily Job-like injustices he suffers.

“So I told him I wasn’t going to do that. Told him I felt like it was a violation of my rights, that I hadn’t harmed anybody, hadn’t had any ill intent, but he insisted, and so I got my personal property out of the vehicle – of course, it’s loaded with melons, which sucks – and I said I guess you can just confiscate my vehicle.”

‘An embarrassment’

More than 20,000 people watched Bundy’s video, which I’ll get back to in a minute. It was shared widely online by those in the alt-reality-right, where the fever never breaks – among the patriots and militia dudes, the anti-government and end-times crowd, the Birchers and Liberty Staters.

It’s a robust time in that world. Simply gangbusters. All around the region, anti-mask, pro-conspiracy protests – not infrequently marked by clusters of armed posers – have been held in parks and at courthouses, at state Capitols and in front of the homes of public health officials.

Several alumni of the Malheur occupation have strayed back into the news. One of the last Malheur holdouts, Sean L. Anderson, was shot in an altercation with police in Idaho that remains shrouded in mystery. This has prompted patriot demonstrations around the region demanding justice and answers.

Meanwhile, the Ephrata man who livestreamed much of the Malheur occupation, Gavin Seim, has decamped to Mexico, where he is now doing to authorities in that country what he so often did to authorities in Grant County: Pestering them with made-up constitutional grievances and filming their reactions for videos in which he plays the hero.

Seim now claims to be a political refugee in Mexico. According to a piece in The Daily Beast last week, the American ambassador to Mexico called Seim “a spoiled brat and an embarrassment to our country … a perfect example of the ‘Ugly American.’ ”

Uglier are the reaches of conspiracy-world as represented by QAnon, the insane conspiracy in which deep-state elites are claimed to be running a pedophilia and child cannibalism ring (yes, cannibalism has been added to Q’s feverish pedophilia tableaux). It’s recently been connecting mask-wearing to the conspiracy.

This wild nonsense is creeping into the mainstream, with a Q candidate winning election in Georgia and the president calling her a “WINNER.” Q references appeared on signs at a recent demonstration against trafficking in Spokane.

And the ghost of Matt Shea – long our strongest local connection to the wingnut right – still haunts our politics, with his acolytes winning in the primaries. One of his longtime fellow travelers, former Spokane Valley City Councilman Caleb Collier, has taken the helm of a resurgent regional wing of the John Birch Society and seems to be a rising Shea mini-me, appearing on the undercard at several “liberty” festivals organized this summer around the tyranny of the mask. He’s also putting up anti-mask billboards around Spokane.

The pandemic is simply great for the conspiracy biz. And all roads lead, in that biz, to one destination: the call to arms. Fantasies of armed insurrection, of the defiant heroism of the gun zealot, run through it all, no matter how silly the grievance.

On Monday, for example, the YouTube gadfly and mask protest organizer Casey Whalen – who helped bring the “masks are satanic” protest to Dr. Bob Lutz’s home – posted this on his Facebook page:

“A WARNING: The solution is simple, tried and true. Violate my rights and you will be shot. This will be my mantra from here on out. If you’re too stupid to understand rights identifiable in nature, then you get what you deserve. Time for talk is OVER.”

The time for talk is always over in the alt-reality right, and the time for guns is always now.

It’s absurd, but it’s no joke.

‘We’ve gone crazy’

Which brings us back to Bundy and his lonely melon, walking the roadside in Utah. There may be no better symbol of the current state of the alt-reality-right: a man crying tyranny over his certainty that the Constitution protects him from having his truck weighed.

I could not verify Ammon’s tale with police in Perry, who did not return messages seeking comment this week, or state or county officials. So this is his version, and his version only. (Just as his video, posted a couple days later, about how Costco was cutting off his food supply by making him wear a mask, is his version only: “We’ve gone crazy here. You can’t even go to the store without feeling like a 1933 Jew. Jewish man or woman. I really can sympathize with them, a little bit.”)

In Bundy’s telling of the melon standoff, when he told the officer that he’d allow him to confiscate the truckload of melons rather than drive to the nearby port of entry, the officer tried to force him to return to the port of entry, but Bundy refused, taking out a folding chair and sitting on the side of the road.

The officer wrote Bundy a citation, which Bundy let flutter to the ground, and then threatened to cite Bundy for littering, Bundy said.

Bundy, valiant, would not yield. He took one melon and walked away.

“I’ve got one melon left,” he said in the video. “I’m going to give it to (the potential customer) and say maybe you don’t want to do business with us. We’re kind of stubborn, but here’s a good melon you can enjoy with your family.”

Bundy, who recently shocked some folks by supporting Black Lives Matter’s call to defund the police, said in a later video that the truck was returned to the rental company from which he had engaged it, and then returned – with the melons – to him.

Still, he would not want you to think this was not a true and lasting tragedy.

“I believe we should be more free than we are,” he said. “I believe we should freely trade with each other. I believe we should not be caught under this terrible web of a police state, and I believe I should be able to sell this beautiful melon to whomever I want to as long as they want to buy it.”

The terrible, terrible web of the police state.

“I know most of you guys won’t understand this,” Bundy said. “But most of you probably wear a mask, too.”

Learn the players in this sick drama. You cannot remember to vote them out of office and keep them out of office unless you pay attention, know them, and know their stories and connections.

Keep to the high ground,