Saturday, September 25, 2010

Life Term Lite

Here in New Mexico, we have a strange method of electing judges.  Mostly, we don’t.  New Mexico is one of the 17 states in America that uses the retention system.  If you aren’t sure what this means, you’re not alone: very few people realize that voters in this state have very little to do with selecting their magistrates.

I conducted a scientific poll this week; I questioned the students in one of my classes and about a dozen people drinking beer at a bowling alley.  This is the exact same method of random sampling used by the better news agencies like CBS and the National Enquirer.  Very few of my respondents knew what I was talking about, though one guy at the bowling alley offered to make something up if I would buy him another beer.

Here’s the shortened version of the process.  All judges are initially appointed by the Governor.  At the next election, the judge runs against a partisan opponent.  If the judge successfully retains his position, at each subsequent election the voters are asked whether or not they wish to retain the judge.  The judge’s name appears alone on the ballot and voters can pull the lever next to his name.  This is not a vote for the judge, but a vote to retain the judge.  If 57% of the participating voters decide for retention, the judge stays in office for another term.  If not, the process starts over..

There are some very good reasons to use the retention system.  Do we really want our judges periodically begging and pleading with the public for votes and campaign funds?  It is so much more dignified to have our prospective jurists begging and pleading with the governor for the same job.  And if successful, we will just ignore the fact that the judge still has to go out begging and pleading for campaign funds to pay for the retention campaign.

Picking a judge requires a skill sadly lacking in the average dimwitted voter, someone who can only can be trusted with selecting lesser officeholders like congressmen, senators, governors, and the president.   To select a judge, we need someone that can be trusted to exercise wise and sober judgment, someone like our governor… oh, crap.  Well at least before every retention vote, there is a panel of experts that reviews the history of the judges and makes harsh and blunt evaluations.  That is why in the current election, this panel is only recommending the retention of 75 out of 77 judges.  It has no recommendation on the other two races.

I wonder how many voters really understand what is going on when they enter a voting booth and see only one name listed for a judge’s race.  Do they know this is a retention election?  Do they think this man is running unopposed?  And why 57%?  When the politicians who wrote this bill got together at a restaurant to hammer out the finer points, did one of them have a sudden insight while staring at a bottle of steak sauce?

Needless to say, our judges are usually retained.  It must be rather difficult to actually lose a retention vote, unless at the time of the election the judge happens to be in jail.  If we used the same system for national elections, FDR would still be president.

There seems to be a problem with this whole process.  As a society, we don’t want to have minor judges selected for life, but at the same time we can’t quite trust the public not to elect Bernie Madoff to the state supreme court.  Don’t laugh, Bernie’s got good name recognition and it wasn’t that long ago that Texas elected Jesse James to the position of State Treasurer.  Several times. 

Naturally, I have a suggestion.  Instead of appointing or electing judges, let’s have a massive poker championship.  Any member of the New Mexico Bar Association could buy in for $10,000 (chump change compared to the price of a good campaign).  The final winner gets the job and the state keeps the cash to help finance the state judicial system.  The winner can’t help but be smarter, or perhaps craftier, than anyone a governor selects.  

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Mexico Legislature Votes No!


In a party line vote today, the New Mexico legislature voted to deny marriage rights for gay pets. After narrowly passing a vote in the House Committee on Domestic Pet Affairs, the measure failed to muster enough votes to pass a floor challenge despite the efforts of powerful lobbying groups.

Outside the Round House, protestors had gathered both in support of and against the bill. Speaking for the Coalition for Animals Rights Programs (CARP), Linda Nevins-Smith said, “If we deny the right for gay pets in New Mexico to marry, they will just have to travel across state lines to more progressive states in order to exercise their basic civil rights. It is high time that New Mexico joined the list of modern states that recognize the rights of all of their pets, not just the straight ones.”

In opposition to the bill, the Churches Reacting Against Zealous Immoral Excesses (CRAZIES) spokesperson Susan Kling stated, “If we allow gay pets to marry, this will destroy the sacred institution of pet marriage as handed down by God. The only legitimate reason for pet marriage is to protect the litter. Obviously, gay pets have no litters to protect, so their being married is senseless.”

Ms. Kling went on to explain, “We are against this bill as it represents just one more step along the path of general erosion of all pet marriages. If we allow gay pet marriage, what’s next? Marriage outside breeds? Just how long will it be before someone is demanding the right for a dog and a cat to marry?”

“Besides,” Ms. Kling went on to explain, “Everyone knows it’s okay to have gay pets plan marriage for others, but not to have their own”

A third group, representing local sheep ranchers, was concerned about the expert testimony given before the Committee for Domestic Pet Affairs concerning the behavior of some male sheep. When scientists from the state agricultural college testified that rams frequently mounted other rams, northern ranchers quickly responded. Speaking for the ranchers, Buck Smithers said, “Them sheep ain’t gay. They’re just confused. When we catch them at it, we run out there and beat them off.”

A last minute compromise measure failed to win support in the legislature. The Pets Allowed Weddings bill, commonly called PAWS, would have established civil unions for gay pets, including full visitation rights for pet partners at veterinary hospitals. The measure failed to win support when supporters of Gay Pet Marriage refused to support the compromise bill, pledging that they would either pass the original bill without amendments or seek to win redress in the courts.

Conservative groups are demanding that the governor support a constitutional amendment to ban gay pet marriage. Political insiders consider this a tough sell in a state with financial difficulties and high unemployment.

Speaking off the record, a spokesman in the governor’s office said, “The governor will undoubtedly be torn between defending a sacred moral institution and taking advantage of a tremendous opportunity to boost the economy. Come on, you just know those gay pets will go all out. Designer wedding cakes, little sleeveless tuxedo sweaters, and iced sculptures of clipped poodles that pee catnip liqueur. Every gay pet in the state will be registered at PetSmart. It’ll be fabulous! Gay pet marriage might be just the shot in the arm New Mexico’s economy needs.”

Regardless of the eventual outcome of the bill in the legislature, a court challenge is expected.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Need a Good Recipe, Please

I’m on a diet. These four words are like a self imposed death sentence. To make it worse, I’m not on a diet to lose weight; I’m trying to lower my cholesterol.

High cholesterol doesn’t run in my family, it seems to be a stampede, so I went to my doctor for a standard cholesterol test. When I got the results, the nurse had thoughtfully stapled a list of local funeral homes to the back. Either I had to make a real change or one more clean white shirt would be about all I would need.

The original plan was to start a regimen of several drugs designed to lower my cholesterol count down to the “Holy Crap!” range and have me work on moderating my diet. I was in favor of this plan until I read the list of common side effects for these drugs. Headaches, the creeping crud, hearing loss, galloping galontis, housemaid’s knees, impotence, loss of bladder control, sudden onset serial killer syndrome, and an uncontrollable desire to read the National Enquirer. This is better than high cholesterol? After a couple of years of this, I can just imagine myself squatting painfully in a puddle of urine begging for a heart attack.

I’m not very good with that moderation crap, either. Personally, I believe that moderation is for monks. If you want me to quit something, okay, I think I can do that, but moderation is beyond my reach. So, I guess I have to quit eating things with cholesterol. This can’t be that bad as I checked and there is no cholesterol in scotch. As long as the good people at Laphroaig don’t start distilling their scotch from cows, I thought everything should turn out okay.

Well, at least that was the plan. It turns out that eliminating cholesterol means eating practically no meat. I don’t know about you, but I would rather eat a vegetarian than be one. Nevertheless, I have somehow managed to eliminate almost all meat from my diet. I can say this, because in my opinion, chicken and fish are honorary vegetables, probably a member of the squash family.

This blog generates an extraordinary amount of hate/weirdo/religious email. Most of it begins with something along the lines of “You will never see the sweet face of Jesus…” So let me save some of you the trouble of writing. There is no way in the world to cook eggplant so that it tastes like meat, not even very bad meat. Evidently, the main ingredient in meat that tastes good is cholesterol. Why doesn’t someone invent artificial cholesterol?

Basically, I now eat exclusively what I call the Goat Puke Diet. This is because most of what I eat looks like a goat just puked it up. (Ever had barbecued goat? In Mexico, they call this cabrito. It’s fantastic.) And I have been on this diet long enough that I have to admit, it works. My cholesterol is down, the doctor no longer wants me on pills, and the people at the local cemetery are not warming up a hole for me.

There are more than a few problems with this diet. First, it’s boring. I’ve cooked vegetables every damn way you can think of. I am more than familiar with tempeh, and have a graduate degree in tofu. For a Texan, tofu would be a lot more fun if you could butcher your own after you shot a tofudebeast. While I have gotten to the point where I no longer really want a hamburger, I could kill nuns with a power sander for a filet mignon. I have dreams about t-bones.

Secondly, and much worse, my constant desire for a steak has started affecting my teaching. Several times in the last year I have found myself lecturing about cannibalism. No particular reason, I just wanted to. It is a little hard to find a connection between the War of 1812 and what the Polynesians used to call “Long Pork,” but I managed to make the leap just last week.

And several times recently, I have found myself checking out a few of the students for marbling. I saw a young lady just yesterday walking back to her dorm room from the pool, and the first thought that popped into my mind was whether or not her entire thigh would fit on my barbecue grill.

I’ve read the popular literature about cannibalism: the Donner Party and the book about the soccer team whose plane crashed in the Andes. None of this made much of an impression on me. About all I remember of the latter is thinking they should have eaten the stupid pilot first, even if they weren’t out of regular food. But the idea of cannibalism must have been with me even before I started this diet.

Remember Y2K? The world was coming to an end and we all needed to stock up for the great famine. I had a plan. Call it Milliorn’s Law. It was a very simple plan: I would never starve as long as I have one fat neighbor. I had him picked out, he was old and I knew I could take him. While other people bought canned goods, I stocked up on meat tenderizer.

Unfortunately, that neighbor moved. But I’ve noticed a plump widow now lives on the corner.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tackle the Goon with the Balloon! Or… Of Course the Administration Are Athletic Supporters

Recently, there has been a controversy on campus concerning the wisdom of transferring millions of dollars originally earmarked by the state legislation for academics into a failing athletic program. Normally, this is not the kind of thing I would write about, but several students took time off from their usual pursuits, drinking beer, attempting to find a parking spot, and making tricycle motors, to ask my opinion. Wow! My blog is getting requests.

Okay, here’s what I think. I’m pissed! Screaming book throwing and kick holes in the wall pissed! Here I am, trying to write the occasionally humorous blog inspired by nothing but beer and insomnia and suddenly I am all but blown out of the water by the kind of flaming stupidity that could only be the result of higher education. How the hell am I supposed to compete?

Let’s see, we are not replacing retiring professors, we have a form of a hiring freeze, tuition is going up faster than a coed’s skirt at a frat party and yet somehow the administration believes we can spend millions more on an athletic program that is not only irrelevant to our core mission of education, but has a win/loss ratio that makes the Confederacy look good.

Why are we doing this? I can only imagine that our regents are using LSD as an enema.

We have some great student athletes. Actually, the “student” part of that phrase is mostly the result of the women’s teams, whose grade point average is offsetting that of the men’s teams. We must have women competing in just about every possible sport. If we bring in one more illiterate basketball player, we may have to invent a new sport. Women’s Competitive Serial Killing. Olympic Style Brain Surgery.

There are some male athletes that deserve mentioning, I have a student right now that I will call Matt. (Because that is his name.) Matt really works at his education, he deserves the grades he gets, and someday soon he will make an exceptional high school teacher. But would anyone doubt that he wouldn’t achieve that goal if he hadn’t been a football player?

My real complaint with the athletic program is not the cost, after all, New Mexico is a rich state and we can afford to have the best possible losing team. Actually, it doesn’t really matter if we win or lose. My real objections are what this program does to the young men involved. In far too many cases, we import minority children from inner city slums, bring them to the university with the empty promise of an education they are ill-prepared to receive, sweetened ever so slightly by the dream of a lucrative career in professional sports. Their training and travel program prevents all but the occasional Matt from any real chance of an education. We fans sit in the stadium, entertained by their labors until either their eligibility or their physical abilities end, and then we discard them like a used Kleenex. All too frequently they return from whence they came, no better educated and hopefully only slightly the worse for wear.

Personally, this sounds like twenty-first century slavery, and I am embarrassed by my involuntary part in the slave trade.

Are you looking for the jokes? They are at almost every high school and university around you. It is hilarious how we eliminate subjects like foreign languages, art, music, civics, and economics from our public schools while channeling ever more money into a competitive sports program thinly disguised as Physical Education. Meanwhile we all complain about the rising cost and worry about how tomorrow’s work force will compete in the global market.

Physical Education. Christ on a stick, we're getting screwed here; we are producing a steady stream of undereducated high school graduates so fat they can barely fit into a phone booth. Okay, here’s a joke. What’s the difference between an elephant and the typical teenager? About 5 pounds. And if you want to make up the difference, force feed the elephant.