Saturday, June 25, 2011

Even If You Build It

Ahh.  It is that wonderful time of the year.  Southern New Mexico is hotter than a pawn shop pistol and the wind is both constant and strong enough to blow the nuts off a prairie dog.   This doesn’t bother me, if it wasn’t for a little heat and the occasional dust storm, New Mexico would be ass deep in New Yorkers.

Still, I completely understand why the deserts of southern New Mexico are not regularly featured on the Travel Channel.  We have a few museums, a huge beach (but no water), and a lot of rocks.  And for a few months of the year, buzzards have to pack a lunch to fly over the desert.  These are not the sort of attractions that draw large numbers of tourists.  Sad, but understandable.
The local city council, however, does not understand.  So they used our tax money to build a convention center.  To be fair, they put the idea up for a vote, giving the citizens the final say on the matter.  The citizens promptly voted the idea down, so the city fathers, all of whom suffer from an Edifice Complex, built the convention center, anyway. 
Now that the convention center is completed, something strange has happened—no one really wants to bring a convention here.  Evidently, our founding fathers believed that convention centers are kind of like a purple martin bird house.  “If you build it, they will come…”  Except they haven’t.  Maybe the town should put out some visitor-shaped decoys.  Cardboard people in shorts, white socks, and sandals taking photos of … rocks.  We could sell souvenir sand.
I’m trying to imagine a conversation at a distant corporation about a future convention.
“Did you get us a great location for our sales conference?” the boss asked.
“Absolutely,” the employee answers.  “We got booked into a small town in Southern New Mexico.  We’re practically guaranteed dry sunny weather.”
“New Mexico?” the boss answers. “What do the spouses do during our meetings?”
“They can shop at Wal-Mart.”
“Any resorts?  Casinos?  Strip clubs?“ asks the boss.
“Lakes, boating, swimming?  Horseback riding?  Sightseeing tours?” the boss asks hopefully.
“No.  You can drive to Mexico, but I wouldn’t advise it.  The death rate in Juarez is slightly higher than in Baghdad or Kabul.”
“Tell me, I’m curious,” the boss says. “What was your second choice?”
Actually, there are a few conventions and meetings being held at the new center.  These are the local meetings the town normally hosted; the only difference seems to be that instead of these events being held at local restaurants and hotels, they are now held at a publicly owned facility.  In other words, using tax payer money, the city has decided to go into competition with the local businesses.  And the effect on local business is notable.  A few have said they are in financial trouble. 
This public/private competition reminds me of a man I met in Zacatecas years ago.  Juan had a job with the city government.  To be specific, he took care of an old brass smoothbore cannon on display in the city park.  The cannon was left over from Mexico’s war for independence, and the town was justifiably proud of its heirloom.
Every day, Juan would get up early, gather up a box of rags, take a new bottle of brass polish to the park, and spend the day polishing the cannon until he could see his own reflection in the gleaming brass.  Every day, summer or winter, rain or snow, Juan polished that cannon, maintaining a perfect shine on the old artillery piece.
After a few years, Juan began to have a few doubts about his job.  While he was paid a good wage, his job didn’t seem to have much advancement potential.  There had to be more to a career than polishing the city cannon.  So, Juan began to save his money.  After about a year, Juan convinced his parents and a few close friends to make him a small loan.  He cashed in his savings, and then quit his dead-end job.
Juan immediately took his money, purchased a new brass cannon, and went into business for himself.

Let me add a small postscript.  Obviously the city should not compete with private business, but occasionally, we as individuals have to help local government to do the right thing.  The renovation of Phillips Chapel is just such a case.
The competition to award funds for the restoration of Phillips Chapel from the National Trust for Historic Preservation ends June 30. Organizers say Phillips Chapel, located at 638 N. Tornillo St., is a symbol of community preservation in action, as private donations, volunteers and student labor are restoring it.

The National Trust has chosen Phillips Chapel as one of the top 100 places in This Place Matters competition. Only online votes can help win the award. There are three awards, first is $25,000, second is $10,000 and third is $5,000. Any of these would make a difference to the continuing efforts. More restorative and construction materials are needed as well as volunteer manpower. NMSU Archaeology professor Beth O'Leary is one of the leaders on the project.

For more information or to vote, visit

Saturday, June 18, 2011

LETCH – Loonies for the Ethical Treatment of Chickens

PETA, or the People Eating Tasty Animals, has been protesting in town this week.  They are a little upset with a local restaurant for selling chicken.  I’m not exactly sure just what the restaurant did that was wrong, but it apparently has something to do with killing the chicken before selling them as food.  Perhaps, PETA would prefer that your chicken sandwich scream as you bite into it.

PETA seems to be against pretty much everything involving animals except taking them to a happy farm in the country, where the animals can run and play.  The members of PETA are the only people over the age of 10 who still believe in that farm.  Simple beliefs are much easier than thinking; PETA doesn’t want to face a few simple unpleasant facts.
First, there are no happy stories involving chickens.  Trust me: I have a little experience here.  When chickens are the central character, the  stories never ends with the phrase, “And they lived happily ever after.”  No, stories with chickens end with a meal.  No poultry retirement homes, no white meat hospitals, no chicken cemeteries.  The last words said over a chicken are either a recipe or grace.

Secondly, PETA, do you really want to stop people from eating livestock?  Think about it, if no one eats livestock, no one will raise livestock.  Very few people will want to keep cows as pets.  Do you really want to protect whole species until they reach extinction?  This is also true for a lot of pets, even PETA can’t believe in large herds of free-range Chihuahuas.

Wait, come to think of it, PETA doesn’t believe in keeping pets either.  This week they are trying to push through an ordinance in San Francisco that will ban the sale of pets, even goldfish.  If you cannot sell pets, it is probably inhumane to own them.   We should all throw our pets out the front door, right now.  I’m going to start with my wife’s cat.  The useless cross-eyed feline lives under the sofa, so we call him Dust Bunny.  He could be gone for weeks before the Doc misses him, and even then I can blame his absence on PETA.
I have some prior experience with PETA--you might say they have even been to my home.  It started years ago when someone wrote to the local newspaper complaining about a local restaurant.  In particular, the restaurant had served pâté de foie gras, goose liver.  The writer claimed that pâté came from geese that had their feet nailed to the floor while grain was forced into their stomachs.

The restaurant in question was a favorite of mine, and here is part of a letter that I wrote in its defense:
I quite unashamedly like the liver pâté, and I don’t care about the geese who gave their all so I could spread their innards on a cracker.  Are the geese really nailed to floor and force fed?  I don’t know, but I remember a gander my family had when I was a child.  Its name was Knothead, and it used to chase me around the yard biting large red welts on my backside.  This memory leads me to hope that the preparation of pâté calls for the geese to be nailed to the ceiling while their livers are extracted with a power sander.
The paper published my letter.  The local chapter of PETA came to my house picketed briefly, and threw their literature all over the front lawn.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

TARD Activity

I wonder if Jon Stewart is sending royalty checks to Congressman Weiner?  If not, he certainly should be: Stewart, like all the rest of comedians on TV, is having a field day writing jokes about the congressman.  I don’t intend to write another Weiner Roast, but I do have a couple of comments on a different subject that the Weiner affair has forced upon us.

First (and this is a small point), why are we referring to this as Weinergate?  Why is everything a “gate?”  Richard Nixon committed multiple felonies and tried to subvert the democratic process.  Anthony Weiner played with himself while sending juvenile messages to desperate women.  That’s not much of a comparison.  The Watergate Hotel is not that far away from The Dupont Circle Hotel.  If the offices that Nixon had burgled had been located there, today we might be calling the Weiner scandal a Circle Jerk.

It is time to retire the references to Watergate when politicians act illegally or immorally.  We need a new word, and I suggest we use TARD.  Typical Activity of Representative Delegates.  Repeat offenders can be Re-TARDS.  We might as well assign new meanings to these terms as the previous definitions are no longer politically correct.

My second complaint is a little more complicated.  Let me try and put Weiner into some historical context.   Political scandals are hardly new.  Former Vice President Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.   President Jackson fought over a dozen duels--mostly over the fact that he had inadvertently married a woman before her divorce was final.  Poor Jackson carried so many pistol balls in him that when he walked it was said he sounded like someone shaking a bag of marbles.

President Grover Cleveland possibly fathered of a child with a prostitute.  While several men might have been the true father, Cleveland did pay the woman child support and never denied his possible paternity.
Let’s skip over Presidents Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Eisenhower to move right up to Kennedy.  If we are to believe popular legend, Kennedy slept with Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson, and according to one biographer, got a quickie from the wife of the French ambassador in the White House elevator.  As sex scandals go, this is the gold standard.

Nixon sanctioned illegal military activity in Cambodia and Laos and still had time to have the only true scandal worthy of calling a gate; Watergate.  Right about the same time, Congressman Wilbur Mills was caught driving while intoxicated.  When the police stopped his car, the local stripper he was having an affair with, Fanne Foxe, tried to escape the police by jumping into the Tidal Basin and swimming to safety.
This might have been the golden age of sex scandals.  From here, it seems to go downhill.  President Clinton showed his privates to a file clerk.  Senator Craig was arrested for soliciting sex in an airport bathroom.  Governor Spitzer hired a prostitute.  Schwarzenegger seduced the housekeeper.  And now, Weiner sends a picture of his underwear to women he has never actually met.

Is it just me, or are our sex scandals getting a little tame?  Not only are most of these peckerdillos tawdry and cheap, but they don’t even sound like much fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude.  I have always had a sneaky suspicion that rich and powerful men could get laid.  This might even be a good thing.  Do we really want a man who can start a nuclear war feeling a little…  I’m not exactly certain what word to use here, but I prefer this man to be relaxed.

And what are we, the public, getting so worked up over?  Our reactions to what seems to be fairly normal, if absolutely tawdry, behavior is a little over the top.  Jackson, Cleveland, and most of the rest of that list of men caught in sexual scandals ignored the press and went on to be either elected, reelected, or both. 

I don’t want to vote for a leader who has never done anything in his life.  Either we will elect a man who has so carefully covered up his past that we will have no idea who he really is, or we will have a leader who is hardly human.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Trotsky Came to Town

Once again, I think the statute of limitations will allow me to tell the truth about an event long past, but just in case, remember—this is just a blog and none of this really happened.

More than twenty years ago, I was in the computer retail business and one of my better customers was Enema U.  Naturally, the university bought a wide of variety of technical gear and through this business I met a wide variety of interesting people, but none was more interesting than Fred.  Fred worked for the university’s public radio station where he was the nighttime disk jockey.   A lifetime of reading through the night had made Fred an expert on everything.  I have never met a man with a more eclectic education.  Fred was unique in a number of ways, and this included his appearance.

Since he worked alone at night, over time his general appearance became strange.  By the time I met Fred, he had a long shaggy beard and hair that looked as if it had been combed with a lawnmower.  You can get a close approximation of his appearance if you imagine Santa Claus as a meth addict.  

Late one night several computer nerds were gathered at the business playing with our newest toy, a digital camera.  The camera was huge, the pictures were very low resolution, and the camera could only record images in black and white.  I think the resolution was about a tenth of a megapixel.  It was the first commercially available digital camera, and we loved it.
After a couple of hours playing with this camera, eventually we had to confess to ourselves that the photos were horrible.  No matter what the subject and regardless of the lighting, by the time you saw the image on the screen, it looked like a bad mug shot; if you printed it, the image was much worse.  If you had started by taking a photo of a beautiful dancing ballerina, the printed picture looked like a coffin photo of a dead nun.

Since the camera was, evidently, designed for taking the kind of photos found on wanted posters, we made a few.  You know what I mean: “Wanted: Dead or Alive.  Guilty of Highway Mopery and Dragging a Rope.”  We kept changing the wording and the photo until we ended up with a poster showing a close-up of Fred staring wide-eyed directly into the camera, hair and beard flying in every direction.
I’m not sure how it happened, as some single malt scotch was involved, but the final version of the poster read:

For One Night Only!
Leon Trotsky
Speaking on the Fallacy of a Contented Working Class
In a Post-Industrial America!

And in the middle of this poster was that crazy photo of Fred.  It was a stupid poster--partly because Fred looked a lot more like Engels than Trotsky, partly because Trotsky had been dead for over 40 years by the time we printed the poster, but mostly because of the bottom two lines of print:
Student Center Ballroom
Tuesday, October 3, 7:30 PM

A couple of dozen posters were printed and hung around the university on a lark.  Then, we forgot all about it.  It was a joke, and no one in their right mind would believe it.  Right???
Evidently wrong: the ballroom was filled to capacity, and the crowd waited for almost half an hour before they left, sad to have missed the great man.  At least, that is what I heard; I didn’t attend.

Several people said the entire Sociology Department was there.