Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Beautiful Death

Florida would say that years ago I committed a crime there, probably some variety of homicide: out of love, I helped someone have a beautiful death.

Which, coincidentally, is the title of an important symposium at NMSU on Friday.

NMSU remains steadfastly neutral on the end-of-life issues the symposium will cover. NMSU has simply noticed that we all die; that longer lives and scientific advances create both options and horrors; and that people should think about end-of-life issues and plan accordingly.

The conference runs from 8 to 5 at the Las Cruces Convention Center, with workshops and a keynote speaker. A maximum of 350 may register. Check with Kimberly Hill at NMSU.

Even if you don't attend, use this as a reminder to get around to certain tasks.

Fill out and sign an Advanced Directive. Under what circumstances do you want extraordinary means used to keep you “alive”? Under what circumstances should your loved ones pull the plug? Can people who need them use your organs when you're finished with them?

Inform yourself about the issues. Compassion & Choices is one source of information – and is showing the film “How to Die in Oregon” at 2 on Friday at the College of Health & Social Sciences Annex.

My father's death was beautiful.

He was adamant: he wanted to die on his terms. “It's been a great party, but it's time to leave,” he said.

He had congestive heart failure. He had a short time to live. During that time he would lose mental and physical capabilities. He loved reading the New York Times, playing bridge, and being with the new girl friend he'd met in the Florida retirement community.

My mother, to whom he'd been married nearly 50 years, had died of cancer. A long, miserable, painful death. During the final week she was often completely confused about who and where she was.

He asked me to help. A medical source confirmed that Father had enough pills to do himself in. A kind doctor donated a little morphine, saying, “I've been saving it for when I'll need it myself.”

One morning he noticed I look sad, and asked why. “I understand, but I'll miss you,” I said. “I'll miss me too, but it has to happen,” he replied.

His last night, we ate supper.  He ate little.  Then when we went into his bedroom he asked me to help him to the basin in the bathroom so that he could brush his teeth.  Then I helped him back to his bed, and we started to leave.  To me, his brushing his teeth suggested he'd changed his mind, because it hadn't occurred to me that one would brush teeth with just an hour or so left on Earth.  He called us back.  "Aren't we going to . . .?"  So we did.

Finally we sat on his bed, holding his hand, talking with him. His last words were playful: when I asked, “How are you doing?” he replied, “Fine. I could still beat you at chess.” Trash-talking.

He put down his head to rest. At some point he stopped breathing. We didn't know just when. We sat by him, loving him and glad for him but we also worried: what if he suddenly woke up and had changed his mind? What if he didn't die but survived as a vegetable? I'd violated Florida law. During those moments I was angry at the State, for the anxiety we felt and for the pain of many who couldn't find someone to break the law and help them die.

Freedom to choose a beautiful death is high on the list of things I care about: when there's no medical hope and I'm sure it's time to go, why must I exist in pain or desperation or humiliation, just so some medical institution can play with its technological toys and charge someone a bunch of money? (To be clear: I don't advocate euthanasia, mercy-killing of folks who don't or can't intelligently articulate their wish to die.)

Whatever our choices, we should all think honestly and deeply about the end of our lives, make sure our wishes are clear; and put those wishes in a legally adequate writing.
[A condensed version of this post appeared as a column in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 26 April.]
[By the way, noticing it's the 26th I should note there's a lot to do today, including the final day of the NMSU Rodeo, a musical benefit tonight for Mr. Jazz, Bob Burns (from 6 to 8 at the Rio Grande Theater on Main Street ), and from 3-5 a poetry reading at Nopalito's (326 S. Mesquite, next to the restaurant -- might have to have an early supper there after the reading) to help launch the new issue of La Frontera.  (I'm among the readers, I guess because I published a poem in the previous issue.)  Other readers include Joe Somoza and Claudia Ortiz Franzoy.  Joe's a wonderful poet, Claudia was my favorite columnist at the Sun-News and has a great new book  out, and I've heard most of the other readers and much enjoyed their poetry.  
We won't get to go to Sunday's rodeo events, but further back in this blog are some images from a rodeo in two posts.  I used to love shooting photographs at rodeo practice too -- though Mel Stone's black and white images from the same practices are better photography than mine.]  
[Meanwhile, on the column: I don't mean to imply NMSU agrees with my father's solution to the end of his life; but whatever your choices may be (or your parents') it's important to think about the issues ahead of time.  
Unfortunately, in our country more than most, death is a much-avoided topic of discussion, and people who visit the dying tend to avoid it, even when the dying person would prefer to discuss it.  I recall from 35 years ago my uncle's death from cancer at a relatively young age.  He was bed-ridden for months.  When I saw him, he said he thought he would live a few more weeks, but couldn't see past the end of the month.   He had frequently discussed his imminent death with my father, whose stint as a Marine pilot in World War II had given him a practical awareness of death; but after my uncle's death I was shooting pool with another uncle, who mentioned that "Everytime I visited him he wanted to talk about death."  With that faux shiver that's meant to communicate that something was creepy, he added, "I kept trying to cheer him up."

As to the right to die, I'll discuss in a future column the progress toward establishing that right in New Mexico.
There are two types of opposition to legalizing assisted suicide under very restricted circumstances: folks who think God wouldn't like it and folks who worry about what law students called "the slippery slope."  As to the first, I respect their view and their choice, as I would hope they would respect mine.  As to the second, they have a very legitimate concern, which I share: that if assisted suicide were legal, old and frail individuals would be subject to strong pressure to kill themselves -- or worse.  Some of the strongest opposition comes from people who are severely handicapped and fear that a society where suicide were legal would lead to pressures on them to disappear themselves.  Others fear that heirs and offspring might hasten a parent's death for money or emotional reasons when the frail parent was unable to express his or her true wishes.  Those are serious possibilities that any legislation on the subject should address seriously; but they are not insoluble problems.]

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Support your Local Newspaper

Sound-off callers complain that subscription prices have risen; and friends and acquaintances have told me either "We don't read the Sun-News!" (as if only the New York Times would do) or "We only take the paper these days for your column."

Newspapers, including this one, will become extinct some day. They're an economically endangered species. When the Sun-News is gone you may realize that despite its faults (and with current financial constraints, how would there not be faults?), it gave us something of value, a convenient way to have some degree of community dialogue. Cities now are too big for town hall meetings. There's a lot of "minor" local news that keeps us aware of what's going on with others in our community. Through a rich variety of columns, plus letters-to-the-editor and Sound Off's, we speak up -- or hear what others think -- about community issues, needs, developments, and politics.

The editors try hard to print columns from a variety of points of view. Not just their views, which often differ from mine. I loathe a large percentage of the columns printed here. I read them, to keep in touch with what others are saying, and because some of the writers are friends; but often I thoroughly disagree. But I share the editors' belief that printing many points-of-view is appropriate.

Sure, the Internet will provide in various ways some of what we get from the Sun-News, although we may have to look in seven or eight places. Dozens of places, if you think about all the various groups and events we spot in the Sun-News without even trying.

Bottom-line: I want to support keeping a newspaper here. That's one reason I bust my butt writing weekly columns. It's my small bit to keep this newspaper in our lives; and, while it survives, to express opinions or expose problems or provide information or just portray neat local people and sights and events.

However, the facts aren't encouraging. Newspaper readership declined rapidly in 2006-10, partly because of the economy and partly because of the rapid increase of mobile consumption. Since then the decline has been more modest, but it could hit another steep spot.

Do you wonder why the subscription price went up? Consider that if the paper's press run declines from 60,000 to 50,000, the advertiser's CPM (cost per thousand pairs of eyes) goes down by around 16%. But the newspaper's costs don't. The paper prints fewer papers, but still has to pay its reporters, lay out and print newspapers, pay the folks who sell ads or clean the office, and pay the mortgage and real-estate taxes. Someone will still drive around your neighborhood, even if there are 250 subscribers there, not 300. The paper's expenses fall, but not nearly at the same rate as its income.

A new jolt to the economy and a new disruptive technology for disseminating news electronically, and the Sun-News might be solely online sooner than you think.

That won't be the end of the world. The Sun-News has a strong online presence already. And as a New York Times editor wrote, “We don't need newspapers, we need journalism.”

But I'm concerned. Newspapers nurture journalists, even in tough times. Some percentage of the population isn't real facile with the Internet.

Continuing to subscribe to the paper seems a good thing to do. (Fortunately, newspapers can be composted after reading; even so, sustainability issues could expedite the demise of print journalism.) Others who agree should think of themselves as members of something – not mere subscribers – and the paper should encourage that. We all have an interest in keeping the newspaper alive – in print.
[This column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 19 April, 2015  (I think it has appeared or will appear in some other area newspapers, and it'll also be up on the KRWG-TV website shortly.)].
[Last night at supper with friends we discussed this subject.  A friend was thinking of subscribing to the newspaper again.  "On-line or print?" someone asked.  We discussed environmental concerns, including the fact that newspaper can be composted.  Even so, I'll admit that if I didn't think newspapers were important, environmental concerns might change my thinking.  .There's an inconsistency there, nagging at me.  But until we start dealing with our environmental problems seriously, newspapers are small potatoes in that game.   Look at Coca-cola, which is said to use as much water as one-quarter of the world's population, and has wantonly contributed to an epidemic of diabetes for profit.  But that sounds like the start of another column."]
[Meanwhile, good for the Sun-News.  An imperfect newspaper?  You betcha.  One where serious but underpaid people try their best to report the news fairly and accurately?  Yep.  One that airs views as diverse as Neal Hooks's, Jim Harbison's, Walt's, and mine, plus others?  Yes.  I do think the Rio Grande Foundation shows up way too often in the pages of the Sun-News, and wish Walt and Sylvia ought to consider foisting that on us less frequently.   I also miss Claudia Ortiz, who was the best of us, but so do the Sun-News editors, as far as I know.  But my point is, they make an honest and competent effort, under difficult circumstances and with a limited budget, to create a product that will amuse and interest us, and maybe help us keep in touch with things that matter]

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Thanks, Sherman!

Sherman Alexie spoke here Tuesday evening, a rare chance to witness a master storyteller mixing a stand-up comic's timing, a mime's expressiveness, holding us so spellbound that the packed theater gave him a standing ovation – and the line for getting him to sign books still extended out the door a half-hour after he'd finished.

I'd read some of his novels, and liked them. In person, he was great fun. He delivered his insightful tales and observations informally, with a master's compelling mix of the natural and the practiced.

His stories were full of human stuff we recognize. We know people like that. We know parts of ourselves are like that. He spun bittersweet love stories that put us back in touch with intense moments from our own pasts, with ghosts we all carry with us.

Rarely does an audience laugh as hard or feel as wide a range of emotions as this audience did. I was laughing my tail off. So were my wife and our friends.

A few people sat stone-faced in our midst. I guessed they were people who took themselves too seriously, or had wanted an academic lecture on “New Developments in American Indian Poetry.” This wasn't that. It was personal, but compelling – and the theater, with folks occasionally tossing up a comment or answering a question he'd asked, was as lively as a southern church.

With plenty of hilarious digressions, he told us a “mostly-true” love story. Shy, smart Indian, 15, goes to school outside the Rez and falls in love with an 18-year-old girl in calculus. But her boyfriend is a gigantic defensive end. Not surprisingly, he didn't get the girl; but the story jumped between poignancy and hilarity with a speed that would have been dizzying if your life hadn't yet taught you that joy and pain are next-door neighbors.

Echoing “his” story was a tale of his son, a nerdy but gutsy kid who asked the head cheerleader to the prom – in front of the whole school. Though she's sweet about it, she declines (later, in private). He's heartbroken.

“Is love always like this?” he asks his father. Alexie paused. From the cheap seats some other fellow said “Yes.” Alexie nodded, and shrugged, palms upward, to indicate he couldn't have put it better; but then added a few more details to remind us we survive, somehow, all the stronger for our disappointments.

You could say Sherman Alexie is an American Indian writer. But it'd be like saying Shakespeare was an Elizabethan playwright, or Bergman was a Swedish director. Though some of his material might resonate with Indian readers in a special way, his words speaks to all of us – and about all of us. His fiction covers the full range of human experience and emotion.

I can't close without mentioning Tim, the American Sign Language expert who interpreted. Usually he's the invisible man, signing in plain sight but ignored by most hearing persons.

He was wonderfully expressive. He'd also interpreted when Alexie spoke here twelve years ago.

Sherman not only made him part of the show, but enhanced some of his more fun moments by saying something just to see how Tim would interpret it or, at key points, looking sideways at Tim as if to say, “Okay, interpret that!”

In short, it was a hell of an evening. We'd worried that he wouldn't get the audience he deserved. Instead, the place was packed with folks who immediately felt comfortable and were fully engaged with what Alexie was saying – and they stayed that way.

Rare, that.
[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 12 April and will appear shortly on the KRWG-TV website.  With other folks on the editorial pages writing today about the County's future, the recent Legislative session, and education, I feel as if I'd taken a brief vacation from local public issues.  Well, if so,  I enjoyed it.]
[ Meanwhile, if I didn't include enough "facts" about Sherman Alexie, he's written a lot of good novels and short stories, and made the 1998 film Smoke Signals.  He's a 48-year-old writer.  He's also a poet.  A couple of basic observations about his writing applied to his talk too: a great mix of frequently sad, poignant, painful subject-matter treated with lightness and humor.  Which to me is how life is.  And his own early life provided plenty to struggle through, although I think he's enjoying life now, as a family man and writer.  As a writer and a man who loves his family more deeply than a lot of us do, I got the sense. ]

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Recall petition against Sorg fails - for now!

Local business interests who hired people to collect signatures to recall City Councilor Gill Sorg failed to collect enough signatures to trigger a recall election; but the recall proponents may file suit.

The bar was low. They needed only 10% of the district's registered voters. Their cause was so unpopular they had to lie about what the petition was for. Voters in District 5 seem quite content with Councilor Sorg. (We'll learn next week whether they got enough signatures for a recall vote on Olga Pedroza.)

Letters and emails from the recall proponents' counsel suggest litigation is likely. On the other hand, the group failed by 168 signatures and scores of other signatures could be invalidated if recall opponents mounted a court challenge.

A lawsuit might raise these legal issues:

What's a registered voter? State law is clear: you're officially registered when the County Clerk Office stamps the Clerk's signature and date on your certificate. An unregistered citizen can't sign a recall petition. (It's a felony.) If I get you to sign a petition and to complete an application to register, you signed the petition when you were unregistered. Days or weeks later, the County Clerk registers you. That doesn't change the fact that you signed when unregistered. Recallers may argue that we should have “same-day registration” in which you're registered the moment you apply, before the Clerk checks whether or not you're a felon, etc. Maybe we should. But we don't. However, it appears that the City Clerk didn't deal with this problem, but rather relied on a list generated February 11. 
Can you sign a petition then withdraw your name? Absolutely, according to the New Mexico Supreme Court. As the Court said long ago, if you signed and changed your mind, or you were defrauded into signing, there's no legally-cognizable reason to keep your signature on a petition against your will. You can withdraw your name. In District 5, hundreds did so. Likely others would have done so if they'd known they could. Voters have that right. Recall proponents seek to impose their will on voters they hoodwinked, and rely on statutory language in 3-1-5. The City considers the flood of withdrawal letters valid. It's hard to imagine New Mexico courts will deny requests by defrauded citizens and allow the recall folks to retain the fruits of their fraud. 
Can the City or the Court throw out a circulator's collection of signatures based on fraud and forgery? Many citizens have urged this be done, but the City Attorney says no. 
Hundreds of citizens were told flat lies about the petition. Some circulators even denied it was a recall petition. (One quick-minded circulator, when a woman spotted the word “recall” and asked, replied that “recall” meant to call the councilor back into office.) People were told it was to save the PAL Boxing Gym or the Dream Center, or to pave Second Street. One pair of circulators even wore PAL T-shirts and told voters their kids boxed there! They got Michael to sign by saying Pedroza was against minimum wage, and told Clyde the petition was to keep WalMart from coming to McClure and Valley. I've also seen a couple of apparent forgeries.

If a circulator repeatedly violated the law, should all that circulator's signatures be disallowed? If there's litigation, recall opponents could ask the court to take action. 

If you witnessed fraud, or your signature was forged, please let me know.

A lawsuit could raise other issues. The Recall operation was sloppy and illegal in a number of ways that could lead to invalidation of additional signatures. 

We might see some of these issues litigated this month. I might be litigating them. 
[The column above was printed in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, April 5th.]
[I realize I sound like a broken record; but the depth to which fraud permeates this recall effort belongs in some earlier, more lawless time.  We have laws.  One particularly applicable law appears, by law, on each page of the petition, announcing that the lies they're telling are fourth-degree felonies; but the recall folks haven't quite managed to recognize its import.]
[Glancing at this post, I think maybe the "for now!" at the end of the title suggests I think a court case would turn this around for the recall proponents.  I don't think so.  I recognize that there's always a possibility, and would caution others appalled by Recall not to celebrate too hard on the way to the end zone and drop the ballWhat is  a lot clearer to me than it was when this viciousness began is that the bulk of the voters are quire happy with their councilors, and less vulnerable to a barrage of crazy lies than I  might have feared.]
[By the way, on a different subject: the panel Thursday evening on "Police, Public, and the Press - Shining Light on Officer Shootings" in Zuhl Library went well: a great panel and the library folks' careful preparation made it a delight to moderate; and I think we had some useful discussions, which KRWG folks videptaped, so maybe it'll air on TV some time.  Thanks to panelists Susan Boe (of NM Foundation for Open Government), D.A. Mark D'Antonio, lawyer Michael Stout, NMSU Police Chief Stephen Lopez, DASO Captain Michael Kinney, and Walt Rubel of the Sun-News.  And Tim Parker for sponsoring the whole thing; and Paula Johnson of Zuhl for keeping the planning process on an even keel for months.]

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sounding off on Sound-offs

  Opening the local newspaper, I often turn first to the "Sound Off!" feature on page 3, where residents anonymously take aim at whoever and whatever they like or don't like.  
   It's not just that as a columnist I'm sometimes a target.  I just find the entries interesting; and they help me keep current with what some folks may be thinking who don't necessarily think as I do. 
   I read one not long ago that took aim at calls to rescue a local cemetery (where blacks were buried at a time when apparently their bodies weren't welcome at some cemeteries).  The Sound-Off caller pooh-poohed the idea that the community should care, adding, "Their ancestors should take care of the cemetery!"
    Their ancestors?
    I lack space in my Sunday column to deal with "Sound-Offs", but might as well start posting occasional blog entries -- sharing some of the Sound-Offs with folks who missed 'em, and commenting on 'em.  Just for fun.

April 1: HARBISON COLUMN: While Mr. Harbison's Vietnam revisionism probably serves some psychological purpose, it would be good to keep in mind that those who best served America were those who had the courage to say no."

Harbison is a local figure with whom I thoroughly disagree about most things political.  But in person -- e.g., as a guest on my radio show when I had one -- he's a fine gentleman.  He also knows a lot more than I guessed maybe he did from his columns every couple of weeks.  He's a Viet Nam vet, as he often mentions.  As it happened, in 1965 I'd read just about everything you could read about Viet Nam, discovering that it was a war we had no business fighting.  That period happens to be something I know a little about.  To my surprise, Harbison, as a young soldier on leave before going to 'Nam, had read many of the same books (which almost no one else read in those days) and understood that maybe the war was a dumb idea; but he came from a family of soldiers, and he was a soldier, and he put his knowledge about the politics of the thing in a pocket and went off to fight.
I respect that. 

I appreciate the "SOUND OFF" caller's appreciation of those of us who made sacrifices to fight against the war; but I'm not the sort (and it's awfully late now) to make it a contest, who contributed more to the U.S., who was a better person, etc.  I did what I did, no doubt partially because of my own background and education, and so did Jim.   Sure, what I was saying turned out to be more correct than what our leaders were saying; but while I took some risks and got persecuted some, Jim took far bigger risks in those days. 

It irritates me when vets (or arm-chair soldiers) take shots at those of us who happened to see some things clearly and fell compelled to act on them; but I'm also not inclined to take shots at contemporaries who didn't happen to see the truth or weren't in a position to say no.  They too did what they had to do.  Whether they believed the lies our leaders told them about the war or just got dragged along like most grunts, they deserve to be honored.

Although the culture worships war far too much for my taste,  I don't hold with overreacting by denying the realities of veterans' suffering or the fact that many were heroes. 

April 1: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: What in the world is wrong with you people?  Don't business people have any rights at all anymore?  If they don't want to serve you, go someplace else."

Thanks, pal.
I read that and vividly see a night outside a restaurant near Somerville, Tennessee.  Summer, 1965.  We've been there once already.  Two white civil rights workers and a local girl, a Negro as folks said in those days, although another form of the word was more common where we were then.  When one of us asked the girl about the flavor of ice-cream soda she'd gotten, and took a taste from it -- that is, drinking from a paper cup a Negro girl was drinking from -- dozens of people made noises indicating disgust or shouted insults.
This night we're there again.  But although the place is normally open another hour or two, they suddenly lock the doors and turn off the lights and tell us the place is closed.  Other patrons still sit calmly inside, enjoying the spectacle.
I think too of a local kid who was going away for the rest of the summer to a school.  We wanted to celebrate.  We asked where he wanted to go.  He named a place we hadn't expected, the greasy-spoon diner where they'd knifed his brother for trying to eat there a few months earlier.
We went, though.  They let us in.  They tossed the menus on the table brusquely, and damned sure didn't welcome us.  We ate our hamburgers.  They'd put an awful lot of extra hot-pepper in the burgers, but we ate 'em without letting on we noticed.  At the end, when we were ready to pay, the lady kept waving off my efforts, shouting "The nigger pays, the nigger pays!" over and over.
So I don't agree with you that business people have a right to discriminate that way, or that the folks you're talking to should quietly "go someplace else."

More guiltily, I also see another moment.  A fellow I'd known here in 1969-1972, when we were a small band of young folks who were pro-integration and anti-war.  I met him again years later, when I visited here.  He confided then that in the old days, although we'd all been great friends, he'd felt uncomfortable, because he was gay.  He'd see me lounging out in front of Corbett Center and idly caressing my girl friend -- and dream of caressing his lover too, except that he'd have gotten the shit kicked out of him.  Not by us; but he did feel so uncomfortable that he didn't dare tell us about himself.  I think it wouldn't particularly have mattered to us.  But I look back and question whatever in me gave him the impression -- incorrect, I hope, but based on something he saw in me -- that I'd have canceled our friendship or something.

Fortunately opinions like yours are dying out.  I too would have been prejudiced some against a gay person in high school, although I quickly grew out of it.  Beautifully, most kids nowadays just don't give a damn.

Your kind of "religious freedom" is a great stride backward.  

April 1: NATURE: We just had our first hummingbird visit.  Time to put your hummingbird feeders out."

A day or so ago I saw a similar Sound-Off.  Timely.  I share your joy.  (A friend who lived on our land in Derry for more than a quarter-century kept notes, and said the hummers always returned on April 1.)
But we're blessed.  The last few winters, a small number of our little guys have stuck around all winter.  We worried the first time that maybe by providing food so late in the season we were misleading them into a disaster.  But they stuck it out.  I don't know just how.  There were mornings the bird-bath was frozen and the hummingbird feeders looked questionable; and some mornings we had to put the frozen hummingbird feeder in the garage and replace it with a warmer one that had spent the night in the garage, waiting; but they stuck around, a skeleton crew to keep us entertained.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Play's the Thing -- and I Enjoyed it!

May I take a break from drought and recall and be playful?

Last Saturday evening we saw “Recreational Living” at the Las Cruces Community Theater.
David Spence's play won a contest among former students of Mark Medoff. The prize was this production at LCCT directed by Mark.

I expected a good evening, because I know and respect Mark; but the performance was more fun that we'd anticipated.

Let's admit first that I'm an old curmudgeon who often leaves the theater growling.

Instead, I was more attentive than usual, with a smile on my face, and laughed a lot. So did my wife and our friends.

Spence and Medoff took risks in both play and staging – and were rewarded with constant audience attention and a lot of laughter. The actors, many of them high school kids, did a great job – a credit to themselves and to Mark.

Sure, some of the material was a little overdone, if you thought about it; but you didn't think about it,you just laughed. It was just plain fun, but also a useful reminder of how seriously we take our foolish selves and how diligently we build the personae we show our peers. Stick to those personae slavishly enough for long enough and we become them. Or we convince ourselves we're they, unaware that most everyone sees through them.

The play opens with an impassioned conversation in which a very mortified kid relates that he's just fainted in class and exposed the crack in his butt, and his best friend tries to reassure him the world hasn't ended.

My wife confessed at intermission that she'd worried we might be in for an evening of butt-crack humor that could become tedious, but was soon reassured on that score. My own reaction was that though the subject was patently silly, the two kids cared about it a whole lot, which made the opening a lot more engaging, a lot more quickly, than many plays in which the actors sort of mark time at the start, letting us get used to them.

It's a goofy and very human play. Thinking about the concept of “willing suspension of disbelief” I wonder this morning whether plays aren't even better when the “suspension of disbelief” isn't so “willing,” but is commanded by the production. Guess that's a long-winded way of saying I liked the play.

And I liked the day. A morning spent at the Farmers' Market acquiring fresh local food for the week and talking with friends. A delicious supper at SI Italiana (which buys local food, a plus for us) before the play. I like it here.

We'd also recently seen – and enjoyed – The Hothouse (directed ably by Algernon D'Ammassa) as well as Other Desert Cities. Algernon put his people through an exceptionally long rehearsal period for the potentially difficult Pinter play, and it paid off. Other Desert Cities is a good play, although we felt a couple of performances could have been better. 
Las Cruces has a rich pool of theatrical talent. (A stray shout-out to Douglas Hoffman in Deathtrap and Claudia Billings in Other Desert Cities.) Not every show's a winner. Too many musicals for my taste, and some other plays I'd rather have missed. But a lot to like, too.
I like the energy and imagination in Las Cruces Community Theater, the Black Box, and the ASTC at NMSU. All three are friendly and push each other's work – not cliquish, jealous rivals. The Hermans, who own and run the Black Box, are also Lifetime Members of LCCT. Actors appear in an LCCT show today and a Black Box production tomorrow.
Besides, recall and drought make one long to escape.

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 29 March, in the Las Cruces Sun-News and will also appear on the KRWG-TV website.  It represents my views, not necessarily those of the newspaper or the television station.]
[I feel almost guilty neglecting all the bad news worth discussing in my Sunday column: the continuing misconduct of the folks pushing to recall three city councilors; the news that someone wants to build a new 90,000-personn city near Albuquerque, when we're in a savage drought; and much more.  I will note that it's highly possible that someone will file suit against the City of Las Cruces, perhaps as early as this week, regarding the Recall matter.  The City Clerk is due to issue her opinion on whether or not the folks seeking to recall Gill Sorg have turned in enough valid signatures to trigger a recall election.  It seems likely that if they haven't, they may sue her; and it seems equally likely that if she decides they have, but some of those signatures were fraudulently obtained, forged, or from unregistered voters who signed the petitions, or from folks who later learned it was a recall petition and asked the Clerk to withdraw their names, the folks who oppose the Recall could seek a court order that the City follow state law and the city charter.]
[Oh -- and I should mention the panel discussion this coming Thursday -- 5 p.m. Thursday, April 2nd, on NMSU's campus on the third floor of Zuhl Library -- and parking's free after 3, I think. "Police, Public and Press -- Shining Light on Officer-Involved Shootings" will look at the battle over release of relevant information after a police shooting.  Panelists should include District Attorney Mark D'Antonio, Walt Rubel of the Sun-News, Mike Kenney from DASO, NMSU Police Chief Stephen Lopez, lawyer Michael Stout, and Executive Director Susan Boe of NMFOG (a state non-profit fighting for open government),  I'll moderate.]

Sunday, March 22, 2015

They're Massacring our Neighbors

Bianca is a farmer and a mother. Her son Jorge is a carefree young man, full of laughter. He plays his guitar and sings to her – when he's not fixing a neighbor's recalcitrant computer. He loves children, and attends a small teachers' college.

But he has disappeared.

Estanislao grows corn and beans and trades in food. Today, wearing a bright red cap reading, “Union Pacific – Building America,” he could be some NMSU student's visiting uncle.

His son Miguel attended the nearby teachers' college. One day a neighbor asked if he'd heard that 43 students had been taken, and that Miguel was among them. He rushed to the college, where another student said he'd seen Miguel taken. Then he searched the hills.

Angel Neri survived the terror. His brother explains that there was a collecta to raise funds for a demonstration. The municipal police attacked, shooting to kill. The massacre spread into town. Federales blocked off streets to keep students from escaping.

Angel called his father and brother, frightened. Previously, police had punched and kicked the students for speaking out, but this was different. Angel hid in a building. Then he and others ran to a clinica.

Soldiers came. Relieved, Angel and the others greeted them as saviors. The soldiers took their belongings and tossed the students back into the street, where the municipal police were still murdering people. Angel and others finally found refuge in a house, where a woman hid them overnight in a small room.

Since, even with the help of human rights lawyers, the parents can learn nothing.

The Mexican Government denies involvement. First it said that the students' bodies were in a mass grave, killed by outlaws; but Mexican forensic scientists disproved that. Then the Government said the outlaws burned everyone at a dump, and threw the ashes in the river; but Argentine forensic scientists dispute that. Other than one bone that apparently belonged to a student, there's no supporting evidence. A story that starts with “no police involvement,” when witnesses saw federal, provincial, and municipal police involved, is not a promising story.

These folks are our neighbors. They have come to the U.S. asking for our support because what else can they do, except shut up and go back to their farms and businesses, silently mourning their sons? They will not be silenced. Nor would we in their place.

We can't do much; but we can protest. We can speak out, with a safety they don't share.

We can write or call our President and Senators, demanding that the U.S. cease shipping weapons to a government that uses them to massacre its citizens. We can urge suspension of economic aid until the Mexican Government tells the truths, apologizes, and disciplines those responsible – and provides credible answers to Bianca and Estanislao, who insist their sons are alive.

These folks want only what we would want. They speak quietly but firmly, acknowledging that when they return they may be punished for telling us all this. Mexican newspapers do not freely discuss the incident.

Their stories are hard to tell, and Bianca wipes away tears as she speaks with me. Their stories are hard to hear, when I can do little more than mumble “Que lastima!

Their sons were – or are – good young men did agricultural work to help the teachers' college make ends meet. They wanted to teach. They wanted to exercise, and teach children to exercise, the kind of critical thinking and speaking we value so highly that our First Amendment enshrines it.
In his village, the children still ask Estanislao where Miguel is.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 22 March, 2015.]
[These folks visited Las Cruces this week on a tour designed to raise our awareness of this incident, the repressive governmental attitudes that spawned it, and the government's arrogant refusal to deal with this as it should have.  It doesn't help that the newspapers in Mexico are not so free to publish factual details and pertinent questions without retaliation.]


For one, express our views on the Ayotzinapa "Disappearances" to our President and U.S. Senators, as well as directly to the Mexican Government.  In addition:

Amnesty Internationall has this campaign regarding Ayotzinapa, with form letters readily available to express your shock and disgust to Mexican officials
SOA Watch has pushed for an end to the Mérida Initiative along with all military training for foreign governments for years.

The US government has actually suspended aid to Mexico before over human rights violations, the most serious being in 2010. But it's always been for very shallow reforms. This year, though, the Obama admin actually gave more offensive aid to Mex shortly after the disappearances.

Action and expressions of opinion in the US to address need not be focused specifically on Mexico to help.  Rethinking our free trade policies could help displace fewer people in Latin America from their land. Anything to stop militarization here will help. More generally, as we've seen around the globe, the U.S. should be a lot more selective than it is in making arms deals.  Flooding the world with cheap arms solves nothing except the bottom-lines of arms manufacturers and dealers.

In particular, the Merida Initiative, through which the U.S. has contributed billions in the past few years to help fight drugs, contributes to the militarization of Mexican police forces --- and to the arrogance that allows them to commit atrocities such as Ayotzinapa against the Mexican people.  One can't say Ayotzinapa couldn't have happened without the Merida Initiative, but continuing to provide an abundance of arms to forces that do such things can't be in our best interest -- let alone the Mexican people's!]