Sunday, July 16, 2017

Rainbow, Roadrunners, Death, and Meditation

Yesterday's wonder was a bright rainbow at the top of the Organ Mountains. (God's comment to the Interior Department on keeping our monument as is?) Cameraless, I tried to capture the image with my cell phone, but hadn't a clue how to zoom in.

Today's is a roadrunner, crossing Roadrunner Parkway then strolling into Caliche's parking lot, straight toward the bench where I'm pigging out. I would tell him that despite the street's name, motorists won't cut him much slack, but he wouldn't listen. He turns and walks against traffic past the drive-in window, headed for Subway. I pull out the cell phone, but ain't any smarter about the zoom than I was last night.

It's been a funny afternoon. First I record a radio interview with a friend, a Zen Buddhist roshi who'd had little interest in spiritual matters until he lay long into the night in a Vietnamese jungle with an four by two-inch oblong hole in his head. (“I'm one of the few men who's reached in and touched his own brain,” he laughs.) He struggled to stay awake in case of another attack. For hours, he listened to the desperate cries of a fellow soldier he himself had shot, when the fellow, without his signal flashlight, came running toward him during the battle like a charging enemy soldier. 

We talk more than an hour about life and death and meditation.

Then I go to the rehab establishment where one of my closest friends is “imprisoned.” (His word.) He's 86. Yesterday, he berated me for not having sprung him from the place, and for urging him to do physical therapy. Today he smiles and tells me he and the physical therapists have been having fun. “I did a bunch of crazy things with my leg. Can't do any harm. It won't do any good, but it can't do any harm.” He talks about his father, a 6'7” New York City policeman who weighed 330 pounds and held the world record in the shot put more than a hundred years ago. He says cheerfully that he's dying. He asks about “the silly radio station” and says he wishes there were an afterlife, so he could watch the foolish antics of his earthly friends, “but I'm still an atheist to the core.”

It's a good visit, although a nurse tells me “he's still cantankerous.” 

Yesterday, along with complaints about food, the tiny TV, and the pointlessness of P.T., he was furious that the young people working there “haven't a clue who James Cagney and Doris Day were, but expect me to know about all their favorites.” Bud taught cinema for decades. Today he's cheered when one young therapist, an athlete, having googled Bud's father, chats with Bud about athletes from different eras.

Has he passed through angry resistance and come to terms with his reasonable belief that he'll die soon? He's often said, as I'm leaving, that he won't be alive tomorrow. Today he says that, but more quietly, with less bravado.

With a later visitor, he talks more about his childhood, his dogs, and death. When she leaves she kisses him and says, as she often does, “I love you.” Usually he growls, “I can't think why.” Today he says, “If I make it through the night, I'll tell you what that means to me.” When she's almost out the door, he shouts, “I love you!” 

His best friend for nearly a half-century, I'm not sure I've heard him say that out loud. Maybe he's finally stopped imitating Cagney and Bogart. We love you, man!

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 16 July, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.]

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Love (of Country) is Complicated

It's July 4th.

My earliest memory of Independence Day was, of course, fireworks. High above the Croton River, unbelievably loud and magnificent, they exploded beautifully. Each 4th, my father wore a police uniform. A decorated U.S. Marine pilot during WWII, he was a volunteer auxiliary cop. He directed traffic to and from the fireworks.

I grew to admire the courage and imagination of our “Founding Fathers,” and our country's uniqueness. To build a country in wilderness, in the 17th Century . . . to distill 18th Century notions of human rights into a new nation dedicated to liberty, equality, with decisions made by men, not by kings or priests, was wonderful. After leading a rebellious army to independence, George Washington twice walked away from the near-absolute power other such figures have conistently taken or accepted. What a tragic irony that they couldn't solve slavery!

As a kid I was more concerned with baseball. Brooklyn-born, I rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. When I was nine, “dem Bums” won their first World Series, over the “classier” New York Yankees, with Jackie Robinson still a key player. My own life already mirrored the integration they symbolized: my Cub Scout den included several Jews and a couple of black boys. Maybe that made it easy for me to volunteer as a civil rights worker at seventeen. And to see clearly the ugliness of U.S. racism.

I'd previously assumed our country was like Gary Cooper in High Noon: not greedy nor avaricious nor aggressive; but when pushed to the edge, as by Japan and the Nazis just before my birth, brave and dogged in fighting for what's right. Fighting for human freedoms, liberty of thought, and equal opportunity.

We strayed far from those ideals often during the 20th Century. In many countries, mostly inhabited by non-Europeans, we stood against freedom in favor of dictators or oligarchs whose support we found politically convenient. I came to manhood in the midst of one of the worst of those strayings. Without judging others' choices, based on what they knew or felt at the time, I could express my deep love of this country only by shouting out against that war, as I would later show my love for my father by watching his driving carefully and alerting him to dangers. (Again, I do not judge others; nor do I belittle the courage of many who fought in that war, the true comradeship soldiers experienced, or the sufferings of many. I just can't celebrate the cynical politicians who sent them.)

Love is complex. Marital love, familial love, love of country. Anyone for whom patriotism is a simple matter, bereft of consideration or challenges, isn't paying attention – or is abusing the idea of patriotism by screaming “I love my country!” for not-so-patriotic reasons. 

Setting off fireworks may be fun, but doesn't begin to celebrate what's great about our country. Contemplating the courage and intellectual range of our ancestors comes closer. So would emulating them. Just as showing up in church is not a true celebration of Jesus if one spends most of one's time being cruel to others, pledging allegiance or standing for the national anthem is a far less meaningful form of patriotism than trying, as our forefathers did, to assess with an independent mind (not by listening to king, bishop, or Rush) how our nation might best steer its complex course through a difficult world. Speaking up honestly, as they did, without concern for personal consequences. Taking risks for freedom – our own and others'.

The true celebration would be working to extend the theoretical freedoms they articulated to all.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, 9 July 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  KRWG will also air a spoken version several times during the week.]

[In different moods, if I read the foregoing column I'd disagree with its emphasis in different ways.  Some folks will be angry that a 4th of July column praising our founders could also contain criticism of our beloved country.  Others -- echoing that wonderful line of W.E.B. DuBois's, "What does your Independence Day mean to a slave?" -- will list our national sins and ask how a thoughtful modern citizen can praise the U.S. at all.  Still others will share love of and respect for our political system but be unable to express those right now because of the results of the 2016 Presidential election.  And I'll admit to concern about whether our system will survive the combination of our Supreme Court's decisions helping money control our politics, the well-organized far right making energetic use of those decisions, hacking and other interference in our elections, and the huge power of multi-national corporations.  There's a lot very wrong with our system right now.  (Some of that fueled the anger of some Trump voters, although they were saddled with a self-destructive option for expressing it.)  
Our democracy is gravely ill.  I don't say that merely because we elected a dangerous clown last fall.  We've not always chosen wisely -- or always been offered a meaningful choice by our political parties.  Trump is dangerous, in himself and in the ease with which more smarter and more vicious "advisors" can manipulate him; but he's more a symptom than a cause.  Well before Trump, George Bush was a totally unqualified individual, though quite possibly a much better human being than he might have been, and we got saddled with more wars and less financial solvency than we might have had without him.  In Barack Obama, though he was far from a perfect president, we kind of got lucky.  He was judicious, thoughtful, intelligent, and a good human being, who tried to find the best course for our country, not for one segment of it, and often succeeded.  He dealt fairly effectively with some very difficult challenges.  But we elected him because he spoke so well and seemed so lively and fresh, and because his opponents seemed tired and old-style.  (Similarly we chose Jack Kennedy over Richard Nixon, by a very slim margin, because he was so much more personable and telegenic.  The second Bush seemed more personable, more candid, more at ease in his own skin than Al Gore.)  We kind of got lucky with Obama.  With Trump we didn't.
I hope we will pull through.  But the huge faults in our current decision-making process present a hell of a challenge.]

[Note: another local columnist wrote this week that this country's success was due solely "the wisdom of the Founders, the spark of liberty along with free-market principles . . ." and that no country had "done so much good with [its wealth] around the world."  Those are the sorts of half-truths that function like clouds obscuring the moon, preventing us from getting a clear look at what's great about our country and what isn't.  Yes, our Founders were wise, inventive, and courageous.  But free enterprise existed long before our country did.  Freedoms of speech and our other freedoms were a great innovation, and helped our rise as a nation.   On the other hand, our vast natural resources helped.  Too, the period of our great ascendance to the primo position among nations, the 20th Century, coincided with two great wars and a lot of destruction and dislocation throughout Europe, while we sat safely an ocean away.  Yes, our clever means of distributing goods were a major factor in our economic success; but these were nothing our Founders contemplated; nor could they have easily conceived the 20th Century world in which these things occurred.  Being able to sell to both sides during most of World War I and during several years of World War II before our own involvement probably helped, as did residing and producing products a safe distance from anyone's bombers.  Our huge population also helped us become the deciding factor in those two wars.   
Let's respect our founders.  They greatly deserve it.  But let's also try to see clearly.]

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Memorable Guest

Saturday evening, as we returned from a great birthday dinner for the beautiful lady, a tiny quail chick, far too small to be out alone, approached us.

Being who we are – Dael's father was famous in New Hampshire for bringing home wounded animals and teenagers until they healed – we welcomed her. (We decided on “she.” We hadn't a clue.) Left outside, she'd have become some snake's supper. 

Having such a small critter's life in your hands is always frightening. Once we rescued a desert cardinal chick that had fallen out of the nest and been abandoned. It didn't last the night. We were determined that our new guest would. While I sat in the fading light, holding our guest and listening to her high-pitched calls, Dael started researching, by phone and Internet. 

We learned a lot. (And got occasional conflicting instructions, e.g., “If you can't find the chick's parents, any quail family will quickly adopt.” “That's false! Unrelated quail will usually kill the chick.”) There's a whole network of helpful southwesterners who care about birds.

She needed a warm environment, 90-100 degrees. Dael put her in a cardboard box, on an electric heating pad with a towel over it, and added a small stuffed animal. She actually cuddled up to it, until we hung socks to mimic mama's feathers. 

I checked on her frequently that first night. Restarted the hearing pad. Worried because she wasn't moving and her cries were a lot softer. Because it was time for sleep? Or because she was fading? 

We learned that she'd eat mashed dry cat food mixed with egg yolks and water, as well as crushed wild bird-seed. Water in a lid with small stones. Unlike other species, quail chicks can eat/drink on their own right away, but they need a little coaching. It was exciting when she got the idea, and pecked some yellow mess off the toothpick and devoured it. When we stunned flies or moths, her immediate enthusiasm made us laugh, and encouraged us.

Quail are social. Since we were all she had she quickly became friendly. If an open hand appeared in her box, she hopped right into our palm, to be picked up. And she was content to be held, except that she also wanted to explore, climbing up my shirt and slipping back, using her stubby wings for balance. We were afraid she'd fall, or wander into some hidden spot and lack the wit to come out again. So we discouraged explorations.

We bonded with her, too. I knew we couldn't keep her, but wished otherwise. Quail are said to be good pets; but she'd have to stay indoors; and having to feed her frequently and ensure she was warm wouldn't fit our schedules.

Sunday we learned of someone two hours away who had young quail. We thought seriously about making the drive to give our guest a good home and some pals. Then the tireless Susan of Broken Promises told us about an accredited wildlife rehabilitation center near Sunland Park. More competent hands than ours. And other quail to snuggle with.

Since our unexpected guest left, we've felt a little sad. But grateful. Human hearts quite naturally attach to the small, helpless, and vulnerable. Yeah, she was a demanding houseguest at an inconvenient time; but had such marvelous spirit – and comical clumsiness. She enriched our life and reminded us there's more to life than county commission meetings and an orange-haired reality-show star. 

Life in the high desert is so full of wonderful gifts!
[The foregoing appeared as my Sunday column in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning,  2 July 2017, and is also available on the newspaper's website  and (presently) on KRWG's website.  KRWG will also air a spoken version periodically during the week.]

Photos by Dael Goodman

Standing near her water bowl -- a plastic bottle-cap.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Difficult World

Sometimes it's easy to see what should be done.

In December 1941, few doubted we needed to beat the Nazi's and the Japanese.

In 1966, it was obviously pointless to battle against Vietnamese independence. The Vietnamese deserved freedom. They'd whipped the French convincingly. We couldn't prevail without destroying the people whose hearts and minds we supposedly sought to win. Their independent spirit and historical enmity toward China meant they wouldn't be China's puppet.

Starting the second Iraq War was obviously unwise. We'd obviously win the “war” quickly; but then be uncomfortably ruling over a spirited set of ethnic and religious factions spoiling for a civil war. No matter how wisely we tried to rule, we would inspire many more terrorists seeking vengeance against us.

This ain't hindsight. Many said these things at the time. I'm no expert, but as the Iraq War started, I wrote a friend a letter saying this. 

But now?

Hordes of U.S. citizens are angry that life ain't what it once was. So to win elections we have to promise jobs (even while robots snag more and more of those) and a stronger economy (just when our graying work force is diminishing and our vast military spending undermines our ability to compete). The postwar period in which we dominated, which feels like normal to most of us, ain't at all normal and won't last. 

Internationally, Russia is a troublesome enemy. Putin is smart, greedy, and conscienceless. One can see why Putin wanted us to elect Trump: Trump not only owes Russians money, but is a shallow, inexperienced fellow whose narcissism makes him predictable and easy to manipulate. Trump has already rewarded Putin in several ways.

Meanwhile China waits. Understanding what China wants and why requires careful study. Threading our way forward, neither kowtowing to China nor stumbling into a destructive war, requires nimble tactics. Both sides will need their best minds concentrating on this. And we have . . . ?

These international conflicts will be waged in a dizzying variety of fields, some well beyond the ken of most of us. Russians mucking with our elections in new ways, tricking folks who'd say they hate Russia into mouthing Russian lines. Hacking and cybersecurity, plus the usual economic and political battlefields. 

Hard to see how a guy who can't read something as long as this column will make intelligent decisions; but he's not the real problem. We are.

We screwed up in Viet Nam and elsewhere by misunderstanding the world as wholly a battle between Communism and Capitalism. Us against the Soviet Union and Peoples Republic. Those countries were actual enemies worthy of serious concern. But folks like the Vietnamese, simply seeking freedom, saw the world differently. Had we recognized that, we'd have saved lives, dollars, and political currency.

What's blinding us now?

American exceptionalism, of course. We're a wonderful country. We've had a fantastic run. I hope we continue as a beautiful – and democratic – success story. We won't cease being a major player. But success encourages us to credit only our greatness – forgetting that vast natural resources and a protective ocean helped.

The fortunes of countries rise and fall. Rich countries get soft. The top dog spends so much on protecting its wealth that it's less likely to discover the next Great Thing. There's also a strong temptation to try to maintain supremacy by declaring war on the nearest rising competitor. And to use fear of the other. Racism. 

One can only hope that Trump's comic-book ineptness will reawaken a desire for wiser, more patient leaders who put our country's real needs first.

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 25 June 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  KRWG will also air a spoken version several times during the week.]

[Viet Nam is the largest and one of the clearest examples of a mistake our leaders made often during the postwar period, the Cold War.  We were locked in a battle against the Soviet Union, and the Peoples Republic of China, and wanted as much of the populated areas of the world allied with us and not them.  Both sides also quietly funded or initiated efforts, meant to appear as representing strong local sentiment, to undermine governments we didn't like.  Unfortunately, since the rhetoric (though not the reality) of the Soviet Union was friendly to the freeing of oppressed peoples, we let ourselves be pushed into supporting empires (such as French possession of Viet Nam) or  dictators or oligarchies that stood against any serious improvement of the average person's life.]

[American exceptionalism seems to me more subtle than its adherents or those who scoff at it seem to believe.  We can and should take pride in our Founders; in their insistence on freedom and democracy, relatively new ideas in their time.  Jefferson, Franklin, and others were giants.  George Washington remains one of the very few men in history who lead a military rebellion, became sufficiently popular that he probably could have been named President for Life, but walked away.  Not once, but twice: immediately after the war, when we tried our ill-fated experiment with a weak national government in the Articles of Confederation, then again after two terms as President.  Our energy and resourcefulness have been rightly admired by all.  However, for our rise to the top of the heap of nations, it's fair to give credit to geographical and other factors for which our leaders can claim little responsibility.  We had a huge, contiguous land, teeming with natural resources and protected by oceans from the kind of constant military strife Europe and other continents experienced.  Other than during 1861-65, wars have not been fought on our territory, destroying homes, factories, towns, and families.  We've also benefited from a host of other factors, including that our native language (partly from our activities, but more from the British Empire) became the closest the planet has to a universal language.]

My thinking was much influenced quite a while ago by reading The Rise and Fall of the Great Nations, by Paul Kennedy.  Wikipedia's summary of the book's thesis states, "In The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987), Kennedy argues that economic strength and military power have been highly correlated in the rise and fall of major nations since 1500. He shows that expanding strategic commitments lead to increases in military expenditures that eventually overburden a country's economic base, and cause its long-term decline. His book reached a wide audience of policy makers when it suggested that the United States and the Soviet Union were presently experiencing the same historical dynamics that previously affected Spain, the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, and Germany, and that the United States must come to grips with its own "imperial overstretch".[7]

However, the Cold War ended two years after Kennedy's book appeared, validating his thesis regarding the Soviet Union, but leaving the United States as the sole superpower and, apparently, at the peak of its economy. Nau (2001) contends that Kennedy's "realist" model of international politics underestimates the power of national, domestic identities or the possibility of the ending of the Cold War and the growing convergence of democracy and markets resulting from the democratic peace that followed.[8]"
I want now to read Nau's criticism of Kennedy's ideas.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Reform Las Cruces's Initiative Process

City officials should include the initiative process among the city charter amendments the Las Cruces City Council will consider shortly.

In 2014, the process of raising the minimum wage satisfied no one. Business leaders complained that proponents were really motivated by the political desire to get the issue on the ballot. Proponents said businessfolks ignored the issue for months, then requested “dialogue” just for delay. Then the council flouted the City Charter. The Charter was not specific on what happened next, and councilors could ignore it with impunity.

We need change.

First, require proponents to present the ordinance to the city council before gathering signatures. Give the council 45 days to act. Let councilors discuss the merits of the ordinance. Let the city attorney provide legal advice regarding the form of the ordinance and conflicts with other laws, to ensure that any resulting ordinance will be effective. Let everyone discuss possible compromise versions.

The proposal would get a full airing, with all parties heard. The community might reach a consensual solution, rather than experience a divisive signature-gathering process and special vote. Proponents might accept a reasonable compromise rather than make huge efforts for a slightly better version of their ordinance.

But compromise would not be required. Proponents would still decide. Absent an agreement within 45 days, proponents could freely gather signatures. Everyone would have more complete knowledge; and voters would understand the issues more clearly. The vetting should make the ordinance that much stronger.

The Charter is clear that, given sufficient signatures, the council must either adopt the requested ordinance or schedule a popular vote. Without change. The voters dictate to the council.
In 2014, some huffy councilors insisted deciding such issues was their prerogative. That obeying the clear meaning of the Charter would be abdicating their duties.

Amend the Charter to state what should be obvious: that an initiative-induced ordinance should last more than a day. A council required to adopt it April 1 can't rescind it April 10, mocking the citizens.
But if councilors must adopt it, how long must they leave it unchanged? The Charter shouldn't require that an ordinance that damages the us must stand forever -- or until another initiative undoes it.

Provide that: (a) during an initial period (six months? nine? 12?) the council couldn't rescind or substantively amend the ordinance except based on changed circumstances (including that the ordinance isn't working or has very negative side-effects); (b) during a second period, (until eighteen months after enactment? A year? Two?) the council could amend or rescind, but opponents of the change could challenge the proposed change, arguing circumstances hadn't changed; then (c) after two years, or perhaps three, the council would be as free to amend or rescind the ordinance as with any other ordinance.

This would respect an ordinance demanded by the people without locking us into a bad result.
During, say, the first nine months the council could only rescind the ordinance only after filing a declaratory relief action in district court stating their intention and allowing opponents to argue that no changed circumstances or disastrous results justified overturning the people's will. From nine to 24 months, the burden would shift: the council could act, but if opponents filed a court action challenging that, the council would suspend the effective date of its action. After two years, the council would have full discretion, as usual.

We have voter initiatives for good reasons. The council proved in 2014 that it will ignore the people's will and render those initiatives pointless. Will the council now accept some check against such abuse of power? 

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 18 June 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website -- and KRWG will broadcast a spoken version of it at various times this coming week.]

[The Council meets Monday (19June) at  .m., and will discuss (without public-input, I'm told, because this is a first reading) amendments dealing with the recall process some folks tried to misuse a couple of years ago.  As I was pretty involved in the battle to prevent that misuse, I'm naturally happy to see the council take up improvements to that part of the Charter.  My view is that we should tighten the rules to make abuse more difficult, but not completely abandon the recall provision; but I'll deal with those issues in a later column or blog post.]

Mending the Fence  [copyright 2012 pgoodmanphotos]


Sunday, June 11, 2017

NM Soil & Water Conservation Commission Meets in Las Cruces

On Thursday, June 15, the New Mexico Soil & Water Conservation Commission will meet in Las Cruces and appoint members to the State's soil and water districts, including the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District.

In May, we elected two new boardmembers to DASWCD. There are five elected members, four of whom must be resident landowners. The Commission may appoint two more, who need not be landowners or live in the district.

Seeking reappointment are ranchers Steve Wilmeth and Dudley Williams. Two other candidates, Dr. Roger Beck and Dr. Kurt Anderson, have extensive qualifications in conserving and managing water. (A fifth candidate, Myles Culbertson, is former Livestock Bureau executive director.)

Wilmeth and Williams bring strong backgrounds as ranchers here. I'm more familiar with Wilmeth. His family has ranched here for at least five generations; a forebear rode with the man who inspired the Joshua Deets character in the Lonesome Dove miniseries. My impression is that Wilmeth has done some smart things on his land to conserve resources. As a rancher and hunter, he knows the land. Ranchers should be represented on the board, and he or Williams ably do so.

Anderson and Beck, however, could bring to DASWCD much-needed experience and capabilities – as well as balance. 

Beck was a professor of agricultural economics for thirty years. He spent 2008-2011 as project director of the Afghanistan Water, Agriculture, and Technology Transfer. He has studied “the fragile relationships among land, water, and soil.” 

Anderson serves on the Doña Ana Mutual Domestic Water Consumers' Association board, and the Lower Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Steering Committee, and was on the board of the NM Rural Water Association. With the New Mexico Journal of Sciene, he's published annual volumes on our natural resources.

The Soil & Water Conservation Supervisors Handbook offers some guidance: “Desirable qualifications include interest/background in conservation of renewable natural resources, businesses/management experience, and communication skills.” Beck and Anderson have strong backgrounds in conservation, science, business/management, and communications. 

The point is to make the DASWCD the best it can be. A Board with varied backgrounds and areas of expertise is stronger than a one-dimensional board. Ranchers should be represented. They bring working knowledge of the land and a special relationship with it; but so should the larger community.
What matters is qualifications and experience. The candidates' political views should be irrelevant. Wilmeth and Williams have strong anti-government views, and opposed the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, while Anderson and Beck supported it. Wilmeth has been an eloquent opponent. Several of the Commission members agree with Wilmeth and Williams. One has said, I'm totally against the word 'wilderness.' What that capital 'W' means to me is wasteland and wildfire potential, and wrong... It removes us as stewards of the land.”
Whatever one's views, the DASWCD doesn't decide what happens with monuments or wilderness areas. It won't decide how we balance public and private ownerships of land. The Commission's job is to appoint people who maximize the DASWCD's ability to safeguard our resources, as the State created it to do. A more balanced board, whose members contribute a variety of skills and knowledge, can do that best. 
Anderson and/or Beck brings a range of contacts, ideas, and familiarity with grants and interagency cooperation. As one Commissioner has acknowledged, S&W districts can do great things by cooperating with other agencies. Cooperation with other agencies is critical, and DASWCD hasn't always done that well. If I were a Commissioner, I'd seriously consider strengthening the board by appointing Beck or Anderson and reappointing one incumbent. 
Hopefully the commissioners will do their duty by our community.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 11 June 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website -- and KRWG airs a spoken version during the week.] 

[By the way, in the column I didn't urge folks to go to the NMSWCC meeting; for one thing, those guys have to go through annual appointments for all the districts, and swear in board members elect, and do other business.  But it's at 10 a.m. Thursday at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture building at 3190 South Espina Street in Las Cruces.  If you're knowledgeable or particularly passionate about the DASWCD, go for it! Members of the public can speak -- either (as at local commission or council meetings) when particular items come up or, on more general matters not on the agenda, during general public input, although I think the general public input may be toward the end rather than near the beginning of the meeting.]

The Bosque Nova

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Our Healing Desert - and Trump

In a quiet way, at 5:30 this morning, I felt as close as I've come in this lifetime to a nervous breakdown.

I won't list the tasks, obligations, and problems that loomed large. I take on too much, most of it well-intentioned, then screw it all up. And in the midst of that, I gotta write a newspaper column? I don't feel like a person with a sufficient understanding of much of anything to presume to speak to others! 

I can't even tell how much of my paralyzing sadness was local in nature, personal, and how much was the oppressive cacophany of disastrous headlines and radio news.

Trump and Bannon seem to be taking us out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, ignoring advice from scientists, citizens, and Fortune-500 businesses. Intelligence officials fear sharing classified information with Trump. European leaders say the U.S. is no longer a dependable ally, with regard to climate but also Russia. Putin robs his country blind, and Trump admires him. Meanwhile Russia and China gleefully take advantage of the opportunities Trump provides. 

Trump tweets that Hillary Clinton “blames everyone but herself, and refuses to say she was a terrible candidate.” There's likely some truth in that; but this clown has a country to run. Why's he wasting energy sticking it to his defeated foe, like a peewee-league football player celebrating a touchdown? Can we imagine any previous president acting this way?

Trump repeats like a mantra that he'll end the “war on coal” and decimate the Environmental Protection Agency. But coal jobs fell by two-thirds in the decades before the EPA came around. Coal workers lost their jobs because of economic conditions and mine-owners' decisions, and they ain't coming back. Trump claims he'll recover those jobs by further polluting our environment. That's so silly that even his own chief economist says coal “doesn't make much sense anymore.” 

Fortunately I have several pails of water to take to the compost bin, housed in an old goat pen some distance from the house. It's often a healing walk. This morning the quail repeating his long, piercing call seems to be saying we'll survive. In the compost, a host of worms are performing their alchemy. The desert is still wearing its marvelous, post-rainfall scent. The sun lurks behind the mountains, and the air is cool and fresh. 

Back near the house, families of quail surround the feed block and water bowls. Black-throated sparrows and red-capped house finches are busy at the feeders. So many baby quail and the sweet wet scent of the desert speak of renewal. Seasons pass. So, perhaps, will this political season – though not without severely damaging our country and our earth.

I can enjoy the bustling but peaceful scene out back or focus on its violent and tragic aspects. When a quail flew – fatally -- into our window, its mate kept up a mournful wail for days. We've watched a bullsnake climb into a tree searching for eggs – and curve-billed thrashers kill bullsnakes. 

Shall I paralyze myself grieving over Trump's ugliness – or consider him like the rain refreshing the desert? His threats to our world make each moment in that world more precious. He bragged he was a unifier. Unwittingly, he is. He's brought together many people of good will to oppose him. There's an appealing energy to these new groups who are giving Trumps and Pearces a hard time. Perhaps, as the civil rights movement and a stupid war turned many of my generation altruistic, this too will spawn needed changemakers. 

Maybe they'll good will trump Trump's harm.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 4 June 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website andKRWG's website.]

[Maybe the funniest news of the week was Trump pompously proclaiming that the world was going to stop laughing at us -- just at the moment the world started laughing uncontrollably at him, and at us for electing him.

[Nothing he said about climate change made even a bit of sense.

Meanwhile, his conduct is rapidly living up to his slogan, "Make America Second-Rate!"  The Russians, Germans, French, and Chinese are quite willing to help, too.  
For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made an appearance Thursday to band together over their commitment to fight climate change.  In a joint press conference with Li in Berlin, Merkel said, "We are living in times of global uncertainty and see our responsibility to expand our partnership in all the different areas and to push for a world order based on law," according to Reuters.  Merkel added, "China has become a more important and strategic partner."  Li said China has "stayed true to its commitment" that it made when it signed the Paris Agreement. China emits the highest levels of carbon dioxide in the world, with the United States ranking second. "Fighting climate change is a global consensus, not invented by China," Li said, in a reference to a tweet by Trump in 2012. 
A fair English translation of all that would be, "If Trump's leading the U.S. into a fantasy world of denial, we'll take over leading the adults in this world." 
Massachusetts U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey warned that leaving the 195-nation deal would be a sign the U.S. is letting go of its global leadership position.  Senator Markey added, “It is going to be a statement that we are withdrawing from global leadership, that we are not accepting our responsibility, and that we are not going to take advantage of this huge economic opportunity in wind, in solar, in clean energy jobs, generally in all electric vehicles, to drive the economy of the 21st century.”
“Instead, they are going to cede this economic terrain to the Chinese, to the Germans, to the Indians, and others, who are going to move forward almost with thanks to the United States," he continued.

Ceding leadership of NATO to Germany and France, and inviting Russia's interference or intimidation, is another prong of our voluntary weakening of the U.S. on the world stage.  When Trump is so admiring of Putin, and so unable to stop yapping even when his words endanger allies' operatives, why wouldn't the world be laughing at us.   (Just after finishing these notes I read "Globe Heaps Scorn on Trump for Paris Exit")

By contrast, Obama was a thoughtful, prudent man with judgment, discretion, and taste.   He didn't need to proclaim his greatness constantly, as Mr. Trump does, because Obama either didn't think he was great or didn't worry so damned much about it.  He was more about learning the facts and getting the job done.  He was far from perfect, but pretty damned good.