Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Kaepernick Redux

My Sunday column a few weeks ago discussed Colin Kaepernick, and the NFL's informal blacklist of him for kneeling during the national anthem and making comments critical of our government and police -- and the history of both. 

I felt, as others do, that he was a sufficiently good quarterback that he should have been hired this offseason well before quite a few QB's that teams hired or retained.  Without rearguing that, this post will note and contain links to additional developments.  This week, those include a couple of other prominent players who failed to stand for the national anthem before preseason games recently.  Saturday, star running-back Marshawn Lynch sat before his first game as a Raider.  Sunday, Seattle Seahawks' defensive end Michael Bennett, some of whose comments appear below, did the same.  

Seahawks' head coach Pete Carrol didn't even realize until after the game that Bennett had sat during the anthem.  A Seahawks' official said he was fine with Bennett's action "as long as Michael is preaching love and not hate."  On Saturday, Lynch, Bennett’s former Seahawks teammate, sat on Oakland’s bench eating a banana during the anthem.

Bennett chose not to stand during the national anthem prior to the Seattle Seahawks preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers. He explained why to Yahoo Sports’ Jordan Schultz, and this is a condensed version of his words:
I’ve been thinking about sitting during the national anthem, especially after everything that’s been happening the last couple weeks. It’s just been so crazy right now, and I felt like the conversation wasn’t over.  I know it offends a lot of people, that’s why I kept it straightforward. I love America, I love hot dogs, I love everything about it.
I thought about it right up to the beginning of the game, and finally decided not to stand because it just felt right.
Everybody’s supportive as usual, because people know I genuinely care about people and care about the way that the world is.
Not a lot of people are willing to stand up and say what they believe in. [N]ot everybody is willing to say that they hate injustice. It’s kind of one of those things where you’ll be ridiculed if you bring something like that up in any place, so it’s hard to do.  I think I’m just a regular human being that’s wiling to be vulnerable in that way.
I really had to think about what I was doing. It was one of those things like, ‘Yeah, you’re really doing it. You’re really putting yourself out there to be attacked. You’re really stepping out. Are you ready for what’s going to happen? Are you ready for what people are going to say?’
So far, everything’s been positive.
Going forward, I want to continuously just push the message of equality.
My goal, my hope, is more action. Say less, do more.
I think I’m at the point where spiritually, this is what you do. You dedicate your life to helping make change and using your platform to do it. You continuously have to be on that path to keep going, challenging yourself to do it. I think I’m inspired to keep doing more, even with all the hate going on. I’m inspired to keep trying to make a change.
I know some people won’t like it, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s a part of life, I think. Everybody’s going to attack you. If you’re in the game, you’re being attacked. I think being a sports star, you need to learn about fans, learn about people. The ups and downs of people, their beliefs – people feel one way one day and then change the next day. Sticking to who you are is, I think, the most important thing.
For me, I think wanting to make a difference started as a kid. I was always helping around, help doing things. I was on my grandpa’s farm, just doing stuff for the community. I got it from my parents. I think growing up reading about Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and all these people, it really helped me cultivate what to do with my platform.
I always looked up to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, John Carlos. All these guys do so much.
Now I look at Colin Kaepernick and all these people who do so much in the community and raising the bar of what we can do as athletes and what we can do as people. Do we forget our story and our journey and recreate who we are? Or do we connect our story to where we are now to be able to give other kids opportunities?
People want to keep you on the field. Everyone cares about what you do on the field and not what you’re doing as a man or a father or a person. Every question is about sports and sometimes it can get annoying because you can kind of lose your identity within sports.
When you get in the position on a platform where you get a chance to give back and create opportunities for others, that’s where I want my legacy to be. Over the last four or five years, my story has been shared more than in the past. I want to create opportunities for others. I want to raise the bar about what we can do as athletes and people. I think that’s where I want my legacy to be.
People are inspired by each other and want to help each other, and I think that’s the message that I really want to speak to clearly. It’s about how do we connect with each other and remember that we’re all people, and we all want to be a part of this great thing we call life, and this great thing we call love.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Texas Becomes Mecca for Rapists and Thieves

Texas limits deer-hunting to certain seasons, but is making it open season all year long on Latinas without papers. 

SB4 makes it criminal for a police chief or sheriff to direct officers not to ask for people's papers.
Latinos and law-enforcement are united in opposing this bill.

The Legislature ignored State Rep. Mary Gonzalez's moving plea not to pass this vicious and misguided bill. She too had been raped. A painful public admission. She made the obvious point that discouraging victims from reporting rapes and other crimes tells anyone contemplating such conduct that he probably can get away with it.

Already, reports of rapes have declined significantly among Latinas, while reports from others are increasing. And it's not just rapes. A group of teenagers confessed (or bragged?) that they targeted Latinos because “they don't call the police.”

Since potential criminals don't necessarily know who has papers, crimes against Hispanic citizens, legal residents, and illegal residents will all increase. But so what? They're brown, and they're in Texas. 

As the Texas Major Cities Association (TMCA) argues, cops “work extremely hard to build and maintain trust, communication, and stronger relationships with minority communities through community based policing and outreach programs. [Laws like SB4] that push local law enforcement to take a more active role in immigration enforcement will further strain the relationship between local law enforcement and these diverse communities.” 

This at a time when distrust and poor communication between cops and minorities is literally killing members of both groups. Why would a witness without papers answer questions about a cop-killing in Dallas? They know the cops aren't protecting them. Cooperating could not only spark retaliation by the killers but get them deported. (Would the cops actually deport such a person? They 'd not want to; but would a witness take the chance?)

SB4 exposes Republican “law-and-order” talk as empty rhetoric. The TMCA op-ed added, “if we don't arrest criminals who victimize our immigrant communities, we allow them to remain free to victimize every one of us.” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted, “Violent crime is on rise across our Nation & some would rather men & women in blue go after cooks & nannies, instead of hardened criminals.” TMCA suggested that a real effort at decreasing immigration would go after businesses that hire immigrants. 

Although Governor Abbott says it's about public safety, law-enforcement officials are nearly unanimous in strongly opposing this bill. Cops know how things work on the street. SB4 adds to their problems and dangers. But it fits the anti-immigrant hysteria, and the Republican ideology. Who cares about the people it hurts? 

Who cares about anything sensible when hysteria takes over? 

The famous wall, if ever built, would accomplish little, but would hurt the economy and ecology along the border, divide communities, and cost a fortune. Just the threat of it may be dampening cross-border trade.

Smart folks outside the U.S. are already trying to replicate Silicon Valley, hoping that tech-savvy folks from other countries will feel more comfortable bringing their talents to somewhere that isn't in a panic against “furriners.” 

I understand Trump's position. He was never as popular as he wished, and now he's screwing up all over the place. In traditional fashion, he's distracting us with convenient scapegoats. The same tactics work well in Texas. 

Studying facts and making reasoned decisions was never as popular in government as it should have been; but Trump's legendary disdain for truth and facts seems to work, so why wouldn't small-minded Texas legislators emulate him. I hope New Mexicans won't.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 13 August 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air several times on KRWG Radio, and possibly on KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM.]

[Here's part of what State Rep. Mary Gonzalez said:  "To my friends on this floor, if you ever had any friendship with me, then this is the vote that measures that friendship. That you can vote for this amendment, then you think it’s OK for women, for children not to be able to go to law enforcement and be protected in their most vulnerable time in their lives. That you’re willing to take that risk, then I hope you never talk to me again, because this is people’s lives."There’s been a sharp drop. In rapes and sexual assaults alone, the reduction has been 42.8 percent, while the rest of the community, the numbers have gone up. The same holds true, to a lesser extent, I think about 13 percent increase, with a decrease for all violent crime.
"And, you know, that’s the unintended consequence. When you start trying to create the perception that front-line law enforcement officers, who should be focused on public safety, are now going to become ICE agents, you cannot argue with the fact that it’s going to have an impact. Perception matters. And the perception that SB 4, and the debate leading up to this law, has created is that we are going to be required to be immigration agents, which that’s not the truth. I mean, that’s not a fact, but it doesn’t matter. You cannot—we just can’t seem to convince the immigrant community that they need not to fear us."]

[Here's a link to Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo's press conference.  (I'm proud of my former law school classmate, Houston Mayor Silvester Turner, for whatever part he played in making this guy chief.)

The New Yorker quotes El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles as saying, “It’s kind of amazing that, during the initial hearing, the senators had all these chiefs and sheriffs from across Texas speaking against the bill—and they totally ignored the people in law enforcement,” adding that his alread overworked officers are  “too busy to waste their time doing another agency’s work.”  He also noted that the new law made this "[T]he only area where one of my officers could now be allowed to go out there and ignore his own bosses is on immigration. It’s crazy.”

Republican supporters of SB 4 are doubly hypocritical: they're not only interfering with police when they're the loudest at screaming "Support your Local Police," they always preach "decentralization," but only practice it when they feel like it.  As Acevedo told The New Yorker, “Texas politicians always complain that Washington is trying to dictate to them how to do things.  Now they’re turning around and doing the same thing to the cities in their own state.”  Further, since police in most of these cities already asked about immigration status if it was material to an investigation or with regard to someone arrested, the effect of the change is to specifically targets witnesses and people reporting crimes.  Victims.  I'd sure appreciate that if I were a criminal in Texas!]

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Adios, Football

If no one hires Colin Kaepernick, I won't watch professional football this year.

Some readers are now angry at me. Many others may wonder what a Kaepernick is.

Colin Kaepernick is a quarterback. He did some marvelous things as a San Francisco 49er. Then the team committed suicide by getting rid of a great coach, Jim Harbaugh. Kaepernick got injured. He recovered and played fairly well on a terrible team. No one knows whether, on a decent team, he could now revive the greatness he showed during the 'Niners' Super Bowl season.

Last year, Kaepernick (who looks to be of mixed race, and was adopted and raised by a white couple) took a knee during the pre-game national anthem. 

He did so to affirm, “Black Lives Matter.” They do. All lives matter, and we shouldn't need to be reminded of that; but saying it, specifically about black lives, also matters, because our society hasn't always thought so -- and still sometimes seems to find them less significant than white lives. 

No one needs to say “White Lives Matter.” “Blue lives matter” too. Black lifes have often seemed to matter least. Blue lives have always gotten plenty of lip service from politicians but are too easily dismissed; and if you say black lives matter, you should also note that blue lives do. 

Many have said that Kaepernick, making a professional football player's salary, should donate money to nonprofits working to improve things. He does.

After last season, San Francisco parted ways with Kaepernick. Teams with excellent, proven quarterbacks have a good football reason to ignore him. 

But given his skills as a quarterback, the game's key position, at least half the teams in the NFL should be quite interested in hiring him, as starter or backup. This summer teams have hired or retained many QB's far below Kaepernick in ability, accomplishments, and winning probability. 

The reason he's still available is painfully obvious. Even Donald Trump has told the NFL not to hire Kaepernick. One owner admitted that Kaepernick's politics were the problem, while another owner (whose coach, Jim Harbaugh's brother, John, wanted to hire Kaepernick), asked the public to “pray for us” then vetoed the hiring.

Teams say the kneeling “is a distraction.” But coaches from San Francisco say it wasn't a distraction there. A couple of players kneeled with Kaepernick instead of standing for the national anthem. Most players didn't. Coaches confirm that there was no locker room distraction. And Kap has said that if he gets a job this fall he won't be kneeling during the anthem.

I enjoy watching pro football, though less than when I was younger. But it is sort of militaristic, and has been somewhat racist. All teams other than Green Bay are owned by obscenely wealthy individuals or by corporations. I don't agree with all the league's policies. Yet I've kept watching.

In sports, athletes' skills and competitive drive should matter most. Unless a player's laziness, undependability, or selfishness impacts the team's spirit and cohesion, put the best on the field. Whatever color or religion or nationiality they are. Whatever their beliefs. Particularly when the NFL has a history of ignoring wife-beating and drunken driving and battery offenses when committed by successful or promising players. If punishing a freethinker or thoughtful dissenter is more important than playing the best football you can, count me out. 

I know I'm pretty insignificant. I know the NFL ain't gonna miss one old guy in southern New Mexico with his back steadfastly turned to the TV Sunday mornings. But it's my turn to take a knee.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 6 August 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air periodically during the week on KRWG Radio (and on KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM.]

[The last few days have brought additional copy on Kaepernick, including a piece on the Baltimore debacle and a job opportunity Kap still might get.

After I wrote the column, NBCA Bay Area publichsed Report: Multiple NFL Owners Have Blocked Their Team Signing Kap  From that article:
"Colin Kaepernick is widely considered to be worthy of an NFL contract, but the former 49ers quarterback and social activist is still unemployed.
"With Joe Flacco injured, the Baltimore Ravens are in need of a quarterback. But they won't sign Kaepernick, and it's not a football decision.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome would like to sign Kaepernick, "but have met resistance from owner Steve Bisciotti," according to Dianna Russini, who also reports that this is not the first time that an NFL team has wanted to add Kaepernick only to be blocked by the owner.
"It's the first official report of the league black-balling Kapernick after he protested the National Anthem last year in San Francisco.
"Instead of following the wishes of the team's head coach and GM, the Ravens opted instead for former arena quarterback David Olson, whom they released after just three days. The Ravens then signed Josh Woodrum, who went undrafted out of Liberty in 2016.
"Behind Flacco, Baltimore has quarterback Ryan Mallet -- who has struggled early in training camp -- Woodrum and Dustin Vaughan on their roster."

Richard Sherman

Seattle Seahawks' wide-receiver Malcolm Baldwin:
"My original position was I thought that the situation last year with him taking a knee didn't have anything to do with it," Baldwin said. "After viewing what's going on, I've got to take that back. I definitely think that the league, the owners are trying to send a message of, 'Stay in between the lines.' It's frustrating because you want to have guys who are willing to speak out about things that they believe in, whether you agree with it or not. But I think that's definitely playing a role now moreso than I thought it was going to."
The Seahawks remain the only team that even brought Kaepernick in for a free-agent visit, but the team elected not to sign him.
Baldwin said Kaepernick's play is worthy of a job in the NFL.
"If you take a step back and you look at the overall picture, there's a lot of teams in this league that could use a quarterback of Colin Kaepernick's ability," Baldwin said. "And why he doesn't have a job, it's very telling to me. He's a very capable player. There's a lot of teams out there that need quarterbacks -- whether they're a starting quarterback or a backup-caliber quarterback. The fact that he hasn't been brought into camp yet is questionable."

That sure didn't sit well with some law-enforcement officers I know; and while there's more than a grain of historical truth to the spirit of that tweet, it's probably not helpful in trying to solve the problem.  It could help inflame some dangerous minds; but then again it could help someone think about how things look from the perspective of some black folks.   Whether you agree or disagree with Kaepernick, though, in my mind ill-judged tweets shouldn't make him unemployable.  After all, it's not as if he were looking for a job as U.S. President!

You can read Whitlock on Kaepernick at any of the Internet sites for which links are listed here. ]

[note added 10August:]  My wife says NPR's football commentator said much the same as I've said here; and a late-July pice by Jarrett Bell of USA Today notes that Dan Orlovsky had become the 24th QB, mostly backups, signed by an NFL team this offseason.   As he notes, Kaepernick quarterbacked a team to a Super Bowl, while Orlovsky was a QB on the Detroit Lions the year they went 0-16.  He notes too that last year, on that lousy San Francisco team, Kaepernick had 90.7 rating as a passer and a 16 to 4 TD to touchdown to interception ratio.  The 90.7 is nothing stellar; but on a poor team, which means he's not getting the best pass protection or receivers with the surest hands, it's not bad, not is the touchdown to interception ratio.  Other mediocre QB's signed this offseason include Ryan Fitzpatrick (69.6 rating, lowest in the league, on the Jest last year), Blaine Gabbert (whom the 49ers benched last season to play Kaepernick), and Austin Davis, whose such a nonentity as QB that I don't even remember who the hell he is!]

Sunday, July 30, 2017

How it Is Here

As I start toward town Wednesday for my first show on the new “Que Tál” community radio station, a healthy young coyote trots across Soledad Canyon Road just in front of me. Good sign! We don't see 'em so often lately.

I'm well-rested. Several shots of mescal at bed-time helped.

KTAL's first live show is technically ragged but awesome. I'm awed by what fellow board-members have accomplished to get us here. We struggled embarrassingly long to get the station going. On “Speak Up, Las Cruces!” I've arranged an appealing schedule with mostly shows where knowledgeable local people will disagree strongly but civilly with each other.

It's incredibly complicated to create a radio station! We all feel pretty elated by midday Wednesday.
Thursday an inch of rain falls in an hour just north of us. I have to go visit an (allegedly) demented person. Several muddy rivers crossing Soledad Canyon remind me I should have taken the truck.
At the strongest river, two vehicles have stopped to reconnoiter. I quickly stop too. Then CRUNCH! I feel myself thrown forward. 

I step out into the downpour. I mute my anger. I approach the other vehicle, a big pickup with plenty of previous damage in the front. Young man sits at the wheel. Slightly dazed, or shocked. He apologizes immediately. He shows me his insurance information and drivers' license. It's raining too hard for me to copy his information easily. I have to lean in and use the top of his dashboard as a table. “I'll tell the truth,” he says. “It was all my fault.” I say that's good. He says he was afraid I'd be really angry. “Could have happened to any of us,” I say reassuringly. 

I'm soaked and a little edgy. My back hurts a little. I turn around.

At home we realize the car is damaged more than I'd realized. Much time on telephone with insurer and Vescovo. Then a long trip into town. Body shop, Enterprise, doctor. I feel a bit dazed, but don't hurt too bad. Driving home, I enjoy hearing a music show on 101.5 FM.

I awaken at 2 a.m. Beautiful night. Outside, I sit watching the dark mountains, marred by few lights, and the grey sky full of stars. The crickets are muted tonight. I'm glad to be here. (A pain-killer helps.) 

Inside again, I turn on the computer. The Senate has defeated “skinny” repeal, Republican leadership's desperate effort to show power by passing a bill no one likes and leaving tens of millions of citizens' healthcare to a lottery called the House-Senate conference. They're like kids trying to prove a point, even by acting stupidly. 

John McCain is a decent man, still strong at 80. I wonder whether his own recent surgery made him think how it might have been for some regular citizen. A Huffington Post headline calling saying he'll “die with dishonor” for voting to debate the bill is an ironic reminder of how vacuous most invective is, on both sides. And of the uselessness of yesterday's news. Meanwhile McConnell prattles that we owe it to citizens to take away their healthcare.

I also learn that the NBA's Warriors have re-signed Javale McGee, their wonderfully athletic backup center. Another triumph for the culture of joy. I think of Kevin Durant, delighted he could wear music headphones during practices, something his former team had forbidden. A team I suffered with through mediocre seasons, then watched become great, has actually improved further!

I play briefly with the morning's images of hummingbirds. 

We live in the high desert, in constant wonder and constant gratitude.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 30 July 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 of it several times during the week.]

[I doubt I've managed to communicate at all how magical it all felt at 2 or 3 in the morning, the wonderful place and probably some relief, and things coming up as I'd hoped, ]

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Saga of Chris Barela, Jailer

Sometimes everyone's wrong.

Take the saga of Chris Barela, jailer.

He's a likable guy, but has a very mixed record at the Doña Ana County Detention Center. 

Years ago people alleged serious misconduct by him, some criminal. Internal county reports concluded he'd misappropriated county resources. (Astonishingly, higher-ups took no action on those reports.) Barela also seemed to exhibit extensive favoritism in running the jail. I wrote about some of this in 2013. I also investigated some charges I concluded were nonsense, and some I couldn't get to the truth on. 

Criminal investigations started and stalled. I doubt the initial investigators did all they should have. Some of the most promising charges never got acted upon until it was too late. Then Mr. Barela ran afoul of Sheriff Kiki Vigil (who'd gotten significant campaign contributions from two private-prison executives from Louisiana). DASO investigated vigorously – then, in December 2015, (a) made a big public show of Barela's arrest; (b) took him all the way to Lea County to book him; and (c) took over the jail the day they arrested him. 

A judge ordered Vigil to give back control of the jail. Criminal charges were eventually dropped. DASO's handling of the arrest and booking helped Barela get a $201,000 settlement check without even filing suit. Some said Barela got the easy settlement because of connections. Others said DASO's conduct under Vigil was so far off the mark that Barela could have won far more by suing.

More recently, a jail officer complained that Commissioner John Vasquez had told him in Santa Fe that Vasquez was going to get rid of Barela and then-County Manager Julia Brown. Vasquez allegedly suggested that the jail officer might get Barela's job. If the story is accurate, Vasquez was conducting himself inappropriately.

Barela served a tort claims notice against the County over Vasquez's alleged comments.
But acting like a horse's hind end isn't always a crime or even actionable. Barela's tort claim notice speaks of defamation, a legal subject I actually know a little about. From what I've read and heard, Barela has a steep uphill battle. First of all, for a “public figure” like Barela to prevail, he must prove Vasquez made false statements of fact that Vasquez knew or really should have known were false. The statements must be of facts. Opinions won't cut it. Nor will threats to fire someone, or statements that someone should be fired. That is, calling the jail “horrible” and saying “You should get rid of Barela” are nonstarters.

Further, if Vasquez said that Barela committed crimes, that's either true or such a reasonable mistake that Barela's lawsuit should fail. There are written reports that strongly suggest Barela committed crimes. That he wasn't prosecuted in time is irrelevant. Vasquez would have to have said something extra special – claiming it was fact – for Barela to prevail. I'm not even sure the County would be on the hook for Vasquez's conduct in Santa Fe.
Then a week ago Barela was hit with four misdemeanor charges of possession of marijuana.

In context, these charges initially look like harassment. But one knowledgeable source says the officer who probably okayed the operation has integrity and isn't the Sheriff's pawn. Although using undercover “reverse transactions” to bust someone for personal-use marijuana looks odd, my source says there may be more to come. Who knows?

But it could end Barela's charmed career as jailer. Smoking a few joints is a yawner; but dealing with drug dealers, who may sell other substances and could end up detained, will raise concerns about further favoritism.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 23 July, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.   KRWG will also air a spoken version periodically during the week.]

[I initially ended the column stressing the relative pettiness of busting a guy for buying small amounts of marijuana.   As a matter of criminal law, it is petty.  But if I were in the county administration, thinking about terminating Mr. Barela, I'd have to take the incident more seriously.  First of all, it's a[nother] violation of law.  Secondly, as I note in the column, if proven it establishes that he conspires with drug dealers to break laws, and some of those drug dealers could end up in the Detention Center, possibly charged with selling to kids or with selling some less benign substance than weed.  (And in the employment context, his employers shouldn't be limited to the appropriately high standard of proof for criminal convictions, "beyond a reasonable doubt," but to a lower standard in which they can act if reasonable evidence convinces them that he did it.)   Third, in my view Mr. Barela has demonstrated a tendency toward favoritism in running the detention center.]

[At the same time, authorities should be alert to whether or not there was inappropriately selective law enforcement here.  As noted, someone I trust strongly believes there wasn't.  But people can be wrong in their trust of colleagues.  Too, I've heard one credible, first-hand account of what appeared to me a tendency by Sheriff Vigil toward selective law enforcement, unrelated to Barela.  (Of course, one could reasonably argue that a crime is more serious when committed by someone in charge of folks accused of crimes, often drug-related crimes, so that a somewhat heightened interest in marijuana purchases by Barela would not necessarily be improper.)]

[It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.  Barela has excellent and experienced defense counsel.]

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.