Saturday, December 12, 2015

Keeping a Dream Alive

It has become one of my favorite icons in our retirement home town — weathered boards nailed to an old utility post with a slightly off-kilter metal hoop that looks as if it might have come from Dr. Naismith’s original peach basket.

It could be any boy-crafted  basketball goal in any back yard of the midwest where I grew up, except for this master touch: with a bristle-deprived brush and the dregs of an old paint can someone has marked this as “PAN AM.”

You’ve got to know some college basketball history to appreciate this.  “Pan Am” is short for the Pan American Center at New Mexico State University, a 13,000 seat arena where the Aggies basketball teams play.  When Neil McCarthy coached the Aggies (1985-97), most of those seats were filled for every home game, and the Aggies won more than 20 games every year, and for seven consecutive seasons the team went to the NCAA basketball tournament, once even reaching the Sweet Sixteen. Every kid in Dona Ana County who ever threw a basketball at a home-made goal aspired to play in the Pan Am.  It was during this period that the goal on Fairacres Road was erected.  It still stands, recently enhanced with a new net.

Only seven basketball players of the Neil McCarthy era ever graduated from NMSU, and the NCAA found the school guilty of repeated and egregious violations of academic standards to keep players eligible.  The university fired McCarthy who sued for breach of contract and won.  The school paid the court’s judgment and was too broke to hire another coach.

Enter Lou Henson.  Lou had coached a state champion high school team in Las Cruces, then coached at NMSU and took a team to the Final Four.  The University of Illinois hired him away from the Aggies and he established a winning tradition there, including regular runs deep into the NCAA tournament. He had retired to play golf in sunny Las Cruces when the McCarthy settlement impoverished the NMSU athletic department.  Lou agreed to come out of retirement and coach the Aggies for $1 a year.

The Pan Am rocked again and there were great games, like the one against heavily favored arch-rival New Mexico when Lou switched to a zone for the last inbounds play of the game, which so befuddled the Lobos that they threw away the ball and their last chance at winning.  “There’s a reason the man has won over 700 games,” said his star player at the time.

The court at the Pan Am is called “Lou Henson Court” and Lou is in the college basketball Hall of Fame.  Under his successor, the former NBA star Reggie Theus, and now under Coach Marvin Menzies, NMSU continues to be a winning team, with frequent post-season appearances in the NCAA tournament.

Every now and then someone freshens the “Pan Am” paint on the makeshift goal on Fairacres Road.  I like to think that kids still go there to shoot hoops and dream of playing in the real Pan Am.  Perhaps some day one of them will lead a local high school team to a state championship and receive a scholarship to play as an Aggie.

ESPN talking heads will call him “the Latino Larry Bird” or “the Hispanic Stephen Curry” and he’ll get hot in the NCAA’s and take the Aggies to the Final Four, or maybe to the championship game, or even, perhaps, invoking the miracles of Villanova in 1987 or Texas Western (now UTEP) in 1966, New Mexico State will beat Duke or Kentucky for the national championship. It’s all about dreams.

And someone keeping a dream alive  with a ramshackle goal nailed to a utility pole on Fairacres Road.

Friday, December 11, 2015

It's Time to Say, "Enough!"

Have we not had enough of this bloated ego, inflated with rancid wind and putrid fart-gas — this empty-headed, racist, rich white boy — this blond-plumed turd regurgitating hate and filth — this bloviating fool who makes the United States a laughingstock among the intelligent citizens of other nations?

Now the mainstream media are covering themselves covering Donald Trump and some wonder if it’s, gee whiz, not “balanced” for others to call him what he clearly is— a lying, fascist maniac, a modern-day Hitler aborning. It’s time for Matt Taibbi, author of the face-sucking giant squid, to coin an equally adept metaphor for this cyst on the anus of American society. “Unhinged,” as Jeb Bush put it, is too drab.

Perhaps there should be a contest for the best derogatory term for Trump, with the winner given the right to pitch a severed pig’s head onto the steps of one of his mansions.

Hillary Clinton said she no longer “thinks he is funny.”  Did anyone with a brain ever think this jerk was funny? Only in Amerika!

Even the right-wing nut-cases who share his pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination agree that he has gone too far out the window with his call to prevent muslims from entering the United States.  At last! The bile Trump has spewed from the moment he entered the campaign — “rapists” spilling across our southern border! — disqualified him from the very outset to be a serious candidate for the presidency.  That anyone qualified to vote considers him so indicts the entire electorate as a ship of fools.

There have always been idiots, bigots, psychopaths and lunatics in our population and there always will be.  As lone individuals loose among us they are dangerous enough, but when others begin to take them seriously, to applaud their ranting and raving and their hatred, to consider them leaders, entire societies are at grave risk.

It is time to ring down the curtain on this man Trump.  The leadership of the Republican party, the media, those who once thought he was “funny,” or “entertaining,” or “quirky” or whatever — it is time for these people to end the theater of the absurd.  It is time for them to send Donald Trump off into some dark corner of the loony bin, unheard, unquoted, uncelebrated and unwanted.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Good Country for Old Horses

An old white horse ambled across a fallow field today at the foot of Mt. Robledo with the late autumn sun approaching its optimal angle of ambience. It was an image that cried out to be captured and would have been, when I kept a camera in the pick-up truck, always loaded with a fresh roll (back then) of KodaChrome 25.

Even after I dragged myself into the digital age I kept an SLR in the truck, just in case.  Can’t remember exactly when I quit doing that.  In any event, the images I capture these days are for my mind’s eye, not albums or data bases. Brandi and I take leisurely drives to favorite old places and loll there, just thinking about good old times, letting the mental images scroll by at their own pace, in their own time.

We were heading toward the back entrance to Broad Canyon when we spotted Old White.  He did not move fast but he moved with purpose; he knew where he was going, and why. In the adjoining field, in a grove of trees, the last operations of the pecan harvest were going on.  It’s all mechanized now, and very efficient, but maybe some of the elders in the harvest crew remembered when Old White hauled a harvest wagon down the rows of trees, collecting the nuts as they fell.  Perhaps they remembered to leave an apple or other treat near the fence line when they passed by, and White was going to collect his reward as of old.

Brandi watched White with casual interest; he was the only moving thing in our serene desert landscape at that moment.  I followed the old horse with a keener eye; here was a fellow geezer, still alert and alive and taking his pleasure from the land where he had lived and worked his lifetime.  Go for it, Old White, whatever,  and wherever,  “it” might be.  Go for it.

We weren’t far from the last vestiges of an old wagon road down which my son, David, and I had ridden mountain bikes toward  the old Butterfield Trail, looking for the ruins of one of the forts on its route.  We knew it was out there somewhere, but we both lost tires to the cacti and had to turn back.  A sheriff’s car was waiting beside the truck when we walked the bikes back to the main road.  “You guys OK?” the deputy asked as we approached.  “OK,” we said, “except for punctured tires.”  We added by way of explanation, “we were looking for the old fort on the Butterfield Trail.”  “Did you find it?” he asked.  “Nope.”  “Better luck next time,” he said, and drove off.

There was a next time and we did have better luck.  Poked around the ruins for half a day or so, taking pictures and wondering how it must have been, riding that stage through Indian country, less than a day’s journey from the site of the Cook Mountain massacre.

I’ve reached that age of awareness that each visit to a favorite place might be my last.  I tend to linger longer, savoring what’s there.  Today I had an urge to hike down that old wagon rut, find the remains of that old fort, relive the joy of discovery that David and I experienced — how long ago?  Can’t remember exactly.

But the metal replacement hip was hurting, and the failing hip on the other side as well.  The sun settles quickly behind the western mountains these shortening days.  Suddenly it’s no country for old men.

Brandi and I drove slowly past the field where we’d seen Old White.  He wasn’t there.  I know that somewhere between the road and Broad Canyon there’s a cattle tank and an old corral and some other amenities for ranch horses.  There’s still plenty of browse between here and there.

What more could an old horse want?

We Failed Franklin's Challenge

Alas, Dr. Franklin, we did not keep the republic you bequeathed to us. It has been swept away in  bitter tides of war, ignorance, corruption, apathy, greed, hatred and self-deceit. It cannot be restored.

Each of these tides, in its own manner, lethally eroded the ideal of the republic.  In creating the most monstrous war machine in history, we have remolded our nation into an oligarchy of warlords. Militarism and all its appurtenances have become so rich and powerful a force in the United States that it can never be turned back. Only this week, the military industrial complex itself gave us the material for a metaphor. From Bath, Maine, the largest destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy began to navigate the winding Kennebec River toward the open ocean for sea trials — the 600-foot, 15,000-ton USS Zumwalt. Imagine, if you can, 100 brave swimmers, pushing against her prow, trying to shove her back to port.  Now imagine a tenfold increase in the size and power of the ship, and a reduction of the number of swimmers to ten. The swimmers’ chances of stopping and reversing the course of that monstrous ship are roughly the equivalent of the hopes for success of a peace movement in the former republic of the United States.

In willful ignorance we heard but did not heed the warning, 54 years ago, of an outgoing president against this monster aborning.

Concurrently, our civic apathy enabled ever growing corruption in government at every level.  The republic formed by Dr. Franklin and his peers in that Philadelphia hall envisioned a process by which laws would be fashioned by direct representatives of the people, elected by the people and responsible to the people.  Today, laws are made in secret by a non-government entity created and funded by multi-billionaires such as the Kochs, then handed to bought-and-paid-for office holders for a rite of passage that mocks democracy.  This process takes place at every level of government, enslaving The People in a system designed to perpetually enrich the oligarchs and their institutions while depriving the citizenry of even the most basic and necessary government protections.  Eventually, the common people will be seen only as fodder for the war machine.

Until the final takeover of everything by the oligarchy, a pretense of democratic form functions in the former republic.  We hold elections.  A few of us — too few — actually vote, driven by the self-deceit that our votes “count.”  Cut off by corporate media from the truth about our government and its policies, the electorate responds, as the oligarchs intend, to appeals to the basest facets of their nature.  Hate and its obverse image, fear, increasingly motivate the masses.  We fear “them” because their skin is not white, or they practice religions other than our sick version of Christianity, or they wear non-western clothing, or they speak funny languages. And so we vote for some bloviating demagogue named Walker or Rubio or Cruz or — heaven forefend! — Trump.

Thus, day by day, in ways large and small, does our ignorance feed our self-deceit, and our self-deceit serve the interests of our corporate masters, exponentially engorging their obscene fortunes, and debasing the lives of the commoners.

In his historic warning 54 years ago, Dwight Eisenhower urged us to always be cognizant of “the need to maintain balance in and among national programs -- balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage -- balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future.” 

When we lost that balance we began to lose Dr. Franklin’s republic.

And this is the final irony: if somehow we shed the yoke of ignorance and sought through massive rebellion to change the things that are, our rebellion must fail, suppressed by the massive, militarized police state we have allowed to grow up around us.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Let the Joyful Voices Ring

’Tis the season to broadcast Christmas music.

“O, Holy night . . .”

(Under cover of darkness, Republicans in the United States Senate voted to deprive all but the wealthiest Americans of health care, to ensure unlimited  access to war weapons  for everyone, and to deprive women of the right to control their own bodies.)

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight . . .”

(The United States has dropped so many bombs on Iraq and Syria that it’s running out of bombs.  “We’re in the business of killing,” an Air Force spokesman said, “and business is good.”)

“Joy to the world . . .”

(On average, there is a mass shooting every day in the United States that injures four or more people.)

“Sleep in heavenly peace . . .”

(Donald Trump says the way to deal with people he disagrees with is to kill their families.  He is the leading candidate for the Republican party’s presidential nomination.)

“Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.”

(United States wars around the world have killed more than 500,000 children since the invasion of Iraq began.  The U. S. -led wars have created a global refugee crisis yet none of the orphaned children in the refugee horde is welcome in the United States, especially Texas.)

“Peace on Earth and mercy mild . . .”

(Lawmakers in the United Kingdom and Germany have voted for their countries to join the fighting in Syria’s bloody civil war.  The United States president boasts that he has bombed nine countries since taking office.  Russia is fortifying a second military base to facilitate its warfare in Syria. We even bomb hospitals.)

“I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum”

(The richest 20 families in the United States control more wealth than half the total population. In the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” 46.7 million people live in poverty. More than 15.5 million  children under the age of 18 live in poverty. Nearly five million seniors 65 and older live in poverty.)

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . .”

(Especially if you own a factory that makes weapons.  Or fossil fuel. Or yachts for the one per cent.  Or if you  sell your votes in congress to the highest bidder.)

" . . .With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you "Be of good cheer"