Sunday, December 31, 2006

Heather Catches Up To Reality

and there's not another election for, like, almost two years...

I'm liking this new Heather Wilson, the one that pretty much disagrees with the President on everything. You saw it via today's free Journal, too, but I think comments like this deserve repetition:

"We need a hard-nosed assessment of what we need, not what we wish," Wilson said. "Sometimes I think our national objectives in Iraq— including by our president— are described in pretty broad terms.
"I want Iraqi people to live in a free and democratic society, but that's not our military mission there ... that's an aspiration, that's not a vital national interest for the United States."

Now, of course, if Heather had only said this in, say, December 2005, 0r 2004, or 2003.
But one wonders what Patsy Madrid would have said that would be any different now, and if she could have said it as eloquently. No, really one doesn't have to wonder about that...

And speaking of old, tired news, my "news moratorium" is now officially over. I'll write later about its effects on my psyche and other holiday-related neurosis, but right now I have a bunch of news/culture obsession to binge back into. Whaddya mean Gerald Ford died?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

What? A Post About the Snowstorm? How Unique!

I just got through shoveling the walk. In Albuquerque.

I'm so happy. And I know why so many drop dead while snow shoveling.

Yes, here in little Albuquerque we've had us a record snowfall. Accounts vary of course, but I'm guessing we have had about 10 inches down here in the South Valley, with some flurries continuing at present just to let us know who's boss.

ABQ readers know this already, and those who haven't had heart attacks from shoveling are playing out in the snow. On the off chance you're not from here, let it be known that I've lived here 13 years and have never seen a snow event like this one.

And as a snow junkie who has complained bitterly, loud and whiningly via this blog and elsewhere about the paucity of snow round these parts, I am digging it (sometimes literally).

I had all the typical snow junkie attributes yesterday: 1. inability to stop looking out the window; 2. lack of sleep because it wasn't stopping; 3. overly faux deep contemplation of what snow means as a symbolic blanket covering all the unlikable conditions on Planet Earth with a pleasant blanket of completely non-man-made materials; 4. near-continuous comments to my wife that "it's still snowing".

A great day all around, and today we get to pretend to do chores like shoveling when it's really just an excuse to play in the stuff. And then we're gonna play in the stuff.

One of the major branches in this tree just broke off. I'm off to deal with it.
Snowstorms aren't all good news I guess.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Papa Don't Got No More Mess To Take

R.I.P. James Brown....

He wasn't any worse than most of us, he was just more famous. And then he was better than just about any of us, so funky good.

And yes, I violated my news moratorium, but I found out the news on a baseball site. Judges are still ruling on whether that's a violation. In my defense, I have no idea if anyone has died in Iraq for several days now...and as a holiday hope I'm wishing not a single person of any nationality, religion or blood type has died in the whole place. Not one.

See you, Star Time, Get Up Off Of That Thing...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Letter From the Betty Ford Clinic of News

There's a line in one of those post-Caddyshack Rodney Dangerfield movies..."Back to School" or something, where Rodney has to quit drinking for some reason. After a short while of sobriety, he asks out loud, "What do you do when you not getting bombed?"

As a 'Net news junkie, I enter day three of my Moratorium with the same sort of question. For instance, what do you do when you're not surfing the local/metro section of the online Seattle Times when you haven't lived in Seattle for 13 years? How am I supposed to stay mentally sharp without constant updates from Wonkette? How can I have a decent conversation with anyone unless I spend 15 minutes at Metafilter and 30 minutes playing some addictive Java game linked from Metafilter?

Like, what am I supposed to do, read a book or something?

Impulse control has never been one of my strong points, and I already find myself lovingly caressing the mouse button when I scroll over saved URLs like NYTimes and Washington Post. But I have yet to click. Whoo-hoo! Good for me! At the same time, I find it so easy to reach for these informational equivalents of a cigarette, and a bit disappointing when I move on by without inhaling that rich, flavor-filled newsiness.

This morning I had a scare, having set the alarm and awaking to "All Things Considered". Fortunately, the report was about a snowstorm and I was able to flick the alarm off before any real news reportage sprung forth. I must switch my alarm radio from KUNM to another station, one without any news. I know, maybe I should switch it to 770 KOB. (insert laugh track here) .

One might wonder why I would pursue a news-free environment. Additionally, one might presume that I am undertaking this experiment in order to have something to whine and complain about. And they would perhaps be right. Still, I can't help but think there is a beneficial point or two to getting away from the sturm und drang of news, avoiding the soap opera of stories like Mt. Hood hikers, Obama, Iraq, etc. ad infinitum and just freeing up a small sliver of my small mind to observe what might be trapped in there, wedged into an even smaller corner by my easy access to news via the 'Net.

Or something like that. Hey, there's some dusty books over there! I remember books! Vaguely...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I Resolve To Know Even Less Than I Do Now

Long time, no real blog. And it's not like I've been saving up a big manifesto to lay on you guys with lots of bullets, charts and such. Just a bit of vacation and the mindlessness that so sweetly accompanies it.

Speaking of mindlessness and vacations, I have an early New Year's Resolution. I know...what can be more interesting to hear about than someone else's Resolutions? But wait, this kinda applies to this whole blog thing. The idea is this: news/politics moratorium. Yeah, I know, not a new idea of any sort, but I'm gonna give it my own shot.

Here are the rules:

  • No visits to any news sites (except for the NYTimes, but only to get to the crosswords page). This rule was helped by letting our ABQ Journal subscription expire.
  • No visits to any politics sites like Daily Kos..not even to Tom Tomorrow to read the comic)
  • No viewing of any TV news. To be honest, this is damn easy as I stopped watching TV News years ago. (btw, I did happen across KOB news a few days back and have you ever noticed that Carla Aragon reads the news like she's talking to someone with a traumatic brain injury? A really bad one? One that involves feeding tubes and little more than blinks of recognition?)
  • And here's the toughest one of all: No watching "The Daily Show" or "Colbert Report". Fortunately the timing of those shows here in the Mountain Time Zone has always made it impossible for me to watch that days' show during work days...but with two weeks of vacation the temptation to watch late at night will be up there with the jones to keep pushing that button on a morphine drip.
Like most of it, I suck at keeping New Year's Resolutions. Like many of us, I've considered a "news/politics moratorium" off and on for years. The chance for any medium/long-term success here is exceedingly small. Still, this does bring up a small bloggin' question: just what the Hell will I write about now? Nobody, including me, wants to read someone Babblin' about NOT keeping up with the news. That would be like a Harlequin romance in which all the characters just sit at a tavern and drink beer all night. Like a Tom Clancy novel with sweeping detente between Us and Them than extends to the point of disbanding the CIA and KGB. Like even more boring than Burque Babble usually is.

On the other hand, I've always liked that Ken Russell stab at mainstream film "Altered States". You know, the one where William Hurt gets into isolation tanks and goes vaguely back in evolutionary time for reasons that never make any sense. Maybe a successful news/politics moratorium could be like that.

Maybe things could happen around me like Pete Domenici dying, Heather Wilson being appointed to fill out the term, a special election being held between Marty Chavez (who would switch parties) and Don Schrader, and Schrader would win when at the last second Marty would be caught with a farm animal in the back seat of his Hummer in the parking lot at Billy's Long Bar. And I would have missed the whole thing.

Nah, these Resolutions are never that great, even when you keep to them for any length of time. But I'm gonna give it a shot. As to what I blog about here, readers can probably look forward to lots of poorly mimicked Thoreau, mundanely contemplated philosophy that illustrates how empty your humble blogmaster's head is. And not empty in some sort of advanced Buddhist/Taoist sort of way. Just plain empty.

So you've got that to look forward to. Now, I've got to put my bathing suit on and get into that isolation tank.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Checkin' In From Pecos Wilderness

It's never good when you go to the Pecos to get some snow and it ends up snowing more at the corner of Carlisle and Comanche than it does up in Cowles. The Babble is pleasantly stuck up here where the snow matches the ponderosa pines and stellar jays a bit better than it does the parking lot of the Unitarian church. Staying in a radiant heated log cabin doesn't hurt, either.

Yet we have to drive home today and our rickety 'Net access here tells us that Burque is a huge bumper car arcade and La Bajada hill is, well, La Bajada hill.

Time for another hike through the snowy, car-free roadway toward Winsor Trail while the rest of the world sorts itself out.

Babble will be back to Babblin' shortly, pending a drive down said La Bajada and a leisurely sojourn amidst the other bumper car operators in ABQ.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

And We Still Fight Wars Over This Stuff?

Columnist Eric Lacitis at the Seattle Times asks some theologians and professors about the history of Christmas trees and gets some interesting answers. Lacitis' article is in response to a Christmas Tree brouhaha at Sea-Tac airport involving a local Rabbi.

I like the "100 days off a year from work" part. I'd almost fight a war to protect having 100 days of vacation a year. Feel free to use the article for those conversation downtimes when you're standing around the tree at boring Christmas parties holding an under-fortified cup of eggnog listening to someone drone on about the housing bubble, or watching the latest news report of religion-based violence somewhere around the world.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Money Good & Other Press-Release Revelations

I'm really glad we have an "Associated Press". I'm in favor the Press and I'm glad they got "associated" and all. I also have both enjoyed and been informed by AP stories over the years. But reading today's AP story about NM's $720 million surplus of "new money" in this morning's Journal is like taking a trip to stupid school. My "favorite" part:

"We're fortunate to have the amount of money we have in order to address the needs of New Mexico," said Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe, chairman of the LFC (Legislative Finance Committee).

Maybe it's because of my going back to high-octane coffee from the gentle, wafting buzz of English Breakfast tea, but quotes like that just bug the absolute bejeezus out of me. It's so press-releasey, so banal, so much a waste of newspaper space. I've been staring at that "quote" for about a half-hour now and it's sure to be stuck in my head the rest of the day like the lyrics to "Candyman" by Sammy Davis, Jr. when you accidentally come across it on the radio. I hate when that happens.

And it's not the only "ripped from today's press releases" quote in the thing. Here's another from Guv Richardson's office:

"The consistent strength of our economy gives me confidence that we can cut taxes, invest in our schools and make health care available to more New Mexicans, while maintaining prudent cash reserves," Richardson said in a news release.

At least that one comes with the admission that it's a press release. I don't want to get all Journalism school on the Journal's ass here, and I know this might be the French Roast talking, but why the Hell can't the Journal do their own story on the $720 million? And if they're going to succumb to AP, can't AP do a little more than just copy/pasting quote lines from press releases?

I say the Journal makes a New Year's Resolution to lose some fluff weight and goes AP-free for a while. Pay some reporters to work weekends (a radical thought that), and produce something more enlightening than:

"We're fortunate to have the amount of money we have in order to address the needs of New Mexico."

Or maybe I should just go back to English Breakfast.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Semantics with Professor Richardson (and Staff)

Words are important, vital to our ability to intellectually evolve as a species. One way to think about it is this: without words blogs like Burque Babble would cease to exist (well, except for those blogs with pictures of cute, cuddly kitty can't kill those even if you try). Wow, words really are important Mr. Pedantic Introductory Paragraph Writer Man! What incredibly profound point are you making this morning by informing us about the imporance of words?

Well kids, I'm here to let you know that some words and phrases are SO important that they have become news stories to replace real news stories, especially when the real news story is depressing and/or so obvious as to not really be a news story.

Take the word, "running", as in "Bill Richardson is running for President". Any sentient being with an IQ over 12 knows Richardson is already "running" for President, but until Richardson says he's "running" he's not "running". Heck, even if Richardson himself says he's "running, it doesn't really count until his campaign staff says he's "running". By the way, you might notice that words can also be funny things sometimes, as in a case where a "campaign staff" might deny a candidate is "running" for something. Oxymoronic, now that's a funny sounding word.

"Running" thus joins "Civil War" (okay we're tired of this one) and "Timetable", as in "The Iraq Study Group proposed that U.S. brigades be moved out of Iraq in 15 months, but stopped short of a timetable" in the lexicon of our political age. It's also interesting that when you combine the words "Cheney" with "lesbian" they cancel each other out in "Mary Cheney and her fellow lesbian partner are having a child together". This juxtaposition also seems to work now with the terms "Orthodox Jews" and "Gay Rabbis".

Funny, powerful things words. Or maybe just funny and a waste of time otherwise.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

And If You Give Me... Weed, Whites and a Cell-Phone

It often irks me that our elected officials have to spend way too much time deliberating restrictions on the stupidity of our citizenry. The latest case in Burque is the City Council debate over whether to ban driving while talking on a cell phone. Why do we need a City Council to tell us how stupid this is? Are we so out of touch with ethical right and wrong at this point that we need the government to tell us that being distracted while driving is stupidly dangerous?

Just as importantly, who could possibly think that their phone conversation is interesting/important enough to happen while driving a car? I've used the phone, used it pretty much all my life from time to time. I've had lots of phone conversations. After thinking about it for a while, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of phone conversations I've had in 40 or so years of phone use that were vitally interesting/important enough to warrant having them while driving a car.

Besides, what do we need phones and cell phones for? We have email. We have Instant Messaging for those too impatient to wait for an email reply. Phones and especially cell phones are for people far too much in love with the sound of their own voice, and the mistaken impression that what they and their friends say is even remotely interesting.

So, because of cell phone addicts and their Darwin Award-eligible antics on the roadways, the City Council has to debate an ordinance which might lead to our overworked law enforcement officials having one more thing to enforce that should be patently unnecessary to enforce.

Speaking of the legal side, the linked Trib story has varied views on how enforceable a cell phone ban would be. Enforcing such an ordinance would certainly be tough. One solution might be to have fellow citizens help identify cell phone using drivers by designating offender's vehicles as that of a violator.

Toward this end, Burque Babble presents, as a public service, slogans for a new series of bumper stickers. These stickers (designed with special non-removable adhesives) could be affixed upon the car of the offender either at a traffic stop or parking lot, or with the use of specially-designed retractable devices that could be implemented from moving car to moving car, ala those jet plane refueling nozzles you see during the credits for "Dr. Strangelove..." And now, Babble's suggested slogans for a bumper sticker enforcement campaign regarding cell phone violators:
  • Occupant Is Having Incredibly Boring Conversation, You Can Bet On It
  • Yes It Is Remarkable That Someone This Ugly Has Anybody To Talk To On the Phone
  • Brain Cancer Isn't Penalty Enough For This Loser
  • "Okay Honey, That's Milk, Bread and ....Oh My God I'm Running Into a Semi!" Click...
  • Darwin Award Winner In-Training
Please feel free to add your own bumper sticker slogan in the comments below...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Marty Chavez: Look Upon My Almost-Works Ye Mighty and Despair

From the man who almost built a downtown arena, bravely attacked the growing menace of "all-ages" music shows, and politically oversaw construction of that most mighty, awe-inspiring "Rio Line Train" running hundreds and hundreds of yards between Zoo and BioPark, Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez has unveiled his most grandiloquent public works project to date: almost getting a few miles of streetcar line built along Central Avenue.

The Little, Really, Really Little Train That Could:
Mass Transit on a Marty Scale at the Burque BioPark

Not since his work in taking undeserved personal credit for building Isotopes Park has Chavez exhibited the vision and political acuity seen in his work regarding the streetcar project. After striking out in attempts to get Legislative pork to fund the project, Chavez took the highly popular step of tacking the cost on as continuation of an existing transportation tax.

Inexplicably, a series of public forums around the city showed less than sparkling regard for the Chavez project and tax ideas. Presented with the sort of hard choices that spell the difference between great mayors and mayors who have a Hell of a time getting anything meaningful accomplished, Chavez bailed on the Streetcar project, consigning it to the bureaucratic purgatory of a "task force" to comprehensively study transportation issues in Burque. Kind of an Iraq Study Group for traffic and mass transit, no doubt empowered just as the Iraq Study Group has been shown to be.

Mayor Marty Chavez (in loud, deep announcer voice): He tamed the mighty two-lane Montano, he tore down the Berlin Wall that was the Blue Spruce, he almost did some other things...kinda.


Chapter Two, or as they say on the message boards... (/snark)

I am in favor of a Streetcar Project, but only if that project is part of a bigger, fantastically more thorough (i.e. expensive) mass transit model for Albuquerque. The Streetcar as smallmindedly envisioned by Chavez was to be a glorified "Rio Line Train", designed as much for tourist impression as transportation functionality. Having had some experience with the Portland, Oregon streetcar/light rail system, a streetcar is not a bad idea IF a city has the wherewithal to follow intra-downtown streetcars with truly significant adjoining rail alongside major roads into that downtown. It will take far more political acuity than has been shown by Mayor Chavez to make that fly (ur....glide) here.

The Streetcar That Wasn't episode does bring up a few other points:

  • Now is the time to talk dramatic expansion of the bus system in Burque. For example...our little 53 route in the South Valley still only runs every 40 minutes. As it turns out, that means I miss by one minute the 11 connector going from Alvarado to my workplace. I know I'm not alone with these frustrations. We need more buses and bus routes on ABQ Ride.
  • We need to expand bus service to later times throughout the system.
  • I did a bit of checking and it looks to me that the ABQ Ride budget for 2006 was something like $33 million (sorry, it's a PDF). I know it's not Streetcar-sexy, but for much less than Streetcar-sexy costs we can get more buses and bus routes on ABQ Ride.
  • Of course, we will need more carbon emission reducing buses like the RapidRide. What's the point of buses if ridership is small due to ride times and the bus carbon emissions are 15 times that of an individual car?

Of course these points are a small calving iceberg on the melting ice shelf that is Burque transportation. I agree that much "task force" style work needs to go into making a long-range transportation plan. The thing is, I see record of such planning already having been done by entities like the Rapid Transit Project. It certainly sounds like Mayor Chavez and Councilor Martin Heinrich are throwing around the "task force" study as little more than a political life preserver to the Streetcar, when they could have politically defended the Project using studies already done on the Streetcar itself (including the little expensive "artist rendering" drawings we mass transit junkies have seen on the ABQ Ride webpage for years now).

Large-scale public works/infrastructure projects are not for the politically squeamish. Looking around the country, one sees hugely expensive ideas bravely (and perhaps in some cases also stupidly) undertaken. I'm thinking of the "Big Dig" in Boston here, or the $3-4 billion rebuild of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle that I've been following as a former Emerald City resident. We could and should debate whether these projects are good ideas, but I bring them up to illustrate how far Burque mentally is from both stomaching such costs/projects and having the political leadership to help the citizenry mentally stomach them. We are so, so far away...instead let's go blow a few hundred thousand bucks on some more "task force studies". I'm really looking forward to the pretty "artist renderings" this time.

P.S.: We're still waiting for our Rail Runner stop here in the South Valley. A spurt of Journal/Trib stories last week indicated a newly estimated April opening for the stop. I know..I know, April of what year?'s supposedly April, 2007. It said so in the paper. I'll just stop right there, the joke possibilities are so immense I'll just leave them to you, Burque Babble reader to rattle off at your leisure.

P.P.S.: Mayor Marty's last blog entry is from June 22, 2006. I think we have to list this as another ALMOST ACCOMPLISHMENT of the Chavez Administration at this point. Of course, operating a blog is the quintessential major public works project. It's hard work...I should know. Tough, tough work. Not for the squeamish, political or otherwise. You don't have to tell me how hard it is. (/snark).