Monday, April 30, 2007

April Really Is A Most Cruel Month

In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.-- "Inspectors Find Rebuilding Projects Crumbling in Iraq", James Glanz, New York Times, 4.29.07

It is also troubling that someone, anyone would possibly form the impression that the Iraq Fiasco will somehow be worthwhile if only the number of Iraqis killing each other slows down. Yet, after all this time, killing and money, a definite attempt by some to lower expectations to this ridiculous point is observable.

Five U.S. troops were killed in separate attacks in the capital this weekend, including three in a single roadside bombing, the military said Monday, pushing the death toll past 100 in the deadliest month so far this year.--Kim Gamel, Associated Press, 4.30.07
At this point, what would a United States "victory" in Iraq look like? How much blood and human suffering could one stand amongst and still say, "we achieved our goals here"? Who are some of us kidding?

To steal from Allen Ginsberg (but still keep this a "family" blog):

America when will we end the human war?
Go *&^% yourself with your surge...

Friday, April 27, 2007

My Baby Takes The Morning Train...

The fun thing about having a nearby Rail Runner stop is counting the cars in the parking lot. It's been a week now and the "Bernalillo County/International Sunport" stop has averaged right at five cars every morning and afternoon at the times I have driven by belching out CO2. Pretty much exactly five cars, every time. Five cars surrounded by acres of unfilled parking lot spaces and a huge shiny bright Cyclone fence.

But these five cars (and drivers) are the Vanguard. One almost wants to put little Apollo 11 astronaut uniform badges on the vehicles, signifying that these folks have made one small stop for man, one giant leap for South Valley traffic.

At least that's the idea, and we SVers aren't even that mad the stop is called the "Bernalillo County/International Sunport" instead of "South Valley". Called "Sunport" even if its miles away from the damn thing and few, if any, people will be using the stop to make their flights any time in the next decade or so.

The stop is sparkly new. The signage is real pretty in that artistic way that pleases the eye even if the eye can't really read anything on the super-skinny signs due to the high level of artiness and a writing font that is largely illegible.

The stop has some really lovely glass wall sculptures of the type called "bas relief" I think, but I admit I don't know much about such things. Maybe they are etchings or embossed things or something that starts with the letter "E". Anyway, they are pretty, reflecting the early morning light beautifully as I drive by them along Second Street emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

My friends tell me that I have a fixation with public transportation, trains and subways especially. My wife uses a coarser term to describe my attraction to these things, and if I had been born in England I most surely would have become a "trainspotter" (no, not a heroin addict in Edinburgh, but a geek who sits for hours waiting for trains to go by and knows all the engine model numbers, etc.). My recent trip to Munich and Prague contained many, many gratuitous trips using the subway, some in which I simply got on the subway, rode to the last stop, then immediately got on the return subway and went right back to where I started.

So, I'm excited that next week I will be able to actually stop driving by the Rail Runner, and become a nouveau ABQ public transport statistic. My wife will "drop me off at the train", perhaps using some of the coarse language she uses to describe my fascination with trains/subways. I will stand along the pretty glass sculptural wall and wait for the train to arrive. Me and the escaped inhabitants of those five cars in the large parking lot. We will stand proudly, feeling morally superior to the cars and drivers hurtling down Second Street spewing CO2. The train will arrive and I will be carried the approximate four miles to the Alvarado. During those four miles viewing scenic junkyards, graffiti-strewn corrugated aluminum chicken coops and the occasional open pasture I will revel in the special feeling that is taking the train to work. At least it's a special feeling to me. Maybe I should replace the word "special" with the word "twisted".

Then it will be over, I'll look for that 11 Lomas bus and another half-hour or so later I'll be at work. Now that I think about it again, I don't know if I'll be taking the Rail Runner to work more than this once. Twice maybe. Two very special times, or twisted...depending on how you look at it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Hero Speaks Heroically of Not Being a Hero

"The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate lies," Jessica Lynch, former U.S. Army private, speaking before a Congressional committee 4/24/07.

Notably, Ms. Lynch's comments before Congress today were largely hidden deep within the supposed bigger story of the "friendly fire" death of Pat Tillman. A former NFL football player. I very much admire Ms. Lynch's bravery in not sticking to the wag-the-dog company line. I just wish her heroism in speaking out received equal coverage to that of the sports hero. I agree with Lynch that the "American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes". Football players are simply considered more important than regular folks. In other words, adult life really is just a continuation of high school.

Or perhaps Lynch's story makes us more uncomfortable because: 1. she's not dead, and hero stories are best told when the idol isn't among us anymore; 2. so many of us fell for, and really wish for, the invented story of Pvt. Jessica Lynch to be true. Or maybe the media just thinks we want it that way.

I don't want it that way. Jessica Lynch should get just as much press and adulation today as she did in the days after her capture. Americans should know the facts behind the fabrication of her original "story" to the same frenzied degree experienced in the telling of that B.S. story in the first place.

I often don't get what I want.

My Real Job: A Highlight Report

I think blogger protocol dictates that one avoid talking about their "real job" as much as possible. We're supposed to act as if we: A. Receive thousands of dollars per annum to write silly things in blogs, hence needing no "real job"; B. Hover electronically over the city observing all and dispassionately reporting on some as if we are somehow above having to work, take the trash out, or wait through four traffic lights on Rio Bravo like everyone else.

Plus, most of the time jobs/writing about jobs are super boring.

But yeah, I have a job. A job I refer too far too much to meet strict blogger protocol, and here I am talking about it, again. One week per year our classes head down to UNM School of Law (SOL, which I think is an unfortunate, if pertinent, acronym) and participate in a series of mock trials. It's a program of which I can claim absolutely no authorship, as it was in place when I took the job three years ago. In fact, it's been in place for over two decades. Two decades of middle schoolers walking down to the Law School and arguing like nobody's business.

It's pretty cool, I must say.

Very cool, and a bit time-consuming from the preparation standpoint. So, I haven't had time this morning to survey newspapers for stupid things going on around NM and the world. Similarly, I was too post-mock trial numb to consider a deep examination of stupid things last night. With seven trials going over four days, you gotta pace yourself. At least I do.

I bring up these mock trials for the following reasons: 1. It replaces the blog entry I would usually write about stupid things going on, if I wasn't too lazy to find out what those stupid things are; 2. It's a field trip, these mock trials, and in a time of Aquarium Scratches '07 and such, I just want you to know that all school field trips aren't disasters (knock on very large tree); 3. In a profession filled with soul-crushing meetings, idiotic rules and ceaseless standardized testing, I merely want to proclaim that it's not all meetings, rules and testing. There are things going on in our schools that reflect what most of us think education should be.

In my opinion, mock trials are one of those things. And I'm lucky proud to have survived the mind-numbing meetings, etc. enough this year to be walking back and forth to UNM SOL to watch kids arguing while wearing suits and power skirts. If you're feeling down about education, maybe you'd like to join us. It kinda can't help but make you feel a bit better about the oft-described beleaguered state of K-12 public education round these parts.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Rules of Disentanglement

"The call is significant because Gonzales, a fellow Hispanic, has enjoyed Richardson's support to this point. But Richardson said the questions that have been raised about the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys, and the role that Gonzales played in those firings, have effectively ended his ability to run the agency." - AP Story, 4/20/07

Those of you who wander over to the ABQTrib from time to time might have come across a little column I wrote about the need for real "race relations" and dialogue in this country, especially New Mexico. It focused on Don Imus & Manny Aragon, but today's news of Bill Richardson FINALLY deciding that Alberto Gonzalez needs to go is another illustration of the importance of race/ethnicity, and at the same time the underreporting of that importance. Namely:

1. If anything, besides cockfighting, is a no-brainer it's a Democrat calling for Alberto Gonzalez to step down. Hell, half the Republicans are doing it now, and most Democrats have argued against the guy since, roughly, two hours after he took the Attorney General position in February '05.
2. In a News Googling/look around the Net search, I see that 20 hours after this AP story comes out there are very few sites posting the news. Yes, maybe it's just the weekend, and any news outside of the Virginia Tech shooting is pretty much off-limits, but our leading "second-tier" Democratic candidate for '08 should be getting more publicity with this story.
3. Earlier this week, the ABQJournal had one of those little blog blurbs (you know, the mini-posts at the top of the ABQJournal web site...the ones that are pretty much the best thing about going to ABQJournal?) from its top political reporter mentioning that Richardson was reluctant to demand Gonzalez' firing/resignation because of the Hispanic link. I never did see a full-blown story about that in the "real" print Journal.
4. This is the same ABQJournal that has covered just about every pore, skin cell and hair follicle of Bill Richardson for some time now. By the way, I don't see a mention either in the ABQTrib this morning, but there's that weekend/Trib thing at play there, perhaps.

So you're thinking..."okay, Scot, what's the big deal here? So Richardson has been more forgiving about what a, for lack of a better word, utter complete tool Alberto Gonzalez has and continues to be?" Well, maybe it's just me, but if Bill Richardson is going to be President, he's not going to be able to make hiring and firing decisions based on whether someone is of a particular race/ethnicity. Or at least he shouldn't.

At the same time, it's very hard to ignore a Campaign '08 press corps known for violently swooping in like birds in some Alfred Hitchcock movie generally avoid race/ethnicity politics in this country. Think back to the "unauthorized" Obama YouTube "1984" video of Hillary, or the recent "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" for examples. Compare those with this Richardson/Gonzalez thing.

No, I'm not saying there should be a similar amount of coverage to that of the feeding frenzy of "Hillary 1984". I'm just saying there should be SOME coverage and analysis of what Richardson/Gonzalez all means.

Lest it be thought that I'm some secret Republican or KKK member or something, let it be known that while I have problems with Bill Richardson, I would vote for him over any Republican candidate dead or alive or lame duck in a heartbeat. I also admit that I think one reason a Richardson Presidency would be cool is because he would be our first Hispanic President. I'm only asking that our public organs of discourse (media, etc.) openly talk/discuss things like voters liking Richardson because it would be cool to have our first Hispanic President.

Or Richardson's relatively extreme reluctance to call for Alberto Gonzalez's firing/resignation.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

John Adams, 2nd President, Not Just Famous For Scratching Aquariums!

News comes late today that Mayor Marty has given JOHN ADAMS MIDDLE SCHOOL an executive pardon, releasing the school from the two-year ban imposed after, well, you know what. Let's face it, Aquarium Glass Scratch '07 has been the biggest local news story in town for a solid week.

In a way, it's almost quaint that the defacing of some sea-life tanks has gripped ABQ to this extent. At latest count, a Duke City Fix thread on the subject has reached 83 comments. Then there's been the theatrical progression of:

  • Act I: Vandalism announced
  • Act II: General outrage of public stated
  • Act II: Two-year ban for JOHN ADAMS MIDDLE SCHOOL put in place
  • Act IV: Students involved named and parents of accused ignominiously displayed in local media
  • Act V: Hamlet kills Laertes, dies...oh wait....Mayor Marty magnanimously pardons John Adams Middle School in same cheesy way Iran's Ahmadinejad did in releasing British sailors
The highlight for me so far has been seeing an old teaching buddy thrust onto local news during Act II merely for bringing a school fieldtrip to the Aquarium the day after Act I. Said buddy was videotaped saying something like "Vandalism bad....something must be done". Riveting words, followed by Dick Knipfing or equivalent talking head shaking head back and forth while saying "Vandalism bad...something must be done".

As a MIDDLE SCHOOL teacher, I've generally tried to stay out of the whole thing. Debates on Duke City Fix and elsewhere about "these kids today", parental responsibility, chaperone supervision, etc. are too close to being at work for my taste. Besides, there seem to be plenty of representatives on every possible side of the argument, from "burn the offending kids alive while their parents watch with their eyes forced open ala 'Clockwork Orange'", to "these kids are just expressing themselves as a rebellion against inadequate monitoring by adults and a world that doesn't meet their individual needs".

I was even thinking I'd get past the whole five act drama without feeling compelled to write about it here, until Mayor Marty's executive pardon of JOHN ADAMS MIDDLE SCHOOL. Yes, for those not aware, the school in question is JOHN ADAMS MIDDLE SCHOOL. By the way, the address of the offending school is 5401 Glenrio Road N.W.. Here is a map to the school. The main switchboard number of the school is 831-0400.

That school again is JOHN ADAMS MIDDLE SCHOOL. Of course, there is no need to remember the school name because Mayor Marty has pardoned them. JOHN ADAMS MIDDLE SCHOOL, I mean. No need to forever remember with shame and disgust the name of that school, no sirree. Strike the name out of your collective memory, Burqueans. Forget about What was the name of that school? See, I've forgotten all about it.

Sure to be the most effective act in the entirety of Mayor Marty tenure. If only JOHN ADAMS MIDDLE SCHOOL could also hire a lobbyist/public relations firm like those charter schools. A couple of million on some damage control, spin and feel-good stories, and JOHN ADAMS MIDDLE SCHOOL will be right as rain. Well, that and about 15 years of time passing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Gil Lovato and Media-By-Numbers

Two quick things about school policing and safety before I head off for what seems like the 1,500th pre-school day meeting I've attended this school year.

In my prior post, I rambled on and on about APS and its pay of police officers and "campus security aides". Read below if you dare. Now comes news Gil Lovato is out as APS Police Chief. Of course, in classic APS bumbling public relations style, Superintendent Everitt makes this major announcement about APS police and security on the day of the biggest massacre of students in United States history.

Meanwhile, regarding the biggest massacre of students in United States history, I have to admit that my cynicism about school shootings is extremely high. In particular, I tend to focus on how the media covers school shootings on a "number killed" basis. A kid walks into a middle school and kills two students, and it makes national news as a fifth or sixth story. The killer is more gruesomely successful and ends seven lives and it's an above-the-fold story pretty much nation-wide. Then, as the numbers go up, the media newscycle hysteria intensifies to what we have seen over the last 18 hours. During these, admittedly harrowing, times I like to ponder on the far less-reported two kids killed story. Just two. But don't they count just as much? Why are they simply quickly forgotten, then filed into a list that's trotted out whenever a supposedly 'bigger" and more important mass killing comes along?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Campus Cops and A Keystone Cops Payscale: An APS Story

A couple of weeks ago, I made mention of a funny/sad little story regarding the "cop" who used to work at my place of teaching employ. I put the word cop in quotation marks because APS has two categories of uniformed folks around school: full-blown police officers and "campus security aides". As they're both uniformed (and my lucky job doesn't involve much interaction with them), I've never been able to tell the difference between cops and "aides".

Anyway, I haven't gotten around to that little story yet for a variety of reasons. I'm reminded of that oversight after seeing a story in the online ABQJournal regarding embattled APS Police Chief Gil Lovato that has a mention of my little smidge of the APS empire, Jefferson Middle School.

A couple of things about my school. First, in my not-so-humble, extremely biased opinion Jefferson is a great place to learn and work. Not perfect, but oh so much closer than any other place I've learned/worked at. For instance, Jefferson just "swept the field" in the ABQTrib's annual poetry contest. Fortunately enough, positive news like this comes out of Jefferson all the time. Second, on the subject of "cops" in schools, I admit a high degree of ambivalence about their presence. I'm not so sure schools need cops, or that having them creates the sort of academic atmosphere conducive to learning. At the same time, I tend to teach poetry contest winners (by the way, I had absolutely nothing to do with student success in the ABQTrib contest, none) and not fighters, so I don't have many dealings with situations in which cops might be needed. I'm defiantly naive in this regard, and loving it.

In case you're wondering, I'm also uninformed on whether Gil Lovato is a good or bad APS Police Chief, whether Tom Savage is the office monster Lovato attorney Sam Bregman makes him out to be, or if Sam Bregman is paid by the newspaper story instead of the time he actually spends preparing/litigating a case. Again, I don't know, but I'd guess Mr. Bregman may have missed his true calling of sports agent or Lindsay Lohan publicist.

As I've said myriad times before, it's amazing just how much I don't know. As example, I can't answer the question brought up in this part of the ABQJournal story:

Bregman said Jefferson Middle School also lost its APD resource officer, so Savage ordered a school campus aide assigned there.
"Chief Lovato reminded Mr. Savage that Jefferson didn't have the money to pay for that security aide but was ordered to place him there anyway," Bregman said.
That aide recently left his job, so Jefferson no longer has the extra security."

I don't know if Jefferson stole this "school campus aide". I don't know if Savage is in the wrong here, or anything regarding that question. My attention is instead drawn to the journalistic aside "That aide recently left his job....." I heard at school (and this is where we get into blog rumor mode) that Jefferson's aide left the job because the pay was better as an "Educational Assistant".

For those non-educators readers who have not yet passed out from sheer boredom, "Educational Assistants" (EAs) are fine, wonderful people who are so committed to children that they will help a "real teacher" in a Special Education classroom for almost no money, whatsoever. The pay for "Educational Assistants" is laughable in that funny/sad way I mentioned above. So when I heard that Jefferson's "Campus Security Aide" left to become an Educational Assistant, I frankly didn't believe it. Given the poor pay for "EAs", what pitiful current job not involving the sale of Big Macs would have someone switching INTO an EA job?

So I looked it up.(go to APS Careers, then Salary Schedules)

A trip to the APS website later, I can report that, in hourly pay, Campus Security Aides (CSAs) make less than Educational Assistants. For example, an EA with a high school diploma to seven hours of college credit makes $10.14 an hour. A similarly educated CSA makes $8.82 an hour. $8.82 an hour. Yes, that figure goes up with more college coursework. A CSA with more than 90 hours of college credit makes $11.80 an hour. $11.80.

Now because CSAs work longer annual contracts (192 days at 8 hours a day, EAs have a 182 day contract at 6.5 hours a day) they end up with more annual pay than EAs. Pay that ranges, depending on college coursework, from $13,548 to $18,125 per year.

Thirteen to eighteen K for an uniformed presence at school, performing police duties like investigation, searches, community policing, etc. Again, laughable in that funny/sad way. To state the obvious, no surprise the District is having such a hard time finding folks to fill CSA jobs. They're competing compensatorily with Wendy's and Burger King for applicants.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Generalissimo In His Labyrinth

Photographer Roberto C. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal

As part of the universal photographer agreement to only shoot pictures of ex-Generalissimo Manny Aragon from a low-angle, the Journal complies with a really cool, creepy shot of the man standing amid a bunch of buildings that almost certainly helped pay for his tailored suit. Note to self: make movie about Manny...use this shot repeatedly....who plays Manny???

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Breaking: Warm Air Rises!

You'd think this crusty bastard Don Imus was President or something involved in precipitating a Constitutional crisis and facing possible impeachment. But no, he's just a lousy shock jock, who anything but shockingly, might get fired because he has upset people with the same swarmy racism he and his unfunny staff have been spewing for years.

The only funny thing created by Imus and company is eons is the "sudden" realization by Imus advertisers that he is an offensive, arrogant loser. Not nearly as funny is the Anna Nicole Smith-level media coverage of this patently obvious fact. Hell, even the New York Times is playing along. Or maybe I'm giving the NYT way too much credit, and the Old Gray Lady has been digging nickels out of the journalistic gutter for a long time now.

The Imus non-story just points out: 1. how desperate media organizations are for diversions from Iraq coverage now that we have been enlightened on who the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby is; 2. what suckers the media is for solipsism and creating fake news as ersatz proof of having done something meaningful.

Yes Imus is an ass. And professional wrestling is still fixed. And Anna Nicole Smith and General Francisco Franco are still dead. In these troubled times it's so nice to have media outlets tell us over and over again what we already know. God forbid there be any actual news lurking about.

--- P.S.: Goodbye Blue Monday, Mr. Vonnegut...thanks for everything.

P.P.S.: 6:19 A.M. Thursday, the 12th: The following are the "latest AP wire" stories posted at

35 suspected Taliban killed in Afghanistan

Orangutans play video games at Ga. zoo

Scarnato is booted from 'American Idol'

Explosion rocks Iraqi parliament; 2 dead

Candidates to post videos on YouTube

A spoonful of "American Idol" sugar helps the medicine go down. Not to mention Orangutans...Mr. Kurt, you weren't an absurdist, just a realist.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Elegy For the NM Voter ID Card

It was such a glorious dream, a dynamic vision encapsulated onto a simple white plastic card. The New Mexico Voter ID card. A credit card to protect democracy! Right down to the magnetic stripe! Heck, even the size and feel said to the purported NM voter, I am somebody! I am worthy to vote in an election! My correct address may even appear correctly on this very impressive looking card!

Alas, it is now reported that the card is as defunct of its powers as the mysterious "magnetic stripe of future freedom" etched along its back. Au revoir, NM Voter ID card! Parting from my wallet is such sour sorrow. What could have been, if only..., but alas (and that's two alases now, if alases is the correct plural form of alas) I simply hold back a participatory democracy tear as I toss you, reluctantly, into a special place for poorly conceived and executed $1 million ideas. I think I'll put you right next to the Bill Richardson Energy Rebate check, and my Gerald Ford "Whip Inflation Now (WIN)" button.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hazy, Water-Colored News Reflections

An odd observation or two before I hunker down into work mode for the remaining 35 days of the school year:

  • Just in case everyone forgot, the Iraq situation is mind-bendingly stupid all around. At this point our collective psyche is pretty much choosing to simply pretend Iraq doesn't exist, and it's stories like this that illustrate the need for our psychological denial and how stupid the whole situation is. I wonder how things would have played out in 1776 if George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson et. al. would have been offered such direct military/political "help" in overthrowing the British. No, I don't wonder that at all. They would have all joined militias fighting both the British and the ostensible "helpers". And the "helpers" would have been forced to rely on second-tier political hacks and money-angling shysters to domestically start the country. Benedict Arnold would be our first President, no doubt about it.
  • The public construction skimming story just gets better and better. I particularly like that Marc Schiff's attorney points out that, "Schiff and the company never benefited in any way. They never made a nickel. If you look at the indictments, this guy was forced to pay— never to receive." Uh, methinks: 1. you probably still made a profit even after making all those kickback payments...otherwise, Mr. Schiff, you're even dumber than you already appear; 2. uh, you could have told..uh, somebody about the shakedown process...maybe before you start paying, or whilst the payments were being made, or, I don't know, at any time prior to investigators banging down your architecturally well-designed door...
  • Yesterday's snow flurries in April proves that "global warming" is a fiction. And remember, I have a Master's Degree in "Science", Political Science, so you should listen to me in these matters. Seriously, I saw some coal company hack as I flipped between channels yesterday dismissing "global warming" and bemoaning the deleterious effects of the 1990 "Clean Air Act". Jesus, what a loser, but you almost had to feel sorry for a guy whose job it is to defend coal-fired power plants, etc. Almost. By the way, I really miss "Dr. Science".
  • Proving once again that I am an agent of evil in the world, my employer, APS, is suing some parents that started up an after-school mariachi program. I often consider the possibility that the district's public relations department is headed by someone who says there name is Tom Savage, but is actually Tom Arnold or Arnold the Pig from "Green Acres" or General Augustus Pinochet, noted Chilean dictator/mass murderer. Well, technically APS doesn't seem to have a "Public Relations Department" from looking at the District's organizational chart. Why am I not surprised by this finding?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Where Have You Gone, Generalissimo Manny?

In "Chinatown", John Huston's character tells Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) "'course I'm respectable. I'm old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough".

It's a great line, and one that might end up being on Manny Aragon's tombstone someday. Right now, though, the new Courthouse may be ugly, but Manny hasn't quite lasted long enough to be considered respectable. He might have to live quite some time before anyone really thinks that.

I'm a relative newbie to both Burque and its South Valley (Burque 1993, SV 2000), but even I remember a few things about Manny is his real heyday. My favorite was the billboard some years back placed just before the bridge over the railroad tracks at Broadway and Lead, featuring an ultra-large picture of an ultra-large Manny, looking every bit the resplendid Generalissimo peering down over his Barelas fiefdom like the pair of bespectacled eyes in "The Great Gatsby". The use of the phrase "larger than life" would be an understatement.

Being the case, it's actually pretty easy to envision a day not too long from now where we all think fondly back to the days of Manny in the same way we chuckle about Richard Daley, Huey P. Long and Lyndon Johnson. Man they were cantankerous and corrupt, but at least they were cantankerous. At least they didn't rely on insta-polling, nerdy advisors and indirect attack ads to get they wanted. They were just corrupt and attacked directly anyone who stood in their way. Simpler, really.

And Manny will be part of that "simpler time" theory, but for now he's just some six-bit shakedown artist (allegedly). Or maybe just two-bit. I notice that the very thorough list of payments noted in the fine, fine Journal article by Mike Gallagher shows that Manny was only getting checks of around $40,000 every month, while others were regularly giving themselves six figures. I'm betting he's a bit pissed off about that right now.

Two final thoughts for now: 1. How much worse off is the South Valley because of Manny Aragon? Very hard to tell, and I'd love to get some feedback on that one. Of course there are evidently some down here who would say Manny has been a godsend. Hopefully some 20-something Political Science Master's candidate can tackle that question in a thesis or dissertation some time soon. I wouldn't mind reading it; 2. Is the "Black Robe" investigation looking at any construction projects beside the Courthouse and Metro jail? What would a deeper investigation of public works going back decades show? And is this possibly long-term web of corruption in any way responsible for all the ugly public buildings in this town? I can see a future touring company that shows ABQ visitors all the downtown buildings, while a microphoned tour guide pleasantly relates the payoffs, kickbacks and such that went into building it. God knows it would be a more popular tour than one devoted to the architecture of said buildings.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Land Of The Safe, Home Of The Numb

There is no greater incentive to immediate emigration from the U.S. than coming into Dulles Airport and facing Customs, Immigration, USDA and the TSA. I know it's been said before and is largely taken as an unfortunate given, but something just has to be done about this American overreaction to 9/11/01. Other countries check bags. Other countries make you take your laptop out of it's carrier. But other countries don't constantly create new and different rules about all this "terrorism" stuff, rules that lead to situations like that in the bowels of the Capital's busier airport yesterday.

Coming off what was a rather pleasant 8+ hour flight (except that my wife got the bouncy-bouncy motion sickness something awful), our plucky little band of Munich flight victims were shunted down an increasingly narrow hallway filled with hastily made signs indicating directions to this and that. This was soon followed by even more narrow (getting a bit cramped now) hallways featuring seated airport security personnel yelling for us to "go right for connecting flights", "GO RIGHT".

Then, as the hallway reached its narrowest, an escalator appeared and we all turned into a human sausage trying to get into its moving black casing. The only problem was that at the bottom of the escalator hundreds of people were crammed into an ill-defined mass waiting for something. The people sausage moved downward steadily into what shortly became reminiscent of a Latin American soccer match stampede, with exiting escalator victims bouncing into the stuck throng of those waiting at the bottom. The bouncing became a bit of a crush. People were still laughing about it all, but in each of our travel-addled minds the thought of headlines like "57 Dead in Airport Stampede Melee" had to be pushed out to retain sanity.

But there were really was no sanity. Through the same sort of semi-voluntary movement process you see with amoebas under a microscope, the encased sausage throng gravitated toward one of those cordon systems designed to organize crowds, but the crowd was too big for the "system" and see all uncomfortably squished in again, luggage rolling over toes, muttered expletives audible in a variety of languages, in the direction of the first of what turns out to be four different "Stations of the Airport Cross": Customs, USDA, "Baggage Re-Check", and TSA Security.

At this point in the retelling I just about stop, again, knowing that we've all been there and what I'm saying is neither new nor appreciably worse. This crap has been going on for years now, changing and devolving with every whim of governmental policy as to what might flying "safer". Airports have had to remodel every few months to keep up, remodel jobs every bit as bad as the disaster I created in parqueting my bedroom floor a while back.

Of course those forced to suffer with my inability to accurately line up parquet tiles is small, whereas the number of us forced to suffer the gauntlet of U.S. "Homeland Security" is vast. Vast and getting vaster all the time, it would appear.

And it would be easy to slam the airport security personnel, but who would want to do such a job? Inefficiently parading human cows in a security slaughterhouse can't be fun. Still, to see the capriciousness of various functionaries in dealing with travelers, especially foreign travelers, is disheartening.

An old Eastern European woman doesn't understand she has to take off both shoes, and is laughed at unmercifully while her younger co-traveler has to wait to go through the walking metal detector over and over again. The TSA clerk keeps putting the hand up to stop the younger person from passing, all the while having a loud, laugh-filled conversation with a co-worker. The hand comes down for a second, but before the passenger can pass the TSA worker laughing to the point of spitting looks back to see the old woman still fumbling with the shoe. The TSA worker put the hand back up quickly. This hand down/hand up thing happens at least five times.

By the time I'm redressing myself, taking materials from the three plastic tubs I have filled with shoes, laptop, jacket, etc., I'm thinking back to the serenity and order of Munich Airport security and considering teaching jobs in Bavaria. Or writing trashy novels in Bavaria. Or becoming one of those paid to stand on street corners passing out pamphlets to get guys to come into "gentleman's clubs" in Prague. Anything to get me out of this country. Anything.

That desperate clawing at the prison bars feeling passes and my still-sick wife and I trudge toward our connecting flight home. We're sick, shaken and beleaguered, but we survived re-entering our "homeland". By the end of my $9.00 Bloody Mary at the swamped airport bar I've almost forgotten about the stampede and mental images of people crushed by others in our attempt to make this country "safer". Maybe that's the mental condition all Americans are under at this point, a state of Bloody Mary numbness, unable to continue thinking clearly about a nation gone amok with its desire to control history and risk.

Or maybe I was just tired on a 24 hour journey home. Still, I would like every member of our federal Legislative, Executive & Judicial branches to go through Dulles Airport in a similar manner every day for a week. I realize that these folks must travel by air all the time, but I can't help but think those in power might have little bureaucratic tools to employ that make their trips a wee bit less onerous than we commoners. So...a solid week of daily Customs/USDA/"re-check"/TSA for those listed above and let's see what policy changes result. It can't hurt...and maybe we could also use those CCTV cameras to record the festivities and fall down laughing as we watch Pete Domenici and brethren yell, scream, curse and harangue every uniformed person in sight.

I'd pay movie for those tapes. Good money.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


One great thing about visiting a country whose language you know nothing, absolutely nothing about is going to the local "football" game, spending the first half listening incomprehensibly to every PA announcement, cheer, jeer and obscenity, then watching during halftime as a 40 foot long banner is unfurled along the hometeam goal that says (of course in English) "All Cops Are Bastards". No explanation, officially sanctioned as it's inside the heavily guarded pitch, just "All Cops Are Bastards". A heavily armed police officer stood beneath the banner for a bit. Then the second-half started and the banner was ripped up, also inexplicably. Sparta Praha beat Mlada Bodeslave 4:1, scoring four goals in the last 20 minutes.

To comply with full disclosure, I must admit my wife is a journalist and asked around about the "All Cops Are Bastards" sign and supposedly found out it was some form of late April Fool's Day joke. Damn journalists. I was much happier interpreting the gesture as simply some form of Dada performance art, especially as it included a 50 foot x 50 foot banner passed along the hometown fanatic section reading "A.C./A.D." Given the lack of crowd reaction to the whole ceremony, I think it worked better as Dada than as an April Fools' Day joke, anyway.

It was a fun game to see in bright, blinding 65 degree sunshine, given a bit of local color as the police surrounded the buses of visiting fans as they entered the park. These same fans were fueled enough to scream, chant and spit obscenities for a solid two hours, until Sparta scored a go-ahead goal to come back from 1:0 and the fuel became a sedative leaving the well-caged visitors numbly silent as Sparta poured it on in the finish.

The hometown hooligans were a small, but well-organized group, chanting between jeers when the team was down, and going insane when their team put things right. Having been directed by a helpful ticket clerk, we sat near these rather skinhead crazy looking folks, but far enough away to join other couples in our section looking at the madness with bemused serenity. It was just like being at the zoo, right down to the significantly thick metal bars separating bemused and besmashed.

Only two days left in Praha (note, I am now too cool to use the English variant of the word, showing that I am now an experienced, savvy Prague traveler, i.e.: a weinie-head), and the hours are flying. Much left to see, especially on the museum front, not to mention castles, much less the approximately 1.3 million basement bar/restaurants we haven't had the chance to fall into yet. Much more tourist works to be done.

P.S.: It is vitally important when going to a Czech soccer game to never think about Nazi Germany, the Nuremberg rallies or anything resembling "Heil Hitler!" gestures. Once you do, it's over...every single thing the hooligan section does is immediately interpreted by the brain into something from Leni Riefenstahl...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Darn Few Reflections From Praha

Given the 63 degree weather in Prague, the Missus and I haven't spent much time at the 'ol Internet Cafe. I can't determine if this is record warmth for April 2nd, but the friskiness of the locals indicates it's at least getting close. The parks are filled with dogs frolicking, while their owners get Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus at the in-park city pub. Too bad ABQ parks don't feature beer gardens...then again, maybe not a good idea.

Too many adventures to list, just enough to say that Prague is pretty much the anti-Burque in many ways, both bad and good. Many tourists in town (how crowded must it be in Summer?), but walking a bit off the main drags leaves one just staring at the buildings along quiet, narrow streets just wide enough for a Skoda.

When you come down to it, Prague is one big museum. A bit dingy, in fact dingy to the point of making one want to get a vacuum cleaner to the whole place, but every step an art gallery. Then there's the whole building from 1100-meets-modern glass skyscraper juxtaposition. That's everywhere, along with the McDonalds beneath the Renaissance-era brownstone thing.

Meanwhile, I believe my watch indicates that the post-Spring Break teaching in ABQ starts in about an hour. Have fun, teaching chaps, I'll be doing a few more days of research here in museum-land.