Saturday, December 28, 2013

Situational Politics: No Sauce for the Gander

As I have observed friends and acquaintances of a liberal political bent, I have concluded that most "progressives" have little in the way of true political principles.  They hold to their often-incoherent policies with a fervor that they seem to regard as principle, but then don't want to extend the same "principles" to anyone with different ideas.  (All conservatives are evil and/or stupid, so I guess we're undeserving of that consideration.) 

A prime example of this phenomenon is the Democrats' recently resorting to the "nuclear option" in the Senate regarding the Republican minority's filibustering President Obama's judicial nominees.  It wasn't that long ago that the Dems, also in the minority in the Senate, were holding up many of George W. Bush's judicial nominees by using the same tactic, yet, at the time, they claimed the filibuster was a time-honored tradition and necessary to keep "extremists" off the bench.  Naturally, there will come a time when we once again have a Republican president and Senate majority, and the Dems will undoubtedly be clamoring to reinstate the filibuster for votes on judicial appointments; as usual, their "principle" is only valid in their eyes when it promotes their policies.  

Personally, I think it's wrong in all situations for the Senate not to give an up-or-down vote to the president's judicial nominees.  The right to nominate judges is a natural consequence of winning an election; I believed it during the Bush Administration, and I believe it now during the Obama Administration.  But it's even more wrong to change the rules to suit the ends of one party over the other.  For generations, it was the practice of the Senate simply to consider a nominee's objective qualifications and temperament for the bench and vote accordingly.  Now, however, the federal judiciary has become a major policy-making organ -- principally because it can, and largely because a pusillanimous Congress generally does not address social issues that might impact its members' viability for re-election.  With judges making decisions according to their own political preferences -- often reversing directly democratic measures or state-constitutional amendments using the catch-all justification of "equal protection under the law" -- it's no wonder the confirmation process has become so contentious.  One president's appointments can have a huge impact on policy for an entire generation.

Recently I heard a fellow church member aver that the courts are indispensable in protecting individuals and minorities from the "tyranny of the majority," stating that we Mormons were once an oppressed minority -- and wouldn't we have liked fair treatment in the courts of Missouri in the 1830s?  It's a false analogy, of course: the Mormons had legal rights that were being trampled on in Missouri, and the authorities there refused to enforce or vindicate those rights.  That simply isn't the same thing as asking the courts to create rights that have heretofore been unrecognized under the Constitution, and which, by any reasonable view of the democratic process, lie within the purview of the Congress and state legislatures.  (A better analogy, and one directly pertinent, would be the polygamy cases of the late 1870s, in which the Mormons asked the courts to invalidate, on 1st Amendment grounds, the laws passed by Congress outlawing plural marriage.  The Supreme Court in those cases paid great deference to Congress, as it rightly should have done, carving out an exception to the "free exercise" clause for religious practices that were repugnant to the general population.  It isn't at all clear that either Congress or the Supreme Court would act in a similar fashion today: one, Congress probably wouldn't take action, and, two, in any case the Supreme Court wouldn't defer to Congress in almost any matter involving policy.  The "tyranny of the majority," indeed -- if anything, the reverse is true.)

I fully understand the motivation for acquiescing in, even encouraging, the courts' charting the social path for the country, given the reticence of our entrenched, self-interested Congress in taking up controversial issues and the snail's pace at which change would otherwise take place.  However, the fact that an insular and dictatorial political elite can initiate rapid social change does not guarantee, in any objective sense, that the changes will be for society's good.  I mean, transformative social change happened very quickly in Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, Maoist China, Kim Sung-Il's North Korea, Pol Pot's Cambodia, the Taliban's Afghanistan, Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, and the mullahs' Iran; however, the history of those regimes makes clear that not all social change constitutes social progress.

My point is that there's safety in preserving the democratic process, and in allowing social change to happen at the same rate as changes in public attitudes, as reflected in the actions of elected officials, the people's representatives.  The people who applaud judicial policy-making now will be the first ones clamoring for impeachment of judges who establish policies they disagree with, but what logical argument will they have to limit judges' discretion at that point?

In closing, I mention that my current manager at work, a very kind and perceptive person, is gay and married his partner years ago in Canada, after which they adopted a number of children together.  My opinion of same-sex marriage, conceptually, has pretty much taken a 180-degree turn as the result of having gotten to know him.  The New Mexico Supreme Court recently held that same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited in the state, which is sort of a moot point because the state legislature could easily have passed a bill to achieve the same end, and without fear of an electoral backlash.  The same isn't true in Utah, where a federal district judge recently ruled that a state-constitutional amendment effectively barring same-sex marriage in that state.violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  It would be nice for each state to be able to decide the question for itself, although the issue of non-uniform recognition of marriages performed in other jurisdictions is ultimately insoluble and practically invites federal pre-emption.  (Such pre-emption, when it happens, will undoubtedly come in the form of a Supreme Court holding; far be it from Congress to stick its neck out when the courts will do its dirty work!)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Life goes on....

Kristy and Ryker (and Alexis), 11/29/13
1. Recently, a ballot measure in Albuquerque was voted down that would have established a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.  (Or, at least, it purported to establish such a ban.  I doubt it would have survived the lawsuit that surely would have ensued had it passed; I'm certain 95% of judges in the area would have been inclined to find some "constitutional" defect or another.)  I'm told that the measure over-reached to the extent of barring abortions of babies who are certain to die outside the womb, anyway.  Nonetheless, it speaks pretty loudly of Albuquerque that a majority of voters have no problem with their city's being Late Term Abortion Central.  I've never watched an entire episode of the recently concluded TV series Breaking Bad, but it occurs to me that the morally bleak Albuquerque it depicts isn't far from reality.  

2. I've always had the habit of "picking" at the tips of my thumbs, but in the last year or two I've taken it to extremes, tearing skin off even the pads of my thumbs, making them raw and causing them to bleed.  I don't know what sort of neurosis has driven this change, but the only things that keep me from doing it are (1) putting band-aids and rubberized first-aid tape on my thumbs, or (2) constantly "filing" the skin with an emery board to remove any asperities that I might otherwise pick at.  The first really isn't a solution, as it only prunes the skin and makes it an even more tempting target.  The second is inconvenient, but it works as long as I keep doing it; I may simply have to take an emery board with me everywhere.

3. It is a quirk of my personality that I've decided a dress shirt shouldn't cost more than about $12.00, and I refuse to pay more than that; needless to say, I don't buy designer shirts, and the shirts I buy have to be very deeply discounted before I'll spring for them.  (I laughed when Mitt Romney's wife Ann, in an effort to appear "jus' folks" [and not the mega-rich people she and Mitt were and are] during the 2012 presidential campaign, commented on how she shops at Costco and regards its Kirkland store-brand shirts as a great value at $17.99.  Somehow I doubt Mitt has really ever worn a Kirkland shirt, but I wouldn't even pay $17.99 for one!)

4. So the Obama Administration has, together with several European nations, entered into an agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear-weapons program.  Based on what I've read, it appears the bedrock purpose of the agreement was to relax economic sanctions on Iran -- which cannot help but have the effect of bolstering the fascist radical-Shiite government there -- and to make it infeasible for Israel (heretofore America's ally) to launch a solo strike at Iran's nuclear facilities, all without extracting any significant concessions from the mullahs.  If there's a point to it, it sure isn't to encourage democratic government in the Middle East or, evidently, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

5. I read an article recently that described current sociological trends in Japan.  It's long been evident that Japan is in a population nosedive, as the fertility rate has dropped well below "replacement" level, yet Japanese society doesn't allow immigration on any sort of scale.  However, the article I read cited polls showing that a significant number of Japanese adults not only aren't having children (or getting married), but aren't even interested in dating or in having a relationship with a member of the opposite sex.  Somehow I don't think the Japanese are becoming asexual (or significantly more homosexual), which suggests that something is taking the place of a lot of relationships -- and that "something" almost certainly involves ubiquitous pornography, the impossible fantasies it engenders, and the relative simplicity of "self abuse" compared to an honest-to-goodness relationship.  Many people have spoken out against the evils of near-universally available pornography, but few seem to have contemplated the possibility of entire nations dying out because of it.

6. I recently got a new pair of eyeglasses, my first in several years.  I decided to get plastic frames on this go-round, and it was only after ordering them that I remembered that the last time I got glasses with plastic frames was in 1978, when I purchased a pair to take with me on my church mission to Chile.  (I used them for a number of years after my mission when I took out my contact lenses.)  I like my new glasses, as they're certainly more comfortable than any of the metal-framed eyeglasses I've had in the intervening years; however, I've found to my annoyance that the relative thickness of the frame actually enlarges my "blind spots" while driving a car.  I have to turn around quite a bit farther to make sure the way is clear before changing lanes.

7. To my dismay, I'm getting the urge to buy yet another guitar, this one a made-in-Mexico Fender Telecaster, finished in "Aztec Gold" and offered by Guitar Center.  I still think the spice of life lies in being able to spend money frivolously on occasion, but I have absolutely no use for another electric guitar!  Even one that looks like this:

8. It appears that the Albuquerque 11th Ward (singles ward) is fading from memory.  The two "alumni" reunions (in March of 2011 and May of this year), combined with the sharing of photographs and videos, seem to have sapped most 11th Warders' desire to communicate with each other.  Perhaps we've put our "ghosts" to rest -- I certainly had more than my share -- and have realized that it's pointless to try to go back in time.

9. I have several obsessions -- principally jackets, shoes, and (in recent years) Adidas shorts.  I don't know how many jackets and coats I have, but the number is more than I can wear regularly.  I have about twenty pairs of shoes that I wear regularly, including three pairs of running shoes.  And I have about 16-17 pairs of Adidas shorts, all in different colors, that I wear to the gym on a rotating basis. 

10. Here's a recent photo of all of our grandchildren -- Kristy's six (Nicole, Zach, Alexis, Maddi, Hailee, and Ryker), Heidi's two (Kayla and Tyler), Devery's three (Mason, Noelle, and Leah), and Kiley's one (Joey).  Our house gets pretty lively when they all come to visit, but they are the biggest joy of my life.  The photo above shows Kristy holding Ryker at their house after Chris gave the baby a name and a blessing (an LDS priesthood ordinance).
Our grandchildren as of November 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK assassination, 50 years on

John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
November 25, 1963

I've long been fascinated by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, TX on November 22, 1963, an event that is receiving lots of attention this month on its fiftieth anniversary.  I've read numerous books on the subject and consider myself fairly well-versed in most aspects of the case.  (I actually have vague memories of the events as they were covered on television, though I was only four years old at the time.) The killing of Kennedy, of course, gave rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories, to which several factors contributed heavily.  One, the doctors who performed the autopsy on Kennedy's body botched several aspects of the post-mortem, especially the track of the first bullet that hit him.  (They initially failed to consider that the exit wound might have been obliterated by the tracheotomy that the ER doctors in Dallas performed on him.)  Two, Lee Harvey Oswald, the presumptive assassin, was himself gunned down two days later while in the Dallas PD's custody.  The police's negligence in guarding Oswald while moving him from the police station to the county jail quite understandably gave rise to suspicions that it was a contract killing to "silence" him.

Three, the notion that a single bullet could pass through Kennedy and cause all of Governor John Connally's wounds, all without fragmenting, seemed fantastical to many people.  And, absent that explanation, there almost necessarily had to have been multiple gunmen and, by definition, a conspiracy.  Four, as others have pointed out, the idea that an inconsequential person like Oswald could murder the president of the United States, without help, created a psychological need on many people's part to rationalize the deed by imagining it was the product of some large-scale, nefarious plot.  Five, most people assumed from the start -- especially since the assassination happened in a conservative city in a southern state -- that the attack came from the "environment of hate" on Kennedy's political right.  That the attack actually came from his political left just didn't fit in the heads of a lot of people.  And, last, for most people Oswald didn't appear to have a clear motive to kill Kennedy; after all, why would an avowed Marxist shoot at a liberal Democrat (a popular image of Kennedy that has only deepened over time)?  However, as many have pointed out, Kennedy was a committed anti-communist, and reportedly his administration had for some time been trying to assassinate Fidel Castro.  Is it really that far-fetched to believe a Castro supporter would want to kill him?

I have generally been inclined to accept the conclusions of the Warren Commission, in large part due to Occam's Razor -- Oswald's having been the lone assassin is easily the simplest explanation of the killing.  There are many indicia of his guilt (although, of course, in the fever swamp of conspiracy-theorist brains, those indicia merely serve to highlight how complex and far-reaching the "plot" to get Kennedy really was).

One, there is little reason to doubt that Oswald owned the rifle used in the assassination, and he had taken in to work that day a parcel wrapped in brown paper that was roughly the size of the rifle when disassembled.  Two, ballistics tests later suggested that the Oswald rifle had been used in an attempt to assassinate retired Major General Edwin Walker, a right-wing political figure in Texas, in April 1963.  No one seems to dispute much that Oswald pulled the trigger on Walker, who was spared only because the bullet hit a window frame and was deflected.  Three, multiple people in Dealey Plaza saw someone of Oswald's description in the corner sixth-story window of the Texas School Book Depository prior to the shooting.  The fact (a) that two people watching the presidential motorcade from the fifth-floor window below heard three shots, the repeated operation of the bolt action of the weapon, and the spent shell casings hitting the floor above them, (b) that multiple witnesses on the ground saw the rifle barrel sticking out of the window as the shots were being fired, and (c) that three shell casings were later found in the sniper's nest are pretty conclusive evidence that shots were, indeed, fired from the sixth-floor window.

Four, Oswald left his workplace at the Book Depository almost immediately after the shooting and was the only employee not accounted for that afternoon.  Five, in what David Belin, an assistant counsel to the Warren Commission, called the "Rosetta Stone" to solving the Kennedy assassination, Oswald killed Officer J.D. Tippit of the Dallas PD.  I know Oliver Stone (in his film JFK) portrayed the proof of Oswald's guilt in the Tippit murder as shaky and inconclusive at best, but he had to ignore completely the overwhelming weight of the eyewitness testimony and other evidence to do so.  There simply isn't any reasonable doubt that Oswald killed Tippit, which begs the question that Belin posed: Why would Oswald kill a police officer if he hadn't already shot the president?

Finally, although there are no verbatim transcripts of Oswald's questioning during the two days he was in police custody, by all accounts he was smug, arrogant, and evasive the entire time.  In short, he didn't act like a person who was being framed for something he didn't do; rather, his demeanor was that of the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary.

As for evidence of a conspiracy, well, I'll say this.  There is no compelling evidence that any of the bullets hitting inside the presidential limousine came from any direction but the right rear of the car.  The words "back and to the left" have become a mantra for people who insist the fatal head shot came from the front; however, Frame 313 of the Zapruder film clearly shows blood and brain tissue coming out the front half of Kennedy's skull, indicative of a shot from the rear.  Who can say what a human body will do after a bullet takes out half of the person's brain -- especially a person wearing a back brace?  Thus I agree that the "back and to the left" motion of Kennedy's body is easily explained as a neuromuscular reaction to the devastating brain injury he suffered.  The "magic bullet" that passed through Kennedy's neck and hit Governor Connally was hardly supernatural; the 3-D renderings that people have done recently of pertinent frames from the Zapruder film satisfy me that the bullet didn't have to "zig-zag" through the air to cause all the wounds.  The bullet, though it didn't fragment, still was significantly deformed when it was found on the stretcher Connally had occupied at the hospital after the shooting.  And the fact that Connally was struck in the back by a tumbling bullet is proof that it had passed through something before it hit him -- and what could that possibly have been if not President Kennedy?

Did Jack Ruby, Oswald's killer, have mob connections?  Maybe, but his actions after Kennedy was killed show to my satisfaction that the man was mentally unbalanced and almost incontrollably prone to acting on impulse.  (The evidence also shows that Ruby's presence in the basement of the police station, at the precise moment Oswald was brought out, was an amazing coincidence, but a coincidence nonetheless.)  He simply wasn't the kind of man an intelligent mob boss would hire to do a "hit" on Oswald.  But he was the kind of man who was dumb enough in the moment to think he'd be hailed as a hero for killing the president's assassin -- that he'd spend a day or two in police custody before being set free -- when all he really accomplished was to get himself locked up for life and to give birth to a thousand conspiracy theories. 

Was Oswald acting on anyone's orders?  Mary Anastasia O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal believes that Fidel Castro may well have known about Oswald's intent to shoot Kennedy, and that Oswald, whose application for a visa to enter Cuba (submitted at the Cuban consulate in Mexico City only a few weeks before the Kennedy assassination) had been rejected, may have been motivated by a desire to establish his Marxist-revolutionary bona fides to the Cuban government.  (On the other hand, it isn't clear that Oswald ever had much hope of getting away, as he certainly didn't have an escape plan to speak of.)  O'Grady, however, doesn't believe Castro, who probably knew the U.S. government had been trying to kill him, specifically ordered Oswald to kill President Kennedy.  I agree -- who would have sent an unstable neurotic like Oswald on such a mission, even if one were rooting for the end result?

Thus we may never know if Oswald had specific connections to the Cuban government.  Many of the people who believe in a conspiracy are the ones least likely to suspect Castro of complicity in the assassination, or even to investigate the possibility thereof.  After all, President Kennedy was, and especially is now, the darling of the liberal left; it's simply inconceivable to them that one of their heroes, Castro, could have wanted to take out their patron saint, Kennedy.

In closing, I'll make a few comments about John F. Kennedy the man.  We know now what most of the American public didn't know about Kennedy while he was president -- namely (a) that his health was extremely tenuous and could have turned grave at any moment, and (b) that he was wildly, recklessly, even predatorially promiscuous (particularly in the case of his affair with 19-year-old White House press-office intern Mimi Alford, on whom, by her recent account, he essentially forced himself in their first liaison in his wife's bedroom).  His sexual conquests only enhance his image as far as his current-day admirers are concerned, but, back in the day, there was a lot about him that had to be kept secret in order to get him elected and then to keep him in office.  Bill O'Reilly believes, notwithstanding Kennedy's many infidelities, that the latter genuinely loved his wife Jackie, and I'm willing to grant him that.  

Kennedy also took some pretty conservative positions on foreign-policy and economic issues of the day.  (In the light of history, he clearly was correct on civil rights for people of color.)  Those positions were hardly outside of the mainstream for a Democrat of that era; it was only later in the 1960s that the Democratic Party tacked "hard-a-larboard," and some people think JFK's murder was the primary catalyst for the America-hating mindset from which arose the modern political Left in this country.  (It was no coincidence that various conservative Democrats, including John Connally himself, became Republicans in the 1970s.)  The question I ask myself about JFK, not to mention Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, is where his politics would have ended up had he lived.  Would he have remained moderate, or would he have become an arch-liberal like his younger (and much-duller) brother Teddy?  Perhaps it's good that we never had to find out.

[Update 12/19/13: I came across this photo of JFK and Jackie, taken after they arrived at Love Field in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  It's striking for the vibrant colors of Mrs. Kennedy's suit and the roses that had been handed to her -- and for the knowledge in hindsight that, inside of an hour, JFK would be dead and that pink suit would be stained with his gore.]

[Update 2/27/14: This National Geographic documentary paints a very poignant picture of the last hours of President Kennedy's life, as seen through the camera lens and in the memories of various people who saw him and Mrs. Kennedy and shook their hands  I don't know how long it will stay up on Youtube, but it's worth watching multiple times.]

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Winrock in the early 1960s

The attached photo, a scan from another postcard I bought online, shows the interior of the Winrock Shopping Center in uptown Albuquerque.  Judging from the layout of the mall, and the fact that the little girls are wearing dresses, I'm guessing this photo was taken shortly after Winrock first opened in March 1961.  I originally thought that the view here is west-facing, but the amount of light coming through on the right side of the photo (presumably south) suggests that the perspective is actually facing east.  Thus the photographer was probably standing near the entrance of the old J.C. Penney store (years before it closed and re-located to the nearby Coronado Shopping Center).  Montgomery Ward, always one of my favorite stores, would have been at the far end of the mall on the right.  Winrock was an open-air (but roofed) mall in the early days, not being fully enclosed and temperature-controlled until years later; a number of additions were made over the years, including what once was the most-popular food court in town.  However, for whatever reason(s), Winrock just couldn't compete with Coronado, and when Montgomery Ward ceased retail operations in early 2001, the mall went into a nosedive from which it has never recovered.  There's always talk of efforts to revive Winrock, but none of them seems to involve any plan to recapture its old charms -- and perhaps that's impossible, at any rate, now that Walmart, Target, and (and the rest of the Internet) dominate the lower end of the retail world.  Still, I'm the sentimental sort, and I feel a great deal of nostalgia for Winrock in its various configurations.

[Update 5/9/14: I found this aerial photo of Winrock in the 1962 Sandia HS yearbook (which, of course, means it also dates from shortly after the mall opened).  I've marked Ward's, Penney's, and Cook's Sporting Goods, where my mother bought me my 12th birthday present in 1971, a pair of Adidas Superstar basketball shoes -- the "Air Jordans" of their day and expensive at $16.95/pair.]

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Straining to think of things to write....

1. The attached photo shows me as a small child, probably sometime in the spring of 1960, with my brothers (Robin, Roger, Jeff, Kelly) in our back yard.  I was the object of a lot of attention at that age, particularly since there was a five-year gap between Kelly and me; however, that spread in age proved detrimental to me in the end, as it wasn't too much longer before my brothers started growing up and ignoring me for the most part.  (And, of course, our mother had another baby, her only daughter Kristen, in 1961.)  I was always a relative wimp -- heck, in many ways I was an absolute wimp -- and my getting eyeglasses at age 8, an ignominy that none of my siblings faced until later in life, compounded my fear of being punched in the face.  I wouldn't say I had an unhappy, or even a deprived, childhood, but most of my character flaws and personality shortcomings had root in my early years.  As I've always said, there is no part of my life that I'd want to re-live if it meant having to live out the intervening years again -- but, if I had to live my life over again, and if I had the benefit of the wisdom I've acquired through experience, there's a lot I'd do differently.

2. The massive difficulties associated with the roll-out of the "" website, by means of which people were supposed to be able to enroll in various Obamacare-related healthcare plans, didn't exactly surprise or dismay me.  Rather, it further serves to confirm my strong suspicion that the Obamacare legislation was never intended to foster a functional healthcare system, but merely to create inertia sufficient to arrive at a full-blown single-payer system within a short period of time.  Don't be shocked when, a year or two from now, we hear comments like the following from Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi: "This isn't working -- we need to give more control to the government!"

3. My health continues to go south.  I've written endlessly about the combined effect that my sleep disorder and my mal de debarquement have had on my life, but things are continually getting worse, not better.  My medications are like a band-aid to a gunshot wound -- and possibly a dirty band-aid at that.  I've more or less given up on the idea of running three miles in 30 minutes at the gym, as I don't have the aerobic fitness for it, much less the ability to bear the physical toll on my connective tissue.  (Lately I've been doing 2.7 miles in 30 minutes (5.4 mph), which, for the moment, is a fairly comfortable workout.)  And the mental fatigue caused by sleep deprivation and the constant sensation of motion could ultimately force me to retire from work sooner than later.  We can't afford it, but neither can my employer afford to keep paying a dullard.

4. I'm losing my ability to sit down and read something -- virtually anything -- on the printed page.  First, I can't remember the last time I read a novel (or, at least, one that I hadn't read previously).  Second, despite my being a "JFK assassination" buff of long standing, it's taking me a long time to read Vincent Bugliosi's Parkland, a book that would have engrossed me ten years ago.  And, third, I can't even sit down and read an issue of Sports Illustrated, something that I loved to do thirty years ago.  I have a subscription to the magazine and receive it in the mail every Friday; however, most of the time I give it a cursory look and never get back to reading the feature articles.  (Now, SI has changed through the years, and I find the current format to be overly "busy" and distracting -- although its being condensed down to less than half of its former number of pages actually tends to make it an easier read -- but it still represents high-quality sports journalism.)  I simply don't have much of an attention span anymore.

5. As usual, we've got lots of things to do to our house but little will to do them.  We did recently install a new storm door, which was more work than it ought to have been, and we'll have to get a new dishwasher soon; however, the trim on the outside of our house is a weather-beaten disgrace -- and we need a new garage door, and the stucco needs repairs and/or painting, and we need to chisel/grind down the uneven parts of our driveway (caused by tree roots passing underneath it in years past), and we need to cut down more trees (and trim the others).  I think it would be worth paying other people to do all these things, but there's very little that Dorine doesn't prefer us to do ourselves, however long it takes to get to it.

6. The list I made in 2008 of my fifty favorite movies is still fairly representative, but there are a lot of movies that I like about as well as most of the films on the original list.  Here are some, in no particular order: the Austin Powers trilogy (especially Goldmember, oddly) (1997-2002); The Blues Brothers (1980); Lonely Are the Brave (1962); Men In Black (1997); The Fugitive (at least the first three-quarters of it) (1993); Sherlock Holmes (2009); Little Big Man (1970); The Day of the Jackal (1973); Airplane! (1980); Chariots of Fire (1981); Roxanne (1987); Wayne's World (1992); Rudy (1993); Little Women (1994); Amazing Grace (2006); Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003); Mission Impossible (1996); Cold Comfort Farm (1995); The Breakfast Club (1985); Blackbeard's Ghost (1968); The Mummy (1999); On Any Sunday (1971); and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Juan Carlos Duque, actualizado

A few years ago, I wrote about Juan Carlos Duque's song "Promesas" and the memories it held for me of Chile and my church mission there in 1979-80.  A lady named Patty Páez, whom I'd known in La Cisterna (a comuna of Santiago) when she was a young girl, came across my original blog post and recently, out of the blue, sent me a copy of Duque's 2006 CD Queda tanto por andar (see attached image).  I'm really impressed with the CD -- the music is great and Duque, after all, was ~58 years old when the CD was released (and is now ~65 years old); I mean, most singers at that age, if they're still recording, tend to do middle-of-the-road standards, not vibrant, modern, meaningful pop tunes.  Patty implied that Duque's importance to the music scene in Chile is indicative of an overall lack of talent there; I can't speak to that question, but Duque's abilities as a songwriter, arranger, musician, and singer are undeniable as far as I'm concerned.  (By the way, the new album even has an updated, guitar-heavy version of "Promesas.")

Monday, September 16, 2013

Garry Winogrand's "Albuquerque 1957"

Albuquerque 1957
I don't buy many postcards on-line, although a couple of years ago I bought an early postcard of the Western Skies Hotel on an eBay-like site called Bidstart.  Bidstart has since sent me periodic e-mails with "suggestions" for other postcards I might like, and one of these e-mails contained a captivating image that conjured up all sorts of childhood memories for me.  I had never seen the photograph before, so I had no idea that either the image or Garry Winogrand, the photographer, was famous; rather, I mistakenly assumed that it was someone's family photo that somehow had ended up on a postcard.  Winogrand, I've since found out, was famed for his street photography, and Albuquerque 1957 is one of the photographs for which he is most remembered.  (His most-famous photo is probably one of several iconic images of Marilyn Monroe with her dress being swept up, while standing on a grate over an air duct, as part of the publicity surrounding the release of the film The Seven Year Itch.)

Anyway, Albuquerque 1957 (see attached) shows a toddler, in cloth diapers, at the top of the driveway to a home that obviously was a Dale Bellamah home of a style that is common in Princess Jeanne Park, the subdivision in which I grew up in northeast Albuquerque.  It also shows the "U" -- the small peak in the Sandia foothills (now commonly called "U Mound") that I've already written about extensively.  My searching on Google revealed that a fellow named Joe Van Cleave investigated the location of the house and ultimately identified it, convincingly, as 1208 Muriel Street, NE, which indeed is in Princess Jeanne Park and is located between Lomas Blvd. and Constitution Ave. (more specifically, one block west of Juan Tabo Blvd. and just north of Mountain Rd.).  When Winogrand took the photo, I was still a gleam in my daddy's eye, but my family had already lived in its home on Gretta Street (some distance southwest of 1208 Muriel) for two years.  The area has been completely developed now -- there are houses all the way to within 50 yards or so of the "U," which thankfully is located in a city "open space" area -- but the image captures perfectly a place, and a moment in time, when Albuquerque was rapidly expanding to the east.

The kids of the families who lived on Muriel Street between Lomas and Constitution attended the same elementary school I did, although I lived a lot closer to it.  I remember that a kid my age named Kenny D_____ lived with his family on Muriel near its intersection with Mountain Rd.  He and I weren't friends, as he had a fearsome reputation in school as a fighter/bully, but he may have been in one or two of my classes.  For all I know, his family could have lived in the house at 1208 Muriel in that timeframe, as the neighborhood tended to be fairly transient even in the early days.

[Update 10/2/13: Here are a couple of Google Earth shots which give some perspective on the Winogrand image.  The left one is a broader view of the area and contains a number of area landmarks, including my parents' home.  The one on the right is a closer view of the 1208 Muriel home and the "U," showing just how much development has occurred since 1957.)

[Update 10/30/13:Here is the current Google "Street View" of 1208 Muriel NE -- 56 years after Winogrand's photo of the toddler.]

Friday, September 6, 2013

Camping Trip to Villanueva, August 23-24, 2013

Kiley with Joey
Devery and Easton
Easton with Noelle

Walking down to the playground
On the way to the playground

Heidi and Devery and kids
Sam, Kiley, and Joey

Panoramic view of our campsite
Me with the boys
The shelter structure at our site
Sam with his foil dinner

Lighting the lantern
Devery and Easton

Panoramic view of the bridge crossing the Pecos River
We took our annual overnight camping trip to Villanueva State Park on Friday, August 23, and Saturday, August 24.  Devery, Heidi, and I drove up several hours early to try to secure a decent campsite; we were about five minutes late to get a site on the river, but we were able to get the large shelter site at the top of the hill, which I'd almost prefer in any case.  (Dorine, Easton, and Kiley and Sam came up later on Friday.)  Family camping is always a chore to get ready for, so I continually wonder if one night is worth all the trouble; however, the kids always eat it up, and it's fun to be outdoors with family.  The Pecos was really low on this trip, even after it rained on Friday afternoon, so we didn't do any tubing.  We cooked foil dinners on charcoal on Friday night, then had a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, and hash browns on Saturday morning.  We didn't even bother doing any real hiking on this trip, either -- I felt tired and run-down.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Having said that, I do have some thoughts....

Darren and Cait at the "Eye"
1. Zimmerman/Martin Case.  I had a feeling George Zimmerman was going to be acquitted in the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, and I'm wondering now how anyone could have expected a different outcome, given that even the leftoid press's reports on the trial seemed to indicate that the prosecution was proving the defense's case at every turn.  Not being African American, I wonder what it is about this case that I'm not getting.  One, the evidence certainly could reasonably (and apparently did, in the jury's minds) lead to the following conclusions: (a) that Martin was acting suspiciously prior to his altercation with Zimmerman; (b) that, instead of going back to his father's girlfriend's house, Martin chose to hang around and pick a fight with the neighborhood watch captain who was following him around; and (c) that Martin simply chose to beat up the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time -- and paid the ultimate price for it.  And, two, African American teenagers and children -- many of whom are completely innocent bystanders caught in crossfire -- are killed almost every day in gun-related violence in America's largest cities -- except that usually the shooters are themselves black.  What is it about Martin's killer's not being black (while still not being white [i.e., Anglo], or at least not any more so than, say, Barack Obama) that invests Martin's life, and his death, with so much more significance than that attaching to African American victims of African American gunfire?  The only plausible answer is that he is hugely symbolic of white oppression to the black community -- more so, unfortunately for them, than the actual facts of the case will support.  Is there still racism in the United States?  I'm not so blind or naive to say there isn't, but it's insulting for anyone to suggest there hasn't been any progress at all in the last two or three.generations.

2. Ken Burns's Baseball.  Despite my not really liking Jazz, I went ahead and bought a copy of Ken Burns's film Baseball (including the "10th Inning" update) on eBay.  I don't really know why, but it seems like every topic on which Burns chooses to do a documentary ends up being a dead horse; I haven't quite decided if they were "dead" before he addressed them, or if he plays a significant role in "killing" them, but they somehow seem diminished when he's done.  His most-acclaimed film is probably still The Civil War, which I've watched five or six times.  I get the impression, however, that some critics have re-thought their position on it.  It could be that it now seems overly sentimental to them, especially as regards the notion that the Union was worth the cost of preserving it.  Jazz made clear that jazz music played a tremendous role in the cultural development of the U.S.; however, in considering the music's history, one is forced to conclude that it has become all but irrelevant, except as the stuff of nostalgia, in modern-day America.  And, likewise, Baseball, while interesting as history, serves to illustrate a number of reasons why the sport has declined in the last couple of generations, especially (1) the widespread use of PEDs (and the confusion and perturbation they have caused about the latter-day breaking of records), (2) skyrocketing salaries and ticket prices, and (3) the fact that children in this country, to the extent they aren't becoming fat and brain-dead on fast food and video games, are choosing to play other sports.  (I think it's telling that slow-pitch softball -- admittedly a sissified form of baseball, albeit one that many ex-baseball players have traditionally played -- has become glaringly less-popular in Albuquerque than it was just twenty years ago, as many vacant and dark fields testify.  It doesn't seem that long ago that the city had to go rent private fields to have enough parks in which to schedule all the teams wanting to play.)

3. Barack Obama's love of titles.  I've come to dislike writing about President Obama, as I prefer not to think of him much at all.  (And I've found that I have rather mild feelings toward him compared to many other people -- talk to just about any small-business owner, for example.)  One thing that has occurred to me, however, is that he seems to like ceremonial titles very much -- editor of the Harvard Law Review, senator, president of the United States -- but somehow he finds distasteful the idea of having to carry out the office to which the title pertains.  Many people, myself included, lack an aptitude or a liking for leadership, but most of us have the sense not to run for elective office.

4. My love for my family.  Increasingly, I find myself living almost exclusively for my family -- my wife, children, and grandchildren.  It isn't like I'm constantly doing things to serve them or to enrich their lives, but they are the reason I go to work during the week and to church on Sundays.  I hope it means something to them that I try to tell them regularly that I love them.

5. My leg injury.  On the evening of July 26, I was running on a treadmill at Planet Fitness when I suffered a pretty severe tear in one of my calf muscles.  My left Achilles tendon was aching as I ran, so I was kind of favoring it; I should have stopped, of course, but I was 23 minutes into a 30-minute run and was anxious to get through it.  I nearly fell off the treadmill when the tear happened; I was afraid I'd ruptured my Achilles, although both my calf and my Achilles have steadily gotten better since then.  I haven't gone to the gym much lately, and when I've gone, I've ridden a stationary bike, as I did for well over two years before I got back on the treadmill last November.  I may simply have to face the fact that running beats me up too much these days; I'm too old and fat for it.

6. The temple.  Back in February, Dorine and I "re-upped" to serve as temple ordinance workers for another two years.  Since that time, however, Dorine was assigned to be the sister shift coordinator for all the Wednesday shifts we work (Weeks 2, 4, and now 5, when there is one), and now I only ever see her in passing.  It's almost like not having her there, which in turn makes it much less enjoyable for me.  I'm still the "trainer" in Week 4; I'm probably better at it than I typically give myself credit for, but it isn't something I relish doing.

7. The effect of cutting down trees in our back yard.  The house to our east was sold sometime back, and one thing the new owners did was to cut down the junipers in their back yard.  A number of trees (a large maple, several cypresses) have died in our back yard, as well, and we've been cutting them down.  (The maple has provided us with what will probably be a ten-year supply -- for us -- of firewood.)  The effect of all this tree-cutting has been two-fold: (1) we now have a direct line of sight to the back windows of several neighbors' houses on the street behind us (leaving us with less perceived privacy); and (2) our back yard seems even bigger than it did before.

8. BYU football.  I'm looking forward to the college football season and am excited to watch BYU play.  They have a tough schedule this year, playing Virginia, Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech, Houston, Boise State, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and Nevada.  If the team really comes together, especially on offense (down-field passing and pass-blocking), a 9-3 record would probably still be a tremendous accomplishment; however, if their offense isn't better than it was last year, a 3-9 record, and no bowl game, is a real possibility.  (I'm taking nothing for granted this year!)  I like BYU's independent status in football, and the schedules it is starting to produce -- I really like being able ot watch most of their games on television -- but it isn't fun to watch them sputter.

9.  U.S. men's soccer and the 2014 World Cup.  The U.S. men's national soccer team has been playing very well lately, winning several World Cup qualifiers and then winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup competition.  (Curiously, the U.S.'s resurgence has coincided with a stretch of mediocre play by Mexico, its primary regional rival and the gold medalists in the 2012 Olympics.)  It's easy to conclude that the biggest difference has been the influence of Jurgen Klinsmann, the team's German coach, who seems to be teaching a certain flair, especially in the offensive third of the field, that the U.S. has never really had.  The most-exciting thing, however, is that the U.S. has done all this without having its three best field players -- Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Michael Bradley -- in the lineup at the same time.  That bodes well for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

10.  The hikes and camping trip(s) we haven't taken this summer.  I really wanted to do a couple of strenuous hikes this summer in the Sandias, but the only real hike I've done this year was to go up to the "Eye of the Sandias," and then down the so-called "Mano Trail," with Darren and Cait on the Saturday before Memorial Day -- which only took about two-and-a-half hours.  (See photo above.)  Likewise, we haven't gone camping with any of the kids and grandkids this summer, although Dorine is talking about going somewhere next weekend (but only because Devery brought it up).

11. My musical tastes.  I haven't bought much music, MP3s or CDs, in a long time.  Occasionally I'll hear a song, usually in a restaurant or on a movie soundtrack, that I like and want to buy, but otherwise my taste in music is pretty fixed in time, being largely bounded by the period from about 1965 to about 1985.  I have electronic copies of most of the songs I grew up liking, or which I used to like to dance to back in the early 1980s; thus I just don't see the need to shop for more.  I haven't put any new music on my iPod(s) in at least a couple of years.