Saturday, June 30, 2007

More from New Mexico

Picnicking in the Desert
White Sands National Monument
New Mexico

The little black dot above the picnic shelter is not a flaw in the photograph. It's an F-117 Stealth fighter taking off from Holloman AFB outside Alomogordo. I debated retouching it ... removing it from the picture ... but then I thought, that's the way tings were.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Glad to be Alive

California or Bust

Off I-10, East of Lordsburg, NM
On the way from Tucson to the
White Sands National Monument
in New Mexoco

Sometimes things happen and we respond to what happened without thinking about what might have been.

My friend, Len Swanson (another photographer when not doing the "day job") and I had driven from Tucson to Las Crucse, New Mexico on Wednesday and spent the night at a Best Western with the intention of getting an early start on the day and catch some morning light on the White Sands Desert on Thursday morning.

It was about 6:30am and I was driving down the incline on US-70 coming out of the San Andreas Mountains between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, right about at the interchange for the White Sands Missile Test Facility, when I was confronted by a rock in the middle of my lane ... which I promptly hit at about 75 mph while trying to dodge around it. Instant flat!

I wrestled the car to the right shoulder and, once we started breathing again, I pulled the doughnut out of the tire bay in the back and jacked up the car to change the flat for the doughnut.

I've never had to change a tire on the Saburu (though I've changed my share over the years on other cars), so it was a surprise to find that there wasn't a lug wrench among the souvenirs in the back.

I did have a cell phone, so I placed a call to AAA to make use of some of the dues I've been paying for a number of years. I was promptly connected to AAA Central - which must be somewhere in Bangalore because the person on the other end of the line had a problem understanding what a New Mexico was.

"I'm on US-70 in New Mexico."

"OK, you're on I-70?"

"NO! US-70 ... between Las Cruces and Alamogordo ... right at the end of the run up ramp for the White Sands Missile Testing facility on the east bound side of US-70."

"I-70? Near what?"

"No! US-70 ... I don't think there's an I-70 in New Mexico! We're at the White Sands Missile Testing Facility administrative offices exit ... you konw ... White Sands .. .where the rocket scientists hang out?"

"HAHAHAHAHA ... Rocket scientists! That's funny!"

I held back on the editorial comment that leaped to mind.

"OK, sir, we'll get someone out to you as soon as possible. We'll call you back in about five minutes with an estimated time of their arrival."

In the meantime, unknown to me, my friend, Len, had pulled out his 400mm (huge) telephoto lens and was trying to focus on the mile marker a little way down the road so we could give it to the AAA operator.

Within two minutes of him pulling out the lens, and about 30 seconds after I hung up with AAA, my rear view mirror was filled with flashing red and blue lights as a uniformed security officer from the testing facility pulled up behind our car and got out, hand on weapon.

"Sir, you know, you can't take photographs around here."

Len explained that he wasn't taking photographs .. that he'd only taken the lens out to try to read the mile marker sign down the road so we could tell AAA where we were.

The officer bought it.

I was grateful ... because, you see, habeas corpus has been suspended in this country. An American citizen can be arrested on the suspicion of being ... well, alive ... and can be held without charges, without a phone call, without access to a lawyer or a defense .. without a trial, for that matter.

If the security officer decided to give us a hard time, we could very well have been arrested and, if we were for any reason, designated as "enemy combatants" ... my next address could well have been Gitmo. But no one would ever know.

So ... I'm glad to be alive. the car didn't flip, as it could have.

And I'm glad to be free ... because, had attitudes been a little different, that might no be the case. But the whole thing made me wonder if there's any longer any value in being an American citizen ... if I can be locked up without charges, held indefinitely without a trial or the opportunity for a defense, what's the benefit of being an American. Throughout my life I'd been brought up to believe we were unique on the face of the planet ... and in the course of history ... because we had all those constitutional protections.

I know, I know ... there are those who would say those things don't happen. But the fact is, those things could happen .. and now they could happen to me!

Suddenly, while I was talking to the uniformed security guard from the White Sands Missile Testing Facility, I understood what it felt like to live in the Soviet Union and to be stopped by a KGB officer ... or to live in Germany during the early 1940s and to be stopped by someone in a black leather trench coat and rakish fedora.

It doesn't matter how innocent your actions might be. The only thing that counts is what the security guard had for breakfast ... or if his wife didn't give him a hard time on his way out the door. The only thing that matters for the rest of one's life is how that armed security guard is feeling right at that moment.

Maybe those things don't happen. Maybe they don't happen, yet. But, everything is in place for those things to happen ... and my experience in life tells me that if a bad thing CAN happen ... it WILL happen ... at some point.

Oh, yeah, AAA? ... they never called back.

A county road crew eventually stopped. They had a metric lug wrench in their tool box. We changed the tire and drove the rest of the way to Alamogordo at 45 mph.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Onward and Upward

After living here for three years, we've decided to sell this place and move onto something a little different. It's probably not the best time in the world to be selling a house but, what the hey! It certainly is among the better times to be buying one.

"Why?", you may ask.

Well, after a little go 'round with spinal surgery a couple years ago, Candy has been looking at the stairs and wondering if she really wants to do that for the rest of our lives. Me? I've moved damned near every three years throughout my life anyway ... its no big thing! But, if you must know, I never liked the road noise here. I never liked the way the front door enters right into the living room without any transition area ... bad architecture! Poor design.

In any case, we found a single story, 4 bedroom with a den about 4 miles down the road (but in another zip code). They accepted our last offer, so I guess you might say we're under contract to buy the place ... that is, we bought a house.

This post is by way of a "good-bye" to this place for everyone who missed out on a chance to visit us here.

From the street.

Living room as pool hall.

Kitchen as, well .... kitchen.

Last, but not least, Master Bedroom ... with cat.

Closing on the new place is August 20. Pictures to follow.

Wish us luck.

Dunce-Cap Nation

We asked Americans about current events, history and cultural literacy. And we got some pretty disheartening results.

By Brian Braiker
Updated: 2:53 p.m. MT June 23, 2007

July 2-9, 2007 issue - For our What You Need to Know Now cover story, we asked our polling firm to test 1,001 adults on a variety of topics, including politics, foreign affairs, business, technology and popular culture. The results were mixed, to be charitible. NEWSWEEK's first What You Need to Know Poll found many gaps in America's knowledge—including a lingering misperception about an Iraqi connection to the September 11 terror attacks, an inability to name key figures in the American government and general cultural confusion.

Even today, more than four years into the war in Iraq, as many as four in 10 Americans (41 percent) still believe Saddam Hussein’s regime was directly involved in financing, planning or carrying out the terrorist attacks on 9/11, even though no evidence has surfaced to support a connection. A majority of Americans were similarly unable to pick Saudi Arabia in a multiple-choice question about the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers were born. Just 43 percent got it right—and a full 20 percent thought most came from Iraq.

Read the rest ... and weep