Sunday, May 24, 2015

Doings at Dusty Desert Spaceport

Another week, another tidbit of desperate hope that the Dusty Desert Spaceport will pay off soon.

Start-up Exos Aerospace Systems and Technologies has bought Armadillo Aerospace's assets and supposedly will develop and launch its new gizmo from Dusty Desert.

Armadillo, founded and financed by video game honcho John Carmack, spent years building a sub-orbital craft, then went “into hibernation mode” in 2013 following a crash and other reverses. (Armadillo deserves credit for a game try and for its unusual honesty with the public about its failures.) One story was headlined “Pipe Dream Meets Reality.” But Exos COO John Quinn says that the craft was so near “commercial viability” that Armadillo would have succeeded with one more launch. (Carmack appears not to be involved in Exos.)

The new gizmo, SARGE, would be basically the old STIG-B with a few modifications. The STIG-B crashed last time they flew it; but Orville and Wilbur had plenty of early screw-ups too. Quinn says that the problem has been addressed and that a redundant backup system has been added to ensure success. If SARGE flies, we'll find out.

One report quoted Quinn that Exos “was examining both raising money from investors and seeking strategic partnerships with other companies to fund development of SARGE.” Exos's recent crowd-funding campaign to raise $125,000 to support design work raised only a fraction of that. Quinn acknowledges that that was as much for media relations and publicity as for funding, and says it helped. He says ample financing exists.

I'd read that SARGE would be ready for its first test flight as soon as March 2016, would launch monthly during 2016, then move to a weekly schedule in 2017. Quinn said that was “still the plan,” calling it “an achievable goal.” Exos's website (glowingly) describes its activities in the present tense. Quinn conceded that “maybe the present tense isn't literally true, in that we're not out there flying every day” but insisted that “the capability is there” and mentioned examples of Armadillo accomplishing things in very short time-frames.

David Mitchell, Exos's co-founder and president, is a fourth-generation Texas oil man and a Christian pastor. He runs both the family business, and “NeUventure on Wall Street,” a series of seminars that purport to teach beginners in two days how to make humonguous returns through the stock market. Most professionals would laugh at some of his basic advice, which reportedly includes avoiding diversification, buying stock in only one or two companies you know well, and “timing” the market.

Critics say the seminars mix familiar basic advice with a lot of upselling of additional training. For thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars you can become an “Insider” or even a “Top Gun.”
Quinn, who credits Mitchell with saving him after he lost much of his retirement money, says the program works, and that none of the critics are “Top Guns.” (He said it takes a lot of hard work to reach that level.) He adds that Mitchell, who wouldn't take a salary as a pastor, conducted the seminars free for church members for years before trying to help a wider audience.

I wouldn't sign up for NeUventure, and I hope Spaceport folks haven't fronted any money to Exos. I see a wide gap between present reality and promises. The gizmo crashed last time they tried it and we're halfway through 2015. I hear the promise of regular launches in 2016 in the context of ever-shifting Virgin Galactic's timetables. But I'm pretty ignorant, and will watch with interest.
But Quinn speaks passionately of his hopes for Exos.

Will Exos will help save the Dusty Desert Spaceport? Tune in next year.
                                              -30-

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 24 May, and should also appear on KRWG's website shortly.]
[Before providing websites readers can visit to learn more and read things for themselves, let me make sure I'm real clear on this: I started by looking at the claims made by Eros and the known facts and remarking on the vast gulf between them; further research tended to widen that gap; and then some research into David Mitchell's "NeUventure" business blew away, for me at least, his last vestige of credibility.  I do not say he's a con man.   I don't know him.  Instinct tells me that a man whose pitch is so involved with his Christianity and his desire to help others is a man who has at least some amount of sincere belief in what he's doing, even if it appears a bit dubious to observers.  But at best he's a man who inherited a good deal of wealth, and runs his family oil company, and preaches some, and collects a pretty penny from desperately hopeful people for "secrets" of making vast wealth by timing stocks and such.    None of that tends to help an already not-too-credible story.  Rather, he's found another set of desperately hopeful people in the Spaceport officials, and is telling them what they so want to hear.]

[But how did this get to be front-page news?  I've wondered.  I don't think I blame the young man who wrote the story.  Young reporters aren't well paid and tend to be over-worked, so give him a pass on not researching this one a little more.  But if he didn't just pick this story out of cyberspace based on its reference to the Spaceport, and someone put it in front of him?  If it was someone with Dusty Desert Spaceport, that person (paid by us) should have recognized the reasons to be skeptical about Exos and either didn't know (sad, because s/he has a responsibility as a public official for doing at least reasonable research and having at least a modicum of good sense) or knew and passed on the story without alerting the reporter.  
But I readily concede that I can't see the future and this thing might somehow turn out wonderfully for all concerned.]

[Websites and sources: Monday's Sun-News story is here; the on-line Space News story quoted in it is at http://spacenews.com/exos-seeks-to-revive-armadillo-rocket-technology/ ; this is an earlier story on Armadillo going into "hibernation" mode; this is Exos's website, which uses the present tense to describe a bunch of schedules and launches that I presume exist only in some remote and uncertain future plans, and the Biographies are worth a glance too; the Kickstarter pitch  ,  with indications that it's failing miserably as a fund-raising mechanism; this is the website for "NeUventure on Wall Street."  And here are two web-sites -- a review of a "NeUventure on Wall Street" seminar and an expert analysis of a Mitchell handout on investing -- from which I'll quote liberally below.  I think the material as a whole would lead one to be concerned that "Neuventure" might be a scam, and by extension to avoid relying too heavily on Exos's plans and promises.]

[In fact, logic would tell us that if Mitchell's methods could consistently make the huge returns some of his supporters claim, he'd be more famous than Warren Buffett (whom he apparently quotes, a little misleadingly, as supporting his anti-diversification view).  If he had shown through his performance that diversification wasn't a pretty good idea long term, there'd be a lot written about it; and, as someone pointed out, if his methods were as sound as claimed, and he were so intent on helping everyone, he could help a great many more people by opening a mutual fund folks could invest in.
Still, Exos is not NeUventure.  Maybe something good will happen.]

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Water We Should Use


Stormwater-harvesting expert Van Clothier, who spoke here a week ago, says things so just-plain-sensible that most of us (and most of our local leaders) – don't quite get 'em.

We live in a desert. We're in a drought that could last awhile. We need water.

Stormwater is water.

It falls on our roofs. If we have rain-barrels, or have prepared our land properly, we catch it and use it to grow vegetables, flowers, and trees. Trees help shade us and cool us; veggies feed us; and flowers lift our spirits.

Rain falls on our streets and sidewalks, too. Storms can create a bit of a safety hazard, as water rushes along our streets and into our storm drains and out of town as fast as possible. Doing us no good. Needing water, we watch water rush past.

We could use that water. With little or no extra cost. So says Van, along with Brad Lancaster, who spoke here last April. Van spoke at a City-sponsored Lush N Lean workshop, one in a series on water-related topics.  "Stormwater harvesting could save Las Cruces thousands of taxpayers money and water, while keeping our city beautiful and attractive," City Councilor Gill Sorg commented. 


Under the right conditions, just cutting into the curb so that some of that storm-water runs into your yard, could give your trees or garden abundant water. Free. (Don't ignore “under the right conditions”: if your land is higher than the street, it won't work, 'cause water flows downhill; or if your house is lower than your land and the street, you could draw the water right to your house.)

Cutting into the curb is illegal, in most places. You can get a permit now in Tucson, where Brad lives, largely because of how well his methods have worked. I think that's true now in Silver City, too, where Van lives. His company, Stream Dynamics, Inc., consults with people – and with cities and towns.

Van starts by observing the land very, very carefully. His method features diverting water early, into places where it can sink in rather than flow past or pond extensively (and evaporate). You start at the highest point you can, because water flows downhill, and has smaller force and volume at the top.

Tuesday, Stream Dynamics received exciting news: the New Mexico Environmental Department has given it the okay to proceed with a $138,000 grant involving 80 water-harvesting projects in and near Silver City. Van was stoked, saying that the work could serve as “a practical model for other urban streams in New Mexico.”

“Turning nuisance storm-water into a community resource, through innovative water-harvesting techniques, will improve water quality and riparian health, reduce flood and fire dangers, and modernize storm-water infrastructure,” he added.

I've wondered whether these methods could help with the problem of decrepit dams and resultant floods in our County. Could ancient and more natural principles be used to slow down rushing arroyos at their sources?

It's an inviting idea. By starting at the top, could a finite group do work within a reasonable time that would make a significant difference in flood control? It wouldn't cost that much to find out. Meanwhile local governments are nowhere near having the budget or funding to repair or replace dams, a much more expensive (and sometimes environmentally undesirable) solution.

Van was guardedly positive, saying that in theory I was on the right track, but that this sort of work “is extremely site-specific. It's like asking me how a dress would look on a woman I've never met and know nothing about.”

If you missed their talks, check out Van's and Brad's web sites. (URL's on my blog today.) More importantly, urge your city councilor or county commissioner to implement some of what Van and Brad have done.
                                              -30-


[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 17 Mary, 2015, sub nom Stormwater Harvesting Makes Common Sense -- and will also appear today on KRWG's website.]
[ As promised, here are Van Clothier's website and Brad Lancaster's.  Too, here's the column I wrote last year introducing Brad.  The column summarizes how Brad happened to get started doing what he does. ]
[ Glancing at the column on Brad takes me back a year.  Dael and I had somehow taken on the chore of making it all happen -- procuring a venue, scheduling it, coordinating with Brad, trying to get the word out, etc.; and since the venue was the Rio Grande Theater (thanks to the City), with plenty of seats, getting the word out seemed all the more important.  Ultimately, it was a great event -- all thanks to Brad, who was both informative and incredibly funny -- and we heard a lot of praise for him from people who'd attended and some lamentations from people who hadn't heard about it or hadn't been able to make it.  I remember the effort (Dael's more than mine!) and how much we enjoyed Brad's talk.  And we met Van that night. ]
[By the way, the Lush N Lean series runs programs 6-8 p.m. at the WIA Building on the East side of Pioneer Park.  Free.  The next topics include Trees (21 May) and Irrigation (28 May), but I think that may be the end of the program this year.]



Monday, May 11, 2015

Sunday


  It is the kind of peaceful day we used to have, before our lives here became insanely busy.   The whole day we do not leave our home.  Dael spends much of the day outdoors.  Even I get time to plant a couple of things and wander around shooting photographs, before the day meanders toward a close with that unhurried, thoughtful sluggishness days should adopt far from cities.
  This is our place, our home.  At first, for months, we enjoyed just such long, slow, magical days and nights.  Now we are blessed by too many wonderful friends, too many tasks we can't ignore, too many paintings to see, too much music and poetry to hear, too many openings of too many fine shows by people we often know and like.
  Today is different.
  We sit outside eating a late breakfast with a friend.  Toward sunset, we sit outside again, listening, watching, writing.  We speak in whispers so as not to frighten the quail.  We marvel at the deep red glow the fuchsia take on, back-lit by the setting sun.  We remark on how peaceful it is -- if you don't count the white-winged doves squabbling with the quail, and both squabbling among themselves, and the bees frantically raiding the bird-of-paradise blossoms.
  I even try my hand at a quick poem, but the best I can manage right now is:


The western mountains are yellow ghosts.
The setting sun paints the peaks East of us
a deep, royal red they have waited
all day to wear.  Quail venture nearer
as the shadows lengthen.  A hummingbird
visits ocotillo blossoms, silhouettes
against a clear sky.  Cactus blossoms
fold themselves delicately
against the night air.  Soon
coyotes and the horned owl
will sing up the moon.


Cholla Blossom

Hesperaloe

Ocotillo Blossom
Ocotillo Blossom 01

The western mountains - approaching sunset



Doves at Sunset


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Things We Take with Us -- two encounters with local creativity


A week ago we attended two inspiring events at MVS Studios: a reading by Claudette Ortiz Franzoy from her new book and the annual benefit for J. Paul Taylor Academy.

Claudette is a fine writer and we love J. Paul.

Common Ground, is a collection of Claudette's Sun-News columns about life in the Hatch Valley. Claudette is the best columnist I've seen at the paper. The book reminds me why.

It's a very human, personal collection. She makes some perceptive observations, but always in the context of her village, her valley.

The reading was fun. She reads as if she were telling us a story around a table in the Pepper Pot. Flipping to one column she's marked, she exults “Oh, this was a difficult time!” or “Arturo, remember . . .”

Here is an excellent writer who happens to live in a place most of the world has never heard of. In an old-fashioned community, a network of inter-connected families up and down the valley, many earning their livings from the Earth. A true community the like of which most of us will not experience.

She is candid, even where it hurts. Two columns deal with the rape of a middle-aged woman named Claudette. She writes of the rape openly, candidly. Her unique take on the situation had so struck me as I read them that I marked the pages to share. Describing a difficult personal experience, she retained perspective to portray everyone fairly and with empathy.

After reading a short passage, Claudette revealed that other, younger women had been raped, presumably by the same man before he was caught, and that her candor and openness may have helped them deal with the trauma, helped them speak up.

She sees her village as one who is embedded in it by a strong web of family and friends and by the years. But she was also a successful journalist Wyoming. She has the journalist's eye for detail, and the poet's skill in selecting which details will pull more than their weight in a short portrait of a man, a woman, a situation.

I recommend the book highly. The $15 price goes to the Hatch Library, to help educate and inspire future Hatchlings.

Claudette will read again on Saturday morning, May 30 at Coas Books, 10-12.

At last year's JPTA benefit I'd shot photographs of Paul and of the young students in Mexican dress dancing in the street.

This year I arrived early and wandered through the Studio. The silent auction featured marvelous, colorful bowls, made by Russell Mott after Kate has placed on them images drawn by the kids.

What fascinated me were three dozen small framed self-portraits hanging together on one wall.

The 4th and 5th graders varied in their artistic skills, but each portrayed not only a face but the fears and feelings behind it. This boy's head a bit misshapen but with a mischievous and defiant look, that boy jaunty and a bit cool. Girls who supposed themselves women already and pretty; girls who seemed modestly courteous and neat; and girls whose faces seemed to express the terror of being ten, in a confusing world and a clique-ish school.

Undoubtedly I read more in them than was there. But each had captured some essence. I wished I knew the kids and could watch how closely their growth over decades would match that essence.
I think the portraits also spoke to me of the creative spirit, in ways I haven't yet translated into words. I spent more money than I should have, so that they could keep speaking to me from the wall as I write.
                                                    - 30-
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 10 May.]

Sunday, May 3, 2015

VOTE MAY 5TH and make a difference in our future

This week we have a chance to make a difference.

On Tuesday, May 5, we'll decide three contested seats on the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District Board.

The what? 
 
Most folks learned about the DASWCD last year, when its board put on the ballot a measure calling for a tax increase to help fund the group. We learned that it spent much of its time passing resolutions against “Agenda 21” and against various measures to help protect wildlife. It opposed the new Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Monument.

SWCDs in other states, and even elsewhere in New Mexico, are active, useful, important agencies for conservation. SWCDs have a mission to “conserve and develop natural resources . . . provide for flood control, preserve wildlife, protect the tax base, and promote [people's] health, safety and general welfare.”

Our SWCD's Chairman, Joe Delk, has written that conservation districts can be a vital force in the battle between solid Christians and the "environmental cartels" he blames for “diminishing the presence and importance of Christian men and women.” (My blog post today will include links to some of Mr. Delk's comments, so that anyone can read them directly.)

The DASWCD should be cooperating with other government agencies to work on conservation and flood control; but the current Board doesn't like the government very much, and go out of their way to fire ideological attacks at the agencies it should be cooperating with.

Change is needed. Additional skills are needed. Balance is needed. Opening up the DASWCD to our diverse community is needed.

Three seats are up this year.

The challenger in the “at-large” seat is Dr. Roger Beck. He's a former NMSU professor of Agricultural Economics with more than 35 years' experience in sustainable economic development and long-term management of land and water resources. The incumbent [correction!]: is Melissa Gorham, a local realtor.   Everyone in the District can vote on this seat. Beck has the deeper pool of relevant experience and is less focused on representing just one segment of the community. Schickedanz is an ally of Chairman Delk.

The challenger in District 1 is Kurt Anderson. A retired NMSU Astronomy Professor who's lived here for more than forty years, he has a long-time interest in sustainable water use in our region. He serves on the board of the Doña Ana Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association and on the Steering Committee of the Lower Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Committee. He has also served on the board of the New Mexico Rural Water Association. (He's opposed by Dr. Jerry Schickedanz, dean emeritus of NMSU's Ag Department, who was recently appointed by Governor Susana Martinez,.)

The challenger in District 2 (Southwestern Doña Ana County, including Mesilla) is Sally Williams, a retired executive who owns a small alfalfa farm in Mesilla. She's particularly interested in developing a long-term sustainable relationship between agriculture and domestic water use here.

I hope we put some new folks on the board. While agricultural interests should be represented on the Board, a Board consisting solely of ranchers and Tea Party folks can't serve the needs of our County. Our water and conservation needs are too pressing for “business as usual.”

In this election, each vote matters. The three polling places are open 7 a.m. To 7 p.m. Tuesday: County Offices on Motel Boulevard and the Anthony and Hatch Community Centers. Anyone can vote at any of the three.

If you feel that Agenda 21 is hamstringing local government and the BLM is a danger to our freedom, vote for the incumbent in your district.

If you feel DASWCD should fight for soil and water conservation and wildlife, then vote for the challenger.

But however you decide, please do vote.
                                                    -30-

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, May 3, and will also appear on KRWG-TV's webpage today.]

[I should reiterate: (1) anyone can vote at any polling place; and (2) everyone can vote, in that (a) everyone can vote for Mr. Beck and (b) voters in Districts 1 or 2 can vote for the candidates from those district plus Mr. Beck.

The district system is very new by the way.  It would be interesting to know if the Board chose it to minimize the chance outsiders would capture seats.  If folks in Mesilla and Las Cruces could vote in all three races, things might be tougher for the incumbents.

As mentioned, here's my column from a year ago about these folks.  It has a cite to Delk's long comments about environmental cartels, which I'll insert here for everyone's convenience.
Among his points are that what he terms "environmental cartels"  are "working to control and expand measures that elevate a secular spiritualism while suppressing and diminishing the presence and importance of Christian men and women. They seek domination … they seek a monopoly of direction and policy."         
By contrast, "Conservation Districts, by their direct ties to the land, have not yet been altered or corrupted to become an arm of the progressive environmental cartels. They are a bastion of conservative leaders who are more closely aligned with traditional values that start with the sovereign individual and family units."
I just don't agree. I keep thinking a conservation organization ought to have at least some interest in conserving natural resources, including soil and water, and protecting wildlife.  I'm not understanding why a supposed conservation group should be focused mostly on fighting cultural wars about whether people are Christians or not -- let alone attacking most conservation measures.  Or, as Win Jacobs says in the only on-line comment on Delks's talk: 
Darn it, Joe! The district needs dam upgrades, a lot more than the world needs saving by any one creed (or screed!)
Win Jacobs
She added that his view might offend a lot of farmers she knows who see themselves as stewards of the land -- and as environmentalists.  
But then, Delk also credits our country's Founders with a concept (as he chooses to interpret it) then adds that unfortunately "too few of them understood the concept."  Our Founders didn't understand what they were doing, but Joe Delk does?  I sure don't!  I thought they painstakingly implemented a new concept, that the government of the people should be separate from any religion -- theirs, mine, yours, and even Joe Delk's!]



Thursday, April 30, 2015

Differing Views


[I wrote this as a possible Sunday column, responding to a couple of recent columns by Neal Hooks, but then had an alternative column I wanted to run that Sunday, and see a long line of hot local issues for the next few Sunday columns, so it's a blog post:]

Mr. Hooks illustrates the problems one faces when one's commitment to a particular ideology or religion requires one to approach every new issue or thought by asking "How can I turn this into evidence to support my existing view" rather than "What is this and what can I learn from it?"

My own approach is more of the latter.  Every new thought or thing I try to see for itself, examine whether it's beautiful or true or dangerous or can teach me something.  (Or all four)  I have no bothersome need to make it fit the tenets of Communism, Christianity, Islam, or Capitalism.  Sure, its source may give it a slight advantage or disadvantage in convincing me of its truth, but that's not conclusive, not "Marx said that so it's wrong [or right]" or even "Romney said that, so it's wrong."  (In fact, Romney was said to have one of the top 1% among NCAA basketball bracket predictions this spring.)

Mr. Hooks is a Capitalist and pro-business, so he must prove to us that Jesus was a Capitalist, when the best evidence suggests no such thing.

Similarly, Mr. Hooks is a Christian who believes that being gay is unnatural and that acting on one's gayness is a sinful choice of lifestyle.

Therefore he must justify the notorious law passed recently in Indiana, allowing businesses to refuse services to folks whose nature or conduct transgresses against the business owner's religion.

He tries to do that with a false distinction: he says that a pizza business should of course serve you, even if you happen to be gay, but that the bakery next door can refuse to sell you a wedding cake if you happen to be gay and getting married.

He writes, _________

But in fact the bakery is discriminating against you precisely because of  your gayness, not your conduct.  Your conduct is procuring a valid marriage license and marrying your lover.  It's the same basic conduct my wife and I engaged in, as did Mr. and Mrs. Bush, Mr. and Mrs. Hooks, and more than a few others.

That conduct cannot be the true objection.  That conduct is socially-encouraged.  The difficulty is who is engaging in that conduct.  Black marrying a white? Sinful and illegal until the mid-1960's, in many states.  Man marrying a man?  Illegal until this decade, in many states, and sinful in the eyes of Mr. Hooks and others.

Mr. Hooks ought to be honest with himself on this.  That might enable him either to understand some things he doesn't yet understand -- or to come up with more convincing and less specious arguments for his point-of-view, if there are any.

Further, Mr. Hooks's religion is not the difficulty.  The difficulty is Mr. Hooks's taste, for lack of a better word, or his openness to new ideas.  His society abhors, or has traditionally abhorred, love between woman-and-woman or between man-and-man.  Therefore he interprets Christ as ardently anti-gay, although the limited evidence suggests otherwise.

As with Capitalism, because Mr. Hooks favors it he must find that Jesus would be an ardent capitalist.   Again, the evidence tends to suggest otherwise; and many others, including the Catholic liberation theologists and others, love Jesus and read him completely differently, as favoring the poor.

Jesus was a poor man who cared deeply about the poor.  He said something like  "Inasmuch as you have done this to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me" and that the rich man's chance of reaching Heaven would be like the odds on getting a camel through the eye of a needle.  He was clearly very concerned that people not ignore poverty.  Mr. Hooks slips in another false distinction: he suggests that although Jesus would not appreciate a man who abused the poor or acted in ways to harm them or keep them in poverty, Jesus would have no objection to men doing so as a nation or a city.  I disagree.  As I read him, Jesus saw through forms to the true essence of men's (and women's) conduct.  That doing something bad -- exploiting the poor, torturing people you disagreed with, kicking dogs -- would be sinful if done by a human but permissible if done by a municipality is some sort of lawyer's argument, but not something a caring and passionate teacher like Jesus would have articulated.

Mr. Hooks also suggests that although Jesus wished to help the poor, he'd have been an ardent supporter of businessmen's freedom of choice to hurt the poor if that proved profitable.  I'm not so sure. 

At any rate, I'm sure Neal and I will have an opportunity to bore everyone to death on radio some time, each passionately articulating a point of view without much chance to persuade each other of much.
                                          



Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Beautiful Death

Florida would say that years ago I committed a crime there, probably some variety of homicide: out of love, I helped someone have a beautiful death.

Which, coincidentally, is the title of an important symposium at NMSU on Friday.

NMSU remains steadfastly neutral on the end-of-life issues the symposium will cover. NMSU has simply noticed that we all die; that longer lives and scientific advances create both options and horrors; and that people should think about end-of-life issues and plan accordingly.

The conference runs from 8 to 5 at the Las Cruces Convention Center, with workshops and a keynote speaker. A maximum of 350 may register. Check with Kimberly Hill at NMSU.

Even if you don't attend, use this as a reminder to get around to certain tasks.

Fill out and sign an Advanced Directive. Under what circumstances do you want extraordinary means used to keep you “alive”? Under what circumstances should your loved ones pull the plug? Can people who need them use your organs when you're finished with them?

Inform yourself about the issues. Compassion & Choices is one source of information – and is showing the film “How to Die in Oregon” at 2 on Friday at the College of Health & Social Sciences Annex.

My father's death was beautiful.

He was adamant: he wanted to die on his terms. “It's been a great party, but it's time to leave,” he said.

He had congestive heart failure. He had a short time to live. During that time he would lose mental and physical capabilities. He loved reading the New York Times, playing bridge, and being with the new girl friend he'd met in the Florida retirement community.

My mother, to whom he'd been married nearly 50 years, had died of cancer. A long, miserable, painful death. During the final week she was often completely confused about who and where she was.

He asked me to help. A medical source confirmed that Father had enough pills to do himself in. A kind doctor donated a little morphine, saying, “I've been saving it for when I'll need it myself.”

One morning he noticed I look sad, and asked why. “I understand, but I'll miss you,” I said. “I'll miss me too, but it has to happen,” he replied.

His last night, we ate supper.  He ate little.  Then when we went into his bedroom he asked me to help him to the basin in the bathroom so that he could brush his teeth.  Then I helped him back to his bed, and we started to leave.  To me, his brushing his teeth suggested he'd changed his mind, because it hadn't occurred to me that one would brush teeth with just an hour or so left on Earth.  He called us back.  "Aren't we going to . . .?"  So we did.

Finally we sat on his bed, holding his hand, talking with him. His last words were playful: when I asked, “How are you doing?” he replied, “Fine. I could still beat you at chess.” Trash-talking.

He put down his head to rest. At some point he stopped breathing. We didn't know just when. We sat by him, loving him and glad for him but we also worried: what if he suddenly woke up and had changed his mind? What if he didn't die but survived as a vegetable? I'd violated Florida law. During those moments I was angry at the State, for the anxiety we felt and for the pain of many who couldn't find someone to break the law and help them die.

Freedom to choose a beautiful death is high on the list of things I care about: when there's no medical hope and I'm sure it's time to go, why must I exist in pain or desperation or humiliation, just so some medical institution can play with its technological toys and charge someone a bunch of money? (To be clear: I don't advocate euthanasia, mercy-killing of folks who don't or can't intelligently articulate their wish to die.)

Whatever our choices, we should all think honestly and deeply about the end of our lives, make sure our wishes are clear; and put those wishes in a legally adequate writing.
                                                           -30-
[A condensed version of this post appeared as a column in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 26 April.]
[By the way, noticing it's the 26th I should note there's a lot to do today, including the final day of the NMSU Rodeo, a musical benefit tonight for Mr. Jazz, Bob Burns (from 6 to 8 at the Rio Grande Theater on Main Street ), and from 3-5 a poetry reading at Nopalito's (326 S. Mesquite, next to the restaurant -- might have to have an early supper there after the reading) to help launch the new issue of La Frontera.  (I'm among the readers, I guess because I published a poem in the previous issue.)  Other readers include Joe Somoza and Claudia Ortiz Franzoy.  Joe's a wonderful poet, Claudia was my favorite columnist at the Sun-News and has a great new book  out, and I've heard most of the other readers and much enjoyed their poetry.  
We won't get to go to Sunday's rodeo events, but further back in this blog are some images from a rodeo in two posts.  I used to love shooting photographs at rodeo practice too -- though Mel Stone's black and white images from the same practices are better photography than mine.]  
[Meanwhile, on the column: I don't mean to imply NMSU agrees with my father's solution to the end of his life; but whatever your choices may be (or your parents') it's important to think about the issues ahead of time.  
Unfortunately, in our country more than most, death is a much-avoided topic of discussion, and people who visit the dying tend to avoid it, even when the dying person would prefer to discuss it.  I recall from 35 years ago my uncle's death from cancer at a relatively young age.  He was bed-ridden for months.  When I saw him, he said he thought he would live a few more weeks, but couldn't see past the end of the month.   He had frequently discussed his imminent death with my father, whose stint as a Marine pilot in World War II had given him a practical awareness of death; but after my uncle's death I was shooting pool with another uncle, who mentioned that "Everytime I visited him he wanted to talk about death."  With that faux shiver that's meant to communicate that something was creepy, he added, "I kept trying to cheer him up."

As to the right to die, I'll discuss in a future column the progress toward establishing that right in New Mexico.
There are two types of opposition to legalizing assisted suicide under very restricted circumstances: folks who think God wouldn't like it and folks who worry about what law students called "the slippery slope."  As to the first, I respect their view and their choice, as I would hope they would respect mine.  As to the second, they have a very legitimate concern, which I share: that if assisted suicide were legal, old and frail individuals would be subject to strong pressure to kill themselves -- or worse.  Some of the strongest opposition comes from people who are severely handicapped and fear that a society where suicide were legal would lead to pressures on them to disappear themselves.  Others fear that heirs and offspring might hasten a parent's death for money or emotional reasons when the frail parent was unable to express his or her true wishes.  Those are serious possibilities that any legislation on the subject should address seriously; but they are not insoluble problems.]