Posts Tagged “new mexico”

Thank You, CSU Fans

The Colorado State University Rams were invited to play in the New Mexico Bowl this year agains the Fresno State University Bulldogs. They encouraged their fans to buy tickets and donate them for the military and their marching band, and 650 of those tickets went to Kirtland AFB, four of them finding their way to me.

The logo for the Colorado State University Rams; a green circle with a while line drawing of a ram’s head facing the viewer The game was great - Fresno State got the ball first, and marched down the field and scored. CSU did the same thing on their drive. It was pretty tight throughout the first three quarters, and both teams played great ball. However, in the fourth quarter, CSU broke it open, and Fresno State wasn't able to come back. We were sitting near the 1 yard line, and had a great view of Gartrell Johnson's touchdown run late in the game, which gave CSU what proved to be a game-winning margin.

So thank you, CSU fans, for allowing me to attend the New Mexico Bowl; you have a new fan in Albuquerque. And congratulations, 2008 New Mexico Bowl Champions!

GO RAMS!

 

On Government and Private Business

This past weekend during Sunday School, we briefly discussed the raid of the polygamist compound in Texas. During this discussion, one very good point was raised - those handling this situation need wisdom. Previously decided cases hold a lot of weight in the judicial realm, and while, by all accounts, what was going on at that ranch was illegal and immoral, they are claiming it is part of their religion. It is good that those people have been stopped - however, what is to stop the government from deciding that something most mainstream churches do is illegal?

That led the discussion to this story about a photographer in Albuquerque, New Mexico who refused to photograph a “commitment ceremony” between two people of the same gender. There are lots of ironies in this story, and I would expect that this decision would be quickly vacated / overturned / made null. Can you really legally force someone to photograph an event that's illegal by nature? However, if it stands, there are much more troubling questions, some of which we have already seen. In California, a Catholic-run hospital was sued for refusing to perform gender reassignment surgery, and the state has sued the US government over a provision that strips Federal funds from states that force medical practitioners to perform or refer abortions.

During the course of the discussion, I took the (somewhat unpopular) opinion that a business should have the right to refuse service to whomever the business owner wanted. (I also did that a bit strongly at one point - if you're reading this, sorry about that.) Someone asked “What if they say they're not going to serve Jews?” My reply was that, if that was their stance, the word would get out, and those who found that abhorrent would also not patronize them, and they would go out of business. (And yes, I think I did actually use the word “abhorrent” in class… heh…) In further discussions with other people, including my wife, my position continued to be unpopular. I heard things like “What about people in the South not serving blacks?” and “I just think discrimination is wrong.”

I still cannot see the government requiring a private business to serve, sell, or perform any good, service, or person that the owner does not want. Why should I invest my money and time in an enterprise if the government is going to come and mandate to me how I do it? However, by the same token, I also feel that racial discrimination is bad. However, for anyone to say, unqualified, that “discrimination” is wrong simply doesn't realize how much discrimination occurs on a day-to-day basis.

Let's imagine I'm a photographer. I don't like trying to get kids posed for a picture, so I create a policy of no more than one child per pose. That's discrimination - I am discriminating against large families (though not completely - they're just not going to get an entire family portrait from me). Maybe I don't want to photograph some people because I feel they're unattractive - do “Uglo-Americans” have a right to have me photograph them? Maybe I'm a really popular photographer, and I can't be in two places at once. I'll have to be discriminating in how I set up my schedule. There simply isn't a scenario that convinces me that the government has an overriding interest in forcing me to photograph someone I don't want to. The “right to photography” is nowhere in the Constitution.

Now - let's put the brakes on that and look at the government. While I believe that a business owner has the right to discriminate pretty much however he or she feels like, I also just as strongly believe that the government should not be in the discrimination business. Equal protection under the law should be just that - equal. Firefighters should (and do) respond just as quickly to fires in desirable neighborhoods as they do to fires in undesirable neighborhoods. Everyone should (and does) have access to their legislators, and the right to vote for the ones they think will best represent them. Everyone should have access to government-run educational facilities, with the same requirements for everyone. (OK, we need to work on that last one…) The bottom line is, government should not discriminate on anything other than merit and scarcity (i.e., we can't give everyone $1k if we don't have it).

But, in reality, this isn't the way it is; I alluded to it above regarding education. When the government starts trying to play identity games, “level the playing field,” or any other sort of tinkering, they invariably get it wrong. According to the NM government, this photographer “violated human rights” by refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Would the pastors of my church be guilty of the same if they refused to officiate one? In finding this photographer guilty of discrimination, the state is, in effect, discriminating against her free exercise of religion. (See? Every choice is discrimination!) This is the danger of giving the government the power to decide what's “good” discrimination versus what's “bad” discrimination.

The solution? From my view, I believe that there are very powerful forces at work in the economic marketplace. Eliminating “Jim Crow” laws was a good thing - they were a violation of the equal protection clause. Forcing state-run universities to integrate was a good thing - again, equal access to government resources. Forcing businesses to cater to those to whom they do not wish to cater? That's bad. Sure, I believe that businesses shouldn't discriminate based on race - but is it the government's place to tell them they can't? Some people think that discrimination based on gender is wrong; in fact, a few years back, there was a big kerfuffle over Augusta National not allowing women to become members. How many of those people would advocate my joining Curves? It's all perspective, and because one person's perspective may be different than another's, the government should stay out of it.

To me, this is a heart thing. Sure, you can pass a law and make people comply, but all you've done is made people upset by forcing them to do something that they didn't want to do. I believe in giving people enough rope so that they can hang themselves (figuratively speaking, of course) - if someone wants to open a racially-discriminatory business, that's their own stupidity in eliminating a big chunk of their potential customer base. If someone wants to open the “No Purple Pants Club” and refuse to admit anyone wearing purple pants - well, it's their money and time they're pouring into the business. And, if someone wants to refuse to provide their goods and services to those they find morally reprehensible, more power to 'em.

In each of these cases, one of two things will happen. One, they may flourish as a business, which will prove there was a market for their goods and services, even without the people they excluded. Two, they will fail, and learn via the “school of hard knocks” that they shouldn't restrict their pool of potential customers. Either way, the business owner gets out of his business exactly what he put into it, and I really don't have a problem with that.

Good News and a Good Lesson

Today's Albuquerque Journal (website) had a couple of front-page stories that caught my eye. First, the one full of good news was titled "Others' Message to Illegal Immigrants: Leave!" The Journal doesn't put their stories online to link to, so I'll quote enough of it to give you the idea…

States surrounding New Mexico have recently passed laws aimed at cutting off illegal immigrants from social services and jobs.

The goal? To drive them away.

In Oklahoma, where a set of laws known as the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act took effect Nov. 1, Latino churches have reported losing up to 20 percent of their members and Tulsa County alone estimates a population exodus of 25,000 people, mostly foreign born.

Sounds like that's a law that has actually done what it set out to do! And kudos to the Journal reporter, Leslie Linthicum, for including that oft-excluded qualifier illegal when describing the people being targeted by the legislation. (That wasn't the case through the entire article, but it was refreshing to see it.)

The instructive article was the one beside it entitled “Fast Track: Critics Say Rising Rail Runner Tab Slows Road Work.” The Rail Runner is pretty cool - I've ridden it with our Cub Scout pack. It's a light rail passenger train that goes from about 20 miles south of Albuquerque to about 15 miles north of Albuquerque, but will eventually extend to Santa Fe. It's been in operation just over a year.

The article had a lot of information about how it (and lots of highway improvements) came about, through legislation passed in 2003 called Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership (GRIP). The initial estimates for the Rail Runner was $90.2 million, but the current expected total cost is $420 million (plus $50 million in escrow, to address “issues” that may arise). This in and of itself has some folks upset. However, the way the GRIP legislation was written, funding can be shifted amongst the several projects - and, because the Rail Runner has such high visibility, money has been diverted from highway improvements to the Rail Runner.

The instructive part, to me, is the cost balloon. Whether the Richardson administration willfully underestimated the cost, or whether it has simply grown due to unanticipated costs, I don't know. It's probably some of both, and it's not really important to the lesson I think we can learn. As an example - New Mexico did not even apply for federal funding of the Santa Fe leg of the Rail Runner. Why?

Rail Runner officials last summer cited problems with grant program rules and the limited federal funds available as reasons for not applying for the money.

And the state was working on a fast track.

A legislative analysis from 2005 stated that the process of applying for federal funds could have delayed the second phase for up to several years - beyond the December 2008 deadline the Richardson administration had set.

“The project needs to be proposed and there are a lot of requirements necessary,” [Federal Transit Administration spokesman Paul] Grasso said. “There's an environmental review that has to be done; there's a cost effectiveness standard that has to be met. There are all kinds of things that have to be worked out in advance.”

Any government entitlement program costs more than originally estimated - every single one. It will take longer and cost more than the original estimate every time. So, when you hear politicians (especially now during campaign season) pitching their programs, remember that. $400 million today is probably $3 billion once implemented.

Tent Rocks National Monument

A week ago Saturday, the boys and I went to the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in Pueblo de Cochiti, New Mexico (between Albuquerque and Santa Fe). I created a Webshots gallery of some of the views we saw - enjoy!

The 4th Annual Dr. MLK Jr. Column

This year, the usual combined weekend of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday followed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday is not combined, as the third Monday of January precedes the third Sunday by 6 days. Plus, this year provided lots of content on both topics, so the usual combined column will be split.

Sadly, racial issues were front and center during the past year. In May, the residents of New Orleans, Louisiana re-elected Ray Nagin, the governor during Hurricane Katrina. Like Dr. King, he had a dream too. His was nowhere near as admirable, though; he wanted New Orleans rebuilt as a “Chocolate City”. Although he apologized for that comment, regular readers will know what I think about apologies (and non-regulars can learn here). Comments such as this only serve to deepen racial divides, not contribute to Dr. King's vision of a nation where race is not even a concern.

In May, the “Day Without Immigrants” attempted to paint those who are opposed to illegal immigration as racists, rather than fans of enforcing our existing laws. I've written about this recently (see the 2006 Year in Review: The Ridiculous), so I won't expound on this too much here. These folks are attempting to equate their plight with those of blacks, using the same language. However, the truth of their situation is that they are here illegally, and as such have no standing to demand rights and treatment of American citizens. There is a way for non-Americans to become Americans, and cutting in line in front of those who are observing the law is not that way.

Come November, Michael Richards went off on a racial rant during a stand-up comedy show. This was followed by, you guessed it, apology after apology upon apology, with a side helping of apology. And again, these ring hollow with me. Richards' racism shows what can happen in today's environment of focusing on race and stereotypes - even a successful actor such as he can still harbor these feelings. Like Nagin's apology, his apology does not erase the window into the soul that his words provided. The words themselves are not the problem; the attitude behind them are. (Let me be clear - I'm not against apologizing to someone if you personally hurt them. Not all apologies are as useless as the two I've described above.)

Wrapping up earlier this month, the Duke rape case carried immense racial undertones. Many people were quick to believe the story, especially since the accuser was a poor black woman, and the people she was accusing were rich, privileged white men. Now, it turns out that the plentiful DNA evidence collected from the accuser exonerates the lacrosse players. When this story broke, several people suggested it was a ploy by the District Attorney Mike Nifong, who was up for re-election, to pander to the black voters in Durham, North Carolina. Even now, the accuser's family are still buying into the hype. The accuser's cousin was interviewed on CNN a few nights ago, and here's part of what she said, with the highlighting added by me… (In the transcript of the entire show, do a search for “UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE” to find the beginning of this interview.)

It's unfortunate that it's turned into race. But it's always been there. It sensationalizes the story. You know, it's got class and it's got race in it. And I think from day one, a lot of people felt that these were privileged young white boys, who felt like they could treat these young women, strippers or not - I think they had the mentality that they were superior to these young women. And I think that's unfortunate. And I think that that's just the world we live in.

Read the part I highlighted - even though these guys have been found guilty of nothing, they're still privileged white boys who were superior to the others! And that's just “the world we live in.” Incredible! I do agree with her conclusion, though - it is truly unfortunate.

But, these prove that racism is still a problem, right? I'm not so sure. Sure, there are still racists of every color, and there always will be; that's one of the pitfalls of a free society. But, people do not have to be hyper-sensitive over racial issues, either - that is a conscious choice, although our current society has some pretty strong conditioning towards that sensitivity.

Let me wrap up by sharing my personal observations, based on data from Census 2000. I'm white, and I've lived as a minority for the past 9 years in Montgomery, Alabama. This city is 50% black, 47% white. (Subtract “Hispanic origin” from White - they're counted both places.) For the next 4 years, I'll be living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city that is 40% Hispanic, 32% white, 3% black. In Montgomery, I've rarely felt unwelcome. When we go out to parks or the mall, nearly everyone I meet is friendly, no matter their skin color. We'll talk about our families, or crazy things our kids do. Sometimes, we'll even discuss contentious things, like the war in Iraq. Depeche Mode said it more than 20 years ago - people are people.

The only exception to this was in some stores and restaurants. Usually, this was just unfriendly service - and, this can't all be blamed on racial differences, as I've had woeful service from all races. The most offensive time (to me) was the store where two black customers in line behind me were checked out before me. In these cases, though, did I call my local city commissioner, or the media? Nope - I just kept my feet and dollars away from those establishments. That's the way a free society works - you're free to be a jerk, and I'm free to not give you my money.

I'm looking forward to Albuquerque. I'm not there yet, so I can't say this for certain, but I'm pretty sure that most folks out there are friendly as well. As we go around the parks, malls, restaurants, and churches of that city, we will meet Americans just like us - folks who want a safe nation, clean streets, and the best for their children. Apart from some loudmouths, Dr. King's dream is being realized every day; hopefully, common sense will begin to prevail among all the races, and the “racial offense” industry will begin to wither. If the money spent on trying to make people apologize or comply with some minutia of the law was instead spent on positive things, this nation would be much better off.

(To read previous years' columns, select the “Race” category from the sidebar.)