Climate, political and father issues in Albuquerque

Wordpress for FINAL Out to Albuqueruqe
George A. Morrison, circa 1954,  reports the news on KOB-TV. Son Brian Arbenz 60 years later blogs on his patio in Louisville.

I saw my father infrequently growing up – I mean once or twice a decade, so I do not at all identify with Robert Bly’s assertion that males are collectively wounded by the transition to industrial society that resulted in their fathers leaving home for eight hours a day.

These dads came back each evening, right, Mr. Bly?

When I was 20, on the advice of a sibling, I decided to give a father-son relationship another try. So, in 1979, I boarded a plane for Albuquerque to spend a week with George A. Morrison.

I didn’t really have a sense of who he was, and on a brilliant August day, as my plane crossed the sensually tan Sandia Mountains and landed at the Albuquerque Sunport, my lack of familiarity with him set me apart from most of the 400,000 residents of the city. My father, for 10 years in the 1950s and ‘60s, had been New Mexico’s best known television news anchorman, delivering daily 6 and 11 pm newscasts which – for the lack of another TV market in the state during many of those years – were beamed statewide. That’s a territory that would stretch from Louisville to Minnesota.

After my dad earned a law degree, he left the news business, but remained highly recognized while serving as assistant district attorney for Albuquerque, frequently talking on the air about high profile cases.

So, in 1979, instead of my father showing me his home state, I had the inverted experience of being introduced to him by New Mexico.

In the three trips I had made in 15 years to the Land of Enchantment to visit my father, I had learned that governors, senators and the University of New Mexico football coach were cohorts or acquaintances of his. Two of Dad’s close friends were author William Eastlake (Dad and other friends had helped him choose the title of his signature book Castle Keep) and Clarence Birdseye Jr., whose father’s invention of frozen foods still determines the itinerary of your grocery trips.

The author at age 9 photographed in the summer of 1967 by his KOAT-TV news anchor father in the Sandia Mountains overlooking Albuquerque. 

In a room filled with my dad’s friends from New Mexico, it seems the only one I wouldn’t already know the life story of was the one who had sired me.

I knew he was a Democrat and had from time to time been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor, a quest which could have succeeded before Watergate gave media the mandate to report on personal missteps such as the philandering and heavy drinking my father did until his early 50s.

What kind of Democrat was he? I heard him say good things about civil rights (he had once served as the legal counsel for the Zuni Indian tribe), but overall supportive things about the Vietnam War (he told me of a passionate argument with the very anti-war Eastlake). An English lit degree holder from U of L, Dad was, by any standard, pro-civil liberties and he once oversaw the consumer protection division of Albuquerque’s Bernalillo County — but knowing he came of age in the 1930s and 40s, can you wager a guess about which issue would prompt this otherwise enlightened intellectual to lapse into bigotry at the drop of a hat? Or, more precisely, at a gesture or an enunciation that struck him as effeminate?

I don’t mean my father would ridicule anyone in their presence, but while at his apartment during my 1979 visit, I saw him launch into a tirade of insults while we were watching a brief TV segment featuring an interview with a man he figured was gay. Suddenly, I saw the Male High School football star and World War II submarine warfare veteran my father also had been.

But there was one more famous person for Dad to introduce me to on this trip. I asked if he knew U.S. Sen. Harrison Schmitt, a first-term New Mexico Republican. In keeping with Dad’s Robin Leach-like knack for associating with the rich and famous, yes, he in fact worked down the hall from and occasionally chatted with Schmitt, who went by his nickname Jack. Dad said he would be glad to try to arrange a meeting.

The senator, my father added, was a political wunderkind, winning election in 1976 as a dogmatic conservative counterpoised to unions in such a pro-labor state. Of course, four years before that, the geologist Jack Schmitt had walked on the moon on Apollo 17, the grandest and most successful of the six lunar landing missions.

Extra-terrestrial glory can obscure a clash in political philosophies – or in the case of John Glenn, even ease the effects of being mired in the S and L scandal.

So Schmitt wasn’t that extremist out to break your union. He was a space hero, who had turned moon dust into politically magic dust.

Future Senator Harrison Schmitt as Apollo 17’s geologist on the moon in 1972.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the ex-senator Jack Schmitt has become a climate change denier, repeatedly condemning the theory of human causes of global warming as fiction by an environmental movement he has described as the place communism essentially migrated to after the opening of the Berlin Wall. (Makes sense; I mean there was no environmentalism here before 1989, was there?)

So, we’re talking quite a chasm to bridge when I shake hands with Senator Schmitt. Could it get tense?

No. My fascination with space would make meeting Jack Schmitt an apolitical thrill. And if memories of his three walks on Taurus-Littrow weren’t enough, Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt also had been my first same-sex crush. I mean minutes after the Apollo 17 crew returned from the moon, splashing down near Samoa, I saw him without his helmet for the first time and… well, he had just returned, and I was now off TO the moon.

That was the instant I, as a 14-year-old, knew I was bisexual. I never told my father of this, and didn’t care to seven years later during my 1979 visit, but wouldn’t Schmitt’s office have been a bizarre venue for that? Imagine coming out to your father, a senator, an astronaut, a veteran journalist, a Republican, a Democrat and a homophobic district attorney all at once!

I don’t know whether I would have been prosecuted, disinherited, evicted or pepper sprayed. You would have read about me in a news story datelined Albuquerque, that’s for certain.

This explosive moment of familial and political drama never happened, though. Schmitt wasn’t in town during my visit.

That is not surprising. You see, the senator went on to be defeated in 1982 – marking the only time an astronaut has lost a U.S. election in nine races – and the big issue raised by Democrat Jeff Bingaman (and yes, Dad knew him, too) was the fact that the incumbent simply was never in the state, physically or ideologically. Schmitt was constantly touring, speaking about the cause of mining the moon, an issue absolutely irrelevant during a severe recession in 1982 which had focused voters’ attention on the here and now, not on rocks a quarter-million miles away.

Today, his status as a private citizen gives Schmitt the mobility to challenge the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming and on his still passionate cause of building a thriving lunar extraction industry, which almost every other scientist and financer dismisses as pie in the sky.

Oh, and as for my crush – I don’t even remember what I saw in the guy.

This column is from Brian Arbenz’ book “Lost And Found In Louisville.”


You’ve seen these – the 10 types of Facebook posts

New From

By Brian Arbenz

Several computer nerds of his generation could have mastered the technology involved in creating Facebook, but Mark Zuckerberg’s healthy social skills, which are unusual for a techno-prodigy, gave him an edge on making his invention user friendly.
He knew that dispensing with the questionnaires other social web sites required new users first to answer, although it would sacrifice a ton of instantly marketable data, would fill Facebook’s ranks rapidly.
And thus, the 21st Century’s “Ma Bell,” the new monopoly we just can’t argue with, was off and racing — way past any competition.
You’ll never again plan a reunion, form a new club or walk past a clever “viral potential” business sign without the name “Facebook” flashing across your mind.
You also may never again get as many as two or three consecutive good nights of sleep, as the need to refute that misguided zealot in Spokane or find out if your fifth-grade teacher is still around makes the next two hours go by like ten minutes.
Then, there are the sort of cyber street fights, into which inexperienced Facebook users can wander.
In one grueling 24-hour span during my neophyte period, I was attacked and ridiculed by a former professional colleague — who had unexpectedly turned hard right — for my refusal to agree with her call for mandatory full body searches of Moslem- or Arab-appearing airline passengers. The next night, I was skewered just as harshly by a leftist because I would not agree to implore President Obama to deport Rupert Murdoch from the country.
Feeling like the only reasonable person on this medium, I was prepared to bolt from it, but then, while browsing the personal profile of a supervisor at my workplace, I realized that she and I had been childhood acquaintances and that our grandparents had been next door neighbors and close friends for decades.
So Facebook was saved by a delightful find. The pleasures have continued to outweigh the tensions, so as an expression of gratitude to the son of a Westchester, N.Y. dentist who while barely out of his teens started this company, I offer my greatest skill – classifying things. Here are the types of Facebook statuses:

The Time Bomb
A friend posts, “I’ve just finished the dishes and now I’m going to do a little work in the garden. Perfect day for it!”
Wanting to post an equally cheerful comment about your own recent gardening experience, you tranquilly scroll down past more than 80 posts, the most recent of which is someone you’ve never heard of telling someone else you’ve never heard of:
“Take the s#it out of your stupid arrogant ears and pay attention to the facts, idiot! The governor’s a fuc&ing crook and dupes like you who voted for him are bottom feeding lowlifes!”
Maybe you’ll just send your gardening friend an e-mail instead.

The Aw, Look At This.
Someone has gotten an inspiration that life can be good after all from this picture of a jaguar eschewing its predator role by cuddling a fluffy white rabbit, or one of a tiger shark doing duck face with a 10-year-old swimmer. Swept up by sentiment, your Facebook friend immediately links to this photographic evidence that a utopia is possible after all! You then remind them that whereas utopia hasn’t arrived, Photoshop has.

The CLICK – Another Problem Solved!
These end with personal appeals like: “Repost if you care about homeless koala bears with ADHD.“ It eases your conscience knowing you have “raised awareness” about some distant problem — while you are oblivious to having worsened the “First World problem,” of data mining, the real purpose of most of these crusading memes.

The Ewe No Your From…
The folks back in Walapehagua Falls were the greatest to grow up with, and for a few minutes, your face lights up in a nostalgic glow from all of them posting about those Friday nights hanging at the mall and making popcorn at slumber parties and cheering on the WFHS Fighting Giraffes hockey team all the way to the regional! Then, you notice this thread has four its/it’s errors, five non-punctuated sentences and three accusations that Obama is planning to secretly microchip newborn children, and you realize why you left Walapehagua Falls.

The Integrity Junkie
For a second, you gear up for a laugh over what looks like a classic George Carlin-style observation about why we go through our silly conversational habits. But five sentences into this status bemoaning our ritual of asking, “How’s it going?” you still don’t see a humorous pay off, and you realize, OMG, this person means it!
In an indictment of the evil of scripted banality, the person posting asks: “What do we mean by ‘it?’ And ‘going?’ Going where? This sort of mindless conformity blocks people from genuine communication, blunting our spiritual growth, leading to school shootings, global warming, flatulence and…”

The Eternal Vigilance!
This status features a link to some catchy meme about how awful it is that Facebook enables the government to violate our privacy. Amen, we all say, liking it in droves in a show of solidarity for the principle that our private lives must remain private!…. Then, over the next week, half the likers post statuses about their latest “episode,” which abusive person from their past caused it and what medication they are taking to get through it.

The Surely Everybody’s A Fan
“How’s that marmalade, Dexter?”
Just as baffling as that vague status are these following comments:
“Ever tried Neptune?”
“Just because that floats my boat!”
“Bring your own porcelain next time!”

When you post the begged for question, what in the world do all these mean, you are asked in return, “Don’t you watch ‘Lentil Fusion?’ ”
A quick Google search reveals that this is the name of an early 1980s satirical comedy show aired in Finland and Tierra Del Fuego which launched several trademark expressions. It also reveals to you how suddenly you can be out of the loop for the lack of the 400-channel dish required to pick up reruns of Lentil Fusion.
So the next time you casually assume anyone worth their salt in hipness must share your cult classic passions, please stop, Dave. My mind is going. Say no more. Nudge, nudge.

The Angry American!
Someone links to a story about a senior citizen center in Pocatello, Idaho renaming this year’s Christmas Party the “Holiday Party,” then bemoans this as another example of God being taken out of the season.
No sir, don’t dare say “Happy Holidays” to them, for that defiles Christmas! Singing about a reindeer with a nose that lights up? No problem! Just don’t be anti-biblical by using a secular term like “holidays!”

The Breakfast Joke
This status starts with the oldest form of ecumenical relations known – “A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar….” Well, you were about to log off and go to bed, but hey, what better way to end the day than with the chuckle you’re guaranteed to get from this classic formula for a joke!
After the third paragraph, you decide to scroll down to see how long this will take, and when the scrolling seems like it will never stop, you realize just how tired you are. So you decide to log off and maybe you’ll dream the perfect punch line.

The “Oh, Sno-opes!”
The government of Ecuador just voted to allow ground up lizard tails to be sprinkled into lattes served in coffeehouses, so boycott (insert product name here).

This column is featured in “Lost And Found In Louisville,” the third book by Brian Arbenz, a journalist, activist and researcher based in that city.