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  The Gauntlet

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letters, opinions, editorials

re: memorial robbers

Wow. I'm truly astonished and heart-broken that for two years in a row, a tree by two crosses on Highway 165 that gets decorated every year in memory of our friend who lost her life to a drunk driver, Agnus Shreve, gets vandalized and stripped of its ornaments. This is how we pay tribute to a life taken way too soon and from her two precious children who lost both father and mother within eight months of each other.

Whoever is doing this, please think first of how it would feel to you if this was in memory of your own loved one or dear friend. It may not mean anything to you, but it does to us who hold her dear in our hearts and memories. Respect any kind of memorial and just don't touch or take what isn't yours.

—Friends of Agnus Shreve

re: Thoughts that barely count

Dear Friends Back East:

Thanks for your post-Christmas note. I’m pleased you each had a nice holiday and were able to cram in several viewings of “Miracle on 34th Street.” And I’m glad that Santa Claus made it unscathed past your aggressive doormen and penetrated the multiple, complex, heavy duty door locks you employ to discourage unwanted entry.

I’m also happy you liked the case of chili pepper lip balm I sent you. Perhaps it will serve as a pleasant reminder of your recent visit to New Mexico. (Be sure to read and adhere to the cautionary labeling.)

But I regret my shipment of self-made cream puffs arrived in what you described as “…unrecognizable but almost palatable condition.” In retrospect, I should not have used padded envelopes to send these pastries, but rather boxes. I was, however, in a hurry to get them to you before dangerous, malodorous—if not lethal—spoilage set in. I promise to use more suitable packaging next year.

I loved your gift of a CD, i.e. “The Chipmunks Sing Opera.” I greatly enjoy listening to this collection when vacuuming and mixing my cream puff fillings. There is absolutely nothing like a chipmunk performing a Puccini aria. It can bring tears to my eyes.

Obviously, you were also seeking to appeal to my musical appreciation with your gift of the book, “Enjoying Old Organs.” Regrettably, this volume has nothing whatsoever to do with music (other than metaphorically), but does contain some remarkable photographs and well-worded captions. You’re very thoughtful.

Patrick also had a fine Christmas thanks in large part to your shipment of little catnip-stuffed burlap cushions containing the names of national political figures. The Speaker of the House was the subject of the initial assault, and he fared very poorly. Patrick is now working his way through other officials with heartless, eviscerating, intoxicated, shameless glee.

In decorating the small artificial tree, we included a few strands of tinsel here and there. Apparently, Patrick made a very close study of the ornamentation, as he was seen walking through the house with a long strand of that same shiny tinsel dragging along behind, extending from that highly functional, critically important orifice in his stern. He seemed, however, to saunter—almost strut—with a certain pride, but perhaps disappointed that he couldn’t locate a passing parade in which to march.

I guess we all celebrate in our own special ways. Happy New Year, Amigos!

—Your Friend, Herb

Re: Are there aliens among us?

Ever since the hippies settled in the Placitas area there have been stories of UFOs. Though back then, they could have been a little bit dopey. Anyway, it was said that lights could be seen going to and out of the Sandia Mountains, and there were hints of other alien visitations from outer space. Here are a few more recent stories about some of our local UFOs. The storytellers say these witnessed events are absolutely true.

About six years ago, a local woman was driving at night with her three children from Placitas to Bernalillo. As they entered the “S” curves, a flying object, traveling in the same direction, went by their car only to disappear around the last corner of the S curves. As the family drove out of these curves, the object went flying back up the road as they drove down the road. All four members of this family said that the object came quite close and was diamond-shaped with a tail on it that went back and forth like a fish. Now what kind of alien would be in a diamond-shaped vessel with a tail that went back and forth? Or did this family actually see an alien in person who happened to be able to fly in that shape? Go figure…

Another curious UFO was sighted only six months ago. The observer lives in a house that looks down into the 560-acre Open Space. He said he was sitting out on the porch one dark night having a cup of English tea. Suddenly down in the roadless Open Space there was a single, large bright white light. It began to move slowly south, where there is no road, and was soon totally surrounded by eight small red lights. The UFO kept moving south and was soon hidden by the nearest ridge. But then the UFO came back up into view above the ridge for a few seconds and then went back down where it was hidden by the ridge again. The UFO came back up into view two more times and then just disappeared into the dark night.

This final story about one of our local UFOs is so strong and convincing that we ask you to be sure to sit down. About eight years ago at Christmas time a father and his son were driving up from Bernalillo at night to their house on Perdiz Canyon Road. When they got near the fire station they both saw one very bright white light that seemed to hover over the Overlook subdivision. But as they drove further up Highway 165 they said the now-moving, white light traveled in front of their car and sometimes beside their car. The light was so bright that it hurt their eyes. After driving two miles up the road with the white light always in view, the father and son pulled off the road at the corner of Camino del Tecolote and Highway 165 and got out of their car just to watch the UFO. Over a period of two minutes, the single, bright, white light traveled high into the sky, came to a full stop for a few seconds and then went faster and faster till it zipped clean out of sight. But as the UFO gained speed in the high sky, two other bright white lights flipped into view, forming a perfect triangle with the front light. And then it was gone.

A couple of weeks ago, I told these three stories about our local UFOs to a friend of mine. He said that a year ago, for no apparent reason, he woke up about 1:00 a.m. and went outside his home off Camino Del Tecolote, just above the village of Placitas. He said the land was bathed in strong moonlight. But then the moonlight suddenly disappeared and he looked up. There was a giant ‘mother ship’ hiding the moon. He went back inside much faster than he came outside.

So is anyone out there feeling alienated? For instance, are your eyes starting to change color, perhaps to yellow or to black? Are you hearing high-pitched squeaks and squawks that nobody else hears? Or is a tiny little alien head starting to grow up out of your right shoulder? If so, you may want to keep it to yourself, or you may want to tell everyone you meet … everybody different, eh?

If you have also seen one of our local UFOs, or if you yourself have become alienated, then you could write a letter to the Signpost editor to help explain all this …

—Fred Smith, Placitas Resident

Ensuring death with dignity

—Wendell Stephenson

Armond and Dorothy Rudolph—92 and 90 years of age, respectively—didn’t set out to make national news, but their story should serve as a clarion call for overhauling the conflicting, ambiguous, and sometimes cruel, regulations currently governing end-of-life decisions in this country.

Armond suffered from spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that causes acute pain and numbness in the limbs. Dorothy was almost completely physically immobilized. Both had developed early-stage dementia.

In August, after consulting with family and friends, the Rudolphs decided to hasten their deaths by refusing food and water. Three days into their fast, they relayed their decision to administrators of their assisted living facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although their decision was clearly within their legal rights, facility officials responded to the couple’s intentions by summarily evicting the ninety-year-olds from their apartment the very next morning. The Rudolphs resisted, and administrators called the police to have the couple forcibly transported to a nearby hospital.

The Rudolphs had no legal recourse to keep their apartment. Fortunately, with the help of their children, they were able to quickly relocate to a private residence. Assisted by hospice workers, they continued their fast. A week later, husband and wife—married 69 years—died within 24 hours of each other, surrounded by family.

There are thousands of Americans like Armond and Dorothy, burdened with painful, irreversible conditions, considering whether to hasten death. This population isn’t “suicidal.” They do not have an irrational desire to destroy themselves. They have already enjoyed full, long lives, blessed with love and happiness, and they know their time is at an end. They see a dignified death as the natural and appropriate ending to a well-lived life, when life as they knew it is no longer possible.

Instead of treating people like the Rudolphs with compassion and support, however, authorities believe that they are in a better position to make life decisions for these mentally competent adults. In fact, just three states—Montana, Oregon, and Washington—currently allow physician-assisted suicide. Some states are actually actively cracking down on organizations that provide support to people like the Rudolphs, who choose to hasten death. Notably, Georgia has made it a felony for an outside group even to talk with people about end-of-life options that include self-deliverance.

These restrictive regulations are morally wrong, and they don’t square with public opinion. Polls show that roughly seventy percent of American adults—and about sixty percent of the elderly—think that the terminally, or irreversibly, ill should have the right to end their own lives.

Currently, except for the three states mentioned above “voluntarily stopping eating and drinking” (VSED) is often the only legal, humane option patients have.

Done right, VSED can bring a safe and peaceful end; however, the process is relatively lengthy, between one and two weeks on average. To manage any pain, patients require sustained palliative care, which is often difficult and expensive to arrange—25 percent of individuals who choose this route have difficult and painful deaths. It is often devastating for their loved ones to watch individuals deny themselves food and drink for two weeks, even when those individuals have made a conscious choice to do so.

Americans facing end-of-life choices deserve other options. Inexpensive, safe, and pain-free alternatives exist. Yet, just months ago, the FBI, Customs, and other heavily-armed law enforcement agencies staged a dawn raid on the home of a 91-year-old woman to stop her from making helium hoods (one such painless alternative) in this country. Sharlotte Hydorn, of El Cajon, California was the only source for such helium hoods in the United States. The agents held handguns to her face in order to ensure “officer safety” as they “seized” her sewing machine. Ironically, guns are the method of choice in the vast majority of suicides, and yet increasingly, laws and court decisions are making firearms more readily available.

It is time for the nation to recognize the inconsistencies in our approach and the needless suffering to which many people are being condemned. People who make the decision for self-deliverance after much soul searching, consultations with medical staff, and discussions with family and friends, deserve a dignified death, free of pain, and with loved ones at their side during the process. As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, it is certainly time for the legal views on suicide, and the rights of individuals to reflect the views a majority of our citizens have held since the mid 20th century.

Wendell Stephenson is the president of the Final Exit Network—the website is:

Undo Citizens United

—Sen. Steve Fischmann

Folks from both the political left and right are understandably furious. The lion’s share of our national wealth and income are increasingly concentrated in the hands of one percent of the population, while the ranks of the poor continue to grow—almost 25 percent of our children live in poverty—and the middle class sees less opportunity in its future than at any time since the Great Depression.

Everywhere we look, the game appears to be rigged. Large corporations receive huge subsidies and often pay no taxes, while bad actors at banks and on Wall Street not only go unpunished for misdeeds that brought our economy to its knees but continue to earn hefty bonuses. Sweetheart government contracts are uncovered everywhere we turn, and most of the largess winds up in the hands of big campaign contributors. Money’s corrupting influence on politics is impossible to ignore.

Working inside the system as a state senator, I can confirm that the game favors wealthy interests in a thousand ways both large and small. It’s not just the huge giveaways that are outrageous; it’s the Rube Goldberg contortions of law that have been put in place to protect them. You don’t need to read Catch 22 to appreciate this sampling of doozies:

  • Laws that prohibit disclosure of the size of specialized tax breaks to specific corporate taxpayers. Our government can give the money away but is mysteriously barred from telling us who’s getting how much.
  • A law prohibiting cash-strapped Medicare from negotiating reduced prices from fabulously profitable pharmaceutical companies.
  • Health care reform that purports to protect the public from private insurance abuses by requiring folks to buy private health insurance!
  • Laws that leave consumers paying the hefty legal and administrative costs utility companies incur when they file to raise your rates—even when the rate hike request is substantially reduced.
  • Laws that allow corporations producing genetically modified seed to sue a farmer for patent infringement if that seed accidentally blows onto his land.
  • Exemptions from basic water protection regulations for fracking operations by oil and gas drillers. I cannot think of any other industry where regulators have decided that an inherently risky process is so perfect that it requires no monitoring at all.
  • And underlying it all, campaign finance and lobbying laws so full of loopholes that big money is driving our politics more now than ever before.

The question I have to ask is how much worse can it get when our own Supreme Court allows corporate insiders to usurp our basic civil rights? By virtue of its recent Citizens United decision, the court effectively ruled that every elected office is up for corporate auction using your money. Citizens United allows corporate managers to invest unlimited shareholder funds to promote political candidates of their choice. No shareholder or board approval is required. Finessed properly, management is not even legally required to report a political donation. If you thought public officials were bought before, you haven’t seen anything yet.

The court justified its Citizens United decision as protection of free speech. They seem to be confused about what free speech means. Most of us think the first amendment is meant to insure that every individual is free to say what they want. The Supreme Court has ruled the first amendment insures corporate insiders the right to use our invested money to promote their personal political picks for free!

Every one of us is invested in corporate America through the stock market, an investment fund, pension fund, or as a citizen of New Mexico who benefits from investments by our state severance tax fund. None of us signed a proxy asking corporations to support political candidates on our behalf. When corporate insiders spend investor money to support political candidates without investor approval, it is a blatant violation of our first amendment rights.

Proposals to correct the Citizens United decision through constitutional amendments have been made by a number of federal legislators, including New Mexico’s Senator Tom Udall, and Congressman Martin Heinrich. I will be co-sponsoring a resolution in the upcoming New Mexico legislative session supporting a US constitutional amendment that corrects the Citizens United fiasco. I will also support measures that protect us from corporate dominance of elections at the state level.

Let your Senators and Congressmen know we want our elections and our government back. We must not stand idly by while a misguided Supreme Court allows multi-national corporations to commandeer our wealth, our laws, and our individual free speech.

State Senator Steve Fischmann represents NM District 37. His web address is

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