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letters, opinions, editorials

Leaving Placitas

The “Leaving Placitas” sign recently moved to the old village of Placitas boundary has other Placitas zip code holders irate.

re: “Welcome to Placitas” sign repositioning (or Go away, Kid, you bother me)

Where did “Placitas” go? The “Placitas” signs that once welcomed all who turned east from Exit 242 and drove up the hill are no more to be seen. Has anyone else wondered why the signs disappeared so unceremoniously last summer? Linda (my wife) and I tried to find out and were met with stonewalling and obfuscation on the part of government officials who should have gladly given us the information we sought.

In early August 2006 we became aware that the signs were missing. This was after several friends were unable to find our house, using the directions that we had given them, which included a reference to the big green and white sign that said “Welcome To Placitas.” We telephoned our elected representative, county Commissioner Bill Sapien, who said, in so many words, that he was unaware that the “Placitas” signs had been removed from their location(s), just to the east of I-25 on NM 165. He said that he would make some inquiries and would get back to us. After more than two weeks of not hearing from Commissioner Sapien, I initiated another round of telephone contacts with him. The most information that I (we) ever got from him was:

1) That he did not know who requested or caused the signs to be removed;
2) That he would check with Tony Abbo, “his sign guy” to see what happened; and
3) That the “folks in the village have their rights” regarding the historical name—Placitas.”

Neither my wife nor I ever received any additional information from Commissioner Sapien, nor were any of our recorded telephone messages to Mr. Abbo ever returned. Perhaps Mr. Abbo's telephone answering machine mal-functioned over a period of several weeks? I mentioned all of this to a friend and she recalled seeing a state or county work crew erecting signs in the historic village of Placitas, which announced “Entering Placitas” and “Leaving Placitas.” I checked and saw two sets of these signs, one at each “end” of the village.

I worked for the federal government for more than thirty years (most of that time as an investigator in the Inspector General community of agencies) and I recognize the damp smell of backroom deals when I encounter it. I say “backroom” because the expensive signs, which identified the community in which I thought I lived, just disappeared. Also, the fabrication and erection of four expensive new signs, which now redefine and limit the geographical boundaries of “Placitas,” was accomplished without any public notice, any public participation, or any visible public process. And all of this was apparently at the behest of some still mysterious party or parties. Using this logic, any place outside of Old Town Albuquerque could not be considered as part of Albuquerque.

What power! What arrogance! What a colossal waste of taxpayer funds that could have been put to some beneficial public use. This is a classic example of the kind of tricky little maneuver that should never be inflicted upon any community of law-abiding citizens.

Wouldn't it have been better (and ultimately less expensive) to have an open process in which people of goodwill in our greater community could have made constructive suggestions that would honor the historic character of the original village of Placitas without heaping spite upon all of the thousands of us taxpayers whose ancestors were not among the original settlers of this area? Why not erect one of those special brown-and-white signs extolling the distinctly historical nature of certain locations, in this case, the original village of Placitas, and restore the original “welcome” sign to its former location?

I am sure there are other equitable ways to handle a situation such as we have encountered here, but my imagination has been stunted by a lifetime wherein fair play has been narrowly defined by laws, regulations, and common courtesy. I can understand that some folks might be bothered by new (totally legal) real-estate developments in this beautiful area, but I am not a developer, just a citizen who loves his community.

The three hundred million people who now populate the USA are spread far and wide, and some of us have moved to “Placitas.”

—FLOYD COTTON, 12345 Every Street, Somewhere, New Mexico 87043

re: mountain lion haze

I was driving slowly down Tunnel Springs Road at the crack of dawn on September 16, not quite awake. In one second, a mountain lion leaped out of the tall grass to the left, bounded on the middle of the road in front of the truck and disappeared into the tall grass on the right. Long, sleek, fast, long tail. Did I really see a mountain lion? Have there been other sightings in the area?


re: what’s that rattling?

I enjoyed your snake article immensely [“Rattlesnake summer,” October 2006 Signpost].

Last week, we encountered one ourselves—unfortunately, it was in the house. Dave was watching TV in the family room close to midnight when he heard what he describes as a hissing noise. Thinking that gas or water was leaking somewhere, he came out into the dining room to find both Dalmatians belly down on the bricks, intent on something ... a coiled Prairie rattler that wasn’t happy with all the doggie attention. I woke up with Dave hauling both dogs bodily into the bedroom by their collars and slamming the door. Thinking he’d gone around the bend, I was annoyed at the racket. Dave is a man of few words, and simply said, “Rattlesnake!” I said, “In the house?” He said, “In the house.”

I’ve never dealt with one without having bunker gear on, other than to studiously avoid them while hiking, particularly one really big fat Western diamondback over by Cedar Creek, in Placitas, before anyone lived down there. My biggest concern is that it would slip off somewhere under the sofa while I was trying to figure out what to do. Too embarrassed to call 911 and risk being the laughing stock of the PVFB, I called Snider to see if he could bring the rescue truck—and snake stick—up here, but he was working a night shift on the ambulance. I was on my own. Deep breath. Got the push broom out of the shop; Dave went outside and opened the door, and I advanced with the broom. Smart rattlesnake—thought the open door looked better than the broom—slithered outside without so much as a rattle.
We are still trying to figure out how it got in. I wear shoes in the house these days.


re: alternative health care

A group of New Mexico complementary and alternative health-care practitioners, educators, and administrators is interested in getting a bill passed here in New Mexico in next year's sixty-day legislative session (January 2007) that will allow for the legal practice of all CAM health-care disciplines that are not currently licensed in NM.

I have joined the team of NMCAAMP, and, along with Dr. Christopher Merchant, MD, Albuquerque; Wynn Werner, administrator of the Ayurvedic School, in Albuquerque; Susan Nichols, master herbalist, Albuquerque; and others, am working towards creating a more open environment for the practice of ethnic and traditional healing protocols and modalities in New Mexico.

This will proved New Mexicans with more choices for their health-care needs, and will also create a demand from people in other states who will travel to New Mexico to take advantage of these services.

Legislative language has been crafted and will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session in Santa Fe which runs from January to March.

This is a grassroots venture. More information is available at

—DR. BOB DUBIN, Placitas

re: voting rights

The people of New Mexico have demanded of government by constitutional law that "All elections shall be free and open, and no power, civil or military shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage." (Article II, Section 8)
If this is the law, and if our constitution holds any validity, I want to know how an individual can be turned away from the polling place during primary elections.

This was my experience (my wife received the same "slap in the face"). When questioned, the official at the desk explained that only properly registered Republicans or Democrats were allowed the right to vote.

So what happens to all of us who are more independently minded, and prefer to vote for the candidates we feel best qualified and party platforms be dammed! What happened to the “all,” “free,” and “open” part of the article?

Well, I seem to have a fuzzy recall of a revolutionary war, representation, taxation, etc., etc., .... Was it all a dream?

—WAYNE ROHAR, Bernalillo


Euphorbia myrsinites, a.k.a. donkeytail

re: deadly donkeytail

As you read below, keep in mind that all seems to be okay now. I want people to know about this because this has been put on Colorado’s noxious-weed list recently. From what I can tell, Colorado is the only state to do it so far. You will see why. It is still sold as an ornamental here in Garden Centers. There are over sixteen hundred varieties of Euphorbia.

Yesterday just before noon, Christy was in the backyard garden pulling out a succulent that was taking over. She knew that it could cause burning and rashes, and she was wearing gloves, but as she pulled on one, instead of coming out by the root, it broke and squirted a white latex resin into her eye. She came in to wash it out, but the pain and burning became worse and worse. I got her in the truck to take her to the emergency room. On the way, she said that she felt cold progressing from her gut through her limbs. By the time we got from Placitas to I-25, she was slumped over and mumbling that she was dying. Her voice faded and I could not tell if she was breathing. So I ran two red lights and took her to the Bernalillo clinic.

Christy was conscious when we arrived and I ran in to get help. They were closed, but the head doctor was there (our doctor) and he brought her in and irrigated the eye which she had done at home. He then put drops in to numb the pain which were effective for about ten minutes. He put a dye in to see if the cornea was damaged, and it did not appear to be.

When the drops wore off she was sobbing and shrieking and in immense pain. The doctor wanted to know what it was that squirted her. I had brought a piece of the plant in a baggie, but they did not know what it was and had never encountered anything like this before. While he was irrigating, I went three blocks to the library and got on a computer and found it was Euphorbia myrsinites. It is highly toxic and if ingested or introduced into the bloodstream can be fatal. Indians used another Euphorbia, which is a close relative of it, to tip arrowheads to bring down medium-sized (sheep-sized) animals.

I took Christy to the ophthalmologist, and two doctors looked at her, but could not figure out what to do. All the time, she was shrieking and sobbing—which she did nonstop for five hours. They washed her eye again and used the pain drops twice, which gave about twenty minutes of relief. They could not continue with them because they are bad for the eye if used more than a few times. They confirmed that there was probably no damage to the cornea.

I put her in the truck and started for home, but her agony was so great that I detoured to Bernalillo again and took her in to see the first doctor. He gave her a shot of morphine. I took her home shrieking and crying. The morphine had no effect except to make her wobbly. After the morphine wore off, she stopped shrieking, and in thirty minutes the sobbing diminished. An hour later, she was no longer crying but still in immense pain. After the eighth hour, the symptoms diminished, and with a prescription from the Bernalillo doctor she was able to sleep.

Christy is okay this morning but her eye is very swollen. From what I read, a direct hit can cause temporary blindness for several weeks and can sometimes cause permanent blindness. The bad substances in the latex resin are diterpen and triterpen. I suspect her seizure was due to some of it getting into her bloodstream from the white of her eye. She can see and seems to be okay, but I will not be going to Lubbock tomorrow as planned. I will wait and when she is stable I will go later. Maybe the middle of the week. This stuff is also known as myrtle spurge and donkeytail.


[This prolific nonnative form of Euphorbia is now listed with the Albuquerque Poison Control Center. —Ed.]

re: getting mooned in Placitas

Dear Friends Back East,
Life in Placitas, New Mexico, frequently entails extraordinarily clear nights in which the moon shines nearly like the sun and the stars resemble millions of little searchlights creating a blazing platinum landscape suitable for reading labels on medicine bottles. This nocturnal phenomenon is posing difficulties for me.

For example, my house came with a fully operational appliance known as a “hot tub,” with which I had no previous experience. In seeking advice as to its proper use, I was told that immersion in a stark-naked condition after dark would provide splendid mental and physical benefits. Being of a very modest persuasion, and possessing considerably less than a Herculean body, I naturally waited until the neighbors were certain to be asleep—approximately 3:00 a.m.—before beginning my stealthy, nude, towel-holding creep across the patio. Regrettably, I selected one of those atrociously bright nights to initiate my maiden voyage to the tub, and it coincided with the presence of two coyotes in pursuit of a jackrabbit just outside my protective wire fence. Upon seeing me, all three of those animals abruptly stopped and began to ogle my totally exposed ... personage. Both coyotes suddenly launched into hysterical hyena-like exultations, their teeth clearly visible from ear to ear. Wide yellow-eyed stares accompanied their shrieking gales of jubilance, clearly focusing on my unclothed self.

The jackrabbit was also giving me an open-mouth, bucktoothed stare while uttering peculiar little rhythmical sounds best described as “chortles,” and he or she shook with apparent amusement .... The obvious mockery of my ... personage by these two animal species caused me to shrivel with embarrassment and humiliation. And it was due to the irksome brightness of the moon and stars over Placitas that I was made sport of by two coyotes and a rabbit. I scuttled back to the house, and sought solace in television infomercials and a Dirty Harry movie.

I don't know what ultimately happened between the coyotes and the rabbit. I assume that hostilities resumed just as they did following the brief British and German fraternization in no-man's-land during the Christmas of 1914 in World War I.

And not long ago, I fell asleep outdoors on my chaise lounge and remained so for the duration of another obscenely bright night. Unfortunately, my lower jaw had flopped open, exposing the sensitive internal structures of my mouth and throat to moon and starlight for several hours. When I awoke, I found that my tonsils and tongue were quite sore, leading me to the unavoidable conclusion that I had diphtheria. Following an emergency examination, I was informed by medical personnel that I suffered from “… tonsil and mucous membrane burns brought on by excessive exposure to nighttime radiation from the moon and stars.” I was told to use medicinal quantities of any palatable vodka to reduce the pain and to generally keep my mouth shut. I was relieved that I didn't have diphtheria and also had not swallowed a bat.

You, of course, do not face such difficulties, i.e., back East the noxious effusions from the high concentration of motor vehicles, supplemented by the noxious effusions from the people themselves, create an airborne haziness that reduces nighttime brightness and its potential untoward impacts. For that you can thank your lucky stars. I have it very rough out here.


Open letter to Governor Richardson about water rights

Dear Governor Richardson,
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on this issue. Many holders of senior water rights, especially those used for agriculture, have expressed concern at the vulnerability of our rights. If a farmer loses his or her water rights to condemnation, not only does he or she lose the rights, with only a monetary compensation, but his or her business and way of life is also lost. The economic, environmental, and esoteric benefits that are so beneficial to society and the security of that society are also lost, forever. As imported foodstuffs become more and more expensive and scarce with the rising price of oil, it is imperative that we, as a people, strongly protect our local agriculture, as it will be of the utmost importance in the near future, as is pointed out by the recent OSE report on climate change, commissioned by yourself. Homeland security depends on the independence of the populace and their ability to provide for themselves much more than a teeter-tottery economy that can crash at any moment. Short-term economic gain is not reason enough to allow our agricultural people and lands to be arbitrarily condemned. Retaining our surface rights retains surface flows. Most often, these rights are used to mine groundwater, which threatens all of our springs, streams, and rivers with total loss of flows, as has happened to all the rivers in Arizona already. Allowing counties, municipalities, and water authorities to ruthlessly condemn our rights to support rampant sprawl development in order to mindlessly expand their tax bases and allow huge profits for private developers is fundamentally wrong and totally against what this country and state stand for. Construction jobs are nomadic and temporary by nature. Just ask any old carpenter. These cannot, reasonably, be used to justify this kind of oppression.

Ancestors of parciantes of la Rosa de Castilla, (Inc.), were present and utilizing the waters of Las Huertas Creek and Ojo la Rosa de Castilla in 1661, and were one of the families that were granted the San Antonio de las Huertas Grant in 1778. I, as mayordomo and charged by our bylaws to protect our acequia and the rights associated with it, have been extremely concerned about all the residential housing going in around us, and the groundwater mining associated with it. The state engineer, who, along with his predecessors, has refused to file an adjudication to determine our rights and, along with the legislature, which passed the domestic well statute, has allowed unrestricted granting of groundwater pumping permits without paying any attention to the threats to our sources. In order to wake them up, I protested a transfer of senior surface rights all the way down in Valencia County up here for a large, for Placitas, nearby subdivision. I have also protested similar transfers for other subdivisions and a gravel pit. This particular one has made it to the NM Supreme Court, and I have been waiting almost a year after hearing for a decision. This case established before the state engineer and the court that local groundwater pumping is permanently depleting our spring. The state engineer determined the depletions were “de minimus,” without determining the effects of all local appropriations in order to determine impairment, as is called for by law.

The sword cuts both ways, and if I do not receive satisfaction from the court, I intend to ask my commissioners to start condemning rights to surrounding wells in order to protect our acequia. The courts have clearly held that acequia associations hold the right of eminent domain. The legislature needs to rescind the clause, a la Tejano law, that domestic well permits cannot be regulated or protested, appropriate reasonable funds for the state engineer to carry out his duties, especially Middle Rio Grande adjudication, fund public water planning groups created by the Interstate Stream Commission, not allow condemnation of water rights, and start to do things to rein in the uncontrolled development that is destroying our resources, landscapes, watersheds, cultures, agriculture, and all the enchantment claimed on our license plates. Is all this “growth” worth all these?

The confrontational tone of the above is deliberate. I make no apology as I am attempting to make a point, that is: The present course we are on will inevitably result in intense conflict among all sectors of our population and governments, and among entities within these sectors. Some kind of peace must be realized before such a caustic war breaks out, or the future of our state will not be very positive. A concept of the water as a community resource, similar to the philosophy of the acequias, needs to be promoted to give us a sense of “our” water. The “Year of the Water” must be something beyond obtaining federal funds for settlement projects. It is revealing that acequias were not even mentioned in this initiative. Our leaders must get above the standard political assumption that one only has to take care of the economy and everything else will follow behind, and get above the fray to institute a spirit of reconciliation and community. It might be the more difficult path, but the legacy of doing so will give our people and state a reputation for foresight and compassion. The groundwork to such a legacy has already been laid by such things as the aforementioned Climate Change Report, attempts to establish an alternative energy industry, and the recognition that we have to get our water resource house in order. We have the resources and good leadership necessary to accomplish this. It would be a great tragedy if the opportunities presented us were not taken.


Character in politicians is vastly over- rated

It seems that a Colorado candidate for Congress, Angie Paccione, really filed for personal bankruptcy in 2001, as, according to the administrative office of the U.S. Courts, did 1,452,029 other people. Why should anyone care?

Because Marilyn Musgrave, the two-term Republican incumbent Paccione is running against, has informed the world about the bankruptcy in a radio ad. Just as Paccione, in her radio ad, has informed the world, that in January of that year, Musgrave drove into the rear of another car in Adams County, and then "left the scene of the accident, did not file a police report, did not immediately call the police."

Apparently true, but also apparently legal; The damage didn't meet the $500 threshold that would have required Musgrave to call the cops and to stay until they arrived.

Again, why should anyone care? Let's analyze both cases, putting the two candidates in the worst possible light: Paccione is sloppy about personal finances; Musgrave can be arrogant and hardhearted, especially if, as the folks in the other car claimed, she left while one of them was still in pain.

Big deal. Should Paccione win and the Democrats reclaim the House majority, it would be at least a decade before she'd get to be chair of the Ways and Means Committee or anyplace else where her fiscal capability would matter. As for Musgrave, it's hard to see why a voter who agreed with her on most public policy issues would vote against her because she may have been a nasty twit one day.

Yet, as we enter the final weeks before the 2006 midterm election, we are reminded again that we live in a political culture in which personal history dominates public policy. Not that this is entirely new; folks always preferred voting for a candidate they found appealing. But thanks in part to political journalists who dislike politics, and who therefore tell voters to choose the contender "you'd rather have a beer with," that intangible known as character trumps such irrelevancies as wars, taxes, schools and health care.

This reality has two consequences, one tactical and one philosophical. The tactical consequence should soothe Republicans who look at the latest polls showing Democratic candidates two, four, seven, even nine points ahead in so many races. Unless that Democrat is over 50 percent in the polls, he or she is still vulnerable to late political ads based on something in public, business or private life. At the Capitol Hill offices of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, a staff of 10 has been doing "oppo" research (that's looking for goodies on the other guy) for more than a year. The Republicans are not being cute about this; the purpose of the oppo research is attack ads.

"You haven't seen the majority of the negative ads yet," committee spokesman Carl Forti told the Los Angeles Times in late September. "When people are looking at national issues that are not breaking our way, what you want to do is focus on your opponent," said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole.

Add in the superior GOP get-out-the-vote operation, and any Democrat who isn't at least three points ahead in the last pre-election polls is likely to lose. There is hardly a state in the Rocky Mountain region without at least one Republican seat that looks vulnerable. But under these circumstances, vulnerable does not mean lost. Not yet.

As to the philosophical consequence, the emphasis on character only enhances the severance of politics from governing. If the decisive swing voters opt for a candidate based on his or her cuteness instead of on his or her position on Iraq or Social Security, then Iraq and Social Security recede in importance.

But here's how dumb it is to choose the candidate "you'd rather have a beer with": You won't. I speak here as one of the one-tenth of 1 percent of the folks who has had beers with candidates for the House, the Senate, even President. I did not achieve this lofty status because I am nobler or cuter than the rest of you; it just came with the job.

And you know what? Those beers gave me little sense of what those candidates were really like. You might tell your swing-voter friends to have a beer with friends and neighbors, but to vote for candidates whose views on major issues are closer to their own. In politics, unlike the truly important pursuits like love, literature or baseball, character is highly overrated.

Jon Margolis is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ( He covers Washington, D.C., from the safe distance of Vermont.

Heard Around the West


Joe Jepson, who lives seven miles northeast of Silverton in western Colorado, says that every year, a few all-terrain vehicles wander onto his property. He points out his no-trespassing signs, and usually the drivers retreat. But last month, after Jepson saw two men “spinning doughnuts in wetlands and raising hell,” the encounter turned ugly. “One guy just hit the throttle and ran into me,” Jepson told the Durango Herald. Jepson was thrown 25 feet, breaking his leg. Jepson said the second ATVer initially asked him if he needed a ride, but then took off after his friend. Jepson faces surgery; the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office is still seeking information about the hit-and-run assault.

A sweet-smelling earthworm, 3 feet long, would be a wondrous sight to behold, although hardly anyone has seen it since Driloleirus americanus was discovered in 1897. But the pink worm, long thought to be extinct, was seen again last year in the rich farming soils of the Palouse region along the Idaho-Washington border, spotted by a graduate student at the University of Idaho. Conservationists now want emergency protection for the animal under the Endangered Species Act. As worm defender Steve Paulson says: “What kid wouldn’t want to play with a 3-foot-long, lily-smelling, soft pink worm that spits?”

The Northwest hasn’t nearly as many “extreme commuters” as New York, with “extreme” defined as any trip to work that lasts 90 minutes or more. But the Oregonian found that high home prices are pushing people farther from Portland, in a phenomenon that real estate agents call “drive till you qualify.” As a result, commutes longer than 45 minutes are increasing, while the number of workers who commute a wonderful 15 minutes or less is decreasing.

That ultra-serious watchdog of the press, Columbia Journalism Review, encourages readers to chortle or wince at headline mistakes culled from newspapers around the nation. The best (or worst) are collected in a column called “The Lower Case.” Recently, two Northwestern papers provided some shudders: From Washington, the Olympian’s headline read: “President takes straddling stance on national tongue,” and from Portland, an Oregonian story was puzzlingly headlined: “Inmates locked up longer, but few rejoice.” The 45-year-old magazine offers a $25 reward to readers who spot heads that mangle and malaprop.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ( Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in Heard around the West.



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