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Our Competition Cup Runneth Over

Five not-so-easy pieces by four winning writers.


Nothing motivates a writer like a deadline, I guess. I confess, a few months ago I was a bit worried about our annual writing competition. The entries just were not pouring in as they were supposed to! Then came the first half of July, with the deadline looming, and suddenly every day's mail brought several envelopes of entries. The email inbox pinged constantly with arriving stories and poems. The fax machine hummed happily. One cutting-it-close entrant emailed a story at precisely 11:59 p.m. on the deadline day.

When the dust settled, we enjoyed a record number of entries, and selecting the grand-prize winner and four runners-up was tougher than ever. Our eyes are bleary and red from reading. Our office is littered with piles Post-It Note-labeled "Possibles" and "Strong Contenders" and the like. You can enjoy the results of our deliberations in this issue, beginning on page B10.

One puzzle that made this issue's prize-picking particularly problematic was Phillip "Pep" Parotti (please don't read that aloud if you tend to spit your "p"s). The Silver City author had, as allowed by our rules, entered two pieces — both clearly top notch. In past years, we've always tried to spread the prizes around, never awarding two to the same writer. But Parotti's entries were so stellar that we couldn't decide which merited the grand prize and which, according to past practice, would be left out of this issue entirely.

Ultimately, we decided to come down on the side of our readers rather than the one entrant who would thereby be left out, and publish both of Parotti's pieces, along with those of three other finalists. We did manage to pick Parotti's "Some Memoirs of Mildred" — a rollicking remembrance of teenage pranks and Silver City's infamous Madam Millie — as our grand-prize winner. But when you read his history-laced short story, "Rattlesnake Stew," you may disagree. At least you get to enjoy both, just as we did.

We're confident you'll also thoroughly enjoy the short stories by finalists Betty McMahon Buman and Danna Stout, as well as the poem by Rochelle Williams. Buman was our grand-prize winner in the 2005 competition, and Parotti was a 2004 finalist. But the other two are first-time honorees. Stout, in fact, banged out her story and entered only at the last minute after her songwriter husband (who ultimately didn't enter) gave her the idea to try.

So when next year's competition rolls around, remember that anybody can win if you write well enough. And, of course, if you meet the deadline.



A Dog in That Fight

Should Anglos be rallying to defend Paris Hilton?


Gov. Bill Richardson was a trendsetter, it turns out, in his ethnic-based sympathy for embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. You'll recall that the governor conceded he waited an extra week before joining the call for Gonzales' resignation because the attorney general is Hispanic. No other reason — not that he had doubts about Gonzales' purported failings, not that he wanted to avoid a rush to judgment. Gonzales is Hispanic, so Richardson wanted to cut him a break.

It was not — it seemed at the time — our governor's finest hour in the 2008 presidential campaign. But now it looks as though he was simply ahead of the curve in ethnic- and race-based exceptionalism.

Recently, syndicated newspaper columnist Ruben Navarette Jr., a commentator on Hispanic issues and typically a critic of the GOP, weighed in again to defend Gonzales. If you think that Navarette's continuing support for the attorney general isn't rooted in ethnicity, recall this hysterical rant from a March column: "Leading this lynch mob are white liberals who resent Gonzales because they can't claim the credit for his life's accomplishments and because they can't get him to curtsy."

It's a familiar complaint, that the white establishment wants to topple any minority who rises too high. Similar grumblings were heard last year when State Treasurer Robert Vigil was accused of corruption and now with former legislative leader Manny Aragon under indictment.

Almost simultaneously with Navarette's latest volley on behalf of a fellow Hispanic, black protestors were picketing in support of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. The sign-wavers alleged that Vick is being treated more harshly for his involvement in a heinous dog-fighting case because he is black. Some likened Vick's case to similar "persecution" of entertainer Michael Jackson.

Lest you think this viewpoint is limited to a few on the lunatic fringe, tune in to Bryant Gumbel on the cable NFL Network. Gumbel — who is black — went on and on about how he'd never seen anyone so quickly "tried and convicted" in the media as poor Michael Vick. Similarly, NAACP leaders have come to Vick's defense. A recent poll found 32 percent of blacks believe Vick was being treated worse than an average person would be. And the Southern Christian Leadership Conference planned to honor Vick at its annual convention in Atlanta — until it learned that the quarterback's pending federal felony charges mean he can't travel outside of Virginia.

It’s true that Vick deserved his chance in a court of law and that, in terms of the criminal charges against him, he must be considered innocent until proven guilty. He subsequently accepted a plea bargain. Even before Vick’s plea, however, a close reading of the unchallenged facts about Vick’s dog-fighting operation would have convinced anyone that the quarterback’s conduct was morally—if not criminally—reprehensible. That has nothing to do with his race.

Issues of race and ethnicity in America remain deeply conflicted, and there's no question that any accusations against prominent minorities need to be carefully scrutinized for biased motivations. No fair-minded observer, however, could conclude that either Gonzales or Vick has been targeted for reasons other than their questionable conduct.

One wonders, indeed, whether Bryant Gumbel similarly weighed in about the white lacrosse players at Duke University whose reputations were tarnished and academic careers interrupted after racially charged — and ultimately unfounded — rape allegations. Or why are there no white protestors demanding fair treatment for celebrity serial misbehavers Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan? Aren't they being persecuted because they're skinny, rich white girls? And shouldn't we cut Dick Cheney a break when he treats the Constitution like his own personal brand of toilet paper? After all, he's a white guy who's had, what, 400 or so heart attacks.

Cutting people "a break" because of their race or ethnicity or other irrelevant factors when they offend against society does not advance the cause of equal treatment for all. Gov. Richardson was right to feel abashed at his attitude about Gonzales: Public figures must be held accountable for their actions, regardless of whether their name is "Gonzales" or "Bush." Only then can we be true to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of a world in which people are judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.


A Uniter, Not a Divider?

The bipartisan road to ruin.


Not to pick on our governor this month, but a seemingly uncontroversial comment Richardson made in the recent AFL-CIO-sponsored Democratic presidential candidates debate deserves closer scrutiny. Like most of his fellow contenders, Richardson uttered familiar platitudes about the need for national unity and bipartisanship: "What I would want to do is bring this country together. We need (sic) enormous challenges to face. It's got to be done in a bipartisan way."

Judging by the gathering clamor to "end the bickering" in Washington, the public agrees. Why can't politicians all get along and do what's right for the country?

Besides being naive, such a wish betrays a basic misunderstanding of our political system. Historically, we have had two — or more — political parties because Americans have not been able to agree on "what's right for the country." It's not merely a debate about means — how can we best protect Social Security? — but also about ends: Should the government, for example, seek to effect a more even distribution of wealth in our society? There's nothing wrong with divergent views about the most important issues facing America.

Indeed, when Americans have been most unanimously "brought together," our collective wisdom about what's right for the country has often been found wanting. In the hyperpatriotic aftermath of 9/11, President Bush's approval rating soared to 90 percent. As Time columnist Michael Kinsley recently reminded us, when Bush launched the war on Iraq, public approval of his approach to the Iraq "situation" was 70 percent. At one time, 90 percent of us approved of Bush's "handling" of the "war on terror." As Kinsley noted, "Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq was scandalously unilateral, but it did in fact have the support of most American citizens, which surely egged him on. The ensuing disaster is partly the fault of those Americans who told pollsters back in 2002 and 2003 that they supported Bush's war and then in 2004 voted to re-elect him, which he took, quite reasonably, as an endorsement of his policies."

Fault the Democrats back then, if anything, for not being partisan enough and doing their duty as the opposition party to more carefully scrutinize the president's war plans and claims about Saddam Hussein. Our two-party system — not to mention the mainstream news media — let us down as we stumbled into Iraq. For once, almost everybody in Washington got along, just as the public always says it wants, and the result was disastrous.

It's important, yes, to "reach across the aisle" to get things done in Washington. President Bush's domestic agenda has largely gone nowhere because of his failure to collaborate with Congress — or, often, even members of his own party. Happily, that's spared us the privatization of Social Security and a further expansion of Bush's "faith-based" initiative, among other bad ideas. The one time bipartisanship did prevail, we got the No Child Left Behind legislation that is increasingly being revealed as seriously flawed. Bipartisanship also almost gave us that mess of an immigration bill.

In 2008, if we have collectively changed our minds about Iraq and "compassionate conservatism," the American political system has a mechanism to deal with that. We have the option of ousting the party in power and giving the other guys a chance (now that they've found their voices again). That's partisanship.

Lately there's been much hand-wringing among Grant County Democratic Party activists — as there has been nationally — about the failure of the Democratic-controlled Congress to put an end to the war in Iraq. After all, isn't that what the 2006 election was all about?

While the current Congress certainly has its failings — most recently the rush to give President Bush still more power to invade the privacy of Americans — the failure to pass a measure terminating US involvement in Iraq can largely be blamed on the Byzantine rules of the US Senate. Without 60 votes to cut off debate — much less 67 votes to override a presidential veto — nothing can get done. So don't blame Senate Democrats. Blame Republicans for failing to support a troop withdrawal. Blame the voters in 2006 for giving Democrats only the narrowest of margins in the Senate.

Wasting your 2008 vote on the Green Party won't fix the problem. (In hindsight, does anyone who voted for Ralph Nader rather than Al Gore in 2000 still think that was a smart decision? That there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between Gore and Bush the younger?) Nor will staying home and pouting. New Mexicans who don't like the way the country is being run will have an extraordinary opportunity in 2008 to do something about it: Ours will likely once again be a swing state in the presidential election, and unhappy voters can oust a GOP senator and two GOP incumbents in the House.

If you like the way things are going, your choice is similarly easy and potentially potent. Maybe the only thing wrong with the Bush administration was that it was hobbled by too many Democrats in Congress. New Mexicans persuaded by that reasoning could vote for Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson or whomever, return their GOP representatives to Washington — and replace Rep. Tom Udall.

But don't be gulled by cries for "bipartisanship." Sure, it would be lovely if all Americans could come together and sing "Kumbaya." Unity does not, however, automatically confer wisdom. (In the past, after all, overwhelming majorities of Americans supported slavery and thought the virtual extinction of Native Americans was sound public policy.)

America's problems don't derive from an excess of partisanship — just the opposite. America's voters — unlike New Mexicans, who inexplicably re-elected both Sen. Jeff Bingaman and opposition Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson in 2006 — need to more resoundingly give one party or the other the chance to enact its vision for the nation. In that sense, yes, we need greater "unity." Give one team the ball; if they don't score, give the other side a clear chance — not a jump ball.

If the Democrats, given full control of the levers of power in 2008, fumble their opportunity, then fair enough. Maybe then it's time for a third party. But, as President Bill Clinton was fond of saying, don't throw out the good in the quest for the perfect. (And can any voter unhappy with the Bush presidency honestly say the world wasn't better under the imperfect Clinton presidency?)

Representative democracy still can work, even in the jumbled and confusing 21st century. Despite the flaws and fumbles of both parties, anybody who thinks there's no difference between them just hasn't been paying attention.


David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure.


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