Category Archives: "Las Vegas, N.M."

Snake Bite

Can you remember the movie where the cowboy is bitten by a rattlesnake just after he’s saved the schoolmarm from rustlers? He unties her from the railroad track, not noticing the snake until it’s too late and OUCH! We don’t remember the name of that movie but the same story line filled a lot of Saturday afternoon matinees when we were six-years-old.

The other cowhands carried our snake bitten hero to the schoolmarm’s bedroom where the small-town doctor announced to everyone within hearing distance, “ If he survives the night, he might make it, although the only thing I guarantee with certainty, little lady, is that he’s going to get worse before he gets better.” The schoolmarm would turn white and gasp while the doctor took a big swig from his pocket flask.

A snake bite is serious business for an six-year old so we paid attention. Still, a few questions went unanswered: Why were all the doctors in the west alcoholics and wasn’t there anyplace in town for injured cowboys except the schoolmarm’s bed? When we reached puberty and partial wisdom (much, much, much later) we realized that this bedroom scene was a thinly disguised attempt at introducing a romantic interest acceptable to movie censors. Remember Doris Day and her twin beds? (Decency Rule #23: a cowboy can only be seen in a woman’s bed if he’s been bitten by a snake). But at the time, we were more worried about our hero and less about the boundaries of sexual morality. And after all, it was the schoolmarm’s fault. If she wasn’t such a silly girl, the rustlers wouldn’t have caught her and our hero wouldn’t have been snake bit. All of us agreed with that observation.

We also agreed with the doctor’s warning, “…he’s going to get worse before he gets better.”

So we’d sit on the edges of our seats, watching our hero suffer. He’d sweat, toss and turn as the poison worked its way through his pure body. The schoolmarm helped by placing wet rags on his forehead. It was the least she could do, being responsible for his misery. Eventually, as the town’s one and only rooster crowed at dawn, our hero would open his eyes and we’d sit back in our seats and breathe again. He was going to make it. Everything was right with the world.

Back then, the town’s people would organize a posse and hunt the rustlers down. In simpler days, people had a basic understanding of who to attach blame to when bad things happened. Sure, a few of the more confused went looking for the snake but most understood who the real culprits were.

If you believe that this is only the fading recollections of a few aging movie fans, you’d be wrong. This scene set the framework for our future view of the world.

For eventually, the town people of today (The 99%) will organize and go after the rustlers (The 1%). Sure, the rustlers are blaming the snake (government) for all our problems but that only works for so long.

Note: If you’re curious, the picture is of Tom Mix and his horse, Tony.  Mix filmed many a cowboy epic in San Miguel County during the last century.  But don’t ask us why he’s sitting backwards on Tony.  Some things are better not known.

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Education in the Wasteland

Both Las Vegas school districts have had their share of problems – most of them preventable if a little forethought had been applied and the worms removed.

We have a coach who allegedly raped his students. The coach’s wife, an assistant superintendent, then applied pressure on other teachers to defend him. And while under indictment for over a dozen assaults, he was accepted in Santa Fe for a teaching position.  Honestly, who hires a teacher under indictment for student rape?

Another school official, the spouse of a politico, spent ten-thousand dollars of federal funds on a party for her cronies. She bought wide screen televisions for her family (same politician), was caught and convicted. Administrators and politicians, complacent in the crime, were rewarded by promotions rather than being dismissed.

Then there’s the superintendent who is forced to leave under mysterious circumstances that are kept secret from the community. Scandals run the gambit from silly to horrifying, amusing to sad.

None of this is acceptable but might be swallowed like a bitter worm if a substantial number of students actually graduated with the skills necessary to survive in a new world economy.

But that’s not happening. A fifty-percent graduation rate is not acceptable. And even many of those earning their high school diplomas read at a ninth or tenth grade level.  If college is on their horizon, any chance of succeeding past English 101 is slim. At best, many spend their first year of college in remedial instruction leading to further despair and self-doubts. No wonder so many kids drop out before their freshman year is finished.  They’re not prepared to compete in an academic environment.

You would believe that parents would be kicking down the school doors in indignation at having their children robbed of opportunities by corrupt school boards and complacent administrators.  But that’s not the way Las Vegas deals with these problems.

Way too many of us are dependent on jobs in the school districts so we fail to point out the problems.  And if we’re not dependent on employment, it’s someone in our family drawing a paycheck.  So, we remain silent which only perpetuates the problem.

Public sector jobs in northern New Mexico, at all levels, are connected in some way or another to political patronage.  It’s so based in historical precedent that patronage has become a tradition that’s accepted and promoted – so ingrained that few even see the problems. It is the reason we have two separate administratively top heavy school districts in a community with diminishing student enrollment.

But point out ways to improve any government institution here, be it a school, city or county office, and your contract isn’t renewed or your job becomes redundant overnight.  In a job scarce market place, it’s the economic guillotine hanging over everyone’s head. Go along with the system or the politicos will find someone who will.

To be fair, Las Vegas’ schools are not alone. Public education in New Mexico is ranked forty-ninth in the nation.  If you compared public education here to education in the rest of the world, we wouldn’t reach a third-world ranking. Public education in Zimbabwe is superior to New Mexico. Considering the amount of money we spend in relation to other countries, that’s outrageous.

And then there’s the provincialism inherent in any small community.  Las Vegas is an island into itself, seemingly connected to the outside world but at the same time, removed in its own little universe. New ideas are viewed with suspicion, and more than often, hostility.  That’s the toughest obstacle to changing the failing status quo and fixing public education.

But changes are coming that will drag Vegans screaming and fighting into the nineteenth century.

They’re called charter schools.

For some, a terrifying threat but for others, the solution to a worsening problem.

More later on how charter schools work.


Holy Guacamole, Batman

What San Miguel County lacks in a sense of humor, we make up  with a very long memory.

In 2003, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Val Kilmer joked that 80% of the residents of San Miguel were drunks. Not satisfied with insulting 80% of his neighbors, he went on to add that he carried a gun because San Miguel was also the murder capital of the Southwest.

Talk about bat guano hitting the fan.

Phil Griego, San Miguel’s fearless State Representative reacted immediately as any politico would.

“If Mr. Kilmer doesn’t like it here, he is welcomed to leave.”

Mr. Kilmer explained that he had been misquoted and  slinked back to the bat cave to figure out new ways to insult the remaining 20% of the County.

Flash forward to 2010 when Mr. Kilmer appears in the light of day and petitions the County Planning and Zoning Department for permission to build a guest house on his 6000 acre ranch.

We know the folks over at P&Z. Nice people but still public employees, dependent on the kindness of Santa Fe and its nest of thieves.   So they drop a dime, hurt feelings are dusted off, and the whole mess starts over again, seven years later.

Forget about free speech. Forget about the right of a citizen to make rude and tasteless remarks.  The Commissioners demand that he appear in front of them and explain his opinion before they’ll consider approving his guest house.

So that’s where it sits now.

We can only hope that the  County Commissioners  demand that Val appear in a cape, driving the Bat Mobile.

We discover more as the plot thickens in Gotham City

San Miguel County attorney Jesus Lopez said Kilmer’s rights have not been violated because no action was taken on his application.

“The matter was simply tabled, to ask Mr. Kilmer to explain himself to the people of New Mexico, the Hispanic people of New Mexico,” Lopez said. “… While the commission absolutely respects free speech and the constitutional right to free speech, in this area he can no more make the comments he did than yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater and not expect the County Commission to be concerned.”

Lopez has said the actor’s comments could foment unrest and last week called the quotes “a clear and present danger threatening public safety.”

Let’s see if we understand Mr. Lopez’s reasoning:  Mr. Kilmer’s application for three guest cabins is approved by Planning and Zoning only to be rescinded at a later date. That sounds like action on the application to us – first approved, then disapproved, then tabled until the cape crusader appears.

“…simply tabled,” as Mr. Lopez says.  We love lawyers – can’t live with ‘em, can’t throw  ‘em in a huge bonfire.

But speaking of bonfires – Mr. Lopez then equates making rude remarks the same as yelling fire in a theater.   We live in San Miguel County and have for a quarter of a century.  San Miguel is not ready to explode and the Commissioners have not hunkered down in the emergency bunkers in preparation for the upcoming conflagration.

Once again, Mr. Lopez has advised the Commission poorly but this probably isn’t the last time.