Thursday, March 24, 2011

Our dysfunctional nuclear family

By S. Derrickson Moore
It’s a Hopi word, and I’ve heard the long and short definitions from Hopi elders I’ve known. The simplest is a version of la vida loca, or “crazy life.” Koyaanisqatsi is life that is out of balance, in great turmoil, disintegrating ... or what I think is now most apt and urgent: “a state of life that calls for another way of living.”
Koyaanisqatsi was the word that came to mind in the 1970s, when I worked for an Oregon nuclear safeguards ballot measure campaign.
What can you say about a world that builds nuclear power plants with untested cooling systems on coastal areas in high-risk earthquake and tsunami zones? How do we tell our grandchildren (and great-great-greats and more) that we thought it was acceptable to generate lethal garbage that’s toxic for thousands of years, before we know how to safely process, store or transport it?
Many of us raised those questions decades ago. Spokesmen for interests that spent a lot of money to defeat that ballot measure told me it was too dangerous to test those cooling systems for the “unlikely to impossible” contingencies we worried about.
Now we’ve tested them. At Three Mile Island. At Chernobyl. And this month in Japan.
They didn’t work.
We were told that ways to safely process and store nuclear waste were coming soon and in the meantime, we could safely stash the stuff in places like New Mexico that “never have earthquakes.” Especially “geologically stable” places like Carlsbad, which later became the site of the U.S. Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the world’s first underground nuclear storage facility. Carlsbad’s adventures since that first load of waste arrived have included some earthquake activity and a large explosion of a natural gas line.
I think of all the people I love in southern New Mexico and along the routes from the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, the Southeast and the Southwest, all the roads traveled by those very toxic garbage trucks.
I know we invested billions in nuclear power at a time when many of us hoped it would be the safe, green, nonpolluting alternative we needed. The spin doctors are already gearing up to tell us we have too much invested to bail out now, while many nations of the world are seriously reexamining their commitment to nuclear energy in light of recent developments.
Some of us wonder what would have happened if we’d invested the same amount of energy — and money — in sustainable technologies like solar, geothermal, wind and other prospects that have the added advantage of avoiding messes for future generations to cope with and try to clean up.
We are a society with a short attention span.
The worst oil spill in our nation’s history seems a distant memory to many, less than a year later.
Newborn dolphins wash up on our shores. Birds fall from the skies.
It’s been 25 years since our worst nuclear plant disaster. When will Chernobyl be safe?
An online inquiry turned up this from BBC News: “The spent nuclear fuel is the most hazardous material to deal with. It includes one isotope of Plutonium, Plutonium-239, which has a half-life of 24,000 years. After 240,000 years (10 half lives) only 0.1% will remain. After 720,000 years (30 half-lives) it should be fairly safe.”
Prophet and philosopher Tenny Hale, who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II, told me innocence and ignorance were the spiritual diseases of her generation. Her diagnosis for our generation’s most challenging plagues: “Arrogance and greed.”
I thought of my Hopi friends when I heard from another amigo this week, erstwhile National Geographic photographer John Flannery, who now makes his home in aptly named Truth or Consequences.
“I go back to my old adage that homo sapiens is the only species you could remove from the ecosystem and indicate a plus, and maybe that’s what we are doing,” said John.
Is our dysfunctional nuclear family doomed? Or can we muster the right stuff to save humanity: wisdom to learn from experience, the humility, compassion and generosity to change course? Will we heed the koyaanisqatsi call for another way of living?

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Get crafty for some left-brain relief

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — This is a very crafty city.
If I didn’t know it already, hitting all the major arts and crafts shops within a few days would have convinced me.
It’s no accident that the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in May, has been ranked No. 1 in New Mexico (no small feat in competition with arts meccas like Santa Fe and Albuquerque) and in the top ten in the nation.
Excellence in, excellence out.
We start ‘em out early, I learned in my years as a doting grandmom of Alexander the Great, who lived here from ages 3 to 10, prime time for creative arts and crafts adventures.
I still have some goodies he made in preschool and at Hillrise Elementary: a cinnamon ornament that still retains its spicy fragrance (his teachers clearly did not skimp on the high quality oil for the ornament dough), a pensive eagle pondering a storm cloud that still hold pride of place on my refrigerator art gallery.
We spent a lot of fun weekends, sampling hors d’oeuvres and chatting up artists at art openings, where the artistic atmosphere inspired some imaginative Play-Doh sculptures, crayon and fingerpainted masterpieces and creative culinary efforts back at homebase.
I’ll never forget how he moved his big dad to near-teary admiration with his own uniquely Alexian arts and crafts exhibit, complete with teensy hors d’oeuvres of his own invention: a sunflower seed sandwiched carefully between two raisins, produced in impressive quantities.
We had our faces painted and did a little face painting ourselves (Alex’s mom Shannon, an artist and former runway model, showed particular talent for ornamenting our visages). We did crafts at kids’ corners of museums and the Saturday market, at Las Cruces Mariachi Conferences and what was then known as the Renaissance CraftsFaire.
We were maestros of Play-Doh, papier-mâché, polymer clay, cookie dough and assorted pseudo ceramics arts. We poured plaster of Paris in rubber molds and painted the products in Day-Glo colors.
We drew with pastels and colored pencils and painted with whatever we could find on whatever was standing still (and occasionally, things that weren’t, like visiting cousins and the nails and tail of long-suffering granddog Benji).
Since Alex moved away, our vacation meetings have always had some intense arts and crafts components. The fishing, swimming and hiking are simply brief interludes in the daily art that is our family life: writing songs and composing guitar riffs with his dad, shopping for art supplies with his mom and me.
I remember a motel room filled with tiny polymer clay figures on motorcycles in various poses, awaiting animation with cell phone videos and stop action antics.
It’s clear that his artistic beginnings are not forgotten, though I worry that Las Cruces arts and crafts may have been a little bit too much fun ... in high school freshman art classes in less artistic Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, maestro Alex balked at plebeian assignments like repetitive sketches of a piece of plain, crumpled white paper.
I forgot to stress that in large portions of the Muggle world, success hinges on putting in a lot of time doing boring things you don’t want to do. Artistic Las Cruces is just not a great place for building up a tolerance for humdrum Sisyphean tasks, unless, maybe, you’re involved in almost endless urban renovation street projects.
Las Cruces is a nurturing and inspiring epicenter for arts and crafts adventures: left-brain fiestas and journeys into creative lands where time is transcended and you can end up with masterpieces almost as wonderful as the memories of their creation.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm with the teachers

By S. Derrickson Moore
At the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market this month, I spotted a woman carrying a sign: “EGYPT. LIBYA. WISCONSIN.”
Some looked puzzled, but I thought the connection was pretty obvious.
What really seems to be in contention are the same old battlegrounds: power and resources. Who has the right to determine who gets what, and how?
I shouldn’t have been surprised to find teachers first on the frontlines in the first major American protests of what is turning out to be a worldwide watershed year.
Similar battles hit home long ago, when my teacher mom went out on strike against my dad, who was president of the school board in our district in Muskegon, Mich.
So I’ve heard all the arguments on both sides. And there’s no question about which side I’m on.
I’m with the teachers.
It seems frivolous to even go there in an era when 10 percent of Americans control 90 percent of the wealth (and we all know in our hearts that public school teachers aren’t in that top ten). That top ten should realize it’s in their best interest, too, to ante up a bit more in taxes for the best possible investment: America’s kids.
And I’m not about to quibble about middle class salaries. I have a basis of comparison. As a journalist, I’ve had my tires slashed and my life and family threatened. I’ve weathered staff cuts, long hours and many technological changes. Journalists work hard in what is often classed as one of the most stressful jobs. But even though most teachers probably make more than most journalists in this region, I don’t begrudge them a dime.
I witnessed the career of a very good teacher close up, for 20 years. And I know the truth about their alleged “short hours” and their “months of summer vacations” that seem to irritate so many conservative pundits. (And I suspect those who are screaming the loudest make several times what the average teacher makes.)
I still have vivid memories of the times I’d wander into the living room at midnight, or even at 2 or 3 a.m., to find mom still grading papers, preparing lesson plans or working on displays for her elementary school classes, or later, when she taught high school history and art, to help bring historical events alive, or trying to find ways to scrounge art supplies for talented kids who could not afford them.
She nurtured the best in so many kids and cheerfully took on “problem” gifted students and steered them to creativity and college when they could have drifted into drugs and dropping out.
Caring for students was a year-round activity for her, even when she wasn’t spending her “extended summer vacations” on educational training required for ongoing certification, or courses she took on her own time and time to offer more to her students.
She was still giving her all when she died at age 54.
She deserved great medical benefits and the comfortable retirement I wish she’d survived to enjoy.
I’ve heard sad tales from dedicated teacher friends in Las Cruces in recent years, who have worked long and hard and looked forward to finally getting some time off after decades of dedicated service. I know a talented teacher whose carefully planned retirement was subverted by antics in Texas that gutted her pension fund, a haunting harbinger of what’s being threatened in Wisconsin and other places around the county, including more drastic educational cuts in Texas.
If we’re willing to offer tax bailouts and bonuses and big incentives to “attract the best and the brightest” in banking, why don’t we do the same to reward and attract the best to those professions doing the world’s most difficult and vital tasks: police, firefighters, service men and women, researchers, healers and of course, those who teach and prepare us to do all those jobs?
Teaching is the hardest job in the world. And being a good teacher ranks with good parenting as the world’s most important job.
When we’re deciding what to cut, it shouldn’t be at the expense of the soundest investment we can make for the well-being of our future: the education of our kids.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Royal invite in the mail?

By S. Derrickson Moore

Maybe it was lost in the mail.
I got excited when I saw the pale brown envelope, so like the one that’s already a legend in social circles. But alas, it was just an invitation to a computer sales seminar. There was no white card inside, with the queen’s initials die-stamped in gold on the card below a crown, inviting me to join William and Catherine Middleton for their April 29 wedding at Westminster Abbey.
I realized it was a long shot, but they say it’s who you know. And for a kid whose rambling relatives who left the old county in the 1600s, I’ve chalked up quite a few brushes with royalty, especially if you allow a degree or two of separation.
Both my sister Sally, who lives in Florida, and mi hermana cosmica Cecilia Lewis, an erstwhile Las Crucen, have met Queen Elizabeth.
“At the invitation of a friend, I met the queen in London, in 1967, at a reception held at Whitehall Court by the Farmers Club, whose membership, in those days, included many of England’s great land owners. The queen was, and I imagine still is, the club patron and seemed to be on friendly terms with many of the members. She is very attractive and warm in person with beautiful skin,” said Cecilia, who now lives in New York City.
“Some years later, with my then-husband-to-be, Alexis Bespaloff, I attended a reception on the Royal Yacht Britannia in New York. The queen was not present but one of the officers told us about dining with the queen every evening when they were at sea. He said that she had told him that one of her funniest moments was once, when she was greeting President Reagan, he curtsied to her and they both collapsed with laughter.”
Sally’s big moment came during a royal visit she covered for the Palm Beach Post.
“I met the queen in Nassau and attended a reception aboard the royal yacht, which since has been decommissioned. Prince Philip was quite charming, despite a mouthful of very crooked teeth which made his face more interesting. I told the queen I lived on a boat the size of the royal dinghies, and asked if she ever got seasick. She didn’t, though she said she could feel a bit of motion on rough days. Her aides said we could ask about her cold, which was much better, thank you,” said Sally, who adds, “I still have the sleeveless polka dot dress I wore, but not the gloves. The Post reimbursed me for panties and pantyhose I tore climbing over barricades as I raced to keep up with the queen’s entourage the next day.”
In person, the queen looked a lot like our mom, Sally said, confirming a resemblance we’d noticed in pictures dating back to their teen years.
I was artist-in-residence at a resort, Frenchman’s Cove in Port Antionio, Jamaica, where the queen and other royals were once regulars. It’s owned by the Weston Family and it’s a place everyone should be lucky enough to visit at least once in a lifetime (check it out at
My friends, Grainger Weston and his son, Gregg, were very discreet about protecting guests’ privacy, but I heard tales through the grapevine about Hollywood royalty (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton spent one of their honeymoons there) and assorted visiting Sloane Rangers. And I learned that Grainger’s brother Galen played polo with Prince Charles.
But not while I was there. My mother always mused that perhaps my sister or I would marry him, but HRH Chuck and I have suffered from a lifetime of bad timing.
I just missed him at a reception in Los Angeles when his entourage was held up in traffic and I was late for a flight home. I left a copy of my first book, “Tenny Hale: American Prophet,” for him at his hotel, knowing of his interest in spiritual matters, but a real-time meeting of the minds and souls eluded us.
Shortly thereafter, Sally saw him at a polo event in Florida, “though we had no opportunity to chat,” she reports.
A decade later, when I was with the Palm Beach County Council of the Arts, there was an exhibition of Prince Charles’ paintings at the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach. Once again, we missed each other, but I did spend some quality time communing with his creations, and I still remember how touching I found his ethereal castles and landscapes. They had a winsome, wistful quality as if he, too, believed in the fairy tales that still hold so many in thrall.
I like to think he’s enjoying a modicum of happily-ever-after with Camilla. And I hope things work out for the first-born son of Chuck and Di, and for William’s apparently level-headed bride-to-be Kate.
As it happens, like Fergie (the Duchess, not the Black Pea), I have commitments here in the states through April and won’t be able to attend, anyway.
But I’ll keep an eye on the mailbox, just in case my schedule changes.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450