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Tag Archives: Arizona

Tragicomedy—Canyon de Chelly chapeau

My daughter took this shot of me and my chapeau a few minutes before she disappeared in the distance on Park Avenue in Utah’s Arches National  Park. She is one of three daughters that I claim, the middle one in terms of actuarial longevity, the one that lives, loves, photographs, plans, plants, reaps, parties and publishes and otherwise  stagnates in Virginia while she could be living in The Great State of Texas—not, of course, that I ever bring that up in discussions—never have and never will, neither vocally nor in written discourse. She posted the photo below on her blog and I commented on the posting—my comment is reproduced below. Click here to view her original posting. When you get there you’ll find this photo:

As one can see, I cropped the photo as originally posted—I was a bit uncomfortable  with that gull hanging around overhead, and that cloud could have contained rain, a condition beneficial neither to a straw hat nor to its wearer, hence the cropping.

This is my original comment on her posting, a comment that she used as the subject for a revisit to her original post.

I have been very remiss in not commenting on this posting and I extend my apologies! Obviously I’ve been very busy—too busy to acknowledge the photographic expertise reflected in these photos, particularly in the shot of that handsome chapeau sported by the handsome dude seated directly below said hat.

How I loved that hat! I remember chasing it in Arizona when an unkindly wind removed it from its wearer and sent it rolling and tumbling toward Canyon de Chelly with its wearer in hot pursuit. Had providence not placed a small bush a few feet from the precipice of the canyon, I may have followed that hat to the canyon’s floor, a sheer drop of 600 feet. However, thanks to providence, the hat’s forward progress was stopped by a strategically placed bit of flora, an indigenous plant equipped with thorny branches that stopped my hat in its race and in its tracks—and me in mine. No, I did not run into the bush—I wisely skidded to a stop when I saw the bush reach out and capture my hat.

That hat and I were inseparable for several more years, but one day it became conspicuous by its absence—it had mysteriously disappeared without leaving the slightest hint of how, when, where or why it left me.

I suspect that my hat felt—even though it was a straw hat rather than a felt hat—from the beginning of that windy day at Canyon de Chelly that its future was inextricably intertwined with the canyon floor, that because of its lightness and its ability to drift with the wind, it would wind up undamaged by the 600 foot drop, and would ultimately live a long life, squared securely atop the head of a person of the four-state region, either New Mexico, Arizona, Utah or Colorado, possibly a direct descendant of the greatest chief in Navajo history, or one of the Apache tribes, Geronimo or Chief Sitting Bull or another of the native American Indians immortalized in literature and movies and television, and still living in the tales told by the most respected elders of various tribes in the great Southwest. Tales of their exploits are also told in the great state of Texas, fantastic recitals that dance—precipitously, so to speak—on the rim of the unbelievable.

Please accept my abject apologies for my failure to respond sooner. I would also be remiss if, driven by my use of the word sooner, I failed to say that the word sooner reminds me that there are also many tall tales told in the great state of Oklahoma.

So now I do so say.

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Back off, MSNBC—get a life!

Back off, MSNBC!

This morning and most of yesterday I have been watching and listening to only a couple of cable channels, namely Fox News and MSNBC, two channels that are at opposite ends of the political spectrum—well, no, not at opposite ends—one of the channels is at or near the center of the political spectrum, but regardless of their positions on the spectrum they are diametrically opposed and as the result of my fixation I cannot eat, although I am ravenously hungry.

I cannot eat because I know that if I do, I will instantly regurgitate the contents of my stomach, just as the talking heads on MSNBC and most of their guests are regurgitating every comment ever made by every conservative political figure in this country that in any way can be twisted to factor into, and in some way—any way—be blamed for the massacre that took place in Tuscon, Arizona Saturday.

I’ve been watching people of many different races and backgrounds and nationalities and listening to their spoken words and reading their written thoughts for almost eight decades, and in all that time combined I have never been subjected to such an avalanche of unadulterated drivel.

A case in point: Sarah Palin’s use of phrases and images such as in our sights and targets, although acknowledged by MSNBC staff and guests as only symbols, and symbols are perceived differently by different people, the idiotic comment inevitably follows that, Well, yes, that’s true, but perceptions become reality.

No, perceptions do not become reality. No matter what any person perceives and no matter how they perceive that something, any act that person commits, whether legal or illegal comes from that person, not from that perception. The idea that perception becomes reality is nothing more than a crutch used by the intellectually crippled—read MSNBC—to navigate from a thorough lack of knowledge to false knowledge, thoroughly satisfied that they have reached the truth.

Balderdash, I say—balderdash! There is another term that says it better, a term consisting of two words. The first word begins with a B and the second with an S, usually followed with an exclamation point. Although I have descended into using the term in prior verbal and written exercises, I will abstain from using it here because it might detract from the purity of this discussion.

If it were true that perception becomes reality, every political cartoonist in every nation on earth would be hanged and flayed by the opposing forces, just as MSNBC is doing now for political conservatives, particularly Tea Party persons.

As the world now exists, cartoonists that satirize Islamic prophets and other Muslim figures are subject to be flayed alive and then hanged, an issue that is promoted by publishers withdrawing cartoonists’ works and apologizing for such actions, and politicians cautioning their constituents to refrain from such satirizing, whether spoken or written.

Here’s a sample of MSNBC’s rhetoric—not equal to that of Keith or Ed, two of the most virulent hosts on that channel, but a fair example. This paragraph was extracted today from NBC’s First Read web site entitled First thoughts: A new chance for civility?

The spotlight on Palin: Of course, this all brings us to Sarah Palin. What took place on Saturday in Arizona could end up haunting her, if she decides to run for higher office. More than any other public actor, Palin—the 2008 GOP VP nominee—has embodied today’s combative political rhetoric (“Don’t retreat, instead reload), and her “target” list to defeat Democratic members who voted for the health-care bill (including Giffords) has received a considerable amount of attention since Saturday. As Politico’s Martin writes, “Whether she defends, explains or even responds at all to the intense criticism of her brand of confrontational politics could well determine her trajectory on the national scene—and it’s likely to reveal the scope of her ambitions as well.”

I marked the words that support my reason for making this posting. Palin’s words are retreat, reload and target. Note the words used by Politico’s Martin: trajectory and scope, both related to firearms and bless Martin’s liberal soul, he is probably blissfully unaware of that. The word combative also appears in the paragraph and since it was not attributed to Palin I also marked that in bold letters.

Palin is a firearms advocate and a hunter, and as such these terms are perfectly normal, logical and descriptive words for her to use.

Come on, MSNBC—lighten up! You don’t really believe the vitriol, the poison, the garbage that spews from the mouths of people with such names as Keith and Ed and Chris and Rachael and Lawrence, and they don’t even believe it themselves. At heart, deep down deep in their inner being—their souls, so to speak—they are decent law-abiding, family loving, American flag waving, Constitution abiding people, and are simply following the directions of the bosses in their ivory towers, those edifices supported on stacks of American greenbacks. I’m willing to wager that all the people mentioned are susceptible to being proselytized by Fox News.

How about that, Mr. Murdoch? We learned from Bill Clinton that tying a fifty-dollar bill to the rear bumper of a pickup truck and dragging it through a trailer park will guarantee a date for the evening—or at least for a short time, so to speak. Why not tie a bundle of C-notes to the rear bumper of your Rolls-Royce and drag it through the halls at MSNBC to see who follows the trail to Fox News?

How about it, Rupert? Your have some good people, but you can always use a few more—Juan Williams is a good example of that.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2011 in Obama administration, politics

 

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The view from the southern border . . .

I wrote this article during  a three-year assignment at U.S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC. It was published in the 1986 winter issue of Customs Today, the official magazine of the U.S. Customs Service. The Customs Service has changed dramatically since that time. The number of ports on the southern border may have changed, some added and some deleted, and staffing has been increased and titles have changed, but the mission of Customs inspectors has not changed—I made no effort to reflect the changes in the article for this posting. It is reproduced here exactly as it appeared in the 1986 winter issue of Customs Today. Click here for a similar article published in the 1984 fall issue of Customs Today.

The view from the southern border

Everything you are about to read is true. Any resemblance to actual persons, situations and locations is purely intentional and nothing has been changed to protect the innocent. On the southern border there are very few innocents. Most of the traveling public spends its time trying to find ways to outwit customs inspectors, and most customs inspectors lost their innocence when they accepted their assignment on the southern border.

This article is intended to show southern land border inspectors as they are—not just a group of people in a certain geographical location or a segment of a larger group with similar functions, but as individuals subject to the frailties, vagaries, and sublime achievements of human nature. It is meant to inform, to educate, to entertain and perhaps to amuse—to stimulate and provoke thought and action, and to show life and work on the southern border from the heart and through the eyes of the inspectors themselves.

Most inspectors are satisfied in their chosen profession, including its location. Many were born, reared and educated in or near the area in which they now live and work, and many enjoy social, economic, cultural and familial ties with people on both sides of the border. Probably few of them would change even if given their choice of assignments at an airport or seaport, or at another of the 25 ports and stations along the southern border.

Those 25 crossing points between the United States and Mexico cover some 2,000 miles, a thin blue line of customs inspectors stretching from Brownsville at the tip of Texas on the Gulf of Mexico to San Ysidro in southern California on the Pacific Ocean. Tour those ports, and travel from the old-world balustrades of Brownsville to the gleaming spires of San Diego—from the dry sub-tropic air and lush vegetation of the Rio Grande Valley to the high thin air of El Paso, through the searing heat of southwestern deserts where the giant saguaro cactus sometimes attains heights of fifty feet in its lifespan of 200 years, and across the fabled Imperial Valley of California to San Ysidro and the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean.

From Brownsville to Progreso and on to Hidalgo, follow U.S. Highway 8, known locally as Old Military Highway, the same route patrolled by General Zachary Taylor and his troops during the war with Mexico. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the border between Texas and Mexico was moved southward to the Rio Grande River, known to the Mexican people as Rio Bravo, or Brave River. The treaty also made California, Arizona and New Mexico part of the United States. The borders with Arizona and New Mexico were fixed by treaty at the Gila River, and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 extended them to their present limits.

At Los Ebanos watch the operation of the world’s only hand-operated international ferry—no traffic backups at Los Ebanos because the ferry will only accommodate two cars on each trip. The modern aluminum vessel now plying the waters of the Rio Grande replaced a series of wooden vessels which in their turn were replacements for the original operation, a lone boatman moving passengers and cargo across the river in a vessel made by welding two automobile hoods together.

Continue to Rio Grande City and to Roma, an area rich in history and folklore. A new concrete structure spans the Rio Grande River at Roma, just upstream from the old suspension bridge which, although condemned, stands proudly as a monument to the skills of earlier engineers and bridge builders. Some of Roma’s adobe walls still bear the scars of bullets fired by revolutionaries, renegades and Rangers, and just a stone’s throw from the Customhouse is the church plaza where Marlon Brando, as the legendary bandit Emiliano in the movie Vive Zapata, fell and died under a withering hail of rifle fire from the surrounding balconies and rooftops.

Continue the tour through District Headquarters in Laredo and on to Eagle Pass and Del Rio. En route to Del Rio spend a few moments of silence near the spot where Customs Inspector Richard Latham was murdered after being kidnapped from his post in Del Rio in February 1984, the fifth-fourth Customs officer to die in the line of duty since 1900. There can be no fault attached to the deaths of those fine officers. Their contributions to the Customs Service extended to life itself, and those sacrifices will be acknowledged when the Congress of the United States recognizes customs inspectors as true law enforcement officers, entitled to hazardous duty recognition and early retirement.

Between Del Rio and Fabens lie miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, except for the solitary port of Presidio. En route to Presidio, visit the Lily Langtry Saloon in Langtry, Texas where Judge Roy Bean dispensed his personal and peculiar brand of frontier justice as The Only Law West of the Pecos. Langtry takes its name from the saloon that was named in honor of the celebrated actress, a lady loved by the judge from afar for many years. Miss Langtry eventually came to Texas to meet her admirer, but the judge could wait no longer—he died shortly before her visit.

From El Paso and District Headquarters to the California state line, ports and stations are suspended from the main highways by lengthy, lonely ribbons of state highways, and each port represents a major detour from the main route. Each is worthy of the detour if time permits, because each is unique and each is an integral part of the U.S. Customs Service.

On to Columbus, New Mexico and Douglas, Naco and Nogales, District Headquarters for Customs operations in Arizona—to Sasabe, to Lukeville and the federal inspection facility dewigned by the architectural firm of Frank Lloyd Wright, to the twin ports of San Luis and Andrade—the port directors are twin brothers—and on to Calexico in the heart of California’s Imperial Valley. On a recent December morning the writer stepped out on a motel balcony in El Centro for a breath of clear cool desert air, and memories of a childhood on the farm came rushing in, triggered by a strong breeze coming from the direction of El Centro’s numerous cattle feed lots. Continue to the port of Tecate, just across the border from the Mexican city of Tecat from which Mexico’s famous beer takes it name. End the tour of the Mexican border at San Ysidro, the world’s largest land border crossing point, with24 lanes of incoming vehicle traffic.

No feature on Customs could possibly be complete without statistics, and this one is no exception. However, the statistics will be limited to certain completely unbiased minimums. Land border inspectors comprise about one-third of the total inspection force of 4,500, and that group of 1,500 is fairly evenly divided between the northern and southern borders. Since only thirty million of the 300 million people that enter the United States each year come by air and sea, the remaining 270 million enter at land border ports. For those of a statistical bent, these figures mean that 33 percent of the work force processes 90 percent of the passenger and pedestrian workload.

Inspectors on the southern border live and work in proximity to, and are in daily contact with, the people of a foreign nation, a country of some 70 million struggling through a deepening economic crisis, a people those currency is today worth only one-twentieth of its value 12 years ago. The inspectors are very much aware of conditions across the border, and although they carry out their responsibilities with diligence and dedication they are sometimes reluctant witnesses to the laws that they enforce.

They understand the conditions that drive people north in search of work and a better life, fleeing an economy with an unemployment rate of forty percent—four of every ten workers—and an unemployment rate even higher in border cities. They know the people that subject their infant children to the dangers and rigors of an illegal border crossing are attempting to escape an infant mortality rate that approaches fifty percent among children up to the age of five years.

With tragic frequency the inspectors learn from a motorist or pedestrian of a floater in the river—the Rio Grande has claimed another life. Many that attempt the illegal crossing come from the arid interior of Mexico. At home they had no lakes, no river, no YMCA, no municipal pools or backyard pools, and no country swimming holes—they are victims of the deceptively tranquil waters of the Rio Grande because they cannot swim—they simply never had the opportunity to learn. Sometimes the inspectors learn that others have been found dead or dying or wandering aimlessly without food or water in the deserts of West Texas or New Mexico or Arizona or California, left there by alien smugglers that first exacted their profits for services rendered.

To work on the southern border is to bear witness to poverty, misery, despair and tragedy, and it is impossible to remain untouched or to become inured. Inspectors may mask their feelings with a veneer of cynicism, a facade of callousness or indifference but they understand—they feel, and they care.

While the southern border involves a certain amount of danger to the safety and wellbeing of the inspectors, they realize that theirs is not the only inspector positions that are fraught with peril. They have all heard the horror stories associated with airport duty—of the many close encounters with stellar figures of the entertainment industry, of heaving bosoms and violet eyes, and of the sports world, and with diplomats, senators, representatives and other high-ranking officials, all exemplifying the rigors of airport duty. They know that climate control systems at the airports sometimes malfunction, and they are aware of the constant struggle by management to keep the lid on the annual overtime pay cap.

Their awareness of overtime problems may be faintly tinged with envy because land border inspectors make their overtime money the old-fashioned way—they earn it. Virtually all overtime is non-reimbursable and each call out requires the full two hours on duty—no rollbacks, no lag time and no standby time. The four overtime periods earned on Sundays and holidays demand the full eight hours, and the eight-hour tour of duty is spent alternating between primary and secondary stations at vehicle and pedestrian checkpoints. The overtime pay cap presents very few problems for management on the southern border, because the cap is rarely within the inspectors’ reach.

Airport hardships are freely acknowledged by southern land border inspectors, just as they freely acknowledge the every-present dangers faced by airport inspectors from smugglers, fugitives from justice and from all the criminal elements of our society and other societies of the word.

They acknowledge such hardships because they face the same problems—except for the Hollywood stars, high-ranking officials, climate control and the overtime pay cap, and an almost endless array of other problems including working exposed to vicious extremes of hear and cold, precipitation in all its forms, and unremitting atmospheric pollution caused by wind and dust and dirt, and by gases and solid particles spewing from the exhausts of millions of vehicles. Our neighbor to the south has no environmental protection agency to impose and enforce pollution controls, and there are no government restrictions on lead content and other petroleum additives.

We can only speculate on the long term effects of constant exposure to concentrated amounts of nitrogen oxides, lead, sulphur, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other toxic substances. It has been estimated that an adult inhales 30 pound of air daily. With more than one-third of their time on duty spent in highly polluted areas, land border inspectors ingest at least ten pounds of contaminated air daily. They must ultimately pay a high price for such exposure in upper respiratory infections and diseases, in kidney and liver and heart problems, in aggravated asthmatic and bronchial conditions, and in impairment of vision and psychomotor performance. In short, they must eventually pay a high price in virtually every physiological system and body function.

Inspectors on the southern land border face many dangers and enemies not covered by their position descriptions. In addition to smugglers, fugitives from justice and a representative cross-section of every criminal element known to law enforcement, they are faced with many situations that are not covered in the inspector’s manual and must be dealt with as they occur.

Consider the risk inherent in convincing a child that the candied apple on a stick purchased in Mexico is a potential threat to America’s citrus industry, and that its importation is restricted by the United States Department of Agriculture. The child neither knows nor cares about agricultural restrictions and prohibitions. If time and traffic permit, the inspector will sometimes supervise the immediate and on-site destruction of the prohibited item by the importer through internal consumption.

Even more risk is involved when the inspector is forced to tell a truck driver that the beautiful sea-turtle boots he just paid $150 for must be confiscated and held for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife—in many instances the trucker left his old boots in Mexico and therefore is shoeless when released by the inspector.

There is risk involved in telling a lady that her five gallons of fresh mango slices, carefully separated from the seeds because she believed only the seeds are prohibited, will be held for the scalpel, microscope and food-grinders of the Agriculture inspectors. The traveler is only slightly mollified by the inspector’s explanation that the flesh of mangoes is prohibited because the pulp, not the seed, is the host for the destructive pest USDA seeks to control.

Many families supplement their limited or fixed incomes by shopping for food staples on the other side of the border, and when their fresh eggs, pork, potatoes and fruits are confiscated their reaction is far too often that of hoping that the inspectors enjoy the meal.

With the first hint of snow in the north the annual migration of snowbirds begins. These winter visitors arrive at border cities singly and in pairs, and sometimes in caravans a hundred strong. They will spend the winter foraging for food and drink, and as any land border inspector knows, their diet consists mainly of cookies, liquor, vanilla and garlic, all purchased in the markets of Mexican border cities. Of various phenomenae observed among the snowbirds these are among the most fascinating—not one has ever been to Mexico before, and a highly disproportionate number of them are sibling twins.

Inspector: Didn’t you bring a bottle of liquor from Mexico yesterday?

Snowbird: Officer, you may not believe this but I have a twin, and I’ll bet he was here yesterday.

In some areas the winter visitors stretch local tourist facilities to the breaking point, along with the tolerance and patience of most Customs inspectors. In the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, they expand the normal population of 400,000 to more than three million. Fortunately the breaking point is never reached, of facilities or of patience and tolerance, and with the advent of spring the homeward trek begins.

The annual ebb and flow of winter visitors is repeated in varying degrees at every crossing point on the Mexican border. To southern border inspectors these are the signs of changing seasons, as sure an indication as is the first snowfall or the first robin to their counterparts on the northern border.

Strong kidneys and a weak bladder were the downfall of an illegal alien one evening at Brownsville, Texas. An alert inspector noticed what he suspected to be a gasoline leak in a sedan whose occupants were in the Immigration office obtaining permits. He conducted a smell test to the liquid and determined that it was not gasoline, and a closer inspection revealed a smuggled alien concealed in a compartment behind the rear seat. The long drive from the interior of Mexico and the delay in the office was the alien’s downfall. He was promptly documented and returned to Mexico, and the driver of the vehicle was arrested for smuggling.

A check of an automobile trunk at the port of Progreso prompted by sounds of feminine giggling produced three smuggled alien females, all young and all ladies of the evening, bound for cantinas and cash transactions on the U. S. side of the border. Although Mexico and particularly the stare of Tamaulipas has made some effort to clean up border red light districts, the so-called Boy’s Town found in every border city in Mexico, but they still exist. They are variously called la zona roja—the red zone—and la zona de tolerencia—the zone of tolerance.

The red light districts contribute to the inspector’s frustration by eliciting this answer to the question of whether the person acquired anything in Mexico—Oh, God, I hope not! If every inspector had a dollar for every time he has heard that answer on Saturday night and Sunday morning the Customs Service would not need early retirement for inspectors—they could retire early just on that income.

They could retire even earlier if compensated for the number of times the same inquiry is answered by Just a belly full of good food—you can’t tax that, ha, ha, ha! Such answers highlight one of the worst aspects of the job. After a short time the inspectors have heard every possible answer or combination of answers, and find little humor in them, particularly near the end of a long tour of duty. Their inability to respond with a laugh or a smile is usually interpreted as surliness, or as indifference or dissatisfaction with their job.

And how about this one? Oh, nothing much, just a little pot. Further questioning and inspection produces a little pot, molded and fired in the clay kilns of Mexico, and evidently purchased for the express purpose of playing a trick on the Customs inspector. And this one—Oh, just some liquor, and a single bottle is held up for inspection. Search reveals one or more additional bottles, and when the declarant is questioned the response is, Well, I told you that I had some liquor—I just didn’t say how much liquor.

The question of citizenship frequently generates this response—Of course I’m an American citizen. Do I look like a frigging Mexican to you? Or this one—Yeah, I’m an American citizen—are you? The latter response is usually directed to Hispanic Customs inspectors. The varieties of questions are not endless—they are finite, and the inspectors quickly learn the entire repertoire.

The size, numbers and feeding habits of southern mosquitoes, especially those of Texas, are legendary. They are undoubtedly known to people all over the world, and this article will not attempt to expand or dispel those legends—except perhaps to advance the theory that many, perhaps most, of the unauthorized discharges of weapons by southern border inspectors are directed against mosquitoes, and the action was the last resort of the inspector in defense of his life or that of another, as required by the firearms manual. When a mosquito is the target there are usually two distinct sounds, depending on the shooter’s accuracy. The first is made by the weapon’s discharge, and the second is made when the mosquito hits the ground.

An ever-present enemy and perhaps one of the most dangerous is boredom, ranging from the frustration of starting an eight hour shift at San Ysidro facing an endless sea of vehicles and finishing the shift without ever seeing a break in the line, to the utter boredom of waiting for a vehicle to break the monotony of the night and help the inspector stay awake.

No southern border inspector will ever admit to having fallen asleep on such a shift, but almost every one of them will confess they have spent some time with their eyes closed, checking their eyelids for cracks. One inspector, whose name appears beneath the title of this article, opened his eyes after such an operation in the wee small hours of the morning to find an auto parked beside him at the primary inspection point, its engine turned off and its occupants waiting politely and patiently for the inspector to finish the inspection of his eyelids and begin his inspection of their entry into the United States. They were early morning commuters, traveling to work in the vegetable fields and citrus groves of the Rio Grande alley.

Other insidious and deadly enemies of land border inspectors are familiarity and complacency. They see the same people day after day, many of them several times during the course of a single shift, and this familiarity must inevitably color their judgment and their treatment of the traveler. Such people may attempt to break the law because their estimate of the chances of being caught are based on the superficial and cursory treatment accorded by some inspectors.

Complacency has killed more law enforcement officers than any other habit or characteristic, and Customs inspectors are particularly vulnerable. They are not in the position of street cops that know they are in a danger zone and are far more likely to govern their actions on that basis. The Customs inspector must continually be aware that in the usual crowd of migrant workers, affluent businessmen, bona fide tourists and little old ladies in tennis shoes may be, and probably is, one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives.

Everything you have just read is true, but the observations, thoughts and opinions interspersed in the narrative are personal—they belong to the writer. They are therefore highly subjective and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or feelings of any other person or group. No offense is intended through their expression and none should be taken. Certain observations may be viewed as criticisms by some, but they are constructive in nature and intent and should be regarded in that light.

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Hershel M. (Mike) Dyer is a Program Officer in the Office of Inspection Control, Office of Inspectional Liaison at Headquarters. He spent 12 years as an inspector and supervisory inspector on the Southwest Border.

 
 

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19th Street South and the Big Ditch . . .

In my memories as a small boy, let’s say from the age of five up to the age of nine, a place called the Big Ditch looms large. No, it’s not the Panama Canal or the Suez Canal or Big Dig of Boston fame or the All-American Canal that winds through Arizona. My Big Ditch was—and perhaps still is—a trench that winds through the city of Columbus, Mississippi, lined with concrete at the bottom and carrying various effluvia on its way to the river—among other functions it serves as a storm drain for the city. I know not what sort of effluvia it carried, nor do I want to know now—I was advised by my folks that playing in the Big Ditch was an unhealthy practice, but hey, it had water in it. As a young boy I was drawn to water, and please forgive the time-worn analogy, like a moth to a flame—time-worn, perhaps, but highly picturesque.

The Big Ditch meandered a half-block or so from a small three-room house with a real toilet added to a back porch, one of the old time stools with a big tank of water directly overhead and a long chain to pull to release the water—trust me, if that tank ever sprung a leak the sitter below would know it. That house on Nineteenth Street South was where I lived for several years with my mother and three sisters—my sisters were all my elders by at least eighteen months.

During my time at that address I cut my reading teeth on romance magazines such as True Story, True Romances, Ladies’ This and Ladies’ That, ad nauseum. However, I’m pleased to report that my early reading pursuits among those periodicals were adequately balanced by True Detective and True Crime and various other magazines of that ilk, if you get my drift!

Now on to my story of the Big Ditch:

I’m fairly certain that if I were standing at the bottom of the Big Ditch now I would have a 360-degree view of my various surroundings, but as a boy if I made it to the bottom I was hidden from sight unless my searchers were standing on the edge of the ditch.

I won’t dally on this posting—my readers may not be ready for a story that follows a young boy uptown from home to the beginning of the ditch, and downtown to the point that the ditch connects to a river, a point which included a long concourse of concrete, a man-made slide of great proportions, a slide lined with algae that allowed one to sit down in and on and zip to the river’s edge, bailing out just before the drop to the fast-moving current. Such slides required that one be clothed from the waist down, whether in long or short pants, especially after numerous slidings had removed patches of the algae.

I realize that such activities may be difficult for adults to understand, but for us, a group of kids that craved adventure, the Big Ditch equaled and surpassed everything that the Bobbsey Twins ever did. Our play mirrored the adventures created by Zane Grey and James Fennimore Cooper and Edgar Rice Burroughs—we played cowboys and Indians, Riders of the Purple Sage, The Last of the Mohicans and Tarzan of the Apes. We sneaked out of the house with matches and cups and a pot and a fry-pan and had lunch in the Big Ditch, dining on frog legs and hackberry tea—the frogs resided in the ditch and the hackberry trees grew along the un-cemented sides of the ditch. Please don’t ask me where we got the water to make the tea.

A special note: I have no memory of having lured girls to join me and others for lunch—I must confess that girls at that particular phase held little interest for me, and I am not aware of any interest displayed by the other boys.

Yes, we caught bullfrogs, and with our pocketknives—every kid in town carried a pocketknife—we dispatched the frogs to somewhere else in the cosmos, then separated the legs from the rest of each frog, skinned the legs and then burned them in the skillet and boiled hackberries to make tea for the repast. Hey, I’m not making this up—it’s a miracle, one of God’s wonders, that we didn’t fall prey to fatal diseases, but the only thing I can remember suffering was awakening with double mumps on a memorable Christmas day—click here for a truly heart-rending narrative of that calamitous event.

As I promised at the beginning, I will not dally on this story. There’s lots more to talk about, some of which I probably won’t discuss until I make my final report to YOU KNOW WHO at the conclusion of life’s journey—let’s face it—all of us have things that we like to keep to ourselves!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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A rant from Arizona . . .

I received the following e-mail just over a year ago from a friend in Arizona, a friend that I have never met but a friend nevertheless. Although written one year ago, his analysis of our relationship with Mexico is accurate and is mirrored by current events.

Witness the current situation in Arizona, a sovereign state with all the rights of a sovereign state, rights guaranteed by our constitution—its rights are being trampled by those that enter our country in violation of federal law, and their illegal actions are blatantly supported and encouraged by our present administration. This photo is that of the Arizona governor following a meeting with President Obama—I have little hope that their meeting will affect the president’s stand on the rights of Arizona to try to stem the tide of illegal aliens flowing across the borders of her state.

As a nation and as a people, we are under constant attack by invaders from the south, and we need to wake up and smell the coffee. Or should I say café, perhaps?

This is my friend’s e-mail, presented exactly as I received it:

Hey, BD, (I know who you are…)

I know you have enjoyed my rants in the past. Cindy always asks if I sent something to you that I sent to her. This time I can say, “yes.”

This runs long. You may need coffee or an intermission so you can go get popcorn and some jujubees. If you make it all the way through you can get a prize at the end: high blood pressure.

This is his analysis of our relationship with Mexico:

Mexican illegal alien invaders represent the U.S. State Department’s elephant in the room. They all know he’s there but nobody wants to talk about what it means.

As home to the unwanted illegal alien invader, the United States of America is Mexico’s only real economic and political relief-valve. By allowing the 20 to 30 million illegal alien invaders into the United States, Mexico gains in a multitude of ways. As the illegal alien invader progresses through life in Estados Unidos, the benefits multiply.

Firstly, by breaching our borders and crossing from citizen of Mexico to criminal of the United States, each illegal alien invader voluntarily removes himself or herself from the unemployed Mexican workforce. The levels of unemployment, illiteracy (they are not just unable to read and write English, they cannot read and write Mexican) and homegrown crime in Mexico are at crisis proportions. The lack of a middle class and the absence of protections for private property (the Mexican government will rob everyone of their property if it is shown to have value), and the collection of real economic power in the hands of the political elite have assured a national poverty rate that must be an embarrassment to anyone who defends the criminal government in Mexico City.

Every time a Mexican crosses the border into the United States, Mexico City breathes a sigh of relief. This represents one more mouth they do not have to feed, one more voice that will not shout its disapproval, and one more set of hands that will not fight against the police/drug-lord/federal corruption triumvirate of organized crime in Mexico. Everyone in Mexico is relieved as each illegal alien invader leaves Mexico.

Secondly, the majority of illegal alien invaders will find work in the United States and they will start the transfer of wealth from the United States to their meager homes in the Mexican interior. Like sticking a tube in our national economic artery, this economic “bleeding” parasitically consumes U.S. Dollars that should be used internally and sends them into Mexico. These transfers are Mexico’s second largest economic benefit, directly behind PEMEX, the nationalized (can you say, “Maxine Waters”) Mexican petroleum company. Those transfers are estimated to be worth $20 billion annually.

It was, perhaps, Milton Friedman who showed how a dollar, earned in a community, would be cycled through that same community seven times, on average. Earning the dollar at the plant, a worker would spend it at the butcher, who would spend it at the grocer, who would spend it at the gas pump. And on it goes until that dollar would be spent outside of the community and the cycle would continue. Whether it was Dr. Friedman or another economist, the principle is easy to understand.

It is just as easy to understand that a wire transfer of an estimated $20 billion would have an equivalent impact of the loss of over $140 billion to the communities where illegal alien invaders sucked the economic life-blood from one nation and transported it to another. In this way, the appearance of cheap illegal alien invader wages must be multiplied to account for the total loss of local currency. It is, therefore, possible that a $20/hour wage translates to a cost of $140/hour.

Thirdly, the unaccounted costs of welfare, free services (especially for health care) and education have been estimated by border states for years.  Now, states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania are trying to accrue some tab on these costs as their expenses grow ever higher at the state capitol and the taxpayer burden is becoming painful. These are costs duly attributable to the Mexico City government, not any local or state or federal government in the United States. Yet, each dollar expended on the welfare and benefit of an illegal alien invader is a dollar (10.325 pesos) that is not a necessary expenditure in Mexico City. Those 10.325 pesos go directly into the pockets of the ruling elite or into the graft and corruption machine that fuels the drug cartels that operate with impunity inside Mexico.

Fourthly, the self-protective imprisonment of the felonious criminal Mexican who walked across the United States border with his petty criminal amigo is like the icing on the Mexico City cake. It is estimated that almost 30 percent of those incarcerated in federal and many state prisons are illegal alien invaders who have come here to commit their crimes.

The Mexican government could not be given a better present. Imagine having the most disruptive and violent criminals removed from the Mexican streets, jailed and fed, and even protected somewhere else, and the government of Mexico doesn’t have to pay a dime. The estimated federal and local cost of incarceration for one year is about $1 billion. There is no way to estimate the loss of property through crime, the loss of life because of murderous or drunken and irresponsible actions by these same illegal alien invaders for whom we pay an annual $1 billion to incarcerate, just to keep them away from our streets (because if we deport them, they’ll just come back).

With a porous border, what can be done? Almost nothing. Sheriffs across the United States, and some local police forces have decided to aggressively pursue illegal alien invaders in their jurisdictions and deport them or get them out of town. This is the illegal alien invader shell game. The only real cure is a complete, forceful, and physically closed border with Mexico.

What will we, the United States, promote by closing the border and aggressively campaigning to keep new invaders out?

Mexico does not have a historically stable government. The political and economic infrastructure is brittle, and incapable of absorbing the additional insult now borne by the United States in our ineffectual remedies to the constant stream of illegal alien invasion. Stability for the Mexican government, then, depends on the constant leak of their national woes northward. Plugging that leak means all Mexico’s problems remain inside Mexico.

We will be sealing the pressure lid on the gently simmering economic and political bean pot that is Mexico. The combination of an overnight increase in unemployment, increase in social services load (while Mexico City provides none, the community must), the loss of wire transfers, and the criminal costs will slowly or quickly bring the nation to an explosive internal pressure. We would assure, if not outright condemn, the government in Mexico City to an ugly, bloody, civil war.

Unlike our own civil war where the Union had not succeeded in disarming the southern states prior to acts of aggression, the only segments of the Mexican population armed sufficiently to affect an effective civil war are the military (who would love more power) and the drug cartels (who are tired of sharing profits and benefits of the drug trade with their sycophantic governmental pet Chihuahuas).

Winners of a Mexican Civil War would either be the cruel and dangerous military or the cruel, dangerous, and connected drug king-pins.

The United States’ only alternative would be to line these already-closed southern borders with thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of troops, ready to protect the southern states when the inevitable civil war erupts. Indeed, the best, most secure option is to wait for the first sign of conflict and invade the nation Mexico with all our military forces, not stopping until we ride into Mexico City.

And unlike the previous failures after the Mexican American wars, the United States Congress and its military will only find peace and a lasting solution to the problems created by Mexican governmental and military corruption if the United States accepts unconditional surrender and applies the same policies toward Mexico that we did after defeating Japan and Germany in the Second World War.

The war in Iraq was triggered by national security, but extended by an altruistic intention to deliver a democratic future to a people who have never known it. What makes Iraq such a precious ally and commodity that we would shed our blood in their favor when we would not do the same for ourselves and our Mexican neighbor?

The third option, and one that strikes at the very heart of socialism in our own United States, is to create working opportunities for Mexicans while closing the spigot of social and welfare services to these immigrant workers. This is, in effect, the bracero program for the 21st century.

Amnesty is a travesty. No immigrant worker program can offer or entice workers with amnesty. Rather, the workers want work and the United States has an appetite for laborers. Giving companies liberty to recruit and transport workers, while granting ICE and the State Department extraordinary latitude in rejecting and policing these laborers could have a positive effect on both sides of the border.

The challenges of this approach includes the following:

There can be no public services or resources benefit to any temporary Mexican worker.

ICE, local authorities, and the sponsoring company must be able to return the Mexican worker without any process, except those that may involve criminal justice charges.

Direct family members could be allowed to join the worker, but multiple issues of education and health must be addressed before this is allowed.

Wire transfers of earnings must be limited, or outright denied as part of this program. The United States is not an economic donor for tyrannies.

The sponsor company must bear all financial and other burden for the taxes, health care, education, transportation, housing, or immigration process.

The community must have some input regarding the good stewardship of the companies participating in this program: are they working for the benefit of the community; are they fair and just toward both workers and the community; are they complying with all appropriate immigration requirements; etc?

Automatically granting citizenship to persons born within the borders of the United States, as specified in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, must be addressed. Both those “anchor babies” already born to illegal alien invaders inside the United States and any future children born to Mexican workers participating in any work program must be denied United States citizenship. This will require a Constitutional Convention and further defining this one section of the 14th amendment to affect those children born to citizens of countries other than the United States.

The first two immigration solutions available to the United States with regard to Mexico are both frightening. The first is invasion and slow poisoning by an illiterate, violent, consuming, foreign force. The second is to precipitate and then capitalize on a bloody civil war in Mexico.

The first choice relegates the United States to a state of subjugation under the invader. The second, while more immediately costly and painful, retains our national and individual sovereignty and creates a democratic ally to the south.

The third solution requires a federal and state government dedicated primarily to the security and sovereignty of the United States and the US citizen. This has not been evidenced in the recent past. All indicators point to a federal and to state governments that seek political expediency, appeasement of Mexican tyrants, expansion of amnesty, and the destruction of the southern border. For this reason, the third solution should only be attempted if there is a fundamental shift toward border security in the measurable goals of our government.

One clear and measurable goal would be to change the 14th Amendment. This would demonstrate the right attitude by our federal representatives. Otherwise, any program will be nothing more than some flavor of capitulation to Mexico or treason to the Constitution and to the citizens of the United States.

To sum up: our choices with regard to Mexico are:

1—Slow Poison.

2—War.

3—Foxes in the henhouse.

It’s a tough choice. Can I have “none of the above?”

That ends A Rant from Arizona—what follows is my personal postcript:

The photo below shows people crossing from Mexico to the United States with a raft, usually consisting of inflated inner tubes—does anyone remember inner tubes?—loaded with plastic bags filled with contraband. Take it from one that has seen this many times. I spent 12 years on the Texas/Mexico border as a U.S. Customs inspector and supevisor. My first assignment was at the port of Progreso, a crossing point located ten miles from the city of Weslaco in the lower Rio Grande Valley. More than once, in the wee small hours of the morning, I have been on the bridge that spans the river between the port of entry and the Mexican town of Las Flores—Nuevo Progresso—and watched similar flotillas passing under the bridge, staffed with illegal aliens drifting and paddling towards a bend in the river that would take them to the U.S. side, along with their load of contraband.

When I hailed the smugglers they cheerfully waved and said things such as Buenos Dios, jefe—good morning, boss—and sometimes Chinga tu madre, pendejo, an insult in Spanish suggesting that I sexually assault my mother and labeling me with a two syllable noun beginning with the letter A, a synonym for rectum—affable fellows, huh?

Other than responding with similar epithets, my only recourse was to alert the Border Patrol and US Customs agents, but the smugglers were always out of the river and gone with their load long before the agents arrived on the scene. The agents were not at fault—they arrived as quickly as possible—our border with Mexico is 2,000 miles of wilderness, and smugglers and illegal aliens far outnumber our federal agents. Our agents number in the thousands while the illegals number in the millions, both then and now.

Now for a brief tip for Bill O’Reilly of Fox News fame: It is useless to send the military to guard the border, useless even if they joined hands and lined up from Brownsville, Texas to San Ysidro, California. It’s useless even if the Mexican military formed a similar line on the Mexican side from the city of Matamoras in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico to the city of Tijuana in the Mexican state of Baja California Norte.

And why, you may ask, would it be useless? It’s useless because the smugglers of people and contraband seek wealth and the people that are smuggled seek employment. They will go over, or under, or through or around any obstacle placed in their path. It’s trite but it’s true—build a 50-foot fence and the illegals will build a 51-foot ladder.

Only two actions can stem the flood of illegal entries:

Deny illegal employment by penalizing the employer—if they can’t work they won’t come. Eliminate the profits to be gained by legalizing the drugs that are smuggled—if they can’t make a profit they won’t smuggle. Will that increase the presence of illegal drugs? In what way? They are already available on every street corner and neighborhood and school in this country, available to everyone from the very young to the very old.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Arizona apples & cheeseburger briefs . . .

I have three daughters—one lives in Wylie, Texas, a city near Dallas. Another lives just a mile from me in San Antonio. The third daughter lives and works in Virginia, and to celebrate her thirtieth birthday in 1990 we met in Phoenix, Arizona to begin a six-day adventure touring and photographing in three of the states which comprise the legendary four corners—we toured Arizona, New Mexico and Utah but did not make it to Colorado—we saved that for a later birthday, one yet to be scheduled.

The next three paragraphs are in my daughter’s words, exactly as I received them in her e-mail suggesting that I post something on our Southwest adventure.

“Write about me buying a tourism book on things to see in the southwest, reading a caption that went to a different photo, then making you drive 20+ miles on a dirt road to go see what eventually was Hovenweep (but thinking it would look like Mesa Verde in Colorado because of how the caption was laid out)…and how I walked into the canyon and you videotaped my descent and mentioned that I wouldn’t return because something would get me and how city slicker I was; how I wasn’t equipped to be down there and you shouldn’t have let me go—then I heard all of this played back when you played back your video at the hotel!

“Other places we went on that trip: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (10/21/90, I think) in Coolidge, AZ (south of Phoenix)—4-story, 11-room mud structure. This is where I photographed the cactus blooms in the parking lot on our way back to the car—that photo placed in the nature category of the 2nd annual reader’s photos contest with American Photo. You can even mention that and send the winning photo to put in that posting!

“San Xavier del Bac Mission (The White Dove of the Desert) Tucson, AZ (was that in ’90?—I think that’s what my slides were identified with).”

I agree with her recollections of the trip except for her statement that we were “thinking it would look like Mesa Verde in Colorado because of how the caption was laid out.” Wrong—we (she) actually thought that Mesa Verde was in Arizona, not that it would look like Mesa Verde. However, she is right in saying that I videotaped her descent into the canyon, scolding her soundly as the descent was recorded. And I continued to mumble to myself long after she was out of sight and hearing, with the tape still recording my comments, stressing how stubborn she was and that she should mind her ol’ pappy—some of my mumbling included some rather salty language. Fortunately the only listeners (to my knowledge) were the ghosts of the long-gone ancient Anasazi people—and it’s a safe bet that none of them had video cameras. Above: Hovenweep ruins, © Cindy Dyer

We met in Phoenix on Tuesday, October 16, following our respective flights from Alexandria, Virginia and San Antonio, Texas. We went directly to a rental car office and selected a vehicle—when asked if she preferred any particular color, my daughter replied, “Anything but red.” To this day she refuses to accept any rental vehicle even lightly tinged with the color red (some sort of complex there, I suppose). Right: Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Arizona © Cindy Dyer

Our transportation was blue and therefore acceptable to my daughter, but our adventure began on an ominous note. We located our car in the parking lot, and I placed the ditty-bag containing my toilet articles and my unmentionables on the ground while we loaded our baggage and photo equipment into the trunk and then neglected to load the bag. We left Phoenix and headed for scenic Sedona, located 116 miles north of Phoenix.

We were out of the city and well on our way before I remembered the bag. It was a freebie that came with my wife’s purchase of Lancome items and was marked with the maker’s name and logo. I had lugged it all over the globe for many years, including trips to US cities from Miami to Seattle and Boston to San Diego. The bag also accompanied me to foreign destinations, including Mexico, England, Germany, South Africa and Botswana. The name appeared prominently on both sides of the soft-side bag and could not be effectively obscured—I and my Lancome bag were subjected to numerous speculative side-glances, both by women and men—especially on my trips to San Francisco. Above: wall at San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tucson, AZ © Cindy Dyer

Their visual inspections seemed to focus alternately on the Lancome bag and me, perhaps to resolve some lingering doubt and either refute or  confirm their first impressions. I wanted to tell them that just as one can’t judge a book by its cover or a horse by its color, neither can one judge a traveler by the logo on carry-on luggage—or at least one shouldn’t. Right: Petrified Forest National Park, Petrified Forest, AZ © Cindy Dyer

Bummer.

There was really no good reason to go back for the bag. All the articles in it could be easily replaced, with one very important exception—the bag contained a pair of boxer briefs, cleverly and profusely decorated with colorful images of cheeseburgers—the briefs were a Father’s Day gift from one of my three daughters—on second thought, the three may shared the cost. My daughter remembers the item as being decorated with French fries, but they were cheeseburgers—I insist that my memory is correct and must hold sway, especially given that my relationship with the briefs (my contact, so to speak) was far more personal and up close than hers. In addition to being quite functional, the briefs had a lot of sentimental value for me, so we returned to the rental car parking lot—the bag was just as I left it, cheeseburger briefs and all, and we again headed out for Sedona.

Sedona, Arizona is located in Oak Creek Canyon and is a very popular tourist destination. It’s an artist’s haven, a shopper’s heaven, a photographer’s dream and a traffic nightmare. One can forget parking in the commercial area and only hope to find a wide place to park somewhere along roads leading into and out of the city. On a later trip to the four-corners area, while traveling on IH40 on our way back to Las Vegas from New Mexico, we decided to make a side trip south to Sedona. We toured the city and headed for Las Vegas without ever parking, or even shutting down the engine—our efforts to find a parking place were fruitless.

Speaking of fruit:

On this commemorative thirtieth birthday trip we lingered in the upper Oak Canyon to watch rock-climbers descending and ascending the canyon walls, and found an abandoned apple orchard—at least it appeared to be abandoned. The orchard showed years of neglect with heavy undergrowth, and an old house visible beyond a fallen gate was obviously unoccupied.

Evidently other travelers also considered the orchard abandoned—they were munching on apples garnered from the ground, and the area had been picked clean by the time we got there. However, that was no problem for a stepper, or rather for a climber. The temperature was uncomfortably cool, and although encumbered by the weight of the army field-jacket I was wearing, I climbed several of the trees, filled my pockets with apples and shook down some for others to enjoy (I’m always searching for ways to be of service to fellow sojourners).

The apples would have eventually fallen anyway—I just accelerated the process.

In the interests of brevity I’ll close this posting (not that it’s particularly brief) and get back later with more details of our memorable conquest of the Four Corners area (or at least three of the four states that comprise the four corners). There’s lots more to tell—tidbits such as our stays at several La Quinta motels on our trip. We were always treated to Continental breakfasts, and after our meals we appropriated several bananas to last us through the day. I can’t speak for my daughter, but I consumed so many bananas that I lost most of any affinity I may have had for that particular fruit.

Incidentally, I have to eat bananas sideways in order to keep from blushing (hey, that’s an old GI joke—lighten up!).


 
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Posted by on December 4, 2009 in Humor, PHOTOGRAPHY, Travel

 

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