“Hi, Can I Help You?”

There are five words that every working person in Roswell needs to learn: “Hi, can I help you?”

These are words best delivered with an upbeat, optimistic voice, and often accompanied by a smile. A smile is the process of widening your lips while turning the corners upward. It is not uncommon to see teeth if this gesture is performed correctly.

Please don’t confuse this activity with the alternative baring of fangs.

We’ve got a service problem in Roswell, a fairly serious one. It’s so prevalent that most people seem to have simply given up and come to expect this widespread, passive-aggressive hostility as a normal fact of life. But it isn’t normal. The rest of the world isn’t like this.

It would be easy to blame this fundamental lack of professionalism on the usual suspects, like the hyperactive, inexperienced teenagers who often work in fast-food restaurants. But based on experience, it isn’t limited to them.

“Hi, can I help you?” are five words that literally everybody in this town needs to say to each other far more often. It’s just as important to say these words as it is to say “Hello” when you pick up the phone.

That goes for you, little miss fancy-pants secretary at a respected business establishment. When I walk into your lobby and you sit there, silently staring at me with a “what do you want?” look on your face, believe it or not, I’m suddenly more inclined to do business elsewhere.

This includes you, two chummy coworkers who make me stand and wait for help while you finish your extremely important conversation.

And this especially includes you, manager or supervisor who has failed to impart how important it is to make the customer feel welcome and at home. People aren’t magically born with that behavior, and they don’t learn it by way of threats, or raised voices. They learn by way of constant cajoling and coaxing. It might sound hokey, but you really need to make the employees feel like a part of the family before they take it upon themselves to act that way.

Every teacher knows that you don’t tell somebody something one time and they suddenly learn it by heart. You playfully tell them repeatedly until there is no need to tell them again.

I’ve worked in service jobs. Most of us have. My dues were paid making pizzas, and subs, and cinnamon rolls. For several years I performed an almost adequate impersonation of a bartender. Most of us are fully aware of how hard it is to bust your butt for barely enough money to survive. This leads to frustrations, and frustrations must be vented.

The problem is that frustrations often turn into bad attitudes, and like the contagion of a new flu virus, bad attitudes spread far and wide. We end up creating this petty, bitter, maladjusted world where one bad attitude is passed on to another, and from there to another still, from person to person, stranger to stranger, literally like a disease.

It’s incumbent on us all to remember that we’re just people, frail, overworked, often lonely, and stuck in a dinky town a hundred miles from nowhere. We’re all we’ve got. We’re all customers, too, and the Golden Rule applies even in the most depressing corridors of a cashier’s checkout lane: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Mind you, I am pro-worker to the core. I fully support the “Fight for $15” movement, which states that every working person in this country deserves a living wage. In addition to that, I truly believe that a universal basic income (UBI) is not only an economic necessity, but a social inevitability, although I doubt I’ll live to see it.

I also believe that the poor service we see in this little town is often the result of the business world’s objectification of human beings into poorly paid — and poorly treated — usable, abusable, and disposable commodities.

That doesn’t mean we don’t know good service from bad. That doesn’t mean we have to to stand aside and make excuses for somebody not doing their job. If a person can’t be bothered to perform his job with a sense of professionalism and common decency, then there’s bound to be somebody out there who will.

In the end, we practice being considerate to people primarily for our own benefit. In doing so we remind ourselves of our humanity, and our inner sense of nobility.

“Hi, can I help you?” That didn’t hurt at all.

Nuclear Energy is Wrong for NM

If New Mexico ever gets snookered into building a nuclear power plant, you’ll know we got fooled, and fooled good.

Nuclear energy is not an option. If New Mexico were a submarine or an aircraft carrier then yes, nuclear energy might make sense. But in a land as rich in sunshine and wind as this enchanted state, nuclear power would be a huge mistake, and a gigantic step backward.

Some people say that since solar and wind are finally making headway, we should take their subsidies and give the money to nuclear instead. The notion is so profoundly illogical that the mind struggles for a metaphor. It’s almost like saying “Since smart phones are doing so well, let’s stop building cell towers and invest in land lines instead.”

Step back in time to the 1980s. Imagine if somebody said “Wow, personal computers are really taking off. Let’s stop R&D on those, and start building bigger mainframes instead.”

With few exceptions, nuclear has never really been a viable alternative energy source.

Exhibit A: No nuclear power plant has ever been built, anywhere, without a massive infusion of taxpayer money.

Exhibit B: In 2011, the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the total subsidies paid and offered to nuclear power companies from 1960 to 2024 generally exceeded the value of the electricity produced.

Exhibit C: Since 1958, more than 120 nuclear power plants were started and never finished due to cost overruns.

To make matters worse, nuclear energy is simply more expensive than traditional sources. As an example, where traditional sources might cost around 0.89 cents per kilowatt hour, nuclear energy can cost as much as 1.04 cents. Since we’re living in an era where energy can be traded across the country via power-lines, it’s altogether possible to build a nuclear power plant that generates electricity nobody wants to buy.

Nuclear is a big investment in terms of money and time. From start to finish, an operational nuclear power plant can take as long as 10 years or more to complete. Why? Because we’re not just building the plant, we’re establishing an intricate, exceptionally high-tech logistical system that has to run like clockwork or the whole thing grinds to a halt.

First we have to secure the uranium. Second, we have to enrich the uranium at special processing plants. Next we have to safely transport and store the activated material. Then we use it. Once used, we have to discard the nuclear waste safely. Not surprisingly, the taxpayer usually gets stuck with the bill for this last phase.

Nuclear energy is an exceedingly complex way to do a simple thing. Fissile nuclear material gets hot, really hot, hot enough to turn water to steam, which in turn spins electrical generators. The uranium “fuel rods” are useful for about 6 years. Sounds good, until you realize we generate about 2,300 tons of nuclear waste per year.

So after 6 years of energy, we’re left with thousands of tons of a useless, deadly nuclear byproduct which can last about 10,000 years. This means that for the next 10,000 years, someone will have to monitor it, measure its degradation, and be able to move it should some unforeseen complications arise.

10,000 years of lethal hazard for 6 years of limited, regional energy? That’s not a good trade-off. And who’s going to pay for minding the waste? How many companies stay in business for 10,000 years?

All of these negatives don’t even touch upon the very real possibility of something going catastrophically wrong. Then we’d have a Three Mile Island, or a Fukushima, or a Chernobyl, or worse.

Who gets stuck with the bill if something goes wrong? We do, the taxpayers, of course. That’s Business 101: privatize the profits and externalize the costs.

Whose ecologic system will be irreversibly impacted? Ours. Whose DNA will risk cancerous mutation? Ours. And you can bet money few of the shareholders of that nuclear facility will live anywhere near the contamination.

While I’m no fan of Wall Street, it’s telling to note its whims and fancies. The stock exchange isn’t crazy about nuclear power, and hasn’t been for decades. Way back in 1985, Forbes Magazine wrote that nuclear power was “the greatest managerial disaster in business history…only the blind, or the biased, can now think that most of the money has been well spent.”

Regardless of what we think of big investors, we should heed sound advice, forget about nuclear, and learn to look forward, not back. Just as coal has no future, neither has nuclear. It’s ironic, since one was made of dinosaurs, and the other was born of war, two things best left in the past.

The Alt-Right & Modern Fascism

When I see a bright young man veer down the benighted tracks of the Alt-Right, it gives me a queasy feeling. It’s like watching a deer get hit by a train. Poor little dear. If only he knew better. It’s about as nauseating as seeing a lovely young teenage girl fire up a menthol cigarette, only worse. The girl has chosen to pollute her body. The boy has chosen to pollute his brain.

It’s a waste of time trying to sway them, the lost boy and the strayed girl. Might even make things worse. Their youthful obdurance, and rebellious self-destruction will resist all sound advice. Almost everything they do from that point forward will be in defense of their bad choices.

The Alt-Right is a fringe conservative group of modern American fascists. I don’t say that lightly. About half of the Alt-Right movement would be violently opposed to this summation — “violent” being the keyword — but the other half of their movement would enthusiastically affirm it.

In either case — be they fascists, or garden variety white supremacists — both factions tell the same jokes, frequent the same websites, worship the same ideals, and elevate the same mean-spirited world view that white men are the best, and white men have it rough! Rougher than anyone!

Poor guys….

Although not a homogeneous group, the Alt-Right is largely comprised of young white males with a conservative bent who are either smart or tough. The smart ones are typically upper-class, and not very tough. The tough ones are lower-class, and not very bright. Together they form a self-aggrandizing symbiosis, the central tenet of which is that the world revolves around them.

Currently the Alt-Right’s most popular leaders are Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos. Spencer is ostensibly a straight white male, while Milo is a flamboyant, gay problem child who will say almost anything for attention.

Spencer is generally considered the Alt-Right’s founder. It’s worth nothing that Steve Bannon, the former editor of Breitbart.com and Trump’s current Chief Political Strategist, declared Spencer to be “one of the leading intellectuals of the alt-right movement.” Spencer is also known for dreaming up ever more clever ways to assert white supremacy, calling it an “identitarian” movement, now, whatever that means.

After Trump’s election win, Spencer is the guy who held a rally with his followers where he shouted “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” And as he did so, his adoring crowd gave the Nazi salute and chanted “Hail Trump!” in unison.

Milo Yiannopoulos is a slightly different breed. Where Spencer is the meat & potatoes of the neo-Nazi buffet, Milo is the extravagant cream tart for dessert. He’s an aggressive, incendiary writer who was banned from Twitter for life. This martyr status, after he failed to hide his hate-speech behind the mother’s skirt of the First Amendment, makes it all the easier for Milo to lure those little white stags down the train tracks of intolerance.

Milo’s latest book is entitled “Dangerous.” Both the title and the reviews are in keeping with a greater theme among the Alt-Right movement: they literally want to be a threat.

“Dangerous” is the outgrowth of an article co-written by Milo in 2016, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide To The Alt-Right.” This manifesto was published on Bannon’s Breitbart.com wherein Milo described himself and his followers as “dangerously bright” and “fearsomely intelligent.” Note the threatening verbiage.

The great poet Maya Angelo famously said “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Behold the Alt-Right, fearsome and dangerous, menacing white supremacists with an ardor for God, guns, and power. Brute force is how they want to solve their perceived problems of being poor little white boys who never got a break.

The antithesis of the Alt-Right movement is not the Alt-Left, which doesn’t exist, but a group known as the “Antifascists.” While commendable, their efforts are probably doomed to fail. The Antifascists typically combat the Alt-Right’s bullying tactics with their own “eye for an eye” counter demonstrations, but when it comes to knuckle-dragging brutality, the Alt-Right will win every time. If the Antifascists are to be victorious, their triumph must come by way nuance and craft, not brute force.

As with all labels, “Antifacist” has been shortened to “Antifa” over time, which is an unfortunate abbreviation. Something was lost in the contraction. I’d much prefer the simpler, heart-felt name we used the last time America had to deal with a bunch of fascist knuckleheads: the Allies.

Sophie’s Off to College

Paul’s daughter, Sophie, was heading off to school, starting her junior year of college. She’d be twenty-one soon, old enough to buy her own beer, and drink cocktails at the dance clubs. Old enough to go to jail. Twenty-one, and she’s an adult. Overnight. Just like that.

Paul, Sophie, and mama Tina had spent an intimate morning together. After a big breakfast, strong-brewed coffee and the sweet smell of maple syrup permeated the house. The mood was festive, as if a rebirth had come. A grand voyage was about to commence. Sophie’s car was in the garage, all gassed, serviced, and almost packed.

Since mom had cooked breakfast, Paul and Sophie packed the car. As dad tossed the last of Sophie’s rucksacks into the trunk, a small one-hitter pot pipe fell and bounced with a awkward clack on the concrete floor. Both father and daughter saw it. As the blood drained from Sophie’s surprised face, Paul nonchalantly picked up the pipe and tossed it in the bag. He zipped it shut, placed it in the car, and gently closed the trunk.

“Daddy, that’s not mine.”

“I know dear,” Paul said. “Just forget about it. Let’s keep this between us.”

“I mean it,” Sophie continued. “I was keeping it for a friend. I just forgot about it. Trust me.”

“I know. No biggie,” Paul said with a smiling, dismissive optimism. “I was young once, too.”

Tactfully, he changed the subject, and asked Sophie if her car was road-ready. Buoyed by the diversion, father and daughter returned to the kitchen almost as if nothing had happened. Almost. They sat for a while at the table, trapped in a thorny silence, waiting for mom to tie up some loose ends before Sophie would hit the road.

The phone rang. It was Kay, one of mom’s nosy neighbor friends. Paul always called her “Okay Kay” because the woman was never wrong about anything.

“I got it!” mama said, taking the phone and stepping into the next room. It was a blessing in disguise.

“Dear heart,” Paul whispered to Sophie, sitting with her intimately at the kitchen table. “I’m not worried about the weed. If you drink a little beer and smoke a little herb, you’re probably going to be okay. It’s the hard stuff that kills you.”

“But it’s not mine!” Sophie quietly protested.

“I didn’t say it was,” Paul chuckled. “I’m just saying, if you ever want to buy some herb, give me a heads up, and we’ll get you a medical marijuana card, okay? On me.”

“Really?” she said.

“Yeah.”

“But what if I don’t qualify?” she asked.

“We’ll make it so you do. You leave that to me.” Paul leaned back to eaves drop on his wife and Kay. They were gossiping about their girlfriends. He had tons of time.

“The beer and the herb doesn’t get you,” Paul said. “The hard stuff does, and booze is the hard stuff, too. Don’t drink any of that jungle juice they serve at frat parties. At best you’ll wake up covered in puke. At worst, you’ll wake up in a stranger’s bedroom with a bad feeling in your stomach.”

Sophie rolled her eyes. “I’m not an idiot, daddy.”

“True,” he said. “But you are a day dreamer, and sometimes you don’t pay attention. Remember back when you were a sophomore? And you thought the sinking of the Hindenburg started World War Two?”

“Ancient history,” she huffed.

“You’re going to be twenty-one soon,” he said. “So if you go to a liquor store and buy some beer, you’ll get beer, not pot. Likewise, when you go to a marijuana dispensary you’ll get marijuana — not cocaine, or meth, or pills, or heaven knows what.”

“Daddy!”

Paul leaned back again to eaves drop on his wife and Kay. They were gabbing about men. He had all day.

“Those drug dealers will see you coming a mile away, kiddo. Sometimes they’ll tell you they’re out of pot, and offer you some coke instead. Sometimes they’ll give it to you for free. Don’t touch it. Avoid the hard stuff. They’ll say it’s all the same, but it’s not, not by a long shot. Remember that, okay?”

Mom hung up the phone. Kay was Okay. The final act had come, and sharing their fond goodbyes the family parted with gentle hugs and recalcitrant tears. Watching Sophie drive off to school, Paul waved as Elton John sang “Daniel” on the kitchen radio, and the sweep of time stood still.

I don’t know exactly what happened to Sophie after that, but I do know this: she graduated from college, was never arrested for drugs, and she didn’t die from an overdose. On the grand scale of things, that’s enough.