What’s In A Name?


Friends and relatives who visit us here in the “Land of Enchantment” otherwise known as the State of New Mexico are often surprised about two things:

  1. We are a part of the union.
  2. We have four full seasons

The first one I put up only half in jest. But some people who may need to brush up on their geography sometimes believe that the southern border of Colorado separates the USA from Mexico. They may be surprised to IMG_2289find out that New Mexico became a state before Arizona, although just by six months in 1912.

Previously both were part of the New Mexico Territory. Arizona kept the title that the Spanish converted from the Papago “ali-shonak” meaning “small spring.” Our state retained the connection to Mexico and Spain, confusing Easterners and others ever since.

Unlike Arizona much of which is warm even in the winter, New Mexico, particularly the Central and Northern portions have a full four seasons. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Parts of Arizona get cold while portions of New Mexico remain warm even in January, bringing me to the main point of my post.

I reside in what we call the “High Desert,” which also happens to be part of the name of this website and my Twitter Handle. Everyone can imagine a desert, lots of brown sand, little vegetation and even less water. But what then is the High Desert? A standard definition is above 4,000 feet in elevation with less than 10 inches of annual precipitation. New Mexico’s mean elevation is 5,700 feet above sea level but our annual rainfall averages around 14 inches while the snowfall averages around 22 inches.  Of course being averages, there are the extremes like the 100 inches of snow some of our mountains received this last winter.

The fIMG_0772oothills of the Southern Rocky Mountains where our home is located is around 6,800 feet above sea level. We receive above the snow and rainfall averages for the state. That elevation, well above a mile, along with the greater precipitation gives us some green in the spring and summer and some white in the fall and winter. The parking lot of Ski Santa Fe where I instruct skiing is at 10,350 feet. The peaks towering above the base area extend to over, 12,000 making it one of, if not the highest lift-served ski terrain in North America.

The name High Desert may not define precisely the topography of where I live, but I will nonetheless keep it. The photos are from the open space just a short walk from my home. It’s a place of peace and reflection where I plot and plan what the characters in my books do. It’s a great place to work through and overcome writer’s block and plot holes because you place those things in the back of your mind when you are surrounded by such grandeur. As you hike along your subconscious works out all of the details.

It’s not the desert, and it’s not the mountains, but it is a place I love. I think I’ll keep the name.





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Opposites Attract

This weekend as I was starting a garden and doing yard work in the bright New Mexican sun and the almost ever prIMG_1073esent crisp blue skies I thought how just a couple of weeks ago that green grass and garden sat under a couple inches of snow due to a late April storm. Just another couple weeks before that I was still at my “fun job” working as a Ski Instructor for Ski Santa Fe. That last week saw some big dumps of snow. One of them was so heavy that half of the upper mountain had to be closed for the better part of one day due to avalanche danger. Something not often seen when skiing inbounds at a ski area.

I spent nearly 90 days on skis this last season and loved most every minute of it! I was getting paid to do what people dream about doing as they grind away in their cubicles until they get a chance to take a holiday.  When they come up to the mountain, they’re not thinking about politics, their jobs or even their day to day problems. If they are wise they leave those things down the mountain. If for no other reason that makes going up the
mountain good for the soul.

As a professional skier, I am always striving for the perfect carve in my turns whether that is on a groomed run, through some gnarly bumps, or in the deep powder stashes through the tight trees on a steep hidden glade that only the locals know exist. Our Ski Instructor uniforms, technical talk, and stamina from doing cardio every day at 12K feet in elevation sometimes intimidate the recreational skiers that we teach coming from the big cities to our cozy area. Being cognizant of that we try hard to put them at ease and to remind each that they should use the “F” word often…Fun!

We truly want our students and guests to relish in the joy of the sport, a joy that grows exponentially the better they ski. We might make judgments about their turns but never about them. That sounds like an easy thing to do, and it is when you are in the mountains getting paid to hang out with people on vacation. However, it is a little more difficult in our daily lives. Coming from a law enforcement background I was quite judgemental, I had to be. I had to make determinations about someone’s state of mind, motives and not the least their intent to do me harm. That existence will make anyone jaded to one degree or another. In fact, I would submit that if it did not, you would not be very good in that job, but that is a topic for another day.

IMG_1876As I engage people now whether it is on the snow or in the pages of a novel I work hard to be nonjudgmental in putting forth any point of view that might take away from the experience. Just as I strive for the perfect carve on my skis I strive for the perfect word, sentence, paragraph, passage and story.

Life is a yin and yang existence. That Eastern philosophy describes how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world.  The snow that covered my garden nourished it with moisture. Being judgmental in one job is required while in another the opposite is true. For going up the mountain to be good for the soul, one must first leave the bad down the mountain.

I’m blessed, I get to see the mountains every day. Either from my backyard, as I drive through the city or as I descend from their peaks in a way that only a bird or a fellow skier can relate to.  If I’m wise, I’ll remember to leave the bad “down the mountain,” even if the mountain is only a frame of mind that day.

I hope that you do too!






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The Useless Class

In the future when the Bvirtual_reality_wideots and AI have all of the jobs will that just leave us humans having all the fun? Will our days be filled with moving from one virtual reality game to another? Of course, we won’t all be unemployed. To be sure we will need people to develop virtual worlds and the games that we might play in them as well as people to design and maintain not only the hardware but to keep the lights on so to speak. With Bots and AI assistants, we might only need a fraction of humans that we now need to do those tasks.

That will leave a whole class of individuals with nothing to do. Characterized as the “Useless Class” by Yuval Noah Harari they will not just be the unemployed, but the unemployable.

Assuming that government (or their parents) provide them some type of “Universal Basic Income,” an idea under consideration in Canada and other places. In fact, even in the USA a UBI already exists if you consider entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as well as a variety of welfare programs. If basic necessities were provided for then the need to work would not be required to live. Leaving a lot of extra time to enter digital realms that cost little or even nothing but the hardware to join them.

One could debate whether a UBI should exist, but that is not something I would plunge into. Rather I would observe that the results of all of this impressive technology whether you are employed, unemployed or unemployable, is that your standard of leisure time activities through virtual reality will be much higher, perhaps in ways that are a magnitude above what you now enjoy in the “real world.”

If a virtual world were so intriguing and enjoyable that you never needed to leave it would that be your new reality? I just finished the first draft of my next novel in the “The Metaverse” series. It’s a story where the lines between what is real and what isn’t are not merely blurred. What is real has been reduced to abstract thought. The only reality becomes for many, the dimension that they currently occupy.

To protect that reality some might even kill.

Stay tuned!



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Springtime in the High Desert

Spring time in the “High Desert” is often more like winter. This picture near my home in the foothills was taken at IMG_0775an altitude of around 7K feet. So while we are in the southwest with over 300 days of sunshine a year people are often surprised of our winter like weather. The high altitude (higher than Denver) of Albuquerque and Santa Fe keeps things cooler while the (almost) ever present sun warms things up. Only a few inches of snow fell the last two
days of April in the city.

In the mountains, it was quite another story.  My “fun job” teaching people to ski at Ski Santa Fe ended April 2. I skied a half foot of fresh powder that morning. Coworkers who worked into the following week to help take down signs and rope lines on the mountain sent me pictures of the foot of fresh powder that fell over the days following closing weekend.

So while we are in the desert, it is very high. Unlike Denver, it never gets too cold (not for long), and unlike Phoenix, it never gets too hot. Now if only something could be done about the spring winds, we would have four perfect seasons instead of three and a half here in the “High Desert.”




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The Metaverse

The Metaverse is my first novel! Here’s the blurb:

The FBI’s most famous living legend is more comfortable chasing bank robbers, kidnappers and terrorists. Ncropped-willkurth-72dpi-1500x2000ow he must leave his gun slinging style behind to enter the limitless expanse of a digital world when he is tasked to lead the Metaverse Crimes Team. A group of dedicated FBI agents skilled in the use of virtual reality to solve crimes both “in-world” and “out” including a civilian technician, Robert Wu who is as smart as he is puzzling. The first order of business is hunting down a dangerous serial killer and virtual reality scientist, Dr. John Wayne Maddox through the vastness of a limitless digital world. The FBI agents are helped and hindered by Digital Sentient Beings who populate and “live” alongside people in the Metaverse. Cunning human-like artificial entities with agendas of their own. These digital beings and the brilliant Dr. Maddox are far more powerful and dangerous than anyone can imagine.

The Metaverse, more than the “internet of things,” is a place where humankind has devised a way to comfortably and seamlessly merge the biologic and the digital to the point that neither is readily distinguishable from the other. As people in ever greater numbers choose to live, work and play in the Metaverse so too do those who prey on their fellow man.

In or out of the Metaverse, virtual reality, drones, and robots impact everyday aspects of ordinary people going about their lives. The need for some to commit murder and extortion is no longer a solely human trait as the artificial intelligence created to aid humanity has learned all of its characteristic’s, good and evil.

The Metaverse is a fast-paced Crime Thriller that takes place in the not too distant future with technology that even now is a part of our world.

Let me know what you think!

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The American Handgun (from Europe)

Ok first we have to start with some definitions.

Malfunction: A condition in which a weapon does not function that can be fixed very quickly by its operator so that it can rejoin the fight.

Jam: A condition where the weapon does not function and can not be fixed quickly by the operator rendering it useless unless you are at sea and in need of a boat anchor.

Magazine: Retains ammunition, feeds ammunition and is spring loaded.

Clip: Retains ammunition or is used to hold a woman’s hair in place.

I am not your typical “Gun Nut.” In fact I’m not really a “Gun Nut” at all. As a Federally Certified Firearms Instructor I know a bit about a few different weapons systems that I either utilized during my time in law enforcement or became familiar with to train the military or law enforcement personnel who carried those systems. Although the Glock was not my choice of handgun nor was it the agencies that I trained, I have become somewhat enamored with it.

Gun fighting is an American Invention. One that occurs today every bit as much as it did in the wild west. So naturally guys like Samuel Colt are legend. Everyone knows that “God made man, but Sam Colt is the one who made them equal.” So its even more amazing how Glock came about to take its leading role in the American firearms market.

As it turns out the individual who’s name is now famous was never even a gun maker. Gaston Glock was  manufacturing plastic curtain rods when he heard complaints from the Austrian Army that no pistols existed that met their requirements. With his knowledge of plastics and polymers Glock believed that he could manufacture the weapon that the army needed. The final product was Glock’s seventeenth patent and also had a 17 round magazine capacity. Thus the Glock 17 was born.

The Glock 17 has fewer parts and is lighter, thanks to its polymer frame, than other similar handguns. With no manual safety it is also simpler to utilize. Fewer parts and the polymer design make the Glock  cheaper to manufacture and can be sold for less than the competition which made it appeal to cash strapped police departments. But the real deal sealer was its high capacity magazines.

By the 1980’s most street cops found themselves outgunned by the criminal element who were  increasingly arming themselves with more powerful and capable weapons.  At that time most cops carried the traditional six shooter, normally in a .38 caliber or the more powerful  .357  Magnum variant.  Cop culture, especially in the areas of training and equipment, is not easy to change.  The same high capacity firearms that the crooks were using were available to the cops but the powers that be resisted those systems. Many who had only handled semiautomatic weapons in the military were  wary because of their (incorrect) belief that those systems were prone to malfunctions or a jam. Or were too complicated to train on or maintain. In some cases communities opposed an increase in the fire power of the police while ignoring the increase in fire power of the criminals.

As a rookie cop in 1982 I was trained on the Model 10 S&W .38  Revolver. I could not help but notice that every sixth round it would absolutely and without fail stop shooting and would remain in that condition until you moved it from your firing hand to your non-firing hand, broke it open, turned it upside down, plunged out the empty casings which sometimes expanded and stuck in the cylinder and reloaded it two bullets at a time as you rotated the cylinder.

We trained that if the gun fight was still raging you would in the interest of speed and survival, load those two rounds, close the cylinder, switch the gun back to your shooting hand and rejoin the gunfight. At least for two more shots when you would have to repeat the reloading process.  Some of us used speed loaders which while faster than doing two rounds at a time were anything but speedy. Worse the bad guys knew or learned in prison to count. Even though they were crooks most could count to six, the point they knew a cop would be out of ammo. Of course most of us carried a second gun somewhere on our person for just such a contingency.

The Albuquerque Police Department at that time allowed its officers, at their own expense, to buy certain authorized semiautomatic handguns to carry on duty. It did not take many trips to the range watching my fellow officers who carried those semi-auto’s fire more rounds without reloading and then reload in one quick motion without ever taking their gun out of their shooting hand or off the target still with one round ready to fire inside it (never shoot a weapon to empty). I decided then and there that a “wheel gun” “malfunctioned” every sixth round, far more than what a semiautomatic might if it was properly maintained. I quickly converted to the Colt .45 1911 series. A weapon near and dear to my heart and one that I carried for the rest of my career.

Back to Gaston Glock.

Glock is one of those bigger than life characters. A chemical engineer by training he was 52 years old when he entered the gun making business. He worked tirelessly  in his basement with what was an innovative design using plastic for the frame and other parts. He would test fire his prototypes with his left hand in case one blew up he would still have his right hand to draw blueprints. After Glock became successful and rich a business associate who was after Glock’s wealth hired a former mercenary and proffessional wrestler to kill the gunmaker. Attacked in a dimly lit parking garage by the assailant wielding a mallet, Glock who was unarmed and 73 at the time, beat back the attacker knocking out several of his teeth in the process. Glock, even at 73 and unarmed is not someone you want to mess with.

Today Glock handguns are carried by half of American Law Enforcement officers and are the handgun of choice for many Americans to protect themselves their loved ones or their homes. It has become The American HandgunDesigned and built by a chemical engineer and curtain rod maker in Austria who is as tough as are his guns.

Paraprosdokian Sentence of the day: The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.  

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I’ll start with a full disclosure:  I hold a Real Estate Brokers License and am a member of the Board of Realtors. I was in business during the boom selling a home to almost anyone who could breathe and was minimally qualified by just picking up the phone and calling any Mortgage Broker. I am not writing this as a sales pitch or marketing angle. Believe me, I talk more people out of buying or selling in this market then I conduct transactions for.

Home Ownership, its the American Dream. We have all been told to invest in real estate. Will Rogers famously said “buy land, they ain’t making any more of the stuff.” But Will Rogers who also is often quoted about “how he never met a man he didn’t like” never met the Wall Street Bankers who came up with the concept of “Collateralized Debt Obligation” (CDO) to offset or more accurately hide the riskiest mortgage bonds from investors being created out of a huge sub-prime market. These whiz-kids figured if they packaged the riskier bonds together with the “A” paper they could, through showing diversification, get the whole package a higher bond rating. In fact they succeeded in getting these CDO’s the same rating as U.S. Treasuries, the Triple A (AAA).

With a AAA rating Wall Street could now sell these bonds to organizations prohibited from buying anything  but AAA, public and private pension plans for example which, to their eventual detriment, invested heavily in them.  This in turn created a huge appetite on Wall Street for these CDO’s which in turn drove the mortgage business to find new customers. Since most all of the Americans with good credit already owned a house or three, mortgage brokers had to look for new business and had to create new products to attract that business.

Wall Street had a partner.  The Federal Government in the form of Rep. Barney Frank,  Sen. Chris Dodd, future President and then-Sen. Barack Obama (who received 165K in political contributions from Political Action Commitees of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)  and Presidents Clinton and Bush who pushed or allowed Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE’s) like Fannie and Freddie to have quotas where a percentage of the loans they bought had to be to borrowers at or below the median income levels in their communities. At first the quotas were 30% of all loans but then under Clinton they were raised to 50% and later under Bush to 55%. To get to the point that over half the loans are required to be at or below median income levels underwriting standards have to be lowered.  By 2008 half of all mortgages, some 27 million, were of this type of low quality loan. Think about that, half  of all mortgages in the U. S. Financial system were risky loans, and 70% of those were held by a GSE. It was doomed to fail.

Initial easy terms and a long trend of rising housing prices encouraged borrowers to assume mortgages that were at their limit of borrowing power. We in the business called these “water heater” loans because the borrower was just one unforseen financial event, like a broken water heater, from defaulting on the mortgage.  But the economy was booming, people would see increases in their incomes and then would be able to refinance at more favorable terms because they would have equity in their home because as we all knew home prices would continue to rise.  Forever.  And always. Right?

Home prices were artificially being inflated by government intervention and  Wall Street’s desire to to create more CDO’s to sell and a booming economy. All of it  based on some very shaky assumptions about the financial health of American consumers. One of those assumptions was that you could use the equity in your home, which was as any Realtor then would tell you (and was true) growing daily. Why not take that new found wealth and pay off higher interest credit cards for example, or better yet run up those credit cards and use your home equity to pay them off, or buy a new car or take a well deserved vacation? You could afford it, you were a real estate baron after all! And while your at it refinance the whole thing at even better interest rates!

Some on Wall Street and others outside of it could see that this was an unsustainable equation. Some were blowing the whistle on the whole process. But no one was listening including Realtors and  Mortgage Brokers and certainly not the American Consumer who expected those of us in the business to find them their piece of the American Dream and a way to finance it.  Others on Wall Street saw an opportunity to profit: Bet against the mortgage and housing industry. Thus was born the Credit Default Swap (CDS) which is insurance against the failure of a mortgage bond.

A really cool thing with the CDS is that you did not actually have to own the bonds you were buying insurance on. You were speculating that they would fail and that the insurance pay out would be greater, in this case a fortune, than the premium to insure it. Because they were AAA rated the insurers believed the risk was minimal and that they would profit off the premiums. AIG, an insurance giant liked the look of those profits and the ability to not just insure homes, but also mortgages. A major flaw in AIG’s approach is that they applied an insurance concept that insurable events are unrelated. If your neighbors house burns down it does not mean that yours will for example. But when bonds default they cause chain reactions and well the rest as they say is history.

Making it worse is that there was no regulation covering a CDS which did not require AIG to post a percentage of collateral which further freed up resources to buy, you guessed it more of these CDS instruments. Many on Wall Street played both sides of the street both buying and selling CDS’s. But AIG held onto them, collecting premiums on what they thought was a safe bet.

But these institutions were shackled to each other. Lehman Brothers, which had done over 700 Billion dollars worth of CDS’s, had much of it backed by AIG. When things started going bad AIG had to cover Billions in losses. AIG’s position in the Dow Jones dropped and further affected the stock market adversely. Then the panic came and with it the collapse of the market and the Death of Lehman Brothers. AIG would have gone that way as well had it not been for the American Taxpayer who will not get his money back for two generations at least.

Which brings us back to the housing collapse.

If you bought a home in most markets in the last 10 years you would lose money if you sold it today. Because many people bought at the height of the housing boom they are severely upside down, they owe more on the mortgage than they can sell for. For these people its not just a loss on paper they can write off.  To actually sell to a buyer they have to write a check at the closing table for thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars and in many cases a hundred thousand or more. With the downturn in the economy many of the reasons that prompted a homeowner to sell to begin with contribute to their inability to cover that loss, like being newly unemployed.

Many just walk away, or as we have seen in Arizona excercise “strategic defaults” where they are in a position to pay the mortgage, have good credit but do not want a home worth in some cases less than 50% of what they paid for it. So they go out and buy another home (at 50% of its previous value) and then default on the first one letting the bank foreclose on it or sell it in a Short Sale.  It’s easy to be critical of these people, but consider that Wall Street Bankers with the help of  their friends in Washington D.C. did the same thing, letting someone else like the American Taxpayer cover the loss.

The number of homeowners who are underwater, the home is worth less than the mortgage on it, is at 1 in 5 nationally. In some areas it is 1 in 4 or worse. There is currently a  log jam of foreclosures being held as a result of due process issues.  As those cases are adjudicated it will free up those homes to come to market where they will be classified as distressed properties and be a drag on the market as they negatively affect other non-distressed homes for sale. Until those foreclosures and others still in the pipeline are liquidated it is unlikely that a bottom will be reached soon. Individual markets may see some stabilization or even slight appreciation. But generally speaking, if you buy a home today, in early 2012 it will be worth less at market if you had to sell in early 2013. For Sellers the situation is the same. You will get a better price today then a year from now.

It will take a decade or two to pay down those underwater loans which removes 20% of the homes with mortgages on them from being brought to sale without the seller writing a check to get it done. When you tack on the 8-10% of the sale’s price to actually sell almost any home (Realtor fees, inspections, title insurance, taxes, repairs etc.) it further pushes down the number of homeowners who will be in a position to sell. Not being in a position to sell equates to not being in a position to buy for most Americans. This will create a flat market well into the foreseeable future. This seems to almost be a historical trend going back to before the Civil War where home prices go through steep increases over a period of time and then collapse and level off for two or three decades.  When the dust settles, and the bottom is reached in 2014 or so, we will see a period of time where home appreciation is flat or at 1-3 % a year. Something Realtors call a normal market.

It will also mean that a whole group of people who once owned homes will likely be renters for the rest of their lives which in an unkind turn of events will be more expensive then owning a home as the rental market is pushed to capacity and rental prices rise accordingly. For these people a housing boom became in effect a homeless boom created at the confluence of Government Social Engineering and Wall Street Greed.

Paraprosdokian Sentence of the day:

The Evening news is where they begin with ‘Good evening’, and then proceed to tell you why it isn’t. 

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