Wednesday, January 31, 2007

State of Indian Nations Address

Photo courtesy of

Well I have to admit total ignorance of this organization and event until just this month. (Clearly, I have more work to do on my Southwestern awareness.) Joe Garcia, President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), delivered the annual "State of the Indian Nations" address on January 25 at the National Press Club in Washington DC. For the past five years, this speech has been delivered just after the US President's "State of the Nation" address.

From their website:

The NCAI was founded in 1944 in response to termination and assimilation policies that the United States forced upon the tribal governments in contradiction of their treaty rights and status as sovereigns. NCAI stressed the need for unity and cooperation among tribal governments for the protection of their treaty and sovereign rights.

In his address, Mr. Garcia called on the 250 member tribes to draw on cultures, traditions, and ancient teachings to ensure a thriving Indian Country for the next generation. Click here to read the full text of the speech.

A bit of local pride: Joe Garcia is a member of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, just north of Santa Fe.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Kids' Birthday Parties

Photo courtesy of Trishley Gifts

I read a truly extraordinary letter to the editor in the New York Times this past week. It was in response to an article about gift cards by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt that appeared in the January 7 Sunday magazine. In the article they talk about why gift cards are generally bad from an economic point of view.

Most economists would argue that if a gift card is so transparently good for the giver, it is necessarily bad for the recipient: the fact that it can be bought so easily signals to the recipient that the giver didn't put much effort into the gift.

In addition, sale of the cards puts extra money into the pockets of the retailers or card purveyors (about 10% of gift card purchases go unspent).

The letter was from Alice K., a mother in a small town in Massachusetts, who wrote:

I have noticed that children are receiving more and more gift cards for birthdays. It's fun for my son to pick out a gift, but I'm the one who has to take him to Borders or Toys "R" Us. And the item he decides on may cost more than the amount on the card. I see this is an unfortunate off-loading of the gift-buying process to the parent of the recipient. Isn't it enough that I give the party?

Well I hardly know where to begin here. But let's give it a shot, shall we?

1. "It's fun for my son to pick out a gift." This is clearly why the parent(s) of the child who brought a gift card to your birthday party selected it. The mom and/or dad may never have been to your house, and may not even know your child very well or at all. It's tough for them to know what the child has/wants/needs (the reason why so many grandparents send checks). A gift card signals their desire to do right by your child. Would you rather have an undesirable gift (war toys fall in this category for many) that you have to return, hide, or trash, or a gift your child is just not interested in that clogs the toybox or bookshelves and goes unused? If it's fun for your son, why is it an issue for you?

2. "The item he decides on may cost more than the amount on the card." Well, honey, that's why he's the kid and you're the grownup. You can always set clear budget parameters and make it a learning process. (E.g., "Your card has a $15 value. That means that you have to find a gift that costs less than $15. Or, if it costs more than $15, you have to use some of your birthday money from Grandma and Grandpa.")

3. "Isn't it enough that I give the party?" Well why not just include the fee for the event on your invitation? Let me remind you that gifts are optional and that the reason you are giving the party is not to pull in a specified number of perfect birthday gifts for your child, but to create a warm and sociable and fun event for your child with his friends. The gifts are the icing on the cake so to speak. And hey, if there's a gift card you can't use, it creates a great regifting opportunity!

I feel better now.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The 3:10 to Yuma

Apparently a lot of movies are filmed in Santa Fe. I have had limited contact with this reality--in fact, my only personal stories are somewhat removed. My son was dining out when he was here in July (before I moved in) and saw William H. Macy and Ray Liotta at the restaurant. (They were here filming Wild Hogs with John Travolta.) And one of my students found Val Kilmer's Visa card on the Plaza. Sigh!!!!!

But in yesterday's paper there was a story about a sale of props from 3:10 to Yuma, a Russell Crowe remake of a 1950s Glenn Ford movie from a story by Elmore Leonard. The movie recently wrapped up filming in Santa Fe.

So I decided to take a long lunch hour and pop down to the "Old Penitentiary" to see what was available. This was an adventure in itself--it's actually on the grounds of the state prison, and I was greeted at the gate by a guard who asked me if I had any knives or guns in the car. Like I would really answer this question positively. "Why yes, officer, I have a small arsenal in the trunk."

The State Penitentiary in Santa Fe was the site of a huge and deadly prison riot in February, 1980. Thirty-three inmates were killed--most by other inmates--and one of the results was that this part of the prison was closed. In recent years, the site has been involved in the movie business. The Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard was filmed here, and I understand there's a huge costume warehouse in the same location.

Then I had to drive down a wet and muddy road (we get so little rain here that dirt roads are typically hard packed, but four feet of melting snow have created a lot of mud!) By the time I got into the sale my boots and jeans were muddy and I felt like a true 19th century Westerner!

Photo courtesy of The Santa Fe New Mexican

Some interesting items--a great armoire, bolts of canvas and dimity and calico, tons of lanterns and oil lamps, six train station benches, a lightning rod, three mustache cups, a whole shelf of preserved items in glass jars, parlor furniture, four saddles, etc. Very little in the way of Victorian glass and china, which is what I was looking for--but certainly a worthy adventure, and it will be fun to watch the movie when it comes out and look for familiar pieces!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why Highways Are the Way They Are

When my sister and I drove from Boston to Santa Fe last summer, we took turns reading aloud to each other from a book our father had given us for the occasion, Cross Country by Robert Sullivan--a book I highly recommend. A section of the book which I have continued to think about has to do with the development of the interstate highway system.

Sullivan contrasts the work of two influential 20th century thinkers--Norman Bel Geddes and Benton MacKaye--and I'll try to summarize here briefly.

1934 patent model by Norman Bel Geddes, University of Texas collection

Bel Geddes was an artist and an advertising man, and then a theatrical designer--designing stages and sets for Cecil B. DeMille, D.W. Griffith, and Flo Ziegfeld. He then turned his attention and considerable skills to industrial design, using a principle he called "streamlining" to design, among other things, planes, cars, warships, a mattress, a meat-slicing machine, a stapler, a rum factory, luggage, and the first gas station pump that automatically calculated the price of gas. According to Bel Geddes, streamlining involved reducing friction and increasing speed. In highways, this could be realized through straight lines, fewer intersections, and fast exit and entry ramps.

Bel Geddes designed a highway of the future called the Magic Motorway and showcased it at the 1939 World's Fair, in an exhibit entitled "Futurama" that was sponsored by General Motors. The following year, Franklin Roosevelt asked him to design a possible national motorway. You can read more about Bel Geddes here. (For you trivia buffs, he was also the father of Barbara Bel Geddes, an actress who played Miss Ellie Ewing on the TV show Dallas.)

Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

By contrast, Benton MacKaye was a wilderness man. (Coincidentally, he also came from a theatrical family--his father was an actor, writer, and director and the first American to play Hamlet in London.) He grew up in the country, and the first mountain he climbed changed his life. He joined the US Forest Service after graduating from Harvard, and later became a journalist, writing radical editorials and hanging out with Sinclair Lewis, Dean Acheson, and Louis Brandeis. He also cofounded the Regional Planning Association of America and the Wilderness Society.

MacKaye saw transportation planning as a way of orchestrating the movement of people and things. He wanted to consider roads in combination with train, boat, and plane traffic, and looked to control cars, rather than have cars control us. He saw the development of highways as a way to influence urban growth. He believed that access to the wilderness was important for everyone. His greatest accomplishment was probably the design of the Appalachian Trail--which he saw as a "West for the East"--a way for Easterners to get a western national park experience--accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy. (FYI, the Appalachian Trail is now 2,167 miles long, crosses 14 states, and is hiked by 14 million people a year.)

Even in retirement, he continued to work on trail design--giving Interior Secretary Stewart Udall two new designs in 1966 (when MacKaye was 87 years old) for the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, which now both exist. You can read more about MacKaye here and here.

Bel Geddes focused on streamlining the road itself--he saw cars eventually able to travel the interstates at 300 mph. MacKaye was more interested in people. In Bel Geddes' view, you steamrolled over obstacles to build the highway where you wanted it to go--straight and flat. In MacKaye's view, you took the people and their purposes and the countryside into consideration. It's clear which design possiblity for American highways won out, isn't it?

The development of a Bel Geddes-style national highway system was furthered by Dwight Eisenhower, who was heavily influenced by his military background. Part of the reason for looping highways around cities was so that cities destroyed by atomic bombs could be skirted! Also, interstates would give the government a way to evacuate populations in case of a Soviet attack. And broad straight multi-lane highways could be used as airplane runways in emergency situations.

And so we developed a highway program rather than a transportation program--road builders building for the sake of road building--and seriously neglected mass transit. Even when highways were built through cities they were typically built through black neighborhoods where little political resistance was mounted (and were designed to move people quickly from their city jobs to the white suburbs).

If you think about the area where you live, you can probably see the results of these efforts. I'd love to see you reply to this post with some examples.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Snowplowing or Lack Thereof

Photo courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Department of Energy; by David Parsons.

One of the major subjects of discussion in Santa Fe the past few weeks has been the poor performance of the city in handling the 25 plus inches of snow we received in late December. It's good for some lively conversation with anyone you meet in the city, and dominated the letters to the editor section in the Santa Fe New Mexican for several weeks.

The letters seemed to be of two types.

The first set were from citizens who felt the city had not handled things well. Many made the mistake of comparing the city's snow handling to that which occurred in the city they moved here from (which was usually in a snowier area). While their complaints were, in my opinion, valid, these letters created a backlash from....

...the citizens who felt that the first group should go back to where they came from if they didn't like it here. They pointed out that Santa Fe is referred to as "The City Different" (which apparently includes shoddy snow handling among the many otherwise charming features that gave rise to this nickname). One writer said that since nobody died as a result of the snow, this meant that the city had done a good job. And one writer said that the complainers (see above) were only suffering from "ego-driven inconvenience".

Wow! In the meantime, the city of Santa Fe has doubled their snowplow inventory (from 6 to 12) and has 20 more plows on order. We are expecting more snow tonight, and the local citizenry are out buying snow shovels again. This from a story on KOAT-TV today:

Ace Hardware in Rio Rancho got a new shipment of 100 shovels Thursday morning. But, managers said they were gone in just an hour.

Before this winter, the store had only sold 12 shovels in the past three years. A manager told Action 7 News they've sold more than 500 since January 1.

Some people around the state have found it is easier to find snow shovels sold online.

We'll talk about the problems with mail delivery in a future post!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Not Quite Spanglish, Part 1

Since I moved to Santa Fe, I've been observing interesting signs that combine Spanish and English (or Spanish and something else, or just multilingual juxtapositions that are interesting). I'll share a few here; more will follow later.

Sign on a tip jar at Dunkin' Donuts: Vaya con donuts

License plate: My cielo

Car dealership: Casa Mitsubishi

Bumper sticker: Carpe maƱana

Sign at an antique store: Latin tchotchkes

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Snow in Santa Fe and Boston

First, Boston gets a lot more snow! But this winter Santa Fe has had 36 inches and Boston has had none...So this is sort of a virtual difference.....I was actually looking forward to Santa Fe snow which always seemed so clean. But now we are beset with the same detritus of ice and sand (red cinders in this case) and gravel and paper wrappers and empty soda cans all molded into a rock hard road border.

Second, number of snowplows. Santa Fe has 6 snowplows. Six!!! I'm not sure how many Boston has, but I know that the state of Massachusetts has access to 5,000 pieces of equipment (since lots of the plowing is done by private contractors). Many streets here are not plowed--the city announced a standard of everyone being within 3 blocks of a plowed street. There are no parking restrictions (like East Coast snow emergencies) or sidewalk shoveling requirements of home and business owners. (On the other hand, we have a very low tax rate....)

Third, number of snow shovels. Many people don't own them in Santa Fe. My next door neighbors came over and borrowed mine after they arrived home several days after the snow ended to find out they couldn't get into their driveway. I brought one with me from Boston and was very happy to have it!

Fourth, no one in Santa Fe tries to reserve their shoveled parking space with broken lawn chairs and old barbecue grills. Here is a shoveled out space right down the street from me that is trustingly left open.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The 1st of January

Lots to talk about this post--we are just recovering from a record-setting snowfall in Santa Fe--25 inches between Thursday afternoon and Saturday evening. The state highways (north/south and east/west) were all closed, and life pretty much ground to a standstill. I went out Thursday morning to do some errands before the storm hit, and then did not leave here again until yesterday (Sunday) afternoon when I was finally able to get out and buy food and gas.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon so I also took a walk through my neighborhood to get some pictures. The first two are of my house. It's hard to see in the closeup of the parapet but the snow is actually steaming! It was tough to get a good shot because a couple of clouds are distracting your eye, but look for the up and down trails of vapor. I've never seen this before--but the sun gets hot enough that it just sucks the snow into the air.

Below you'll see my (unplowed and apparently never to be plowed) street, my trail of footprints to the mailbox to check my mail (none since Thursday), and a couple of local color shots including a closeup of a canale with icicles hanging off. (I knocked off all mine yesterday and they are this size again!) And of course the fabulous blue skies of northern New Mexico--back again after a short hiatus!

Later this week I'll talk about the difference between 25 inches of snow in Santa Fe and 25 inches in Boston.