Interesting meme from Yglesias, which I figured I’d pick up on. Here are the cities I visited this year and spent at least one night in:
- Washington, DC
- Albuquerque, NM
- Philadelphia, PA
- Budapest, Hungary
- Santa Fe, NM
- Durango, CO
- Boulder, CO
- Colorado Springs, CO
- Cambridge, MA
- Flagstaff, AZ
Not a long list. I didn’t do a whole lot of traveling this year; most of my time I spent in Albuquerque and at Chaco (which I didn’t include on the list because it’s not a city). I did get to see some interesting places I hadn’t been before, though, which was nice.
The water’s back, and since I worked extra on Saturday I got to leave early today. Now I’m just about to head to Albuquerque for my days off.
Hey, so you know what sucks? Waking up to discover that the water pressure is so low that it’s practically nonexistent, then working ten hours straight with no lunch break because it’s the weekend after Christmas, so everyone’s on vacation and we’re down to a skeleton crew, and the person on the second shift, who was going to be coming in later than usual already, never showed up, and not being able to get in touch with him because the long-distance phone service is down and everything outside the park is long-distance, on top of which there are more visitors than there have been in weeks, then, when the phones come back up, learning that the water pressure is still down to nothing because the pipes have apparently frozen somewhere but not burst, so no one can figure out where the line is stopped up and there’s nothing anyone can do about it except hope that it warms up enough that the frozen part melts, which is unlikely any time in the immediate future because the forecast low is below zero. It’s a good thing I’m so stoic.
Merry Christmas, everyone. We went to Santa Fe, which seems to have become our usual thing. We walked up Canyon Road last night, then went to the dances at Santo Domingo Pueblo this morning. The dances were very interesting in their mix of native and Spanish motifs, as well as for how many dancers there were; Santo Domingo is one of the biggest pueblos, significantly bigger than most of the ones where we’ve gone to dances before, so they had a lot of people participating. All in all, a nice holiday vacation.
Out of the blue, Yglesias notes that, contrary to popular belief, hunter-gatherer societies are much better off than settled agricultural societies in just about every way. This seems very odd from the perspective of a modern industrial society like ours, which grew out of a preindustrial agrarian society, but the evidence for it is actually overwhelming in both the archaeological and ethnographic records. The implications of this are as disturbing as they are unavoidable, which may be why it doesn’t get much attention in public discourse.
I’m in Albuquerque, visiting my family and preparing to go up to Santa Fe tomorrow for Christmas. I got in late last night (it took forever to get here thanks to the weather) and talked to my mom a bit about the breakup and such. She had some things to say about it that helped me to clarify how I feel and what I think was going on. The way she put it was that the problem was that I met a wonderful person too early. I think that’s right. We’re just in very different places in our lives right now, and as a result our attitudes toward the relationship were different in a way that was not ultimately sustainable. Another way to think of it, as my mom also put it, is that she’s 25 going on 30 while I’m 24 going on 18. Although the actual age difference is very small, the differences in background and experience are a lot bigger, and that was ultimately the problem.
Astute readers of this blog, assuming there are any readers of this blog left, may have noticed that I haven’t said a whole lot about my experiences at Chaco. This is partly because I’ve been very busy, which was particularly the case when I first got here and had to learn the ropes, but it’s also because I’ve been thinking over a new way to structure my blogging. Basically, I’m going to shift toward using this site mostly for personal and political stuff, and put my longer essay-ish posts on separate blogs devoted to particular subjects. This is similar to what I did with the 1692 blog, but not quite as regimented a project as that. I’d like to expand to a readership composed less of my immediate friends, and I don’t think this blog is the place to do that.
Thus, let me introduce Gambler’s House. I’ll be using it for all of my thoughts about Chaco, which will mostly be in the form of longer posts, perhaps not very frequent, and typically addressing the things I’ve been reading and thinking about while I’m here. It’s still a bit of a work in progress, and I’ll be adding links and other things to it for a while, but since today is the solstice it seemed like a good time to unveil it. Feel free to stop by, have a look around, and let me know what you think.
The end of a relationship is never easy, even if you see it coming a long way off, and this one was no exception. While I think we were both expecting this to come at some point in the near future, it was still a hard conversation to have. They always are.
I don’t know why it is that my interest in and commitment to this relationship began to wane, but it did, and once it did it was only a matter of time. I felt (and feel) awful about the fact that she was still so committed to it and to me when I didn’t feel the same way, but there wasn’t much I could do. I often have a hard time figuring out just how I feel about things, which often makes things unnecessarily confusing and difficult for people around me. I think in this case a lot of it can be attributed to my lack of experience and resulting difficulty understanding what exactly I want and why. Certainly none of the blame is hers, and I still love and respect her and hope to maintain some sort of friendship, if possible.
In any case, this is a major change, painful but necessary, and I think and hope that things will ultimately end up better for both of us as a result of it.
It’s snowing in the canyon. This is the first really major snowstorm we’ve had this year, and it brings my mind inevitably to thoughts of dialectology. The word for “snow” is one of the very few isoglosses distinguishing the eastern and western dialects of Navajo, and it’s the only one I know of that’s from the native vocabulary. Most of the isoglosses are Spanish loanwords in the eastern dialect that are not present in the western, clearly the result of the much more intense contact eastern Navajos had with the Spanish in New Mexico in colonial times. The geographical boundary between the dialects runs roughly along the modern border between New Mexico and Arizona, although the main physical boundary is probably the Chuska Mountains. This boundary corresponds more or less to historical and cultural differences that are in many respects more meaningful than the linguistic ones. Contact with the Spanish and the Rio Grande Pueblos took the eastern Navajos in one direction culturally, while the western Navajos were more in contact with the Paiutes, Hopis and Havasupais and went in a different direction. The Canyon de Chelly area, just west of the Chuskas, is in some ways transitional between the two. James Brooks’s Captives & Cousins has some information on the history here.
But back to snow. The eastern Navajo word for “snow” is zas, as in the title of this post, while the western Navajo term is yas. This is a very interesting isogloss, because these terms seem to obviously be etymologically related, and yet there is not a general tendency for eastern z to correspond to western y. Indeed, although there are a few other isolated examples of this correspondence, both dialects have both phonemes and overwhelmingly use them in the exact same way in the exact same words. As I mentioned above, most of the other isoglosses distinguishing the two dialects consist of Spanish loanwords in the eastern dialect that don’t exist in the western, which uses native vocabulary for the same meanings. I don’t know of any grammatical differences between the dialects, although there may be some. In general, they are very similar, completely mutually intelligible, and they have clearly only been separated for a relatively short time. There are even some Spanish loanwords, mostly having to do with money and other foreign concepts, that are common to both dialects.
So what explains the “snow” distinction? I don’t really know, although I suspect it might be representative of an incipient sound change, probably phonetic in origin, that has not yet (and might never) spread through the eastern dialect as a whole. Language changes constantly, and not all changes are predictable or completely regular. John Ohala is the linguist most associated with this kind of thinking, and I’m a big fan of his work. It’s also possible that this is just a fluke, the result of contingent historical circumstances without any particular relevance to broader questions. Understanding what’s really going on here would require careful, detailed study of the differences between the dialects and whatever regularities and patterns are evident in them. I don’t know if anyone has done or is doing that research, but I think it would be very interesting.
For some reason I’m finding this Bernie Madoff business riveting. Even aside from the scale of the alleged fraud, the fact that it apparently went undetected for so long is fascinating and disturbing. In some ways it’s a perfect illustration of the extent to which trust is a key and essential underpinning of our (and probably any other) society. Trust is so important to the basic functioning of pretty much every major societal institution that if someone can figure out a way to maintain it while building up an elaborate fraud that fraud can work spectacularly well as long as nothing happens to undermine the misplaced trust. In Madoff’s case, it seems that he was able to keep his Ponzi scheme going by building up such a reservoir of trust and confidence that he could keep getting enough new money coming in to cover the promised payouts to existing investors for years or even decades. (It seems to be unclear at this point exactly how long he kept this up and whether his firm was a fraud from the very beginning, which would be truly impressive.) He also seems to have mastered the art of faking his paperwork so well that his firm even survived an SEC investigation without taking a hit to its reputation. Once the economy fell apart, though, it seems the jig was up and he could no longer keep up the appearance of propriety. It’s unclear, at least to me, how exactly it all came undone, but that will presumably be revealed in the course of legal proceedings.
I find frauds like this (and this smaller-scale one also revealed recently) fascinating for what they reveal about the fragility of societal institutions. The spectacularly rapid collapse of the world financial system shows just how vulnerable institutions, even enormous ones, are to sudden losses of confidence. It’s almost as if everything we do is based on a tacit understanding that everything will work out if no one looks too closely at what anyone else is doing. Almost.