Sunlit Water

June 27, 2009

Okay, I’ll Start Here

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 11:01 pm

So basically, the past two weeks have been crazy.  The summer solstice is a huge deal here, and we have a bunch of events for it, including sunrise events at Casa Rinconada and dances at Pueblo Bonito by the modern Pueblos, the descendents of the ancient Chacoans.  This year the dances were by dance groups from Acoma and Laguna Pueblos.  The day of the solstice, June 20 this year, we have a special schedule where we don’t give tours but do have to set up for the dances and keep everything going.  It’s pretty crazy, and while there are a bunch of volunteers who come in to manage the events themselves it’s pretty rough on the park staff as well.

In addition to the usual commotion, this year had some peculiarities that made it additionally stressful.  The most important is probably that the campground is closed for repairs, which cut down on the massive crowds we usually get (which was nice) but also meant that the visitors we did get were likely to be upset about not being able to camp.  Luckily, however, the weekend also happened to be one of the three fee-free weekends proclaimed by Ken Salazar earlier this year, so we had one way to reassure people and set them at ease.  It was a good thing, too.  All of the higher-ranking people, including the supervisors, were out of the park for the weekend, which makes sense from their perspective but meant that there really wasn’t anyone around with substantial authority in case there had been any serious incidents.  Luckily there weren’t, and everything actually worked out just fine.

In addition to the solstice commotion, my mom and her sister and brother-in-law happened to be visiting me that weekend.  It was nice to see them, and it was good that they were around when there was plenty to do, but it left me with pretty much no free time.  Which was okay, actually, since shortly beforehand I got booted off of the wireless network for using too much bandwidth (uploading pictures to Flickr takes a lot, it turns out), so I couldn’t have been hanging out on the internet as usual even if they hadn’t been there.  The person in charge of getting me back on the network was extremely busy with his won (rather more important) projects the whole time, so it took about a week before I got back on.  It was fine, though, since I hadn’t really had time to spend online anyway.

There was more, too, but I’m not going to be going into detail about it here.  The above should give a sufficient sense of how crazy my life has been lately.  It’s starting to settle down lately, though, which is nice.  And my mom brought a ton of food, so I haven’t had to go shopping in a while.

Oh, Hell

Filed under: Blogs,Dating,Personal — by teofilo @ 5:54 pm

So it seems that having one’s ex-girlfriend read one’s blog can be problematic.  Who knew?

June 26, 2009

Where Do I Begin?

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 1:36 pm

I’m really at a loss about how to even start describing the events of the past two weeks.  It’s like my life suddenly changed completely, in ways that could be frustrating at times but were for the most part extremely enjoyable and satisfying.  I don’t think I can even come close to telling the story in a coherent fashion, so I’ll just mention some of the key lessons I learned in the format of a deliberately cryptic numbered list.

  1. Uploading photos to Flickr uses a lot of bandwidth.
  2. The Sierra Club is a fine organization that does a lot of wonderful work.
  3. The summer solstice is a hectic but magical time of year.
  4. If you look at the clear night sky for long enough on any given night, you will see several shooting stars.
  5. Never underestimate the appeal of a man in uniform.
  6. Sometimes even the craziest plan works spectacularly well.

June 14, 2009

Something I Did Not Know

Filed under: Culture,Publishing,States — by teofilo @ 12:49 am

The website of the Salt Lake Tribune has a “Polygamy” section.  There’s even a blog.

June 12, 2009

Keep Them Pumpjacks Running

Filed under: Transportation — by teofilo @ 1:40 am

I thought the price of gas seemed pretty high when I filled up the other day.  Oh well.  I don’t do much driving these days anyway.  Plus maybe this’ll keep Farmington afloat for the rest of the time I’m out here, which would be nice.

June 6, 2009

Uncornered

Filed under: Land,States — by teofilo @ 5:53 pm

Hey, so remember all that fuss about the Four Corners Monument being in the wrong placeWell

June 3, 2009

Thank The Unions

Filed under: Culture,Personal,Politics — by teofilo @ 9:10 pm

This whole thing about Andrew Ross Sorkin saying there are no successful unionized companies when there obviously are is interesting for all sorts of reasons.  I was particularly struck by this response talking about the generational component of this and how while Sorkin’s a young guy, like many other people in both business and the business media he seems to be stuck in a worldview defined by a long-ago era.  The respondent makes a passing reference to the narrative of liberalism’s overreaching and needing to be brought to heel by a heroic Ronald Reagan being “a story that many of us have heard from our upper middle class baby boomer Dads over and over again.”  I’m sure this is true for many people, likely including Sorkin, but it’s certainly not true for me.

My dad was a baby boomer, to be sure, and while we were really more middle-middle than upper middle class, he was a small businessman for most of his career and had a lot of the biases and presumptions common to that worldview.  His narrative of the late twentieth century, though, was very much not a story of liberalism starting out okay and then going too far.  It was, rather, quite different.  I remember him saying, around 2004 or 2006, when the electoral fortunes of the Democratic Party were looking particularly grim, “You know, when I was a kid I was a conservative and we always lost.  Now I’ve become a liberal, and we still always lose.”  “Well, at least you’re on the right side now,” my sister responded.

My dad’s ideological journey seems pretty remarkable in retrospect.  He started out as a typical western conservative without a whole lot of interest in politics, much like the rest of his family.  They were mostly Republicans, but he always refused to join a political party and remained an independent his whole life.  He was too young to vote in 1964, but his family all voted for Goldwater, whose hand he got to shake at a rally during the campaign.  He was old enough in 1968 to vote for Nixon, and would have, but he didn’t actually register to vote until 1980, when he voted for Reagan (much to my mother’s chagrin).

The real turning point came in 1992, when Bill Clinton came on the scene.  My dad used to describe Clinton as “the first Democrat with a brain in his head,” and he liked him a lot and voted for Democrats from then on.  The Democratic Party’s notable move toward the center, of which Clinton was the most prominent symbol, really had an effect on my dad, who was not at all pleased by the increasingly religious and extreme positions of the GOP during the same period.  What I find interesting, though, is that my dad never really thought of himself as changing his positions but of the parties as changing theirs so that he went from agreeing with one to agreeing with the other in a fairly short period of time. He never renounced his youthful conservatism, but he would say that conservatism had changed into something he no longer agreed with.

Private-sector unionism was never a big topic of discussion in our household, but I don’t think my dad was ever too fond of it.  (We were all for public-sector unionism, however, since my mom is a public school teacher.)  I know that I grew up with something of a distaste for unions, though never a very strong one.  I remember seeing Pete Domenici’s opponent in the 2002 Senate election on TV giving her concession speech, and she spent so much time thanking her supporters that she didn’t get around to conceding before the TV stations switched to something else.  “I want to thank the unions!” she said, to loud cheers, and I remember thinking, “thank them for what?”  I was never all that coherent or doctrinaire, though, and when I would see pro-union movies like Salt of the Earth or read about historic strikes I would certainly see the value in unionism in the abstract.  It just didn’t seem very relevant anymore, and the remaining unions seemed out of touch.  There were never any strikes, and I’ve still never seen a picket line in person.  The private sector in the west isn’t all that unionized, and public-sector employees are forbidden to strike by law.

I’ve since come around a lot on the issue, like many others on which I’ve moved considerably to the left from where I was in high school.  Right now, especially, the magic of the free market is seeming a lot less magical than it did ten years ago.  I don’t know how my dad would feel if he were around to see the current economic crisis, but he was becoming an increasingly strident critic of Bush and the GOP by the end of his life so it’s certainly possible that his disdain for actually existing conservatism would have extended even to the hallowed status of capitalism.

Which brings me back to Sorkin.  Looking at the list of companies that belie his claim, I’m struck by two in particular: Safeway and Peabody.  Safeway was the first major supermarket chain to really become a troublesome competitor for us when they built a store in Page, Arizona, which was the nearest town.  Despite the fact that, like most supermarkets, they were heavily unionized, their size and ability to take advantage of economies of scale made them able to compete very effectively with the nearby trading posts once the roads were paved and it became very easy for people to go into town to shop.  Trading posts weren’t unionized, of course (although they tended to offer generous leave policies and their employees generally had health insurance coverage), but their isolation increased overhead costs a lot compared to in-town stores, and ultimately most were unable to keep going.  Once non-union Wal-Mart showed up, it was all over for most traders, including us.

The role of Safeway in our story tilts in the anti-union direction, but the role of Peabody is quite different.  Well before Safeway entered the picture, Peabody established a big coal mine on Black Mesa, not too far from our store, and many of our customers got jobs there.  Mining, of course, is one of the most heavily unionized industries in the country, so the mine employees made union scale.  My dad used to talk about how customers suddenly began bringing in these big, fat paychecks, when they had previously eked out a living herding sheep or relied on public assistance.  The mine was an environmental catastrophe, of course, and over time became increasingly mechanized and employed fewer local people, but boy, was that ever a lot of money for some very poor people.

So ultimately, the role of unions in my family’s story is ambiguous, and probably a net positive.  I don’t feel too bad about my shift to a more pro-union sentiment, even though the more conservative members of my (extended) family have generally remained steadfastly opposed to anything and everything “liberal,” unions included.  I figure it’s just one more thing to avoid talking about with them.  Unions have done a lot of good for this country, and they deserve a stronger voice, no matter what Andrew Ross Sorkin says.

June 1, 2009

Major Minority

Filed under: Academia,Personal — by teofilo @ 9:35 pm

In the course of my job, I get asked a lot of personal questions about my background, education, future plans, etc.  I find this one of the most unpleasant aspects of the job, but I don’t have a whole lot of choice about how to deal with it so I just go ahead and answer.  By now I have a whole series of stock answers to the most common questions.

One of the most frequent questions I get along these lines is about my academic background.  This often comes after a tour, when people seem to be sufficiently impressed by my knowledge of Chaco to ask if I studied archaeology or anthropology in school or, more generally, what I majored in.  When I tell them I majored in linguistics and that I learned pretty much everything I know about Chaco in the course of working at the park, they are often stunned.  More than once I’ve heard people exclaim “I thought this was your dissertation!”  (No, it’s my job.  When you do something full-time for months you learn how to do it well.)

I also get questions about my future plans, and when I answer that I’m going to grad school for city planning in the fall people are often just as surprised, but interestingly they quite frequently grasp the connection and how my work here is actually quite relevant to my future studies and career.

All of these reactions serve to constantly remind me of something that I’ve noticed ever since I graduated from college, which is that my perspective on what majors and undergraduate education in general are about is quite unusual and, to a huge segment of the general public in this country, so alien as to be fundamentally unintelligible.

Basically, I see undergrad as a time to experiment with learning things that seem interesting without worrying about what practical application they will have to one’s future career or life, and this experimentation extends even to big decisions like choice of major.  I don’t think majoring in something in undergrad necessarily indicates any interest in that subject beyond the prospect of learning about it for four years.  Certainly my choice of linguistics as a major was never affected at all by any intention of doing anything more with it; I didn’t count out the possibility until very near the end of my college career, but I never considered it any more likely than any number of other possible career paths.  I majored in linguistics because I wanted to study linguistics.  Four years was enough.  (In retrospect maybe too much, but that’s another story.  I’m not without regrets.)

The main influence on my thinking on this issue was surely my parents’ attitude, which was quite similar and probably shaped largely by the fact that they both went to St. John’s College, probably the college that provides the least practical education that it is possible to get in this country.  The whole time I was growing up the refrain was always that your undergraduate major didn’t matter, and that you could do all sorts of things with a wide variety of majors.  This is by no means an attitude unique to my family, of course.  It was shared by many other people in our social circles, and it appears in a lot of college advice books where it generally takes the form of “don’t freak out too much over the decision about what to major in.”

The implicit idea behind a lot of this advice, I think, is that for a lot of career fields, particularly professional career fields, a graduate degree is becoming more and more of a necessity anyway, so the really crucial decision is what to study in grad school.  In many cases, the only important thing about a bachelor’s degree is having one.  It doesn’t matter what it’s in.  It makes sense, then, to study what you want to in undergrad, and save the career-determining decisions for later.

This is not how most people think about this issue.  Even when I was an undergrad I noticed how career-oriented a lot of my fellow classmates were, and how many of them seemed to be majoring in fields that they didn’t particularly like studying so that they would be prepared for good (i.e., lucrative) jobs when they graduated.  I always thought of this as a remarkable dismal and impoverished way to approach school, but I’ve since learned that it’s much more common than my perspective.

This is not without reason.  For one thing, it isn’t really true that your undergraduate major doesn’t matter.  There are still quite a few fields, mostly more technical ones like engineering, where a bachelor’s is enough to get a good job, provided it’s a bachelor’s with the right specialization.  Even in many other fields, a bachelor’s in a relevant subject or at least significant related coursework is a prerequisite for entrance to graduate school.  There are still plenty of other fields where graduate programs don’t have such requirements, but even there having a related undergraduate degree doesn’t hurt and usually helps when it comes to admittance decisions.

Beyond that, though, there’s really just a very widespread perception that college is for job training, that one’s undergraduate major represents the career field one intends to go into at the time of making the decision, and that any change in career field after graduation represents either an inability to find a job in the chosen field or a change of heart about what field to go into.  People tend to see my background in these terms: they think I initially wanted to be a linguist, so I majored in linguistics, but then for whatever reason I ended up working in this job instead, so presumably I’ll either keep doing this or go to grad school in a related field such as archaeology and go from there.  When I tell them that I’m making yet another change with my choice of grad school discipline, they often seem to be literally unable to understand my decision.  It apparently seems like yet another change of plans (and so soon!), inexplicable in terms of my past background.

As I said before, many people don’t see it that way and can see how this job is relevant to my future, but those are often the people who haven’t asked about my undergraduate background and probably assume that it was something related to either archaeology or planning, so there’s some presumed continuity there.

This all seems as alien to me as my decisions apparently seem to them.  There’s no radical change of heart in my educational or career background.  I didn’t have a firm sense as an undergrad of what exactly I wanted to do, and certainly working at a national park was never really something that occurred to me, but majoring in linguistics, working somewhere doing something unrelated to linguistics for a little while, then going to grad school in planning was one possibility in my mind from the time that I first stumbled upon the field of planning and began to think it might be for me.  I wouldn’t say I’m doing exactly what I planned to do, since I didn’t plan to do anything in particular, but I’m certainly not doing anything I planned to not do.  To me my life seems to be right on track.

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