Sunlit Water

July 20, 2009

Maybe I Should Just Buy Some Clippers

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 8:02 pm

Why is it that hairdressers seem to have such a hard time understanding that when I say I want my hair cut down to half an inch all around that means I actually don’t want to leave two inches on top?

July 17, 2009

Different Longitudes, Though

Filed under: Land — by teofilo @ 6:48 pm

Phoenix and Atlanta are at almost exactly the same latitude and elevation.  This isn’t really that surprising if you think about it, but for some reason I find it really striking.

July 15, 2009

There Sure Are A Lot Of White People In This Country

Filed under: Culture,Politics,States — by teofilo @ 6:04 pm

The fact that Alabama, with a population that is 68.6% non-Hispanic white, can be (totally appropriately!) described as having a “small white population” speaks volumes about American culture, politics, and history.

July 12, 2009

We Get All Kinds

Filed under: Culture,Personal — by teofilo @ 10:20 pm

Early this afternoon I was working the desk.  I was the only person doing so, since it was Sunday and we didn’t have that many people working.  A young woman, probably mid-twenties, came in, paid her fee, and said she was here to see petroglyphs.  I said there were petroglyphs all over the place, so she was likely to be successful, and she responded that she had come here several times to see petroglyphs but never been able to see any.  This seemed a little odd, but I just said that a lot of times they are hard to see if the light isn’t hitting them in the right way and pointed out a few places with particularly noticeable panels.  She didn’t seem particularly impressed with my suggestions, but she didn’t object to them either, and she headed out.

Later that afternoon she came back in.  It looked like she had gotten some sun, so she had certainly been out walking somewhere in the park.  I’m not sure where exactly she had been, however, since what she said was that she wanted her money back because she hadn’t seen any petroglyphs.  She said this was the sixth time she had come up here looking for petroglyphs and not seen any, and that she was frustrated and felt that she had wasted her time and money coming up from Albuquerque.  Her tone wasn’t irate or anything, but a bit irritated.

I paused for a moment to take this all in, then said that if I weren’t the only person working the desk, which I still was, I would go take her right out to the petroglyphs and show them to her in person.  (There is one well-known and very visible panel just a few hundred yards from the Visitor Center.)  She kind of brushed this off and said that she was going to tell everyone about how disappointed she was in coming here and not seeing petroglyphs, whether I refunded her money or not.  I didn’t, and she left.

I really have no idea what her deal was.  There are petroglyphs all over the park, some of which are more visible than others, but many of which are quite easy to see and not very hard to get to.  It’s extremely implausible that someone would come here six times with the express purpose of seeing petroglyphs, make a good-faith effort to see the petroglyphs available, and not be able to.  It’s just a really, really weird thing to claim.  Maybe she meant something different by “petroglyph” than everyone else does, but I had pointed out the pictures of them we had in the Visitor Center and she didn’t object or argue that she was looking for something different.

What’s even weirder is the way she asked for her money back.  Entry fees are entry fees; we only refund them if, for some reason, it turns out the person was not subject to the fee and we mistakenly charged them.  This was definitely not the case with her.  The US Government does not have a generous return policy.

And in any case, it’s not like this park is advertised exclusively as a place to see petroglyphs.  In fact, petroglyphs are among the most minor of the attractions at the park.  It’s fine if people come here wanting to see petroglyphs rather than anything else, but it’s not what the place is really about.  Certainly not to the extent that we would refund anyone’s entry fee for petroglyph-related issues.  There are many parks where petroglyphs are the main attraction, including one notable example rather more convenient to Albuquerque than we are, but this isn’t one of them.

It’s really all just very strange.

July 9, 2009

Bichidi Adin

Filed under: Transportation — by teofilo @ 9:24 pm

In the course of discussing congestion tolling and responding to the frequent complaint that measures like this to make driving more expensive will, in places that are extremely auto-oriented like most of the US, have a disproportionate effect on poor people who have few options other than driving, Ryan Avent notes one fact that gets surprisingly little attention in arguments like this: cars are expensive.  So expensive, in fact, that the really desperately poor can’t afford them at all, and the somewhat less poor end up spending huge amounts of their meager income on financing car purchases, often on extortionary terms.

Moreover, this is not something that depends much on the nature of the transportation infrastructure or the availability of alternatives.  A car doesn’t necessarily cost exactly the same amount of money in DC as it does in Raleigh, but from the perspective of a poor person it’s going to be extremely expensive in either place.  So expensive that a lot of poor people simply are not able to buy one, and they end up taking public transportation, which is a hell of a lot easier in DC than it is in Raleigh.

If Raleigh were to significantly improve its public transportation system, however, by using the revenue from congestion tolling or otherwise, it would become much easier for a poor person to live without a car there.  Which, again, isn’t really a choice; the poor person is going to be living without a car in either case, so whether there are tolls on the roads doesn’t have much direct effect on their everyday life.  Whether there is reliable bus or rail service, however, has a huge effect.

I think one of the main reasons this doesn’t get much attention is that people like this, who are very numerous, are nevertheless mostly invisible to the middle-class people (of whom, I hasten to add, I am one) who tend to do most of the talking.  The downside of tolling is obvious to a middle-class person with a car who lives in a place like Raleigh (or, say, Albuquerque) and drives everywhere, and it’s easy to assume that it’s impossible to live somewhere like that without a car, and that tolling will therefore impact everyone.  Since poor people have the least money, it seems obvious that they will be hit hardest.  And, indeed, many poor people do have cars and will be hit hard by measures like this.  But not all.

It is actually possible to live in Albuquerque without a car; I’ve done it, and I’ve known plenty of other people who have.  In certain parts of town, like where I lived, it’s not even that difficult.  In most of the city, however, including most of the areas where poor people live, it’s very difficult, and requires being hugely dependent on a notoriously unreliable bus system to get anywhere.  People still do it, though, because they can’t afford cars.

To take this argument to something of an extreme, I’d like to mention how this works in an area of the country that isn’t going to be getting any tolls roads or public transportation options anytime soon: the Navajo Reservation, which encompasses a huge area of rural New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.  This area, basically the parts of the three states that meet at the Four Corners, has both a very low population density (that data is a little old, but these newer maps tell basically the same story) and a very high poverty rate.  In essence, this is a huge, sparsely populated, and very poor part of the country.

In a place like this, there’s literally no practical way to get around except by driving.  Under the circumstances, it would make sense for people to have cars.  And, indeed, most people do.  They aren’t good cars, in general, or new cars, but people do whatever they can to buy cars.  This generally involves going massively into debt to buy a used car that isn’t in very good condition and is likely to break down a lot but is all that they can afford.  Sometimes they can’t afford even that, and the car ends up being repossessed.  Unscrupulous car dealers in Reservation border towns like Farmington and Gallup take advantage of Navajos’ poverty and lack of education to massively rip them off on the financing terms in ways that can be either legal or illegal.  People fall into these traps all the time, because there’s not much else they can do.  They need a car.  It’s the only way they can get around.

One other thing about Navajos, however, in addition to being poor and living in isolated locations, is that they tend to have big families.  Frequently, therefore, more than one person in a family will need to regularly drive somewhere, for work or other purposes.  If the family can afford to, they will generally buy as many cars as they need, but many (perhaps most) families can’t, and they end up with fewer cars than they need.

How do they deal with this problem?  In a variety of ways.  If they can time their schedules right, different family members can share the same vehicle and use it at different times.  If this doesn’t work out, they can carpool, which generally results in huge increases in travel time.  If this won’t work and one family member’s need for the car is considered much more important than another, that person may get to use the car and the other person is out of luck.  If they feel like they really need to get somewhere, they may hitchhike.  If you drive around the Reservation for any significant length of time, you will see many, many hitchhikers.  If they can’t get anyone to pick them up, sometimes these hitchhikers will walk the whole way, even if it’s many miles in the blazing sun.  The experience of doing one of these walks is likely to make someone appreciate the importance of having a car.

The moral of this, to the extent that there is one, is really just that it sucks to be poor.  It especially sucks to be poor in an isolated rural area where buying a very expensive vehicle is the only option for getting around, even though it ultimately makes you even poorer.

It sucks to be poor in cities too, of course, but at least there you don’t necessarily need a vehicle the way you might out in the sticks.  If the city in question has a decent public transportation system, it makes it a lot easier to live there without much money.  If not, it sucks more.  Either way, though, the world looks different if you’re too poor to buy a car, and the advantages and disadvantages of different transportation policies are not necessarily the same as those for middle-class people who can easily afford cars.

July 4, 2009

Just Another Day

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 11:05 am

I am, of course, working today.  (Well, right now I’m on my lunch break, but I worked all morning and will work all afternoon.)  Much like Sundays, holidays are big days for visitorship at national parks, so we have to work to staff them.  The only exceptions, when the visitor center actually closes, are Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.  Today has been pretty quiet, actually; our campground is closed, so visitorship has plummeted this summer.  It’s actually kind of nice how quiet it has been so far today.  I don’t mind it.

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