Friday, December 31, 2004

Southeast Asian Tourism

The tsunami is the 3rd major blow in 3 years for tourism in southeast Asia. September 11, the Bali bombing, and now the tsunami have deeply damaged this mecca of tourism, especially from Europe and Australia. While I hate to look for any silver lining in such a dark cloud, hopefully all the damage will lead to better planning in tourism redevelopment as the beaches of Thailand have become completely overrun with tourists. They were even when I was there in the 1996 and 1997 and I understand it is far worse today. I guess it's hard to stop people from making money on other people going wherever they want. But some community planning would go a long ways to making traveling in that part of the world even better than it already is and hopefully some effort will be made to think through the costs of tourism a little more when they rebuild.

Food Hating in America

A posting on Lawyers Guns Money recently on the use of microwave ovens has given me the inspiration to rant a bit about a long-irritating issue--Americans seeming hatred of good food in the post-World War II years. I look at America from 1945 to about 1980 or so as a low point in the history of American food. This was the period that witnessed the rise of the microwave oven, the rise of boxed food, disdain for ethnic foods, and (to generalize a good bit) a generation of people who disliked cooking. I look at my family and I am simply shocked at the crappy food that they eat. Hamburger Helper was a staple food growing up. Does anyone under the age of 40 ever eat this anymore? Meat was a staple at all meals, but it didn't matter if it was good meat. Canned meat was fine (though generally was eaten by my family) as was baked hamburgers, perhaps the worst way to prepare meat in the history of human interactions with fire and animal flesh. If you needed a coagulating agent, there were only 2 possible substances--Cheese Whiz and cream of mushroom soup.

Why did this happen? Why this dark age in the history of American food? This is a question that I need to explore further, but I will give a few tentative points.

1. The decline of ethnicity as an important factor in American life. World War II went a long way toward homogenizing America. European ethnic distinctions had great importance in pre-war America. But in the postwar period, these became less important by a good measure. To some extent, anti-southern and eastern European racism declined, which can only be considered a good thing. But also the children of immigrants didn't want to be seen as Czech or Polish, they wanted to be Americans. Part of this was to give up many ethnic customs, including unusual foods and conform to middle-class American standards. Thus ethnic communities declined and therefore ethnic eating establishments.

2. Related to #1 is the effect of immigration restriction laws of the early 1920s. By stopping immigrant flows, new people who wanted to bring their customs and foods with them stopped as well. With no new first-generation immigrants, this supply of new blood into America stopped. As we can look at immigration restrictions as an important step in making American food suck, we can also view the Immigration Act of 1965 which opened America's borders again as a key moment in the revitalization of American food that we see today.

3. Post-WWII gender roles. After WWII, women worked more outside the home but men were not about to start helping around the house. Plus fertility rates rose. So women didn't have a hell of a lot of time to cook, especially since these kids were the first generation in American history that weren't expected to contribute much around the house. So the microwave and boxed and prepared foods looked pretty good to an overworked and exhausted woman.

4. Changes in produce. A broad category that includes the massive uses of pesticides that had negative effects on the taste of produce, the decline in Americans growing their own fruits and vegetables, and the marketing of produce which valued tough skins for shipping that meant artificially ripening them so that they would get to market with a perfect look and an apple meaning Red Delicious and lettuce meaning Iceberg. Americans didn't seem to care about these developments much for years so it made perfect marketing sense. But all of these developments led to some really shitty produce in American stores that has really only changed in the last 5-10 years.

Since 1970 or so, this situation has greatly improved. The rise of Mexican food helped, as did the arrival of Asian immigrants after the Immigration Act of 1965. The reaction against pesticides, beginning with the publication of Silent Spring in 1962 but morphing into the organic food movement also made a big difference. Appreciation of multiculturalism helped as well. The massive variety of produce you can get in a Whole Foods, restaurants from maybe 2 dozen nationalities in a decent sized city, organic meats and veggies, and a positive emphasis placed on cooking in American life have all helped pull America out of the dark age of American food.

The only downside is trying to eat when I see my parents.

Gambling in Colorado

Imagine you are a resident of a small town in Colorado.
Now imagine that your town is an old mining town and therefore has been subjected to a boom and bust economy, one that is now in full bust mode and has been for a few decades.
Next, imagine that your town is a big Superfund site and therefore it's going to take a lot of money to clean up.
Imagine that your town has a great history and could cash in on that considering Colorado's tourist economy.
Finally, imagine that you are determined to make your town succeed no matter what.

You don't really have to imagine this. Just go to some of the old mining towns in the Colorado mountains that have gone through this very process. Black Hawk and Cripple Creek have dramatically changed their fortunes, image, and look over the past 20 years in order to make themselves economic centers again. Unfortunately, the cost has been very high.

When Colorado passed gambling laws, they made sure that it was low-stakes gambling (mostly slots) and they hoped that the towns would be able to control the gambling. Of course, like many such plans, in Black Hawk the local residents completely lost control of the process. What once was a small mining town is now a series of casino resorts controlled by national gambling and hotel changes, including Las Vegas chains. Gambling was limited to the old town along the creek. How to solve this problem? Shave back the mountain in order to widen the valley and therefore allow a larger casino. In Black Hawk, the economy is now completely controlled by the casinos and local businesses have disappeared, even local gambling outlets. Tour bases race up and down the narrow mountain road, leading to dense traffic in the valley and the need to now widen the highway. Of course, since Black Hawk is within about 45 minutes of downtown Denver, it's very popular with both locals and with people flying in to ski but also want to gamble.

Cripple Creek is something of a different proposition. West of Colorado Springs, it definitely gets its share of gambling tourism. But Cripple Creek is less dominated by national casino chains. The main street of the town still looks like an old mining town, but inside almost every old storefront is a casino. All in all, the physical look of Cripple Creek is less offensive than in Black Hawk. However, Cripple Creek is also home to a significant amount of interesting history that has been completely wiped away by the gambling economy. Home to one of the most violent mining strikes of the early twentieth century, as well as decades of mining surrounding the strikes, this town should have been able to take advantage of a tourist economy without resorting to gambling. Unfortunately, that history is completely wiped away except for a little museum open only part time (it was closed when I was there). Undoubtedly, the vast majority of gamblers at Cripple Creek know nothing about what happened there and know of it only as a place to sit around and play slots and get drunk easily because it's about 9000 feet.

Old mining towns definitely need a shot in the arm and I defend their right to adjust their economies to make the towns viable. But I think Black Hawk and Cripple Creek are examples of how not to do. Black Hawk shows us that gambling is a Pandora's Box. By trying to revitalize their town, they lost control of it altogether. We can look at Cripple Creek with sadness as well, knowing that they could have struck a better balance between gambling and history to create an interesting and economically prospering town.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Thoughts from Denver

I've come to Denver to see some friends and thought I'd throw a few thoughts down.

1. Bronco fans seem to be fairly stoic in regards to Plummer. Being such an up and down franchise has helped the fans not despise Plummer as much as he should be. Face it, he's Dave Kreig with a stronger arm. They'll never go to the Super Bowl with him.

2. Had some truly fantastic basil tofu at a Thai restaurant last night. It's nice to know that somewhere in a red state, someone knows how to fry a piece of tofu. Seriously, it might have been the best tofu I've ever had.

3. The shit is about to hit the fan here with water. Our friends' house is sinking because the recent drought has lowered the water table. Douglas County, near here, was for a long time the fastest growing county in America. Then people realized that there was no water. They have enough water to last for 4 years. That's right--4. What's going to happen then, no one knows and seemingly doesn't want to talk about. Really, this is just typical western sprawl without any planning, but Douglas County and the Denver area in general could be the first place in the West that just totally runs out of water. But it won't be the last.

4. The open space ordinances in the towns northwest of Denver, including but not only Boulder, leads to enough nice open space that I've seen a lot of ducks and geese flying around. Which is really cool.

5. Most freeway drives are really boring but I-25 from Santa Fe to Denver has to be one of the best freeway stretches in America. Lots of historical places, including Fort Union on the Santa Fe Trail, old mining towns such as Walsenburg, Trinidad, and Raton, the site of the Ludlow Massacre, and great scenery, including lots of views of Pikes Peak. And of course there's the obligatory stop at the Focus on the Family Visitor Center in Colorado Springs.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas in Santa Fe

As many of you know, I have been ambivalent about New Mexico for the entire time I have lived here. There are many good things about the state and many irritating ones as well. Santa Fe is no exception. In the nearly 1 year that I have lived here, I have come to enjoy greatly the weather and the cultural options and to some extent the music scene. It's nice to live in a walking city too. On the other hand, the class divisions in this city are really amazing and the pretension of many is completely sickening.

However, Santa Fe is definitely the best place I've ever spent a Christmas. I've also spent Christmas in Oregon, Tennessee, and South Korea and in none of those places is there anything remarkable about Christmas, except perhaps for South Korea where it's remarkable that it is even celebrated at all (it seems to be the equivalent of Presidents Day here--no one cares except the Christians and it's just a day off for most people). But in Santa Fe they have all kinds of local traditions that make the holidays a lot of fun. All over New Mexico there is the tradition of lumanarias (I hope I spelled that right), which are candles in paper bags that line a sidewalk or building roof or something like that. Santa Fe also has its own traditions. Last night we went and watched the staff from one of the hotels do ice sculptures of Christmas themes, which I had never seen done before. The Palace of the Governors, which was the old Spanish governing building and is now a museum, opens it's doors for an open house where you get free cider and get to look at the exhibits for free. And tomorrow we are going up a road with many of the galleries which is lined with lumanarias and bonfires and many of the galleries will be open as well. Plus the plaza, which is a nice feature of Spanish architecture, is covered in lights and is a really nice place to walk around in.

So all in all, if you get a chance to spend a Christmas in Santa Fe, do it. It's really great.

UPDATE: 12/25/04. Last night's walk on Canyon Road, where all the art galleries are, really sums up my ambivalence about this town. It was truly beautiful with lights and lumanirias and tons of people and it was a lot of fun. But the art galleries, a center of extreme wealth in a very poor state, decided to charge $3 for a cup of hot chocolate when it was very cold out (it got down to 0 the night before last). Unlike every other event in town, the warm drinks had a price when it was the richest who offered them.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Peace in the Middle East??

David Brooks today made the case today that Bush's policy in the Middle East is actually really smart and that it has played a major role in leading to an increased outlook for peace in the region. Maybe his case is convincing. I don't know about you, but I can think of one tiny little omission that Brooks makes no mention of. It's called Iraq. Perhaps you've heard of it. But then again, it's not like anything's happened there in the past 24 hours to make you think that American foreign policy in the Middle East is in trouble.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Book Review--Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume 1

Bob Dylan is a strange man. So I really didn't know what to expect from his autobiography. My curiosity, plus a couple of good reviews, led me to buy it. And I was pleasantly surprised. It's damned interesting. He gains a lot of points for being honest about how crappy his music was in the 80s. He writes quite well (though I suspect that there was a ghostwriter involved in the process). He seems really honest with his feelings about the world. And his narrative structure is really interesting. When I saw that this was Volume 1 but that it talked about the 1980s, I thought, "OK, there's not enough interesting music that is going to come out of this man in the future to justify a volume 2." But what he does is just tell stories from different periods in his life. Much of the book is on the folk scene in New York and his arrival on that scene and how he discovered different folk musicians like Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. He has one section on how much the idolization he received in the 60s upset him and how annoying hippies were (which I can sympathize with), and he has one very long section on the making of Oh Mercy, his only real good album between Blood on the Tracks and Time Out of Mind.

He doesn't talk at all about his early albums, his move to playing electric with the future The Band backing him up, his role in creating The Band's revolutionary album, Music from Big Pink, the creation of Blood on the Tracks, his conversion to Christianity in the late 70s and the albums that followed, or his comeback in the late 90s. So as you can see, there's a lot for him to talk about in another book.

Among other things he could talk about is how he used people up and spit them out when he was done with them, such as he did with Jack Elliott who mentored him in the early 60s as the link to his hero Woody Guthrie or with the many other people he did similar things to on the way. But I guess that's not real shocking. After all, what autobiography is not self-serving to some extent? And really, this was is more honest than many I have read.


Check out this article from Time about the National Park Service being forced to sell a book arguing for a creationist theory of the Grand Canyon. I wonder how this kind of thing will play out. There are certainly large numbers of Americans who will gladly accept such a theory. And the Bush administration is supporting their efforts and have forced the sale of this book over the objections of the park superintendent.

Creationism is of course a stupid argument. However, that's no reason to dismiss its political and social importance. They have powerful supporters in this administration. On the other hand, such an argument faces serious opposition within the rank of file NPS workers, who by and large aren't your evangelical types. In addition, they are going to have to have active support from the administration, which just isn't going to happen the next time a Democratic administration takes over.

In any case, it's pretty interesting and worth reading.

Friday, December 17, 2004

I'd Rather Go Deaf

Who knew that Queen and Bad Company had so much in common? And who really wanted to know. I'm disturbed enough that there are still Queen fans out there regardless of the fact they are smart enough to know that Paul Rodgers, for Christ's sake, is not exactly Freddie Mercury.

Even more disturbing will be the people who attend these concerts. I can't really fathom them.


I think we always knew Pedro Martinez wasn't the classiest guy. Here's the evidence.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

More on PTSS in Iraq

Here's another story on the burgeoning crisis of soldiers returning with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome from Iraq. So let's do a little tally here.

Establish American hegemony in the Middle East, get control of long-term oil supplies, not allow Iraq to become a haven for terrorism, establish a democratic state allied with the US.

Impoverishing the Iraqi people even more than they were under Saddam, making Iraq the world's terrorism center, death of 1300 Americans, around 150 allied troops, and many thousands of Iraqis; many more thousands of Iraqis and Americans wounded, the long-term damage to the physical and mental health of thousands of Americans that taxpayers will be paying for over the next 50 years, skyrocketing American debts, and the damage of America's image abroad.

Make your own judgments as to whether the costs are worth the goal. I know I have.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Missile Defense

Hmmm. What a surprise that yet another test of the missile defense system was a total failure. No one saw that coming. One of the many things that the people who support wasting our money on this system don't understand is that if the system works 95% of the time, it's a complete and utter failure. Oh well, the test failure only cost the country $85, ooo,ooo. It's not like we couldn't have spent that money somewhere else.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Baseball Musings

Thought I'd discuss a few points in baseball.

1. The Mets are incredibly stupid for signing Pedro Martinez for 4 guaranteed years. Absolutely stupid. Even if as some have surmised, his ERA falls because he will be playing in more pitching friendly parks, there's no way his shoulder holds up for more than 2 years. I thought the Red Sox were crazy for guaranteeing him 3 years. Only the Mets or Orioles would do something this stupid.

2. I guess I'm glad the Mariners are on the verge of signing Richie Sexson. I'm worried about a 4 year contract for a guy who was just hurt all year, but hey, how are the Mariners going to "compete" without making a big signing. I don't understand why they would want to sign both Delgado and Sexson. Sounds like they've been taken over by Orioles management. I would rather them go after Beltre or Matt Clement for God's sake. Regardless, this offseason is a million times better than last year, when they gave away Carlos Guillen and gave up a 1st round draft pick to sign Raul Ibanez. But hey, Edgar and Ibanez are friends. So what's the problem?

3. The Red Sox on the verge of becoming the Evil Empire part 2. They are taking a very Yankees path this offseason. David Wells is a huge question mark and this team is older than dirt. Plus they are buying their way into championship contention the same way that the Yankees do. To some extent they have to because their farm system is still so dry. But in the way they are exploding their budget to the point that they are more like the Yankees than even a team like the Dodgers, they are acting pretty evil. It was real easy to root for them last year because of the curse and how much I hate the Yankees and because of the personality of the team. But now they've won and the charm is significantly less. To put it this way, in a playoff series I would definitely root for the Twins and Angels over the Sox and even the Rangers or A's. And in a World Series, I would root for the Red Sox over the Mets certainly but I'm not sure who else.

4. Good bit on the Sports Illustrated website about the lost generation of pitchers, as they put it. Last year there were 11 pitchers who threw 200 innings, won 15 games, and had an ERA less than 4. 3 were over 38 (Schilling, Johnson, Clemens). 6 were under the age of 28 (Pavano, Oswalt, Marquis, Santana, Buerhle, Zambrano) and only 2 were between the ages of 28 and 37 (Schmidt, Martinez). For some reason, the early and mid 90s really produced almost no pitchers who are worth a damn. And this has to be part of the reason that offensive numbers were so high during that time. People talk about how no one will get to 300 wins again, and that may be true because pitchers don't start as many games as they used to. But also this talk could be in part because there was an age when Pat Hentgen won a Cy Young award.

The lack of good pitching has definitely changed however. In addition to the 6 under 28 starters listed above, consider who didn't make that list--Hudson, Mulder, Zito, Prior, Halladay, etc. etc. There are some really good young pitchers today, thank God, and hopefully we are returning to a more normal age of offensive statistics.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Cherrypicking Though History

If you get a chance, read Greg Grandin's savage review of Niall Ferguson's book Colossus: The Price of America's Empire. If you're not familiar with this book, Ferguson argues that it is the duty of the United States to become a colonial empire more powerful than Britain. He thinks that America has the power to do this fairly easily but lacks the will because we're fat, soft, and too peace-loving. Liberalism has ruined America's imperial destiny.

And how does Ferguson suggest that America become an imperial empire? Well, first we get rid of social security and Medicare. He argues that if we end the safety net, we will become a lean and mean country read to conquer in order to survive. Then illegal immigrants, the unemployed and convicts will join the imperial army. Best of all, he sees African-Americans becoming the shock troops of this imperial army. All we have to do is get rid of social democracy, political democracy, and civil rights and we will be the greatest power ever known on Earth.

Ferguson, like many right-wing writers and thinkers, chooses to engage in "cherrypicking through the past" as Grandin puts it to make his points. For examples he discusses the different half-baked comparisons to WWII that the neo-cons used to justify the Iraq war. Ferguson tries to show the greatness of the British imperial missions and compares the current Iraqi war to British operations there in the 20s and 30s. But of course, like many neo-cons when pushed he has to admit that all of his historical analogies are wrong. The Iraqi operations were a disaster. Despite Ferguson's claims that the British empire was a wonderful thing for the colonized, if forced he will admit that things didn't go so well in Egypt, India, or sub-Saharan Africa!!! So where did it work, Jamaica?

But of course, America has been an imperial power. Where? Latin America. How has that worked out for the Latin Americans? Um, not so well. I'm sure the Mayans of Guatemala would like to thank us for our support of Rios Montt in the 80s. And I'm sure the Nicaraguans would like to thank us for the Contras. And I'm sure the Panamaians would like to thank us for splitting their country in two for almost 100 years. But hey, why use facts when you have a political point to make!!!

What really bothers me is that through being controversial while not really doing proper history, this historian has been hired by Harvard. Why would an institution like that hire someone like this? Surely, he's not training graduate students. Is it just to get the name of the institution in the news? Is it to help fundraising by arguing that they have conservatives in their departments? It's really disgusting is what it is.

As many of my readers know, I used to have something of a utopian streak in me. The idea of a world revolution that would bring social justice to all seemed possible to me. But after living through 4 years of a utopian regime and having at least 4 more to go, I've soured on utopia. Utopias, whether they be Stalinist Soviets or Neo-Con America, just don't work and they cause intense suffering to those they are inflicted upon (i.e. Iraq). To be blinded by imperial power, as Ferguson and other neo-cons are, will cause tremendous suffering on the world and eventually on Americans as well. Damn them. I'll take a pragmatic Democratic regime anyday over these crazy utopians.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Lou Dobbs Retro Show

The description off the CNN website for tonight's Lou Dobbs Show:

"Why doesn't the United States require immigrants to learn English? And how does that affect culture in the U.S.?"

What they don't tell you is that this show was originially aired on a silent short in 1915. The show will come after a demonstration on how to spot a Wobbly and followed by the latest Mack Sennett comedy.

Viva Nuevo Mexico (III)

My latest humorous New Mexico story came from listening to the news on the radio. During the winter, the radio gives notices on whether the air is clean enough to burn wood in Bernalillo County (Albuquerque). They always say "It's OK to burn today in Bernalillo County." The other day I was listening to it and the radio guy says that and then follows up with "But arson is still illegal." Funny thing is that given that it's New Mexico, there's no reason to think that he said that as a joke.

Brian Schweitzer

Check out this article from the Washington Monthly on newly elected Montana governor Brian Schweitzer. He's been a rising star in the party ever since he came within a hair of upsetting Conrad Burns in the 2000 Senate Race. That he won in Montana could hold some valuable lessons for Democrats considering that he is from a red state and with the exception of gun issues isn't a Republican in Democrat clothing, i.e. Max Baucus. I tend to downplay elections like this (like the Thune victory over Daschle) that often are about local issues which pundits then try to say represents something larger. But Schweitzer is interesting.

Good Ole Rummy

If Donald Rumsfeld is just going to blow off soldiers' concerns, why does he even meet with them?

My favorite part was his response to the soldier asking why the tanks don't have body armor. To paraphrase he said that you could have all the body armor in the world and still be blown up. Well using that logic Don, why not just arm our soldiers with sticks? They're just cannon fodder for your ambitions anyway.

It's bad enough that we are fighting an unnecessary and unprovoked war without international support. Could we at least use our resources to protect our soldiers? Is that really too much to ask?

Kirkland, WA and Iraq

I noticed today that another soldier from Kirkland, WA (a suburb of Seattle) was killed in Iraq. That makes 4 from Kirkland. For a city that relatively small, that's an incredibly high number. Here is the list of cities that have lost more than 4 soldiers in Iraq.

1. New York City, 15
2. Los Angeles, 14
3. Houston, 13
4. San Antonio and Portland, 7
6. El Paso, Buffalo, and Phoenix, 6
9. Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Tampa, San Diego, and Tucson, 5

That's it. All large cities, except for maybe Tucson. And then Kirkland. This means that Kirkland has as many or more deaths than Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Washington, Miami, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, and other large cities.

Is this blind luck or is there something about Kirkland where they have a high enlistment rate? Do any Seattle readers have any insight?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

War Articles

I also want to point people out to a couple of articles in the latest Harper's.

Joy Gordon explores how this right-wing outrage over the oil for food program in Iraq is hypocrisy because they know damn well that it wasn't the UN who controlled the program but the Security Council--meaning of course the United States. Gordon shows how the US and Britain came up with the program, controlled what went in and out of Iraq, allowed Jordan to trade with Iraq, and closed their eyes to Turkey secretly trading with Saddam so that the sanctions wouldn't hurt the economy of our ally.

Perhaps even more interesting is Benjamin Phelan's article exposing the pointlessness of building bunker-busting nuclear weapons. He argues that such weapons are a fantasy of right-wing government officials. And rather than just argue against them, he explains the physics of why they don't work. Basically, the steel that missiles are made can't withstand the speeds that it would take to bore through enough earth to get to the bunkers. He shows that there's no way a missile could bore more than five times its length before exploring. Plus Phelan says that if such a weapon was used, it would be more dangerous to the world than a conventional nuclear weapon because it would blast radioactive soil into the air that the winds would carry around the Earth.

Cigarettes and War

I want to point people to a recent post on M-pyre showing the insanity of Americans protesting the fact that the photograph of the soldier in Falluja shown around the nation had him smoking a cigarette. Yes, that's right. We're fighting our most deadly war in 30 years and people are worried about the guy smoking a goddamn cigarette. You know, regardless of where you stand on the war, if you see a guy whose just been fighting in a battle, where he may well have killed people or seen a comrade killed, who gives a flying fuck if he smokes a cigarette. If you say that it sends the wrong message to our children, you are just a complete idiot.

What this really shows to me is how unconnected to the war the vast majority of Americans still are, even as nearly 1300 Americans have died and many thousands more still injured. I strongly believe that until Americans really understand what war is about, we won't stop this new militarism. There is one place in America that does know about war. That's New York City and you can see how they voted.