Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Long Walk.


Lynne Cantwell 2023
Instances of man's inhumanity to man abound in history. We've all heard about the Holocaust, but such events have happened on American soil, too, and I'm not talking about just slavery. There were Japanese internment camps set up here during World War II. And there was the Trail of Tears -- the thousand-mile march to Oklahoma that wad forced upon the Cherokee and other Eastern and Woodland tribes by the U.S. government in 1868.

There's another such trek that not many people have heard of. It happened in what was then the New Mexico Territory in the early 1860s, before the Trail of Tears, when the U.S. Army -- left at loose ends after Confederate troops were routed from the area during the Civil War -- decided to round up the Mescalaro Apaches and the Navajos and resettle them at Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. The commander of the fort, Brigadier General James H. Carleton, ordered Kit Carson to subdue first the Apaches, then the Navajos, and force them to walk to a site next to the fort dubbed Bosque Redondo -- a distance of 450 miles for some of the detainees. Yes, detainees. Make no mistake: Bosque Redondo was a concentration camp.

The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs has built a memorial marking the Long Walk. This past week, I visited the site. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
The pictures I took are text-heavy and may be hard to read, so I'll summarize. Fort Stanton, at the bottom of this map, is where the Mescalero Apaches started their walk. You can see Albuquerque in the upper left corner of the map; the Navajos walked from either Fort Defiance in the Arizona Territory, well to the left of this photo, or Fort Wingate.

Carleton's plan was to settle both tribes in villages of adobe-style homes that they themselves would build. Basically, he wanted to make Puebloans out of them. But the Apaches were nomadic and the Navajos were sheepherders; neither had ever built adobe homes. Their lifestyles were totally different from the Pueblo peoples, as well as from each other. Still, Carleton thought he could "reform" them by making them into farmers, converting them to Christianity, and teaching their children English. This, then, could be the model for "civilizing" Indian tribes throughout the West. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
It didn't work. The crops failed in 1865, due to a combination of drought, hail, and insect infestations. In addition, rations meant for Bosque Redondo were cut as the Civil War continued back east. Not surprisingly, many of the detainees died. 

By November of that year, the Apaches had had enough. On the night of November 3rd, hundreds of them crept away from the camp, leaving just nine young men behind to trick the Army into believing everything was fine. Not long after, those nine left, too.

Did the Army just let them go? Of course not. They tracked them down and killed as many as they could find -- men, women and children. Those who survived scattered, finding homes amongst other tribes.

Lynne Cantwell 2023
By 1868, it was clear to everybody that Bosque Redondo was a failure. But what to do with the Navajos? The White negotiators -- who included William Tecumseh Sherman -- favored removing them to Oklahoma, but the Navajos refused to go anywhere except back home. After extensive talks between the U.S. government and Navajo leaders (the government says they dealt with the men, but the Navajos say their women also had input -- which makes sense, as Navajo society is traditionally matriarchal), on June 1, 1868, the two sides signed a treaty that established the Navajo reservation and allowed them to walk back home.

But the government didn't give up on its plan to civilize the Indians. Included in the treaty was a provision that Navajo children would be sent to school. Enter Christian missionaries. The photo below shows how the kids were split up: the smallest went to a Catholic-run school; taller kids went to a Presbyterian-run school; and the tallest went to a Mormon-run school. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
Boarding school became the model for educating Indian children in both this country and Canada: yank them from their families, cut off their hair, force them to wear White clothing, and rob them of their language and traditions. And that's just the start of the abuse these kids received. Thousands of children who died at the schools were simply buried there. 

And yet, Native Americans have survived. The reason this memorial is at Fort Sumner at all is due to a group of Navajo teens who visited the site on a field trip in 1990. 

Back in the 1980s, Fort Sumner's town fathers, with an eye toward tourist dollars, were all about Billy the Kid, the notorious outlaw who was killed there in 1881 and whose grave is just down the road from Bosque Redondo. The Navajo kids were incensed by what they saw. They wrote a letter accusing the state of ignoring the atrocities that had occurred at the site and left it for officials to find. For the next several decades, the state of New Mexico consulted with the Mescalero Apache tribe and the Navajo Nation to tell the story of what happened at Bosque Redondo. The resulting memorial is very well done. 

The Bosque Redondo Memorial is about two and a half hours from either Albuquerque or Santa Fe. If you're ever in the area, I heartily recommend a visit. 

These moments of solemn bloggy remembrance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe, y'all.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Here comes Ostara.

Deposit Photos
As alert hearth/myth readers know, I've been working for the New Mexico legislature as a legal proofreader for the past couple of months. Our state legislature meets over the winter, for 60 days in odd-numbered years and 30 days in even-numbered years. So this was a 60-day session. It started the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January and went for 60 days straight -- no lunch hours, no weekends, no holidays -- and ended yesterday at noon.

So yesterday afternoon, I emerged from the fog of my hardcore working winter into daylight to discover -- well, to be honest, it still looked like winter out there. Folks in other parts of the country, I know, are enjoying blooming things, but here? Not yet. In fact, I awoke Friday to snow covering the fabulous wall o' windows. Drove to the office wearing my winter gear, including boots -- which were superfluous by the time I left work because all the snow had disappeared. Poof, gone! Evaporation is definitely a thing in the arid Southwest.

Regardless, I know it is nearly Ostara because my calendar tells me so. Tomorrow, in fact, is the equinox -- vernal in the Northern Hemisphere, autumnal in the Southern -- at 3:24pm Mountain Daylight Time. (That's 5:24pm EDT. If you live somewhere else, ask Mama Google.) 

Thanks to the paying job, spring kinda sneaked up on me this year. I managed to think ahead last weekend to buy eggs for coloring, but I realized this afternoon that I needed to boil them today so I can dye them tomorrow. That has now been done. (Just as last year, I plan to dye an egg for justice for Ukraine.) I intended to clean the house today -- it is in desperate need of it, as I decided in January that I could let everything slide 'til session was over -- but that red-and-green afghan is still sitting there, waiting for me to finish reknitting it, so that's another priority. I don't want to still be working on it when the summer solstice rolls around.

The next few weeks will be anything but restful. I do have a short vacation planned for this week, and a longer one coming up next month. But it almost feels like Real Life has been waiting with bated breath for me to emerge from hibernation so it could pounce. Bottom line: The next couple of months won't be terribly restful. But at least the days will be longer.


One more thing before I stop: This week's episode of The Problem with Jon Stewart on Apple TV+ is all about inflation. Stewart made a connection that I came close to last week, but I didn't connect all the dots: Whenever the economy is threatened, the first solution the powers-that-be always reach for -- always, always, always -- is the one that sticks it to the little guy. When the economy crashed in 2008? The big banks got bailed out, but there was zero relief for people who lost their homes. This year, when we're at full employment, yet inflation continues to climb? Well, that's because the politicians handed regular Americans too much stimulus money -- so now, somewhere between two and ten million regular Americans simply have to lose their jobs. 

That's just the price we have to pay, right? We sure don't want to force corporations to make less money, even though they've been raking in record profits, and lots of them are still using the pandemic and supply-chain problems as justification to raise their prices. (One recent study dubs this "excuseflation".)

Here's a clip from the show of Stewart interviewing former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Highlights for me: Stewart's face (at 1:32) when Summers tries to buddy up with him ("those like you and me, who are very fortunate"), and Summers' frown of incomprehension (at around 2:27) when Stewart suggests that maybe giving bailouts to the bankers in 2009 actually hurt the recovery. And it was at 4:24, when Summers said it's not tenable to suggest that corporations have suddenly become greedy, that I wanted to wipe the smirk off his face. It ain't sudden, Larry.
Daily Kos has a recap of the interview here.

Apple TV+, which airs Stewart's show, classifies it as a comedy. I guess that's on the theory that if you can't laugh about this stuff, you'll cry.

These moments of exhausted blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Blessed Ostara! Happy spring!

Sunday, March 12, 2023

The Godot recession and collapsing banks.

First, I have a correction. Last week, I snarked about tech firms lowering their hiring requirements at the same time that thousands of their workers are being laid off. An alert reader told me there really is a shortage of applicants for tech jobs, and the layoffs aren't affecting the unemployment rate because those tech workers who get laid off are landing new jobs very fast. I'm happy to clarify that.

But that brings me to another question about employment -- and about the economy in general. 

ADragan | Deposit Photos
Back when I was a teenager, I read an article in our hometown newspaper that trumpeted the fact that the unemployment rate had fallen to 4%. Good news, the experts quoted in the article said gleefully. We're at full employment!

Fast-forward to last week, when there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the February 2023 unemployment rate of ... wait for it ... 3.6%. Why? Because it was up by only a smidge from January's historically low unemployment rate of 3.4%. 

Now I'm no economist; my credentials consist of a 101-level class in macroeconomics in college and several decades of watching bona fide economists argue with one another. But it sure seems to me that an unemployment rate of 3.6% ought to be cause for celebration. Why are these people wringing their hands?

It has to do with the specter of recession. Ever since the world shut down for the pandemic three years ago, the folks in charge of financial stuff have been warning dolefully that we're due for a doozy of a recession. Just wait, they keep saying -- in one more quarter, or maybe two, the economy is going to go to hell. The stock market will tank, there will be massive layoffs, and it's just going to be miserable.

But here we are. It's been three years since the pause, and everything's going along tickety-boo. The Wall Street Journal this week quoted the chief economist at Credit Suisse, Ray Farris, as saying, "It's the 'Godot' recession." You know, the one that never comes. (I hope you can read the article at the link; WSJ is paywalled, and their monthly subscription rate is clearly geared toward titans of industry.)

The article goes on to attempt to explain why the recession hasn't shown up yet. Between the stimulus payments and other measures the federal government implemented during the pause (including, I'd suggest, the hold on student loan payments), we've had a soft landing. Yes, inflation is high, but it's been coming down for several months; a lot of the increase was due to supply-chain issues that have mostly eased. Consumer spending is still going strong, and unemployment, as I've said, is super low.

The Federal Reserve has been trying to put the brakes on the economy -- to keep us from tipping over into a recession -- by raising interest rates at a fast clip. But hiking interest rates is a blunt tool, and this weird economic situation we're in may need a finer instrument now.

A big sign that the Fed's favored tool may have maxed out its usefulness came on Friday, when banking regulators seized Silicon Valley Bank and shut it down. The bank catered to tech startups. It was adequately capitalized -- that is, it had plenty of money on hand -- as recently as December. But the Fed's interest rate hikes caused the bank's long-term investments -- Treasury bonds -- to lose value. Once word got out that the bank was selling T-bonds to raise capital, a whole bunch of account holders rushed to pull their money out, which of course made the bank's liquidity problems worse. So the government stepped in around noon Friday and took it over. (Reportedly, SVB employees received their annual bonuses just before the kaboom.)

This is the biggest bank failure since Washington Mutual went belly-up in 2008 and kicked off the Great Recession. But government officials have been quick to reassure everyone this weekend that we're not going to have a repeat of that financial fiasco: SVB didn't have its fingers in nearly as many business sectors as WaMu did; it's really more of a regional player; and so on.

But as I was beginning to write this post, word came of another bank collapse. Today, banking regulators shut down Signature Bank, a commercial bank with headquarters in New York and a broader base of business, including commercial real estate, than SVB's. A quarter of Signature Bank's assets were in crypto last fall, but the bank announced plans a few months ago to sell off a chunk of that.

The government has promised account holders that they'll be able to get at their money in both banks tomorrow.

It's hard to predict what all this will mean for the future of the economy (although economists no doubt will try!), but it will be interesting to see how the Fed's board of governors reacts to this news. Playing with interest rates is really the only tool it has for influencing the economy. The board meets again on March 22nd, and there are indications -- okay, there's speculation -- that the members may vote to slow down their interest rate hikes. I guess we'll see what happens.


These moments of economic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, March 5, 2023

In which certain people miss the point.

I will probably regret using both of these ideas in a single post. One of these days, I'll be out of ideas again and wish I'd saved one of them. But my opinion about both is similar, and it can be summed up this way: These people are missing the point.

dcdp | Deposit Photos

First, this article from The Atlantic, in which the author -- Timothy Keller, the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Manhattan -- argues that Christianity in America is due for a revival. Not the kind of revival with shouting and praising Jesus and the laying on of hands and so forth, but the resurgence kind. He notes that nearly 30 percent of Americans professed a belief in no religion in 2021, while the number of folks professing to be Christian dropped from 75 percent ten years ago to 63 percent in 2021. But the situation isn't hopeless, he says; he goes on to talk about how the Christian Church has a habit of creating "unexpected innovations": among them, the development of monasticism, which he credits with converting Northern European pagans, and the Reformation. "Christianity, like its founder, does not go from strength to strength but from death to resurrection," he says. 

I find it fascinating that he glosses over the pain and suffering such "unexpected innovations" have caused. Witness the Thirty Years' War (between four-and-a-half million and eight million dead) and the forced conversions of Jews in Spain, as well as of Native Americans by missionaries who accompanied the conquistadores throughout North America.

Anyway, Keller goes on to say that a Christian revival needs to have three things: 

  1. The church must back away from politics. Sounds good to me.
  2.  An "extraordinary amount" of communal prayer. So, like, lots of people praying together in public? Have at it, as long as I'm not forced to participate.
  3. "[T]he Church will have to clearly declare that there are moral absolutes—which will be unpopular, to say the least. It will be called domineering and abusive..." No duh.
This is where Keller misses the point. The Christian Church is losing ground in America not because of the breakdown of society due to individualism or whatever, but because people are rejecting the church's stern paternalism and outright corruption (pedophile priests, as one example). The paternalism, at least, Keller sees as a feature, not a bug. But the more Americans learn about such abuses, the more we question why we should put our faith in an institution that champions moral absolutism except when it concerns the behavior of its own.

Which brings me to the second article I wanted to talk about: this column in Axios, in which Felix Salmon cheers the demise of liberal arts majors like English and philosophy. Salmon comes at it from a business perspective, saying the rising cost of a college education, coupled with "the rising opportunity cost of going to college," will toll the death knell for any degree that won't get a student a good-paying job. 

What's this "opportunity cost" thing? Well, he says, college students lose years of wages while earning a credential that a lot of employers no longer require. An embedded link leads to a CNBC story about IT employers lowering education requirements to attract more applicants. But wait a minute -- aren't tech firms laying off tens of thousands of workers right now?

Furthermore, it's only been within the last few decades that a four-year degree has been considered the best route to a good job. The philosophy behind the undergraduate liberal arts degree has always been that such a course of study teaches a student to think. 

The student who wants to make a lot of money then goes on to a graduate-level degree -- in medicine or law or business or one of the sciences. 

If what the student is after is career training, that's what community colleges and technical schools are for. But a liberal arts degree isn't that, has never been that, and should never have been considered to be that.

Salmon admits that the skills he learned as an undergrad, majoring in philosophy and art history, have proven "very useful over and over again." But he's resigned to the liberal arts degree bowing to capitalist pressure and returning to being a thing that only rich kids can afford to do.

I would add, somewhat snarkily, that rich kids need that training so they can take their places as our overlords. Worker bees don't need to learn how to think, right? That just leads to things like, oh, say, questioning the boss. And rejecting organized religion.


These moments of head-scratching blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (B.A. in journalism, 1979; M.A. in fiction writing, 1995). Stay safe!