Sunday, March 31, 2024

Comfort TV.

We must be in the waning days of the knock-on effects of last year's SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes. A lot of shows' production schedules were delayed by the strikes, so new episodes are just beginning to filter down to your favorite channels or apps. 

I am not complaining about the strikes. They were good and necessary. People need to be compensated fairly for their work -- and they also deserve protection from greedy producers and studio heads who would rather use performers' past work to generate AI than continue to pay flesh-and-blood performers for new work.

But while good and necessary, the strikes have had an effect on this year's programming, to the point where I'm kind of champing at the bit for new episodes of my favorite shows.

So I've been watching a lot of comfort TV (which I have written about before, here and here). A lot of streaming channels show old episodes of '90s reality TV, which I've never had any interest in watching for a variety of reasons. But I was pretty excited when I discovered that the Roku Channel has all 44 past seasons of  This Old House

duh84 | Deposit Photos

You probably wouldn't take me for a person who'd be excited about watching other people renovate a house. But I find it relaxing and kind of soothing. All the guys (and they are virtually all men) are professional contractors. They are capable and confident. They're good at explaining what they're doing and why -- and in some cases, particularly on the spinoff Ask This Old House, they teach homeowners how to tackle certain projects themselves. It's kind of like watching Bob Ross, except with power tools. 

I started watching because as a homeowner myself now, I wanted to learn some of lingo that home repair guys use. I've lived in apartments for a very long time; when something would go wrong, I'd call the leasing office and they'd send over a maintenance guy (who might or might not actually fix the problem, but that's a different rant). Those days are over for me; now I'm at the mercy of contractors. And I'd like to know something about what they're talking about -- and not incidentally, whether it's worth trying to do the thing myself.

Not for nothing, 44 seasons of This Old House plus 22 seasons of Ask This Old House equals a lot of comfort TV.

Roku has a separate channel for the really old episodes, back when Bob Vila was the host. The show was originally broadcast on WGBH, the PBS station in Boston, and focused on houses in the Northeast. It's fun to play "spot the current cast member" when watching the oldest shows -- carpenter Norm Abram and plumber Rich Trethewey were so young in 1979. I recently saw an episode that must have been Tom Silva's tryout -- he was so young that the only thing I recognized about him was his voice.

Vila left the show in 1989 because he didn't want to have to do commercials for the sponsors. Steve Thomas then took over as host. He left in 2003, and that's when the current host, Kevin O'Connor, joined the show. 

TOH has spawned several spinoff series and a magazine. New shows still air on PBS stations, but ownership of the production company has changed a number of times. Roku has owned This Old House Ventures since 2021, the same year the shows went into syndication.

TOH occasionally gets out of New England. I was particularly entertained by the six episodes in season 11 in which Bob and Norm came out to Santa Fe. The local general contractor (whose company is still in business -- I looked him up) had great fun educating Norm on Santa Fe style. (The closed captions mangled the Spanish names of elements of the style. It's spelled latilla, not latia, for cryin' out loud!) 

One somewhat unexpected side effect of watching all this power-tool porn: I'm starting to think that maybe I need to acquire some power tools of my own. Even though I have nowhere to put them. Or room for a workshop.

Luckily for my bank account, the fifth season of Star Trek Discovery starts this Thursday, and I have zero interest in acquiring a starship.

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I heard that: "What's a latilla?" 

Santa Fe style borrows elements from both Pueblo Indian architecture and Territorial style. Buildings are made from adobe (although these days, it's wood frame or concrete with stucco on top) and have flat roofs. Ceiling joists are known as vigas and are often just logs with the bark peeled off. The ends stick out through the side walls of the structure. The latillas are set across the vigas, closely together. The original builders would put sod on top of the latillas, but now they use regular insulation and roofing materials. (A lot of times in new construction, the builder will use modern techniques, coat the building in stucco, and stick fake viga ends on the front.)

Other Spanish terms that are common to the style: a nicho is a niche in a wall, originally for a statue of a saint (aka a bulto) but now for your shampoo in the shower; a banco is a banquette, a bench built into the wall, originally of adobe but nowadays wood-framed and covered in plaster; a portal (pronounced por-TAHL, not POR-tuhl) is a covered porch supported by log pillars with carved corbels; and a canale is a channel for water to drain off a flat roof. You'll also see kiva fireplaces, which are set in a corner and have rounded fronts instead of square. In fact, most edges are rounded in Pueblo Revival style.

You'll see some other architectural styles around here, including Greek Revival and a bit of Spanish Revival, but Pueblo Revival and Territorial style make up the biggest chunk of Santa Fe style. Here's more, if you're interested.

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

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Slaves in New Spain.

There's a room in the 17th century placita at El Rancho de las Golondrinas called "el cuarto de cautivos" -- the captives' room. It's a small room that contains a fireplace, a couple of wooden bins, and a Navajo loom. It's meant to depict the sort of accommodations that Spanish settlers would have provided for their captives at the ranch in the 1600s.

The room is usually gated -- that is, you can look in, but there's typically no one inside to explain what it's about. Slavery is difficult to discuss. But here's one fact: the captives held by settlers here, in the northernmost outpost of New Spain, were not Black. They were Native American.

How is it that 17th century Spanish settlers held Native Americans in bondage, but in much of the rest of America, slaves were imported from Africa? 

Tinnakom | Deposit Photos

During volunteer training for our upcoming season, we heard a presentation from Jon Ghahate (Laguna Pueblo/Zuni Pueblo), an educator for the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, CO. Ghahate explained that slavery was not unknown in the Americas before the coming of the Europeans; after all, people are people everywhere, with the same urges to be both bad and good to one another. What was different among the Europeans was the Catholic Church. Christianity teaches us to be kind to other people -- with the emphasis on people. If the creature in front of you isn't a person, then no matter how you treat that creature, it won't keep you from getting into heaven. In essence, the church indemnified those who held slaves. And just as the church allowed Christians to see Africans as less than human, it also gave them the same excuse when it came to Native Americans. (Not-so-fun fact: The United States didn't grant citizenship to Native Americans until 1924.)

The year 1492 was a big one in the history of what was to become Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella married and combined their kingdoms into one, Castile and Aragon. Pretty much immediately, they set about kicking the Moors out of Andalucia in southern Spain and taking the land for themselves. And in that same year, they gave their okay to Christopher Columbus to sail west in search of a more direct, and less fraught, trade route to Asia. But Ferdinand and Isabella didn't grant the funds to Columbus outright -- they gave him a loan that he was supposed to pay back with the spoils he gained from his adventuring. (The later conquistadors got the same deal, which explains why they were so hot to find gold here.)

Columbus never made it to continental North America. His ships landed on the island of Hispaniola, which today is split between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. People were living there when Columbus arrived, but very little of their DNA survives today, for a very good reason: Columbus and his men basically slaughtered them. We know this because among the Spaniards who traveled to the New World with Columbus was Bartolom√© de las Casas, who chronicled the treatment of the Natives at the hands of the explorers. De las Casas petitioned Charles V of Spain to grant the Natives some rights. 

But all this meant that there weren't enough workers for the plantations that were beginning to be set up in the West Indies. So de las Casas got a bright idea: why not bring in Africans?

Eventually he realized what a bad idea that was, in terms of human rights, but by then the damage had been done. And that's how the idea was planted to bring Africans to the New World ... by any means necessary.

By the time the Spanish made their way north to New Mexico, they had "perfected" their system of dealing with the Natives. In 1510, the church approved a document that was to be read to any Indians the conquistadors met, advising them that they were now subjects of the Spanish crown and of the Pope, and they had better behave as set forth herein or they could be forced to behave. Of course, this document, the Requeremiento, was in Spanish, which the Natives had no way of understanding. (The text at the link is in English.) 

One begins to understand why the Pueblo Indians rose up and drove the Spaniards out of New Mexico in 1680. It didn't last -- the Spanish returned in 1692 -- but the Pueblo Revolt remains, as stated on the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center's website, "the only successful Native uprising against colonizers in North America."

In practice, Ghahate told us, the Spaniards didn't so much take slaves as they impressed Natives to work for them. But they required tribute -- food and supplies, as well as a guide to show them where that gold was -- and forced the Natives to convert to Christianity. In that sense, the system of slavery here in the Southwest was different than that practiced by plantation owners in the Deep South. Also here, some slaves were more like indentured servants and could eventually buy their freedom. They and other outcast people -- Jews and poor Spaniards who came to the New World to find their fortune but never did -- were known as genizaros and lived apart, in their own villages. Intermarriage with Mexican settlers was common, though. Eventually the Mexican government declared all citizens equal, including the genizaros and others of mixed race -- but in society, as you might expect, prejudice lingered. Even today, Hispanic folks here will say they're Spanish, even if their DNA tells a different story. 

DNA is causing a lot of trouble everywhere, am I right?

***

On a completely different topic: The Social Security Administration this week that it's making big changes in the way it claws back overpayments from recipients. This comes after news reports indicated that the existing draconian system was impoverishing some people -- even causing them to lose their homes. The two biggest changes: 1) Instead of taking 100% of a recipient's benefit until the overpayment is satisfied, the reduction will now be capped at 10% per month -- and the SSA is instituting a longer time frame for people to pay the overpayment back; and 2) instead of forcing recipients looking for relief to prove why they need it by providing a boatload of financial information, the burden is now going to be on the government to prove why the recipient needs to make reimbursement.

The changes are coming too late to help me -- I finished my penance this month -- but I'm very glad to see that others won't have to go through the same thing I did.

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One more update, and then I swear I'm done: Surprising absolutely no one, Congress took the latest budget brouhaha down to the wire, approving the final six continuing resolutions yesterday. The approval technically came after the Friday night deadline, but the several-hour delay created no damage (other than to Americans' faith in government working for us and our reputation overseas and all the rest). Immediately after the vote, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GQP-Georgia) moved to remove Speaker Mike Johnson because he, y'know, had to get help from the Democrats to keep the government running through the end of September. It's unclear whether her motion will go anywhere when the House comes back from yet another freaking recess -- but Johnson, apparently having decided that Greene has done her worst, reportedly plans for the House to take up funding for Ukraine when it returns to work after Easter.

That sound you hear is tens of thousands of pairs of eyes owned by rational Americans rolling so far back into their heads that they can see their brains.

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

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Janis and Tommy in Truchas.

I may be at risk of turning this into a New Mexico travel blog, but there are so many things I find interesting about this underappreciated state that I've adopted as my home.

Here's one: In the hallway outside our office at the Roundhouse (that's the nickname for the New Mexico state capitol building) hangs a framed print of this photo: 

Stolen from the Santa Fe New Mexican
The caption reads something like, "Janis Joplin and Tommy Masters at Law Ranch, Truchas." (I should have written it down. Silly me!) The photographer is Lisa Law. 

Intriguing, right? I know who Janis Joplin was, but I had never heard of Tommy Masters. Who was he? And what were he and Janis doing in a tiny town in New Mexico?

So I asked Mama Google, and after a few false starts (there's more than one Tom Masters associated with the music industry...), I found an article from six years ago in the Santa Fe New Mexican. It's an obituary for Tommy Masters and his wife, Gloria, who died just a few days apart in October 2017. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Tommy and Gloria Masters were two old hippies who were mainstays in Northern New Mexico's commune scene, friends of counterculture icons, adventurers, and loving parents who built a marriage and raised two children in the midst of the free-love era.

They worked for Bob Dylan; hung out with Janis Joplin, Wavy Gravy, Lenny Bruce and Dennis Hopper. In some ways, the '60s seemed to flow through them.

The article goes on to quote the couple's two sons, who explain that their mom was born in Minnesota and their dad in Delaware. They met in Florida. Tommy Masters started out as a horse trainer, but then he got involved with the "beatnik crowd", according to one of the sons, and that's when the real adventure began. In the late 1960s, they bought property in Truchas, NM, which is on the high road to Taos, about halfway between Taos and Santa Fe. Their land was right near the ranch owned by Tom and Lisa Law. They and some other counterculture folks called themselves the Jook Savages. In 1969, they all traveled together to Woodstock in a white bus driven by Tommy Masters.

But what was Janis doing in Truchas? Lisa Law, who's no longer married to Tom Law, explained it to the paper this way: 

Law said Joplin had come to Taos to film a cigar commercial at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. At a bar, the famed singer, who would die in 1970, said she wanted to meet, well, "a mountain man."

Law obliged, introducing her to one at her ranch. Together, Joplin and her new friend went with a group to a bar in Truchas. While there, Law said, the mountain man claimed to have left a potato baking in the oven at his cabin, and Joplin tagged along.

"But I think she checked out a couple of other things because she didn't come back," Law said.

Eventually, Law said, a "very happy" Joplin returned the next day.

"So she sits down on the ground by the adobe wall. And Tommy, who happened to be there, had a hoe in his hand," Law said. "He sits down next to her, so there's a picture of him with the hoe talking to Janis and she's got this big … grin on her face …

"It's the last picture I took of her before she died."

Janis is among the pantheon who went to rock-and-roll heaven at the age of 27. A heroin overdose did her in.

Tommy continued to work as a bus driver when he wasn't farming. He started driving Bob Dylan's tour bus sometime in the '80s. 

The Masterses moved a couple of times as they got older, ending up in Santa Fe. When Gloria got cancer, Tommy nursed her, but apparently it took a toll on his own health. He died the day before Gloria was scheduled to be moved into hospice. Two weeks later, she died. They were both in their 80s -- a tolerable age for a couple of hippies.

But that photo lives on.

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

Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Congress that called "Shutdown!"

The thing that's got all the political wags going this weekend is the Republican response to President Biden's State of the Union address to Congress on Thursday night. While Sen. Katie Britt's little presentation was eminently memeable -- and came SNL-cold-open-ready -- there's another aspect of congressional shenanigans that I want to talk about tonight. It's this business of the once and future government shutdown. 

lightsource | Deposit Photos
On Friday, mere hours before Congress's self-imposed deadline, the Senate approved one of two continuing resolutions to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2024. To be clear, a continuing resolution (let's call it a CR) is not the budget -- it's an agreement to keep the government running under a previously-agreed-to level, often the previous fiscal year's budget, while Congress continues to work on the current-year budget. A CR to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year -- like the one just passed -- functions as a budget, but technically it's not.

We're not out of the woods yet for this fiscal year. The CR passed last week only covers part of the federal government's operational needs. A second CR needs to be approved by March 22nd, just a hair under two weeks from today. And you can rest assured that there will once again be a lot of breathless media coverage about congressional squabbling and who will block what, as well as which federal agencies will have to go dark if it's not approved and how it will all affect you, the American citizen.

I know this because this is the fourth CR this year. And CRs are becoming more commonly used -- there have been 135 since 1998 -- and are lasting longer. In 2007, 2011 and 2013, Congress never passed a budget at all -- it just used a CR for the whole year. Moreover, sometimes Congress and the President can't even agree on a CR; when that happens, as it did in 2014, 2018 and 2019, the government does shut down until an agreement is reached. So even though it seems like the media are crying "wolf" with their scary coverage of the potential damage if a CR doesn't pass, the threat of a shutdown is real -- and factions in Congress use that to their advantage in budget negotiations. 

It wasn't supposed to be this way. A mechanism that was supposed to be a convenience for a Congress that was close to a budget agreement but just needed a little more time has morphed into not just a negotiating tactic, but a cudgel.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, has provided a listicle of five reasons why careening from near-shutdown to near-shutdown is bad:

  • When federal agencies have to prepare for a possible shutdown, it takes time away from their mission of helping Americans.
  • If a shutdown actually happens, the affected agencies can't do their jobs -- which, remember, is to provide services to Americans. Also, some federal workers are mandated to keep working, even if they're not getting paid for it -- including the military -- and worrying about how they can pay their bills isn't going to help their performance.
  • In a shutdown, it's harder for Americans to access government services. Everything from visa processing times to getting answers to doctors' questions to Medicaid, and a bunch of stuff in between, could take longer. And the people who use the most government services -- the poor -- will be impacted the most.
  • It hurts Americans' trust in government.
  • It hurts the reputation of the United States among foreign governments by making us look unstable.
But here's the thing: The folks throwing the biggest wrench in the federal budget process right now are MAGA Republicans. For them, these five problems are a feature, not a bug. A lot of them believe the federal government is too big and too bloated. They want it to appear dysfunctional -- it gives them an excuse to either cut funding for these apparently floundering agencies or do away with them altogether. Then taxes will be lower! That's always a good thing, right?

Eh, maybe not. Smaller government and lower taxes sound great -- until you need help.

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Sick of it all? There's a way to fix it.

Shutdowns and threats of shutdowns occur most often when control of the executive and legislative branches of government are divided. The best way to fix it? Give control to a single political party, and give that party big majorities in both the House and Senate. And if you want government to work for you -- if you want services to be there when you need them -- that means funding them at an adequate level, not constantly cutting the budget. And that means voting blue.

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So far, we've been talking about the FY 2024 budget. What's up with FY 2025, which starts October 1? 

President Biden is supposed to deliver his draft to Congress tomorrow. Congress is supposed to have the budget deal ready to go by the time the new fiscal year starts, but the current members will still be in office then. So brace yourself for more budget shenanigans.

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

Sunday, March 3, 2024

How old is your city?

So I was chatting with friends on Facebook, as one does, and the definition of "old" came up -- not in terms of people, mind you, although we talk about that a lot, too, but in terms of cities. Specifically, how Europeans marvel at the way Americans marvel at their castles, and how new most of America is in comparison.

I mean, Europe has some really old cities. The oldest city in Europe is generally recognized to be Plovdiv, Bulgaria, founded in 6000 BCE. Athens, founded in 3000 BCE, is a relative newcomer. (The oldest city on that list that I've been to is Seville, Spain, founded in the eighth century BCE.) In short, Europeans think it's normal to share space with really old stuff.

Compare that to the oldest city in America -- St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565 CE. Second oldest? Why, that would be Santa Fe, founded in 1610, give or take a year or three. It's also the oldest state capital in the country, and the loftiest, at 7,199 feet above sea level (yes, we're higher than Denver). 

In 1882, Santa Fe had already been a capital city for more than 250 years.
Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain 
And yet those people on the East Coast are so impressed with how historic their cities are. I mean, I used to be impressed, too. I grew up near Chicago, which was incorporated in 1837; cities on the East Coast are venerable by comparison. New York City was founded by the Dutch as New Amsterdam in 1624; the English seized it from the Dutch 40 years later*, and it stayed in British hands until we declared our independence from England.

This topic always seems to crop up around Thanksgiving, when the annual bickering starts over the first Thanksgiving. It was the Pilgrims, right? Plymouth Rock and all that? Eh, not so fast. The famous feast in Plymouth happened in 1623, but Berkeley Plantation in Virginia claims their Thanksgiving occurred in 1619.

Note, if you will, that 1619 is nine years later than the founding of Santa Fe.

Last fall, I attempted to point this out on a Facebook post about the Berkeley Plantation event. Other commenters were not amused. "We're talking about colonial America," one fellow said. So if the Spaniards founded it, it doesn't count?

Another person put it more bluntly: "What's your point?" 

To which I replied, "I'm told I don't have one." See, I'd belatedly remembered that famous quote by some Virginian whose identity has been lost to the mists of time: 

To be a Virginian, either by Birth, Marriage, Adoption, or even on one's Mother's side, is an Introduction to any State in the Union, a Passport to any Foreign Country, and a Benediction from Above.

And you thought Texans were impressed with themselves.

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Don't get me wrong - I lived in Virginia for more than 30 years, and both my kids were born there, so I guess I qualify as a Virginian by adoption. And it's a lovely state (sorry, commonwealth). But ... yeah.

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*Among the English sailors who liberated New Amsterdam was Capt. Edmund Cantwell -- the first Cantwell of our line in America. I guess that means I could join the DAR if I wanted to?

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