Friday, May 31, 2013

Drought Relief

As part of the redesign of my New Mexico Rock Art web site, I've added a "favicon" in the form of the Anasazi rain god, Tlaloc.  It is similar to representations of the deity in petroglyphs and pictographs. The image is displayed in the tab at the top of the browser window whenever you visit any of the pages on the site.

The Tlaloc appeared all along the upper Rio Grande Valley, and likely became increasingly common as New Mexico slipped into a severe drought which lasted for decades during the 16th Century. The region is currently in a drought period which is very severe, and it could be just as devastating as previous historic droughts which led to great changes in the landscape, and sometimes disastrous consequences for the human populations.

So, my thought is that each time someone clicks a link to one of my rock art web site pages, the Tlaloc will be invoked, with hopefully beneficial results.  I'm thinking it can't hurt, and will likely be just as effective as most measures currently being undertaken to get climate warming under control.

The National Weather Service has an eye-opening page devoted to the New Mexico drought which has plenty of details to keep the Tlaloc busy.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Big Picture

Thanks are due to my friend and fellow rock art enthusiast, Lanny Rubin, for encouraging me to attend the presentation by Polly Schaafsma at the International Rock Art Conference.  Schaafsma did a marvelous job of giving coherence to the complicated subject of the rock art of the Upper Rio Grande.  She traced its origins back to its Central American roots, showed how the iconography evolved over time, and provided graphic examples of the final flourishing of the art form in sophisticated polychrome murals at two locations, as well as in the enduring tradition in the Hopi katsina figures.  It was great fun to see her illustrations and listen to explanations of many of the sites I have visited and photographed over the years.  One of the most interesting revelations for me was the identification of the star-faced figures as representing the planet, Venus, and the association with warfare.  Schaafsma also did a very nice job of integrating rock art stylistic features with other art forms such as pottery designs, and putting it all together in a general cosmology.

I've been getting back to my interest in Rock Art and have found that the time away from it has given me a useful perspective on my earlier efforts to portray my experiences with the subject.  As a result, I'm going to spend some time updating my rock art web site, primarily in regard to design issues.  When I started the site, most people were still accessing the web through analog phone connections.  The result of that was that pictures had to be presented initially at thumb-nail size and spread out over many pages so as to not over-tax connection capacities.  Now, with most people connected via cable, it is possible to display photos and graphics in a way that presents the subject in a much more compact and coherent manner.  I've never represented myself as any kind of expert on the material, but I am pleased to see at this point that the assessments and speculations which accompany the photographic records do not seem to require any wrenching revisions.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Republican Economic Model

Having finished with the online Principles of Macroeconomics I'm now trying to apply some of the lessons by paying more attention to financial news.  It is something of a challenge as most of the news one comes across  is dealing primarily with short term financial trading oscillations which hold little interest for me.

I did recently stumble on a financial news program - I think it was hosted by PBS - in which there were some interviews which touched on macro fundamentals.  The first two talking heads were traders responding  about recent interest rate and exchange rate fluctuations and the reactions to rumors that the Fed might be backing off on the current low rate.  The comments on monetary policy seemed rather sensible and non-inflamatory - unlike the usual WSJ cant which routinely denigrates Bernanke, calls for less discretion in rate setting, morns the demise of the Gold Standard, and by-the-way advocates eliminating any kind of business and financial regulation.  Then came Carly Fiorina.

Fiorina, ex-HP CEO, was asked for her opinions on the Senate hearings in which Apple's Tim Cook was called on to explain how the company escapes paying billions in taxes by transferring huge sums to Irish investments.  I couldn't really argue with Fiorina's initial reaction, which was that the Senators were mostly trying to look like they were poised to take action in fixing the tax laws without really planning on doing anything of substance.

Then came Fiorina's prescription for fiscal soundness.  The message that the Senators should be taking from the Apple hearings, according to the (failed) ex-CEO and (failed) Senate candidate, was that Apple had behaved just as it should and, furthermore, if the Senate was really interested in fixing our economy they should emulate the example of  Ireland by lowering our business taxes.  Now, the last time I looked, the Irish economy was a total train wreck with GDP growth expected to hover around 1% for the next couple years and an unemployment rate likely to hit 15% next year.

Where in Fiorina's picture is there a semblance of reality?  One might excuse such a world view in the boom leading up to the 2008 crash, but not now.   A picture of actuality was provided in one of Krugman's March columns about the Irish experience:

So, what useful lessons are to be learned from the Fiorina interview?  The thing that occurs to me off-hand is that the fabulously rich can say just about any damn fool thing over and over without any real penalty because:
  a) they aren't the ones who pay for the mistakes their views engender, and
  b) The Wall Street Journal will treat their opinions as serious commentary.

On a more serious note, Fiorina and the rest of the corporate tax bashers simply never get around to providing convincing evidence that lower corporate U.S. tax rates will actually result in economic benefits beyond shifting yet more lucre to the 1%.  It is worth reading the December report on the subject from the Congressional Research Service.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Back to Tomé Hill

There's a little haze in Albuquerque's sky from Arizona fires, but it was still a fine day for a ride.

I headed back down Highway 47 on the bike to Tomé Hill with the purpose of exploring the hill's west slopes.  I parked near a fork in the road at the base of the hill and walked a few hundred feet up the trail to the mid-level plateau.  There were petroglyphs scattered among the boulders all along the rimrock that borders the flat leading to the final ascent to the summit.  I have added a second page of pictures of Tomé Hill petroglyphs to my rock art web site showing what I found on the west slopes.
PS: I'm looking forward to attending the public lecture by Polly Schaafsma on the rock art of the Rio Grande Valley on Monday, May 27th at 7:00 PM at the Marriott Pyramid North.  Her presentation is part of the 2013 International Rock Art Conference.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tomé Hill

While browsing through the Anthropology stacks at UNM's Zimmerman Library I came across this fine little guide by Dennis Slifer which describes eight publicly-accessible rock art sites along the upper Rio Grande.  Slifer has packed a large amount of up-to-date  information  into this small pamphlet about the locations, dating and interpretation of New Mexico rock art.

The last site described in the guide is Tomé Hill south of Los Lunas which is about a half hour drive south of Albuquerque.  I had never visited the site before, so the next morning we drove there, following Highway 47 south.

We only had about an hour available to explore the site, but that was enough for a first visit as the rock art is plentiful and easy to get to from the parking lot south of the Hill.  I have put together a new page about the Tomé Hill petroglyphs at my New Mexico Rock Art web site.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Friday, May 17, 2013


I recently stumbled on this 1947 film version of one of my favorite novels, Nada, by Carmen Laforet.  It is not a very good screen adaptation.  The characters have little depth compared to those drawn in the novel, and there is not the sense of menace that comes across so forcefully in Laforet's account of the life of the impoverished and desperate family in post-war Barcelona.  Conchita Montes, who plays Andrea, is too old and too self-assured to play the part of the teen heroine. It may be that Montes was seen as appropriate for the part because it turns out she bore quite a resemblance to the author, Laforet, who had become instantly famous with the publication of her first novel.  There are also the facts that Montes was the girlfriend of the Director, Edgar Neville, and she had helped him to narrowly avoid a firing squad at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.   In spite of the weaknesses, I still enjoyed watching the film, and the Spanish dialogue is beautifully spoken.

I poked around in the Web a bit after watching the film and found that an English translation appeared in 2007 and that it was reviewed at the NY Times.  The reviewer naively assumes that Laforet was the only notable Spanish post-war woman writer, but does go on to give a pretty good over-view of the plot and the book's important literary qualities.

An even better English summary of the book and the life of the author is contained in the introduction to the1958 student edition from the Oxford University Press.  It can be viewed at no cost on the book's page.

austerity vs history

I'm nearing the end of the on line Microeconomics course offered by Coursera.  It has been a useful introduction to the fundamental concepts and analytic techniques of the discipline.  The Melbourne-based presenter, Nilss Olekalns, did a nice job of developing the subject in a rigorous but accessible manner.  The small, embedded quizzes and the weekly tests were helpful to comprehension.  The other supplementary materials including the readings and the forums needed more structure to avoid the common internet phenomenon of random noise drowning out useful ideas.  For me, it would have been helpful to have had a good companion text, and I'll probably get one now and revisit the subject.

While I chose to take the course primarily as a way of filling a gap in my understanding of economics, I was also interested in getting an idea of how on line teaching and learning was progressing.  There is no question that we have come a long way since the inception of the Web, but it seems clear also that on line education is still in its infancy.  The technology has overcome many barriers of time, distance and cost.  What I don't see much evidence of, however, is coming to grips with the potential for following and analyzing educational outcomes and putting that knowledge to work in making on line courses effective.  There clearly needs to be more attention paid to developing learning objectives based on individual learning styles and in applying that knowledge, along with results monitoring, in the real-time learning experience.  I'm skeptical about the contribution to those efforts which can be made by universities as I think they are mostly scrambling to fit on line learning into the existing system of education which is based on limiting access to knowledge rather than expanding it in new ways.

As for Economics, I have developed some respect for it as a discipline pretty solidly based on mathematical and statistical principles along with much careful study of history.  At the same time, it seems there are still big questions to resolve in regard to some of the fundamentals.  Perhaps of even more importance is a recognition of the fact that the best efforts of the best economists are not going to ever be able to save us from political folly.

In the meantime, I haven't come across any reason yet to seriously question Paul Krugman's take on current economic issues.  Conservative acquaintances often offer the idea that Krugman's analysis is simplistic, but when pressed for details they offer moral platitudes without relation to either logic or history.

It was amusing to see Boehner recently admit publicly that there is in fact no crisis in regard to the issue of debt.  The admission followed the implosion of claims about the mythical 90% debt tipping point in the study by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff which played such a central role in the Republican economic platform.  Unfortunately for the country, the fact that Boehner, Ryan et al are left standing in that steaming pile of rhetoric doesn't seem to point to any turn toward rationality in the management of the economy.  And, of course, we can't ignore the fact that Obama is standing there with one foot in it too.

Krugman recently presented a fine over-view of How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled in an article available at the New York Review of Books web site.  In the course of brief reviews of three books on the subject he covers much of the same ground he has traversed in his editorial writings before, but he also emphasizes some issues which have not been explored in as much depth before.  For instance, he points out that the damages from the current recession didn't reach the depths of the Great Depression thanks in a large part to the social policy legacy of that era including Social Security and Unemployment benefits which served as spending buffers in the face of a drastic fall in the GDP.  Krugman's article provides a lot of other historical and statistical evidence as well, including relevant IMF charts which clearly show the failure of the current wide-spread austerity policies. It is well worth the time to read.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Morning at the Zoo

We made a quick visit to the Zoo this morning to see how the little giraffe is getting along.  She's been moved into the main compound with the other females.  Her mother refused to feed her as the two-year-old is still nursing, so she gets a bottle.

The cougar looked wistful today, though they seem generally well-adjusted to captivity.  The cougars and the  snow leopards make close eye contact with humans in much the same way.

Friday, May 10, 2013


After struggling through Laura Restrepo's story of madness and the drug trade in Colombia I decided a change of pace was in order.  So, I'm reading Carmen Martín Gaite.

Caperucita en Manhattan is a Little Red Riding Hood update.  The first half of the story has little obvious relation to the fable, being instead a rather hard-nosed look from the viewpoint of a young child at inadequate parenting.  The language is very straight-forward and accessible to about any aged reader.  The second part of the book is more of a playful fantasy; the whole thing is a delightful read.  I'll be done with the book in a couple days, but I also have La Reina de las Nieves ready to go.

Carmen Martín Gaite was a unique personality who wrote many fine books; I'm sorry I did not become aware of her work before she died not very long ago.  She was one of that generation of Spanish women writers like Matute and Laforet who were able to slip under the radar of Franco's censors to produce great literature during Spain's nightmarish post-war years.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Friday, May 3, 2013

La Bajada

New Mexico History Museum, Photo Archives Collection
Before it was re-routed in 1937, Route 66 included a rugged section which wound up over an escarpment near the canyon of the Santa Fe River.  We took a walk this morning along the lower section of the roadway, known as La Bajada.  I made some pictures of the Native American rock art which can be found on the slopes that go down toward the river, and I've put them in a page about La Bajada on my New Mexico Rock Art web site.

A excellent account from the National Park Service about La Bajada's long history is available on line.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

narco culture

I had the good fortune to visit Colombia in 1960 during a time when violence was at a low point for the country. Medellín then was a bright, tropical city. Bogotá was cold and gray by comparison, but the people were equally warm and hospitable.

Laura Restrepo's novel, Delirio, is set in a time two decades later when the country was in the terrible grip of Pablo Escobar's Medellín cartel.  Restrepo illustrates that story in the way it plays out in the lives of a couple living in Bogotá.  Aguilar is a former university professor reduced to peddling dog food.  His wife, Agustina, is beautiful and demented, condemned to endlessly sort through her memories of her family's entrapment and complicity in the drug trade.

I read and enjoyed Restrepo's early novel, La Isla de La Pasión, in which the author demonstrated her talent for weaving together plausible stories from bits of history and improbable fictional characters.

I put off reading Delirio for a long time, however, because Restrepo's vocabulary and stylistic choices make her writing something of a stretch for me as a non-native Spanish speaker. The inter-mixing of first, second and third person narrative modes -- often in the same paragraph -- also made this novel particularly challenging for me at first.

As often happens, however, plodding onward got me better in touch with the story line.  I also found it helpful to read some reviews including Terrence Rafferty's 2007 review in the NY Times and another from 2004 at by Roger Santodomingo.  Wikipedia provides a good account of the role in Colombia's history of drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar. The Wikipedia page on Laura Restrepo reads like a bad translation, but it does give a pretty good overview of her extraordinary life history which has provided inspiration for her writing.

Delirio won the Alfaguara Prize in 2004 and the book is available in ebook format from that publisher.  I would like to have read it that way, but I'm just not willing to put out 8 euros for ephemeral digital bits.  I'm reading the paperback edition for free from the Albuquerque Public Library.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


According to Keynes, big economies seek equilibrium.  I'm learning about that for free at Coursera in an on line course on the Principles of Macroeconomics taught by Nilss Olekalns, a Professor of Economics at the University of Melbourne.

The course is half-way through its eight-week run.  It wouldn't be very hard to catch up if you are interested, though I suppose you might not be able to take some of the quizzes.  There's a lot of terminology to learn, and the modeling equations can look daunting at first, but it is all really just basic high school algebra.

My goal in taking the course is to acquire some basis for assessing news and opinions about economic matters.  Much of what one sees in the news about the economy has very little to do with real macroeconomic analysis, but focuses on moralistic and political objectives.  I generally trust what Paul Krugman has to say on the subject as he is an actual economist.  I also like the mathbabe, Cathy O'Neil, whose number-crunching abilities are right up there with Nate Silver's, but she's a lot more sophisticated and engaged politically.

One of the most interesting economic news items I've come across recently is The Debt We Shouldn't Pay by Robert Kuttner; it is a lengthy review of a book by David Graeber entitled Debt: The First 5,000 Years.  The review and the book give some depth( ! ) to the discussion of debt, starting with the fundamental fact that our current economic crisis is due almost entirely to private rather than public debt transgressions.

Happy May Day!

re: Coursera
Just saw this article on 28 new on line courses for K-12 teachers.