User Fees and Parking

I receive a newsletter from Arthur Frommer, a name you may recognize if you travel and buy travel guides. I usually skim and then delete his newsletters, but I saved one to use as a take-off point in an essay.

In a recent newsletter, Frommer complains (I actually want to say “whines”) because the application fee for a visa (not the credit card) was being increased to $150 per person and the fee for obtaining a passport was being increased to $135.

I found a slightly lower figure at www.state.gov, but that doesn’t mean the fee is not proposed to increase at some point. Whatever, it doesn’t invalidate what I’m about to comment on, and that is Frommer’s statement, to wit:

“So once again, instead of funding the cost of running the State Department from general tax revenues (which is the fair way to do it), we are charging a user's fee that is a burden not to our well-off citizens but to Americans of low income. $135 for a passport!”

Fair to whom?
What set me off is Frommer’s feeling that the State Department should not recover reasonable costs, such as the costs of processing visa and passport applications, that it should all be funded by taxpayers. Take his argument to its logical (it’s actually illogical!) conclusion and you have the taxpayers subsidizing all kinds of fees.

Think about all of the things individuals seek from government that have some processing time connected to them and, hence, a fee. A journalist wants a copy of a document s/he should pay a reasonable fee for the copy. Real estate agents wants a list of deed transfers; pay for it.

What lies at the bottom of Frommer’s thinking is what I call the free parking space mindset. No matter where I’ve lived, people have complained because they’ve had to pay to park.

Why can’t parking be free? they ask.

If parking were free, there would be no parking because the first ones to the space would sit there all day.

But parking is free at the mall, some argue.

Not really. When the mall is built and the owner calculates rents, he factors in every one of his costs, including what it cost him to build a parking lot, stripe it and maintain it.

There’s no such thing as a free parking space.

And, while I’m at it, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Or a free travel guide.

So get over it, Mr. Frommer, and everyone else.


Canyon de Chelly

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Acting on the advice of friends, Paulette and I signed up for an Elderhostel trip (just as Elderhostel was changing its name to Exploritas). We went to Canyon de Chelly in nearby Chinle, Arizona. It is a national monument and, to quote the National Park Service:

Reflecting one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, the cultural resources of Canyon de Chelly include distinctive architecture, artifacts, and rock imagery while exhibiting remarkable preservation integrity that provides outstanding opportunities for study and contemplation. Canyon de Chelly also sustains a living community of Navajo people, who are connected to a landscape of great historical and spiritual significance. Canyon de Chelly is unique among National Park service units, as it is comprised entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land that remains home to the canyon community. NPS works in partnership with the Navajo Nation to manage park resources and sustain the living Navajo community.

We took the first date available in 2010 and it happened to coincide with my birthday (and I’m showing off my new bolo in the accompanying photo). As part of the program, we were taken on a guided tour of the South Rim and the canyon floor a thousand feet below and sat through several interesting and worthwhile lectures about the Navajo. When we left, we drove along the North Rim and stopped at every outlook. A snowstorm had hit overnight and was continuing off and on as we stopped and photographed.

Once back in Santa Fe, we culled our photographs and then Paulette picked up her brush and created her own interpretations of Canyon de Chelly. So here they are—pixels and bristles™.

Table of contents
Homage to Edward S. Curtis 1
South Rim View 2-3
Teysi Overlook 4-5, 6
South Rim View 7-13
Spider Rock 14
Ring 15
White House from the Canyon Floor 16-17
White House from the South Rim 18
Standing Cow Ruin 19
The Bayeaux Tapestry of Canyon de Chelly 20
Rock Art 22-23
Canyon Floor 24-25
First Ruin 26
Horses 27
Hogan 28-29
Canyon Floor Image 30-35
Canyon Floor 36-39
Canyon Floor Trees 40-41
Antelope House 42-43
Antelope House from the North Rim 44
Antelope 45
North Rim View 46-57
Paulette on the North Rim 58
Outside Our Motel 59
The Story Behind Pixels and BristlesTM 60


Inflame or inform? That is the question.

The lead on a recent story from the Philadelphia Inquirer caught my eye on Facebook and so I went to the story to read it in full. Here’s the lead:

In a quick hearing in a crowded federal courtroom, Colleen "JihadJane" LaRose of Pennsburg pleaded not guilty yesterday to terrorism charges.

I had been only marginally following this story, but I knew enough to know who “JihadJane” was. What raised my eyebrow was the use of her nickname in the lead. I wonder if it was necessary. If you read the entire story, you will come across this five paragraphs after the lead:

LaRose, who called herself "JihadJane" and "Fatima LaRose" in scores of online postings avowing hatred for U.S. policies toward Muslims, is accused of stealing an ex-boyfriend's passport and aiding the plot of a group of Islamic dissidents in Europe to kill Lars Vilks, who depicted Muhammad with the body of a dog in 2007.

I do think it’s legitimate to provide that information, but I’m troubled that it’s part of the lead. In the lead, it’s inflammatory, not informative. In paragraph five, it’s informative.

Consider the New York Times’ lead:

The Pennsylvania woman accused of recruiting men on the Internet to wage jihad in southern Asia and Europe pleaded not guilty Thursday to all counts in federal court in Philadelphia.

That lead informs rather than inflames. The second paragraph of the story also informs:

The authorities say the woman, Colleen R. LaRose, is a terrorist sympathizer known by her Internet name, “JihadJane,” and had expressed a desire to become a martyr for an Islamist cause.

I did a quick Internet search and found other news organizations publishing leads that were more along the lines of the Inquirer’s. I’m disappointed, but not surprised. I don’t know what others want, but I want more information and less inflammation in my news. That’s what news should be and I hope the story in the Inquirer is the exception, not the rule, for that news outlet and many others.

O, Toyota

If someone is walking or driving behind me when I back out of a parking space, my car starts to beep and a red light on my dashboard blinks. When I pulled into the space and maybe got too close to the opposing car, the same thing happened, only the sound was different so I could distinguish where the problem was.

On the open highway, of which there are many in New Mexico, I’m quick to set the cruise control for the maximum speed limit. The cruise control in my car is ideal because it will slow me down when I get too close to the car in front of me and it will even sound an alarm if I get real close.

It does have a tendency when I pull into the passing lane in such situations to go into a quick acceleration mode that exceeds the set speed limit, but then it settles back to the right speed and I continue on my way.

It’s a comfortable car that despite its youth of six years we’ve already put more than 100,000 miles on. It’s good for road trips.

The only problem with our car is that it’s a Toyota, a 2004 Sienna XLE, complete with a DVD player for the grandchildren, heated front seats and lots of room to stow luggage, folding chairs and tripods. We’ve hauled queen-size mattresses, a wine cooler, futons and day beds in it. It has had great value for us.

But I have to wonder what value it has given Toyota’s current problems.

We’ve debated whether or not we want to trade it in. When we’ve mentioned that in the past, some people have said, Oh, it’s a Toyota, you can get 200,000 miles or 300,000 miles on it.

We were not sure we wanted to wait that long. So we laid down a marker for when we would get a new car—when we put 135,000 on this one. That was before Toyota’s current problems, none of which we’ve experienced, by the way. Our car has been all but recall free. You have to wonder what went wrong a Toyota since 2004.

Suddenly a trade isn’t looking too good. Despite its quality, our Toyota has lost value beyond the Blue Book’s numbers (between $7400 and $9000). I would imagine I could trade for another Toyota and get better than average on the Blue Book, but what if Toyota hasn’t solved its problems or what if Toyota doesn’t even exist anymore? I am not a risk taker.

So we’ve decided that as long as it runs well, we’re going to keep it until it has no value at all. Just when we thought we had a good car. Well, at least we don’t have car payments. Maybe that’s our car’s value.


Saving Diane Denish

It’s presumptuous of me, a lifelong Republican, to offer advice to the Democrats, but I’m also a bit of a non-partisan politician junkie and enjoy good analysis regardless of affiliation. So this is my good analysis.

They may not want to admit it, but the Democrats in New Mexico have some problems. Republicans not only smell blood; they can taste it. All they have to say is ethics, and voters pay attention. Everyone knows which party is rife with ethical problems (for now).

And let’s be honest, the unindicted albatross in the Democratic party is the governor, Bill Richardson. We all know that the Republicans are going to run against Richardson-Denish just as the Democrats ran against Bush-McCain.

Wasn’t fair to McCain; isn’t fair to Denish.

But all’s fair in politics (sadly), and so I’m going to offer my advice to the Democrats, advice that might let them keep the governor’s office for another four years. James Carville would charge you a million dollars for this. I’m giving it to Democrats for free.

Bill Richardson must resign immediately.

That would make Lieutenant Governor Denish the governor. She would be completely divorced from Richardson; she would be her own woman. No more albatross. With Richardson gone, she could make policies that would clearly be hers and would clearly separate her from Richardson.

Richardson has nothing to gain by completing his term. He’s the George Bush of New Mexico and I don’t see what he can do to reverse that in the little time remaining.
But in the little time remaining, Denish could lay down her own markers and mute—or at least mitigate—Republican campaign rhetoric about her ethics.

Let the games begin.


Continental Beer Wars

I’m sure that many people reading this piece will be shocked to learn that when I was growing up in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, I always associated Yuengling with ice cream,* not with beer. In fact, when I took up drinking beer after joining the fire company, my favorite beer was Bavarian, brewed in Mount Carbon near Pottsville, home to Yuengling.
So you can imagine my surprise when a colleague at Penn State offered me a beer one day and handed me a Yuengling. As I advanced in age and the quality of beer began to decline across the country, I finally started drinking Yuengling’s Lord Chesterfield Ale. (When I drink beer now, it’s usually Santa Fe Pale Ale.)
So it was with great interest that I listened when some news announcer said that President Obama had wagered a case of Yuengling to a case of Molson in the U.S.-Canada hockey championship in the Olympics.
The Games in Vancouver may be over, the Yuengling-Molson wager was just one more round in a series that is older than most of us.
You see, Yuengling bills itself as “America’s Oldest Brewery.” Molson, founded in 1786 to Yuengling’s 1829, once took exception to that claim. Molson argued that “America” doesn’t mean the United States, but, in fact, the continent that encompasses Canada, the United States, Mexico and maybe even more points south than I can name off the top of my head.
Not so, argued Yuengling before a U.S. trademark court in 1998. Everyone knows America means the United States.
Well, yes and no.
As an editor, I learned a long time ago from the Associated Press that the use of the word American should not be limited “to citizens or residents of the United States,” that the word can refer to any resident from Iqaluit on Baffin Island to Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia. In one of my editing texts I show a misuse of the word America:
Keep in mind, too, that America is two continents and several islands large and is not confined to the United States. The wire service reporter who wrote that "Cuban president Fidel Castro came to America today …" probably flunked geography. After all, Cuba is part of America and, as the sentence concludes, Castro knew where he was--"I'm glad to be in the United States."
But when I was teaching in China in 1994, the foreign experts from Canada called themselves “Canadians,” not Americans, and those of us carrying U.S. passports were called “Americans,” even by the Canadians. My friends in Australia refer to us as Americans, although I’ve heard the occasional “Yanks,” said more in sarcasm than respect.
And in 1998 the U.S. (not American) trademark court sided with Yuengling and agreed that its claim to be America’s Oldest Brewery was not continental, but country specific.
I doubt that anyone cares which brewery is the oldest or even whether the breweries are both American. I drink the beer I drink because I like it. I don’t even know if my favorite microbrewer advertises. If it does, I don’t recall the ads.
So there you have it. The U.S. team lost to the Canadian team and the prime minister of Canada won a case of Yuengling.
From where I sit, he got the better beer, regardless of age or national origin.
*During Prohibition, Yuengling made ice cream. That business was closed in 1981.