SocraticGadfly: 12/2/18 - 12/9/18

December 07, 2018

Mesa Verde — one last trip?

Mesa Verde of today illustrates well several of the issues that face today's National Park Service as a whole, and individual parks, including some that Southwestern parks face in an era of advances in science and in worries about climate change effects.

From the area of the fire tower on Mesa Verde, looking north-northwest.
Nearly a decade ago, I almost swore that the visit I made then to Mesa Verde might be my last ever.

That was about a year or two after the National Park Service and park staff required people wanting to see Cliff Palace and, I believe, Balcony House to queue up for guided tours. No more individual trail walking.

I understood why. It was a mix of the site being loved to death with carelessness as part of that, along with theft and probably vandalism (name-graffiti) too. Didn't mean I had to like what this made the park, as well as the obscene criminality or the carelessness from casual visitors. I did the tours, or at least Cliff Palace, because it was the first time in many years, and only the second time as an adult, I'd visited. But I didn't like it.

And I almost swore it off.

But not quite.

And, I decided to spend part of a day there while doing some down time at my brother's in Farmington.

Statue at new visitor center
I got there and saw a nice artistic statue outside a nice spiffy new visitor center.

And found out that you now have to buy tickets for tours to those two ruins at that spiffy new visitor center. Nope.

I get the idea there, too. If theft and vandalism are still happening, you have a record of who visited, with contact and ID information. But, I don't need to pay, or I shouldn't need to pay. In any case, I was short on time and had other parts of the park to visit. (I still have yet to visit Wetherill Mesa, at least as an adult. Maybe I will and maybe I won't make another trip; if I do, it likely will be just to there.)

Anyway, the theft and vandalism are happening. The trail to Spruce Tree House, closed because of rockfall damage, was "posted" to be under video surveillance. (The trail remained closed as of the time I wrote this, so one can still only see at a distance.)

Megalithic House kiva vandalism. (All the shiny silver
in the sipapu and near it are dimes or other coins.)
And, at a partially excavated site, the Megalithic House site, people had thrown money inside the kiva. That, too, is vandalism, folks.

So, with the possible exception of taking the separate road to Wetherill Mesa, consider this to indeed be swearing off further Mesa Verde visits. (That said, the Long House site there also requires a ticket now.)

It's also "interesting" that Mesa Verde has gone to "frequency pricing." A year ago, the Park Service proposed peak-season fees at 17 other sites, but they're already in place at Mesa Verde. That said, on-season and off-season only differ by $5 at Mesa Verde, not $30 or more.

Meanwhile, parts of Mesa Verde feel frozen in time. Not frozen in time of 700 years ago, but of 70-100 years ago.

Mesa Verde's old, original Chapin Mesa Visitor Center is a repository for
Anasazi artifacts, but is the information presented along with them up to date?
Most the dioramas at the Chapin Mesa Visitor Center were made in the Depression, by CCC laborers. I'm not looking for Mark Zuckerberg to offer Oculus Rift virtual reality. However, there's been a lot of Anasazi study in the past 70-80 years (setting aside whether any information on any of the dioramas was starting to go out of date even at the time they were created). Tastefully more modern displays with up-to-date information would be welcomed.

With appropriate money, a park staffer to lead guided tours through the museum and updated exhibits once or twice a day would also be welcomed by many, I would think.

That's if money for that becomes available from new and additional funding for the Park Service in general. Sorry, Democrats, including a few alleged progressives who actually aren't, but using part of BLM's oil and gas fee money to fund the Park Service is NOT the answer and I really don't know why you think, or ever thought, it is. See below for more on that.

And, the dioramas would take a definite back seat to more urgent needs, even more urgent than reopening the trail to Spruce Tree House.

Out of service on Chapin Mesa
Oh, like fixing a fire hydrant that would be the only salvation for those visitor center dioramas should a fire sweep through the heart of the park. Given this summer's wildfire season, which was bad enough in the Four Corners before California knocked it off the front page, this is simply inexcusable. Per the cutline, this is right next door to the Chapin Mesa Visitors Center and buildings complex.

We know that climate change is only going to make the Southwest hotter and drier. Fire hydrants like this need to be fixed immediately. Not tomorrow or six months later, but immediately.

I don't know if that's the only one broken. Probably not. And, I don't know why it's out of order. Old water lines would be one guess, though. In other words, the out-of-service hydrant is a symbol and stand-in for larger infrastructure problems at the park, and the park, in a mountain-desert transition area, is at a juncture of climate change environments.

(Update: I have been informed [which I hoped] that this is not the only hydrant on the mesa. I will be getting further information on the status of it, others, and the why, probably in a week or so.)

And, that is not all that needs to be fixed, either.

NPS facility or private inholding remnant? Either way, it's ugly and unsafe.
Although Mesa Verde does not have the degree of problems of some national parks, it does have, or had, two private inholdings. (I don't know how recent the link is, but it appears to date to the 1970s. From what I can tell, the Sheek inholding was bought in the 1980s, but I still don't see that having happened on the Hindmarsh.) And the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund remains at the mercy of Congressional wingnuts. I don't know if the facility pictured at right is part of a private inholding or not; it looks like an oil tank battery, but could be something for wastewater from the nearby Far View Lodge. I don't recall that sign on the fence explicitly saying it's private property.

That said, let's say it is for the hotel, and it's government-owned. It's a fricking eyesore. The standard chain-link fencing doesn't help. Find the money and the labor — maybe through one of the student conservation programs — to build something like an inexpensive adobe wall. Said wall would also have containment value should either one of those tanks burst, as well. Water, sewage or whatever is in them, as it stands, that's a safety issue as well as an eyesore.

And, no, Raul Grijalva, taking a Ryan Zinke idea and turd-polishing it, of using BLM oil and gas funds to help pay for additional Park Service money, is not the answer. Ethically at least, especially on the issue of Southwestern parks facing climate change, your "answer" is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Personally, I would go back to the old Parks Pass at, say, $75 a year. Bump the All Access Pass to $100 — and make clear it covers ALL normal USFS fee areas. (Along with that, revising the 1872 mining act and other things would be part of the ideal plan.) I would be OK with some "peak pricing," as long as not too steep from off-peak times.

As for the paid tours, or the tours in general, and vandalism likely still happening there, as well as sites like Megalithic House? There's always the Ed Abbey answer — put it all under the equivalent of shrink wrap and close access entirely.

December 06, 2018

Goldy to the Cards? I approve of this trade

The St. Louis Cardinals have gotten slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, prospect Andy Young and a comp balance draft pick in the second round.

Even for "just" a one-year rental, it's not bad. If the Cards can resign him, it's great. If not, they'll get back at least the lost draft pick and then some with a first-round choice.

And, I approve the deal even more, as of mid-March, with the Cards doing just that, with a five-year, $130 million deal that was a bit cheaper than I thought.

(Update, March 29: The three huge bombs Goldy hit in Game No. 2 confirm me listing him as the No. 1 key to a successful Cardinal season in my season preview.)

The rise of Andrew Knizner was deemed quick enough that Mo must have considered Kelly expendible as a backup catcher and still not likely to be No. 1 as long as Yadier Molina was around.

Luke Weaver probably doesn't have too much higher of a ceiling than he's already shown in St. Louis.

Andy Young has some positional versatility, but hadn't made it to Memphis yet at age 24. He likely would have been the next Greg Garcia or Yairo Munoz, and the Cards already have both of those.

Matt Carpenter is obviously moving now, but where? Second, or third? And, what happens then to either Kolten Wong or Jedd Gyorko? If you're going to move one or the other, I move Gyorko. Two years older, more expensive contract on the one year that's left, and if he did want to walk a year from now, the Cards wouldn't tender him and so would get nothing back. (OTOH, this reduces his trade value now.)

Beyond that, I expect Wong to make a jump forward with a full year free of the double-guessing of Matheny as manager.

That said the Cards could make Gyorko a supersub again. Or if Paul DeJong struggles again, put Jedd at short. Or Munoz, of course. (Unlike what still seems to be a majority of Cards fans, and Cards ownership, I am not a DeJong fan. Weirdly, a guy like Mark Townsend at Yahoo calls him a "proven producer" when he's not.)

This would seem to rule out Manny Machado, if he was on the Cards' radar in the first place. It does NOT rule out Bryce Harper, or a free agent pitcher, or a trade for a starter.

As for the possibility of resigning Goldy? His current $14.5M plus the $13M of Gyorko add up to $27.5M. That's enough money to resign Goldy without a payroll increase. Six years at that AAV, front-loaded a modest amount?

December 05, 2018

American exceptionalism and presidential mourning

That's what's behind this picture at the George H.W. Bush funeral.

And, the mainstream media, insisting it is part of this ruling class as the Fourth Estate, insists we mourn. Because without such mourning, especially when based on the mythos of American exceptionalism, both that mythos and the American empire associated with it are hard to maintain.

So, with both George H.W. Bush and John McCain, the Fifth Estate insists we mourn — for the mythos of these individuals to prop up the mythos of American exceptionalism and American imperium.

Of course, there are exceptions. The media exceptions are usually from the left, with the exception of a few paleoconservative and libertarian sites that will object to the foreign policy of the likes of Poppy Bush and the Schmuck Talk Express.

What needs to be mourned, instead, is the tenacity of this mythos, and the tenacity of the subservience to it of the 99 percent of American media.

December 04, 2018

TX Progressives roundup:
George H.W. Bush death, cult of Buc-ee's, CNN, more

You — yes, you — are Individual One in the hearts of the Texas Progressive Alliance and this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff did a deep dive into straight ticket voting.

SocraticGadfly first takes a critical look at the public service of George H.W. Bush; he then describes his visit to Tsarskoe Selo, where an ex-spook told him a conspiracy theory about why Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, eventually triggering Bush's Gulf War.


 And here are some posts of interest from other sites.

Speaking at Rice, Barack Obama congratulated himself for helping exacerbate climate change while James Baker congratulated himself for not needing a Poppy Bush Iran-Contra pardon.

At the Texas Observer, Gus Bova says climate change is a major factor driving the Central American immigrant caravan to Texas and other border spots.

Raise Your Hand Texas lists the five things needed in any school finance plan.

Robert Rivard laments San Antonio's 20th century mindset for urban planning and design.

David Bruce Collins talks about two-siderism being behind CNN’s firing Mark Lamont Hill.

Therese Odell is all over the 60 Minutes report on the damage caused by family separations.

Julien Gomez implores allies of the trans and nonbinary community to speak out.

Jim Schutze observes that the anniversary of JFK's assassination is more of a reminiscence these days.

Sarah Martinez has important Buc-ee's restroom news.

Black Agenda Report notes that Jill Stein's recount has forced Pennsylvania to agree to paper trails and audits on future ballots.

Rumya S. Putcha says yoga centers are the new country clubs — with all the baggage of Eisenhower-era country clubs.

Jeff Miller discusses what all is involved with small school districts downsizing to six-man football.

Creators wouldn't pass out Hightower's latest column, because he criticized Dead Fricking Media and Slavehouse Media.

December 02, 2018

Me, Poppy Bush, the Gulf War, a conspiracy theory
and a vacation trip to Tsarskoe Selo

Betcha didn't know I visited the Romanov summer palace, did you?

Well, per Paul Harvey, with the death of George H.W. Bush, here's the rest of the story.


It was the late summer of 1998. I was the editor of my first own weekly newspaper. (Not in that I owned it, but I was the managing editor of a paper for my first time.)

I was living in southeastern New Mexico at the time. I got a bit of time off around Labor Day, including the holiday itself, and took a vacation.

No, not to St. Petersburg, Russia, sadly. But, I did visit Tsarskoe Selo. While there, I heard some very interesting claims about the Gulf War. Let this column I wrote after my return tell the details.

The old mining community of Mogollon, practically a ghost town, may seem innocent enough to the average hiker or other tourist.

Like many abandoned mining towns, some of its buildings have been reclaimed in recent years, mainly by people who are considered to be, or consider themselves to be, outside the normal bounds of society. In short, you may see men and women who appear to be hippies, or the children of hippies, living in old houses, general stores, and so forth, not only in Mogollon, but in Jerome, Arizona (another place I visited during a short Labor Day vacation) and elsewhere across the west.

But there is one difference in Mogollon, an old mining town about 70 miles northwest of Silver City, located in some of the most rugged country in our state.

It begins with the first, and only, business in the dozen or so buildings in Mogollon.
This business, located in one of the first buildings on your right as you enter Mogollon, immediately stands out due to its name: “The Tsarskoe Selo.”

To those unfamiliar with history, this was the name of a summer palace of the Russian Tsars (hence the name), just outside St. Petersburg, Russia.

Inside is a store selling collectibles one would never expect to see in the middle of nowhere, and possibly not even in a city as big as Albuquerque.

Owner Dan Ostler specializes is selling Faberge products. By this, I don’t mean cosmetics such as Brut cologne.

Ostler sells the high-dollar ceramic eggs, porcelains, and other collectibles made in Tsarist Russia by the French-founded company of Faberge. These are the fine items that you hear announcements about their traveling display in museums in Dallas, Phoenix, or Los Angeles, and nowhere lower on the American cities’ status pole.

Right there, as Ostler showed me some of the sample eggs he had (starting at $70 a pop, and rapidly moving upward). I realized that I was in a world just a little bit different than what I had expected when I opened the door to his shop asking directions to the famous Catwalk (at Glenwood, just south).

The next thing that caught my eye was one of several business cards of his that he had on his counter. The only readable things on the card were his name, in Roman letters, and a telephone number, in our normal Arabic numerals. The rest of the card, though, was also Middle Eastern, written in the Arabic language.

As I was interested enough to want to talk, and he seemed to welcome a little conversation, I stayed around beyond asking directions, and heard more than I was prepared for.

I first learned the “why” behind the Arabic business card. Dan Ostler said he is a former CIA agent with more than a decade of time spent in the Middle East. He then showed me some of the other business cards he had, noting that with connections such as this, he could run a high-dollar business such as his from his small shop and his modemed computer in the backwoods of western New Mexico.

As he showed me some of the cards he had been given by friends, perhaps ex-CIA contacts in some cases, I realized that he truly was a connected person.

The business cards included one from an Army Lt. Col. who is also a United Nations weapons inspector, and a reported “Friend of Bill” from Mt. Ida, Arkansas.

Ostler asked if I knew where Mt. Ida was, and I said, “I believe that’s near Mena,” which earned my first kudos from him.

Mena, if you did not read or hear about the exposé series last year by the San Jose Mercury News, is where the CIA has, for over a decade, reportedly flown in on its own airline, Air America, or at least turned a blind eye to CIA-connected smugglers such as Nicaraguan contras flying in, massive amounts of cocaine stemming from Columbia. By the way, this began in Reagan’s presidency, and so is not just tar on Clinton’s hands.

We talked more about the CIA in this regard, and Ostler soon revealed himself to be a man who definitely did not run the CIA up the flagpole and salute it every morning. He confirmed, from what he had heard and knew during his years in the agency,  that the CIA had been involved, or at least connected with drug smuggling, for at least 15 years before Nicaragua. The latest issue of the magazine The Progressive confirms this, noting that the CIA, in the name of supporting anti-Communist governments, helped smuggle heroin out of Pakistan in the 1960s and Laos in the 1970s. (CIA top brass, both past and present, of course refused to comment to the magazine for that article.)

He also told me what sounded like a conspiracy theory, but one that is halfway believable, for how the Gulf War got started.

Supposedly a well-connected older-money New Englander, a month or two before Iraq invaded Kuwait, gave undercover Iraqi defense officials a special tour of some of Kuwait’s defense installations?

Why? According to Ostler, Kuwait was at this time one of the biggest producers of pirated computer software, music recordings, and so forth, and so some of this businessman’s friends decided there was a simple way to teach Kuwait a lesson. This also, according to Ostler, is why Bush’s State Department never came clean to Congress and the public what they may have known in advance about Iraqi intentions.

I did an Internet search for the gentleman in question, but other than finding someone with a name to match in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, electronic telephone directory, could find no further information. To me, that doesn’t mean Ostler’s story is not true; rather, it may testify to the low radar profile of the man in question, whose name I have obviously omitted from this story.

In any case, for anybody traveling in the Silver City area, consider a trip to Mogollon. You might find a whole lot more than you expected, as well as some nice Christmas or anniversary gifts for special loved ones. (Ostler also sells Lionel trains, and ceramic displays for under the tree.)


I went back there in 2010. Tsarskoe Selo was still there (and remains listed today on some business information websites and even Yelp), but, sadly, unoccupied. I did a teh Google, well, actually, a DuckDuckGo for the site plus Ostler's name. Got an email address on one hit. No idea if it's live as of the time I write this piece or not, but we'll find out, won't we?

Update: I forgot to mention in that original column that ceramic displays for "under the tree" weren't the only type of such art. Ostler also sold authentic Hummel.