Friday, July 25, 2008

Tough times call for a new New Deal

LAS CRUCES — Bank failures and runs on banks. Daring bank robberies. Crop failures. A plummeting stock market. Massive mortgage foreclosures.
It’s time for a new New Deal based on American creativity.
Last year, I spent a fascinating couple of hours at the New Mexico State University Museum, listening to people who had survived the Great Depression. Many who had weathered those changing times gathered, along with their kids and granddads, and brought items and stories from the late 1920s and ’30s to share in an exhibition.
And some of us talked then, about a sense of déjà vu, seeing signs and portents eerily reminiscent of those tough times … the collapsing currency and economy and so many ominous developments people of my Baby Boomer generation and beyond have been assured couldn’t happen again, with safeguards now in place.
This summer, instead of the Dust Bowl, we’ve had floods in the Midwest and fires in California, devastating blows to the breadbasket and produce centers of America, with food supplies already decimated by diversion of grains and products once used for low-cost food at home and abroad, to make into ethanol to fuel the global oil demand.
Times are tough and scary. Those of us who were not alive then but are paying attention now, can see there are some strong parallels between the dark days of the Great Depression and present times.
So it makes sense that some of the solutions back then could help us now.
What we need is a new New Deal (NND).
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) that built so much of our nation’s infrastructure could be resurrected to help us get ourselves out of some of the messes we’re in, by putting people to work rebuilding the now-crumbling infrastructure built by the first WPA.
This time around, we could apply advanced technology and as many green principles as possible. And rather than relying on dams for so much, we could design plans and projects that take advantage of nonpolluting forms of energy, including solar and geothermal and maybe even come up with some new kinds of wind power and other new systems that don’t kill so many critters or blight the landscape.
We could retool plants and retrain unemployed auto industry workers to create a new transportation infrastructure, too, devising cross-country rail systems and fuel-efficient, non-polluting mass transit systems in large and small communities that could make us a model for the rest of the world — instead of the embarrassing gas-guzzling laggards we are today.
I think we could bring lots of NND perks down to individual levels, too. Americans have always been great adapters and innovators. With what we learn, and a commitment to the Depression-era values to re-use, use up, recycle and make do, and enlist the talents of youth and artists, we could change our nation and the world within a decade.
With a fraction of the R&D money now invested in developing new oil resources, I’ll bet we could come up with all kinds of devices to retrofit existing vehicles and make them more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly.
We could put millions back to work in jobs with interesting and sustainable futures.
Active and passive solar and other green energy systems applied on a municipal level could offer economies of scale and innovations we could use in our homes. And we could finance these systems the way we buy cars now, with the important difference that our home solar systems would eventually pay for themselves and maybe even give energy back to the grid, instead of depleting and polluting.
We could start the ball rolling with some tax incentives that reward smart, green strategies.
We might have to give up a few things, like some hardened attitudes about disposable, greedy lifestyles. We might want to follow President Eisenhower’s mid-20th century advice and rethink the whole military-industrial complex model.
We might decide it’s time to invest our resources, minds and hearts in education and the future, in creative construction instead of destruction.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Friday, July 18, 2008

What was your favoirite vacation?

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — It’s the time of year when we have vacations on our minds.
This year, those escapes of a lifetime: the world tour, the month in exotic locales like Tahiti or Turkey, the honeymoon cruise in the Caribbean, even a family drive to the nearest big time theme park, may seem forever beyond reach.
Don’t give up. You might win the lottery, come up with a terrific invention or strike oil in your backyard — or better yet, devise an alternative energy solar, wind or geothermal set-up that will leave you with lots of extra cash.
Here in the newsroom, we agreed we lost our enthusiasm for the “staycation” concept a day or two after we heard the term.
But researching favorite day trips for today’s feature reminded me that some of my favorite all-time getaways have been close to home.
Sometimes very close. I remember a time when my cute little adobe apartment in Santa Fe was damaged by a freak flood. Luckily, my landlord also owned a motel where he put me up for a week or so while repairs were completed. Things were a little slow, then, in the writing and arts biz, so I had what amounted to a nice little free vacation. I didn’t have to board a jet or even closet was still high and dry in my apartment a mile away. I could file a story or two, pick up clothes for the next day and retreat to a clean suite with fresh sheets every day, have a swim in the pool and relax with a good book, premium channels on TV or walk next door to a cinema complex and watch a first run-movie.
It was a natural for someone who’d grown up with parents who practically invented the concept of the working vacation.
Mom and Dad both loved the great outdoors. Mom’s dad and uncles were physicians who retired early and built their own resort on Lake Margrethe in Northern Michigan. During college breaks, mom helped out and was used to recreational multitasking, fitting a canoe trip, a long swim, a picnic or a date into her “working” day. In fact, it’s where she fell in love with my dad, on a break from his Army Air Corps flight training.
Eventually, we had our own riverfront acreage to escape to nearly every weekend while I was growing up, but our parents found ways to create wilderness adventures even when they were a young couple with three small children and very little money and vacation time.
Some of my most vivid vacation memories to this day spring from what seems like a whole summer (though it may have been a couple of weeks, given the different perceptions when you’re running on little kid time) we spent on the shores of Lake Michigan, in a state park a few miles from our Muskegon home.
We pitched an old tent and settled in on a couple of bales of hay. I don’t know if it was a brainstorm of my engineer dad or if the folks were too broke to afford cots or the tent was too small to accommodate any other sleeping arrangements.
We spent our days swimming and hiking around lake Michigan, curling up in the tent with good books when it rained, listening to the comforting taps of raindrops on canvas. We had three picnics a day on the rustic campground tables. Dad would leave for work weekday mornings and rejoin us in time for sunset swims and hikes over the dunes, sometimes helping us cook fish we’d caught for dinner on the outdoor campsite grills. We’d roast marshmallows and make s’mores around a big beach fire at night and meet kids from all over the country.
We could always make a quick trip home if we ran out of clean clothes, dry shoes or provisions, or I suppose, if there was a really bad thunderstorm, though I don’t remember any, during that perfect vacation.
Money, distance and high concept entertainment had nothing to do with the fun we had.
During a fortunate lifetime of exotic opportunities, I’ve traveled and lived in Europe and the Caribbean, enjoyed a fabulous cruise through remote islands on a luxury yacht, spent quite a lot of time in Disney retreats on both coasts and luxuriated in posh resorts. A few years ago, my son, grandson and I hit four of the world’s top theme parks in five days during a marathon spree in Southern California. It was all great fun.
But no matter how I try, I can’t summon any memories from those experiences quite as vivid as the still palpable sensation of falling asleep after a day of Great Lake adventures in a snug sleeping bag with the scent of hay wafting through the crisp, line-dried sheets that covered those comfy bales.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Friday, July 11, 2008

The virtues of staying put when fuel skyrockets

Felling trapped by gas prices? Maybe there are other ways to move on...

By S. Derrickson Moore

LAS CRUCES — Movin’ on.
It’s the All-American answer to everything, from heartbreak, depression or general malaise to weathering or recovering from the pain of a bad breakup, an unhappy marriage, a sudden death, an unfulfilling job, an unfriendly neighborhood or an uncomfortable situation of almost any kind.
It’s in our heritage, our blood, perhaps our very DNA. And that’s why we’re taking the whole gas thing so hard.
It’s harder to move on if we think the most popular means for moving on — getting in our cars and trucks and heading on down the road — is getting too expensive.
I’ve been around, while moving on, and I know it can be harder to look for — let alone accept and adapt — solutions, when times are tough and people are feeling desperate.
And we are desperate … mentally, physically and spiritually.
Maybe even medically. Blood banks are now advertising for plasma donors with big billboards that ask, “Need extra money for gas?”
It gives new meaning to the protesters’ chant: “No blood for oil!”
I heard a radio ad offering parishioners free gas cards if they show up for Sunday services at a local church. I’m wrestling with concepts of bribery and sacrifice here, and wondering if the pastor’s sermon will take the opportunity to raise the issue of ransoming our very souls for oil, too.
I’ve been pondering all this since I was 17 and a foreign exchange student in the Northern European lands where many of our ancestors lived before they decided it was time to move on to new frontiers.
It was a unique opportunity to study and compare the lifestyles of those who moved on and those who stayed put.
I seem to remember that gas was already over $5 a gallon in Europe then, or the late 1960s equivalent, when gas was still pennies per gallon back home in America and for $1, we teens could chow down on 15-cent burgers and still get enough gas to cruise all night.
But whether it was the gas prices or the lifestyle or both, in Europe, we walked almost everywhere, to markets and school and bars and fiestas, or we rode bicycles or took a train. Cars were way down the list of transportation choices, almost the last option or an afterthought.
And I noticed, even in my wild youth, that living life that way was better, somehow.
We planned trips and errands, lingered and took our time, walked and talked with friends. It was that way in college, too, lots of walking, lots of relating with friends. Pondering the other times in my life I’ve been without cars, during an artist-in-residency in Jamaica, and a lovely time in Iowa City living with a friend (his car had a stick shift, which I never learned to master), I realized I got along quite well, got lots of exercise, felt great and even managed to write books in a couple of months, with no driving distractions.
I sympathize with those who face long commutes to work in an area with limited mass transit and carpooling programs, and those such as independent truckers, whose livelihood makes fuel consumption cutbacks difficult or impossible. I hope we will find ways to offer relief through subsidies, tax credits or other programs.
But most of us can devise some fuel diet strategies on our own.
Lately, I’ve been realizing many places I routinely drive are within walking distance, so I walk. I go through the car wash a little less frequently. Instead of cash, I pay with a credit card that offers cashback rewards and I find that overall, I’m breaking even on my gas station expenses these days or maybe even spending a little less, despite the escalating prices.
And I find I’m thinking globally in terms of all transportation costs, and doing my best to act locally, looking for produce, products and services that are produced closer to home. When I have a choice, I always go for the home-grown stuff.
When we are facing environmental and economic crises, it’s no time for wistful escapes or desperate cop outs. Movin’ on can be a state of mind, a change of attitude.
And maybe it won’t be so bad if we change our way of life, a little or a lot. Maybe if movin’ on is more of a challenge, we’ll learn to have a better time staying put for a while, contemplating where we’ve come from, where we are and where we’re going.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at