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In search of higher wages

Dear Editors,

The people are coming to Durango. No one can stop them. The median price of housing in Durango is going up. No one can make it go down.

Which suggests two fine questions: Who is coming? And where will they live?

The subtext in the public discourse in Durango is that the people who come here will be of two kinds: the rich; and those who will serve the rich.

And those who will serve the rich are expected to work for reduced wages, typically a little more than half of what they would command for similar work in a market like Denver or on one of the coasts. Try this: disregard the national and multinational businesses in Durango, and disregard the local mom-and-pop operations with only a couple of unskilled employees. After removing those from consideration, try applying for a skilled position at an established local Durango business. Compare the salary range to other markets. Consider telecommuting. It does not have to be like that. We can make that better. But we might have to change our minds about a few things.

Consider affordable housing. The best way to get affordable housing is to have a demand for affordable housing that cannot be ignored. The best way to create a demand for affordable housing that cannot be ignored is to have a local work force that is deeply important to the well-being of both Durango itself, and also to the government of Durango. This work force must be informed, vocal, politically active, and must constitute both a significant tax base and also a significant source of revenue for local business of every size.

When this critical workforce constituency has more economic power than both the independently wealthy and also the constituency who rely on underpaid labor, we will see affordable housing. The core of the problem is not a lack of affordable housing: the core of the problem is that the median wage is too low to counter other local economic effects created by the independently wealthy and by business concerns that rely on disposable labor. What we need desperately are ways to increase the median wage such that the earners of the median wage wield enough political and economic influence to power the creation of affordable housing.

If we go out of our way to attract only the rich and underpaid, we will never achieve this work force or affordable housing, and Durango will become one more overpriced gingerbread facade full of part-time poseurs and unskilled workers on their way somewhere else.

But we may yet create that worknforce in significant numbers. Here are some points to consider acting on:

- Local business: pay excellent wages right now. Don’t shop around to hire someone at 70 percent of market wages. Your customers will suffer both before and after that hire. Make working for your business attractive to fantastic potential employees not only from Durango, but also from Denver, Austin, San Francisco.

- If local business does not make Durango a place where skilled and innovative workers want to work, then we will never have skilled and innovative workers, and the housing market (not to mention the global economy) will move on without us.

-Local employees: insist on being paid what you are worth. Demonstrate your value every day, and insist on being compensated for that value. Become active in professional organizations in Colorado, around the country, across the world. Network widely. Become an expert, become recognized as an authority in your field.

- Telecommute. Working remotely from Durango is more and more a viable option, especially for experts in a particular subject. Businesses around the world have all the drones they need, but are desperate to hire talented people who can solve problems, reduce costs in innovative ways, move things forward. Spend your wages in local businesses, on local products, for local housing.

- Local entrepreneurs: create start-up companies and pay your employees well, because this is hard and rewarding work. Today, we have an information economy, a lean economy, and great businesses no longer need warehouses, production lines or even offices. You can succeed from anywhere.

- Local investors: finance those start-ups. Make capital available to local business for expansion and improvements, including wage increases. You of all people know that skilled, dedicated, talented, loyal employees are the source of profit.

This is a strategy that has worked before, in many places, in many times. It can work in Durango as well.

– Chris McMahon, Durango

All hopped up

Dear Telegraph,

So I let it slide the first couple of times your weekly event correspondent Lindsay Nelson misappropriated the hip-hop culture. First, when Digital Underground came to the Abbey Theatre, she said that they were in Durango to promote their “new” record “Who Got The Gravy?,” which was released in 1998, almost 10 years ago. Then she said the same for Dead Prez promoting their “new” record “RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta,” which was released in 2004, three years ago. If a media reporter doesn’t know anything about the media on which she’s reporting, she shouldn’t cover it. But I let it slide...

However, when I noticed this week’s “Thumbin’ It” section, I had to speak up. Now I know that much of your staff and readership consists of older Durangoans that don’t approve of rap music, but to deliberately denounce hip-hop by saying that you’re glad this week’s musical events contain neither the word “hip” nor “hop” is an insult to much of the youth of Durango. Hip-hop supporters are also a large portion of theTelegraph’ssupporters, and we don’t appreciate being mocked. Rap music is great for Durango’s diversity (you know, the same diversity that your “Thumbin’ It” section approves of every year when FLC students return) and adds flavor to the more boring musical acts theTelegraph highlights (The Voodoo Organist? Really?).

The availability of live rap music actually worth seeing has just started to become the norm in Durango, and public denouncement by the city’s biggest independent news source doesn’t help our cause. In my opinion, just about every weekend in Durango is full of music choices other than hip-hop, so our music shouldn’t be singled out just because the editorial staff disapproves. Perhaps you should all do some more research on good rap music before any more jokes are made. As for myself, I don’t approve of engaging in any corny hippie activities like turning up my thumb for approval. So you’ll see me with two fingers in the air when Durango finally gets a weekend packed full of music options that contain neither the word “blue” nor “grass.” Do your homework.

– Peace, DJ Mydas, via e-mail

(Editor’s reply: We’re sick of “blue” and “grass,” too. It hurts our old ears.)

Warming up to human extinction


Mr. Cohen and Mr. Miesler both miss the point when they debate whether global warming is caused by humans. In fact, many resources are wasted in this argument, which is like trying to cure cancer by treating the symptoms and ignoring the underlying disease. There is a fundamental attitude among humans, particularly among those who control the world’s resources, to whit: Humans are the pinnacle of evolution and/or created by God to dominate the earth. Once a person attains a particular level of comfort, he or she will consume whatever resources are needed to maintain that level of comfort, regardless of the impact on the biosphere. Fortunately for those of us in the “developed” world, we got our hands on a lot of resources before others caught on and jumped on the bandwagon.

Nature really doesn’t care if we choose to ignore the concept of carrying capacity that has been demonstrated over and over with other species – as humans, we are not exempt. For a while, those in power will continue to live a comfortable life, while two-thirds of the world’s population struggles to find clean drinking water – our most basic need. Perhaps our contribution to climate change will hasten our demise. Or maybe population growth will finally lead to Malthusian conclusions. Human arrogance will be the root cause in either case. Is it possible for us to change? Maybe evolution will create a human-like being that lives in harmony with the environment, or perhaps we’ll just go extinct. In the meantime, though, let’s all have a heart for our planet and try harder to minimize our impact.

– Eilene Lyon, via e-mail

Dehumanizing the humanities

To the editors,

Amazing that the Fort Lewis College Art Department’s decision to eliminate watercolor, printmaking, photography, Native American arts and crafts, and jewelry has not even merited a “thumbs down!” It was news that the Dean without whose collusion these changes could not have been made is leaving for greener pastures. It was news that a new soccer coach was hired but it is apparently not news that, in spite of student interest and high enrollment in these classes, the department has decided to no longer offer them. The focus will shift toward graphic design and art history. Rather than having actual hands-on experiences with a variety of artistic media, students will now just study what real artists did in the past and devote their talents to the commercial manipulations of design, making things according to a set of rules with the assistance of computer technology.

It is ironic that the art department should lead the charge toward the dehuminization of art. At a time when the college is very concerned with enrollment and retention of students, it seems counterintuitive to eliminate very popular classes and to retain courses for which there is little student support. A recent unofficial survey of students indicated that they were most interested in painting, drawing, photography and jewelry and least interested in design, graphic design, and art history.

As a result of this change in curriculum, students are leaving Fort Lewis. Students who want to major in art history will go to universities with significant programs in this area. Students interested in commercial art will go to commercial art schools. Can the college or the community really afford to a have a department crafted according to the interests of two full-time professors? The classes being eliminated are fundamental to an arts education. Native American Arts and Crafts is the only studio art class celebrating the material culture of the peoples with whom Fort Lewis has a special contractual relationship and the crafts which are fundamental to people around the world. How can one really understand modern art or digital technology without studying photography? If you really think about it, doesn’t the study of jewelry and metals introduce students to a material upon which most of modern civilization is based? Once classes are lost, it is difficult to restore them, especially when the only people left in a department were instrumental in removing them. Fort Lewis College aims to be a student and community centered institution. You, we, are the community. It might still be possible to save these important arts as part of the college curriculum. This will only happen if people who care speak up.

I urge you to contact President Brad Bartel (bartel_b@fortlewis.edu) or Provost Steve Roderick (roderick_s@fortlewis.edu) if YOU want to keep the human in humanities and the hand and heart in art.

– Thank you, Peggy Maloney

(Editors’ reply: Many weeks ago, the Durango Telegraph made an effort to cover changes in curriculum and staff in the Fort Lewis College Art Department. However, the article fell apart when Maloney and other affected staffers refused to go on the record.)

Icy roads and organic apples

Dear Editors,

This is a two part letter.

My first is a thank you regarding the road crews who keep us alive. My car slid through City Market’s 9th Street store’s parking lot, sideways at about 8:30 p.m. the other evening. It had iced (a Wednesday not long ago). This filled me with a very uncomfortable feeling since I then was driving to Aztec. That was the last time I slid – at all. Kudos to those people who spent the night out on the roads keeping us safe. They were out in force, and I was very, very grateful. Thank you.

My second is a question of sorts. When an organic apple is irradiated is it still organic? I bought one the other evening and it was awful. So, I composted half and as an afterthought, thought maybe the animals would like the other half. I chopped it up and put it outside where I throw the birdseed. For two days (until I composted it) the apple lay waiting for an animal to come along. The birdseed all disappears in at least 12 hours. There are deer, raccoons and squirrels who forage by the house daily. Even the multitude of bugs who live around here didn’t want the apple.

Animals appear to be smarter than we are. They know what they should and should not eat. It made me wonder.

– Gloria McKinney, via e-mail