We have good friends arriving today to spend a week with us and I knew time would be tight for long, introspective blog posts.
Then yesterday, around 2pm, we dropped everything to race up to a farmer at Wolf Creek, just a dozen miles North of us, to inspect some hay that was for sale. It was great quality and at $5 a bale the deal of the century. So by the time we had loaded up some bales onto the trailer and returned, unloaded them into the hay loft, organised a bigger trailer from neighbours Dordie and Bill, and I had recuperated under a shower, there was no time at all for today’s post.
I took the ‘executive’ decision to republish what was presented on Learning from Dogs four years ago, to the day. Trust this is fresh to the majority of you.
I’ve been working with most of my clients recently through painful transformations brought about by the economic downturn.
An interesting metaphor really because since the first wave of uncertainty triggered panic, first noticed in the UK banking system, I have been picking up on that uncertainty that feels like it’s stalking the globe at the moment.
Interestingly, I, too, have been aware of an underlying fear that was difficult either to name or source.
It has been rather like a deep river in that whilst the surface feels slow moving, currents are flowing powerfully below.
So this ‘fear’ has caused a few household changes.
We are now the proud owners of 9 chickens. Our youngest son, Sami, and I have dug up the back lawn and planted vegetables and built a poly-tunnel.
We have also installed a wood burning cooker. Right back down to the base of Maslow’s triangle really!
These feelings have brought about such change everywhere and I wonder seriously whether we will ever return to what was; indeed would we want to?
I might not have mentioned it in previous blogs but as well as an engineering background, in latter years, I have focused on how interpersonal success in business is linked directly to relationships, integrity and vitally, self-awareness.
To inform this, some 7 years ago, I embarked on an MA in Core Process Psychotherapy, primarily to work on myself so that I could be the best I could be in my relationships, in and out of work.
The point I’m trying to make is that the same panic I notice in many of the companies I work in, and in me, is based on fear of the unknown and on a lack of trust in all its forms. I’ve deliberately underlined that last phrase because it is so incredibly important.
The truth is that we get more of what we focus on.
So we can choose to focus on the constant news of more difficulties, hardship and redundancies, or we can focus on what is working.
In the workplace this positive focus has been pulling people together across functions and sites and pooling resources and ideas.
When we realise we’re not doing this alone it’s amazing how much lighter a load can feel and how much more inspired we can be.
I also notice how humour begins to flow and what a powerful antidote for doom and gloom that is.
Transformation is never easy but the rewards exceed the effort put in ten fold.
So what is it going to be? Are we all going to bow down to the god of Doom & Gloom, fear and anxiety, heaping more and more gifts around it, or are we going to start noticing and focusing on the other neglected god – that of relationship, joy, trust, abundance and lightness?
Whatever the future holds for us all a belief in our inherent ability to adapt and change and focus on the greater good rather than fear, anxiety, greed and selfishness is the only sustainable way forward.
Here’s the photograph of Sandra Tucker, owner of Jutone Kennels in Devon, England, holding puppy Pharaoh the day I first met him: 12th August, 2003.
It would be so easy for me to gush over having Pharaoh in my life these last eleven years. But I shall resist, dear reader! Will just repeat a few words that were said a year ago.
The biggest, single reward of having Pharaoh as my friend goes back a few years. Back to my Devon days and the time when Jon Lavin and I used to spend hours talking together. Pharaoh always contentedly asleep in the same room as the two of us. It was Jon who introduced me to Dr. David Hawkins and his Map of Consciousness. It was Jon one day who looking down at the sleeping Pharaoh pointed out that Dr. Hawkins offered evidence that dogs are integrous creatures with a ‘score’ on that Map of between 205 and 210. (Background story is here.)
So this blog, Learning from Dogs, and my attempt to write a book of the same name flow from that awareness of what dogs mean to human consciousness and what Pharaoh means to me. No, more than that! From that mix of Jon, Dr. David Hawkins, and experiencing the power of unconditional love from an animal living with me day-in, day-out, came a journey into my self. Came the self-awareness that allowed me to like who I was, be openly loved by this dog of mine, and be able to love in return. As is said: “You cannot love another until you love yourself.“
Which, serendipitously, brings me to tomorrow’s post: Celebrating Who I Am.
Obviously, I wanted to include some current photographs of the birthday boy but, try as I did, the perfect image wasn’t captured.
Thus will leave you with these two, both taken yesterday afternoon.
It’s almost impossible, at times, to get one’s mind around life’s events. I’m not wishing to be overly philosophical but, nonetheless, it doesn’t do any harm to muse from time to time about the nature of things.
Take our two rescue horses: Ben and Ranger.
They have now been with us for coming up to three months. Considering how terribly they were treated before being rescued by Darla Clark of Strawberry Mountain Mustangs, it’s a privilege to experience the way that these two horses have so rapidly put their past behind them.
All of which is a preamble to this photograph taken just a couple of days ago.
Just look at their shiny coats! Just look at them so happily munching away on the grass.
Now look at how they were not so long ago.
Ranger, when first seen in February.
So back to present, happy times.
The last photograph is of Jean having just put a halter on Ranger so that the two of them can be taken in at the end of the day. Ben follows Ranger in without the need of a halter. Ben and Ranger are inseparable!
Tomorrow, the celebration of another beautiful animal!
Some days, one just wonders about a world that appears to be stark, raving mad!
One of the fundamental things that mankind is not learning from dogs, or from other animals for that fact, is having a sensitivity to danger.
Even happy, domesticated dogs, as with cats, are incredibly quick to pick up on something that just doesn’t ‘feel right’!
For example, take what was written here last Wednesday. About the extreme madness of our dependency on oil for our food!
Why is there no outcry?
Just recently, NOAA reported that “April 2014 was tied with April of 2010 as being the warmest April on record globally for land and ocean surface combined. NOAA also said that – globally – the January 2014 to April 2014 period was the 6th warmest Jan-Apr period on record.”
Why is there no outcry?
Just ten days ago, I wrote a post under the title of The nature of delusions. Included in that post was an essay from George Monbiot he called Are We Bothered? His proposition being, “The more we consume, the less we care about the living planet.”
Part of me hates the way that this blog often touches on pain and negativity but my motivation is simply that doing nothing, ignoring what is so wrong in the world, would be the height of irresponsibility.
All of which is a preamble to another George Monbiot essay. Mr. Monbiot is a powerful writer as his many essays demonstrate. But this latest one from him is one of the most powerful essays in a very long time.
It’s not a comfortable read. But sure as hell, it’s a must read!
Why collapse and salvation are hard to distinguish from each other.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 28th May 2014
Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham (1).
Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems (2). It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.
To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues were miraculously to vanish, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.
Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained (3). But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.
It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and the pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, as the most accessible reserves have been exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.
On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable (4), the Ecuadorean government decided that oil drilling would go ahead in the heart of the Yasuni national park (5). It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as blackmail or you could see it as fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich: why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills (6), will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America (7).
The UK oil company Soco is now hoping to penetrate Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (8); one of the last strongholds of the mountain gorilla and the okapi, of chimpanzees and forest elephants. In Britain, where a possible 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil has just been identified in the south-east (9), the government fantasises about turning the leafy suburbs into a new Niger delta. To this end it’s changing the trespass laws to enable drilling without consent and offering lavish bribes to local people (10,11). These new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.
The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun. As the volume of the global economy expands, everywhere that contains something concentrated, unusual, precious will be sought out and exploited, its resources extracted and dispersed, the world’s diverse and differentiated marvels reduced to the same grey stubble.
Some people try to solve the impossible equation with the myth of dematerialisation: the claim that as processes become more efficient and gadgets are miniaturised, we use, in aggregate, fewer materials. There is no sign that this is happening. Iron ore production has risen 180% in ten years (12). The trade body Forest Industries tell us that “global paper consumption is at a record high level and it will continue to grow.” (13) If, in the digital age, we won’t reduce even our consumption of paper, what hope is there for other commodities?
Look at the lives of the super-rich, who set the pace for global consumption. Are their yachts getting smaller? Their houses? Their artworks? Their purchase of rare woods, rare fish, rare stone? Those with the means buy ever bigger houses to store the growing stash of stuff they will not live long enough to use. By unremarked accretions, ever more of the surface of the planet is used to extract, manufacture and store things we don’t need. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that fantasies about the colonisation of space – which tell us we can export our problems instead of solving them – have resurfaced (14).
As the philosopher Michael Rowan points out, the inevitabilities of compound growth mean that if last year’s predicted global growth rate for 2014 (3.1%) is sustained, even if we were miraculously to reduce the consumption of raw materials by 90% we delay the inevitable by just 75 years(15). Efficiency solves nothing while growth continues.
The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st Century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.
Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.
2. Grantham expressed this volume as 1057 cubic metres. In his paper We Need To Talk About Growth, Michael Rowan translated this as 2.5 billion billion solar systems. (http://persuademe.com.au/need-talk-growth-need-sums-well/). This source gives the volume of the solar system (if it is treated as a sphere) at 39,629,013,196,241.7 cubic kilometres, which is roughly 40 x 1021 cubic metres. Multiplied by 2.5 billion billion, this gives 1041 cubic metres.
Since posting this, I’ve received the following clarifications:
From Jacob Bayless:
“… about the volume of the solar system — there is no agreed-upon definition of its diameter, which is why the figures vary wildly. (There are also two definitions of ‘a billion’, which adds to the confusion). Using the radius of Neptune’s orbit, as the farthest ‘planet’ from the sun, gives the 2.5 billion billion figure:
The orbit of Neptune is 4.5 x 10^12 m radius, which yields a 4 x 10^38 cubic m sphere. Multiplying this by 2.5 x 10^18, or “2.5 billion billion”, gives 10^57 cubic m. So that calculation checks out.
The heliopause radius would be another possible way to measure the solar system radius; it’s 4 times as far and thus 64 times the volume.”
From Geoff Briggs:
“Michael Rowan has taken the size of the solar system to be the orbit of Neptune, which is kind of understandable, but the sun’s influence extends a LOT further than that, so his estimate is correspondingly significantly overstated (ie the extra billion).
The 39,629,… cubic km figure from yahoo answers is based on a correct calculation in light years, but then a massive cock-up in the conversion to cubic km. The author seems to have assumed that a light year is about 21,000,000m, which is off by about eight orders of magnitude. 4.2 cubic light years is about 3.6 x 10^39 cubic km (and hence about 3.6 x 10^48 cubic metres).”
From Andrew Bryce:
“Starting volume of Egyptian possessions = 1 m3
after 3000 years volume = 1 x (1.045)^3000
= 2.23 x 10^57 m3
Assume the radius of the solar system is 50 AU (the distance to the Kuiper belt)
1 AU = 1.496 x 10^11 m
radius of the solar system = 50 AU = 7.48 x 10^12 m
volume of solar system = 4/3 x pi x r^3
= 1.75 x 10^39 m3
so the Egyptian possessions would require 2.23 x 10^57 / 1.75 x 10^39 solar systems
= 1.27 x 10^18
= about 1.27 billion billion solar systems
If you consider the radius of the solar system to be 40 AU (about the mid point of the orbit of Pluto), then you would get a figure of about 2.5 billion solar systems.”
But: “if you round off the volume of possessions to exactly 10^57 m3, and you assume the radius of the solar system to be 30 AU (the orbit of Neptune), then you would also get a figure of around 2.5 billion billion solar systems (well, 2.64 billion billion), which might be where the calculation came from. That would be a better definition for the size of the solar system, because it has a neatly defined edge.”
3. EA Wrigley, 2010. Energy and the English Industrial Revolution. Cambridge University Press.
OK, I accept that the sub-heading is slightly provocative but so what!
The fascination in truly knowing who we are is endless!
Back in January of this year, I penned an essay under the title of 20:20 self-awareness. Here’s a snippet from that post:
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have once said!
Today’s essay on the challenges of speaking clearly to another, perhaps better described as communicating in a clear and unambiguous fashion, came out of a recent conversation with Jon Lavin, a good friend from my Devon days. (Jon offers services for business owners and entrepreneurs under his business banner of The People Workshop.)
Jon was explaining that the number one hurdle for businesses that are managing change, and for so many businesses managing change is practically a constant, is having clear communications within the team.
The essence of that, and other posts over the years, is that knowing others, communicating with others, is so much easier when we know ourself well.
Not just relevant to us humans, by the way. Dogs love knowing us sufficiently well that they can trust and understand our behaviours.
So all of that is an introduction to an article that was recently on the website of London-based Harley Therapy. The article is called How to Be Your Authentic Self. I have taken the liberty of republishing it in full here on Learning from Dogs. (See copyright statement at the end.)
It’s a little after 6am.
I awoke this morning with the terrible realisation that I didn’t have permission to republish that article and, therefore, have ‘amended’ today’s post and removed the item..
The Tragedy of the Soma Mine-Workers: A Crime of Peripheral Capitalism Unleashed
Posted on May 16, 2014 by Yves Smith
Yves here. This post explains how the horrific mine explosion in Western Turkey, which has officially claimed nearly 300 lives as the death count continues to rise, was not an accident but the direct result of privatization and circumvention of safety standards. And unlike the West, where industrial and mining accidents are met with short-term sympathy but little if any real change in working conditions, protests have broken out, not just in the mine town of Soma but also in major cities. As Mark Ames has pointed out, American has airbrushed out much of the history of labor’s struggles for safe workplaces and better pay. Violence against efforts to organize workers was common. Henry Ford had a private army of thugs for just this purpose. The tragedy in Turkey should serve as a reminder of what has been won, and how fragile those gains are.
By Erinç Yeldan, Dean of the faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Yasar University and an executive directors of the International Development Economics Associates. Cross posted from Triple Crisis
One of the greatest work-crimes in mining industry occurred in Soma, a little mining village in Western Turkey. At noon-time on Tuesday, May 13, according to witnesses, an electrical fault triggered a transformer to explode causing a large fire in the mine, releasing carbon monoxide and gaseous fumes. (The official cause of the “accident” was still unknown, at this writing, after nearly 30 hours.) Around 800 miners were trapped 2 km underground and 4 km from the exit. At this point, the death toll has already reached 245, with reports of another 100 workers remaining in the mine, yet unreached.
Turkey has possibly the worst safety record in terms of mining accidents and explosions in Europe and the third worst in the world. Since the right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) assumed power in 2002, and up to 2011, a 40% increase in work-related accidents has been reported. The death toll from these accidents reached more than 11,000.
UK Survey Finds High Levels of Depression and Desperation Among the Young
Posted on May 16, 2014 by Yves Smith
If you’ve been keeping half an eye on economic news, the UK has of late been looking pretty spiffy relative to its advanced economy peers, with 2014 growth forecast at 3%. Even though unemployment in the UK is at its lowest level in five years, the young and the long-term unemployed haven’t benefitted to the same degree.
One issue that doesn’t get the attention that it merits is the destructive psychological impact of being out of work. Work doesn’t just provide money, as critical as that is. It provides a way of organizing your time, social interaction, and a place in society, even if that place is not really where you’d like to be. Being unanchored is extremely taxing. Recall that the Japanese get people to quit by giving them a desk and nothing to do. The lack of legitimacy, the implicit shaming of being isolated is sufficiently punitive as to induce workers to give up their pay and being able to tell their families they have a job.
The BBC reports on the results of a survey by the Prince’s Trust called the Macquarie Youth Index, which is based on a survey of roughly 2200 16 to 25 year olds. 13% were what the survey called Neet: not in employment, education, or training.
I will return to the terrible implications of this report after I declare a past interest. Before I left England in 2008, I was an active volunteer with the Prince’s Trust. My years of being associated with the Trust taught me that helping young persons discover their strengths, enable them to maintain and defend a positive self-image, and offer them real hope for their future lives, was and is the most important role of society; without doubt!
Now back to that report:
The survey found high levels of suicidal thoughts and self harm among this group, and high levels of stress among the young generally. Key excerpts from the article:
The report found 9% of all respondents agreed with the statement: “I have nothing to live for”…
Among those respondents classified as Neet, the percentage of those agreeing with the statement rose to 21%.
The research found that long-term unemployed young people were more than twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed anti-depressants.
One in three (32%) had contemplated suicide, while one in four (24%) had self-harmed.
The report found 40% of jobless young people had faced symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks, as a direct result of unemployment.
Three quarters of long-term unemployed young people (72%) did not have someone to confide in, the study found.
Martina Milburn, chief executive of the Prince’s Trust, said: “Unemployment is proven to cause devastating, long-lasting mental health problems among young people.
Then there was the report from the NASA study team that key glaciers in West Antarctica are in an irreversible retreat. First seen by me on the BBC News website, from where the following photograph was taken.
We imparted acceleration to the biosphere. We are pushing the biosphere around. And we know that the force we are applying is only augmenting. That means the acceleration, and even more the speed of the change, is going to get worse quick. That’s basic dynamics, first quarter of undergraduate physics.
Of course, neither the leaders of France, Great Britain, or the USA has taken such a course: they are basically ignoramuses at the helm (and Angela Merkel, who knows plenty of physics, made a risky bet she seems to be losing).
Clearly, we should instead apply the brakes to the maximum (instead of flooring the accelerator). What would be the price of this cautious? None, for common people: hard work to de-carbonize the world economy would require dozens of millions to be employed that way, in the West alone.
That, of course, is a scary thought for plutocrats, who much prefer us unemployed, impotent, and despondent.
All of this is sending out a message. The message that if we are not very, very careful this could be the end-game for human civilisation on this Planet.
Main Stream Media (MSM) has been the instrument of control of the People ever since there were oligarchies. It used to be about temples and priests, now it’s more about controlling papers, radio, TV, and the Internet.
and later on:
This crudeness, and vigilance of censorship by the owners [of the New York Times], is why the Obamas, Clintons, Krugmans, and Stiglitzs have to be careful. After all, they are just employees enjoying the perks of the system. Yes, they don’t own it. Ownership is everything. If the servants want to keep on thriving, those “leaders” will have to please the owners. So they “lead” where the real owners are willing us all, the herd, to be led.
Patrice rounds his essay off, thus:
The plutocracy focuses on direct control of the world imperial system, and that means controlling the giants (especially the three military leaders of the West). This is where the propaganda is the thickest.
The New York Times is considered to be the “newspaper of record” in the USA. However, the bottom line is that this is the third century during which it is owned and controlled by a particular family. How can these two elements be compatible? Why is that particular family “of record”?
Even in the Middle Ages, the most absolute kings there were, those of France, actually owned relatively little property. Francois I himself may have worn expensive clothes, but Italian bankers paid for his trips around France. Francois I did not own the media of the time.
What we have now is different. We have an ascending plutocracy that tries to grab the minds ever more. What Putin is doing in Russia is just a particular case, part of a whole.
Hopefully, people will see through this, and get their news from somewhere else than plutocratically owned media, thus bankrupting the MSM (the Internet can support journalists directly: see the successful Mediapart in France).
But I haven’t answered my earlier rhetorical question. “But do you know what really puzzles me?” Implying that a growing number of people sense there is a problem with today’s world.
That question will be answered tomorrow. Do please return.
On May 11th, Patrice Ayme published an essay entitled Science: Progressing Wisdom. I found it deeply engaging. At the same time, I was frustrated because there was a part of me that wanted to know more about “Patrice”.
For some time, I had known that Patrice Ayme was a nom-de-plume and that his, or her, identity was carefully protected. Still that part of me that wanted to relate to the real person, for want of a better description, still wouldn’t quieten down. I offered the following comment:
Patrice, you have demonstrated an amazing breadth of knowledge across your many essays. However, I did wonder if you would be happy to declare your educational experience? As in your specialisation at a degree or Doctorate level (I suspect you do hold a PhD!)? Best wishes, Paul
You are so funny, Paul! You have an Obsession-Compulsion about “qualifications”.
One of my main ideas, idea #956, is that the authority principle is severely abused. People with Philosophiae Doctor have nothing sacred about them. Goebbels had one (in humanities).
Do you think Goebbels’ authority in humanities is to be “declared”? There were even not just PhDs, but Nobel Laureates, who became Nazis, BEFORE Hitler (who had been sent to spy on them).
No doubt Hitler, a simple caporal, and gifted painter (he lived off it), was super-impressed when he met some of the most educated people in the world, and they were Nazis… Full of PhDs.
One should not confuse the message’s content and her bearer.
This site is about learning to think better. That’s why I go back to the basics.
The idea that, say, those with PhDs is Idionomics, are the only ones qualified to speak about idiocy, is, well, idiotic.
Another reader of Patrice’s essay, gmax, said this, in part:
You have to learn to judge knowledge, not just follow oligarchs like a bleating sheep to learn what’s true and what is not.
That really made me sit up and think! For the first time in my life (I’m 70 later this year), I realised that my own ragged educational experience, as offered yesterday, had left in its wake a personal insecurity over my education, and a consequential weakness in evaluating knowledge with me somehow needing to know the identity of anonymous authors. When Patrice wrote, “Please do not hesitate to make it a post, Paul! I was thinking of it myself, but, as it is, right now, I don’t seem to have the time.“, I couldn’t resist.
Here is my essay.
Wisdom, knowledge and authority.
Abstract: Wisdom requires clarity of knowledge; no more and no less.
On Tuesday evening, Jean and I rented a movie. We watched the film American Hustle.
The film has received rave reviews (here’s a typical one in the Guardian newspaper) and was fun to watch; albeit somewhat confusing for much of the first half. At one point towards the end, the hero of the film, Irving Rosenfeld, reflects that, “People see and hear what they want to believe!“.
That is the challenge about accruing wisdom. How to be analytical and wise in learning new thinking and new ideas. In other words, in acquiring knowledge!
If the subject is simple (well on the surface!) as, for example, the effect of the Earth’s gravitational field then that’s fine and dandy. It’s easy to become wise to the fact that falling off a tall building is likely to kill you.
But take an extremely complex, and highly current matter, that of Planet Earth’s changing climate, and it is extremely difficult for the average person without a scientific background to determine the truth. Really, when I use the phrase “to determine the truth” in the context of this essay I should have written ‘to gain knowledge‘.
To illustrate that, my good Californian friend of more than 35 years, Dan Gomez, is highly sceptical about climate change as a product of man’s activities. Recently, I sent him an email with a link to the NBC News report: American Doomsday: White House Warns of Climate Catastrophes. This was Dan’s email reply:
Think about it, Paul.
1. Consider the source and the timing of these new headlines i.e. the left-thinking Obama regime and current unfavorable political challenges.
2. A deflection from mainline issues confronting us today i.e., jobs, economy, healthcare, upcoming elections, Benghazi and IRS political issues.
3. Major opportunity to raise taxes unilaterally without Congress involved.
4. Major opportunity to redistribute corporate wealth from private sector to public sector.
5. Refocus of competitive, free-market energy sector to controlled renewables managed by a few very wealthy political contributors. A lot of money at stake.
6. Man, is empowered via a political party to “save the world” by changing the Weather. The only problem is, there is no solution, no global will and no participants to make anything significant happen i.e., China, Southeast Asia and another billion people scattered about.
7. Euro Zone and USA have already cut CO2 emissions by over 30% each to no avail. In fact, they say it is getting worse after hundreds of billions of dollars already diverted from private sector to public sector with no results. They are now asking for trillions.
8. Average person is not willing to give up his car, nor spend more for battery power (peel back the onion on the battery manufacturing and recycling industry vis a vis CO2 contributions). Much fewer cars, trains, tractors, jets, etc. to make anything work. Sacrifice begins at home.
9. Cows vent 20 times the CO2 emissions in the form of methane than man-made artifacts. Just saying….
10. Check out the bacteria challenge facing Man. This will help put priorities in order for you.
As always, follow the money and you’ll get your answers…..
I am unable to respond to Dan in an analytical and precise manner. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to so do. Having an emotional response is fine – but it does not advance my personal wisdom.
On the 6th May, I posted an item that featured a TED Talk by scientist Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist no less. His view is that, “You can’t understand climate change in pieces. It’s the whole, or it’s nothing.” The TED Talk explains how the big picture of climate change illustrates the endlessly complex interactions of small-scale environmental events.
Just a few days ago, Jean and I had the pleasure of a couple of hours at the home of Leon Hunsaker, renowned meteorologist who has claimed that the 1862 Californian flood could happen again.
Leon lives less than 5 minutes from us here in Southern Oregon. I asked him what he thought of climate change and he said that the planet’s atmosphere was like a large chocolate cake and man’s activities were no more than the icing on the cake.
So there you are: a range of opinions about this particular, potentially very important, subject. Although in my own (emotional) mind the weight of evidence is in favour of the argument that man is having a deepening and worsening effect on our planet.
Take, for example, the report issued yesterday about significant melting of Antarctica’s glaciers now unstoppable. (Patrice has just released an informative post on the subject!)
“People see and hear what they want to believe!” comes immediately back to mind. Dan wants to believe that the planet is going through normal cycles of change. I want to believe that mankind can make a difference; for the sake of my children and grandson.
Let me turn to the subject of anonymous authors, my Obsession-Compulsion about qualifications!
I have admitted the flaw in my thinking. Here’s the rationale for my change of opinion.
On December 1, 2012, I received my first communication from Edward Snowden, although I had no idea at the time that it was from him.
The contact came in the form of an email from someone calling himself Cincinnatus, a reference to Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who, in the fifth century BC, was appointed dictator of Rome to defend the city against attack. He is most remembered for what he did after vanquishing Rome’s enemies: he immediately and voluntarily gave up political power and returned to farming life. Hailed as a “model of civic virtue,” Cincinnatus has become a symbol of the use of political power in the public interest and the worth of limiting or even relinquishing individual power for the greater good.
The world now knows what Glenn Greenwald (and Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker) knew long before. That Snowden’s anonymity was critically important in the run-up to his knowledge being made widely known.
I was convinced. What is important is not the name and identity of the author of knowledge. What is important is the knowledge itself. No one would deny Snowden’s right to privacy. Indeed, millions of us would opt for email privacy if we fully realised the ease and extent with which our emails, indeed our communications in general, can be intercepted.
Many know that Patrice is a frequent, outspoken voice about the dangers of plutocracy and the slip-sliding away of democracy in the United States. His, or her, personal safety is the highest need of all. Patrice has a perfect right to privacy.
Which leads on to the final, obvious question. If we do not know the identity of the author of knowledge then how can we be certain that the knowledge is valid?
Answer: Through testing!
In the best traditions of research, especially scientific research, testing the validity of a claim is the only certain way of determining the validity of knowledge; of being able to derive wisdom from that knowledge.
To improve aviation safety by determining the causes of air accidents and serious incidents and making safety recommendations intended to prevent recurrence …It is not to apportion blame or liability.
Keith Conradi, Chief Inspector
Critical to that purpose of improving safety (aka improving knowledge) is looking for trends. Any trends or patterns would be impossible to discover without testing and debate.
Thus what makes aviation safer is no different to what makes all of knowledge reliable: the testing of ideas and of the hypotheses behind those ideas. The identity of the author of those ideas, per se, is irrelevant.
Thus it is clear to me, clear now beyond doubt, that wisdom is the application of knowledge disconnected from the person who is the author of that knowledge. One might see it as a marriage of knowledge and intellect. Nothing more and nothing less!
All aspects of wisdom depend on trust, on the confidence that the knowledge is ‘reliable‘. Reliability gained from debate and testing.
Never forgetting that in the final analysis, as Patrice wrote it:
“Nature is the only authority worth respecting always.”
In every which way that one can imagine, we have to return to the principles of fairness and balance so beautifully demonstrated to man by the breadth of Nature. We have to embrace Nature’s wisdom.
Last Friday I part-used a recent chilling essay on TomDispatch by Peter Van Buren to illustrate the madness and the associated dangers of how we humans are behaving at present. Here’s the balance of that essay.
This Land Isn’t Your Land, This Land Is Their Land
The Most Exclusive Gated Community: U.S. Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
I grew up in a fairly small Ohio town that, in the 1970s, was just crossing the sociological divide between a traditional kind of place and a proper bedroom suburb. Not everyone knew each other, but certain principles were agreed upon. A steak should be one inch thick or more. A good potluck solved most problems. Vegetables were boiled, faith rewarded. Things looked better in the morning. Kids drank chocolate milk instead of Coke. We had parades every Memorial Day and every Fourth of July, but Labor Day was just for barbecues because school began the next day and dad had to get up for work. In fact, that line — “I’ve got to get up for work” — was the way most social events broke up. This isn’t nostalgia, it’s history.
In 2014, you could travel significant parts of the decaying Midwest and not imagine that such a place had ever existed. But turn south on Interstate 95 and look for the signs that say “Welcome to U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune,” in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Actually, welcome to almost any U.S. military base outside of actual war zones, where a homogeneous military population and generous government spending (re)creates the America of the glory days as accurately as a Hollywood movie. For a first-time visitor, a military base can feel like its own living museum, the modern equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg.
Streets are well maintained, shaded by tall trees planted there (and regularly pruned) for just that purpose. Road, water, and sewer crews are always working. There are no potholes. There is a single school with a prominent football field, and a single shopping area. The restaurants are long-time Department of Defense franchise partners and there’s always a pizza place with a fake-sounding Italian name. Those creature comforts on such bases in the U.S. and around the world come at a cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars a year.
Some of the places employ locals, some military spouses, some high school kids earning pocket money after school. The kids bag groceries. Everybody tips them; they’re neighbors.
The centerpieces of any base like Camp Lejeune are the Base Exchange and the Commissary. The former is a mini-Walmart; the latter, a large grocery store. Both are required by law not to make a profit and so sell products at near wholesale prices. Because everyone operates on federal property, no sales tax is charged. When a member of a Pentagon advisory board proposed shutting down some of the commissaries across the U.S., a step that would have saved taxpayers about $1.4 billion a year, World War III erupted in Congress and halted the idea.
Over in officers’ housing areas, everyone cuts their lawns, has a garage full of sports equipment and a backyard with a grill. Don’t keep up your assigned housing unit and you’ll hear from a senior officer. People get along — they’re ordered to do so.
The base is the whole point of Jacksonville, the town that surrounds it. The usual bars and strip clubs service the Marines, and Camp Lejeune is close to being the town’s sole employer like that old steel mill in Weirton or the gambling palaces in Atlantic City. The base shares another connection to places like Weirton: as men lost their health in the mills thanks to asbestos and other poisons, so Camp Lejeune’s drinking water was contaminated with trichloroethylene, a known carcinogen, between 1953 and 1987.
There, however, the similarities end.
Unlike the archipelago of American towns and cities abandoned to shrivel and die, the “city” inside Camp Lejeune continues to thrive, since its good times are fully covered by taxpayer money. The 23% of the national budget spent on defense assures places like Camp Lejeune of their prosperity.
The Department of Defense, with 3.2 million employees (albeit not all in uniform) is the world’s largest employer. It makes up more than two percent of the American labor force.
And the military pays well; no scrambling for a minimum wage at Camp LeJeune. With combat pay more or less standard since 9/11 (the whole world being a battlefield, of course), the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the average active duty service member receives a benefits and pay compensation package worth $99,000. This includes a livable pension after 20 years of service, free medical and dental care, free housing, a clothing allowance, and more. In most cases, dependents of service members continue to live on a base in the United States while their husbands or wives, fathers or mothers serve abroad. Unlike in the minimum-wage jobs many other Americans now depend on, service members can expect regular training and skills enhancement and a clear path to promotion. Nearly every year, Congress votes for pay increases. The arguments for military benefits may be clear — many service members lead difficult and dangerous lives. The point is, however, that the benefits exist, unlike in so many corporate workplaces today. The government pays for all of them, while Atlantic City and Weirton struggle to stay above water.
Small Town America in the Big Apple: Spanish Harlem
The number of Americans who have visited Harlem, even for a quick stop at a now-trendy restaurant or music club, is unknown but has to be relatively small. Even many lifetime New Yorkers riding the uptown subway under the wealthy upper east side are careful to hop off before reaching the 116th Street stop. Still, get off there, walk a few blocks, and you find yourself in a micro-economy that, in its own way, has more in common with America of the 1950s than 2014.
There are, of course, no shaded areas along the block I was visiting in what has traditionally been known as Spanish Harlem, no boyish Little League games. But what you do find are locally owned stores with hardly a franchised or corporately owned place in sight. The stores are stocked with a wondrous hodge-podge of what people in the area need, including South American root vegetables, pay-as-you-go cell phones, and cheap school supplies.
These stores could not exist in many other places. They are perfectly adapted to the neighborhood they are in. While the quality of goods varies, prices are wondrously below what similar things cost a half-dozen subway stops away in midtown Manhattan. In the stores, the employees of these family businesses speak the same languages as their mostly Dominican immigrant customers, and those who work there are eager to make suggestions and help you find things.
People actually chat with each other. Customer loyalty is important, so prices are often negotiable. When he discovered that his customer was also his neighbor, one shop owner helped carry purchases upstairs. Another store informally accepted and held package deliveries for neighbors.
The guy selling frozen ices on the sidewalk nearby did not work for a conglomerate and doled out healthy-sized servings to his regulars. He told me that he bought his raw materials in the very grocery store we were camped in front of.
Even at night, the sidewalks here are full of people. I never felt unsafe, even though I obviously wasn’t from the neighborhood. People seemed eternally ready to give me directions or suggest a local eatery I shouldn’t miss. The one established mega-corporate store in the area, a Rent-a-Center charging usurious prices for junk, had no customers inside on the day I visited. The shop next to it, with an impressive array of used TVs and small appliances from unknown Chinese manufacturers, seemed to be doing gangbuster business. The owner shifted among English, Spanish, and some sort of Dominican creole based on the needs of his customers.
Few things here are shiny or new. There are vacant lots, an uncomfortable sight at night. Homeless people, some near naked despite the weather and muttering to themselves, are more prevalent than in Midtown. The streets have more trash. I saw drug deals going on against graffiti-scarred walls. There is a busy methadone clinic on a busy street. Not everyone is the salt of the earth, but local businesses do cater to the community and keep prices in line with what people could pay. Money spent in the neighborhood mostly seems to stay there and, if not, is likely sent home to the Dominican Republic to pay for the next family member’s arrival in town — what economist John Maynard Keynes called the “local multiplier effect.” One study found that each $100 spent at local independents generated $45 of secondary local spending, compared to $14 at a big-box chain. Business decisions — whether to open or close, staff up or lay off — were made by people in the area face-to-face with those they affected. The businesses were accountable, the owners at the cash registers.
The stretch of Spanish Harlem I passed through is a galaxy away from perfect, but unlike Weirton, which had long ago given up, Atlantic City, which was in the process of doing so, or Camp Lejeune, which had opted out of the system entirely, people are still trying. It shows that an accountable micro-economy with ties to the community can still work in this country — at least in the short run. But don’t hold your breath. Target recently opened its first superstore not far away and may ultimately do to this neighborhood what cheap foreign steel imports did to Weirton.
I grew up in the Midwest at a time when the country still prided itself on having something of a conscience, when it was a place still built on hope and a widespread belief that a better future was anybody’s potential birthright. Inequity was always there, and there were always rich people and poor people, but not in the ratios we see now in America. What I found in my travels was place after place being hollowed out as wealth went elsewhere and people came to realize that, odds on, life was likely to get worse, not better. For most people, what passed for hope for the future meant clinging to the same flat-lined life they now had.
What’s happening is both easy enough for a traveler to see and for an economist to measure. Median household income in 2012 was no higher than it had been a quarter-century earlier. Meanwhile, expenses had outpaced inflation. U.S. Census Bureau figures show that the income gap between rich and poor had widened to a more than four-decade record since the 1970s. The 46.2 million people in poverty remained the highest number since the Census Bureau began collecting that data 53 years ago. The gap between how much total wealth America’s 1% of earners control and what the rest of us have is even wider than even in the years preceding the Great Depression of 1929. Argue over numbers, debate which statistics are most accurate, or just drive around America: the trend lines and broad patterns, the shadows of our world of regime change, are sharply, sadly clear.
After John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, he said he was filled with “certain angers at people who were doing injustices to other people.” I, too, felt anger, though it’s an emotion that I’m unsure how to turn against the problems we face.
As I drove away from Atlantic City, I passed Lucy the Elephant still at her post, unblinking and silent. She looks out over the Boardwalk, maybe America itself, and if she could, she undoubtedly would wonder where the road ahead will take us.
Let me pick up a sentence that Peter wrote in his penultimate paragraph. This one; “I, too, felt anger, though it’s an emotion that I’m unsure how to turn against the problems we face.“
Those feelings of anger are easy to feel and, of course, anger is a legitimate response to the terrible levels of inequity in many societies. But the answer is clear. We need to promote the role of integrity, honesty, love and trust in our affairs, from the top to the bottom of the peoples who make up a nation. As is explained in my sidebar Dogs and integrity,
Probably just now the most important lesson to be learnt from dogs! (read to the end!)
I have frequently written about the many growing stresses in societies so, in a sense, today’s post is nothing new. But the power of a recent essay over on TomDispatch was such that I couldn’t ignore it. Especially as Tom Engelhardt has given me permission to republish it. I’m referring to the essay by Peter Van Buren under the title of Regime Change in America.
However, while that essay is published wholly as one by Tom, I’m going to break it down into two posts; today and next Monday. Simply because it resonates so strongly with other items that I want to refer to.
But let me get started by offering you Tom’s introduction to Peter Van Buren’s essay.
The old words are on the rebound, the ones that went out in the last century when the very idea of a Gilded Age, and the plutocrats and oligarchy of wealth that went with it, left the scene in the Great Depression. Now, those three classic terms that were never to return (or so it once seemed) are back in our vocabularies. They’ve been green-lighted by society. (If they’re not on SAT tests in the coming years, I’ll eat my top hat.)
Of course, an inequality gap has been widening into an abyss for decades now, but when it comes to the present boom in old-fashioned words that once went with being really, really, obscenely wealthy and powerful, give the Occupy movement of 2011 credit. After all, they were the ones who took what should already have been on everyone’s lips — the raging inequality in American society — out of the closet and made it part of the national conversation. 1%! 99%!
Now, the stats on national and global inequality are everyday fare (and looking worse all the time). Meanwhile, the book of a French (French!) economist about how the U.S. is leading the way when it comes to inequality and possibly creating the basis for a future… yes!… oligarchy of inherited wealth is on the bestseller list and the talk of the town. And if that weren’t enough, a new study out of Princeton University suggests that, as Talking Points Memo put it, “Over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.” As the two authors of the study write, “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
In an America where, when it comes to the political system, the Supreme Court has now granted the dollar the full right to speak its mind, and ever more of those dollars can be found in the pockets of… well, not to put a fine point on it, plutocrats, we need a new (that is, old) vocabulary to fit our changing circumstances.
In all of this, one thing missing has been the classic American observer, the keen reporter setting out on the road to catch the new look of a land in pain and misery. Today, TomDispatch aims to remedy that. Peter Van Buren, former State Department whistleblower and author of a new book on American inequality, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, has been traveling the ever-expanding, ever-rustier Rust Belt taking the temperature of a land with a significant fever. Here’s his account. Tom
But if you think this is an American problem, let me take you back a couple of days to my post that reflected the feeling that it was all getting too much: I just want to throw up! Reason? Because in that post I referred to a recent essay by George Monbiot called The Shooting Party. Here are the opening chapters (and you will have to go here to read the numbered references):
As the food queues lengthen, the government is giving our money to the super-rich.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 29th April 2014
So now you might have to buy your own crutches, but you’ll get your shotgun subsidised by the state. A few days after False Economy revealed that an NHS group is considering charging patients for the crutches, walking sticks and neck braces it issues (1), we discovered that David Cameron has intervened to keep the cost of gun licences frozen at £50: a price which hasn’t changed since 2001 (2).
The police are furious: it costs them £196 to conduct the background checks required to ensure that shotguns are issued only to the kind of dangerous lunatics who use them for mowing down pheasants, rather than to the common or garden variety. As a result they – sorry we – lose £17m a year, by subsidizing the pursuits of the exceedingly rich (3). The Country Land and Business Association – the armed wing of the Conservative party – complains that it’s simply not fair to pass on the full cost of the licence to the owners of shotguns (4); unlike, say, the owners of passports or driving licences, who are charged on the basis of full cost recovery.
Three days later – on Friday – the government announced that it will raise the subsidy it provides for grouse moors from £30 per hectare to £56 (5). Yes, you read that right: the British government subsidises grouse moors, which are owned by 1% of the 1% and used by people who are scarcely less rich. While the poor are being forced out of their homes through government cuts, it is raising the payments – across hundreds of thousands of hectares – that some owners use to burn and cut the land (helping to cause floods downstream), shoot or poison hen harriers and other predators, and scar the hills with roads and shooting butts (6). While the rest of us can go to the devil, the interests of the very rich are ringfenced.
So with no further ado, back to the first half of Peter Van Buren’s essay.
This Land Isn’t Your Land, This Land Is Their Land
As America’s new economy starts to look more like the old economy of the Great Depression, the divide between rich and poor, those who have made it and those who never will, seems to grow ever starker. I know. I’ve seen it firsthand.
Once upon a time, I worked as a State Department officer, helping to carry out the occupation of Iraq, where Washington’s goal was regime change. It was there that, in a way, I had my first taste of the life of the 1%. Unlike most Iraqis, I had more food and amenities than I could squander, nearly unlimited funds to spend as I wished (as long as the spending supported us one-percenters), and plenty of U.S. Army muscle around to keep the other 99% at bay. However, my subsequent whistleblowing about State Department waste and mismanagement in Iraq ended my 24-year career abroad and, after a two-decade absence, deposited me back in “the homeland.”
I returned to America to find another sort of regime change underway, only I wasn’t among the 1% for this one. Instead, I ended up working in the new minimum-wage economy and saw firsthand what a life of lousy pay and barely adequate food benefits adds up to. For the version of regime change that found me working in a big box store, no cruise missiles had been deployed and there had been no shock-and-awe demonstrations. Nonetheless, the cumulative effects of years of deindustrialization, declining salaries, absent benefits, and weakened unions, along with a rise in meth and alcohol abuse, a broad-based loss of good jobs, and soaring inequality seemed similar enough to me. The destruction of a way of life in the service of the goals of the 1%, whether in Iraq or at home, was hard to miss. Still, I had the urge to see more. Unlike in Iraq, where my movements were limited, here at home I could hit the road, so I set off for a look at some of America’s iconic places as part of the research for my book, Ghosts of Tom Joad.
Here, then, are snapshots of four of the spots I visited in an empire in decline, places you might pass through if you wanted to know where we’ve been, where we are now, and (heaven help us) where we’re going.
On the Boardwalk: Atlantic City, New Jersey
Drive in to Atlantic City on the old roads, and you’re sure to pass Lucy the Elephant. She’s not a real elephant, of course, but a wood and tin six-story hollow statue. First built in 1881 to add value to some Jersey swampland, Lucy has been reincarnated several times after suffering fire, neglect, and storm damage. Along the way, she was a tavern, a hotel, and — for most of her life — simply an “attraction.” As owning a car and family driving vacations became egalitarian rights in the booming postwar economy of the 1950s and 1960s, all manner of tacky attractions popped up along America’s roads: cement dinosaurs, teepee-shaped motels, museums of oddities, and spectacles like the world’s largest ball of twine. Their growth paralleled 20 to 30 years of the greatest boom times any consumer society has ever known.
Between 1947 and 1973, actual incomes in the United States rose remarkably evenly across society. Certainly, there was always inequality, but never as sharp and predatory as it is today. As Scott Martelle’s Detroit: A Biography chronicles, in 1932, Detroit produced 1.4 million cars; in 1950, that number was eight million; in 1973, it peaked at 12 million. America was still a developing nation — in the best sense of that word.
Yet as the U.S. economy changed, money began to flow out of the working class pockets that fed Lucy and her roadside attraction pals. By one count, from 1979 to 2007, the top 1% of Americans saw their income grow by 281%. They came to control 43% of U.S. wealth.
You could see it all in Atlantic City, New Jersey. For most of its early life, it had been a workingman’s playground and vacation spot, centered around its famous boardwalk. Remember Monopoly? The street names are all from Atlantic City. However, in the economic hard times of the 1970s, as money was sucked upward from working people, Boardwalk and Park Place became a crime scene, too dangerous for most visitors. Illegal drug sales all but overtook tourism as the city’s most profitable business.
Yet the first time I visited Atlantic City in the mid-1980s, it looked like the place was starting to rebound in the midst of a national economy going into overdrive. With gambling legalized, money poured in. The Boardwalk sprouted casinos and restaurants. Local business owners scrambled to find workers. Everyone and everything felt alive. Billboards boasted of “rebirth.”
Visit Atlantic City in 2014 and it’s again a hollowed-out place. The once swanky mall built on one of the old amusement piers has more stores shuttered than open. Meanwhile, the “We Buy Gold” stores and pawnshops have multiplied and are open 24/7 to rip off the easy marks who need cash bad enough to be out at 4 A.M. pulling off their wedding rings. On a 20-story hotel tower, you can still read the word “Hilton” in dirt shadow where its name had once been, before the place was shuttered.
Trump Plaza, a monument to excess and hubris created by a man once admired as a business magician and talked about as a possible presidential candidate, is now a catalog of decay. The pillows in the rooms smell of sweat, the corners of doors are chipped, many areas need a new coat of paint, and most of the bars and restaurants resemble the former Greyhound bus terminal a few blocks away. People covered with the street gravy that marks the homeless wander the casino, itself tawdry and too dimly lit to inspire fun. There were just too many people who were clearly carrying everything they owned around in a backpack.
Outside, along the Boardwalk, there are still the famous rolling chairs. They are comfortable, bound in wicker, and have been a fixture of Atlantic City for decades. They were once pushed by strong young men, maybe college students earning a few bucks over the summer break. You can still ride the chairs to see and be seen, but now they’re pushed by recent immigrants and not-so-clean older denizens of the city. Lots of tourists still take rides, but there’s something cheap and sad about paying workers close to my own age to wheel you around, just a step above pushing dollars into the G-strings of the strippers in clubs just off the Boardwalk.
One of the things I did while in Atlantic City was look for the family restaurant I had worked in 30 years earlier. It’s now a dollar store run by an angry man. “You buy or you leave,” he said. Those were the last words I heard in Atlantic City. I left.
Dark Side of the Moon: Weirton, West Virginia
The drive into Weirton from the east takes you through some of the prettiest countryside in Maryland and Western Pennsylvania. You cross rivers and pass through the Cumberland Gap along the way and it’s easy going into the town, because the roads are mostly empty during typical business hours. There’s nothing much going on. The surrounding beauty just makes the scarred remains of Weirton that much more shocking when you first come upon them. Take the last turn and suddenly the abandoned steel mills appear like a vision of an industrial apocalypse, nestled by the Ohio River.
In 1909, Ernest T. Weir built his first steel mill next to that river and founded what later became the Weirton Steel Corporation. In the decades to come, the town around it and the mill itself were basically synonymous, both fueled by the industrial needs of two world wars and the consumer economy created following the defeat of Germany and Japan. The Weirton mill directly contributed to wartime triumphs, producing artillery shells and raw steel to support the effort, while Weirton’s sons died on battlefields using the company’s products. (A war memorial across the street from the mill sanctifies the dead, the newest names being from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.)
At its peak, the Weirton Steel Corporation employed more than 12,000 people, and was the largest single private employer and taxpayer in West Virginia. The owners of the mill paid for and built the Weirton Community Center, the Weirton General Hospital, and the Mary H. Weir Library in those glory days. For years the mill also paid directly for the city’s sewers, water service, and even curbside garbage pickup. Taxes were low and life was good.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, however, costs rose, Asian steel gained traction and American manufacturing started to move offshore. For the first time since the nineteenth century, the country became a net importer of goods. Some scholars consider the mid-1970s a tipping point, when Congress changed the bankruptcy laws to allow troubled companies an easier path to dumping existing union contracts and employee agreements. It was then that Congress also invented individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, which were supposed to allow workers to save money tax-free to supplement their retirements. Most corporations saw instead an opportunity to get rid of expensive pensions. It was around then that some unknown steelworker was first laid off in Weirton, a candidate for Patient Zero of the new economy.
The mill, which had once employed nearly one out of every two people in town, was sold to its employees in 1984 in a final, failed attempt at resuscitation. In the end, the factory closed, but the people remained. Today, the carcass of the huge steel complex sits at one end of Main Street, rusting and overgrown with weeds because it wasn’t even cost-effective to tear it down. Dinosaur-sized pieces of machinery litter the grounds, not worth selling off, too heavy to move, too bulky to bury, like so many artifacts from a lost civilization. A few people do still work nearby, making a small amount of some specialty metal, but the place seems more like a living museum than a business.
Most of the retail shops on Main Street are now abandoned, though I counted seven bars and two strip clubs. There’s the Mountaineer Food Bank that looks like it used to be a hardware store or maybe a dress shop. The only still-thriving industry is, it seems, gambling. West Virginia legalized “gaming” in 1992 and it’s now big business statewide. (Nationally, legal gambling revenues now top $92.27 billion a year.)
Gambling in Weirton is, however, a far cry even from the decaying Trump Hotel in Atlantic City. There are no Vegas-style casinos in town, just what are called “cafes” strung along Main Street. None were built to be gambling havens. In fact, their prior history is apparent in their architecture: this one a former Pizza Hut, that one an old retail store with now-blacked out windows, another visibly a former diner.
One sunny Tuesday, I rolled into a cafe at 7 A.M., mostly because I couldn’t believe it was open. It took my eyes a minute to adjust to the darkness before I could make out three older women feeding nickels into slot machines, while another stood behind a cheap padded bar, a cigarette tucked behind her ear, another stuck to her dry lips. She offered me a drink, gesturing to rows of Everclear pure grain, nearly 99% pure alcohol, and no-name vodka behind her. I declined, and she said, “Well, if you can’t drink all day, best anyway that you not start so early.”
Liquor is everywhere in Weirton. I talked to a group of men drinking out of paper bags on a street corner at 8 A.M. They hadn’t, in fact, been there all night. They were just starting early like the cafe lady said. Even the gas stations were stocked with the ubiquitous Everclear, all octane with no taste or flavor added because someone knew that you didn’t care anymore. And as the state collects tax on it, everyone but you wins.
Booze is an older person’s formula for destruction. For the younger set, it’s meth that’s really destroying Weirton and towns like it across the Midwest. Ten minutes in a bar, a nod at the guy over there, and you find yourself holding a night’s worth of the drug. Small sizes, low cost, adapted to the market. In Weirton, no need even to go shopping, the meth comes to you.
Meth and the Rust Belt were just waiting for each other. After all, it’s a drug designed for unemployed people with poor self-images and no confidence. Unlike booze or weed, it makes you feel smart, sexy, confident, self-assured — before the later stages of addiction set in. For a while, it seems like the antidote to everything real life in the New Economy won’t ever provide. The meth crisis, in the words of author Nick Reding in Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, is “as much about the death of a way of life as the birth of a drug.”
The effects of a lifetime working in the mill — or for the young, of a lifetime not working in the mill — were easy enough to spot around town. The library advertised free diabetes screening and the one grocery store had signs explaining what you could and could not buy with SNAP (food stamps, which have been called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program since 2008). The local TV channels were chock-a-block full of lawyers’ ads urging you to call in if you have an asbestos-related illness. A lot of health was left behind in those mills.
There are some nice people in Weirton (and Cleveland, Detroit, or any of the other industrial ghost towns once inhabited by what Bruce Springsteen calls “steel and stories”). I’m sure there were even nicer parts of Weirton further away from the Main Street area where I was hanging out, but if you’re a stranger, it’s sure damn hard to find them. Not too far from the old mill, land was being cleared to make way for a new Walmart, a company which already holds the distinction of being West Virginia’s largest private employer.
In 1982 at the Weirton mill, a union journeyman might have earned $25 an hour, or so people told me. Walmart pays seven bucks for the same hour and fights like a junkyard dog against either an increase in the minimum wage or unionization.
Copyright 2014 Peter Van Buren
OK, I opened today’s post with the sub-heading “Probably just now the most important lesson to be learnt from dogs!” Let me expand on that.
Dogs, like many other ‘pack’ animals, have a relatively flat hierarchy across their group. Typically, a wild dog pack numbered upwards of 30 animals although in modern times we have only the African Wild dog left to study. Nevertheless, the African Wild dog offers mankind the key lesson about cooperation and social equality. Here’s an extract from a National Geographic article [my emphasis]:
African Wild Dog Lycaon pictus
The African wild dog, also called Cape hunting dog or painted dog, typically roams the open plains and sparse woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa.
These long-legged canines have only four toes per foot, unlike other dogs, which have five toes on their forefeet. The dog’s Latin name means “painted wolf,” referring to the animal’s irregular, mottled coat, which features patches of red, black, brown, white, and yellow fur. Each animal has its own unique coat pattern, and all have big, rounded ears.
African wild dogs live in packs that are usually dominated by a monogamous breeding pair. The female has a litter of 2 to 20 pups, which are cared for by the entire pack. These dogs are very social, and packs have been known to share food and to assist weak or ill members. Social interactions are common, and the dogs communicate by touch, actions, and vocalizations.
African wild dogs hunt in formidable, cooperative packs of 6 to 20 (or more) animals. Larger packs were more common before the dogs became endangered.
So back to the domesticated dog. There are just three ‘roles’ to be found: the female alpha dog, the male beta dog and the omega dog that can be of either gender. Even though in a group of dogs (we have eight here at home) the alpha and beta dogs are dominant and will eat first, there is no question of denying the other dogs in the group access to food, water and love from us humans.
The lesson we must learn from dogs is obvious and there’s no need for me to spell it out!
The second half of Peter Van Buren’s essay will be published here on Monday.
The following photograph was sent to me by Suzann who in turn received it from Joyce. Thanks to you both. Included with the photograph is the background to the picture.
“One of our photographers returning to the Indianapolis International Airport took this photo of a soldier getting special guard duty from man’s best friend as she catches a nap in the terminal. About 10 soldiers and two dogs were in a group at the airport tonight. It wasn’t clear if they were coming home or heading out, but we thank them (and the dogs!) for their service!” – WTHR-TV
I’m going to skip the many comments that have been attached to the photograph, however smart and witty they are, and focus on the fundamental lesson that dogs, and many other creatures, offer mankind. It is this.
Our society only functions in a civilised manner when there is a predominance of trust about us. When we trust the socio-politico foundations of our society. When we trust the legal processes. When we trust that while greed and unfairness are never absent, they are kept well under control.
Having trust in the world around us is an intimate partner to having faith in our world.
At a time when inequality is making frequent headlines and Russia is sabre-rattling over Ukraine let us never lose sight of the primary importance of trust.
For without trust there can be no faith and without trust there can be no love.
Here’s another photograph of the greatest ‘dog-teacher’ of them all; the German Shepherd dog.