and above is Spring putting on a show over my backyard. I'm starting to get quite adept at identifying the meteorlogical conditions conducive to forming rainbows, even if I can rarely fetch my camera in time...
And here is the view from my bedroom window, where I paused for a brief moment to appreciate my surroundings while getting ready for work:
Not a bad place to be, eh?
I was gratified to recently learn that my sister-in-law has begun telling her daughters bible stories before bed time. Since the older child is in 4th grade, I’d say it was about time. As they are not church-goers, this seems the only way they would learn and close this gaping hole in their knowledge base.
In the late 90’s I had a colleague (a few years younger than me) who was a perfect example of what to avoid becoming. Don’t get me wrong – he was an affable and intelligent fellow, but he was, as many are, merely a product of his upbringing and circumstances. His family was affluent and progressive, his father a surgeon, he was sent to expensive private schools growing up, on the weekends his family took their sailing vessel out onto Lake Michigan and competed in regattas, he traveled extensively, had an eye for art collecting and a taste for fine wine, and so forth. One day he came into the office and mentioned that he had just seen The Prince of Egypt, which had just opened in theatres. I asked him what he thought of it, and he said, “Oh, it was pretty good. But some parts were just ridiculous – I mean, what was the deal with that talking bush that was on fire? That was one of the corniest things I’ve ever seen!” Yes, he had never heard of the “burning bush” from Exodus. I explained to him that, rather than being devised by some nutty screenwriter just for the movie, this tale in fact was in the Old Testament, and he actually refused to believe me!
Though we are currently living in a post-Christian society, it is undeniable that Western Civilization was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and tradition, and part of being a fully educated individual is to be familiar with the basics of Scripture, regardless of belief. To be ignorant of them is to willfully deprive oneself of important tools of expression and be ill-equipped to fully communicate and identify with the people around you.
Just off the top of my head, I think anyone living in the West should be familiar with at least the following:
Adam and Eve
Cain and Abel
Noah and the Flood
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
Moses and the Exodus (i.e., the plagues, parting of the Red Sea, manna, the Ten Commandments, trek through the desert)
David and Goliath
Joseph, Joshua, Job, Samson, Jezebel and Jonah are optional, but also would be nice.
Lacking knowledge of these stories is at least as bad as being unaware of Robin Hood or King Arthur – they are cultural touchstones we dispense with at our peril. Imagine if your son was watching a basketball game and the announcer said this was a “real David vs. Goliath match-up” and your son had no idea what that meant? Yet due to parental neglect (because they sure as heck aren't going to learn it in school), I suspect millions of children all over America are being shorn of what is essentially their birthright.
So to all you secular humanist/godless/progressive parents: I implore you, unless you want other people to think your kids are ignorant - and I know aspiring liberal elites would never want THAT, make a biblical storybook or anthology part of your child’s summertime reading. Or something.
Just completed them today, which is the absolute closest I've ever come to missing the deadline. Now that I have all the official numbers, I thought I would take a moment to ascertain the damage and enumerate for the record precisely how much I am actually "rendering unto Caesar":
Using my "adjusted gross income" as the basis, for the year 2012 I paid:
15.1% of my income for federal taxes,
3.3% of my income for state taxes,
2.6% of my income for local taxes,
6.9% of my income for property taxes,
- for a grand total of 27.9%. Now, if I take into consideration that the county sales tax is 6.75%, and that I spent probably a third to a half of my disposable income on purchases that are taxed (i.e., not food), that is an additional 3% or so, making the effective tax rate on my income 31%. And that doesn't even count additional costs like vehicle registration/license fees, nor mandatory deductions that I will only theoretically be reimbursed for, like money taken for social security (which I will in all likelihood never see when I retire). So Mr. President, am I finally paying my "fair share"? Ah, but think about all the fantastic benefits I get from the government in return.... Such as.... [Hm, I'll have to ponder further so I can have something to fill in there at some point.]
Someday I will account for the rest of the mandatory costs that reduce my disposable income, like health, home and auto insurance, and calculate the actual percentage my discretionary income is of my gross income, but not today; I don't want to become totally depressed.
When I was younger, I used to have rather well-defined goals and elaborate plans to achieve them, but the last couple years I have been coasting, or more accurately, reacting to various crises and then snatching hibernating/recovery periods between them when I am able. But other than a nagging sense that I should have some goals, I don’t feel very motivated to alter my current behavior. The ultimate destination – the grave – will remain the same regardless of the path taken. If I had children I suppose I would hold quite a different view. But now? The world can burn, as long as I can eke out a somewhat secure lifestyle complete with a few well-earned creature comforts.
This is the first time I have disclosed this to anyone. For the last twelve months I have been increasingly fixated on the tragedy of the finite nature of existence. There are no doubt multiple reasons for this. My wife has been enduring some serious on-going medical problems, and there have been a couple moments where things could have easily gone in a different – and very bad - way. My great-aunt (my paternal grandfather’s sister) has been in declining health and living in an assisted living facility for the last 15 months – which she hated. A couple weeks ago she finally died. She was almost 97. Of course, it’s easy to merely say that she had lived a long time and that this is “just the natural order of things”. But she was the last relative from my grandparents’ generation, so it’s like some door clanged shut with impenetrable finality. Also, she didn’t die well, if that makes any sense. She was in total denial about her inevitable end despite her two months of hospice care, was uncooperative and often nasty, and all-around difficult. Also, I have turned 40, and am quite aware that there are probably fewer years now remaining to me than the ones I have already lived, and they will be characterized by diminishing vigor. Mentioning this is undeniably cliché, but nonetheless unquestionably true. It is, at the least, a sobering realization. I am an agnostic – a reluctant one, and thus dwelling on this topic has caused me no end of angst.
The unshakeable truth that one day my life will be over, and that I will never, ever, ever, EVER be here again, now perpetually sits on my shoulder like some leering demonic imp. Mentality, I can assure you that I have always been remarkably stable, even stolid. I have a phlegmatic disposition. Yet I have had several anxiety attacks over the past eight months, which have been increasing in frequency. These are dreadful occurrences, almost paralyzing in their acute intensity. I fend off despair with as much fortitude as I am able, but it is difficult.
Since childhood I have always been unpleasantly aware that death was a foregone conclusion, but I was able to successfully employ a couple coping mechanisms. I reasoned that I was young, for example, and that in all probability my death was far off, and therefore nothing to concern myself with. In my teens I read the holy books of every religion I could get my hands on, but no epiphany was forthcoming. Nothing took root in my soul. In my early 20’s I turned to science and read selected works of certain physicists who had cobbled together rather creaky models that left room for a God who could supply an afterlife, but these hopeful models simply required another form of faith. I dabbled in philosophy, and briefly thought Pascal or perhaps Kant might give me something to “hang my hat on”, but again, their clever words gave me no solace in the small hours of night. Throughout the remainder of my 20’s I tried to keep myself mentally occupied by attempting to develop all of my talents to their fullest. In almost a frenzy I painted, played guitar, wrote a novel and some poetry. I was insistent that my time not be wasted. Then, somewhat concerned that I would spend my entire life alone (as all my friends got married and started having kids, etc.), I made an effort to date in my 30’s and got married myself. This is what normal people do, yes? Surely the obligations and bonds of marriage and family would distract me from this unusual, and presumably unhealthy, obsession with the STILL approaching end of life? No, these coping mechanisms no longer work. In the grip of an unlikely mix of simultaneous desperation and ironic detachment, I have even became enamored of the various paranormal shows on television that purport to show spiritual activity and evidence of existence after death (don’t laugh). In addition, I am a bit mystified how other people can be so cavalier about all this. I do have some friends who have inexplicably become church-goers in the last couple years, and thus have their faith to comfort (or delude?) them. But other people I think either are too shallow to concern themselves with the matter, shrug at contemplating outcomes they are powerless to change, or have successfully distracted themselves with the burdens and petty tasks of everyday life. Furthermore, the fact that many people regard death and the permanent end of their consciousness as “the natural order of things” is completely unacceptable and repellent to me. Fuck the “Cycle of Life”.
I completely grasp that happiness can [yet] be garnered by experiencing the world through all one’s senses, and the implication that seemingly small and simple things yield bliss. Being around living things like trees, trite as it may seem, is reassuring. I can get a great deal of contentment still with the small pleasures of life: a good cup of coffee, seeing goldfinches fuss about in the spent coneflowers during a September afternoon, sunlight filtering through a leafy canopy, a bike ride where I can take in all the details of the town where I live, the hearty laugh of my wife. But I occasionally look at everything in my field of view with wonder; all these houses, with their respective families, the yards with their flowers and the birds, the screaming children at play, the cars zooming past, the joggers and the dog-walkers, all this bustling activity and the evidence of Man’s Works, all this LIFE, must be for something – can it really be to no purpose? And I feel so immersed in “Being”, I fully acknowledge at that moment in time, “I am alive –Alive! I am so glad to be here!” There will never be enough of that knowing fulfillment, and for me, there can never be enough life. And that is the tragedy. I will never be one of those old people who resign themselves that “their time is up”, or who are tired and regard death as the ultimate rest.
I get a small amount of satisfaction with the notion that I can at least live a life imbued with some meaning. My credo is that whatever place I am in, I should strive to leave it in a better state than when I found it, whether it is my house, or my neighborhood, or place of work. I work as an engineer, and have convinced myself that I am producing works of value for the good of society, some of which will endure when I am gone. For now, this must suffice.
The [Temporary] Struggle With Mortality
Until recently, in a strange sense I have been fortunate. Growing up, my mother’s family was on the other side of the Atlantic, and hence they were hardly ever seen, while my Father’s family, though much closer geographically, was not close emotionally. In addition, neither side could be described as prolific. Therefore, growing up I went to very few funerals. In kindergarten my paternal grandfather died, and if I had been older this no doubt would have affected me deeply since we were quite alike in many respects, but at such I young age I couldn’t grasp the gravity of the situation. When I was in my mid-20’s I attended the funerals of my grandmother and father, but after my parents’ divorce my relations with both had soured a great deal, and so other conflicting feelings clouded the occasions. The loss was felt, but more as a loss of what could have been - a normal family life.
Likewise I have never had a close friend die; even while in school, I never personally knew of any one of my peers to die. And yet inevitably this must happen. Indeed, if I am “lucky” I will see all of my friends perish one by one as an entire generation vanishes, as it must. See, I am not delusional!
Even having pets seems a proposition fraught with heartbreaking drawbacks. My wife has two black cats of rather sweet disposition, and since we have moved in together six years ago I have grown quite fond of them. The fat one, in particular, has a special place in my heart. But they are getting up in years, and I can’t envision a scenario where they will both still be with us five years from now. And contemplating this fills me with anxiety.
How will “it” happen? Will it be a long, drawn out decline, coupled with increasingly desperate and expensive treatments before one of the cats expires? Or will one of us enter the house one day after work, or come down the stairs one morning, and merely stumble upon a stiff, lifeless thing instead of an affectionate furry companion? It seems better to not have pets at all, to be honest. The toll of multiple deaths that pet lovers must endure to me seems unendurable. Either you outlive your pets time and time again, or perhaps you die before them, and chances are slim that you had the foresight to make provisions so that they are saved and cared for in time…
In consequnce of all this I now view the future with barely concealed dread, even loathing, for the inevitable tragedies it will contain.
It is so strange now, though perhaps not surprising, that as I have become increasingly sensitized to death I feel more alive than ever before - and therefore more acutely sensitive to the passage of time.
The Indifferent Creator
Out of the various classical arguments for the existence of God – the teleological, the ontological, and the cosmological, the last is the only one that holds any weight for me. Clearly, the universe is here; it exists and has form. And it strains the limits of my credulity to believe it has always existed, rather than have a beginning like anything else (i.e., any of its constituent components). Naturally, this raises the possibility of a Creator. And yes, I have always been fully aware that this begs the question: if God created the Universe, then who (or what) created God? But if the Creator is spiritual – that is to say, noncorporeal, or at the very least existing "outside" our universe, then somehow this strikes me as more reasonable than the alternatives. It just DOES. Sorry to disappoint you, atheists.
Then the high priests of Science struck a cynical blow: Stephen Hawking wrote, in his Briefer History of Time (2005), that he had crafted a theory that envisioned a manner in which the Universe "came into being" spontaneously. And that therefore, the concept of God was no longer required as an explanation for the existence of our material surroundings. The origin does not need to be explained because there is no origin. Very elegant.
It occurs to me that the people who accept his theories are basing their conclusions on merely using a different kind of faith – the faith in the ultimate/eventual infallibility of the human intellect expressed through the Scientific Method. It’s still faith, though. So with all due respect to Professor Hawking, I can assign no weight to his dour proclamations and give them no further consideration.
So perhaps there is a Creator. But what sort? Once you “step off the reservation” and leave behind the wishful notion of a Christian god – or even a muslim or jewish one, all sorts of other disturbing questions arise that other people very rarely pose. We have assumed God loves us. But what if that is not true? And even if he cherishes all his creatures, why would he feel compelled to raise us from the dead – or grant us continued existence in another form? Merely because we desire it? Such thoughts make the contents of my stomach curdle. The irrevocable consequence of such thinking instills an uneasiness that constantly threatens to burst forth at any moment, making continuance of a mundane daily routine impossible, and palpably ridiculous.
This essay is getting long and well on its way to becoming a treatise. But so what? It is important. The most important thing I have ever written - if that means anything.
If therapy could help me, then I would schedule an appointment post haste. But to the best of my knowledge, no counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can aid me in solving the intractable problem of mortality. What is the best they could do – give me a prescription for Adavan? Keep me pleasantly drugged up for the remainder of my days, so I can avoid confronting the awful truth? I can not choose such cowardice, despite the comforts it may afford. I come from hardier, or at least, more obdurate stock. I shall face the howling Tempest and stare at it with unblinking eyes, or I will shatter into bits. There is no other possible outcome.
I suffer all this silently. It might seem normal, even natural, to go to one’s spouse with such concerns. But I know my wife so well that I know what she would say: that who am I to complain, since in all probability I will outlive her by decades? This petulance misses the point. As if a difference of degree alone tips the balance in my favor. For despite how greedy it may sound, the fact is that for me, even a life of 90 years would not be enough. In fact, I can not envision any finite span of longevity that would suffice, such is my hunger for continuance. Is 90 years so much better than 60 years, or 70, when such time is compared to the boundless stretches of eternity that follow death? Hardly.
This entire screed is getting ludicrous. Yes, the Earth itself must die one day, taking the human race with it, swallowed by a swollen, aging Sun. And no doubt the galaxies themselves will flicker out one by one, leaving unimaginably vast tracts of cold particles to drift without purpose for untold millennia. The savvy reader will no doubt catch this reference to the “Heat Death” theory of the universe, and here I can’t help but feel an intense kinship with the young Woody Allen character in Annie Hall, who tells his [smoking!] pediatrician that he is depressed because one day everything in the Cosmos will flicker out, and so nothing can possibly have purpose. If Woody Allen depicts the height of neuroticism, then I have surely scaled that pinnacle myself by now. Better to be at this end of the mental spectrum, I suppose, than the sociopaths on the other end – at least for the sake of other people. To be Cont'd...
In a departure from my usual modus operandi, I would like to feature someone else’s work, if only to expose it for the cheap, inflammatory bilge that it is. So here is the latest morsel of agitprop making the rounds on Facebook and other hip venues:
It is pretty much bullshit, produced by a recently created organization called The Enliven Project, which has authored no known policy papers and until now has never been mentioned by any other media outlets until this was passed around. So, not the greatest nor most reputable source, but I’ll let that slide. I’ll also let it slide that it was originally tweeted by a Huffpo blogger (which is a red flag as far as I’m concerned), and from there thrown up on the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” by Dylan Matthews, a journalist who has been caught dabbling in “statistical malfeasance” before.
Anyway, the most cursory glance will reveal that the supposedly miniscule amount of false rape claims this graphic depicts is way off base, especially since researchers like Eugene Kanin at Purdue conducted a study that showed, according to police reports from one city, that 41% of rape ckaims were untrue, and a full 50% of claims at two universities were untrue. Other researchers have come up with similar numbers for false rape accusations... Gregory and Lees, 1996: 45%. Jordan, 2004: 41%. Chambers and Millar, 1983: 22.4%, Grace et al., 1992: 24%. McDowell and Hibler, 1985: 27%. Buckley, 1992: 25%. Washington Post, Virginia and Maryland, 1991: 25%. Please note that all of these are at least TEN TIMES the percentage the graphic uses. But I suppose using these sources would substantially lessen the dramatic impact, so they must be dispensed with!
This graphic literally uses a 0.2% value for false rape accusations (2 out of 1000). How did they come up with this number? There are using the “10% rule” here, which is that only 10% of rapes are reported. This number is patently ridiculous, and when pressed, the head of The Enliven Project, Sarah Beaulieu, stated that, while some sources suggest that close to half of rapes are actually reported, “We assumed 10%, which is dramatic, but possible”. Oh, that sounds real scientific. Furthermore, they are claiming that 2% of all reported rapes are false. This is the lowest end of even the official feminists’ range of 2% – 8% (put out by the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women).
For those interested, a thoroughly critical and mercilessly exhaustive takedown has already been done HERE:
Now as an engineer I know how powerful percentages can be, and how they can be misused to disastrous effect. And as an artist I am well aware how powerful the relative proportions of different elements of a composition can be, detailed to instantly convey a point via an image and thus influence the viewer. So it is inevitable that skillful propaganda makes use of this technique. And it is therefore important that readers then know that this tool is being used to manipulate them. Well, I am obviously too late. I’m sure over a hundred thousand women have already committed this to memory and will use it to help fuel the raging fires of misandry.
But you know what? This is not a post about rape (which is of course very horrible). The above travesty is just another data point in a much more disturbing and ominous pattern, a pattern that has always been there, to be sure, but which recently has been infused with startling vitality by Facebook and other social media.
This is how the pattern goes: Someone wants to Make A Point. They have an agenda. A non-profit entity, think-tank or institute cherry-picks some data or perverts some statistics to Shock and Sadden us, thereby smoothing the path of change. Or meanwhile, something else, maybe only tangentially related, occurs. It catches enough attention to qualify as News. Can the news event be used to further the agenda? Failing that, can it be reported in such a way that at the very least the agenda is not endangered? The answer to such questions is undoubtedly: yes. In the last year I have witnessed multiple cases on Facebook alone where this has happened as I have watched the knee-jerk moralists hopping onto the band wagon of the latest righteous cause: Trayvon Martin was “murdered” by a racist white man (not true), the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was “provoked” by a video mocking Mohammed (not true), that the elementary school massacre perpetrated by Adam Lanza in Newtown was made possible by “assault rifles” (NOT true), and now this. In each case the version initially announced and distributed by the media was accepted without question by the populace at large. And even when the truth belatedly seeped out, pried loose by intrepid bloggers and independent thinkers, the damage had already been done, the debate had been all but concluded, the indignant status updates had been buried in the Timeline, and people had moved on to the next well-packaged Daily Outrage.
There is a carefully nurtured, pre-conceived narrative that is fed to us, a filter that massages the news and couches it in terms that reinforce the latent biases planted long ago by a degenerate, self-destructive (but progressive!) culture and educational system that is rarely perceived and even more rarely questioned. Meanwhile, information that conflicts with this narrative is de-emphasized, or left unmentioned altogether. I suppose that pattern of behavior would be euphemistically termed “providing context”. Others simply call it “spin”. When people that I know to be quite intelligent fail to employ their considerable reasoning skills and accept without question things that I know to be untrue, because it “feels” true to them (there’s the bias at work!) or emanates from self-anointed and hallowed sources like the New York Times, I know that this society is in deep trouble.
What do they - the ones who disseminate the news, write the editorials, anchor the networks and fashion the snarky little cartoons to be so conveniently forwarded to millions of right-thinking, like-minded folk - want us to get out of this? White people are oppressive and murderous. We should expect to be targeted for assassination if someone in our country makes fun of Islam, because insensitivity to non-Western cultures is so BAD that it justifies our murder, or at least makes it understandable. We should willingly hand over our guns and feel guilty about ever wanting them in the first place. Got it. Thank you, sir, may I have another?
What do they NOT want us to get out of this? That sometimes young black men wandering around late at night will violently assault you. That our government totally failed to adequately protect its embassy staff from a carefully planned attack – planned before the release of the “insulting” video. That “gun-free” zones don’t work, and mentally ill people, especially those given anti-psychotic drugs that can have side-effects like suicidal thoughts, can be very dangerous and that maybe it is more important for schools to have armed guards than it is for banks to have armed guards, since the lives of children are more valuable than 50,000 dollars in cash?
I am not going to accept this. Not anymore. He who has ears, let him hear. And the rest, sad to say, will be alienated from me and distance themselves. I can take it. I have been an Outsider for most of my life. It’s not fun but I am accustomed to it. People are such sheep. And I predict that they will be bleating “bah, bah” and circulating the colorful propaganda on Facebook even as they are firmly ushered onto the boxcars.
I've always viewed life as a book with a proper beginning and end, and most importantly, its content divided into identifiable chapters with instructive or at least accessibly descriptive titles.
So far I've had:
Chapter I: Childhood (Pre-Divorce) '72-'83
Chapter II: Young Adult (Becoming Me) '84-'90
Chapter III: College - Undergrad '91-94'
Chapter IV: College - Graduate (Disillusionment) '95-'96
Chapter V: The Restless Young Man (Seeking My Way) '97-'04
Chapter VI: The Respectable Citizen (Settling Down) '04 - present
Of course life isn't as neat as all that, but I insist there are periods in one's life that are governed by certain circumstances and characteristics that dominate everything else: going off to university, becoming a professional, marriage, etc.
I don't think it is controversial to say that it is unhealthy for anybody to remain stuck in any of these chapters beyond their proper duration, like the classic example of the 40 year old woman who still parties like a college girl. For Everything A Season, and all that. For the sake of emotional growth it is imperative to Move On. In other words, as Kenny Rogers famously sung: "you got to know when hold'em, and when to fold'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run..." You can't go back to the previous chapters of the Book of Life, but simple determinism means that echoes of them will reverberate throughout the rest of the book. Thus the "plot" is shaped. And it goes without saying that some of these echoes are beneficial while others are detrimental.
One of the good types of echoes are relationships and friendships you have made during the previous chapters. But all echoes die away, it seems. Once I had more friendships than I had time for - it was impossible to cultivate them all, and some judicious culling of the herd was required. But that was a long time ago. For those of us lucky to have allegedly found a "soul-mate" and live daily with their "best friend", this phenomenon causes scarcely a moment of heartache. But for those of us with a more, shall we say conventional xperience with matrimony, the gradual loss of friends from earlier periods in our lives (without sufficient replenishment from our contemporary peers) can result in real ongoing anguish.
All this is a roundabout way to get around to sharing this occurrance: that this particular year (as of Christmas Eve), for whatever reason, not one, not two, but three friends of mine from college all decided to not send me Christmas cards. I can only assume that due to some sort of attrition policy I have been purged from the rolls and so I won't receive Christmas cards from them ever again. Yes, I know that I hadn't spoken to any of them in several years (and the tentative efforts at contact I made were not reciprocated) but had the meaning of our relationship dwindled so precipitously that even sending me a greeting card once a year is now deemed to be too much effort? Apparently.
I need to open up some new doors. Not sure how to go about it, though I know that this Internet thing isn't the answer, because if I have learned anything from FB and MySpace and Livejournal it is this: that beyond the realm of idea exchange, the other social aspects of the world wide web are frustratingly shallow and unfulfilling.
Hey, sometimes you take what you can get...
1988: “It’s a good idea for every family to have a lawyer in it. You know, I think you would make a good lawyer – you’re shifty.”
1997: “I’m so pleased at how your employment situation turned out. You have a good job at a good company. I was always afraid that you wouldn’t really make it – that you would end up starving in a ditch somewhere.”
2002: “You’re looking rather well. You’re not nearly as fat as the last time I saw you.”
Posted for the sake of posterity. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot of them, but some just tend to stick with you, ya’know?
I recently returned from a three day business trip to the eastern portion of Kentucky – the heart of coal country. Let me put it this way: coal is so important there that the local bridges have special – i.e., lax – load ratings especially for trucks carrying coal. I saw one sign that said coal trucks could weigh up to 16 tons, but anyone else couldn’t be more than 12 (as if the supporting deck and girders can tell the difference what the cargo is!). That’s some serious evidence of entrenched special interests, right there.
I was part of a crack expeditionary force sent to assess the conditions of a coal production facility that had been shut down after a series of structural failures. After my preliminary findings, my firm sent all the King’s horses and men down there to inspect the rest of the plant. Fourteen people with be toiling there on Labor Day alone, all getting triple overtime. The client wants to speed things along in the worst way – they are losing $300,000 every day that the plant is shut.
The terrain in that part of the state varies from hilly to mountainous, with roads that are thrilling or terrifying, depending on the temperament of the driver. Railroad tracks snake through the vallies, occasionally crossing over the roads hugging the rocky cliffs with their verdant waterfalls of foliage. The trains – carrying coal, of course – keep a busy schedule. I even saw some guys operating a rail switch manually, which I thought hadn’t been done since the 1970’s. Sometimes I felt like I was in a model train set. The abodes of the natives were mostly aged cottages or trailers that either clung to niches carved out of bluffs or perched high on concrete block walls in the floodplains bordering various creeks. Driveways were of necessity sloped up to 35 degrees. I can’t even imagine how they get cars in and out of there during the winter. Baptist churches – typically simple block buildings painted white with standing seam metal roofs – were ubiquitous, doubtless giving spiritual comfort to people long accustomed, if not quite resigned, to squalor and poverty.
Though most economists have lost sight of this fact, actual wealth can only be created in three ways. It can come from: digging something out of the ground, growing something, or making something from what you grow or dig out of the ground. That’s it. Anything else is just some form of parasitism.
Ohio and other states like it are fortunate. They have copious amounts of arable land, a decent climate and plenty of water. Historically Ohio’s development, and hence its wealth, was derived from agriculture. “Stuff” is grown, and harvested. Markets are created to sell it. Little towns begin to grow. Canals, and roads, and railways are built to ship grains, produce and livestock. Industry begins to serve transportation and vice versa. Farmers need stability, but they also maintain it: the seasons come and go, the fields are sown every spring, come what may. Contrast that with places like West Virginia, where fertile flatland is scarce, and resource extraction is limited to mining. Activities like mining or logging indeed create wealth, but they also tend to create destructive boom and bust cycles that play havoc with towns and cities. Development may be irresponsible, and the quality of the infrastructure is “spotty”. Many people move on after the mines are played out or the forests are cut down, and the ones that remain often either have little initiative, or little hope for better times.
The area I was in was quite isolated – more than I thought was possible in this day and age, in the middle of the U.S. There was no cell coverage in most of the county. The mine manager said they couldn’t get UPS to deliver packages there. And accommodations for myself and my colleagues were so scarce that the nearest available hotel we could find was three counties over and across the state border – a distance of over fifty miles. So again, it should be stressed that every bit of economic activity within at least thirty miles of my location was derived from, or related to, coal.
Now it’s hardly a secret that Obama & Co. have been hostile to coal. And I get it – it’s nowhere near the top of the list of supposedly “clean” energy sources. But you don’t take away the only major industry and source of income for an entire region without a concrete plan to replace it with something else. That’s not just negligent governance – it’s cruelty. What does the current administration expect all those people in West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Ohio to do? Just get food stamps, I suppose. Hell, what’s another couple million on the public assistance rolls?
But here’s where it get interesting. The real problem is that the coal companies just didn’t meekly sit there and idle their mines and production facilities like good little boys. Instead, the main producers in that part of Kentucky signed an agreement with India to provide them with coal for the next twenty years – to the tune of $7 billion. (Bet you didn’t hear about that from the media, did you?) And what do you think the chances are that the power plants over in India will be equipped with all those fancy scrubbers to take pollutants out of the smoke? Yeah, I wouldn’t put money on that either. This is what you get with leadership that doesn’t stop to consider second-order effects, or the distinct possibility that the people negatively affected by your policies may adopt coping strategies that completely counter the ostensible purpose of those very same policies. And if you thought that, after all these new natural gas wells are sucked dry (the ones created by fracking in Texas and Oklahoma have only lasted about seven years), we can just go back to burning our plentiful supplies of coal tucked away in all those nooks and crannies of the Appalachian Mountains, think again! I wouldn’t count on it. Most of that stuff will have been long sent over to Asia, just like all those jobs. One more example of how America’s security is being compromised and its future mortgaged away. Sorry kids, you'll have to be the ones to deal with that.
Addendum, Sept. 18: Oh look, some of the mines (West Virginia ones, anyway) are closing down after all!:
Alpha closing 8 mines, laying off 1,200:
West Virginia petrified about more reg's if Obama wins another term:
In the heads of coneflowers
Nodding in the sun.