Thursday, January 31, 2013


No Littering!
Tuesday was a beautiful day - in the 70s.  My dog Ginny and I regularly walk to our mailbox but in the wintertime, that's about the extent of our walks.  However, since the day was warm and clear, I decided to venture further out and take a little walk down our road, along the edge of our front pasture.  That walk reminded me of how angry I used to get and why I had to take a break from walking.  

Beer cans, lots of them, plus odds and ends of trash, all along the short route I took.  The trash is bad enough, but the beer cans are wrong on so many levels:

1) It has to be the same person because it is always the same brand.  

2) That person is drinking and driving.  

3) I can assume with confidence that the cans are thrown out of the car window during the day, meaning they're drinking in the middle of the day.  

4) The odds are that the person is on his (I also assume it's a man) way to and/or from work - the cans are on both sides of the road so it might be both.  

5) This person is likely a "neighbor" as very few city people drive out this way for jobs.  

6) And of course, this person thinks it is perfectly acceptable to throw out of his car window whatever he happens to be done with at the time and has no respect for other people or their property.  

So, to summarize, I have a disrespectful neighbor, going to and from work, drinking and driving in the middle of the day, and pitching beer cans as he goes.  What kind of person does that?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wellness Wednesday

What's on your plate?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about a free online program called SparkPeople where you can track your meals and activities to keep you on track with your diet and fitness resolutions.  One thing I've never considered tracking until an assignment in one of my nutrition classes is micronutrients, that is vitamins and minerals.  I've always focused on the macronutrients of protein, fats, and carbs.  Within the SparkPeople program, there is an option where you can track micronutrients, such as iron, calcium, and vitamins and compare your intake to recommended levels.  Tracking those nutrients was an eye opener for me as I really had no idea whether or not I was receiving adequate levels of important nutrients.  

There are a number of other programs where you can track nutrition, including the USDA's Super Tracker, My Fitness Pal, Cronometer, and Fit Day.  I haven't used any of these other programs but the professor recommended the Super Tracker and fellow students recommended the others, in addition to Spark People.  I suggest you sign up for one of these programs and track your food for about four days.  I think you'll be surprised at the results.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What We Need

We need more of this:
Hope for Eco-Activists: Discovering an Environmental Faith
And less of this:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Quote for the Day

"We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless." 
~Paul Bowles

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Farm Friday

Well, it's not really Friday, but still better late than never.

We had another rough week on the farm.  One of our oldest goats, Sheena, who was also the sweetest goat, succumbed to old age.  When Sheena came to us, she was skin and bones and we had no idea how old she was.  Over the course of her first year with us, we fattened her up and she rewarded us by being one of the best mother goats we had.  She was such a good mother that one of her daughters, Blondie, refused to be separated from her once she reached maturity.  Bill would put Blondie in an adjacent pasture and somehow (we never learned how) Blondie would be found by Sheena's side in the wrong pasture.  She also loved to have her face scratched and would lift her head and close her eyes while you scratched and petted her.  We'll miss Sheena.

We also lost another adult and her kid, plus one more kid.  I spoke with a veterinarian from Virginia Tech and he said it was most likely parasites.  We did have an incident that could have been another sad event but turned out happy.  We have one mother goat that we're sure isn't pure Boer goat.  However, every kid she's ever had has looked like Boer goats should, until this year.  Jolene gave birth to twin boys, one that is the usual white with a brown head and one that is almost entirely brown and has white spots like a fawn.  Here he is:
One extremely cold night when Bill was checking on the goats, he realized this little guy was missing.  He walked the pasture two times and couldn't find him.  Of course, we were heartbroken as we thought he had died like the other kids or a coyote had gotten him.  I joined Bill for one last tour of the pasture, not expecting to find him.  However, Bill heard a little noise coming from our old cattle catcher and there he was!  Brownie (as I now call him) had decided to visit the goats in the adjacent pasture and had somehow gotten stuck.  So a good ending to a very cold and late night.

We got a little more snow yesterday but it's supposed to get warm again this week.  Warm is a relative term as I used to believe nothing below 75 degrees was "warm."  That is, until I moved to Virginia and experienced single digit temperatures for the first time in my life.  Although we do get bad weather here in the winter, we always get amazing sunsets.  Here's one from earlier this week:
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Documentary: Trashed

Here's a documentary I'm looking forward to watching.  It's in my queue at Netflix but it's not yet available.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wellness Wednesday

File:Medical X-Ray imaging TJC07 nevit.jpg
Hip replacement surgery is very common.  While the most common reason for this type of surgery is osteoarthritis, often the underlying reason is obesity.  Carrying around that extra weight is hard on our bones and joints thus leading to osteoarthritis and the need for hip surgery.  The New York Times reports that Johnson & Johnson, the maker of hip implants, has determined that their device will fail in 40% of patients within five years.  Further, those patients who are obese are likely to face other complications (such as infection) from the surgery.

While there are many individuals who need the surgery for reasons other than obesity, we should take preventative measures whenever possible.  Better to take preventative measures to avoid the pain and suffering associated with both osteoarthritis and the complications of hip replacement surgery by embarking on and maintaining life-long healthy habits in both your diet and activities.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New Class

Today I'm unexpectantly starting a class on nutrition.  A few weeks ago I looked through the online offerings at Coursera and found several that I was interested in.  Two didn't have start dates and one did, so I signed up for all three thinking that the two without dates would start later in the year.  The one with a start date beings next week.  Imagine my surprise when I received an email saying one of my classes begins today!  This course is titled "Fundamentals of Human Nutrition" and the description page says that students who complete it will be able to:
  • Identify the nutrients needed by humans and explain their major functions in the body, dietary sources, and the effects of insufficient as well as excessive intakes.
  • Describe the processes of food digestion and absorption and nutrient utilization.
  • Explain the meaning of energy balance, and methods to calculate energy needs
I'm excited about this class because the professor's personal interests include vegetarianism, obesity, and nutrition for disease prevention, all areas that are of great interest to me.  I'm looking forward to learning new and important things!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Reign of the One Percenters

The following article written by Christopher Ketcham and published in the November/December 2011 issue of Orion is a long read but one that really resonated with me and explained a lot of what has happened to our economy and our culture - and not just in New York City:

The Reign of the One Percenters

Income inequality and the death of culture in New York City

Photograph: William Steacy

For my daughter’s benefit, so that she might know the enemy better, know what he looks like, where he nests, and when and where to throw eggs at his head, we start the tour at Wall Street. It’s hot. August. We’re sweating like old cheese.
Here are the monuments that matter, I tell her: the offices of Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon; the JPMorgan Chase tower up the block; around the corner, the AIG building. The structures dwarf us, imposing themselves skyward.
“Linked together like rat warrens, with air conditioning,” I tell her. “These are dangerous creatures, Léa. Sociopaths.”
She doesn’t know what sociopath means.
“It’s a person who doesn’t care about anybody but himself. Socio, meaning society—you, me, this city, civilization. Patho, like pathogen—carrying and spreading disease.”
Long roll of eyes.
I’m intent on making this a teachable moment for my daughter, who is fifteen, but I have to quit the vitriol, break it down for her. I have to explain why the tour is important, what it has to do with her, her friends, her generation, the future they will grow up into.
On a smaller scale, I want Léa to understand what New York, my birthplace and home, once beloved to me, is really about. Because I’m convinced that the beating heart of the city today is not its art galleries, its boutiques, its restaurants or bars, its theaters, its museums, nor its miserable remnants in manufacturing, nor its creative types—its writers, dancers, artists, sculptors, thinkers, musicians, or, god forbid, its journalists.
“Here,” I tell her, standing in the canyons of world finance, “is what New York is about. Sociopaths getting really rich while everyone else just sits on their asses and lets it happen.”
Talk is cheap, anger without action is a turnoff, and even at fifteen my daughter sensed that her father’s rage was born of impotence. I thought of Mark Twain’s line, “The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.” A few weeks later, Léa was gone, back to France, where she lives with her mother. I had new material to chew into bitter cud. It was a report titled “Grow Together or Pull Further Apart?: Income Concentration Trends in New York,” issued in December 2010 by a Manhattan-based nonprofit called the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI). The twenty-five-page report only quantified in hard data what most New Yorkers—the ones struggling to survive (most of us)—understood instinctively as they watched their opportunities diminish over the past three decades.
New York, the FPI informs us, is now at the forefront of the maldistribution of wealth into the hands of the few that has been ongoing in America since 1980, which marked the beginning of a new Gilded Age. Out of the twenty-five largest cities, it is the most unequal city in the United States for income distribution. If it were a nation, it would come in as the fifteenth worst among 134 countries ranked by extremes of wealth and poverty—a banana republic without the death squads. It is the showcase for the top 1 percent of households, which in New York have an average annual income of $3.7 million. These top wealth recipients—let’s call them the One Percenters—took for themselves close to 44 percent of all income in New York during 2007 (the last year for which data is available). That’s a high bar for wealth concentration; it’s almost twice the record-high levels among the top 1 percent nationwide, who claimed 23.5 percent of all national income in 2007, a number not seen since the eve of the Great Depression. During the vaunted 2002–07 economic expansion—the housing-boom bubble that ended in our current calamity, this Great Recession—average income for the One Percenters in New York went up 119 percent. Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the city rose to an all-time high last year—higher even than during the Great Depression—with a record 113,000 men, women, and children, many of them comprising whole families, retreating night after night to municipal shelters.
But here’s the most astonishing fact: the One Percenters consist of just 34,000 households, about 90,000 people. Relative to the great mass of New Yorkers—9 million of us—they’re nobody. We could snow them under in a New York minute.
And yet the masses—the fireman, the policeman, the postal worker, the teacher, the journalist, the subway conductor, the construction worker, the social worker, the engineer, the architect, the barkeep, the musician, the receptionist, the nurse—have been the consistent losers since 1990. The real hourly median wage in New York between 1990 and 2007 fell by almost 9 percent. Young men and women aged twenty-five to thirty-four with a bachelor’s degree and a year-round job in New York saw their earnings drop 6 percent. Middle-income New Yorkers—defined broadly by the FPI as those drawing incomes between approximately $29,000 and $167,000—experienced a 19 percent decrease in earnings. Almost 11 percent of the population, about 900,000 people, live in what the federal government describes as “deep poverty,” which for a four-person family means an income of $10,500 (the average One Percenter household in New York makes about that same amount every day). About 50 percent of the households in the city have incomes below $30,000; their incomes have also been steadily declining since 1990. During the gala boom of 2002–07, the trend was unaltered: the average income in the bottom 95 percent of New York City households declined.
According to the FPI, the wealth of the One Percenters derives almost entirely from the operations of the sector known as “financial services,” whose preoccupation is something they call “financial innovation.” The One Percenters draw the top salaries at commercial and investment banks, hedge funds, credit card companies, insurance companies, stock brokerages. They are the suit people at Goldman Sachs and J. P. Morgan and AIG and Deutsche Bank. To get a sense for how their fortunes have blossomed, consider the fact that the largest twenty financial institutions in the U.S., almost all of them headquartered in New York, now control upward of 70 percent of the country’s financial assets, roughly double what they controlled in the 1990s.
And what do the suit people do to earn such heaping returns? At one time, the financial sector could be relied upon to allocate capital for the building of things that society needed—projects that also invariably created jobs. But productivity is no longer its purview. Lord Adair Turner, a financial watchdog and former banker in the city of London—the other world capital of finance—recently denounced his class as practitioners and beneficiaries of a “socially useless activity.” Paul Woolley, who runs a think tank in London called the Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality, observed that the “presumption that financial innovation is socially valuable” was a kind of metaphysics. “It wasn’t backed by any empirical evidence,” Woolley told John Cassidy, a staff writer for The New Yorker. Structured investment vehicles, credit default swaps, futures exchanges, hedge funds, complex securitization and derivative pools, the tranching of mortgages—these were shown to have “little or no long-term value,” according to Cassidy. The purpose was to “merely shift money around” without designing, building, or selling “a single tangible thing.” The One Percenter seeks only exchange value, as opposed to real value. Thus foreign exchange currency gambling has skyrocketed to seventy-three times the actual goods and services of the planet, up from eleven times in 1980. Thus the “value” of oil futures has risen from 20 percent of actual physical production in 1980 to 1,000 percent today. Thus interest rate derivatives have gone from nil in 1980 to $390 trillion in 2009. The trading schemes float disembodied above the real economy, related to it only because without the real economy there would be nothing to exploit.
Behold, then, the One Percenter in his Wall Street tower. He creates “value” by tapping on keyboards and punching in algorithms. He makes money playing with money, manipulating abstractions. He manufactures and chases after financial bubbles and then pricks them. He speculates on mortgages, car loans, credit card debt, the price of gas that keeps the real economy moving, the price of food that keeps the labor pool alive, always hedging his bets so that he comes out ahead whether society wins or loses. A study from the New Economics Foundation in England found that for every pound made in financial services in the city of London, roughly seven pounds of social wealth is lost—meaning the wealth of those in society who do productive work.
Finance as practiced on Wall Street, says Paul Woolley, is “like a cancer.” There is only maximization of short-term profit in these “financial services”—they are services only in the sense of the vampire at a vein. There is no vision for allocating capital for the building of infrastructure that will serve society in the future; no vision, say, for a post-carbon civilization; no vision for surviving the shocks of coming resource scarcity. The finance nihilist doesn’t look to a viable future; he is interested only in the immediate return.
Rotten Vegetables
The optimist will say that the wealth disparities in New York have been far worse in the past, and the optimist would be correct. When in 1869, for example, a young journalist named Henry George arrived in New York, already the most opulent city in America, he found that “amid the greatest accumulations of wealth, men die of starvation, and puny infants suckle dry breasts.” The inequalities got worse. There came the Panics of 1873 and 1884, which resulted from the speculation and stock fraud of the city’s financial and business elite. Epicentered in lower Manhattan, the panics—we’d call them crashes today—produced nationwide shock waves of mass unemployment, homelessness, hunger, years of depression and dislocation, and, at times, the specter of all-out chaos. President Grover Cleveland, aghast at the scope of the division between the few very rich and the many poor, concluded that the “wealth and luxury of our cities,” primarily enjoyed by the industrial monopolists and the financier and Wall Street class, was “largely built upon undue exactions from the masses of our people.” The exactions in New York, as with every city where unregulated industrial capital ran amok, were most felt in the profitable horrors of wage slavery: the fourteen-hour workdays, the miserable pay, the children forced into labor, the dangerous conditions on factory floors, the rents extracted by landlords for the opportunity to live in windowless, rat-infested, soul-destroying tenements.
In answer, across New York City throughout the 1880s there were strikes, marches, boycotts, gigantic torch-lit demonstrations. New York’s Central Labor Union (CLU), a branch of the Knights of Labor, whose national membership approached 700,000, welcomed all the “producing classes,” skilled and unskilled: the bricklayers, the jewelers, the printers, the industrialized brewers and machinists, the salesclerks, bakers, cloak makers, cigar makers, piano makers, musicians, tailors, waiters, Morse operators, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, whites and blacks, men and women. The only people they refused to welcome in their ranks, wrote historians Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, were “bankers, brokers, speculators, gamblers, and liquor dealers”—what the Knights and other radicals of the time called the “fleecing classes,” the “parasites,” the “leeches.”
The CLU and the Knights organized the first Labor Day parade in the United States, on September 5, 1882, marching twenty thousand strong from City Hall to Union Square, unfurling banners that said:LABOR BUILT THIS REPUBLIC AND LABOR SHALL RULE IT. And: NO MONEY MONOPOLY. And: PAY NO RENT. The seamstresses along the route waved handkerchiefs from windows and blew kisses at the marchers. When the ladies at their sills saw cops and thugs hired by the fleecing classes, they rained down rocks, eggs, rotten vegetables.
By 1886, the labor coalition was looking for a radical candidate for mayor, and they found one in Henry George, who by then had become a famous writer, known on four continents. Seven years earlier, he had published a book of economics called Progress and Poverty that during the last decades of the nineteenth century would outsell every book but the Bible. His chief contribution was to acquaint the lay American with the problem of “economic rent” in society. This was defined as revenue with no corresponding labor or productivity; economic rent was unearned income.
Those who benefited from this income were known as rentiers, and the most egregious rentier in George’s day was the landlord, who, sitting on land as it rose in value, got rich on the backs of his tenants “without doing one stroke of work, without adding one iota to the wealth of the community.” Political liberty required also economic liberty, said George, and economic liberty required doing away with the privileges of the rentier. “We are not called upon to guarantee all men equal conditions…but we are called upon to give to all men an equal chance,” said George. “If we do not, our republicanism is a snare and a delusion, our chatter about the rights of man the veriest buncombe.” George also proclaimed, “It is not enough that men should vote; it is not enough that they should be theoretically equal before the law. They must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of life.”
In declaring his candidacy, George decried the “principle of competition upon which society is now based.” He announced to an ecstatic public that his intention was “to raise hell!” He saw only corruption in government as it was then comprised, and suggested that “a revolutionary uprising might be necessary to turn out the praetorians who were doing the corporations’ bidding in government office.” But George was defeated in the 1886 campaign, and new and more advanced rentiers, typified by J. P. Morgan, with his offices at 23 Wall Street, rose to dominate the American political economy. By the turn of the twentieth century, Morgan had directed a massive consolidation of banking and, through the leverage of credit and debt, industry. This superconsolidation, which came to be known as monopoly finance capitalism, extended the influence of New York bankers nationwide to the point that, as Woodrow Wilson observed in 1911, “all our activities are in the hands of a few men” who “chill and check and destroy genuine economic freedom.”
It would take decades of labor unrest and protest, coupled with the near total collapse of monopoly finance capitalism after 1929, to smash the power of New Yorkers like Morgan and secure some measure of economic equality in the United States. The institutions exploited by the bankers—commercial banks, investment banks, insurance companies, stock brokerages—were broken up and regulated. Antitrust law barred the supersizing of corporations in mergers and acquisitions. The incomes of the very rich were heavily taxed. The finance rentier was placed in the cage where he belonged.
New York City stood at the forefront of the new progressivism. It was here that the nation’s first large-scale system of low-cost housing was built, here that some of the earliest labor and social welfare policies were developed and enforced—efforts to regulate working conditions on factory floors, reduce working hours, mandate equal pay for women. New York developed one of the largest social services sectors of any city in the United States. Its universities were free. It had twenty-two public hospitals. Its public transit system was the largest in the world, and cheap—you could ride fifteen miles for fifteen cents. It was still a city, with all the attendant ills of a metropolis, in many ways too big, entangled in bureaucracies, full of corruption and crime, congestion and pollution, racial and ethnic division. Yet by 1945, it was home to a strong and stable middle class, anchored in industry and the trades. It was becoming a city of equals. During this period of relative economic equality, roughly from World War II to around 1980—a period known to economic historians as the Great Compression, as income and wealth leveled out nationally following the reforms of the 1930s—the city also experienced a series of artistic and creative revolts that cemented its reputation as a cultural mecca. Jazz flowered here, so did folk music, so did the avant-garde of modern art, so did the Beats, so did punk and hip-hop.
A few years ago, an old family friend, whom I’ll call Anthony, went homeless at the age of sixty-eight and ended up sleeping in my dad’s Brooklyn basement, living on coffee and cigarettes. He had survived for years in a garret on the top floor of a brownstone on Strong Place, in the area once known as South Brooklyn, exchanging his labor for a roof and a toilet, his only foothold in a neighborhood where he’d worked for fifty years as an electrician and carpenter and plumber. But eventually the owner of the brownstone could see nothing more than cash in the pile of stone on Strong Place. A lot of landowners in South Brooklyn caught the greed bug during this time, when the real estate bubble began to inflate in 2002. The owner, who liked Anthony and told him he was sorry, sold to a speculator, left Brooklyn, and the brownstone was converted to condos.
Anthony, who never graduated high school, was a smart man, self-educated, and knew history. He knew that what was happening was part of a transformation of class, the wiping away of the class that wasn’t in hot pursuit of money. He was born in South Brooklyn on the eve of what he called the Great War. The Irish and the Italians fought in gangs on the waterfront, the mafia dumped bodies in the bay, and the merchant marines came and went in the boardinghouses and in the whorehouses. There were dockworkers, ironworkers, shipbuilders, grocers, laborers of all kinds, and, on occasion, there were weirdos who wrote books or painted on canvas for a living. Anyone could live here, because most anyone could afford it. I will not pretend that this is all the neighborhood amounted to; but it’s how Anthony remembered it, and for decades he had thrived, working where the work could be found, fixing whatever needed fixing. He had little interest in money, property, accumulation; his status, I gathered, was primarily tied to the quality of his workmanship. Then the ground fell out from labor in New York as industry fled at the dawn of globalization, and the stability of a life like Anthony’s was gone overnight—600,000 manufacturing jobs were lost from the city between 1968 and 1977. Over the next two decades, two-thirds of the city’s manufacturing jobs would disappear. The first wave of the gentrifiers arrived in the 1970s. They were my parents, who bought in South Brooklyn when property was still cheap.
“You have a single class now in the neighborhood, the mono-class of the rich,” Anthony told me one day. We were walking up and down Court Street, a stretch of shops and theaters and restaurants, looking for places and people he recognized. “No industry, no trades, no jobs for the average person to pull himself up. Now it’s all restaurants that the old-timers can’t afford. Now we got the Television Watchers, the Cell Phone Talkers. A whole class of men and women who watch TV or some version of it, like this internet thing. Sad. Free-thinking goes in the toilet. The Television Watchers start thinking alike, looking alike, buying alike, and they don’t know why.” After that conversation, I’d see him often on sunny days pacing Court Street, looking as lost as a child.
It’s a classic case study in gentrification: the old man gets pushed out by a land-value bubble as the new generation—white, affluent, professional—crowds in with gibberish about slow food and microbrews and Wi-Fi access. There have been real estate booms and busts throughout the history of New York—prices skyrocketing, enriching speculators, impoverishing renters, then impoverishing the speculators when prices crash—but this latest boom does not appear to be cyclical. It looks permanent, for it is driven by the permanency of the One Percenters, who can afford to bid up prices and keep them up while corralling an ever-larger portion of the city’s wealth. New York is thus increasingly ghettoized by class. Forty years ago, Daniel Friedenberg, a real estate developer who became disgusted at his line of business, predicted that the city would come to resemble “a grotesquely enlarged medieval town with each caste in its own quarter.” It has come to pass. As for Anthony, I do not know where he is today. He might be dead.
And what of the city as engine of culture? The art critic Robert Hughes pronounced New York a fading star as early as 1990—just ten years into our new Gilded Age—“when the sheer inequality of New York became overpowering,” he wrote. “Could a city with such extremes of Sardanapalian wealth and Calcutta-like misery foster a sane culture?” Hughes declared it could not. Between 1980 and 1990, the One Percenters in New York roughly doubled their take of income, from 12 percent to 20 percent, and this conspicuous concentration of money inflated the art market, which was soon “run almost entirely by finance manipulators, fashion victims and rich ignoramuses.” The “impulses of art appreciation and collecting,” lamented Hughes, were now “nakedly harnessed to gratuitous, philistine social display.” At the same time, rents skyrocketed, driven by speculative real estate development. By the 1980s, wrote Hughes, “the supply of affordable workspace for artists in Manhattan finally ran out.” In a somber observation, Hughes noted, “It was always the work of living artists, made in the belief that their work could grow best there and nowhere else, that fueled New York. The critical mass of talent emits the energies that proclaim the center; its gravitational field keeps drawing more talent in, as in the combustion of a star, to sustain the reaction. The process is now dying.”
Thirty years on, with rents at historic highs, this has been a long death march, swallowing in its pall not only the artist, but the writer, the poet, the musician, the unaffiliated intellectual. The creative types sense that they are no longer wanted in New York, that money is what is wanted, and creative pursuits that fail to produce big money are not to be bothered with. But it is rent, more than anything else, that seals their fate. High rent lays low the creator, as there is no longer time to create. Working three jobs sixty hours a week at steadily declining wages, as a sizable number of Americans know, is a recipe for spiritual suicide. For the creative individual the challenge is existential: finding a psychological space where money—the need for it, the lack of it—won’t be heard howling hysterically day and night.
Crain’s New York Business, not known as a friend of the arts, reports the endgame of the trend identified by Hughes, namely that the young painter and sculptor are now sidestepping New York altogether, heading instead to cities like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and overseas to Berlin—wherever the rents are low and the air doesn’t stink of cash. The Times reports that freelance musicians in New York are killed off in a marketplace that no longer has need for them. The once-great Philharmonics, mainstay of a New York tradition, are crippled from lack of listeners, lack of funding; Broadway replaces the live musician in the well with the artifice of sounds sampled out of computers. New York loses its “standing as a creative center,” reports Crain’s. It becomes “sterile.” It is “an institutionalized sort of Disney Land” where “art is presented but not made.” Henceforth it will no longer be “known as a birthplace for new cultural ideas and trends.”
In Brooklyn, I bump into a newspaper editor I once worked with who tells me he is abandoning the city. He talks of Costa Rica, the dark side of the moon, even Los Angeles. Anywhere but New York. “It’s just too depressing to watch what’s happened,” he tells me. “The place is creatively bankrupt.” He had freelanced at the paltry rates that freelancers are expected to survive on—the wages dropping always lower, the marketplace for journalism devalued by “content mills” and “information aggregators” staffed by content serfs producing blog entries. Then he attempted to start a small newspaper in Brooklyn. The investors weren’t interested. “They want digital projects that promise an all-or-nothing billion dollars,” he tells me. “I just don’t get that buzzy creative vibe from New York anymore. I see mercenarianism. Cynical ambition. Monied dullness. People trying to get rich and cash out. It’s always a CEO and CTO and CFO launching a new web property. Not writers and editors getting together because they have common visions.”
This is old news. Technologic advances in the digital world order now mandate that the journalist vies in the editorial room with technocrats advising on the method for tweaking headlines and articles to the rhythm of Google. The model is from advertising: find what people want to hear, then echo it in the news so that they will be attracted to hear more of it. “If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money,” writes author Jaron Lanier. “If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than truth or beauty. If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and contentless… Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.” No surprise then that the most lucrative “creative” jobs in New York for the “aggregating” of “content” are not in journalism but in corporate media, advertising, and marketing—the machines of manipulation and deceit.
“Everyone was broke and no one cared,” said a friend of mine recently, describing Brooklyn in the 1970s. The people he knew back then, before New York degenerated into a city run by and for the rich, “lived it up. They were freer and they were happier, because they weren’t so uptight about the money thing.” I think what my friend was saying was this: it was easier not to care about appearing to have money, easier on mind and spirit not to have to worry about the appurtenances of affluence.
His observation happens to be supported by a good deal of scholarship in the social sciences. Among developed nations, the evidence shows that healthier and happier societies—societies that are more sane, less uptight, whose members for the most part are enjoying life—are usually those with more equal distribution of wealth and income. The opposite correlation holds true: regardless of total wealth as measured by GDP, unequal societies appear to be less healthy and less happy—suffering, for instance, lower life expectancy, lower educational achievement, higher rates of obesity, more infant mortality and more mental illness and more substance abuse.
Richard Wilkinson, an emeritus professor of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham in England, offers a sweeping hypothesis to explain the causality in the correlations. Economic inequality, he and coauthor Kate Pickett write in The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, “seems to heighten people’s social evaluation anxieties by increasing the importance of social status. . . . If inequalities are bigger, so that some people seem to count for almost everything and others for practically nothing, where each one of us is placed becomes more important.” The result is “increased status competition and increased status anxiety,” whose effect on well-being is not to be underestimated. Scientists measuring stress-induced hormones in human beings have found that subjects were most stressed when faced with a task that included the opportunity for others to judge their performance—a “social-evaluative threat” to self-esteem and status, where the fear is that others might judge you negatively. A stressed person typically has higher cortisol, a steroid hormone that prepares body and mind to fend off danger and manage in an emergency. But if cortisol is high much of the time, it can act as a slow poison: the immune system is weakened, blood pressure rises, learning is impaired, bone strength is reduced, and, in some instances, the appetite is grossly stimulated. Wilkinson argues that, in a more unequal society, people become more stressed and insecure, vying in the hierarchy of status—more prone to feeling inadequate, defective, incompetent, foolish. And more sick both in body and mind.
The literature of the psychosocial effects of status competition and anxiety, to which Wilkinson’s work is only the latest addition, points to a broad-stroke portrait of the neurotic personality type that appears to be common in consumer capitalist societies marked by inequality. I see it all around me in New York, most acutely among young professionals. The type, in extremis, is that of the narcissist: Stressed, to be sure, because he seeks approval from others higher up in the hierarchy, though distrustful of others because he is competing with them for status, and resentful too because of his dependence on approval. He views society as unfair; he sees the great wealth paraded before him as an affront, proof of his failure, his inability, his lack. The spectacle of unfairness teaches him, among other lessons, the ways of the master-servant relationship, the rituals of dominance, a kind of feudal remnant: “The captain kicks the cabin boy and the cabin boy kicks the cat.” Mostly he is envious, and enraged that he is envious. This envy is endorsed and exploited, made purposeful by what appear to be the measures of civilization itself, in the mass conditioning methods of corporatist media: the marketeers and the advertisers chide and tease him; the messengers of high fashion arbitrate the meaning of his appearance. He is threatened at every remove in the status scrum. His psychological compensation, a derangement of sense and spirit, is affluenza: the seeking of money and possessions as markers of ascent up the competitive ladder; the worship of celebrities as heroes of affluence; the haunted desire for fame and recognition; the embrace of materialistic excess that, alas, has no future except in the assured destruction of Planet Earth and of every means of a sane survival.
Look not to the youthful counterculture to challenge this madness. I am thinking here of the phenomenon of New York’s postmodern “hipster.” Forget that the term originated in the urban black subculture of the 1940s, primarily in New York, where the hipster maintained a style and language of nonconformity that was also implicitly a political statement, for the hipster stood apart from white authority (read: the cops) and was therefore menacing, subversive. Forget that the “white Negro” hipster of the 1950s, characterized in an essay of that name by Norman Mailer (a New Yorker) and represented in the ranks of the Angry Young Men and the Beatniks (also New Yorkers), stood by choice and necessity outside the mainstream, for yesteryear’s hipster wanted nothing to do with ’50s affluence, the cult of advertising, the postwar national security state, its standing armies and atom bombs.
The neohipster is a grotesque perversion of the original. If he fetishizes and hybridizes the cultural costumes of old hip—borrowing from the Beat poet, the jazzman, the rapper, the skater, the punk—it is only as a mockery of authentic anti-authoritarian countercultures. The neohipster is a creature of the advertisers: affluent and status-anxious, which means that he is consumerist and, in the manner of all conspicuous consumers, conforming to the demands of narcissistic chic. The “hipster zombies,” writes journalist Christian Lorentzen, are “more likely to be brokers or lawyers than art-school dropouts.” They are “the idols of the style pages, the darlings of viral marketers and the marks of predatory real estate agents.” They are fauxhemians. And not much in the way of creative product has issued from their midst. The “hipster moment,” per New York Magazine, did not “produce artists.” It produced tattoo artists. “It did not produce photographers, but snapshot and party photographers… It did not produce painters, but graphic designers. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts.”
Hipster culture today, writes author Jason Flores-Williams, “is harmless culture. And that’s an epic tragedy because being hip used to mean that you were heroic and dangerous. That you waged war on soullessness and greed through art and resistance. Being hip meant that you wanted upheaval in society. Being hip meant you were intense lower class, not detached upper class. Being hip meant being revolutionary.”
The cultural nihilism of the neohipster—it is nothing less—has its corollary in financial nihilism: they each arose at roughly the same moment, and they each have produced nothing of value. That the counterculture has no fist raised against the banker is obviously to the banker’s benefit. Every generation of youth since World War II has attempted to smash old customs and unjust systems—and terrified the elders. But not this one.
Politically, it is a disaster. The annals of popular resistance in America—in which turmoil and disruption have historically been the only means for achieving economic equality and social justice—teach us that without the energy of youth organized in the streets, there is little chance of progressive change. Culturally, what we are witnessing in the phenomenon of the neohipster is pattern exhaustion, which paleoanthropologists define as that moment in Stone Age societies when the patterns on pottery no longer advance. Instead, old patterns are recycled. With pattern exhaustion, there can be only repetition of the great creative leaps of the past. The culture loses its forward-looking vision and begins to die.
Cry Out!
It is August again, one year later, and my daughter is back in town. She brings with her a gift from Paris: a little book, barely a pamphlet, published in French under the title Indignez-Vous! which translates as “Cry Out!” or “Get Indignant!” or, perhaps more accurately, “Get Pissed Off!” It sold 600,000 copies in France when it was published last spring.
The author is a ninety-three-year-old French diplomat named Stéphane Hessel, who, during World War II, trained with the Free French Forces and British secret service in London, parachuted into Vichy France ahead of invading Allied troops in 1944, fought in the Resistance on his native soil, was captured by the Gestapo, and did time in two concentration camps. In “Cry Out!” Hessel reminds us that among the goals of the fight, as stated by the National Council of the Resistance following the defeat of Nazism, was the establishment in France of “a true economic and social democracy, which entails removing large-scale economic and financial feudalism from the management of the economy.” “This menace,” he writes—the menace of the fascist model of finance feudalism—“has not completely disappeared.” He warns that in fact “the power of money, which the Resistance fought so hard against, has never been as great and selfish and shameless as it is now.”
For the One Percenters are a global threat, found in every city where the technocratic managers of global capital seek to make money without being productive. They are in Moscow, London, Tokyo, Dubai, Shanghai. They threaten not merely the well-being of peoples but the very future of Earth. The system of short-term profit by which the One Percenters enrich themselves—a system that they have every interest in maintaining and expanding—implies everywhere and always the long-term plundering of the global commons that gives us sustenance, the poisoning of seas and air and soil, the derangement of ecosystems. A tide of effluent is the legacy of such a system. An immense planetwide inequality is its bequest, the ever-expanding gap between the few rich and the many poor.
Therefore, cry out—though the hour is late.
What is needed is a new paradigm of disrespect for the banker, the financier, the One Percenter, a new civic space in which he is openly reviled, in which spoiled eggs and rotten vegetables are tossed at his every turning. What is needed is a revival of the language of vigorous old progressivism, wherein the parasite class was denounced as such. What is needed is a new Resistance. We face, as Hessel describes, a system of social control “that offers nothing but mass consumption as a prospect for our youth,” that trumpets “contempt for the least powerful in society,” that offers only “outrageous competition of all against all.”
“To create is to resist,” writes Hessel. “To resist is to create.”
Such creativity, alas, is unlikely in New York. The city is regressing, and this sparks no protest from its people. Too many New Yorkers, it appears, want to join the One Percenters, want the all-or-nothing billion dollars. New York City, once looked upon as a crowning achievement of our civilization, one of its most progressive cities, is now the vanguard for the most corrosive tendencies in society. My daughter would probably do better to forget about this town.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Quote for the Day

young girl dancing happy in a field
"If you want to be happy, be."
~Leo Tolstoy

Saturday, January 19, 2013

And Now for Something Completely Different

For your viewing pleasure - a couple of classic scenes from the movie American Beauty (warning, one is rated "R"):


Friday, January 18, 2013

Farm Friday

It has been a very eventful week on the farm.  Saturday and Sunday were beautiful - in the 70s, which was record breaking for this area.  We visited a town called Floyd, which is about an hour and a half away.  An issue of Organic Gardening describes Floyd a place with "a mighty ambition:  to become self-sustaining.  Beyond the creative economy and tourism it draws, Floyd has plans to process and distribute agricultural products, train a new generation of organic farmers, and generate the energy it needs."  There is even an organization - Sustain Floyd - that is working to that end.  We had a delicious lunch at Oddfellas Cantina & Tapas Bar.  It's sign includes a farmer, a businessman, and a hippie which represents the cooperative nature of the the town.  Ah, if only our area was so forward thinking.  Instead, we're fighting those who think extracting uranium from the area for about 10 years is the way of the future.  

On Sunday, we had mixed blessings.  Nine kids were born - all happy and healthy.  Unfortunately, our guard dog Joey started showing signs of poor health on Friday and went downhill from there.  He passed away Sunday afternoon, basking in the sun in the pasture and among the goats that he loved and protected.  If all dogs go to heaven, I'm sure he's up there frolicking with Miracle.
Photo: We're very sad to report that our good dog Joey passed away yesterday.  He will be greatly missed.  RIP Sir Joey Whiteflint.
Joey hogging the bale of hay that was put out for the goats.
Joey looking well-groomed and handsome.
Joey with Miracle at his side.

Another shot of Miracle with her adopted "mama" Joey.
Monday the weather changed drastically and it rained nonstop until last night, when the rain turned to snow.  We had more kids born, the most recent this morning.  Unfortunately, we lost four babies.  Three were born overnight in the cold, wet pasture and hypothermia took them.  The fourth was from a mama who gave birth to one kid but couldn't quite deliver the second.  We had to intervene and so I took on the role of goat midwife.  The baby was born, weak but alive, so we left him with his mother.  The next morning we found him in the same spot, having been neglected by his mother.  We brought him into the house and cleaned and warmed him.  It seemed that he would recover but that evening he regressed and we lost him overnight.  We've finally come to realize that the mama goats instinctively know which babies will survive and which won't.  We've never taken in a rejected kid that actually survived.  It's a cold, hard fact of life.

Last night we lost power.  Thank goodness for our generator and gas log fireplace so we didn't suffer like many did.  The power returned about 12 hours later.  Here's what greeted us this morning:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Beware of Restuarants

Strawberry Lassi
Yesterday, after I posted Wellness Wednesday, I learned of a recently published report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest entitled Extreme Eating 2013 that exposes the calorie and other nutritional information on meals offered at common restaurant chains.  Often a healthy-sounding dish is not always what it appears to be.

A good example is the Bistro Shirmp Pasta from The Cheesecake Factory.  Sounds pretty healthy, right?  Seafood.  Pasta.  Mushrooms.  Arugula.  This meal packs whopping 3,120 calories and 89 grams of saturated fat.  That is in just an entree!  This doesn't include a drink, appetizer, salad, bread, and dessert.  Put in perspective, an average adult should consume about 2,000 calories (fewer if you're sedentary, and most Americans are) and at most 20 grams of saturated fat a day.  Smoothie King's tagline is "Nutritional Lifestyle Centers."    Again, sounds like they serve up some healthy smoothies.  Well, the 40 ounce "Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie" comes in at 1,460 calories and 22 teaspoons of added sugar.  Healthy-sounding sweet potato fries at Johnny Rockets has 590 calories (along with 800 mg. of sodium).  That is 110 calories more than the regular fries.  Read the report through this article and remember "buyer beware."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wellness Wednesday

Woman Jogging Blur
Today I'm continuing with the theme of helping readers keep their health-related New Year's resolutions (and if you've already fallen off the wagon, you can still return to and work on them - it's never too late).  Last week I shared an article about the most popular and most effective diets.  Today I want to point you in the direction of a great free website to help you no matter what diet or exercise plan you've decided is best for you.  It's called SparkPeople and it's chock full great resources, including food, exercise, and weight trackers, meal plans, articles on health-related topics, fun ways to educate yourself and earn "trophies," recipes, and communities you can connect with.  There's even a free online coaching option.  Check it out and give it a try!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Uranium: It's for Your Own Good, Damnit!

Our area is facing the battle of a lifetime - and future lifetimes.  There's uranium in them there hills.  The family (and their friends and highly gifted and supported politicians) that owns the site where it is located has engaged our community in an ugly fight.  They say they're doing it for patriotic reasons - energy security and economic prosperity for the community - and that modern uranium mining and milling practices are perfectly safe.  In fact, they flew some politicians on an all-expense-paid trip to France to see an operating mine - and they got to spend some time in Paris, again all expenses paid.  Of course, it wasn't a bribe.  "Pro" politicians have also promised huge tax revenue for the state from the mining and milling operation.  In researching this topic, I've found lots of holes in their reasoning.

First of all, the United States has all uranium needs already satisfied.  In addition, we haven't built a commercial nuclear plant since the 1970s.  And forecasts for energy needs for the next 20 years are for nuclear power to make up less than 1% of the supply.  The reality is that China, not the US, would be the likely buyer of this uranium and it seems like they're looking for a safer alternative to uranium for their nuclear needs.  Thorium is more abundant and reactors using it as a fuel source "cannot melt down or blow up....floods, earthquakes, fires, tsunamis or operator error cannot generate critical incidents."  I can understand their desire to find a safer alternative.  This also means uranium prices should drop considerably.

We're also told that "now" we know better and that we can safely mine and mill uranium.  However, the United States is busy cleaning up superfund sites and other problems from earlier uranium mines.  These sites are in the west, mainly on Native American reservations where the residents continue to experience serious health consequences as a result of having uranium mines nearby.  The companies that operated the mines aren't paying for this cleanup; taxpayers are.  This Slate article touches on some of these issues.  Do a Google search to see what happened with uranium mining in the West.

We're the government and we know what we're doing.  Remember Katrina.  The levies were supposed to be safe.  We know better now.  How can the powers-that-be guarantee the safety of storing uranium tailings in a wet climate that is subject to hurricanes?  Everyone downstream from the site is at risk - this includes people all the way to the coast in Virginia beach and even southward to people in North Carolina, people who have no say in the matter.

The "pro" side claims that, while there were problems with uranium mining in the past, modern mines are perfectly safe.  However, residents of Finland are seeing firsthand what can happen with modern, "safe" mines.  A nickle mine in Sotkamo, in eastern Finland, which was established in 2008, has sprung two leaks that resulted in high levels of uranium in the water supply.  Seems this mine was put together in a hurry, has had other problems, and initally the founder of the mining company was not as involved with the leak as he should have been.  At one of the uranium meetings where the state and federal government had representatives, again and again they spoke of safeguards to monitor the drinking water in the area.  Monitoring is not a preventative method.  That's equivalent to old saying about shutting the barn door after the horse is out as the Finnish people whose drinking water is contaminated have learned.  

West Virginia also know firsthand about how promises of economic prosperity can go unfulfilled.  When fracking was introduced there, similar promises of job creation, additional tax revenue, and general economic prosperity were made to residents.  None of it panned out.  These are the same promises we're getting from the uranium industry and the government.  

As far as the potential for employing local residents in the planned mining and milling operation, my husband astutely pointed out, do we really want inexperienced people learning on the job in the uranium business?  Especially when this proposed mine is venturing into uncharted territory with both a state government and regional area (east of the Rocky Mountains) that has relatively high rainfall, regular hurricanes, and a seismic fault line running through the state.  Most employees would be imported - and exported as soon as the mining is complete.  Abandoned towns do not experience economic prosperity.  Think of the abandoned mining towns of the West.

Our politicians (despite their political leanings) and most (if not all) municipalities and major business and community organizations in this area (and in others) have come out in opposition to lifting the ban.  They have said, after weighing the issues, that the end result will be economically devastating to our area.  Even with so-called job creation, the stigma of a uranium mine - and milling operation next door - would keep new businesses away from the area and drive those who could relocate to do so.

A handful of business owners and other residents have banded together to support the mining/milling effort.  One of these business owners is someone whose business I have frequented for almost 10 years, despite the fact that my neighbor said it is the most expensive one in the area and despite that I knew I did not support her politics.  This issue makes it impossible for me to continue using her services.  If she and others like her think that uranium mining will bring them more business, I suspect that instead, they are alienating many of their current clients and customers - and it will hurt them in the long run.  Unless, of course, they are investors in the company that plans to do the mining/milling.  It's hard to know because, as far as I can tell, there is no public list of the investors.

Our area does need jobs and the money spent on convincing politicians and businesses in other parts of the state to lift the ban could be better used creating jobs in clean energy and other areas. Our county, the largest in Virginia, lacks high speed internet.  If that infrastructure was added to this area, not only would jobs be added with the actual construction project, but it would open up many opportunities.  Our neighbor to the south, North Carolina, is investing in solar parks - why not here?  Germany, a country much farther north than our area, already generates one-fourth of their energy through solar and wind power.  Why not here?  There are so many other safe options for economic development.

Knowing that people in other parts of the state, people who are near other uranium deposits, are worried about mining in their area, our dear state legislators who are "pro-uranium" have cleverly crafted the bill so that it excludes any uranium site except for the one located in our county.  How wrong is that?  If it's safe and good for our community, it should be for everyone.

So, if people who desperately need jobs say no to lifting the ban and if the idea of "energy security" isn't true, what is all this about?  I'm not one to believe people set out to be evil or that there are planned conspiracies, but I do believe that ego and money tend to combine to make the perfect storm.  And I believe that's what is happening here. 

We don't want your "economic prosperity," damnit!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Quote for the Day

File:Gold Bars.jpg
Source:  Wikipedia Commons
"Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king,
And a king ain't satisfied,
till he rules everything."
~Bruce Springsteen

Friday, January 11, 2013

Farm Friday

It was a busy day today so I'm posting late.  A few highlights of the week:
  • Launched my etsy store where I'll be selling my aprons and other crafty things I come up with.
  • My new food processor arrived thanks to an unexpected gift of an Amazon gift card.
  • Stocked up on some staples at Weaver Street Market, a food cooperative in Hillsborough, NC.
  • Lola Jane (you remember her) returned to Charleston.  She's a coastal girl and missed the sea.  I expect she'll be back to visit Georgia again this summer.
  • I took down our Christmas decorations.  I decided to be more traditional this year and leave them up for the entire 12 days of Christmas, taking them down the day after Epiphany.
  • I've discovered yet another way to continue down the path of sustainability.  I now hang many of my clothes to dry on a clothes rod in the laundry room and/or a folding rack in the bathroom.  It saves about three dryer-loads a week.  It's actually very convenient as I put the items that will go into my closet on hangers so they're ready to go when dry.
  • Got back to yoga today after a very long break....Namaste!
  • I finally baked a nice loaf of white bread without using my bread machine (I'm pretty proud of it, hence the photos).  I've never been able to bake anything but a rock (not including quick breads or my most recent discovery of a crusty bread that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago).  I purchased some whole wheat bread flour at Weaver Street Market so I can make healthier loaves in the future.  This YouTube video was my inspiration  (I had to convert the British measurements to American):
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Poem: A Farm Picture

A Farm Picture
by Walt Whitman

Through the ample open door of the peaceful country barn,
A sun-lit pasture field, with cattle and horses feeding;
And haze, and vista, and the far horizon, fading away.