Gangsterism Reflects Failed Modern State

June 19th, 2016

Victims found dumped in Tijuana, Mexico
From: http://www.sneakymag.com/features/guide-mexican-drug-war/

Narco-Economy: Review of Gangster Warlords Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America, by Ioan Grillo. New York: Bloomsbury Press. 2016. Hardback $28.00. 378pp.

The author, Ioan Grillo is a British journalist living in Mexico City who has been on the Latin American beat since 2001. He is the author of a previous book about the cartels El Narco Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Grillo 2016). The book is thankfully footnoted and has an index and even though it reads a bit like a detective story, it has incisive analysis and references academic work to back up the author’s own on the ground analysis interviewing drug lords, street dealers, community residents, police, and government officials in Brazil, Jamaica, the UK, USA, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. With some 15 years of experience the author gives an on the ground perspective on the rise of the Narco shadow state in the Americas. Fueled by demand in the USA, the UK, Europe and increasingly, in the countries in which the gangs and Cartels operate, Grillo describes the conditions in which the gangs and Cartels thrive. Not focusing on the consumer end, or the production of the drugs so much as the sociology of the gang and cartel networks, how they manage to survive and thrive in nations with less well developed infrastructures than in the developed world providing real life alternatives for the chronically under and unemployed youth of the barrios and favelas as well as the small towns in where they are located.

Without a doubt this is an issue of import and as I read the book I became engrossed with the tales of these alternative state-lets emerging in the collapsed world of the global economy. Not only has neoliberalism failed to deliver the goods, but it has been complicit in destroying the infrastructure that would provide an alternative to collapse. This is the Disaster Capitalism Naomi Klein wrote about in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine where she describes how the shock doctrine to curb inflation in Bolivia prescribed by Jeffrey Sachs in the 1980’s led directly to massive unemployment, and pushed thousands of Bolivians into the Cocaine trade with an estimated one in ten in the coca business by 1989 (Klein 2007, 188). The victory of neo-liberal economics forced upon the Bolivian people, in a coup-less victory unlike the previous model Pinochet’s Chile, where the democratically elected communist Allende was overthrown in a CIA backed coup (78-80). But the neoliberal connection to the rise of the drug trade is unfortunately not very evident in Ioan Grillo’s book which is long on narrative and folksy descriptions of the Narco commanders and foot soldiers but is short on background analysis. His book certainly raises alarms as to the extent of the problem, and he does spend some time describing the vigilante movement in Mexico that emerged to contest the Knights Templar of Nazario Moreno in lieu of an effective government which had essentially ceded control of vast regions of Michoacán and Guerrero provinces to the cartels (Grillo 298-300). But while mentioning the Zapatistas as inspiring indigenous people to rise up by their example of a successful resistance to the Mexican state in forming an autonomous region, he does not really seem to understand the import of the rising which he almost dismisses as not serious. “Their armed challenge lasted only twelve days before a bishop brokered a cease fire” (299). What Grillo does not mention was the timing of the rebellion to coincide with the initiation of the NAFTA trade agreement which has proven to be so devastating to small farmers in Mexico were every farmer who could follow the debates over NAFTA knew that in the early 1990’s Mexican corn sold for $224 a ton and US Iowa corn sold for $110 a ton on the border (Womack 1999, 22). Free trade would be the death of the Mexican small holder farmers and inevitably would lead to the flooding of the markets with cheap American corn. John Womack’s description of the EZLN upon the towns of Chiapas has a different ring. “On January 1, 1994, some 3000 booted, uniformed, masked, and well trained men and women, all armed, many with Stern Mark II’s, AK-47’s, M-6’s, and Uzis, moved out from numerous clandestine bases, concentrated in several units, and captured San Cristóbal, two towns not far north, six more eastward toward the cañadas, two of them in pitched battles, and many villages elsewhere in the region” (12). Developing the background in some detail of the policies of the Mexican government, and attempts on the part of the mostly indigenous peasant farmers to call attention to their plight including a major anti NAFTA protest on the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the white oppressor in 1992 in which protest was largely peaceful (22), Womack unlike Grillo, explains the social, economic, and political context, including many supporting texts, including statements from the Zapatistas, with specific reference to symbolism of the January 1 rebellion as it related to the first day NAFTA went into effect (42).

Grillo mentions the traditions of the leftist guerrilla insurgencies of the 1970’s in Guerrero and to a lesser extent in Michoacán, noting the 1968 Tlatelolco Square massacre in passing, he treats the left in Mexico, as he did the revolutionary left in Brazil, and in Jamaica in an almost scornful manner, as merely the breeding ground for a more effective brand of gangster, writing of the Red Commando in Brazil, Grillo describes the leader he William da Silva Lima who “sees his crimes as political in a broader sense, and himself as a robber because he was born poor. This echoes the self-justification made by gangsters across the Americas (Grillo 2016, 64, 242). Simplistically noting that gang leaders tend to be readers and studious, as if that were the link that made gangs as powerful as they were (53). Grillo describes the M8 revolutionaries in Brazil dismissively describing Fernando Gabeira as the Green Party politician “photographed on Ipanema Beach wearing a purple women’s G-string…. [and] kidnapping the U.S. ambassador in MR8’s most notorious operation in 1969” (55). His description of the series of dictators who overthrew democratically elected governments, aided and abetted by the CIA as the result of a “moth bitten document with SECRET stamped on it” (51), as if the period was merely the result of US government paranoia. This dismissal of the period of the generals, the disappeared, the torture, and murder of leftists, unionists and others who merely attempted to express their civil rights, seems to play into the rather shallow content of the analysis overall. The author is constantly making pop cultural comparisons as he describes Williams as being like the Paul Newman character in the movie Cool Hand Luke, trivializes the oppression of the poor and turns the leader of the Red Commandos into a pop cartoonish figure, easily dismissed (44).

The recent murder of the indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres brings home the brazen level of violence in the nation of Honduras which has the highest per capita murder rate in the world (186). Co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Movements of Honduras (COPINH) which had participated in the opposition to the coup government in 2009 as part of the Refoundational Space resistance group (Webber and Gordon 2013, 46), Cáceres had more recently been active in opposing the building of a massive dam project by a Honduran company, Desarrollos Energéticos S.A., or DESA and had convinced several of its backers to withdraw funding from the dam project drawing the ire of DESA. The environmental activist had won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2014 among other awards (Pestano 2016). The environment of impunity in Honduras has fueled the violence against environmental activists in a nation where some 111 had been murdered between 2002 and 2014 (Global Witness 2015, 16). The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights at the UN has called for an independent investigation due to the lack of credibility of the President Juan Orlando Hernández government efforts to investigate the murder of Cáceres and her fellow activist Nelson Garcia (OHCHR 2016). As Blitzer in his article of April 11, 2016, in The New Yorker, pointed out that the Honduran regime claims to have the support of the FBI in its investigation of the murder was not true and the investigations were being conducted by a private investigator from New York. The fallout has even affected the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton where protesters have accused her of being responsible for the death of Cáceres due to Clinton’s involvement as Secretary of State in the U.S. government position not to call the overthrow of the Liberal Zelaya government in 2009 a coup (Pestano 2016).

Webber and Gordon state, the 2009 coup represented a consolidation of the neo-liberal agenda fused with militarism across the region from Columbia to Mexico (Webber and Gordon 2013, 18). Their research indicates that as neo-liberalism kicked into high gear in the 1990s, after all threats from the leftist groups in neighboring states had been defeated or otherwise neutralized, the Conservatives and Liberals implemented reforms that resulted in the dispossession of peasants of much of the gains from previous land reforms. People headed for the urban slums and the United States as rural poverty reached some 70% in the late 1990s (26). Maquiladoras expanded and in the slums gangs gained a foothold so that the conservative government under President Maduro was able to expand the military in a “war on gangs” (23-25, 32-33). “Violent crime has increased dramatically in Latin America in the wake of neoliberal restructuring. Central America is at the leading edge of this phenomenon” (32). Corruption in the government of Honduras with extends to the highest levels of the police force as well as prominent politicians as they have been implicated in the murder of the former Honduran Drug Czar in 2009 (Arce 2016).

Skipping this entire history, Grillo in his synopsis on the recent history of the Central American states glosses over the 1980’s leftist insurgency in El Salvador, the Sandinista overthrow of the U.S. backed dictatorship in Nicaragua, the brutal dictatorships in Guatemala, and the strongman rule in Honduras where he mentions the U.S. campaign against the Sandinista government under the Reagan administration which used the air base at Palmerola in Honduras to arm and support the Contras (Grillo 2016, 188-189). While mentioning the CIA backed coup in Guatemala in 1954, his three paragraph history lesson is boiled down to another pop cultural representation the Oliver Stone movie Salvador (189). While giving factual information, that he must assume readers are familiar with due to the briefness of his background briefing, the constant pandering to the reader with pop references, indicates a journalistic bias that assumes the reader will be lost or bored, without entertaining cultural titbits. Where Grillo has an interesting use of pop culture is in his identification of certain gang names and symbols with pop culture such as the relationship between the El Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha with a movie starring Charlton Heston The Naked Jungle, translated in Spanish as ‘Cuando Ruge la Marabunta” which translates as “When the Ants Roar” thus the Maras are a group of friends who gather together like ants in a mutual protection society Grillo gets his information from an anthropologist Juan Martinez (189-200). While this and other rather trivial information, such as how the Maras were originally associated with heavy metal culture in Los Angeles, where the gang formed among refugee and immigrant youth in the 1980’s, such trivial is not a substitute for a deeper analysis of the background of the conditions in Central America (195-196). Revealing that the child immigrant wave of 2014 was a direct result of U.S. deportations of gang members in Los Angeles back to their countries of origin, does not tell the reader much about the underlying conditions there other than to say the wars of the 1980s led to a refugee population settling in Los Angeles (203-204). Facile arguments such as the gang members fought because they liked to, and as a way to establish a reputation among the gang, does not go far in explaining the persistence of the gangs or the economic drivers behind the attraction of the gangs (199).
Grillo does do a decent job in tracing the cultural roots of the gangs and the sociological attraction of being in a gang as a way to protect the recent immigrant youths in the potentially hostile streets of Los Angeles. A better analysis of the U.S. policy to deport plane loads of El Salvadoran gang members onto the impoverished streets of El Salvador after the 1992 truce between the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the El Salvadorian government would have been useful. The short sighted U.S. policy, out of sight out of mind came back to haunt the U.S. with the exodus of the children in 2014 (185-186). Interesting factors also indicate that simply eliminating the gang wars with truces don’t necessarily work, as the short term results may be a dip in violence but quickly return to previous or higher levels (Katz and Amaya 2015). This would seem to indicate that the drivers for the violence is not a socially driven factor but has a strong economic driving force behind it and larger political dimensions that are not directly related to the immediate activities of individual gangs.

Conclusion

As the U.S. goes from one drug epidemic to another, with high grade heroin being the most popular in the news cycle of late (Ahmed 2015). The American appetite for drugs remains unabated and will not necessarily result in a decrease in the activities of the crime syndicates as drug legalization and harm reduction becomes increasingly the focus in the United States and other countries, witness the recent drug policy conference at the United Nations where the split between those who would double down on the punitive approach to drugs, were countered by the increasing view of the harm reduction parties who would reduce the violence resulting in something of an impasse (Glenza 2016). Clearly the policy of focusing on the war on drugs has been a disaster that has led to tine militarization of and occupation of poor communities around the world. If there was an intentional policy to oppress the poor around the world, the war on drugs could hardly have been improved upon. As neo-liberal practices have been increasingly causing disruption to traditional cultures and live styles around the world, there has been an increased disparity between the concentrations of wealth in the hands of the few, at the cost of social services in many countries, education, and traditional work opportunities, The results have been masses of young ambitious and desperate young men seeking out a path to follow their own aspirations to a better life. For thousands around the world and especially in Latin America that opportunity is in the cartels and the gangs.

Grillo describes the symptoms, and the personal stories of the actors, foot soldiers, tactical middle men and masterminds of this new world in which the alternative economy has emerged. His focus is on sensational descriptions with some background information for the casual reader with a focus on the criminal sociology of the gangs and cartels. The book was interesting in a tabloid journalistic sense, although having personal experience in the underground economy and with gang members the voyeuristic aspects of the book were not particularly interesting. Grillo does not propose particularly profound solutions but he is to be admired for his willingness to tread upon the paths local journalists have been reporting upon for years, describing the development of the underground economic and quasi-political response to the neo colonial and neo liberal policies of the wealthy elites of the world.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Azam. Aug. 29, 2015 Young Hands in Mexico Feed Growing U.S. Demand for Heroin. The New York Times. Accessed 2 April, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/world/americas/mexican-opium-production-rises- to-meet-heroin-demand-in-us.html?_r=0
Arce, Alberto. (April 22, 2016). Honduran Ex-Police Chief Says Government Faked Documents in Assassination Case. The New York Times. Accessed 24 April 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/world/americas/honduras-ramn-sabilln-pineda- police-antidrug-assassination.html?_r=0
Blitzer, Johnathan. (April 11, 2016).No Answers in the Murder of Berta Cáceres. The New Yorker. Accessed 22 April 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/no- answers-in-the-murder-of-berta-caceres
Glenza, Jessica (21 April 2016). Decriminalize all drugs, business and world leaders tell UN. The Guardian. Accessed 21 April 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/21/un-special -session-global-drug-policy- failure-critics-say
Global Witness (2015). How Many More? 2014’s deadly environment: the killing and intimidation of environmental and land activists, with a spotlight on Honduras. Global Witness Limited Accessed 22 April 2016. https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/how-many-more/
Katz, Charles Max and Amaya, Luis Enrique (2015) The gang truce as a form of violence intervention : implications for policy and practic. Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo, San Salvador, El Salvador, América Central. ISBN 9789996149313 (E-Book, inglés, resumen)
Klein, Naomi. (2007). The Shock Doctrine The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Picador.
OHCHR. (22 April 2016). Honduras murders: UN Expert urges independent investigation into killings of rights defenders. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR). Geneva. Accessed 22 April 2016. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=19864&=E#st hash.pI5j67VO.dpuf
Pestano, Andrew V. (April 19, 2016). Why this protester is blaming Clinton for the murder of a Honduran activist. UPI. United Press International, Inc. Accessed 23 April 2016. http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2016/04/19/Why-this-protester-is-blaming-Clinton- for-the-murder-of-a-Honduran-activist/8981460996811/
Webber, Jeffery R., and Todd Gordon. 2013. “Post-Coup Honduras: Latin America’s Corridor of Reaction.” Historical Materialism 21, no. 3: 16-56. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 24, 2016).
Womack, John Jr. (1999). Rebellion in Chiapas an historical reader. New York: The New Press.

Jens Stoltenberg NATO Sec General, Foreign Policy Advisors-Cruz, Trump, Sanders

April 10th, 2016

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks on the state of affairs with NATO during the Atlantic Council at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, USA on April 6, 2016.
April 07, 2016| Credit: Anadolu Agency

Jens Stolenberg speaking before the Atlantic Council on April 6, 2016, made encouraging noises for the United States and the advocates of the establishment view that the NATO alliance is the right wing of the American imperial project. Japan and the Asian Alliance being the left wing. Stoltenberg argued for increased defense spending on the part of NATO members to their 2% commitments (A Conversations with NATO Secretary General 2016).

“Only Poland this year joined the four other countries, out of 28 total NATO members, that are meeting the alliance’s goal of spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defense. The other four are the U.S., Great Britain, Greece and Estonia.Overall, six countries are raising and six are cutting their military spending as a proportion GDP this year when compared with 2014, and the rest are staying the same” (Bendavid 2015, np).

The lack of unity among the NATO members in their commitment to become the tool for policy generated largely from Washington, DC is evident in these numbers. Wishful thinking on the part of Stoltenberg is largely driven by a desire to reassure the US Congress which he had spoken before earlier in the day. The presence of the Secretary General at the Atlantic Council at which he pointedly refused to be baited into commenting on the statements of some of the American Presidential Candidates, should be interpreted in my view, based on the prologue to the question “wild ideas spouted by some of the candidates” as being a polemic to provide an oblique comment on the commentary of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders, leaving Hillary Clinton and perhaps John Kasich would be acceptable.

Regarding the Cruz team, they are a mix of NeoCons and Rigt wing Extremists like “Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration Pentagon official who has emerged as a lightning rod in the Obama era, accused by the Southern Poverty Law Center of being one of the nation’s leading Islamophobes” (Lake 2016, np). To the left, in Republican terms is Eliot Abrams from the Bush Administration who advises against demonizing Islam, as well as Mary Habeck an expert on Jihadist organizations who advocates a more moderate stance also. Victoria Coates is Cruz’s main foreign policy advisor. She apparently deliberately included the rabid Islamophobes with the more traditional Neocons, bringing the debate to a much harder line than has been the norm in recent Republican administrations.

Looking at Donald Trump there is marked move away from the top ranks of the foreign policy establishment. “The advisors he has enlisted appear to have spent little to no time as policymakers, and of those who have served in the military, few have top-level experience. One has been consistently condemned by Muslim rights groups and another was investigated while working as the Pentagon’s inspector general” (Lee 2016, np). The members include Keith Kellog who works in intelligence and security firms. Carter Page an investments firm manager who wrote a blog post that is similar to the chickens coming home to roost argument made famous by Malcolm X and that got Ward Churchill in so much trouble. George Papadopoulos is “a director at the London Centre of International Law Practice. In its mission statement, the group views global issues with a “promotion of peace,” which falls into accord with Trump’s noninterventionist approach” (Lee 2016, np). He also was an economic advisor for the Ben Carson campaign. Also Walid Phares professor at George Washington University with controversial links to Christian Militias in Lebanon accused of massacres of Muslims. He defends some of Trumps rhetoric as in this quote from NPR “Mr. Trump, because we are in a political season, he’s making those statements, but when he will come to the White House … then he’s going be tasking experts to answer that question, and I’m not sure that the experts are going to recommend any form of torture” (Phares cited by Lee 2016).
There are also a number of former military with service in the field as well as a Silver Star recipient Bert Mizusawa. Joseph Schmitz the former Pentagon Inspector General has been accused of blocking investigations of Bush administration officials during his tenure. This group is a mixed bag of possibly interesting out of the box thinkers, but none of them are as Lee states, top level operatives in the Washington establishment.

Sanders has still been somewhat reluctant to release information regarding his foreign policy team. Larry Korb “a defense policy expert at the Center for American Progress” (Crowley 2016, np), has been offered a position according to this Politico article but there is not much more on it He served in the Reagan administration. Another Bill French, a policy analyst at the left-leaning National Security Network” has become a foreign policy staffer. Bill French, a policy analyst at the left-leaning National Security Network” (Crowley 2016), as a foreign policy staffer. Lawrence Wilkerson the former aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has also been helping the Sanders campaign. He is a well known critic of the invasion of Iraq. Speaking about the CIA’s past activities Sanders said “The CIA plays an important role,” he added. “But have they done things which they should not have done on behalf of the United States government? Absolutely” (Crowley 2016). He is a critical voice but represents a position that seems to be not much further to the left of President Obama, a critical realist who has renounced his 1974 view that the CIA should be abolished.

Hilary and Kasich representing more main stream views will not be subject to discussion at this point. I would only add that Sanders and Trump take a more conservative position regarding foreign policy while in my view Ted Cruz has the more extreme interventionist view, perhaps even more hawkish than Clinton although not the hawk that his erstwhile rival Rubio was.

Works Cited

A Conversation with NATO Secretary General H.E. Jens Stoltenberg. April 6, 2016 - 4:00 pm. Atlantic Council. Accessed 9 April 2016. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/events/upcoming-events/detail/a-conversation-with-nato-secretary-general-he-jens-stoltenberg

Bendavid, Naftali June 22, 2015 9:03 a.m. ET Just Five of 28 NATO Members Meet Defense Spending Goal, Report Says
Report comes amid concern over Russia’s growing military assertiveness. Wall Street Journal. Accessed 9 April 2016. http://www.wsj.com/articles/nato-calls-for-rise-in-defence-spending-by-alliance-members-1434978193.

Crowley, Michael. 02/24/16 04:10 PM EST Updated 02/24/16 04:48 PM EST/ Sanders reaches out for foreign-policy help. Politico. Accessed 9 April 2016. http://www.politico.com/story/2016/02/bernie-sanders-foreign-policy-help-219744#ixzz45PpgOmcS.

Lake, Eli. March 17, 2016 6:00 AM EST. Cruz Assembles an Unlikely Team of Foreign-Policy Rivals. Bloomberg View. Accessed 9 April 2016. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2016-03-17/cruz-assembles-an-unlikely-team-of-foreign-policy-rivals

Lee, Kurtis. 7 April 2016. 3: AM. Here’s who Donald Trump is taking foreign policy advice from. Los Angeles Times. Accessed 9 April 2016. http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/la-na-trump-foreign-policy-team-20160407-htmlstory.html

Sanders Campaign, Apathetic Youth, and Grumpy Old Me.

February 28th, 2016


From Brecorder.com- Bernie Sanders Presidential Candidate.

I almost never post here anymore. School, work and my granddaughter are eating up my time. But I thought I would take some of my homework time to make a couple of comments. Perhaps it was watching The Big Short that got me fired up, or the work doing get out the vote calling for the Bernie Sanders campaign today. Whatever the reason, I am writing some of my observations on the current scene around me.

Once I got the hang of the automated dial system, I did pretty good calling to get out the vote for Sanders. Mostly I skipped the script and got to the point. I hate it when people read from scripts and so I didn’t feel like subjecting anyone to my version of the same. More Sanders supporters answered than Hillary supporters, fewer Republicans than I expected and lots of no answers since it was Saturday evening. I found myself encouraging people to go to the caucuses or primaries, no matter who they supported. Interestingly there was only one outspoken Trump supporter in the batch and only one lady lectured me on the evils of socialism. America truly does seem more liberal, or at least more frustrated with the system than four years ago. I think the failure of the Obama administration to gain significant headway has broiled over into the public at large. The copays on Obama care are too high, the wages are still stagnant, and youth unemployment is way too high.

Having my stepdaughter living with me has made me very aware of the levels of youth unemployment, that being around the relatively privileged student population at the university hasn’t. She is out of work, all of her friends are out of work or have marginal Mc Jobs. The worst part is the total lack of interest in participation in the political process. They have bought into the radical critique of the Occupy movement but they are totally apathetic in terms of doing anything about it. The same goes for the students, although not to the same degree. I spent a long five minutes in my Political Geography class lecturing kids on how things haven’t changed as much as they would like, because of the same generalized sense of malaise and despair over their personal ability to make a difference. It was a bit shocking actually.

Well I beat my head against the wall with my step daughter and her friends, but they just seem to want to hang out, smoke pot and joke around. I guess on a superficial level my generation was the same from an outside perspective, but we were fired up with ideals of revolution. Much of the changes we fought for have become part of their daily life and they just accept, liberal pot laws, racial tolerance and sexual diversity as normal. On the other hand I do find anti-homeless attitudes that I find inexplicable. My step daughter even approves of the gentrification of downtown LA, even though it meant that her former boyfriend could no longer afford to live there. She didn’t get connection between Whole Foods entering the neighborhood and the increased rents. Explanations of the dynamics of the situation on my part simply go over her head. I have actually had comments from her friends that I am spreading negative vibes. That sort of no-nothingism, has led me to the unhappy conclusion that all this easy access to pot is supporting an apathetic view that I find alarming. These kids are not getting high and dreaming of revolution. I am not sure what they dream of. Based on what I overhear of their conversations it is not of a particularly high intellectually stimulating order.

OK, I can hear it now, gramps is getting grumpy. I hear my irrelevance reflected in the incomprehension to my attempts at giving them political analysis. When I turn on CSPAN or a documentary about current events, on the TV in the living room they put on the ear plugs and turn up the volume of the latest Britney Spears tune on their iPods. Funny all these jobless broke kids have iPhones and recently I discovered that there is a thriving black market in stolen and second hand Apple products that these kids participate in. In fact it seems that they live in a third world like cash and barter economy. Most of them have little or no ID, don’t have driving licenses, take services like Uber or the disdained public transit, and seem to all have food stamps, but they don’t cook! My step daughter loves to buy overpriced organic junk food from Whole Foods. I tell her at least go to Trader Joes or Ralphs where the stuff is less expensive and the owner’s political views are not quite so fascistic. She likes the atmosphere, when she shops at Whole Foods she says she feels like she is part of the young healthy and successful. Explaining that that is simply a marketing ploy on the part of Whole Foods does not work, rational decision making is not her strong suit or seemingly something that any of her friends indulge in. They hang out, some at the Hare Krishna temple, and wait, for what I am not sure, but they seem pretty fatalistic about their prospects.

I don’t exactly live the life of a middle class success story. In fact I try to use my life as a warning as to what not to do with your life as I am spending my late working life trying to catch up and stash a little savings while I still can. The Revolution didn’t happen and as things stand it looks like our Socialist Vanguard in Bernie Sanders is about to get crushed in the Democratic machine’s super delegate insurance policy that a truly populist candidate can be crushed before it can capture the nomination. I am less optimistic than I wish I could be about the prospects for change. But people are pissed and even if these kids are not part of the solution, I do hope that eventually they become uncomfortable enough to desire more. My step daughter made the comment that she would support a candidate that gave her free child care for her daughter. I told her that both Clinton and Sanders had polices to expand just that, but she had to participate in the struggle to make the changes happen, not wait for it to be handed too her as a given. I don’t know if she got it. But perhaps the discomfort of being a single parent will eventually prod her into activism. The lack of jobs, or the hassle getting her GED, or the fact that she and most of her friends are in their mid-twenties with few prospects may prod them reluctantly into action.

Perhaps, like during Occupy, enough of them will become inspired. They don’t pay enough attention to the political process to catch the Burn, even though I have Bernie Sanders signs, bumper stickers, tee shirt and buttons all over the apartment. One can hope something will get them going. Sometimes I wish we had another Vietnam War, now that was a great motivator, the Draft and an ugly war in a faraway jungle. Right now the military is something to aspire too for these kids. But then that is the general idea. No prospects, the military can pick and choose its cannon fodder. But that is another conversation.

Indigenous Tribes & ‘Green’ Energy Exploitation in California Desert

December 13th, 2015

This paper was presented in a Geography class studying the DRECP plan for Southern California. Since this was written the plan has been announced. There is a comment period in December 2015 before the Plan is finalized for Federal Lands in the California Desert. It allows for fast track development of Green energy in designated areas.

The Tribal Perspective on the Draft DRECP and EIR/EIS
By Gary Crethers, Nicole Beatty, Cheyenne Armstead, Cassandra Casapulla, and Derek Sanders
December 10, 2015.

Abstract: The draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), proposes to give renewable energy companies a fast track to cutting red tape by creating Development Focus Areas (DFA’s), where environmental impacts will be the least harmful. The affected regional tribes have concerns that Cultural impacts have taken a back seat and that the tribes were invited late to the process of critiquing the proposals. The Tribes have concerns over a lack of access to data from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), responsible for the plan, and have been pitted against one another in attempts to mitigate impacts on traditional lands due to the nature of the process of designation of one area of greater value over another. This paper addresses the concerns of the Tribes focusing on the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT), and the San Manual Band of Mission Indians (SMBMI).
Key Words: Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, Native American Tribes, Renewable Energy, Colorado River Indian Tribes, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Bureau of Land Management.

Introduction: In 2010 the BLM agreed to permit a 709 Megawatt solar farm to be built in the Imperial Valley desert, it would have taken up 6000 acres of public land. Problem was, the tribes were not consulted and The Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation opposed on those grounds, citing section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), among others. They claimed some 459 cultural resources were affected and they sued. Quechan Tribe v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, (755 F. Supp. 2d 1104, 1108-11 (S.D. Cal. 2010)). (Dreveskracht 2013, 433). The project, which would have been the largest in the nation, suffered a severe setback and lost most of its backing. The tribal complaint was one of procedure. The tribe had not been invited to the table and stood by their legal rights, making the point that they were not opposed to alternative energy, but to the lack of consultation, a costly error on the part of the BLM (Dreveskracht 2012). The Colorado River Indian Tribes have sued over the Blythe Solar Power Project known as the Genesis Project for a “mass disturbance” of cultural artifacts, in this case the BLM claims to have consulted the tribes but evidently the consultation was inadequate, costing additional millions to the project. In this case there was mitigation which Daniel McCarthy claims to have been adequate CRIT may beg to differ (Copley 2014; McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Dreveskracht 2012; Patch 2015). Clearly litigation causes the development of alternative energy resources setbacks, for energy development to proceed in the future, the tribes must be consulted and sensitivity to cultural factors must be maintained through the entire process. On the other hand in the suit against the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility Project, Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation v. United States Department of the Interior, (43 ELR 20047 No. 12cv1167-GPC, (S.D. Cal., 02/27/2013) (Curiel, J.)), the tribe lost.
The validity of tribal claims to the spiritual inheritance associated with sacred spaces has been acknowledged by the government and is part of law in “the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA 1979), the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA 1990), Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA 2004), and California Senate Bill 18 (SB 18 2004)” yet sacred sites are still not respected fully by government authorities and private industry (Greenberg and Greenberg 2013, 30). The ethical care of the environment is imbedded in Native American beliefs and with traditional notions of the sacredness of nature lending itself to ecologically oriented belief systems, which due to the lack of “pro-environmental” views of faiths such as that of the Puritan founders of New England, make it hard sometimes for non-natives to understand the significance of sacred sites and artifacts (35). This miss communication has led to legislation meant to alleviate some of that misunderstanding with indigenous consultations mandated by the NHPA Section 106 whenever Federal lands use changes on tribal lands or significant cultural resources are affects. Further SB 18 mandates tribal consultation at the beginning of these procedures (32, 35). The violation of these Federal and State mandates partially are due the fact that consultation is not the same as legislated rights prior interest, leading to being ignored, or lengthy legal wrangling and lawsuits (Dreveskracht 2012, Greenberg and Greenberg 2013, Patch 2015). This seems counter intuitive when Native belief systems have a profound propensity to favor environmentally sensitive perspectives with their “sense of autochthony – the spiritual experience of belonging to a place” (Greenberg and Greenberg 2013, 33).
The Native peoples who live in the Southeastern California Desert have a vested interest in how the development of alternative energy impacts their tribal lands and their traditional cultural environment. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that the impact on any historically significant resources be submitted for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and the Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) determined from their NAHC Sacred Site data base that the tribes would be affected and as the State body responsible for oversight of Native Interests in that regard, submitted to the DRECP in 2011, a list of Native tribal contacts and a copy of a recommended guidelines for consulting tribes that had been submitted to the California Department of Fish and Game Renewable Energy Action Team in 2009 (Singleton 2011). The process of contacting the tribes on the state level had thus become part of the bureaucratic process in meeting the State of California goals for renewable energy initiated under Governor Schwarzenegger wherein some 33 percent of the state energy had to come from renewable sources by 2020 (Singleton, 2011). Tribes cultural concerns had not been in the original planning for the DRECP, and many tribes perceived their interests as being “a late ‘add on’ to the core biological goals and have been given short shrift in the Plan” (Coyle 2015, 1). This view was reiterated by Daniel McCarthy in a personal interview (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015).
Even though the planners of the DRECP had been notified of a legal and procedural basis for tribal input, the tribes themselves have indicated a lack of ability to participate or contribute to the outcomes, with the “deferral of in depth cultural resource studies until after project developer has submitted an application to develop a specific project inevitably results in the destruction or removal of such cultural resources and landscapes” (Patch 2015, 6). Thus the tribes have deep reservations about the efficacy of the DRECP process and advocate that the cultural resources be put on the same level as the biological resources for the tribes to consider that their interests are being taken seriously (4). It is our interest in this paper to develop and advocate for the interests of the native peoples affected by the DRECP.
Methodology: Interviewing at least one interested party, and reading the submitted testimony of several of the tribes to the California Energy Commission comments, as well as some of the relevant literature on the subject, including the portions of the DRECP draft report related to the Native American Issues, provided the majority of the material from which the research was developed and conclusions arrived.
Results: The propensity for the BLM to not consult the tribes, ignoring statutes such as Section 106 of the NHPA, the provisions for consultation in NEPA, the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), Archeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA), and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, Executive Order 12898 Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (1994), and the Council on Environmental Quality’s Environmental Justice Guidance Under the National Environmental Policy Act (CEQ), the National Policy Issuance 94-10 USFWS Native American Policy (1994), Executive Order 13007 Indian Sacred Sites (1996), Executive Order 13175 Consultation and Coordination With Indian Tribal Governments (2000) and Secretarial Order 3206 American Indian Tribal Rights and the Endangered Species Act (1997) to mention only a partial list of Federal regulations and laws regarding relations with Native people, should provide an exhaustive basis for covering the interests and concerns of the tribes (Draft DRECP III.9 2014, 2-9). In fact the legislation only claims the Native American rights to be consulted, not to completely block Government action which is a critical issue that the CRIT brought up in their critique of the DRECP as having sham effectiveness (Dreveskracht 2013, 435; Patch 2015, 4). The approach of the tribes has been less than welcoming although repeatedly they all claim to support the need to develop renewable energy and have expressed interest in participation in the process especially if granted control of the development of their own resources, something that is currently severely restricted by federal law (Dreveskracht 2012; McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Paresa 2015; Patch 2015).
The BLM has accumulated enough data to understand that renewable solar and wind energy can be “especially harmful to biodiversity, scenic landscapes, water supplies, natural quiet and cultural resources” (Nagle 2013, 62). The evidence shown in the case of the Native Americans regarding cultural resources, natural quiet, and the scenic landscape in particular have been shown to be causes for concern acknowledged in the Draft DRECP with a listing of potential impacts that would require site specific environmental impact statements (EIS). Tribal concerns being listed in terms of cultural resources impacts, specifically physical destruction of cultural resources, isolation of cultural resources from access or alteration significant to be considered under the standards of NRHP, CRHR, or CEQA by tribal members, introduction of sights, smells, or other atmospheric elements that are not characteristic to a site. Excessive impacts to sites linked to tribal identity and “disproportionate impact to places that play an essential role in the perpetuation of the generations” (Draft DRECP IV.9, 6).
It is critical to note that there are some 50 tribes listed in the DRECP as having an interest as defined by the various laws, statutes, and executive orders. Each of these tribes has specific concerns, cultural resources, and histories that may go back for some 10,000 years (Draft DRECP 2014 III.9, 14-16; McCarthy 2015). CRIT is concerned about the I-10 Corridor being developed which contains many sacred sites. None of the plans in the Draft DRECP addressed their concerns and past experience had led them to believe that litigation was the path to take. Tribes historically have been ignored. Beginning in 1970’s legislation was passed to empower the tribal governments to be treated as sovereign powers. Over the past half century legislation has been passed, in which the standard of living has increased but at painfully slow rates. There has been little headway in terms of the development of alternative energy within the Reservations due in part to a lack of capital and expertise but also due to the lack of Federal legislation to empower the tribes to make their own decisions. Tribes are still, treated paternalistically and thus their sense of autonomy been constrained by a tradition of treating the Tribes as wards of the state (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Dreveskracht 2012; Patch 2015).
Historically the tribes have lost continuity due to the disruption caused by colonization, and genocide on the part of the colonizing powers, Spain, Mexica and finally the United States. Indians early on were treated to Christian civilization where “Spaniards… acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples … to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (I estimated to be more than three millions), has now a population of barely two hundred” (Las Casas 2004, 36). Later the Americans hunted Indians like wolves, as one hunter said “the best buckskin I ever seed was tanned with Injun brains” (Smith 2011, 84). The disappearance of history, and languages, have left the Native Peoples unable to locate ancient remains, leaving them dependent upon surviving traditions and archeology. As McCarthy stated the BLM expects the Tribes to have complete data bases, while the BLM was not forthcoming in providing access to data (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015). The “cumbersome structure and extensive cross referencing thereby undermining the Executive Summary’s claim of a ‘transparent’ approach” indicated to tribes that the BLM may not have been taking tribal concerns seriously, with the entire process called in to question (Coyle 2015, 1). The lack of access to adequately trained cultural survey persons, professional geologists, anthropologists, archeologists, geographers among others to both adequately respond to the demands of the Draft DRECP or to implement their own Renewable Energy Programs through the Tribal Energy Resource Agreement (TERA), which is supposed to bypass many of the onerous regulatory stipulations of the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), with the tribes setting up their own equivalents to the EPA, something of a hurdle that no tribe had been able to successfully negotiate (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Draft DRCECP III and IV 2014; Dreveskracht 2012, 444-446).
The lack of a truly comprehensive listing of cultural resources has compounded problems associated with the Draft DRECP. The CRIT noted that the DRECP has based its analysis on the “online list of California Historical Resources” which admittedly “includes only as a small portion of the resources that may actually be present” (Patch 2015, 5). Tribes have repeatedly requested that there be an extensive cultural resources inventory taken before leases are granted instead of the due diligence after. The tribes want comprehensive surveys done (Patch 2015, Coyle 2015). Once a lease is in motion it becomes very hard to stop a multi-million dollar project and tribal concerns become downgraded or even presenting the tribes with a false conception that there will be “significant and unavoidable impacts on all sites for energy development” (Patch 2015, 4). Independent scientific reviews of earlier phases of the project cited poorly handled data and a lack of adequately rigorous science in the Draft DRECP process. ”The panel unanimously concluded that DRECP is unlikely to produce a scientifically defensible plan without making immediate and significant course corrections, including strengthening leadership of the scientific program, increasing transparency in decision-making and documentation, improving scientific and technical foundations and analyses, and improving integration and synthesis of all analytical processes and products” (The DRECP Independent Science Panel 2012, 2). Interestingly there was not one mention of cultural resources in the report, reinforcing the position of the tribes regarding the focus of the DRECP.
Tribes with different approaches and specific needs are vulnerable to manipulation from the process by which the DRECP process has given the benefit to tribes and groups that are well funded as opposed to those that have limited resources. Complaints that the BLM was not forthcoming with cultural resource data, plus the lack of adequately trained cultural resource workers and professionals in the related fields of renewable energy development and the ecologically focused sciences has led to a situation in .which the tribes with greater scientific, legal, and financial resources are pitted against those without. The lack of comprehensive regional cultural resource surveys with the BLM depending largely on a 1980 data base, has led to a situation in which those in areas where the cultural resources have been not examined thoroughly face greater pressure as the DFA’s have been located on BLM land where the perception is that less damage will occur. The lack of specific data being available or released in a meaningful manner is problematic and undermines the fairness of the process (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Dreveskracht 2012; Patch 2015; Draft DRECP 2014).
The Draft DRECP plan expects that specific sites within the DFA’s will undergo the EIR/EIS process once potential developers have been granted the right to access a particular site. As has been noted once the lease has been granted the likelihood of the tribes to be able to stop the project or move it becomes greatly reduced and the expectation built into the process that damage will occur makes the mitigation process more of a remedy that often is acceptable to tribes with many tribes refusing to accept what are seen as bribes (McCarthy pers. comm. 2015; Patch 2015). The inability of the plan to perceive that some cultural resources may have very great value even if they are few in number as opposed to perhaps an area with many resources of which there may be few of any value, has caused a weighting to sheer numbers which is also problematic (Copley 2015; Draft DRECP 2014; Patch 2015).
Conclusions: The Tribal position is clearly one in which there is reason to suspect the methodology of the DRECP as noted in the comments by the tribes (Copley 2015; Paresa 2015; Patch 2015). The science has been criticized by the scientific review panel established by the DRECP, as well by the advocates for the tribal positions. There is an imperative to get the process of development of renewable resources done right as the process is in its early stages to avoid unnecessary litigation. The tribes are willing to participate in the process but their concerns must be taken seriously and respected for all parties to benefit.
Recommendations: 1.) A thorough and scientific evaluation of the cultural resources in all the areas being considered for DFA designation before the process of allocating leases has begun.
2.) Training of cultural resource workers and assignment of adequate resources to the tribes to adequately determine their best interests in the development process, including access to BLM data, training and resources for tribal representatives to process and interpret the data.
3.) A focus on preventing the necessity for mitigation by adequately determining site acceptability based on protocols that are agreed upon by the tribes affected.
4.) A fair and holistic process that incorporates environmental justice to remove the tendency to pit tribes against one another in the attempt to protect valued cultural resources.
5.) Development of the ability for the tribes to become stakeholders in the process by streamlining of TEFA to allow tribes access to participation in renewable energy development.
6.) Respecting the legislation and statutes already in place and treating the cultural resources on the same level as the biologically impacted ones originally considered by the Draft DRECP.

References Cited.
2014. Draft DRECP and EIS/EIR. Native American Interests III.9. Draft DRECP and EIS/EIR. Accessed November 3, 2015. http://www.drecp.org/draftdrecp/files/d_Volume_III/III.09_Native_American_Interests.pdf
2014. Draft DRECP and EIS/EIR. Native American Interests IV.9. Draft DREP and EIS/EIR. Accessed November 3, 2015. http://www.drecp.org/draftdrecp/files/e_Volume_IV/IV.09_Native_American_Interests.pdf
Copley, Michael. 2014. Tribe Suing Federal Government to Block Construction of Blythe Solar Project. SNL Energy Power Daily.
Coyle, Courtney. 2015. Re: DRECP NEPA/CEQA, Tribal Comments on Draft EIS/EIR. Carmen Lucas, Kwaaymii Laguna. Courtney Coyle Attorney for Carmen Lucas. Energy Docket Optical System, Docketed 09-Renew EO-1 TN 75066 February 23, 2015. Accessed November 21, 2015. http://www.drecp.org/draftdrecp/comments/Kwaaymii_Laguna_Band_of_Indians_comme nts-2015-02-23.pdf
Dreveskracht, Ryan D. 2012. Alternative Energy in American Indian Country: Catering to Both Sides of the Coin. Energy Law Journal. 33, no. 2: 431.
Greenberg, Joy, and Gregory Greenberg. 2013. Native American Narratives as Ecoethical Discourse in Land-Use Consultations. Wicazo Sa Review. 28, no. 2: 30-59.
Las Casas, Bartolome de. 2004. The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account (1542). Voices of a people’s history of The United States. Ed. Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove. New York: Seven Stories Press. 35-42.
McCarthy, Daniel. 2015. Personal Communications. Director of Cultural Affairs San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Interviewed November 18, 2015.
Nagle, John Copeland.2013.Green Harms of Green Projects. 27 Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy 59. Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 1332. Accessed November 21, 2015. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2275373
Paresa, Jerry, J. 2015. Re: San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Comments on Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan “DRECP”. San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Email: to David Harlow March 10, 2015. Accessed November 21, 2015. http://www.drecp.org/draftdrecp/comments/San_Manuel_Band_of_Mission_Indians_com ments_2015-03-10_late.pdf
Patch, Dennis. 2015. Re: Comments of the Colorado River Indian Tribes on Draft DRECP NEPA/CEQA Documents. Colorado River Indian Tribes. Colorado River Indian Reservation. California Energy Commission. Docketed 09-Renew EO-1 TN 75205 Feb. 23, 2015. Accessed November 21, 2015. http://www.drecp.org/draftdrecp/comments/Colorado_River_Indian_Tribes_comments_2 015-02-23.pdf
Singleton, David. 2011. California Energy Commission, Dockets Office, MS-4. Dear Mr. Chew. Native American Heritage Commission. Docket 09 Renew EO-1 August 8, 2011. Received October 5, 2011. California Energy Commission. Accessed November 21, 2015. http://www.drecp.org/nepaceqa/comments/Native_American_Heritage_Commission_co mments.pdf
Smith, David Livingstone. 2011. Less than Human Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
The DRECP Independent Science Panel. 2012. Final Report Independent Science Review for the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. Renewable Energy Action Team. California Department of Fish & Game, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the California Energy Commission. http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Wayne_Spencer/publication/273763679_Independe nt_Science_Review_for_the_California_Desert_Renewable_Energy_Conservation_Plan _%28DRECP%29/links/550b1ce60cf265693cef6859.pdf

Related Materials.
2010. California Energy Commission Selects Bureau Veritas as Delegate Chief Building Official for NextEra Energy Resources’ Genesis Solar Energy Project. Energy Weekly News. 422.
Morris, Amy Wilson, and Jessica Owley. 2014. Mitigating the Impacts of the Renewable Energy Gold Rush. Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology. 15, no. 1: 293
Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation v. United States Department of the Interior Citation: 43 ELR 20047 No. 12cv1167-GPC, (S.D. Cal., 02/27/2013) (Curiel, J.) Environmental Law Reporter. Accessed November 22, 2015. http://elr.info/litigation/43/20047/quechan-tribe-fort-yuma-indian-reservation-v-united- states-department-interior#content

Personal Update

November 1st, 2015

frances-crethers-1970s.jpg

Frances Crethers circa 1974 (1925-2015) My mom was a trick rider in the Rodeo and was able to ride her horse until early this year 2015. She always loved animals and her horses.

I haven’t written much on the blog this year and most of what I have written have been papers for school. This year has been one of deaths in the family. My mom passed in August and my youngest son’s mom passed in October. I had to organize the funeral and the disposal of the ashes for my mom. She was living in Florida and wanted her ashes taken to the family plot of her parents in Connecticut which I duly did.
My ex who was only 51 passed in France and I had to fly over there on a long weekend to attend the funeral and spend time with my 20 year old son. We spent a day looking at cave art after the funeral and under the circumstances had a good but brief visit. I made him promise to come to America next summer.
My step daughter has been living with me on and off since last winter and her four year old daughter is a lot to handle.
School and work have been exhausting and I have been sick more than I like this year. My girlfriend and her kids have been great and supportive and I feel a little guilty at not being able to spend as much time with them as I would like. Overcompensating with trips to Disneyland and Legoland, places I would not normally recommend, but it is part of my ongoing attempt to normalize my relationship with America and not be such a commie, anarchist critic.
Interestingly enough much of my old anarchist and Marxist critique has become part of the curriculum of many of the classes I attend and it is somewhat fulfilling to find myself vindicated on an intellectual level, even if I don’t gain any monetary or status compensation for the years of critique and struggle. I have been just one more foot soldier in the war against capitalist aggrandizement.
Watching the antics of Donald Trump, the representative of Corporate Capitalism at its most extreme make a public fool of himself, is an indication of capitalism’s imminent demise. The fact that a socialist can run for president and be as successful as Bernie Sanders is the first sign of progress bubbling up from beneath the surface since the imposition of Reaganomics. Obama’s last minute attempts to bring the US into some kind of structural integration with the perils of climate change may be too little too late but it is something none the less. How much further along we would be if Carter had won reelection in 1980
Let us hope President Bush or Clinton don’t set us back too far in the next presidency.
That is about all I have to say for now.

World Water Crisis: Focus On India.

September 30th, 2015

Major Problems of the Twenty-First Century: Access to Clean Water

“Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The image of women lined up to get access to relatively clean drinking water from delivery trucks, in the slums outside of Delhi, is a stark reminder of the realities faced by some millions of persons across the planet who do not have ready access to either clean drinking water or adequate sanitation. Michael Spencer writing about water issues in “The Last Drop” describes the growing problem accessing clean water around the world. The author focuses on India, making comparisons with water policies in the United States, surveying water issues and suggested solutions for the emerging potable water crisis. (Specter 2006).

The Word Heath Organization (WHO) states that some 2.5 billion people laced improved sanitation, 1 billion practice open defecation, 748 million lack access to improved drinking water and that 1.8 billion people use water that suffers from fecal contamination These figures, although better than the ones cited in the 2006 article by Specter who claimed approximately half of the world population have inadequate sanitation or water, demonstrate that there is still a huge problem. The WHO figures indicate a drop in cases of childhood death from diarrhea from 1.5 million in 1990 to 600 thousand in 2012, and with some 2.3 billion people gaining access to improved water supplies in the same period (WHO, UN Water 2014).
The article notes that there are solutions involving expensive engineering such as dam building and desalination plants, which demand a lot of infrastructure but are popular among politicians and policy makers, quoting Jawaharlal Nehru then Prime Minster of India said, speaking of a new dam project “Bhakra-Nangal Project is something tremendous, something stupendous, something which shakes you up when you see it. Bhakra, the new temple of resurgent India, is the symbol of India’s progress” (Spector 2006, np). They are expensive and often benefit or even induce the development of large agribusiness operations at the expense of small farmers as the example of the battle over the Narmada Dam project in Gujarat in which the activist author Arundhati Roy participated (Specter 2006, np). Another path is that of conservation, repair of infrastructure, charging agricultural interests at a rate that would encourage a switch to cost effective methods and the use of low tech solutions such as collecting rainwater. The example of Chennai is used to demonstrate a city without access to adequate water supplies dependent upon rainfall. Rather than go for an expensive water desalination system a local expert, one S. Janakarajan points would rebuild the traditional, pre-British occupation system of catching rainwater, change government policy to encourage local farmers to switch from water intensive rice, which is partially a legacy of the Green Revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s, to other crops, and clean up and rebuild the areas ponds, lakes, and reservoirs, which he claims would end the recurrent water crisis in the region at a minimum of expense (Specter, 2006, np). Cotton is another area where India has been a traditional producer, with some 5000 years of a tradition of cotton growing by sustainable means, but is now facing a crisis as unregulated use of pipe well water has been draining the underground aquifers faster than the replenishment rate chasing the needs of the water hungry crop only exacerbated by the introduction of GMO modified high yield varieties (Gutierrez, et al, 2015). Los Angeles could benefit from a rainwater recovery program, something that should have begun with the California Proposition 1, Water Bond which was intended to relieve drought conditions in the state (California Proposition 1 2014).
The article points out that the water crisis is upon us and that mechanisms have to be devised to not only conserve but the develop water resources a manner that is equitable. The proposals to reduce water subsidies to farmers at the expense of retail consumers has become a major issue as more and more of the world’s population moves into the urban environment. Strain on water systems, already severe indicate the need for a major focus in the world on water sources. There are some problems, including not focusing on what is being done through the United Nations to alleviate the problem world-wide, and emphasis on what seems to be a Bush era focus on market based solutions in an otherwise important article bringing attention to an important issue.
While I don’t like the idea of privatizing water, as companies like Nestle buy up access to water resources with the intent of treating a vital common resource as a commodity, it is critical that civil society mobilize around the issue to insure that clean, water is available for all. Charging a usage fee via metered non-profit rates that allow for infrastructure repair and extension to meet future needs makes sense, forcing the poor to pay for privatized water while, sectors like agribusiness get government subsidies is inherently unfair and contributes to waste. Technologies to monitor water usage, as they come on line, especially if they can be delivered at low cost can be helpful in helping consumers make smart choices, but major changes in lifestyle will be much harder. India at least is ahead of the game in one respect, with a large vegetarian majority at least one aspect of the virtual cost of water use is less than it is in a country like the USA where water intensive beef has become a model of prosperity around the world that it is unlikely to be sustainable on a massively larger scale if water needs are to be met. Changing lifestyle, policy and approaches will be needed to meet the impending crisis in potable water. Working with the UN through the WHO and organizations like UNICIEF are paths that can immediately effect change around the world, but there needs to be changes in consumer usage and agricultural practice especially for more efficient water use and planning. A concerted international approach, with a focus on practical solutions on the ground, that do not strictly focus on hard tech dam and desalination approach advocated in the pages of trade publications such as International Water Power and Dam Construction, although certainly as Specter notes, places like India need to build infrastructure for water if they are to be able to move forward on a sustainable development trajectory. The question becomes, what is sustainable?
Works Cited
California Proposition 1, Water Bond (2014). Ballotpedia the Encyclopedia of American Politics. Accessed 30 September, 2015. http://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_1,_Water_Bond_(2014).
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Poets.org. American Academy of Poets. Accessed 29 September 2015. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/rime- ancient-mariner
Gutierrez, Andrew, Luigi Ponti, Hans Herren, Johann Baumgärtner, and Peter Kenmore. 2015. Deconstructing Indian Cotton: Weather, Yields, and Suicides. Environmental Sciences Europe. 27, no. 1: 1-17. Doi: 10.1186/s12302-015-0043-8. Accessed 30 September 2015. http://www.enveurope.com/content/27/1/12.
International Water Power and Dam Construction. 2015. Global Trade Media. Accessed 30 September, 2015.http://www.waterpowermagazine.com/
Spector, Michael. 2006. The Last Drop. The New Yorker. 23 October. Accessed 19 September 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/10/23/the-last-drop-2.
WHO World Health Organization, UN-Water. 2014. Investing in water and sanitation: increasing access, reducing inequalities. UN-water global analysis and assessment of sanitation and drinking-water (GLASS) Report 2014 - report. Eds. World Health Organization. WHO 2015. Accessed 29 September 2015. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/glaas_report_2014/en/

Myth, Sex, Forgetting: The Promethean Experiment at Love Canal

July 24th, 2015

Young residents in Love Canal joined the protest. (Center for Health and Environmental Justice)

Myth, Sex, Forgetting, and the Promethean Experiment at Love Canal
By Gary Crethers
The erotic symbolism in the “Love Canal” events cannot be missed, and if one takes a feminist, or psychoanalytical perspective on this, one discovers a fertile ground in which to plant the seeds in the darkness, where hidden from view, life takes form, in a sense every pregnancy is an act of faith, a forgetting of all the pain and suffering that will come as a consequence. In this case the ground was planted with the seeds of destruction and the forgetting of pregnancy, led to the literal birth of monsters. Myth, informs the story, whether the sewing of the dragon’s teeth to raise the sons of Ares, the opening of Pandora’s box, a subsidiary myth to the tale of Prometheus, or the Herculean task of clean up afterwards, these examples help inform us as we attempt to comprehend what man has wrought. The female sex organs, receiving the seeds of life, in this case can be seen metaphorically as being seeded with death by the male dominated social system. While forgetting of painful events such as prior child births, and in former times, the very likely chance of infant mortality, in this case the natural process taken in analogous form to any cycle of creation can be aborted or cruelly deformed. Forgetting is a natural process but when it has been deliberately intercepted by parties with consciously or unconsciously evil intent, it becomes a rape, in this case of the place called love canal, we forget traumas, sometimes to our peril (Ricoeur, 259, 445).

Children and babies were the most at risk for health effects from chemical exposure. (Fierce Green Fire)

The sexual undertones of the controversy run through the chapter. In the first paragraph of the Chapter “Love Canal and the Law of Unintended Consequences,” Professor Andrew Jenks writes “The canal thus became an attempt to create a new and more perfect world, a ‘Model City,’ in the words of its creator (Jenks, 43). Here we see creation, the “mysterious man named William T Love” (43), already fraught with symbolism, the Marlboro man, myth is full of mysterious strangers. “Love told rapt audiences that the region had been passed over” (44), add the imagery of a pied piper, a demagogue with promises of harnessing the powers of nature, to create the “most beautiful city in the world’ (44), add Cinderella, being lifted out of obscurity to her rightful position by the potent Prince Charming, and we have Niagara falling into his lap and the state willing to give this promethean spirit the power to create his own “Model City” (44).

In the late 1890’s, William T. Love got the idea for a industrial city built around a 6 mile long canal connecting the Niagara river to lake Ontario.

The excavations were begun; the Earth was plowed for the seeds to be planted for this wonderful child of William T. Love, and the seduced Niagara Falls. But alas the man turned out to be no hero, he failed, abandoning his commitments, leaving an unattended gash 3000 feet rather than the 5 mile trench he had advertised. Blaming the general depression of the times, Niagara went to find new suitors, in this case Hooker Electro-Chemical, another name fraught with symbolism like the dastardly landlord coming to take advantage of the abandoned maiden with a new career, no longer producing “a monument to the progressive spirit,” but “bought the canal and transformed it into a chemical waste dump” (44). The ingredients now existed for a Frankenstein’s monster, as Mary Shelly wrote “I kept my workshop of filthy creation…dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion” (Shelley, 39). Notice the filthy location, the waste material utilized, the human nature that would have him turn away, and the compulsion, such as perhaps the creators of the Atomic bomb felt, urged on by an itch, in this case a war, a competition among male scientists in World War 2, to create this monster that had been conceived of in the decades before the war. Pandora opened the box. The God’s to punish Prometheus and man had created a baleful gift in a beautiful woman who given to Prometheus’s brother Epimetheus whose name means afterthought, had let loose the side effects from the theft of fire and these, given to the forgetful brother, were to have consequences in the Love Canal (Schwab, 33-34).

Athena and Hephaestus working on creation of Pandora (Ancient White Ground Vase Painting)

Better nature, the feminine aspect, noted and ignored, the deed done, as we return to Love Canal. The seed had been planted by the clients of the gatekeeper personalized by Frank Ventry, who when the Army came to unload, “I was requested to loosen up the dirt in the area where the drums were to be dropped,” acting as the abettor of these midnight visits, he further states, “At no time during my tenure of responsibility in the Love Canal area was I required to sign for material placed in the dump nor maintain an inventory…there was no specific criteria to reject material from being dumped” (Ventry qtd. in Jenks, 69). All that was lacking was the passage of a satchel of cash into Ventry’s hands to make the image of a pimp complete. That we would assume was being handled by his superiors, or worse, this was a case of a negligent spouse allowing his ward to be abused by strangers willy-nilly. “Most of the factories in the surrounding area dumped including the Army” (68), Ventry stated. Love Canal was open to all comers, in the stealth of the night they came and dumped their loads and then left (47), without a trace, only the fading memory of the warden Ventry. Forgetting being important in the period of gestation, just as the chemical brew was allowed to form into its vile creation.

Ten years after the incident, New York State Health Department Commissioner David Axelrod stated that Love Canal would long be remembered as a “national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations.”

People were allowed to move into the area. The Niagara Falls, school board, allowed a school to be built on the site where dirt had been placed over the swill, in 1952, seemingly oblivious to the warnings that Hooker gave the school district when selling the land for a symbolic dollar (44, 48). A suburban development was built in the area named after Love, and the State of New York built a road through the enclosed area, providing a breach in what little containment there was, an example of amnesia as Jenks notes (49). By the 1970’s “residents noticed a nasty black liquid percolating through, the cracks of the school playground” (49), and the disaster had begun. The monster was beginning to rear its head. The seed planted in ignorance, as Oedipus had slept with his mother in an ignorance that ignored prophecy. Schwab describes in his version of Oedipus, who had sinned against nature, “the Furies were to give Oedipus peace and absolution for his sins against nature” and these female spirits of vengeance for the wronged earth were the only ones to show man a way out (Schwab, 241). Trapped in a materialistic linear view, focused on profits and goals, there was no way for the male dominated forces who created the mess in Love Canal to bring their attention to the problem without some power representing the elemental aspects of nature, the furies of the offended environment.

Lois Gibbs, a former resident and community leader, looks at Love Canal during a commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the toxic waste landfill August 1, 2003 in Niagara Falls, New York. (Harry Scull Jr./Getty)

Women, the betrayed females, not direct participants in the unspoken bargain between the companies, the workers, and the governing officials, which sacrificed the area for the sake of jobs and temporary prosperity (Jenks, 48), were now the leaders of the revolt as they formed the Love Canal Home owners Association, and women such as Lois Gibbs took the forefront demanding assistance from the responsible parties to get them out of the area which reporters and health officials increasingly proved to be dangerous to the health of residents (50). This female led revolt, by the primary care givers of children, the ones who primarily nursed sick children, met at PTA meetings and while picking up the kids from school and playgrounds (this might be anachronistic, back then most kids went to school and playgrounds unsupervised), would have opportunities to compare notes and notice the direct health effects that their spouses, could not, or would not due to participating in the unwritten contract. Amnesia for the men was a coping mechanism, a way to do the job and ignore the consequences. Jenks writes of Lois Gibbs recollection who “was stunned when she witnessed grown men crying for the first time” (51). This a direct result of being forced to face the realities and wake up from the walking dream that all was well and being done for the sake of the family. It was being done for survival by the workers and for profits by the corporations. The blind eye, and forgetting was good for business, Hooker had grown “from $19 million in sales in 1945 to $1.7 billion in 1978, around the time of its sale” (47). Business, national security, a plethora of male determined profit and national interests had become the driver and the reason in which this particular forgetting had become convenient. Like the former beauty queen haven fallen upon hard times, no one wanted to look, or remember what had once been. Instead there was the cosmetic of dirt thrown over the problem and the demon seeds planted in toxic soil rose like so many warriors from the Greek tale of Jason and the Argonauts who had sewn the dragon’s teeth it was a woman, Medea with her knowledge of nature who saved Jason (Schwab, 115-121). It was the actions of women like Rachel Carson, and Lois Gibbs, bringing attention to the nation via an astute use of media that awoke the nation from its sleep to reveal the many headed Hydra of toxic waste. The Herculean task of clean up, again we resort to Myth, to cope with the sheer overwhelming nature of the task we can look to the fifth labor of Hercules, cleaning of the Augean Stables (171), to gain some comprehension of the task. It is in myth that we find our answers, because it is in the collective mythology of progress that we created the mess, like young Frankenstein, obsessed with his urge, following it despite his better, and female influenced nature. By following the lead of the nurturers, and not the seed givers alone, thus, we awaken from the dreams sterile creation. Without nurturing the ground from whence life derives, all efforts seem to come to bitter consequences as the sleeper is rudely awakened.

In 1978 the EPA came to Love Canal along with the Federal Disaster Assistance Agency and started the clean up.

Works Cited
Jenks, Andrew. “Love Canal and the Law of Unintended Consequences.” Perils of Progress. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2011.
Ricoeur, Paul. Memory, History, Forgetting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Schwab, Gustav. Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece. New York: Pantheon Books, 1946.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Signet Classic, 2000.

Mary Shelley’s Radical Sentiments

June 28th, 2015

Mary Shelley’s Revolutionary Sentiment and Liberal Positivism
Questions about Mary Shelley’s commitment to the radical causes of her youth, and whether or not she was a critic of technology, come up in an examination of some of the differences between the 1818 edition and the 1831 edition of Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus. I shall examine aspects of the relationship of the Shelley’s and their contemporaries, to developments in technology. Reading the letters of Mary Shelley, pertinent critical literature and its relevance to Shelley, I shall examine aspects of her changing perspective over time, including material from the book Frankenstein, but I shall focus on her letters. From my reading I shall propose that Mary Shelley maintained an interest in politics, remained true to what she called “the Cause,” in an abbreviation among her friends, in letters, for the cause of freedom and democracy. Her perspective on technology seems more complicated. She places her story of Dr. Frankenstein in the context of the technological advancements of the day, and seems to have maintained some interest. Percy Shelley writes in the “Preface,” to Frankenstein, “The event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed by Dr. Darwin [Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin] and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence.” Her later novel, The Last Man (1826), reflects an apocalyptic world epidemic leaving one survivor, but her personal writings are not full of scientific stories, they rather reflect domestic concerns, financial matters, informed short commentaries on current politics, and work of her own writing or the writing of her husband or her friends. Thus, it is my contention that Mary Shelley’s perspective changed. However, it was not a transformation from a flaming revolutionary to conservative. Wordsworth for example, whose change, Percy Shelley laments in his early poem On Wordsworth:
In honored poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty, -
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.
Mary Shelly rather maintained an early position of supporting political and the liberation of the human spirt represented in her husband’s view of the Promethean spirt. Regarding science though, her youthful fascination seems to move in a darker direction in story form, but in personal writing, she has little to say about the factory system as the industrialization process proceeded. Shelly shows an abiding interest in reform as her letters to Robert Dale Owen, son of Robert Owen and Frances Wright, indicate. Owen was involved in his father’s New Harmony commune in Indiana and together with Frances Wright edited a socialist publication. They were major activists in the New York Workingmen’s Party. Mary Shelley wrote to Frances Wright a letter dated December 30th 1830, “I have felt timid at the idea of intruding myself upon one, whose noble mind is filled with such vast interests … amidst all your enthusiasm for the Cause, … the case seems to stand thus-The people will be redressed-will the Aristocrats sacrifice enough to tranquilize them-if they will not-we must be revolutionized…” Clearly, she has codified the language of socialism, industrial progress, and enfranchisement, into the simple phrase, ”the Cause.” Perhaps it was Frances Wright’s self-evident activism that elicited this response from Mary Shelley. Frances Wright had traveled to America with Lafayette on his farewell tour in 1824, where she was able to meet Thomas Jefferson, at whose home she spent a day engaged in discourse. In 1825 Frances Wright had embarked on an effort to free slaves by allowing them to work for their freedom in a community she established outside of Memphis, Tennessee called Nashoba. This is from a letter to her by Thomas Jefferson discussing her experiment to free slaves via labor:
I am cheared when I see that on which it is devolved, taking it up with so much good will, and such mind engaged in it’s encoragement. the abolition of the evil is not impossible: it ought never therefore to be despaired of. every plan should be adopted, every experiment tried, which may do something towards the ultimate object. that which you propose is well worthy of tryal. it has succeeded with certain portions of our white brethren, under the care of a Rapp and an Owen; and why may it not succeed with the man of colour?
Regarding Shelley’s interest in technology, as Richard Holmes argues in The Age of Wonder, two conceptions of science predominated in the Romantic period; one was that of the “solitary scientific ‘genius,’ thirsting and reckless for knowledge, for its own sake and perhaps at any cost.” Secondly the concept of the “Eureka moment, the intuitive inspired instant of invention or discovery, for which no amount of preparation or preliminary analysis can really prepare….this became the ‘fire from heaven’ of Romanticism.” Mary Shelley fulfilled these romantic dictums in her own creation of the tale, ‘willing to boldly go where no man has gone before,’ to borrow the theme from that old television series Star Trek, or as Mary Shelly sets the task for herself, “a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beating of the heart.” That was the task she set herself, to outdo the band of celebrated geniuses with her own tale. Second, the Eureka moment, “Swiftly as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. ‘I have found it!’” Shelley, writing within the tropes established in the Gothic novel, establishes both her interest in the sciences and in following the literary norms of her circles, with an avid interest in current developments and their influence upon society She maintained the social interest through her life, in radical republicanism, even if her interest in science in later letters is not as evident, her following of the Owenite experiments and the activities of her friend in America, Frances Wright indicate at least an interest in the developments in industrialism and attempts to mitigate the negative impact of it upon the workers.
Silvia Bowerbank noted, “Mary Wollstonecraft, and her husband, Percy Shelley, were committed defenders of the radical perspective. In 1816-1819, when she wrote Frankenstein, Mary consciously shared their viewpoint.” By the 1830’s Mary Shelly was writing in her Journal:
“With regards to ‘the good cause’ –the cause of the advancement of freedom and knowledge, of the rights of women, &c.-I am not a person of opinions … Some have a passion for reforming the world; others do not cling to particular opinions. That my parents and Shelley were of the former class, makes me respect it … I do not feel that I could say aught to support the cause efficiently.”
As has been seen above, she was also writing incendiary material in her letters. I would think that she had good and bad days, due to the vicissitudes of life. From personal experience in the late twentieth century American radical left, I can identify with those feelings.
Mary Shelley’s world shaped by the death of her radical feminist mother Mary Wollstonecraft shortly after her birth, in 1797, and her disagreeable relationship with her stepmother after her equally radical father, William Godwin, remarried. She met Percy Shelley who was part of the circle of intellectuals drawn to her father, Godwin author of Enquiry into the Principals of Political Justice, among many other works promoting the radical concept of the Necessary, more of which below. Shelley and Mary studied the works of her parents, including A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by her mother. As a teenager, Mary was struggling to find her place in a world in which she had the privilege to be among some of the most brilliant minds of her day, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge reading Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, which shows up in Frankenstein in the second letter of Walton to his sister. Walton assuages her fears for his safety in his attempt to reach the North Pole and seek a polar passage to the Orient by telling her he will kill no albatross. The explorer character in Frankenstein, Walton, makes a telling observation “I have often attributed my attachment to, my passionate enthusiasm for, the dangerous mysteries of the ocean to that production of the most imaginative of modern poets.”
This commentary on Coleridge who had by the time of the writing of Frankenstein, long split with his youthful enthusiasm for the French revolutionary materialism, and the circle around Godwin in which he had participated in his youth, who, like Shelley could have called himself “a compleat Necessitarian” following Godwin. The principal of necessity, which essentially states that man learns from experience not from reasoning, originally David Hume’s concept, was developed by William Godwin in his Inquiry concerning Human Understanding, and promoted by Shelley in Queen Mab. Coleridge, having doubts about the materialist approach believed “authority could not derive from a knowledge of space and time.” The ambivalence of Coleridge and his move to a more conservative position in the first decade of the nineteenth century may have influenced Mary Shelley to move away from the idealism of her husband to a more nuanced view. Certainly, Coleridge was a major influence, as Michelle Levy notes in her study “Discovery and the Domestic Affections in Coleridge and Shelley,” sharing with her certain “tension between their attraction to stories of the unknown and their repulsion by the effects of unbridled exploration.” However, to counter that view, I could not find any personal correspondence between Shelly and Coleridge, thus perhaps as an elder member of the first generation of the great English branch of the revolutionary fervor in the 1790’s in which her father and mother had been major players.
Coleridge had lectured in 1795 warning against imperial expansion, and the pernicious effects of the slave trade on the English as Levy writes, “Coleridge bitterly laments that both Englishman and slave alike have been cruelly ‘torn from the bleeding breast of domestic affection.’” The concern for domestic tranquility destroyed reflected in Frankenstein, first in the abandonment of his creation by Victor who observed, “his jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks.” This was the behavior of an infant reaching to touch his parent. “He might have spoken, I did not hear; one hand stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs.” The wretch experiences abandonment, it would be interesting to discover child abandonment statistics for London of the period. But also in Walton’s insistence on reaching the North Pole at the expense of his own crew, and in the exploitation of the individual as Victor destroys his own heath, nursed back to heath by Clerval after creating the wretch, Shelley gives examples of irresponsible behavior, considered part of the cost of science. Victor in his last throws before perishing makes his final recommendation to Walton his companion in the Romantic version of the scientist/adventurer “seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.” Percy Shelley said in his own review of his wife’s work speaking of the injustices suffered by the wretch:
Treat a person ill, and he will become wicked. Requite affection with scorn; - let one being selected, for whatever cause, as the refuse of his kind – divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations – malevolence and selfishness. It is thus that, too often in society, those who are best qualified to be its benefactors and its ornaments, are branded by some accident with scorn, and changed by neglect and solitude of heart, into a scourge and a curse.”
There is further indication of an interest in science on the part of both Shelley and Mary as is exhibited by the note in her “Author’s Introduction” to Frankenstein in the 1831 edition. Writing of the conversations between Shelley and Lord Byron in Switzerland, she states, “Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.” This essentially mechanical process based on her understanding of the cutting-edge science of the times. It reflected her confluence of the differing theories of material or spiritual creation.
Galvanism, the use of the newly invented voltaic battery to run an electrical current through the legs of frogs by Luigi Galvani an Italian scientist, had been followed up by experiments in London by Galvani’s nephew Giovanni Aldini in which he dramatically reanimated a recently hanged man, in 1803. Sharon Ruston, in her article for the British Library, “The science of life and death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” writes of the hanged man, a certain George Foster, “Onlookers report that Foster’s eye opened, his right hand was raised and clenched, and his legs moved.” The other matter mentioned by Shelley is vital warmth, which was part of the debate over whether humans were the sum of their parts or animated by a vital force, or vitalism promoted by John Abernathy, Coleridge’s doctor, who held the Professorship in Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons. Percy Shelley’s doctor and protégé of Dr. Abernathy, William Lawrence, took umbrage with that concept and promoted the materialistic conception of man. Lawrence had studied in Europe with the noted ‘German physiologists’ mentioned by Percy Shelly in the very first line of the 1818 preface. In a famous series of lectures between 1816 and 1820, the two doctors argued over the issue, Holmes on the debate says Lawrence “claimed that the development of this physiological organization [of the human body] could be observed unbroken ‘from an oyster to a man.’” Lawrence, influenced the Shelley’s views on the subject is a reasonable speculation, Mary had already been taken to see the great chemist, Humphry Davy’s lectures on chemistry in 1812 by her father. Davy’s words from an 1802 lecture, which Coleridge attended, almost verbatim as the words of M. Waldman in his introductory lecture so influential upon Victor:
We do not look to distant ages, or amuse ourselves with brilliant, though delusive dreams, concerning the infinite improvability of man, the annihilation of labour, disease, and even death. But we reason by analogy from simple facts. We consider only a state of human progression arising out of present conditions. We look for a time that we may reasonably expect, for a bright day of which we already behold the dawn.”
Returning to Shelley, “’The ancient teachers of this science,’ said he, ‘promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; but they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera.” He goes on to celebrate the potential of chemistry and science that captures the imagination of Victor. In the original 1818 version Victor goes on to join the professor after class and it seems to be a victory for science. In the 1831 edition, the paragraph inserted in which Victor says, “Such were the professors words – rather let me say such the words of fate – enounced to destroy me.” At that point the issue comes up, was Mary Shelley back tracking and taking a more conservative position regarding her radicalism. Was Shelley, as Edward Oakes says, “The claim is often made that the changes Mary Shelley made in the 1831 edition indicated both a loss of nerve and the intrusion of extraneous theological exculpation from the alleged materialist blasphemies of the 1818 edition.”
Shelley’s letters, especially those from the period around the time of the publication of the second edition, and reading her introductions to the 1839 edition of The Collected Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, give a clearer idea as to her public and private views. Reading this material has led me to conclude that Shelley although beset by financial woes, and expressing a certain modesty in terms of her ability to hold opinions regarding issues of the day, was actually fairly outspoken and quite savvy regarding the economics of the publishing industry, as well as the state of affairs in England and the progressive cause. Consideration to the possibility that Shelley, by the time she wrote the 1831 author’s introduction, was affected by the trauma of the loss of three children and her husband or that as Anne Mellor states Shelley’s “obsessive need to idealize her husband and the bourgeois family, the results of which are overly sentimental rhetoric and implausible plot resolutions.” Reading through Mary Shelley’s notes, in the text of the 1839-revised edition of The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, the example of Queen Mab, is rather edifying. Mary Shelley writes “In the former edition certain portions were left out, as shocking the general reader from the violence of their attack on religion. I myself had a painful felling that such erasures might be looked upon as a mark of disrespect towards the author, and am glad to have the opportunity of restoring them.” Mary did not have an original copy of Queen Mab. In the process of hunting down a copy over the course of December 1838 and January 1839, she queries friends on their thoughts, in a letter dated December 11, 1838 to Thomas Jefferson Hogg, she writes:
The book seller (Moxton) has suggested leaving out the 6th and 7th parts as to shocking and atheistical. What do you say? I don’t like mutilations - & would not leave out a word in favor of liberty. But I have no partiality to irreligion & much doubt the benefit of disputing the existence of the Creator – give me your opinion.”
The lines were not included. Edward Moxton’s concerned over his copyright, which he could lose if the lines were considered blasphemous in a court of law. Reviews in several publications were critical of her, one in The Spectator, claimed her preface to be “a panegyric rather than a judgement.” Resulting from this criticism and letters from friends and acquaintances of her late husband, she decided to request that Moxton include the verses in the second edition later that year. The book seller did and was subsequently convicted but received no punishment. This might be a sign of caution, or as a sign of her being willing to do the right thing. Mary Shelley writes in “Note to Queen Mab,” that Percy “did not in his youth look forward to gradual improvement: nay, in those days of intolerance, now almost forgotten, it seemed as easy to look forward to the sort of millennium of freedom and brotherhood which he thought the proper state of mankind as to the present reign of moderation and improvement.” In the more liberal climate of 1839, the government would go through the motions of following the letter of the law but Shelley no longer considered threatening, even though it was quite evident there were many people who cared about his legacy.
Further, in 1830, just before the publication of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelly wrote to General Lafayette, of the American Revolutionary fame, leader of the radical faction after the 1830 revolution in Paris:
How does every heart in Europe respond to the mighty voice, which spoke in your Metropolis, biding the world to be free… May England imitate your France in its moderation and heroism. There is great hope that any change operated among us will originate with the government. I was the wife of a man who – held dear the opinions you espouse, to which you were the martyr and are the ornament.
What I found interesting was the repetition here of what her husband had said that in the review of her book, Frankenstein, paraphrasing Percy Shelley’s the line about being benefactors and ornaments. Clearly, she had this in mind, whether General Lafayette would have understood the reference is conjectural, but he certainly would understand the meaning. This also indicates Shelly’s awareness and advocacy of the liberal position in English politics. At the time, there was a big push for the passage of the Reform Acts, which did pass in 1832, suppressing the rotten boroughs, and giving the franchise to many of the town dwellers. In 1828, the Test and Corporation acts were repealed, no longer requiring Protestant dissenters to take the Anglican sacrament to become representatives of town councils. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 did the same thing. This series of acts constituted the peaceful overthrow of the ancient regime. As Frank O’Gorman states in his The Long Eighteenth Century, the Anglican church “was simply unable to establish hegemonic presence in the new industrial towns.” Shelley was aware of the changing political and social environment; technological change had been part of the transformation that Percy and Mary Shelley desired. They had embraced technological innovation and the liberating tendencies this represented in secularism and the expansion of human understanding of how the natural world worked. For them it was part of a greater movement to human liberation and liberty. The development on the part of Mary Shelley towards a radical view seems to have stopped with the passage of the Reform Act. She must have been aware of radical publishers in the Chartist circles such as Richard Carlyle who in his publication Sherwin’s Political Register published excerpts from Chartist supporters Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Pirated copies of Queen Mab, which had been in print since 1821 had become what “George Bernard Shaw referred to it as the ‘Bible’ of Chartism.”
Although at the end of her life Mary Shelly was concerned with legacy, and that may have propelled some of her statements, she does not seem to have given up on the cause of liberty. She seems to have had, like Coleridge reservations about the elimination of a creator, certainly, she was more interested in human liberty than the abstract, and seems to have followed political developments and maintained her interest in affairs of the world perhaps in spite of her personal life distresses, which are also represented in her letter. She seems more to be on the side of the angels in the struggle for human emancipation. I do not think Mary Shelley saw technology as evil, but the technicians who misapplied it as so. I will end with the final words of Victor Frankenstein “Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.”

Works Cited
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Bennett, Betty T. “To Thomas Jefferson Hogg, 41 d Park St. 11 Dec. 1838.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 301-302. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1983.
— “Review of volume I.” In The Spectator 12. 552, January 26, 1839. “To Thomas Jefferson Hogg, [41 d Park Street] 11th Feb-[1839].” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 309-310. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
—“To Edward Moxton 41 d Park St. 5 March 1839.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 311-312. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
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Ruston, Sharon. “The science of life and death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. London: The British Library. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-science-of-life-and-death- in-mary-shelleys-frankenstein.
Scriven, Tom. “Humor, Satire, and Sexuality in the Culture of Chartism.” The Historical Journal, 57.1,2014. accessed June 28, 2015, 157-178. DOI: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.library.csulb.edu/10.1017/S0018246X13000186.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Signet Classic. 2000.
— “Author’s Introduction.” In Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, xxi-xxvi. New York: Signet Classic, 2000
— “Note on Queen Mab.” In The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, notes by Mary Shelley. 850-854. New York: The Modern Library, 1992.
— “To Frances Wright, 33 Somerset St Portman Sq. 30 Dec. 1830.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by. Betty T. Bennett, 123-125. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
— “To Thomas Jefferson Hogg, 41 d Park St. 11 Dec. 1838,” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly Volume II “Treading in unknown paths.” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 301-302. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
—“To General Lafayette London 33 Somerset St Portman Sq. 11 Nov. 1830.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 117-118. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Preface to Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, xxvii-xxviii. New York: Signet Classic, 2000.
— “On Frankenstein.” In The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, vol.1. edited by Richard Hearne Shepherd, 417-419. London: Chatto & Windus, 1906. Accessed June 20, 2015, http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2581 Facsimile PDF.

Burford’s Arcadia: Ancient Greek Agriculture, Slavery and Democracy

May 4th, 2015

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Image: Berlin Foundry Cup,Foundry Painter, Red figure kylix, c. 490
From lecture podcast on Ancient Greek Slavery by Dr Gillian Shepherd
http://podcast.blogs.latrobe.edu.au/2014/05/06/lecture-slavery-in-ancient-greece/

Below is a book review written for my Classics class on Ancient Greek History I had fun writing it but had to edit it down for the class. Perhaps I will post the long version at a later point in time. I focus on the issue of slavery in the ancient Greek world as well as agriculture and the creation of the classical Greek demos.

Burford, Allison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.
Allison Burford’s study of the ancient Greek agricultural world is based primarily on the extant ancient literary sources with some reference to archeological research, epigraphic and papyrus material as well as numerous secondary sources. As she states in the preface, Burford has not written an exhaustive reference work on the legal and technical aspects of land ownership, nor is it a statistical study of land tenure and agricultural practices over the course of the period, roughly the Eighth through the Second centuries BCE (Burford, ix). Basing her study upon a suggestion by M. I. Finley, she examines aspects of ancient Greek agricultural practices (x). The author argues that Greek civilization was based in agriculture and the ability to find free time from agricultural labor to via the labor of others, indicating that chattel slavery in Athens, and the institution of helotry in Sparta, for example provided much of the means for this freedom (1-3). She focuses more on the fundamental relationship between town and country emphasizing that agriculture concerned much of the population’s interest (3, 10). She also argues that the farming practices described in Hesiod’s Works and Days, were essentially the same as those of the time of Xenophon in his Oeconomicus written some three centuries apart, negating much of the idea of a transition from pastoralism, or the concept of an agricultural revolution in the Fifth century BCE (8-9, Morris, 1294). For Burford “the Classical city-state is, then, the developed image of the early community, not an entirely different creature” (12). Burford is interested in showing the continuity of the dependence upon agriculture and how it shaped ancient Greek civilization (12).
Alison Burford Cooper published studies in ancient social and economic history, including The Greek Temple Builders at Epidaurus (1969), Craftsmen in Greek and Roman Society (1972), and Land and Labor in the Greek World (1993). Born in England, she read Classics at Cambridge University. After teaching at the University of Nebraska and the University of North Carolina–Asheville, she and her husband Guy L. Cooper retired in Ann Arbor (Cooper, 1). The work under consideration, written near the end of her academic career seems to sum up her position regarding the importance of agriculture in the ancient Greek world building upon the work primarily of M. I. Finley.
Burford describes the dependence upon domestic food production and anxiety over the annual harvest as being primary to the Greek economy and civilization (Burford 2-3). She describes agriculture outside of Attica and Athens, especially descriptions of the Spartan system, but because of the dearth of literary source material, her focus is primarily, almost necessarily, upon Athens and Attica. She goes into some detail on the types of agricultural practices, division of land between productive agricultural and the more marginal upland where grazing occurred. She asserts that it was the exchange of surpluses locally and not dependence on international trade, even in Athens, except briefly during the Imperial period, was the driving force of daily life and policy of ancient Greeks (3).
Burford focuses on the mechanisms of land ownership, asserting that the state had overriding concerns and that the polis could and would intervene in private ownership, calling the polis “proprietor in chief of all landed assets within its boundaries” (16). This was true in Athens as well as the more obvious case of Sparta. She goes into some detail on efforts to make land distribution among citizens equal, not only in the new colonies but within the polis, citing Aristotle among others and examples from city states besides Athens (28). She then discusses the actual inequality of land distribution and the “concept of ‘ancestral portions’” asserting that the relationship between families and their land as going back to the foundations of communities and the preservation of the oikos through the “assured transfer of inheritance within the family, preferably from father to son” (29, 34-35). The legal dispute over distribution of the estate of one Hagnias of Athens, who had no children, became a multigenerational affair involving increasingly distant relations, to me indicates the power of families in property rights and privileges of the citizens within the context of the polis, whereas Burford sees the fact of intervention on the part of the courts as an indication of state power (43-45). Litigation rather than blood feuds is an advance of sorts.
She goes into some discussion of the position of the female inheritors, the epikleros who “had no independent rights to property,” but essentially used as a means of insuring that property stayed within the greater family or oikos to the extent that a male relative designated to marry an epikleros, had to divorce his existing spouse (46). Burford sees this as an indication that the community was more concerned with maintaining the stability of the oikos as the basis for the polis, citing Solon’s law providing for the dowry of an epikleroi with no estate by proscribing that the members of the pentakosiomedimnoi provide for epikleroi of the thetes within a family group (47). It seems to me that the state control of property is exaggerated and the families of the oligarchs still seem to have undue influence in the countryside even after the reforms of Solon as I will discuss further.
For the most part Greeks rejected feudal like peasantry an unacceptable status, one of being subservient to a greater lord, as was the case in Athens when Solon abolished indentured servitude. Defining helotry as feudal peasantry, according to Burford is not helpful, although I personally did not clearly understand the distinction she was trying to make other than to insure that readers would not look to medieval equivalency (85-86). The popular rebellion against indentured servitude by the citizens led directly or indirectly to the increased slavery of foreigners in Athens in my mind.
M.I. Finley’s contention that Athenian democracy was a result of chattel slavery, is taken up by Burford with her initial assertion that “chattel slavery became concomitant of radical democracy, and at the same time many landowners took a hand in working their own land” (3). Michael Jameson, agreeing with De Ste Croix, says “one might almost say that in the ancient world there was no true freedom without slavery” (Jameson, 122). Finley asserts that large scale agriculture of the wealthy classes was largely undertaken by slaves, including the overseers, indicates in my mind an oligarchic reaction to labor cost increases and the desire for control (Finley, Was Greek Civilization based on Slave Labor, 149).
Burford argues that in “Attica as in Chios and numerous other places, chattel slavery became the most important form of labor, not because the pelatai or thetes, the ‘nearby dependents,’ were reduced to slavery but because they were emancipated” (Burford, 209). This is an important point, as Finley points out using the analogy of the USA slave states before the American Civil War, he notes that three quarters of the land owners in the south had not connection to slavery and were small holders, yet close to one third of the population in the slave states were slaves, whereas in Classical Greece the practice of slave holding was more widespread (Finely, Was Greek Civilization, 151). Burford, discussing Attica, believes that the reforms of Solon reduced the availability of easily coercible labor, increasing the dependence on chattel slavery (Burford, 209). Burford cites Homer’s story of Eumaeus (Od. 15.415-84), Odysseus’ swineherd who had been kidnapped by Phoenician traders and sold into slavery as an example of piracy as a source of slaves as well as an example of the prevalence of slavery (Burford, 208). The question of Athens increased participation in the slave trade as a driver of empire, especially mass collusion versus resistance on the part of the thetes is an interesting issue. Were the oarsmen active slavers?
Contrasting Burford’s decidedly landlocked views on the shaping of Greek civilization are the views of those who would emphasize trade and naval power especially during the period of the Athenian Thalassocracy. Ian Morris, in his review of Burford, claims she doesn’t give enough weight to the “new model” of Greek agriculture with a shift to a market orientation Athens in the Fifth century BCE (Morris, Review, 1294). John Hale in his Lords of the Sea claims that without the navy there would not have developed the extreme form of Athenian democracy, the degree of democratization was due to the dependence of the Athenian Navy upon the urban poor for oarsmen (Hale, xxvii). David Lewis notes that trade with Barbarian parts of the world was required to maintain the extensive slave population required in the Athenian economy (Lewis, 91). This would tend to support the contention that there were economic drivers to the expansion of the Athenian Empire. Lewis considers the Greek Comedies as rich source of information on Greek attitudes about slavery; Aristophanes Scythian archers, the slave police force of Athens, are prominent in Lysistrata (Lewis, 100; Findley, Was Greek Civilization, 152; Lis. 15-24). Burford gives little if any information about the complexity of the relationship between overseas trade, slavery and agriculture.
I think that exploring further the implications of the slave trade and the economic basis of the more industrial aspects of Athenian agriculture in particular would have been helpful as Jameson points out the locus of slavery in Athens, unlike the more feudal like conditions in Sparta, where helotry actually inhibited urbanization similar in some ways to the American pre-civil war south, rather he points to slavery as being indicative of the importance of Athens as a trade and industrial center (Jameson, 123). One could be tempted to see the relative sympathy of the Oligarchs in Athens to the Spartans due to a confluence of interest in maintaining a lucrative slave market, with Nicias having some one thousand in the silver mines alone, the would have been sufficient economic reasons for a convergence of interest (Finley, Was Greek Civilization, 149). Aristophanes reminded his audience of the Athenian rescue of Sparta from the helots, (even if this was fictional, it would seem to have been a popular fiction) “Then Cimon went, taking four thousand infantry, /and saved the whole of Lacedaemon for your state,” indicating a resounding normalcy of slavery in Athens making a keener focus on the nature of dependence on slavery to be of even more interest (Lys. 42).
As the entire world population at least until the nineteenth century was primarily agricultural, and much of that of a subsistence nature, Burford’s focus on what the majority of the population did for a living is a good idea. D.W. Rathbone, reviewing Burford, is critical of the lack of focus on the growth of monetization, or any exposition of the field surveys and excavations of rural sites in more than a cursory manner (Rathbone, 330-331), to which I would add lack of geographic and topographic imagery in the form of maps, charts or photographic information, is to be regretted. Stylianos Spyridakis although largely praising her work, found the omission of evidence for a stronger case to be made for wealth generation outside of the purely agricultural sphere, pointing to trade in particular (Spyridakis, 107). Overall the impression is that Burford certainly went to great pains and into great detail to prove her point as to the rural nature of the Greek economy, but it presents a relatively static view of Greek agriculture. The book presents a massive amount of research mainly from the literary sources. The author tends to focus on detailed information giving the impression of a relatively static rural society over the time period with Hesiod and Homer side by side with Xenophon and Aristotle, where things happen, but there is not the focus on trends in population pressure, climatic conditions, the slave trade, etc. that would create a more dynamic model of the Greek world as it relates to the natural systems and practices of the populace over time. The book provoked a desire in this reader for more statistical data to verify the literary sources.
Works Cited
Aristophanes. Lysistrata. Translation and introduction by Donald Sutherland. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. 1961.
Burford, Allison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.
Cooper, Alison Burford. “Feasting and Fasting in Classical Greece.” Repast Quarterly Newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor. 20. 4. 2004.
Finley, M. I. “Was Greek Civilization based on Slave Labor?” Historia: Zeitshrift fur Alte Geschichte, 8.2 (1959): 145-164.
Finley, M. I. The Ancient Economy. Updated Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1999.
Hale, John R. Lords of the Sea The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy. New York: Viking Penguin. 2009.
Jameson, Michael J. “Agriculture and Slavery in Classical Athens.” The Classical Journal. 73. 2 (1977- 1978): 122-145.
Lewis, David. “Near Eastern Slaves in Classical Attica and the Slave Trade with Persian Territories.” Classical Quarterly, 61.1 (2011): 91-113.
Morris, Ian. “Forward.” The Ancient Economy. Updated edition, Berkeley: University of California Press. 1999. ix-xxxvi.
Morris, Ian. “Land and Labor in the Greek World.” The American Historical Review, 99.4 (1994): 1293- 1294.
Rathbone, D. W. “Burford, A. ‘Land and Labor in the Greek World’ (Book Review).” Classical Review, 44.2 (1994): 330.
Spyridakis, Stylianos. “Land and Labor in the Greek World.” Agricultural History, 68.1 (1994): 106-107.

April Easter Meditations: Myth of Progress

April 5th, 2015

Moai Statues on Easter Island.
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I am feeling inspired this morning. Well perhaps inspiration is too strong a term, let me just say I am awake. It started at 4:38 AM and at that ungodly hour I awoke, thinking I was late for work, checked the time, and then remembered it was Sunday. Instead of falling back in to slumber land, I pondered, rather than feel existential anxiety over my piddling fate, I was struck by the big WHY question. Why now, why me, what is the purpose of all this. Perhaps it was because of a lingering sense of duty to adhere to some normative relationship to the great Christian holiday ensuing in the world around me, or perhaps it was because the last comment I made to a fellow human being before drifting off into the land of Nod, was how I thought the whole Easter business was nonsense but entertaining for humans in need of reassurance that their lives had meaning, whatever the reason, I found myself facing the eternity abyss without panic or defensive humor, simple wonderment was sufficient.

Ruminating over the Ancient Greeks whom I have been studying of late, especially thinking about how complex and modern seeming their society was, although watching a National Theatre Production of Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers, emphasized the alien nature of Greek drama, what with the masks and chorus, but overall the Greeks seemed to be a pretty sophisticated bunch. Trying to follow the ins and outs of an ancient law suit Haginas Versus Haginas, to borrow the name from modern legal terminology, I was amazed at how tenaciously a group of fairly distant relatives battled over the estate of an ancestor who died without progeny to inherit the property, which was mostly agricultural land as described in Alison Burford’s book Land and Labor in the Greek World (Burford, 43-45).

I don’t know if the persistence of wrangling over property is a sign of advanced civilization, but it certainly is a sign of consistency in human endeavor. Artistically there seems to be evidence of a progression from geometric oriental influenced art to idealized human forms degenerating into naturalistic kitsch, or so the classical art historians would have us believe with their fetish for 5th Century Greek formalism, mostly surviving in Roman copies, which to my mind speaks more to nineteenth century European elite than ancient Greek taste. Which brings me to my question of the day, why did technology take off so grandly in the modern epoch? If humanity is not measurably more intelligent than before, except perhaps in the sense that more of us have the luxury of not having to work as physical drudges than before, it is not clear to me that all this excess brain power is feeding into the greater wisdom of the species, unless Youtube cat videos count as adding to the enlightenment of which we are the alleged beneficiaries. In truth, as ever was, the spark of genius that lies within, is only allowed so much physical candle power before it burns out all the moths that gather round its heated light.

Am I condemning us all to perpetual ignorance? No only to perpetual indulgence in phantasies of progress. The Hegelian in me rebels against such pessimism, but when I look at the past, I am amazed at the sophistication and complexity I see and my sense of the present day as having advanced is replaced with the concept that we have merely changed focus. By indulging in spending so much of the planetary resources in a brief incandescent moment of technological fixes, are we creating an enduring base for a vastly superior golden age to come, or merely depleting our resources in some recreation o Easter Island systemic collapse on a grand scale as Jared Diamond describes in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed(Diamond, 79-119). I am just as suspicious of fads in doom and gloom as I am of eternal optimism. We may be on the Titanic, but oh, how glamorous our departure into the depths. Perhaps some future civilization will write a Homeric epic on the fall of oil based technological civilization as the ancient bard wrote of Troy falling to the barbaric Greeks. It is hard to imagine aircraft carriers launching jet fighters and rockets red glare with solar and wind power. On the other hand in a collapse, these would probably be the last hold outs of the technology of the children of the Enlightenment as we moderns are.

Okay there I go again with my pessimism. But it is Easter Sunday, at least according to the revised Gregorian calendar, and we are here to celebrate a renewal of life, a second chance as it were. We, the people of the world, choking in our oil petrochemical waste, plasticizing our oceans as we are, eating organic produce wrapped in petrochemical products, etc, are we hell bent on removing the possibility of redemption simply because we have so clogged the arteries of divine cleansing that we are insensible to its effects? Divine cleansing, as if the divine could be reduced to a detergent, Mr. Clean genii popping out of another bag of tricks to provide us with an escape, just in the nick of time from our own childish refusal to see that over our shoulders there are dues to pay. Jubilee, indulgences for all, please divine daddy…

I should not be so dramatic, after all, there is progress in specific areas. It is just the unintended consequences that become problems. I am thinking about the extended life spans of people. Resources are spent on caring for the elderly that could be spent on early childhood education and poverty elimination. But we could also do that by simply eliminating the huge military budget. If the US spent as much as European countries we might even be able to afford socialized medical care, and take care of the young and elderly. One can dream. Maybe even throw in free university education, Obama has the right idea for free community college.

Perhaps we as a world civilization will move on to the socialist paradigm, and away from the Capitalist one but then there will be issues of the individual against the bureaucratic machine, Ayn Rand followers might then actually have a case. The State in the US is merely intrusive rather than overwhelming. Interestingly enough it wasn’t until I had a catastrophic illness that I really benefited from the state. Going back to school, medical care and tax relief were some of the most evident benefits, it made kidney failure almost enjoyable. Being back at work has been somewhat traumatic, especially because it has forced me to cut back on school. The experience has shown up the class distinctions in the US with education becoming again a luxury for the affluent, unless massive debt is something in your aspirational vision. Hmm not doing too good with this optimism thing, not really my forte.

This was what we used to do for Easter when I was a kid. Only our eggs were not so fancy.
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Works Cited

Burford, Alison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking. 2005.


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