Earth Hour: the Dogged Drive of Inane Intentions

We in the West are drowning in a cornucopia of ill-conceived special celebrations.

From National Bike to Work Day (May 19) to Global Forgiveness Day (Aug. 27) to International Peace Day (Sept. 21), there are a rash of events that the self-righteous have concocted in order to make themselves feel good, if not morally superior, to those around them.

These events are largely limited to the Western world because the rest of the globe is too busy trying to stay alive to be bothered with such claptrap.

This Saturday (8:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. for those of you keeping score at home),  the annual self-congratulatory activity known as Earth Hour will be held under the guise of “United People to Save the Planet.”

Rather than list my many objections to this bit of imbecility, I’ll let you read the words of Canadian economist Ross McKitrick, who, in 2009, was asked by a journalist for his thoughts on the importance of Earth Hour:

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.

Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. Getting children out of menial labor and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.

Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases. Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity. Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their refrigerator, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply.

If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations.

No thanks. I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

If I possessed that eloquence, I’d probably have more than half a dozen readers and wouldn’t be living in a van down by the river a much larger bank account.

No word on whether Earth Hour is just a giant charade cooked up by Big Candle to boost profits, but come Saturday evening I’ll be happily burning every old-fashioned 100-watt incandescent light bulb I can find.

(Top: One can only hope that the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital, which saves hundreds of newborns each year, won’t turn off its life-saving equipment this coming Saturday night for Earth Hour.)

Family finds gold in piano; government looks to muscle in

The recent discovery of a UK gold cache raises the specter of every-hungry leviathan ruthlessly employing the law to gobble up assets for its own benefit.

Late last year a hoard of gold coins, English sovereigns minted between 1847 and 1915, was found in old upright piano in Shropshire, in the United Kingdom, after the piano’s new owners had it retuned and repaired.

Under the UK’s Treasure Act of 1996, such discoveries are legally obligated to be reported to the local coroner within 14 days, which was done.

The piano was made by a London firm and initially sold in Essex, near London, in 1906. But its ownership from then until 1983 – when it was purchased by a family in the area who later moved to Shropshire – is unknown, according to the BBC. The new owners were recently given the instrument.

The Shrewsbury Coroner’s Court is currently seeking information about the piano’s whereabouts between 1906 and 1983.

There is a great deal at stake as the objects will qualify as “treasure” and be the property of the Crown if the coroner finds they have been hidden with the intent of future recovery, according to the BBC.

However, if the original owner or their heirs can establish their title to the find, the Crown’s claim will be void.

Under the Treasure Act of 1996, ‘Treasure’ is defined as:

  • All coins from the same hoard, with a hoard is defined as two or more coins, as long as they are at least 300 years old when found;
  • Two or more prehistoric base metal objects in association with one another;
  • Any individual (non-coin) find that is at least 300 years old and contains at least 10% gold or silver;
  • Associated finds: any object of any material found in the same place as (or which had previously been together with) another object which is deemed treasure; and
  • Objects substantially made from gold or silver but are less than 300 years old, that have been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovery and whose owners or heirs are unknown.

The government has not detailed just how many coins were uncovered in the piano or their value, but Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer for the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme at Shropshire Museums said, “It is a lifetime of savings and it’s beyond most people.”

I’d be curious to hear what British citizens think about this law. I understand the government’s interest in unique treasures such as the Irish Crown Jewels, spectacular Viking hoards or Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork, when and if they are uncovered.

But what we have here are simple gold coins – even if in a very substantial quantity.

It would be nice to find the individuals or their heirs who secreted the money away inside the piano; the government, meanwhile is threatening, per usual, to overstep its original purpose and strong-arm the family who, through a bit of blind luck, managed to come into possession of the coins.

Government, which already pockets a considerable sum of the average individual’s wages, has no business confiscating a collection of gold coins simply because it’s forever on the lookout for additional ways to line its coffers.

(Top: Some of the gold coins found inside an old upright piano in the United Kingdom late last year.)

‘Fake news’ often more enticing, entertaining than reality

There has been significant discussion recently regarding “fake news.” Much of what is being touted as fake news would, in the past, simply have been labeled as the propaganda it is. On the other hand, some so-called fake news is simply mistaken reporting. Neither are new trends.

Take the latter: 95 years ago newspapers across the Carolinas ran a story detailing how workers toiling in a rural Saluda County church cemetery on July 2, 1922, had uncovered a macabre secret:

Grave diggers, while digging a grave at Dry Creek church, dug into a grave that seemed to have been dug in the wrong place and unearthed a skeleton, finding a rope around the neck with a large knot in the rope under the right ear. The condition of the skeleton showed that it had apparently been buried some 50 years. Parts of the coffin remained and the plate with the words, ‘Rest in Peace,’ could easily be read. There seems to be some mystery concerning the identification of the body. The grave itself was where no grave was supposed to be, and the oldest inhabitant of the community knows nothing of anyone who had been hanged being buried in the cemetery.

While the article itself didn’t suggest it, 50 years prior to 1922 would have been during the height of Reconstruction, a turbulent period when extralegal justice was meted out on a regular basis. To uncover a skeleton in an unmarked grave with a rope around its neck would suggest someone had met with an untoward end.

Of course, few lynching victims were sent off to their eternal reward in coffins with a plate inscribed “Rest in Peace.”

Initially, the unidentified skeleton was quickly reburied, but a short time later two men decided to inspect it more closely, according to a second story, which appeared in the Edgefield Advertiser on July 12, 1922. Edgefield is about 12 miles from Dry Creek Baptist Church Cemetery.

The skeleton was discovered to be that of a woman, and the “rope” was actually a long plait of hair that “had been coiled around her head coronet fashion, after the times,” according to the Advertiser.

With time and decomposition, the hair had come detached from the scalp and slipped down around the neck, giving it the appearance of a rope, it added.

But while the first story, with its mysterious insinuations, ran in papers in both South Carolina and North Carolina, the follow-up article only appears to have been printed in the Edgefield publication.

As a result, even today the tale of the unidentified hanging victim still has credence, despite the mystery having been cleared up within a couple of weeks of its discovery.

Even today, many love a good conspiracy story; reality, though, is often much less interesting and, as a result, fails to gain the same coverage.

Satan’s imps charge forth with obtuse tenacity

far-side-hell

Those that believe in a hell often imagine it in myriad different ways.

Spend any time driving in traffic, shopping around the holidays or at the Department of Motor Vehicles and one becomes convinced of Sartre’s famous quip that “hell is other people.”

Along those lines, the question then arises, are there specific pockets of hell for the particularly nasty?

If so, those sentenced to such locales will be tormented by former homeowners’ association presidents and the passionately ignorant, not that the two are mutually exclusive.

Candidates for my own version of hell reared their heads recently in Hilton Head, SC, a resort island along the coast noted for a heavy population of northern transplants, a strict adherence to conformity and the general busybody nature of many of its residents.

One of the gated communities in the area is called Hilton Head Plantation. It has a section called The Rookery where, for nearly a decade, one homeowner has flown a variety of historic flags during certain holidays, including the most recent Presidents’ Day.

The flags included a POW/MIA flag, a South Carolina flag from the Civil War era (not a Confederate flag), and the Grand Union and Gadsden flags from the American Revolutionary War era.

In a move absolutely no one could have foreseen given the hyper-sensitive nature of many in the US, several complaints were lodged after the most recent flying of the flags during Presidents’ Day, on Feb. 20, according to the Hilton Head Island Packet.

“Peter Kristian, general manager of the gated community, said his office received several complaints recently from residents upset about the flags,” the paper reported.
“Some of them had slogans that you could take to be political,” Kristian said.

“Unfortunately in the times we live in, you have to be careful about this,” he said. “Once you open the door to one person’s expressions, you open the door to all expressions and that can be dangerous.”

Yes, expression can be dangerous, especially on an island that is essentially a retirement community for the state of Ohio.

Kristian would not identify which flag or flags was deemed offensive. However, he could have been referring to the Gadsden Flag, also known as the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, a favorite of Tea Party advocates, known for being conservative and often Republican.

The Gadsden flag was designed by South Carolinian Christopher Gadsden in 1775 at the opening of the American Revolution and was used as an early flag by Continental Marines, the marine force of the American Colonies.

Kristian, in a real display of intestinal fortitude, stated that there is one flag that residents are allowed to put out on plantation property without asking permission.

“We did say they could display as many American flags as they would like,” he said. “We do live in the United States, and I hope that is the one thing we are all OK with.”

In other words, “I hope that is the one thing we are all OK with, but if not, let us know and we will take it down because, well, everyone has the right not to be offended.”

Another image of hell is that inhabited by individuals described in Yeats’s work The Second Coming:

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

(Top: Far Side cartoon about hell unrelated in any fashion to story, but good for a much-needed laugh.)

The price of principles vs. rhetoric of empty platitudes

lone-bird

When white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine blacks inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church in Charleston in 2015 there was a gnashing of teeth among some about how white society was complicit in Roof’s actions.

One journalist, a South Carolinian writing in the Washington Post, pulled no punches when describing how whites, particularly Southern whites, were responsible:

So I and every other white South Carolinian who has let the racist jokes go unchecked, who has looked the other way at some sanctioned act of bigotry, who has not taken the time and effort to listen to what black people have to say about their experience, is, in some sense, responsible for Dylann Roof – even as he remains responsible for his own actions. Every white South Carolinian … is responsible for Dylann Roof. He is our child. We should have never let him fall into whatever hell he occupied when he decided to go into that church. Of course, 99 percent of southern whites will never go into a church, sit down with people and then massacre them. But that 99 percent is responsible for the one who does. We white southerners – those of us who left, the others who stayed, and even those millions who have migrated to the Sun Belt – are all Dylann Roof. We are all responsible. We cannot shirk it. We cannot go forward until we fix ourselves. We must organize ourselves, educate ourselves and come together to fight against white supremacy. If we don’t, there will always be another Dylann Roof around the corner. And in the mirror.

At the time I disagreed, and I continue to disagree with the idea that every white South Carolinian, or every white Southerner, or all whites – take your pick – is responsible for the heinous actions of one, or a handful, of extremist bigots.

I was reared by parents who actively pointed out the errors of racism and bigotry, and I have done the same with my children. I was told right from wrong, warned of the perils that would befall me were I to commit such idiotic acts as using racially charged terms and expected to live it. My children have been imbued with the same expectations.

I’ve instilled in my children the idea that while we can’t undo the past, we can make the present more tolerable by realizing that we’re no better or worse than anyone else just because of our background.

We need to listen to those different from us, recognize that their experiences and backgrounds give them different perspectives, but also understand that self-flagellation for sins we did not commit doesn’t move the ball forward in terms of reconciliation, either.

Our society has many flaws, including racism, but I am not going to bear the cross of hateful acts committed by the intolerant, even if others insist I do.

So where is this going? Last week one of my daughters got a glimpse of ugliness that I never witnessed in my many years of schooling.

She attends a magnet high school in a well-regarded school district in South Carolina. I will not name the school, for reasons that hopefully will be obvious.

The weekend before last she received a group text from a friend’s boyfriend. It said simply, “Join me and (his girlfriend) as we kill all blacks with the KKK.” It was followed with a second text, an attachment that was an application for the Ku Klux Klan.

My daughter was upset by the texts and told the boy that it wasn’t funny and that he was to stop.

She showed it to me later and we contacted the school. The school took the matter seriously and took action against the boy, though it would not disclose what action.

However, my daughter is now being harassed by the kids who were part of the group text, and others, being called out in particular for being a “snitch.” Already shy, she now dreads going to school.

I can tell her all day long she did the right thing, but it’s not much consolation when she walks into class and kids are talking about her, or are sending her text messages about how she’s ruined someone’s life because she went to school officials about something she knew was wrong.

I can tell her that we don’t get many chances in life to do the right thing in truly difficult situations, and that most people take the path of least resistance when those few opportunities present themselves, but it doesn’t make it any easier to handle the glares, the whispers or being blocked on social media when you’re 16 years old.

I don’t know how this happens, that a 16-year-old boy, whether simply showing off in an utterly misguided fashion or displaying some very serious problems, thinks it’s OK to voice such views, never mind send them to others via technology.

Where does someone at the age of 16 even get such ideas? I don’t know.

But I do know that if anyone ever tries to pin the blame for the racially motivated actions of others, past of present, on any of my children, especially my 16-year-old daughter, who is currently dealing with being ostracized for speaking up when everyone else failed to so much as utter a peep of protest, they’re going to get a stern word or three from a certain father.

Bottom line: if we’re ever to reach any sort of understanding regarding the past, it will be through compassion, empathy and standing up for right, not by ladling out, or taking on, heaping doses of collective white guilt.

Trying to recollect memories of fabled Milk Farm Restaurant

davis-1-23-2017-015For more than 50 years I’ve passed the old Milk Farm Restaurant sign near Dixon, Calif. The visits are less frequent these days, occurring on trips West when I visit family, but each time as I head along Interstate 80 south of Sacramento I see the venerable marker, all that remains of the once-famous eatery.

Those not conversant with area history have no way of knowing that the site was once one of the busiest stops between the state capital and San Francisco, where thousands were served weekly.

The 100-foot sign, topped with a cow jumping over a moon, once lit up with neon so vivid that it pierced the thick winter fog of the Sacramento Valley.

In my memory, I couldn’t recall the restaurant ever being open, and supposed that it had closed sometime in the 1960s. My parents said they had taken me there when I was around 18 months old, which would have been around the start of 1966. Yet, I would pass the site dozens of times in later years and could not remember the restaurant in operation, or even what it looked like.

So it was somewhat startling to find out that the Milk Farm, which began serving customers in 1919, remained in business until 1986.

Old Milk Farm Restaurant sign, Dixon, Calif.

Old Milk Farm Restaurant sign, Dixon, Calif.

Just down the road was another famous restaurant, the Nut Tree, in Vacaville, which operated from 1921 through 1996. I clearly recall that location and stopping there on more than one occasion. But the Milk Farm remains a void, except for driving past its iconic sign each time I headed north to such places as Davis, Sacramento or Lake Tahoe.

Fortunately, the world does not base historical judgment on what this author does or does not remember.

The Milk Farm began in 1919 as Hess Station, named for local rancher Karl Hess, who rented cabins to travelers in the days before motels.

The site was beside the old Lincoln Highway – Highway 40 – which was later expanded and renamed I-80.

Hess was apparently quite a promoter: he held milk-drinking contests, sold inexpensive chicken dinners and offered “all-you-can-drink” milk for 10 cents. He also helped make a named for the town of Dixon, where my grandfather and other family members attended high school, as the heart of the California dairy industry.

In 1938, Homer Henderson and his wife bought Hess Station and renamed it the Milk Farm. They added the cow logo which can be seen on the sign today.

“Stables, gas stations, an orange juice stand and a new restaurant all contributed to the Milk Farm being labeled ‘America’s Most Unique Highway Restaurant’ and to features on the radio and in such national publications as the Saturday Evening Post,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Celebrity visitors including crooner Bing Crosby, boxer Jack Dempsey and California Gov. and future US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.

The sign still visible today was erected in 1963 at a cost of $78,000, no mean sum more than 50 years ago.

The restaurant was eventually done in by rising food prices and increased competition, particularly from fast-food chains.

It closed in 1986 following damage from a violent windstorm and never reopened. In time, vagrants began inhabiting the structure, and in 2000 what remained of the building was razed.

Only the sign remains, a witness to the pre-chain-restaurant era, when part of the fun of vacationing involved the journey itself, and eateries put more emphasis on the quality of their food than on gimmicks used to lure travelers inside.

Washington’s presidency set standard for future US leaders

president-washington_inaugurated-e

It’s inauguration day in the United States, and while there’s much wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the man who will take office today, I prefer to believe that the presidency has an ennobling effect upon those who ascend to the office.

Certainly, the aura connected with the presidency, with its corps of staff and aides providing assistance, has great potential to provide a stabilizing influence on those elevated to the Oval Office.

The position can bestow a solemnity on even the most political of beings, given the gravity and history connected to the office.

If the United States has an unusual place in the world, it’s due in part to its tradition of peaceful transition of power. Consider that even some of the world’s smallest nations, such as Gambia and Equatorial Guinea, are despotic tyrannies where leaders refuse to let loose of power.

From the start, the US has followed a protocol in which opposing parties have handed off power without incident, even when election results didn’t go the way the majority of voters had wanted.

That is due in no small part to George Washington, the US’s first president and one of the history’s most remarkable individuals.

Washington, who took office in 1789, remains the only man to receive 100 percent of the electoral votes cast under the US system.

His accomplishments were legion even before he became the first chief executive.

Against almost unfathomable odds, he led a rag-tag collection of volunteers and state militia troops to victory over the then-greatest military force on the planet, enabling the Thirteen Colonies to secure their independence from Great Britain.

He also presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and his support convinced many states to vote for ratification.

As president, Washington avoided the temptation of war. His farewell address has been cited as a primer on republican virtue and as a warning against partisanship, sectionalism and involvement in foreign entanglements.

He reluctantly began a second term in office in 1793 but afterward retired to Mount Vernon, Va.

Few men, given the opportunity to hold office for life, as he was, would be able to walk away in the manner of Washington.

Washington did it twice, first after the American Revolution and again after his second term as president.

That didn’t escape the notice of British monarch King George III. Following the end of the American Revolution in 1783, George asked painter Benjamin West what Washington would do next and was told of rumors that he’d return to his farm.

The king responded by stating, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”

There has been no other president like Washington and there never will be. But Washington set a standard for the office which all who follow in his steps would do well to attempt to emulate.

(George Washington being sworn in as the US’s first president in 1789 in New York City.)