Past few weeks I’ve been posting various quotes on Facebook. Here’s the story on the source of these bits of ephemera.
Two weeks ago Kim and I took a ride out to Shelburne, Mass. Purpose of this trip was to get some grass-fed beef from Wheel-View Farm, a great place where John and Carolyn Wheeler raise Belted Galloway cattle just on grass, free from antibiotics, corn or hormones. It is just beef that tastes great and is great for you.
On the way back we passed an antiques store – can’t recall if it was in Turner’s Falls or Miller’s Falls, but around there. New Englanders will instantly be familiar with this kind of place: aisles and aisles and shelves and shelves of old junk, from keys to tableware to brushes and razors to aged toys to old signs and more. We were in no hurry to get back and you never know what you will find, so we stopped and browsed around.
The was a section of old books and out of the yellowed issues of Life and Time the title shown here to the left instantly leapt out at me: Elbert Hubbard’s Scrapbook. I snatched it up and without even opening it made my way to the checkout, where I parted with all of $4.50.
I know Hubbard, at least a bit. He was one of the great progressives of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a printer and businessman, and founder of Roycroft, an Arts and Crafts movement that lives on to this day in East Aurora, NY, not far from my own hometown. (He is also the uncle (adopted) of L Ron Hubbard of Scientology and Battlefield Earth fame.) On Hubbard’s wikiPedia page you’ll find he was a socialist and anarchist, but his was a uniquely American version of those ideologies, melding a deep reverence for personal responsibility and productivity with a desire for social justice. If Hubbard is known for anything today it is for the essay, Message to Garcia. The message in this story of initiative, self-reliance and devotion to duty has made this work required reading in US military academies for decades; not many socialists nor anarchists are so revered.
The scrapbook is not Hubbard’s own writing, but writings of others that he prized. In it you will find quotes from over 500 authors: Twain, Wordsworth, Solon, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Savonarola, Blake, Bronte, Buddha, Charles Darwin, Eugene Debs, Cato, and Cicero, just to name a few pulled at random from the index.
Isn’t this amazing? I consider myself a well-read person, and having access to the information resources of the modern age, I should easily excel someone like Hubbard – who, as Mr. Spock remarked lived in a “stone knives and beaksins” culture – in exposure to great thoughts. Yet it is not so. My own scrapbook would be a thin volume indeed, compared to Hubbard’s.
We can debate the reasons for this, but it hardly matters. To skim through the Scrapbook is to quickly see how the progressive movement was born in words, wed to action, much as the independence of America was born in the works of thinkers like John Locke and later John Stuart Mill.
I suppose people today would find much of the Scrapbook maudlin, or naïve. In my sampling of it I have found to be energizing and optimistic. I’ll leave you with this quote:
EVIL is unnatural – goodness is the natural state of man. Earth has no hopeless islands or continents. We live in a redemptive world. Poverty will end; sin will die; love will triumph and hope will plant flowers on every grave.
– David Swing
I imagine this was Hubbard’s belief as well – provided of course enough men and women are willing to take the message to Garcia …
No, not so far as Peru where alpacas are native, but just to Shelburne, Mass., there to visit Wheel-View Farm. At Wheel-View, John & Carolyn Wheeler raise Belted Galloway cattle fed only on grass. This is better for the pasture, better for the surrounding environment and (to my taste) makes for better tasting beef. Back in 2011 before I departed for India we had been buying beef from Wheel-View. This was our first chance to get back and re-stock. Tomorrow it is grass-fed beefsteak on the grill.
On our way back we encountered alpacas – not ranging about wild but on a small farm. There were 5 or 6, all recently shorn. These animals are a source of amazing natural fiber; some years back Kim has made me an knitted alpaca hat:
The warming power of this hat is beyond description – suffice to say should I be called upon to visit the South Pole I am more than provided for, hat-wise. Anyway searching about I find at least 16 alpaca ranchers in Massachusetts. Alpacas have been farmed in the US since 1984, and today give access to a beneficial but complicated set of tax incentives.
Nonetheless, don’t expect to be seeing any alpacas here in Arlington anytime soon. For now I’m happy to be an end-user, not a producer, where animal products are concerned.
Here in Massachusetts the day to day temperatures have been close to those in Pune, India, my recent home away from home. Humidity is much greater here … yesterday outside doing some errands the feeling was like being in Mumbai, 33 degrees C and 75% humidity. Hereabouts weather often resolves itself sharply. Around 6 pm the skies quickly darkened and as if a switch was flipped suddenly we had heavy rain and cannon-shot thunder, for about 30 mins. After all was cool, calm and lightly breezy, the cloying touch of high humidity gone from the air. This harsh weather was a pleasant diversion for myself and Kim; we sat on our back porch relaxing, sipping wine while the downpour drenched a few backyard grillers in our immediate neighborhood, or set dogs to yowling whenever the thunder cracked.
Weather on the other side of the world can do much worse than drench your cookout or scare the family pet. In India and Pakistan the monsoon is not yet done and this past week more than 200 people perished in floods from powerful rains. I still follow India and South Asia news and so I see these things as they happen, but I daresay most westerners know the danger the extremes of weather pose in that part of the world, perhaps remembering the Bangladesh floods of 1974 and 1984.
It’s common sense that variations in weather are more dangerous for people in rural India and for people in USA. But, how much more dangerous exactly? I came across an interesting paper on this very thing, Weather and Death in India (Burgess, Deschenes, Donaldson and
Greenstone, 2011). The paper is math-intensive and I’ve only done a cursory reading, yet the methodology seems interesting. The authors related day-to-day mortality reports to temperature (and other factors) and related variability in temperature to variability in mortality. Here’s one of their graphs:
A baseline day has a temperature of 22 – 24 degrees C. The blue line shows how mortality in the USA goes up or down, on average, on days of higher of lower temperatures. This blue line is pretty flat; your chance of dying in the USA stays the same no matter the temperature.
The red line is rural India. Lower temperatures have broad effects on mortality, but not at all levels. But look at the higher side of the chart. As the temperature increases to 26, then 30, and finally 36, mortality rate increases consistently. (Note that the units here are the natural log of the mortality rate, not the mortality rate itself, so a change of 0.01 means quite a lot.)
Well, everyone seems to complain about the weather but no one does anything about it. That’s not the Salazar way, though. We’ve already taken initial steps towards getting a photovoltaic solar system for our home; in fact this coming week we have scheduled site visits from two contractors we are evaluating. This expected PV system will certainly save us a lot of money and, I like to think at least, in a tiny way will lessen the risk of extreme weather for everyone. More news on this when we get the detailed proposals.
Back to the weather and particularly the plight of farmers in India and South Asia I believe the proper way to think about this is based on a single word: Freedom. In the USA we talk about freedom all the time; I need to be free to shout out whatever blather I wish, to own massive amounts of weaponry, to pay my workers as little as I can get away with, even to pollute because I think it is cool. But the Indian farmer lacks a fundamental freedom we Americans have forgot we have: Freedom from weather. Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize-winning economist and native of Bangladesh, speaks about this at length in his book, Development as Freedom. His argument there is the world’s poor suffer from “unfreedoms”; while ostensibly free to do what they want they are in fact without choices, they must labor in pre-determined ways or die; they are in fact if not in name, slaves: slaves to hunger, slaves to bosses, to bureaucrats, and to the weather. At the end of his book, he cites famous lines by William Cowper:
Freedom has a thousand charms to show,
That slaves, howe’er contented, never
The “thousand charms” are choice. For me I can be soaked by rain or not, depending on my mood. Everyone deserves the choice of watching the weather – or not – without fear.