August 21, 2014

Another plus

Believe it or not, there are a lot of good things going on in West Virginia (he said, to reassure himself). One of them is the growth of the local food movement and the spread of community gardens and farmers' markets.

Disclosure: we have a garden and I actually planted a good bit of it and it actually grew, but working in it is not my favorite thing, I'm sad to say. I like them better conceptually than when you have to do weeding.

Anyhow, this story from WV Public Broadcasting tells how some folks in Charleston are using community gardens built on vacant lots on the West Side to build their entrepreneurial skills.

I'm all for that and wish them well. But based on my experience at Goat Rope Farm, I wouldn't advise anybody to quit their day job.

YOU KNOW IT. If there's a news story about Neanderthals, you'll find it here.

August 20, 2014

How cool is this?...or cheap is the new green

It has been my practice at Goat Rope these days whenever possible to blog about positive things in West Virginia (and, yes, here are some). The latest such example is a recent gathering on sustainability, health and environmental education in Charleston.

The Charleston Gazette reports that Mark Swiger, a school official from Marshall County, could boast of an estimated savings of $7 million since 2000 due to reducing energy and water use and improving other environmental practices.

Swiger, the  sustainability contact for Marshall County Schools, says his 13-school district has saved an estimated $7 million since 2000 through limiting energy and water use and improving environmental sustainability in other ways.

“With 55 counties doing this, think of those savings,” Swiger said. “ ... Sustainability should have no ideology. It is conservative, it is progressive, it is everything. When you’re saving that kind of money, everyone wants that.”

Roger that.

August 19, 2014

Sad but true

A friend of mine just send me this link from the NY Times about declining membership in volunteer fire departments (VFDs)  around the country. If you live in a big city you may not realize this, but in a huge chunk of the country if things catch on fire or a disaster of any kind happens, volunteer fire fighters will be the ones to deal with it.

The Spousal Unit and I had a short but happy career in our volunteer fire department and the Times piece rings all too true. Running a VFD takes a lot of money and there is constant pressure to raise money. In our case, that meant weekly bingo games, regular boot drives, and grant writing. All that can pile up on an already strained pool of volunteers.

The decline of VFDs shows two sad features of contemporary American life: the decline of social capital and the nation's unwillingness to invest sufficiently in public goods.

WHAT'S NEXT, WV?  If coal jobs keep declining, what is going to take their place?


THERE ARE TONS OF STEREOTYPES ABOUT WEST VIRGINIANS. Some of them, however, may not be too far amiss.

August 18, 2014

An unkind god

Back in 1999, the theologian Harvey Cox wrote an influential essay about the newish idolatry that was sweeping the world. The title was The Market as God: Living in the New Dispensation.

Here's a sample paragraph:

At the apex of any theological system, of course, is its doctrine of God. In the new theology this celestial pinnacle is occupied by The Market, which I capitalize to signify both the mystery that enshrouds it and the reverence it inspires in business folk. Different faiths have, of course, different views of the divine attributes. In Christianity, God has sometimes been defined as omnipotent (possessing all power), omniscient (having all knowledge), and omnipresent (existing everywhere). Most Christian theologies, it is true, hedge a bit. They teach that these qualities of the divinity are indeed there, but are hidden from human eyes both by human sin and by the transcendence of the divine itself. In "light inaccessible" they are, as the old hymn puts it, "hid from our eyes." Likewise, although The Market, we are assured, possesses these divine attributes, they are not always completely evident to mortals but must be trusted and affirmed by faith. "Further along," as another old gospel song says, "we'll understand why."
The market god hasn't been very kind to the coal industry in West Virginia, which faces competition from cheap and abundant natural gas and other energy sources, including coal from the western US and elsewhere. The latest slap from the market god comes from international competition.

According to the Charleston Daily Mail, "...while coal mines across Central Appalachia are announcing closures, U.S. coal imports are rising sharply." One such source of cheaper coal is the nation of Colombia.

Here again, the two archangels of the market god, supply and demand, seem to be at work. While labor costs in Colombia are lower, another factor is transportation. Shipping coal from South American apparently seems to many buyers to be a better alternative for some buyers as domestic competition for rail car space goes up.

The Daily Mail cites a Wall Street Journal article which reports that "it’s $11 a ton cheaper for Florida power plants to have coal shipped from Colombia than Central Appalachia. It costs $26 a ton to ship from Central Appalachia compared to $15 a ton from Colombia."

It's hard for true believers to be angry at their god. Maybe that's why they like to blame the black guy with the unusual name and the EPA.

August 17, 2014

More on a bright spot

Whenever possible, I've blogged here about good things that are happening or have happened in West Virginia (there really are some). One to watch is the new effort to reform the state's juvenile justice system, which is a hot mess.

With the help of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a state task force composed of people from many sectors will study the system and look for ways to reduce incarceration and recidivism and promote community corrections. Something like this has already been done with the adult prison system via legislation passed in 2013.

WHAT'S THE WORLD COMING TO? I was pleasantly surprised to read this editorial in the conservative Charleston Daily Mail last week calling on people to recognize that coal is declining for whatever reason and that we need to start talking seriously about West Virginia's future and working to diversity the economy.