Tuesday, June 18, 2013

You Don't Need a Weatherman

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.
                                                     -Bob Dylan

It’s getting hotter.  But here in our corner of the upper Hudson Valley, it really doesn’t seem that bad this year. The apple crop has not been destroyed by erratic  heat waves and frosts, as it was last year, and the harvest promises to be especially good. The Mohawk and the Schoharie have been running high and boat traffic did have to be suspended last month on the Erie Canal but so far there’s been nothing quite as bad as the huge floods that followed Hurricane Irene in 2011.  And the tornado that ripped through Rotterdam and Schenectady a couple weeks ago may have been an anomaly, though some Assemblymen are worried by increasing tornado activity in the state and have called for an improved public warning system.

We all know that it’s a lot worse this year elsewhere in America.  Waves of tornados have crashed into Oklahoma. Wildfires are out of control in Colorado. Not that we’re immune around here. Last October Superstorm Sandy swept out of the warmest ocean temperatures ever recorded off our coasts to cause the kind of damage none of us imagined possible.
But the mass media tell us that we’re rebuilding. Republican Chris Christie and Democrat Barack Obama toured the Jersey shore last month in a heartening display of bipartisanship.  One reporter did nag the governor about whether New Jersey should have prepared for the future with climate change in mind. “No,” said Mr. Christie, “cause I don’t think there’s been any proof thus far that Sandy was caused by climate change.” President Obama, who from time to time admits that the climate is changing, stood next to him on the boardwalk but did not express any embarrassing disagreement with his host.

People want to be positive. “The storm can’t beat us,” as more than one New Yorker has said. Thus far,  I haven’t heard anyone say, “We’re New Yorkers and we’re a  lot tougher than carbon dioxide” but it seems many of us might feel that way. If not, why would people be buying up Rockaway beach front like crazy, barely eight months after nearby Breezy Point was obliterated?  True, they won’t be getting the same deals on federal flood insurance but these frantic buyers don’t seem that worried.

People who take the long view, of course, like insurance companies and farmers can’t afford to deny what’s right in front of their eyes. New York City Mayor Bloomberg, as a prime example, is not one to underestimate risks or he would never have become the billionaire that he is.  On June 11 he called for a $20 billion investment in flood barriers to protect New York City from whatever comes roaring out of the Atlantic in coming years. He quoted environmental scientists who predict sea levels rising as much as 31 inches by 2050, accompanied by severe storms and prolonged spells of extreme heat and cold But Mayor Bloomberg is leaving office this year and the odds against building such barriers may be as great as those against the gun control laws he’s also been fighting for. 

We’re nearing a point where not even the most avid denialists, like Texas Governor Rick Perry or Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, will be able to keep saying that everything is just fine and dandy, just the way God always wanted to be. (After all, 2012 was the hottest ever recorded in this country.)

Those who want to do nothing, however, will keep questioning why it’s all happening. They will be at great pains to point out that no one event, no matter how horrific, can be linked to a changing climate. And my guess is that they will keep expressing such doubts and keep advocating the burning of fossil fuel, no matter what the evidence.

The question the doubters and denialists won't want us to ponder is:  Do the droughts, tornadoes, heat waves, wild fires and floods have anything at all to do with how much carbon dioxide our cars, our air conditioners, our furnaces, our airplanes, our use of electricity sends into the atmosphere?

 And since we don’t agree on whether we ourselves are responsible, trains full of  Dakota crude oil still come through Albany every day for the past year as if burning all that fuel will have no effect on the rising temperature of the globe. Governor Cuomo, who was so forthright about the reality of climate change right after Superstorm Sandy, has not commented on all those tanker cars lined up along I-787. (Click on image for earlier story on this)

The national government still sends its fleets and armies across the planet as if obscure tribesmen and angry fanatics were anything but a minor threat when compared against devastating climate change. The federal legislature is still dead-locked  over abstract financial numbers as if Washington itself may not be covered by the sea before they ever reach an agreement. And as each region of the country faces the impact of forces the federal government chooses to ignore, who is to say what the future will bring?

To answer this question is to enter the realm of fiction, or science fiction. And that is what led to my latest story, now available on Kindle for 99 cents - Just click on the cover image at the top or bottom of this post.

Imagine a retired couple enjoying their golden years in a time after New York, Boston and Washington have vanished beneath rising seas. Imagine a time of rainy and dry seasons, of wildfires that take out entire states, and of powerful regional regimes that have assumed the power that an obsolete and archaic national government refused to wield.

How would such confederations of the old states survive in an era when the climate causes repeated waves of destruction? A time when no more oil can be imported?  Would such a confederation of northeastern states turn to back to coal? Would steam-driven locomotives become the most reliable means of transportation in such a time? Would the leaders of such a society still be denying that burning fossil fuel is making the planet ever hotter and more threatening to human survival?

Now, imagine that the grandson of this elderly couple is a weatherman for WMHT radio in a time when television and the internet are distant memories. Now that the satellites are gone, young Ray’s respect for old-school methods wins him a devoted following in the regional capital at Albany.

Then, one rainy Monday Ray takes to the air waves to become the most dangerous kind of whistle-blower any society can imagine: the man who claims that everything that has gone wrong with the world is our own fault.

Excerpt from the opening of You Don’t Need a Weatherman:

We used to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, corn, you name it, but with all the rain we’ve been having lately, we finally switched to damp-resistant potatoes and turnips. Marge and I both like to putter around in the garden so when the rain finally tapered off on Monday, we went out to pull a few weeds. I ran an extension cord so we could bring the radio with us and catch the noon weather report. 

To be honest, we just like to hear Ray’s voice. He always starts out saying “Stay tuned for the official North East Regional Authority ten day weather forecast.” Then he reads a commercial, say, for a special railroad excursion to Whiteface Mountain. After that, he might read another commercial for canning jars or mosquito netting. And then he reads the forecast. There was nothing unexpected in what Ray read on Monday.  Just rain today and tomorrow, followed by partly rainy, cloudy, more cloudy, more rain and a flood warning for the end of the week. 

Unlike a lot of those guys who pass for weathermen on the radio, Ray has a double degree in meteorology and geology from Union Siena and really knows what he’s talking about. The Weather Bureau experts at NERA even consult with him on some of the trickier predictions. Of course, there’s no sure way to foretell the weather that isn’t tricky, unlike years ago when the satellites were still up. You might say it’s all guesswork now although Ray would disagree. He’s a great one for checking wind speed, barometric pressure and all that, and he even talks on the telephone with weather men in the Central and Southern Regional Authorities. He told me that he got in some trouble for that once, around the time of those border incidents in Kentucky.

And did I mention that Ray Rogers, the weatherman at WMHT Schenectady, is our very own grandson?

 Ray’s feature program is our favorite, a fifteen minute slot billed as “Ray’s Rainy Day” broadcast every Monday and Wednesday from 2:15 to 2:30.  His angle is to tell uplifting weather stories, like the little girl who survived for a month in a collapsed building after the Great Boston Tornado or the boy who warned his village when Superstorm Sammy surged all the way to Harpers Ferry. 

Unfortunately, we both dozed off after lunch and missed the show. Marge says that retirement can make you really lazy.

We went over that evening to play cards with the Feldmans.  Bob retired from NERA Rail the same time I did and has been a pal for years. As she dealt the first hand, his wife Jane relayed some gossip about dead bodies floating in the Estuary that she heard from Mary Hotaling, whose brother is a Hudson Riverwatcher

“Makes me think of the time you and me were working the Scranton Line,” observed Bob.

“Do you mean when the Chesapeake Bay moved way up into the Susquehanna?”

“Yeah, all the bridges had been wiped out and there were bodies floating everywhere.”

“Funny, we came through a year later and the Susquehanna was bone dry.”

“That was the summer of the big wildfires, wasn’t it?”

“It was a son of a bitch getting the coal train through that mess, wasn’t it?” Looking at my pair of fives and three queens, I winked at Marge and said, “I call.”

“We nearly choked to death,” laughed Bob, laying down his aces and tens. “Full house!”

“What a bastard!” I was laughing along with Bob. We don’t play for serious money, just fun. 

Shuffling the cards, I started to deal. “That fire was no joke. It burned out most of Maryland before the hurricanes came.”

“You remember those walls of fire on both sides of the tracks in Hagerstown? A couple of boxcars burst into flames before we could disconnect them.”

“Hagerstown? Don’t you mean New Washington?”

“I keep forgetting they’d moved the federal government up there before they went to Charlottesville.”

“Ever since old D.C. was engulfed, the Feds keep looking for a perfect spot for the new capital.”

“I don’t know why they even bother to keep it all going, the President, Congress, Supreme Court, that whole circus. It isn’t like they have any serious work to do since the Regional Authorities stepped up.”

“The USA is an important symbol, like the flag,” I reminded Bob. “It stands for our freedom.”


Read the rest of You Don't Need a Weatherman on your Kindle reader for 99 cents. The Kindle version can  also be read on tablets, smartphones and PCs by downloading the free Kindle app. Amazon Prime members may borrow the story through the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Click on cover image for details.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New biography of Alfred Dolge

 The  Violet Festival in Dolgeville last weekend was once again a celebration of the wonderful spirit of the village founded by Alfred Dolge so many years ago. Here are some scenes and the script of  the annual living street theater production on the life of Alfred Dolge. 

My new short biography of Alfred Dolge is now available on Kindle for 99 cents and as an illustrated paperback for $7.95. The Kindle version can  also be read on tablets,smartphones and PCs by downloading the free Kindle app. Amazon Prime members may also borrow the story through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

This booklet is meant only as an introduction to the remarkable founder of Dolgeville and originator of an early form of Social Security. I draw  on two works that are essential to anyone interested in the history of the Dolgeville and Little Falls. Dolge by Eleanor Franz is the only full length biography of  Dolge ever published and can be purchased from the Herkimer County Historical Society. Richard Buckley's history of Little Falls, Unique Place, Diverse People can be purchased from the Little Falls Historical Society.

 Dolge himself wrote widely and two collections of his thoughts can be found on google books: The Just Distribution of Earnings, So-called Profit Sharing (1889) and The Practical Application of Economic Theories in the Factories of Alfred Dolge & Son (1895)

I also found the Dolgeville-Manheim Historical Society to be a great source of material on Dolge and his era. Dolge's self-published History of a Crime can be purchased in photocopy form at the Society's museum on Main Street in Dolgeville.

In the new Alfred Dolge my goal is to increase awareness of a visionary businessman whose great experiment is more relevant than ever, a hundred and fifteen years after his enemies forced him into bankruptcy and destroyed the amazingly equitable and prosperous industrial village he had created. The Social Security System, now under attack from a variety of politicians and their wealthy backers, gives credit to Dolge as one of its forerunners. But his downfall is particularly instructive at this time.

Dolge was a captain of industry, an immigrant who made his fortune in America, and completely devoted to the capitalist system that made him and his family so wealthy. And he did not stint from enjoying that wealth, living in a grand mansion attended by servants, traveling annually to Europe, and throwing his son an over-the-top wedding in which the happy couple and guests came from New York to Dolgeville on their own special wedding train.

But Dolge understood that unrestrained capitalism could not last.  Analyzing the recession of 1892 for his fellow Mohawk Valley industrialists, he pointed to the collapse of demand as the real cause of the fiancial crisis: “Capitalists must learn that wage earners of today are of greater importance to the community as consumers than as producers.”  He saw the labor conflicts that were growing in intensity from the 1870s onward as due not to dangerous radicals but to the reasonable demand of workers for a better life: “Almost every conflict between capital and labor originates in the demand of laborers for a betterment of their condition.” 

He said that too many manufacturers subscribed to the notion that “profits rise as wages fall,” and argued that the recession of 1892 was due to a collapse in demand caused by the failure of Congress to pass a protective tariff that would safeguard high wages for workers.  His insistence that American industry and workers had to be protected from low-wage competition overseas was self-evident to him and to many of his fellow Republicans in those years - a stark contrast to the present time in which both parties vie to see who can do more to outsource American jobs and dismantle american industgry, all in the name of "globalization."

When Dolge spoke to his fellow capitalists, he presented his social and economic reforms as simply enlightened self-interest. But his commitment to building a prosperous and cultured life for working people went deeper and was rooted in the example of his revolutionary father and in his readings of such diverse authors as Karl Marx, Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Wilhelm Leibknecht, found of the German Socialist Party, was a close friend of his father and a guide to Albert's youthful studies of politics and economics. 

Eleanor Franz described the breadth of Dolge's vision:

“What Dolge built grew out of his determination that children should no longer scavenge coal, or old men end up in paupers’ graves. It was his belief that a workman should be able to retire at sixty with a pension paid for by his employer as part of the cost of production. The security of such a plan, he wrote, “would allow the laborer to live better and be more healthy, keep his wife at home and his children in school. He could live up to his income and thus develop a higher manhood and superior citizenship.” Dolge saw employees eventually becoming partners in a business, so that a capitalist would no longer be enriched at the expense of his laborers. Even though he believed in hard work as a way out of poverty, it was never his belief that the poor remained poor because of laziness. What he aimed for was, in effect, a leveling of the economy to benefit everyone rather than solely the man at the top.” 

Some who have studied his life may differ but my view is that Dolge was brought down by a conspiracy among his fellow capitalists, led by George Hardin and Schuyler Ingham but supported by other wealthy men afraid that the high wages and social benefits Dolge provided to his workers would lead their own employees to demand the same and thus cut into their own immense profits.  The resentment of Dolge took on a very personal note, as when Hardin told the Little Falls Journal & Courier in 1898 that Dolge was "an anarchist, an atheist and a communist." 

The life of Alfred Dolge has much to teach about the struggles of our own time and we can only hope that people beyond Dolgeville will be inspired by his dedication to building a humane capitalism in which working people can thrive.

Previous posts from this site on Alfred Dolge and Dolgeville: