Sunday, May 8, 2011

Doomsday Procrastination

Here's a letter I submitted to our local newspaper regarding the on-again-off-again shopping mall project on the edge of town. The developers bulldozed scores of acres of beautiful mature forest and let it sit barren and unused for a few years now as the reality of our current economic condition remorselessly plays havoc with their plans. I've ranted about this development a few times before on my Moose Hill Journal in September 2008 and November 2009. This letter was published in the April 22, 2011 Sharon Advocate.

It is with perplexed sadness that I watch community television coverage of ongoing meetings regarding the Sharon Commons development. It's like watching slick presentations about the exact style and placement of deck chairs on the Titanic. Developers of yet more unnecessary big box stores try to perpetuate the illusion that we are still getting the “lifestyle mall” originally promised so many years ago now. They present drawings of fake facades and sloping roofs and talk as if a few more windows will change the fact that they are building just another mall with acres of asphalt, no residential component, and no public transportation.

This plan is based on 20th century thinking with no one pausing to consider where the 21st century may be headed. It was $4 per gallon gas and a deep recession that brought this project to a screeching halt a few years ago and prompted a cheapening and down-scaling of the project. Guess what? $4 a gallon gas is on the way back and, as recent debate in Washington shows, we are broke and the days of happy motoring and buying ever more cheap junk from China are over.

This project is never going to happen. It's unlikely it will be built, and if it is, stores will sit unoccupied. Consider the real state of our economy and then look at the local malls we already have (Plainville, Dedham, Avon, Stoughton, Easton). I understand that we residents of Sharon are desperate for tax relief, but this mall is not the answer. We have raped scores of acres of beautiful forest for an obsolete idea that is doomed to failure. We need a new plan and a new project. We need new vision for a future that that is not based on personal automobiles and mindless consumption. We are on the doorstep of a new age where it will be the real things that matter: clean air, clean water, clean energy, local food and community. This project provides none of these things.

Dust to Dust

Here are some thoughts I recorded after my mother-in-law Minna Greenberg's funeral on Friday, April 22, 2011.

We buried my mother-in-law today. Mom was a good woman who lived a life of comfort on her own terms. She was wonderful to the people she liked, but could be cold to those she didn't. I consider myself lucky that she was always very good to me. It could have gone the other way. As far as we could tell, she suffered little during her decline and the end was mercifully sudden and swift.

When I say we buried her today, I mean that quite literally. The customs of Judaism concerning death and dying always resonated with me. Upon death the body is buried as quickly as possible - ideally within 24 hours. There is no embalming. A simple pine box with no metal fasteners or adornments is used - dust to dust with no steel or concrete in the way.

After a brief chapel service that included moving personal remarks by my wife, daughter and nephew six of us, including her grandson - my son, lifted her onto our shoulders and carried her to the hearse. At the cemetery, we carried her from the road to the grave and four of us lowered her into the ground with cloth straps.

After a few more remarks by the rabbi we began the task of returning Minna to the earth. Slowly, reluctantly at first, using the back of the shovel, we took turns filling the grave. At first, the soil thudded on the wooden box, but soon the sound was more muffled. A rabbi once taught that the soil filling a grave was much like the life that it was covering - some of it easy and soft like sand, some of it hard like the rocks that are always found in New England dirt. We like to think that Minna's life was mostly like the sand.

Several family members took turns throwing in the first ceremonial shovels-full, but after a while a few of us men finished the chore of filling the grave. It turns out this is real work. It takes a lot of dirt to fill a grave. I sensed that we all wanted to do the job well - a final gesture of thanks to a woman who loved us all. My nephews who know so much about these things supervised and directed our efforts; making sure we filled the grave uniformly, leaving no voids. We tried to work quickly and efficiently so as not to prolong the task, but with a respectful lack of eagerness to see it finished.

In a world full of hype, buzz, glitz, exaggeration and hyperbole, this simple ritual serves as a reminder that death for all of us is a simple reality. In the end, we are all the same. We take nothing with us and all we leave behind is the love of those who knew us. Life is real, and so is death. It is love that transcends those realities and makes us human.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One Carrion Per Passenger

One thing I've learned in my past few years of observations on Moose Hill is that when I see an animal doing something unexpected, there's usually a reason for it.

Nancy and I were enjoying a mid-morning jog up Moose Hill Parkway today when we saw a big red-tail hawk fly up from the roadside. It flew a ways up into the oaks and pines and perched, no doubt watching us. I think of red-tails soaring above fields or sitting in trees along the highway, not sitting on the ground along a narrow road passing through heavy forest.

As we passed the spot the hawk took off from I looked over the high snow bank looking for evidence of a kill. I soon discovered a mangled deer carcass with a large spot of exposed flesh. I assume the deer was killed by a car, but it's possible that it fell prey to coyotes.

I never thought of red-tails as carrion feeders. Maybe the difficult winter we're having has pushed the bird out of it's normal patterns. Yet again, Moose Hill is a source of new insights into our natural world.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Going Viral

Since I don't live anywhere near Madison County, Indiana, I figure there's not much point in my calling any county officials about the plight of 72 year-old Dick Thompson being evicted from his own 38-acre rural property just because he lives in a trailer with no running water or septic system. I'm thinking the only thing I could do that has even a slim chance of helping is to encourage the news people to stay on top of the story. To that end, here's my second e-mail to the TV reporter that did a piece on the story:

Keith Olbermann Should See Your Dick Thompson Piece

Dear Mr. Edwards:

Your Dick Thompson story is going viral!

This is just the sort of thing that Kieth Olbermann loves to pick up as a cause to fight on his show. (Remember the one about the fire department that let a guy's house burn down because he didn't pay a $75 fee?) Such coverage would highlight your good work to millions of viewers nationwide and do a lot of good for one old man. I encourage you to ask your people to contact MSNBC and let them know about your fine reporting.


Alfred Mollitor

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Bastards of Madison County

I've been reading the Tiny House Blog a lot lately. I am interested in the idea of building small, efficient homes as an alternative to the monsters most people seem to lust after these days.

A recent post on that blog tells of the plight of an old man in Madison County, Indiana being evicted from his own 36-acre property for code and safety violations. A TV news report about the situation can be viewed here. It just seems to me that there could be more to the story and I was moved to write the TV reporter who covered it, encouraging him to stay on top of it. I figured I would save the letter here.

Dear Mr. Edwards:

I just watched your moving report (online) about 72 year-old Dick Thompson who is being evicted from his own 36-acre property by Madison County officials. One wonders, in this age of homelessness and high unemployment, why the County would expend so much time and energy harassing a poor old man living peacefully on his own 36 acres. Surly, one old guy living alone on that much land can't pose a threat to the health or well-being of anyone else. Unless, of course, there is more to this story than is evident in your initial excellent report.

I encourage you to heed the journalist's maxim: "Follow the money!" Who prompted Madison County to go after this poor fellow? Who stands to gain if he is gone? What developers have an eye on the property? What affluent former city-dwellers have recently moved to the area and are now disappointed that the area doesn't fit their image of a rich suburb? Which big-box store would love to bulldoze the property?

Please follow up on this story. Your viewers will be eager to hear more about this battle between traditional American liberty and the power of big government and greedy corporations.


Alfred Mollitor

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Haven't been blogging much at all lately. Facebook seems to absorb most of my limited output. I'm thinking about copying a few of my Facebook comments and saving them here. I'm sensing an interesting evolution in my own thinking these days. It started a few years ago as I read stuff by James Howard Kunstler, and I've written quite a bit about that. More recently, I've discovered Chris Hedges and Derrick Jensen and they are having a strong impact on the way I see the world around me.

Kunstler thinks we're screwed because the oil will run out, we've squandered all our wealth building stupid and unsustainable suburbs and the financial industry has been royally screwing us without Vaseline.

Hedges thinks the liberal left has disappeared and we're left with a pampered, comfortable, soft liberal elite who likes to talk a good game but will never rock the boat enough to to put themselves in any kind of jeopardy. We think we have freedom, but in reality we only have as much freedom as the corporations and government want us to have.

Jensen thinks that civilization itself is a disaster and human society will inevitably destroy the world. Our constant push for growth, productivity and progress can only convert the living into the dead: dead people, dead rivers, dead soil, dead oceans, dead forests, and so on. The powerful at the top are only concerned about their own wealth and comfort and will stop at nothing to get what they want.

I am coming to believe that we are steadily sliding down a very slippery slope but no one with any power to change anything will dare step up to make real change. In response to a comment by a FB friend that yesterday's elections - when the house changed hands yet again - will only bring more of the same, I wrote this:

"I fear we can never hope to see any meaningful change from Washington, our current political process or anybody in the so-called 'liberal' media that is said to control everything. The liberal left (I imagine just about anyone reading this considers themselves liberal or progressive) is too comfortable and is too much part of the system and has too much to lose to make a real difference. It's all talk and entertainment. Do you think you'll ever see Keith Olbermann (who I enjoy watching) throw himself in front of a bulldozer? Will Jon Stewart ever chain himself to a redwood? Will Rachel Maddow ever storm a NY police station demanding justice for another black kid shot by cops? Not likely. No, we still have a long way to slide before TSHTF."

I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the few real heroes among us; those who are willing to truly lay it on the line for justice and a better world. Let me know if you find any.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Survival of the Fittest

I saw a garbage picker this morning. When I went out to throw some last-minute stuff into our spiffy new single-stream recycling bin, I saw a guy with his old station wagon, rubber gloves and little poking stick going through the neighbors' trash picking out anything he thought might have value. I'm all for it - better to have something reused than to have it dumped, burned or even recycled.

Seeing this made me think of genetic variation and evolution. OK, maybe I'll burn in Hell, but I believe in evolution and that the world is quite a bit older than 5770 years. I can't help it. I was forced to take 10th grade biology by those godless secularists that ran the public schools back in the Sixties. A little education is a horrible thing. But I digress. I understand it, any population has a little genetic variation. The vast majority of individuals are adapted perfectly well to life under the current conditions. But every now and then an individual is born that's a little different, either through some genetic mutation or some statistically rare combination of genes from its parents. If this individual is too different, they simply die. If they are a little different, they may survive but not thrive. But, if conditions in the environment suddenly shift, maybe - just maybe - that rare individual will be better suited to survival under the new set of conditions and everyone will struggle or die. That lucky oddball will go on to pass along his/her genes and the population will being to evolve into something new and better suited to their new world.

I saw the garbage picker as that oddball. Today, most of us here in the U.S. have adapted to a life of comfort where we don't have to think much about things like where our next meal will come from and how we will clothe the kids next winter. Everything we really need - things like food, water, clothing, basic shelter - are widely available and cheap. But what if conditions were to change? Let's say the climate really was warming, the oil was really running out and political turmoil was right around the corner. Who would be the fittest then - the pampered pretty boy who spent the last two generations in an air-conditioned cocoon, or the guy who new something about picking through garbage?

I put this here on the Moose Hill Notebook rather than Facebook because I get too much static over there about how boring and gloomy I am. I maintain that while I might be boring, I'm not gloomy. I observe our current state of affairs with much interest and take great pleasure in dreaming about those valleys on the other side of the mountains.