The Fog of Rural Virginia

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Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM via Flickr

I didn’t see the sign that would have said “Welcome to Virginia” accompanied by what I assume is still the “Virginia is for lovers” tag line. All I saw along busy Interstate 77, through the pouring rain and looming fog, were some impressive hills that caused our fragile little compact car to wince as its engine revved in search of some non-existent muscle.  I was hoping to see the sign as an indicator of progress, as we passed hour number 7 on what should have been an 8 hour drive, but the large dark figures that began to line the road were sign enough: we’ve arrived in Appalachia, sacred region of culture, lore, and some crazy beautiful nature. Of course as far as the highway is concerned, it’s just more asphalt with slightly better scenery for the next 6 hours.

And so it was, that the day before Christmas eve a little car with New Jersey plates struggled its way to a beautiful town called Luray, Virginia. To visit friends, rest, but also to get a quick glimpse of what life is like there; another world that seems cut off from most everything, at least in my head.

Arriving in late evening in a rural American town in the mountains of Virginia, what you get is an extremely silent and still atmosphere. The craziest thing one can see are the winding roads and the tasteful Christmas lights decorating main street. Shops seemed to have closed hours ago, while the windows of closed restaurants still reveal some condensation from customers who were very recently enjoying a meal. Luray is sleepy at night, but there are plenty of signs that when the world wakes up tomorrow, this place will be busy.

photo by Rory Finneren via Flickr
photo by Rory Finneren via Flickr

There is nothing quite like waking up in a perfectly silent farm house made of stone and wood surrounded by nature and little else. Not too surprisingly, next to the bed of this fantastic bnb, there is one of those artificial noise machines so you can listen to the wind or some soothing white noise, if silence is too off-putting to fall asleep to.  Looking outside I see the vast green of forrest and fields that last night were nothing but shadows around my headlights. Scanning the horizon I see a house or two and wonder if those far away neighbors wake up the same way every day. Or maybe they just curse life and get on with it.

Sadly there is only time for oatmeal, tea, a quick walk around the building to listen to the rustling of leaves in the wind, water from a nearby stream, a cow or two somewhere nearby. We take it all in as quickly as possible, as the highway is a-callin’ and Christmas in New Jersey waits for no man (or woman). Driving past the farm houses, some in excellent condition, many abandoned, I can’t help wonder what happened to those people. Did they move away in search of more profitable work? Did they die in their now dilapidated homes, no one to take over and fix things up. How many family lines ended here?  – This was not surprisingly  followed by another typical line of thinking: what would it be like to take up residence here? Would a fool like me feel at home making a life next to Shenandoah National Park? Would every day be interesting and rewarding in some way? Wait, what am I talking about.. isn’t the grass always greener somewhere else? Don’t we typically trade good and bad aspects in one particular place for a set of mixed circumstances elsewhere? Is this part of being human, in the end? Few of these questions will ever get an answer. They are mostly just sparks in an over active imagination. But when you spend even only a few hours surrounded by such peace and beauty… sparks sure do fly.

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Selling Death

It is a pretty well known fact that the US is the global leader in arms sales. Some will also have heard that Russia is second. But in fact, if you put together all the European Union numbers, in terms of total arms sales in the last 10 years, they come very close to tying the US. Somehow its not a very publicized fact, Europe sells almost as many weapons as the US.

And who gets those weapons? Which countries in the world? Better yet, which groups in the world? Places where there is civil war? Dictatorships? Or civil wars yet to come? I think of all those child soldiers in the world and wonder where their gun came from? USA? France? Probably both.

Global warming gets a fair amount of play in the media these days. There is even some, though surely not enough, mobilization to do something about it. Yet all over the developed world in all these lovely places with people that are so highly educated and experienced, people are engaging in the arms trade. Making money selling weapons for people to kill each other with. Trading stocks and benefiting while people arm themselves and carry out mass murders in the name of the latest cause or call-to-arms. Even in the US now, the favored presidential candidate Hillary CLinton has become the number one choice of weapons manufacturers… and yet people believe she will bring change and restore some sort of self respect for the nation.

With each passing year that arms dealers post record profits, more people die needlessly in the name of business and strategic defense. If that isn’t a threat to our world, I don’t know what is.

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Calling the Arctic

During my occasional working days here in Brussels, I have lots of time on busses and trains to think about how much I miss my bike and the topics of my next podcasts.

For the next few months I will be frequently touching upon the topic of the Arctic and the race to exploit its resources, re-claim property rights, and the ongoing accelerating process of global warming effecting the region (and in turn, the world).

While mainstream media has dedicated the occasional article on this topic, they focus mostly on the horserace or “competition” between Russia, Canada, US, and Denmark (no mentions of Norway lately). Some tacit attention is given to the political conflict and the use of “submarines” by Russia to plant an underground flag or something to that effect.

What lacks is the real details that effect people’s lives. The information regarding exactly what these nations are doing and plan to do in the name of political power, economics, and what some call progress. They leave out the communities that live in and around the arctic, how they are being effected by all these activities. Rising sea level, melting of the ice caps, increased ship traffic.. these things all come with a price. And then take that to a global level, because the arctic is such an important place for everyone that exists on this planet.. and our collective future.

Some scientific magazines and organizations are indeed dedicating time and energy to bring this information to the public. But this still leaves a huge segment of the global population in the dark, those who continue to look to the media giants for knowledge about the world around them, including the activity of their government in far off places. So long as this disfunctional information relationship continues, it remains much too easy for the powerful governments to mount an aggressive campaign to pick apart the arctic no matter what the cost.

As a podcaster, journalist, and concerned world citizen, these next few months will be dedicated to more in-depth research on the arctic crisis. More interviews with people living and breathing the situation, and with the desire to share their knowledge and experiences with a curious and concerned audience.

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El Sicko

Well I can’t ignore all the mainstream subjects… I have to write something about Sicko, Michael Moore’s new film. (which you can watch, in two parts, here)

I’m sure you’ve heard something about it. And Im also sure you can go anywhere in the blogosphere and people will be talking about it. Even YouTube have opened a channel in cooperation with Mike, so people can record their own health insurance horror stories.

Despite the mainstreamness, and perhaps the excessive buzz, I cannot remain silent about how important this film is. Simple… but important.

Of course plenty will echo this feeling. But I’d like to add that this film is more than important for the USA, this film is important for Europe. Why? Because Europe is forgetting what a good health system is. Or perhaps to put it another way, I see that much of Europe takes their universal and quality healthcare for granted. Worse than that, the health insurance lobby is growing in Brussels, and its seeping into many countries where people have some of the highest standards of health and human services. Seeping in and selling this idea that health should be privatized.. for everyone’s benefit.

Even though we can find plenty of evidence worldwide about how dangerous this can be, I don’t hear many voices reminding the governments about this. At least not the most powerful voices. Sure France is still holding tough, and England still has the NHS, but there is growing pressure in Europe, and private health insurance companies are popping up and expanding right under our noses.

So yes.. Sicko is a very powerful and important question to the USA. Not just why can’t they have a good health system, but also what is happening with values in America that people don’t care enough to have such a system. BUT this film should also be seen by Europeans who should ask themselves what is changing in their values.. and what direction they are heading when it comes to who runs and who can access the health system.

Bike in the air

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