Friday, October 22, 2010


Gleaning is the traditional Biblical practice of gathering crops that would otherwise be left in the fields to rot or be plowed under after harvest for the benefit of the poor. Also some growers would allow gleaners to pick what was left after harvest to donate to those who are needy. When I was growing up, gleaning was practiced by most of the people who lived in the village. Coal was stripped mined by large power shovels and when the coal was loaded into the trucks that took the coal to the processing plant, some of it spilled over the side. We kids and parents gathered the lumps of coal and moved them to a pile that we kept until it was enough to fill a wagon, or wheelbarrow. The same method was used at the slag dump, where slag from the plant was taken to the slag dump in side dumping cars. After the cars were unloaded, we searched through the slag and gathered any lumps of coal that were left in the slag and moved it to a safe area for taking home. Generally the company did not object to the practice except when in an attempt to be the first ones, we ran in when the truck was not completely full and there was a danger that we could get hurt from falling coal. We used the coal for home heating and cooking, the kitchen stove was a coal fired stove and burned all year, even during the hot summer months. Often when the small railroad that as used to carry the coal cars from the deep mines to the processing plant slowed at the slight grade behind our house, we pulled lumps of coal from the cars as they went by. The engineers chased us away, but they almost never put the coal back on the cars. When I was in high school several friends and I opened a small mine in an area that had been strip mined. The vein of coal was nice and we spent the summer mining and selling it to a local breaker (a small processing plant). We got Dynamite from the store in town purchased by the miners who were mining near by. Coal mining was hard work, but I even made enough to buy some clothes. When the summer was nearing an end and school about to start, we made plans to skip school on Friday and work in the mine Friday and Saturday to earn some spending money. However the local coal and mining company who owned the land had other plans. When they found out about us they sent some miners and dynamited the mine shut. Perhaps we stretched the definition of gleaning somewhat. But the coal was never mined by the large company that owned the land. The coal that was left behind, pillars to hold up the roof while taking equipment out was not economical to mine. Perhaps it was terminated because the managers were fearful of our lives. Mining coal in veins that were mined years earlier had frequent cave-ins since the pillars were weakened by time. That summer I learned that sometimes even the best plans fail and gleaning was not always a profitable venture.

Friday, October 15, 2010


The late U S Senator Daniel P. Moynihan remarked in 1993 that we were defining deviancy downward. But all things considered, we are a much freer and less deviant culture than we once were if we define deviancy as abnormal behavior. Contrary to Moynihan, we are not slipping into a moral morass from which we will never recover. One only has to consider how far we have come from stoning women for adultery as is the recommended punishment according to the bible.

In more recent times the blacks in our country were considered less than second class citizens. It was only with the passage of the civil rights act that they were given first class status. Women were not allowed to vote until 1920 when the constitution was finally amended. Women were sterilized in the United States as late as 1979 in the state of Virginia under authority of the United States Supreme court. Men of course were similarly fixed, but not to the same degree. Strange that the thought of sterilizing men was apparently never considered as seriously as for women. Divorce is now routinely allowed with just the consent of the parties. Previously, women especially, suffered in silence in unhealthy relationships because they were not allowed to divorce except by proving to a court there was infidelity or brutality of some kind. Divorce was not a good option for women because job opportunities were routinely denied to them in such professions as medicine, especially surgery, dentistry, law and they were denied mortgages and scorned if they had children out of wedlock. Women spent their lives as spinsters if not married, or divorced, unable to secure work except as school teachers or nurses. Witches were burned at the stake, but never warlocks.

Abortions were hidden, women forced by social convention to leave home and spend months in homes for wayward mothers usually giving up the child for adoption. Though even today, our wonderful Congress still would like to punish women who become pregnant by refusing to allow abortions. Congress and the administration would like to define who can get married, what research can be done with stem cells. Not too long ago the government decided on what we could drink and now they define what drugs we can consume. I needn’t cite other examples, the list goes on, and today in some countries these very same conditions and some even worse exist today, and we decry the fact that they exist, forgetting we supported them once. A great book like the bible which has spun at least three great religions allows us to stone women to death who have committed the sin of adultery. Who but Senator Moynihan and administrations such as we have now, want to go back to the old days? Thank God we have become a more tolerant society. Moynihan was right, we have not only defined deviancy downward but have gotten rid of a lot of it. Sure, there are problems with freedom, but on balance it has been good for us and for our children. They meet each other more openly and are more tolerant to diversity.

Friday, October 8, 2010


During the nineteen thirties and forties, when I was growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, mules were used in the anthracite mines. They were kept in the mines in what was the equivalent of a barn, carved out of the coal and stone, except this barn was cold, damp and dark with water constantly dripping. Food for the mules was stored in the mine and re supplied as needed. The mules were used to pull the coal cars from the gangways where the coal was mined to the area where the cars were joined together like a train and pulled up to the surface where they were unloaded into railroad cars and transported to the colliery for processing. The mules provided a great service; coal could not be mined at the volume that was needed for human comfort without the mules except by using men as mules for moving the coal cars.

My father was at one time a mule driver. He said he kept a large nail in his pocket to jab the hind quarters of the mule if it became stubborn or unruly. Accidents were infrequent, but mules were known to kick the driver or to push him against the side of the tunnel.

The work in the mines was divided into three shifts, the first two shifts devoted to mining coal and the third shift used for timbering and general cleanup and repair. The mules rested in the dark barns during the third shift; there were no coal cars to pull.

As time progressed, the mines were electrified and the work the mules did was replaced by motorized cars. The dark tunnels were now lit continuously rather than only by the light from a miners’ carbide lamp. Now the miners wore electric lights on their hard hats. They were powered by a large battery pack strapped to their belts. When my father worked the second shift and we had a car, I often went to the mine portal to drive him home and take the battery pack to the mine office where all the other batteries were charged for the next morning shift.

As the mules were gradually replaced they were brought up to the surface where they were kept in a barn with an enclosed yard. They were then sent somewhere, perhaps to dog meat factories. They were kept in the barn for a time since they were blinded by the sunlight after having been kept in the dark mine for years and needed time to regain their sight.

When a new batch of mules was brought up, we kids would go to the barn and straddling the fence throw stones at the helpless animals who did not know what was going on. We kids did not know what the mules did, except that they worked in the mines. They brayed and kicked and ran into one another trying to get away from the stones. We kids thought it was great fun.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Cannabis is a plant. Not too different from most other plants. It has it good points and its bad points. The father of our country George Washington praised the plant. "Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!" he is reputed to have said.

The most resourceful crop on earth, cannabis yields industrial hemp for canvas, oil, fiber, and paper among other things; a harmless medicine for gravely ill individuals; and a source of recreation for millions of people around the world. Hemp is one of the faster growing biomass known, producing up to 25 tons of dry matter per hectare per year, and one of the earliest domesticated plants known. For a crop, hemp is very environmentally friendly; it requires few pesticides and no herbicides.

The federal government, God bless them, has decreed that cannabis is a danger to society and against the law to grow. The current paradigm is that cannabis is a health risk for the average citizen. The plant’s flower, after drying and rolled into a cigarette form, much like tobacco, can be smoked. The government deems it to cause great harm to the person who inhales the smoke. So it belongs on the list of dangerous substances right up there with cocaine, heroin and opium. Of course we know the cannabis flower as marijuana.

Both the user and seller can be and often are subjected to prosecution and in a great many instances sentenced to jail. In fact the majority of inmates of our prisons are there for marijuana related crimes sometimes as innocent as having possession of the flower.

However the list of poisonous plants is quite lengthy. Even the seeds of the ubiquitous apple are poisonous if consumed in sufficient quantities. Not to mention the caster beans which are very poisonous and can be fatal to children? But only the lowly cannabis is singled out for burning and destruction and not the others. Ordinary tobacco plants are not only allowed but the government via the agricultural department provides help in its cultivation. While it is accepted that tobacco does not act as a sedative and produce a feeling somewhat related to alcohol use as cannabis does habitual smokers would say otherwise.

Perhaps it is simply because like opium its effect is pleasant and enjoyable.

Early governments in the USA were often the product of the religious community and anxious to make laws to prevent the population from engaging in sin which often as not was related to joyful enterprises. The early Calvinists in New England forbid dancing; singing and even celebrating Christmas; only work and bible reading were condoned. Some vestiges of this mentality have stayed with us until even today. When people are having fun make them stop. I remember when I was a child there was a saying that if you laughed too much it was a sign that some bad thing was about to happen to you. How often are police called when the local tavern or watering hole patrons are singing and dancing and the noise, cheerful and loud disturbs the locals?

Not only do we not allow cannabis growth in the USA but we prohibit it other countries as well. I often wonder why we never had a campaign to burn all the grain fields in Scotland during prohibition since the grain could be used for alcohol production. Perhaps because Mr. Kennedy had secured the exclusive rights to import scotch whiskey?

Of course we do burn fields of opium and marijuana in places like Afghanistan, Columbia and other South American countries today. I am forbidden here in Florida to grow cannabis even though I have no intention of smoking it. But I can grow as many caster bean plants as I choose. It’s okay to grow something that may kill you or your pet or your grandchildren; that will teach them a lesson, but nothing that may, if smoked, make you feel wonderful. I’m sure that if a less pleasant way was invented to procreate the early Calvinists would have prohibited sex.