Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day

It has occurred to me that the end of the Cold War has brought about some changes that may not have been so good for us workers on the winning side. I am not a suitable candidate for citizenship in a totalitarian country, I have this unfortunate tendency to think for myself and say what I think. That sort of behavior would get me into trouble immediately with a Cuban block monitor or a Soviet Commissar. Yet there are days I miss the Cold War and today might be one of them. Today is the International Day of the Worker, which in the US is magically made into Labor Day in the Fall in an effort to avoid a communist taint.We have so many wars we are fighting these days, bombing Libya, killing Afghans and trying to stop Iraqis from throwing us out, stopping our citizens from using drugs while also carrying out lawless wiretaps in an effort to prevent the spread of "terror." You'd think the elimination of one other War would be a good thing but the Cold War, with its fights by proxy around the world, it's doctrine of mutually assured destruction and the subjugation of freedom of thought and travel and behavior of millions of people did have one big benefit for us in the West. It made our leaders care about us.I grew up in the shadow of the nuclear age and the era of space travel and the development of hideous weapons of war and yet what I am most drawn to about the era was the Soviet propaganda that told the world with less accuracy than one might like, about the shortcomings of the free market on our side of the Iron Curtain. It was an era when our leaders were forced to acknowledge the benefits of welfare, the notion of no human being ever so poor, or ever so rich being an island. We were a team in the West, composed of volunteers much more so than our working counterparts in the east and they knew they were playing catch up. We had jobs, cars TVs, reliable electricity, choices, colors, travel and leisure. When I traveled to the Soviet Union the few people brave enough to speak to me were always asking me to compare their world to the USA, a thing I was reluctant to do as their guest. They were so clearly inferior to us in every measure of a good quality of life.We won the Cold War, just as we rolled back the Cuban Missile Crisis from the shores of Smathers Beach (above) and we showed them who could build and sell a better mousetrap. And then our leaders lost the plot. Globalization came, profits soared along with the stock market as jobs were exported and true poverty has come to ravage the land in a way and of a pervasiveness the Soviet propaganda machine could not have imagined.


Now that we have no enemy to compete with our leaders can drop their pretence of giving a toss about us the workers as we join with them in tearing down unions, denying ourselves health care and lay down our pensions in the service of tax breaks for the very rich. During the Cold War they would not have dared to do such cruel things, they had to prove our way was best for the people as well as for themselves.


Now, paradoxically our critics in the East are making out like bandits, trading among themselves, hoarding natural resources, selling gas and oil and watching our unemployment rise along with our crushing national debt. It is a fact that when there are no referees to see foul play the people in charge take advantage and as I wait for my fellow citizens to wake up and remember the benefits of collective action in the defense of jobs and benefits and America's home grown industry I lament the loss of the protections afforded us by the oversight of our critics on the other side of the former Iron Curtain.


What a weird thought. Happy May Day I guess and perhaps one day Hallmark will issue a card to celebrate it.


And then they tell us Osama Bin Laden is dead. Adding he was no longer directly involved in the field operations of Al Quaeda, as though to soften the blow. I just have to ask myself why it took so long. They should have had him in Tora Bora a decade ago, but better late than never.

The Blue Hole

I wanted to see an alligator so I went where the alligator resides in the Lower Keys, at the Blue Hole on Big Pine Key.Key Deer Boulevard ploughs due north from the lone traffic light on the Overseas Highway in Big Pine and a couple of miles up the road is this new and nice looking sign. Incidentally the boring 30mph speed limit is closely monitored so speeding is generally a bad idea around here. The Blue Hole has lots of information on billboards though what use they were to the crop of foreigners visiting I'm not sure. We in Amurika don't put tourist signs up in foreign languages.The Blue Hole is actually a murky shade of green but it is a catchment for rainwater so it is fresh and not salty. It used to be that a large and well known alligator lived here, and came to be known as Bacardi. That alligator, the fearsome creature, ate a child's plastic toy dropped i the water. The toy stuffed it's digestive system and the alligator starved to death. As usual the wildlife has more to fear from us, than us from them.There is a replacement now floating around in the Blue Hole. It was a quiet and placid afternoon in Big Pine last Thursday afternoon. I saw a turtle head pop out of the water in the middle of the hole and a couple of large fish tempted fate swimming past the alligator's snout.
However boredom seemed to be the agenda.
The alligator rose and sank every few minutes, taking a breath and then sinking out of sight. It was all very peaceful and not at all threatening.

I wrote more previously on the Blue Hole here:

ABCD Centerline

A rather odd idea was bruited about asking people to take pictures of the centerline of a road and a portion of themselves this May Day. This picture does not qualify as I am not in it.Putting a portion of myself in the shot at 60 miles per hour created a good deal more wobble but this picture would qualify.
I chose to take the pictures this morning on my way home from work, and as the clock shows in the stationary picture below it was around 6:30am on the Overseas Highway around Mile Marker 26.Summer clouds are forming over the Florida Keys though rain has yet to fall in any measurable quantity but they did preclude the bright orange sunrise that frequently greets me on my way home from a night of dispatching in Key West. I chose to take the picture on the top of the Niles Channel Bridge because this is the high point, literally, of my commute in a county that rises no more than 16 feet above sea level, at least without human intervention. Back at ground level on my home island of Ramrod Key I got another shot of people rushing I'm not sure where at this sleepy hour:There; it's done and so to bed, to sleep perchance to dream. Before turning around tonight and putting another 50 odd miles on the clock of my well worn Triumph Bonneville.The blog responsible for this act of photography may be found here:

In the end apparently the pictures weren't worth it as he chose to ignore them entirely!

City Electric

Old timers refer to it as City Electric but these days the public utility that supplies electricity to the Lower Keys is using a more encompassing name, Keys Energy:

The utility's headquarters is on James Street in Key West at the corner of Caroline and Grinnell Streets, kitty corner to Finnegan's Wake Irish pub. The bloodmobile was in the parking lot the other day when Cheyenne and I were passing and one likes to think they got what they needed (I can't give blood owing to a food borne hepatitis infection I got when I was young and foolish and riding a motorcycle through West Africa. The anti-bodies for Hepatitis A are for life apparently).

There was, I was delighted to see, a spare couch sitting under a tree across the street from the Keys Energy Services offices. I took the picture but the couch was a tad scruffy and well used so I preferred not to take a pause. The offices of Keys Energy are just a block away from the old Steam Plant, now converted to luxury condos but that used to be, in the old days the source of electrical energy for the city. I well remember the waters across from the plant when they were called the Toxic Triangle owing to the discharge of noxious wastes from the plant.Key West got it's first electric service in 1880 and after a rival company set up in business they went head to head for a while and then merged. The city bought the utility in 1943 and a very good idea that was too. I found this delightful picture of electrical repair work underway in the city in 1900.If you enjoy history half as much as I do this website should be of interest: Their magazine is always a fascinating read and it can be found on the streets of Key West (I usually find it at Sandy's Cafe on White Street).I don't hold with the fashionable view of putting down public agencies, not least because I work for one, but public utilities must rate as one of the more sensible inventions. Keys Energy doesn't waste money paying stock holders, they pay decent living wages, employ skilled technical staff who stick around and now what they are working with, and they are constantly upgrading the system. That they are reluctant to get involved in alternative energy production is a sign they are simply no more forward thinking than every other utility in the country, more's the pity with all our sunlight going to waste. The result is the legendary continuous power outages of decades ago are a memory and service by and large is pretty reliable. Key West is on the national grid and electricity comes to the city via Keys Electric Cooperative in the Upper Keys and through a switching station in Marathon. They also have a diesel generator on Stock Island with fuel for two weeks supply of 80 percent of normal energy needs. The sort of back up plan the tornado ravaged citizens Up North could use in Alabama. I'd rather be here in a hurricane than there in all those tornadoes.