Goodby, Barry Commoner
Not long after I graduated and began teaching, Barry Commoner invited me to Washington University because of my work on energy use in Agriculture. He also published my article in his magazine, Ecology, and even wrote a forward to my first book, Farming for Profit in a Hungry World: Capital and the Crisis in Agriculture.
I only ran into him a few times after that. We would only exchange a few words. He was always engaged with other people and I did not want to disturb him. I wish that I had been able to spend enough time with Barry Commoner to call him a friend. Nonetheless, I am grateful for our brief time together and even more grateful for the wonderful work he did.
His obituaries cover some of his most important work, but they neglected something that impressed me. Many of the people who worked for him were “unqualified,” in the sense that they lacked the credentials normally required for their jobs. I believe that they did a better job appreciating that Barry Commoner gave them a chance that others would deny them.
We many more Barry Commoners. Thank you Barry.
My office for 40 years is in a building that has been experiencing a rash of cancer deaths. One young professor, very athletic, died about 9 months after the first sign of lung cancer. People have talked for decades about the need to fix the building. It is supposed to be shut down for remediation this summer, but that is more likely to stir up the asbestos.
Here are 2 letters that are circulating among the faculty and staff.
Letter 1. “I heard a story just this morning that I am working to have the person step forward and share “on the record”. I was told that a custodian was told in his HR Orientation that he/they were to get student workers to help on some project “because they wouldn’t be here in 25 years to sue us”. This was in relation to projects in Butte and the health hazards. Also, heard that there were electricians hired for a project and they had to “suit up & wear special masks” for their particular project, again for health issues.
[I remember this work. It was on my floor, close to my office. I approached them and they told me that were just doing work with the wiring.]
Hopefully I can get names, and these folks will be willing to have their statements documented. I’ve been wondering how to go about getting a list of people who have passed from cancer in the last 10 -20 years who worked primarily in Butte Hall. I know Homer Metcalf recently passed from cancer, although he did smoke.
Letter 2: Tami was a very dear friend of mine and she asked on more than one occasion over the past several years to have the “white dust” that fell on her desk tested by FMS and/or EHS. Each time she was told there was no problem…right. I don’t believe it was just coincidence that Beth McMillian, who worked in the same office “suite” as Tami, also passed away from cancer. Admittedly, I am emotionally involved, but I believe the contaminated air in Butte Hall killed my dear friend. Tami never smoked and was not exposed to second-hand smoke. I did months of research after Tami was diagnosed and it is clear the majority of people who have not smoked or been exposed to 2nd hand smoke, especially women, who contract small-cell lung cancer have been exposed to asbestos or radon.
I was struck by the need to protect the freedom of speech of the provocative anti-Muslim film and the energetic efforts to remove the pictures of the breasts of the English.
I wonder how vigorously the authorities would act if somebody would make a film depicting the scurrilous Elders of Zion propaganda of an earlier time. I do remember the outrage concerning Andres’ Serrano Piss Christ display.
The first example was clearly intended to be offensive. Serrano’s work did not directly make any statements against Christianity. My guess is that he wanted to make people think about religious intolerance.
One can safely assume that the breast photographs were not intended to create some kind of furor. Instead, their purpose was almost certainly commercial. Since God and commerce are usually linked together in our society, all good people should probably commend the circulation of the breast photographs.
What is freedom of speech in the shadow of Citizens United, which protects some of the vilest exercises of freedom of speech?
Is God punishing the Republicans for their Greed and Intolerance?
Looking at the euro crisis today, I get the feeling that translating Keynes’ classic work for this contemporary crisis might be interesting. Keynes predicted that there would be hell to pay for extracting the pound of flesh from Germany, which lacked the capacity to pay its reparations. Germany produced a monster, but one who was effectively able to channel the anger which had welled up in the country. How will the present European anger play out?
It is probably fitting that I am in Greece now, given that Procrustes was central figure in my Invisible Handcuffs. He is presently had at work, removing the extremities, if not the organs of the Greek economy. I was fortunate in getting to meet two of the three economists I wanted to meet in Greece. Yanis Varifoukas was unable to connect with me although we had some very good exchanges over the web. John Milios and Nicholas Theocarakis were very generous with their time, perhaps too generous, since I am not used to staying up nearly as late as they do.
I am leaving for the airport soon, so I will not supply the details. Instead, I can only say that the corruption and disfunctionality of the government goes well beyond anything I could imagine.
Istanbul was my initial destination. The Chamber of Engineers, a shockingly radical organization, hosted a conference on Veblen. With the exception of Michael Hudson, I only knew Sabri Oncu and his brother Ahmed beforehand. However, many of the others also taught me a lot.
To make things worse for workers, the new transportation bill allows companies to base their contributions to their pensions on the basis of the last 25 rather than 2 years. By assuming a higher discount rate, they have less need to fund their pensions, assuming a high rate of return. For pensions to survive they must aim at a higher rate of return to compensate for lower contributions, creating an incentive to invest in high risk junk sold by the financial system — a recipe for disaster.