Hot Air: The Kids Are Better Than Alright

Their Turn

Yet another one of my young kin has decided to devote her life to doing good work. My niece Gina Trunzo is chucking it all and moving to Thailand where she’ll teach English.

Gina Trunzo

I’m telling you, this gang of Glab/Parello kids  — the generation twice removed from mine — is making my contemporaries seem positively lacking. They’re committed to broadening their horizons, seeing the world, becoming parts of other cultures, and bringing knowledge to the far corners of the Earth.

I only wish I could have been so selfless and committed at their age!

The Birthday Beat

The Loved One and I have a tradition of taking long Sunday drives. It’s a good opportunity for us to bond and catch up on the week’s doings as well as for me to indulge in a bit of wanderlust.

Yesterday’s trip was special because it was my birthday. TLO suggested we eat breakfast in Mitchell, Indiana, hometown of one of my childhood heroes, the astronaut Gus Grissom. Like a lot of small towns in Indiana — hell, in America — Mitchell, pop. 4350 (2010 Census), has become decidedly quiet the last few decades. It was an important railroad crossroads in the latter half of the 19the Century with both the Monon and the Ohio & Mississippi lines stopping there.

As those lines were being built, the railroads looked to create a town at their crossing in the mid 1860s. So the two RRs in Q hired a University of Cincinnati professor named Ormsby Mitchel to survey the land and plat the as yet unnamed locale. Funny thing is, rather than pay Ormsby actual money for his work, the railroads offered to name the place after him in exchange, a deal he took for whatever reason. Years later, town leaders added an L to the name and that’s where things stand now.

In any case, the railroads spurred industry in Mitchell. It even became a regional center for wagon, truck, and bus manufacturing. The biggest such bus factory shut down in 1995 after a long, slow decline. Now Mitchell’s trying to attract new businesses but you can guess how well that effort’s going. Downtown Mitchell has a bunch of quaint resale and collectible shops but you can fire a cannon down the middle of Main Street — and, yes, it’s named Main Street — and not harm a soul.

There’a a neat little diner downtown called the Railroad Cafe. It does a decent business, especially on weekends. Pickup trucks and big American sedans are parked  diagonally in front of the place, disgorging a lot of old codger farmers from around the area as well as the odd young couple that still live nearby. That’s where TLO and I had breakfast yesterday AM as we planned our special Sunday drive, birthday edition.

We decided to head straight down State Road 37 to check out the spectacular Ohio River bluff overlook at Leavenworth. There’s a neat diner there as well and we’ll return there for Sunday brunch sometime later this spring. The view from the restaurant’s parking lot is awe-inspiring. Yesterday’s perfectly clear skies and brilliant sunshine allowed us to see a good 50 miles into Kentucky, across the swollen, brown Ohio (thanks to last week’s nearly constant rains).

We pushed on farther east on SR 62, an Ohio River Scenic Byway. If you haven’t driven down that way lately, do yourself a favor and get down there. We turned in, on a whim, to the O’Bannon Woods State Park, not far from Corydon, the old state capital. The O’Bannon Woods driving path goes through a lot of hills and hollers with hairpin turns and precipitous drops, ending at the Ohio. The river seemed ready to wash over its banks with the next big rain, its surface current rushing southwestward toward the river’s confluence with the Mississippi. We walked around the shoreline for a few minutes, basking in the sun and hearing the first spring bird songs. We cut short our little amble because our shoes had become caked with inches of mud and we spent less time walking than scraping and pounding our soles on whatever concrete we could find.

BTW: loyal Pencillistas are aware I’ve been taking weekly trips to different small town libraries in Southern Indiana this season, especially the many Carnegie Libraries in these parts. As we passed through Paoli, I happened to notice that town’s library. I don’t know if it’s a Carnegie or not but that’ll be my next stop on the tour and I’ll provide a full report at that time.

Potatoes

I was reading about the Great Irish Famine the other night. We like to refer to it as the Irish Potato Famine. The Irish call it the Great Hunger, or the Irish Holocaust, or Gorta Mór. It happened over a period of a couple of years, beginning in 1845. In August that year, Ireland’s millions of potato plants suddenly began to look sickly. When the potatoes were harvested, half of all of them were rotten and inedible. Things worsened the next year — the entire Irish potato crop went bad. The island nation’s potatoes had been stricken with something called Phytophthora infestans, a fungus. Problem was, potatoes were not just a staple of the Irish diet, they were, essentially, the whole shebang. By the end of the 1700s, 90 percent of the Irish population depended either wholly or mostly on potatoes for their sustenance.

In those two years, a million and a half Irish suffered starvation. A million of them died. Another million fled the country, mostly for America. All told, Ireland lost a quarter of its population in just over a single calendar year. That’s the equivalent of this holy land losing some 80 million people between today and June, 2019.

What got me, though, is the fact that while Ireland’s people consumed a diet almost exclusively of potatoes, the island itself was fecund and spectacularly productive of foodstuffs. They don’t call Ireland the Emerald Island just because its citizens like to paint their front doors green, after all. Its fields were lush and its pastures fed all manner of meat animals. Not only that but being a nation surrounded on all sides by the sea, Ireland’s fishing industry was robust. Bill Bryson, in his wonderful history of the home entitled — what else? — At Home, writes:

The greatest part of the tragedy is that Ireland actually had plenty of food. The country produced great quantities of eggs, cereals, and meats of every type, and brought in large hauls from the sea, but almost all went for export.

Let that sink in for moment. Ireland produced tons of food, enough to feed itself, yet because a single crop failed, fully 25 percent of its population simply went away.

What would we say if, today, some scourge, some blight, caused the entire populations of California, Texas, and Florida, as well as, oh, say, that of the Indianapolis metropolitan area — a quarter of America’s 330 million people — either to die or emigrate because our nation’s corn crop failed? And all the other foods we produce — beef, pork, chickens, tilapia, whitefish, soy beans, lettuce, celery, carrots, wheat, beans, peas, rice…, hell, every damned thing we could be jamming into our faces just to survive — tons of it, hundreds of millions of tons of it, were shipped to Saudi Arabia, Russia, Great Britain, and China?

That’s essentially what happened in Ireland in the years 1845 and ’46.

And why did that happen? Because businessmen made a lot of money shipping Ireland’s food overseas even as a huge fraction of the country’s people either died or ran away screaming. No matter the suffering, no matter the horrors, no matter the decimation of its population, the Irish — as well as their colonial masters, the British — chose to prioritize the profits of its exporter class over the health and welfare of its people.

That’s what happens when capitalism runs amok, when laissez-faire is the order of the day, when profits come before people.

Our current president in his 14 months in office so far, has overseen a dismantling of the regulations and the safeguards that protect us from capitalism run riot.  I won’t go so far as to suggest we’re sure to be in line for a Great American Famine or our own hunger holocaust, but I do know, confidently, the coming decades won’t be pretty.

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