Politics and Clotheslines

Late 19th century advertisement for laundry st...

Late 19th century advertisement for laundry starch manufactured by Gilbert S. Graves in Buffalo, New York, showing two women hanging laundry on a clothesline. 1 print : lithograph, color. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Line-drying your clothes seems to have become a political issue. I’ve concluded this because 1) The Huffington Post, a liberal website, reposted a blog with instructions for using a clothesline; 2) I, a liberal Democrat, hang my laundry outside; and 3) Were she alive, my mother, who was a Republican, would probably refuse to do the same.

So why is The Huffington Post promoting clotheslines? Maybe male liberals are more likely to share household responsibilities, and, being untrained in traditional women’s work, need guidance in maneuvering clothespins. Or, if liberal women are spoiled elitists, as some conservatives claim, a reliance on dryers may have stymied the hand-eye coordination essential for hanging up clothes. I tend to believe liberals take climate change seriously and work toward reducing carbon emissions.

Yet I’ll bet that most conservative women—many of them older, with line-drying experience—would, like me, laugh at the idea of someone needing instruction. For we girls used to have no choice but to learn women’s work. I, for one, resented Mom waking me up early every Saturday to do laundry. It didn’t occur to me that, having a job, she too would have preferred sleeping later.

Out in the garage stood our wringer washer alongside two rinse tubs. A woman could easily get a finger caught in the wringer as she transferred clothes from wash to rinse to second rinse. Three lines stretched across our back yard. A fabric clothespin holder was designed to slide along them. I learned from my mother, as she had learned from hers, to shake clothes out, hang shirts by their tails, ration clothes pins by using one to join two items. On cold days further north, I hear, clothes would be frozen when they were taken off the line.

For good reason Mom came to consider washers and dryers real progress. She never complained about the community she lived in not allowing residents to have clotheslines, a not uncommon rule these days. But how, being opposed to government regulations, could she tolerate such restrictions? Me, I demand the freedom to hang up my clothes.

I don’t fault my mother for having been a Republican. But if she were alive, I’d remind her of how washing machines and fabric have improved and urge her to line-dry her laundry. For the sake of the planet. Nevertheless, for reasons unrelated to politics, she‘d probably say, “Been there, done that.”


Henrik Ibsen, fracking, and jobs

English: Portrait of Henrik Ibsen by Henrik Olrik

English: Portrait of Henrik Ibsen by Henrik Olrik (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went to college before CliffsNotes came on the scene. All those classics young people find boring—I had to actually read them. (Okay, not always carefully.) In the intervening years I’ve never gone back to give any of the assignments a second look. That is, until a few weeks ago, when I downloaded Enemy of the People, a play by Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian playwright of the nineteenth century.

Here’s the gist of the story: A Norwegian town has gone to a lot of expense to attract tourists to its baths. When Dr. Stockman discovers that run-off from a tannery upriver is contaminating the baths, making tourists sick, he assumes that telling the town’s citizens is in their best interest. But no. The baths promise prosperity, and rectifying the problem would be expensive. In a town meeting the mayor, Dr. Stockman’s brother, moves that the doctor not be allowed to give his report. The townspeople, considering the jobs provided by the baths, don’t want to hear the Truth either and proclaim Dr. Stockman “enemy of the people.” The baths will continue to operate, risking the health of unsuspecting tourists.

It seems that many of today’s moral decisions follow the same pattern. Scientists, don’t bother North Carolinians with facts. The sea level is NOT rising. To say otherwise might harm the economies of beach towns and developers.

If you Google fracking you’ll find that the first site to come up is http://www.energyfromshale.org/.  “Shale natural gas market expansion leads to American jobs,” the site claims. There’s no mention of potential water contamination, earthquakes, and workers’ exposure to dangerous chemicals. Whether we’re talking about the Keystone pipeline, logging in national parks, or mountaintop removal, the arguments in favor usually start with “It promises jobs for the community.”

I’m not saying that these projects should not be considered. I DO suggest, though, that our decisions, when they relate to people’s health and/or the environment, are in fact moral decisions. And doing what is morally right may not promise jobs or prosperity. Through Ibsen’s characters we see how easily the townspeople are manipulated by those in power, the ones who will most profit from the operation of the baths and the tannery. Readers can’t help but denounce the decision to choose economic wellbeing over the Truth.

We must take care not to make the same mistake.

The role of government in environmental issues



Jim and I spent Sunday afternoon hiking on Roan Mountain, part of the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests, located along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The altitude (6000 feet) offers conditions that allow huge clusters of wild Rododendron to grow in open spaces and along sunny edges of the forest. Hiking trails lead through a luxuriant spruce-fir forest. Yesterday a light fog made the forest seem especially dark and mysterious.

It saddens me to think that a century ago little more than tree stumps occupied this beautiful space. During the 1920s and 1930s logging companies cut all of the marketable timber, leaving the land as we see in the photo above. In 1911 the Weeks Act had authorized the Federal Government to purchase forest land in the Eastern United States. In 1941 the government bought much of the land on Roan Mountain and added it to the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests. Today about 4 percent of North Carolina’s land is National Forest.

These two incidents—deforestation and the establishment of National Forests—represent a current controversy. Is there any reason to believe that capitalism without regulations would not again decimate our natural resources? Already 500 mountain tops have been removed so that mining companies can more cheaply get the coal. Now fracking threatens to poison our ground water and cause earthquakes.

And what should the government spend money on? Had the government not purchased deforested mountain land in the early twentieth century, we wouldn’t have our National Forests.

Personally, I trust corporations far less than I fear Big Government.

The Death of Beauty and the Future of Our Planet

A picture of a mountaintop removal siteWork co...

A picture of a mountaintop removal siteWork copyright released by owner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I fear the death of Beauty.

The beauty of taste. Who’s looking out for the survival of flavors in a pasta sauce cooked all day? Of seafood caught and eaten right away? Today’s kitchen isn’t designed for those who cook but for those who rely on the microwave or order take-out.

The beauty of sound. Who listens to the songs of birds, trees rustling in the wind? Who’s encouraging children to study piano—any musical instrument for that matter? Not so they will become accomplished musicians, but so they will grow to appreciate a melodic concerto, a gentle rhythm inviting them to dance close.

The beauty of sight. Where are the protectors of natural beauty, adults who take time to show children flowering plants, luminescent insects, a brightly colored bird? Who drives amidst the varied landscapes of this country and points out vistas extending for miles? (On such journeys today’s children watch movies overhead.)

The beauty of touch. Who encourages us to run our fingertips slowly along a piece of tree bark, a velvety flower, a spiked blade of grass? Toys and kitchenware, even furniture, are made of plastic.

Most likely my children will read this, so I must be careful not to sound like I’m criticizing their parenting. My concern reaches beyond my grandchildren, though they are my means of glimpsing into current trends. And I want to avoid sounding like an old lady who’s always harkening back to the good old days.

But in my concern for the future of the planet I’ve come to wonder how it can survive if few people appreciate Beauty. To someone who’s never hiked a mountain range, what will it matter if coal companies blast tops off mountains? To someone who’s never waded in a stream, what will it matter if streams are polluted? Can humans feel empathy for animals or plants if they have not been “up close and personal?”

Yes, I fear the death of Beauty.