Thursday, May 31, 2012

Knapsack 6-14

Notes From My Knapsack 6-14-12

Jeff Gill


Politics and the economy in Ohio



If you're hoping for or wanting a partisan angle on the fall elections, already spattered all over our media windshield, just turn on your wiper blades and drive on to another column or page. No endorsements here.


Nor is there condemnation, at least of the sort beloved by campaign die-hards. I think the last fifty years of political debate and economic maneuvering has been made up of largely decent intentions and well-intended actions, excepting the fellow who "invested" state money in rare coins. And as for gambling, state or otherwise, that's a different topic.


What can't be disputed is that something hasn't worked in Ohio. In the 1950s, we were Detroit's parts supplier par excellence, a steelmaker in our own right, and Etch-a-Sketch wasn't a punch line, but a product made right here in the state.


We had manufacturing, and a range of jobs from newbie puddlers in mills along the Ohio River, and middle management with dreams of Parma working in the Terminal Tower. Pigs, if not turkeys, flew in the Queen City, at least out of packing plants, and Dayton was entering the second half of a century where the Great Miami River carved a sort of Silicon Valley, of innovation and entrepreneurial leadership where technology was a Buckeye hallmark.


Another half-century, and Dayton is a hollowed out shell; auto manufacturing and parts assembly is a niche for various locations around the state, and we make baskets, at least when the economy is good.


One way of responding to that facile summary is to point out how much it misses. Kaiser is still pouring red hot material into giant hammering devices to create a saleable something out of molten nothing, just down the road; Owens is still spinning a pink web; razor wire and bulletproof helmets and the very essence of assembly lines are made down near I-70.


And baskets ain't nothin'.


Yet all the talk of smaller, nimbler, and right-sizing can't quite obscure the general fact, particularly addressed by both parties in this electoral contest, that Ohio has large amounts of empty brick buildings and open concrete pads where only memories are the output. We know, right down to our working class bones, that we missed a turn somewhere back up the road. Yes, Tom Friedman, our youth need to get more education than Uncle Clem did, who dropped out in 9th grade and still retired a senior VP, worked up to middle management with a cabin on a lake and a paid for home. Maybe that was a bubble of sorts, and once popped, can't grow the same way twice.


The most obvious answer is that as the world changed, and the global economy shifted markets, there was a massive failure of managerial foresight. Was it really unforeseeable that labor costs and raw material development would make a compelling case for moving durable goods overseas? Could no one see, even by the 70s or 80s, that technology was about to transform decision-making?


Some did, but corporately, they generally didn't. Why weren't the few visionaries listened to? For one thing, we tend to hold onto the ideas of the visionaries who were proved right, and forget that, say in 1972, there were all sorts of crazy ideas out there about jet packs and food in a tube. To figure out which visionary is leading with a vision: aye, there's the rub.


What seems so dreadfully unproductive, though, is the dichotomy we're stuck in. The right says that it was largely union intransigence that kept companies from being nimble and adaptive, so unions are largely to blame; the left blames greed at the top for draining profit without any interest in the future other than their own in a gated retirement community on a beach somewhere, so the rich and the owners are to blame.


Obviously, I think those narratives are both over-tidy fictions, designed to lull the faithful to a boisterous sleep in their mass gatherings. But it doesn't explain . . . well, the real problem is that these fairy tales don't explain what stopped working for Ohio, and they explain even less what IS working.


Because we do have advanced materials production in Licking County, and our state does have Battelle and NASA and Boeing, and universities aplenty. I'm still interested in figuring out what we *could* have done differently, and I also think we can find a path forward that everyone can travel with security & confidence.


We may have to share lakeside cabins, though.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor; tell him your story of Ohio's lost, and impending glories at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Faith Works 6-2

Faith Works 6-2-12

Jeff Gill


A feud with heaven



This past week "The History Channel" ran a mini-series with the fairly self-explanatory title "Hatfields & McCoys."


Kevin Costner starred as "Devil Anse" Hatfield, along with other Hollywood stars like Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, and Tom Berenger (in an incredibly unpleasant character which he renders so well I'd feel nervous today if that actor walked in the room).  Costner was a major player in getting this story to the screen, and his band "Modern West" put together a concept album around the events, which actually preceded the making of the movie, and whose title may even be better than the one for the production in summing up the grim narrative: "Famous For Killing Each Other."


That is what the Hatfield & McCoy families are best known for in general: killing each other. The movie makes it clear that retribution and suspicion and recrimination and revenge are what kept the feud going from the end of the Civil War to 1891 . . . but many locals along the Tug Fork, separating Kentucky & West Virginia, say the tensions and hostility continued until the present day.


And with the great migrations from Appalachia up into the industrial Midwest after World War II, there are Hatfield and McCoy descendants in central Ohio, in Licking County today. I know a few of each sort; none with the memorable family name, but with genealogy that ties them closely to the valley of the Big Sandy River.


Their stories, when you hear them, are less of gunslinging heroics from the menfolk as they are the grinding realities of everyday life in that time and place from the womenfolk. In portrayals by Mare Winningham, Sarah Parish, and Lindsay Pulsipher you see the cost of this sort of grudge-holding, of an honor culture where guns represent a higher law than any court can offer.


When we hear about the culture of different lands where other faith systems are dominant, it's easy to get judgmental with an overlay of "well, that's how less developed cultures get by." One of the benefits of a historical movie like this one is that it forces us to remember that less than 200 miles and 120 years from right here, people pretty much like us lived lives not much different from what we hear about in Fallujah or Kandahar.


In fact, many mornings I watch the sun rise over a beautiful pair of hills to my east. It's a lovely scene, but darkly tinged with my knowledge of a story from the pages of the Advocate about the same time as the Hatfield & McCoy feud.


On the southern slopes of that hill here in Licking County, back around the 1880's, there had been a string of chicken coops broken into after dark. One property owner, guessing his hens were the next target, sat up inside the coop with a shotgun. Sometime that night, the hen house door opened; somehow, when all was said and done, two dead men lay in the farmyard. At dawn, as the neighbors gathered, all agreed that the corpses were not local residents. The two deaths, and their lack of identification, were reported in a chillingly casual tone, akin to the next note about the county fair.


Violence is not far away from the human heart. Not in distance, not in time. Our decision to value human life, when it isn't a life that's blood relation, is contingent . . . constrained by factors from self-interest to passion to simple greed.


I wonder about those two dead, anonymous chicken thieves. They died un-mourned, and some even today would say that's only just. But where were they buried? On the slopes of the hill I contemplate with my morning prayers and sunrise coffee? Tossed into Raccoon Creek for nature to take its course? Or buried in unmarked graves on the margins of a cemetery nearby?


Here and on the Tug Fork, "say your prayers" would have been words that in the 1880s did not bring hope. And many prayers, heartfelt and sincere, such as those of Randall McCoy in the film, go unanswered, then and now.


We still wrestle with that feud of the divided heart, those conflicts between earth and heaven , deep within; our outward vendettas may be less vicious and deadly, but they still have ultimate implications. And like Uncle Dyke Garrett at the movie's end, the community of faith has certain tools for making transformation possible, and visible.


From the blood of the Lamb to the waters of Island Creek. May it ever be so.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him your story of feuds and forgiveness at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.