Thursday, July 31, 2014

Living in the Ozarks Newsletter (LION)

January 1974, I began publishing the monthly Living in the Ozarks Newsletter (LION) using a hand-crank mimeograph machine at my mountain home in the Arkansas Ozarks. I wrote the newsletter for 36 months to share homesteading information and thoughts with other back-to-the-landers. In 1976, the Arkansas History Commission put the 36 newsletters (367 frames) in the state archives. Unfortunately, the only internet references I found were after 1976 when the LION name was used by someone else. This story was in the first issue of Living in the Ozarks Newsletter.

As Tzu-Gung was traveling through the regions north of the river Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable garden. He had dug an irrigation ditch. The man would descend into a well, fetch up a vessel of water in his arms and pour it out into the ditch. While his efforts were tremendous, the results appeared to be very meager. Tzu-Gung said, “There is a way whereby you can irrigate a hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do much with little effort. Would you not like to hear of it?” Then the gardener stood up, looked at him and said, "And what would that be?” Tzu-Gung replied, “You take a wooden lever, weighted at the back and light in the front. In this way you can bring up water so quickly that it just gushes out. This is called a draw-well.” Then anger rose up in the old man’s face and he said, “I have heard my teacher say that whoever uses machines does all his work like a machine. He who does his work like a machine grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He who has lost his simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do not know of such things; I am ashamed to use them.”

This story has been retold countless times. In his book, “The Physicist's Conception of Nature,” Werner Heisenberg used the story and wrote “it has often been said that the far-reaching changes in our environment and in our way of life wrought by this technical age have also changed dangerously our ways of thinking” and that “this objection is much older than modern technology and science, the use of implements going back to man’s earliest beginnings. Thus, two and a half thousand years ago, the Chinese sage Chuang-Tzu spoke of the danger of the machine.”

Today, people are enamored by movies, television, computers, the internet, video games and so-called smart phones. People are so mesmerized by their hand-held devices that they walk into walls. How smart is that?

I’m not one to glorify primitive people. They live short, painful, frightened, and brutish lives. Instead, I’m inclined to agree with Ishi that modern men and women are “sophisticated but not wise” from “Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America” by Theodora Kroeber. Yet striving to find a balance between appreciation for technology and nature brings to mind a line from the prologue of Goethe’s Faust: “Es irrt der Mensch so lang er strebt.” Man will err as long as he strives.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Thoreau and the authority of government

I was born in Philadelphia in 1943 and lived there for 19 years watching it fall into economic and social decline after the Second World War boom. Businesses and white people fled Philly as black people escaping Southern racism migrated North only to find just as hateful Northern racism. Poverty and crime increased in Philadelphia during the 1950s and I learned how to survive in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city, just one of its many tough neighborhoods.

I also learned about revolutionaries like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. When I rode the subway, I would emerge from the station into the downtown hustle and bustle and look up in awe at the statue of another revolutionary hero, Benjamin Franklin, atop City Hall. I often visited Franklin’s printing press, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and other historic sites.

On the way to school, I walked past the Thomas Paine Institute. Back then, it was just a store-front shop with books and pamphlets written by American revolutionaries on display in the window. Each day, a featured book or pamphlet would be opened to a different page for the passerby to read. Through that window, I read Paine’s “Common Sense”, “The Age of Reason” and “The Rights of Man” and was introduced to Henry David Thoreau.

Today, young people read about Thoreau’s quiet life on Walden Pond, but fewer people read his essay on Civil Disobedience. Even fewer know Thoreau felt “government is best which governs not at all” and that “The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus.” Few have read that “In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on the level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well.” Today our wooden men are robots and drones that serve the state.

Thoreau asked if we should obey an unjust law until we can change it or break the unjust law at once. He wrote that people fear to resist unjust laws because they fear government reaction and force like we saw in 1970 at Kent State University as government troops gunned down students peacefully protesting an unjust war.

Thoreau ended his essay on civil disobedience with a vision that is my measure of good government. 

“The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to, - for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know not can do so well, - is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarch to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State, until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose, if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.”

Posted Independence Day 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Considering a career in PV?

If you are considering a career in photovoltaics, here are some things to consider:

1. You have to "do" PV to be "in" PV. A lot of PV workers don't have PV on their homes or offices. Would you buy a Ford from someone who drives a Toyota?
2. PV professionals practice their profession (like doctors and other practicing professionals) which means a commitment to life-long learning about PV.
3. It takes time to develop a good reputation "rep". Plan on spending at least 2 years eating, sleeping and working PV full-time before you even begin to earn the reputation as the “PV guy”. You know you've made it when solar is mentioned in your service area and people say, "You've got to talk to (your name here). He's the solar expert."
4. You can make more money doing something else. If you are getting into PV because you think that someday PV will make you rich, forget it. "Someday" never happens.
5. Do what you love to do and do it well. People reward competence. In a capitalist society, people reward competence with money. You won't get rich, but you can earn a good income.
6. Understand the difference between vocation and an avocation.
7. Love, work and knowledge are all there really is to life.
8. Under-promise and over-deliver.
9. Make your customers your friends.
10. Know more electrical engineering and electronics than the next guy, but also know what you don't know.
11. Laugh a lot. It's good for the digestion.
12. Watch your back. There really are bad people out there.
13. Read everything written by people who actually work with PV.
14. If you can’t memorize the National Electrical Code, then at least know how to find rules in the code book.
15. Respect your competition. Remember, you look like them to them.
16. Pay your bills on time. Better yet, pre-pay and ask for discounts.
17. Give more than you get.
18. Don't be self-righteous, unless you never ride in combustion vehicles, don't use utility power, grow your own food, and do volunteer work at the orphanage or hospice. Then you can brag.
19. Visit PV factories, distributors and dealers. See live PV.
20. Take hands-on PV installation classes.
21. Work for a custom homebuilder for a few years to learn contracting and how homes are built.
22. Work for a commercial electrical contractor for a few years to learn how the big boys do electrical work.
23. Visit every PV installation and take lots of photos.


Happy trails,
Joel Davidson