Eric

It sounds strange to say, but I was absolutely riveted by these colorized historical photos.

And don’t miss these shocking pics of Hollywood cougars.

Anna

Scary climate impacts you never would have anticipated, No. 173: Drought stricken town taken over by hungry emus.

And speaking of drought (a climate change impact we’re likely to see more and more of), could dried up crops of the past year be a contributing factor in the great Butterball turkey shortfall of 2013? (Read this and you’ll never want to eat factory turkey again anyway, so the shortfall will not be affecting you.)

Clark

Should be in the dictionary under “irony.”

A Walmart in northeast Ohio is holding a holiday canned food drive — for its own underpaid employees. “Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner,” a sign reads in the employee lounge of a Canton-area Walmart.

Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, says the drive is a positive thing. “This is part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships,” he said.

According to the E3 Network, simply replacing aging wastewater, drinking, and gas distribution pipes would create “Nearly five times more jobs, and better jobs” than building the Keystone XL pipeline.

The global economy has grown phenomenally productive over the past hundred years. It takes just a fraction of the labor that it used to grow food and build things. So why aren’t we using all this added productivity to relax and explore our personal interests?  Why isn’t it the norm to work 15 hours a week rather than 40? British anthropologist David Graeber offers an answer: as our labor has grown less necessary, we’ve made up jobs for ourselves.

[R]ather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen…the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones…

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working.

The depressing corollary to all of this is that we underpay, undervalue, and all-too-often actually resent people whose work is the most valuable and necessary:

[T]here seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it…[A]n objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble…

Graeber urges us to ponder how it is that so many American politicians have had…

…success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

I’m not sure I agree with absolutely everything here, but it certainly raises some provocative questions about why, exactly, so many of us work so hard.

Alan

The writer Annie Dillard spent months holed up in a cabin on Lummi Island near Bellingham, Washington, many years ago, writing a historical novel about early settlers in Whatcom County. Published in 1992, it’s called The Living, and I recommend it as one of the greatest Cascadian novels yet. Read it if you haven’t, but do not read it lightly or quickly. And if you’re a youngster, you might wait for mid-life. I’m serious. This is a book that improves with age: yours.

  • Like all of Dillard’s writing, the language is hewn into phrases so rough yet perfect that they can give you a toothache. She composed the book without any words not yet in use during the period she was writing about: that’s how impeccable her craft is. You may find, as I did, that you need to pause often to re-read and reflect.

    Like Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion (another serious contender for greatest Cascadian novel), The Living is as tragic and true a book of the Northwest as you’ll ever find. Yet while Kesey’s volume is a tragedy in the classical sense (protagonist, antagonist, tragic flaw, conflict, inevitable failing, etc), The Living is something different entirely. It is a novel, and death, with all its grimness and grace, is simply the setting. The book has a plot, but the plot isn’t the point. The point is to sit for long hours, in the company of a master raconteur, and contemplate mortality.

    One of Dillard’s characters, Ada, does so herself late in life, in a passage that captures as well as any other the honesty, depth and poignancy of Dillard’s vision:

    The town she mastered had vanished; the prettiest girl in the settlement, Ethelda Olney, whose glory seemed eternal, had passed over to the other side twenty years ago, without a tooth in her head. The governor of the territory had gone to glory before her, and all his eager soldiers; the wiggly little boys she used to know were dead of old age. There was almost nobody left to die that she ever knew or cared to know. Even all the good horses were dead. The gravedigger’s spade turned more earth than a plow. She would look up from wringing a chicken’s neck as fast as she could, and there would be God Almighty wringing a person’s neck slowly, as if He had no sense, and didn’t know the difference, and hadn’t saved us people like He said, in his mercy.

    Serena

    I know, I know. It’s a corporate ad campaign totally manipulating my emotions around what is already one of the most sensitive decisions a person can make. It’s still gorgeous, and I totally cried. In the office. Like I did last week over San Francisco’s Batboy, too, okay? Gives new meaning to NSFW. For good measure, here’s a collection of some thoughtful, expert critique of the new Unilever Sunlight campaign. (Perhaps watch it for yourself below first; then read.)