Saturday, April 25, 2009

World View: Playing for Change. Stand by Me.

Playing for Change. Stand by Me.
Our first Song Around The World that bridges the physical distance between the many musicians and cultures of this planet.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Series: Indebtedness, 21st Century Peonage

This 25¢ token, dated 1939, is a piece of New River Co. "coal scrip", issued at the Price Hill Mine, near Beckley, West Virginia. Scrip was a component of a system of peonage employed by coal mining companies and used to control miners by creating indebtedness. Coal miners were paid in coal scrip from the late 19th century to as late as the early 1960s. This photo is of a piece in my personal collection. Ironically, most of my pieces are now worth more as collectibles than their face values, though when paid to coal miners they were worth their face value only at the Company Store. Ever hear the classic country tune "16 Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford?

I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said "Well, a-bless my soul"

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
Scrip is a thing of the past now. Think Peonage is?

Ever feel like a Peon? Ever hear a co-worker say "I'm just a Peon around here!". Just what is Peonage? From WikiPedia:
The words peon and peonage are derived from the Spanish peón (pe'on). It has a range of meanings but its primary usage is to describe labourers with little control over their employment conditions.
Peonage in one form or another has been around for thousands of years. It's still around in more forms than many folks might think. Are there contemporary equivalents of coal scrip? Is indebtedness still used to exert control?

This is the first in a series of posts on Peonage. Others to follow:

  • West Virginia Coal Mining - Peonage in My Family Tree
  • Predatory Credit Card Companies & Personal Peonage
  • Peonage, Collective Bargaining & Current Union Busting
  • Anti-Trust Law Enforcement & Peonage

Coal Town
Pay day, coal mining town, Omar,
West Virginia, September 1938.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yarn: It's not an April Fool's Joke, I swear!

Several years ago, one April Fool's evening, I was visiting my brother at his home, our family home of several generations, in Hanover County, Virginia. My brother loves to talk on the phone and was chatting away with one of his buddies, while we were in the kitchen, post-dinner, having a drink - a family tradition among males of my family.

His conversation and my drinking were abruptly interrupted by a big commotion involving one of his dogs just outside the kitchen door leading to the car port. He told the buddy to hold, put the phone down and we both rushed outside to see what the dog had cornered.

Whatever the creature, it was obviously under the car parked just outside the door. My brother grabbed one of those big "Mag-Light" flashlights and picked a spot near the dogs to bend down and check it out. Just as he started to point the light under the car, something lunged out at him and attacked his ankle! It made possessed growls & noises while he let out startled yells. He swung that flashlight for all he was worth - while the dog barked and lunged at the thing. I'm pretty sure my reaction added to the mayhem too.

After a substantial number of blows and the dust settled, we looked at each other in disbelief and at the dead fox on the ground at my brother's feet. It took another minute and not a little effort to get the fox carcass safely away from the dog.

We were immediately sure that this fox had rabies (confirmed later by the Game Warden) and now I was looking at a large, nasty tear in my brothers blue jeans right at the ankle. Fortunately… he had on heavy leather hunting boots and the foxes teeth, while destroying his jeans, didn't penetrate the boot.

Then he realized - his buddy was still on hold! He picked up, still out of breath. I was sure the guy had heard the chaos - we had left the kitchen door open in the rush. My brother excitedly related the brief adventure to his friend. Then I heard him say, "No, I'm not kidding." Pause… "No, I SWEAR. It's not an April Fool's trick!" "No, I SWEAR, it was a fox. It attacked me!" The guy wouldn't believe him! Convinced it was an elaborate April Fool's hoax!

He'd been the victim of several of my brother's practical jokes and was now sure my brother was crying wolf. Or rather crying fox!

This of course drove my brother crazy. He finally managed to get the guy out the next day to show him the carcass and the jeans. We both still tell the story.