Tomorrow is Sunday, so we might as well write a sermon on truth.
First we start with family, for that seems the popular mode. We arrived back last night at about midnight into Terminal 2 at the Los Angeles airport. Seemed we had arrived in a third-world county. It took one hour and thirty minutes to get through the immigration process, and that was for people who had USA passports. Others were still in line when we finally got past a customs officer who asked “What food are you carrying.” I told him I do not carry food around on planes; he got real nasty. Welcome to LA and the USA: seriously motivated to catch old men smuggling food into the country from Guatemala. With nine percent unemployed, can’t we put a few to work stamping passports?
Sorry, I meant to start the sermon with family. Right now my grandson has the PlayStation on Sponge Bob–loud. His parents don’t care for such things, so the only chance he gets to play the games are in my in-law’s suite when I am in town. I cannot work out how to play the games: seems you push buttons and manipulate levers to guide a car safely around a track. He is nearly five and gets most excited doing it. I get frustrated trying to keep starting the game. But his is probably the more human-nature act–a constant search for excitement and variety. And seemingly the more violent and rowdy, the more stimulating. I am not allowed to let him watch opera or ballet with me–seems he acts aggressive at school after seeing the sword fights in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet! (Or the opera of the same name by Gunoud.) I did take him to junior karate this morning where he exercised, learnt to control fighting instincts, and heard a sermon on enthusiasm, obviously a new word for him, as afterwards he asked me what it means.
This being a sermon, maybe we should quote other churches? Here is a link to one that would be insightful, if only it were not so funny as it wrestles seriously with the devil and greed in so polite a Canadian way. Here is a flash view of the religious battles of the rich:
The Marlin Mine produces more than $300 million a year in silver and gold for its parent company, Vancouver-based Goldcorp Inc. For investors, low royalties and cheap labour make the mine a thing of financial beauty. However, some of the company’s shareholders — including The United Church of Canada’s pension plan — are now weighing the attractiveness of Goldcorp’s proven profitability against human rights and environmental issues at the Marlin Mine. Some church leaders argue the plan should sell all its shares in the company. Others say it’s easier to exert pressure for change on a company like Goldcorp if you remain invested in it.
The chief complaint about the Marlin Mine, from the mainly Mayan people living around it, is that it was established without proper prior consultation or their consent.
During my time in Guatemala, I too drove and walked around the villages around the mine. I have written a bit about my activities in previous posts (see below.) To me the most striking thing is the presence in every village of one Roman Catholic Church glaring across the road at an equally large and gaudy Pentecostalist Church. Many people told me, in hushed whispers, that the Roman Catholic fold has dropped to less than half the population, as people have fled to the Pentecostalist Churches, seeking happy music and promises of a good life here instead of having to wait until they are dead. Some are even so nasty as to suggest that opposition to the mine is merely a pawn in a much larger battle of opposing religions. Or as I have previously suggested, the coyotes and drug transporters prefer things to remain quiet and under control along their trade routes. Go see the new hotel in El Salitre.
Clearly the mine could never employ more than a small number of the people who live around the mine. The article notes:
The mine provides jobs for about 350 locals, but votes taken since then have shown that most of the 53,000 people in the vicinity oppose it.
I am not sure of these numbers; I have heard others. But to avoid a doctrinal dispute, take 350. [Recent reports give the figure as 1,000 to 1,250] The normal multiplier is about five local jobs for every one mine job. Almost every family I saw in their adobe house had four or five or six kids. So let us estimate the average family size as six. A few simple calculations and you need about five or six mines in the area so that every head of family has a decent-paying job, over and above subsistence farming—or indeed in addition to subsistence farming.
I bet there are ore reserves in the area sufficient for five or six mines–just that those Vancouver capitalists and retired Canadian priests (who are such monied investors) are not about to put more money into Guatemala as it is now. Or maybe it is better for people to live as subsistence farmers, engaged only in a battle for their souls, and for Canadian retired priests also to live in poverty with clear consciences. Maybe it is better for the poor locals to live as I saw so many do: in lovely natural adobe houses, with a beautiful wooden door, and empty of almost everything except a bed for the parents.
On the plane down to Guatemala, I fell into conversation with a tall African-American girl from Kansas. She told me she was on her way to Guatemala to covert the locals to her mid-western Evangelical church. She told me how much they needed her God. I noted that was the same argument used by European missionaries to Africa, and I asked if she thought that was good? She refused to talk to me after that question. On reflection, maybe it is good to keep the locals poor and receptive to mid-western religions rather than let them grow comfortable with things made of metal or plastic.
I saw the old local man with rotten teeth who approached our truck and pleaded that the mine provide gold to cap his teeth. Damn it! I would have given him the gold in preference to profit made by selling the gold to the Japanese to make computers for sale to priests to blog on. But he cannot afford the gold, whereas the priest with ten percent and investments in gold mines can.
I note the report that I have linked to earlier repeats the oft-reported accusation that the mine is the cause of all the cracking of houses. I walked miles in the hills of El Salitre, a village about five kilometer from the mine. The village is remote from the mine and little if any mine traffic passes through the village. We walked up paths to houses far from roads. We saw houses cracked and falling down. It is inconceivable to me as a average engineer that the mine is the cause of the cracking and collapsing of these houses. In my simple opinion, the houses are cracked because of bad foundations or failure to control surface water and groundwater. Of course the many earthquakes that hit the area probably also had something to do with the damage. But the locals are not encouraged to get the education that would enable them to deal with these geotechnical issues. Rather keep them focussed on competing churches and family matters supported by subsistence farming and Canadian bloggers come to write romantic pieces. And keep faithful Colorado engineers come to write reports of stunningly bad engineering, faulty logic, and the fury & passion of prejudice at the expense of analysis and fact.
There is a Guatemala Commission looking into the causes of damage, and we will have to await its conclusions about the causes of damaged houses. Just like we will have to await the report talked about at this link. [The Executive Summary is out and available at the link--I blog about it in the posting just above this one.] Looks like they have had a checkered past. Almost as varied as the history of Guatemala. I wonder if there will be any concordance between the reports? All I hope is that the later report does not recommend repairing the cracked houses. [It does!] For if you have the wrong foundations for the soil conditions and your house is not designed to resist earthquakes, no amount of cosmetic repair will fix inherent design flaws. That is a simple technical fact and not a religious issue.
So Saturday evening progresses. The granddaughter is watching an old DVD of Snow White and the seven miners. Grandson is with father watching Avitar. They are both imbibing the culture of southern California and will return to their private Jewish school on Monday. Which is the peg on which to hang this final observation in our Sunday sermon: religion is part of a tribal culture that attempts to promote the benefit of the tribe, even though it may not always do so.
PS: Here are links to two documents on the construction of earthquake-resistant adobe structures:
As a sort of public benefit observation, I saw all the damage noted in figures in these publications, and must advise those who live in adobe structures that do not implement these ideas, that they could be killed when an earthquake occurs in their area, mine or no mine.
Even worse is that neither of these documents has anything intelligent to say about foundations. The great majority of the structures I saw have defficient foundations. And that only exacerbates their vulnerability to the next earthquake, mine or no mine.
The scariest thing about all this is that we blog and blame, while all the while real people are living in houses that could collapse and kill them in the next earthquake, mine or no mine.
Surely if all those religious people truly loved people and sought honestly to help them, they would spend a bit of time telling the vulnerable families that they could save their lives by a bit of attention to their houses, instead of spending whole Sunday’s in pontification of the spritual. I would think it is better to act to save your kids from death in an earthquake, than to pray for their souls in case the earthquake hits and kills them. For if that happens there will be plenty of time and need to pray for their souls—and yours for putting pride & ignorance ahead of action & prevention.
PPS: On Sunday, we went to see the movie Clash Of the Titans. My grandson was scared but ultimately fascinated. This is a bad movie, but prompts us to contemplate the thesis that God created us to magnify His glory. Whatever you may adopt as the basis of your belief in God, I cannot believe He created us to be crass & careless in protecting His creation, His creatures, or the people He made to glorify Him, mine or no mine, earthquake or no earthquake, religion or no religion, cracks or no cracks. He gave us the intellect to analyze, to determine, to decide, and to act. I do not care if it is a case of act to save creation, people, or His glory. Regardless, we must act on the basis of fact and intellect, for He made both and gave us the ability to act. I believe it is anti-God to lie, to ignore, to supress, to put prejudice ahead of analysis, to elevate faith at the expense of science, and to blame others rather than act to save our children and other people and peoples from the harm that is inherent in nature-which too is God’s creation made for our continuation.
My Prayer: For God’s sake, stop worrying about the mine, for its impact is as nothing compared to the destruction and death in the earthquake. Start worrying to fix foundations, mitigate water impact, and enhance construction details, and give the mine a mandate to participate and improve lives, not be a party to a party of mad-hatters to destroy them.