The Generation Gap

When I was a teen back in the turbulent 60s, there was always talk about the “generation gap.” The generation gap was a reference to differences between people of the younger generation and their elders, especially between a child and his or her parent’s generation.

The Who's 1965 anthem to the generation gap.

The gap was a result of some rapid cultural change especially when it came to music, fashion, and politics. This was probably made more pronounced by the unusually large size of the young generation during the 1960s.

“My Generation” by The Who was a kind of youth battle cry.

People try to put us d-down
Just because we g-g-get around
Things they do look awful c-c-cold
I hope I die before I get old
Talkin’ ’bout my generation

I saw a reference on TV to the Kent State shootings that occurred at Kent State University in Ohio and was surprised to realize that this year marks 40 years since that event.

It involved the shooting of unarmed college students by members of the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

Some of those students had been involved in a protest against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Richard Nixon had announced April 30.  But other students who were shot had merely been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance.

I was finishing my junior year in high school. There was a national reaction to Kent State amongst students at high schools and college, including a student strike that involved four million students. It made the gap even wider concerning the role of the United States in the Vietnam War.

I had to fill in my draft information that year. College students were burning draft cards on TV and I was filling in the paperwork to make myself eligible. I felt a year or two distanced from everything that was going on. I had no idea what was coming in the next few years – college or Vietnam?

Yesterday, I was looking through a copy of Time magazine that I hadn’t had a chance to read, and there was an article on all this.

The author, Nancy Gibbs, not only writes about Kent State, but my other thoughts about whether there is still a gap today. (more on that from me in my next post)

Come back with me 40 years to the rabid spring of 1970. President Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia, and campuses exploded. Kids who had never picked up a rock in their lives were occupying the classrooms they used to study in. When National Guardsmen shot four unarmed students at Kent State, virtually the entire system of higher education shuddered and stopped. The fabric of the country seemed to be tearing; everything about the older generation was contaminated, corrupt. Asked in a Gallup poll if there was a generation gap, 74% of the young people of that era said yes.

John Paul Filo's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Mary Ann Vecchio beside the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller, at Kent State University © 1970 Valley News-Dispatch. Filo was a journalism student at Kent State University at the time. Image via

The photo that brings that time back for me is the one by student John Paul Filo taken that day at Kent State.

The song that brings it all back for me is Neil Young’s “Ohio” that was recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young 40 years ago.

From Wikipedia, I learned that Young wrote the lyrics  after seeing the photos of the incident in Life Magazine. CSNY went into a studio in Los Angeles and recorded it live in just a few takes. They also recorded the single’s b-side, Stephen Stills’ bare and haunting song for the war’s causalities, “Find the Cost of Freedom.” The single was mastered, rush-released by Atlantic and heard on the radio with only a few weeks delay.

I recall playing that 45 RPM single over and over and wondering what was ahead.

The Pursuit of Happiness

“If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we’d have a pretty good time”
Edith Wharton

Is the pursuit of happiness one of the reasons we are unhappy? Do we try too hard and expect too much? Do we have any “right” to be happy?

The Virginia Declaration of Rights (June 12, 1776), written by George Mason, says:

That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

Jefferson and Franklin
Jefferson and Franklin

But Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson agreed to downplay protection of “property” as a goal of the government in favor of “happiness.” So, in the United States Declaration of Independence   (I had to look this up – I couldn’t remember if the phrase was in that, the Constitution or the Bill of Rights), adopted July 4, 1776, it says:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Garry Wills writes:

When Jefferson spoke of pursuing happiness, he had nothing vague or private in mind. He meant a public happiness which is measurable; which is, indeed, the test and justification of any government. But to understand why he considered the pursuit of that happiness an unalienable right, we must look to another aspect of Enlightenment thought – to the science of morality.

Wills and others go back to the writings of English philosopher John Locke who wrote that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” Not to get too philosophical here, but Locke (who is talking more about government than your personal life) connects happiness with desire.

John Locke
John Locke

He has the phrase “the uneasiness of desire.” What can overcome the uneasiness of one desire is the greater uneasiness of another. Therefore the removal of uneasiness is the first and necessary step to happiness.

In Buddhism, the First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. Life includes pain, getting old, disease, loneliness frustration, fear, embarrassment, disappointment, and ultimately death. That’s hard to refute.

That view can be seen as pessimistic – or realistic. I go with the latter. Pessimism is expecting things to be bad and Buddhists don’t believe that to be any more true than believing things can be good. Buddhism attempts to explain how suffering can be avoided and how we can be truly happy.  That last part has obsessed humans forever.

Unhappiness is a fact of life. We don’t pursue it; it pursues us. And happiness couldn’t exist without it. Moments of sadness, anger, and dissatisfaction are signals to pay closer attention to what is happening in our life and then redirecting our actions.

Fordlandia: Henry Ford’s Failed Utopia in the Amazon

I heard a passing reference on the radio to a place called Fordlandia  (properly written as Fordlândia) and I just had to follow the thread.

Fordlândia is now an abandoned town in the Amazon rainforest.

Henry Ford

If you think of Henry Ford as the automotive creator of assembly line technology that you studied in school, you might have missed his attempted social programs. (I won’t write about his attempt to hire ex-convicts from Sing Sing to staff his factories.) He had some successes. He was the richest man in the world in the 1920s. But Fordlândia was one of his failures.

In his time, there was a kind of cartel of Dutch and English rubber barons who controlled the world’s rubber supply. The only sole source of rubber was the South American Hevea brasiliensis tree. (Its sap is natural latex.)

Add some intrigue (Any producers want to work on a film about this? I am available.)  In the 1870s, some entrepreneurial smugglers took some wild rubber tree seeds from the Amazon rain forest and started creating plantations in East Asia that hurt Brazil’s dominance on the global rubber business.

It’s 1929.  Henry Ford needs millions of tires for his cars. He decides to break these monopolies. So, he decided to create his own American-styled rubber plantation in the Amazon rainforest. That was  Fordlândia.

He planned for it to be the largest rubber plantation on Earth.

He had surveys done in the Amazon and came up with Brazil as the most suitable location. The trees were  native there and the rubber could be shipped to U.S. land rather than by sea.

He bought 25,000 square kilometers (2.5 million acres – about twice the size of Delaware) along the Amazon River and started development. They brought in the machinery (even a locomotive) and stripped the forest.

U.S. Ford employees were moved in and the town and homes looked like an American community in the jungle.  Fordlândia had a power plant,  hospital,  library, golf course, hotel,  shops, bakeries, butcher shops, restaurants, and Ford Model T Fords on the paved streets.

This was no secret operation. The Brazilian government had given Ford’s new Companhia Industrial do Brasil a concession for his purchase of land on the Rio Tapajós (near the city of Santarém). Henry Ford gave the government a 9% interest in the profits.

I suppose this plan was a kind of Utopian community, though it was obviously created for money and profit and not for ecological, religious or economic reasons – though those elements all were part of it.

Fordism was already a principle that Henry had created. Pay workers $5 a day and they will be able to buy the products that they make and expand the market. Profit is dependent on high wages.

Henry Ford was an odd mix of personalities. Though he is known as the man who “democratizes” capitalism,  he was also violently anti-unionism in the workplace. His factories were like a totalitarian state.

Perhaps he saw Fordlândia as a chance to try again. He had set up experiments in the U.S. that included small village industries in northern Michigan that tried to balance agriculture and industry and create an organized society according to his rules.

Fordlândia factory

Unfortunately for Ford, most of the Fordlândia workers were indigenous people who did not adapt well to burgers, ID badges, working through the hot midday sun or even the American-style homes.

Ford was also a big proponent of  health food and he gave the workers whole rice and whole wheat bread, canned Michigan peaches and oatmeal. They didn’t go over well.

He even introduced square dancing which he hoped would replace the samba.

Fordlandia had a revolt in 1930 and most of the American managers took off and hid until the Brazilian Army came and ended the rebellion.

Ford wanted to control both factory and home life. He forbade alcohol and tobacco, including inside workers’ homes. The inhabitants set up a sanctuary from Fordism  five miles away on the “Island of Innocence” that had bars, nightclubs and brothels.

Ford actually gave the whole thing another try downstream in Belterra where conditions were better for growing rubber.

But by 1945, synthetic rubber was developed and the demand for natural rubber was disappearing. His investment lost its appeal quickly.

After more than 15 years, Fordlândia never produced any rubber for Ford’s tires.

He  sold all of it, but lost more than $20 million.

Henry Ford never visited Fordlândia.

An NYU professor, Greg Grandin, has written Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (which I am still reading).

He points out that despite Ford’s reputation of being a kind of industrial genius, he made a lot of big mistakes. He disliked accountants so much that he never his company audited. When Henry retired from active involvement in the Ford Motor Company, it was said that they had no idea exactly how much it cost to actually build a car.

For his Amazon experiment, he did little research to see if the area was really suitable for growing rubber, and, unbelievably, he  never consulted experts on rubber cultivation.

A documentary film made by Walt Disney about the project (see below) paints a Utopian (or maybe it’s a Disney) version of the experiment. These excerpts are from the film’s narration:

Science and skill work hand-in-hand to produce the finest rubber trees possible. Ford has scoured the far corners of the Amazon, as well as Asia, for selected stock and uses it to build his own super rubber trees. Wild rubber trees produce from three to four pounds of rubber annually. But cultivated trees double and triple this amount, and their yield increases as the trees grow older. In processing the latex, the rubber is reduced to convenient forms, which facilitate handling and save shipping space.

Scientific care, the watchword of the plantation, is extended to the human element, too. Consistent with this policy, the 5,000 inhabitants are provided with every means of making life in the jungle healthy, happy and comfortable. The workers’ houses are clean and airy and offer a pleasant environment with modern conveniences.

Families living on the plantation are highly appreciative of the advantages offered. Their children are given every opportunity to develop into healthy, happy individuals. There are seven modern schools scattered through the plantation with a total enrollment of 1,200 children. Children of the big city may well envy these youngsters, who, in a healthy rural setting, are taught the three Rs, as well as physical culture and hygiene. There’s a day nursery, too, for the younger children whose mothers wish to work. Here, the youngsters are given the very best of care, including scientifically balanced meals.

The company hospital, with the best of modern equipment and excellently staffed, provides free medical aid for the employees.

Recreation is a prime essential in maintaining good health. Lively games serve a double purpose by relieving monotony, too. Later, an outdoor luncheon is served, followed by tempting delicacies. Then comes the afternoon round of golf, played on the plantation links against a beautiful jungle backdrop.

This clip from an interview Greg Grandin did for DemocracyNow includes a portion of the documentary film done by Disney called “The Amazon Awakens” that talks about Fordlândia.  (The clip continues in part 2.) Fordlândia sounds a lot more successful in this Disney version than in real life.


Walt Disney did visit Fordlândia and it may well have influenced some rides later built at Disneyland, such as the jungle cruise.

Soundtrack for this post:

Listen to “Fordlandia” by Kate Campbell from her album Save the Day.

I also discovered that in 2008 an Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson released an album entitled Fordlândia.

The whole experience seems to me to be a great example of the failed attempts to export American life (or a Ford version of it) to other parts of the world. That seems to be a message that is still quite relevant today.

There’s a movie in this…

More Research Opportunities (for you, or that screenwriter)

You Have Mail, But For How Long?

“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these courageous couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

It’s not the U.S. Postal Service’s motto. It goes back 2500 years ago to the Greek historian, Herodotus. He was actually talking about Persian mounted postal couriers during the war between the Greeks and Persians about 500 B.C.

According to the U.S.P.S. site, they don’t have a slogan. When the New York City General Post Office was built, the architects engraved the adage all around the outside of the building.

But email, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest is really hurting the USPS. Mail volume is down about 22.7 billion pieces and over 700 branches are closing. They have almost a $7 billion net loss.

The USPS is considering ending Saturday deliveries.

Andy Rooney said recently on Sixty Minutes that getting any mail (even junk) is better than email. I wouldn’t go that far, but a paper letter or card from someone is better than the electronic version.