So Far Down the Rabbit Trail


I am so lost in the rabbit trails. Some, from interest; some from need; some from sheer distraction. One leads off into another; they all seem to carry me someplace worth going. A few do. I wish I knew the difference at the beginning.

Here’s one: it connects the trail of “balonium“–an imaginary mineral I made up a few months back in a sensationalized story about mountaintop removal in Floyd County–and the “Story of Stuff.” Don’t know where it will lead but here are some threads of it.

1) We are blind to the externalized costs of the things we seem to get cheaply. The Story of Stuff uses this quote to describe externalized costs: “If some portion of the cost of producing a product are borne by third parties who in no way participate in or benefit from the transaction, then economists say the costs have been externalized and the price of the product is distorted accordingly. Another way of putting it is that every externalized cost involves privatizing a gain and socializing its associated costs onto the community.”

2) There really is an element essential for cell phones and laptop chips. It’s ore is called coltan. Eighty percent of it comes from the Congo.

3) Talk about your invisible externalized costs (in child labor, dead gorillas and vanishing ecosystem plus more than 4 million dead in Congo’s Coltan wars: Watch this. Read this.

4) And where and how (if anywhere and anyhow) to use this information as more than mere fact? Can it teach me anything? Then, can I in turn teach others?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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