One of the most persistent myths about clean energy is that clean energy does not supply a reliable source of electricity. That myth usually includes ideas such as we need coal, or nuclear, to provide baseload.
With the Clean Power Plan out for comment, a lot utilities are scurrying to figure out their game plan — or just how they would work with their state utility regulators to reduce their carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, from a 2005 baseline. The general feeling is that the goal is doable but it may take a little more time.
Understandably, the utilities and the state regulators want to find better and cheaper ways of doing business. Their level of enthusiasm, though, differs based on which part of the country they live and which fuels they burn to make electricity. The Northeast and California are leading the charge, having created free market exchanges to buy and sell credits to reduce carbon levels — mechanisms that each say is helping to broaden their generation mixes and to boost their economies.
Nice to see some movement on advanced, 21st (really, 20th) century public transportation. From Detroit Free Press:
A completed high-speed rail corridor between Chicago and Detroit could boost round-trip passenger train service between the two cities from the current three daily trips to 10 by 2035 at speeds of 110 m.p.h., according to preliminary planning on the project.
The higher speeds would also cut the 5 hour, 38 minute trip by almost two hours, and reduce 20 minutes from the leg that continues from Detroit to Pontiac, which would see an extra four daily round-trips from the current three.
Fred Upton is the incumbent Republican Congressional Representative for southwest Michigan’s 6th district. Upton is considered to be one of Michigan’s most powerful Republicans. He is the Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is an important position in relation to climate change. He has been in the House since being elected in 1986. Most of his elections since then, including after redistricting (when he went from the 4th to the 6th district) were easy wins. In 2012 he was “primaried” by the righter-wing, but still won handily (Wikipedia editors, note that Upton’s Wiki entry seems to have that race still in progress as of this writing).
Although he could be categorized as a moderate Republican, there really is no such thing any more. Since the Tea Party Takeover of the GOP, Upton seems to have voted the new party line most of the time.
This politically motivated adherence to lunacy is reflected in his stance on environmental issues. From Wikipedia:
Upton’s website once stated: "I strongly believe that everything must be on the table as we seek to reduce carbon emissions."
In April 2009, he maintained that "climate change is a serious problem that necessitates serious solutions. Everything must be on the table."
However, "Upton has gradually retreated from his moderate stance on climate change and carbon emissions."
In late 2010, he co-authored a Wall Street Journal editorial saying he was "not convinced" that "carbon is a problem in need of regulation," and urging Congress to overturn Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency.
Regarding the regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act being upheld in Federal Appeals court, Upton said that Congress’s refusal to approve greenhouse gas limits constituted a decision and that lawmakers should act now to reverse the United States Environmental Protection Agency emissions rules. Carbon regulation “threatens to drive energy prices higher, destroy jobs and hamstring our economic recovery,” per Upton.
Due to his environmental policies, the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2011 that Upton "represents one of the biggest threats to planet Earth on planet Earth."
In 2007 Upton was a co-sponsor of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 which among other things mandated phased-in energy efficiency standards for most light bulbs. At the time, Upton noted that the legislation, ultimately signed into law by President George W. Bush, would "help preserve energy resources and reduce harmful emissions, all while saving American families billions of dollars on their electric bills."…
But in 2010, after Glenn Beck called Upton "all socialist" for supporting the bill, Upton led a failed effort to stop Obama from enforcing the new energy standards.
So, he’s won every re-election campaign by double digits, started out as a Reasonable Republican on climate change but then, following instructions from Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck, shifted to the right. Though he has occasionally demonstrated a wide stance on the topic, it appears he can be easily slapped into place.
This year, Upton is being challenged by Paul Clements. Clements is a professor at Western Michigan University. He has done well with fundraising, including quite a bit from outside the district. It is said that he is running an excellent campaign.
A quick look at Real Clear Politics shows nothing on this race. That is an indicator that it was assumed to be settled. Publicly available polling (or, for that matter, useful private polling) in House races rarely happens when the presumed distance between the major candidates is double digit.
Clement’s campaign released a poll showing Clements within about 4 points of Upton (43-47%, with 10% undecided). The margin of error includes the spread, so it is a statistically dead heat.
According to the pollsters,
The race in Michigan Congressional District 6 has narrowed significantly in recent weeks, as voters have learned more about the negative aspects of Fred Upton’s tenure in Congress, and have been introduced to a viable alternative in Democrat Paul Clements. Additionally, political gaffes by Upton have brought scrutiny to this long-term incumbent who has never faced a credible challenger in a district that Barack Obama won in 2008 and trailed Mitt Romney by only 1.4 percentage points in 2012. Paul Clements has momentum in the closing days of the campaign, in what has turned out to be the most competitive congressional race in Michigan, for a seat that many thought was safe for Republicans
Numerically, the gap has closed in part because undecided are deciding (see graph) and partly because both candidate’s numbers are moving.
It is possible that messages will be sent.
A near loss is predicted to encourage Upton to retire. An actual loss is a slap in the face to the Republican Party’s leadership, given Upton’s position on the Energy committee. People will then argue over whether this was Upton’s loss or Clements’ win.
What are the “gaffes” mentioned by the pollsters? This is not entirely clear.
Clements is being supported, or perhaps more accurately, Upton is being opposed, by the Silicon Valley Mayday Pac. It is claimed that Upton’s people have pressured the pac donors, with the suggestion that they will have some trouble from Washington if they keep contributing to the effort to oust Upton, if Upton survives. That sounds inappropriate and all, but it also sounds kind of typical. This sort of thing is one of the reasons, of course, that we need campaign finance reform.
(As an aside, I find it interesting that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not been in this game. I agree with Mark Miller, the Democratic district chair, who is quoted as saying “[The 6th District is] the most Democratic seat in Michigan that’s held by a Republican. Why the DCCC has been unwilling to invest in this district is perplexing." But I digress.)
Do you want to get involved in this race, and possibly help affect the outcome? Check this out, a note I just got this from Climate Hawks Vote:
Something is happening on the ground in a small corner of Michigan. For weeks I’ve been hearing that people are fed up with Fred Upton and just tired of his allegiance to Big Oil. He’s ducking voters – he canceled a prescheduled debate with climate hawk Paul Clements to attend a prescheduled DC hearing, and canceled a NAACP appearance. DC papers are asking: is Michigan’s most powerful Republican really in political danger?
Climate Hawks Vote got into this race for the same reason we’re in every race: a powerful Republican (the chair of the House Energy & Commerce committee, no less!) denying science and blocking progress, a good climate hawk sending a message, and a potentially winnable race. How winnable? Every other climate/environmental group wrote it off as a longshot. But day after day, our Benton Harbor field organizer reports: "everyone’s voting for Clements." "Upton drifted too far right." "Time for a change."
So we’re going all in.
If you’re local – including South Bend, Indiana – come to our candidate forum Wednesday, October 29 at the Pilgrim Rest Church, 1105 East Main St., Benton Harbor, which we’re cosponsoring with the local NAACP chapter. Meet Paul Clements, because everyone who meets him ends up deciding to vote for him, and other candidates. Then #TurnOutForWhat – a voter rally! – on Friday, October 31 from 3:30 to 6 PM at the Citadel, 91 Hinkley St., Benton Harbor. (Sorry, no extra treats for dressing as a big spill in the Kalamazoo River.) Wear your walking shoes and your brightest smile to both. Can’t make either, but time this weekend? We’ve got doors to knock and people to call. Reply to this email, and we’ll find something for you to do.
Not so local? This is my last donation request of the 2014 campaign season. Money raised goes to pay organizers canvassing on the ground this weekend in Michigan. Talons-on-the-ground field operations won primaries in Hawaii and Arizona. I’m proud of the successful grassroots organization we’re building with your help. Thank you.
Coleman’s experience in weather forecasting does not make him an expert in climate science — there is an immense difference between a scientist and a weather forecaster. … Disregarding the fact that Coleman never received a formal education in meteorology — his degree was in journalism — his experience predicting the weather does not make him a credible source to debunk the vast majority of scientific literature on climate change.
Coleman also claimed that “9,000 Ph.D.’s and 31 [thousand] scientists” agree with his position on climate change, referring to the widely discredited Oregon Petition Project. Its signatories are mostly engineers with master’s degrees, and it once included the names of fictitious characters and a member of the Spice Girls.
Coleman is not a climate scientist. Neither is Al Gore, actually. But one of them is seriously concerned about climate change and does listen to what climate scientists day. Guess which one.
This was technically difficult owing to internet conditions but interviewer Vijay Kishore Vaidyanathan did a great job with what he had. In particular he did a great job editing out the constant explosions in the background!
There are a lot of possible answers to that question, but whatever set of answers you like, you have to account for change. Certain social justice or reproductive rights issues are less important now than they they have been in the past, not because the issues are less important, but because they are more settled. A new change you have to account for now, for a certain voting bloc of women, is Climate Change. Science 2.0 has a summary of a recent study — Don’t Believe In Global Warming? Women Won’t Vote For You — suggesting that for some, climate change has become a woman’s issue.
The present work addresses calls to clarify the role of gender in climate change mitigation and adaptation by testing a theoretical model linking gender and concern with future and immediate consequences to mitigation actions through political orientation, environmental values, and belief in global warming (gender x time orientation ? liberal political orientation ? environmental values ? belief in global warming ? willingness to pay to reduce global warming). Drawing on a sample of 299 U.S. residents, structural equation modeling and bootstrapped indirect effects testing revealed support for the model. Interaction analyses further revealed that women scored higher than men on model variables among respondents who routinely consider the future consequences of their actions, but the gender difference was reversed among those low in concern with future consequences (on liberal political orientation and willingness to pay to reduce global warming). Practical and theoretical implications are considered.
Politicians who discredit global warming risk losing a big chunk of the female vote….women who consider the long-term consequences of their actions are more likely to adopt a liberal political orientation and take consumer and political steps to reduce global warming.
Jeff Joireman, associate professor of marketing at Washington State University, demonstrated that “future-oriented” women are the voting bloc most strongly motivated to invest money, time and taxes toward reducing global warming.
Joireman said belief in global warming is positively linked to outdoor temperatures, so in light of recent record-breaking heat, people – especially future-oriented women – may have climate change on their minds during next week’s midterm elections.
September was the hottest on record in 135 years, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects 2014 will likely break the record for hottest year.
This year’s political contests are also heated, with environmental ads surging to record levels. More than 125,000 political spots cite energy, climate change and the environment – more than all other issues except health care and jobs – according to an analysis by Kantar Media/CMAG.
Motivating the wider populace to engage and take action on global warming, however, is an ongoing challenge, said Joireman.
“Decisions that affect global warming pose a dilemma between what is good for individuals in the ‘here and now’ versus what is good for society and the environment ‘in the distant future,’” he said.
“Unfortunately, it can take several decades for the lay public and lawmakers to realize there is a problem that needs fixing,” he said. “This is clearly the case with global warming, as the consequences of our current lifestyle are not likely to be fully realized for another 25 to 50 years.”
…Joireman investigated how the time element contributes to people’s willingness to address climate change.
For the study, he focused on the personality trait called “consideration of future consequences.”
Those who score high on the trait scale tend to be very worried about the future impacts of their actions, while those with lower scores are more concerned with immediate consequences.
… his team polled 299 U.S. residents, with an age range of 18-75. Forty-eight percent of the respondents were female and 80 percent were Caucasian.
Women scored higher than men on liberal political orientation, environmental values, belief in global warming and willingness to pay to reduce global warming when their concern with future consequences was high.
But it wasn’t a simple gender difference. Women scored lower than men on liberal political orientation and willingness to pay when their concern with future consequences was low.
Joireman said a specific chain of influences makes future-oriented women more likely to take action. First, they are more politically liberal.
Liberals are more likely to value the environment, which makes them more likely to believe in global warming, he said. All together, these effects lead to a willingness to pay more in goods, services and extra taxes to help mitigate climate change.
“Future-oriented women, for example, might be more willing to pay higher prices for fuel-efficient cars, alternative forms of transportation and energy-efficient appliances. They might also eat less meat – all to help lower greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
The question for environmental advocates now, said Joireman, is to “figure out how to motivate all people to engage in behaviors that reduce global warming. To be effective, we will likely need to tailor persuasive messages to appeal to the consequences people value.
“If people are not worried about future consequences, we have to try to appeal to their more immediate concerns,” he said, “like encouraging them to buy a fuel-efficient vehicle so they can instantly start saving money on gas.”
The overall form of the graph shows a decrease over time. But it really shows an increase. You just have to know how to read it. The Y axis is the number of days since the last shooting, which as we can see is very high for several shootings before about 2011, but very low after. But, once you do understand the graph it makes the point very clearly. Notice that there are several time periods prior to 2011 which also have low numbers (meaning more shooting events) but those periods are never very long. There seems to be a dramatic and sustained increase in rate of shootings.
The authors explain it this way:
As the chart above shows, a public mass shooting occurred on average every 172 days since 1982. The orange reference line depicts this average; data points below the orange line indicate shorter intervals between incidents, i.e., mass shootings occurring at a faster pace. Since September 6, 2011, there have been 14 public mass shootings at an average interval of less than 172 days. A run of nine points or more below the orange average line is considered a statistical signal that the underlying process has changed. …The standard interpretation of this chart would be that mass shootings, as of September 2011, are now part of a new, accelerated, process.
Climate change and clean energy seem to be playing a role in the Kansas Governor’s race. Ari Phillips at ThinkProgress has a post on the race. The issue is preservation vs. abrogation of the Kansas Renewable Portfolio Standard, a state law that requires a certain amount of Kansas energy to be “renewable.” The Koch’s have spent considerable effort and money to have the law repealed. Democratic candidate Paul Davis says he will veto any effort to repeal the law. Brownback formerly supported the law but his support apparently has shifted under the Pressure that Refreshes (Koch).
Davis said the RPS repeal is being championed by a very narrow group of far right special interests with heavy investments in the oil industry. He said this is despite the fact that the policy remains incredibly popular among everyday Kansans and public and private sector leaders who understand the importance of diversifying the state’s energy portfolio. In fact, Kansas’ RPS — which requires investor-owned utilities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020 — is almost entirely fulfilled several years ahead of schedule.
“Frankly, the RPS has become controversial because those who want to repeal the RPS have poured millions into Sam Brownback’s re-election campaign, which has caused him to suddenly change his position,” said Davis.
Phillips points out an interesting irony. Kansas, the state, is named after a Native American tribe whose name translates roughly as “People of the Wind.” And, we all know about the famous Tornadoes in Kansas that are capable of whisking a young girls and their dogs to far away lands!
See Phillips post for a lot more information on the popular and business based support of the renewable energy law that the GOP is now being paid to get rid of.
Since an earlier attempt to repeal the law failed, the Koch’s have pulled support away from the GOP incumbent. This pattern has apparently played out at the level of state legislative elections as well.
So, we have a business-friendly and popular law, equivocal support or lack thereof by the GOP incumbent, a Democrat who supports the pro-clean energy law running against the incumbent, and a tight election. It may be the case that if Paul Davis wins, it will be an election where Climate Change and Clean Energy mattered.
…there has recently been a bit of a wrinkle in this core tenet of evolution. It used to be that you could say with confidence that changes brought about by environmental influences over the course of an individual’s lifetime (loss of limb, build-up of muscle mass) are not heritable. But more and more examples of just that—of environmentally affected traits being passed from parent to offspring—have been recently reported in the scientific literature. Earlier this year, for example, Scientific American ran a piece by biologist Michael Skinner that described the phenomena he has studied since 2005. He recounts how mice exposed to a toxin produce male offspring with low sperm count and underdeveloped sex organs. No problem so far, the offspring were developing within the mother’s body and therefore also exposed. But Skinner’s team noted a disproportionate occurrence of these traits in the next two generations. There was no trace of the toxin in…
Everything I’m about to tell you in this story is true.1 You might not want to read this story while you are alone or while sitting in the dark.2
Kimberley South Africa is said to be the most haunted city in the world, and it certainly is a city with a remarkable and dark history. The culture of Kimberley is constructed from the usual colonial framework on which are draped the tragic lives of representatives from almost every native culture from thousands of kilometers around, as well as the seemingly ubiquitous Europeans with their greed, their unexamined privilege, and their wars.
The city’s very existence is highly questionable from legal, moral, and ethical standpoints, yet it is historically central to South Africa itself; the resulting trope is a rather quaint denialism. The most significant historical event here was a military siege of the town, but during that siege, it would appear that black and other non-white labor3 built the protections that saved all the white women and children and many of the white men from death from either bombardment or starvation. Then the laborers went home and were exposed to the worst conditions imaginable, and the death toll is to this day left off all of the brochures and plaques commemorating the glorious war. That is just one example of the problem that Kimberly has. All cities of prosperity and historical significance are linked to a darker side. In Kimberly, the ethical conundrum of modern civilization is neatly packaged within the municipal borders, set off from civilization in the middle of the arid lands of southern Africa, unconnected to any other place by anything more than a two lane road and a small airport.
Kimberley grew up next to and entirely because of The Big Hole. The Big Hole is where there used to be the remnant plug of an ancient volcano. It is the largest hole ever dug by hand. But why was it dug? That is going to require some explanation.
It is now known that diamond is the natural state of carbon at very high pressure, so it seems that there are places at the base of the earth’s crust where carbon in the mantle has condensed into diamonds. Some volcanoes consist of large flows of magma that include unmelted chunks of this basal crust. A very long time ago such a volcano existed in this spot, at present day Kimberley. It did its volcano thing and then stopped and cooled down. Then, the landscape was eroded down quite a ways, so that the volcanic cone, the ash, lava, or whatever it is the volcano had belched out onto the landscape is long ago eroded into the sea a thousand kilometers away. All that is left is the vertical tube of hardened magma and bits of the lowest reaches of the earth’s crust carried along by the magma. If you go to this area of South Africa today you will see several such ancient “plugs” of various different volcanoes, some with diamonds some not, often sticking up from the surrounding flatness.
Then the white people came to this interior region of South Africa between the Gariep and Vaal rivers, and discovered diamonds laying around on the surface. They saw that this was good, and they knew that God had put these diamonds there for them to prosper (more on this later). And somewhere along the line someone figured out where some of the diamonds were eroding out of. They did not know this was a volcanic plug, as they had very little knowledge of geology. But God had put this concentration of diamonds, with clues leading to it, so that the whites could prosper, and that was good enough for them. So they started to dig and they found more diamonds. So they dug more and more and divided the plug into little horizontal patches, each a ‘claim’ just a few feet square, which were over time bought and sold and dug and sold and dug and bought and dug until many people died digging a hole that is larger than any hand dug hole ever dug by our species on this planet.
The Big Hole.
During this time, as the city of Kimberley was being built up, this location became a center of all sorts of activity. There were little wars going on everywhere in Africa at at that time, and so a rather brisk trade in illegal arms emerged. Mercenaries moved through the area, and there was illegal rhino horn trade, illegal ivory trade, and illegal slave trading. Cowboy-like miners and traders got drunk and killed each other now and then. And by “now and then” I mean, “all the time.”
At the edge of town, someone seems to have had the job of digging one hole every day. The hole was about six feet long, two and a half feet wide, and six feet deep and perfectly squared off. This attention to perfection is an African thing. I feel almost like I know the guy who dug this hole (or more likely three or four guys sharing one job). The hole was perfectly positioned a couple of feet over from the last hole, and it was perfectly executed. And into this hole was placed, tossed, gently lowered encoffined, whoever happened to die that day. If no one died that day, which would happen only now and then, these guys had the next day off. If two or three people died that day, then the hole took less time to fill in because the bodies took up more space. If the person who died was just some slob (which was the normal run of events), the body was unceremoniously tossed in. If the person who died was of some importance to someone and there was cash available, the deceased was placed in a coffin and lowered in. Or something in between happened.
At some point in Kimberley’s past, this is how the graveyard was filled with dead people. About one person a day on average, plus or minus.
There were some bad days. In 1888 202 miners died in one fell swoop owing to a fire. And, during the Big Siege, several hundred more people died. The 1918 Spanish Influenza was devastating here.
The Big Siege was the event most closely connected by modern day historians and ghost hunters with a particular building which is now the McGregor Museum, which is central to this story. The Siege of Kimberly was part of the Anglo Boer War.
The so called Anglo Boer war is a complicated mess of history. There are people who will get mad at me for calling it the Anglo Boer War instead of the First and/or Second Boer War or some other thing. But I’m not going to mess with these details here. Let’s just say that a lot of bad shit was going down in what is now South Africa in the late 19th century. Let’s just say that the Afrikaners and the British of the Cape Colony had two or three points of difference in opinion about things like the rules of government and society which would eventually become Apartheid, about slavery, and so on. And let’s just say that the discovery of diamonds near Kimberley … complicated things.
So there was a war fought in South Africa between October 1899 and May 1902. It was mainly a war between the United Kingdom and the British in southern Africa on one hand, and the Boers (that would be the Afrikaners, the descendants of the Dutch in South Africa) on the other. The United Kingdom had colonial forces in India and elsewhere that they brought to bear, and nearly every community in the UK proper supplied forces. It became the largest single military engagement ever undertaken by the British, and arguably one of the largest wars ever to date. The burnt earth policy was developed during this war. Although concentration camps were already a thing (used in the Spanish American War) they were brought to the highest level ever. All of the Boars in the region of fighting were rounded up and put in the concentration camps because whenever they were captured and release they tended to simply rejoin their Army and kept fighting, for some reason. New kinds of rifles and new kinds of cannon were use in this war, making it a key historical moment for the history of large scale killing of each other. This included the “smokeless cannon.” That was important because when cannons let off a lot of smoke, the enemy could figure out more easily where you were located and shoot back sooner. With the smokeless cannon, that was harder to do.
Have you seen the movie Breaker Morant? That was this war.
At the outset of the war, the British occupied and essentially annexed Kimberley and the surrounding mines, and the Boers surrounded Kimberley and bombarded the city with mortars and cannons. They did this for 124 days, but fighting continued around the city even after its liberation by British forces.
The number of people who died here is somewhat controversial. During the bombardments and fighting, the armed defenders of the city suffered 134 casualties, but close to 1,500 “blacks” including children may have died of disease and famine. Over 67% of all white babies and 91% of all “coloured and black” children died. Well over 2,000 British casualties were suffered by the force that relieved the city.
In Kimberly one finds the old Kimberley Sanatorium, built at the suggestion of Cecil John Rhodes as a high class hotel and health resort in 1897, but used for other purposes since then. Rhodes lived there during the Siege, and the compound served as the military headquarters for the British. Later, it was used again as a hotel, and still later, as a convent. To this day people argue over the origin of the various ghosts said to occupy the structure. Are they the spirits of those who stayed in the hotel for their health, but died anyway? Are they those that lost their lives during the siege? Most ghost hunters agree that at least one is a nun who forever roams the corridors.
Eventually, the hotel was converted to house the McGregor Museum, which is part of the South African National Museums. This particular museum addresses the local history, the military history associated with the war and the siege, and the regional archeology. For several years, I’ve worked off and on in the Northern Cape (the province Kimberley is in) and had the opportunity to work with the folks at this museum. And one year, I stayed for a few weeks, with a small group of students, in the guest quarters of the museum itself.
I have been told, true or not I cannot say, that many of the dead but not gone passed away in agony in the upper floors of the infirmary, in very rooms which now constitute the guest quarters, and in which we stayed during this period.
Indeed, we were warned when we moved in.
“Your’re a scientist, like I am,” said the archaeologist who lived downstairs from the Rooms of Death and Misery, as the students were carting gear and luggage up the stairs to the apartment, winging on about how they had to do all the work. “So I understand if you don’t believe me, but….”
“… But what?” I said, as I glanced up the stair wondering what the students were whispering to each other about and concerned that they were taking the good rooms for themselves.
“Well, the place is haunted, or so it is said,” he continued.
I stared at him. Like, what is that supposed to mean, I thought.
“The Norwegian scientists who came last month …. they were supposed to stay for three weeks but left after five days.”
“The ghost drove them out. Oh, by the way, avoid the bedroom that is an extension of the hallway.”
“Just avoid it.”
So I went upstairs and the students, disgruntled because they had personally carried all our stuff up the stairs while I talked to the archaeologist on the first floor, had indeed taken the two best bedrooms, set our stuff up in the third actual bedroom for use as a common space and informal office, and put my luggage in …. the dreaded hallway extension bedroom.
“So, who told you that the hallway was extra haunted?” I asked them snarkily.
“Everybody knows the hallway is extra haunted” one of them replied, super-snarkily.
That night, everyone was pretty tired which was good, because when the disembodied footsteps came walking down the hallway …. and back and forth a couple of times … I think I was the only person who heard them. But that was not to be the case for very long…
The Ghost in the Hall
So there we were in the Haunted Guest Quarters of the Old Infirmary, and I had already heard the ghost once. In the morning, my colleague and BFF Lynne who was staying with us for a couple of days noted that she had heard the mysterious footsteps as well….
“Greg, one, maybe both, of your students are really afraid of ghosts,” she said.
“Why were they even talking about ghosts?”
“They’ve talked about little else since finding out that the ghost tour business is the biggest thing in town! And sooner or later they’re going to hear whatever that was walking down the hall last night.”
“Nah, they’ll just get drunk and pass out every night as usual. Don’t worry about it.”
“We’ll see. What do you suppose that was walking up and down the hall anyway? I looked out and saw nothing,” she said a little too casually.
“Everything has a scientific explanation, my dear friend.”
“Somehow I knew you were going to say that…”
It did turn out that both of the two students harbored beliefs in things like ghosts and spirits. They were not the only ones in town who did. We quickly confirmed that our temporary abode was indeed on the route of the local ghost tour. The ghost tour is actually one of the more stable businesses in Kimberley, City of Ghosts, as one might imagine. The local ghost tour bus, a Volkswagen “Eurovan” style vehicle, would travel round the city bringing people to various haunted houses. So one evening after we figured out that we were on the tour, we saw the van pitch up on a nearby public street. Several tourists who seemed to be from East Asia got out of the van, and the tour guide began to point in our direction and gesticulate, presumably telling stories about the museum and its ghostly inhabitants, as the tourists alternated between glancing at the tour books and pamphlets they carried with them and the building itself. This is when the students put on their show. They had covered themselves in sheets. They flashed the lights on and off and danced back and fourth in a ghostly manner passing between the various windows that were visible from the street. I may or may not have assisted.
Pretty soon the rather shocked looking tourists piled back into the van and drove off as quickly as possible.
And, as Lynne had suggested, the students did eventually hear the Thing in the Hallway.
I did not hear it every single night, but that may simply be because I slept through it. The phenomenon consisted of the sound of foot steps in the creaky hallway, going from one end of the hallway to the other, then often coming back the way it came. Frequently, the sound of footfalls would stop for various lengths of time, then continue. If you looked in the hall there would be nothing there. But the regular occurrence of the footfalls caused the students to avoid using the bathroom until sunup (which was great for me because I could shave and bathe early without interruption) and one of the student required that I tuck her in and turn out her bedroom light for her until I got her an extra flashlight that she could use as a night light. This is how it was at The Old Scary Infirmary for a couple of weeks.
Then, one morning, when I was down in the bathroom shaving … the strangest thing happened….
Who is that kilted man with the big gun?
Well, we were living with this ghost who would walk up and down the hall in the middle of the night, invisibly, leaving behind only the sound of its footsteps. But before I tell you how this all came out, I want to tell you a related side story.
As I had mentioned, I had the “hallway extension” room. Let me explain.
To get into the apartment, you would walk up a set of stairs and through a lockable doorway. Then to the right was a bedroom, and to the left a bathroom. Moving on ahead down the hallway were two more bedrooms on the right for a total of three. On the left side past the bathroom was a kitchen. Then, at the end of the hall, the hallway took a left and went up a step, and continued on for about 15 feet until it met a door that was always locked and that we were told that we should not attempt to open.
That L-shaped part of the hallway — the hallway extension — was fairly wide, and a second door had been fitted at the beginning of it, where the step went up, so it formed a long narrow bedroom with a small twin bed on one side and no other furniture.
That was my room.
The first night I stayed there, I was sitting in my room messing with my luggage or something when the light went out. I assumed the bulb had blown. I looked around for a new bulb but did not find one. So that night, after we went out to dinner and came back, I simply kept the door ajar to let in some light from the hallway while I set up the bed and prepared for my evening retirement.
The next day I forgot about the light having burned out, and nothing interesting happened, but the morning after that, we were staying in the apartment later than usual and while I was sitting there getting stuff ready to go out, the light mysteriously turned on. Right after the light turned on, I heard footsteps on the other side of the door that was not to be opened. I went over and looked through the keyhole and through the keyhole I could vaguely see the form of a 19th century looking chap in a uniform of the style that would have been worn by a Royal Scots Dragoon Guard, kilt and all.
“I’ll have to check this out in more detail” I thought, as an explanation for the strange behavior of my bedroom light started to form in my mind.
Indeed, later that night, after a day in the field doing archaeology, I went to my room intentionally at a certain time, and turned on the light and waited. Soon enough, I heard footsteps on the other side of the door that was not to be opened, and in a moment, the light went off. And away walked the footsteps.
The next day, after getting back from the field a bit early, I went round to the entrance of the McGregor Museum’s public galleries, talked my way past the ticket taker, and hopped up the stairs along one of the old Infirmary’s wings. At the top of the stairs was an open door into a larger room, and in the room were glass cases of manikins of men in various uniforms that dated to the time of The Siege. Near the back of the room was a gatling gun, and behind the gun, a locked door. Next to the door was a light switch.
I walked over to the light switch and turned it off. The lights in the museum room went off. I got on my hand and knees and looked through the old keyhole of the door, and could see nothing. But I reached up to the light switch and flipped it on, and suddenly through the keyhole I could see my room, with my bed, and all my junk on the bed. “Hmm,” I muttered,”Really should keep that neater since I’m kinda on public display here.”
As I stood to leave, I turned to the people who had been looking at the kilted manikin and said “You know, this place is really haunted!”
“I know!” each of them said, eyes wide, in unison with each other.
So, getting back to the original ghost story…
I see dead people. Hey, It’s my job!
I wrote earlier about the graves that were dug daily to receive Kimberly’s dead. In truth, the details of this procedure are still being worked out by archaeologists at the McGregor Museum, but when we were there on this particular trip, part of the grave yard to which I refer had been just discovered, accidentally uncovered during a public works drainage project. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in all my years as an archaeologist.
It should not have been terribly surprising that there were graves in this particular patch of land, just across a small road from an existing cemetery. Indeed, bodies had been discovered in past decades in this neighborhood, and many people suspected that the graveyard was in fact much larger than the marked area with the headstones that was traditionally defined as a cemetery.
We saw the graves opened and carefully excavated. Each hole, as described earlier, was carefully emptied out of all but the skeletons and some of the objects. A 24 hour guard stood watch to make sure no one or no thing got in … or out. Not that there was anything of real monetary value, but people do covet the strangest objects.
Many of the holes did have more than one skeleton, and quite often the skeleton was clearly tossed in haphazardly. In one case, a person’s body was lying at the base of the grave, but his legs were stiffly leaning against the wall. All of his bones were in place but his kneecaps, which rested enigmatically on his pelvis. What has happened was this: The knee caps were, of course, where they were supposed to be (at his knees) when his body was tossed in the grave. Later, his flesh rotted away, but his pants remained for a while, forming a tube shaped void containing his leg bones. The kneecaps slid down the tube and on to his lap, and later the void filled with dirt.
Another grave had a haphazardly tossed-in skeleton and on top of that was a carefully placed and well decorated coffin containing a woman.
Many of the skulls were cut transversely as one would do to remove the brain. It seems that the coroner or the undertaker or someone was harvesting this particular organ. Those were the days when everyone was doing physical anthropology. Perhaps the local doctor was conducting a study…
The people of the neighborhood were of course concerned about this graveyard, in part because many of these people descended from earlier Kimberley citizens, and in part because these days in South Africa burial of the dead is taken quite seriously, and treatment of the dead is a major social and political issue. In parallel cases elsewhere in the country, the people demanded that the burials be recovered and left alone. But in this case the overwhelming feeling was to apply science to the finds, to figure out as much as could be learned about the history and circumstances of these original burials.
Personally I attribute this local citizen’s interest in the science to the excellent work done by the archaeologists at the McGregor Museum in developing an awareness of archeology and its benefits. In addition, as I have alluded to earlier, there is a certain amount of historic denialism associated with the events and affairs connected to Kimberley, South Africa. And today, the inclination of many South Africans seems to be to discover rather than deny that which can be known.
But I mention the skeletons here because if we are talking about ghosts wandering around in an old infirmary, it is notable that those hearing the ghosts had been messing with the remains of the dead on the other side of the town.
In fact, that’s not the only way we were messing with the dead…
The Grave on the Hill
One of the main reasons we were staying in Kimberley was to assist the museum staff with a particular, and rather singular, survey and excavation. The location and circumstances of this field project were quite remarkable.
This was on the location of an historic hunting reserve, where every one of the buildings where guests were quartered and entertained was built well before World War II. Even the huge ancient charcoal refrigerator was intact and in use. This was a large cylindrical structure with double mesh walls. When the game was afoot and dozens of buck were killed by sports hunters over a few days, the space between the double walls was filled with charcoal and wetted down. The steady evaporation from the charcoal chilled the space inside the cylindrical building down to refrigerator temperature, so the carcases could be hung, processed, and aged over a week’s time.
The accommodations sported brass-fixtured porcelain bathtubs, fine cut glass adorned cabinetry, an excellent dining facility and a bar. None of which we were allowed near except for the one brief tour snuck in between paying guests.
Within the reserve was a small flat topped hill. This hill was the gravelly remains of an ancient river bed, the old thalweg of the Gariep River4, or some version of it, that probably flowed at this spot several tens of million of years ago. The volcanic plugs I mentioned earlier were already old at the time that this river flowed, so the gravel bed of this ancient river could contain diamonds eroded out of those plugs, which may have been upstream.
Subsequently, the land was eroded down such that what was once a river bed was now a hilltop.
Now, here’s a bit of geological esoterica for you: There is a debate raging between three or four guys that no one has ever heard of as to whether the river in this area flowed from east to west as it does now (more or less) or if this river channel was part of a system that flowed from the south to the north (and then to the west). I’m betting on the latter because in this river bed we found the eastern most known occurrence of a certain type of rock known as Asbestos Hills Jasperite. In order for this Jasperite to have gotten here, either the Jasperite deposits to the southwest of this site once extended well to the east, which is impossible, or the river flowed from the southwest.
This is not a digression … there is a relevant point to be made here. The ancient volcanic plugs with the diamonds were to our east (and west) but not to the south. If this river was draining the region of the volcanic plugs, there is a good bet that this gravel deposit would include diamonds. If, however, the river flowed form elsewhere, say from the southwest, then there is no reason to expect diamonds.
Whether there were diamonds or not, this hilltop was still a gravel bed representing an old river base, and in this region of South Africa, this meant that people would show up with bulldozers and strip it for diamonds. Regular people (with bulldozers) could legally file a diamond claim pretty much anywhere. A claim needed to be used within a very short time after filing, and you could not renew it indefinitely. Many of the old claims owned by the apartheid-linked megacorporations had been abrogated. The diamonds were now owned by the people. This was probably a good thing in a way, but is also meant that a bunch of Joes with bulldozers could legally take down the fence to this game park and strip this hilltop. Legally they were then required to restore the land to its original state, but that sort of thing almost never happened.
As a result, the megacorporation that owned this particular game reserve … and if you’ve heard of diamonds you’ve heard off this corporation … decided to strip out the gravel themselves so that no one else could work this claim. This would minimize damage to the game reserve. The geologists had gone over the deposits and had found no diamonds. If there were diamonds there, there were not too many. Unfortunately, the word “diamond” was part of the place name assigned a century ago to this spot. So, the idea that diamonds were not here was absurd to anyone looking at a map.
Meagdiamondcorp decided to remove all the big trees, strip out the gravel, process it for diamonds, throw the gravel back on, and replant the trees. This would be done in a few months time with minimal disruption to the game park. But there was one small problem: The hilltop was covered with archaeological sites.
And that is what the McGregor Museum was doing there. My field school joined the McGregor team and we carried out a survey and excavated a bunch of stuff. The archaeological materials ranged from the Fauersmith (close to a half million years ago) to historic, with various time periods in between represented. It was great fun to work on this project because we were working on foot in the middle of a game park. As you know, this is how I roll.5 As they say.
And of course, on the edge of the hill overlooking the best potential hunting grounds, ancient Bushmen/San6 people had made a pile of rocks, as they tended to do. These cairns were often linked with ceremonial activities, and now and then, they were burials.
So we excavated the pile of rocks that was fairly likely to be a burial. The procedure we followed, which is normal, is to excavate very carefully and on the first sign that the feature was a burial, we were to stop and then other things would happen. That would be complicated, but such things are fairly routine for the McGregor staff. If we found no evidence of anything at all, then we would assume that the pile of rocks was a pile of rocks.
But until then, it was safe to assume that we were messing with yet another grave. It is said, and I cannot tell you where I heard this, that messing with bushmen graves gets you extra ghosts. Not that I believe that, but that is what is said…..
Since we’re talking geology …
Since we are talking about geology, I do not want to give up the opportunity to bring up one of the coolest stories of geology ever, given the discussion of science and religion we often have here. You will be asking for a source for this story. Look it up in Wikipedia, where all knowledge resides, and you will not find it there.
There are things, it turns out, that The Great Knowing Web Site does not know. My source is a combination of primary and secondary documents, written histories, and a documentary that is not generally available bit that I did watch in South Africa.
Barney Barneto nee Barnet Isaacs was a key player in the historical development of the diamond industry of South Africa. Barneto, his acquired name, stands for “Barnet Too” which was his tag line when he worked as the secondary, added-on attraction in a magic act operated by his brother in South Africa. The act would be introduced ignoring him, and he’s yell out “And Barnet Too.” Barneto is one of two men, the other being Cecil John Rhodes. Yes, this is Rhodes as in Rhodesia, and this is the same man who led the British in Kimberley during the Siege. In fact, the private game reserve I mentioned earlier …. that was his.
Barneto and Rhodes would ultimately consolidate the myriad diamond claims in the Kimberley region. After Barneto and Rhodes had scarfed up most of the claims, Rhodes bought out Barneto’s consolidated claims. The Megadiamondcorporation to which I earlier referred is the resulting company, and if you own a diamond, this corporation likely sold it to you. If you own an antique diamond more than a few decades old, there is a good chance it came from Kimberley.
It is said, and I think even Wikipedia may know this, that when Rhodes issued the multi-million dollar check to Barneto to acquire all of his claims, that instrument … the check itself … was the largest banking instrument ever issued to that date.
Anyway, Barneto did not simply acquire diamond claims. He acquired certain diamond claims. As I had mentioned much earlier, the average white South African believed that god had placed these diamonds here for the white man to attain wealth. The local black and other non-white South Africans had other stories which were typically much more poetic and typically less post-hoc, but no more scientifically correct.
I should mention that it was during this time that diamonds actually became the most valuable (more or less) gem. Indeed, there was another south African gem, called Tiger’s Eye, which was considered at the time to be potentially more valuable and useful as a domestic use gem (like for wedding rings and stuff) than diamonds. Tiger’s Eye comes from the Asbestos Hills Jasperite deposits I had mentioned earlier. It is said, and I have this on good but unsubstantiated authority, that a sample of Tiger’s Eye had been sent back to Europe at around the time the diamonds were being discovered here. A return letter asked “How common is this Tiger’s Eye gem? It is quite nice and potentially much more valuable than these plain, clear diamond rocks people are starting to ship here” or words to that effect. The answer sent back by a settler in the Asbestos Hills: “Oh, there’s piles of it. It is quite common.”
As a result, Tiger’s Eye became nearly valueless and Diamond became the gem of choice, even though Tiger’s Eye is considerably rarer than Diamond. Orders of magnitude rarer.
But that is a digression. I want to get back to Barneto, and then, eventually, on to the exciting end of this ghost story.
So, Barneto was busy buying up diamond claims in several localities that were under active mining. Most of the miners were content with a religious explanation for the diamonds being where they were, and that is important because it never occurred to anyone that there were at least three distinct types of material being dug to find the shiny little rocks. Outside of the volcanic plugs, and this was not being exploited much yet in those days but it is where the diamonds were first found, were gravelly deposits that are former river channels. Farmers who found these diamonds did not know that these were former river channels, because there is no reason for there to be former river channels on a landscape created as you saw it by God Himself. In the old volcanic plugs, there were two main types of deposit, a bluish earth and a yellow earth. The yellow earth was easier to dig, so all else being equal people tended to prefer claims … and remember, these claims were tiny, like a few feet by a few feet in size … that were primarily in yellow earth. Indeed, at the time Bernato was buying up claims, many sections of bluish earth were being dug around and were left standing in the ever-deepening holes that were being dug (The Big Hole was one of four that would eventually be mined in Kimberly, the last diamonds coming out in about 2005).
So somewhere along the line, Bernato came across a report written by a geologist. Now, you have to understand that geologists existed in those days, and had been busy working out geological questions for decades before any of this diamond mining was going on, but it seems to me that not much work was going on yet in South Africa. Certainly, the vast majority of human labor expended on the excavation of The Big Hole prior to about 1880 was a labor expended in a nearly science-free (but not engineering-free) context.
Bernato’s acquired report described a theory linking volcanoes, diamonds, and the deposits that were being dug right then in the Kimberley area. This scientific theory, which seemed to have a fair amount of consistency and with evidence to back it and everything, indicated that the place to look for the most diamonds was the blue earth, which was the degraded form of a rock whcih eventually became known as “kimberlite.” Kimberlite is the most pristine part of the earth’s crust brought up from the deep by the volcanic magma. (I oversimplify slightly.)
Ironically, South Africa is now a region where it can be safely said that there is more geology per square mile than anywhere outside of Great Britain. The key point here is that Bernato ended up owning a huge share of the diamond mines because he used science. The other people ended up not owning that many diamonds, and for most people, actually ended up in one of the aforementioned graves that were dug daily at the edge of town, penniless and forgotten, because they thought The Almighty God had put the diamonds there for them.
Ghosts beget ghosts.
And speaking of ghosts, let’s get back to the ghost story…
How I captured the Ghost of the McGregor Museum
One morning I was up a bit earlier than usual, and I was in the bathroom shaving. It was an hour or so before sunup. The lighting in the bathroom was poor, but there was a security spotlight outside the window, as I recall, so I had opened the frosted glass pane to let in a little more light, as well as the clean, cold but dry night air, which would clear the fogged-over bathroom mirror.
As I was just starting to scrape the razor against my face in the bathroom, I heard the ghostly footsteps walking one way down the hall .. away from me. Then I heard the preternatural footfalls coming back the other way. Slowly, deliberately, the steps grew closer and closer until they paused right by the bathroom door.
I was just about to open the door and see what the heck was out there, when suddenly a sound came from just outside the bathroom window. With my attention abruptly drawn to this new sound, I turned, rather startled, just in time to see a giant furry cat drop from the roof onto a nearby ledge. Leaping, she came in through the bathroom window and landed directly on the bathroom sink, and without an introduction of any kind, proceeded to insisted that I pet her.
Which I did. And after a minute of this, she became bored and leaped out of the window onto a ledge, and back on to the roof of the building. And there, she walked to the other end of the roof over the guest quarter’s hallway, and my observation of her doing this allowed me to understand the nature of the ghost that had haunted us all these days and, indeed, driven the Norwegians to alternative quarters.
The roof was metal. There were joints in the metal roof. As the cat pitter-pattered along the roof in it’s cat-like fashion, she would come to a certain point along the roof, in relation to these joints, and the joint would creak or ping. This was just like walking along a creaking floor, which will occasionally let out a sound depending on where you step, but much more regularly. Like footfalls. Like ghostly, preternatural, disembodied footfalls.
So, the ghost was a cat walking back and forth on the roof one or a couple of times a night almost every night. Looking for an opening. And finally, I gave her one. And then she …
Well, for the rest of the day, I couldn’t get that song out of my head.
Interested in some Anthropologically Inspired fiction? Have a look at Sungudogo by Greg Laden.
1Unless this statement itself is not true, in which case, how can you know what is true and what is not true? And besides, it can’t really all be true because some of it is about ghosts.
2It is hard to read in the dark.
3I use the term “non-White” along side the terms “Black” and “White” to signal that there is complexity here. There are three sources of complexity. One is linguistic, one is ethnic, and one is historical. First, the “ethnic” or “racial” issue: to the extent that these concepts are valid at all, which is very questionable, the indigenous non-European people of South Africa can be thought of as being divided broadly into two groups: Bantu-speaking “blacks” and non-Bantu speaking “Khoisan” (or some other term may be used here) and it is supposed to be true that these people look different from each other. That is not entirely true, but it is widely believed. Linguistically, South Africans formerly and to some extent today use the words “Black” for those Bantu-speaking people and “Colored” for some other people who are not Bantu-speaking. Who the “Colored” (or sometimes “Cape-Colored”) people are is tricky. In my view, these people mainly descend from Khoisan (foragers and cattle keepers who were not Bantu-speaking) and who probably also intermarried with Bantu people and also Whites and other immigrants (as everyone has over the last half millennium of historical time). But in the past, since “San” (the “forager” sub-version, if you will, of “Khoisan”) were considered sub-human, “Cape Colored” people have found it convenient and even necessary to eschew that label just to stay, in some cases, alive. The historical complexity arises from the existence and history of the Griqua (Griqua) people. Griqua is an ethnicity that seems to have once spoken a creole language derived from Bantu and Khoisan origins, who are genetically Khoisan, Bantu and Afrikaner (European Dutch), and who formed a fairly densely populated state in the region of Kimberly (mainly to the West) at the time of the European intrusion into the area. Griqua is a full blown ‘culture’ in the usual sense but one that was constructed for economic and political reasons during the late 18th and early 19th century. Many of the people in Kimberly today may identify as Griqua, and that may have been the case during the Siege.
4“Gariep” is the new name, based on an earlier used name, of the Orange River.
5I hate this expression, not because it is not potentially a smooth, almost sardonic put-off (which is useful) but because I’ve seen it almost always in a context where the writer is excusing his or her crappy thought process or inexcusable behavior by saying that this is his or her behavior. The Hobbsian fallacy is always annoying to me. That’s how I roll.
6As you know, the names of ethnic or cultural groups can be tricky. Up in Botswana, I’m told, the word “San” when applied to the foragers of that region (some of whom may be known to you as the Ju/’hoansi) is an insult. It means “wild primitive” or “wild animal” or something like that. The Ju/’hoansi prefer the term “Bushmen.” In South Africa, the term “Bushmen” is considered pejorative, and the word “San” is preferred. There are other terms and other complexities. One might think it is silly to worry about this, but it is not. The complexity of “San/Bushman/Khoisan/Khoi/Ju/’hoansi/Etc” culture and culture history rivals that of, say, Europe. Calling the South African foraging peoples “Ju/’hoansi” would be roughly the same as calling the French “Bulgarians” …. not for any particular reason, it would simply be that wrong linguistically, geographically, and culturally. Unfortunately, this discussion is beyond the scope of this footnote.