Monthly Archives: August 2011

Some videos to brighten the day…

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The True Story of Batman

Go to this post at Boing Boing and answer me this:

Great Batman origin story or greatest Batman origin story?

Tar Sands Protest and Verizon Strike

Two stories I hope to go into in more depth in the relatively near future:

Tar Sands Action Protest in D.C. via Huffington Post

Verizon Workers Return to Work Without New Contract via NPR

The beard is dead. Long live the beard.

For the last ten years I have sported facial hair of some sort or other. Primarily it’s been a goatee, but I’ve rocked the full beard a bit in that time as well. The number ten is a powerful thing though. Steeped in arbitrariness, it calls on us to make “best of” lists and take stock of our pop culture, our lives or just ask that immortal question from the Talking Heads: “Well, how did I get here?”

It’s with this frame of mind that I realized I was curious what my chin might look like after ten years. More precisely I started thinking that it might be worth it to shave and see what I looked like without the ever-present facial hair. Besides, if I didn’t like it, it would simply be the equivalent of a bad haircut. Given a few weeks I’d be back to my normal visage. It’s been an eye opening experience. Allow me then to share some of the more important of my findings:

Things I have learned since I shaved off my beard…

– There’s such a thing as shaver’s remorse.

– My chin has not in fact gained the chiseled prominence I had hoped for when I started shaving. Ten years is apparently not enough time.

– The middle of August is much colder than I had thought it was going to be.

– I can look like I’m eighteen even though I’m over thirty.

– Staying clean shaven will result in the loss of countless bartender hours as they painstakingly try to reconcile the baby-faced youngun’ in front of them with my drivers license photo in which I sport a full beard. At least that’s what my one experience of being carded at a brew pub last week suggests.

– You are suddenly able to recall all of the beverages, foods, and general character building experiences that were supposed to put “hair on your chest.

– None of them make chin hair grow any faster.

– It’s not as bad as I originally thought it was. Still, I prefer the bearded look. As does most everyone else besides my mother.

Things others have learned since I shaved off my beard…

– I’m just as camera shy without the beard as I was with it. So, no. There won’t be any pictures.

Pynchon Novels Flow Chart

Wondering what Pynchon novel to end your summer with? Cracked.com has provided a handy flow chart that may help you in making your decision.

The Daily Show on Class Warfare Rhetoric

Here is a link to a Boing Boing post that collects two clips from The Daily Show that I wanted to save for posterity given their subject. (I originally tried to embed them here but for some reason they weren’t working.)

More Responses to CNN’s Battle for Blair Mountain

I’m a bit late on this post, but I do have another chapter of the dissertation drafted. As excuses go, that one isn’t too shabby. I wanted to continue for a little longer on CNN’s “Battle for Blair Mountain” special. Specifically I found two compelling responses online that I wanted to share.

First, Matt Wasson at the Front Porch Blog from Appalachian Voices provides a succinct look at the facts that CNN missed in its special. Wasson’s figures hit on the the issue I was struggling with in my response about the argument CNN puts forward about environmentalism versus jobs in the special. Wasson also hits on a very important issue regarding Bill Raney’s correlation/causation claim:

While Raney is technically correct that these studies are based on “correlation and not causation,” it’s a meaningless distinction for nearly every public health study ever conducted. There is no way to ever prove causation in public health studies, which is why researchers have to use statistics to tease apart trends and find evidence for – but never prove – causation. The peer-review process in science is what protects against misuse and abuse of statistics.

What Wasson points to here was something that troubled me while watching the special, but which I don’t think I did as good a job as I could have articulating why. The quote here articulates what I was trying to get at a bit better.

Wasson’s entire post is well worth a read through for these interested in the special or more importantly the important numbers the special misses.

Second, Joe Atkins provides a compelling take on the special. What I’m particularly drawn to in Atkins’ discussion is his focus on the framing of the special. Atkins here articulates something that I was troubled by in the special’s focus on the Dials. I continue to stand by my original claim that the Dials are in the right for the wrong reasons, but Atkins teases out the problems associated with the reasoning the Dials put forward. Atkins’ call for more passionate reporting rather than “balance” is intriguing and, again, the whole post is well worth a read.

Briefly, some notes for my own work: Atkins also provides two facts that had been nagging me, but that I had not found the opportunity to double check. Arch Coal was the company focused on in “Battle for Blair Mountain” but Massey Energy was also interested in mtr at Blair. This was something that I had vaguely recalled being the case.

I was also pleased to see Atkins point to Diane Sawyer’s “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains” as an example of another special that fails to focus on industrial influence in the region’s poverty. This plays into my own analysis of “A Hidden America” in my dissertation work.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that I came across both of these sources via Ken Ward Jr. at Coal Tatoo.

Thoughts on CNN’s “Battle for Blair Mountain”

First and foremost I walked away from this special disappointed. In the end it became yet another human-interest oriented special on Appalachia. To be fair, I think it’s one of the best human-interest specials I’ve seen on the area. Soledad O’brien deserves credit for refusing to patronize the people that she interviewed and more importantly for the way that the special portrayed those people. It also did an intriguing job choosing most of its subjects. Specifically (apologies if I get names wrong, I have no way of rewatching the show to double check my notes at the moment) I thought Linda and James were good subjects to highlight. I found them both intriguing: Linda for her adamant belief that she’s in the right (I’ll say I agree with significant caveats but more on that in a moment) and James for his work in reclamation on Mountain Top Removal (mtr from hereon). What disappointed me was the lack of significant focus on James’ work. Reclemation practices appeared to me to be woefully inadequate (something James inadvertently admitted to when he said it was put back the best men could), but I realize that’s a subjective reaction. Afterall, someone (I missed the name) claimed God wanted mtr. I’m certainly not going to argue that this person sees the same thing I see when I look at mtr reclamation.

I doubt anyone who knows me will be surprised, but I found the focus on the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 was woefully inadequate. It failed entirely to capture the importance of that event, the driving forces behind it and the reason why people are marching to save Blair. In fact the portrayal of the marchers was, frankly, poorly done. There were stronger and perhaps more pertinent voices to interview in that march in the video I posted here earlier this today (admittedly it’s a biased source, but that doesn’t mean those people weren’t participants in the march). The people on the march that were interviewed (specifically the younger people/students?) simply did not provide the breadth of support for that march. Ultimately the lack of this breadth and the lack of significant focus on the battle in 1921 completely failed to convey the importance of this particular mountain. The closest the special got to this was Keeney’s comparison to Gettysburg (which was excellent). Yes, mtr and the struggle against it goes much further than Blair, but the title of the show was “Battle for Blair Mountain.” It calls for a bit more specificity.

I also saw a lot of rumblings on Twitter about the lack of “sick” individuals from the community arguing against mtr. People suffering from poor water quality and illness related to mtr are a major feature of this movement and shouldn’t be ignored. I’m willing to give CNN the benefit of doubt here though. Blair hasn’t been subject to mtr and therefore no one in that particular community have had to face that issue. There is a strong focus on the scientific findings on mtr were pretty prominent. This is to the special’s credit. Yet I think the focus on correlation and causality later in the episode is dangerous. Maybe we don’t have causality, but that correlation between mtr and health issues is horrifying and once you destroy a watershed there is simply no going back. The science is pointing us towards very disturbing findings and we ignore them at our own peril.

That said, I still think Linda is right, but for the wrong reasons. She and James deserve job security. I don’t want there to be any misconception about the need for wide ranging economic reform in the area. This is why I approach mtr through an environmental justice approach. The economic windfall from the stopping of mtr absolutely has to be addressed. My stance remains that coal produced electricity (much like oil) are environmentally destructive. If we’re going to have a fix it has to be environmentally and economically sound.

Further, there were significant (though normal) oversights by mtr supporters. James for instance decries his need to drive an hour for a job at the end of the episode. This is all well and good, but how far would he have to drive for a job after the mountain is gone and reclamation work is over? If anything mtr at Blair is a momentary fix. Mining is inherently a boom and bust economic model depending on the seam, the market, and regulation. The EPA’s decision about Spruce 1 creates problems for people today, but in a lot of cases these problems would simply show up in the years to come if mtr went forward. These communities are not secure or they are only secure momentarily if the coal companies have free reign in mtr.

And here we come to my biggest issue with “Battle for Blair Mountain”: The human interest nature of the show means that it practically ignores the incredibly powerful third party in this struggle: the coal company. (Note: I did not get an accurate spelling/did not hear the name accurately while watching for the company involved in the Blair Mtn mtr license. I haven’t found that information right away since sitting down to write this. In the interest of getting my thoughts down quickly I’ll track that information down in the near future.) The special presents a false dichotomy. We have “coal miners” on one side and “environmentalists” on the other. I use scare quotes specifically here because of the lack of accurate in that characterization. Coal miners don’t all support mtr. This is one of the reasons the focus on James is so intriguing. He (ostensibly) wouldn’t have a job in an underground mine. The show does a good job pointing out that mtr employs less people than underground mining. But that doesn’t get at the heart of the issue. The entity determining the jobs is the coal company (or overall the industry). The history of the coal industry in the community is long and complicated at best. To say that they have the community’s interests at heart though is ridiculous. They want mtr because it’s cheap and that cheapness is in part because they don’t have to employ as many people. The people who run these companies do not live near these mountains. The special fails to really look into these “community members” (if I can go so far as to use the claim that corporations are people). They are not benevolent dictators and they can and will move their money elsewhere. They play a huge role in lobbying the state and national government as well. Their power, motives, and the role they play in the governing of these issues demand more attention. Yes, they refused to comment to CNN. That’s well and good. Their omission does not mean that CNN does not have a journalistic responsibility to look into this aspect of the story.

To its credit “Battle for Blair Mountain” does not present simple good guys and bad guys. It does not presume to talk down or remove agency from the individuals who live in this community. For all of these (crucial) strengths, it fails to examine the elephant in the room. While I don’t expect CNN to provide the answer for this issue, I suspect they could go a long way to enlightening the issue if they had turned their focus towards the coal companies.

CNN’s Blair Mountain Special

CNN is airing a special tonight called “The Battle for Blair Mountain.” It’s on the recent protest march trying to save Blair Mtn from mountain top removal mining. I’ve written fairly extensively about Blair Mountain in my dissertation work as well here on the blog. Sadly I was travelling during the protest march in June so I wasn’t able to give it the sort of coverage it deserved. Quite simply, Blair Mountain is one of the most important and under-appreciated historic sites in the United States. The battle in 1921 was a pivotal and stunning episode in labor history in this nation. Worse yet the destruction facing it from MTR means not simply that the site will be damaged, but that it will literally cease to exist. To have a site where over 10,000 miners stood up against the destructive practices of coal mining destroyed by the coal industry’s most destructive practices today would be to disgrace to their memory and sacrifice.

The special will be aired at 8pm eastern and pacific (as near as I can tell). I’m not sure what to expect from the special, but I’m hoping it will serve as a good introduction to The Battle of Blair Mountain for viewers and bring some much needed attention to the struggle to save it from MTR. I’m planning on liveblogging the special or writing about it directly afterwards.

Here’s a video from ilovemountains.org about the march in June:

Stories Politicians Tell

I came across numerous links to Drew Westen’s opinion piece at the New York Times this morning. It’s a quite intriguing piece and worth a read if you have the time. I’m going to sidestep outright politics here because, frankly, it’s my blog and I prefer not to get into it here of all places. Instead I just want to note the emphasis that Westen places on the stories politicians tell. It’s an intriguing approach to articulating what is something of a national longing right now. Whatever the case, the real story, as Westen points out, is there are a lot (too many) people wondering how to get by in this economy.