Catherine Pancake's Black Diamonds

Photoshopped version of the Mountain Justice flyer for the film showing at Virginia Tech September 14 and a panel the next day.

Here's the sidebar article I turned in today for the New River Voice:, which will accompany the MTR article I submitted yesterday.

Catherine Pancake came to Blacksburg August 14 for a panel discussion of her compelling and comprehensive 2006 film, Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for Coalfield Justice, winner of this year’s Jack Spadaro Award from the Appalachian Studies Association.

As a child, the West Virginia native accompanied her father, a minister, to strip mine sites and listened to him call the destruction a sin and a crime. Then Congress passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, meant to stem the damage, Jimmy Carter signed the measure into law and Pancake eventually moved to Baltimore. So, when her sister, author Ann Pancake, passed along emails from an academic list-serve, saying coal companies were blowing up the mountains, it seemed unbelievable. Convinced by her sister to come down and shoot some footage, she imagined, back in March, 2000, a short film used to somehow publicize and stop the destruction of mountain life. Soon, Pancake realized she had embarked on making a full-length documentary, spending much of her free time during the next years driving six hours each way and capturing MTR’s story as told from the points of view of affected residents, politicians and the industry.

Talking to people in their homes, at mining sites and at Charleston protests, Pancake follows every claim of injustice or mistreatment with support in the form of visual documentation or a graphic citing information from state and regulatory agencies. She interviews lawyers, government officials and scientists who explain why they oppose the practice and the obstacles to ending it. And when Pancake interviews industry spokesmen and sympathetic politicians, she makes their spin and disinformation transparent.

Anyone who wants to understand the history and gravity of MTR should view this film and show it to your friends. For showings and ordering information, see:
  • http://www.blackdiamondsmovie.com/
To read an entensive feature based on interviews with Pancake and activists in the film by Baltimore City Paper’s arts editor, Bret McCabe.
  • See http://www.citypaper.com/news/story.asp?id=11640


Mountaintop Removal and the New River Voice

Chart is photoshopped version of page 10 of a national opinion survey prepared September 13 by Opinion Research Corporation for the www.700Mountains.org, the newest project of the Civil Society Institute (CSI).

Here's a draft of the article I just turned in for New River Voice, a new publication edited by Tim Jackson, Assistant Director for Student Media at Radford University.
You may have read about recent actions by the Bush Administration to make mountaintop removal (MTR) easier. As Coal River Mountain Watch’s Vernon Haltom told Democracy Now on August 24, "What this rule change amounts to is a declaration of war against the Appalachian People."

What you make not have read about, is how two out of three Americans (65 percent) oppose the Bush Administration's proposal, according to a national opinion survey prepared September 13 by Opinion Research Corporation for the www.700Mountains.org, the newest project of the Civil Society Institute (CSI).
We should call a spade a spade. So-called MTR is mountain range removal. To maximize profits, big companies blast as much as 800 to 1000 feet off the "tops" of our ridges in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and now Tennessee to reach coal seams which lay underneath.
Mountain Justice Summer (MJS) organized four years ago at Virginia Tech after a visit by coalfield activist Larry Gibson, links students throughout the region to coalfield residents. The group explains MTR in its newsletter: "Once the mountains are destroyed, the few jobs obtained from this practice will also dissapear, leaving a wake of devastation and unemployment behind. Instead of fishing, hunting, camping, collecting medicinal and edible plants, instead of clean water from healthy watersheds, and clean air in a peaceful community deeply connected with the surrounding mountains, we will be left with the ravaged, crumpled, barren remains of what was once the backbone of our Appalachian heritage."
At ground level, a thin veneer of hills and forests often remains, hiding the immensity of the destruction. To fully understand the effects of this "stripmining on steroids, " you need to fly over, as I did last October. I joined Tech English faculty members Jeff Mann and Katie Fallon and 13 other writers, on a tour sponsored by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Southwings to visit Kayford Mountain, south of Charleston, West Virginia.
About all that remains of Kayford, rising out of a vast abyss: fifty acres which once sat halfway up the mountain. Larry Gibson and members of his extended family managed to put their homeplace into a trust rather than sell it to Massey Energy.
If you don’t know about the MTR process, let me explain. Coal companies such as Massey Energy in West Virginia and A&G in Wise County, Virginia take a beautiful mountain covered with deciduous forest. They
  • use huge tractors to knock down the trees and other plants, which they set afire;
  • scrape off the topsoil, ruining the ability to absorb rain and thereby increasing flooding;
  • drill holes and insert amfo--ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil, similar to the stuff used by truck bombers to demolish the Oklahoma City Federal Building;
  • ignite the fuses and blow up the mountain causing tremors that compromise the structural integrity of houses and clouds of smoke and dust which interferes with breathing;
  • operate a dragline excavator 20 stories tall and nearly a city block in size connected directly into a high-voltage grid to scoop nearly 100 tons of shattered mountain a load (equivalent to about 65 pickup trucks) to dig down to the coal;dump what's left into nearby headwaters and valleys in piles in piles that can be two miles long and over 100 feet high, which leaches toxic metals such as mercury, copper, arsenic, lead, and selenium into the watershed which flows all the way to the mouth of the Mississippi River;
  • leave mostly undeveloped flat plateaus where there were once mountains; and
  • lime the soil for quick grass growth, which destroys acidity required for tree growth.
For those interested in viewing the destruction in Virginia first hand, Southern Appalachian Stewards (SAMS) offers flyover tours similar to the one I took, here in Wise County, Virginia. Bill McCabe, an organizer for the Sierra Club who works with the group and MJS, hopes to organize a writers’ tour for Virginia. I met McCabe and many SAMS members when I accompanied them to visit legislators to lobby in Washington for the Clean Water Protection Act, which would reverse a Bush Administration Army Corps of Engineers 2002 rule change undermining of the Clean Water Act by classifying the mining rubble dumped in streams as “fill”.
Larry Bush, a former miner and mine safety inspector active with SAMS, told me that there are less destructive ways to mine thin coal seams than MTR, ways that would provide more jobs in the southern mountains and still provide the coal companies with generous profits. The ratio of jobs for MTR versus these other methods is 1 to 200, according to another former mining inspector, Jack Spadaro, who lost his job running the National Mine Safety and Health Academy in Beckley West, Virginia for refusing to whitewash liability for the Martin County sludge spill after the Bush administration took office and ordered him to do so.
Bush administration’s latest assault comes after the deracination of the EPA’s court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement which downplayed the research of government scientists and instead looked at ways to make mining easier. August 24, the administration published its intention to further change the rules, eliminating the requirement to avoid mining within 100 feet of streams. It is as if Big Coal, already violating the law for years and successfully held accountable by citizens in Court, has now been given a free pass.
And our own Congressman, Rick Boucher is himself responsible for promoting destruction of our Mountains. In addition to refusing to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act, he shepherded, over the objection of the House leadership, a stealth clause in the Energy Bill, to promote coal-to-liquid technology and “clean coal” with vague language that “No appropriation authorized pursuant to this section may exclude any category of eligible project described in section 1703" of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Many of us in the New River Valley are taking action to stop MTR. Just last month, for instance, we attended the Southeast Climate Convergence and picketed the Blacksburg branch of Bank of America on August 31, in an action organized by MJS and the newly formed chapter of Blue Ridge Earth First! This month we attended a MJS showing of the film “Black Diamonds’ and attended a panel discussion with the filmmaker and others to educate ourself about this distructive practice (see sidebar).
It’s time to write Boucher and demand that he stop promoting the destruction of our mountains. His email address is ninthnet@hr.house.gov.
New River Voice readers can also generate letters regarding the Clean Water Protection Act and against the latest Bush Administration rule and access information on the facts on MTR at the Stop Mountaintop Removal site sponsored by EarthJustice, a public interest law firm, in coalition with various coalfield and environmental groups:

The Southern Energy Network is organizing a series of actions against the new MTR rule. See:
  • http://climateaction.net/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=62
To view the most recent legislative package in support of the Clean Water Protection Act, prepared by Appalachian Voices, see:
To learn about actions by Blue Ridge Earth First, visit the group’s website and sign up for its listserve at :
  • http://www.blueridgeef.com/
Also, mark your calendars. Attend the weekly meetings of MJS in Blacksburg at the Squires Student Center. November 7, join us as the campus chapter hosts Dave Cooper's Mountaintop Removal Road Show, including representatives from SAMS (time and place still pending). To get more information, visit the website:
  • http://www.mountainjustice.org.vt.edu/


Who Profits from Fear?

The Political Compass and U.S. Presidential Politics: Was tagging old entries this evening and looking up current versions of sites I had liked. This is an update from Political Compass. I had taken the test in 2006 and landed near the center, a bit left libertarian, the quadrant for Nelson Mandela and Gandhi , or Mozart, all of whom I regard as fine and admirable company. As the authors explain,

If we recognise that this is essentially an economic line it's fine, as far as it goes. We can show, for example, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot, with their commitment to a totally controlled economy, on the hard left. Socialists like Mahatma Gandhi and Robert Mugabe would occupy a less extreme leftist position. Margaret Thatcher would be well over to the right, but further right still would be someone like that ultimate free marketeer, General Pinochet.

the social dimension is also important in politics. That's the one that the mere left-right scale doesn't adequately address. So we've added one, ranging in positions from extreme authoritarian to extreme libertarian.

Just to show the state of American politics, I'm left of any of the presidential candidates except Kucinich and Gravel, neither of whom would be my choice for this office. The skewing brings to my mind that quote about the American eagle needing both left and right wings to fly. Mario Savio attributes it to Jessee Jackson. Or there's the Pat Paulsen version:

Assuming either the Left Wing or the Right Wing gained control of the country, it would probably fly around in circles.

In looking at particular candidates, I'm interested how tight a cluster there is for the Democratic Party candidates (again, other than Kucinich and Gravel.) And that Edwards and Clinton are the most libertarian. Also that Ron Paul, who considers himself the libertarian falls above the dividing line. Contrast his placement with that of a conservative libertarian, Milton Friedman, on this chart:
An aside about Paulsen: according to his memorial he came in second in the 1996 New Hampshire Presidential Primary (makes me wonder how Colbert would have done if SC Dems had let him on the ticket.) And although I did not find the context for the above quotation, I found a site which includes his political editorials, as well as a now dead link I've revived thanks to the Internet Archive to Paulsen's quite serious answers to the 1996 Presidential Primary Natioinal Political Awareness Test from Project Vote Smart.

Since it's 9-11, I'll provide some content devoted to terror: How's this for Keystone Kops? NYC will deter nuclear attack with concentric circles of Geiger counters according to the New York Times today in "Suburban Police Enlisted to Help Protect the City" by Corey Kilgannon. Don't you feel safer now?

The counters didn't work so well in the latest dirty bomb scare. According to "MTA didn't tell us of dirty bomb scare: officers," by Alison Gendar in the NY Daily News on September 10, one officer who works at the Verrazano Bridge complained,

They'll give us two weeks of training for how to collect tolls, making sure we charge a three-axle truck more than a two-axle, but no field training on what a bomb might look like, how to stop cars or use this radiation detector.

Meanwhile, besides Geiger counters, LA is spending its homeland security money on robots and portable media hubs, according to Richard Winton in the September 9 LA Times.

I guess it all comes down to fear being a great motivator for letting loose the purse strings.

And speaking of fear: John Judis (email) had an interesting piece in the the New Republic August 17 explaining why West Virginia supported Bush. In "How Political Psychology Explains Bush's Ghastly Success. Death Grip" (referred to here), he writes about research since the early 1980s by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski (interview, article, research), who developed "terror management theory."

Their experiments showed that the mere thought of one's mortality can trigger a range of emotions--from disdain for other races, religions, and nations, to a preference for charismatic over pragmatic leaders, to a heightened attraction to traditional mores.

It seems that this tendency could be counteracted, if folks were asked to think as rationally as possible. (Not something the current administration espouses.)

On the poetry front: again, with regard to 9-11, Tillie wrote me to say he'd mentioned my poem, "Windows on the World" on his blog entry today.

Other mention on the net:

  • Coal: a poetry anthology and my poem in particular, got mentioned in this online review by West Virginia storyteller Susanna Holstein.
My journalism on Memeorandum: Just found out that my August 22, 2007 post at WV Blue, "Suit by West Virginia Protesters Reveals Bush Tactics," got a link from Memeorandum.com. The topic is the 2002 Bush advance manual for handling dissent. For those of you who haven't seen Memeorandum, it aggregates political news around memes.