Dustin Steele: Arrested at Mountain Mobilization being Held on $25K Bail

Above is a video of Dustin Steele, being filmed during the training leading up to the Mountain Mobilization July 28,  To his left is Junior Walk, another native West Virginian who took part in the protest. According to the RAMPS media team he wanted his arrest made public.

Catherine V. Moore (email), reporter for the Register-Herald in Beckley, WV filed a report July 29, 2012, "Activists walk onto Lincoln County mine."

Here's how she described what happened in the Kanawha State Forest July 28:

 A midday gathering in Kanawha State Forest, before the action, was swarmed with State Police and protesting miners. At the back entrance of the state park near Marmet, about 75 miners parked their cars and walked miles into the bottom where they hoped to encounter the activists.

Many more units were on site at the activists’ camp in the state forest, where miners gathered to counter-protest. At least once, a lengthy, civil dialogue over the region’s economic future unfolded between the two sides.

Meanwhile, a caravan of about 15 vehicles had been deployed to the Lincoln County mine.

There was no police presence when the convoy arrived at the remote location on Mud River Road, but a guard at the mine entrance quickly called security.

The group activists proceeded past the guard house and into the working mine. Some unfurled banners reading “Restore Our Mountains, Reemploy our Miners,” “Coal Leaves, Cancer Stays,” and “STOP.”

Two others chained themselves to a rock truck, and one climbed a tree on the mine site.

Ryan Halas of Greensboro, N.C., was one of the protesters at Hobet who says he is committed to direct action as a tactic to fight strip mining.

“I think it’s worth me risking my body, arrest, and freedom because I feel these communities have been abused from the time of the broad form deed until now and it’s the duty of conscious people to come highlight injustice nationally,” he said.

“In conversations with people who don’t think I’m doing the right thing, even those folks acknowledge the risks, health costs, and dangers to the community. But they accept those risks bravely.”

Within half an hour, State Police arrived on the site, informed participants that they were trespassing and asked them to leave. Some did, and others stayed.

By 1:40 p.m., 10 State Police cars were on scene, with more following behind.

RAMPS called off plans to deploy any additional protesters at 3:30 p.m.

She also interviewed RAMPS activist Junior Walk, who told her he participates in the direct action because he tired of Big Coal's power in his community.
Seeing all these people willing to put their freedom on the line to help people like me try and free ourselves from that kind of oppression is very inspiring. How could you not get involved in something like that?...

The people here in this state need to figure out who the real enemy is and realize their workers are getting poisoned and killed, just like members of their communities.

When the coal industry decides to pull up roots and take off, what are they going to be left with? Broken bones, black lung, and probably not even a pension. I’ve never seen a tree hugger lay anybody off.


Mountain Mobilzation Coverage Continued

Despite an extensive number of photographs available both on Facebook and Flickr and another short film of both the rally yesterday and the occupation, coverage of RAMPS mountain mobilization July 28 of the Hobet mountaintop removal mine remains sparse, with the exception of an Associated Press story with no byline dateline Charleston, WV.  It appears that the San Francisco Chronicle ran the whole story,  Other media outlets truncated it severely.

As you may recall, RAMPS indicated the first arrest had been made at 9:02 a.m.  I wrote the State Police spokesman Sergeant Michael M. T. Baylous (email) with a copy to Colonel Jay Smithers (email yesterday at 11:15 a.m. asking if there was  someplace where I could look online for the
police report (including complaining witness, arresting officers,  time of arrest, arrestee age, charge, place of incarceration, release time if any, bond set, conditions )   If not, could you  supply it or tell me who could.  Also could I have a statement from the Superintendent on the arrests.
I got back the surprising reply at 11:59 a.m. from Baylous that

We have no comment to make as I'm not aware of the event you mentioned. Anyone in the regional jail may be found at www.wvrja.com
Unfortunately, that's not exactly accurate, as the records are only up for the day and require that you know which jail.  After the day is over you need the name of the arrestee.  That's why I wrote Baylous back this afternoon:

Have you still no comment to make.  Unfortunately the link you gave me does not provide the full information and also provides no way to search by date; hence the arrests for July 28 were unavailable when I checked on July 29.
I'll let you know if he answers.


Special Coverage: Mountain Mobilization

My graphic compiled from RAMPS outreach materials  and a screen shot of  Jordan Freeman's film.  I first published this post on July 28, 2012 at 10:23 a.m.  It was last updated at 10:54 a.m. and will be updated, so keep on checking back.


I've been online with RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival) press liaison off site since 9:39 this morning.  At the  link, you'll find the group's special coverage of the Mountain Mobilization to occupy a strip mine today.  People arriving today  were meeting at the Kanawha State Forest, seven miles south of Charleston, West Virginia.

At 9:02 RAMPS reported that  law enforcement had already arrested one unnamed individual  at the forest before heading to the mine site.

At 9:27 RAMPS reported that law enforcement officers were preventing people from joining each other, detaining their vehicles, searching them and telling them to leave or face arrest for obstruction.

At 9:38 RAMPS reported that according to State Police, 300 - 400 strip miners were marching into Kanawha State Forest from other side.  Lots of State Police on scene.  The question that this raised for me is how did the State Police know about the meeting place?  How did the miners know?  RAMPS let me know that the rendezvous site was mailed to registrants and journalists.


The Anatomy of Climate Skepticism

Chart from Yale Project on Climate Change Communication's Global Warming’s Six Americas in March 2012 and November 2011.


In  May, 2008,  the journal Environmental Politics published "The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental skepticism," by Peter J. Jacques, Riley E. Dunlap and Mark Freeman, who analyzed 141 English-language environmentally skeptical books published between 1972 and 2005 and found that:
  • that over 92 per cent of such books, most published in the US since 1992, are linked to conservative think tanks (CTTs)
  • that 90 per cent of  CTTs involved with environmental  issues espouse environmental scepticism.
They concluded that
scepticism is a tactic of elite-driven counter-movement designed to combat environmentalism, and that the successful use of this tactic has contributed to the weakening of US commitment to environmental protection.
The tactic appears to be working.   That year Yale University defined six segments of  the U.S. population  with regard to their concern about global climate change.  Despite scientific consensus, only just over half the U.S. population fell into the two top segments segments--the Alarmed and the Concerned.  The rest were Cautious,  Disengaged,  Doubtful or even  Dismissive.  And as can be seen in the above chart comparing 2008 through 2011, doubt remains.  And such doubt may be hard to erase.

A new paper, "NASA faked the moon landing--Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax:  An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science" by Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer and Gilles Gignac in Psychological Sciences looked at  climate bloggers and found that endorsement of a laissez-faire conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science and also rejection of other established scientific findings, such as  HIV being the cause of  AIDS and  smoking as the cause of lung cancer.   But it goes further:
We additional show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g. that the CIA killed Martin Luther King or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findingss, above and beyond the endorsement of laissez-faire free markets.
The problem, of course, is that it's hard to convince someone who believes in a conspiracy, that no such conspiracy exists:  evidence contrary to the conspiracy is itself considered evidence of its existence.




Photo of Jack Black as assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede. I first posted this on July 24, 2012 at 7:35 p.m.  More to come.


Richard Linklater's body of work includes  Slacker (1991), Dazed and Confused  (1993), Before Sunrise (1995), Waking Life (2001),  The School of Rock (2003),  Fast Food Nation (2006), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and now Bernie (2011), currently showing at the Lyric.

This last stars Jack Black, in a very un-Jack Black-like role, which besides School of Rock have included parts in movies such as High Fidelity and Shallow Hal, not to mention Tenacious D.  Until now, he always has seemed to play some version of himself, so I was surprised to learn that while he was at UCLA, he was a member of Tim Robbins's acting troupe.

In Bernie, however, Black shows his chops, perhaps because he is playing a real-life character, Bernie Tiede, immortalized by Linklater's co-writer  Skip Hollandsworth in the Texas Monthly in 1998 in "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas."

 I'm looking forward to August, too.   The highlights include:

August 3 -  9
HysteriaRoger Ebert and Marshall Fine

August 9
Ted Talk:  TBA

August 11, 15
Citizen KaneEbert

August 17-23
Savages:  In Oliver Stone's new thriller, Laguna Beach pot growers face off against a Mexican drug cartel run by femme fatale Elena (Salma Hayek) with her henchman Lado (Benicio Del Toro) who have kidnapped the growers' shared girl friend.  And then there's a corrupt DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta),  Ebert writes,
Much of the fascination of "Savages" comes through Stone's treatment of the negotiations, which involve percentages, sliding scales over three years, an ultimate payout, and other financial details that drugs have in common with big business. It's spellbinding to watch the two sides trying to outthink each other. One of the big closing scenes involves a variation of the kind of hostage trade familiar from countless Western and gangster movies — only in Stone's hands, it turns out to be not so familiar at all.
August 24-30
Safety Not Guaranteed Ebert

August 31
Beasts of the Southern Wild



The Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) campaign is the collaborative grassroots effort established by Christians for The Mountains, Coal River Mountain Watch, and Mountain Health and Heritage Association.

June 19, lawmakers concerned about the health effects on humans from mountaintop removal coal mining submitted the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (ACHE Act--HR5959) in the U.S. House of Representatives today.  Sponsors included: Dennis Kucinich (OH), Louise Slaughter (NY), Maurice Hinchey (NY), Earl Blumenauer (OR), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA), John Yarmuth (KY), Lynn Woolsey (CA), Judy Chu (CA), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), James Moran (VA), Michael Honda (CA), John Conyers (MI), and Keith Ellison (MN).

The proposed legislation would place a moratorium on permitting new and expansion of existing mountaintop removal mines until health studies are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services to analyze the potential health threats to communities affected by mountaintop
mining. In a news release, Kucinich says,

The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act will provide the families in these
communities the answers and the protection they deserve. Mountaintop mining is a practice in which entire mountaintops are blown up in order to access a seam of coal sitting deep inside the mountain. The evidence is growing that toxic chemicals that are safely sequestered in rock inside the mountain, get released when the mountains are turned inside out.

The ACHE Act will stop new mountaintop removal coal mines until the science clearly
demonstrates the mines will not cost these hard working communities their health or their lives. It will also fund some of the best researchers in the world to carry out that science....

One peer-reviewed study found that affected communities, when compared to communities surrounding non-mountaintop removal mines, showed elevated levels of birth defects. Another analysis in the journal, Science, also looked at communities near mountaintop removal coal mining communities. It found that toxic chemicals from the mines are making their way into groundwater, streams, edible fish from those streams, and airborne dust. It found that, as a function of county-level coal production, adult hospitalizations for chronic pulmonary disorders and hypertension are elevated, “as are rates of mortality; lung cancer; and chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease.

These small communities deserve better than to wonder whether their corporate neighbors are poisoning the soil that provides some of their food; the air they breathe; and the water they drink, cook, and bathe with.
 A news release provided comments from supporters of the ACHE Act.   Author Wendell Berry writes,
As certain people of the Eastern Kentucky coalfields helped me to understand nearly 50 years ago, the fate of the land and the fate of the people are inseparable. Whatever affects the health of the land must affect the health of the people.... From that understanding, it is clear that the measures called for in the ACHE Act should have been enacted many years ago....Granted even a minimal concern for the health of the land and people, and even minimal respect for the findings of science, the need for this bill now is obvious.
One of the moving forces behind the bill,  longtime community activist Bo Webb, adds,
The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (ACHE) Act offers an opportunity to all House members to put differences aside and swiftly pass a bill that will protect the health and lives of the unborn.
Father John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, commented
I've heard direct testimony from a woman who unknowingly bathed her 3-year old daughter in arsenic laced water from mountaintop removal. I've also heard numerous stories about children developing asthma living near mountaintop removal sites and teens getting tumors and gallstones from mountaintop removal-tainted water. Is it a coincidence that people close to mountaintop removal suffer these sicknesses more frequently? Prudence, a cardinal virtue, tells us to stop and check the process. The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act puts health and safety first. Ultimately, it is immoral to sacrifice the health of our children for cheap electricity!
The ACHE Act is supported by the national environmental groups Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, as well as West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.


Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of TN on Fighting MTR

Photo of Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson by Jared Story

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson has been part of Appalachia Rising--serving on the steering committee-- as well as Mountain Justice. She lives in Chatanooga, TN and works for United Campus Workers, a union which organizes for social and economic justice for all Tennessee higher education employees.  I interviewed her via gchat. I first published this post on July 22,2012 at 6:58 p.m.


I first learned about the struggle to end mtr at the Highlander Education and Research Center. Two folks, Sarah Webb-Haltom and Matt Noerpel, were there with me and shared stories of working in directly impacted communities. I learned about the issues and the next year was involved in Mountain Justice (MJ) in Harriman, TN after the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) ash disaster.

The MJ camp was hosted by UMD (United Mountain Defense). We stayed at a Boy Scout camp not far from the communities impacted by the ash disaster. We participated in workshops that taught us about what mtr is, how it impacts communities, how it destroys the environment, and what we could do about it (legislatively, through direct action and through community organizing)

I participated in the TVA March in March and was one of several folks who were detained by the police for staging a die-in in front of the TVA headquarters [on March 14, 2009].

I went to MJSpringBreak with my alternative spring break program at East Tennessee State University [in Johnson City where her husband is from.] Our leadership was targeted after that trip by TVA for taking pictures of the ash disaster after the die-in.

We fought back, met with Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow and started working with other leaders of the anti-mtr movement , and I've been working on the issue ever since.

I am from Chattanooga. Grew up in Summit and Ooltewah, TN as well...I grew up in an organizing family. My activism and organizing to end mtr has mostly been in TN and WV, but through MJ and Appalachia Rising I've met folks and worked with directly impacted community members in all the Central Appalachian states.

My mother is a member of the original black panther party, and my dad was a radio show host that focused on the issues affecting the black community in Hamilton County. My mother's parents always instilled in me the importance of community and that is was my responsibility to give back to the folks that developed me and gave me the resources to become who I am today. I grew up going to mass meetings and demonstrations, etc. I grew up around activism. They organized around many issues including racial justice and against environmental racism.
I believe in collective liberation, solidarity and intersectionality. By collective liberation I mean that I can't be fully human, the best Ash-Lee I can be, until all of my sisters and brothers everywhere can be fully human. So if my friends and family who are negatively impacted by the coal industry that also, indirectly, impacts me. I believe in solidarity, not charity, that it is my responsibility to work with directly impacted communities to end the oppression directly impacting their lives so that they can be fully human, and in turn, so can I. With intersectionality, I believe that all forms of oppression link together and benefit from one another. Racism, classism, homophobia, and environmental injustice are all connected.

The Mountain Mobilization is informed by the work of folks from mountain communities in Central Appalachia, activists and organizers from all over the country, grassroots community organizations, Mountain Justice and Appalachia Rising and so many others. Those of us involved in the movement to end mtr recognize that to win we have to build our people power and fight back to compete with a billion dollar coal industry.

To do that, folks are mobilizing and being mobilized to southern West Virginia on July 25th. My loved ones in RAMPS will be preparing folks to participate in nonviolent direct action to cut off the destruction at its source--a strip mine.


Native West Virginian Rachel Parsons on MTR

Photo montage (l to r) of Rachel Parsons, her mother Wendy Johnston and her grandfather Sid Moye.

This is the beginning of a post first published on July 21, 2012 at 6:59 p.m. It was last updated on August 1, 2012 at 4:49 p.m. to add the remainder of the interview and a link to my post about  Rachel's own diary on the Mountain Mobilization.

Native West Virginian Rachel Parsons part of three generations fighting mtr

One of many West Virginia natives who supports the mobilization is writer Rachel Parsons (blog).

Parsons lives in Mercer County outside of Athens.  There is no mining right where she lives, but there is a permit in her county for McComas, within 5 miles of where her grandparents, Sid and Dana Moye live.  Her  mother, Wendy Johnston, discovered the advertisement for the permit in 2009, while working at the Princeton Library.  Johnston wrote Mountain Justice for help and she and Sid Moye went door-to-door to tell people in that area who had heard nothing about the permit. Parsons wrote me last night about the Mobilization to say that they are
going to try to help out if we can.
Parson's grandfather has an eloquent essay about his opposition to Mountaintop removal up at Earth Justice's Mountain Heroes Project, as does Junior Walk, whom I wrote about yesterday. Parsons  is one of the speakers tomorrow, along with her mother, at the Stop the Kaboom fundraiser for RAMPS in Hedgesville, WV. Her brothers Matthew and Billy Parsons--who play together as the Missing Parsons Report--will be performing.

How Parsons got involved in fighting MTR

I asked Parsons if she could remember what started her off on her current path as an activist.  She answered,
Absolutely. Mom took me to Mountain Justice Camp for an evening because it was being held at the Appalachian South Folklife Center, which is right up the road from out house. I heard Judy Bonds speak on the issue, which I knew nothing about before hand, and met Larry Gibson for the first time as well. It was a very powerful experience and I knew after that evening that I needed to be involved.
Judy was a really powerful figure to me. There's a lot of talk about activists being out of state hippies, but that wasn't Judy. She lived with the effects of strip mining every day, and that she died of cancer before she could see this fight all the way through felt like a tragedy to me.
Judy Bonds continues to inspire Parsons
I never got to know her very well but I always admired her. She was and is one of my heroes...

I think Judy believed that everyone who could and would fight had their own gifts to bring to the table. She wanted everyone to speak up, even when we're afraid. So even though Judy was a speaker and I'm a writer, I feel I'm doing what she would have wanted me to do by writing about the issues she felt so strongly about. I do speak on occasion, when I'm asked, because I want to help the movement in any way I can. It's just that primarily I want to spread the word through my writing.


Mountain Mobe: Ending another war

Poster art from second annual Stop the Kaboom Music and Art Festival  in Hedgesville, WV which starts today to bring awareness and raise funds to fight fracking and mountaintop removal. I first published this post on July 20, 2012 at 8:00 p.m.  I last updated it July 26 at 10:00 a.m.


The Mobe then

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement written primarily by Tom Hayden, then the Field Secretary of SDS, and later a California legislator and founding director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center. Back in 1967, the  National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam or The Mobe, was formed to evaluate the antiwar demonstrations and to chart a future course for the antiwar movement. 

And now

In Appalachia, another war is going on, a war by Big Coal on our mountains and our culture.   As  Junior Walk, 22, who lives in Whiteville, has said, 

Now is when we decide if we let the coal industry strip it all before deserting Appalachia or if we send them packing while we still have mountains.
Mountain Mobilization starts July 25

Starting July 25, folks will converge in southern West Virginia for a mobilization RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival) is hosting to prepare for the nonviolent direct action July 28 to shut down a strip mine.

While public outcries against the abuses of the fossil fuel industry rise and scientific evidence mounts, environmental protections are under attack by politicians backed by corporate cash. The Occupy movement highlighted what communities fighting Big Coal, Big Oil and Big Gas have long known -- when corporate interests dominate the political system, citizens must be the ones to restore democracy. In sharp contrast to Washington inaction, ordinary citizens around the country are turning to American traditions of direct intervention and civil disobedience.  Here's a video by Jordan Freeman.

Escalating protests on fossil fuels

From the historic March on Blair Mountain to the longest tree sit in the eastern US to recent sit-ins in Washington and coal barge and trucks blockades right here in WV, protests have escalated.  Last summer, hundreds were arrested in DC protesting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, andTexas activists are planning a blockade to directly halt construction of the pipeline July 27-9. Madeline Fitch locked herself to barrels to block the use of a fracking well in Ohio, June 26. Don’t Frack Ohio” brought together thousands to protest hydrofracking in Ohio Jun 14-17, and “Stop the Frack Attack” will mobilize thousands in DC July 28.   In August, thousands will converge on the statehouse in Montana to protest the continued expansion of western strip mines for exporting coal to China and elsewhere in Asia.

Mathew Louis-Rosenberg of RAMPS talks about Mountain Mobilization

Today I was "talking" via gchat with Mathew Louis-Rosenberg over in Sandstone, West Virginia, about the upcoming mountain mobilization. Since Peter Slavin wrote about him in 2010, Louis-Rosenbergin has moved on from Climate Ground Zero to volunteering at RAMPS.  He is still working with the Sludge Safety Project through Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW).   His mission remains the same: to lend his skills to the fight to end mountaintop removal coal mining. He explains,
The fight against strip mining in Appalachia is connected to so many critical issues for our time. This struggle is about public health, human rights, environmental justice, national energy policy and the future of the planet. It's about corporate control of government, wealth inequality and Appalachia's right to a viable future. From every angle, strip mining and other extreme extraction is wrong.
The Mountain Mobilization is drawing attendees from withing Central Appalachia

Although Louis-Rosenberg is a native of West Saugerties, New York, he's been in WV since 2008.  Appalachian natives and those who have chosen to live in our region have joined together to supporting the mobilization.  I've already mentioned Junior Walk. 

  • There are folks coming from 13 towns and cities in WV (Blair, Charleston,  Danville, Fayetteville, Greenville, Huntington, Hurricane, Lookout, Marlington, Morgantown,  Rock Creek, Sandstone, Summerville) two in KY (Lexington and Berea), four in OH (Cleveland, Columbus, London, Springfield), five in TN (Kingsport, Knoxville, Lebanon, Memphis, Sevierville), two in VA (Blacksburg, Floyd), and four in NC (Asheville, New Bern, Raleigh, Weaversville).
The Mobilization is attracting antendees from a wide geographic area as well
  • DC will be well represented, as will MD (College Park, Frederick, Oxford, Upper Marlboro) and Northern and Central Virginia (Fredericksburg, Charlottesville.)
  • New York is sending a large contingent (Brooktondale, Fayettesville, Ithaca, New York City, Redwood, Scarsdale, Warwick, Woodside), as is PA (Benton, Bryn Athyn, Daisytown, Erie, Fairview, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsvburgh, Revere, Swathmore).  RAMPS and MJ members recently took part in a fracking protest. NJ will also be represented (Oldwick).
  • New England participants are coming from MA (Alston, Andover, Belmont, Boston, Somersville, Waltham), VT (Brattleboro, Burlington, East Calais) and CT (New Haven).                             
  • There are folks traveling from  AZ (Tempe), CA (Berkeley and San Francisco), CO (Boulder)  IN (Bloomington) ,MO(St. Louis), MS (Starkville), MT (Missoula), , NJ , NM (Santa Fe),,  OR (Bandon), TX (Austin), UT (Castle Valley, Salt Lake City) and WA (Port Townsend).          
  • There is even a registrant from China.
Native West Virginian Junior Walk on MTR

 I've already mentioned Junior Walk at the top of this post.  He wrote about mtr and the coal industry for  Aurora Lights's Journey Up Coal River map project when he was twenty.  Reading Walk's account of how he left his job working for Massey and then a security job at a mtr site  made me recall two TMK security guards who quit their jobs after being assigned to harass protesters engaged in a tree-sit in the Coal River Valley:
I had no idea how to go about applying for college, or scholarships, grants, or any of that stuff seeing as how I was the first person in my family that was even remotely interested in going to school, so I didn’t get to go. I did what a lot of folks do around here when they get out of high school and find themselves jobless. I went to work for Massey Energy, I worked at the Elk Run preparation plant in Sylvester for almost 6 months. I knew I couldn’t do that for long, and I had to quit.

After a year or so of going from minimum wage job to minimum wage job a family friend offered me a job as a security guard at a mountaintop removal site. While working there I felt like a horrible person for being even the smallest part in the machine that was tearing down that mountain and poisoning the community at the bottom. So I contacted Coal River Mountain Watch and started volunteering with them, I would write articles for their newsletter anonymously while I was on the job as a security guard. I’d take my desktop computer, load it into the passenger seat of my car and run an extension cord to the power box. They then offered me a job as the office manager at Coal River Mountain Watch, so that’s where I am today.
Walk grew up right in the Coal River Valley and went to Marsh Fork Elementary School:
...[Y]es the same Marsh Fork that’s situated beside of a coal preparation plant and in the looming shadow of a 2.8 billion gallon coal sludge impoundment. I went to Marsh Fork High School the last year that it was open, they closed it down and it promptly burned to the ground like a lot of abandoned buildings in this area do.  I then had to ride a bus for an hour to and from school every day, but that’s all too common in poor communities where school consolidation is business as usual.
He explains why he works for Coal River Mountain Watch and opposes the coal industry:
I think the Coal River Valley is one of the most amazing places on this earth, and I’d never want to move away from here. Sadly though it’s also poverty stricken and highly exploited by outside extractive industries.  I think if the Coal River Valley were prosperous it wouldn’t look all that different, but it would certainly have a better feel to it, a better climate if you will. Folks would be self sufficient and not have to rely on outside corporations to use them just so they could feed their families. I’m working with Coal River Mountain Watch now to do my part in ending the tyranny of the coal industry by speaking out and trying to educate the general public about what’s going on here.  The coal industry is the main barrier to accomplishing what I would like to accomplish in making this community sustainable, and making sure folks around here educate themselves so they don’t get exploited again.



Honoré de Balzac's Civic Registry

Map of 1919 Paris from the site Carpe Horas (email).  I first published this post on July 19, 2012 at 5:17 p.m.


I belong to a reading group which has been meeting continuously since being founded by the late Harriet Davidson and her husband Sig at the end of the seventies.  This evening, after a pot-luck dinner, we will discuss Le Père Goriot  [lə pɛʁ ɡɔʁjo] (Old Goriot), Honoré de Balzac's novel set in 1819 Paris during the Bourbon Restoration which follows the intertwined lives of  doting Goriot; criminal-in-hiding Vautrin; and naive law student Eugène de Rastignac.  Balzac first published this novel in serial form during the winter of 1834-35; it became part of the "Scènes de la Vie Parisienne" section of his sequence La Comédie Humaine.

My ability to read French is halting:  I require an International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) Guide in addition to a dictionary, to figure out, not so much the meaning, as the phronology. I took only half a semester of French at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, upon my return from a trip to Europe spent pointing to the word I wanted to use in my Larousse, which is now handily available for free online.

The English version of the  Compendium. H. de Balzac's Comédie Humaine edited by Anatole Cerfberr, Jules François Christophe and Paul Bourget is available to read for free online or on an android reader from Google Play, thanks to a digitized version of the book donated to the University of California Berkeley.  I love that it's searchable and that you can cut clips of text (albeit missing punctuation) or images to embed.  There are also multiple editions available through The Open Library, a project of archive.org.

In the introduction, French poet, novelist and critic Bourget enthuses:
Oh! the sorcery of the most marvelous magician of letters that we have known since Shakespeare.  If you fall under his enchantments, not but what this is a happiness, here is a book which will charm you, a book which would have ravished Balzac himself--for Balzac was more the dupe of his work than his most fanatical reader, and all those of whom he dreamed had to him a civic status.  This volume of nearly six hundred pages is in effect the civic status of all the characters in the Comedie Humaine, of whom are found, detail by detail, the smallest adventures of those heroes who pass and repass in traversing these fifty romances...a sort of index...of living people.

I discovered Bourget, pictured above, and thus the Google e-book because the 1949 illustrated version of Old Goriot from The Heritage Press in New York and Nonesuch Press in London is available at the Virginia Tech library.  The introduction is by François Mauriac (pictured below), a Catholic member of the French resistance who went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1952 and to encourage Elie Wiesel to write and publish Night, as described in this interview by Wiesel.

Mauriac quotes Bourget writing of reading, at age fifteen, the first volume of  Le Père Goriot

The hallucinative effect of what I had been reading was so potent that my legs seemed giving way beneath me.  The glamour of that daydream which Balzac had plunged me had gone to my head like strong drink or opium.  It took me quite a while to come back to the real world around me, and my own small self...

The translation is by British Quaker Ellen Marriage (1865-1946) pictured below.

 According to the Oxford Dictionary of  National Biography:

Marriage took far greater trouble over them than was then common with translations of French novels, not only searching for ‘the best words’ but visiting France to check local details and grappling manfully with Balzac's specialized vocabularies: ‘I have some heraldry that has fairly beaten me. There seems nothing left but the desperate step—a lunatic's step—of going to the College of Arms and trying what impudence will do’ (Ellen Marriage to Elizabeth Marriage, 3 Jan 1896, priv. coll.). The results were justifiably admired; her versions, particularly the descriptions and narration, often have the ‘colour and swing’ she admired in other writers and usually avoid the unnatural literalness that had characterized many earlier versions.
The Tech libary also had a translation by American Civil War nurse Katharine Prescott Wormeley, --born in England, but moving to the US at an early age-- and by American Jane Minot Sedgewick (who looking at her family tree may be a distant relative of actress Kyra Sedgewick.

Of the three translations, I prefer Prescott's as the least stilted, without taking liberties.

Curiously Michal Peled Ginsberg, in his Approaches to Teaching Balzac's Old Goriot,  says that all his respondents who teach Le Père Goriot in English unenthusiastically use the translation by Marion Ayton Crawford.


The Town and the Mosaic

Photo is a screen shot from the raw video posted, for some reason, by Fox News 40 in Sacramento, CA as well as by WPIX in NYC and CW33-KDAF-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth. I first published this post on July 18, 2012 at 8:00 p.m. I updated it on July 19, 2012 at 1:33 p.m. to add the screen shot. 

On the evening of June 16, I walked over to the site Steve Hill's planned Brownstone project which I wrote about yesterday and looked over the orange snow fencing at a pile of rubble: jagged sections of block studded with colored tiles and  mirrors, topped by a door painted to blend in with what was once the mosaic created by members of the Boys and Girls's Club which  met at the Blacksburg Middle School.

Wondering how the mosaic came to be destroyed,  I called Kim Kirk this morning  at the Town of Blacksburg.  Kirk is Neighborhood Services Coordinator at the Town of Blacksburg and working on the Untagging the Town initiative, which Mike Gangloff at the Roanoke Times wrote about on June 14.

 Kirk talked mostly about her efforts to find volunteers and to find a grant or donor to contribute the $20,000 it would have taken to preserve the wall on which the mosaic was mounted.  She told me that Phyllis Albritton, one of the founders of the Club had worked, alongside three others to try and help.  The Town had opted to take pictures of the mosaic and a t-shirt vendor was about to put up a site where folks could select a portion to be printed on a custom t-shirt.  A portion of the proceeds would go to help fund Untagging the Town.

Kirk told me he had filed a  Memorandum for the Record about the mosaic with the Town on June 19.  She had mailed it to Gangloff  and was glad to email me with a copy, which I've made available at this link to my google docs.

When I received the document, I was surprised to learn that there was a much more economical option than preserving the wall intact, which, given the short time frame Steve Hill allowed, seemed to me to be more feasible. It also would have served to do more than to "memorialize" the wall.

Kirk wrote in her report:
A possibility does exist to save pieces.  Contractor Paul Shively anticipates a July 16th demolition start date.  If the public wants access to the pieces, he recommends a roll-off and he will scoop that section into the container and it could be hauled off.
I've sent an email with a copy of the Memorandum to both Albritton and to Susan Mattingly (email), the Executive Director of Blacksburg's  Lyric Theatre, whose offices host the Community Arts Information Office (CAIO). I asked both women whether they had received a copy of the report.

In Mattingly's case I added,

My thought when I read the memorandum today--especially after attending the TED talk at the Lyric--is what a cool project it would have been for Minds Wide Open:  to have numbered the pieces and the corresponding photograph and then salvaged the pieces.
The Lyric Council had partnered with Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech, the Blacksburg Regional Art Association, and Virginia Tech’s Student Centers and Activities to "Color College Avenue" on May 19.  The project

welcome[d] children of all ages to create a painting on the surface of College Avenue between Main Street and Draper Road...[to] decorate the street until construction on the College Avenue Promenade begins.
The Council also sponsored the TED talk on Being the Change I wrote about on July 12.

  I copied my email to Mattingly to Town Council member John Bush (email) and to Lyric Council member Brennan Shepard (email) , both of whom had been part of program following the TED talk.

I'll let you know what I hear back.


And the Wall Comes Tumbling Down

This a cropped version of a photo provided to me by Kim Kirk (email), Neighborhood Services Coordinator at the Town of Blacksburg. More photos of the mosaic are here. I first published this post  on July 16, 2012 at 8:00 p.m.  I updated it on July 17 at 7:40 p.m. to add the photo  and then again to edit it for style and additional information about the Boys and Girls Club on July 18 at 6:52 p.m. It was last updated on July 19 at 1:14 p.m. to add the picture from Twitter by Chris Jenkins of WDBJ7 found in the body of the post.


Today, a piece of Blackburg history vanished into a heap of rubble

Gone is the mosaic built  by Boys and Girls Club members who met at Blacksburg Middle School.  Back in 2001, they constructed their artwork on the wall of the Food Time gas station and convenience store on Main Street.  It was charming and reminded me of something constructed by outsider artist Howard Finster.  According to a story in the Radford Journal, the members celebrated November 28, 2001 with a reception at Gillies.

The theme for the mosaic was outlined within it in block letters in various places, as you can see if you click on the photo above to see it at full size :

Inner vision is the prescription
Art is the physician
Art heals.

Work runs over me some days
My feet point to the sky
Sleep smothers me

If we're not
we should be

If you were not already doing too much
You wouldn't be doing this
Gone, too, is the Blacksburg Middle School Boys and Girls Club which built the mosaic

Local school board member Phyllis Albritton was one of the founders of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the New River Valley.  The Blacksburg Club closed in 2009.  There are still clubs in Montgomery County at Shawsville and Christiansburg Middle Schools, which, since at least 2006, have operated as part of  Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Virginia (BGCSWV).

I found out about the fate of the mosaic on twitter

Chris Jenkins of WDBJ7  posted a series of pictures there today.  This is the last one in a series of three that he posted at 1:07 p.m.:

When I looked up the mosaic online, I realized that I missed the story Roanoke Times reporter Mike Gangloff published on July 1, in the now sadly diminished New River Valley supplement, "The Burgs," which replaced "The Current."

The reason for the demolition: The Brownstone

It turns out that the demolition is part of retired commodities trader Steve Hill's plan for yet another parking-commercial-residential mixed-use structure in downtown Blacksburg dubbed The Brownstone. If I had read Gangloff's story, I would have know about the rush to clear the land for the project on the block between Clay and Washington Streets. I would have known about the planned demolition of athe mosaic.  Hill told Gangloff he has decided to incorporated the former Annie Kay’s health food store because restrictions attached to its historic status  meant demolition would take an unacceptably long time.  No such historic status attached to the mosaic. Hill said he didn't MIND if the mosaic were preserved,  just so long as it was gone by the time of demolition in two weeks time.

 Memories of  the old Annie Kay's building

I had seen Hill's sign in front of the  old Annie Kay's health food store on South Main for a new project.   I confess, I wondered at the time where the Floyd County native-- who returned to the New River Valley in 2001--had traded commodities.  Had he ever been to Brooklyn or the Upper West Side?  Or even to Phillippi WV to see the Barbour County Court House? Or did he just come up for a catchy name for what is just the brown brick of the old Annie Kay's, owned at one time by Clark Webb.

Clark Webb didn't own the building. It was in the hands of  the family who owned Wade's.  Besides Annie Kay's downstairs, it housed The New River Free Press and the Coalition for Justice upstairs.  And then the owners told the Free Press's treasurer that their the accountant  said they weren't renting their space at market value. Annie Kay's eventually moved further down Main Street, Even before then, the Coalition closed its offices and the Free Press moved temporarily to Cambria.  The building stood vacant.  Which seems like it would be way below market value.

 The Free Press finally moved back to Blacksburg when  Chris Kappas--the one time owner of Souvaki's-- rented an apartment above the Cellar to the paper at an affordable price until it closed in 2004.  It wasn't that Kappas agreed with the paper's politics, he told us, it was that he believed in free speech.  He even went so far as to regularly buy ads and to sign on as an underwriter to special supplements such as Appalachian Voices, our literary magazine.  It was Kappas's kindness to our endeavor that has led me to patronize Souvaki's, even after he sold it, despite the fact that I rarely, otherwise, eat meat.

Why wasn't the mosaic saved?

I didn't look into The Brownstone project.  Wondering about its name is about as far as I went.  While I was writing this and looking for news of Chris Kappas, I found this story which seemed to indicated that while Blacksburg proclaims its desire to be an art town,  more coverage is generated about how people cared  about the elimination of a dying tree.  I, too, love trees, and am sad to see one go.  But every effort seems to have been made to save the tree on College Avenue.

I'm wondering if the same thing could be said about the mosaic.  Tomorrow, I'll call Kim Kirk, with UnTagging the Town, a Blacksburg art initiative, which determined that the mosaic could be preserved with sufficient resources and volunteers.


Happy Hundredth, Woody Guthrie

This photo of Woody Guthrie in 1943 from Rounder Records appeared in Travis Tackett's August 11, 2009 Blue Grass Journal announcement of the August 25 release the 4-CD boxed set, My Dusty Road.  The set was the first in the Woody Guthrie Legacy Series by Rounder Records, in conjunction with The Woody Guthrie Archives.

Check back later for more on Woody.  right now I'm going to the memorial celebration of the life of Blacksburg's Jim Dymock, founding member of the Lyric Council and longtime theatre volunteer.


Ted Boettner: "As Rockefeller said, West Virginians deserve better."

The photo of  Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is by AP's Manuel Balce Ceneta.  It appeared at Tom Eblen's June 28 blogpost, "A coal supporter talks straight with the industry."

This eloquent guest commentary by Ted Boettner (email, bio), founding director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy  is published with his permission.  It first appeared in the Charleston Gazette on July 11, 2012, under the title, "Ted Boettner: Future Fund sensible solution to 'war on coal'"  For more information, see the website for The Future Fund.


During a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Jay Rockefeller showed genuine leadership and courage in telling the truth about the real challenges facing coal in West Virginia.

For far too long, the dialogue on coal's future and its impact in West Virginia has been an arena for simplistic and antagonistic politics. This hostile political environment has polarized our state and has led some miners and working families to wrongly believe that if we could just get rid of EPA regulations then the future of coal would be bright in the Mountain State.

As Rockefeller said, West Virginians deserve better. They deserve to have people in power who are not guided by fear but by evidence and the public good.

The reality is that coal is declining in West Virginia and it has more to do with market competition from natural gas and Western coal -- not to mention exhausted coal reserves -- than with any future EPA regulations.

According to the latest projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 10 years West Virginia will produce only 90 million tons of coal compared with 158 million in 2008. The entire decline is expected to be in the southern coalfields, which will likely see production cut by two-thirds -- from about 100 million tons to about 38 million tons. Even without any concern over greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, the numbers hardly change according to the Energy Information Administration.

As coal production and employment declines in Southern West Virginia, displaced miners and the communities in which they live will need opportunities to transition into different fields and industries.

If we are going to build a stronger economy for our children and grandchildren, then policy-makers will need to work together and set their differences aside for the future welfare of our state.

One way that we can ensure that coal and other natural resources like natural gas will always play an important role in our state's economy is to create a permanent mineral trust fund or a Future Fund. Such a fund would help our state turn nonrenewable assets into a source of sustainable wealth. It will allow us to meet future challenges by investing in critical physical and human infrastructure that will diversify and expand our state's economy. It is a positive future for coal and natural gas, and one that we can all agree on and count on.

West Virginia could follow the lead of other energy producing states, such as Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and New Mexico, which dedicate a portion of their severance tax revenue from minerals toward a permanent fund. That way, the fund grows over time and financially bolsters the state's economy through strategic spending. All together, these states have more than $50 billion in assets while paying out about $1 billion each year in returns to their citizens.

The logic behind such a fund is simple. Without a Future Fund, the economic benefit from natural resource extraction will decline along with the natural resources themselves. As West Virginians have witnessed in parts of the southern coalfields, when the natural resources are gone, little is left behind in its wake. This does not have to be our fate.

With coal production declining in the south and shale gas booming in the north, West Virginia has an opportunity not to repeat the past but move forward to help meet the challenges of the future. Creating a Future Fund is part of the answer. A Future Fund would not only help ensure that future generations of West Virginians benefit from our depleting natural resources, but also ensure that we build a better tomorrow.

However, this will only happen once policy-makers recognize the real challenges facing the future of coal and start working together on real solutions to our state's energy problems. As Sen. Rockefeller said in his speech, if we fail to work together we risk leaving coal miners and their communities in the dust by ignoring the present and denying the future.


Of FOIA and Coal Ash

This post was first published on July 12, 2012 at 8:00 p.m.  It was last updated on July 13 at  7:30 p.m.

Vernon Kelley, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) coordinator for the Concerned Citizens of Giles County (CCGC) gave me permission to publicly post the court documents regarding CCGC  v.  J. Howard Spencer, Jr.,  T.R. Ould, Jr. and the Town of Glen Lyn,  set for a hearing tomorrow on July 13, 2012 at 11:00 AM in Giles County General District Court. 

Howard Spencer is Glen Lyn's Town Manager and Ould, the town's mayor.  On June 6, John Robertson (email, website), attorney for CCGC filed a writ of mandamus for violation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

The writ alleges that the written contract between the Town and the Giles County Partnership for Excellence dated June 2006, was only produced in March 2012 and intentionally withheld upon Howard Spencer's instruction in violation of FOIA,  depite an earlier  request dated September 24, 2008.  When  CCGC representatives visited the Town to review the documents in January 2009, a member of the office staff Ms. Debbie Thomas indicated that Howard Spencer "said to tell [the petition's representatives] there was no contract. The writ requests refund of its costs, attorney fees and for a civil fine or penalty and any other relief as the Court may require.

On July 9, the defendants' attorney replied, with a writ to dismiss regarding the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), asking that the case be thrown out in a plea of the Statute of Limitations.      
  1.  That the Plaintiff seeks to recover from the Defendants a judgement for money as well as monetary penalties.
  2.   As such the claim of the Plaintiff is a personal action as defined in Virginia Code Section 8.01.228.
  3. That no specific statute of limitations is set forth for the claim of the plaintiffs and it is therefore governed by the provisions of Virginia Code Section 8.01-248 which provides that a personal action for which no other statute of limitations is provided shall be brought within two years.
 You can read a summary of CCGC's reaction in my earlier post.

I was hoping there would be news coverage today, as Kelley told me that three media outlets had interviewed the CCGC attorney John Robertson.  When no coverage appeared, I wrote Robertson his comments, but have not heard back yet.

I also wrote Steven Aftergood (email) of Secrecy News.  He replied that he was not familiar with Virginia law, but referred me to the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.  He also provided me with three Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports on the topic of coal ash:

CRS are not available to the public online except through third parties such as Aftergood's Federation of American Scientists. Yo can also read my most recent post on the attempts to derail the EPA's regulation of coal ash.

More coming...

Being the Change

Today, I took a break from writing about coal ash in Giles County to attend Being the Change, the inaugural TED talk at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg.

I'll write more about it later, but you can view the video of arts activist Jason Roberts of Better Block courtesy of YouTube:

 Mike Hudson of Progress and Main was taking a video, so I'll post it as soon as it's available.


The Tale of Two-Headed Baby Trout And Cumberland Park's Fly Ash Continued

The photo above of Howard Spencer by Roanoke Times photographer Matt Gentry shows Howard Spencer standing on clay fill material at the the Cumberland Park project.  It accompanied the paper's September 28, 2010 story "Controversial Giles County project nears end" by Matt Sturgeon.

Update on 8/24/2014, with the Roanoke Times sold to Warren Buffet, many links to Tim Thornton's series are broken due to a new content management system; however,  I may have deciphered a way to find the links on http://ww2.roanoke.com/news/nrv/wb/.  I'll test that theory out later, as I've got another deadline.  If you see an *, it's the new link.  I actually found an additional story for 10/20/2007, which the paper had not indexed with Thornton's series.

Update on 9/29/2014, with the EPA set to issue a fly ash rule on December 19, 2014 and the leaks at Possum Point of both lined and unlined coal ash dumps, I went ahead and added more links, but I will need to continue this project later, since Mike Gangloff has a recent article which brings things up to date.


The Cumberland Park project sits in the flood plain in Narrows  between U.S. 460 and the New RiverHoward Spencer and the Giles County Partnership dumped  fly ash there from AEP's 
coal-fired electric power plant in Glen Lyn.

Fly ash comes from burning coal.  It contains a variety of toxic materials including selenium, which, among others things, has been responsible for sever birth defects in trout in Idaho.  Not a good thing to dump anywhere, but especially in a scenic river used for both recreation and a source of drinking water further downstream in WV. The Concerned Citizens of Giles County (CCGC) oppose the project and have struggled with a way to get the fly ash moved and disposed of safely.

Howard Spencer is well-connected

Besides chairing the Giles County Partnership, Howard Spencer is also  Manager of the Town of Glen Lyn.  At one time he was Chairman of the Giles County Board of Supervisors.  He has also worked for the County Schools.

The Public Nuisance Approach

Because fly ash goes unregulated by either the EPA or the State of Virginia, the CCGC  looked for other options as the plan to start dumping 254,000 cubic yards of coal ash at the Cumberland Park  in April 2008 became public.  In January of that year,  five members asked Circuit Court Colin Gibb  to empanel a grand jury to investigate whether such dumping constituted a public nuisance. Gibb agreed to do so, once coal ash started being dumped.  June 18, Gibb ruled the case closed after receiving the report of the jury foreman that the dumping was not a public nuisance.

The Al Capone approach

Al Capone, a symbol of corruption in Chicago, finally fell on tax charges.  If the CCGC succeeds,  Howard Spencer, may meet the same fate in rural Giles County, Virginia.

Tim Thornton reported extensively on CCG's efforts until he left the Roanoke Times at the end of March 2009.  (I've compiled a list of his articles with links below.)  In April 2012,  Vernon Kelley--CCGC President at that time--wrote Thornton and me that the group was going to court again.

After digging for years into the records for the Partnership using FOIA (the Freedom of Information Act), they were going to file a writ asking  for a copy of the garage lease agreement between the Town of Glen Lyn and the Giles County Partnership

Today, he wrote to explain what led up to the group to file its writ: 

The Partnership's by-laws, incorporation papers, their federal tax exempt status, and the Department of Taxation (from 2002-2008  -- the School Board informed the state tax office in 09 that they didn't recognize the Partnership any longer) all clearly state that the Partnership is/was created for the sole benefit of the Giles County Public Schools. 
The question the CCGC initially asked was "what is a tax exempt Public School Foundation doing in the toxic fly ash business and how does it benefit our schools?".  Since that time we have discovered that they also flip real estate, rent property, operate a construction program and manage a for profit garage.  The School Board has never approved or monitored these projects nor has any students been involved or trained in these programs.  Furthermore, no profits generated have benefited the schools and no taxes have been paid.
As tax payers we have a legitimate right to ask what do these programs (and the garage) have to do with our schools/students.   Since the answer is obviously NOTHING we also want to know how and why they are still allowed to operate and why they don't pay taxes on their unrelated business profits, rents, and real estate transactions.
CCGC is also pursuing a tax case, which will be the subject of a separate post.

Roanoke Times series

I am in the process of documenting coverage of the Cumberland Park fly ash project to date.
Thornton did a thorough job of explaining the issues and respectfully reporting on the CCGC's concerns, while still maintaining traditional MSM neutrality.  I've reordered the listing of his articleso that it is chronological.

During Thorton's tenure at the paper through March 31, 2009,  there were at least two additional stories by Shawna Morrison, which I have also included below.  The story dated June 18 is indexed with the series; the June 12 story is not.  Since then there have been further stories; however they have not been added to the series by the paper.  (As indicated in my editor's note, I have added those available, when I fixed the broken links due to the new content management system at the paper.  Anything with an asterisk has been added since I originally posted.  If a link under the new content management system disappears, I will add a permalink to a reprint, with the author's permission.

Tim Thorton:

Shawna Morrison:
Mike Gangloff:
    Tonia Moxley:
    Glen Lyn town manager is exonerated (5/3/2013)*

    Tonia Moxley and Melissa Powell:

    State police scrutinizing town manager, Giles group:  After years of pressure from a citizens group, Glen Lyn Town Manager Howard Spencer and Giles County Partnership for Excellence are under investigation. (12/6/12) *

    Melissa Powell:
    Judge fines town, town manager in Glen Lyn FOIA dispute: A Giles County judge said Glen Lyn Town Manager Howard Spencer willfully withheld a lease contract between the town and a tax-exempt partnership. (8/31/12)*

    Daniel Shean and Britt and Leigh Stoudenmire:

    Ethelbert Miller's in his Fifth Inning

    Photo of Miller by Shyree Mezick used by permission. Ethelbert Miller (blog, website) gave a reading at Volume II Bookstore September 10th, 2009, after which I interviewed him via email over a couple of  days from 9/30 through 10/1 and wrote this draft.. A version of the interview was slated to appear in 16 Blocks, but never made it, so once I confirmed that I published it today. Ethelbert's poem here, "Hitless and Crying at the Plate" is from April 2009 collection from Curbstone, On Saturdays, I Santana With You. He chairs the board the Institute for Policy Studies and directs the African American Resource Center at Howard University. He has authored of nine books of poetry and two memoirs and edited four anthologies.


    Do you see yourself as a "cultural worker." Is being a poet and memoirist part of this?

    I haven't used the term "cultural worker" to define myself since the early 1980s. Back then I was doing work that placed me in touch with people from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Chile. I saw my poetry and activism being responsible for connecting communities with different cultures and interests. One person I admire, who used this term was singer Bernice Reagon, one of the Freedom Singers and the founder of Sweet Honey In The Rock. When I think of Paul Robeson, I think of the definitive cultural worker. Today I'm more comfortable with the label "Literary Activist." I keep the door open for the words poet and memoirist. I define being a literary activist as working with publishing, promotion and preservation.

    So, "cultural workers" connect communities with different cultures and interests...you don't use the term to describe youself anymore, but when you were here in Blacksburg you spoke of going to the Middle East?

    I've been fortunate to travel to a number of countries in the Middle East. I have visited Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen and Israel.

    Earlier this year I was invited to Abu Dhabi for the release of a collection of my poems (At Night We Are All Black Poets) that had been translated into Arabic. I think it's important to visit Arab nations in order to gain a better understanding of Islam. The major adjustment I've had to make is around issues of gender. I'm concern with the status of women in the Muslim world. I feel that the segregation of people by sex is no different than keeping people apart by race. I can't see a society or nation reaching its full potential unless everyone is treated equally. I'm respectful of cultural differences but I think there are limitations to the tolerance of oppression in its various forms. Lately I've been looking at societies in which "joy" is openly expressed. I feel life is to be celebrated. What type of God would prevent one from dancing?

    As a literary activist you're involved with "promotion and preservation" Would you tell us a little about your work on Langston Hughes?

    A couple of years ago I was working on a project coordinated by Poets House (in New York). They sent me to a number of public libraries around the country to give lectures on Langston Hughes. It was fun reading Langston's work and sharing it with adults and children. I've always enjoyed his work since it is so accessible to the reader. His book, The Big Sea is a personal favorite. I like the fact that Langston Hughes was a man of letters and he traveled around the world. I've been fortunate to visit some of the same places he went to. It's unfortunate that much of his work represented in American poetry anthologies are from his early years as a writer.The radical Hughes of the 1930s is often not discussed in classrooms. When he was alive he was censored not for his racial work but for his poems that dealt with religion. I think it's important to acknowledge the full career of Langston Hughes. His children books, the work that he translated and the plays he presented on stage, all provide a different perspective of a man who was loved and should be viewed as a literary genius. Hughes should be viewed not just as a black writer but also as an experimental voice in American literature. One can see this in a book like Ask Your Momma.

    When you read in Blacksburg you included work by other poets. What's your philosophy behind that...

    I read poems by Naomi Shihab Nye and Liam Rector [and] Pablo Neruda. I like to underscore my appreciation for poetry by reading the work of other poets. I also like to show how what I'm attempting to do complements what is already in the canon. I read Liam's work because I want to keep his memory alive. Hopefully good poetry can defy death. There are so many voices the average reader and lover of poetry need to know about. I try to turn my readings into forums of discovery.

    When I listened to you read the first anecdote about your father in your first memoir Fathering Words, I was struck by how the cadence still was something like a poem. How is the process of writing memoir different than writing poems.

    I define myself first as a poet. I hope that when I sit down to write prose or creative non-fiction I don't leave something behind. I want to infuse the poetic sensibility into everything I do. While writing [the first memoir] Fathering Words, I would read passages aloud for the sound and the taste of it. I wanted to produce a book that people would read and underline a passage, a sentence or two. I wanted the reader to return to my memoir the way a person returns to a poem. The second and third reading becoming a sweater or shawl to keep a person warm.

    I didn't do any major revision with Fathering Words. I gave the book to my editor at St. Martin's Press and it was accepted. I don't know if I could have gone back and revised my memoir. I don't think I had the discipline to do that back then. The writing process was much quicker for me. I wrote my first memoir using a computer. Many of my ideas for poems are still written down on paper. Writing poetry is a much slower process for me.

    The second memoir, The Fifth Inning often uses baseball as a metaphor.  Can you talk about your relationship with "home plate?"

    Baseball is a game that begins and ends at home. You bat. You try to touch all the bases and return home. In The 5th Inning I take the reader into the home I tried to create for my wife and family. I think I failed to provide the type of place my wife would have liked. That's why early in the memoir I describe all the apartments we lived in. Notice at the end of the book, I'm getting ready to leave VCCA and my wife Denise is coming to take me home. It was important to have this type of ending. Memoir is also storytelling. I needed to present the reader with a degree of light after writing what many view as a dark or sad book. I'm reminded of what my friend Julia Galbus mentioned (and I included in the book) about many baseball games ending because of darkness and perhaps a storm. I'm aware of that but I needed to be positive in terms of the importance of home, especially in a spiritual sense.

    What did you want to leave with your readers? What did you discover in the process of writing the book.

    I wanted to leave the reader aware of his or her own shortcomings. I wanted to make someone who is forty or in their fifties aware of how quickly everything can end. I also wanted people to hit and pitch better in their own lives. Even when I compiled an honest list of the many things I can't do, maybe a reader might stop and do the same thing. I think I've also given the reader a short book. A book that physically can fit into a bag or case. A bullpen book. Something to read as the game of life is played around you. Turn a page and never known if it's your turn. Somewhere a manager beckons to the bullpen - time for you to get ready. Are you ready?


    Hitless And Crying At The Plate by Ethelbert Miller (For Reetika)

    Are you crying? There's no crying in baseball. -Manager Jimmy Dugan to outfielder Evelyn Gardner
    in A League of Their Own. 1992.

    By the way, you should know that every time
    I wear a baseball cap while working, I
    Ask John, Guess who I am?
    He says, I don't know- who?
    I say Ethelbert: - A letter from Reetika Vazirani, July 3, 1991.


    The year Sammy Sosa
    Corked his bat is the year
    You took your life. We all felt cheated
    You like our hero standing
    In the batters box alone.


    Why do poets
    Try to change the rules of the game?
    Why is death America's pastime?


    Sometimes I fear the blues
    Is a curveball breaking
    Near my head.
    On Saturdays, I Santana With You, Curbstone, 2009.