Wouldn't It Be Lovely: The West Virginia Chemical Spill

Photo by poet Crystal Good  who posted it to twitter with the comment, "I live in Charleston, WV. We have been w/out WATER for 6 days. The ban has lifted -- but would YOU drink this"  Others had earlier described their water as "gelled up" or "the consistency of motor oil.


I live in the New River Valley in Virginia less than 35 miles via the highway--less as the crow flies-- from the West Virginia line.  I've been following the story of  Freedom Industries since January 9 when  it leaked 5000 or more gallons of the coal washing chemical 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM)  into the Elk River just a mile-and-a-half upstream from the water intake of the Charleston, WV treatment plant.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

On January 12, Associated Press reporters Mitch Weiss and Brendan Farrington quoted one man as saying,  "You won't find many people in these parts who are against these industries."  That contradicts their own account from earlier the same day when they wrote that coal miner Chris Laws of Mamet was angry at Freedom Industries.  It contradicts what I've heard from many native West Virginians among the more than 300,000 customers who dealt first without running water and then  with doubts about whether officials have been telling them the truth when they say the water is safe: the tell-tale odor of licorice persists despite flushing out their pipes according to instructions.

And it certainly contradicts  Eric Waggoner's eloquent essay "Elemental" which he published on on his blog January 12 (h/t Wendy Johnston.) In "Elemental,"  Waggoner curses the "greedhead" operators, the "screwjob" elected officials, everyone "with a superior attitude"  who "ever asked me how I could stand to live in a place like" West Virginia.  And, yes, Waggoner curses his fellow West Virginians who "mistook suffering for honor."  According to this January 16 CNN interview with Brooke Baldwin, he includes himself in this last number.

Today's spur to my own outrage came from Jack Wright who sent  an op-ed from Froma Harrop. It's bad enough when the coal industry and its allies treat Appalachians as disposable. It adds insult to injury when an "award-winning" "liberal" NYC columnist  gets paid by Creators syndicate to  posit West Virginia as a "cult" and NationofChange reprints her op-ed.  After all, that site claims to be "progressive journalism for positive action."

"Birds don't dirty their own nests." "Munchkins." "Self-pity."  "Mass-suckerdom."

Yes, Harrop wrote all  that, which makes me wonder if she or the editors of NationofChange have ever been to Appalachia or even have any friends here. And even if the answer is no, I'd still have thought that liberals and progressives would, by definition, deplore such bigotry.

Harrop twists Waggoner's criticism of his fellow West Virginians to support for her cult theory.  She fails to link to his post either on his blog or at HuffPost, which reprinted it.  She demotes Dr. Waggoner from Associate Professor (one step below full Professor) to the lowest non-tenured rank of instructor.  That may be how he's identified by HuffPost, but what happened to fact checking?  Reading Harrop's piece made me think back to a song Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe penned for  the 1956 Broadway play My Fair Lady

In "Wouldn't It be Loverly" flower girl Eliza Doolittle sings about it her modest desires.  Here are mine:  
  • Wouldn't it be lovely if Harrop used her national platform to document how Waggoner is hardly the only West Virginian with his point of view.  
  • Wouldn't it be lovely if NationofChange truly supported positive action, rather than reprinting Harrop and several other pieces that decry how "profits trump people" while providing no prescription for change or even helping with the current crisis. 
  • Wouldn't it be lovely if  folks wrote Harrop (fharrop@gmail.com) and/or express their opinions on twitter: @FromaHarrop @creatorsonline @NSNCgroup @NationofChange.  

Harrop claims that the general response has been to "yell at the media and outsiders and the media" for covering the spill.  While I don't concur, I can see why someone would want to yell at her.  Lord knows, I'm tempted.  Instead, I'll quote, with his permission, the more eloquent reaction of  Appalachian Studies scholar Herbert Reid of Lexington, KY.

I don't think we want to fall into the insider/outsider frame that Froma Harrop employs in her op ed.  In writing about what is still happening in West Virginia, she either forgets or sets aside what has been going on for several years in a USA dominated by a corporate state and financial elite....Appalachians know more than enough about the pity of outsiders on which Harrop closes her piece.  But the frame itself is warped because Americans generally need a new politics that dares confront inequality, climate change, and national infrastructure problems that are worsening across USA.  Give most Appalachians and Americans the facts about these issues and they are not likely to opt for either a politics of deference or a politics of pity....Our economic elites know this which is why they prefer a politics of flim-flam. 

I will say Harrop IS right about one thing.  When it comes to "suffering environmental torture at the hands of polluting industries", there never seems to be a last straw.  Let me point you in the direction of one "outsider"  Californian Mimi Pickering who has spent her entire career as a filmmaker in Appalachia.  Yesterday she shared the following with a group those sharing stories about our region.

The recent chemical spill in Charleston prompted me to post "Chemical Valley" on Vimeo. Anne Lewis and I made this  Appalshop documentary about events in the Kanawha Valley in the wake of Union Carbide’s  Bhopal disaster in 1984 and a series of frightening chemical leaks that led citizens to demand the right to know and to be protected from toxic chemicals produced and stored there. The film also looks at the realities of environmental racism as residents of Institute describe the price they pay, and the few rewards they receive, from living next to this dangerous plant.
 you can watch the 60 min film in two parts -
There is definitely a film to be made of this water crisis that so clearly ties together the toxic chemical industry and the mining industry that destroys land, water and communities miles from the holding tanks. I hope someone will run with it
 In a January 13 statement U.S. Attorney for Southern West Virginia Booth Goodwin announced his office had opened a criminal investigation on the current spill and that 
companies whose facilities could affect the public water supply should be on notice: if you break federal environmental laws, you will be prosecuted. Our drinking water is not something you can take chances with, and this mess can never be allowed to happen again.       
I won't be holding my breath, but wouldn't it be lovely.


Sig Davidson Film explores Roanoke Jewish Experience

Photo by Rebecca Barnett, accompanied "Film Explores the Jewish Experience in Roanoke," Jeff Sturgeon, The Roanoke Times, January 13, 2014.  A cross-fade in the documentary "Sig Davidson: Reflections on Jewish Roanoke" shows on the screen at Mill Mountain Theater's Waldron Stage in Roanoke Sunday afternoon.  Below is the article.


Jews populated Roanoke from its earliest days, were responsible for many downtown retail businesses and founded some of the city’s oldest houses of worship, according to an elder in Roanoke’s Jewish community.

Sig Davidson gives color to the story of Jewish Roanoke in a personal narrative that was captured on film and turned into a documentary. The film is now out.

About 100 people gathered Sunday at Mill Mountain Theatre’s Waldron Stage for the film’s first local screening, after which Davidson, 91, spoke for several minutes. The film was produced by Amy Morris, a former news director at WDBJ and now assistant news director at a television station in Philadelphia. The film was co-produced by Debbie Kaplan of Roanoke and assisted by a host of other individuals and businesses.

Davidson’s decade-by-decade account, told to the camera from an armchair at home in the Brandon Oaks retirement community, is one man’s intimate story of a community’s birth and evolution. In the film, he sketches the arrival of the earliest Jews in Roanoke, who came for the most part from Germany though the Baltimore port of entry. There were 18 Jewish families in Roanoke in 1899, he said.

He charts the opening of Temple Emanuel in 1899 and Beth Israel Synagogue in about 1902. The two Jewish houses of worship are still in existence with 160 and 140 members today, respectively.

He touches on anti-Semitism that banned Jews from public pools and the Jewish response — to create a club for Jewish families with swimming, volleyball and fields near what is now Green Hill Park.

He says 101 Jewish men served in World War II.

He describes the Roanoke Jewish community’s tradition of raising and distributing money for the welfare of Jews here and beyond and for the benefit of the Roanoke community generally, furnishing support for mental health assistance, higher education, literacy and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

He details some of the community’s rich business history. While Roanoke had railroading before the turn of the last century, another hearty business sector early on was retail — numerous merchants of clothing, shoes and dry goods downtown were Jewish. For his part, Davidson went to college, fought in World War II and then took the reins of the family business, the men’s clothing retailer Davidsons, until he retired in 1985. Davidsons is nearly 104 years old.

“We’ve come a long way. We’ve still got a long way to go,” he said near the closing moments of the short film, titled “Sig Davidson: Reflections on Jewish Roanoke.”

After the viewing, Davidson took a chair before the audience and spoke some more. Though they banded together to cope with discrimination early on, Roanoke’s Jewish congregations, a Conservative Jewish congregation at Beth Israel Synagogue, and a Reform Jewish congregation at Temple Emanuel, have experienced some separation and rifts.

Davidson told the mostly Jewish audience present for the film that he’d like to see the two congregations socialize and work together more, “being part of one community, not two houses of worship.”

The audience clapped.

Davidson’s own Jewish background is diverse in that he had a Conservative Jewish father and a Reform Jewish mother. He said that for most of his life, he belonged to both congregations, though today he worships mostly at Temple Emanuel. It’s a legacy that accounts for the some of his stature as a man to whom Roanoke Jews have looked for leadership, vision and identity over the years.

“It’s a remarkable family and a remarkable man,” said Roanoke physician Donald Stefl at the event.

Robert Klein, a regional representative of the Jewish Federations of North America, said in honoring Davidson with a gift Sunday: “He’s living history.”

Rabbi Fabian Werbin, who heads Beth Israel Synagogue, acknowledged Davidson’s wish for more closeness between Jewish congregations. “We are in the process of trying to see if we can build bridges,” Werbin said.

Joe Gallo, president of the board of trustees at Temple Emanuel, said it’s hard for the two congregations to connect spiritually owing to their different views on the faith. Similarly, social events with food can be a challenge because some Roanoke Jews eat kosher and some don’t. That said, a small group is making efforts to “rebuild trust,” Gallo said.

Copies of the documentary, which includes numerous photos of the region, are available at Beth Israel and Temple Emanuel.

Photo by Rebecca Barnett.  L to R  Sherry Davidson (son Steve's wife), Sig and Janice Dinkins Davidson (Larry's wife), with Larry in foreground out of focus.  Barnett's photo below catches Sig talking to the audience after the film.


Dance Party with Old Man Kelly and the Street Sweepers at Fatso Ballroom

Glad the weather thawed out enough to attend the potluck and dance at Bill's.  I'm bringing a gallon (literally) of fruit salad made with Asian pears from Good  Food Good People and Texas Rio grapefruit (with a bit of banana, pineapple tidbits and apples thrown in--the latter also from GFGP.