July 30, 2008

Mining + Heavy Machinery = Fewer (Union) Workers

I have stumbled across a reason for strip mining, why companies thought it was a reasonable way to mine. Robert F. Kennedy Jr wrote an article on his father’s fight against strip mining, and it gives a bit of history on the situation. It starts with unions. In the sixties, there “were 114,000 unionized mine workers in West Virginia digging coal from tunnels and supporting the families and communities of Appalachia. Today, there are less than 11,000 miners in West Virginia taking the same amount of coal and only a fraction of them are unionized because the strip industry isn’t.” Strip mining requires heavy machinery that can do the work of many men. With more machines, fewer workers – union workers – were needed to mine the land. Non-union labor is cheaper, and having fewer workers to pay is cheaper, and companies certainly like a profit.

The initial reason for this practice to be thought up is explained as well: “The mining industry debuted strip mining in the 1940s in the Western States, to extract coal seams that lay a few feet below the surface and therefore inaccessible through traditional tunnel mining. To extract the wealth, all you needed was a bulldozer.” They were only thinking of immediate return, with no eye towards the future of the land.

Well, here’s the future:

Strip mining effects

The most shocking statistic I have read is from the same site. Strip miners set off 3,000 pounds of dynamite A DAY in West Virginia. Added up, it is the size of the Hiroshima bomb each week. The US Department of Energy estimates that 70,000 people died from the initial blast (Source). Buildings were destroyed; everything was destroyed. If that’s how much one bomb did, and to humans and buildings, imagine the effects of one of those each week on the trees and natural elements.

Photo credit: Kent Kessinger

July 23, 2008

Commodore, Our Brother's Blood!

At the Intrepid Classroom, a lot of the talk is centered around peace and social action and that sort of stuff. We started off talking about issues in relation to music, but I thought about my music library, and I couldn't think of any song that was really political or anything. Well, a couple days ago I saw my favorite musician live, and listening to his songs more actively in that setting, I realized that, oh!, that song is political...oh, that one too! So, I guess I need to listen more carefully, for starters.

One of Joshua James' songs, Our Brother's Blood, has a strong message about war.

"Apologies never sounded insincerer
Than when calling up a mother,
Her bloody child on the battle field of war,
While the pretty politicians
lay their babies down to sleep."

So often, war and other forms of destruction are talked about in terms of ethics, morality, and economics. That's all well and good, but we forget that people are involved. It's not just money or right and wrong, but people. Living, breathing humans who are affected. Countries may win or lose wars, but at the end of the day, there are parents who have to be told that their child is dead.

Another point that the verse makes is how removed the people are who actually make the decisions. Many politicians don't have children in danger.

"it's fine to sacrifice our brother's blood.
Cuz it ain’t my son that’s fighting in the war
Across the seas."

So often*, the people dying are poor or uneducated or both. The people who put them in the face of a missile are mostly rich and highly educated. Are the policymakers thinking about the actual people who get the work done? How could they be? How could anyone knowingly send a person to their certain death? Of course, in any war, people die. So, why do we start wars? I just don't know.

"Because one by one we will watch them die,
In shallow graves our soldiers lay."

From Joshua James' "Commodore," written from the point of view of a child during the Holocaust,

"Mama said the war will end
just as soon as it began.
But then why do we sit and hide?
Commodore oh why?"

Politicians don't always consider the actual will of the people. Rarely do everyday citizens say that they want war. A war would mean that Joey from down the street, who you grew up with, would be shipped off to somewhere you don't know anything about, or that black curtains would need to be put up on all of the windows so "the enemy" won't see you. Mama wants the war to end. But she can't do anything about it, because they all have to hide. And in the meantime, that's all she can tell her kid. What else is there to say?

Politicians are removed, and all they see is the economy and stock prices and their political alliances. Perhaps if they visited their constituencies a bit more, or met more everyday people, wars wouldn't make it through the legislature.


"I love humanity but I hate people." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

For me, this quote is flipped. I love people but I hate humanity. Humanity? The human race as a whole is pretty clumsy, and we start wars. Our collective self turns pretty shy, too, and likes to hide behind its own projected image. "These [insert race of people] dirty the earth, and so to save humanity, I will kill them all!" But perhaps that's too harsh. Perhaps Ms. Millay meant "the quality of being benevolent" (Wiktionary) - kindness. Well, I love kindness, too, and you know what? I see it in people. Yes, those people that you hate - they are all human, and they have humanity.

Why send kind people to die in a war? I just don't see the sense.


*Disclaimer: I know nothing for a fact. I'm saying what I perceive to be the case, or hear about, or interpret from the song.

Not-So-Clean Coal

Coal is dirty. Now, I’m assuming we all know that, as coal is black and leaves coal powder on your hand if you touch it. But what, then, is “clean coal”? I’m not about to rail on the dangers of coal and why we should just plain stop using it as an energy source, because we as a nation can’t just stop cold turkey.

My point: “More than 60 percent of all coal mined in the United States today, in fact, comes from strip mines.” This comes from an article in the Washington Post . “Millions of acres across 36 states have been dynamited, torn and churned into bits by strip mining in the last 150 years.” Is it because the coal companies couldn’t think of a better way to mine coal? Maybe. At least now there are other options.

Hopefully people will buy into alternate energy sources. My father’s house and synagogue are powered by wind energy, an option offered by PECO. My father reports that wind power (as opposed to whatever energy source is normal) costs him five extra dollars a month. That is it.

I cannot think of any real downfalls of wind energy. Taking the sleeper train from Philadelphia to Chicago, we passed through West Virginia. On top of many lovely mountains, we saw wind turbines. One argument I have heard against wind power is that the turbines mar the landscape. I have to disagree. I think they look nice. They’re tall and majestic. Also, I know they produce a fraction of the greenhouse gases of other energy sources, and that makes me like them even more.

I strongly encourage you to read the rest of the article. It is informative and scary. More later.

July 12, 2008

The Mountain State and Its Loss of Mountains

[[This is a repost from my school blog and the Change the World project. I plan on rerunning the entire series on mountaintop removal coal mining, and perhaps get motivated to continue. But, for now it's just recycled ;)]]

[[And please check out the snazzy widget to the right >> It would be lovely if you could add your name to the efforts to stop mountaintop removal mining!]]

Coal is already generating protestors because it is nonrenewable, but what not many people know is how coal is mined. Strip mining, a type of surface mining, is one method coal companies use to extract coal from the land. Strip mining is basically razing the vegetation in an area, then drilling holes and blowing up the ground, and then actually mining the coal, as described by Thinkquest . At times, whole mountaintops are simply blown off to reach the coal. Why? Well, according to iLovemountains.org , “Coal companies in Appalachia are increasingly using this method because it allows for almost complete recovery of coal seams while reducing the number of workers required to a fraction of what conventional methods require.” Verifying that, Appalachian Voices says, “although coal production rose 32 percent between 1987 and 1997, mining jobs dropped by 29 percent over the same period.” So, it’s cheaper. Well, coal mining companies may lose a bit of money, but everyone loses the oxygen those trees produced, and simply the beautiful views and landscapes they provided. Over 450 mountains have been destroyed in Appalachia so far, and there are myriad more surface mining permits granted for the area.

There are laws in place to regulate strip mining, but they are not well enforced. “While reclamation efforts such as stabilization and revegetation are required for mountaintop removal sites, in practice, state agencies that regulate mining are generous with granting waivers to coal companies. Most sites receive little more than a spraying of exotic grass seed” says ilovemountains.org. Mountains are not just grass. What about the forests that used to thrive? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither do forests grow back in a day, especially not hardwoods. According to PBS , “300,000 acres of hardwood forest in West Virginia have been destroyed by mountaintop removal mining.” West Virginia is the Mountain State, and hopefully it stays that way. I also strongly encourage you to go here and see your connection to this disastrous practice.

July 6, 2008

Summer Reading List 2008

From Practical Theory, here we have the Reading List for summer 2008! You might notice that it’s quite short. Fear not, English teachers! I’m more of a wanderer of library shelves than a planner. However, here’s what I know I’ll be reading.

However, perhaps it’s because of my unstructured nature that I haven’t really found my way to the classics and just plain really good adult books. I’ll try to steer myself away from all of the crappy teen fiction! Suggestions are much loved!

The Must Reads

The Must Finish

The Rereads

The Hope-To Get-To

What are you reading,


And anyone else who feels like sharing :)

July 1, 2008

The Magnets On My Fridge

We're getting a new fridge tomorrow. The most daunting task: removing all of my magnets. I collect them. I have a lot. You could not see the actual color of the fridge. While removing all of them, we decided it was the perfect time to get an accurate count of exactly how many I had.

If friends go on a trip, they'll bring me back a magnet. I try to get a magnet from everywhere I go. I know where pretty much all of my magnets came, who they're from, and roughly when I got them. I also knew where they were on the fridge.

So, here goes: [[Update: our friends gave us one more magnet in honor of the Great Counting Endeavor]]


· Hannah: 368

o Geographic - 227

§ Europe (47)
· Hungary: 5
· Poland: 1
· Czech Republic: 5
· Spain: 5
· Russia: 4
· France: 1
· Scotland: 2
· Greece: 2
· England: 22
§ Africa (1)
· Tanzania: 1
§ Central America (6)
· Cayman Islands: 3
· Costa Rica: 2
· Panama: 1
§ South America (1)
· Colombia: 1
§ North America (172)
· Mexico: 1
· Canada: 1
· United States: 170

o New England (18)

§ Maine: 11

§ Vermont: 4

§ Massachusetts: 2

§ Rhode Island: 1

o Mid-Atlantic (52)

§ New York: 9

§ New Jersey: 9

§ Pennsylvania: 28

· Philadelphia: 19

· Other: 9

§ Maryland: 1

§ Washington, DC: 4

§ Virginia: 2

o South-East (14)

§ North Carolina: 1

§ South Carolina: 1

§ Florida: 10

o South (2)

§ Arkansas: 1

§ Texas: 1

o Midwest (32)

§ Ohio: 2

§ Michigan: 2

§ Illinois: 14

§ Missouri: 12

§ Iowa: 2

o West (50)

§ South Dakota: 7

§ Wyoming: 4

§ Idaho: 2

§ Utah: 4

§ Colorado: 15

§ New Mexico: 2

§ Four Corners: 1

§ California: 15

o Hawaii (1)

o Non-Geographic – 141

§ Art (11)
§ Broadway (11)
§ Events (4)
§ Organizations (21)
§ Government (6)
§ Businesses (29)
§ Animals (19)
§ Characters (6)
§ Humor (3)
§ Inspiration (5)
§ Handmade (7)
§ Hannah (4)
§ Other (15)

· David: 16

o Geographic – 4

o Events – 4

o Art – 1

o Organizations – 2

o Government – 2

o Humor – 1

o Inspiration – 1

o Notepad – 1

· Utility: 20

o Clips – 3

o Paper-holder-uppers – 16

o Bottle opener - 1