Two things, light years apart: The first is the "disaster"
in the West Virginia coal mine.This was a disaster as avoidable as the iceberg that sliced open the
Titanic.It is really depressing
to see the coverage of this sort of event.It is more or less the crocodiles shedding fake tears,
insofar as all the large reptiles who are supposed to look out for workers and
worker safety have turned their tails and chomped on whatever easy pickins
thrown their way by energy lobbyists, etc.
It's a national disgrace and harkens back to the era when it
was common knowledge that if you build a bridge (say, the Brooklyn Bridge)
you're going to lose a dozen men or so; same with building skyscrapers, other
dangerous forms of construction and manual labor.
The guy who runs Massey Energy Coal, Don Blankenship, is a
creature that even Edward G. Robinson, a master of evil characters, would have
had a hard time making as villainous as Blankenship appears.Blankenship is the man who bought
himself a judge in order to get a judgment reversed. That case was so egregious
it resulted in a Supreme Court decision. But the business-friendly Roberts
Court barely slapped the parties' wrists, saying it would be best for judges to
recuse themselves from cases where their campaigns have been bankrolled by
Blankenship, in his defense, said that the trouble is that
politicians, i.e., judges, don't stay bought, once bought.His claim to fame around West Virginia
is that he's a "straight talker."So 29 miners have to die in order for anyone to notice that miners have
more or less been abandoned by one and all.
Unlike most people who write about this particular disaster,
I've been down in a West Virginia coal mine.Of course, it was a union mine, not the death trap sort of
the 19th century outfit Blankenship was running near Comfort, West Virginia,
papered over with endless feckless safety violations.I worked construction and did manual labor jobs in my
twenties, but most of that didn't hold a candle to what actual coal miners did
it was made abundantly clear that day in the mine, riding in a "mantrip," a
contraption as ugly as its name, utilitarian at best, hauling its human cargo
practically prostrate to get through the low tunnels.At the seam a shearer (something out of the Terminator
movies) gnaws coal at the long wall.A veritable storm of coal dust. Its particular operator that day had a
mound of chew in his cheek as big as a tennis ball, and that is no exaggeration.Our small group had a safety lecture
before going down, and when the lamp which was lit to detect methane flickered
out, and I mentioned that fact, the miner-guide just slapped it and said it
happened all the time.I still
have a roofing bolt that helps hold the ceiling together as a keepsake.The ceiling, of course, is also
coal.And in the beam of light
attached to my hard hat you could see the fossilized imprint of leaves. Clawed
coal shines. The miners have ancient garlands draped over their heads.
Union mines have safety officers, but, unlike the much
better British coal mines, they are not in a separate union, so they too have
conflicts of interest vis-a-vis production.British coal mines may be safer, but the coal mining
industry there, crushed by Margaret Thatcher in the '80s, is now a dwarf
compared to its former super nova self.
Like all American unions, the coal mining union has lost
clout over the years.Union
national leaders haven't been able to stem the tide of privatization of all
their industries.The former head
of the coal miners, Rich Trumka, now president of the AFL-CIO, knows a lot
about giving and taking money for influence.None of these actors are lily white.Corruption is darker than coal
dust.I wish it were so, as Don
Blankenship contends, that politicians don't stay bought.
And as far from a West Virginia coal mine as you can get,
the town of South Hadley, Massachusetts, there's been only one death, not 29,
but this death, too, has gotten a lot of coverage.The suicide of a young Irish girl brought on, it's
contended, by the mean girls of South Hadley High.One curious thing that hasn't been mentioned in any of the
coverage I've seen, or read, is the fact that South Hadley, hitherto in recent
history, is famous for one thing: Its well-known women's college, one of the
Seven Sisters, Mount Holyoke.The
absence of that fact may be the town/gown problem, but, since I once taught at
Mount Holyoke, I do think the subject of how young women act in school situations
would be something that students and administrators might try to influence
outside their gates.But, like
government officials, when it comes to public calamities, most everyone in
positions of authority and power prefers not to.