Monthly Archives: April 2008

Peter King: Let’s terrorize Upstate New York

U.S. Representative Peter King of Long Island is pushing a new meme: Native Americans in Upstate New York are in cahoots with radical Islamic terrorists and are using untaxed smuggled cigarettes to fund their plots. As reported in the Buffalo News, the evidence for this conclusion from King’s House H#^$&*#land Security Committee “study” is thin. In a slim fifteen pages of innuendo, the report relies on a single incident from five years ago involving two Seneca women. (You can read the report for yourself courtesy of Fox “Fair and Balanced” News.)

First, even if you believe that Indian nations should pay taxes on their cigarette sales and that Albany is too wimpy to send in the state troopers, this report is not good cover for the state to use. Non-Indian New Yorkers from Buffalo to Plattsburgh are already pissed off enough with the way the federal government has been throwing its weight around trying to impose overblown border security measures that stand to seriously impact the Upstate economy — not to mention irritating schemes like proposing to turn Lake Ontario into a free-fire target practice range for the Coast Guard. Meanwhile, things regarding domestic security that really should be examined are ignored — such as security at the ports that load boxcars onto the shoddy CSX tracks that seem to produce a major derailment and/or explosion once or twice a year. (Considering the lousy infrastructure across Upstate, any terrorist devices would probably detonate by accident long before they ever got a chance to obliterate New York City.)

Second — whatever your views on Indian sovereignty, taxation, crime on reservations, or smoking — any Upstater should be suspicious when they and their region are turned into “examples” for political gain in the name of “anti-terrorism.” Being smaller and weaker than other parts of the nation, we’re easier targets for this dangerous kind of sophistry (the very sort that got us into Iraq for no good reason). Let the government paint the Haudenosaunee thus, in the absence of any compelling evidence, and it’s only a matter of time before other disadvantaged and voiceless residents of this region find themselves being smeared in the same way. The color of your skin, in the end, might not protect you. The “terrorization” of any people living in our region should not go unquestioned… particularly not when much more compelling threats are going unaddressed.

Rain as an absolute good

It rained on Saturday evening, and then again all day on Monday.

Was anyone upset?

I wonder if mainstream American society will ever get to the point where, no matter what we have planned outdoors for the day, a rainy day is first and foremost seen as something to be grateful for. Thoughts of adding to our water store and to health of the land instinctively coming to mind first, and disappointment about wrecked personal plans only coming second. Oh, good. It’s raining.

Giving props their props

This is the best commentary I’ve read on the whole “small town America” brouhaha lately…

    …Struggling towns are props, not issues. One side rushes to drape themselves in flags, guns and the kind of Norman Rockwell hagiography that is far removed from the 2008 reality of meth labs and foreclosure frontiers. The other side says religion is for fools, and if only they had a new Starbucks in town, some of those Bible-banging gun nuts could learn to love Sundays with Norah Jones and a Scrabble game.

The comments are interesting too and well worth a read.

The column was written before the Pennsylvania primary. That circus is now moving on to Kentucky and West Virginia. I recently watched a true American classic, Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County USA, and I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t seen it before. I’d guess that there are maybe two kinds of viewers for this film. You’re either going to identify more or less viscerally with the various people struggling in this story (be it the organizers from the big city, the miners, the miners’ wives, their mothers, or the lone black miner in the film); or you’re going to think it’s a pretty good “slice of life” about mountain folks who make up songs about everything.

I wanted to watch it because my great-grandfather was a coal miner in Luzerne County, Pa. (His Irish emigrant father, also a miner, must have worked during the reign of the famous Molly Maguires.) He died before I was born, so I never heard any stories about that kind of life. I’m also up for anything about labor union history, since I did grow up with some of that – although nothing like what’s depicted in this film, of course. (I don’t even think my father ever went out on strike.)

The movie covers the period from about 1968 to 1974, dealing with both national and local mine union politics. I guess I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew; like how utterly backward the mining industry was when every other industry had been organized. I didn’t know about the murder of Joseph Yablonski and I think it was at that point my mouth dropped open. It was like watching the 1920s or ’30s happening at a time when I was alive. Not to mention the standard of living of the miners.

If this movie is a “slice of life,” it is a slice straight down into the American soul. There isn’t a single issue in the news today that doesn’t have roots on display in the film. Kopple set out to make a movie about the Yablonski murders but wound up focusing on the lonely and dangerous struggle of one small group of miners (very small – the adage “20% of the people do 80% of the work” rings true here, even among the miners themselves).

It’s also a movie about the miners’ wives, who are the surprising core of the rebellion, even putting themselves in the line of fire in tense armed standoffs where many of their husbands won’t go. They’re also the first to speak of the possibility of armed resistance. And then there’s Barbara Kopple herself, present only as a disembodied voice in one scene where she outmaneuvers a mining company heavy in a way that probably would never be possible today. (A filmmaker like her today would never have been granted access to a picket line by the authorities — any number of anti-terrorist h%^#$&land security laws would have been her undoing.)

The movie has a surprising end that sort of blew my mind. It doesn’t end at the triumph of the Kentucky miners, but with a sober 15-minute epilogue dealing with the erosion of the very rights that the miners had just fought and died to secure. There are scenes of workers lined up to vote at bigger, cleaner mining facilities elsewhere, with somewhat harsher Northeastern accents (Pennsylvania maybe?), talking about contracts and grievance processes. And a couple of guys in work clothes with their lunchboxes standing on line, muttering to their friends about the vote and the choices before them: “This is bullshit…”

And this is where the distant past catches up with my present — or at least, my own past, because these guys could have been my father and his friends, talking about the kind of issues that I grew up hearing about. (Issues that Kopple would return to in her far less uplifting “sequel,” American Dream).

The links to the past are still very strong even generations removed. Maybe people can see amazing films like Harlan County USA and understand why there is a hero-shaped void in the lives of some Americans that just isn’t quite filled by any of the current choices. And in today’s non-industrial workplaces, we are steadily losing so much of what their families fought for — even as pundits proclaim these voters mystifying, or easily explainable, or expendable, or just extinct. A waste.


A quick word on WordPress themes and such… I am pretty fond of the blog layout I had been using here for the last 8 or 9 months or so (called “Silhouette,” by Brian Gardner, designer of the famous “Revolution” WordPress theme). I found it amazingly functional. It does, however, have a couple of drawbacks (not much room for a header graphic, for example, which is something I like; and some technical things having to do with the way posts are displayed). Despite the thousands of brilliant designer minds coming up with “new” designs every week, the fact is that screen “real estate” is terribly limited, which means there are really very few basic approaches to blog layouts. You can have some of the elements you want, but never all of them at the same time. The quest for the perfect WordPress theme goes on forever. That said, “Silhouette” is such a great layout (in my opinion), that it’s likely I’ll return to it once I figure out how to make improvements. Sometimes, using a new design can help you approach an old one in a new way.

Not only screen real estate, but reader time is very limited — one typically has seconds to catch someone’s eyeball before they move on — and especially at this time of year. This current layout is a modification of a WordPress theme called “Nature’s Highlight” and had some of the things I was looking for, and maybe a less busy approach as well. Consider it my small offering to any readers who are feeling a bit overwhelmed by life and busy schedules at the moment (aren’t we all…)

I know a lot of people come here just for the New York State links — so although they had to be moved off the main page to their own turf, there’s a new feature, a link randomizer, on the right. I hope that will help people discover some links they may not have noticed before.