1/05/2006

another mining tragedy in the can

A friend of mine from Indiana wanted to know my thoughts on the mining tragedy in West Virginia that's been all over the news.

First off, I should say I've been without a TV since mid-October, when I moved to my new place. It's not a matter of principle, it's just priorities. A TV was not at the top of the list of necessities when I moved in. I didn't have anything of my own when I left the old place, not even a bed. So that was first on my list, then a desk and chair, lamps, and so on. I had my trusty old laptop, and there was a strong wifi signal in the building, so I figured the web would be enough. But it's really not.

I mean, my experience of the mining tragedy is limited to variations on the same wire story that have appeared in the major papers, with two or three pictures of the grieving families. When I went to lunch with Itchy yesterday, to a pub in the Savine Hill (which Itchy calls Stab-n-kill) neighborhood here in Dot, I realized what I'd been missing. It was another media blitz along the lines of the Terri Schiavo thing. And if you didn't have a TV it was easy to ignore it all. Print media just doesn't have the same capacity to envelop and overwhelm.

Katrina would have been much more manageable, as far as the administration was concerned, if it hadn't been beamed live into hundreds of millions of homes. It was an event far away that felt intimate. Our emotions would not have been stirred so if we had been reading about events a day later in the papers. Katrina was fairly unfiltered as it unfolded. Likewise 9/11.

Seeing the way people react in real time is fundamentally different from reading about the reaction in the paper, or on the internet. So, to be honest, I didn't get it. I mean, about the mining tragedy. It's an unfortunate story I read in the paper.

There was another incident back in '02 that some of you may recall. The Quecreek incident had a different outcome, the one that so many were expecting in this one. But ultimately, the outcome of that media orgy was tragedy, too, as you can see from this riveting report on its messy aftermath.

Once the human interest aspect of the story fades, nothing much changes. As the Times reported in today's lead op-ed, "the Sago mine, with more than 270 safety citations in the last two years, is the latest example of how workers' risks are balanced against company profits in an industry with pervasive political clout and patronage inroads in government regulatory agencies. Many of the Sago citations were serious enough to potentially set off accidental explosions and shaft collapses, and more than a dozen involved violations that mine operators knew about but failed to correct, according to government records.

"Sadly, in the way mines are often run, the $24,000 in fines paid by the Sago managers last year constituted little more than the cost of doing business. In the Appalachian routine, miners balking at risky conditions down below can quickly forfeit their livelihood if they have no union protection."

For the media, it's just another mining tragedy in the can. For us, it's an unfortunate form of entertainment. It should be a political outrage, but politics does not favor the powerless.

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