Thursday, May 25, 2006

Data Mines and Rock Quarries



ISP-Minerals Mining and Manufacturing Facility in Blue Ridge Summit, PA (photo by Bill Hicks, 6/23/06). Note the dust cloud that's floating down the mountain into the little residential community where I'm standing. I was coughing for the next 12 hours--it felt like I'd been sawing bricks without a dust mask--and I couldn't see or smell the dust around me. The facility itself must be at least a half mile away.

Here’s a pretty clear analysis of what the NSA/phone records flap is really about: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060511-6813 Briefly, although keeping a data base of nearly every domestic phone call in the United States is not strictly speaking “spying” on me and you, in fact it is a simple thing to connect actual phone numbers with actual people. That means that it’s not only possible but even likely that at this moment, gentle reader, there is an active dossier in some government office on you—your interests, your beliefs, your values, or economic status—and that much of this information can be gleaned from your various phone and email correspondences and correspondents. We’re already quite aware of this ability to describe the specific customer when it relates to each of us. Who hasn’t gone on line to Amazon.com and been immediately welcomed by first name, and informed of whatever new products might be available at Amazon since our last visit?

With Amazon, this is fairly innocuous, and perhaps even helpful. I don’t know that I’ve bought a CD that Amazon’s Father Data has recommended, but I will admit that indeed several of the recommendations hit the spot. Translate this to the political arena, however, and surely even the most conservative among us will not be so sanguine (at least if you’re willing to be honest with yourself). Here’s a scenario. Citizen A gives a donation to, oh, to make it simple, John Conyers, Democratic Congressman from Detroit. Citizen R, who believes that President Bush is the only thing standing between his family and Terrorist Attack, and who works for Mr. Bush, believes that in the world of post 9/11 people with the politics of a John Conyers are therefore a threat to his personal safety. NSA informs Citizen R of Citizen A’s contribution to John Conyers.

What’s he gonna do, this Mr. Rove? And what, Mr. Conservative “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about,” if the power positions of Citizen A and Citizen R are reversed, and it’s you who has sent some hard earned dinero to Reverend Dobson, and Hillary is about to snip off your nutters for you. Actually, the real fascists over on the right, like Ann Coulter, are projecting this fear even as we speak. “Elect the Democrats in November,” she suggests, “and Hillary will have you hunkered down in Guantanamo.” On Monday, Mr. Bush will speak to the nation about the looming brown menace from the south. Playing to the base, anyone? Hard to be scared of a nanny or a sheetrocker or a chicken plucker. Mention a living wage and look around. The scared faces are not brown, they’re wearing nice suits and sitting behind a gold-plated door on the 31st floor.

How dumb do we have to be, people?

Here in Chatham County we have been subject to an insidious political strategy aimed at dividing the county west and east. In this week’s Chatham News, some guy from Sanford (which isn’t even in Chatham County last I looked) is lobbing “carpetbagger” bombs at the folks who just elected the new slate of hopefully more long-term-planning friendly commissioners and ousted the growth at any cost bunch. Out here in west Chatham, Siler’s commissioners are about to ok a big open pit mining operation right next to a developing winery, on the grounds that it brings jobs. Never mind that it will probably destroy the winery (a generational investment) and the little town of Mount Vernon Springs which heretofore has been famous for it’s water. Looked at long term, which industry would you rather have in your back yard? Which industry is better for the county. Ain’t none of those commissioners gonna work in that mine, or have his or her kids work there either, unless it’s in the air conditioned office trailer.

I guess we’ll argue that point out the hard way, as the winery folks have had to hire lawyers. But do we have to toss all these fear mongering tactics into the discussion. There are more “carpetbaggers” in Chatham precisely because the big growth boys sold them big developments and big houses. Now they want winerys and not open-pit mineries. Seems like an improvement to me. It would be a systematic improvement in politics both local and large if we could manage to dispense with projection and fear-mongering. All of us actually have a lot in common, including the folks who speak Spanish and the folks who speak New Jersey.

UPDATE

There’s apparently a lot of good ole boy stuff going on in the Horizon Cellars Winery deal. Picture this: you get to the winery by driving across Norfolk & Southern railroad tracks, and then across a very short bridge that resides in the N&S right-of-way. The owner of Horizon contacted N&S a month or so ago to offer to upgrade that little bridge, at his own expense. N&S apparently views the potential ISP Minerals account as a boon to its Chatham County business. When the N&S rep discovered that Horizon isn’t happy with the quarry being located right on its property line, he told Horizon that N&S was going to close the access across its tracks in 30 days. It wasn’t an idle threat either. An official posting appears at the crossing even as we speak. Its 19 days and counting at this writing before the sole access to the property is closed. I wrote Norfolk & Southern asking for a comment about this. This is their complete response:

Mr. Hicks:

This is essentially a liability issue. The bridge in question was originally put there by the owner of some adjoining vacant timberland with the intent of providing access to a few homes and the timberland on the other side of the ditch from the railroad. It is our understanding the original bridge was damaged by a fire truck going to a fire at one of the houses some years ago. A crossing agreement was never made with the railroad to use the crossing. Such an agreement is customary when a private crossing is put in; it grants the property owner access across the right-of-way in return for liability protection for the railroad commensurate with the level of potential liability associated with the use of the property. If the quarry goes in, a new crossing will be put in, with a private crossing agreement with the customer, that can provide access across the tracks to the quarry as well as to the residents, the winery and the owners of the timberland. Regardless of whether the quarry is permitted by local officials to operate, the residents, the winery and the owners of the timberland will have to enter into a private crossing agreement with Norfolk Southern to protect our liability if they wish to use the existing crossing. The owners of the timberland have expressed an interest in developing the timberland for housing, which would change the use of the land and create additional liability for Norfolk Southern. The four existing homes have not been a problem and do not pose a future problem. We stated such to Siler City's mayor and the council members at a public hearing on May 8 and will ensure the residents have continued access with minimal disruption. The commercial activity and other planned expansion of the crossing's original use has created the liability issue and gives us great concern at this time.

As background, Norfolk Southern, along with every other railroad in the country, places a high priority on closing crossings in the interest of improving public safety. We work with municipalities to negotiate public crossing closings, and we close private crossings whenever practical. Given that all property owners in question would still have access with a new crossing, we consider it a practical matter to close this crossing, and absent a crossing agreement, we feel it necessary to do so.

Robin C. Chapman
Manager Public Relations
Norfolk Southern Corporation

The law is a universe, as well as, on occasion, “a ass.” I guess the entomology of “railroaded” becomes clear. I always thought it was just a vague metaphor about power.

--Bill Hicks

See also:
Part 2 of this topic: Economic Secession (Update 2)
Part 3 of this topic: Yes Men
From the Chatham Journal Weekly: Will ISP Minerals be a good neighbor?

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