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: 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 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.


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?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Where is this rock?
I know.
I took the picture.
It was in early April, 2003.
The Iraq War was in its invasion phase.
Johnny Mata, of Pecos, Texas,
Was still alive.
So was Lauri Pestiwah, of Tuba City, AZ.

I stood and looked at this rock.
It’s out in the high desert of New Mexico.
Not so far from Trinity, where the first A-Bomb was tested.
It is part of a library, 2500 images, 25,000?
On these smooth black rocks,
With snow capped mountains behind and to the east.
Beyond the mountains, Texas.

The US Government knows this rock too.
It’s in a National Monument, staffed with an old geezer from Connecticut.
Who comes out west to sit in a trailer and talk to folks,
Who loves this off-road spot, and smokes his cigarettes.
“I seen a rattler up there the other day,” he coughs.
“Watch yr step.”

I look at this picture on my computer.
I feel like I found this book.
I feel like I was there, in its unknown celebration.
Wood smoke. Meat. Moon. Stars.
Or maybe a message about the big city way to the Northwest:
And their beautiful women.

I give the old guy a dollar.
I’m too cheap to buy a souvenir.
The stuff doesn’t look too real either,
After my walk in the library on the hill.

The rock stays in my mind.
And I meanwhile reside in someone else’s
Ones and zeros, centralized
Datafied, reminders, like these rocks too.
Just in case.

--silk hope, 5/16/06

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Bye Bye Bunkey: These three "cowboys" won the Chatham County NC Commissioner's Democratic Primary Tuesday, May 2, against three conservative incumbents aligned with full-tilt growth at all costs interests. It might be a bit o the old tip of the iceburg deal, huh?

I haven’t been writing much lately because… I don’t really know. Picking up lots of stone, and playing a good bit of music, might just be excuses. The news keeps outrunning my outrage, yeah, that’s the ticket.
Anyway, the three white hats who won the primary election in Chatham County this past week could be the tip of a big iceberg. I’m sure lots of folks are thinking that at least: could it be? A return to reality at last?

Reality has a way. Over in what we call the Heart of the Triangle, they are running out of water. You folks in New Mexico, just laugh all you want. Yes, I’ve driven across, from here to out there, and yes, the trees pretty much stop at the Mississippi, and we over on the East Side don’t really have a clue about dry. Nonetheless, they are having water problems in Raleigh. The reason is not so much that there’s not been enough rain, although last year was a relatively dry year (again, relative to here, not to Out There). The reason is that there are way way more people living over in the Heart of the Triangle, which means that there are more taps on the supply, and also more rapid rain runoff which doesn’t get down to the local ground water table but instead rushes to the rivers and on down to the ocean, for the most part. People are worried. For us, it’s at the stage of What If We Can’t Warsh Our Cars??? The white hats in the photo beat out some commissioners who seemed to believe in All Growth, All the Time. Clear the land, build the houses, damn the water. That might not be a winning campaign any more.

Then I read this morning that not only did Mr. Colbert actually tell the mainstream media, in the presence of the President no less, that they were all pretty much living in a fantasy world, but just a week before that, Noam Chomsky had given a speech at West Point! Delightful. I hate summers, and pretty soon that Gulf Stream is gonna stop (because the Greenland Ice Sheet is gonna melt and all that fresh water will stop the convection current up in the North Atlantic that keeps the Stream moving) and it’s gonna get seriously chilly, just before it really warms up. That’s reality for you. It shows up.

Here’s another bit of reality, captured in a thought experiment. We’re having this horrible flap around here about the Duke lacrosse team and its alleged rape party, which might otherwise be called an alleged male bonding ritual, and whose other name if you recall your NYC tabloid history is an alleged “wilding.” If you’ve not been following this sordid story, the team has stuck together in team-like fashion (bonded as they are) from the very start of the inquiry, forcing DNA testing on all 46, errr, members, and the team has hired a veritable phalanx of lawyers who have been running WTVD’s newsroom with their daily pronouncements of innocence and district attorney malfeasance, to where you have to do things like this here thought experiment to catch a bit of reality in the exposed film you’ve hidden in the black box, the whiz of the truth showing up like a white blur as it joggles those silver nitrate molecules on its way past. Get ready. Now, ask yourself, What Would Coach K Do?

I guarandamntee you he would not have simply resigned his position and left town, as the Duke lacrosse coach has done. Not unless he was so completely embarrassed and so completely sure they were guilty of the allegations—which would be such a profound indictment of his failure as a coach that there was absolutely nothing more to say, nothing at all but undiluted shame and depression. Memo to the defense—a missing coach isn’t the same as missing DNA. When there’s DNA present, it’s information. When it’s absent, it means absolutely nothing. A missing coach though, that’s a little odd.

Slick’s good, but it has limits. Rumsfeld’s answer to all criticism, that in a democracy there will always be dissent, is as slick as Miles Davis’ “So What.” But it has a flaw, that smooth glide of the hands he performs at his pressers, and somebody really ought to call him on it. The defense is too big. “Are you saying, Mr. Secretary, that there is no point in considering the content of specific dissent, because after all, there’s always dissent? Is this how we got into the morass of Iraq? You used that defense against all your internal opposition, just waved your hands and, as they say, moved on?” Explains a lot at least. The best thing about the Colbert routine was that the Washington Press Corps sat there and said nothing. They couldn’t laugh because Coach Dubya might notice. He nailed them to the wall. Look who’s saying nothing in the Duke lacrosse story. Sometimes, like my man Wittgenstein said, what you cannot speak of you must pass over in silence.

I think we’re eventually going to get our press back. That’s reality again. It’s going to take some more time. It might take $10 a gallon gasoline, which will arrive about the same time as we drop bombs on Tehran, if that’s what we’re going to do. $10 gas will also bring with it a clearer view of the United States’ true place in the world of nations. It will not be fun. Another bit of reality was when Mike Nifong won the Durham DA primary on Tuesday. I read that some of the defense attorneys for the Duke lads voted for him. Reminds me of what a defense attorney told me one time.

He was part of a team defending some dudes from Maryland who’d come down south to gun down some competitors in the crack trade. It was a bloody mess, shotgun shells and splayed bodies all over an old frame house in the wrong part of town. Cops had the shooters cold right off, but the DA’s folks were messing the case up terrible in court, and my friend looked at his teammates as they went out to lunch one day and said, “Shit, we might get these guys off!” I’m just sayin’. Course it’s also true that maybe the defense folks voted for Mr. Nifong cause they figured he’d be an easier opponent. Guess we’ll just see about that. Eventually. If they can ever find a jury.

--Bill Hicks