The Weekend Politics Thread Grumbles Into the Mine Field

♪ When the whistle blows each morning
And I walk down in that cold, dark mine
I say a prayer to my dear Savior
Please let me see the sunshine one more time ♪

— You’d pray, too, if your job required pickaxing a coal seam1

Ask Uvular for what he gives thanks.2

“Prescription eyeglasses,” he will always reply without looking inside himself. He never intends to make a spectacle of himself for lacking moral, spiritual or communitarian vision. Rather, he knows his congenitally poor eyesight would, as recently as the turn of the 20th century, consign him to the role of village idiot.

Eliding details of multiple later diagnoses, your Weekend Politics Thread host spent his terrible twos walking into walls, grabbing his spoon on the third or subsequent try, and bringing objects close enough to his face to leave indentations on his ruddy cheeks and forehead. Not blind but functionally nonfunctional, who would have bothered to teach a young Uvie to read? Training him for a skilled craft would waste everyone’s time. Even manual labor made little sense for a person who, though he’d grow to considerable size, could not judge stairs or negotiate corners.

The point? The circumstances of one’s birth play a hugely determinant role in shaping a person’s future. Entering the world in 1969 CE instead of 1969 BCE allowed Uvular’s parents to fit him with a succession of increasingly refined visual aids, thereby fitting him for such employments as vomiting words all over the Politics Thread of a beloved though undersubscribed commenting site called The Avocado.

The gold-plated health insurance Uvular’s family earned through his father’s U.S. Navy career surely helped. As did a belated but dawning recognition across all strata of society that swathes of so-called “simplemindedness” signified nothing more than low visual acuity and/or dyslexia.

News out of Russia early on the morning after U.S. Thanksgiving put Uvular on the path of this pensiveness. A coal mine explosion near the town of Belovo, a couple hundred miles northwest of the Mongolian border, claimed 51 lives. Rescuers who entered the burning shaft count among the dead.3

“Methane was over the limit. My husband came home from work every day and said it wouldn’t end well. It was so over the limit that all the sensors were beeping,” [a miner’s widow] told reporters after visiting the facility on Friday.

She said there had been a fire in a part of the mine on the night of Nov. 14-15.

“No measures were taken. Here’s the result. Just 10 days have gone by and they’re all lying in there,” she said.

Other reporting has mine supervisors disabling methane sensors, which would make this mass casualty event similar to the barely prosecuted crime that resulted in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia. That whole infuriating timeline merits reading. Suffice to summarize, senior executives at UBB’s parent company conspired to disable safety systems. In bankruptcy, the parent company sold to another mining conglomerate for $7.1 billion.

Bodies make dollars, not sense. Which amounts to the only explanation for continuing to send people a mile or more underground to extract a combustible rock everyone knows will destroy life above ground in larger numbers than it ever claims in the pits where it resides.4

Hard rock mining for fossil fuels makes little sense in an era when open pit mining like this meets nearly all the world’s need for coal. Yes, an anthracite (steel coal) versus bituminous (electricity generation) distinction exists, but machines could take over most of the tasks currently performed by humans. As things stand, a lot of what miners inside mines presently do consists of servicing excavators. Pulling out a devices to replace a tread or switch a bit simply takes more time than companies want to spend.

Despite all the all-too-often realized risks and almost sure guarantee of late-in-life lung disease, people persist in taking underground coal mining jobs for two principal reasons. First, their parents dug coal. Second, and perhaps more importantly, few jobs in areas where coal mines operate pay as well.

Which brings the discussion full circle to the truth that that one’s circumstances of birth shape a person’s life course. So add having parents whose parents lived along the coast and pursued jobs in telecommunications, teaching, and law to the list of things for which Uvular will always express thanks.

What bees buzz in your bonnet this Saturday and Sunday?

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