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Sun Mar 15, 2015 at 02:00 PM PDT

How regulation came to be: Monongah

by dsteffen

The United States at the dawn of the twentieth century was a nation transformed.  The rural, agrarian nation of Jefferson's time and Jefferson's vision had embarked on a Hamiltonian evolution, the magnitude of which none of the founders could possibly have envisioned.  The network of railroads begun scarcely three-quarters of a century before now stretched ocean to ocean and Gulf to Canadian border.  Giant steamships criss-crossed the oceans, hauling cargo and passengers, and especially, immigrants.  The steel skeletons of skyscrapers were suddenly thrust above the streets of Chicago and New York and would soon be rising in nearly every city of significant size.  Steel bridges carried traffic over rivers, spanning unsupported over distances unimaginable a few decades before,  Steam and electricity had replaced the waterwheel as a source of power at factories, freeing the nation's manufacturing industries to flee beyond their once river-bound constraints.  Electric lights illuminated businesses and homes alike.  And all this transformation was fueled by one particular commodity.  

In the decade that closed the old century and opened the new – 1895 to 1905 – railroads, steamships, and the steel industry produced a nearly insatiable appetite for coal.  Also, during that decade, more coal was mined in the United States than had been mined throughout its history.  Coal was not only the sole source of power for railroads and steamships, it was the sole source of fuel for the production of electricity, the use of which was increasing dramatically each year. Electricity was also critical to the production of iron and steel for the building of the cities of Chicago, Milwaukee, and the other cities along the Great Lakes.  Coal was King.
Davitt McAteer, Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster
As the coal industry rushed to satisfy the seemingly insatiable demand for its product, the stage was set for the worst coal mine disaster in U.S. history.
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When the Who (part of them, anyway) play the Dunkin'€™ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island this coming Tuesday, February 26, 2013, promoters will be honoring tickets from a previous Who concert that was cancelled -- 33 years ago.  The original concert in 1979 was cancelled by then-Mayor Buddy Cianci following a crowd crush incident at a concert in Cincinnati, Ohio days before that claimed eleven lives and injured dozens.  Tuesday's concert is, in a way, an echo of a long-ago event.  But the echoes of that event are far more pervasive than most people realize.

Following is a repost of diary originally written in 2010

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There’s a factoid I once saw…  Before I go too far, though, perhaps I should explain ‘factoids’ for the younger crowd.  In the days before computer technology and publishing software made it possible to fit content ever so perfectly into whatever space is available, newspaper and magazine layout people frequently found themselves with awkward little blank spaces scattered here and there throughout their publications.  To fill those voids, a whole industry developed trafficking in short little blocks of text of varying lengths that could be inserted to fill those voids -- poetry, old sayings, household tips, but foremost among them 'factoids', short little snippets of knowledge.  I always enjoyed factoids, learned more than a little from them, and miss them now that they’re gone -- although one had to be careful, because factoids, despite the name, could not always be counted on to actually be – you know – factual.  Urban legends and apocryphal stories had a way of worming their way in, and such was almost certainly the case with the one I saw forty or so years ago.  I have not since found anything remotely approaching validation of that little tidbit which said something to the effect that, “In 1901 there were only two automobiles in the state of Ohio and they collided with each other.”

However, regardless of whether two lone cars in Ohio actually collided with each other in 1901 or not, it is undeniable that not long after the automobile “craze” took hold, cars did begin colliding with each other, and anything else that got in the way, much to the detriment of drivers, riders, and pedestrians.

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Sadly, it’s not history from March 25, 1911:

Witnesses said the workers, mostly women, ran for safety as the fire engulfed the plant but were unable to get through narrow exits.

"Many jumped out from the windows and were injured, or died on the spot," Milon, a resident, said.

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I saw G__ on a number of occasions, though I never formally met him face to face.  He frequently drove by our house when he escaped the Chicago area, where he lived most of the time, for his “retreat” in the country, the house on the family farm a mile south of us that he inherited from his parents.  G__ was a prosperous second-cousin of my mother’s, but we didn’t really associate with him.  My grandmother had no use for him, though I didn’t learn that until after her passing.  In her estimation, I understand, he was little better than a common hoodlum.  

Before he retired, G__ worked for what was then one of the largest conglomerates in the food industry -- until one of the most notorious private equity firms of the heyday of corporate raiding swooped in, cannibalized the company, and in the space of a few months made a Fortune 500 corporation –- poof! – disappear.  G__ had retired long before the company met that ignominious end, though.  A some point in his career, his job, at least according to family scuttlebutt, had been to travel around South America bribing government officials and greasing the wheels on behalf of his employer, and though, as it turns out, there was nothing illegal in doing that as far as the United States was concerned -- or even in the laws of some of the countries where he practiced his craft – it was more than adequate to offend my grandmother’s Baptist moral sensibilities.  Anyone who wanted to remain in her good graces did not associate with G__’s kind!

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I never met Clifford.  No one in my family alive during my lifetime ever did, save for my grandmother.  But if she remembered him, if she harbored any dim, shadowy two-year-old's memories of Clifford, she never said, so far as I know.  I never thought to ask her, back then, and now she's been gone for almost thirty years.
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This is a repost of a diary I wrote in 2010.  Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the Buffalo Creek, West Virginia dam collapse that killed 125 people, many children, on a rainy Saturday morning in 1972.  The story begins inside..

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I diaried a few weeks ago about the LTE exchange I had with the Illinois Policy Institute, one of thirty-some state-level, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-affiliated organizations pushing the right wing's anti-tax, pro-austerity, pro-business, pro-wealthy, anti-public servant, anti-worker agenda.  My 30-day LTE lock-out ended February 1st, and I fired off a response to the letter from IPI executive vice-president Kristina Rasmussen published January 17th.  It took a while, but the letter was finally published Thursday.  Since then, though, I've undergone an unexpected transformation!  I tell all about it inside.

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Tue Jan 17, 2012 at 06:25 PM PST

Oh, it's on!

by dsteffen

Late in December, the daily newspaper that lands on my doorstep each morning, the Bloomington (IL) Pantagraph ran an editorial highlighting a policy paper by the Illinois Policy Institute titled Still Leaving Illinois: An Exodus of People and Money.  The IPI’s solutions to Illinois’ perceived problems, echoed in the editorial, sounded boringly familiar – repeal the just-enacted income tax hike, “reform” state employee pensions, create a more business-friendly climate, and all the rest of the conservative wish list.  The editorial has now rolled into the paper’s pay-to-view archive, so I can’t link to it, but I decided to use my once-every-30-days LTE allotment to respond.  But first things first.  What is the Illinois Policy Institute, anyway?

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Fri Dec 23, 2011 at 08:26 PM PST


by dsteffen

Okay, I admit I am not the most observant person walking the planet.  I'm probably not far removed from the absent-minded-professor -- sans the "professor" part in both credentials and education -- who meets his demise falling down an open manhole (though a another couple inches around the middle should protect me from that hazard).  I tend to miss things.  Sometimes big things.

Consequently, I don't know how long it's been like this.  Maybe it just started.  Maybe it's been this way for days.  Weeks.  But last night as I was preparing to hang it up and head to bed, I decided to take a quick tour of teh Kos.  As I was skimming the front page and browsing the diaries in Community Spotlight, it struck me that something was..............odd.  There was something..........different.  Had kos unexpectedly rolled out a site redesign or something?  And as I looked over the page, the obvious suddenly reached out and smacked me up-side the head.

Where are my ads?

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Sun Dec 04, 2011 at 02:00 PM PST

How regulation came to be: Bhopal

by dsteffen

When Mrs. d and I bought our first house in the late seventies, a run down farmhouse out in the country about a mile east of town, it seemed as if we had scarcely signed on the dotted line when it was announced that a major multi-national corporation would be building an agricultural chemical plant in our little town.  The location for the new facility, it turned out, would be barely a half-mile northwest of our humble abode.

Living downwind of a chemical plant was not something we relished.  We liked our old Victorian-style farmhouse and had sunk a lot of sweat into making the ramshackle domicile livable again after years of neglect.  We had little inclination to move, but even if we had, an unprecedented collapse in housing prices in the early eighties put us -- in terminology coined for the occasion -- "underwater" on our mortgage and effectively stuck there, chemical plant or no chemical plant.  Undesirable though that may have been, it also happened that something else occurred not long after that would ultimately make our situation, though certainly not ideal, at least a little safer than it had been.

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Parklands foundation is a private, non-profit organization that has protected and preserved over 3200 acres of woodland along the Mackinaw River through Tazwell, Woodford, and McLean counties in central Illinois.  According to its website,

The mission of the ParkLands Foundation is to preserve, protect and ecologically restore historic natural lands in the middle and upper Mackinaw Valley watershed. These lands are dedicated primarily for preserving the biological diversity of native plans and wildlife, and secondarily for passive public recreation, environmental educational and scientific research.
Parklands Foundation

The Parklands holding I've frequented most, about ten miles from my home, is its largest holding, the Merwin nature preserve, acquired as nine individual tracts totaling about 725 acres [Map (pdf)].  The character of parts of the preserve have changed since I first started coming here twenty-five years ago.  More on that later.  For now, let's go into the woods on a beautiful, sunny, 80-degree October day.

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