Land of the Free

ThinkerThe wife and I made a stealth excursion into northern Virginia this past weekend. Purposely, we did not make into the District. Someday we will go back and take the walk through Arlington National Cemetery, across Memorial Bridge, tip our hats to Mister Lincoln, walk along the reflecting pool, past the World War II Monument, up over the knoll by the Washington Monument and stroll on down the mall to the Capitol. We used to make an entire day out of that walk, sometimes stopping off at one of the museums. Despite the political nitwits one might find inside, the stroll up to that grand building is impressive as are all of the monuments and memorials that dot the route. I also jogged through there almost every morning five days a week during the years that I lived on Fort Myer adjacent to Arlington Cemetery. I never grew tired of admiring the capital of the world’s freest country or paying homage to the heroes who rest in Arlington who were and are her guardians. Take your children there and introduce them to their country and her history. You may leave out the part about political nitwits. They will learn about them in due time.

I visited Amsterdam once. The capital of the Netherlands or Holland as it’s more commonly known here. It was in the late 1980’s. Their National Monument, located in Dam Square, is meant to memorialize Dutch citizens who died in WWII. It was not very well kept when I was there. It was littered and there was a stench, a urine stench. Maybe it is cleaned up now. I don’t know because I have never been back and have no plans for another visit. Not far from the square is the Red Light District, complete with prostitutes advertising their wares in large red light lit windows, clubs advertising live sex acts on stage and hashish bars. The Red Light District is the popular Amsterdam tourist attraction. Not the National Monument. I also visited Anne Franke’s house. It was clean outside and there was no crowd waiting to get inside. We took a boat ride through the canals and saw the old and very narrow houses. They were built so narrow because the occupants were once taxed on the width of their dwellings. Please do not share that idea with Washington. Driving through the city and on our way to the countryside, we were hard pressed to see a building that did not have some spray painted graffiti on it. You do not need to take your children there, but maybe you can use it to educate them about a likely product of out of control liberalism.

It was a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon when we headed back toward the hills. I have driven much of this country, which is just one benefit of Army life including turning right at Dallas and driving 700 miles to El Paso. I was up to 23 states the last time I surveyed the map. I have seen some incredible landscapes in my travels, from rugged West Texas and New Mexico to Tennessee’s Smokey Mountains and Kentucky’s bluegrass. For me, few of those sites stack up to the drive through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and into the West Virginia hills. It is one of those wow sights every time I make the drive. This is where our nation began and where many battles were fought to free her and to keep her united.

I have also been fortunate in my life to travel in Asia, South Korea particularly. There is some beautiful countryside in the Land of the Morning Calm, but most of her citizens want to live in the middle of jam-packed cities. I have also traveled in Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The Bavarian countryside is beautiful. Holland’s tulip fields are a memorable site. The Swiss Alps majestic and breathtaking. As grand as these places were to visit and view, none of them warmed the heart like the green of the Shenandoah Valley and the West Virginia hills.

Home truly is where the heart is and maybe that is why my travels this past weekend seemed a little bit more special. We truly are blessed to live in the land of the free.

I know that we have our wretched places that might rival the scenes I recalled from Amsterdam and as any nation we have our historical warts. But the beauty of our land stands second to none. There is something else much more important that sets us apart from the other countries of the world that I have been fortunate to visit. America radiates Freedom. It is the bright light to the world where generations of Americans have put their lives on the line to preserve the God given freedom, which is our foundation. It is that bright light that attracts the people who risk their lives just to come here and breathe that free air.

Take heed that there is no political class able to transform this land into something other than what it is meant to be. The Land of the Free. The people simply will not allow it. God has blessed America.

© 2010

America is Ours

ThinkerWhere were you in the 60’s? I lived in Chicago from the mid-sixties until 1971. In September 1971, I enlisted into the United States Army. For the benefit of those who might not have lived through that period of our nation’s history, besides getting a haircut, volunteering to serve in the Armed Forces was about the worst decision a young man could make. Or so the popular culture dictated. The heroes of that era made public displays of burning flags, their draft cards and running off to Canada rather than fulfilling their obligations to serve in the military. President Carter later gave them amnesty and welcomed them home with discharges upgraded to honorable for the deserters. Ask John Kerry about the Carter upgraded amnesty discharges. Sadly, however, no one welcomed home the generation of Americans that fought in Vietnam.

The hippies and posers would gather to smoke pot and bad mouth “the man” and his establishment; refer to the police as pigs and to Soldiers as baby killers. My brother was a Soldier in Vietnam. He was no baby killer nor was his many combat brothers in spite of what Genghis John Kerry and his fraudulent band of miscreant hippies might have you believe. I preferred the company of the bleacher bums at Wrigley Field much more than I did the pot haze covered crowds you could find at places like Chicago’s Kinetic Playground. The Kinetic Playground, also once known as the Electric Theater, was located on North Clark Street in the 60’s. It was not the Chicago club that has that name now. I went to an Everly Brothers concert there. That tells you where I fit in. The hippies were more in tune with the drug inspired and ear splitting psychedelic music of the day. Wrigley Field was closer to my view of America. At least things made sense there.

I was 16 years old in 1968. I watched the riots at the Democratic convention on television from a north side apartment. The riots were incited by the Youth International Party, Yippies for short. They were one of the groups involved that grew out of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) who were also active in the riots. Members of the Black Panthers and a group called the National Organization to End the Vietnam War were involved too. If you are not familiar with this time and events, do yourself a favor and type Democratic Convention 1968 or Chicago 8 into your favorite Internet search engine. Another offshoot of SDS that you must have heard of by now is the Weather Underground and its most famous and unrepentant Pentagon bomber and Presidential associate, Bill Ayers. Add to this collection of malcontents the lies of a Kennedy sponsored John Kerry and his phony soldiers, the escapades of Jane Fonda including her well photographed visits to North Vietnam and her radio broadcast from Hanoi while Americans were fighting and dying there and you have the complete picture of who these people are. Fonda summed up well their views when she told students at the University of Michigan in 1970, “If you understood what communism was, you would hope, you would pray on your knees that we would some day become Communist.” Then as now, a balanced look from a media comprised of people cut from the same cloth was not likely.

The President is not of this generation, but if you look at who surround him now and have shaped his thinking, it is these people. They are all anti-military people. They are all anti-American in that they oppose free-market capitalism and our constitutional representative republic form of government. Just consider the planned defense cuts, our service members who are facing court martial for “roughing up” a murderer of Americans, the all out assault on the free market and the near total disregard for our constitution.

When I think of these people it is no wonder that I chuckle, although vomit might be a more appropriate response, when I hear a media knucklehead define vocal disagreement with them and this administration as sedition. I hope he knows what he can do with his epiphany he claims to have captured on a napkin.

These people were stopped in the 60’s by people who worked in the factories, served in the Armed Forces and occasionally went to Wrigley Field – people who loved the country. Counter protesters carrying American flags, wearing construction worker helmets and signs declaring America, love it or leave it were not uncommon. They were the Tea Party of the day, although much, much smaller in number.

The difference is that these 1960’s Reds are now running our country. They have temporary custody of the keys to the capital. They occupy every facet of our government and they are going to make the most of it while they are there. Our country will survive them, but only if we peacefully but strongly resist every action and every step taken that moves us even one inch away from our God given freedoms.

Every day they must get the message from us that we love our country as it was founded and if it is socialism or communism they seek try Havana. America is ours. You are welcome to love it. You are free to leave it. You are not allowed to change it.

© 2010

Walk humbly…

ThinkerIn my life, I have been fortunate to know and learn from exceptional leaders. With the exceptionally good leaders, unfortunately, were also the exceptionally bad. There is an attribute of character, which the good had in abundance, but the bad always lacked. Humility. Inevitably, the bad leaders replaced humility with arrogance.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 (NIV)

The bad leaders would always feint humility in the presence of their superiors or toward anyone with whom they feared or whose favor they sought. With those to whom they felt superior, their arrogance always manifested itself in condescension and mockery. Some of history’s worst leaders were those lacking humbleness. Some of today’s worst, Ahmadinejad and Chavez come to mind, sorely lack humility.

It is like the football player that spends a lot of time dancing in the end zone. He is rarely the champion. Great leaders and great champions are humble. When they get into the end zone, they act like they have been there before. They do not flaunt their momentary victory in the faces of their opponents. They realize that if they do that, it will only make their opponents more determined to defeat them.

When you view leaders with humility in mind, what can you make of one who allows himself to be photographed while wagging his fingers at historical friends and then practically prostrating himself before dictators and tyrants? Besides the prostrating, he also pretends humbleness by apologizing for America to the same dictators and tyrants.

It is one thing when a leader feels it necessary to apologize for the country he leads, but it is quite another when he resorts to condescension and mockery to address the citizens of his country who disagree with him. When someone does this, he is not walking humbly. He is not demonstrating a love for America or Americans. He cannot successfully lead what he does not hold deep affection for. No one can.

There is an interesting thing about those bad leaders. If they cannot find their way to humility, life has a way of humbling them. Ask Richard Nixon. Ask Tiger Woods. Wealthy celebrities frequently crash and burn. Some find some humility at the bottom of their falls and make it back to prominence. Others simply cannot get far enough beyond their self-admiration to admit that they might be just a little less than perfect.

As the Bible verse states, God has shown us what is good. The United States of America is good. We turned good into greatness by being a humble nation. If being humble was not a national character trait, then every day we would remind every nation on the planet of all it is that we have done and continue to do for them.

He has also shown each man what is good. Some of us He has entrusted with little and some He has entrusted with much. Unless we walk humbly, what we have been shown that is good will never be great. We will lose what has been entrusted to us. We will lose the last best hope for men. The great guardian of God given freedom. The United States of America. Greatness will leave a country that does not have humility at its core.

Greatness will never come to someone who has never learned to walk humbly. There may be fleeting fame, but to truly be great one must endear himself to all of the led and not just those who live to shower him with compliments.

Walk humbly Mr. President.

© 2010

When the lights go on

ThinkerSome days it is difficult for me to decide which emotion is going to drive the day. I have never been very good a channeling emotions, although like most normal people I find myself transitioning through them on occasion.

When I pulled back the drapes this morning the morning sunshine filled up the living room. A dogwood in full bloom was perfectly framed by the window. The sunlight filtering through the tree’s branches made the pink blossoms appear even more brilliant. A display like that right in front of you tends to fill you up with joy. That is what happens when God gets in your face. When the television makers can produce that quality of three dimensional high definition, they will be on to something. But, as Mr. Kilmer realized, only God can do that.

This past week here in beautiful Wild and Wonderful West Virginia, we lost 29 miners in a methane explosion in an underground mine. They were doing what West Virginia’s miners have been doing for many, many years. Going underground to produce the energy source without which the lights would not go on in most of the United States of America. The computers would not fire up, the air conditioning would not come one, and the microwave ovens would not be there to warm up dinner. These twenty-nine men represented much more than just a pretty tree; they are God’s most magnificent creation. It invokes sadness to see them lost and so suddenly taken from their families.

For more than 10 years, every obstacle was overcome, every hurdle leapt over, and every required permit was obtained. The largest surface mine in the state was ready to begin coal production. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took an unheard of step of vetoing an already issued permit for the Spruce Number 1 Surface Mine. We were told to expect it. I suppose you can let disbelief turn to anger.

In a single morning, a beautiful and sunny spring morning in today’s America, you can transition from joy, to sadness straight into anger in moments. I don’t know if that is the symptomatology for a mental disorder or not, but I do find it happening to me more often recently. What is good brings joy. Events bring sadness. The actions of non-thinking ideologues invoke anger. The kind of anger that we can only hope ends them up in the unemployment line and allows miners and other hard working Americans to get back to the work of providing our country what it truly needs, which is certainly not more government.

When Congress flips the switch in those paneled and marbled offices in Washington, the lights come on just as they do in their stylish Georgetown homes. That clean flow of electricity doesn’t come from windmills, solar panels or from anywhere else. It comes from coal and will continue to come from coal for many years to come. There is no source available nor is there one just around the corner that can or will replace coal, oil and natural gas.

There are plans for a coal to liquid fuel plant in Mingo County in Southern West Virginia. The EPA is trying to block that plant also. We cannot drill for oil, we cannot drill for vast natural gas resources and we are not allowed to mine coal in the most efficient manner. Now the EPA wants to prevent coal to liquid production. While you ponder that, view this presentation, OSD Clean Fuel Initiative. This presentation was once available at the Department of Energy web site. Now, you can only find green energy talk there. Just note that the liquid fuel potential from coal is 900 billion barrels with more than half of it right here in Appalachia. More potential than the reserves of all the Middle Eastern Countries combined.

Surface mining is the safest and most efficient manner to get the coal that our nation needs in the near decades. Yet, unelected and ideological bureaucrats along with people who worship the creation more than they do the creator want to prevent that. There is no near-term replacement for coal and likely no long-term one that most of us will ever live to see. As long as they are allowed to, the Washington elitists who have never dirtied their hands with a day of physical labor will continue to force West Virginians to travel miles underground, where we are always a methane blast away from another tragedy, and place their lives in danger so the lights still go on in Washington.

The United States of America cannot survive as long as it is led by people who value a windmill powered flight of imagination more than they value the lives of everyday Americans.

© 2010

Coal Miners

In January 2006, we had the Sago Mine accident. 13 miners lost their lives and it prompted me to recall some of my life in the West Virginia coal fields and I wrote what follows. Now we have had another. What’s changed these days is an all out assault on the Coal Industry by environmentalists and the Federal Government’s Environmental Protection Agency. If you scan the stories in the news, you won’t find much information about Coal Miners, their families and what the coal industry means to my state and to our country. Instead of writing something new about the recent accident, I will just repost what I wrote 4 years ago – although some of the links had to be updated. Pray for the families and the community.

***********

*I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said “Well, a-bless my soul”

I was born in Pineville, West Virginia, the county seat for Wyoming County, which sits in the southern end of the Logan Coal Field. I lived in Green Camp about three miles from Pineville, about a mile past the main Wyoming Coal Camp. The Island Creek Coal Company built these camps. I don’t know the origin for the name of Green Camp, but recall that all of the old company built houses were green.

*Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

The train tracks ran beside the Island Creek Company Store, pictured at the bottom of these Wyoming pictures. These tracks were for coal trains. The tracks ran beneath coal tipples that filled the cars at the mines. Sitting between the tracks that ran beside store and the Guyandotte River was Wyoming Grade School. I couldn’t find any pictures of the old one story wooden school house, which no longer stands. It held grades 1 through 6 and it’s where I spent my first 6 school years. Principal Harvey Stoneman introduced, Buddy Parks, Jimmy Coy and me to the board of education there after we sneaked out of the schoolyard, across the tracks beneath an idling coal train and into the company store to look at toys stocked for Christmas. I was playing basketball on the schoolyard’s dirt court with other boys when Jim Warner (our little league baseball coach, also a coal miner, and relative of former NFL player Curt Warner) came by and told us that someone shot President Kennedy. Mr. Stoneman told Jim that was a bad joke and admonished him not to say such things in front of us kids. A solemn Jim Warner said, “No sir, it ain’t a joke.”

Skin Fork Creek ran through the middle of Green Camp separating the upper and lower camps. I lived in the lower camp that stretched from WV State Route 10 down to the river. Lower Green Camp consisted of two rows of boxlike green coal company houses, one row on each side of a narrow dirt road. We used to go down to the end of the road where it touched the river – a center of activity for us kids. We’d go swimming, fishing or rock skipping. At night, we’d build a fire and sit on the riverbank telling lies. In the winter when the river froze over, we’d play on the ice. Some summer days, we’d wade across a shallow spot on the river and play on Frog Island. We named it that because it was thick with frogs. There was a pond on Frog Island. It was a small inlet from the river that we named Sunfish Hole because it was full of Sunfish. You may call them Bluegills. We used to swim in Sunfish Hole, although we stopped swimming there for a whole summer when Jackie Swick drowned in it. On that day, when we all came back across the river, no one missed Jackie. Later that night, the whole camp went out searching for him. Finally, the men lit their kerosene lanterns and headed across the river to Frog Island. They came back in a while having found Jackie at the bottom of Sunfish Hole. Jackie’s was the first funeral I ever attended and the first dead body I’d seen. They dressed him up in a suit and laid him out in the living room of Elzie Warner’s house. Jackie didn’t have a father at home and his mother didn’t have much of a place for a visitation.

Our Church sat on a hill in the bend of the road between Green Camp and Marianna. I remember Sunday school class contests to see who was the fastest at finding Bible verses. Sometimes, in the summer, we’d have cookouts after Church. We called them weenie roasts. The adults would cook hotdogs and we’d eat them – usually way too many of them.

There was a lot of porch sitting on summer nights in Green Camp. Many men worked at night. The miners called it the Hoot Owl shift. One night we got news that Ralph Bledsoe died in a mine accident. I remember all of us going to the Bledsoe house that night. They lived in the upper camp and the sons were Gary and Jerry.

My Dad was a miner. When he was 12 years old, his Father died in a mining accident. Dad was the oldest of seven children. At 15 years old, he went into the mines to work and support his mother and siblings. That was in 1933. He spent more than 30 years at it. A slate roof slab fell on him once. It injured him seriously, but he recovered and went back into the mines. It was pick and shovel mining in the days that my Dad did it. Miners spent hours on their knees digging in coal seams where it was too low for them to stand.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt

Paid by the tons they loaded, they worked until they loaded their quota for the day. My Dad died from Black Lung disease years after he came out of the mines. The requirement for proper ventilation systems helps prevent that disease now.

I hope you didn’t mind me running the home video for you, but I wanted to tell you a little about life in a Coal Camp, which was much like life anywhere else except that everything revolved around the mine. There are no more Coal Camps and no more company stores, but the close-knit mining communities where practically everyone is involved in some way with mine operations do exist. The recent accident reminds us of that.

When my Father started mining, more than a half million men worked in coalmines. The year I estimate that he began working in the mines there were 532,182 miners. Fatalities were 1,064. That’s less than ¼ of one percent. In 2004, we had 108,734 miners and 28 fatalities. For a business that’s inherently dangerous, that’s not bad. You may be surprised to know that truck drivers have a higher accident and fatality rate than miners do. So when you hear about mine safety violations keep it in perspective and understand that inspectors can walk through an office building and find many safety hazards.

Coal is important to the United States and the world’s economy and it’s especially important to West Virginia’s economy. For example, coal-burning power plants provide nearly half of our nation’s electricity. Clean fuel technologies that turns coal into clean burning liquid fuel has the potential to free us from our Arab Oil strangle hold and create many new jobs in this region and across the country. An accident such as the one just experienced is a tragedy. Still, we must remember the importance of coal mining, the reliance our country has on it and the important contribution miners make. If America’s politicians truly want to help miners, they’ll do it by placing the emphasis on this tough job performed by courageous men that it needs and deserves. Whatever else happens, we cannot allow a reaction from political opportunists or other interests that diminishes what the coal industry does and has the potential to do for our country.

*Lyrics from Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford

Copyright © J.D. Pendry 2006