Late last week we ended a wonderful stay in Maine, one where a quiet lake, the company of family, the calls of loons, the cracks of lobster shells, and the splash of kayak paddles were the dominant experiences of lazy days.
We returned, however, by driving straight home — in a minor family legend of a road trip that took sixteen hours to complete. The traffic wasn’t bad, but it took a little longer than anticipated, and it’s just a long, long way. As time wore on, dusk turned to night, we found ourselves in the seemingly endless urban plain of New Jersey with a blur of highway stops, gas stations, exits, and a slow flux of neighboring cars and trucks to keep us company. We talked, planned, argued, listened to music, read, drove. And drove. And drove.
And while we certainly weren’t on a quiet lake in Maine any more, there was a certain familiar but usually overlooked beauty to this, too: streams of red tail lights ahead, oncoming streams of white headlights, the rush of buildings, bridges, signs and overpasses, a giant civilization all around.
“Just Drive 2: New Mexico – New York,” YouTube video uploaded by ‘heraldstreet’, whose
description is “driving across america in 1995 with a super-8 and the radio. music by
jonathan richman and the modern lovers. pretty well unedited.”
More than 30 years ago, Jonathan Richman captured some of that in the underground rock anthem “Roadrunner” — one of his first recordings.* While the exact lyrics could vary from performance to performance, the gist was that there is a beauty in the experience of … driving through the suburban sprawl around Boston Richman called home, at high speed and with the radio on:
I’m in love with the modern world
I drive alone when it’s late at night
I wanna hear now, the modern sound
so I won’t feel alone at night
I mean I’m in love with the modern world [...]
This short, beautiful bit of music — one version of the theme for the PBS history series “American Experience” — has always sounded like a kind of poem to me, one in a language I didn’t know but wanted to understand.
Recently, I got to thinking more about it, and decided it was a hymn, and one I’d try to write some lyrics for. Here they are.
As a growing river flowing fast
as it rolls down to the sea
We live the future of our past
and pray that we grow more free
Over rock and fall
we together all
with our hearts
for our hopes
Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) is a particularly devastating variety of strip mining practiced in the Appalachian Mountains, particularly in West Virginia, in which whole mountaintops are pulverized to get at the seams of coal beneath. The “overburden” is pushed into neighboring valleys, resulting in ugly, scarred moonscapes and above all, buried, ruined streams that — when they do emerge from the rubble — are too high in dissolved pollutants to support life.
But it’s not clear that’s what the guidelines do. True, EPA chief Lisa Jackson appeared to back up that judgment:
“You are talking about either no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this,” she said. “What the science is telling us is that it would be untrue to say you can have any more than minimal valley fill and not see irreversible damage to stream health.”
While that sounds great, Ms. Jackson also said “This is not about ending coal mining,” and a look at the supporting EPA documents makes that plain:
Q. Will this memorandum stop mining? A. No. EPA has recently approved permits for some surface mining projects in Appalachia and expects to continue to do so, where these projects are consistent with the guidance. EPA recognizes the importance of coal to Appalachia and to the nation’s energy mix, but also has an obligation based on the law and emerging science to prevent harm to our waters and environment. Projects that are damaging to water quality will be closely scrutinized, but mining companies that employ the best management practices contained in this memorandum and meet water quality protection standards should expect favorable actions on their permits…
The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. (“Coal Tattoo”) says the simple result is that EPA can block new permits or “demand significant changes” when downstream conductivity is projected to exceed 500 microSiemens. The “slightly more complicated” outcome?
pale male the famous redtail hawk
performs wingstands high above midtown manhattan
circles around for one last pass over the park
got his eye on a fat squirrel down there
and a couple of pigeons
they got no place to run
they got no place to hide
but pale male he’s cool, see
‘cause his breakfast ain’t goin’ nowhere
so he does a loop t loop for the tourists and the six o’clock news
got him a penthouse view from
the tip-top of the food chain, boys
he looks up and down on fifth ave
and says “god i love this town”
With tax revenue still declining as a result of the recession and budget reserves largely drained, the vast majority of states have made spending cuts that hurt families and reduce necessary services. These cuts, in turn, have deepened states’ economic problems because families and businesses have less to spend. Federal recovery act dollars and funds raised from tax increases are greatly reducing the extent, severity, and economic impact of these cuts, but only to a point.
The cuts enacted in at least 43 states plus the District of Columbia in 2008 and 2009 occurred in all major areas of state services, including health care (29 states), services to the elderly and disabled (24 states and the District of Columbia), K-12 education (28 states and the District of Columbia), higher education (37 states), and other areas. States made these cuts because revenues from income taxes, sales taxes, and other revenue sources used to pay for these services declined due to the recession. At the same time, the need for these services did not decline and, in fact, rose as the number of families facing economic difficulties increased.
Lyrics in the left column are of “Down Here Below”, by Steve Earle on the album “Washington Square Serenade.”
The Pale Male photo is at and links to the excellent palemale.com site maintained by Dr. Ward Stone.
At 3 million plus views, this may not be the first time you’ve seen this, but it was new to me. The 3 million plus viewers are right — it’s pretty great. The video was produced by/for “playingforchange,” which you can find out more about here. Via dmcindc.
UPDATE, 10/30: Another version. Why? Because you can’t stop me:
UPDATE, 1/21/09: The second video was first taken off YouTube for a while, and is now marked as “private, make sure you accept the sender’s friend request.” It was open to the public when I posted it here.