Friday, November 16, 2007


Deep down in the ground, fantasy meets reality

Spinning and spinning...

One of the blog/news sites from way out west, here, has a discussion going on about the Mining Act of, I think, 1872. That old law still in effect. It's been a wonderful way for big companies to mine the public lands and not have to pay much of anything for the privlege. A few bribes here and there to make sure the law doesn't get changed too much, but it's meant companies like Anaconda, Peabody, Kennecott, and dozens of others have been able to extract billions and billions of dollars' worth of coal and copper and gold—hell, even gravel!—from land that at least in theory belongs to all of us. And then walk away from the ruins of their pasts.

There is a movement to reform that law—not to prevent egregious abominations like the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana, or the ruined rivers flowing from hundreds of abandoned mines and mills, but to at least charge more for the ability to rip off the future.

Mining is as wrapped in fantasy as cattle-ranching and logging. You think of miners and you think of the old guys wandering around with their burros, looking for gold and silver all over the empty western spaces. The reality of mining, though, was the same in the west as in the east: dirty dangerous deadly work in near darkness for low wages. The big old mining towns we remember, Butte, Virginia City, Tombstone, Leadville, Silver City were ugly muddy shanty towns with overfilled cemeteries and many grieving families. It was no more romantic than chopping cotton or digging sewers. But the fantasy lives: just like people still think cowboys are the ultimate American icon, "single-blanket" prospectors still evoke dreams of never-ever land. And still have a tug on American heartstrings... just like the idea of Aunt Jemima....

Talapus Pete:

My apologies for using your comments in this way. I just wanted to alert you to an online community forum launched this month. is a community forum for Bulletin readers who need an alternative outlet to the newspaper’s tiny letters to the editor section for interacting with their fellow readers. I invite you to check out the forum. If it’s something you wish to join, please become a member and post away.

Dean Harris
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