Sunday, December 20, 2009

David Allen’s Crossword Tips for 2009

As you know, I am hooked on crossword puzzles. This year, there have been some new words introduced into the crossword puzzle dictionary. Here is a sampling:

Eugooglewiki--verb. A combination of euthanasia, Google and Wikipedia. To cause brain death by searching the internet for knowledge.

Neumoania--noun. First used by Dr. Phil to describe teenage anxiety (neurosis) caused by cell phone spell-checkers that require correct spelling before transmitting text messages.

Emurhea--noun. A combination of “emu” and “rhea”; accepted as a 7-letter word for “flightless bird.” Coined by Capt. Sully Sullenberger in a radio message to tower (“The emurhea has landed.”) when his US Airways plane ditched in the Hudson River.

Humanaterrarium--noun. Found on page 1,462 of the new federal health care legislation. An observation facility where sick people needing expensive medical procedures undergo cost-benefit analysis to justify prolonging their lives.

Xenonutrients--noun. The politically-correct term for foreign (“xeno-”) or ethnic foods.

Algorerhythm--noun. The naturally-occurring cycle of global atmospheric warming and cooling. Coined in 2002 by leading climate scientists in their secret E-mail messages but only recently made public by computer hackers.

Wism--noun. Coined at the end of the Bush (43) presidency. An era of change without substance or direction.

Cyberyegg--noun. Variant of “yegg”, a crossword staple meaning safe cracker. A cyberyegg accomplishes the same by electronic methods.

Roamingpolanski--verb. A feminist term coined in 2009. To legitimize the drugging and raping of young girls by middle-aged, male movie stars with valid French passports.

Bidenmitongue--verb. To give in to the uncontrollable urge to say something preposterous when being interviewed on camera.

Buffetobama--noun. [1] A sumptuous meal for nicely-dressed, uninvited moochers who crash White House parties. [2] Generally, a free lunch.

Solonophobia--noun. From “solon” (legislator) and “phobia” (fear). State of paralyzing fear experienced by senators and congressmen when having a recurring nightmare in which the government can no longer borrow money.

Caddywhompass--verb. To destroy a luxury SUV. Reported in the Orlando Sentinel: “Using one of her husband’s golf clubs, Mrs. Tiger Woods smashed the windows of his Cadillac Escalade while Tiger was still inside. Casey Martin, the Woods’ next-door neighbor, told police, ‘She caddywhompassed him good!’”

Friday, December 18, 2009

Moving Mountains: As Humans, We Alter the Landscape

When you're talking about mountaintop removal, you're talking about moving millions of cubic yards of earth. How much is one million cubic yards?

Try this exercise: Go to the mall and buy 12 million yardsticks. Glue the ends together to form 3-foot-by-3-foot-by-3-foot cubes. Using a football field as your grid, arrange the cubes in layers (120 long by 53 wide.) When done, your stack of cubes should be 474 feet high or as tall as a 40-story building.

When you talk about mountaintop removal, you are likely referring to a southern West Virginia coal mining technique. In north-central West Virginia, however, we have been flattening hilltops for decades to create developable land.

By my estimate, during the past three decades alone, some 30 million cubic yards of earth has been moved to build shopping malls, motels, new roads, airport expansions, a new school, a championship golf course, new housing developments, the FBI fingerprint center and various other large sites. And this is just in Harrison County.

One airport expansion alone required 10 million cubic yards of excavation. The Eastpointe-Newpointe shopping area runs a close second if it is not, in fact, a larger project.

You won't need to wear out your pencil by adding up a list of small developments to arrive at 30 million. In fact, you don't even need to include the excavation required to build Corridor D (U.S. 50) and I-79. (That's probably 30 million cubic yards if not more.)

Robert C. Byrd High School's site required about 320,000 cubic yards of excavation. But that doesn't tell the whole story. The land was previously an underground coal mine. Then it was surface-mined and abandoned. Then it was reclaimed under the Abandoned Mine Land program. And, finally, that same dirt was moved a third time to build the school location.

People don't associate mountaintop removal with commercial site development. A perfect example of this is our new hospital site. Two-million cubic yards of earth were moved to flatten a hilltop for the new United Hospital Center.

This is not mountaintop removal -- the destruction of our beautiful hills. No, the hospital site is a beacon of progress. Healing the sick, tending to the injured and comforting the dying represent mankind's greatest act -- humanity. The modern hospital can achieve these goals far better than the old one can. The new hospital salves our eco-vanity in a humbling way.

I wanted to attend the UHC groundbreaking. I wanted to hear important dignitaries tell us that the hospital's good for the community far outweighed any harm to the environment. As I had a previous engagement, I missed all that speechifying.

A few days later, though, I did run into Alvin, the famous singing chipmunk. He told me that he had attended the groundbreaking to protest mountaintop removal. Still in shock, Alvin said, "The groundbreaking itself was a non-event. Then things got pretty dicey when the bulldozers moved in. My friends are still looking for places to live."

The Morgantown area has seen its share of mountaintop removal in the past three decades. It surely rivals that of the Clarksburg-Bridgeport area.

My best estimate of disturbed development land in the I-79 corridor from Clarksburg to Morgantown, and during the past three decades, is 50,000 acres or about 80 square miles. For the great bulk of this area, we have traded grassland and forest for rooftops and pavement.

I would think that even a weekend environmentalist would jump all over the disappearance of this carbon-consuming resource. Apparently, they are too busy potty-mouthing Brazil for wrecking the rain forest to notice what has happened here.

West Virginia is a great place to grow apples. Florida is a great place to grow oranges. That line of thinking has permeated the debate on mountaintop removal. In the northern part of the state, mountaintop removal is an economic development asset. In the southern part of the state, mountaintop removal is the rape of our most cherished asset.

The sound bite of our time has become "Mountaintop coal mine bad. Mountaintop hospital good."

Pray tell. Is the debate about mountaintop removal really that simplistic?

Humans don't live in isolation, nor do they live in regions. Humans live as a collective, and, collectively, we alter the landscape to suit our desires. We move mountains because we want to. We move mountains because we can.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Paley Sculpture Highlights Clay Center's Art World Status

It’s not often that a major sculpture is commissioned for a city of barely 50,000 residents. You need an appropriate place to locate it. You need a benefactor to pay for it. And, perhaps most importantly, you need a sculptor who can envision such a work and then bring it to completion. Albert Paley’s Hallelujah located at The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences is such a sculpture.

Charleston may be the state capitol, but it is a shrinking city. A few years ago, the city started taxing anyone who worked inside the city limits $2.00 per week to help shore up its declining tax revenue.

But Charleston does have pockets of “old money” as evidenced by The Clay Center. Named for the Clay family whose charitable foundation was the major donor, The Center cost over $115 million in 2003. The Hallelujah sculpture was donated by the McGee Foundation.

Albert Paley is well-known as one of the world’s leading metal artists. He works with a variety of metals. In this case, he chose weathering Cor-Ten steel for the major elements, stainless steel for the ribbons, and bronze (which will weather green) for the carousel segments.

Artist-blacksmith Jeff Fetty of Spencer is best-known to West Virginians for his sculpture garden of large metal flowers at Trace Fork Shopping Plaza near Charleston.  Jeff has done commissions in Europe and around the United States,and he has known Albert Paley for many years. He took a class from Paley in Aachen, Germany, and he has visited Paley at his studio in Rochester, NY.

WV Public Broadcasting interviewed Jeff in mid-September and asked him what he thought of  Paley’s Hallelujah.
“After being a Paley fan for so long, when I first heard that the Clay Center was getting a piece of Albert’s work, I was in disbelief, but very pleased when I heard that it was a reality,” Fetty said. “I just feel that Charleston and West Virginia are very privileged and fortunate to have his work in our lives, and I applaud those responsible for this gift.”

As an artist, Jeff is right in his assessment of Paley’s work. Like owning a Picasso, just having a Paley lends credibility to The Clay Center’s status in the art world.

People have taken notice of Hallelujah, and their comments are predictable, yet intriguing. As you would expect, numerous people have called it “Junk”, and that is because the major component is rusted steel. While bronze and copper are downright beautiful when they oxidize, most people consider steel ready for the junkyard when it rusts.

Those who admire abstract art appreciate  Hallelujah simply because it is abstract art. They can enjoy the work because they aren’t looking for a hidden message.

Joe Mullins, the Charleston sculptor who designed the Veterans Memorial on the Capitol grounds, once told me that, in simplest terms, a necktie is abstract art. He’s right about that, and we don’t give much thought about the “message” of a necktie.

According the WVPB report, Hallelujah also has been described as a collection of drafting tools, a rocket ship, and something you’d see at Disney World.

Hallelujah will get many such critiques because it is in a prime location between Lee and Washington streets, two of Charleston’s busiest downtown thoroughfares. Because it is outdoors, Hallelujah will be the only Clay Center exhibit that thousands, or maybe millions, of people will ever see.

Or, it may be the magnet that draws in thousands of people who otherwise would never have visited the center. At  64 feet tall and weighing nearly 100 tons, nobody is going to miss seeing this landmark.

The Clay Center was an ambitious undertaking, and it has struggled to attract visitors and generate revenue. This year, the county commission voted to give the Center $100,000.00 to subsidize visits by the county’s school children. The money comes from the county’s share of gambling revenue at a nearby dog racetrack.

Hallelujah could be the event that changes the center’s fortunes. Or, it could be the exclamation point for a project that greatly overreached given West Virginia’s location and demographics.

Hallelujah was fabricated in New York, assembled there, then dismantled, and re-assembled in Charleston. If The Clay Center ever fails for lack of old money, Hallelujah can always be sold and moved.

Hallelujah’s intrigue lies in its ability to change color over the next decade or two. What we see today will disappear by next autumn as the bronze and Cor-Ten steel oxidize. And what we see in the next year after that will change again. Much like our hardwood forests when the leaves turn color, you’ll never see the same Hallelujah twice.

The Charleston Gazette offered an online poll to capture the community’s opinion of the sculpture. Over 1,700 people voted. This is a promising response rate because it indicates community awareness.

Half of those voting had yet to form a critical opinion. Of the remaining half, those who “hated it” outnumbered those who “loved it”  by a 2:1 ratio. In time, more of the undecided will favor the work than oppose it. That’s just human nature.

The opinion poll also indicates that the sculpture has done its job as a work of art. First, the community knows it’s there, and second, people are willing to study it before forming an opinion.

Albert Paley was most gracious when he attended the dedication on October 6th. When asked what the sculpture represented, he essentially said that would be in the eye of the beholder. “It is what it is.” is how he characterized his work. Mr. Paley should be congratulated for his humility as well as his talent.