Sunday, June 26, 2005

Eyewitness to Carnage

In Detroit, they're called "gawkers," in Chicago, "gapers." Those are the drivers who cause traffic jams by slowing down at the scene of an accident in order to get a glimpse of catastrophe. The worse the accident is, the slower they drive.

On Thursday, I was one of them, whatever we're called. I found myself slowing to a crawl on eastbound Rte. 58 west of Martinsville in order to avoid debris (and a state trooper) and to take in the sight of this horrific accident.

Collision kills Danville man

A Danville man was killed Thursday in an accident on U.S. 58 in Axton, according to State Trooper E.J. O'Connell.

Emory Midget Thomas, 69, of 115 Ash St., Danville, was driving a 2003 Suzuki Burgman motorcycle west on U.S. 58 when the accident occurred at 12:26 p.m., O'Connell said.

Thomas was driving in the right lane headed toward Ray Lambert Auction Co., O'Connell said. Witnesses said Thomas was interested in looking at lawn equipment at the auction house, the trooper said.

He apparently missed his turn and attempted to make a U-turn in the crossover about a mile east of the U.S. 58 bypass when the accident occurred, O'Connell said.

The motorcycle collided with a 1995 Dodge Neon traveling in the left lane, he said. (
Collided. There must be a verb that better describes the encounter when a car traveling at a high rate of speed makes contact with a motorcycle that is crossing broadside in its path. The report provided above is actually rather antiseptic - probably in deference to the victim's relatives - compared to what I saw. A crushed motorcycle with parts scattered across the highway. A small red compact car with both its windshield and the front of its roof caved in, the cause of the damage to both being obvious. By the time I got to the scene, the injured - and dying - had been removed and taken to the hospital but, when I gazed on the extent of the damage, I knew someone's life had come to an abrupt end. That day. Near Axton. On State Route 58. Moments before I drove by. It was a haunting experience.

If you've never been involved in an accident while riding a motorcycle, you can't truly relate to this experience. You probably have a reasonable understanding of that which can happen. The vulnerability. The lack of protection. Blood. Injury. Worse.

But you don't know the pain. The trauma. In my case, the inability to breathe. I described it afterwards as feeling like I'd broken my lungs. They didn't seem to function. The overwhelming distress from the many broken bones did reasonably mask the dysfunctional breathing apparatus but both seemed to contribute to a feeling of profound shock, as I tried to ascertain just what harm I'd inflicted on myself, without being able to fully grasp that which was happening. The notions that interrupt the thought process contribute to the shock: Can I walk? Am I dying?

In my case, on a beautiful summer day, riding a sleek, handsome Yamaha 650 Special, I steered straight when I should have turned. Doing about 25 mph, I slammed into the side of a brick house. For years I blamed the accident on a throttle that stuck (in order to avoid accusations that I had no hair on my chest; a man-thing) but aficionados saw right through that excuse and knew without hesitation that I'd simply lost control of the bike.

The valuable lessons learned from that accident are four: (1) The human body is extremely fragile. (2) A motorcycle affords no protection in a collision with a stationary object. (3) The extent of the damage done to the body is in direct proportion to one's rate of speed and the physical nature of the object met. (4) The catastrophic damage that is inflicted never completely heals.

So, when I passed that accident over near Axton, it brought back memories. Ugly memories. And I immediately knew that someone's life had been forever altered.

It's odd. The thought came and went that perhaps the rider was only permanently disfigured; his bones rearranged. As if that were a good scenario. I knew from my experience that that was the best that he could expect. I also knew, though, after seeing the depression left in the roof of that car, that the motorcyclist was not injured.

His luck had run out on Thursday, June 23, 2005.

As for me, after spending what had to be 15 seconds gawking at the accident, I drove on. I had work to do.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Your Home Is No Longer Your Castle

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1856, wrote these powerful words;

The house is a castle which the king cannot enter.
"Wealth," English Traits

Our country was, in part, founded on that principle. Your home is your castle. For 216 years it was the law of the land that proscribed government seizure of private property except in instances where that property was needed for public use. Roads. Bridges. Courthouses. Military installations.
That core principle became null and void by judicial decree yesterday.
Syndicated columnist George Will highlights one of the many problems with the Supreme Court's ruling in Kelo v New London.
The case came from New London, Conn., where the city government, like all governments, wants more revenues and has empowered a private entity, the New London Development Corporation, to exercise the awesome power of eminent domain. It has done so to condemn an unblighted working-class neighborhood in order to give the space to private developers whose condominiums, luxury hotel and private offices would pay more taxes than do the owners of the condemned homes and businesses.

The question answered Thursday was: Can government profit by seizing the property of people of modest means and giving it to wealthy people who can pay more taxes than can be extracted from the original owners? The court answered yes. [my emphasis]
In a tart dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, noted that the consequences of this decision "will not be random." She says it is "likely" — a considerable understatement — that the beneficiaries of the decision will be people "with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."
Those on the receiving end of the life-shattering power that the court has validated will almost always be individuals of modest means. So this liberal decision — it augments government power to aggrandize itself by bulldozing individuals' interests — favors muscular economic battalions at the expense of society's little platoons, such as homeowners and the neighborhoods they comprise. (link)

To illustrate Will's point, I provide this map of the northeast side of the Louisville metropolitan area (click on image and enlarge it). More specifically, it is of a segment of the I-265 bypass that runs around the city itself. The dotted line that I added represents the section of highway that should connect I-265 on the Kentucky side of the border with I-265 on the Indiana side. You're wondering why the two don't meet? If there was ever a clearcut opportunity for local and state governments to exercise their eminent domain prerogative, this is it. Right?
But my dotted line is as close as the people of Louisville will ever get to realizing the completion of the bypass. Why? Because, in order to join the two halves, the road and a bridge spanning the Ohio River would have to be constructed in the most affluent part of Louisville, a suburb known as Crestwood. The powerful and influential citizens there have successfully blocked every attempt at condemning the needed properties for decades. It is safe to say that the I-265 bypass will never be completed.
The poor shmucks who happened to own homes in New London, CT that were coveted by a wealthy developer were powerless when that developer exercised his political influence and convinced local government officials to seize their homes through the awesome and devastating power of eminent domain. It is a certainty that, had those homeowners been wealthy, the city of New London - and the courts - would never have thrown them out on the street.
For those of you on the left who despise Wal-Mart, think about the door that has just been opened. It cannot be argued that the property tax revenue generated by a homeowner can match the revenue generated by a superstore. That is the Supreme Court's only citerion for your local officials to lawfully be able to seize your land.
You should all be very afraid. Posted by Hello

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Kaid Finds a Rattlesnake

Three-year-old Kaid Fuhrman was out tooling around the yard in his battery-operated automobile the other day when he happened upon a snake. And not just any snake. It was a rattlesnake, or to the aficionado of such stuff, an Eastern Timber Rattlesnake. Three feet long and in a foul mood was the way it was described to me.

What makes the story charming (can a story about a venomous snake be charming?) is that little Kaid, who's still working on developing a broad vocabulary, jumped off his ride and came running into the house (my son lives up in Roanoke County) screaming, "Rattlesnake! There's a rattlesnake in the yard!"

My son, as it turns out, had warned Kaid and Kaid's twin sister about bad snakes, one of which - the biggest, baddest of which - is the rattlesnake and warned them to never go near them. Nobody's sure how Kaid was able to recognize the breed but, sure enough, when my son and daughter-in-law went out to inspect Kaid's find, there lay, at the side of their house, a chubby little rattlesnake.

After the initial shock wore off, my son retrieved a garbage can, scooped the surly monster inside, drove down the road, and released it into a creekbed.

Before you ask, "Why didn't he shoot the snake?" understand that that is not how we do things in modern America. We love all God's creatures; even those that choose to kill us and eat us.

Anyway, we're all proud of little Kaid. Most adults wouldn't be able to recognize a rattlesnake when they came upon one. But then most people don't live in Rattlesnake Central either.

Photo courtesy of Tom Spinker,
Click on image to enlargePosted by Hello

Friday, June 03, 2005

On Vanishing Civil War Battlefields

If we learn the art of yielding what must be yielded to the changing present we can save the best of the past.
Dean Acheson, in an address to the Law Club of Chicago, January 22, 1937.

There are tens of thousands of Civil War enthusiasts around the USA trying to prevent the destruction of battlefield sites in Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and most every other state ever touched by the Blue and the Gray. They have succeeded on a small scale in far-flung - and relatively obscure - places like Fisher's Hill and Saylor's Creek. And they have failed in others - like Ox Hill and Nashville.

And, in the case of many locations in northern Virginia, they are destined to fail, in part because there are so many properties of historical value and so few dollars with which to preserve them. And then there is the inexorable growth of the metropolis.
Trust Decries Development In Three-State Historic Area
By Michael Laris, Washington Post Staff Writer

The 175-mile road trip between Gettysburg and Monticello is a sometimes traffic-clogged passage past flag-waving outlet malls and fast-emerging suburban outposts built to serve the Washington region's booming population.

But a journey through the lands near Route 15 also takes in six presidential homes, including James Madison's Montpelier, a concentration of Civil War battlefields from Antietam to Manassas, a million acres on the national historic register and the rolling Piedmont scenery that inspired the Founding Fathers.

Yesterday, Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, put the vast tri-state area on his group's annual list of the nation's most endangered historic places. Also among the 11 sites are a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Los Angeles, historic Catholic churches in Boston and decaying buildings in downtown Detroit. (link)
I admire these folks for their efforts. At the same time, I know how futile their work ultimately will be.

The problem for them is that, taking Virginia as an example, the entire area is one huge chapter in the early history of America that could, under ideal circumstances, cry out for preservation. One can't set foot in this state without trampling the past.

I live in a remote section of Southwest Virginia, about as far removed from the scene of major fighting in Northern Virginia as one can get without being called a Tennessee Volunteer. But even here, there is need for historical preservation.

Raleigh Grayson Turnpike (it was recently given this, its original name, as opposed to what we endured for years, a rural route number, thank you) runs around the perimeter of my property and up over Big Walker Mountain, into the Jefferson National Forest.

The turnpike was built, by hand as it were, in the 1830's and 1840's, allowing for the the area's settlers to travel from Raleigh County (which is now part of West Virginia) through to Wytheville and beyond to Grayson County south of here.

Officially, today, the turnpike runs only from Bland to my driveway, where it comes to an abrupt end. Unofficially, the old turnpike that worms its way up the mountain is still there, though it is showing a certain lack of maintenance these days. This portion of the turnpike was abandoned in 1972 when I-77 was completed. Only the locals and a logging company have contributed to its care.

So, why would the National Trust for Historic Preservation be interested in preserving the old turnpike?

Because it too has Civil War history, albeit a tiny one by comparison to that of the Valley Turnpike up around New Market, or the old railroad line running from Richmond through Guinea Station (where Old Stonewall was taken to die of his wounds) to Fredericksburg.

But you can walk the old turnpike here in far-removed Bland County, Virginia, as Paula and I did on Saturday, and pick up shards of pottery in the middle of the road. I made mention of this several months ago in another post .

It is because there is so much of it lying around that one gets the impression, at least it's my impression, that it was cast aside by an advancing Yankee army that passed through here in 1864. Stolen loot from nearby farmsteads that soldiers decided to discard rather than lug over the mountain. Lying where it was tossed 141 years ago.

But I don't bemoan the fact that Raleigh Grayson Turnpike - the old turnpike - is slowly being washed away by the spring thaw and summer downpours. It is inevitable.

But I know too that it'll be a part of history regardless.

And nobody will take that away from us.

Weep not the world changes - did it keep
A stable, changeless state, it were cause indeed to weep.
William Cullen Bryant, "Mutation," 1824