Friday, August 31, 2007


The full link to read about the self-stabbing Brutus is:

This guy needed Meron!

Actor playing Brutus stabs himself

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Some weapon related sites

I tracked down some websites with info about some of the weapons that appear in the play, either directly or indirectly.

Here is a website on weapons of the Civil War:

And some resources on the Gatling gun:

And bowie knives:

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Act of Vengeance

Act of Vengeance was a 1986 fact-based TV movie about the corruption that occurred during the United Mine Workers' 1969 presidential elections. Jock Yablonski (Charles Bronson) was a loyal follower of then chief Tony Boyle (Wilford Brimley). That all changed after 80 men are killed in an unsafe West Virginia coal mine and Boyle defended the mine owners. At his wife's (Ellen Burstyn) urging and in fear of his life, Yablonski launched his campaign. And in fact, he became the target of assassins. One of the assassins, Paul Gilly, was played by actor Robert Schenkkan. (Surprised that Fire in the Hole or Which Side Are You On? aren't even bloodier or have more corruption!)

The 1969 UMW presidential elections and the Yablonski murders are included in Harlan County USA. As I was watching the movie, I recalled knowing all about it and tried to recall why. With a little research, I found that defendant W. A. "Tony" Boyle was on trial from March 25 through April 11, 1974 for the murder in Media, PA - my hometown and the county seat. I seem to recall the trial was moved from another jurisdiction to our local courthouse. So, it was front page and prime-time news every day for months before and during the trial.

Harlan County War

Just picked this offa Netflix. This was a Showtime movie made in 2000 or so, based off of Harlan County, USA, starring Holly Hunter. If you happen to come across it, I don't recommend wasting your time watching it. Most of the movie is all right, but it's really not as good as the documentary, and Holly Hunter is horrible. I couldn't understand a word she was saying, the dialect is so thick. If anything, it's a lesson on how thick NOT to make your dialect, and how important it is to use your neck and mouth muscles to enunciate this Kentucky way of speaking. You can see how tense her mouth and neck are in the film when she speaks, and all of her words hit right behind her front teeth, giving her a "shhh" sound. Its like if you spoke without moving your jaw and saying "shhhh" all at once. Frustrating as hell.
Anyway, steer clear, if you ask me.

Harlan County USA

Watched Harlan County USA again over the weekend. Saw it's initial commercial release in theaters. Still very powerful and resonates very strongly with characters and themes in Fire in the Hole & Which Side Are You On? The first lines heard are a miner crying out, "Fire in the hole." Florence Reece is seen at a miner's rally singing, "Which Side Are You On?" A critical assessment of the film is linked to below.

Harlan County USA: No Neutrals Here

Miners eating Coal to survive

check out this story if you haven't seen it yet. I have no idea what to think.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Info on Early Kentucky

This website has some helpful information about the early years of Kentucky:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Would you sit through a six-hour play?

"Our culture may be defined by the soundbite and the text message but it seems we like our books, films and plays to be of epic proportions."

British playwright Mark Ravenhill blogs about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and observations about the recently announced revival of Nicholas Nickleby, originally produced in 1980. (The grandfather of the contemporary epics. Leading the way for The Kentucky Cycle, Angels in America and, even, The Coast of Utopia.)

Would you sit through a six-hour play?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The ravages of war

There is a lot of violence depicted in the The Kentucky Cycle, including the Civil War during God's Great Supper. The Korean War is an important component of Which Side Are You On? This photo speaks volumes of the ravages of war and the impact it can have on young lives.

One of the more shocking photographs to emerge from the current Iraq war was taken last year in a rural farm town in the American Midwest. It’s a studio portrait by the New York photographer Nina Berman of a young Illinois couple on their wedding day.

The bride, Renee Kline, 21, is dressed in a traditional white gown and holds a bouquet of scarlet flowers. The groom, Ty Ziegel, 24, a former Marine sergeant, wears his dress uniform, decorated with combat medals, including a Purple Heart. Her expression is unsmiling, maybe grave. His, as he looks toward her, is hard to read: his dead-white face is all but featureless, with no nose and no chin, as blank as a pullover mask.

Two years earlier, while in Iraq as a Marine Corps reservist, Mr. Ziegel had been trapped in a burning truck after a suicide bomber’s attack. The heat melted the flesh from his face. At Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas he underwent 19 rounds of surgery. His shattered skull was replaced by a plastic dome, and a face was constructed more or less from scratch with salvaged tissue, holes left where his ears and nose had been.

Ms. Berman took this picture, which is in the solo show at Jen Bekman Gallery, on assignment for People magazine. It was meant to accompany an article that documented Mr. Ziegel’s recovery, culminating in his marriage to his childhood sweetheart. But the published portrait was a convivial shot of the whole wedding party. Maybe the image of the couple alone was judged to be too stark, the emotional interchange too ambiguous. Maybe they looked, separately and together, too alone.

Another 1,000 Treaty Oaks bite the dust ... coal dust that is!

Washington, August 22 - The Bush administration is set to issue a regulation on Friday that would enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The technique involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the rubble into the valleys and streams.

It has been used in Appalachian coal country for 20 years under a cloud of legal and regulatory confusion.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Selective memories of Ezekiel and Joleen in God's Great Supper

It's really charming how Joleen and Ezekiel are so selective in terms of the bible verses they choose to wrap their hearts and minds around. They do tend to favor the Old Testament, but not these particular gems:

Deuteronomy 24:16
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.

Deuteronomy 32:35
It is mine to avenge, I will repay. (says the Lord)

Perhaps Joleen and Zeke's book of Romans got lost in the mail:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (Romans 12:14)

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. (12:17)

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written "it is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.

On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good. (12: 19-21)

Another note:
Interesting that the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel was in exile in Babylon. (Though different from Ezekiel of KC - apparently this prophet had his own house and along with his fellow exiles, "had a relatively free existence.") Ezekiel's "period of activity coincides with Jerusalem's darkest hour." (NIV study bible)

Why the war did not last only 6 weeks...

"About the only thing the South seemed to have going for it was a home-field advantage." (this quote and data below are from Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis)

What each team had starting out:


23 states - including California, Oregon, and the 3 "border states" of Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland, and 7 territories

Population: 22 million (4 million of combat age)


  • 100,000 factories
  • 1.1 million workers
  • 20,000 miles or railroad (70% of US total; 96% of all railroad equipment)
  • $189 million in bank deposits (81% of US total bank deposits)
  • $56 million in gold specie


11 states

Population: 9 million (3.5 million slaves; only 1.2 million men of combat age)


  • 20,000 factories
  • 101,000 workers
  • 9,000 miles of railroad
  • $47 million in bank deposits
  • $27 million in gold specie

The North also outproduced the South in agricultural products and livestock holdings (except for asses and mules). But the South did produce more cotton than the North, which was raised by.....the slaves.

What the South had to its advantage:

The US Army was largely comprised and led by Southerners who immediately defected to the South's cause.

Southerners for the most part were better riders and better with weapons.

The Northern armies were made up largely of conscripts from urban areas (many who were immigrants who spoke less to no English), who were less familiar with weapons and were not as excited as fighting for the "principles" of "preserving the Union" and stopping the spread of slavery.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pemmican - it goes where you go!

Basic Pemmican
2 oz. cooked, ground, and dried beef
2 and 1/2 oz. lard or vegetable fat (shortening)
Put the meat in a container lined with plastic film. Melt the fat and let it cool slightly to a gluey consistency. Pour the fat over the meat and let it harden. Wrap airtight and store, preferably in a freezer if you won't need the pemmican for a while.
Pemmican #2
2 oz. cooked, ground, and dried beef
2 and 1/2 oz. lard or vegetable fat
1 T minced dried onions
Prepare as above.
Pemmican #3
2 oz. cooked, ground, and dried beef
3 oz. lard or vegetable fat
1/2 oz. dried (heat dried) ground berries
Prepare as above.

These recipes come from a book entitled The Complete Light-Pack Camping and Trail Foods Cookbook by Edwin P. Drew. The author suggests shaping the pemmican into bars by packing it into a match box lined with plastic wrap and then removing it when hard. He recommends the use of lard over vegetable shortening because of its superior flavor. He suggests that if you are going to carry other foods along with the pemmican, as is commonly done today, that you carry the pemmican and the berries separately. Lightly salting or peppering the pemmican after it cools will add additional flavor. The pemmican, like all dried foods, should be protected from heat and light. Depending on the ingredients, preparation, and storage conditions the pemmican should last up to 8 months or better. Freezing will definitely extend the life.

Pemmican has a very high food value. Made as the basic recipe above, it has 185 calories, 10 grams of protein, and 15 grams of fat per ounce.

In God's Great Supper, Granpa Patrick - first seen as a teenager in The Homecoming & in mid-life in Ties That Bind - is using chewing tobacco and spits, almost hitting Richard. I googled it, and the first two pages of results were all about the health dangers of chewing tobacco. (Terry Francona is a current 'chewer' and he always looks pretty disgusting with that wad in his cheeks. Spit it out & chew some gum or something else!) This content is from the University of Minnesota, Division of Periodontology. "ST companies sponsor rock concerts, rodeos, auto racing and tractor pulls," is a telling quote and serves to reinforce some stereotypes. I tried it once in high school at a camp, lasted about 1 minute before I spit it out gaging. 1% of American females us ST. Never seen it, maybe need to meet an old lady with a spittoon to break the stereotype. I like how ST can stand for Smokeless Tobacco or Spit Tobacco. Versatile acronym. How's your spitting technique, Jeff!?!

Smokeless Tobacco Facts

Types of Smokeless (Spit) Tobacco:

The two types of smokeless tobacco (ST) are chewing tobacco and snuff. Chewing tobacco is sold in loose leaf, twist and plug forms. Snuff comes in moist, dry and sachet forms. The most popular form of ST today is moist snuff.

Prevalence of the estimated 10 million users of ST, 3 million are under the age of 21. Almost 25% of young users start by the 6th grade, and almost 75% start by the 9th grade. In 1970, young males ages 17-19 used ST the least of any age group. Today, usage by males of these ages is the highest of any age group. More than 5% of adult American males, and 1% of females, use ST. Among US youth in grades 9-12, 10-20% use ST at least once a month and 2-3% use daily.

Tobacco Industry Advertising and Promotion:

The tobacco industry has targeted male adolescents with its aggressive advertising. Ads associate ST with rodeos, rock stars, and sports heroes. ST companies sponsor rock concerts, rodeos, auto racing and tractor pulls.

Risks of Smokeless Tobacco Use:

Spit tobacco is not a safe substitute for smoking. It can cause oral cancers and lead to addiction.The major carcinogens in ST are nitrosamines, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, and radioactive and metallic compounds. The nitrosamine content of ST exceeds beyond 1000X the nitrosamine content allowed by the FDA in products like beer and bacon. ST is also associated with cancers of the esophagus, larynx, and stomach, and an increased risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases.40-60% of ST users exhibit leukolakia in the area where the quid is held, usually within a few months of beginning regular use. Leukoplakia is regarded as precancerous with a malignant transformation rate of 2-6%. Other oral side effects of ST include gingival recession, staining of teeth, loss of taste, and bad breath. Chewing tobacco users have an increase in dental caries due to the higher sugar content in this ST product.ST is dangerous...but Smoking is 2x more likely to cause oral cancer than smokeless tobacco.

The Battle of New Orleans and Colonel Henderson

In Ties that Bind, Deputy Grey and Patrick Rowen bond over their shared experience of fighting "with Old Hickory at New Orleans." That refers to the Battle of New Orleans, the last major battle of the War of 1812. The clash took place on January 8, 1815, just a few miles south of New Orleans, and involved the invading British (who were trying to capture control of the Mississippi River and the area of the Louisiana Purchase) and the defending Americans, lead by Gen. Andrew Jackson. (Jackson was later called Old Hickory as he was known to be tough as hickory.) The battle was a rout for the Americans, with 385 British and 13 Americans dead. Ironically, the war was over prior to the Battle, as the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War, had been signed in late December 1814 in Europe with the news reaching New Orleans in Feb. 1815.

To hear a short NPR report about the Battle, and its affect on Jackson's and America's political future, go to:

To read the wiki entry on the Battle, go to:

In Ties, Patrick Rowen refers to a Col. Henderson who "got his ass shot off in them Cypress Swamps." Presumably, this refers to the the 1st Regiment West Tennessee Militia's Col. James Henderson, who was killed in a skirmish on December 28, 1814. According a National Park Service web site, this is an account of the Henderson's action:

As reconstructed from available evidence, it appears that Henderson was to advance to his front through the woods north of the double ditch. When he reached the place where the fence approached the swamp (about 550 yards away) the colonel would pass around it and attack the right flank of the British column moving along the double ditch. Instead, through some apparent confusion in interpreting his orders, Henderson marched forward at a right oblique, passed the fence and crossed the double ditch near its junction with Rodriguez Canal, and continued in that manner until reaching the first drainage ditch. The movement put him opposite another column of Gibbs's soldiers that had meantime occupied the second ditch, thereby exposing his command to British fire from two directions, that from the group immediately in his front and that from the group he had originally intended to attack. Furthermore, Henderson's presence on that part of the field forced the American artillery to withhold its discharges against the British advance at that point.

Major Tatum described the expedition thusly:

Whether the Colonel properly conceived the order given (verbally) or not, cannot now be ascertained. Certain it is that, instead of advancing under cover, he obliqued to his right and formed his party near the first Ditch and fronting the enemy in the second at least 100 paces to the right of the column he was to have attacked, and immediately in the range of the [supporting] fire intended from the batteries. In this position, he was attacked both in front & flank. This attack was repelled with great bravery but, as may be presumed, with little effect, as his fire was altogether directed against the party covered by the Ditch. The skirmish was short, the Colonel being killed after a few rounds and three of his men cut down nearly at the same time. A retreat was instantly commenced and effected without further loss. One of the men who had fallen in this conflict was discovered to be alive, shortly after the retreat was effected. He arose three times and attempted his escape, on the third attempt he kept on his legs and made towards the lines under a heavy discharge of musketry from the enemy. Major Simpson & Capt. Collins, of the division, discovering this attempt of the wounded man, leaped over the works, crossed the Ditch and ran to his assistance, accompanied by one or two privates. They reached the wounded man and conveyed him to the lines in safety under a most Tremendous discharge from the enemy's line and the column on the flank. It was as great an act of bravery as was witnessed on the lines during the siege.

In fact, Henderson County, Kentucky--the city of Lexington is in the county--was named after this Colonel.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Blocking begins ...

Making a lot of 'blocking noises' as NWP used to call them, but with a cast this size there has to be some method to the madness. So far we've blocked two 'shows' - that sounds so much more industrious than having blocked a 'scene' or even an 'Act.' The SMs have been diligent about measuring and laying out the groundplan and somehow the stage seems so much smaller than before - like in comparison to 'Flesh & Blood.' I added a cross-over, but that's only 2'3", so that can't explain it completely. The ramp to invoke the hillside is one reason - but we also had that in 'Sacred Hearts.' (As Greg said this set is 'David's Greatest Hits' - elements from past sets used to create the great outdoors in an intimate indoor space that is the Plaza Black Box Theater. Need to put my order if for tree number & sizes from my 'tree guy' - Nate - every set designer needs a 'tree guy.') We haven't even gotten to a rehearsal with all the actors to see how small and crowded it's going to get when all 23 cast members are on it. Have to block the two 'big' shows this weekend - God's Great Supper (Civil War) & Fire in the Hole (Coal Strike, 1920). Not sure how I'm going to create the feeling of a coal mine in the space yet, but that's this afternoon's challenge. (Wait, Deirdre, can we ass some railroad tracks between Tall Tales & Fire in the Hole to make it more realistic!?!)

Was just reviewing the 'final' draft of the press releases for the show and added references to this & the dramaturgy blog in the releases. Maybe that's a hook, someone would be interested in hooking onto. Whatever it takes. (Why does 'dramaturgy' fail most spell checkers, drives me crazy! Which is not a long journey at this point, granted, but still!)

How we spend our one day a week without rehearsal THIS WEEK!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Link to "Coal Bump" article

Search for Utah Miners Halted Indefinitely Due to "Coal Bump"

Three rescue workers were killed yesterday while searching for the six trapped miners at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah. According to news reports, their deaths were caused by a "mountain bump" or as it is called in TKC, a "coal bump." The Boston Metro described a coal bump as "pressure inside the mine that shoots coal from the walls with great force." The search has been put on hold indefinitely while mine-safety experts discuss the options. For the full article, check out this link:

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Neck Exercises

Your head and neck region is vulnerable to many different stresses. Here are some exercises I had heard about from a friend and thought to share. The resistance ones are new to me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Utah mine interview on NPR

Today on NPR, All Things Considered at like 5:15, there was this little interview about the Utah miners. This guy was talking about his friend/coworker who was feared dead. Oh my god, I was crying in my car on the way home. They were saying how this guy was always joking, made everybody laugh. They said teasing is a part of "miner culture." I think you have to have pretty thick skin to be a miner. They also said that one guy feared dead is 24 and has only been working for 2 weeks. He said that, at 2 weeks, you still have no real idea what you're doing, you don't have your bearings underground yet.

And they said they wear these brass tags with their SS# attached to their belt. After disasters like the one in Utah, often those brass tags are the only things that are recognizable. It's like the military.

And then this guy that they were interviewing picked up a guitar and said that he and his friend used to jam together and this song is dedicated to him, and then he started playing. And I had to pull over. Wow.
As I was listening to Fire in the Hole last night, I couldn't help but be reminded of Ted Koppel's recent analysis piece on NPR about the similarities to that period in America and the current state of China.

Fire In the Hole and Nietzsche

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he does not in turn become a monster."

Last night, during the read-thru of Fire In the Hole, there was some discussion as to how Joshua Rowen becomes "corrupt," when he begins as a fighter against his corrupt father, Tommy Rowen. A lot was said in terms of what it means to be "corrupt" and why Tommy and Joshua see things the way they do. This quote seemed to sum it all up for me - I see it as a danger of falling to extremes. Tommy can't see the bigger picture, only his family matters. Joshua sees so much of the bigger picture that he neglects his family when he gets older.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Man Has No Choice When He Wants Everything

There is a stunning song I stumbled upon as I was seeking mood music for the wayplays myspace. It's by a Kentucky artist who's on the Oh Brother Where Art Thou & Cold Mountain soundtracks.

I thought the lyrics seem to echo the emotions of some women in the cycles. Particularly the lines "Man has no choice when he wants everything" and "Why would I want him just to lose him again?" stand out for some reason. Is it the primal call for acquisition and procreation in the face of brutality and base survivalism? Yes, why would those women WANT some of those men? Such a strange dynamic they must have had, strange as in foreign - to me at least. You can catch the actual song which plays as the background music at - so beautiful.

The Scarlet Tide Lyrics
Alison Krauss

When I recall his parting words

Must I accept his fate

Or take myself far from this place

I thought I heard a black bell toll

A little bird did sing

Man has no choice

When he wants everything

We'll rise above the scarlet tide

That trickles down through the mountain

And separates the widow from the bride

Man goes beyond his own decision

Gets caught up in the mechanism

of swindlers who act like kings

And brokers who break everything

The dark of night was swiftly fading

Close to the dawn of day

Why would I want him just to lose him again

We'll rise above the scarlet tide

That trickles down through the mountain

And separates the widow from the bride

We'll rise above the scarlet tide

That trickles down through the mountain

and separates the widow from the bride.

A night of theater games ….

Sunday, 8/12, we had ‘critical mass’ of the cast available for the first time, including the prior read-thrus & the first week of rehearsal, so a ‘get-to-know-you’ evening of theater games was appropriate. (The two boys were absent, unfortunately, but they’ll start to be integrated in this week.) Some basic name association exercises were employed, with most of the staff & crew present joining in for good measure. The divider between the two rooms was removed on Friday for an event, so we had a large space, which was used to good advantage. We did a version of ‘whisper down the lane’ where the initial actor mimed an action and that got passed down all 20 some actors one by one. Watching it morph from peeling a banana to a banana split with whipped cream to an oral sex act to, seemingly, drinking from an elongated flask was a sight to behold. (OK, glad the boys weren’t there for THAT one.) There were some group problem-solving exercises – ‘stones-across-the-creek’ – which were solved in unique ways by the two groups. (Team B definitely taking advantage of Team A’s experience.)

Laura Hitt started her first week in town as our dialect coach and did vocal warm-ups & exercises with the group. Melissa Carubia, music director, was up next, she had her portable keyboard and did musical warm-ups and lead a chorus or two of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Amazing Grace. After the a cappella version of Amazing Grace in Stuff Happens last fall, actors joked that every Zeitgeist fall show needs Amazing Grace now – and not a version that will raise the hair on the back of Deirdre’s neck, a la LeAnn Rimes. The groups sounded good – there are a few vocal ringers – so plans for The Kentucky Cycle: The Musical continue as planned!

Meron lead them through ‘Intro to Stage Combat,’ leading Maureen to comment, “I’m never going to let myself get hit on stage, why am I doing this?!” Because it’s fun, Mo, come on! Earlier in the week, Peter Brown had commented that Theater Games make him physically ill. He never left the room to cough up his cookies, so maybe we’ve conquered his fear of ‘ensemble building.’ Near the end, I showed a ground plan of the set design on the chalkboard. Greg Maraio lead applause after the set presentation commenting, “Well we clapped for everyone else, didn’t we?!” Prav Darling, did costumes fittings to wrap up the night.

On her way out, Melissa Baroni observed, “Thanks for tonight, it was fun!” Here’s hoping there’s more nights of ‘fun’ up ahead!!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Ballad of Jimmy Steele

Lots of good stuff entered since I last visited. Since I don't have internet access at home I'll have to read through a lot of this at my desk during lunch...

I just wanted to share the lyrics of a song written by a dear, late friend of mine. He wrote it for his father who was a miner.

Ballad of Jimmy Steele
By Davy Steele

When I was a young man and just seventeen
I worked doon the pit as a belt-boy
Tae keep the coal clean I shed sweat and some tears
And I did everything I was tell't, boys

Coal minin', coal minin',
My life's been coal minin'

Maist o' the miners I worked wi' were grand
Some o' them treated me rough, boys
Some were born wi' a pick in their hands
And I learned the real meaning o' tough, boys

Coal minin', coal minin',
my life's been coal minin'

Soon I was a collier, and proud o' my work
I was one o' the Preston Links team, boys
Cuttin' a road oot intae the forth
Tae the heart o' the Dysart seam, boys

Coal minin', coal minin',
my life's been coal minin'

A war was soon ragin', all Europe went mad
Hitler had called all our bluff, boys
I could have stayed doon the pit like some o' the lads
But for me that was never enough, boys

So I jined the Seaforths wi' some o' my freens
At fightin' I wanted my chance, boys
The Ladies frae Hell we always had been
But we found oot that Hell was in France, boys

And when it was over, and heroes returned
I stayed in the army some time, boys
But a wife and young family need a permanent hame
So I ended up back doon the mine, boys

Coal minin', coal minin',
my life's been coal minin'

I soon settled doon and though minin' had changed
Picked it up, and then came the hitch, boys
I lost an eye and a finger forbye
And I ended up pushin' a switch, boys

Coal minin', coal minin',
my life's been coal minin'

Maist o' my life I hae spent doon the black
At pit jobs I've done quite a few, boys
At the brushin' and packin' I never was slack
And I aye gie'd a hand tae the new boys

James Steele I was christened, auld Jimmy I'm cried
I've worked as lang as I can, boys
I never made money whatever I tried
Just your everyday, hard-workin' man, boys

Coal minin', coal minin',
my life's been coal minin'
Coal minin', coal minin',
my life's been coal minin'

listen and see what a mine is like, plus a great Kentucky Coal website!

Hi folks:

Here is a CNN video about what the mine in Utah looks like inside (you may need to download the CNN Video software):

Here is a KUTV segment as well:

Here is an NPR segment about what it is like to be in a mine:

Lastly, this website has tons of stuff on Kentucky Coal Mining, including pictures of mining in the 1950's, and pictures of coal towns.

Here is the home page:

Here is the word glossary page:


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"The problem is: Real estate is local, but the money is national."

Tangle of loans feeds foreclosure crisis

Borrowers can't tell where to turn for change in terms

Each month, Stephen and Kim Martinelli sent their mortgage payment to Chase Home Finance, and when they fell behind, it was Chase that launched foreclosure proceedings, with an auction of their Lawrence home scheduled for later this week.

The Martinellis, squeezed by the cost of caring for a disabled son and carrying an adjustable-rate mortgage that boosted their monthly payments by $900 over the past year, pleaded with Chase for a break: for a new payment plan, a lower, more affordable rate, or a delay in the foreclosure, due to hardship.

Chase's answer: "No."

What the Martinellis did not know was that Chase was not calling the shots. Chase merely services the loan, acting as bill collector and administrator.

The mortgage was held by an unknown investor, whom Chase declined to identify and who refused to modify the terms of the Martinellis' loan.

They are among thousands of delinquent borrowers caught in the maze of modern mortgage financing as they desperately try to save their homes. Unlike in the last real estate bust, when local banks and credit unions wrote nearly 80 percent of mortgages in Massachusetts, most home loans issued today pass through a nationwide chain of brokers, lenders, service companies, Wall Street firms, and investors. That makes tracing ownership difficult, if not impossible.

In a rising real estate market, the system worked well, spreading loan risks among various players and expanding credit and homeownership.

But as foreclosures mount, the system is proving ill-suited to respond, analysts said. The reason: Spreading risk muddled responsibility.

"It's perfect deniability," said Patricia McCoy, a University of Connecticut law professor who specializes in financial services. "When there's a problem, each person in line says, 'Don't talk to me, talk to the other person.' "

The system is complicating efforts by Massachusetts officials and housing advocates to defuse the burgeoning foreclosure crisis.

For example, Lawrence Community Works, a nonprofit agency, explored buying some of the vacant foreclosed homes in that city and filling them with graduates of first-time home-buying programs, in an effort to stabilize neighborhoods hit hard by the mortgage crisis.

But Kristen Harol, deputy director of the community group, said her staff can't even figure out whom to call to negotiate purchases of the foreclosed properties.

"We can't get to square one," she said. "The problem is: Real estate is local, but the money is national."

Two decades ago, local institutions primarily originated, serviced, and held mortgages. A borrower struggling to make payments might work out a solution with the same banker who made the loan.

Later, financial markets got involved, seeing an opportunity to turn home mortgages into investments that could be packaged and traded for profit. Lenders bundled mortgages together and sold them to investment banks. The investment banks then sold bonds to investors, promising to pay off them off with cash from mortgage payments made by borrowers. These bonds are known as mortgage-backed securities.

"It's a problem because so many hands touch a mortgage during the process," said Steven L. Antonakes, Massachusetts' commissioner of banks. "The level of responsibility and the ability to effect positive change can vary from relationship to relationship" among the different players.

For example, more than 20 percent of foreclosure actions in Massachusetts in the last year have been initiated on behalf of a unit of Deutsche Bank Group, the German financial services giant, according to, which tracks cases. Deutsche, while listed on the deed as the mortgage holder and technically the legal owner, is a trustee for investors such as hedge funds and other financial firms that hold the securities that are backed by these mortgages.

A spokesman said Deutsche Bank has no economic interest in the mortgages and is not responsible for foreclosures or for selling foreclosed property. Such decisions are made by servicing companies, according to contracts with different investor trusts, the spokesman said.

Moreover, mortgage-backed bonds are usually sold with legally binding commitments that create more obstacles for delinquent borrowers. For example, reductions in loan amounts are often needed to keep people from losing homes, but mortgage-backed bonds are usually sold with prohibitions against forgiving loan principal, except in rare cases, said McCoy, the UConn professor.

"Anyone seeking a loan workout is going to have to face these impediments," McCoy said.

The Martinellis bought their single-family home on Beaconsfield Street in 1994 for $92,000. A decade later, they refinanced for a third time, a $274,000 adjustable-rate mortgage, to finish paying for an addition to accommodate their son, Stephen, who was disabled after being severely injured in a car crash. They had hoped to refinance once again before the interest rate reset in 2006, but couldn't because of credit problems related to their son's medical issues.

They fell behind on loan payments this spring, after two rate adjustments within a year had boosted their monthly payment to $3,033, from $2,100. They began calling Chase in May to find a way to catch up. They even sent a partial payment.

But the check was returned, uncashed, and customer service agents at Chase said nothing could be done because foreclosure was already underway. An auction of their home is scheduled for Thursday.

The couple turned to an advocacy group, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, where a loan counselor asked Chase to reduce the interest rate. In July, Chase said the unnamed investor who held the mortgage would not modify the loan.

It was then that the Martinellis learned someone other than Chase held their mortgage.

"It made us feel more than powerless," Martinelli said in a telephone interview. "It made us feel lifeless. It sucked all the life out of us."

But on Friday, after the Globe contacted Chase about the Martinellis, the couple learned the investor who holds their loan had agreed to stop foreclosure proceedings and reduce the rate to the original 7.2 percent. A Chase spokeswoman said news media inquiries have "no bearing on the decisions that are made."

Kim Martinelli said she was relieved, but is still nervous as she awaits written confirmation.

"The really scariest part is what would I do with my son if they did auction my house," she said. "My heart just breaks at the thought of having to put him in a nursing home."

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Harlon County, Kentucky

Just came across this documentary on a 1974 coal strike in Kentucky. I recommend checking it out, it's a pretty good movie