Not in My Frack Yard

Pity the poor PR man.

In Texas there’s been a recent embarrassment. Bartonville is a Dallas suburb where the wealthy relax on their hobby horse farms posing as hobby cowpokes. But some of these J.R. wannabes have had their idyll disturbed by the local water utility’s plan to build an immense 15-story water tower. They’ve sued to stop the project on the grounds that it would create ”a noise nuisance and traffic hazard” according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal.

Turns out all that water is needed not for the drinking and bathing needs of the population of 1600, but because of the increasing number of hydraulic fracking wells being drilled in the vicinity. There goes the neighborhood, as they say.

An anti-fracking protest in oil besotted Texas is already news, but it gets better. Or worse, if you are doing PR for the oil industry, because one of the plaintiff’s is Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil. Oops.

To be fair, Tillerson (his lawyer actually), clams his objection is not to the fracking, the traffic, the noise but because the tower would be an eyesore reducing the property value of his 83 acre horse farm and 18 acre homestead.

Well, maybe it is all aesthetic and economic concerns motivating Tillerson, but one can’t help suspecting he and his neighbors don’t mind fracking, drilling and refining so long as they take place where less wealthy people live. People whose property hasn’t got much value to lose and whose health is worth risking in order to make Exxon Mobil a buck.

But we already know that. This is the same XOM that was responsible for despoiling Alaska with the Valdez spill. It has also been fined $105 million recently for polluting ground water in New York and $236 million for doing the same in New Hampshire. It has illegally pumped 10 million pounds of pollutants into the air over the largest refinery in the United States near Houston. And the attorney general of Pennsylvania is investigating the spilling of 57,000 gallons of fracking pollutants in his state where a study has found 115 of 141 wells near fracking sites have been contaminated with methane.

Not a peep from Tillerson about aesthetic or property value issues in Alaska, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania or Houston, however. Only about eyesores in his Bartonville backyard. You can’t be too careful of your property’s value when you’re scraping by on a paltry $40 million a year. You may want to stick to Perrier or Evian, too. Maybe even for the horses.

Rock Throwin’ All Over the World

There is violence in the streets of Kiev and Bangkok just to name the latest venues. “People everywhere just wanna be free.” Their “elected” representatives, their autocratic overlords, their maximum leaders want them to sit down, shut up and do as they’re told.

Nothing new there, but the media reports are breathless with surprise (and thrilled by the bloody videos). Wise men are assembled to examine the roots of the disease, offer a diagnosis and deliver a prognosis. But they seem almost as surprised and certainly can’t say what will happen next.

Really? The protesters will be crushed. Or reforms to defuse the situation will be promised and never delivered. Or the evil autocrat will be replaced by a shiny new model. Or the popular uprising will succeed and the bumbling revolutionaries will prove so divided, disorganized and generally incompetent to govern that the old boss, or oligopoly or junta will soon come to the fore once again.

It’s sad. Tragic, really.  Especially since all that these people really seem to want is a land where every man is able to sit “under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.”

But is it really a surprise? With no history of the rule of law, private property rights, self-determination, electoral democracy, capitalist economics, religious freedom, a free press, civil rights, universal literacy the odds are long against a happy outcome.

Those who report on or parse the meaning of these endless, miserable instances of ruined hopes adopt a judicious, measured, objective tone in the face of calamity. They want to be invited back to opine again and don’t want to appear naive by wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Or radical by caring for the oppressed. Or cynical by saying what we all know to be true.

The people are throwing rocks, but the oppressors have the tanks. It isn’t going to end well. No one will come to the aid of the embattled. And next week, surprise will be expressed at the latest photogenic ka-boom.

So What’s a Podunk Pundit?

Well, the Pundit part is easy. It’s an opiner, a kibitzer, a bloviater commenting on the passing parade. For twenty years or so I performed this function at a couple daily papers (if you remember those), writing editorials, columns, book reviews, drama reviews and what were sneeringly called thumb suckers.

I haven’t done this for a living for quite awhile, but old habits die hard. Every time I read a paper, watch the news, TV or movies, listen to the radio, read a book I immediately start dictating my response in my head. I kept telling myself I should get a blog and prove myself a blockhead, which is what Dr. Johnson called any man who writes for any reason other than money. But inertia is a powerful force. Finally, however, thanks to the invaluable tech support of Brian Hodge, here I am. My random thoughts no longer blushing unseen, wasting their tartness on the desert air but rather are now polluting cyberspace.

As to the Podunk part, I spent my first twenty-five years in Ohio, another twenty-five in North Carolina and a couple strange interludes in Virginia and Minnesota. By the reckoning of the wise guy talking heads, thought leaders, tastemakers to whom we are expected to listen, anything beyond the New York-Washington axis (with the possible exception of L.A.) is the outback, the sticks, the boondocks, flyover country. In short, Podunk. And anything emanating from such places is by definition not worth listening to. It’s the same as the one percent having all the money, except in this view of things the one percent in the big city have all the ideas. The rest of us shouldn’t worry our little heads about it.

A dear friend of mine with whom I shared the prospective name of this blog was aghast. She is part of a generation still actually able to get aghast. She didn’t think we lived in Podunk and disliked the imputation. I assured her that far from wanting to defame the 99 percent of the country living in Podunk, I intended to clamber aboard Rocinante and tilt at windmills on their behalf.

Except for three years or so in the Pacific thanks to the empire of Japan, my Dad spent his life in Podunk and he was smart, modest, amiable, decent, honest, thoughtful, fair-minded, a good citizen and a lot better role model than such denizens of Metropolis as Donald Trump, Bernie Madoff, Richard Fuld, Rupert Murdock, Anthony Weiner, or the latest criminal rap star, slutty reality show housewife or Washington weasel. So here’s to Podunk. That’s my opinion.