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Utah's Unsafe Nonunion Mine Continues To Claim More Lives

The unsafe nonunion mine in Utah claimed at least three more lives last night in yet another roof fall as tons of rock and coal collapsed on nine rescue worker miners. This mine may be perhaps the deepest in the state of Utah expanding to two to three miles underground, where it is at least a 30 minute truck ride to get outside the mine. The mine also extends more than 2,000 under the surface as well.

The owner of this mine continues to blame "earthquake" activity in the region for the continued collapses of this mine, however local geologists at the University Of Utah continue to note that all seismic activity appears to be highly localized to the mine area, and further believe that all seismic activity is more than 98% mining generated in the area, not part of some Earth fault line shift activity.

The fact of the matter is that this mining company has resisted unionizing so that it can tunnel far deeper into the Earth than most comparable mines anywhere in the U.S., and in addition practices a highly dangerous form of mining known as "retreat" mining in which parts of the mine are completely hollowed out, then those parts are collapsed to fill in areas due to the weakening of area due to the extreme deepness of the mining activity. Union membership by the miners would probably prevent these sort of dangerous and life-threatening sort of mining activity meant to enhance the profits for the mine, while endangering the lives of the miners needlessly.

In addition to remaining as a nonunion mine to avoid the far tighter safety standards that union membership would bring to the miners as well as better wages, many of the miners are of Mexican immigrant to the U.S. status who either became U.S. citizens or are in the process of becoming citizens. It often seems that such immigrants face some of the worst workplace dangers, especially when working in nonunion jobs.

The Governor of Utah will now demand that the rescue attempt for the 6 miners lost days ago will stop, as risking the lives of more miners in a search that is probably futile is not really morally ethical. At some point, you cannot risk more lives for what is an unlikely mission in a wholly unsafe situation.

Hopefully some good will come out of this Utah disaster and more mines in America will become unionized to save worker lives and also mine safety will improve thanks to tighter regulation by Congress as the Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission that regulates mining is now dominated by Bush Administration appointees from the mining industry who have profit concerns for the business side of this industry over the safety concerns of those of the miners themselves.


Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!

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Comments (27)

civil behavior:


If one couldn't tell from the first three minutes of that mine owner speaking into the microphone what he'd been doing for years at his mines then I've got a great bride in MN for sale.

How can anyone be so blind anymore to these gunmen?

UnionScum:

If only this had been a union mine, then no one would have been hurt. Of course, that would be because no one would have been doing any work, unless you call standing around drinking coffee working.

Lee Ward:

Is there any doubt Bob Murray is a die-hard Republican? I read somewhere about his donations to the GOP are in the hundreds of thousands...

Glad he has his priorities in order.

bryanD:

UnionScum, Granted, the 60 Minutes stories like the one about the UAW workers who get paid to sit in the break room for 40 hours a week is insane, but at the USWA shop I worked at, each job had a production quota and each worker 7 points. A union CONTRACT.
Failure to meet the daily quota w/o verified downtime = -1/4 point. Tardy = -1/4 point. Unexcused absence = -1 point. They add up. No points deducted in a quarter? = +1 point (=8pts, a reward!).

Objective work rules = good! No boss's brother-in-law can jump over the seniority system; when a higher paying position opens, senior employees by hiring date can take it or turn it down (reward!). I went from $12 to $20/hr (GOOD money in Oklahoma) in a year and a half because the open job happened to be away from everyone else and the senior people to me were "people persons". (Actually it was a nose to the grindstone job; double cut-off machine, 350 couplings per hour minus tool changes).

Yes, you can drink all the coffee you want, but remember the point system. Certain machines (and their tools, collets, temp settings)are set for certain lots and sizes. If your station is behind, YOU will be on the daily work cards of those downstream as the "Reason" for work stoppage. Then comes the foreman, like anywhere else, union or not.

Now for jobs like steam generator shutdowns and turnarounds, I've done the Fluor-Daniel/Zachry non-union bit, too. And for their purpose they excel unions mainly because they pay prevailing wage ($13+pd - $30+ +pd) and thus can keep an experienced core workforce moving from project to project.

The so-called New Paradigm service economy (non-union) jobs that have been promoted since Jack Kemp's speech in the mid-1980s have, on the other hand, led to dislocated workforces of citizens and non-citizens living paycheck to paycheck, accumulating shiny crap as validation that they aren't just spinning their wheels in place. Which many, many are.

SO: Unions provide a career ladder, whereas non-union jobs are dependent on office politics. I once had 3 fools trying to all be my boss! That can't happen at a union shop. Harrassment? Formal grievance. SAFETY ISSUE? (see topic!) Formal grievance.

Paul
Some of your remarks here are indefensible.

"The fact of the matter is that this mining company has resisted unionizing so that it can tunnel far deeper into the Earth than most comparable mines anywhere in the U.S., and in addition practices a highly dangerous form of mining known as "retreat" mining in which parts of the mine are completely hollowed out, then those parts are collapsed to fill in areas due to the weakening of area due to the extreme deepness of the mining activity."

This sentence is totally false (and too long). Unions do not have exclusive authority as to mining plan approval. That is a matter determined by mining engineers and MSHA. And this mine did not "tunnel far deeper into the Earth than most comparable mines anywhere in the U.S". There are much deeper mining complexes in the US that have comparable or even more problematic geology.

This is called demagoguing, Paul. Stating opinions as if they were facts. Stop demagoguing.

Your most egregious error:

"this mining company has resisted unionizing so that it can tunnel far deeper into the Earth than most comparable mines anywhere in the U.S., and in addition practices a highly dangerous form of mining known as "retreat" mining in which parts of the mine are completely hollowed out, then those parts are collapsed to fill in areas due to the weakening of area due to the extreme deepness of the mining activity".

Your definition of retreat mining is false. No, it's simply amateurish. Retreat mining never "completely hollows out" any area. And "collapsing" those "hollowed out" areas "due to the weakening of area due to the extreme deepness of the mining activity" is ludicrous. The whole concept of retreat mining is to leave sufficient overburden structural support to accomplish a controlled collapse. At no time in retreat mining is an area "completely hollowed out". As to the "extreme deepness", again you reach for hyperbole. Retreat mining is a mining strategy employeed at depths of two hundred feet or two miles, with similar risks considering geology. For example, retreating an entrance with a hard sandstone roof at ten thousand feet of overburden may be less challenging than retreating an entrance at two hundred feet with a shale overburden.

"In addition to remaining as a nonunion mine to avoid the far tighter safety standards"

That statement is false. State and cite the different Federal and State safety standards in mines operated by Consol, Peabody, James River, ICG, Massey and Foundation. Your statement is libelous if you cannot establish this fact of evidence.

HughS, your defense of the awful safety conditions at the wholly unsafe Utah mine is what is indefendsible. Through membership in the United Mine Workers Union, the miners would have had an outlet to voice steady safety concerns about some of the risky mining practices at this mine and potentially avoided all of these deaths in the two recent accidents in which quotas and other business practices so weakened this 2,000 foot deeep 2 to 3 mile long mine where the thin rooflines cannot support adequate any longer and the metal roof supports buckle and collapse under the weight.

Mining experts statements to CNN and other newsorganizations have supported this.

Further the news from this Utah mine only grows worse. In the last thin roof collapse that killed three and injured six, an inspector from the U.S. Mine Safety And Health Administration, Gary Jensen was killed. That's a great way to impress federal mining authorities when a inspector simply sent out to oversee the safety of the mine is killed whern the thin roof collapsed and the metal supports buckled and these rescue workers were killed in a landslide collapse of tons of coal and rock. You know that's certainly going to impress the federal authorities. It is now that federal authorities that closed down this mine as unsafe. What more proof do you need that this mine is unsafe Einstein?

As to your claims of libel, Nonsense. I never specifically mentioned the name of the mine or mine owners by name, not wanting to get ahead of the final official federal report on these two accidents. It is up to this federal regulation board to determine the final safety violations or any possible criminal charges against the mine operators or company. First the owners of the mine have no grounds to prove libel if they are not specifically mentioned by name, and the final federal report will officially the detail the actual violations, of which I have only offered speculation based on the public statements by former employees, mining experts, United Mine Worker Union officials and others.

HughS, It is also highly debatable to claim that the Earth geology area of the mine is what is problematic. A spokesman from the University Of Utah Geology Department has already stated that seismic events are very shallow and that over 98% of seismic activity in the mines in Utah are generated by the mines themself, not a far deeper seismic event indicating a plate shift in the Earth's plates like a true earthquake event. It is weak rooflines and the deepness of the mine that have created an unstable mine, not some Earth event as the mine owner continues to claim according to the exact science of seismic geology. The Governor of Utah has made a statement highly critical of the deepness of this mine, indicating that it may be the deepest in all of Utah.

HughS, I think my journalism here was a very responsible piece that is concerned with workplace safety. I wait with interest to see the final federal report that will formally state the facts about these tragic events, of which many like I feel were simply needless events that far better mine safety practices could have prevented. The fatal accident at the nonunion Sago Mine last years lead to reforms from Washington in mining safety. Hopefully good will come from these tragic events as well. Unlike you, HughS, I certainly cannot defend this mine based on the available evidence so far.

"What more proof do you need that this mine is unsafe Einstein?"

Show me where I said that the Utah mine was safe.

"of which I have only offered speculation based on the public statements by former employees, mining experts, United Mine Worker Union officials and others."

That's an honest statement.

Paul, what is a "thin roofline"?

" thin rooflines cannot support adequate any longer and the metal roof supports buckle and collapse under the weight."

The buckled metal you saw in media reports was the mesh blanket. That mesh is not the primary roof support. The primary roof support is a metal roof bolt that is drilled 36-72 inches into th roof. These bolts don't buckle, they break.

Read my post again. Paul. My argument is with your speculation that retreat mining is unsafe. That is patenetly false. Mining is a complex technical process that requires a great amount of engineering and experience. For you to summarily pass judgement on a mining technique that has been in use for decades and specifically allowed by MSHA is ridiculous.

Further, the union/safety meme is simply wrong. Any miner can raise a safety issue directly with MSHA.

Lee Ward:

"Further, the union/safety meme is simply wrong. Any miner can raise a safety issue directly with MSHA."

Without the protection and strength of a union behind them, that is much less likely to happen than in a unionized company.

kim:

So, you don't think this mine was regulated? Ask the regulators. Ask the owner.
==========================================

"Without the protection and strength of a union behind them, that is much less likely to happen than in a unionized company"

Wrong...again.

Any mining operation that targets an employee in retaliation for reporting a safety violation to MSHA will guarrantee itself this result: severe financial penalty, possible shut down of the mine and possible criminal prosecution.

I made this point on Wizbang. The local U S Attorney just inicted several mine executives, supervisors and the mine owner for doing this very thing.

http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/kye/press/august/ireland%20et%20al%20indict.html

nogo provided the link.

Kim, the very minimum of safety standards and only six annual visits by federal safety regulators wasn't good enough to prevent two fatal accidents within only days of the other was it?

This mine was found to have hundreds of safety violations that date back to 1995 according THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE including $280,000 in fines under two different owners. Why oppose more safety for the workers such as the ability of a union to handle safety concerns by the miners and correct safety issues before the government has to levy fines or shut down the mine?

Paul
Are you more interested in unions or safety? Stop trying to make the point that you can't have one without the other. It's simply not true.

If you're pro UMW, then go for it. If you want safer mines, call your congressman, senator or local/state representative. But calling the UMW local isn't going to get you a safer mine. Do you want to know why?

HughS, I think in a potentially dangerous industry such as mining that the UMU can make an important difference in worker safety. And I certainly support any new regulations that create a safer working environment for miners regardless of the source of this improved safety. I do take the time to write members of Congress and find my own Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican, to be very nice to write to, even if we disagree sometimes.

It deeply distresses me that coal is used for much of the production of electricity when safer and cleaner alternatives exist. Even nuclear energy seems more preferable to me. Even black lung is a serious health concern from this potentially dangerous job. No pay is enough to reward these workers for their work.

Ryan:

I love it when Utah issues come up, as I get to add a local flavor to the topics here on wizbang. My wife's cousin, Brett Guymon, was born and raised in Huntington, UT, about a 5 hour drive from where we both now live in Logan, UT. He has personally worked for Bob Murray at Murray's Crandall Canyon Mine, and he has given me plenty of personal accounts of his experiences there. In Huntington, UT, it's either work at the mine for 50,000 a year, or try to farm. He knows what kind of man Bob Murray is. Bob Murray doesn't bat an eye at paying a $280,000 fine for horrible conditions at his mine because said mine is netting untold millions in coal revenue every year to fuel power plants that allow us to sit here on our computers and turn on the lights, and run our air conditioners in our homes. Everyone on this site has no doubt enjoyed power generated from coal taken from the Crandall Canyon mine. In the last 5 years or so, the coal has started to become somewhat exhausted there at Crandall Canyon, so Bob Murray and his board have been doing what we've all heard in the last couple weeks on the news, but probably don't quite understand, namely "retreat mining". When these mines are first bored into the Earth, columns are left to support them, columns containing a lot of coal. When the miners end up hitting rock without much usable coal content, they can start doing "retreat mining" which involves mining the supports of the established mine for the coal within, (supposedly under controlled circumstances). As the support structurs are mined away, they collapse and bury the tunnel beyond, if everything goes properly. Needless to say, this is unimaginably dangerous work. But Bob Murray doesn't give a shit. He doesn't have to go down there. He can make a photo-op of himself helping the rescuers with his little headlamp blazing, after the fact. That is why 6 miners are dead in that tunnel, and 3 more have died trying to rescue them. But, I digress. The point is, my cousin-in-law can tell you personally that he prayed to God for his life every morning he went down into the Earth to make his pay. He's also told me that everyone on his crew knew that what they were doing could cost them their lives at any moment, and that he has seen miners get fired for voicing any kind of unease at going down there. Bob Murray is not an idiot. He knew full well what was going on at his mine, but he wanted to maximize his bottom line over the lives of common, blue-coller guys with wives and children who loved them. Here's hoping, personally, that Federal investigators get their shit together and make sure that Bob Murray spends the rest of his life rotting in prison BEFORE he spends his afterlife rotting in Hell.

Lee Ward:

HughS:

Any mining operation that targets an employee in retaliation for reporting a safety violation to MSHA will guarrantee itself this result: severe financial penalty, possible shut down of the mine and possible criminal prosecution.

I made this point on Wizbang. The local U S Attorney just inicted several mine executives, supervisors and the mine owner for doing this very thing.

http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/kye/press/august/ireland%20et%20al%20indict.html

nogo provided the link."

Negative on the "local US attorney just indicted...for doing the very same thing" part, which shoots holes in the rest of that comment. The article you linked to, Hugh, says absolutely nothing about punishing mine execs for retaliation.

It says:

August 2 , 2007

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Former owner and operators of the James H. Taylor Mining, Inc. No. 1 mine located in Pike County were indicted today by a federal grand jury for violations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, more commonly known as the Mine Safety Act.

The six count indictment alleges that former mine owner Ireland Williams, 48, of Louisa; former mine foreman Monroe Maynard, 44, of Lovely; former mine managers Mitch Lester, 47, of McCarr and Dean Francis, 51, of Belfry; and former mine section foreman Bill Vanover, 36, of Lovely; committed these violations at the mine located near Turkey Creek from January 2004 through December of 2005.

Actions such as the deep cuts of coal in violation of the mine's roof control plan, excessive widths of rooms, mining into old work mines without an approved plan, not cleaning up coal dust and allowing it to accumulate, installing required fire sensors along the belt line but not electronically connecting them, and allowing miners to carry smoking materials and permitting them to smoke in the mine. "

You can get a way with that over at Wizbang - hell, the blog writers do it all the time. They state something supposedly supported by the link, and when you check the link it doesn't support their argument.... but it isn't lying -- no, no -- it's intentionally mis-stating the truth and pretending you're out of town when someone in the comment thread suggests you issue a correction. lol

Try again, Hugh - that duck doesn't fly on Wizbangblue.

OK Lee
I will try again:

I KNOW the individuals who were indicted. Do you know them Lee?

I have BEEN in the mine.

I have READ the indictment. Have you, Lee? Have you read it?

I KNOW HOW the U S Atty came about the information contained in the indictment. It is public information. But you're such a lazy sloppy poster here I doubt you can find it.

I know what MSHA has said regarding the indictment. Do you know what MSHA has said Lee?

Want to call me a liar Lee? What's it worth to you?

"it's intentionally mis-stating the truth and pretending you're out of town when someone in the comment thread suggests you issue a correction. lol"

....meaning what? Have I avoided anyone here? Or do you have me on the clock?


Lee Ward:

ohhh, are we upset, Hugh? Do we need a nap?

You don't have to do anything -- except stop linking to articles claiming they support your wild-eyed claims when they don't, please.

Just link to an article that supports your contention or quit blowing hot air up our butts about people who were indicted because they retaliated against union whistle blowers,

or slink away like wounded puppy,

or bellow like a mule.

You said what you "know" then showed you didn't. Your welcome to have another chance to redeem yourself here Hugh. Show us where these mining execs were indicted for retaliation, as you say - your link was irrelevant.

Lee
You're the one with the clock ticking problem.Do I have to go look it up for you, or ask Lori?
Check the Blue posts. I made two comments at Blue while you said I was " pretending you're out of town when someone in the comment thread suggests you issue a correction. lol"

Check your blog here to confirm the times.lol

You're such a fool.

Lee

As to my being able to support my argument on the Taylor indictments: what's it worth to you Lee?

I propose a duel: If I cannot substantiate and prove my claim with actual witness testimony I will disappear from this site forever. If I can prove my point, you disappear forever. What say you, Lee?

BTW, Kevin any thoughts?

Lee Ward:

Well you know, Hugh - before you started braying like a jackass if you'd just said "Oops, my mistake - no link but I have personal knowledge on this" I might have believed you.

Now, your link has been shown to be irrelevant and instead of providing a link you're calling me out?

You didn't even read the article you linked to, did you? You know - the article that you said proved you were right?

So do you have a link to support your claim or not? I'm certainly not going to waste *my* time trying to chase down a link to support *your* argument...

Lee
I read the article I linked to several days ago. I won't grant you the personal knowledge admission because you are a lazy moron who won't even check the time stamps on your own blog.
That said I'm tired of your attacks..."braying like a jackass". I am calling you out because you you are talking out your ass about something you know absolutely nothing about. And when you accuse me of avoiding you, you lie like a jackass. Because you are one. Because the evidence refuting your point is on YOUR OWN BLOG, you asshole.

Lee Ward:

So you didn't read the article you linked to -- and you won't admit that mistake, so you probably won't admit that you're wrong about this either... I wrote:

You can get a way with that over at Wizbang - hell, the blog writers do it all the time. They state something supposedly supported by the link, and when you check the link it doesn't support their argument....

You're not a blog writer at Wizbang, Hugh. I wasn't talking about you. I was talking about Lorie, Kim, Paul, and Jay.

And your braying is bringing you dangerously close to being banned here, Hugh -- and that would be such a shame since your phony links and blustery air of bullshit adds so much to the discussion.

"So you didn't read the article you linked to"...NO, see #22 above. Can you read, Lee?

I won't admit this point: "and you won't admit that mistake (linking to a reference with which I have personal knowledge of)" because I have more knowledge of what happened than you...but that is damning with faint praise. You are trying to opine on a subject that you have no history, experience or knowledge of.

BTW, what of your accusation in #16 above? True or false? Go ahead and ban me: my argument stands on its merits.

Lee Ward:

"You are trying to opine on a subject that you have no history, experience or knowledge of."

Not only that, I don't have an opinion on the subject of mine safety specifically, period. I do have opinions on worker safety and unions, and I base that on 25 years of experience as a non-union manager managing a unionized department of 60 FTEs. I negotiated contracts, dealt with grievances and arbitrations, and sat on health and safety committees. I wrote "SOP" manuals, and put together and maintained MSDS records.

I never, NEVER asked an employee of mine to do I job I wasn't willing to do myself.

I never, NEVER retaliated against an employee who declined to do something because it was too dangerous. Instead I went to the shop steward and got a jurisdiction waiver so I could do it myself.

I violated union jurisdiction many times because when I saw a safety problem I fixed it then and there, regardless of the fact that I wasn't a union member and was violating the jurisdiction clauses of the contract by doing so... and I was never grieved once. My employees knew I had their back.

Now, after you go look up what those words mean, why don't you come back and step down from your high horse and tell us what you personally know -- or take a long walk off a short pier instead, jackass.

I'm more like the guy Bob Murray is pretending to be. I'm the real deal, Hugh -- and therefore I DO know that Bob Murray is just another Republican BS phony.

And when I called you on your phony link you put it all back on me - just like phony Bob Murray would do.

Your credentials are.... all in your head - apparently --- cause you sure aren't showing them here.

"BTW, what of your accusation in #16 above? True or false?"

Quit being disingenuous. I already told you that I was referring to the blog writers at Wizbang who run and hide at the dentists' office when it comes time for a correction.

YOU are just a commenter who was fact-checked and found wrong -- and now you are playing the wounded baby rather than proving you weren't just full of Republican Bullshit.

Lee
Need a nap?

"BTW, what of your accusation in #16 above? True or false?" As a BLOG WRITER you didn't make that very clear. Is it writing class you need to add to your resume?

I know what all those words and acronyms,Lee,I just know when to keep my mouth shut... I grew up in the meatpacking business.

I have done every job in a full line meat processing plant from grading and driving hogs and cattle to performing every job on the killing floor. It's not a pretty business. I have stood hip deep in both bovine and swine shit and blood for hours on the killing floor of a union organized meat packing plant.So spare me your lecture. I know what dirty work is. I know what industrial disease is. I know what shop foremen do and don't do.I know the role of a union.

I worked when OSHA had no power and influence.I never asked an employee to do something I wouldn't do because I had to do anything and everything as a result of absentees.

If your point is to emphasize your experience with labor, then say so. But don't preach to me about hard work and risk. Been there, done that.

Reading your post, it is more apparent that your problem is with Bob Murray, right? And , as YOU are NOT a COMMENTER here, live up your RESPONSIBILITY as a BLOGGER.

"I'm more like the guy Bob Murray is pretending to be. I'm the real deal, Hugh -- and therefore I DO know that Bob Murray is just another Republican BS phony."

Do you think this is an interview? LOL!

The challenge I made earlier still stands.

I deeply appreciate the intense interest that this feature drew here on Wizbang Blue. I also appreciate that some like Ryan and even HughS, added some important opinions here as well although on opposite sides of this story, and maintained a healthy exchange of ideas with Lee and myself.

I promise to actively seek more thought-provoking pieces like this so that this version of Wizbang can establish a reputation for quality as the best Wizbang blog of them all. Thanks to everyone on all sides of this issue to maintain a strong dialogue and healthy debate here. Thanks to everyone for your opinions regardless of your views.

Paul

A genuine thanks to you and ryan for those remarks. I would encourage you to follow up this story because it will have national attention, regardless of how it turns.

Coal mining is dangerous work. The transition to alternative sources of energy is at a minimum decades away. Coal miners deserve the scrutiny that the public places on their safety. Mine operators deserve the same scrutiny. It's dangerous work.

But US citizens should understand that coal is going to be the fuel source for at least 50% of their electricity needs for years. Instead of of blaming mine owners (which is easy and sometimes justified), educate the public as to the risks these men take to extract coal from deep mines.

As I said yesterday, no one should believe for a minute that coal mine operators do business at no risk. But I can think of no other industry that penalizes operators for safety mistakes like the mining industry does.

I repeat, when a plane crashes as a result of pilot error, when a bridge collapses as a result of poor engineering....does anyone go to jail? Only in mining do the prosecutors engage.

Paul, aggressively follow up the Utah incident. Let's see where it takes us.


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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