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The coal industry does care about safety

I take exception to Tawni O'Dell's indictment of the coal industry as "rife with mismanagement, corruption, greed and ... [a] blatant disregard [for] safety" ("Heroes, Victims, Martyrs, Fools," April 11 Forum). I know quite a few senior managers after 36 years in the industry, and I see a different picture.

U.S. coal fatalities were a historic low of 18 in 2009, compared with more than 3,000 in China -- or with the estimated 300 children who die in accidents on America's family farms every year. Are family farmers corrupt and greedy, blatantly disregarding the safety of children just to harvest the crop? The coal industry's progress in reducing accidents is owed to the efforts of its management and work force, to better technology and to a robust inspection system.

The industry CEOs I know are good and honorable people. Like the CEOs of most companies, they care about production, but they also care deeply about workplace safety. They have large safety organizations and spend millions of shareholders' dollars on safety -- not just on compliance with the law, but on new technologies and better training.

And contrary to public opinion, most coal CEOs understand that poor safety performance increases, not decreases, costs. A trained, experienced work force is a valuable asset. When miners get hurt, work is disrupted, facilities or equipment are damaged, and medical costs skyrocket. There is little incentive to be cavalier about safety.

The loss of life at the Upper Big Branch mine is a tragedy felt by everyone in the industry. But it's premature to convict Massey Energy before the investigation. And it is certainly unfair for Ms. O'Dell to brand an entire industry when the facts say otherwise.

Carbon Communications Consultants
Upper St. Clair

The union matters

Tawni O'Dell is wrong about coal miners ("Heroes, Victims, Martyrs, Fools," April 11 Forum). In the Washington County mine where I worked for 13 years, and in my travels to coal mining communities around the United States, the miners with whom I shared that underground life had little in common with the stereotype she presents. Far from being "the last ones to speak up for their rights," these men and women were keeping up the United Mine Workers of America's long tradition of being leaders in exactly the opposite of what Ms. O'Dell proclaims -- in standing up not only for themselves, but for one another.

Then along come Massey and Don Blankenship to West Virginia with a vicious campaign in the 1980s to change all of that -- to drive out the organization that makes it possible for miners to "speak up for their rights." It was on the UMWA picket lines there, and in the vigils outside the jails alongside the wives of the miners who were arrested for standing up for themselves -- and for one another -- that I learned the words to all the verses of "Amazing Grace." That's where I learned to admire to the depths of my soul the standing-up and standing-together spirit of these miners and their families.

Massey won. The miners lost their union. Now Massey can fire miners who "speak up for their rights." Methane is present? Combustible dust? You say work anyway? Do I risk maybe losing my life, or certainly losing my job by "speaking up"? Get the picture?

These miners need the union that kept me and my co-workers and union sisters and brothers alive. Laws help, but without the union they don't get enforced and miners die. My heart and soul are with my brothers and sisters in West Virginia. They need more than that. They need our union.

Park Place

For a safer world

I normally read Jack Kelly's column and laugh. I often wonder how many people think like him. I guess we have to blow somebody off the map to make him happy ("Nuclear Naivete," April 11).

Sarah Palin says "lock and load." Others say "nuke 'em." I say someone has to be the first to put the knife down, unload the gun and say, "enough is enough."

In the Beatitudes of St. Matthew, Chapter 5, Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." He did not say, "He who has the most bombs wins."

That President Barack Obama is trying to make the world safer, in my opinion, is a good thing. America needs to take the initiative to show that we will do whatever it takes to bring peace and love into the world.

I don't know what makes some people hate. I don't hate anyone, not even Mr. Kelly.

Ben Avon

Ask other Catholics

When the Vatican recently referred to "petty gossip," it might have envisioned Sally Kalson's April 11 column ("The Pedophile Scandal Turns Nixonian").

Ms. Kalson recounts a friend's ugly claim about the church ("When I was growing up, just about every parish had its pedophile priest"), then, after noting other assertions, goes on to state, "I don't know how representative she is of Catholics current or lapsed." Did Ms. Kalson not care to ask any of the hundreds of thousands of happy, practicing Catholics who live and work in the region? If not, does she believe that her commentary is well-informed, i.e. something other than "petty gossip"?

Had Ms. Kalson asked, she would have encountered among the faithful not only deep contrition, but also a very different narrative concerning the church's great progress on the abuse issue, along with widespread hope for the future and fondness for the clergy. She might also find indignation over her giving voice to her friend's explosive and incredible claim at a time when Catholics' emotions are running raw.

Ms. Kalson is a very able writer, and I'm sure a lovely and conscientious person. She is welcome to criticize, but if she doesn't wish to handle such a sensitive topic with the required discretion and nuance, then perhaps she ought to write about something else.

West Deer

Journalistic low

Like the Catholic Church with its pedophile scandal, journalism has also been experiencing a loss of public trust. Sally Kalson's April 11 column ("The Pedophile Scandal Turns Nixonian") is an example of another low. Ms. Kalson and her disgruntled friend, Carrie, are to have us believe that Catholic families stood idly by while pedophile priests abused their children. Give me a break.


Students say it

This letter is in response to the letter from Natalie Thomas of Swissvale ("Offensive to Most," April 4). She writes that the majority of African-Americans do not use the N-word.

I taught for 30 years in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The N-word was used regularly by African-American youths in addressing each other or talking about others. If I had a dollar for every time I heard "the word" used, I would have been able to retire five years sooner.

This subject was even addressed during in-service meetings and other faculty gatherings. African-American teachers were at a loss to understand why students would use self-denigrating language.

Sorry, Ms. Thomas, but the word has been and is still used by many African-American school students.


Buyer beware, especially in the world of art

Sally Kalson's April 11 article ("From Peanuts to Picasso: Art Collection Is Vast, But Is It the Real Deal?") is a cautionary tale to those who may think a "deal" is too good to be true. It is!

Tony Greco says he gets few returns, but I know he has had more than a few. I know of work that has been returned to Mr. Greco because our studio was able to explain to the purchaser that it was not the work of my husband, "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz.

Since my husband's death in February 2000, I have been sent innumerable images which people who are familiar with his work are questioning. In 98 percent of the cases they are not my husband's original drawings.

I see artwork on the websites of galleries and auctions, as well as individual work on eBay, that I have had to tell the sellers is not authentic. Of course they feel cheated.

So all of us who represent my husband's legacy are saying, again, as loudly as we can, "Buyer beware." Buy only with a 100 percent, good forever, guarantee of authenticity! And remember that even then a certificate of authenticity may not be worth the paper it is printed on.

Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates
Santa Rosa, Calif.

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We welcome your letters. Please include your name, address and phone number, and send to Letters to the Editor, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222. E-mail letters to letters@post-gazette.com or fax to 412-263-2014. Letters should be 250 words or less, original and exclusive to the Post-Gazette. All letters are subject to editing for length, clarity and accuracy and will be verified before being published.


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