January 06, 2018

Remembering Paul Nyden

I was saddened to learn today of the passing of longtime Charleston Gazette investigative reporter Paul Nyden. I was an avid follower of his work ever since I started paying attention to what was happening in West Virginia.

I was in awe of his high-impact exposures of corruption and greed in corporate and government settings He was a tireless advocate for coal miners, working people and the disadvantaged.

It was a privilege to get to know him when I began working for the American Friends Service Committee in 1989. From then until  his retirement a couple of years ago, if there was a story of injustice that needed to get out, you could count on Paul to do it.

He wasn't just a great reporter. He was a great reader and thinker, an avid baseball fan, and just a bit of a wild man at times.

With a PhD.from Columbia (documenting coalfield struggles), he could easily have had a cozy academic career. Instead, he was drawn to West Virginia by the struggles of miners during the Black Lung and Miners for Democracy movement.

He once told me of a conversation he had with a university administrator who was critical of his interest in such apparently trivial matters as the well being of coal miners. Paul just started staring at the ceiling.

"Why are you looking at that?: his critic asked.

"Do you ever worry about it falling on you?" Paul responded.

"No," said the administrator.

Paul just said, "They do."

January 02, 2018

Cold days cold kids

When I was a kid, I used to pray for snow days. And be jealous of the eastern counties in the  neighboring state of Kentucky, which seemed to shut down from January to April. Back then, schools were mostly closed for reasons of road safety. Lately, they've begun closing them due to cold temperatures and wind chill.

I get the point. Nobody wants to see kids miserable waiting for buses. But there's another side to the story. For many kids in West Virginia and no doubt elsewhere, school may be the only warm and safe shelter they get to spend time in--and it may be the only chance some get for a nutritious breakfast and lunch.

I keep going back to a discussion my wife had with students from one of West Virginia's poorest counties, which is also one of the poorest in the US. On the bright side, it was one of a growing number of counties that provided free breakfast and lunch for all students.

A Spanish teacher, she was teaching them about the custom of siesta. She asked if they'd prefer to have a big break and nap in the middle of the day or do things like they do here. They overwhelmingly wanted to keep things the way they were here-- "because everybody gets to eat."