Industrial strength obfuscation

A line of 30,000 gallon railway tankersI grew up around farmers who often used words, or didn’t, in hopes you would hear what they wanted you to hear rather than what they actually said.

I once asked a fellow to suggest a good car body repair guy.

“A lot of people like Ted Jacobs,” Jake said, (the names are not real) then after a short period of thought, “And some think Ken Strasbaugh does a pretty good job.”

“You didn’t mention Jimmy Godson,” I noted.

“You could go there,” said Jake.

I took the hint and didn’t.

I learned early in life to listen to what people say. I also learned that what they don’t say often is more important. Listening to politicians requires those skills. You must know lots of words, because they do, and they often deliberately use them incorrectly.

One of my favorite phrases is “playing politics,” as in the NRA supporter accusing a safe school supporter of “playing politics” by tugging the heartstrings of anyone who thinks a bunch of kids being shot is cause for sadness.

In the same vein is the guy who says “I’m not a politician.” I’m not a race car driver, either, but I would be if I climbed into the cockpit of a McClaren Formula One and pulled onto the track.

Anyway, isn’t that what we pay those folks for – to be political, to stick up for their, uh, our principles.

And I always have to chuckle when one guy says how he’s going to “bring together both sides of the aisle.” Unfortunately for the claimant, there are two sides of the aisle because they represent different philosophies. Sometimes, there seem to be three sides, or more, especially in such contentious times as we now live, with various sides claiming they want to “take back” the country, as though it has been stolen from them.

Politicians and captains of industry often react to disaster with the declaration the event was “unacceptable,” and that a “thorough investigation” will be conducted to ensure that it “never happens again.”

Last week, a 96-car train malfunctioned, causing 16 tank cars to derail. Four of them burst into flames. Others leaked Bakken oil – the most explosively hazardous fossil fuel we can stuff in a 30,000-gallon barrel on wheels and haul across country – into the nearby Columbia River, a waterway known for its premiere commercial and sport fisheries.

I’ve been waiting for a Burlington Northern Santa Fe executive to say the accident – and resulting 42,000-gallon oil leakage that shut down a nearby town’s water treatment plants and put residents under a “boil water” notice – was “unacceptable;” that the company is investigating to learn what happened so it would “never happen again.”

But the risk will be accepted, with the derailment on the banks of the Columbia River only the latest one, and they will happen again. According to a National Geographic article, there were 16 times more Bakken train accidents nationwide in 2014 than in 2010. In 2010, there were accidents in 8 states. Four years later, 21 states hosted Bakken train crashes.

In spite of federal regulations mandating use of “safer” tanks, they still explode into sky high fireballs and dump their contents into nearby fresh water sources.

An unnamed Union Pacific spokesperson told a FOX TV affiliate that company executives “deeply apologize” for the event. I half-expected the spokesperson to add “for the inconvenience” to the apology.

But it is not a mere inconvenience. And the blackened air and fouled drinking water will not be cleaned by politically obfuscating pronunciations.

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