Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hanging on to stupidity

For the 17th consecutive year, the United Nations General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to urge an end to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. According to the AP, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque expressed hope that our next president will take a fresh look at the issue and respond to the international appeal. We'll see. Politicians, especially those in Florida and those who might need to win Florida in a presidential election, have cowered in fear of the Cuban-American population and refused to do the right thing. The only effect the embargo has had is to make life tougher on the average Cuban citizen. Do you really think Fidel Castro and his hierarchy suffered one iota as a result of the embargo? Of course not. And noted foreign policy expert George W. Bush has actually tightened the restrictions over the past eight years. Why? Well, U.S. diplomat Ronald Godard says it's the fact that the Cuban government is undemocratic and restricts political and economic freedom. Oh, I get it. We don't deal with governments that are undemocratic and restrict political and economic freedom. But, um, wait a minute. It seems to me that we still buy hundreds of billions of dollars worth of crap every year from China. Aren't those the same people who brutally repress their people, crush free speech and have billions of folks living in squalor? Hmmm. And it also seems that many of our major corporations are making huge investments in Russia. Did I read recently about them rolling tanks into a neighboring country, and about their leader becoming more and more of a dictator? And, wait a minute, aren't we still buying oil from crazy Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez? And it seems to me we have been pretty buddy-buddy with Saudi Arabia, the country that brought us most of the 9/11 hijackers. But trade with Cuba? Hell no! They're bad.


You poor, poor baby

There's a lady named Missy Chase Lapine (shown at left) who is involved in litigation claiming that Jerry Seinfeld's wife stole her idea for a kids cookbook, and now she's whining about a joke Seinfeld made about her. Jerry was on David Letterman's show and joked that people with three names - such as James Earl Ray and Mark David Chapman - have turned out to be assassins. In a court filing related to her lawsuit, Lapine expressed how terribly horrified she was by those comments, saying she "never felt so frightened and vulnerable" as when her 7-year-old daughter came home from school and asked "Mom, what is an assassin?" For gawd's sake. First, my BS detector is going off like nobody's business. Second, if you've never felt so frightened and vulnerable before, you've had one hell of an easy life. Third, it's hard to take seriously a grown woman who goes by the name of "Missy." Fourth, just shut up. There were two correct responses to the question purportedly posed by Missy Jr. The first: "Honey, that was just a man making a joke. Don't worry about it." The second: "If you want to know the meaning of the word, look it up in the dictionary. And, if you just look up the first three letters, that's what some people think your mother is."


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Somebody needs to go to jail

An investigation is under way after an 8-year-old boy accidentally shot himself to death Sunday with a submachine gun at a gun fair in Massachusetts. The AP reports that Christopher Bizilj shot himself in the head when he lost control of the Uzi 9mm micro machine gun as it recoiled while he was trying to shoot a pumpkin during the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo at the Westfield Sportsman's Club. Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett is investigating whether firearms laws were violated and whether is was "a reckless or wanton act to allow an 8-year-old to use a fully loaded automatic weapon." Gee, do you think? Said Bennett, "At this point in the investigation, I have found no lawful authority which allows an 8-year-old to possess or fire a machine gun." The boy's father, Charles Bizilj, said Christopher had fired handguns and rifles before, but Sunday was his first experience with an automatic weapon. Supposedly, a certified instructor was with the boy at the time, but clearly he or she didn't provide sufficient instruction and/or supervision. The father said he was about 10 feet away from his son, ready to snap a photo. He's just one of the people who should be facing criminal charges in this case. Reckless endangerment would be the minimum charge, in my opinion. There was no comment on the incident from Edward Fleury, owner of COP Firearms & Training, which co-sponsored the event. A report in The Republican, a newspaper in Springfield, Mass., identified Fleury as the longtime police chief in the town of Pelham, Mass., which took administrative action against Fleury in 2003 after he discharged a loaded rifle while teaching - wait for it - a gun-safety class. The AP said Fleury's company and Westfield Sportsman's Club have held the gun expo since 2002. The Springfield newspaper said Fleury described it in a 2005 interview as a safe environment for people "to see and fire some of the guns that they've seen in the movies, or on the History Channel, or other events that involve firearms." Like maybe an 8-year-old kid blowing his head off?


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A crook gets his due

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens thought it was a good idea to put his criminal trial behind him before next week's election. Now, he might be having second thoughts. A jury in Washington, D.C., on Monday found the longtime Republican lawmaker guilty of trying to conceal more than $250,000 worth of home improvements and other gifts from a rich oil contractor who was a close pal. There's no guarantee that Alaska voters will turn out Stevens - after all, he's brought tons of pork to the state - but this sure doesn't help his chances. Stevens' defense was basically that the missus was in charge of all that house-renovating stuff and he was clueless. An AP report suggested that Stevens did himself no favors by testifying on his own behalf because he "stuttered and looked uncomfortable answering several questions" and sparred angrily with a prosecutor. A story that came out over the weekend perfectly illustrated why dinosaurs like Stevens - along with Sen. Robert Byrd and our own Rep. Jack Murtha - may be outliving their welcome by ignoring the overall good of the country to pour money into their own districts and/or states for projects of questionable need, in the process ignoring the call for an end to pork-barrel spending. Stevens, it seems, disregarded the needs of the state of Alaska as a whole in order to steer $2.7 million to widen and pave an Alaska road that's only seven-tenths of a mile long. Why would he do that? Well, it seems that the road runs right past Double Musky Inn, a bistro owned by Bob Persons, a close friend of Stevens who testified as a defense witness for the senator earlier this month. Stevens also had given Persons power of attorney to handle the renovations to the senator's house. What a tangled web. A spokesman for Stevens declined to answer questions about the senator's discussions with Persons regarding the road, but he said Stevens believed paving the road would be a boon for tourism at a historic gold mine two miles beyond the Double Musky Inn. Just one problem: The asphalt ends just past the restaurant. A state transportation official says the paving originally was supposed to stretch for 3.5 miles, but some of the money had to be diverted to fix a bridge on out the road. Then why even pave the seven-tenths of a mile? Hardly seems worth it, does it? Also, it flew in the face of the wishes of local officials, who wanted to use the money to fix residential streets and make other improvements. Stevens faces a maximum of 35 years in prison, though he might escape a prison sentence entirely under sentencing guidelines. It would be nice if the senator did at least a little time behind bars, if for no other reason than to remind him that he is, in fact, a criminal.


Monday, October 27, 2008

The truth? What's that?

I spoke recently about Gov. Sarah Palin's lie about Sen. Barack Obama "palling around with terrorists," but the Republicans sure don't have the market cornered on untruths and twisted facts. I got a mailing at the house the other day from Planned Parenthood exhorting me to vote for Obama and other "women's rights" candidates. The flier talks a lot about "reproductive health" and "reproductive rights." It mentions the threat Sen. John McCain and Palin would pose to Roe v. Wade, and it claims that McCain has "earned a zero rating from Planned Parenthood Action Fund because he has cast 125 votes against women's health." But not once does the mailing use the word "abortion," even though that's what this clearly is all about. Planned Parenthood should just come out and say that it favors women's access to abortion. And that bit about McCain voting against "women's health"? C'mon. He opposes abortion. Everybody knows that. And, yes, he would nominate people to the Supreme Court who would be inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade. But nobody believes that McCain is opposed to the overall health of our country's women. That's just ridiculous.


Need money? Call 1-800-GOD-CASH

I flipped on the TV last night when I got home from work, and my first thought was, "Who's that weaselly-looking guy who blinks his eyes a lot?" Then I figured out it was one of those TV superpreachers. This guy's name is Joel Osteen. You might remember his wife, who got into a lawsuit over a scrape with an airline stewardess a while back. Question: Why does anybody in their right mind send money to a TV preacher? Isn't there a church or charity in your own town that could put that money to good use? I knew a lady who lived outside Claysville and left her farm to Oral Roberts. We've seen in the last year or so what a good job that outfit was doing with its donors' hard-earned cash. But I digress. Preacher Osteen (I'd call him Reverend, but I don't think he's ever really had any religious training to speak of) was talking to his flock about getting their finances in order. He suggested they need to work really hard to pay down their credit card debt. Duh. But he said they don't have to do it alone. Direct quote: "When God sees you making that effort, he will step in, and his blessing will overtake you." So I guess if you start putting a little more in that check to Visa each month, the Lord will start kicking some extra cash your way. I'm a little confused. Every time I ask someone why their God would allow the suffering in Darfur or cancer in little children or some such thing, I am usually told that while God created the Earth and everything on it, he's not a micro-manager who oversees every detail of our daily lives. Unless we need some cash, apparently. But, hey, who am I to question? It's clearly worked for Preacher Osteen, who bought the old Houston Rockets arena and turned it into a 16,000-seat church. And I understand he lives in a million-dollar home and rakes in huge amounts of cash through book sales. So you can't say God hasn't shown him the money.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Scarlet Letter "B"

Even before the story of Ashley Todd hit our press, I told a fellow editor that something "smelled funny." Todd is the 20-year-old Texas woman and McCain campaign volunteer who claimed she was robbed at knifepoint and brutally attacked on the streets of Pittsburgh by a big black man who then scratched a letter "B" onto her cheek after seeing a McCain bumper sticker on her car. According to Todd's initial story, the man told her he was going to "teach her a lesson" for supporting McCain, and that she was going to become a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Police had immediate suspicions that the story was false (the backward "B" was a pretty good place to start), and their investigation confirmed that Todd made the whole thing up. Authorities say she has mental health issues and might have inflicted the injuries herself. I had second thoughts about even using the original story, but in the current political climate, some would construe our not using the story as trying to push under the rug something that could be considered as being negative regarding Obama or his supporters. Some conservative bloggers jumped on the story with both feet, and even after it started to unravel, one blogger offered this: "For all we know at this point, Ashley could be a liberal pretending to be a conservative faking a hate crime to discredit perfectly legitimate fears of the thuggery festering just under the surface of Obamania." Oh boy. And according to a story on the Huffington Post site, an official with the McCain campaign in Pennsylvania, in discussions with Pittsburgh television stations, pushed a version of the story that went beyond the facts that were known at the time. There's no indication that the national McCain campaign was involved in this. However, I can't help but think that if Todd's story had been proven true, someone would have tried to make political hay out of it. I also can't help but think that when a political culture is created in which people feel it's OK to scream "Terrorist!" "Muslim!" or "Off with his head!" at public events, you just might encourage a troubled person to think it's fine to make up an incendiary tale.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Where did all this come from?

A story on the AP wire today says that food allergies in American children appear to be rising, with about 3 million kids now affected. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points to a doubling of peanut allergies as one factor and says children seem to be taking longer to outgrow allergies to milk and eggs. I don't quibble with the findings, but what I want to know is, what's the source of all these food allergies? I don't know about you, but when I was a youngster, food allergies were exceedingly rare. Growing up, I knew one guy who was allergic to tuna. That's it. I went to the Army, went through college, etc., and still I wasn't running into people who were allergic to food. It's been just in the last 10 or 15 years that it seems every third person is allergic to something they eat. I'm sure doctors are doing a better job of recognizing food allergies, but that, alone, can't explain the huge increase in cases. I'll offer my theory, and you can shoot it down, support it or offer one of your own. I think parents are being too careful about what they feed their little ones. When I was tiny (which I realize is hard to visualize if you know me now), I'm sure I wasn't more than a few months old when family members started giving me mashed potatoes, ice cream, etc., and there was never a thought that some foods should be withheld from small children. Today, parents are almost freaky when it comes to controlling their children's food intake. I have a sister-in-law who nearly wet herself when I gave her 1-year-old daughter a deviled egg. The kid's still alive, by the way. Please share your thoughts.


Dummmmmmb, dumb, dumb, dumb

When Jay Leno does his "Headlines" on Monday nights, he likes to poke fun at dumb criminals. He could have a field day with the people who are getting snatched up by the various police efforts to catch child predators. The latest story was published in today's O-R about Joseph Johnson, who coaches (well, used to coach) boys basketball at Avella High School and served as a substitute teacher in several area school districts. As in most of the other cases, police allege that Johnson was engaging in dirty talk and sending sexually explicit photos of himself to a person he thought was a 14-year-old girl. In fact, he allegedly was carrying on with a Monroe County police officer who was posing as a teen. The stupidity of these people (including a former O-R sports editor) is mind-boggling. "To Catch a Predator" was one of the most popular shows on television. Just about weekly, we see a story on TV or in the newspaper about some guy who gets caught in one of these stings by local police or the attorney general's child predator task force. Are these folks living in caves? Do they think they're too smart to get caught? If what police are saying is factual, Johnson might be the biggest dope of them all. Authorities say he identified himself as "Coachjoe32." Let's see. He's a coach. His name is Joe. He's 32 years old. Jeez. Why didn't he just include his mailing address and phone number?


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How do we stop this?

On Sunday night, in a part of Washington that's not considered an especially bad section of town, we had a man get out of his vehicle, approach a car and fire a shot into that vehicle, wounding a 24-year-old Washington man. A day earlier, a 19-year-old woman tells police that she was standing on North Main Street when she was shot in the elbow as she stood next to disabled vehicle. The details on both of these incidents are sketchy, and the woman who was shot on Saturday had been charged just recently with giving false information to police in an unrelated incident. In August, a woman with the same name was driving a car in Canton Township in which a man was accused of having nearly 80 packets of heroin and a bag of suspected crack. Draw your own conclusions. But whatever the circumstances, the issue is that people are being shot on the streets of Washington with an alarming frequency of late. The level of street violence here is not as bad as in Pittsburgh, but it's clearly getting worse. Washington Mayor Sonny Spossey notes that many times, the victims of the shootings know their assailants but refuse to cooperate with police. Said the mayor, "They won't tell us because they are either afraid or want to get even themselves. Unfortunately, this is the way things have evolved. It used to be that people would get into a fight, punch each other and be done with it. Now, they want to shoot someone." I don't particularly care whether a couple of crackheads try to take one another out, but the day is coming when an innocent person - maybe a pregnant woman or a small child - is going to get between the gunman and his or her intended victim. I don't know what the answer is to this problem. Any suggestions?


That old-time pandering

I was cooking in the kitchen last night when I heard, from the TV in the living room, a candidate for a state House or Senate seat in Pennsylvania say on her advertisement that she had never voted to raise taxes and NEVER WOULD! I don't know who the candidate was or her political affiliation, but that's a pretty idiotic thing to say. We don't know what the future holds for the state, particularly amid this national economic meltdown. Certainly, there is fat that can be cut from the state budget (see the Legislature), but in addition to the economic crisis, we have severely outdated infrastructure that desperately needs attention. Unless one has a crystal ball, one should not be claiming that one would never vote to raise taxes. What if every candidate made that pledge? Is the state to go into default or bankruptcy because our lawmakers are too afraid to make unpopular decisions? That same kind of pledge came back to bite the first President Bush on the backside. When you live by the no-tax-increase pledge, sometimes you die by it.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Got a problem, Commish?

It will be interesting to see what reaction the NFL commissioner's office has to the latest hard lick delivered by the Steelers' Hines Ward, who is regarded as the best-blocking wide receiver in the league. Ward, who was fined twice recently by Commissioner Roger Goodell for what the commissioner regarded as unnecessary roughness, laid out Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers with a perfectly timed block in Sunday's game. Rivers was on the ground for quite some time, and the television announcers said blood was coming from his mouth. Tests later revealed he has a broken jaw and is likely out for the season. The supposed transgressions for which Ward was fined before were not penalized when they occurred. Nor was a penalty flag tossed for Sunday's hit, which was perfectly clean and legal. This brings us to the comments that Ward's teammate Troy Polamalu made after Ward got his "bills" in the mail from the commissioner's office following the Jacksonville and Baltimore games. The hard-hitting safety bemoaned the trend toward what he called "flag football" and said the league is quickly losing "the essence of what real American football is about." Polamalu said the NFL "loses so much of its essence when it becomes like a pansy game." Goodell called Polamalu's remarks "very disappointing." What's really disappointing is the direction in which Goodell is trying to take the sport. Football is a game of hitting and bursts of violent action. Few object to rules that have been put in place to protect quarterbacks when they are in a defenseless position, but even that has gotten ridiculous. Players are being fined for hits on quarterbacks that are in no way flagrant or designed to injure. The Steelers' James Harrison was just recently the victim of one of those phantom penalty calls. And Jets safety Eric Smith was suspended for a game and fined a whopping $50,000 for a hit that knocked out Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin, even though there appeared to be no intent to hurt Boldin. Boldin was going for a pass, Smith was trying to break it up and they just happened to hit helmet to helmet. It's interesting to me that a league that makes money by selling videos of heavy hits goes out of its way to fine players who are simply playing the game the way it was intended to be played. The NFL is the most powerful and popular sports enterprise in the country, by a wide margin, but they should take note of the dwindling interest in NASCAR racing. NASCAR drivers generally are behaving better on and off the track. Some of the short tracks where the drivers swapped paint have been shut down in favor of big superspeedways, there is less rough driving and there are fewer physical altercations among the drivers, and the result is that the sport has drifted so far from its rough-and-tumble roots that many people are tuning out. The NFL has been called the No Fun League for banning what it considers excessive celebrations. If Commissioner Goodell keeps fining players like Hines Ward for doing what they're supposed to be doing, we may someday be calling the NFL the No Football League.


An albatross with lipstick?

Newspaper endorsements can be helpful to voters when it comes to local races. A newspaper editorial board can sit down and interview the candidates and get a better insight into their policies and abilities than what might come across in the candidates' advertising. But at the risk of being labeled a heretic by my newspaper brethren, there are few things I find more useless than an endorsement in the presidential race. (The Observer-Reporter, by the way, endorsed Democratic Sen. Barack Obama on Sunday.) After two years of campaigning by Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain, and a never-ending stream of ads that are next to impossible to ignore, anyone who needs a newspaper to tell them which candidate to support should really just stay home on Election Day. That being said, there's one constant I've been seeing in newspaper endorsements picking Obama over McCain: It's McCain's running mate and her fitness for office. From the Kansas City Star: "Despite his age and previous health problems, McCain chose a vice presidential candidate who is so clearly unqualified for high office that the thought of her stepping into the presidency is frightening." From the Salt Lake (Utah) Tribune: "Out of nowhere, and without proper vetting, the impetuous McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. She quickly proved grievously underequipped to step into the presidency should McCain, at 72 and with a history of health problems, die in office. More than any single factor, McCain's bad judgment in choosing the inarticulate, insular and ethically challenged Palin disqualifies him from the presidency." From the Philadelphia Inquirer: "More troubling was McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. This blatant overture to women voters and evangelical Christians who share her views on abortion backfired when Palin in interviews proved she is not prepared to be a heartbeat away from the presidency." You can make the argument that these are left-leaning newspapers that are looking for reasons to not endorse McCain, but their opinions are increasingly shared by voters. A late-September NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 49 percent of the respondents found Palin unqualified to be president, with 40 percent saying she is qualified. By early October, a Washington Post-ABC poll found 60 percent who believe Palin does not have enough experience to lead. Certainly, McCain has been hurt by the economic crisis. Imagine how much better he would look if his running mate were Mitt Romney, a person who also has the "values" that appeal to evangelical voters (though they might be a bit put off by his Mormon faith) and, more importantly, a strong business and economic background. But the questions about Palin's abilities are resonating with voters, including the independents and undecideds whom McCain needs to reach. If McCain wins the election next month, it's all water under the bridge. But if he loses, my guess is he'll always look back to his vice presidential choice as the decision that cost him the White House.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Uncomfortable truth?

Congressman Jack Murtha stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest Wednesday when he remarked that Barack Obama will likely win Pennsylvania next month, but his margin of victory will be less than it might be because Western Pennsylvania is a "racist area." That's a broad term, and a poor way to frame the argument, but there's some truth to what Murtha says, at least in my experience. I can only speak to what I've seen and heard over the past 50 years, most of which I've spent in Western Pennsylvania, and I have to say that there are a lot of white folks - 10 percent? 20 percent? - who are suspicious of or actually have dislike or hatred toward people of a different color, religion or country of origin. The daily poll on the O-R Web site has provided plenty of evidence of that over the past couple of months. People generally think of the South as being a hotbed of racism, but I think it's just a different brand. Here, most people aren't outwardly racist. They might hide behind the anonymity of an online poll when they make their hateful statements, but they won't drop N-bombs on Main Street. The racism is more overt in the South. Perfect strangers who are making conversation with you will use the N word. At least, that was the case when I lived there in the late 1980s. Maybe there has been positive change in the region, but I'll give you a couple examples of what I confronted there. When I was first moving to Columbia, S.C., my company sent me there to look for a place to live. The first place I stopped after getting off the plane was a fast-food restaurant. As my then-wife and I walked in, we saw the manager, a white man, having a heated argument with a black woman. After she stormed out, he came up to us - two total strangers - and said, "I have to apologize for that n-----." We were dumbfounded. In another instance, a restaurant owner lost his state liquor license because he was found to have refused service to a group of black people. I called him to get a comment, and he replied, "You can print this. They just kissed another n----- ass." The Civil War does live on in some people's hearts. Back to Murtha. He sometimes seems to engage his mouth before starting his brain, but that doesn't make what he said false. I'm sure that his election opponent, if he hasn't issued a statement already, is working up a news release attacking Murtha for his remarks. Because, as we all know in politics, it doesn't matter whether what you say is true; it's all about how much political hay can be made from it.


Moronic Statement of the Week Award

We had a story in the paper the other day about the issue of merit pay for teachers. The concept sounds great: Reward the best teachers for the work they do while motivating the lesser lights in the faculty lounge to improve. The problem is that what sounds great in theory is hard as hell to put into practice. Who decides which teacher is doing a good job and which one is not? Of course, the teachers unions are against it. They would rather just get automatic raises, per their set-in-stone contracts and salary steps, without an in-depth review of their performance. As long as you don't get yourself fired, you're getting your raise. But, on the other hand, a merit-based pay system is very subjective. Base it on test scores, you say? Fort Cherry business manager Paul Sroka noted - correctly, in my opinion - that a class could do well on standardized tests because they're a smart bunch of kids, not because the teacher was great. The most ridiculous comment in the debate came from merit pay proponent Denise Kuhn, president of Ringgold School Board. She said, "You can ask a student, 'Who, in your opinion, goes over and above the call of duty?' They could tell you." Great plan. We'll allow a bunch of 13-year-olds to determine which teachers deserve raises. Could it be the one who lets students do what they want in the classroom? Maybe the one who shows movies all the time? The one who's pretty or handsome? The one who grades really easy? The one who doesn't give a lot of homework? Congratulations, Ms. Kuhn. You have won the "Moronic Statement of the Week Award." I believe that the majority of teachers do a good job, and I would never want to trade positions with them. However, there is always room for improvement. Maybe the real answer to getting better teachers is doing a better job of hiring them in the first place. Improve the process for screening the applicants. Conduct a better review of their educational background and how well they did in college and as a student teacher. Do a better job of interviewing the would-be educators. And, for heaven's sake, quit hiring people just because they're alumni of your school district or, even worse, because they're somebody's relative.


Let 'em jump

One thing you learn quickly when you scan the Associated Press wires is that stupidity is not in short supply in this country. A recent report out of San Francisco (insert joke here) advised that the board that controls the Golden Gate Bridge has voted to install a stainless steel net underneath the span to keep people from jumping to their deaths. Oh, by the way, it will cost between $40 million and $50 million and, of course, will require an environmental review. Here's my free environmental review: It'll be butt ugly, and some birds are going to fly into it and die. This is just asinine. Officials say that about 20 people commit suicide from the bridge annually. So, because 20 screwed-up individuals want to take their own lives, they're going to spend as much as $50 million on a net? Do they really think people with the intent to kill themselves are suddenly going to choose life because they can't jump off the pretty bridge? I guess it would be better for them to turn on the gas in their oven and potentially cause an explosion and fire that could take their neighbors out with them. Or maybe jump off a tall building and land on innocent people below. If these people want to go bungee-jumping off the bridge without a rubber band, I say let 'em go.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

McCain's next step?

It's been a bad couple of weeks for Republican presidential candidate John McCain. The financial meltdown seemed to send more people toward Obama. Pretty much all the polls, both national and in key states, are trending in Obama's direction. Some of McCain's supporters are going way off the reservation with their crazy, hateful behavior at rallies. And he has a running mate who, after providing an initial boost, has become, in some ways, more of a liability than a benefit. Tonight's final face-to-face meeting with Obama may be McCain's last, best chance to turn his fortunes around. It seems fairly likely that he'll stray from the core issues of the economy and national security to trot down the Ayers-Rezko path. But thus far, that approach hasn't provided much traction. Maybe McCain just has to pick the "nuclear option" and put all his advertising dollars into a single message featuring Obama's crazy, racist ex-preacher shouting "God Damn America!" In other words, it's Willie Horton time.


This is where I have a problem

If a church wants to have a spaghetti dinner and use the proceeds to buy a spiffy 10-foot-tall statue of Jesus for its front lawn, more power to them. There was a beautiful sculpture like that in front of the Catholic church near my old home in Bridgeville. But when a city tries to spend thousands in tax dollars on a Jesus statue, that's just wrong. According to the AP, a "conservative Oklahoma City suburb with a history of trying to incorporate religious art into public spaces" is at it again. The Edmond Visual Arts Commission recently approved spending $3,900 to help pay for a 2-foot-tall bronze statue entitled "Come Unto Me." It's supposed to be placed in front of a downtown business called Sacred Heart Catholic Gifts. This is the same bunch that had to retreat just last year from spending $17,500 to help erect a statue of Moses at a local Christian church. About 10 years ago, the city had to pay $200,000 in legal fees after losing a court fight to retain a cross on its city seal. Clearly, they're slow learners, and they can expect another court fight on this most recent statue plan. "This is the third major unconstitutional effort they've engaged in recent years," said Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It's a little surprising, because normally people pause to take a breath before they violate the Constitution again." June Cartwright, who chairs the so-called arts commission, denied that the proposed statue represented a religious endorsement. "It doesn't state that it is specifically Jesus. It is whatever you perceive it to be." There's one of your good Christians, lying out her, um, backside. I might point out to Ms. Cartwright that the statue is called "COME UNTO ME"! I believe that's a pretty well known Jesus quote. I've got a proposal for Ms. Cartwright and her cronies. I'll contribute $20 to their Jesus statue if they allow me to commission a companion sculpture of my personal "plumbing." They can just "perceive it to be" two prunes and a zucchini.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Survivor: Greene County

It was just two years ago that House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese survived, by the narrowest of margins, the voter backlash from the dead-of-the-night pay raise state lawmakers granted themselves. One would have expected that if Republican Greg Hopkins couldn't take down DeWeese in that political atmosphere, he could never defeat him. But that was before "Bonusgate" reared its ugly head. In brief, "Bonusgate" involves the alleged diversion by the Democratic House caucus of more than $1.6 million in public money (our money) to grant bonuses to state employees for doing political work. Even though some people, myself included, thought DeWeese should bear some reponsibility for the scandal because it occurred on his watch, he was not among the lawmakers and aides charged by the state attorney general, and no one ever said he had any direct knowledge of the alleged scheme. That is, until this week, when DeWeese's former chief of staff, Mike Manzo, said DeWeese knew about the bonuses. DeWeese issued a statement calling Manzo "a desperate, disgruntled ex-employee whom I fired last year for dishonesty and self-dealing." One could certainly question Manzo's motives at this point. He's up on criminal charges for his alleged role in "Bonusgate," including allegations that he set up a sham job for his mistress, at taxpayer expense, of course. The alleged mistress has since landed, very softly, in a $45,000-a-year job with the Democratic caucus in Harrisburg. It's going to be up to the attorney general (a Republican) to decide whether to seek charges against DeWeese, but even if nothing comes of Manzo's claims, this can't help the incumbent a month before the election. To say that DeWeese is a survivor is an understatement. I'm 50 years old, and he's been in the state House since I was a senior in high school. If he goes down this time, it won't be without a fight. He looks to be spending plenty of money on television advertising (I find the ads very amusing, mainly because of the "rustic" tone struck by an educated man who loves to use 50-cent words. There's even one featuring a bunch of hillbilly-looking cowboys singing about how Hopkins went back to work in Hollywood - Good Lord! - after losing in the last election). While a lot of the attention on election night will go toward who will be our next president, it will be plenty interesting to see the votes in the 50th District race roll in.


I find myself ... (drum roll) ... not guilty!!!

A report is expected at any time regarding an investigation by Alaska lawmakers about whether Gov. Sarah Palin abused her authority in the firing of a state commissioner, whether her husband improperly involved himself in state affairs and whether her administration improperly gained access to employee medical records. When the probe began, well before anyone in the Lower 48 knew who Palin was, the governor promised to cooperate fully. That ended the minute she became the Republican vice presidential candidate. Now, Palin and the McCain campaign contend the probe is a partisan witch hunt (even though a Republican lawmaker cast the deciding vote on issuing subpoenas for Palin's husband and aides to the governor), and they were not content to wait until the report came out. The following are an AP headline and first paragraph of a story that moved on the wire late Thursday night. I didn't make this up.

Anchorage, Alaska (AP) – Trying to head off a potentially embarrassing state ethics report on GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, campaign officials released their own report Thursday that clears her of any wrongdoing.

Feel free to discuss.


Paying the "experts"

I don't always agree with Washington County Commissioner Bracken Burns. In fact, sometimes I disagree with him vehemently. But one thing is undeniable. The guy is quotable. A recent example of this came at a meeting in which the commissioners were asked to approve a $41,000 bill for a company to inspect construction work at the county airport and submit some plans to the Federal Aviation Administration. More than $37,000 of that amount is for the company to supervise the move of a utility vault from the airport safety zone. Said Burns, "It's going to cost $37,000 to watch someone do that? I'll watch. How in the hell could it cost $40,000 just to watch that happen? That's just crazy. I may take some time off and go to engineering school." Well said. His comments came back to me Wednesday when I was putting a story on the front page about the possibility of giving the city farmers' market, now held in a city parking lot, a permanent location as part of a renovation of the old railroad station at the foot of South Main Street. The state is going to spend $43,000 on a feasibility study to see if this can happen. So, again, we're spending what I consider to be a pretty good chunk of taxpayers' money - yours and mine - to have somebody look something over. Have we gotten to the point where we have no one in our community or county with the necessary level of expertise to handle this sort of thing, maybe even donating that expertise for the common good? I can't believe that we don't have a local contractor or engineer who could saunter down to the foot of Main Street, take a look-see and report back on whether this project is possible. But, no, we'll spend more than $40,000 and Lord knows how much time wallowing in consultation and bureaucracy.


Hey, Verizon man!

As recently as the late 1990s, I was proclaiming to anyone who would listen that I got my fill of computers at work and had no reason to have one in my home. Well, of course, I made a liar of myself, and my Luddite inclinations were overtaken by my yearning for instant information (and, admittedly, a little time spent viewing scantily-clad women). And now, I find it difficult to live without the gratification that only a mouse click can provide. Which brings me to my current problem: On Tuesday, I was passing some time in front of the TV when the power went out. This happens fairly regularly in our rural area, and I decided to sit back and see if it came back on in a few minutes, as it sometimes does. Well, before I became concerned enough to even place a call to Allegheny Power, two of their trucks were at the foot of my driveway. Apparently, one of my neighbors who also was without power wasn't in a wait-and-see mood, most likely because just a couple of weeks ago we were without electricity for nearly 24 hours. I went to work at mid-afternoon, and by the time the missus came home a few hours later, the lights were back on. Just one problem: The phone line, the one that also feeds the computer, was dead. The next morning, I made a couple of checks to determine that the problem was definitely outside my home. I then called Verizon to report my outage. Of course, they would be glad to fix my problem ... on MONDAY! It appears that in the vast comglomeration that is Verizon, they have so few service people that it will take five days to get my service restored. When I call one of the utility companies, they're always Johnny-on-the-spot. Same goes with the folks from DirecTV. Most other companies that have a large element of customer service actually seem to try to serve their customers. The phone company? For all of my various technological needs - or wants - I send them about $250 a month. That includes a super-duper satellite TV package. But do they give a damn about whether I actually HAVE the service I'm paying for? Not so much, in my eyes. I've dealt with many companies over the years, and not one has been as consistently customer-unfriendly as the phone company. Perhaps some of you have some customer-service horror stories you would like to share. I'm sure we'll all be able to relate.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Can't they just live IN the schools?

This probably won't come as much of a surprise, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project are going to court to oppose Allegheny County's rules on where registered sex offenders are allowed to live. The county ordinance, approved last fall, would prohibit these rapists and other low-lifes from living within 2,500 feet of schools, licensed child-care facilities, community centers and parks. The ACLU claims the ordinance is an after-the-fact punishment and that the offenders would have nearly no place to live in the county. To their first point, I would reply, "Who cares?" To the second, I would say, "BS." I guarantee that there are plenty of places to live in Allegheny County that are NOT within a half-mile of schools, parks, etc. Granted, my part of Washington County is more sparsely populated than most of Allegheny County, but I'd have to travel miles to get to any of those places mentioned in the ordinance. And I'm a lot more concerned with the safety of our kids than whether Paulie the Pedophile can find a nice, two-bedroom apartment. Here's an idea for you pedophile rapists: Don't sexually abuse kids in the first place. Then you can live anywhere you want.


Can someone explain this to me?

We had a brief item in the paper today noting that state driver's license centers will be closed Monday for Columbus Day. While I've given up hope of state-run enterprises actually responding to the needs of the people - The state liquor store on Main Street isn't even open on Monday, but that's a whole other area of disgust for me - why in the world does anyone need to be off on Columbus Day? For one thing, Columbus never set food on the terra firma of North America. Leif Eriksson was here nearly 500 years earlier. Also, Columbus "discovered" absolutely nothing. You can't discover a place where people already have set up shop. I'm guessing it's another case of a union bargaining to get its people an additional paid day off, no matter how inconsequential it may be.


Yaaaaay! You've done nothing!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't there a day in American sports when teams waited until they had really accomplished something before they popped the champagne? Over the weekend, I couldn't believe that players on teams that had just won their first-round playoff series were cavorting on the field and spraying each other with bubbly in the locker rooms. Um, guys, you haven't won anything yet. I don't recall football teams that won a wild-card playoff game carrying on like they'd just hit the Powerball. Do you remember hockey teams partying like crazy after a first-round win in the Stanley Cup playoffs? Note to the baseball players: There's this thing called a "championship." Try winning that before you whoop it up.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Lee's smiling somewhere

The late Republican political operative Lee Atwater, shown above with the man he helped win the White House, the first President Bush, would have been proud over the weekend to hear current GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin say that Barack Obama is "palling around with terrorists." It was Atwater who famously said of Michael Dukakis, "I'll strip the bark off the little bastard." He did that, in large part, with the infamous Willie Horton ad, linking Dukakis to a convicted killer on a weekend furlough who committed an armed robbery and raped a woman. Palin, in her weekend campaign appearances, said Obama is "not a man who sees America like you and I see America. Our opponent ... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." The "terrorist" to whom Palin referred is William Ayers, who was a member of the violent Weather Underground during the Vietnam era. Obama, of course, was a little boy when Ayers was in the domestic terror group, and he has since denounced Ayers' actions and beliefs. As for "palling around," that's a huge exaggeration. An Associated Press report notes that Ayers and Obama once served on a board together, and the older man hosted a political event for Obama when the latter was first running for office in Illinois. There's no evidence, says the AP, that the men have, or ever had, a close relationship. Palin's comments tap into the "Obama is a Muslim" undercurrent of the political campaign, and I feel pretty sure that if you don't know who William Ayers is, the McCain-Palin campaign would be OK with it if you, in your mind, just pictured Obama holding hands with Osama bin Laden. This latest negative approach from the GOP camp follows a rough week for the McCain-Palin ticket in which the economy took center stage and polls showed Obama building leads in key states. The Republicans are making it clear that over the last four weeks of the campaign, they'll be focusing on Obama's "character" and fitness to hold the nation's top office. That sort of attacking, mud-slinging approach doesn't come without hazards. If the GOP tries to sully Obama's character by saying he "pals around" with terrorists, the Democrats might point out that McCain was "palling around" with his second wife while still living with the first Mrs. McCain. If they target Obama for his relationship with criminal businessman and fundraiser Tony Rezko, the Obama camp can reference McCain's even-closer relationship with Charles Keating, a central figure in the 1980s savings and loan scandal whose S&L failure cost investors, including many elderly people, their life savings, and cost taxpayers billions. (In fact, the Obama camp already has issued a Web video and letter on the Keating case in response to Palin's weekend remarks.) The Republicans might also revive the controversy over Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. While it's pretty clear Wright is a hateful idiot, McCain also has his pastor problems. After seeking the endorsements of conservative preachers Rod Parsley and John Hagee, McCain had to reject those endorsements and distance himself from the men of the cloth. Parsley, you see, likes to rattle sabers for a holy war against Islam, and Hagee has referred to the Roman Catholic Church as "the great whore" and a "false cult system." What it all boils down to is this: All four of the candidates in this election - Obama, McCain, Palin and Biden - have skeletons in their closets. Those skeletons already are known to anyone who has been paying even a little attention to the presidential race. The question is this: Are we going to spend the next four weeks basing our decision in the presidential race on who can come up with the most damning TV ad rehashing the dirty laundry of the other candidate, or are we going to look at the issues and vote for the person we believe is best-equipped to lead the country for the next four years. It's your decision.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Justice is (finally) served

The vast majority of Americans (i.e., those with half a brain who are not blind apologists for people of their race) fully believe that O.J. Simpson brutally murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, and got away with it in one of the worst miscarriages of justice in modern times. Late Friday, 13 years to the day after his acquittal in the murder case, Simpson was convicted in a Las Vegas kidnapping and robbery trial, and he could spend the rest of his life in prison. All I can say is, it's about time. The jurors in the Vegas case might not want to admit it, and some might not even have thought consciously about it, but the robbery case was essentially a second chance to give Simpson what most people thought he deserved those many years ago. The irony is that the latest case against Simpson was so much weaker than the murder case. Of course, there will be appeals, but one would hope that the judge in his case will deny Simpson his freedom while the appeals drag on. This is going to put a crimp in O.J.'s purported efforts to find the "real killers" of his ex-wife and her friend, but I guess we'll just have to live with that. There's an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied, but the outcome of this case should allow the Brown and Goldman families to feel that, in another city, in another time, O.J. finally got what was coming to him.


Friday, October 3, 2008

This stupidity makes my head hurt

Some religious "leaders" and parents in the upstate New York town of Massena are trying to force the removal of yoga classes from public schools, alleging that the instruction violates the separation of church and state. According to the AP, two high school teachers in the district started the yoga classes last year to help students relax before tests. They were in the process of developing a districtwide program when the controversy broke out. "We are not opposed to the benefits. ... We are opposed to the philosophy behind it and that it has ties in Hinduism and the way they are presenting it," said the inappropriately named Rev. Colin Lucid of Calvary Baptist Church in Massena. Replied Julie Reagan, president of the local school board, "If the school board felt there was any hidden religious activity behind the motives of our two instructors, we certainly wouldn't allow that. There is absolutely none of that. The teachers are well intended and trying to offer an aspect of fitness ... that relaxes and readies the children for learning." She noted that 100 schools in 26 states use yoga in the classroom to relieve stress, and that federal funding is available to educators who are seeking yoga certification. I'm just an old hick, so maybe I've been out of the loop, but until Rev. Lucid enlightened me, I had no idea that yoga was a gateway to Hinduism. Rev. Lucid is suggesting that yoga be offered as an after-school activity because it is causing stress for the students. Reverend, the only people causing these children stress are you and your merry band of nincompoops. And aren't you the same people who want to ignore the separation of church and state when you're trying to get prayers back into public schools? Of course, that's different, right?


Careful what you wish for

An AP report says the Washington Redskins football team has been ordered by a federal judge to make sure that deaf and hard-of-hearing fans receive "equal access to aural content" in the teams's stadium. That includes music lyrics, advertisements and announcements on the public address system. Judge Alexander Williams noted that since three fans filed suit, the team has captioned such things as play-by-play of the game and emergency information. One would think that would be sufficient, but Williams determined that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the team must provide "full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations available at FedEx Field." In a statement, the Redskins said, "No one had ever before asked the Redskins to caption music. But now that the court has addressed it, we are exploring alternatives to provide the words to the songs played during cheerleader dance routines." Thank heavens. I would hate to think that deaf people were being deprived of such inalienable rights. This is a case that trivializes the true issues facing the deaf. Why not focus on important concerns for making life better for deaf Americans, rather than demanding that they get to read the lyrics to "Crazy Train" or the text from a "Gatorade" commercial? This would be comparable to black Americans, during the 1960s, targeting the racial inequities of the "Little Rascals" films rather than working to secure voting rights. Pick your spots, deaf people. I've been subjected to the dance-routine music and ads at stadiums. You're not missing anything.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Great news, friends

My Thursday morning was brightened considerably by the news that Lanny Frattare is stepping down (or was not signed to a new contract, depending on whom you believe) after 33 years of torturing Pirates baseball fans (those who are left). Lanny always referred to us listeners as "friends," even though nothing could be further from the truth. For baseball fans of my age, Bob Prince and Nellie King were our friends, people we could count on for the truth about what was going on down on the diamond. To me, Lanny always came off as a fake and smarmy company man who employed a grating over-reliance on statistical minutiae (This is the third straight Thursday night game in which Jack Wilson has taken a called first strike in his initial at-bat.) OK, I made that last part up, but it's not far from accurate. Lanny always seemed to have his employers' backs, but he never once, over 33 years, came off as a guy who had, or cared to have, a true connection with the fans. I've never been overly impressed with the other Pirates announcers, but at least they're tolerable. Steve Blass and Bob Walk know the game. I'm a little bit on the fence about Greg Brown. The guy's a screamer and seems to have a near-orgasmic experience every time somebody hits a TRIP, TRIP, TRIPLE. Once, after a Pirates victory, he even hollered something to the effect that "THE PIRATES ARE NOW JUST ONE GAME OUT OF FOURTH PLACE!!!" But you have to give the guy credit for maintaining his enthusiasm while watching the handiwork of possibly the most mismanaged franchise in the history of professional sports. Although I wish he would turn down the volume a notch, at least I get the feeling that Brown is a guy you'd be glad to sit with in a bar while downing a couple of beers and watching a game on TV. If I were seated next to Lanny, I'd have my neck on a swivel, waiting for another stool to open up. I haven't mentioned the other broadcaster, John Wehner, and I won't. Seems like a nice guy. We'll leave it at that. I haven't heard who will replace Lanny in the booth next season, and I don't really care, because after 40 years of listening to and watching baseball, I've never heard anyone I liked to listen to less than Lanny.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Dipsticks of the Month Award goes to ...

The folks at the National Federation of the Blind apparently have a lot - a lot - of time on their hands. They just issued a major news release condemning the new movie "Blindness" and announcing their plans to protest "across the nation" when the film opens Friday. In a nutshell, the movie's about a sudden epidemic of blindness that strikes a city. Hence, the name of the film. The newly blind people are quarantined because it's believed the affliction is contagious. Mayhem ensues. A character played by Julianne Moore, however, does not go blind, and the Federation says she is portrayed as "physically, mentally and morally superior to the others because she still has her sight." None of us has seen the film yet, so it's hard for us to argue about the "mentally and morally" part, but if she can see and everyone around her is blind, well, yes, she IS physically superior to them. Sorry about that. Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the Blind Federation, chastises the filmmakers for depicting the blind characters as being "unable to do even the simplest things like dressing, bathing and finding the bathroom." For gawd's sake, Dr. Maurer, the movie isn't portraying people who have been blind for quite some time. These characters are NEWLY blind, and they're understandably hysterical. Of course they're having some problems handling the basics of life. If I were suddenly stricken blind in the middle of a big city, I'd be panicked and lucky to find my a$$ with both hands, but I would adapt, just as your constituents have. In his statement, Maurer rambles on and on about how blind people can do the same things as sighted people, such as work, raise a family, go camping, etc. Yeah, we know that. He also claims that "portraying the blind on movie screens across America as little better than animals will reinforce the unfounded fears, misconceptions and stereotypes in the general public about blindness." No it won't, you dolt. The general public doesn't believe blind people are shambling idiots who should be locked up somewhere. The movie can't exacerbate feelings that don't exist. Perhaps Maurer's most ridiculous claim is that this movie will cause the unemployment rate of blind people to rise. Yeah, I can just hear the personnel directors now: "Hey, don't hire that blind feller. Didn't you see those crazy sightless people in that movie?" Oh, yeah, it's a movie. It's not real. You need to get a grip, Dr. Maurer. My suggestion to you and any other of your people who are worried about the effects of this movie is to have a couple of glasses of red wine. It takes the edge off for me. And, yes, I'm well aware that you can get the cork out yourself.


Those darned questions

I try not to fly off the handle when one of the political candidates says something that's absolute bull crap, and I realize that all of them try to blow smoke up our skirts or trousers on a daily basis, but I had to laugh at the scrambling Sarah Palin, and McCain, did after Palin made a statement that seemingly ran counter to McCain's position on Pakistan. Last Friday night, McCain chided Barack Obama during their first debate for his statements that he would attack inside Pakistan, if necessary, to strike significant terrorist targets (the same thing President Bush already has done, by the way). Then, the next day, Palin was meeting with voters in Philly, and one of them shouted a question to her asking what she and McCain would do about Pakistan, which has been accused of harboring, or even supporting, terrorists in its border area with Afghanistan. Replied Palin, "If that (an attack inside Pakistan) is what we have to do to stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should." Well, by Monday, in an interview with "CBS Evening News," Palin, accompanied by McCain, said she was replying to a "gotcha" question from a voter. McCain added that it's the "day and age of 'gotcha' journalism. ... In a conversation with someone who you didn't hear the question very well, you don't know the context of the conversation. Grab a phrase." Or, stumble around trying to explain something that really doesn't require explanation. Palin got a very basic, simple question about terrorism and foreign policy. She gave a simple, concise answer. There's no need to apologize for giving your honest opinion about something. It's already been made clear that McCain and Palin have differences of opinion on issues such as abortion and oil drilling. Is it really that big a deal that they're not in lockstep on the campaign trail on another issue? Of course, the media did jump on the apparent split in their opinions, but to blame her comments on a "gotcha" question makes it look worse.