Friday, November 28, 2008

Paint it "Black"

I think I'd much prefer dental surgery or a procedure in the "family jewels" area to taking part in the annual running of the sheep known as Black Friday. For the uninitiated, that's the day (today) when people get up at the crack of dawn (actually well before it) in order to avail themselves of "great holiday bargains" offered by retailers. Some stores open at midnight, others in the wee hours of the morning, and crowds of people press their noses against the windows waiting to get in. To me, it's a lot like the bread lines in Russia during the old Soviet days. I'm sure there are some savings to be had and some hard-to-get gifts to obtain, but it's just not worth it to me. If I can't afford to buy something without the early-bird discount, I'll just pass. If some "hot" gift is sold out, I'll get something else. Seems to me that when I do my shopping late, the retailers are usually in a panicky mood and are offering good deals then, as well. But if all this hysteria is your idea of fun, enjoy. I also have a bone to pick with the people at Kohl's. They've been running a TV ad - incessantly, it seems to me - touting their 4 a.m. opening today. But the ad tells people to set their alarms for 4 a.m. so they can get to the big sale. If the sale starts at 4, shouldn't they be setting their alarms a bit earlier? Better yet, just stay up and knock back a few until it's time to go. A couple of stiff drinks sure couldn't hurt.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Viewing the AMAs

After losing control of the TV remote in absentia last night, I spent a good part of the evening watching the American Music Awards. The winners of these awards are chosen by the public, so it's mainly a popularity contest, rather than a referendum on the quality of the music. But hey, the idiotic Grammy voters once chose A Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello for Best New Artist, so there's plenty of dumb to go around. Anyway, here are some random thoughts I jotted down while watching the AMAs.

- Mariah Carey was introduced as "one of the greatest artists of all time." I threw up in my mouth a little when I heard that. After her song, it occurred to me that I'd seen better performances on "American Idol."

- Coldplay must be laughing all the way to the bank. Has anyone ever had more success, over such a long period, with so little discernable talent?

- The people who crafted those Jarod jewelry commercials should be beaten within an inch of their lives.

- There aren't many better-looking humans than Rihanna (shown above), and the performance wasn't bad, either.

- Beyonce is a very talented entertainer.

- The Christina Aguilera Target ad was way cool.

- The Jonas Brothers: Less talent than Coldplay. A lot less. I nearly had to drive the porcelain bus when they "sang."

- More hideousness: The Pussycat Dolls. It appears that only one of the girls can actually sing. The others, as best as I can tell, are good only at being semi-nude.

- After some of the so-called singing I endured Sunday night, there was a bright ray of sunshine later in the program. All I can say is, "Thank God for Annie Lennox."


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Take Grandma's keys, please

WTAE had a story this morning about an elderly woman who was rescued after spending a day in her wrecked car. It appears she hit a tree and drove into the woods. (Actual car NOT shown above) The woman told her rescuers that she had called a family member to come help her, but her family said that wasn't the case. They said the woman suffers from mild dementia. What?!?!?! And they continued to let her drive? I can understand the dynamic involved when children have to switch roles and treat their parents like kids. But there comes a time when failure to take the keys puts not only the elderly person at risk, but everyone who encounters them on the road. Which day is it when Grandpa or Grandma suddenly doesn't know the difference between the pretty green light and the pretty red light, or the brake pedal and the gas pedal? Doctors also need to do more about getting clearly incompetent people off the roads. They have a duty to protect the rest of us and report these people to the proper authorities. I know they don't want to anger a longtime patient, but hey, the rest of us don't want to die because Gramps is a couple sandwiches short of a picnic.


Snuggie as a buggie

If you like to stay toasty warm in your home during these winter months and don't mind looking a bit like a bozo, the Snuggie just might be for you. I've been seeing it advertised a lot lately on TV. The missus thinks they'd be great, but I'd be mortified if I were wearing this blanket-robe hybrid and the FedEx man came to the door. Essentially, it's a big old blanket with sleeves that you put on like a doctor donning a surgical gown. (See photo) However, it gives one the appearance of a Benedictine monk, which is fine if you're a Benedictine monk, but not so much if the FedEx man comes to the door. It also looks a bit long and unwieldy, raising my fear that I'd pull a William Holden, trip over the damn thing and crack my head off an end table. But if you're in the market (if you do a Web search for Snuggie, you can find them), they have a deal going where you not only get the Snuggie, but a free book light. BUT WAIT! If you order now, they double the order. That's right. Two Snuggies and two book lights. And you get it all for less than $30, with the shipping and handling included. Now, about the Popeil Pocket Fisherman ...


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Vick deserves to rot in Hell

The photo above is disturbing. It's meant to be. It should hurt you deep in your heart and soul. And it should serve as a reminder that Michael Vick should never, ever, be allowed to regain employment in the NFL. In fact, a person like Vick should never be released back among decent people, but our justice system doesn't allow for him to be locked up for life for his transgressions. A newly released report from the USDA says Vick placed family pet dogs into a ring and laughed when they were mauled by his fighting-trained pit bulls. It also said a 2007 polygraph test showed Vick to be lying when he denied taking part in the killings of dogs, though he later admitted hanging six or eight dogs that didn't perform up to his liking in the fighting ring. Why should a person like this be allowed to walk the streets again as early as next July, after completing part of his slap-on-the-wrist sentence? Almost equally disturbing as Vick's actions are the attitudes of people like the idiot shown at left who is more concerned with having a quarterback for his beloved Atlanta Falcons and worshipping at the shrine of the NFL than with the fate of defenseless animals who were subjected to horrors you and I can only imagine. You might say that people make mistakes and deserve a second chance. In this case, I can't agree. This wasn't a spur-of-the-moment error in judgment. This was a calculated, long-term plan to inflict horrific pain and suffering on other living beings. And this wasn't some kid doing it. Vick was in his mid-20s when committing his sickening acts. He was an adult who thought he was untouchable, that the sun shone out his backside, just because he was a gifted athlete. If any NFL team signs Vick after his release from prison, they should be subjected to massive protests and boycotts, not just by animal-rights activists, but by any decent, caring, moral person. I'm a huge fan of NFL football. I watch as many games as I can and participate in two NFL fantasy leagues, and I admittedly let it slide when the Steelers treated the allegations of James Harrison's assault on his girlfriend like the whole thing was nothing more than getting a parking ticket, but I pledge to never watch another NFL game if Michael Vick is allowed to return to the league. To do so would be to condone what he did and, in some small way, to help put money in his pockets.


Is this a good idea?

The Clintons, Hillary especially, have always struck me as the type of people who put themselves first, by a wide margin. Hillary Clinton seems to be cast from the same mold as folks like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. In other words, if a television light goes on anywhere in America, she'll bust a gut to get in front of it. One has to wonder, now that it appears very likely she'll be President-elect Barack Obama's choice for secretary of state, whether it's even possible for Hillary to act as part of a team. Can she take orders from someone else? Can her husband keep his mouth shut? Can she share credit for accomplishments and blame for failures? Perhaps Obama thinks she's really the best choice for the job. Perhaps he wants to have his chief political rival close, in order to keep an eye on her and dim the chances of her emerging as a challenger in 2012. Whatever the case, I'd bet that it's a just a matter of time before some drama breaks out.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Whose idea was this?

You have to wonder who had the bright idea to set aside eight parking spots in the lower part of the South Main Street city parking lot for Washington firefighters. It's not that people are typically fighting to find a spot in the lot, but before these spots were taken out of use, people did park there and plunk quarters in the meters. And I wouldn't even be bringing this up if firefighters from the station just up the alley from the lot were actually using these spots. But they're not. I have yet to see a single car parked in those eight spaces - day or night. Did anyone think to ask the firemen if they would use these spots, before they were set aside? I'm sure the signs on the meters weren't all that expensive, but every dollar is important when a city is on the brink of bankruptcy. Whose idea was this?


Do we care?

Consider this information that was gleaned from a single view of the AP wire on Wednesday:

- Katy Phiri, who is in her 70s, picks up single corn kernels spilled from trucks that ferry the harvest to market. She says she hasn't eaten in three days.
Rebecca Chipika, a child of 9, prods a stick into a termite mound to draw out insects. She sweeps them into a bag for her family's evening meal.
These scenes from a food catastrophe are unfolding in Doma, a district of rural Zimbabwe where journalists rarely venture. It's a stronghold of President Robert Mugabe's party, and his enforcers and informants are everywhere.

- Rebels took up arms in Sudan's western Darfur region in 2003, citing neglect and marginalization by the central government. So far, 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been displaced.

- A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced a student activist to six-and-a-half years in jail on Wednesday, a week after his father received a 65-year prison term for his own political activities and a decade after his grandfather died in custody. ...
In an intensive crackdown on the country's pro-democracy movement, at least 70 activists have received prison sentences in the past two weeks, many after being held for more than a year before being tried. The courts' actions would keep many of the activists in prison long past a general election set by the junta for 2010. ...
Amnesty International and other human rights groups say the junta holds more than 2,100 political prisoners, up sharply from nearly 1,200 before last year's pro-democracy demonstrations.

We've had a ridiculous embargo in place for decades against Cuba and now claim that going to war with Iraq was worthwhile because we removed a brutal dictator, but we do next to nothing about these humanitarian and human rights disasters. Should we feel a moral duty to do more in these areas, or should we continue with empty talk while thousands die? Do we want to be the world's policeman, or do we continue to pick and choose what outrages us enough to use force?


Citizen of the Week

Washington County Airport has a new master plan that might better be called a "wish list" since there apparently is no money to finance most of the proposed improvements, at least at this time. One hope is that the airport can someday lengthen the runway to accommodate larger jets, which could contribute to economic development efforts. But that also likely would involve buying up surrounding properties to have room for such a project. Some folks might fight tooth and nail against selling their land for an airport expansion. But South Franklin Township resident Don King, at an open house to view the plans Wednesday, looked at the greater good. If and when the time comes that King's house gets in the way of an airport expansion, it sounds as if he won't stand in the way of progress. Said King, "I hate to lose my home, but I realize something's got to be done for the betterment of the community and the betterment of the county." That kind of attitude should be commended.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Really, Kanye?

Kanye West loves him some Kanye. That's the way he's always been. It's Kanye first, Kanye next and Kanye last. If he doesn't get an award he thinks he deserves, he acts like a 3-year-old. But Kanye's taking his self-love to the next level, telling the AP that he is to music what Michael Jordan was to basketball. But it gets better. Said Kanye, "I realize that my place and position in history is that I will go down as the voice of this generation, of this decade. I will be the loudest voice." And it gets even funnier. Kanye says Justin Timberlake had the chance to be the voice of the generation, but he's not putting out enough albums. Justin Timberlake? When Kanye says he'll be the "loudest voice," that's entirely possibly, if shameless self-promotion is what he's referring to. Of course, even there he'd have to take a back seat to Madonna. If I'm going to look up to anyone in music, and I'm not much on hero worship, I'd choose someone who's shown a high level of social consciousness, such as Peter Gabriel or Bono. It's not going to be the person who shouts the loudest about how great he is. And, really, there hasn't been a "voice of the generation" since Dylan in the 1960s. Just keep putting out those CDs, Kanye. They're great. But the rest of us will decide where you belong in the hierarchy of modern culture.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

If you voted for Obama, prepare for Hell

A Catholic priest in South Carolina is advising his parishioners that they should not take Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because Obama supports abortion rights, and their backing of the Democrat for president "constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil." The Rev. Jay Scott Newman (no relation) of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville says those people are putting their souls at risk, according to an AP report, if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote. Of course, in the Catholic world, a few Our Fathers and Hail Marys later, and it's as if their vote never happened. Sweet. Said Newman, "Persons in this condition (those who voted for Obama) should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation." I hope I haven't ingested my own condemnation. That sounds serious. According to polls, more than half of Catholic voters supported Obama, so plenty of people have a lot of 'splainin' to do. I'm curious as to whether the Rev. Newman issued a similar warning about those who voted for President Bush and Vice President Cheney in 2004. I seem to remember something about "Thou shalt not kill," and the war in Iraq that Bush and Cheney led has killed a whole lot of people, not just enemy forces but perhaps hundreds of thousands of civilians. Was there a "but" or "unless" after the "Thou shalt not kill" edict? Also, will the Rev. Newman be issuing the same warning to those members of his congregation who have used condoms, pills or other birth-control methods? Nationwide, that would affect millions of Catholics. In the eyes of the church, haven't they also killed a living entity? While we're on the subject of churches, isn't it about time that churches, especially but not limited to those who engage in political activities, lose their tax-exempt status? And I don't mean just the Catholic Church, but also those "black churches" that went to bat for Obama. Really, I don't think any church should be exempt from paying their fair share to help cover the costs of the communities in which they are based. Surely, it would be a burden for some small churches, but others can easily afford to chip in. An example: In 2002, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago had assets of more than $2 billion - yes, billion. And the churches aren't the only ones who are taking advantage of the public good. Why in the world are wealthy, private higher-education institutions exempt from helping to pay the bills for the communities in which they're located? Washington & Jefferson College just keeps buying more and more properties in Washington and taking them off the tax rolls. The school has an endowment of more than $100 million, yet it pays no property taxes, at least on the vast majority of its holdings, and won't even consider imposing a nominal student fee to help the City of Washington, which is on the brink of bankruptcy, meet its obligations. With more than $100 million in the bank, is that too much to ask? Buying the occasional police cruiser just doesn't cut it.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Who really needs hanging here?

An idiot in Idaho might have bitten off more than he can chew by putting up a sign offering a free public hanging of President-elect Barack Obama and other leading Democrats. A local sheriff says she and a Secret Service agent will be paying a visit to Ken Germana of Vay, Idaho, who crafted the sign showing a noose and the names of Obama, Sen. John Kerry, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Rev. Al Sharpton. "That's a political statement. They can call it whatever they want, a threat or whatever," said Germana in an interview with the Bonner County Daily Bee. The AP reports that Germana said he's not a threat to Obama but wouldn't shed a tear if the president-elect were harmed. Is this what we've come to as a country? Silently rooting for one of our presidents to be assassinated? This particular nimrod, who hails from an area known for past ties with white supremacists, might not pose a direct threat to Obama, but the hateful words and actions of him and his kind only serve as fuel to those who might be inclined to point a high-powered rifle in the direction of our incoming president. With the extensive number of lunatics and racists we have in this country (and that would be numbered in the millions), Obama enters office with the greatest risk of assassination of any president since Lincoln. It's sad, but it's true.


Get naked for Jesus!

The pastor of one of those nondenominational (Christian Lite) megachurches says his married congregants need to get down to business more often. The Rev. Ed Young of Fellowship Church in Dallas is challenging the sheep of his flock to have sex for seven straight days, and he plans to join in - not with them; with his own wife. You have to be specific, what with some of the preachers we have running around these days. Says Young, "God says sex should be between a married man and a woman. I think it's one of the greatest things you can do for your kids, because so goes the marriage, so goes the family." The AP reports that earlier this year, a Florida preacher, apparently confident in the stamina of his congregants, issued a 30-day sex challenge. Now, I like sex as much as the next guy, but 30 straight days? I'm guessing that by about Day 22, the idea of getting nekkid with your significant other would be about as sexy as dental work. And, I hesitate to point this out, but there might be some points in that 30 days where, um, the ground might not be so great for planting, if you know what I mean. Hmmm.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why do you think they call him dope?

It would be tempting to call U.S. Rep. Paul Broun the village idiot of Congress, but there's way too much competition to make so bold a statement. Let's just say that Broun, a Georgia Republican, is staking a strong claim to the dunce cap. The nitwit told the AP on Monday that he fears President-elect Obama will set up a Gestapo-like security force in order to impose a Marxist dictatorship. I'm not kidding. The jackass really said that. "It may sound a bit crazy and off base," said Broun. OK, we're in agreement so far. "But the thing is," he continued, "(Obama's) the one who proposed this national security force. I'm just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may - may not, I hope not - but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism." What the dingbat is talking about is a speech Obama made in July in which he called for a civilian force to take some of the national security burden from the shoulders of the military. "That's exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany, and it's exactly what the Soviet Union did," said defender-of-freedom Broun. In his speech, which was centered on expanding the nation's foreign service, Obama said, "We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded." The president-elect's transition team declined to comment on Broun's comments. (How do you respond to someone whose tinfoil hat apparently is malfunctioning, allowing those annoying communications from aliens?) But Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor (Does that name sound foreign to you? German?) said the president-elect was referring to a proposal for a civilian reserve corps that could address postwar construction projects such as rebuilding infrastructure. As the AP notes, it's an idea that has been endorsed by the Bush administration. Broun the Loon also noted that he expects Obama to attempt to ban gun ownership if he gets that security force up and running. "You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany," said Broun. "I'm not comparing (Obama) to Adolf Hitler. What I'm saying is there is the potential of going down that road." This probably plays well with some of Broun's home folks. You know, the ones who like to dress up in pointy hats and burn stuff in open fields. But I'm going to read between the lines, and I think what Mr. Broun really is saying is that he desperately needs some mental-health attention. I know a cry for help when I hear one. Somebody, anybody, please get Rep. Broun some meds and a jacket with really long sleeves.


Sloshed in Schererville

In the news business, we see reports fairly regularly about a person being pulled over and found to be driving drunk with one of their kids in the car. It's the height of irresponsibility. Usually, the driver ends up in jail, and the child is turned over to a relative or child-services officials. If police in Schererville, Ind., thought it was going to be that easy early Saturday when they pulled over a 24-year-old woman who allegedly was driving drunk with her 1-year-old son in the car, they thought wrong. After arresting the woman, the cops called the boy's father to come fetch him. Just one problem. He showed up drunk at the police station and also was charged with DUI. OK, time to get the grandparents on the horn. Again, a problem. When the grandparents arrived, it was determined that they, too, had been downing a few. The only bright spot was that the grandmother, who was driving, was not (yet) over the legal limit, so the officers let her drive back home while they followed her with the poor kid in the police cruiser. All I can say is, what a family.


Did they use combines or balers?

It was quite a "harvest" for elk hunters in Pennsylvania this year. At least that's what the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported in a news release this week, saying that 40 of the 45 licensed elk hunters in the state "harvested" one of the animals during elk season earlier this month. I have no problem with hunting, especially when hunters eat what they kill, but does the Game Commission really need to use euphemisms to describe what happened during elk season, as if people won't realize the true nature of the hunt as long as it's referred to as a "harvest"? Sounds all fallish and nice, like jumping into a pile of leaves or carving pumpkins. In addition to use of the word "harvest," the Game Commission spoke of elk being "taken." Are they being held somewhere against their will? Will they be returned? Why not just tell us what really happened. Forty people went out in the woods, found the elk and shot them until they were dead. Now, isn't that better?


Monday, November 10, 2008

Quote of the Day

Here's the winner for Quote of the Day, from a Bloomberg story about President-elect Barack Obama's decisions on filling spots in his administration:

"What you're going to see with Obama is a mixture of wise men and young Turks,'' says Democratic consultant Peter Fenn.
While Obama may endure criticism for calling on some "usual suspects,'' he'd be in more trouble if his picks proved unqualified, Fenn says.
"You don't want the head of the Arabian Horse Association as your FEMA director,'' says Fenn, referring to Michael Brown (shown above), Bush's choice to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who was ousted after the botched government response to Hurricane Katrina.



I opined a while back that parents do way too much worrying and go way overboard in keeping certain foods away from their children, lest they get allergies. It was my contention that the restrictions on a wee one's diet are actually more likely to doom them to food allergies. And now, there's research to back up my belief. A new study reported on by the AP contradicts the widespread assumption that consumption of peanuts or peanut-containing products in infancy creates a risk of peanut allergies. "Our study findings raise the question of whether early introduction rather than avoidance of peanuts in infancy is the better strategy for the prevention of peanut allergy," said researchers in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The study compared the prevalence of peanut allergy and diet histories of 5,171 Jewish children from the United Kingdom and 5,615 Jewish children from Israel. The major finding: The U.K. children had a 10-fold higher incidence of peanut allergy than those from Israel. The researchers said the most obvious difference in the diets of infants in the two groups was the introduction of peanuts. Nearly 90 percent of infants in Israel get peanuts in some form by 9 months of age, compared to just 10 percent in the U.K. Also, the Israeli mothers consumed a much higher level of peanuts during pregnancy. The researchers conclude that recommendations to avoid peanuts in early infancy could be behind the increase in peanut allergies in the U.K., Australia and the United States. An official with a panel on food allergies from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says more studies are needed. But in the meantime, my advice to parents: Go nuts.


Good Lord! Get to your DVR!

Had I not been watching KDKA this morning, I would have missed a promo for a life-changing story that will be on tonight's 5 o'clock news. The promo advised that we'll all be able to catch up on the life of Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda. An item on the station's Web site says, "Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda is out for the season, so what's he doing with all his free time?" The correct answer is, "Who gives a rat's rectum," but then I remembered that if a Steelers player has a moderately interesting bowel movement, it leads the TV news. A while back, WTAE in Pittsburgh offered us a look at Steelers safety Troy Polamalu as he contemplated impending fatherhood. OK, people love the Steelers, and Polamalu is a star player. But Daniel Sepulveda? The guy has played one year for the team and has been out since training camp in July, when he tore the ACL in his knee. And he's a punter. I have to admit that I've been remiss about keeping up with Danny Boy. It's true. I hadn't given a single thought to his daily routine - presumably going to the grocery store, a little bathroom time, eating, sleeping - since he went on the injured reserve list. Thank the Lord that KDKA is on the job, bringing us these stories of global import.


Those were the days

The CBS morning show spent a lot of today's program looking back at the 1950s, and the nostalgia was capped by a lengthy (by TV standards) performance by Little Richard and his band. Richard is approaching his 76th birthday, but he's nearly as good now as he was 50 years ago, unlike a lot of performers who carry on long after their talent has left them and become an embarrassment. If you get a chance to see Richard, I'd highly recommend it.


Those darned monks

I've always contended that a lot of the horrors and violence down through the history of the world can be directly tied to religion, and the times, they're not a'changin'. An AP story over the weekend started off this way: "Israeli police rushed into one of Christianity's holiest churches Sunday and arrested two clergymen after an argument between monks erupted into a brawl next to the site of Jesus' tomb. The clash between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks broke out in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection." You can't make this stuff up. The AP said the mayhem ensued when Armenian clergymen carried out a procession to mark what they believe to be the 4th-century discovery of the cross used to crucify Jesus. The Greeks objected, saying the procession could not occur without one of their own monks present, because to do otherwise might give the Armenians some sort of claim to the site. Oh boy. Am I the only one who gets a mental picture of a Greek monk standing beside a velvet rope, deciding who gets in and who doesn't? Free drinks for the hot chicks. Anyway, police responded, and one monk from each side went to the hoosegow. The AP said "a bearded Armenian monk in a red-and-pink robe and a black-clad Greek Orthodox monk with a bloody gash on his forehead were both taken away in handcuffs after scuffling with dozens of riot police." The report said six Christian sects divide control of the ancient church, and Israeli police sometimes get a call when they fight over turf and control of the site. Some other strange stuff: The Israeli government has been trying for some time to build a fire exit there, in the interest of the safety of the thousands of pilgrims who visit regularly, but the sects can't agree on where it should be built. Also, back in the 1800s, somebody put a ladder on a ledge over the church entrance, and it has remained there ever since because the various monks dispute who has the authority to go up and bring it down. You know what I think would be really funny? What if they found out that the real site of Jesus' tomb is Shlomo's Bagel Shop across the street? Look out, Shlomo!


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Let the hysteria begin

Here's the lead paragraph in a recent AP story with the dateline of Midlothian, Va.:

"When 10-year-old Austin Smith heard Barack Obama had been elected president, he had one question: Does this mean I won't get a new gun for Christmas?"

One can only wonder what kind of discussions young Austin was subjected to in the months leading to the recent presidential election, but the little fellow, whose mother promptly scampered to get him a 20-gauge shotgun, isn't alone in harboring a foreboding dread that the gun-confiscation wagon will soon be making the rounds, presumably much like an ice-cream truck but with "Give Peace a Chance" coming from the speakers. The story goes on to say that the FBI has seen a sharp increase in the number of background checks for gun purchases, and gun stores are doing land-office business. David Hancock, who runs a gun shop in Midlothian, says sales have nearly doubled in the past week, and he had to call in extra workers on Election Day because of the crush of business. "They're scared to death of losing their rights," said Hancock. Stewart Wallin, who owns Get Some Guns (really) in Murray, Utah, said he sold nine assault weapons the day after Barack Obama was elected. Are people really that afraid of losing their right to bear arms or do they figure, now that Obama's headed to the White House, that black mobs will soon descend to subjugate the white man? There's no doubt that Obama supports greater gun controls, but he's never suggested seizing the weapons of law-abiding citizens or a widespread ban on firearms sales. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said his group will continue to press for "sensible" restrictions such as background checks at gun shows, a ban on military-type assault weapons and a crackdown on the illegal gun trade. Mark Tushnet, a Harvard Law School professor who has written a book on the gun debate, said he doesn't see expanded firearms restrictions as a high priority for the incoming administration and expects that "maybe the gun-show loophole will be closed, but not much else." The NRA, of course, preaches doom and gloom. That's one of the problems in the whole discussion of guns in this country. You have a fringe element on one side that would like most guns banned, and you have the NRA that believes any effort to control the flow of weapons is the first step on a slippery slope toward storm troopers raiding people's homes to snatch everything from Saturday night specials to blunderbusses. I really can't see a reason for anyone to own an Uzi, and I think more restrictions on the gun-show trade would be good, but if I live to be 150 years old, I will never see the day when the government comes to the homes of good citizens and takes their handguns, rifles and shotguns. It just ain't going to happen. For one thing, the populace, even people like me who favor some controls, would not stand for it. And, knowing that, you'll never get a majority of Congress to sign on for such a proposal. Also, broad gun controls just wouldn't work. If handguns and hunting rifles are banned, that really doesn't mean anything to the criminal element. I guess if we want to look on the bright side of all this gun-buying hysteria, we can credit the new president with his first achievement in stimulating the economy.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thanks for nothin'

We all make mistakes. Check today's Observer-Reporter, and I'm sure you can pick out a couple of typos. But there are small mistakes, and then there are the ones that make your blood pressure skyrocket. A couple of weeks back, the missus started having problems with her laptop connecting to our wireless Internet, so she called the computer manufacturer, which shall remain nameless (I sure hope I don't inadvertently provide any clues), and they said they would send her a box in which she could ship the laptop to them for repairs. And I must say that they were very nice about offering to fix it for free, even though the warranty was no longer in effect. It took several days for the box to arrive, a couple more for it to arrive at their repair site, a few more for it to be fixed and shipped back, and a few more before my schedule and that of the FedEx guy meshed and I could sign for the package. The missus was greatly relieved to have it back in her possession. Just one problem: It didn't work. Now, mind you, when we shipped the laptop to the computer company, it was in perfect working order, save for the fact that it could not be used wirelessly. When it came back, it wouldn't even start up. After a long, long telephone call spent mainly trying to understand folks whose English is only moderately related to what you and I consider our native tongue, it still didn't work. They had the missus pulling out the battery and putting it back in, unplugging and replugging the power cord, etc. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Bottom line: They're sending us another box. They really couldn't explain why a computer that wouldn't even turn on had been sent back to us. Hadn't it been checked out?, the missus asked. Oh, they assured her, four or five technicians have to sign off on the work before it can leave their office. Really? I can't say that I'm all that surprised. Even when a computer is right in front of them, it's been my experience that computer technicians are not all that effective at fixing computers. I know, you would think that they would be. It seems they're very good at telling you what you already know is wrong with the computer, using fancier words, of course. But as for being able to determine WHY the computer is screwing up? Not so much. It's my belief that if auto mechanics had the same diagnostic skills as computer techs, we'd all be on horseback. You all might have similar horror stories about computer repair. Feel free to share.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A new day dawns

Whether you agreed or disagreed with the nation's choice of Barack Obama as our next president, there's no denying it was a landmark event in American history. Here are a few thoughts on the just-completed presidential race:
- A few reasons why Obama won: He appealed to people's better instincts and their hopes for the future; he never lost his focus during the long campaign (whereas McCain always seemed to be looking for a new strategy); George Bush; the economic meltdown.
- McCain made one classy concession speech Tuesday night. Had he taken that tone throughout the campaign, perhaps the outcome would have been different, or at least closer. And I don't make much of the people in his crowd booing Obama. They just went through a very tough campaign and a crushing setback.
- Sarah Palin, ultimately, was a drag on the Republican ticket. She's a person of average intelligence, limited knowledge and seemingly no intellectual curiousity. That's fine, but she shouldn't be one heartbeat away from the presidency.
- Making Joe the Plumber out to be some sort of American hero reeked of desperation by the McCain camp. The fact that Joe turned out to be a dolt didn't help.
- As the campaign wound down and the McCain and McCain-related ads became more and more off-issue and attacking, McCain increasingly came off as an angry old man.
- The world will look on us differently now that our "First Family" is a black family. And it will be nice to have little kids in the White House. It's the first time in my life that the president will be younger than me. It's the passing of a torch to a new generation in politics.
- I was sad that the forces of hate and intolerance carried the day on the California gay marriage-ban proposition. The actions by the religious right sure don't reflect what I think Jesus would do.
- People speak of Barack Obama as being nothing but a guy who looks good and makes great speeches. That's ridiculous. He's clearly a brilliant man, and sometimes, when our country is in deep trouble, we need a leader with charisma who can inspire people. See Jack Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
- I turned on conservative talk radio in the car today, and the people calling in are still calling Obama a Muslim and a communist and claiming he was born in Kenya. There are lots of angry, stupid people in our country.
- The Republican Party has to decide which fork in the road to take if they want to reclaim power down the road. Do they continue to be held hostage by the religious right? I don't think that's the path to victory. They might do better by reclaiming the party from the fringe elements and reviving the concept of Rockefeller Republicanism; in other words, liberal to moderate on social issues and conservative on economics. Example: One of my favorite public servants, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. Another example: Tom Ridge.
- Finally, in the words of Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" For those who supported Obama, this is not a time to gloat. For those who supported McCain, it's time to give the other guy your support and give him a chance to implement his policies. If they don't work, you get another chance to vote in 2012.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Big Day

I sure don't envy voters in the big cities today. I'm hearing all these reports of long lines and hours-long waits to vote, and I thought I might face a little delay this morning. Never fear. Out in Hopewell Township, there are no such problems. I walked right in and cast my ballot. On Election Day, it's a good thing to live in a place where the cows easily outnumber the people. And the baked goods they had for sale: Mmmmm. Just for the record, I voted for three Republicans and three Democrats. Fair and balanced. That's me.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Election, Part 1

The shouting is just about over. We've had plenty of time to consider the two candidates for president and their running mates. It's time to put aside the ridiculous attacks and claims against both men and consider what they really stand for. Who is the best person to lead the country through its challenges over the next four years? That's the bottom line, and that's why we all should go out and cast our ballots. Do your duty as a citizen. And if you don't vote, don't bitch.


Election, Part 2

Politics is a dirty business. Anyone who has watched the soon-to-be-completed presidential campaign can attest to that. But what happens the day after Election Day? It's clear that the country is split pretty much down the middle between those who favor McCain and those who back Obama. Both sides have made efforts to demonize the other candidate. When the election is over, can the respective supporters of those candidates, if their team loses, get behind the victor and help him try to get the country out of its current mess, or will they try to sabotage that person's efforts? This time, I have my doubts about my fellow Americans.


Election, Part 3

The presidential election, rightly so, gets most of the ink and airtime, but plenty of eyes are on California as residents of that state vote Tuesday on an effort to overturn a court ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state. The case made by supporters of gay marriage is pretty simple: Give people equal rights under the law. The case by those who want to overturn gay marriage has bordered on the hysterical, and even comical. It's hard to say what the stupidest statement has been from the anti-gay-marriage crowd, but we've had some people really step up to the plate in recent days. One contender is L. Whitney Clayton, the Mormom church's liaison with a coalition that calls itself He sees his very faith as being under attack. "What will happen to freedom of religion? What will people be able to preach and believe, and will they be able to do the things that they are accustomed to doing?" asked Clayton. What a nut case. Uh, Mr. Clayton, I'm not sure you understand this, but the court decision doesn't require you to enter into gay marriage. It just requires you to leave other people alone. But not to be outdone in the race for the dunderhead award is Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who said that "in the minds of many people, Proposition 8 is the most important thing nationally on the ballot." Let me get this straight (no pun intended). Our country is facing a financial meltdown and many other challenges, yet in some people's minds, the most important thing on the ballot is whether two ladies or two men can get a marriage license? All I can say is, those must be pretty small minds. But wait. Perkins saved his worst for last. Said the FRC leader, "We have survived bad presidents. But many, many are convinced we will not survive this redefinition of marriage." Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner. Or loser, as it may be. Thus far, the pricetag for this election battle is about $70 million. What a shame that people have had to spend millions of dollars to protect their rights. And what a greater shame that people would spend millions to take those rights away.


Election, Part 4

Whoever prevails in Tuesday's presidential election, there's a good chance that the Guantanamo Bay prison camp's days are numbered. The camp has been an embarrassment to America. Many of the people there are no more terrorists than you or I. I read the other day that many of the people held there had been turned over to U.S. or allied forces by their countrymen in exchange for bounties, and some are being held, not based on evidence, but only on the word of the people who turned them in for cash. Also recently, a U.S. military prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, resigned his post, accusing his office of suppressing evidence that could clear a young detainee of war crimes charges. He's not alone. The AP reports that at least three other prosecutors - military men - have quit while making claims of misconduct. They include the former chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who accused his superiors of political meddling. Guantanamo has been a black mark on the United States since we began detaining people there. The proceedings there are kangaroo courts that stray about as far as possible from what we Americans consider a true system of justice. Real justice would be served by putting an end to this travesty, and I hope the next president, whomever it may be, does the right thing.