Monday, June 30, 2008

Whoa there, Wesley

If Barack Obama wants to do himself a favor, he'll lock retired Gen. Wesley Clark in a padded room until after the election in November. Clark, a onetime presidential candidate shown above with Obama, is belittling John McCain's military service. Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," Clark said McCain might be a hero, but he didn't have sufficient "command experience." "That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded - that wasn't a wartime squadron," said Clark. Huh? I guess only wartime squadrons require administrative and management skills. The program's moderator, the venerable Bob Schieffer, noted that Clark's favored candidate, Obama, also did not have that kind of command experience, nor had he piloted a fighter plane and been shot down over enemy lines, as McCain was in Vietnam. Replied Clark, "Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." Clark makes it sound as if McCain was just a passenger on a joyride over Hanoi. And I think the courage McCain showed during five-plus years as a prisoner of war, enduring brutal beatings and other torture, says something about the man's character. Clark is coming off as an idiot, and he's just drawing attention to the fact that Obama has no military experience, which is important to some voters. Clark should just shut up, and Obama, if he's smart, will see that he does.


Tenure troubles

At its best, tenure is a benefit given to good teachers to give them a greater level of job security. But at its worst, tenure can make it nearly impossible to get rid of a problem instructor. Allan Gerstenlauer, a superintendent at Longwood School District on Long Island in New York, has his own horror story, which he shared with the Associated Press recently. An English teacher at Longwood continues to receive a $113,000 annual salary, despite pleading guilty earlier this month to drunken driving. Hey, you might say, that's a serious offense for someone teaching young people, but shouldn't the teacher get a second chance? Well, it happens to be that teacher's fifth DUI arrest in the past seven years. She's facing a likely prison sentence but won't step down from her job. And it's just one of many similar cases across the country. The teacher's union, of course, has no problem pressing her case to keep her job. Said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, "Tenure provides the right to due process. It is consistent with the American way; a person is innocent until proven guilty." Just one problem, Richard. She HAS been proven guilty. According to the AP story, it can cost taxpayers $250,000 to get rid of one incompetent tenured teacher, and because some teachers remain on the payroll even after being found guilty of serious crimes, arbitration hearings on attempts to fire them sometimes have to be conducted inside prisons. The teacher with the five DUI cases will have a hearing in August. Until then, she's on paid leave. Nice for her. Without tenure, it would be much easier to get rid of teachers who violate the law or moral standards. Said tenure opponent B. Jason Brooks of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, "Paying teachers and school administrators based on how well they do their job rather than how long they've had their job makes sense." Agreed.


That's one pricey blonde

At the risk of sounding sexist, I think I speak for a lot of men when I say that women can be expensive. But if you're interested in Devon Trabosh, you're going to need to take out a loan - a big one. Trabosh, a 42-year-old divorced mother of two from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is advertising her home - and herself - on eBay and Craigslist. She's offering the home for $340,000, but there's an additional $500,000 "shipping fee" that includes her "companionship." Now I'm not accusing Trabosh of being a high-priced prostitute, but you can make a lot of "Spitzer" visits for $500,000. Also, I generally try not to make assumptions about people based solely on their looks, but Trabosh looks a good deal younger than her 42 years, suggesting to me that she either has really good genes or has had some "work" done. If it's the latter, you're looking at high maintenance costs, much as you would if you bought a Porsche. Trabosh said she hasn't had any serious offers but has gotten feelers (no pun intended) from men near and far. "Of course, it's gonna take more chemistry and connection," Trabosh told the AP. "It's not going to be instantaneous that I'm just going to be automatically for sale ... It's a package deal for love." So, if you're looking for love, like what you see in Trabosh and have an extra $840,000 lying around the house, happiness might be just a mouse click away.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Political correctness wins again

As a newspaper editor, the Associated Press stylebook is my bible. It offers guidance on a wide range of grammar and usage issues. And in the new edition, it's bowing to political correctness. According to the new and "improved" stylebook, individual newspapers can now decide whether to refer to a black person as black or African-American. Is there some compelling reason why we need to refer to somebody as African-American when, in most cases, they've never set foot on the continent, and their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were all born right here? And what if a white person who was born and raised in Africa comes here to live? Is he an African-American? And, by the way, not all black people in our country hail from Africa. How do we differentiate them? We hear talk all the time about how we need to break down racial barriers and come together as one America. To me, when you refer to yourself by your continent of origin, you're putting up a barrier and setting yourself apart from your fellow Americans. And the AP is now perpetuating that. The new stylebook also advises us newspaper people that "mentally retarded" is no longer acceptable. Those folks whom we previously referred to as retarded are now to be called "mentally disabled," the AP has decreed. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the old term. It was descriptive. Those folks have been mentally slowed, or retarded, by their conditions. And some activists go nuts when you use the word "disabled." They like to say "differently abled." Where does this stuff stop? I'm sure it's just a matter of time before the AP bans "black" and "disabled" totally. When that happens, I would like to be referred to as a "Scots-Irish-Swiss-German-English American." And, please, don't offend me by saying I'm fat (even though I am, it's my own fault and I'm well aware of it). I will henceforth be known as "calorically challenged."

The fat white guy


Union to the rescue

We've all seen cases in which a union goes to bat for one of its members who has been fired for committing what, to most people, would be an unforgivable offense, such as stealing from an employer or being drunk on the job. Yet very often, the union takes the fired worker's case to an arbitrator and gets him reinstated, usually with back pay. The players association that rules Major League Baseball is no different. Former Pirates pitcher Shawn Chacon was put on waivers Thursday by the Houston Astros, his most recent employer, after he allegedly attacked the team's general manager, Ed Wade. Chacon reportedly had been grousing to anyone who would listen after he was moved from his starting spot into the bullpen. Wade asked manager Cecil Cooper to call Chacon in for a meeting to discuss the situation, and the pitcher repeatedly refused. In my book, the team would have been well within its rights at that point to fire Chacon for insubordination and conduct detrimental to the team. But Wade went to the team dining room to make a personal appeal for Chacon to meet with him and Cooper. An argument ensued, and the dispute reportedly ended with Chacon throwing Wade to the ground not once, but twice. If no other team picks up Chacon, the Astros intend to terminate his contract for cause, a move that would cost Chacon $1 million or more. That's where the union comes in. "Based on the information we have to date, we believe the Astros' response violates the Basic Agreement," said union general counsel Michael Weiner. "If Shawn Chacon clears waivers and is released, we will pursue appropriate relief on his behalf." Because, of course, we must preserve the right of hulking athletes to attack their bosses. One would think the Astros would win a legal battle, based on a provision in the standard contract that says a player can be terminated if he fails to "conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship." Last I checked, throwing a guy to the ground is not good citizenship. Heck, it might even be worthy of a criminal charge. Also, the players union and other labor organizations would have a lot more credibility if they sometimes said, "You know, this is a bad guy. The company was right to cut him loose." But when arbitrators are issuing so many stupid decisions, who can blame them for working the system?


The right decision

The Second Amendment of the Constitution, as it applies to Americans' ownership of guns, has always been a subject of widely varying interpretations, but it's hard to argue with the Supreme Court's decision Thursday that killed a ban on handguns in Washington, D.C. Do-gooders and grandstanders can talk all they want about the need to get handguns off the streets, but the absolute fact of the matter is that only law-abiding citizens lose their guns when such a law is imposed. Do you really think that the thugs who rule the streets in some D.C. neighborhoods and parts of most other big American cities are going to surrender their (often stolen) guns so that they can comply with a law? Get real. In his dissent Thursday, Justice Stephen Breyer said, "In my view, there simply is no untouchable, constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas." Of course not. People should just cower in their homes, waiting for some crackhead to break in, kill them and steal all their stuff. Now, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is suggesting a plan to require people to register their handguns. Again, this is something that law-abiding people should not be subjected to, and it seems unlikely to me that members of the low-life scum segment of D.C. are going to show up at the police station, saying, "Yes, officer, I would like to register this handgun that I stole in a burglary last month." It may be trite, but there's a lot of truth to the saying, "When guns are criminalized, only criminals will have guns."


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Kill 'em

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that states cannot impose the death penalty on people who rape children. There's a debate in this country about whether we should have a death penalty at all, but since we do, why shouldn't the lowest forms of sexual predators be subject to it? To get an idea of the thinking behind the court's majority decision, here is an excerpt from an Associated Press story about the 5-4 ruling:

Rape and other crimes "may be as devastating in their harm ... but 'in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public,' they cannot be compared to murder in their 'severity and irrevocability,'" (Justice Anthony) Kennedy said, quoting from earlier decisions.

So, rapes can be as devastating as murder, but such crimes can't be compared to murder in their "severity." I'm guessing Justice Kennedy has never been the victim of rape. Nor have I. But while the suffering usually ends quickly for a murder victim, a person who is raped has to live with that horror for their rest of their life. And when a child is involved, it becomes even more heinous. I think it's highly appropriate to kill someone who would sexually assault a child, and I think the law approved in Texas in 2007 is a good framework for a national standard. The Texas measure allows imposition of the death penalty on a predator who is convicted twice of raping a child under the age of 14. The Supreme Court decision came in response to a case from Louisiana, where two men were under death sentences for raping girls under the age of 10. The author of that state's law, former Republican state Rep. Pete Schneider, had this to say to the five justices who overturned the measure: "When are you going to have the courage to stand up for what's right for all of the people - but especially the children ... that have been brutally raped by monsters?" That's a good question.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Just saying "no thanks"

"Just Say No" was a laughable approach to the nation's drug problems during the Reagan era, and evidence is mounting (no pun intended) that abstinence-only education, in which kids are told to "just say no" to sex, isn't having the desired results. The Bush administration touts its federal abstinence-education grant program for slowing sexual activity by teenagers, but an Associated Press story that appeared on the front page of today's O-R notes that states are increasingly bailing out on the program, with many believing it does little, if any, good. Nearly half the states are now turning down the federal money, which requires matching funds. A study by Yale and Columbia universities a few years ago found that teens who make abstinence pledges have sex at a later age, have fewer sex partners and get married earlier. But the same study found that teens who make such a pledge and those who don't have virtually the same rates of sexually transmitted diseases. The study blamed that on the fact that when "pledgers" fell off the no-sex bandwagon, they were less likely to use condoms. The same study, according to a 2004 AP report, found that in communities in which at least 20 percent of teens made pledges, the STD rate for all youths was 8.9 percent. In places where less than 7 percent pledged, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases was 5.5 percent. "It is the combination of hidden sex and unsafe sex that creates a world where people underestimate the risk of STDs," study co-author Peter Bearman, chairman of Columbia's Department of Sociology, said at the time. Ah, yes, those "unsafe" practices. A related study released by the universities showed that pledgers were more likely to have had oral and anal sex than other teens who had not engaged in intercourse. That's a little more serious than substituting onion rings for fries at Red Robin. Of course, I've heard it said that when God closes one door, He opens another one. The bottom line is, just saying "don't do it" is a stupid approach to helping teens cope with sexuality. Is it best that teens wait until adulthood to have sex? Absolutely. But to assume that we can stop kids from having sex is to ignore reality, and we do our kids a disservice - indeed, we may condemn some of them to death - if we fail to give them all the information they might need about sex.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thanks, but ...

I was driving down Hewitt Avenue yesterday, toward the one-lane bridge just before the intersection with Henderson, when I saw a crew picking up trash along the road. They were not prisoners or public employees, but some sort of private group, made up of adults and children. It was only when I was nearly on top of them that I saw a woman holding up her hand to stop me, in order that opposing traffic could come up the hill. The woman was holding no "stop/slow" sign, and, with bright sunlight hitting my eyes, it was almost impossible to see her hand signs. When it was my turn to proceed, I noticed that the woman at the other end of the crew did, indeed, have a sign to stop traffic. But she also had a small child walking alongside her. I'm sorry, but a garbage cleanup operation on a narrow, busy road is no place for a small fry. I appreciate the work this group was doing to clean up the mess left by thoughtless morons, but the way they were going about it was a recipe for tragedy - a head-on collision or, worse, a small child hit by a vehicle. Is PennDOT responsible for monitoring these private groups that gather garbage, or can anyone form a group to clean up trash, with no supervision whatsoever? Whatever the case, these organizations need to take a closer look at their safety procedures.


Monday, June 23, 2008

A bad baby boom

No one is all that surprised anymore by teen pregnancies. Girls who get "in the family way" are no longer sent away to live with a relative or placed in a home for "wayward girls." But the story out of Gloucester High School in Massachusetts last week was an attention-grabber. It seems at least eight, and perhaps more, of the high school's female students entered a pact to get pregnant and raise their children together. None was older than 16. School principal Joseph Sullivan told Time magazine that the girls gave each other high fives and starting planning baby showers when test showed they were expecting. And one of the fathers, said Sullivan, "is a 24-year-old homeless guy." Nice. School district superintendent Christopher Farmer told WBZ-TV that the pregnant posse are mostly "girls who lack self-esteem and have a lack of love in their life." He forgot one thing. They're really, really stupid. Real life is not like the movie "Juno," in which Ellen Page, shown above, is a highly intelligent girl with unfailingly supportive parents and friends - and a rich Yuppie couple waiting to adopt her child. Real life will be 3 a.m. feedings, crappy diapers and, most likely, trying to raise a child while mired in single-mother poverty. Let's see how they like it then. Of course, the ones who will suffer most are the children born to these idiots. Won't life be great for them?


Another case of supersensitivity

NBC golf commentator Johnny Miller got himself in hot water with his remarks during the dramatic U.S. Open battle between Tiger Woods and Western Pennsylvania's own Rocco Mediate, above, and I'm sure at the time, he had no idea anyone would be offended by what he said. But as Miller should know, everyone is offended by everything these days. Miller commented, probably in reference to the players' differing physiques and athleticism, that Rocco "looks like the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool." At another point, he said, "Guys with the name 'Rocco' don't get on the trophy, do they?" Well, it appears NBC must have gotten a few calls from some Italian-Americans who took umbrage at Miller's comments, because the analyst issued the standard statement, through the network, that he wanted to "apologize to anyone who was offended by my remarks," and he made it clear that what he said was not related to Rocco's "ethnicity." "My intention was to convey my affection and admiration for Rocco's everyman qualities," said Miller. This is a real eye-opener for me. I had not been aware of the great subculture of Italian-American pool boys. And while there have been U.S. Open winners of Italian descent (Gene Sarazen, Tony Manero, for example), I, like Miller, did not recall a "Rocco" claiming the trophy. But Miller says that in the future, he will choose his words more carefully. That's a shame for all of us if Miller becomes just another boring talking head. The network will put the clamps on what many viewers liked best about Miller: He called a spade a spade. Oh, crap. I'm going to get in trouble for that one. I immediately issue an apology to all sharp garden implements.


Home of the whoppers

I really have no comment on this item. Just throwing it out there. A North Carolina hospital announced last week that Joey and Erin Maynard of Winston-Salem, N.C., are the proud parents of twins who checked in with a combined weight of 23 pounds and 1 ounce. Sean William Maynard weighed 10 pounds, 14 ounces, and his sister, Abigail Rose Maynard, tipped the scales at 12 pounds, 3 ounces. We're talking Butterball turkeys here. As you might guess, the twins were delivered by Caesarean section. Otherwise, whew! I'm going to keep an eye on the twins as they grow, because with this kind of a start in life, they might end up playing next to each other on the offensive line at North Carolina State about 18 years from now.


If in doubt, sue

Former Duquesne basketball players Shawn James, above right, and Kojo Mensah, above left, are covering all the bases in case their dreams of playing pro hoops don't work out. The New York Daily News and WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh report that the pair, who were among five Dukes players shot after a school dance in September 2006, are filing suit today, claiming the school didn't do enough to protect its students. Among other things, the athletes' attorney, Teresa Torisev, claims the lingering physical and emotional effects of the shootings have hurt the players' chances of playing pro basketball. Never mind that both players made the decision to skip their senior seasons at Duquesne, sign with agents and make themselves eligible for the NBA draft. Never mind that James' foot wound was so minor that he was treated and released after the shooting. And never mind that neither was likely an NBA-caliber prospect BEFORE the shooting. Mensah has pretty much no chance of being drafted, and James is a fringe prospect. James, at 6-10, is a great shot-blocker, but the rest of his game is pretty average. Here's what the folks at had to say earlier this year after watching him play at a camp for NBA prospects: "He is very long and has a fairly fluid release on his jump shot, but he is too weak and looks somewhat out of place." Not exactly a ringing endorsement. This is what the players' attorney, Torisev, had to say about the basis for their suit: "Can you imagine being gunned down on your college campus as you're walking back to your dorm? Living with that for the rest of your life and having your career ended - it's a devastating thing." Just one problem, Ms. Torisev. You're clients' careers weren't ended. They were physically and emotionally fit to play at Duquesne this past season. If their NBA dreams fall through, as they most likely will, perhaps James and Mensah should just do what everyone else does: Quit whining and get a real job. I'm sure that partial college education will serve them well. But no, wait, it's just easier to try to get a seat on the gravy train of baseless litigation.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Murdering kids

For the second time in the last few months, a child from a faith-healing family in Oregon has died of an illness that could easily have been treated. The Associated Press reports that 16-year-old Neil Beagley died Tuesday of heart failure resulting from a urinary tract blockage that could have removed by a urologist. Even the simple insertion of a catheter could have saved his life. A medical examiner said the boy most likely had a congenital condition that constricted his urinary tract, and there were signs that this wasn't the first blockage he suffered. And suffered is the operative word here. Gladstone, Ore., police Sgt. Lynne Benton said the boy had been sick for a week, and church members had gathered with his family to pray on Sunday when the youngster's condition worsened. Lot of good that did. Maybe God was busy listening to the prayers of pro athletes. They're always thanking Him for their victories. A few months ago, Beagley's 15-month-old cousin, Ava Worthington, died in her home of pneumonia and a blood infection. Her parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, shown above, face charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment. Their lawyers plan a "religious freedom" defense. As in, we have the freedom to condemn our own children to death? Oregon passed a law in 1999 removing a religious shield for parents who rely solely on prayer to treat sick children, and the Worthingtons are the first to be prosecuted under it. Unfortunately, Beagley's parents will probably avoid prosecution, because the law allows kids 14 and older to make their own decisions on accepting medical care, and Benton said the boy apparently refused treatment. Of course he did. The poor kid had been brainwashed by lunatics since he was a toddler. The 1999 law, which clearly is too weak, came about after KATU-TV in Portland, Ore., reported on a medical examiner's estimate that 20 children of people affiliated with Followers of Christ church, the outfit the Worthingtons and Beagleys belong to, had died of curable illnesses that went untreated. I'm guessing that the penalty for violating the law is not as severe as it should be. These people should be charged with first-degree, premeditated murder and spend the rest of their lives in prison. Heck, I'd even favor the death penalty, because children should not die just because their parents are crazy.


Hatred on the House floor

Our state lawmakers regularly rubber-stamp resolutions honoring people or events in the commonwealth, but if you're planning to submit something for our legislators' blessing, I hope you're praying to Jesus, because that's a requirement, at least for one House member from Western Pennsylvania. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, shown above, made a fool of himself - and his constituents, by extension - when he stood up in the House chambers to declare his opposition to a resolution recognizing the upcoming Harrisburg convention of a Muslim organization, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Said Metcalfe, a Butler County Republican, "The Muslims do not recognize Jesus Christ as God, and I will be voting negative." The proper thing for the rest of the House members to do would have been to say, "OK, clown, knock yourself out," and then approve the resolution. But after some condemnation of Metcalfe from other lawmakers, the resolution was tabled at the request of one of Metcalfe's Republican colleagues, Rep. Gordon Denlinger of Lancaster. These men have brought shame on Pennsylvania. Our country has a long history of supporting freedom of religion, to the point of recognizing freaky cults, like the Scientologists, and churches with screwball foundations, like the Mormons. To shun the Muslim group, which, according to the resolution, aimed to "increase faith and harmony and introduce various humanitarian, social and religious services," is idiotic. I would like to see the House pass a resolution in support of this statement: "Representative Metcalfe, you're an ass."


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

If anybody deserved an ass-whippin' ...

I know it's only June, but Oakland Raiders receiver Javon Walker has to be the early front-runner for "Idiot A-Hole of the Year." Details are sketchy at this point, but Las Vegas television station KVVU reports that Walker, apparently the victim of a robbery, was beaten severely after supposedly partying all night long at a couple of Vegas clubs. When he was in school, Walker must have been a really slow learner, and he ain't getting any smarter. It was just in January 2007 when Walker's then-Denver Broncos teammate Darrent Williams was shot to death following an altercation at a nightclub. He died in the arms of ... wait for it ... Javon Walker (shown in the above photo with Williams' blood still on his shirt). The trouble in that incident apparently stemmed from one of Williams' teammates spraying people with champagne. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, in its report on Walker's beating Monday, said the athlete was seen at a club "spraying the crowd with some of the 15 bottles of Dom Perignon Rose champagne he ordered." What a freakin' idiot. The newspaper also reported that later, at another club where he partied until 6:30 a.m., Walker's initial round of champagne set him back $15,000. Without even considering what a waste of money that was, or how it might have been better spent in a country where people are going hungry and losing their homes at an alarming rate, do you think that buying $15,000 worth of champagne in one fell swoop might be a sign to a potential robber that you have a lot of disposable income that he could help you, um, dispose of? It's hard to imagine that someone would not make an immediate lifestyle change after having been soaked with a friend's blood as his life slipped away, but the many messages that sad incident provided (Don't spray people with booze. Don't go to nightclubs full of shady people who might do you harm. Don't advertise that you have a lot more money than sense.) clearly didn't penetrate Walker's ultra-thick skull. But maybe getting brutalized, himself, will make Walker finally change his ways. Yeah, right.


Protect us, because we're stupid

The Consumer Product Safety Commission does a lot of good work, I'm sure, in keeping truly dangerous products from reaching American shoppers, but the agency just doesn't know when to quit. It's a good thing when the CPSC intercepts Chinese products that are full of lead or keeps a hazardous crib from getting into the hands of new parents, but there comes a point when consumers should be trusted to use their own common sense and due diligence. The commission is forever issuing recall notices for toys that have parts that "could" come off and "could" pose a choking hazard for children. The folks at the CPSC also spend a lot of time looking for clothing with drawstrings that "could" pose a strangulation threat. Have these people ever seen Legos or Lincoln Logs? I'm guessing a lot of parents have whacked a kid in the back or gone Heimlich to dislodge one of those from their kids' gullets. When I was a kid, one of my brothers swallowed a marble. A friend who was a nurse told my mother to give him some mineral oil and keep an eye out on the other end. It was better than Playstation. Every time he went No. 2, the whole family gathered around to see if the marble would appear. It eventually did. Hey, there wasn't much to do in Claysville in the '60s. But back to the subject at hand. The CPSC doesn't confine itself to lead, choking or strangulation. No sir. Now that warm weather is here, the agency recently advised parents and caregivers to "take precautions to keep children from falling from windows." Really??? I'm not saying the CPSC is unnecessary, but when it comes to edible toys and the like, I think parents should follow this simple, old-fashioned approach: WATCH YOUR KIDS! That should be sufficient.


Thanks for nothing?

John Nance Garner, who was Franklin Roosevelt's first vice president, famously remarked that the vice presidency "isn't worth a pitcher of warm piss." That saying might also be applied to former Vice President Al Gore's endorsement Monday of Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting Barack Obama. Did anyone in America doubt that Gore would back Obama, now that the nomination has been decided? Did anyone see him jumping ship, a la Sen. Joe Lieberman, to support Republican John McCain? Of course not. Someone in the newsroom Monday night said, "Who else was he going to endorse? Ron Paul?" Gore could have helped his party, and Obama, if that was his intention all along, by issuing his endorsement before the Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries that dragged out the nomination process. It's conceivable that had Gore endorsed Obama earlier and with gusto, Obama might have won in Texas and Ohio, and put an earlier end to Hillary Clinton's campaign, thus giving the presumptive candidate more time to focus on the November election against McCain. The reaction to Gore's endorsement now is a big "So what?"


Unfair and unhinged

Most people have recognized for quite some time that Fox News' claim to be a "fair and balanced" television news operation is one of the bigger jokes in journalism. The latest assaults on dignity and whatever reputation they had left came recently in the form of attacks on Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. The Obamas are public figures and are certainly open for inspection when it comes to their beliefs and public statements, but Fox News went so far over the line of good taste and journalistic integrity as to be laughable. According to Associated Press TV writer David Bauder, Fox contributor Liz Trotta had to apologize for making a joke about an Obama assassination, while also calling the Democratic candidate "Osama." Then E.D. Hill, who until a recent cancellation had a show called "America's Pulse," suggested that some people viewed a fist bump between the Obamas as a "terrorist fist jab." Then, as if that weren't enough, Fox News used a graphic that referred to Michelle Obama as "Obama's baby mama." For God's sake. Joan Walsh, a columnist, wondered, "Are they racist, or just clueless?" Both, maybe? Some of you will remember E.D. Hill, shown above, as the former Edye Tarbox, who had a less-than-illustrious career as a news anchor at WPXI in Pittsburgh in the late '80s. She hasn't been all that easy to keep track of since then, because she keeps changing her name, sometimes as the result of her marriages, which are about as numerous as President Bush's rationales for going to war in Iraq. Maybe she's trying to outrun the stench that follows her journalism career. According to Bauder's story, Hill said she appropriated the "terrorist fist jab" from something she read on the Internet. That's just great. Take something incredibly stupid that was said by some wingnut on the Web and put it on a national TV news show. What a jackass. Maybe it's time for Fox News to issue a new mission statement, something that sums up their approach to the news. Maybe something like this: "We at Fox News will be unashamed apologists for anything done by conservative Republicans and other right-minded, Christian right-wingers, even if it's to the detriment of the United States of America. At the same time, we will excoriate Democrats and other commie liberals, even if we have to resort to vicious, untruthful smears." That about sums it up.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Let's make a deal

There's been a lot of discussion over the past few days about Hanover Township Police Chief James Geho's handling of an underage drinking party in his area. More than two dozen minors were caught at the party on May 11, and to date, not a single charge has been filed. Not against the kids involved. Not against the adults who presumably bought the alcohol for them. Geho's idea of justice in this case, according to a township supervisor, was to hold a meeting with the kids and their parents, and then order the youths to perform community service. This kind of closed-door, non-judicial handling of a criminal case smells funny. I'm not all that concerned about kids over the age of 18 having a few beers, provided they're staying in one place and not out on the roads. At 18, they can legally do pretty much anything else in this country, including getting shot at in Iraq or Afghanistan. If they're adults in every other regard, they should be allowed to have a cold one. But it's an entirely different thing if we're taking about 14, 15 or 16-year-olds, and whatever the case may be, the law is the law, and it's simply wrong for Geho to take the matter into his own hands. It was just over a year ago when a former Hanover officer was sentenced to jail for strong-arming an 18-year-old girl into participating in sex acts in exchange for not getting charged with DUI. This is not to assert that Geho would engage in something like that, but when you create an atmosphere of "let's make a deal" and keep these matters out of court, you're asking for trouble. This whole thing has the stink of a cover-up about it. When asked about the party four days after the fact, Geho said, "I don't know anything about it." Either he's incredibly disconnected from what's going on in his department, or he was lying. Obviously, if those over the age of 18 were to face charges in court, their names would become public. Same for the adult buyers of the alcohol. Who is Geho protecting here? A friend? A family member? No one; he's just a nice guy? Well, we don't know, and that's the problem. And Geho, of course, refuses to comment on his actions. I'm not an authority on Pennsylvania criminal statutes, but I'm pretty sure that police chiefs are not given the authority to impose their own criminal sentences for violations of the law, big or small. And we should also remember that Hanover Township makes a lot of money policing drinking and other offenses at nearby P-G Pavilion. Should they just hire Monte Hall to cut deals with violators out there, as well? And one has to assume that there have been other incidents of underage drinking handled by Hanover police. Were those people given the option of community service, or weren't they the "right" people? Township supervisors and the office of District Attorney Steve Toprani are both looking into this matter. Both need to tell Chief Geho that his one-man justice system won't be tolerated any longer.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Time to reinstate the helmet law

The government can't legislate us into safe and healthy living. If it could, someone at this very moment would be snatching the lunch meat out of my fridge and the cigs from my trouser pocket. But most people believe the government does have a right to legislate safety in the area of motor vehicle operation, and it's clear that our "leaders" in Harrisburg made a big mistake when they overturned the law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. About a year ago, when figures showed an increase in deaths of motorcyclists following the helmet law repeal, advocates for "helmet choice" cried that it didn't take into account the big increase in people riding cycles. Well, a new study has refuted that argument. University of Pittsburgh researchers found that in 2004-05, the first two years after helmet use was made optional, 131 motorcyclists died of head injuries, up from 79 in 2001-02. That's an increase of 66 percent. But this study also factored in the rise in motorcycle registrations, and even taking that into account, the increase in fatal head injuries was 32 percent. The Associated Press pointed out that the study was released on the two-year anniversary of the cycle accident (shown above) involving helmetless Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was lucky to survive the wreck. So what's the story now from the "pro-choice" contingent? Here's what genius Steve Zurl, a spokesman for the bike group ABATE, had to say: "The helmet is no silver bullet. Obviously, the safest way to ride is to not have to deal with the collision altogether." Thank you, Steve, for that brilliant insight. All we have to do is get the word out to all the drivers of Pennsylvania to quit having those damn accidents. That's the real problem. Some might say it should be a matter of personal choice whether to wear a helmet, but you and I are paying more for insurance because of people who choose to ride motorcycles without headgear. The Pitt study found that hospitalization charges for cycle-related head injuries soared by 132 percent between the two study periods, from $53.5 million in 2001-02 to $124.2 million in 2004-05. And when the insurance companies have to may more for people to be treated, you and I pay more. State Rep. Dan Frankel of Allegheny County has introduced a bill to reinstate a mandatory helmet law, based on the "stunningly dramatic" study. He said just the cost to taxpayers is reason enough for the change. It seemed incredibly stupid at the time when lawmakers did away with the helmet law while still requiring much-better-protected motorists in cars and trucks to wear seat belts. Did they do it because of a deep-seated respect for individual rights. Hell no. They did it because they got tired of swarms of bikers mobbing the Capitol every year to demand the repeal. And I seriously doubt that Frankel will find enough support to get his bill passed. His cowardly colleagues don't want the bikers descending on Harrisburg again. The bottom line is that you have to be remarkably dumb to ride a motorcycle on a public thoroughfare without a helmet. There's a good reason why some folks refer to these bare-headed motorcyclists as "future organ donors."


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

He crossed the line

I deliberately waited a couple of days to ponder the situation of Washington County Sheriff Sam Romano, who was arrested for drunken driving last week in West Virginia. My initial, gut reaction was that Romano should step down. After two days of consideration, I still think he should resign. Romano's case attracted a wide range of comments on the O-R Web site's poll Tuesday. There seemed to be a fairly even split of those who think Romano should be given a free pass this time and those who think he should resign. The main defense of Romano is that everyone makes mistakes and deserves a second chance. Yes, everyone does make mistakes. I was arrested for DUI a couple of years after I got out of high school. I made a lot of mistakes when I was young, but most people, as the years go by, develop a sense of personal responsibility and maturity. Sheriff Romano is in his 40s, at an age when those attributes should have kicked in. The sheriff was traveling with his fiancee, in her car. Why didn't he let her drive? Why didn't he stay where he was until he sobered up? Why didn't he drink a little less? One of the sheriff's comments about the incident undercuts his credibility. "I made a poor error in judgment by having a few beers while sightseeing," said Romano. Error in judgment!?!? There was no error in judgment. He knew he was drunk and drove anyway. That's a deliberate act that could have resulted in the deaths of the sheriff, his fiancee and innocent people traveling the roads with him. A few beers!?!? After reportedly failing field sobriety tests, the sheriff blew a 0.23 on the Intoximeter. That kind of reading doesn't indicate having "a few beers," unless you're a scrawny Barney Fife type who downs a six-pack in 15 minutes. That's @#$#-faced drunk, nearly three times the legal limit. The sheriff also was charged with crossing the center line on the road he was traveling. If that's accurate, the threat to others is clear. By virtue of his actions, Sheriff Romano no longer has the moral authority to lead his department and serve as one of the chief law enforcement officials in Washington County. As a law enforcement officer, he is, correctly, held to a higher standard than the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker when it comes to acting in a lawful manner in his personal life. He has failed himself. He has failed the people he was elected to serve. He should go.


Too old for the grass?

I was talking with my friend Dave before heading to P-G Pavilion for Tuesday night's Tom Petty concert, and Dave remarked that he hadn't been to the concert venue in probably 15 years. Dave's a guy who likes music, so I was somewhat surprised. But after Tuesday night's show, I can see where he's coming from. First, you have to drive into the middle of nowhere to get to the venue (I already live halfway to the middle of nowhere, so it's not such a bad trip for me). Then, they rape you to the tune of $8 or $9 for a glass of beer that probably costs them about 50 cents. Cheeseburgers are $5, which wouldn't be outlandish if they were big, juicy burgers. They are not. And they charge you the same $5 fee for a soft pretzel. The price of concert T-shirts has exploded to $40 or $50. And then there are your fellow concertgoers. I've always preferred to sit on the lawn at most concerts. It's kind of nice plopping down on the grass on a nice summer evening, and the price is much more palatable than what they charge for the seats under the pavilion. But the average concertgoer seems to be getting much more drunk, stupid and rude. It's not exactly the excesses of Woodstock (shown above), but it's getting close. Maybe it's just the fact that I'm rapidly becoming a grumpy (grumpier?) old man, but common courtesy is a thing of the past. People stumble over you without so much as an "excuse me," often spilling beer on you and your belongings. And then there are the people - thousands of them on Tuesday night - who feel the need to sing along with every song. It's like, "Hey, look at me, I know all the words!" But I didn't pay $40 to listen to some bloated, frighteningly scantily clad 40-year-old broad with a "tramp stamp" screech "American Girl" at the top of her lungs. Maybe it's time for me to start avoiding the big venues, or at least pony up the extra cash and shuffle under the shed with the rest of the senior citizens. At some point, I guess we just get too old to sit on, or smoke, the grass.


Too stupid to hold office?

One would have thought that the scandal involving Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick would have served notice on other politicians that there should be no expectation of secrecy when they communicate on publically owned or leased pagers or telephones. Kilpatrick is the subject of an ouster effort after text messages obtained by the Detroit Free Press found that Kilpatrick and his then-chief of staff, Christine Beatty, exchanged text messages revealing an extramarital sexual relationship, contradicting his previous sworn testimony. And some of those messages were not for the faint of heart. But it seems Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, at left, didn't get the message about text messages. An Associated Press report says Gibbons, who has split with his wife, used his state cell phone to send more than 800 text messages in one month to a women he describes as a longtime friend. Gibbons' wife blamed that woman for causing her husband to file for divorce. The Reno Gazette-Journal says that on a single day last year, Gibbons and the woman exchanged 160 text messages. Another day, between midnight and 2 a.m., they sent 91 messages. Just two old friends having a chat, I guess. The content of the messages hasn't been revealed, so at this point there's no proof that Gibbons is, or isn't, telling the truth. But he's really, really stupid to use a state cell phone for his private communications with a person who he surely knew might be at the center of his divorce proceedings.


Monday, June 9, 2008

A little Hell insurance

If you're like me and haven't signed up with one of the major organized religions, and it turns out you are really, really wrong, it's apparently not a sure thing that you'll be consigned to the depths of hell when the "Rapture" rolls around. I'm no Biblical scholar, but I was led to understand that, according to the Christian faith, when it gets down to nut-cutting time, those who believe in the Lord will be headed to heaven, and those who don't can expect to get the mother of all sunburns. But a Web business called "You've Been Left Behind" ( suggests there may be a grace period of sorts for those who have royally screwed up to make amends. For an initial annual fee of $40 (future annual charges yet to be determined), the "Left Behind" folks will help the faithful create personalized messages to be sent via e-mail to non-believing friends and loved ones after the Rapture. This outfit says there will be "a small window of time where they might be reached for the Kingdom of God." Guess what? If you're sitting at work, and suddenly a bunch of your co-workers are spirited through the ceiling, it's not going to require an e-mail from Aunt Mabel to get you to jump on the Jesus bandwagon. As the old saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. And if there is this wide-open window of opportunity, it kind of eliminates the need to get with the program in advance, doesn't it? So I guess I can continue to sleep in on Sundays. Just so there are no false alarms, the organization has designated five team members around the United States who report in regularly to let the folks at the home office know they're still on terra firma. The e-mails are triggered when at least three of those five people don't check in for six days. It would be kind of embarrassing if three or four of them got together for a Bible study or something and then went on a weeklong bender, but, hey, nothing is foolproof. I'm still skeptical about this whole Rapture deal, but just to be safe, I'm turning off my spam-blocker.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Taking it on the chin

If you have any extra money you'd like to invest - and in these days of $4 gas and rising food prices, that might be unlikely - it wouldn't seem wise to seek financial advice from former boxing champ Evander Holyfield. The Associated Press says Holyfield is facing foreclosure on his $10 million suburban Atlanta estate, and the mother of one of his children is suing him after Holyfield, through intermediaries, allegedly told the woman that he would no longer be able to make his $3,000-a-month payments. This could be just the tip of the iceberg, since Holyfield has at least nine children, most of them illegitimate. Said Randy Kessler, attorney for the mom who's suing, "My concern is there may be a lot of other mothers not getting paid, and I would like my client to be at front of the line." It's easy to feel sorry for the average Joe who finds himself on the brink financially, struggling to meet his responsibilities and possibly losing his home, often through no fault of his own, but it's also easy to NOT feel sorry for Holyfield, who at age 45 continues a ridiculous and personally dangerous campaign to reclaim the heavyweight crown, apparently because he really, really needs the cash. It's often a wise move to invest in real estate, but Holyfield believed he needed a 54,000-square-foot mansion that has 109 rooms, 17 bathrooms, three kitchens and a bowling alley. And he's also being sued for repayment of $550,000 in loans allegedly made so he could landscape his 235-acre estate. That's a helluva lot of trees and bushes. Based on the circumstantial evidence, it seems pretty likely that Holyfield is broke. He's not the first athlete to squander what to one of us "normal" people would seem like an unspendable amount of money, but this is a guy who has made hundreds of millions of dollars in his career, including close to $35 million for one fight against the ear-snacking Mike Tyson, another guy with mad skills when it comes to pissing away a fortune. At its core, this is a story about personal responsibility. It looks as if Holyfield has shown very little when it comes to managing his vast earnings, and that failure mirrors the choices he has made in his personal life. Holyfield always passed himself off as a devout Christian, a true man of God, while at the same time fathering children with a variety of women who were not his wife. If Evander does have a close relationship with the Big Guy, now might be the time for a few extra prayers, because the chickens are coming home to roost.


Safety first?

An interesting civil liberties debate has cropped up in Washington, D.C., where police, in an attempt to claim some sort of control in a murder-wracked neighborhood, are setting up vehicle checkpoints. The Associated Press reports that police will check drivers' IDs, and if they don't have a "legitimate purpose" to be in the neighborhood - where eight people were murdered last weekend alone - they will be turned away. Of course, the American Civil Liberties Union came out against the plan. "This plan will treat every resident of that area the way criminals are treated," said Johnny Barnes, who directs the ACLU for the National Capital Area. Well, it sure appears that there ARE a lot of criminals in that neighborhood, and my guess is that police are not getting a whole lot of cooperation from residents in identifying those thugs who are doing the killings. District of Columbia Councilman Harry Thomas Jr., who represents the area in question, has reservations about the plan, but he concedes that many of the people involved in the recent shootings drove into the neighborhood to buy drugs and do violence against enemies who live there. No one wants to live in a police state, but at the same time, there comes a point where desperate measures are called for. Would it be better to just wait and call ambulances to remove dead body after dead body?


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Party de-unifier

Most people held their tongues when Hillary Clinton continued her campaigning through the end of the Democratic primary season, even though it was clear at least since the North Carolina primary that her campaign was dead in the water. But her initial actions after the close of the primary season Tuesday proved, once again, that Hillary is all about Hillary, not unifying the party for the November election against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, despite her claims to the contrary. While Barack Obama has been unfailingly gracious and congratulatory when talking of Mrs. Clinton's historic run for the nomination, Mrs. Clinton has done everything possible to damage his candidacy, even after it was clear that she was destined to finish second. Her speech to supporters Tuesday night was the perfect opportunity for her to 1) end her campaign 2) congratulate Barack Obama on clinching the Democratic nomination and 3) to pledge her full support to getting him elected in November. But, no. Mrs. Clinton said she would be "making no decisions tonight." News bulletin to you, Mrs. Clinton: The decision has been made, by the voters in your party's primaries and caucuses. You, Mrs. Clinton, took a candidacy that once stood far above all others in the Democratic race and drove it straight into the ground. The ultimate blame for your loss rests with you and your husband. You both resorted to attempts to create a racial divide among voters and then claimed that your own candidacy was victimized by some vast conspiracy of sexism. Get over it. People just didn't like you enough. They chose the other guy. Even President Bush congratulated Obama on his nomination. Yet Tuesday night, you still were talking as if your "coalition" of voters in "battleground states" represented the only viable path toward the 270 electoral votes needed to claim victory in November. In other words, Obama can't win. And now, when it's clear you have been abandoned not only by the voters but by Democratic party leaders (superdelegates) who once broadly supported you, you want Obama to choose you (and Bill) as his running mate. After all that has transpired, why would he want you to cover his back? He'd better watch out for the figurative knives if he takes that route, and invest in another campaign plane just to carry the Clintons' "baggage." When the Bush administration was trying to defend the post-invasion mess in Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tried to blame the persistent attacks on American troops on small groups of "dead-enders," those who fought on with no hope of victory. That was a lie when it pertained to Iraq, but it might be the truth when the term is applied to the Clinton campaign. There are a lot of people in the Democratic Party, those outside the core supporters, who are fuming about Mrs. Clinton's actions over the past few weeks and her refusal to step aside. They might well be thinking of some variant of what attorney Joseph Welch said to Sen. Joe McCarthy in the famous 1954 McCarthy hearings: "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency ... at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"


We'll protect you ... some of you, anyway

The Pennsylvania Legislature, in typical fashion, has crafted a horrible piece of legislation to ban smoking in public places. House and Senate negotiators have come up with the compromise that may be voted on as early as today. According to the Associated Press, it would ban smoking in most workplaces, including restaurants, but it exempts bars that make less than 20 percent of their money from food sales, parts of casinos, private clubs such as an Elks lodge or a VFW hall, volunteer fire departments (?????) and even nursing homes (double ?????). The legislation allows Philadelphia to keep its stricter anti-smoking law but bars any other local government from going beyond the proposed state restrictions. What the state lawmakers are saying, essentially, is that they'll protect patrons and employees of restaurants and some other public facilities from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke, but as for the rest of you, enjoy that cancer. I've been a smoker for more than 30 years, but I don't smoke in places where other people are eating. I also smoke outside at my own house because I don't believe my wife and pets should be subjected to the ill effects of my filthy habit. I do smoke in bars, but if state lawmakers imposed a ban on indoor smoking at all public facilities, I would be glad to comply. I don't think it's asking smokers too much for them to go outside to light up. But in this instance, the legislation is a joke. Public health is not the main consideration here. The lobbyists for the bars and clubs and casinos have won. As we know, money talks in Harrisburg.


Who replaces the "legends"?

A look at the roster of shows this year at Post-Gazette Pavilion reveals only a few pop and rock acts with the potential to pack the venue, and they have one thing in common: They're old guys. Tom Petty with opening act Stevie Winwood. Rush. Steve Miller with Joe Cocker. Jimmy Buffett. The Police with Elvis Costello. In addition to the aforementioned acts, other graybeards who still can pack houses include Elton John, the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, U2 and John Mellencamp. These guys can get the AARP discount when they book rooms for their traveling entourages and are now more likely to settle in for the evening with a Diet Coke than a fifth of Jack Daniels. And when they decide they've had enough of the road, who will P-G Pavilion and other venues turn to in order to fill their sheds and lawns? The answer may be, no one. It's hard to think of many pop/rock groups or solo acts that have come along in the past decade who would be able to sell out an 18,000-seat venue with regularity. The missus and I will be taking in two shows at P-G Pavilion this year: the Petty concert next week and the Police/Costello show in late July. But more often these days, we'll see performers in much smaller venues in Pittsburgh, on the South Side or the Strip. And that may be the wave of the future. Within a few years, unless there is a complete change in the business model, P-G Pavilion could once again be a farm field.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Low honors

In the olden days (when I was young), being valedictorian of one's high school class meant that one was the best student in that class. It was, and should be, a singular achievement. One could envision a situation in which, perhaps, two students were inseparable after their high school years, but in some school districts today, naming a valedictorian has reached the point of ridiculousness. For the past decade or so, we at the newspaper have been receiving commencement announcements from area high schools that contain six or 10 or 14 or even more valedictorians. Peters Township School District might have set the record for the sheer number of valedictorians with 28 of its 359 graduates receiving the "honor" this year. That's one of about every 13 students being named "top in the class." There still are some districts that "get it" when it comes to bestowing the honor. Fort Cherry and Jefferson-Morgan, among others, stuck with the standard valedictorian-salutatorian formula. I commend them. McGuffey named three "honor graduates" among its 160 seniors. Waynesburg Central honored six students among its 153 graduates, but at least Central didn't call them valedictorians. They were referred to as summa cum laude graduates, which seems fine to me. Peters Township isn't alone in devaluing the meaning of the valedictorian honor. Carmichaels, with 77 graduates, had six valedictorians and one salutatorian. That's one of every 11 students receiving top honors. The honor, such as it is, has been diluted. It's just hard to believe that after four years of high school, more than two students legitimately can be said to be equals at the top of a graduating class. Surely one has risen above his or her classmates, even by a slim margin. And the problem is evident not just at graduation time. One of our editors remarked the other day that about 55 percent of the student body appears on the honor roll at Canon-McMillan High School. What's the honor in that? And nowadays, we don't have just highest honors and honors. We have honorable mention. We don't want too many people feeling left out for even the most modest academic achievements. Back in the day, receiving an "A" on a report card meant something. As I recall, a student had to get 94 percent or above on a test or project in order to receive the top grade, and that percentage was reflected on report cards. I'm not sure whether the percentage has changed, but the value of an "A" certainly has. I feel pretty certain that teachers, especially at the high school level, are somewhat afraid to give a top student anything less than an "A" for fear that angry parents will call to raise hell and, if they don't get the grade changed, will take their complaints to the administration or the school board. And, sadly, there are some administrators and school boards that would take the side of the parents over their own teachers. This is just another sign that in this age, everyone is entitled to everything, and everyone must be made to feel "special."