Thursday, July 31, 2008

We don't make - or make up - the news

The Observer-Reporter is a collection of good news, bad news, stories about local government, notices about community events, photos of cute kids, etc. Outside of the obituaries, the thing people seem to like to read most is the police report. Whether they'll admit it or not, folks enjoy hearing about people who are misbehaving. But that sentiment changes quickly when they read about someone close to them. A reporter here recently got a scathing e-mail from a person complaining about our coverage of their relative's DUI arrest. The e-mailer came up with an alternative story that was so fantastical as to be funny, accusing the arresting officers of vicious brutality. I'm going to believe the police on this one, but if there's even a shred of truth to what the e-mailer claims, the courts can handle that. Unless we at the paper actually witness an arrest, we pretty much have to go with the police report, and I've generally found them to be pretty darned accurate. The other recent story that has some people's panties in a twist involved Angela Bertugli, a former Waynesburg Miss Rain Day (for the uninformed, that's Greene County royalty) from a prominent family who has found herself smack dab in the middle of the Harrisburg scandal that's come to be called Bonusgate. To recap, according to a grand jury investigation and her own testimony, Bertugli found herself on the state payroll, getting more than $20,000 a year for a job that required little real work because she was having sexual relations with Mike Manzo, who at the time was chief of staff for Rep. Bill DeWeese of Waynesburg, leader of the House Democrats. The grand jury said the first sexual encounter occurred in Manzo's car after the pair first met and had a few drinks together at a Harrisburg bar in 2004. Oh, by the way, Manzo is married. He and his wife, Rachel, who also worked for the Democrats in Harrisburg, are both up on criminal charges resulting from the bonus scandal. Mike Manzo was fired by DeWeese a few months back, and Rachel Manzo is suspended from her job. And what was Bertugli's punishment for her role in this sordid affair? She now holds a $45,000-a-year job as an analyst in the Legislative Research Office, a collection of aides who work for about 65 Democratic House members who haven't risen to the exalted level at which they would have their own research staff. I hope these workers aren't just looking stuff up on the Internet. For $45,000 of our tax dollars, I expect some pretty deep and vigorous analysis. None of this sounds like something that someone would go out of his way to defend, but we got a letter to the editor from a guy who accused us of reporting this information in order to sell papers, saying that we have reached a new low and were guilty of perpetrating a "slime job" on Bertugli. Hmmmm. Another letter writer accused us of being part of some sort of conspiracy to "get" DeWeese. Get a grip, people. DeWeese, shown above, is at the center of this controversy because the alleged crimes happened on his watch. DeWeese is echoing Sgt. Schultz from "Hogan's Heroes," saying he knew nothing about the alleged criminal activities. Having no clue about what is going on in the caucus you're supposed to be running is not exactly something of which Mr. DeWeese should be proud. As for Miss Bertugli, I know what I've always called women who are alleged to have accepted money in exchange for sex, but I guess I'm just being mean.


Student-athletes or student-inmates?

WVU quarterback Pat White suggested on Tuesday that the reason he hasn't also played baseball in Morgantown is that the WVU baseball coach is a racist. And, believe it or not, that qualifies White as one of the good guys in area college athletics this week. Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, after his team's significant criminal element was featured in an ESPN "Outside the Lines" program, finally dismissed defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor from the team. Baker was part of two fights, one that occurred off campus in April and left two people injured, the other a fight at the student union that left one person hurt. Baker's previous punishment was suspension from campus during summer school - yes, summer school. Taylor also was involved in the student union fracas. The actions against Baker and Taylor come just months after receiver Chris Bell was tossed off the team after police said he burst into a campus dining hall and threatened a teammate with a large knife. Nice. Sounds more like state prison than State College. And we haven't even discussed the April 2007 incident in which a gang of more than a dozen football players broke into a campus apartment, leading to a melee in which, according to "Outside the Lines," one student was struck with a beer bottle, another was whacked with a wooden stool and yet another was kicked in the face. I could go on, but for more on the seemingly out-of-control Penn State football program, I would highly recommend Bob Smizik's column from the Wednesday Post-Gazette. At about the same time Paterno, shown above in a "What, Me Worry?" pose, was formulating his punishment for Baker and Taylor, a couple of White's fellow WVU athletes were introducing themselves to police in Pittsburgh. According to a P-G report, WVU basketball players Joe Mazzulla and Cam Thoroughman were arrested after a scuffle at a PNC Park security station where they had been taken by off-duty police officers who were working at a Pirates-Colorado Rockies game. Police said the two had been drinking underage and refused to provide ID. Officers said Thoroughman struggled with them after being asked to put his hands behind his back, and they eventually had to hit him with pepper spray to subdue him. Meanwhile, according to police, Mazzulla tried to prevent his teammate's arrest and took a swing at an officer before he, too, was taken down. Typically, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, not exactly known as a disciplinarian, said, "We will let the judicial process take its course, and the matter will be handled internally." Of course it will. If WVU can determine that even a good portion of what police say is true, the two players should be removed from the team and have their scholarships revoked. But that's not going to happen, especially in the case of Mazzulla, who is a rising star on the team. Mostly likely, the pair will be suspended for an early season game against the Little Sisters of the Poor or some other punching-bag team. When do we reach the point where so-called student-athletes are held accountable for their actions? When do we reach the point where the cesspool that is now big-time college athletics forces college presidents to rethink the skewed emphasis on games? When do coaches quit bringing low-life thugs onto college campuses? The answer is never, because the top-tier college sports, football and men's basketball, bring in big bucks, and money always wins out over doing the right thing. And it isn't just at the college level. More and more people are living and dying with high school sports, basing their happiness on the achievements or failures of a bunch of 16- and 17-year-old kids. That's really sad. I'm a sports fan, but we have a sickness in this country when it comes to athletics. What is the cure?


How about this, Sen. McCain?

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who hasn't always toed the Republican Party line, says he's hoping to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez during a Latin American trip in August. Said Specter, "I'm a firm believer in dialogue." So am I. It always seemed to me that it can't hurt to talk with people, even if they are perceived to be your enemies. Even the diplomacy-challenged Bush administration recently sent a top-level envoy to take part in direct talks with the Iranians over their nuclear programs. And Specter noted that his talks with Chavez in 2005 led to a meeting between U.S. and Venezuelan officials that created a framework for cooperation on drug cases. But Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has taken flak from all sides for saying he would have no objections to face-to-face meetings with people like Castro, Chavez and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Hillary Clinton ripped him for his stance in the primary season, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain has piled on. Raul Castro has given signs that he might be a kinder and gentler version of his brother, Fidel, so there's hope that the ridiculous U.S. embargo against Cuba could be lifted in the not-so-distant future, despite the political kowtowing to the Cuban-American lobby (Florida's a key state in the presidential election, don't you know). Chavez, on the other hand, is a certifiable nut case who once called the current President Bush "the devil," but again, it can't hurt to have discussions with a man who leads a powerful (oil-rich) South American nation. We already have full diplomatic relations and one-on-one presidential meetings with China and Russia, and they're among the most corrupt, repressive countries in the world. If Obama announced plans to meet with Castro and Chavez in the coming weeks, the howling from the McCain camp would be deafening. It will be interesting to see what they have to say, if anything, about Specter's intentions.


Oh, really?

"Oil prices shot up Wednesday, jumping as much as $5 a barrel and halting a dramatic two-week slide after the government reported a surprise drop in gasoline supplies."

That was the lead paragraph on an Associated Press story that appeared in Wednesday's O-R. The story went on to say that the drop in gas supplies suggests that record oil prices haven't curbed U.S. fuel demand "to the extent that some energy market analysts had anticipated." Really? A front-page story in the same edition cited a Federal Highway Administration report saying that Americans drove 9.6 billion - yes, billion - fewer miles this May than in May 2007. So, clearly, demand for gasoline is plunging. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I'm guessing the "surprise drop" in gasoline supplies was really the result of the oil companies deliberately refining less gasoline in order to create a higher crude price, which, in turn, could justify them keeping gasoline prices at their current $4-a-gallon level, or even raising them. Anyone else smell a rat here?


Adding fuel to the fire

A Minneapolis family is angry, and rightfully so, after the city gave medals to eight police officers who raided the family's home last year. Problem is, the family had done nothing wrong. The SWAT officers burst into their home, busting through doors and windows, based on bad information from an informant about a gang member's weapons stash. Vang Khang, thinking his home was being robbed by armed intruders, fired at the officers through a bedroom door. The SWAT officers returned fire. Amazingly, no one was hurt in the shootout, but the family's home was riddled with bullet holes, and broken glass was everywhere. Khang's wife, Yee Moua, shown above next to a broken, boarded-up window, told the AP that her family is "a mess right now" and that her young son, who witnessed the melee, "still has nightmares and needed therapy." The family's lawyer, former U.S. attorney Tom Heffelfinger, said the family has given notice to the city of plans for a lawsuit, and he's skeptical about the timing and motive for the commendations given to the officers. Said police Chief Tim Dolan, who doled out the medals, "The officers put themselves in harm's way. They ... deserved to be recognized." Wouldn't a private pat on the back have been enough, considering the circumstances.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Big Burger Brother

Los Angeles City Council, which presumably has absolutely nothing better to do, has voted unanimously to prevent new fast-food restaurants from opening in the impoverished southern part of the city. It seems South Los Angeles has more fast-food outlets than other parts of the city, and a higher obesity rate among its residents, so the council, under some sort of plantation mentality, has determined that the poor folk who live there just aren't capable of making their own decisions about what they eat. Said Councilman Bernard Parks, "Our communities have an extreme shortage of quality foods." Did he ever hear of the free-market system? If a restaurant chain offering healthy food believed it could make big profits in South Los Angeles, it would open a store there as quickly as possible. Spokesmen from the fast-food chains say they're being singled out unfairly and have plenty of healthy options on their menus. What are they supposed to do when a person comes in and orders a double Whopper with cheese? Should they say, "Ma'am, I'd love to give you the hamburger, but your backside has its own zip code, so you're going to get a salad."? It's a nice concept to give people more dining options, but wouldn't it be better to work to attract different restaurants, rather than resort to a sort of economic-social-gastronomical engineering that is most likely an illegal restraint of trade? South Los Angeles resident Curtis English, who has no car and limited funds, recognizes that some of the fast-food offerings are not all that healthy, but the restaurants are convenient for him, and the price is right. Earlier this week, he got breakfast and lunch at McDonald's for a total of $2.39. Just try finding a place where you can get broiled cod and fresh vegetables for that price. And what about the people who guy groceries and cook at home? Shouldn't the city council be hiring monitors to snatch unhealthy foods out of people's shopping carts? Very few people are so stupid that they do not recognize that a Big Mac is worse for them than a garden salad with diet dressing, and that a steady diet of Big Macs and fries can lead to health problems down the road. I know that Oreos aren't health food, and I don't sit down and eat a dozen at a time, but I also know that they and Twinkies sure tasted a lot better in the days before the assault on trans fats began. It's time for governments - local, state and federal - to stop trying to micromanage people's daily lives. Our concerned leaders may see this as a matter of public health, but when it's all said and done, people will find what they want and eat it.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Here comes the bride ... brought to you by Orkin

I can't quite put my finger on it - perhaps you can help me - but there was something vaguely distasteful about the recent story in our Greene County edition regarding a local couple who are seeking corporate sponsorship for their wedding. The story said Danielle King and her fiance, David Shrader, who plan to tie the knot next July 4, "quickly realized that having a big traditional wedding isn't cheap." Well, duh. King estimates the cost for their 300-guest nuptials at $20,000, and she hopes to offset some of that cost by finding a corporate sponsor for what she's calling the "All-American Wedding." The couple's first attempt didn't pan out, but they have a new listing on The minimum bid is $2,000, but if you don't want to miss out on this opportunity of a lifetime to help pay for the wedding of some people you don't even know, you can lock it in immediately for $10,000. The winning bidder, if there is one, can put its company logo on the couple's wedding invitations. Gee, that's super classy. Also, the sponsor will get a banner at the reception, two wedding invitations and a chance to dance with the bride. Be still, my heart. King, a teacher at Trinity High School, had this priceless quote in the story: "We are not just begging for money." Um, yes, you are. The story says that because King and Shrader come from large families, the wedding has to be large and, therefore, expensive. Again, wrong. Weddings are about two people making what, hopefully, is a lifelong commitment to one another. It's not about making sure Uncle Ed's cousin Stu is on the guest list. Is is really necessary to spend $20,000 on an event that is over in a matter of hours? If you have that kind of cash to spend, fine. But if you don't, wouldn't it make more sense to have a wedding you can afford, one that might leave you some money for the future? There are plenty of people who have been married for 50 years or more who had their ceremony performed by a justice of the peace or their pastor with just a few close friends and family members in attendance. It's what comes AFTER the wedding that counts. But this is the age of "I WANT IT! I WANT IT! I WANT IT!" ... and trying to find a sucker to help pay for it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Daddy, can you get me a job?

As you might have read earlier this week, something is rotten in Trinity Area School District. Several members of the board say they were lobbied to hire Stephanie Miller as an elementary schoolteacher last week. The lobbyist: Stephanie's father, Jeff Miller. The problem: He's a member of the school board. The school board has a nepotism policy dictating that neither administrators nor board members "shall seek, assist or advocate the appointing, hiring or advancing of his/her relative to any regular employment ... within the Trinity Area School District." It appears Mr. Miller never read that policy. It makes you wonder what other important facets of operating the school district he's not familiar with. Or was this a case of selective amnesia? Board members Tom Bodnovich and Jack Keisling said Miller telephoned them to seek their support. "He left me a message saying that his daughter was the most qualified candidate and that he'd appreciate my support," said Bodnovich. The most qualified candidate? Thanks, Mr. Miller, for that unbiased assessment. The only way the public can determine whether it's true is if the district would provide information about all the candidates, such as their college transcripts, etc. Oh, sorry, privacy policy. So, while Stephanie Miller might well have been the most-qualified applicant, the public will never really know. And, sadly for her, everyone will know there was an air of impropriety surrounding her hiring, which was approved on a 6-2-1 vote, with Bodnovich and Keisling voting against the hiring and Miller, to his small and too-little-too-late credit, abstaining. Miller didn't return phone calls seeking comment on his actions. Said Keisling, "You are put in a situation where you are asked to violate district policy. This hurts everyone. It's not the candidate, it's the violation of the policy." It's a shame that Trinity or any other district even needs such a policy. A shred of personal ethics should be sufficient to prevent this kind of activity, but that's an attribute in short supply these days. Everyone knows that in private businesses, nepotism is a frequent occurrence. Private businesses can do as they wish, but when you're a school board member, your first duty is to the taxpayers, parents and, most of all, students. Trinity Area residents should be disgusted by this blatant violation of district policy, and they should show up at the next board meeting to make their feelings known.


Can anybody help?

There's probably something really wrong with me (no need to agree with that), but I often find myself feeling worse about bad things that happen to animals than about the bad things that happen to people. Such was the case Thursday night, when I was handling the story on the front of Friday's O-R about overcrowding at Washington Area Humane Society and learned about the plight of Wilbert. Wilbert, in case you didn't see the story, is a big old Lab mix who has the unfortunate distinction of having the longest tenure at the shelter - 14 months. The folks there say that Wilbert, who is about 7 years old, has been difficult to place because of his age (most people want puppies or young dogs) and because he's very rambunctious (most people want calm dogs). Also, after 14 months of rejection, he no longer shows interest when a prospective owner visits. I imagine that when someone does take Wilbert outside for a "test drive," he's probably out of control, having spent hours cooped up in a kennel. That's normal, but it also probably drives people away from him. I'm willing to bet, however, that Wilbert would be a different dog if he could find an owner who would give him a home with a big yard where he could run and some firm-but-gentle training. If I didn't already have three rambunctious dogs of my own, I'd be over there today to get him. Since I can't do it, can anybody out there give Wilbert a helping hand? You'll be rewarded with unconditional love, and who out there has enough of that?


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Talk about unnecessary overkill

Court officials in Greene County have had to delay the formal sentencing of rapist and murderer Jeffrey Martin. The reason? They first have to hold a hearing to determine whether Martin is a sexually violent predator. Are you kidding me? Let's recap. In June 2006, Martin raped 12-year-old Gabrielle Bechen on a Dunkard Township farm. OK, that should cover the sexual predator part. Then, he choked her until she was dead. Hmmmm, seems violent. Do we really need a hearing to determine whether this guy qualifies under Megan's Law? It's especially ridiculous when you consider that Martin is headed to Death Row. Sure, a lot of us may be dead before he's ever executed, but there's exactly zero chance that he's ever going to be a free man again. You don't see a lot of child rapist-killers winning appeals and walking out the prison doors. I'm sure the court folks are just following the letter of the law, but it's really stupid.


Turning back the clock (to the 1800s)

If you're a woman who takes birth-control pills or uses an intrauterine device (examples shown above), you're performing abortions on a regular basis. That appears to be the opinion of the Bush administration, which is working up a proposal that would classify the use of those birth-control methods and others as abortion and, according to Reuters, would "cut off federal funds to hospitals and states that attempt to compel medical providers to offer legal abortion and contraception services to women." Reuters said the Department of Health and Human Services refused to confirm the existence of the draft proposal, but the agency said it must protect doctors and pharmacists who "object to abortion or birth control on religious or moral grounds." I'm wondering if the Bush administration came up with this on their own, or if they had Pope Benedict XVI write it up for them. Rep. Nita Lowey of New York noted that current federal law protects people who don't want to provide abortion services, but she says the Bush proposal goes too far. "By trumping state laws that guarantee women's access to prescription contraceptives, this policy would encourage health-care institutions seeking to limit access to birth control," she said. It's pretty clear that the administration, in an important election year, is pandering to the Catholic church and the religious right. But why stop there? What about designating women who wear slacks (Watch out, Hillary!) as witches and burning them at the stake? Or maybe big, red letter A's on the clothing of adulterers? Wait, I have an idea. We could have warmongers wear big W's, or even display them on their SUVs. Oh, jeez. Now I'm talking crazy.


Waaaaah! I can't get to the windmill!

I don't think many people oppose the idea that places such as courthouses, voting polls and the DMV should be accessible to people with disabilities, but where do we draw the line on forcing private businesses to spend hard-earned money to make sure anyone and everyone can have access? The AP reports that the Justice Department is proposing significant changes to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act that would address access to everything from drinking fountains to fishing piers. The rules would affect new businesses and facilities, as well as alterations to existing ones. Jerry Doser owns Adventure Mini Golf in Lake Worth, Fla., an elaborate operation that includes different elevations connected by two sets of stairs. Obviously, a person in a wheelchair couldn't navigate the course, but under the proposed rules changes, if Doser were to renovate the place, he'd have to ensure that at least half the holes could be used by the disabled. "I've tried to think about how expensive and how hard it would be to get rid of those stairs - you would have to destroy half the golf course," said Doser. "Economically, it's not feasible." So it appears that Doser would be put in a position of never being able to alter his course, because to do so would put him out of business. The feds should be concerning themselves with making sure disabled folks have access to the essentials of life. Is mini-golf really a pursuit that is elemental to a rich and full life? (Don't answer that, Bess) A business should not be put OUT of business because a small segment of society can't access it. Sometimes disabled people just can't do the same things able-bodied people can do. That's why they're called "disabled."


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Safety first

People of all ages have traffic accidents. We all make mistakes. Young people have their own set of driving issues, but they generally get better behind the wheel as they age. The people who really worry me are the elderly drivers. It's a pretty regular occurrence to see a story about a senior citizen who hit the gas instead of the brake and ended up driving through the front of a business or over a ravine. Or, worse, they plow into a crowd, maiming and killing people. The drivers frequently claim their brakes failed. Right. I've been driving for close to 35 years, and never once have mine failed. There was even a case some years ago in which an elderly couple from the Pittsburgh area who were traveling to a nearby medical appointment disappeared. Panicked family members called police, who finally found them driving at a snail's pace in the passing lane of a major highway ... in Detroit! The latest story that caught my eye came out of Texas, where police say a 70-year-old Houston man caused a fatal rollover accident by making an illegal turn, then started an eight-car wreck a few hours later by plowing into a stopped vehicle. The AP reports that a medical advisory board will determine whether Isaac Melvin Milstid should have his driver's license pulled. "To be running at a high rate of speed and not see vehicles stopped in front of him raises questions on Mr. Milstid's ability to drive safely," said Kent Havard, chief of police in Diboll, Texas. You've got that right, chief. Havard added that taking Milstid's case before the medical board is a rare move. It shouldn't be. The AARP might not like this, but there are many drivers of advancing years who pose a deadly hazard every time they get behind the wheel. It's a fact that people's physical and cognitive abilities generally decline with age. Some people seem to defy the effects of aging, but most don't. What we need is a national requirement for periodic retesting of every driver beyond the age of 65. It won't be that many more years before I reach that milestone, and I have no objection to proving my fitness for the road and helping to pay the cost to implement such a program. People complain that taking licenses from the elderly poses a hardship, preventing them from getting around and stealing their freedom. Well, I think that's a lot better than having one of them run over a bunch of kids on a playground.


False advertising

A South Carolina gay rights group is soliciting donations to pay for a $5,000 tourism campaign that proclaimed "South Carolina is so gay." The campaign, which included posters in the London subway system during a recent gay pride festival there, originally was approved for public funding by a South Carolina tourism agency employee, but when the campaign became public and higher-ups started getting flak from legislators and the governor's office, the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism refused to foot the bill. The State newspaper in Columbia, the state capital, quoted a spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford as saying the use of public funds to promote a social agenda was not appropriate. Even though I'm a supporter of gay rights, including the right for gay people to marry, I have to agree with the governor's office on this one. But even if you think such an expenditure is appropriate, there's the factual issue. I lived in South Carolina and have been to every corner of the state, and I can tell you that outside of Charleston (shown above) and, to a lesser extent, Columbia and the Myrtle Beach area (but not during Bike Week), South Carolina is not "so gay." In fact, there are a lot of places in the Palmetto State where being openly gay could get you an ass-whippin', or worse. The "so gay" designation would best be used in places like San Francisco, where it really, really applies.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Stand by your man ... for a while

The AP is reporting that Dennis Kozlowski, who's behind bars for looting millions from Tyco International to finance a lavish lifestyle, has reached a divorce settlement with his wife, Karen. You might remember the testimony at Kozlowski's trial regarding the multimillion-dollar birthday party he threw for his wife on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, financed in large part with Tyco funds. Kozlowski flew in Jimmy Buffet and his band at a cost of a quarter-million dollars, and guests got their beverages in an interesting way. An ice sculpture of Michelangelo's David had vodka shooting from its penis. Classy folks, those Kozlowskis. Karen Kozlowski, an ex-waitress who became Dennis Kozlowski's second wife in 2001, filed the divorce papers just months after her hubby went to the big house in 2006. Terms of the settlement weren't disclosed, but it's safe to say the soon-to-be-ex-Mrs. Kozlowski should benefit nicely from the divvying up of assets, including the sale of a 15,000-square-foot Florida mansion the couple bought for $19 million. Karen Kozlowski's attorney, Jason Marks, provided the comic relief. Said Marks, "She has been at his side from the beginning of all of his legal problems through the very end." No, she hasn't. The VERY END would be when he gets OUT OF PRISON. Marks went on: "The terms of their marital settlement agreement ... is a reflection of that support and commitment." Uh, no it's not. I'm guessing it's a reflection of her realization that the gravy train has gone off the tracks, and it's time to take the money and run. Every time I see one of these jet-set couples where the wife is considerably younger and better looking than the husband, I always wonder, would she have given him a second look if he sold TVs at Sears? Would Katie Holmes have married Tom Cruise if he introduced himself to her as a hot dog vendor who could turn her on to a really freakish cult? Closer to home, would 23-year-old hottie Kristin Georgi have married 84 Lumber founder Joe Hardy, who was born in the 1920s, if he had been passing out carts at Wal-Mart? You get the idea. Perhaps you could add to the list of women who married guys they wouldn't have paid any attention to, were they not rich and famous.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fiddling while the planet burns

No matter which presidential candidate gets elected in November, one can be assured that they will be a vast improvement on the current administration when it comes to having concern for our environment. The Bush-Cheney team seems to go out of its way to not only allow destruction of the environment, but to encourage it. Because, you see, they don't work for you and me, and our children, grandchildren and great-granchildren. They take their marching orders from the big oil companies and the polluters. A case in point was a story that I read in the Washington Post while on vacation. Here's the lead paragraph of the story: "The Bush administration has decided not to take any new steps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions before the president leaves office, despite pressure from the Supreme Court and broad accord among senior federal officials that new regulation is appropriate now." As usual, the administration doesn't care about what some silly court tells it to do, or what even its own experts have to say. Later, the Post story said this: "To defer compliance with the Supreme Court's demand (for action on the pollution issue), the White House has walked a tortured policy path, editing its officials' congressional testimony, refusing to read documents prepared by career employees and approved by top appointees, requesting changes to computer models to lower estimates of the benefits of curbing carbon dioxide, and pushing narrowly drafted legislation on fuel-economy standards that officials said was meant to sap public interest in wider regulatory action." Bush's own Environmental Protection Agency issued a finding last December that global warming exists, beyond doubt, and that there is strong evidence that public welfare is endangered by emissions. The Post also reported that Jason Burnett, a high-ranking EPA official, sent the findings about public endangerment to the White House via e-mail, but the Office of Management and Budget refused to even open the e-mail. Further, the report said that Cheney's office had directed Burnett to prevent EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson from telling Congress that "greenhouse gas emissions harm the environment." Burnett, to his credit, refused. We all should be angered by the obvious disingenuousness and stonewalling by the Bush administration, but really, I guess we should be used to it by now. Where is the outrage? Oh, I forgot, we're more interested in our daily updates on the Pitt-Jolie twins.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back in the saddle

After a two-week vacation, it's back to work for me. Now I can finally get rested up. Many thanks to Ellipses for keeping the blog humming along in my absence. Great job. I'm going to ease back into it here by offering a few observations about vacation and then kicking off something for everyone to make a personal confession about.

After driving about 1,000 miles or so over the past couple of weeks, I have determined that the lower a vehicle's gas mileage, the lower the IQ of its driver. In general, men in their 30s and 40s who drive SUVs are the biggest A-holes on the road.
It's amazing how fast grass grows when you leave it alone for two weeks. I almost needed a baler out there today.
I can get a lot more rest by spending a few days off at home than I can by taking a trip to the beach. I was worn out by the time I got back.
I may not have much company on this one, but after two weeks away, I miss my job and my work friends, and I'm looking forward to getting back in the old routine.

Now for something completely different:
A while back, we discussed movies that we are ashamed to admit we like. I was talking with Priguy recently, and he suggested we do the same with music. Are you a 60-year-old man who loves New Kids on the Block? Are you a 20-year-old man who has the complete Pat Boone collection? I'll start us off by admitting that I am a big fan of Slim Whitman, shown above. In fact, many years ago, Priguy and I attended a Slim Whitman show at the Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling, and I flat wore out Slim's greatest hits album. It's good to get that out in the open. Now it's your turn.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Lesson in Satire

The PC controversy du jour hinges on the caricature on the cover of the New Yorker (today's graphic). It depicts Barack Obama dressed in distinctly Muslim clothing, his wife in camouflage with an assault rifle on her shoulder, a portrait of Osama Bin Laden on the wall, and a flag burning in the hearth. To me, this is obviously a satirical jab at those who think that Obama is an America-hating Muslim with a militant wife... a sentiment echoed in numerous enclaves of white trash ignorance (OR poll comments, West Virginia exit polls, talk radio-- which I listen to, and enjoy). Last night, on Anderson Cooper 360, James Carville and a conservative talk show host (don't recall his name) sparred on the issue. Carville saw it as obvious satire befitting the history of the New Yorker. The talk show host thought it was a tasteless and failed attempt at a joke... one that needed too much explanation to be funny. Ok, lads and lasses... Here's what you need to know:

There are two types of satire... Horatian and Juvenalian, named after the Roman satirists Horace and Juvenal. Horatian satire is light-hearted and witty... close to parody... like a joke. Juvenalian satire is dark and biting. It is a forceful condemnation of the satirized entity.

Because I find the profound ignorance of large groups of people amusing, I would consider the New Yorker cover to be Horatian... it is a caricature... an obvious distortion and magnification of people's ignorant bias'. If you don't think the "joke" is funny, call it Juvenalian satire. Call it whatever you want... It is not in and of itself offensive. What is offensive is that it is probably an accurate representation of what way too many people actually think.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Here's to you, Mr. Robinson

Former Justice Department prosecutor Jim Robinson has found himself in a predicament... he is on the Terror Watch List. Robinson believes his listing is due to someone with an identical name also being on the list. The list is currently hundreds of thousands of names long... which presents an interesting, albeit humorous aside...

"The government calls its watch list one of the most effective tools in its fight against terrorism. It was created after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to consolidate 12 existing lists and make sure no terrorists slipped through the cracks — whether when entering the country or if otherwise stopped for questioning. Last year, congressional investigators found 'general agreement that the watch list has helped to combat terrorism.'"

I figure that if everyone is on the list... then the terrorists will be on the list... therefore, the list works wonders.

Methinks it's time to consult Saint Nicholas in the most effective way to make a list...



Barack Cosby

Speaking to the NAACP, Barack Obama expressed a need for black people to "do more in our own lives, our own families and our own communities." The sentiment met with a surprising amount of criticism from the black community when it was put forth by Bill Cosby and, at the same time, brought a lot of conservatives on board with the message that Cosby was advancing. I hope that this message meets a better reception in the black community now than it did 2 years ago. I also hope that "conservatives" stand WITH Obama in this instance... the same as they overwhelmingly did with Cosby. Read the article here:


I'd rather walk to Phoenix...

Ok, so I'm as pro-security as the next guy, but this is retarded. Homeland Security may be considering a Tazer-type bracelet that ALL airline passengers would have to wear during their flight. The bracelet would be equipped with GPS and would provide personal information as well as the whereabouts of the passenger and his/her luggage (at 30,000 feet, I assume the passenger is within a 231 foot cylinder...). But, the kicker (shocker?) is that if a hijacking event unfolds, the bracelets can be activated and specific bracelets can be ordered to shock the sh!t of the wearer. It takes some huge cajones to take on this kind of liability...

Here is the story:

Here is a google search of "Taser Deaths":

Isn't 200 non-terrorists with the image of 9-11 burned into their mind enough to prevent the majority of in-air events? Isn't the threat of accidentally electrocuting a 90 year old woman enough of a deterrent?


1 Hot Dog, Hold the Actual Dog...

Restaurants that have been officially designated as olympics eateries will carry menus devoid of dog meat during the 2008 summer games. South Korea initiated a similar ban during the Seoul games in 1988.

For restaurants not officially declared culinary destinations of the games, waitresses and waiters are encouraged to suggest canine-free dishes to patrons who have a hankerin' for Havanese.



I always wanted to do this


The president is expected to lift the ban on offshore drilling...

CVX: 93.03 +.85%
XOM: 85.73 +.27%
BP: 64.39 -.22%

Let's see how those change...


Why is This So Hard?

A prosecutor from the International Criminal Court has filed charges of genocide against Omar Al-Bashir, president of Sudan. Here is the a link to the story:

"Judges are expected to take months to study the evidence before deciding whether to order al-Bashir's arrest."

Is this country THAT big? Are these people THAT well armed? Is genocide THAT difficult to discern?

Fix this yesterday.


Vote for Sale

Max Sanders, a student at the University of Minnesota, is charged under an 1893 law for putting his vote for president up for bidding on ebay. Sanders said it was a joke and nobody bid on his vote.

As of now, my vote is for sale. No, not for money, goods, or services... I seek the currency of information and the theatre of persuasive debate. I have said in weeks' past that I feel that Obama and McCain are both solid and genuine candidates that would satisfactorily fulfill the role of president. So, I would like you to persuade me toward one side or the other... but if you deign to using ridiculous arguments or take the approach of dissuading me one candidate instead of being a proponent for your candidate, my response will be blunt while my tongue is sharp.

Here is some stuff about me:
I was a registered Republican until I renewed my driver's license and switched to independent
I voted for George Bush in '04.
I am pro-choice.
I am pro-gun.
I am for free-trade.
I am for privatization of social security.
I think the war in Iraq was an incorrect avenue to pursue... but I see how the decision was not incorrect at the time.
I think a withdraw at any cost policy is destructive.
I have no allegiance to Israel.
I want fewer government programs. That being said, I can support universal health care, but a lot of junk needs to be axed to pay for it.
I am in favor of a flat tax.
I am against simply raising the tax rate on the highest earners.
I am against the suspension of the gas tax.
I am against the inheritance tax.
I am against windfall profits taxes.
I am in favor of solar, wind, and nuclear energy.
I do not have a problem with immigrants, be they legal or be they not.
I am in favor of gay marriages.
I am pro-environment.
I am skeptical, not of global warming, per se... but of the cumulative effect and scale of that warming.
I am in favor of being able to send your kids to whatever school you want...
I am in favor of having a more educated citizenry... from vocational training to liberal arts.
I do not own a flag pin.

Feel free to submit your argument to this blog... or email me at

-ellipses... info whore

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hey! I was watching that!

The 26 year old stripper who would perform on subways in Santiago, Chile has been arrested. Monserrat Morilles had managed to evade capture for a couple of weeks by getting on the train at one station, stripping quickly, and getting off at the next station. Her performances were an attempt to "lighten up" Chilean society, considered one of the most conservative in Latin America. That's all fascinating n-at, but what intrigues me is the name... Montserrat is a Caribbean island/volcano. Is Monserrat the stripper's given name? Or is it like a Latino porn star name... the equivalent of Wynona Juggs or Tammy Titspatrick? On a side note, I will be climbing the pole on the T this weekend...



Orlando "Foo" Guarino is suspected of asphyxiating his wife and two young children in Marianna. The now-deceased Ashley Guarino had a PFA against her estranged husband. She claimed that he had disclosed to her feelings that he may hurt the children and that he wanted her to see him kill himself. As of yet, we do not have the interview with a friend or family member who says that Ashley told them that Orlando was going to kill her... but there was a PFA and we have reams of cases where the eventual victim foretold her death at the hands of the person who ultimately was responsible.
I have an enormous confidence that the police and Steve Toprani will deliver justice. Going forward, though... is there any way to prevent these things from happening? It seems like Ashley did was she was supposed to do, but that PFA was little more than a piece of paper. Two innocent children. A beautiful, 22 year old girl. How do we protect them when they seek protection?


Thursday, July 10, 2008

No-Win Situation

Visionary? Retard? Liar?
The credits are queued up to roll on the George W. Bush presidency. Was he the worst president ever? One of the best? Negligible in the annals of history? Were his failures due to his own agency or will the Bush II presidency be the one to pull up the shroud on the great secret of administration: The individual is at the mercy of the events.

Let's set aside the conspiracy theories and partisan bickering over the key points of the Bush presidency and look only at one of the defining events of the past 8 years: The invasion of Iraq.

Here are my assumptions:
Going to war was incorrect.
Not going to war would have been incorrect.

Saddam Hussein had been stuck in a difficult position since the end of the first Gulf War. He had an enemy on his border in Iran... an enemy he had used reckless and illegal weaponry against in the Iran/Iraq war. It was the threat of brutal warfare that kept Iran from invading and serving up the slaughter that their people endured less than a decade earlier.
Iraq's economy and military were crippled under the U.N. sanctions and the threat of armed enforcement of those sanctions was ever-present. The would be enforcer was the U.S.
Many of us would agree that in the pre-9/11 world, the U.S. had the moral high ground in international affairs and Iran was... well... putting up a bounty for the head of an author.
So, as any reasonable man would do, Saddam walked the fine line between war with Iran and war with the U.S. He knew that the U.S. would not launch a full-fledged attack on Iraq without clear evidence of his production of illegal weaponry. Even beyond that, that weaponry would have to pose a threat for the Great Satan of the west to move aggressively. The easiest way to ensure that the U.N. (and, therefore, the U.S.) would not find any illegal weapons would be to not have them.
However, without mustard gas, sarin gas, and biological weapons as a threat, there would be nothing to dissuade Iran from invading. Therein lies the game of shadow puppetry.
Saddam had to have the official position that he did not have banned weapons (which he didn't, for the most part). If the official line was "we don't have them" and the U.N. cannot find them... the U.S. will not sacrifice their pedestal and lose their international support.
For Iran, though, Saddam had to make every action appear that he did, in fact, have everything that he said he did not have. Words for the U.N., actions for Iran. Let the inspectors in... but tell them to wait a week while they fixed the roof of the warehouse... we don't want anything falling on you... then, send a caravan of trucks from the warehouse to somewhere in the desert... sure, the U.S. is watching, but hopefully Iran is, too. Tell the U.N. you are clean, then look over your shoulder and wink at the Ayatollah.
Saddam played the part as gracefully as a ballerina... that is, until 9-11 changed things a bit. We went into Afghanistan, which is perfectly logical... but we also put Iraq in the cross hairs.
But Iraq didn't have anything to do with 9-11 you say...
Yes. But this is where things really changed. 9-11 was devastating. We realized that we could not afford to absorb these kind of attacks and then retaliate against the perpetrators. We felt the need to identify the present threats and eliminate them. Afghanistan was obvious. Iraq... well... we had to look at Iraq the way Iran did.
We could no longer afford to accept the official position of Saddam Hussein when his every action suggested he was lying. After all, it was action that killed 3000 people that day... not words.
The issue is not whether George W. wanted to go to war with Iraq. I do believe he had to. As an agent of the citizenry, and by the energies at play in the country... GW was faced with this question: "We should take out Saddam, right?"
Notice that the answer is assumed in the question. We (admit it, a very large percentage of the country) wanted... on a very visceral level... wanted to depose him. We only needed justification. Did the administration cherry-pick the intelligence? Yeah... but the tree had low branches. They answered our question and rationalized our action.
George Bush did not lie about WMD. If you believe the answer to be yes... and you have a lot of evidence that the answer is yes... and the answer ends up being no, you didn't lie... you got it wrong.
Was going to war incorrect? Yes.
Was not going to war incorrect? Yes.
Imagine if the president stood against war. Against popular clamoring... Against the military intelligence... against world opinion that WMD were there and posed a threat... in the shadow of the smoke pouring out of ground zero... if the president refused to flex our military muscle... he would have been impeached and tried for treason by the very people who want him impeached and tried for treason for going to war.
Going to war was incorrect.
Not going to war would have been incorrect.
History will view G.W. as a man at the mercy of the waves of the ocean of world events.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

9 out of 100 ain't bad

For the first time ever, the congressional approval rating is in the single digits. Currently, 9% say that congress is doing a good or excellent job. The approval breaks down to 8% of republicans approve and 13% of democrats approve. Though I don't have data on them, I would assume that independents approve at an even lower rate... that would be needed to pull the average rating down to the mark 1 point higher than the republican approval... either that, or there are a whole lot more republicans than democrats (which, as of 2004, is not the case). But with only about 2 dozen of our representatives being first timers, it seems apparent that the mentality is "My guy is ok, but it's all the other ones that suck." 50 United States? How about 435 disunited districts? Everybody say it with me... "let's wipe the slate clean and give someone else a shot to screw up."

Also... props to Priguy for doing a bang up job on showing how the sentence "Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492" is relatively meaningless.

Christopher Columbus- No one on any of the 3 ships was named Christopher Columbus. Manuscripts name the famed explorer both as Christobal Cologne and Christof Columbo.

Discovered- Not only do we have physical evidence that Vikings arrived in the new world before Columbus, but there is the whole matter of about 2 million people already living in the once undiscovered land.

America- Name a part of America... did you say San Salvador? Because that is where he landed... well, it became San Salvador later. America was named for Italian Cartographer and con artist Amerigo Vespucci... he drew maps of the Atlantic coast based on descriptions of other explorers and then claimed to have made the journey himself. Columbus never touched foot on the mainland of north or south america.

1492- It was only 1492 to the neo indo-europeans... I don't know what year it was on the Chinese calendar... but it certainly wasn't 1492.

Bang up job.

Monday, July 7, 2008

What's in a Word?

My last post dealt with the marketing of word association regarding political candidates. As with most issues, I find myself torn on the validity of such an exercise. Reducing one's ideas of a candidate down to one concentrated word is both a trifling exercise and, potentially, a profound exercise in linguistics. As a student of language, I understand that the words we use are much more than a temporal utterance. Most of the words in our relatively young language have rich histories and bring with them, through time, a bounty of meaning. I would rather stay away from the nature of language from a philosophical standpoint (though would be happy to entertain any discussion on the matter), and instead look at the two words that emerged as the defining syllables for McCain and Obama. First, Obama:
On the surface, it appears that this word is due to the successful marketing of Obama's campaign team. They have trademarked change, in a way... made it the defining theme of the campaign. However, deeper than simply parroting what you hear in the commercials, read on the bumper stickers, or listening to pundits regurgitating the same prepackaged slogans and rhetoric, is a much more dynamic linkage of the word to the political climate and Barack Obama, himself. He represents a change in the type of person considered for office... young, black, liberal. He has raised an incredible amount of money through small donations. He is both the "anti-candidate" in that people will vote for him as being nearly the polar opposite of George Bush and he is an individual who represents things in the affirmative, not just a change of ideals.
Again, a cursory look at the word strikes us as trivial... a simple, and pejorative description of his physical, chronological age. However, it also describes McCain on a deeper level. He is a traditional candidate, representing a traditional demographic, and following a political arc that has been traversed many times before. He is, in effect, old... the old guard, the old way of doing things, familiar. It's not a negative... we have had a tremendous amount of success following that model... the old model.

So, ok, maybe the poll wasn't as useless as it seemed on the surface.

On a different note, I have had a lot of fun thus far throwing out stuff in Brant's absence. I realize that the fun is intrinsic to one of the basic allures of the internet: the ability to participate. Generating content for a blog is fun. Responding to people in forums and blogs is fun. It is interactive, to an extent... the ability to create dialogue from monologue. On that note, I'd like to play a nerdy word game, since we are on the topic of words. I am going to state a sentence... one that we have all heard countless times, and I would like you to take it apart. Deconstruct it. Strip it down to basic components so as to show how words, absent a certain context, are meaningless... or at least have a flawed meaning. I can identify 4 fundamental flaws in the sentence... and those flaws can be elaborated on further into a couple of faults each. Here you go:

Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492.



An Associated Press/Yahoo News poll has been playing word association games with about 1,800 respondents in regards to our two front-runners for president.

When asked to say the first word that comes to mind when thinking of John McCain, 20% of people say “old.” For Obama, 20% say “change.” On one hand, this political reductionism offers the candidates a very basic idea of what resonates with voters (or, what they need to change, fundamentally). On the other hand, it also raises a couple of questions. For one, are these same respondents able to elaborate on the candidates beyond the one word ZMET-ist response? Does this presage how future campaigns will be run? Imagine the first “iTunes Soundbite Debate Podcast” in which candidates are asked questions like “How would you respond to an act of aggression toward Israel by Iran… in 4 words or less?” In election-cycles past, we had to contend with the influence the mob, the unions, soft money, foreign money, Jim Crow, voting machines, hanging chad, 527’s and PAC’s… Now, the spinsters, the linguists, the pollsters, the ad men, the mad men, and the image makers threaten to usurp the process… making it not about ideas and debate, but about slogans. Candidates criticize each other’s platforms by saying that their policies are bumper sticker slogans. Depending on the success of the current method of evaluating public sentiment, bumper stickers may end up being too “wordy.” Granted, this has been a component of elections since elections began… but it does seem like today we tend to latch onto things that work and wring every last bit of worky-ness out of it. I hope this sponge isn’t holding much water… it’s just one more step on the path to full blown American Idiocracy. Bonus points to those of you who know what the title refers to. If you post a comment, limit your response to 4 words or less with an ABBA rhyme scheme(just kidding).


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Made in America

Buy American. It's a slogan that pops up during slow economies as predictably as Top Ten Ways to Save $ on “x.” Our current economic cycle includes stagnant wages, low GDP growth, and high gasoline prices. Because of that last item, some of the hottest cars on the road today are hybrids... and most of those are from Japanese companies. Sociologically, politically, and economically speaking, there are always a number of pendulums, relative positions of various segments of whatever is being studied, at different points on their respective arcs. While “foreign” engineered products are hot commodities, so are pro-American sentiments on manufactured goods. The argument that Japanese efficiency is a potential cure for our dependence on oil is counter-balanced by the sentiment that we need to re-source our manufacturing to domestic plants and rebuild the American auto industry. What I suspect that the “I only buy American cars” crowd is unaware of, is that many Japanese cars are more American than some GM models. Car shoppers typically look at 3 bits of information on a car's window sticker: equipment specs, fuel efficiency, and purchase price. Perhaps they should consider the domestic content information... that is, how much of the “stuff” in the car comes from here... and whether or not the car was made “here.” Here is some junk to ponder:

Chevy Equinox-
Assembled in Ontario, Canada
Transmission built in Japan
Engine built in China
Domestic content % = 55%

Chrysler PT Cruiser-
Assembled in Mexico
Engine built in Mexico
Domestic content % = 37%

Toyota Sienna-
Assembled in Indiana
Engine built in West Virginia
Domestic content % = 85%

The implied message in “buy American” is that buying an American made product supports American workers. If that's true, the next time you are kicking the tires, look at the small print on the sticker. You may find that you need to buy Japanese to put food on an Indiana family's table.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Chaos Theory

Due to the way my work load is structured, I have had a proportionately greater amount of free time at the office in the past month or so. Rather than explore the limitless possibilities of youtube entertainment or hone my skills at the multitude of flash based games on the internet, I began digging through the Observer-Reporter's website. In doing so, I discovered an entertaining past time: arguing with strangers about any topic you can imagine in the “comments” section of the daily poll question. This venue has afforded the dotted one the opportunity to impart, though the magic of electronic osmosis, snapshots of my own infinite wisdom and sagacity to millions (ok, more like a dozen or so) of thirsty citizens. This has not been without its miniature controversies. Due in part to our nature of being political animals, both in the traditional Greek sense and the flawed, but still valid, modern connotation of the phrase. I have been labeled a bleeding heart liberal, a bible thumping neo-con, an idiot, and a “patch and lunchbox AO, JA, LMNOP.” I have puzzled over those contradictions and wondered how I could appear so differently to different people. I have concluded that it's my approach. My goal is to lead people from the cave not by persuading them to the virtues of life in the light, but by arming them with information and letting them find their own way out. The problem with information is that it is often without bias. It is a blank slate, onto which you can project what you want the information to tell you. As with just about any event, it reminds me of a story.

There once was a farmer. He was a non-traditional type of farmer. He grew not corn, nor cattle, but tended a forest. He had his property mapped out on a grid and would harvest trees in a manner that ensured that his forest was always thick with standing timber. His trees were a natural mix of oak, pine, birch, elm, walnut, and others. His walnut would be crafted into traditional-looking heavy furniture with a shine and weight that were not equaled. His oak would be fashioned into thin boards that would serve as a polished floor in houses far and wide. His pine would assemble picnic tables and white picket fences in the quaint little suburbs around his farm. Whatever was left over... the scraps, the dust... would go to a paper mill and be squeezed into paper. But a movement was brewing... the world was going green. People had caught onto the idea that if you eliminated your need for wood, you wouldn't have to cut down trees. The trees could then remain standing, scrubbing our atmosphere and holding back hillsides from erosion. It made sense... how could it not? So they bought furniture made of polymers. They installed flooring made of bamboo and cork and laminate materials. Their fences became vinyl and never needed painted again. And they recycled their paper. People stopped asking for trees from the tree farmer. His forest grew thick and wild. Everything was working... everything, that is, except the tree farmer. He, too, had switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs, but it was harder to keep them on, what with no money to pay the electric bill. He suffered, his family suffered... but his forest flourished. Then, one day, there was a knock at the door. On his porch stood a swanky New York type, a real estate developer. He wanted to build a shopping center on the farmer's land. It would have a home improvement store that sold green building materials. There would be an office supply store that would sell only recycled paper products. And there would be a furniture store that sold polymer furniture guaranteed to last for years and not cause the felling of a single tree. The buildings themselves would be state of the art with solar panels, water reclamation systems, and it's very own windmill. But the price... Oh! The price! The amount of money offered to the farmer, not for his trees, but for the dirt they grew in... it was staggering. The farmer would be crazy to turn down the offer. He accepted, and moved his family to Florida. Now, the only farming they do is pick fresh oranges and lemons from their orchard. But what became of the tree farm? It was clear cut, bulldozed, and paved over. The buildings went up and people flocked from all around.

I will be honest and take a position. I am all for recycling, conservation, and advancing technology to reduce our impact on the environment. But with this issue, more than any other because of its global scale, you have to take into account what possible order can come from the chaos. The scenario I detailed above is not right or wrong. It is something that could simply happen. There are very few “easy” answers to any problem. We must consider how our actions could affect things... not just how we want them to affect things. We live in a dynamic world that is getting smaller. What was it now... 132 years ago that 5 guys penned a declaration... look how the dominoes have fallen. From many, one? From parchment, power.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy Birthday America!

I have a few ideas for entries over the weekend. Remember to check in often :-)

I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable holiday. In the immortal words of my high school gym teacher, "Don't drink, smoke, or chew... or run with those who do!"



Apparently, watermelon contains a chemical that relaxes blood vessels in the same way that Viagra does. When blood vessels relax, they let more of the elixir of life flow to the exxxtremities. That is some pretty awesome news for watermelon farmers, and not so much for Pfizer, which closed down almost 1.5%. The magic is in the citrulline which, when metabolized, changes into arginine, also known as the “bottle rocket” amino acid if you catch my drift. There are a couple of things about this story that are disappointing, though. First, 60% of the citrulline is in the rind of the melon, so if you want the full effect, you have to horse up and eat the shell. Then there is that dark horse of nutritional sciences: quantity. I recall a news story from years ago that said hot dogs cause Leukemia. It went on to say that your risk of developing Leukemia would be x% higher if you ate the equivalent of something like 6 hot dogs a day for 12 years or some ridiculous quantity like that. Such is true for this scenario as well. To get any sparks to fly from your roman candle, you need to eat at least 6 cups of watermelon. There’s nothing like being randy and full of soggy fruit… sounds like a recipe for a different kind of fireworks. So, what lights your fuse? Macaroni salad? Taco dip? Cheap beer and bug spray? Post your surefire aphrodisiacs from the epicurean world.

A Cause for ConCERN?

Hello! Today’s graphic has a dual meaning. First off, Brant is off on vacation in the Carolinas. He has asked me to keep some pseudo-relevant and current information on his blog. He claims that he doesn’t think anyone would be interested in his corona-induced reflections on the beauty of Cape Hatteras, but I suspect he is concerned that if he doesn’t keep something –anything- on this board, that you will wander off to remote corners of the intertubes and forget your way back after a week or so. So, I am a breadcrumb of sorts. I don’t work for the paper. I have a couple of mighty fine occupations at the moment that have very little to do with composing personal insights on news stories. So, the content will be thinner than you are used to, but hopefully enough to keep you around. I will try to put out some intriguing material, but for the sake of not pissing off people that I don’t really know, I will leave most of the envelope pushing to Brant when he returns. So, don’t panic! It will all be over soon. As for the alternate reasoning for today’s graphic, why not talk about sciency space stuff? So, down scrolls your screen, and up goes the curtain on my geekdom. In August, a super-cooled magnetic tube 17 miles in diameter will begin hurling sub-atomic particles around at nearly the speed of light for the purpose of having them smash into each other and hopefully reveal secrets about what it is that sub-atomic particles are made of. A number of !Great Mysteries of the Universe! are thought to be on the brink of resolution as the CERN project goes into its final test phases (CERN is the French acronym for the European Organization for Nuclear Research). Among them is how atoms get their mass. You see, atoms are comprised of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Electrons are thought to be little more than a negative charge and have negligible mass. It’s the protons (positive) and the Neutrons (neutral) that give mass to the smallest bits of an element. So… what are protons and neutrons made of? The popular theory is that the particles are comprised of vibrating strings of energy called quarks. Scientists hope that, among other things, they will see evidence of quarks when they start smashing the little bits together. The Large Hadron Collider, which resides 330 feet below the earth on the Swiss/French border, has thus far produced more controversy than quark splatter. A few people have voiced concern that the high energies produced when atoms collide could, potentially, produce a black hole and destroy the entire earth in a rather short period of time (fractions of a second). Or, of course, it could produce an outflow of energized particles that would irradiate the earth and essentially microwave it into a lifeless mass. Just as the laws of physics are said to break down in a black hole, so does the relative value of numbers when talking about the potential for instantaneously evaporating the earth. Physicist Martin Rees put the odds at 50 million to 1 for the collider to produce a “global catastrophe.” CERN puts the figure in the unsatisfying range of “no conceivable danger.” If we use Rees’ estimate of 50 million to 1, it would mean CERN is 3 times MORE likely to evaporate the earth than you would be to win the Powerball. Certainly, 50 million to 1 is essentially “no conceivable danger,” but at what point are the odds, ahem, at odds with the objective? Science, especially science of this scale, and dealing with this subject matter, is so intriguing. We could be on the verge of unlocking secrets of the most basic, and at the same time most complex machinations of the universe. Granted, for each question we answer, we ask 2 more. It is only a logical conclusion that if we discover that protons ARE made of quarks, then we will have to ask “what are quarks made of?” This reminds me of the 7 paradoxes of Xeno… well, not really, because I can’t remember 6 of them. The one I do recall, though, is one that supposedly could prove motion to be an illusion (this was before calculus came along and relegated Xeno to a figure to be reprised by L. Ron Hubbard). Homer wants to cross the room. Before he can go from one side to the other, he must go halfway. Before he can go halfway, he must go one quarter of the way. Before a quarter, an eighth, and a sixteenth, etc. There is always half the distance of the distance you desire to travel. It is never irreducible; therefore, you can never physically traverse the room. This works with the science of tiny bits, also. After quarks there will be leptons, and after leptons, there will be hadrons, and then mesons, and then baryons, etc. We may be transitioning from one nuclear age to another. The nuclear age of the 20th century threatened to end life in a super hot blast of ultra bright fissile light. Tomorrow’s threat may very well be all of existence disappearing down the eternal darkness of the rabbit hole. So, back to the original point: at what odds is the thirst for knowledge quenched by the possibility of destroying ourselves to find out? If CERN promised to uncover the secret to life, the universe, and everything (42), but the odds of total destruction were 10 to 1… Could you pull the trigger?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rest and relaxation (and beer)

At long last, I have chewed through the chains tying me to my desk (Mom said those fluoride treatments would pay off), so it's time for a well-earned (as far as you know) vacation to the Carolinas. Based on my assumption that no one wants to receive a running commentary on how many beers I can drink at the beach (Answer: a lot), the great and mystical Ellipses will be moderating the discussion on this Internet space for the next couple of weeks. I think you'll find him entertaining. I know I do. Help him out by keeping those discussions rolling. I'll have my laptop with me, so I'll probably participate from time to time. As I depart, I'd like to hear from you about your favorite all-time vacation, be it as a child or adult. I think I'd have to go with the first time my parents took me to the beach. We went to Chincoteague to see the annual pony swim. Good times. Take care all. Chat with you soon.

--- Brant