Friday, August 29, 2008

The revolving jail doors

One of the most-read features in our newspaper is the Police Beat. And anyone who reads the police reports with regularity has noted, I'm sure, that the same old names appear there, time after time after time. It's a joke around our office. "Hey, look, there's so-and-so in the Police Beat again." A story in today's newspaper tells of a special operation by state police, local authorities, liquor control enforcement agents and adult probation officers to get drugs and guns off the streets in the Washington area. That's commendable. But when you continue reading, it seems like the efforts of law enforcement officials are all for naught. During one of the special patrols earlier this week, police arrested one Douglas Yondale Cochran of Washington, who also goes by the name Yandell Barfield. Mr. Cochran was driving a stolen SUV on East Wylie Avenue, in the same general vicinity where he was shot earlier this month. I'm guessing a heated discussion of the pros and cons of supply-side economics got out of hand. Anyway, in addition to being behind the wheel of a vehicle that had been stolen from a rental car agency, Mr. Cochran, according to police, was in possession of crack cocaine, marijuana and several thousand dollars (Guess he had just hit on the Cash Five drawing, huh?). When it comes to dealing with the law enforcement community, this isn't Mr. Cochran's first rodeo. Until just recently, he was in federal custody on drug and escape charges, and is on federal parole. Despite all of this, bond for Mr. Cochran was set at $10,000, and he was out of the county jail in a matter of hours. Also arrested Wednesday was 19-year-old Steven Sadler of Washington. According to police, he ran from them and, when caught, was found in possession of a razor knife, a .38-caliber handgun and suspected Vicodin pills. I'm sure that drug thing will be cleared up as soon as Mr. Sadler gives police his valid prescription. Sadler, who, I'll remind you, was carrying a knife and a gun, was jailed on a paltry $2,500 bond. He's probably walking the streets again as I type this. No one can fault the efforts by police to get these people off our streets, and I don't know what constraints a district judge operates under when setting bail, but we have to do a better job of protecting our community from dopers, thieves and potential killers. People like Cochran and Sadler should be held without bond until their trials. They are threats to the community and should be treated as such. And, if they are found guilty, they should get much longer prison sentences than those currently being handed out. We're always seeing people sentenced to jail for dope-dealing, thievery and violent crimes who are back on the streets, and back in the Police Beat, in a matter of months. It's ridiculous. If the laws don't allow tougher treatment of these people, the laws need to be changed. If we need to build more jails, let's get busy. At least that will create some construction jobs.


Patriotism, or else

Most of us put up no resistance when it comes to standing and showing respect during the playing of the national anthem, and we'll dutifully recite the Pledge of Allegiance if called upon to do so, but at Yankee Stadium, mindless displays of pseudo-patriotism apparently are a requirement. A Yankees fan says he was tossed from the stadium the other day when he tried to use the bathroom during the playing of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. Bradford Campeau-Laurion told news outlets that a police officer blocked him from leaving the seating area. When he explained that his immediate priority was taking care of his biological needs, two NYPD officers allegedly pinned his arms behind him and threw him out of the ballpark. A police department official claims that Campeau-Laurion was removed because he was drunk and disorderly, but the fan and the person he was attending the game with are vehement that the police are lying. What kind of country are we living in if we force a person to stand for the anthem, stay in their seats during a patriotic song or recite a pledge of allegiance? Sounds a lot like the regime in Beijing, to me. The playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" at the beginning of ballgames is a tradition, but I don't think it moves many people to feel patriotic. It's just part of a routine. And if it's so important, why is it that just about the only place we hear the anthem or "God Bless America" is at a meaningless sporting event?


Hey, ladies, look over here

John McCain has chosen little-known Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, and while I'm sure there were many factors in his decision, it seems clear that a major reason for the pick is an attempt to grab disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters. Of course, Palin's politics - she's anti-abortion, for one thing - are decidedly different than Clinton's, but for some of Hillary's radical feminist dead-enders who operate under the delusion that Clinton lost because of sexism, that won't matter. Palin has the right set of "plumbing," as far as they're concerned. A few quick facts about Palin. She's an outdoorswoman, is known as a reformer, admits using marijuana years ago but says she didn't like it and is married to an Eskimo. No, really, she is. I, like most of the rest of the country, know very little about Palin, but her choice as running mate would seem to undercut McCain's argument that Barack Obama doesn't have the experience to be president. I suppose there are more delicate ways to put this, but McCain is an old man. He would be the oldest man elected president, and at his age, he could keel over at any moment or start answering the door when the phone rings. So, does Palin have the experience to be president? She's been governor of Alaska for only a year and a half, and before that was a small-town mayor. The McCain supporters will say she has that all-important "management experience." But what, then, does that say about McCain? He has never managed anything. He went directly from the military into politics and has been a legislator for all of his public life. Around and around in circles we go. Should be an interesting two-month push to Election Day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Elusive truth

William Russell, the Republican candidate seeking the congressional seat now held by Rep. Jack Murtha, is running an ad on the O-R Web site in which he says he wants to "set the record straight" and accuses Murtha of being "wrong about Haditha." Russell, shown at left, asserts that "we now know Murtha was factually wrong." No, we don't. The focus here, and the focus of Russell's campaign, is the 2005 killings of two dozen civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha and Murtha's comments on the matter. In May 2006, Murtha said people at the highest levels of the Marine Corps advised him that Marines in Haditha "killed innocent people in cold blood." Investigators said the dead included women and children. Well after the fact, charges were brought against eight enlisted Marines and officers. Russell, a retired military officer, notes in his ad that charges have since been dropped against seven of the Marines, while one "awaits justice." But decisions by a Marine Corps general to drop charges does not equal a finding of innocence after a trial in a court of law, and that does not make Murtha "wrong about Haditha." The Marine still awaiting trial, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, was the squad leader in Haditha and faces voluntary manslaughter charges. In an earlier hearing for Wuterich, one of his own squad members told the court that shortly before the Haditha incident, Wuterich told him "If we ever get hit again, we should kill everyone in that vicinity." Wuterich's squad gets hit with an IED attack, and 24 civilians die in Haditha. There's an old saying that truth is the first casualty of war. Anyone who was not in Haditha that day and claims to know the truth is wrong. Murtha doesn't know. Russell doesn't know. I don't know. I do feel confident in saying that in any war, atrocities are committed by both sides. We would like to think that our soldiers are above random killings and torture. They are not. Most of us, thankfully, will never know the pressures and horror of being in a war zone where we are walking targets for people who have no respect for human life. We don't know how we would react to being fired on by insurgents or seeing one of our comrades killed by a bomb. In every war, I would suspect that the vast majority of the troops are just trying to stay alive. You have a few true heroes, like Sgt. Alvin York and our own Col. Joe Marm, but you also have a few true criminals, like Lt. William Calley in Vietnam and our own Spec. Charles Graner at Abu Ghraib. None of us can say that what the Marines did in Haditha was criminally wrong. We weren't in their shoes. But to say that Murtha was factually wrong is, well, factually wrong.


Cry, babies

Nine-year-old Jericho Scott, above, has a gift for throwing a baseball, but the folks in the Youth Baseball League of New Haven, Conn., are trying to take it away from him. It seems that Jericho's fastball can reach speeds up to 40 mph, and some opposing players and parents cried so long and loud that the league told the boy's coach that he could no longer pitch. When Jericho's coach sent him to the mound anyway for a game last week, he said the opposing team forfeited the game, packed up its gear and left. Now the league is saying that it will disband Jericho's team and divvy up its players among other squads. But the coach, Wilfred Vidro, says the team is refusing to disband, and Jericho's parents are considering legal action. Good for them. Vidro suspects that Jericho is being targeted because he declined an offer to join the league's defending champions, a team that just happens to be sponsored by the employer of a league administrator. Hmmmm. Youth sports being sullied by politicking parents? Say it ain't so. The league's attorney, Peter Noble, offered this weak explanation: "He is a very skilled player, a very hard thrower. There are a lot of beginners. This is a developmental league whose main purpose is to promote the sport." Hogwash. The players in the league are 8- to 10-year-olds who will soon be moving on to Little League, where the pitchers might likely throw even harder. This is not a bunch of 5- and 6-year-old T-ballers. Jericho says he's bothered by the league's stance and the fallout from it. "I feel sad," he said. "I feel like it's all my fault nobody could play." Attorney John Williams, who is consulting with Jericho's parents, summed it up pretty well, telling the AP, "You don't have to be learned in the law to know in your heart that it's wrong." When I was in Little League back in the '60s, I was a small youngster, and my stature was matched only by my complete lack of talent. Yet I stood in there against pitchers who were throwing so hard that I couldn't even see the ball, let alone hope to hit it. My parents never suggested that the pitchers be removed, lest I be hit with a ball. And the funny thing in Jericho's case is that everyone involved, including league officials, agree that he has never, not once, hit an opposing player with a pitch. The real solution in this case is for the pantywaist parents and their coddled, pansy-ass kids to get out of baseball and try some other sport. Rhythmic gymnastics, anyone?

For cripe's sake, get a grip!

A country politician made the mistake recently of making a backwoods joke with a woman and her two young nieces in a Harlan, Ky., grocery store. Otis "Bullman" Hensley, who the AP says has gained attention with his oddball tactics as a fringe candidate in the last two Kentucky gubernatorial races, encountered the woman and the two girls, ages 11 and 13, when he went to the store to pick up some ground beef for his wife last week. "I offered to trade her a fattening hog for those girls," said Hensley. "I meant it as a joke. I've said it a million times. Most people get a kick out of it." Most. But not this woman. Her family got a local prosecutor, who must be the world's biggest buttwipe, to issue a warrant for Hensley's arrest, accusing him of trying to entice the children into illegal sexual activity. Hensley told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he tried to explain the situation to the Harlan County attorney's office, but "they wouldn't listen." After some discussion and consultation, Hensley apologized to the family for any offense they might have taken, and the prosecutor dropped the case. The girls' father, apparently realizing that his family looks like a bunch of idiots, declined to comment after the case was resolved. While waiting for things to get sorted out, Hensley spent three days in jail, but he should consider himself lucky. A conviction could have landed him behind bars for 10 years. Appalachian scholar Loyal Jones told the AP that Hensley's jest has been around for generations. "I've heard many variations of that," said Jones. "You might hear, 'That's a good-looking boy; I'd trade you a pocket knife for him.' ... Political correctness has ruined country humor." Ain't that the truth. Another problem we have is parents who are overly hysterical about any perceived threat to their children's safety. Also, you have a lot of city people moving to the country who have no idea what a fattening hog is. In fact, some of them might have trouble telling the difference between a pig and a goat. Said Hensley, "Jay Leno makes jokes every night and makes millions. I make one joke and go to jail." Welcome to life in America, 2008.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Like a Dumbass

I've always believed that Madonna is a minimally talented skank with a great gift for self-promotion. I've liked a few of her songs, but for the most part, her act sickens me, and it has never ceased to amaze me that someone with so little to offer musically has been able to forge such a long, lucrative career. The missus loves her, by the way. As I've said often, we have a mixed marriage. But back to Madonna. She kicked off her latest tour Saturday night in London, and at one point, according to an AP report, a large video screen flashed images of destruction and global warming, followed by photos of Adolf Hitler, Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe and ... John McCain. Whoa there, dipstick. Number one, only your most sycophantic hangers-on give a crap about your political beliefs, and while I disagree strongly with McCain on some issues, it is repugnant to put him in the same class as two of the worst genocidal lunatics in the history of the world. Madonna has shown herself again to be nothing more than a dumb ... well, I can't say the word I want to say, but it rhymes with something a football team does when facing a fourth-and-long situation. Stay in England, scumbag.


Your tax dollars at work

Federal immigration officials recently spent a couple of weeks on a highly touted program to attract illegal immigrants interested in turning themselves in. Take a moment to let that sink in. That's right. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials spent our money and their time (paid for with our money) on a "self-deportation" program for illegals in five cities from coast to coast. This is pretty much akin to asking people if they would like a kick in the family jewels or a sharp stick in the eye. After all the hoopla, a grand total of eight people took them up on the offer. I'm guessing these people were planning to head back south of the border (or wherever they came from) anyway and were just looking for a free ride. Jim Hayes, ICE's acting director of detention and removal operations, said the agency would press on with its more traditional efforts to round up and deport illegals, but he defended what the agency referred to as the "Scheduled Departure" program, saying that although it cost $41,000 to advertise the effort, the government saved money because it would have cost $54,000 to detain the eight people who turned themselves in, if they had been caught by other means. Uh, Mr. Hayes, that argument presumes that your agency would have caught those eight people, and based on the estimate that 12 million illegal immigrants live in this country, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that isn't such a good bet. We can argue about what this country's immigration policy should be, or how much money should be spent to round up these people, but this "Scheduled Departure" program was just stupid.


Pack it in, ladies

They just can't let it go. Supporters of Hillary Clinton whined all the way through her failed Democratic nomination fight against Barack Obama. Now some of them are crying about Obama's decision to name Sen. Joe Biden, and not Hillary, as his running mate. The reason the headline on this item refers to "ladies" is that the vast majority of those who refuse to move on appear to be women. I understand their pain. They thought that one of their "sisters" was going to bust through the political glass ceiling, win the nomination of a major political party and ascend in glory to the White House. It didn't happen, so quit bitching about it. And if you're looking to lay some blame, place it right at the feet of your beloved Hillary. Going into the primaries, your candidate had a huge pile of cash and the support of Democratic pooh-bahs from coast the coast. Pretty much everyone, she especially, thought it was a coronation, rather than a competition, and she pissed it all away. So, if you're angry with anyone, be angry at Hillary for putting together such a crappy campaign operation. The reaction to Obama's choice of Biden would be comical if it weren't so pathetic. Said Democratic strategist and Clinton crony James Carville, "There's no doubt that some people are going to view this as she is not being accorded respect." Geraldine Ferraro, the vice presidential candidate in one of the most crushing Democratic losses in history, said in an AFP report that Clinton supporters "are angry because they felt she was dissed during the campaign by the media. They felt very strongly that Obama people had run a very negative, sexist campaign." That's right. Your candidate and her organization stunk, so blame the media and the opponent, even if it's a pack of lies. Delusion can be a wonderful balm.


The Wide World of Scum

PriGuy had this to say in a recent e-mail to me regarding our discussion about the Olympics, and I thought it was worth sharing:

"I thought that Bolt guy is a colossal a$$hole even though he runs like he has Acme Jet Shoes on. And then there's that f@#$$%* Cuban taekwando guy who kicked the referee (Photo shown above). When we were younger, a bench-clearing brawl at a baseball game was a rare occurrence. There seems to have been more sportsmanship, more athletes abided by the rules - at least on the field. Then we get Latrell Sprewell. We have the animals on the Bengals, the Vikings and their famous cruise, a couple of minor-league baseball coaches making asses of themselves, thugs, crimes and now this anus at the Olympics. What I'm getting at is, is this part of the devolution of the civility in our society or is it just because now everyone and everything has a camera on them, and every network and media outlet is looking to fill the 24-hour news cycle? I don't want to sound like someone's great-grandpa, but I don't remember there being this much bad stuff going on in sports. Certainly the players and coaches respected the rules and the officials more than they did then. What do you think?"


Friday, August 22, 2008

Hate 'em

Anyone who watches a lot of television typically watches a lot of commercials, as well. Most go in one ear and out the other. Some amuse us. But others make us cringe every time they come on the screen. I've always had a problem with the fast-food ads. The stuff they show us onscreen looks so good, and big, but when you order the food at the restaurant, it looks nothing like what you saw on TV. I used a photo of a Subway ad as an example. Did anyone ever get a Subway sandwich that looked like this one, with the meat almost leaping out of the bun at you? Didn't think so. I still think they're great, as my waistline attests. Some other ads that get on my last nerve:
- The J.G. Wentworth commercials, featuring the cadaverous old guy inviting you to convert your structured settlements into CASH.
- The ESPN "MVP" commercials, particularly the one with the guy who is the so-called MVP of his honeymoon trip. Every time he tells the fake interviewer that he's "stuffed" because "that buffet's pretty robust," I wish that I were high on a hill overlooking the honeymoon site, armed with a sniper's rifle, so that I could ensure the buffet would be his last meal.
- One of the least-favorite ads among the folks at my office is the one where the woman is on the phone in her kitchen, telling a friend about all the luxurious desserts she's been eating recently. Meanwhile, her poor husband is rifling through the fridge, looking for the leftovers. It's an ad for spoiled milk, aka yogurt. The concept of the ad isn't what bothers me. It's that woman's tone of voice. I wish she would crawl into that refrigerator and pull the door closed behind her.
- The furniture ad featuring the easy chair that screams "STELLA!" I'd like to unstuff him.
- All of the Austin's cleaning products ads. I just hate the jingle.
- And finally, the ad that rubs me the wrong way like no other: The blind guy in the restaurant who, through his exceptional hearing alone, identifies motorcycles that are driving by, then identifies a bottle of Miller Lite when someone pops a cap. I'd like to pop a cap in him, after I was done slapping the spit out of his mouth for about a half-hour.

Please share with me some of the ads that drive you crazy, and also feel free to throw in some favorites.

Have a great weekend.


What do you do?

Let's consider a hypothetical situation: A really scary dude who has a history of making his enemies disappear gets into a violent disagreement with a friend of yours. Then, the guy threatens to kill your little brother, who would have little chance of defending himself. Do you try to reason with the potential killer? Do you ask his friends to intervene? Or do you take the risk of trying to catch the guy in a dark alley and remove him with "extreme prejudice"?
Now, let's move to a real-world scenario: A clearly provoked Russia invades Georgia, a country friendly to the United States. It thumbs its nose at the rest of the world when the action is condemned. Then, it raises the specter of a nuclear attack on Poland, which has agreed to be the site of a U.S.-built missile defense system. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, above, increasingly seems to be a guy who is a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Only he knows how serious the threat is. But what do we do about it? Do we try to reason with him? Do we ask China to do our bidding? Now, what about this: If we have reasonable certainty that we could annihilate Russia with our various weapons systems, most of which probably aren't even known to us, and that we could protect our own country from an annihilating response, should we consider a first-strike, pre-emptive "nuclear option"? We attacked Iraq when it really posed no threat to us whatsoever. Here is a country that is rattling sabers regarding use of nuclear weapons against a nation we have pledged to defend. And Russia has plenty of nuclear weapons that it could fire our way if Putin decides we are standing in the way of his plans for world domination. What's your plan for dealing with him?


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Maybe we'll paper the walls with them

You can only imagine the names I have called the Washington County Elections Office late at night while waiting for voting results at the newspaper. I've even harbored suspicions that it might not be the most competent sector of our county bureaucracy. My suspicions were bolstered when we moved to our new house and it took the office not one, not two, but three tries to correctly switch my wife's registration details. But it appears they're trying - maybe a bit too hard - to make up for past failures. The missus, in just the past few months, has received not one, not two, not three, but four voter registration cards (the example above comes from Lancaster County). Maybe we're supposed to distribute them to people who could reasonably pass for my wife and have them try to cast ballots. Sure, that's it. It's a test to make sure the poll workers are on their toes. I've also been fortunate enough to receive a couple of spares, and the guy who built my house back in the '70s and moved to Florida many moons ago got a new card, too. I'm thinking of calling him to see if he wants to meet me on Election Day at the Hopewell Township garage and cast a ballot. Even if they stop him from voting, he can get some of the delicious baked goods the ladies sell there. And, baby, that's democracy to me.


Could it be?

As the years go by, Ralph Nader seems more and more like the crazy uncle you hide in the attic when company comes calling, and now he's telling Politico that his unidentified sources tell him that Hillary Clinton is still being seriously considered as the running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. He also believes she's clearly the best person for the second spot on the ticket. I've written many times before about my disdain for Hillary Clinton. I think she's a weasel. But I also think that Nader might be right. It's not that my opinion of Hillary has changed. It's the people who supposedly are on Obama's short list that make me wonder. Sen. Joe Biden has foreign policy expertise but brings very little else to the equation. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, while from states that figure to be important in November, engender lengthy yawns. It's hard to see where they would motivate voters outside their states. At this point in the race, it's my opinion that Obama is not in a position to go "safe" with his vice presidential choice. At one point, Republicans such as Sens. Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel were mentioned as contenders, but that talk has gone by the wayside. So, what choice could Obama make that would energize a large group of Democratic voters while attracting blue-collar, rural support and fence-sitting independents? Could it be Hillary?


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Poop? What poop?

Charles Cornell of Chartiers Township says he's been trying for three years, with no success, to get the township to do something about the raw sewage running from a neighboring home and flowing down the 300 block of North Main Street near Houston. And based on the attitude of township officials, it's no wonder his complaints are falling on deaf ears. Cornell said the stench from the sewage keeps him inside in the summer, and a neighbor said the foul water freezes on the road in the winter, creating a travel hazard that salt trucks have a difficult time removing. One of Cornell's neighbors, Tony Vallone, came with his daughters to the most recent Chartiers Township supervisors meeting and pleaded for action. The township has been aware of the problem, but township manager Alice Derian said the local government has not sent any type of enforcement notice to the owner of the rental property with the malfunctioning septic system. "If we're going to enforce one, we're going to have to enforce the entire area," said Derian. Gee, what a novel concept, forcing people to keep their excreted bodily fluids from running in the streets. I have a septic system, myself, and I would fully expect someone to come knocking on my door if my waste started running onto Route 844. Folks who live in the neighborhood with Cornell and Vallone say other septic systems have failed, and sewage is emptying into a nearby creek, yet nothing is done. How nice. The residents' immediate concern is getting the sewage from the North Main Street house diverted away from their properties, but township supervisors Chairman Harlan Shober seems reluctant to take the issue before the Washington County Sewage Council because it could expose what he calls a "Pandora's box" of failed septic systems in Midland. He said the people who are complaining could also find themselves subject to fines or be forced to repair their systems if the sewage council starts nosing around. Good Lord! You mean people might be forced to keep their poop in a secure container on their own property? If Chartiers Township officials would rather continue their policy of ignoring threats to public health, perhaps they could capitalize on their stance, get some Walking Around Money from a local legislator and open a leper colony. Can you say economic development? Ka-ching!

Whose values?

A story in the Boston Globe the other day said former Republican presidential candidate and current Southern Baptist minister and Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee appears to be working to block the possibility of Mitt Romney being named John McCain's running mate on the GOP ticket. The reason? It seems that some "conservative" Christians aren't buying Romney's late-in-life opposition to abortion, and others believe Romney's Mormon religion is a cult. Sure, it's a cult, but the people who are most concerned about that should remember that their religion is built on fanciful tales that include people living to be 900 years old and a guy sauntering out of a cave after being dead for a couple days. The term "pot calling the kettle black" comes to mind. As for the abortion question, I think most of us hope for a world in which abortions are kept to an absolute minimum, but if you would deny a 13-year-old rape victim access to the morning-after pill and would require her to carry and deliver a child resulting from that rape, then I consider you a vile, barbaric and reprehensible person. What really sticks in my craw is Huckabee's statement that McCain could find running mate choices other than Romney who would be more fully embraced by "values voters." Guess what, Mr. Huckabee. A lot of us in this country don't share your "values." We want that 13-year-old to be able to quickly end a pregnancy resulting from rape. We want a woman who could very well die from a pregancy to be able to end it. We don't want you inserting your religious agenda into our public schools. My wife has an automobile bumper sticker, shown above, that sums up some of the things that are important to me, and I'd think very few people would disagree with those sentiments. Though I am an atheist, I have great respect for people of faith. I just don't want to live under a theocracy.

Are you American or not?

I'm all for making visitors to our fine area feel welcome, but I saw something Saturday while watching the PONY World Series championship game on TV that I found distasteful. One of the broadcasters said there's an organized effort among Americans of Chinese descent from Western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia to get together at the PONY series and cheer on the team from Taiwan. In Saturday's game, the Chinese team was playing a team from California, which ultimately won the title, and I have to say it bothered me to see a bunch of supposed Americans cheering for an overseas team to beat a bunch of American boys. I imagine some might just have been trying to offer a little support to boys who had relatively few fans traveling with them, but if they really wanted the Chinese team to beat the Americans, they should have hopped on a plane and gone "home" with them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sounds good to me

Their colleague Bracken Burns suggests that they're pandering, but I find it hard to criticize a proposal made by Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi and supported by Commissioner Diana Irey to use the county's local share of money generated by the casino at The Meadows for tax relief. Maggi and Irey suggest using the slots money to cut county taxes on property owners by 47 percent. It's hard to see where that's a bad thing. Instead of giving millions to big projects directed by the county redevelopment authority, why not put some money in the pockets of people all over the county? State lawmakers, after criticism of the way the first millions were divvied up earlier this year, have their own plan for revamping the system, which they detailed at a meeting Tuesday. Their proposal, called the Hometown Project Fund, would dole out the slots money to every municipality in the county, based on population. The lawmakers also want to remove the apparent conflict of interest from the process. "Based on the large role they play both as an applicant and in an administrative capacity, we strongly recommend that the Washington County Redevelopment Authority no longer be represented on the local share review panel in determining which applicants are to be funded." Burns likes none of this. He's all for the status quo and accused those who want to make changes of "outpandering each other." He also offered this smug comment: "What about a check for $1 million to every voter in Washington County? If you can't pick up the sarcasm, then I could spell it out for you." He added, "We took the professionals in the economic development community, and we put them around a table and said, 'Do your job.' Except for criticism from the news media, I think we did a pretty good job." I'll pause here so Mr. Burns can give himself another well-deserved pat on the back. His suggestion that only the news media complained about the process is ridiculous. Helen Keller could've heard people bitching about the way the money was distributed. Both the lawmakers' and Maggi's proposals seem to be more equitable than the fox-guarding-the-henhouse status quo, but I don't think you can ever go wrong by getting money directly into the hands of the people. Folks are struggling right now, trying to keep their homes as they deal with high prices for gasoline, groceries and other necessities. They could use the help that Maggi's tax-relief plan would provide. The commissioner calls his proposal "an economic stimulus program for Washington County." I agree. The whole benefit of legalized gambling in Pennsylvania was supposed to be help for property owners. And, as Maggi told the lawmakers at Tuesday's meeting, "The Legislature has been promising tax relief for years and not delivering." So, why not do it on the local level?


Cuteness, in the national interest

You would think that Chinese leaders might have something better to worry about, like maybe the constant threat of billions of people rising up and smiting their thuggish oppressors, but at least one member of the ruling Communist Party Politburo had bigger fish to fry: keeping some homely little kid from screwing up the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. As millions of TV viewers watched last weekend, cute-as-a-button Lin Miaoke, above right, sang "Ode to the Motherland" as the Chinese flag was brought into the stadium. But wait. It wasn't Lin doing the singing, it was Yang Peiyi, above left, who is not quite as photogenic. A Politburo member came to a rehearsal before the Games and gave the directors of the show a clear indication that showing Yang's face was not what the grand poo-bahs of China wanted. Chen Qigang, described as the general musical designer of the ceremony, tried to explain it this way: "The reason was for the national interest. The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings and expression. The reason why little Yang was not chosen to appear was because we wanted to project the right image; we were thinking about what was best for the nation." Project the right image? China already has an image of brutal, bloody repression - as well as providing the world with crappy, lead-laden merchandise. A cute kid lip-synching a Commie anthem isn't likely to have much effect on public perception of the Beijing regime. Their zealous approach to making sure the right kind of face was shown on TV is almost Hitlerian. You know, the "master race" and all that stuff. Yang, perhaps with a bayonet at her mother's throat, said she was honored just to do the singing, but even a 7-year-old knows when she's been shunned. The Chinese dictators kill their own people, so do you really think they're worried about the feelings of a little girl. She should just consider herself fortunate that she wasn't smothered at birth for being the "wrong" sex.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Bad news for Father Nelson

The above headline references a rather tasteless joke involving wrestling and Catholicism. Speaking of which ... The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati has developed a list of actions that it finds inappropriate for priests, who are just now on notice that they should not kiss, tickle or wrestle children. Also on the no-no list: bear hugs, lap-sitting and piggyback rides. I don't remember those activities being part of the traditional service, but what the heck. You have to change with the times, and after the whole scandal involving a bunch of priests having their way with kids, I guess it's better to be safe than sorry, even if it's agreed that everybody loves a good piggyback ride. The archdiocese says these rules are updated every five years. Do you think, considering that messy little sex scandal, that some sort of interim action might have been in order? But, hey, this isn't an all-bad-news story. The archdiocese says priests can still shake kids' hands, pat them on the back and give them high-fives. Well, thank God for that.


Taking the good with the bad

The Beijing Olympics are well under way, and I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I've written before about my distaste for even staging the Olympics in a repressive country such as China, and I found it very distasteful that the Chinese spent God knows how much money on an elaborate opening ceremony when it has millions of people in its own country who live in squalor and don't have enough to eat, but I guess that's (diverted) water under the bridge. Now we can either watch the Games or ignore them, and I'll do a little of both. Sunday night, I found myself watching women's gymnastics (I think the missus put some sort of paralytic substance in my snack foods, and I just couldn't get off that couch.) While I'm impressed with the athleticism of the girls when it comes to the vault and the uneven bars, I'm wondering why the floor exercise is even part of the event. The tumbling runs require great athleticism and body control, but the girls spend half their time rolling about on the ground or doing little prancy-dances accompanied by supposedly artistic hand and arm movements. Now, it might not be nearly as pretty, but I can do some of that stuff myself, and I'm a 50-year-old, out-of-shape smoker. Maybe they could just do the tumbling without the prancing. Of course, the traditional gymnastics is much preferable to the rhythmic gymnastics, which involves girls flitting about with streamers, hoops and big balls. It has as much business in the Olympics as the Nathan's hot dog-eating contest. I enjoy watching the swimming and the track-and-field events, which, in my mind, are the kind of athletic pursuits the Olympics should be focused on, but I can't understand why volleyball, trampoline and badminton, for gawd's sake, are on the schedule. It sounds like the activities at a backyard keg party. If this is the direction they're heading, I'd like to be the first to nominate kickball, Wiffle ball and Cornhole for the 2012 Games. And if anybody still has a set of Jarts, bring 'em along.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Our sensitive world

Corporations, schools and even sports teams across the country are mandating sensitivity training courses so that nobody will ever be offended again.

That's the intro to a recent installment of the Penn and Teller program on Showtime called, well, it's called what comes out of the back end of a bull. And it's also what I think of all this mandated "sensitivity training." A lot of it's aimed at not offending the opposite sex or persons of another race, and most of it is highly unnecessary. This is not the swinging '70s, when a large percentage of men seemed to be constantly "on the make" like the Festrunk brothers, portrayed above by Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd, and women were still something of a curiosity in the workplace. Several decades later, women and men largely work as equals, and based on my workplace, I see very few incidents of someone making unwanted advances toward a member of the opposite sex. Nevertheless, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is still handling about 15,000 sexual harassment complaints annually, based on information I was able to gather. My guess is that at least half of those cases are bogus. The American Association of University Women did a study of 8th- through 11th-graders in 2002 that purported to find 83 percent of girls and 78 percent of boys had been sexually harassed. THE AAUW issued another study in 2006 alleging that 62 percent of college women and 61 percent of college men had suffered the same fate. My thoughts on those studies? I would refer you to the title of the Penn and Teller show. That's also my feeling about most of these training seminars. It's all common-sense stuff, and unless you're hiring a bunch of dolts, it shouldn't be necessary. Write up a clear company policy and be done of it. But I know why companies do this. They might say otherwise, but a key reason is that if they happen to get sued for an incident of alleged sexual harassment, they can go to court and say, "Look at our extensive sensitivity training program." It's CYA, all the way. Some of what they "teach" you is so obvious as to be funny. I'll try to capture the gist of what you learn at these seminars with the following acceptable and unacceptable comments you can make to a co-worker of the opposite gender. Acceptable: "That scarf is a lovely color." Unacceptable: "Nice dress, babe. I'd sure like to see what it looks like on my bedroom floor." See, it's simple. It's much the same with relations among the various races. The vast majority of people don't care whether their co-workers are white, black, red, yellow or some combination thereof. The reason we continue to get many of these sexual harassment and racial discrimination cases is that, in large part, we are a people who have become accustomed to feeling aggrieved by the slightest offhand comment or action. There are still legitimate cases in which women and people of color are treated improperly or illegally, but in some people's twisted minds, an encouraging pat on the back is akin to a sexual advance, and relating a scene from "Chappelle's Show" could get you branded a bigot. I'm getting tired of people crying "Wolf!" when the "offense" is the equivalent of a Chihuahua. By the way, the next Penn and Teller show, which starts airing tonight, is about the "stranger danger" hysteria. Should be a good one.


No apology needed

A group of American cyclists, including Peters Township High School grad Mike Friedman, shown above in a Reuters photo, stirred up an international incident of sorts when they arrived for the Olympics in Beijing on Tuesday wearing protective face masks. Beijing is known for having some of the most polluted air in the world, and even though China has taken steps to cut the pollution, some athletes remain concerned about their health. Hence, the masks. A day later, the cyclists issued a news release in which they apologized for taking the health precaution, saying their action "was in no way meant to serve as an environmental or political statement. We deeply regret the nature of our choices. Our decision was not intended to insult (the Chinese Olympic organizers) or countless others who have put forth a tremendous amount of effort to improve the air quality in Beijing." Jim Scherr, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said the organization didn't approach the cyclists about an apology. "Those athletes regret that action ... and have written an apology ... on their own behalf," he said. Sure they did. They just huddled together and knocked out a quick press release without any prodding from anyone. Right. If I were one of the cyclists and someone asked me to apologize, I could have written up a news release containing just two letters: F and U. High muckety-mucks the world over have been doing their best to apologize for the dismal human rights record and egregious actions of the Chinese government ever since Beijing was awarded the Olympics. The Chinese promised all sorts of improvements and concessions if they got the Games. They've delivered next to nothing. A few days ago, the Chinese revoked the visa of former Olympic speedskater Joey Cheek. He happens to be a Darfur activist, and the Chinese have stood in the way of action on Darfur. Two Americans were deported recently for taking part in a protest by Students for a Free Tibet. Two Chinese women were seized by authorities for protesting their evictions from family compounds that were among many razed near Tiananmen Square to clear the way for pre-Olympic construction projects. The Chinese, after pledging a free and open Internet, blocked foreign reporters' access to some Web sites. You know, the ones that tell the truth about China. The list goes on and on. The Chinese government has subjected the people of China to untold suffering just to prepare for these Olympics, and so-called world leaders react largely with a collective shrug. But these actions are what one would expect when the Olympics are given to a totalitarian, repressive, deadly regime. Next stop, North Korea?


Is this how it will end for Favre?

The classic photo shown above, taken by Morris Berman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, depicts New York Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle after he was crushed to the turf and left bloody and beaten by Steelers defensive lineman John Baker in a 1964 game at Pitt Stadium. Tittle was among the elite quarterbacks in the game but was nearly 38 when this play took place, and he was finished at the end of that season. I bring this up because the New York Jets just traded for the legendary Brett Favre, who has set numerous records and won a Super Bowl during his years with the Green Bay Packers but is now approaching his 39th birthday. Are the Jets getting the Brett Favre of 2007, who had a great year and led the Packers within a game of the Super Bowl, or will they get the Favre of the two prior seasons, who gave every appearance of being washed up? Favre might very well have made the correct decision in March when he announced his retirement, only to waffle and waver, screwing his longtime employers in the process and eventually forcing the team to cut its ties with him. Old quarterbacks don't have a great track record in the NFL. There have been graybeards such as Earl Morrall and Youngwood's own George Blanda who defied the passage of time, but they, like Vinny Testaverde more recently, were largely relegated to backup roles, with the occasional start. Favre is being counted on to be a savior for the Jets, who haven't been successful in a long, long time. The history of sports is littered with cases of athletes who stayed on past their primes, and some of them were painful to watch. There were Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson in boxing, Willie Mays and countless others in baseball and, since we're speaking of quarterbacks, Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas in football. Favre could be just what the doctor ordered for the Jets. Or he might need a doctor, as Y.A. Tittle did.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

Since this story continues to develop, with additional lawmakers calling for DeWeese's ouster and the revelation that $1.4 million in taxpayer money, from a "special leadership account" controlled by DeWeese, has been spent to help the House Democrats "respond" to the Bonusgate investigation, I thought it was an opportune time to re-post this item and seek your additional comments. - Brant

If our state legislators ever do a dinner-theater performance of "The Wizard of Oz," I'd like to suggest our own Rep. Jesse White for the role of the Cowardly Lion. Members of Rep. Bill DeWeese's own party from around the state have been calling for him to leave his position as House Democratic leader in the wake of the indictments in the Bonusgate scandal, but White did some dancing worthy of Sammy Davis Jr. when the O-R asked him if he was ready to seek DeWeese's demotion. Here's what White had to say: "That's a question that is clearly being debated among the members. There are discussions, and at this point, I'm going to not say one way or another. I have some questions that need to be answered. I want a better feel for the facts, and until I have that, I'm not going to make that decision." A lot of words there to say next to nothing. State Rep. Matt Smith, a freshman Democrat from Mt. Lebanon, had enough information to say that DeWeese should step aside, noting that "we must bring new leadership into the fold." Sharing that opinion, and also apparently having sufficient information, were Democratic Reps. Harry Readshaw of Carrick, John Yudichak of Luzerne County and Bill Keller of Philly. Readshaw said responsibility for the alleged crimes of Bonusgate should ultimately lie with the leader, "but in this instance, the buck is being passed." In other words, even if DeWeese did nothing wrong personally, this scandal has erupted on his watch, or lack thereof. Rep. White, are you waiting for political cover, waiting to see if DeWeese is charged in the attorney general's investigation? It's really easy to climb aboard the bandwagon at that point. Are you afraid that there will be retribution if you speak out against DeWeese and he survives unscathed and wins re-election? The Democratic leader has been known to punish those who don't toe the line. You also said that you want anyone who has been involved in corruption to be "out of the legislating business altogether." If you do want reform, Rep. White, do you really think the best person to lead the Democrats in changing the culture of Harrisburg is the same person who led them in the late-night pay-raise grab and was, at least by his own assertions, oblivious to the alleged Bonusgate activities? Or do you just refuse to speak ill of a fellow Democrat who's facing a tough re-election battle - in other words, putting your political party before those who sent you to Harrisburg with the expectation that you would represent them honestly and honorably? Courage, conviction and integrity. Those are traits that separate political hacks from true representatives of the people. Which are you, Mr. White?


Monday, August 4, 2008

Go under cover, please

Modesty - n. - propriety in dress, speech or conduct

I'm not one to lecture people about the finer points of fashion. Heck, I've spent years trying to perfect the alcoholic vagrant beachcomber look, so asking me whether this blouse goes well with that skirt is about like asking Hitler to plan a bar mitzvah. Wrong guy for the job. So, what I'm going to do here is not complain about the quality of clothing people wear in public, but the quantity. I went to a preseason football game last night in Canton, and I was stunned by some of the ensembles people felt comfortable wearing in public. Even since a group of well-meaning children tried to roll me back into the surf at Myrtle Beach about 20 years ago, I've taken great care to wear a shirt at the beach and elsewhere. In other words, I got the wake-up call. Some people, I'm afraid, have taken that phone off the hook. So, as a public service, here are a few things I'd like to suggest:

Ladies, if you have what you consider to be a lovely piece of art permanently inked onto your body in the region just north of your backside, and that part of your anatomy, over the course of some years, has developed undulations akin to the tracks of the Thunderbolt at Kennywood, please share said artwork only with your closest relatives.

Some women seem to have no idea when they have raced past the point where it is appropriate to go bra-less, or they count on some Spandex-like top to get the job done. You just can't get 20 pounds of stuff into a 10-pound container, and time and gravity are inevitable. A good rule of thumb is that if the protrusions on what traditionally would be considered the front of your breasts are now pointing down like a dowser's rod that has found water, it's time for a high-quality bra.

Short shorts are fine if someone can flick a quarter off your thighs and be at risk of losing an eye when it richochets back. However, if the texture of your thighs is similar to a relief map of Uzbekistan, a knee-length pair of shorts is recommended.

Knee-length shorts are not sufficient, and you'll want to look into a capri pant, if any part of what previously was a thigh now dangles below the knee.

If you have ankle fat that slops down over your shoes, it's time to consider a floor-length trouser or even a flowing gown. That's good for you guys, too. Remember how stylish Chevy Chase looked in "Fletch" while roller skating at the beach? Just one word of caution: Be careful how you accessorize with a long gown if you are heading to the airport and want to avoid a cavity search. Pearls: always a good choice. AK47 and a "Death to America" ballcap: not so good.

These trouser tips apply to men, as well. Also, fellas, there comes a time in some of our lives when silky athletic shorts and skin-tight "wife beaters" no longer get it done. If you can sit your beverage on your beer gut and use your navel for a salsa receptacle, it's time for a less-clingy garment.

I have to admit that there are women, at least in my estimation, who look good in a minimum of clothing, but if you take notice of that, many of them seem to get very offended. (In this day and age, a sideways glance or innocuous comment seems to be grounds for screaming "sexual harassment," but that's a subject for another day, perhaps tomorrow.) There's an old saying about not advertising unless you're trying to sell something, but some ladies pay that no mind. I saw several women at the football game who wore tops that were so insufficient that I thought perhaps they were taking on-demand breast feeding to an extreme and wanted to be able to accommodate a small child with a minimum of clothing adjustment. But they should be aware that while they might attract suckling infants, they also might garner the attention of what are commonly called horny males. (That would be most of us.) And those males just might be moved to quote the immortal Cleavon Little in "Blazing Saddles," who said, "Excuse me while I whip this out." And, of course, they'll then produce a camera phone or some such gadgetry to memorialize the moment in pictures. To summarize: Ladies, if you still have parts of you that are "restaurant quality," feel free to share, but realize that some people will take a long time looking at the menu.