Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Change of political address

Sen. Arlen Specter. Democrat from Pennsylvania. Typing that will take some getting used to. As pretty much everyone knows by now, Specter has shucked off his Republican mantle and joined up with the Democrats. When the news broke, Democrats in D.C. spent a lot of their time smiling like Cheshire cats, while Republicans cast Specter as the second coming of Benedict Arnold. Did Specter finally have enough of the Republicans' "big tent" turning into a pup tent? Or did he do the politically expedient thing in the face of a likely loss in next year's U.S. Senate primary? The answer is: both. And Specter admits as much. "I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans," said the senator, while also noting "I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine-year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate." In 2004, Specter barely survived a primary challenge from Rick Santorum clone Pat Toomey, and if he had stayed in the Republican Party, a loss to Toomey next spring would have been highly likely. And then, a Toomey loss to a Democrat in the fall would have been a good bet. Now, the most likely outcome is a Specter victory over Toomey in next year's November election. Specter is a good politician, and he could read the writing on the wall. Republican leaders and donors, considering him too liberal (you know, a moderate who was willing to think for himself), were likely to abandon him for Toomey in the primary. "They (GOP conservatives) don't make any bones about their willingness to lose the general election if they can purify the party. I don't understand it, but that's what they said," Specter said Tuesday. It's the same type of thinking that essentially prevented John McCain from naming moderate Republican Tom Ridge as his running mate. Instead, he took the Moral Majority poster girl from Wasilla, and she turned out to be the village idiot. Specter's party switch left the Democrats in the Senate within reach of the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster or remove holds placed by lawmakers on legislation or appointments. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky voiced the horror - horror, I tell you - of such a development. Said McConnell, "The threat to the country presented ... by this defection really relates to the issue of whether or not in the United States of America our people want the majority party to have whatever it wants without restraint, without a check or balance." Threat to the country? Really? I'm guessing that back in the late ’90s, when the Republicans had hopes of attaining those 60 votes, that McConnell would have been just fine with that. I don't think we would have heard a single peep from that political hack about a "threat to the country." And maybe McConnell got dropped on his head a lot when he was little, but one would think he is aware that, aside from Specter, the people - the United States of America voters - sent those Democrats to the Senate. It's called democracy, senator. If you don't like it, maybe you'd better take a good look at your own party and see where you are failing so badly that the opposing party could beat you like a 98-pound weakling and claim a supermajority. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of the last of the dying breed of Republican moderates, took a look at the country's political shift and, unlike most of her colleagues, recognizes the party's central problem, and the solution. Snowe, writing Wednesday in the New York Times, bemoaned the party's loss of Specter and said, "In my view, the political environment that has made it inhospitable for a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a deeper, more pervasive problem that places our party in jeopardy nationwide. I have said that, without question, we cannot prevail as a party without conservatives. But it is equally certain we cannot prevail in the future without moderates. There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of government majorities - indeed, it was when we began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash." In other words, the party suffered when it sold its soul to the right-wing religious crowd, and if the Republican Party wants to continue on that track, it will be increasingly marginalized as a force in American politics. Maybe the Democratic Party can continue to capitalize, but the leaders of that party have proven to be the idiotic equals of the GOP leadership. Maybe it's the Libertarians who will bear the fruit from the Republicans' planting of a spreading orchard of intolerance that would make a born-again Johnny Appleseed proud. If Republicans insist on "purifying the party," they do so at the risk of their own extinction. Snowe offers a simple road map to salvage the party's future, and it comes in the form of remarks from GOP icon Ronald Reagan. Said the Gipper: "We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only 'litmus test' of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth tax policies, tax reduction, sound national defense and maximum individual liberty. As to the other issues that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement." Better get busy with that tolerance thing. It hasn't been the party's strong suit of late.

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Why are they anonymous?

Washington police have arrested three 15-year-old boys and sent them to an Ohio juvenile facility on charges that they torched the former Salisbury Auto Body on Donnan Avenue? Who are these kids? Damned if I know. The identities of juveniles who are accused of criminal activity are typically shielded from public view by police and the courts. That might be fine for a shoplifter or a kid who smacks another teen in a street fight. But when a teenager is accused of setting a blaze that destroyed one building, threatened other people's homes and put the lives of firefighters and police officers at risk, the community deserves to know their names. What if they are released into the custody of their parents until their proceedings in juvenile court? Wouldn't it be good for people who live near these three to know that they're accused of this serious crime?

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Bull@#*& alert!

Nobody every accused the NRA of being a thoughtful, deliberative, common-sense organization. Rigid, reactionary and retarded are three words that quickly spring to my mind. Offer up any gun-control proposal, no matter how mild or well-intentioned, and to the NRA, it's the first slippery step toward armed members of Barack Obama's national service corps bursting through people's doors to seize their squirrel rifles. I'm against most gun controls. Rather, I favor stiff penalties and enforcement against people who use them to commit crimes. But the NRA can be so laughable. Case in point: Pittsburgh city government enacted a law requiring gun owners to make a report when they lose a weapon or have one stolen. Now, the law was ill-conceived from the get-go, and it's totally unenforceable, because there's really no way to prove that someone knew one of their weapons had gone missing. But leave it to the NRA to employ maximum overkill. The organization has, of course, sued Pittsburgh City Council and the mayor in a bid to overturn the measure. The suit argues, probably correctly, that the city is overstepping its bounds when it gets into the area of regulating weapons. But the NRA then makes the asinine claim that the law "severely restricts and/or infringes" on citizens' constitutional right to keep firearms in their homes. What? I'm sure they would try to make some twisted argument about how this infringement supposedly occurs, but "severely"? That's just ludicrous. I'm going to say this one more time, though I'm not counting on getting through the thick skulls of people who believe otherwise: No one from the government is coming to your house to take your handguns and rifles. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not next year. Never. Ever. Ever. But just keep paying those dues to the NRA so its well-paid leaders, lawyers and lobbyists can keep acting like horse's asses on your behalf.

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MLK rolling in his grave?

If you were the children of a famous, widely beloved person, and a group wanted to raise $120 million to build a memorial in their honor, how would you react? I don't know about you, but I'd be greatly honored and would ask how I could help. But the children of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had a different reaction. They wanted money, and lots of it, in order to allow the use of their father's words and image. The cost of a proposed King monument, which is to be constructed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is being financed almost entirely by donations that, so far, have added up to about $104 million. That includes $10 million in taxpayers' money. And the tribute payment to the King family: $800,000. I think that's disgusting, and so does Cambridge University historian David Garrow, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of King. "I don't think the Jefferson family, the Lincoln family ... I don't think any other group of family ancestors has been paid a licensing fee for a memorial in Washington," Garrow told the AP. "One would think any family would be so thrilled to have their forefather celebrated and memorialized in D.C. that it would never dawn on them to ask for a penny." Clearly, Garrow hasn't spent much time around the King children. They've become a running joke over the years, squabbling among themselves, hiring locksmiths to keep one another out of the King Center in Atlanta and suing one another over the money they've accumulated by feasting on their father's good name. A few years back, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a series of articles about the King Center finances, reporting that even though the center was in need of repairs, cut back its civil rights programming and spent more money than it took in most years, MLK son Dexter King was paid a salary of $180,000, and his brother, Martin III, took in $150,000. That doesn't count millions the center gave to a for-profit company run by Dexter King, according to the paper. It's all an unseemly mess, made worse by the appearance that the King children are willing to do anything for the almighty dollar. I hesitate to suggest this, mainly out of fear that they'll act on it, but I wonder how much the King kids would charge to have a set of Golden Arches erected over their parent's graves? It's all about the Benjamins, right?

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C'mon guys, it's over

Barack Obama has been president now for more than three months, but the wing-dings at and other assorted loonies are still wasting their time sending out news release after news release about their efforts, wholly unsuccessful thus far, to get Obama tossed from office on the grounds that he wasn't born in America. Yes, the vast majority of us recognize the stupidity of this, but they don't. Either that, or they make a pretty good buck shoveling this idiocy to like-minded wingnuts. Obama already has produced a certificate of live birth from Hawaii (The ding-dongs want him to deliver a different kind of certificate). Hawaiian state officials have confirmed that Obama, without a doubt, was born in their state. Announcements of Obama's birth were published in both major Honolulu newspapers back in 1961. And every case brought by this collection of looneybins that has reached a conclusion has been soundly rejected, if not mocked, by the courts. But they don't give up. Who are they? Well, there's WorldNetDaily founder Joseph Farah, who is a crony of Rush Limbaugh, noted conspiracy theorist Dick Scaife and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. That should tell you all you need to know about him. Then there's Dr. Jerome Corsi. One of his claims to fame is the swift-boating of Sen. John Kerry. And let's not forget Pennsylvania's own Phil Berg who, among other zany pursuits, contended that President Bush was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks. I would block their e-mails to me, but where else can one find such great humor writing – free of charge, no less. The sad thing is that some people still believe their asinine claims are the truth.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Grab some pitchforks and torches

If anyone wants to have another tea party, boy do I have a great target: the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. That Pennsylvania's wine and liquor stores should have been privatized years ago is obvious. But the evidence keeps mounting that the politically protected PLCB is the gang that can't shoot straight, and it's costing you and me a boatload of money. The Post-Gazette had a great story the other day by Steve Twedt that outlined the latest shenanigans at the agency. The centerpiece of the story was that the PLCB, despite the protestations of Gov. Ed Rendell, is thinking about changing the name of its Wine and Spirits stores. It may not be necessary, but I'll point out here that the PLCB has a virtual monopoly on wine and liquor sales in Pennsylvania and really doesn't need to "sell itself" to customers. Also, it seems as if calling the retail locations "Wine and Spirits" stores is pretty darned descriptive. The P-G reports that last week, PLCB chief executive Joe Conti called the possible name change just a small part of a move to "rebrand" state stores under a $3.7 million consulting contract with a San Francisco firm. Conti, who got his job in a purely political move by Rendell that forced out board Chairman Jonathan Newman (no relation), the only person at the PLCB who seemed to have any idea what he was doing, refused to offer up any potential names for the stores, but sources within the PLCB told Twedt that one name had been under serious consideration until it was leaked and criticized. Actually, I'm guessing the name was mocked. Any guess as to what it was? Never mind. You couldn't possibly guess, because you're not mentally retarded. The proposed name was ... drum roll, please ... "Table Leaf." Sadly, I'm not joking. It was "Table Leaf." As I recall, a table leaf was something my grandmother put in the middle of her dining room table to expand its size for Thanksgiving dinner. What it has to do with selling wine and booze is anybody's guess. The stupidity over the renaming of the liquor stores follows closely behind the revelation that the PLCB was spending just short of $175,000 to hire a company to train workers on how to play nice with customers. The contract, which went to a company whose president is married to a PLCB regional manager, led to a manual for agency trainers that, according to the P-G, offered the following nuggets of genius in the way of objectives: "To gain knowledge of self, others and develop techniques to utilize during facilitation"; "to enable trainers to use various skills and techniques designed to enhance effective communication and transfer of knowledge"; and "to practice and apply adult facilitation skills." In other words, you give us about $175,000, and we'll tell you how to tell your employees how to talk to customers. Brilliant. And Conti tells the P-G that even if no name change comes to pass, the PLCB is about ready to launch a really sweet Web site and is focusing on such areas as store shelving, layouts and category management. Does anyone else think this sounds a lot like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? Enough is enough. We, the people, should demand an end to this anti-consumer joke of a government agency.

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Newt's a hoot

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House who now apparently has an eye on chasing the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, has his panties in a twist because, in his opinion, President Obama has been too cordial to enemies of America. Gingrich is blasting Obama for reaching out to Cuba, giving a friendly handshake to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, bowing to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and not reacting quickly enough to North Korea's recent rocket test. Let's take the last item first. American presidents have been dealing gingerly with North Korea for decades, and short of nuking them, there's only so much the United States can do. As for Cuba and Venezuela, I'm struggling to figure out what is wrong with trying to improve relations with those countries in our own hemisphere. Certainly, there's much to dislike about the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, and Chavez is a certifiable nutjob, but shouldn't we try to improve our relations with all countries of the world, even those who would be considered our enemies by many? We have no qualms about dealing with the repressive regimes in place in Moscow and Beijing, but clearly that's different in some people's minds. The Bush approach of either ignoring or, in some cases, demonizing countries that are unfriendly to us bore no fruit. In fact, it probably increased anti-American sentiment around the world. The Cuban embargo should have been lifted years ago. It has been an unmitigated failure. Fidel Castro remained in power for half a century, less than 100 miles from the U.S. mainland, and if anyone has been punished by the embargo, it's the people of Cuba. The embargo has remained in place only because American politicians refuse to quit pandering to Cuban-Americans in Florida. And finally, was Gingrich under a rock (or maybe a mistress) when Bush was practically French kissing King Abdullah, whose country gave us the majority of the Sept. 11 terrorists? I guess Newt just missed that. It's not like him to keep his mouth shut.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rallying the faithful

I have no objection to the folks who gathered yesterday in Waynesburg, Washington and across the country to hold "tea parties" objecting to the way their tax dollars are being spent by the folks in Washington, D.C. Freedom of expression is one of the great elements of our nation. But let's call these events what they really were: almost purely political Republican rallies. One focus of this sudden anger and concern about fiscal responsibility is the financial stimulus package approved after President Obama took office. Isn't it interesting that very few of these people felt the need to protest when billions were being wasted under the most recent Republican president and, until a couple of years ago, a Republican-controlled Congress. Let's face it. This is the centerpiece for the Republican Party's efforts in next year's midterm elections. It's a populist, hate-the-government platform. And since the current government is led by Democrats, isn't this just perfect timing? If the economy continues to struggle along and people are hurting financially, it could very well resonate with the voting public. However, if the economy turns around and relative prosperity returns, well, they'd better look for another tack. I do take issue with one part of the local protests. Could you protesters just leave your kids at home, or with a babysitter, rather than exploit them as sign-holding props in a debate of which they have limited understanding? The kids in the photo that appeared in the Washington edition of our paper today (above) looked as if they wished they were anywhere but on those courthouse steps. Why not just let kids be kids? They can decide later whether they want to be opportunistic reactionaries.

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Mum's the word

Would you like to know what members of the Washington County Authority board really think about the plan to build an upscale Wal-Mart at Southpointe II? Good luck with that. Wednesday night, members of the politically appointed panel did their best impressions of attendees at a convention of deaf-mutes. Asked to approve a property sale needed to clear the way for the Wal-Mart project, the members of the authority board – Bill Burt, John Rheel, Scott Frederick, Suzanne Ewing, Lawrence Miller and Dennis Dutton - didn't utter a peep when board chairman Alan Veliky asked twice for a motion on the matter. If they wanted to vote against the plan, that's fine. But these people didn't have the guts to even put the matter up for a vote or to take a public stand one way or the other. We could assume, I guess, that they all bowed to pressure from project opponents, or maybe from the politicians who appointed them to the board. Rod Piatt, president of developer Horizon Properties, said the authority never had the right to "pick and choose" what businesses locate in Southpointe II, but the panel essentially did just that by refusing to act on the property deal. Mike Swisher, a principal with Horizon Properties, said $200 million worth of construction and 3,000 jobs were at stake. Chris West of Cullinan Properties said the apparent demise of the Wal-Mart store will have a negative trickle-down effect. "We don't have the critical mass. It's going to kill our (movie) theater deal and other associated restaurants that were going to come along with it," he said. So now, the developers are back to square one, and in the current economic climate, most other major retailers are not expanding to new sites. The opponents can talk all they want about things such as traffic concerns. I think the real reason this project drew so much opposition is that the snooty suburbanites in that area were deathly afraid that a Wal-Mart might attract "the wrong kind of people." You can bet there would have been a lot less discontent if a Macy's had been slated for the site.

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Time to give it up

A federal appeals court this week tossed out a slander suit filed against Rep. John Murtha by a Marine facing charges in the killings of Iraqis in Haditha in 2005, but that hasn't stopped a local attorney from pursuing essentially the same case against the lawmaker. The U.S. Court of Appeals panel from the District of Columbia found in a case brought by Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich that Murtha, who suggested publicly that the Haditha civilians were killed "in cold blood" by U.S. troops, was covered by a 1998 law that protects federal employees from lawsuits over comments and actions in the course of their official duties. Somehow, attorney Noah Geary thinks that the slander suit he brought on behalf of former Marine Justin Sharratt of Canonsburg is different and will withstand a legal challenge. I sure don't see how. In a new amendment to the suit, Geary, shown above with Sharratt, claims Murtha made his comments about the Haditha incident in order to "curry favor" with soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Puh-leeze! He also contends that Murtha was wrong to offer his views while a Pentagon probe of the killings was in progress. "It is wholly foreign to employment as a member of the legislative branch to make conclusory statements of fact about an ongoing criminal investigation conducted by the executive branch." Hogwash. Murtha is a representative of his constituents in Pennsylvania, not just when he's on the floor of the House, but 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – much as a soldier is always on duty. Also, Murtha should not be expected to be a "potted plant," just sitting mum in his office. Murtha is a Vietnam combat veteran who also is chairman of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Seems to me that he has legitimate reason to be concerned about how a foreign war is being conducted, and the right to comment about incidents therein. It would have been better if Murtha had said there were "allegations" of misdeeds by the Marines in Haditha, but no one can say, categorically, that his comments, made after consultations with high-ranking military officials, were incorrect. The only ones who really know what went down that day in a dusty Iraqi town are the Marines who pulled the triggers and the people on the other end on their weapons. One group has a self-interest in how the story is told, and the other group ain't talking.

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Striking out at some easy targets

New Jersey has become the first state in the nation to require drivers 21 and younger to put a decal on their cars noting that a young driver is behind the wheel. Will that improve highway safety? Probably not one lick. Pam Fischer of the New Jersey Division of Highway Safety says the move will help police to determine whether young people are complying with other elements of the new law, which include a rollback of the driving curfew from midnight to 11 p.m. and banning teens from having more than one other young person in their cars. Also, the state is considering decals that would attach with Velcro so they could be removed when an older person is driving the vehicle. Is it just me, or do you think a young person who is violating one or more of the new restrictions just might pull off the decal? And if you have four teens who are going on a double date, and can no longer travel in one car, you're now putting two teenage drivers on the road instead of one. Is that a positive? And what is the state of New Jersey doing about dangerous drivers at the other end of the age spectrum? Not a damn thing. We just had more evidence of the dangers posed by elderly drivers last week, when a retired priest mowed down people outside a Pittsburgh-area church, killing one of them. His explanation? The accelerator pedal had a mind of its own. Isn't it funny that gas pedals seem to stick only on elderly people's cars? But our government leaders will continue to ignore this threat because old people vote. For the most part, kids don't, so they get the shaft.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How dumb do they think we are? Wait, don't answer that.

I got an e-mail today from someone purportedly representing the customer service department at Bank of America. It was advised that someone was using multiple computers and a variety of password combinations in a bid to secure entry to my Bank of America online banking account. It was urgent, said the e-mail, that I re-confirm my account information to them by tomorrow, or my account would be suspended indefinitely, "as it may have been used for fraudulent purposes." There was one really big problem with this e-mail. I don't have a Bank of America banking account. But you know what? I guarantee that someone, somewhere who also did not have a Bank of America banking account nevertheless sent personal and/or financial information to the site included in the e-mail. Why? Because they're dummies. And scam artists such as the ones behind the Bank of America ruse count on a certain percentage of their targets being stupid people. That's how they make money. There were other signs in the Bank of America e-mail that would lead any reasonably intelligent person to recognize they were a target of a scam. The bank logo was a grainy reproduction, and the entreaty concluded with thanks for my patience in this "mattern." We hear all the time through the media about dummies who give thousands of dollars of their life savings to people they've never seen or heard of, just because they're told that thousands more will be coming back to them if they do so. And yet people fall for this stuff again and again and again. There's an element of greed at work here, but the biggest factor is that some folks are just a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Anyone can fall victim to an identity-theft crime, but for some of these scams, you really have to be a dope to get shafted.

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Gay is OK again has backtracked after what it described as an "embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error" that led to tens of thousands of books being removed from the popular online retailer's sales rankings. At first, it was thought that gay-themed books such as Annie Proulx’s "Brokeback Mountain" were the main targets, but Amazon says the "error" involved more than 57,000 books "in a number of broad categories such as health; mind and body; reproductive and sexual medicine; and erotica." According to Agence France Presse, Mark Probst, author of a gay romance novel, said on his blog that he questioned Amazon about the deletion of his work and was told that the company was cutting "adult" materials from its Web searches and sales lists "in consideration of our entire customer base." It's a good thing that Amazon is rectifying the situation, but I'm not buying the explanation that this was an error. An error is dropping the cap from the toothpaste tube down the drain in the bathroom sink. This seems more likely to have been a deliberate act by someone trying to impose his or her own value judgments on literature. That worked in Hitler's Germany. It won't fly here. I hope.

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Good job, Boys

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is no stranger to controversy, or stupidity. The group's latest lame-brained stunt involved asking the musical group Pet Shop Boys to change its name to the Rescue Shelter Boys to focus attention on the plight of animals sold in pet shops. The Pet Shop Boys threw PETA a bone, so to speak, by saying the group raised issues worthy of discussion, but they declined the organization's request. According to Agence France Presse, PETA, in its letter to the Pet Shop Boys, alleged that "most dogs and cats sold in pet shops are sourced from profit-hungry breeders who may have bred them in cramped, filthy conditions." Or maybe not. PETA, of course, offered no valid support for its accusations. Also, the group failed to mention that most often there is no information about the breeding of animals one might find at a rescue shelter. Someone who adopts an animal from a shelter really has no idea whether that animal might be susceptible to diseases or conditions arising from improper breeding practices. PETA's core mission, to prevent mistreatment of animals, is a good one. But the group has failed to win broad support because many people consider it an extremist organization and a running joke. Perhaps PETA should be the one changing its name. How about "Jagoffs with too much time on our hands"?


Sunday, April 12, 2009

"He is not here, but is risen"

Best wishes to my Christian friends for a happy and glorious Easter Sunday.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Who do you think is the cat's pajamas?

Even those of us who are happily married sometimes cast a sideways glance at an attractive member of the opposite sex who crosses our path. Some folks might actually stare with their mouths hanging open. Heck, even pious Jimmy Carter admitted to committing adultery in his heart. Some people, men and women alike, have a fascination with celebrities, whether they be music stars, movie stars or just those folks who have no discernable talents (at least ones I can mention here) and are famous for being famous (see Paris Hilton). I’m not much of a star-worshipper. I regularly see women in Washington County who seem to me to be as attractive as most of those on the silver screen. I will take time out of my busy schedule to gawk if images of Scarlett Johansson (above) or Christina Ricci are easily accessible, but I’ve never understood why some men think Jennifer Garner is hot, and I am absolutely stunned that Sarah Jessica Parker is a Hollywood star. I mean, the woman (again, just in my opinion) is borderline homely, and her acting skills have never, ever been compared to Meryl Streep’s. Some men will tell you that they never look in an admiring way at any woman other than their wives. Here’s the deal. I don’t believe you. And you women, don’t pretend that you’re above all this. We men know that if Johnny Depp or Hugh Jackman came a-callin’, the next thing we’d hear from you might come in the form of a letter from a divorce lawyer. For most people, it’s harmless fantasy. We truly love the people we’re married to, and we’d actually turn down Scarlett or Johnny if they showed up at our doors (not that I bear any delusions that Scarlett Johansson will suddenly develop a taste for old, fat guys with no money; I do, however, hear that old fat guys with a boatload of money do pretty well for themselves). But I digress. Share with me and the readers of the blog your picks for the celebrities who mesmerize you, and those who are sex symbols for reasons you’ve never been able to figure out. And while we’re at it, tell us about someone you secretly find highly alluring, even though people would probably think you’re crazy. I’ll go first: It’s Flo, the lady in the Progressive insurance commercials. She raises my deductible.

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It looks as if the standoff with the Somali pirates who hijacked a U.S.-flagged cargo ship Wednesday will be short-lived. The pirates, who no doubt had a collective puckering of a certain part of their anatomies when they figured out they had captured a U.S. ship and crew, took off in a lifeboat with the ship's captain, leaving the crewmen behind. Just one problem with their escape plan: The lifeboat is out of gas and bobbing helplessly on the high seas, and a U.S. warship is on the way. Piracy expert Roger Middleton told the AP that the pirates are not in the best of positions. Said Middleton, “They’ve got only one guy, they’ve got nowhere to hide, they’ve got no way to defend themselves effectively against the military who are on the way and they are hundreds of miles from Somalia.” Middleton said the pirates might try to connect with a mothership, a vessel that tows pirates’ speedboats to sea and resupplies them as they look for targets, but he said they’re unlikely to get away. The latest hijacking is the 66th of the year, a figure already more than halfway to the total number of such incidents off the Horn of Africa last year. What’s the answer? It’s not as simple as we might think, according to experts, who say the pirates have a fairly easy time sneaking up on and boarding massive commercial vessels. Also, fighting back can be tricky, especially if the ships’ cargo happens to be oil or munitions that could blow sky high. And killing one small group of pirates probably isn’t going to scare off the next crew. If you’re a Somali who can look forward to a steady diet of rat-tail soup in a Mogadishu slum every day for the rest of your life, getting a cut of a multimillion-dollar ransom might make the risks involved seem acceptable, especially when virtually no pirates are losing their lives. I’m no authority on maritime safety, but it seems that the best bet might be to get more nations to send warships to that area, and to have them blow out of the water anything that even resembles a pirate mothership. It might not end the problem, but it might make some would-be pirates think twice about their career choice.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Now playing an extended engagement in Ottumwa?

The ink was barely dry on the order before the inevitable bleating and caterwauling began. Iowa's Supreme Court today unanimously overturned the state's gay-marriage ban, giving gay people a third state where they can legally be wed. Gay-rights advocates, as expected, hailed the justice inherent in the decision. As for the reaction from the other side, well, I could have done a pretty accurate job of typing up their comments in advance. Said Bryan English, spokesman for the conservative Iowa Family Policy Center, "I would say the mood is one of mourning right now in a lot of ways." He also made it clear that folks like him will now turn to state lawmakers in an effort to have a California-style referendum on the issue. "This is an issue that will define (lawmakers') leadership. This is not a side issue," said English. But of course. With all the issues confronting Iowa lawmakers, certainly stopping people who love one another from getting married should be at the forefront of their concerns. Then the Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr. of Maple Street Baptist Church in Des Moines issued this chilling statement: "It's a perversion, and it opens the door to more perversions. What's next?" I don't know. Maybe cats will start mating with birds in the streets of Davenport. Or maybe Toby Keith will suddenly release an album of show tune covers. According to, Iowa Rep. Steve King, a conservative Republican, called the decision an unconstitutional act by "activist judges." A friend remarked that when conservatives get a court ruling that's to their liking, it's a work of thoughtful jurisprudence by the judges involved, no matter how far the decision might stray from past rulings and existing constitutional law, but when a ruling goes against the right-wingers, it's always those darned "activist judges." King also fears Iowa is at risk of becoming a "gay marriage Mecca." I can help him there. Rep. King, I advise you to get your buddies in Congress together and legislatively enact equal marriage rights for all Americans. There. Mecca problem solved. The whole gay marriage debate isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but I can tell you this: The push for equal rights for gay Americans is a relentless tide, beating against the ramparts of intolerance, hate and ignorance. Those barriers will someday fall. It might take five years, 10 years or 20 years, but the die is cast. A new day is dawning. It's just a matter of how quickly we feel that sunshine.

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This is not too much to ask

A proposal under consideration by the Georgia legislature would demand that new drivers take a written license test in English. Does anyone see a problem with this? Of course they do. According to an AP story, some employers and immigrant advocates fear it would keep people unfamiliar with the English language from being able to work. Well, boo hoo. If someone wants to drive in this country, they should be able to read signs that are printed, primarily, in English. I'd prefer to share the road with folks who understand such instructions and warnings as "Dangerous Curve Ahead," "Men Working" and "Children Playing." If I moved to Brazil, I wouldn't expect to be granted a driver's license until I knew enough Portuguese to understand roadside instructions. People who move here should have the same expectations.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

True stories on April Fools' Day

One advantage the NFL has over the other major sports leagues is that its teams and players make news year-round. However, it's not always good news. Here are some updates on the major stories of the supposed offseason:

It appears that Jay Cutler will soon be known as the former quarterback of the Denver Broncos. For those of you who haven't been following along, Cutler has been in a funk since he found out that his employer had shopped him in trade talks in an effort to get Matt Cassel, late of the New England Patriots. Cutler's approach since then has been to act like a whiny little b ... uh, bad boy ... and demand that the Broncos trade him to a team that will appreciate him and kiss his keister in the manner to which he's become accustomed since Pee Wee ball. It appears he's getting his wish. There are reports out of Denver that the team is actively trying to trade Cutler. Just more evidence that the inmates are running the asylum.

Our old "friend" Michael Vick is slipping back into the public eye. The convicted dog murderer, whose prison term will soon be coming to an end, is now trying to get his finances in order in bankruptcy court. Earlier this week, there were reports that Vick has agree to pay his old employer, the Atlanta Falcons, about $6.5 million for leaving the team in the lurch via his criminal behavior. The settlement is expected to be one of the topics when Vick appears in bankruptcy court Thursday. If all goes according to plan, and the deal is approved, the Falcons would be in a position to cut Vick. Then it gets interesting. Will any team, lured by Vick's unquestioned athletic ability, be willing to take a chance on a "man" who viciously killed dogs? My guess is that someone will step forward, trot out the old chestnut that "everyone deserves a second chance" and sign this reprobate to a contract. Of course, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would have to sign off first, and he's gained a reputation as a "hanging judge" in dealing with players who break the law. But if Vick is cleared to play and signs with a team, how could any fan of that team, in good conscience, ever watch another one of their games? The good news is that the Steelers would never touch this kind of vermin.

And let's not forget our buddy Plaxico Burress. Plaxico's criminal case for stupidly shooting himself in the leg in a bar last November was continued this week until June. I don't really have a strong opinion on whether Plaxico deserves to go to jail on the charge of carrying an unlicensed .40-caliber handgun, but why was it necessary to delay the case? Supposedly, prosecutors and Burress' lawyers are discussing a plea deal, but Burress' people reportedly are balking at his doing any significant jail time. Burress attorney Benjamin Brafman said the two sides are "continuing to work our respective investigations." Investigations? It seems pretty cut and dried. The boob was carrying a handgun he shouldn't have been carrying. It went off and wounded him in the thigh. Either cut a deal or proceed to trial. Plaxico's current employers, the New York Giants, are said to be willing to take him back. Of course, these are the idiots who, despite Burress' repeated refusals to comport himself as a professional and/or an adult, signed him to a $35 million contract extension last September. Prosecutors are said to be seeking a one-year prison term for the wayward wide receiver. At the age of 31, Burress really can't afford to miss an entire season. And without football, Burress' future is a bit cloudy. I hope he has invested his earnings wisely over the years, because based on his public utterances during his years in Pittsburgh, and later in New York, it seems unlikely that he would be called upon to reprise Rex Harrison’s role in Shaw’s "Pygmalion.” Careers as a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist also appear to be out of the question.

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The future's not bright

Our entertainment writer, Brad Hundt, could probably offer a more incisive commentary on this, but it seems to me that hard times are ahead for Post-Gazette Pavilion, known to the locals as Star Lake Amphitheater. The venue has announced a dozen or so shows for this summer, and the first thing that strikes one is the average age of the performers. Jimmy Buffett and Rod Stewart are both in their 60s. Lynyrd Skynyrd has been around since I was a kid. Then you've got Def Leppard, Poison and Cheap Trick. Dave Matthews and Kid Rock, who are in the range of 40 years old, are spring chickens in this bunch. Sure, there are "younger" groups such as No Doubt, Nickelback and Coldplay on the roster, but they're the exceptions, not the rule. Star Lake drew huge crowds last year for the Police and Tom Petty, the two shows I attended, but the Police concert was a one-shot deal, and the Petty show could possibly have been his last in the area. It seems to me that the success of Star Lake is tied to acts that might not be performing five years from now. In the year 2015, who will be packing them in at these large concert venues? Among newer musical acts, a relative few could be counted upon to fill a 23,000-seat concert site. Could Star Lake survive by scheduling more festival-type shows that package together several groups from a particular genre? That's the type of show I would consider attending, but maybe I'm in the minority. As it is, I don't see a single offering on the Star Lake list that would entice me to drive to Burgettstown, and it's an easy trip for me. Couple that with the cost of tickets for a Star Lake show, and I prefer to go to Pittsburgh and see bands in smaller venues, at a better price. And with the current state of the economy, a lot of other people might be thinking the same way. It could be a slow summer at Star Lake.


The punishment should fit the crime

Read these first few paragraphs from a recent AP story:

TOMS RIVER, N.J. – A contractor changing the locks on an abandoned New Jersey house knew something was wrong as soon as he got near it.
Even from outside, the stench was overpowering. The contractor called police, who found a grotesque scene inside.
Beneath a veil of hundreds of flies, there was row after row of cages with the mummified remains of animals, some of which were so badly decomposed that officers had to use wire cutters to peel them from the cages. Animal feces was everywhere; a prosecutor walked through the Barnegat Township house wearing a haz-mat suit.
Piles of bones and fur that might have been a ferret or two were on the floor. And in the freezer, individually wrapped in towels, then tucked away in zip-lock plastic bags, were the bodies of 28 kittens.
By the end of the day, the remains of 68 animals, including dogs, cats and turtles, were found in the home where Matthew and Amanda Teymant once lived.

Now, can you guess how much jail time the Teymants got? That answer would be zero. Not a single day behind bars for these sad excuses for human beings. Prosecutors wanted Matthew Teymant to get a year behind bars. Instead, he and his wife were sentenced to probation and community service. The couple's lawyer explained that his clients become overwhelmed when they had two children and could no longer devote enough time to the animals. Gee, I guess they didn't have the five minutes that would have been required for a call to an animal rescue organization or the Humane Society. Instead, when they started having problems with their house, including a sewage backup, they just walked away, leaving dead and dying animals behind. Since the court system has failed miserably in this case, might I suggest that as their community service, the Teymants be required to live in small cages for a week, with no food or water. Cruel and unusual, you say? Maybe so, but wouldn't that punishment fit their crimes?