Friday, February 26, 2010


U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., was a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher back in the day. As a human being, he belongs in the Hall of Shame. On Thursday, the House passed a bill that, in part, would extend unemployment benefits for laid-off workers. The Senate planned quick action on the bill, because the benefits are due to expire this weekend. But that plan was wrecked by one person: Bunning. The Kentucky senator, who has a reputation of being a pain in the behind, even to his Republican colleagues, unilaterally blocked action on the measure because he said the overall bill would add $10 billion to the budget deficit. This is the same guy who had no qualms about grabbing hundreds of millions – probably billions – of dollars in pork-barrel spending for his state over his long Senate career, deficit be damned. He's also the same guy who created the tax-shielded Jim Bunning Foundation, a “non-profit” organization whose main beneficiary has been none other than Jim Bunning. According to a 2008 report in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Bunning raked in $180,000 in "salary" over 12 years for a "job" at which he reportedly worked one hour a week. Nice gig if you can get it. At the same time, the foundation gave out a little more than $136,000 to real charities. And no one was going to argue with Bunning, because the three-member board that oversaw the foundation consisted of Bunning's wife, an old pal of his and a guy who used to work for him who is now a lobbyist whose clients received pork barrel cash from the senator. Sweet. The guy's a real humitarian, unless of course you're a poor, unemployed person who is scratching and clawing to pay the mortgage, keep food on the table and pay the heating bill this winter. He clearly doesn't a damn about those folks, despite the fact that his home state has an unemployment rate of 10.7 percent, one of the highest in the nation. But what does Bunning care about what those folks think? He's retiring and not facing re-election. I guess I'll just be left to hope that Bunning develops gangrene in a most uncomfortable part of his anatomy. Is that mean?

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cleaning house

An AP story in today’s O-R notes that some teachers unions are now getting on board with what Timothy Knowles, director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, calls “more aggressive interventions in failing schools.” In other words, the unions are becoming more willing to participate in things like merit pay and cutting ties with underperforming teachers. While cleaning house might seem like a natural step in places like the Philly school referenced in the story (more than 90 percent of the high school’s 11th-graders last year couldn’t read or do math at grade level), there is the question of who will replace the fired educators. Raising salaries to attract better instructors might work to some degree, as might the prospect of merit pay, but the effort in Philly also involves making the school day longer, adding some Saturday sessions and holding classes in July. Those aren't selling points for most prospective employees. And let’s be honest. If you’re a top-notch teacher and have the choice of working harder in an inner-city school or plying you trade in a leafy suburb, which job are you going to take? There was another story that moved on the AP wire today about an impoverished school district near Providence, R.I., that has decided to fire every teacher, guidance counselor and principal at Central Falls High School, where only about half of the students graduate and only 7 percent of 11th-graders were meeting basic math standards last year. The union there says it is pondering its legal options. The union might have a point. Surely, there's at least one teacher there who doesn't deserve to be canned. But at the same time, when your school is a total disaster, bold moves are necessary. It will be interesting to see if this move toward accountability takes hold in our region, which is a staunch union area. We might have gotten an indication recently when not a single school district in Washington and Greene counties met the eligibility standards for grants that could have brought in six-figure checks. In many cases, the reason was that teachers unions refused to sign off on the proposal. One of the concerns was that student assessment data would be used in teacher evaluations. In fairness, there also were worries about what would happen if the federal money dried up. But it’s been pretty clear to me that unions have little interest in tying evaluations of teachers’ performances to the achievements of students. Teaching is a tough profession. Dealing with kids can be a pain, and dealing with their parents, especially those who don't give a damn, can be even worse. But the pay these days is pretty damn good, and teachers tend to have Cadillac health-care plans, wonderful pensions and, yes, plenty of time off in the summer. Back in the olden days, when I went to school, I had some excellent teachers who made learning fun and knew how to get information across. But I had others who couldn't teach a fish to swim. They shouldn't have been allowed to feed at the public trough for 30 years while failing their students. Every workplace – from newspapers to schools to factories – has its weak links. When private companies are involved, it's up to the managers and owners to weed them out. When those weak links are being paid with tax dollars, the public should have the right to expect they'll be removed.

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How much fuzz is too much fuzz?

Some people are easily offended. I'm not one of the them, but I understand that some folks have different sensibilities than I. That said, I think it's a bit much that Lamar Advertising in Colorado Springs, Colo., has rejected proposed bus stop advertising posters for a production of the Tony-winning musical “Avenue Q” because a puppet was showing a bit too much, um, skin. That's right. Excessive puppet cleavage is the given reason why the posters cannot be used. Jeff Moore, a Lamar account executive, says his company takes a conservative approach in politically conservative Colorado Springs, which is home base for some conservative Christian groups, including Jim Dobson’s gay-hating Focus on the Family. I saw “Avenue Q” in Pittsburgh a few years back. It’s a highly entertaining show, but it is definitely not for those who are against swearing, gay people and sex in general. However, it boggles the mind to think that anyone could get the vapors over a puppet wearing a revealing dress. Remind me to cross Colorado Springs off my potential vacation spots.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

How sincere

Troops are dying in Afghanistan, tens of millions of Americans are out of work and some nut flew a plane into an IRS building, but the BIG news this week is that Tiger Woods went before a TV camera and apologized for being lower than whale poop. The other night, with all that is going on in the world, ABC News' lead story was that Tiger was going to talk about his well-publicized, self-inflicted problems. Not that he WAS talking, but that he was GOING to talk. That's a sad statement about what passes for news judgment these days. And this wasn't even what one would typically consider to be a news conference. Tiger was going to read from a written statement and was refusing to answer any questions. It was all very self-serving, but most of the news media treated it as if Moses were coming down from the mountain to issue 10 more commandments. On Friday, Woods spoke for about 15 minutes. I can sum it up for you this way: Tiger is "deeply sorry" for his "irresponsible and selfish behavior." He has let us down. His wife didn't hit him with a 5-iron. He's not going to answer any questions about the status of his marriage. He's getting back into his Buddhist faith. He's going for more therapy. And he plans to return to golf someday. No @#$%, Sherlock. Does anybody really think Tiger is going to skip the Masters in April? Really, those were the only noteworthy statements in his entire speech. Only a handful of writers and a single TV camera were invited to this self-serving event. To its credit, the Golf Writers Association of America declined to send any of its members. Certainly, Woods has the right to set whatever ground rules he wants, but reporters don't have to be a part of the charade. The reaction of some media personalities was ridiculous. George Stephanopoulos of ABC said the speech was “one of the most remarkable public apologies ever by a public figure." Go overboard much, George? And golf analyst David Feherty of CBS said, "The vast number of people just want their Tiger Woods back." No, David. The vast majority of people really don't give a damn whether they ever see Tiger Woods again. Their lives just aren't that shallow. But CBS, I'll bet, really wants its Tiger Woods back, because he's the meal ticket for that network's golf coverage. I give credit to Rick Cerrone, the former public relations director of the New York Yankees. He saw through the BS and told CNN, "What I saw was arrogance. It was basically an infomercial." It's early, but I'd give the award for stupidest reaction to Debert Cook, publisher of African American Golfer's Digest, who said, "I think we are entering a whole new era spiritually and emotionally for Tiger Woods." Pardon me while I puke. The Onion gave the speech the gravity that it deserved, putting up a story with the headline, “Tiger Woods Announces Return to Sex." As always with Tiger Woods, it's all about Tiger Woods. And I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who believes that if Tiger hadn't gotten caught, he'd still be hitting the sack with as many cocktail waitresses as he could get his hands on.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Creating a smokescreen

A few thoughts about the Winter Olympics:

– That was quite a tap dance that Olympic officials did after a Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, went off the luge course, hit a pole and died last Friday. The International Olympic Committee and officials of the sport basically blamed Kumaritashvili for his own death, citing the 21-year-old's relative inexperience. But his deadly accident came on the same day a veteran slider lost his sled in an accident and had to hang onto it for dear life as he shot down the track. And what did the IOC and luge officials do after telling everyone that the track was perfectly safe? They put up a big wall to prevent anyone else from hitting the pole, and they changed the starting points for the men and women lugers to cut down the speeds. There are also reports that Canadian Olympic officials did what they could to prevent lugers from other nations from practicing at the site until just before the games, in order to give their lugers a home-track advantage. Shameful.

– The missus is a huge Winter Olympics fan, so I've seen nothing else on my television since Friday night. I find some of the sports enjoyable to watch. Speed skating comes quickly to mind. But some of this stuff, like cross-country skiing and the ice dancing part of the figure skating competition, make curling look like “Rollerball.” And would it be too much to ask NBC to show more of the actual competitions, even if the competitors are from Zingzangistan and not in contention for medals, rather than blab, blab, blab for 50 minutes out of every hour? A little less talk, a lot more action would be nice.

– Speaking of figure skating, did anyone else notice that in the pairs and ice dancing competitions, there are a bunch of people who were born in one country but are skating under another country’s flag? Apparently, a guy from the United States can skate for France if his third-cousin’s grandmother’s brother once ate a croissant. Seriously, these rules need to be tightened up so that the competitors have to compete for the country in which they were born and lived all their lives.

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Stop the insanity

Anyone who watched the Pittsburgh TV news Friday night or Saturday no doubt saw the coverage of the incident at the Giant Eagle in Murrysville. According to police, an 86-year-old man behind the wheel of a 1993 Oldsmobile (what else) was backing his car out of a parking space when he bashed into a vehicle behind him. At that point, he surged forward, out of control, toward the store's entrance and went up on the sidewalk, hitting an unfortunate 48-year-old woman who was slammed so hard into the front glass door that her body shattered it. The octogenarian then backed up before lurching forward again and smashing into a pillar in front of the store. The woman who was struck had multiple open fractures and chest injuries that required her to be flown to a Pittsburgh hospital. The driver also was flown for treatment. The woman who was hit by the car in this case, believe it or not, is one of the lucky ones. Sometimes people die because family members, doctors and even our state legislators refuse to confront the problem of the dangers posed by elderly drivers who no longer have any business being behind the wheel of a multi-thousand-pound piece of machinery. Much in the way that we need to stop the hazardous practice of people driving while they gab away or text on their hand-held cell phones, somebody needs to address the issue of members of the "greatest generation" mowing down people with their Oldsmobiles and Buicks. Family members need to do whatever is necessary, even reporting their loves ones to the proper authorities, if necessary, to get their parents and grandparents off the roads when they start posing a threat to themselves and others. Doctors need to do their duty by reporting those who should have their licenses pulled. And our legislators should have the courage - yeah, right - to impose mandatory driver re-testing after a certain age. Those who object to these measures often argue that young people have more accidents. Maybe they do, but most of those young drivers, through experience and the maturation process, will eventually become good drivers. Unfortunately, there's really no substitute for experience when it comes to improving one's driving skills. But those young people aren't wrecking because they forget which pedal makes the car go and which one stops it, or which gear makes the car go forward and which one makes it go backward. And those elderly drivers aren't going to get better with advancing age. For most of them, it's a one-way trip toward being a threat to all of us.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow of the century

The recent snowstorm was, in many ways, a learning experience. We learned, once again, that it's foolish to trust TV weather forecasters, or, as I like to call them, the boys and girls who cry "wolf." Typically, they oversell the storms that are approaching, calling for six or eight inches when we end up with one or two. But in this case, they called for a lot of snow, and we got a LOT more than they predicted. We also learned that Allegheny Power is a pretty darned good utility company. At my house, we lost power about 10 p.m. Friday, and we didn't get it back until we got home from work Monday evening. At the time, when you're freezing your behind off INSIDE the house and have no water because the well pump runs on electricity, it seems like a ridiculously long time to be without power. But when you consider the magnitude of the job – more than 400,000 people without power just in Allegheny’s service area – you realize the great work they did, and you have to applaud the dedication of those who work for the utility company. As of today, Allegheny Power was still trying to restore service to about 30,000 people in Greene and Washington counties. I can feel the pain of those still waiting, because you really don't realize how much you depend on electricity, and how much you take it for granted, until it's not there. You're left huddling under mountains of covers in the dark, and it's not a pleasant experience. I personally learned that complacency is a very bad thing. I could have checked my generator on a warm September day, but I didn't. Heck, the power never goes out for more than a few hours at a time, right? And the generator will fire up without protest despite not running in ages, right? Wrong and wrong. When the generator doesn't work during a long power outage, that's not good. I know that now. Thanks to my Uncle Bill, one of those people who can truthfully be described as being so kind and generous that he would give you the shirt off his back, the generator is back in service. He went way beyond the call of duty. Which is another lesson. We need to be more thankful for family and friends who are there for us in tough times. I couldn't count on both hands the number of people who either lent us a hand or offered to take us into their homes. It was greatly appreciated. I also appreciated the work done by PennDOT and the local road crews. People like to gripe about PennDOT, but my trips to and from Washington were blessedly uneventful, thanks to their untiring efforts. I also gained more appreciation for my wife, who hung in there like a trouper and was everything you could hope for as a partner in a tough situation. Those city girls can be tougher than one might think. And I'm sure about one thing: From now on, when I flip a light switch, adjust the thermostat or turn on the faucet in the kitchen sink, in the back of my mind, I'll be telling myself not to take those things for granted.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

This is why I find some Republicans frightening

It's become crystal clear that Republicans in Congress will vote in total lockstep against anything significant proposed by President Obama, even if he proposed that Congress be turned over to the Republicans. If Obama wants it, they're against it, even if they would benefit from it or previously supported it. This makes me wonder what sort of people are still supporting these jackasses. (No need to tell me that the Democratic ranks in Congress also are primarily filled with jackasses. I'm aware of that.) Thanks to a poll conducted for the Daily Kos Web site by Research 2000, I have some answers. My thanks to the 2 Political Junkies blog for bringing it to my attention. Before you GOP backers get your panties all in a twist, I know that Daily Kos is a liberal Web site. But Research 2000 is a well-respected, non-partisan, independent polling outfit. Their poll involved 2,000 self-identified Republicans. Here are some of the findings, which I find sad and scary. Nearly 70 percent of those polled agree or are on the fence about the idea that Obama should be impeached. No reason was given, but I assume it's because he's a white-hating, terrorist-loving sumbitch who is also a "furriner." Gee, I guess I was right on at least one count, because the next question asks whether those polled think Obama is a socialist. Nearly two-thirds believe he is, and 16 percent are thinking it over. For the record, that's just dumb. Now, for something dumber. Nearly a quarter of those responding believe Obama wants the terrorists to win, and another 33 percent are not sure. Those people are idiots. More than three-quarters of the Republicans questioned believe or are willing to consider that ACORN stole the 2008 election. You have to be a little bit mentally ill to believe that. Oh, lookey here, I'm right about something else regarding why Republicans want Obama impeached. More than 30 percent believe the president is a racist who hates white people, and 33 percent more are unsure. Here's another crazy one. Nearly one-quarter of those polled think their state should secede from the United States. There was no follow-up question about whether gay people and minorities would be allowed to live in those states after secession. Wait. Maybe I have that answer. It seems that the percentage favoring secession is highest in the South, by a pretty fair margin. Hmmmmm. I'll sum up the area of gay rights by saying that the Republicans surveyed overwhelmingly oppose equality for gay people. We know Republicans, by and large, don't want gay folks to be allowed to marry, but almost three-quarters of those responding think gay people should be prohibited from teaching in public schools. Oh boy. The Republicans surveyed are against sex education, and they're also overwhelmingly opposed to aborting any pregnancies resulting from kids' lack of knowledge about how to prevent babies from getting made. Not a surprise. A lot of very moderate, reasonable people are against abortion. But here's where it gets squirrelly. Nearly half of those polled believe or are willing to consider a ban on the use of contraceptives, and even more think that the use of birth-control pills is the equivalent of abortion. So, very clearly, it's not enough for some Republicans if abortion were outlawed. A significant percentage of them think it should be against the law to attempt to prevent a pregnancy. That's tin-foil hat territory. And maybe somebody should point out to them that outlawing birth control would lead to more abortions. So maybe a little more thought is in order before they schedule that condom-burning rally. But I've saved the best stuff for last. More than half of those responding think Sarah Palin is better qualified than Barack Obama to serve as president, and 33 percent can't make up their mind on that question. Say what you will, I'm laughing out loud at that one. And even after all this time, 36 percent of Republicans polled think Obama was born somewhere other than the United States, and 22 percent are undecided. Really? To believe that, a person would have to be so intellectually crippled that keeping their spit in their mouth would require constant concentration. And finally, more than three-quarters of those responding believe that students in public schools - PUBLIC SCHOOLS - should be taught that "the Book of Genesis explains how God created the world." If that ever happens, I want to be given the right to offer the alternative view that Tim the Enchanter from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" really created the world. In closing, while I was looking around Research 2000's Web site, I came across their recent prediction that Sarah Palin will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. These are the same folks who accurately predicted in June 2007, when Hillary Clinton had been all but crowned the Democratic presidential nominee, that Hillary would NOT be the choice in 2008. So, for all of you who criticize me for keeping track of what Sarah Palin is saying, arguing that she's not worthy of so much attention, I beg to differ. I shudder to think what would happen to this country if she and those who think like her ever gained control of this country. And I'm going to continue to point that out. My apologies to those who are offended.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The holy hotline

There's an old saying that a fool and his money are soon parted. Now, I'm not claiming that those who avail themselves of a new telephone service are fools, but they'll definitely be parting with some of their money. A group of businessmen has created what it calls the Bless Me Network, which it describes in a press release as a "service that allows people of the Christian faith to call a toll-free number and speak with members of the clergy. Just one catch. Once you call the toll-free number, if you want to actually talk with a priest or a preacher, you'll have to ante up $1.99 for the first minute and 99 cents for each additional minute. John Adams, the chief operating officer of the outfit, says the Bless Me Network provides "affordable faith-based counseling with a level of convenience and confidentiality that has never existed before.” The network says it will give more than 50 percent of its earnings to clergy, church, charity and humanitarian aid over the next five years. Anyone want to bet that it'll be 50.1 percent? And do they pocket all of the money after five years? I don't know. But here's the interesting part: the network expects those charitable donations to exceed $200 million dollars over the five-year period. So that suggests to me that their take will also be pretty close to $200 million. Not a bad little business venture. I suppose that if you're having some crisis of faith or other spiritual emergency at 4 a.m., this might be helpful. But if your problem is such that you need to call a man or woman of the cloth in the wee hours, it's probably pretty darned serious, and it might take quite a while to work it out. If we're talking a half hour, that's $30.70 on your next phone bill. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like there's a risk that some really troubled people who aren't the sharpest tools in the shed might get taken advantage of. And there are plenty of people who can talk with folks about these kinds of spiritual and personal problems. They're the ministers and priests who live right here in our own communities. I'm not a religious person, but I know several pastors in our area who would be very helpful to talk with if I needed their input, and they wouldn't send me a bill. And I'm sure there are many more very caring, effective members of the clergy with whom I am not personally acquainted. I do want to thank the Bless Me Network for indirectly leading me to a business idea. While doing a little research before posting this item, I ran across a Wikipedia entry on religion in the United States. It cited a study that found the number of people in this country claiming no religious identification (atheists, agnostics, humanists, deists, etc.) rose from an estimated 14.3 million in 1990 to 34.2 million in 2008, which translates to a jump from 8 percent of the population in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. So, coming soon to a phone near you: "Talk to a Heathen." I'm telling you, it's catching on.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

If she were one of the Seven Dwarfs, she'd be Dopey

You can always count on Sarah Palin to create a mountain out of a molehill, or to create a mountain where not even a molehill exists. This time, the target of her dumbness is White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. It seems that Emanuel, at a policy session a few months back on the health-care issue, used the term "f-ing retarded" to describe liberal activists who were thinking about running ads against some Democratic lawmakers. Well, old "death panel" Palin has gotten wind of this, and she's calling on President Obama to fire Emanuel because of his use of profanity and what she calls his "slur on all God's children with cognitive and developmental disabilities.” Emanuel has never denied the oft-told tales about his regular use of cuss words. But to suggest that he's taking a shot at handicapped people is just absurd. Webster defines retarded as "slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress." That certainly does not apply only to people who are handicapped. It could well be applied to some of our politicians, of all parties and persuasions. It also might very well be applied to Palin, who required nearly a half-dozen colleges to obtain a single bachelor's degree. And anyone who saw her interview with Katie Couric can speak to Palin's intellectual shortcomings. This tempest in a teapot brings to mind a controversy about a decade ago, when an aide to then-Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams quit his post because of the furor over his use of the word "niggardly." A black co-worker apparently took that to be a racial slur when, in fact, the word means "miserly." It has no racial connotation whatsoever. Maybe people who don't know the meaning of words, or that words can have more than one acceptable meaning, should just keep their mouths shut. And if any of you want to take me to task for writing about Palin again, I'll offer a deal. If Palin agrees to stop doing and saying stupid things, and of going out of her way to draw attention to herself, I'll quit blogging about her. In other words, I'll be blogging about Palin for a long time.

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