Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Vandalz R Kool

The other day I blogged about the carousel park construction project that has forced me to wait at a different location for my bus after work. There is a stop about a block away from the usual one, which is not so bad. Today, however, two buses skipped the temporary stop and proceeded on to the rest of the route. Some of us waited over half an hour for a bus that was never going to show up. The Port Authority is working against its riders now. Not a smart move to make when every bit of news about the transit service provider revolves around the words, "We need more money!"

So I caught a bus to downtown Pittsburgh and transferred to one that passes through my neighborhood. The ride to town wasn't bad, since there was not nearly as much traffic on the road as there would have been before the last term at the local universities started. The ride from town to home was rough, as I needed to stand and hang onto the metal railing above my head. My equilibrium is terrible, so it is always an adventure for me to ride standing up. About halfway through, feeling lousy and wondering when it was all going to be over, I looked above the railing and looked at the Port Authority's list of no-nos for bus riders. The usual restrictions applied: No Smoking, No Open Food or Drink, No Radios without Headphone, No Bare Feet, etc. And at the bottom of the list, someone had added this gem:

Suddenly, everything about the ride home was made better. I can't explain it, but that little smack of graffiti made me happy. Normally I detest graffiti, but this was different.

I felt like exclaiming, "Take THAT, Port Authority!"

Instead, I might try composing missives to my elected representatives at the State Capitol in Harrisburg to tell them that Port Authority service is lousy and the unionized fatcats who make a living off of high fares and even higher taxpayer dollars need to be added to the unemployment rolls as soon as possible. But I won't. I'll just wait for them to surf on in here and read this for themselves.

The Party's Not Over; Everyone's Just Chilling Out

The Trib ran an article yesterday that might well have been titled "The Allegheny County Republican Party SUCKS". After one read through I had to go back and see if my perceptions were accurate -- yep, everyone quoted is a Republican. None of the criticism came from the other side.

The timeline at the side of the article shows why the local Republicans had reason to be optimistic just a few years ago. An upset victory in the 1995 County Commissioners' race, followed by Jim Roddey election as the first County Executive four years later, indicated that the party was about to emerge from the abyss it had fallen into over fifty years earlier.

The national party seemed to fall into a slump back in 1991 when, following the death of Senator John Heinz, a relatively unknown Democrat named Harris Wofford defeated former Governor Dick Thornburgh in a special election. Democrats were energized and Republicans were demoralized; for some reason, the outcome of one election in one of fifty states was seen as a repudiation of President Bush (41). Well, Bill Clinton did win two consecutive terms as President afterwards. There could be a local parallel here:

After nearly a decade of gains, the wind dropped out of the sails for local Republicans in 2003, when Republican county Chief Executive Jim Roddey was defeated for re-election by Democrat Dan Onorato.

The perception that the party is on the ropes was not improved two weeks ago, when state Rep. Michael Diven, a Democrat-turned-Republican from Brookline, failed to win a Pittsburgh-area state Senate seat. Diven was defeated decisively by Democrat Wayne Fontana, of Brookline. The loss dispelled the hope that Republicans here could duplicate other recent GOP gains in the region, including a Senate seat in Westmoreland County that a Republican won in November.

The Diven loss was as demoralizing for local Republicans this year as the Thornburgh loss was for the national party fourteen years ago. Could history repeat? Let's hope so. Two years after Clinton was first elected, Republicans took a majority in Congress (House and Senate) that they still enjoy today.

After the assault on my US mailbox by the Diven campaign in the recent special election, you would think that the party had money to burn. Not so, say the county Republicans, and they are calling in the big guns to help pass around the collection plate:

A money-raising event that's scheduled for June 9 at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown, should help a lot, [Executive Director Monica] Douglas said. The keynote speaker will be Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman. The event is expected to draw more than 400 Republicans and raise about $20,000, which would be comparable to last year's event, Douglas said.

"I sense a tremendous amount of excitement and enthusiasm among our rank-and-file committee members," she said.

Someone has been watching The Phantom Menace again. ("I sense an unusual amount of fear for something as trivial as this trade dispute" --Qui-Gon Jinn) Either that, or the force really is strong with her. Or maybe she is just trying to sound overly optimistic about things. Dissent within the party does exist:

"Morale doesn't seem to be what it should be," said Bob Hillen, chairman of the Pittsburgh Republican Committee and a GOP candidate for City Council.

Party loyalists he has spoken with in the suburbs say they are discouraged over local races. "They keep telling me they're not getting any help from the county (party)," Hillen said.

Pittsburgh has been treated as a lost cause for decades, so you expect the county party not to put a great deal of effort into the city. When the suburbs start complaining, then you know that the situation is much worse than the Jedi council makes it out to be. Before they start planning these huge fundraisers, the Allegheny County Republicans needs to work more closely with the suburbs. A good way to start would be to strengthen party organizations at the most basic levels. Some areas have begun doing so on their own:
Work this spring has produced new organizations in communities such as Dormont and Crafton, where Republicans have made few inroads, she said.

Gary Young, 53, chairman of the recently formed GOP committee in Dormont, said he and others decided to become more active after working as volunteers in President Bush's re-election campaign.

"It's very exciting," he said. "We feel energized and optimistic."

It doesn't sound as though the county party had much to do with it. But it is a good model for making inroads into other areas -- all that is needed is the same energy and optimism that jump-started the Dormont committee. It needs to be done soon, too:

With key elections in the picture next year -- including Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Penn Hills, facing a serious challenge in his re-election bid, and a mounting GOP effort to unseat Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell -- the Allegheny County Republican Committee's ability to muster its troops is critical, said Kent Gates, a longtime Republican operative in Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh-area politics.

Gates, who was Roddey's campaign manager in 1999 and 2003, said he's troubled by the outlook in Allegheny County.

"I don't think there is a cohesive effort to build the party for next year," he said.

Oddly enough, it seems like the Republicans have a better shot at knocking off Rendell than they do of getting Santorum reelected. Ever since his election to the Senate, Rick has been all over the map politically, or at least much more so than his detractors would recognize. It would be interesting if Lynn Swann survives the primaries next year and defeats Fast Eddie in October. If that happens, expect to see more pro football legends running for office all across America.

The last word in the article is given to the Executive Director:

Douglas said the party is on track.

"I have every confidence that going into the next election cycle, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with," she said.

There she goes again, talking about the force. Actually, this makes her sound more like Chancellor Palpatine than a Jedi, which might not be such a bad thing. After all, as anyone who has seen Episode III can tell you, the Sith defeated the Jedi.

Monday, May 30, 2005

More Thoughts On Star Wars

For the second consecutive Saturday, I ventured forth to watch Revenge of the Sith. This time I took my young sons (ages 7 and 5), and warned them that parts of the movie were scary. After it was over, they informed me that it was not scary. So much for the hype. I may need at least one more big screen viewing before I can get everything off my chest about this film, but I'll give it a shot here anyway:

  • At both viewings, the audience laughed out loud exactly once: When Yoda walks into the Emperor's office and casually knocks down the red guards with the slightest gesture of his hands. The only explanation for the way this scene played out is that George Lucas is making up for the lack of comical scenes calling for C-3PO. The poor droid seemed out of place in this film.
  • He did have a good moment near the end, when Bail Organa asked Captain Antilles to erase Threepio's memory. My understanding is that this was done because C-3PO was a notorious blabbermouth who would likely have spilled the beans about Anakin being Darth Vader and revealed Princess Leia's true parentage. Why, then, was he (along with Artoo) a witness at the wedding of Anakin and Padme in Episode II? Did Anakin really think that he could trust this silly robot that he built when he was a child? When Anakin returns from the big rescue at the beginning of Episode III, he and Chancellor Palpatine are greeted by a large group of Galactic Senators. C-3PO comes out to greet R2-D2. What would have stopped Threepio from calling out, "Master Annie! Your wife, Miss Padme, who serves the planet Naboo as Senator Amidala, will be so happy to see you since she wants to surprise you with the news that she is pregnant with your child!" Think about that. It's just the kind of silly, stupid thing Threepio would say. Why trust him to know about your marriage?
  • When Padme does in fact tell Anakin that she is expecting, he hesitates with an unhappy look in his eyes before saying anything positive about this bit of news. I kept expecting him to say, "Swell. But let me ask you just two simple questions: How long have I been gone, and how long have you been pregnant?"
  • The Jedi are supposed to be able to sense one another's thoughts. How often have you heard someone in a Star Wars movie say, "Your thoughts betray you..."? Anakin was in love with a Senator; he was married to her, and he was sleeping with her. She was constantly on his mind. He was starting to have dreams about her. Why couldn't even Master Yoda and Master Windu sense that Anakin was so deeply involved in a forbidden relationship? Darth Sidious must have been doing some pretty big-time Dark Side force-clouding of the Jedi's perceptions to keep them from learning about Anakin's marriage.
  • Sidious had been plotting to turn Skywalker to the Dark Side ever since Anakin was a little boy. Staging his own kidnapping (as Chancellor Palpatine) was a bold move on the part of the Dark Lord. Was he supremely confident that he could survive the rescue attempt? Anakin nearly got himself, and Palpatine, and Obi-Wan Kenobi killed on General Grievous's doomed flagship just by trying to save their lives. Palpatine looked seriously terrified. He must have figured that if Skywalker could get him out of that mess, he was more than worthy of being chosen and the new Sith apprentice.
  • After escaping from his burning wreck of a ship, Grievous makes his way to a holographic communications console and immediately makes contact with Darth Sidious, who was either on hold with Grievous's receptionist for an indefinite period of time, or just happened to be sitting by the phone with his hood up when the General called. Does General Grievous know that this is the same individual whom he had recently kidnapped and held hostage? The movie never makes this clear. Grievous seems to know that Count Dooku and Darth Tyranus are the same man, but he never says anything to Darth Sidious like, "Sorry I spent the whole time trying to get my sorry metallic butt of the wrecked ship instead of saving you, my lord, but I had to keep up the pretense". Would he have been so cavalier about abandoning Palpatine if he knew that Palpatine was his boss? Hard to say. The Dark Side clouds all.
  • When the Jedi, with Palpatine, are trying to get back to Coruscant on whatever is left of the wrecked vessel, Anakin says, "Under the circumstances, I'd say the ability to pilot this thing is irrelevant." All he needed to do was land it safely. This is a chilling mirror image of something that one of the 9-11 highjackers allegedly said to his instructors at flight school, that he only wanted to learn how to fly an airplane, not land it.
  • Anakin's robotic right arm, during the post-nightmare trauma, makes more noise than C-3PO's entire body.
  • There are several young models, actresses and other women who have been given tiny bit parts in the last couple of Star Wars movies as Jedi, Senators, waitresses and whatnot. They go to all the conventions, pose for pictures with geeks, and are probably more in-demand because of their connections with Star Wars than for anything they have ever done before, or will ever do in future. As painful as it is to contemplate, I feel like I need to ask: How many times did you bimbos have to sleep with George Lucas before he put you in his movies?
  • I bet Anakin could have force choked Mace Windu and dropped his sorry bald head on the carpet before Windu could finish saying, "Take a seat, young Skywaaacckkkkkt..." Looks like you're short a Jedi Master, guys. Here I am.
  • Yoda climbs and rides Chewbacca's shoulders the same way that my kids ride mine. I thought that was funnier than Yoda dropping the red guards.
  • The Jedi in general come off as a bunch of morons in this movie. Why didn't Anakin question Palpatine's extensive knowledge of Sith lore and the Dark Side of the Force when they were watching the aquatic ballet? It's like the President of Syria sitting down and telling you where all of Saddam's WMDs are hidden, and your only response is something like, "I bet I could use some of those pathologies to create a cure for my wife's chronic illness". Pathetic. Annie is as dumb as the rest.
  • Speaking of which, Natalie Portman is just as goofy in character as she is in real life. "So this is how liberty dies..." Good grief. Maybe it's just pregnant Padme's hormones acting up.
  • When Obi-Wan lands on Utapau he speaks to Tion Meddon. There are a couple of attendants waiting behind Meddon. They do not have long ridged heads like he does. In fact, they look like the Remans from Star Trek: Nemesis. A crossover, or just coincidence? Since we saw ETs in the Senate in Episode I, and an ET once visited Earth, we know that Earth exists in the same universe if not the same galaxy as Star Wars. Any chance of seeing some Klingons around this place?
  • General Grievous does a lousy job wielding four light sabers against Kenobi. It's one thing to be trained in the Jedi arts; but knowledge of the Force is important, too. I do not believe that Grievous had such knowledge.
  • Mace Windu should never have been able to knock the light saber out of Palpatine's hand, or to deflect the blue lightning back at him, so easily. I know that George Lucas made a lot of concessions to Samuel L. Jackson to get him to play Mace Windu, but everything about the character is just another way for Lucas to kiss Jackson's butt. Windu should have his head cut off, not his arm. The Emperor could have bronzed the head and stuck it on a pole like a scarecrow. Much more useful, that way.
  • I wonder if anyone ever found Mace Windu's head? I rather envision a group of streetcleaner droids playing a game similar to the one in Afghanistan that uses the goat head.
Wow, there is lots more to comment on. Give me a few more days. Or minutes. I just don't want this to turn into an all-Star Wars blog.

The Last Patriarch Dies

As a child who attended Sunday School regularly and constantly read from my children's Bible, I was aware that there were three patriarchs named Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Years later, after what seemed like non-stop viewing of hundreds of hours of repeats of old Filmways television programs, my view of the three patriarchs had been somewhat...altered, you might say.

For me, the three patriarchs were now Joe Carson, Jed Clampett, and Oliver Wendell Douglas.

Edgar Buchanan, who played Joe Carson on Petticoat Junction, passed away twenty-six years ago, but Buddy "Jed Clampett" Ebsen of the Beverly Hillbillies lived on until just under two years ago. The last surviving of the three patriarchs, Eddie Albert of Green Acres, died last week at the age of 99. Ninety-nine years old! I knew that he had been around for quite a while, but I had no idea that he was older than Buddy Ebsen, nor that he was just a couple of years younger than Edgar Buchanan. Hearing that these people have died is just one step removed from learning of a favorite uncle's death.
You feel like you grew up with these people. They were adults that you could trust.

When I was still watching repeats of the classic 1960s sitcoms, my father informed me that several of the actors on the shows were already dead: Sgt. Carter of Gomer Pyle, Sgt. Schulz of Hogan's Heroes, Granny of The Beverly Hillbillies, and quite a few others. I mentioned this to a friend of mine while watching TV at his house. He asked, "Is Green Acres dead?" A rather strange way to phrase the question, I thought, but I had no answer. My father had not mentioned anything about any Green Acres character being dead. Now, I suppose, the answer will have to be, "Yes -- the heart and soul of Green Acres is dead." But the show lives on in repeats.

The three patriarchs -- Albert, Ebsen, and Buchanan -- brought hours of laughter to millions of people. Everyone should leave behind such a legacy.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Nice Idea, Bad Location

A few weeks ago, the City of Pittsburgh began tearing up the Schenley Plaza parking lot in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh with the intention of turning it into a park. Before the work had commenced, the planners gave vague descriptions of what the park would be like, mostly having to do with wireless internet access.

Anyone who works or goes to school in Oakland knows how hard it is to find a good parking space. Tearing up the Schenley Plaza lot is not a step in the direction of progress. The convenient parking was situated between the Carnegie Library Main branch and the University of Pittsburgh campus. There were always lines of cars waiting to get in because they couldn't find a spot anywhere else. A better move would have been to find space to build a parking garage in the area. Why get rid of the most prime parking spaces in the neighborhood? People are getting frustrated.

I am one of them. I work in the neighborhood, but I don't drive. I take the bus. And this stupid project has taken away my bus stop!

Who is involved in this? Oh, quite a number of people. And you can bet that none of them need to worry about parking spaces and bus stops in Oakland:

PNC Bank has pledged $750,000 to buy a carousel that will be the centerpiece of family attractions at Schenley Plaza, a planned green space that officials hope will become Oakland's town square.

State and local elected officials, led by Gov. Ed Rendell, joined leaders of Pittsburgh's business community and foundations Friday for a bricklaying ceremony to mark the start of construction at the plaza in the heart of Oakland.

The $10 million project is the largest undertaken to date by Citiparks and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, in a public-private partnership to restore Pittsburgh's four large urban parks. The state has awarded a $5 million grant to the project.

The University of Pittsburgh is overseeing construction. PNC's gift is the largest corporate donation toward the project.

See, millions of taxpayer dollars are being pumped into this waste of space, but it's okay because PNC Bank is ponying up a few hundred thou to built a freaking amusement park ride. That's called a "public-private partnership". "Public" refers to the primary source of funding, the taxpayers. "Private" describes the rooms where these kinds of deals are cut.

"Fast Eddie" Rendell is going to run for President in a few years, and no doubt his campaign will feature this sort of thing on his resume. "He made Pennsylvania's inner city neighborhoods a more pleasant place for families to live," they might well say. Maybe it will be like that -- during the day. Has Rendell ever been here at night? Oakland is basically a college town in the heart of the inner city. There are several bars in the neighborhood. Is the city going to hire someone to scrub down the carousel on Saturday and Sunday mornings after some underage drinking student goes overboard on "O" fries (3-to-1 grease-to-potato ratio) washed down with Heineken and blorfs all over the horsies? Check it out -- it's called the real world.

Might the powers that be have some ulterior motive for worsening the parking situation in Oakland? I am sure of it. By reducing the number of parking spaces in the neighborhood, the authorities are forcing more people to rely on public transportation. Too many people attend college or work in Oakland for the loss of a parking lot to drive them away. If they don't already live nearby, they need some way to get to class or to the office. The Port Authority needs money. Governor Rendell has already "saved" public transportation in Pennsylvania by using federal taxpayer-provided funds. Why not participate in a scheme to make more people ride buses? That's what the Port Authority wants. That's what the city wants. And that's what the governor wants.

That may be stretching it, but something is rotten and I can smell it all the way down here in my suburban living room.

Death of an Icon *burp*

One of America's most recognizable symbols, the bald eagle, was found dead in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, earlier this month. While it is not unusual to discover dead animal carcasses in the wild, this was a different case: This eagle was murdered with a shotgun. The bird is an endangered species; finding one that has been shot dead in the woods is like coming across the body of Uncle Sam covered with switchblade wounds in downtown Washington, D.C. Due to the seriousness of this incident, a $500 reward is being offered for information leading to the capture of the bird killer.

Eagle-eyed observers with a nose for news will recognize Clearfield County as the location of Denny's Beer Barrel Pub, home of the Beer Barrel Belly Buster. The thought has occurred to me: Perhaps the eagle's death was not the result of a malicious assault by some gun-toting moron. The eagle, a wild animal, doesn't know that it is officially an endangered species. It might notice that it has a hard time finding a date, but it doesn't understand why. Like a lot of wild animals who have a hard time finding dates (usually college students), the bird might have decided to drop by Denny's for the 15-lb. burger with all the fixings. If that bald eagle ate even one-half of the Beer Barrel Belly Buster, he would have been experiencing some severe stomach pains on the flight home. Maybe the poachers killer the bird as it sat in the tree unaware of its fate. But I think that there is a chance that the eagle begged for someone to shoot it to put it out of its misery. Who wouldn't think about the sweet release of death after consuming a meal like that?

Speaking of bald eagles and those who are most likely to have eaten a fifteen pound meal at some point in their lives, one of my favorite films depicting semi-historical events is Almost Heroes, which starred the late Chris Farley as one half of a rival expedition to Lewis and Clark. There are two sequences in which Farley encounters a bald eagle. At one point in the movies, his partner (played by Matthew Perry of Friends) has contracted an illness. The Sacagawea-type Indian woman who accompanies them informs Farley that in order to cure Perry, she "will need the egg of an eagle, or he will die". (Eagles were not endangered 200 years ago.) Farley walks across a snow-covered mountain range, finds an eagle's nest at the top of a tall tree, and snatches one of three eggs after getting into a fight with the mother eagle. After climbing back to the ground, Farley realizes how hungry he is, looks at the egg, and smiles. Next thing you know, he is helping himself to some eagle egg over easy.

Filled with remorse, Farley repeats the process. After using the mother eagle as a punching bag again, he returns to ground level with a second egg and spots a wild pig, which he promptly shoots dead so he can have some bacon. While the bacon is sizzling, Farley looks at the eagle's egg and decides to fry it up in the bacon grease. After his nice bacon and egg breakfast, the fat frontiersman starts to cry. Only one egg left to save his friend. This time, after punching up the eagle yet again, he manages to return to camp with the egg. He slips, the egg goes flying into the air, and Farley does a slide on his big belly that allows him to catch it before it can shatter on the ground. The Indian woman grabs the egg and squeezes the contents onto the ground. "You broke it," moans Farley. She informs him, "I only needed the shell".

At the end of the movie, Farley and Perry are trying to reach the Pacific Ocean before Lewis and Clark. They are, surprisingly, successful in their quest. While climbing a cliff, Chris Farley encountered another bald eagle protecting her nest. This powerful bird lifted the oversized explorer in her talons, carried him out over the Ocean, and dropped him into the water. First one to reach the Pacific!

If you will please excuse me, I am going to spend the next couple of hours watching Almost Heroes while breakfasting on bacon and eggs. Have a nice day.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Green Death

As soon as I arrived home this afternoon, I grabbed the weed whacker and proceeded to mutilate the lawn until it's own mother wouldn't recognize it. When my chore was near to completion, I started thinking about Mitch Berg's post on Wanderlust that was inspired by a Bleat about moving to Arizona the other day. And the comments at that particular post of Mitch's has led me to an interesting conclusion:

My two favorite kinds of weather are snow and drought.

It isn't that I particularly enjoy being outside in temperatures that could, at one extreme, cause frostbite, and at the other lead to heatstroke. Ever since I was a teenager, when I first mowed the lawn, I have been allergic to grass. The allergy is not severe enough to prevent me from accepting the responsibility for some yard work every now and then. Normally I just use a non-electric push mower, which not only saves on the energy bills but also doesn't shoot grass clippings right up in my face. I also have some kind of hacking tool to use for tall grass areas. That thing is just fun. It makes me feel like I'm practicing for a lethal game of golf. Winner take all 'cause the loser must fall.

The fun stops, though, when the grass experiences a sudden growth spurt (as it has from recent rainfall) and the push mower just won't cut it. Literally. I didn't have a sneezing fit until I was putting the weed whacker away, and it has already stopped. But I still am not fond of grass.

Grass is nature's WMD stockpile. It lies there until it gets agitated and then initiates a campaign of biological warfare against my nose. The war continues until Autumn, and once the first frost sets in, I begin to regain my health. Which is nice until you consider that I can't go running around in shorts and enjoying the outdoors in a Summer kind of way like everyone else. I could live with a lot of snow, but it limits my outdoor recreation options. What am I to do?

There is an alternative. Several years ago, I attended my wife's ten-year high school reunion. It was an all-girl's school, so every husband there felt rather awkward. One guy seemed remarkably happy. He loved boasting about his yard. It seems that he and his wife were living in one of the hot southwestern states, either Arizona or New Mexico, and they were experiencing a typical scorching Summer season. The man never had to cut his grass. The whole thing was dead and brown; or, to use his description, the lawn was all hay.

Now there was a vision of paradise! As much as I hate hot weather, I think I could learn to tolerate it if I never had to mow my lawn. But I need some kind of balance. If I could have a lawn that dries out during the Summer and gets snowed over all Winter, I would be a much happier man. Alas, I fear that such a place does not exist in the real world.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A New Monument to Fallen Heroes

Visitors to Mercer County, Pennsylvania, are often taken aback by the sight of 444 American flags fluttering in the breeze at a busy street corner in the town of Hermitage. The banners at the Avenue of Flags represent the 444 days that American citizens were held hostage in Iran back in 1979.

Hermitage has a new monument going up to accompany the Avenue of Flags, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

After Monday morning's Memorial Day parade in the Mercer County town of Hermitage, the public will be able to see a new national War on Terror Memorial.

Engraved on its 12-foot-tall glass and stainless steel panels will be the names of at least 2,256 members of the U.S. military, from all over the country, who have been killed while fighting terrorism. They'll include Marine Sgt. Michael A. Marzano, 28, of nearby Greenville, killed by a suicide truck bomber in Iraq earlier this month, and U.S. Army Spc. Jonathan R. Kephart, a 21-year-old from Oil City who was killed when his patrol was ambushed in Baghdad on April 8.
The WOT Memorial is the brainchild of a caring and patriotic individual:

"This whole project is blessed," said Tom Flynn, who had the idea for the memorial on Dec. 1. He owns the Hillcrest Memorial Park where it is located, at one end of the famous "Avenue of Flags." The 444 American flags were put up each day between Nov. 4, 1979, and Jan. 20, 1981, when Americans were being held hostage in Iran.
Tom Flynn makes an important point that a lot of people have failed to see over the last couple of years. The War On Terror started long before September 11, 2001. It started before the embassy bombings, before the 1993 World Trade Center bombing attempt, before Operation Desert Storm, before the Lebanese barracks bombing, and even before the Iranian Hostage Crisis:

The first name -- Paul Shaffer -- dates to 1975, when the Air Force colonel was shot in Tehran.

"If you're doing the war on terror, you can't just start with 9/11," said Flynn, who knows of no other memorial like it.

Mr. Flynn did not spend time waiting for the WOT to end before beginning construction on the memorial:

He said he was "haunted" by how many years, or decades, it took to build memorials to casualties of other wars such as World War II. "So I thought ... we have to do it in a way that it's a living memorial, in that it's constantly updated."

As is the case now, one panel will stand empty, awaiting more names, he said. "We're trying to very subtly tell people this isn't over with."

Ultimately, this war is bigger than George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard. It is bigger than Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Zarqawi. It is bigger than any individual or nation involved. This war is all about the future of our way of life, and could continue for innumerable years to come. Tom Flynn understands this. The War On Terror Memorial is not about maintaining a body count for political purposes. He truly reveres these fallen heroes and wants to honor what they stand for.

The PG article provides a link to the web site for the non-profit organization that is funding the project. For those who can not make it to Hermitage to see the memorial in person, the War On Terror Foundation has information on the people whose names are engraved on black glass panels in honor of their sacrifice in the service of their country.

The Force is Strong With This One

My five year old son's obsession with Star Wars continues, and he hasn't even seen the new movie yet. Every box of cereal that we buy absolutely must be a Kellogg's sweet cereal that comes with a light saber spoon. I never knew how much my children loved Frosted Flakes, Corn Pops, Froot Loops and Apple Jacks until now. The boy even demanded -- and received, since I was not involved -- a box of Frosted Flakes the other day, and ate some for lunch. Every light saber spoon that we have collected over the last couple of weeks has either been red or green. No blue ones? I would have thought that the red spoon would be hardest to come by. But there were over half a dozen spoons in our collections, and not a blue one among them.

But when he saw Frosted Flakes in the store -- in a blue box -- he insisted that there was a blue light saber spoon inside. My wife bought the cereal just to humor him, and to add another fun spoon to our collection. They got home, opened the box, and pulled out...a blue light saber spoon. The child was right. How was this possible? How did he know that he would pull a blue light saber spoon from the box?

He had foreseen it.

His light saber fascination is not limited to cereal spoons. I'm not about to shell out the big bucks for the fancy sabers that light up and make noise. I much prefer the ones with the cheap plastic blades. Why? Because you can actually fight with them. My son likes to try and choreograph our fights. He actually coaches me on when I am supposed to die. How preposterous. Hasn't he learned anything from watching the movies? When father and son duel, you are at the very least supposed to chop your opponents hand off. It is a Skywalker family tradition. When he tells me that I am supposed to fall over and act like I've been stabbed in the gut, I must correct him and point out that we are fighting for real. We don't fight to a positive finish, since neither of us wants to hurt the other. I just want the boy to learn that life is about more than playing.

Playing, however, is what he is all about, and he is not satisfied with the green, blue and red plastic light sabers that we currently own. The green one is a Qui-Gon "Jim" light saber; the red one is Darth Vader's; and the blue one is Kenobi's. Now he wants Yoda's green light saber, Dooku's red light saber (with curved handle), and Mace Windu's purple bladed saber. I don't think those come in cheap plastic. I think those are only available as expensive light-and-sound show versions.

Boy needs to learn how to save his money. I ain't gettin' them fer 'im.

Lack of Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Several years ago during a televised interview, a famous comic actress remarked that she had ceased using the term "African-American" to refer to her ethnic/racial identity after meeting people from Africa who found that hyphenated designation to be rather awkward. What do you have to do with Africa, they asked her, when your ancestors left the continent hundreds of years ago? You are an American, not an African, so you should concern yourself with your own country. She agreed with them. Her respect for her heritage was undiminished, but her focus was clear. She was not an "African-American", but an American whose ancestors lived in Africa long ago.

A similar take on the expression was made a few year ago by George Carlin, who pointed out that a white South African racist could come to the United States and quite properly call himself an African-American.

I thought about all of that while reading Mike Seate's column in this morning's Trib about the difficulties faced by Somali students at an inner city Pittsburgh high school:

About 50 African students studying at various city schools were greeted with anything but welcome mats by their fellow students, according to a complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Somali kids say they have been physically assaulted, verbally harassed and made to feel as though they don't belong.
Seate goes on to discuss the feelings that many black Americans have towards Africa:

Some of the Somali students are enrolled at Schenley High, a school near the Hill District and Oakland, both neighborhoods with large black populations. Those are the kind of places you'd expect African students would be made to feel like brothers. Instead, local kids might be making the Somalis into outcasts.

This is unlikely to shock many black families in the area.

Lots of us pay lip service to an appreciation of all things African, even going so far as saddling our children with phony, African-sounding names. The truth is, there's long been tension between Africans and African-Americans.

It's a dirty little secret hidden from those outside of the black community, and for good reason. That black Americans tend to look down on people from the continent of our origin is a strain of insanity best kept in the family.

The cause of the animosity is tough to pin down. It can be partly blamed on cultural differences and the old bugaboo of economic competition. The foreign-ness of natives of Africa who dress and wear their hair differently can sometimes cause African-Americans to forget the shared ancestry.

"Cultural differences" hits the nail squarely on the head. An influx of students from another part of the world is as much of a culture shock to the kids who were born here as it is to the new arrivals, and a common skin coloring has little effect on the Somali kids' ability to adapt and relate. It doesn't work in Africa either; look around the continent and you will see conflicts between groups of black Africans based on nationality, religion, politics, and any number of issues that divide groups of people.

A few years ago, I tried to hook up with a U.S.-based German ethnic organization that had ties to the old country. I soon found that, other than a shared ethnicity, I had little in common with people in the group. Some independent study of German history revealed plenty of rivalries and occasionally wars between different groups of Germans, again for the usual reasons -- religion, politics, etc. Many of these conflicts continued to exist in a muted form even after German unification under Bismarck. Those of us descended from Germans who chose to come to America many, many years ago can no longer relate to our cousins back in Europe. Over 100 years in a new world have given us time to assimilate and adapt.

The relationship is even more strained for the Africans who have chosen to come over here recently and have tried to settle among those whose ancestors didn't have that chance 300 years ago. The best way that differing cultures get along can be summed up in one word: Respect. As Mike Seate concludes:

It's curable, I hope, and in time the students dishing out the disrespect can learn that black pride involves respecting all black people.

Even the ones from outside of their neighborhoods.

And all people of any skin color.


After about four months, Ohligarchy has attracted its 1,000th visitor. Whoever it was dropped by from UCLA to look at my rant about the MSNBC writer with the Obi-Wan Kenobi obsession. Apparently that post is number one in Google searches for light saber boy. Somehow I suspect that it is not what people are expecting to find when they do that particular search.

I suppose that there are stranger search terms that can lead someone to a site like this, but I had better not tempt the gods of Google by tossing in any examples here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Open Letter In the Dark

Any respect that Mitch Berg may have had for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has gone up in flames like Darth Vader by the lava pit on Mustafar. "Note to Bill Frist: You Suck" has attracted more attention than any Shot In the Dark post that I can recall seeing, as measured in terms of both comments and trackbacks. In case anyone hasn't heard by now, a group of moderate-to-left leaning Republican Senators worked out a compromise with the Democrats to end the filibuster over several long-awaited judge nominations and bring them to a vote, but without ending the practice of filibusters federal court nominees. Short term good, long term bad. Dr. Frist has been taking a lot of heat for not holding his party's mavericks' feet to the fire over the matter. The Democrats could resume filibustering any time they like. Frist -- obviously acting in response to Mitch's open letter -- has tried to distance himself from the mavericks. It may be a bit too late for that, Doc.

Anyway, back to the comments thread on Mitch's post. I won't excerpt any here; I just want to warn you to read them at your peril. You might think that Mitch attracted some strong support owing to the fact that someone posted his open memo on Free Republic this morning. Perhaps it did -- but it also brought out some of the shrillest barking moonbats on the internet. Did Mitch use strong language in his open letter? Yes, but the moonbat commenters went even farther. Did Mitch seem a little irrational in his missive to Senator Frist? Perhaps a bit, but he seems quite calm compared to the electronic flecks of spittle from his outraged visitors. Seriously, I feel like I need to shower in disinfectant after reading some of the stuff these freaks have typed.

These leftists are like spitting cobras. You don't know whether they are going to bite you or poison you; you just know that they want to get rid of you, and you don't want to hang around them for any length of time. Very few of them are interested in discussion; they have decided that what they are told to believe is right, and God forbid anyone should express a contrary opinion within range of their sensory perception. They'll start an argument repeat their talking points and refuse to stick around for the rest of the debate.

Mitch is right. Under no circumstances should any normal human being try to make compromise with these moonbats.

A Lileks Kind of Day

After writing my semi-review of Star Wars: Episode III the other night -- I say "semi" because there's lots more I can write, but I will wait until I see the movie at least one more time -- I started suffering from some form of writer's block. It wasn't just because I didn't have anything to blog about. It came about because I had the day off yesterday. What am I supposed to do all day when I am at home alone except for the two year old? I can blog all day!

But I didn't. After my wife departed with older three children on school related business, I started cleaning up around the house. Lots of sweeping and stuffing large black bags. Then I let the plumbers in the house to repair -- replace, actually -- my kitchen sink's faucet and spray hose. (While they were here, my daughter kept ducking inside cabinets and darting into other rooms in order to avoid making eye contact with the plumbers. They were scary, but interesting.) After the clean up was done and the plumbers were gone, I sat down at the computer, where I checked out news and blogs. Then I scanned a ton of pictures onto my hard drive. I fed the baby and kept her distracted with a movie later in the afternoon. I was too occupied with events at home, just being a Daddy, to feel motivated to blog.

This morning, it occurred to me. Look at that last paragraph. It sounds like my daughter and I are trying out for an off-Broadway (very off-Broadway) production of a stage play based on the Bleat by James Lileks. One that gets scathing reviews. Ten years ago, I could have posted about spending time with my daughter and it would have just been a nice ordinary piece of writing about a day in my life. Now it feels like I'm trying to rip off Lileks. But I assure you, I am not. I really do have a house that occasionally needs to be fixed, and a little daughter who says and does funny things, and the odd day off from work. Honest.

Now that I have that out of my system, I can resume blogging full steam ahead.

Revenge of the Leaky Faucet

So not only did I take a day off from work yesterday, but I also took the day off from blogging. Nothing going on in the world or in my life seemed interesting enough to comment on.

It was both a costly and productive day. I finally got around to some indoor Spring cleaning while the rains poured outside; by the time I was done, I had filled four garbage bags with debris that the children had left on the downstairs floors. Four bags. That's one per child. Hmmm.

The costly part came from having plumbers come over to fix my kitchen sink. We have had a leak for a few weeks now, but never had a chance to fix it because everyone is so busy and never home to do anything about it. I have zero confidence in my plumbing skills and turned to a professional. Good thing, too. We had assumed that we simply needed something like a washer for the faucet. We needed a whole new faucet, which set me back quite a few dollars. It's nice. Really nice.

The plumber informed me that the inside of the old faucet was so badly damaged, that we were lucky that the thing didn't erupt and shoot water all over the kitchen.

That brought back memories. A dozen years ago, I was studying in my college German textbook while doing laundry. Since I had no need to leave the basement, I opened a folding chair and sat down right there to do my homework. As I got to the section on weather, I spoke aloud the words "es regnet", which means "it's raining". At that exact second, the hot water hose to the back of the washing machine burst open and sprayed scalding clear liquid in my general direction. I tossed the book aside to a dry spot and charged over to the wash basin to shut off the hot water. I was rather stunned for a few seconds, and momentarily worried that I had discovered some untapped power to perform acts of magic using the German language. After all, I had just said that it was raining, and danged if it didn't happen straightaway. In the cellar.

I have not done anything to cause an indoor rain shower since then, and I hope I never do again. The new sink was well worth the expense.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Revenge of the Sith Movie Review

Now that was a way to go out on top! Despite the way that Anakin and Padme performed like kids rehearsing for a high school play, the sequence of events made perfect sense leading up to the birth of Darth Vader. You can't say that George Lucas makes a boring Star Wars film -- just when the dialogue gets a little too corny or things seem like they are starting to drag, the scene shifts and things start happening fast. Maybe a little too fast. When I get the DVD, I might need to watch the whole movie frame by frame to see what I missed. There have been a lot of stills from the film leaked on to the internet for the last few months, and more than a few of them can be easily missed if you blink. As a matter of fact, I don't think I blinked at all during the film.

Here are a few observations that I made along the way:

  • When Anakin goes to Yoda for counseling in the darkened room, I was disappointed to see that Yoda did not have a wooden both with a sign that said "Psychiatric Help. 5 cents". It reminded me of one of Charlie Brown's sessions with Lucy.
  • Several reviewers have commented on Darth Vader's clumsy stomp off of the operating table near the end of the film. They compared it to Frankenstein. This was foreshadowed earlier in the film. For a "Separated at Birth" view, check out the Bride of Frankenstein and the Bride of Vader.
  • Palpatine was seriously afraid of dying at the hands of Mace Windu. Or was he? I couldn't tell if he was as worried as he looked and sounded, or if the concern was a ruse to make Windu overconfident. There was supposed to be a line where Palpatine cried out, "Fool! Do you think the fear you feel is mine?" If it was there, I missed it. (Dang noisy special effects.) Anakin's participation in the fight made it irrelevant.
  • The way that Palpatine's face melts from his own lightning seems a little too forced. I am glad, however, that we have an explanation for why a human character in Return of the Jedi has such an alien-looking face. There were rumors that this was the "true" visage of Darth Sidious and that the normal human features of Palpatine were simply a shroud. That would have been too much.
  • Whether or not you think that the movie is overloaded with politicized references to current events, I hope you will agree with me on one thing: If Palpatine were running for office in my jurisdiction, I would vote for him. Anyone who can shoot blue lightning from his hands is A-ok in my book.
  • And also on the politics thing: If you want to pretend that Darth Vader really is a stand-in for George W. Bush, you need to believe several outrageous things. First, that Bush goes into houses of worship (mosques?) and murders children. Second, that Bush drops in on gatherings of world leaders and assassinates them all in under five minutes. (Lucas could have depicted Vader dragging naked separatist leaders around while chugging on a death stick, but that would have endangered the already controversial PG-13 rating.) Third, that Bush secretly wants to kill Dick Cheney, or Karl Rove, or whoever the Left thinks is calling the shots. Fourth, that the entire Global War On Terror can be summed up in a few lame one-liners about choosing sides. And finally, that Bush is the father of twins.
  • WAIT! Bush is the father of twins! That cements it. Lucas was right! He is Darth Vader! Well, I guess that does it. I wasted almost twenty bucks on two tickets to see over two hours of jihadi-sympathizing communist propaganda. Curse my metal body, and all that.
  • Speaking of metal bodies, R2-D2 has some great action scenes near the beginning. Poor old C-3PO was just kind of there. It was no place for a character who exists for comic relief. Speaking of which, I don't hate Jar Jar Binks like most SW fans seem to do. His two cameos were disappointing as he had no speaking lines. We all need a Jar Jar Binks in our life to make us smile and laugh.
  • Sio Bibble, the most annoying character to come from the planet Naboo, was seen briefly at Padme's funeral. My greatest disappointment with the prequels is that Jar Jar never whipped out a red light saber and hacked Bibble into pebbles. "Meesa make Boss Sidious bombad happy chancellor!" If I had the time, I could write hours of fan fiction about how Palpatine hated Bibble from the time they were small children and always wanted to kill him.
  • Speaking of children and killing, we never do see Vader kill the babies on screen, mercifully. I asked my four kids, ages nine, seven, five, and two, if they would want to see this movie where Anakin kills babies. "No" said the nine year old. "Yes" said the seven and five year olds. Then I asked the baby, "Do you want to see a movie where Anakin kills babies with his light saber?" "Yes!!!!" she gleefully replied. Yikes! She doesn't seem to put a high value on kids her own age. Where did I go wrong?
  • General Grievous had a couple of good scenes, but these were among those that went by awfully fast. You needed Jedi reflexes to watch certain parts of the movie. Grievous's coughing and wheezing didn't bother me as much as his beating heart. It wasn't the sight of the gruesome organ that bothered me; it was the apparent lack of a protective casing for the thing that made little sense.
  • And that wheezing by Grievous, at one point, seemed like nothing but a foreshadowing of Darth Vader's breathing. Do all cyborgs huff and puff?
  • Having seen the bald headed pictures of Natalie Portman from the premieres, I had trouble looking at her on screen without wondering if her hair was real. Of course it was, but I kept wanting her to pull it off.
  • There were too many things that I had read about in the form of spoilers from the movie set that never made it into the movie. Some of them would have caused the movie to make more sense (Yoda speaking to Qui-Gon Jinn before he tells Obi-Wan Kenobi about it); and some of them were bad enough to never have been filmed in the first place (Obi-Wan's name really is Ben Kenobi, and Anakin makes fun of him because of it). There should be some really interesting deleted scenes on the DVD later this year.
I'm going to be posting about this all week, I feel. The movie is great. Go see it. That's my opinion in a nutshell!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Death, Terror, Famine, Societal Decay

The news today is rather bleak, and in the papers --

Oh, who cares? The biggest news story of the weekend (so far) is Saddam Hussein in his underwear. I am not interested in the former President of Iraq in a big diaper. Call me back when that Yulia babe in Ukraine starts modeling lingerie.

Something more important is happening tonight. In three hours, I will be sitting in a nice theater watching Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I am so excited, I want to start shooting blue lightning from my hands. (Can you tell who my favorite character is?) Yep, the journey to the Dark Side is almost complete. I may post a review later this evening if I do not first pass out from being overexcited.

When does the DVD come out? I want to watch this again after I get home.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A New Excuse

When David Strom of the Our House blog shared his sleep apnea experiences with his readers several months ago, he never suspected that his condition could be used as a valid medical excuse for bad behavior. But a beleaguered judge in Pennsylvania is testing those murky legal waters to try to get himself off the hook for some difficulty that he has been having at work recently:

A Cambria County district judge will soon learn whether sleep deprivation is an acceptable excuse for acting like a foul-mouthed jerk.

Allan Berkhimer, the three-term district judge who last month was chastised for using vulgar and sexually explicit language toward underlings, told the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline yesterday that he suffers from sleep apnea. The sleeping disorder, while it went untreated two years ago, was one of several stressors that led to his crude behavior, he said.

He is now being treated for the disorder, he told the court.

I can see where the sleep apnea can make someone irritable and cause them to use some salty language that might be out of character for them. But the judge does more than just get grumpy and cuss:
Yesterday's hearing arose out of last month's ruling from the disciplinary court, which said Berkhimer's behavior was "so persistent, so pervasive, so inescapable, so diminishing of his office, and so extreme that we conclude that disrepute was brought upon [the] office itself." To the women that worked for him, he often used the F-word, told stories involving sex, and sometimes showed explicit photos, received over the Internet.
Whoa Nellie! That sort of activity takes some degree of thought and consideration. David Strom has never done that...or has he? Ohhhhh yeah, he sure has. David had better hope that the sleep apnea excuse works in court before he finds himself in a hot spot of trouble. We might get some more nice Vegas pics, too...

Sailing Above the Water

There is always someone coming up with a zany scheme to improve things around the city of Pittsburgh. The latest one involves dangling people from a wire and slinging them above a river:

Mt. Washington residents expressed mixed feelings at a community forum Thursday night about a proposed aerial gondola system that would link their neighborhood to the North Shore.
The gondola "would span the Ohio River with a cable", says the Trib. The view of downtown Pittsburgh across the Monongahela and the view of the North Shore across the Ohio from Mount Washington is truly breathtaking. When you bring someone to town, the smart thing to do is not to drive out of the Fort Pitt Tunnels and let the visitor be overwhelmed by the approach towards downtown across the Fort Pitt Bridge. That is a cliche that simply gives you a brief glimpse of some skyscrapers in one of the smallest downtowns in America. You take your guest up to Mount Washington and let them enjoy the panoramic view of Pittsburgh along the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers. The gondola would be an eyesore. But aesthetics are among the least of our concerns.

Residents last night voiced concerns about the proposal, including how the Mt. Washington gondola station would affect the planned site, which has been designated as a park. Some were concerned about the possible need to clear trees from the green hillside.

Concern also was expressed that an air tram system to carry passengers would reduce usage of the Duquesne Incline, which has had financial problems.

Nowhere in the article is there any mention of safety. This isn't just about depriving the neighborhood of a nice park or killing the happy trees on the hillside. A gondola carried above the river would be a public safety nightmare, should something go wrong. If the cable snaps, does anyone survive? The Duquesne Incline won't fall into the river from mid-air; its funicular railway is a much safer means of transportation than a boat on a wire. This is terrifying.

And who is going to pay for this venture, should it come to fruition?
The project is estimated to cost between $10 million and $12 million, according to minutes of the meeting.

"[Project Consultant Steve] Greenberg said he expects the state to provide the public funding, but he declined to reveal how much would be needed or which state agency would fund the project," said [Community Development Corporation] president Lynne Squilla.

Why? Why is it always public funding? Have they tried the private sector? Of course not; it would be too hard for the gondola people to find anyone willing to sink their own money into such a foolhardy venture. Instead, they are just going to suckle at the public teat and make fools of us all -- taking our money and putting us in harm's way.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Farewell to a Local Guy Who Made It Big

The remarkably talented Frank Gorshin, who passed away on Tuesday, attended the same high school in Pittsburgh as my mother. She was a few years older than him and would not have known him from school. I once asked my aunt, who was a few years younger than my mother, if she ever knew Frank Gorshin. He wasn't someone she knew very well, but he did walk to school the same way as she and her friends. Her one memory of Gorshin was that he would stop on the sidewalk in front of the girls, fall to one knee, and sing "Mammy" like Al Jolson. Even then, he was quite the showman.

The old neighborhood has changed a great deal since then. Anyone familiar with Pittsburgh city neighborhoods understands that Garfield is one of the last places anyone should try to act like an old-time minstrel in blackface.

Frank Gorshin is best known as the Riddler in the 1960s Batman television program. My favorite Gorshin role, however, was Iggy the bank robber in Disney's That Darn Cat. Released about a year before Batman debuted, TDC managed to convincingly balance terror and humor without falling too far in the former direction. Iggy was a character who would frighten you witless if he kidnapped or threatened you -- but Gorshin plays him as something less than a straight man in the movie's more serious moments, and as more than just a clown during the lighter bits. Gorshin's performance paralleled the tone of the film, and helped prevent it from becoming too frightening or too silly. (Roddy McDowell, on the other hand...)

Pittsburgh is justly proud of those native sons and daughters whose lives follow a pathway to fame and fortune. Frank Gorshin's name was never mentioned in local media without a reference to his Pittsburgh heritage. He will be missed by all of us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Here We Go, Your Honor, Here We Go

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to visit the home playing field of a Pittsburgh Steeler who wears a black robe rather than a black football jersey? It is almost certain to happen in Allegheny County in a few months. A local athlete with a familiar name from the 1980s appeared on the ballot in the race for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County yesterday, and came out a big winner in both party primaries:

Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Dwayne D. Woodruff took the most votes on the Democratic side and second most on the Republican ticket.

"Once we got beyond my experience on the football field, people heard my thoughts on what it takes to be a good judge and I think we were well-received," said Woodruff, who got his law degree while still playing for the Steelers in 1988.

Let's be honest here. How many people actually know anything about the candidates for judge in any election? The only time you hear any news about a judge is when he/she has his/her own legal troubles. Unless you go to public meetings and hear the candidates speak, you may never have a clue as to their political affiliations, or their careers as attorneys.

How many people who voted for Woodruff know anything about him except that he used to play for the Steelers? The Trib asked a couple of locals about their selection:

Republican Joe Giglio, 64, of Shadyside, used a process of elimination to weed out potential judges. He voted for Woodruff "not because he was a football player, but because he is a minority and when I have any doubts about who to vote for, I will always vote for a qualified minority," he said.

Ashleigh Kuhn, 21, a political science major at the University of Pittsburgh who voted in Penn Hills, said she voted for Woodruff "because he was a former Steeler. That's good enough for me."

I'm not sure if the real news in the first paragraph here is that there is a Republican living in Shadyside, or that there is a city resident from any neighborhood who publicly admits being a Republican. As for the young lady in the second paragraph, do not scoff at her reason for voting Woodruff just because she is young and presumably naive. If you asked most voters, regardless of their age, why they voted for Woodruff, you would likely get the same response.

This is not to suggest that Dwayne Woodruff should not have garnered such a huge vote total on both sides. He didn't run into the locker room and change from a football uniform into a judge's robe. He has been a practicing attorney for several years. He had one advantage over the rest of yesterday's candidates about whom most voters remain politically ignorant: Name recognition.

Which makes the election of an inexperienced candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania in 2006 seem more possible than ever before. Gee, does anyone around here remember Lynn Swann?

Whither County Government?

The best news to come out of yesterday's Allegheny County primary election was the overwhelming vote in favor of row office consolidation. The referendum was supported by major players of both parties. The opposition consisted primarily of Democrats who don't want to lose their jobs because they happen to be the individuals who were most recently elected to those offices, and some ordinary folks who make the point that the bureaucracy post-consolidation won't necessarily be any more accountable to the public that the one that exists under the current system. An excellent point, there; but as someone who has spent hours downtown looking over public records, I must say that I would rather have to visit one office in one building to deal with incompetent people while trying to find poorly kept records than to have to do it in three buildings. Plus, anything that saves county taxpayers an estimated $773,000 per year is worthy of consideration. And this was not only worthy of consideration, it was worth accomplishing -- which we did yesterday. Congratulations, Allegheny County.

But where does the county go from here? Getting rid of the row offices was a good first step, but there are some who want to go farther:

"This was supported by both Democratic and Republican voters because they understand we can't go on duplicating services," said county Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

He predicted yesterday's outcome, a 3-to-1 vote in favor of the measure, would fuel further moves to consolidate services in county and city government.

What you say?????

Onorato and other row office reform backers say appointing administrators instead of electing officers is the next evolution of local government after adoption of the home rule charter in 1998.

Onorato backs a complete merger of city and county governments, but such a move would require another referendum. Even holding the referendum would require a new state law allowing Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to merge.

Since Mr. Onorato has described yesterday's referendum as part of the "evolution of local government" in Allegheny County, please let me remind everyone that evolution is just a theory, and that I am a proponent of intelligent design -- especially when it comes to the way that we run our government.

The idea of merging Pittsburgh with Allegheny County is not in and of itself a bad idea. But Pittsburgh needs to straighten itself out before the rest of us get saddled with the mess that the city has been in for the last 5-50 years. If we were to merge operations right now, it would not make anything more efficient. If anything, it would be a bailout of the city at the expense of the rest of Allegheny.

It would be like overstuffing your toilet with tissue and natural substances, then flushing it and watching the contents spill over onto your nice clean floor tiles. And Dan the plumber is right there with a smile on his face telling you not to worry, since the toilet and the tiled floor have simply "merged operations".

Let's just hope that Onorato doesn't have enough influence in Harrisburg to get that merger law pushed through the state legislature.

Miserable Lying POS

The results of the special election for the PA 42nd District State Senate seat are in. Former County Council member Wayne Fontana handily defeated Mike Diven and Mark Rauterkus following a campaign characterized by an intense -- some would say nasty -- debate via direct mail. As the campaign wore on, the Fontana and Diven camps had less and less to say about themselves, and more to say about one another -- none of it good.

I have known Democrats to turn a blind eye to their own side's shortcomings, particularly when their party's candidates run campaigns loaded with "attack ads". I have seen campaigns where both sides spent the entire race pointing out each other's shortcomings. Yet, in the end, it is always the Democrats who complain about negative campaigns. Do they never pay attention to their own propaganda machine?

When Dan Onorato successfully challenged Jim Roddey in the Allegheny County Executive race two years ago, both candidates dealt with one another in a refreshingly gentlemanly manner -- compared with most political races, at any rate. Yet, when Onorato won, some sniveling Democrat arrogantly boasted that Roddey lost because he ran a negative campaign. I tried in vain to challenge the idiot's take on the outcome. The red curtain of blood descended over my eyes. You can't argue with someone who brain is so firmly lodged in her arse that she can't see that there is more than one side to a debate.

That brings us to our newly elected arse-faced State Senator. As usual, you need to scroll to the bottom of the article for the relevant excerpt. What did he have to say in the aftermath of his victory?

"I hope that future races here aren't as negative as this one,'' Fontana said. "Obviously this one got off on the wrong foot and it snowballed. The people saw through that and I hope for the next campaign and for anybody's campaign, maybe the people who did that will see that it didn't work.''
As the Indian warrior Red Stick said to Walt Disney's Davy Crockett, "You talk like woman". Stop trying to act like Little Miss Innocent. Everything was so mean and we should all try to be nicer to each other. Even when you win, you whine. Political campaigns are supposed to be aggressive. That means not only telling the voters what is good about you, but also pointing out why you are better than your opponent.

Furthermore, what is this bullcrap about "the people who did that will see that it didn't work"? It did work. You won! Your campaign spent the entire race affixing the word "Republican" to the front of Michael Diven's name and treating it as if it meant something worse than "convicted sex offender". In recent days, your ads included a couple of photo manipulations depicting Diven as a magician pulling money from a hat, and as a layabout lounging at poolside in his bathrobe. Are you pure? Did you and your campaign have nothing but nice things to say about everyone involved in this race?

The worst part of all of this is that the Democrats that I know will read Fontana's reflections on the campaign and say, Yes, he's right. That Diven was so nasty, but Wayne was a perfect gentleman. The truth doesn't matter to that party. They just keep lying until they believe themselves. And the damage is done.

Home From the "Wars"?

As I have mentioned a few times on this blog, I really really like Star Wars, and so does my family. Just last night, I had four children crowded around me as I alternated between watching The Phantom Menace and fielding questions about characters' motivations and background story elements. In just a few days, I expect to be seated in a movie theater while spending almost 2 1/2 hours enraptured by the events taking place on screen as Anakin Skywalker undergoes his long-anticipated turn to the Dark Side of the Force.

In an amazing parallel, Anakin's alter ego Hayden Christensen has revealed his affinity for the Dark Side in "real life" (if there is such a thing for Hollywood types):

When the Ottawa Sun asked Christensen if the flick “takes metaphoric shots at the war-mongering politics of U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and the two George Bushes” the star answered: “Absolutely.”

He went on to say that he thinks that some people who weren’t American allies in the Iraq war will love “Revenge of the Sith” because of it.

“I think for that reason the French will be really responsive to it,” Christensen said. “I think they’ll get it. They’ll get the political commentary and the subtext. Anakin says: ‘If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy!’ I think they’ll love it.’”

Boo America! Yay, France! We don't care about raking in the big bucks in America because we have our own friends in other countries! But we're still going to make a fortune here anyway, suckers!

A few weeks ago, I opined that I would quite enjoy watching Natalie Portman's character die on screen because the actress is a useless left-wing idiot who doesn't know when to shut up. Now I know that I can also sit back and enjoy seeing her co-star getting dismembered and boiled alive in molten lava. How satisfying. The sound you hear from the 17th row during that scene will be me going "Mwah-ahah-hah-hah-hah!" as Hayden Christensen becomes a legless, armless mass of scar tissue. This is why I love the movies.

But is there any other disturbing news that could keep me at home when the rest of the galaxy is sitting in air conditioned theaters watching the saga unfold? Well, how about the opinions expressed by the filmmaker himself?

At a press conference, Lucas said the film does mirror history, but he did not set out to comment on U.S. foreign policy under Bush.

"As you go through history, I didn't think it was going to get quite this close. So it's just one of those recurring things," he said.

"I hope this doesn't come true in our country. Maybe the film will waken people to the situation," Lucas added jokingly.

Lucas also said he penned the film long before the U.S. went to war against Iraq.

"When I wrote it, Iraq didn't exist," the filmmaker said with a laugh.

"We were just funding Saddam Hussein and giving him weapons of mass destruction. We didn't think of him as an enemy at that time." He added that the "parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable."

You have to give him credit for not mentioning George Bush by name. But, in the words of Master Yoda, "The Shroud of the Dark Side has fallen". Lucas's biases have always lurked just below the surface; now he feels comfortable enough to toss out his opinions in the "how could anyone possibly disagree with me" manner so common among left-wing elitists. Watch my movie, and you too will hate George Bush, despise everything that he has done, and oppose everything that he stands for. Sheer arrogance. Lucas is several years past the point of having made too much money. My kids are going to demand more Star Wars merchandise. Will I buy some? Of course I will. Some things are more important than politics. I want to be happy and entertained. I want my family to be happy and entertained. There is no need to join in a boycott, as some have urged.

I am looking forward to seeing how Star Wars ends. But with it, I hope, will end any kind of commercial success enjoyed by George Lucas and the embarrassingly idiotic twits whom he employs to bring his propaganda to life.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Antichrist Goes By Many Names

The individual who was arrested yesterday for threatening the life of President Bush doesn't just call himself the "Antichrist":

"Which young woman will next drink from my bloody cup," one e-mail read. It was signed, "Aurevor, Menstruation Mary."
He's not just disturbed, he is out and out vile. In addition to political assassination, his desires include rape and murder of young women. And he types his threats in the form of rhymes. Or he did until this week.

Eckstrom, who faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, appeared yesterday before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell.

Eckstrom, who weighs 138 pounds, said he has an undergraduate degree, but no job, and savings of $6,600. He faces a detention hearing before Mitchell today.

138 pounds? It's going to be a loooong five years for that guy.

Even "Free" Roads Have Their Tolls

The question is not "What's in a name?":

PITTSBURGH (AP)--Those who travel from the suburb of Monroeville through the city and to the Pittsburgh International Airport know they must drive along one roadway that has four names--Interstate 376, Interstate 279, Routes 22/30 and Route 60.

But the state recently commissioned a report that examined what it would take to give the 90-mile stretch of interstate one, easily identifiable name.

The question is, "How much does the name cost?":

According to the report that was recently accepted by the Federal Highway Administration, the project would cost $91 million, which would cover the cost of signs and road modifications.
Who thought that this was a good idea? Admittedly, the four names can be confusing to out-of-towners, especially those coming in from the Airport. Has anyone considered why the roadway has the designations that it does?

Here is some background, for those unfamiliar with this area. As a boy, I got to know the portion of this road in my area as the Penn Lincoln Parkway. I knew not why it had two names, but they sounded historical. Historical was good. In 5th Grade, I finally learned that there was a number attached to the Parkway. What was the significance of 22/30? Wasn't it easier for drivers to remember "Penn Lincoln"? (I learned my lesson after I grew up and had to drive on highways. No driver cares who the road was named after.)

The name is a combination of the two highways that form a single road in the Greater Pittsburgh area. US Route 30, the Lincoln Highway, is part of a historical road stretching from New York to San Francisco. US Route 22 in Pennsylvania is the William Penn Highway, named for the founder of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Neither of these names should be touched.

The Interstate highway names (I-279 and I-376) come from the Parkway's proximity to Interstates 79 and 76. 279 starts with an even number, indicating that it is a beltway connecting with I-79 in two different places. 376 starts with an odd number, indicating that it is a spur of I-76 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike). It connects the Turnpike in eastern Allegheny County with I-279 in downtown Pittsburgh.

I-279 goes from the western suburbs (where it is called the Parkway West) to the northern suburbs (where it is the Parkway North). I-376 (the Parkway East) connects I-279 with the eastern suburbs. If I-279 and I-376 are given the same name, we will have a Y-shaped interstate. How in the heck can someone from out of town tell where they are going? Ask the Scarecrow from Oz for directions, just to have him point both ways?

More importantly, is this really worth $91 million? I am all in favor of maintaining and improving the infrastructure, but this is outside the bounds. It would be cheaper to just do what I did as a child -- call it the Penn Lincoln Parkway like it says on the map, and be done with it.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Breaking News Drinking Game

The PM edition of the Tribune-Review features a story with this rather ambiguous headline: "Armed Men Looking For Drugs". One expects a certain amount of detail in the story to explain who these men were and what kind of drugs they were looking for. The uncredited writer may as well have summed the whole thing up in one sentence: "A group of armed men scared an old lady while looking for drugs last night".

Go and read the article as posted on the Trib's web site. Take a swig of your beverage of choice everytime you come across the words "the men". Refresh the page. Read and swig again. Repeat until you can't find the keyboard.

Why even bother to report this story when there's nothing to report?

Beware the Antichrist

The Antichrist lives, right here in southwestern Pennsylvania. Oh, and he also wants to kill President Bush:

Federal agents over the weekend arrested a South Hills man on charges of threatening to kill President Bush in an e-mail typed at the Bethel Park library.

Barry Clinton Eckstrom, 51, appeared before a federal magistrate this afternoon and will have a preliminary hearing tomorrow.

For the thirteen years, many of us have suspected that the Antichrist is someone named Clinton. How do we know that he is the Antichrist? Because that is how he signs his emails. His electronic correspondence spooked people enough to inform the feds of his whereabouts:

The U.S. Secret Service and the FBI arrested him Saturday at the library after an agent sat down at the computer next to him and allegedly watched him type, "I hate and despise the scum President Bush! I am going to kill him in June on his father's birthday."
You just know that there are Bush-hating librarians out there who will connect this to the Patriot Act, and accuse the government of sending federal agents into libraries to restrict people's freedom of expression. Just watch.

Delicious Green Slime

No matter how old you get, you never stop learning. You have to keep your mind open to new discoveries all along the pathways of life's journey. You must never forget, though, that much of what you are learning is not about other people, places and things. You continue making new discoveries about yourself as well. I learned something amazing and totally unexpected about myself last week.

I really, really like guacamole.

It is far from the best food that I have eaten, but it astonishes me because I rarely think about guacamole.
My earliest memory of the word "guacamole" comes from an episode of Sanford & Son. As I recall, Fred Sanford proudly prepared for himself a large bowl of guacamole dip, which he set upon his living room table in anticipation of enjoying the emerald delicacy while watching television. Fred left the room just for a moment, a mistake which he would soon come to regret, for his neighbor Julio's pet goat, Chico, entered through the open front door and made straight for the guacamole. Fred Sanford returned to witness his snack being devoured by a furry horned beast. I was scarred for life, or so I thought. Why would I want to consume a green, slimy paste that I would forever associate with a salivating goat's tongue?

My personal experience of guacamole before last week consisted of very infrequent visits to Chi-Chi's Mexican Restaurant. Chi-Chi's dinners routinely included red-stained rice, reddish brown bean paste, and some amorphous green substance that I consumed simply because I do not like to pay good money for food, just to have some underpaid adolescent pour it into the garbage. The taste was unremarkable; to this day, I can not think of anything to compare it to, simply because it made no lasting impression on me. I ate it because it was there. By process of elimination, I deduced that the warm green sludge could only be guacamole; my visual knowledge of food allowed me to immediately discern which parts of the platter were the rice and which parts were the refried beans.

I never felt compelled to call the waitress over to me table and cry out, "More guacamole, please!"

There was no guacamole on the common food table at work last week. This is the area, found in most workplaces, where people drop off food that they feel like sharing with employees and co-workers. Most common food at my office usually consists of baked goods, such as bagels or birthday cakes. This time, however, there was something different. Some benefactor contributed a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa. When it comes to snack foods, chips and salsa are not exactly the Holy Grail and Spear of Destiny, though a good hot salsa can assault your tongue like a multitude of spear tips forged in the fires of Mount Doom. This salsa was unremarkable, and the chips were as salty and bland as any tortilla chips from a supermarket shelf. They were good because they were different.

Rather than being a hog and downing the lot, I decided that I needed some combination of dip and chips to keep at home. My front door is always kept closed and locked, so there is no question of a hungry goat wandering in and raiding my pantry in search of Yoda-colored ambrosia. Whatever I bought and brought home would be mine, and mine alone. No one else in my house shares my taste for lively food. There are times when I expect my wife's diet to consist entirely of a slice of Wonder Bread between two slices of Wonder Bread. My children's tastes have narrowed to the point that they are actually demanding cereal at every meal. No competition!

Ordinarily, my chip and dip choices at the supermarket end up consisting of ridged potato chips and bacon-horseradish dip. Not this time. Inspired by my tortilla experience of that morning, and drawn by the "Two for $5" signs, I grabbed a couple bags of tortilla chips and tossed them in the cart. Then came the dip selection. Which kind of salsa would I buy? My eyes moved toward the cheese dip, which has salsa in it. Perfect! Nothing like a little variety. So I reached out my hand to grab the jar of cheese dip...and snatched away a jar of green guacamole dip. This was no error on my part. I knew what I was doing. My hand was guided by some unseen force -- the spirit of Fred Sanford, perhaps? Maybe it was Chico the goat.

That night, I had a midnight snack such as I had never enjoyed before. I dipped the first chip into the green slime, then laid it upon my tongue...and it was gooooood. By the time that my stomach informed my taste buds that it was full and could sustain no more, I had consumed nearly half of the guacamole in the jar. Delicious! And to wash down my newfound delicacy, I drank Lime Coke from a frosted mug. The only thing missing was some tequila to complete the sensation.

It is difficult to put into words my guacamole dipping delight...so I will just quote the words spoken
in Pixar's Finding Nemo by the Australian-accented crabs sitting by the blowhole on the sewage pipes: "Manna from Heaven; Sweet Nectar of Life!" Mmmm...it's that good.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Real-Time Campaigning

Let's see...Today's mail brought four campaign pieces. Three from Mike Diven, one from Wayne Fontana. Some days the ratio goes the other way. Why so many in one day? These campaigns must have a lot of money to spend.

Fontana's mailer criticizes Diven for paying his Allegheny County property taxes late. It made a point of showing a screen capture from the county property web site that shows Diven's property taxes still unpaid as of May 5. This sent up a red flag for me. I check that site every year to see if my taxes have been paid. You see, I make monthly mortgage payments. My property taxes are paid annually by my mortgage company out of the payments that I have been making over the course of the previous year. They don't always pay my taxes at the same time, but the taxes do get paid. I have no direct control over what date my mortgage company pays the taxes, so sometimes they pay late. But they do pay. And I know for a fact that Mike Diven has a mortgage, and that his mortgage company pays his property taxes on his behalf, too.

How do I know this? Because not twenty minutes ago, I received a recorded message via telephone from Mike Diven, addressing today's Fontana mailer, and explaining exactly what I just said in the above paragraph. That was impressive, and a little scary, too. I half expected him to tell me what I was wearing when I answered the phone.

Wayne Fontana should know better. Someone with his experience as a realtor ought to know how mortgage companies operate. Blaming his opponent for a four days late tax payment is as sleazy as anything has gotten so far in this campaign. Fontana is a run-of-the-mill lying sack of filth opportunist Democrat. Why should I trust him or anyone in his party?