Thursday, March 31, 2005

Birth and Death

The blogosphere (or at least the part that I cruise) is a much sadder place today. Michael Schiavo has successfully starved his wife to death. Putting aside the political and religious takes on the debate, one thing stands out above all else: a lowlife creep has been struggling to have his wife die, at any cost (legally), for fifteen years. I keep hearing people say "What's wrong with out country?"; perhaps we ought to start with Mr. Schiavo to learn the answer.

Whenever there is sad news of death, it is reassuring to hear good news of birth. A woman in Kettering, Ohio (near Dayton), pulled into a gas station the other night and gave birth to a boy. Yes, at the gas station:

"I asked if she needed help, and she just leaned back in the seat, hollered a little, and I looked down and there was the baby's head," said station co-owner Lloyd Goff, who was alerted to the emergency at pump No. 7 by a customer.

Goff said Coleman "threw her leg over the steering wheel, groaned once, and the rest of the baby came out.

"She caught that baby, put it to her chest, gave me a look, like, 'I gotta go,' closed the door, put the van in gear and away she went."
Having attended the births of all four of my children, I can actually picture how this went down. The mother had two children already (they were asleep in the van) so she knew what she was doing. The police came looking for her because of some confusion over the validity of the license plate number, a problem which was quickly sorted out. But by the time mother got to the hospital, some idiot had reported a baby being thrown from the van. Things got a little ugly, but were quickly sorted out:

Coleman said she noticed several cruisers following her before one cut her off. With guns drawn, officers ordered her out of the van with her hands up.

"I opened the door and said, 'I just had a baby' and just let them see everything," she said.

It's not often that police find someone gushing excessive bodily fluids in a vehicle and just let them go. Lucky for mother and kids that the cops weren't trigger happy.

The little boy is still in the hospital and hopefully will be alright. Someday when he is older he may want to find out what was happening in the world on the day he was born. Hopefully he will feel the same revulsion that many of us are experiencing today.

While We're At It, How Much For Your Wife?

Somewhere north of Pittsburgh, there is a fan just waiting to be hit by you-know-what.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has announced plans to widen the median along a stretch of I-76 in the North Hills. The plans involve purchasing property from dozens of property owners whose real estate lies along the path of expansion.

"The turnpike in this area is two lanes each direction, and that is not going to change," said Commission spokesman Joe Agnello. "However, we are going to be widening the median from 10 feet to 50 feet. When this job is done, the lanes of the turnpike are going to be a lot farther apart than they are now."
Usually, expansion of existing highways means adding a third lane in both directions. There is a bit more to this expansion, though, and a bit of foresight on the part of the Turnpike Commission:
Other turnpike improvements include straightening two sharp curves and improving drainage. Widening the median allows the commission to add lanes later if traffic levels warrant an expansion, Agnello said.
Three bridges will also be replaced. Sounds good, so far. But what about those property owners who will be affected?
The commission anticipates buying land from 50 to 70 property owners in Pine, Richland and Hampton, taking three entire residences near Pearce Mill Road, in Pine, in the process, Agnello said.
"Three entire residences"??? Well, of course, you have notified everyone and gotten their approval, right?
Most property owners affected by the project have not yet been notified, Agnello said.
I hope those three lucky home owners in Pine Township have already been told. Who wants to see a news story saying that a public road is going to be expanded by purchasing privately owned real estate, and find out later that the real estate is theirs?
Residents will get their first look tonight at the six-mile project during an open house at Pine-Richland High School, where plans will reveal which properties will be taken and how traffic will be hampered.
Someone had better cover that fan in plastic. There's going to be a lot of slinging going on.

At least the commonwealth hasn't invoked "eminent domain" to seize the property from the owners -- yet. Expect a lot of folks to oppose and fight the expansion plan all the way to the bitter end.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Talk Like a Pittsburgher

During my college days, circa 1987, I was speaking to an acquaintance from Philadelphia and casually used the term "gum band". She stopped me and said, "What???" She had no idea what a gum band was. I was just as shocked at her as she was at me. When we recovered, I explained that in Pittsburgh, gum bands are those little stretchy things that everyone else in America calls "rubber bands". She seemed convinced that I was an idiot who could not speak proper English. Or American English, for that matter. It goes to show that you need not leave the country, or even your state, to experience some mild form of culture shock.

A few years later, at my first full-time job, a co-worker opined that I was one of two people on a staff of about 25 who had the strongest Pittsburgh accents. I could not see how that could be possible; I was a suburbanite, and though I grew up in a household with two parents and a grandparent who grew up in the city, I was never conscious of speaking like a real Pittsburgher. I never used "yinz" in place of "you"; I did not pick up my grandmother's manner of using an "f" sound in place of a "th", as in "Free Rivers Stadium"; and I made absolutely sure that I pronounced our first President's name as Washington and not "Whooshinton". I knew that this stuff could drive people crazy. I tried very hard to lose any semblance of a Pittsburgh accent, yet it somehow lingered on.

Obviously, Pittsburgh's history of being a melting pot for many ethnicities has had a great impact on the local dialect. But I was not able to figure out where the term "gum band" originated until 1994. I read a German magazine article about the bungee jumping craze and came across the phrase "Leben am Ende eines Gummibandes". Life on the end of a rubber band. On a gum band! The mystery was solved. I wasn't being an ignorant Pittsburgh type; I was speaking German. Never again will I be ashamed of my dialect. It is part of the regional character, and as a Pittsburgh-area resident of German descent, it is part of me.

(A good article on the subject, referencing gum bands and lots more, can be found here.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

And Remarkable, Too.

Pixar has been releasing feature films every 1-2 years since 1995, and every one has been a winner. The latest one will be hard to top. What's the name...the Inedibles? The Uncrustables? The Unmentionables? Or is it, as my two year old daughter calls it, "'Credibles"? Well, it certainly has much more credibility than most live action films being released these days. I love watching a film about a decent-sized family with my own decent-sized family. We spend about ten minutes after each viewing having a "what if our family had super powers" discussion. My younger son, age five, looks a little like Dash. He keeps resisting my efforts to get him to comb his yellow hair straight back. Perhaps I should get him to try hair gel.

Pixar DVDs are always loaded with great extras. Best of all are new animated features "Jack-Jack Attack", in which the babysitter learns what happens when a young super develops his first powers; and "Mr. Incredible and Pals", a cheap sixties style animated short featuring Mr. Incredible, Frozone, and a stupid spectacled rabbit sidekick. The characters speak with human lips, a process not seen in cartoons in over thirty years. Good thing, too. Those moving lips are scary. The short is taken to another level as the two *ahem* real-life heroes whose likenesses are used in the cartoon provide commentary on what turns out to be an abomination and an embarrassment to them both. Samuel L. Jackson has some of the best lines of the entire DVD, feature film included, on this cartoon commentary:
"They made me a white guy!"
"Why does everybody have lady lips?"
"I sound like a...a BEATNIK!"
"Oh, the black superhero gets caught!"
"That rabbit is getting on my last nerve!"

Too funny. I didn't want it to end. With the magic of DVD, it never has to.

One last thing -- even though I do not speak or understand either French or Spanish, I did try out both tracks to see how they sounded. French was nasty. Everyone sounded like they were getting ready to throw up. No appeal. Spanish, on the other hand...wow. Mrs. Incredible/Helen/Elastigirl is even sexier in Spanish than she is in English. Check it out.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Roof, The Roof. The Roof Ain't On Fire

Ten years ago, Allegheny County constructed a new jail building to replace the ancient fortress in downtown Pittsburgh. As is the case with any new government building, there was plenty of concern on the part of the taxpayers, so the County Commissioners hosted walking tours of the new facility prior to opening day incarcerations. I learned about this too late; it might have been an educational experience for me, and not of the "Scared Straight" variety. My daily commute takes me past the jail twice, and I never cease to marvel at the basketball courts that seem to be on every floor. The cells, I heard, were almost too nice for prisoners to use. Who wouldn't want to be locked up in such a facility?

How about the guard who was trapped in an elevator with a bunch of prisoners for the better part of an hour? After ten years, the structural integrity of the hull has been breached. Or, to put it another way, the roof is leaking and the elevator keeps breaking down. This sort of thing was not supposed to happen so soon:

When it opened in May 1995, the $147 million facility was derided by critics as the Taj Mahal of jails, equipped with cable television and carpeted day rooms for prisoners.
This is one metaphor that always disturbs me, particularly in this context. The Taj Mahal was built as a kind of love offering. There is plenty of love being offered in jail already, and watching cable television in the big house can only serve to stimulate the prisoners' appetite for love, depending on what kind of programming is showing. And at taxpayers' expense! But the hoops are still cool. I bet they even have their own league.

One wonders whether the new warden, Ramon Rustin, knew what he was getting himself into when he came to Pittsburgh last year. His current budget was determined without his input, and he will likely spend the next few years begging for more just to keep the roof on top and the elevators going up and down.
"A serious failure will just throw my budget out of whack," Rustin said.
I have an idea: cancel the cable TV subscription, if you haven't already. With the kind of prices that the cable companies charge these days, you could conceivably save millions. Plus, the prisoners can still see the WB, UPN, and Fox on UHF. And if there's nothing to watch on TV, then they can hold a league tournament on the indoor courts. Basketball is cool.

Something not mentioned in the PG article, and not often brought up in news reports, is the horrible location of the jail. Up above the Monongahela River, atop a cliff known simply as The Bluff, lies the campus of Duquesne University. This institution was founded by an order of Catholic priests over 125 years ago and provides students, faculty, staff and visitors with a nice view of the river and of the neighborhoods on the other side. This all changed ten years ago when the jail was built and destroyed the view from The Bluff forever, or until the leaky roof makes the building cave in. One must consider, though, the view up the hill from the jail. A friend told me several years ago that the guys in jail must have a pretty good view of the girls' dormitories. If this is true -- which it may not be -- then ordering cable TV for the prisoners was redundant. What did the county officials think the prisoners would be watching on cable, anyway? The Disney Channel? I find that highly unlikely.

Lynn Launch

Former Pittsburgh Steelers Wide Receiver Lynn Swann has launched a campaign web site in anticipation of a run for Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2006. There is not much to the site as of right now, but look for plenty more content to be added over the next twenty months.

(Credit where credit is due: The Trib's weekly Whispers column.)

Poor Poor Pitiful Mike

Physical evidence to the contrary, Michael Jackson now claims to be a black man. Who is he trying to kid? He has managed to transcend traditional problems of race and sex by creating his own race and his own sex. Why would such a progressive suddenly try to hang on to the old ways of defining ethnicity and pigmentation?

Ah, yes -- it helps him to claim VICTIM status:

He told fans he was the latest of several "black luminaries to be unjustly accused".
In his case, being black (or a black man who looks like a white woman) has nothing to do with his ordeal. He brought this upon himself by getting cozy with other people's kids. Did he really think that such behavior was normal? It has nothing to do with his (former) skin color. It is all about him being a fruitcake and a weirdo. Or maybe it's all personal -- he invokes the infamous "C" word:
"I am completely, completely innocent. But please know a lot of conspiracy is going on as we speak," Jackson said during an interview broadcast live on the internet.
So it really is all about you after all, Mike. Why are you so put upon? Why is everybody always picking on you?
He also denied he was going bankrupt, saying: "It's another of their schemes to embarrass me."
Being filthy stinking rich means never having to say "I'm guilty".

Friday, March 25, 2005

As God Is My Witness, I Thought Turkeys Stayed Outside

Near the building where I work, it is not unusual to see a flock of wild turkeys roaming around the neighborhood. Pittsburgh became a haven for the feathered monsters a few years ago after a controlled hunt in turkey-overrun rural areas of Pennsylvania drove the birds to seek refuge in heavily populated urban areas. (Source: Conversation with one of the hunters about two years ago. He took full credit, and looks forward to a turkey shoot within city limits.) Anyone who visits Allegheny Cemetery in the Lawrenceville section of the city can attest to this.

These urban turkeys have been nice, pleasant, unobtrusive creatures who never bother anybody -- until now. Trib columnist Eric Heyl tackles the matter of a turkey home invasion in an Allegheny County suburb:

Now, no one should feel safe in Carnegie. Not after the large wild turkey crashed boldly through the double-paned casement window in Suzan Barefoot's kitchen, filling the sink with broken glass and stray feathers. When she came upon the creature staring at her confrontationally in front of the stove, Barefoot realized the awful truth. She was the victim of a home invasion.
I know it's not nice to make fun of someone's name, but you have to wonder if Heyl knew what he was doing when he put together the words "Barefoot's kitchen". It sounds like a redneck greasy spoon diner run by a mother of many children. A place, in fact, where live turkeys might be kept in the kitchen in order to ensure that your turkey 'n' fixins plate contains the freshest meat available. Instead, this is a place where one freaked-out lady has a feathery guest with very poor manners:
"It was terrifying," a still-shaken Barefoot recalled Thursday. "He was very big, he was very ugly, and he defecated everywhere."
She probably would not insult her houseguest in this manner had he not provoked her by using the kitchen for a latrine. To her credit, she closed herself up in another part of the house while the turkey ran rampant. The monster was lethal:
Jerry Feaser of the Pennsylvania Game & Fish Commission said she handled the situation perfectly. "Turkeys have spurs on their legs that could conceivably cause injury to people who try to corner them," he said.
Window-crashing turkeys of death.

The civil authorities arrived, coaxed the bird out the front door, and let it escape back into suburbia. One incident like this is all that it takes for citizens to demand that something must be done. Controlled hunt, anyone?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Fortunes of Law & Order

Whilst at the library I came across a recent issue of Fortune magazine, the contents of which included a very interesting article on the Law & Order TV franchise in general, and on series creator Dick Wolf in particular. (Subscription required for full article online.) L&O has never been a particular favorite of mine, mainly because my wife seems to have tapped into some kind of 24-hour Law & Order channel. (Actually it is the NBC, TNT and USA networks, manipulated with a remote control, but just watch -- it could happen.) I get sick of it being on my living room TV all day and all night, but my wife likes it, so I let her have her fun.

What little snippets of the show I do get to see tend to be a bit blood-curdling. I have never said this out loud, but there are times when I want to walk into the living room and shout, "Oh! Are you watching RAPE & MURDER again?" Because that is basically what the show is about. Also, if they show police procedures first, then go through the workings of the District Attorney's office, why don't they call the show "Order & Law"? Seems to me that they got that backwards.

It is also interesting to learn who else watches the show. Charlton Heston mentioned a few years ago that his favorite TV show is L&O. That is especially high praise from someone who admitted to not watching much television. Plus, Heston is cool. Former L&O attorney Michael Moriarty thought so, too. In 2001 he made an appeal to Charlton Heston to team up and stand for constitutional values. No word on whether Heston ever responded.

Moriarty, of course, was still seething from his bad experience with the federal government several years earlier. The encounter with Janet Reno was enough to send him packing and relocating in Canada. See, there is a precedent for all of the leftists who wanted to moved after last November's election.

Longtime cast member Sam Waterston, who replaced Moriarty, has been outspoken on political matters. Days before the 2000 election, he debated Phil Donahue (a Ralph Nader supporter) on Fox News about the Greens taking votes away from Al Gore. Considering the outcome of that election, he may have had a point. Heh heh.

Current L&O Attorney General Fred Thompson, as a former US Senator from Tennessee, has the highest political profile of any cast member. He is a Republican, a rarity in the entertainment world, and made an appearance at the 2004 Republican National Convention, as did former L&O Assistant DA Angie Harmon.

I had always assumed that Dick Wolf was another Hollywood left type of guy, and a Clintonite at heart; many shows seemed to espouse a blatantly left of center point of view. According to the Fortune article, however, he is a political conservative. I may need to take a closer look at the show to see if his alleged political leanings can be gleaned from any more recent episodes. It is possible that TV shows and movies are influenced indirectly by the prevailing political wind in Washington D.C. The author of the article implies that Wolf's political conservatism is directly related to the name of the show: Law & Order. That kind of conclusion makes no sense to me. Does this mean that leftists are anarchic and disorderly? Quite the opposite is true. They are statists of the highest order, both in theory and in practice. (Unlike many conservatives, who are statist in practice if not in theory.) If anyone represents law and order, it is the left.

The show might be worth taking a closer look at, too, if they are maintaining the tradition of attractive female ADA's that made it worth watching in the late 1990s. Especially a conservative Texan pro-life attorney like Angie Harmon's character.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Talking Points Travel Faster Than News

It has been interesting to witness how the Moonbat Left has been responding to the actions of the Congress and President Bush concerning saving Terri Schiavo's life. The word monolithic applies here.

Both Pittsburgh papers had columns decrying the Republican party's actions as hypocritical, since Republican are the party of smaller government. Articles in papers from other cities said almost the same thing. I couldn't get away from it, no matter what news source I consulted yesterday.

Then I am at work and walk into another office, where I hear two people talking in tones that almost sound like weeping, and I hear the words, "...and they're supposed to be the party of smaller government..."

Argh! Do these people all get the same Moonbat talking points memo, or is this all done using transponders implanted in their brains?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

To Arms, To Arms

The other day, Mitch Berg at Shot In the Dark posted a brief comment on the Schiavo case; one of the commenters had something pretty terrifying to say in response:

This case merely shows that the upcoming civil war is becoming a necessity. I don't think it's even a question of if but when anymore. There are so many issues, like the Schaivo case and abortion and the culture war and the battle between merit culture and the entitlement culture, where Red America needs to rise, and if necessary put Blue Amerika to the bayonet.
The comment by Ray M. is terrifying not because he seems to be using incendiary language, but because he has a point about the way that the left currently views the state of affairs in America. Mitch responded to Ray that the comment was "Not exactly what I'm after here..." I don't believe that Ray really wants such a civil war to take place, and I know that I do not. (For one thing, my wife and I would have to try to kill one another, and that would make life at home kind of rough.) Yet, it is hard to look at contemporary debates over such hot-button issues as those cited by Ray and wonder at what point the debate ends and the opposing factions take their differences to another level.

Not long ago, while doing some research on a different topic, I had an opportunity to take a glance at some editorials from the Defiance Democrat, a northwest Ohio newspaper of fairly obvious political leanings, that were written in the early 1860s. The major issue of the time, just as in the early 2000s, was the war that was being waged by the United States. The paper's editorials, perhaps typical of a Democrat paper of the time, were almost identical in style to those of many of today's left-leaning rags. Blame everything on the war-mongering Republican president, demonize him, and tout the Democrat savior most likely to succeed in the upcoming campaign cycle. What I ought to do is post a excerpt from one of these editorials, then post it again with the name "Bush" in place of "Lincoln". You would not be able to tell that it was written in 1864 instead of 2004.

That was an era when there truly were "two Americas", as John Edwards claimed during last year's Presidential campaign. If we are approaching the day when America is divided once more, it will not be because of incendiary rhetoric from the right, but because people like Edwards, and John Kerry, and Ted Kennedy, and their followers will do more than just talk to make it happen.

I Yield the Floor to the Honorable Gentleman from Minnesota

I have not been commenting on the Terri Schiavo situation because there are quite a few people out there who have been doing such an excellent job of reporting and commenting on her plight that I really have nothing more to add. I will, however, refer anyone who is interested to Bogus Gold, where Doug has been keeping up with the news and explaining exactly why this matter is so very important.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Why Yes, I Am a Model

The last few years have not been kind to me. Okay, let me be honest: I have done a terrible job of taking care of myself for most of the last ten years. My weight has gone up so much that I can't weight myself on the new bathroom scale; the numbers don't go up that high. I rarely exercise, I pay little attention to how much I eat each day, and my sleep patterns are irregular. All of this is a direct result of fathering four children; everything I do is based on their schedules, as well as their personalities. I look forward to the day when I can take them outdoors on a regular basis. Which is to say, when I no longer have to worry about manic toddlers running out into traffic, or into the deepest darkest part of the forest.

Oh yes, and my beard is getting white. I had hoped that it would wait until after I turned forty, but no. That is probably a result of being a father of manic children also.

What can make me feel better about myself, short of going on a crash diet or driving myself into the ground with an intense exercise program? Well, how about a card in today's mail from International Model & Talent Management? This was not an invitation to a swimsuit or lingerie fashion show (which would have been nice), but an invitation to try my hand at being a model. The photos on the card depict the typical skin and bone model; surely this must be some kind of joke.

Nope! The text informs me that "IMTM works with models of all ages, all sizes and all experience levels". That's me! I am a 37 year old fat guy who is anything but photogenic. Perfect! How much do I get paid for standing here and letting you take my picture?

No, I'm not going to do it, but I would probably make more money doing this that I make in any job I have ever had before.

Hey Baby, Can I Buy You a Drink?

I miss out on so much by being married to a teetotaler. Did you know that there is an organization called "Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails"? Well, there is, believe it or not. If I were a single man, I am sure that I would be doing my utmost to contribute something to this fine association. These ladies have a high and honorable goal in mind as they seek to preserve culture through excessive drinking. Though you have to wonder, though, about someone who says that she

wouldn't be caught ordering a drink such as "sex on the beach" (vodka, Chambord, peach schnapps and pineapple, orange and cranberry juices) or a "buttery nipple" (butterscotch schnapps and Baileys).
But she doesn't have a problem with the potential implications of the word "cocktail"?
"None of us wants to be 'that girl,'" the 34-year-old administrative assistant said, describing the stereotypical "that girl" as a young female who perhaps has had one too many syrupy-sweet drinks or just swigs beer.
Here's an idea: Go around the bar and take a poll of men and find out if the guys want you to be "that girl". You may be surprised at what you learn. There is a reason that those drinks are called "Ladies' drinks", and that a man gets looked at funny if he tries to order one for himself. And how, exactly, does that kind of attitude fit your group's motto of "Dismantling the patriarchy one drink at a time"? Drink more "Ladies' drinks", why don'tcha!

I am almost proud this local contribution to cultural preservation. But a quick look at the picture of the ladies partyin' at a mausoleum on the LUPEC web site makes me wonder: Didn't some of them portray Velma's fan club, the "Dinkley Brigade", in the movie Scooby Doo 2? And a more in-depth perusal of the site reveals the group to be comprised of feminists with strong feelings about religion and politics. Republicans are "the enemy"? Sorry, ladies, but I will be drinking alone.

Maybe They Meant "Sue Dan!"

One of the strangest news stories of the past week has been the "Sudan/Sedan" controversy. This week's Dateline D.C. column nicely encapsulates the story and the fallout from this bizarre non-controversy.

Basically, in 1962 the United States conducted nuclear testing at a site in Nevada called Sedan. The testing was referenced in a Congressional Committee meeting and the transcription that appears in the Congressional Record contains the misspelling "Sudan" instead of "Sedan". The resulting outrage displayed the stupidity, paranoia, and capacity for lying on the part of our enemies around the world -- namely, the anti-American Islamic world, Red China, and of course Old Europe. Media services and governments around the world have been complaining about nuclear testing in an unassuming, unaware north African country over forty years ago.

The sad thing about all of this is that the outpouring of hate for America about something that never happened is no real surprise. Paranoid Islamic governments are just waiting for us to drop a nuke; why not play up a story without bothering to check the facts behind it first? China, of course, will report any story that makes America look bad; and European journalism is front and center with the American press and the Democratic Party in the field of America bashing.

Look for someone, somehow, to hold George Bush responsible for nuking the Sudan 39 years before he became President.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Rastafarian Velociraptor

Last night, when I was all alone at home, I whipped up a couple of burgers into which I mashed a little bit of just about everything that I could find in the spice cabinet, whatever it might have been. Then, getting sleepy, I went online, did some surfing, and came across this:

Replace the wolfman with a silly-looking dinosaur smoking from a bong!
That single sentence had me laughing out loud, literally, like a tickled horse, for at least fifteen minutes. The rest of the site is full of similar hilarious Lucasfilm criticism.

What in the hell did I put in that burger?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Orange Day

Having established my Protestant credentials in my last post, it may not be a surprise that I do not observe Saint Patrick's Day. My (maternal) Irish ancestors were the sort who got into fights with RCs and made the kids wear orange on March 17. Even though I attend services in a Lutheran church, I am, deep down, something of an Orangeman.

Mitch Berg has a good post about how he looks at this date (a cry for diversity? Ha!), but I think the post that best sums up how I feel about March 17 can be found at Kim DuToit's blog. Just another day at the office.

Don't Ask? Don't Tell? Just Don't Do Anything.

The governing body with which my church congregation is affiliated, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has been wrestling with the issue of human sexuality in the church for several years now. A congregation of which I was a member about eleven years ago actually left the ELCA to join a smaller, more conservative denomination over the issue of treating homosexuality as anything other than a sin. (There were other considerations, but that was the thing that pushed the congregation over the edge.) Splitting off like that does little to strengthen the church as a whole. Christian history, at times, seems like a timeline of the birth of new denominations. The last thing the church needs today is another split.

On the other hand, while having all Christians united under one umbrella (or "big tent") would be nice, I abhor large governing organizations. The larger the denomination, the larger the governing body. They tend to be more like political entities than communities of the faithful. The only time that I ever spoke to a Roman Catholic Priest on theological subject matter, he waved a book of Canon Law and said "This is what we have to do because this is what the Catholic church says we have to do". Too bad I didn't have a Bible at hand to wave and say, "This is THE BOOK that my church uses..." For that priest, it wasn't about faith and belief. It was about rules and regulations.

Whereas the Roman Catholic Church is monarchic in structure, the ELCA, like most mainstream Protestant churches, handles things a bit more democratically. This has the effect of leaving serious matters of policy up to a vote, which makes little sense in the context of the scriptural doctrine of a 2,000 year old faith. It was just such a vote that led the congregation mentioned above to leave the ELCA. A focus group in Chicago, where the ELCA is headquartered, decided in 1994 that homosexuality should not be considered a sin. This was not a group that dictates policy; it was an appointed body put together to study one particular issue. Being based in liberal Chicago, the focus group's decision came as no surprise. The majority of pastors and bishops opposed the announcement; if it had been put to a vote, it would have lost. But in the eyes of many, it was the whole ELCA that made a major policy change. One local radio host declared that "the Lutherans have thrown the Bible right out the window!"

Of course they did not, but that proverbial window remains open for the Bible to be thrown through at any time. A local focus group has just done its own study and announced its findings, and neither liberals nor conservatives are happy with it. The Southwest Pennsylvania Synod's Task Force On Human Sexuality recommends that the ELCA maintain its current policies regarding homosexuals in the church, which is to allow homosexuals into the church, but not to allow them to serve as clergy unless they are celibate. The former point is not argued by conservatives in theory, as it illustrates the principle of "hate the sin, love the sinner", but in practice this particular kind of sinner usually comes to church for acceptance rather than repentance. The latter point, gay clergy, was more of an issue in the Episcopal church a couple of years ago due to the elevation of a gay pastor to the rank of bishop. His situation was much more serious, since he basically abandoned his wife and children to go live with a man. There was a much larger sin issue there than just whether or not his being gay was okay, but his family's situation was largely ignored by the media, which wanted to harp on the anti-gay discrimination issue.

A theologian friend of mine several years ago pointed out to me that, according to the Bible, homosexuality is a sin. Are we all sinners? Of course. We are imperfect. Do we confess our sins? We do if we earnestly want to be forgiven. This is called repentance. If a clergyman is a practicing homosexual, he is an unrepentant sinner, and therefore not suited to lead a congregation. That is not repentance, that is defiance.

The Synod group's report, along with similar reports from around the country, is being submitted to the ELCA in anticipation of a unified response to be released later this summer. The governing body has tended to be rather more liberal than the Southwestern PA Synod, so don't expect the final response to please our local clergy. The problem, and the solution, are best summed up by the region's highest ranking clergyman:

Bishop Donald McCoid, head of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, said the church is aware of the range of opinions on this matter but believes "there is still a need for the church to adhere to certain core beliefs and the authority of Scripture that keeps us united as the church of Jesus Christ."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

MAWB Connections

Wow. I have finally hit the big time. Not only did Doug add me to his blogroll within days of Ohligarchy's debut, but I noticed last week that Mitch Berg now has me on his. It's nice to be noticed.

What nearly escaped my noticed was the small print at the bottom of the MAWB site, where every night is Ladies Night. It seems that I have been granted Diplomatic Immunity. Does this mean that I can cross the Mississippi without a sentry blasting a cap in my butt?

Also, that Chris Muir drawing at the top of the MAWB page is pretty hot. For a cartoon character, I mean.

The Right to Grill Delicious Hot Dogs

One of the pleasures of living in southwestern Pennsylvania is being able to read a paper like the Tribune-Review. The Trib provides a nice editorial balance to the more established Post-Gazette and, for those of you Minnesotans dropping by, is rather like the Anti-Strib of newspapers. We even have thoughtful, intelligent columnists who could, if you like, qualify as Anti-Nick Colemans.

A case in point is Eric Heyl's visit to a hot dog stand as recounted in his column from this morning's Trib. Imagine how a Nick Coleman would cover this story. The man running the hot dog stand, who has been told that he is using the city sidewalk illegally, would come off as a victim of not enough government regulation. Nick would make an issue of skin color (and also his complexion -- the hot dog man sort of looks like an older relative of Seal). And the column would include lots of quotes from sympathetic twits who wish the cruel government would do something to help him.

Eric Heyl, instead, does not go out of his way to obfuscate and confuse the reader. The hot dog man does not want the government to help him; he wants the government to keep out of his business. Heyl does not try to put any kind of spin on the flags and armed services stickers that decorate the hot dog wagon. "This is America," the hot dog man tells him, and Heyl needs no explanation. Finally, in concluding his article, Heyl comments sympathetically on the plight of this successful entrepreneur who is suing the city for the right to keep his stand in the same place it has been for over a decade. This column is a nice piece of reporting without spin.

Don't you folks in MN wish you had a Trib instead of a Strib?

Follow Ups

-- The real estate reassessment cap about which I blogged recently was approved by Allegheny County Council. Both local papers, the Trib and the P-G, report thereon. Now we just need to wait for the first lawsuit brought by someone, anyone who is negatively affected. Politicians pass laws that they know someone is going to challenge in court? What kind of reasoning is that? President Bush thought the courts would take care of the negative aspects of Campaign Finance Reform after he signed it into law. They did not. Will it happen here at the local level? Give it a few days we will see.

-- That Darn Cat continues to act suspicious. He was back hiding behind the tub yesterday, as I knew he would. What else, besides his furry little carcass, could he be hiding up there? I have been home from work for an hour, and I am afraid to go upstairs in case he has a bomb. At least Allegheny County Council doesn't have a bomb. That I am aware of.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Put That Thing Out!

In my ideal world, every bar and restaurant would be completely smoke free. This would not be the result of legislation; people would choose not to smoke indoors, and pretty much everywhere else for that matter. Legislation, however, has been bringing us closer to that ideal in many areas. California is the most notable example of a state with smoking restrictions; many others have followed suit. One place that has not is our beloved Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Visitors from states with smoke-free regulations are shocked and appalled -- or, in some cases, thrilled and delighted -- that the bars in PA are filled with clouds of thick cigarette smoke. For those folks, it is nothing like home.

That may change in the not too distant future. An article in today's Trib takes a look at the future of anti-smoking legislation in PA and its effect on businesses around the Pittsburgh area. Plenty of people, both pro and con, are quoted in the article. One opponent of smoking bans had this to say:

Bernard L. Pucka, executive director of the Allegheny County Tavern Association, believes a law banning smoking would hurt business.
"One of the things these people have to realize is that a tavern isn't a church," Pucka said. "People go out there to have fun, to relax, to let loose. I guess smoking isn't a good thing, but there are still an awful lot of people in this country who smoke. It wouldn't be right to take it away from them."

When someone says that some establishment "isn't a church", they are one step away from calling it a whorehouse. More to the point, it makes a church sound like the only haven for nonsmokers. If that were the case, I would live in a church. Then there is the matter of going to a bar "to have fun, to relax, to let loose". I suppose that this is one of those areas where I, as someone who has never smoked anything in my entire life, have a hard time understanding the correlation between having fun, relaxation, letting loose, and smoking. A few close family members of mine -- now dead, of course -- smoked for many years. It seemed as though smoking increased their anxiety levels and made them angrier and more prone to frustration. They certainly didn't seem like they were having fun or relaxing. Flatulence, on the other hand, is relaxing. How would these smokers feel if someone else's flatulence wafted up their noses the way that their smoke drifts towards other people's nostrils?

And anyway, if I go to a bar, the alcohol that I consume does plenty to relax me, thank you very much.

The rest of Mr. Pucka's comments above sounds more like a wishy-washy, man-in-the-street comment than a strongly held opinion from someone representing the interests of local businesses. But he then goes on to say:
"Most people are courteous. They won't fire up and annoy other people with a cigarette," Pucka said.
On what planet? Is this guy a smoker? If not, has he ever been to a restaurant? Not only are most smoking sections not insulated from the no smoking areas, but a lot of people actually walk through the no smoking section with lit cigarettes on their way to and from the smoking sections. Courteous? In a pig's eye. They don't care who they annoy when they smoke.

But do we really need legislation to drive smokers into their homes to practice the habit? Like I said above, in ideal world, they would do it voluntarily. But if anti-smoking sentiment continues to grow, politicians in Harrisburg are going to seriously consider a California-style ban. Meanwhile, I am staying away from most places that allow smoking, and patronize eateries that are smoke free...like Hoss's. Mmmmm....steak.

Let's Move Before They Raise the Cable Rates, OW!

Well, all right now. My cable provider, Comcast, has reached an agreement with TiVo to provide its digital video recording services to Comcast subscribers. The announcement made TiVo's stock values go through the roof, and caused Comcast stock to pop a minor zit. Comcast's subscription prices, in all likelihood, will also go up, and probably not just for those who opt to use the TiVo service.

I am a reasonably satisfied Comcast customer. My digital cable TV, high-speed internet and phone service are all provided by Comcast. (They used to be provided by AT&T, until that company bought Comcast, combined its cable services with those of its new acquisition, and then spun Comcast back out into a separate company again.) My only complaint is about the price, but in the case of cable TV and internet, it can be argued that I am simply paying more for better quality. (The cost of phone service is a whole separate matter.)

Every change, big or small, seems to be an excuse to raise rates. If this happens, I am going to consider alternative sources of home entertainment feeds, including looking at satellite dish companies. Cable TV would be sorely missed, but right now I can't help thinking that the TiVo deal is going to cost me, one way or another. Unless, of course I go out and invest in some TiVo stock....

Radical Felinism in America

Last night, I walked into my bathroom and closed the door. (Don't worry, it's not a sick story.) The unmistakable sound of a crying cat suddenly came caterwauling out from behind the bathtub. Pretty soon, the kitty came out and resumed bemoaning his predicament: trapped between the human he hates the most and the only way out of prison. I don't get much chance to pet and scratch him, so before I released the fuzzball, I reached down and petted him and scratched him (and called him George...) until he purred. That was a nice sound, because it reassured me that my fears of getting my forearms bitten and clawed were unfounded.

Teeth and fangs should have been the least of my worries. That cat could have been packing heat. I have no idea how I could have missed this story from last week, but some poor fellow was shot by his little kittycat. It's not like we weren't warned about the dangers of our feline friends, neighbors and permanent houseguests. Anyone who saw Shrek 2 knows what I mean.

When I get home tonight, I am checking the dark side of the bathtub for a weapons cache. That "poor little pussycat" act doesn't fool me anymore.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Reassessing the Reassessment

One of the more controversial moves made by Allegheny County government in the last few years has been the real estate reassessment plan. For years, properties had been assessed at astonishingly low values in comparison to the actual prices being paid for real estate transfers. Taxes were nice and low due to the low assessment. Within a few years of purchasing my house, I was rather mortified to see that my assessment went up by close to 30%. Goodbye, nice low monthly mortgage payments; the ESCROW went up and about two year's of pay increases at work were shot. The last thing I need right now is a new assessment of my property.

Now, as reported in today's Trib, Allegheny County is preparing to vote on the latest version of the assessment plan. The new plan, pushed by County Executive Dan Onorato, requires a cap on assessments to prevent "a wide swath of taxpayers massive tax increases and help stem a tide of bankruptcies and sheriff's sales." Not to mention, as County Councilman Wayne Fontana points out, a mass exodus of people (i.e. revenue sources) from Allegheny.

At face value, the cap plan sounds very appealing. Who wouldn't support a plan that would keep their taxes down? Ah, but there is the pesky matter of Constitutional law getting in the way. For one thing, there are six categories into which properties would be divided. Assessments could either decrease, stay the same, or go up 1-4 percent. This is a constitutional no-no in Pennsylvania; all taxpayers are to be treated equally under the law here, which must really confound the best laid plans of our leftist social engineers. State law also requires tax rates to be lowered if anticipated revenue increases are higher than 5%. So much for trying to gouge us legally.

Still, legality and constitutionality never discouraged a money-hungry Democrat before, so why should it stop one now? Look for this to end up in the courts. Taxpayers, municipalities and school districts are all going to get on the county for this one. The Trib article rightly gives the last word to CMU economics professor Robert Strauss:

"The time is long overdue for officials in Southwest Pennsylvania to realize that every time they flout best practices, common practices and the state Constitution, they are dissuading people from moving capital and people into Allegheny County," he said.
A sound viewpoint. But are our elected officials listening?

Hello, Gorge-ous!

Not many visitors drop by this rather newish blog, so it is always interesting to see what kind of Google searches bring people my way. Yesterday, someone found my site by Googling this string of words:

Gorge Lucas' phone number
Someone must be getting desperate to provide some last-minute post-production advice on Star Wars Episode III. I wonder if they ever figured out how to spell "George"?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

I Go To Wellstone

I am doing other things besides listening to the NARN today, so I am NOT live blogging the show. I just want to say CURSE YOU, "Saint Paul", for getting that horrible Wellstone! song stuck in my head. That's a nice tune for singing if you're on a chain gang or breaking rocks in the yard. BUT not when I am sitting at home and trying to use my brain for something. Yeesh!

Who Hid the Monkey?

The Northern Alliance Radio Network is celebrating the show's first year anniversary with a "very special show" this afternoon. Guests in the first half-hour included Congressman (and future Senator) Mark Kennedy, Generalissimo Duane from Hugh Hewitt's show, and the guy who is married to the babe from the Our House blog. Now Terry Keegan of Keegan's Pub is on discussing his relationship with the NARN. It's just one interesting conversation after another.

I am still waiting to hear a phone call from a certain Star-Tribune columnist, and I don't mean Lileks. Where's Nick?

The High Cost of Immorality

Treating yourself to a strip show isn't just immoral. It can be downright deadly, as this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shows. Note the rather shallow reason that infuriated the stripper and motivated her to have her customers killed.

What on earth would that woman have been doing for money if she wasn't taking her clothes off in front of strangers? And was it the customers' refusal to pay or the insult to her person that angered her more? This is more evidence of a sicker, less rational society that we live in.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Every Jedi Is Now an Enemy of the Republic

After days of waiting, I nearly missed the new Star Wars trailer that premiered on Fox right at the conclusion of some show called "The O.C." Never saw it before, never will again. Cute chicks, though. But I tuned in just in time, and I am so glad that the movie debuts in just two months. The trailer was so packed with action that I wonder what George Lucas has come up with to fill the rest of the feature film. Darth Sidious is even more impressive than ever, zapping Yoda with blue lightning and pummeling the little muppet with flying senatorial cereal bowls. I never liked tough little short guys who acted like they were in charge. To see Yoda get beaten up will make me smile and laugh, and laugh some more.

It's a sure bet that this weekend's debut of the animated feature Robots will be a huge moneymaker based on the strength of the Star Wars trailer that precedes it. I'd take my kids to see it, but I don't want to lose anyone in the stampede.

I Bet They Even Have A Building Named After Robert Byrd

John Mark Reynolds, filling in for Hugh Hewitt, referred to his West Virginia heritage during a prologue to a discussion of doddering WV Democratic Senator Robert Byrd. Dr. Reynolds mentioned what a nice place West Virginia is, and how all of the jokes and criticism of Appalachians is unfunny, somewhat offensive, and way off the mark. (He then went into a segment where he played a number of Byrd sound bites, thereby defeating his own argument that West Virginia is not to be laughed at.) Being from the Pittsburgh area, I heard plenty of West Virginia related humor. Instead of "Mountaineers", we called them "hoopies". I had no idea where that term originated, but there is an interesting story behind it involving Mingo Indians:

...the Mingos came from West Virginia and the surrounding areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania to sell barrel hoops in Pittsburg [sic]... It appears to have been going on even into the twentieth century, for mountain people in West Virginia are called "hoopies" or by corruption "hooties" by the town dwellers even today.
In truth, anyone from Pittsburgh who has gone south into rural Washington County must feel like they have already crossed the state line. The Commonwealth of Virginia, from which West Virginia was formed in 1863, laid claim to present-day southwestern Pennsylvania during the early 1770s, and many settlers of the region had Virginia land grants. Often these settlers came into conflict with those who received Pennsylvania land grants, so there is a sort of longstanding rivalry between WV and PA that goes back over two centuries.

Still, as Dr. Reynolds said, West Virginia is a nice place to visit or even to live in. I have been to a few places in WV and have never figured out what anybody has against the state or its inhabitants.

Since I was listening to the show on the internet feed of AM 1280 The Patriot from Minnesota, I could not help but think back on my trip to northern Minnesota eleven years ago. On the way to Elbow Lake via the town of Cook, we stopped for groceries at a supermarket in Virginia, the "Queen City of the North". Since I was tracking our journey in my topographical atlas, I could not help but notice that just west of Virginia was a place called West Virginia. Naturally I found this amusing. And, obviously, the town's name refers to its proximity to the city. But no one back in Pittsburgh had even heard of Virginia, MN, so I played it smart. "Did you know," I asked my local compadres, "that there is a place in northern Minnesota called 'West Virginia'?" No one believed me. After all, who would name a town after a state like West Virginia? Silly people.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Mr. Disney is Assisting Police With Their Inquiries

A little ways north of Pittsburgh lies formerly little-known Cranberry Township. Now a thriving commercial area and residential municipality, Cranberry was once a little-known farming community and the butt of many a bad joke. ("Is that anywhere near TURKEY? Yuk yuk yuk!") Last night, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Cranberry was the site of a somewhat unintentional joke:

A convenience store clerk in Cranberry foiled an armed robbery last night when he burst into laughter after a man wearing a Pluto-the-dog mask pulled out what looked like a gun and demanded money.
The incident occurred just before closing time, when the clerk was alone in the store and presumably an easy target for Mickey Mouse's pet dog. A township police Sergeant advises that reacting as the clerk did, with spontaneous laughter, may not be the safest thing to do in these situations:
"I don't want to give the impression that that's an advisable thing to do," he said. "Pluto could have been a strung-out heroin addict. You never know."
Celebrity substance abuse is a terrible thing; due to the influence of the famous on the youth of America, there is a great threat that impressionable children might be tempted to copy the habits of their idols. Unfortunately, Pluto left in a huff before the dog catcher could arrive. The Cranberry police will be looking out for this (a)stray dog; says the Sergeant:
"This is our first encounter with the Pluto robber," he said.
If Pluto is smart, he will go back to protecting his rodent master from hungry felines, thus avoiding any further embarrassment and future jail time.

English First; Spanish Second

Spanish is now the number two language, behind English, in the Pittsburgh area. (The linked Trib article does not specify if "English" also includes Pittsburghese.) This is quite a surprise, considering that, historically, Spanish speaking immigrants never came to southwestern Pennsylvania in great numbers. Pittsburgh has had waves of ethic immigration over its 246 year history. The city was primarily settled by Scots-Irish families, followed by waves of English and German immigrants. Many Irish and Italians also came to the area by the end of the nineteenth century. After that, many eastern European immigrants, mostly Polish, arrived in Pittsburgh. There really has not been a single dominant ethnic immigrant group since World War II, though the article points out that there was a wave of Soviet Jews who left the USSR about 25 years ago. And based on my own observations during the last twenty years, I would say that many of our present-day foreign-born Pittsburghers came from eastern and southern Asia.

Although Chinese (though not Hindi) is on the list of local languages, this is still a predominantly European-descended bunch of people. No surprise, then, to see languages such as Italian and German on the list (forgive me for indulging in an ethnic stereotype, but the best pizza in town is made by people who came from Italy). And the presence of German companies such as Bayer has contributed to a steady influx of professionals from Germany. (Many of my ancestors spoke German at home, went to churches with services in German, worked and drank in German saloons, and wrote correspondence in German script -- all while living in Pittsburgh.) French, however, is a surprise. There has never been what would be called a "French community" around town. There are or have been German, Irish, Italian and Polish neighborhoods (even a small "Chinatown" section at the edge of downtown), but French has never really stood out as a widely spoken language or as an ethnicity in this city.

Greek is also in the top ten. Many Greeks also came to the area post-WWII, and have formed a very close knit community like the Irish, Germans or Poles once did. There are several thriving Greek churches in the area, and some of my neighbors were born in Greece, or are the children of Greek immigrants.

With all of these many and varied ethnic and linguistic groups in the Pittsburgh area, how did the Spanish language attain the number two ranking? The answer must be the same that explains why so many from far away lands such as China and India have been coming here: academics. The livelihoods of most Asian immigrants are concentrated primarily on the fields of medicine and technology. Spanish speakers, mainly from Latin America, are attracted to the city by the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Latin American Studies. This program was started over forty years ago when there was not much of a Spanish speaking element in the local mix. A few years later, Pitt's library added a Latin American literature collection that has grown continually over time. This is a real-life example of "if you build it, they will come". And the "they" who came are well-educated, bilingual folks whose ranks include a number of well-known, high-profile visiting professors from many Latin American countries. This is not an area that needs to fear the loss of English as its first language, as seems to be happening in parts of the southwestern U.S., particularly California. If anything, the ascendancy of the Spanish language in Pittsburgh is a welcome addition to the local character.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Lock Up That Cell

An editorial in this morning's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review calls for a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving. The numbers of people talking on the phone while driving has gone through the roof over the last couple of years. Says National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesman Rae Tyson:

''While we don't have hard evidence that there's been an increase in the number of crashes, we know that talking on the phone can degrade driver performance,'' Tyson said.
This is obvious to anyone who actually pays attention while driving. Without fail, the worst drivers on the road are those who look as though their hands are surgically attached to their ears. Those people will not put the phone down for any reason.

Naturally, there would be opposition to such a proposal. Like smoking, this is an issue where personal freedom comes into conflict with public safety concerns. And like smokers, cell phone users will defiantly continue to practice their behavior until someone suffers as a direct result.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Shoot the Headline Writer!

Some web site called Gameshout News reports that a newly-discovered star the size of Jupiter is located somewhere in Chile. That is actually kind of scary. Supposing it goes nova? We are all doomed, I tell you.

Lileks Up a Tree!

Great, just great. I tried to read this morning's Bleat by James Lileks and couldn't get past the second paragraph without erupting into howls of laughter. Well, I suppose it was time for the kids to get up for school anyway.

Food for Thought

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a ban on junk food in public schools. This would be a welcome change in any school system. When I was a school child here in Pennsylvania, our school lunches were very basic: A square meal, including carton of milk, and some kind of dessert that didn't always fall into the "junk food" category. Our desserts were things like a small piece of cake, a glob of pudding, applesauce or fruit cocktail, and on special occasions like Thanksgiving, a small block of ice cream wrapped in some kind of cardstock paper. The portions were tiny, even by elementary school standards. We never had any brand name desserts like Hostess treats or Fudgesicles. Spoiling children with that kind of junk was the parents' prerogative.

When I entered high school, I was in for a shock. Not only was there the regular square meal hot lunch line, but there was also an ala carte line that seemed to consist of just about anything made by Hostess, several varieties of chips, various ice cream bars and frozen treats, and handmade sandwiches or leftover main courses from the previous day's menu. I often found myself having about four kinds of junk food for lunch. Tenth grade was such a dietary nightmare that I ended up skipping lunch most of the time in my last two years of high school just to make up for it. Those menu selections were unthinkable when I was in elementary school.

I had no exposure to school lunches until my oldest began Kindergarten in 2001. A lot of things had changed in the ensuing years. The ordinary lunches were surprisingly tasty compared to the garage that was shoveled onto our trays so many years earlier. But there was also more selection that we had, and that selection included some brand name snack foods. As if that wasn't enough, there were snack and soda pop machines in the school lobby.

More people are becoming aware that these kinds of foods contribute to behavior that is usually diagnosed clinically as ADHD. (An interesting dietary regimen can be found here; just ignore the second half of the page.) We need to start holding our schools accountable for the nutritional value of ALL foods made available to children in school, or take direct responsibility and start packing their lunches. Governor Schwarzenegger's proposal needs to be taken seriously, and not just in California. I am hoping that his peers across the nation are inspired by his suggestion to reconsider nutrition in the schools.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Pay Your Own Way Or Get Off the Train

Communism may not be dead yet, but at least it is in the throes of agony, and that is a good thing. The Tribune-Review reports this morning on the cuts in Amtrak service in Pittsburgh. Once upon a time, several passenger rail routes came through town. Passenger service was viable, and the most common means of transportation across the country. In the mid-20th century, airlines began taking business away from the railroads, and the personal automobile became a more popular option for business trips and family vacations. Dozens of railroads went bankrupt, resulting in mergers that have resulted in only three major rail systems in the United States.

Amtrak was created by the federal government in the wake of thee bankruptcies of the late 1960s; no one could afford to provide passenger service and stay in business. For over three decades, Amtrak has survived through government funding more than through income from passenger fares. Each year, the budget gets tighter and Amtrak supporters moan about the greedy federal government not doing enough to help.

Do I really need to bring up the fact that "government funding" is just a euphemism for money stolen from working Americans? This is tyranny. The people who want to save Amtrak do not understand this. Here's a quote from the article:

"People from across the state will lose direct service," said Robert Abraham, a regional director for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, who lives in Monroeville. "It's really something that affects a lot of people."
Of course, he refers to the people who plan to ride the train. But what about the millions of taxpayers who have unwillingly paid into the federal government's failed business for thirty-five years? Keeping Amtrak in existence is "really something that affects a lot of people." President Bush has tried not to cut the cord completely, but he has indicated that Amtrak needs to go elsewhere for money:

Loyal passengers have greater concerns than the fate of Pittsburgh service with massive cuts proposed in President Bush's $2.57 trillion budget.

The Bush plan would add $360 million to the Surface Transportation Board's budget so it could maintain commuter rail service in big cities. But the president wants state and local subsidies to help pay for rail service.

Ultimately, it all comes down to making it affordable. If people really want to take the train, they should be willing to pay whatever it costs. Cutting the budget and reducing taxes might be a nice way to start; a lot of us could afford to improve our quality of life if allowed to keep all of our own money. Instead, we might as well just take the train. We are paying for it already, anyway.

No More Valentines, Charlie Assad

Top of the fold on Google News this morning is a Lebanese op/ed piece comparing Syria's Bashar Assad to Charlie Brown. It seems that his fellow Arab leaders have stopped sending him Valentines. Even the Saudis have forsaken him. If he is smart, he will get the message and avoid the predicament of Saddam Hussein. Of course, most dictators just don't know when it is time to quit.

In Lightning There is Power

It never dawned on me until recently, but ever since I was a child, many of my favorite fictional characters have been those who could shoot lightning from their hands. My favorite member of the Legion of Super-Heroes was Lightning Lad. It was especially cool when he got into it with his evil brother, Lightning Lord. I didn't care who was good or who was bad, it was just an awesome power when anyone used it.

The hand lightning was used a few times on Doctor Who, and was especially when the Cybermen used it, although that was more of an energy spark than an actual lightning bolt. Even when a little girl used it in "Remembrance of the Daleks", it looked wickedly cool.

Best of all is the Sith Lightning that has appeared in two of five Star Wars films so far and will probably be used to fullest effect in the new movie, Revenge of the Sith. I have read some early plot synopses and, while I don't want to spoil it completely for anyone who reads this, I will say that Darth Sidious uses his dark side lightning to destroy at least one major Jedi, the way that he almost destroyed Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. If one of the spoilers that I read is correct, he has a great battle with Yoda in the Senate room, where Sidious uses the force to throw those big floating cereal bowls at the little Muppet. The only thing that would have outdone that is if they had added a new scene to A New Hope, in which Grand Moff Tarkin informs the officers on the Death Star that the Emperor has dissolved the Imperial Senate and left control of the empire in the hands of regional governors. Can you imagine how cool it would be if they had added a scene of the Emperor literally dissolving the Senate chambers with everyone inside?

There is a character who I dearly hope will meet his end in the upcoming movie. He hails from the planet of Naboo, and is easily the most annoying character in the "Prequel" Trilogy. Jar Jar Binks? No. Even he redeems himself by being funnier than most people give him credit for. I am talking about whiny, useless Sio Bibble, governor of Naboo. This guy was the one thing about both Episodes I and II that made me want to throw things and curse at the screen. All we have seen him do is whine and complain. Qui-Gon Jinn should have whacked Bibble with the light saber for his impudence when they first met in The Phantom Menace, but that would be a dark side thing to do. Who cares?

Senator Palpatine was enormously popular on Naboo when he was elected Supreme Chancellor at the end of Episode I. I envision him as a sort of "favorite son candidate" for Emperor as well, even though he doesn't need to be elected to become Emperor. Here's my vision of a scene for Episode III:
Newly declared Emperor Palpatine returns home for a visit to Naboo in order to assure his countrymen that everything is going well and that they need not fear his ascendancy. Sio Bibble is there to confront him (in his whiniest voice ever). "I have know you since we were children! We went to school together! We were best friends! When you were elected Senator, I supported you! When you were elected Chancellor, we were all so proud of you! How could you do this to us!"
Palpatine replies, "You have been deluding yourself your entire life. I have always hated you. You were an annoying whiny brat then; you are annoying and whiny now. No one liked you in school. You would never have reached your lofty post if not for your family's wealth. You have been nothing but a detriment to your government. The time has come for me to relieve you of your post."
With that, Palpatine reveals himself as the Sith Lord, Darth Sidious, and proceeds to nearly turn Sio Bibble transparent with the most aggressive flood of blue lightning ever unleashed from a dark lord's fingertips. Bibble whines incoherently and finally drops down dead at the feet of Sidious. He turns to face the crowd that has assembled, expecting to face resistance from angry friends and supporters of the sizzled corpse. Instead, he is greeted with cheers and applause. The favorite son has given his people exactly what they want. Palpatine is hailed as the greatest figure in Naboo's history and feted with a conquering hero's celebration.

George Lucas would never put anything like this into his movie, but I can still dream, right?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Gubernatorial Flunking

Via Doug at Bogus Gold, I see that the Cato Institute's 2004 report card on the tax policies of America's state governors is now online in PDF format. Edward G. Rendell, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, sits near the bottom of the freshman class with a grade of "F". Here's what Cato has to say about "Fast Eddie":

Edward Rendell’s low tax grade is a result of his stubborn insistence on raising taxes. After vetoing a budget that balanced the state’s books without raising taxes, Rendell lobbied for a 33 percent hike in the income tax, an increase in the beer tax, and a new tax on cell phones. Even though his plan included some property tax relief, it still would have resulted in a net tax increase of more than $1 billion.
I wish I could say that I am surprised. Actually, I wish I could say that we the voters of the Commonwealth sent Rendell back home to Philadelphia in the 2002 election. But I can't. What I can say is this: A state that elects a Republican state legislature and two Republican Senators ought to be perfectly capable of electing a fiscally responsible Republican governor and putting its electoral votes behind a Republican presidential candidate. But it doesn't. And the paragraph excerpted above explains exactly why it should. There's more:
The main reason the freshman Democrats didn’t earn a higher average grade (than "D") is the fiscally reckless records of governors such as Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania and James McGreevey of New Jersey. In the cases of Rendell and McGreevey in particular, the moderate “New Democrat” rhetoric that both politicians used in their runs for office—Rendell ran on his tax-cut record as mayor of Philadelphia, and McGreevey stated flatly that he was committed to not raising taxes—was abandoned shortly after they were inaugurated, and massive tax increases followed.
Keep in mind that Rendell was Bill Clinton's DNC head, and the "New Democrat" strategy is what got Clinton elected President twice. Run from the middle, govern from the left. Rendell might easily have been a "Clinton Lite". That wouldn't have been so bad, but it's not quite correct. He's more like "Clinton HEAVY". Instead of Hollyweirdos, his troops are union thugs.

The reports card's summary of Rendell's fiscal performance has a few choice nuggets:
He came into office with a reputation for being a fiscal conservative who was willing to take on the powerful unions in Philadelphia.
In other words, he was beamed over from a parallel universe. Unless, of course, "take on" is another way of saying "enlisted as supporters".
Rendell’s first budget would have eliminated the state deficit with $1.6 billion in spending cuts. But he quickly stated that he proposed it as a gimmick to show how painful it would be to close the budget gap without a tax increase.
A "gimmick". A tease. Evidence that the Democratic Party has the appropriate animal symbol in the Jackass.
The legislature, however, called his bluff and passed his no-tax-hike budget before he had introduced his promised package of tax increases. Those tax increases were accompanied by
around $2 billion in new education spending. Rendell made good on his threat and vetoed
his own budget to prevent the state from balancing its books without hiking taxes.
I take back what I said before. Rendell didn't come from the parallel universe; he's beamed the rest of us into his parallel universe. What kind of way is this to govern? Does he think he is playing with children? What is it with the Left and its crappy attitude towards those of us on the Right?
Even when the federal government bailed out Pennsylvania with $900 million, Rendell didn’t back down from his tax hike.
What do I keep saying on here every time I mention Rendell? It is not just Pennsylvania's problem; it is everyone else's problem, too. I sometimes wonder if any of these Democrats have been weaned since they were born.
The state legislature fought Rendell’s plan in a bruising year-long fight during which even
Democrats in the Pennsylvania House refused to vote for his tax plan.
Alright, I take it back. They are not all bad.
Ultimately, they accepted a $700 million tax hike, including a 10 percent income tax increase.
One way or the other, they get it from us. How do we know this wasn't something that Rendell planned when he was drawing up his first "gimmick" budget proposal?
Pennsylvania taxpayers are probably disappointed by the death of the tax-cutting spirit that guided Rendell when he was mayor of Philadelphia.
Since I never considered voting for the guy, I can't say that I am disappointed because I expected something like this from him. And think about this: When he was mayor of Philly, his constituency was almost solidly Democrat. He was cutting taxes on a group of "Us". Now that he is in Harrisburg, it's "Us" versus "Them". He has an incentive to punish rather than to reward the taxpayers since some of them are Eeeevil Republicans. Like ME.

Lynn Swann's candidacy in 2006 is looking more and more appealing.

(Ancient) Pop Culture

A fossil of a rather short humanoid life form, discovered somewhere in Indonesia a few months ago, is believed to be representative of a heretofore unknown species of early man. Almost as soon as it was announced to the public, EVERYONE started calling it a "Hobbit", owing to the popularity of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films over the last few years. This is reminiscent of the naming of the hominid skeleton "Lucy" back in 1974, after a song by the Beatles. And let us not forget the left's mocking of the Strategic Defense Initiative by calling it "Star Wars".

Whatever happened to the good old days when fiction was inspired by reality?

If the "Hobbit" had been discovered in 1939, it would be called the "Munchkin". If in 1983, it would be the "Ewok". This is not a good trend.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Caught On Tape

This morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on a shockingly violent incident at the main branch of the Carnegie Library:

A librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Oakland branch was slightly injured Tuesday after a patron punched him, knocking him to the floor.

The man attacked senior librarian Barry Chad, 57, at 11:45 a.m. after Chad asked him to stop moving a chair from a microfilm area in the Pennsylvania Room on the second floor of the library at 4400 Forbes Ave., authorities said. The man had previously visited the library in the past month but has not been identified.

Having spent plenty of time doing research at the Carnegie Library over the last twenty years, I am very familiar with the Pennsylvania Room and microfilm area. I am not personally acquainted with the librarian who was attacked, but I know who he is. Some insiders at the Carnegie gave me information not disclosed in the PG article..

One of the local TV stations had already sent a crew to the Pennsylvania Room to do a story on the library's holdings in that section. They were not expecting on-the-spot breaking news. While the camera was rolling, the thug (who had been disruptive in the past) began his furniture moving routine. The librarian tried to tell him to stop, the thug got violent, and the alert cameraman caught the whole incident on tape. The thug spotted him and threatened him if he didn't turn the camera off. Instead, he got a close-up. Bad move on his part, and too bad that he got away.

Two days ago, only a few people at the library knew what this guy looked like. Now his face is much more well known that he intended, and more than a few people are going to be looking out for him. I doubt he will be showing up back at the library anytime soon, and if he does, the librarians and staff will be ready.

Some Melted Butter, Please

Okay, I am convinced. I do not nearly pay as much attention to local happenings as I ought to. Why, I completely missed this story until it was all over:

Bubba, the 23-pound lobster that caught national attention when he was spared the cooking pot, died yesterday, nearly 24 hours after his transfer to Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.
People in this world are starving! We don't need to be wasting food by sending it to the Zoo!
Wholey's in the Strip District acquired the giant lobster Thursday and had offered him for sale. One bidder offered $500 to save him and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lobbied to have him returned to the ocean.
Wholey's is unquestionably the best source of seafood in town. I would eat more of that stuff were it no so expensive, especially when someone bids $500 for a single lobster. Someone should lobby to have PETA "returned to the ocean".
Robert Wholey III decided to donate Bubba to PPG Aquarium, which planned to monitor the lobster for a week or so before sending him to a Ripley's aquarium.
Ripley's? I don't believe it.
"Unbelievable," Wholey said when he learned of Bubba's death. "He left here happy, alive and kicking."
Yes, until he found out that he was being excluded from the food chain and died of sorrow because he would no longer be able to satisfy some connoisseur's appetite. Meanwhile, the mushroom people at PETA are trying to use the lobster's death to garner publicity by accusing others of doing the same thing:
...Karin Robertson, who manages PETA's Fish Empathy Project, wishes Wholey's would have taken PETA up on its offer Monday to drive Bubba to the Atlantic coast to be released within a day.

"It's disappointing because people used him as a publicity stunt, and it ultimately caused his death," she said.

She said people should consider adopting a vegetarian diet. "Hopefully, Bubba's legacy will encourage people to think of animals as individuals."

That reminds me of the time I went to a German restaurant and ordered Hasenpfeffer, which was made with both pork and rabbit. I tried to distinguish between the two animals as I chewed down on each chunk of meat.

The last word should belong, rightly (as any Seinfeld viewer knows), to a marine biologist. Hand me a bib and pass me some melted butter, I'm ready to crack some shell!

[Marine biologist Randy]Goodlett disagreed [with PETA's Robertson].

"They should have sold it to someone who could have cooked it," he said. "It's a shellfish. It's not like it's a pet."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Seeing the Future By Looking at the Past

Once upon a time, trolley tracks could be found all over the city of Pittsburgh. Many short lines ran into neighboring counties. Riding the trolley, or streetcar (since the tracks mostly ran along the paved roads rather than a typical railroad right of way), was a part of everyday life for many commuters. Over the course of time, buses began to displace streetcars as the primary method of mass transit. By the 1970s, the once commonplace streetcar lines had dwindled to a few routes that ran between downtown Pittsburgh and a few neighborhoods in the South Hills of Allegheny County. The cars that remained in use were the very popular -- and now fondly remembered -- PCC cars that dated back to the 1930s. No plans to revitalized Pittsburgh's rail system had gotten very far. Local commuter rail service seemed to be doomed.

Then, in the late 1970s, the city decided to go ahead and not only convert the existing trolley lines into a newfangled light rail system, but also to rip up the streetcar tracks from the surface of the downtown streets and replace them with an actual underground subway. How did this come about? According to an old college professor of mine, President Jimmy Carter came to town and marveled that a major American city did not have a subway system. He was appalled and decided that the federal government was going to help make it happen. It was, of course, wasteful and unnecessary. For one thing, Pittsburgh has one of the smallest downtown areas of any big city in the country. The existing bus and streetcar routes on the surface were quite sufficient to move commuters between the space of a few blocks.

Another problem that had confounded planners in the past concerned the so-called "fourth river" running beneath the city's surface. Seemingly the stuff of which legends are made, this sibling to the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers is actually an aquifer called the Wisconsin Glacial Flow. The existence of a mysterious body of water of any kind underneath downtown prevented the construction of a subway for many years.

Reality never gets in the way of a federal mandate, however, so the new Light Rail Transit system (LRT) was constructed. Downtown Pittsburgh finally had its subway, and most of the former streetcar line south of the Monongahela River was moved off the streets and onto a traditional right of way. New light rail vehicles were purchased from Germany; the PCC cars continued to run on ever-decreasing portions of the line until September 1999. Within the last couple of years, the Port Authority has purchased new light rail cars. Light rail expansion has been discussed; a proposed addition to the existing LRT line would run to the North Shore of the Allegheny River via a tunnel to be dug underneath the bottom of the river, thus connecting more commuters with the new sports stadiums. That move would be just as stupid and wasteful as the construction of the stadiums was a few years ago.

Whither rail-based public transportation in Pittsburgh? While the current solutions to the Port Authority's fiscal woes involves throwing more money at the existing system regardless of the source of the funds, someone has an interesting suggestion in mind. Bob O'Connor, candidate for mayor of the city of Pittsburgh, has put forth a bold proposal: Why not run a streetcar line between downtown and the Oakland neighborhood, site of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University? In the long run, this could be a great idea. But there are a lot of bugs to be worked out. First, the cost of the new lines is estimated at $11 million per mile, totaling around $70 million. O'Connor says that funding will come from two sources: "private investors" (who, exactly?); and "federal transportation funds" (your tax dollars at work, AGAIN!). Nice plan; keep them nameless and faceless as long as possible. His opponents, William Peduto and Michael Lamb, both agree in theory with the streetcar proposal, but Peduto -- surprisingly for a Democrat -- is concerned about using federal funds that have already been earmarked for expressway projects.

Another problem concerns the kinds of streetcars that will be running. This is not an extension of LRT; this would be a completely new system whose streetcars would be no more compatible with the LRT tracks that would the buses. This would require new storage and maintenance facilities to be built, who knows where. Add to that possible expansion into other city neighborhoods, and we are looking at more than $70 million for the project. This does not even take into consideration the operating costs. And what about the source of funding again?

There is no way the cash-strapped city could pay for the project, in the short term at least: It has no money to pay for regular capital improvements this year and its poor credit rating is barring it from borrowing money until next year at the earliest.

Funding could be provided by developers owning land along the new transit line, perhaps through a self-imposed "improvement district" tax.

This is almost Orwellian. A self-imposed tax? Yes, that's going to go over well. Rail expansion of some kind in the city might work well in the long run, but the city has plenty of fiscal messes to clean up before they even think of starting something like this.