Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Left-Winger's Guide to the Presidency

Last night, I had the opportunity to see the long-awaited big screen version of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy. I haven't seen the television miniseries in years, but I never read the five-part book trilogy, so I was able to view the movie with a general idea of the story without worrying about how it compares to the TV show. Like so many screen adaptations, HGTTG benefits from Touchstone's (i.e. Disney's) effects budget. Arthur Dent's factory tour with Slartibartfast was particularly breathtaking. Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the film, as far as being a theatrical adaptation goes, was the problem of cramming everything into less than two hours. As a result, the film ends with everything happy and resolved -- as Arthur and his companions zoom away to the Restaurant at the End of The Universe. I rather enjoyed that sequence of the TV series, as I recall.

Overall, the movie was quite enjoyable except for one thing: Zaphod Beeblebrox. Zaph is an elected official, and his character is used as a focus for commentary on contemporary politics. Or, to be blunt, he seems to exist only as a vehicle for Bush-bashing. Consider the following:

  • Zaphod Beeblebrox is President of the Galaxy.
  • Zaphod was elected in a most controversial manner due to a problem that many voters had with their ballots.
  • Zaphod is frequently referred to as "stupid" and an "idiot".
  • Zaphod is a drinking, freewheeling, frat boy type.
  • Zaphod tells his companions that, in order to be President, he can only have half of a brain (hence his two heads).
  • Zaphod's dresses like a cowboy and speaks with a Texas accent.
Did Michael Moore direct this movie? Stuff like this makes me yearn for a ratings system based on political bias. The reason that I do not go out to see movies very often is that I can generally anticipate political bias (either of the stars or of the film itself) ahead of time. The characterization of Zaphod Beeblebrox (or Zaphod Bashinbush) caught me off guard and made me wish that I hadn't bothered to see the damned flick. Who wants to go see a comedy and come away ticked off? That's seventeen bucks that I'll never get back.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Big Woodpecker Returns To Arkansas

Bird watchers are celebrating the reappearance of the ivory billed woodpecker, long thought to be extinct. This is really quite exciting news. But for some reason, I have this urge to start making Bill Clinton jokes. Like, "He's come back home, lookin' for love in Arkansas places".

Okay, I'll stop now. Promise.

Barry, Barry, Quite Contrary

It's been ten years. Has Pittsburgh gotten over it?

The "it" to which I refer is the acrimonious departure of superstar outfielder Barry Bonds from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993. Since then, Pittsburgh baseball fans have suffered through of a love-hate relationship with him. Many of us remember Bonds as a promising second-generation player with the potential to become an even better player than his father, Bobby Bonds, who spent several productive seasons with the San Francisco Giants before spending all or parts of his last seven seasons with seven different teams. As young Barry struggled to find his niche on a Pirates team that initially looked to him as a speedy leadoff hitter who could play center field, he began to develop into the power hitter with the high batting average who is dead on course to become the leading home run hitter of all time.

Back in 1993, we couldn't see that coming. Barry was just another spoiled, overpayed ballplayer who nevertheless had improved to the point where he could carry the club to three consecutive first place finishes, but always managed to choke once October set in. Barry Bonds deserved the fans' respect for everything that he did on the field, but frequent reports of clashes with teammates and with manager Jim Leyland contributed to an image of him as a man with bad attitude. There were a number of reasons for him to leave Pittsburgh -- better money in San Francisco, a chance to follow in his father's footsteps, and it was time for him to leave his detractors behind and prove that he could live up to his potential. Like so many before him (see esp. Dave Parker), Bonds showed that abandoning the Pirates was the best career move he could make.

In light of this history, the San Francisco Chronicle takes a look at Bonds's current relationship with fans of his former team. Much of what took place in the early 1990s, both on the field and off, is now water under the bridge. Barry Bonds can bring people out to the ballpark on his own merits as a player, even in Pittsburgh, though there are still those who show up simply in order to register their displeasure. Please, people, let it go. The injured Bonds will miss a series in Pittsburgh this week, only the second time he has had to sit out a visit here since becoming a Giant. As his career is winding down, Pirate fans need to chill out and realize that they are running out of opportunities to appreciate his talents. There is no need to boo the man anymore just because he is Barry Bonds.

The SF Chronicle spoke to one Pirate fan to gauge the current "man in the street" feelings towards Bonds:

"I think most certainly there is going to be disappointment he's not here," said Jason Brooks, a 29-year-old law student, who also works in a Pittsburgh sports memorabilia store. Bonds' annual visits, Brooks said, "were one of the few events in the baseball season that people in Pittsburgh have had a chance to look forward to the last 12 years."

That was true, he said, even if the majority of Pittsburghers today dislike Bonds.

"To be a Bonds fan in Pittsburgh," he said, "is like calling yourself a Republican or a Bush supporter in San Francisco."

Gee, and here I thought I would be able to get through this post without anyone mentioning politics. Of some people it is said that they vote for the man and not the party. In the case of Barry Bonds and San Francisco, I suppose I would cheer for the man and boo the city.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Everyone's Doing It

Randy Bish notes the preponderance of web logs in today's Tribune-Review editorial cartoon.

Government Land Grab

Like the Cylons on Battlestar Galactica, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has a plan. Unlike the Cylons, PennDOT's plan involves the widening of Route 28 along the Allegheny River. This is not a bad idea; while not the most nightmarish road in town, Route 28 could do with the addition of a comfort zone on one side or another.

The problem with this plan involves what lies on either side of the road. A landmark historical church building, no longer in use as a house of worship, would need to be torn down (along with way too many other buildings) to widen the road further inland. On the river side of Route 28, we find railroad property. Norfolk Southern has recently expressed an interest in working with PennDOT to provide the land necessary for the road widening project.

Why only recently? Read the entire Trib article. After the explanations of why the road needs to be widened and how sentimentally valuable the old church is, we find this tidbit:

Until now, PennDOT and the railroad were unable to agree on a plan that would use railway property. That changed after the proposal of a state law that would have allowed Allegheny County government to take railroad property through eminent domain.

"In the course of introducing the legislation, I found it was not necessary to push the movement of the bill because Norfolk Southern became amenable to working with PennDOT," said state Rep. Don Walko, a North Side Democrat. "Suddenly, things just seemed to open up."

"Eminent domain". One of the most vile affronts to property rights in this civilized age, there always seems to be a Democrat involved. This is organized crime by legislation. "If NS won't give us the land, we can just propose a law that will allow us to take it from them." It's like the conversation between Nute Gunray and Darth Sidious in The Phantom Menace, when Gunray is concerned about the legality of occupying the planet Naboo, and Sidious replies, "I will make it legal". It's not just science fiction, folks. That sort of thing also works in the real world.

Did I say science fiction? Storming in and taking private property from the rightful owners...it sounds like PennDOT and the Cylons may have the same plan, after all.

Herd of Buffalo? Yes, I Have.

An amusing little story out of suburban Baltimore, Maryland, concerns a herd of wayward American Bison:

A herd of buffalo somehow got loose and wandered around an upscale neighborhood Tuesday, disrupting traffic and alarming homeowners before officers managed to corral them in a tennis court.
The ABC/AP news story has a cute little snapshot of the furry beasties mulling around the court. The buffaloes (or bison, if you prefer) came from a nearby farm, and were returned after amusing themselves by jumping over the net in the middle of their new playpen.

Buzz Berg, the owner of the wandering herd, is very charitable with his animals, which often end up beating eaten by underpriviledged folks in the Baltimore area. Bison meat can be somewhat expensive, so the inner city school kids and people at the homeless shelter are getting an exceptional treat when Mr. Berg makes his donations.

Bison is not only expensive, due to the fact that it is much harder to come by than beef, but also because it is much more delicious -- and nutritious -- than cow meat. My idea of a fun summer Saturday afternoon with the family is to head north on I-79, drop by the Wooden Nickel Buffalo Farm for lunch (and more, if there is a festival taking place), then up to the beach at Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie, where we frolic in the sand and splash around in the water. On a clear day, you can even see Canada.

Presque Isle is also the site of the Tom Ridge Center at Presque Isle. This interpretive center was named after Mr. Ridge in honor of his service first as US Congressman from Erie and later as two-term Governor of Pennsylvania. I suspect that his more recent service as Homeland Security Advisor may play a role in the center as well. For all we know, the interpretive center could be a front for a clandestine base that monitors Lake Erie for possible amphibious assaults from Canada. If so, then let's hope that the focus of the Center is not solely directed northward. Given its proximity to the the buffalo farm, Erie is a serious risk of invasion by herds of marauding buffalo. The bison threat must be taken seriously -- just ask the people in the comfortable suburbs of Baltimore.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A Row of Reform

Allegheny County Council has turned the issue of row office reform over to the voters in the form of a referendum -- or, as we call it around here, a "question". For those unfamiliar with the term, "row offices" are a slew of elected county posts usually involving some sort of clerical duties. What are some of these offices?

If you could collect a dollar from every person who is clueless about the role of the prothonotary, you would become the county's next millionaire. Yet voters are expected to elect the prothonotary -- plus the clerk of courts, register of wills, recorder of deeds, coroner and jury commissioner -- every four years.
How necessary are row offices? Many of them are redundant, and could effectively be combined into one office that doesn't even need to be headed by an elected official. Once upon a time, when filing systems consisted entirely of large volumes, overstuffed files, and reams of paper, several offices may have been needed to handle the workload. Today, even with so much clerical work being performed electronically, each office seems to be overstaffed. Why is that?
Although these offices deliver essential county services, many of them record-keeping, they are not typically headed by a veteran office manager, but rather an active official in the Democratic Party. History shows, as a result, that some of the offices have become dens of patronage, where jobs can be found for the party faithful. But don't blame the Democrats -- we have no doubt that the same would happen if Republicans were in charge.
Let's be philosophical: When a party has been in charge for a long time, the organizational structure gets bloated like Jabba the Hutt. Republicans should be more responsible than Democrats when it comes to use of taxpayer money, but you never know. Power corrupts.

Now let's be realistic: The Democrats have been running Pittsburgh for over seventy years, and have been in control of countywide offices during most of that period. All of those row office employees are Democrats. They were hired because of who they know, and what political party they belong to. The only way that anyone knows is the Democrat way. The Post-Gazette editorial writers certainly know no other way. "Don't blame the Democrats"? Damn right we will.

The time has come to eliminate the redundant row offices, and the Democrats have made our case by loading the payroll with friends and relations who serve no useful purpose except to provide carbon dioxide to the office plants. How much will we save if we get rid of them?
...a recent study by the county controller concluded that Allegheny County would save at least $770,000 a year by having the court and the county executive take over the six functions.
If that is an accurate figure, we need to eliminate those row offices as soon as possible. In fact, considering that Allegheny has had home rule since 2000, we should have done this five years ago. The PG urges voters to say YES to this ballot question, and -- "Republicans would do it too" rhetoric aside -- I agree. It might be the only time this year that I agree with the PG editorial page on anything, so don't get used to another post like this anytime soon.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Instant Analysis

Now Lileks is on Hewitt responding to Santorum's comments on compromise. It's nice to have a "funny guy" on our side.

(No comment on what Lileks is saying due to room full of screaming children. Mine, not his.)

Live Blogging Rick and Hugh

Senator Rick Santorum is on the radio right now explaining to Hugh Hewitt how compromise works in the US Senate. Parliamentary procedure really bites sometimes.

Santorum functions even better as a defender of faith than as a parliamentarian.

Talk to your Pennsylvania colleague. Like Arlen Specter is going to listen to anything Santorum says? Yeah, right. Better off trying to deal with the Demoncrats.

Civil, but sometimes emotional. Usually too much of both.

Good words for John Thune, the star of the freshman class. Too bad Rick isn't able to say the same thing about Pat Toomey.

Filibuster vote is getting close. Actions will take place.

Hugh has been a gracious host, but what will he say after the commercial break when he has the floor to himself? Stay tuned!

Berkeley On the Monongahela

This would be worth a *sigh* if it were not so unsurprising. Conservator links to an ALA petition that demands that US troops be pulled out of Iraq. A considerable number of signers are based in the Pittsburgh area, and it would not surprise me to learn that the petition originated here as well.

*Sigh*, anyway.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Defying the Establishment

A former Student Council President at my old high school is running for mayor of Pittsburgh. I honestly do not remember much about Bill Peduto aside from his name, mostly due to the fact that his supporters were wont to randomly stop students in the hallway and exhort them to cast their ballots for Bill Peduto. Student government never made much of an impact on me, so I didn't really care one way or the other, and I can not remember for the life of me who I voted for.

If I lived in the city of Pittsburgh, I would certainly lean towards supporting Peduto. He has managed to win election to City Council without his party's endorsement (it goes without saying that in Pittsburgh, every elected official is a Democrat), which is always a good sign. He is also the most fiscally responsible of the three main candidates. How often do you encounter than in city politics, especially from a Democrat?

Good luck to Bill Peduto. Always good to see someone from the old hometown succeed.

Goodbye John Mills

British thespian Sir John Mills is dead at the age of 97. As I am not a particularly avid movie watcher, I was unfamiliar with Mr. Mills's career until after my marriage almost ten years ago. My bride turned me on to the movie That Darn Cat, one of Disney's best ever films with a great supporting cast, and Hayley Mills and Dean Jones playing second fiddles to a Siamese Applehead. A couple of years later, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats appeared on home video for the first time. I was amazed by the obviously very old performer who essayed the role of Gus the Theater Cat. Whoever he was, he certainly must have brought some prestige to the role, as his name was listed third in the credits among the stars of the show. And, of course, there is the matter of him having been knighted at some point, as evidenced by the inclusion of the word "Sir" at the front of his name. Upon performing some minor research (i.e. I looked it up in a book), I discovered that this old man in the feline musical was the father of the girl in the Disney cat movie. Surely someone in this family must have done something non-cat related.

A favorite anecdote of mine, which I read in a British pop culture magazine several years back, concerns an incident in a restaurant where Sir John angrily hurled biscuits at an estranged former paramour of one of his daughters. He was "emoting", as it were.

As "Gus", Sir John Mills evoked strong sensations of sorrow and pity for an aged beast on the point of death, reciting the many triumphs of his younger days, all of which were now vivid memories of a distant past. One could not help wondering whether Sir John was playing a feline version of himself. Lead roles were many decades behind him, but he did pop up from time to time in bit parts, such as the museum director in Rowan Atkinson's Bean. I have since had the chance to watch Sir John in a number of other roles, but to me he shall always be Gus the Theater Cat.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Blame It On Benedict

Observers of Teresa Heinz will not soon forget the infamous "shove it" exchange with a Trib reporter last Summer. Columnist Eric Heyl, a colleague of Teresa's nemesis Colin McNickle, qualifies a Seattle reporter's story on the African Queen thusly:

I assume the Post-Intelligencer's Joel Connelly did his best to accurately quote her. No reporter wants to have to ask Heinz to clarify her remarks immediately after she finishes speaking.

We've heard it can be dangerous.

Indeed. Connelly quoted Teresa as saying that Roman Catholic bishops "don't have a right to restrict freedom of expression, which they did." She was referring to the church's criticism of pro-abortion Catholic politicians, like John Kerry, just before the 2004 general election. She is as full of horse manure as she is of botox. The clergy can tell parishioners that they should not vote for pro-abort pols, but that does not mean that the parishioners are going to go into the voting booth and do what their priest told them to do. Trust me on this -- I'm from Pittsburgh, where there is almost no difference between being Catholic and being a Democrat. (That seems to be changing, however, mostly due to "culture of life" issues, but that's a topic for another day.) Being a Democrat is more important to a lot of these people than being a pro-life Catholic. Some people might have been guided by the priests' pro-life admonitions, but for Teresa Heinz to suggest that her husband lost because the church restricted its followers' freedom of expression by implicitly telling people not to vote for him is idiotic. Is she saying that she is the only practicing Catholic who can think and act on her own?

Eric Heyl at the Trib traces the source of Teresa's anger all the way to the top:

Last summer, American bishops received a letter from the Vatican advising that Catholics who condone abortion are committing "a grave sin."

Kerry wasn't named, but the communique stated that communion -- the body of Christ, Catholics believe -- should be denied "in the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion laws."

The letter was written by the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. At the time, that was a fellow named Ratzinger -- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, named Tuesday by the College of Cardinals to succeed the late Pope John Paul II.

Aha! NOW we are getting somewhere! It's all the Pope's fault! Now we just need to wait and see if Teresa Heinz reveals whether Pope Benedict XVI is the mastermind behind the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, or whether he is just a tool of the VRWC. Thank you, Eric Heyl. Joel Connelly in Seattle didn't bother to find out why American bishops became more outspoken than usual on politicians' abortion views. He was more concerned with statements made by "a few ultraconservative prelates", which sounds like a moonbat description of any and all Catholic bishops who are actually loyal to the Pope and the teachings of the church. (For more evidence of Connelly as "moonbat", please see references in his article to "nasty questions by a columnist with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a paper owned by right-wing mogul Richard Mellon Scaife", "the Republican attack machine", "dirty tricks", "the concentrated incoming fire she received from the right flank", and a few other excerpts from the leftist lexicon.)

Teresa does not seem to understand the nature of her own religion. Adherents are expected to follow a strict moral code that governs how they conduct their lives in obedience to the traditions of the Roman Catholic church. If she can not abide by the church's teachings, she may want to consider a less rigid faith, preferably one that does not revolve around adoration of Saint Teresa of Mozambique.

Queen Amidala Is Young and Naive

When this morning's copy of the Financial Times came through my office, I could not help noticing a cover story about someone named Portman. Everyone is talking about Star Wars these days. Then I looked at the article and saw that this Portman was named to some kind of trade post by President Bush. Wrong Portman.

It's too bad, really. The political views of a lot of celebrities keep me from attending many theatrical screenings of current film releases and from subscribing to any premium movie channels on cable. Their politics might not bother me so much if they weren't completely stupid about it. Natalie Portman certainly proved herself to be one of the dimmest bulbs on the planet last year with her appearance on Good Morning America wearing a John Kerry t-shirt:

Partway through the interview, a smiling [Diane] Sawyer said, ``Now if I'm gonna talk to you, you're gonna have to hold flowers here in front of John Kerry. We can't just have John Kerry the whole time. Who do we bring in for equal time?''

A stunned but laughing Portman shot back, ``Come on, you've got [Bill O'Reilly's] The O'Reilly Factor. That's on television; that evens it out!''

Portman also took the opportunity to voice her support for the Democratic contender, adding, ``I love John Kerry! ''

Brain full of bubbles...the girl is completely stupid. She never explains how Bill Reilly on Fox affects ABC News in any way. If anyone tried to explain to her the illogic of her statement, she would be clueless. It will be so nice to watch her die in the new movie. "Negotiations with a lightsaber" in Episode II? How about "divorce with a lightsaber" in Episode III?

Is there anything positive about her? Bill Clinton seems to think so.

What is he looking at? Oh yeah, must be that. Hillary looks pretty excited, too. I am going to go throw up.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Gallery of Regrettable Deja Vu

Yesterday morning I spent an hour waiting for my car to be inspected. Then I spent three more hours waiting for the car to be fixed so that it could pass inspection. Given all of this unexpected free time, I was able to not only finish the last sixty pages of the book that I had been reading, but I also read both Pittsburgh morning dailies front to back. One article in the Tribune-Review especially caught my eye: "Book examines food fiascoes from the '50s". Accompanying the article were pictures of alien gelatin molds and some indescribable concoction imprisoned within a wall of wieners. Great!, I thought, they are reviewing Lileks's The Gallery of Regrettable Food. Granted, the book is a few years old, but it still deserves plenty of attention. And this article did give it some attention.

However, it wasn't the focus of this article. And it wasn't the source of the photos. The article was about another book, Retro Food Fiascos by Kathy Casey. The Trib writer was nice enough to provide a link to Lileks's online Gallery, but there was no mention of it by the author of the new book. Did he inspire her? Had she even heard about his book before she published hers? The article does not say. Not having seen her book, I hesitate to accuse her of ripping him off. But really -- Lileks has said several times on his web site that he has put aside plan to publish books on certain topics after finding out that someone else had done it already. That's nice and respectful. It would have been nice if Kathy Casey had acknowledged Lileks one way or another -- but again, the Trib article does not indicate that she did.

But you know what? I am probably going to get this book. Whether I buy it, or receive it as a gift (as I did both Lileks books), it will end up in my personal possession. It looks too good to pass up. The whole "tacky food" genre looks promising, but someone needs to transcend gelatin molds and frankfurter fortresses and come up with something really unique. Otherwise, I am going to end up with a shelf full of Lileks wannabes.

(And yes, in case you noticed, the plural of fiasco is spelled differently in the book title than it is in the title of the article. For what it's worth, the Blogger spell checker recognizes neither.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

When Pumped-Up Stick Figures Attack

The government has never gone so far as to enforce what we should and should not eat, but it has never been reticent about making strong suggestions on the matter. The United States Department of Agriculture has revised the food pyramid that has been touted since the first President George Bush was in office. The original pyramid was considered radical and complicated, replacing as it did the old and familiar "square meal" system of dietary nutrition. Eventually, though, it started to make sense. But fifteen years is a long time, and change for the sake of change has traditionally been our government's way of showing that it is not just sitting around on its hands listening to an iPod.

Enter MyPyramid. The old pyramid has been toppled over on its side, literally, but something that looks like a steroid enhanced stick figure in a wifebeater shirt. (Video goodness here.) The little setter-up-and-plucker-down-of-pyramids then proceeds to materialize and climb a set of stairs on the sideways pyramid. Rather than having parallel horizontal layers, like the original pyramid, the food groups in the new version are arranged in diagonal vertical chambers. (Someone, somewhere, is right now designing a shirt based on this pattern.) The chambers are otherwise almost identical to the old pyramid's layers: Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Oils, Milk, and Meat&Beans.

Here's where it gets complicated. Since this is the interactive age, the MyPyramid web site allows you to customize your own dietary plan based on your age, sex, and amount of daily physical activity. According to the cartoon, there are a total of twelve separate plans. My meals, it tells me, would best be concentrated around Vegetables, Fruits, and Milk. *sigh* Okay, I admit it. Yes, my low level of physical activity is not exactly calling out for more pizza, spaghetti and burgers. But do I really need the federal government to tell me that?

Every Presidential administration since my adolescence has done something to rock the boat when it comes to changing the way we look at out diets. Under Ronald Reagan, it was the infamous "Ketchup as a vegetable" fiasco. The uproar was uncalled for. Obviously, the UDSA sent field agents to observe dietary habits of America's school students and adjusted their standards accordingly after noticing that most kids were applying several tomatoes worth of ketchup to their lunches. How often is government that responsive to its citizens? Under George Bush (41), it was the original good pyramid. Bill Clinton presided over the "Nutrition Facts" mandate, which has affected me more than any of the others since I look at that portion of the product label before I even noticed what the product itself is. It was only a matter of time before George W. Bush's USDA came up with something new.

One thing about this whole customized food pyramid bugs me. When I look at the word(s) "MyPyramid", I keep seeing it as "McPyramid". Is my subconscious trying to tell me something?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Self-Imposed Media Blackout

On a Saturday afternoon back in 1978, I ran to the television set in the living room and switched over to Channel 9 from Steubenville (now WTOV, I think it was then called WSTV), and planted myself in the easy chair. It was the ritual I performed at that time every Saturday afternoon; it was time for All-Star Wrestling, hosted by Vince McMahon. Whatever happened to him?

But this one Saturday was different. Channel 9 happened to be a network affiliate (either NBC or CBS) and was carrying live coverage of something BIG going on. There was a crowd of thousands gathered around some building waiting in anticipation of something. Black smoke wafted out of the top of the building. It was significant. It was deliberate. A news person would occasionally chime in with a reminder that everyone needed to watch the black smoke, and see if it turned white. The whole world, it seemed, waited anxiously while a group of people called Cardinals (who were, oddly, neither birds nor baseball players) voted on a new Pope.

The whole world, that is, except for me. I wanted to watch wrestling, dammit! And these people, whoever they were, were keeping me from enjoying my Saturday afternoon. The broadcast was so long and boring that I would have rather been in school that day.

The College of Cardinals selected one of their number as Pope today. I missed the whole thing, and I am glad. In the age of the Internet, we can pick and choose our news sources as we please. In 1978, that thing was on every channel. I felt like I was being persecuted by the Catholic Church, at least for a few hours. Now I can watch what I want or (as I usually do) just not watch anything.

More interesting to me than the selection of the Pope -- since I am not Catholic, and I don't really care who the Pope is -- is how the media will react in the days to come. Even though I generally can't relate to Benedict (Ratzinger) on the basis of religion, there is just something about him being German and conservative that calls out to me.

But Who Would Have the Courage To Propose Such a Radical Amendment?

When I was a young boy, I asked my parents -- more than once -- why I had to go to school. "Because, if you don't, we'll have to go to jail and you'll get send to a military school!" was the standard reply. Assuming that such a school for truant children of negligent parents actually did exist, how different could it be from the public school that I was already suffering through? The classroom life was boring, tedious, and often pointless. As if discipline and punishment by two adults at home wasn't bad enough, the school came up with a different surrogate to watch over each group of kids every school year. Elementary education had its positive aspects, but the best part of the school day was the very end, when I was finally permitted to go home.

Now that I am a father with three school age children, you might expect that I have "come around" to the realization that sending our children off to school five times a week for most of the year is beneficial for their intellectual, physical, and social development. You would be sorely mistaken.

The school system -- be it public, parochial, or some other similarly structured system -- seems to be based on an assumption that everyone of the same age, in the same grade, should or can be equal in every way. The biggest problem that arises out of this assumption, from what I have seen, involves the school's attempts to deal with children who fall above or below its standards of a particular grade level. From being selected to participate in the "Gifted" program to being held back a year or even referred to a mental health professional, our school systems provide "special" means of handling "special" students.

When children grow older and attend Middle School and High School, they have more flexibility in making their schedules. Some kids are still in General Math while their classmates are in Algebra. Some make it as far as Advanced Placement English and History but just manage to squeak by in Math and Science. Why wait that long to let children learn according to their strengths and weaknesses? In elementary grades, children may need more work in certain subjects than in others, or they may need more challenging materials to work with in particular areas. But the system doesn't work that way. Rather than acknowledging that a child may be having difficulty in school because he is independent and free-thinking -- while exhibiting a remarkable capacity for learning in subjects that interest him -- the school rigidly declares him to be in need of special treatment, even to the extent of using drugs to keep him docile and cooperative. (Tell me that's not scary.) Gifted programs are just a means of giving a child challenging extra-curricular work that has nothing to do with challenging them in classroom subjects at which they already excel.

What good are elementary schools, then, anyway? Was I right when, as a child, I thought school was a tedious waste of time? What kind of alternative do we have to the traditional elementary school system in which our children are now following in our footsteps?

Mitch Berg of Shot In the Dark has a shocking but well-thought out and quite reasonable answer: Let's abolish elementary school.

"Mr. Incredible" Bob Parr, in the movie The Incredibles, opined -- using the example of a fourth grade class graduation -- that the schools are "psychotic" because "they keep coming up with new ways to reward mediocrity". Mitch would agree; he posits that elementary school "turns everything about human psychology on its head". The system is all about turning the children into what the system thinks they should be, instead of letting them be who they are.

Mitch's essay is quite long but well worth the read, particularly for those of us who have a vested interest in the education system -- that "vested interest" being our children. I doubt that a proposal like this would be taken seriously by people in positions of authority who could get a public debate started, which is a shame because it is the best solution to the school situation that I have heard from anyone in my lifetime.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Behind Enemy Lines

Overheard at work:

Moonbat #1: "I don't know anybody who voted for Bush."
Moonbat #2: "Neither do I."

Nice to see that I haven't blown my cover yet.

This type of dialogue must be repeated in workplaces all over the country -- especially on campuses like the one where I work. Don't you just love academia?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Cinematic Visions of God.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of viewing the Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty for the first time. Movies in which one of the characters is God Himself (Morgan Freeman) can be a bit unnerving at first. Is this blasphemy? Should I feel guilty for being entertained by this? Nah -- the character was handled with respect, if not reverence, and provides an interesting take on the responsibilities that go along with being omnipotent. All of the mockery was directed at Bruce, the human who is temporarily endowed with all of God's powers. All interaction between God and Bruce takes place away out of sight of other humans -- or so we think, until the very end of the film. If you haven't seen the movie, I won't give it away, but trust me -- the ending will have you laughing while slapping your forehead and saying, "D'OH!"

The DVD includes a long series of deleted and alternate scenes, including sequences involving Bigfoot, spontaneous human combustion, and the miracle of the shrimp. One deleted scene follows a conversation between God and Bruce atop Mount Everest. God returns Bruce to the alley behind a restaurant where Bruce had run out in the middle of a date with his girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston), who confronts him to find out why is suddenly acting strangely. God is still there, but only Bruce can see him. Bruce screams out his frustration with God, causing Jennifer Aniston to wonder what his problem is.

I have seen something like this on television several times this year. It had not occurred to me since I had not seen this movie until today, but I am convinced that the character of Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica is at least partially inspired by Bruce Almighty. Consider the similarities: Bruce talks to God, who is unseen by everyone else, and is given special responsibilities by God; Baltar talks to Cylon agent Number Six, who is unseen by everyone else, and who tells him that he is part of God's plan. Bruce, remarkably frustrated with the task of having to listen to everyone's prayers and answering them, expresses his anguish by bulging out his eyes and running his hands through his hair; Baltar, remarkably frustrated with the task of having to test the blood of every single person in the fleet to find out if any of them are Cylon agents, expresses his anguish by bulging out his eyes and running his hands through his hair. And the deleted scene with God, Bruce, and the girl in the alley is reflected in a scene in the BSG episode "Kobol's Last Gleaming, pt. 1", in which Baltar, speaking to Number Six, seems to tell President Roslin that he is not her "plaything".

Now that BSG is in repeats, I am going to give each episode an intense second look, and whenever I see Baltar getting frustrated with Number Six and his role in the fleet, I am going to picture Jim Carrey in the role in place of James Callis. Try it and see what you think.

Friday, April 15, 2005

One of These Days...Eventually...Sometime.

Hugh Hewitt, as of late, has been driven by concerns that Republicans in the US Senate are doing all that they can to lose their majority in the upper house of Congress, particularly over the issue of filibustering judicial nominations. My former Congressman and current Senator, Rick Santorum, spoke to Hugh Hewitt yesterday and essentially validated everything that Hugh has been complaining about. (The full transcript is at Generalissimo Duane's blog.) While Santorum may be -- as Hugh told him -- on the right side of the issue, he seemed unwilling to try to do anything to speed up the vote to put an end to Democrats' obstruction. "We're working on it", said the Senator, and the Senate will vote on the matter "within a couple of months".

As a new Congressman back in 1991, Rick Santorum was young, fresh, and in a lot of ways idealistic. He was a reliably conservative Republican. Four years later, as a freshman Senator, Santorum shocked the old boys network (represented by Robert Byrd) with his seeming lack of decorum, such as when he referred to then-President Clinton as "Bill " on the Senate floor. The Senate, they said, was a "deliberative" body, as opposed (one assumes) to the rapid-fire style of the House of Representatives. To many of us, Rick Santorum was a welcome change from the moderation, compromise, and deliberation that characterized the Senate. He was a rebel in a suit.

Fast forward ten years -- and Senator Rick Santorum is part of the mainstream. I do not doubt that he is still, at heart, the same reliable conservative that was first elected to Congress over fourteen years ago. He has always been one of the strongest pro-life voices in either house of Congress. Like many other veteran legislators, however, he has gotten to the point where he is just another politician who doesn't want to rock the boat. He needs to get back to his roots and represent his party.

Next year, Santorum faces his strongest challenge yet. Prospective Democratic challenger Bob Casey (son and namesake of the late Governor) has been leading in early polling. Casey, like Santorum, is a pro-life Catholic and therefore appeals to a number of swing voters who may have supported Santorum in the past based solely on his strong pro-life stance. Santorum has already begun courting this portion of his constituency by showing up on Terri Schiavo's doorstep and then trekking on over to the Vatican to pay his last respects to the pope. The former visit seems opportunistic, and the latter is something that he may have done anyway as a matter of devotion; but already, his actions seem to be those of a man who wants to demonstrate that he is more Catholic than his opponent.

Rick Santorum was not elected as the candidate of the good old boys party nor of the Catholic party. He needs to start representing the Republican party and differentiate himself from Bob Casey and any other candidates who may enter the race. Many of us voted for Casey's father back in 1990. Give us a reason to reelect you, or we may take the same approach to your candidacy for re-election as you do to the filibuster vote. When is the next Senatorial election? Within a couple of years. Have we decided to support you this time? We're working on it.

Librarians On the Warpath

Jack Stephens at Conservator blog reports on leftist librarian reaction to a special citation awarded to First Lady Laura Bush, a former librarian and current library advocate, by the American Library Association this week. Angry librarians are holding Mrs. Bush accountable for everything that displeases them about her husband and his administration.

I wish I could say that this collective (or collectivist) outrage surprises me, but it does not. I have worked around academic librarians long enough to know that there is little or no room for right-leaning political dissent. These people are a bunch of Communists. That is not hyperbole; I have seen too many offices decorated with Soviet flags or pictures of Marx and Lenin to naively dismiss them as wayward Democrats.

If one of them ever researched their family tree and found a blood relationship to George Bush, I would expect them to instantly drop dead of shame and embarrassment. The psychosis runs that deep.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Vultures On the Train Tracks

Residents of Carnegie Borough in Allegheny County are looking to preserve their community's limited green space -- and are considering the possibility of expanding it. The best way to do so, they reckon, is to reconsider an old idea:

They are returning to a 2002 Trail Feasibility Study by Civil and Environmental Consultants that looked at 21 miles along the Chartiers Creek from McKees Rocks to Canonsburg Lake in Washington County.

The study found that the 21-mile trail would cost more than $2 million and draw over 200,000 users a year, said Rodd Seifarth, project manager for the study.

"The best thing we found is that the Chartiers Greenway and Valley is prime for trail development because of existing trails it could connect to, the Chartiers Trail and Montour Trail," Seifarth said.

Rail trails are a wonderful way to get out and enjoy nature. My family goes hiking and picnicking on the Panhandle Trail (called the "Chartiers Trail" in the above excerpt) several times a year. In a way, hiking the local rail trails is a more civilized version of the "going into the woods" expeditions that I undertook as a boy, but with smoother, wider paths and a greatly reduced risk of coming into contact with poison ivy.

What many people seem to be unaware of is that a rail trail is still a railroad right-of-way (ROW); if the railroad needs it back, the trail gets ripped up and new trackage is laid down. Converting unused ROWs into scenic trails is a nice use of unused sections of railroad property. The Montour Railroad went under just over two decades, so the Montour Trail can be presumed to be safe from being reconverted. The successor railroads of the once-mighty Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) abandoned the Panhandle several years ago, yet the possibility of taking back the trail -- however unlikely -- does exist, as the tracks end not far from the easternmost end of the trail.

Carnegie is interested in what used to be the Chartiers Branch of the PRR. Having changed hands a few times since the PRR's demise, the Chartiers is now part of the Ohio Central Railroad System. It is a working railroad. How does the 2002 rail trail feasibility study deal with that?
Planners focused on turning the single-lane Ohio Central Railroad, which runs tracks from Canonsburg -- through Carnegie -- to McKees Rocks, into a trail, Seifarth said. This idea became moot when talks with the operating railroad failed because of liability issues, he said.

"If the Ohio Central Railroad would ever come available it would be a tremendous asset to the county and its residents," Seifarth said.

Not only is the Pittsburgh & OC Line (POC) a working railroad, but if they abandon the Chartiers Branch to make way for a rail trail, they are still ultimately responsible for the property. And that last quote -- it sounds like someone wishing that his rich neighbor with the big swimming pool would go on a nice long vacation so that everyone else in the neighborhood could run in and go swimming whenever they please, hoping that the rich neighbor never comes back to reclaim his pool.

The Ohio Central should stick to its guns and refuse to give up the POC line. Rail trail mania is going a little too far in this neck of the woods. Carnegie residents live close enough to both the Panhandle and the Montour Trails to enjoy both without complaint. If the POC ever does shut down, then the borough can start planning its trail. Right now, they come off looking a bit like vultures waiting for their prey to die.

Youth and Experience: A Winning Combination

The Post-Gazette reports this afternoon that Pennsylvania State Senator John Pippy is seriously considering a run for Lieutenant Governor. With all of the speculation surrounding the race for the top spot on the Republican ticket to oppose Governor "Fast Eddie" Rendell in 2006, very little consideration has been given thus far to the number-two slot. The PoliticsPA website has started speculating on possible replacements for incumbent Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll should she decide not to run for a second term.

Pippy, a Republican from Moon Township in Allegheny County, is extremely popular in his district. As a State Representative, he repeatedly and decisively won reelection victories in a strong Democratic area. Two years ago, he won a special election to fill a vacant State Senate seat. His victory came at a most unusual time -- he was stationed in Iraq with the National Guard. No Democrat will ever be able to use the "Chickenhawk" slander against John Pippy.

Pippy can go a long way in politics given his age -- for all of his experience, he is but 34 years old. At my age, I am finally coming around to realizing that entire sports leagues, TV show casts, and public school faculties are younger than me. Forgive me for indulgently quoting Monty Python, but "I'm thirty-seven, I'm not old!" Sometimes, though, it sure feels like it.

All candidates for the Republican gubernatorial nomination need to take a serious look at Pippy. If he appeals to the rest of the commonwealth as he does to his home district, he could help turn Pennsylvania into a "red state".

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

That's Cool -- Does She Have a Sister?

What is it with these criminals? A few weeks ago, we had the bandit disguised as Pluto, and now some guy from Florida has been trying to lure children into his pornmobile by telling them that he is dating Ashlee Simpson. The kids were as smart as he was stupid, so he presently resides in the Allegheny County Jail (where he can watch cable television and shoot hoops). But come on -- Ashlee Simpson? I suppose she has some sort of appeal for teenyboppers and tiny tots, but it that really impressive enough to convince kids to do your bidding?

The only real reason that Ashlee is famous is that she has a really hot older sister. If someone came up and told me that he had dated Jessica Simpson, I would be impressed. What guy wouldn't want to date Jessica Simpson? You could claim that you are responsible for the turmoil that (according to the tabloids) afflicts Jessica Simpson's marriage. It might be hard to swallow, but at least it would show that you have standards. Yep, if you're going to pick a Simpson sister, go for Jessica.

But Ashlee? Definitely the sign of a child molester.

Religious Tolerance or Intolerant Religion?

When I skimmed by this post at Wizbang! yesterday, I did not expect it to set the blogosphere afire in the way that it did. Quite a few people have weighed in on Jay Tea's comments concerning the Mormon practice of baptizing the dead. Bogus Gold, one of my regular reads, looks at the controversy from a sensitive Catholic perspective.

My own view of Mormon baptism is rather mixed; I do not see it from a Lutheran perspective, or from the perspective of any other belief system. Basically, I see it from the standpoint of an amateur genealogist. While online, I am either reading blogs, posting on this one, or doing genealogical research. My hobby is not driven by religious or racial interests, or by an interest in the social status of my ancestors. People who study their family's back ground for those reasons are often disappointed. Much of my work on "old country" ancestors was done via the Latter Day Saints' Family History Center (FHC). I have traced over three hundred years of ancestors by going through the Mormons. Did it bother me knowing that all of these people were "baptized" long after their deaths? Of course not. As far as I was concerned, the FHC was a place where I could do business at a reasonably cheap rate. At less than $5 to rent a roll of microfilm for a few weeks and a quarter per page for copies, I didn't care if they were performing arcane rituals involving the names of my dead ancestors. Their fates were decided long ago.

I felt the same way when some close family members died a few years ago, and some Catholic friends sent our family a fancy illustrated booklet informing us that some Capuchin Monks were now praying for the deceased. It was bizarre. What did anyone in my family have to do with a group of tonsured eccentrics? How dare they, I thought? If someone was dead, either they were in heaven or they were in hell. Case closed. And if the case was closed, what did it matter to me if complete strangers said prayers for my dead relatives? It didn't matter to me at all. And for that matter, how did I know whether or not these monks had the tonsure? I didn't. They were complete strangers. The Catholics who submitted the names of my relatives to the Capuchins did so in the belief that they were doing something good and positive -- just like the Mormons. Neither the Roman Catholic practice nor that of the Mormons affected my way of life. I am not going to worry about the religious beliefs of others, no matter how alien they may be to my way of thinking, unless their tenets include exhortations like "Kill the infidel". No Mormon has ever threatened to kill me, and we haven't been at war with Catholics in over 350 years. In fact, some of us have converted Catholics through intermarriage -- a triumph of love over faith, you might say.

The Mormons can do what they want. I am perfectly happy to tolerate another religion as long as its adherents are tolerant of me.

Peachy Keen and Totally Cool

At the place where I work, I occasionally receive email solicitations from a company called NEATO. I think I ordered from them once, about two years ago, but it looks like I am on their mailing list for all of eternity. Ordinarily, I would think that this is a bad thing and extremely annoying to boot, but there is a hidden gem in these emails that I customarily delete from my inbox as soon as I receive them.

NEATO has an "Operator of the Week" who is pictured in each email as well as on the company's homepage. Oddly enough, I actually look forward to the next photo. Will the operator have a mustache? A wig? A funny hat? There is something strange about these pictures...something familiar. But I can't quite place what that might be. Is there something that these faces have in common? You be the judge.

And eventually, I am sure, the Operator will also be a judge.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Taking Out the Trash

German news publication Der Spiegel reveals the truth behind allegations that Donald Duck's nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey are closet Neo-Nazis. Any mention of Hitler or Nazi Germany provokes hypersensitive reactions in most people, and for good reason. It's even worse when it turns up in a children's comic. What is a copy of Mein Kampf doing in a Disney Duck story? Sitting in a junkyard, amidst piles of refuse. Hitler's screed has been thrown away with the rest of the trash, and there it remains untouched and unwanted. This is pretty blatant political commentary. Children are being taught from a young age that Nazism is garbage. In fact, they have been learning that lesson for half a century -- the comic was first published in the 1950s. It's kind of cute, but also a little freaky. Did anything like Godwin's Law exist back then? (Perhaps so -- there is more to the story here.)

Beyond that, I have to ask -- what is the deal with Germans and Donald Duck? It seems like Donald and his family are immensely popular over there. When I was selling books about 13 years ago, someone from Germany came in and purchased all of the big expensive oversized Donald Duck books. I knew he couldn't be alone in his obsession. I find it rather odd.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Keeping the Caboose Running

There is good news for one of Lancaster County, PA's many wonderful railroad-themed attractions.

One of the more obvious changes in railroading over the last 30-40 years has been the elimination of cabooses on trains. As a child, I loved seeing the caboose at the end of a train. For practical reasons, the cute little caboose has been replaced by a much smaller and barely noticeably flashing red light at the end of a consist. Thank goodness, then, for places like the Red Caboose Motel in Lancaster County.

This unique type of accommodation consists of several old cabooses that have been renovated and turned into motel rooms. I have seen the motel in person, but did not get a chance to stay there. Reservations needed to be booked months in advance. It was a busy week, given that so many families were visiting the nearby Strasburg Railroad for an appearance by Thomas the Tank Engine, but when you have to plan your stay about half a year ahead of time, you reasonably assume that the motel is doing great business.

As the article indicates, the Red Caboose has fallen on hard times in the five years since my family last visited Strasburg. (Details on the struggle over the motel's continued existence can be found in a longer version of the article here.) I may need to plan another visit to the area after the motel is back up and running. We have not had a good steam train ride in quite a while.

The Dark Side of the Daily Commute

The Tribune-Review publishes a lively article in this morning's paper about how road construction no longer has the same negative impact on Pittsburgh area commuters as it has in past years. This is good news, right? The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation must be doing something right to reduce or eliminate traffic hold-ups.

"We're encouraged by the reduction in commuting time," said Todd Kravits, a PennDOT district traffic engineer. "I think it's really because of the initiatives that we're trying to do here in the district in reducing congestion."
Sure, PennDOT has planned much more efficiently in recent years. The word "PennDOT" is no longer punctuated with a wad of saliva when spoken by the locals. Is anything else responsible? For that answer, about halfway into the article, the Trib turns to a non-local academic:

A drop in population and companies closing or moving also might have lowered commute times, said David Schrank, a transportation researcher at Texas A&M University.

"A lot of Pittsburgh's transportation system ... was developed and designed back when Pittsburgh's economy was still rolling along and really strong," Schrank said. "That system is still in place despite the population of Pittsburgh redistributing itself and going into different sectors of work. Because of that, you may not have the traffic congestion that you had in the central city 20 to 30 years ago."

Statistics show that Pittsburgh's drive time has rapidly decreased in just the last two years. By sheer coincidence, during that same two-year span, Port Authority buses have been festooned with giant slogans like "Movin'", "Rockin Rollin", several foreign language phrases, and dancing triangle artwork that makes one embarrassed to get on and ride. Eventually, I expect PAT to wake up to reality and replace existing slogans with less silly, more reality-based phrases like "Your Federal Tax Dollars At Work", "You're Wasting Your Time", and "Pittsburgh Sucks". On the other hand, PAT may be benefiting from a number of factors not directly related to construction. One commuter chimes in:
"I see a lot more people on bikes and walking and car-pooling ... More people are also taking the buses."
Another one says:
"The population is declining... People are moving on. Companies are moving on."
And:
"I think Pittsburgh's lost a lot of ridership and people, period... The opportunities in Pittsburgh are not as good as they used to be. There's not a lot to do in Pittsburgh anymore."
Still another:
"I anticipate the commute time is going to be even higher because of the increase in gas price... The cheapest mode of transportation will be the Port Authority."
And finally:
"In town, there's not as many people working, so traffic doesn't seem as bad as it used to be... It's just not as backed up."
Can you see where this is going? While I do not doubt that PennDOT has improved planning and services over the last thirty years, the real story is buried in the second half of this article. None of the above quotes includes any reference to PennDOT. It is all about gas prices, businesses moving out of town, and the relatively low expense of riding the bus. They might well have mentioned city bankruptcy and the county reassessment. No matter how well the commonwealth manages the daily commute, people are getting disgusted and either leaving or working in the suburbs and exurbs. The only way that PennDOT could have contributed to any of this is if they had planned the development of the local infrastructure so that it could facilitate the mass exodus that has been taking place here for the last 20 to 30 years.

Quote of the Weekend

Two year old daughter, upon seeing a photograph of herself at the age of ten months: "That's me! Where did my hair go?"

Friday, April 08, 2005

HEY! You Got That Botox!

Pittsburgh's lovely media darling is back in the news. Six months ago, she was one of the most annoying people on the planet. Today, I look at her and wonder where she has been for the last couple of years. In a strange way, I kind of missed her.

And why not? As soon as the 2004 Presidential campaign was history, she dropped her second husband's last name and resumed using the simple nomenclature by which she had been known since her first marriage many decades ago. Look at the article and count how many times the name "Kerry" appears. You can count them on one middle finger; just make sure that you are pointing towards Massachusetts when you are doing it.

What a refreshing change to see a Teresa Heinz article in the Trib that does not involve her sniping at reporters, getting her face sucked by John Kerry, or opening her curio cabinet of household remedies. She looks so nice in the accompanying photograph that it is easy to forget that she is sixty-six years old.

And that, my friends, brings us to the meat of the article. Teresa spoke to a "Health and the Environment" conference at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute on a number of topics relating to science. Why her? Just look at whatever currency resides in your wallet, and try to imagine having more of it than even Han Solo could imagine. That ought to be a clue right there. Money does indeed talk, and Teresa is living proof.

The caption to the photo explains that "Teresa Heinz expresses her concern about the toxic chemicals in the environment". And why shouldn't she be concerned? She has attributed her youngish appearance to the use of Botox. Botox is short for "Botulin Toxin". She is squirting toxic chemicals in her face, and who knows where else. No wonder she always seemed to be flinching and squirming in news photos of John Kerry kissing her last year -- she was worried that he might accidentally bite her cheek and die of face poisoning. That would be bad publicity for the spouse of a Presidential candidate.

Very dangerous. She is still nice to look at, but I wouldn't want to kiss her.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Lileks of the Isles

In his latest Backfence column, James Lileks makes a reference to Lake of the Isles. I love that name. It is so typically Minnesotan. Lake of the Isles, Lake of the Woods, International Falls, Mall of America...what other state has so many names that invoke the spirit of "America the Beautiful"?

Never having heard of Lake of the Isles before, I naturally had to check it out. Hey! That thing is giving me the finger! Well, it is an urban lake, located within city limits. I should have expected that.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Signs of the Season

After last November's spitefest, a lot of folks were glad to put the whole business of elections and politics behind them. Lawn signs disappeared, except for a handful in the possession of FATAC supporters. What is it with those people? Elections are over, now get back to the business of everyday life.

Things didn't stay quiet for long. On the way home from the bus stop today, walking up the hill to my house, I spotted two identical lawn signs. Once again, campaign season is upon us. As I came closer to the signs, I took note not only of who was being supported but also of who was supporting the candidate. "Democrats for Diven", read the sign. Excellent. Mike Diven is the former Pittsburgh City Councilman who is currently serving in the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives. A few weeks ago, he switched his party registration from Democrat to Republican and apparently brought more than a few people with him. As I have said before, I expect this to be the start of a trend. The special election for the vacant 42nd District Pennsylvania Senate seat is scheduled for May 19, Primary Election Day in PA. Diven has a worthy opponent facing him in this race, Libertarian Mark Rauterkus. Oh yes, I almost forgot -- there is also a Democrat running. Well, good luck, pal.

Mike Diven's official campaign web site is up and running
. Look for more signs of Diven on line and on lawns.

The Riddler Is Up To His Old Tricks

Fraters Libertas have/has updated their/its Separated at Birth section to include all 2004 SABs. The most recent entry, at the top of the list, displays the uncanny resemblance between Power Line's Scott Johnson and taxpayer money pipeline Matthew Lesko. That Lesko is a really weird character. If you haven't seen his infomercials, you are missing a real treat. He runs around Washington D.C. chasing G-men with his big oversized book that explains how anyone can get money from the government to do anything they want, or something like that. He never gets around to explaining that "government money" is actually "money confiscated from American citizens". Nope. D.C. is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and you need not worry about catching the leprechaun before helping yourself to some treasure.

Lesko wears a crazy suit covered in question marks. If you combined his style with David Strom's laugh, Adam West would start beating the snot out of him. If that ever happened, I would volunteer to play Robin and hold his arms back.

The Eclipse of History

This morning, on my way to work, I caught a few minutes of the War Room with Quinn and Rose, who were talking to Christopher Ruddy of Newsmax magazine about the papal succession in the wake of John Paul II's death. Ruddy referred to an interesting article on his publication's web site that deals with the prophecies of Saint Malachy. I have been fascinated by such things since I was a child, and I had been wondering when I would start hearing about Malachy again. For those unfamiliar with Malachy, he was

an Irish bishop who at his death in 1148 A.D. was discovered to have left behind a prophetic list of all future popes beginning with Pope Celestine II, whose papacy began in 1143 A.D.
Each prophecy was a very brief, and rather cryptic, Latin description of each pope. They are not nearly as difficult to comprehend as, say, the prophecies of Nostradamus; Malachy was succinct enough to leave little room for misinterpretation.
Historians say Malachy's prediction – wherein he listed just 112 popes – has been amazingly accurate.
Not just amazing, but frightening. The list is getting short...very short.
According to his list, there are just two more popes after the late John Paul II.
Before questioning just how accurate the prophecies are, take a look at JPII's description.
John Paul II. The 110th is "De Labore Solis" (Of the Solar Eclipse, or From the Toil of the Sun). The corresponding pope was John Paul II (1978-2005). John Paul II was born on May 8, 1920 during an eclipse of the sun. Like the sun, he came out of the East (Poland). Like the sun, he visited countries all around the globe.
The pope's funeral is scheduled for Friday. His mortal body will be seen for the last time before being covered -- or, if you will, eclipsed -- forever. There is also a solar eclipse taking place on Friday. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. Something more important to consider at this point is the identity of his successors.
The 111th prophecy is "Gloria Olivae" (The Glory of the Olive). The meaning of the olive is unclear. The Order of Saint Benedict – not St. Malachy – has claimed that this pope will come from its ranks and Saint Benedict himself prophesied that before the end of the world his Order, known also as the Olivetans, will triumphantly lead the Catholic Church in its final fight against evil.
Now I am not a Catholic -- in fact, I probably disagree with the Catholic church on as many things as I agree with it -- but I am not going to discount these predictions out of hand due to religious differences. On the contrary, these predictions are as convincing as anything I have ever seen, and certainly more so than the aforementioned Nostradamus. One must wonder -- what is the "evil" against which the church is to be fighting? Radical Islam? Leftist politics? The Abortion/Euthanasia death culture? Smoking in restaurants? This is both fascinating and terrifying. After this, one pope remains:
The 112th prophecy says, "In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Petrus Romanus (Peter the Roman), who will feed his flock amid many tribulations; after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people."
As grouchy, bad-tempered and irrational as smokers can get, I doubt that smoking bans will lead to something like this. This sounds like the work of radical Islam. So long as Osama bin Laden and his ilk remain alive, nothing is safe. They are already angry about the Arab media's respectful treatment of the news of the pope's death. They are also quite insane. What would stop them from specifically targeting the seat of a rival world religion? If the final prophecies of Malachy are fulfilled, it will probably happen during the next generation. There are only three words that I can think of to deal with the possibility of such a situation: Be Not Afraid.

The Prince is Dead, Long Live the Prince!

As the world mourns a Pope and a royal heir prepares for a semi-royal wedding, the second-smallest country in the world mourns the loss of its monarch. Prince Rainier of Monaco is dead at the age of 81.

For anyone for whom monarchy is anathema, consider this: He got to marry Grace Kelly. He got to marry Grace Kelly. I said, HE GOT TO MARRY GRACE KELLY! Is this getting through to you? Monte Carlo wasn't Monte Carlo before Princess Grace. One hot movie actress wife and a little publicity can make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams.

Single men, your goal is clear: survey your property, declare statehood, establish a monarchy with yourself on the throne, and find a hot Hollywood actress to marry. Who's available right now?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Taking Back The Streets

Animals have always had difficulty with new technologies, but they get used to them. They may even learn to coexist peacefully. My father, who was born in the early 1920s, told me that when he was a boy, dogs were terrified of automobiles and ran away when a car approached. This was an astonishing revelation to me, since I was used to a world where the cars ran faster, dogs habitually chased cars, and if they got inside of one, they enjoyed the ride with their heads sticking out of open windows. Wildlife, on the other hand, has a much harder time making the adjustment. Development of human housing, infrastructure, etc. long ago drove the wild creatures away from what we call civilization, but what they call "there goes the neighborhood". They are making a comeback, however, as seen in last month's Attack of the Potentially Lethal Turkeys. More animals are returning to humanity's habitats (not to be confused with Habitat for Humanity.)

Oh, deer. Oh deer, oh deer, oh deer. Bambi is back, and he's out for revenge.

In the suburban community where I grew up, it was not unusual to see a deer on a quiet weekend morning. With no school bus traffic, no 9-to-5ers heading out into the world, and just about everyone sleeping in, the deer would wander into the back yards and sometimes even the front yards before retreating into the woods at the first sign of a humanoid life form. They never seemed to make it into the city very often, with a few rare appearances in woodier areas. Now they are back, they are taking over, and they are not alone.

Once well-hidden by the thick woods of the city's numerous parks and hillsides, deer and other wildlife -- opossum, hawks, raccoons and especially turkey -- are now regularly seen.
Perfect! Now if only we can lure the Clampetts here from Beverly Hills with all of their oil money to stimulate the local economy. Jethro will never go hungry again! While we are waiting for Jed to move away from there, let's find out why the city is suddenly teeming with so much wildlife.
"We've got a situation in which lots of young deer are being born and very few are being killed off," said Gary Fujak, one of two state game officers who cover Pittsburgh.

"The deer have adapted quite well to living with man. They've learned that, for the most part, we'll not only leave them alone, we'll set the dinner table for them," he said.

Captain! The antlered Borg have adapted! Our shields are no longer working!
Last year, the city picked up 140 deer carcasses -- most struck by vehicles -- from streets in nearly every city neighborhood. So far this year, 30 dead deer have been removed.
The article does not say what the city does with the dead deer, but I would suggest that free fresh venison might help ease the cost of maintaining the county jail by lowering the food budget. But the city needs something more reliable than roadkills to control the deer menace. How about an urban deer shoot? Is that legal?
State game officials said hunting is permitted in the city using a shotgun loaded with slugs, a muzzleloader, a flintlock, bow and arrow, or a crossbow.

Hunting is restricted to private property with the permission of the landowner and must be done no closer than 150 yards from an occupied home unless permission is granted. Archers can hunt within 50 yards of an occupied home.

TWANG!!!!
In addition to encouraging more "regular hunting" in an area, deer population can be thinned through controlled hunts or calling in hunters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's wildlife-services division.

"There is no magic wand to solve the problem caused by deer," Schake said. "Hunting has to be part of the equation to control the population."

Just what we need -- hordes of armed government agents stalking the city streets. That's great. They'll corner all of the critters in one wooden enclave and turn it into a regular Waco. Please, guys, give the private sector a chance to screw this up before you come in and make it worse.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Jinxed

What I said in the last post about Blogger being faster without Doug...never mind.

The Culprit

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that Blogger has gotten a lot faster since Doug switched to a different host?

Irwin R. Schyster Lives!

An interesting Forbes magazine article explains what the IRS means when it describes Federal Income Tax as "voluntary", then follows with this comment:

To the agency, therefore, "voluntary" apparently means little more than "not done at gunpoint."
One might think that Forbes is on our side. Yes! Expose the ratweasel bureaucracy for what it is! Do what we say, or you will be looking down the barrel of our gun! But the rest of the article turns out to be little more than a carefully concealed love letter to the IRS. Or, at best, a shameful attempt at kissing the agency's collective arse.

A javascript slideshow displays a series of taxpayer challenges that have been shut down in the courts. Well, of course. No judge or juror wants to be audited.

Forbes reminds us how stupid and uninformed we all are:
Even the average uninformed taxpayer likely would dismiss out of hand an argument that the 16th Amendment, which authorized the federal income tax, was invalidly adopted in 1913.
A good editor would help here. Rendered correctly, the sentence would begin "Only an..." in place of "Even the...". There are people out there who have presented cogent arguments for repealing the 16th on the basis of its controversial ratification, not to mention the questionable morality of the income tax. Forbes is covering its ass again.

If the government can use the federal constitution to come after our paychecks, they will use any means necessary to come after anything of ours.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Blogger's Block

Have you ever had one of those days/weeks/months/years/lives? You know, where you want to blog, and blog some more, but either you can't think of anything to blog about, or nothing that interests you is worthy of blogging, or other bloggers have already covered what you were going to comment on? (No echo chamber here.)

Today is a very forbidding day on which to blog. Anything that you say or do on April First is liable to be ignored or scoffed at. Why bother communicating with anyone at all?

For anyone wishing for some kind of salutation other than "April Fools!" today, please allow me to be the first (and probably only one) to wish you:

Happy Bismarck's Birthday!

Advanced Regeneration

Like a lot of people who geeked out about Doctor Who in college about seventeen years ago, I was excited about the BBC's announcement last year that a new Doctor who series was in production. Except for a Fox-BBC telemovie in 1996, there has been no new Who on television since 1990. I knew nothing of the actor selected to portray the ninth Doctor, but I had high hopes for the show and I still can't wait for it to come to the United States, either on BBC America or on DVD. Ratings for last Saturday night's debut were so high that a second series is already in the works.

By the time we get to see it here, the Doctor will have a new face back in the UK. The star of the show, Christopher Eccleston, has decided to step down after only one season. Apparently he was concerned about being typecast. Kind of silly, considering the variety of work that his predecessors have been involved in after leaving the show. The flamboyant manner in which the role was to be portrayed, Eccleston felt, was too "campy" and "effeminate". I've seen some clips on the BBC's Doctor Who web site and Eccleston seems no campier than the earlier Doctors, nor does he seem effeminate, even by American standards.

The BBC, which recently invested millions of dollars in merchandise featuring Eccleston's likeness, will waste little time in naming a replacement. The almost-certain choice for the role is David Tennant, who will be seen in the next Harry Potter movie. It's always fun to see the Doctor regenerate, but you kind of prefer to see each of his lives have a good long run before changing. If the new series stays true to the continuity of the old show, the Doctor has only three lives left after this. But then again, a show about someone who constantly interferes in history, and that comes up with multiple explanations of how dinosaurs died or where the Loch Ness Monster came from, shouldn't need to worry much about being consistent.