Thursday, June 30, 2005

Eat It Before It Eats You



That was one big fish that some guys in Thailand caught recently. A record-setter, in fact. Either one of those guys could fit inside of that thing.

IT'S the largest freshwater fish ever caught, but this 293kg catfish didn't end up on the trophy wall.
What do you do with such a beast? Donate it to a museum?

Give me a break. There are people starving in this world.
It went straight into the cooking pot.
Yep, that's what I would do, too.

Neopestilence

Several months ago, members of my family with whom I share my computer became addicted to something called Neopets. It seemed kind of cute and harmless. I especially liked the fact that it was something that the kids could get caught up in without leaving it all over the house. It made me happy because it made them happy.

The true scourge of Neopets has only recently begun to rear its ugly head.

I have found that when I come home from work and sit down to use the computer, the system runs about as fast as Jabba the Hutt going uphill in a mudslide. And if I try to open Microsoft Word, the computer crashes and I have to spend the better part of ten minutes waiting for the thing to reboot. This only happens when someone has been playing Neopets.

Do you think I have an easy time explaining this to my wife and kids? Not on your life. It's not because of Neopets, they say, but because of Microsoft. I can't completely disagree. Microsoft has its problems, but this never happened before Neopets invaded my family's collective life.

On top of all this, Neopets was purchased by MTV the other day, which means that the Neopets empire will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. I can't take this anymore.

Perhaps I need to solicit others' experiences. Has anyone else had trouble with Neopets mucking up their computers? Does it load my hard drive with adware and spyware?

Or is it my fault because I'm still using Windows 98 after all these years? I know I'm not state of the art, but does it all come down to the need for a new computer?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Iraq Is Still Important

Very seldom do I ever watch a Presidential speech live, or listen on radio or internet, because the delivery has as much to do with style as it does with substance. No President gives this kind of speech on the fly anyway; it's all prepared. I might as well stand in front of the mirror and watch myself reading the text to myself. My speaking style is like President Bush's, but without the Texas twang. I have a tendency to stumble around and even create new words when speaking to groups of people. Thus I avoid group communication as much as possible.

I guess that's why I like the President: Because he reminds me of me. And most of the time, he seems unconcerned with how a lot of people feel about him. That is another quality that he and I share. Once I had someone express admiration for me because of it. (Donkey said something similar in the movie Shrek.) Well, naturally. You can't please everyone, so don't bother trying.

Opinion polls as of late have indicated that public support for the US presence in Iraq is waning. I don't hold much stock in opinion polls, primarily because no one has ever asked me to take part in one. Most people would probably tell you the same thing. What good is a poll if it only reveals the opinions of a few people? President Bush doesn't rely on opinion polls the way that President Clinton did, which is a good thing, because the polls always seem to favor the Leftward side of the political spectrum. Nevertheless, as polls have trended away from support for the Iraq war and mainstream punditry leans in the same direction, now is as good a time as any for the President to come forward and remind the American people of why our troops are over there and how things are developing in that regard.

And so, for the reasons outline above, I waited until this morning to read the speech on the White House's web site. Critics of the President often suggest that he either doesn't know what is going on, or doesn't care what is going on. This speech puts the lie to both. He makes a number of points showing the importance of the Iraq campaign and the progress that is being made on that front.

First off, he tells us why we are fighting the War On Terror, and who started it (and it wasn't him, no matter what the Left says):

The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001. The terrorists who attacked us -- and the terrorists we face -- murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent. Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression -- by toppling governments, by driving us out of the region, and by exporting terror.
Middle Eastern terrorists have been a problem for over thirty years. The Iranian hostage crisis happened in 1979. The Olympic Games in Munich were marred by terrorists in 1972. I could point out a number of incidents that have happened since then. But the 2001 destruction of American lives was by far the worst sort of attack perpetrated by the foe and deserved a greater response than we had been able to give in the past. They have been at it for years, and they are still out there:
To achieve these aims, they have continued to kill -- in Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali, and elsewhere. The terrorists believe that free societies are essentially corrupt and decadent, and with a few hard blows they can force us to retreat. They are mistaken. After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy.
So what would we rather have: American troops fighting on the other side of the world, with less than two-thousand dead after just over two years; or American civilians defending their homes from terrorists and thousands more dead on American soil? Seems pretty obvious to me. You don't negotiate with these people. You hunt them out and destroy them before they can come here and kill us. Afghanistan was a good start, because that was where Bin Laden was known to be based. Iraq was convenient because the terrain isn't a difficult to deal with as Afghanistan, and because we were a dozen years overdue in getting rid of Saddam Hussein.
Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington, and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of coalition operations in Iraq -- who is also senior commander at this base -- General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said: "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us."
Notice how the reasons that the President gives for involvement in Iraq have nothing to do with WMDs. That was never the sole reason for going in, no matter what the critics say:
Our mission in Iraq is clear. We're hunting down the terrorists. We're helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We're advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability, and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren.
This is important. The sooner that the threat is neutralized -- by which I mean "completely eliminated" -- the sooner we can enjoy a world at peace. This is a time when we can only establish peace by waging war. Ridding the planet of terrorist ideology is the best way of ensuring a peaceful world for future generations.

The President does not revel in the loss of American lives, which is another frequent criticism leveled by the Left:
The work in Iraq is difficult and it is dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country. And tonight I will explain the reasons why.
Were there terrorists in Iraq before we went over there? Yes, but not as many as there have been since we went in. They are drawn like flies to a dungheap. Getting the US out of the Middle East is more important to them that attacking Americans at home. Where are they all coming from?
Some of the violence you see in Iraq is being carried out by ruthless killers who are converging on Iraq to fight the advance of peace and freedom. Our military reports that we have killed or captured hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq who have come from Saudi Arabia and Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and others. They are making common cause with criminal elements, Iraqi insurgents, and remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime who want to restore the old order. They fight because they know that the survival of their hateful ideology is at stake. They know that as freedom takes root in Iraq, it will inspire millions across the Middle East to claim their liberty, as well. And when the Middle East grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits, and lose their hopes for turning that region into a base for attacks on America and our allies around the world.
There is plenty more, and unlike most Presidential speeches, is well worth reading top to bottom. The Left won't be swayed by it, and the media will find plenty of points to criticize over the next couple of days. Just remember that this speech was made by a guy who actually knows what's going on, and is more interested in facts than opinions.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Editorial Eviction Notice

Some days I just don't know what to make of the utter crap that gets spewed forth daily on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's editorial page. There's another idiotic piece of tripe by Reg Henry, who tries to be both a humorist and an opinion maker, but fails on both counts. He just comes off as sarcastic and goofy. Quite frankly, if he wants to take a vacation to Guantanamo Bay, more power to him. Maybe he could do us all a favor and stay there. And the paper could replace him with a real journalist who listens to all sides of a story, and not just whatever the big time Washington politicians are saying.

Reg almost makes the op-ed piece about the Kelo vs. New London Supreme Court decision sound well-reasoned and intelligent. Almost. While people on both the Left and the Right cry together in outrage, the Post-Gazette looks for "wisdom" in the outcome of this case:

To hear some enamored of the property rights movement tell it -- and that includes dissenting justices of the U.S. Supreme Court -- the rights of Americans were struck a grievous blow last week when the court ruled to uphold an expansive reading of "public use" in eminent domain proceedings. A home was no longer the owner's castle; the walls had been breached.
"Some enamored of the property rights movement"? You mean adherents of a free society? People who refuse to tolerate the socialistic turn that the country has taken in the last century? Damn right we're concerned about the erosion of our rights.

I can't believe that the editorialist refers to a "property rights movement". That sounds like anyone who owns or wants to own their own home. Is that a new movement? When were people not able to buy property in America?
Nobody who is serious argues that eminent domain is itself unconstitutional under the 5th Amendment. To that extent, all private property has always been vulnerable. If this case were the government taking the land to build a military base or a road or a park, there would be no argument. What was argued was how far do the words "public use" extend.
"Nobody who is serious" -- this is a nice set up. In just a few short sentences, this will come to mean "anyone who disagrees with us should not be taken seriously".
Far enough, said the court by a 5-4 majority, for the city of New London, Conn., through a private non-profit agency, the New London Development Corp., to take by eminent domain, with the required just compensation, parcels of land for economic revitalization. The land was not blighted but New London itself was distressed, with both high unemployment and a drop in population.
So where is the "public use"? If the non-profit agency is indeed a private group and not actually a part of the government, then they will have all of the rights of any private property owner to restrict the public's use and access of whatever they plan to do with their newly acquired parcels of land. This is nothing like a military base, or a road, or a park.
Justice John Paul Stevens, in the 5-4 majority opinion, wrote, "Promoting economic development is a traditional and long-accepted function of government." Indeed, it is.
Sure, but the devil -- as always -- is in the details. Here's a hypothetical: Supposing the developer who tears down the homes replaces them with upmarket shops and restaurants. Someone who used to live on that property may not be able to afford to shop and eat there. They may not be able to afford the kind of clothing that would be acceptable according to a nice restaurant's dress code. That's a slap in the face. It's not just "get out of here", it's "get out of here and never come back". But government doesn't care. Government can't care. Government's only concern is the increased tax revenue coming from the new developments. Screw the owners of private homes, say five Supreme Court Justices and the PG.
But for anyone who fears that such an understanding of "public use" puts all private property in peril, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in his concurring opinion gives some comfort. He suggested that economic development might not always pass muster as a reason for the taking of property. A more demanding standard might apply in cases where transfers were suspicious, or the procedures used prone to abuse, or the purported benefits were trivial or implausible.
Oh yes, he's a hero alright. His warning pretty much describes any kind of taking for "economic development". More than anyone else, Kennedy was the "swing vote" in this decision. Is there some kind of hidden agenda behind his vote? It sounds like he's setting it up so that lawyers can make more money off of this deal. That's what "pass muster" comes down to here. It means getting lawyers involved to hash things out.
That caution is a good one; eminent domain has its place but its critics are right that it can be abused. At the same time, they tend to downplay the usefulness of eminent domain.
"It's bad...but it's actually very good!"
While the threatened use of eminent domain was a controversial issue in Mayor Tom Murphy's ill-fated plans for the Fifth and Forbes corridor, eminent domain was used profitably in the development of the Point during Renaissance One after World War II -- and it gave birth to a fine park and a new engine of commerce in the Gateway Center buildings. To be sure, the area affected was deemed blighted, but not everyone agreed.
If Pittsburgh used eminent domain to seize every area in the city that could be "deemed blighted", there wouldn't be much left. Murphy's eminent domain shenanigans resulted in many long-time merchants in the Fifth & Forbes corridor packing up and leaving. And what's there now? A lot of empty retail space. If he wants to seize that space for "economic development", he's free to do so now. While he's at it, how about the rest of downtown Pittsburgh as well? South Oakland is pretty bad, too. Kick out the college students and street gangs so that you can raze the neighborhood to build strip malls. You know how eager those big time retailers are to open up inside the city limits. (Yeah, right.)
The wisdom of the court's ruling ought to resonate in Pittsburgh, where the understanding of "public use" long ago brought public benefit.
And so the editorialist concludes with the word that cements the court's ruling in this case as infallible: Wisdom. Very nice, that. Try going into a candy store, grabbing a Mars bar, and walking out the door without paying for it. Then try explaining to the store manager, the policeman, and the judge that your "taking" was rooted in "wisdom". But that's not the same thing, you say. The stolen candy bar would not benefit the public, just the individual who stole it, if he could get away with it. And you would be correct.

But somehow, the United States Supreme Court has seen fit to let local government walk out of the shop with the candy bar of "public use". Let the city of Pittsburgh displace private property owners and put up "economic developments" in their place. I have a feeling that you would end up with a bunch of storefronts that would be just as empty and useless as a mouthful of rotten teeth after too many candy bars.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Sleep With One Eye Open


High time, I think, for my first ever attempt at Catblogging. This is a Siamese cat (traditional "Applehead" style) who passed away about five years ago. He bonded with my wife and was deathly afraid of me. This picture was taken about nine years ago, not long after we moved into the house, and before we pulled up the sweaty, tobacco-drenched carpet bequeathed to us by the previous owners.

The cat, on the other hand, came with us. By this time he had learned to fear me, and not without justification. I rarely saw him lying around unguarded. The shiny golden disc that you see in this picture is his right eye. Not even his feline penchant for frequent naps at all hours of the day kept him from his watch.

Eventually he came to be at peace with me, even going so far as to approach me and let me hold and pet him. This occurred within a year before his death. I suspect that he mystically foresaw him imminent demise and wished to make amends with those who had suffered his wrath in times past.

The Rain Rain Rain Came Down Down Down

It never rains, but it pours. Not only did the man behind Tigger die this weekend, but we also lost Piglet.

John Fiedler, like Paul Winchell and pretty much the entire voice cast of Walt Disney's Pooh cartoons, was an enormously talented performer who seemed to pop up all over the place. Stage, big screen and television were all familiar arenas for Fiedler. While other Hundred Acre Wood residents have been performed by different actors over the years -- even Paul Winchell was replaced by Jim Cummings, who also succeeded Sterling Holloway as Winnie the Pooh -- there has only ever been one Piglet.

I can't imagine anyone else filling John Fiedler's shoes as Piglet. Perhaps it's time for Disney to stop making any more new Pooh films and TV shows.

This evening, I am going to sit down with my children and watch The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on DVD. They never get tired of it, and they never stop laughing.

The Terrible Thing About Tigger

Legendary ventriloquist and cartoon voice man Paul Winchell has passed away in Los Angeles. Anyone who has watched Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" movies know that one character steals the whole show: Tigger, Winchell's best-known characterization. He was much more than an entertainer, however:

Over six decades, Winchell parlayed his talent for creating countless voices from the earliest days of television to film. Outside of his career in entertainment, Winchell also was an inventor who held 30 patents, including one for an early artificial heart he built in 1963.
That one certainly went a long way:
He donated his artificial heart to the University of Utah for research. Dr. Robert Jarvik and other researchers at the university went on to build an artificial heart, dubbed the Jarvik-7, which was implanted into patients after 1982.
Some of the most amazing things about the most extraordinary people don't become public knowledge until after they are dead.

As for his entertainment career, I see that he was also the voice of Gargamel on "Smurfs". He played crazy evil just as well as he played mischievously silly. He will be missed, that's for sure.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Tom Cruise Sizzles In...The Oprah Winfrey Show??

Oh, the things you see at 2 A.M. If I'm not careful, I am going to wake up the entire household with gales of laughter. They might appreciate it if I did. This thing is a howl.

You never know who has the Dark Side in them. I never had any opinion about Tom Cruise one way or the other before, but I now bow in deference to him as someone who is all-powerful in the Force. Right-click here and download this to your hard drive. You'll be glad you did.

(From Krankiboy via a tip from Honnistaibe. Thanks!)

Turkey Jerky

The other day while on duty at work I was running an errand from one building to another. As I crossed the courtyard towards the front door, a lone turkey hopped down from a wall just off to my left and trotted along a trajectory perpendicular to my own. I stopped and gave the turkey plenty of room to move. These urban turkeys normally travel in a group. They are also quite docile, but I wanted to keep my distance in case his solitude was evidence of a newfound feral attitude. There's no telling if the bird would flip out and attack like the suburban turkey who invaded a woman's home earlier this year.

Or, even worse, I could suffer the fate of blogger Honnistaibe, who was attacked by a wild turkey while biking the Youghiogheny River a few weeks ago:

...I encountered on the trail two large wild turkeys with two "‘baby turkeys"”. As they moved to one side of the trail I left the limestone part of the trail on the opposite side to give them plenty of room. Just before I was even with them one of the adults became “"airborne"” and attacked, "“beaking"” me between my nose and mouth.
Ouch! They attack you wherever you go. At home, on the trail...perhaps even at work. I may no longer feel safe leaving my building. And all the bird was doing was trying to protect its young. Stupid turkey. What does he think he is, a bear? Next time I'm out with my kids, I'll attack the first bike rider I see just to show him who's boss. Right.
Half dazed on the ground from the impact I realized that this bird of prey was coming at me again for a second taste and I started screaming and cursing...ready to wring its damn neck if it came any closer but the fowl suddenly realized its advantage of surprise was now gone and retreated with its family over a nearby hill toward the river.
Perhaps I am a bit sadistic about such things, but when I see a bird with a scrawny neck like a turkey or an ostrich, I can't help but think about how easy it would be to grab it by the neck and twist it or pop it out of place. Only in an act of self-defense, of course. Aibe was lucky to get away with just a beak attack. He would have needed to do something to that turkey's neck in a big hurry if he wanted to avoid having his chest ripped open and his heart punctured by the monster's talons.

A visit to his local emergency room determined that Aibe really was beaten up as bad as he thought -- maybe worse. But he seems totoughtought sort of bird himself, and judging by the latest posts on his blog, is making a slow but steady recovery from the attack. Don't let the turkeys get you down, man. Let that swimming routine work you back into shape.

And for Pete's sake, please take some kind ofrepellentellant along the next time you hit the trail.

Friday, June 24, 2005

I Myself Am Totally Depraved

Doug at bloggy good Bogus Gold directs us to a quiz that is supposed to determine one's religious worldview. How accurate can it be? This one is over sixty questions long, and I found myself having no feelings or opinions on many of the statements given. For the record, I have attended Lutheran churches all of my life, aside from a period in my youth when I was uninterested in religion in general. However, I would feel just as comfortable in almost any Protestant congregation. So what does this quiz say about me?

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavily by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


75%

Neo orthodox


64%

Reformed Evangelical


61%

Emergent/Postmodern


57%

Fundamentalist


54%

Classical Liberal


54%

Modern Liberal


43%

Charismatic/Pentecostal


43%

Roman Catholic


32%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Hmmm. Based on my Roman Catholic scoring, I must be the Anti-Doug. I have never been big on dogma. Whenever I am around a lot of Catholics (one of those "accident of marriage" things), I feel like the only one in the room who's on a Kool-Aid-free diet.

So what exactly am I drinking instead? Unfermented grape juice, apparently. (Another indication of my anti-Dougliness.)

In recent years I have tended to lean more towards reformed churches like Presbyterian and Methodist. My own Lutheran church tends to be -- dare I say it? -- too Catholic at times. I like the feeling of being in control of things, of having a choice, hence this sentence from my quiz results stands out: "You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved." There's a whole lot of depravity goin' on out there. A lot of Christians will readily admit that. Makes me wonder why there aren't more Methodists running around out there.

Filth In the City

This is one of those news stories that makes you sick to your stomach:

She is from India. She barely speaks English. She is 59 years old. And now she is a rape victim in Pittsburgh following an unsettling daylight abduction.
It is an unthinkable event for anyone to endure, much less someone thousands of miles from home who hardly speaks the language.
She has only been here for about two years. Welcome to America. Welcome to Pittsburgh.

The woman is distraught, Pittsburgh police Sgt. Shirley Epperson said, but at the same time relieved: Detectives yesterday arrested a suspect, four days -- almost to the hour -- after the assault.

Robert Hawkins, 42, of Garfield was charged with rape, kidnapping, two counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, robbery, unlawful restraint and simple assault. Detectives continue to investigate whether anyone else was involved.

At the scene of the crime, someone witnessed the abduction and tried to intervene:
A passerby saw the assault, ran up to the van and began screaming at the man to stop.
This led to some very impressive police work on the case:

The police sex assault squad gave the incident a high priority.

Epperson assigned all 14 of her detectives, who also handle child abuse and missing persons cases. There are relatively few rapes in Pittsburgh compared to other types of serious crimes. Last year, 99 rapes were reported, down from 136 in 2003.

They brought in an interpreter from the University of Pittsburgh who speaks Hindi. They created a composite sketch. They got help from a witness to the abduction. And they found the van after receiving a partial license plate.

Police officers on patrol spotted the vehicle outside the family support center of the Garfield Jubilee Association, a Christian-based community development corporation.

Police said the van was not reported stolen but acknowledged that Hawkins was associated with someone who had access to a key.

On Wednesday, a witness picked Hawkins' photo out of an eight-shot photo display provided by investigators.

One can't help applauding the police for the excellent investigative work that went into apprehending the rapist, and also give a shout out to the witnesses who aided them. But a part of me cries out in anger that we need police who specialize in crimes like this. Many people come to the city because it's cheap, or because it's close to work, or because there is a particular community in which they can feel comfortable while adjusting to a new situation. That's how it was for the woman from India. Coming to America was probably a very positive thing for her. She didn't expect to be confronted by a living, breathing symptom of urban decay.

When the Garfield section of the city makes news, it is often crime-related, usually a drive-by shooting. My mother was born and raised in Garfield in a more civilized day. I still have a few relatives there. The neighborhood has changed a lot in the last fifty years. This man is probably not atypical of a latter-day Garfield resident. In fact, he seems to be very much a late-comer:
Epperson, who revealed little information about how detectives developed Hawkins as a suspect, said he was wanted on two warrants from Lexington, Ky., for nonpayment of child support.
Not only did he have problems in his own background before coming here, but he seems to have gotten himself involved with more trouble along the way:

Also arrested was Hawkins' girlfriend, Michelle Reid, 43, who was charged with drug possession after police found suspected crack cocaine in the house.

If this bunch has been operating under the influence of drugs, there may be no telling how much the guy has done in the past. Was this his first rape? Has he committed crimes of this sort before? That's up to the police to determine.

Right now, we should all be glad that this filth has been removed from the city streets.

(In)Justice Comes Home

"Eminent domain" is a term that has been haunting Pittsburgh for almost as many years as Tom Murphy has been mayor. It refers to the seizing of private property by a government entity, ostensibly for the public good. Tom Murphy has used eminent domain in the past, and has threatened to use it again and again.

He may get to have some fun with it in his last few months as mayor, following yesterday's outrageous Supreme Court ruling in favor of eminent domain. Any victory for eminent domain is a defeat for property rights, and for freedom in general. Essentially, no one's property is safe.

The Tribune-Review has an excellent article on the court's ruling and its impact on Pittsburgh in particular. Pay attention to this excerpt:

Writing for the court's majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community. States are within their rights to pass additional laws restricting condemnations if residents are overly burdened, he said.

"The city has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including -- but by no means limited to -- new jobs and increased tax revenue," Stevens wrote.

Stevens was joined in his opinion by other members of the court's liberal wing -- David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. The bloc typically has favored greater deference to cities, which historically have used eminent domain for urban renewal projects that benefit the lower and middle class.

They were joined by Reagan appointee Justice Anthony Kennedy in rejecting the conservative principle of individual property rights. Critics had feared that would allow a small group of homeowners to stymie rebuilding efforts that benefit the city through added jobs and more tax revenue for social programs.

Local officials, not federal judges, know best. What about private citizens? And if urban renewal projects "benefit the lower and middle class", doesn't somebody have to forfeit something? Yes -- those terrifying homeowners whom critics are in fear of.

Some time ago I heard a lawyer explain what the term "real estate" means. "Real" does not refer to tangible, immovable property. "Real" comes from the French word for "royal". "Real estate" essentially means "property of the crown". Five of nine justices have just gone on record as supporting that concept.

Remember the names of those five justices. Those are the ones who need to go, soon, and be replaced by constitutional conservative justices that the left lives in abject fear of.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tag, I'm It

I figured that this was going to happen.

I am inclined to say that "I don't do this sort of thing," but that's only because I have never been tagged before. Plus, I have spent the last fifteen years working in either a book shop or a library, so I know a thing or two about books. A caveat: I am not a front-to-back reader. I only read what interests me. This means that most of my reading is "bathroom" style reading, even if very little of it is done in that particular chamber. It also means that my reading is almost exclusively non-fiction. So here is my response to this literary survey thingy:

Total number of books owned, ever: Everyone's answer seems to be the same, and mine is no different. I have so many books that I can't even come up with a reasonable estimate. Try working for a major retail bookseller with a decent employee discount and see how many books you accumulate over the course of ten years.

Last book I bought: The Delorme Southern & Central California Atlas and Gazetteer. Some might say that, technically, this doesn't count. But it is a book, and I bought it. My nine year old daughter is vacationing in Long Beach and I thought that she might find this useful. I have had an interest in geography since I was a little boy, and the Delorme series is the ultimate in cartography, as far as I am concerned. Delorme helped me get around Minnesota twice before, and it will help me do so again in about six weeks.

Last book I read: Civilization Before Greece and Rome by Saggs. I actually read this cover-to-cover, though I did just kind of skim through the boring parts. The book that I finished before that, Ancient Iraq by Georges Roux, contained much overlapping material but was presented in a much more interesting fashion.

Five Books that mean a lot to me: I'm not sure that I like the way that this is worded, so I will call it
Five books that have made an impact on my life:


Chicken Little: How many people remember the first book they ever read, without help, cover to cover? This is where it all started, way back when I was three years old. The edition that I had was published over forty years ago, which makes me a spring chicken by comparison.

The People's Almanac 2 By David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace: Along with its companion volumes in the People's Almanac Series as well as the Book of Lists Series by the same authors, this book taught me that "bathroom" reading was, 90% of the time, much more interesting than reading a book cover to cover.

Henry V by William Shakespeare: After reading this for a college Shakespeare course, I decided to become a history major. The facts (provable and unproven) were much more interesting than political propaganda posing as a work of drama. And so, at around age 20, I came to the conclusion that I preferred non-fiction to fiction, and it's been that way ever since.

Leftism Revisited: From De Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot by Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: This one is kind of obscure. The author, best known in America as a contributor to National Review magazine for many years, was born into an aristocratic Austrian family in the waning years of the Habsburg Empire. This book gave me a sense of modern political history from a right-of-center European perspective, and led me towards a better understanding of "left" and "right" in the political sense (hence the logical identification of Hitler as a leftist in the book's subtitle). I don't fear the right wing; I embrace it.

The Embarrassed Believer by Hugh Hewitt: No, seriously! I spotted this when I was working in the religion section during my bookselling days. There were few books on the market that dealt with the question of Christianity's place in the secular world of today. I read the book, and recognized myself. I was embarrassed. (Still am, in some ways.) At the time, I had no idea who Hugh Hewitt was. Several years later I discovered the blogosphere and there he was right in the thick of things.

That's a wrap. Now who am I going to pass this along to? I am rather inspired by the manner in which Sisyphus at Nihilist In Golf Pants handled the last part of the assignment. So in the spirit of the aforementioned Book of Lists, which included Ronald Reagan's list of historical figures he would most like to meet, I am going to do something a little different:

The Ohligarch's 5 20th Century American Presidents He Would Like To Pass This Blogging Assignment Along To:
1) Ronald Reagan
2) Richard Nixon
3) Franklin Roosevelt
4) Herbert Hoover
5) Theodore Roosevelt

The Pork Authority Takes Us For a Ride

Long ago, advertising space above the seating in Port Authority of Allegheny County vehicles -- trolleys and buses -- was always filled up. Banks, businesses, public service announcements, and other paid notices decorated -- some might say cluttered -- both sides of the bus, right at eye level when you were standing.

Today, you would be hard pressed to find an actual advertisement on the buses. (The light rail transit trains that have replaced the old trolleys don't even have that advertising space.) What you do find are PSAs that take up, at most, 20% of the space, and most of those are self-serving PSAs advertising the Port Authority's own services. The gradual disappearance of mini-billboards from buses and trolleys indicates a loss of advertising income for the organization. The lost revenue has to be gotten from elsewhere to help keep the Port Authority solvent and prevent another hike in fares.

And it looks like they have been able to do just that:

The Port Authority plans to adopt a $319.8 million budget on Friday that would not raise fares, cut service or trigger layoffs.
Well, that's good news for both riders and employees. But what is the source of the money that is keeping everything stable?
The spending plan for the 2006 budget year starting July 1 is balanced with $45 million in state highway money and at least $19 million in labor concessions.
State highway money? That should make people living up in Emporium feel good. The fine folks of that northern Pennsylvania city can rest easy knowing that their taxes are allowing people down here in Allegheny County to keep riding the bus for the same amount of money that they have been for the last few months. The citizens of Minot, North Dakota should be happy about it, too. That's because Pennsylvania's "state highway money" -- or at least a significant chunk of it -- comes from federal taxpayer monies. The Port Authority would be a much more efficient organization if it were run like a business. They might as well start calling themselves the Pork Authority.

The "labor concessions" sounds kind of dubious. Labor never makes concessions. After all, as the article then goes on to tell us,
Neither is certain.
Please elaborate.
The effort to get the $64 million will play out over the next few months and either will ensure the authority's stability for another year or create more trouble for the embattled agency. For now, those who use the bus, light-rail and ACCESS services are safe.
So basically, the title and first two paragraphs of the article are misleading. Way to go.

There is no mention of the source of the "state highway funds". Just some tidbits on who decides on how the money is handled:
The authority must receive the blessing of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission to receive $45 million of the $412 million in state highway money reserved in March by Gov. Ed Rendell to help transit agencies statewide. The Downtown-based commission determines how transportation dollars are spent in the 10-county region.
So the money has been budgeted by the Pork Authority, but it's not actually there yet. Okay. Got it. Now how about those "labor concessions"?

The authority also must negotiate labor contracts with 2,600 drivers, maintenance employees and supervisors represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85. Contracts expire June 30, and the authority wants to cut $19 million from its projected health care and pension costs to balance the 2006 budget.

"This budget assumes no wage increase or salary increase across the board," said authority Executive Director Paul Skoutelas. "It also assumes savings in the area of health care and pensions."

As of Tuesday, negotiations had not gone well between the Port Authority and the union. Negotiators continue to meet, but haven't agreed on health care costs, Skoutelas said.

Of course negotiations have "not gone well"! Did they think that the union was going to be happy about this? Organized labor is not going to just lay down and accept a $19 million cut. Labor never accepts a cut. Labor never accepts the status quo. The Pork Authority is trying to provide better service to its customers. Labor is never concerned about the end user; it constantly strives to better the lives of the workers at the expense of the end user.

So what happens if the union does not make this concession?

If an agreement is not reached by June 30, state law requires a 30-day cooling off period. Also, the state Labor Relations Board assigns a neutral party to prepare a fact-finding report within 45 days.

After that, both sides would have 15 days to accept or reject the report.

At that point, which at the earliest would be mid-August, the union could strike. There is no indication at this time that workers intend to walk off the job.

So instead of having the perfect budget that will keep everyone happy, the Pork Authority doesn't know if it is going to get all of the money that it is planning to spend, and might have to deal with a massive transportation strike in a couple of months. Good job.

If the 2006 budget planning process is such a problem, what kind of budget has Pork Authority been running on for the past year?
The Port Authority board also plans to adopt its 2005 budget on Friday. The board chose not to adopt a 2005 budget last year because its financial situation was uncertain. It must, under state law, adopt a budget sometime during the budget year.
Urgh.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Racial Intimidation

When I saw this article in the Post-Gazette:

Someone spray painted religious and racial slurs inside a Fayette County kennel
I immediately thought of this T. S. Eliot poem that serves as the closing number in the musical Cats:
The usual dog about the town
Is much inclined to play the clown
And far from showing too much pride
Is frequently undignified
He's such an easygoing lout
He'll answer any hail or shout
Cats seem to have an innate racial hatred of dogs. Why else would these unspecified slurs show up in a kennel, if they were not directed at the dogs?

And what about the religious slurs? Apparently the cats thought that the canine faith was too DOGmatic.

An Intimate Look At the Body of an Older Woman

Remember when Bill Clinton, as President of the United States, expressed carnal desire for a 500 year old Peruvian Mummy?

Juanita met President Clinton. In 1996 she visited the United States where she met President Clinton at a dinner in Stamford, Connecticut. He reportedly said, "If I were a single man, I might ask that mummy out. That's a good-looking mummy!" According to the Associated Press, Peruvian scientists at the time called his remark "tasteless."
Mr. Clinton may want to consider paying a visit to Westminster College in western Pennsylvania. There's a campus resident who sounds like his type of woman:
Even to those who know her best, Pesed is a woman cloaked in mystery.

She traveled halfway around the world to make her home at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Lawrence County, and rumor has it she sometimes made late-night jaunts across campus, roaming dormitory halls and snuggling up with unsuspecting co-eds.

Definitely his kind of gal. I can just imagine White House staffers sneaking Pesed into Clinton's bed. I can also imagine the staffers standing outside of the door several hours later wondering about the giggling coming from inside the bedroom, and why President Clinton hasn't come out yet.
Scientists hope to find out more about the 2,300-year-old mummy after CT scans are performed on her tonight at College Fields MRI in Neshannock, Lawrence County. A forensic sculptor will use the scans to construct a three-dimensional model of Pesed's skull.
Scientists. Always more interested in what's inside a woman's head than in what's inside her dress.
The Rev. John Griffin, an Egyptian missionary and Westminster graduate, bought Pesed for $8 and donated her to the college in 1885. Today, she is worth $200,000 to $250,000, said Jonathan Elias, of the Reading, Berks County-based Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, which is paying for the CT scans.
She started out as a cheap date and is now worth some big bucks? She sounds like Westminster College's trophy wife.
Farmerie hopes hair samples gathered when Pesed's body is removed from her coffin will unearth more about her diet, lifestyle or other diseases she may have had.
A lock of her hair is a wonderful romantic gift. The rest of the information is useful for knowing which restaurants you should or should not take her to, and finding out if she practices safe sex.

Of particular interest is an amulet, or small metal charm, lodged under her arm. The scans will allow scientists to view the charm without disturbing Pesed's wrappings, Farmerie said.

Egyptians, who believed the body transcended into the afterlife, placed charms on the body to cure wearers' maladies, he said.

The placement of the charm under Pesed's arm is unusual, Elias said. It might indicate that she suffered a chronic pain in that area, he said.

It might indicate that she has already been with Clinton and he kept laying down on her arm so she would be pinned and couldn't get out of bed.
In addition to osteoporosis, the 2001 scans of Pesed revealed abscesses along her jaw, possibly pointing to an infection that could have led to malnutrition or even death, Farmerie said.
Or it could be herpes. College campuses are notorious for promiscuity.
One tale had it that pranksters severed her head from her body. That one has been disproved, Farmerie said, but rumors of her being carted around campus and dropped off in students' beds are harder to dispel, he said.
I can think of a few jokes to make about this paragraph, all based around the word "head", but I don't want to sink too far into the gutter.
Snatching Pesed wouldn't have been hard, he said, so long as students took the whole body. Until 20 to 30 years ago, Pesed was left unguarded, sometimes tucked away in storage closets, anywhere there was 12 square feet of space, Farmerie said.
You run into a lot of girls like that at college frat parties.
Evidence that kids got to the mummy has been left behind: The underside of the lid to Pesed's wooden coffin is decorated with the etchings of students' names and dates from the late 1800s.
Some girls remember the name of every boy they've dated. Etching it where you can see it, on the place where you lie down, helps.

These days, Pesed dwells securely in her coffin in a glass display case at the Mack Science Library on campus.

"It's under lock and key," Farmerie said.

From here on, it's "look but don't touch". Once they become famous, they forget you ever existed. Witch!

Criminal Justice Is a Many Splendored Thing

It truly is amazing what people will do to get themselves in trouble:

Two women who participated in a prison love-letter scheme that netted more than $221,000 will spend more time in prison.
What, praytell, did the love letters say? "Dear Loverboy, I love you! I'm in jail. Send me thousands of dollars!"??
Cynthia Denise Livingston was sentenced yesterday to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay nearly $5,000 restitution. Michelle Mendoza was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered pay nearly $7,700 restitution.
Good thing they happen to have $221,000 lying around to pay the restitution. Oh no, wait...
According to prosecutors, the inmates placed personal ads to start relationships with men. Typically, the inmate would send a photograph of an attractive woman, falsely claiming it was of her.
Falsifying information in a singles ad? That ought to be illegal anyway. And just how stupid and desperate are these men?
The inmate would ask for money to spend at the prison commissary and, as time progressed, they'd claim they'd soon be released and needed money to relocate.
Pretty stupid and desperate, apparently. When did they start to become suspicious? When the girls stopped asking for lunch money and started asking for enough money to buy a new house? Or when they realized that they didn't have enough left in the bank to get beer money from the local ATM?
Then they'd tell the men they received new charges and wouldn't be getting out of prison after all.
Well, dang! They finally said something that wasn't a lie after all. It just hadn't come true yet.

I almost feel sorry for the guys who got scammed. Hopefully they were allowed to keep the attractive women photographs that the prisoners sent them, because those would seem to be the only positive things the men could possibly have gotten from this whole messy affair.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Father's Day 2005

Yesterday I had not a care in the world. Why should I, when my family was willing to treat me to some recreation for an alleged holiday that was manufactured to sell greeting cards and other knick-knacks?

I had the most relaxing time at the beach located at Raccoon Creek State Park in Beaver County. It's amazing how involved a boy can get in a building project using wet beach sand. Each of my sons had his own project going while I enjoyed the water with their baby sister. She was a lot of fun. I had her convinced that she was able to grab me by the wrist and pull me up out of the water and onto the beach. It involved me doing a lot of tiptoeing while lying down just below the surface of the water, but it looked convincing enough. The baby was so thrilled that she made her mother do it several times. Heh.

By late afternoon everyone was getting hungry and it was time to find a restaurant. We stopped at a new eatery called CiCi's Pizza. How could I have never heard of this place before? Well, apparently, it is new to the area. The first location opened in Texas twenty years ago and has been steadily expanding towards the east and the north -- and, Lafayette, they are here! The selection is very simple: you have a basic salad bar, two kinds of pasta, and a variety of pizza with a couple of desserts and a soda fountain, all of it self-serve buffet style, for about $4 per person. We paid less that half of what it would normally cost us to eat out. And the best part of all? The food was actually GOOD. Different pizzas are cooked and placed on the buffet line all day long. The barbecued ribs and taco pizzas were nice. What an experience! The employees were some of the nicest, most enthusiastic people that I have ever encountered. I'm going back again sometime soon.

We capped off the day with a movie: The Adventures of Lavagirl and Sharkboy in 3D. Interesting -- I can not recall ever having been to a 3D movie before. My younger son has been wanting to see this for a while, and he was not disappointed. It is very much a kids' movie, so you really need to view it with a child's eyes. Anyone who says "so this is the latest movie by the guy who did Sin City?" just doesn't get it. (All you need to know about in inanity of the movie reviewer's profession is right here.) It was a nice escape from the real world for a couple of hours -- just like the beach trip and the pizza buffet.

I had a nice Father's Day, and I didn't need a prefab greeting card or a tie to make me happy. The sunburn and the uncleanness smudge on my glasses have been driving me bathe since I got home last night, but you know what? It was worth it. Every Sunday afternoon should be like that.

Insobriety of Biblical Proportions

Yesterday morning at church, the congregation recited Psalm 69, of which verse 12 includes this lyric:

...and the drunkards make songs about me.
Man, did that ever ring a bell. Early last year, a Chad the Elder from Fraters Libertas made a song about me. Hugh Hewitt calls the Elder and his crew "drunks" every chance he gets. HH has even gone so far as to make it appear that the Governor of Minnesota calls the Fraters a bunch of drunks. (Tim Pawlenty has since denied this.)

Just for good measure, I ought to point out that I was named after the Psalmist. So, by stretching logic to the most painful limits imaginable, I can conclude that not only is a nationwide talk show audience convinced that Chad and the Fraters are drunks, and that the Governor of their own state has implied on said talk show that they are drunkards, but...

...the drunkenness at Fraters Libertas is a biblical truth.

(This is why you should never let me write biblical commentaries, kids.)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Fast Eddie's Big Money Gamble

When Democrats lose big elections, the most frequent excuse that they throw out for the loss is that the Republicans have access to much larger sums of money for their campaigns. This is a myth, of course, as anyone who observed the activities of George Soros during the 2004 campaign could plainly see. Soros -- and a lot of other moneyed leftists -- devoted vast sums of money for the purpose of defeating President George W. Bush. It didn't happen.

Closer to home, Democrat Ed Rendell is looking forward to being reelected to a second term as Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Is he at a disadvantage? Is he having trouble raising money? It would seem not:

More than 16 months away from the November 2006 gubernatorial race, Gov. Ed Rendell has a huge head start on his potential Republican competitors, having raised $7.2 million in re-election funds through the first part of June.
That sounds mighty impressive for someone who belongs the "party of the people" and not the "party of the rich". Rendell has a lot of friends with plenty of money to toss his way:
Rendell received $2,500 checks from Bruce Lakefield, the CEO of US Airways, and John E. Luth, an executive with the same airline. The Philadelphia Eagles gave his campaign $15,000, and Comcast, the cable giant for which Rendell sometimes does TV football analysis, also gave Rendell $15,000 in June.
Lots of special interesting going on here. US Airways has its roots in a Pittsburgh-based airline called Allegheny Airlines, but is on its way out of the area. No wonder they want Rendell's influence on their side. Look for the airline -- and other big companies -- to donate to Rendell's opponent as well. They like to plays both sides, just to be safe. Rendell's hometown football team is no surprise, but I don't care because I never patronize the Eagles anyway.

But Comcast? I am a Comcast customer. My internet, cable TV, phone and long distance services are all provided by Comcast. Don't expect Comcast to play both sides like most corporate donors do. Their partnership with Rendell, professionally as well as politically, has made me reconsider doing business with the company, but in point of fact I really don't have any complaints about my service thus far. I guess this makes me, indirectly, a Rendell donor. He can thank the free market for that.

To his credit, the Rendell camp exercised some degree of discretion in dealing with at least one big donation:
Not included in that latest tally was a contribution from the Hardy-Magerko political action committee, a $10,000 donation that was later returned. That committee is led by wealthy politician Joe Hardy, owner of 84 Lumber Co. and Fayette County's Nemacolin Woodlands, which is one of several resorts eyeing a license to operate a slots casino in Pennsylvania.
Joe Hardy is kind of an interesting character. For better or worse, several years ago, he introduced a lot of people around here to the concept of a "trophy wife". As many people admired him as despised him for it.

The there was a former co-worker of mine who once told me how he mysteriously lost his job at 84 Lumber a few years ago. This guy -- a homosexual, as it happens -- was fired at the same time that, as he explained it, all Nemacolin employees who were known or suspected homosexuals were gotten rid of. All I'm going to say about that is that I have heard that there are many resorts around the country where, if all the gay waiters went away -- voluntarily or involuntarily -- there would be no one left to take your order or serve your food and drink. If what the former co-worker told me was true, then it seems like Nemacolin is atypical of fancy resorts.

Anyway, about the relationship of casino money to Pennsylvania politics:

Last month, Rendell was rebuked by Republicans for taking an April fund-raising trip to Las Vegas and meeting with gambling company officials. Rendell was not collecting money for his own campaign, but rather was meeting and greeting in his role as finance chairman and chief fund-raiser for the Democratic Governors' Association.

Republicans said Rendell did not violate the letter, but did violate the spirit, of Pennsylvania's new slot machine law, which doesn't allow Pennsylvania pols to accept contributions from gambling companies. Republican lawmakers this week introduced a bill that would forbid Rendell from accepting contributions from the governors' association for his re-election bid.

The spirit of the law, but not the letter. The Governor is a smart guy, and is very good about playing both sides. He knows what he's doing. That's why we call him Fast Eddie and not "Special Ed". Speaking of special, I'm not so sure I like the idea of passing a state law aimed at barring a specific individual from dealing with a specific organization. Well, it is not. The PG article does a bad job of describing the bill. It does not refer to either Rendell or the Democratic Governors' Association. It simply attempts to close a loophole in the slot machine law, and applies to any political of any party. No one running for office would be allowed to accept money from an organization that received gambling interests' money with the help of the candidate.

By rejecting Joe Hardy's contribution, Rendell is doing a good job of policing himself. How much did it hurt him? Not much, apparently:
Neither Hardy's Nemacolin resort nor his 84 Lumber is, technically, a gambling company. But even without the Hardy-Magerko donation, Rendell collected $1.7 million in the month between May 3 and June 6. Rendell's re-election campaign submitted their campaign finance report to Pennsylvania's state department this week.
How does the money raised by his "wealthy" opposition, the Republicans, compare?
The three would-be GOP candidates -- state Sen. Jeff Piccola, former Lt. Gov. Bill Scranton and Steelers legend Lynn Swann -- did not file reports by Thursday's 30-day post-primary deadline, nor were they required to.
It may be another year before we get a good idea of the money flowing in both directions in this campaign. Let us ask, then, how much more money did Rendell's 2002 opponent raise? Being a Republican, he must have had tons more to spend that the poor starving Democrat. Right?
No matter who ends up being the Republican candidate for governor, Rendell figures to have far more cash to spend that his competitor. In his 2002 race against Republican Mike Fisher, Rendell spent more than $40 million on campaigning and TV and radio ads. Fisher's budget was closer to $15 million. Rendell hopes to surpass the $40 million mark this time around, too.
This must be why I don't make jack. All the money is in being a Democrat. I might consider switching, but I would rather be poor than have to lower my standards to that level.

Living In Filth

Well, gee. What a surprise. According to Reader's Digest, Pittsburgh ranks 48th in a cleanliness analysis of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. This certainly explains a lot. Everytime it rains in the city, I can not help thinking that we need some soap to go with all of the water.

The rankings were based on scores in the following categories (the lower the ranking, the dirtier the city):

  • Air -- Pittsburgh ranked 6th, a nice low score. It has been decades since Pittsburgh was the "Smoky City" with all of the steel mills up and running. There are a lot of scuzzy people in this city, so this low rating is probably based on cigarette smoke.
  • Water -- Many of us get our water from the Monongahela River. As a child, I usually heard that Monongahela meant "muddy water", but it would seem that the actual meaning is a big more complicated than that. Either way, it implies that there is more in the river than what you would normally find in drinking water. That explains the #5 ranking.
  • Toxics -- a.k.a. Industrial Pollution. Even though the steel industry is all but gone from the city, there are plenty of others to help lower the ranking to #5. Probably due to also due to cigarette smoke, but specifically in relation to an increase in smoking among unemployed industrial workers.
  • Hazardous Waste -- A slightly below-average 23. I believe most of the hazardous waste is either shipped to Pennsyltucky or out-of-state.
  • Sanitation -- The best score out of the five categories, Pittsburgh gets a 29. There never seems to be any shortage of garbage trucks around here. The stench and exhaust fumes might also have an impact on the low Toxics and Air Quality ratings.
So - assuming that this study is accurate, how can Pittsburgh's rating improve? How about:
  • Stop smoking.
  • Import bottled water from a fresh spring.
  • Forcibly shut down and raze any remaining industrial plants.
  • Bury all of the hazardous waste in our backyards before some busybody comes along and does another survey to try and make us look bad again.
  • Implement a "sanitation official recruiting drive" to increase the number of active garbage men and garbage trucks on the streets.
About twenty years ago, Pittsburgh was proclaimed America's Most Livable City in another study of metropolitan areas. If it follows my suggestions, it easily could be again.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Non-Religious Experience in the Bathroom

When I worked as a bookseller, my co-workers and I heard some pretty bizarre requests from customers. No, there is no original edition of Homer's Iliad dating back to when he first wrote it. No, there are no photographs of dinosaurs from millions of years ago. And there are no books with actual photographs of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, there are no authentic depictions of Jesus from his lifetime. He did not have a personal portrait artist follow him around to draw his picture. By the time the familiar image of Christ became more or less standardized, anyone who could have attested to his actual appearance had been dead for centuries. In the popular imagination, Jesus Christ was a long-haired man with a beard, usually light brown but sometimes even looking a little blond. In other words, "That's funny, you don't look Jewish".

So what makes people in the year 2005 think that they know what Jesus looked like? For centuries we have been bombarded with images and iconography depicting Christ as...well, as a long-haired, bearded man of the same nationality as the artist. Renaissance portraits of Christ tend to look either German or Italian. At my church, there is a picture if the last supper that was a gift from a congregation in Tanzania. In this work, Jesus and the 12 apostles look like black African men sitting around a table. They don't look Jewish, either, so the African portrait is no less inaccurate than the European ones.

So we have reached a point where, even though no one really knows what Jesus looked like, almost everyone is convinced that they know exactly what he looked like. This is very important in denominations that revere images of the Messiah, be they two-dimensional portraits or statues. (In other words, graven images. Isn't that against the Ten Commandments?) It started out as a form of reverence, and has in many cases turned into a mania, especially when an image of Christ (or his mother) turns up under circumstances that were not intentionally of man's doing.

Lo and behold, the "face of Christ" has turned up in someone's bathroom! And it happened right here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

The 30-year-old Lawrenceville man stepped out of his shower Saturday evening and saw what he says looks like an image of the son of God staring back at him.

"'I got out of the shower and yelled, 'Jesus Christ!'" he said Wednesday.

"My girlfriend asked me, 'Oh, my God, what is it?' "

"I pointed and responded, 'No, Jesus Christ!'"

One time at that book shop where I worked, I noticed an ghostly image of a bearded man with long hair in the grain of a wooden door in the stockroom. When I pointed it out to a co-worker, he told me that it was Joel. Not Joel the Old Testament prophet, but Joel the Assistant Manager at our shop. We had to clarify that before people started coming in and lighting candles in front of it. "Nothing to see here, go back to church".

The man who discovered Jesus in his shower has made sure that no one is going to turn his bathroom into a shrine:
He cut out the section of plaster with a rotary tool, revealing the source of a water leak inside the wall. He then fabricated a box, filled it with plaster and placed the wall segment inside the box to dry.
And he is selling it on eBay as "Shower Jesus". He could call it just about anything else -- Bathtub Charles Manson, Cousin Bill on the Wall, or whatever -- and people would insist that it looks like Jesus Christ. I don't blame him for trying to make a buck on it. You gotta pay the bills somehow. I would love to be able to rip off part of my house and exchange it for a few thousand bucks. Or even part of my lunch:

Diana Duyser, of Florida, netted a cool $28,000 in November for a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich -- missing a bite -- that she says bears the image of the Virgin Mary. The owners of an online casino placed the winning bid.
Cool! I could pay off my mortgage with that kind of money. Given the kind of mania that usually surrounds mystery appearances of religious figures, what do you suppose would be the reaction if, instead of identifying the image as Jesus, the shower guy had cut it out of the wall, tossed it in his toilet, photographed it and called it "Gitmo Guano Mohammed"?

Goat Slayer Economics

In ages past, before the invention of what we call money, humans practiced a system called "barter" in which objects deemed to be of a certain value were traded for different objects of roughly equal value. It seems as though some contemporary folks are interested in reverting back to the old ways in order to avoid getting their hands dirty by touching filthy metal and paper monies.

Four men were ordered to stand trial in the theft and butchering of a pet pygmy goat, allegedly so its meat could be traded for crack cocaine or money.
When I saw the headline "4 held in goat-for-coke scheme", I was sure that I was hallucinating. No such luck. These guys actually thought that they could trade goat meat for cocaine. What the hell??? It sounds like they already had enough of something peculiar in their systems when they decided to embark on this bloody escapade.
Albright allegedly dragged the goat from its pen and tied it to a shrub, where he and Smith Jr. beat it to death on Dec. 24 in Bullskin Township, about 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, police said. They then took the goat to Smith's residence, where his father and Fisch skinned it and cut it up, police said.
These poor men. They are victims, just as much as the goat. They would never have committed such a heinous crime against a cute little animal if they hadn't been living in a place called BULLSKIN TOWNSHIP. Why, people who live there must be conditioned to think that skinning animals for pleasure is the local pastime.

Does that sound ridiculous? If these guys get the right combination of lawyers and psychologists, that is just the sort of thing that the defense would say.

What I am curious about is the economics of the illicit drug trade. Or, to be more specific, the personal interests of the drug dealers that would lead the goat slayers to believe that their suppliers might be willing to barter for something besides money. Is there a hidden market among cocaine pushers for fresh, delicious pygmy goat meat? Maybe I don't really want to know.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Spying On the Neighbors

The blogosphere is like a virtual neighborhood where you just don't know who is peeping through your window. That's why so many of us use Site Meter to see who's been snooping. Less than two minutes after I dropped by Kool-Aid Report, I checked Site Meter and learned that someone from KAR was also using Site Meter to check me checking them out. Less than two minutes. That's real time, folks.

Why do I feel like I'm in an old Mad magazine Spy Vs. Spy strip?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Employment For the Chronically Demented

Many big-city newspapers seem to go out of their way to provide jobs for borderline mentally ill folks who would be unable to collect a paycheck outside the field of journalism. I am of course referring to those who write opinion pieces for major leftist dailies. What, did you think I was talking about the guys who bundle papers before tossing them on the truck?

This morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has three glaring examples of the kind of thing that I am talking about. First off is a column by Tony Norman on the subject of Jesse Helms's new autobiography. Tony starts off with a cynical reference to the Senate's odd apology for not passing anti-lynching bills in years long past (as if an institutional apology actually means anything), but quickly turns his piece into a Helms-bashing fest. Alongside some very valid criticism of Helms's past pro-segregation stance as well as of recent recollections thereof, Tony tosses in some strange, unverifiable and potentially slanderous intimations that Helms is/was a KKKer, a
Neanderthal (i.e. "knuckle-dragger"), and a lyncher, or at least that he condoned those who were. He also spends a significant portion of the column slamming the old man for having faulty and conflicting recollections of events that occurred when he was five years old. Unlike the blogs, newspapers are supposed to have editors, right? As newspaper columns go, this rates as an average blog post.

Then there is an attempt at humor by someone named Reg Henry. I can never tell if this guy is a political commentator trying to be a humorist, or a humorist trying to be a political commentator. Either way, he just comes off as cynical -- which is also more typical of a blog writer than someone over whom editorial control is supposed to be exercised. In this piece, Reg Henry sets up what I can only describe as a Strawman Shooting Gallery populated by future Bush judicial appointees. By the time I finished reading this, I couldn't figure out if the columnist was on drugs when he wrote it, or if he was in need of drugs.

Finally, we come to the PG's editorial page, where those who have crossed that borderline into full bore loon status put their questionable talents on display. Does anyone not think that DNC chair Howard Dean has proven himself to be an embarrassment and a laughing stock? Well, the Post-Gazette doesn't. In fact, they want more of the same. I won't even try to fisk this thing. I can just sum it (and the rest of the PG's opinion pieces) up in one word:

Yeeaaaaaaaaagggggh!

Monday, June 13, 2005

The MOB Guide to Travel in Minnesota (2005 Edition)

Thank you Mitch Berg and everyone who thus far has weighed in with suggestions for my upcoming visit to the Twin Cities. Mitch solicited ideas for me at Shot In the Dark, and I must say that I am impressed with what I have read thus far. Except, of course, for "mow my lawn" and "wash my car". My price of admission to Camp Minnehaha already consists of "water my garden". That's enough yard work for me when I'm away from home. Besides, I am allergic to lawn mowing.

For the record, my previous trips to Minnesota consisted of:

  • 1993: A "Geek's Tour" of the Twin Cities. Visited several used book shops and purchased a set of the complete Shakespeare plays in the original German. Walked into a Borders that used to be Odegaard's and was greeted by a life sized cardboard cutout of Bill Clinton wearing a "gay pride" t-shirt. Dropped by the Historical Society and found a very old photo of my great-grandfather's clarinet-playing cousin from Peoria. Also traumatized by the site of Prince's "Purple Rain" costume on a faceless mannequin in a glass booth. Went to something called "Ghetto Grocery" and saw, for the first time in my life, beer in a supermarket. Accidentally visited the Mall of America after my host missed his exit on the Interstate.
  • 1994: Spent an entire weekend somewhere north of Cook, unaware that I was posing for what would become the Minnesota State Quarter. Snacked on pork rinds and Pig's Eye Pilsner. Still have fond memories of blogging up the aftertaste of what can only be called Pork's Rind Pilsner. (To be honest, Pig's Eye had the same aftertaste even when not consumed with pork rinds.)
Places I would like to see are Duluth (for the Lake), New Ulm (for the German theme, especially the Hermann Monument), the Great River Road (both the MN and Wisconsin sides), and Wisconsin Dells (a nice day trip). Thanks to Mitch's commenters for recommending The Big Ball of Twine, Lake Itasca, the Bunyan statues, the Mill City Museum, and the Stone Arch Bridge.

Warnings about the Mall of America will be taken under advisement. So far I have heard one vote for, two against. It doesn't matter. We are going to be in town for at least five days, so I will end up getting sucked into it no matter what.

I just hope I find time to sleep. I sure ain't getting it down here right now.

We Are All Too Fat

Childhood obesity, we are being told, is a major crisis these days. I was a big problem for me when I was a kid, and it is a big problem for me today. Is anyone doing anything about it? Well, yes. The schools are finally starting to realize that they are a big part of the problem, and are finally taking responsibility for it. How bad is the "crisis" right now?

In the past 30 years, the ranks of overweight children have doubled among kids 2 to 5 and tripled among 6- to 11-year-olds. More than 15 percent of kids 6 to 19 are considered obese -- excessively fat. In Pennsylvania, 18 percent of children are overweight, according to the state Health Department.
Coincidentally, I was kind of a skinny kid until about 30 years ago, when I discovered the refrigerator. I discovered that it was easier -- and tastier -- to eat a lot of food that do outdoor activities like playing sports or just riding my bike. School lunches were usually very bland and tasteless, unless you regard cardboard as flavorful. There was no question of nutrition, however. We had meat, a vegetable, a roll, and a carton of milk. There was also a dessert, which usually contained some form of fruit. If we were lucky, we would get a small block of ice cream. Vanilla ice cream. Not very tasty, that.

My obesity had nothing to do with school lunches. To some extent it was my own fault, but to an even greater extent my parents were at fault. I was not going to the super market and buying loads of junk food for myself. When I got to high school, I found a wider variety of choices at the cafeteria. There was an a la carte line, at which I could purchase a lunch consisting of a Hostess fruit pie, an ice cream sandwich, a Suzy Q, and a carton of chocolate milk. Disgusting! My last two years of high school, I took responsibility for my obesity by working out and cutting back to two meals per day. If only that cafeteria had been run like the elementary school's.

Things are different today. The elementary school in my neighborhood has vending machines just outside of the cafeteria. There are soda pops, candies, and pretzel 'n chip type snacks. The lunch line itself offers choices that I did not have as a young child. And for about fifty cents extra, a kid can treat himself to ice cream. Kids today have a much easier path to obesity than they did when I was a boy, and the schools are just as responsible as the parents. When we send our kids to school, we trust the school to exercise responsibility when dealing with them. In so many areas, the schools -- using our tax dollars -- are failing us. And nutrition is one of those areas.

The stakes in fighting obesity are high. Childhood obesity can lead to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. In Pennsylvania, health care costs for covering obesity-related illnesses topped $4 billion last year, health officials said.

"There is no other disease in this society that affects 16 to 17 percent of kids," Dr. Goutham Rao, who treats obese children at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in Oakland.

It really bugs me when people refer to things like obesity and alcoholism are diseases. That's "mental health" lingo. Obesity is not a disease; it is a cause of diseases. Obesity can be treated, but the treatment is not a cure; it is a preventive. So how are "they" going to treat it?

State officials are increasingly turning to schools -- blamed by some for exacerbating the problem -- for help in fighting fat. The Health Department starting next fall will require schools to measure the body mass index of students from kindergarten through the fourth grade and report the results to parents. The screening will be expanded to all grades within three years.

Pennsylvania will be only the second state in the country to require the schools to measure students' body mass. Arkansas, where 21 percent of all students are considered overweight, was the first, starting in 2003.

Excellent solution. The government is going to "treat" our children's obesity by telling us how fat they are. WE KNOW THAT THEY'RE FAT! WE DO NOT NEED TO KNOW HOW FAT THEY ARE! WE JUST WANT THEM TO STOP BEING SO FAT! Why not just to back to serving bland, tasteless, yet nutritious lunches?

More measures aimed at shrinking waistlines are ahead: A federal law that takes effect in June 2006 will require school districts to establish nutritional guidelines for food on campus. A similar state requirement is pending.

Some schools already have clamped down on junk food and soft drinks:

  • Quaker Valley bans carbonated beverages in favor of water, juices and iced tea in its vending machines.

  • North Allegheny forbids soft drinks in cafeterias.

  • Pine-Richland and Bethel Park only allow vending machines to be turned on after school hours.

  • Riverview doesn't allow students to buy snack foods until they've eaten all the nutritious foods on their trays.

  • Pittsburgh Public Schools is weighing a ban on junk foods and soft drinks.


  • Typical. When the state and local authorities don't do their jobs, the feds get involved. At least some districts are doing something about it. Much of it is half-arsed, but at least it is a start.
    Similar measures are being considered or have been enacted already around the country at the state level. Arizona and California, for example, ban soft drinks in elementary and junior high schools, and Connecticut is considering a ban.
    Ah yes, California. I call this "the Arnold effect". By the time he's out of office, those Cali kids will not only be eating the healthiest school meals in the country, but they will be in a strict exercise regimen designed to reduce their total body fat to 4% of their total body mass.

    Health officials say the tougher stance on junk is welcome, but still doesn't go far enough. Many schools offer kids a choice between celery sticks or other nutritional foods and treats such as cookies or tasty, but fattening, snacks such as onion rings. That, health officials say, is a bad idea.

    "I can't understand for the life of me why we're giving our kids so much choice. Where is the value of that?" said Joan Procopio, a dietitian with the Allegheny County Health Department.

    Yes! Thank you! Now if only the schools would listen to her, instead of people like this other "nutritionist":

    Some school food service directors, however, say eliminating choice in menus is unrealistic.

    "Parents don't do that at home. We have to mirror child likes and dislikes," said Maryann Lazzaro, a dietitian and director of Food services for the Plum Borough School District.

    Why do those choices have to include pop and snacks? Who lobbied for the inclusion of junk foods in school lunch choices in the first place. I exercised some degree of choice when I was a kid. I was really not a big milk drinker, and I often threw away the carton of milk unopened. Sometimes I left another food item on the tray. Not good, I admit, but I believe that unconsumed milk and tossed green beans are a better choice than trying to decide whether you want to wash your Ho-Hos down with Coke or Root Beer.

    Some schools nonetheless have taken steps to rid cafeterias of goodies.

    Penn Hills food services director Patty Panuccio replaced the high school cafeteria snack bar -- which sold ice cream and M & Ms -- with a salad bar. Candy once sold at the cafeteria is gone. Chips are still available, but they're baked, not fried. Vegetables are flavored with a spice mix, not butter.

    Even the grilled cheese sandwiches are healthier. "We used to dip the bread in butter, now we spray them with (oil) that has no fat in it," Panuccio said.

    Panuccio said her aim is moderate change, not a revolution.

    "You're not going to get kids to eat all tofu and soy milk right away," Panuccio said. "It's all about moderation. It's the whole thing about life. You just (shouldn't) eat pizza every day."

    The salad bar is a good idea, as long as it is not self-serve. As a former child, I would worry about things like kids blowing boogers into the salad bar. This school sounds like it is headed in the right direction, though I would have to draw the line somewhere before tofu and soy milk.

    Enough talk about the educational institutions. What role do the parents play in all of this?

    But information about kids' body mass index is more than some parents want to know from schools.

    Beverly Manz, 36, of North Versailles, said that if her son Aaron, 11, weren't the picture of health, she wouldn't want to hear about it from a school nurse.

    "The school is there to teach them, not judge them," she said. "He's my kid, not theirs. It's my responsibility what he looks like."

    Body mass index is not an exact measurement of obesity -- athletes or kids with more muscle than average, for example, could appear overweight -- but public health experts say it's a good way to raise awareness.

    North Hills parents were riled in 2002 when school nurses measured junior high students' body mass and sent notes home with kids found to be overweight.

    Schools will send notes home with all students, rather than just overweight kids, state officials said.

    If only more parents were like the lady quoted here, they wouldn't get letters that say, "Dear Parent: Your kid is too big and fat. Obviously you do not realize this, so we need to tell you about it. Love, The School Nurse". They can hang the letter on the refrigerator next to the one from the teacher that says the kid is too stupid, and the one from the self-esteem counselor that says the kid is too ugly. That's why we send our children to school. So the school officials can tell them what's wrong with them before the playground bullies do.

    Michelle Justus, program director for the Arkansas initiative, said there was some resistance when schools there began gauging students' body mass in 2003.

    "A lot of parents said 'This isn't the school's place. This is unnecessary. I take my child to the doctor.' But there are a lot of parents that don't take their child to the doctor," Justus said.

    We're on the road to one-stop shopping here. The school will be the primary provider of all your child's daily and long-term needs. Education, nutrition, health care, and everything else. Why not just turn all public schools into boarding schools and be done with it? We might even get to see the kids on weekends.

    This is why parents need to take greater responsibility for their children's nutrition. If you don't, you are allowing the government to take a greater role in their upbringing. When I went shopping last night, I skipped the ice cream aisle and concentrated on things like fruits, meats and salad. It's better for me, it's better for my wife, and it's better for my kids. My two year old daughter has just enough baby fat in her face to give her that adorable cherubic look, but the rest of her is in that nice "not too thin, not too fat" range. When she raided the refrigerator last night and walked over to me in the living room, what do you think she was munching on?

    A nice crunchy lettuce leaf. And she washed it down with a small cup of milk. I must be doing something right, and I hope the schools will not do anything to ruin it for her.