Monday, November 28, 2005

Symptom of Insanity

Samantha Burns posted about it earlier today.

Back in August, Pittsburgh-area blogger Anthony of Tunesmith & Anthony started a comment war with a single sentence about it.

By amazing coincidence, Anthony posted his comment just a little over a week after I -- and dozens of other motorists -- nearly collided with a mad unicyclist on I-94 in Saint Paul, somewhere between Downtown and Midway, just around rush hour.

What's that you say? Someone rode a unicycle on a busy urban interstate highway? What, were they suicidal?

Let me clarify: This person was driving a van with a trailer attached. There were two ways to tell that this person was a unicyclist:

  1. They drove their vehicle in the same wavy, quirky manner that someone does while riding a unicycle.
  2. There was a tell-tale logo on every side of the trailer.
Seriously, that trailer was swinging around like a baseball bat on wheels. It didn't help that the driver kept pulling his/her consist (that's train talk, folks) in front of faster drivers and then slowing down. I damn near missed my exit because of that thing.

If you ever see a highway-ridin' car, van, truck or trailer that looks like it's being driven by someone used to riding a unicycle, chances are that it is being driven by a unicyclist.

This Is MY Side of the Street, Sister!

If it wasn't for James Lileks, I wouldn't know what Bratz dolls are. He calls them "hooker-in-training dolls". I can't think of a more apt description for the plastic creepies.

And if it wasn't for James Lileks, I also wouldn't know that Mattel is churning out a line of Barbie dolls all hookered up like Bratz dolls. They do look a lot alike. So much so, in fact, that MGA Entertainment, the maker of Bratz, is going to court with Mattel over the matter.

Let's take a look at the take of contemporary journalism on this story. Rather than showing side-by-side photos of the two dolls in order that readers may make their own comparisons, the article from the Moist-Towelette's online edition (and presumably the print edition also) includes a photograph of a Bratz and a Bling-Bling Barbie fighting on the ground. Bratz appears to be winning, probably on account of the fact that she has a bigger, thicker head that can incapacitate a Barbie with a single headbutt. It looks like Bratz is upset because Barbie tried to muscle in on her territory.

My little girls love their Barbies, but there is no way that I am willingly going to allow them to find out about the existence of either hooker doll. I love them being little, but the sooner they grow out of the Barbie doll phase, the better.

The Case of the Exploding Briefcase

An abandoned briefcase was found and detonated by the authorities in nearby Mount Lebanon Township yesterday. From the Trib:

Mt. Lebanon police evacuated businesses and detoured traffic around a three-block area of Washington Road for four hours Sunday after a briefcase was left outside a restaurant in the heart of the business district.

The Allegheny County Police Bomb Squad detonated the briefcase with a loud bang at 12:10 p.m. The briefcase contained only electronic equipment, police said.

Things like this usually just turn out to be nothing more than personal property dropped by an innocent absent-minded person. There's probably some guy who spent all afternoon frantically searching for his missing briefcase, couldn't figure out where he left it, and then heard about this. If I were him, I'd be pissed.

Of course, you can't be too careful these days. Mount Lebanon is an affluent, mostly Republican community, and therefore a prime target for terrorists...or those who sympathize with them.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Allegheny County Coroner's Office Goes To The Morgue

There's a nice article in the Sunday PG about the soon-to-be obsolete office of Coroner of Allegheny County. Voters chose overwhelmingly to eliminate most county row offices several months ago, and Dr. Cyril Wecht's post is one of the first to go, as each row officer must step down at the expiration of the current term. He would have been up for reelection this year had the measure been defeated at the ballot.

In all likelihood, Dr. Wecht will be appointed to the new position of county medical examiner. No one is better suited for the job than Cyril Wecht. Appointment will be made by County Executive Dan Onorato, a Democrat, and although there's not much difference between being elected by constituents of the local Democratic machine and being appointed by the head of the local Democratic machine, Cyril Wecht has never allowed politics to infect his responsibilities as Coroner. In fact, his biggest political enemies have always been fellow Democrats. We'll see about getting a Republican in there after Cyril retires...and after we elect a Republican County Executive.

The article has more on the office of Coroner, including some fascinating historical information about the history of the Coroner's office going back to Richard the Lionhearted.

Best Wishes For Congressman Murphy

My local Congressman, Dr. Tim Murphy, has been injured in Iraq:

A military vehicle carrying U.S. politicians overturned on the way to the Baghdad airport yesterday and injured two members of Congress, including Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.

Mr. Murphy was airlifted to a military hospital in Germany for an MRI on his neck, said Rep. Jim Marshall, who was also in the vehicle. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., was sent to a Baghdad hospital, Mr. Marshall told the Macon Telegraph.

Mr. Marshall, a Georgia Democrat, said he was not hurt.

From what I have heard about the highways running in and out of Baghdad, no one wastes any time getting to where they are going. It's so dangerous that terrorists don't need to bother setting up traps.

These Congressmen were visiting troops in Baghdad on the way back from Thanksgiving in Afghanistan. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

If This Is A Consular Ship, Where Is The Ambassador?

Hey, I got your Western PA Embassy right here. Doug Williams of Bogus Gold, recently elected Mayor of the MOB (Minnesota Organization of Blogs), has named his first cabinet positions. My weeklong jaunt to the Twin Cities back in August has paid off: I am the first-ever Official Ambassador to the MOB for all of Western Pennsylvania. It's one thing to link to Our Friends In the Old Northwest Territories. But it means even more to actually drop by the MOB's favorite watering hole and consume adult beverages in the presence of some of the most talented and prolific bloggers on the Internet.

Now I need to figure out how I can stay in Doug's good graces, lest he go shopping around for a new regional representative. Doug likes to drink wine. He obviously drinks a lot of wine. Lots and lots of wine. I'd better become an avid wine enthusiast in a big hurry in order to maintain good relations with the Lord Mayor.

Beyond that, this blog has been handed an honorific of sorts by the MOB election judge(s). A quick glance of the Kool Aid Report's "A Rainbow of Flavaz" sidebar reveals the presence of something called The Iron Maiden Report...which links right back here. So, in addition to becoming a wino, I need to post more often about Nicko & Co.

Up the Irons!

Intoxicated

If there isn't already mandatory drug testing at the Pittsburgh Moist-Towelette, there ought to be. Case in point: This piece of rhyming dementia posing as some kind of editorial.

Anyone who composes a poem containing the words "I'm thankful for the Democrats" must be on some kind of heavy drugs.

Myth and Legend On the Silver Screen

Back in 1981 I went to see Clash of the Titans at the local (now defunct) movie theater. I had been a Greek Mythology enthusiast since the third grade, so I was excited at the prospect of seeing the familiar characters from familiar tales on big screen settings. The movie was a little disappointing: Medusa was too scaly; the big ugly horned guy wasn't in any of the stories I had read; Perseus rides Pegasus, who in the myth wasn't created until Medusa was dead; and worst of all, the mechanical owl that served Perseus in much the same way that K-9 served Doctor Who or that R2-D2 served the Skywalker family. It was an awakening of sorts, for me. Clash of the Titans made me aware of the concept of "artistic license".

Last evening my wife popped in a tape of the movie, which was a pleasant surprise. Despite the traumatizing changes, the movie wasn't bad. As long as I don't go into a movie expecting to see THE GREATEST MOTION PICTURE OF ALL TIME, I don't come out disappointed. Heroes battled monsters, and the Gods of Olympus had a hand in it all. That pretty much sums up the more thrilling Greeks myths: Perseus, Heracles, Theseus, Odysseus. The movie was fun and aided the leftover turkey in putting me to sleep early.

After a four hour nap, I woke up and decided to pop in another movie. Ah good -- my wife borrowed Troy from the local library. That'll kill three hours easy.

In all honesty, I enjoyed this movie much more than I thought I would. The Homeric legend was completely stripped of its mythic elements. No Gods appeared as spectators or as participants. Religion, however, was ever-present; the characters made frequent references to Gods, and temples figured prominently in two scenes. Troy is basically a war movie and earns its R rating mostly for bloodshed. There are a couple of naked butts on screen (just as there were in Clash of the Titans) but nothing raunchy. Most of the performances are dead-on. I didn't think of King Priam as Peter O'Toole; I thought of him as King Priam. The same goes for most of the Greek leaders: Menelaus, Agamemnon, Ajax. It was like being there. Achilles, the main character, was another matter. "That's Brad Pitt", I told myself at the start. Every time I saw him, I reiterated: "That's Brad Pitt. He was with JA, but now he's with AJ." His celebrity overshadows his performances, and that's not good.

Eric Bana was surprisingly good as Hector. Bana's performance as Bruce Banner in HULK lacked personality. I really had trouble telling the difference between man and monster in that film, but he makes up for it here. Bana's Hector, a loyal husband, father, son, brother and Trojan, has cares and concerns that all of us can relate to. I seriously need to reevaluate my estimation of him as an actor.

Orlando Bloom...okay, here's another one I have a problem with. He will always be Legolas. Never mind the fact that he doesn't really have long straight blond hair and pointy ears; his role in Lord of the Rings has marked him for life. Not even his role as Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean and its two forthcoming sequels can erase that image. Nevertheless, he does a passable job portraying Paris, since I always envisioned Paris as a sort of soft boyish twit and that is exactly how Orlando Bloom plays him because he is, after all, Orlando Bloom. He must be the first actor that casting directors go to when they need to find someone who can play a soft, boyish, almost effeminate character who appeals to girls. Not women, but girls.

Speaking of women, girls, and casting for this movie, it couldn't have been hard to cast Helen of Troy. Anyone familiar with the Greek legend knows that Helen is simply eye candy. Diane Kruger fills that requirement quite well, yet manages to inject the character with a hint of personality. Helen's attraction to Paris makes little sense, though. Maybe she's a pedophile, and she's going to drop him the moment hair starts to grow out of his face.

One character who mostly hangs around in the background is Odysseus, played well by Sean Bean. He wields influence at the highest levels, yet knows his place and doesn't try to steal the glory from Agamemnon. Ironic, then, when Odysseus's wooden horse leads to the sack of Troy, during which Paris kills Agamemnon. And Achilles.

Wait. That didn't sound right. Agamemnon survived Troy long enough to go home and be killed by his wife. Paris mortally wounded Achilles in the heel before the wooden horse entered the city. And Menelaus collected Helen and took her back to Sparta; he wasn't killed by Hector. Forget what I said about artistic license; this isn't right.

The movie tries very hard to make Paris its hero. I could not accept that. The longer it went on, the more I hated Paris and wanted to see him die. As long as you're going to rewrite the classic story, why not let Odysseus kill Paris and abscond with Helen? My verdict: Decent movie, unsatisfying ending.

Post-Thanksgiving Recovery Report

My apologies to the 3-4 regular readers of this blog who might have been checking for something new the last couple of days. Something came Thanksgiving came along, and it involved spending half of a day cooking a turkey, stuffing, carrots, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, applesauce and cranberry sauce. There was some kind of parade on television, and cold white stuff all over my front yard. It was a strange experience.

For the first time in over ten years, we cooked Thanksgiving dinner at home. The in-laws moved out to the left coast, and no one else was going to invite us over for the holiday. For once, we got to stay in the house and have our own celebration for a change. I liked it. I want to do it again.

Except for the metabolism part, that is. I had exactly ONE serving of all the above foodstuffs except for applesauce. There was pumpkin pie and apple pie for dessert. We finally ate some pies one day later, when my stomach was more relaxed. Gone, I'm afraid, are the days when I could pile additional helpings on my plate and clear the whole thing off. I'm eating less and gaining more. Sometimes it stinks to get old.

Next task: Starvation! Use the money I save buying less food in order to be able to afford more Christmas presents! It'll cut down on the weight gain.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

How Much Is That Panther On the Carousel?

One of the more interesting means of funding that has come along in recent years is naming rights. Most sports arenas and stadiums in America now bear the names of corporate sponsors. Most collegiate football bowl games have commercial monikers. Earlier this month, a local politician even suggested selling the naming rights to Pittsburgh International Airport.

Renaming the airport after a corporate sponsor is a bit much, but as tacky as the practice can be, it is not a bad way to gain sorely needed money for construction and maintenance of edifices that would otherwise rely solely on income taken from taxpayers.

For anyone who is interested and has the money to toss around, the animals on the carousel (currently under construction) at the new park in Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood are available for $20,000 each. When I first heard about the project a few months ago, I was worried about the waste of public money going into it.
The park might turn out to be a nice place for folks to visit, but wiping out the prime parking lot in Oakland, right across from the Cathedral of Learning, was a questionable move.

But with donors lining up to pay $20,000 for a single carousel animal, who cares? Better that people be frivolously wasteful with their own money than taxpayers' money.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I Know I Am

"If you're too huggy-kissy with them, a male who has not been castrated can turn on you."

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

Yesterday I said something about my son possibly dressing up as Satan and burning down the house. That might be the most economical way to keep warm this winter.

I've already decided to keep the thermostat down to 65 degrees. The storm windows are all shut. I am also keeping the hot water heater turned down about 20 degrees lower than usual. My showers are almost cold, but at least I'm using less gas. We are also planning to do what we've been talking about for ten years but have never gotten around to before: covering the windows with plastic sheets for added insulation.

Many others are in the same boat
:

Christy David, of Dormont, pays her heating bills through Dominion's budget plan, which adjusts payments to keep them level throughout the year. When her budget amount was adjusted this fall from $170 to $386, she thought it was a misprint.
My gas company (which is not Dominion) has done the same thing. I have been on the budget payment plan for years, and my monthly bill just shot up to nearly that amount.

I am not going to complain. Much. Not when there is something that I can do to help myself:

Lowering the temperature certainly has its downside in cold fingers and whining teenagers. But there are some who can see virtue through their chattering teeth and shivering toes: energy conservation.
Conservation? Saving money and resources instead of spending them? There's a novel concept. This looks like as good a time as any to teach my children a lesson that's been coming a good long time. And they will understand why Daddy has a fit when the thermostat mysteriously has been set to 54 degrees in Winter and 90 degrees in Summer.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Pumpkin Juice and A Wandering Eye

Last night I took the family to see Peter Parker and the Goblin of Fire.

Whoops! Scratch that. I mean, we went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Number four in the series. I liked it. It was entertaining, and the characters are developing well from film to film. Good thing, too, considering that the actors are as well. Plus, it was Very British. I like Very British entertainment, particularly the humour (or humor, if you prefer). I'm always looking out for a Harry Potter movie appearance by someone I've seen in BBC shows -- like Miranda Richardson, who was in Blackadder, for instance -- as well as actors whom I don't know but should.

Villanous Barty Crouch, Jr., for instance, is the new Doctor Who. I've not seen any of the new Doctor Who series but I look forward to it on DVD.

So I enjoyed the movie. Most of my family enjoyed the movie -- except the ten year old daughter. She has read all of the books. She is intimately familiar with every last detail of the Goblet of Fire novel. On the way home, she literally screamed out a litany of everything wrong with the movie. Every single complaint concerned an omission. The house elves. The super heavy tongue. And so on. I ought to read the books one of these days so I can find out what I am missing. And perhaps I would share the outrage. But that might spoil my enjoyment of the films. Do I dare risk that?

In a few years, she will understand the changes that the HP characters are going through. This movie could alternately have been titled "Hormone Potter". Boys have to dance with girls! Boys have to find girls who will actually want to dance with them! Weird redhaired kid gets kissed by ooh-la-la French girls! A cute girl across the room makes Harry slobber pumpkin juice! Even Hagrid gets a chick, and she is literally someone that he can look up to. And the language! A couple of years ago we had to get a six year old boy to stop saying "Bloody Hell!" like Ron Weasley. Now we have to be careful to not let him say "Piss off", as Ron told Harry.

Ron comes off like a jerk during the middle third of the film. He was too busy hating Harry to love Hermione. But they all make it up at the end.

The end was tragic, and hopeful. I won't spoil it if you've not seen it, but yeah, Voldemort was back. He's a very inspiring character. How so? Well, he inspired my six year old son to change into a black dark-lord style robe when we got home. It was time for a change; the boy was tired of being Darth Sidious. One of these days, he's going to decide to be Satan and set fire to the entire house.

Good film, and I can't wait for the next one.

250 Years of Urban Growth and Urban Decay

As an amateur historian and genealogist, I geek out about this sort of thing. Yes -- Pittsburgh (pronounced "Pitts-borough") is turning 250 years old in 2008. It's never too big to plan for a year-long birthday bash, so the powers that be have already started figuring on a total price tag of $9.9 million dollars for the celebration.

The city deserves it, really. There is a lot of history here. Lots and lots of history. And also...history. From the French and Indian War to the Salk polio vaccine, Pittsburgh has been the site of many memorable events.

But what about the present...and the future?

Former local economic development official Tim Parks wonders if the new Pittsburgh 250 campaign may look back too much.

"My concern is we are ... defining Pittsburgh by what it once was or how Pittsburgh used to be rather than what we are today and where we are going," said Mr. Parks, former president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, a group formed in the mid-1990s to change Pittsburgh's image

Bingo! Pittsburgh has been in a steady state of decline for the last 30-40 years, if you strictly define "Pittsburgh" as a political entity within city limits. There has been growth in the area, but most of it has been outside of the city and quite often outside of Allegheny County. People who aren't from around here think of it all as "Pittsburgh", but those of us who do live here know better. You have to admire what someone like Tim Parks has been trying to do for the region, but these group efforts usually fizzle out (as the PG article tells us).

Does Pittsburgh have a decent future? We shall see. For now, let's get ready for the big 250. It's not just any excuse for a party -- it's a good excuse for a party.

Don't Strike Now That the Iron's Gone Cold

Those Pork Authority employees seem pretty happy about their new labor agreement.

"Obviously, the membership was satisfied and can live with the contract, and today's vote tells the story," said Local 85 President/Business Manager Patrick McMahon. "I think we did a good job for the membership."
Yes, the members are so excited that they are going around hugging one another in celebration over what must be a great victory for them. They aren't the only ones who win. Riders, who lived in fear of a looming strike, can now ease themselves into the comfy seats and relax, knowing that their morning commute is safe. It's business as normal for Pork Authority employees and patrons. One month from now, no one will know the difference.

So who benefits the most? I have a couple of ideas:

The authority board meets at 11 a.m. today and since the majority of the nine members are appointees of County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who helped broker the deal, approval is considered likely.

The contract, resulting from 47 hours of give-and-take Thursday and Friday nights, is said to contain some things that neither party likes.

"That's a good indication that you've got a fair, balanced contract," Gov. Ed Rendell said. He flew into town Friday night to join Mr. Onorato and members of both staffs to spearhead agreement on the final sticking points.

This is all about re-electing Democrats, isn't it? Try to imagine a Republican-dominated board giving in to union demands without a fight. Try to imagine a Republican governor even trying to involve himself with labor negotiations like this. Rendell's contribution likely went something like, "Go ahead and agree to it now, boys, and we'll be settling in for another four years in Harrisburg. Things will get even better then". The transit strike settlements in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh will be driven home by the Rendell campaign constantly over the next twelve months, mark my words. By coincidence, twelve months is about all we have before it all hits the fan:

As a result of averting a strike that could have occurred as early as Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, the status quo will be preserved at least through December 2006 for 260,000 daily riders and 3,000 Port Authority employees: No fare hikes, no service cuts and no lost jobs.
Hooray! Ed Rendell saved our Christmas shopping season! No one got laid off! We're not paying more for our bus ride! The bus still comes to the same stop at the same time as usual! Ed Rendell is better than Santa Claus!

And of course by the time December 2006 rolls around, the governor's race will be over, and Rendell might very well be reelected. What timing!

But wait! This deal involved getting money to keep everyone happy. Where did that money come from again?

Until then, the authority's finances are to be bolstered by $113.4 million in federal highway funds "flexed" to transit by Mr. Rendell and $25.5 million in savings and extra state money achieved in the new contract.
Do you think the voters of Pennsylvania are going to be outraged at the misappropriation of infrastructure money to run buses in Pittsburgh? Of course not. They won't care, at least not the one living in the southwestern corner of the commonwealth. All they'll remember is that Santa Rendell saved Christmas in 2005. They won't care how.

Now all of you people from Minnesota who are reading this, and all of you readers from across the United States: Remember where that money came from. Remember where the money went. It's going to be important when/if Ed Rendell decides to run for President. And it won't forget if you drive through Pennsylvania on the interstate and the highway is crumbling. Rendell needs to be brought down and brought down hard in next year's election. If not, we're all going to have to do this together. Let's not allow it to come to that.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Keep On Ridin'

In a major boost to Fast Eddie Rendell's 2006 re-election campaign, the Pork Authority transit strike tentatively scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving has been successfully averted. (Did he bring some pals with baseball bats along for the talks?)

On the down side, my *ahem* "chauffeur" apparently makes twice as much money as I do. But at least I still get to ride to work for free!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Sucklingstown

Congressman John Murtha certainly has become the darling of the anti-war movement this week, hasn't he?

The Moist-Towelette tells us how he has always been the darling of dependency drones in his city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. If he wants American troops to suddenly turn around and abandon Iraq right this very minute, the people of Johnstown are there with him. What is it about him that makes the ladies (and men) swoon with desire when he opens his mouth to utter his thoughts on any issue?

To many of his constituents, Mr. Murtha is a hero who deserves their trust, both for his military service and for all the jobs he has brought to the district.

"Those congressmen don't care if our guys are over there getting killed, but John Murtha does," said [some dude] of Richland, Cambria County, who operates a swimming pool company. "We ought to listen to him; he's a very smart man. If it wasn't for John Murtha, you know what this town would be right now? Nothing."

It may be a mere coincidence, because I just cooked bacon for breakfast, but I detect the scent of PORK in the air. How does a Congressman bring jobs to his district? Is the entire city on the payroll of the federal government? Who attributes an area's successes to one high-profile politician? Is he an elected representative, or some sort of generous nobleman who shares his personal wealth with the peasants?

Typically, this article raises more questions than it answers. Unless you are (like most Moist-Towelette readers) a Democrat, in which case this worshipful admiration of an elected official of your own persuasion is par for the course.

In a city that relied on the steel industry for decades of employment, Johnstown faced huge pressures when mills began closing in the early 1980s. Interest rates climbed to higher than 20 percent and unemployment almost reached levels only ever seen during the Great Depression. The city's population dropped by some 35,000 and family-sustaining jobs were hard to come by.

But Congressman Murtha helped turn that tide around. With his influence, Cambria County and the surrounding area have turned into a corridor for high-tech jobs and defense industries. Almost everyone here attributes that success to him.

As long as you're going to attribute the area's recovery to John Murtha, you might want to get specific about who
was responsible for the unemployment and high interest rates. It was someone with the initials JC who famously used the word "malaise" in a speech about the state of his country. And I don't mean Jacques Chirac, either. Easy enough for locals to blame his successor (as implied by the phrase "the early 1980s") when they are too dense to understand that the long-term effects of government policies do not become apparent overnight.

As for the lost tribe of 35,000 Johnstowners, who can explain their disappearance? Did they all die at once due to the 20% interest rates? More likely, they found a better place than Johnstown to live and work. I wouldn't call that a problem that government needs to solve. Those people solved their own problems.

Now let me translate ""high-tech jobs and defense industries" for you: "PORK, and PORK". Defense is vital, I grant you that. But a Congressman isn't thinking about the Constitutional admonition to provide for the common defense; he's thinking about how much money he can bring into his district. The more federal taxpayer money that he pours into his district, the more support he gets from his constituents, sucking at the public teat.

Voters can be such whores.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

(Un)Pleasant Nudity

Somebody should have darkened the tint in his car windows:

A Pleasant Unity man was arrested for disorderly conduct after state police found him driving nude along Route 30 in Hempfield Township Tuesday afternoon.
Pleasant Unity? There's a place called Pleasant Unity? Why yes there is, and it is located over in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. The name of the community sounds quite charming, but takes on a somewhat different meaning when a naked vehicle operator is referred to by the media as "a Pleasant Unity man". Also, please note that the arrest took place in a place that was apparently named in honor of the area's prize marijuana farms.

Police said Mr. Nude Dude, 44, was driving a Ford Windstar minivan at Route 30 east around 4:18 p.m. when a passing truck driver noticed NMD was not wearing any clothing. The trucker notified police, who apprehended MND soon afterward and cited him.
"...driving a Ford Winds--" Hey, that's my car!!! I want it back now. Well maybe later, after it's been scrubbed, reupholstered, and scotchguarded.

This little news item teaches us two lessons: one, that you need to beware the truck drivers as much as you do law enforcement; and two, that if you live in the same locale as Mr. Nude Dude, you had better get used to your hometown being referred to as Pleasant Nudity, PA.

An Entire Legion of My Best Orange-Vested Troops Awaits

This morning I was driving towards Bethel Park along Route 88 when I spotted a large force of rail workers in bright orange vests flanking one set of rails near the trolley station at Washington Junction. It looked like a major repair project was underway, but my wife told me otherwise, and sure enough, she was right:

A light-rail passenger train car derailed at the Washington Junction station in Bethel Park early today causing up to half-hour delays for service on the T.

No passengers had yet boarded the light-rail car as it was heading toward the start of its route on the Library T line. The operator was not injured. The T car derailed about 5:30 a.m., but did not tip over, Port Authority of Allegheny County spokesman Bob Grove said.

I reckon if you're going to have a derailment it's best to get it over with right away before anyone tries to ride the trolley. When I drove past about six hours later, rail traffic was still being re-routed onto one track and a trolley was parked on the inbound lane, several yards past the orange vests. Rather than displaying a route number and name, the sign above the front window said "Car House". It should have been obvious that the car house is the trolley garage out by South Hills Village, but I was disoriented today since I took the day off from work. (I've forgotten how to be home.) No, for some reason, I though that "Car House" referred to that particular trolley, and meant that it was a trolley car that housed the orange vested workers as they traveled to trouble spots along the light rails. You know, like a troop transport.

Well, they had to get there somehow.

But just think -- in one week, derailments shouldn't be a problem anymore. Because the Pork Authority employees' union has set the day after Thanksgiving as their strike date, and if/when that happens, gophers like me who have allowed ourselves to be seduced into relying on public transportation for our daily commute to and from work are going to be totally screwed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The System That Can Not Work

Mitch Berg, who is at his best when dealing with issues that directly impact our everyday life, has produced a very thoughtful piece on the nature of the school system. Responding to a comment by columnist/blogger Vox Day, who opined that "only an ignoramus or a fool would voluntarily pass his children through the pagan fires of the public schools", Mitch correctly points out that many of us have neither the time nor the resources to do otherwise.

Homeschooling is nice -- if you have the time and the devotion to give to it.

School choice is nice, too -- if there is a school in one's area that meets with the parents' satisfaction.

I'm quite content to send my children to my community's public school, since I have more of a vested interest in it already, both socially and -- as someone who pays property taxes -- financially. As it happens, my kids are going to a Catholic school outside of my area. My wife, who was raised Catholic and attended parochial schools for most of her childhood, feels that any Catholic school is a better place to educate a child than the schools in the district where we reside. She's heard enough horror stories to put her off of public education for good, and she's willing to take full responsibility for providing an alternative education for her children.

From my perspective, there isn't much of difference (aside from tuition bills) between sending kids to a Catholic school versus a public school. Both institutions can provide a good basic education in all of the usual practical subjects. But both of them are going to expose my children to beliefs and practices that will take years of deprogramming for me to get out of their brains.

Getting back to Mitch, he quite correctly points out that there is a third alternative to public and private school:

Don't come yapping to me about your Catholic Schools or your private academies; the best way to "save" education is to abolish it.
Mitch first made this modest proposal back in April, and I took notice of it right away. I thought he was right then, and I still agree with him today. My wife and I have the right to teach, shape, mold, influence, indoctrinate and raise our kids as we see fit. No educational institution, private or public, could ever come close to doing that.

If you use the holy water of parochial schools to put out the "pagan fires of the public schools", all you're going to be left with is a bunch of empty hot air.

How To Save Money and Ruin Your Credit Rating In One Easy Step

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette runs consumer affairs columns by two writers, Yvonne Zanos (who assists readers with "consumer issues, products and service troubles") and Lawrence Walsh (an expert at "sorting through bureaucratic mixups and tangles"). In recent weeks, I have come to believe that these features are the worthiest reads in the PG simply for the practicality of their application in everyday life.

This morning, Mr. Walsh tells us how to get assistance paying our home heating bills via a program called LIHEAP. I have considered applying for this before, but never did, even though I meet the eligibility requirements. (Two of my children could disappear as if they never existed, and I'd still be eligible.) For one thing, it is a federally funded program, and I abhor the thought of receiving taxpayer money for my own private use. It's not the government's responsibility to pay my bills; it's mine. And I'm not exactly planning on staying low-income forever, though my prospects for advancement are somewhat limited at this stage in my career.

There are also potential consequences of officially admitting that you might be having trouble paying your bills. But what?

Well, just last week Ms. Zanos took a question from a reader who took advantage of her (and my) electric utility's Customer Assistance Program. It turns out that the electric company reported this fact to the credit bureau, but the customer does not learn this fascinating tidbit of information until he/she receives the acceptance letter. Who was taking advantage of whom, then?

I'm not exactly in the market for another credit card, or a new car, or a new house right now. But I did refinance both my home mortgage and my auto loan earlier this year in order to cut down on monthly costs, as well as getting a new credit card with low interest and low credit limit that helps pay down the mortgage. Who knows when I might start getting desperate again?

One thing's for certain: I'll never try to get any kind of assistance from my electric company. I'll sleep better at night without all that light in the house anyway. If I get desperate enough, though, I might go for the gas company assistance program. If I do, I'll follow Yvonne Zanos's advice and check out the company's reporting practices first.

Supposing they don't report you to the credit bureau. What if they change this policy at a later date? Somehow it seems like you're screwed, no matter what.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

We're Number One! We're Number One!

It always feels good to be tops at something. It gives one a sense of pride, of achievement, of satisfaction...of fulfillment, of contentment. Why, residents of Allegheny County PA can bask in the glow of our latest success, touted in a headline from this morning's Tribune-Review:

Allegheny County has most illegal dump sites

Whoops! Maybe I don't feel so proud after all. Especially when there is a distinct possibility that some of these dump sites could very well be in my own neighborhood. Or they would be, if this article were about people's backyards and not about actual repositories. What's so bad about them, anyway?

A dingy refrigerator leans against the hillside, its shelves filled with pools of stagnant water. Old tires protrude from the slope like mutant mushrooms. A rusty green pickup truck's rear panel juts out from beneath a blanket of rotting leaves and empty potato chip bags.

The scene could describe many of the 340 illegal dumps dotting Allegheny County, poisoning streams, hurting property values and providing an ideal breeding ground for vermin and mosquitoes.

If I were the editor of this newspaper, I would spin the article to make these illegal dump sites sound positive. "Allegheny County is home to 340 wildlife habitats", or something similar. No one would complain about them being breeding grounds for wildlife, especially if an endangered species were discovered amongst the bugs and vermin.

Even the environmental busybody group conducting the study makes the outcome sound like a source of pride:

"Allegheny County is leaps and bounds -- and garbage bags-full -- ahead of everyone else," said PA CleanWays President Karen McCalpin.
That should be our new slogan: "Allegheny County: Garbage bags ahead of everyone else". If Pittsburgh ever acquires another sports franchise in, say, Major Indoor Stick Hockey or something, it could be christened the Pittsburgh Vermin. The Vermin would wear black and gold, like all of the other Pittsburgh teams. Black for the bubonic plague, and gold for yellow fever.

Getting back to the article:

There are no official statistics on illegal dumps in Pennsylvania, but PA CleanWays plans to survey several more counties over the next few years to raise awareness about the problem. The organization estimates there are between 30 and 300 illegal dumps in each county, putting Allegheny County 40 dumps ahead of the highest estimate.
"There are no official statistics", so this group has to make estimates in order to "raise awareness about the problem". No one is going to do anything about their illegal dump, and this so-called CleanWays organization doesn't seem to have ways to clean anything either. But at least they can "raise awareness", and that should make everyone feel happy!

Say...if these dumps are not in my neighbor's yards, where exactly are they?

In Allegheny County, half the dumps were in urban areas, 41 percent in the suburbs and 9 percent in rural areas. They contain an estimated 974 tons of garbage, enough to cover the playing surface of Heinz Field to a height of more than 21 feet.
I'd like to see that! In fact, I would like to see the Steelers try to play football on that. A round of free tetanus shots for all the players!

Now, about that awareness raising business...what can CleanWays tell us about the dumps?

The group has several theories about why Allegheny County has so many more illegal dumps than the other counties, said Danielle Crumrine, executive director of PA CleanWays of Allegheny County.

"Population certainly has something to do with it," Crumrine said. "We have a higher population and our topography is conducive to dumping."

That doesn't sound conclusive. It could be just the opposite: We have a lower topography, and our population is conducive to dumping. Run some more lab tests before you make a final conclusion.

Further along in the article, we see that, while Pennsylvania is all about study and speculation, other states are doing something about their dumping problems. Like this example from Charlotte County, Florida:
Enforcement, including fines and jail time, was needed to get the word out that dumping garbage anywhere but in a landfill would not be tolerated. This summer they hired a police deputy to arrest illegal dumpers and a code compliance officer to issue citations. They've used a helicopter to catch dumpers in the act and have arrested 10 people since July.

"If (illegal dumpers) know you're going to get in their wallet and maybe send them to jail, they say, 'Well, that was 500 bucks, it would be cheaper to go to the landfill,'" said Terri Barnett, Charlotte County's illegal dumping code compliance officer. "If they know you're serious about enforcing the law, they'll stop."

It's nice to know that some places are serious about halting the spread of bubonic plague and malaria. There's nothing like the threat of damage to our wallets and our bank accounts to keep us in line.

Monday, November 14, 2005

No More Flying Clown Heads

After watching part one of "Category 7" last weekend, I couldn't pass up seeing the conclusion. That flying clown head really made an impression on me. Plus, I wanted to see how Gina Gershon saves the world. You just don't believe it until you see it.

The flying clown head that eats snooty Frenchmen makes a brief appearance during the recap of part one. Of that object I shall say no more.

The confusing subplot involving teenagers getting kidnapped from a bus full of evacuees is explained in a way that actually makes sense, and ties in to another subplot that didn't make sense to me before the connection was made. Basically, the kids are supposed to die in a sort of second coming of Moses's Egyptian plagues. We already had the pyramids destroyed last week, plus frogs and flies in Washington. Why not go after the firstborn?

Last week we learned that FEMA director Gershon's son is romantically involved with the daughter of the scientist who fell out of favor with the feds but whom Gershon brought back secretly to assist with the weather problems. Oh, and that Ms. FEMA and Mr. Scientist were lovers in college. Plus, there's a jerky kid, the son of some other federal employee, trying to muscle in on the happy young couple. Just think of the three kids as Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn, and their interplay will make sense.

The Rovian White House Chief of Staff, played by the same actor who was the Cheneyesque VP in The Day After Tomorrow, returns to represent the Bush Administration. (Can you tell this movie was made by lefties?) He fires the Secretary of Homeland Security, pulls the plug on an impromptu public warning, then finally gets sucked upward into the tornado that shows up to destroy the White House. Sales of kleenex and hand lotion to Democrats skyrocketed.

Randy Quaid, alias Tommy Tornado, spends more time with Shannen Doherty in his funky van. This may very well qualify as "more fun than human beings should be allowed to have". But it pays off for him -- in the end, he not only survives his forays into the eye of the storm, but he gets the girl! For showing us that creepy fat guys can get hot women too, Randy Quaid is one of three characters who earns a HERO label from this reviewer.

In addition to the CheneyRove actor and a stormtracking Quaid brother, a third obvious homage to (or ripoff of) The Day After Tomorrow is the junior partner of the discredited scientist who goes ga-ga for the no-nonsense Asian babe who works for the feds. (Did these movies start from the same plot treatment?) She literally lets her hair down when the two of them are alone and she has to rescue him from a catwalk high atop a stage in the theater that houses their office. After the two of them (and the rest of the world) are safe, she calls him cutie, kisses him, and talks about something called a "Japanese rope trick". That last bit worried me, but it was during the ten o'clock hour so I guess it was alright. For getting his girl, along with the gratuitous rope trick reference, junior scientist is HERO number two.

Gina Gershon and her discredited scientist former lover get everyone to turn down the power, which cools the city and causes the coverging twin nightmare storms to dissipate. But neither of these are deserving of the third award for heroism in the face of inane plot devices. He gets his wife and daughter back. Yippee. FEMA Gina gets her son back, her conniving politician daddy in the Robert Wagner mask singlehandedly saves Europe, and she ends up making what is effectively a FEMA commercial. Somewhere, there are Moonbats hoping that this movie makes people think. Well, it make me think, but not about the wonderful and unlimited possibilities of federal management in times of disaster. It made me think that Ms. FEMA blew her chance to be named third and final hero of the film by being a shill for big government.

Nope, in a surprise twist ending, HERO aware number three goes to...Harry Osborn! Yep, the obnoxious daddy's boy who kept picking fights with Peter Parker FEMAson for no apparent reason had an epiphany that changed his whole attitude. During a one-on-one scuffle with an armed kidnapper, Harry falls from a catwalk and breaks his leg, which forces him to lie prone on the ground for much of the last hour of the movie. He is stuck there with a deadly storm raging outside and heavily armed thugs looking for him inside. Just when he thinks no one is going to rescue him, he spies her....FEMA Gina. More to the point, he sees her lips, shoulders and cleavage rushing towards him. That'll make a teenage boy mature in a BIG hurry. After the rescue party carries him outside and sets him on the ground, Harry tells Peter than they can be friends now, and not just because of their shared experience as kidnap victims. "Your mom is really hot...and totally available!" He's going to start hanging around with some kid he can't stand just to get closer to the other kid's attractive divorced mother. Anyone who has ever been a teenage boy recognizes Harry Osborn as the real HERO of this movie.

If only it had stopped there instead of after the FEMA commercial, I would have been much happier with the ending. Will this movie produce a sequel? I look forward to "Category 10: Earth Goes All Krypton On Us".

Caught In The Draft

Okay, I'm back. There were all sorts of interesting local news bit that I wanted to blog about over the weekend, but I got too distracted by the present that showed up in my Inbox on Veteran's Day morning.

Ancestry.com has released the complete database of World War I Draft Cards, completely searchable and with downloadable images. Good thing I bought an external hard drive last week, or I would be out of room to store these digital documents.

If you're the sort of person who likes to organize and categorize a collection of whatever it is you like to collect, then you will understand why I've been so obsessed and occupied with this for the last three days. And I'm only halfway through. But I feel that I owe my devoted readers, all four of you, something new to read when you pay me a visit here. I've been neglecting my duties as a host.

And hello to everyone who comes here via image searches for pictures that I linked to at other people's web sites.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Carol Burnett Brings On the Pain

Here comes the internet once again to remind me of long-buried childhood trauma:

The Eunice sketches were clearly drawn from Carol’s own troubled upbringing and had a darker edge than almost anything I can remember from that era. One memorable installment featured Eunice proudly going to Hollywood to sing “Feelings” (unironically) on The Gong Show. When, after a few tortured verses, she was gonged, the camera cut to a close-up of her stunned reaction, then slowly faded out on her disappointment. It was chilling, and I’ve never forgotten the power of not getting a laugh.
I remember that one well. I didn't understand it, to be honest. I didn't understand anything about "Eunice". She was a weird character with a weird name. She looked funny and talked funny. Yet, for some reason, Eunice was popular. It was just something I had to suffer through until Tim Conway and Harvey Korman came back on to make me laugh.

The Gong Show segment should have been better. I loved watching the Gong Show, and it seemed like a good way to make one Eunice segment interesting. Instead, it scarred me for life. When Eunice got gonged and the camera closed in on her face and the picture faded out, yeah, it was chilling alright. But not because I felt any kind of emotion towards the character.

I was chilled to the bone because I though that the television set was broken, and I would be blamed because I was in the room all alone! Immediately after the fade-out, I switched off and went to go do something else. Later I went back and found my mother watching TV as if nothing had ever happened to the set. How? I was sure that something had happened to it.

There was only one logical conclusion: "Eunice" was such a stupid, dumb, unfunny, boring part of the show that the television set revolted and turned itself off. What self-respecting TV shows something as horrible as "Eunice" anyway?

Well, it made perfect sense to me when I was ten years old. In a way, it still does.

Get the H Back Here!

Hugh Hewitt has linked to a blog run by a coffee shop that is about a 15-20 minute walk from my house. Hugh says:

Alas, it appears that this blogger is associated with Pittsburg. No doubt a Steelers' fan. I deeply regret the link.
Normally, I would just keep reading Hugh's blog and move on. After all, I'm not a coffee person so the coffee shop doesn't really impact me one way or the other. And the "Steelers' fan" remark doesn't faze me because I'm not much of a football fan anyway.

But Hugh has done something that deeply offends me, and I feel I must address it. Which Pittsburg is he referring to? There are more than a dozen of them in the United States. And none of them has a football team called the Steelers.

Or does he perhaps mean Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? You know, the city with the letter H at the end?

I would expect Hugh to know better, considering his interest in his Scots-Irish heritage. Early Pittsburgh was largely settled by Scots-Irish pioneers, including some of my own ancestors. The city was named by a Scotsman, General John Forbes, and that is why Pittsburgh has an H. (There is more information at the Carnegie Library's web site.)

Thus, while my German ancestry would make me feel comfortable with "Pittsburg", it is the Scottish spelling that is correct. Now if I could only convince people to pronounce it "Pitts-burro", as I do, my life's work would be complete.

Those Resolute Frenchmen

I wouldn't count on it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Moonbat Dementia At the State Level

Now we move on to the state level, where Democrat victories are being seen as signs of anti-Bush backlash. The signs, I suspect, are being read by hippie shamans wearing tie-dyes and stinking of patchouli oil.

The victors strongly believe this in spite of real-world evidence that it is not so:

In giving Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine an easy victory over Republican Doug Forrester, most New Jersey voters said Bush was not a factor in their choices, according to an AP-Ipsos survey of 1,280 New Jersey voters Tuesday.

Still, Corzine thanked voters "for rejecting the Bush-Rove tactics we see in politics," referring to Karl Rove, the president's top political strategist.

The moonbat obsession with Karl Rove amuses me, because Democrats would probably have won these elections anyway.

And the Democrat won in Virginia because the Republican campaign violated Godwin's Law. Simple as that.

A Kilgore ad alleged that Kaine's opposition to the death penalty meant he would not have executed Adolf Hilter.
Waitaminnit. "Hilter?" That's the Fuehrer-in-exile character from a Monty Python skit. I copied that sentence right out of the AP article. If my gubernatorial candidate went around advocating the judicial murder of John Cleese, I might cross over and vote for the Democrat.

But not next year. The Pennsylvania Senate and Governor races are too important to be caucusing with moonbats.

The World Is A Little More Moonbat Today

The 2005 primary election is history, and the voters have spoken, as the saying goes. Where the hell was the Republican party on this one? Doesn't anyone pay attention to local issues in these races? Democrats are sweeping into offices all over, and exit interviews are indicating that people are voting Democrat (or maybe just that more Democrats are voting) because of someone who has the same initials as the Great White Buffalo.

This is the analysis of an unsuccessful council candidate in Green Tree Borough, which is not far from where I live:

Mr. McCormick attributed the loss in part to a low turnout of Republicans. Voters also expressed anger to him at the polls for President Bush and the Iraq war and the raises in the state Legislature.
I know that people don't care about so-called "off year" elections. But there are still races being contested in odd numbered years. Staying home because it's not a BIG election is just stupid.

And what's up with getting angry at people running for local office because you don't like what the federal and state governments have done? This is just more proof of what I have always known: Democrats are basically single-track dolts who have adopted "Think globally, act locally" as their mantra in all things. Here's a news flash: George Bush has nothing to do with your street being paved, or your school board voting to fire a janitor. (And if he does, he shouldn't.) And the state legislature's pay raise was not a partisan issue. It's because of things like this that I always end up clicking only Republican levers in the voting booth. The insane moonbat voter needs to be counter-balanced by people with some sense.

If I were one of the losing candidates in Green Tree, I would be glad that I didn't win. Who wants to get elected representative of morons and idiots?

In my borough, the incumbent Republican mayor was returned to office in a close race. The Republican council candidates, however, ALL LOST. Someone, somewhere, must be crowing that it's all George Bush's fault. Again, if anyone holds that view, they are deluded. In past elections, the Democrat council candidates split into two factions during the primary, and the bad blood led to one or two Republicans making it onto council in the general election. There was no division among Dems this time. I have little doubt, though, that the victors went into full moonbat mode last night and celebrated by toasting President Bush.

In Brentwood Borough, the Republican mayoral candidate, Bob Cranmer, came in third behind an independent and the victorious incumbent Dem. There is seething animosity in Brentwood that goes back over ten years to Cranmer's days as a borough councilman. He cares about Brentwood, but Brentwood doesn't care about him.

Full-bore dementia won the day for the Democrats. And those are just the municipal races.

Pouring Champagne On A Hill of Faith

Mary Beth Ellis, who doesn't post nearly as often as she should, charms us today with a delicious fisking of Faith Hill. I never thought much of Faith Hill one way or the other, since I have never heard her sing. She looks like "one of the beautiful people" and hooked up with a football star, so she must be loaded with dough. MB puts her in her place, and does so with style.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Happy Election Day!

Twice a year, I seize the opportunity to catch friends and co-workers off guard by wishing them a "Happy Election Day!" No one ever expects an Election Day greeting. I ought to market my own line of holiday cards based on the occasion.

When I wished a co-worker "Happy Election Day!" this afternoon, he appeared stunned. Quickly recovering, he mentioned that he hadn't thought about voting because he was working out this morning and would be working until after the poll close this evening. Besides, he said, the Pittsburgh mayor's race was decided in the May primary.

Realistically, he was correct -- about that one race. But does he even notice any of the judges or row offices being contested today? Are Pittsburghers really that confident about the local races that they just vote once and go home until next May? This is bad.

Unless, of course, the people who decide to stay home are all Democrats. If that's the case, it's good.

It has been raining intermittently, too. It always does that on Election Day. What's up with that?

I started work at 6:45 this morning and didn't vote until around 4 PM. Voter turnout seemed to be as low as has been predicted (estimated at 33%). The polling place looked like a funeral home for dead guys who didn't have any friends. Needless to say, I was in and out in short order, pausing only to write in a local Republican committeewoman for an uncontested County Council seat.

Chances are, the rest of my votes will be about as successful as that one. We'll see in the morning.

Braters Libertas

When I woke up this morning, I went down and did something that I rarely do before I go to work: I had breakfast. It was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk, not what you would call a traditional breakfast, but it was a good way to fortify myself before beginning my day. Besides, I am nice and full so I shouldn't be hungry for anything until I go home this afternoon. Right? Right!

Then I go online and read this post at Fraters Libertas. All of a sudden, as well-fed as I am at the moment, I start getting a craving for burger and brat. The inside of my mouth feels like Niagara Falls, it's watering so much. Damn you, JB Doubtless!

I don't have enough cash on my to buy lunch. I don't intend to anyway. But before the day is out, I might end up taking a few bites out of my desk at work.

Attack of the Fiberglas Giants

Oh boy. Another book to put on my Christmas list. I miss the days when I was able to take long drives and look for stuff like this.

Dirty Old Sod

My maternal grandfather left Ireland (northern Ireland, to be exact) about 100 years ago to work in Scotland, and soon after came to America. Ireland was such a beautiful country, I opined, so why would anyone want to leave and come to Pittsburgh? My relatives told me that it was because there was nothing there -- no jobs, no opportunities, no future. My grandfather would not have wanted to go back, and as far as I know, he never did.

The Tribune-Review's Mike Seate learned the hard way that today's Irish-born Americans share my grandfather's feelings. When you leave the old sod behind, you really leave it behind. And the old peat, as well. Mike's column is good, light reading so go check it out.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Looming Bus Strike

Crap in a hat.

This is bad news for those of us who rely on public transportation to get to and from work:

The union representing the Port Authority of Allegheny County's 2,200 drivers and maintenance workers will recommend that its members, working without a contract since June 30, vote to strike during a meeting later this month.
I'd better start making out my will.

The board of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 said the meeting with union members is scheduled for Nov. 20 at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Oakland.
Well, maybe I won't need to start making plans for my ultimate demise, but I can tell you that if the bus drivers go on strike, I'm going to start using all of the sick days that I've been accumulating over the last three years.

In a statement, Port Authority acting CEO Dennis Veraldi said he was "deeply disappointed" by the action.

"Clearly, the only way these issues can be worked out amicably is through the collective bargaining process. It is our hope that the process will result in an agreement that is both equitable to our employees and responsive to our budgetary constraints. A strike would be devastating to our customers and detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of our community, and it is not in the best interests of Port Authority employees," he said.

In this area, the pro-labor forces will try to point the finger at management. But this CEO has it right: I'm going to be monumentally screwed if the buses stop running. It's not the management telling the workers to vote for a strike. It's the stinking union leadership, may they boil in molten iron for all eternity.

Local 85 has rejected that offer and is seeking a three-year contract, including uncapped cost-of-living adjustments. The top bus-trolley operator presently earns $22.79 an hour.

Well, boo hoo hoo. I have a hard time feeling sorry for these guys if they're making several dollars an hour more than I am. I just want my guaranteed ride to work, dammit!

Post 23, Sentence 5

Sounds like some kind of penal code, doesn't it? Actually, I have been non-tagged, which is to say that Samantha Burns, having been tagged by another blogger, chose to pass this exercise along to other bloggers by letting them volunteer to continue if they so choose. Well, I choose! The rules are:

1. Delve into my archives.
2. Find my 23d post.
3. Post the fifth sentence (or close to it).
4. Post the text of the sentence in this blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five others to do the same.

My 23d post was something called I Always Expect Some Kind of Moonbat Inquisition, a title which suggest that my writings often tend toward the political, and that I have seen enough Monty Python to be permanently affected.

The fifth sentence is as follows:
"That is just one reason that I took up blogging." Cor, that is so lame. The rest of the post is better. But that's what the tagger asked for, and who am I to alter the rules of engagement at this point?

Tornadoes, Real and Imagined

There was a deadly tornado in Indiana and Kentucky yesterday, and we felt it all the way up here in Pittsburgh. Power was out for a while in the afternoon, coincidentally while I was taking my Sunday nap. A few things were torn and scattered, but nothing nearly as bad as the damage and loss of life in Indiana.

By complete coincidence, I watched part one of a brand-new CBS miniseries last night called "Category 7: The End of the World". I don't pay much attention to network television; this show would have been completely off my radar if not for the ad that assaulted me on some website the other day. It is a sequel to a show from last year called, naturally, "Category 6: Day of Destruction". The sequel has two things in common with its predecessor: Randy Quaid, and a relentless wind force. This time, instead of settling for the midwest, the tornadoes take on the entire world.

These natural disaster movies are usually worthwhile for the special effects, and little else. The plot involves some super-expert scientists who are the only ones who anticipate the coming crisis but whose warnings fall on deaf ears. These scientists have families that include teenage children, and apparently tilt left politically. Where have we heard this before? Both movies even have a Quaid in a starring role. I tried to ignore the silly plot devices and concentrate on the eye candy.

And no, by "eye candy" I don't mean Gina Gershon and Shannen Doherty. Well, not just them, anyway. The best parts of this kind of movie are the scenes of total chaos and destruction. For instance, there was a flying clown head in the commercial. I said out loud, "You know that something is worth watching if it has a flying clown head in it". With God as my witness, I never thought giant clown heads could fly. But there it was, and it was the hook that got me to sit through the whole two hours last night. A flying clown head. I can be so simple at times.

The context made the flying clown head even more delicious: A tornado hit a carnival in Paris near the Eiffel Tower. Two English soccer hooligans got killed in the tower because they chose not to evacuate like the other tourists. The flying clown head was ripped off of...something, I'm not sure what. But it had a maniacal laugh, as though it were some kind of weapon devised by the Joker to fire at Batman. The flying clown head blew away from the carnival and crashed through a window into a room where it squashed several French meteorologists. Immediately, I knew this was going to be a five-star classic. A flying clown head that kills snooty Frenchmen. Wow.

Soon after, we briefly see a tornado wreck the Mall of American in Bloomington, Minnesota. Hey! I was there three months ago! And I am extremely grateful that such a tragedy did not occur when I was inside. I hope Mitch is okay.

Some stupid park ranger gets killed when George Washington's face falls off of Mount Rushmore. You know the park ranger is stupid because he takes his coffee up on top of Mount Rushmore and drinks it from a wide-open cup instead of bringing it in a plastic travel mug. Few things in a movie have ever said "this guy is going to be dead in about sixty seconds" as the stupid ranger's coffee cup.

Florida gets wiped out, but that's to be expected. Ditto for a trailer park in Texas. We also see the pyramids and the Sphinx bite the dust -- sand, actually -- during an Egyptian storm.

James Brolin plays a man who is married to a weird, big-mouthed, creepy woman who likes publicity and money. No research was required for his role. Brolin's character is also a televangelist. He dies during a soundcheck while preparing for a live appearance in the eye of the storm. Struck down by lightning, he was. Jumping Jupiter!

Robert Wagner plays a Senator whose daughter, the new FEMA secretary, is one of the "heroes" of this film. Wagner lost all credibility as a serious actor after the first Austin Powers movie. Plus, he tries so hard to appear younger than he actually is, that he ends up looking like a man in a Robert Wagner mask.

There is a confusing scene near the end of the first part where ambulance-driving terrorists hijack a bus that is carrying families of federal government employees to a safe location in West Virginia. (Which is undoubtedly called The Robert Byrd Federal Government Employee Family Safe Location Center.) They had better come up with a good explanation for this scene; the terrorists weren't even hinted at before this happened.

Part Two is next Sunday. Two storms, one in New York state and one in Miami, are going to come together over Washington DC and form the first ever category seven storm. There had better be something at least as good as a flying clown head to maintain my interest for another two hours.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Laptops Are The Devil's Instruments

In my department at work, we have a small crew of college students employed as part-time help to do routine and menials tasks. Five years ago, when I started there, I was told that the kids were "student workers, not worker students", meaning that their studies took precedence over their jobs. During a lull in the action, they could use the workplace as a study hall. Or, if they found that the job was interfering with their class schedule, they could leave without notice, no questions asked. Plenty of college students are always looking for work, and the wages are low so we really do not expect these kids to stick around for any great length of time anyway.

Things have changed in the ensuing five years. Rather than sit down with textbooks and notes during non-peak moments, or taking turns doing research on the office computer (when not being used for work-related purposes, of course), the student workers will whip out a laptop computer and just get right down to business then and there. I wouldn't mind this too much, but the laptop generation seems to come equipped with a lapdog attitude towards its employer, and in some cases is accompanied by a decrease in productivity.

Judging by an article in this morning's P-G, it looks like the scourge of students with laptops is everywhere:

Wireless Internet has become all the rage in college classrooms, with more schools locally and nationwide installing it each year. But schools are starting to learn that the educational advantages of wireless Internet are accompanied by relentless distractions.

Suddenly, students have the ability to transport themselves anywhere the Internet will take them -- whether or not it has anything to do with class.

Or, indeed, with work. Opening a laptop is just the same as opening a notebook was in the old days, when I was a young whippersnapper. What, specifically, might these kids be doing with the laptops in class?

"The problem I have is not with the laptops, per se," said John Soluri, a history professor at Carnegie Mellon. "The problem is that I know that some people use laptops to e-mail, to watch movies, to do whatever, and they're not really using them to take notes."
I know where this man is coming from. I really don't mind our student employees doing something like email, as long as it doesn't distract them when we call upon them to run an errand or whatever. But movies? We had one kid working for us during the summer who always seemed to have a movie on his laptop. I didn't like it, but I didn't want to get rid of him either. He was our best worker. He always did what was asked of him, and received accolades from people in other departments. Watching movies would have been a good reason to fire him, but given the quality of applicants that we had been getting, we would not have been able to find someone of his caliber as a worker.

At Carnegie Mellon, Dr. Soluri acknowledges students could sleep, daydream or doodle long before laptops. But he worries about more substantive distractions to students using laptops and to anyone else who can see their screens.

In other words, it's catching. We haven't had any more movie watchers in our office, but we do have some kids who are so immersed in their laptops that they seem to regard the assignment of a task as an annoyance and an interruption. You can only take the "student worker" dichotomy so far. Are you student or are you worker? On the payroll, you're a worker. You can study, but work comes first. There's too much "I'll do that in a few minutes when I finish this" coming from the kids. The attitudes have gotten worse all of the time.

During a recent statistics class at CMU, one student with a laptop was seen pricing plane tickets and hotel reservations for a trip to Canada, another reviewing the Power Point lecture for a psychology class and a third e-mailing and checking Web sites like Facebook.com. Nearly all of the students with laptops took a cyber detour from strictly class business at some point during the lecture.

But while such activities might strike professors as rude or disrespectful, many students see them as "efficient" or "multi-tasking."

Of course the kids are being rude and disrespectful. They are so caught up in the new technology that a classroom environment seems too quaint for them to take seriously. In all fairness, today's students who are this connected would be better suited to some form of cyber learning rather than traditional classroom attendance. But when they register for classes that require some degree of personal participation, they ought to show proper respect for their professors by putting the laptops away and just paying attention.

In some ways, the practice of "multi-tasking" during class reflects a fundamental difference in how current college students behave -- and learn.

"Students are used to having these multiple channels going," said Geri Gay, a professor of communication and information science at Cornell University. "There's a restlessness that sets in this generation."

Dr. Gay said her research showed that it is sometimes possible for students to concentrate on a lecture while, say, reading news headlines. Once they actually start reading the news story, however, they forget about the lecture.

We do not need a communications professor to tell us this, but she is right, and I am glad that she doesn't come off as an apologist for the laptop generation. Forgive me for sounding like an old fogey, but it is true: Kids today are more restless, less respectful, more self-centered and more easily distracted than in my youth. And the laptop attachment is a symptom of the new, worse attitude.

Lawrence Frolik, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh law school, has also noticed the phenomenon of students treating lectures as somewhat like background music on their iPods.

"They think there's no reason to be a captive in the classroom," he said. "They really believe that downtime can be profitably occupied by e-mail and fantasy football."

Background music! That's a perfect description of their attitude towards work, too. And it is worse at work, since they are being paid for the privilege of part-time employment. Not that they should treat class hours, which they are (presumably) paying for, as time to be used in whatever way they see fit. But they can't be fired from class. Heh.

BTW, in you should ever find yourself needing to retain the counsel of a Pitt law school graduate in a few years, ask if he/she ever used a laptop to do fantasy football in class. If they answer affirmatively, dump them. They will do the same thing when they're sitting in court pleading your case.

At Harvard Law School, some professors have now banned laptops from their classrooms. Ironically, the ubiquity of laptops in Harvard's classes was featured in the 2001 movie "Legally Blonde," in which Reese Witherspoon's character gets into school there and finds herself laptop-less in a classroom full of them.
I can't believe I am saying this, but I would prefer a class full of laptop-less bimbos to a class full of laptop snobs. Hollywood is still the land of hopes and dreams!

In the end, it is the laptop addict who suffers:

"For the students who are susceptible to being distracted by their own machines, that's their loss as far as I'm concerned," said Joel Friedman, a professor at Pitt law school visiting from Tulane University. "The downside [of laptops] is minimal."
Nothing like a little self-immolation to teach kids not to play with fire, eh?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Oh Deer, Stop Me If You've Herd This One Before

Every now and then, a suburb of Allegheny County will experience problems with an overabundance of deer in the neighborhoods. This time it's Mount Lebanon. The most commonly prescribed remedy for this kind of problem is to send bow hunters into the community to perform their own special brand of population control. It sounds pretty reasonable until you realize that strangers could very well be slinging sharp-tipped projectiles across your property in order to nail a critter that might not hang around long enough to take the shot.

I wouldn't want anyone other than me firing arrows around my place. I don't care how expert they are. That just isn't safe in a residential area.

Having said that...let me take you back in time. About eleven years ago, I was driving along Cedar Boulevard in Mount Lebanon. A herd of deer suddenly charged out of the trees from the right side of the road and ran up a hill on the left side. Traffic momentarily stopped to let the hoofed mammals pass. The driver of the car in front of me began to move forward when one antlered straggler ran right in front of his vehicle and bounced off of the hood. Traffic stopped again as the deer rolled to the ground, shook its head for a few seconds, then jumped up and ran to join its kin up the hill. As the stunned motorist got out of his car to inspect for damage, I said to myself, "Damn! Where the hell is Ted Nugent when you need him?"

What Goes For Ohio Goes For Western Pennsylvania, Too (Almost)

Hugh Hewitt has posted a list of observations, allegedly created by Jeff Foxworthy, about the Great State of Ohio. Whether Foxworthy actually composed these or not, they are done in the style of his "You might be a redneck if..." jokes. I have made dozens of day trips all over Ohio and even taken a few vacations in places like Cleveland, Toledo and Dayton, so I know a few things about the state and I can relate to this list. (Just to be clear, Ohio is convenient since it is so close and cheap. The interstate highways help, too.) Not that I ever needed to leave home to understand some of these musings; my part of Pennsylvania is close enough to have more in common with Ohio than most locals in either state will admit. Cleveland, I have observed, is basically Pittsburgh stretched along the shore of a lake.

Here's my SW Pennsylvanian take on a few of the more interesting Foxworthian observations:

You know all the 4 seasons: winter, still winter, almost winter and construction. -- Yes, especially if you travel I-70. Think Ohio starts across the river from West Virginia? Nope. You enter the Ohio construction zone when you hit Washington, PA.
You live less than 30 miles from some college or university. -- Definitely a quality shared by western PA. There are more colleges that I keep finding out about in the most remote rural areas of the outlying counties. Waynesburg? Thiel? Edinboro? Westminster? Those and more are all here.

You know what a "buckeye" really is, and have a recipe for candy ones. -- No recipe, but I have seen real ones and tasted candy ones. This brings back memories of a visit to Grandpa's Village about eight years ago. Sweet.

You know if other Ohioans are from southern or northern Ohio as soon as they open their mouths. -- I honestly never noticed the difference in Ohio, but people in the middle of Indiana sound like they are from Kentucky. Also, the difference between northern and southern Ohio seems to be the presence or absence of snow route parking signs along the city streets. Pittsburgh is south of this snow belt, which seems to lie close to the border between Allegheny and Butler counties.

"Vacation" means spending a day at Cedar Point in the summer and deer hunting in the fall. -- What about Paramount's Kings Island? Or is that too close to the river to count as an Ohio destination?

You measure distance in minutes. -- Why yes I do. People ask me how far away something is, I tell them how long it takes to get there. They get all aggressive and ask how many miles that is, and I say "What do I look like, a bloody odometer?" This alone is proof that Ohioans are more human than people anywhere else.

You end your sentences with an unnecessary preposition. Example: "Where's my coat at?" -- I do this, too. One time an English teacher corrected me for doing this. I was a fully grown adult! Stinking teachers, always interjecting themselves into other people's conversations.

You carry jumper cables in your car. -- I used to, and I ought to do so again. They really did come in handy on several occasions.

You know what "pop" is. -- Yes, it's the bubbly sweet liquid that you add to ice cream and cover with whipped cream to make a soda.

You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit. -- Only if you live north of the snow belt line, which I am not.
Driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow. -- We actually get enough snow around Pittsburgh for this to be true here. Unless it gets icy, which I am sure also happens in Ohio.

You think sexy lingerie is tube socks and a flannel nightgown. -- Not to give away too many intimate details of my private life, but I am more likely to buy a flannel nightgown for my wife than to get her something from Victoria's Secret. My favorite is the red wolf motif nightgown from the Ted Nugent catalog.

You call it Krogers even though it is Kroger. -- Well, yeah, we did until the stupid unions made the Krogers employees strike about twenty-four years ago and forced the chain to abandon the Pittsburgh market. Very sad, because Krogers was our local grocery store when I was a kid.

Pretty good list. I need to save the whole thing and keep it as a reference in case I ever move to Ohio.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I DVDon't Know, DVDavey

Some child memories stay with you forever, while some need to be forcibly repressed from the consciousness unless otherwise avoidable. As a Lutheran boy growing up, I watched the show "Davey & Goliath" religiously (please pardon the pun). Produced by the Lutheran Church in America and animated by Art McCloskey (of Gumby fame), Davey Hansen and his dog Goliath were stop-motion animation characters working their way through any and all problems that cropped up during the course of a boy's life. The moral lesson of every episode can be summed up as "Do the right thing", which always seemed to be a problem for the boy with the talking dog. Well, he talked to Davey, and Davey understood every word, but to other people Goliath was all bark. (Interestingly enough, Goliath was voiced by actor Hal Smith, who also performed Owl in Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" shorts of the 1960s but was best known as Otis the Mayberry town drunk in "The Andy Griffith Show".)

Other than the parenthetical aside, if you were a child in a Lutheran family in the 1960s and 1970s, chances are that you already know everything outlined above.

You might think that, with my childhood devotion to the show and my memories of certain characteristics of the program that "Davey & Goliath" made a positive impact on my life. Au contraire, mon frere. That program traumatized me! Some of the episodes scared the bejeebers out of me, but rather than changing the channel, I soldiered on with my viewing because these characters talked about Jesus and had something else to do with my Sunday School even though I wasn't sure what or how. Davey goofs around and gets stuck in a blizzard! Davey absent-mindedly forgets to take care packages to senior citizens! Davey leaves a board with a nail sticking up on the beach so someone steps on it and gets tetanus! And so on. He just couldn't help doing the wrong thing, even though his sage of a canine companion continually admonished him with the words "I don't know, Davey". But he never did until it was almost too late. You would think that after the first 50 or 60 times of ignoring Goliath's advice that Davey would wise up and listen to him since, after all, the dog plainly has the conscience that the boy is so sorely lacking. Nope; instead, Davey Gnutella pissed off his Dad, his teachers, his pastor, policemen, firemen, other children and complete strangers, just because he thinks he's smarter than his dog. Considering the turns that many of the episodes took, I am amazed that there wasn't carnage left and right when Davey went about his business. People could have gotten seriously maimed or even killed on that show.

The closest thing to actual carnage that I recall involved a cousin of dovekie best friend Jonathan. Jonathan was the only black character on the show, which was actually pretty progressive for a kid's program in the 1960s. Jonathan had a cousin who, to put it bluntly, hated white people. When Jonathan introduced his cousin to Davey, the cousin was recovering from an eye injury that temporarily blinded him and caused him to have to wear bandages over both eyes. That freaked me out plenty right there. Jonathan and Davey hatched a plan to make the cousin really like white boy Davey by letting Davey spend all of his time with him. It worked...until the bandages had to come off. The cousin stepped out into the waiting room expecting to see another black boy, but there was only a white kid. The cousin ran from the room in disgust. By the end of the show, Jonathan had convinced him to accept Davey in spite of the obvious differences in appearance and all was well. Racial harmony reigned supreme.

I sort of understood the point of the episode when I was a kid. We should all just get along. But I was obsessed with the sight of the bandaged eyes. Instead of a fairly normal kid who was unfortunately repulsed by the realization that his friend was the "wrong" skin color, I was expecting to see the bandages ripped off to reveal two maggot-infested bloody pusballs surrounded by scar tissue. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Something that would make me run screaming from the room.

I did say that the show traumatized me, right? Well, the actual ending of that scene, where the cousin flees from Davey's presence, affected me no differently than the sight of a hideous eye infection would have. It was a bad thing. I didn't expect the situation to get better. Of course, things always turned out well in the end, but I suffered too much from the first twenty minutes of the program to be that optimistic.

Thus I packed "Davey & Goliath" away deep in my memory. Life was nice when I couldn't remember the harrowing details of that show. But I have been reminded, and here's why:

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Starlight Home Entertainment, Inc., Los Angeles, will release "Davey and Goliath's Snowboard Christmas" Nov. 15 on DVD. The one-hour, stop-motion animation special is the 2005 Aurora Award "Best of Show" winner and a 2005 Telly Award finalist.
What??? They still make this? Let the pain end!

Snowboard Christmas first debuted on Hallmark Channel -- through Faith and Values Media -- in 2004. It is also the first new Davey and Goliath production in about 30 years and features significant advances in stop-motion animation technology, said the Rev. Eric C. Shafer, director, ELCA Communication Services. The DVD includes a behind-the-scenes bonus feature about the making of Davey and Goliath programs and "family portraits." It will be available in major retail outlets across the country.
Welcome to the 21st century, Davey. I'll do my best to shield my kids from this scourge of my own childhood. But you know what? If technological advances of the last three decades could do something super cool like put a light saber in Davey's hands, I may reconsider my aversion to him. Just like Jonathan's cousin.