Monday, May 29, 2006

The Sandy Shores Of Western Pennsylvania

Memorial Day, in addition to being an annual observance of the sacrifices made by our veterans in times of war, is traditionally the opening day for swimming pools in municipalities all around the country. I'm not a pool person, so I got the water thing out of the way by taking the family out to the beach. No, not the one along Lake Erie.

We went to one of southwestern PA's hidden gems, Raccoon Creek State Park. (Visit the official site, or the more amicable "Friends of..." page.) I've been itching to get some exercising in for a long time, but unlike my young offspring, I am not into workouts that involve running around the house like a human tornado. Or climbing furniture that can't support my body weight. I'm not even sure what my body weight is, because if the bathroom measuring device is accurate, my mass is literally off the scale. Hence, the need for exercise.

The kids loved the idea of getting into swimming costumes and hitting the beach, but first they had to put up with a brief hike. I marched them up a hill, and I marched them down again, just like the Grand Old Duke of York. Were it up to me, the hike would have lasted at least four times as long, but you have to make sacrifices when you're trying to raise a family. Besides which, when you go into the water, you're still getting some form of exercise, even if you are not a swimmer -- which is the case with everyone in my family.

The two redheaded, red-suited lifeguards on duty were the same ladies who patrolled the area when we visited last year. Their slow, steady, observant march (or kayak ride, as one of them guarded the perimeter of the swimming area while the other waded across the beachfront) made me wonder whether one or both of them had received some kind of military training, or if their demeanor is standard lifeguard protocol. Whichever it was, they were vigilant.

One of the biggest lures of this particular watering spot was the opportunity to amass an impressive seaweed collection. My older daughter filled a toy plastic wheelbarrow with slimy greens, while her little sister waded up and down (like the lifeguard), and collected handfuls of the stuff. Two guys who looked to be in their early twenties went out to the perimeter and collected such a huge mound of seaweed that it looked like they had decapitated a Rasta Man and brought the head out to show it off. Think of it -- just like Perseus used the severed head of Medusa to turn his enemies to stone, some post-modern hero could use the Rasta Man head to turn people into ganja.

This beach was also popular with pregnant ladies. My wife wasn't the only one, as became hugely apparent after a few minutes. An attractive lady in a two-piece black swimsuit strolled straight down to the beach and, when she turned sideways, revealed herself to be as wide (front-to-back) as she was tall (so why wasn't she square?). She was so far along that her water could have broken in the water. My daughter hit it off with another girl for two reasons: one, that both mothers were pregnant; and two, they both brought Barbie Mermadia dolls to the beach. Barbie dolls as water toys? Who knew? I would never have put my Mego Aquaman into the water. Today's toys are more resilient than their 1970s predecessors. And not held together with rubber bands, either.

After about three hours of sand-and-water filled fun, we made our way back to the car. The last thing I saw before turning away from the beach was, literally, "Smoke On the Water". Some folks were having a cookout nearby and an enormous cloud of charcoal-scented smoke drifted right across the top of the water. Somehow I managed to avoid getting the song stuck in my head.

I'm as pleased a punch to have this mini-seashore so close to home. Of course I would prefer to take a trip up to bigger, sandier, wetter Lake Erie, but I ain't paying for the gas to get there.

Right now I'm having trouble sleeping because the hours of exposure have me radiating heat like a beacon sends out light. (Normally I don't blog in my pajamas, but this is an exception.) I could use another dip in that water, so cold and chilly when you wade in, but so warm and welcoming a few minutes later. Not like the cold cold waters of Lake Superior that I encountered last year. Give me that chilly Canadian mountain runoff. Brrr!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

"You're The Devil"

Last night I took my older son out for pizza and a movie. I've been wanting to see Over the Hedge since seeing the previews on the Madagascar DVD. Before this morning, I had never seen the comic strip on which the movie is based so I had no familiarity with the setting or the characters going into the movie.

The opening scenes involving a raccoon futilely trying to get snacks from a vending machine and then trying to steal a cache of junk food from a bear's cave were, quite frankly, uninteresting. Some wildlife just doesn't do it for me. Raccoons are just boring animals, while bears can be delightfully entertaining if handled right. Neither the bear or the raccoon had any dimension or color to their characters.

Yeah, I might have preferred them in yellow spandex. (Or maybe the vending machine scene bothered me, since I am responsible for freeing stuck snacks for my colleagues at work, or refunding their money if we can't get them unstuck. I have grown to hate those machines. I go to cute kids' movies to get away from stuff like that.)

But things improved once the Raccoon met up with a motley troupe of critters living in an idyllic patch of vegetation in the midst of a newly constructed neighborhood of human dwellings. It wasn't hard to figure out who the good guys were and who the bad guys were, or which character was going to have a major change of heart and save the day for the cute little animals. OF COURSE the humans were going to be "evil", or at best a bunch of weirdoes. OF COURSE the raccoon was going to reveal his true intentions and win acceptance into the ranks of the troupe in spite of himself. But predictable doesn't mean that it wasn't a good movie.

The longer the movie went on, the funnier it got. It got a little distracting listening to the father-daughter opossum tandem of William Shatner and Avril Lavigne because two thoughts kept popping into my head: one, that the daddy opossum is CAPTAIN KIRK; and two, that the casting for the opossums was excellent because Shatner and Lavigne are both CANADIAN. Should that matter in a cartoon? No, it was trivial, and I thought it was a clever move.

I won't spoil it any more for you; if you like the current style of CGI animation, just go see it. It's a fine addition to the genre. And look for the homage to Pepe Le Pew. Here, Kitty Kitty!

(Some fine clips are on display at

Saturday Diversion

Via Monitor Duty, a mathematics refresher quiz:

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

I actually figured out every problem but one where I guess and got lucky.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Academic Freedom?

One of my best friends from my college days was a Computer Science major with an interest in politics. Like many college students of the 1980s, he was convinced that CompSci was the only thing worth majoring in. He was a couple of years older than me and had taken the introductory courses required for CompSci majors. Yet his main interests were current events and politics. He was a die-hard conservative Ronald Reagan supporter, and not ashamed to let it be known in discussions with his peers, many of whom he knew to be on the other side of the fence, politically speaking. At some point, he decided that his interest in politics outweighed his desire to earn a CompSci degree, so he took a shot at majoring in Political Science. That didn't last more than a couple of years, before he turned back to Computer Science and eventually left the university without getting a degree. Between his classes and his part-time jobs, he had acquired enough knowledge and experience to enter the workforce without sheepskin. But he could have done just as well had he completed his Political Science major. What went wrong?

As he explained it to me, his overall QPA suffered because of strong disagreements with all but one of his PoliSci professors. It's no secret that the vast majority of college professors, particularly those in the humanities, are leftists. The PoliSci department was certainly no exception. My friend was frustrated because he tried to engage in debate with his leftist teachers and learned that left is right and right is wrong in their eyes. Essentially, he was being graded due to the nature of his views rather than the quality of his work. Some of my peers had told me that they had entered college with the intention of challenging their professors. If done intelligently and with confidence, this should ideally impress a professor enough to give the student a good grade. No so with my friend. You couldn't get a decent grade in those PoliSci classes without being on the same page as the instructor. He gave up to return to the CompSci program and was still in school after I graduated.

An intelligent, thinking individual was cheated out of his chance to earn a college degree because of a petulant, closed-minded group of academics with an apparent agenda to repress those who are not in lockstep with their worldview.

My friend took the high road, choosing to get on with his studies in another field rather than making a big issue of his experiences with the PoliSci department. My alma mater, while it is known to have a very left-leaning faculty, has never been one of those schools that makes the news due to political turmoil. Nevertheless, more students there are running into political roadblocks of their own, and many of them are speaking out about it. From the campus newspaper:

When [a student] had to miss her English class to participate in a fundraising event for victims of Hurricane Katrina, she thought informing her English literature professor of her absence through e-mail would be convenient and painless. But what she received was an e-mail instructing her to "rabble rouse" in protest of President Bush.

"I COULD give YOU permission to MISS class if you agreed to do some of the rabble
rousing (I would do at the yard sale) yourself," her professor said in an e-mail.

After receiving two more anti-Bush e-mails, [the student] dropped the class. According to her adviser, her professor had violated her "academic freedom" by sending her material that had no relation to the class subject.

"I was mad," [the student] said. "I think I actually even almost cried. I didn't even know it was called academic freedom."

There are a couple of things to note here. First, the student was announcing her intention to miss class. It's never a good idea to skip a class unless you have a very good excuse. I can understand why the professor would be unhappy about the student staying out of class that day. Still, if you are paying for the credit hours, you can do whatever you like with the time. If you miss something important, it's your loss, but it's your right to do what you want with the time,

The other thing is the concept of "academic freedom". Isn't it wonderful that the advisor apparently stood up for the student by informing her of the impropriety of her instructor's actions? Academic freedom goes both ways; I don't begrudge college professors' right to hold their own opinions. But in a situation like this, the professor is clearly trying to turn a difference of opinion into an issue. The real issue should be whether the student should be missing class at all, not whether protesting President Bush is a better excuse for missing class than raising money for hurricane relief.

Ultimately, the student said:

I tried to handle it then I gave up

due to the cumbersome nature of the complaint process. The article, which is rather more well-written than most submissions to that particular newspaper these days, goes on to recount the reactions of both students and faculty to allegations of academic freedom violations, as well as the involvement of groups like Students for Academic Freedom and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It would seem that the mentality that stifled my friend's progress nearly twenty years ago still permeates today, and can be found in the same department:

While many Pitt SAF advocates argue that liberal professors across college campuses often give unfair grades to conservative students, a Pitt political science major, disagrees.

"It should be called 'Students for Academic Suicide'," he said jokingly. "I think the vast majority is just people angry that they got a C."

So, in his arrogance, this child expresses the view that those with right-of-center political views deserve lower grades. He'll make a heck of a PoliSci professor one day.

As for me, having gone to the same school, I did in fact encounter outspoken leftoids mouthing off in front of rooms full of students. Some of the instances that I can recall include:
  • The Classics prof who, in a class on Ancient Greece, made the comment that during one period in Greek history, the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer, "just like our society today". Nowadays that would be called a "talking point". Back in 1988, it was obnoxious and irrelevant, and on the evaluation form I politely requested that the guy keep his politics to himself.
  • A Teaching Assistant for an Art History recitation took the class to the local museum, where she showed us a medieval painting with lots of golden colors which were painted using a process that "didn't trickle down" onto the rest of the portrait. She used the "trickle down" remark to segue into a brief criticism of what the left called "Reaganomics". Which has to do with what, in the context of the class?
  • Following a group session in which about 40-50 students signed up for advising appointments, my advisor passionately pleaded for us to come down and sign his petition to protest the nomination of Judge Robert Bork as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, because of what "this man will do to our country". Whoa! Was I there to sign up for an advising appointment, or was I there to be indoctrinated in domestic Communist claptrap?
  • A seemingly dimbulb History professor who, during a brief discussion of politics during World War II, looked around the room and asked if anyone knew whether Republicans have committees and local organizations like Democrats do. The man must have been close to fifty years old! I was tempted to tell him that our marching orders are delivered telepathically from the mother ship, but the boob might have believed me.
  • The Astronomy professor who claimed, during one lecture, that the country was severely harmed for a number of years because of all of the Republicans from Ohio getting elected to the Presidency. This would cover the period from roughly 1869-1923, during which time several presidents were in fact Republicans from Ohio. What did this have to do with Astronomy? Who knows?
  • Returning to college some years later, I had a Teaching Assistant from Germany who was a big time Mumia Abu-Jamal supporter. One kid scored major points with him by writing a very positive essay about the convicted cop-killer. I decided to push his buttons a little by referring to "unser linksradikale Präsident" Bill Clinton in an essay. He wrote a comment on the paper that in Europe, Clinton is seen as being "sehr konservativ". No wonder they hate us!

If SAF and FIRE had been around back in the late 1980s, I might have been willing to speak out. Today's students just need to be careful not to take it so far that they justify faculty complaints of "witch hunt".

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Gomez Made It Look So Much More Exciting

There was a train collision at Penn Station in downtown Pittsburgh last night. It wasn't your classic Gomez Addams style head-on impact of two speeding trains heading in opposite directions on the same track. The Amtrak Capitol Limited was making its regular Pittsburgh stop on the Chicago-to-Washington run. A freight train rammed the passenger train from behind and gave everyone quite a "jolt", as someone put it. The rail line belongs to Norfolk Southern, but the locomotive (as seen in the news story) was from the Allegheny Valley Railroad (AVR), a shortline that mostly works up and down the Allegheny River. AVR was trying to get a passenger line started up a few years ago, but politics buried the whole works. Could this be AVR's message warning other passenger lines to get out of its way? (Just kidding.)

Naturally this happens just a few weeks before my family is going on a cross-country Amtrak ride to California. Amtrak can wreck and derail quite well on its own, thank you. We don't need freight trains banging into them to compound the problem. Or the fractures.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hey You Casey Operatives, Get Offa My Lawn!

Most weekends I take a break from newspaper reading in order to spend more time with the family. As a result, I miss stories like this one reported by Triple A of the Minnesota-based Residual Forces blog. Bob Casey supporters are snooping around Rick Santorum's Penn Hills home looking to see if anyone lives there? (And I have to go to Minnesota to find out about it?) This is very strange indeed. Rick's letter to Bob is posted on RedState, along with plenty of comments both pro and con from the RedState folks

I have been a constituent of Rick Santorum since 1990, when he was first elected to Congress, so I have been keeping up with the residency issue. If you are not familiar with it, what you need to know is that the Santorum family purchased a house in Virginia several years ago while claiming a smaller house in Penn Hills, Allegheny County, as his primary residence. People began crying "foul!" a few years ago when Penn Hills Democrats complained that the Santorum children were being educated via a cyber-school at the expense of Penn Hills taxpayers while apparently living in the Virginia house. Many Dems and even some Republicans were outraged. The harshest critics demanded that Santorum resign his seat and run for Senator from Virginia if he wanted to stay in office. The Santorums took the kids out of the cyber-school and turned to homeschooling in order to avoid allegations of taxpayer money misuse. But for many of his critics, the question of Santorum's residency remains an issue to this day.

Most of the criticism is groundless. Senators and Congressmen spend much of their time working in Washington, D.C. A few of them get by with apartments in or around the capital city. This can also mean long periods of separation from their families. Others, like Rick Santorum, purchase houses in the vicinity of Washington so that they can go home to their wives and children every night. There's nothing wrong with that. He lives close to work and keeps his family nearby. It doesn't mean he can't represent Pennsylvania. He spends plenty of time in the state, but he doesn't stay in one place. Being a Senator means keeping in touch with the concerns of your constituents from one end of your state to the other. It involves a lot of travel. If he did keep his family back in Penn Hills, he would spend more time there, and less time in Washington. And his critics would complain about him being an absentee Senator rather than an absentee resident. It's a non-issue.

The real issue has become the stalker mentality of Democrats who feel the need to dwell upon Rick Santorum's house and whether he, or anyone else, is at home. His letter to Bob Casey made it quite clear: Publicizing the "visit" to the Santorum property infringes on the privacy and safety of the rest of the family, not just the Senator. Thugs from nearby neighborhoods might well decide to invade the home after hearing on the news that no one is (allegedly) ever at home; and if the family does happen to be in, they could easily fall victim to violence.

Come to think of it, is this the first time that the opposition has sent someone to spy on the house?

The Democrats seem surprisingly desperate for a party whose candidate has been leading in the polls as of late. If they think they can beat Santorum, why are they so concerned with where he lives?

(The KDKA-TV news story, with video of angry mad Democrats, can be found here.)

Monday, May 22, 2006

At Last, The Truth Revealed!

Last month I suggested that future State Representative Mark Harris of Mount Lebanon might have made a mistake by posting campaign signs with a Soviet-style red star emblem next to his name.

Then, a few days later, I noticed that many of the signs had been altered; the red stars had been covered with red duct tape so that a plain red field stood next to Mark Harris's name. I figured that someone with the campaign felt the same way I did about the Bolshevik emblem and decided to do something about it.

Now, the truth at last can be revealed. From the Tribune-Review's delightfully juicy Whispers column:

TALE OF THE TAPE. Mark Harris, who didn't officially graduate from George
Washington University until this weekend, said he learned a lot from his primary
upset over incumbent Tom Stevenson, R-Mt. Lebanon.

The challenger papered the district with 1,000 red-white-and-blue campaign signs -- and only then realized that a logo in front of his name caused some to read his name as O'Harris.


What to do on short notice with a short budget? Harris said he bought about 10 rolls of red duct tape at Home Depot and spent a night traveling the district with volunteers to cover up the logo on both sides of all thousand signs.

The effort apparently paid off when he won the Republican primary Tuesday by 551 votes.

Of course the real story is nowhere near as interesting as my speculation. I'd still like to think that somewhere in Mount Lebanon, someone looked at the "red star" sign and silently cursed Mark Harris as a no-good commie bastard.

Not Just Toast And Juice

One of the more interesting features in the local print media is the PG's Monday morning "Breakfast With" interview. Each week, Patricia Sheridan asks a few questions to a well-known politician, celebrity, or other person of note. The interviews are generally light, friendly sessions that largely try to avoid divisive or controversial topics. When a candidate for office is the subject, you come away with a bit better understanding of the individual than you do from an interview in a more formal setting.

This morning's "Breakfast With Bob Casey" goes a little way towards distancing the Pennsylvania State Treasurer from his opponent, incumbent Rick Santorum, in this year's US Senate race. Casey has been the front runner in just about every poll since he announced his intention to run. What most pundits seem to forget, and which I always remind myself, is that the only poll that counts at this point in the race is the one coming up in early November. Still, Casey is a good nominee for the Democrats to run against Santorum, since he is the most likely candidate to siphon support from the Senator's base.

On the question of why he entered the race, Casey says:

It was really a concern I had that the country was, and still is, going in the wrong direction because of the Bush administration. We've got a senator, Sen. Santorum, who, since President Bush has been in office, votes with President Bush 98 percent of the time. I think we need a senator who is going to be more independent than that. I think the country needs a new direction, and that's what really got me into this race.
Which makes him no different than any outraged jerk who writes a letter to the editor of any newspaper in Pennsylvania. How many times have you opened up the paper to read the words "wrong direction" on the editorial page? It's a tired talking point, and an especially vague one at that. The one thing I like about Casey's answer is that he effectively promises not to vote with the Democrats as often as Santorum votes with the Republicans. I'll bet Howard Dean and the DNC just love to hear stuff like that.

Casey criticizes Santorum's partisanship, and goes on to downplay his own:
I'd approach issues of public policy, especially budget issues, the way I've always approached important issues, and that's in a very independent way. I don't think you go to Washington to lead the point of view of one party only. You go to fight for the people of Pennsylvania. You know from the work that I've done as auditor general and state treasurer I've been very independent.
As far as his service to the citizens of the Commonwealth, I do not doubt that this is true. Casey, like his namesake father, is known to be very independent minded in the sense that the bulk of his support comes from people who, as the old saying goes, "vote for the man, not for the party". The US Senate is a whole different ballgame. In the Senate, he wouldn't be in charge of his own department anymore; he would be a junior part of a caucus of Democrat partisans. He might turn out to be to the Democrats what Arlen Specter is to the Republicans. I wouldn't hold my breath on it, though. There's a presidential election coming up in two years, and I wouldn't expect a Senator Casey to be anything other than a loyal follower when his party needs his support. That's how politics is done in Washington.

On the subject of "waste, fraud and abuse", Casey gets out the hammer and sickle:
What we've seen too much of is a lot of posturing in Washington, mostly by Republican power brokers, who would rather cut Medicaid and make poor people and older citizens pay more for Medicare or Medicaid so they can give more to the top 1 percent in a tax cut. That is not only immoral, but it's fiscally irresponsible.
I'm still waiting for someone, anyone to show me where in the Constitution is the passage that makes the federal government responsible for insurance and health care. This proves that Casey is in fact a Democrat, or (if you are a literalist like me) a Socialist. The very existence of such social programs at the federal level is fiscally irresponsible, not the reduction or elimination of same.

Casey's use of the word "immoral" leads me to consider something that I try very hard to ignore when it comes to politics, and that is the candidate's religion. I am not Catholic, yet in the twenty years that I have been participating in the electoral process, I have probably cast more votes for Roman Catholics running against non-Catholics than vice-versa. The candidate's creed rarely if ever played a part in my choice. Political affiliation is another matter, though one of the few times that I crossed over to vote for a Dem was when the late Governor Bob Casey (a Catholic!) ran for re-election against the execrable Barbara Hafer (who has since made an honest woman of herself and become a Democrat). Yet, when a Catholic candidate like the younger Casey describes opposition to Socialism as "immoral", I can't help wondering whether he feels that his work in politics is reducing his time in Purgatory. I wonder the same thing about Rick Santorum, who made a self-serving personal visit to Terri Schiavo's bedside in the wake of Casey's Senate announcement, and who once proposed that the federal government should give every adolescent a lump sum to pay for a college education. Politicians from other religions aren't exempt from this charge, either. Who was responsible for "compassionate conservatism" and "faith based initiatives"? Charity is a personal matter; it should not be political.

By contrast, I should point out, I recently had the opportunity to hear my Congressman, Dr. Tim Murphy, speak on the issues of importance in Washington today. He's Catholic, but he didn't speak as a representative of any religion. He sounded like a Republican -- or, to be literal again, a Constitutionalist. If Rick Santorum sounded more like Murphy, I'd feel better about voting for him.

Getting back to the breakfast, interviewer Sheridan, to her credit, questioned Casey's use of the "top 1 percent" talking point. He informs her that we live only to serve the wealthiest Americans:
It's more than a goal. It is something that they have already implemented and they want to keep it going. It is the mantra and the singular focus of President Bush and the leadership of the Republican Party.
Suddenly, I can hear the unmistakable sound of a cuckoo clock signaling the top of the hour, yet there is no cuckoo clock anywhere near me. Kind of like how Bob Casey can hear the President and the Republican leadership repeatedly chanting "tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent", even though they have never actually done so. Casey ties tax cuts to inferior body armor for our troops in Iraq and socialized medicine, which lands him straight into the heart of Moonbat territory.

As for the war in Iraq, Casey promises to "ask tough questions" and "demand answers". He doesn't go batshit crazy like a lot of Dems do (John Murtha, for instance) and call for withdrawal; rather, he wants us to support a democratic government in Baghdad. Perhaps he will clarify someday by telling us just what his "tough questions" are. Do we have to elect him in order to find out? Screw that.

Upon being asked whether his agreement with Santorum on abortion makes it a "non-issue", Casey says that it does not, that it is a very important issue, and then goes on at length to discuss job growth and health care. Not that such things are themselves unimportant, but in the context of the question, his answer is almost a non-sequitur. Being a Democrat means never having to stay on topic if you're pro-life and someone raises the abortion issue.

Casey on lowering health care costs:
We should repeal the tax cuts. I realize some wealthy people won't like that, but that's the right thing to do. It is also the way to free up some dollars to lower the cost of health care by, for example, growing and investing in the children's health insurance program, using federal dollars to grow that program.
Nobody whose tax cuts get repealed would like it, not just "some wealthy people". Earlier, Casey talked about deficit reduction via higher taxes. Now he's talking about spending the hypothetical increased revenue to expand hypothetical government health care programs. He hates the deficit, he loves the deficit. Where is the logic?

Finally, the interview ends on a silly kind of question -- whether Casey could get the federal government to connect Pittsburgh to the East Coast via high-speed rail -- and he suddenly comes back down to Earth:
You've got to do it within the bounds of fiscal responsibility. That's something we'd have to weigh in the context of the budget reality. But I think certainly there has been a lot of time and effort invested in Western Pennsylvania in Maglev. Frankly, I think Sen. Santorum should use at least this year while he's still in the Senate to show some leadership on that issue.
He's starting to sound like a conservative again -- too late. I don't regret voting for a write-in against Santorum in the primary -- it's a luxury you can afford when a candidate is unopposed -- but I'm feeling better about voting for him come November. It would take a lot to get me to consider an alternative.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Actually, Lightning Doesn't Bring ME Down, But...

"Rainbow In the Dark" by Ronnie James Dio is one of the greatest songs of all time.

Any statement of that nature is of course debatable; there are those who may not care for his vocal style, or his type of music, or his lyrical content, or his hair, or whatever. But it's my own opinion and that's all that matters to me.

The video for the song, however, is another matter. It is pretty typical of a music video produced in 1983: cheaply done, minimal participation by musicians, and a nearly incomprehensible story that bears little if any relation to the song's lyrics. The video is set in London, as established by a number of opening shots. Dio spends the entire video singing on a rooftop covered with exhaust vents, while some guy spends his lunch hour stalking a young woman before being repulsed by a blistering guitar solo by Vivian Campbell. The viewer is left nonplussed; Great song, but what the hell???

Click here to view the video.

Now, a few further observations:

  • When I was a child, I was told that Italians talk with their hands. Based on Dio's performance in this video, it looks like they sing with their hands, too. Pointing at one's wrist is, apparently, Italian for "time". You could write a short lexicon of Italian hand language using this video as a source.
  • One of the commenters at the You Tube site noticed the same thing I did: The stalker in the video looks a lot like Mr. Lucas from the 1970s BBC comedy Are You Being Served? I don't believe it is the same actor, but he would make a convincing double if circumstances called for it.
  • A former co-worker of mine named Basil had long hair, wore skin tight pants, and often wore sleeveless t-shirts or shirts unbuttoned halfway down the front. He would make a convincing double for Dio in this video if circumstances called for it.
  • The young lady in the video has typical 80's video clothing and hairstyle. I do not recall ever seeing anyone looking like that in real life. Is that what future generations are going to think that the girls of my generation looked like? As Lileks says of 70's interior design, "Sweet smoking Judas! What were these people thinking?"
  • Speaking of whom, Lileks in a wig could possibly pass for Dio, although he might be too tall be pull it off convincingly.
  • The cheesiness of the video in no way detracts from my enjoyment of the song. After all, it's only rock 'n roll.

I had the pleasure of seeing Dio perform live back in 2002. For a guy who's pushing seventy, he sounds as good as he did thirty years ago. The only disappointment was the exclusion of "Rainbow In the Dark" from the live set. It doesn't matter. I've got tacky 1980s video to keep me happy.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Captain Looks At The Pennsylvania Races

From my home away from home, the not-so-great-but-a-whole-lot-better-than-it-used-to-be state of Minnesota, Captain's Quarters looks at the shining star that is the commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the wake of yesterday's anti-incumbent conservative electoral victories. Captain Ed calls our primary example of what can be accomplished through active engagement rather than disengagement.
In other words, it's stupid to stay home and ignore the races just because you are dissatisfied with the current crop of officeholders from your own party. Get out there and do something about it.

Victorious Mark Harris gets a couple of mentions, as does his vanquished incumbent opponent, Tom Stevenson. Sort of. Captain Ed briefly refers to

...Tom Lawson, [who] trails a 21-year-old college graduate running for his first office.
And a commenter named AlexC follows up with:

Don't forget 21 year old Mark Harris, who defeated another RINO, 10 year incumbent Ted Stevenson!
I'm tempted to register to comment at Captain's Quarters just so I can correct them on Tom Stevenson's name. A year from now, people in his own district are going to be saying, "Tom who?" anyway.

'Twould be nice if people in my district (also represented by a guy named Tom) would be able to ask the same question next year.

All The Fun Races Were In Someone Else's District!

Well, well, well. It looks like Pennsylvania voters adopted a "throw the bums out" mentality with a vengeance this year. It's one thing for a veteran officeholder to lose an election to an opponent from the other party; but it's quite another thing for him to lose the primary to a relative newcomer who banks everything on public outrage over one major issue. A lot of these clowns are very sorry this morning. See what happens when you're allowed to give yourself a pay raise?

The degree of anti-incumbent sentiment seems to differ between the two parties. The top Republicans in the PA Senate, Robert Jubilirer and David Brightbill, went down to defeat. In other words, they were fired for stealing a extra huge portion of taxpayer money. The top Democrat payjackers, meanwhile, managed to win despite challenges from within their party. When Republicans do bad things, they lose the support of their base and take their lumps (Bob Livingston, Duke Cunningham). Democrats who go wrong are rewarded because, in their view, morality is relative (Gerry Studds, Bill Clinton). That, more than anything else, distinguishes the two parties from one another. We want to be represented by people who are better than we are; they want to elect people they can relate to. I would never vote for myself, so why would I vote for someone who reminds me of me?

A few less prominent races in the area ratcheted the "Holy Cow!" factor up to an eleven. Over in Mount Lebanon, which (according to my site meter referral stats) seems to be the teenage horndog capital of the world, a ten-year incumbent who voted for the pay raise (before he was against it) lost a three way race to, of all things, a blogger. Or at least he was a blogger, before he got busy and entered the race. Can we start taking internet activism seriously, Mainstream Media? (By contrast, the third place finisher was the guy endorsed by the Moist-Towelette. Up yours, PG.)

In my district, incumbent Tom Petrone won the nomination against three other candidates, none of whom were named Mike Crossey. Petrone received slightly less than half of the votes cast by Democrats; it will be interesting to see if pay raise outrage leads the dissenters to cross party lines and vote for Bill "Nikita Koloff" Ogden in November. If voter turnout in the Fall is anything like it was yesterday, Ogden is going to need every anti-Petrone Democrat vote he can muster. The district is that lopsided.

Full vote totals for Allegheny County can be found here. What I find most interesting is the totals of write-in votes cast. I never really paid attention to them before, but I wouldn't be surprised if the number of write-ins increased due to the ease of casting them on the new machines. For instance, in the uncontested State Senate race, Republicans cast 358 write-ins. I voted for a young lady on our local committee, which will no doubt make her grimace if I tell her about it. I'd like to know exactly who was receiving these write in votes, but the county site does not tell us. Mickey Mouse might turn out to be a popular candidate this election cycle.

Pardon me for sounding racist, but I plan to limit my choices to human beings. Sorry, Mickey.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Piece Of Cake

In a few minutes, I am going to eat a piece of cake for dessert, as a tribute to the ease of voting with the new touch screen machine this afternoon. The screen is even easier that my beloved gray booth because everything is right in front of you, in big letters, whereas you always had to look the entire booth up and down to make sure that you hadn't missed anything. The board of elections screwed with voters by placing referendum questions in odd corners of the switchboard where many people would not think to look for anything. Much to my shame, I missed a couple of questions on one occasion and as a result I became extra vigilant about looking for surprise ballot questions in all subsequent elections.

There were no questions this time, just the slate of unopposed candidates and three Republican committee races, only one of which presented me with more than two candidates from which to choose (these were "vote for not more than two" races). So I voted for the two people whose names I actually recognized. I could have been in and out in one-fifth the time I took, but I was having too much fun pressing buttons, and selecting a write-in for the State Senate race where no candidate filed.

Others were not so lucky:

...nine machines had their screens cracked during transit to the polling places...

...a polling place in a senior citizens high rise at Brighton and North Avenues on the North Side early in the day, and voters were given paper ballots... St. Justin's Church on Mount Washington, where workers at 8 a.m. said they were waiting for help from county elections bureau staffers...

...none of the machines started at St. Bede Church in Point Breeze...
Then there was one man who
...waited 80 minutes and ended up using a paper ballot at Burchfield School in Shaler after the machines failed to start.
But that couldn't have been embarrassing as this one:
U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum was among those locked out of his polling place at Forbes School in Penn Hills when an elections worker failed to show up. [County Executive Dan] Onorato said the worker, at the last minute, couldn't get a ride.
If Rick loses, every editorialist in the Commonwealth, if not the country, will call this "the defining moment of the Santorum campaign". Truth be told, I didn't vote for him this time. I didn't settle for the family cat either. I wrote in a relative who has some interest in politics. That way I don't feel like I've wasted a vote on someone whose interest in public service is limited to their interest in having a full bowl and a clean litter box.

I flirted with the possibility of writing in my own name, but if by some fluke I were to win, I wouldn't know what the hell what to do. Front porch campaign, most likely. Of the "get offa my lawn" variety.

Time for me to go eat my cake now. And I'm not even from Mount Lebanon! Ha!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Tomorrow Is Election Day

Tomorrow's the big day! For the first time since before I was born, Allegheny County voters will be using new voting machines. Most people around here should be used to this; we were using touch screens to take our Pennsylvania driving exams twenty years ago. Write-in voting has been simplified. The old "slide open the cover and scribble your choice in with a pencil" system always seemed kind of suspect to me. Now it's going to be done with a touch screen keyboard. This will of course require that the voter possess the ability to spell the write-in candidate's name correctly. The best way to remedy this is to get the theme from The Mickey Mouse Club stuck in your head when you enter the polling station.

Having already determined that this is a good thing and not a bad thing, I need to ask one question: Is it worth going down to vote tomorrow?

I'm not trying to shirk my civic responsibility or anything, but from what I can see, all of my party's races are uncontested in this primary. There are only two reasons for me to show up and go through the motions:

  1. Practice using the new voting machine; and
  2. Continue my perfect record of having voted in every election since I registered to vote in 1985.

Okay, I've decided; it's worth it. Plus, there's a third reason: If there is a race where no candidate has filed, I get to play around with the write-in function. Whoever I end up voting for will not be Mickey Mouse, I can guarantee you that right now.

As for the candidates who are on the ballot, I turn to the web site of Progress Pittsburgh, "a broad coalition of progressives" whose members, in all likelihood, have voting records radically different than mine. Nevertheless, they have a comprehensive list of candidates in this year's races, including third party candidates, which helps immensely since there never seems to be a copy of the ballot for my area to be found prior to election day. (Not that it matters much, since the municipal races were decided last year.) Here's who I have to look forward to:

  • United States Senate -- This has been Rick Santorum's seat since 1994, and this year's race looks to be his toughest yet. I might cast a write-in here, just to show that I haven't been drinking the Hugh Hewitt Kool-Aid. Rick started off as a good conservative, but over the years he has morphed into a shameless self-promoter (even for a politician) and a borderline religious fanatic. This ain't the Vatican City, pal; it's the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Try to get it straight.
  • United States Congress -- Dr. Tim Murphy is the incumbent. It's unlikely that he will have much trouble in the fall, unless disgruntled conservatives stay home and make him a victim of the anti-Bush Republican backlash. He is a medical doctor, which gives him an insider's perspective on health care issues, and he was injured while visiting Iraq last year. That may not exactly qualify him as a war hero, but at least he took one for the team, even if it was just a vehicular accident.
  • Governor of Pennsylvania -- This would have been such an interesting campaign had not so many committees thrown their support to Lynn Swann earlier this year. Now he's unopposed, and that is not a good thing, since opposition would have forced him to be a bit more articulate on the issues. He's our man, though, and as Minnesota and California have shown us in the last ten years, star power can go a long way towards sending someone to the Governor's mansion. It's not too soon to look forward to November, since Democrat incumbent "Fast Eddie" Rendell is already running commercials touting his education record (such as it is) but ignoring his penchant for pork. That is what Swann needs to run against.
  • Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania -- Outside of Montgomery County, where he is a county commissioner, Jim Matthews is best known as the brother of Chris "Hardball" Matthews. That's very interesting, and I won't hold it against him; Jim Matthews does not seem to have that much in common with his brother, politically. Plus, they are trying to please different audiences/constituencies. Jim sounds like a real winner, so no write in here.
  • Pennsylvania State Senator -- This is the district where Democrat Wayne Fontana defeated Dem-turned-Republican Mike Diven and independent/libertarian/former D-and-R community activist Mark Rauterkus in the special election last year. Diven chose to run for re-election to his state representative seat this year, but dropped out of the race after running into some problems with dead people in his district. No one else stepped in to run for state senator, so I have a clear path to write in whomever I choose. Mickey Mouse is starting to look good in this one. Not so for the fall; according to Progress Pittsburgh, Rauterkus (whom you will find in my blogroll under "Local Yokels") is running as an independent this year. That's something to look forward to.
  • Pennsylvania State Representative -- I think I covered this one a few days ago. Bill Ogden. Probably the most worthwhile vote of any that I cast in this election.

Other than that...maybe a few Republican committee races. If there's any competition, I'd be surprised. But at least I know who the good guys are. And if I can't decide, I'll take my inspiration from Mitch Berg and write in the family cat.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Bogus Friday Fun Quiz

Doug opens his weekly door to the land of fun -- and this time, it's a different sort of personality test. The results I don't much care about; I just think it's fun to draw cute little pigs. I enjoy it almost as much as I do eating them.

The Ohligarch

Click to view my test results

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Something For The Kiddies (ages 14 and up)

Like any overblown story, the Mount Lebanon High School Top 25 list refuses to go away quietly. I expect at this point that the stigma will follow these kids around until they're old and gray, largely because of the media coverage. As long as the media wants to tell us what's going on, however, we might as well follow the latest developments.

This morning we learn that the district is mandating a sexual harassment training program. Well, good. The best way to make teachers and students aware of sexual harassment law is to explain to them what not to do. Yes, that's just fine until you consider that many people come away from such meetings having learned what they can get away with. Outrageous, you say? If you're outraged about that, then you're as clueless as the Lebo parents who reeled back in horror upon learning of the existence of The List.

For one thing, there is something called the One Free Grope rule. This came about during the Clinton Administration when Slick Willie was getting frisky with the ladies. One such object of his affection received one grope, told him not to do it, and left. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem opined that, because President Clinton "took no for an answer", he had not committed sexual harassment -- even though he had already touched the woman in an "inappropriate" manner. The One Free Grope rule appears in the sexual harassment training course that I had to take at work, so you know it's become public policy. Try explaining that to a room full of teenaged kids. The girls will have no peace until each boy has touched each object of his lust once. (And the boys, too, since the rule presumably works both ways.) Unless the school district takes care to set a stricter policy that makes even one grope a violation, the Clinton legacy will have made girl's lives hellacious at Mount Lebanon High.

Another thing is the potential backlash. My current workplace requires all employees to take an online sexual harassment course about every two years. A colleague of mine told me that he hadn't taken the course (which was flawed anyway) because he considered it an invasion of his privacy. In order to complete the course, you have to login and give your name (to prove that you took it) and print out a certificate with your name on it. This fellow didn't want to be treated like that; he felt it was demeaning. I suppose that one could argue that being forced to take such a course is in itself a form of sexual harassment.

Then there is the "equal and opposite reaction" result. The same colleague pointed out that, in the past, whenever the employees took the sexual harassment course, sexual activity among co-workers increased. Not that this was taking place on company property or during work hours, but the course did stress the dangers of forming sexual relationships with your co-workers. But, in addition to telling the workers what was against company policy, the course also defined the boundaries of what was acceptable. Some people got away with what they were permitted, and formed lasting relationships. I hadn't noticed it happening there, but I did notice it happening at my former workplace in the mid-1990s, mainly because I did it myself. After a couple of years of being made "aware" of what constituted sexual harassment, some of us just gave up and behaved like human beings anyway. By strict definition, I sexually harassed one of my female co-workers and by the end of this year, we will have been married over eleven years and have five kids. Take THAT, sexual harassment policy enforcers!

Another problem is an unexpected reaction from those whom sexual harassment policy is most expected to protect -- women. My former employer instituted a new sexual harassment awareness initiative back around 1999. An assistant manager would meet with us in groups of about 4-5 people and play a 20 minute video about what crossed the line into no-no land. I was a little nervous about it because I was the only man in my group. So I kept quiet and let the ladies critique the video. Based on their reactions, you would have thought that they were watching a racy comedy show. We were treated to scenes of men harassing women, women harassing men, and men harassing men. That was a "celebrate diversity" kind of workplace, and in a way it was good to see that the politically correct corporate establishment recognized the fact that Gay Bob was a much of a potential predator as I was. The ladies in my group were pretty pleased to see it, too. They were so pleased, in fact, that they couldn't stop laughing. They thought that the video was a complete joke. And it was. The "stars" of the video were real employees at another location, and were taking direction from whatever module of corporate bureaucracy initiates these "awareness" programs. I couldn't help wondering if the actors didn't take their assignment seriously, either. What good is a sexual harassment awareness program if no one takes it seriously?

Finally (because this is getting long), there is the problem of increased incidents of sexual harassment because awareness courses can turn a potential harasser into an active harasser. This goes beyond the One Free Grope rule. Another former colleague of mine actually touched a female co-worker, as a joke, during a harassment awareness meeting. That was his one free grope. But he became more active at that point, as if someone was daring him to push the proverbial envelope. He hit on most of the available women at work, he imagined himself being intimately involved with women who barely thought of him as a friend, and he didn't take sexual harassment policy seriously, except as applied to people who worked directly under him. It was as if he felt the policy didn't apply to him. And there was an air of sexism about him. One time, I told him about some female co-workers' concerns about a job applicant who was known to many as a potential harasser. He replied that it was no big deal, because women take that kind of thing too seriously. One of the valid points made in every sexual harassment course is that if the one who feels that he or she is being harassed takes it seriously, then so should the alleged harasser. But this guy didn't feel that way. It is no wonder, then, that he gave his notice and left rather abruptly after telling me that he wanted to quit "before I get fired". It took a couple of years for me to learn all of the first- and second-hand accounts of his activities that resulted in a number of reprimands.

Now go back and re-read everything in the previous five paragraphs, and consider it in the context of hormonally charged adolescents. That is what the Lebo administrators, teachers, and parents have to look forward to in the coming weeks, with just a smidgen of media coverage tossed in. Good luck with that.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Something Is Rotten In Switzerland

Ben Roethlisberger went all the way to his ancestral homeland to cut the cheese. Hah! No, literally. I have to admit I'm a little envious. For the last fifteen years, I have been wanting to visit my ancestors' hometowns in Germany. There's no telling if I will ever get the chance.

Of course, if one of my kids becomes internationally famous and makes a lot of money, he or she is going to go and I will force him or her to take me along for the ride.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mount Lebanon Is A Funny Place

A few days ago, I posted some commentary about the flap over that list from Mount Lebanon High School. It's a very popular topic. And it isn't just local people who are interested in the story, either. According to my site stats, people are coming in from all over the world via the magic of Google to read what I and others have to say about the list. At first I though that it was nice that I had received such a bump in traffic. Then I noticed the exact search terms used by some of the visitors.

They weren't looking for commentary or news reports about the list. They were looking for the list itself, with all of its lewd and salacious details. The title of my previous post was "Blown Out Of Proportion". And so it has been, even beyond what I had imagined. Complete strangers as far away as England are interested in the perceived sexual characteristics of adolescent females here in southwestern Pennsylvania. Why? What are these transcontinental creeps looking for? If the matter had been treated quietly as a disciplinary matter for the school district to handle, the boys who made the list would have been punished and that would have been all.

But no. Parents had to be outraged enough to call the police!, call the lawyers!, call the media! This is the internet age. News travels fast. I don't doubt that, somehow, the hundreds of people searching for the details of the list are going to find copies online somewhere. They are going to learn the names of the girls, and all of the schoolboy fantasies associated with them. In the end, the outrage expressed by the parents will lead to even greater humiliation for their daughters, perhaps even more humiliation than the boys will get for producing and distributing the list.

I have two young daughters. I am going to protect them from publicity as best I can, for as long as I can.

In a less serious development relating to the town called Lebo, long-time readers (all five or six of you) may recall a post I made last month in which I somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggested that a Soviet-style red star was not a good campaign symbol to include on a campaign sign posted in a conservative Republican neighborhood like Mount Lebanon. Well, as it happens, I was driving through Lebo yesterday and noticed some of those very same campaign signs displayed prominently near the edges of many lawns. The corner where the red star should have been was simply a field of red. Was this a different design? I slowed down just enough to be able to get a closer look at the signs.

They had all been altered. It seems that someone (or some ones) took red duct tape and obscured any trace of the red star. I'm not going to flatter myself by saying that someone from that campaign surfed on in to this blog and decided to cover up the star because I said it looked bad. But it is interesting that someone else must have thought the same thing. Otherwise, why the red duct tape?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Where's My Candidate?

The 27th Pennsylvania State House district, where I live, has a real race this year. Longtime Representative Tom Petrone, a Democrat, has some actual competition for a change, including rival candidates from within his own party. The biggest news about this race concerned the disqualification of a candidate who made an ill-fated attempt to move into the district just so he could run for office. Since we are on the cusp of the primary campaign and the Republican candidate is unopposed, the Democrat challengers are getting all of the attention. So when we turn to the major metropolitan dailies in Pittsburgh to learn more about the GOP's man, what we get is this:

In November, the winner will be challenged by Republican Bill Ogden, who is the lone GOP candidate.

Mr. Ogden, 45, is a Crafton councilman and, since 1992, has run Bill Ogden's
Weight Room, a gym in Crafton.
So we know that Bill Ogden is a politically experienced small business owner who could easily toss his opponents around like medicine balls. Stepping back a bit, we find that he has jumped on the PACleanSweep bandwagon. PACleanSweep started out with a noble purpose, i.e. to defeated every state legislator who voted for the infamous pay raise last year. There is a problem, however. Many of the PACleanSweep candidates, as well as others who are running but are not affiliated with the organization, are ostensibly single-issue types. It's nice that they feel compelled to perform public service in the wake of so many incumbent legislators' unconstitutional avarice, but they don't have much to say about other issues. I don't want to wait until the Fall to find out what Bill Ogden is all about. If the newspapers aren't telling me anything, where do I go now to learn more about my party's candidate in the 27th district race?

Well, when you need an alternative to the media, you turn to the "alternative media", which in this case is the Pittsburgh City Paper, or CP for short. In spite of the all-too apparent leftward slant of the paper's editorial page (not to mention the leftward slant of the columnists and music reviews and phone sex ads), the CP has more depth in its coverage of local politics than the major dailies and the arrogant entrenched journalists who are more interested in making the news than reporting it. (Indeed, entrenched journalists may be just as bad as entrenched politicians.) We actually get to hear what the politicians have to say, rather than what some tenured editor says they say. So, City Paper, tell us about Bill Ogden:

Bill Ogden looks a bit like Stone Cold Steve Austin. He runs a gym in Crafton, a stripped-down space jammed full of machines and a wall-sized poster of Jesus on the cross, captioned "The Lord's Gym." And he is in fighting trim for the campaign for the state House of Representative seat representing District 27, which comprises Pittsburgh's West End and nearby suburbs including Ben Avon, Crafton, Dormont and Emsworth.
So far so good. But his photograph, which is only in the print edition, reminds me more of Nikita Koloff than Stone Cold. If I ever make it out to Crafton, I might show my support by working out in this guy's gym. I like the fact that he has been operating his own business for over ten years; it's a sign that he has support from his local community. In fact:

"This money that they help themselves to is part of the good-old-boy network," Ogden says of current legislators. Like many challengers this time around, the notorious legislative pay raise figured prominently into Ogden's decision to run. His neighbors asked him, a Crafton
borough councilor and the sole Republican candidate, to consider challenging 26-year veteran Rep. Tom Petrone.
There's what I was looking for: His neighbors asked him to run for office. He's not doing it for himself. He's doing it for them. How many people decide that they want to run in order to advance themselves in society? Too many. But not this time. This is the grassroots in action, folks. In case you were still concerned that Bill Ogden is just a single-issue candidate:

Property-tax reform is also high on Ogden's list of priorities: He says that once a homeowner's mortgage is paid, property taxes should be lifted. And legislators shouldn't have unfettered access to slush funds or "walking-around money," Ogden maintains.
The property tax-reform proposal is interesting...if it ever became a reality, I could be free of property taxes by the time I'm seventy! Or I could just get a better paying job and try to get my mortgage paid off earlier. But that's my business, not the politicians'.

And that's all that we learn from the CP about Bill Ogden. We still do not know enough. Don't serious candidates in the year 2006 set up web sites to promote their campaigns? Why sure they do. Just don't expect to find them by reading the papers.

So, with the help of good old reliable Google, we find that Bill Ogden has a place at the PACleanSweep site as well as his very own homepage. (See his picture at those sites? That's Nikita Koloff all the way.) The campaign site has all of the information that I've been looking for. The HTML could use some editing, but what the site lacks in formatting it makes up for in "Blut", as they say in Germany. Many of his key positions are laid out on the main page, and if you explore the site you find some rather interesting details about Mr. Ogden. For instance, he gets phone calls at work from people who are completely nuts; he is a big fan of Davy Crockett's speech about misuse of public monies (also a favorite of mine); and he is unabashedly pro-life on abortion, but pro-choice on schooling. About the only thing that seems to be missing (or perhaps I am not looking hard enough) is his stance on RKBA issues. Based on what I've seen, he looks like a candidate deserving of support.

So, class, what have we learned this morning? If you want to find out what's going on in the world, or in your community, feel free to use the newspaper as a starting point. But for goodness sakes, don't rely on it as an information source. Go look it up for yourself. You'll learn a lot more than you would if you simply relied on a professional journalist. I guess you could say that I'm "pro-choice" when it comes to the media.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Lube Lunch

Sometimes, the mountain really does come to Mohammed. Or me, as the case may be.

I've been a fan of wings for years. Hooters was a favorite of mine when I was a single man; my wing eating pal and I started with the hot wings, then upgraded to Three Mile Island and eventually Death Wish style. We tried Death Wish II when it was under experimentation. Once. Now I understand why some places make diners sign a release form.

One key component of our dining experience was the foresight to take advantage of certain specials. A couple of nights per week, Hooters would offer wings for 20 cents apiece. Sometimes they would go all the way down to 10 cents per; but those days were few and far between. When they happened, we were there.

Hooters was also the closest restaurant of its kind to home. I had heard about Quaker Steak and Lube in Sharon, PA, but never found the time to visit. Why would I want to drive two hours to get food that I could get in considerably less time here?

Meanwhile, QSL has expanded its operations within Pennsylvania as well as a few markets out of state. The newest location opened right down the road from my office just a few weeks ago. Today seemed like a nice day for a walk so I strolled on down to find out how QSL compares to that which I have tasted before.

I have to's good. Not necessarily better than Hooters, but I liked it. I should have tried the hot wings, but it's been a while and I feared that my resistance may have waned over the last few years. So I got Cajun wings instead. There are eighteen sauces to choose from. Cajun is supposedly hotter than "hot" but it did little more than dance around my tongue and throat area when I was done eating. Next time I'm getting "suicide" sauce. That ought to be a little closer to what I am used to. I will hold off on "atomic". No sense in signing a release form for something until after I've conquered the level just below.

My side was O-rings, or onion rings as most mortals call them. They were big, tasty, had a thick breading, and went well with the Louisiana Lickers dipping sauce that accompanied them. My choice of drink was homemade style "Lube-n-ade", which sounds like something that couples buy in tubes at the drug store. What a relief it was to learn that it was just lemonade.

My order was ready almost as soon as I had settled down in my chair. That was slick. It may also have had something to do with the fact that a lot of people in the neighborhood are on vacation, most of them for the summer. That's fine by me. I'll be back many more times before the big crowds return later in the year.

License To Thrive

In this morning's PG, Ruth Ann Dailey provides us with an amusing and informative behind-the-scenes look at "the happiest room in county government, the marriage license department of the Register of Wills office" of Allegheny County in downtown Pittsburgh. I used to go there quite often to do genealogical research. It's one of the few places where you can view (and copy) the actual signatures of your ancestors who lived over 100 years ago.

Procedures have changed quite a bit since the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began requiring civil marriage recording in 1885. The oldest application forms were very simple; the parties had to testify that they were unrelated by blood in any way, and if one or both parties were under age 21, a parent or guardian had to sign a separate form endorsing the union. Exact birthdates were a requirement as well, along with profession of the groom, since most women were homemakers in those days. And if one of the parties had been married previously, they had to give the exact date of divorce or spouse's death.

A few years later, the form was extended to include thing like "Are they drunk?", and replaced the birthdate with a simple age in years, which is a letdown for genealogists looking for every last detail of a person's life. Names and birthplaces of the couple's parents were now included. Also added was a requirement that the man be financially and/or physically able to support a family. The homeless and disabled need not apply!

Missing from Ruth Ann Dailey's column is any mention of the fact that you literally have to give blood to get married here. Or do you? It turns out that the old blood test is no longer a prerequisite to getting married in this jurisdiction. When I married over ten years ago, my bride and I each donated a vial of blood to prove that we were serious about getting married. Why else would you need to relinquish a few CCs of precious bodily fluids for a marriage license? We found out why when the County mailed us the test results.

The government was checking us for syphillis.

Now, I can see why there would be concern over giving state sanction to the legal union of people who are (presumably) going to be having sex (if they haven't already been doing so) after they have contracted some nasty venereal disease. But why limit it to syphillis? Because that was the prevailing form of nastiness when the blood test requirement was made law. If such a law had been passed in, say, 1990, it might have been an AIDS test. I'm just glad the blood test is a thing of the past, and I wish it had been so eleven years ago.

My other exposure to old marriage records goes all the way back to the old country. When Napoleon extended the boundaries of his empire to the Rhein, the part of Germany where most of my ancestors lived came within the jurisdiction of the Empire of the French. The Code Napoleon had rather strict requirements for recording major life events such as birth, death and marriage. Up to that time, there was no civil record of life events in that part of the world; you have to rely on church books for baptism, burial and wedding data. In addition to the usual birth and family data, the civil marriage record included signed testimony from four witnesses as well as "present and consenting" parents.

After the fall of Napoleon, the Rhenish districts continued to maintain civil records (now in German rather than French) for life events in the Napoleonic style. Military service was now mandatory for young men within this jurisdiction, since the government wanted to have a defense force ready in the event of another Napoleonic type invasion. So strict was the military service requirement that a man could not marry unless he had served his time in the army.

These old German marriage records were recorded on forms, not unlike the forms we use here, but with less pre-printed text. 80% of the form had to be hand written. After getting through the language recording the recent family history of both parties, the recorder then had to compose an essay detailing the groom's military service. This is nice for today's genealogists as it includes dates of service, which division the groom served in, and the location of the office that issued the discharge. It was quite a lot to write, but much of the information was standard, so the recorder was basically composing the same text over and over, altering only the details pertaining to the bride and groom.

As you can see, those records contain quite a bit of information beyond what is required today. Considering the amount of ink spilled, the number of people involved in signing the document, and the military requirement, I suppose I shouldn't complain about being made to shed a little blood for a syphillis test eleven years ago.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

finding a huge increase in the site traffic

Welcome, visitors from Rach's site! Come right in. Sorry about the mess; I've been meaning to clean things up for over a year now, but this Blogger template will serve for the duration. Please be sure to bring your sense of humor with you, and feel free to help yourself to some yummy banana pudding while you're here: