Thursday, November 30, 2006

Geographical Awareness

There just are not enough maps in the world.

Ever since I was a small boy, I have been fascinated by maps. Almost as soon as I was able to read, I began to study maps. I loved the colors, especially the blue of the oceans. I loved the grids. I loved the wiggly lines that indicated rivers or boundaries. I loved the bumps that showed where the mountains were. Best of all, I loved the fun and easy way that I was accumulating knowledge that most of my peers (and far too many of my elders) would take for granted as we were growing up.

Map reading is one of the few things that did not lose its appeal when I had to seriously study it in school. (To give one example, I used to love reading fiction until I took AP English twenty-two years ago.)

When I was as young as ten, I was planning a cross-country road trip on a 1964 Rand McNally Road Atlas of the United States. (Nevermind that the book was older than I was, and almost completely devoid of ultra-modern interstate highways.) I would pop open a world atlas, pick a distant land, and use it as a base of operations to plan a conquest of neighboring countries. Occasionally, I would come across speculative maps with things like "How the USA could be reorganized as thirty-five states instead of fifty". My favorites, though, had to be historical maps. One of the best ways to learn about why things are the way they are is to find out how they used to be. (Have I ever mentioned that I am a History major?) Historical maps help you figure out the historical process that resulted in the world we have today.

If it sounds like I'm geeking out on this...well, I am. A friend sent me a link to a site called "strange maps", which doesn't really seem so strange to me, unless by "strange" it means "endlessly fascinating". Historical maps, speculative maps, humorous cartography -- they're all there.

I've managed to waste nearly two hours at the site. This is an easy addiction. Do they have rehab for map fanatics?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Since I've pretty much recovered from my post-election season ennui with newspapers, it's high time that I delved back into my prime source for blogging material -- the Pittsburgh Psychosis-Gazette. It won't be Reg or Tony this time. Nope, I have a new target for sarcasm and mirth. For far too long, I have ignored the PG's furry, four-legged mammalian correspondent, a professional babe of sorts who answers letters from readers on just about any topic, but primarily dishes out advice on lifestyles and relationships. She's relatively new at this, and thus has not ascended the pinnacle of self-righteousness formerly occupied by Ann Landers for so many years. Give her time; give her time.

I refer, of course, to Cat of "Cat's Call", who celebrates a birthday today, and responds to a reader's request to lay out her fondest happy birthday wishes. This is one of her more interesting columns, as it gives her a chance to branch out from the usual "you need to dump the jerk" sort of advice to her correspondents. Let's see what she wants out of life. First:

Having even one devoted reader is a wish fulfilled, but truth be told, I have more ...
Well, I'm reading it, though I'm not sure how "devoted" I am. Even if I were unmarried, I doubt that I would be sad enough to join the ranks of losers who email marriage proposals to her.
I wish the recent election to be a harbinger of things to come. It's not a party thing; it's a change thing and a voting thing.
Cat has referred to herself elsewhere as a "Registered Democrat But Currently Unimpressed with Both Dominant Parties", so this wish is consistent with her stated political philosophy. It could mean that the Dems aren't communistic enough for her tastes. However, the "change thing" in this election resulted as much from the alienated Republican base as it did from a Democrat ascendancy, so I can't really take issue with this one.
I wish my best friend and I lived in the same city. It would be so good for her.
Familiarity breeds contempt! My best friends are the ones I never see anymore.
I wish cell phone companies would quit requiring contracts. Sell a decent product and you won't need to lock us into a substandard one.
I have no issue with Cat's Call on cell phones, unless she is one of those clowns who chatter away while driving through traffic. I hate people who do that. Rudest bastards on the road, they are.
I wish politicians would own up to the egomaniacal maliciousness of TV smear campaigns. They should donate that money to charity -- it would make them look better, make us feel better and the money would actually benefit someone.
Not naming names, eh? If Cat is anything like my wife, she doesn't know the difference between a "smear" and "valid criticism". Actually, my wife does make a distinction, but in her world "smear" is when a Republican does it and "valid criticism" is when a Democrat does it. She's funny that way.

And I defy you to show me a politician who is not "egomaniacal". Egomania is a prerequisite for entering politics.
I wish people would stop saying, "Print is dead," because not only is it untrue, if it happened, they'd really miss it.
In the year 2000, I was selling books at Borders and loving every page of it. (I mean "page" as in books, not the Congressional kind.) That summer I signed on with high speed internet and openly proclaimed that books were dead; I could find plenty of reading material online. I sought, and found, employment in a different field. Six years later I am reading books as well as surfing the internet, and enjoying both. Print may not be dead, but it has some serious competition.
I wish naysayers would hop on board with stem cell because it saves lives.
I am under the impression that fully 80% of people who publicly weigh in on the subject of stem cell research don't know what the hell they're talking about. Informed individuals are neither for nor against stem cell research. There are different sources of stem cells. Adult stem cells are good, and have been proven to help. No one is harmed in the harvesting of adult stem cells. Same thing with umbilical cord blood. Plenty of stem cells there, and the newborn no longer needs the cord or placenta. People who take Cat's stand on stem cell research are advocating the harvesting of fetal stem cells. An unborn baby needs its stem cells to develop and grow. Collecting the baby's stem cells depends on the termination of the pregnancy. That's bad.
I wish I hadn't started to like football so much; it really cuts into my napping time.
I never watch football, so not a problem for me. Actually, game time is the best time to go shopping. The grocery stores are deserted.
I wish I enjoyed doing laundry half as much as the people in detergent commercials.
My wife and I do laundry for a family of seven. Cat is an energetic single gal. She shouldn't have to spend enough time on laundry to worry about whether or not she enjoys it.
I wish the Electoral College would take a cue from the dodo.
She wants the electors to go to Mauritius and drop dead?
I wish people would smile and say, "Hi" instead of staring awkwardly at their shoes.
Check again, babe. Those things they're staring at aren't their shoes.
I wish people would do what's right instead of what seems easiest. In the end, what's right is usually the easiest.
Which is why she is such a successful advice columnist. Not that we know whether any of these people ever take her advice...
I wish to be more like my parents. My mother has unending bravery, brilliance and grace and makes me laugh my arse off no matter how hard or scary life gets. My father's integrity is truly astounding, and he can spell Czechoslovakia on command.
Cat scores major points with me for using the word "arse". It's an ethnic thing. Also, the mental image of her arse shaking while she's laughing it off kind of turns me on.

On the other hand, the thought of her commanding people to spell Czechoslovakia to see if they can match the standard set by her father kind of freaks me out, so we're back to square one here.
I wish those hover-skateboards from "Back to the Future II" actually existed.
If they did, papers like the Psychosis-Gazette would be running editorials condemning the Big Hover industry and the obscene profits collected at the expense of hovering teenagers. Those things are damned dangerous, too, and only a Congressional Committee can deal with the scourge.
I wish elected officials would show up for votes, vote their conscience, say what they mean and mean what they say. And if they change their mind and admit it, good on 'em.
Two things:
  • Rick Santorum did, and he was voted out of office for it.
  • I now have this song stuck in my head. Thanks.
I wish that, just once, when someone says, "if that guy were alive today ...," the person would appear. I hope it's Thomas Jefferson.
They did that a couple of times on Bewitched, once with George Washington and once with Benjamin Franklin. I don't have a preference for who I would want to bring back, but it would be a blast to give him a ride on the interstate in my car with the windows down. He'd be so freaked out that he would die all over again.
I wish high-end makeup would go on sale. Why doesn't it?
If she's talking about KISS makeup kits, it's because Gene Simmons likes to take a nice big cut of all KISS related merchandise. (I assume this is what she means because the kits include Cat makeup.)
I wish the electorate would continue to vote. It's fun to see who "the decider" really is.
If you are familiar with the context from which the words in scare quotes was drawn, then you have to wonder whether Cat is advocating the abolition of the Executive Branch of federal government. (From my anti-bureaucracy, anti-spending POV, this idea has some merit.) All U.S. Presidents are deciders. Except Bill Clinton, who governed via public opinion polls.
I wish money did grow on trees -- in my back yard.
As a journalist, you have the power to begin advocating for a leaf-based currency. Hop to it!
I wish Dave Barry would show me how he does it.
I wish I were Dave Barry, so I can show her how I "do it". Heh heh heh.
I wish tragedies had happy endings.
Geoffrey Chaucer put it best when he said, "Tragedie is to seyn a certeyn storie/ Of him that stood in greet prosperitie/ And is y-fallen out of heigh degree/ Into miserie, and endeth wrecchedly". So no, they can't.
I wish everyone a healthy, warm and wonderful year to come.
Because that will give the PG more reasons to editorialize about the impact of GLOBAL WARMING! And bad news sells papers.
Cat's Birthday Call: I wish I knew then what I know now, and I hope I remember it later.
Good thing she's stopping here, because between this column and her own web site, I feel like I know too much as it is.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Be Fair To Kramer

So yeah, it's kind of sad, the direction that the career of Michael Richards has taken in recent days. Nothing he can say or do will rationally explain his outburst while attempting to deal with hecklers during a stand up routine. Some comics can get away with that sort of thing; a lot of them have an "inside joke" relationship with the audience. Richards does not, apparently. People did not go to his show expecting to be insulted in that manner. A good comic can bring down a heckler without attacking the heckler's ancestry, or threatening him with murder.

He was fun as Cosmo Kramer, but in 2006 Michael Richards has jumped the shark. Especially after he announced that he was running for the cover of Jesse Jackson.

Now, it's tempting to say that "Kramer made racially insensitive comments", since Richards is so closely identified with that one character above all others he has portrayed. But keep in mind that Kramer, the fictional personage, was based on a former neighbor of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. The "source material" just happens to be named...Kramer. And he's not happy about the coverage of what "Kramer" said. From the front page of his official web site:

In no way do I condone or endorse what Michael Richards said or did. It is really annoying, and sad, that people are saying that Kramer is a racist. Michael Richards ceased being Kramer eight years ago. I would hope that the public would be smart enough to make the distinction between a character on a show, the person playing the character, and me, the person the character was based on.

Why should Kenny Kramer care? Because he is an entrepreneur. His is a great American success story, as he has turned his identification with a popular television character into a lucrative business opportunity called "Kramer's Reality Tour". He has fame, notoriety, and undoubtedly makes a decent bit of money with this venture. He has been running the tour for ten years now. As long as Seinfeld lives on in reruns, tourists will want to patronize Kenny Kramer's bus tours.

But -- as indicated in the disclaimer (disKramer?) quoted above -- people might identify the man with the character a little too much. Michael Richards's comments, which have nothing to do with Kenny (or Cosmo) Kramer, have potential to harm the man's business, to say nothing of tarnishing his name and reputation in general.

Which would SUCK, big time. No one should have to suffer the consequences of someone else's mistakes.

If I ever make it to NYC, I might just plan to take the tour myself. Kramer -- the real Kramer -- needs everyone's support. It would be a damned shame if his business drops off because of Michael Richards.

Well Hello There!

Good morning! How was your holiday? Mine was fine, thanks. Nothing much going on. Here are some boring highlights:

  • Watched just over half of the Macy's parade on Thursday. The first hour was mainly network shills babbling about nothing, with excerpts from show tunes interspersed between banter to keep things interesting. I especially enjoyed the Grinch musical number.
  • Let my wife do most of the work on the turkey and fixings. Well, I did make the gravy, but she doesn't eat gravy -- or most sauces and condiments, for that matter. Nothing like doing yourself a favor on Thanksgiving!
  • The power went out for about 10 minutes when the turkey had about 2 hours to go in the oven. That was a harrowing experience.
  • The following morning, I had to take one of my kids on a bus ride to a medical appointment. As we waited for the bus, I told him that a lot of people are off work the day after Thanksgiving, and we might have the bus all to ourselves. Damn if I wasn't right about that! If not for us, that bus driver's effort would have been for naught.
  • What was up with that Friday morning fog? That was kind of eerie when we came out of the Liberty Tubes. You couldn't see either side of the river. You couldn't see the river below you. It would have been a great setting for a horror/suspense film.
  • Not much interesting in the news. Well, there was, but not interesting enough to motivate me to blog about it.
  • I listened to the NARN radio programme for over three hours on Saturday before realizing that the whole thing was a replay of the previous week's broadcast. Either that, or Mitch and Lileks were reading from a script and had so much fun that they decided to do it all over again. I didn't mind. It's always a treat to hear Lileks.
  • We had a family birthday celebration. The highlight of our birthdays is always the Dairy Queen ice cream cake. The best part? The chocolate goo in the middle layer. Heaven!
  • One of my pet projects is digitization of just about every photographic image in my family's private collection. I have been very lax about this lately, so I took advantage of the long weekend to resume scanning with a vengeance.

Time to get back to some serious blogging. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Light And Warmth On An Otherwise Dreary Friday Evening

Last weekend, I discovered just how out of touch I am with local happenings.

It's no surprise, really; this has been an election year, and like any politically aware blogger, I have devoted most of my blogging effort to commenting on the big races. Sometimes it's easy to forget that that there is more to life than just who your elected officials are (or who you think they should be). There's a whole big world out there beyond the halls of government.

Case in point: On Friday afternoon, November 17, 2006, I could have gone home from work as early as 4 PM. I could have hopped on a bus that would take me one block from my office to one block from my house, and been sitting in my living room by 4:45. Instead, I decided to hang around the area and spend some time at the local library.

When it was time to go, I decided to take a bus to downtown Pittsburgh and transfer onto a trolley that would take me to my neighborhood. I didn't imagine that downtown would be very busy; it was one week before the "official" start of Christmas shopping season, and many downtown workers would likely want to kick off a few hours early, as many 9-to-5ers are wont to do on a Friday.

As I rode the bus into town, I recalled something that my father, who worked downtown for the better part of forty years, once told me. A visiting colleague from Philadelphia was astounded that Pittsburghers leave their offices and walk around downtown in the evenings, after dark. It wasn't like this where he worked. No one walked around Philadelphia at night, for fear of getting mugged, or worse.

Pittsburgh was a safe city. And in most places, it still is. I have no problem being downtown after dark.

As I reflected on this, my bus slowed down considerably as it entered the Golden Triangle. There should not have been this much traffic in this area on a Friday night. And, indeed, there was not. The bus was re-routed from its scheduled path because the part of Forbes Avenue that would take me right across the street from the trolley station was barricaded.

Was there crime? Did the police cordon off several blocks of the city due to some danger to public safety? Was Pittsburgh no longer a safe city?

I had my answer when I saw people walking into the blocked-off section of town. At the next stop, I got off of the bus and trotted back in the direction of Market Square. My fears were allayed when the drifting scent of funnel cake caught my nostrils. This, whatever it was, was a good thing.

After all, you can't spell "funnel cake" without "fun"!

There was more than just puffy powdered sugar pastry to attract the hundreds of people who had arrived in the city. Businesses were open, booths were set up across the square, and in the distance, bands were playing music before teeming throngs. Downtown Pittsburgh never looked so alive in the daylight.

Had I not been in a hurry to get home to my family, and possibly a nice hot meal, I might have hung around and joined the revelers. This sort of party only takes place once a year, otherwise I would be making plans to go back again very soon. I am resolved to pay more attention, in future, to fun stuff in the news. How was I supposed to know that it was Light Up Night?

The thing that most impressed me about Light Up Night is the number of families that I saw. Suburbanites like me do not normally think of downtown Pittsburgh as a place to take your kids. Yet, there they were -- parents and children, many riding around in nice comfy strollers. Small children! If only I had known, and been able to plan, I would have insisted on bringing along my brood! Next year, perhaps.

Just don't let me forget when Thanksgiving is. I might show up for work that day. I'll be the only one there. I would hate if that happened, but for the fact that it would be really cool. Just like visiting a haunted house -- no one here but me and some ghosts.

Orange You Glad You Tried That Brew?

A few months ago, my professional assistant left my employ to take a position in another state. So, the night before his last day working for me, I treated him (and some of his employees) to a night out at a local pub. Like most local pubs in a college town, this place has nightly $1 draft specials. That night was Blue Moon night.

I had never heard of Blue Moon before -- but I was willing to try it. In fact, I think I tried it close to a dozen times before I had to run and catch my bus. Yeah, I was drunk on the bus. First time in years I've gotten drunk. I rather enjoyed it until the next morning, when I awakened with a large sharp rock growing in the middle of my head. That was enough to remind me why I don't get drunk anymore.

Blue Moon is similar to other wheat beers that I have enjoyed in the past, in the sense that you don't realize that you are intoxicated until you stand up to walk to the rest room, only to discover that your legs no longer work. The one thing that distinguishes Blue Moon from other wheat beers is the preferred garnish -- a slice of orange.

Unusual? Yes -- but it works.

I didn't worry about who made it or where it came from because I was having too much fun drinking the stuff to care about its background. Chad the Elder at Fraters Libertas has put up a post this morning that explains everything that I should have wondered about Blue Moon, but never bothered to ask. It's a Coors product! I should have known. Coors is my favorite right-wing American brewer. Kudos to one of Minnesota's finest information sources.

I feel like going out and tossing back a few Blue Moons right now. And it's not even 7:30 in the morning!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Los Ann-juh-leez

Sometimes I really surprise myself. You would have thought that I would have had more to say about the vacation back in June-July. Now that election season is over, and everyone is weary of politics, perhaps I will post some vacation memories.

For now, though, I just want to say that I wish my experience had been more like this:

Look at that bum!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Someone Say EARWORM?

References here, here, here, here...and a few other places. Just follow the links; you'll get them all.

I have a contribution as well:

Just try and get that chorus out of your head. It can't be done.

True fact: This song was composed, sung and performed by the same man who played guitar on "Total Eclipse of the Heart" -- Rick Derringer.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Unexpected Post-Election Fallout

While everyone is talking about the losses suffered by Republicans in Tuesday's elections -- especially here in western Pennsylvania -- one local Democrat has chosen to remove himself from office, owing to his poor relations with his own party's establishment:

Allegheny County Councilman Rich Nerone resigned yesterday, citing both his growing valet parking business and disenchantment with the local political scene and the influential Wagner family.

Mr. Nerone, an Overbrook Democrat, submitted his letter of resignation just days after crossing party lines to endorse state Rep. Michael Diven, a Brookline Republican. He sent area residents a letter that arrived in mailboxes over the past weekend saying that Mr. Diven, a former Democrat, was "driven out" of that party and beset with "negative distortions" of his record.

Rich Nerone is (or was) the County Councilman for my district. To be honest, I had to go to the County web site to find this out. Nerone ran unopposed last year, so there wasn't much reason for me to invest a great deal of interest in the race. All I knew was that some Democrat had a free pass to an elective office.

In the wake of Nerone's resignation, we learn that he is not just some Democrat. He chose principle over party when he backed Mike Diven in this race. In doing so, he mended relations with Diven and followed in Diven's footsteps.

That surprised some, since Mr. Nerone ran an aggressive campaign to unseat Mr. Diven in 2004, when both were Democrats. Mr. Diven won then, but lost Tuesday to Democrat Chelsa Wagner. She's the daughter of 19th Ward Democratic Chairman Pete Wagner, and niece of state Auditor General Jack Wagner.

Mr. Nerone said yesterday that he should have been the Democratic candidate for the state House this year.

"That was my shot at that seat," he said. "I had commitments from people in the Wagner camp that I would have a shot, and then they decided to go with [Pete's] daughter."

Local politics is a real bear, isn't it? You can't trust anybody, even your supposed allies.

"There was never, ever any commitment to Rich Nerone about this race," said Pete Wagner.

Why did he back his daughter Chelsa?

"What can I say? It's father's love," he said.

This is the only dumb part of the article. Chelsa Wagner, based on her employment history, is as qualified for public office as any first-time candidate, perhaps more so. Even if she weren't qualified, I would expect her father to support her. We aren't questioning Wagner family relations, are we? Because that's how it sounds.

As for the future:
Council Democrats will pick a member of their party to take Mr. Nerone's place until May. Then voters will elect someone to serve through 2009.
You know what? If Rich Nerone's successor runs unopposed in three years, I'm going to write myself in. I'm going to tell my wife to write my name in. I know I won't win, but at least I'll be able to say that I received more than one vote, and that I had just as much support from Democrats as Republicans.

Local politics is fun!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Living In A Lollygag

You know, I actually like this song.

My Guy WON!

Hey, guess what? One of the candidates whom I voted for last night ACTUALLY WON HIS RACE:

18th District
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, who also coasted to victory in his first two congressional elections, bucked the upheaval affecting some of his peers in Pennsylvania and across the nation.
He was never threatened in the race by underfunded Democratic challenger Chad Kluko, who was making his first bid for public office.
Despite a voting record supportive of the White House and GOP leadership in Congress, Mr. Murphy, 54, counted on voters recognizing him as a familiar face, concerned about community and constituent issues. The child psychologist also made a habit of besting Democrats easily in state Senate races in the South Hills before becoming a congressman the past four years.
"I ran this campaign like I run my office, continually focused on the local issues," Mr. Murphy said after being assured of comfortable victory. "How other people handle their campaigns -- I don't know how other people do it -- but I know we will be continuing to respond to local needs."
Yep. I've heard some extreme Republican-hating Democrats say what a good guy Murphy is. And he's a conservative, too. His ideology and registration aren't important to people around here; he represents his constituents. How many Congressman can you say that about?

As for the other races...what the heck is wrong with you people???

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I'm Pro-Something Or Other, And I Vote

Make that vot-ED, past tense. I try to hit the polls as soon after 7 AM as possible, every election.

In recent days, the political blogosphere has been rife with posts urging concerned voters to participate in last hour GOTV efforts. GOTV has never influenced me, one way or the other. My mind is made up well before the morning of Election Day. "Get Out The Vote"? I already got out my vote. Now I just need to go turn it in. I just ignore GOTV calls. That's what answering machines are for.

Embarassing fact: Until a couple of years ago, I thought that GOTV stood for "Grand Old Television", a Republican cable network. I was certain of this, and even more certain that there had to be some conspiracy theory to explain why I could never find it on my cable system.

But like I said, GOTV never swayed me anyway.

Back to this morning: I headed out around 7:20 AM to push the buttons on the screen. I like it. Even if my vote gets lost and doesn't count, I still like the touch screens. They are like toys. My area is heavily Democrat enough that I usually get to play around with at least one write-in vote. I don't waste it on the likes of Mickey Mouse, either. I vote for someone on the local committee, or a relative; whatever I decide, I vote for someone who lives in the jurisdiction of the uncontested race. My "candidate" always gives me a strange look when I tell him/her that "I voted for YOU!"

You would think that people would appreciate that kind of recognition.

I did not have to wait long for my chance at the toy computer voting machine. There was a crowd of people inside the front door, but those folks were hitting the church bake sale down the hall from the voting place. No one was in line when I got there. Compare that to two years ago, when there was a heated Presidential race and I waited in line outside for twenty minutes. Either no one cares this year, or they are going to show up later. I expected better turnout that early in the morning.

My votes went to all of the Republican candidates on the ballot. Rick Santorum...Lynn Swann...Tim Murphy...Bill Ogden. No one was running against State Senator Wayne Fontana, so I wrote in a relative. One of these days I'll mention it to him.

On the ballot question, I voted "NO". As much as I dislike voting "against veterans", as some people might be inclined to phrase it, there has been little or no mention of the bureaucracy involved in this initiative. Plus, ballot questions just smack of the legislature passing its responsibilities off onto the voters.

Six hours until the polls close. Have you voted yet?


Welcome Pittsburgh Post-Gazette readers -- or, to put it another way:

Good heavens, I've been discovered by the MainStream Media (MSM)!

Our new favorite righty blog, for this week: Ohligarchy. Our new favorite lefty blog, for this week: A Spork in the Drawer. This puts them in the running for Early Returns' Blog of the Year title. The winner gets Pennsylvania's 21 electoral college votes, as well as a handsome set of steak knives (and by handsome," we mean "fictitious").
Thank you, Mr. Toland and Mr. O'Toole. Are you sure I can be trusted with knives, real or fictitious?

Happy Election Day!

It's here. Already. Be sure to wish all of your friends, enemies, relatives, co-workers, classmates and complete strangers a Happy Election Day.

Why?, you may well ask. Just try it out. It's worth it just for the look on someone else's face. Priceless.

No matter who wins, life will still go on. Sure, there have been heated, emotional campaigns for most of the big races. You won't drop dead if your candidate loses. I hope not, anyway.

Back in 1992 I showed up for work the day after Election Day, and my co-workers (almost all Democrats) spoke to me as though someone in my family had just died. "You're not upset, are you?" Well, no, not at all. I woke up in the morning, walked out the front door, and everything looked the same. It's just politics.

What I really wanted to say, though, was "I can't believe Clinton won! I ran out the front door, tore my shirt, and dropped dead in the street!" I was just joking, but...

If you are so emotionally invested in this year's elections that you are in danger of mortal collapse when the returns come in, then let me take this opportunity to wish you one last Happy Election Day before you croak!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Joining Of Heaven And Earth

...metaphorically speaking, that is.

When I was a lad, I had a voracious appetite for superhero comic books. (Reading them, not eating them.) Every month I looked for the best Marvel and DC titles on the market. Loved them. Read them all over and over again. I still have a few tucked away in boxes at home.

At the same time, my grandmother was a regular viewer of CBS soap opera The Guiding Light. She must have gone years without missing an episode. The rest of the family knew all of the characters and situations, even if we didn't follow the show, just because my grandmother's interests rubbed off on everyone else.

It would have been unthinkable that my childhood passion and my grandmother's favorite television program would ever converge. Superheros battling evil on a serious television drama? Ludicrous!

Thirty years later, it's a new century, a new millennium, and times have changed. My grandmother, and those of her generation, have passed from this earth. Comic book heroes are all the rage in motion pictures, as well as animated and live action television shows. Every business is looking for some kind of angle to attract customers in some novel way. So why not put superheroes in a soap opera, and soap opera characters in comic books? It's a great idea for a crossover: Soap fans will want to see what their characters are doing in comics, and comic fans will want to see a superhero come to life on a daytime drama.

As it happens, my grandmother's old favorite, The Guiding Light, has gotten together with Marvel Comics to present a new hero called, of course, the Guiding Light. It's a lady. A blond lady with a sexy tummy. And do you know what? The concept works. Speaking as a comics fan, I can say without reservation that this show plays out exactly like a comic book story. And furthermore, the way that the character handles her newfound powers is done just the way that I would have done, had I ever acquired super powers. I haven't enjoyed anything comics related this much in years.

Naturally, there is a "super villain" behind the scenes. A mysterious, anonymous, unseen force for evil who seems to be part of an ongoing storyline that was not resolved in this episode. What sort of dastardly evildoer was the Guiding Light obsessed with finding during her forays into crimefighting?


Yes, the soap opera world's idea of a villain is someone who posts stuff on blogs. Am I offended by this? Not at all. There are plenty of villainous bloggers out there. Some people probably think that I am a villain. Having a blogger as the bad guy is a very hip, cool and contemporary thing to do.

If you want to see the entire episode, go to this page and follow the link. Four stars! Two thumbs up! It's fun.

As for my grandmother...I believe that if she were alive to see this show, she would hate it. But we would watch together anyway, just for the novelty of it all. And that's something that we would both enjoy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Good ChicagoRay Graphic

This is from one of my blog partners at Murtha Must Go!:

Hot damn, she's gorgeous! (Diana, I mean, not Jack.)

Giving Credit Where It's Due

You don't see something like this very often. From Tony Norman's column this morning:

Speaking of empathy, two months ago I wrote a column criticizing Rick Santorum's use of his children in a political ad. In criticizing the senator for dragging his kids into one of the most acrimonious Senate races in the country, I may have stepped over the line by giving nicknames to his six kids. The nickname "Big Lisp" seems to have outraged people the most. I also denigrated the good work of Children Youth and Families (CYF), an Allegheny County agency that has dramatically turned itself around in the last decade. Had I that column to do over again, I'd make the same points minus the gratuitous insults. Those were unnecessary. Sometimes, I'm just evil. Ask my wife. See what laughing at a good movie and residual guilt can do to a person? Nope, I refuse to apologize for smacking Bush around. Do I look like John Kerry to you?
Plenty of letters-to-the-editor writers, bloggers (including me), and others did indeed react with outrage to Tony's column of September 15. It's good to see that he can express his regret while sticking to his core beliefs. I can respect that.

Thank you, Tony Norman.

In answer to his last question, no. Not at all:

The Bitter Sorrow Of Gainful Employment

Last night I received an email alert informing me that Lynn Swann is visiting the Eat 'N Park restaurant down the hill from my house this morning at 7:30, and then hitting the diner up the hill sometime after 8 AM. Naturally, I needed to get up early to go to work.

Drat the luck!

Perhaps I ought to quit my job and go on welfare. That way, I might have more time to do fun stuff, and it might even be a raise in pay for me.

Some other time, perhaps.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Meaningless Polls

Have I ever mentioned how stupid pre-election polls are? I believe I have, and my conclusion comes from personal experience. These things are obviously fixed from the start, yet the media continually reports results of the polls as if Election Day has already come and gone.

Why does the media give these unofficial poll results such extensive coverage? Because the polls are being conducted under the aegis of...THE MEDIA:

Democrat Bob Casey has opened up a 15-point lead over Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum -- more than double the lead the challenger held in September -- according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/WTAE-TV Keystone poll released today. Casey leads Santorum 53 percent to 38 percent, with 9 percent undecided, according to the telephone poll of 626 registered voters conducted over five days ending Sunday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
According to the Trib, a telephone poll of 626 registered voters sets the stage for the outcome of this year's election. Or does it? I've said it before, and I will say it again: The only poll that counts is the one that takes place on Election Day. But, now that these polls have been publicized, what impact can they have?

For one thing, there's the "Yes Virginia, There Is A Senator Casey" type of reader who says that if you see it in the paper, it's true. Who the heck votes for a candidate based on a paper's endorsement? Those are as meaningless as these polls. Yet there are people out there who will vote Casey over Santorum because the PG endorsed him, or because the Trib shows him way ahead in a poll of 626 people.

Then there's the registered voter who sees that his candidate is so far behind that he will stay home and give his support to absolutely no one. Rick Santorum is behind in the polls? That's it. No chance of winning! Let's just give it up and hand the office over to Bob Casey. (The hidden beauty of this is that it can work the other way: The Democrat who stays home because, as much as he would like to vote for Casey, Santorum is so far behind that Casey doesn't need another vote.)

Getting back to the Trib article, we see another impact of these polls: They give academic experts an opportunity to step forward and make pronouncements on these races:

"(Santorum) is falling further behind as voters seem to be rejecting his shift in course toward focus almost exclusively on the war on terror," said Keystone Poll director G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster County. "It's a campaign theme that's not working well," Madonna said.

Why not focus on the War On Terror? Santorum is one of the few politicians who is willing to look at the war from a "big picture" perspective. More people -- not just his constituency -- need to listen to what he has to say. Santorum presents his case from a historical perspective, unlike the leftists who act as if the world began in 2003. If the war is not working well as a campaign theme, it's a shame, because Rick Santorum is well worth listening to on this issue.

Based on the results of its own poll, the Trib is getting ready to stick a fork in not only Senator Santorum, but also the Republican gubernatorial candidate:

Casey's lead, combined with Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's 25-point advantage over Republican challenger Lynn Swann, could portend disaster for Republicans on Tuesday, when voters head to the polls. Rendell, of Philadelphia, leads Swann, the former Steelers star from Sewickley Heights, by 58 percent to 33 percent, the poll shows.
Why? Because 626 people who were at home to answer the phone when the Trib called say so! Cue another expert from academia:

"It's clearly not a positive sign for Republicans in real competitive races lower on the ticket to have their headliners trailing this late in the campaign, but it's not necessarily a death knell," said Christopher Borick, political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. "Pennsylvanians have a clear record of splitting tickets."
He's right, you know. Keep in mind that Rick Santorum won his last election in 2000, when he was trailing in the polls up to the last minute, and in a state that Al Gore won over George W. Bush. In recent years, Pennsylvania has had a habit of re-electing incumbent governors to second terms, then switching to the other party for the next governor. Many Democrats elected to statewide office here have been moderate-to-conservative on many issues; conversely, a lot of our Republicans have tended liberal in a lot of ways. You can't judge the level of support for the smaller jurisdictions based on the leanings of the voters polled statewide. If you did, the results might surprise you.

Unless you're like me, and you recognize the folly of these things.

Here's a treat for you: Unlike most of these media polls, this one actually names names and gives more-or-less direct quotes. In the interest of saving space, the Trib samples one from either side:

Poll participant Charles K. Hillman, 68, of Monongahela, Washington County, said he will vote for Casey because he doesn't like the direction the country is going under Republican control. Hillman is upset that American soldiers are dying in Iraq in what seems to be "a civil war." "I do not trust Santorum, and I don't like Bush at all," he said. "I'm voting for a change."
Damned Republicans!

Walter J. Nichols, 42, of Commodore, Indiana County, said he will vote for Santorum because he is consistent in his views. Nichols likes Santorum's opposition to gun control and abortion. "Santorum has a platform he sticks with. He believes in what he says, and he stands for something," Nichols said. "Bob Casey seems to be the typical politician. Whatever you want to hear, he's going to say."

Damned Demmycrats!

Not surprisingly, Santorum's spokeswoman says that the poll doesn't mean anything, while Casey's boy says that it means everything in this race. Fair enough. That's how the spokespeople are expected to respond when asked about this kind of "news". The real story will be printed next Wednesday morning, when the results of the only serious poll come out. And those will be determined by people who are not waiting by the phone for the Trib to call.