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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

June 28th, from CNN.

"Pope Benedict XVI slapped down Cardinal Christoph Schonborn on Monday over comments earlier this year in which he was seen as criticizing a fellow cardinal.

Schonborn – the archbishop of Vienna, Austria, and a former student of the pope – had said that Cardinal Angelo Sodano had blocked an investigation of sexual abuse charges against a former archbishop of Vienna, according to the Catholic News Service. Sodano was the Vatican's secretary of state at the time."

The full article link can be found HERE.

This story wasn't something that made big headlines. In fact, I just happened to catch it on in a very small news brief on the last page of the Scranton Times sports section (you read that correctly...the Sports Section). So much for rabid anti-Catholic media, Scranton style.

Anyway, I have two questions related to this story.

Question 1: Is it the wrong for the Vatican to criticize one of it's own?
I think the answer is no. In a hierarchy there are always rules for relating to/with your peers, subordinates and superiors. When you live and work inside that hierarchy you have to respect those rules or there will be consequences. That's as true for the Vatican and it is for the U.S. Marine Corps. It's also true for me: I have a chain of command that I work within for my vocation, and if I violated the rules associated with it there would be consequences.

Question 2: Is there a larger moral issue at play here?
Yes. Even in a very hierarchical organization like the U.S. military, there are instances where things like rules and orders can...and disobeyed. In fact, according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (articles 90 to can read a summary HERE), a member of the military is required to disobey unlawful orders or face prosecution. Now let's up the ante just a bit and consider what Cardinal Schonborn was reprimanded for criticizing, namely the actions of another Cardinal who actively blocked the investigation of sexual abuse charges. I am not a Priest or a religious scholar of any sort...a point that has been repeatedly documented here...but in my Catholic high school educated brain I could make the case that Cardinal Schonborn had a moral obligation to criticize the actions of another, regardless of their title, if those actions ran counter to the teachings of the Church. In essence, wasn't Cardinal Schonborn actually defending the faith by criticizing the actions of another?

It seems to me that Cardinal Schonborn violated the rules in order to support a greater moral obligation. That's not something that should be criticized, rather it should be celebrated.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Kind of "T" Party

In the "Even a small step is a good step" Department...

...we have the borough of Dunmore canceling a summer youth program. Article link HERE.

Now before I get labeled a bitter middle-aged man (better that than a bitter "old" man I suppose), I want to note that I have nothing against summer youth programs in concept. What I am opposed to is spending money that simply doesn't exist. Yes, 125 kids will now not benefit from a few hours of structured activity per day, but the simple-but dirty little fact is that Dunmore doesn't have the resources to pay to pay its employees and the light bill, let alone run a summer program. $25,000 isn't going to break the bank, but the road to fiscal hell is paved with small payments.

This is one small step for Dunmore, but maybe...just giant leap towards eventual fiscal sanity. Good job Dunmore council. Get your sea-legs by making a few of these small but difficult decisions, then get ready for the big one: you simply can't afford your paid fire department.

Sports & Athletics

Joe Paterno was in my head as I was reading a few comments about school athletics from a prior post. This reminded me of a great article on the whole Bobby Bowden vs. Joe Paterno "winingest coach" story from last year. You can link to it HERE.

Anyway, the story ends with the following terrific statement:

"While Bowden will undoubtedly insist the academic scandal never be mentioned when his grandkids are in the house, I guarantee you Paterno doesn't care about the record for his grandkids. If Paterno ever wants to impress his grandchildren all he has to do is walk down Curtin Road just past the Forum on his way to Rec Hall. Stop right between the two and point to the building on the left where giant letters spell out "PATERNO LIBRARY". That's a legacy for an old football coach to be proud of."

Having walked past the Paterno Library myself, I completely agree with the sentiment.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Road Apples, #67

It's Hot...Damn its hot outside. I'm talking "jungles of 'Nam" hot out there. Just when I relish in the warm weather and wonder why I ever want winter to come, days like this arrive and I long for something colder. This my life, in a microcosm.

Scranton School Performance - The Scranton Times has something of a final report card on the performance of area school districts in its Sunday edition today. NEPArtisan has some reaction to it that is no doubt very well thought out, and I'm not going to add much, save for this: I think the single most important element in the education of children isn't schools, teachers, sports or buildings; no the single most important element is parental involvement. Now I can't claim an awful lot of temporal success in life, but one thing I have done well so far is to help my daughters value learning. As a result, they are all very good students. When that happens in a household...when parents do things like read to children, when children see their parents read, when children have help with homework, when children see their parents use math to solve problems, when parents talk to children about current events...then I think children can be successful even in just about the worst of schools. Am I saying that schools and teachers are unimportant? Hell no. Growing up I had teachers that were nothing short of inspirational, but I don't think that a great teacher alone can't undo a toxic home environment.

School Funding - In the "if I were a School Board Director" department, when faced with the tough economic times that abound, I would be looking at all of the non-instructional costs associated with public schools. The top two things on my list:

1. Administrators and administrative costs
2. Sports

How bloated are school district administrations? Well judge for yourself here. I know that there are rules a-plenty to follow in operating a public school, but there are rules to follow everywhere. My employer's business is regulated by no less than the IRS, SEC, DOL, FINRA, and the state insurance regulators from all 50 states. The difference is that we don't have the luxury of simply raising taxes when our expenses get too high. Bottom line: I think most school district administrations need a top-to-bottom review to eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies so that more money goes to teaching kids and less money goes to bureaucrats.

As for sports, well I think they are a "nice to have" in education. Yes, students can learn about discipline and they can grow as individuals by participating in sports, but that kind of participation doesn't have to come at the taxpayers expense. What's more, sports really only benefit a small, small fraction of the students in a district. I don't know that most sports programs need to be eliminated, but I do think that the costs of running these programs should be levied against the students that benefit from them. Start baking those cupcakes.

Eating - In the "now for something completely different" department, I had been doing pretty good eating-wise over the past two weeks, but I make that "have" fallen back a bit over the past two days. As I've said before, weight loss is much more in your head than it is in your stomach, so I need to get my head screwed back on the right way so that I can get back on track.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Under-Rated Movies

Two of my favorite under-rated movies...Being There and Love and Death. Both are well worth catching if you ever get the opportunity.

Being There, staring Peter Sellers. I think this was his last major film. The film manages to be both very funny and profound at the same time.

Love and Death starring Woody Allen. Nothing profound about this...just tons and tons and tons of classic Woody Allen, back in the day when he was funny (as opposed to the "serious" actor and director he became later).

Who Mourns for Adonais?

This one is going to stay somewhat cryptic for reasons that I will not explain. However I am compelled to at least make a comment.

I know of a major employer in the region has outsourced some of its work to Asia, something that has become not uncommon these days. This employer has several locations in the United States and an office in another city was also impacted by this recent outsourcing. The numbers involved are not of Cinram size, but they also don't just impact a handful of folks either.

Was this news reported in any of the local newspapers? Not that I can tell, and I have been looking.

It was, however, reported in the newspaper of that other city impacted by the action.

Why wasn't it reported? I don't know for sure, but I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that the Scranton Times doesn't exactly have what I would call robust business reporting. I'd also suggest that the local newspaper tends to downplay news from certain areas and over-hype news from others. For example, had 25 jobs at Tobyhanna Army Depot been moved to Asia then this would have been big news. Hell, the mere threat of a janitor being laid off at TOAD gets a mention in the Scranton Times. 15 get impacted and the local Chamber of Commerce commences an all-out job-saving campaign. Now in this particular situation the employer is much smaller that TOAD, but the number out-sourced is greater than 25.

None of this matters all that much to the individuals who will be losing their jobs. That's the real story here...that this deeply human event is happening...and it's my hope that the local newspaper will actually make the choice to give this a mention.

Wall Street Regulation

Congress is actually on the cusp of actually passed sweeping regulatory reform that the President will no doubt sign into law. Have I read the final bill? No. I will read a summary of it at some point in time, and I'm sure my employers research department will have something created to note the important parts. That noted, three things are crystal clear about this:

  1. It is imperfect, and that's okay - Regulation is a messy business. Regulation HAS TO BE a messy business, as it is predicated on the notion of trying to qualify the worst of human behavior and then devise mechanisms to prevent that behavior from happening (or punish it when it does) in the first place. If you are over the age of, say, 20 you probably already realize that people are pretty complex organisms, and trying to figure out what they may do in a particular situation is never easy or simply. However, something imperfect but timely is better than something perfect that never actually arrives.
  2. It is long overdue - There hasn't really been sweeping reform of the financial services industry since the Securities Act of 1934, so this kind of legislation is long over due. Yes, there have been tweaks and changes to the regulatory framework of the financial services industry over the years, but nothing to bring it in line with the complex products that now exist in the industry's ecosystem.
  3. The idiots on both extremes will bash it - Fantasy Island living conservatives will have you believe that this legislation is an over-reach and that it shackles "free enterprise". They somehow want you to forget that it was the unshackled "free enterprise" of (for just one example) mortgage securitization that was at least partially to blame for our current economic pickle*. Business-hating liberals will have you believe that it doesn't interfere enough, as if Wall Street doesn't have enough lawyers employed to interpret legislation already. If the knuckleheads on both ends cry really, really loud, then that usually means that the legislation probably strikes the right balance.

An ancient Chinese proverb says that "a journey of a thousand miles starts with a first step", and that's what this is, a first step. Being an optimist, I'm positive that this step will help in some fashion. Perfect? No, nothing created by humans is ever perfect, so let's acknowledge the imperfection and allow this to work. If it doesn't, then it can be changed.

(*) That and the insane social policy that everyone should be a homeowner. Newsflash: only people that can afford to own a home should own a home.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Government Regulation of the Internet

There have been numerous articles written over the past few months about the government and the Internet, including...

...FCC seeks regulatory control over the Internet

...Bill would give the President emergency control over the Internet

I take issue to both ideas, although I concede that the second point (emergency powers) is a foregone conclusion, at least in the event of a true national emergency.

Regarding the FCC, my personal view is that the agency has a long history of over-reaching and downright silliness and is incapable of effectively regulating anything. They are bureaucratic buffoons. This is the agency that was infamous for going after broadcasters for "foul" language (Howard Stern, Bono, Cher) while seemingly never having a problem with egregious violence on TV. Yup, you can't reference bodily fluids or accidentally drop an F-Bomb, but showing someone getting killed 16 ways to Sunday is okay. Oprah Winfrey? She can talk about female body parts all she wants on her talk show, but your average "morning zoo" DJ had better not go there. Let me see the ass of Dennis Franz on TV, but God-forbid I see part of Janet Jackson's breast. None of it makes any sense. For the record, the complaints against Howard Stern in the 1990's were basically the product of one individual writing to the FCC to complain. Millions of people listened to his show every morning and were not offended, but since one person was (a person who was fully capable of turning the show off but chose not to) it warranted repeated fines. Is that in any way, shape or form reasonable?

What do I want? I want as little government control over media as is practical and possible. I think Rush Limbaugh is a (and I quote) "chicken-hawk, drug-addict, hypocrite", but you know what? My personal standards shouldn't prevent someone who actually believes his spew from having access to it. I can simply choose not listen to Oxycontin's most well known addict. If the government shouldn't regulate political speech, then it shouldn't regulate most other forms of speech as well.

Should there be some standards? Yes, of course. I don't want to hear or see people torturing animals or raping children and I don't want porn broadcast over the public airwaves. But if I can see something in a museum...such as a female breast...then I'm thinking that it is probably okay to see on television. Let's also not forget that parents...not the government...should be exercising control over children. Don't want your 10 year old to repeat what he heard Don Imus say on the radio this morning? Then don't listen to the Imus on the Morning show with your children present.

The above rolls up into a singular point: the FCC is an case study in abject failure that should have no business regulating the Internet in whole or in part.

Regarding emergency power over the Internet, it's probably a forgone conclusion that the government has (or will have) the ability to control the Internet in the event of a national emergency. They key though is that what constitutes an emergency needs to be exceptionally well defined. I want the nation's data networks to be available to the government if it needs them in order to deal with a national disaster, invasion, etc. Some idiot wanting to watch Desperate Housewives on his Iphone should be inconvenienced if it helps to solve an immediate and pressing national problem. However those kinds of emergencies should be very, very, very rare and the reach of the government should be subject to strict time limits.

Look, the Internet is as close to a true artificial human community as mankind has ever produced. I've connected with old friends, made new friends and become a better person because I can interface with the world through a computer. And I am but one of hundreds of millions in this country and over a billion in the world. Let's not allow the government to screw this up in the name of somehow protecting us from ourselves.

From the Archives: Flying Cars

Note: I have reams of stuff that I've written over the years prior to starting this blog, so I thought it might be fun to resurrect a few every once in a while.

From March 14, 2006

"...the future's so bright, I gotta wear shades..."

As a child growing up in the 1970's, I feel cheated. How, you may ask? I want flying cars.

Yes, in the 1970's, it seemed that the future held some unlimited promise; there would be space stations and bases on the moon, everyone wearing Neru suits, laser pistols, and of course flying cars. Oh, and if there were going to be cars, they would all have cool gull-wing doors and would would be really sleek looking. It seemed that technology held so much promise. You have to wonder where it all went.

So now we live in 2005. There is a space station...a sort of creaky dysfunctional bases on the moon, clothes are more likely to be skin tight or six sizes too big (forget classy Neru suits), you do have a your cd player...but not as a weapon, and some of the more popular cars (Honda Element and Scion Xb) are shaped like bricks. Oh, and there are no flying cars.

Where did it all go wrong? Or did it all go wrong? First and foremost, discount anything you think about future fashion. I think the word 'fashion' is probably French for 'fad'. So let's throw that right out the window. Relative to the technology stuff, what I see now, while not as flashy as what we were led to expect all those years ago, is remarkable in it's own right. While we clearly have mostly quit the game relative to space exploration, we have grown tremendously relative to information sharing. The Internet has created something that is utterly remarkable in its ability to share information across geographic, political and class levels. Oh, and it does it in real time. We don't have 'Hal' from 2001, we do have computers in our homes that are as powerful as room-sized computers from back in the 1970's. Computing technology and the rise of the Internet have, in my humble estimation, forever changed the world for the better. That change continues...and will ways that we can only imagine. Information may not be as slick as a laser pistol, but has far more power. See what it does to the Communist Chinese within ten years.

So maybe things aren't so bad relative to those lofty 1970's predictions. But I still want a flying car...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Scranton Times Changes Their Version of Citizen's Participation

Very recently, the Scranton Times decided to change the way readers could comment stories posted on-line. As someone who enjoyed the comments about as much as I enjoyed the stories, I actually think this is a good idea. Why? Well while some commentators tended to make valid points, many just basically spewed nonsense. Even worse, there was a tendency on the part of some to hi-jack commentator names. This created bizarre circumstances where you would have...

...someone posting as "Doomers" making a comment
...someone else posting as "Doomers" saying the exact opposite of what the first "Doomers" said
...resulting in the first "Doomers" posting as "New and Improved Doomers"

...or nonsense to that effect. Before you knew it you don't know who was saying what.

Yes, some of it was pretty entertaining, but it got old and juvenile real quick. Some of the comments were horribly redundant as well; for example every time I would read a comment by "Margaret" I would say to myself "I get it, you don't like Mayor Doherty and it's all his fault. Can we move on now?". I was secretly hoping maybe she would just once comment in French or Latin, just to mix things up a bit.

"Chris Doherty est un maire horrible."

Anyway, maybe the actual act of having to register with the Disqus service will deter the mentally lazy from even making comments in the first place, which is a good thing.

Monday, June 21, 2010

In the "Most likely to get shot" Department...

...we have the North Koreans losing to Portugal 7 to 0 in this soccer tournament thingie. I know, "World Cup"...but I grew up when soccer was something that they did in Europe, except for Pele, who was supposedly good at it. Anyway, I'm thinking that the coach of the North Korean team will be lucky if he is breaking rocks for the rest of his life. Worst case? Dear Leader will have the next six generations of his family executed.

Then again, it's possible that the North Korean people have already been told that their team won the World Cup. I recently read that North Korea recently announced a breakthrough in nuclear fusion research, so anything is possible. Having a more than passing interest in Science I know that the odds of North Korea actually achieving this are just about the same as the odds of me scoring a rebound date with Sandra Bullock.

Representative Mundy...Doing The Right Thing

It's not very often that I can say that a local politician truly did the right thing. Today though I can. I just heard an interview with Representative Mundy on WILK and I was extremely impressed. She gets it, in a big way.

Rep. Mundy calls for moratorium on natural gas drilling permitts.

Give'm hell Phyllis & know that many of us are right behind you.

The Weekend That Was

In the summer it's more difficult for me to write anything in the morning, mainly because I try and cut down the time between when I wake up and when I go to work (leaving less time for this sort of thing). I wanted though, purely for selfish reasons, just comment that I am damn glad this past weekend is over with. Yes, I usually am not all that thrilled to see Monday come around, but not this time.

Why? The reasons are many and quasi-stupid, but suffice to say I'm not looking for many repeats. Maybe it's best explained from a budgetary perspective (being a good businessperson): I think we all have these internal budgets for things like personal angst, stress, disrespect, etc. Sometimes you end up accepting less of those negative things than you can handle, so you have a surplus of capacity. Sometimes you get socked by more than you can handle and end up with a deficit. That latter was this past weekend for me. It may sound sick, but I think I need to recharge my mental batteries at work.

For all the negatives about work, for me it has one over-reaching positive: since I think I basically enjoy what I do and since I do it reasonably well there is a certain comfort and confidence associated with being there. It is not all sunshine-smiles-rainbows, but it is fairly predictable in the sense that I know the range of problems that can occur. I also work in what is basically a very respectful work environment, so it's very rare for me to end up feeling as if I've been treated like crap. That does any human system (be it a home, school or work) we always manage to find new and creative ways screw one another at some point in time...but it doesn't happen regularly.

So all the negatives associated with this past weekend are over with. Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone (to borrow a line from the great Lindsay Buckingham). Time to start a new page.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Road Apples, #66

Scranton City Council President Janet Evans...was quoted in the Scranton Times this week as saying "I'm all for regionalization, but..." in response to a regional planning commission report. For the record, anytime a statement is made that has the qualifier "but" then I'm suspect. It's like saying "the Holocaust was a human tragedy, but...", or "I don't sleep around, but...", or "I'm against discrimination on the basis of race, but...". Note these are just silly examples (and Mrs Evans is not an anti-Semite, does not sleep around, and is not a racist) but I just wanted to make a point. Speaking of points, the real point is this: if you are for regionalization, then you find a way to make it happen instead of creating excuses. The "but" thing has been used for decades in this area. Man-up on the issue Mrs Evans. Article link HERE.

Lake Scranton...Just about every Sunday afternoon I take a walk around Lake Scranton, regardless of the weather, time of the year, etc. It's a real treasure for the area, and if you've never been there I strongly encourage you to visit. No rides, no concession stands, and (sadly) no bathrooms...just 3.5 miles of paved trail around a lake. For me, the benefits are two fold: I get an hour of walking and it really does help me clear my head. Normally I bring my Sony DSC-H7 with me, but the battery was low so I didn't. Of course today I also got within about 5 meet of a deer. Oh well. One of these days I am going to research the history of the lake.

Contradictions...Republicans are against big government, but many are saying that the Obama Administration is not doing enough to deal with the spill in the Gulf. Kenneth the Page the Governor is upset that the Coast Guard stopped boats from going out to suck up oil, but the boats did not meet safety requirements (and if there was a problem on the water with one of the boats, who would Bobby/Kenneth blame for lax safety enforcement?). Republicans are for the working people, yet one prominent Republican lawmaker from Texas called the Obama administrations insistence that BP pay for it's mess via a dedicated fund a "shakedown" (note that if this I caused a problem I would be expected to fix it). I know that the Democrats are a walking cluster-f*&k, but this has not been a good week for the GOP.

Speaking of the GOP...In California Carly Fiorina is running against for the US Senate seat currently held by Barbara Boxer. Ms Boxer is too liberal for me, but having followed Ms Fiorina's tenure at HP I can't say she is a viable alternative. Here are two hints:

a) Abject failure of merger
b) Forced out by the Board

If you are going to run as a successful business person, you kind of have to be successful. Being named "one of the 20 worst American CEO's of all time" by Conde Nast Portfolio doesn't exactly give you business street cred.

I am glad that I don't live in California, although this race reminds me of the Barletta/Kanjorski race in that I can't stand either one of those two either.

Kanjorski/Barletta...I might as well continue the above thought. Lou Barletta is a race baiter, pure and simple. He courts white votes by using "great brown horde" scare tactics. He's slightly lighter-skinned, anti-matter version of Al Sharpton. Paul Kanjorski is in bed with the financial services industry he is supposed to be helping to regulate and has a nasty habit of steering public money to family businesses. Given the choice I will vote for Kanjorski, if only because a self-serving, business-as-usual politician is better than a race-baiter (but just barely).

For the record, in this post I have slammed 4 Democrats (Evans, Boxer, Sharpton and Kanjorski), and mocked/slammed 4 Republicans (Kenneth the Governor, Barletta, big-mouthed Texas Rep, and Carly Fiorina). By that count I'd say I'm more fair & balanced that Fox News.

Father's Day

I was thinking of writing something profound for Father's Day, but nothing is really coming to me. Maybe something will later, as I go about the day and find inspiration blowing in the wind or laying in a gutter somewhere. That noted, there are plenty of other inspired people I can look to, and the first that came to mind was David Gates (the composer). David Gates wrote the song "Everything I Own" about his father, and I have actually been fortunate enough to see him play this live.

Anyway, this is about as profound as I think this kind of sentiment gets, so Happy Father's Day to any and all the dads out there.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

NEPArtisan's Posting, Scranton School District

If you have a pulse...if you live in the city of Scranton...if you pay need to take a few minutes to read this posting from Tom over at NEPArtisan:

Committee Vote Intimidation at the Scranton School District

Now to be fair, while this seems very credible it probably should be more thoroughly by the SSD Board. If proven, the individual at the center of the allegation should be fired with cause immediately. No negotiation. No reprimand to the file. No apology.

Why so severe on my part? Three reasons:

First, activity like this follows the cockroach rule...if you see one, there are probably 5 you don't see. In other words, I highly doubt this is an isolated incident.

Second, this activity is really a form of theft against taxpayers. The time spent arm twisting was time that should have been spent at the behest of taxpayers, not the City Democratic Committee.

Third, anything less than the employment death penalty is a signal that there is still tacit approval for this kind of activity.

Crystal clear enough? Let me up the ante and speak directly to Superintendent King:

Mr King, if there is proof that this activity has occurred, then you have a fiduciary responsibility to city taxpayers to immediately terminate the employment of the guilty party. Anything less is an unacceptable insult to those of us who fund the activities of the Scranton School District.

This Time it Wasn't Corbett's Fault

I was listening to Steve Corbett yesterday afternoon, as I drove to Panera bread for something to eat. What was interesting at that moment was the fact that a caller...someone who is a regular speaker* at City Council meetings...was vehemently defending John Blake. It irony of it all was so thick that it was the verbal equivalent of road tar. This speaker regularly bashes Mayor Doherty for all his "inside" deals, yet came out swinging to defend a guy who most likely was picked by Bob part of an "inside" be his replacement.

Yes, in Scranton politics, logic and proportion are about as meaningful as they were to Alice in Wonderland. Ponder this: this caller said that he "knows" John Blake and that he is an honest guy. Compare that statement to everything that is going to come out from Bob Mellow's supporters who "know him to be an honest guy". To his credit, Steve Corbett did go after the "how do you know he is honest" part, but the caller didn't say anything more than the "I know this guy" angle. Wow, how typically Scranton of this guy. "I know Stash from back in the day in Minooka...he's a good guy" and therefore Stash should be given legislative responsibility and a state salary.

I loathe the weak minded. I loathe the simple follower. I am disgusted by those who refuse to look at a situation from anywhere other than their narrow little mental perspective. For God's sake, Bob Mellow just didn't appear out of thin air...he was created and nurtured by an electorate that didn't want to look at what he was doing. Since he was a "good guy" it didn't matter what he did, as long as the bacon kept coming home (although the entire rest of the pig was going back to Mellow's freezer).

In point of fact I don't know John Blake, just like I don't know most politicians around here. In fact, the only one I've ever spoken to at any length is Mayor Doherty, and hell, I've been pretty critical of the guy from time to time. But back to John Blake: Since I don't know him, unlike the sheeple caller to Corbett's show, he gets no automatic pass here. In fact, I'll take it one step further as basically I agree with Steve Corbett in that John Blake is starting this from a negative position, clearly being the anointed preference for a man who most likely will be indicted by federal authorities.

That hug may have felt nice Mr Blake, but I think you are going to find that it costs you more than about 20 seconds.

(*) I'd mention the guy's name, but why give him even more attention? This person's only claim to fame is that he appears at council meetings and whines.

Friday, June 18, 2010

In Honor of Bob Mellow's Interesting Day

From the archives...

Senator Mellow's "Interesting" Timing

For a while The Scranton Times has been hammering State Senator Robert Mellow over the whopping $188,000 his campaigns have written out to simply "cash" over the years. While I'm not a lawyer, it seems to me that cash payments like this are intended for minor expenses, not those totally nearly two hundred thousand dollars. Senator Mellow's initial response to this controversy was to hand over copies of the checks...the FRONT SIDE of the checks. You know, this would be the side that simply says that the check was made out to cash, not who endorsed the check. Anyway, I believe it was yesterday (or it could have been this morning) that the Senator's advisers handed over the back-sides of the checks. Good for Senator Mellow and great work on the part of Times.

What happened next?

Well Senator Mellow quickly announces that he is retiring. Article link HERE.

Now is it me or is it just a coincidence that the resignation comes on the heels of surrendering the endorsed copies of the above mentioned cash payments? When it comes to politics...particularly in this area...I don't readily believe in coincidences.

So what to make of all this? At this stage I am unsure. As I've written before, it's my opinion that Senator Mellow should have resigned years ago:

  • The issue with the nearly two hundred thousand dollars in cash campaign payments.
  • He has engaged in blatant conflicts of interest by accepting Board positions with institutions (such as BC/BS of NEPA) that he can indirectly have a hand in regulating via proposing/voting on legislation, acting on appointments, etc. If I engaged in similar behavior at work I would be told to resign from the Board(s) or face termination of employment.
  • It has been reported that he crafted a deal whereby the state was paying him to rent property for his own office at a higher-than-market rates.
  • His blatant disregard for constituents who were rightfully enraged to over the last legislative late-night pay raise.
  • His penchant for using OUR MONEY to have things named after him. I wrote something about two years ago about how anything named "Mellow _______" should instead be renamed "Taxpayer __________" as I highly doubt that the Senator has been spreading nearly has much personal cash around as he has been spreading out ours.

Needless to say, I am glad to see the Senator retire. Here's to hoping that his replacement will have an ever so slightly smaller ego and a stronger desire for constituent...rather than personal... enrichment. This, coupled with the indictments in Luzerne County (and at least one possible indictment in Lackawanna County) could mark the end of the "political favors as a cottage industry" that has been the hallmark of NEPA for decades.

Newark State of Mind

A friend on Facebook posted this and I just have to share. As someone who goes to Newark every once in a while I found this hilarious, although I haven't seen nearly as much feces laying around there as the song seems to imply.

It helps if you are familiar with the song "Empire State of Mind" (which is actually really good...I have it in my mp3 player).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Andy Palumbo's Blog & Self-Censorship

If you don't read Andy Palumbo's blog, you are really missing out on a nice piece of Internet work. While some of what I would describe as the "look at me" local media (Steve Corbett comes to mind) get a lot of attention, Mr Palumbo manages to always post something interesting with remarkable frequency. His work usually centers around the media or photography, but today he actually ventured into a quasi-issue (read it HERE).

Note that I'm not making light of Mr Palumbo's usual content via the previous sentence. In fact I realize that his employer probably prefers that he steer away from many controversial issues. That's something I can relate to, all be it on a different level. Specifically, when I decided to start writing a blog (actually many years ago, on Yahoo 360), I did it with a few things understood...
  • My employer prohibits me from linking to its official site
  • My employer probably prefers that I not mention it by name
  • My employer prohibits me from engaging outside business activities without prior written approval
  • Since my job requires that I possess certain licenses/registrations, I can't really discuss matters related to specific financial products, securities, etc., as that could appear as being some form of investment advice
Related to the third bullet, if I wanted to con someone into giving me ad revenue to take advantage of the six or so people that visit this site (here is your check for $0.02 Mr Albert) I would need their advance. Oh, and yes, some of my co-workers know about this blog; in fact I suspect that they may be regular visitors #'s 3 & 4 (but not at work, as my employer prohibits employees from reading general interest blogs using company facilities).

None of the above has prevented me from stating opinions, but once in a while I do find myself engaging in some "self-corrective measures" in order to maintain a balance between personal interest and professional obligations. It's a reasonable thing to do, one that allows me to be pig-headed and opinionated but also allows me to continue to pay my bills.

Yes, life is a balancing act, even virtual life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dunmore: Tell Me, Who REALLY Is To Blame?

Interesting article in the Scranton Times today about how the owners of the Keystone Sanitary Landfill are not likely to re-negotiate the fee they pay the borough of Dunmore for partially hosting the facility.

You can read the article HERE.

The cheap-n-easy thing to do here is to blame the landfill and the DeNaples family. Cheap-n-easy yes, but not necessarily correct.

Let’s pretend: You set up a business arrangement whereby a neighbor allows you to use their property in exchange for a fee you pay monthly. You honor you end of the bargain by paying the fee every month and occasionally also buy the neighbor a cake as a gesture of good will. Your neighbor though is notorious for spending more money than he has. He buys brand new cars every year, goes out to dinner almost nightly and just generally doesn’t think about how his spending impacts his overall finances. Then one day your neighbor maxes out on his credit cards and can’t get any more loans. No more money for eating out. No more new cars. He comes to you and basically says “Hey look, I am out of money and I can’t get any more credit, so I need you to pay me more, okay?”. Tell me, would your response be:

a) I’m sorry you have screwed up your life…here’s some more money.
b) Pound sand…we made this deal in good faith and I had nothing to do with your decisions to over-spend.

I think most of us would pick some version of ‘b’.

The issue here isn’t Mr DeNaples, as it seems to me that he has lived up to his end of the deal. Why should he renegotiate the landfill fees? Is it his fault that the borough of Dunmore has mismanaged its finances all these years? If anything, perhaps Mr DeNaples has been too generous over the years, almost creating a situation whereby the borough expects him to come to the rescue whenever the going gets tough. It’s the classic “feeding the stray cat” syndrome.

I’m not trying to be a Louis DeNaples apologist here; I don’t know the man and besides I don’t think he actually needs my help. Did he get a sweetheart deal on the fees in the first place? Maybe, but then again he didn’t unilaterally set them: that was negotiated between the borough and the landfill. If the fees are too low, it’s the fault of the borough officials who cut this deal in the first place, just as it’s the fault of borough officials all these years for over-spending.

At worst, you can fault Mr DeNaples for being a good businessman by getting the best deal possible for the landfill. Contrast that against borough leadership, who seem intent on getting the worst possible deals for taxpayers. Given the choice, I’m siding with Mr DeNaples.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Is The Scranton Times Perpetuating the "Poor Coal Miner" Mentality?

I've read several times over the years (in the Scranton Times) about how abysmal the economy is in NEPA. For example, in an article dated June 2, 2010, Times reporter David Falchek wrote:

"Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's [unemployment rate] was the highest of the 14 metro areas [in Pennsylvania]."

Given that I've heard this kind of thing so many times, I've been meaning to research the actual numbers to basically make the case that our economic development officials (including Austin Burke Sr., now on leave to the state) have failed us miserably. Then of course I looked a little deeper into the actual facts, and while there probably is a post waiting in the wings centered around economic development failures, the facts aren't quite as black and white as you would tend to think.

Specifically, while I don't doubt that the Times reported the comparisons between MSAs correctly, I had a tough time believing that the economy is much worse here than, in say, Northwestern Pennsylvania, an area I've had occasion to visit. So for me it was off to dig up some data. What I found was pretty interesting.

To construct this comparison, I found the US Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rates by Pennsylvania county (you can find this via Google or by going to I then constructed two groups for comparison:

NWPA - including the following counties...
Erie, Crawford, Mercer, Venango, Warren, Forest & Clarion.

NEPA - including the following counties...
Susquehanna, Wyoming, Lackawanna, Wayne, Pike, Luzerne & Monroe

I will spare you the details about population density and such, but suffice to say the NWPA group includes the city of Erie, which is roughly equivalent in population to Scranton & Wilkes-Barre combined. NWPA also includes a number of smaller municipalities such as Clarion, Franklin, and Oil City. NEPA includes smaller muncipalities such as Carbondale, Dunmore and Kingston. All told, it seems to be a reasonable comparative group.

Next, I found the March 2010 unemployment rates by county & by group. To keep things simple, the total for the group is really the average of the averages. I could have done a something different with that (such as calculating a combined rate from the base population & employment data), but why add the complexity?. The results are summarized below:

Erie 10.6%
Crawford 10.8%
Mercer 11.9%
Venango 10.1%
Warren 9.2%
Forest 12.6%
Clarion 11.1%
NWPA Average 10.9%

Susquehanna 10.0%
Lackawanna 9.7%
Wyoming 11.0%
Luzerne 11.0%
Wayne 9.2%
Pike 11.3%
Monroe 10.2%
NEPA Average 10.3%

Not quite the same as the "highest in the state".

For the record, I'm not in any way, shape or form trying to...

...claim that these high unemployment rates are acceptable
...claim that officials in NWPA are not doing their jobs

...or anything of the sort. Rather, this is an exercise in "is this really true?" relative to the information provided by the Times.

Again, I started this little exercise trying to make a point, but as is often the case when dealing with data, the point you start out wanting to make sometimes isn't the point you end up making when you are finished. Some additional thoughts on the data:
  1. Overall - Unemployment rates are very, painfully high. In total, as of March 2010 Pennsylvania's overall unemployment rate was 9.4%; the rate for the United States as a while was 10.2%. Both are high, but NEPA is not dramatically higher the national rate. Lackawanna County's rate is a half percentage point above the state average.
  2. County by County - In Pennsylvania, county unemployment rates varied from a low of 6.7% (Centre County, home of Penn State) to a high of 17.3% in Cameron County (located northwest of, you wouldn't have guessed it, Centre County). Again, parts of NEPA actually look like they are holding their own.
  3. Metro Areas - Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) had an unemployment rate of 8.3%, while Philadelphia County's rate was 11.3%.
  4. Not All Rural Counties Are Created Equal - As noted above, very rural Cameron County had a state high rate of 17.3%, but other rural counties had rates that were significantly lower. For example...Bradford Count/8.1%, Potter County/11.5%, Perry County (where I once lived)/9.7%, and Tioga County/9.7%.

I've often wondered why the "poor down-trodden coal miner" mentality persists, and while I'm not ready to blame The Scranton Times, I will say that they don't help matters much. I know that this particular story is just one piece of journalism, but you can add it to the multitude of other little things to see a pattern of continuing to tell people what they want to hear. In many instances, people around here want to believe that things are much, much worse than anywhere else in the state. The motivations behind that kind of thinking number more than there are bars in Pittston, but I think that some of it lies in a desire to control and a distaste for change. Again, the Times is not to blame here, but...

Regionalism - The Times works against regionalism by maintaining this bizarre Chinese Wall-esque separation between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. Case in point: for whatever reason, the Times continues to print dramatically different editions between W-B and Scranton, despite the fact that many thought the purchase of the CV in Wilkes-Barre created an opportunity to develop a true NEPA newspaper (one that could tell more of a regional story). No one particular city, town or patch in NEPA can make it on its own...the world is simply too big a place, and regionalism is a proven driver of success.

Business Development Efforts - When was the last time you read an article that was critical of the local Chambers of Commerce? I have nothing against Austin Burke Sr., but let's be honest: has he really done such as a specular job as the local business promotion guy that he deserves a (all be it temporary) promotion to Harrisburg?

Cronyism - You see the same names and faces in the Times as region All-Stars. Gary Drapek? Check. Chris Doherty? Check. Austin Burke? Check. UofS Jesuit President? Check. (up until recently) Bob Mellow? Check. And the list goes on. Note that I have nothing against Drapek, Doherty & others (except for Mellow...) but come on...; Hell, the only thing that keeps former Scranton School District Superintendent John R. Williams out of the Times it the fact that he moved away. Find a critical story about Scranton Prep or the University of Scranton and I will buy you lunch.

Perpetuating Stereotypes - The Sports section of the Times is over 4 pages long. Typically, the business section is a page, if that. What does that tell you? Does the phrase "Bread and circuses" mean anything to you?

Lack of Aggressive Journalism - Quick, what was the last big story that the Times broke? Kids for cash? Nope. Culture of Corruption? Well not really, as the Times got all over it, once people started to get indicted. Bob Mellow's seeming inability to do much else than serve himself? Well yes, all be it 20 years AFTER he started doing this stuff. I realize that journalists have to report facts, but I also realize that journalists have to take chances. The Times rarely takes a chance.

In the final analysis, my beef with the Times comes down to this: they could be a driver for change in the region, but they mostly chose not to for reasons that I don't fully comprehend. As I started out noting in this post, they could have talked about the region's unemployment rate a few different ways, but instead they took the easy way out and simply left things at "lowest of the MSAs in PA". That kind of reporting doesn't run afoul of the region's historical "pity us poor coal miner"mentality, which seems to be often the point.

What do I want? Simple: I want the Times to be an aggressive change agent in NEPA. They are uniquely suited to do just that, if they would only chose to do so.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Some things in life are more fascinating than you can ever imagine. Take getting older for example: yes, I know that it stinks on many levels (my hearing is getting worse, my eyes aren't any better, I have to work at not getting too bloated, etc.), but then you get to encounter parts of your life from a completely different perspective. For example, my middle daughter recently graduated from high school. Now in my head high school graduation is something that I participated in, seeming just a few years ago. To actually see it ( my oldest graduated four years ago) is an almost out-of-body experience.

Perspective, yes that's the right word for it all. Getting older isn't so much about physical changes as it is about mental changes. You get to see the world not only from the vantage point of a child, but now you get to see it from the vantage point of an adult. You see the details that you missed the first time around when it comes to something like a graduation. You begin to appreciate all over again just how big a deal, how monumental a change, something like this represents.

I don't necessarily envy my middle daughter as she starts this next phase of her life. Again, I lived that once, and although there probably are things I would do differently, in totality those things worked out okay. Besides, now it's her turn. Whatever path she chooses will be her path, not mine. I get to have that perspective though, which is pretty cool. The trick is to try and turn this perspective into something useful, like "good advice", which I'm not necessarily sure I am up to, by the way. The good news here though is that when I graduated from high school (all those years ago), I wasn't sure I was up to that challenge either, but yet I managed. I'm hoping that life repeats.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Radom Music Trivia

Of all the talents to have, I end up with knowing a lot of music trivia. Why couldn't I be skilled at, for example, the bass guitar? Anyway, for benefit of anyone who simply wants to waste time, some random music trivia...

  • The Bangles Song "Manic Monday" was written by Prince (under a pseudonym).
  • Paul McCartney played the bass guitar and drums on the second Steve Miller Band album.
  • Boz Scaggs was an original member of the Steve Miller Band.
  • The Neil Sedaka song "Oh Carol" was written about/for song writer Carole King.
  • Frida from ABBA sings the female part in the Adam Ant song "Strip".
  • Mick Jagger is not the person being referenced in the Carly Simon song "You're So Vain"; why? because he is the male singing the chorus with Simon (listen carefully to the chorus...especially the second and third times where his voice is louder in the mix).
  • Elton John is Sean Lennon's godfather.
  • The working title of the Beatles song "Yesterday" was "Scrambled Eggs".
  • Duane Allman plays co-lead guitar on the Derek and the Domino's song "Layla"; his part is the higher of the two guitar sounds; Eric Clapton plays the lower guitar part.
  • Paul McCartney has played all of the instruments (including bass, guitar, piano, keyboards and drums) on two of his solo albums.
  • Frank Sinatra's once called "Something" by the Beatles one of the most beautiful songs on the 20the century.
  • Despite being a professional photographer, Paul McCartney's late wife Linda Eastman was not related to the family that founded Eastman Kodak; her father Lee Eastman was a attorney who specialized in entertainment law.
  • The ABBA song "Super Trouper" is named after a spot-light used in show business.
  • Geddy Lee from Rush is actually named "Gary"; "Geddy" came from the fact that his Yiddish mother had trouble pronouncing "Gary", and when she did it ended up sounding like "Geddy", which he adopted as his stage-name.
  • The Who's song "Substitute" was partially inspired the the song "Tracks of My Tears" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
  • The outstanding piano introduction to the song "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" by Simon and Garfunkel was arranged and played by Larry Knetchel, who would later on be a member of the soft-rock group Bread.
  • Another member of Bread, (the late) James Griffin, won an Oscar for co-writing the son "For All We Know" (best song, 1970).

Quote for the Day

I saw this on Facebook:

"Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car."

Seems pretty logical to me, as I've always viewed being "Christian" more of a verb than a noun. At least that's what the true Christian's I've met in my life demonstrated. And no, I'm not talking about social activism necessarily; I'm talking about people who tried to translate their faith into positive action in just about everything they did. We all meet people like this, and they seems to come in all shapes, sizes and denominations.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Penny Wise But Pound Foolish

Europe vacillates over funding for an experimental nuclear fusion reactor. Article link HERE.

I know that budgets, whether they be at home or in Brussels, are tight these days. However, even in the worst of times it makes sense to invest for the future. However it seems that the Euro-crates may be hedging on funding commitments associated with the development of an experimental nuclear fusion facility in France. This is a mistake; no make that this is a potentially enormous mistake.

Yes, research into nuclear fusion has been going on now for decades without much to show for it. However it's important to keep one simple fact in mind when it comes to this topic: nuclear fusion IS possible. We have a universe of stars that proves the fact of nuclear fusion. There are enormous technical issues associated with creating a controlled, self-sustaining nuclear fusion reaction on Earth, but that still doesn't change the fact that this is more science fact than fiction. We just need to figure it out.

Given the magnitude of the science required to "figure this out", it will take more money and it will take more time. But the payoff is a game changer for humanity: Clean energy that can be created from Hydrogen without radioactive waste. Again, it's important to remember that the basic science here is very well known; it's really just the technical aspects of how you practically do this on Earth that need to be resolved.

I am a very big fan of basic scientific research, and an even bigger fan when that research can lead to practical solutions that help humanity. Let's all hope that governments don't forget that part of being the collective representation of the people is to invest our money in projects that have the potential to improve the lives of humans for decades to come. That's what we do when we are at our best as a species.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Palin Impact

I've been out of town since Sunday, which usually means that...

...I don't have the time to devote to blogging all that much
...I get to real the Wall Street Journal and USA Today most days

...the second item above is a result of the complimentary copy that the hotel I stay at in Hartford (Homewood Suites, highly recommended by the way) provides.

Anyway, one of the items that I noted as having received a lot of coverage was the fact that I think Sarah "the drive-by media asks trick questions, like 'what magazines do you read'?" Palin was 3 for 4 in recent PRIMARY elections. In the grand scheme of things I think this means pretty much nothing.

Why? Well pretty simple actually: in primaries, candidates almost always have to go either hard right or hard left. Those going hard right of course are going to include Palin favorites. She is influential, but only within that crowd. In a general election, a candidate has to appeal to voters in the center and on the left in order to win. That's where Governor "I Quit" will not nearly be so influential. Yes, raise the name "Sarah Palin" at your average Klan rally or Tea Party event and I am sure that most attendees will join you in saluting the woman who not only can see Russia from her house, but who also thinks that shooting animals from a helicopter is somehow a sport. Mention her name to an average voter and the reaction is likely to be more along the lines of a yawn or even a response that involves the word "nit-wit" used repeatedly. Palin in an anchor, but only in a hard right port.

What's my beef with Trig's mom anyway? She represents one of the things in politics I despise the most: The politics of the soundbyte. As I've noted time and time again, I find it despicable when politicians take complex issues, such as energy policy, and dumb them down into meaningless phrases like "drill baby drill". To be fair, this is done on the left as well, but such noted luminaries as the Reverend Jesse Jackson (is is also mostly worthless in my book). Anyway, if you are told that our entire energy policy can be solved by "drill baby drill", then you are being nothing more than a sucker. Some things are complex. Some issues require study. Some problems can't be solved via the skillful application of a catch-phrase.

Look for the half-term governor's influence to be far less influential in the fall general elections.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

USA Today Editorial, June 8

I'm on the road this week, which makes it somewhat difficult to write as my schedule is all over the place. I do have time to sneak in some reading though, and I caught yesterday's USA Today editorial about the pending legislation in Congress that would keep teachers on the payroll. While I agree that we need as many great teachers as we can possibly afford, the key is that we need to pay for it. To that end, the USA Today editorial pretty much sums up my feelings nicely, so I wanted to share it.

You can find the editorial HERE.

By way of disclaimer, a member of my immediate family is a public school teacher and I have a 23 year old daughter to aspires to be a teacher.

Bottom line: if we want to keep these teachers on the payroll, it has to be paid for in current, real (as opposed to borrowed) dollars. The spending into oblivion madness needs to stop in this case and across the board (and that includes the wars we are funding via "Bank of China" credit cards).

Monday, June 7, 2010

Darling of the Conservative Family Values Crowd Gets Married...Again

First, sincere congratulations to Rush Limbaugh and his latest wife. I hope he finds happiness in marriage this time that has apparently escaped him in the past.

I am referring to the fact that conservative commentator, darling of the family-values crowd, and chicken-hawk Rush Limbaugh has gotten married for the 4th time. Story link HERE.

Of course my real comment here is that I find it curious that many, many social conservatives fawn over every word Limbaugh utters. Yet like many who seem to enjoy pointing out the flaws of others, Limbaugh isn't exactly pristine himself (what church does he regularly attend? proven drug abuse? married 4 times). It's test case in propaganda: if you like the message, chances are you will pretty much overlook just about everything related the messenger, even blatant hypocrisy.

To end this, I know that some could say "well you are pointing out flaws yourself", and that would be fair commentary. However I've yet to ever say anything along the lines of "your life style is immoral, unchristian, anti-family values", etc. Hell, as long as you don't make me watch, don't hurt children or small animals or don't invade my property I could care less what you do. I'm pointing a finger at people who point fingers. Seems reasonable to me.

Road Apples, #66

On the Road Again...I'm in Hartford most of this week, participating in a class on "Strategic Partnering" Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday is a bi-annual staff meeting. It's a nice break from the routine actually, and it will be nice to just be a participant in something. Oh, and I get paid to do this kind of thing. Now that's a miracle. Long way from the housing project.

Bernie Madoff is Doing Well & is Unapologetic...Story link HERE. For the record, Madoff is to financial crimes as Hitler was to crimes against humanity. This is a really, really bad guy who hurt a lot of folks. Anyway, according to reports from former inmates, Madoff is at the top of the (prison) game and is unapologetic about what he did. According to a story on CNBC, Madoff claims that Hedge Funds just "threw money" at him. Awww, poor Bernie! Anyway, I'm not sure about the whole after-life thing, but if there is a Hell, then there should be a special place there in the greed section for Madoff. in I didn't get much last night. The room temperature was too high, the bed too hard and I just couldn't really clear my head enough to get a fruitful night's sleep. I may need to resort to some "Chemical Willy" (with apologies to HST) in order to help get some sleep tonight. I can do fine with about 5 hours of sleep a night, although given that I am going to this class, I probably should be at my best.

NEPArtisan Comments on Janet Evans...For all those interested in Scranton politics, NEPArtisan has had a great series of articles Council President Janet Evans. Mrs Evans is definitely a polarizing figure in Scranton politics. What I think is the most telling part of the whole story is the fact that Mrs Evans ran so ferociously as a different kind of Scranton politician, which is clearly not the case. The reality here is that Scranton is a political town, and politicians are successful if they reward their friends and build bases of support. The problem is that Mrs Evans has been exceptionally critical of others for doing this sort of thing, yet she is guilty of it herself. I can understand giving positions to your political supporters, but I have a tougher time with blatant hypocrisy.

Pennsylvania's Budget...The incredibly inept, ineffective and bloated Pennsylvania Legislature will not have a budget in place by the June 30th deadline. With a $1.2 billion gap between revenue and expenses, the required tough decisions will not be forthcoming any time soon. Republicans will cry about high taxes and Democrats will cry about spending cuts, and neither will understand that they don't have a lock on the truth. Consensus building isn't a crime; in fact our very Constitution was the product of people working collectively to compromise. I hope I am wrong about the budget, but if I were a gambling man...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Don't call it a "Poll Tax"... it a "Poll Donation".

Article from the Saturday edition of the Scranton Times linked HERE.

I realize that this is most likely not a big deal; some poll workers want some beer or pierogi money, so they put out a donation basket. What's the harm? After all, these are small towns where the residents each other, so it's not as if people are actually intimidated.

Okay, got that formality out of the way, so on to the truth.

This IS a problem. Yes, in the minds of some residents they do live in close-knit communities where strangers just pass through. Unfortunately, the anti-outsider deflector shields surrounding these communities failed years ago, and we now live in a society that is much more mobile. While having a donation basket may seem "quaint" and "friendly" to those on the inside, to those of us on the outside...such as new arrivals to a community...there is another word that comes to mind: "intimidating".

There is also a little issue called "the law". The mere suggestion that money is required in order to vote runs afoul of the law. What law? Isn't just this "big brother" or "the evil ACLU" creating more rights that just defile our local communities?

No, the law here is actually pretty simple...

...the 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits poll taxes for Federal elections.
...the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits paying to vote in all other elections

Look, I am reasonably sure that the intent here wasn't to prevent people from voting. However the world is full of good intentions that result in bad outcomes. It's time for the appropriate local officials to make it clear that tipping baskets belong in restaurants, not places where people go to exercise their rights.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

From the "News of the Absurd" Department...

Two things recently caught my eye in the news:

Wal-Mart Rolls Out The Red Carpet

Article HERE. Yes, the company that pays its employees so little that many qualify for state medical coverage assistance has the money to throw a big party with the likes of Jamie Foxx, Mariah Carey and Josh Groban. What's the right word to describe this? "Sick" perhaps. Hey, that comes from a guy (me) who...

...isn't a big fan of unions
...generally is pro-business (unlike, say, Newt Gingrich, I actually work in the private sector)

...which says a lot.

Anyway, I know that Wal-Mart is free to spend money as it sees fit. I'm also free to point out that while they are paying Mariah Carey's too-high fees, they have employees who don't get paid enough to lift themselves or their families out of poverty.

Next time you are getting checked out at a Wal-Mart, ask the cashier if you can see the leg-irons. I'm joking...sort of.

Tobacco Companies Don't Like How The Truth Looks
Article HERE. Yes, tobacco companies are upset New York City requires signs be displayed graphically depicting the REAL effects of smoking. Now I would actually agree with the tobacco companies IF the signs didn't actually show you what could happen to as a result of indulging in their products, but that's not the case.

In case you are curious, here is a sample sign.

Yes, tobacco use does cause tooth decay, which is why your dentist asks you if you smoke. It's not a lie, so what's the problem? I'll tell you what the problem is: tobacco companies still cling on to the notion that somehow they are not accountable for the damage that their products produce. They also don't want you thinking they are accountable either.

I know, I can hear the "but fast food is bad for you too" argument coming, so let me stifle that right off the bat: even the worst fast food has some nutritional value, be it carbs and/or protein. Contrast that to tobacco, which has no value (unless you consider being 100% fatal when used as directed a value). Oh, keeps you thin...oh never mind, scratch that, as the aspect of tobacco that keeps you thin also contributes to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

1000th Soldier Killed In Afghanistan

This was widely reported on or around Memorial Day. Typical coverage was like THIS.

I'll cut right to the chase on this one: why are we there? Do we honestly think we are bringing democracy to a people to which the concept is alien? Do we think that somehow we are "getting them" before they "get us"?

I think the extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been both enormous failures. What's more, and this will sound very harsh (but so be it), but the life on just one American service member is too high a price, let alone the thousands that have already died. I have no idea what the total count of brave service members who have died is, but anything over 1 is too high.

People have given their lives because they were honor and duty bound to follow orders. There is no shame in that, and if anything we need to honor these fallen service even more for their sacrifices, as the people in Afghanistan and Iraq no doubt could care less. No, the shame lies in the two Presidential administrations now that have either started or continued these efforts.

I'm not going to engage in all manner of conspiracy theory bullshit over why President Bush chose to start these wars. That doesn't matter in the context of honoring the dead and calling for this insanity to end. I'm also not going to speculate why President Obama hasn't acted forcefully to end this madness...well at least not in this time and space, as I lack the mental energy. Instead I am going to say that both have played geo-political games with the lives of Soldiers and Marines (and Pilots, Sailors, and anyone else I forget). Enough already! We have a limited supply of brave Marines and other heroes, so maybe it's about time we stopped wasting them.

At the beginning of this post I posed a series of questions, a kind of writer-trick if you will that probably incorrectly deploy far too often. In a break from my normal practice I'm going to actually answer the questions as a kind of coda to this extended thought.

Q: Why are we there?
A: Honestly, I don't think we even know any more, which is incredibly sad.

Q: Do we honestly think we are bringing democracy to a people to which the concept is alien?
A: Some may think it, but it is a mistake. Religiously, culturally, and by any other "ly" you can think of, these are not people who want democracy. What's more, democracy is one of those things whereby if you have to ram it down some one's throat, then you are missing the point. If they want democratic institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, then let those peoples rise up and demand them.

Q: Do we think that somehow we are "getting them" before they "get us"?
A: Some do, but the thought is absurd. We can obliterate any terrorist training camp from 60,000 feet if we simply chose to.

1,000 dead American soldiers in Afghanistan, and we have precisely what to show for it?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Things I Don't Have Time For

For no particular reason, a list of things that I don't have time for in my life...
  1. Racists and Homophobes - I have no time for the racist and homophobic swine that crawl under the rocks of our society. That noted, I'd rather deal with someone who comes right out and says "I just hate _________________ (insert "Jews", "Blacks", "Hispanics", "Queers", etc.)" than someone who tries to explain away their actions as somehow being intellectually justified. What matters is the quality of a person's character, not what color their skin is, what (or if) they worship or the kinds of consenting adult relationships they engage in.
  2. Whiners - I believe in the "diaper theory" of life...if something stinks, then change it. Otherwise, sitting there complaining about whatever bothers you solves nothing.
  3. Conspiracy Theories - Look, George W. Bush did not orchestrate the fall of the World Trade Center in order to start a war. Fluoride in drinking water makes kids get fewer cavities and nothing else. The Jews as a group do not control the media, the banking system, or anything else for that matter (well other than the state of Israel). Senator John McCain is a United States citizen, as is President Barack Obama. Putting it all together: simply repeating bull$hit doesn't turn that bull$hit into truth. For added reading on this topic, Google "the big lie".
  4. Lazy People - I don't have time for people who believe that somehow they are owed something for nothing. We are all given talents at birth, and with some hard work and determination, anyone in this country can have a decent life. Yes, I know that life isn't fair, and the world is full of scumbags who will screw you to get ahead. That's life. There is joy and nobility in all hard work...something that I think we forget to teach young people these days. As John Mellencamp once noted in the song "Minutes to Memories", "An honest man's pillow is his peace of mind".
  5. Smoker's Rights - There is no such thing. Does someone have the right to turn their lungs into something that looks like it washed up on an Alabama beach? I guess so, but they don't have a right subject me to it. Smoking sections? A smoking section is about as effective "peeing section" in a swimming pool.
  6. Mindless Consumption - I don't have time for whatever the media says is the next "must have" toy. I'm sorry, but this consumer is not going to be Madison Avenue's Pavlov's Dog. Oh, and "IPad" sounds like a feminine hygiene product ("Ladies, ever have a day when you just don't feel fresh and you need to access the Internet? Well the IPad is for you...").
  7. People Who Don't Read - I know people who don't read...anything. That astounds me. There are entire universes available in the printed word, so why purposefully shut yourself out from experiencing them? Why on Earth deny yourself the experience of reading (for example) "Sonnets from the Portuguese"? That's an example of something which is far more than words on a's sheer beauty.
  8. Fantasy Sports - The functional equivalent of Star Trek/Wars conventions.
  9. Extreme Partisans - I'm sorry, but no political philosophy has exclusive rights to the truth. I especially loathe people who engage in extreme partisanship via sloganeering. For example, solving the problems associated with the energy needs of the United States requires a solution that is a bit more complex than "Drill Baby Drill!". Oh, and just to be fair, the extreme left has it's share of twits too, including those who believe that the tax code should be used for social engineering.
  10. Arrogance - Think you're better than me? Well good for you, and I hope it makes you feel better about yourself. Glad I could help with your self-esteem needs. For the record though, in 500 years we will both be dust.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Message from Kevin Haggerty

I received a message from Kevin Haggerty stating his opinion that I slighted his campaign effort with THIS POSTING. Basically it boils down to my assertion that Ken Smith won the primary vote because the anti-incumbent vote was split. Mr Haggerty is just as free to disagree with my assertion as I was in making it in the first place.

In any event, I've pasted my formal response to Mr Haggerty below.



I think my point was factually did split the vote (although the "thank you note" part was a bit snarky). Put another way, had it been you against Smith, you probably would have won. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I'm reasonably sure that would have been the case.

I also think you are being selective in what you cite. If you read an earlier post, you will see that I complemented you on how hard you were working. I specifically said...

"I give the guy credit for working it, that's for sure. He was running and sweating like Rocky. All things considered, it wasn't a negative impression."

Another point: I wasn't covering any campaign. That's not what I do. I probably wrote maybe three or four most...about your specific race, and not in a single instance have I ever claimed to be offering anything other than my opinion about things. With all due respect, the operative word there was "opinion". This includes, by the way, the tons of opinions about how Ken Smith deserved to be removed from office. If anything, for that kind of "coverage" you should be thanking me. This is the difference between what a blogger does and what a journalist does. I am the former, and have never once claimed to be the latter.

Kevin, I have nothing but respect for how hard you worked. That's just as much on-line as the other posting you cited. I don't though need to be on a campaign trail to know how difficult it is to run for office and be subject to opinions such as mine. That, however, goes with the territory.

To summarize: I stand behind the opinion about your splitting the vote (that which you remembered), just as I also stand behind the opinion about how hard you were working (that which you forgot). Mostly though I stand behind my right to comment as I see fit.

- Steve