April 26, 2007

Mommy Dearest

Keeping in step with my previous post, I found one more article for the “Illegal Activity Isn’t So Bad” file.

A woman in Pennsylvania has been charged with the death of her 11-month-old son after she allegedly slept on top of him following a night of excessive alcohol consumption and marijuana smoking. According to police, she drank 10 beers, two Long Island iced teas, and topped it off with weed. She then went home, slept on top of the baby, and allegedly killed him. The recorded 911 call has her shouting, “My baby’s dead! I slept on my baby!”

The part of this story that hit me was the comment made by the woman’s defense attorney, public defender Gregory Mousseau. Now, I completely understand that your defense lawyer’s job is to defend you. Comments that they make sometimes make me wonder if it’s defense or support for illegal behavior.

Mousseau said, “This case is about criminalizing someone who sleeps with their child after they had a few too many drinks.”

There’s nothing criminal about getting plastered, smoking weed, and then sleeping on your 11-month-old baby—even if the baby had lived? (Notice that Mousseau conveniently left out the weed-smoking part.)

Maybe it’s time that I became a criminal. I’d have the support from Representative Luis Gutierrez from my previous post and if I found myself in trouble with the cops I’d have Gregory Mousseau taking care of me in court.

Life is going to be sweet.

The Morning Call

Your Papers, Please

When it comes to Congressmen, usually we hear them preach the virtues of abiding by our nation’s laws and then we see them break them. Other times we just find ones who are openly in favor of illegal activity.

Such is the case of United States Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. After federal agents charged 22 people for operating a huge fake-ID business in Chicago, Gutierrez was outraged. It turned out that the fake-ID business was catering to illegal immigrants and shutting down an illegal business that provides fraudulent documents was “an outrage and completely excessive,” in Gutierrez’s words.

He went on to describe the bust by saying: “It only served to frighten and intimidate a vulnerable community and to drive a wedge between law enforcement and immigrants.”

I’m not in the business of public relations, but if Gutierrez thinks that he’s doing a service to the concept of immigration, he’s doing a crappy job. By suggesting that it’s an either-or situation—in this case you’re either on the side of the law or you’re on the side of illegal behavior—he’s not going to garner too much support for his cause.

Oh…wait. I almost forgot that it has become more popular to support illegal immigration than it has to support legal immigration. Never mind.

USA Today

April 23, 2007

Saving the Planet — One Asshole at a Time

For the last 40 years or so the pro-choice movement has used the mantra “Keep the government out of my womb” (with the occasional “Keep the government out of my bedroom”). Now the U.S. populace as a whole might have a new mantra on the way: “Keep the government out of my anus.” (I would have used “Keep the government out of my bathroom” but the size of toilets is already regulated to help save water per flush; never mind that you can flush more than once per session.)

Sheryl Crow wants the government to regulate how much toilet paper you use per bathroom visit, but it’s to help stop global warming, so you should support it. Crow and An Inconvenient Truth co-producer Laurie David are currently on their Stop Global Warming College Tour and Crow writes the following in her tour blog:

I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required.

I’m assuming that Crow takes herself seriously (I certainly don’t), so let’s humor her fascist views and ponder how the government could actually control how much toilet paper we use per visit to the porcelain throne. I’ve come up with two possible ways.

The first way is to have every bathroom all across the country be installed with some kind of contraption that will hold the toilet paper and dispense your one square. Being good global warming soldiers, we’ll have to program each toilet paper distribution contraption to prevent people from going overboard each day in an attempt to hoard it to use all in one sitting. Thus, we’ll have no choice but to make it log when you make your visit to the water closet.

The second possibility is more intrusive and more expensive. We’d have to form a Department of Toilet Paper Monitoring, which would be a cabinet-level department that would oversee the installation of cameras into each and every bathroom across the nation. Toilet Paper Monitoring Department workers would watch you pee and defecate while watching to make sure that you use no more than your allotted amount.

I feel as if my IQ has dropped by just discussing this nonsense. The worst part is that Sheryl Crow is probably dead serious about this. No—wait; the worst part is that there are probably other Americans who are now going to push for government regulation of toilet paper use per bathroom visit in an effort to save the planet.

This is what the global warming movement has become.

The Washington Post (screenshot)

April 20, 2007


In a recent interview with News24.com, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales predicts that MySpace will fail in a few years and that the popular social networking site “hurts” his eyes.

The irony is that MySpace profiles probably have a better accuracy rating than Wikipedia entries.

Israel News Agency
Joel Leyden provides an overview of falsehoods and libel that have come to make Wales’s site famous: the John Seigenthaler JFK assassination lie; Jimmy Wales’s personal alterations of Alan Dershowitz’s entry whereby he censored information (he used the term “protected”); Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s libel-ridden entry; the infamous Adam Curry podcasting entry; and the error-ridden entry on Harriet Tubman, which was highlighted by racial epithets.
“The Great Failure of Wikipedia”
Jason Scott of Textfiles.com delivered this speech at Notacon 3 in Cleveland last year and covers the Ashida Kim incident, users’ dislike of people who are actually experts on given subjects, and discusses Wikipedia’s consensus-based decisions on who/what is worthy of an entry and who/what isn’t. The audio has been archived at The Internet Archive.
The Village Voice
Rachel Aviv offers an interesting look at Wikipedia in her article “Mondo Wikipedia,” in which she points out that 2005’s biggest contributor was a high school student and entry writers can vie for a “General Awesomeness Barnstar” award.
The Smoking Gun
Professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller filed suit against Wikipedia after a libelous entry was posted. The entry stated that he was a wife beater, child abuser, alcoholic, and drug addict.
USA Today
The most recent celebrity to be hit by the false reporting via Wikipedia was comedian Sinbad, who learned that he was dead. He looks good for a dead guy.
The Telegraph
Last month it was discovered that one of Wikipedia’s editors, who claimed to have been a professor of religion with advanced degrees in theology and canon law, was actually a 24-year-old community college drop-out who held no advanced degrees in anything and was said to have edited 20,000 Wikipedia entries. (On his Wikipedia user page, the man states that he has “received an astounding amount of support.” I’m not shocked.)

Dead Man’s Curve

David Brown from The Washington Post reports the following:

Traffic injuries are the leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 24 around the world — a huge, overlooked and largely preventable public health problem, the World Health Organization said yesterday.

In a new report, the organization promoted a long list of suggestions to developing countries, where most of the deaths and disabling injuries occur. The improvements include safer roads and vehicles, better urban planning, helmet laws, prosecution of speeders and drunken drivers, better education of the driving and walking public, and simple interventions such as putting reflective tape on backpacks.


About 30 percent of all traffic deaths worldwide — roughly 400,000 each year — are of people younger than 25. Although teenage and young-adult drivers are at greatest risk, younger age groups also have high mortality. In 2002, traffic injuries were the third leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 9, behind pneumonia and AIDS. About 46 percent of traffic deaths in sub-Saharan Africa occurred in that age group that year.

Since 400,000 young people are dying every year by way of automobiles, and since bans on things are said to be the cure for all of humanity’s ills, join me in a grassroots effort to ban automobiles—if not the world over, at least here in the United States.

Those not supportive of this ban on cars will be accused of not being interested in preventing adolescent deaths.

The Washington Post

April 19, 2007

“Be Nice to Psychopaths” Day

It turns out that most people knew of what Cho might do. From the AP via Yahoo!:

BLACKSBURG, Va. — The gunman blamed for the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history had previously been accused of stalking two female students at Virginia Tech and had been taken to a mental health facility in 2005 after an acquaintance worried he might be suicidal, police said Wednesday.

Cho Seung-Hui had concerned one woman enough with his calls and e-mail in 2005 that police were called in, said Police Chief Wendell Flinchum.


“I had no idea he was capable of this,” [roommate Karan] Grewal said. “We were never told his teachers had concern about him committing suicide and all these dark feelings.

“We were never told that our suitemate was depressed or suicidal.”

Several students and professors described Cho as a sullen loner. Authorities said he left a rambling note raging against women and rich kids. News reports said that Cho, a 23-year-old senior majoring in English, may have been taking medication for depression and that he was becoming increasingly erratic.

Professors and classmates were alarmed by his class writings — pages filled with twisted, violence-drenched writing.

“It was not bad poetry. It was intimidating,” poet Nikki Giovanni, one of his professors, told CNN Wednesday.

“I know we're talking about a youngster, but troubled youngsters get drunk and jump off buildings,” she said. “There was something mean about this boy. It was the meanness — I’ve taught troubled youngsters and crazy people — it was the meanness that bothered me. It was a really mean streak.”

Giovanni said her students were so unnerved by Cho’s behavior, including taking pictures of them with his cell phone, that some stopped coming to class and she had security check on her room. She eventually had him taken out of her class, saying she would quit if he wasn't removed.

I’ve figured it out: As a country, we want to ban guns, violent video games, violent movies, and heavy metal, but we’re opposed to keeping easily-identifiable homicidal maniacs off the street.

That would violate their civil rights, after all.

Yahoo! News (AP)

April 17, 2007

Exploitation 101

There isn’t much to say other than it’s disgusting to see how yesterday’s massacre is being exploited for political purposes.

The gun-control crowd; the anti-heavy metal crowd; the anti-violent movie crowd; the anti-violent video game crowd; the anti-immigration crowd; the America-is-too-rich crowd (the gunman decried “rich kids,” “debauchery,” and “deceitful charlatans” in a note left behind). All the while the media is salivating over the whole thing for ratings.

This was sick and is getting sicker. Who else is going to exploit this situation? Who else needs to get their personal and political agenda noticed?
Updated Section:

I have to thank Rosie O’Donnell for providing a wonderful example of my observation. She took to the airwaves on The View this morning to connect yesterday’s mass-murderer to the NRA. She also said that her attempts at promoting gun control have been “futile.”

Apparently she’s forgetting that her rants on guns lost some of their weight when it was discovered that her bodyguard carried one.

April 16, 2007


7:15 a.m.: Two people are murdered in the West Ambler Johnston dormitory.

9:45 a.m.: A shooter executes 32 people and injures over 25 more.

Two people are murdered at quarter after seven and Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum and university president Charles Steger not only did not have a campus lock-down, but allowed classes to continue on schedule? Steger then has the nerve to say that he’s at a loss for words to understand how it happened?

It’s terrible enough to know that a madman was willing to take 32 innocent lives and injure almost 30 more. It’s worse to know that it might have been prevented had Steger and Flinchum initiated a lock-down and cancelled classes for the day.

It might be an institution of higher education, but the people at the top apparently lack intelligence.

April 12, 2007

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Wallet

Since I outlined a story of apparent political intimidation a few days ago that came to us from the coal regions of eastern Pennsylvania, I felt that it was only proper to offer an update to the story.

A judge in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, ruled today that a man who challenged two county commissioners in court will have to pay $8,114 to the county to cover legal fees incurred by the commissioners’ attorney. The man originally took the commissioners to court over a disagreement related to a controversial land and building purchase.

I can’t help but think that this ruling will send a clear message to the folks in this particular county that if you challenge your local politicians, you’re guaranteed to pay for it—literally—in the end.

What better way is there to keep dissent at a minimum?

The Times News

April 11, 2007

Case Dismissed

Now that the charges have officially been dropped against the wrongfully-accused Duke lacrosse team members, perhaps we can go after the real criminals in the case: the woman who lied about being raped; Mike Nifong, who willingly attempted to destroy as many innocent lives as necessary in an effort to win re-election by ordering that DNA evidence be hidden; and the 88 Duke University professors who helped Nifong’s criminal acts by way of a newspaper advertisement designed to bolster support for the corrupt attorney.

For an image of the advertisement, click here.

The following is a list of professors who helped Nifong on campus:

▪ Abe, Stan (Art, Art History, and Visual Studies)
▪ Albers, Benjamin (University Writing Program)
▪ Allison, Anne (Cultural Anthropology)
▪ Aravamudan, Srinivas (English)
▪ Baker, Houston (English and AAAS)
▪ Baker, Lee (Cultural Anthropology)
▪ Beckwith, Sarah (English)
▪ Berliner, Paul (Music)
▪ Beaule, Christina (University Writing Program)
▪ Blackmore, Connie (AAAS)
▪ Boa, Jessica (Religion & University Writing Program)
▪ Boatwright, Mary T. (Classical Studies)
▪ Boero, Silvia (Romance Studies)
▪ Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo (Sociology)
▪ Brim, Matthew (University Writing Program)
▪ Chafe, William (History)
▪ Ching, Leo (Asian & African Languages and Literatures)
▪ Coles, Rom (Political Science)
▪ Cooke, Miriam (Asian & African Languages and Literatures)
▪ Crichlow, Michaeline (AAAS)
▪ Curtis, Kim (Political Science)
▪ Damasceno, Leslie (Romance Studies)
▪ Davidson, Cathy (English)
▪ Deutsch, Sally (History)
▪ Dorfman, Ariel (Literature & Latin American Stds.)
▪ Edwards, Laura (History)
▪ Farred, Grant (Literature)
▪ Fellini, Luciana (Romance Studies)
▪ Fulkerson, Mary McClintock (Divinity School)
▪ Gabara, Esther (Romance Studies)
▪ Gavins, Raymond (History)
▪ Greer, Meg (Romance Studies)
▪ Glymph, Thavolia (History)
▪ Hardt, Michael (Literature)
▪ Harris, Joseph (University Writing Program)
▪ Holloway, Karla (English)
▪ Holsey, Bayo (AAAS)
▪ Hovsepian, Mary (Sociology)
▪ James, Sherman (Public Policy)
▪ Kaplan, Alice (Literature)
▪ Khalsa, Keval Kaur (Dance Program)
▪ Khanna, Ranjana (English)
▪ King, Ashley (Romance Studies)
▪ Koonz, Claudia (History)
▪ Lasch, Peter (Art, Art History, and Visual Studies & Latino/a Studies)
▪ Lee, Dan A. (Math)
▪ Leighten, Pat (Art, Art History, and Visual Studies)
▪ Lentricchia, Frank (Literature)
▪ Light, Caroline (Inst. for Crit. U.S. Stds.)
▪ Litle, Marcy (Comparative Area Studies)
▪ Litzinger, Ralph (Cultural Anthropology)
▪ Longino, Michele (Romance Studies)
▪ Lubiano, Wahneema (AAAS and Literature)
▪ Maffitt, Kenneth(History)
▪ Mahn, Jason (University Writing Program)
▪ Makhulu, Anne-Maria (AAAS)
▪ Mason, Lisa (Surgical Unit-2100)
▪ McClain, Paula (Political Science)
▪ Meintjes, Louise (Music)
▪ Mignolo, Walter (Literature and Romance Studies)
▪ Moreiras, Alberto (Romance Studies)
▪ Neal, Mark Anthony (AAAS)
▪ Nelson, Diane (Cultural Anthropology)
▪ Olcott, Jolie (History)
▪ Parades, Liliana (Romance Studies)
▪ Payne, Charles (AAAS and History)
▪ Pierce-Baker, Charlotte (Women’s Studies)
▪ Pebles-Wilkins, Wilma
▪ Petters, Arlie (Math)
▪ Plesser, Ronen (Physics)
▪ Radway, Jan (Literature)
▪ Rankin, Tom (Center for Documentary Studies)
▪ Rego, Marcia (University Writing Program)
▪ Reisinger, Deborah S. (Romance Studies)
▪ Rosenberg, Alex (Philosophy)
▪ Rudy, Kathy (Women’s Studies)
▪ Schachter, Marc (English)
▪ Shannon, Laurie (English)
▪ Sigal, Pete (History)
▪ Silverblatt, Irene (Cultural Anthropology)
▪ Somerset, Fiona (English)
▪ Stein, Rebecca (Cultural Anthropology)
▪ Thorne, Susan (History)
▪ Viego, Antonio (Literature)
▪ Vilaros, Teresa (Romance Studies)
▪ Wald, Priscilla (English)
▪ Wallace, Maurice (English and AAAS)
▪ Wong, David (Philosophy)

There’s no word yet on whether or not Jesse Jackson is still planning on giving the alleged rape victim the college scholarship that he promised her several months ago.

April 9, 2007

I Love You; You Hate Me

Over the last few years it has become common to hear the Internet, and more particularly blogs, as being the twenty-first century version of the Wild West. In many cases it has turned into an outlet for rumor, gossip, libel, and even threats of violence.

A New York Times article on the topic offers three examples of people whose lives have been affected by harassment that ranges from doctored photographs to death threats. One man has had negative comments left on his blog because he wants peace between Israel and the Palestinians. One woman has found herself with a stalker blogger who parodies her writing on another website. Another woman has been sent death threats over a dispute pertaining to the ethics of deleting vile comments from one’s blog.

In response, conference promoter and publisher Tim O’Reilly joined Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales have joined forces to develop a set of guidelines to help bolster online civility. Some of the rules include situational use of anonymous writing and others include pledging to cite sources for gossip or breaking news. O’Reilly and Wales suggest that bloggers use some kind of logo on their sites to help visitors recognize whether or not they follow the guidelines of civility.

The concept behind these guidelines is great, but they seem to be ignoring something: If a blogger is honest and ethical from the start, they won’t need to use a superficial logo. This is one of the reasons that I make sure to offer links to sources and, whenever possible, screenshots of links to not only show where I found the information, but what the website looked like at the exact moment of my using it (being that websites have been known to change at the drop of a hat).

If a blogger is unethical and only interested in libelous gossip, there’s a good chance that they’re also going to be so unethical as to stick a little logo on their site suggesting that they follow guidelines. They’re not going to care about the unethical use of a symbol if they’ve already proven to the world that they don’t care about ruining reputations.

A second point that needs to be addressed is the bastardization of the terms “censorship” and “First Amendment rights.” It has becoming common to hear people use both so liberally that in many times—such as the cases in the article—both have become as commonly misunderstood as the terms “communist” and “fascist.”

To put it succinctly, censorship and violating one’s First Amendment rights can only be done by a governmental agency, be it local, state, or federal. A blogger removing a threatening comment from his or her site is not censorship and it’s not violating any First Amendment rights. If it were a governmental body stepping in and telling the blog host (i.e., Blogger, MySpace, LiveJournal, etc.) that they must remove a particular comment or blog post as a whole, it’s then censorship.

Other examples of this misunderstanding (I’d sooner use the term ignorance, but I’m trying to be civil for the sake of the topic at hand) have been Wal-Mart’s choosing to not carry certain genres of music, Mötley Crüe’s imbecilic 2005 lawsuit against NBC, and even an argument that the “ignore” option in Yahoo!’s instant messenger application is a form of censorship.

Always My Right; Always
Let’s look at the Wal-Mart issue first. If Wal-Mart—or any other store, for that matter—doesn’t want to carry a certain band or certain genre, it’s their choice. If I want to open a store that sells CDs (humor me here; I know quite well that CDs are a dying medium), I have every right to pick what I sell. If I don’t want to sell Yanni or John Tesh, it’s not censorship; it’s because I can’t stand Yanni and John Tesh. No matter what I like personally, however, what I sell should ultimately be based on a business decision. If it sells, I should sell it. If I don’t, there’s a good chance that I’ll go out of business. Keeping bread on my table is of the utmost importance. That isn’t violating anyone’s First Amendment rights; it’s me exercising my right to choose.

Shout at the Devil
As for Mötley Crüe, they sued NBC in 2005 after being banned from Saturday Night Live following vocalist Vince Neil’s use of “fuck” on live television. The lawsuit accused NBC of violating the band’s First Amendment rights and hurting record sales, and went so far as to suggest that NBC should be forced to have them on TV.

If you want to argue that the Federal Communications Commission should be dissolved, I might be tempted to agree with you. That’s a separate issue, however, and the issue in this case was NBC’s right to pick and choose their musical guests. The First Amendment bans governments from silencing private citizens; it doesn’t provide for the right to increased record sales.

This point seems to have been missed by quite a few people. For instance, the Center for Creative Voices in Media asked, “[H]ow can NBC ban a band from its airwaves for an incident that does not violate any law or FCC rule and for which few if any genuine complaints were filed?” The answer is simple: NBC has just as much freedom to pick and choose what bands are on Saturday Night Live as the Center for Creative Voices in Media has to complain about it. Both choices are being made by non-governmental parties.

A third place that has been invaded by the I-really-don’t-know-anything-about-law-but-I-want-people-to-think-that-I-do crowd has been Yahoo!’s instant messenger service and its accompanying chat room program. I don’t chat much anymore due to time constraints, but when I did I recall one evening when one user threatened to sue another user for having violated his First Amendment rights when the first chatter clicked his “ignore” button on the other. (For those who might not know, you can block comments from other individual chatters by pressing a button if they become offensive or annoying.)

If the incident hadn’t been as amusing as it was, it would have been frightening.


The only way that civility becomes the norm across both the blogosphere and the Internet as a whole is to have each of us adopt a philosophy to promote and utilize civil measures. However, offensiveness and incivility have become historic characteristics of both our country and our species. I have a feeling that both will be with us for as long a time as we’ve had people who don’t understand the basics of the First Amendment.

New York Times
Center for Creative Voices in Media

April 7, 2007

Boss Tweed Railway

When writing about certain topics, I don’t intentionally set out to find something so much as having it find me. Likewise, I don’t find myself looking for news or issues that emanate from a particular location. While I have, quite a few times, found myself discussing asinine political issues in my home commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it’s not because I’ve set out to do so; it’s because asininity is running rampant here.

After writing about a potbellied pig story last week, in which a town council and local judge are in denial over the fact that there is another world outside their door, I had no idea that I would find myself commenting on another story from the same county.

Unfortunately, this story is much more serious than sheltered councilmen and pet pigs. It begins with ludicrous remarks by county commissioners to defend their questionable use of tax money, but ends with what can be called nothing other than intimidation against constituents who question their actions.

All Aboard
The saga began with a rather inconspicuous subject: an abandoned railroad building and the land on which it stood.

The building, which was recently torn down, was located in a village called Packerton, Carbon County, and was in use until the 1970s. From that time forward, however, the building became victimized by the elements, fell into a state of disrepair, and ultimately turned into an eyesore. The property was for sale for quite a few years, but for one reason or another—it could have been either the price or the possibility of petroleum-based pollution in the soil—no one wanted anything to do with it.

That is, no one until last year when two of the county’s three commissioners, William O’Gurek and Charles Getz, voted to have the county buy the land, saying that they were going to lure some kind of “high-paying industry” to the area. (No actual industry has ever been named.)

The two elected officials, who were opposed by the third commissioner over the land purchase, quickly took the next step in their supposed goal of bringing an industry to the area: razing the railroad building. This is where things got interesting because when it was announced that the building would be ripped down, several people—most of whom didn’t seem to have any interest in the building for the 30 or so years that the property was available for sale—wanted the demolition stopped. They formed an organization called Save Packerton Yards and argued that the building was an historical site. As such, they argued that it should be saved from the wrecking ball, if not restored to its original state.

That wasn’t the commissioners’ only roadblock, though. It was discovered that O’Gurek and Getz had violated the United States National Historic and Preservation Act by not notifying the state Historical Museum Commission before the demolition was announced. The notification was required because the commissioners applied for and received $675,000 in federal and state tax money to use toward the land purchase. Whether they intentionally tried to hide the razing from the Historic Museum Commission or whether they’re just incompetent hick politicians has never been said, but either way, this is where the story took a brief detour into the Twilight Zone.

In an apparent effort to fix their standing with the Preservation Act and help their side of the argument, Commissioner Chairman O’Gurek finally filed a report with the Historical Museum Commission, but it wasn’t without oddities. In the letter, O’Gurek said that the railroad building was “being used for booze, drug and sex parties, satanic worshipping and harboring vagrants and vagabonds.” As such, he said, it should be razed as quickly as possible.

Local police said that they were aware of teenagers using the building as a drinking spot and vagrants living in tents on the edge of the property, but they had no knowledge of the structure being used for drug-fueled sex parties or Satanic rituals. When asked by a reporter for details on how he knew of these activities, O’Gurek wouldn’t comment. Given O’Gurek’s refusal to answer, it’s easy to assume that the commissioner had some kind of insider information on these illegal hedonistic orgies.

That aside, those opposed to the building’s destruction lost their case in court. The razing was to continue, but not without more controversy. The state Museum Commission asked for at least a delay in the building’s destruction so that they could take a look at the site to make a final decision on the structure’s historical worth. The commission had no legal authority to stop the demolition, though, and the razing continued. Rather conveniently, every staircase to the second floor was removed the day before the Historical Commission representatives had said that they were going to visit the property.

A third—or fourth or fifth, depending upon how you’re looking at it—brouhaha developed when a second court case arose. Save Packerton Yards accused the commissioners of violating Pennsylvania’s open-meetings law, leading to a lawsuit that was deemed “frivolous” by the majority commissioners. As we’ll come to find out, the commissioners didn’t take kindly to having their actions questioned by any of the county’s residents.

After the structure was completely torn down, you would have thought that the story would have ended. It would have seemed as if this would be where Commissioners O’Gurek and Getz would have begun luring all the industry that they had previously talked about when defending their decision to purchase otherwise worthless land. Instead, their next move was what appears to be state-sponsored revenge and intimidation.

Caught on the Tracks
Thomas A. Zimmerman IV, who founded Save Packerton Yards, soon found himself being sued by Carbon County—namely O’Gurek and Getz. The commissioners said that opposing them cost $10,405 in legal fees, and that they want Zimmerman to pay for the expenses. The amount was later reduced to $8,114 and the county’s special counsel referred to the challenges against the commissioners as an “abuse of the legal system.”

As of this writing, the judge in the trial is expected to rule on the case next week.

Next Stop: Ignoranceville
With respect to the initial argument, I would have been hard-pressed to take a side. In one corner we had an organization which claimed that it wanted to save a building from destruction, but none of its members had an interest in saving it throughout the 30 years that it was available for sale. Instead, they allowed it to deteriorate into a decrepit state—a state that, given the photos, wasn’t repairable.

In the other corner were two commissioners who helped promote the belief that the government is the be-all and end-all of job creation. They helped foster the belief that supply and demand was a conspiracy propagated by evil capitalists, and that if a county government wants to insulate itself from changes in both the national and global economy, it can somehow do so. They basically promoted the idea that market forces shouldn’t play a role in job growth.

Such an idea would probably be sold easily in rural Pennsylvania because basic economic theories aren’t embraced much here. Having grown up here, it’s quite common to see communities welcome the idea of cutting themselves off from the rest of the world in terms of economic factors. Even though service-sector jobs have replaced traditional blue-collar jobs everywhere else, some communities yearn for the old days. The old days are fun to wax nostalgic, but you can’t put a stop to evolution and progress.

Maybe these details aren’t a concern for this particular county, though, because their own website provides us with something that is quite telling: Before purchasing this 59-acre tract in the village of Packerton, Carbon County already had 635 acres of available “industrial” land at their Green Acres Industrial Park. If they already have 635 acres that aren’t being used, why buy another 59 with state and federal tax dollars? That’s not to mention that the Packerton land was exposed to pollution for close to 100 years.

Perhaps the irony here is that O’Gurek was recently quoted as saying, “We don’t want to be a land baron,” after the county took control of several parcels of barren land a few miles from Packerton due to delinquent taxes.

Last Stop: Intimidation Valley
For me, the most frightening part of this story is the recent lawsuit brought by the commissioners against the founder of the organization that opposed them. It reeks of intimidation because Commissioners O’Gurek and Getz have shown the citizens of that county that they’re willing to use litigation against anyone who opposes them. All the while, they can simply justify the lawsuits by saying that they’re trying to recoup legal fees. Again, their questionable moves are done under the guise of working “for the people.”

I took a look at the financial statistics of Carbon County using data that was compiled by the United States Census Bureau. As of 2003, the median household income in the county was $38,745 and the per capita income as of 1999 was $17,064 (both years being the most recent statistics available).

Since this county doesn’t have a wealthy population, it’s a safe bet that the people who live there wouldn’t be willing to challenge their elected officials if they knew that they’d face the possibility of shelling out attorney fees when the commissioners take them to court. What better way to keep the people silent? What better way to quell dissent?

I’m hoping that when the judge rules on this case, it will be against Commissioners O’Gurek and Getz. I don’t say that because I’m supporting their opponents; I have no vested interest in either side. I say it because I don’t want to see yet another situation where small-town politicians get a carte blanche and a green light to do anything that they want.

If that happens, the people of this particular county might find themselves with a diesel-powered political machine and a set of train tracks being built toward Tammany Hall.

The Morning Call
The Morning Call
The Morning Call
The Morning Call
Carbon County Economic Development Office
United States Census Bureau

April 4, 2007

Reading, Writing, and Hate

A few weeks ago I commented on the NAACP’s push to have a singing performance by former Dukes of Hazzard stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat cancelled because the television show featured a car with a Confederate flag on the roof. Anything with a Confederate flag, the NAACP reasoned, must be promoting a racist agenda.

...In that particular post I sarcastically suggested that the NAACP’s next move should be to push for the destruction of all history books that have images of the Confederate flag so that we can rewrite history and provide a new, kinder and gentler past. After all, the reasoning should be that any history books with images of the Confederate flag could easily be viewed as promoting racism.

...What I didn’t realize was that some schools in England have already got the ball rolling down the road of revisionist history. Their attempts to change the past aren’t based on racism, however; theirs is an attempt to avoid offending Muslim students who might be anti-Semitic and Holocaust deniers.

...The Guardian’s Jeevan Vasagar reports:

Schools have avoided teaching the Holocaust and the Crusades in history lessons because they are concerned about causing offence to Muslim pupils or challenging “charged” versions of history which children have been taught at home, government research has found.

A report for the Department for Education and Skills found that a history department in a northern city had avoided selecting the Holocaust as a GCSE topic for fear of confronting “anti-semitic [sic] sentiment and Holocaust denial” among some Muslim pupils.

Another school decided to teach the Holocaust despite anti-semitic [sic] sentiment among students, but avoided the Crusades as “their balanced treatment of the topic would have directly challenged what was taught in some local mosques.”

The report, Teaching Emotive and Controversial History, also revealed that one school was challenged by Christian parents for teachers’ treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

A DfES spokesman said: “It’s up to schools to make a judgment on non-compulsory parts of the national curriculum. It is a broad framework and there is scope for schools to make their own decisions.”

Teaching of the Holocaust is expected to become compulsory under the new national curriculum from next year.

...The very notion of pretending that a significant historical occurrence never happened is frightening. Knowing that such a move is being done in a school setting in an effort to appease an extremist segment of the population that chooses to not live in the real world is even worse.

...Simply because many Muslims choose to be propagators of bigotry and ignorance doesn’t change history; it doesn’t mean that millions of innocent Jews weren’t executed from the early-1930s to the mid-1940s in Europe.

...It has become common to hear criticism of the United States’ education system for various reasons, but at least the U.S. system doesn’t cater to an anti-Semitic movement that would make Adolf Hitler proud.

The Guardian
BBC News