Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
When will we have solvent public transportation in Pittsburgh? The latest round of Port Authority cuts will have a devastating affect on the most vulnerable among us: those who can't afford a car or to pay for parking, those who depend on buses to get them to their jobs, doctor's appointments, the grocery store, etc., the poor and the elderly. It is a crime. It has gone beyond who to blame. We just need to fix it.
Monday, March 28, 2011
P.S. I did not post this because the judge's name is Butler. Just a coincidence.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Sidney the gecko hunter has caught five geckos since February 27th.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011 07:11 AM
Written by Rob Rogers
Pittsburgh's Port Authority has been in financial hot water for way too long. Historically, their wages and pensions have been much higher than other cities. Former Port Authority CEO/General Manager Paul Skoutelas was awarded a $380K exit package and $9K a month pension. Sure, it was eventually reduced, but the pattern clearly shows that Port Authority's priorities don't rest with the ridership. Now they are forced to make tough cuts. Cuts that hurt the people who need public transportation the most.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Battle of the bulbs: more life for incandescents?
A senator wants to overturn coming ban on energy-wasting bulbs
Sunday, March 13, 2011
By David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With apologies to Thomas Edison, the light bulb he made famous in 1879, the one that turns 90 percent of its electricity into heat rather than light, soon will be a relic of history.
That is, if a Republican-led effort fails to save the traditional incandescent bulb from planned obsolescence.
The Senate Energy Committee heard Republican arguments at a hearing Thursday to overturn the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which would ban production of energy-wasting incandescent bulbs beginning in 2012 with the 100 watt. This would be followed by a ban on the 75-watt bulb in 2013, and ending in 2014 with a ban on 60- and 40-watt incandescent bulbs.
The lighting industry notes that the act only sets energy-use rules that traditional incandescents cannot meet, prompting the ban. But halogen incandescents do meet the standard.
California's ban on the 100-watt incandescent began already, Jan. 1.
Republicans in Congress are upset that the government, rather than market forces, is deciding the fate of the incandescent.
"Thomas Edison wouldn't be happy if he knew that Congress was essentially banning his invention," said U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., who has introduced the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act to repeal the section of the 2007 act that would ban incandescents save for low-wattage bulbs used in niche or specialty devices.
"I think it's fine if someone wants to fill their home or business with the light from the new bulbs," Mr. Enzi said in a news release. "I also think it's fine if someone wants to buy an old-fashioned bulb because it works better for them. If left alone, the best bulb will win its rightful standing in the marketplace. Government doesn't need to be in the business of telling people what light bulb they have to use."
Mr. Enzi said compact fluorescent lamps, one of the more energy-efficient options available to consumers, contain mercury that could pose health problems if the bulbs break indoors. For that reason, proposed legislation also would exclude schools, day-care centers and nursing homes from federal light-bulb requirements if the alternative lighting contains mercury.
Other alternatives on the market -- halogen incandescent, light-emitting diode and even Electron-Stimulated Luminescence -- contain no mercury.
The Senate version of the Bulb Act has a companion version in the House that was introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.
"This is about more than just energy consumption; it is about personal freedom," Mr. Barton stated in his own news release.
Mr. Barton said 12 other Republicans co-signed his House bill to lift the ban.
At least one major environmental group has mounted countering action to preserve the ban.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group with 1.2 million members, is hoping the Republicans' high-watt action to save the incandescent will burn out once reason is applied.
Saving the incandescent is akin to surrendering the refrigerator for an ice box, it said.
The council also notes that the 2007 act was signed by President George W. Bush, a Republican, with previous Republican presidents having signed energy standards into law for appliances and automobiles.
The bills from Mr. Enzi and Mr. Barton, with the support of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. [the crazy tea party lady], "would push aside innovation, derail plans for new job-creating lighting factories and eliminate an estimated $10 billion in annual energy costs savings -- taking as much as $200 a year out of the checkbooks of every U.S. household," an NRDC release stated.
New standards, it said, give consumers "more choice, not less," and will inspire light-bulb manufacturers to continue making innovations.
Jim Presswood, the council's federal energy policy director, said new light bulbs reduce energy usage without affecting light quality or output. Cutting demand for electricity also reduces pollution and improves health.
"We expect the standards to reduce carbon-dioxide pollution by 100 million tons per year, which is the equivalent of the emissions of 17 million cars," Mr. Presswood said. "The best way to reduce pollution is to reduce the need to run power plants."
Mr. Presswood said he's heard no notable complaints resulting from the ban under way in California. Yet, he said, the repeal action must be taken seriously.
"This is an excellent market rule spurring innovation, reducing pollution and saving people money," he said. "The only freedom it prevents is the use of an old light bulb. But what a difference there is between the old bulb and the new, with the advantages all on one side."
The only reason to buy an incandescent nowadays, he said, is as a collectible in hopes of having it appraised someday on the television show, "Antique Roadshow."
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
JIM: Couldn't throw strikes. You never know, one day something may just click for him. Be warned: he is exactly the kind of guy that the Pirates misguided management team always seems to take a chance on.
DAVE: You don't have to tell me. I was already joking about that with someone from work just a little while ago.
JIM: I wasn't joking.
DAVE: But you're the Joker.
JIM: There are some things even I can't joke about.
Monday, March 21, 2011
DAVE: For a Pitt basketball fan, that's pretty close to a Sid Bream moment right there.
Butler played a perfect game against Pitt. I knew they were going to be tough. These teams that Pitt NEVER play always give them fits. I said "fits." How old am I?
MICHELLE: It wasn't as bad as 2009, but it was close. Damn those little upstart teams with 12-year-olds for coaches.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Written by Rob Rogers
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is slashing education funding to tragic levels but still refuses to consider taxing Marcellus Shale drillers. The White House is campaigning against bullying in schools ... what about bullying in state government?
Monday, March 14, 2011
Fixing roads now… and for the future. The right treatment for the right road at the right time. That’s the mandate for the City of Toronto's Transportation Infrastructure Management team as it goes about the task of repairing roads throughout the city.
The division’s goal is to keep the roads in a state of good repair at a minimal cost to the taxpayer. This cost-effective way of maintaining the roads is called “life-cycle costing.” It means fixing the roads as necessary to avoid costly maintenance in the future and, in essence, postponing the date when an old road would have to be completely reconstructed.
Typically, a major roadway is made up of an asphalt top and concrete bottom. In most cases, a new road’s asphalt has a life span of 18-25 years. As weather conditions and regular wear-and-tear occur, cracks and holes appearing in the road are repaired by City staff. The freeze-thaw cycle is a road’s worst enemy. When water enters the cracks created in the road, it actually has the strength and capability of lifting huge chunks of the asphalt.
After the road has been in existence for about 20 years, inspectors look at the road and perform engineering tests to determine if it needs a new surface. If the road is deemed to be in good shape, no work will be done at this point and the inspectors will return at a later date to re-inspect the road. If, however, the asphalt is in disrepair, the City will replace the asphalt surface.
If the road was in need of repair, but neglected at this stage, the deterioration would continue right through to the base of the road. The result would be a costly base reconstruction which usually costs about three times the amount of repairing the asphalt portion of the road. Usually, a road’s base will last about 50 years if preventative measures such as resurfacing are done periodically. If preventative measures are not undertaken, a road’s base might last only 25-30 years.
Taking steps to repave the road before it reaches a state of further disrepair has some obvious benefits. The work results in an improved road surface that benefits road users and also avoids the premature deterioration of the road’s base. Bridges and sidewalks are maintained in a similar fashion.
This might explain why certain road work is performed. Some residents might see a road that, on first glance, they don’t think requires resurfacing. But, by doing so, the City is prolonging the life of the road as well as saving money by avoiding a complete reconstruction. This process - that is the planned preventative interventions combined with financial modeling techniques - forms the basis of life-cycle costing. These techniques allow staff to manage “assets” better and assists in conveying financial responsibility to the taxpayer at large.
Life cycle costing has proven to be a cost-effective process in maintaining smooth sailing for Toronto’s road users and taxpayers.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Okay. I'm going through Florida withdrawal. I miss the weather. And I miss Sidney. I need some sun, damnit.
Friday, March 11, 2011
By the way, by some coincidence I'm sure, after watching "The Social Network" for the second and decisive time, I deactivated my profile on FB. It's for women. At least that's how I feel about it. And sadly, I do judge women by how much time they spend on FB. Cindy spends FAR too much time on FB. It makes her unattractive to me. And that genuinely saddens me. I want her to be a fantasy woman from my life. I need one.
The Pirates have one night game during Spring Training (I turned down the invitation to go to the game with my father on Monday against the Rays.), and of course, at that one night game, there are, wait for it, fireworks. And even better than that, is that the last two seasons' fireworks nights have been rained out. And this year's is [Thursday] night, and the forecast for Bradenton is for rain all day. That's the Pittsburgh Baseball Club right there.
It's fucking good to be home. I miss Florida. I do. But I got to get on with my life. I'm not ready to retire to Florida.
JIM: What good is having high-speed internet if you're not using it to be on facebook???
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Written by Rob Rogers
Wednesday, March 09, 2011 10:21 AM
Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is going on "Dancing With the Stars." I feel sorry for the other dancers. They will have trouble concentrating with all those Terrible Towels waving in the audience.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
By JOANN LOVIGLIO
Mar 8, 8:47 PM EST
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The Philadelphia archdiocese suspended 21 Roman Catholic priests Tuesday who were named as child molestation suspects in a scathing grand jury report last month, a move that comes more than eight years after U.S. bishops pledged swift action to keep potential abusers away from young people.
The priests have been removed from ministry while their cases are reviewed, Cardinal Justin Rigali said. The names of the priests were not being released, a spokesman for the archdiocese said.
"These have been difficult weeks since the release of the grand jury report," Rigali said in a statement. "Difficult most of all for victims of sexual abuse but also for all Catholics and for everyone in our community."
The two-year grand jury investigation into priest abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia resulted in charges against two priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher who are accused of raping young boys. And in an unprecedented move in the U.S., a former high-ranking church official was accused of transferring problem priests to new parishes without warning anyone of prior sex-abuse complaints.
Since 2002, when the national abuse crisis erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston, American dioceses have barred hundreds of accused clergy from public church work or removed the men permanently from the priesthood. The allegations against the Pennsylvania priests stand out because they come years after the U.S. bishops reformed their national child protection policies, promising to keep potential abusers from children.
The grand jury named 37 priests who remained in active ministry despite credible allegations of sexual abuse. After the release of the report, the second such investigation in the city in six years, Rigali vowed to take its calls for further reforms seriously.
In addition to the 21 priests placed on leave Tuesday, three others named by the grand jury were suspended a week after the report's release in February. There were five other priests who would have been suspended: one who was already on leave, two who are "incapacitated and have not been in active ministry," and two who no longer are priests in the archdiocese but are now members of another religious order that was not identified.
"The archdiocese has notified the superiors of their religious orders and the bishops of the dioceses where they are residing," the cardinal said.
The remaining eight priests of the 37 in the report were not being put on leave because the latest examination of their cases "found no further investigation is warranted," Rigali said.
"I know that for many people their trust in the church has been shaken," Rigali stated. "I pray that the efforts of the archdiocese to address these cases of concern and to re-evaluate our way of handling allegations will help rebuild that trust."
While the archdiocese formed a panel to handle abuse complaints after the 2005 report, the 2011 grand jury found it mostly worked to protect the church, not the victims. Rigali responded by retaining former city child-abuse prosecutor Gina Maisto Smith to re-examine complaints made against the active-duty priests that internal church investigators previously said they could not substantiate.
"Cardinal Rigali's actions are as commendable as they are unprecedented, and they reflect his concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of those in his care," District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement. "We appreciate that the Archdiocese has acknowledged the value of the report, and seen fit to take some of the steps called for by the grand jury."
The suspensions came on the eve of Lent, the Christian period for penance leading up to Easter.
Peter Isely of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said Rigali should have suspended the priests much sooner.
"There's a simple reason that dozens of credibly accused child molesters have recklessly been kept in unsuspecting parishes for years, instead of being promptly suspended. It's because Rigali and his top aides want it that way," he said. "They have taken and still take steps to protect, above all else, themselves, their secrets and their staff, instead of their flock. That's what two separate Philadelphia grand juries, working with two prosecutors, after two long investigations, found over the last six years."
Rigali's move to suspend the priests "was forced on him by the Philadelphia grand jury report, and is an act of desperation, not transparency," Terence McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org said.
"In Philadelphia, a Catholic official had to be indicted before the archdiocese finally began to comply with its own policies," he said. "We have no reason to believe that Philadelphia is unusual - in other U.S. dioceses, credibly accused priests are no doubt still in ministry, and review boards are protecting priests instead of protecting children."
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press
Mon Mar 7, 6:53 pm ET
LOS ANGELES – The charges of child molestation came too long after the abuse to send Carl Sutphin, a Roman Catholic priest, to prison. Now he is spending his days in a doublewide mobile home, a short walk from day care centers and two elementary schools.
"I won't say I deny it. I do not deny it, no," Sutphin, 78, said in a frail voice as he leaned on his walker.
There are dozens of accused priests like him, from California to Maryland. To victims' advocates, that is dangerous.
They say church officials should monitor them in the same way that police track sex offenders and that the church should create special housing to keep predator priests away from children.
"Essentially, you have admitted or credibly accused child molesters walking free among unsuspecting families — and bishops are doing little or nothing," said David Clohessy, national director for Survivors of those Abused by Priests.
Advocates' calls raise questions about how far the church can go in monitoring people who have never been convicted, or even charged with a crime.
Plaintiffs' attorneys have worked with private investigators since October to compile a list of the priests' addresses, the most comprehensive accounting of the whereabouts of more than 200 clergy accused of abuse in civil lawsuits in Los Angeles archdiocese.
They hope to use it Thursday to persuade a judge to recommend the release of all church files for every priest or religious brother ever accused of sexual abuse in the sweeping litigation.
Those confidential files are at the center of a heated dispute that has raged between the church and plaintiffs' lawyers since the nation's largest archdiocese reached a record-breaking $660 million settlement nearly four years ago.
Plaintiffs want the files — which could include internal correspondence, previous complaints and therapy records — released, saying it's a matter of public safety. The church is pushing for a more limited release of information.
The list of addresses, obtained by The Associated Press, contains nearly 50 former priests and religious brothers from the LA archdiocese who live and work in 37 towns and cities across California, unsupervised by law enforcement or the church.
Another 15 are scattered in cities and towns from Montana to New York, while 80 more cannot be located despite an exhaustive search by attorneys representing those who have sued them for abuse.
The vast majority of the men have not been convicted — in some cases because the charges came too late — and are therefore not required to register with state sex offender databases.
It's a situation that has long bothered alleged victims of sex abuse, who have called on the church to do more to monitor former priests even after they have been expelled from ministry or have been laicized.
In Los Angeles, the archdiocese listed 211 names of credibly accused priests — a term the church uses to describe allegations that it believes are likely to be true — or those who had been named in civil lawsuits in a 2004 report to parishioners about clergy abuse.
The list did not include the priests' past assignments or current whereabouts.
Twenty-three other dioceses nationwide have published similar lists, but don't list their current addresses, Clohessy said.
Clohessy's organization is among those who have pressed the church to create special, church-controlled housing for credibly accused priests so they can be monitored.
"Bishops want to do the absolute bare minimum with predator priests, so they suspend them on the advice of defense lawyers and insurance companies and that's it, the priests are free to live and sometimes work and sometimes volunteer wherever they want," Clohessy said.
Church officials say it's not fair to expect them to monitor the priests, especially those who are no longer in active ministry.
The archdiocese policy has been to remove any credibly accused priest, said Michael Hennigan, archdiocese attorney. Most of those men have been laicized, are in the process of being laicized or have been removed from public ministry, he said.
Laicization is the Vatican process for ousting a man from the priesthood. Local bishops can also bar an abusive cleric from public ministry, which means the clergyman technically remains a priest but cannot participate in any public church work, such as celebrating Mass in public.
The archdiocese has no more responsibility for a laicized priest than a local school district would have for tracking a teacher who was fired with cause, Hennigan said.
He dismissed the idea of church-run housing for accused priests and religious brothers as impractical and unenforceable.
"We obviously don't have a police force and our mission has been to cleanse the priesthood, and we think we've done that effectively and well," he said Monday. "You think we should have a police force or a prison system?
"Once they're out, it's up to civil authorities to deal with them on behalf of society. It's really too much to ask the church to institute a prison system and no one could be forced to comply with it except voluntarily."
The idea of a church-controlled environment for priests accused of sexual abuse is not new.
In the early 1960s, the head of a Roman Catholic order that specialized in treating molester priests wanted to buy an island to segregate them. He even made a $5,000 down payment on a Caribbean island for that purpose.
"It is for this class of rattlesnake I have always wished an island retreat, but even an island is too good for these vipers," Rev. Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald wrote to an acquaintance in 1957, according to correspondence obtained by the AP.
In 1960, Fitzgerald sent two priests from the New Mexico-based Servants of the Holy Paraclete to the island of Tortola to investigate the location — but his dream of an island monastery dedicated to trouble priests ended.
The new archbishop of Santa Fe overruled him, according to an affidavit by his successor, the Rev. Joseph McNamara.
Sutphin, 78, is one former priest whose presence in society continues to haunt his many alleged victims.
Sutphin was accused of abuse by 18 people and was charged with 14 counts of molestation in 2003 for sexually abusing six boys. The charges were dismissed, however, because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that set limits on the passage of time for prosecuting certain types of sex crimes.
One of the priest's alleged victims said he and his brother were abused by Sutphin the night before a fishing trip when they were in middle school. The brothers have never fully discussed the abuse and didn't tell their parents for years.
"My mom wrote a letter to the Catholic Church," said the man, who was granted anonymity because the AP does not typically name people who claim to be victims of sexual abuse. "They said they had addressed the issue and he would no longer come around."
The man, now 44, learned of Sutphin's address from the AP. He lives three miles away.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Radiation-fracking link sparks swift reactions
Saturday, March 05, 2011
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Reports this week of high radiation levels in Marcellus Shale waste fracking fluids and weak regulation of the industry have turned on a spigot of action by federal and state officials.
U.S. Environmental Protection Administrator Lisa Jackson visited the agency's Region III office in Philadelphia Friday to ascertain the radiation issue will be addressed in an ongoing national study on the drinking water impacts of hydraulic fracturing, an industrial process used in shale gas development.
The EPA will seek data from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the drilling industry on radioactivity in the fracking fluid "flowback" water.
In a statement released following Ms. Jackson's meeting, the EPA said that while the national study progresses, it "will not hesitate to take any steps under the law to protect Americans whose health may be at risk," including enforcement actions to ensure that drinking water supplies are protected.
After a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemical additives are pumped deep underground under high pressure to crack the shale formation and release the gas it contains. As much as 20 percent of that fracking fluid waste returns to the surface with the gas and contains a variety of radioactive minerals from the shale.
The New York Times reported that hydraulic fracturing wastewater at 116 of 179 deep gas wells in the state contained high levels of radiation and its effect on public drinking water supplies is unknown because water suppliers are required to conduct tests of radiation only sporadically.
A number of public water suppliers, including the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and Pennsylvania American Water Co. said this week that they would voluntarily test for radiation.
State Rep. Camille Bud George, D-Clearfield, announced he will introduce legislation calling for mandatory and independent radiation testing of all public water supplies that could potentially be affected by Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater discharges, and requiring the drilling and gas companies to pay for the testing.
State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, renewed his call for a moratorium on drilling and said he will introduce legislation to toughen state Oil and Gas Act regulations on well siting around residences and streams, and impose a severance tax on Marcellus Shale gas production. Gov. Tom Corbett opposes such a tax.
"A moratorium is the most reasonable approach, especially in light of recent revelations about serious threats to our drinking water supply," Mr. Ferlo said. "This bill provides a framework for updating and improving regulations, as well as retaining the economic benefits of Marcellus Shale development."
In a statement issued Thursday, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, one of the most mainstream of the state's environmental organizations, called on Mr. Corbett to drop plans to open more of the state's forests and parks to Marcellus gas drilling.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Pope exonerates Jews for Jesus' death in new book
By NICOLE WINFIELD
Mar 2, 8:42 AM EST
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI has made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus Christ in a new book, tackling one of the most controversial issues in Christianity.
In "Jesus of Nazareth" excerpts released Wednesday, Benedict uses a biblical and theological analysis to explain why it is not true that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for Jesus' death.
Interpretations to the contrary have been used for centuries to justify the persecution of Jews.
While the Vatican has for five decades taught that Jews weren't collectively responsible, Jewish scholars said Wednesday the argument laid out by the German-born pontiff, who has had his share of mishaps with Jews, was significant and would help fight anti-Semitism today.
"There's a natural human tendency to take things for granted, and very often this tends to lead to a lapse in awareness and consciousness" about the risk of anti-Semitism, said Rabbi David Rosen, head of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee and a longtime leader in Vatican-Jewish dialogue.
He noted that the Vatican issued its most authoritative document on the issue in 1965, "Nostra Aetate," which revolutionized the Catholic Church's relations with Jews by saying Christ's death could not be attributed to Jews as a whole at the time or today.
Rosen said the pope's words might make a bigger, more lasting mark because the faithful tend to read Scripture and commentary more so than church documents, particularly old church documents.
"It may be an obvious thing for Jews to present texts with commentaries, but normally with church magisterium, they present a document," he said. "This is a pedagogical tool that he's providing, so people will be able to interpret the text in keeping with orthodox Vatican teaching."
The book is the second installment to Benedict's 2007 "Jesus of Nazareth," his first book as pope, which offered a very personal meditation on the early years of Christ's life and teachings. This second installment, set to be released March 10, concerns the second half of Christ's life, his death and resurrection.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
By MARK SHERMAN
Mar 2, 10:58 AM EST
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount anti-gay protests outside military funerals, despite the pain they cause grieving families.
The court voted 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son's funeral.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.
Roberts said the First Amendment shields the funeral protesters, noting that they obeyed police directions and were 1,000 feet from the church.
"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and - as it did here - inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Roberts said. "As a nation we have chosen a different course - to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
Alito strongly disagreed. "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," he said.
Matthew Snyder died in Iraq in 2006 and his body was returned to the United States for burial. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who have picketed military funerals for several years, decided to protest outside the Westminster, Md., church where his funeral was to be held.
The Rev. Fred Phelps and his family members who make up most of the Westboro Baptist Church have picketed many military funerals in their quest to draw attention to their incendiary view that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
They showed up with their usual signs, including "Thank God for dead soldiers," "You're Going to Hell," "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," and one that combined the U.S. Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi, with a slur against gay men.
The church members drew counter-demonstrators, as well as media coverage and a heavy police presence to maintain order. The result was a spectacle that led to altering the route of the funeral procession.
Several weeks later, Albert Snyder was surfing the Internet for tributes to his son from other soldiers and strangers when he came upon a poem on the church's website that attacked Matthew's parents for the way they brought up their son.
Soon after, Snyder filed a lawsuit accusing the Phelpses of intentionally inflicting emotional distress. He won $11 million at trial, later reduced by a judge to $5 million.
The federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., threw out the verdict and said the Constitution shielded the church members from liability.
Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups sided with Snyder, asking the court to shield funerals from the Phelps family's "psychological terrorism."
While distancing themselves from the church's message, media organizations, including The Associated Press, urged the court to side with the Phelps family because of concerns that a victory for Snyder could erode speech rights.
Roberts described the court's holding as narrow, and in a separate opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer suggested in other circumstances, governments would not be "powerless to provide private individuals with necessary protection."
But in this case, Breyer said, it would be wrong to "punish Westboro for seeking to communicate its views on matters of public concern."
DAVE: I have to give Tom Corbett credit. He is paying back the natural gas industry for all of their campaign donations, and he is not wasting any time in doing it. Pennsylvania is headed for a tremendous and precipitous fall. I am seriously starting to consider a move. Even TEXAS has stricter environmental regulations and a tax on natural gas drilling. But not Pennsylvania. Nope. We're just giving it away for nothing. Only in America. And it won't be long before a state public education at a school like Penn State will cost $30,000 a year. Maybe higher. The republicans want to cut off as much government funding to the general public as possible. Do you know what happens in an urban area like Pittsburgh when the government stops funding programs that benefit the poor? Crime goes up. Way up. And I am a lot of things, but being an alarmist is not one of them. In our lifetimes, we are going to see protests in the streets like the ones in Libya, with the government and the "people" fighting it out to the death with their guns. Blood will flow, my friend. Blood will flow.
JIM: I, like far too many Americans, am too busy just trying to keep up with my life to worry about such big picture things before it is far too late. Stuck at work here until God knows when on a Friday night. Been here since before 8 am and not leaving any time soon. No time to do things like eat or sleep, let alone worry about the fall of society.
Unfortunately, I fear that I will find myself on the frontlines of the revolution when it finally occurs. I will be standing with the poor against the government, the police, the national guard, the army, whatever. A society, any society, that fails to care for its poor is doomed to destruction. That's even in the bible. And I stopped believing in god when Bush "won" over Gore. If there was a god, he would never have let that happen. Unless it was in his plan all along to watch us destroy ourselves and start anew. Maybe we are due. I certainly never even considered it. Until it became clear to me and others like me where we were headed. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is in very bad shape. Our legislature is way too big, way too bloated, and way too expensive. But to protect their jobs and their benefits and their perks, they will cut programs to people who really need them. I need to get out of there. I love Florida. But this state is in pretty bad shape, too. 12% unemployment. No income tax, though. I should move to Boston. Or Toronto. But my life is in Pittsburgh. I can't imagine leaving. But I may have to leave for my own survival.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
We've got way too many opinions and are way too willing to share them, laments writer STEPHEN RANDALL.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
You think too much. And you're not alone. Everybody's thinking too much. We live in an era in which it is important to have opinions. Not necessarily smart or original ones; almost any opinion will do as long as it's forcefully expressed.
When it comes to opinions, we're all living in an intellectual Costco, where it's volume, volume, volume.
It wasn't that long ago that opinions were something carefully considered and weighed, so that they'd stand the test of time and reflect well on the author. Thinkers were like gourmet chefs laboring over an elaborate meal they wanted to be perfect. But today, opinions are Big Macs -- thrown together hastily, served by the billions and not very good for you.
You probably don't want to have as many opinions as you have. But everyone around you has them. There's cable news, of course. Glenn Beck has plenty of opinions. So does Keith Olbermann (late of MSNBC and soon of Current TV).
When you sell opinions for money, the way Keith and Glenn do, it doesn't take you long to catch on that the more opinions you have, the more money you make. So, like radish farmers who grow more radishes in order to get rich, Keith and Glenn create dozens of new opinions per night.
But here's the problem: They're not very smart opinions. And they're forcing everyone around them, including you, to also have far too many opinions. We post them on Facebook; we tweet them; we express them in comments on Huffington Post or Town Hall. We've become junior-grade cable goons -- but paid much less.
We get angry too, just like Keith and Glenn. What's the point in having an opinion if it's not an angry opinion? If something upsets us -- like a member of Congress and a bunch of innocent bystanders being shot in Tucson -- we don't mourn, we fulminate. We assign blame. Or we deflect blame -- angrily.
It's hard to find the good guys when one side is self-righteously accusing the other side of lacking civility as if that were any more likely to spark violence than movies or video games, and the response is, weirdly, to defend a lack of civility as if it's a good thing.
Opinion inflation has invaded every aspect of our lives. It causes us to post our opinions about our dry cleaner on Yelp. Did you used to have an opinion about your dry cleaner, or was he just sort of there, like a shrub or a parking meter?
Did you even notice what George W. Bush wore on his feet? Probably not, but half the country wanted to weigh in on President Barack Obama's wearing of flip-flops to the beach.
If the Gap or Starbucks changed their logos a few years ago, would you have noticed? And more important, would you have run to Facebook (if it had existed) to cast your vote for the old Gap logo, as if it had always been a meaningful part of your life?
The Internet is a Petri dish of opinion inflation, breeding commentary like bacteria. Because few people do anything interesting or have anything factual to report, they toss off a short opinion. That, in turn, leads to opinion hyperinflation; just look at the comments sections on any blog.
Opinions quickly devolve from Big Macs into rat poison. Civility makes only a rare appearance, and facts are no longer facts. Evolution, climate change, gravity -- it's all one point of view against another. Everyone gets a vote, even the people who aren't particularly sane.
There was a time when thoughtful people tried to be balanced. The old-style political columnists were famous for saying nothing. They presented both sides of any given issue in an "on the one hand/on the other" fashion, pretty much allowing readers to form their own opinions, which -- lacking proper guidance -- readers rarely did. Walter Cronkite voiced so few opinions that when he uttered one -- about the Vietnam War -- it changed the course of history.
Of course, those days were boring. Today's onslaught of nonstop commentary everywhere you look is significantly more entertaining. Walter Lippmann was tedious; Arianna Huffington is not. Eric Sevareid could put you to sleep faster than Ambien; Sean Hannity is a shot of double espresso (with the new, not the old, Starbucks logo).
Now we're hooked. We don't go to a new restaurant to eat a meal; we go there to tweet about it. We can't post a link to an article without giving it some sort of grade. We criticize the music we listen to and the TV we watch. Awards shows have been reduced to weird Joan Rivers screeds about what celebrities are wearing on the red carpet. Each dress has to be deconstructed by a panel of experts and found wanting.
It's all turning us into surly teenagers who disagree with everything.
There's a certain irony, I realize, to expressing an opinion about opinions. And perhaps I should be grateful. Not only am I more entertained these days, but when I'm feeling lazy, I can switch from thinking too much to not thinking at all. I am so surrounded by opinions that I don't need any of my own. I can turn on Fox or MSNBC and adopt an entire political philosophy without knowing a thing.
Of course, the problem is that when I share that philosophy, I don't sound intelligent, I sound like a drunk arguing with an empty barstool.
On his old HBO show, Dennis Miller used to end his trademark rants with, "Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong."
He was right. I could be wrong, too. But he was also way too opinionated.
Stephen Randall is the deputy editor of Playboy. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.