12-21-2008 Why am I what I is?

As of late, both the local internet and local talk radio are all abuzz with talk of voting “No!” when the question of retention comes up again for Luzerne County judges. Or more specifically, for one judge in particular, the judge responsible for Ciavarella vs. Ciavarella & The World, in which the big honcho judge is suing the county commissioners over proposed budget cuts for the judiciary.

Now, on it’s face, this one gives us an excuse to crawl up out of our hovels and get to hooting, hollering and cussing up a storm. The logic flows as follows: With an economic meltdown afoot, the pampered, uncaring judges and their legions of underlings had better get used to doing more with less, just like us. And they had better like it, too! We the People have spoken!

There is no doubt that the County has got some life-threatening financial wounds, and that for the first time that any of us can remember, a couple of our commissioners are actually trying to do the right think by submitting a budget that is not a work of fiction. A budget, by the way, that is leaner and meaner, necessitating that jobs be done away with.

To be honest, this is exactly what I had hoped for when I voted for Maryanne Petrilla. I didn’t expect miracles. I didn’t expect the ship to be righted without some serious listing at first. But I did figure she’d simply try to do the right, the adult thing, by reeling in the expenses already. So far, in my book, she’s a lock for reelection.

As for the caterwauling and the demand that that one judge’s head be turned into a candy-coated apple of sorts, well, this court thing gives me pause.

With our sickened society being what it is, and with Big Illicit Drugs being the only industry not in need of a federal bailout, please, run all of this past me again. We need more police officers on the streets. We need more drug-sniffing K-9 corps. We need more saturation patrols. We need tougher laws and stiffer sentences. We need bigger prisons and enough guards on duty to keep them from turning into riotous dens of chaos. We need to throw the proverbial book at whoever it is that can’t, or refuses to get with the program, right?

And while we’re busily eradicating the villainous violators from within our ranks, we need less of a judicial system? We need to arrest even those who look or smell funny, but then we next need to scale down the court system? Is there any part of that suggesting a momentary lapse of reason? Any thing off-kilter going on there?

I know you’re all agog over wild and persistent rumors of investigations going on at the courthouse. Yeah, they won’t go away. Rumors of imminent arrests for wrongdoings and the like. Judges, commissioners; they’re all going off in handcuffs the way you and I have heard it. But do not allow that to distort what is already a fairly distorted situation.

With crime and punishment being one of our top priorities, and with “taking back the streets” the most repeated demand made upon our elected leaders, has anyone considered that maybe, just maybe, Judge Ciavarella is right on this one?

Will our right to a speedy trial turn a trimmed-down judiciary into a tangled backlog of court cases, a place where charges are dropped due to delays and jumbled timelines?

And if the county courts, already short one judge, turns into a heaping pile of backlogged cases, what then becomes of our county prison which is already seriously, seriously overcrowded? What then? In the short term we save money by paring back the courts, but then we turn around and waste the savings by paying other counties to house our backlogged prisoners?

I’m not saying I agree with Judge Ciavarella. I’m just suggesting that perhaps we should hear him out before we start sharpening the pitchforks.

We’re done here.

Better than sex

From the e-mail inbox You got a lot of nerve criticizing Walter Griffiths. What did you ever do to save the city taxpayers? Where have you been when the budgets were announced? We never see you at council meetings. And we never see your ideas for saving money. Your all talk.

Actually, I’m all typing. Or, all text. Ah, forget it.

First of all, city council meetings are to redundancy what Walter is to being persistent. They are a waste of my time. Why would I want to show up once a month and listen to the same five or six “activists” saying the same tired things all over again? Why invest in that, listening to the factually-challenged trying and failing to sound smart?

Ideas? Hey, ideas are wonderful and all in theory, but ideas often fade away rather quickly when mixed with even a smallish dose of reality.

Case in point, salaries and raises. Payroll. Wasn’t that one of Walter’s recent gripes, that, with this recently proposed budget, some city employees would be getting raises?

Well, this is where the “ideas” run headlong into the brick wall that reality is. Let’s start off with a fact. I know, I know, I know very many of you hate such annoying things, facts, but let’s throw one out there anyway.

FACT: 16 of the city’s 300 employees are non-union employees.

Have any of our infamous “activists” ever had to sit down at a bargaining table and read any union honcho the cost-cutting riot act? Do any of those people understand how tricky and prickly these negotiations can be? And as evidenced by the recent arbitration award to the firefighter’s union, how quickly decisions made can get turned on their pointy little heads? How even the slightest lapse in wording or necessary legalese can change a temporary cost-cutting positive into a drawn-out arbitration award negative?

What, Walter alone knows how to back those unions into a corner and force concessions upon them? Whatever opiate you’re lacing that coffee with, I want some.

And let’s address with oft-howled cry that City Hall is grossly, sinfully overstaffed. Refer to that aforementioned fact, that 16 of the city’s 300 employees are non-union employees. Where are we so heavy? Where are we overstaffed? Have we too many secretaries? Have we too many zoning and building inspectors? Or have we too many assistants and underlings?

The “activists” never qualify that accusation with any facts. It’s always that we’re too fat at City Hall, and way too thin on the streets. Really? Prove it. Break it down for us. And tell us which jobs should be eliminated, assuming anyone even knows which positions can be eliminated without violating a state or federal law. Or which ones could be eliminated without putting at risk any correlating state or federal funding. Oh, and which positions are mandated by the City’s own charter? Who should go? Since you’re all so freaking smart, tell us.

My point is, there’s much more to this than meets the eye. Sadly, stupidly, the “activists” always dumb it down and make it sound as if we could train a blind, three-legged weasel to do it.

Ideas? How to save money?

I know!

How about if we do away with the City Council meetings? Electricity, police protection, heat, we could save a bunch if we did away with the monthly dog and pony shows, couldn’t we?

It’s not like the “activists” couldn’t get their hollow, oft-repeated words out there. They could start a Web site and actually pay for their soapboxes. They could help to stimulate the economy. Well, if they really cared at all about stimulating the economy, they wouldn’t be skipping out of work every time somebody scheduled a meeting somewhere. So forget that angle.

Ideas. How to save the City money? Okay, all goofing off aside, I’ve got it. I know how to save the City some serious, serious money. Instead of spending what we don’t have, as our previous mayors did, we’ll spend only what we can afford to spend, and avoid deficit-spending at all costs, even political costs.

Wait. That’s the budget balancing financial plan already in place.

What do I know?

Stan & Avery

From the e-mail inbox Good afternoon,
I'm sorry to see that you have finally taken leave of your senses and joined the cult of Larry Kudlow, the dumbest man in America. It is this man's stupid economic policy which lies at the heart of today's problems. He was one of the loudest proponents of the "supply side theory"; the idea that not taxing the rich will encourage them to expand their businesses and provide more jobs for the poor. This is "back-assward economics. Businesses only expand when there is increased demand for their products and services. Therefore, you must put money in the hands of the poor so that they can purchase these goods and services. Many corporations today are filthy rich but they are not hiring because they have no customers.

I would expect Kudlow to blame the UAW for the plight of General Motors. He would never blame Rick Wagoner whose salary has gone from 4 million to 16 million in 5 years while the company has careened towards bankruptcy. Does Mr Kudlow believe it was the UAW who negotiated a contract with Fiat which later cost 3 billion dollars to cancel? Did the UAW design GM's infamous self-destructing V6 engine?

Was the union responsible for the Vega, the Corsica, the Lumina and the rest of GM's litany of failures?

The fact that labor costs have little to do with the problem is shown by the fact that the average new-car buyer pays a premium of about $2000 to purchase a foreign named vehicle over a comparable American brand. Do you really believe the BMW driver secretly longs to drive a Cadillac?

General Motors is a lost cause, with 60 billion dollars in liabilities a government loan can only prolong the agony. It is a sad thing for America, but let's put the blame where it really belongs.

Have a Happy New Year!

I didn’t join any cult. I offered the Kudlow piece as a way of suggesting that not only the Fedrule Govmint and General Motors played a part in Detroit’s catastrophic collapse, so did the United Auto Workers. There are two sides to this painful story, not just the one told by the political party that pledges undying allegiance to the flag of the U.A.W.

“Businesses only expand when there is increased demand for their products and services. Therefore, you must put money in the hands of the poor so that they can purchase these goods and services. Many corporations today are filthy rich but they are not hiring because they have no customers.”

Forget the supply-side theory. What’s this “put money in the hands of the poor” business? How do you “put” money into their hands? By taxing it from the filthy rich corporations that earned it in the first place? Or by taking it from me? Boy oh boy, there’s certainly no shortage of socialism in this country these days.

Let’s see here. You start a company why? Um, to make money? To earn a profit? And if you’re real good at what you do, you get really, really rich. And then, when you get good and rich, you then become a moving target for income redistribution? If that’s the case, why risk any capital at all? Why risk that by creating any jobs in the first place? Sounds like you’re suggesting that success should be criminalized.

The Big 3 in Detroit were all hurting for a while now, but to be honest, the unequaled credit crunch is what drove them (pun intended) to the brink of collapse. The credit crunch brought on by the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, that latest bit of social engineering, that recent bit of putting homes in the hands of the poor.

As far as I’m concerned, the lack of confidence in the Big 3 is in large part not their fault. It‘s as much myth as it is anything else. It’s been well-crafted by Detroit’s adversaries and goes as follows: Foreign cars are built better than are American cars. Hold on. All foreign cars are built better than are American cars

Really? Yeah, well try this one on for size. A while back, it was sworn to me on quite a few stacks of bibles that there was nothing so exulted in all of the automotive world as that prince of all known automobiles, the Nissan Sentra. So, needing wheels, I went and bought me one.

It ran like a champ. It was kind of tiny, which made me wonder about my chances of surviving a direct hit from a baby carriage, but it ran and the radio rocked.

And then it rained for days on end. And when I went outside and got in the buggy, my right foot caused quite the splash as it landed just short of the gas pedal. An inch of water in my car? What the funk is this?

So, I took the thing to a mechanic that I trusted. And he wasn’t surprised in the least by the rapid flooding. Rather, he had seen this many times before with Sentras. He told me they were known for this. So, he removed the contents of the trunk, and then pulled some plastic plugs out of the bottom of the trunk. The thing was, every time it rained any sort of prolonged rain, the trunks would fill with water. And when it got too deep, it had nowhere else to go except into the passenger compartment. And he also told me it wouldn’t be long before the bottom of the trunk would start rusting out.

Now, call me stupid or ugly or conservative-leaning, real foul stuff for sure, but I ain’t never had a single G.M. product that doubled as a wading pool.

Have the Big 3 produced some duds? Sure they have. But let’s not perpetuate this myth that foreign-engineered cars are all the stuff of perfection. Besides, it just wouldn’t be right to hang your rebel flag in the rear window of an imported pickup truck, would it?

“General Motors is a lost cause, with 60 billion dollars in liabilities a government loan can only prolong the agony.”

I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment, that we‘re only prolonging the agony. So, should they be forced to restructure by filing for bankruptcy, or should they be kept afloat wallowing in pain until somebody finally figures out which end is up economically?

But don’t try to tell me that the U.A.W. is an innocent bystander in all of this. We’ve all seen the assorted and sundry stories. The ridiculously insidious job banks. The beyond hefty and prematurely delivered retirement packages and so forth. The U.A.W. demanded and received much more than what could be called fair compensation. And make no mistake about it, the U.A.W. is and has been as thuggish as unions get. And now the U.A.W. is looking to it’s biggest protectors, the Democrats in Washington, to save itself, well, from itself.

Even a precursory peek at the American manufacturing base suggests that where unions go, trouble follows. And now the Democrats are pushing this “card check” nonsense, this move by which unionizing becomes much, much easier. Creating jobs? Maybe in the near, in the short term. But long term, easier unionizing will only drive up costs and kill jobs. There’ll be better compensated employees, only far less of them.

So, drive your Camry. Buy yourself another Kia, or perhaps a Tundra. Buy yourself a car that floods when it’s put through a car wash. Buy yourself a car that I could practically crush with a half a red brick. Whatever. Tell yourself you are better off for having done so. But when yet another gigantic American manufacturer goes down in flames and takes the entire economy down with it, don’t come crying to me.

See, I’m a Chevy kind of guy. And according to the automotive experts, the 2008 Chevrolet Impala ranked right up there with the very best of them.

But don’t tell anybody.

Jeremy & Zach

Is this a wonderful life or what?

I go to my grandson’s third birthday party expecting, well, you know, and I end up jamming out to Black Sabbath’s first album, checking out the new Metallica CD, playing with guitars and music-making software. And if that’s not enough fun for one evening, I end up going home with a burned, illegal copy of the new Metallica disc, the previously tinkered with music-making software and a good buzz on. Oh yeah, did I mention the limitless amounts of beer?

And what a truly weird evening it was. Sort of. I’ve got 3 grandsons toiling away in this modest abode, one sporting little more than peach fuzz on top of his oddly-fused skull, the second sporting a Mohawk, and the third one yet to face a single barber or a pair of scissors. You tell me, man. I can’t criticize my son out of fear that all he’s really guilty of is taking after his father.

And while we had these three kids with wildly differing hair styles running around all sugar-fired and berserk and everything, we had a chick in the kitchen receiving an impromptu hair dye from yet another chick. Again, you tell me, man. I don’t make this stuff come about, I just report on all of it afterwards. Did I mention the beer?

This music software totally intrigues me. And being the impulsive bastard that I am, I figure this will become all-consuming for me within the blink of an eye. As I have pointed out many times, I am, by nature, a slacker. But, when something does catch my four eyes, I’m in and in to the tune of 175 percent.

First it was Arthur C. Clarke and exploring the universe by way of a chair and a well-crafted book. Where once studying aerospace industries, pre-internet, once ate up my time, then it morphed into studying the history and final disposition of the world’s countless aircraft carriers. Then it was battleships, especially the four Iowa-class ships still in existence. And when I decided to write on the internet, that was my new all-consuming passion. And then it was fantasy football.

And now I have in my possession software that will allow me to create music all by my lonesome. Well, I will have to secure my Strat, my amp, my pedals and the like from my son, who’s been putting all of that to good use for some time now. The point being, with of all my many, many passions over the years, there is and never has been any that could even dare to approach my always thriving passion for music.

This is going to be time-consuming, to say the least. And it’s going to be a labor of love. So, if I stop writing on the internet very suddenly, you need not wonder whatever became of me. Know that I’ll be contently sitting here with a Strat, a computer and somebody who can actually sing worth a lick.

Somebody get Dave Abraham on the phone, because Vortex may be about set to reunite!

Come on, give me that note-for-note Star Spangled Banner intro once again…

They wanna crush the beavers

They say it’s humane!

But the beavers aren’t

The ones to blame!

The D.E.R. wants

To make them lame!

And the watershed basin

Has gone insane!

Yes, during what now seems like a previous life, I did have stones enough to don a pair of headphones, stand before a microphone and sing. But no more.

Parasitic protozoans

Are wreaking havoc on my groins!


Yep, we were addressing, in song, the 1983 giardiasis outbreak here in the Wyoming Valley. Something that was caused by a lack of proper water filtration and such what, and not anything any mindless beaver did.

In retrospect, it seems as if I’ll you any venue available to me when I know that the government is trying to sell me a worthless bill of goods. The water supply is unsafe? Um, yeah, well, let us think, oh, the beavers did it and they need to be exterminated right quick. Oh, and, (wink, wink) now that we have addressed the problem, we will now begin to properly filter the water and it will cost you a ton of money.

What starts with a B U L L and ends with an S, an H and an I and a T?

“Save the Beavers” made the top-twenty most requested songs all summer long at WRKC, and got quite a bit of airplay at WCLH. For a few months, I was a very localized rock star.

Looking back on all of that, with Dave being the driving force behind the music and myself having single-handedly written the lyrics, it suggests to me that I have always had this heretofore unknown creative streak in me, although, a creative vein that went mostly untapped until I dragged Wilkes-Barre kicking and screaming onto the then fledgling internet.

And I can finally announce with some certainty that the writing, the pictures and whatnot that have earned me plenty of accolades from the likes of you are due almost entirely to heredity.

Many of you have been confounded by the likes of me. I’ve been asked many, many times over how I can write so well despite being the admitted academic slacker that I once was. And some have said I have an eye for the camera and catching an image, a captivating moment in time, with the most notable being a photographer employed by the Citizens’ Voice.

Thanks to my daughter Peace’s tireless genealogic exploits, I have come to learn that my grandfather, Eugene Cour, was an award-winning writer and photographer for the Chicago Tribune. And after retiring from that career, he got into motion pictures, and actually won an Oscar some years ago. And my grandmother, Rose Cour, once wrote for the Chicago Sun, and later on was a communications honcho at a chiropractic hospital in Denver.

So how does the newfound, high-tech music-making capability tie into the heredity thing? Well, while I know little or nothing about my father, I do have nine pictures of him. I have the mug shot taken of him as an adult. And I have eight pictures of him playing eight different instruments when he was but a boy.

I have never studied music. In fact, I annoyed the hell out of my music teacher at Coughlin, Mr. Umla. He knew I was beyond passionate about what could only be called popular music, but try as he may have, he could not impress upon me the undeniable genius of Beethoven. If I could, which I can’t, I’d admit to him right now that he was right and I was way, way, way wrong. I was as wrong as wrong can be.

My point (and a weak point at that) is, that maybe much of what we do and think and what drives us to wherever it is that whatever it is that drives us to anywhere is due almost entirely to heredity. Why was I somehow driven to write? Why did I suddenly feel the need to carry a camera with me twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? And why and how has music always been so damned, so stupidly important to me? Why?

The genes, perhaps?

As one Francis Vincent Zappa once wrote, “You are what you is. And that’s all it is.”

And there it is.

But I keep wondering, why am I what I is?


Mohawk Boy, Jeremy