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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Great Wall of the Lehigh Valley

EASTON: - Inspired by the recent success of Mayfair's fence at excluding Allentown's low-income population, a bipartisan consortium of local government leaders today announced plans to build a wall around the Lehigh Valley. Flanked by Northampton County Councilman Ron Angle and the ghost of Allentown Councilwoman Emma "English only" Tropiano, DA John Morganelli conducted press conferences every hour today to announce the wall, to be funded through a surcharge on all local Taco Bells.

Asked who would build this wall, Morganelli said, "I'll talk to the construction unions like I always do, find out where those illegals are working, and then round 'em up. Every time I pick them up, the judges keep letting them go. But this time they'll have to build that damn wall first. "

When asked why he never prosecutes the businesses who actually hire undocumented workers, Morganelli responded, "Did I tell you I'm writing a new book? It's called 'D-Day Aliens.' "

Angle was asked why he teamed up with a Democrat, and responded, "Isn't Morganelli a Republican? You could have fooled me! The bottom line is those walls keep out the riff raff. I mean, look at China's Great Wall." When told that wall had been ineffective, Angle said, "Did I tell you that Morganelli is writing another book?" It was learned later that Angle has been deputized by Morganelli and will now be patrolling the Delaware River in a cigarette boat. Tropiano's suggestion that machine gun nests be stationed along the wall was overruled by Morganelli.

Matteo Braccili, who owns the Lehigh Valley's only Hispanic radio station, WHOL 1600 AM, was asked what he thought of the Great Wall. He answered, "¿Cree que va a llover?" He was immediately shot by Tropiano's spirit for speaking an alien language in "English Only" Allentown.

In a related matter, the Morning Call today announced plans to terminate all of its Hispanic reporters. Ardith Hilliard, executive editor of The Morning Call, explained that a reporter's decision to be Hispanic violates the company's ethics policy, which was developed to protect the paper's credibility and impartiality. That policy prohibits employees from participating in "public demonstrations in favor of or in opposition to a cause." Explained Hilliard, "We feel that by being openly Hispanic, they're taking a position in the immigration debate. We asked them not to be Hispanic but they refused, so they're out of here."

Bloggers Note: John Morganelli, Angle and Morning Call editors very good senses of humor and can laugh at themselves. I'm not so sure about the ghost of Emma Tropiano.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Oil Independence Rally a Success in Friendly South Bethlehem

"Does this have anything to do with casinos?"

This was a question I heard several times yesterday from passing motorists while a small but determined local group rallied for oil independence outside of an Exxon gas station on Bethlehem's south side. It was afternoon rush hour, and South Bethlehem differs from the rest of the Lehigh Valley because, in addition to cars, lots of pedestrians and cyclists tool up and down New Street that time of day. I'm pretty sure they knew we weren't there about the casinos.

People were very cordial and seemed to take our rather bleak message in stride. One fellow actually parked his car, got out, and asked me for a flier. But that wasn't the typical reaction. If a young handsome fellow like Peter Christine (pictured above with his pretty mom) approached a car, the driver would take the flier and try to take Peter, too. But whenever I approached a car, windows went up and car doors would lock. Now, my zipper was up and I took a shower this morning. I even shaved. Am I that ugly? On the bright side, one lady did toss a quarter at me.

At one point, we were visited by about four Bethlehem police officers and their shift commander, who were very polite. We were even joined briefly by Steve Schmitt, CAT's executive director, who pedaled through South Bethlehem in pursuit of organic produce. He offered some to me, but I told him I only eat meat - human meat. He left immediately.

What made our small group a little different is that we were joined by two government officials - Bethlehem Councilwoman Karen Dolan and Northampton County Councilman/Congressional candidate Charles Dertinger. To their credit, they recognize we have a problem, and it isn't a liberal or conservative problem. We're running out of oil. We need to plan for that certainty. And that won't happen until we have government leaders who recognize reality and refuse to be pressured by special interests, whether it's Big Oil or land developers who ravage what little open space is left.

I suppose what impressed me most about today's rally was the friendly and civil attitude that most Bethlehem drivers displayed. Maybe they were just happy that it finally stopped raining. Or maybe it's a sign that our greatest weapon against peak oil is our own compassion. Today's rally was just a baby step in the direction of oil independence. But it was certainly in the right direction, and for that reason alone it was a success.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dertinger Pledges to Refuse Big Oil Money

Dertinger has answered my questions.

In a posting on his campaign blog today, he states, "I won't take a dime from oil companies. Their behavior over the last year has been shameful, and it hurts the working people of this country. They won't have access to my office - and so you can trust me when I say that, I won't take their money. In fact, I'm appearing at a rally for an oil-free Congress today."

With respect to my request that he sign LVBO's light rail petition, Dertinger tells us that he strongly favors light rail in principle, and is working with some "local folks" on cost and just how it would work. He's reluctant to sign the petition but agrees with the need for a "mass transit solution" to peak oil. Fair enough.

I've been highly critical of Dertinger in previous posts, and as recently as yesterday. But I must say I'm impressed.

First, I'll honestly admit I never thought he'd even answer my question. Second, he not only responded, but did so favorably. By pledging to take no money from Big Oil, he takes an important step against special interests and in favor of oil independence. Third, his response concerning light rail is very encouraging, and reflects a recognition that we need more more mass transit in the Lehigh Valley, not wider highways.

I'm interested in seeing how Congressman Dent responds to my questions.

I want to thank Charles Dertinger for a very prompt and detailed response. It's a pleasant surprise. I've been tough on Dertinger, and many of the commenters to this blog may be right about him.

"The Enemy is not Conservatism, the Enemy is not Liberalism, the Enemy is Bullshit".

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He calls himself "FTHillDem," one of many interesting commenters to this blog. On Monday, he told me "a lot of political advertising money actually pays for disinformation, rather than information." He's right. But I don't think disinformation stops once the campaign is over - the propaganda instead intensifies. David Neiwert, a journalist turned stay-at-home dad turned part-time blogger, tells us the press is drowning in bullshit. Can this be so? Let's see.

On the national front, Democrats and Republicans who propose withdrawal from Iraq have been labeled cowards. "Cut and run." "Withdrawal is not an option." Yet we learned just this Sunday that the Pentagon is planning just that - a withdrawal in September that would fit in nicely for Fall's Congressional election. How's that? The disinformation we'll hear is that we've "won" and that Iraq has achieved enough stability to justify withdrawal. Withdrawal plan? Bullshit!

On the state level, legislators just passed a tax "reform" bill that was signed by the Guv' today. In reality, it's nothing more than an "election year ploy so some legislators and Rendell can say they gave $1 billion in tax relief to Pennsylvanians while justifying jamming slot machine gambling down our throats." Tax reform? Bullshit!

On the local level, the LVPC has released a long range transportation study that does not even consider our impending energy crisis. Instead of urging more mass transit and studies of light rail, it calls for widening Route 22, which will simply contribute to more sprawl and invite more driving. The LVPC report claims to be concerned about safety. Who's? Ours, or the developers whose financial safety will be assured with more sprawl? Transportation Report? Bullshit!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dertinger Has a Campaign Blog? Or is it a Propaganda Machine?

As the race in the 15th Conressional District gets under way, I thought you'd like to know that "Charles" Dertinger has launched his very own campaign blog. In his initial entry, he tells us that Republicans have mucked things up pretty badly. I agree. But "Charles" doesn't tell us what he'll do if elected.

He criticizes Dent for taking $50,000 from the gas and oil industry in 2004. But will Dertinger pledge to refuse this special interest money? Will he sign the light rail petition for the Lehigh Valley? I asked these questions last Friday, and repeated them in a comment to his blog. But our comments to his blog are not published.

Kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think? Is this a blog or a propaganda machine?

LVPC Transportation Study Ignores Reality of Peak Oil

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Yesterday, I told you that peak oil is coming, and its consequences will be far more severe than higher prices at the pump. Today, I decided to see how the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission proposes to deal with our energy crisis. Its draft transportation plan deals with peak oil by ignoring it. As a result, it is unrealistic.

At its public meeting today concerning its long range transportation plan, some Lehigh Valley Planning Commission members said they wanted to think "outside the box." Well, that's pretty hard to do when you're sitting inside one. The meeting was conducted inside a big box very much like the other big boxes along Marcon Boulevard. LVPC, you see, is headquartered in an industrial "park" that until recently was farmland.

Here's an idea. If LVPC really wants to think "outside the box" on a matter as important as our long range transportation plans, why not schedule a public meeting when the public could actually attend? Today's 9 AM meeting guaranteed a minimal public turnout, although the small room was definitely packed.

If the LVPC was interested in thinking "outside the box," it would address the changes that will have to come as a result of peak oil, as we move from our oil addiction to a more self-reliant economy. We won't be driving as much, and it will make sense to expand mass transit alternatives.

In its long range plan, the LVPC does devote an entire chapter to factors affecting travel demand. Not one word in that chapter or in the report itself considers or even mentions the reality of peak oil. It blissfully and mistakenly assumes we will remain the beneficiaries of a bountiful oil supply.

Given this basic flaw, it is no wonder that it deals only minimally with mass transit, which it considers more or less a bone thrown in the direction of the poor and seniors. Light rail to connect cities within the Lehigh Valley is not even mentioned. Of course, the study recommends that Route 22 needs to be widened. And nary a word about those 65 mph speed limits.

The LVPC must consider the reality of peak oil, which has been acknowledged both by the oil industry and President Bush. Any report that does not consider and plan for our impending oil crisis is worthless.

The public may submit written comments to the Planning Commission until July 5, 2006.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The End of Oil - What Can the Lehigh Valley Do?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIt's coming. While we play at the beaches, Peak Oil has already reared its ugly head. We don't notice. Most of us have never experienced "meatless Tuesday," gas rationing, or suffered through a great depression. We live in a dream world of tax cuts, upscale malls and shiny credit cards. And it's hard to think about anything when we're sloppin' down at the Texas Roadhouse.

But it's coming. When it hits, Peak Oil will turn our dream world into Nightmare on Elm Street. High pump prices will be the least of our troubles. Our food consumption depends heavily on our oil-dependent economy. How do you think we get those grapes from Chile? In addition to food, cheap oil is the driving force behind modern medicine, our water distribution and our high tech industry.

You might quibble about when, but it's coming. And we're not ready on any level - national, state or local.

In the Lehigh Valley, we are currently driving our 65 mph SUVs right over a cliff that will hurl us into worldwide depression. Local leaders refuse to face reality. The LVPC and Lehigh Valley Partnership clamor to widen Route 22, which will simply invite more driving. Instead of encouraging us to conserve fuel (and increase safety) by reducing our speed, limits are increased to 65 mph along Route 33. In the meantime, developers gobble up what little farmland is left, thanks to poor municipal planning in our fragmented municipalities. According to Lehigh County Redneck, traffic is so bad in Lower Macungie's "pedestrian community" that she must load her kids' bikes into a car and drive to a park if they want to ride.

It's coming, so what can we in the Lehigh Valley do? I'm no expert, but here's a few suggestions.

1. Elect leaders who recognize we have a problem, and are willing to do something about it. That's why I asked Dent and Dertinger to take a pledge against Big Oil money in their Congressional race. Northampton County Exec John Stoffa has proposed a world-class regional energy center that would explore needed alternative energy sources. Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham has spoken of the need for "smart growth". Stoffa, Cunningham, and Allentown Mayor Ed Powlowski have all stressed the importance of regionalization. State Rep. Rich Grucela has proposed educational impact fees in new subdivisions, and State Rep. Bob Freeman has long advocated light rail in the Lehigh Valley.

2. Stop building and widening all those damn roads. In addition to the LVPC and Lehigh Valley Partnership, Northampton County Council in 2001 adopted a $111 bond that, in part, finances infrastructure in the county's suburbs. It has refused to rescind this financing even after a developer changed his project from industrial development to a Walmart. But County Council had no problem rescinding a $1 million grant for park preservation in Allen Township. Brilliant!

3. Support the Coalition for Alternative Transportation, an educational charity, that works to improve mobility for everyone by improving walking, bicycling and transit conditions in the Lehigh Valley. Its funding has recently been cut by our local leaders. Brilliant!

4. Promote our downtowns. Our West End Neighborhood and Old Fairgrounds Blog demonstrate daily that Allentown is still very much a vibrant community.

5. Consider our mass transit. Most of us turn up our noses at the thought of riding a bus. Only 1% of the Lehigh Valley's population take advantage of LANTA. But for just $2, you can ride the bus all day. And on Red Ozone days, the bus is free.

6. Consider LVBO's light rail petition. When it rejected light rail, LVPC never considered Peak Oil. Pratima Agrawal, a light rail advocate, has offered the following argument: "If planned in conjunction with other non-driving methods (company carpool, bike, walking incentives, increased bus service), local light rail connection to our three major towns would not only reduce congestion, it would help revitalize our downtowns and serve as a draw for visitors. If connected to our suburbs with park-n-rides, it would not deprive anyone of the benefits and would raise property values."

These are only a few ideas. Like I said, I'm no expert. But I've read enough to be certain of this - it's coming. And we're not ready.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Will Dent & Dertinger Take the Pledge Against Big Oil Money?

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Congressman Charlie Dent (R-Lehigh Valley) faces Democratic challenger Charles Dertinger in this Fall's Congressional race. Their websites, however, reveal nothing about how they would handle our energy crisis. A simple trip to the pump tells us we have a serious problem. Even Chevron, the world's fifth largest oil producer, warns "the era of easy oil is over."

Last night, at a Lehigh Valley Beyond Oil meeting, we were told third hand that oil tankers are purposely forced to remain at sea to keep oil prices high. This is simply anecdotal evidence, but it's hard to argue with Ralph Nader's assertion that the oil industry closes down oil refineries simply to create higher prices at the pump.

Congressman Dent has proposed an inclined cable car in Easton, a hopeful sign to alternative energy advocates. But he also accepted $50,000 from the oil and gas industry in 2004. In fact, 58% of his $750,000 warchest is funded by multiple special interests. Dertinger's Council campaign was funded almost exclusively by one special interest -- unions. And that pattern has continued in his Congressional bid. Even more disturbing is Dertinger's strange silence about Northampton County Executive Stoffa's visionary proposal that alternative energy research be conducted on Bethlehem's south side.

That's why I'm asking BOTH candidates to pledge they will refuse contributions from the oil industry. Additionally, I'm asking that they sign LVBO's Light Rail petition. I've requested they make this pledge by July 4, 2006, Oil Independence Day. I'll let you know then whether our candidates are willing, like our Northampton County Liberty Bell, to sound an echo that awakens a slumbering world, saying NO both to oil dependence and special interests.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Nazareth's New Gov't Center: It's the Big Kids Against the Little Kids

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWell, it's that time of the year again in Nazareth. Daylight savings time, followed by hayfever. Bright sunny mornings, followed by torrential afternoon downpours. Freezing one day, sweltering the next. And during this unpredictable and magical time of the year, the most unpredictable and magical games of all, baseball and local politics, are in full bloom. This year, those two games have collided in Nazareth. Borough officials, aka the Big Kids, want to confiscate much of a residential park so they can play their own games. The victims, of course, will be the Little Kids.

On Tuesday night I watched the Yankees play the Phillies. Now, I'm not talking about those pill-poppin' prima donnas who just wrapped up a three game series in Philly. I'm talking about real athletes who play for the joy, not just of sport, but life itself.

Yep, these are the kids you see on your neighborhood fields most any night. I know them pretty well. Dougie and his brother Shane, Brian and his brother Blaine, Vinnie, Billy, Nicki, Sam(antha), Ben (Orange Crush), John and Dat. Their field is Nazareth Hall Park. That's their turf, baby. They play baseball, kickball, football, lacrosse, freeze tag, home run derby, laser tag, pickle, soccer, and just about anything that will keep their legs moving. Brothers constantly fight, but look out each other. Younger kids are always welcome, and no one argues when they get five strikes. Occasionally, a Dad or Mom will stop by with drinks or to play ball. These kids will use the perimeter of that park to "plan" strategy, trade cards, construct home-made balls they delight in exploding with their bats, or tell tales about the ball that hit a house or the time Billy's ball smashed through a car window. They argue "rules" during any game like high-priced lawyers, but don't try power plays against each other the way our pols do: everyone gets a turn. There's an innate fairness in these kids that we seem to lose as we get older.

They're good kids. They're lucky to have Nazareth Hall Park, but I have to admit I learn from them as much or more than they learn from me. The Big Kids probably played at Nazareth Hall Park themselves not so many years ago.

All that is about to change.

The Big Kids want to build a new $3 million government center. And they'll do it right in Nazareth Hall Park. They say they won't wreck the baseball field, but they'll consume so much park land it will be impossible to do anything else. A police department, borough offices, 9 car parking lot, and one of those weird retention ponds will ruin the park for the little kids, taking away what little open space is left. What's left will be a mosquito park, thanks to the retention pond.

When it seizes this park from little kids who can't vote, the Big Kids will be abandoning their own Main Street District, which requires a police presence.

A few years ago, the Big Kids did consider buying a property for their new government center in another section of town. The property was cheap, and it wouldn't have consumed any park land. Yet that idea was almost immediately killed. Why? It was too near Lawyers' Row, the homes of Bigger Kids. The Bigger Kids said things like "habeas corpus" and "mandamus." That scared the Big Kids.

There are no Big Kids at Nazareth Hall Park, just a bunch of little kids about to be lose not just their park, but some of the joy of growing up. Don't they get a turn, too? Won't anyone speak for them?

A Nazareth Citizens' Action Committee has formed and is circulating fliers. A rally is planned before the Big Kids meet on July 10 at Council Chambers (159 W Center Street)to play their games. And Jack Herbst, a Borough Councilman, will speak up for the little kids on Thursday, July 6, on WGPA 1100 AM between 8 and 10 AM. If you'd like more details, there are several posts at News Over Coffee: Nazareth News.

If you live in Nazareth, I hope you can speak up for the Little Kids, too. If you don't live there, that's no cause for relief. We have 62 distinct muncipalities in the Lehigh Valley alone, so it's hard to believe the situation in Nazareth is unique.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Northampton County Councilman Lamont (Pinocchio) McClure: Then and Now


When Lamont McClure waged his unsuccessful Northampton County Council campaign, he held a press conference concerning the $3 million road to a proposed Walmart in the proposed Wind Gap Industrial Center. He sanctimoniously demanded that Council show "leadership to preserve the quality of life in the Slate Belt and take back this bond money now."


Last Thursday, Lamont McClure voted against an ordinance that would do just that. Now some say this is because there is access to Walmart via another road. I say baloney. The $3 million county road will still be the main access route to the new Walmart.

McClure, you may recall, is the author of Northampton County's mean-spirited Code of Civility. Too bad he couldn't have included a phrase or two about honesty. Is it me, or is his nose getting longer?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Northampton County's Forgotten Liberty Bell - Symbol of Our Forgotten Liberty

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Forged by Bethlehem's Moravians in 1768, Northampton County's Liberty Bell first rang out from the courthouse in Easton's Centre Square. It tolled for court sessions. Its iron tongue also summoned people to fight fires and to announce news. This was the bell that sang out in Easton on July 8, 1776, to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This was the bell that sounded the end of World War II, when thousands of citizens lined the streets to pull at the bell's rope. Its music was heard for 24 hours.

Although the bell is no longer used to announce the opening of court, it's an important part of Lehigh Valley's history. At one time, it was prominently displayed between the District Attorney's Office and two courtrooms. But now, it seems there is no room for this bell in the $44.8 million courthouse expansion.

Judges have carefully planned private bathrooms, wind-sensitive fountains and their own private dining area. They slap each other on the back for what they call a "committment to justice." But they have forgotten our Liberty Bell. It sits forlornly in a forgotten corner at the end of a lonely hall. Construction workers have propped easels and courtroom furniture against this monument, which is now also littered with fast food menus.

The consideration shown to Northampton County's Liberty Bell is identical to that afforded the county's employees and taxpayers. In order to pay for all that marble and rare wood in the judges' new quarters, over 100 county employees were given the ax. And those that remained haven't seen a pay raise in 3 years. But taxpayers watched as taxes went up over 60% in just two years.

Perhaps it is time for that Great Old Bell to speak out against tyranny again, awakening us to the tyrants in our midst. We need not go to England to find them.

"There is a terrible poetry in that sound at dead of night: but there was a day when the echo of that Bell awoke a world, slumbering in tyranny and crime!"

"Yes, as the old man swung the Iron Tongue, the Bell spoke to all the world. That sound crossed the Atlantic — pierced the dungeons of Europe — the work shops of England — the vassal-fields of France. "

"That Echo spoke to the slave — bade him look from his toil — and know himself a man."

"That Echo startled the Kings upon their crumbling thrones."

"That Echo was the knell of King-craft, Priest-craft and all other crafts born of the darkness of ages, and baptized in seas of blood." ...

"Let the Bell speak out the great truth."

At the very least, our Liberty Bell belongs in the rotunda of our courthouse expansion, to remind judges and citizens alike that we are still a free and independent people.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

My Father: He Didn't Like War Trophies

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingLast week, when I was at the courthouse searching a title, a pleasant young man introduced himself to me as a District Attorney's intern. He was writing a history about all of Northampton County's DAs, and wondered what I could tell him about my dad. Not much. I could no longer remember when my dad had even died or how old he had been. That night, I read a few things Vonnegut had to say. He wrote that my Dad didn't like war trophies. That says a lot. Now I remember. Happy Father's Day, Dad!
Vonnegut, (from Slaughterhouse Five):

When I was somewhat younger, working on my famous Dresden book, I asked an old war buddy named Bernard V. O'Hare if I could come to see him. He was a district attorney in Pennsylvania. I was a writer on Cape Cod. We had been privates in the war, infantry scouts. We had never expected to make any money after the war, but we were doing quite well.

I had the Bell Telephone Company find him for me. They are wonderful that way. I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone. I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses. And then, speaking gravely and elegantly into the telephone, I ask the telephone operators to connect me with this friend or that one, from whom I have not heard in years.

I got O'Hare on the line in this way. He is short and I am tall. We were Mutt and Jeff in the war. We were captured together in the war. I told him who I was on the telephone. He had no trouble believing it. He was up. He was reading. Everybody else in his house was asleep.

"Listen--" I said, "I'm writing this book about Dresden. I'd like some help remembering stuff. I wonder if I could come down and see you, and we could drink and talk and remember."

He was unenthusiastic. He said he couldn't remember much. He told me, though, to come ahead.

"I think the climax of the book will be the execution of poor old Edgar Derby," I said. "The irony is so great. A whole city gets burned down, and thousands and thousands of people are killed. And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in the ruins for taking a teapot. And he's given a regular trial, and then he's shot by a firing squad."

"Um," said O'Hare.

"Don't you think that's really where the climax should come?"

"I don't know anything about it," he said. "That's your trade, not mine."

* * *
As a trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations, I had outlined the Dresden story many times. The best outline I ever made, or anyway the prettiest one, was on the back of a roll of wallpaper.

I used my daughter's crayons, a different color for each main character. One end of the wallpaper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there was all that middle part, which was the middle. And the blue line met the red line and then the yellow line, and the yellow line stopped because the character represented by the yellow line was dead. And so on. The destruction of Dresden was represented by a vertical band of orange cross-hatching, and all the lines that were still alive passed through it, came out the other side.

The end, where all the lines stopped, was a beetfield on the Elbe, outside of Halle. The rain was coming down. The war in Europe had been over for a couple of weeks. We were formed in ranks, with Russian soldiers guarding us -- Englishmen, Americans, Dutchmen, Belgians, Frenchmen, Canadians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Australians, thousands of us about to stop being prisoners of war.

And on the other side of the field were thousands of Russians and Poles and Yugoslavians and so on guarded by American soldiers. An exchange was made there in the rain -- one for one. O'Hare and I climbed into the back of an American truck with a lot of others. O'Hare didn't have any souvenirs. Almost everybody else did. I had a ceremonial Luftwaffe saber, still do. The rabid little American I call Paul Lazzaro in this book had about a quart of diamonds and emeralds and rubies and so on. He had taken these from dead people in the cellars of Dresden. So it goes.

An idiotic Englishman, who had lost all his teeth somewhere, had his souvenir in a canvas bag. The bag was resting on my insteps. He would peek into the bag every now and then, and he would roll his eyes and swivel his scrawny neck, trying to catch people looking covetously at his bag. And he would bounce the bag on my insteps.

I thought this bouncing was accidental. But I was mistaken. He had to show somebody what was in the bag, and he had decided he could trust me. He caught my eye, winked, opened the bag. There was a plaster model of the Eiffel Tower in there. It was painted gold. It had a clock in it.

"There's a smashin' thing," he said.

And we were flown to a rest camp in France, where we were fed chocolate malted milkshakes and other rich foods until we were all covered with baby fat. Then we were sent home, and I married a pretty girl who was covered with baby fat, too.

And we had babies.

And they're all grown up now, and I'm an old fart with his memories and his Pall Malls. My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin, I work in a lumbermill there.

Sometimes I try to call up old girl friends on the telephone late at night, after my wife has gone to bed. "Operator, I wonder if you could give me the number of a Mrs. So-and-So. I think she lives at such-and-such."

"I'm sorry, sir. There is no such listing."

"Thanks, Operator. Thanks just the same."

And I let the dog out, or I let him in, and we talk some. I let him know I like him, and he lets me know he likes me. He doesn't mind the smell of mustard gas and roses.

"You're all right, Sandy," I'll say to the dog. "You know that, Sandy? You're O.K."

Sometimes I'll turn on the radio and listen to a talk program from Boston or New York. I can't stand recorded music if I've been drinking a good deal.

Sooner or later I go to bed, and my wife asks me what time it is. She always has to know the time. Sometimes I don't know, and I say, "Search me."

I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for a while after the Second World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.

Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, "You know -- you never wrote a story with a villain in it."

I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Conservative Dent v. Liberal Dertinger? Think Again!

US Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Lehigh Valley) has an opponent in this Fall's election. Charles Dertinger, a union employee who was finally elected to Northampton County Council on his third try, garnered enough write-in votes to secure the Democratic nod.

Dent's a Republican and Dertinger's a Democrat. But does it necessarily follow that Dent is an archconservative? And does Dertinger represent reform? In both cases, the answer is NO.

Dent the ArchConservative?

Although Dent is clearly conservative, some of his stands surprise me. Conservative groups give him fairly low ratings. And one of his latest ideas betrays a progressive streak.Don't tell Bush!

Dent's proposal centers on "funiculars," a fancy word for inclined cable cars. They're all the rage in tourist destinations like Scotland, whose highlands are hard to negotiate by foot. Now we don't have any highlands in the Lehigh Valley, but we do like kilts and Easton's College Hill certainly presents a challenge to students and pedestrians who travel downtown. In fact, that hill taxes most vehicles. Dent suggests just such an inclined cable car to ferry us up and down that hill.

To those of us concerned about our impending energy crisis, Dent's proposal is a Godsend. It encourages and promotes pedestrian traffic, which will reduce both fuel dependence and toxic emissions. It's an important first step towards light rail.

Lehigh Valley Beyond Oil, a grassroots organization promoting local solutions to future energy shortages, has endorsed light rail to connect our local towns. The LVPC, on the other hand, wants to make Rte 22 even wider so that we can continue our sprawl.

Now what solution makes most sense to you? If you think light rail is the answer, take a moment to sign LVBO's light rail petition.It's a strange world. Republican Congressman Dent endorses a very small, but real, local response to peak oil. It's the biggest issue we face today, and most pols hide their heads in the sand, trying to pretend it's not there. It's refreshing to see a leader step up to the plate, even if he is a conservative Republican.

Dertinger the Liberal?

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I've told you about this guy before. He's just a union puppet. Although unions are important, no candidate should permit one special interest to fund his entire campaign. Yet that's what Dertinger did when he ran for Council. And he's doing it again in his Congressional bid.

Well, that's OK, because he's a liberal, right? Let's look at some of his "liberal" votes on County Council.

Two weeks ago, he voted against even considering a regional health authority. This is progressive?

If there was any doubt in my mind, Dertinger erased it last night. Let me explain how this happened.

Before Dertinger ever sat on Council, the County agreed to provide $3 million for a road in the slate belt that was intended to service 33 industrial sites and produce 1,200 good jobs. Six years later, we learned that the developer (a big campaign contributor) instead intends to use that road for a yet to be built Walmart.

In his Council crusade, Dertinger pledged time and again that he would pull that grant if he was elected to Council. Last night was his chance, and he blew it.

Walmart pays such low wages ($11.5k to $15k) that less than half of its employees can afford health coverage. The rest of us end up picking up the $2 billion annual tab for government assistance. And over half of its products are manufactured overseas. Yet the progressive Dertinger voted to continue this funding.

During the public debate over this $3 million road, it became apparent that much of the road work will not be done at prevailing wage. And Councilman Cusick also established that some of the preliminary work was not done at prevailing wage. Yet the progressive Dertinger voted to continue this funding.

Dertinger proudly announced that he had visited the site with the developer (campaign contributor), and saw for himself that wetlands had been drained and trees cleared to make room for an asphalt ribbon. The work done by the developer (campaign contributor) at less than prevailing wage, contributed to the destruction of our open space and environment. Yet the progressive Dertinger voted to continue this funding.

I wonder how much funding the progressive Dertinger will now get from the developer (campaign contributor). On the bright side, at least it won't be another union.

Despite his conservative leanings, Dent appears genuinely to be providing at least one local answer to our energy crisis. At the same time, Dertinger has clearly demonstrated he's no progressive. He represents the status quo. Although I can't say I'll vote for Dent, I sure won't vote for Dertinger. He is, as the Morning Call labeled him, a "faithless politician."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Lehigh Valley: A Fragmented Mess

Last time I told you about Upper Macungie Township, where township supervisors are trying to explain inflatable dolls and questionable township expenses to state regulators. Bill White believes the second class township code, which allows supervisors to hire themselves, is part of the problem. I agree, but think there's another reason.

The Lehigh Valley is a fragmented mess, a challenge for any lover of jigsaw puzzles. It's a quagmire of Upper and Lower Saucons, Milfords, Macungies, Nazareths, and Mount Bethels. We've got North and South Whitehall, Allen and East Allen, Catty and North Catty, Bangor and East Bangor, and Easton and West Easton. We're a morass of 62 separate municipalities and 2 counties. On the local level, we elect 466 officials to represent 578,500 people, or 1 local and paid elected official for every 1240 residents. And this is without looking at our 17 school districts.

The Lehigh Valley is not unusual. Pennsylvania possesses "one of the nation's most labyrinthine systems of state and local government." Its 2566 municipalities is the third largest total of general governments in the nation, according to a recent Brookings Institute report.

So what's the big deal, you may ask. Isn't government supposed to be close to the people? Well, yes. But having so many of them has the opposite effect - it makes local government both weak and unresponsive. That's certainly what's going on in Upper Macungie. Let me give you some examples.

First, our fragmented governance enables developers to run roughshod over haphazard municipal land use plans and local zoning. That's why open space referenda are really just a joke. They do nothing but create little playlands for all the McMansions.

Second, because we're such a mess, the state can ignore us. Parochial concerns prevent us from agreeing on anything, whether it's the location of a baseball stadium or a casino. Municipalities compete over business locations, luring a business like Lehigh Valley Plastics from another location just a few miles away. State officials can play municipal officials against each other, which keeps them weak. We could be much more forceful if we were united.

Third, because we are so divided, unelected groups like the LVPC can set our agenda. Although much of the LVPC's work is excellent, their mandate does not come from the people, and that is reflected by their "public" hearings, which are almost always scheduled when those of us who work are unable to attend. Elected municipal officials are hesitant to question LVPC recommendations because their municipalities are unable to fund studies that might reach different results.

The final and most serious problem is a fragmented response to pandemics, natural disasters, or our coming energy crisis. Most of the Valley's major businesses already have plans in place. Our local governments, however, are simply not equipped to deal with these problems, and instead pretend the problem is not there.

Our two County execs, John Stoffa and Don Cunningham, recognize the importance of a regional approach to the Lehigh Valley's problems, and have begun exploring areas where government services can be consolidated. So far, they're mostly discussions, and no one has even broached the idea of consolidating a few municipalities or merging Northampton and Lehigh Counties.

One example of the difficulties faced, both by Stoffa and Cunningham, is in the idea of a regional health authority. Northampton County Council recently authorized the study of a regional health authority, which makes perfect sense in the face of a pandemic or natural disaster. Those won't stop at municipal boundaries. Yet Councilmen Lamont McClure, Charles Dertinger, and Wayne Grube voted against this salutary proposal, defying common sense with parochialism.

Regional problems require regional solutions. And perhaps it's time to consider one Lehigh Valley County, but that won't happen in my lifetime.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lehigh County Redneck Slams Upper Macungie Township Officials

There's a new blog in town, Lehigh County Redneck, run by an anonymous blogger who calls herself "Dem Fly on the Wall." Yet she also claims to be a Republican who likes to "torture men," among other things. She labels herself a "political assassin" and is just a bit too casual on that castration subject for my taste.

Has anyone seen Loretta Bobbit lately?

Well, whoever she is, she's off to one hell of a start. In her very first post, she emasculates Upper Macungie Township officials, hinting at everything from inflatable dolls being posed provocatively to free housing for a ghost employee.

I wonder if these guys will hire Lamont McClure for a libel suit.

Bill White ran a column about Upper Macungie Township's scandal just last week, but spared us all the juicy details. In Bill's own words,
"One of the problems is that second-class townships are allowed to hire their supervisors as employees, blurring the lines between management and labor. In the Macungies and other townships, supervisors get to hire and supervise themselves. It's a miracle there aren't more abuses, particularly when you start handing out credit cards."

Bill's right, but I think there's more to it than that. I'll tell you about that next time. Right now I've got to find my inflatable doll.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Christmas City Has More Brownfields Than You Think

Bethlehem's former steel property, 1600 acres located along its south side, has been called the largest privately owned brownfield in the US. Well, Bethlehem has a few more brownfields that no one seems to know about. And if you live there, you could be sitting right on top of one.

I'm talking real brownfield, baby, not that industrial crap. You see, so long as a sewer lateral goes down your street, you're paying a sewer bill. It doesn't matter whether you're hooked. Over the years, the Christmas City has more or less lost track of who's connected and who isn't. Since nearly everyone pays a sewer bill, most with septic systems just assume they have sewer. They discover the truth when ancient septic systems explode, spewing forth sludge from Count Zinzendorf ten times worse than what those damn Canada geese do at Sand Island.

Ho Ho Ho.

Then, in addition to cleaning out historical crap from all those love feasts, property owners must pay the city for a sewer connection, and that ain't cheap.

Ho Ho Ho.

Most of these properties are on the city's south side, near Fountain Hill. Bethlehem officials will gladly perform a dye test, free of charge, to Christmas City residents worried about that smelly brown mud in their back yards. Don't wait 'till July. And PLEASE, do it before Musikfest.

Ho Ho Ho.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Bill White to Northampton County Councilman Lamont McClure - "Shut Up!"

Last week, I impudently suggested that Northampton County Councilman Lamont McClure and his "Law and Order" committee had violated the Sunshine Act. McClure popped onto this blog himself to demand I immediately retract my charge and apologize, or see myself at the wrong end of a libel prosecution.

Uh oh.

McClure's a hot shot asbestos lawyer who works for the Angelos law factory. And his council campaign was heavily funded by big city lawyers and the DA's office.

Uh oh.

My response to McClure? I repeated my accusation in a second post. Now I could tell you I was heroically standing up to intimidation tactics by a bullying government, but that's a lie. The simple truth is I'm a miserable bastard. I don't even get along with myself!

I was trying to figure out how to defend a McClure libel suit (insanity?) when The Morning Call reported I was right! Both County Council's Solicitor and a media lawyer agreed that McClure had violated the Sunshine Act.

Holy Cannoli!

Today, Morning Call columnist Bill White (a terrific and funny writer) tells us McClure himself now concedes his error.

Holy Cannoli!

Now poor Lamont is going to have to sue me, a media lawyer, his own solicitor, and himself. It's a good thing Lamont knows all those big city lawyers because he's probably going to need their help. But it's too bad for the rest of us that a lawyer who chairs Northampton County's legal committee knows so little about the Sunshine Act.

Bill White's conclusion? Lamont needs to learn "when to just shut up." My conclusion? I'd love to hear more. It's really generated a lot of interest in this blog.

If anyone questions why we need a free and independent press, last week provides a small example. But for the press, a local government bully would have continued his attempt to muzzle a citizen who dared point out a Sunshine Act violation. I suspect Lamont is going to keep newspapers busy.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Northampton County Democratic Chair Joe Long: Was His Election Legal?

On Monday, Northampton County Democratic Chair Joe Long was elected to a second term without opposition. But was his election legal? He could only be elected by committeemen chosen in our last primary. Yet the results of the primary were not even certified until Monday, the very day of Long's election. How could committeemen be notified of their election and be able to attend another election to select Joe Long as party chair in a matter of a few short hours? Were they beamed over?

According to Chief Registrar Deborah DePaul, certificates of election will not even be mailed to the winning committeemen until today because the law requires a 5 day waiting period in case anyone objects to the results. So how did committeemen assemble and elect Joe Long on Monday night when they won't be notified until today of their election?

And what about write-in candidates for committeemen in precincts that had no candidates? I know a fellow who wrote himself in as committeeman in a precinct with no candidates, and he's heard nothing. Assuming that he was elected, he should have been notified of the election for the county chair.

Politics: Lehigh Valley Style has long questioned Joe Long's leadership in Northampton County. Joe announced that T.J. Rooney was not seeking reelection as state rep. before Rooney could do so himself. Joe also played a major role in the back room deal that resulted in the appointment of Lamont McClure and Anthony Branco to Northampton County Council, snubbing many better qualified candidates, both Democratic and Republican. And he gave little help to John Stoffa who, without PAC money, took on and defeated a powerful and well-funded Republican opponent for County Executive. It is little wonder that PoliticsPA selected Long in 2005 as one of our worst County chairs.

But I do wonder how he managed to get himself elected on Monday, five days before certificates of election could be sent to committeemen. I've asked local party officials to explain. So far, I've heard nothing. Looks like they can only use a time machine when electing their county chair.


I guess I'm an equal opportunity offender. The Republican state committee met past Saturday to select Rob Gleason, a popular former Thornburgh aide, to serve as the new state chair. He was elected by state committeemen, including committeemen from Northampton County. How could the Northampton County committeemen vote to elect a new state chair on a Saturday when their own election as committeemen was not certified until the following Monday? Their certificates of election were just mailed today.

Now there could be legitimate reasons, but I sure don't know them. It's possible these elections are pretty much decided in advance and the elections thmselves are mere formalities. But it is precisely that kind of attitude that leads to government behind closed doors.

Council Solicitor & Media Lawyer Agree: McClure Violated Sunshine Act

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On Monday, Lamont McClure and his Northampton County "Law and Order" Committee violated the state Sunshine Act. That Act tells us we have a right to be nosy about what our government is doing. "[T]he right of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decisionmaking of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process ... [S]ecrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public's effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society."

When I dared suggest that McClure had violated the Sunshine Act, he responded with a vicious personal attack. Among other things, he threatened a libel suit. All this from the author of Northampton County's mean-spirited "Code of Civility."

Well, it looks like McClure is going to have to add a few defendants to his libel suit. Lenny Zito, a former judge who just happens to be Northampton County's Solicitor, also believes McClure's committee violated the Sunshine Act. So does Teri Henning, General Counsel to The Pennsylvania Newspaper Association.

Paul Mushick, a Morning Call reporter, tells us the violation is more serious than even I had thought. Of course, Paul is a real reporter while I'm a drunken ex-lawyer. Here's what Paul says:

"Notices published in two newspapers and posted on courthouse bulletin boards announced the date and time of the meeting but no location.
The notices also did not identify that the committee was part of County Council, leaving doubt over which government called the meeting."

McClure told The Morning Call that didn't matter because he was still following a 1978 Council Resolution requiring Committees to meet publicly.

Wrong, Lamont!

That resolution also requires "public notice" and McClure blew that. Mistakes happen and Council's Clerk honestly admits the error. But the right thing to do, once that error is discovered, is to reschedule the meeting. McClure refused.

Let's face it. McClure ignored the state Sunshine Act, a 1978 Council resolution, and his own Solicitor. He also breached his own Code of Civility with some nasty remarks and threats directed at a citizen who dared point out that McClure violated the public's right to participate in its own government.

But why should McClure care about the public? They rejected him when he ran for office. He's there for one and only one reason -- to serve the DA's office and big city lawyers, who funded his losing campaign.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Councilman Lamont McClure Could Use a Little More Sun

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNorthampton County Councilman Lamont McClure is upset. He's the guy whose losing Council campaign was heavily financed both by the DA's staff and big city lawyers. Despite his loss, he got himself appointed to Council as a result of a back room deal that violated the Sunshine Act. And now, as Chair of Council's Law and Order Committee, he himself violated the state Sunshine Act by conducting a committee meeting without telling us where it would take place.

McClure's defense? 1) The Sunshine Act doesn't apply to his committee; 2) I'm a frivolous and drunken ex-lawyer; and 3) I must apologize immediately and retract my remarks, or face the consequences.

McClure's defense reveals a bully who is not above threatening a citizen who challenges him over the public's right to be present at all Council meetings, including meetings of their committees. But more disturbing than that is that a lawyer who chairs the Judicial and Legal Committee would actualy claim his committee can operate in secret.

Here's what he says.

"[A]s a committee meeting is not a quorum of County Council, it is not necessary that it be held in public."

And again.

"[A] violation can not occur unless there is a quorum of the body present. The Committee only has four members. The Council has nine members. You'd need five for a quorum. There were only three members present at the meeting. No quorum. No violation."

McClure's wrong.

Don't take my word for it. Here's what the Pa. League of Women Voters says:

"A government agency includes, by definition, any committee authorized to take official action or give advice to the originating body."

And the Sunshine Act includes Council committees in its very inclusive definition of agencies that must meet publicly.

So why is this so damn important? Because democracy dies behind closed doors. Senator Patrick Leahy has noted a "rising tide of secrecy" that has become one of many dubious distinctions of the Bush administration. "We must demand transparency from any government, but this administration, with its penchant for secrecy, requires vigilant attention. This administration’s default position unfortunately has been secrecy and non-transparency, and at a great cost in accountability to the public."

On the local level, we can't afford to relax, especially when we learn that a committee chairman thinks his committee can operate behind closed doors.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

McClure's "Law and Order" Committee Meets Illegally

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When he ran for Northampton County Council, Lamont McClure set himself up as a "law and order" tough guy who would grab child molesters with one hand while jabbing terrorists with the other. He lost.

Now it's the voters turn to lose. Thanks to some back-room maneuvering, McClure managed to get himself appointed to a Council vacancy. And "law and order" McClure, whose campaign was heavily funded by the DA and his staff, is now Chairman of Council's Judicial and Legal Committee. He was appointed by Council Prez Grube, who also coughed up $500 to fund McClure's losing campaign.

The "law and order" committee met yesterday to consider more effective ways to collect outstanding fines and costs from people whose financial woes are usually what get them in trouble in the first place. Let's face it, most criminal defendants aren't exactly sitting in the lap of luxury.

Now I don't know whether McClure was getting collection tips from loansharks, bookies, or the bastards at my video store because I wasn't there. In fact, not a single member of the public attended.

This is because the meeting itself was illegal. Both the Sunshine Act and Northampton County's Home Rule Charter require that public notice of the time, date and place of a meeting be posted prominently at the government center. Now a notice was posted, but it never told us WHERE this meeting was to take place. As it happens, the meeting occurred in the bowels of Council chambers, well behind closed doors.

Now don't forget that we have a new $43 million government expansion, complete with wind-sensitive fountains and private bathrooms for each judge. You'd think that someone somewhere might consider the public's need for a more accessible meeting place than Council's private boudoir.

And Lamont McClure, a lawyer, should know better than to conduct a meeting when the posted notice doesn't even tell us where it will occur. Of all committees, one would expect a "Legal" committee chaired by a lawyer to at least try to follow the law.

Of course, I keep forgetting that the decision to appoint McClure was itself as violation of the Sunshine Act. And since he was rejected by the voters, he's not there to represent the people's interests by doing silly things like following the law. Instead, he's trying to please his buddy and financial supporter, the DA, by looking like he's tough on crime. And I guess it doesn't matter whether he violates our Sunshine Act. After all, who's going to prosecute this dude? The DA? Try again. The state Attorney General? He's probably not too interested in pursuing a matter that would only result in a $25 fine.

We need a tougher Sunshine Act. Even more importantly, we need government officials who understand the importance of conducting the people's business in public.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Those Dudes at The Velodrome Have Nothing on Me!

I wrote this story last year after completing my first century. No, I'm not talking about my age but a 100 mile bike ride. This year, I'm plagued by illness and injury, and find that instead of training for a 100 mile bike ride, I seem to be training for Nathan's next hot dog contest. I hope you like this story, which appeared in Bicycling Life.

Ever meet a bugcatcher? How about a bunch of guys who decide to roller blade 100 miles in the middle of a tropical storm? How about a group of total morons who surf off of Assateague Island in the middle of that same storm? Or a group of about 6500 people knee-deep in mud and a torrential downpour, munching on apple pie topped off with ice cream?

This is just part of the charm of the Sea Gull Century, an annual 100 mile bicycling rite of passage in Salisbury, MD. I was there, and learned that we humans, despite our bad press, can be pretty decent if somewhat silly.

My story starts in the Lehigh Valley, where I live among real cyclists with quads as thick and hard as oak trees.

At T-town's Velodrome, Team Fuji and other hot shots display their cycling prowess to the oohs and ahhs of the assembled multitudes. I've been there, swilling down espressos, wearing my Team Ireland cycling jersey and cap, and dream of winning a criterium.
I'm pretty sure that's where I convinced myself that I could do a century (100 mi. ride).

You see, I'm not really that fast. I am daily reminded of that as I am constantly passed on bike commutes by geriatrics and little kids. Further confirmation came a few months ago during my unwitting participation in the Phillipsburg criteriums. I signed up for the "citizens" (i.e., slackers) ride, not knowing it was actually a 3 lap race. When I found out (too late to drop out) and surveyed the field of competitors and their sleek road bikes, I forgot my T-town dream and revised my goal to just finish the damn race without being lapped. Team Ireland would hold its head high.

The race started, and I was comfortably in the rear, waiting for the right moment to make my move. Suddenly, I saw a cyclist weaken. Some septuagenarian on a rickety old mountain bike was faltering. I seized on his weakness and passed him with a flourish. Then, somewhere during the second lap, I noticed a woman whose derriere was so large she should have been required to ride with a "Wide Load" sign. I challenged her, attacking (that's a cycling term) as we turned into a very slight incline. I nipped her. "Ha Ha. Eat my dust! I eat health food!," I gloated to myself and then I was suddenly lapped by the leader. Well, at least I didn't finish last. Team Ireland could ride slowly from that race in pride.

But Team Ireland would not fare so well in the annual Lehigh Valley century, called the "Gap Gallop." The tree trunk legs cycle up and down Delaware Water Gap, Wind Gap, Little Gap, and just about every damn gap you could imagine in a 100 mile trip. The word "Gallop" suggests it is ridden fast. These guys are essentially racing up and down mountains for 100 miles. Team Ireland is not ready for that.

I was about to give up on my century dream when I discovered the Seagull Century, also called "Belgium by the Beach." It is promoted as both a fast and very flat course throughout the Eastern shore of Maryland from Salisbury to Assateague (aka Ass-Fatigue) Island and back. I heard Team Lardbutt would be there. Lance Armstrong recently retired, so I just might have a shot at this one, and started to spruce up my Fuji for that fateful day in October when Team Ireland just might briefly lead the peleton (more cycling lingo).

You know, we've had a pretty dry summer. Occasionally, rain has been predicted and skies would grow menacingly dark, but that's pretty much all that would happen. So when forecasters began predicting lots of rain during Seagull Century weekend, I properly ignored threats of heavy rain and winds.

On the day before the race, as I began my pilgrimage to the Eastern shore in my beat up '95 Jeep Wrangler, undeterred by heavy rains that lasted the entire trip. The heavy stuff obviously came a day early, and I would have a dry ride the next day.

The first order of business upon arrival was to participate in the pre-ride meal, where we load up on carbs in anticipation of a very demanding event. In addition to pasta, there were tacos, pork chops, pizza, wings, fries, and I think I even saw one slice of multigrain bread sitting forlornly in a corner. The pre-race health food I liked most was the ice cream. Now I'm lactose intolerant, and can't handle things like that, but I figured it would not affect Team Ireland during a 100 mile ride where it is important to be well-nourished. I was joined at dinner by some very nice cyclists who had trekked in from Ohio, where they work as Forest Service Rangers. They were staying at the local Y, something I did not think was possible. They were traveling on a tight budget, which dispelled my belief that most cyclists are rich bastards with expensive $3,000 toys. Another surprise was the average age of these folks. They're mostly old farts like me. After the feast, I waddled to my hotel room, and was lullabied to sleep by howling winds and pouring rain.

The next morning, I was a little surprised when I awoke to see it was still pouring and the winds continued to swirl. That's OK, I thought. After all, I had packed my high tech Team Ireland rain gear, including some pretty cool gloves. The heavy stuff was coming down now, but I figured it would taper when I started my ride. I rushed off for a high carb breakfast of more of the health food I had the previous night. To be on the safe side, I loaded my bike with all kinds of energy bars and Perrier (not a cycling term, but it is French).

After carefully carbing up as highly conditioned well-trained athletes are wont to do, I hopped on my bike and headed to the starting line at Salisbury U. It was still pouring, but I knew it would stop soon. I was more concerned about my stomach, which just did not feel right from all that health food. I probably just needed to pedal a few miles.

Now a century ride is not a race, but is more like a quest. You just show and go. I started around 7:15 AM, trying to ignore the winds, rain and strange rumblings in my stomach. About 5 miles into this event, I noticed I was being passed by lots of people in bicycles, tandems, recumbents, and then the strangest thing happened. A bunch of guys in roller blades zipped by. What's the deal with that? I picked up my pace and settled next to one of these fellows who had tree trunk legs very similar to the ones I see on Lehigh Valley cyclists. "Are you going the full hundred miles?," I asked one of these unusual athletes. "Believe it, baby!" He grunted, and steam blew out of his nostrils. I checked to make sure I wasn't wearing red, and timidly asked why. "I want to triple the size of my quads, baby" he snorted. Okay. Cuckoo! I got out of his way only to discover an entire gaggle of these misfits, skating their way to nirvana. "What a bunch of nuts," I though as I peddled away in the pouring rain and swirling winds.

A goofy thing about these winds is that, no matter which way we turned, the winds seemed to be in our face. Occasionally, a nice gust would blow up and it literally blew me off the road twice. The winds took my mind off the rain, which was coming down pretty hard now and actually was hurting. But these winds did not take my mind off the stomach, which now was rumbling pretty badly. I had to stop and take care of business, but no bathroom was in sight. I pulled my bike off to the side and snuck off into the woods for the pause that refreshes.

From my vantage point, I could see that people were moving pretty fast. There actually were two collisions in the short time I was taking matters into my own hands. Upon reflection, perhaps I was a little too close to the road, and certain noxious odors may have affected steering in some less experienced cyclists. Well, whatever the cause, the ambulance had left by the time I returned to my Fuji. But now I had a new problem. I had sharp pains in my feet and legs. I had brushed up against some particularly nasty nettles. I began to pluck them off, but the damn things stuck to my hands. I had to rub my hands on the grass to be rid of them. Soon after this happened, I noticed my hands were very itchy, and my eyes began to swell shut where I had tried to wipe some rain drops from them. Team Ireland was in trouble.

I popped back onto my bike and starting cycling, only to discover there was a rest stop about 1/2 mile from where I had sauntered off into the woods, with plenty of clean and dry bathrooms. I gave myself a 10 minute break to eat a bar that I had packed. When I opened my bag, I was saddened to see that my 150 calorie bar was totally soaked and had become inedible. Fortunately, the rest stop had other types of health food. I had my choice of banana bread, carrot cake, lemon poppy seed and blueberry bread. I chose blueberry, although it was hard to see it as my eyes continued to swell. I gobbled the health food and hopped back on my Fuji. Team Ireland was refreshed.

After about 60 miles, I was beginning to think that the century ride just might be marred by heavy rains and wind, but it would probably die down soon. I was now close to Assateague Island, the highlight of the race. As I pumped my way to the island, I heard a Pfffffff and the bike suddenly became wobbly. I pulled over, and sure enough, had a flat. Being the experienced cyclist that I am, I had a spare tube, tire levers, a CO2 cartridge pump for just such an emergency. But although I am an experienced cyclist, I am an inexperienced mechanic. It took me nearly an hour to get my tire off the rim and install a new tube. And when I inflated it with my fancy CO2 pump, the tire remained flat. Apparently, I had punctured my replacement tube when I installed it. At this point, I was stuck, with no tube, no pump, and a flat tire. I would probably have to wait for hours for the sag wagon to catch up with me because there were a lot of flats along this stretch of road. Team Ireland was sidelined. I was beginning to wonder if they might never catch up with me, and some weeks later, some highway workers would find all that was left of me, my Team Ireland helmet and perhaps a slice of undigested blueberry bread.

I had nearly given up hope when I met Bugcatcher. Bugcatchers, I learned, are lobstermen from Florida. They call their prey bugs for some reason, and I'll remember that before I ever order a lobster dinner. Well, this fellow not only stopped, but changed my tire, sacrificing his only spare tube, and used his low tech but very effective hand pump to put some pressure in my tire. I never met this guy before, but he stopped in a downpour to help someone he did not know at all. In fact, he helped a few people with flats, using only his strong hands (no tire levers) to change tubes. I learned he was a coach with South Florida's Leukemia Team in Training, and he stopped to help a Yankee. Thanks to Bugcatcher, I escaped certain death. I hopped on my bike and scrambled to the next rest stop, Assateague Island.

To get to this island, you have to ride over a bridge, which is pretty high and amounts to the only thing resembling a hill in this century. But as I climbed higher on this bridge, being pelted by rain and bounced by the winds of Tropical Storm Tammy, I was certain I would be blown right the hell off if I didn't go over myself because my eyes had nearly swollen shut. Once again, I escaped the clutches of certain death, where there was a new assortment of health food to sample -- cookies. Being the highly conditioned well trained athlete that I am, I forced myself to eat a few.

At Assateague, I didn't see any of the famous wild horses. They were probably at home, watching Mr. Ed. But I saw something that resembles part of a horse's anatomy -- a bunch of total idiots surfing in the middle of this tropical storm. I thought to myself, "What kind of moron surfs in the middle of a tropical storm?" As I hopped on my bike to leave the rest stop, I nearly ran over a surfer returning to his car in his ridiculous wet suit, which looked suspiciously like a Team Ireland knockoff. We exchanged fierce glares, and then he asked, "What kind of moron rides his bike to Assateague Island in the middle of a Tropical Storm?" This guy obviously doesn't know a highly conditioned well-trained athlete when he sees one. I declined to answer him and rode off, but because my eyes had swollen shut, I rode the wrong way, right into the dunes. I made a dignified circle in the correct direction as the surfer dude taunted, "Pee Wee Herman called. He wants his bike back."

At this point, after about 70 miles, I was beginning to think it might rain all day. But I no longer cared because I knew what was at the next rest stop -- the health food I craved the most -- hot apple pie smothered in vanilla ice cream. I picked up my pace and caught up with Bugcatcher, and we rode together. We were 84 miles into the century, and the rain had turned the ground into a swamp. Your feet just sank as you walked along. But there we stood, several hundred of us, happily eating slice after slice of hot apple (and cherry) pie. And there was another kind of health food -- it's called the "hot dog." Proper nutrition is important to highly conditioned well trained athletes, so I forced myself to eat one, smothered in a peculiar health sauce called mustard.

We were in the home stretch now. Roads had become rivers and gales besieged us, but we were nearly done. I arrived at the finish line around 5 PM, nearly 10 hours after starting. Once I finished, so did the rain and wind.

I've run 8 marathons in my life, but this century was more fun than all of them put together. What I saw, with what little remained of my eyesight, were lots of grins. You could feel the positive energy. I saw that people stopped to help each other throughout this ride. Instead of the "Me first" attitude that leads to most road rage incidents, the prevailing attitude among cyclists, if only during the brief moments of the century, is that we're all in this mess together. Life throws us curves and we can deal with them best if we depend on each other. That's not such a bad lesson. Now excuse me while I have my bathroom scale checked. It says I've gained 40 pounds and all I've had was health food.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Why Karl Longenbach Is Not a Northampton County Judge

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHe trusted me. It was his sole mistake. But it cost Karl Longenbach a Northampton County judgeship.

Have you ever met Karl? He's about 9 feet tall and weighs about 100 lb. Physically, he's an Abe Lincoln minus the facial hair. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting him, you'll walk away impressed. Right now, he's Northampton County's Solicitor under Exec John Stoffa, who's 10 feet tall and weighs about 90 lb. Another Lincoln.

Me? I'm about 4 feet tall and weigh about 700 lb. unless I can ride my bike and run. Last year, I had a good thing going. I was able to commute by bike almost daily. Now I could give you all kinds of noble reasons for this -- peak oil, environment, fitness, blah, blah, blah. The simple truth is I love it. More about that later.

When Karl Longenbach asked me to work in his campaign, I envisaged late-night strategy sessions, speechwriting, and a few dirty tricks here and there. I immediately agreed. Finally, someone had recognized my abundant talents!

Then one day the call came. I rushed over to meet Karl, and was handed about 3,000 signs to plant. Having absolutely no mechanical ability, this presented a problem. First, I had to figure how to put flimsy plastic sleeves over wire hangars. I ruined about 1,000 signs doing that. Then I had to hammer them into the ground. There goes another 1,000 signs. Then I had to hammer them into the ground again whenever winds blew over 3 mph. I ruined nearly every sign he gave me when all was said and done.

But I kept one sign for my bike. I took some clothes hangars and managed to strap the sign to my back as I pedaled to work. On election day, I rode the main roads so that voters could see that Karl was both environmentally friendly and had nothing against fat guys on bikes. I tooled along, waving at the many admirers who blasted their horns. You may say they resented a cyclist clogging up the Lehigh Valley's arteries, but they were obviously signaling support.

Well, I made it to the courthouse, sweating from head to foot, and immediately changed. I hung my wet clothing discretely on my bike, right by the courthouse entrance, and placed this "Longenbach for Judge" sign in plain view on the side of my bike. Every person walking in or out of the courthouse would see it.

The courthouse was busy that day. There must have been a sale on dog licenses or something. But I was happy because I knew a lot of people must have seen Karl's sign. I was making a difference.

But throughout the day, I noticed people would snicker or give strange looks as I walked past. I had no idea why -- my zipper was up and I wasn't trailing toilet paper. Finally, at the end of the day, a female attorney asked me if I was wearing underwear. Huh?

I went outside and there was the underwear from my bike trip right next to Karl's sign. Apparently, I was not so discrete as I had thought. People would walk by, look at my underwear, then Karl's sign, and start laughing. The underwear campaign sign decoration later become the subject of a bar association luncheon, or so I'm told.

That night, Karl lost the election by a handful of votes. Karl did forgive me, but I had to promise to work for his opponent if he ever runs again.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Lehigh Valley Is Breathless! (Thanks to our Ozone Levels)

Although they've never met a highway they didn't like, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission today issued a report that, in essence, concedes we're breathless. Despite tougher federal controls on power plants and stricter vehicle emissions standards, our ozone levels remain too high.

In its summary, the LVPC predicts that, in the years ahead, lower levels will be achieved. They point to sophisticated computer models for their guess, but I think they used a ouija board. They claim that, although we've sprawled into virtually every cornfield, somehow we'll be driving less, more slowly, and using alternative fuels. Huh? They even hint we'll have passenger rail. Well, if this is so, why do they advocate widening Rte. 22? And why the hell did we raise speed limits to 65 mph on Rte. 33?

Both Northampton and Lehigh Counties rate "Fs" from the American Lung Association's 2006 "State of the Air" Report. Why? We drive too much. Most of us have abandoned Easton, Bethlehem, and Allentown for McMansions in the 'burbs. Now we drive farther and faster to our jobs, schools, and Starbucks.

These high ozone levels are a serious health risk to Lehigh Valley residents with asthma (52,000), chronic bronchitis (20,000), or emphysema. Ozone is a respiratory irritant - nothing to sneeze at.