Cap & Trade or Michael Jackson

July 7, 2009

Regardless of which side of the issue you’re on, it should bother you that the news media is spending far more time keeping the American people up to date on the Michael Jackson memorial service than they are in informing us of the progress of the Cap & Trade legislation.

And why are they placing so much emphasis on a dead celebrity? Why are they ignoring more important issues that could affect all tax payers?

Some right wing conservatives would have us believe that the left leaning media is intentionally taking the focus away from Congress so the Obama administration can shove another giant spending (and taxing) bill down our throats.

The left wing radicals would argue otherwise.

Naturally – and unfortunately – the truth has nothing to do with politics. Sadly, the media is giving the American public what the American public wants. I’ll admit I haven’t checked, but I’d bet that any broadcast of the American Idol show garnered a much larger share of the viewing public than any of the Presidential debates.

The truth is a large portion of our population doesn’t care about what goes on in Washington, D.C. In fact, they care even less about what goes on in their own state capitols.

Many years ago I attended a Key Club convention in Philadelphia. Each delegate was given a key ring. On one side was the Key Club logo. On the other was the phrase, “Combat Complacency.”

I believe we’ve lost the battle. In the 1960’s, college students stood up and voiced their opinions. While many of them were wrong in their beliefs, they all had the courage to stand up for what they believed. As a result, many things in our society were changed.

The youth of my youth took the time to learn about things that mattered. Sometimes they heard one side of the story and jumped to incorrect conclusions, but in most instances, they looked at both sides and came to good logical conclusions.

I’m afraid today’s youth are too busy twittering their lives away.

Perhaps that’s the major difference. While we didn’t have CNN, FOX News Channel, C-SPAN, or… come to think of it, we didn’t have any cable channels because we didn’t have cable. We also didn’t have lap top computers and the Internet. But we did have newspapers, news magazines, and the library.

We paid attention to the world around us – sweat bullets during the Cuban Missile Crisis – and felt a responsibility to speak out against what we saw as injustice.

Perhaps that was the influence of John F. Kennedy. I know we all admired the man and took the “New Frontier” very seriously. And we all deeply mourned his passing.

Until President Obama came along, we hadn’t had another President who could reach out and stir the interest of the youth as JFK did. But it appears that the interest of our current youth petered out once their man was elected.

It’s a shame because, the way I see it, it’s the youth and future generations who will be most harmed by what is currently happening in Washington.

The U.S. Government has no business being in business. Every time government has taken over an industry, that industry stops being self-sufficient. For example, independent bus and trolley companies operated in major cities for decades. They competed for riders and most of those companies were profitable.

The companies that couldn’t compete went out of business and their assets were bought up by the other companies. Then, the government decided to take over. The two ‘companies’ I’m most familiar with – the Port Authority Transit (PAT) in Pittsburgh and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit  Authority (MARTA) – have both operated at a loss for decades. Taxpayer subsidies are the only way they stay afloat.

Will General Motors be any different? Will taxpayer subsidized pricing put Ford, Chrysler, and others out of business?

The Federal Government has put itself in a very awkward position. Congress is talking about passing a ‘clunker bill’ that will give citizens a tax break for trading in an old car for a new, more fuel efficient, car. Will the tax break be higher for those of us who buy a GM product? It would make sense if the government wants their ‘company’ to flourish.

But wouldn’t that be unfair to the other companies? Does the government care?

There are many people who believe the economic crisis could’ve been solved months ago simply by the government letting workers keep their entire paychecks. Think about that. The typical worker has almost a third of his or her paycheck withheld every pay day. If that money had been available to the individuals, they would’ve spent it. Even if they simply paid off some bills, the economy would’ve improved.

Foreclosures would’ve been reduced dramatically and banks would’ve had more money for other loans. Consumers would’ve bought more cars, televisions, and other big ticket items… which would’ve resulted in more jobs.

If consumers bought Fords and Toyotas rather than Chevys and Buicks, GM would’ve had to fix their problems or go out of business. With increased sales, the other auto makers would’ve been able to buy GM factories and put the former GM employees to work building other makes of cars.

Is it too late for the government to get out of the auto business? I hope not. And while they’re at it, they should also get out of the banking and investment businesses.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s time for MARTA and PAT to liquidate and let the private sector show the politicians how it should be done.

Considering the business acumen of most politicians, it wouldn’t take a business genius to repair the damage done by congress. Think of it! How many politicians have held a ‘real’ job during their adult life. There may be a few, but most of them were borderline lawyers who recognized they could make a lot more money supporting the causes of special interest groups.

If they were intelligent enough to be successful business people, why would they even consider becoming a member of Congress?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and see if Michael has been buried yet.


Earliest Trips to New Jersey Shore

May 28, 2009

Because my father was raised in South Jersey and still had family living in that area, most of our annual vacations were taken at the shore.

I can vaguely remember riding in the old Chevrolet. As I recall, it was a green car that looked something like the one in this photo.

Gone by 1949 but not forgotten

Gone by 1949 but not forgotten

I always thought that car was a 1943, but while looking for a photo I discovered that Chevy didn’t make any consumer cars that year. They were too busy building military vehicles.

In any case, you’ll note the car had a large back seat area. It was large enough (and I was small enough) that I could lie on the floor and use the middle hump as a pillow. My older brother had the luxury of lying on the shelf by the rear window. (Back then, seat belts in cars were non-existent.)

I vividly recall looking up and out the windows and watching the utility poles flash by as we ‘sped’ down the road.

In those early days, we were only able to speed between Irwin, Pennsylvania and Carlisle, Pennsylvania – a distance of about one hundred and sixty miles. In the late 1940’s, the total distance we traveled was more than four hundred miles and much of it was on the old U.S. highways that went through dozens of small towns.

Many of those old highways were three lanes that required drivers to be extremely careful when passing. That middle lane – used by motorists going in both directions – resulted in many head-on collisions.

We usually began our vacations late on a Friday night. Dad would come home from work and sleep for a few hours while mom packed the car. Then, around midnight, we’d start on the long journey. We lived about forty or fifty miles from Irwin and it was mostly city driving. The Penn-Lincoln Parkway did not exist and there were lots of traffic lights.

From Irwin, we’d sail along the ‘new’ turnpike that had opened for traffic in 1940. When we got to Carlisle, we’d return to the U.S. highways and continue our eastward trek.

As I recall, we sometimes avoided Philadelphia by passing through Wilmington, Delaware. If we did go through Philly, we’d cross over the Ben Franklin Bridge.

By eleven o’clock on Saturday morning, we’d be greeted by Uncle Lewis and Aunt Nellie. I’m sure dad was exhausted, but Lewis and I were ready to go crabbing and fishing.

In 1951, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was opened from the Ohio line to Philadelphia. That cut an hour or two off the trip and also made it possible for us to stop at a Howard Johnson’s for more than gasoline.

Coincidentally, a song that sticks in my head because I heard it so much during our travels between Pittsburgh and South Jersey was also recorded in 1951.

Les Paul and Mary Ford were popular recording artists of the time. Several years later, they divorced, but Les Paul continued playing guitar and began designing his own line of guitars. I’m sure my step-son, the rock star, has heard of Les Paul guitars… but he might be left wondering who the guy in that video is.

Getting back to our vacation journeys… the Walt Whitman Bridge opened in 1957 making the trip even easier. Then, in 1965, the Atlantic City Expressway opened.

Today that trip that took at least eleven hours in 1948 can be accomplished in under seven.

Many people have come to take the Interstate Highway System for granted… as though it has always been there. For the younger generations, that is absolutely true – it has always been there!

But those of us who remember being stuck behind trucks and buses winding their way along two-lane U.S. highways cannot thank President Eisenhower enough for pushing the idea through congress.

However, let me let you in on a secret.

If you are not in any big hurry to get from one city to the next, get off that Interstate and follow the old U.S. highways. In many cases, you’ll find the road surface to be in much better condition. It has been resurfaced and doesn’t carry the heavy burden of trucks, buses, and cars.

If you like looking at old buildings (many, unfortunately, abandoned) along with farms and forests, you’ll find the travel much more interesting.

Just keep the secret to yourself. We don’t want everybody to get off the Interstates. Smelling the roses won’t be so sweet if you’re stuck in a traffic jam.


New Jersey Aunts & Uncle

April 30, 2009
The Crowley residence

The Crowley residence

This house on Shore Road in Somers Point, New Jersey, was the home of my two ‘spinster’ aunts – Mary and Josie Crowley. It would appear that when Uncle Lewis B. Leeds married Nellie Crowley, it was a package deal.

The Crowley girls had been born and raised in Pittsburgh and Uncle Lewis met Nellie sometime after he and dad rode double on a motorcycle from South Jersey to Pittsburgh. That trip to find employment occurred in 1910.

I’m not sure of the time frame, but at some point Uncle Lewis and the girls moved to Florida. A few years later, they moved to South Jersey. That’s where they were living when they each eventually passed on.

Uncle Lewis' home in Linwood

Uncle Lewis' home in Linwood

The entire arrangement is one I never thought about until the last few years as I learned various details from my cousin, Ruth Morris.

According to family rumors, Aunt Nellie refused to allow Uncle Lewis to consummate their marriage. In the meantime, Aunt Josie may have had at least one secret affair that was consummated.

My sister, Gert, somehow found herself as the executor of Aunt Josie’s will. Josie was the last of the group to pass away. During the process, Gert learned that Josie had left everything (which turned out to be a negative number) to some woman who could only be contacted through a church. Unfortunately, the woman could not be located, but it is surmised that the lady in question might have been Josie’s daughter – born out of wedlock and given up for adoption. We’ll never know the whole truth behind that one.

In the meantime, when we would visit Mary and Josie in the 1950s, there was a blind man living with them – a Mr. Biddings. Again, the rumors insisted that Mr. Biddings was Josie’s live-in lover. Another thing we’ll never know for sure.

According to Ruth, Uncle Lewis and the ladies also had a habit of checking out of hotels without bothering to pay the bills.

That’s one of those rumors that, on the surface, doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure what Uncle Lewis did for a living prior to becoming a politician, but he eventually became a Freeholder in Atlantic County. I, being a little boy at the time, bragged to my friends that he was a freeloader. I might have been right!

I’ve been told that a freeholder in New Jersey is the equivalent of a county commissioner in other states. I have no idea how much he was paid in that capacity, but I do remember he drove a big Cadillac.

Aunt Josie worked at a mental hospital in Pleasantville. She called it the Looney Bin. Uncle Lewis used his political clout to get her the job. Considering some of her idiosyncrasies, she may have made a good resident of her place of employment.

For one thing, Josie refused to drive faster than thirty-five miles per hour. I can recall riding with her on the Garden State Parkway. I was greatly relieved that we only traveled a short distance on that superhighway.

When Uncle Lewis died, Josie inherited the Cadillac as she was the only sister who drove. She immediately had her garage remodeled. The finished product had doors on either end so she would never have to back in or out.

Aunt Mary was the chief cook and bottle washer in the family. I should note that when Uncle Lewis died, Aunt Nellie sold her home and moved in with her sisters.

Eventually, Aunt Josie was the only one left.

One time I had a business trip to Philadelphia. I decided to take my middle son, Kenn, and planned a side-trip to Atlantic City. Kenn was around twelve years old at the time. We dropped in on Aunt Josie and both Kenn and I soon realized what we were dealing with.

Aunt Josie repeatedly asked me how Jimmie was doing and I repeatedly explained that I was Jimmie. The house was a total disaster and Josie kept offering us something to eat. She finally went into the kitchen and invited us to follow. She pulled out an apple pie that was covered with mold and offered us each a slice.

It was then I decided the visit had lasted long enough. I stretched the truth a bit and explained that we had a dinner reservation in Atlantic City and really had to be going. Kenn was pleased that we had escaped without being fed.

About a month later, Gert was in the area and stopped in to see Josie. To Gert’s surprise, Josie was royally angry at me. After Kenn and I left, she had prepared a meal for us… and we never returned to eat it!

There is one more memory I have of Aunt Josie. When Aunt Mary died, Josie had her body shipped back to Pittsburgh for burial. I went to the funeral and rode in the limo with Josie to the cemetery. They had a very nice memorial service in the chapel. When the service was over, Josie insisted on seeing her sister’s coffin lowered into the ground.

The undertakers and cemetery officials were not prepared for that and tried to talk her out of it. She was adamant… as were they. Fortunately, I bumped into another undertaker, Ray Brusco, whom I knew through the Lions Club. I explained the situation to him and he pulled some strings.

Later I learned that the main reason for Josie’s insistence is that she did not trust the undertakers. She was afraid they’d open the casket and steal things from Mary’s corpse.

Just think, I could get ornery and crotchety when I get old. Nah, that would never happen.


Do We Really Want an “Old-Fashioned” Christmas

December 23, 2008

I recently read of a woman looking for information on how people lived in the good old days. It reminded me of how often I’ve heard people say they’d love to experience an old-fashioned Christmas. Come to think of it, on occasion I’ve expressed that same thought myself.

I can only guess at the age of the woman making the inquiry. There was no picture; but, based on her seeming innocence of such matters, I would guess her to be relatively young… relative as compared to the age of me, and dirt.

For most of us, “old-fashioned” can be defined as, “When I was a child and my parents and grandparents took care of all the details.” Thus, what constitutes an “old-fashioned” Christmas is directly proportionate to one’s age.

For me, such a Christmas would have occurred shortly after World War II when our country was experiencing a renewed era of prosperity. That should not be taken to mean my parents were becoming wealthy. It simply means my father, a maintenance worker at a meat packing plant, had steady employment and there was at least one store-bought present for my brother and me.

Our older brothers and sisters were born just before the Great Depression. I’m sure our parents did what they could to make Christmas special for our older siblings, but their means at that time were much more limited.

These thoughts on old-fashioned Christmases come at a time when I have been reading one historical document after another. Being able to trace one’s family back to the time when somebody named Stradivarius was fiddling around with musical instruments in Italy provides a totally different perspective on this issue. Let’s consider a Colonial Christmas celebration in the late 1600’s.

We’ll start with the Thanksgiving Day parades in New York City and Philadelphia. Yes, those towns did exist, but there was no Macy’s and no Mummers. Thus, there were no parades, and no initial visit from Santa Claus. Come to think of it, Thanksgiving Day had not yet been invented.

Most likely, there were no signs indicating the number of shopping days left before Christmas. Some religions may have used Advent Wreaths in their services so that people could prepare for the coming birth of our Savior, but that may have been the total extent of Christmas greenery.

In towns such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Providence, shopkeepers might have hung greenery in the windows to provide a holiday atmosphere, but it’s very unlikely. The use of Christmas trees and hanging of greens didn’t become popular until the 1800’s.

By the way, there was a time in the 1600’s when church leaders in England decided that Christmas had become too much of a pagan holiday and outlawed it. Christians in England and in the English colonies were forbidden to observe the day as the birthday of Jesus. One has to wonder what those same church leaders would think of the way Christmas is celebrated in the 21st century!

In the outlying colonial settlements, there was less thought given to the Yuletide season. The people living on the frontier were more concerned about trapping or shooting their next meal. They’d also be busy chopping wood, carrying water from a nearby stream, and trying to keep whatever produce they saved from the prior harvest from rotting. They had neither indoor plumbing, nor electricity. Had Christmas trees come into vogue, they wouldn’t have had any place to put them. Besides, there were no ornaments, lights, or tinsel.

In fact, what sort of Christmas would it be without watching Scrooge change his miserly ways after being visited by three ghosts (Dickens would not write “A Christmas Carol” for another hundred and fifty years), no roast turkey (unless the hunters got lucky), no Christmas cards to hang around the fireplace, and no Santa Claus (St. Nicholas was not yet recognized in the American colonies). Worst of all, there was no football!

I’m sure some people would consider the absence of indoor plumbing worse than the lack of football games on television, but we’re all entitled to our own opinions.

In short, it would appear that an “Old-fashioned” Christmas in the 1600’s would not be an ideal setting for any sort of celebration. However, let’s go ahead and try to find some positive aspects of the time.

First, to attend a Christmas church service, we’d probably have to hitch “old Dobbin” to the sleigh. There were very few church buildings in America in the 1600s, so we’d most likely attend a “meeting” at somebody’s home. The only warmth in the building would come from a fireplace, and the bodies of the faithful. The only light, besides the light from the fire, would be from candles.

After everyone had arrived, the host would read the Christmas Story from the Gospel in the King James Version of the Bible. The group would then sing a few Psalms or other hymns, as most Christmas carols had not yet been written. Finally, the group would join hands in prayer thanking God for the wonderful gift of his son – the Light of the World.

After heartfelt wishes for health and prosperity, we’d all go our separate ways – returning to our own humble abodes. Our family might exchange hand-made treasures – carefully crafted with love. Then we’d each lend a hand in preparing the “feast.” Chores would include chopping wood for the fireplace, fetching water, plucking feathers from the chicken, milking the cow, and gathering eggs. With such fresh ingredients, a batch of eggnog would make an extra special treat.

After dinner, we’d gather by the fireplace and share the warmth of each others love. We’d thank God for our many blessings and pray that our family would continue to find happiness in a land where freedom of religion was held so sacred.

There would be no television, radio, video games, or any other distractions. We’d simply enjoy spending time together as a family.

Come to think of it, I’d like nothing better than an “old-fashioned” Christmas this year.