Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Worst Highways

I-81: There's nothing particularly scenic about this highway in PA. Traveling south-to-north it begins in a broad, valley devoid of character. It stays there through the Harrisburg area, passing just far enough from towns like Carlisle and Harrisburg that one doesn't see any of those towns' character. It then splits from I-78 northeast of Harrisburg and becomes a highway that traverses the most colorless anthracite foothills one can imagine. In fairness, the highway passes through beautiful scenery in Virginia, but in that state the high way couldn't possible be any longer as it moves diagonally along the long, long spine of that large state. 

I-78: It's hard to believe scenery so ugly, so remote, and so inspired by the film Deliverance could exist so near Philadelphia. The trip between Harrisburg and when the highway mercifully ends at its junction with I-81 is essentially a time warp into an older, homelier America. By the way, one exit along that stretch is labeled "Grimes." Grimes? Are you kidding? 

I-83: I guess it's a highway that is somewhat necessary. After all, there's a virtual flood of commerce that must travel back and forth between Baltimore and Harrisburg. What, a highway with Baltimore as one terminus and Harrisburg as another? Please, the Interstate Highway System surely could have given this highway a more fitting final destination. Or, at least let I-78 carry the number from Harrisburg on down to Baltimore. The stretch of this road that travels through York County doesn't do much to boost Pennsylvania's scenic credentials. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Marriage and Society

I'm not quite sure why The Washington Post decided so much space in the opinion section should go to the topic of marriage, but I'm glad it did. There were two thought-provoking pieces there, one about myths of marriage and another about how Dan Quayle might have been right 20 years ago in that whole Murphy Brown kerfuffle. 

This is a tough topic, in political circles, to be both truthful and sensitive. Yet it's a topic worthy of discussion. And I'm happy to see that considerations of marriage's importance are becoming more common in the media. I think a great elephant in the room of American political dialogue is the preponderance of out-of-wedlock births. There is a lot of research to suggest correlation between out-of-wedlock births and fatherless families and poverty. Meanwhile there is significant research to suggest that marriage is something of a token of middle-class affluence. Perhaps it's even a ticket for admission.

Divorce and same-sex marriage might seem to complicate this. To me commitment is the keystone of this dialogue. The important act is two adults entering into a covenant to commit, even with the knowledge that keeping that promise can at times become too difficult to keep.

We've become a more tolerant society in the last half century. That is a great thing! But tolerance doesn't mean free-for-all, and I think we would do better if we uplifted, honored, and valued commitment when it comes in the form of marriage between adults. This is where I think those opposed to same-sex marriage have been missing something big: that heterosexuals haven't done the best job advertising commitment as a valuable act in modern-day society.

My own exhibition of being tongue-tied in the previous two paragraphs is perhaps testament to how this is a topic that defies our best attempts to be both truthful and sensitive. I offer these comments knowing and loving people who raised children (and doing a great job of it) outside the institution of marriage. Still, I'm glad media treatment is starting to be cast on what role marriage can play in our culture. After all, we've been through a fascinating transition in the past five decades. Marriages became easier to sever. Divorce became less taboo. Same-sex relationships are seeing growing acceptance. The percentage of births that are out-of-wedlock have grown. Dialogue is welcomed.   

Friday, May 25, 2012

Egads . . . This makes sense! A case against sleeping in.

Interesting little study found on So, sleeping in on weekends leads to increased likelihood of obesity. Well, now I feel better for typically getting up in the 6 o'clock hour on weekends. More to the point . . .

One of the bits of wisdom my father passed on to me was that every hour one sleeps before midnight is twice as good as any hour one sleeps after midnight. That's one of those Dad-is-right-but-there's-no-empirical-proof sort of situations. It also complicated that tidbit of college wisdom that every beer one had at a party one night required one extra hour of sleep to oxidize. Such troublesome proverbs often made me speculate if it was possible to get a negative amount of sleep after a night of excess. 

Anyway, I'm glad I stumbled on this study. Saturdays and Sundays are precious days for they are days of rest. I abhor using up that valuable day of rest in bed. Yet then I go downstairs and watch TV. Hmmm. Guess I'm not really investing time then, just spending it.

A Mormon Candidate

Jennifer Rubin wrote a pretty sharp criticism of the recent front-page New York Times piece analyzing the impact of the Mormon faith on Governor Romney's life. She raises some good points, but I think she is wrong on a few counts. First, I felt the New York Times article was a fairly objective accounting of how belief has guided Romney. It sheds light on something that gives a lot of meaning to his life. I feel like I know the candidate and his faith better as a result of the piece. 

Second, though I think Rubin is right to point out the cynical condescension of the New York Times by choosing to even write the piece, I think that kind of cynicism about faith is more widespread than just the intelligentsia of New York. A lot of Americans simplify and downplay the meaning of faith. Bluntly, religious faith isn't much a part of many people's life. That the media in this instance decided to explain rather than demean his Mormon faith is something I appreciate. I think we could use more conversations about faith in this country.

Though Ms. Rubin might be right that any piece analyzing the Jewish tradition or Catholic faith of a candidate would be deemed bigoted, she is overlooking the place Mormonism right now occupies in American life. It is a faith many Americans distrust and disrespect. The portrayal of Mormonism as seen in The Book of Mormon and South Park is not characterized entirely by good-natured humor. And it wasn't long ago that the Mormons were being chased across the continent to flee from Americans determined to exterminate them.

When I look at the Mormon faith, I see much more to admire than despise. Like Catholicism, it is a discipline of Christianity that I have great respect for though I cannot necessarily adhere to it. The analysis piece in last week's Times did nothing to dissuade me of that sentiment.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Favorite Roads

When I get bored with my desktop image I look for a photograph from one of my favorite roads.  Here are some roads and highways that mean a lot to me. 

Interstate 80.  I'll always associate it with trips to my grandparents.  I've logged many, many miles on it and I must have some good karma for I've never been pulled over by one of Pennsylvania's Finest along it.  I get a thrill when I go by the sign marking "Highest Point of Interstate 80 East of Mississippie" near Clearfield.  The The stretch from the Susquehanna River out to the Lock Haven Exit is spectacular scenery. 

U.S. 6.  Years ago my wife and I thought we had no money, so we made traversing the state on this highway our small vacation.  Quite picturesque.  The drive through the Allegheny Forest is beautiful.  The scenery between Scranton and Mansfield is at times spectacular.  The town of Wellsboro is one of the prettier in all of PA.

Route 23.  It's home for me.  I could drive much of it with my eyes closed, for it was the only way to get from home to any kind of civilization, if one is to call Pottstown civilization.  It cuts through Warwick Township (Chester County) along a ridge that takes you through Knauertown.  It's a beautiful drive, with lovely hills (well, lovely if you're not riding a bicycle). 

Others mean a lot to me, but I think I'd rather save my energy for a post where I blast some of my least favorite such as . . .

Monday, May 21, 2012

How a long summer gets short

I have been eager for this summer for some time.  It will be the longest stretch off from work I've had since beginning this profession.  However, it's funny that my stretch from June 8 until September 4 is starting to fill with interruptions (but at least they are fun interruptions):

  • For the first long weekend of the summer my wife (and daughter) will be away.
  • For the first two weeks of the summer, all of us will be on the road in California.
  • There's a pretty neat history workshop that could consume a week in mid-July.
  • A half-week at the shore with family looks like fun.
  • Let's mix in a baseball game with a cousin and a visit to Cooperstown.
  • Oh, and let's not forget some sort of anniversary surprise for my wife.  

These are good ways to have a summer go by quickly.  I look forward to the 10 or 11 weeks I'll have with a four-year-old and a six-year-old, kids who are in the midst of an age where time with dad trumps all, and before time with friends becomes so much cooler. 

I resolve to spend as much of this at a pool and with other kids in the neighborhood as is humanly possible. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Eternal Resonance

Our church is bidding farewell to our long-time office manager, who is retiring.  Her job will not be filled upon her departure.  It will be folded into another position an experienced member of the staff will take. 

When my father retired, his job was eliminated.  When my mother retired, her job was eliminated.  I've seen colleagues depart and their jobs simply disappear once they left.  Though it's a better fate than to have a job eliminated before one is done with it, I've usually felt sadness when I see someone leave a job and the job simply disappear.  Does it undermine the meaning of what they did?  Does it suggest that the person wasn't useful anymore. 

I think it's time I moved on from that philosophy.  Perhaps I'm moving on from it because I realize that the same fate awaits me.  More importantly, I think it's useful to not judge a person by how useful they are which, if I mourn the loss of a job they are finishing, is the prism through which I'm looking at the situation.  In some way all of us are useful to our organizations.  But we have a lot of useful things in life.  And useful things constantly become useless or archaic.  It is that way with tools, appliances, and, I guess, vocations. 

Some time ago I remember a pastor giving a sermon urging us to look for something that possesses "eternal resonance" - a job or calling that lends us to becoming meaningful in ways that transcend money, fame, or status.  I think that is what we, when we are truly fortunate, must do when we find the jobs that pays our bills.  If we find a career that fulfills us, we get the chance to enrich others.  Perhaps we enrich our families by earning the income that supports our kids' aspirations.  Perhaps we enrich others by serving those with whom we work.  Perhaps we enrich others by contributing to the reputation of an organization that is bigger than the sum of its parts.  In our careers we have the chance to shape and influence those around us, and when we do that we transcend mere usefulness and even value.  Our job descriptions, jobs, firms, and markets are temporary things (though they often outlive us).  The impact we have on those we are around and on the greater good we foster is what has some real chance at attaining permanence. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The TV is dying

Television is dying for me.  I'd like to identify the culprits (in chronological order):

  • My kids.  When they're around, I can't always watch the shows I want to watch.  And when they aren't around, I don't want to waste my precious screen time on commercials or waiting for a show. 
  • The iPad.  Sherry and I bought one about a year ago.  It is a complete game-changer in how it altered my preferences for consuming news.  Ironically, I have ceded ownership to my wife.  She gets more out of it than I do.  I'll still get chances to occasionally use it to read my magazines and The Inquirer.
  • The Kindle.  Really, it might be a bit player in all this.  But I acquired it last summer just as I was starting to get more interested in reading Game of Thrones.  Reading on it came to supplant watching the Phillies as my way to pass a pleasant summer evening. 
  • The Philadelphia Eagles.  Their 2011 campaign was such a clunker it diminished my desire to watch nearly any sport.  The Flyers' pratfall in the playoffs and the Phillies' mediocre start to the 2012 season hasn't helped matters.  Ironically, I won't miss a single Eagles game after switching off the cable.  Those are still over the air. 
  • The Roku Box.  It's nimble.  It's flexible.  It links me to nearly anything I want to watch.  I just have to pray that the little guy holds out against the titans that are Apple and Google.  
  • That commentator on Michael Smerconish's show who, back in March, talked of how one should invest one's time rather than just spend it.  It's made me rethink what I do when I relax.  (By the way, a peripheral casualty of this was Angry Birds.) 
  • This laptop.  Now I can just digest however much content online as I want.  And a lot of it is news and commentary.  I like the ability to create and consume this laptop gives me.  I like being able to pick away at tasks both tedious and amusing online as I half-heartedly watch something.  Further, I'm starting to lock in on the richness of news that is out there.  

And that's the story.  The economics teacher in me wants to point out the diminishing marginal returns of television.  And after 36 years of watching a lot of television, it makes sense that I've hit the end of what it can do for me.  It's amusing to think of how these changes are going to make my household look different by the time my kids are 15 or 16, the age I was when cable first came to my neighborhood. 

Sherry reminded me tonight of how I used to yearn for a television in the kitchen.  No more.  The iPad and laptop can satisfy that.  I think she enjoyed knowing that holding the line on keeping TV out of the kitchen has worked out so nicely. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Sunday News Roundup

Some interesting angles on what's going on in the world:

Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett wrote an interesting essay on the long-term cost of unemployment.  What they have to say on unemployment's impact, for me, wasn't as meaningful at the idea they shared from Germany.  Germany, when it encountered the cyclical unemployment that came with the Great Recession embarked on offering subsidies to companies if those companies would keep workers on their roles, albeit at reduced hours.  Instead of paying out unemployment benefits they subsidized the payrolls of companies that otherwise would've been sending workers tot he unemployment office.  I like it.  It strikes me as committing money for something more purposeful than just supporting the misfortunate.  It's giving them something purposeful they can do. 

Jess Gavora's op-ed in the Washington Post struck a chord with me  She was commenting on the Julia advertisements from President Obama's campaign.  I share Gavora's perspective.  I watched the whole ad on the president's election website and I felt unsettled at the ominpresent nanny-state it seemed to call for.  To me, there seems only a small degree of difference between Uncle Sam being there for every life change and Big Brother being there instead.  It's the sort of ad that won't win any convert, but instead reassure bases.  Conservatives watch it and are repelled.  Liberals watch it and might be tempted to look for the "Donate Now" button.  Let's face it, that's what the candidates' websites should do.  I wonder how the target demographic for which Obama's campaign is targeting would feel about Governor Romney's Mother's Day marketing.  I couldn't help but feel a little sad for that future that the ad depicted because, with the exception of Julia's son Zachary, there is no one else in her life.  No spouse, no parents, no siblings, no friends; only a government on whom one could lean.  Life is richer with others. 

Speaking of Mother's Day, did anyone in the media think about doing a series of interviews with recent presidential moms?  If I'm not mistaken, the mothers of Obama, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton are still alive.  Oh, whoops, I'm very wrong.  The president's mother died in 1995.  Never mind. 

Little else in the news intrigued me today.  A lot of coverage about the president's decision to endorse same-sex marriage, but after a while that commentary seems repetitive, and it seems like conservative pundits aren't weighing in on it yet, which leads to a lot of commentary that seems like an echo chamber.  Then again, I don't miss any commentary decrying the president's endorsement.  I'm glad the president did it, but there is no legislation or amendment pending in Congress regarding the topic.  What occurred was more symbolic than practical last week.  Though symbolic acts offered by presidents usually are seismic.

One odd gem: Apparently Studebaker once sold a car called the Dictator, or so says George Will in his column.  I would call the 1930s an inopportune time to choose that as the label for an automobile.

My conservative friends reading this might be surprised that I linked to a NY Times piece.  I broke down and got a digital subscription.  Hope I'm not voted off the island.   Ironically, some justification comes from a column written by the Washington Post's ombudsman about the massive IT infrastructure their paper now requires.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  If we want good journalism, we need to support the  businesses on which we rely.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The 24-Hour News Cycle is Reaching New Lows

So, Mitt Romney was allegedly cocky and obnoxious as a teenager, prone to moments of cruelty to other teens.  Or, so says this flash-in-a-pan story.  My, my, the president's pronouncement of support in favor of same-sex marriages didn't even take a day to become too stale for the media cycle.  We've already moved on to the sophomoric behavior of a grown man back when he was, well, a sophomore. 

I guess I have something in common with both candidates for president.  Like the incumbent, my views on same-sex marriage have evolved.  Like the challenger, I regret some of the things I did as a youth. 

I guess that approximately 100 million other Americans could say the same thing. 

We've got two men of character running for the highest office in the land.  Both seem like principled human beings.  Both are family men, well-spoken, well-educated.  Why is there reluctance on the part of them, their advisers, or the media to move on from this silly side-show stuff and onto more substantive issues.  If the news cycle has stooped now to claiming that Mr. Romney was a bit of a brat in high school, I content that we have hit the law of diminishing returns of side-show character issues.  For the president and his challenger, can we just concede that there aren't really any instrumental issues of character and that, instead, there are important issues of vision, policy, and priorities that should dominate our national discourse? 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Okay, now this is amusing

So the History channel website had an interesting article on the five U.S. presidents who have taught school.  One of them was Lyndon Johnson.  On one hand, I could actually see that working.  I could see him being a very capable teacher.  But I can't help but chuckle at how he must have dealt with ornery senior high school students.  After all, he was famous for the "Johnson Treatment" (pictured below)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Farewell to another RINO

All I can say to this story is "sigh."  Not even a capital S for my sigh.

Politico Reports Lugar's Defeat

The fella had been there 36 years.  He had fallen out of touch with his constituents.  He was at one time a miserable candidate for president.

But he had sound credentials on foreign policy.  He had an impulse toward creating consensus and reaching across the aisle.

Just as it was for Arlen Specter, I guess it was time to go.  But what is replacing this generation of leadership in Washington?  What are their principles?  What is their calling card?  D or R, I just don't know.

I look at some of the successors to the venerable ones in the Senate and wonder what they've accomplished, independently or as a cohort.  I don't know if I can recognize anything worth mentioning. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Divine Sense of Humor

I do believe God has an amazing sense of humor.  Please accept as evidence this little tale . . .

I have a fund by which I save for fun purchases.  You know, toys for men in their mid-30s.  I've maintained this fund, building it through savings gimmicks, spending it, then building it again, since early 2006.  I've bought some neat stuff with it.  I pat myself on the back for my frugality, for buying items with cash rather than credit, for depriving myself of transient luxuries like beer or bourbon for loftier goals. 

Uncannily, each time I make a big purchase with it, an unexpected expense ambushes me right after I have depleted my savings.  My favorite such instance came after the purchase of the big-screen TV and Blu-Ray player I scrimped for and purchased back in 2009.  Within a week of paying for the TV, I was stopped by one of Upper Gwynedd's finest for doing 40 mph in a zone that called for only 25.  Oh, and shortly after that episode I lost my wedding ring. 

This trend continues.  Two weeks ago I purchased the computer on which I'm typing this post.  (A great system, by the way.)  And then . . .

  • A bicycle belonging to my kids was stolen from the porch.  (Really quite sad.)  That'll be about $180 and a couple of broken hearts. 
  • I punctured a tire on my automobile driving over an enormous bolt.  That'll be $200. 
  • On the way back from shop where tire got fixed my recurring check engine light came on.  My hunch: catalytic converter.  If I'm right: four digits. 
Normally God's humbling moves come at a cost of half the price of the big-ticket item on which I just splurged.  The ticket and ring ended up being about $450 to replace; the TV and Blu-Ray about $900.  It looks like this most recent dose of humility will exceed my normal agreement with the Big Fella. 

These are funny things to muse on.  I have so much to be fortunate about.  I must if I'm trying to make light of it. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


The last word from this week's The Week is worth a read.  It's a mournful commentary on the demise of America's space program.  It pushed me to wonder, how is America trying to grow right now?  What is our grand national project?  Is there any? 

We've always had a grand project.  Westward Expansion.  The Transcontinental Railroad.  The Panama Canal.  Saving the world from tyranny.  Space.  But what is it we're yearning to do today.  I really can't think of anything not having to do with preserving, maintaining, or elevating people's standard of living.  Noble, perhaps, but not grand.  I miss grand.

It's funny.  I have little time for science.  Chemistry, biology, physics never really have much of a hold over me.  Yet I'll drop a lot of things to look at the tales of our quest to the moon.  I miss something grand like that which captures my imagination and makes me temporarily overlook my biases against the world of math and science.