This is what passes for headlines on the local scene: “Condemned Home Demolished”. Note that I didn't say “non-condemned home demolished”, which might have been newsworthy... or “condemned home not demolished” -- which would have been worth a headline in the D.C. suburbs, but not, unfortunately, in this area, which is dotted with condemned buildings that persist, in the most ornery way, in remaining standing and being eyesores. Now, to be fair, the story really did have more significance than that. The reason for the condemnation was that the house began mysteriously sliding down the hill a while back. Now, this is not a big area for landslides of the “natural” sort – the kind that occur in the Los Angeles area, for instance. But it is a big area for what is called “subsidence”, which is, basically, the shifting of land in a downward direction due to an abandoned mine underneath finally collapsing. This is nothing unusual, and what makes it kind of scary is that no one is sure where all these old abandoned mines are. The entrances have long since been silted over or concealed by vegetation, so the first indication you get that your house might be built on top of a big nothing is when it starts to sink into the ground (or slide, which is more likely considering that the vast majority of houses in Pittsburgh are on a hill of some sort). Of course, the mine owners, and the miners, and the coal they mined, are all long gone, so there is no question of a lawsuit, and I frankly don't know what home insurance policies have to say about this issue; my guess is they're protecting the interests of the insurer. Still, it is a sobering thought, and a lesson in impermanence, that what you thought was your land was at one time someone else's land, and they might have carted a good deal of it away long before you appeared on the scene.
Now here's a very – let's say Seinfeld-esque – question. Half the time, when I walk into the post office, there is someone there (or usually a couple or family) trying to obtain a passport. Nothing too strange about that, except for one thing – they invariably can hardly speak English. And they don't know the first thing about how to fill out a form. All of which implies that they are relatively new arrivals... in which case, why do they need an American passport? (And how can they even qualify for one?) Don't they already have one issued by the place they just arrived from? It's a mystery... and anyone who can help me out on this one is asked to comment. Please!
“Shazam” of the week – or month, or year. Now it turns out that Afghanistan has newly-discovered (ahem) “vast mineral deposits” -- like lithium, for instance -- that might be worth up to $1 Trillion. Finally, something that makes our invasion of that sorry-assed place make sense! I mean... it's a bit tacky to invade, and take over, another country just so you can grab their natural resources... and we know that it doesn't even work half the time; I mean, look at Iraq and all of its alleged oil – where did it all go? But at least it makes sense, if you know what I mean. A lot more sense than “the war on terror”, for example. And... oh, you're saying how can this new discovery have been the basis for an invasion which occurred more than eight years ago? It's obvious, silly – this is not a “new” discovery at all; the Russians knew there was gold in them thar hills – we're just confirming the fact and getting ready to take bids from “developers”. If we play our cards right, we might even get back all we've spent on the war, plus change. But what are the chances – the American taxpayer is no match for “Big Lithium”.
Another attempt to link teacher compensation to student performance is being made out in Colorado. In this case, the issue is tenure, AKA “job security for life”. Of course, if you start linking tenure to student performance, then it isn't tenure any more, is it? It would be as if Supreme Court justices, who are appointed for life, could still be voted out of office. But as usual, any story about teachers and teachers' unions has to include at least one mind-boggling quote. In this case, it's “... over 40,000 teachers in the state of Colorado... have been given the message that it is all up to them.” That's in reference to student progress. Well, um... if student progress is not up to the teachers, who is it up to? The janitor? It seems like at one time there was this strange concept that the job of teachers is to cause a phenomenon in students called “learning”. And any measure that reflected that learning was said to be a measure of “progress” or “achievement”. But those were simple and naïve times, of course – we know much better now. It's much more important that teachers get rated on things like having completed “leadership training” and other such boondoggles. Well... we'll see how Colorado makes out. The teachers' unions are, after all, one of the most powerful political forces in the country, and they can thwart and defeat any state legislature or governor, not to mention the will of the citizens of said state. But we'll see; perhaps the tide is turning at last.
I'm sure you all remember the wall of silence that went up in the American media concerning the Mossad hit squad that managed to knock off a Hamas agent in Dubai in January. The word from on high was that this was OK, and perfectly legitimate, because, after all, Israel has “the right to self-defense” -- no matter where in the world that “self-defense” has to occur. But guess what! Not everyone is so easily cowed. Now an Israeli agent has been arrested in Poland (of all places! Didn't he know better?) and is slated for deportation to Germany (same comment with earlaps!). This is because he helped issue a fake German passport to a member of the hit squad. It seems that some countries take their territorial and diplomatic integrity seriously; clearly we don't – at least not when Israel is involved.
I recently commented on what a good -- i.e. bad -- example Hugo Chavez serves when it comes to judging the advisability of converting to a communist system. But this time he may have gone too far; “he has ordered the military to crack down on businesses selling beer on the streets or after legal hours.” (Just try that in Pittsburgh!) This is part of what he terms a “moral crusade” -- and it's funny how often communist regimes start acting downright Puritanical. “Moral crusade”, indeed! -- within a system that is essentially immoral. And in the meantime, Chavez's comrades-in-arms in Cuba have decided to stop providing free lunches to 225,000 workers. Instead, they're each going to get a stipend: 70 cents per day. That's not gonna get you the lunch special at Legal Seafood, pal – with or without the glass of chablis. But as far as American liberals are concerned, Cuba is still the example we should all be striving to emulate.
Darn! I hate it when this happens! Remember when Bill Clinton – back when he was pretending to be president – started accusing white racists and “haters” (and, by implication, all Republicans and conservatives) of setting black churches on fire? These places were going up in flames too quickly to count, like tumbleweeds caught in a prairie fire. Remember? Well... it turned out that there were far fewer than advertised, and they either caught fire by accident or were torched by – gasp! -- black people. But of course Clinton was never made to withdraw his statement, so it sticks in the national psyche like some kind of tropical fever. But now here are three white dudes up in Massachusetts, no less, who are accused of having set fire to a “predominantly black” (90%) church “because they were angry with President Obama's election”. And one has agreed to plead guilty. Now, these guys have not been identified as being either Republicans or conservatives... and let's hope they never are. We can at least say that they aren't too bright; I mean, what does a black church in Western Massachusetts have to do with a semi-black (but not “really” black, as our “black leadership” pointed out any number of times) machine politician from Chicago? Clearly, they were over-generalizing. I just hate the thought that Bill Clinton might have been as much as 1% right... about anything.
The Senate gave Timothy Geithner a hard time the other day for “refusing to label China a currency manipulator”. Well... other than the old saw about the pot calling the kettle black (our government constantly manipulates our currency to the detriment of the citizenry), hasn't it yet occurred to them that China holds all the cards? We can't start calling them names, or even mildly annoying them – because who knows, they might decide it was time to cash in all that American debt and therefore pretty much trash our economy. Of course, they haven't done this yet, even in the face of outrageous insults like a low-level American diplomat having tea with the Dalai Lama... but it remains a sword that they can hold over our heads, pretty much as far into the future as anyone can see. And I will admit to having stated, back in the glory days of the Clinton administration when China was helping finance his campaign for re-election, that if China didn't make its move on Taiwan then, it never would. And I still believe this to be the case. They could have gotten away with it at that time... and they could get away with it now, but they didn't do it then, so I have to assume that they won't do it now either. I suspect that they see, in the long run, that some sort of bloodless reunification will take place, just as with Germany and with Hong Kong. The day may come when it will actually be to Taiwan's economic advantage to reunite with the mainland. For that matter, it might already be the case... but old habits die hard (as do old politicians). But in any case, we're not about to give China a hard time about anything... kind of like Israel, now that you mention it. One owns our economy, and the other owns our politicians. And I've already speculated that one fine day these two are going to come into direct conflict because there's only so much in the way of American resources to go around. So watch this space.
OK, stop the presses (if you're printing a new edition of “The Joys of Yiddish”, that is). I've got a new definition of “chutzpah”. A local man killed three – count 'em, three – cops back in April when they responded to a 911 call about a domestic disturbance. The call was placed by the guy's mother, and the “domestic disturbance” was between the two of them. OK so far? So now guess what, the guy's mother is suing Allegheny County because “the... fatal gunfight and investigation... have made her home uninhabitable and of no value.” Yeah, you got it right – the place is full of bullet holes because her psycho son had a gun battle with the police after killing three of them, so she's suing the county. Oh, and she also wants compensation for “the cost of living elsewhere” since the event in question. Any questions as to how someone like this could wind up being the mother of a cop killer?
But on the brighter side, another local woman has reached the venerable age of 110. And predictably, those gathered around quizzed her as to what she attributes her longevity. Now, in a situation like this you almost always get the stock answers that the oldster thinks everyone wants to hear – things like “never drank, never smoked”, “always looked on the bright side”, “raised on home cooking”, “walked five miles a day”, and so on. But this gal showed some refreshing honesty. Her secret? “Luck”. End of story!