Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union, a "Sputnik Moment"? I don't think so

I'll give the President a B+ for delivery, and a B for content. The President laid out some bold ideas about infrastructure and education, but in my opinion failed to hammer home enough the job-creating effects of things like high-speed rail and clean energy.

The problem is, when you have an opposition party that does not believe in science, and a Congress that is bought and paid for by the oil companies, how can you expect to get any of these measure through?

The "Sputnik moment" analogy was false. The space race was largely about political ideology; proving we were better than the Commies. Who's our opposition here? China? With the space race, there was a measurable, specific destination - the moon - and a definition of success - getting there.

How will we define success in today's "Sputnik moment"?

I was disappointed to hear only a passing mention of the wars in Iraq, and Afghanistan, the usual platitudes about supporting the troops and disabling al Qaeda, and beginning to bring the troops home in July. Why wait?

Finally, a word cloud, featuring the prominence and non-prominence of words used in the speech. Draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Welcome to the State of the Union - Have a seat!

How stupid/naive are the Democrats? a.) Very b.) Extremely c.) Quite a bit d.) All of the above.

As you know by now, much ado is being made about the Democrats and Republicans sitting amongst each other rather than separately. Some Democrats are absolutely giddy about the prospect of sitting next to their Republican colleagues. Will this usher in a new spirit of bipartisanship? Don't bet on it.

When will they ever learn that the Republicans are not interested in working with the Democrats on anything? As soon as the President is finished with his speech, by tomorrow the Republicans will be getting back to work on their agenda, beginning with attempting to chip away at Roe v Wade and further restrict reproductive rights. Economic recovery can wait, because the economy is working quite well for the real Republican base, thank you.

What about jobs? How about removing the word "bipartisanship" from the vocabulary and replacing it with "jobs"? The President and his Democratic cohorts in Congress can take a lesson from the Republicans, and name every bill they introduce "The Job-Creating {insert name of bill here}".

It's about JOBS, Mr. President. Not "stimulus", not "bipartisanship", not a new spirit of cooperation and national unity.

Jobs. That's what we need.

Monday, January 24, 2011

and Life Goes On

Now that the football season is over, the NFL officiating team having handed victory to the Pissburgh Steelers, I have zero interest in the Super Bowl other than to wish the Packers well. And for all you Michael Vick haters out there, I hope you are happy that a serial rapist will be playing in the Super Bowl.

On to other things:

And look forward to the summer!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Football Today!

Two great games today, Packers/Bears in the NFC and Jets/Steelers in the AFC.

I'm neutral in the Packers/Bears game. It's a rivalry as old as the NFL itself and will be a great game no matter what.

But of course there is no question who I will be rooting for in the other game!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

No room at the inn for the Westboro Baptist Church

My blood pressure would shoot up off the charts any time I heard about the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) protesting at a funeral. They started at funerals of soldiers killed in the line of duty, but have now branched out to others, like Elizabeth Edwards and Christina Green (although they were gracious enough to avoid the nine-year-old girl's funeral in exchange for air time on Phoenix and Toronto radio, how nice). I swore that if they ever set foot in New Jersey I would be there.

Unfortunately I got the opportunity, when 23 year old Benjamin Moore of Bordentown, NJ, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan on January 12. The WBC announced they would be there. I decided I would be there too. I learned through a Facebook Group that people were planning on surrounding the area in order to shield the grieving family from the "God Hates Fags" protesters.

When I arrived in Bordentown at around 7:00am, Farnsworth Ave was relatively quiet. I asked a police officer what he knew about the possible appearance of the WBC. He told me there was a designated spot for them and "they would be dealt with accordingly".

I parked my car and joined a small gathering of people at the corner of Farnsworth and Crosswicks St, all there for the same reason. A woman walked by and passed out American flags, provided by an anonymous donor.

Later I walked over to the church where a large crowd had gathered and lined up along Farnsworth: police, firefighters, military, veterans, and civilians. By that time every road surrounding the church had been cordoned off and there was no sign of the WBC people. The people I spoke with mentioned that the WBC had tried to check into some local hotels but were turned away. I also heard that they were at the firehouse. I walked around the area to see if I could find them, but could not. By 10:00 I got back in my car and drove around the surrounding area, past the firehouse, and still saw none of them.

It was apparent by then that the outpouring of support from the community, including people from all over the state, had succeeded in keeping the WBC away. I learned when I got home that the WBC arrived, saw their designated area, didn't like it, and left. They then headed for the cemetery, didn't like their designated area there either, and left for good. Most of us never saw them. I did not get the photo op I had hoped for, but this time I was not at all disappointed.

This time, the Westboro Baptist Church picked the wrong state to mess with. Law enforcement and firefighters from all over the state, veterans and active military, and ordinary folks like me had all played a part in keeping these monsters away. Bordentown's fallen soldier had the dignified send-off he deserved. May he rest in peace.

There were no incidents, other than the swift departure of the Westboro Baptist Church. Good riddance.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Let it not be forgot, that once there was a spot......

With the death Sargent Shriver earlier this week, and Ted Sorensen this past October, that's about it for Camelot (if it ever really existed).

It was fifty years ago today that John F. Kennedy gave his stirring Inaugural Address. I was three years old at the time so of course I do not remember watching it live, but I've seen it so many times I feel like I was there. The words still stir today.

Note to President Obama: the Torch has been passed to you; please do something with it!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Westboro Baptist Church - Unwelcome in New Jersey

(thanks to deciminyan for tipping me off to this story)

As if it weren't bad enough that NJ lost another soldier in Afghanistan - U.S. Army Spc. Benjamin Moore, 23, of Bordentown, was one of three soldiers killed in an IED (improvised explosive device) attack in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province on Jan. 12.

Now comes the disturbing news that the Westboro Baptist Church is planning to protest Spc Moore's funeral in Bordentown, NJ this Saturday, January 22. Regardless of your religious or political beliefs or affiliations, no person on this planet, with the possible exception of members of the Phelps family, would be able to justify the despicable actions of these monsters.

If there can be any good news here, the community has mobilized and and is planning a non-violent demonstration to shield the family of Benjamin Moore from the presence of the WBC protesters. 

The following is from the Facebook wall of William Brown, of Mt Laurel, one of the leaders of the protest: 
"Hope I see you Saturday morning at 0800 at Trinity Church 300 block, Farnsworth Ave, Bordentown, NJ. Westboro Baptist church is planning one of their despicable protests at the funeral of Ben Moore, who passed away in Afghanistan last week. Let's join the non-violent blockade of that piece of crap who desecrates our heroes funerals and honor our brother Ben Moore and his family."

There is always the possibility that the Westboro Baptist Church is bluffing, or will change their minds and not make the trip to Bordentown. 

But if they do, New Jersey will be ready and waiting.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is it too soon to start thinking about 2013? No!

No, it's not too soon, considering:
1.) Christie began running for re-election the day he was inaugurated (as do all incumbents)
2.) No potential Democratic candidate (as far as I know) has stepped forward
3.) We can draw important lessons from 2009 and the shoddy campaign run by Jon Corzine, as illustrated by my experience with a clueless Corzine campaign worker:

Late in 2009 gubernatorial campaign, a Corzine canvasser knocked on my door. I answered, and told him right off the bat we had five registered Democrats in my household; no need to give me a sales pitch. However, I told him three of us would be out of town on Election Day, myself on business, and two of my sons away at college, and we needed absentee ballots.

The canvasser told me about NJ's new vote-by-mail option, and had a stack of applications in his hand. I asked for three forms, and the canvasser refused to give them to me. I asked for the website so I could download my own, he said, no, he did not know the website. Just as I was telling him to get lost, as he was no use to me, he asked if I wanted a yard sign. I said, sure, put as many as you want on my lawn.

As soon as I slammed the door, I immediately fired off a nasty-gram to the campaign, informing them of the behavior of the canvasser and his refusal to help me out with absentee voting. A few days later a representative called me, apologizing, and explaining that this particular canvasser "doesn't believe in vote-by-mail" (!) and that is why he refused to give me the applications. I asked, how can you expect anyone to vote for your candidate if this is how you are running your campaign. I then asked if it was possible to vote at the County Store, and the person said no (this turned out not to be true). I also asked where's my yard  sign and was promised I would get one (I never did). 

County Stores, by the way, are these nifty one-stop shops for just about any government service. The service is friendly and effective. We have them in most malls in South Jersey. I am not sure if every County has one. 

Infuriated, and despite my temptation to sit the election out or vote for a third party candidate, I went to the County Store at the Deptford Mall, held my nose, and voted for Corzine,

I have a feeling I was not alone in my disappointment with the way the Corzine campaign was run, and Christie did not so much win as Corzine lost. He broke the cardinal rule of any job-hunter: Act like you want the job.

Let's not let this happen again.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

NJ News Roundup for Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Roundup and Open Thread for Saturday, January 15, 2011

We start the weekend off on a sad note:

One of Lakewood's finest shot "execution style"
Authorities seeking a "person of interest" in the killing of Police Officer Christopher Matlosz Friday afternoon

More layoffs in Camden
Including up to 170 police officers

NJ revenue intake exceeds expectations
The state took in $12.61 billion – almost $600 million more than was projected, according to state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff.
Some key items of interest:
 > Some high-income taxpayers, expecting the Bush-era tax cuts to expire in 2011, took their income in 2010
 > Corporation business taxes came in 21.7 percent above projections
 > Collections from the state lottery were down 3.3 percent.

New funding for NJN
Three-month budget approved that includes $2.1 million in new state aid; Christie still calling for privatization
The battle over school superintendent salary caps continues
A lawsuit  by the NJASAand two Morris County superintendents alleges a moratorium on contract approval until the DOE completes an "inventory" of those contracts is illegal.

Was anyone at the Paramus town hall meeting Thursday?
 > Did the Governor carry conciliatory tone we saw on that day's earlier "Good Morning America" appearance?
 > What happened to the "Countdown to Reform" calendar?
 > Did he keep his jacket on for the Q&A?
 > Any reports from the ground, please post.

Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono to host public hearing on the impact of Gov Christie’s state education cuts
Thursday, January 20
6:00pm - 8:30pm
Edison High School Auditorium
50 Boulevard of the Eagles
Edison, NJ

On a lighter note:
  > In North Jersey, where I grew up, we called it "sleigh riding". In South Jersey, where I live now, they call it "sledding". What do you call it?
 > Reminder: J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets vs New England Sunday, 4:40pm, on CBS

Friday, January 14, 2011

Man vs. Machine on Jeopardy!

Can a computer play Jeopardy? You bet.

I have tried out for "Jeopardy" three times, made the first cut, but never made it on the show.

Here's how the try-outs work: A room full of know-it-alls, typically about 100, sit in a large room, and take a written test. The questions are projected on a screen, and the hopefuls answer the questions on a piece of paper, very low-tech. There is a very short window in which to answer each question. Then the coordinators leave the room, grade the papers, and come back and announce who made the cut. Surprisingly, only about 30% typically pass the test. The rest walk away in disappointment, like the bachelorettes who don't get a rose in "The Bachelor". This weeds out the would-be know-it-alls from those of us who really do know it all. Still, it's painful to watch.

The next part is tougher. People come up, three at a time and play a short mock game, where the questions are put on the screen, and you have to buzz in and answer. I learned that by far, the most challenging part of the game is not knowing the answers, but buzzing in before the other two.

As I did very well in both phases of the tryout, I can only attribute my not being selected to my utter lack of charisma.

Now, IBM has developed a computer, named "Watson", that is programmed to play Jeopardy, and is scheduled to play in a tournament against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, Jeopardy's two most successful champions. I believe that Watson will mop the floor with Jennings and Rutter, and here's why:

When I was in high school in the mid 70's, I remember arguing with my math teacher that a computer could be programmed to play chess. He disagreed. I was an avid chess player at the time and knew the key to winning in chess is playing many games, remembering your mistakes, and not making those mistakes when similar situations arise. Some humans are better able to do this than others. I believed a computer could be programmed to do it, and I was right.

With today's technology, it's a no-brainer to program all the knowledge of the universe into a computer. The  programming challenge is to have the voice-recognition software to process the question and hit the button first. It appears that the folks at IBM have mastered this, or at least have come close.

Watson will win because it can skip a step the humans cannot: the human brain must send a signal to the human thumb to hit the button. Watson can accomplish this task practically instantaneously. So, all things being equal, lets say Watson, Mr. Jennings, and Mr. Rutter possess all the knowledge of the universe, Watson will be able to buzz in faster, every time.

This was borne out in a recent practice run, in which Watson won handily. A full tournament is scheduled for mid-February. If Mr. Jennings and Mr. Rutter want to have even a fighting chance, they had better practice their brain-thumb coordination. No charisma is necessary.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The World Will Little Note, Nor Long Remember

At the risk of offending my fellow Liberals and Obamacrats, I was underwhelmed and unimpressed by the spectacle in Arizona last night. What was meant to be a memorial service for the victims of Saturday's shooting in Tucson, and a call for national unity, looked more like a Golden Globes or Academy Award ceremony than a solemn tribute, rife with self-congratulation and applause for anyone and everyone involved. The fact that a member of Congress was one of those shot made this a national story. People are shot and killed every day on the streets of places like Philadelphia and Camden, but these incidents barely register as news items.

The only inspirational speech was made by Daniel Hernandez, the intern whose quick reaction after the shooting may have saved Gabrielle Giffords' life. In his brief speech, Hernandez rejected he label, "hero", and praised the first responders who came to the aid of those who were shot and the doctors who continue to care for the injured.

With his brown skin and Hispanic name, it's a good thing the Arizona police didn't stop Mr. Hernandez and demand to see his "papers" as he was rushing to Congresswoman Giffords' aid.

The President's speech was too long, and his calls for bipartisanship and national unity will quickly be forgotten in a day or two as the Republicans in Congress get back to the business of opposing everything on the President's agenda (what is his agenda, anyway?) and the futile effort to repeal "Obamacare".

And, why, oh why, must everything ultimately be about Sarah Palin? Many are blaming Palin, and inflammatory rhetoric spewed by her and her right-wing cohorts for stirring up the anger that resulted in this shooting. Do we need a new version of Godwin's Law, in which all roads lead to Palin in any political situation? After the release of her bizarre, unapologetic video, with its anti-Semitic overtones and references to the good olde days of gun duels, many are writing her political obituary. I say, not so fast. I do not see anyone in the Republican establishment denouncing or distancing themselves from Palin. If there was ever an opportunity to do so, now would be the time, if they really intend to derail her 2012 presidential aspirations.

As for President, Obama, in the event he is ever called upon again to offer words in the wake of some national tragedy or disaster, he should borrow a page from his political hero, Abraham Lincoln, whose 270 word (more or less) Gettysburg address he paraphrased last night. The Tuscon shooting, as tragic as it was, was no Gettysburg, and Barack Obama is no Abraham Lincoln.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NJ News Roundup for Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Of course the big news is yesterday’s State-of-The-State Message
Read reactions from the Bergen RecordAsbury Park Press, Star Ledger (Mulshine), the Inquirer (Riordan), NJ Dems, and our own Deciminyan.
And, high praise from the other side.
What was Michelle Rhee doing there?

More snow
Up to a foot expected in some parts of the state, old hat by now. At least we know the Governor is in the State. Let’s see if he can do what he said he could have done from Orlando, but didn’t.

New Jersey Assembly to vote on film tax credits
Could this mean the next season of “Boardwalk Empire” will be filmed in New Jersey?

Meet the NJ Republican Party’s new state chairman

Saddle River Mayor Sam Raia, sworn in last night.

Who should pay for the $1.25B Christie squandered on the ARC tunnel?
Not the toll-payers, say the Democrats

Privatize the PATCO line?

Why mess with something that works?

Making college less affordable

Christie says he wants to do away with the 4 percent cap in tuition increases at the state's public universities, and let the market determine tuition.

Upcoming Events

Governor Christie Town Hall Meeting

Thursday, January 13
Paramus Elks B.P.O.E. 2001
200 Route 17 North
Paramus, NJ
Doors open at 10:00am

Public hearing on the impact of Gov Christie’s state education cuts

Hosted by Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex)
Thursday, January 20
6:00pm - 8:30pm
Edison High School Auditorium
50 Boulevard of the Eagles
Edison, NJ

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Heidi Redux

It was 11/17/68 all over again. I was watching the Jets/Colts playoff game last night. The Jets were ahead 14-13 and about to hand the game back to Indy by allowing Peyton Manning to work his 2:00 drill he does so well. Sure enough, with 53 seconds left, Adam Vinatieri, one of the best clutch kickers in the game, booted a 50-yarder through the uprights to put the Colts ahead 16-14. I shook my head in disgust, muttered that time-honored phrase "Same old Jets", and switched over to the History Channel, where I put myself to sleep watching shows about early alien visitors to Earth.

I woke up the next day, posted my usual post-Jets-loss photo of Rex Ryan channeling Casey Stengel, and lamented the Jets loss. Then I went to, saw they had reported that the Jets had won, and lambasted them for getting it wrong. The Star Ledger is not known for its editorial rigor (except, of course, when it publishes one of my letters to the editor), but even I was surprised that they could have gotten the story so wrong.

It was only after a comment was posted on my photo that I checked another source, the NY Times, and suddenly it occurred to me that I had pulled a "Heidi" on myself and missed the Jets pulling off another one of their now-trademark heart attack inducing comeback victories.

Of all the stupid, dumbass things I have said and done in my lifetime, this is up there near the top. Today at least.

So I had no choice but to forgo my usual "Nelson Ha Ha" photo aimed at the game loser and target the real loser, myself.

So, never again, will I walk away from a game until the clock reads 00.00. I'm really sorry, Gang Green.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jury Duty - YEAH!

Most people go to great lengths trying to avoid jury duty. For me, it has been the opposite. The jury system seemed to be avoiding me. Until now.

At last, the Long Arm of the Law has caught with me, and after a 32 year dry spell, I finally got a Jury Duty summons yesterday.

Not that I've been trying to hide. Washington Township, Gloucester County, despite being "South Jersey's Premier Community" with a population of over 48,000, does not have its own  zip code. My part of town, Turnersville, shares a zip code with neighboring Blackwood, which happens to be on Camden County. So, from time to time, one of us gets a summons to appear for Camden County Jury. We fill out the form, saying we do not live in Camden County, end of story.

I thought I would never get called. I thought maybe I was disqualified due to my Jersey City birth certificate.

I don't know how they finally figured out I lived in Gloucester County. Maybe when I was photographed sitting on my hands while the rest of the crowd was applauding wildly at Governor Christie's town hall meeting here, they identified me through some facial recognition process and nailed me.

The last time I served on a jury, back in the Days of Yore, the mandate was a two week commitment, show up every day, and wait. On the last day of my two week stint at the Hackensack court house, I was picked to be on a panel. The case was a personal injury lawsuit, a three-way battle involving a plaintiff, defendant, and an insurance company. Not too interesting, but it got me out of work for an extra week. More interesting was the trial going on across the hall, the notorious case of Mario Jascalevich, also known as "Dr X", on trial for murdering an undetermined number of patients at the now defunct River Dell Hospital in Oradell, NJ. I tried to take a peek in the court room any chance I could get.

So, I'm looking forward to performing my civic duty by serving as a Petit Juror in the Gloucester County court system. One catch - I was scheduled for Monday, February 7, when I will be on vacation.

Due to the magic of modern technology, I went to the website, filled out the online form and expressed my willingness to serve, just not at that time. About an hour later I received an email from the Court, advising me that my time had been rescheduled to June 6. The ease with which that switch was made, I must admit, surprised me.

So, I'm looking forward to showing up at the Gloucester County court house in Woodbury on the morning of June 6, ready, willing, and able to serve.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Welcome Home, Governor

Dear Governor Christie:

Welcome home. I hope you enjoyed your trip to Florida. I am planning a vacation in the Caribbean myself next month and am looking forward to escaping the winter for a week. I break with my cohorts in the left-wing blogosphere in that I do not begrudge you and your family a vacation. I'm a dad myself and understand the importance of keeping a promise to your kids. Having said that, I am troubled by your characteristically arrogant behavior upon your return, specifically:

Your refusal to take any responsibility for the poor response to the blizzard:
"If someone is snowed into their house, that’s not our responsibility"

Your pathological inability to tell the truth, here is just one example:
"Christie said there were no reports of storm-related deaths"

Your callous disregard for human life:
"We did not have any significant loss of life"

In case you missed it, Governor, a 59-year-old Brick Township man died of a heart attack while he was attempting to walk home after his car was stuck in the snow while he was on his way home from work. This man's death may not be of any significance to you, Governor, but a family lost a father and husband. Did you attend this man's funeral, or extend any condolences to his family?

As for the snow clean-up: An "A" for effort and a "B" for results? I don't think so. My part of the state, Washington Twp, Gloucester County, was not as hard-hit as the rest of the state, but when I went to visit my recently  widowed, 79 year old father in Lakewood, I was appalled by the horrendous conditions of I-195, the Garden State Parkway, and Route 70, as well as the local roads.

I am sorry to see that 2011 is already an Annus horribilis for you, only four days in. As tempting as  it may be, at this time I will refrain from any Schadenfreude, as you are still my Governor, whether I like it or not.

I hope you have learned something from this experience, but somehow, based on your past and current behavior, I doubt it.


Jeffrey R. Pickens
Washington Twp, NJ

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Reasons To Like January

As much as I hate winter and cold weather, I still like January. Why?
  • The end of "Holiday". Hey, I like Christmas as much as anybody, but after having it shoved down my throat from mid-October on, I'm over it by December 26, and ready to stick a fork in it by January 1.
  • The NFL playoffs!
  • New Years Day is a great day to just sit around doing nothing, or something you like, if you're lucky enough to have the day off. Today, I cooked a pork loin on my Weber smoker.
  • The NFL playoffs! 
  • The new year gives us a sense of a clean slate, time to think of new things to do (or old things to stop doing). Don't torture yourself with New Years resolutions. Just take a mental inventory and re-group.

Did I mention the NFL playoffs?