Category Archives: Featured

Drone on

A Cautionary Tale

 

The drone you see above is my second drone. It took me all of four days to crash and destroy my first.

Pre-crash video
Bird’s-eye view of home and back yard

This video (make sure quality setting is at 1080p HD) is a simple launch, ascend to tree-level, and take a look at back yard, reservoir behind us, and a pan around the neighborhood. Just this example shows the possibilities of a video drone. YouTube is full of far better videos. YouTube also has interesting compilations of drone crashes, to show how quickly and easily you can get into serious, drone-ending trouble. The oak tree in my front yard turned out to be a drone magnet, and I flew the drone into it at about 30 feet. When I cut the engines, the drone tumbled to the ground.

When checking the drone afterward, I managed to lose control of the thing, and it flew off across the street and ended up in the neighbor’s yard, severely damaged. It was then that I realized where I went wrong.

Learn to Fly

 

The Phantom 3 Standard

This is the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, one of the best entry-level video drones (“quadcopter”). That sweet little camera you see underneath has a 1/2.3″ sensor, shooting 12 megapixels through a 20mm f/2.8 lens. Max image size is 4000 x 3000 and it easily handles video at full HD (1920 x 1080) in framerates of 24/25/30, unbelievably smooth (jitter-free). You can download a User Manual here, if you want all of the specs on this model. Suffice to say, the results are better than you’d expect for a $500.00 pricetag.

There are many available choices in this growing sector, and even DJI offers a wide variety. Buying your first drone requires a lot of homework. Read everything you can find, including user forums, before making a choice.

I was thinking like a photographer, when I should have been thinking of my student pilot days.

This is an aircraft. Technically, it is an unmanned aerial system (UAS). The drone, itself, is the sexy bit on the right. Four motors powering four propellers, a state-of-the-art battery that provides about 20 minutes of flying time, and a quadcopter capable of flying to the FAA-limited 400 feet altitude and a WiFi-limited distance of about 500 meters.

You should be browsing YouTube videos while you’re researching which model to buy. And you should be watching any manufacturer-supplied videos and tutorials before you try to fly your new drone.

no drone zoneAlso be aware that there are FAA restrictions in the use of airspace in the U.S.A. and some overall rules that need to be followed. Don’t think that you can just unpack your new drone and start flying whenever wherever. Do not fly within 5 miles of an airport without first notifying them of your flight. Do not fly over people (sorry, no stadium shots), and don’t even think about messing around wherever there are emergency first-responders involved. You do NOT want to be the idiot who interfered with a medical evac chopper.

There was an attempt to have all drone owners register their drones with the FAA, but we then decided that folks who fly drones purely as a hobby need not register. You can register (I did), but you don’t have to. BUT, here are the rules:

  • Fly at or below 400 feet
  • Be aware of airspace requirements and restrictions
  • Stay away from surrounding obstacles
  • Keep your UAS within sight
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
  • Never fly over groups of people
  • Never fly over stadiums or sports events
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  • Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol

If you use your drone for business in any way (or if it weighs more than 55lbs.), there are different and more stringent regulations. Check before you buy or fly.

You’ll have to also check for any local regulations in your area. A kid crashed his drone in a playground in one local community, and regulations were rushed through to keep drones off of any public property in that borough. In Pennsylvania, there are six (only six) state parks that allow drone flying, and even there they restrict the area allowed. The FAA offers a handy app called B4UFLY, which uses your location to warn of any conflicts. Use it.

Forget flying a drone in our National Parks. Some asshole(s) has already messed that up for the rest of us. Drones crash. And they like to crash in the exact worst places. They’re also called “drones” because they make a really annoying droning sound, which impedes upon the peace and tranquility that many are looking for in our national park system. (And many other places. Be aware of those around you and be considerate.)

con·sid·er·ate
kənˈsidərət/
adjective

Remote Controller

The unsexy bit on the left is the remote controller (RC). Two toggles control the aircraft’s flight (up, down, left, right, etc.). There’s a lot covered in the manual. Take your time to digest. There are also pre-programmed flight modes that are covered in DJI-provided YouTube video tutorials. The RC sets up a WiFi link with the quadcopter and also your display device of choice.

Connected to the RC is my old HTC One M7 phone. This runs the DJI app, which is your complete interface to communicate with the drone, to control video or stills, check battery levels, and so much more. As a personal note, the DJI app is not compatible with my new HTC 10, and I was lucky to still have the One M7, which does handle the app. Before you buy a drone, make sure that the device you want to use is compatible. Manufacturers can’t keep up with all of the latest and greatest phones, tablets, etc. Again, the UAS community has a lot of YouTube videos available, including complete overviews of the DJI app.

A helipad

I bought a helipad. Don’t laugh. When you’re starting out, ideally you’d want wide open spaces with no trees, no wires, nothing that could grab your drone and throw it in the trashcan. I have trees all around my back yard, so I take off and land in the center of the yard. When this particular drone is powered off, the camera hangs lens-down in the grass. Any dew on the grass will transfer to the lens, so I sprang for a helipad, just to keep the lens out of the grass. It’s also handy to take with me, so I’ll have it wherever I choose to fly.

We all know that we should always READ THE MANUAL (PDF download here), but I will stress that, in this case, you should READ THE MANUAL. When I bought my first DSLR years ago, the best advice was to go through the manual, try everything out point-by-point, then go through again. This is even more important with things that fly. I took a lazy approach to the flight part, concentrating more on the photography side, and ended up buying a second drone. Learn to fly first.

I had read (and so, have no excuses) that it is really easy to become disoriented when flying a drone. It’s one thing to fly when it’s going away from you, but when it’s coming back AT you, everything is reversed. Push left on the stick, and the drone flies off to the right. Push forward, and you’re suddenly going backwards. Practice, practice, practice, to get a good understanding of flight in all directions.

When your drone is up at 200 feet, it will rarely bump into anything. Almost all drone crashes happen at or near ground level, and a large portion involve trees.

trees

The Phantom uses GPS in flight. This is what allows the copter to hover in place without drifting. This also allows the copter to return to its starting point, if anything goes wrong (low battery, lost signal, etc.). Connecting to seven or more satellites is a good-to-go state, otherwise pay close attention.

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Now Hear This

It’s a warm, sultry Summer evening. The sun has set hours ago. You step outside to enjoy a soft breeze and to watch the intricate dance of the lightning bugs. In the background is the sound of millions of Summer insects, from crickets to cicadas to god-knows-what. It is all very high-pitched and nonstop.

This is what I hear. All. The. Time.

Early on, I remember lying in bed late one night, listening to the insects chirping away. Then it dawned on me that it was midwinter and that there really were no insects. Not in the dead of winter! This is when I became aware of Tinnitus.

As I understand it, I have lost the ability to hear the very high, almost ultrasonic sounds. My own brain, trying to help, is “filling in” the upper frequencies with phantom sounds that only I can hear. But it is constant. It never stops. My brain is doing a crappy job of helping.

As with any constant sound, I sometimes lose awareness of it – it fades into the background (but never goes away). Most often, it’s because I’m paying attention to a rival sound – radio or TV or traffic noises.

(Naturally, as I type this, I am keenly aware of it – it is very much in the foreground.)

Along with tinnitus, I also have degenerative hearing loss, getting a little worse each year. Little by little, the range of upper frequencies that is lost to me increases. The very highest notes in music sometimes escape me. Blame playing the piano with the lid raised, year after year. Blame listening to Genesis and The Doobie Brothers with headphones turned up WAY too much. Riding a two-cylinder John Deere mower for two hours each week, unprotected, probably isn’t helping, either. Blame every loud sound that I’ve exposed myself to over my lifetime.

I’ve always had problems hearing the human voice in television and movies, especially British films with inappropriately loud music scores at a time when the characters are whispering. Or action movies, where explosions and gunfire are competing with the spoken word.

For many years, I haven’t even tried to hold a conversation in a loud bar or at a wedding reception with an ear-damaging DJ. I’ve never mastered lip reading, and there is simply no way that I can make out what anyone is saying against a backdrop of everyone else yelling to be heard.

A person with a well-modulated, well-enunciated speaking voice is a joy. There are many people that I talk with who are easily heard and understood.

Low talkers annoy the hell out of me. There are a few who poke their heads into my office and begin whispering something to me. I now cut them off immediately and ask them to speak up. Even so, after half a sentence, their voice begins to trail off again into obscurity, forcing me to blurt out, “Eh?,” like every other cranky old man. I’m always afraid that I’m going to “pull a Seinfeld” and agree to something that I didn’t actually hear. I am not going to be wearing a puffy shirt.

I wear headphones while watching the bedroom TV. I originally bought them so that my late-night TV watching wouldn’t bother my wife, who has to be up very early in the morning. But I find that they’re a godsend now. The headphones almost force the human voice bandwidth into my ear canals, so I can hear just about every word.

If I’m watching TV downstairs, I find that the surround sound speakers actually muddy the sound. There’s one center speaker that is allegedly enhancing the vocal range, but it’s not really helping. When voices get low, I find myself cupping my ears with my hands, pointing them toward the sound. (It helps. Really.) Even so, the lack of clarity and missed dialogue have me more and more lost as to what’s going on.

I watch MSNBC a lot. For the most part, this is one person speaking at a time, and that voice is the only sound coming out of my speakers. I find it easy to listen to and can pay attention to what’s being said. On the rare occasion when two guests begin arguing over each other and then the moderator joins in… Forget it. I can’t hear anything that any one of the three is saying. I can’t handle overlapping voices.

I listen to NPR all day at work. I use an iPod Nano and ear buds while I work, and, unless the topic is especially interesting, NPR is basically low background noise to distract from the tinnitus. White noise to combat white noise.

Unless I’m in the kitchen, I can’t hear a whistling tea kettle or the beep of a microwave. I’m becoming very good at guesstimating when things are going to be done.

My wife asks me if I can hear baby birds or peepers (pond frogs). Nope.

Why don’t I just buy hearing aids?

I will. Just not yet. I find that a good hearing aid can run $2,000 to $3,000. The little research that I did tells me that buying cheap gets you cheap, so I’ll get a very good, reliable pair when the time comes. No health insurance covers or subsidizes hearing aids.

Hearing aids are optional, it seems. A luxury. I’ll spend the money when I’m missing $2,000 worth of sound.

You’ll all just have to do me a favor. Speak a little louder than you normally do (you don’t have to shout), just a good-level inside voice will do. Don’t slur, don’t trail off, don’t mumble. In other words, speak to me the same way you’d speak to any other elderly gentleman.

And I sometimes find myself talking too loud, as though I’m talking while wearing headphones and am not aware of the volume. I think this is how I unconciously let people know that I’m having trouble hearing them. If I yell at you, I’m sorry. Let’s both compromise on the volume.

Here’s an ad for the new HTC cellphones. HTC incorporates a hearing test into the HTC 10, in order to maximize the “high definition audio” output for each individual pair of earbuds. They call it a Personal Audio Profile. Each time I plug in a set of headphones or buds, I have the option of taking a quick “quiz” that is used to equalize the music for my hearing. Or I can take a complete hearing test (you know, a series of high, medium, and low tones for both right and left ears) so that the phone can take my own weaknesses into account. As you would expect, the upper range is greatly boosted for my benefit. I hear things in the music from my phone that I don’t hear anywhere else. Every phone should have this feature, since every pair of ears is unique.

In the meantime, every once in a while I’ll enjoy a bit of silence. I’ll close my eyes, focus on the tinnitus, and picture myself standing out back, listening to the sound of a million insects chirping on a warm Summer evening.

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God, I’m old

July 4, 1776 was not the birth of the U.S.A. It was the day that the colonists said, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” After that, grab your guns ’cause war is a-comin’.

July 12, 1776 – The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were underway, approved for ratification in 1777, and formally ratified March 1, 1781. THIS could be an official birthday of the United States of America, which, before this date, were a loose collection of 13 colonies.

September 3, 1783 – Nine years later, the Revolutionary War officially ended, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and England recognized the 13 colonies as independent. THIS would be the birthday of the United States, in my opinion. Now we were an independent entity, as recognized by the world.

June 21, 1788 – New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation and formalized the central federal government of the Republic. This would be the birthday for the U.S. federal government, I suppose.

Dec. 15, 1791 – The first 10 amendments to the Constitution (collectively “the Bill of Rights”) was ratified, 15 years after a bunch of old fogies in Philadelphia decided to get uppity.

Ever since, it seems, the United States has been at war with one country, group, or other entity (primarily Native American tribes) over its entire lifetime, right up to the Korean War, which ended in 1953. For a brief time, we were at peace.

June, 1954 – I was born.

I have lived for more than a quarter of this country’s existence.

I have lived under 11 of the 44 presidents, soon 12 out of 45. I was named after the 34th president, in whose term I was born. Dwight Eisenhower, the first Pennsylvania Dutch president (look it up), had a long list of accomplishments, many impressive – from establishing the national system of highways to the creation of NASA. His vice president was Richard Nixon, and his nephew David would eventually marry Nixon’s daughter Julie. But I digress.

JFK, RFK, MLK, LBJ, Richard M. Nixon and Spiro Agnew… these are not historical figures to me; they were “current events” when I was in school. We researched the Cuban Missile Crisis in real time for class, using Time, Newsweek, and other magazines and newspapers printed on paper. The riots around the 1968 Democratic Convention, hippies, Viet Nam War protests, Kent State, Woodstock, the Cold War, all headlines in newspapers and network news of my youth.

Mine was the generation taught to cower underneath our school desks, in preparation for the day when a nuclear blast would vaporize us in about a tenth of a second. I remember exploring the fallout shelter in the basement of my junior high school, marvelling at all of the sealed drums of saltines and walls of toilet paper. (No, it would not have kept us safe from a nuclear strike OR fallout, but at least we could wipe our…uh…crackers.)

Although born in the 50s, I’ve always considered myself a “child of the 60s” (ages 6-16). These were formative years and an interesting time to be growing up in America. (White suburban America, I should point out.)

Television & Movies

The earliest movie I remember seeing was Babes in Toyland at the Lansdowne movie theater. Don’t remember anything about the movie, but IMDB tells me that it came out in 1961 (I was 7) and starred Annette Funicello, Ray Bolger, and somebody named Tommy Sands. Ed Wynn, great character actor, was the Toymaker, and a very young Ann Jillian (would have been 11 or so) played Bo Peep. I don’t remember any of the movie, the plot, or the actors that were in it, I only remember that it’s the first movie I went to see.

Lansdowne Movie Theater

Movies you see when you’re young and impressionable have a far greater impact than movies you see later in life. (“Get ’em while they’re young.”) Great movies of the 1960s include (in no particular order)
Psycho
2001: a space odyssey
Lawrence of Arabia
The Graduate
Rosemary’s Baby
The Sound of Music
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Birds
Cool Hand Luke
To Kill a Mockingbird
Mary Poppins
The Manchurian Candidate
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Planet of the Apes
The Dirty Dozen
Dr. No / Goldfinger / Thunderball / From Russia With Love
Cleopatra
The Village of the Damned
The Jungle Book
Easy Rider
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Original episodes of I Love Lucy aired during my lifetime, but I was two, almost three when the series ended and went into reruns. The Ed Sullivan Show owned Sunday nights, was the leading source of entertainment, and something we waited all week for. This was the show that introduced The Beatles to the U.S., showed Elvis Presley from the hips UP, and toward the end rocked the house with a 12 year old blind kid, Stevie Wonder. It would feature acrobats, spinning dishes on poles, dancers, and a haunting little sockpuppet, Topo Gigio.

One of my early TV favorites was (The Many Loves of) Dobie Gillis (1959-1963). (C’mon – Tuesday Weld was Dobie’s love interest.) My youth was a great time to be a young TV watcher – The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the original Star Trek, and a very young Robert Loggia in T.H.E. Cat (a series very few remember). Along with Star Trek, my other favorite series was I Spy, starring Robert Culp and Bill (before he was famous) Cosby. I loved Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Avengers (when I could see it – Diana Rigg), My Favorite Martian, The Green Hornet, a very bad Batman (not a fan of the Adam West series, in hindsight). The 1960s was prime television time.

Comedies:
Bewitched
The Dick van Dyke Show
The Beverly Hillbillies
Gilligan’s Island
The Addams Family
Green Acres
Hogan’s Heroes (yes, Nazis were funny in the 60s)
The Munsters
Petticoat Junction
Leave It to Beaver
Get Smart
Mister Ed
I Dream of Jeannie
Make Room for Daddy
Father Knows Best
My Three Sons
McHale’s Navy
My Favorite Martian
That Girl
Dennis the Menace
The Monkees
Car 54 Where Are You?
Family Affair
Bachelor Father
Courtship of Eddie’s Father
The Patty Duke Show
The Flying Nun
Hazel
The Real McCoys
The Jackie Gleason Show
Gidget
My Mother the Car

Dramas:
Lost in Space (ick)
Perry Mason
Adam-12
The Twilight Zone
Dark Shadows
The Fugitive
Daniel Boone
Columbo (1968)
Ben Casey
Ironside
Burke’s Law
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
77 Sunset Strip
The Mod Squad (1968)
The Defenders

Westerns were big in the 60s:
Bonanza (No. 1 with a bullet)
Marshal Dillon
Maverick
The Rifleman
Rawhide
Cheyenne
The Virginian
Have Gun Will Travel
Sugarfoot
Death Valley Days
and, of course, The Wild Wild West
For laughs, let us not forget F Troop

In animation, we had Tobor, the 8th Man after school, Popeye, Mr. Magoo, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Yogi Bear, Astro Boy, Jonny Quest, Underdog, Space Ghost & Dino Boy, The Road Runner, Spiderman, the original Jetsons and Flintstones (before they got cheap and cheesy) in the evenings, and a whole host of other cartoon shows beneath mention.

The very first Law & Order episode was still decades away.

Jean points out that television broke out of the studio in the 1970s in favor of the great outdoors – Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Baretta, Cannon (large man in a Lincoln, a Quinn Martin production), and the great Rockford Files.

We had four channels – NBC, CBS, ABC, and then WHYY (1963). I remember when networks would “sign off” at midnight, playing the Star Spangled Banner, before turning into a test pattern. Only Johnny Carson went a bit later. (Carson succeeded Jack Paar in 1962, so he was the first late show host I would remember.) When UHF was eventually added (along with circular antennae to augment the standard rabbit ears), we had several more channels (17, 29, 48, and later 57), even if reception was spotty at times. UHF was nothing more than reruns of broadcast series and old movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s; very little original programming. Still, two of these channels would grow up to be Fox and the CW. Although most broadcast stations would continue to sign off for the night (or go to infomercials), it was soon possible to stay up all night watching old movies, and I did. I think I saw every film ever made by John Wayne, Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Glenn Ford (my favorite), etc. Yes, of course, I had a crush on Doris Day and I thought that Hedy Lamarr had to be the most incredibly beautiful woman ever on the face of this earth. (Okay… Grace Kelly, the exquisite Elizabeth Taylor, and the woman who personified SEX to a lot of young teenagers, Marilyn Monroe. Let us not forget them.) I spent many a late night watching old movies. All in black and white on a 17″ television screen in the kitchen.

I did not see The Wizard of Oz in color until well into my teen years. Before then, I had no idea what all the fuss was about when Dorothy first opened the door and looked out on Oz.

Music

When I was still very young (I want to say age 6), I appeared on a local WCAU-TV show as a pianist. The host would talk about classical music, and then I would play a short example. There was a script with the text and musical snippets, but it must be long gone by now. For my troubles, the station gave me a Sunoco-branded transistor radio, which was built to look like a miniature gas pump. No doubt, the TV station got them for free (promotional purposes), but I didn’t know or care. Loved it. (In retrospect, I’ve felt cheated ever since. Where’s the $$$? Shoulda joined the musician’s union.)

Since I was a classically-trained pianist until age 16, I was late coming to the popular music of the day. Missed the British Invasion by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but leaned toward more complex music, rather than the 3-minute, one-idea radio tunes. For a variety show in high school, I performed my own piano solo version of Mason Williams’ Classical Gas. (YouTube) Someone tried to indoctrinate me into the masterworks of a young Bob Dylan, but it didn’t take (did not care for his voice). Not long after, I was heavily into Genesis (with peter gabriel), Loggins & Messina, The Doobie Brothers. Late 60s to mid 70s was a glorious time of growth in rock, but it’s all just tailed off since then (in my not humble opinion).

I was about 16 when I first heard music in STEREO. It was Emerson, Lake, and Palmer on an 8-track player in my brother’s old VW bug. The rotating drums at the end of Lucky Man was a revelation. The original Sony Walkman wouldn’t arrive until I was well into my 20s. My first car had an 8-track player (1972 Ford Pinto). Subsequent cars had cassette tape decks, and I made myself a million “driving mixes.” My son was born the same year the Compact Disc became widely available.

An older friend took me to the bar at the local Holiday Inn to hear a three-piece jazz combo. Like many a classically trained musician, I marvelled at how they could take a theme and then go off to heights unknown, without sheet music, without script, and then somehow manage to bring it all back to the beginning theme again. Ever since, I have made it my mission to be able to improvise freely, to “make it up as I played it.” Classical Gas may well have been the last piece of sheet music I ever used.

Pre-Tech


Needless to say, we did not have smartphones, CDs, VHS, or even computers. We had rotary phones (stick your finger in and rotate the dial). At the summer cottage in Maine, we had a party line – you could pick up the phone and hear your neighbor’s conversation.

Rotary Phone

For entertainment, we would actually “go outside and play.” This was unscheduled, uncoordinated, unstructured playtime with no parental or adult supervision or oversight, believe it or not. Two-hand-touch football was a standard. Roof ball (bouncing a tennis ball off of the eaves of the house) was a constant. My favorite toy was a stick – it could be anything, from a sword to a rifle. I climbed trees a lot and basically just roamed around.

For a time in the mid-60s, I would take the old Pennsylvania Railroad into Philadelphia each week for piano lessons. Noisy, windy old rail cars in an ugly dark red color, occasionally an equally ugly dark green. We lived about equidistant from both the Overbrook and Wynnewood stations on the old Main Line (now Paoli-Thorndale route), so I would walk to one or the other. Wynnewood had the stores, but Overbrook was a better walk.

Pennsylvania Railroad

When I first became aware of cars, most families had only one, and we would laugh today at what was considered a traffic jam back then. There was no trouble at all finding an open road, and “the country” started much closer to town than it does today. I was 10 years old when I was first captivated by the all-new Ford Mustang. The Mustang just celebrated its 50th anniversary year. (I think I learned about a new “rock ‘n’ roll” group called The Beatles in that same year.)

Cars in the early 1960s reflected the country as a whole – wide open spaces. There was plenty of sheet metal, with plenty of gaps. Plenty of wasted space under the hood and within the cabin. Aerodynamics and wind drag wouldn’t come into play until the late 1970s. Vinyl-covered bench seats up front (without seat belts) let you slide from side to side in the turns. This is when you could squeeze four across, with extra bodies in laps, if necessary. Safety was not a concern, and it’s a wonder that the species survived this era. More and more attention was paid to power and acceleration, while the technology of stopping would lag behind.

The Philadelphia Suburbs

King of Prussia Mall opened in 1963 in the middle of nowhere. This was only what we call the Plaza today, more of an open-air shopping center, but understand that the Plaza has since been expanded, itself. There was a J.C.Penney anchoring one end, a cheapo department store E.J. Korvette, and an Acme. Later, Gimbel’s and Wanamaker’s would come in, and the mall would be enclosed. For Philly-area folks, there was no Blue Route. The best way to get to King of Prussia was to drive out Route 352 and then take King of Prussia Road (the back way). Or take Montgomery Avenue/Gulph Road all the way out.

Exton Square Mall would open ten years later in 1973, Springfield and Granite Run Malls shortly thereafter. Malls would become THE place to be, for everything, and then fall out of fashion, all since the 1960s. Times change.

Granite Run Mall 1974-2015, R.I.P.
Granite Run Mall 1974-2015, R.I.P.

Pre-dating the King of Prussia Mall was the Bazaar of All Nations in Clifton Heights (Baltimore Pike). This was an early attempt at a mall – a collection of shops all under one roof. The shops were ultra-quirky, but so were the customers. You could get a custom t-shirt imprinted or find those special frames for wall mountings. Didn’t much like the place, but there were times when I HAD to go there, for something you couldn’t find anywhere else.

The local Blue Laws were in effect for all of my childhood. This meant that almost nothing was open on a Sunday. This grew out of misguided christian thinking, which assumed that everyone was christian and/or all christians kept the Sabbath holy. (For instance, even still, Pennsylvania car dealerships are closed on Sundays.)

One of the very few stores open on a Sunday was Wawa Food Markets (“Mama, I want my Wawa.”). Back when my weekly allowance was a quarter (that’s right, 25 cents), I would go to Wawa on Sunday and pick up the latest comic book (12¢) and a TastyKake (10¢) and three pretzel rods out of the container on the counter (1¢ each). When I was 18, I was working at that Wawa, still the only thing open on Sundays. We were busy with a constant line of customers, all buying their Sunday papers*, milk and eggs, and sliced deli. For sure, the staff had to kick it up a notch on Sundays, but it was actually fun. The only game in town.

* By papers, I mean newspapers. These were oddly shaped, folded, thin paper reading materials that we bought to find out what was happening locally and around the world (“news”). Philadelphia had two major papers – The Philadelphia Inquirer (morning) and The Philadelphia Bulletin (evening). This was before the internet, before 24-hour cable news networks. The news in these newspapers could be as much as a full day old, but this is how we consumed our “news media.” In particular, the Sunday edition (which always came out on Saturday) would be three to five times as thick as usual, crammed with articles of local interest, sections on entertainment, style, living, and all of the advertising circulars and the all-important Sunday comics in color.

The Route 104 Red Arrow line ran on tracks from 69th Street all the way out to West Chester. (Think: day trip.) The trollies were replaced by buses in the year I was born. Still, Route 3 has seen a LOT of construction over the past 60 years. But I remember when there was NOTHING between Newtown Square and West Chester, except the Dairy Queen in Edgemont. Civilization is slowly creeping westward out of Newtown Square, but it may be rethought. It seems that the young generation is rediscovering city life, leaving the suburbs/mortgages/yardwork/cummuting/cars behind.

The more things change…

mis·an·thrope

mis·an·thrope
/ˈmis(ə)nˌTHrōp,ˈmiz(ə)nˌTHrōp/
noun

a person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society
synonyms: hater of mankind, hater, cynic

I am a misanthrope.

I’m watching you, humanity, and I don’t like what I see.

Let me be clear: I don’t like people. Persons – individuals – I can deal with. People in groups suck.

We make rules, regulations, laws to deal with groups of people, not usually for the individual. But in any group, there’s always one person who is determined to screw things up for the rest of us. There’s always one yahoo.

I’m politically divisive. I don’t give a rat’s ass for anyone who would vote for a Republican with a straight face. There’s something wrong with you if you think Donald Trump was the best choice to be President of the United States.

That said, enjoy this blog. Hope you find something of interest. I didn’t.

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Thank you, Hillary

When did I become radicalized?

I registered in 1972 as a Republican. I cannot remember how that happened; it may be because my own parents were Republicans, I don’t know. Certainly, my namesake was what would now be described as a “liberal Republican,” and so was I. In 1972 and in every presidential election since, I have never voted for a Republican candidate for president, but either a) it never occurred to me to change registration or b) I was too lazy to fill out the forms. So I remained a Republican.

If anyone wants to call me a RINO (Republican In Name Only), that’s fine. I was.

In the 1990s, I was a big fan of the Clintons. The president seemed to have it all – a brilliant mind, an attractive set of policies, and a speaking style that I could listen to for hours. But for one weakness, I believe he would have been considered one of the greatest presidents of the century (at least). But it was Hillary that really impressed me.

First LadyUnderstand – the traditional First Lady was Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird, Pat Nixon, Nancy Reagan. All of these women were first and foremost the First Housewives, responsible for keeping the White House a model showcase, from draperies to dishware. We obsessed over their gowns, their hats, their movements. If they had adopted a cause, it was “cute,” but hardly earthmoving. Until Hillary.

Hillary Clinton took the role of First Lady, crumpled it up, and threw it out the window. She was very much her own person – Wellesley, Yale Law School, a law degree, a law career, an activist role as First Lady of Arkansas, etc. She wasn’t just a liberal, she was, at the time, The Most Radical Liberal Ever on the Face of the Earth. Republicans already didn’t like her, but what turned them forever against her?

Cookies.

An offhand remark in which Hillary said she could have chosen to stay at home, baking cookies and having teas, but she had decided instead to pursue her career and her god-given potential (something she would later insist on for all women and children of the world). This caused Republican heads to explode all across the country. Nothing more than this. And this would lead to a 30-year obsession with bringing down the evil Hillary Clinton.

I thought it was amazing. Here was a strong, smart, independent woman who showed that being married didn’t just mean that “the two shall become one,” but that – even better – the two shall become a stronger two! A strong, smart woman with upside potential to do anything, be anything she wanted. I would have happily voted for her to be president in 2000.

Hillary would eventually run and win a seat in the Senate from New York, and I didn’t pay close attention to those years. I do know that (despite a national obsession with proving guilt – any guilt) she was able to work well with opposition Senators, some who would later praise her work in that body. I also know that she would cast a vote that I myself would have cast, because of false information (lies) fed to her and to us. This vote would be used to later cast her as a “warmonger,” even though 99.9% of all Americans would have cast the very same vote.

When she ran in 2008, I smiled as I voted for her in the Pennsylvania primary, and was saddened when a young Barack Obama denied her the nomination. But, just as Hillary timely turned her full attention and support to electing Obama, I did, too. When Obama tapped her to be Secretary of State, it was surprising but not – who better to fill that role? And Hillary did a masterful job, enjoying an impressive job approval rating across party lines. Even while Congressional Republicans were trying to vilify, investigate, and interrogate, the American public thought she was an excellent Secretary of State.

And this high approval rating remained until Hillary declared her intention to run again in 2015.

There is no question that Hillary Clinton was a lightning rod. Men who were somehow threatened by a strong, independent woman HATED her. She was held to a standard that no human being in history has had to match, but she not only matched it, she beat it. Every time.

Benghazi committeeFour men died in Benghazi. Republicans spent millions in taxpayer money and nine (?) Congressional hearings trying to prove Hillary was guilty of … something. But there was never anything. Many, many more people died during the Bush administration without a single word from Congress.

Hillary testifying Benghazi committee

Hillary sent emails. Again, millions in taxpayer dollars were spent in multiple investigations to find … nothing. In the end, FBI Director Comey would admit that there was no cause to pursue criminal charges against Clinton. Even so, Republicans and even Trump would repeat the refrain “33,000 emails deleted,” as if this meant anything. The Bush admnistration deleted MILLIONS of emails, but I don’t recall a single inquiry.

The Clinton Foundation, from which Hillary had removed herself during her stint as Secretary of State, was accused of taking money from despots in exchange for attention from the Secretary – pay for play. Again, an investigation revealed… nothing. There was no indication of anything improper in this Foundation, which was doing global good, particularly in fighting AIDS in Africa. There was no quid pro quo, there was no huge stream of funds leaving the Foundation for the Clintons’ personal checking account. Nothing. Meanwhile, the Trump Foundation was an absolute fraud, found to be illegally soliciting funds in New York, its funds used for questionable purposes by Trump, himself, but all of the news coverage was of the Clintons.

When Hillary began her campaign in 2015, she WAS the presumptive nominee. There was some talk of Joe Biden getting into the race, but that (under very unfortunate circumstances) would not happen. There were a couple of small players who committed to the race, but they would soon drop out. No, this was Hillary’s nomination until…

Bernie Jumps In

Bernie Sanders entered the race. Bernie Sanders took great pride in being an Independent. but when he wanted to launch a campaign, he admittedly switched party affiliation to Democrat in order to make use of the party’s capabilities. He had no problem USING the Democratic Party to sustain his campaign against Hillary Clinton, later to condemn that same party for showing favoritism for Hillary. The Party made no moves against Sanders, did nothing to overtly hurt his campaign, but his charges against the Party stuck with his faithful, who still to this day believe that the nomination was somehow stolen from him. (Stolen by millions and millions of voters, who were all in on the conspiracy.)

The other failing of Bernie Sanders was in not turning to support Clinton when it was obvious that his campaign would fall short. The entire world was aghast as Sanders continued his campaign right up to the convention, creating a divided party at just the time a nominee should be enjoying a public bump and a united launch into the general election.

Bernie Sanders hurt Hillary’s campaign as much as any other force against her. Without his interference, or even without his unusually long campaign into the convention, I contend that Hillary Clinton would have been the 45th President of the United States.

In the general election, Donald Trump tried his best to give the media things to focus on, but Wikileaks (that alleged rapist of Swedish women) was given some EMAILS from the DNC, which they made public little by little, so as to keep the media engaged over time. They would later also acquire emails from Hillary’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, to ensure that no one in the media would pay any attention to Trump’s ongoing list of fails.

The fact that these leaks (stolen emails, actually) would come from Russian sources, and that the Russians hacked the DNC, and that the Russians were in communication with the Trump campaign, would normally be a case-closer. But in 2016, this was treated as just another day in TrumpWorld. The staunchly anti-Putin GOP suddenly had no problems at all with any of this.

Through three debates, Hillary Clinton proved herself to be unquestionably more ready to be Commander in Chief. In fact, once the infamous Access Hollywood tape of Trump (the pussy grabber) on the bus hit the streets, it appeared Trump had finally reached the low bar that could not be crossed, and Hillary was on her way to the White House.

But…

Director Comey said he found some more emails.

Comey finds more emailsA week before the election, in violation of EVERYTHING WE HOLD SACRED, Comey dropped a letter claiming to have found more emails that “might” have something to do with the earlier investigation. Or not. We don’t know.

So. Despite Trump’s mob ties, his shady dealings and subsequent bankruptcy in Atlantic City, his use of imported Chinese steel, having his clothing and branded items manufactured overseas, his serial cheating on multiple wives, his ranking as The Biggest Liar of all 20 candidates in the 2016 campaign, his bragging about grabbing women’s pussies… Despite all of that AND the Trump campaign being in league with Vladimir Putin and Russian intelligence, Hillary lost the election because she might have sent an email.

This would happen to NO ONE ELSE.

A strong, smart, independent woman ran for President of the United States of America and a unique set of forces rose to deny her that office.

Donald Trump, an obvious racist, took much of the white vote. Whites were driven by fear and hate to vote for Trump, who painted a picture of the future that was their worst nightmare – minority status (laughingly a.k.a. “white genocide”). Mexicans were streaming across the border to take their jobs and rape their wives. Muslims were streaming into the country to explode into random killing sprees. “The Blacks,” as always, were a threat because… uh… because they were black. (?) So whites cowered in the voting booths and voted Trump, even those who would never, ever have admitted that they would vote for Trump.

61,000,000 Americans voted for a racist or, at the very least, for racism. I won’t say that all 61,000,000 ARE racists, but I’d say that at least half of those basket cases are deplorable.

So. Hillary had to go up against:
Congress, Benghazi committees
State Department investigation of emails
Bernie and the BernieBros
FBI investigations of emails
Wikileaks
The Russians
and a whole, hell of a lot of racists. And still she ended up with almost 3,000,000 more votes than Trump, but a second place finish.

Thank you, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for all that you’ve done throughout a lifetime, on behalf of the people of the United States. I am sorry that we have treated you so poorly. You never deserved this. It saddens me greatly that I will not have the opportunity to see what you could do as President.

And America… Sometimes you really, really piss me off.

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VOTE, dammit (part 2)

Donald Trump thinks he’s going to carry Pennsylvania.

Democrats in Pennsylvania think of the state as a Blue State. Republicans think of it as Purple. The Republicans are correct. Although Pennsylvania tends to “lean Democratic,” Republicans can and have won the state.

The last time a presidential election ended up with Pennsylvania’s electoral votes in the Republican column was in 1988 – George H.W. Bush against a weak Michael Dukakis. Any Pennsylvanian who is 28 or younger today might assume that the state always votes Democratic. Don’t be so sure.

Looking at the six presidential elections since, the Democrat/Republican split in the Pennsylvania vote is far closer than we’d think. No Republican has won Pennsylvania in these contests, but the margin of victory is as little as 150,000 votes. Pennsylvania is about to be swamped with political ads, robocalls, door knockers, and blog posts (like this one), because the state would be an absolute plum for the Trumpers and a must-win for Clinton.

…The Democrats…for whatever reason, stayed home in 2010. The Republicans didn’t.

The Democrats can usually count on winning the cities – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, and perhaps Scranton, while the Republicans are left with all of the rest. The quote attributed to James Carville, “Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between,” is not far off. Pennsyltucky. Journalist Tom Ferrick wrote an excellent breakdown of just how Trump could (but probably won’t) win Pennsylvania.

Purple State

After Obama was first elected in 2008, the Democrats seemed to think “mission accomplished” and, for whatever reason, stayed home in 2010. The Republicans didn’t. The State House and Senate turned BRIGHT RED, along with a Republican governor to succeed Ed Rendell. Immediately, when not chipping away at abortion rights or giving tax breaks and subsidies to their wealthy patrons, the Republicans thought of how they might suppress the Democratic vote to ensure continued Republican wins. Witness Voter ID requirements and similar new burdens enacted throughout the Republican-controlled states. (Alternately, Democratic-controlled states are looking at increasing voter registration through Motor/Voter laws, even automatic registration on 18th birthday.)

In 2010, Corbett beat a Democrat no one remembers by about 350,000 votes. In that same election, the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat went to Pat Toomey (over Joe Sestak) by a margin of only 80,200 votes – out of almost 4,000,000 cast. That’s close! (Toomey was formerly president of the ironically named Club for Growth, an organization which opposed every measure put forth by both Bush and Obama to help recover the economy. Club for Growth’s answer to the Great Recession: “I’ve got mine and I’m keeping it. You’re all on your own.”)

Gerrymandering

Whichever party controls the State General Assembly in the beginning of a decade (a la 2010) gets to redraw Congressional districts. The Republicans swept into office in the 2010 elections were the ones who got to control who gets to vote in which district, thereby ensuring their own re-election in years to come and keeping Democratic voters to a majority in as few districts as possible. This PDF map shows the pure art form that is Republican district mapping. Take special note of the districts around the major urban areas of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This accounts for the fact that Pennsylvania’s contingent to the U. S. House of Representatives is made up of only 5 Democrats but 13 Republicans, despite being a majority Democratic state. The fix is in, and will be for many years to come. Unless the Democratic Party can reclaim the General Assembly by 2020 (improbable), the Republicans will continue to control the state government for at least another decade.

District 6

The Sixth District (above) is a work of art. Spans four counties to ensure a majority Republican vote for the next several centuries.

If you don’t know whether you are eligible to vote in Pennsylvania, click here for the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Voter Registration services. It’s quick and easy.

Blue Since ’92

Here are the results from Pennsylvania over the last six presidential contests compared to national votes.

Bill Clinton won his 1992 race, but benefitted in large part from the insurgent campaign of Ross Perot. George H.W. Bush might easily have won re-election but for Perot.

1992 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Clinton 44,909,806 43.0% 370 2,239,164 45.15%
Bush 39,104,550 37.4% 168 1,791,841 36.13%
Perot 19,743,821 18.9% 0 902,667 18.20%

In 1996, Clinton increased his vote total, while the Republican total remained flat. Insurgent voters seem to have cooled on Perot, with perhaps some of them ending up in Clinton’s column. Still, Clinton was re-elected easily.

1996 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Clinton 47,401,185 49.2% 379 2,215,819 49.17%
Dole 39,197,469 40.7% 159 1,801,169 39.97%
Perot 8,085,294 8.4% 0 430,984 9.56%

The 2000 election was the one that went all the way to the Supreme Court. While Al Gore did compile a larger number of national votes, the all-important Electoral vote came down to the state of Florida (hanging chads). Whoever won this last state would win the presidency.

2000 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Gore 50,999,897 48.38% 266 2,485,967 50.60%
Bush 50,456,002 47.87% 271 2,281,127 46.43%

Having endured the questionable 2000 election and the questionable invasion of Iraq, suddenly over 20,000,000 more voters came out of the woodwork for the 2004 race. Even so, the results were very close in the total of votes. Notice also that W won both times with a narrow victory in electoral votes.

2004 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Bush 62,039,572 50.73% 286 2,793,847 48.42%
Kerry 59,027,115 48.26% 251 2,938,095 50.92%

The miracle of Obama’s first campaign was in getting millions more voters registered and getting them to the polls. Note that the Republican votes are down 2,000,000, while the Democrats total was UP by over 10,000,000.

2008 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Obama 69,498,516 52.9% 365 3,276,363 54.47%
McCain 59,948,323 45.7% 173 2,655,885 44.15%

In 2012, Obama suffered voter disaffection, largely because of the historic Republican obstruction in Congress and the blowout Republican wins in the 2010 midterm elections. Even so, he was able to overcome a Romney challenge – but note how close the vote totals were. Even though Republicans were generally dissatisfied with Mitt Romney, they turned out in large numbers to pull the Republican lever.

2012 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Obama 65,915,796 51.1% 332 2,990,274 51.97%
Romney 60,933,500 47.2% 206 2,680,434 46.59%

More dry numbers: As of the 2012 presidential election, Pennsylvania had 9,910,224 citizens of voting age. Of those, 8,508,015 were registered to vote (a healthy percentage), yet only 5,753,670 of us actually turned out.

As of this week, the breakdown of voter registration:
4,072,826 Democrat
3,155,935 Republican
674.460 Unaffiliated
427,374 All others

I SUSPECT (and I have no data to back this up) that a large portion of the unaffiliated are disaffected Republicans (like myself) who left the party because of recent events. This would be BEFORE the campaign of Donald Trump. So if they were disaffected before, they should be even more so now.

Donald Trump has managed to offend and antagonize virtually all groups of people except undereducated, older, white men. Yes, there are the exceptions that prove the rule, but by and large his base is what it is. The Democrats, seeing this, are fashioning an even larger tent to include Republicans unwilling to vote for Trump. More and more top-level Republicans are indicating that they may, just this once, vote for a Democrat, rather than allow Trump to embarrass us all for the next four years. I would suggest that this is exactly the way to go.

A sample of conservative columnists who agree:
Daniel Payne, The Federalist
Andrew Weinstein, Wall Street Journal
Donald Brand, Fortune

Two of the most common gerrymandering techniques are “packing” and “cracking.” In the first, the party in charge of redistricting tries to “pack” voters from the rival party into as few districts as possible, to minimize the number of seats the opposition is likely to win. In the second, blocs of opposition voters are parcelled out among several districts, to achieve the same goal.

Both techniques were brought to bear in Pennsylvania. The new Republican majority “packed” blue-leaning voters into a handful of districts around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Then it “cracked” the rest into districts that tilted red.

Drawing the Line
How redistricting turned America from blue to red.

By Elizabeth Kolbert