Sunday, January 30, 2005

Holiday Movies

To those looking for the weekly legislative update, please be patient. The House alone introduced over 100 items of business this week and it is taking a bit longer than usual to retrieve the summary and figure out how to organize it in such a way that it is easiest to negotiate. A cold is adding to the delay. Check back tomorrow and I hope to have it done.

With the cold weather and post-holiday induced nesting and napping instincts kicking in, let me suggest a few good movies to settle in and watch.

Lion in Winter – not often thought of as a political thriller, this is an excellent visual exercise in getting, keeping, and challenging power, with great acting and a wonderful script thrown in. Peter O’Toole plays Henry II. Katherine Hepburn is his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Their oldest son (Anthony Hopkins) grows up to be Richard the Lionhearted. Their youngest is King John. Even the historically ignorant will know those names from the Robin Hood stories. The middle son Geoffrey plays a role in the movie but if you don’t remember him it’s because he died before things got really interesting. Henry and Eleanor are separated (he has her under house arrest at a country estate) and their sons are squabbling over who will be king next. Timothy Dalton (the future James Bond) is the son of the French king, who was once married to Eleanor. One subplot is whether or not Henry will cut off his affair with John’s fiancée, Alice, and ever allow the two to be married. Does it sound like Dallas yet? The plots thicken. The alliances change. All in a very realistic and unromanticized medieval setting. Notice that the water freezes over in the hallways and bowls and the soldiers are sleeping in the great room on straw. There are allusions to the theory that Richard was gay and it is true that he was very seldom in the same country as his wife after they wed and no notable mistresses were kept. He also did very public penance for an unnamed sin. However, there aren’t any references to a royal “favorite” (translation: boytoy head of homeland security ala Jim McGreevey) either and things like that did get noticed and written down (see Edward II, who came to a very nasty end because of his clear preference for Piers Gaveston). It is just as likely that Richard wasn’t that interested in sex at all. No royal bastards are recorded, which was rare, among the happily and unhappily married alike. Even without all this, the movie would be worth watching if only to hear the great Hepburn contemplate hanging her jewelry from her nipples and then decide against it since it might alarm the children. Careful viewers will note the loyal family retainer who is sent to dispatch Richard and is seldom from the side of one or another of the royals. He is William the Marshall and his story is just as, or more, engrossing than that of the conniving Plantagenets. His entire life was devoted to public service, from a boyhood episode being held as a hostage by King Stephen, to serving as the guardian of King John’s son. There are a few books around on him. One of the best (and the shortest) is called William Marshall: The Flower of Chivalry by Georges Duby (he’s French so there is an “s” at the end of the George). It was written some years ago and may no longer be in print but definitely worth getting from the library.

Local Hero – a quick study in getting what you want, with the Scottish seaside thrown in for colorful background. Peter Riegert (who recently played a NJ assemblyman in the Sopranos) works for a Texas oil company, run by Burt Lancaster. He is dispatched to Scotland to quietly buy up the beach so a refinery can be built there. His local contact is innkeep and bartender Gordon Urquhart, played by Denis Lawson. (Local trivia: Lawson also played Wedge, one of the rebel pilots in the original Star Wars movies and made his 1995 American stage debut in Lust at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theater, in one scene his wardrobe consisted solely of a lady’s strategically placed hand). Riegert and Peter Capaldi, who works for the Scottish arm of the oil company, are unaware that the townspeople see them as a golden opportunity to cash in, and would gladly sell their land for as high a price as possible. The entire plan is held up by beach bum Ben, who, as it turns out, owns much of the beachfront property. The scene where Riegert and Lawson walk down to the beach to talk with Ben and make sure the locals don’t let their frustration evolve into mob violence, is a wonderful example of two men in conflict (over the lovely Stella) working together for a common goal. Neither finds it demeaning to sit and talk with Ben or to carry food down to him. The plotting by Lawson and the locals and by Riegert and Capaldi, with both sides trying to figure out what is going on with the other, is probably a microcosm of what happens in state government, with more manners and picturesque backgrounds. The mermaid subplot is a little distracting. The scenes with Lancaster and his therapist are hilarious. The brief conflict over Trudy the Rabbit is the second funniest rabbit-based bit in the movies (the funniest is in Monty Python and the Holy Grail).

Jackie Brown – I could tell you about the wheels within wheels of Quentin Tarantino’s narcotic / money laundering scheme. I could tell you about the fantastic acting by a cast including Robert DeNiro, Michael Keaton, and Samuel L. Jackson. Robert Forster is wonderful as understated bail bondsman Max Cherry. But the movie belongs to the title character, played by Pam Grier. What appeals to me most about this film is that Grier’s Brown is sultry, smart, sexy, savvy, sneaky, over 40, and has a good sized rear end. What this world needs is definitely more movies featuring Angelica Huston and Pam Grier. These ladies have zing and sex appeal, but while their characters in The Royal Tenenbaums (Huston) and Jackie Brown (Greer) attract attention there aren’t any graphic sex scenes. They are clearly bright women taking care of business and charting their own course. They are also not stick thin. These are people you might see on the street. You’d turn to look at them, certainly, but it’s not outside the realm of reality to see someone like that on the street. Alien and Aliens also had a strong woman character who wasn’t relegated to a sex object role (if you don’t count the underwear scenes). Far too many of the middle-aged women in the media are either relegated to frumpdom or so surgically altered that they have as much in common with their viewers as space aliens.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Car Seats Tax Exemption Bill

One of the bills introduced in the state senate this week is to make child care seats tax exempt. I imagine this bill will pass because no one wants to be on record as opposing it or making it harder for poor and working families to buy car seats. It is feel good legislation and not much more. The Sunday ads were unusual for only having one car seat mentioned. You can get one at Sears for $100, $145 for the car seat / stroller combo, which I highly recommend for convenience and ease of travel. Going online I found them for less – around $70 for the infant / toddler version. The older child booster seat can be had for around $20. The consignment shops around here always have a number of both for even less. Of course, you can go for the deluxe models, for $300 or more. The bill as currently written does not make exception for cost. In other words, the exemption would be for the top of the line models as well as the basic. If the intent of the bill is to help ensure that all children have car seats, how will making them tax exempt help? Are there really people who won’t buy a $100 child seat with tax but will buy it without? If they can’t afford a new car seat, why not buy a used one? How much revenue will the state lose to give some legislator free pr? I can’t see how making child car seats tax exempt will do any public good.

For those who would say that buying secondhand car seats would harm the dignity of lower income parents, I ask why. It’s one thing if there is research showing that secondhand seats are dangerous. If anyone knows of any please post a comment. My household used child A’s car seat for child B. Isn’t that secondhand? When Mr. Jane and I were expecting our first child we went to a church rummage sale and picked up a crib and a pair of baby monitors for a total of $35. We measured the crib slats and the distance between them was under the legal safety limits. Mr. Jane checked the paint for lead and found none. He stripped, primed, and repainted it. We used it for both kids and handed it down to someone else. We are also in a couple of hand-me-down chains. Every now and then I come home to find bags of kid clothes on my front step. Every now and then I drop bags of kid clothes on someone else’s. One morning we found a used Barbie plane, missing a few pieces and with a few dirt marks but still perfectly serviceable. A neighbor came home one day and found some of our “previewed” Thomas the Tank engine videos. We do have the means to buy a fancy new crib and new clothes but it seems more prudent at this point to make do with used and put the money into college funds. We do fork out the dough for some new clothes every season but we can pick and choose, filling in gaps or buying something nice for Christmas Eve services. Maybe what those with lower incomes lack is access to the informal networks that provide this kind of exchange. In lieu of a tax exemption for car seats perhaps the state senate could encourage neighborhood or church clothing swaps or rummage sales.

I just don’t see the value of making child car seats tax exempt. It takes money out of the state revenue stream and doesn’t provide anything in return. Any discussion on this is welcome. I’m very willing to be proven wrong.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

weekly legislative update

Both houses of the general assembly met this week but there was activity only in the Senate. Please note that all items introduced involve cutting taxes/revenue or increasing spending/funding.

SB 47 By Senators TARTAGLIONE, STOUT, COSTA, KITCHEN, FUMO, WONDERLING, A. WILLIAMS and CONTI. An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, further providing for the Public Transportation Assistance Fund. Referred to TRANSPORTATION, Jan. 19, 2005

SB 48 By Senators TARTAGLIONE, STOUT, COSTA and KITCHEN. An Act amending Title 75 (Vehicles) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for collection and disposition of fees and moneys, for certificate of title, for information concerning drivers and vehicles and for certificate of safety inspection. Referred to TRANSPORTATION, Jan. 19, 2005

SB 49 By Senators FUMO, GREENLEAF, STOUT, COSTA, HUGHES, KITCHEN, LOGAN, STACK, A. WILLIAMS, THOMPSON, TARTAGLIONE and CONTI. An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, further providing for imposition of tax, for Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and for Public
Transportation Assistance Fund. Referred to TRANSPORTATION, Jan. 19, 2005

GREENLEAF, STOUT, TARTAGLIONE, WOZNIAK and ORIE. An Act authorizing senior citizens to claim an exemption from tax increases as to certain real property; and providing for termination of the exemption. Referred to FINANCE, Jan. 19, 2005

REGOLA, PUNT, KITCHEN, LOGAN, MUSTO, WOZNIAK, GREENLEAF, STOUT, TARTAGLIONE and ORIE. An Act amending Title 51 (Military Affairs) of the Pennsylvania
Consolidated Statutes, further providing for exemption from payment of real estate taxes. Referred to FINANCE, Jan. 19, 2005

TARTAGLIONE, GREENLEAF, GORDNER and RHOADES. An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, authorizing a tax credit for volunteer emergency medical services (EMS) personnel for purposes of personal income tax. Referred to FINANCE, Jan. 18, 2005

SB 32 By Senators WAGNER, STOUT, C. WILLIAMS, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY, ERICKSON, KITCHEN and ORIE. An Act providing for the exclusion of veterans' disability payments as income in certain circumstances. Referred to FINANCE, Jan. 18, 2005

SB 39 By Senators WAGNER, C. WILLIAMS, LOGAN, COSTA, KITCHEN and ORIE. An Act relating to the delivery of services and programs to persons with disabilities; conferring powers and duties on the Governor's Office; and creating the Office of Disabilities and providing for its funding. Referred to STATE GOVERNMENT, Jan. 18, 2005

SB 45 By Senator WAGNER. An Act amending the act of March 20, 2002 (P.L.154, No.13), known as the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (Mcare) Act, further defining "medical facility" and "nursing facility"; further providing for composition of the Patient Safety Authority; providing for a health data warehouse; and further providing for continuing medical education. Referred to PUBLIC HEALTH AND WELFARE, Jan. 18, 2005

SB 46 By Senator WAGNER. An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, excluding child restraint seats from the sales and use tax. Referred to FINANCE, Jan. 18, 2005

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Reading List

Every now and then I run across something interesting in the library. Here are a few recent finds.

In the January 2005 State Legislatures:
* part 1 of 3 on gambling, includes a brief quote from PA’s own Vince Fumo.
* California has passed legislation treating those who hire underage prostitutes as sex offenders. Why doesn’t PA have a law like this?
*PA ranks 46th in the nation for percentage of women in the state legislature. Only South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi have fewer.

In the December 2004 issue of State Legislatures:
* PA has an average of 22.2 students in public elementary school classes, ranking 13th in the nation.

State News Nov/Dec 2004:
* PA ranks 22nd nationally in the State Business Tax Climate Index.
* PA is 5th in the nation for receving federal government expenditures

Monday, January 17, 2005

Thoughts on "Nannygate"

The president recently lost a candidate for Secretary of Homeland Security, initially because of irregularities in his childcare arrangements, though there were other reasons as well. A British cabinet minister is in the same jar, slightly different pickle; he was caught trying to expedite a legal visa for the nanny of his married paramour. President Clinton lost not one, but two, prospective Attorneys General for childcare irregularities.

This seemingly common problem stuck in my mind for a couple of reasons. One is that when I was in high school my mother hired people to come in and do light housekeeping for my grandfather, and to cook him lunch and generally be around in case something happened. It allowed him to live alone in his house for a few more years. I remember her sitting at the table working out the social security and other benefits payments for the women. Ma did not go to an Ivy League law school like the prospective Attorneys General or have a lot of big supporters like the prospective Homeland Security chief. She had a public high school education, and was taking classes at a community college about 30 miles away, eventually earning an associates degree in accounting. Yet, she managed to figure it all out. When I asked her about it she said it wasn’t that hard; you just had to read the rules and fill out the forms and send in the checks.

This disparity speaks to at least two key issues in today’s society, in addition to the obvious intelligence and honesty of my mother. The first is that our public schools and community colleges are doing a heck of a job educating people if their students are smarter than the Harvard and Yale crowd. A few years ago I read a comparison of a freshman level course as taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the Community College of Philadelphia, same course, different schools. The content was the same. The primary differences were in class size, with CCP having a much smaller number of students in the class, and therefore more student/teacher contact, and the price, with Penn being significantly more expensive. While we often read about the soaring cost of college education, these prices are usually at private schools, even though most college students attend the less expensive state supported colleges and universities. This is where we get most of our teachers and nurses, our engineers and doctors.

The second issue is the difficulty in finding good childcare. I always wonder about those who are found out hiring illegal aliens to do “light housekeeping and childcare” as some of the jobs are described. Now, I’d let just about anyone mop my floors (seriously, anyone is welcome to it, leave me a number, I’ll give you a call), but I’m a little fussier about who watches my kids. If wealthy, politically connected people can’t find adequate affordable childcare legally, how in the world do we expect the middle class, let alone those earning minimum wage, to find it? According to the International Nanny Association ( the range of nanny salaries in Philadelphia is $500 to $800 a week, in Pittsburgh $410 to $550, about half the time for 2 kids. Nationally the average is $532 a week for live in nannies, and $590 a week for those that live elsewhere. When both of my kids were in full time preschool or daycare we paid, at most $900 a month, and that is on an above average but still modest household income. If my household can afford this why isn’t it possible for people in higher income brackets to find legal childcare,? If my mother can figure out how to fill out the necessary forms, why can’t people with a “better” education level?

weekly legislative update

In looking for ways that this blog could be of use to readers, I signed up to receive daily updates of legislative activity in the PA General Assembly. As long as they don't get too long and unruly I'll compile them and post a weekly synopsis. Here is the first. Although both houses met this weekly, bills were only introduced in the Senate. Here they are:

SB 29 By Senators WAGNER, STOUT, C. WILLIAMS, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY, ERICKSON, KITCHEN and ORIE. An Act providing funding to school districts which provide certain school tax relief; establishing the Education Volunteer School Tax Relief Fund; conferring powers and duties on the Department of Education; and making an appropriation. Referred to FINANCE, Jan. 13, 2005

SB 35 By Senators WAGNER, STOUT, ARMSTRONG, WONDERLING, C. WILLIAMS, GREENLEAF, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY and KITCHEN. An Act amending Title 51 (Military Affairs) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for cancellation of life insurance. Referred to BANKING AND INSURANCE, Jan. 13, 2005

SB 36 By Senators WAGNER, STOUT, C. WILLIAMS, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY and KITCHEN. An Act amending the act of March 11, 1971 (P.L.104, No.3), known as the Senior Citizens Rebate and Assistance Act, further defining "income." Referred to AGING AND YOUTH, Jan. 13, 2005

SB 37 By Senators WAGNER, STOUT, C. WILLIAMS, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY, ERICKSON, KITCHEN and ORIE. An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, providing for a storm water overflow tax credit. Referred to FINANCE, Jan. 13, 2005

SB 38 By Senators WAGNER, WONDERLING, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY and ORIE. An Act amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for the offense of selling or furnishing violent video or computer games to minors. Referred to JUDICIARY, Jan. 13, 2005

SB 40 By Senators WAGNER, STOUT, C. WILLIAMS, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY and KITCHEN. An Act amending the act of June 3, 1937 (P.L.1333, No.320), known as the Pennsylvania Election Code, further providing for the date of the general primary in years in which the President of the United States is nominated. Referred to STATE GOVERNMENT, Jan. 13, 2005

SB 41 By Senators WAGNER, STOUT, C. WILLIAMS, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY, ERICKSON, KITCHEN, PILEGGI and ORIE. An Act providing for State assistance for certain cancer screening; conferring powers and duties on the Department of Health; establishing the Cancer Screening Fund; and making an appropriation. Referred to PUBLIC HEALTH AND WELFARE, Jan. 13, 2005

SB 42 By Senators WAGNER, STOUT, TOMLINSON, WONDERLING, C. WILLIAMS, GREENLEAF, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY, KITCHEN and ORIE.An Act amending the act of June 24, 1976 (P.L.424, No.101), referred to as the Emergency and Law Enforcement Personnel Death Benefits Act, further providing for death benefit eligibility. Referred to LABOR AND INDUSTRY, Jan. 13, 2005

SB 43 By Senators WAGNER, STOUT, C. WILLIAMS, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY, ERICKSON, KITCHEN and ORIE. An Act amending the act of March 4, 1971 (P.L.6, No.2), known as the Tax Reform Code of 1971, providing for contributions for National Guard and Reserve families; and establishing the Help National Guard and Reserve Families Fund. Referred to FINANCE, Jan. 13, 2005

SB 44 By Senators WAGNER, STOUT, C. WILLIAMS, LOGAN, COSTA, RAFFERTY, KITCHEN and ORIE. An Act requiring certain departments and institutions of the Commonwealth to establish fire response plans and conduct fire drills. Referred to VETERANS AFFAIRS AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS, Jan. 13, 2005

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Usually I spend the week between Christmas and New Years taking stock of the year ending. This involves the mundane, like putting together a preliminary list of charitable donations for the tax records and looking over the budgeting paperwork to see what can be changed or tweaked, as well as the esoteric, reviewing what I have accomplished or learned (for better or worse), and what might be done to improve. I let this mull for a few weeks and then come up with some general guidelines for the coming year.

New Year’s resolutions, especially those involving losing more weight and spending less money, fail for a number of reasons. However, according to John Norcross, a University of Scranton psychologist and co-author of Changing for Good, simply making a resolution is a good start. (In the January 2005 issue of Money he notes that those who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to change than those who don’t.)

My personal, mundane resolutions, tend to be very similar to everyone else’s. In the past 6 months I lost 10 pounds and can get into clothes that I had not been able to in a long time. While I still have trouble buttoning my pants, they are wonderfully, gloriously, loose in the leg and I don’t have the Frankenstein seam marks when I take them off at night. By the end of the year I’d like to be “a women who can tuck in her shirt,” as one weight loss commercial put it. On a less glamorous level, I plan to brush my teeth before I go to bed, or at least use an anti-cavity rinse, and to floss once more a day. I have bad teeth and don’t take good care of them. Last fall my dentist said I need $900 worth of dental work. That wasn’t the full cost, just my after-insurance part. That’s almost $3.00 a day for dental work, much of which I have deferred into this year so as not to completely use up the family’s deductible. So surely it is worth $3.00 a day to brush and floss one additional time.

I wonder if those newly elected or re-elected go through a similar process. My hopelessly naïve wish is that the legislature, as a whole, decide on a few overriding issues of importance to the entire state, and set about finding a resolution, or a short term fix, to them. Maybe party leadership can use some of that big pot of money they set aside for themselves, to make peace with each other somehow. What should they tackle? Here’s my short list of what the state considers problems, taken from newspaper articles and campaign literature: health care, schools and education, transportation / roads (public transportation in cities and road maintenance in rural areas), and public safety. There are others I wish the legislature would act upon and I will cover those in future blogs.

One resolution I think we the people should make is to revise the standard way of evaluating the work of our elected officials. The current emphasis on the introduction of laws is, to me, a strange one. How does introducing a series of laws make someone a good legislator? I’d almost rather my elected officials jump on someone else’s bandwagon and use their time for other things. Isn’t coalition building a more important skill than introducing bills willy nilly? Wouldn’t deleting outdated laws be as useful as introducing new ones? Frankly, I think we should start with just taking attendance. I’d like to know how often my elected officials actually show up for work when they are in session, which isn’t really all that often. In the state house, the “ghost voting” phenomenon where a legislator jams the voting mechanism with a paper clip or has a buddy vote for them, has received a lot of press lately. A state legislator who shows up for work and has decent constituent service is going a long way towards re-election.

Another frequently mentioned item is committee work. There doesn’t seem to be any noticeable rhyme or reason as to how many standing committees legislators are on. I looked at the general assembly’s web site and noted that some legislators are on two committees and some were on six. Party doesn’t really come into play; people in both parties were on as few as two. What gives here? Are those on just a few committees given a lighter workload because they have other duties or because they are considered deadwood? I noticed Mike Veon was on only two committees, but so was Bill Rieger. Katie True seemed to be burning the midnight oil, as she is on several. Subcommittees aren’t currently listed nor are select committees, so maybe it balances out that way. It is hard for those of us at home to get a real handle on the “sausage making” of legislative work. It probably isn’t pretty and perhaps making it open to the public would only cause problems, but we are all too often just asked to take someone else’s word for what is important and what isn’t. I resolve to come up with a better way of evaluating my elected officials by the end of the year. Stay tuned for progress notes.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Army We Have

Secretary Rumsfeld took a lot of heat for saying we go to war with the army we have not the army we want. It was his bad luck to voice this historical truism in front of a group of soldiers in Iraq; usually our leaders are a bit more circumspect about stating the obvious, especially to those in the trenches. It’s just not good for morale.

Those drawings of Revolutionary War soldiers in tatters aren’t exaggeration. Remember Valley Forge? There were draft riots during the Civil War. Even in World War II, considered a “good war,” there was resentment against the government extending terms of duty. The code for this was “OHIO” (over the hill in October).

We do tend to expect things to get better as time goes by, and certainly we expect that our loved ones will be well equipped before they are shipped off to a foreign land. I have a passing knowledge of this, and a more than passing knowledge of the broader effects of war on the family. Of the men in my immediate birth family, two were career soldiers and another served six years. My father was a platoon sergeant in Nam the year I was in first grade. Every time a Bob Hope USO show was televised my mother would tell me that it was unlikely it was taking place near where my father was stationed and that even if he was in the audience I wouldn’t be able to see him. Yet unfailingly I would be glued to the set and then cry when there was no sign of my dad anywhere in the sea of faces as the cameras panned by. My parents’ marriage broke up a year after my father’s return.

I think of that every time I drive up my street, past the house of a neighbor whose husband has been away for a year and isn’t expected to return until late spring, of then. Her young children have been without a father for long enough. I think of it when I pull into my driveway. Two houses down a family waits for news of their son who is currently in training and expects to be sent to Iraq this spring or summer.

We ask a lot of our men and women in uniform. I don’t remember my father or other family members talking about a lack of basic supplies while in the Army, but maybe they did and I don’t remember, maybe there was a lack and they just didn’t talk about it. One of Mr. Jane’s nephews served in Iraq at the beginning of the war. He said they only had two meals a day to eat and he took his own body army. Nor is this an isolated story, as the question about the lack of adequate vehicle armoring that Secretary Rumsfeld was asked demonstrates. Were that not enough, consider this item from the November 2004 issue of National Geographic:

“When Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jerome Boganowski was sent to Iraq with his reserve unit, he decided to take along our October 2002 Middle East supplement map. It came in handy. His job in Iraq was directing convoys to military bases, but he had no maps along to guide him. “Several times,” he said, “we didn’t know where we were.” Jerome logged 3,000 miles on the road during three months in the desert, navigating with a GPS unit from home and his National Geographic map. “

Does this mean he was sent to Iraq and asked to direct convoys but never even given a map? Thank goodness he was the sort of man who kept National Geographic maps around. Our soldiers rise to the occasion. The boy two doors down didn’t do such a great job on our lawn a couple of years ago when my husband’s foot was broken and we asked him to mow. Yet, I am sure that he will be a fine addition to the troops.

A good friend of mine sent me a truly thoughtful Christmas gift, a copy of a chapter, “Making Citizens into Soldiers by Harold G. Moore, in the book Defining a Nation, edited by David Halberstam. There are several pages praising NCOs (noncommissioned officers, drill sergeants and the like). She knew my father fit this category and thought I would enjoy reading it. Moore discusses the valor American soldiers demonstrate in combat, and cites the example of Steelton, PA, native Bill Beck in a Nam firefight. Consider this statement Moore makes:

“It strikes me that the American military culture is an unusual hybrid of a highly individualistic culture blended with the traditional needs of discipline and order that the military requires. Thus the American soldier obeys orders when he needs to and thinks for himself when he needs to. There’s just the right amount of elasticity in the way we do it, and a surprising number of our greatest acts of courage – for which our highest medals are given – are driven by rare acts of individualism, of soldiers thinking for themselves.” (p. 97)

Our elected officials have been very evasive about the issues of troop readiness and supplies. I happened to see Sen. Specter address a group this past spring. He was asked about the lack of equipment for troops and said he thought it had been taken care of. I don’t think so, Senator. And, by the way, the old story about going to Washington to get your father’s World War I pension does not play well with the under 50 crowd, who consider WWI ancient history. Specter topped it off by saying that he still hadn’t secured the pension so he wanted another term in office. Surely there are better reasons to ask for a vote, like making sure the man down the street comes home to his family, and taking good care of the boy two houses down, that I still half expect to see skateboarding down the street. We ask a lot of the men and women in uniform and we owe them, at the very least, the basics in equipment and supplies.