Friday, November 25, 2005

Time Zone Debate not Over

Just suppose that Indianapolis and Marion County remained in the Eastern time zone and that Johnson County was switched to Central time. Imagine what a headache that would be for commuters who live in one county and work in the other.

Imagine, too, how it would upset TV viewers’ abilities to figure out what time the news came on, or what time stores opened and closed. It would be a mess.

If the U.S. Department of Transportation follows its original recommendation, that scenario might just play out in a couple of areas of the state. Locations in northern Indiana would be especially vulnerable to time zone chaos.

Earlier this year the General Assembly finally voted to allow the entire state to observe daylight saving time. Historically, only a handful of counties near Chicago and Evansville observe daily time, and those counties are in the Central time zone.

But one provision of the new law mandated that the governor ask the DOT, the federal agency that is responsible for setting time zone boundaries, to look into whether or not Indiana should change time zones.

The agency decided to allow individual counties to petition for a change in time zone. Seventeen counties did so. All 17 are currently in the Eastern time zone and want to be in the Central time zone.

St. Joseph County, including the City of South Bend, petitioned to switch zones and the preliminary recommendation by the DOT was in approval of the request. But neighboring Elkhart County, which includes the cities of Elkhart and Goshen, did not petition to switch to the Central time zone.

Gov. Mitch Daniels has said it would be unacceptable to draw a time zone boundary through the middle of a metropolitan area. And he’s correct.

But state Reps. Steve Heim, R-Culver, and David Crooks, D-Washington want to put the whole time zone issue to a state referendum. And Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Lakeville, wants to take a step backward and repeal the law that was enacted earlier this year.

Indiana does not have binding referendums, unlike states like California. Residents do not pass laws directly here; they elect legislators to do that. Even if a state referendum were held, it would not be binding, according to Senate Pres. Pro Tempore, Robert Garton, R-Columbus.

But beyond that, it would not be at all in the state’s best economic interest to be wholly within one time zone or the other. Just as the metropolitan area around South Bend should not be divided by a time zone boundary, the Greater Chicago metropolitan area should not be divided.

The only real question that should be asked and answered is which, if any, of the counties that are adjacent to those that are now in the Central time zone should be switched. A few of those counties may have a case for economic benefit from joining the Central time zone. Other counties who petitioned for a change are clearly better off from an economic standpoint by staying in the Eastern time zone.

The DOT held public hearings this month. The hearings were not to garner votes on the matter, but to get input from the public. A decision is expected in January.

The governor expects the DOT will follow his recommendation that St. Joseph County not be included in the Central time zone. The agency will base its final decision on what is best economically for each petitioning county.

As for those lawmakers who want to revisit the issue during the upcoming legislative session, few of their counterparts believe there is much chance that the issue will come up again. It was settled in the last session.

Hopefully, by the end of January, everyone in the state will know which time zone they will be living in. All they have to do after that is remember to spring forward and fall back.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Old Traditions Die Hard

The Christmas shopping season is now in full swing. It began last week on Thanksgiving Day when at least one large retailer decided to jump the gun and open up on Thanksgiving with sales and special prices.

Most stores, however, waited until Black Friday, so called because it is the day after Thanksgiving and is usually hyped to be the busiest shopping day of the year.

Most large retailers have deeply-discounted specials if you get to their stores early enough. Many opened their doors at 5:00 AM.

People typically line up by the hundreds to be among the first ones to take advantage of the big deals. Waiting until later in the morning is dangerous for those who just must have a discounted item; it could be gone before noon.

I’ve never been one of those early birds who line up in the cold and dark in the wee hours of the morning to be able to shop for specials. But this year, I must admit, one item really caught my eye. It was a notebook computer advertised at only $378.

Another tradition that I have participated in on the day after Thanksgiving is the lighting of the so-called world’s largest Christmas tree at Monument Circle in Indianapolis. Last year, my daughter and I got to the circle early enough to get a good view. But we didn’t plan our bathroom breaks properly so we had to leave early.

It wasn’t easy. By the time we needed to leave, the circle was jam packed with wall-to-wall people. It took probably 30 minutes to finally work our way the 25 feet to the nearest open store and then out the back door.

If you don’t mind missing all the music and dancing on the stage, a good view of the lights can be had from the observation deck atop the City-County Building. The view is awesome.

Although I don’t go see the lighting every year, the tradition does go back many years in our family. When my dad was alive, he would often take us to Indy in our camper, which was a converted school bus. Later on, we got a real camper that wasn’t quite so long.

Parking is always an issue for those who go to watch the lighting ceremony. It’s especially problematic for a large motor home.

One year, we all piled in the camper and headed for Indianapolis. We managed to find a half-empty lot several blocks from the circle. It was manned by a Hispanic attendant, a rarity at that time.

The motor home would not fit properly into a single parking space, so the attendant told my dad with his thick Spanish accent, “This is long; it cost you double.”

He wasn’t too happy about it, but the rest of us kind of got a kick out of the whole situation. We had a good time anyway.

For years following the lighting ceremony, we would all pile back into the vehicle and head for the nearest Steak ‘n’ Shake restaurant. It was a tradition; eating somewhere else just wouldn’t do.

Traditions die hard, but they often do die. After enough years, we just got tired of spending an evening in the cold, wind, and huge crowds just to watch some colored lights on a monument light up.

Another of our traditions may be winding down this year. Ever since I was old enough to remember, my mom’s side of the family always had their annual Christmas family reunion. In recent years, since my grandmother and a couple of other relatives died, I find that not only is attendance down, but most of the people who go are strangers to me.

After somewhere around 50 years as an annual event, this could be the last Christmas reunion. The relatives who organize it are getting too old and tired to fool with it any longer.

But as the next generation in our families grow up and start taking charge, they start new traditions. Sometimes they even include the old folks.

Traditions are especially strong at this time of year. And I’ve always enjoyed them.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Signs that America is Coming to its Senses

This is an off year for elections, but there were still some notable polls in several states. Elections in New Jersey, Virginia, and referendums in California were watched nationally because the outcome was expected to take the pulse of a nation reeling from the unbelievably inept leadership of our president.

In Republican-leaning Virginia Tim Kaine won a solid victory, beating Republican Jerry Kilgore for governor of that state. Pres. Bush campaigned for Kilgore and paid him an election-eve visit. It could have been the final nail in Kilgore’s political coffin.

And in New Jersey, Democrat Jon Corzine handily defeated Republican Doug Forrester by 10 percentage points in that state’s gubernatorial race.

In California, Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger failed in his attempt to get four ballot measures passed: removing legislators' redistricting powers, capping spending, making teachers work five years instead of two to pass probation, and restricting political spending by public employee unions.

He campaigned heavily for the measures in an attempt to rein in the democratically-controlled Assembly. Schwarzenegger, who was the keynote speaker at the last Republican National Convention, is up for reelection next year.

And on the local level things are changing as well. Republican Vernon Robinson lost the Winston-Salem, N.C. city council seat he held. Robinson made national headlines last year when he erected a monument displaying the Ten Commandments in front of City Hall without the permission of the council.

Although these may be relatively minor victories, democrats are quick to jump on them as proof that the mess the Bush administration has made of things is finally beginning to sink in to most Americans, even some conservative ones.

Are mainstream Americans beginning to come to the conclusion that they may have erred when they voted for what they thought was a man who stood for principles and honor? In 2004 they voted for a national sense of morality instead of promised economic stability. Instead they got neither.

It’s not a democratic or a republican issue. At least it shouldn’t be.

It’s an issue of what is right for this country. And, according to the latest polls, a great majority of Americans now believe what’s right is not Bush.

What’s right also is not the religious right, some of whom were swept into office in 2000 or 2004 on Bush’s coattails.

In Kansas, for example, those who seek a world-class education for their children are perplexed and angered at the international notoriety their state has achieved at the hands of ultra-conservative members of the state’s board of education. Six out of 10 members of that board voted this year to include the religious concept of intelligent design in the science classroom. It’s a concept Bush supports as well.

In Pennsylvania, the same issue was taken to court after a Dover school board voted to include intelligent design in biology classes. But, fortunately, the voters beat the court to the punch when they ousted all eight of the conservative board members who made that ill-founded decision.

The antics of the Dover electorate brought the ire of ultra-conservative TV evangelist Pat Robertson. He said residents of Dover might not get God’s help if they ever had a local emergency.

He said they may be better off praying for the help of the late Charles Darwin, founder of evolutionary theory. “If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them,” Robertson quipped.

Who is this guy, and what planet is he from?

Earlier this year he called for the assassination of the president of Venezuela. Last summer he prayed on live TV during the broadcast of his 700 Club for another Supreme Court justice to either die or retire so that Bush could nominate a solid conservative. And in 2003 he suggested that maybe the State Department should be blown up with a nuclear device.

Perhaps what his 700 Club patrons really should pray for is for him to seek treatment from a competent therapist.

If a person like Robertson is 100 percent behind George W. Bush, then maybe that’s a sign for mainstream America to reject the president’s policies outright. And just maybe that is what they are starting to do.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Hall Cams are Extra Eyes for Teacher

Anyone who has at least hit middle age can surely remember how difficult it was to get away with anything in their school classroom. Regardless what grade you were in, there were always those teachers who seemed to have the proverbial eyes in the back of their heads.

I remember way back then we had study hall. When I went to Edinburgh High, one of my study hall classes was in the old gym, as we called it, with Mr. Wilson (no relation) as the mighty proctor.

There were at least 50 students in study hall most every period, and you could hear a pin drop. There we all sat in desks lined up on the floor of that old gymnasium with Mr. Wilson who, we all thought, must have been about 75 years old sitting stoically at the head of the class. No one dared make a noise.

Certainly, there were those few teachers who hadn’t quite grown their rear-seeing eyes yet. Those who were apt to do it could get away with a lot. Mostly, what they got away with was talking too much.

I can only remember one time, when I was in eighth grade, when a student talked back to the teacher with such ferocity that I thought it was going to come to blows. I couldn’t believe it. I had never seen a student act so disrespectful to a teacher before.

These days, at some schools, that kind of behavior is downright commonplace. And it happens occasionally even at the better schools.

Even the students who don’t seem to be able to learn how to add two plus two are fully knowledgeable about their rights and about what the teacher can and cannot do to them.

I’ve been a teacher for a number of years, with some time off to pursue other endeavors, and I’m still envious of those teachers who seem to know exactly what’s going on in every corner of their classroom at every minute. I get anxious every time I have to turn my back to write something on the board. Spitballs can sting.

Hallways are especially a problem, because all the classes are out in them at once during passing periods.

The school where I teach already has security cameras in almost every hallway. If I catch a student misbehaving in the hall, I just have to go down to the school police office and tell them to pull up the video for such-and-such camera at a particular time. Even if I don’t know the offending student’s name, he or she is nailed by surveillance.

The price on small security cameras has now come down to the point where most people can own one if they wanted. I’ve had one watching my front porch for years.

And I, as a teacher, am glad to know that some of those small cameras are helping us monitor the hallways.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Baptists Withhold Water in Name of God

Traditional religious organizations typically set up, as part of their missions, programs to help the poor and needy, especially in times of crisis. This is certainly true of the evangelical group known as the Southern Baptist Convention.

The SBC organized volunteers to hand out food and water to those left in need after hurricane Wilma ravaged parts of southern Florida. But apparently the Alabama-based SBC places religious dogma above the needs of the poverty-stricken hurricane victims.

The Anheuser-Busch beer company has been helping in the relief effort, too. Ever since hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast states and left New Orleans and parts of coastal Mississippi in shambles, the company has been canning water and shipping it to those who need it. The canned water is given out for free by the Red Cross and other volunteer organizations.

The vice-president of operations for Anheuser-Busch claims the company has donated more than 9 million cans of clean water since Katrina. He said the company would continue to produce canned water until it is no longer needed.

So we have the SBC who has volunteered to hand out free drinking water and we have the Anheuser-Busch company who has agreed to supply and ship millions of cans of it to places where it is needed. It sounds like a perfect match up.

But the SBC will have no part of it.

The Southern Baptists were running a supply center in Clewiston, Fl. Early last week, but they were not handing out any canned water to the hundreds of folks in line who were desperate to get it.

Although 22 pallets of canned water were available for the SBC to hand out, they left it sitting on the sidelines and refused to hand it out to the hurricane victims. Few of the victims even knew the water was available.

SBC volunteers said the pastor did not want to hand out the water because it was contained in Budweiser cans. The SBC thought it was inappropriate to hand out the cans, even though they contained clean water and not beer.

I don’t know if Southern Baptists believe drinking beer is a sin or not. But seeing as the cans were filled with much-needed drinking water and seeing how hundreds of victims in need of fresh water were filing by, it sounds like more of a sin to withhold it.

The SBC volunteers told an NBC affiliate reporter that they shouldn’t focus on that issue. The issue, the volunteers said, was that they are there to help people.

Well, that may be true. But shouldn’t their assistance be given with no strings attached?

The Red Cross had no qualms about handing out the water. And one of the storm victims said it made no difference to her who hands it out because it’s going to a good cause.

And that should be the position of the SBC, as well, with regards to where the water comes from. It makes no difference whom the supplier is, as long as it gets supplied. It shows a gross lack of judgment, and compassion, to withhold cans of water from thirsty storm victims just because you don’t like the company that canned it.

Apparently, some of the SBC volunteers didn’t want the negative publicity. As the local TV crew was packing up to leave, one of them noticed that two of the volunteers were handing out the canned water along side volunteers from the Red Cross.

Or, maybe the volunteers just decided that helping the needy with no provisos trumps ill-founded religious doctrine.