Sunday, February 27, 2011

Another dream: Returning to work

It's rare that I can place the exact time of a dream, but this one, I can.

I slept over at my house this past Friday night.  I felt uneasy about doing this, because my mom told me she wasn't feeling well, and was worried that the antibiotics she's been taking might be leading to another bout of Clostridium difficile. (She had one of the symptoms.) But I would just be a mile across town, and if she needed me to take her to the hospital, she could just call me.

I slept in a bit.  Actually, I fell asleep at about 2:00 in the morning, and woke up at 8:30.  I called her to see how she was doing, and she felt much better.  I hung up, rolled over, and decided to get a little more sleep.

As I slept, I dreamed that I had decided to return to work.  I don't mean I had decided I needed a job, which I do; I mean I was heading back to the place where I used to work, to try to sneak in.  And not the last place I worked, either, on the factory floor.  I was returning to the office I occupied from 2002 through 2007, when I experienced my first layoff - which, coincidentally, was four years ago today.

The dream was happening in real time, more or less:  it was a Saturday morning, which for some reason made it easier for me to stroll into the place.  I went in through the front door - in real life, I would have used the back door to get to that office - and made it past the front guards and through the security turnstiles without using my badge, which I surrendered when I left in December.  I was wearing my long black coat and the clothes I would normally wear in the office.

I wasn't just going back for a visit.  I had a goal:  I wanted to retrieve all of my emails, voice mails, and any regular mail that had accumulated since I left that position.

In real life I returned to that office once, to have lunch with my co-workers a month or so after I came back to work in August 2007.  Much of it was as I had left it, but my chair and computer were gone, both taken to be used by someone else.  I  did retrieve some things I had left behind when I was laid off earlier that year, including a big bag of Magnetic Poetry words.  But the whole experience was so unsettling that I decided not to go back again.

In my dream I was able to work my way up to my office, somehow not being stopped by anyone who knew me or challenged by anyone who didn't.  I also made it through the security zone around our facility, which was like a fortress inside the main plant.  I found my way to my desk and realized that the computer would be inaccessible - all the passwords had been changed.  I tried to get access to my voice mails and found that the password system there had been changed as well.  But as I looked around my office area I saw that there was a bulletin board hanging up where one hadn't been before.  On it were pinned about a dozen pieces of unopened correspondence addressed to me, including one that looked like a birthday card that had been sent by a friend.  I took these down and put them into a plastic grocery bag.  (In reality I used to have about a dozen of these in one of my drawers.)  I then began to wonder how I would make it back out of the building without being stopped by security.

I slipped down to the front entrance using back passages and other secret routes I learned in my nearly two decades there.  As I came out a side door leading to the front exits, I ran into a crowd of about fifty people waiting to leave the building through the turnstiles, all getting searched and wanded by security.  I quickly took the letters out of the bag and stuffed them into my pockets for some reason.  How am I gonna do this?, I thought as I watched the crowd.

I woke up in a cold sweat.  It was like a "test anxiety / missed class" dream, the kind were it takes you a while to convince yourself that you've been out of college for years or even decades, and you didn't really have a test or a class to worry about.  Only now I had to convince myself that I hadn't actually just snuck into my old workplace and gotten trapped there.  The best argument for this was that I was, in fact, still in bed at close to ten o'clock on a Saturday morning.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Investigative, Artistic...Conventional?

I took an aptitude test of sorts the other day.  It's called the O*NET test, and it helps you determine the direction you want to take in future employment, determining which jobs you will be compatible with, and which ones will just make you miserable.  Like the Voight-Kampff test, reaction time is a factor; you go through 180 job scenarios as quickly as you can, labeling them "Like," "Dislike," or "?"  The scenarios are laid out in a certain pattern:  you do two from the yellow group, two from the periwinkle group, and two from each of four other groups, then start over again with the yellow group.  You then add up all the "Like"s from each group, using the "?"s in the event of a tie.  Usually the answers match up surprisingly well with your self-assessment, and even better with the assessment of you by others.

There are six categories on the test:  Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional.  "Realistic" refers to concrete tasks:  swinging a hammer, painting a fence.  "Investigative" are more intellectual tasks.  "Artistic" covers the gamut of artistic endeavors.  "Social" refers to tasks that primarily involve dealing directly with other people. "Enterprising" tasks tend to be entrepreneurial in nature.  "Conventional" is the slug work of the office:  making copies, using a calculator, entering data.

My highest score was in Investigative - no surprise there.  My rather distant second score was in Artistic - yep, that fits.  My third score, very close to my second, was a bit surprising: Conventional.  But in retrospect, that makes sense.  My years with Statistical Process Control?  There was a huge component of data entry there, and grinding through calculations, and drawing up and analyzing hundreds and hundreds of control charts.  In DVD Asset Management, I was engaging in customer service functions and typical office stuff almost as much as I was making nine Gigabits of disparate data hop on one foot and dance themselves into the form I told them to - in a calculation, at least.

My other three scores were very distant:  first Realistic - hell, I just spent the better part of four years running a piece of heavy injection molding equipment -. then Social, and finally, close to the lowest score possible, Enterprising.  I'm not the sort of guy who's going to run out and start his own business.  I might, however, work out how you should start yours.  From a theoretical point of view, at least.

So.  IAC.  Now I had my code, and I was given a website where I could enter the code to determine what jobs in Pennsylvania needed that particular mix of skills.

Family and General Practitioners
Internists, General
Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Pediatricians, General
Political Scientists


So here were six job possibilities being offered to me.  Four of them requiring an M.D.  Two of them most likely requiring a Ph.D. in areas I had barely studied at all as an undergrad.  Oh: and none of them were singled out as high-priority jobs.

OK.  Let's not panic.  It is suggested that you can also shuffle your categories to see if there is some job calling for a mix of skills only slightly different from yours - an ICA or CIA or...something.  Particularly something high-priority, where training costs would be subsidized by the state.

ICA and AIC presented no high-priority jobs.  ACI offered one:  Librarian.  CIA and CAI both had the same two high-priority jobs: Medical Records and Health Information Technicians and Office Clerks, General.   Yay.  I don't think I want to be a file clerk.  And a librarian?  Again, years of specialized training.  Drilling down into the job information about Librarians revealed this:

During 2006, there were approximately 7,140 people employed in this field in Pennsylvania. It is projected that there will be 6,800 employed in 2016. This occupation will have about 0 openings due to growth and about 193 replacement openings for approximately 193 total annual openings. This occupation .
The latest solid data is from 2006 - well before the invention of electronic reading tablets that are threatening to send books the way of the vinyl record?  The job market is expected to shrink between 2006 and 2016?  All the job openings will be due to attrition?  And what the hell does "This occupation ." mean? "We were going to insert more information here, and realized we didn't have any"?

Ugh.  Back to the drawing board, I think.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Weather report

It snowed last night. 

That's not a huge surprise, given that it is still Winter, even if a few days at the end of last week made us think of Spring.  The warm weather was enough to finish off almost all of the snow and ice that had accumulated on the ground and on rooftops over the last month, leaving the landscape generally snow-free.  But the gusting winds that blew for much of Saturday and Sunday heralded a change in the air.  I hadn't actually paid any attention to weather reports this weekend, but yesterday when I started to see Facebook friends posting about predictions of seven to ten inches, I first checked to verify that these were actually local people, and then I checked out the weather forecast myself.  Eventually.

I spent the night at my house.  By the time I headed over there just after midnight nearly two inches of light, loose snow had accumulated.  I didn't clear any snow when I got there, but I did make sure that I left my front gate open all the way.  The last time we had snow - actually, about two inches of ice - I found myself trapped inside my fence.  That would have happened again had I not taken that precaution.  My neighbor had once again run his snowblower up and down the sidewalk in front of my house and the house next to mine, so I had only to clear my steps - which looked more like a ramp than steps -, remove some snow from my porch, and then clear some parking space on the street in front of my house.  My car was covered with seven inches of snow, so that had to be dealt with, too.  The whole operation took about an hour, at the end of which I had to head over to my mom's and dig out her car and clear her sidewalk.

I'm hating this weather.  It isn't the worst Winter we've ever had - I would much rather deal with the ice storm from a few weeks back and last night's seven inch snowfall than deal with the nineteen inches of "lasagna snow" composed of multiple layers of snow, sleet, and rain that fell in the Valentine's Day snowstorm of 2007.  And the sun is increasingly intense, so unless more snow falls soon, all this will probably be gone within a week.  But I cannot imagine how I would be dealing with this if I were currently working.  Perhaps I would be able to squeeze in snow-clearing operations before and after work, or during my days off; if I were still working twelve-hour nights and my days off didn't coincide with the snowstorms, I might have to resort to paying someone to clear the snow for me.  But I'm currently not working, so I have the time to clear the snow myself.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The new bullying

UPDATE, 2/20/2011:  The person in the pictures below is, in fact, named Paul Nelson.
Whether this is actually the person making the harassing Facebook posts described is unknown.

UPDATE, 2/25/2011:  The Facebook page of the person claiming to be "Paul Nelson" is gone.  I contacted someone who knows the real Paul Nelson and he told me he would relay the information to him.  If this was, as I suspect, a case of someone fabricating an identity by stealing information from publicly-available sources, and the person whose identity was stolen was a member of the armed forces, I hope the full investigative power of the federal government was brought to bear against the identity thief.

Consequently, I am removing the standalone pictures of Paul Nelson,and am blurring his images in the fake Facebook profile.

On Wednesday a girl in a school district about eighty miles from here killed herself as an apparent result of harassment and bullying.

Now, teen suicide is, tragically, nothing new.  It's not something that came about as a result of Facebook, or MySpace, or instant messaging, or the Internet, or heavy metal music.  Nor are harassment and bullying products of the modern world.  Back in my day harassment took the form of anonymous letters and phone calls, back before caller ID and anonymous call rejection and even star sixty-nine.  Bullying was generally done through threats or violence against the person or their property.

The Internet didn't bring about harassment or bullying.  But it certainly has made doing these things from the cover of anonymity that much easier.

Well, apparent anonymity.  No one is truly anonymous on the Internet.  If the right people want to trace you, they will, no matter how many fake Facebook profiles or proxy walls you hide behind.

Take, for example, the person calling himself Paul Nelson.

(Photo removed. See 2/25/2011 update, above.)

The person in this photo is most likely not named "Paul Nelson."*  The person in this photo is most likely not the person posting as "Paul Nelson."  It is, however, a very interesting and important photo, for several reasons.

I don't know the girl who killed herself.  I had to look up her location on a map.  It's right on the very edge of what anyone could reasonably call "Northeastern Pennsylvania," practically out of the coverage area for the local news.  I might never have heard of her if it had not been for someone I knew in high school "liking" a memorial page that was set up on the day of her death.  I noticed this on Facebook, and I became curious.  I clicked through.  I did some basic Googling, and came up with a disturbing top result for her name, an apparent example of online bullying.

The truth is a little more complicated and even more disturbing. The result was for a website where people can anonymously pose questions to specific individuals.  The question being asked was very offensive - and it turns out the person being asked was one of this girl's best friends.  But it gets weirder:  the person who posed the disturbing question was the girl herself.  For more insight into this, see this post: danah boyd | apophenia » Digital Self-Harm and Other Acts of Self-HarassmentDanah Boyd has written several other pieces on teens and bullying.  This one investigates why so many teens don't perceive bullying as bullying.  (One poster on the memorial site described the bullying and harassment as "kids being kids.")  Her whole blog looks promising as a resource for someone who wants to learn more about dealing with bullying and harassment. 

Back to the issue of Paul Nelson.

I've never really spent much time on a memorial site, a place where friends gather to share their thoughts and memories and strangers come to offer condolences.  Or, in some cases, to harass and troll everyone else at the memorial site.

I've never seen that before.  But here it was.  Message from a friend, message of condolence from a stranger, another friend sharing thoughts, and then a picture of an aborted fetus with the caption "I BELIEVE THE CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE - JUST NOT THIS ONE."  More messages from friends, more messages from strangers, then a posting of a YouTube video called "LOL YOU'RE DEAD."  And then this guy.

In case you can't see that picture at the bottom clearly, here it is in close-up:

A lot of his posts and comments have apparently been deleted.  As of last night, he had one telling everybody who was getting upset by what he was doing to calm down, Facebook wouldn't do anything about him anyway, and neither would the police, since he was out of state.  "This isn't my first rodeo," he said, implying that this isn't the first time he's harassed and trolled a stranger's memorial site.

He's not the only one, either.  At least half a dozen different, fake profiles have popped up with people posting obscene or harassing comments, pictures, and videos to this memorial site.  One of them was traced to a person in England.  These people apparently have no connection to the subject of the memorial site.  Instead they have simply picked up the news of a memorial site from friends, or from a groupthink site like 4chan, whose anonymous members banded together last year to harass an eleven-year-old girl and her family.

But, remember, there is no true anonymity on the Internet. As that bastion of scholarship,, pointed out in its article "5 Wacky Internet Pranks That Can Get You Jail Time," an anonymous 4chan poster was able to get into Sarah Palin's Yahoo accounts.  Now, regardless of what you think of Sarah Palin, whatever you think of her preference for conducting state government business on her personal Yahoo email account rather than on, like, state government email accounts, what this anonymous 4chan poster did, from behind the added safety of a proxy wall, was illegal.  And he got caught.  And his anonymity evaporated like the illusion it was.  (His name is David Kernell, by the way.)

Which brings us back to "Paul Nelson."

(Photo removed. See 2/25/2011 update, above.)

"Paul Nelson" most likely isn't this guy's name.  The picture above probably isn't of anyone named "Paul Nelson,"* nor is it likely a picture of the person posting harassing messages to the memorial site.  But it's definitely a picture of somebody.  Somebody whose picture is being used as part of a Facebook account that is being used to harass people at a memorial site.

That's identity theft.

Now, I know jack shit about military decorations and insignia.  The colored ribbon on the chest of the fellow in the photo could mean that he's a newly-commissioned Second Lieutenant straight out of ROTC.  Or maybe it means he's a highly decorated sniper with a dozen confirmed kills.  I have no idea.  But what I do know is that if the person posting as "Paul Nelson" is not the person in that photo, then the person posting as "Paul Nelson" has no right to represent himself as the wearer of those ribbons, whatever they mean.

That's Stolen Valor.

Now, we can throw in all the usual stuff about harassment and wire fraud, and whatever.  The "Paul Nelson"s of this world know that a site like Facebook can't be bothered to police every interaction between members, and that state and local police and the FBI probably aren't going to prioritize any investigation into what they're doing.  So they'll continue to post their images of aborted fetuses, and their images of dead girls with captions like "SHE'LL STILL BE A WHORE IN HELL" splashed across them, because they can.  And if one Facebook account gets shut down, they'll just switch to another.  They've got lots.

Welcome to the future.

What are you gonna do about it?

*UPDATE, 2/20/2011:  The person in the picture is, in fact, named Paul Nelson.
Whether this is actually the person making these posts is unknown.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Just what I needed

Slept over at my house last night for the first time in a while.  My mom and I have both been very sick lately, and I  wanted to be in a position to get her to a hospital ASAP if the need arises.  That sort of thing hasn't come up in over five years, but I worry about it, especially when she's having a coughing fit.  But we both felt better last night, and I decided it was OK to be across town for the night.

I slept well.  No nightmares, though I did have a dream that someone had gotten into the house and defeated my security system using my remote.  (I accidentally activated the security system with my remote while I was in the house the other day.  When you change your security code, do you have to reprogram the remote?  Or does that always provide access to your system, regardless of what you change?) I remember hearing voices of people talking, as if they were downstairs or just outside.

I slept late, but eventually got around to getting out of my house and going to the other half, the library/storage side that was broken into back in August when they stole all the copper pipes.  Everything was fine.  But when I came back out of the house I noticed something odd on my car.  It looked like a small black plastic bag with a yellow drawstring sitting on my windshield.  Or was it a cat?  Or...oh no...was it my side-view mirror?

I went back into my other side of the house, slipped the phone back in its charger, changed into my boots, took my coat and scarf and hat off the hall tree.  I set the alarm, exited the house, went out to my car, and...

...yep, it was my side-view mirror.

Half of the mirror housing was sitting on the windshield wipers.  There was glass and bits of plastic all over the street.  There was no other damage to the car, no scrape marks from a passing vehicle or random damage caused by a vandal.  My best guess is that the mirror was just barely snagged by a passing snowplow, which caused damage to the outer edge and then snapped off most of the mirror housing.  It could have been a passing vehicle of almost any sort, but I actually saw at least one snowplow driving around today, even though there's been no snow needing plowing for a while.  So maybe the voices I dreamt I heard were actually people saying "Whaddya wanna do?  Should we leave a note?" "Naaah, just toss that crap on his car and let's get out of here, nobody saw us."

So.  That's another expense I really didn't need right now.

I guess the moral of the story is:  even if you commit yourself to living as austerely as possible, to spending as little money as possible, someone else will always find a way to spend your money for you, whether by breaking into your house and cutting out your pipes, or damaging your car, or something.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Slowly I turned, step by step...

I'm making progress, I think.

It's been nearly two months since I was laid off.  I'm still out of work, but I have a very good feeling about a company that so far only exists on paper for the most part.  I sent them a email expressing interest earlier this week, and got a call-back yesterday.  They're still a month or so from making any hiring decisions.  In the meantime I had better keep looking.

I've done a lot of revision work and updates on the Hot Notes website.  This is a blogsite I set up for the Transition Team from my old company.  It's a quick and easy way of getting this information online.  I've been using Facebook to try to publicize the site, but I also need to have other people spread the word.

I also did an update on A Blog of Nanticoke.  This incorporates new information about the Nanticoke Historical Society that I first heard back in early November of last year after running into one of the members in a supermarket.  No need to rush into these things.

I've started collecting my severance and I filed my COBRA some time ago.  I finally located my Social Security Card and am ready to get the ball rolling on some things at the CareerLink in Scranton.  (I could use the one in Wilkes-Barre, but the one in Scranton is completely up to speed with the things going on at my old place of employment.)  I called late this afternoon to set up an appointment for the first step in the process (yes, I realize it's been nearly two months) and found out that a meeting I attended back at the end of July of last year counted as that first step.  So now I need to arrange for the second step, the one for which I need my Social Security Card.  I'll set that up on Monday.

Title Reference:  Classic comedy bit that I usually think of as "Niagara Falls."

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A nightmare and a dream

Well.  Occasionally I try to record my dreams here, because if I don't I forget them after a while, except for the ones that I forget immediately, or forget and then remember weeks later.

I'll try to place this one in context.  I've been sick lately, maybe a touch of pneumonia, I don't know.  I've been treating it with generic Robitussin during the day and NyQuil at night.  I've had it since the end of January, and I think I picked it up at a zoning hearing at the Nanticoke municipal building for a proposed solar panel sales and distribution center that someone wants to put on reclaimed mining land about a mile from my house.  I'm actually mostly recovered, to the point that I haven't needed or used either the day or night medicine in several days.

I'm feeling stressed.  It's been nearly two months since I lost my job, and I haven't made any real progress in finding a new one.  I keep hearing horror stories about people who have been looking for jobs for two years or more, and that's not very encouraging.

I spent the night at my house across town.  I'm doing that a lot lately, and have been doing it since last year, after the robbery.  It's a big old house, and some people might find it creepy.

There was an incident at the house next door over the weekend.  I don't know what.  Something involving the tenants.  The first sign was a fire call to the house, though when I got there there were also an ambulance and a police vehicle there.  As I sat in my car and watched, two ambulance people set up a gurney in the front yard of the house.  After a while someone came out of the house, accompanied by four or five people, some of whom appeared to be police.  The person appeared to have a bandaged hand.  I do not why they needed quite that many people to walk them onto the gurney, unless they were being restrained in some way.

There was a home invasion incident in the area yesterday, about ten miles from here.  Three people broke into a house, or maybe just one person while two others waited outside.  There was an exchange of gunfire.  The homeowner was injured, the home invader was killed.  Turned out the home invader was a criminal out on bail awaiting sentencing; he had been arrested in a million-dollar meth lab bust in town last year.  (And, I would learn this morning, the home being invaded was also a meth lab.  So this wasn't an NRA success story of a homeowner defending herself from criminals; this was a criminal-vs.-criminal incident.)

I don't recall what I ate before I went to bed.  Chicken soup and some excellent red seedless grapes, I think.

I know I continued re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before bed. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had successfully snuck into the Ministry of Magic and had retrieved the locket of Salazar Slytherin from around Dolores Umbridge's neck.  They then fought their way out of the Ministry after first releasing a group of Muggle-born wizards awaiting hearings.  But their escape was fouled when the Death Eater Yaxley managed to tag along to their secret hideout at 12 Grimmauld Place, forcing them to go on the run.

And then I went to sleep.

I probably fell asleep around 1:30; old sleep patterns die hard, and I am only gradually changing over from a night shift pattern.

I don't know when the nightmare began.  Nor do I remember all the particulars.  But I remember this:  I was watching CNN in the evening.  Kyra Phillips was co-anchoring with another woman.  As in real life, she was pregnant, though in real life she is a morning anchor.  Someone in the Obama administration was stepping down, someone at a Rahm Emmanuel level.  They kept going over a biography of him, talking about how he was an outstanding athlete before getting into politics.  Then there was interference on the TV; the image broke up, there was static, and the image came back.  Then it happened again, only instead of coming back to the original image there was a shot onscreen as if a camera had been pointed in a random direction.  It showed an on-set monitor and some equipment in the picture - a camera and a light stand or something.  The monitor had a test pattern on it, but the picture was distorted, and the colors were screwed up, so the test pattern was just shades of pink and magenta.  And I heard Kyra Phillips talking off-camera, apologizing to viewers, explaining that they didn't know exactly what was happening, and suddenly she segued into the most godawful scream I have ever heard.  This was the scream of someone being murdered, of someone pleading for her life, and her baby's life, and of someone watching in Lovecraftian horror as all of reality suddenly transforms itself before their eyes, and everything they have ever believed to be real turns out to be a shallow myth, and every fear they have ever heard turns out to be a pale echo of reality.  It was a scream of horror, and terror, and despair, and agony, and I'm pretty sure I woke up after that.

Of course, nothing was happening onscreen for me as this happened.  I don't know if that made it worse.

I don't know if the next bit was attached, or if it was something I retconned in after I managed to get back to sleep, but I remember seeing footage of two people wearing headsets sitting at a control board turning to a camera, the image still distorted and color shifted, and silently shrugging in a "we have no idea what the hell is going on" gesture.  One of them was a skinny man with a beard and moustache, blond, I think, though how I could tell that when everything was shades of pink and magenta I don't know.

Anyway.  When I woke up I seriously thought about just heading across town to check on my mom, or at least calling her.  I checked the clock.  It was 2:45.  I decided to go back to sleep.  After a while, somehow, I managed it.

The other dream - which I only just remembered - was more placid, though more vague.  It was in a dreamscape I think of as "dream Nanticoke," which is like regular Nanticoke but with slightly steeper terrain.  There was a festival of some sort going on downtown, and my father was taking some of us down to it.  I think I was about 14 in the dream.  I don't remember much else, just wandering around through various places.  I know I've dreamed of this place before; there was a dream about using a bathroom in an ornate version of the post office downtown, and another about a limited edition Boba Fett action figure available in a store, and another about magazine shops downtown, and still another about magazine shops on the other end of town.  (I remember when I would walk Haley in those parts of town back in 2004 and 2005, I would sometimes look at houses and try to imagine them as the magazine shops I had dreamed of.)

So, anyway, that's that.  Make of it what you will.  Now maybe I can forget that dream, and that scream.

...Or not.  I saw this a while ago on the article "The 5 Creepiest Unexplained Broadcasts."  After the dream I couldn't get this out of my head, though in tone and content this doesn't compare.  Stil, you may want to heed the warning given by author Evan Kasindorf: "Want to sleep tonight? Then you probably shouldn't watch this:"

You were warned.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

One man's pork...

In the last Congressional election the term "earmark" was thrown around as a dirty word.  Pork-barrel spending - or, more simply, pork.  Money that is grabbed by one member of Congress to support some special project in his or her home district.  Those old-timers, the multi-term incumbents, were masters of pork-barrel spending.  The new generation that kicked them out of office pledged to do away with these earmarks.


Congress Slashes Funding for Critical River Gauges -
Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County - Local officials are warning of potentially dangerous cuts by Congress as lawmakers slash river gauge funding.

River gauge funding for the flood-prone Susquehanna was, for lack of a better term, sent down the river by Congress. River Basin Commission execs reported Thursday a couple million dollars earmarked for the maintenance of the gauges was sunk, with the Republican-controlled Congress pledging it’s done with pork barrel spending.

Luzerne County Emergency Management Director Steve Bekhanich says can the politics. “In my opinion, there should be no politics associated with this. It's a very important system,” he tells Eyewitness News.

The gauges are relied on heavily in accurately predicting the timing of river rises. Real-time data is used in planning the next move, whether it be to evacuate tens of thousands of people, or to wait it out.

In the Agnes flood of '72 there was no such thing. River gauges were years away. Almost 40 years ago, some fled only after a hearing the river had burst through the levee.

Does a fight in D.C., cut out a potentially life-saving program? “If we don't have that real-time data coming in to us, it is going to impact our ability to give as much advanced lead time,” asks Bekhanich.

In his first visit back to the district, Congressman Lou Barletta reacted to news this program had been chopped and what can be done about it.

Barletta says he believes funding for the river gauges could be available through other programs. He pledged to get to work on finding a solution to the problem from his new post in Washington, DC.

System of river gauges imperiled | The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre PA

River and stream gauges along the river and its tributaries may be phased out if continued funding is not included in the federal 2011 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, according to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Gauges provide real-time information used to forecast river and stream depths and provide advance notice of impending floods.

Funding for gauges has been threatened in prior years but persistence by former U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke, kept the money in the federal budget.

This time around, there appears to be a worried concern by Jim Brozena, executive director of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority, and Steve Bekanich, county emergency management coordinator.

“This year seems a little more critical than in prior years,” Brozena said. “Money has always been earmarked in the past. All of a sudden, Washington (D.C.) is making a stance that there wasn’t going to be any earmarks at all.”

Congress Eliminates Funding For Susquehanna Flood Warning System - PA Environment Digest
...The System provides the National Weather Service the critically important data necessary to issue flood warnings. The System is extremely cost-effective, providing a 20-to-1 benefit-cost ratio; for every dollar invested by the federal government, the System saves $20 through reduced flood damages and reduced payouts through the federal flood insurance program.

Of particular concern is the potential loss of data critical for providing timely and accurate flood forecasts. The System uses radar and a network of stream and rain gages to provide the data that are used to forecast river levels and issue more accurate early flood warnings.

...It is not a question of whether flooding will again occur in the Susquehanna River Basin, but rather when it will occur and how severe it will be. I pray it will not take the devastation of another flood event for us to once again learn the wisdom of the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

In 1972 Tropical Storm Agnes wreaked devastation along the Susquehanna River, particularly in Luzerne County, in Wilkes-Barre and Kingston and Forty Fort and Shickshinny.  It did this in a very sneaky way:  it sat over upstate New York and dumped rain into the headwaters of the Susquehanna.  So the flooding event was not the result of local rainfall, but rather the result of rainfall a hundred miles to the north.  The flooding rolled down the river and smashed through the sandbags that had been so carefully placed to raise flood protection by a few feet at least.  The Wyoming Valley became a broad river basin, with the river stretching from mountain to mountain with little regard for the cities and townships between.  Longtime Congressman Dan Flood proved his worth as the master of porkbarrel spending, bringing in federal funds to rebuild the region and raise the levees to provide protection from another Agnes-level disaster.  The levee-raising project was not completed until during the Clinton administration, when Congressman Paul Kanjorski was already establishing himself as Flood's successor in many things, including the ability to bring home the pork.

But now, thanks to a wave of anti-incumbency, Paul Kanjorski is out and Lou Barletta is in.  Will freshman Congressman Barletta be able to stand against his fellow Republicans who staunchly oppose any earmarks of any kind?  Or will the Susquehanna river gauges fall victim to a lame-brained application of idiotic ideology?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Pennsylvania oil and gas companies: Feel free to pollute (unless you plan to pollute)

The Republican salvation of Pennsylvania has begun.  Clean-water enthusiast Don Williams brought this bit of news to light on his blog this morning:

Session of 2011



Amending the act of June 22, 1937 (P.L.1987, No.394), entitled, as amended, "An act to preserve and improve the purity of the waters of the Commonwealth for the protection of public health, animal and aquatic life, and for industrial consumption, and recreation; empowering and directing the creation of indebtedness or the issuing of non-debt revenue bonds by political subdivisions to provide works to abate pollution; providing protection of water supply and water quality; providing for the jurisdiction of courts in the enforcement thereof; providing additional remedies for abating pollution of waters; imposing certain penalties; repealing certain acts; regulating discharges of sewage and industrial wastes; regulating the operation of mines and regulating the impact of mining upon water quality, supply and quantity; placing responsibilities upon landowners and land occupiers and to maintain primary jurisdiction over surface coal mining in Pennsylvania," in domestic water supplies, providing for permits relating to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:

Section 1. The act of June 22, 1937 (P.L.1987, No.394), known as The Clean Streams Law, is amended by adding a section to read:

Section 504. Permits relating to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.--Except as otherwise provided under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (62 Stat. 1155, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq.) or Federal regulation, the department shall not require, consistent with section 402(l)(2) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (62 Stat. 1155, 33 U.S.C. § 1342(l)(2)), a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for a storm water discharge associated with construction activity for oil and gas construction activity, unless the oil and gas construction activity contributes to a violation of water quality standards.

Section 2. This act shall take effect in 60 days.

If you live in Pennsylvania, or downstream from Pennsylvania (Maryland, Virginia, and anyone who cares about the Chesapeake Bay, I'm looking at you,) this is definitely something that should concern you.   Any time anyone feels the need to carve out exemptions to an Act that begins with the words "An act to preserve and improve the purity of the waters of the Commonwealth for the protection of public health, animal and aquatic life, and for industrial consumption, and recreation," you should be concerned. Read Don's post for more reasons why.

Now, I'm no lawyer, but I am intrigued by the linguistic niceties presented in the amended section:
Except as otherwise provided under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (62 Stat. 1155, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq.) or Federal regulation,
OK.  What does this bit mean?  We would have to consult the details of the cited act to see what is required and what is exempted.  As stated in the proposed amendment, "62 Stat. 1155, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq." refers to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, a.k.a. the Clean Water Act.

United States Code: Title 33,1251. Congressional declaration of goals and policy LII / Legal Information Institute
the department shall not require, consistent with section 402(l)(2) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (62 Stat. 1155, 33 U.S.C. § 1342(l)(2)), a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for a storm water discharge associated with construction activity for oil and gas construction activity,
unless the oil and gas construction activity contributes to a violation of water quality standards.
Wait.  What?

Let me get this straight.  Consistent with the Clean Water Act, except as otherwise provided by the Clean Water Act, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection shall not require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for a storm water discharge associated with construction activity for oil and gas construction activity, unless the oil and gas construction activity contributes to a violation of water quality standards?

Smashing.  Why don't we simplify matters entirely, and extend this exemption to all industries?  So you only need to get the permit if you are actively generating pollution?

Well.  Sounds all nice and reasonable, doesn't it?   Actually, it sounds like a big, wide-open loophole.

I recently read a friend's post about domestic abuse, how his mother was given a heads-up when his abusive stepfather was released from the veteran's hospital and was on his way back to their home intent on settling the score with her.  She called the police, who told her not to bother them unless he was actually there.  She barricaded all the entrances to the house in a way that should have made entry impossible.  He arrived at their house; she called the police; he tried to get in, was thwarted by her barricades; and, filled with frustrated rage, he forced his way in by an almost superhuman effort and proceeded to beat the crap out of her worse than he had ever done before.

Then the police showed up.

If you're a gas or oil extraction company, come to Pennsylvania!  We promise not to harass you with any of those pesky clean-water regulations.  Unless you plan to pollute, of course.  But if you are, you'll be sure to let us know, right?  'Cause then we'll need you to fill out a couple of forms.