Friday, September 23, 2011

Thugs to bloggers: "Watch what you say online!"

In Mexico last week, two bloggers who spoke out online against drug cartel activity were found hanging from a pedestrian bridge over a highway after having been tortured and beaten to death. (The cause of death of the female blogger may have been her disembowelment.) You can read the details - and see the chilling image as it was seen by drivers - here.

In Pennsylvania, for now, the thugs are content with suing people who speak out online into bankruptcy.

The suit, filed by Texas-based Chief Gathering LLC, is "seeking close to $20 million in damages from three families the company claims interfered in the project without grounds and damaged the company’s reputation in the community."

Now, I don't know about you, but to me, few things will damage a company's reputation in a community more than the knowledge that if members of the community say the wrong thing, they will find themselves sued for a preposterously enormous sum.

From the linked article:
Suit cites Facebook

Chief bases that assertion on posts the defendants made on the Facebook page of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, a group of local citizens opposed to natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale as it is currently occurring.

“I understand that Darling Farms signed a lease with Chief recently and that other residents of Hildebrandt Road are now being approached by Chief,” one post allegedly made by Dickson in July reads. “Please, if anyone has heard anything, let us know so we can plan to fight and also try and figure out their revised plans!”
What Chief Gathering LLC is doing is called a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP.  It's an old technique, much-beloved by corporate thugs. In it, a corporation decides to make an example of some person or group that has been a thorn in their side. So, using the massive financial assets at their disposal, they bring a suit for an outrageous sum (say, twenty million dollars) against the person or group. Generally this is a sum that far exceeds any actual damage, but, more importantly, far exceeds the assets available to the defendants. The defendants are faced with two options: surrender, or fight. If they choose to surrender - and if the corporation chooses to accept the surrender - then they have been defeated; but if they choose to fight, even in a case where the suit against them is so outrageous that the prosecution has no reasonable chance of winning, the defendants immediately begin incurring legal costs that will quickly mount to levels that again exceed the assets available to the defendants.

Sometimes corporations will pursue SLAPPs just to the point that they have bankrupted the defendants; sometimes they will follow through all the way. Sometimes the case will go to court and the corporation will lose, and will be ordered to pay all legal costs incurred by the defense. And the corporation will agree, and drag it heels interminably, using legal argument after legal argument to justify the delay in rendering payment. And sometimes they will appeal the decision, possibly incurring further costs for the defendant but in any case leaving the defendant in a penurious state until such time as a final decision is made and payment is rendered - if any is forthcoming at all.

This won't end here. Chief Gathering LLC isn't the only gas-drilling-related company to draw the ire, criticism, and opposition of members of the community. If these companies intend to sue everyone who has criticised them until the criticisms stop, they're in for a long, hard road. But make no mistake: these companies are not here with any intention of being good neighbors and good corporate citizens. Just like the drug cartels in Mexico, they're here to make money, and will destroy you if you stand in your way. They won't torture you, gut you, and leave you hanging from a bridge - not yet. But companies like Chief Gathering LLC will sue you into bankruptcy if you dare to speak out against them.

See also:


One of the most useful sites about blogging out there - at least as far as Blogger/Blogspot users are concerned - is The Real Blogger Status ( Every day they address the big issues and nitpicky little annoyances that bedevil Blogger users every day.

One issue that they've harped on for years is this: DO NOT DELETE YOUR BLOG. There is never really any reason to do this. If you're tired of blogging and don't want people to see what you've written in the past, it's a simple matter to shut down your blog in such a way that it's not visible to anyone but yourself. (And if, like so many people in the past, you forget your username and password, not even you!) As long as you do this your blog still exists, though it is inaccessible to the outside world.

But here's the important thing: as long as you do not delete your blog, and assuming no one has hacked your username and password, you will continue to have exclusive control over your blog address. If you delete your blog, after a certain period of time that blog address will become available to anyone else who wants to snatch it up.

Think about it. All the work you put into your blog, all the heart and soul and, occasionally, crappy poetry and embarrassing photos you poured into it will be gone in the touch of a key. And then all the online reputation and popularity that accrued to your blog can be hijacked by someone else when they claim your blog address.

AND: Anyone who was following your blog, and never bothered to unfollow it once you decided to turn it off, will now be following the usurper blog instead - and wondering what the hell is wrong with you, that you're suddenly posting whatever gibberish they decide to post on the address that used to belong to your blog.

I've seen it happen this week. Twice. It breaks my heart, knowing that this means that these blogs are truly dead. It's like when one of my favorite little shops closed its doors a few years ago: every once in a while I would drive past the vacant storefront and wonder if maybe they'd be moving back in. And then one day another business set up shop in the place and remodeled it, and I knew that they were truly gone for good.

So. If you want to - if you need to - shut down your blog, there are ways of doing it that will make sure no one else will be able to take over the address. But if you delete it, it's up for grabs, and soon may be gone for good.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lil (a fairy tale rewrite)

I recently saw "Sugar Bones," a presentation of a classic fairy tale adapted into a modern setting by poet and playwright Kait Burrier. Her dramatization has stuck with me, but it reminded me that I had never been satisfied with any version of that fairy tale that I had heard as a child. So I decided to rewrite it.

On the edge of the woods you'll find a path. Follow this path and you'll come to a branch, and another, and another. Some of these paths don't lead anywhere in particular. One leads to Grandma's house.

Nobody really knows who she is or how old she is or whose Grandma in particular she might be, but almost everyone calls her Grandma and she doesn't seem to mind. Many people have decided to leave her alone. Others take it upon themselves to visit her and take her the things she might need. She never comes in to town so it seems like she might need quite a few things. But this appears to not be the case.

Lil is a girl from the town. Not yet a woman, but no longer a child, she learned long ago the things she needs to do to live her life the way she wants to live. Some of those things she learned from in town. Some of them she learned from her visits to Grandma.

One fine day Lil had set out with a basket to take to Grandma's house. She rode out to the edge of the forest, but as always, her pony refused to go any further. She dismounted, unfastened her basket from the saddle, and sent the pony home. It would find its way there. It always did.

Finding her way to Grandma's would be more difficult for Lil. The forest was dense and full of shadows, and the branches in the paths were tricky. Sometimes, it seemed, you had to go this way to get to Grandma's, and sometimes you had to go that way. But in the end, Lil always found a way to get there.

Lil had followed the path for some ways when she became aware that something was ahead of her, something hidden in the shadows. She stopped and shouted a challenge. "Who is there? Show yourself!"

The thing in the shadows stirred, and then said in a growling voice, "What have you got in your basket, little girl?"

"That is none of your concern!" shouted Lil. "If you must know, it is a gift for Grandma. I am going to her house to deliver it to her. You would be unwise to hinder me!"

"Yessss," hissed the voice. "Is it something to eat? For I am very hungry."

"It is not for you," Lil stated, calmly. "It is for Grandma."

"Then perhaps Grandma will be more willing to share with me than you are," said the voice. There was a stirring in the shadows, and then it was gone.

Lil was unnerved by this. Brave though she was, she did not like being challenged by unknown voices that growled and hissed from the shadows. She pulled her red hooded cloak about herself and continued on her way to Grandma's, a bit more cautiously.

When she got to Grandma's house at last she saw that something was amiss. The front door was partially open in a way that Grandma would have never left it. One of the kitchen chairs was slightly out of place. And a fork was on the floor. No, Grandma would never leave her house like this.

Lil entered and moved warily through the house. She clutched her basket tightly and approached Grandma's bedroom.

"Grandma?" she called.

"Come in, my dear, come in," said a voice that was nothing like Grandma's.

Grandma's room was full of shadows. The curtains were tightly drawn, and the only light that entered the room came from behind Lil as she pushed the door open.

The thing in Grandma's bed was not Grandma.

"Come in, my dear, and show Grandma what you have brought."

Lil knew what would come next. She knew the words by heart, as if they were a ritual.

"My, Grandma," Lil said, "what big eyes you have."

The eyes stared at Lil out of the darkness, glowing dimly in the reflected light. "All the better to see you with, my dear."

Lil's own eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and she was able to pick out more details of the thing that was not Grandma.

"My, Grandma," she said, "what big ears you have." For indeed, the thing in the bed had big ears, long and pointed and sticking up at the sides of its head.

"All the better to hear you with, child." The thing on the bed moved its head slightly, and Lil got a glimpse of it from the side.

"My, Grandma," she said, her voice growing darker, "what a big nose you have."

"All the better to smell you with, love." The creature's voice was almost growing playful. Lil saw a tongue and a flash of teeth.

"My, Grandma," said Lil, knowing the ritual was at an end, "what big teeth you have."

The creature practically howled in triumph. "All the better to eat you with, my dear!"

It leaped out of the bed and knocked Lil to the ground. It was a wolf, big and strong and lean and hairy with four feet tipped with claws. The wolf pinned her to the ground and brought its face up very close to Lil's.

"Did you eat Grandma?" Lil asked.

"Not yet," replied the wolf.  "Old women are tough and stringy. I am very hungry, but I wanted to first enjoy something sweeter and more tender." It licked her cheek. "But before we begin the main course, why don't you tell me what is in the basket?"

"I already told you in the woods," Lil said. "It is not for you. It is for Grandma."

"Show me, child," growled the wolf. "Show me now, or I may do something rash."

"Very well," said Lil. "Grandma has been teaching me things. She has taught me how to bake." She removed a towel from the basket, and another, and another. "I have made a pie, and have brought it to Grandma so she may judge how well it was made."

The room filled with the aroma of savory meats baked into the pie. Steam rose from the basket as Lil removed the last towel.

"I believe it was made very well," said the wolf. "Give it to me!" it howled. "Give it to me now!!!"

And so Lil did.


On the edge of the woods you'll find a path. Follow this path and you'll come to a branch, and another, and another. Some of these paths don't lead anywhere in particular. One leads to Grandma's house.

Nobody really knows who she is or how old she is or whose Grandma in particular she might be, but almost everyone calls her Grandma and she doesn't seem to mind. Many people have decided to leave her alone. Others take it upon themselves to visit her and take her the things she might need. She never comes in to town so it seems like she might need quite a few things. But this appears to not be the case.

She does not live alone. In her house lives a young woman named Lil. She has learned many things from Grandma. She has learned how to bake. She has learned how to defend herself.

And they do not live alone, either. Their house is guarded by a shadowy creature. Some say it is a dog. Some say it is not. But whatever it is, it has a burn on its face, and a fondness for meat pies.  And you would be unwise to approach with ill intentions that might interfere with its supply.

As a child, the only grandma I identified with was my own, so it terrified me that she was eaten (or placed in danger of being eaten) in the story. And I felt bad for the wolf: he was just doing what came naturally to him to satisfy his hunger. Why should he be killed?

I've tried to imbue this story with a touch of the supernatural: Grandma is a proto-Blair Witch, feared and shunned by most of society, supported or at least appeased by others. Lil is her apprentice. And the wolf becomes a creature of the shadows, much like the time I saw a bear at night in the forest on the side of the road, illuminated by car headlights: my friend and I didn't see the bear so much as two emerald lights - its eyes - and a bear-shaped hole in space where we couldn't see the trees behind it. It was surreal.

Grandma is powerful - could this have all been a test for Lil? Lil, as her apprentice and student, is powerful, too, and not just in a supernatural sense - either of these women (well, I'm seeing Lil as about twelve or so) could kick your ass from one side of the room to the other. Did Grandma allow herself to be subdued, or did the wolf get the drop on her somehow? In the end I resort to a Vaudevillian slapstick solution to the danger posed by the wolf: a pie in the face. In this case a piping-hot meat pie, kept warm on the trip to Grandma's with layers of towels...well, magic towels or something.

And the wolf is not killed. It is broken, tamed, enslaved perhaps - kept subdued with meat pies, and the promise of more meat pies. Even villains have their use in the world. And sometimes the big bad wolf is just ravenously hungry.

UPDATE, 2/21/2012: Here's another take on this story:
To Grandmother's House by Cecil Castellucci

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Paul Krugman finally noticed!

You may have seen this Demotivational-style image floating around the Internet, with the usual lack of provenance or attribution. But rest assured: I created it!

Picture from Syriana, caption by me!
I first posted it here, just over thirteen months ago:

Paul Krugman has finally noticed it and posted it to his site!
So I'm sort-of Internet famous! Well, something I created is. Which has become completely decoupled from me. Oh, well.

Blogfest 2011 - Fall edition!

I've been blogging like a blogging fool over at NEPA Blogs this weekend, posting links to (among other things) four sites that I became aware of after the Bloggers' Roundtable this past Thursday. (I'm hoping there will be more, especially since I invited everyone in the audience to begin blogs of their own, which we would gladly list on NEPA Blogs!)

This past Wednesday Gort announced that the next gathering of regional bloggers will be at Rooney's in downtown Pittston this coming Friday, September 23 starting at 6:00 PM. See his post for complete details:

Gort42: Blogfest-2011 fall edition

Rooney's is in a part of Pittston that was above the water line, but much of Pittston and surrounding communities like Jenkins Township and West Pittston (like many other communities along the Susquehanna) was devastated by the flooding that resulted from Tropical Storm Lee. As with previous Blog Fests held at Rooney's, there will likely be a number of local and state politicians in attendance - though this is by no means a purely political event, nor is participation restricted to "political" bloggers. But this is a very good chance to meet with politicians (as well as bloggers!) face-to-face in an informal setting, and bend their ears with the concerns of constituents that might otherwise go unheard.

I have revised the logo for the Spring 2011 Blog Fest to reflect the season a bit. (The original logo was itself an attempt to recreate the look and feel of a logo from a gathering of "style" bloggers that was being held in New York City, a logo that someone had cropped and appropriated for use with the local blog event.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sitting around the table...

I'm going to be one of four bloggers participating in a roundtable discussion on Thursday night (tonight) in Scranton. If you're interested in blogging, are in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, and need to take a break from flood cleanup and recovery, why not stop by and see how it goes? Admission is free!

NEPA Blogs: NEPA Blogger's Roundtable

UPDATE: See here for follow-up. Video may be coming, too!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Are river crests getting higher?

The Susquehanna in Wilkes-Barre crested (that is, reached its highest level) during last week's flood at a height of 42 feet, eight inches - a new record. Are river crests getting higher, and is this a natural consequence of development and deforestation?

Prompted by the discovery by amateur historian Philip Lord of a photo tucked into an old book, I wrote this post that looked at the history of flooding in Wilkes-Barre from 1936 through 2010:

In that entry I included this tidbit:

From the Luzerne County Riverfront Project site:

Although numerous floods occurred in the Wyoming Valley, and some levees had been constructed to try to prevent wide-spread flooding, the valley was unprepared for the flood that struck on St. Patrick’s Day, 1936. That day the Susquehanna crested in Wilkes-Barre and Kingston at 33 feet, and flood waters flowed for miles across the Wyoming Valley.

The devastation wrought by the 1936 flood brought construction funding from Washington in the form of a valley-long, flood protection levee – at a flood stage of 36 feet. Subsequently, the Susquehanna River rose to flood stage in 1946, 1955, and 1964, with the levees providing substantial protection.
And all was well for thirty-six years until 1972, when Agnes rose above the level of the levees and broke thorough the sandbag dikes that had been built around it, reaching a crest just shy of 41 feet. Twenty-four years later there was again widespread flooding, but this flood served as the final kick to get the levees raised to a nominal height of 41 feet, plus three bonus feet. This project was completed ten years later, and was tested by Hurricane Ivan a few months later.

No other storm came close to overtopping the levees until on Labor Day 2011 and much of the week that followed the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped many inches of water onto lands already saturated by Irene a week and a half earlier. Lee then parked itself over upstate New York, like Agnes, and fed the headwaters of the Susquehanna until the levees were put to the test again with a crest of approximately 42 feet 8 inches. (I love the reports that quote this as "42.66 feet" - two decimal place accuracy from a system that had been off by about 7% just a few hours earlier, when the river gauge was overwhelmed by floodwater and reported a crest of just over 39 feet.)

I don't know if it's reasonable to expect to see a "worst flood" and then have every subsequent flood back off from there. But it seems like we're seeing once-in-a-century storms every 35-40 years or so. Had there ever been a 42 foot crest before 1936? Or are higher crests a result of some evolution of the ecosystem that is causing more water to be dumped into creeks and streams that feed the river?

I can think of two potential causes of increased runoff: deforestation, especially in mountainous areas (which will also serve to increase silting-up of creeks and streams), and removal of water-absorbing land surface area through construction and paving. Could these development activities be the cause of increased river crests during catastrophic floods? If so, we should not expect the levees - at 41 or 44 feet, as the case may be - to protect Wilkes-Barre, Kingston, and Forty-Fort next time, or the time after that, or any of the times after that.

Note: I posed this question to Don Williams, the Susquehanna River Sentinel, and he concurred, and dug out a letter to the editor that he submitted to a local paper eight years ago, a letter which he located only with tremendous difficulty. He has reproduced this letter (formatting marks included) in this entry.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years after

It's been ten years since the world changed forever. Ten years later, many on the Internet and in the blogosphere are remembering where they were on that horrible day, and what has happened since then.

I don't want to. I've been re-experiencing an aspect of 9/11 for several days now.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The water this time

In 1972 a storm named Agnes did a drunkard's walk from the Yucatan Peninsula, through the Gulf of Mexico, across the Florida panhandle and Georgia and both Carolinas, then into the Atlantic, where it turned and came back onto land through (well, near) New York City and parked itself over upstate New York, dumping many many gallons of rain into the headwaters of the Susquehanna, which carried those waters downstream, shattered the sandbag levees that had been built along its banks in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and utterly devastated the Wyoming Valley.

It was an enormous flood. Horrendous. It destroyed thousands of homes, caused billions of dollars in damage - in 1972 dollars. It was a once-in-a-century storm. A once-in-a-lifetime event.

The storm that pounded eastern and central Pennsylvania this week was worse.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Lessons we learned from the storm

(Or maybe, lessons we should have learned from the storm and didn't. The storm in question was Hurricane Irene, by the way.)

Saturday, September 03, 2011


333,333 official miles on my 1996 Toyota Tercel, registered around 11:50 last night while driving through Wilkes-Barre. Unofficially, there are about 2000 additional miles on it from when the speedometer cable rotted away and my miles weren't registering.

Original engine. Has had the brakes, spark plugs, windshield wiper blades, tires, and headlight bulbs replaced numerous times. Front axles and third brake light bulb replaced once. Exhaust system replaced - groan - three times, and each time I felt like I was getting ripped off.

Onward to 400,000!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The stages of looking for a new job, salary-wise

1. I hope I can find a job that pays as much as I think I'm worth.

2. I hope I can find a job that pays something close to the job I lost.

3. I hope I can find a job that pays more than unemployment.

4. I hope I can find a job that pays more than minimum wage.

5. I hope I can find a job that pays...anything.

6. I hope I can find a volunteer position somewhere.