Welcome to the blog of Daniel Walmer, a staff reporter with the Press And Journal. Prior to joining the Journal’s award-winning team in July 2012, I covered municipal government extensively as a freelance reporter for other newspapers in the area. I also interned at the Journal during my college days in 2009, and graduated summa cum laude from Lebanon Valley College with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2010. My blogging interests include politics, Philadelphia sports, and anything else on which I have an opinion worth reading. I once wrestled an alligator and a tiger underwater during a hurricane and emerged with minor scratches. Sorry, that was actually Chuck Norris—I often get the two of us confused.
Okay, I wrote a mushy, sentimental blog post about Thanksgiving, so I have to balance it out with a nerdy one. Here are some interesting facts about the history of American Thanksgiving, from 1620 to today:
*In 1620, a group of English Brownist dissenters – that is, followers of Robert Browne, an Anglican priest who separated from the Church of England to follow puritan doctrine – fled England to Holland for religious reasons and then worked a deal with English investors to come to the United States.
*About the most impressive thing that could be said about the group was that it survived a variety of mishaps: they faced a difficult sea voyage, part of the ship got damaged, they arrived without a patent, and all but 47 colonists died of disease in the first winter.
*Apparently some harvest celebration was held in fall of 1621, featuring deer and seafood for meat and such vegetables as onions, lettuce and carrots. They probably did have pumpkin, so who says there’s no truth in tradition?
*The Pilgrims’ peril didn’t end there. The years that followed featured additional hardships and droughts, and also other “First Thanksgivings.”
*If you want to waste time caring about such things, there even a movement to make a Spanish feast in St. Augustine, Florida be named the first Thanksgiving.
*George Washington began the tradition of a government-acknowledged holiday of Thanksgiving “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.”
*There was significant wrangling about the date of Thanksgiving over the years – apparently the states couldn’t get their act together. President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day in 1863 in an attempt to provide unity that was otherwise lacking between the states (the Civil War didn’t end until 1865, so the move had questionable success, I suppose).
*Oddly, that didn’t settle the issue. For reasons that escape me, retailers during the Great Depression thought moving it up a few days from the last Thursday to the fourth Thursday would significantly increase Christmas sales. President Roosevelt agreed, but his 1939 decision to move the holiday became a political hot potato until Congress backed up Roosevelt’s decision in 1941.
*Thanksgiving is alive and well today: The National Turkey Association (you knew they existed, right?) claims Americans eat 690 pounds of Turkey each Thanksgiving – the equivalent of the entire human population of Singapore.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays - not because of the food and football, but because of the importance of giving thanks.
Okay, that was sort of bullcrap. The main reason I like Thanksgiving is the food (I didn’t attain my physical appearance by refraining from good grub). But I also like giving thanks.
Normally, I’m not one to write overly sentimental blog posts, and I know some of you are already rolling your eyes. Still, I think being thankful is important as a mental discipline, something you intentionally practice like lifting weights or learning a language. Of course, the feeling of thankfulness will come and go, but you can train your mind to focus on the good instead of the bad. I find it works marvelously for alleviating depression, irritability, and anxiety.
Some will object that they have nothing to be thankful for, to which I simply respond: you’re wrong. I don’t know whether your circumstances or better or worse than mine, but here’s a few of the things I’m thankful for - God, for his love for me and for blessing my life; my family and friends, for loving me; food and clothing; my job; heating and air conditioning; cheese and bacon (deserving of explicit mention in the food universe); music; computers; my car; automatic can openers; and I could go on.
I could complain instead, and I sometimes do. But with Thanksgiving coming up soon, I think I’ll look on the positive side for now.
The death toll in the Philippines from Typhoon Haiyan is horrific in the truest sense of the word: it could reach 10,000, according to some reports.
Such unspeakable disasters always raise questions of God and justice – and, interestingly, this typhoon seems to have sparked diametrically opposed reactions.
Atheist Sam Harris was quick to tell CNN that the typhoon is further proof that God doesn’t exist or isn’t powerful: if he could have stopped the typhoon, he would have, Harris argues.
On the other hand, CNN also reported that Philippines residents have been flocking to Catholic churches – Catholicism is the predominant religion in the Philippines - in the wake of the tragedy, both for spiritual solace and for assistance for physical needs. One Philippines resident went so far as to call the disaster God’s punishment.
In my opinion, both the atheist blaming God for the tragedy and the theist calling it God’s punishment are shirking human responsibility for bad things that happen.
The existence of hurricanes isn’t itself the main tragedy. The tragedy is that people in a hurricane-prone region lacked the means to properly prepare for a hurricane or to recover from such an event, thanks to years of local government ineffectiveness and apathy from richer foreign countries that could have helped. If some wince at crediting God for human achievement, we should certainly not blame God for human failure.
Or, to put it another way: if we’re going to ask why bad things happen to good people, we ought also to ask why good things happen to bad people and people affected by bad people.
Why, despite the evil and corruption that abounds all levels of government, all walks of life, all religious and political persuasions, are we so often spared disaster and provided with what we need to make it through the day? Why do we have so many blessings to be thankful for? Why do so many survive wars of human design - why does humanity still live despite our preference to chose revenge over forgiveness?
I can’t completely explain why God lets bad things happen, but given the clearly corrupt and hurtful thought processes that infect human minds, I don’t want God to act in the way people would want or expect him to act. A God who is worth the name - and worth putting hope in – would rarely act, I think, in ways that people would understand.
Of course, there is a good side of humanity, and we’re seeing it in the wake of the Philippines disaster: you can find many religious and non-religious organizations to which you can donate here.
Where is God in the Philippines earthquake? I see Him in the hand of fellow man finally reaching out to help those we’ve neglected for too long - part the complex human journey to finally acting more like the God in whose image we were created.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the negativity of politics – but when recently attending a Civil War Ball fundraiser to benefit the Middletown Public Library, I had an epiphany that made me think of local politicians of all stripes in a positive light. I was struck by one fact in particular: although the ball was lightly attended, those who came to support it cut across the political spectrum, including people often thought to be part of particular cliques in Middletown that don’t always like each other.
Watching them smile and dance with one another, the epiphany came: although they may disagree on policy, the people active in borough politics have more in common with each other than they do with most residents. The average person might grumble when taxes are raised or services are cut but normally ignores town business. These people, on the other hand, are dedicated to making the town a better place, even when doing so is tedious and time-consuming.
The sorry condition of state and national politics, in which legislatures award themselves pay raises and cushy retirement packages, can cause us to forget that civic involvement is ultimately supposed to be about service. At the local level, there are no cushy salaries: the token meeting stipends hardly compensate for the time spent pouring over financial data, attending ribbon cuttings and sitting through endless legal briefings.
It’s a remarkable testimony to the civic-minded nature of Middletown’s residents that 17 people ran for borough council in the primary election, and all five council seats – plus the mayor’s seat – feature contested races in this November’s general election.
This doesn’t mean – as anyone who has even casually followed Middletown politics over the past five years or so knows well - the candidates won’t disagree, that those disagreements won’t sometimes turn ugly, and that elected officials won’t do things they shouldn’t do.
But when you go to vote this November, root hard for your favorite candidate, but also be thankful for the other candidates who are willing to sacrifice their time to serve the community.
Hopefully, the losers will continue to find ways to help make Middletown a better place.
Last December, I wrote an article for the Press And Journal about two Middletown Area High School students that were helping Harrisburg Homeless Ministry, a group of volunteers that feeds, clothes and befriends the city’s most disadvantaged residents.
They’re not asking for any help from the government; they just want to be left alone to help those that society has failed.
Yet apparently that’s too much to ask. Dauphin County is looking to put a stop to the practice, putting up “no loitering” signs at common gathering places on the Susquehanna Riverfront in Harrisburg and telling the homeless to find some other place to fill their hungry bellies.
“They're kind of entrapping us because they don't have a solution and we don't know what to do,” Liesa Burwell-Perry, outreach coordinator for Harrisburg Homeless Ministry, told the Patriot-News.
Dauphin County Deputy Chief Clerk Scott Burford justified the move by saying that incidents of public urination and heckling have occurred - incidents that had could have been dealt with individually, like any other crime, rather than further unprivileging all of an already unprivileged class.
Burford told the Patriot-News that the county would try to find an alternate spot for the homeless to gather. But frankly, that sounds like an afterthought, and in the meantime, the homeless may lose out as organizations like Harrisburg Homeless Ministry and Bethesda Mission ponder their options.
The real motivation behind the county’s moves are probably summed up in the following quote from Burford: “I don't know that arrests are a good solution for us. We've asked for the least invasive measures, and that's asking them to move on.”
That’s right. Dauphin County and the City of Harrisburg would prefer not to deal with the real problems that have cause explosive increases in homeless rates in the past few years, problems that governments helped to create. They would prefer not to have to go through the difficult work of finding real solutions. They want the people they see as problems to “move on.”
Such moves by cities to forbid the feeding of the hungry have been frighteningly commonplace in recent years, and should outrage both the left and the right.
Liberals who express outrage over a flawed American society blinded by the shiny veneer of crony capitalism should see this as a ripe target for their criticism - even if it’s promoted by “city planners” who are Democrats.
As for conservatives, those who criticize gay rights by bringing up the Biblical example of Sodom should remember why the Bible really said that God pronounced judgment upon that city: “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49b).
A society that tells its homeless to “move on” rather than helping them simply does not have a moral leg to stand on.
It’s a lesson that my father taught me, whether it comes to running a government or a business or simply deciding where the family should go for lunch: it doesn’t just matter what happens, it matters how it happens; when the proper processes aren’t followed, things get out of whack.
I think most politicians genuinely believe they are doing the right things, but power is a dangerous elixir. That’s why most government leaders from local borough councilors to United States presidents try to consolidate power. Just trust us, they tend to say - citizens and other agencies don’t need to know what we’re doing. But don’t worry, it’s for your own good; if the results are satisfactory, you shouldn’t complain. Before you know it, power has been consolidated, and the general population has no recourse to have their concerns addressed.
That’s why I applaud President Barack Obama’s recent decision to ask for congressional approval before launching missile strikes into Syria in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons (although Obama’s statement that he would strike Syria even if Congress disapproved was less welcome). There are arguments to be made for and against the move, and now the emerging possibility of a diplomatic solution - but, either way, Congress should ultimately make the decision for any military strike to take place.
The United States Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war - that is, to oppose another sovereign nation with force. Everyone knows the United States has fought many wars over the last few decades, yet we have not “declared war” since World War II, a symptom of a steady erosion of Congress’s rightful role in foreign policy, brought about by power consolidation from presidents of both parties.
Congress should not shirk its responsibility to decide policy for non-emergency military conflict simply by not using the phrase “declaring war.” Yet when Obama announced that he would seek Congressional approval for the strike on Syria, some people in Congress itself curiously resisted the idea. Representative Peter King (R-NY), for instance, actually criticized Obama for seeking congressional approval. Referencing Obama’s comment that the use of chemical weapons would be a redline requiring U.S. military action, he said, “the president doesn't need 535 Members of Congress to enforce his own redline.”
Yes, he does, Mr. King - that’s why the 535 of you are there. The presidency is not a policy-making dictatorship; the decision to set policy, both domestic and foreign, lies primarily with the legislature, the branch of government that is closest to the people.
The decision on whether or not to launch a missile strike against Syria is an important one with weighty consequences. But Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for the strike may have a greater, more positive legacy of restoring Congress’s rightful place in American foreign policy.
New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera plans to retire at the end of 2013 as the best relief pitcher - and in the discussion for greatest pitcher - in the history of baseball. The man with the two-seam fastball has recorded 643 saves (a major league record) and an eye-popping 2.22 career earned run average. He has many off-field admirers as well, as he is famous for his professionalism and his devout Christian faith.
The Rivera story got me to thinking: what are the best athletes that have performed in my lifetime (so no Babe Ruth or Wilt Chamberlain here)? Rivera probably has to top the baseball list, since most of the other great players of my lifetime have been tainted with steroids in one way or another. I only have faint memories of Michael Jordan, but I’m certainly enjoying Lebron James right now as something pretty special. Jamaican track star Usain Bolt also has to be seriously considered on the list - he’s won international sprint competition with margins of victory that I never thought possible.
Thinking about the best athlete ever on the teams I root for (Philadelphia sports), I’m torn between three players that all were both great in their own right and were central to leading their team to at least a conference title: the Eagles’ Brian Dawkins, the Phillies’ Chase Utley, and the Sixers’ Allen Iverson.
Dawkins anchored the NFC’s greatest early 2000s defense with his Hall-of-Fame-caliber play at free safety as well as his fiery demeanor and team leadership. Utley is the ultimate five-tool baseball player, and also one of the smartest athletes you’ll ever see.
But I think the best Philadelphia athlete of my lifetime has to go to Sixers guard Allen Iverson. A born scorer, Iverson once led the Sixers to a conference title with a team that consisted of himself, Dikembe Mutombo, and what might as well have been the Intramural Basketball Club of the St. Ignatius Society of Royal Monks. Many people never gave him the credit he deserved because of the lack of talent around him and his at-times difficult personality.
Who do you think is the best athlete you've ever seen?
I’m not talking just the arbitrary sanctions leveled against Penn State last year in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal through no other authority than the tidal wave of hysterical public opinion sweeping against the university. That was an abuse of power, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s obsessive attempts to control it’s athletes lives – particularly football players - for the “privilege” of playing a very dangerous sport for free to make millions of dollars for the NCAA schools has reached the point where it’s simply taking advantage of young men.
Take the latest “scandal” we’re supposed to be shocked about: Reigning Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M is being investigated for selling autographed memorabilia, and could be suspended for all of next season.
Let’s cut through all the crap about college football being about students first and athletes second: college football is minor league football, period. The National Football League has an arbitrary requirement that players must be out of high school for three seasons to be eligible for the draft, a requirement clearly designed to make players play college football, as there are no other viable post-high school options.
Most of the colleges, meanwhile, don’t think of football players as students, they think of them as athletes. Bringing in a solid football class is a huge moneymaker to big schools, and most of them could care less about those players’ academic interests.
I’m not arguing here for paying college football players (although it would not bother me if they did). But the NCAA takes things a step further by telling players like Johnny Manziel they can’t even in their own private lives make money off themselves (by selling merchandise, etc). This is indentured servanthood at its finest: we’ll house you and feed you to make money for us, but don’t you dare go thinking you have any personal freedom.
Some will argue, of course, that the whole system is wrong; the culture that obsesses over college athletes is unhealthy. Perhaps they’re right - perhaps we should separate college from football and create professional minor league football farm teams. But if we do, colleges will lose the revenue, so don’t complain about your son or daughter not getting the soccer, golf, or even academic scholarship for which the football program was paying.
To top it off, I heard one ESPN analyst reflect on this possibility: if the Manziel investigation goes on into the football season, and Texas A&M plays him, they could later be required to forfeit games in which he played.
The team would be penalized games because a player, without their encouragement, broke NCAA regulations, and then they played him while the NCAA indicated he was still eligible. That would be as bad as the post-season ban levied on Ohio State for the 2012 season because since-fired coach Jim Tressel had the crazy notion that players should be able to sell their own stuff.
When the Penn State sanctions hit and fans of other programs squealed with glee, I thought: just remember that what goes around, comes around. Now it might be Texas A&M’s turn to face the crazy whirling machine that is the NCAA’s power trip.
The increasing cost of college, particularly private college, has been in the news recently as two events occurred nearly simultaneously: U.S. student debt reached $1 trillion, and Congress failed to meet its July 1 deadline for setting student loan interest rates, causing rates to double (it appears that a bipartisan deal to reduce rates has now been reached).
This is yet more evidence that it’s time for us as a country to seriously rethink parts of the one-size-fits-all American Dream. There’s no reason that everybody should own a house, for instance, depending on his or her particular situation. And there’s no reason everybody should get a college degree.
I’ve heard all the arguments about the value of college for everyone: a liberal arts education better prepares you to be an adult, living away from home introduces students to the real world, and college graduates, on average, make more money. But the arguments are more chimera than fact.
Certainly some people are best suited for a college degree. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, you have to go to college, somewhere. But the really important thing is that you get the training you need for your job, not that you get a liberal arts education.
As often as it’s repeated, I’m just not sure that getting a college education would make anyone a more well-rounded person. In my experience, people who didn’t attend college are as well-adjusted to society as people who have that fancy diploma. As the proud owner of a bachelor of arts degree in English and thousands of dollars of student debt, I can confidently say that studying the sexual tensions in Moby Dick did not make me a better person or a better journalist.
Certainly living away from home can teach valuable life lessons. But working and living in an apartment is far more “real world” than attending college and living in the artificial dorm environment. Again, there’s nothing college is offering here that the real world can’t offer.
Finally, there’s the money. College graduates do earn more on average than non-college graduates, but that number is skewed by the minimum wage earners who lack the ability, ambition, or opportunity to learn a trade. If, on the other hand, you plan to be an electrician, plumber or dental hygienist - or a stenographer, surveyor, hair stylist, nurse, or secretary - you need some schooling, but it almost certainly doesn’t make economic sense to pursue a college degree. And many of the jobs that are often thought of as requiring a college degree (including mine, as a journalist) probably shouldn’t: if you know how to do the skills, schooling shouldn’t affect your employment.
Also, the increased wage argument ignores the reality of debt. According to the Project on Student Debt, two-thirds of college students graduate with debt. Their average debt: $27,500 - not exactly the way you would recommend a 21-year-old starting out in life. Even if college graduates make a little more money, and even if the “full college experience” is worth something to a person’s well-being, is it worth $27,500 in debt?
The advantages of going to a private college are even more minimal. Public schools offer just as good an education for a much cheaper cost than their private counterparts.
Certainly, government has to do something to help alleviate the mountain of unpayable debt we’re piling on our young. And yet, I hesitate to have tax dollars fund student aid - especially for students who don’t come from poor families, and especially for private colleges – and prop up this ridiculous system that increases tuition well beyond inflation each year.
Perhaps less government aid would mean less students going to college. And perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.
I’m not saying no one should go to college - it’s certainly the right move for many, many people - but it’s time we retired the one-size-fits-all American Dream. There’s no shame in not going to college if you have a responsible career.
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of fire-breathing, aneurism-causing opinions on George Zimmerman’s killing of Treyvon Martin by this point, so I won’t offer another one. But if you’ll indulge me for a few seconds, I’d like to cut through the hysteria and offer a few calmer thoughts about what actually happened that night in Florida:
*George Zimmerman was Hispanic, not white non-Hispanic, not “self-proclaimed” Hispanic or “half” Hispanic. He registered to vote as a Hispanic. He was Hispanic. Hispanic-Black animosity has been an increasingly big problem in the United States in recent years, and this case is an example of that.
*Zimmerman, an overly-zealous neighborhood watch captain, reported Martin to the police with the explicit reasoning that he was “suspicious” and appeared to be on drugs (Martin was, in fact, high on marijuana when the incident occurred). In all honestly, Zimmerman probably did racially profile Martin, especially since two black men had burglarized a house in the neighborhood less then three weeks previously.
*Zimmerman was told not to follow Martin by the police.
*Nobody but Zimmerman knows exactly what happened next. Based on the evidence presented at trial, what probably happened was this: Zimmerman followed Martin with a gun. Martin was scared-it was late at night, and a crazy man was following him-so he attacked Zimmerman in an attempt to take him by surprise, and succeeded in getting on top in the fight. Zimmerman was now overpowered and scared, and fatally shot Martin.
*If that set of facts is true:
-Zimmerman is not a murderer in the common sense of the word (to take another’s life out of malice toward that individual). I doubt that he intended to kill Treyvon; he probably had delusions of being a Defender of Justice who would make a citizen’s arrest to prevent Martin from getting away.
-Zimmerman is still morally (and should be in some way legally) responsible for Martin’s death. There’s a reason why we let trained police - flawed as they can be at times - handle law-enforcement confrontations rather than untrained gun-toting wannabe sheriffs who’ve watched one too many westerns. Tragedies like this happen when people take the law into their own hands, and Zimmerman should have known better.
*The race riots and alleged acts of criminal violence that have occurred since Zimmerman’s “not guilty” verdict are beyond preposterous. The verdict resulted from a horribly bungled prosecution that overcharged Zimmerman with murder and then failed to produce the evidence to back up their charge, controversial self-defense laws in Florida, and the randomness of a particular jury. A random Mississippi jogger (just to pick one example) has nothing to do with that.
*There is a lesson to be learned from this tragedy, but I think it has less to do with the evils of racial profiling than the insanity of becoming a self-appointed Justice League hero with a gun as your superpower. When you bring a gun to a confrontation that you provoked, and the gun goes off, you bear the lion’s share of the blame.
You’re not freaking Batman, fellow George Zimmermans. Get a grip.