Monday, April 29, 2013

Railfan? What’s That?

    I grew up close to a railroad crossing and if I remember correctly, the sound of a steam locomotive whistle blowing a long, long, short, long warning (Rule 14 L on most railroads described in rule books with these symbols  ——  ——  -  —— ) before crossing Main street was the first outside-the-house sound I heard. Little wonder then that as I became old enough to wander around on my own that I’d wind up in the railroad yard watching trains as their crews shifted cars replacing empty cars with new loaded cars for the town’s industries.

    I spent many happy hours there talking to the train crews and to the men who would be unloading the cars — sometimes sand for the molders in the foundry or pig iron ingots to be melted in that foundry and poured into molds creating some useful product.

    I didn’t question why I enjoyed being there. It seemed natural for a boy to enjoy these things. Years later I analyzed the attraction and found some parallels.  Even though trains were being pulled by diesel electric engines instead of steam locomotives beginning in the early 1950s, the display of sheer power was part of the fascination. But it was not only the power, it was the almost magical containment of that power — a dynamic equilibrium between latent inertia and kinetic motion.

    It can be fairly equated with dynamite and poetry. A stick of dynamite, slit lengthwise and set on fire would simply burn - fast, but still just burn. It would not explode. It’s the containment that gives it its explosive power. Once the container can no longer contain the expanding gases the expansion bursts forth instantaneously.

    And with poetry it is the containment of words, ordinary words, which properly measured and restrained acquire a power that the individual words do not possess if expressed in prose.

    With trains, try to imagine the sight and sound of 3 or 4 diesel locomotives each having approximately 4,000 horsepower moving a train of 100 or more cars at a speed of 50 miles per hour or more confined between two ribbons of steel.

    THAT is contained power.
    THAT is the dynamic equilibrium.
    THAT is the attraction.

    The word fan is probably a shortened form of the word fanatic as is often applied to describe someone with any strong interest in an activity. The word buff is sometimes used but that is usually reserved for a police or fire follower. Aficionado was used by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises to describe a person who had aficion or extreme devotion to the sport of bull fighting.

    Railfan is probably the best word to describe an enthusiast of railroad operations — the sights, the sounds, the smells. Among the sights are the wayside signals the engineers need to know the meanings of to proceed safely into the next stretch of track. Learning to read the signals was a most satisfying accomplishment. It helped me know what was likely to happen next.

    Signals have a default indication until just before a train will come past that signal. If you know the default indication and some other indication is displayed, it is safe to conclude that another train will soon be there. Add to that knowledge a radio scanner and you will have a handy tool to assist in the train watching experience.

    Another sight that was enjoyable but is rapidly disappearing in this age of ubiquitous graffiti artists is the often colorful slogans adopted by the various railroads for their railcars back when there were hundreds of individual railroad companies. Some of the more entertaining were: Better by a Dam Site, Chattahoochee Industrial Railroad (CIRR), Be Specific, Ship Union Pacific Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), Southern Gives A Green Light to Innovation Southern Railroad (SOU), The Sole Leather Line Wellsville, Addison and Galeton (WAG), The Bridge Line to New England and Canada Delaware and Hudson (D&H), The Road to Paradise Strasburg (SRR), The Nickel Plate Road New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (NYC&St.L aka NKP).

    These days, railroads are just as likely to lease their rolling stock from lessors such as RBOX for boxcars or TTX for container carriers or UTLX for tank cars. The days of catchy phrases and company sponsored artwork are gone. Why spend the money to adorn your own equipment if its going to be obliterated by graffiti?

    Graffiti or not it can still be an enjoyable break from the routine to sit by the tracks and anticipate the arrival of the next fast freight on its way from somewhere to somewhere else.

Manheim PA looking west

Manheim, PA looking east

Manheim, PA looking east from Oak street

Lebanon, PA at East street looking at "High Green" for a westbound on track 2

Lebanon, PA at 8th street looking west at Clear signals at CP Wall interlocking

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Martinis and Manhole Covers

    While trying to avoid excess wear and tear on my car’s tires and suspension system by straddling or steering around manhole covers it occurred to me that there’s a conspiracy between municipalities and auto repair facilities.

    I wondered about the term “manhole covers” and whether it was now politically incorrect to refer to those things as “manhole covers” and if so, what a more PC term would be. I seriously doubt that “womanhole covers” would be well received. Person hole covers? People hole covers?

    Since the “stuff” underground which needs to be accessed periodically can be any number of things — electric power lines,  water supply lines, communication lines, gas pipe lines, sewage or storm runoff — which are essentially utilities, why not call them “utility access covers”?

    Which brings up the question, “Why was there never some standard for where these car jolting disruptions of a street’s smooth surface were placed”? Obviously, the access must be near the utility being accessed but with no standard before the utility is placed under the street, the street surface can become a jolting experience to travel.

    Drive in a straight line and, invariably, one or the other of your wheels will hit an access cover. Drive a few more yards and there’ll be another cover under the other wheel. A few more yards and you’ll come upon another cover in still a different location. To straddle or steer around these obstacles would make the driver appear intoxicated with all the swerving.

    American Standards Association in 1966 adopted a “Safety Code and Requirements for Dry Martinis” (It‘s the bright-light-through-the-vermouth-bottle-from-a-specified-distance-for-a-specified-exposure-time method.) No such standards exist for the non-disruptive placement of manhole covers. A driver swerving to avoid hitting a no-longer-flush manhole cover could appear to have consumed too many martinis, standard or not.
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Friday, April 26, 2013


    The prayers for re-leaf from the Moors of Brecknock have been answered and the morbid moors have become a tantalizing dell. The long winter nakedness is now gradually dressing in the clothes of spring.

    Birds test the branches for this year’s new real estate and the hummingbirds and butterflies will soon unknowingly pick up their pollination supplies while nourishing their thirst for nectar.

    Frank Sinatra wonders where have all the springs and winters of a lifetime gone. Well one of those springs is right here in Brecknock with September well into the future.

    An uncountable number of gentle greens welcome the ravishing reds among the passionate pinks and amiable amethyst arbors.

    Could this be anything but foreplay for summer?
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

LST: Another Lovable Acronym

When I was in the Navy, LST was the abbreviation used to describe an amphibious support ship, a landing ship that could accommodate tanks of an Army or Marine Corps armored division. The abbreviation meant Landing Ship, Tank.

Fast forward to the present in East Hempfield Township which has no war, no need for a ship of any kind but their LST has just hit the scene with their Local Services Tax, a semi-generic renaming of the former Emergency and Municipal Service Tax.

I learned that this animal had reared its ugly head when I reported to work yesterday and picked up my most recent pay stub. It didn't take long to discover why my recent direct deposit was less than I calculated it should be — They started working on stealing $52 dollars from me. That's the total amount of the tax.

The tax language is clear. If the rate decided upon by the municpality is more than $10 (per year) then anyone earning less than $12,000 is exempt and the employer is required to stop the withholding of any instalments toward this tax.

Seems straightforward enough. Trouble is, though, the employee must present a request for exemption which requires knowing enough about the circumstances allowing exemption, knowing that a request for exemption must be presented to the employer and figuring out where to get the necessary certification application to be completed and presented to the employer with a copy of the previous year's W-2.

The employer (or their payroll service) KNOWS which employees earned less than the stipulated $12K last year and the year before that and the year before that. Wouldn't it be simpler for them to just simply NOT withhold the tax for those employees?

I spent more than an hour reading on line about the tax, downloading the certificate for exemption, downloading the request for refund of the amount withheld which should not have been withheld, completing the forms and assembling the packets including proof of last years earnings.

The amount withheld for the first installment was only $12 and I spent more than that (in time spent at my current hourly rate) just to stop this animal in its tracks. Had I not (and there's no guarantee I'll stop it in time to prevent another installment from being grabbed) I'd wind up being "shorted" on the next several checks.

Don't payroll services have account technicians to monitor and accountants to oversee the services they're being payed to perform? Why should a retiree working part-time to supplement Social Security have to jump through these hoops? Are attention to detail and logical thinking beyond the scope of payroll services?

I don't even live in the taxing municipality. 
Just another "Taxation without Representation" nuisance.
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LST is not an acronym. It is an Initialism. The word 'Acronym' is reserved for a group of letters from a longer title which can be pronounced as a word such as, Radar, for RAdio Detection And Ranging. The word, Sonar, for SOund Navigation And Ranging is another acronym.

The Song Not The Singer

   “Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You” is the title of Dr. Mardy Grothe’s book about a particular technique (chiasmus) of adding power to a phrase beyond the mere words.  (President Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” is an excellent example of a chiastic word arrangement.)

    Expanding on his title, though not chiastic, I can say, “Never be fooled by a face book friending”. I have been but my experiences are gradually chipping away at the wall of naivete I built around the reality of my life — I am old. I am too old.

    It’s been said that age is only a number, that you’re only as old as you feel. Wouldn’t that be nice? Too often, though, the age difference can be a ‘stopper’ when the older man is neither wealthy nor landed. It’s no longer acceptable for me to find women younger than myself to be attractive. I now have to “mind my place” and be attracted to unattractive women closer to my own age. Yeah, right!

    It seems a cruel joke to have many of the things women say they want yet not enough of what they really want to get beyond a “friending” or an unanswered text message. Admittedly I am not movie-star handsome but I’m not ugly. I am thoughtful, caring and respectful and I’m not stupid — just na├»ve and a burgeoning master of wishful thinking.

    After the encouragement of multiple positive responses to my musical performances, I allowed myself to hope there would be the added benefit of opening the door to potential social contacts and perhaps to meet a lady who finds me as lovable as I find her appealing.  But now after being rejected again I am crestfallen, depressed, despondent and feeling a sense of not much future for me.

    Prior rejections were from a medical professional who failed to reveal that she's married. Another medical professional (coincidence) liked my voice but didn't sense, after several weeks of public socializing, that I was attracted to her beyond friendship and totally shunned me after I revealed my feelings. A music lover who enjoys Frank Sinatra was captivated by my rendition but it became evident some time later that she's an insincere groupie of whatever group and she makes dates but doesn't keep them or respond to text messages. I can't forget to mention the Cheshire Butterfly I blogged about last year but she is and apparently has been a perpetual flitting flirt so any expectations or hopes there quickly subsided.
    This time the rejection was by another young lady who really liked my songs a few nights ago. She hugged me warmly and shared her face book name and intimated a get together another time would be desirable. My face book message was not answered.

    I have since learned she’s been involved for many years with the same man and that they have a child together. What a HALO (High Altitude, Low Open is a military parachute technique) my emotions went through — an almost immediate drop from the high altitude exhilaration of finally finding The One to the empty low of gut-wrenching disappointment.

    Her appeal is so fetching and captivating it’s painful to look at her knowing that’s all I’d ever be able to do especially since she’s unattainable. Why subject myself to that pain? Better to stay away and not look. How can such beauty be so painful?

    The beauty I see in an attractive woman may be in my eyes only but that’s fine. If she's appealing to me it doesn’t matter whether she’s beautiful by any other standards. Several appealing young ladies have said they like my singing. But the door hasn’t opened, yet.

The song is fine. The singer is not.
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Friday, April 19, 2013

Sir Walter Scott, Karaoke and Lounge Music

    Sir Walter Scott, S. T. Coleridge and other writers in the early 19th century were in essential agreement that there is an “implied contract” between a performer and the audience. The contractual obligation for the actor or singer or other performer is to bring value to the observer’s life. The contractual obligation for the individual observer is to respect the artist’s effort to meet their obligation.

    In recent months my experience with karaoke has revealed that audiences are often less interested in the performers’ performances than they are in boisterous outbursts totally unrelated to the ‘show’ being presented. They interfere with the show. For some, karaoke is little more than an opportunity for drunken buffoonery.

    For some performers, it is less an expression of artistic talent and more a psychological catharsis ala Wilhelm Reich’s Primal Scream Therapy. A popular KJ (a DJ specializing in karaoke) wondered aloud, privately, about the screaming which ear-shatteringly occurs much too frequently at karaoke venues. It is often accompanied by what can only be described as “joyful jumping” as though whooping (screaming?) with seeming delight is not sufficient to satisfy the need to express enjoyment.

    For the true aficionado or musician, karaoke is an opportunity to practice songs in a more real setting than sitting in front of a computer singing along to a singer’s recordings. The nature of the venue is often the only clue to the quality of the karaoke experience. Now for the lounge singer, the true musician, the venue can also determine whether the observers are there to enjoy the performance or for some other totally unrelated reasons.

    I had the pleasure last evening of hearing a young female vocalist and the trio she fronts but was disappointed with the noisy audience. This new talent sorely deserves a quality venue where the audience is there to listen to the trio while they dine and not for gabbing or yakking as usual while totally ignoring this new arrival in the music world, St. Elouise.

    If you like female vocalists with a mellow, jazzy, smoky, lyrical voice and you fail to Google St. Elouise you will miss an opportunity to experience this song-writing,  future-chart-busting singer and her trio.

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Size Matters

   Walking past a group of twenty-something women last evening, I overheard that comment again and it led me to wonder how much thought is ever given to that subject by those who utter those words. Assuming they have even a modicum of awareness of statistical distribution - the bell curve for instance - they must surely know that there are only a handful of John Holmeses (may he rest in peace) in the world and that even they have no choice in the matter.

    These young women (older ones, too, I assume) must know they have no more control over their cup size than men have over their things. Where they DO have control seems to be what they are ignoring and that reveals how insensitive they are.

W  h  o  c  o  n  t  r  o  l  s  d  i  a  m  e  t  e  r  i  n  b  i  r  t  h  i  n  g

    After the climactic spasm, normal discourse returns and that occupies the other 99.9 percent of life. Intelligent discourse requires a large mind - an open mind - so in that regard size does matter. In that regard, cup size and penile bulk are meaningless.

We’ll give you our heart; we’ll give you our soul. Beyond that we’ve not much control.
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Flirtatious or Fickle?

     The gurus of Transactional Analysis have told us that in order for a psyche to thrive, there must be stroking — that is, some kind of reaffirmation of membership in the human race. That reaffirmation can take various forms generally described as positive stroking: kudos, congratulations, compliments or pats on the shoulder.

    However, those same gurus have added that even negative stroking such as criticisms or denunciations or whippings, verbal or physical, can contribute equally to the health of one’s psyche.

    It is the total absence of stroking that contributes to the loss of self worth and personal comfort and confidence. Witness the rocking behavior seen in infants neglected in a nursery — no nurturing behavior by the caretakers (can they be called nurses in this context?)

    Since its recent inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary the term friend zone has come into many everyday discussions and it seems to describe a kind of social pariah-hood. It relegates some people to a no-man’s land (or no-woman’s land) of non-relationship.

    Instead of the uninterested person simply saying “I don’t find you attractive. I don’t want to get close. You may be handsome (or beautiful) but you don’t appeal to me. Let’s just be friends”.

    Whether a fear of a possible violent reaction prevents honest openness or whether it’s simply a fear of being openly honest, it’s disrespectful to the human who wished to be a part of another’s life.
    I wrote these words recently to a woman who upon learning of my interest in her relegated me to a total vacuum of no stroking at all. Apparently she couldn’t be a friend with a man who found her appealing:

        I can deal with joy; I can deal with sorrow; but,
        I have trouble living in a communicational vacuum.

    The vacuum persists.

    I have read women’s complaints on Facebook about guys who say they’re interested and will call but never do. I have enjoyed social contact with several ladies recently who said they’d be happy to meet again. We exchanged cell phone numbers and “friended” on Facebook but after no response to a few text messages or emails, it became apparent that the flirtation was probably fickleness instead.

    There’s a fine line between being enjoyably flirtatious and being fickle.

    Flirting is fun but don’t be cruel by teasing when you have no intention of letting a pursuer or suitor out of the “Friend Zone”.
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