Death of the Gerrymander in Pennsylvania and What It Means

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that gerrymandering is a bad thing, and it’s going to stop in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The knee jerk response from some might be to say that the justices removed a perk for the ruling party in our legislature, since drawing the lines for the U.S. Congressional Districts could be done to favor one party or the other – the whole point of gerrymandering, of course.

As for the timing of this particular ruling, it is rather inconvenient for the 18th Congressional District, recently vacated by Tim Murphy and due for a special election in March. By May’s primary, the result of the special election will become meaningless, since the 18th District was gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.

Both Democrats and Republicans have taken advantage of gerrymandering U.S. Congressional districts over the years, so while the timing of this ruling isn’t advantageous for Republicans right now, it’s disingenuous to suggest that ending the practice is aimed specifically at Republicans. (We can revisit this if the court allows Democrats to re-draw the lines to their own advantage later.)

The current ruling requires that the lines be logically drawn, without splitting up counties or municipalities unless it’s absolutely necessary. In other words, district lines will theoretically overlap county and municipal lines throughout most of the Commonwealth, one way or another.

While the current ruling may very well have been influenced at least a little by a desire to break down some of the power of the Republican party in Pennsylvania, the long term result will likely cause political moderation in U.S. Congressional races. Running on a highly partisan platform for most seats simply won’t work anymore. Perhaps that will become an unintended consequence for the justices, but for the people of Pennsylvania, it will mean that they could end up largely above the hyper-partisan political fray on the national level. That is at least a little idealistic, but not impossible, since the voting populace of the Commonwealth has been generally moderate historically anyway. No matter what, removing the ability to draw U.S. Congressional districts from the pile of political perks for both Democrats and Republicans will hopefully ensure that candidates for the House will have to pay more attention to one thing they occasionally forget – the constituents they represent, regardless which party they happen to be registered with on their Voter ID cards.

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Death of the Gerrymander in Pennsylvania and What It Means

Advice to Congress on Passing Bills

As we are getting beyond the shutdown of the government in January of 2018, it seems like an appropriate time to think about exactly how we get into situations like this. Most Americans who managed to take and pass a basic class on government in high school (or earlier) should have learned about how laws are actually passed. Of course, that very basic lesson isn’t very close to reality, but it’s definitely worth remembering now.

The pundits have been overdrive pointing fingers over who should be blamed for the current shutdown, but only a few are digging at least a little deeper – commenting on the logistics of avoiding another shutdown in February. Donald Trump is the primary focus of those discussions, primarily because our Congress isn’t like those old government classes described it. Theoretically, Congress is supposed to make laws, and the President is supposed to enforce them. As part of our “checks and balances”, enforcement includes signing bills into law. Of course, there is also the presidential power of the veto, which is what our current Congress is probably worried about happening when it comes to (for the moment) our spending and immigration bills.

If you don’t remember talk in the classroom about presidents exerting a great deal of power over Congress or involving themselves in the drafting of or debate over bills, you probably didn’t fall asleep in class. That is something that was rarely taught in any classroom, since it wasn’t drafted into our Constitution. However, it is the reason why many people became highly annoyed with President Obama for “legislating from the White House” – something our current Congress is theoretically supposed to fix now with DACA legislation.

Right now, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives and the Senate have been saying that they are annoyed with President Trump for not telling them explicitly what laws he’s willing to sign into law. If that sounds to you like they are trying to please a dictator by going through motions in Congress, your aren’t far from the truth. The problem we have now is that Congress stopped attempting to making laws on its own decades ago, thanks to the high degree of partisanship in American politics and presidents who did not back away from exerting more power than they probably should have when it comes to making laws.

Trump had characterized Obama as a power-grabbing tyrant because of this behavior, so perhaps he is only willing to tell Congress what he’s willing to sign into law as opposed to outright telling them which laws to pass. No matter what, the end result is the same – Congress is left with three choices:

Do nothing – Don’t even try to figure out what Trump will sign, and just don’t bother trying to pass any laws. Of course, this would probably lead to them all being voted out of office, but it is still one option open to them.

Try to guess what Trump wants – This apparently will be just a guessing game, since it seems that Trump has issues with saying what he wants, and – more importantly – sticking to it long enough for Congress to actually act on it. Since Trump is used to people jumping to appease him, this probably will never work well. Congress moves much slower than the executives employed by Trump’s (former) businesses.

Pass only veto-proof laws – This rule would apply to the big issues, so it’s unlikely that Congress will actually make this choice. That doesn’t change the fact that this is probably the best solution they have for their current problem – an executive who easily changes his mind.

People have said that the Trump administration would change history, and they’re probably right. If it forces Congress to go back to its roots, re-learn the nearly extinct art of statesmanship, and manage to get work done without needing a presidential signature to enact laws, that would be a significant change for the better. At the very least, it would restore strength to our system of checks and balances, and perhaps chip away at a little of the power that has been grabbed by the executive branch over the years.

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Advice to Congress on Passing Bills

Are We Becoming Too Tribal?

Like many people, I tend to keep tabs open on Twitter and Facebook while working, in spite of the thousands of advice columns on productivity that warn against it. Today, Twitter left me with a conversation that rambled into the concept that our society is becoming more tribal. Granted, this was a politically motivated conversation at the start, but it was reflected in an article I had just opened at Everyday Feminism.

The premise of the article was an offer of concrete advice for women of color who need a “pick me up” from the stress of working in a predominantly white/male office setting. Honestly, it did offer a fair amount of good advice, like specifically scheduling alone time before, during and after work. However, that advice is helpful for anyone working in a stressful environment, regardless of race or gender. The only advice offered that was specifically for women of color was a small section on addressing microaggressions in the workplace.

There is still a fair amount of debate over the validity of microaggressions, a term first coined in 1970. In context of this particular article, the primary complaint caught my attention:

It is no secret that women and people of color can experience microaggressions at work, ranging from someone inappropriately touching your hair to a male coworker belittling or ignoring your ideas.

Since I’ve actually been a “victim” of the latter, I will address that first. Even fair to middling comedy writers are well aware of a simple way to combat the concept of anyone belittling or ignoring the ideas of others. If the boss or co-worker ignores you, but doesn’t ignore someone else, why not talk to that “someone else” and ask them to offer your idea? Of course, this would require a fair amount of well-earned trust, since the second part of this exercise requires that you end up being credited with the idea. Also, it is a good idea to pay attention, and make sure that the offending co-worker is really singling you out for this treatment. It’s not a microaggression against you if the person is an ignorant sod who belittles and ignores everyone, or worse, behaves that way at first then offers everyone else’s ideas as his own later.

What really caught me was the “inappropriately touching your hair” comment. While I definitely am not in favor of suggesting that anyone is not entitled to their personal space, I can understand the concept of a white person – male or female – being curious about how a woman of color’s hair might feel. That said, yes it is inappropriate for anyone to reach out and touch someone’s hair in the office without permission, but not it’s not necessarily a microaggression if a person asks for permission to touch. It’s probably not a microaggression even if the person fumbles the interaction, and says something like “I’ve never felt the hair of someone like you.”

Unless there’s a specifically derogatory term being thrown into the mix, like the N-word, the fact is that more likely than not, the co-worker in question is probably just curious. The fact remains that even though people are supposed to be considered equal, that does not mean that people are supposed to be considered absolutely the same. Humans are innately curious, particularly about differences between them, and all of the “-isms” out there are based on fear of those differences. Celebrating our differences should also be about clearing the air, and making innocent curiosity a “racial crime” does not help.

Crying out about microaggressions because those actions make us feel bad is not acceptable, unless we also establish that the people who we consider guilty of those actions actually intended to make us feel bad. Otherwise, we are just encouraging everyone into a more tribal way of life, which will lead us to even more self-segregation than we have already seen. If we really want equality and diversity, then we need to learn how to teach each other about our differences instead of assuming that curiosity is hostility.

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Are We Becoming Too Tribal?

First Short Cold Road Trip of 2018

For those that have followed my road trips and photographs in the past, I had promised to try and make 2018 more eventful and interesting. Part of doing so was adding a blog of the trips to share the experience, photographs, and some history. To try and keep with my promise I started the new year out with a short trip on January 1.

As 2017 ended and 2018 began with a cold blast here in the Southwestern Pennsylvania. I didn’t let the cold stop me (after being out of the car more than 15-20 minutes my hands and face disagreed). With temperatures hanging around 15 degrees, I had  blue skies with some clouds. Off I went, unfortunately the blue skies decided to play games at times.

Apples Mill ChurchFirst stop would be at a favorite location of mine, located about 10 minutes from home. Apples Mill Church is a plain simple structure that reminds me of easier days gone by. The church also once went by the name of the United Brethren Church. Little history is known of the church. Reliable sources tell me its history goes back to at least Civil War. A walk through the Funk Cemetery (located in the rear) shows a possible longer history. While many locals are familiar with the church, it did receive its own 15 seconds of fame. It appeared in the opening sequence of the television show Justified. Thankfully, the neighbors of the church care for both the church grounds and the cemetery. Due to weather conditions and the driveway not being maintained I wasn’t able to park and explore. I don’t know what my attachment to this place is. It is truly an enjoyable  place for me. It may sound silly but this place is a Powerball dream of mine. I would definitely consider purchasing this place and restoring it. Keeping my fingers crossed!

Once I was done here, I decided a few updated covered bridge photographs in the snow were needed. Lucky for me (and you) the only remaining covered bridge in Westmoreland County is located just minutes away. Along the way I stopped a few times for random photographs. Most of the land in the area of Apples Mills Church is farm land with old homes, barns, and rolling hills.

Farm House in South Huntingdon Twp





As I approached the next stop I noticed an older fella along the road watching me. Out of curiosity I stopped. He watched me with little reaction until I pulled the camera up to photograph him, then he would look away. After a few moments of a one sided conversation he finally gave me a pose. Granted I couldn’t get a smile from him but I guess when you’re standing along the road in very cold temperatures I can’t get too greedy. After a few moments of talking to a farm animal I arrived at my next stop, a true gem Westmoreland County has to offer.

Bells Mill Covered Bridge was designed and built by Daniel McCain in 1850. The bridge crosses Sewickley Creek connecting Sewickley and South Huntingdon Townships. It sees a fair amount of traffic as many use this as a short cut to I-70. Protecting the bridge on each side is a large steel “I” beam. This prevents over-height vehicles from damaging the bridge.
Bells Mill Covered BridgeBuilt with a burr truss design, it measures 104 feet long and 13 feet wide. Bridge sides are covered with barn red horizontal clapboard siding and painted inside and out. There are no windows just the wide eave openings. The roof consists of cedar shakes and the deck has lengthwise planking in wide tire track areas that are laid over crosswise planking. The entire structure rests on stone and mortar abutments that are reinforced with concrete both at the ground and road level. There are also stone and mortar wingwalls that are protected with heavy wooden guardrails.

After finishing the covered bridge I dipped back into the valley along the Youghiogheny River into the town of West Newton for a few stops. The next stop was a last second add on. I remembered the home and thought I had to share it. Owned by Dr. Hope, a retired veterinarian who served the community for decades. A small sign out front says, “Welcome to Hopeville”. This is definitely a memorable home and must see. Dr Hope HouseLocated a few blocks away along the railroad tracks stands the former B&O Railroad Station. Built in Queen Ann Style, it was built in 1892 and served as a station for both the Pittsburgh & Connellsville Railroad and the B&O Railroad. The building was built by renowned architect Ephraim Francis Baldwin. Baldwin was named Head Architect for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1872 and during the course of his career designed numerous buildings for the railroad. While the building no longer serves as a station its current owner, CSX still uses it for railroad operations.West Newton B&O Station A half a block away from the former train station stands the Plumer House on the corner of Vine Street and Water Street. This is the oldest building in West Newton. In 1979 the home was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The original section was built in 1814. It’s a 2 1⁄2-story, wood-frame structure with a gable roof. In 1846 an addition was added,  the addition is a 2 1⁄2-story, brick structure with a gable roof and two chimneys. The home features a rear porch overlooking the Youghiogheny River.Plumer HouseWith a short drive to the other side of the river I arrived at our next stop along the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. At one time railroad tracks operated by the P&LE Railroad (Pittsburgh & Lake Erie) connected to the Western Maryland Railroad and ran into Cumberland, MD. Today, the tracks are gone and the structure that stands here is not the original P&LE Station. In an effort to preserve historical appearance a close reproduction of the original was built.  The site has an old P&LE car, railroad signal, and a concrete mile marker showing milepost 113.

P&LE StationP&LE Station






Across the street from the station stands a small white church with a red door, St. Paul AME. While I don’t know much about the church, it is definitely something you would see in small town America. This will be another place I return to in hopes of getting a peak inside. These small old churches reach out to me and I enjoy them very much.

St Paul AME St Paul AME







After departing the train stations and St. Paul AME, it was time to get my education on. While the weather was not improving and by improving I mean getting warmer, it was good so far. I headed off toward Rostraver Township, my next stop would be about a 10 minute drive, just long enough to warm up.

Thanks to snow, parking was difficult at the Old Concord Schoolhouse. Lucky enough for me, the traffic along the road was abnormally slow so on went the hazard lights and out I went. Built in 1830, the Concord Subscription School sits off of Route 51 in Rostraver Township. The school operated from 1830-1873. Classes ran six-day-a-week from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The school master was paid 25 cents per student per month. According to historical records, between 50 and 80 students were crammed into the one room schoolhouse by the 1850s.

Concord SchoolhouseDuring the winter terms the school masters were men and in the summer it was women who taught because the men were working in the fields. By 1873, a new school was built and the subscription school was sometimes utilized as a nondenominational school and later a storehouse. After World War II, Rostraver School Superintendent E.F. Carter led an effort to have the school restored. Some history classes were taught there in 1948.

Concord SchoolhouseWith blue skies for the most part and temperatures in the teens I decided I may as well head off to get a few more covered bridges in the snow. At this point in time and location my best bet would be Mingo Creek Park in Washington County. I made a slight detour in the area to pick up a friend that wanted to go along. On the way to her home I made a quick stop at the Cook Farm in Fayette County. You may be wondering, I started in Westmoreland, now going into Fayette, then heading into Washington County. The general area I was in is where the three counties meet and can literally move between them in a matter of minutes.

Cook Farm
With a large amount of property, barn, several out buildings and 2 homes it is a beautiful piece of land. The Cook Farm was home to one of the original founders of Rostraver Township. The property dates back to around 1774, with the original stone house (seen in distance in above photo) still standing on the property. Due to a large number of cars parked there and lack of public parking, I was not able to get a good photograph of it. The home pictured below is the second home built on the property. Today the farm still remains in the Cook Family.
Cook Farm Barn
Cook Farm House
With clouds moving in and Cindy along for the rest of the trip we head off for the 20 minute drive to Mingo Creek Park. Up to this point road conditions were excellent and the cold was the only monster I had to deal with…… up until this point. As we started down some of the back roads and the main road into the park, we found roads were not well cleared and a little on the icy side. Oh well, we’ve made it this far, why stop now.
Henry Covered Bridge
First stop in the park was the popular Henry Covered Bridge. Here is where conditions got a little worse. The wind was whipping down through the park and after only 10 minutes outdoors my hands were numb and hurting, but I was here.  The blue skies I had before were also lost to cloudy and overcast skies. Henry Covered Bridge is located in a very scenic area and sees plenty of vehicle traffic in the park. The bridge was built in 1841 by an unknown builder. It’s owned and maintained by Washington County and crosses Mingo Creek. The current location of the bridge is not its original and that location is unknown.
Henry Covered BridgeHenry Covered Bridge was built using a Queenpost design and measures 36 feet long and 12 feet 6 inches wide. The roof of the bridge is a tin gable to protect the structure. Its walls are vertical board siding with two windows and narrow eave openings per side. The deck is crosswise planking with moderate length stone and mortar wingwalls capped with concrete. The deck of the bridge has been reinforced with five steel “I” beams that rest on the cut stone abutments and concrete supports.

A short drive from Henry Covered Bridge through the park on ice covered roads led us to the second bridge, Ebenezer Covered Bridge.

Ebenezer Covered BridgeThe year and builder of the Ebenezer Bridge is unknown. Original location of the bridge was in Fallowfield Township near Charleroi where present day intersection of I-70 and Expressway 43 meet. The bridge was purchased by the county for $1.00 and tore down then rebuilt at its present location in Mingo Creek Park. Here it crosses Mingo Creek and open to vehicle traffic.
Ebenezer Covered BridgeEbenezer Bridge is covered with vertical board siding on the sides and portals, it’s painted barn red both inside and out. It’s covered with a sheet metal roof and has a deck of crosswise planking. There are two rectangular windows on each side, with fairly wide eave, openings. The deck is heavily reinforced with five steel “I” beams which, in turn, rest on the original abutments reinforced with concrete. Long cut stone and mortar wingwalls that are capped off with concrete on each end.
Having enough of the cold and the sun and blue skies gone as the short winter day comes to a close we decide to call it a day. But first, dinner. Coming back into Rostraver Township we decide to stop at Italian Village Pizza. We opted for a tasty white pizza with pepperoni. A perfect pizza ending to top off a good day of road tripping.
I hope that you will take a moment to not only share this story but also stop by my page on Facebook, Neat Road Trips and “Like” the page. While there you can view additional photographs from this trip and previous road trips I have taken.

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First Short Cold Road Trip of 2018

Train Trip Along CSX, Part 1.

Many of us as kids had two things in common, we loved fire trucks and trains. As we grew into teenagers and adults many either let go of both or held onto our love of them in one way or another. For me, it was both. In January of 2018, I will have 28 years as a volunteer firefighter and still get some enjoyment out of trains. Some people ask, “What’s so great about trains?” For me, it’s the power and lets face it, trains and railroading are as American to me as Baseball,  apple pie, and Old Glory.

I was lucky enough to work on the railroad for a short period and sit behind the controls of the beast that keep America moving. As adults some people build and design model layouts in their homes. While others like myself would rather relax track side, listening and seeing these massive machines. Then there are those that deny any interest in trains but still put a train under the Christmas Tree. Many of us have the itch, some more than others.

Train photography is where I got my start. For many years I only focused on trains. Then I decided to use the camera for my love of history. The number of train photographs I have taken over the years could fill a blog site itself. So for this blog I will share with you some of my favorite photographs and their locations along CSX.

This trip will depart from the station at Point of Rocks, Maryland. The photo above was taken on October 23, 2016 and shows CSX Q416 passing the former station heading west from Washington D.C. This is the furthest east I have been for trains. The station was built by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1873. The station is situated at the junction of the B&O Old Main Line (running to Baltimore) and the Metropolitan Branch (running to Washington, D.C.).  The main station building is a ​2 12-story, triangular Gothic Revival with a four-story tower and a ​1 12-story wing at the base. The tower has a pyramidal roof containing a dormer on each side. On top is a square cupola supporting a pyramidal peaked roof.

This photograph was also taken at Point of Rocks, Maryland on the same date. Seen here is CSX N77 going east to Baltimore.  There is plenty of parking on the weekend. However, it is a very busy location during the week as this is a main transportation HUB for MARC passengers.



Continuing west. Our next stop brings us to the historic town of Harpers Ferry, WV. If you have never visited here, it’s a must! The only thing that upset me about this stop was not having the time to visit the historic locations. Needless to say, next trip there will be more time. This photograph shows the Capitol Limited stretched across the Potomac River. After stopping at Harpers Ferry it will continue east to Washington D.C.

Another photograph from Harpers Ferry below shows CSX Q130 passing through the station. Built by the B&O Railroad, the station is part of the Historical District. It’s a wooden frame Victorian style building, dating from 1889. It sits on buried foundations of the original Harpers Ferry armory buildings. If visiting here, paying attention is important. As you can see there is no protection from the trains.

Continuing the move west, but to a different day. We come to a location known as Foley’s Overlook. Located just outside of the small town of Fairhope, PA. With a scenic view this is not a real easy location to find or access. This photograph of CSX Q276 was taking on October 15, 2016. Q276 among the fall mountain colors glides down the mountain heading east towards Maryland.


From Fairhope continuing west and skipping a few locations. Our next stop is one of my all time favorites. Known as Mance, there is very little left of this village but the landscape is great. In this photograph taken on August 2, 2015 CSX K145 passes the former Mance Post Office heading west.

Just over a later we returned to Mance, just for the Fall colors. This photograph was taken on October 15, 2016. Here CSX Q135 is working west up the mountain. The difference was the color nature provided. Rolling mountains, Fall colors, and plenty of sun as it crawls through the trees.

Rolling in to our final destination for this blog, we arrive at Sand Patch, a little village outside of Meyersdale, PA. The village got its name due to its location on the rails. If coming west from Cumberland, MD or east from Connellsville, PA trains must climb the Allegheny Mountains. Sand Patch is the summit of the steepest railroad grade on the East Coast. In the days of steam, many times trains would need sand to get over the grade.

Pictured above is CSX K145 seen starting down the mountain at Sand Patch. The peak is just past the little shed along the rails.  We first caught this train at Mance climbing the grade on August 2, 2015. Thanks to steep grades and slow speeds up mountain it allowed us to catch it a  second time.

In March of 2015 while visiting Sand Patch, we caught a Canadian Pacific leading a CSX train into the summit. This view is looking west down the grade. With this view we are able to catch one of many windmill farms in the area. Plus the added bonus. Any railfan will notice boxcar with the fallen flag of Conrail on it. While Mance may be my favorite, Sand Patch is a close second.


I find it only appropriate to end this ride here, at a high point per-say. For part two of the CSX Trip we will continue working west.  Check out Neat Road Trips on Facebook. The photo’s seen here will be added shortly along with many more.


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Train Trip Along CSX, Part 1.

Bells Mill Covered Bridge

While Pennsylvania has plenty of covered bridges remaining, my home county of Westmoreland only has one. Bells Mill Covered Bridge is the only covered bridge in the county making it a true treasure. The photographs for this blog have been taken at different times of the year. This is not a good excuse since it is only located 10 minutes from me, but it will have to do.

The sides of the bridge are covered with barn red horizontal clapboard siding giving it your classic covered bridge appearance. The roof consists of cedar shakes and the deck has lengthwise planking in wide tire track areas that are laid over crosswise planking.  There are no side windows other than the rather wide, typical, lengthwise eave openings. The entire structure rests on stone and mortar abutments that are reinforced with concrete both at the ground and road level. The bridge also has stone and mortar wing walls that are protected with heavy wooden guardrails. To protect the bridge from over sized vehicles, there are steel beams located before the entrance ways showing the height as 6’6″.

Built in 1850, Bells Mill Bridge is a burr arch truss design, 13 feet wide and 104 feet long.  Even though the is located in a rural area connecting South Huntingdon and Sewickley Townships.  The bridge still sees a fair amount of traffic. If you visit please stay aware. Many people use it as a shortcut to Interstate 70. The bridge was designed by Daniel McCain who was also the contractor.  This bridge was placed on the National Register in 1979.

It’s fairly accessible all year long but parking in the winter may be difficult. During the summer when the trees are in full bloom they do provide plenty of shade, and in the fall additional color. The bridge itself is a rare gem and is very well taken care of. Being the only covered bridge in Westmoreland County makes it a must see if you enjoy covered bridges.

To view more photographs of Bells Mills Covered Bridge and other bridges in Westmoreland County, PA please visit the Westmoreland County Bridges folder of Neat Road Trips.


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Bells Mill Covered Bridge

Welcome to Neat Road Trips

As you may have already known I’m George Neat and on my free time I enjoy taking road trips and visiting many places. Some locations are very well known while others are unknown or found along the way. Here you will be able to go along for the ride and read about the adventures (good, bad, funny, and embarrassing) as well as learn about the places we go. Many of the trips will have multiple themes while others may just have one. I hope that each trip will be interesting for you and provide some sort of entertainment factor.

Due to the winter season and unpredictable weather here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, new trips may be slow to. Until then I will be sharing with you some previous locations I have been as well as creating a Gettysburg Series.

Your feedback is always welcome as well as tips and locations. While a majority of the road trips will focus on Pennsylvania, you never know where I may end up going.

For additional photos please feel free to visit my Facebook Page Neat Road Trips.



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Welcome to Neat Road Trips

Welcome to Westmoreland County

Bridges are always a good place to start a new journey. This one is in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, and is called the Loyalhanna Creek Bridge. Also known as Latrobe Viaduct, this stone arch bridge was built in the early 1900’s to service the Pennsylvania Railroad. Today the bridge is owned and operated by Norfolk Southern Railroad and is part of the NS Pittsburgh Line.

Hidden away in Sewickley Twp near South Huntingdon Twp is this old abandoned church.

A quick stop at Crab Apple Lake in Sewickley Twp to see the ducks.

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Welcome to Westmoreland County

Trump, Clumsy Handshakes, and Media Illiteracy

Thanks to a less than graceful handshake during the Association Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila, the media decided to lose their collective minds over Trump. Of course, this has played out predictably – ostensibly left-wing media calling the president an oaf, and right-wing social media getting upset – or something. First, let’s take a look at the video that started it all:

While it is true that Trump really did have trouble with the social situation, it could have been worse. He could have just stood there like Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev did, without even attempting to do the handshake properly. If nothing else, maybe Trump will have a chat with his tailors about making suits a bit more generous in the shoulders for any future contortionist-inspired diplomatic activities. (Yes, pulling his suit tight probably was the cause of the much-maligned grimace he made – undoubtedly hoping not to hear a ripping sound.)

All in all, this situation should have been barely a blip on the media radar, and thanks to the general rush of headlines on a typical Monday, that is mostly how this went. However, there are people out there with “hurt feelings” over the media poking fun at Trump. Perhaps they have a short memory, and don’t recall the eight years of ridiculing “mom jeans”, demanding birth certificates, and primate references about the First Lady.

Cries against the “mainstream media” aren’t as meaningful as they once were. While the “big three” networks still enjoy a fair amount of popularity, when it comes to news coverage there really is no effective way to determine how many viewers are really engaged in their news content. Remember, local news is delivered by their affiliates, and their national news shows are either right after them or actually mingled with local content. Also, the number of people who say that they get their news primarily from the major networks have been dwindling for years, so many of the programs are swaying into the realm of “infotainment” more than ever.

When it comes to political news, viewers are generally divided on political lines, just like in everything else. The whining about the mainstream media treatment of Trump follows that line, too. This all would theoretically settle itself in the political “wash”, with the public seeking out preferred content, but we have one little problem that is making the media wars a little more heated.

Trump has an exceedingly thin skin for a president.

The media knows this.

It has almost become a sport at this point. Trump loves to throw tantrums over the media – calling some outlets fake because they disagree with him, and threatening to shut down others for “reasons.”

And his base is just encouraging the battle.

So, every time Trump does something awkward or flat out stupid in front of a camera, they capitalize on it.

Wash, rinse, repeat…

The end result is that the president gets to use his own “outrage” to monopolize headlines, and keep the media from examining what he doesn’t want on the spotlight – because they are too busy poking fun at him.

If anyone should be upset with how this is going, Trump’s detractors should be furious that the media is focusing on the trivial minutiae of every social faux pas the president does, instead of staying focused on the business of state.

The bottom line is that the media is an active participant in lowering the bar for American leadership by engaging in this game. Once upon a time, we were worried about Americans suffering from media illiteracy because they are living on a steady diet of “news-light” via social media blurbs. Now, we need to start worrying about the media itself being illiterate.

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Trump, Clumsy Handshakes, and Media Illiteracy

No, This Isn’t an ‘Off Year’ for Elections

It’s election day here in the US, and it’s likely that voter turnout will be very low. Odd numbered years are usually ignored by many voters for many reasons – all of which are generally misguided.

People tend to get excited about going to the polls in presidential election years, of course. Turnout numbers are highest then. Even numbered years in general enjoy higher turnout rates, because there are lawmakers on the ballot.

But, with the exception of some special elections, odd numbered years tend to only have municipal and judicial seats on the ballot. Also, lawmakers often schedule otherwise contentious referendums for these elections, counting on low turnout and voter laziness to keep the numbers where they would like to see them.

Here are a few of the misguided notions voters have about why this year’s election doesn’t really matter:

There are no “important” offices up for election – Just because winning today doesn’t earn a trip to Washington or a state capital for a candidate doesn’t make the office unimportant. Typical offices on the ballot today include local executive, legislative, and judicial seats – yes, that system is at work even in your home town. Local executives are mayors, managers, county executives, etc., and they do essentially the same job as the president for your local area. Council people, commissioners, board members, etc. are the equivalent of Congress in your town or school district. Magistrates and judges are your local judicial branch. The reason why these people are arguably even more important than the people who end up in Washington is because the decisions they make will have an immediate effect on your daily life. The taxes they levy will be felt by you first, and unlike taxes from the Federal government, there are very loopholes (if any) for you to avoid them. If you end up with a pushover for your local executive, that means your local legislators will have a much easier time passing higher taxes, or cutting services your community really needs. You can think that it doesn’t matter who your local magistrates and judges are, but you will care about that when you end up getting hit with an expensive traffic citation or fine for not cutting your grass.

My vote doesn’t count anyway – Ironically enough, that argument might be slightly more accurate in a presidential election than it ever will be in a local one. Many of the offices up for grabs today will be decided by margins of under 100 votes. Yes, it is quite possible that a single vote could trigger recounts in some races today. When races have such a small number of people eligible to vote for a given office, every vote counts. These are also the elections where a write-in candidate could very easily win the election.

I don’t even know what half the offices on the ballot do anyway – While some of the offices up for election today are obvious (like coroner or tax collector), there may be some that are utterly unfamiliar. Ones like prothonotary (chief court clerk) are a little nebulous for many voters. Before the age of Google, questions about those offices could be posed to poll or election bureau workers. You can still ask them, but let your fingers do the walking! Learn about the offices, and what those people do. In the case of the prothonotary, that person is in charge of overseeing court documents, and that person’s office is where you would go in a courthouse to see case files that haven’t been sealed from public view. Given all the trouble that we see daily about information being withheld by the government (or leaked by people who shouldn’t have that information), maybe the gatekeeper of your own local court files really is an important office after all?

What’s a referendum? Why should I care? – Referendums are usually issues that legislators put on the ballot so that they can get a popular vote on something that they don’t want to decide on their own, or that they must put on the ballot because of rules built into a state’s constitution. The former are usually hot button issues, and the latter are usually state constitutional amendments. Unfortunately, the rules usually don’t require that these issues be placed on the ballot during a particular year, so they end up on the odd numbered years – legislators are relying on you skipping the polls today. Another trick of their trade is to word these measures in a confusing way, even to the point where people will think that they are voting for one thing but in reality they are choosing the opposite. This is where the poll workers can help you out a little. While they can’t tell people what position to take, usually they can let you know which choice to make when you tell them where you actually stand on the issue. If they honestly can’t, you can still contact your county election bureau by phone or online, depending on how “plugged in” your county is. Otherwise, watch the “no’s and not’s” in the wording. One typical trick used in referendums is double and triple negatives. Remember, double negatives usually do add up to a positive. Also, check the status quo on the issue. Pennsylvania tried to pull a fast one on this with mandatory retirement ages for judges, by not mentioning in the referendum that the existing retirement age was actually lower than the one proposed. The way it was worded, it appeared that the people were voting on creating a mandatory retirement age for the first time, not extending an existing one. Why it mattered was that it would cost taxpayers more money when the judges finally would retire, because their pensions were based on their highest pay and they receive raises yearly. Also, increasing retirement ages could leave the people with judges who honestly shouldn’t have been on the bench due to mental deficits from old age – senile judges are cute on TV, but not in actual courtrooms. The bottom line is this: Do you really want to sit at home and let some politicians pull a fast one on you with a questionable referendum?

Today, you have the opportunity to elect the people who will have the most influence on your daily life when they take office. There is no “trickle down government” effect here, like we see with most changes in federal government. The decisions these people make in your home town will effect every person in your community immediately. Thankfully, these leaders are also going to have to deal with the voters directly on a daily basis. But, do you really want to skip deciding who collects your local taxes, determines the fines for your grass being too tall, sets the cost of parking in your business district, when and if your local roads get repaired, what your kids learn in the classroom, etc.? This is where the rubber hits the road in government. Are you in the driver’s seat, or just along for the ride?

The post No, This Isn’t an ‘Off Year’ for Elections appeared first on Literat Politik.

Source: Literat Politik

No, This Isn’t an ‘Off Year’ for Elections