Render Unto Man

On 24 January the Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously approved a “noncontroversial resolution” declaring 2012 as the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania. In its brief twenty-eight lines H.R. 535 manages to pass off vague statement as historical fact, use undefined fear as a rallying cry, tug at the heartstrings of a pathetic patriotism, and provide overly simplistic solutions to self-suggested and non-existent problems.  All in all, it is a masterpiece of modern government.

And it would be completely laughable if it were not also offensive to every Christian, every non-Christian, and every non-theist alike. In passing this resolution 193-0 nearly every member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has shown a complete lack of understanding of the absolute necessity for private matters of religion to be always and forever separate from any civil authority for religion’s and liberty’s sake.

This is not to say one’s religious sentiments may not inform a Representative’s character or influence their conscience. It most certainly will.  What they may not do is use the power of civil government to promote religion or a specific religion, and that is precisely what the House has done.

Much has been written about Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists, that famous letter which introduced the phrase “a wall of separation between Church & State” into our political discussion. But what of the Danbury Baptists? What of...

The Community Pioneers

“But the pioneer newspaper of the upstart city, like the western railroad, had to call into being the very population it aimed to serve. This gave it certain distinctive features which would long shape American life. … Some American newspapermen have called this preoccupation with the local community the leading characteristic, the principle novelty, and the secret strength of American journalism.”

— Daniel Boorstin, The Americans: The National Experience, 1965

The Advocate. The Dispatch. The Tribune. These are the newspapers of America. Their names are bold and active. The Bee. The Herald. The Call. Invoking sound, almost loud, these are names that announce and engage. But, it is fair to ask, just why are they so bold and active? What are they announcing, and who are they engaging?

Nearly two months ago, like many in Bloomsburg, I stood waist-deep in a flooded home amidst dirt and debris, helping friends begin their recovery. From time to time I would see the activity on the streets about me, noticing crowds of people at most every house. I thought I saw and felt, repeated in others, that same personal need to help, the need to look after their family and friends and neighbors. I wondered, “What next? What happens after a few weeks? Where does this suddenly visible community come from and where will it go?”

That question has stayed with me these past weeks on this journey that a few friends and I call The Bloomsburg Daily. Our effort...

For What It’s Worth

Occupy:Bloomsburg Demonstrators in Market Square, 5 November
Occupy:Bloomsburg Demonstrators in Market Square, 5 November

Mohamed Bouazizi.

If you ever heard the name, you’ve likely forgotten it. I forgot it, and I’m not even sure I once knew it. Mohamed Bouazizi is just a produce vendor on the streets of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, a town of 40,000 people in the middle of Tunisia. Think Wilkes-Barre.

Mohamed Bouazizi is no different than any other vendor in his hometown, probably no different from any shopkeeper anywhere. Think of a Joseph Lukowsky in Wilkes-Barre. He’s just someone who keeps working day after day to support his family.

The one difference, however, is that over the years of economic difficulties, police harassment, extortions and bribes, the indifference of his local government wore on Mohamed Bouazizi.

On December 17, 2010 police overturned Mohamed Bouazizi’s cart and confiscated his scales when he was unable to pay the demanded extortion. Less than an hour later, frustrated after the local government refused to hear his complaint, Mohamed Bouazizi stood in the middle of traffic shouting, “How do you expect me to make a living?”  Then, dousing himself with gasoline, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire.

Mohamed Bouazizi’s death on January 4th, 2011 incited the pent up anger felt by his fellow citizens over their economic and political status. His death led to the Arab Spring, a continuing, widespread movement that toppled the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. It has led to uprisings in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan,...

Building Permit Fees Cause Lively Town Council Debate

My recent article for the The Bloomsburg Daily. Reposted with Permission.

There was spirited discussion last night at the Bloomsburg Town Council meeting over the payment of Building Permit Fees, occupying nearly 20 minutes of the hour-long session. The issue centered around whether or not the Town should maintain, waive, or reduce the permit fees for the part of the population repairing their flood-damaged homes.
Ultimately no decision was reached on the fees, with the issue being postponed for further discussion until the Administrative and Budget Council meeting on Wednesday, November 9th.

Town residents are normally required to pay the Town a building permit fee of $10 per $1,000 spent on residential building improvements and repairs up to the first $20,000, and $4.00 per $1,000 thereafter.

Ed Fegley, Code Enforcement Officer for the Town, began his report to the Council by stating that residents still need to apply for permits for any repairs to their property, but asked the council for guidance regarding the fees for these permits.

Currently the Town is issuing permits pending fees to be paid later, but no fees are being collected at this time. Mr. Fegley cited issuing permits pending fees was done previously during the flooding in 2006.

Council Member Paul Kinney began the discussion by voicing his opinion that the Town not charge permit fees to flood-affected residents. “I think we ought to waive them,” stated Mr. Kinney. “It’s bad enough they...

Not By Memory Alone

It’s critical that we not rely on memory, on word of mouth for that type of an emergency. Because if it’s four decades from now, we’re going to need to have everything compiled, have this written, memorialized.

—Mayor Dan Knorr, October 18th, 2011

Records of the 1972 flood exist to be sure, but they don’t tell the entire story. There are pictures, maps, lists of names and statistics. But what these records lack is the immediate story, the conversation that takes place daily among friends and neighbors, the conversation that has taken and is still taking place in the streets of Bloomsburg.

Mayor Knorr, the Town Council, Emergency Services, and Public Works all received well-deserved praise at the Open Forum held at the Bloomsburg Firehall on the evening of October 18th. The Bloomsburg Daily, too, commends all of our local officials for their tireless and continuing efforts, helping Bloomsburg recover from this tragedy as well as looking for ways to plan for, or possibly prevent, the next.

But regardless of all these good works, there was another feeling in the room last night, one of anger, one of loss, and pain and desperation. Town residents came looking for practical answers, to be sure, but also to add their voices of frustration. They came to continue the private conversations they have daily in their living rooms, on their porches, and beside their homes which they can no longer enter.

They came wanting to know that their fellow citizens, those to whom...

Visiting Nurses Braved Flood Dangers

My recent article for the The Bloomsburg Daily. Reposted with Permission.

When disaster strikes, most people are healthy enough to escape the danger on their own or take care of themselves for a few days while roads clear and the crisis passes. There are those among us however, who are less fortunate: the sick, the elderly, and the terminally ill. These are people who require constant, daily care, regardless of regional emergencies or disasters.

Since 1967, the community health care workers of Columbia-Montour Home Health & Hospice, part of the Bloomsburg Health System, have provided in-home nursing and care-giving services for all of Columbia and Montour counties, as well as most of Northumberland, parts of lower Luzurne, and areas of Union, Lycoming, Sullivan, and Schuylkill counties. With ten home health and hospice nurses, three social workers, ten aides, occupational, physical, and speech therapists, as well as spiritual and bereavement councilors, the staff of Columbia Montour Home Health is well-accustomed to serving the needs of Bloomsburg, Berwick, Danville, and the surrounding communities.

But when disasters such as the recent flood occur, it is then that home care, so important in normal times, is needed the most.

Knowledge of the flood’s severity “started with just a flickering of the phone system,” said Cathy Reed, Director of Home Health. “The phones are our lifeline. There were physicians calling in, our own nurses calling...

Plagued by Doubts, Flood Victims Begin Again

My recent article for the The Bloomsburg Daily. Reposted with Permission.

Warm October days, cool crisp evenings, the noise of saws and hammers, slowly dwindling piles of debris. All of these sights and sounds makes one think that a month after the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee, life is starting to return to normal in Bloomsburg.

But for Tina Parks Erb, her husband Marlin, and their sons Kyle (17) and Walker (8), things are far from normal. For them, their neighbors in the west end of town, and all families affected by the flood, new worries and dangers abound.

On Wednesday, September 7th the sheriff’s office alerted Mrs. Erb and her family that Fishing Creek was rising and, with no time to put any of their belongings up out of the water’s way, the Erbs had no choice but to evacuate. When they returned to their rental on Sunday, September 11th to view the damage for the first time, the Erbs discovered 3-4 inches of water and mud had covered the entirety of their first floor apartment. The basement had flooded to a depth of 7 feet, and Mrs. Erb estimated that the water remained there for another 4 to 5 days.

Floor and Moulding Buckling
Floor and Moulding Buckling

The water is gone now, but the repairs are far from complete. Mrs. Erb stated that she was informed by her landlord on Thursday, September 29th that the apartment was cleaned, treated for mold, and that everything was acceptable for her and her family to move back in. She, however, doubts her landlord’s assessment.

A few repairs are...

Bloom Hospital Staff Saved ER from Flooding

My recent article for the The Bloomsburg Daily. Reposted with Permission.

As Tropical Storm Lee rained on Bloomsburg, people worried about water rising from Fishing Creek and the Susquehanna. What would happen to the low lying areas of the community? No one gave a thought to the higher ground. Four employees of The Bloomsburg Hospital: Chuck Andreas, Scott Tanner, Brad Lurowitz, and Rick Millheim discovered that water from above is just as threatening as water from below. Their efforts in the early hours of Tuesday morning prevented the water running off the the hills above The Bloomsburg Hospital and into the Emergency Room.

Andreas, Director of Security for the hospital, recalled, “I got a call from a guard at 2:30 in the morning saying excessive water was running off of the hills, over the helipad, and approaching the ER area. Water was probably within an hour of entering the ER if no action was taken.”When Andreas arrived at the hospital he saw the danger immediately. “There was 2 ½ – 3 feet of water running across the helipad. And it wasn’t just water. It was mud.”Andreas, along with maintenance crew Tanner, Lurowitz, and Millheim, worked through the next few hours using whatever was at hand to prevent water and debris from entering the hospital. “We didn’t have any sandbags,” Andreas explained, “so we used bags of road salt [used for winter de-icing] and made a dam out of those.”

Pieces of lumber, plywood, and whatever else...