Dear Tamaqua

Dear Tamaqua:

I had six good English teachers in junior and senior high and they obviously prepared me for a life with words and writing. One of those words is “native,” which I see often in news stories and especially in obituaries.

Many times the story says someone is a native of the town they live in when the writer really meant to say that the person is a resident of that town. I recall a time when a newspaper wrote about me and said I was a native of Tamaqua.

But I’m not a native of Tamaqua; I’m a native of Harrisburg. That’s where my nativity took place and that’s how one can figure out what place he’s a native of. Where was he or she born?

Early in my life we moved to Still Creek, which is part of the greater Tamaqua area, but it isn’t the Borough of Tamaqua. When I was in fourth grade, we moved to a rental in the 600 block of Arlington Street and thus began my lifelong love for Tamaqua.

Tamaqua was a great place to grow up. We didn’t have gangs the way the cities did and I don’t even remember many bullies. If we weren’t occupied with organized baseball or other activities, we played soldiers in the woods behind East End Playground. As we got older, we moved from the woods to the stripping holes, but we soon reached the age of cars and girls and we left our youthful games behind us.

I worked at the Evening Courier for two years after graduation in 1961 and then joined the Navy. When I was a freshman at Penn State Hazleton, I lived with my mother in a rental on West Broad Street. Then I went to the main campus and left Tamaqua behind.

But I do know that my decade in Tamaqua shaped me in many positive ways, from Sunday School to the American Hose (There’s a pair for you!) and several school teachers, friends and their parents.

So while I am not technically a native of Tamaqua, I do think of myself that way and I hope my English teachers will forgive me.


R Thomas Berner


False Equivalency

Last year my wife and I decided to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from south to north, with a stop to see grandchildren in North Carolina. We had driven part of it several times before and so we didn’t have to stop at every lookout to take photographs of the view.

After we entered Virginia, the lookouts became fewer and far between and so we were left to driving and listening to CNN on Sirius radio. Unfortunately, it was the day that a new royal baby was born and CNN was in full-throated coverage. It seemed that nothing important was happening anywhere else in the world and especially in the United States, where CNN is headquartered.

Bored by the continuing coverage of a non-event, eventually we turned the radio off and, bored by the lack of scenery, we got off the highway and headed for the parallel interstate (81) and home.

I was reminded of that boring day while watching yet another day of wall-to-wall coverage of the missing Malaysian airliner and trying to equate the coverage of the birth of a royal baby. It’s a false equivalency, isn’t it, and the good news is that CNN pulled back from the royals in short order.

According to some media analysts, CNN has found that its ratings are solid with the continuing coverage of the missing airliner. I don’t recall the ratings for the coverage of the royal birth, but I hope they were in the tank.

CNN lost its way last year by overdosing on the royal birth but seems to have found its footing with its coverage of the missing airliner. Let us hope that a new attitude has arisen at CNN and the news directors realize that one birth in London is not the equivalent of 239 presumed dead in a missing airliner. 


Hobby Lobby Hypocrisy

When you shop at a Hobby Lobby, the first thing you notice is a sign on the door telling you that the store is closed on Sundays so employees may enjoy time with their families, which includes going to church. In fact, the company says it’s committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”

To that the end, the billionaire owner of the business wants to be exempted from that part of the Affordable Care Act that requires a co-payment on, among other things, birth control methods. The dispute is before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

I have browsed in a Hobby Lobby several times while my wife shopped and I noticed that many of the items for sale were made in China. That sounds benign, so let me add a modifier—Communist China. China is a country where real Christians must hide their faith while the atheistic state dictates which churches may publicly practice and then it’s a benign form of Christianity. Why the state even picks bishops for the Catholic Church.

On top of that, China has used prison labor to create consumer goods for sale in the West.

Doing business with Communist China while claiming to honor the Lord is hypocrisy. The owner of Hobby Lobby can’t have it both ways.


My Local Paper Let Me Down

I think this letter, which I sent to my local paper, speaks for itself.


Customers of the Spring-Benner-Walker Joint Authority need to be alerted to the fact that the authority is not well managed and board oversight is lax.

When my wife and I sold our house in Benner Township in October, the authority demanded to make an inspection and found that the HVAC system illegally drained into the sewer system. We had less than two weeks to fix the problem or we would not be able to close on the sale.

But what came out during this fiasco was the fact that when we bought the house two years earlier the not-so-diligent sewer authority had not inspected the connection despite claiming that inspection was required for every sale. We bought the house not knowing that it had an illegal connection to the sewer system.

It seemed to me that the authority had failed to follow its own inspection rules when we bought the house and so I asked the authority to reimburse me the $590 a plumber charged me to fix the problem.

Oh, no, said the authority board and its solicitor. Legally, not our problem.

How about morally?

Then I realized I was dealing with a sewer authority. Enough said.

R Thomas Berner
State College

I didn’t hear back from the editorial page editor so after a week, I asked her if she had gotten my letter. This is what she said:

Unfortunately, I think we're going to pass on it because we generally don't publish personal grievances against businesses and utilities.


I do understand that policy, but I think the editor misunderstands what a sewer authority is. It may have a utility-type function but it is an agent of the government and my letter is pointing that an agent of the government is not well managed and that the oversight is lacking. It seems to me that this is the kind of information the public should know.

I’ve already scaled back my subscription to the paper and after this fiasco, I may not renew my subscription when it runs out. Clearly, the paper is not edited for the public.
A weekly newspaper, the Centre County Gazette, came to the rescue and published the letter. Nice to see that we have one government watchdog in the county. 


Shortening Lifespans in China

The Beijing sky during an earlier visit.
There’s a story in the New York Times about urban Chinese fleeing to the countryside to escape pollution. I can relate.

I lived in China in 2005 as a Fulbright lecturer at Tsinghua University. I remember the day I had planned to walk to Beijing University and then on to a five-story building of nothing but bookstores. Well, the pollution was so great I stayed inside instead.

I used to wonder if the Chinese knew what they were doing to themselves. That wonderment was dispelled when I visited Dalian to give a few lectures and was shown about by the university’s foreign officer (who got the job because she spoke English). She told me that a week before her grandmother had died at age 95.
Wow, I said, think of the history she saw.

I then said that because of genes she’d probably live a long time. It took us a couple of minutes to work through jeans and genes but when I finally made myself clear, she firmly replied: No. Pollution.

The government was able to clean up Beijing for the Olympics but the city has since gone backwards. That foreign officer in Dalian isn’t the only one who will have a short life.

Many Beijingers will, too. 


He Also Made the Ultimate Sacrifice

When we think of veterans who died while serving our country, we usually think of the men and women who were killed in action. Let me tell you about a sailor who died on duty and was probably promptly forgotten by most other than his immediate family.

I know this story because I was a radioman on a commodore’s staff, meaning I got to see a lot of the radio traffic not just for the flagship, but for the squadron.

It was 1967, my last year in the Navy. We were on a Mediterranean cruise and enjoying liberty, probably in Italy. A petty officer from another ship while on shore patrol was helping bring a belligerent (read: drunk) sailor back to the ship. The sailor was in such shape that he had to be transported strapped to a stretcher. Since we were anchored in the bay rather than pulled up to a pier, this also meant the belligerent sailor had to be returned to the ship via a liberty boat. (We were in an amphibious squadron so our liberty boats were the kind of landing craft you see in movies and photos of the invasion of Europe on D-Day.)

The sailors had managed to get the stretcher off the boat and were ready to haul it up the ladder (really more like steps). The petty officer I’m writing about was at the foot of the stretcher and as the sailors readied to lift the stretcher, the sailor on the stretcher gave a hard kick to the petty officer's chest.

He died of a heart attack.

When I first saw the radio message about the incident, I figured the kicking sailor would be hauled up on manslaughter charges and be sentenced to brig time.

But the court of inquiry that was convened ruled that there was no way to prove if the kick triggered the heart attack that killed the petty officer. The court opined that the petty officer could have just as easily had a heart attack had he been walking around the ship.

Medically and legally, the court was probably right, but I always felt it was an injustice to the petty officer who was just doing his duty. I know he was a career man and had a family waiting for him and depending on him in Virginia. With one swift kick the family lost its breadwinner.

This is my belated memorial to a sailor whose name I’ve forgotten who was killed in the line of duty somewhere in a foreign land 46 years ago. He also served and he also gave his life. 


The Radon Racket

There’s nothing like selling your house to find out how many rackets there are.

Take the radon racket. 

I know what you’re going to say. Radon kills. It seems that the number is 20,000 a year. Statistically insignificant (unless it’s me).  

We have not required radon mitigation when we bought a house and I actually refused to do it once when I sold a house, something I wouldn’t get away with today. But as I said at the time, the couple we bought the house from nearly a decade before were still alive and well in a retirement community and she did all of the laundry in the basement. What's to fear?

The people buying our current house wanted radon mitigation and even though we have a walkout basement with windows, what could I say? 

My real estate agent pointed out that the house was already piped for mitigation so not to worry.
The radon mitigator shows up and he’s making a mess. I ask him how it’s going and he reveals that he must replace all of the piping because the original piping is cheap and won’t do. 

I don’t know if that’s going to increase my cost but I’m now kicking myself for standing on my principle and not demanding a radon check from the previous owner. He bought the house brand new so he wouldn’t have had a radon check done.

And our next house is being built as we speak. Maybe I should do a radon check.

(Next: The illegal connection to the sewer line)