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A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I hate secular Christmas music

Except for these two songs: Bing Crosby's version of White Christmas and Nat King Cole's version of The Christmas Song.

Today at noon, a bunch of carolers converged on the courthouse lawn to sing ... carols.

Colin Hanna, a conservative activist and former Chester County commissioner, organized this carol fest. In an interview earlier this week, Hanna told me that he distinguishes between Christmas carols and Christmas songs.

Carols, Hanna said, are religious. Songs, he said, are not.

The sing-along, he said, will involve "carols," not "songs."

Which was not entirely true. I went to the carol fest today and heard the carolers sing "Deck the Halls." The lyrics, as far as I can tell, have no religious content. The other ten pieces the carolers sang, however, were religious.

And, yes, I wrote a lengthy article about Hanna's carol fest - an article which will, when it appears tomorrow, give Christmas heartburn to many a Daily Local News reader. (Read it here.)

Anyway, back to the motivating force for this entry: I hate secular Christmas music. I used to like it. But its appeal has totally worn off. Childhood is long gone, and Christmas has revealed itself to me for what it truly is: a consumerist orgy. All season, other drivers, stressed out because our culture requires them to take on massive amounts of credit card debt this time of year so that they can buy their friends and relatives a bunch of crap that will end up in a closet, have been unwittingly trying to do me harm. All season, cheap studio recordings of Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree have been following me from store to store as I grudgingly participate in this stupid, stupid gift purchasing tradition of ours.

If it were up to me, we'd do away once and for all with the corpulent Norwegian who sleds across the sky bringing plastic to all the world's children. He is the root of our Christmas misery. My Jewish friends grew up without him, and they're doing just fine. In fact, at this very moment, all of them are happier than I am.

Yes, Christmas should involve a few overtly parent-given gifts for the kids; a nice family dinner; and attendance of a religious service that features an exceptional choir. (The Protestant revolution, I fear, has taken the virtuosity out of religious music. It's as if, to certain new denominations, getting truly good at an instrument (or at one's own voice) is an affront to God, rather than a means of praise.)

OK. This is too much. It's 6:20 p.m. on Christmas Eve. I'm not done work yet. And a coworker is playing the Chipmunks Christmas Album - the worst thing ever recorded.

How about Luciano Pavarotti singing It Came Upon a Midnight Clear? Why can't I hear that song? Why must it be the Chipmunks?

I'm off next week. See you in the New Year. And,

Merry Christmas!


'Twas Christmas in China

For those looking for a few Christmas laughs, I offer 'Twas Christmas in China, a long poem my friend Matt wrote two years ago while teaching English just south of Beijing.

The poem is, as far as I can tell, non-fiction. For Matt that year, Christmas appeared at first as if it would be nothing more than a prosaic Tuesday in a polluted Chinese city. The poem relates Matt's ultimately successful search for some sign of Christmas.

You can read the full poem here, but for those with less patience and time, I provide the following excerpts:

“How can there be no Christmas in this land?
Santa visits every child with presents in hand.”
But as the boy continued to think for a minute,
He became cold and bitter, a hardened cynic.

“It's this country, that's why!” he exclaimed with a hiss.
“It's China, it's Mao, it's those damned communists!”
And as he looked out his window again once more,
Twas but signs in Chinese, a Christmas eyesore . . .

* * *

For Christmas in China is no place to be,
With no Santa at all, no wonder they wish to flee.
And out on the street no one seemed to care
That the Christmas spirit was not in the air . . .

* * *

As the people walked by, “Merry Christmas” he cried.
But they just stopped briefly and stared with their eyes.
The traffic went by and their horns loudly beeped.
Taxi drivers swore at him as he blindly crossed the street.

But then up ahead what was this he did see?
A bright smiley yellow face, looking from a building with glee?
Then there was something that the boy did hear -- quietly at first and then with a blare:
“It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas” filled the polluted air.

He rubbed his eyes, and smiled merrily.
A super Wal-Mart, “But it truly can't be!”
And the sign proclaimed on a blue and gray wall,
“Everyday Low Prices, Low Prices For All!” . . .

* * *

Then he filled up his basket with holiday cheer,
As the sounds of the carols still filled his ear.
Merrily he thought, “Christmas in China, it was always here!”
And he took from the shelves several bottles of forty-cent beer.

A green plastic tree he now carried with him.
“No more will my apartment be barren and dim.”
And off to the checkout he merrily skipped
To prove to that Christmas had not been gypped . . .

* * *

And in the doorway there stood a man the boy knew.
“It can't be, it isn't, can it really be you?”
In his plump red suit and his fluffy white beard,
He grinned and winked at a boy's holiday cheer.

From Santa's eyes the boy did glimpse
A sign that even China could not stop Saint Nick.
And as Santa looked at the boy and this magic Christmas night's sight
He said, “Merry Chris-a-mas to all. And to all a good night.”


I have doubts, however, that Matt really went to China. I expressed them in this column.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hotels in West Chester

The Borough of West Chester currently has no hotels. But developer Brian McFadden last year obtained permission to build one on North High Street, and Stan Zukin is working on obtaining approval to build one at East Gay and North Walnut streets.

To some, this is scary stuff. But Hotels are not new to West Chester. In fact, they have been part of the borough for all but the last 45 or so years of its existence. Councilman Jim Jones, a history professor at West Chester University, just wrote a short article on the history of hotels in West Chester.

It's worth a read. You can access it by clicking here. (To find it, scroll down to the bottom of the page the link leads to).

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Monday, December 21, 2009

What's your paranoid fantasy?

I'm an idealist who wants everybody to get along. So, often, I think about what it is that separates the political right from the political left. This leads me to reflect on the psychological underpinnings of partisanship.

My conclusion:

obsession + instinct to form tribes = political orientation

Left on your own, you will form tribal connections with those who share your obsessions.

If your paranoid fantasies involve an oppressive government slamming through your door and stealing your wife and children, you're a conservative. And you, of course, will bond best with people who also fear this.

If your paranoid fantasies involve a monopolistic business interest enslaving you and your family, you're a liberal. And you, of course, will bond best with people who also fear this.

Overly simplistic, but good enough for tonight.

Good night.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Sensible Garage Naming comes to WC

The garage that will be built at the corner of North Walnut and East Chestnut streets will not be called the "Joe Norley Garage."

On Wednesday night, borough council was trying to figure out what to name the garage.

Joe Norley, the South Walnut Street resident who goes to almost as many West Chester meetings as I do, and who, at these meetings, talks way more than any other member of the public, made to council this offer:

"I'll give you $500 to name the garage after me."

Councilman Jim Jones responded:

"How about a trash can?"


Anyway, for more than a year the borough has been referring to the new garage as "The Mosteller Replacement Garage." The new garage, you see, is replacing the Mosteller Garage, which was just demolished.

Luckily, council members apprehended that appending this appalling appellation to the new garage would be, well, not very apropos.

Borough council on Wednesday decided to call the new garage "The Chestnut Street Garage." If you name it after the street it's on, Councilwoman Holly Brown reasoned, people will have an easier time finding it.


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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Spirit in the Newsroom!

This holiday season, my colleague Danielle Lynch and I are in the midst of a desk decorating war.

I'm winning.

Yesterday, Danielle was out sick. I sent her this get well message:

You are, I imagine, sick with envy at my Christmas decorating prowess?

Yours Truly,

Daniel J. Kristie

Danielle replied:

Yes, that is precisely right.

Yours Truly,

Danielle "Grinch"

Ha! Danielle Grinch!

Here's a picture of me at my desk:


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Zukin got conditional use approval

West Chester Borough Council gave Zukin Realty conditional use approval tonight to build a 126-room hotel at North Walnut and East Gay streets.

Zukin, however, has a bunch more hoops to jump through before the hotel can be built.

To read about the Zukin hotel approval, see this article.

This is the second hotel project that the current borough council has approved. The first is that of Brian McFadden, which gained approval in February 2008.

The borough currently has no hotels. It could suddenly have two.

Hotels, however, are not unprecedented. They've been here before.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Zukin Decision Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night, West Chester Borough Council is likely to decide whether or not to give Zukin Realty conditional use approval to build a 126-room hotel at East Gay and North Walnut streets. Whatever council's decision is, a hearing that has gone on for more than two years will end.

So how does this affect you?

Well, Zukin will be one step closer to building this hotel. Conditional use approval is not, however, the last hoop Zukin must pass through.

The hearing is at 6 p.m. at borough hall. But, according to some West Chester municipal land use experts, even if Zukin gets approval, it will be two to three years before construction of the hotel gets underway.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

In Coatesville, it's not a budget

Tonight, Coatesville City Council will:

"Receive and consider for Adoption an Ordinance appropriating specific sums estimated to be required for the specific propose of the City Government for the year 2010."

Other municipalities just pass a budget.

(The text quoted above comes directly from council's Dec. 14, 2009 meeting agenda.)


Friday, December 11, 2009

Bold statement of this week

I'm sporadically trying to keep up with the bold statement awards.

This week, the winner is Tim Regan, the developer who wants to tear down and build anew the College Arms student housing facility at High and Rosedale, in West Chester Borough.

When Borough Council gave Regan approval to rebuild College Arms, it required that Regan's new building be LEED certified. Getting LEED certification isn't easy, I've been told. Anyway, Regan, who appears to be thinking hard about what he can do to make sure he actually does obtain LEED certification, approached borough council's PZBID Committee this week to ask for permission to put awnings on the new College Arms.

Awnings, Regan said, will block out some sunlight, thereby cutting down on the use of air conditioning. This, he said, will help him get LEED certification. (He is required to ask for permission to install awnings because the College Arms building design that borough council approved last year did not show awnings.)

The PZBID Committee, as is to be expected, had sundry questions about the awnings. (PZBID stands for Planning, Zoning and Industrial Development. Councilpersons Jim Jones, Carolyn Comitta, and Scott Smith serve on it.)

Councilman Jim Jones worried (perhaps correctly) that students would climb out their windows and attempt to hang off the awnings.

Councilwoman Carolyn Comitta (the mayor-elect) worried that the students would be deprived of natural light, and would, in order to study during the day, be forced to turn on lamps.

Council President Sue Bayne (who does not serve on PZBID but was at the meeting anyway) suggested that Regan put awnings on the West Chester Commons, another student housing facility his company owns. (Regan dodged this suggestion. Awnings, it appears, are more expensive than you would think.)

Anyway, Regan eventually informed council, regarding awnings:

"This feature's been around for thousands of years."

And that's why he wins the bold statement of the week award.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bold statement of last week

The award goes to Gordon Woodrow, a lifelong WCB resident who opposes Stan Zukin's plan to build a 126-room hotel at North Walnut and East Gay streets.

Woodrow, who obtained party status to the Zukin Hotel Conditional Use Hearing (this means he can call witnesses and can enter exhibits into the record), delivered a speech during last week's 7.5 hour round of the hearing. (Read about night one of the hearing here, and about night two here.)

Woodrow wins the Bold Statement award for boldness and for eloquence. Rarely at a zoning hearing does someone deliver a speech you actually want to listen to.

Here are some excerpts from Woodrow's speech:

* * *

I think it fitting to remind you at this time of year of the Frank Capra film “It’s A Wonderful Life.” West Chester is Bedford Falls, and George Bailly’s nightmare of Pottersville is what we are becoming. I have seen this wonderful family town become an every-weekend Mardi Gras destination for countless numbers of avid partiers, even once personally coming close to having to defend myself against several drunken, testosterone-fueled boy/men because our host failed to park fast enough for their convenience. AND IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME.

* * *

I assure you that a hotel built on top of a pharmacy may be a business model that works for an investor, but it is not one that predicts a first-class hospitality center for West Chester . . . What you will have is a huge, challenged building, with no scale in relation to the street, that includes clip-on ornamentation more fitting for Disneyworld. Simply put: an affront to the rich history of West Chester and not inspiring to other investors wanting something more in line with a small, vibrant, architecturally-interesting venue.

* * *

We have also been told this evening that the devil is in the details. I see many devils. Ladies and gentlemen, there are more audible calls in this deal than on any given NFL Sunday. Mr. Zukin knows how to call them, and our defense is good intentions? I submit to you now is the time to force the issue. Once you grant conditional use as requested, you will be setting precedent for the Mosteller block and for every other development plan that comes before you.

* * *

You can read Woodrow's entire speech here.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Coke!

Today, the Democratic National Committee has issued a response to my Dec. 8 article on my Dec. 7 interview with Toomey.

I'll quote only the headline and the first two paragraphs:

Pat Toomey's Moderate Makeover: Worst Rebranding Since 'New Coke'

DNC Regional Press Secretary Michael Czin issued the following statement in response to Representative Toomey labeling himself a "moderate" and "center-right republican" in today’s West Chester Daily Local News :

“Pat Toomey’s recent makeover is the worst rebranding effort since “new Coke.” After shilling for Wall Street and the Bush Administration as a member of Congress, Pat Toomey is now desperate to hide from his record and rebrand himself as a moderate. Simply saying you’re moderate doesn’t make it so.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party also put together a response (a lengthy one) to my article.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In praise of ubidubium

ubidubium wrote on Dec 8, 2009 9:26 AM:

"No one records deeds like Costello.

No one."

(This comment appeared under my article on Chester County Recorder of Deeds Ryan Costello's announcement that he would drop out of the 6th District congressional race.)

This should, without a doubt, be Costello's campaign slogan, should he run for Recorder of Deeds again in 2011.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Costello out of 6th District GOP Nomination contest

Just several minutes ago, Ryan Costello, our Recorder of Deeds, announced that he will withdraw from the crowded 6th District Republican Primary.

I have to interview Pat Toomey in five minutes. After I'm done, Imma call Costello and ask why. (By the way, I beat Dan Hirschhorn on this scoop. Take that, Dan.)

Here's Costello's statement:

Today, I am withdrawing my candidacy for Congress.

I want to thank the committee people and donors who have supported my candidacy over the past several months. I intend on remaining active in Republican politics and public service.

While I believe I would have made a strong and respectable showing during the endorsement process, and would have been able to present myself as a strong standard-bearer for the Republican Party in the general election, at this point I have determined that it is not in the cards for me for the 2010 election cycle.

It is crucial to our State and Country that the 6th Congressional District remains in the Republican column, and I will enthusiastically support the Republican candidate who wins the 2010 primary. Thank you.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Famous Chester County people on cable TV

I'm putting together a collection of appearances that our local notables have made on famous cable television programs. If you know of any, please leave me said info as a comment under this post.

Here are two that immediately come to mind.

Former Chester County Commissioner Colin Hanna on the Daily Show:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Language Burier
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

And Congressman Joe Sestak, D-7th of Edgmont, on the Colbert Report's ongoing Better Know a District segment:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30cBetter Know a District - Pennsylvania's 7th - Joe
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

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Friday, December 4, 2009

A self-centered post

Whoooooooh! End of a long week. It's 11:37 p.m. on Friday night. Between Monday and now, I filed 6,626 words . Much of it hackwork. Well, nothing can be done. I like to imagine, sometimes, that people are interested in looking at documents like this one. It contains all of the stories I filed this week, as submitted to the copy desk. I've decided to start doing weekly word counts. Why? Who knows. Some old hacks pride themselves in how many stories they can crank out in a short period of time. They say things like:

"I wrote five stories on a manual typwriter while drunk, waiting in the ER, with seven nails through my left hand. I was on deadline. Took me seven minutes. Top that!"

Also, I finally located a hilarious picture of me that was taken on Halloween.

I'm John Wilkes Booth. The guy next to me is "Gaybraham Lincoln." No idea what his real name is. I ran into him at Tattooed Mom's, a bar in Philly. And, as you can see, I assassinated him. By the way, my facial hair is real.

I'm going home.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

After the night meeting . . .

Earlier this year, when looking through The Daily Local News Stylebook, a dusty, tan binder that somehow landed on my desk, I discovered an interesting document. It was written by Jim Callahan, our former assistant city editor. I believe it dates to the late 1990s. The document tells new reporters how to file a "live" story on a night meeting. (Filing a "live" story on a night meeting involves sitting through the meeting, speeding, at its close, back to the newsroom, and composing a story on said meeting.)

Here's the text of this document. (I've retained the grammar and style errors that appeared in the original.) If you want to read the original, you can download it here.

night meetings - Because of deadline concerns, we currently are not filing many night meetings "live." If not being filed live, the reporter should do his or her best to make the story seem like a feature on the issue being reported, and not merely a recitation of agenda items.

If you are "live," the following are suggestions to help you file quickly, accurately and to the point. Note that these tips are NOT taught in journalism school and define the difference between practical newspapering and a bunch of eggheads who don't know the working end of a pencil.


An editor once told me "I can train a seal to cover a night meeting."

You can start barking now.

- Decide the ONE item you are interested in. Research it.

- The lede should describe the action or inaction of the meeting. Nothing more. The SUBJECT is the acting body, the PREDICATE is the activity, the OBJECT is the ONE item, and the modifier at the end describes the ONE item.

Under no circumstances should the lede be more than 30 words, 20 words is better.

e.g. WEST CHESTER - Borough Council Wednesday night rejected a proposal to ban student housing.

- In your second graph announce the vote and what it means.

e.g. The 5 to 4 vote means West Chester University will withdraw its threat to move to West Goshen


The 5 to 4 vote means West Chester University students can continue to get bombed in bars and throw up in gutters up and down South Walnut Street.

- The third graph should have a quote from the winning side.

e.g. "All right, everybody party like it's 1999," said Councilwoman Mary D. Zimmerman.

- The fourth graph should have a quote from the losing side.

e.g. "I am ashamed of council tonight. West Chester's long nightmare with those hooligans posing as students will only continue," said Councilman Shannon Royer.

SPECIAL NOTE: Even if the vote is 150 to 1 ALWAYS get the one. It is the reporter's obligation to get the dissenting side. It should be high up.

- Throw in a couple graphs of either quotes or paraphrases on the action. If people were yelling and screaming or cheering you might want to throw that in paragraph five.

e.g. A group of 15 fraternity brothers sitting quietly in the back row erupted in cheers and clapping when the vote was announced.

"Way to go council! Hey, Mary, wanna go dancing," yelled Nick Blade, 21, a senior in the Barpha Scarpha Blotto Fraternity.

- Get yourself another six or seven graphs on something to do with the issue. Paraphrase stuff, ladle in the history of the issue (should be back-taked).

- Shut up and file. Should be done in 20 to 30 minutes. TOPS. No excuses.

-Leave office. Quickly. You have received a tip that you must check out immediately: Someone has informed you the draft beer at the Square Bar is very cold.

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