Progress on the PA Smoking Ban

Today, the House-Senate conference committee finally approved a compromise version of a public smoking ban for Pennsylvania.  In order to become law, it must be approved by the full House and Senate -- which could happen as early as next week -- and by governor Ed Rendell, who has stated that he’ll support this version of the ban.

This is a good step forward and if it becomes law, it’ll be a huge improvement over the current situation.  However, the ban does contain a bunch of exemptions, allowing smoking in certain places, such as bars that make less than 20% of their revenue from food, and up to 25% of rooms in hotels.

This ban allows Philadelphia’s current ban to stand, but does not allow any other local bans to come into effect.  This has some people upset:

"You’re saying to the people of Allegheny County and city of Scranton, go to hell," said [Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow], who cast the lone dissenting vote.

I agree with Mellow.  However, it’s clear that this legislature has neither the brains nor the guts to enact a real ban, so for now we’ll have to take what we can get.  But this isn’t over, and I suspect that reason and health will prevail in the long run.

About half of the states in the US, as well as many countries around the world, have smoking bans now.  But in some cases, I think it’s going to take a generational turnover to purge those politicians who are in the pockets of the scumbags running the tobacco companies.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Pennsylvania Smoking Ban, Continued

Pennsylvania has been dubbed "the ashtray of the northeast" because it is the only state in the region without a public smoking ban.

There is no debate in the scientific and medical communities: secondhand smoke kills Americans by the tens of thousands every year.

And the people of Pennsylvanian overwhelmingly support a public smoking ban.

The only debate is in the Pennsylvania legislature, where our lawmakers continue to stall on the smoking ban, ignoring the scientific and medical evidence, and violating the will of the people.

Why?  Because Pennsylvania lawmakers are corrupt.  They are bending to the lobbying from the tobacco industry, and are unwilling to damage the tax revenue stream they receive from tobacco sales.  Ostensibly they are trying to protect businesses who claim they’ll be hurt by the smoking ban, but that’s a lie because all evidence shows that smoking bans do not hurt businesses.

To be fair, I should say that I have no proof of this corruption, and there is one other possible explanation: that PA lawmakers are incredibly, mind-numbingly incompetent.  But when you ignore the will of the people, ignore the scientific and medical evidence, when all the other states in your neighborhood are on board, and when the only group on your side is the tobacco industry itself, well, that sure smells like corruption.

Here is a timeline including the many delays that our lawmakers have caused so far by failing to act on the public smoking ban:

1993-2006: PA Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery County) introduces smoking ban bills in every legislative session, to no avail.

Summer of 2007: there was supposed to be a vote on the ban, but it was pushed back to September.

Fall of 2007: the two chambers produced differing bills on the ban, and failed to reach a compromise on them.

April of 2008: a joint House-Senate committee was supposed to produce a compromise bill, but postponed it for a month.

April of 2008: a month later, the committee postponed their work again, for a week.

May 7, 2008: a week later, the committee again postponed their work.

Quoting The York Daily Record:

A vote on compromise legislation that would ban smoking in most indoor places was postponed again.  A meeting of the joint House-Senate conference committee was tentatively scheduled for Monday, according to the office of Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery.  A Wednesday meeting ended shortly after Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, said he needed time to revise his proposal to incorporate concerns from the governor’s office over enforcement provisions.  McIlhinney would not talk about any other aspect of his proposal.  Some of the major issues that have divided legislators for the past year are whether to ban smoking in bars, restaurants and casinos, and whether a state law should pre-empt local smoking bans, such as the one in Philadelphia, that are stricter. (Senate Bill 246)

May 12, 2008: the committee was set to vote on a bill written by Senator Chuck McIlhinney, but failed to do so after Governor Ed Rendell threatened to veto any bill that weakened Philadelphia’s existing smoking ban.  McIlhinney is trying to paint the delay as being the fault of Rendell’s veto and/or of Philadelphia itself:

Quoting Chuck McIlhinney:

"This whole issue is coming down to Philadelphia getting its own law or not," McIlhinney, R-Bucks, said.

But the truth is that McIlhinney’s "new" bill is essentially the same as the failed bill that the Senate passed last year, and the whole issue is really coming down to the fact that what lawmakers are putting forth isn’t what the people of Pennsylvania want.

McIlhinney continues:

Quoting Chuck McIlhinney:

"If Philadelphia is allowed to have its own law, then each municipality will want its own law..."

And why is that?  Because your state-level law is shaping up to be a piece of garbage, so naturally each municipality wants to have the option of implementing a real ban, as Philadelphia has already done.

May 28, 2008: the committee is scheduled to meet next week, on June 3rd and 4th.

June 3, 2008: the committee finally produced and approved a compromise version of the smoking ban, which must now be approved by the full House and Senate.

June 4, 2008: the House approves the committee’s ban, but the Senate rejects it, thanks to Senate Democrats who are upset that the ban preempts local ordinances other than Philadelphia’s.  In theory they’re right, but in reality, 90% of Pennsylvanians currently have no smoking ban, and this bill would cover the majority of them; so the Senate should get its act together and pass this ban.  They’ve got a re-vote scheduled for June 9th.

June 9, 2008: the Senate postpones their scheduled vote.

June 10, 2008: the Senate votes to approve, so the public smoking ban will become law.

June 13, 2008: Governor Ed Rendell signs the public smoking ban into law, to take effect in 90 days.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Verizon is the Worst Company of All Time, and Vonage Rocks

Or, "How to Save a Wad of Cash on Your Landline Phone Bill."

My hatred of Verizon started sometime in 2004, when I started hearing horror stories from Kim about the despicable, greedy, and just plain evil things that Verizon did in the course of providing her cell phone service.  And I don’t mean 1 or 2 small issues; it was 5 or 6 or 7 totally unbelievable instances in which they either intentionally or through gross incompetence tried to defraud her of vast sums of money.  I wish I would have written them down.

As an aside, it’s funny to read posts by iPhone haters saying that it’s doomed because it’s tied to the evil AT&T, and if only they could get it with service from Verizon instead, then they would get an iPhone.  I’ve had zero problems with AT&T in the 6 months that I’ve had my iPhone, and their coverage is far better than Nextel’s ever was, and I’m pretty sure that their $20/mo for unlimited data is the best data deal going.  But the fact is, all of these giant telecom companies pretty much just suck if you give them enough time.

Anyway, back to Verizon: the only reason I have a landline at all is for my business.  When I signed up for this business line, we ended up moving a couple months later.  And despite the fact that now you’re supposed to be able to transfer your phone number to a different provider, Verizon couldn’t even let me keep my number while still using Verizon service at the new house.

As if that weren’t bad enough, they also told me they couldn’t provide me with voice-mail at the new house, which makes no sense whatsoever because it’s not like the voice-mail is stored at my house -- it’s stored on Verizon’s servers anyway!  So I actually had to use something called an answering machine -- a physical device used by primitive peoples before the invention of fire or dirt -- to get my messages for the past few months.

Verizon’s website is as terrible as such a terrible company’s website should be.  Literally every time I log in to my account, it displays the following 2 messages:

We are temporarily unable to retrieve information for this phone number. Please try again later.

We are temporarily unable to retrieve current billing information for this phone number. Please try again later.

And most unbelievable and frustrating of all, when you try to call Verizon for support, they don’t put you on hold like a decent company would; instead, you get a recording that says "all representatives are busy; please try again later" and then THEY HANG UP ON YOU.

Now to the bill: it was nominally $30 or $40 per month, but virtually all calls are "local long distance" or regular long distance, so it always ended up being $70 or $80, even though I hardly used this phone line (for outgoing calls) at all.

Of course, Verizon is the local monopolist, so as much as I would have liked to tell them to go take a long walk off a short pier while I switch to another provider, the fact is that there is no other provider that I could use.

Well, I finally found a way to escape Verizon’s evil clutches: I switched to Vonage.  Vonage is a VoIP phone service provider, which means your service comes in over the internet instead of through a phone line.  But it sounds and acts just like a regular phone line: you can plug any normal phone into it, you get the normal dial tone, etc.  They provide all the standard stuff like voice mail, and unlike Verizon, they let me keep my existing number no problem.  They also have some cool and innovative features like sending copies of your voice mails to your email account.  But here’s the best part: Vonage costs just $25 per month and that includes unlimited local and long distance.  There was a setup fee of about $40, but the first month is free, so there’s effectively no setup charge.

But here’s the real best part: Vonage calls your existing phone provider and takes care of the cancellation and transfer and everything, so you don’t have to do any of that.  But once that happened, Verizon called me (of course I didn’t answer) and left a message crying about the fact that I was leaving, and "we’d really like to keep your business" and "we have some very competitive plans that we’d like to discuss with you."  Yeah, like you really have anything competitive with $25/mo with free everything, you scumbags.  And then, a couple days later, I got a "DHL EXPRESS EXTREMELY URGENT" package in the mail, containing a letter from Verizon still begging me to stay.  No wonder their service is so expensive when they’re wasting money on overnight shipping instead of working on, oh, I don’t know, VOICE MAIL SERVICE maybe?

Posted by Anthony on 9 replies

The Pennsylvania Smoking Ban

(Update: the public smoking ban went into effect on September 11th 2008.)

The PA House of Representatives and the PA Senate were both working on legislation in the past few weeks that would ban smoking in most public places, including restaurants.  But the ban ultimately stalled because the two chambers could not agree on a set of exemptions to it.  The ban is now shelved until September.

I hate breathing other people’s smoke.  That’s not only because second-hand smoke kills 50,000 Americans including 3,000 Pennsylvanians every year; it’s also because it’s freaking disgusting.  So naturally I want this ban enacted into law as soon as possible.

The main arguments I’ve seen that are against the ban -- i.e. that are pro-smoking -- are:

1. Waaaaah I want to smoke and you can’t take away my rights and next thing you’ll be making it illegal to eat thumb tacks!!

2. Restaurants (etc) should just have smoking and non-smoking sections as they do now.

3. This is a decision that’s best left to market forces to decide.

The first argument makes me angry because it’s so common and yet so moronic and/or disingenuous.  No one is trying to take away a smoker’s right to kill himself.  The issue is whether smokers should be allowed to kill other people, as they have been doing for years and years without punishment.  When you’re spewing cancerous filth in an enclosed area, others have to breathe it in, and that’s as issue of their rights, not yours.

The second argument is invalid because the "non-smoking" sections are still contaminated with smoke, as anyone who’s eaten in one knows.  Any high-schooler who’s taken a physics or chemistry class can tell you that smoke, like all other fluids, moves freely within its container and does not pay any attention to the "non-smoking section" signs.  This whole concept is exactly like having a peeing section in a public pool, except that urine is a sterile fluid, whereas tobacco smoke is a lethal fluid.  Air ventilation and filtration systems have been shown to be ineffective in solving this problem, and in any case, the workers in the smoking sections are not protected at all.

The third argument says that anyone who doesn’t like smoke can simply avoid establishments that allow smoking.  I’ve seen a bunch of news or opinion articles making this argument, stating that "many" or even "most" restaurants are already smoke-free so non-smokers should just patronize those businesses instead.  I don’t know where these people are coming from, but around here, literally none of the restaurants that we go to on a regular or semi-regular basis are smoke-free: not Chili’s, not the Olive Garden, not Carrabba’s, not TGI Friday’s, not Ruby Tuesday’s, not Red Lobster, not Outback Steakhouse, not Applebee’s.  If there were such a restaurant, we would be all over it.  Instead, when we’re being seated, I always have to say "please seat us as far from the smoking section as possible," and still about half of the time, we need to ask to be moved once we’re seated, because the "non-smoking section" is too darn smoky.

Second-Hand Smoke Statistics, 20070619:

According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke is responsible for approximately 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart disease deaths in adult nonsmokers annually in the United States., 20070621:

Three-thousand Pennsylvanians die each year as a result of the health conditions caused from breathing in someone else’s tobacco smoke.

For every eight smokers that die from the effects of their own tobacco use, one nonsmoker dies from the effects of secondhand smoke.

84 percent of Pennsylvanians believe that all workers should be protected from exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace.

Waitresses are almost four times more likely to die of lung cancer compared to workers in other fields, and bartenders face a 50 percent greater risk of dying from lung cancer, other cancers, and heart disease than other workers.

Secondhand smoke is harmful and hazardous to the health of the general public, and particularly dangerous to children.  It is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome., 20070626:

In June 2006, the Surgeon General of the United States declared that there was no safe level of second hand smoke, ever. Secondhand smoke - a carcinogen classified in the same league with asbestos, formaldehyde and radon - is known to kill more than 53,000 Americans each year, including 3,000 in Pennsylvania alone.

And that doesn’t include people who actually smoke. These are just the people who stand within breathing distance of smokers and suffer the fatal consequences.

During just a one-hour dinner in a restaurant where smoking is permitted, nonsmoking patrons "smoke" the equivalent of three cigarettes. That’s enough to cause stiffened arteries, prompt irregular heartbeats, exacerbate colds, bronchitis and pneumonia, worsen heart attacks, and trigger asthma, particularly in children.

Nonsmokers who are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke pollution, either at home or at work, have almost double the risk of heart disease. And secondhand smoke causes 30 times as many lung cancer deaths as all other regulated air pollutants combined.

Posted by Anthony on 37 replies

Outlaw Smoking Now!

Kim’s recent post about smoking reminds me that I have an anti-smoking rant that I’ve been meaning to post about for a while now.

I have two questions.  Why does anyone smoke, and why is smoking legal?

The only reason that anyone smokes is because they were tricked into it when they were young and stupid, and now they are addicted.  Virtually no one starts smoking after their late teens/early twenties.  Cigarette companies know this, so they deliberately target their advertising at young people.  Who really thinks that Joe Camel or the Marlboro Man are cool, other than kids?

(Of course, some adults who smoke will claim they do it because they like it, not because they are addicted; but for the purposes of this discussion we will consider such blatant lying to be invalid evidence.)

This is an unfair and frankly predatory practice.  It’s unfair because everyone is young and stupid for a while; it’s evil to take advantage of people in that state.  And it’s predatory because their product hooks into you and kills you.

This brings us to question #2: why is smoking legal?  Why are the cigarette companies allowed to exist, to continue to make billions of dollars, and to prey on children?  The only reason is that the companies are already rich, and therefore are able to influence politicians in ways that are favorable to the cigarette companies.

It bothers me that smoking is legal not only because it’s freaking nasty and it kills tens hundreds of thousands of people annually, but also because as public policy it’s so glaringly inconsistent.  If drugs like heroin are illegal because they ruin people’s lives by causing them to be severely addicted and/or killing them, then smoking should be illegal for the exact same reasons.  The only difference is that there is a powerful political force in support of cigarettes, while there is no such support for the other currently-illegal drugs.

Posted by Anthony on 6 replies

Another Reason to Hate Spam

I haven’t received any email at any of my accounts since about Monday.  It turns out that this is because my IP address had gotten temporarily blacklisted by my host due to spam coming from this machine.

On the contact page there is a field labeled "your email address:" which had served 2 purposes: first, it allowed me to reply to whomever was sending me a message, and second, it allowed me to send a copy of the message to the visitor himself.

But apparently some spammer noticed this, and started entering the addresses of his spam-victims into the "your email address:" field, and then typing his spam messages into the message box.  Of course the spammer didn’t care that I also got a copy of every message, and I didn’t notice because they all got transferred to my junk-mail folder automatically anyway.

So, it worked great for a while, but now the contact page here and on all my sites will no longer send a copy of the message back to its author -- that is, to the person in the "your email address:" field, which may or may not be the author.

Thanks, spammers.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies


I saw this advertisement in US News & World Report about PETA’s animal practices.  I guess it is not lucrative enough, so they skipped the "caring for animals" part and went straight to the legal blackmail and fund raising.

Be sure to check out their children’s literature.  PETA is their own worst enemy.

Posted by Patrick Copland on 1 reply


Is it just us or is it the time of year that critters emerge at numerous times each night, especially when you get home after dark and turn a light on coming into a room?  There they are, lurking in a corner near the ceiling or hanging in the crease along the walls. They have 1,000,000,000,000 legs and are at LEAST four ’ long. And they are MUCH too big to squash with a tissue or even your shoe so you have to get out the sweeper with the L  O  N  G attachment hoses to suck it up and then run outside with the sweeper and throw it on the porch and run back in and slam the door closed before the thing can escape from the machine and attack you on your way back into the house!!!  I guess it’s just us :(
Why MEEEEEEE ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ?

Posted by Mom on 1 reply

Merry Christmas

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Posted by Anthony on 5 replies

Kill Yourselves Instead

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"There were pieces of human bodies all over the bus and all around the bus," said Jerusalem city councilman and opposition leader Nir Barkat, who was driving across the street at the time of the blast and helped treat the wounded.  "Would that the whole world could see the horrors that were in that bus," he said, his hands, trousers, and shoes covered in blood. ... "People were screaming ’mommy’ and ’daddy.’ There were body parts everywhere, including some hands and feet scattered outside the bus," medic Reuven Pohl said. ... Deploring the world’s "double standards" for criticizing Israel for building the security barrier, Barkat said that "Our right not to be blown up is more important than the quality of life of people whose lives will be disrupted as a result of... the fence."

- JPost and Cox & Forkum

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply
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