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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two Plainfield cops indicted in fraudulent overtime allegations

Police misconduct tarnishes the Division's image and corrodes
the public's trust.

Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park announced a 39-count indictment against two Plainfield police officers Monday, alleging a fake overtime scheme that is said to have netted the pair $11,000 in unearned payments.

You can read the reports in the Ledger (here) and the Courier (here), which are based on a detailed press release issued by the Prosecutor's public information officer, former Plainfield beat reporter Mark Spivey.

I had been hearing for months that Internal Affairs was looking into overtime irregularities involving the two -- Sgt. Leslie Knight and Lt. James Abney. One of the allegations that was in circulation is that both officers billed the city for overtime while serving as members of the Planning Board, which is a volunteer activity.

It is also rumored that both turned down an offer to make restitution and take a penalty of suspension and/or demotion.

The allegations date back to 2012 and 2013, during the term of former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. In the United States, indicted persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Followers of Plainfield Today will recall that I have posted several times over the Robinson-Briggs years of morale issues in the Police Division arising from favoritism run amok and political retribution against those who protest (see a sample list at end of this post).

The total involved in Monday's indictment -- $11,000 -- does not seem that large: split between two people over two years, it comes to about $50 per week each. Chump change compared to the lifetime salaries (and pensions) the two will lose if convicted. Plus losing the right of public employment forever.

One interesting angle on which to speculate: If the duo refused an offer of restitution, was it predicated on believing that Mayor Robinson-Briggs encouraged or approved their actions? If so, will Her Honor be compelled to offer testimony at the trial? That would be a reason to schlep down to the County Courthouse.

Nevertheless, it's a sad day for Plainfield and the Police Division.

Here is a sample of past Plainfield Today stories on police morale, favoritism and political punishment --

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Princeton votes to hire former Plainfield administrator Marc Dashield

Former Plainfield City Administrator Marc Dashield.
Is that fan mail he's checking?

Princeton's Borough Council voted unanimously Monday evening to hire former Plainfield City Administrator Marc Dashield as its new administrator, according to reports in the Star-Ledger (see here and here).

Dashield, city administrator for two years during Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' first term escaped the Asylum at the end of 2009 (see my post here) to Montclair, where he served as town manager until the Princeton appointment.

No one ever doubted that Dashield was a talented administrator, but the gyrations he was forced to perform while serving during the 'bizarre and largely incompetent reign' of Robinson-Briggs (to quote a recent Courier editorial, see here), subjected him to nearly constant criticism from Council, public and bloggers alike.

Dashield told former Courier reporter Mark Spivey at the time of his departure for Montclair that he would --

... miss working in the Queen City ... "I enjoyed it because there was always something new, different and challenging, ...[t]here was always something going on, always some challenge to deal with, and I think that's what I'll always remember...
I don't know if the irony was intended, but the descriptives accurately reflect the actual situation on the ground.

Dashield was picked out of a field of fifteen candidates interested in replacing Princeton's retiring administrator. He is expected to take up his new duties at the end of October, after giving the Montclair folks proper notice.

Congratulations Marc, from Plainfield -- pathway to the stars.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Plainfield Board of Ed campaigns stir

Signs for Jerry Green's BOE slate are so crowded you have
to get out of your car to read them, but they do include row numbers.

The independents' slate is more legible, but missing the ballot IDs.

Plainfield's 2014 Board of Ed campaigns have begun to stir, as evidenced by the signs seen sprouting around the city in recent days.

Assemblyman Jerry Green, chair of the Plainfield and Union County Democratic committees, has mounted his own slate of three candidates: Michael Horn (4), Norman Ortega (5) and Tania Center (6). In fact, the city's Democratic headquarters on Park Avenue in the Masonic Building is full of signs for the BOE candidates and nothing else at this point. It's a sad commentary on the fate of Plainfield's originally nonpartisan BOE elections.

Horn chaired the 2014 Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and Ortega created a stir a number of years ago with a series of letters in the Courier about Plainfield issues when he was a resident of North Plainfield; he has since moved to Plainfield and served briefly as a member of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

An independent slate of three with no political affiliation is also running, and includes David Rutherford (2), Carletta Jeffers (3) and Terrence Bellamy, Sr. (7). David blogs regularly at PlainfieldView and is well-known around town.

The last of seven candidates vying for the three open seats is incumbent Dorien Hurtt (1), who is running solo.

Plainfield voters will select three candidates to serve on the Board of Ed at the November 4 general election. Plainfield was among a vast majority of school districts to move its election from April to November when the state offered the opportunity. One of the 'sweeteners' for the districts in the change of date was that citizens were no longer given the opportunity to vote on the school budget for elections held in November if the proposed budgets stayed within a cap.

CORRECTION: Mr. Horn was a member of the 2014 CBAC, not the chair -- Dan.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Former Councilor Joann Hollis passes

Ward 4 Councilor Joanne Hollis in 2005.

Word came Friday afternoon that former Plainfield Councilor Joanne Hollis has passed.

Joanne served as Councilor for the 4th Ward in the early 2000s, and as a longtime Commissioner on the Plainfield Housing Authority. For many years she was employed by Kings Daughters Day School and was a tireless champion of West End causes and concerns. Joanne was also the sister of current 4th Ward Councilor and Council President Bridget Rivers.

My condolences to Joanne's family. I will post funeral arrangements as they become available.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Plainfield sets 2014 flu shot dates

'Tis the season...

Plainfield Health Officer Denise Proctor has scheduled three free flu clinics for Plainfield residents for the 2014 flu season.

The CDC recommends that annual flu shots be gotten at the beginning of the flu season each year -- ideally during October -- and the Plainfield program is right on target.

Who should get flu shots? There are vaccines available for every age from childhood on up. But two groups that should not get the shots are pregnant women and those who have allergic reactions either to the shots themselves or to egg-related products.

Here's the schedule for Plainfield's 2014 flu shot program --
October 9 (Thursday)
City Hall Annex - First Floor
510 Watchung Avenue
6:00 - 8:00PM

October 10 (Friday)
St. Mary's Church
West 6th & Liberty Streets
6:00 - 8:00 PM

October 22 (Wednesday)
Senior Citizen Center
400 East Front Street
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
The program is free and on a walk-in basis, with no reservations needed.

For more information, call the Plainfield Division of Health at (908) 753-3092

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

YMCA Motorcycle Ride set for Sunday

Riders assemble for the 2010 Bike Ride. Photo courtesy David Beverly.

The Plainfield YMCA's 5th annual Send A Kid To Camp Ride will take place this Sunday, September 28.

All motorcycles are welcome, and bikers will assemble on East 6th Street, between Watchung and Cleveland Avenues. This is adjacent to the YMCA at 518 Watchung Avenue, directly across from Plainfield City Hall.

Registrations accepted morning of the ride, starting at 10:00 AM. Kickstands up at 11:30 AM. This is a rain-or-shine event.

The cost is $20 per biker, passengers free. Registration can be made using a credit card, either in advance by telephoning the YMCA at (908) 756-6060, or the morning of the ride.

The escorted ride will take bikers through scenic parts of New Jersey and end at the Kingsmen Motorcycle Clubhouse at Madison Avenue and West 3rd Street, where there will be food, vendors and a DJ from 1:00 - 3:00 PM. Prizes for contestant bikes will be given in the following categories: Custom, Cruiser, Sport and the best represented Club.

Proceeds of the ride help fund the YMCA's annual summer camp for kids

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cancer 'hot spot' at police headquarters?

This Collier photo (ca. 1920) of 5th and Watchung clearly shows
a gas storage tank in the background, in the area of the
present-day police parking lot. (Image, Plainfield Public Library collection)

Received an anonymous comment about concerns -- perhaps from a city employee -- about elevated cancer rates among those who work in the Police Headquarters and Courthouse.

There seem to have been industrial uses in the area a long time ago. The photo above, from the Collier Collection at the Plainfield Public Library shows a gas storage tower rising in the background (the building in the front center is at 5th and Watchung) in what is now the area of the police parking lot between the current building and Roosevelt Avenue.

Site remediation was not on anyone's radar when the police headquarters building was put up in the 1960s, so no one knows what was simply paved over or left in place.

The question of whether there are elevated cancer rates among those working in the building is a complicated one and would require a determination based on a thorough study, going back as far as possible.

This would involve compiling detailed records of present and past employees, the types of cancers involved, whether environmental factors could be causative, and if the results indicate a 'hot spot'. It would also include reviewing the history of the site for possible industrial uses and toxic wastes or residues.

I would suggest that the place for concerned employees to start is to present their concerns to their union(s) and ask them to pursue the matter with the city.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tennis Fun Day set for Van Blake courts

Donald Van Blake, great-nephew Rayland Van Blake and
great-great-nephew Ray-Ray at the DVB Tennis Courts in 2002.

A 'Tennis Fun Day' is planned by the Donald Van Blake Tennis Education Foundation for Saturday, October 4 at the tennis courts at Hub Stine athletic complex on Randolph Road.

The event is co-sponsored by the Plainfield Division of Parks & Recreation and is part of an effort to expand the city's recreation offerings to adults and seniors as well as young people.

The event is billed as for 'ages 50 thru 100' and is aimed at engaging older adults who enjoy the sport, those who may be a bit rusty, or those who have always wanted to give tennis a try.

Besides offering match play, and women's, men's and mixed doubles, there will be free instruction. Awards and prizes will be given and all participants will get a T-shirt. Refreshments and beverages will be provided.

Registration is $8/person, payable by check or money order (payable to 'City of Plainfield') and includes T-shirt. Advance payments can be made at the Recreation Division on the first floor of City Hall Annex, 510 Watchung Avenue. The event gets under way at 10:00 AM on Saturday, October 4.

The Donald Van Blake Tennis Courts are at the Hub Stine Athletic Complex on Randolph Road, across from Muhlenberg Hospital. Parking on the street.

For more information, contact Gerry Boone (908) 358-2511, Donald Van Blake (570) 350-2738, Sandy Lindsay (908) 358-1113, Lou Wiggs (908) 244-3252 or Inez Durham (908) 756-8611.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Library photo contest deadline nears

Some of my favorite architectural details are fancy brickwork --
above on Hillcrest Avenue...

... and this exuberant detail from a Moorish Revival mansion
on Madison Avenue.

Time is running out for Plainfield's premier photo contest. Friday is the deadline for submitting photos for the 9th Annual Plainfield Public Library photo contest.

This year's theme is 'Roofs, Chimneys and Architectural Details of Plainfield'.

This fun contest has generated a treasure trove of hundreds of photos of Plainfield people, places and activities -- helping to make an ongoing record of life in the Queen City.

In recent years the rules were relaxed slightly to include photos in the theme even though they may not have been taken during the contest period. So, get your cameras out and get going! If you have recent photos of items that fit the topic, submit them.

Photos can be submitted in 8x10 or 5x7 format in black and white or color on standard photographic paper. Each entrant can submit up to five photos. There is no cost to enter and bragging rights are granted with ribbons and certificates at a reception honoring all submissions.

It's great fun and a way to preserve Plainfield's ongoing history. Check out the full details on the library's website (see here) and download your registration forms. Forms are also available in the main Reading Room.

Entries can be delivered by hand to the Library or mailed -- but mailed entries must be postmarked no later than Friday, September 26.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

West End corner looking up

Big changes at the corner of West Front and Clinton.
Now that Plainfield's most notorious liquor store (Arlington Liquors) is gone, replaced with a fried chicken restaurant, the corner of West Front and Clinton Avenue is already looking better.

Above are snapshots of the new Tasty Fried Chicken storefront, the nearly completed Dunkin' Donuts and the renovated stores on the other corner which are evidently owned by Paramount Properties, Plainfield's largest owner of retail properties.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

David Rutherford details Jerry Green's jobs technique

Is Jerry Green Plainfield's answer to Mephistopheles?

Neither fans nor foes of Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green will want to miss David Rutherford's firsthand account of Jerry's jobs technique.

David's post is entitled 'The Patronage Mill' and you can read it here. In it he describes Jerry's attempt to recruit David.

It appears to be just a coincidence that on Tuesday Jerry put up a rambling post protesting his innocence and non-involvement in local affairs, attacking the bloggers, and rambling disconnectedly. Is it any wonder that his nickname at the Statehouse is 'Mumbles'? (It seems possible, from stylistic evidence, that the entry was dictated to someone -- a much younger staff person?)

The bloggers extract their own revenge -- Olddoc took a scalpel to the Assemblyman today (see here).

And Bernice caught Jerry in one of his usual non sequiturs, contrasting actual slimy Jerry words about a candidate for public office and his protestation that he is innocent of such behavior (see her piece here).

At any rate, you can file Jerry's post under 'Fiction' and consider David's, Bernice's and Olddoc's under 'Fact'.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Councilors Storch and Williams host Family Fun Day Saturday

Leland Avenue Park is a popular neighborhood venue.
Here, youngsters take a break during a cleanup day.

Councilors Cory Storch (Ward 2) and Rebecca Williams (Wards 2/3 at-large) are hosting a Family Fun Day and Community Picnic on Saturday from Noon to 4:00 PM at the Leland Avenue Playground. The event will feature refreshments and games for children and adults. Arrangements are under the supervision of the Plainfield Division of Parks & Recreation.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What will Watson appointment mean for New Dems?

What does this move mean for the New Dems' future?

Plainfield's New Democrats were caught completely off-guard by Mayor Adrian Mapp's surprise selection of former PMUA executive director Eric Watson as the acting head of the Department of Public Works and Urban Development.

Along with the rest of the community, they must make sense of this appointment -- which is entirely within the Mayor's prerogatives -- and try and discern its impact for the future, both for Plainfield and for the New Democrats.

Mayor Mapp has said he bases the selection on Watson's experience and told Courier News reporter Sergio Bichao that Watson 'could easily hit the ground running' (see the Courier story here). He is also a resident, which removes that question from being a consideration as it has been in recent personnel moves.

Reactions to the Watson appointment have been varied. (For a list of links to some of my previous coverage of Watson, the PMUA, and his role in the Robinson-Briggs re-election campaign, see here.)

A few people have said to me that Watson's qualities as an administrator should outweigh public perceptions about the severance package he was awarded by the PMUA board. In the view of these folks, the matters can be separated, the hubbub will subside in a few days, and Plainfield will move on.

Many more, though, have expressed reservations and worry about the effect Mapp's decision may have on Councilors Rebecca Williams and Cory Storch, the only New Dems besides the mayor to hold elected office.

Williams, the Wards 2/3 at-large representative who won a contested June Primary without the backing of Assemblyman Jerry Green, is on the November slate which is headed by Cory Booker and Bonnie Watson Coleman.

Storch, who represents Ward 2, faces the likelihood of a challenge if he chooses to run in next June's primary. His current term expires December 31, 2015. Storch is quoted in the Courier story as saying he will vote against Watson's appointment.

There is strong community feeling that Watson's settlement with the PMUA was egregious and tarnishing and will leave unresolved questions over his and Mayor Mapp's heads concerning Watson's long and close relationships with Assemblyman Green and PMUA commissioners Malcolm R. Dunn and Cecil Sanders, the architects of the PMUA settlement.

New Democrats must try and figure out if the Watson appointment is a coup for Mapp, a catastrophe, or something in between. Only time will tell.

For now, there is nothing but consternation.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jerry finds work for Sharon, Mackson

Jerry comes through for Sharon.

Those who fretted that former Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs left office without landing the traditional pol's perk -- a government job -- can rest easy.

Word in the street is that Sharon is ensconced in a job with Union County, thanks to the good offices of Assemblyman Jerry Green, her erstwhile mentor and chair of the Plainfield and Union County Democratic committees.

Same is reported of Lamar David Mackson, formerly with Plainfield's cable TV station, who is now regularly posting Union County press releases on his Facebook page.

Robinson-Briggs had burned all her bridges in the final years of her second term and was on notoriously bad terms with former UCDC chair Charlotte DeFilippo, who complained bitterly that Sharon never returned her phone calls.

Sharon's further decision to challenge the party's designation of Mapp for the mayor's line made her persona non grata with Green. But evidently that is all water over the dam and Robinson-Briggs is once again in his good graces after spending months at the mike at Council meetings spinning cotton-candy versions of her administration while lambasting Mapp.

It all fits in with reports that Jerry was badmouthing Mapp as he handed out free phones this past weekend in the Twin City parking lot.

So, is Jerry at the top of his game? Or perhaps a little around the bend?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mapp hires Eric Watson for DPW. What do you think?

Eric Watson makes full circle, returns to Public Works.

Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp has hired former PMUA executive director Eric Watson to be the new head of the Department of Public Works and Urban Development, replacing the well-respected Eric Jackson, who was elected mayor of Trenton in May. Watson is slated to start work Monday.

Mayor Mapp says he has contemplated several candidates and that Watson brings the skills and experience to the job which will make him a good contribution to the Mapp leadership team.

The appointment of department heads is the mayor's prerogative, with the advice and consent of the Council. While residency has been an issue with recent hires, it will not be a concern when Watson's name is brought forward as he is a Plainfield resident.

So, what do you think?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Netherwood Heights house tour today


Netherwood Heights Neighbors Association is holding its 'Tour of Homes' today from 1:00 to 5:30 PM.

Eight of the district's gracious homes will be open for visitors. Day-of tickets are available at 1201 Denmark Road for $35.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Send not to know for whom the bell tolls ... it tolls for thee

The passage by John Donne supplied the title of Ernest Hemingway's
novel about the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.
The 1943 film starred Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper.

Recent Plainfield events brought to mind a powerful and favorite passage from John Donne, the 17th century ecclesiastic and poet --

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.
Often cited as poetry, it actually comes from a series of prose pieces known as 'Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions' (Meditation XVII), written during the course of a serious illness in 1624.

While he lay delirious with fever and with little contact because caregivers were fearful of infection, Donne heard the bells of a neighboring church tolling for funerals.

Not knowing for whom they were being rung, he imagined that in fact the tolling may be to announce his own demise.

With his Catholic sensibility that all humanity is part of the Body of Christ, he extends the thought to recognize that the loss of any one is a loss to the entire body. We are all in this together, and whatever one does affects all.

The insight is important, even if it seems more modern to us than it really was. And of course, like any metaphor, it is a 'three-legged dog', nevertheless effective.

And a reminder that whatever others may do that impacts us, we alone are responsible for getting our own affairs in order.

Small wonder that Hemingway used the line for the title of his powerful novel about the Spanish Civil War.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Big Weekend: Festival, Concert, Family Day, Bus Trip, House Tour

Sunday Netherwood House Tour is one of featured activities.

A really big weekend for Plainfield
runs from today through Sunday: a festival, concert, family day, bus trip, house tour -- and the Cardinals opening game. Is that enough?


Voluntad Productions hosts its third annual Latin Heritage Festival from Friday through Sunday in the public lot between Watchung and Roosevelt Avenues. The carnival rides began arriving on Tuesday and many were set up and lit on Thursday evening. Organizer Rodney Maree of Chez Maree told me recently that he had gotten more rides and vendors and of course a full schedule of musical groups. The volume was toned down a bit last year and things will shut down at 10 PM each night. Nothing more has been said about an opening parade since the May Council meeting (see post here), so it may not be happening. The competing festival by Edison Garcia of Los Faraones is NOT happening this year.

The Friends of the Plainfield Public Library have a bus trip to Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton on Saturday. This is the world-famous exhibit of outdoor public sculpture. As of Thursday, I understand there are still a few seats available. The cost is $20/person and tickets may be purchased at the Library's Circulation Desk until 5 PM today. The bus departs the 9th Street Library parking lot on Saturday at 10:30 AM sharp. Lunch is on your own at any of the three restaurants on the grounds.

Sorry, gang. The event is NEXT Saturday, Sept. 20. My bad -- Dan. Councilors Cory Storch (Ward 2) and Rebecca Williams (2/3 at-large) are hosting a Family Fun Day and Community Picnic on Saturday from Noon to 4:00 PM at the Leland Avenue Playground. The event will features refreshments and games for children and adults. Arrangements are under supervision of the Plainfield Division of Parks & Recreation.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp invites all to gather for a 'One Plainfield' Concert at Cedar Brook Park, also on Saturday, from 4:00 to 7:00 PM. Performers include Melisa Morgan, Kimara Lovelace, the 5.0 Band and Los Primos. The event is hosted by comedian Kenny Williams. Remember to bring lawn chairs. Parking in the Park Drive lot.

Netherwood Heights Neighbors Association is holding its 'Tour of Homes' Sunday from 1:00 to 5:30 PM. Eight of the district's gracious homes will be open for visitors. Tickets are available in advance at Swain Galleries, Sleepy Hollow Realtors and FroYo in Westfield. $30/person in advance. Day-of tickets are available at 1201 Denmark Road for $35.
Plainfield High's Cardinals kicks off the fall football season with their opening game against the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Raiders Saturday at 2:00 PM at Hub Stine Field.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

'Plainfield whorehouse' post climbs toward 6,000

Pageviews of 'whorehouse' post, as of 9/11/14.

Happened to glance at Plainfield Today's readership statistics today and notice that the 'whorehouse' post (see here) from last week is approaching 6,000 views -- even surpassing interest in posts on Jerry Green, now my second largest draw.

The post garnered only one really critical comment, which came via IM to my cellphone and has since, unfortunately, vanished into the ether.

As I recall, the reader questioned my use of the term 'whorehouse', noting the 'cultural differences' between sex worker preferences for venue, and a general lack of polish to the post.

I chose the term carefully, trying for a little shock value without the use of either wimpy Bowdlerizing terms (such as house of ill repute) or vulgarisms (such as cathouse). I was also aware of a popular Broadway show of a few years ago with the term in its title.

Noting the differences in preferred venues of sex workers was simply reporting what a cop had told me years ago. The whole post, as I said, was a riff on Olddoc's 'potpourri' style -- to stitch together several small items in one larger post. The only theme was sex work.

As to polish, it wasn't intended to be a 'heavy' piece like  on Muhlenberg or economic development. In comedy they call it a 'throwaway'.

Top five sources of traffic.

One interesting thing about the stats is that Blogger lets its authors see not only how much traffic a post gets, but also the sources. In the case of the 'whorehouse' post, it is quite revealing.

The two most used 'referring sites' by far are identified with an '' -- meaning folks who access their web pages from their smartphone Facebook app. And the fifth of the top five is those who access their information from Facebook on their laptop or desktop machine. Social media rules!

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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