Filed Under: default || By jt3y
Category: default || By jt3y
As a big fan of "Bloom County" back during the late paleozoic era, I've been faithfully reading Berke Breathed's new Sunday-only comic strip, "Opus" (it runs in the Post-Gazette locally), in the hope that it would eventually be funny. I had almost given up until this week's episode, when Pittsburgh's favorite press critic made an appearance, along with Dick Cheney ... in a hamster suit, no less. I actually laughed out loud.
Give Breathed credit; unlike Garry Trudeau, he actually draws caricatures of the people he's lampooning, and not waffles or feathers. In this case, by the way, it wasn't so much a caricature of Teresa Kerry as it was character assassination.
There's more on Yawn Kerry and his daughter's hamster at the Hamsters for Kerry Web site.
A tip of the Tube City Online hard hat for the Hamsters for Kerry info to StuntViolist, who asks, "What if rodents were involved in American politics?"
What do you mean, if?
Speaking of hard hats, I respect Professor Pittsblog, but he's talking out of his hat. He was piqued recently when a guest speaker at a professional association was given a Steeler hard hat as a token of gratitude:
Here's what I see when I look at the Steeler hard hat ... I see a tribute to two industries --- steel and mining --- which have their best days behind them. I see an idealization of Pittsburgh's history. Does it hold Pittsburgh back to say that this is still a steel town, even metaphorically? Ask your friends around the country and around the world about their impressions of Pittsburgh. Are they good ones? I hope so. Are those positive associations based on the history (and continuing presence) of steel? I'd like to know the answer, but I'd wager that the answer is no.
Category: default || By jt3y
(More of my tedious, namby-pamby, couch-potato views on national politics here; skip to the end for local stuff.)
I swore I wasn't going to become the kind of whiny liberal who works himself or herself into a foaming, teeth-gnashing frenzy every time Dubya shows up on television. (For one thing, I'm not that liberal ... although I am plenty whiny.) But lately, I've noticed myself tensing whenever the President begins to speak on radio or TV.
I used to root for him: "Come on! You can do it! You can finish that sentence!" Now, I just want to yell at him: "Stop smirking! What's so funny, anyway! Stop it!" This morning, I woke up to AP Radio News on WMBS; they were playing excerpts of the President making a campaign speech in West Virginia. I almost fell out of bed, diving for the off switch.
As I got dressed, my reaction started to bother me, and I couldn't figure out what quality of his voice was annoying me so much. We've had Southerners in the White House before --- Carter and Clinton, for instance --- and their accents didn't bother me like this. It isn't necessarily the content of what he says, either; I can listen to Cheney and Wolfy and Rummy and Condi (good Lord, I don't remember who pointed this out first, but it does sound like the cast of the Little Rascals), saying the same things as Dubya, and not get aggravated. And I can read excerpts of the President's speeches without grinding my teeth (usually).
So what about the sound of Dubya drives me to the brink?
A friend finally put his finger on it for me this morning: "His tone is condescending."
Eureka. That's it. He speaks with the cadences of an impatient Sunday school teacher trying to explain the story of Noah and the ark to a roomful of fidgety, slightly-stupid fourth-graders. He speaks in short, declarative sentences, and he bites them off at the end abruptly, as if to say, "This is so simple, if only you weren't too thick to understand."
You can tell me almost anything, but don't talk down to me. Nothing brings me out of my cage snarling and clawing like someone talking to me as if I'm daft.
Aw, maybe I'm reading too much into this. I probably am. I know this much: I usually like to listen to KQV and NPR during the day, but with this being the week of the Republican National Convention, I'm sticking to music at work, and CDs in the car and at home. I don't know if I can take a week full of smugness.
My dental work will thank me.
Update: I made the mistake of listening to the 1 p.m. news, which had a soundbite from the President saying that we can't win the war on terrorism. Here's the quote, courtesy of NBC News, which aired an interview with the President on the "Today" show: "I don't think you can win it. ... But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."
Now, who was it going around saying that the war on terror could be won with "decisive action"?
Oh, yes. It was the President of the United States, during the 2004 State of the Union Address.
Now you see why I'm trying to avoid the news this week.
While we're on the subject: The second headline today on the official White House home page is "President George W. Bush's Record of Achievement: President George W. Bush's first term has been among the most consequential and successful in modern times."
Pardon the heck out of me, but should my tax dollars be spent to promote the re-election of incumbent office holders? There's not much about that headline or the qualifiers "most consequential and successful" that's value-neutral.
Of course, I'm also not sure that the official White House home page should have a photo every day of the President's dog, Barney, but it does.
At least Barney doesn't talk down to the audience. Oh, he may whiz on a few trees now and then, but don't we all?
Dave Copeland is trying to drum up traffic and interest in his new project, Freelance Daily, a spot for tips and leads about freelance writing.
Nice try, Copeland, but Tube City Almanac doesn't dish out links quite so easily! Ha ha!
Also via Copeland: Do you have your Halloween costume yet? How about sending you child out dressed as a pimp or a prostitute? (Maybe the Prez has something after all when he talks about promoting "family values.")
The one I found truly amusing was the costume described as "nutty tourist." It apparently consists of a Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts, straw hat, and a plastic lei.
No offense, but if you can't scrounge those items up without paying $31.99 for a Halloween costume, you shouldn't be allowed to operate a toaster without supervision, much less a computer.
Fallowfield Township supervisors have voted 2-to-1 against continuing negotiations with Charleroi and other communities about a Mon Valley regional police department, reports Scott Beveridge in Friday's Observer-Reporter. (The O-R's links expire quickly, so you'll have to search for the story if you want to read it yourself.)
Thursday's edition of The Valley Mirror had a story about the history of Chiodo's Bar in Homestead, and its predecessors. The building, according to Linda and John Asmonga, dates to 1895, and the original owner was Frederick Trautman, who operated a bar and hotel there. Trautman's Hotel had a reputation as one of the best on Eighth Avenue (there were 45 hotels in Homestead in 1906, the article says.)
During Prohibition, the building operated as a speak-easy, the Asmongas write. With 57 years of service, Chiodo's Tavern is the longest operating business in the building ... and it looks as if it will be the last.
(The Mirror doesn't put stories online; you'll have to go get a "DTE" --- "dead tree edition" --- in one of the Woodland Hills or Steel Valley communities to see for yourself.)
Category: default || By jt3y
I want to apologize to everyone this week on whom I've been inflicting references to Guy Caballero, Count Floyd, Johnny La Rue, Edith Prickley, Lola Heatherington and others. In fact, I'd just like to say that I apologize to everyone who ever knew me, or met me, or wanted to meet me.
Whoops! There I go again. Well, I'm sorry about that, but what would you rather have, this Web page or soccer? Hours and hours of soccer? Liverpool versus Hampshire. Some guy bouncing a ball off of his head.
Darn! I did it again.
Well, I have an explanation. Recently, I did something I swore I'd never do: I bought a DVD set of an old television show. My feeling is, why buy a box set of "M*A*S*H" or "I Love Lucy" or "The Simpsons" when those shows air for free over and over and over again?
But in this case, the show I bought hasn't been seen on TV much at all since its original run ended 20 years ago ... and wasn't seen that much, frankly, in the first place. It's "SCTV," the low-budget syndicated parody of network television, filmed in Canada by some very talented comedians from The Second City improv troupe in Toronto. It had a brief run on NBC and Cinemax before sinking beneath the waves.
My love of "SCTV" is such that I bought the box set --- nine episodes from the start of the NBC run, plus interviews with the cast --- even though I gave away my DVD player some time ago. Last week, as a reward to myself for getting the new house settled (somewhat), I went to Sears and bought a no-frills DVD player, and I've been working my way through the box set, trying to pace myself, one episode at a time.
It hasn't been easy. I first saw "SCTV" during a family vacation to Niagara Falls. I had to be about 9 years old. It was a episode in which the ghosts of old television shows haunt SCTV, a fictional, low-budget television network somewhere out in the prairies of Canada (in reality, the series was mostly filmed at an independent station in Edmonton, Alberta). I didn't even get many of the references in the episode, but it was just bizarre, compelling, and funny.
I remember being particularly a little chilled by the closing scene, in which the voice of Jackie Gleason --- played by John Candy --- emanates from a discarded TV tube in a garbage can. A quick search of one of the many, many Web sites devoted to "SCTV" reveals that this episode was called "Sweeps Week," and originally aired in 1983. It also won an Emmy for best writing, and was nominated for two others.
For several years after, I would sneak out at 2 or 3 a.m. to catch SCTV reruns that aired on WPGH. I had to watch with the volume turned down really, really low to keep from waking my parents. (Note to any of my elementary school and junior high teachers who might read this: Now you know why I seemed so tired Tuesday through Friday mornings.)
Anyway, I was reluctant to order the DVDs in part because I was worried that the show wouldn't hold up. I used to like a lot of things when I was 12 years old ... BMX bikes, Chevy Monte Carlos, classic rock ... what if "SCTV" turned out to be not as good as I remembered?
I shouldn't have worried. If anything, it's better, because I understand the cultural references now.
Don't be mistaken: "SCTV" is an acquired taste, its ratings were abysmally low, and it had difficulty getting distribution. The sets are cheap and flimsy, and the makeup is nearly amateurish in some cases --- it's nowhere near the productions standards that even "Saturday Night Live" had during the late '70s.
But if you can stick with "SCTV," you'll find it much more nuanced than "SNL," and it takes on much more obscure targets --- Swedish films, Canadian quiz shows and O. Henry short stories were all subjects of "SCTV" parodies, for cripes sakes! --- and trusts the audience to be smart enough to get the jokes (or at least tolerant enough to play along).
The fictional SCTV network depended heavily on cheap made-for-TV knockoffs of popular movies; thus "Chinatown" became "Polynesiantown" (remember when Polynesian and Hawaiian cuisine was popular?) and the Jason Robards comedy "Melvin and Howard" became "Melvin and Howards" --- in which besides Howard Hughes, milkman Melvin Dummar also gives a ride to Howard Cosell, Howard Baker and Curly Howard of the Three Stooges.
Some of the stuff requires a heavy knowledge of '70s and '80s pop culture: Rick Moranis' running character of Gerry Todd, the music video disc jockey, is much funnier when you know that music videos barely existed then, and that MTV wouldn't go on the air for another three years. You have to remember smarmy '70s talk shows like those hosted by Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas to appreciate the swingin' hipsters on SCTV's "The Sammy Maudlin Show."
Perhaps because the budget was so tight, unlike "SNL," "SCTV" didn't specialize in celebrity impersonations, though the ones that did appear were dynamite. Dave Thomas' Bob Hope is incredible, and Moranis' Woody Allen is frighteningly accurate. (The two team up for an "SCTV" take off of Allen's "Play it Again, Sam" in "Play it Again, Bob," which also features Joe Flaherty as Bing Crosby.) This DVD doesn't include Eugene Levy's deadpan Perry Como, singing the hits while lying on a couch, barely conscious. But it does have John Candy's Orson Welles, doing a Christmas special with Dave Thomas' Liberace. It has to be seen to be believed.
For Pittsburghers, an added treat is watching for the Western Pennsylvania references that Joe Flaherty and his brother, Paul, were constantly sneaking into the scripts, like this station ID: "This is the SCTV Television Network ... Channel 3 in Pittsburgh, Cable 102 in Blawnox." At one point, horror movie host Count Floyd introduces a movie called "Blood-Sucking Monkeys from West Mifflin, Pennsylvania," only to find out that SCTV doesn't have the film.
In fact, Flaherty has freely admitted that the Count Floyd character and his show, "Monster Chiller Horror Theater," were spoofs of erstwhile Channel 11 weatherman and announcer "Chilly" Bill Cardille, and his late-night horror movie show, "Chiller Theater." (Like Cardille in real life, the fictional Count Floyd had to pull other shifts around the station; he was the co-anchor of the SCTV News.)
Watching "SCTV" is a little bittersweet, too. These are talented folks, but for some of them, "SCTV" was the highlight of their careers. Dave Thomas hasn't done much other than a recurring role on the so-so sitcom "Grace Under Fire." Catherine O'Hara --- now 50 but still a knockout --- is doing bit parts and voices for cartoons. (Her biggest role post-"SCTV" was probably as the mother in "Beetlejuice.") Rick Moranis seems to be typecast as a nebbish in family films.
Others have done better; Gene Levy is in demand for character roles. Andrea Martin is doing voiceovers and stage work. Only two "SCTV" stars went on to have big careers, by Hollywood standards --- Martin Short and John Candy --- and Candy's career was very uneven. For every light classic that he did, like "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," "Only the Lonely" and the under-appreciated "Delirious," he turned out an execrable piece of garbage like "Wagons East," his last film. It's also sad to watch Candy knowing that he's now been dead for 10 years.
But over all, I have to say that the first "SCTV" box set was a good five dollars' worth of entertainment for me and my whole family, eh? I can barely wait for Volume 2, even if no one gets blowed up real good.
In other stories, demolition derby is all fun and games until someone gets T-boned in a Plymouth Horizon, reports Rebekah Scott in the Post-Gazette:
Ambulances stand by at each event, and officials stop all action when a driver is hurt. If he's knocked unconscious, they summon a medical helicopter, said Chairman Chuck Sheffler. Each car is inspected before the race to ensure it's reinforced or cut apart at appropriate spots for fire-dousing and driver safety. Harnesses, seat belts and helmets are required at each race, but injuries aren't unheard of.
At a late July race in New Alexandria, as firefighters cut drivers out of their smashed-together pickups, the track announcer reassured the crowd that the injuries are "nothing out of the ordinary. We Life Flight somebody out of here every few weeks, and they're back up and out here again in time for the championships."
Olson said regulating the sport might spoil the fun, or even eliminate the races altogether.
Category: default || By jt3y
I used to cover Wall (population 727) for The Daily News and the Trib. When I started to attend borough council meetings, some of the officials were taken aback --- no one had paid any attention to them for years --- but very friendly and accommodating. (One official in a neighboring community complained because I was writing stories about Wall. "Who cares about them?" he asked me. "People who live there," I said. "Besides, they pay 35 cents for their paper, just like you do.")
Anyway, Susan Schmeichel of the Trib has been paying attention, too: She reports that Wall is about to celebrate its centennial with a street fair Sept. 25.
I guess that will include events at the Wall Municipal Building, also known as the Wall Hall. There's going to be a musical guest at the Wall Centennial; sadly, it isn't Diana Krall, although Diana Krall at the Wall Hall in the Fall would be a ball (I think Krall is a doll, even in Wall), because Wall Hall is nice in the Fall, though if it's cold, wear a shawl.
Now, if they ever build a mall behind the Wall Hall, it would be the Wall Hall Mall. Unfortunately, traffic would stall to a crawl.
If Wall ever got into a war with Wilmerding, they'd have to build a protective barrier: Would it be the Great Wall of Wall?
OK, I'll stop.
Except that I always wondered what would have happened if Wall and Wilmerding had merged. Would the new town be "Wallmerding"?
I was partial to "Wilmerwall," myself.
Yesterday, I wrote about how Our Fair City has traditionally gone to great lengths to distance itself from Pittsburgh.
According to a visitor to the Pittsburgh Radio Nostalgia message board, known only as "KW," the anti-Pittsburgh sentiment even extended to one of Our Fair City's two radio stations, WMCK (which later became WIXZ and is now known as WPTT).
Despite a relatively poor signal, KW contends that WMCK had a chance (in those days before FM radio was prominent) to compete with Pittsburgh's Top 40 stations, especially KQV:
The 1958 version of the "Mighty 1360" did 'needle' KQV. It was programed by Legendary Dick Lawrence, and featured on-air talent including Jim White (KMOX), Lou Janis (KQV), Bill Lynch, Jay Morton, Herb Allen and ex-vaudavillian Pat Haley, who'd been the Program Manager at KDKA long before any of us were born. In addition, the station also boasted Cathy Milton. Overnights, the station used an 'automated' Seburg Juke Box, operated by the transmitter engineer, who would 'insert' jingles, spots etc. The overnight program had it's own jingle, "Nightwatch." The jocks at the stations used to promote it as "The Mechanical Monster." This "Mighty 1360" automated overnight far preceeded WHOT's automated "Big Al Knight Show."
According to what was related to me by Haley and Morton, orginally, Lawrence wanted to use the call letters WPGH, which having been abandoned by WILY/WEEP, were available. The local McKeesport merchants who, in 1958, owned the station would have none of that. So, Lawrence just called it "Mighty 1360," and used the "MCK" call letters, buried only in a legal ID jingle.
Alice Giles had always told her relatives, which include one surviving child, 17 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, that the one thing she wanted to do before she died was to ride on the back of a firetruck.
"They don't even let us do that anymore," said Chuck Cook, acting fire company president.
So riding in the front with driver Jim Smith was the next best thing.
Bob Dole's nasty swipe at John Kerry's war wounds this week made you understand why Viagra has been losing market share to Cialis. The sight of that bitter old face piling on to protest that Kerry did not bleed enough is instant detumescence.
Category: default || By jt3y
Utne Reader, for the uninitiated, is the liberal analogue to Reader's Digest (an appropriate analogy, given RD's sometime penchant for right-wing pulpit pounding articles between "Laughter is the Best Medicine" and "Quotable Quotes"). It collects, digests and reprints articles from progressive, alternative and leftist magazines and newspapers about the environment, politics and culture. I buy Utne occasionally, but I get too darned many magazines --- from U.S. News and World Report to Cars & Parts --- so I've been trying to cut back to save money.
Consequently, I missed it when Utne excerpted an article about Eastland Mall from a magazine called Clamor.
I had never heard of Clamor; it turns out it's a bimonthly about politics and culture, published in Toledo. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland receives Clamor, so I went over on my lunch hour to check it out; naturally, the issue with the Eastland story (March-April 2004) was never received. And Clamor doesn't put their stories online.
Thus, I'm left to report on the Utne version of the story. I'm hoping the condensed version is accurate.
The article was written by Andy Cornell, who I can find next to nothing about through the normal database searches; I did find at least one other article on which he collaborated with a writer from Western Pennsylvania, so I'm assuming he might be a local guy.
Utne stories aren't available on the 'net to non-subscribers, so you'll have to take my word when I present these excerpts of Cornell's story. Here's his description of the Mon-Yough area:
This was coal country once. Working men and immigrant families, many having just stepped off the boat from Eastern Europe, flocked to southwestern Pennsylvania to blow the tops off of its wooded hills and scrape out the black gold inside. After that, it was steel country --- one of the most productive industrial areas in the United States for the first three-quarters of the 20th century. Now, in large part, this is retirement country. Temping country. SSI country, salesclerk country, flea market country.
Officially, the North Versailles mall is open for business, but visitors won't find much to buy. A Christian stationery store offers a variety of embossed birth and death announcements as well as some enameled plaques decorated with proverbs about walking on the beach with God. Further down the mall, it seems like the storefronts have been rented as warehouse rather than retail space.
Category: default || By jt3y
Yesterday afternoon, I had to explain to a Picksberger what Renziehausen Park was. Is it like a conservation district? he asked.
No, I said. It's a big regional park in Our Fair City. It's got a bandshell, a fishing lake, softball and baseball fields, tennis courts, hiking and biking trails, the Heritage Center museum, and picnic groves. (I forgot to mention the Jacob Woll Pavilion, where the McKeesport Art Group holds its shows and where the Festival of Trees is held at Christmastime; I also forgot about the rose garden, maintained by the McKeesport Garden Club.)
It's kind of like a cut-down version of South Park (the park, not the TV show), I said.
Wow, he said. He didn't know anything like that existed.
I always enjoy bragging on Our Fair City, so it was nice to tell someone about one of its highlights.
Last night, while cleaning around the house, I heard a call come across the police scanner: Three people had just been wounded in a shooting in the Third Ward. Yikes.
Our Fair City has always fancied itself as a little version of Pittsburgh --- it was McKeesport politician and Daily News publisher W.D. Mansfield, after all, who helped block metropolitan government in the 1920s for fear that Our Fair City would lose its autonomy to Pittsburgh --- and has often duplicated things that were being done by its larger neighbor to the north. You have a symphony? We have a symphony. You have a housing authority? We have a housing authority.
McKeesport never went into Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, choosing to build its own water and sewerage treatment plants; until fairly recently, Carnegie Free Library of McKeesport patrons couldn't borrow books from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and vice versa.
The merits of this feisty independence can be debated, of course. It was easy enough to make the books balance when 7,000 people worked at National Tube and thousands more worked for Firth-Sterling, Kelsey-Hayes, Peters Packing, G.C. Murphy Co. and all of the other companies that called Our Fair City home. If maintaining a separate sewer system was a little more expensive, well, it's only money. (And it kept lots of political operatives on the government payroll, too.)
In at least one way, Our Fair City is a lot like Picksberg. They have debt? We have debt. They have pockets of violent crime? We have pockets of violent crime. They have a population drain? We have a population drain.
Pittsburgh has some very nice neighborhoods, and some very bad ones. McKeesport has some very nice neighborhoods, and some very bad ones. And they're bad for the same reasons: Absentee landlords, too many social-service agencies concentrated in a small area, poverty and crime.
The problem is that Pittsburgh is a whole lot bigger than Our Fair City, so the decay is less evident. Someone who visited only Dahntahn Picksberg or Oakland or Shadyside wouldn't see the back side of East Liberty, for instance. This explains all of the glowing out-of-town press coverage that Pittsburgh has received recently; sure, if you only visited the Golden Triangle, you'd have no idea that people living out in the neighborhoods were frustrated and angry about abandoned buildings and lack of city services.
Whereas in McKeesport, you can't help but see the decline. I've become inured to it, I guess, but when I see it through someone else's eyes, I flinch. I stumbled onto a diary by a couple who rode their bikes from Washington, D.C., to the upper Midwest, passing through the Mon-Yough valley. If this doesn't make you cringe, you're not a McKeesporter:
McKeesport is a horribly dilapidated suburb of Pittsburgh --- when steel left and the malls were built in other towns, this place curled up and died. All it has now is a huge aging population who can't leave and a depressing low-income population.
Well, I have to admit that the world did not come to an end. It's so amazing how much better everything is with just a night's sleep. But there is no way in McKeesport (that's my new swear word --- "Go to McKeesport, you jerk. What the McKeesport? Oh, McKeesport!") that I am biking anywhere today.
Category: default || By jt3y
(Editor's Note: There's something local at the end. Otherwise, this is another dispatch from the Tube City Almanac National Affairs Desk. If you're not interested in my tedious, namby-pamby politics, jump to the bottom.)
Still waters run deep out in Minnesota (get it? Stillwater? Ha ha), where the Gopher State's two best known humorists are taking shots at the current political climate.
In this corner, in the blue trunks, originally from Anoka, Minn., it's Garrison Keillor, the "Lake Wobegon Kid"! And in this corner, in the red trunks, from Fargo, N.D., but now hanging his hat in Minneapolis, it's "Boy Bleat," James Lileks!
OK, fellas, you know the drill: droll phrases; solemn profundities; dry, acerbic wit; and self-deprecation are all allowed. No hitting below the belt, and no clutching. Now, go back into your corners and come out writing!
And Lileks comes out swinging that mean right cross, and he steadily pounds away at the big, fleshy middle in his syndicated column for Newhouse News Service:
Do you suffer from Sudden Bush Hatred Fatigue Syndrome? It's easy to diagnose. It often strikes at a bookstore. You walk in looking for a breezy summer read, and piled near the door are stacks and stacks of angry tomes about the perfidy of Usurper Bush. ....
It's hard to tell how SBHFS will affect the vote. This group could go either way. They could so weary of the incessant hysteria that they'll be willing to reward the frothers, if only to shut them up. If I vote for John Kerry, will you be happy? Will that do it? The answer would be Yes! That'll do it!
Well, that, and nationalized health care, tax hikes on small businesses, the Kyoto treaty, fealty to the United Nations, shipping nuclear fuel to the Iranians to make them act nice, leaving Iraq ASAP and ushering in what Kerry calls a more "sensitive" war on terrorism. (We will use marshmallow bullets, perhaps.) All that plus vast federally funded embryo farms, and they'll be happy. For a while. Then we'll have to do something about that "In God We Trust" nonsense on the coins.
Richard Nixon was a good deal responsible for the Environmental Protection Agency and the push to clean up the Great Lakes. The conservation movement that paved the way, so to speak, for the whole Green agenda was very much a Republican thing. The Americans With Disabilities Act, which gave us Handi-vans and wheelchair-accessible facilities and those little ramps carved into the curbs, was brought about by Republicans (and Democrats). Republicans have been good critics of government, and good satirists at times. Republican libertarianism is a useful antidote to our Democratic/neurotic tendency to want to put up a warning sign on uneven terrain and make cowboys do their whooping in designated whooping areas. Republicans used to contribute a lot, back before they let the fanatics and teeth grinders take over and turn their party into the Leave Me Alone party, intent on proving that government is inherently inept, and they've done such damage to America in the past decade that will take a century of saints to fix.
You wander over to periodicals and flip open the current Esquire. There's a story on stem-cell research. The author's subtitle: "How the president is trying to kill my daughter."
Yes, of course, you think. (How weary your inner voice sounds.) That's precisely what he is trying to do. That is the president's specific objective in life: Kill sick people. It makes him happy. Every night he puts his cloven hooves up on the desk and thinks of the people he's offed today. Ahh. Life is good.
President Bush was campaigning on Wednesday here in St. Paul and he sounded awfully loopy, like an old camp counselor who's done too many campfires. According to him, we're bringing democracy to the Middle East and the economy is turning the corner. He said it about 10 times, in those tiny mincing sentences of his, and there isn't anybody over the age of 12 who really believes him.
Without concessions from its employees within the next month, the airline's chairman said last week, the company could be liquidated and its assets sold. A couple of days later, the airline's chief executive officer said bankruptcy is a possibility, but not "an imminent shutdown, a disruption of service or impending liquidation."
And today, the airline is expected to announce its expansion in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"One minute we're going out of business. The next minute we're expanding in Fort Lauderdale," said Teddy Xidas, president of the Pittsburgh local of the Association of Flight Attendants. ...
"If you're looking to terminate pension plans and freeze pension payments, where do you get the money to expand? I don't understand it. It's so confusing to the employees."
Category: default || By jt3y
On Tuesday, I had to pull a late shift at the radio station. On Wednesday, I had to get some laundry done, lest I be forced to borrow Bob Braughler's lucky underwear. So Thursday night, I resolved to go to International Village as soon as I left work.
I got out of the car in Renzie Park at 6:20 p.m., just as the skies opened up. It was like stepping into Niagara Falls.
It wouldn't be International Village --- Western Pennsylvania's original ethnic food and music festival, held for 45 consecutive years in Our Fair City --- without some rain. It's almost a beneficial thing; it washes away some of the stink and keeps the bugs down. I've also been to some Villages during oppressive heat waves, when you couldn't walk two feet without pooping out and your skin was blistering like kolbassi links on a hot griddle. Some rain would have been most welcome then.
But this was ridiculous. There were massive lightning strikes and torrential downpours. I had an umbrella, but it didn't matter --- the rain was coming sideways, under my bumbershoot.
I made it to the doorway of a garage near the old Renzie swimming pool, and stood on a dry patch of ground, but pretty soon, I started to feel like Charlie Brown on his pitcher's mound as the water came up, up, up around me. Before I floated away, I stepped back out into the rain, which let up for a while --- just long enough for people to dash to their cars, as it turned out, because then it started to rain again.
Well, at least it kept the lines short.
The inclement weather makes it impossible for me to properly review this year's Village; the rain forced the entertainment and fireworks to be cancelled for the evening (holding a metal microphone stand in an electrical storm is not a good idea). I know most people go to the Village to eat, but to me, the singing and dancing are just as important. All of those junior Tammies, polka bands and folk ensembles are keeping alive great cultural traditions that, in many cases, are fading away, even in the old country. Not being able to see any of the performers was a major disappointment --- though an unavoidable one.
To his credit, Marco Caroccia ("Bravo Marco") kept cranking out Italian music on his keyboard in the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion. At one point, he had a sing-along going of "Funiculi, Funicula,."
On the other hand, I don't recall his next sing-along number --- "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" --- being a traditional Italian song. Maybe it was the version by that famous crooner, Giacomino Crocetti.
(Actually, I just looked it up; Jim Croce was Italian! Mi dispiace.)
Onto the food: The arrival several years ago of commercial food vendors at International Village was a setback, in my opinion. I realize that church and non-profit groups are unable to provide some of the food choices that visitors expect, like kettle corn, lemonade and funnel cakes, but why would you go to International Village to eat the same mass-produced stuff you can get at any carnival?
Besides, the independent booths raise money for local ethnic social clubs and churches; for some of them, the Village is their major fundraiser of the year.
So, I started at the German booth (Christ Lutheran Church) with a plateful of potato pancakes and a piece of bratwurst, worked my way over to the Hungarian booth (Free Magyar Reformed Church) for a kolbassi sandwich, and topped it off with a dish of fried ice cream from the Mexican booth (Christ United Methodist Church).
Sure, it was the express bus to Heartburn City, but I only do this once a year, and it was all great going down.
I didn't get any good souvenirs this year; maybe the rain chased the souvenir stand away. McKeesport Little Theater had a nice display, including a raffle for free tickets, and Penn State and McKeesport High School alumni both made an appearance. Allegheny County Sheriff Pete DeFazio and city police had exhibits as well.
Kudos to all of those vendors and city employees who stuck it out in the rain last night, and who begin preparations for the Village months in advance. All I can say is that you did your best, as usual, and better luck next year.
Deepest sympathies for the family of Mary Newton Bruder --- aka "The Grammar Lady" --- who passed away suddenly on Monday, according to Adrian McCoy's obituary in the Post-Gazette. She was 64.
Bruder was best known for her appearances on local and national radio and TV talk shows, and for her syndicated newspaper column about the English language. I worked with Bruder once, about a year ago, when I hired her to proofread a publication I edited. Adrian refers to Bruder's "keen eye for the fine points of the English language and grammar," and I would agree.
Requiescat in pace, Grammar Lady.
(Link via Subdivided We Stand.)
In other news, at least 60 newspapers nationwide --- including One of America's Great Newspapers --- have been suckered into running a form "letter-to-the-editor" produced by the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
The Post-Gazette ran the letter, signed "Dick Bondi, Mt. Lebanon," on June 4, according to a database search of the newspaper's archives.
The (very) partisan Daily Kos reports that the letters are virtually identical in each of the newspapers that have printed them. The technique of planting form letters in local papers, which is not new, is called "Astroturfing," because it's an artificial advertising campaign designed to create the appearance of a grass-roots movement.
Ironically, the P-G's Dennis Roddy was one of the first political writers to warn about "Astroturfing," back in January 2003.
And just two weeks ago, P-G editorial writer Michael McGough wrote about Astroturfing, saying that he and other editors "have been on elevated alert lately for 'Astroturf.'" Apparently, he didn't realize that some has already been laid down on the paper's own letters page.
The Post-Gazette is one of the largest papers in the country to get stung, according to a Lexis-Nexis search of the biggest news outlets in the U.S. In Pennsylvania, a rudimentary Google search reveals that the Williamsport, Wilkes-Barre and Lock Haven papers received nearly identical letters. None of these cookie-cutter Bush-boosting letters have hit any other local newspapers --- yet.
In fairness --- and as McGough correctly points out --- the Kerry-Edwards campaign is also encouraging supporters to contact local media to boost their candidate. Nothing wrong with that, of course; but signing your name to someone else's opinions and passing them off as your own is, at best, lazy. (At worst, it's plagiarism, though in this case, the Bush campaign is encouraging supporters to "steal" the suggested language.)
Alert Reader Tim points out that this month's issue of Utne Reader has an article about Eastland Mall in North Versailles. The article, unfortunately, isn't available online unless you're a subscriber. Further updates next week.
Things to Do: The Ypapanti Greek Food Festival continues through Sunday at Olympia Hall on Electric Avenue in East Pittsburgh. Proceeds benefit Presentation of Christ Greek Orthodox Church. Live music and folk dancing continues daily. If you can't stay, take something home: Wouldn't some baklava or spanakopita be a good snack as you watch the Summer Olympics in Athens? Call (412) 824-9188 for details.
Category: default || By jt3y
Things I found on the Internet while looking for other things:
Jim Romenesko, maintainer of the Obscure Store (a Web site of bizarre headlines) and the Poynter Institute's media gossip page, has launched a Starbucks gossip Web site.
When I first saw Jimmy Johnson's "Arlo and Janis" comic strip (in the New Yawk Daily News, I think), I didn't like it, but the more I see of it, the more it grows on me. Johnson eschews obvious comic strip gags and goes for more subtle, situational humor. It takes some time to understand where he's coming from, but when you do, the whole strip clicks.
I recently discovered that Johnson maintains an online journal and archive of his favorite cartoons.
Former WDVE-FM (102.5) morning man and current night-time host Scott Paulsen has a Web site, where he reports that he's working on his second novel. His first is available for purchase at the site. His wife, Kit, is a rather accomplished watercolorist and is accepting commissions.
There was a rather run-of-the-mill letter in Pitt's student newspaper, The Pitt News, from a Florida undergrad who says he refuses to attend the university because of its policy against granting fringe benefits to same-sex unmarried couples. (In the interest of full disclosure, I not only draw a paycheck from Pitt, I'm also a student, but opinions expressed here are not those of the University of Pittsburgh.)
But while the letter is only average, there's been a nasty battle of words raging on the Pitt News Web site among the paper's readers and the letter writer. Flame wars can be very, very funny --- so long as you're not the target, of course.
Before I go any further, keep in mind that I try to keep this feature suitable for children, or at least clean enough for a family newspaper. However, some things are too good to pass up. If you're easily offended, now is the time to leave and look at something less edgy.
You're still here? Cool. And a-a-a-away we go!
Alert Reader Jeff passed along a link to this report from The Smoking Gun about a group of people in Ohio who attacked a peeping Tom who apparently was spying on a little girl. The police found the perpetrator with a tree branch stuck in a place where you wouldn't normally expect a tree to be growing.
An account from the Lorain, Ohio, Morning Journal is available online. The peeper/victim is in the hospital in fair condition; the people who are attacked him are charged with rape, assault and related offenses.
Boy, talk about not knowing whose side to root for ...
Speaking of perversions, consensual and otherwise, Dan Savage had a great line in his syndicated "Savage Love" column this week, which runs in Pittsburgh City Paper and elsewhere. (And don't try to tell me you don't read it, you big faker, you know you do, right after "News of the Weird.")
I'll clean it up slightly, and you'll have to go read the column to understand the context (this should be obvious, but there's adult content there, in case you didn't know). Anyway, Savage wrote this response to a reader's letter (and the last sentence is priceless):
(B)estiality is one of the "big three" perversions that I'm simply never going to budge on. I will always disapprove of f---ing animals, molesting children, and eating poop. (A scat scene with a lamb would hit the trifecta of my disapproval.) Yes, yes, I know: A mind is like an umbrella --- it only works when it's open. But if you're going to have a closed mind about just three things, f---ing animals, molesting children, and eating poop are good picks, don't you think?
Steven Seagal was the first Westerner to open a school of martial arts in Japan. The general public knew through his many films of action but it is another facet of his personality which emerges in 2004! This enthusiastic follower of Buddhism delivers an awesome album already bubbling on the charts in France!
Ingredients: Steven Seagal delivers titles to the American ultra consonances (blues, folk) but also of more directed songs world (ragga, Arab musics). Surrounded by prestigious guests (B.B. King, Stevie Wonder...), the actor adds a new cord to his arc!
Category: default || By jt3y
The bastard agglomeration of Allegheny, Mohawk, Piedmont, PSA and Lord-knows-how-many-others-I've-forgotten that now calls itself US Airways is coming apart at the seams, reports Dan Fitzpatrick in the Post-Gazette:
If US Airways files for bankruptcy in less than a month, airline chairman David Bronner predicts that no one, including himself, will be willing to rescue the nation's seventh-largest carrier from oblivion.
In the last 30 days, Bronner said only one investor has contacted him about a bankrupt US Airways -- and that was a foreign player interested only in the leftover piece of an airline that employs 28,000 people, including about 8,000 in the Pittsburgh area. "They don't want the whole thing," he said.
I spied him in the crowd after he was introduced on stage, and after I had some sweet potato pie, my wife and I walked to where he and his wife were sitting. I introduced us, and he was honestly shocked to see "such young fans." He's really a likeable guy. ...
"Let's Dance" is quite possibly the best radio show EVER, certainly a local treasure that doesn't get nearly enough attention. If he ever mentions the encounter on his next show, I'd be thrilled.
Even by the standards of TV vanity, Kilborn was considered a standout in his five-plus years at CBS. Besides mirrors on the wall, there were hand mirrors always at the ready, and a swivel mirror on Kilborn's office desk he was said to have tilted -- not subtly enough -- to catch his own reflection whenever bored with whatever blah, blah, blah he was being told.
Such thinking makes sense only to those who are worried about alienating American voters. Liberals are, but many anti-RNC activists defiantly are not. Ironically, despite being motivated by a ferocious hatred of George Bush, some of those planning direct-action protests against the convention have grown so disillusioned with electoral politics that they barely seem to care whether he's defeated in November.
Getting Bush out of the White House "is an aesthetic thing -- I won't have to look at him anymore," says the A31 Coalition's David Graeber, explaining his mild preference for Kerry. A 43-year-old anthropology instructor at Yale, Graeber, who lives in Chelsea, says, "Maybe I'll vote for Kerry, maybe I won't."
Category: default || By jt3y
The Tube City Almanac today is going to make one of its relatively rare forays into national politics, except to remind you that International Village opens this afternoon and runs through Thursday at Renzie Park.
Now, from the Almanac National Affairs Desk comes the following question: If you heard someone say the Pentagon is "evil," you'd immediately suspect them of being a rabid left-winger, right? And if a publication came out endorsing that statement, you'd assume it was one of those indy-media Web sites --- or at least something like AlterNet.
What if I told you it was the police chief of Des Moines, Iowa, and the editors of the Des Moines Register were supporting him?
Unless I miss my guess, Iowa's in the "heartland" of America. It should reasonably be expected to be full of patriotic citizens who love America, baseball, apple pie and their President, though not necessarily in that order.
In fairness, Iowa's voted for a lot of Democrats; the state narrowly went for Gore in 2000, and went for Clinton twice; but Iowans also voted for Nixon three times (1960, '68 and '72), for Reagan twice, and for Gerry Ford in 1976. The governor is a Democrat (Pittsburgh native Tom Vilsack).
Still, these should be Dubya's kind of people. Both houses of the Iowa Legislature are Republican, as is one of Iowa's U.S. senators, and four of Iowa's five members of the House. Although I wasn't able to easily get statistics on how many Iowans are churchgoers, I have a sneaky suspicion that a clear majority are; according to one survey I found at the American Religion Data Archive, 58 percent of Iowans claim to be a member of an organized religion.
Anyway, here are the details from a Register editorial (slightly edited for space and clarity):
(It) turned some heads when Des Moines Police Chief William McCarthy used the e-word to describe the U.S. military for calling a local police officer back to duty in Iraq. Rodell D. Nydam, a member of the Iowa National Guard, completed his military obligation. He's already served in Iraq and now must go back due to a "stop-loss" order that extends tours of duty beyond a soldier's commitment.
"This military is lying and manipulating its troops," said McCarthy, a Vietnam veteran. "When the military gave its word, it used to mean something." He said today's military "can't be trusted."
Stop-loss orders are a broken promise. They fly in the face of the idea of a "voluntary" military. They have prevented tens of thousands of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan from going home or retiring. Soldiers hold up their end of the bargain; the government doesn't. ...
The blame doesn't lie with an "evil" military, however. The Pentagon is just trying to do a job with the resources available to it. The blame lies higher up, with those who sent the military to war without adequate planning.
Category: default || By jt3y
From the "Methinks They Doth Protest Too Much" Department at the Tube City Almanac Regional Affairs Desk comes this Associated Press story (via the Observer-Reporter):
Although no airline will fly nonstop to Europe from Pittsburgh as of Nov. 7, the airport still will be considered an international one, officials said.
Pittsburgh International Airport still will offer nonstop flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and Canada, which qualify as international destinations. Plus, the "international" distinction means the airport has customs and immigration services, Allegheny County Airport Authority officials said.
Cheney says he likes to campaign, to meet people. But his manner on the stump often betrays all the joy of someone cleaning an oven. After speaking to a rally at a high school in Battle Creek, the vice president grimaced forth and worked a ropeline, the back of his bald head now covered in red, white and blue confetti. ... Cheney approaches handshakes as if trying to pick mosquitoes out of the air with one hand. He makes quick and minimal contact. ...
When a woman in Battle Creek handed Cheney her baby, he carried the kid for a few seconds and then handed him back, no kiss. In the next three minutes, he would quick-pinch about 100 more hands.
As he walked out a back door, the vice president vigorously rubbed his hands with sanitizing lotion provided by an aide.
Avolio wants a public debate in the race for the 56th District House seat Casorio has held for eight years. He said he probably has a better chance of winning the state lottery. Democrat Casorio considers the debate a non-issue because he "hasn't said no."
A war of words heated up between the candidates last week, when Avolio said his deadline for a response from Casorio's camp had passed. "Your high-pressure tactics may be effective for a trial lawyer, but they do not serve any purpose in this campaign," Casorio said in a terse, one-page response to Avolio's demand.
Category: default || By jt3y
Pat Cloonan has the full story in tonight's Daily News:
"Now, there is a chance that we can make a few bucks so my wife can go to a rest home. I don't give a damn about myself."
With those words, an 86-year-old Italian immigrant capped a brief forum last night before Homestead council took over the fate of the bar he bought in 1947. ....
By a 9-0 vote, council accepted Historic Architectural Review Board's recommendation that Anchor Properties receive a certificate of appropriateness to demolish Chiodo's, as well as a Subway sandwich shop and a Shell service station along W. Eighth Avenue and Hays Street.
The vote was not one of approval for what will replace the three businesses --- a Walgreens pharmacy, a new Subway and a parking lot. That will require another round, beginning next month with Homestead Planning Commission and ending, possibly Oct. 14, back before council.
Category: default || By jt3y
More Chicago media news, because after all, what else would a McKeesport-based Web site focus on?
After several weeks of seemingly liking everything (three stars for "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle"?), the irascible Roger Ebert that we all know and love is back, and he's out for revenge:
"The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" offers the prudent critic with a choice. He can say what he really thinks about the movie, or he can play safe by writing that it's sure to be loved by lots of young girls. But I avoid saying that anything is sure to be loved by anybody.
In this case, I am not a young girl, nor have I ever been, and so how would I know if one would like it? Of course, that's exactly the objection I get in e-mails from young readers, who complain that no one like me can possibly like a movie like this. They are correct. I have spent a long time, starting at birth and continuing until this very moment, evolving into the kind of person who could not possibly like a movie like this, and I like to think the effort was not in vain.
Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It's so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don't know the secret anymore.
And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we're back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.
Category: default || By jt3y
Did the Dave Matthews Band slime a boatload of Chicago tourists? The band says no.
But this much is certain: This past Sunday, two tour buses, while crossing an open-grate bridge over the Chicago River, dumped (no pun intended) the contents of their septic tanks.
Directly underneath that bridge? A ferry boat carrying people on a tour of architectural landmarks.
Mike Thomas of the Chicago Sun-Times apparently couldn't resist writing this, but he should have: "Sightseers trying to enjoy a Chicago Architecture Foundation river tour Sunday afternoon discovered the true meaning of poop deck when they were splattered by raw sewage."
Hey, let's leave the smarty-pants one-liners to the blogs, mm-kay?
According to the Sun-Times, at least five people went to the hospital, and the owner of the cruise line has had to replace clothing for dozens of people. Now the police are investigating.
A first-person account in the Chicago Tribune paints a more vivid picture:
People wiped off their glasses, took off their coats, and sat in stunned anger. What could you do? I was on the boat with my girlfriend and a friend of hers visiting from out of town. They, too, managed to avoid the worst of it and we hustled down into the boat's main cabin. There we could avoid the stench up top but could clearly hear people puking in the nearby bathrooms.
I wrote that my ear had latched onto "Democrat Party," and I recognized it as an expression that immediately identifies the speaker as a whiny, partisan Republican.
The conceit is that the party "is not democratic," as Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp said during his 1996 convention acceptance speech. "They don't have faith in people," Kemp went on. "They have faith in government."
Hence "Democrat Party" in speeches by Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, in Republican radio ads and in the foamings of every third caller to what I tautologically call conservative talk radio.
Bob Dole's famous snarl about "Democrat wars" goes back 25 years, and published sources variously first attribute "Democrat Party" to Thomas Dewey in the 1940s and Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s.
(Consumer) advocates say the program takes advantage of consumers, particularly elderly people, who may be easily confused over what their options are. According to an AARP survey from 1998, the latest year for which figures are available, 6 percent of people 75 or older leased their phone, compared with 2 percent under 65.
Obtain convenient same or similar model replacement of the leased product for any reason ... Trade-in or exchange the leased product for a different color or for a telephone with more or fewer features ... Plus, if you move take the leased product with you anywhere in the continental US. ... Receive the leased product at your home or office the next business day at no charge.
Category: default || By jt3y
One of the nice things about moving (actually, the only thing) has been finding a boatload of stuff that I forgot I had. Living in tiny spaces means that a lot of my things have been packed away in storage, and sitting in my new dining room, opening the boxes, is like opening time capsules.
Let me be clear: There has been nothing of value in any of the boxes so far. (Well, OK, so I did find some pennies in the bottom of one of the boxes, and some 34-cent stamps.)
Anyway, it's truly a mishmash of stuff, and much of it is composed of newspaper clippings and photocopies of items related to local history. There's information about the volunteer fire companies in North Versailles Township. A story about the Army Corps of Engineers rerouting the channel of Turtle Creek as part of a flood control project.
There are several folders of clips about radio broadcasting; the oldest is a photocopy of an announcement that Joseph Horne department store placed in the Pittsburgh Sun in 1920. It advertises "Wireless Sets for Sale" that readers could use to pick up the "air concerts" from the amateur radio station that was about to become KDKA.
I pulled that off of the microfilm at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh years ago, and forgot that I had it until this week.
Of course, there's all kinds of memorabilia from Our Fair City, including credit card statements from Jaison's and Cox's (recovered from an old file cabinet I found years ago), cancelled checks from the First National Bank of McKeesport (merged into Western Pennsylvania National Bank in 1959 or '60) and other detritus.
Once I get the scanner plugged in, I'll have all kinds of new stuff for the Web page. It's odd to think that I was collecting this stuff years ago, without ever realizing there would be such a thing as the "Internet" that I could use to inflict it on other people.
There is also a fair amount of wreckage from my newspaper career: Memos to and from editors, letters of praise from readers (and some hate mail), and a bunch of newsroom phone lists that are now useless, because 90 percent of the people named no longer work for the papers in question. I also found a sheaf of company newsletters, which are amusing in a sick way.
Besides newsletters from the companies for which I've worked, I also have some old company newsletters from the failed Penn Central railroad, Westinghouse Air Brake Co., and U.S. Steel. I'm convinced that company newsletters can serve the same purpose to students of corporate politics as Pravda and Izvestia served to Kremlinologists during the Cold War. By studying who gets praised, who gets slammed and who just gets ignored, you start to see patterns in who is about to get promoted --- and who's about to be transferred to the Level Green office. (The people who get ignored are probably going to stay in their positions forever.)
Ironically, I'll probably keep the railroad and steel company newsletters, but not the ones that I received personally. Why? Eh. I lived it. I don't need to read about it.
Have I mentioned there's a built-in barbecue grill at the side of the new house? No? Well, except for a few mementos, I think I'm gonna pile all of the newspaper leftovers --- including the newsletters --- into the grill and set a torch to them. Maybe I'll invite all of the other newsroom refugees I know over, and we can all drink beer and complain as we watch this stuff burn.
It's always nice to see a local institution in the news, but this is not the kind of publicity that UPMC McKeesport hospital needed:
Investigators are again trying to solve the mystery of who was behind the deadly anthrax attacks following 9-11; and their latest efforts are focusing on a doctor with ties to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dr. Ken Berry works in the emergency room at UPMC McKeesport. He was arrested Thursday, accused of assaulting four family members in New Jersey just hours after authorities raided his parents' summer home.
Category: default || By jt3y
Someone get me the address of the Ford Foundation. I've developed a scientific theory that, based on empirical evidence, speculates a object exists even though it can't be seen. I need a grant to further my research.
It isn't a black hole, or even a healthy food item at Denny's; though those are both mysterious objects that have never been seen.
Basically, my theory is this: I've never seen a new rental truck, and every time I've ever rented a truck, it's been a nearly useless piece of worn-out junk. Yet it seems unlikely that rental companies would set out to buy completely useless pieces of junk, so at some point in the past, all rental trucks were new; therefore, even though we can't see new rental trucks, they do exist. QED. I'm calling it Jason's First Theorem of Rental Trucks.
Jason's Corollary of Rental Truck Visibility dictates, however, that rental trucks remain invisible until they reach a certain number called "X," which is a mathematical function of time, the cost of repairing the various mechanical problems, and the number of safety violations; though the exact relationship between those numbers isn't yet known, X can be expressed in dollars per second.
Admittedly, my sample hasn't been that broad. I've only ever rented trucks from a company that shall remain nameless. Perhaps rental trucks from other companies aren't rattling deathtraps. Further study is needed; once the grant money comes through, I'll rent some of those yellow trucks, and the white trucks with the blue and orange logos.
Anyway, I had to move some things from the Old Place to the New House on Monday, so I called Nameless Truck Rentals.
For $19.95 plus mileage plus tax, I was told, a 14-foot truck with a loading ramp would be waiting for me. The brother of me drove me to the rental truck place bright and early Monday morning. I forked over the credit card and the clerk rang up the sale, then stepped into the back room.
A few minutes later, I hit the dirt, thinking from the noise and smell that there had been an explosion at a diesel-fuel refinery. Nope: It was only the clerk, pulling up to the building in the truck. The front of the truck had tangled with a low wall at some point; with its bumper stove in, the truck looked as if it was grimacing. The tachometer bumped back and forth between 0 and 200 RPM as the motor coughed, caught and ran, coughed, caught and ran; and there was a large chunk of padding torn from the dashboard on the passenger side.
When I drove off of Nameless Truck Rental Co.'s lot and hit the brakes at the first intersection, I learned how the padding had been torn; obviously, a frightened passenger had yanked a piece of the dashboard loose while bracing for impact. After Brother parked his car, I picked him up so that he could help with the move. He quickly learned to assume the crash position whenever a red light loomed, and I noticed his clenched fingers neatly fit the divots on the dash.
Once the truck warmed up, we learned of another charming feature: The built-in smoke screen that came from beneath the truck (in the general vicinity of the exhaust system) that kept other cars up to 50 feet away from us. That was a good thing, too, because turning the steering wheel didn't issue demands to the truck's front tires so much as recommendations: "In the future, you may wish to veer towards port." That made foolish maneuvers (say, going around a bend, or pulling into traffic) exercises in blind faith.
I'm glad I couldn't see anything in the mirrors (which were stuck and couldn't be adjusted), because I don't think I would have liked seeing all of the frightened faces around me.
If I can digress, there is a section of pavement at the very top of Dravosburg Hill that's been a lumpy, bumpy washboard for as long as I can remember. Occasionally the county makes a half-hearted stab at repaving it, but the blacktop buckles the first time a dump truck stops there during a hot day.
I rented the truck in the South Hills, which means I had to traverse that section of pavement twice on my way to and from Our Fair City. Vikings on long boats in heavy gales have braved smoother seas. In fact, on every pavement joint, the truck jounced and bounced like a pogo stick. No doubt we would have gotten nauseous after a while; luckily, we were soon light-headed from the clouds of unburned, vaporized diesel fuel that were spraying out from under the hood.
We soon found out where the diesel vapors were coming from; a cracked fuel line was leaving puddles of fuel on the ground whenever we stopped. Basically, it wasn't a moving van so much as a rolling EPA Superfund site.
If you rent a truck, make sure you return it with the same amount of fuel with which you left. Otherwise, the rental company charges you $2 per gallon to refill the tank. That's one of the thousands of interesting items in a thick booklet that you're given when they present you with the keys. "WARNING: MAKE SURE YOU READ THIS INSTRUCTION MANUAL THOROUGHLY AND UNDERSTAND IT BEFORE USING THIS TRUCK," it says in big, threatening letters on the cover. Nuclear submarines come with less detailed manuals. I decided to save the manual for later, so I'd have something to read at the emergency room.
Speaking of diesel fuel, did you know that there's no place to purchase it in Our Fair City, except at the Buy 'n Fly on Walnut Street? Neither did I.
Between the smoke coming from the back of the truck and the diesel fuel spraying from the front, you might wonder if we worried about a fire. At first I was worried that it might burst into flame while my stuff was loaded inside. Then, after seeing my wretched life in the sunlight, I was worried that the truck wouldn't burst into flame until after it was unloaded.
Perhaps you wonder if the truck was noisy. No more so than a battleship going over Niagara Falls. After a while, your eardrums go numb and you don't notice.
When I coaxed the van back to the rental agency at the end of the day, I pointed out to the rental clerk that the truck was leaking fuel. "Huh, how about that," he said, looking at the puddle on the ground. I suppose I should have considered myself lucky: Another clerk was on the phone with a lady who had broken down on a highway somewhere. Her truck had been towed by the police impound driver --- with her stuff inside.
In conclusion, the upside of renting trucks: The chance to bounce down the street in a smelly, smoky, noisy vehicle, ignoring traffic etiquette and endangering the people around you, without having to go through the trouble of building a street rod in your backyard. Also, they're cheap.
The downside? The combination of noise, vibration and pollution exposure probably takes years off of your life.
However, as some wag once pointed out, those are the years at the end of your life, and they usually stink anyway.
Category: default || By jt3y
Short entry for today; I was moving things and couldn't get to a computer.
All in all, it was an excellent weekend for Sunday newspapers in Pittsburgh. The Tribune-Review has had one of the lamest funnies pages in the market for a long time. So imagine my surprise on Sunday when the Trib added 13 --- count 'em --- 13 new comic strips, including two of my favorites, Get Fuzzy and Pearls Before Swine.
Bill Loeffler's story also includes a great capsule history of American newspaper comic strips, and quotes from several cartoonists.
I'd call that a powerful shot across the bow of the guys on the Boulevard of the Allies, and the capture of funnies supremacy in Pittsburgh in one fell swoop (or is that one swell foop?) by the Trib.
(Well, at least I'd call it that, but I'm a dimwit.)
Combine that with Gerry DeFlitch's downright excellent article on local, small-town radio in Western Pennsylvania (it ran in the Greensburg edition of the Trib; I don't know if it made the Pittsburgh editions) and a big "huzzah" is in order for the Tribune-Review.
The Post-Gazette, meanwhile, had a good historical overview of why Allegheny County ended up with 130 municipalities, including capsule histories of the towns. Some highlights from the Mon-Yough area:
--- East McKeesport was originally known by the native American name "Scanderoon" when the first settlers purchased the property there in 1804.
--- To give you an idea of how big Allegheny County's original townships were, West Elizabeth was originally part of Mifflin Township (which became West Mifflin Borough). The town was first established in 1833.
--- The first post office in Western Pennsylvania was established in 1832 at Turtle Creek.
--- Munhall was named for early settler John Munhall, who owned a farm in the area; he came from Ireland, however, with the name Mulhall.
--- One of the plainest municipal names in the Mon-Yough area --- Forward Township --- also has one of the strangest backgrounds. The township was named for Walter Forward, a prominent Pittsburgh judge and politician. In 1869, the state General Assembly approved the sectioning of Elizabeth Township into four smaller townships, including what eventually became Forward. When residents couldn't agree on a name, the courts named the township for Forward --- who had no known connection to the municipality.
Category: default || By jt3y
I remember attending a North Huntingdon Township zoning hearing when Redstone Presbytery was first proposing to build a senior citizen community on the site of the old Menzie Dairy farm.
As with any large proposed development, a couple of dozen people had turned out to cry, "not in my backyard!" Never mind that Redstone was planning to build a self-contained community for people who, for the most part, don't drive and would never put kids into the school system; or that Redstone was planning to leave most of the farm to grow wild. (As Redstone rightly pointed out, the Menzie farm could have been turned into McMansions or a few hundred tract houses or even a shopping center, with the associated traffic and water runoff problems those would bring.)
No, these folks just didn't want to see anything change. Ever. Chalk them up as part of the BANANA brigade: "Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone."
One lady stood up to tell the zoning board that she liked to get up in the morning and watch the sun rise over the old Menzie barn. If Redstone Highlands was built, she wouldn't get to see the sun rise over the barn any more, she said, and that was wrong.
I sat in the audience silently, but thought: If you like to watch the sun rise over the barn so much, buy it. The property owner has the right to do with the property whatever they want, so long as it's legal, and so long as it doesn't adversely affect the other property owners.
In the end, Redstone Highlands was built. Lincoln Way didn't descend into anarchy and chaos, most of the Menzie Farm is still covered in trees and fields, and the view of the sunrises from the surrounding housing plans hasn't been impacted. (By the way, I was just up at Redstone Highlands last week to visit an old friend: It's quite nice --- better than many of the hotels I've stayed in. And the apartments are larger than the house I just bought.)
I've been thinking of that hearing since word leaked that Joe Chiodo was selling his bar in Homestead. At a meeting this week of the Steel Valley Historical Review Commission, many residents turned out to urge the board to reject Chiodo's plans to sell the property to Walgreen's so that they can build a new drugstore.
Look, the last thing the Mon Valley needs is another mega-pharmacy. You know, the kind where you can buy chocolate chip cookies, alarm clocks and 47 different kinds of suntan lotion, but the prescription counter is hidden way at the back of the store. Personally, I like a drugstore that looks like a drugstore, preferably run by a kindly druggist who wears a white coat and closes the store early on Wednesday so he can go golfing.
I'm an unabashed nostalgia buff. I've hated to watch the five-and-dime stores close, one after the other. I also hate to see small, independent businesses close and be replaced by chains --- and I put my money where my mouth is. I patronize local stores, even if I have to drive out of my way or pay a few pennies more than I'd pay to Wal-Mart. The unique character of Eighth Avenue in Homestead and West Homestead will die a little when Chiodo's is gone --- just as the character of the avenue died a little when the Levine Brothers closed their hardware store, or when Isaly's closed.
But if Joe Chiodo wants to sell his bar to Walgreen's, or whomever, let the man sell it, and wish him the best of luck and good health. According to Jen Vertullo in The Daily News, Chiodo told the Historical Review Commission: "I want to retire from that bar. I have to retire from that bar. I'm tired. I need a rest. I don't care if I sell it; I'm closing the doors."
In the end, the plans were approved by the commission, but not without a fight, and not without two people voting against them: Walter Haglund and David Gilland.
I don't doubt that their objections are sincere and reasonable, but what do they propose? That Joe Chiodo, at age 86, be forced to run a tavern that he doesn't want? That the borough of Homestead take it over as a public utility? That it be turned into the museum of dusty beer mugs?
If they like Chiodo's Tavern so much, then they should take out a small business loan and make a counter-offer for the property. Otherwise, they have to give into progress. Nothing stays the same, and it probably shouldn't.
After all, something was on the property before Joe Chiodo opened his bar. If someone had prevented him from opening the tavern back in the 1940s, then the valley would have never had the chance to accumulate all of the wonderful memories of Chiodo's Tavern and its mystery sandwiches.
And something eventually will replace Walgreen's. At least we can only hope so.
Speaking of Eighth Avenue, here's another Tube City Almanac speedtrap alert: West Homestead police have set up a speedtrap at the intersection of West Eighth Avenue and West Seventh Avenue (Route 837). That's about a half-mile east of the Glenwood Bridge.
Also, North Versailles Township police are clocking traffic on East Pittsburgh McKeesport Boulevard, just past the McKeesport city limits near Allmor Towing. You have been warned, so obey the speed limits and get the lead out of your feet. And keep sending your speedtrap alerts to jt3y at dementia dot org.
Alert Reader Rich takes issue with my assertion that only physical products add real money to the economy:
Only those creating a physical product add real money to the economy? What, were you born in the Mon Valley or something? Try telling it to the thousands employed at PNC, Mellon, or even US Airways or UPMC. None create physical products as their main business. Are these companies not employing us and adding to the local economy? If PNC does a better job than a other financial services companies, they get more customers and may hire more people here, no?
Category: default || By jt3y
State Sen. Sean Logan, a man whom I generally respect and admire, is waxing grandiose about the prospect of slot machine parlors in Western Pennsylvania, as Pat Cloonan reports in The Daily News:
"When we hear estimates of the slots parlor in the city of Pittsburgh, we hear about $125 million to build it," state Sen. Sean Logan, D-Monroeville, said. "That's a lot of construction jobs, that's a lot of material, and that is even before you throw in if Mario Lemieux gets awarded the slots parlor."
But while Logan has expressed support in the past for 1935 Inc.'s plan for a racetrack that could include electronic gaming or slots, he doubts the Biros family's South Versailles Twp. effort will bear fruit.
"I appreciate their desire to get a license and to compete for a slots parlor," he said. "The language (in the bill recently signed by Gov. Ed Rendell) prohibits that, though."
Heinz Kerry denied using both the term "activity" and the word "un-American." She was half right. It was only when a persistent McNickle informed her she definitely had said "un-American," that Mrs. Kerry --- also realizing McNickle was the editorial page editor at one of the region's more conservative papers --- flew off the handle.
Thus the style or lack thereof with which Mrs. Kerry delivered her message became the focal point, rather than her message's substance.
In a campaign where the Democrats have staked out the position that --- among other things --- George W. Bush is a liar, they'd be well-advised to do their level best at being truthful. And denying your own words scarcely an instant after you've uttered them, and had them recorded for posterity on videotape, falls short of the bar.
Granted, Heinz Kerry's dishonest response hardly measures up to the accusations opponents have leveled against Bush regarding Iraq. But the truth is the truth, and both sides ought to be sticking to it.
Category: default || By jt3y
When you spend a lot of time in the car, you start to get irritated by the little things you see over and over again. Especially when you have no life, like me.
Take super-stretch limos. Who decided that a super-stretch limo was classy? Certainly not people who actually have class. The Mellons aren't riding around in 40-foot-long Cadillac Escalades, nor are members of the British royal family. (For what it's worth, Queen Elizabeth 2 has a Bentley Arnage limousine, and it's only 32 inches longer than the stock sedan.)
If you want to look classy on your way to a wedding or party, rent something restrained from one of those "black car" services --- a steel gray four-door with discretely-tinted windows. That's what the corporate CEOs and hoi polloi prefer. Riding around in a super-stretch limo only marks you as a nimrod with no taste, or a 16-year-old on your way to the junior prom. (Not that those two things are mutually exclusive.)
Cars are proportioned a certain way for a reason; years of study and hard lessons learned on the showroom floor have taught designers that certain ratios and angles are pleasing to the eye, as well as functional. Stretching those designs a few inches here and there doesn't ruin them, but adding 20 feet of length does. Especially when the car is made up of aerodynamic complex curves, but the panels that are inserted for the stretch are flat.
Besides being ponderous, traffic-clogging eyesores, many of the super-stretches are hacked-together messes when examined closely. PennDOT crews tacking steel plates together over holes in the road do a better job of welding than some of the companies that cobble together super-stretch limos. There's a reason that the insides of those things are filled with overstuffed upholstery, and the outsides are decorated with chrome doodads --- they're trying to hide the sloppy seams.
As if regular Hummers weren't bad enough, the latest trend is toward stretched Hummers --- wouldn't a nice Greyhound bus be more practical (and economical)? But it gets worse: Someone recently sent me a link to an eBay sale of what's advertised as the "first-ever" 2004 Chrysler 300 super-stretch limo. It's being sold by an outfit in Orange County, Calif., called DC Motors.
Gee, and here I thought the new Chrysler 300s were already as ugly as a car could get; thanks, DC Motors, for setting me straight! You've definitely raised the bar for awful auto design. Why not chrome-plate a toilet bowl and bolt that to the hood as the final coup de grace?
The one thing that really sets off a super-stretch limo, in my opinion, is a set of those spinning momentum rims, which are all the rage in the Mon-Yough area right now. (For all I know, they were the rage in California 10 years ago; keep in mind that most trends hit the Mon-Yough area about a decade behind the rest of the world.)
In fairness, although I've seen a few limos with momentum rims, most of the cars I see with them are absolute junk heaps --- clapped-out Pontiac Bonnevilles with strips of paint falling from their fenders, rusty Buick LeSabres blowing blue smoke, and Nissan Maximas with black plastic garbage bags taped over their busted rear windows.
Since momentum rims cost a few hundred dollars a piece, it seems to me that some of these folks would be better off investing their money in an Earl Scheib paint job, or an engine rebuild. Or maybe a bus pass.
(Man, I've really slipped into full-blown Andy Rooney rant mode. But don't stop me now, I'm on a roll.)
Even better than momentum rims is a nice, oversized vinyl top, especially one that's designed to look like a convertible roof. Sure, I believe that your 2003 Lincoln Town Car is actually a four-door convertible! Boy, you really fooled me!
Maybe vinyl roofs look OK on some older cars --- '69 Ford LTDs or Mercury Montereys --- but they make today's aerodynamic cars look like they've swelled up from a rash. According to the Detroit News, the big 3 automakers have asked their dealers to stop installing them on luxury cars like Cadillacs and Lincolns, because they make the cars look cheap and declasse. The dealers have told the companies to go take a long walk off of a short trunk lid.
Those dealers know that the customer is always right! It's a shame that they haven't noticed that Mercedes-Benz or Lexus dealers don't install fake convertible tops on their high-zoot models.
That may explain why the German and Japanese luxury car makers have been clobbering the snot out of Cadillac and Lincoln for the past 10 years. Who said there's no accounting for taste?
I was about to comment on the way drivers in Western Pennsylvania behave when they get to a four-way stop sign --- everyone sitting there, waving each other through the intersection, so that nobody moves for 10 seconds --- but the nice folks in the white coats have arrived to give me my injection, and I can already feel the Thorazine taking effect.
It's a good thing, too, because a Honda Civic with neon lights just went past my window; it was sporting a tailpipe the size of a manhole and fake Japanese writing all over it. You don't even want to get me started on that subject.
Category: default || By jt3y
Wow. Do you think the phrase "stop the presses!" echoed through the tiled corridors of the Post-Gazette when this little tidbit of breaking news cleared the wires?
A little-noticed provision in the state's new slot machines bill prevents cities that host casinos from enforcing their own, local guidelines on traffic control, building design and other traditional zoning and planning matters.
The main reason for the zoning prohibition is money.
The purpose of the slots bill is to make as much dough as quickly as possible for both state and local government coffers, said Gary Tuma, spokesman for Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia, a key slots supporter. Haggling over zoning and planning requirements takes time and could put a speed bump in the way of collecting gambling revenues.
The restaurant will feature a sandwich menu with hot fare and daily specials, said co-owner Janet Menarcheck, of Pittsburgh, who is partnering with her son, Bill, and her brother, John Stefaniak and his wife, Iva ... "My son wanted to start a business, and my sister, brother and I all have business and restaurant backgrounds. It just seemed like the way to go."
The restaurant will serve as an anchor for further development of the marina and the adjacent riverside Gergely Park, city administrator Dennis Pittman said.
Category: default || By jt3y
Things I found on the Internet while looking for other things:
DaimlerChrysler, German-based parent of the old Chrysler Corp., is planning to create a cheap entry level brand to attract younger car buyers, according to the Detroit News:
A Chrysler source familiar with the matter said the vehicles would be sold in Chrysler Group dealerships, but marketed separately, similar to what Toyota Motor Corp. has done with its youth-centric Scion brand. Chrysler has been exploring the new brand for more than a year and likely will decide whether or not it will launch it by year’s end, the source said.
Mr. Arnold and many of his clients have been connoisseurs of vintage appliances for decades, long before the current craze. They found them in junkyards, at auctions and in the kitchens of dearly departed old ladies down the street. In 1995, eBay arrived with its vast inventory of consumer-society castoffs. The demand for almost-antique appliances hasn't slowed since.
Westinghouse Electric (now CBS Corporation) moved its headquarters from Pittsburgh to New York City, amid protests from disappointed Pittsburghers. The two Steeltowns, Pittsburgh and Hamilton, had yet another thing in common: the loss of a company that helped make the cities what they are ...
The "Westinghouse" of current days bears little resemblance to the comparatively small air brake manufacturing company started by George Westinghouse in Pittsburgh in 1869. Only the name of the Hamilton turbine plants serves to remind us of the company that helped build Hamilton into a powerhouse of industry.
While Masontown officers were attempting to aid a raccoon that had a jar wedged on its head early Friday, John Dominick, 24, of 163 Penn Ave., McClellandtown approached them and began to kick the animal repeatedly, police said. Dominick was arrested for disorderly conduct and public drunkenness and was placed in the holding cell at the Masontown police station. He was later released. Officers then successfully removed the jar from the raccoon's head, and it was released without injury.
Even then he had clearly awesome social skills. Legend has it that he knew the names of all forty-five of his fellow pledges when he rushed Deke. He ater became rush chairman of Deke -- I do believe he has the soul of a rush chairman. He has that ability to connect with people. Not in the empathetic way that Clinton was so good at, but in the way of making people feel comfortable.
He could also make you feel extremely uncomfortable. He was very good at all the tools for survival that people developed in prep school -- sarcasm, and the giving of nicknames. He was extremely skilled at controlling people and outcomes in that way. Little bits of perfectly placed humiliation.