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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

October 28, 2004 | Link to this story

Even From Heaven, Harry Still Gives 'Em Hell

Category: default || By jt3y

NEWS ITEM: In speeches in Pennsylvania and Ohio Wednesday, President Bush invoked the names of Democrats Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy by way of accusing Kerry of "taking a narrow, defensive view of the war on terror," then summoned memories of Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey to accuse his rival of shortchanging public education. "If you're a Democrat, and your dreams and goals are not found in the far left wing of the Democrat party. I'd be honored to have your vote." (The Associated Press)

Taking a tip from William Safire of The New York Times, who regularly calls Richard Nixon in the great beyond, I decided to contact former President Harry Truman last night to see how he felt about being brought up in a George W. Bush campaign speech.

It took a while to place the call, but I finally reached Truman with the help of a friendly operator at AT&T (Afterlife Telephone & Telegraph).

Mr. President, what do you think of President George W. Bush?

"I don't trust him, and never will," Truman told me. "He's one of the few in the history of this country to run for high office talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and lying out of both sides."1

While talking once about American history, you said you doubted that Ulysses S. Grant had ever read the U.S. Constitution. Do you think President Bush has?

"I don't know," Truman said. "But I'll tell you this. If he has, he doesn't understand it."2

Do you think he's running a good campaign?

"I could have stayed right in Washington and licked him," Truman said. "My goodness, if I'd ever had a chance to run against him, it would have been the easiest campaign I ever had."3

Do you like President Bush's speeches?

"Any talk at all from him is too damn long," Truman said, with a snort.4

The President calls himself a "compassionate conservative" and has compared his social programs to those of Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. Do you think he's accurate?

"He not only doesn't give a damn about the people, he doesn't know how to tell the truth," Truman said. "I don't think the son-of-a-bitch knows the difference between telling the truth and lying."5

How about offering some advice to John Kerry?

"Every time he makes a speech, he loses ten thousand votes," Truman said. "If you're running against George W. Bush, you don't have to say anything. You don't even have to get out of bed in the morning to beat him."6

Have you liked Kerry's campaign so far?

"He always spent a lot more time worrying about how he was going to say something than he did on what he was going to say," Truman said. "If you're telling people the truth, you don't have to worry about your prose. People will get the idea.

"He's a very smart fella, but there were some things he never got through his head, and one of them was how to talk to people."7

If and when Bush loses on Tuesday, what will be the reason?

"Because he is a shifty-eyed, goddamn liar, and people know it. I can't see how the son-of-a-bitch even carried one state."8

At that point, Truman excused himself --- he and Bess apparently had a bridge game set up with George C. Marshall and his wife --- and we parted.

I asked the operator to connect me to Lyndon Johnson, so that he could give me an opinion on the current president --- who is a fellow Texan, after all --- but she couldn't seem to place the call. At one point, I did hear a long string of Southern-accented profanity with the words "Bush" repeated frequently, which may or may not have been LBJ, but the language is too raw to be reprinted here.

Stay tuned for further updates as events warrant.


All of the Truman quotes are taken from Merle Miller's 1973 book "Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman." The quotes about Kerry were actually things that Truman said about Adlai Stevenson and California Gov. Pat Brown.

The quotes about Bush are things that Truman said about the man whose name was lustily applauded at the Republican National Convention --- the man who inspired Arnold Schwarzenegger to become a Republican. I assumed that Bush admires that man, too, and that he wouldn't mind being compared to him.

I won't mention his name, but I'll give you two guesses who Truman thought was a "shifty-eyed goddamn liar," and the first guess doesn't count.

Finally, speaking on behalf of myself and the other Democrats in my family, I'd like to thank President Bush for inviting us to vote for him, and provide our response in plain, simple terms that I know he understands.



1 - Merle Miller, "Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman," (New York: Berkeley Publishing Co.), p. 190. (Go back.)

2 - Op. cit, p. 364. (Go back.)

3 - Op. cit, p. 188. (Go back.)

4 - Op. cit, p. 190. (Go back.)

5 - Op. cit, p. 139. (Go back.)

6 - Op. cit, p. 188. (Go back.)

7 - Op. cit, p. 271. (Go back.)

8 - Op. cit, p. 188. (Go back.)

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Posted at 12:00 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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October 27, 2004 | Link to this story

I Approved This Message

Category: default || By jt3y

A friend who dabbles part-time in broadcasting told me yesterday that he's not listening to any commercial radio until at least next week, because he can't stand the political advertising. Believe it or not, he's put one of those satellite radios in his car, and he's getting a lot of use out of it. (It bodes poorly for the future of free over-the-air radio, if you ask me, when broadcasters start buying satellite radios. But I digress.)

I decided to take a listen to a few commercial stations this morning to see what he was talking about. As best as I could transcribe the commercials (it's hard to type in a moving car), here's what they sounded like. I don't know whether these are the kinds of ads he finds so obnoxious.


ANNOUNCER: This ad is not paid for by any candidate or party. It is paid for by the Truth, Justice and American Way Commission, a non-partisan, non-profit organization.

MUSIC: (None.)

SFX: (Busy coffee shop.)

MAN: They say John Kerry's a flip-flopper.

WOMAN: Well, I know one thing he's never flip-flopped on.

MAN: What's that?

WOMAN: Do you know that after 20 years in the Senate, John Kerry has never once voted against cannibalism?

MAN: Really?

WOMAN: That's right. He never voted against it, and he never introduced any legislation to stop cannibalism.

MAN: Wow! Does that mean that John Kerry supports the consumption of human flesh?

WOMAN: To tell you the truth, we just don't know.

MAN: Well, I know who I'm voting for! I'm voting for the man who I know is against cannibalism! President Bush!

WOMAN: You said it! Remember on November Second to vote against cannibalism, and for George W. Bush!


ANNOUNCER: Paid for by People United for Motherhood, Apple Pie, Chevrolet and America, Inc., and not authorized by any candidate or party.

MUSIC: (Ominous, with lots of diminished chords)

ANNOUNCER: Before Election Day, ask yourself the following questions. What kind of a man tortures puppies for sport?

What kind of a man stays home at night and becomes sexually aroused by watching slides of car crash and fire victims?

What kind of a man shoots another man in Reno just to watch him bleed?

What kind of a man would tug on Superman's cape? Or spit into the wind? Or pull the mask off of the old Lone Ranger?

Now, ask yourself this: What kind of a man is John Kerry?

On Tuesday, November Second, remember to vote to re-elect President George W. Bush.


MUSIC: (A lone trumpet plays stirring patriotic music, while someone in the background beats a tympani drum.)

ANNOUNCER: Since taking office, President Bush has tirelessly worked to keep skunks off of the lawns of America's great monuments to peace, to ensure that school children don't get a face full of stink while they're on field trips.

He has refused to enact crippling taxes on crutches and orthopedic shoes for young people.

He has sent a clear message to our nation's public schools that it's not OK to hire terrorists to teach in our classrooms.

Senator John Kerry? We just don't know where he stands.

On November Second, vote for President George W. Bush. For the sake of our children.

MUSIC: (SWELLS, and then OUT.)

ANNOUNCER: The preceding advertisement was not authorized by any party or political candidate. It was paid for by the Committee of Citizens Who Love Freedom and Hate Evil.


All I have to say is, thank goodness for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill! It sure did put a crimp on all of those negative attack commercials that used to run on radio before an election!

I'm going to call my friend today and ask him two questions. First: Are these the commercials that are leaving him so disgusted?

And also, just how much does one of those satellite radios cost, anyway?

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Posted at 12:19 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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October 26, 2004 | Link to this story

Look! It's the Sick Humor Man!

Category: default || By jt3y

It would stand to reason that the year I'm not able to get a flu shot (along with most of the rest of the U.S.), I would immediately feel like I'm coming down with the flu. Curse you, British pharmaceutical manufacturers and your feelthy laboratories!

I've spent the past two days feeling logy, confused and lethargic, which has left me feeling less than creative. (And what else is new? Nothing.)

Come to think of it, I could be having an allergic reaction to the presidential campaign, but I doubt it. When that happens, I'm more into projectile vomiting and temporary blindness than muscle stiffness and headaches.


Rip Rense on Pittsburgh's answer to Martha Mitchell:

Teresa Heinz Kerry, shut up! All three of you! Just shut up! Shut the hell up! Wait till you're First Lady, then you can shoot your Botox-injected mouth off all you want. ...

Lady Teresa --- I dunno, her body language suggests royalty --- loves to yap. She loves to let her tongue flap, and the breeze that emerges is usually entertaining enough. Problem is, the Repugnicans quickly turn it into blowback. ... She might as well just giftwrap her gaffes and send them straight to Karen Hughes and Karl Rove.


I was afraid of this; Ray Charles' biographer, David Ritz, says in Slate that the new movie about the late musician sands off all of his rough edges (and thus distorts the truth):

The problem ... is that "Ray" is a saccharine movie while Ray himself was anything but a saccharine man. He was a raging bull. Sentimentalizing his story may make box office sense, but, to my mind, it trivializes the compelling complexity of his character. ....

"Ray" is about Ray, and its attempt to define his character. In many ways, the definition is accurate. Foxx brilliantly captures Ray's energy and contradictions. Yet those contradictions are not allowed to stand. The contradictions must be resolved, Ray must live happily ever after. The finale implies that, for all his promiscuity, he is back with Della, the true love of his life, and that, with his heroin habit behind him, it's smooth sailing ahead. The paradoxical strands of his life are tied up into a neat package, honoring the hackneyed biopic formula with a leave-'em-smiling Hollywood ending.

I'm equally concerned about the upcoming Bobby Darin movie, in which Kevin Spacey apparently sings Darin's songs (Jamie Foxx lipsynchs to Ray Charles' music in "Ray"), but I'm willing to give it a chance.

I still can't believe that there's a big enough audience out there to see a movie about Bobby Darin, but I'll take what I can get.

(Also, it's nice to see that with all of the trouble in the world, my big concerns are whether Bobby Darin and Ray Charles are accurately portrayed by Hollywood.)


After nearly 30 years of reading "Andy Capp," I've finally seen a funny one. What's next? Dogs and cats, living together?


From the "Only in Fayettenam" file comes this story in the Uniontown Herald-Standard:

State police arrested a 29-year-old Normalville woman Thursday for allegedly soliciting men in a Yahoo Messenger Internet chat room to come to another woman's home to engage in sex and other activities.

Tracie Lee Grimm was charged with criminal solicitation to commit rape, recklessly endangering another person, identity theft, stalking and two counts of criminal use of a communication facility. ...

Police said Grimm allegedly posed as a 58-year-old Champion woman in the chat room and told the men to come to the victim's Cramer Road residence and rape her when she opened the door. Several males appeared at the victim's residence, but she did not answer the door, police said. The victim also received more than 100 telephone calls from men throughout the United States, police said.


Sorry I missed Thursday's Kerry rally, if this report by J.D. Prose in the Beaver County Times was any indication:

Only a handful of Bush supporters were on hand to protest against Kerry. They were more than countered by a tall woman dressed like the character "Wonder Woman," whose handwritten sign let everyone know that she wished to wrap Bush in her "lasso of truth."

She can wrap me in her lasso of truth any time. Heigh-yo!

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October 25, 2004 | Link to this story

Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Port Vue

Category: default || By jt3y

I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of Chris Potter's "You Had to Ask" column in City Paper. In the latest installment, a couple asks (actually, I guess they had to ask) about local town names like "Freedom, Liberty, Prosperity, Unity and Economy" which (according to them) have a "distinctly Orwellian nature. Was this some wry irony by Frick and Carnegie? Or a 19th-century attempt at branding?"

Potter's answer was right on, as far as I know, until he got to "Liberty," which as Tube City Online readers know, is a suburb of Our Fair City:

Liberty is a more complicated case. As you've no doubt noticed, Pittsburgh has both an East and West Liberty, and Allegheny County also boasts a Liberty Township. But you've probably also noticed that no one in the county seems much freer as a result. What gives?

As our President would say, this sounds like "one of those ex-agg-er-ations." And as a resident of Liberty when it celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in 1987, I felt I must correct the record.

Allegheny County has a "Liberty Borough," not a Liberty Township. And it was so named in 1912, when it split off from Port Vue Borough (named by people who apparently liked the view of McKeesport, but couldn't spell).

I swear I'm not making this up: The residents of what is now Liberty were mad at Port Vue Borough Council, because Port Vue wouldn't extend water lines over to what is now Liberty Borough, which was then mostly farmland.

So the residents petitioned the Court of Quarter Sessions for independence, and got their "Liberty" from Port Vue.

Today, Liberty Borough is mostly known as the home of the Blaine Hill B-B-Q restaurant ("Blaine Hill" being not a person, but a place, and actually located several miles away in Elizabeth Township)

This part, also from Potter's column, I didn't know:

Originally, "liberties" were undeveloped areas on the outskirts of town. Since nobody really owned or used them, anybody could turn their cattle loose for grazing. (Imagine an 18th-century Point State Park, except with a slightly smaller chance of stepping in something nasty when you aren't looking.) Eventually, though, the thieving capitalists came along, as they always do. The land was surveyed and sold off, and places like East Liberty became home to numerous mansions.


David Levdansky just lost the stoned slacker vote. The longtime Democratic state legislator "doesn't watch cartoons," according to Pat Cloonan in The Daily News:

(A) new animated video released on the Web site of Levdansky's Republican challenger Brad Grantz ... portrays the 39th Legislative District incumbent as a mustachioed pig. To the strains of Stevie Ray Vaughan's rendition of "Taxman," shows how "Lil' Davey" drives recklessly to Harrisburg, has conversations about increasing taxes with the governor, and votes accordingly.

"A" for effort to Mr. Grantz (full disclosure: I know Brad casually and have worked with him in the past, though we're pretty far apart politically) for the video, which has a mid-'60s Chuck Jones vibe. (You need Macromedia's Flash player to view it.)


President Bush has lost the "furry" vote, and if he's lost "furries," then frankly ... well, he hasn't lost that much:

When the camera crew showed up, we wondered why they were all driving Hummers. Our agent assured us it was a Greenpeace commercial and they paid TWICE our hourly steak rate. Little did we know we were being tricked into this vicious campaign attack ad. (Wolfpacks for Truth)


Here's how President Bush views the Internets.


If you're like me, and I pray, for your sake, that you're not, you read the funnies page in slackjawed wonderment. Is there someone out there who finds "The Family Circus" poignant, funny or even interesting? Is there anyone who thinks "B.C.," which was originally about cavemen but now apparently is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, is trenchant? Is "Spider-Man," or is it not, the slowest moving comic strip in history?

By the time I'm done with the P-G's funny pages, I'm usually thinking to myself, Well, there went three minutes of my life I'll never get back.

I will admit to occasionally laughing at "Blondie," and even when it's not funny, I like looking at the artwork, which somehow melds 1930s artwork with modern 21st century conveniences and plotlines. It's like a comic strip done by Fritz Lang's delirious little brother.

Apparently I'm not the only one; here are "Excerpts from Dagwood Bumstead's Intervention" (from "McSweeney's" via "Josh Reads The Comics So You Don't Have To":

Blondie, wife: The only thing I hate --- HATE --- more than the eating is the sleeping. I've been reading some things online and I think you have undiagnosed clinical depression. Listen, just because you're asleep, it doesn't mean that life stops. You can take your naps on the couch, you can sleep in a hammock, you can oversleep before rushing off to work. But I have news for you, Dagwood: the world is still here. And you have to face it just like everyone else.

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October 22, 2004 | Link to this story

Selected Short Subjects

Category: default || By jt3y

We're still accepting your nominations for your favorite Mon-Yough area spot --- the kind of a place you'd take an out-of-towner. The best ones will be added to our Mon-Yough visitors page. We've already received several good ones, and the best will receive a free gift from the Tube City Online store. Email jt3y at dementia dot o-r-g or leave your information in the comments section of the Almanac.


Norwin High School has a connection to a Nobel Prize winner, reports Craig Smith in the Tribune-Review. Alumna Jacquelyn Savani, Class of 1966, is married to David Gross, who shared the Nobel Prize for physics this year.


The News shares the Almanac's call to arms for Mon-Yough residents to protest Port Authority's service cuts:

In some communities, it is a nuisance; in others, a nightmare. "That means anybody up here after 9 p.m. or the weekend can't get out of here," Liberty Mayor Edward Slater said. ...

The message is, contact your state legislators and get more money for Port Authority and other transit agencies, or else.

I hate to dispute Hizzoner, who is a good man, but he obviously has never ridden the 60P Port Vue-Liberty bus, which only runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But his sentiment is true enough.

Lincoln Mayor Nick Vay tells the News that "privatized bus services never had the woes Port Authority has." Well, I know of a lot of veterans of Pittsburgh Railways, Penn Transit, Ridge Lines and the rest who would tend to disagree with him. After World War II, Pittsburgh Railways teetered constantly on the brink of bankruptcy, and the other companies ran on shoestring budgets.

Public transit only makes money on the very busiest routes; the rest of the routes run at a loss. If you only run the busiest routes, then you don't really have a "public" transit system. If you want a truly public transit system, that's the drawback you face.


Dave Barry is taking a leave of absence from his colyum, which runs locally in the P-G and the Trib. I am not making this up.

By the way, "Dave Barry's Leave of Absence" would be a great name for a band.

No one from any newspaper, including the ones that I "worked" for, has ever cared about my opinion (and with good reason). Unfortunately, I don't know what they're going to replace Barry with. The P-G already uses Gene Weingarten's "Below the Beltway" (syndicated through the Washington Post Writers Group), which I think is very funny. As far as I know, James Lileks' "Backfence" isn't syndicated (his political columns are available through Newhouse). After those two, the pickins of good newspaper humor columnists get mighty slim.

Anyone know of a good syndicated humor columnist besides those three?


Via John Cleese's Web site:

How many Bush administration officials does it take to change a light bulb?

None. There's nothing wrong with that light bulb. There is no need to change anything. We made the right decision and nothing has happened to change our minds. People who criticize this light bulb now, just because it doesnít work anymore, supported us when we first screwed it in, and when these flip-floppers insist on saying that it is burned out, they are merely giving aid and encouragement to the Forces of Darkness.


According to the McKeesport Heritage Center newsletter, Oct. 4 was the 100th anniversary of the opening of Tube City Brewing Co. at the corner of Twelfth Avenue and Walnut Street in Our Fair City, with "an outlay of $500,000 of local capital."

That would be roughly $10 million in today's money. Who were the last private investors to commit $10 million to a new business in Our Fair City, I wonder? And what happened to the entrepreneurial spirit that has kept private investors from putting up that kind of money into a business venture here?


Besides having natural mellowing agents, ketchup is also one of the few products that cannot be improved by adding different flavors to it, reports Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker.

I like my ketchup just the way it is, frankly, as long as no one over the age of 10 puts it on hot dogs. Hot dogs are best served with mustard, relish, onions or chili. Not ketchup, and that's the way God and Oscar Mayer intended it.


To do this weekend: A big high school football matchup, as 7-1 McKeesport meets 7-1 Gateway tonight at Antimarino Stadium in Monroeville. Both teams are already playoff-bound, but bragging rights for the Quad Southwest Conference are on the line. (My alma mater, which plays Duquesne tomorrow on the road, has a shot at the playoffs only if the rest of the WPIAL gets the flu for the rest of the season.)

Edgewood Symphony Orchestra plays at CCAC Boyce Campus Saturday night. Call 412-473-8880.

McKeesport Heritage Center hosts its second annual Founder's Day Celebration from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday (members were to RSVP by Wednesday).

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October 21, 2004 | Link to this story

Franco: You Forgot La Roche!

Category: default || By jt3y

Today's New York Post: "Damned Yankees" and "What a Choke."

Today's New York Daily News: "The Choke's on Us" and "Hell Freezes Over."

Today's Long Island Newsday: "Biggest Collapse in Sports History."

Nice to know that New Yorkers aren't fair-weather fans.

While I don't really have much of a rooting interest in the American League, in general, I'm a fan of two major-league baseball teams: The Pirates and whoever is playing the Yankees. So besides being delighted that the Red Sox were able to come from three games down in a best of seven series, it's nice to see the Yankees get what they so richly deserve. As well as the crybaby New York media. The callers on WFAN (660) must have been apoplectic last night.

Where's Bob Prince when Boston needs him? "They had 'em all-ll-ll-ll-ll-ll the way."

And Kerry must be happy; if the Boston Red Sox can beat the Yankees, maybe there's hope for the rest of the Boston Brahmins. Not to mention the fact that the Yankees are undeniably a Republican party team (the hapless, perpetually disorganized Mets are unquestionably a Democratic team).

Although there's another omen --- does this mean that the "red states" will beat the "blue states"? Alert CNN! I think this is the indicator that they've been looking for!

(Cut me some slack: Is predicting the presidential race on the basis of "Red Sox vs. Yankees" any more unscientific than most of the national polls?)

Anyway, speaking of the Man from Massachusetts, I caught part of his rally on the radio yesterday, although I had to get out of the car before he spoke. Poor Joe Hoeffel sounded great; too bad for him he's getting next to no support from either the state or national parties. I heard Ted Danson, too --- eh? What's the matter, was John Ratzenberger busy?

Yes, I know Danson's a CMU grad, but I'm not sure why I should care that much about what the guy from "Cheers" and "Becker" has to say about public policy --- or what any other celebrity thinks, for that matter.

I did think it was funny when Danson mentioned his father, who was a Republican, and the crowd booed. Folks, you were booing his dad. Them's fightin' words. Who would have blamed Danson if he had leapt from the stage and started clocking people?

"No, no, he was a good Republican," Danson said. How can you tell a good Republican? Do they look like Glenda, the Good Witch in "The Wizard of Oz"? Maybe bad Republicans wear striped socks. Someone dump a bucket of water on Karl Rove and see what happens.

And then we came to Franco Harris. Pittsburgh's beloved Franco Harris. What can I say about Franco Harris, an idol of my kidhood, except that public speaking ain't his strong suit.

I particularly liked his attempt to mention every college that could potentially have students in the crowd: "How many people here from CMU? And Pitt? A lot of people here from Pitt? And Carlow? And Chatham? How about Penn State?"

It sounded like some jokers in the crowd booed Penn State, by the way --- at least they didn't start chanting "Penn State Sucks" --- forgetting, apparently, that Franco is a PSU grad.

In case some Republicans want to use Franco's remarks in an attack ad, as best as I could tell, he forgot Robert Morris, La Roche, CCAC and Duquesne. Oh, and Poland --- he forgot Poland.

A couple of people who did attend the rally told me they were disappointed that Kerry's remarks weren't more "inspiring." First, this is John Kerry (or as he's known to Almanac readers, "Yawn Kerry") we're talking about. Steady? Yes. Resolute? I think so. Smart? No one seems to question that. But inspiring?

Um. Well. Kerry. Inspiring ... how 'bout those Red Sox?

Second, it's a political campaign, not the March on Washington, and he's no Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He's not even Reverend Lovejoy, for goodness sake.

Speaking of clergy (boy, the segues just keep on comin', don't they?), there's other good news to report today. Common-sense appears to be busting out all over, as a group of Catholic priests in the Pittsburgh diocese take out an ad in the Pittsburgh Catholic urging the faithful not to be single-issue voters.

As Ann Rodgers points out in the Post-Gazette, Bishop Wuerl has "stopped short of saying it is the only issue on which Catholics should base their vote. And memos that leaked from the Vatican this summer also stopped short of saying it is always wrong to vote for a candidate who supports legal abortion."

According to Rodgers' story, Susan Rauscher, the diocese's secretary for pastoral and social concerns, says that for a Catholic to vote for a candidate specifically because they support abortion, the vote would be "problematic. ... However, if you vote for a candidate who happens to support abortion, but your conscience moves you to vote for that candidate for other reasons, that falls into another category."

A group of liberal priests are scheduled to hold a news conference this week calling on Catholics to "obey your conscience" when voting.

Poor misguided fellows. Apparently, they're members of the reality-based community.

Sadly enough, and to tie the subject back to Franco Harris, neither the bishop nor the Vatican have yet made an official ruling on the Immaculate Reception.

Finally, I mentioned David Craig Simpson's "I Drew This" a while back. Why doesn't this guy have a syndication contract, while Ted Rall does? The titles are mine, by the way:

Oct. 21, 2004: Bush questions Kerry's judgment

Oct. 19, 2004: Will Kerry raise taxes?

Oct. 14, 2004: The mainstream press: Watchdogs of objectivity

Oct. 6, 2004: Liberals: Full of vile hatred

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October 20, 2004 | Link to this story

Have You Seen Me?

Category: default || By jt3y

Did you ever have one of those days when you misplace something important? Man, if it's not my car keys it's my checkbook or my hat. I've lost more umbrellas than I can count, though the one I left on the bus the other day was returned to me. (The bus driver, bless him, had it waiting on the dashboard the next time I saw him. "Is this your umbrella?" he said.)

Once I lost my wallet on a bus. I didn't even realize it was gone until I got a call from the Homestead postmaster; someone had dropped it into a mailbox. The money and credit cards were still intact. How's that for honesty? That's the Mon Valley for you.

Well, yesterday I realized that I'd lost something else. My sense of moral outrage.

I've been trying to figure out the last time I used it. I know I had it when the Vice President claimed that voting for a Democrat for President would cause a terrorist attack. I used it just the other day when a Catholic group said that voting for the Democrat was a "sin."

If it seems that my sense of moral outrage only works on Republicans, that's not true. It goes off every time the Democratic presidential candidate claims that there's going to be a draft in January if the President is re-elected, and it works every time I hear leftists compare the President to Adolf Hitler.

Anyway, last night, a major chain of TV stations that makes large campaign contributions to the Republican Party denied that it had ever planned to show a documentary knocking that Democratic presidential candidate. That, despite the fact that the very same chain of TV stations had sent out program listings to newspapers that had the documentary scheduled to run.

A reasonable person might be led to conclude that the CEO of the TV station company was shading the truth a bit. So I waited for my sense of moral outrage to kick in, and there was ... nothing.

I looked all over the place for my sense of moral outrage --- in the car, in the basement, at work, at home. Nothing. It's always in the last place you look, of course, so I'm hoping it will turn up eventually.

Or maybe there have been too many cases when my moral outrage has had to kick in. It's an interesting thing, too, because I've noticed that when my moral outrage swings to the left, it only swings a few degrees, but when it swings to the right, it goes off the scale. Maybe that's because the Democratic candidate for president seems prone to "those exaggerations," in the President's words, while the President's campaign is "pushing the factual limits," as Howard Kurtz recently wrote in The Washington Post. Maybe it's pushed the limits of my moral outrage meter, too, so that it's not as sensitive as it used to be.

So, it may be that my sense of moral outrage is just worn out, and that it's there, but I've been using it too much lately. Maybe it just needs some time to cool off, like an overheated electric motor, and that when I need it again, it will be ready.

I sure hope so. Because I have a bad feeling I'm going to need it again before Nov. 3.


For instance, this is the kind of thing that would normally cause my sense of moral outrage to be triggered, but there was nothing:

An ostensibly nonpartisan voter registration drive in Western Pennsylvania has triggered accusations that workers were cheated out of wages and given instructions to avoid adding anyone to the voter rolls who might support the Democratic presidential nominee.

Sproul & Associates, a consulting firm based in Chandler, Ariz., hired to conduct the drive by the Republican National Committee, employed several hundred canvassers throughout the state to register new voters. Some workers yesterday said they were told to avoid registering Democrats or anyone who indicated support for Democratic nominee John F. Kerry. ....

"If they were a Kerry voter, we were just supposed to walk away," said Michael Twilla, of Meadville, who said he has been paid for only eight of 72 hours he worked. Twilla provided the Post-Gazette with a copy of the script he said he had been given. It instructs the canvassers to hand unregistered Bush supporters a clipboard with a registration form, and to advise them the canvassers will personally deliver the forms to the local courthouse.

Moral outrage? Eh. So, this should surprise me some how?


Over at "Bad Influence," Kenn Lucas has some serious suggestions for the Port Authority to consider before they raise fares and cut service:

Most people I speak with agree that a fair increase is not out of the question. But more has to be done by the Port Authority to earn our support. Too many times have the commuters paid out increases only to see no return on our investment. Park-and-Ride lots continue to be littered with trash and broken glass. Cars continue to be broken into at these lots with no visible security patrol or maintenance. Buses continue to run in delapidated condition. Some buses have not been cleaned since the Pirates were contenders! It is not unusual for a bus to be full with urine and trash. Bus drivers have no concern for what takes place on the buses. People openly eat and discard their trash as well as grafitti to their hearts content. As a patron I would like to see my funding combat some of these issues.

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October 19, 2004 | Link to this story

The Return of Internet Time Wasters

Category: default || By jt3y

To quote that great philosopher, Red Green: "If you don't have anything to say, stop talking. If you find yourself quoting a funny story you read in the Reader's Digest, shut up. You have nothing to say."

Today, I've got nothing, except some of our patented Tube City Online Internet Time-Wasters:


One of the issues that allegedly led the Mon Valley Midget Football League to kick out the Clairton teams was Clairton's supposed violation of a so-called "mercy rule." Most "mercy rules" state that when one team reaches a certain point margin that would make it impossible for the other team to win --- the game becomes a massacre rather than a blowout --- then the other team pulls back. In PIAA football, there's an official "mercy rule" that states if one team leads by 35 points or more in the second half, the clock doesn't stop, except after a score. PIAA also has a 10-run "mercy rule" in school baseball.

According to this story from 2003, the midget football teams are not the only Clairton teams to be accused of ignoring the "mercy rule." In January 2003, the high school girls' basketball team pounded Winchester-Thurston 123-24; a guard on the Winchester team called it "humiliating." (Read the Clairton coach's side of the story in the Valley Independent.

It's not fair to single out Clairton. On Saturdays, I always read through the high school football scores, and some of them are so lopsided as to be obscene; scores like 68-3 or 77-0 are not uncommon.

I suppose there are cases when the other team is so inept, you can't help but score on them. Yet I still wonder what some of these coaches are thinking: This is high school football, for cripes' sake. Why humilate the other team? Isn't 48-0 or 54-3 a big enough margin? Why not put the freshmen and the third-stringers in?

Then, of course, I come back from my magical trip to Gumdrop Mountain, where chocolate-syrup rivers run through candy-cane forests. After all, it's not whether you win or lose, it's whether or not you grind the other guys into a bloody pulp.

Oh, and what's the Time Waster? Well, you can download official PIAA rules bulletins here. Read through them and you'll be much better informed this Friday night when you're yelling insults at the refs: "Hey, jagoff, are you blind? It says right on page 1 of the October bulletin that you should sound your whistle when a successful kick clears the uprights!"

Admittedly, it's not as concise as, "So's your mother."


What would happen if you titled movie based solely on descriptions of what the poster in the theater lobby looked like? Well, you might end up with something like this collection at (warning: some of the language isn't suitable for the kiddies).


I'm ashamed to admit how much time I spent the other night looking at Gas Signs, which, as you might suspect, is a site dedicated to photos of gas station signage.

Some how, a friend and I started discussing car trips, which led to a discussion of how you used to be able to spot regional gasoline companies (like Sohio) when you took car trips, which led to his mentioning that there used to be a Purple Martin gas station on McKnightmare Road in the North Hills, near his home.

Which led to us searching for information about Purple Martin gas.

Which led to "Gas Signs."

Which led to me spending several hours looking at pictures of gas station signs.

Which led to me being covered in shame, once again.

Why, oh why, couldn't it have been porn instead? That, my family could understand, but gas station signs? Yeesh.


James Howard Kunstler is in a bad mood:

John Kerry has made some joking references to the immense wealth he married into, but a few years from now it will not seem very funny to a public with no jobs, steeply declining standards of living, and no way to get around. Nor will George W. Bush's family advantages go unnoticed. Personally, I am allergic to Marxist doctrine, but I believe nonetheless that a few years from now, the American public will want to eat the rich. Some demagogue will arise out of the NASCAR mob and then the real fun will begin.


Yoi and double yoi, Big Ben has a blog, and apparently, it's legit. Befitting a Miami U. graduate, it's articulate:

I never wanted to play at the expense of someone getting hurt, especially when he is as great of a guy as Tommy is. But I knew I had to be ready when the team needed me, and I am trying my hardest to fill in well for Tommy and just win football games. These games have been a lot of fun (obviously itís always more fun when you win!) I definitely need to take some time here to thank my teammates for everything they do. They are making my job so much easier, and they really are the ones doing all the hard work.

I keep reminding myself, and I want to remind everyone else, that it has only been a few games and we have a long way to go until we will be satisfied. I know I wonít be satisfied until the Steelers win a Super Bowl!! And even then I will want to win more. One thing I know is that we have a better chance of winning if you the fans keep supporting us the way you have. I have to thank you again!

(Tip of the hard hat to Exit Stage Left.)

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October 18, 2004 | Link to this story

Mon Valley Bus Riders: Sure Hope You're Sitting Down

Category: default || By jt3y

Bad news for "France Lynn," who has been scratching his, her or its name into all of the buses using the West Mifflin Garage. Come next spring, France Lynn may have a lot fewer buses to deface.

Bad news for the Mon-Yough area, too, which as expected would be fairly heavily hit by the Port Authority's proposed restructuring --- the "poison pill" designed to force the state Legislature into increasing its funding for public transit.

According to a preliminary list of bus routes that would eliminated, released on Friday by the transit agency, three local routes in Our Fair City would be cut altogether: 60A Walnut, 60P Port Vue-Liberty and 60S Crawford Village-Jenny Lind. The 58C McKeesport Express --- the motorcoach service that replaced the PATrain --- would also be eliminated, though riders could use the 58P and 58V that serve Port Vue and Versailles, respectively.

Elsewhere, the 50B Glassport-Clairton? It would be gone.

67J Lincoln Highway? Gone.

The Clairton, Elizabeth and Homestead Park "flyers"? Gone.

The 51E West Mifflin-Jefferson, 55B Homeville, 55E Whitaker-West Mifflin? You've got it: Finito, splitsville, headed for the big bus garage in the sky.

East Hills routes affected would include 63B Rankin, 65E North Braddock, and a bunch of Valley routes: 75A Monroeville Shopper, 75B Pitcairn-East McKeesport, 75C Garden City, 75D Penn Hills-Monroeville.

Of course, the Mon-Yough area isn't being targeted unfairly --- from Sewickley to South Park, and everywhere in between, bus routes would be lopped, and all weekend and night service would be ended.

The Port Authority says that in many cases of eliminated routes, "some service" would be provided by other buses --- it helpfully suggests the 58P Port Vue could supplant the 60P, for instance --- but that's really like saying that because United Airlines flies over Greensburg, it provides "some service" to Westmoreland County. In nearly every case where the Port Authority suggests that "some service" will be provided on a cancelled route, only a handful of stops will be duplicated, often at inconvenient times.

You can say that many of these routes are lightly patronized --- as Jon Potts puts it, "I've been on buses that were standing room only, but also ones in which I could have stripped naked, and no one but the driver would have noticed." (That was a mental image I didn't need, Jonathan.) The first bus that I catch each morning, for example, has anywhere between zero and a half-dozen riders.

But I would also argue that the lightly patronized routes are often the most necessary ones in some suburban areas of Allegheny County, where residential neighborhoods are often far from commercial districts. Speaking as someone who, during college, occasionally had to walk three miles home from the McKeesport Transportation Center after missing the last local bus to my neighborhood, I think I know of where I speak.

(And I did it uphill both ways, in the snow, fighting off dinosaurs. And I liked it!)

Without a bus, many elderly residents, students, single mothers getting off of welfare and others are going to lose their only lifeline to the doctor, school, work, or shopping areas. We have a car-based culture --- some would argue the merits of that, but it's here, and we have to deal with it. Private automobiles grant many Americans a great deal of freedom, but, ironically, they make some Americans even more isolated. Many neighborhoods lack drugstores, supermarkets and other necessities within walking distance; those local stores have been replaced by big-box retailers on the outskirts of town, easily reached by car, not so easy to reach if you can't afford one.

Is public transportation underfunded? Hard to say; how much is "enough"? According to PennDOT's 2003 Annual Report, mass transit agencies received about $658.6 million in assistance; "highway-related" expenditures ran about $3.6 billion, or more than five times as much.

One problem that PAT has pointed out is that government grants are often available for capital improvements --- extending light-rail to the North Side, for instance --- but not for operating expenses.

This is doubly stupid. The mentality of government agencies is often, "well, we might as well take the money for capital improvement projects and use it, because if we don't, someone else will." But each time PAT expands its capital plant, its operating and maintenance costs go up. Thus does PAT dig its budget hole a little deeper each time it gets a grant for capital improvements.

What should you do if you're concerned? Don't bother writing or calling Port Authority. Instead, contact your state legislators or senators. It's an election year, after all, so you have some leverage --- they need your vote --- and from my experience, a nicely-worded letter will do wonders.

Whether it will roust them in time to stave off route cuts that would leave the Port Authority less of a transit system than a parody of one remains to be seen.


Daily News coverage of the Daily News' sale is now online (tip of the Tube City Online hard hat to an Alert Reader who asks to remain anonymous).


Park Corporation has taken out a permit to demolish the Carrie Furnaces in Rankin and Swissvale (the old blast furnaces near the Rankin Bridge), reports Ann Belser in the Post-Gazette. This comes just after the county finally made progress on obtaining the money necessary turning the old furnaces into a tourist attraction.

Folks active in the effort to create a regional historic site explaining steelmaking in the Mon Valley have often accused Park Corporation of acting in bad faith in Homestead and Munhall. They have claimed that Park Corporation promised to preserve artifacts, then demolished them or refused to sell them to historic preservation groups.

Kelly Park told Belser that 16 years is "a long time for a private company to hold onto something" --- meaning the furnaces --- "and not do anything." That's true, but it also is easy to see why the historic preservationists have become so frustrated. Every time they have approached a hurdle, it's been moved further away from them. A tiny fraction of what could have been saved at the Homestead Works was needlessly bulldozed when The Waterfront was built.


Alert Reader Officer Jim reports that while In Philadelphia, Nearly Everybody Reads the Bulletin, at least one writer at the Inquirer is reading the Tube City Almanac.

Well, maybe not. But at the very least, Inky columnist Tom Ferrick Jr. was on the same wavelength Sunday as the Almanac was on Friday:

Does abortion trump everything else? What happens if the candidate is pro-abortion, but is in line with, say, the Pope on other issues --- pro-social justice, anti-death penalty, anti-Iraq war, etc.? The most frequently heard answer, albeit muffled in pastoral euphemisms, is: Yes, abortion does trump the others. In my experience, next on the list is parochial aid in its various manifestations, including vouchers. ...

Catholics should resist the bishops' attempt to turn them into single-issue voters. A democratic, pluralistic society is best served by voters who consider the range of a candidate's positions and performance and make their judgments accordingly.

That doesn't mean people shouldn't vote their interests. For God's sake, though, use your common sense.


An Allegheny County judge will rule this week on whether Clairton's youth football teams were unfairly ejected from the Mon Valley Midget Football League, reports Dave Conti in the Trib.

The league claims the Clairton teams were expelled because parents have refused to police fights at games; have piled on meaningless points against opposing teams; and encouraged families to bring their own food, rather than supporting opposing teams' concession stands. Clairton parents argue they're being singled out because they're too successful, piling up a record of 125-4 in league play over the past three years. Josh Yohe had more in the Daily News.


American Legionnaires are trying to save a World War II mural painted on the wall of the old post home in Mon City, reports Linda Metz in the Observer-Reporter.

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October 16, 2004 | Link to this story

Saturday Update: Sic Transit Gloria Mansfield

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By jt3y

Sweet Georgia Brown! "The Senator" must be turning in his grave. If you haven't seen this morning's News yet, then the Post-Gazette reports:

The Daily News and the Latrobe Bulletin will merge Nov. 1 Daily News Publisher and Editor Patricia K. Mansfield announced yesterday during an editorial staff meeting that the publication had been sold.

Chris Miles, a former chief financial officer at The Daily News and current publisher of The Bulletin, will be involved in the daily operation of both newspapers.

Miles' partners in the acquisition of The Daily News are George Sample of Huntingdon and William Anderson of Ebensburg.

A six-day publication, The Daily News circulates around 19,000 copies a day. Mansfield told the staff that she and Controller Steve Poknis would not be a part of The Daily News operation after Oct. 30. She advised the staff that Miles does not plan to make any changes for at least two months.

The News doesn't have the story online, but the front page story by ME Jeff Sisk characterizes it as a merger between The Daily News Publishing Company and the Bulletin's owners. The merger will end nearly 80 years of Mansfield family ownership of the News; Senator W.D. Mansfield, Dr. H.S. Arthur, Charles Shaw and William J. Cox purchased the paper (founded in 1884) on March 2, 1925.

It's good to see that the News will continue in operation, and if it's going to be sold, a sale to another Pennsylvania company is probably the best possible outcome. The Latrobe Bulletin --- which a few years ago was a very tired-looking paper --- has received a new lease on life since the current ownership took over in 1999.

Let me take this opportunity, however, to re-affirm that Tube City Online, the Tube City Almanac, and Tube City Omnimedia will continue to be a Mon-Yough area owned- and operated- media empire. At least until I lose interest (which hasn't happened since 1995, anyway).

And let me also re-affirm that we have no plans to sell to any other group. Primarily because, y'know, no one wants us.

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October 15, 2004 | Link to this story

And Yet Another Tiresome Rant

Category: default || By jt3y

They say you should never discuss religion or politics in polite company.

I've never been accused of being overly polite. Here comes one of my political rants; skip to the end if you don't want to read it.

On the front page of Wednesday's Daily News was this Associated Press story with a Washington, D.C., dateline:

A political guide is urging Catholics to vote against candidates who support abortion rights, stem-cell research and other "evil" issues --- an appeal that could undercut Democratic Sen. John Kerry's candidacy.

Catholic Answers, an independent group based in El Cajon, Calif., expects to distribute 3 million copies of its "Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics" nationally by the end of the month. The guide urges Catholic voters to disavow candidates who support euthanasia, human cloning and gay marriage. The guide also was published Tuesday in a full-page newspaper ad in USA Today. ...

Karl Keating, president of Catholic Answers, said his nonprofit group is not backing any particular candidate or political party. "Our purpose is to get the Catholic moral principles out, and we leave it up to the individual reader to apply them, we hope, at every level of government," Keating said. "But we're definitely not endorsing or disendorsing any candidate."

Ahem. An aside here: "Disendorsing?"

But the principles are aligned with Bush's political stands --- and against most of Kerry's. As a Catholic, Kerry opposes abortion but says he can't support denying a legal right to others. And while the Democrat opposes gay marriage, he has criticized Bush's effort to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex unions.

I make no attempt to hide the fact that I'm a practicing Catholic, though far from perfect (that's why I'm practicing, ha ha ha), and definitely no Charlie Church. But this whole attempt to paint Yawn Kerry as some kind of hypocrite --- or in this case "evil" --- is, in the words of the movie reviews that used to run in the Pittsburgh Catholic, "morally offensive."

Unless we intend to turn the United States government into a theocracy --- and don't worry, some people would like to --- we are unlikely to ever get a government whose leaders shape every policy to fit their own religious beliefs. Nor would I want one.

As a Catholic, I frankly don't want a Southern Baptist like Al Gore telling me what is, and isn't, moral. Nor do I think many Southern Baptists want me impressing my morality on them.

What astonishes me about Catholics who are angry at Kerry and are embracing Bush is that they seem to be falling in line behind the President solely on the basis of two issues: abortion and gay marriage.

Yes, the Vatican has spoken out strongly against both abortion and gay marriage.

But guess what the Vatican and the Catholic Church are also strongly against? Capital punishment.

Guess which Governor of Texas signed 152 death warrants --- more than any other governor of any state in modern history? And who executed mentally-ill prisoners? And who rejected appeals from Pope John Paul II and other clergymen to spare the lives of some prisoners, including those who had reformed and devoted their lives to Christianity?

Hint, hint: His middle initial is "W."

OK, more guessing games, because this is fun. Guess what the Catholic Church says about pre-emptive war?

Catholic social teaching has long advocated a more integrated international system to serve the cause of human rights, to reduce war between and within states and to help transform political and economic interdependence into moral solidarity that reflects the common good. At this moment in history, we wish to affirm the positive duty of political leaders and citizens to support the development, reform and restructuring of regional and global political and legal institutions, especially the United Nations. The United Nations should be at the center of the new international order. ... Effective multilateral institutions can relieve the United States of the burden, or the temptation, of becoming by itself the world's police force.

No fair peekin' on this next question: The Bush Administration "intends to produce," in the words of the San Jose Mercury News, new tactical nuclear weapons for use against non-nuclear countries. Gee, I wonder, what does the Catholic Church say about that?

We must continue to say No to the very idea of nuclear war. A minimal nuclear deterrent may be justified only to deter the use of nuclear weapons. The United States should commit itself never to use nuclear weapons first, should unequivocally reject proposals to use nuclear weapons to deter any nonnuclear threats, and should reinforce the fragile barrier against the use of these weapons. Indeed, we abhor any use of nuclear weapons.

Why is it that conservative Catholics only care about "protecting life" when it's the lives of the unborn? Aren't the lives of, say, actual people who have already been born just as important? If Kerry's failure to be anti-abortion and anti-stem cell research is "evil," then Bush's failure to be anti-death penalty and anti-nuclear weapons should be just as equally "evil" to most thinking Catholics.

And yet it's only Kerry who gets hammered by conservative Catholics. Huh.

Could it be that issues like the death penalty and nuclear weapons aren't exactly black and white? Perhaps.

Wouldn't it stand to reason that issues like abortion and stem cell research also are not exactly black and white? Get a group of theologians and clergy of different faiths --- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu --- into a room and ask them, for instance, if life begins at conception. It's not a universally accepted doctrine.

Kerry has been accused of dissembling on some of his answers during the three presidential debates, and he did, but I found his response to a question about his faith to be remarkably like my own feelings:

My faith affects everything that I do, in truth. There's a great passage of the Bible that says, What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead.

And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people.

That's why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth.

That's why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.

Kerry, by the way, was quoting the Epistle of James, 2:14-26.

Bush certainly talks about his faith a lot. But I'm starting to wonder which candidate is actually putting their faith in action, and also exactly which one is the "compassionate conservative."

I know that the President has the second part of "compassionate conservative" down pat, but I'm not so sure about the first part.


I stumbled over this story about Idora Park by former co-worker, Lucky Strike smoker, Trib staff writer and Y-town native Vince Guerreri. The story's a real treat. I never made it to Idora Park, but it sure sounds a lot like Rainbow Gardens.

Which come to think of it, I never got to see, either.


As you might imagine, many, many people in the media are breaking out with nasty red welts of Schadenfreude over Bill O'Reilly's little problem. Over at "Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly International," they're practically wetting their pants with insane glee.

And from the people who brought you "Outfoxed" comes "The O'Sexxxy Factor", about you-know-who. (You need to have Quicktime or be a Mac-using hippie to view it, apparently.)

Oh, Mr. O'Reilly? There's a bunch of people here with your petard. They'd like to hoist you with it.


To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Area School District hosts an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow at the new "Founders' Hall" and technology facilities at the newly-remodeled and expanded "Voke," on the campus of McKeesport Area High School, Eden Park Boulevard. A ribbon-cutting will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow, and bus transportation to the campus will be available from all parts of the school district, beginning at 9:22 a.m. Call 412-664-3762 or visit the district's Web site.

Also, the Rolling to Overcome Poverty Bus Tour rolls into St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Downtown, with a prayer breakfast at 8 a.m. Sunday. Call 412-672-8490 or email ghmason at webtv dot net. (Information via Rauterkus.)

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October 14, 2004 | Link to this story

Short, But Not Sweet or To The Point

Category: default || By jt3y

Pardon me for not feeling creative, but I spent my normal essaying time balancing my checkbook and paying bills. And trying to pay my bills this month mustered all of the creativity I possess.

I did listen to the debate while I worked, and the combination of mathematics, low finance and bloviating gave me a pounding headache, to the point where I finally gave up and turned off the TV.

Interestingly enough, I started out listening to the debate on the radio, and frankly, I thought Dubya was cleaning Yawn Kerry's clock. The reception was lousy, though, I so I turned on the television. The visuals hurt President Smirky's performance, but I'd still have to give him a slight edge over JFK Lite. The Tube City Almanac National Affairs Desk will score the debates Kerry 2, Bush 1 ... and Voters 0.

Neither candidate said a damn thing of importance, of course. Kerry's responses could have been selected at random from any of his answers during the first two debates; Bush seemed intent on trying to work in as many references to Ted Kennedy as possible. And unfortunately, there was no moderator to call them to account.

Oh, I'm sorry, there was Bob Schieffer, whose questions ran the gamut from insipid to pandering. I wonder if those questions were forced on him by a committee, or if he was pulling punches for fear that the usual suspects would pounce on him for being a "liberal-biased" newsman from CBS. If so, his fears were justified when Shrub trotted out his oh-so-subtle "joke" about "not trusting the media." Ha. Ha. Ha. Get it? Nudge nudge, wink wink? See, CBS had these memos a while ago ...

Yeah, right.

By the way, "jokes" like that would be funnier if the Bush Administration hadn't been so nasty, partisan and controlling with reporters and news outlets for the past four years. Whereas most Presidents have viewed the media as at best a potential ally and at worst a necessary evil (I was going to say "nuisance," but that word seems to have gotten a bad reputation this week), Bush, like Richard Nixon, has treated them like a dangerous force that must be stopped. I don't find that attitude very healthy for democracy, and I don't find the President's japes about his hostile attitude toward the media --- and the public's right to know --- very humorous.

All in all, it was the weakest of the three debates. The pundits seemed to be calling this debate a draw; the instant polls gave an edge to Kerry; and I doubt anyone was swayed either way. I'd be interested to look at the overnight Nielsen ratings to see if most people stayed tuned through the entire thing, or tuned out after the first 15 or 30 minutes.

Personally? After I finished balancing the checkbook using principles set down by that great economist, Billy Preston (yep, nothing from nothing leaves nothing), I read a book.

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October 13, 2004 | Link to this story

Candy Website is Sweet, and Other Things

Category: default || By jt3y

Things I learned on the Internet while looking for other things:

--- McKeesport Candy Co. has a great Web site, and I can't believe I haven't looked at it sooner. With Halloween just two weeks away, it seems like an appropriate topic for discussion.

It turns out McKeesport Candy is now specializing in Internet sales of "retro candy" like Necco wafers, root beer barrels and licorice.

The company is now among the largest online candy retailers in the U.S.; and it's the subject of a profile this month in Fast Company. Last year, it was featured on NBC's "Today" show.

Of course, McKeesport Candy also supplies many convenience stores and supermarkets with brand-name and bulk candy. And if you see any bagged "loose" candy --- gumdrops, licorice laces, chocolate-covered peanuts, etc. --- with the label "Todd's Candies," that's coming from Our Fair City, too.

The company is family-owned and operated, and based right Downtown on Fifth Avenue near McKeesport Hospital since 1927.

I have no connection to McKeesport Candy, by the way, except as a consumer of their products. Including an entire bag of Todd's malted milk balls at the drug store on Saturday morning while waiting for a prescription. (I'm not a proud man.)

It's too bad no one in Our Fair City makes floss and toothpaste. What a one-two combination punch that would be!

--- Vance Holmes, a talented actor and writer from Our Fair City who now lives in Minneapolis, has set up a Web site seeking information that will bring the murderer or murderers of his brother, Tommy Holmes, to justice. Vance's father, the Rev. Sylvester Holmes, is the well-known pastor of Zion Baptist Church on Locust Street.

A 21-year-old city man, Joseph Rhone, is charged in Tommy Holmes' death; Vance Holmes contends that investigators are not telling everything they know about the shooting. Read his Web site and judge for yourself.

--- A Salon writer went telemarketing in Picksberg on behalf of Yawn Kerry, and wrote about his experiences (warning: partisan leftist ranting).

--- The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming! All of the Airborne Express trucks are now wearing garish yellow and red paint jobs as the company gets absorbed by DHL. It turns out that DHL is owned by the German post office (Deutsche Post AG) and it's making a major push to take market share away from UPS and FedEx.

But that's not all. You've seen those T-Mobile ads featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones? (The first few ads could have been selling clods of dirt for all I knew, because I never paid any attention to the phones, if you get my drift.) Well, T-Mobile is owned by the German national telephone company --- Deutsche Telekom AG --- which was also formerly controlled by the German post office.

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October 12, 2004 | Link to this story

The Customer Is Always Wrong

Category: default || By jt3y

Rip Rense regularly writes about his "Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity," describing his tangles with nasty retail clerks. Subdivided Bob recently wrote about restaurants where the credo seemed to be: "Eat What's In Front of You and Shut Up."

I guess I lead a charmed life, because I have more good experiences than bad ones. On the other hand, when the bad experiences happen, they're doozies.

The other day a good friend called. I'll call him "Dan," because that, in fact, is his name. His car had broken down --- dead battery --- and he needed a ride to a certain department store to return it. I won't mention the name of the store, or their well-known, nationally-advertised car batteries, but suffice to say, when this battery died, it died hard.


Anyway, Dan got into my car, with his battery and a letter from the main office of the department store chain; for convenience, let's call it "Broils." "I hope there isn't a problem," he said. "It was recalled a while ago, but I never got around to taking it back."

I read the letter. It was pretty straightforward: "Because of an unusually high number of complaints about this battery, we have decided to recall all of them from use. At your earliest convenience, please return it to your nearest Broils location. We will exchange your battery for a Premium Gold battery and refund the difference in your purchase price."

The letter was undated. "When did you get this?" I asked.

"I don't know. It's been more than a year. But the battery came with an eight-year warranty." It was some sort of a fancy-pants battery with a built-in security alarm; they were being recalled, apparently, because the electronic controllers were going haywire.

Well, then. It seemed pretty cut and dried to me. Battery has an eight-year warranty that isn't even half-expired; store recalls it and offers an exchange and a refund. Should be a slam-dunk.

A-ha! But would I be tediously chronicling it on my Web page if it were?

Dan went into the automotive department at Broils; I followed, figuring I'd pay off my charge card while he was being waited on. There were other customers standing around, waiting for their cars to be repaired.

He approached the sales clerk, and put the battery on the counter, but before he opened his mouth, she accosted him.

"What's that? We don't sell those batteries any more."

"I know," he said. "I received this recall notice. I'd like to return it."

"Oh, no. That's an old battery. Don't go bringing in some old battery that we don't even sell any more and trying to return it."

"But I have this letter that says I'm to return it, and receive a new battery."

She snatched the letter from his hand and skimmed it before tossing onto the counter. "How do I know this letter is even real? It doesn't even have a date on it."

"Would you read the letter? It says right here ..."

"I can read," she snapped.

"OK, I'd like to see a manager then."

"I am the manager." (Obviously, she had been promoted based on her customer service skills.)

Dan paused a beat. "Then I'd like to see the store manager."

"The store manager is gone for the day. Come back tomorrow."

"No, I won't. I think you'd better get someone higher in authority than you down here."

She snorted. "Fine. You'll just have to wait until I wait on these customers who actually want to spend money."

Let me just pause here to say that the department store in question has been the subject of a number of lawsuits regarding its auto repair division. Customers and state attorneys general have alleged that it performs unnecessary repairs, charges for work that was never done, or bills for excessive amounts of labor. In my experience, the parts and supplies on sale are notoriously over-priced.

All this is my way of saying that the treatment we were receiving shouldn't have shocked me. Still, this kind of behavior --- in front of other customers, no less --- was astoundingly brazen. I could see some of the other people in the waiting room staring at us. At some point, another clerk came out to wait on them --- presumably to keep them from focusing their attention on the little drama that was being performed in front of their eyes, lest they question their own bills.

After making us wait 20 minutes or so, the sales clerk --- I will call her Miss Management, which seems nicely descriptive --- grabbed the recall letter again and said she was going to "call the main office." She picked up the phone, dialed a number, and asked some questions.

"I have a customer here who doesn't have a receipt, he has some letter he says he got in the mail about a recall on this car battery ... it's a model number ABC-123 ... right ... well, we don't sell them any more. OK. Fine. Thanks."

She hung up the phone, and with a self-satisfied smile, turned back to Dan. "They told me it's up to me, and I'm not taking this battery back. You waited too long. Plus, you don't have a receipt."

"Where does it say I waited too long? Show me in that letter where it says this recall expired. And you can look up my receipt."

She punched up his name on the computer; sure enough, the battery purchase was there. Next to the item number was a boldface warning: "RECALL. DO NOT SELL." Now we knew the recall was real.

The original list price was about $140, plus tax. The most expensive battery on sale --- the "Premium Gold" the store's letter promised --- was about $70. They'd be out $70 cash, plus the new battery, if they honored the letter --- which, of course, they were legally obligated to do.

"This is all about her commission," I whispered to Dan while Miss Management's back was turned. "If she gives you back the money, it comes out of her commission."

She turned back to Dan: "Well, you waited too long. That battery's almost four years old."

"No, it isn't. I bought it in 2001. Plus, it's warranteed for eight years. It's not even out of warranty yet."

Miss Management threw up her hands. "I don't need to deal with your mouth. You want to talk to the customer service manager? Fine." She stomped off into a back room. When she came back, two big mechanics wearing greasy overalls stood in the doorway behind her, arms crossed, staring at Dan and me.

The implication was clear: Talk back again, and these two goons were going to try and intimidate us. Amazing.

It's worth noting that Dan was handling things remarkably professionally --- in fact, his voice never rose above conversational tones. If it had been my battery, and my money, I would have been ranting and raving like Daffy Duck by now.

At this point, we had been waiting about 40 minutes. I walked off to make my credit payment. When I got back to the auto department, another woman was walking in, carrying a walkie-talkie and wearing a manager's badge.

Her nametag proclaimed that she was the manager of customer service. That was kind of funny, that Broils would have a manager of customer service, because it was clear to me that the store serviced its customers much the same way a bull does a cow.

"What seems to be the problem?" she asked Miss Management.

"This guy" --- Miss Management said, gesturing at Dan --- "brought in this battery, which we don't even sell any more, and some cockamamie letter, and he wants a new battery and a refund, and I called the main office, and they told me it was up to me, and I said no. Now he wants to see a manager, and I don't have time to deal with this. There are paying customers here."

Of course, Dan had been a paying customer when he bought the battery that turned out to be defective. The nerve he had, expecting the merchandise to work as advertised!

The customer service manager looked at the letter. "Let me make a few phone calls and find out what's going on," she said, and went back into the office. The goons continued to glare at us. I glared back.

I kept my mouth shut the whole time. Not an easy thing for me to do, as my friends will attest. The customer service manager came back to the desk. We had been in the store for more than a hour by now.

"I just talked to the home office," she said. "You didn't live up to some of the conditions in this recall. It says here that you're supposed to bring in the car that the battery was installed in. Is the car here?"

"No, it's at home," Dan said.

"Well, then see, you're not meeting the terms of the recall."

"You didn't install the battery in the car in the first place," he said. "I carried it out with me. It says so right on the invoice."

Indeed, it did: "CUSTOMER TOOK WITH."

"Well," the customer service manager said, "anyway, you don't meet the terms of the recall, because the car isn't here."

"Let me get this straight," Dan said. "You want me to take this dead battery home, install in back in the car, and have the car towed up here, and then you'll replace the battery?"

"Don't get smart with me," she said. "We're willing to give you another battery, but we're not giving you the refund. Also, your warranty will start from the day you bought the original battery, because you waited so long."

"Isn't the warranty on the battery, not on the sale?" Dan said. "The warranty on the new battery should start the day you give it to me, not in 2001. You're cheating me out of three years of warranty."

"Well, the fact is, you don't meet the conditions of the recall," she said. "You don't have the car ..."

Now I lost it, and interrupted. "Look, I'm the guy who drove him up here after his car broke down. If you aren't going to honor the terms of your own recall and warranty just because he didn't have the battery installed by your store, then you shouldn't have sold it to him in the first place."

"Besides," Dan said, chirpily, "I'm saving you money by not making you install it for me."

More customers were watching us now, including some that had been there since the beginning, 60-odd minutes earlier.

"This is ridiculous," I said. "I've been a customer here since I was 16 years old, and I've never seen any store treat any customer like this."

Then I turned to Dan, and said --- loud enough for both her and Miss Management to hear --- "You have an excellent complaint here for the attorney general's Office of Consumer Protection. I'll help you file it, if you want to."

They eyed me warily.

"I don't want trouble," he said. "I just want them to live up to the terms of the letter."

"Well," the customer service lady said, "this letter isn't dated. And it isn't signed. You expect us to honor the terms of a letter that isn't signed or dated?"

"It's sent on Broils' letterhead, in one of Broils' envelopes," I said, finally losing my patience and raising my voice. "If it was so important to Broils that the letter be signed and dated, then maybe Broils should have signed and dated it, huh?"

The customer service lady looked at me.

She looked at Dan.

She looked at the letter.

She looked at Miss Management. "Do everything it says in this letter. Give him the new battery. And the cash. And the new warranty."

Miss Management went --- to put it politely --- stark-raving bonkers.

"I'm not giving him almost $70 out of my commission for some old battery for some letter he brought in that for all I know he printed himself!" she yelled. I kicked Dan. "I told you," I hissed.

"Take it out of the (so-and-so) account," the customer service lady said, "and just label it a return." She turned to Dan. "But we're not going to do this ever again."

"Why would I want to?" he said. "I can only return the battery once. I just want you to honor the letter you sent."

"Fine," Miss Management snarled, "but you can just wait until everyone else is gone."

And she did, in fact, make us wait. The goons left. The customer service lady left. All of the customers but one --- a little old lady waiting for her car to be finished --- left. I took another walk through the store to work off some of my aggravation.

It was almost closing time before Miss Management got a replacement battery for Dan and rang up the return.

And then --- wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles --- her attitude became sweetness and light as she attempted to sell him an upgrade and an extended service plan.

Dan demurred. I can't imagine why.

"I'm sorry about all the problems," Miss Management said, smiling. "But you have to realize there are all sorts of scams out there."

Yes, I thought, and your store is committing them.

As we headed for the exit --- cash, new battery and warranty in hand --- the little old lady came over and stopped us. "Young man," she asked Dan, "are they going to honor the letter?"


"And did she give you your money?"


The lady winked. "Good for you. I'd have fought them, too."

And what was written above the exit, in gold leaf, no less? Why, the Broils motto, set down by Mr. Broil more than 100 years before: "Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back."

Ironic? Not really. Because in fairness, they only promise "your money back" --- they don't promise it will be easy.

I almost forgot. During one of my little strolls through the store's waiting room, I discovered a bulletin board displaying letters of praise from Broils auto department customers.

Next to it were framed copies of the store's sales tax license, its state inspection license, and its state emissions license. They listed the names of the auto department manager and the district manager of Broils.

Do you think those two people are getting a letter from me?

You bet your life.

The real question is: Will they display the letter in the waiting room with the others?

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October 11, 2004 | Link to this story

Yo-Ho-Ho and a Buckskin Sleeve

Category: default || By jt3y

Happy European Oppressors of Native Peoples Day! I used to think this was just Columbus Day, when we celebrated the fact that if crazy ol' Cristoforo hadn't conned the king and queen of Spain out of some doubloons and leased three ships (the Nina, the Tito, and the Queen Mary) from Hertz Rent-a-Fleet, my sorry rear-end might be farming potatoes in eastern Europe. That was before my eyes were opened. Now, thanks to political correctness, I realize that the past 400 years of North American history have been a fraud!

OK, so, not quite. In sixth- or seventh-grade, two Italian-American teachers at our school jokingly proposed having a Columbus Day parade. Some how, the idea caught hold with the administration, and lunchtime on Oct. 12 found the younger kids marching around the playground, waving little American and Italian flags and singing:

In 14-hundred and 92,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He sailed three ships across the sea,
To find this land for you and me.

I don't know if that little celebration would pass muster today; some parent would complain, and then there would be a town meeting, where impassioned people with quavering voices would read heart-felt, angry speeches from torn-out pieces of notebook paper, and afterward some TV news crew would do a live shot for the 11 p.m. news about the big Columbus Day controversy. In the end, everyone would be frustrated and angry.

Whereas after our parade, we had pizza and chocolate milk and played dodgeball, and none of the children, so far as I know, decided on the basis of that parade they were in favor of conquering other countries and converting the natives to Christianity.

If there's one thing about American culture that sometimes aggravates me, it's the insistence on painting everything in simple primary colors: Good guys versus bad guys, heroes versus villains. The truth is rarely so clearly defined. That's not an endorsement of "situational ethics," or "ends justify the means" type arguments --- acting in bad faith in pursuit of a noble goal is still bad --- but we can't have useful discussions about history without being willing to see the nuances.

If we can have these discussions about controversial figures --- be they Christopher Columbus or President Bush --- without demonizing the other side and their arguments, more the better.

Personally, I like Stan Freberg's take on Columbus Day, as expressed on his 1961 album "Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America." Columbus, after telling the natives that he intends to open an Italian restaurant ("I want to introduce you to all of the finer things --- starches, carbohydrates, cholesterol"), asks the chief if he'll come back to Spain so that he can prove he discovered them.

"What do you mean, you discovered us?" the chief asks. "We discovered you. Standing on the beach. It's all in how you look at things."


Jimmy Johnson has a take on Columbus Day in his comic strip "Arlo and Janis" that's similar to Freberg's, while there's a real classic in "Classic Peanuts" today, as Sally Brown works on one of her immortal themes.


And unfortunately, now I'll be singing "It's a Round, Round World" all day:

It's a round, round world,
It's a round, round world.
I believe it's round and it's gonna be found,
When all the results are in:
It's a round world now and it's always been!

It's a flat, flat world,
It's a flat, flat world.
I believe it's flat as a welcoming mat,
And he's sailing right off the end:
How about my crazy Italian friend?


I thought that Our Fair City had escaped last month's flooding relatively unscathed. Mayor Jim Brewster is reporting some $3 million in damage overall, according to Pat Cloonan in The Daily News. Forty-five basements had to be pumped by the fire department, 40 landslides had to be cleared, and a 30-by-20 foot hole opened in Walnut Street in the Third Ward. The city also handed out 80 "cleanup kits" and ran two tetanus clinics.

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October 09, 2004 | Link to this story

Dred Scott? Dred Scott?

Category: default || By jt3y

I'm not even going to try to pretend I'm impartial any more. Anyone who reads this sludge on a regular basis can figure out which way I'm leaning when it comes to presidential politics.

So here's a quick debate review: Personally, I loved the Dred Scott reference. It's a shame he couldn't work in the Hawley-Smoot Tariff, the Alien and Sedition Acts, and "54'40" or Fight." At least we know he paid attention in 10th grade U.S. history. Well, for the first few weeks, anyway.

Kerry isn't winning these debates. Luckily for him, Bush is blowing them big time. He looks like a petulant child. I hope to God, who apparently is also running for office (he was mentioned enough in St. Louis), that the "undecideds" who can't seem to make up their minds were watching.

I still hear leftists who complain there's "no difference" between the candidates. They either aren't watching closely, or they need to step in a big steaming pile of reality.

In the meantime, I ask again: Dred Scott?

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October 08, 2004 | Link to this story

Letters Lost in the Bit Bucket

Category: default || By jt3y

I get a lot of email --- upwards of 50 to 100 messages a day. Some of it is work-related, some of it is personal, and a fair amount is offering can't-miss stock tips, Kenyan money transfers and pills and potions that will enlarge my anatomy. (Come to think of it, if I acted on all of the offers I've received via email just this month, I'd already have an enormous ... er ... bank account.)

The upshot is that if I don't continually delete emails from my inbox, I soon can't find anything. Last night I realized it's been several months since I cleaned house. I had 2,200 emails.

In digging through them to delete or save the oldest, I discovered a whole bunch of Website-related emails, some going back to January, that I never answered. Good grief! I apologize to anyone who wrote in and didn't get a response until now (a sound file of my apology can be found here).

Anyway, better late than never, right? Well, let's dive in. Mike K., like other emailers, is looking for information about the White Elephant, and another 1960s Mon-Yough nightspot, the "Night Train":

Apparently the White Elephant didn't advertise, at least not in the Daily News, and I've never been able to find any record of who played there and when. I never even heard of Night Train until I read the liner notes of the recent Swamp Rats CD release on Get Hip, where they told a story about opening for the Turtles there. No doubt lots of other national acts appeared there as well. Anyway, I'd love to learn more about them, having grown up in the area (North Versailles) and being a big fan and historian of sorts of the mid/late 60's music scene. Any help you can provide with contacts or whatever is greatly appreciated.

Tube City Online was recently contacted by a member of the family that owned the Elephant, and hopefully we'll be able to bring you some Elephant tales (or is that "tails"?) someday soon!

As for the Night Train, all I know is what I've been told by people who "vas dere." It was owned by Terry Lee, who was the manager/producer behind the Swamp Rats, and of course, a longtime DJ at WMCK and WIXZ. It was out in Lincoln Borough or Elizabeth Township on Glassport-Elizabeth Road, but I'm not sure exactly where, and it was only open for a few years, so I'm told.

Frankly, I'm surprised to hear that the Turtles played the Train! Maybe it was bigger than I was led to believe, or else they did it as a personal favor to Terry Lee. He was huge in Pittsburgh radio for a few years and even hosted Channel 11's dance party show for a while (the show was called "Come Alive").

Since Pittsburgh was a fairly large media market in the '60s, the Turtles and other national acts would have wanted to make sure the local DJs and TV personalities were happy.

Besides the Swamp Rats, Terry also was behind the Fantastic Dee-Jays and some other local groups.

Terry Lee's current whereabouts are one of the Mon Valley's enduring mysteries, like the fate of the B-52 bomber that crashed in the river near Hazelwood, and Joey Bertone.

The last on-air radio work that Terry Lee did, if I recall correctly, was at WPSL in Monroeville and WESA in Charleroi. I think he also worked for WWCS in Canonsburg for a while. Rumors have him doing everything from DJ'ing under another name to owning a farm in Ohio.

If he's out there, I'd love to hear from him! He'll have to prove it's really him, though: I want to see a bottle of "TL's Sloppy Pop" as evidence.

Regina writes with questions about St. Peter's High School and the big fire that hit Downtown in Our Fair City during the '70s:

I notice in your questions and answers you mention McKeesport High School and Serra, but there is no mention of St. Peter's High School. I realize that it no longer exists, but I know a lot of people that graduated from there including myself. However, that is not my question. I would like to know the year of the big fire that took out four blocks. I think it may have been around 1974 to 1976.

The big fire in McKeesport happened (I think) in the spring of 1976 --- approximately May. It destroyed Kadar's Mens Store, the Apple Shop (formerly Riggs' Drug Store), Coney Island Hot Dogs, the Famous Department Store and the Elks Temple, and damaged the Penn-McKee Hotel, the McKee Cinemas and Hunter-Edmundson-Striffler Funeral Home.

St. Peter's alumni are now considered part of Serra High School's alumni (so are Mon Valley Catholic High School alumni, I believe). If anyone can contribute photos of St. Peter's High School, I'd be glad to put them on the Web site. I'd also welcome some stories about St. Peter's from its alumni --- how many students in your class? What did the school look like? Who were your favorite teachers?

From St. Petersburg, Fla., Dan writes:

My parents owned a music store next to the Memorial Theatre on Fifth Avenue (1959-68). My fondest memories of Murphy's were looking through the 45's in the record department. I also ate my first fried oysters there. Yummy!

Unless I miss my guess, his parents' store was McKeesport Music Center. Fried oysters at Murphy's, eh? I've been surprised to learn recently how "exotic" the menus at Murphy's cafeterias could be. The downtown McKeesport G.C. Murphy store had a large banquet hall upstairs that could be rented for formal catered affairs, believe it or not; that lasted at least until the early 1980s.

One Murphy Company retiree told me recently that the Murphy's in downtown Harrisburg, Pa., actually experimented with selling lobster dinners, mainly as a promotional stunt. It worked!

I'm still looking for former G.C. Murphy Co. customers and employees who have anecdotes or memories of Murphy's, Murphy's Marts, Morgan & Lindsay, Terry Farris and the company's other stores. Email me at jt3y at dementia dot o-r-g if you'd like to contribute, or write to me at P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134.

Bob H. writes:

I stumbled on your message board and boy did it bring back memories, especially the one about Wids and Centennial Street.They forgot to mention Millie (a toughie, but down deep a softy) and Stallings, Finkels, etc. What I was originally looking for was a picture of the railroad station at Ringgold and Lysle Boulevard. Any suggestions on who I can contact to obtain one?

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Room has a photo on file from approximately 1908. You can call 412-622-3154; there is a fee for photo reprints.

There are some photos floating around on the Internet; McKeesport Area School District has several on their Web site, including this one (McKeesport Model Railroad Club has a better copy of that photo on display), and this one in color. There's another on the McKeesport Tigers MSN Group site.

Richard asks:

I was wondering if you know of anyone who has a picture of the old Palisades Dance Hall from the early 1950's. My parents 50th wedding aniversary is coming up and that is where they first met. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

The Palisades is still very much in business, of course, but its appearance has drastically changed over the last 10 years --- mostly for the better. (It lost some "authenticity" but gained some amenities.) The lower floor of the Palisades, back in the 1950s, was a car dealership --- Palace Garage --- that sold Nashes and, briefly, Studebakers. (The Nash/Rambler franchise eventually wound up with Sullivan Buick, if I recall correctly.)

The Palisades regularly shows up in postcards of the Youghiogheny River skyline of Our Fair City that are sold on eBay. The only other sources I can think of are the Daily News or the McKeesport Heritage Center, but even if they have a photo, there's likely to be a fee for getting a copy.

Well, that's the mailbag. In the meantime, I'm going to try to be a little more prompt cleaning out my email box --- and responding!

To Do This Weekend: White Oak Chamber of Commerce sponsors the "Live Life Healthy" Health Fair from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at American Legion Post 701, corner of Capital and Pennsylvania Avenues. ... Prism Health Services, the local ambulance company in the West Mifflin area, will hold an open house at the Dravosburg Borough Building from 10 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturday. ... Send your non-profit community events to Tube City Almanac at jt3y at dementia dot org.

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October 07, 2004 | Link to this story

Selected Short Subjects

Category: default || By jt3y

Yesterday I mentioned rumors, first reported in The Daily News, that Wal-Mart has purchased Kennywood Plaza shopping center in Duquesne and plans to open a Wal-Mart there. You'd almost be able to see the North Versailles Wal-Mart from the Duquesne one.

Asks Alert Reader Officer Jim: "Isn't the usual colonial strategy to build a lot of forts around the conquered territory to effect control of the native population?"

Does this mean Western Pennsylvania is being colonized by Wal-Mart? Sound the alarm! "The bluecoats are coming! The bluecoats are coming!" Someone put lanterns in the Old North Church: One if by land, two if by sea ... or 1.97 if by Wal-Mart.


Do you remember what was originally in Kennywood Plaza, besides Kmart? Answers at the end.


The more I reflected on the vice presidential debate, the more I liked Cheney's performance better than Edwards', even if I didn't agree with the Vice President. Cheney seemed to be taking his time to actually think about the questions and give nuanced responses, while Edwards seemed to be regurgitating talking points.

The irony, of course, is that the Republicans have been hammering Yawn Kerry for being too "wishy-washy" with his long-winded, nuanced responses to everything. (I sometimes envision Kerry receiving his lunch order in the Senate cafeteria: "When I said I wanted mayo, what I meant was I wanted mayo on the side, in a little cup, not on the sandwich itself, although now that the mayo is on the sandwich itself, I will, of course, continue to support the eating of sandwiches, although not necessarily this sandwich at this present time.")

The conventional wisdom (whatever that is) seems to be scoring the debate a tie. By Friday night, the veep debate will be all but forgotten, I suspect, after the tops of the tickets meet again. I think the befuddled President who showed up at last week's debate won't be there --- he's much better dealing with average citizens (who tend not to ask so many pesky hard questions as reporters) than at formal events like debates and press conferences.


When baseball returns to Washington, D.C., there could be a Mon-Yough area tie: A movement is afoot to rename the Montreal Expos for the Homestead Grays, the Negro League team that got its start in the Steel Valley. (Karen McPherson had coverage in the Post-Gazette; Richard Leiby had an item in The Washington Post.)

The Grays began playing most of their games in Washington in the 1940s, according to Leiby and the Web site, probably because Pittsburgh already had a championship-caliber Negro League team in the Pittsburgh Crawfords, as well as the all-white Pirates. (Back then, no one thought of the idea of building a publicly-financed stadium to boost attendance.)

The origin of the name "Grays" is still something of a mystery, according to Leiby:

Probably from their uniform color, history prof Rob Ruck at the University of Pittsburgh told us, but he called it "an unusual name for a black team at the time." Christopher Rehling, a Washingtonian who runs the Web site, said his "best guess" was that the name came from the color of the team's socks (as in White Sox and Red Sox).

The Grays started out as a group of Pittsburgh area steelworkers who played recreationally in the early 1900s as the Blue Ribbons, says Brad Snyder, the Washington author of "Beyond the Shadow of the Senators: The Untold Story of the Homestead Grays and the Integration of Baseball." His book, published last year, is considered the definitive account of the Grays, but he told us he never discovered the name's origin.

As for his preference, Snyder said: "The Nationals would be fine. The Monuments would not be a bad choice. The Grays would be great."

Despite their name, the Homestead Grays apparently didn't play any regular season games in Homestead, Munhall or Mifflin Township by the late 1930s. All home games were played either at Forbes Field in Oakland, or Griffith Park in Washington.

There's more about the Homestead Grays at, and at the Negro League Baseball Players Association Web site.

Most sources think calling the Washington franchise the "Grays" is a long shot, in part because the team has been gone since 1950, and in part because it would be hard to create a mascot and advertising image. Washington, D.C., didn't have a Negro League franchise of its own, but nearby Baltimore did: the Black Sox and the Elite Giants. Maybe it would be more appropriate to reuse one of those nicknames instead.

It seems most probable that the Washington franchise will take the name of the two undistinguished Washington baseball teams that preceded it --- the Senators --- though if it's hard to come up with a mascot for the "Grays," coming up with one for the "Senators" isn't much better. I envision a giant, foam-rubber Ted Kennedy stomping around the field; and let's face it, that ain't exactly gonna bring in the kids like the San Diego Chicken does.


The original tenants of Kennywood Plaza, as best as I can remember, were Kmart, Shop 'n Save, Thrift Drug and Towers, which I seem to recall was a catalog showroom like David Weis or Service Merchandise; my father bought a digital watch there in the late 1970s, when those were still quite novel. A Google search doesn't turn up anything about Towers except that there was a discount chain of that name in Canada that was bought out in the early '90s. I'm not sure if it was the same company that operated the Duquesne store.

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October 06, 2004 | Link to this story

Jeeters, Meet Your New Neighbors

Category: default || By jt3y

If beggars can't be choosers, then the Mon Valley shouldn't turn up its nose at the prospect of another Wal-Mart. But is one really necessary in Duquesne?

Needed or not, Arkansas' answer to the Death Star has apparently purchased the half-vacant Kennywood Plaza shopping center, at least according to the rumors that Jen Vertullo of the News is trying to nail down:

Wal-Mart reportedly purchased the plaza, but Kimco site managers and Wal-Mart district officials couldn't be reached to confirm the sale. Reports were not made regarding the sale or availability of Kmart's parcel.

Wal-Mart recently opened a small store in a Bethel Park shopping center which also features a Giant Eagle supermarket and dollar store. Also, there is talk about the possible opening of Wal-Mart in Monroeville.

Duquesne officials said they have no official comment regarding Wal-Mart's interest in property within the city.

A search of the county's real estate Web site last night revealed no recent sales of property to or by Kimco Realty --- a real estate trust which owns many past and current Kmart locations --- but the database is sometimes months out of date.

(Also, it's not entirely clear from the county's online data which Kimco parcel is which; Kimco also owns the old Kennywood Mall on the other side of Hoffman Boulevard, which is in West Mifflin. The only Kimco parcel in Duquesne is assessed at $1.5 million, but the county's database doesn't put a clear address on it, and the attached "image" is a picture of Kennywood Mall, which would seem to be erroneous.)

Back to the point --- and there was one, believe me --- that beggars can't be choosers, and redeveloping Kennywood Plaza for any use would seem like an improvement over what's there: a craft store, a thrift store, a dollar store and an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. No offense to any of those tenants, but they're not doing much for the surrounding economy. The Ponderosa restaurant that was nearby closed quite some time ago, and the Taco Bell es muerto, tambien. I suspect business would have been much better with the traffic a Wal-Mart would generate.

So, while I'm not a Wal-Mart fan, I'd rather see them go into a town like Duquesne and reuse an old site than watch them plow up another 20 acres of vacant farmland out in the suburbs somewhere.

But can Duquesne sustain a Wal-Mart when it couldn't sustain either a Kmart or an Ames? Admittedly, those two chains had outside problems when they folded their Duquesne locations, but their failure would seem to bode poorly for a Wal-Mart in the same neighborhood. Also, there are two Wal-Marts within a short hop from Duquesne; in fact, the one in North Versailles can damn well be seen from Duquesne. I question whether there's a big enough population to justify another one.

Analysts who study Wal-Mart say the company is determined to make sure that no home in America is more than five minutes from one of its stores. That's an impressive statistic, but even if they achieve it --- a doubtful idea --- it seems like it's seeding the eventual decline of the company. Because eventually, they're going to oversaturate the market, and get saddled with a bunch of lousy locations, especially in rural areas.

On the other hand, there's a reason why the Walton family is the richest family in the United States, and I'm some schmuck with a Web site. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see if Wal-Mart's smiley face comes bouncing into Duquesne soon.


There's a new movie out, and the cast is a good one: It includes Geoffrey Rush, Charlize Theron, John Lithgow, Stanley Tucci and Stephen Fry. It's received generally positive coverage in the U.K. and was the toast of the Cannes Film Festival. Indeed, the critics are saying that Rush may deserve another Academy Award for his performance.

But he's not likely to get one. Because for now, HBO Films is refusing to allow "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" to be shown in movie theaters, ostensibly because Peter Sellers isn't "famous enough" to attract an American audience. And without being screened in general release, Rush's performance as Sellers isn't eligible for an "Oscar."

In reality, HBO is probably hoping to hold onto the movie for premium cable customers before eventually sending it out on video. 'Tis a pity, because the film does look intriguing, even if some of the reviews have found it flawed. (You can watch the trailer here.)

Incidentally, I find Peter Sellers' career to be a mixed bag, at best, but his life story reads like a Greek tragedy, and it would seem tailor-made for a biopic. (More in the Times of London and the Grauniad.


I got an email the other day that purported to be from Citibank that asked me to send my Social Security number and credit card information. Obviously, it was a scam, but they tried to duplicate the look of a real Citibank email --- and did a reasonably good job of it, except that I doubt Citibank would include a paragraph at the bottom of its emails that said this: "NFL Shoe them to me please and when it Freeware AOL dog The point is Pokemon Gold Coyote Ugly in 1917 The WWF Same for me I'll get a porter Mac Anna Kournikova Yahoo in 1910 ?? ? ??? Free in 1921 Sure in 1808 Anna Kournikova That's lovely, in 1825."


What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: The weekly paper in President Bush's hometown dissed him; now the (considerably larger) daily in Kerry's hometown of Lowell, Mass., has done the same to their local boy. (Although in fairness, the Lowell Sun has never liked Kerry, going back to his first campaign.)


Quick debate impressions: I didn't like Cheney before, though I think he's competent and intelligent, and Tuesday's televised sparring match didn't change my viewpoint. But "likability" to me isn't the issue --- his ability to do the job of vice president is. I don't have much impression one way or the other of Edwards, though he was likable and seemed competent in the debate.

I think the debate was a draw on substance, but that Edwards' style was better than Cheney's, which may have swayed some voters to his side. (It would be hard to have a style that seemed colder or more indifferent to the public than Cheney's --- maybe Marie Antoinette's?) In the end, Cheney was Cheney --- growling, slumping, sneering --- while Edwards came off as more relaxed, if begging for approval a bit too much.

Andrew Sullivan called it a clear victory for Edwards, saying that Cheney looked like "roadkill"; I didn't think he looked that bad. The polls are fairly evenly split, though undecideds went for Edwards by a large margin, apparently.

In the end, no one votes for a ticket based on who the vice presidential candidate is, and vice presidential debates have not made one whit of difference in the final outcome in years past --- Bentsen creamed Quayle in '88, after all, and everyone remembers how successful President Dukakis' administration was, right?

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October 05, 2004 | Link to this story

Service Outage Today

Category: default || By jt3y

You are free from my blither-blather today; technical difficulties Monday night made it impossible to post. (There will be a brief pause while you applaud and shout, "Bravo!")

A quick reminder that I am still looking for entries into the "Best Attraction in the Mon-Yough area" contest. An Alert Reader calling himself "Professor Quackenbush" has entered; why haven't you?

Name your favorite place to visit in the region south of Pittsburgh and west of Greensburg; it should be the kind of a place where you'd take a friend or relative if they visited. It doesn't have to be fancy, or touristy; in fact, I'd prefer if it isn't.

Deadline is Nov. 1, and the winner (selected by a completely partial, biased and unfair process) wins their choice of anything from the Tube City Online store.

And, of course, they also get to experience the shame of having their loved ones and/or family knowing that they visit this Web site instead of doing something productive.

Current and former residents of Our Fair City and its surrounding suburbs (are those "Our Fair Boroughs and Townships"?) are eligible. Employees of Tube City Online are unlikely.

Email your entries or post them to this page as a comment.

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October 04, 2004 | Link to this story

Black and Gold and Red All Over

Category: default || By jt3y

I've got an original 1970s-vintage Terrible Towel and one of those flattened-out Iron City Beer "Super Super Super Steelers" beer cans, and I consider myself a red-blooded American and a life-long yinzer (so far), but for the life of me, I can't understand full-blown Steelers obsession.

I went to a fundraiser yesterday down at the Washington County fairgrounds for the local ham radio club that was supposed to run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It was a beautiful day to be outside --- a crisp breeze, bright sunshine, the smell of freshly-mown hay in the air. I arrived at about 11 a.m., just in time to find vendors packing their vehicles, getting ready to leave.

Why? The Steelers game, of course. Kickoff was only two hours away.

On the way home, I stopped in dahntahn Picksberg to buy a Sunday Washington Post; admittedly, weekends in the Golden Triangle make Death Valley look crowded, but at 1:35 p.m. yesterday, you could have shot a cannon down the Boulevard of the Allies and not hit anyone, or anybody.

I've talked to priests and pastors who tell me that church attendance drops precipitously when the Stillers have an early kickoff on Sundays. Stores have complained that sales go down during Stiller games, as well; I stopped at the House of Rancid Lunchmeat on my way home yesterday afternoon, and they were sending employees home, because the place was nearly empty of customers. (Admittedly, it was a great time to go grocery shopping.)

Look, the Steelers don't drop everything to watch me work (which would be pretty boring, I admit: "Wow! Look at him checking his email! Now he's reaching for his coffee!"), so why should I drop everything to watch them?

Even worse is the attitude the day after a Steelers loss; some people mope around with perpetual scowls on their faces. Do we have that little to get excited about that we have to live vicariously through the Steelers?

I realize it's just a hobby for most people, and Lord knows, I've got some goofy hobbies myself (vide supra, second paragraph), but allowing the activities of a football team, with which 99.99 percent of us have no direct personal connection, to dictate our own lives borders on something unhealthy.

Besides, I've learned that even if I'm not at home to watch the game, and I'm not in the car where I can listen to it on the radio, that I won't have any problem following the game. I stopped at Trader Jack's flea market in Collier Township as the game started, and was able to hear or see every play as I walked around --- there was hardly one person there without a portable TV or radio.

So, by all means, follow the Steelers, root for the Steelers, and listen to the games or watch them on TV --- but for heaven's sake, carry on with the rest of your lives while you do. Got it? Good.

Now, I'm going to go do two things just as useful as ranting about Steelers obsession: Namely, emptying Lake Erie with a thimble while attempting to spit into the wind.


And all that said: Boy, it was a hell of a game, wasn't it? That there fourth quarter was some football!

Also, I realize that Ben Roethlisberger has only started two games, but if I'm Tommy Maddox, this morning I'm checking to make sure my license to sell insurance is still valid.

Plus, there was good news for those of us who "turn down the TV sound": Myron Cope's voice seemed to be back to full strength after his recent illness. Hmmm-hah! Yoi!


In the comments section of Friday's entry, Suzie asks an excellent question that has puzzled generations of Pittsburgh baseball fans and fans from other regions who have moved to Western Pennsylvania. Namely, why don't the Pirates inspire the same fanaticism in Picksberg that the Stillers do?

I would argue that the Pirates did, once, inspire that kind of loyalty, up until the early '70s. I suspect several things conspired to steal (no pun intended) the average fan's heart away from the Buccos:

-- The Steelers under Chuck Noll suddenly won four Super Bowls after years of mediocrity;

-- Football (which is much faster-paced than baseball) became ascendant over baseball nationally, thanks in no small part to TV coverage;

-- Both teams moved to Three Rivers Stadium, which was a step up for the Steelers, but arguably a step down for the Pirates, which went from an intimate old-fashioned ballpark to a concrete bowl that was lousy for watching baseball;

-- Several Pirates were implicated in the 1980s major-league baseball drug scandals;

-- At roughly the same time, the Pirates began making constant threats to move, angering many Pittsburghers;

-- The economics of both sports have meant that the Steelers have stayed relatively competitive over the last 20 years, while the Pirates have been in steady decline since 1992.

If the Pirates could put a competitive team on the field --- one that could finish the season at least a few games above .500 --- and stay competitive for several years at a time, then I think fans would find their way back to baseball in Pittsburgh. Frankly, it's hard to expect people to root, year after year, for teams that they know are going to stink.

I know that Mets, Cubs and BoSox fans support teams that often stink, but I'd argue that a small proportion of true, die-hard fans, will support stinky sports teams in every market. But a small proportion of die-hard fans in New York City, Chicago and Boston is a much larger number than the same proportion of fans in Pittsburgh, because those are much larger media markets.

Without major changes to baseball's revenue structure, which are unlikely to come, then all of the teams in the dozen or so major league cities with the smallest metro populations are doomed to perpetual mediocrity, I suspect.

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October 01, 2004 | Link to this story

Debate? What Debate?

Category: default || By jt3y

It's late, so this will be a short entry. Like most other people, I stayed up watching TV Thursday night.

The debate? No, I didn't watch that. I was watching "The Streets of San Francisco" on Channel 59. Boy, that Karl Malden sure can act up a storm, can't he? Almost lifelike. And those car chases! So realistic! What a coincidence that every cop car is a Ford LTD, and every bad guy also drives a Ford LTD. It's almost as if promotional consideration had been paid by, say, Ford!

But seriously, folks, you're a great crowd. Yes, I watched it.

So, quick analysis: One candidate looked presidential, confident, in command and relaxed. The other one looked like a used-car salesman trying to sell a rusty Pinto to a guy who's drowning.

While one guy nodded, took notes, and listened with a thoughtful look, the other guy gripped the podium and pleaded with the crowd in frustration like a Baptist preacher in a room full of Catholics.

Substance-wise, there wasn't a whole lot of difference between what either one of them said. Terrorism? Bad. Nuclear proliferation? Bad. Iraq situation? Either bad and getting worse, or bad and getting better. Saddam Hussein? Bad. Osama Bin Laden? Bad.

Either one of them, frankly, is screwed come Nov. 3. One guy goes home, and the other one gets to clean up the mess in Iraq.

Luckily, as the President pointed out, we have Poland on our side. The President pounced on Kerry when he failed to include Poland's 2,500 peacekeepers who are fighting alongside U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq. I think that should solidly swing to the President's side the vote of many of the undecided members of the Polish War Veterans and Polish Falcons.

Personally, the debate convinced me of whom I'm going to vote for. My money is on the man who appeared calm, forceful and in command of the facts. This November, I'm voting for Jim Lehrer.


It looks like a Propel Charter School will be opening Downtown in the Executive Building after all, reports Jennifer Eisel in The Daily News. The state Charter School Appeal Board this week overturned the McKeesport Area School Board's rejection of Propel's application:

Many of the charter school students figure to come from McKeesport, since Propel allows parents in the school district in which it is located to have first choice of sending their child to the facility. If there are spots available, enrollment would then by open to students in nearby school districts such as Duquesne, East Allegheny, Clairton, South Allegheny and Elizabeth Forward.

Eisel reports that Propel will cost those districts up to $6,000 for each student that attends the charter school; according to her story, McKeesport Area school district will set aside up to $1.4 million to cover potential losses. MASD expects to lose two to three students in every classroom through sixth-grade.


There's no joy in Saintsville as the Expos slink out of town. The Montreal Gazette's editorial brings up several points that should resonate with Pirates fans (an endangered species these days if there ever was one):

For baseball is a numbers game outside the white lines, too: The payroll disparity between the Expos and New York Yankees was just $6 million U.S. in 1991, when the Yankees had a payroll of $27 million and the Expos $21 million and majority owner Charles Bronfman looked out onto the horizon of baseball's future and decided to sell his ownership stake. This year, the payroll gap is $142 million --- $183 million for the Yanks, just $41 million here. ...

Let's be frank. Making baseball work in Montreal was never easy from Day 1; the new economics just made things all that much more difficult. But Montreal is not unique. Other franchises are nearing the burnout stage, too.

Yeah, we're looking at you, McClatchy. Wait ... I know how to fix the Pirates! We need to build a new baseball stadium! Oh, wait, we already tried that.

I think the nation's capital is a fitting home for the Expos, which was cast off by its former owner so that he could scoop up the Florida Marlins, and then run into the ground by a consortium of other baseball team owners who had absolutely no interest in making the Expos competitive with their own franchises. What better metaphor is there for Washington, D.C., than importing a failed sports team that has spent the past three years operating in bad faith?


In a similar Pirates-mourning vein, the always entertaining Eric Heyl had some great rhetorical questions of his own in a recent Tribune-Review column. He called it a "Jeopardy" style format, but I was thinking more about Carnac the Magnificent as I read it:

Answer: A local sixth-grader on the cusp of adolescence who probably doesn't follow baseball.

Question: Who is someone born in 1992, when the Pirates last had a winning season?

Answer: A base fare of $9 and a 12-seat minivan operating 90 minutes each weekday between Downtown and Oakland.

Question: What will the financially struggling Port Authority of Allegheny County's bus system soon consist of?


To Do This Weekend: St. Elias Church, 4200 Homestead-Duquesne Road, Munhall, hosts a "vocal tribute to Frank Sinatra" Saturday evening. Tickets are $25 and include the show, food, beer and pop, and there will be casino-style games, including poker, slot machines and blackjack. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; for more information, give a ring-a-ding-ding to (412) 461-5847.

Resurrection Church, Church Street off of Greensprings Avenue, West Mifflin, hosts a chicken Parmesan dinner from 12 noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Dinner is $7 for adults and $3 for children.

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