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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

November 30, 2004 | Link to this story

'Murphy Memories' Launches

Category: default || By jt3y

Let's go back 30 years, to Anytown, U.S.A. --- as long as "Anytown" is east of the Mississippi River. In fact, let's say we're in a small town in western Maryland on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Last week, the public works crew was busy stringing garland and plastic holly across Main and Market streets, which brought a little bit of cheer and color to the drab downtown (and some color was sorely needed after all of the leaves fell off the trees). A couple of the old-timers were grumbling that it "wasn't even Thanksgiving yet," but on Thursday, there was a chill in the air, and someone swears they saw some snow flurries Wednesday night. Now, the holly seems appropriate.

The kids don't have school today, and they were driving Mom nuts, so she gave them each a few dollars and told them they could walk downtown --- as long as they were home by lunchtime.

"Don't get into any strangers' cars!" she cautioned. "If you get in trouble, you look for a policeman, OK? And look out for one another, you hear me? Don't roll your eyes at me, young lady!"

Off they went to the two-block business district on Main Street, which is lined on both sides with two- and three-story brick buildings, and cars are angled in at each curb (it costs 10 cents an hour to park downtown, or 25 cents for three hours). The most imposing structures are the courthouse --- which is set back on a little plot of ground by itself --- and the big stone bank on the corner.

Downtown has ladies' dress shops, a hat store, a few mens' wear stores (one of them has rental tuxedos in the windows), a couple of insurance agencies, several lunch counters, John's Rexall Drugs, and a hardware store that also sells TVs and appliances. But none of them holds the kids' interest like the store with the green and red striped awnings --- G.C. Murphy Co.

(No one in town calls it that, by the way. They just say "Murphy's." Grandma sometimes calls it the "five-and-ten," because, she says, the store once sold only things that cost five or 10 cents.)

On Wednesday night, the windows under those awnings held boring necessities --- winter coats and scarves, shampoo and soap. But this morning --- as if by magic --- they're full of train sets and dolls, Christmas trees and lights, ornaments and holiday cards, all laid out in white cotton "snow" flecked with silver glitter.

Of course, it wasn't magic. The assistant managers were up most of Wednesday night stripping the windows and bringing out the Christmas merchandise. (One is still picking pieces of white glue and glitter off of his fingertips.)

Inside, the transformation of the store is even more exciting. The "floor girls" (all of the customer service people are women) have changed several counters inside to display "seasonal" merchandise, and one assistant manager who felt ambitious assembled several different bicycles and decorated them with bows and ribbons; they're hanging from the ceiling over the toy department.

The floor girls also brought out gift sets --- matched handkerchiefs, striped "rep" ties, boxes of perfume and cologne --- priced just within reach of a pre-teen's allowance, making them ideal Christmas presents for mom and dad. And the counters that support the old Sweda cash registers near the front door have been wrapped with red and green paper to resemble giant gift boxes.

Even the luncheonette (which takes up most of one wall of Murphy's) looks festive. The waitresses decorated a small artificial tree that sits on top of the Coke fountain dispenser, and twinkle lights are strung in and among the boxes of cereal and cans of soup on the shelf that lines the back wall.

As impressive as this is, it's only a fraction of what the kids are going to see tomorrow afternoon, when they pile into the Pontiac station wagon and head out to the new Murphy's Mart on the highway. The entire Garden Shop has been transformed into a display of Christmas trees and lights (the snow shovels and bags of salt are temporarily confined to one small corner).

And according to the big ad that will be running in tonight's newspaper, Santa is parachuting into the Murphy's Mart parking lot tomorrow afternoon at 1 o'clock!

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you're going to enjoy the new G.C. Murphy Memories Web site, available at or It's an outgrowth of my ongoing project, with aid, supervision and assistance from several Murphy Company retirees, to write a history of the McKeesport-based retailer, which thrived from 1906 until its takeover in 1985 by Ames.

We're still in the early stages, and much work remains to be done, but some of the stories and memories that have been contributed so far have been wonderful. You can find out how to contribute your own memories of working or shopping at Murphy's by visiting "Murphy Memories." And yes, this is a shameless plug.

(For the record, the "Murphy Memories" Web site is hosted by SkyMagik Internet Services, and is being funded by the non-profit G.C. Murphy Company Foundation, as is the Murphy history book. Opinions expressed at Tube City Online are mine alone, and not those of the Murphy foundation.)

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November 29, 2004 | Link to this story

That Wheeling Feeling

Category: default || By jt3y

Sunday was another road trip day, and again took me through the Hoopie State. This time, I pointed the Mercury west toward Wheeling.

Say what you like about the Mountaineer State, they have a very enlightened attitude toward speed limits. I-70 and I-470 through much of the northern panhandle are 70 miles per hour, which strikes me as a fairly sensible and prudent speed limit on a six-lane interstate with banked curves. The tank of Shell Premium I bought before setting off was well worth the extra money.

My destination was Bellaire, Ohio, right across the Ohio River from Wheeling, where I to interview someone for a freelance project. Bellaire had been a glassmaking town during much of the 20th century, and many people also worked over in Wheeling or in the coal mines back in the hills. There are still some working coal mines, and some steel mills, but otherwise, the valley has been suffering for decades --- not unlike the Mon-Yough area, come to think of it.

(An aside: I am fairly convinced that there isn't a blue state/red state divide as much as there's a town and country divide, or even a new vs. old divide. I saw a lot of Kerry signs still in evidence in Bellaire and Wheeling, and a lot of Bush signs out in the rolling hills west of Bellaire. Ohio and West Virginia, of course, both went for Bush. I suppose if you live out in the country, and there's a new shopping center down at the Interstate, and you don't have to look at abandoned buildings and shuttered factories all day long, the economy looks pretty darn good. I'll bet it doesn't look so good if you live in Bellaire or Wheeling. But I digress.)

Downtown Bellaire is dominated by two bridges --- the big stone bridge that bisects the town and carries the CSX Railroad, and an abandoned toll bridge.

The toll bridge is a truly bizarre site; on the Ohio side, they just chopped it off in mid-air. You're driving along south on Ohio 7, and approaching this very imposing, Victorian-era truss bridge --- one that wouldn't be out of place in Downtown Picksberg --- only to see that it's just dangling in mid-air. At least they left the ramps in place on the West Virginia side.

A question, for anyone who might know the answers: If the bridge is in hazardous condition, shouldn't they tear it down? And if it's safe, why don't they fix it up and open it to traffic? Wheeling's only growth business seems to be tourism, and the Bellaire Bridge is an impressive enough landmark. I'd go out of my way to drive across it.

The big story on front page of the Wheeling News-Register concerned a protest in front of the sheriff's office down in Monroe County. Apparently picketing steelworkers were arrested in front of an aluminum plant in Hannibal, Ohio --- a piece down river from Bellaire:

At the heart of the union workers' complaint Saturday was the fact that a bond hearing was not being made available to the incarcerated workers until Monday.

Ronnie Blatt, chairman of the grievance committee for Local 5724 at Ormet, said the corporation was in the process of bringing in replacement workers or "scabs" when some striking union members were placed under arrest Friday by members of the Monroe County Sheriff's Department with help from other area law enforcement agencies.

Officers maintain they were only following a court order that limits the number of pickets to 10 people at the Ormet plant entrances. Anyone else who did not leave the area was subject to arrest. Sheriff Maniford Keylor could not be reached for comment following Friday's arrest and was not at the sheriff's office on Saturday when the union members staged their protest.

This part made my eyebrows raise, too:

Deputies had no comment on the matter Saturday but said they were looking into the legalities of the protest taking place in front of the sheriff's office.

I hope it didn't take too long for them to look into the legality of the protest. It's at the very top of the Bill of Rights; they'll find it under "First Amendment," where it says the right of the people "peaceably to assemble" and "petition the government for a redress of grievances" can't be abridged. (Not even by big companies or county sheriffs!) And while they have the Constitution out, they can read down to the part about the right to a speedy trial (that's the "Sixth Amendment," for those of you playing along at home).

In the meantime, it's nice to see that the days of the Coal and Iron Police are still alive and well in the Ohio Valley, where the local constabulary gets sent out to help break up strikes, just as they were used in Western Pennsylvania during the 1900s.

Anyway, the interview was a success, and I even got some homemade cookies to take home. On the way back, I listened to the Stillers scratch out a victory against the Redskins. Driving through the backwoods of Ohio in the late fall, listening to football on the radio and eating homemade snicker doodles, is not an altogether unpleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon!


Submitted without further comment: This photo, taken along one of Pennsylvania's interstates, from National Lampoon. Don't you hate it when this happens?

(I've been trying to figure out where that photo was taken; it looks like it might be a Troop D car, which would put it up around Butler somewhere, but I don't know for sure.)

(UPDATE: I found the original site from which that photo was taken! It's definitely from Troop D, Butler, but it's not from the Butler station --- it's from one of the other barracks. The original photo shows the trooper is clearly laughing when the photo is taken, so it's good that she had a sense of humor about it. I stepped in a pile of wet cement on a Homestead sidewalk years ago. I only ruined a pair of shoes, but I was entirely less amused!)

(Also via the Lampoon Website: A bike race goes terribly, terribly wrong. And a warning: The Lampoon site is obviously not very family-friendly, and only marginally safe for workplace viewing.)

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November 26, 2004 | Link to this story

Carry Rick Back to Old Penn-Hills-y

Category: default || By jt3y

News item: Santorum's Penn Hills house gets occupancy permit

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum has cleared up another issue that arose after the Penn Hills School District began investigating whether he is a Penn Hills resident.

The municipality yesterday inspected the home he and his wife, Karen, own on Stephens Lane and granted them an occupancy permit. ....

(Code officer Mary Lou) Flinn said the residents are listed as Alyssa DeLuca, Rick Santorum's niece; her husband, Bart, who is not related to Penn Hills Mayor Anthony DeLuca Jr.; and a child. ...

In the county for jury duty yesterday, Santorum, who has six children, said, "We have a nice arrangement there. It works out well. Candidly, we just sort of work it out.

"Sometimes, a couple of my kids stay over there [with the niece and her husband]. We get to stay at grandma's house, and a couple of kids go over and stay with their cousin. To me, that's a family situation.

"I don't know what people's business that is, to be very honest with you. The fact is, I own a home, pay taxes, reside here, go to jury duty. To me, this is much ado about nothing.

"We usually stay at the in-laws. They raised 10 kids there, so they have plenty of room for us. They [niece and her husband] house sit for us; they watch the house."

You know, Sen. Santorum and I go way back. When I was in college, and Santorum was a freshman legislator, I had a weekly comic strip in the student paper that was semi-biographical and about the Mon Valley. (Come to think of it, it was a low-tech version of the Almanac.)

One week, I introduced a new character --- a conservative, young, and slightly dim congressman named "Rich Sanitarium." (As you can tell, my leaden rapier was every bit as dull back then as it is now.) A group of College Republicans who hosted a talk-show on the school radio station had Santorum as a guest that week, and he and they took the time to denounce me, which delighted those of us in the newspaper office at the time, any publicity being good publicity.

Nevertheless, I kind of liked Santorum, and I can particularly remember taking a special trip home on one Election Day to vote for him. Who knew that our little joke would eventually go national?

Since the Senator and I have this relationship, I thought I'd take today to write a special letter to my friend.

Dear Senator:

The "people's business" is that if I went to Virginia and registered to vote as a Democrat but lived full-time in Pennsylvania, the Republican Party would be all over me like fleas on dogs, and rightfully so. New York Republicans nearly blew their fuses when Hillary arrived to run for the Senate, but at least her husband is living in Chappaqua and still keeps his office in Harlem (that is when he's not in Arkansas screwing around with his godawful library --- how big is that thing, anyway? It's at least a double-wide).

You know, the right-wing is fond of talking about the "founding fathers" and the "framers' intent." Well, as I recall it, the framers intended our elected leaders --- that's you, Torquemada --- to be part-time legislators, and to live among the citizens they represent. That's so they would understand the problems and issues facing their constituents.

I realize that the life of a Senator can be awful busy, what with the 160 days of work per year, and the free office, and the paid staff, and the meals with the lobbyists and all that. But perhaps you might find some time if you gave up being the self-appointed moral arbiter of the United States, and instead came home. That's your Penn Hills "home," not the place in Virginia where you actually live.

You remember Penn Hills, right? That's where the taxpayers have been paying to send your kids to charter school, even though you only come back to visit. It's kind of funny to people in Penn Hills, because you apparently don't think you should actually have to (gasp) live amongst the teeming wretched refuse of eastern Allegheny County, but you have no problem if they pay your way.

It's a funny thing. Some of the refuse is feeling a little slighted. I can't imagine why.

There's also a precedent here. You know, once upon a time, there was a U.S. representative who didn't live in the South Hills congressional district that he was supposed to represent. It seems he was spending most of the year in Washington, D.C., instead. Along came an young opponent who pointed out the very same hypocrisies that I've just pointed out. The good burghers of that district rose up in their righteous indignation and tossed the bum out of office.

Remember that? You should, because that's when Doug Walgren lost his seat, and Pennsylvania's little treasure named Rick Santorum went national.

Anyway, if you ever need directions to Penn Hills, let me know. (It's east of Pittsburgh, which is exit 57 off of the Turnpike. And more good news: Because of the strike, the tolls are reduced this weekend!)

In the meantime, if the carpetbag fits, then wear it.

Your Pal, Jason


P.S. Senator, if you missed it, Dave Copeland had much more pithy advice for you last week. Just be careful, because there's one word there that would make Michael Powell's ears burn.


Two words: Whoo-hoo!


To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Model Railroad Club, 2209 Walnut St., opens its annual holiday train show today, and it continues weekends through Dec. 19. Call (412) 664-LOCO or visit The Wayne Macuga Big Band plays the Palisades Ballroom, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, at 9 p.m. Saturday. Call (412) 678-6979.

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November 24, 2004 | Link to this story

Bits 'n Bytes

Category: default || By jt3y

Several people, upon reading my screed yesterday, questioned whether I could take a "flyer" to work from one of the park-and-ride lots. Unfortunately, I live in the Bermuda Triangle of PAT service. The nearest place for me to catch a flyer would be Swissvale, or, barring that, Lincoln Highway. I'm nowhere near either. I could also leave the car at the park-and-ride lot in Duquesne, but that doesn't help much.

Worse yet, I work in Oakland --- which PAT describes as "Pittsburgh's culturally diverse academic and medical core ... offers something for everyone." Yes, everything except an express bus to the Mon-Yough area. Trafford? Yes. Monroeville? Yes. McKeesport? What are you, some kind of a nut? So, I'm stuck taking two buses. But I do appreciate the advice.

What I really need is a 56J, which would pick me up at my house and deposit me at the office. Oh, it might make a few stops on the way --- for doughnuts, for instance --- but it would skirt all of the other stops and cross-traffic. Of course, between maintenance for the bus and paying the driver's wages, the Port Authority would be losing about $500 on each trip, but I'd be glad to help out. I could vacuum out the bus on weekends. And they wouldn't have to give me a new bus; a nice old GM Coach would suit my purposes.

There's more on the potential PAT service cuts that could happen early next year in Pat Cloonan's story in last night's Daily News.


Speaking of which, some how I missed this article by classmate and News desker Brian Krasman in last Wednesday's paper. When I finally saw it, I laughed so hard I thought my pants would never dry:

Leave it to "Pulp Fiction" to offer the ultimate pastry wisdom.

It was Fabienne who, before her boyfriend Butch participated in a bloody massacre, uttered the now immortal line, "Any time is a good time for pie."

She couldn't be more right. When doesn't a nice slice of apple or strawberry or banana cream pie hit the spot? If you disagree, you should be under intense investigation by the federal government because, in case you didn't know, that's an immediate right-to-surveillance violation according to the Patriot Act.

Brian goes on to survey pumpkin pie offerings at six chain restaurants, ranging from McDonald's ("What greeted me instead was a tube of pumpkin terror. The filling doesn't taste all that great, and it forms a sort of paste at the back of the throat.") to Bob Evans ("It of the country-style menu and servers with creepy bow ties, has risen above the pumpkin patch of pretenders and offered a pie worthy of every Thanksgiving tradition."). Pity the story isn't posted online.

Speaking for myself, just in case anyone from the Department of Homeland Security is reading, I like pie at any time, but only two kinds: Homemade and store-bought.


So the Pennsylvania General Assembly couldn't seem to get around to passing legislation to help save public transportation, but they did find the time to pass a bill that would forbid local governments from offering wireless Internet service.

Never mind that some communities --- including Pitcairn --- already offer things like cable TV and electric service. No, our solons decided that offering wireless Internet would lead to the collapse of the Commonwealth; hail falling from a clear blue sky and burning as fire upon the ground; and dogs and cats, living together.

Oh, and also, Verizon was against it.

According to, consumer protection groups and the City of Philadelphia are lobbying Governor Rendell to veto the bill. (Tip of the Tube City hardhat to BoingBoing.)

Muniwireless has more on what this means to consumers, especially in rural areas or low-income city neighborhoods:

I do not think that municipalities deploy wireless broadband networks as a hobby, a fun thing to do in between council sessions and budget discussions. They do it because there are compelling reasons for it: saving on the city's telecommunications costs, remote utility monitoring, public safety, cheap broadband for low-income families.

Therefore, NOT having a law against municipal deployments does not automatically mean the cities will all rush in to deliver broadband. Placing restrictions on municipal deployments may, however, relieve the pressure on the cable and DSL operators to upgrade their networks, deliver higher bandwidth, lower prices and provide service to low-income neighborhoods. It is this pressure, which a robust, normally functioning "market" should be providing, that the telcos do not want.


Mrs. Subdivided We Stand makes her online writing debut today:

I was reading the news headlines during my lunch today when I came across this story on ABC

Headline: Religious Conservatives Demand Changes at Nation’s Parks -- Debate over ‘Moral Values’ Spills Over Into Nation’s Landmarks. ...

The Constitution sets forth a principle that there should be a separation of church and state. So as long as I am stuck here in Jesusland, at least until my visa application to the U.S. of Canada clears, my advice to you is to butt out of my life. I do not need you to dictate what I should view nor how I should view it. If I don’t want to watch something that I find offensive, guess what? I won’t watch it, I’ll just simply walk away. I won’t be inclined to make my personal concerns a political crusade and take the issues to the highest levels of government for them to cleanse in a proper manner. It’s called taking personal responsibility, look into it.

Jonathan Potts has further thoughts on the same theme over at The Conversation.

Um, what they said.


There's a 50-50 chance that I'll feel like writing something on Thursday for publication Friday --- it depends on how much food I stick in my piehole --- so I'll see you then. Maybe. In any event, I'm thankful for lots of things; among them, my friends, my family, living in a free country (where if the President is irritating me, I have the right to say so), and Derrick Brashear for providing this little platform for me to blow my brains out through my keyboard five days a week! Have a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving!

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November 23, 2004 | Link to this story

Sometimes, I Cannot Stand PAT

Category: default || By jt3y

I try to take the bus to and from work as often as possible, because we don't have free parking at our office. As I've mentioned before, I need to take two buses; one out of Picksberg to a point midway between Picksberg and Our Fair City, and then another from the midway point to my home in the Mon-Yough metroplex.

This map, drawn by the Tube City Online Multimedia Dept., will serve to illustrate:

(not to scale)

All together, this trip takes a little more than a hour, including the transfer at the midway point, which is alongside a state highway. The second bus only runs every 40 minutes or so, and if I take the first bus too early, I have a long layover; if I miss my first bus, I get home up to two hours later. It's not a lot of fun, and I question how much money I'm really saving.

A week or so ago, my regular bus driver suggested I try a different combination that, he assured me, would get me home faster.

So the other night, when the first part of the combination that the driver had mentioned came before my regular bus, I decided to try it instead.

I can now say, conclusively, that there are whole areas of the Mon Valley that I've never, ever seen before. At least before that night. Here's how the new route went:

(not to scale)

We passed the same video rental store twice. The third time we approached that same intersection again, I moved toward the front of the bus, having decided that I was going to get off, call a cab, and go home that way. I felt a little like "Charlie on the MTA" in the old song by the Kingston Trio, and I'm not sure, but I think we slipped through a wormhole in space at one point. I also saw Mr. Peabody and Sherman fly past the windows with a WABAC machine.

Just at that moment, the bus veered sharply to the left, and soon I was back on a familiar road that I knew was close to home. Good thing, too, because I can't imagine how much worse turning myself over to the vagaries of Yellow Cab would have been. But I wasn't in my right mind by then. By the time the bus made it to the transfer point, I had a headache from carbon monoxide fumes, a stomachache from the constant twists and turns, and a nervous twitch from watching the guy across the aisle rocking back and forth, talking to himself.

Oh, wait a minute; that was my reflection in the bus window that I was watching.

When I finally got home, I knelt down and kissed the berber in the front hallway, before offering a prayer thanking God for delivering me safely from the clutches of the Port Authority. But by crackey, the doggone thing did get me home about 15 minutes sooner.

Anyway, yesterday morning, I saw my regular bus driver again. "I tried that bus you suggested," I said.

"How was it?"

"Well, I'll admit I got home faster," I said, "but, boy, what a cockeyed tour of Pittsburgh you get. I was in neighborhoods where I didn't even realize there were neighborhoods."

He just smiled. "If you don't mind walking a little bit, you may want to try that flyer up ahead," he said, nodding toward another bus that was taking on passengers a few carlengths ahead of ours. "After work, you walk down to the place where the Gulf station used to be, and it'll take you right up here to the avenue, all on one bus."

When I got to the office, I looked up that flyer. At each end of the bus route, I'd have about a mile-long walk to and from the nearest stop. On the leg near my house, most of that walk would be on a busy state highway.

A friend is convinced that I must be giving the bus a bad name, and that the driver's trying to get rid of me. At first, I thought he was crazy, but he's starting to make some sense.

Either that, or all of the diesel fumes are finally getting to me.


Depending on whether Fast Eddie and his staff are able to funnel some highway-building money to Port Authority and the Commonwealth's other transit agencies, missing my bus connection may be the least of my problems soon, according to Joe Grata in the Post-Gazette.

The state Legislature has refused any sort of additional aid to transit before they adjourn for the year. At least Rendell laid down the law, saying he would veto any attempt by legislators to vote themselves a pay raise, according to Brad Bumsted in the Trib. But they also got into a spitting match over three people who Rendell wanted to appoint to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, and in the end, no one was appointed.

They say people get the kind of government they deserve. What, oh what, did Pennsyltucky ever do to deserve this, oh Lord?


P.S. I stole the bus photo from the Antique Motor Coach Association of Pennsylvania Web site, which is well worth a look. "Pa Pitt" is from one of Cy Hungerford's old cartoons for the P-G, via the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Web site.

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November 22, 2004 | Link to this story

A Charlie Brown Moment

Category: default || By jt3y

I've always had a great fondness for "Peanuts" --- the comic strip, not the legumes, though they're pretty good, too. I've only written one fan letter in my life, when I was 8 years old, to Charles Schulz. To my astonishment, he wrote back. It was a form letter, to be sure, but can you imagine what a thrill it was for a third-grader to get an envelope in the mail with a return address of 1 Snoopy Place, Santa Rosa, Calif.? I wish I still had the letter, but I have no idea whatever happened to it.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I was fairly depressed when Schulz died a few years back, ironically just as his last comic strip was hitting the papers. It was like part of my childhood had died, too. A year or so later, I heard his widow, Jeanne Schulz, being interviewed on the radio as I was driving home from work, and I felt myself starting to choke up again. Goofy? Maybe. But that's the kind of impact Schulz's work had on me.

Still, the syndicate that distributes "Peanuts" announced plans to put his "classic" comic strips into distribution, I was skeptical. There are enough comic strips in the newspaper that have outlived their creators, and frankly, their usefulness. With real estate on the comics pages being scarce enough as it is, why waste the space with reruns? (Or "Reruns," as the case may be.)

I'm not skeptical any more. Reading "Classic Peanuts" for the past few years has been like watching a favorite movie over again, or hearing a certain song on the radio. I first saw all of these early '70s strips in paperback books when I was learning to read; I didn't appreciate many of the punchlines, but I liked the funny pictures. Seeing the same strips now, and being able to appreciate the humor, is a very sweet feeling.

Why the affection for "Peanuts"? Heck, Schulz's doodles have been dissected, analyzed, re-analyzed and studied for more than 50 years, by cultural critics, clerics, countless professors, and other people much smarter than I, so I'm not about to rehash their conclusions. (Go read one of Rabbi Twerski's books, or Robert Short's famous "The Gospel According to Peanuts," instead.)

Suffice it to say that I relate to "Peanuts," and mainly to Charlie Brown, because I'm constantly having Charlie Brown moments. Yesterday in church, at a fairly sparsely attended service, the collection plate was making its rounds. The usher handed the plate to the woman at the end of the pew; instead of passing it to me, she handed it back to the usher, who handed it to me ...

... but I was reaching to her, and missed the plate, sending it crashing to the floor behind me. The usher and a woman sitting behind me were left scrabbling on the floor to pick up the money and collection envelopes (thank God there was no loose change) while I was left to watch them, helplessly. Worse yet, I was sitting near the front of the church, so everyone behind us had a great view of the action.

If that's not a Charlie Brown moment, I don't know what is. What else can you say in that case but "good grief"?


In the news, and on a somber note: Tragedy marred the inaugural game of McKeesport's entry into the new American Basketball Association. With about eight minutes left to go at the Wunderley Gymnasium Friday night, and the Pennsylvania Pit Bulls up by 18 points, Head Coach Tom Washington collapsed on the court. He was pronounced dead a short time later at UPMC McKeesport hospital. Greg Kristen had the story in Saturday morning's Daily News. According to a follow-up in the Post-Gazette, an autopsy determined that Washington was suffering from heart disease.

The Pit Bulls stopped the Friday game and cancelled another matchup set for Saturday because of Washington's passing.

Nicknamed "Trooper," Washington was a graduate of Cheyney University and played in the original ABA with the Pittsburgh Pipers from 1967 to 1970, according to an ABA press kit. He leaves behind a wife and one daughter. Funeral arrangements are incomplete, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

The Pit Bulls play their next two games at home on Thanksgiving weekend versus the Philadelphia Fusion. Details at


Update: I don't know if we have any regular readers in Caketown, but there apparently have been some hinky dealings on the Mt. Lebanon School Board, and Professor Pittsblog is covering them like the dew. The school directors bought out the contract of the superintendent at a price of about a half-million dollars, with little or no discussion in public, and now the parents are steamed up. Good for them.

It's worth noting for readers in Our Fair City and the Mon-Yough metroplex that we had a similar situation not long ago, when the school board in South Allegheny bought out the contract of its superintendent for more than $325,000. The former SA superintendent has since turned around and applied for the same job in the McKeesport Area School District.

(Disclaimer: I'm treading on treacherous ice here, because I know many, many people in both school districts, including at least one school director; and a family member is a public schoolteacher. Let me just emphasize that any opinions are mine, and mine alone, and reflect only what I've read in the public prints, and should not be construed to represent anyone else's opinions.)

Considering that they're the taxing bodies responsible for the lion's share of local taxes that Pennsylvanians pay, school boards operate with a shocking lack of transparency, and most people pay little or no attention to what they do.

Issues like the firing of a school superintendent are handled behind closed doors; snooping reporters and prying citizens who question decisions are brushed off with the comment that it was a "personnel matter" --- a catch-all term that covers any issue that elected officials in Pennsylvania don't want to discuss.

More on that in a day or two, when I gather my thoughts; I just thought it was important to tip the Tube City Online hat to Pittsblog while the issues over there were still fresh.

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November 19, 2004 | Link to this story

Band Question Answered

Category: default || By jt3y

Now, live from Bettis Hill in Dravosburg, it's the Tube City Almanac Information Booth ... where the "I-Team" is always on the go, taking action, for you! (Cue your thumping TV news music here.)

Yesterday, Ed from Washington, Pa., asked about a 1960s Mon Valley garage band called "The Oncomers." We sent out feelers to our vast (half-vast?) network of correspondents, and high school classmate Bill Scully, drummer for The Hi-Frequencies, and son of the drummer for The Arondies, responded:

I know the drummer. Jack O'Neill ... he still lives in McKeesport. I'm supposed to contact him again because Get Hip Records wants to release an Oncomers album. The Oncomers & Arondies were close friends ... the Oncomers were their "big brother" band when they were just getting started.

They only released one record, I think ("Every Day Now" b/w "You Let Me Down"), but they recorded about 10 or 11 songs total.

I have just about everything that they did on a cassette tape (a copy of a copy of a copy of a scratchy acetate). I'm a big fan of their can hear similarities between them & The Arondies, though The Arondies were a better band in my opinion. But then I'm a bit biased.

Ed had taped a performance by The Oncomers at the old Cove nightclub on Route 51 in Large. Writes Bill:

The Arondies played the Cove regularly (every Friday night, I think). I have always hoped that someone taped The Arondies in performance, or possibly filmed them via Super 8, but I haven't found anything yet. News like this keeps me hopeful, though.

We hooked up Bill with Ed; and here's what Ed had to say:

When I got out of the U.S. Navy in late 1960, the first thing I bought was a Sony reel-to-reel stereo tape recorder and a cheap Radio Shack electric guitar. The "Twist" was breathing new life into a lot of the old beer joints along Rt. 51, and I was hitting them all, listening to a lot of different bands, drinking beer, and chasing women. "The Cove" in Large became my favorite, and a lot of bands/groups came and went during that time. The Oncomers were head and shoulders above anyone else that ever played there. My love for Chuck Berry style guitar may have clouded my judgement, but I truly loved to listen to them play. I never was a groupie, as such, in that I never knew (or cared) what any of their names were. I loved the music though, and they all knew it. One of the greatest moments in my young life was when the guitar player allowed me to pick up his guitar and play a few chords during break.

One day I asked them if it would be OK if I recorded them while they were playing, and they agreed that it would be fun. The next Friday night I set up right on stage with them. I vividly recall hooking one channel of the recorder directly into the output of the guitarist's amp., without even a mike on that channel. The other channel I hooked to two mikes (with a mixer) for the drummer and bass, which also picked up some of the guitar. That setup was a long way from being "studio quality," but I ended up with what could be the most perfect reproduction of his guitar playing that could possibly be made. The quality of the reproduced sound is just like it was made yesterday, although my mixing ability left a little to be desired.

The tape has a lot of interesting (to me) stuff on it, such as when the guitarist broke a string right after starting, and they had to play an extreme drum and base "Topsy" until he got re-strung. They also do what they refer to as their "Dusty Disk" on the tape, "You Let me Down." There is a rendition of their version of "Bullfight," and "Johnny B. Goode" that still stands my hair on end, along with about 20 or so others.

I used to often listen to the tape, but as time went on I gradually lost interest and put it away where it has been for the last 35 years or so. My 6-year-old grandson is showing great interest in playing guitar, and has already played for his fellow schoolers in the auditorium. His favorite saying is "I want to rock the house." I dug out this tape to show him what really good R&R sounds like, and while I was listening, it ocurred to me that maybe The Oncomers may never have had a chance to save any of their own music, and maybe they might want some of this so they can pass it on to their own grandkids.

I love the Internet. Love, love, love the Internet. Trying to hook people up like this would have been well-nigh impossible 10 years ago ... or at least would have taken much more time. I was able to do it on my lunch break. Extra special thanks to Washington County correspondent Tom for doing the intermediary work, by the way.

And of course, we'll be following this story in the Tube City Almanac newsroom, and we'll have further updates over most of these same typing fingers.

But first ... experts say your underwear may be killing you! Find out why in a Target I-Team Investigative Consumer Eyewitness Alert Report coming up right after these messages from Edgar Snyder & Associates, and from Jim Owens' Country Ford. And, is a killer tornado about to strike your neighborhood? We'll check in with the Tube City Almanac Accu Doppler Severe StormTracker 24 Weather Center in just a moment!

Nah, not really.


To Do This Weekend: The Pennsylvania Pit Bulls open their inaugural ABA season tonight at Penn State McKeesport's Wunderley Gym at 7:05 p.m. tonight. Tickets start at $12. Former Pitt Panthers Julius Page and Jaron Brown are among the featured players. Call (412) 896-5337 or visit

St. Colman Church, Tri-Boro Expressway, Turtle Creek, hosts its holiday craft show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

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November 18, 2004 | Link to this story

Extra, Extra: Michals Show Tonight! (Late Update)

Category: default || By jt3y

Shoot! How did I forget about this?

For the first time, the artistic process of one of the world's foremost artists, McKeesport native Duane Michals, is captured on film. Michals is known for his narrative, sequential photography as well as his commercial work, including the cover art for The Police's Synchronicity album, Life magazine covers, and fashion spreads for Vogue magazine. Mostly self-taught, he’s revered throughout the world of art photography. For this documentary Michals was asked to talk about his memories, his history, his work, his life and philosophy. He enthusiastically agreed. The first interview was recorded in May 2003 and the focus soon centered on a new book, The House I Once Called Home, a work that Michals calls a photographic memoir. The film highlights yet another of the dynamic, creative, and successful talents who was born and nurtured in the Pittsburgh region. (Directed by Stephen Seliy and Joe Seamans; USA; 2004; 64min)
Regent Sq Theater: Thu, Nov 18 - 7:00 (special event ticket required); Thu, Nov 18 - 9:15. Joe Seamans and Duane Michals are scheduled to appear. Michals' photographs and calligraphy are on exhibit from October 29 through December 17 at Melwood Galleries.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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November 18, 2004 | Link to this story

Local Band, Lysle Boulevard Questions Answered

Category: default || By jt3y

The Tube City Almanac Information Booth is open for business once again. Ed in Washington, Pa., writes:

Don't ask me what I was looking for when I found your website, but I stumbled on the info about old nightclubs and bands, and I thought I'd take a shot.

Twenty-five minutes ago I was listening to an old four-track stereo reel-to-reel tape recording that I made live at The Cove nightclub on Route 51 in Large, Pa., in 1961 or '62. The tape was of the "Oncomers", that I'm pretty sure were making the circuit around the Mon Valley (including McKeesport) at that time.

You mentioned this band on your site, and if you have any clue as to how I might reach any surviving member, (I'm sure that lifestyle takes it's toll) I'd greatly appreciate it. I thought that their guitarist was one of the best I ever heard, and listening to this old tape as brought me hours of enjoyment.

My only reason for trying to find one of them is so I might give them back some of this music so they can show their grandchildren, if they want to.

If you can't help, don't bother responding to this. I'm sure you are busy enough with things that matter to someone.

Well, Ed, if you've read this Website, then you can tell I'm obviously not busy with anything that matters to anyone.

So I'll throw the question out to the crowd: Anyone remember The Oncomers? The only information I can find is a brief mention in a 2001 story by Ed Masley and Scott Mervis in the Post-Gazette. Email me if you can help Alert Reader Ed.


Alert Reader Jonathan, meanwhile, asks if I caught the reference to Our Fair City during Sunday's Steelers-Browns game:

A little Mon Valley anecdote for you, or something like that. I was listening to the Steelers game on the radio, and in the fourth quarter, safety Russell Stuvaints returned a fumble for a touchdown. Bill Hillgrove said "He's running straight up Lysle Boulevard" and I was thinking "Hmm ... why the McKeesport reference, or is there another Lysle Boulevard." Well, it turns out Stuvaints is from McKeesport.

Indeed, he is. In fact, Stuvaints lettered three times in football at McKeesport Area High School and set a school record for rushing. And other Mon-Yough types may have first seen him playing in the Foothills Football Classic several years ago.

Stuvaints is a graduate of Youngstown State University, where he played in the NCAA Division I-AA championship game in 1999 and set a school record in the 40-yard dash. At last report, his parents still lived in Our Fair City.

Lysle Boulevard, of course, is named for the late Mayor George H. Lysle, a Republican, who infuriated local Democrats for years and years by doing things like using the city police to harass union organizers, for instance.

In the 1930s, when Jerome Avenue was widened --- using federal tax money --- the city fathers decided to rename it in Lysle's honor.

According to contemporary newspaper accounts, the Roosevelt administration then threatened to make the city pay back the money on the grounds that federally-funded public works projects could not be named for people still in office. The name of the street reverted to "Jerome Avenue" --- hence the "Jerome Avenue Bridge" --- until Lysle left office.

Just don't ask me who Jerome was.

Speaking of Lysle Boulevard, our Steel Valley correspondent recently had to have some medical tests done and was told that he could visit a clinic in McKeesport on "Lissley" Boulevard. Um, not quite.

It reminds me of the time I tried to rent a car from the Enterprise agent in North Versailles Township, only to be told (rather snootily) by the reservation clerk that I was mispronouncing the name. "It's pronounced verh-SIGH," he said. "And I think you mean 'verh-SIGH,' Kentucky."

"No, I mean North ver-SAYLES, Pennsylvania," I replied, "which is nowhere near verh-SIGH, Kentucky. But rather than argue with you, I think I'm going to call Budget instead."

Besides, the jerk was wrong. According to a Sept. 19 article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, the town in Kentucky pronounces its name "ver-SAYLES," too. I have since learned that towns in Indiana and Missouri named "Versailles" also pronounce the word "ver-SAYLES," which someone recently tried to convince me was the "Italian pronunciation of 'Versailles.'"

Some how I doubt that. Still, the thought occurs to me that maybe it's the French who don't know how to say "Versailles," and that we here in the Mon-Yough area are correct after all. (Who are we to argue with Kentucky, Missouri and Indiana?)

And after we win that fight, we'll make the French change their pronunciation of "DuBois," to match the way they say it up in Clearfield County. To arms! Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort!

Which, roughly translated, means "Liberty, Port Vue, Glassport and Lincoln." Or something like that.

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November 17, 2004 | Link to this story

Fossils, Wal-Marts and Signs (Oh My?)

Category: default || By jt3y

News and notes you may have missed:


College senior and White Oak native Adam Striegel has secured a piece of immortality. A previously-unknown species of amphibian is going to be named for him.

While on a field trip in the west hills with a geology professor, Striegel spotted an interesting fossil and showed it to the instructor. The rock, which was examined by experts at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, was identified as the skull of a salamander-like animal that probably lived about 300 million years ago.

More in Bill Zlatos' story in the Tribune-Review and in this press release from Pitt. (Standard disclaimer: I do not speak for Pitt, and Pitt does not speak for me.)


Mark Stroup passes along links to pictures of signs that were photographed during a summer walking tour of Braddock, along with news (via Ann Belser in the Post-Gazette) that a group of buildings dating back to the 19th century are about to be demolished.


PBS's always-excellent "Frontline" last night revealed that the star in the Wal-Mart logo is apparently a red one, signifying the retailer's increasing reliance on Chinese-made goods, produced by subsidized labor below the world market price. Jon Lehman was a Wal-Mart manager for 17 years; he now works for a union trying to organize Wal-Mart stores:

(Question:) So who's driving the process? ... What does it look like to you? You've been inside Wal-Mart. You've seen it. You've talked to Wal-Mart buyers; you've seen suppliers; you've heard the story. ... You just said these companies are having trouble bargaining... I mean, it's pretty hard to escape the conclusion, isn't it, that Wal-Mart is a factor pushing the jobs to China?

(Answer:) Absolutely. The company's completed (sic) shifted its focus again from the founding principles of Sam Walton, who, by the way, used to really enjoy and take a lot of pride in what's called the "Buy America" program, "Made in America," "Bring it home to the USA." He was all about going to factories in America that were closing, like a flannel-shirt factory. I remember one example of that. They couldn't make flannel shirts in America as cheap[ly] as they could in China, so the factory closed. Three hundred-something jobs went down.

Well, Sam went to that owner of that manufacturer and said: "Look, if you'll make flannel shirts just for Wal-Mart exclusively for the next three years, I'll retool your plant. I'll give you a loan ... get your business up and going, and you just sell them to us." And that's what he was all about.

I recently heard a speech by Lee Scott, the CEO, and in his speech, what was disturbing to me is he said -- somebody questioned him about China: "Why are you doing so much business in China?" And he just kind of resigned himself to it and said: "Well, it's just the way it's got to be. This is a global economy now. We've got to do business with China. We have no other choice."

What happened to Sam Walton's founding principles? What happened to "Buy America," "Bring it home to the USA," good, American, union jobs? What happened to that?

Even as a supporter of organized labor, I would never claim that all good, American jobs are union jobs. But before you write off Jon Lehman as a crank and a union activist, listen to businessman Tom Hopson, president and CEO of Five Rivers Electronics, the last American owned and operated TV manufacturer, based in Greenville, Tenn. (and by the way, Greene County, Tenn., went for George W. Bush by a 68 to 32 percent margin --- much bigger than the rest of Tennessee --- so it's hardly a hotbed of leftist ideology):

(Question:) Was there something fishy in the competition you saw from China?

(Answer:) This business is a very low-margin business to start with, and we know that. But when we started looking at the competition, and we compared feature levels and screen size, and we know what labor costs are, we know what material costs are, we know all the different shipping costs, we know what that is. So when you started adding all those things together and you said, "OK, Chinese have lower labor; we'll discount it for that labor, but we're going to add shipping costs," and you take all the other costs and add them together, you know there was no way that they could be meeting those price points on a fair playing field.

And I can't explain what was going on, because I don't know what goes on inside of China, but I did know that when you take a tube cost, what it costs to make a cabinet, what it costs for electronics, and you put it all together, you can't sell it for less than you make, and that's what it looked like to us. So that got our attention.

So we got together ... with a law firm and said, "This doesn't look right," and they looked at it, and of course Georgetown Economic Services got involved and looked at it and came back and said: "No, we believe this is a reasonable case. We think that there in fact is dumping going on." ... [...]

(Question:) And where was Wal-Mart in your case? What side did Wal-Mart come down on?

(Answer:) Wal-Mart chose the side of the Chinese. And basically Wal-Mart spent a lot of time and effort at the International Trade Commission hearings testifying against us and our case.

So they're testifying against you. I thought Wal-Mart was a "Buy America" company.

Well, I think that's the old Wal-Mart that we used to know when Sam Walton was alive. I don't think today if you walk in to Wal-Mart and you probably did a count, you wouldn't find a lot of American products in Wal-Mart. I think they've changed that direction over the years.

Since Hopson was interviewed, by the way, Five Rivers has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. ("Frontline" either didn't know, or the piece was produced before that happened.) The reasons cited? Foreign imports and unfair Chinese competition.

You can read the transcripts of the interviews for yourself. Personally, I avoid Wal-Mart when at all possible, but as other stores fall by the wayside, it becomes harder and harder to do so.

And why do they fall by the wayside? Well, a Chinese businessman who Hopson talked to nailed it: "'Tom,' he said, 'American people say they want to buy American, but,' he said, 'really they don't.' And he said, 'If they did, why would Wal-Mart be the world's largest retailer?' He said they don't buy American; he said Americans really buy price. He said even though they want to feel patriotic, and in their hearts maybe they really want to be that way, he said they really have a hard time when it comes to voting with their pocketbook. And he makes a good argument, actually."

"Frontline" asked the question: "Is Wal-Mart Good For America?" It's good for those Americans who are Wal-Mart executives, I'll bet.


Meanwhile, speaking of our favorite Arkansas retailer, rumors continue to circulate that Wal-Mart is going to purchase the old Kennywood Plaza shopping center --- or that it already has.

A new variation on the rumor claims that when the Wal-Mart in Duquesne opens, the one in North Versailles Township will be converted to a Sam's Club.

Obviously, Wal-Mart isn't talking --- the company doesn't speculate in public on its store opening and closing plans. Frankly, converting the store in North Versailles to a Sam's Club doesn't make sense, unless the company wanted to build a new, larger Wal-Mart nearby. There isn't another Wal-Mart on Route 30 in either direction until you get to Hempfield Township (though it is increasingly likely that there will be a Wal-Mart soon in North Huntingdon, near the Turnpike).

Another rumor rampant in Duquesne and West Mifflin says that the old Taco Bell and Ponderosa have also been sold, and that the property is going to be converted to a large gas station and convenience store.

None of these rumors are supported by reported sales at the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds office, nor has anyone gone to the Duquesne planning commission with blueprints or diagrams. Until some hard evidence is produced, you might as well be speculating that little green men are building a Martian spaceport in Dravosburg.

And by the way, feel free to start that rumor next.

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November 16, 2004 | Link to this story

Democracy: Buy One, Get One Free

Category: default || By jt3y

Produce manager Joe Blimfark went into the store manager's office at the West Elizabeth Pic'n Shop this morning.

"What is it, Blimfark?" asked Mr. Goldshmitz.

"Well, boss, I just wanted you to be the first to know the good news," Blimfark said. "The staff took a vote last night, and we all agreed that we deserve a raise."

"Jeez, I'm sorry, Blimfark," Goldshmitz said, sticking a pinkie finger into his right ear and wiggling it vigorously. "This damned hearing aid must be on the blink again. I could have sworn that you said that yinz voted last night to give yourselves raises."

"No, that's right, boss," Blimfark said. "The vote went 51 percent to 48 percent. I'd say that's a mandate."

"51 and 48 don't add up to 100 percent," Goldshmitz said. "What happened to the other 1 percent?"

"We couldn't read the ballot that Julie from the bakery department sent in," Blimfark said. "It was covered in icing. Anyway, we've earned some political capital, and we intend to spend it."

Goldshmitz took his reading glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "And what gave you this half-witted idea?"

"Well, we read in the paper last night ..."

"Who gave you permission to read the paper?" Goldshmitz said, interrupting him. "I'm not paying you to read the paper."

"On our 15-minute break, boss," Blimfark said.

"Fine, but I hope you paid for that paper," Goldshmitz said. "Go on."

"We read that the state legislature is thinking about giving itself a $12,000 pay raise, and we figured, heck, we're worth another $12,000."

"How so?" asked Goldshmitz. "Isn't it enough that I pay you $5.15 an hour, plus all the dented and bulging cans you can carry home?"

"Believe me, boss, we appreciate it," said Blimfark, "even if my little girl did come down with food poisoning from that cherry pie filling. But if the state legislature can vote itself a raise, then we decided we can, too.

"And that's not all," he said.

"What else?" said Goldshmitz, with a sigh.

"We read where the state legislators each get $126 in expense money for every day they spend at work," Blimfark said. "Now, it's probably more expensive to eat in Harrisburg than it is in West Elizabeth, so we figure that we can cut you a break there. How's $100 a day sound?"

"That will buy a lot of hot dogs at the 7-Eleven," Goldshmitz said.

"Also, state legislators each get a free car. Since we can't afford a car on our pay --- and believe me, we're not complaining, boss --- most of us have to take the bus or walk. Now, we're not asking you to buy a car for each of us. If you just want to rent them, that's fine, too. And we don't need Lincoln Town Cars or SUVs like the state legislators get. A nice Chevy will be fine for each of us."

"Gee, that's fair," Goldshmitz said. "Anything else?"

"Well, there's one last thing," Blimfark said. "The Pennsylvania General Assembly takes the entire month of December off. Now, we know how important Christmas is at a grocery store, so we'd like to take a slower month off, instead. Maybe August."

"I really appreciate your consideration," Goldshmitz said.

"So, are you going to grant our requests?" Blimfark said.

"No, but I'll tell you what I will do," Goldshmitz said. "I'll give you until the count of five to get out of my office before I throw you out of that window and into the lottery counter."

"But we took a fair, open vote, just like the legislature is going to do!" Blimfark said, stamping his foot down.

"There's a big difference between you schlubs and the state legislature," Goldshmitz roared. "They spend the tax money, and you jerks just earn it!"

"But ..."

Goldshmitz stood up and rolled back his sleeves, counting: "Five ... four ... three ... " Blimfark quickly made his retreat back onto the sales floor.

Sharon, the lottery clerk, was waiting for him. "Well? How'd it go?"

"We scored a few important victories," Blimfark said, "but in the end, the decision turned on moral issues."

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November 15, 2004 | Link to this story

Help, I'm Stuck On a Ledge!

Category: default || By jt3y

Hit 'n run thoughts, and things I learned from the Internet while I was looking for other things:


Bentleyville's Maple Creek Mining, which announced last week that was laying off several hundred people in response to a state Department of Environmental Protection order, has a Website. And a pretty good one, too, though the press releases don't seem to be particularly up to date.


All of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. nostalgia you can stand and more is available at the Sears Archives. For instance, did you realize that Arthur Crudup and Muddy Waters got their start playing Sears Silvertone guitars? (We had a Sears Silvertone TV when I was growing up, and I still have a Silvertone tape recorder.)

Or, did you realize that creepy actor Vincent Price once marketed his own collection of fine art through Sears stores? He didn't sell wax mannequins, unfortunately, but the portraits of Dorian Gray were very popular.


Appropos of nothing: How does a terrible show like "Crossing Jordan" keep getting back on the air? I mean, I think Jill Hennessy is as cute as a bug, but this has got to be one of the most contrived, over-the-top dramas ever to air on network television --- outside of daytime soap operas, of course. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so.


I wish Alan Dershowitz would tell everyone what he really thinks:

The world made a terrible mistake by not treating Arafat as a criminal. He should have been indicted for ordering the murder of American diplomats, Israeli athletes, and international travelers instead of being praised for his "courage." It takes no courage to kill the helpless and much courage to risk one's own life in pursuit of peace. It was such courage that Arafat lacked.

The Nobel Peace Prize was cheapened by being awarded to this hater of peace. The Vatican was tarnished by its frequent welcoming of a man who violated every teaching of the Church. The United Nations was trivialized by its lionization of this coward. And terrorism was encouraged by the rewards Arafat received for his murders.


To my list of great comic strips that are, sadly, not seen in Pittsburgh, add Mark Pett's "Lucky Cow." Sunday's strip made me laugh out loud.


When one attended a Division III college, one takes what moral victories that one can get:

CMU, which didn't have a starter taller than 6-foot-6, held a 45-43 halftime lead, led 53-46 early in the second half and trailed by only five points until Pitt's late surge.

We're something like the national Democratic Party in that respect.


Officials in Richmond, Va., were not amused when the sculptor of a statue honoring police officers included a tiny drawing of a pig and the words "oink resistant" on the bottom of it, so they had it sanded smooth.

They didn't notice, however, that a plaque recently placed on the statue misquotes the Gettysburg Address.

For the record, I knew a police detective who wore a tiny "Porky Pig" tie tack. You have to love a guy with a sense of humor!


And this entry is becoming dangerously close to reading like a Larry King column ("I wish Freddie Prinze was alive today, so that we could both laugh"), so it's time to quit.

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November 12, 2004 | Link to this story

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Category: default || By jt3y

In high school, one of the guys in our clique --- which was too dorky for the nerds and too nerdy for the dorks --- began to noticeably lose his hair during sophomore year. Needless to say, demonstrating the sensitivity, wit and grace that are hallmarks of teen-age boys, we behaved with dignity and class.

No, of course not. We teased him unmercifully. He would wear hats to cover up the hair loss; we'd sneak up behind him and steal them. And then we'd complain about the glare off of his scalp.

Karma, as they say, is a (witch), and God is getting even with us. Two of us are sporting large foreheads these days, and I've noticed that a third member of our group is developing just the slightest bald spot.

I have vowed not to resort to a Rudy Giuliani/Donald Trump style combover, and so far, I'm sticking to that. Instead, I've been having the barber cut the rest of my hair really, really short, perhaps in the hope that people will think that I'm some how having it "styled" that way. What sort of hairstyle calls for the front part to be plucked out, anyway?

OK, so, I'm grasping at straws --- or is that hairs? At least it looks even.

The problem is that I rarely have time to go to the barber shop, and when I do have time, I don't have the money, so for several weeks a month, my hair ends up looking something like Dagwood Bumstead's --- bizarrely thin on top and splaying out at wild angles on the sides. (Ah, but if only I was married to Blondie Boopadoop!)

My barber recently raised his price from $11 to $13, which doesn't seem fair. That works out to about 25 cents a hair for me, after all, and it only takes him half as long to cut my hair as it does other customers. If anything, I should be getting a 50 percent discount!

I made that argument, by the way, and he doesn't agree. I didn't press the point, because I try never to argue with a man who's holding a straight razor.

I had a meeting earlier this week, and my hair was looking typically awful, especially around my ears and at the back of my neck. To clean it up a little, I tried trimming the shaggy parts on the side, and shaving my neck. From the front, it didn't look too bad --- or so I thought --- but that night I stopped at the barber shop, and my barber blanched when I sat down in his chair.

"Um ... did someone try to ... um ... trim your hair?" he said, cautiously, as he fastened the smock over my shoulders.

I chuckled. "Well, I had a meeting today, and I just tried to touch it up with a razor," I said. "Why, is it crooked?"

He didn't chuckle. Indeed, I've never heard him so serious. "Um ... well ... it's pretty obvious," he said. "It's going to take me a while to fix this." Keep in mind I'd been walking around all day, apparently, with giant jagged checkmarks carved into the back of my head.

And then he got to the sides.

"Whoa," he said. "I'm going to have to clean your sideburns up, too. Do you know there's a big chunk taken out of them?"

He fixed the damage. I no longer look as if I shave on a ferry crossing Lake Erie in a heavy storm while I'm drunk, so in retrospect, he deserves the extra two bucks for trying to polish a lump of coal into a diamond.

I will say this much. In high school, I used to say I'd rather have gray hair than go bald, because at least with gray hair, you look distinguished. When I got home and inspected the haircut closely, I noticed that I've finally got my wish.

Sure enough, there they were ... gray hairs.

I can't wait for the rest of my hair to turn gray. Then, instead of a dork with big chunks carved out of the back of his bald head, I'll look like a distinguished dork with big chunks carved out of the back of his bald head.


Deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Post-Gazette critic Ron Weiskind, who died Thursday at age 54. I knew him only from his byline, but very much enjoyed his work. Requiescat in pace.


Tip of the Tube City hard hat to the Tribune-Review's editorial cartoonist, Randy Bish, whose take on Yasser Arafat's death pulls absolutely no punches, and made me laugh out loud to boot. When Randy scores, he scores big.

Tip also to James Lileks, who goes much farther than I would have --- though I can't say I disagree with him:

Our paper had this headline: "Enduring Symbol of Palestine Dies." Personally, I'm old school. I'd go with something, oh, factual, like "ARAFAT DEAD." Hard to argue. Hard to find bias. I don't know what would be satisfying, really. "Goaty Old Fiend Expires, Loses Power, Fortune, Bowel Control; Fills Room with Odor of Offal and Urine" would put people off their breakfast, I suppose. I am content to know he is not in Hell. Nope. Arafat did not go to Hell. He boards the ferry, yes; he makes it halfway across the River Styx, yes. Then the ferry blows up. Ten times a day for eternity. For a start.


And now, the moment that no one has been waiting for. Last month I asked for your best recommendations for places where you would take a visitor in Our Fair City and the Mon-Yough area. The contest was to end last week, but in the spirit of Governor Rendell, I decided to extend the deadline so that overseas absentee ballots could be counted.

Second prize goes to Deane M., who suggested taking a visitor to Renziehausen Park during International Village. I think it's a wonderful idea, and it gets second prize only because International Village happens just once per year. Deane is going to get a consolation prize, just as soon as I think of what it is!

First place goes to the reader calling himself "Professor Quackenbush," who writes:

The Mon Yough Trail ... has been strangely absent from Tube City postings, which is unfortunate. Our Fair City is increasingly becoming a stopping or starting point for people to access the trail. More important, the Pittsburgh-McKeesport link is one of only two unfinished sections of the trail, which sees something like 400,000 visitors every year, each of whom spend between $5 and $15.

And these visitors aren't your typical tree huggers. Parents, kids, retired people all use the trail, too. Check the Boston access parking lot any weekend. Better yet, try finding a parking space there after 10 a.m.

The widflowers, river, rock outcroppings, and history make the Yough Trail a spectacular getaway. Truly, it's a Western Pennsylvania jewel.

Meet the regulars. There's Hammer Chuck who often bikes a 100-mile length of the trail on a banana-yellow Tour Easy, the Cadillac of bicycles. Try keeping up with him. He'll leave you in the dust every time. And the kicker is that depending on who you ask, Chuck is between 70 and 80 years old. He could easily pass for 50. In fact, look closely at any of the older bikers. Every one looks at least 10 years younger than their age.

While bikers discover the beauty of the trail, Our Fair City is barely aware of the treasure nearby, barely aware of the thousands of visitors passing through on their way to the trail.

Hmmm. I wonder how popular the Pittsburgh-McKeesport link will be once it's finished. I wonder how many bikers will make the trip from Pittsburgh, eat lunch in Our Fair City, maybe buy some other stuff before returning to Pittsburgh. I know I can't wait to try it. And I know that's happening at many of the trail access points where businesses has sprouted up. In Fayette County, a developer is marketing a new subdivision of homes based on its proximity to the trail. Say, is there a message here?

Professor Quackenbush receives his choice of any item from the Tube City Online store. Perhaps we need to start selling some sweatshirts so that he can keep warm while peddling his Schwinn? Which sounds vaguely dirty, now that I think of it.

Your suggestions for sections that we can add to Tube City Online are always welcome, of course. Email them to jt3y at dementia dot org.


To Do This Weekend: If you're in Utrecht, The Netherlands this weekend, the "Bone Dog All-Stars" will be performing at Europe's premier blues event, the Blues Estafette. The front men are Tommy Brown and Roy Lee Johnson, while the backup band features Kenny Blake, Robbie Klein and McKeesport's Zane Berlinski.

Since the Netherlands is kind of a long drive, you may want to instead check out the "Band Bash" on Sunday at the Versailles American Legion. Proceeds benefit a program to send items to troops overseas. Doors open at 12 noon, admission is $12, and featured groups include In the Saddle, Blind Date, Sterling Run and more. For more information, call (412) 751-5760.

McKeesport Little Theater's production of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" closes its run this weekend. Call (412) 673-1100.

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November 11, 2004 | Link to this story

Find a Wheel, and It Goes 'Round, 'Round, 'Round

Category: default || By jt3y

Protesters marched on Harrisburg yesterday to demand "predictable, reliable and dedicated" funding for public transit, according to the Post-Gazette's Tom Barnes. State Senators Sean Logan and Jay Costa, who represent the East Hills and Mon Valley, also attended.

Barnes writes that the state Legislature "can't agree on how to supply more money." For the moment, let's leave aside the idea, advanced by many, many people, that PAT spending is wasteful, and that the transit authority spends money on many projects because they're politically useful, not because they actually move people around. (And I'm looking at you, light-rail system and "par three miniature subway.") Let's assume, therefore, that the real problem really is that the state doesn't give public transit enough money, which has not been proven (at least not to my satisfaction).

I can't help but think that one of the reasons that the Legislature can't come up with a funding plan is that most of the state doesn't use public transit. If you're a legislator from Potter County, what do you care if people from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia can't ride the bus? Let 'em walk!

And frankly, the fact that the transit authorities are heavily dependent on unionized workers doesn't help their causes with the more conservative members of the General Assembly, who frankly think Henry Clay Frick was too soft when dealing with strikers.

Thus the town and country internicine warfare that characterizes all state government issues in the Commonwealth continues unabated. Is it any wonder that while other states are experiencing population explosions, Pennsylvania sits and spins its wheels? (But possibly not its bus wheels for much longer.)

A spokeswoman for the Governor, by the way, says that he's "committed to finding a permanent funding stream that's dedicated solely to mass transit."

Five bucks says it involves putting video poker and slot machines on the buses.

Bob Grom, who heads up the Heritage Health Foundation in Braddock, had an interesting op-ed in Wednesday's P-G on the topic:

I think it's about time for us to get a handle on the broader implications of this issue and quickly find a way to deal with it, for now and with an eye to the longer term. I believe that we're missing the bus in this situation, particularly as it relates to the more severe consequences of continued inadequate public transit funding on our region's economic infrastructure.

Put simply, our ability to sustain or improve public transportation affects all of us -- whether or not we actually ever board a public transit vehicle. Access to convenient and reliable public transportation is essential for the region's economic health and prosperity for many reasons, some of which aren't typically considered. ...

Bottom line: As citizens of Allegheny County, we should be greatly concerned about continued talk -- without action -- on these critical public transportation issues. If the talkathon continues, it will impair the ability of thousands of people to obtain or maintain employment, consume goods and services and otherwise live productive lives.

Heritage Health Foundation is the non-profit community health care organization that was spun off from Braddock Medical Center when the hospital was merged into UPMC, and Grom has long been affiliated with the Braddock hospital, so he's very familiar with the problems of the urban areas of the Mon-Yough valley.

In other news, Jonathan Barnes writes in the P-G that the owners of Our Fair City's People's Building --- currently tied up in litigation --- have apparently been asking around to see whether they could donate it to an Indian tribe for use as a casino.

Now I've heard everything. When it comes to stupid, moronic ideas, that one takes the cake.

It could be worse. I suppose they could be trying to fill it with water and use it as an eight-story aquarium.

Meanwhile, from the Tube City Almanac National Political Desk ...

(More national politics? Ar-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-rghhhh!)

Bear with me for a minute; this is relatively painless.

A Pennsylvania farmer and a Texas farmer meet at a convention. "How many acres y'all farm up there, son?" the Texan asks the Pennsylvanian.

"Three hundred," the Pennsylvanian replies.

The Texan begins to laugh loudly. "Three hundred acres? Hell, boy, down in Texas, I got me a ranch where if I start out in my truck at one end, it takes me all day to drive to the other side!"

The Pennsylvanian looks the Texan up and down. "Yep," he says, finally, "I had a truck like that once, too."

If you didn't like that joke, blame Salon, whose story about the President and the Texas ethos reminded me of it:

These elements -- along with its music, its movies and several other ingredients -- endow Texas with a swagger, a halo of self-congratulatory pomposity unmatched by any other state. In 2003, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring schoolchildren to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning -- to the Texas flag. Texans have internalized this maniacal self-obsession with their state. It's a concept best summarized by singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard (a native of Oklahoma), who, in 2003, released the instantaneous classic "Screw You, We're From Texas."

The story is interesting enough as far as it goes, but where the heck has Salon been all of these years? None of this is new. Heck, even that bad joke I told is so old it's got arthritis.

Salon is the very model of an urban, "hip," liberal publication. If the liberal "elite" is that far out of touch with the rest of the country, then no wonder the Democrats keep losing national elections.

Tomorrow: Big prizes awarded!

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November 10, 2004 | Link to this story

Rant, and the World Rants With You

Category: default || By jt3y

What is it about college students, that they feel the need to step off of curbs in front of my vehicle and cross against the light? Do I look like the sort of fellow who's inclined to swerve? Do the vehicles that I drive look like they respond well to evasive maneuvers? Well, they don't.

I need to mount a cowcatcher on the front of the bleeding car. Or else some giant "Nerf" bumpers.

Also, what it is about microwave popcorn that there's no threshold between "popped to perfection" and "burnt to a crisp"? All I wanted Tuesday night was a tasty snack. The directions say to put the popcorn in for two to three minutes, and when the popping slows down, take it out of the microwave.

I followed the directions to the letter and got butter-flavored charcoal briquettes.

And the smoke! I fried up hamburgers and potatoes the other day, and didn't smoke up the kitchen nearly as bad as one bag of microwave popcorn. Plus, the stink clings to everything. I finally took the still-smoldering popcorn outside and doused it with water before dumping it into a garbage can.


OK, so if those are the worst things that happen to me, I suppose I'm in pretty good shape.

Things could have been much, much worse, after all. I could have been these guys:

Toxic fumes inside a septic tank of a Lapu-Lapu City resort overwhelmed and killed two people who were cleaning the tank Saturday afternoon. ... (Senior Police Officer Rolito) Jumao-as said the wastewater inside the tank was already knee-deep when the nozzle of their draining hose got blocked.

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November 09, 2004 | Link to this story

Thanks to You, It's Working (Until I Screw It Up)

Category: default || By jt3y

If you're like me, you believe that charity begins at home. So when my employer offered a chance for us to contribute to the United Way of Allegheny County via payroll deduction, my first thought was: How can I turn myself into an agency that gets United Way funds?

My second thought, after receiving a very nasty letter from the district attorney's office, was: What agencies in the Mon-Yough area get United Way funds, and how can I contribute to them directly?

Very easily, as it turns out. At the bottom of your United Way contribution form, simply write in the name of the agency that you want your donation to benefit, along with their ID number.

It took me a little bit of time to track down the agencies in Our Fair City and surrounding areas that receive United Way grants. To save you the hassle, I thought I'd pass along the research. You can search for other agencies at the United Way of Allegheny County Web site.

(Note: Tube City Online and the Tube City Almanac are not in any way endorsing or encouraging you to contribute to any of these agencies, and this list is for informational purposes only. I present the list strictly in alphabetical order. The information is subject to change without notice and is offered without any warranty as to its accuracy, though I have made every attempt to be accurate.)

City of McKeesport ("Our Fair City")

American Cancer Society, Mon-Yough Division: 1311
Boys & Girls Club of McKeesport: 7051
Circle C Foster Home: 7250
Family Support Center: 880712
Long Run Children's Learning Center*: 406
Lutheran Service Society (Meals on Wheels): 3040
McKeesport Hospital Foundation: 888454
McKeesport Collaborative: 9514
Mon Valley Education Consortium: 2910
Mon Yough Adult Retarded Center: 1490
Mon Yough Community Services: 343
Mon Yough Community Services, Bridge: 4650
Mon Yough Community Services, CRR Full Care/Minimal Care: 7152
Mon Yough Community Services, D&A Corrections: 1921
Mon Yough Community Services, Day Treatment: 3077
Mon Yough Community Services, MH/MR: 2539
Mon Yough Community Services, Substance Abuse Center: 251
Mon Yough Community Services, Women & Family Center: 3582
Mon Yough Human Services, 3805
Salvation Army, McKeesport: 4875
UPMC McKeesport hospital: 360
UPMC McKeesport Diabetes Center: 9354
UPMC McKeesport Oncology Center: 4905
UPMC McKeesport Pediatrics Unit: 4904
YMCA of McKeesport: 112
YMCA Camp T. Frank Soles: 7263
YWCA of McKeesport: 115

(* --- formerly McKeesport Pre-School for Exceptional Children)

To see a list of United Way participating agencies located in the Mon-Yough area outside of Our Fair City, click on the link below.


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November 08, 2004 | Link to this story

Field Trip to Hoopie Central

Category: default || By jt3y

On Sunday, I pointed the big Mercury southbound and headed for the Big Mo, Mo-Town, Touchdown City, the Capital of Hoopieland, the ... um ...

Right. Let's start over. On Sunday, I pointed the big Mercury southbound and headed for Morgantown, W.Va., where I was due to meet with someone for a project I've been working on.

It was my first time driving on the new stretch of the Mon-Fayette Expressway between Route 51 and Interstate 70, and what a day for driving it was. There are few things more pleasant than blasting along at 70 miles an hour in a big V-8 powered 'murrcan car with the stereo wailing on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the fall. Not even the congested stretch of 70 between Bentleyville and Little Worshington could spoil my mood.

In retrospect, maybe I should have slowed down a little. From Large to Mt. Morris, where I jumped off of I-79 and onto U.S. 19 south, I must have seen a dozen exploded deer carcasses on the berm of the road. (My buddy Dan calls those "transporter accidents," and if I have to explain it, you haven't watched enough Star Trek.)

There's a simple explanation for all of the deer guts, of course. According to the Morgantown Dominion Post, it's that time of year when love is in the air, and a young buck's fancy turns to thoughts of rut:

The importance of the rut on deer activity is hard to overstate. The older bucks that are almost exclusively nocturnal are suddenly sighted out and about in the middle of the day, making them susceptible to hunting. Many hunters save their vacation days for this prime November period and try to stay in their stands from daylight until dark.

This is also a period when deer are on the move constantly and many are killed on highways. It pays to be particularly on guard when traveling in areas with high deer populations -- which, it seems, is just about everywhere these days.

Man, you mosey out onto the Interstate after a hard day of lovin' and meet your end in the grille of a Buick. But what a way to go! It must be hard for the taxidermists to get the smiles off of their faces.

I had never visited Morgantown until yesterday, and I need to go back. It's a fairly typical college town --- meaning lots of head shops, tattoo parlors, bars and bookstores --- but it's also got a neat Appalachian mining town vibe going on. On Sunday afternoon, Downtown Morgantown was hopping --- I suppose the warm weather brought people out --- and there were lots of folks on the sidewalks. The Mountaineers clouded up and rained on Temple, 42-21, on Saturday, so I suppose folks were still happy about that, too.

I did have the good sense not to wear my "Pitt Panthers" ball cap yesterday, which was wise, because a punch in the mouth can spoil an otherwise pleasant Sunday afternoon. And as it turns out, the fellow I was meeting with was a huge WVU fan --- season tickets for 19 years running.

I stopped in what used to be the big G.C. Murphy Co. store on High Street to buy a couple of notebooks and some blank tapes. It's one of those "everything's a dollar" stores, now, and a Murphy man would have been sick to his stomach. It looked as if the merchandise wasn't so much put out on the shelves as vomited there by a dragon who had eaten a Chinese plastic factory. At least they had the good taste to cover up the good name of Murphy's.

Across the street is the nifty Hotel Morgan, which is an honest-to-John old-fashioned big city hotel, now owned by the Clarion Hotels folks, so it would seem to be in good hands. (Rooms start at $95, so it's no flophouse.) A few doors away is an honest-to-John old-time movie palace --- the Warner Theatre --- which was showing first-run movies and appears to be under renovation.

Back home in less than two hours, thanks to the Mon-Fayette Expressway. I'm still not sure what purpose the stretch that's open right now serves --- I could have taken a nap in the middle of the road yesterday and not disturbed anyone ---- but it sure was convenient.


Closer to home, the disputed sale of Our Fair City's historic People's Building is about to land in litigation, reports Pat Cloonan in The Daily News:

"There are now two lawsuits pending, there are investigators in town," Mayor James Brewster told McKeesport City Council this week about the sale and resale of the Peoples Building to West Coast interests. And there's more, literally from coast to coast, in the wake of the transactions 18 months ago that put $600,000 in local hands --- and led, among other things, to a defaulted $2.5 million mortgage. ...

When the sales were consummated, Geneva Equities told state Department of Revenue Strong acted as its agent - so the city of McKeesport was not entitled to a 1.5 percent transfer tax that would have brought in $30,000. City Solicitor J. Jason Elash said he's been talking to state revenue officials now investigating the various deals.


And I thought I was nuts: Kurt Tadich, 22, of North Huntingdon Township is commuting back and forth to classes at Dickinson College in an antique fire engine, according to the Carlisle Sentinel:

Although he drives the engine to school on Mondays, he doesn't try to parallel park. He generally parks it in a school-owned lot or along West Street. Most of the time he has his vehicle in a storage garage in Carlisle.

His classmates' reaction to his choice of vehicle is "mixed," Tadich says with a smile. Students recognize him as he's driving to class or taking friends on rides around town. He says the most common reaction is "disbelief." But that's a typical reaction for other people as well.

The good news is that the 1962 American LaFrance pumper only cost $3,000 and, like most fire engines, it's super-extra-heavy-duty, which makes it an ideal vehicle for a poor college kid. The bad news is that it gets six miles to the gallon. Hey, having filled up the Mercury before my trip to Morgantown yesterday, I can sympathize.

At least Tadich is better suited than most people to driving a fire engine around: He's a former member of NHT's Fairmont-Hahntown Volunteer Fire Department who now belongs to the fire service up in Carlisle.

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November 06, 2004 | Link to this story

Correction, Not Perfection

Category: default || By jt3y

On Thursday, the Almanac incorrectly reported that the minor-league pro basketball Pit Bulls would be moving to Our Fair City. Due to a typographical error (Ed. Note: No, actually due to our own incompetence), we spelled the team's name incorrectly and gave the wrong location for their games.

The Pennsylvania Pit Bulls will be playing their home games at Penn State McKeesport Campus' Wunderley Gymnasium.

(What did we get correct? We spelled "McKeesport" accurately.)


Joe Starkey reports in the Trib that former Pitt Panthers stars Julius Page and Jaron Brown are expected to play. The Pit Bulls will be part of the reborn American Basketball Association. The general manager of the franchise is Freddie Lewis, a native of Our Fair City who played in the original ABA for the Indiana Pacers, Memphis Sounds and St. Louis Spirits.

The first tryout camp for the Pit Bulls is being held this weekend at PSM. For more information, visit

The Almanac regrets the errors, and those responsible have been sacked.

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November 05, 2004 | Link to this story

Bits 'n Bytes

Category: default || By jt3y

In world news, there are unconfirmed reports from France that Yasser Arafat is brain dead. No offense, but how does this surprise people? It's been fairly obvious for a long time.

Tom Lehrer said once that "satire died" when Henry Kissinger was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize; for me, it died when Arafat got one. I don't wish ill on anyone, but it will be hard for many people to shed tears when Arafat passes onto his final reward.

In other news, a National Guard F-16 fighter pilot on a nighttime training mission strafed a New Jersey elementary school last night.

Geez, I suspected that the Bush administration would want retribution on the states that went for Yawn Kerry, but I didn't think it would happen so quickly!


Bo Grace's comic strip "Piranha Club" (formerly "Ernie"), which runs locally in both the Trib and the P-G, hits about as often as it misses. But I thought last week's sequence, exploring a Ralph Nader presidency, was a hoot.

Judge for yourself. Start with last Monday and work your way forward to Saturday: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday


Our Steel Valley correspondent, Dan Speed, passes along this link to the video clip portion of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Web site. Have any questions that routine police work is dangerous? This should settle those doubts.

And if you like those car crashes, you might also like these little movies from "Something Awful." (Warning: The language is not family-friendly.) "Letter from the Internet, Vol. 1," is my favorite, by far. (You need a Macromedia Flash player to view those movies.)


I share James Lileks' reservations about "trick-or-treat":

Let's review the situation, children. You are masked. You are engaged in an extortionate activity, threatening tricks unless I give you candy; I comply with your demands. Your next move:

A. Say "thank you, sir" and walk away with grace and cheerful confidence. Or ... B. Lope away like some slope-shouldered goblin who probably thinks "manners" is a slang term for a part of the body. Dude hit me right in the manners.

Experience has taught me that the answer is usually B. And you say hey, Mr. Wilson, do you want kids to show up like Dickensian orphans, lined up, bags out, desperately putting on a false show of cheer and gratitude? Well, yes. Please sir, may we have some more? No! Who do you think I am, Father Hershey? Now begone.

And while we're at it, if you're old enough to shave (and that goes for the girls, too), you're too old for trick or treat.

The most bizarre costume we had in our neighborhood was the boy --- he looked to be 11 or 12 --- who was dressed up in his sister's cheerleading outfit, skirt, pom-poms and all. I thought: Dude, that may have seemed like a creative idea at the time, but you are going to get such an ass-kicking after lunch tomorrow.


Last political comment from me for a while, I promise:

My mother called me the other night to vent her own frustrations over the election, and I made a joke about "looking for apartments in Canada."

She jumped all over my case: "If you really love America, it's your duty to change it, not to give up on it."

Like the old joke goes, when I was 17, I thought my parents were stupid. Now, I wonder how they got so smart so quickly.

Lots of people aren't joking about it. According to Canadian Press, "Canada's immigration website is being flooded with a record-smashing number of visits from U.S. Democrats dismayed by the prospect of four more years living under President George W. Bush. His re-election has some long-faced U.S. liberals apparently musing that perhaps Canada's cold winters, high taxes and strained health system are more easily endured than their commander-in-chief."

I happen to be a Canadaophile --- I have Canadian relatives and subscribe to Maclean's, and I can probably tell you more about Canadian politics than you'd ever want to know. (There are also several Canadian connections to Our Fair City, most notably that several Mon-Yough area football players have wound up playing professionally in the CFL.)

Nevertheless, all this moving to Canada silliness is crazy talk, as we used to say in the old neighborhood. This is my country, too, darn it. I think my political views --- which basically come down to "live and let live" and "don't push your beliefs on someone else" --- is much closer to the political mainstream than the Republican Party nationally. I've been very offended by having to listen to Republicans question the patriotism of Democrats, but reports that Democrats are "fleeing" to Canada only gives their criticism some creedence, doesn't it?

If I ever move to Canada, it will be because I happen to like winter (I'm nuts that way) and want a change of scenery.

It sure as heck won't be because I like to pay 12 percent sales tax, which is what I think I paid the last time I was in Ontario. Sheesh!


In a related story, the Daily News carried a chart the other night showing the presidential vote in Mon-Yough area communities. Most went for Kerry by wide margins, except for Elizabeth Township, Jefferson Hills, Pleasant Hills and White Oak. Complete election returns for all Mon-Yough area communities are available in a separate Almanac page today.

(UPDATE: By my count, Irwin, North Irwin and North Huntingdon Township also went for Bush, and by fairly healthy margins in a few wards. Westmoreland County as a whole also went for Bush, of course, so this is not surprising.)


To Do This Weekend: Santa Claus arrives at Century III Mall, West Mifflin, tomorrow at 10 a.m. (Already? Groan.) ... Ladies Auxiliary of Circleville Volunteer Fire Department hosts a fall craft show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Call 724-864-3424.

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November 05, 2004 | Link to this story

2004 Mon-Yough Election Results

Category: default || By jt3y

Unofficial but complete election returns for Mon-Yough area communities:

Allegheny County: Braddock | Braddock Hills | Chalfant | Churchill | Clairton | Dravosburg | Duquesne | East McKeesport | East Pittsburgh | Edgewood | Elizabeth Borough | Elizabeth Township | Forest Hills | Forward Township | Glassport | Homestead | Liberty | Lincoln | McKeesport | Monroeville | Munhall | North Braddock | North Versailles Township | Pitcairn | Pleasant Hills | Port Vue | Rankin | South Versailles Township (Coulter) | Swissvale | Trafford (Allegheny County portion) | Turtle Creek | Versailles | Wall | West Elizabeth | West Homestead | West Mifflin | Whitaker | White Oak | Wilkins Township | Wilmerding.

Washington County: Finleyville | Monongahela, 1 | Monongahela, 2-1 | Monongahela, 2-3 | Monongahela, 3-1 | Monongahela, 3-2 | New Eagle, 1 | New Eagle, 2 | Union Township, 1 | Union Township, 2 | Union Township, 3 | Union Township, 4 | Union Township, 5 | Union Township, 6 | Union Township, 7

Westmoreland County: Irwin, Ward 1 | Irwin, Ward 2 | Irwin, Ward 3 | Irwin, Ward 4 | Irwin, Ward 5 | Irwin, Ward 6 | Irwin, Ward 7 | Manor | North Irwin | North Huntingdon Township, 1 1 |
North Huntingdon Township, 1 2 | North Huntingdon Township, 1 3 | North Huntingdon Township, 1 4 | North Huntingdon Township, 2 1 | North Huntingdon Township, 2 2 | North Huntingdon Township, 2 3 | North Huntingdon Township, 3 1 | North Huntingdon Township, 3 2 | North Huntingdon Township, 4 1 | North Huntingdon Township, 4 2 | North Huntingdon Township, 4 3 | North Huntingdon Township, 4 4 | North Huntingdon Township, 5 1 | North Huntingdon Township, 5 2 | North Huntingdon Township, 5 3 | North Huntingdon Township, 6 1 | North Huntingdon Township, 6 2 | North Huntingdon Township, 6 3 | North Huntingdon Township, 6 4 | North Huntingdon Township, 7 1 | North Huntingdon Township, 7 2 | North Huntingdon Township, 7 3 | North Huntingdon Township, 7 4 | Rostraver Township, Collinsburg | Rostraver Township, Concord | Rostraver Township, Cross Road | Rostraver Township, Fellsburg | Rostraver Township, Lynnwood | Rostraver Township, Pricedale | Rostraver Township, Van Meter | Rostraver Township, Webster | Sewickley Township, East Herminie | Sewickley Township, Lowber | Sewickley Township, Rillton | Sewickley Township, Sewickley Township, | Sewickley Township, West Herminie | Sewickley Township, Whyel | Sutersville | Trafford, District 1 (Westmoreland County portion) | Trafford, District 2 (Westmoreland County portion) | West Newton, Ward 1 | West Newton, Ward 2 | West Newton, Ward 3

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November 04, 2004 | Link to this story

Renzie Fish Feel a Little Drained

Category: default || By jt3y

Where, oh where, will the nasty geese of Renzie Park go? Doesn't anyone think about the poor geese?

You see, as Jonathan Barnes writes in the Post-Gazette, Lake Emilie is being dredged and cleaned "in accordance with a Department of Environmental Protection mandate given to the city about a year ago, Mayor James Brewster said."

The spillway dam at the end of the lake is being reconstructed, and new fish beds will be installed in the middle of the lake and near the dam, where the lake bottom will be dredged to 12 feet to allow the water to flow more freely and to give more room for the fish to proliferate, Brewster said.

According to Barnes, the fish are being scooped up out of Lake Emilie and relocated by the Fish and Boat Commission, while city police are looking for a catch of their own: A gun that was allegedly used in a crime and thrown into the lake afterward.

In last night's Daily News, Josh Yohe reported that a minor-league pro basketball team --- the "Pitt Bulls" --- is scheduled to move to Our Fair City, and will be playing its home games at Penn State McKeesport Campus. A press conference was set for today. (The article doesn't seem to be online.)

(Ed. Note: This entry has been edited to remove incorrect information.)

Over in North Huntingdon, Michelle Brokenbek writes in the Norwin Star, there were some "unusual words" at a planning commission meeting: "trust, faith and integrity." (Kind of a shame that those words are considered unusual, which is not a reflection on North Huntingdon Township's government ... at least in my experience.)

Developer Bob Shuster is giving his personal pledge that a new residential plan on the grounds of the Lincoln Hills Country Club will be "aesthetically attractive," Brokenbek reports:

With just a concept plan presented at this stage of application, the planning commission would have to take the builder's word in how the prime real estate would be developed. The board would have to trust, said Allen Cohen, planning director.

"What if you die?" asked commission member Stump.

Shuster replied that his two sons and a daughter are very involved in the daily operation of his business RWS and they hold the same ethics. "They'll be around in 30, 40 years," Shuster said projecting faith, which Cohen also said would be needed toward the project that will take three to four years to build out.

"Trust, faith and integrity" should be the norm in government --- and in all human interactions --- not the exception. But that's just me; I could be wrong.


Now, speaking of "faith" ....

OK. I promised I wasn't going to write about national politics again for a while. This is the Tube City Almanac, after all, not the ... um ... the something else.

So skip this part if you like, and I'll see you Friday.

"Alert Reader" responded to Wednesday's rant, which was a screed bordering on a "tirade." (He calls it "atypical" for me, and I appreciate that.) Staying up all night to watch the election returns come in can make one ... erm ... cranky.

I was venting some frustration over Bush, who I think has been a mediocre President, and Kerry, who I think would have been a mediocre President. Your indulgence and tolerance is appreciated.

Anyway, here's part of Alert's comments:

"Four more years of 'faith-based' policies that fly in the face of science, reality and common sense?"

Come on, now, do you really want to go there? 90 percent of the American people claim to believe in God, the vast majority of them in the Christian God of the Bible. The name of God, in a general sense, is invoked in many of the founding documents of this nation and, for that matter, by the Supreme Court and Congress every day they are in session. ...

Don't we all get our instructions directly from God? If not, we should. The Ten Commandments would be a good place to start. And I believe Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and to love one another - also a great idea. Whether you believe in Jesus as Deity or not, I think that's sound advice. And while I am not a Buddhist or Confucian, there is some fine moral material to be found there, too.

I've written here that I consider myself a practicing Catholic, so I'll count myself among that clear 90 percent majority of Americans with faith.

My problems with the President's "faith-based" policies is not that they're based in his faith in God, but rather his faith in his own, narrowly-constructed world. Confronted with evidence that conflicts with his own opinions, this President buries the evidence or fires the people who brought it to him. Good leaders don't do that.

I try to read stuff that I don't agree with, because I'm interested in hearing what the other side has to say. This President brags about how he doesn't pay attention to what his opponents think. So much for being a "uniter."

As for accepting the influence of God or a higher power, I myself do, and I have no problem with the President accepting a higher power. But the President's public statements to conservative Christian publications have gone beyond the idea that he gets inspiration from the Bible; instead, he's been implying that God wants him to be President and carry out his (or is that "His"?) policies. In other words, the President says that God has selected him to be President. Didn't the kings of Europe think the same thing?

Now, as someone told me last night (when she called me to vent her frustration with both Bush and Kerry), "Either (Bush) is lying or he's delusional." She, by the way, thinks Bush is lying, not crazy. I guess that's better. (The Republic has survived lies by Presidents before --- witness LBJ, Nixon, Clinton, etc.)

(I suppose there's a third possibility --- that God, in fact, has selected Bush to be President. How one proves or disproves that is, literally, a mystery.)

Alert continues:

(I) don't think the United States is suddenly a laughingstock because Bush was re-elected, except for those people on the other side who would have us believe it is so. And if there are issues here, I don't think the faith-based issues are the ones to be concerned about. They might just even be the solution.

The "laughingstock" comment was too harsh, and it isn't the word I should have used. But our traditional allies are watching us with utter dismay. One British newspaper asked this morning, "How can 59 million Americans be so dumb?" That's not an uncommon attitude right now, worldwide.

I don't think we should be paralyzed and afraid to act in our own best interests (Kerry's discussion of a "global test" made me cringe), but as the biggest, toughest kid on the block, we do need to act with a lot more care for our neighbors.

We also need to realize that we cannot afford to act unilaterally --- the world is too big, and our power and influence are spread too thin.

As for Michael Moore, he's a dingbat. And the ACLU ... well, they scare me sometimes, but the Patriot Act scares me more. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Putting a tool as powerful as the Patriot Act into the hands of people who say they're divinely inspired makes me extremely nervous.

Anyway, to loosely quote Stephen Decatur: "My country --- may she always be in the right --- but my country, right or wrong." He's our President, and I respect that, even if I have grave reservations about his policies.

Another reader, Tom, writes:

My Democratic Party took another hit .... isn't it time we started asking some serious questions to our leadership and not blaming the opposition which is oh so easy to do these days. I would venture to say that some flexibility on one or several issues would have clenched the last two elections, however, we have let our party become what it is now and the sad part is that I don't know what it is.

I tend to agree. The national Democratic Party has insisted, for the last 20 years or so, on being the party of reaching a broad consensus, instead of setting clear goals and working toward them.

Try to get any 10 Americans to agree on what they want to eat for lunch, let alone what direction they think the country should take. It's borderline impossible.

President Bush and the national Republican Party, love 'em or hate 'em, tell you exactly where they stand, and what they're gonna do. Consensus? Phooey. You're with 'em, or you're against 'em. If you don't like the Republican Party, get out of the way.

The Democratic Party also insists on pandering to its far left wing, which wants to keep abortion legal right up until the eighth month after conception; and which is pushing for socialized medicine, among other things. Like most Americans of faith, I have some severe moral reservations about abortion, and socialized medicine would be a disaster.

In exchange for this pandering, what does the far left do for the party? It attacks the moderates, allows the party to be tarred as "too liberal," and ultimately doesn't vote for the party's candidates anyway --- they go off and support the Greens or Ralph Nader in the name of "making a protest vote." Gee, thanks, folks, for nothing.

As far as I'm concerned, it's long past time for the Democrats to write off the far left and set out some clear ideas of what kind of a party the Democratic Party is, and what it is not. Because I agree with you, Tom: I don't know where the heck the Democrats stand any more, and it's pretty obvious to me that 51 percent of the country doesn't know, either.

Thanks, Tom, and "Alert Reader," for writing.

Now, enough national politics! Back to the same old crap that you come here for: Half-witted local commentary and lame attempts at japery.

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November 03, 2004 | Link to this story

Long, Lonely Nights

Category: default || By jt3y

(Warning: This is a completely partisan, bitter rant. Back to the lighter stuff tomorrow, I promise.)

As I write this, things don't look good for Long John. Cue Lee Andrews and the Hearts at the homes of doo-wop loving Kerry voters everywhere:

"Long, long and lonely nights
I cry my eyes out over you
Wond'ring if I did right
And why you left me with a broken heart."

Well, let me see. Yawn Kerry left you with a broken heart because he ran a lousy campaign that never hammered home a consistent message. And because he wrote off the South and Midwest -- including states like Missouri and Arkansas, which he could have conceivably won.

Also, the President's re-election campaign stayed relentlessly on message and spoon-fed the press corps lie after lie after lie --- and the press corps ate it up. Way to go, Fourth Estate!

"As I go along my lonely way I visualize your face
When I pass through (yeah!) my doorway
What's left for me to face?"

Let me think about that one, too. What's left for Americans to face?

How about four more years of the gap between rich and poor growing wider? Four more years of reckless spending, with no one paying the bills? Four more years of "faith-based" policies that fly in the face of science, reality and common sense? And no end to the quagmire in Iraq, created by a President who claims that he's never made a mistake, and that he takes instructions directly from God?

Excuse me --- Lee and the Hearts continue:

"Oh, oh, oh, long, long and lonely nights
I guess you're never coming home
Long, long and lonely nights
Ever since you've been gone."

Yeah, I'm singin' that one for the Bill of Rights. I been singin' it for four years. Which reminds me --- it's time to renew my membership in the ACLU. I joined up the day the Patriot Act was signed into law.

"Please, please, come back to me
You've been gone too long."

You know what's been gone too long? Civility, decency and Christian charity. They've been gone too damn long from the Republican Party.

But why worry about such weak-kneed, sissy concepts as those, when the strategy they've been using has worked so well? Focus on God, guns and gays. "John Kerry wants to allow gays to stop you from praying and take your guns away!"

And people believe this nonsense! Barnum was right.

You know what else has been gone for too damn long? The spines of moderate Republicans. They've allowed their party to be hijacked by the Flat Earth Society, just as the far-left hijacked the Democrats in the 1970s and '80s.

Other thoughts before I crawl into a beer bottle for the night:

-- The voter fraud in this election stinks out loud. Where the Democratic strategy was to mobilize voters at all costs, the Republican strategy was to stop Democratic voters from voting. Nice guys finish last.

-- If the Democrats can gain a majority in Congress --- and after watching this travesty unfold for the past eight months, I don't think they could successfully organize a fart at a bean-eating contest --- I look for some major investigations to be launched against the President's re-election campaign. The same patterns of arrogance and abuse of power that led to the Watergate scandal are evident in the Bush White House.

-- The lies and calumny slung by Republican party operatives, from the Not-So-Swift Boat Veterans to the right's water-carriers on TV and radio, were astonishing in their brazenness. Yet they were never effectively rebutted by the Democrats. At all. The Democrats allowed the opposition to lob big festering stink bombs at them, and then tut-tutted while everyone else was trying not to retch from the odor, instead of throwing the stink bombs back at the opposition.

-- President Dubya successfully turned this election into a referendum on his challenger instead of allowing Kerry to make it a referendum on his re-election. That speaks to the truly remarkable incompetence of the Kerry campaign.

-- This also speaks to the truly remarkable incompetence of Kerry's campaign: Kerry was running against a president who lost the popular vote in 2000, started an unpopular war, and turned a huge surplus into a huge deficit. Had he run a decent campaign, it would never have been close.

-- The fact that Kerry couldn't put a decent campaign together should give one pause about his ability to run the United States of America.

-- The much-vaunted youth vote that the Kerry camp was counting on stayed home in droves, as anyone with half a brain could have predicted. Young people don't vote. Maybe they'll vote in the next election --- while they're sitting on the Humvees in Iraq, Iran or North Korea.

Do I sound bitter?

Pardon my language, but you're goddamn right I am.

The United States of America --- a country that I love, a country that I would gladly volunteer to defend if they would have taken me, a country that I think is the greatest country in the world --- is right now a laughingstock.

And a large percentage of Americans want to send back to the White House the people who have harmed my country so badly through their arrogance and ignorance.

If you believe in prayer, please pray for the United States of America. It's going to need all of the prayers it can get.

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November 02, 2004 | Link to this story

Vote Early, and Vote Often

Category: default || By jt3y

Voting for the first time today? Take ID.

Voting for the first time in a new precinct? Take ID.

You say you already have a voter registration card, and it says right on it that it's sufficient ID? It doesn't matter. Take another ID.

When I moved to North Bittyburg, a suburb of Our Fair City, earlier this year, I changed my voter registration to the new address. This morning, I went to my new polling place for the first time and handed over my voter registration card.

"It says 'ID Required,'" the judge of elections told me after looking up my registration information in her binder. Sure enough, "ID REQUIRED" was stamped over my name and on several other names --- presumably newly registered voters, or voters who recently moved.

Neither she nor the polling place inspectors could decide whether the voter registration card was adequate.

Keep in mind that on the back of the card, it says, in capital letters, "YOU SHOULD KEEP THIS CARD ON YOUR PERSON ... IT IS IDENTIFICATION OF YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE AT YOUR NEW ELECTION DISTRICT, DIVISION OR PRECINCT. Under the law you must present a form of identification to the election officials on Election Day the first time you vote in a new election district, division or precinct. This card is an acceptable form of identification."

Under the "Help America Vote Act" --- the half-hearted attempt by the U.S. Congress to prevent a rerun of the 2000 Florida debacle --- states are allowed to request ID from voters. The idea, of course, is to prevent people from registering multiple times, or registering fictitious names.

The problem, of course, is that this is the first presidential election since "HAVA" was enacted, and there is bound to be some confusion.

Luckily for me, I had remembered to bring a wage tax stub, a phone bill and an electric bill, all with the new address on them. (My state driver's license still lists my old address --- the update card hasn't arrived yet.) The judge of elections complimented me on my "efficiency." (That made my day, although I admit I'm easily amused.)

So if you're voting for the first time, or you've recently moved, take ID with you. A utility bill, a photo ID, or a paystub are all sufficient, according to the inspectors.

And be grateful you're not living in Florida or Ohio, where Republicans are going to make concerted efforts to challenge voters in heavily Democratic areas to prove they're eligible to vote. They're challenging up to 10,000 new registrations in Pennsylvania, according to Dennis Roddy in the Post-Gazette.

Please note that as far as I know, the Democratic Party is not sending poll watchers to, say, Sewickley Heights, Mount Lebanon or Fox Chapel to challenge voters to prove that they're eligible to cast ballots. But if they do, and you hear about it, please feel free to let me know.

I mention that strictly in the name of being fair and balanced. God bless America!


Election turnout at North Bittyburg Ward 3, Precinct 1, where I vote, wasn't particularly heavy --- I was voter number 40, as of 7:45 a.m. --- but business was expected to be brisk across the region, according to Pat Cloonan in The Daily News:

Four out of every five registered voters are anticipated at polls as the Mon-Yough region joins the rest of the nation in the 2004 general election. The biggest contests to be considered between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. tomorrow are, of course, the presidential contest and Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race that could help decide which party controls that segment of Congress.

But three other statewide races are on tomorrow's ballot, not to mention a wide range of contests for U.S. House and both houses of Pennsylvania's General Assembly. There are seven local contests on ballots in Mon-Yough communities.

Four out of five --- 80 percent --- seems unusually high to me, but that's what Mark Wolosik, manager of the Allegheny County elections division, has predicted, and he's been pretty close in years past. According to Jeff Cohan in the P-G, that would be the highest turnout since 1984, when 85 percent of registered voters went to the polls; and since then, "motor-voter" laws have swelled the ranks of eligible voters.


Speaking of voting, I am following the lead of Gov. "Fast Eddie" Rendell and extending the deadline for you to vote for your favorite Mon-Yough area attractions and recreations until Nov. 8. The submittor of the best attraction or recreation will receive their choice of any item 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.


Finally this morning, "Wyke's" editorial cartoon in the University of Pittsburgh's student newspaper, The Pitt News, sums up my feelings nicely:

(Standard disclaimer: I do not speak on behalf of Pitt, blah blah blah.)

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November 01, 2004 | Link to this story

60 CCs of Admiration, Stat!

Category: default || By jt3y

On Friday, with a couple of hundred other people, I went to Mount Alvernia High School's auditorium in Millvale to see the Class of 2004 graduate from the St. Margaret School of Nursing.

Among the graduates was my mom.

I rarely write about my family, but in this case I can't help it. There are many different kinds of courage and bravery --- firefighters who dive into burning buildings; soldiers, sailors and Marines who volunteer to go off to war; people who break down restrictions in the name of civil rights.

Nursing school doesn't have any particular physical dangers, I suppose (you're unlikely to get shot at, although one of my mother's classmates did fall and break an ankle). Nevertheless, it takes a lot of courage to give up your full-time job and mortgage your house to go back to school at (mumblety-mumble) years old, with absolutely no guarantee --- save your own initiative --- that you'll come out the other side with a degree.

And it wasn't easy for her. Nursing, as you might expect, is a demanding field, and the training is designed to weed out all but the most qualified. After all, you literally often have the lives of your patients in your hands while making observations, administering medication and assisting doctors. The lazy, the sloppy and the uncaring need not apply.

But besides the academic rigors, my mom faced a couple of specific challenges that would have derailed someone with less fortitude, including a bout with ill health and a couple of bullies (as far as I could determine, young RNs who resented her) who tried to push her out of the program.

She's not out of the woods yet. She's been hired at one of the local hospitals already, but she still has to pass the state licensing test --- and now, she wants to go on and get her bachelor's degree. I don't know if I'd have that kind of gumption.

Lots of people say their parents are their heroes. I'm sure they're sincere, even if it's become something of a cliche. I've always admired and loved my mom, but it's no knee-jerk reaction for me to say she's my hero --- she's earned that respect. Way to go, mom!


In a related matter, I did something on Friday I usually try to avoid; I shopped at Wal-Mart. I wanted to find a "gag gift" for mom's graduation party, and thought either a toy nurse's kit or the board game "Operation" would be funny. Where else can you go for cheap toys?

Let me start by saying the toy department at Wal-Mart is frighteningly large. Wal-Mart in and of itself is too damned big, which is one of many reasons (their predatory employment and procurement practices are two others) that I avoid Wal-Mart at all costs. I must have wandered the aisles for a half-hour looking for what I wanted.

Second, is there any toy made today that doesn't come with a licensed character attached? They don't have dress-up costumes for little girls who want to play "princess," they have "The Disney Princesses" and "Barbie" princess outfits. They don't have "Operation," they have "Special Edition Shrek Operation."

Third, toys no longer require any imagination at all. Each toy comes with a specific, scripted function, usually tied to some TV show or movie. You don't buy a mere toy car --- you buy a "Limited Edition Bratz Hummer." You don't get a box of building blocks that you can turn into anything you want --- you get a Lego "Star Wars" Playset that builds one, and one thing only. (You can "Build The Story!" according to the package, and if you deviate from the story, presumably George Lucas comes to your house and takes all of your blocks back from you.)

Finally, Wal-Mart is featuring a disturbing number of role-playing toys designed for low-wage service jobs. Instead of policeman, cowboy, teacher, doctor and firefighter playsets, there were "cashier" and "cook" playsets for several different fast-food chains, including McDonald's (which, of course, usually puts restaurants inside Wal-Marts).

What are the messages that we're sending kids by giving them these toys? Only buy things with approved, licensed brand names from large multinational corporations; and prepare yourself for a career flipping burgers. Good Lord!

I realize I'm sounding like a old fogey, but I long for the days of nice, peaceful toys like plastic machine guns and lawn darts.

I eventually found a toy doctor's kit. God bless the Fisher-Price people; they're still turning out lumpy, hard plastic interpretations of stethoscopes, hypodermic needles and other items, neatly packaged for $13.99.


From the Tube City Almanac's National Affairs Desk, comes this object lesson: If you can't win honestly, then cheat.

In South Carolina, there's no poll tax any more, but that hasn't stopped more creative miscreants:

A bogus letter circulating in South Carolina, purporting to be from the NAACP, threatens the arrest of voters who have outstanding parking tickets or failed to pay child support. The NAACP said Friday the letter is a scare tactic and called for an investigation. ... The letter also says voters must have a credit check, provide two forms of photo identification, a Social Security card, a voter registration card and a handwriting sample.

Out west in Ohio, anyone registered to vote by the NAACP or liberal groups is ineligible, according to a B.S. letter sent out by some nitwit (apparently, anyone registered by the Republican Party would be OK). (LawGeek via DailyKos).

Down in West Hoopieland, Republican Party officials are calling voters in a heavily Democratic area and telling them them they're not properly registered to vote. A GOP spokeswoman tells the NBC affiliate in Hagerstown that they were just trying "to make sure everyone is registered to vote."

Uh, right. Now tell me about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

At least nothing like that is happening in Western Pennsylvania, right, Mark Wolosik, Allegheny County manager of elections?

County Elections Manager Mark Wolosik said he has sent five fraud complaints to the county police so far, all involving young voters who were re-registered as Republicans through deception. In a letter sent this week, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has advised security chiefs at the county's colleges and universities to forward additional complaints of voter-registration fraud to Moffatt. ...

(An) official-looking but thoroughly humorous notice, posted at Ross Park Mall ... suggests Democrats should wait until Nov. 3 to vote. "Due to the immense voter turnout that is expected on Tuesday, Nov. 2, the state of Pennsylvania has requested an extended voting period," states the faux notice, printed on letterhead with the Allegheny County seal.

The notice states that Republicans will vote on Tuesday, while Democrats will vote on Wednesday.

Don't tell me that Democrats are doing the same thing, because as far as I can tell, they aren't. And neither Richard J. Daley stealing votes in Illinois in 1960, nor Lyndon Johnson stealing votes in Texas in 1940, counts. That was then, this is now; you might as well bring up the Peloponnesian Wars.

But you know, Kerry looks French! And his wife talks funny!


By the way, if you aren't registered to vote in Pennsylvania, it's too late now. Ha ha on you!

If you are, the polls open tomorrow at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. It's more than a "right," it's a privilege and a responsibility! Don't let a little rain discourage you.

Here's more information for residents of Allegheny County, Westmoreland, and Washington. (Westmoreland and Washington have polling place locations on their Web sites; Allegheny, backwards as always, doesn't.)

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