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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

December 30, 2004 | Link to this story

Slacking, Day 4

Category: default || By jt3y

I apologize. Truly. To all of the people who've sent me Christmas cards (or are those Chrismakwanukah cards?) this year. There's a whole passel of them up on top of the refrigerator right now, and I was touched by all of them. And since I know several of the people who sent them also read this tripe (whether out of pity or morbid curiosity, it's hard to say), I thought I'd just issue a group apology right now.

I meant this year to send Christmas cards out. I really did. Not two feet from the keyboard I'm using to write this Almanac sits two boxes of American Greetings Christmas cards that I purchased in early December, fully planning to send them out. In the upper right drawer of this desk is a book of Christmas stamps.

Has one Christmas card been sent?

No. And the stamps with the old-fashioned Santa Claus ornaments will be used to send payments to the gas company and Duquesne Light for months to come, I'm sure.

It's not that I'm an arrogant jerk. Well, I am, but this isn't necessarily proof. I am hopelessly disorganized, however. And I've never sat down and actually made out a Christmas card list --- compiling names and addresses --- until it's too late to send them. Every year, I make a solemn vow: This year, as Burl Ives is my witness, I will send out Christmas wishes to my friends and family!

And do they go out?

Well, when I moved this summer, I found four boxes of unopened Christmas cards that I had purchased on two previous years, so what do you think the answer is?

Next year, I promise, things will be different. I've been clipping the return addresses off of the cards I've gotten so far and putting them into a basket. That will put me so much farther ahead on making my list, I figure. Ha! How's that for genius?

Anyone want to bet I lose the basket before Russian Orthodox Christmas?

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December 29, 2004 | Link to this story

Slacking, Day 3

Category: default || By jt3y

Being off during the day gives me a chance to do many things that I don't otherwise get to do. Like exercising, fixing up things around the house, and donating time to charities.

Oh, hell, who am I kidding? I'm staying up late, sleeping 'til 11 and reading a lot.

Currently, I'm reading a two-volume history of the United States called The Glory and the Dream by William Manchester, which covers the years between the Great Depression and the end of the Vietnam War. I picked up the books --- long out of print --- at the flea market, and it's probably the best $2 I've ever spent.

In fact, I'm enjoying these books more than many books I've paid full list price for. This is great stuff, even if Manchester's ability as a historian has been questioned over the years (particularly in regard to his book on the assassination of JFK). Indeed, there are a couple of glaring factual flubs in The Glory and the Dream, but none that have detracted from my enjoyment of the prose, or of Manchester's analysis of various events. More about that at a later date.

Among other things I've had time to do has been to tune into Lynn Cullen's always enjoyable talk show on WPTT (1360). Hard to believe that I've been listening to her for nearly 20 years, and I'm not sure she would want to be reminded of it, either.

While I tend to agree with Lynn politically, I enjoy her program more when she's not talking politics. Yesterday, she spent the last hour of the program talking to callers about words that they habitually mispronounced before being corrected. One caller, a retired telephone operator, recalled trying to place a long-distance call for someone to Tuscan. It took several minutes before someone figured out that she was trying to put the call through to Tucson. Someone else reported trying to take a trip to "Yosa-mite" National Park.

Another caller reported that until her teens, she thought that the condition that left someone feeling nervous and uneasy was pronounced "an-EX-it-ee." That's enough to leave one feeling anxious.

It reminded me that years ago, when parking Downtown in Our Fair City was still at a premium, that cars along part of Market Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues were required to park on a diagonal against the curb.

And a relative, who shall remain nameless, spotted the sign in front of Immanuel United Presbyterian Church and said, "Look! Isn't that cute! It says 'Angel Parking Only.'"

You guessed it. It actually said angle parking.

When I was a little tad, I can recall insisting that the name of the big car dealer out on Eden Park Boulevard, where my dad purchased his Impala hardtop, was pronounced Dever-ROCKS. Sacrebleu! Obviously, I wasn't paying close attention to the jingles that ran on the radio: "Get a Chevie from Devie, Dever-ROW Chevrolet!"

And why shouldn't a car named for a French guy have been sold by a guy with a French name like "Deveraux"?

So, as angle-ic choirs sing out above Tuscan, Arizona; Yosamite; and all of the other parts of the world, let us remember the words of our President, who says: "And so during these holiday seasons, we thank our blessings."

Indeed. God help us ... er, I mean, bless us, every one!

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December 28, 2004 | Link to this story

Slacking, Day 2

Category: default || By jt3y

So I ran out of windshield-washer fluid for the sleek, gray Mercury, and didn't have time to get to the auto parts store. Well, what's washer fluid but Windex, right? Or so I thought. And I tossed a bottle of Windex (actually, the Austin's equivalent) in the car, and when the windshield became too dirty to see through, I simply spritzed it with the window cleaner and turned on the wipers.

Pretty clever, eh? At least I thought it was, for a day or two.

Except that the leading ingredient in most household window cleaners is ammonia, and eventually, the ammonia ran down into the fresh-air vents under the windshield. Which means every time I turned on the heater, the inside of the car smelled like ... well ... cat whiz.

So, I washed the car today. Also, I went to the hardware store and got some windshield washer fluid.

Now, aren't you glad you bookmarked this site?

I thought not.

In the News, Celanie Polanick writes that Allegheny County is considering the construction of skateboarding areas at Boyce Park in Monroeville and at North and South parks:

The 15,000-square-foot facility in South Park will contain ramps, curbs, bowls and boxes. It is slated to be built near a heavily traveled foot path, picnic shelters, a large paved play area, playgrounds and a parking lot, and will be visible from Corrigan Drive. No major environmental changes are expected to take place when changes are implemented, the plan states.

The two other facilities will be of similar size, and all will be built with space around them for possible expansion if they're successful, Baechle said. Financial backing has already been secured through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Allegheny County Health Department and the Regional Asset District and capital budget rollovers, but the plans are still in the design phase, and there's a lot of red tape still to cut, Baechle said.

I wish this plan rots of ruck, but some how, I doubt that skateboarders are going to be willing to travel out to South Park to shred.

Celanie writes that small boroughs and townships are often concerned about providing designated skateboarding areas for fear that if someone is injured, the municipality will be held liable. One business owner in Elizabeth Borough is advocating the construction of a skate park there, if the money can be raised.

She quotes the 12-year-old son of borough council, who says he's been "kicked out of some places, but he and his friends try not to trespass."

"I think the skateboarders get a bad rap because they sometimes have long hair and jeans and the defiant attitude of an extreme sport," his father tells the News. "I think 50 to 70 percent of them are misunderstood."

Actually, that's not the reason why. The reason that people are hostile toward skateboarders is that they do cause property damage, particularly to curbs and walls. I noticed that my employer recently installed metal clips every few feet on the edges of all of the outside stairwells, curbs, flower boxes and low walls around several buildings to discourage skateboarders from riding along the edges of them. Skateboard trucks dig into the edges, leaving ugly gashes and scars; I've seen several buildings where marble steps or walls have suffered serious damage.

Having come out against tagging a few months ago, I realize I'm an old fart, but there's nothing here that's "misunderstood." Too many skateboarders --- maybe a minority, but a noticeable number --- cause expensive property damage while riding.

(And by the way, watch for upcoming installments of the Almanac in which I complain about the kids with all their hippity-hop music, Frisbees that land in my yard, and the people of Whoville.)

Again, I wish the county and Elizabeth Borough success, and I hope they do create safe places for people to skateboard.

I just doubt that it's going to cut down on the property damage, or that people are going to use them; as the mayor points out in Polanick's story, Elizabeth did create a skateboarding area in the borough's riverfront park, only to find out that kids weren't using it, "because it didn't afford the kids the opportunity to show off their skills in public."

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December 27, 2004 | Link to this story

Slacking, Day 1

Category: default || By jt3y

Actually, I'm not completely slacking. But the weekend was a blur, and I didn't have the time Sunday to blow an Almanac entry out of my ... I mean, to finely craft the kind of high-quality Almanac rantings to which you, the loyal reader, have become accustomed.

Just one quick note today: Last week, I made several references to Christmakwanukah --- the attempt to shmear together Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. (And a tip of the Tube City hard hat to Alycia, who first gave me the idea.

Well, William Randolph Hearst said that "truth is not only stranger than fiction, it's much more popular." I was astonished to pick up Thursday's Valley Mirror, Christmakwanukah isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. Greeting card companies are marketing Chrismukkah cards.

The Associated Press had more on the story (via the Akron Beacon-Journal):

Every December, Zack Rudman and his wife used to send out nonsectarian cards with winter scenes and generic holiday greetings.

Now, the Kansas City lawyer has found a line of cards more suited to a Jewish man and an Episcopal woman with two young children as familiar with the menorah as with a manger scene.

These cards proclaim: ``Merry Chrismukkah!''

Christmas and Hanukkah, two holidays that seem to share little more than a calendar page, are being melded on greeting cards aimed at the country's estimated 2.5 million families with both Jewish and Christian members.

``It's representative of the way people live and the way they spend the holidays,'' said Elise Okrend, an owner of MixedBlessing, a Raleigh, N.C., card company devoted to interfaith holiday greetings. ``And it's an expression of people understanding the people around them.''

MixedBlessing came out with holiday cards intended for Jewish-Christian families about 15 years ago and may be the only company focusing entirely on that market segment.

In its first year, it sold about 3,000 cards. This year, Okrend projects sales of 200,000 off its 55-card line.

Hallmark Cards Inc. says one of its most popular categories of Hanukkah cards combined Jewish and Christian themes. ... American Greetings Corp. had about 10 Hanukkah-Christmas lines this year.

Still, that's not the best blended display of holiday wishes I've seen so far this year. I passed a house in Port Vue this weekend that featured a giant lighted Nativity scene in the front yard. And instead of wise men, Santa and the reindeer were visiting.

Umm, he's "Saint Nicholas," right? Which means that he couldn't actually have been a saint before the birth of Christ, right?

That grinding sound you hear is a paradigm shifting without a clutch.

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December 24, 2004 | Link to this story

Going From Bad to Verse

Category: default || By jt3y

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Commercialized cheer made me want to get soused.
I'd tired of false spirit that panders and sickens,
Flogging corpses of Charlies (both Schulz and Dickens).

The neighbors' houses, with decorations so bright,
Ensured that I wouldn't sleep well tonight.
A book in my lap, and a beer in my mitt,
I'd just settled in for a long winter's snit.

When out in the alley there arose such a ruckus,
I climbed from my lounge chair to see who the schmuck was.
I pulled up my pants and stuck toes in my shoes,
And grabbed up my ball bat to give him the news.

Yet what would my bloodshot eyes now reveal,
But a Chrysler Imperial with an old man at the wheel.
With a Camel in his mouth, he was flicking his Bic,
How was I to know that this was St. Nick?

While his long white beard was quite plain to see,
He shook when he coughed like he might have TB.
Then the jolly old elf finally got his smoke lit,
And said, "It's a disgusting habit, but I'm trying to quit."

His car held the clue that he was Kringle because,
It had Nunavut plates with just one word: CLAUS.
"Your car's cherry," I said, "and I think it's neato,
"But Santa, good man, why go incognito?"

Sighing, he said, "I've checked my list twice,
"But see here: Christmas can't come with a price,
"Some how you've lost our perspective, I fear,
"You're spending and buying too much every year.

"So I'm driving the U.S. with deliberate speed,
"To see if there's anything that folks really need.
"I've decided that I'm cutting way back, and fast,
"If things don't change, this trip is my last."

Astonished, I fell down, which was a mistake,
'Cause my seat collided with the tines of a rake.
Grabbing my end, I leapt in the air,
Crying, "Santa, what led you to feel such despair?"

"You're wasting your money on overpriced toys,
"They'll be broken by New Year's by the girls and the boys,
"Video games with violence and blood,
"Marking the birth of the Savior with crud,

"Pardon me now if I speak with presumption,
"And I regret if I've helped fuel your consumption,
"But the sight of the malls makes me want to barf.
"It's family that counts, your home and your hearth,

"Not the price of the gift, or the style of the wrap,
"Give your family a hug, instead of some crap,
"Tell your grandpa and grandma that you really care,
"Don't send them both sweaters that they'll never wear.

"Christmas isn't a time to show off your wealth,
"It's not only sinful, it's bad for your health.
"The credit card debts cause nothing but stress,
"And charging those gifts makes your budget a mess."

The Chrysler started to miss, and he gave it some gas,
Then said, "Look at the time! I'd best move my ass,
"I've got to get back to my North Pole lair,
"The reindeer and sleigh are waiting up there."

"But Santa," said I, "If our attitudes must shift,
"Then what are you giving to us as a gift?"
He coughed out some smoke, and said, smiling with mirth,
"Just a heartfelt note that says, 'Peace on Earth.'"

Then dropping the Torque-Flite down into big "D,"
He laid a little rubber and waved "bye" to me.
"To Glassport! To Port Vue! To Liberty and Lincoln!
"To Elizabeth and Clairton (hope the coke works aren't stinkin')!

"Your Fair City and White Oak, West Mifflin, Gill Hall,
"Whitaker, Homestead, Duquesne and Munhall,
"To the length of the Mon and the Yough from its mouth,
"To all the Versailles: North, borough and South,

"To North Huntingdon Township, Manor, and Trafford,
"To Wilmerding Borough, Mon City and Forward,
"To Pitcairn and Braddock, and of course, Turtle Creek,
"May next year bring all of you the joy that you seek!"

And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
"Is Route 837 to the left or the right?"

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December 23, 2004 | Link to this story

More Humbug, More Often

Category: default || By jt3y

Let's cut the figgy pudding, people. The best thing about Dec. 25 is that on Dec. 26, I won't have to listen to another danged Christmas carol for at least 11 months.

Most Christmas music is treacle. I'm sorry, but fair's fair. There are only so many bad pop singles that I can take in a day anyway. I have an even lower tolerance for pop singers warbling heartfelt interpretations of crummy tunes with insipid lyrics to the accompaniment of sleigh bells.

Yes, let's admit it: Most Christmas songs are awful, and they're not improved when some washed-up pop has-been covers them.

Think I'm wrong? Well, what Christmas song has ever been a hit outside of Christmastime? That's right, none. And before you say "Big 'duh,' no one wants to listen to Christmas music outside of Christmastime," well, nothing has prevented songs about summertime from being played on the radio all year long, has it?

Otherwise, The Beach Boys (speaking of groups that turned out execrable Christmas music, they're one of them) wouldn't have had a career at all, would they? Actually, it's hard to find a downside to that thought. But I digress.

Now, before you begin thinking that I'm a complete heartless, cruel, evil person, well, you're right --- but it's not as if I go around dumping cauldrons of boiling oil on carolers, or flipping the bird to children's choir. I'm perfectly willing to listen to traditional Christmas music sung by talented (or even untalented) amateurs. It has its place at community celebrations, or in worship services. I've even been known to sing along, and I've heard my singing described as "perfect." (Once, a vocal coach, upon hearing me sing, said, "I've never heard anyone do such a perfect rendition of a sick moose making love to an air-raid siren.")

I just can't take pretentious pop hackery masquerading as seasonal cheer. In fact, there a few Christmas songs that are instant turnoffs for me. If they come on the radio, I instantly change the station; if they're playing on the PA system in a store where I'm shopping, I will leave until they're over. I despise them that much.

James Lileks had similar thoughts in his column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune a few weeks ago. But he was much too polite, if that can be believed. I have no such constraints.

The all-time, King Kahuna of Krappy Khristmas Karols is "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," by Elmo & Patsy. I thought it was only marginally funny the first time I heard it, and I was eight or nine at the time. It's one supposedly "ironic" joke --- "Ha! Ha! Grandma's dead! And she got run over by Santa Claus!" --- is repeated endlessly by people affecting fake hick accents.

Or maybe they're not faking. Maybe they are hicks.

Either way, "Grandma" has become less and less funny with each successive playing, so that at this point, it actually sucks the funny out of other things that it's placed near. Experts indicate that it would take the entire combined writing staffs of Mad, The Onion and National Lampoon and the cast of Monty Python, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, up to five years to repair the funny deficit created by 20 years of radio airplay of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer."

Also, "Elmo & Patsy" were a real married couple who divorced after the song became a hit. All I can say is, good for 'em.

But there's no shortage of other records that are fished out of the garbage after Thanksgiving and pushed through the tinsel-flecked maw of commercial radio. No list of rotten pop Christmas records is complete, in my never-humble opinion, without including "Christmas (Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time)," by Paul McCartney.

"The choir of children sing their song. They practiced all year long. Ding dong, ding dong. Ding dong, ding dong. Ding dong, ding dong. Simply having a wonderful Christmas time. Simply having a wonderful Christmas time. Simply having a wonderful Christmas time. Simply having a wonderful Christmas time." Brilliant lyrics, eh? It makes you suspect that Ringo was the talented one.

The British royal family knighted this "ding dong," which explains everything you need to know about the decline and fall of the British Empire in the second half of the 20th century.

This song debuted in 1979, and you can understand why nihilism and double-digit unemployment characterized the UK during the late '70s. People in England heard this piece of krep and said, "Well, there's no point trying to maintain a high standard of living now."

It's pretty clear that when it comes to The Beatles, the whole was more than the sum of the parts. In this early '60s, the raw sound of early Beatles records jumped out from the pretentious, over-produced sludge that many producers were shoveling into the marketplace.

So what happened? After the Beatles broke up, John Lennon and Paul McCartney started producing pretentious, over-produced sludge like "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" and Lennon's piece of trite hackery, "Happy Christmas (War is Over)."

"And so this is Christmas, for weak and for strong, for rich and the poor ones, the road is so long, and so Happy Christmas, for black and for white, for yellow and red ones, let's stop all the fight." Gee, thanks John Lennon, for taking a brave stand against war and discrimination! To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, it takes a lot of courage to speak out in public against things that everyone is already against. You've shown us all the light.

With that in mind, I reserve a special load of coal for the stockings of all of the members of "Band Aid," for inflicting "Do They Know It's Christmas?" onto the public in 1984. Why should it surprise anyone that Paul Bleedin' McCartney was involved in this travesty?

This piece of crapola also required the talents of Bananarama, Culture Club, Duran Duran, The Eurythmics, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Spandau Ballet and Wham! I don't know if "Do They Know It's Christmas?" hastened the decline of their careers, but it would serve them right if it did.

Oh, but you say Band Aid generated thousands of dollars in food and medical supplies for Ethiopia? Hey, guess what? McCartney, Bob Geldof and Phil Collins, who were also involved with this project, are multi-billionaires. If they really wanted to help, they could have bought Ethiopia. Pop stars can save their false piety.

At least there's no phony charity or preachy message in "Feliz Navidad," Jose Feliciano's contribution to the worst music of the season. "I want to wish you a Merry Christmas. I want to wish you a Merry Christmas. I want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart." Lather, rinse, repeat. Boy, you really burned the midnight oil writing those lyrics, eh, Jose?

Maybe it sounds better en espanol. Or, maybe it sounds better when it's just not trilled through the nose of Jose Feliciano. But frankly, I don't intend to find out.

Lileks suggests that any Christmas music produced after 1965 should be burned. There's something to that. If forced to listen to pop Christmas music, I enjoy Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Phil Spector's 1963 "A Christmas Gift to You!" (Anything by Phil Spector is Number One With a Bullet, as they say. Heigh-yo!)

But frankly, I'll be happy to wake up on Boxing Day and be free to turn on my radio and find it free of Christmas music. Instead, it will be nothing but right-wing talk show hosts still ranting about John Kerry two months after the election; endless commercials for colon cleansers, car dealers and erectile dysfunction pills; and burned-out "classic" rock tunes.

Come to think of it, I may start to miss the Christmas music.

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December 22, 2004 | Link to this story

Bits 'n Bytes

Category: default || By jt3y

A big announcement rocked the Western Pennsylvania media world overnight. A man who's become a fixture on the local scene announced he was stepping aside to get on with his life's work; he's been controversial at times, but I've very much admired his spirit and fearlessness.

No, not that guy, I'm talking about Dave Copeland:

Today marks the end of my nearly three year experiment with the personal blog. ... Blogs are the new email, and I do not want to be one of those annoying people who forwards you the same cute message, link or scam that all the other annoying people have already sent you. Silence is increasingly golden, especially in a world where anyone can have their own electronic column.

I will miss it --- and especially the great people who have emailed, left comments or just been generally supportive of the whole thing. And I won’t stop blogging; but future blogs will be focused and have a purpose beyond the reckless self-promotion that characterized this blog.

Personally, I have no plans to stop being an annoying person, so I'm going to keep doing this as long as possible. Tube City Online has been around since 1995, but the Almanac is only about 18 months old. I started it because when I left daily journalism, I needed something to force myself to write every day. (I've come to detest the word "blog." This is more of a free local newspaper column that doesn't rub off on your hands. Of course, you can't take it into the john either, although some people say that at least you could put it behind you that way. But I digress.)

As I've mentioned before, Dave's site has been something of an inspiration to me --- reading his stuff back in ought-two definitely convinced me that I should be doing something similar. And while Dave and I have very different writing styles and interests, like him, I am and remain a "surly (bad word)."

So, although I'll miss his daily musings, I salute him, and wish him well on several exciting new ventures; among them, his new site called Freelance Daily, and his book project.

Just be grateful this isn't an audio blog, because then, I'd be singing this:

And now, the end is near
And so we face the final bloggage,
Where once, he felt inspired,
Now views his page as dismal cloggage.
Yet still, he writes with style ---
Which is to say, not in a news way,
But more, much more than this:
He did it Dave's way ...

Thank you! Thank you very much! Groupies always welcome!


In the news in the News: Pat Cloonan last week had community reaction to the announcement that Rev. Paul Bradley, a Glassport native, was being elevated to auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

"Glassport was a wonderful community in those days, and still is," said the son of the late John and Cecelia Bradley. "The focus of our life very much was the church, St. Cecelia's parish in Glassport. Our family was very involved in the life of the parish and it became a part of our family existence." ...

The family ties aren't intertwined quite as much these days in Glassport - of Bradley's seven siblings and 12 nieces and nephews, only one niece is still there, a member of Queen of the Rosary who lives with her family along Monongahela Avenue.

But there are other Mon-Yough ties for the bishop-elect, a member of boards of McKeesport's Auberle and its Pauline Auberle Foundation.


In other business, I've been trying to avoid TV news --- I've damaged too many TV sets from throwing old shoes at them --- but I happened to catch KDKA's 10 p.m. cast the other night.

What do you suppose was the headline on a story about the woman who was murdered by someone who then stole her unborn baby?


Good grief. I'm not sure that even the New York Post would use a headline like that. KDKA has entered National Enquirer territory. Somewhere, Bill Burns is hyperventilating.


From the Tube City Almanac's National Affairs Desk, Department of Radio Monitoring, comes word of this report on National Public Radio about President Bush's press conference the other day. The NPR correspondent said that the President was "surprisingly frank" in assessing the difficult situation in Iraq, and noted that the substance of his remarks differed substantially from what he was saying a few months ago; namely, that the war in Iraq was going well, and that freedom was on the march.

"What changed?" the NPR talking head asked another talking head.

Gee, like her, I wonder what changed? Before the election, everything in Iraq was going so well, according to the President and his advisors. Boy oh boy, this is indeed a stumper. I may need to think about this puzzle for a while.

More on the press conference that wasn't:

The president got a tad petulant when fielding questions on Social Security. His emphatic response to any and all queries about his position on the subject was an indignant, righteous refusal to answer: “You’re not going to get me to negotiate with myself,” he repeatedly told the perplexed reporters. “I know what you’re trying to get me to do. You’re trying to get me to answer ‘Why this,’ ‘why that,’ to take positions -- don’t bother to ask me.” (Sam Rosenfeld, The American Prospect)

The nerve of these liberal hacks! Going to a press conference and thinking they can ask questions of the President! And expecting him to take positions on issues! Who do they think he is, a world leader or something?

One might wonder that if 51 percent of Americans thought this guy was a better choice for President than Yawn Kerry, then just how incompetent and useless of a candidate was Kerry?

"Pretty darned incompetent and useless," comes the obvious response.


Internet time-wasters: Michael Jackson's "Thriller," re-enacted in Lego blocks, and Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," done in thirty seconds by bunnies. (For the first one, you'll need to open that link in Windows Media Player, for the second, you'll need a built-in Flash player.)

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December 21, 2004 | Link to this story

Hey, Diogenes, Get a Load of This

Category: default || By jt3y

The Christmakwanukah# lights in our neighborhood began to appear before Thanksgiving, but as of last weekend, it's been like living on the Vegas strip. One house literally has enough lights on it that you can read a newspaper classified section off of the glow at night. Another has a giant inflatable Chilly Willy the penguin. (At least it looks like Chilly Willy, sitting on his igloo and wearing a toque, although I don't see Maxie the Polar Bear anywhere, and frankly, most penguins look alike to me.)

Wal-Mart or Pool City must have had a sale on animated light-up choo-choo trains, because three houses have identical light-up choo-choo trains, "puffing" clouds of smoke (actually, blinking lights). Two houses that are next to one another, in fact, have those choo-choo trains, running at top speed all night long.

Wouldn't you think that one of those homeowners, when they realized that the people next door had the same animated train on their lawn, would have been embarrassed enough to return their choo-choo to the store and exchange it for something else? Isn't it something like showing up at a party in the exact same clothes as someone else? Or at the very least, couldn't they have pooled their resources and put the two choo-choos together to make a longer train?

In any event, my neighbors must think I'm a Communist, or at least the neighborhood atheist. I don't have a single light or ornament or red velvet bow or giant plastic candy cane or anything outside. Supposedly, the fellow from whom I bought the house left strings of lights for me up in the attic, but I've neither the time nor the strong inclination to go up and look for them.

And if I do have time before Christmas to find the lights and toss a few strings of twinkle lights outside, you can be darned sure I'm not outlining the whole house. A few lights in the bushes are sufficient. They're like sprinkles on a doughnut. Just as I don't want to sit down and eat an entire bowl of sprinkles, I don't want to drape my house in Christmakwanukah lights.

It's not that I'm against Christmakwanukah lights in general. I kind of like a little festive holiday decorating. But there's a fine line between "festive holiday decorating" and erecting the kind of light displays that change the habits of migratory birds.

It's gaudy. It's excessive. It's tacky. It's borderline profane.

In other words, I suppose it's quintessentially American.

The funny thing is that I don't remember anyone --- at least in my little part of the Mon-Yough area --- going this nuts with Christmakwanukah lights when I was a kid. There are probably a number of reasons for that. First, strings of lights have become much, much cheaper; and then again, I grew up just as the economy of the Mon Valley was collapsing, so people probably didn't have the money to spare on gaudy light displays.

But I also wonder if it's only a coincidence that the over-the-top light displays began to appear in earnest after "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" started to run on television. People, Clark Griswold's light display was funny was because it was so over-the-top --- it wasn't the baseline target to shoot for.

Of course, there are worse things to spend money on than holiday light displays, and more important things to complain about. If it makes you happy to run 14 kW of Christmakwanukah lights around your tract house, then by all means, do so.

In the meantime, I may just set mirrors up around my house to reflect the glow of the lights from the other houses. It will have much the same effect at a fraction of the cost and effort.

And while we're speaking of this season, when we celebrate the birth of Thomas Edison, who invented Christmakwanukah lights, I tend to agree with James Lileks:

There's this peculiar fear of Christmas that seems to get stronger every year, as if it's the season that dare not speak its name. Check out the U.S. Postal Service Web site: two different stamps for Kwanzaa. One for Eid, two for Hanukkah. Two for non-sectarian "Holiday," with pictures of Santa, reindeer, ornaments, that sort of thing. One for the Chinese New Year. One for those religiously inclined -- it features a Madonna and Child. But the Web site calls it "Holiday Traditional." The word "Christmas" doesn't appear on the site's description of the stamps. Eid, yes. Hanukkah, yes. Kwanzaa, yes. Christmas? No. It's Holiday Traditional.


Yes, "Merry Christmas" means different things to different people. To those disinclined to follow the creed it represents, it speaks to the cultural traditions of America; to those who take spiritual succor from the season, it means something else. Bottom line in either case: Be happy. And if you're about to throw down the paper and fire off an angry letter to the editor, stop: Think. I wish you a Merry Christmas. I really do. That's all there is to it.

On the one hand, I am rather strenuously against government's meddling of any kind in religion, whether explicitly or offhandedly. I like God and government so much that I'd like them to stay as far apart as possible. And besides, there is a significant minority of people in the U.S. who either don't believe in God, or don't accept the New Testament.

But on the other hand, I'd argue that empty phrases like "Happy Holidays" are pretty transparent.

Happy what holidays?

Well, um ... New Year's Day. And, um. That other one.

Which one?

Um, the one between Dec. 24 and Dec. 26.


And don't try to force-fit Hanukkah into that "Happy Holidays" business. The last time I checked, mistletoe, holly and green and red wrapping paper were not traditional symbols of the Festival of Lights. Blue and silver? Yes. Menorahs? Yes. Santa Claus --- aka "St. Nicholas" --- and the reindeer? No.

I mean, for crying out loud, the very word "holidays" is derived from "holy days." As in "days with religious significance." In the Catholic Church, Jan. 1 is, in fact, a holy day of obligation, meaning that Catholics are expected to attend Mass! (How many of them do is a subject of some debate, and in fact, because this Jan. 1 falls on a Saturday, the obligation is lifted. So, Catholics, feel free to get as drunk as you like on New Year's Eve; you can sleep in.)

In the end, it's a silly battle to fight. If the left wants to fight for the separation of church and state, then they should go complain about the judge who showed up on the bench in Alabama with the Ten Commandments embroidered on his robe. (Unless the nuns learned me wrong, the first one is "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." While I'm no theologian, that seems like a pretty strong endorsement of religion.)

But picking on public schools that sing "The First Noel" or put up signs that say "Merry Christmas" just hurts the cause of separation of church and state, and makes liberals look intolerant, humorless and parsimonious. You're fighting against Santa Claus and the Baby Jesus, for goodness sake. Why not attack baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet, while you're at it?

And as for the right, they need to get a firmer grasp on reality, too. I'm tired of them running around hyperventilating (I'm looking at you, Fox News and talk radio) whenever some isolated busybody gets their peasant shirt in a bunch over some second-graders singing "Silent Night."

Hey, right-wingers: You want to protect Christmas? Fight against the over-commercialization of the season. Fight against people going thousands of dollars in debt to buy Christmas presents. Fight against retailers and media outlets who make it seem like it's our civic and moral duty to buy those presents. Consumerism and taking on large debts are specifically condemned by the Bible --- both the Old and New Testaments.

Otherwise, keep quiet and relax. Christmas is in no danger of disappearing.

At least as long as the manufacturers of Christmas lights have anything to say about it.

Update: I realized the day after this entry appeared that my use of "Christmakwanukah" was not an original invention; I subconsciously lifted a similar idea from an entry that Aly Brashear wrote on Selling Myself Down the River last week. (She called it "Christmahanukwanzaka.")

Even as I wrote "Christmakwanukah," I had the nagging feeling that it probably wasn't an original concept, but I couldn't remember where I had seen something similar. I tried "Googling" the word and nothing came up. Anyway, credit where credit is due! Correction, not perfection, is our watchword.

(Back to top.)

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December 20, 2004 | Link to this story

How's That Again?

Category: default || By jt3y

My house in North Bittyburg, overlooking Our Fair City, came with a nifty flagpole. Instead of having a rope up the side, like a conventional flagpole, it's made in telescoping sections --- to raise and lower the colors, you collapse the sections, attach the flag, and raise the pole up again.

The fellow I bought the house from left the flag flying all day and night, in any weather, but I like to take it inside at night, or if it's raining or snowing. (Sorry, but the rules taught by the Boy Scout Handbook die hard.)

Alas, the combination of precipitation and last week's cold snap froze the flagpole solid. I finally freed it up on Saturday, but knowing that Sunday and Monday were supposed to be bitter cold, I figured I had better prevent a repeat occurence.

Needless to say, when someone asked me what I was doing Saturday afternoon, I told them I would be "outside, greasing my pole."


We'll end on that lame note; the time and energy I otherwise use slapping together Almanac entries were spent profiling longtime Pittsburgh broadcaster Bob James for an extended piece at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.

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December 17, 2004 | Link to this story

Bored of Education

Category: default || By jt3y

(Editor's note: This is treacherous ice on which I'm about to tread; I've got family and friends who are schoolteachers, or retired schoolteachers, and I know several past or present school board members. So let me start out by saying that nothing in today's essay reflects anything done by any specific individual, and that opinions expressed here are mine, and mine alone, and have not been endorsed by anyone. Not even me, maybe. Get it? Got it? Good. Deep, cleansing breath now.)


If you own a house valued at $63,000, and you live in the city of Duquesne, you're paying about 56 percent of your annual $2,392 in property taxes to the Duquesne City School District.

The owner of a similar house in Our Fair City is paying 63 percent of his $1,814 in property taxes to the McKeesport Area School District.

And the owners of $63,000 homes in West Mifflin or Port Vue are paying a whopping 68 percent of their roughly $1,900 in school taxes to their respective school districts, West Mifflin Area and South Allegheny.

Have 68 percent of the taxpayers in the South Allegheny School District ever been to a school board meeting? Get real. I'd be stunned if it was 6 to 8 percent. I've never been to a South Allegheny School District board meeting, but if they're anything like the school board meetings I have attended in a half-dozen or more communities around Western Pennsylvania, there might be 20 or 30 people in the audience if there's an extremely hot issue. Otherwise, the board members usually outnumber the members of the public.

So ask yourself these questions:

1.) Do you know which school district you live in?

2.) Can you name one of the members of your nine-person school board? (If you don't live in the City of Picksberg, no fair naming members of the Picksberg public school board, who are always on the news.)

3.) Can you describe the duties of a public school director in Pennsylvania?

Don't feel embarrassed if you can't answer any of those questions. Since moving into North Bittyburg, I haven't been to a school board meeting yet, and I wouldn't know who the board members were if I tripped over them. As for knowing the duties of the school board, I probably wouldn't if it hadn't been for my mediocre career as a newspaper reporter. (Public school directors vote on how to expend the district's money, which in point of fact, gives them near total control over hirings and firings, what projects will be funded, and what purchases will be made, within the limits of state and federal laws.)

Yet Mon-Yough area residents are paying one-half to two-thirds of their property taxes to a government body that most of them know nothing about.

And here's the dirty little secret about your local school board: Some of the members like it just fine if you stay ignorant, and Pennsylvania's laws encourage them to keep you that way.

Oh, every so often, some issue explodes into the news, and people demand answers. Take the firing of the school superintendent in Mt. Lebanon. The school board, according to what has leaked into the newspapers, was dissatisfied with her performance, so they bought out the remainder of her contract at a cost of nearly a half-million dollars. When the good citizens of that Great State of Mt. Lebanon demanded to know why, the school board said it was a "personnel matter" and refused to say.

Under Pennsylvania law, when a public board of elected officials tells you something is a "personnel matter," they're actually telling you to "pound sand." Ostensibly, not discussing hiring or firing decisions is supposed to protect the rights of the person whose job performance (or lack thereof) is being debated, but in practice, calling something a "personnel matter" in Pennsylvania is the cover-all provision for hiding information from the people.

I once had a local borough council toss me out of a meeting because they wanted to discuss a "personnel matter" in private. What was the personnel matter, I asked?

"The sewage authority."

A sewage personnel matter? Something stunk, all right, but it wasn't sewage. I complained on the spot to the borough's solicitor, and after some back and forth, they allowed me back in.

But even if they hadn't, there wasn't much I could have done. I could have filed a complaint with the district magistrate. The complaint might have taken weeks to get a hearing, and the borough could have appealed any ruling, meaning that it might be months before the disputed information was finally released. Even if found guilty on all counts, the borough would have been forced to cough up a $100 fine.

That's under the stringent terms of Pennsylvania's Open Meetings Law. Let's say, hypothetically, that the members of a school board are breaking the law by refusing to discuss the reasons they fired a superintendent. A hundred bucks seems like a small price to pay to cover up a half-million dollars in hinky dealings.

In the meantime, they can keep embarrassing information, or other things they don't want to discuss, out of the public eye until the furor blows over. I suspect that after the holidays, all but a few hardcore activists in Mt. Lebanon, for instance, will have forgotten about what Mike Madison over at Pittsblog calls "SableGate." And that will suit most members of the Caketown school board just jam dandy, I suspect.

Closer to home, the South Allegheny School Board bought out the remainder of its superintendent's contract, though at least, to their credit, they said why; they didn't approve of his decision to build a new school, the cost of which helped drive school taxes from 14.98 mills in 2003 to the current 20.96 mills.

Unfortunately for the taxpayers, in a move that the Post-Gazette called "unconscionable," the lame-duck South Allegheny school board that left office in 2003 extended the superintendent's contract, with little or no input from the public, and over the wishes of the incoming, newly-elected school directors. Indeed, several of the school directors said they never even saw the contract before it was voted on.

Then, the neighboring McKeesport Area School District hired the same superintendent to run their own system --- and darned near did it in secret.

Now, I'm not saying anything was done that was illegal or unethical. In fact, I've heard some very good reports on the superintendent in question from people who have worked with him.

But running around and sliding these things under the noses of the people --- people who are each paying thousands of dollars per year in wage taxes and property taxes to maintain these school districts --- stinks to high heaven. You've got to admit, it's one hell of a way to run a railroad.

What needs to be done? Some bright --- make that "brave" --- state legislator needs to get some tougher public disclosure laws in place for all public elected bodies in Pennsylvania. Right now, the number of public records that are not available for the public to look at --- things as basic as police incident reports --- is stunning and sickening.

Or, say, the employment contracts of school superintendents.

News organizations have been agitating for tougher disclosure laws for years, but with their public credibility and respect hovering somewhere between "grave robbers" and "loan sharks," they're not exactly the best ones to be running the ball.

So writing angry letters to the editor, or going to board meetings to yell at the school directors, is just a lot of wasted energy. The newspapers know, and are powerless to do anything; the school board members know, and they don't care.

Instead, people in the Mon-Yough area, Mt. Lebanon or elsewhere who feel like they've been played for fools need to channel their anger into a lobbying effort, focused on their state senators and legislators, and directed at getting sweeping reforms of the state Public School Code (which hasn't been overhauled since 1949!) and the Open Meetings and Open Records laws. They're the only ones who have any power or motivation to change things.

Now, question number four: Do you know who your state senator and legislator is? That problem, I can help with: Click here, and type in your zip code in the upper right-hand corner.


By the way: To find out how I calculated the property tax figures cited today, click on the "Continue reading..." link at the end of this essay.


In other news, a Glassport native has been named an auxiliary bishop of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese. The Rev. Paul Bradley will be ordained Feb. 2, according to Lillian Thomas in the Post-Gazette. Megan McCloskey has more in the Trib.


To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Symphony Orchestra presents "The Glorious Sounds of Christmas" at McKeesport Area High School, 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets start at $8. Call (412) 403-0002 or visit ... it's the final weekend for the train show at McKeesport Model Railroad Club, and for Charlotte's Web at the McKeesport Little Theater.


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December 16, 2004 | Link to this story

Honk If You Hate Noise Pollution

Category: default || By jt3y

Ryan Kuntz of Regent Square, writing the guest "Rant" this week's City Paper, has the right idea:

I live very close to the intersection of Forbes Avenue and Braddock Avenue. A couple of months ago with the election closing in, a group of people took over that intersection every Saturday morning to support their candidate and hold up the evil “honk for” signs to get other people to honk in favor of their candidate. With me living so close and all, I would be woken up every Saturday morning with the sound of hundreds of cars honking and honking and honking. ...

Why are you honking?! What does that accomplish? If you honk to show support, the guy holding the sign already supports what you support. You’re not going to gain support for anything by honking at a guy who supports what you support, so just give him the thumbs-up and be done with it. Anyone that’s not right there isn’t going to know what you are honking at anyway. For all they know you were scaring a blind raccoon off the road.

I noticed this phenomenon over the last election, too. It's not exactly new --- picketers have long asked passing motorists to honk in support of their strikes, and if you grew up in the Mon-Yough area in the '70s and '80s, you saw your share of picket lines.

But it's one thing to honk in order to cheer up 12 cranky, cold, tired steelworkers, huddled in the rain alongside a burn barrel on the side of a state highway. It's a whole other thing to honk in support of a political candidate who might be 2,000 miles away. How does he or she know you're honking? And what exactly are you demonstrating by honking your horn in support of some candidate, other than 1.) You support the candidate, and 2.) You're not willing to do anything tangible to show that support.

Want to support a political candidate? Put a bumper sticker on your car. Put a sign in your yard. Put a check in the mail. Put on your shoes and go door to door, drumming up interest in your cause. But the honking thing is a waste of your time and my precious silence.

And another thing: If someone cuts you off in traffic, a simple warning "toot!" is sufficient. Don't sit there like a numbskull and lean on your horn: BLA-A-A-A-A-ATTTT! Any sympathy that the surrounding motorists and pedestrians might have had for you melts fairly quickly.

Even better than the road-ragers who lean on their horns are the ones who, having been cut off, stop their cars in the lane and start blowing the horn repeatedly: BLA-A-A-A-A-TTT!!! BLA-A-A-A-A-ATTT! BLLA-A-A-A-ATT!

Great. You're mad about someone being rude in traffic, so you decide to answer that rudeness by blocking everyone else and annoying them.

Close cousins to these Raging Horny Motorists are the ones who, confronted by a traffic jam, begin leaning on their horns. As if their horns are magical devices that will vaporize the cars in front of them.

Pennsylvania's vehicle code specifies that all cars and trucks must have "audible warning devices," but doesn't necessarily say when they can and can't be used. Some communities have passed noise ordinances forbidding "excessive" horn-blowing; I'd guess that the state's disorderly conduct law, which prohibits people from making "unreasonable noise," including on highways, would take care of serial horn blowers in other municipalities, though I'd bet money that few, if any, people are ever issued a disorderly conduct citation for honking their horns too much.

Besides, I don't know that legislation or law enforcement should be necessary to take care of a problem that's just a matter of common sense --- and common decency.

It all brings to mind a great World War II cartoon by the late Bill Mauldin; two long columns of jeeps, halftracks, deuce-and-a-halfs and tanks have come to a crossroads in a narrow mountain pass. Bombs are dropping all around from planes flying overhead.

At the front of one of the lines of vehicles sits a lieutenant in a jeep, and a weary MP, directing traffic, is leaning over to him. "Thanks, sir," he says, "what we really needed was someone blowin' his horn."

So, for all of you horn-dogs who feel it's necessary to go around voicing your support of various political causes or demonstrating your displeasure with your fellow motorists, here are two simple words: Bus pass. Try it. We'll all be happier.

Or, if the state doesn't bail the transit authority out, how about these two words: Prefrontal lobotomy.


Speaking of noise --- no, not really, but I needed a transition --- Our Fair City's "Henny & The Versa J's" has been nominated for a Grammy award. Their record "Come On Over" is up for consideration as top polka album of the year, reports Melissa Spangler in the Post-Gazette.

Ah-wunnerful, ah-wunnerful! (You can buy the record here.)


In other local news of note, Penn State McKeesport Campus reports that James B. Stewart, a professor of labor studies, industrial relations and African and African-American studies there, and a former PSU vice provost, has published "Flight: In Search of Vision." The book chronicles the evolution of African-American studies in U.S. universities.

The reviews have been positive, with a scholar at Temple University calling the book's premise "some of the best thinking about the theoretical implications of African-American Studies" and saying Stewart is "among the top ranks of comprehensive African scholars."

You can buy the book by emailing Professor Stewart, or by clicking on this link (in which case Tube City Online gets a share of the sale, whoo-hoo!).


And speaking of professors, over at Pittsblog, Michael Madison talks briefly about McKeesport Area School District's decision to hire the former superintendent of South Allegheny, specifically as it relates to the ongoing dustup in Caketown's schools. More on that tomorrow.

... I know, try to contain your enthusiasm.


Finally, as all good "Peanuts" fans know, it's Beethoven's Birthday. Celebrate by watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas" tonight at 8 on ABC.

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December 15, 2004 | Link to this story

Local News You May Have Missed

Category: default || By jt3y

The war in Iraq continues to hit home:

An Elizabeth Forward School Board member will spend the next year in Iraq.

Retired Air Force Capt. Richard Saccone has accepted an assignment as an intelligence support consultant.

"I feel this is something I have to do," Saccone said. "I'm sitting on years of valuable experience that might allow me to contribute to the success of the mission in Iraq." (Joanna Blair, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Saccone, who holds a doctorate in international affairs from Pitt, is on the faculty at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, where he teaches business law and foreign affairs, according to Blair.

The EF school board has granted Saccone a leave of absence while he's in Iraq; residents interested in filling his seat on a temporary basis should apply to the district's business manager no later than Dec. 20.


Sutersville Borough residents claim crime is on the rise; the state police say report it, don't just gripe about it:

State police Capt. Harvey Cole Jr. told Sutersville residents Tuesday that if they have a good reason to contact the Greensburg barracks, do so. ...

"If you're not calling us, we can't put it into our system. Therefore, I'm not seeing the crime (numbers) rising," said Cole, commander of Troop A, based in Greensburg.

Cole attended a town hall meeting held last night prior to the Sutersville council meeting. About 20 people joined council at the session.

The town hall session was organized, in part, because of residents' claims about escalating crime and the sometimes slow response time of troopers. The community employs a part-time officer. (Bob Stiles, Tribune-Review)

A quick check with MapQuest indicates that it's a 42-minute drive from the Greensburg state police barracks to Sutersville. That seems to be about right to me, but if you were in trouble and needed a police officer, it would probably seem more like 42 hours.

I'm not sure why the troopers are coming from Troop A in Greensburg instead of Troop B in Belle Vernon (which is about 17 minutes away), but I'm sure some bright feller up at state police headquarters has a good reason. Belle Vernon is a much smaller barracks than Greensburg; maybe it's stretched thin as it is.

Nevertheless, the old adage says that you "get what you pay for." Perhaps the good burghers of Sutersville need to be paying for more than a part-time officer, even if they have to share the cost with another municipality. Elizabeth Township --- just across the Sutersville Bridge --- or Forward Township would seem to be likely partners.


When you think of "authentic Mexican food," I'll admit that the soft ice-cream stand in New Eagle doesn't spring to mind, but maybe it should:

If you drive by the Twist ice cream parlor in New Eagle between 2 and 3 in the morning and see smoke coming from the building, it's probably not on fire. More likely, it's Arturo Vizzuett cooking batches of his tasty salsas.

Born and raised in Mexico City, Vizzuett, 42, learned the basics of Mexican cuisine as a boy by shopping each day for ingredients that went into his family's main meal and by watching his grandmother and mother prepare salsas and other Mexican foods using centuries-old recipes. (Dave Zuchowski, Post-Gazette)

Vizzuett moved to the Mon Valley after meeting his future wife in what Zuchowski describes as "the popular resort town of Cancun on the Caribbean." The future Mrs. Vizzuett was from Monongahela, which is another popular resort town. Or at least the fireworks at the Aquatorium are awfully nice in the summertime.


Speaking of Mon City, eighth-graders at nearby Carroll Middle School are working on a documentary about the region with computer teacher Jeff Bonifate:

"Our working title is 'Our Valley,' but it's still up in the air," Bonifate said. "I have a feeling as we go along, something will pop up and we will come up with a different title."

Bonifate said the documentary will center on historical aspects of communities that comprise the district, including Donora, Monongahela, Carroll Township, Victory Hill and New Eagle. (Jeff Oliver, Monessen Valley Independent)

The Mid-Mon Valley's rich sports history is an obvious topic, according to Oliver, but local history will also be covered, including the steel industry and the Donora smog of 1948. To help, email Bonifate or call 724-258-8454.

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December 14, 2004 | Link to this story

Worth 10,000 Words

Category: default || By jt3y

Jeremiah Ostrosky writes: “I stumbled upon your site somehow ... I think it was a search for ‘McKeesport’ on Yahoo. Anyway, I find the site very interesting and enjoyed reading some of McKeesport's history that I did not know about. I have some nice photos taken of the city if you would like to take a look at any of them they may interest you.”

They did interest me! So, with his permission, I'm sharing them with you at the newest page of our photo gallery. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, and Jeremiah sent 10 pictures, I'm thinking that today's Almanac counts as 10,000 words, right?

Incidentally, check out the new Webcast station that Jeremiah and a friend are setting up called Steel Valley Radio.

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December 13, 2004 | Link to this story

Blacktop Jungle: Auto Intoxication

Category: default || By jt3y

Garrison Keillor has written about how car-buying in fictional Lake Wobegon, Minn., was "a matter of faith." According to Keillor, Catholics bought Chevrolets from Krebsbach Chevrolet; Protestants bought Fords from Bunsen Motors. One Lutheran who was "tempted by Chevyship," he writes, was coaxed into buying a Ford by his pastor, and it turned out to be a lemon.

Keillor was exaggerating, of course, but it wasn't that long ago when car ownership was a matter of some faith. Some families swore by General Motors, or Fords, or Chryslers. Another humorist, Jean Shepherd, wrote about how his father ("the Old Man") was a solid Oldsmobile man. In my family, one grandfather was a loyal Plymouth customer until his new Volare was creamed at a stoplight; he replaced it with a giant Cadillac Coupe de Ville. My uncle was a Chrysler loyalist, too, until fairly recently. For the last 20 years or so, he's been GM all the way. My dad has been a GM customer since he bought his first car --- a '59 Chevy Impala.

In general, though, those kinds of brand loyalties started to shift during the 1970s, when Detroit "quality" was abysmal and fuel-efficient cars from Japan and Germany began stealing serious market share. Being a traditional GM buyer didn't mean much when the best subcompact the General could offer was the Vega; who but the most hardcore fanatic would have felt bad about going across the street to the Honda dealer in that case?

Like most things, however, trends and traditions tend to stick around longer in the Mon Valley --- long past the time when they should have, in fact. The Mon-Yough area still seems to feature an inordinate number of American-made cars (or at least American brand names) compared with other parts of Pennsylvania, and the brand loyalty can still be fierce.

Take the group of friends I hang around with. I'm the oddball (no surprise there) in a gang of GM loyalists, who tolerate my Ford and Chrysler ownership. Last week, I spotted this story in the Miami Herald. According to the newspaper, Lincoln-Mercury has finally found a home for its unsold Marauder muscle cars; an "anonymous benefactor" has bought 18 of them for the Florida Highway Patrol:

One of the best things Miami FHP Trooper Mike Transue's new car has going for it is that it looks like a lot of other cars you'd find in a condo parking lot. ...

Go screaming past him and you'll be picked up on high-definition digital video and on radar pointing both forward and backward. Inside the car there is an infrared camera, so it's no longer the trooper's word against the driver.

''When you have the camera, they can't dispute it,'' Transue said.

When Transue hits the gas, he'll catch up faster than ever. And when he hits the dual sirens, the noise is louder.

Speed from a modified 302-horsepower engine is important. Instead of Transue taking a mile to catch somebody, he said he might catch them in a quarter of a mile.

I sent this story out, via email, to my gearhead friends --- GM nuts all of them --- knowing that I'd get insulted for my Ford ownership by at least one person. Sure enough, one quickly took the bait (I've edited these emails slightly):

Ha ha ha ha ha. One mile was highly optimistic. Try 2 or 3 miles ... piece of ---- police drivin' car.

We have a 2004 "Furd" Explorer for our trip this week, and it's so slow, you have to plan your lane merges like 1/2 mile before it's time so that you can get up enough speed. I found out that the third gear to fourth gear shift at wide-open throttle is at 90 mph, and it can't even smoke the tires with a brake stand in two or even four wheel drive! Also, if you put it in manual first gear and redline it to 6,000 RPMs, it won't shift. It will stay at 6,000 and continue to burn itself up.

This is the biggest piece of ---- that I've ever driven. I've been beating the ---- out of it. The tranny is already blown up --- lots of clunking and slipping. We'll help speed it to a quick death.

I love the smell of flame wars in the morning. I wrote back (copying the other people on the list):

Questions: What's a Ford Explorer weigh? How's it geared? And what's the aerodynamic drag? Quick answers: IT'S NOT MEANT TO GO FAST. Also, this is a rental vehicle, right? And we all know how well rental vehicles are treated.

To which he responded:

These questions are irrelevant. The word "Furd" implies the (s----y) quality and overall (lack of) driving experience. Ha ha ha ha ha.

Now the battle was on! (At this point, someone else who was on the list asked me why I felt it necessary to instigate trouble. Why does someone climb Mt. Everest? Because it's there!)

"Driving experience"? "Quality"? ... said the man with two Chevrolets, which stands for "Can Hear Every Valve Rattling On Long Extended Trips."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

And I haven't heard ANYONE bragging about General Motors' "quality." (Celebrity? Cavalier? Chevette? Sprint? Metro? Sunbird? QUALITY?? Are you on DRUGS? What was the "driving experience" delivered by those cars? More like "pushing experience.")

The GM "mark of excellence" is an oil spot on the driveway, as far as I can tell. Or maybe it's long pieces of paint peeling off the fenders and roof, like half of the "Generic Motors" cars I see around Pittsburgh.

To which the Chevy nut replied:

Actually, it's three Chevrolets.

I don't have any peeling paint ... none of us do, so I'm not sure what that is about. When you spoke of "Celebrity? Cavalier? Chevette? Sprint? Metro? Sunbird?" you were talking about most of the entry level GM cars that most high school punks buy and don't take care of. I noticed Caprice, Impala, and Roadmaster were not listed in your comparison ... and this V6 "Furd Exploder" had about as much power as those four-bangers listed above.

By the way: We put 1,000 miles on the FURD this week and the tranny is clunking around even worse ... at only 19k miles. Ha!

Another GM fan chimed in:

Peeling paint I can deal with. At least I don't have to replace heater cores and transmissions every 35,000 miles.

That was a dig at yours truly, who had a heater core in my previous sleek, fast Mercury blow out after two years. I never lost a transmission in that amount of time ... though I know of (ahem) a few Chevy drivers who did:

No, you can get at least 36,000 miles out of a Chevy transmission. Maybe 38,000, if you don't mind driving everywhere in second gear. And as for the peeling paint, if you haven't seen Pontiacs, Buicks and Oldsmobiles with big strips of paint blistering off of them, then try opening your eyes while you're driving!

Oh ... wait a minute ... did you say this was a V-6 Ford Explorer? Which weighs like 4,400 pounds? And you expect it to go fast? You, my friend, are on drugs. That's like taking a U-Haul truck to the dragstrip and being disappointed by its quarter-mile times.

I should know better than to argue with someone who's been driving Chevys for all of these years. All of the carbon monoxide leaks kill brain cells.

Now, at this point, we could have gone on forever and ever. There's certainly no end of good material to work with. But I decided to call a halt to the shooting for a very good reason, so I sent out this email to the list:

This is kind of a stupid argument. Comparing "GM vs. Ford quality" is like comparing "which sank faster, the Titanic or the Lusitania?" or "which smells worse, a dead skunk or a porta-potty in the summer time?"

Can't we realize we all have a common enemy ... and that is punks in tricked-out Honda Civics with giant mufflers that make them sound flatulent?

The terms of the treaty were accepted gladly:

Oh yeah, you're right. But it wasn't an argument at all, more like a hilarious discussion. I hope you enjoyed yourself because I did.

I did. But let this be a lesson to politicians everywhere: Before you try to heal the "red state, blue state" divide, you may want to unite the blue-oval, blue-square divide. And as for those DaimlerChrysler people? Um ... well ... they're Canada.

OK, the analogy isn't perfect. Feel free to flame away!


Speaking of Driving: Is anyone else freaked out by those giant LCD video billboards? Regular billboards are bad enough, but these flashing video billboards are a major distraction, especially at night.

I've seen them on the Parkway North and at that the top of Browns Hill Road in Greenfield, but the one that really would irritate me --- if I lived nearby --- is the one on Route 30 in East Pittsburgh, just past the end of the George Westinghouse Bridge.

There are houses directly opposite that billboard, and from what I can tell, the giant video screen shines directly into their windows at night. It must be a major irritation, especially when it blinks on and off to change messages.

Regular billboards may be obnoxious, but at night, any light coming from them is merely reflected --- these video billboards are generating their own light, which shines into nearby windows, and into the eyes of passing motorists. Not to mention the creepy "Big Brother" vibe that giant TV screens invariably cause.

It was bad enough when oversized video screens became de rigeur at sporting arenas and stadiums. Did we really need them on highways?

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December 10, 2004 | Link to this story

Expressway Through Your Heart

Category: default || By jt3y

As first reported in yesterday's Tube City Almanac, and in a story I wrote for the Tribune-Review more than five years ago, the Mon-Fayette Expressway is going to cut a wide swath through the Mon-Yough area, and not necessarily provide much benefit to the people displaced or otherwise affected:

All along the 24 miles from Jefferson Hills to Oakland, the newly approved northern leg of the Mon-Fayette Expressway will cut through populated areas, affecting historic buildings and cultural and natural landscapes.

Older communities will be dwarfed and divided by an elevated, four-lane, limited-access toll road, and pristine hillsides will be sacrificed. Nowhere will its impact be felt more than in Braddock, Duck Hollow, Hazelwood and Turtle Creek. ...

The highway would separate most of Braddock and all of North Braddock from the riverfront, with access only via tunnels through the berm. ...

The expressway would travel 60 feet above the borough of Turtle Creek on concrete piers. Its visual impact on Turtle Creek would be high, reports the turnpike commission's Environmental Impact Statement, "since the overhead structure would extend across the downtown."

The highway would come within 75 to 85 feet of three historic churches -- St. Colman, McMasters Methodist and United Presbyterian. (Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette)

Sure, Turtle Creek will soon be divided by the Great Wall of Turnpike, and sure, that means property values (which aren't that great) in the Valley will go from slim to none. But all that seems like a small price to pay so that executives who work in Downtown Picksberg can get to their McMansions in Washington County, quite frankly.

And it will help people get out to those nice, big half-million dollar homes in Penn Township and Murrysville, too. People in the Mon Valley should just shut up and accept it, right? If we were so smart, why would be living here?

Yesterday I wrote about all the goose droppings in North Huntingdon Township. I finally figured out what they can do with them: Sell them to highway planners to make blueprints.

The part I like best about this whole plan, perhaps, is the impact on Braddock. Sources in the borough tell me that many of the property owners down below Braddock Avenue have been hanging onto dilapidated buildings and refusing to do anything with them for 10 years or more, in hopes that they'll be able to sell them at outrageously inflated prices to the Turnpike Commission.

Well, they're about to get their wishes. But in exchange, Braddock has suffered some of the Mon Valley's worst economic conditions because of 10 or more years that landowners have refused to make any investment in fixing or developing their properties. And now, the borough will never have a chance for recovery. Braddock would benefit greatly if the lower part of the borough were cleared for a Waterfront-type development, but with a highway blocking the river, it will never happen.

The best part? Traffic studies have long shown that adding new highways doesn't reduce congestion; the congestion just expands to fill the new highways. At best, look for traffic on the Parkway East to be reduced for a few years after the Mon-Fayette opens.

And then, look for the daily Greensburg Pike to Bates Street traffic mess to be right back to where it is now.

Maybe the expressway will make it more attractive for businesses that require quick and easy distribution channels to relocate to, say, Our Fair City. I've been told time and time again that when businesses look for properties, they look for an Interstate nearby. State highways and U.S. highways do not impress them; they want to be no more than a mile off of a limited-access expressway.

"Maybe." But it's a big maybe. On the other hand, maybe all the Mon-Fayette Expressway will do is facilitate the migration out of Allegheny County and into the surrounding counties.

Which is a funny coincidence. Because, as Joe Grata points out in an accompanying story in the P-G, "Among those being credited for championing the expressway was state Sen. Barry Stout, D-Bentleyville."

Bentleyville, for those of you playing along at home, is in rural Washington County. Where they couldn't give two figs about Braddock, Turtle Creek, or Dravosburg, which is also going to get a faceful of Turnpike concrete soon.

But it could be worse. According to the public radio show "Marketplace," the Bush administration is planning to heavily support privatizing Interstate highways by allowing developers to build their own toll roads.

To encourage private investment, the administration poses relaxing environmental, safety and labor standards.

Couldn't happen? It's already being done in Chicago, where the Skyway has been privatized.

So, to review: The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is about to blast an elevated highway through most of the Mon-Yough area that will primarily make it easier for people to leave Allegheny County. The Turnpike Commission --- being a public body appointed by elected officials --- will at least have some accountability to the voters. And they're going to make some attempt to soften the impact of the highway. (One engineer is quoted in Grata's story as saying that the Mon-Fayette will be "a model of urban freeways throughout the country." I would point out that the Parkway East --- designed by infamous highway planner Robert Moses --- was also considered a "model of urban freeways" when it opened. How's that working out so far?)

But in the future, the federal government --- having already privatized large chunks of things as vital and basic as the military --- wants to give toll road franchises to private companies with no accountability.


Anyone want to join me in investing in a private offshore island somewhere?


How did the local sports media miss this gem from Secretary Rumsfeld's "town meeting" with the troops in Kuwait?

Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary, Specialist McCullough (sp), Alpha Company 1st of the 112th Infantry. There’s a lot of soldiers here from Western Pennsylvania and we were wondering if we were going to be given the opportunity to watch the Steelers win the Super Bowl this year? [Cheers] [Applause]

SEC. RUMSFELD: I can’t answer the question about outcomes [Laughter], but General, they’re going to have access to the …

GEN. WHITCOMB: Absolutely, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes, you’ll have access to the television, but you’re going to have to figure out a way to encourage that to happen. [Laughter]

A reporter from Tennessee apparently planted a question that one soldier asked Rumsfeld about the lack of body armor and other equipment that troops in Iraq are reporting. I think Sam Nover planted the Steelers question.

By the way, the same "town meeting" with Rumsfeld yielded the Tube City Almanac's new motto, which can be seen today in the far-right column (and what an oddly appropriate turn of phrase that is).


To Do This Weekend: CCAC Dance Ensemble presents new student works in the auditorium at South Campus in West Mifflin, tonight and tomorrow at 8. Call (412) 469-6477 ... McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St., presents "Charlotte's Web," tonight and tomorrow night, and Sunday afternoon at 2. Call (412) 673-1100. ... The Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, holds a country dance at 7 p.m. Saturday and ballroom dancing at 9 p.m. Call (412) 678-6979. ... Holiday train show continues tonight, tomorrow afternoon and Sunday afternoon at McKeesport Model Railroad Club, 2209 Walnut St. Call (412) 664-LOCO or visit

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December 09, 2004 | Link to this story

Sic, Sic, Sic

Category: default || By jt3y

Headline on the front page of this week's Valley Mirror: "Pear Harbor Remembered."

You remember Pear Harbor. That happened on Dec. 8, 1941, when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Fruit-of-the-Loom. Witnesses recall seeing squashed grapes and boxer shorts everywhere.

Watch for upcoming Valley Mirror coverage of remembrances of 6/11 --- when terrorists attacked a Bell Telephone repair truck --- and a nostalgic look back at Braddock Avenue's immortal rallying cry during the Spanish-American War, "Remember the Main Hotel!"

It's a good thing I never make mistakes. Tube City Almanac: Where typographical errors are unpossible!

Anyway, inspired by Dave Copeland's piece on Tuesday about this survey --- in which the American public ranked newspaper reporters with car salesmen in terms of "trustworthiness" --- I was going to write a big long screed. But then I remembered that nothing is more boring to non-journalists than journalists journalizing about journalism. So just go read Copeland instead. Or don't. Who am I to tell you what to do?

Speaking of telling people what to do --- and where to go ...

If you live in Dravosburg, Braddock or Turtle Creek, and you've been dreaming that some day, your little town might be divided by a giant wall of concrete and speeding cars, your prayers were answered yesterday. The federal government has approved the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's plans to complete the Mon-Fayette Expressway from Route 51 to Picksberg. An official announcement is expected today.

This means the Road to Nowhere --- the high-speed toll road which currently connects the bustling metropolis of Large with the metropolitan California, Pa. area --- will actually go somewhere, but at a cost of about $2 billion.

And only 40 years too late to help the Mon-Yough area! Whoopee!

Now, if Turtle Creek residents are interested in seeing what their town is going to look like 10 or 15 years from now, they should load the kiddos into the old family truckster and head down Route 837 to New Eagle, and then hang a right onto Route 88 until they get to Mingo Creek County Park.

Pull over to the side and get out of the car. See those two giant bridges?

Now just imagine those over St. Colman's Church, 'cause that's what you're probably getting. It should make the fireman's fairs a lot of fun.

Oh, don't worry; the Turnpike Commission has promised to appoint "local advisory boards" that will "advise" the highway builders on how the roads will be routed. If you want to "advise" the Turnpike Commission, rumor has it that they're actually very gentle, though you might find yourself walking funny for a few days.

Complete coverage from Jim Ritchie in the Trib and Joe Grata in the Post-Gazette.

Other than that, it's kind of a slow day at the Almanac. Patti Dobranski reports in the Tribune-Review that the old Pennsylvania Avenue Elementary School in Irwin has been acquired for use as a personal care home. The school closed in 2003, and there had been some talk that the borough building might relocate there, but nothing came of it.

Also in the Trib, in neighboring North Huntingdon, Michelle Merlo writes that geese are doing what geese do, all over the sidewalks at Indian Lake Park. At one point, Merlo writes, workers had to hose down the walking track every morning.

Um, yuck?

With chemicals, fencing and other measures having little or no effect, the fed-up township commissioners have authorized the parks and recreation director to get his shootin' arn and bag him some geese.

I know roast goose is supposed to be good eatin', but having spent some time around geese, and having seen what comes out of them, I'm not sure I would want to eat the insides.

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December 08, 2004 | Link to this story

More Things I Found On the Internet While I Was Looking For Other Things

Category: default || By jt3y

SpongeBob who? Not everything was better in the "good ol' days," but some things were --- and one category that was better (in my never humble opinion) was "animated cartoons." Golden Age Cartoons has enough pop culture goofiness to satisfy your cartoon jones for hours --- and right now it has special Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry Christmas-themed material. (Tip of the Tube City hard hat to Tim Blair.)


While you're there, you'll see that Felix the Cat is more than a clock with wig-wag eyes. He was one of the first stars of animated cartoons, and the original cartoons from the 1920s and '30s are still full of trippy, surreal goodness. Return to those thrilling days of yesteryear at The Classic Felix the Cat Page.


Speaking of those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, it's no secret that I love old-time radio ... "Dragnet," "Fibber McGee & Molly," "Jack Benny," "X-Minus-One." I don't know how I missed this Web page at called --- you guessed it --- Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. Ivan Shreve writes about old radio shows, some TV and other items of nostalgic interest.


When it comes to nostalgia, you can't help but think of "The Flintstones." At least I can't. Whenever I think of nostalgia, I always think of poorly animated Hanna-Barbera cartoons that rip off "The Honeymooners," transplanting the characters haphazardly to pre-historic times and using lots of lame rock puns.

Anyway, if you thought "The Flintstones" was a documentary, you'll love the new "Creation Museum," currently under construction near Hebron, Ky., which explains how dinosaurs co-existed with humans in the Garden of Eden, and how the tyrannosaurus rex was the terror that original sin unleashed. "You'll run into this monster lurking near Adam and Eve. How's this possible? Find out soon!"

Golly gosh, I can barely wait!

Some how I missed last month's conference in downtown Picksberg at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center that was organized by the people behind the museum, a group called "Answers in Genesis." Unfortunately, they're not coming back to our area any time soon. (I wonder if any of the attendees made it up to the Carnegie Museum while they were in town? Probably not, because they couldn't learn anything from a group of people who they consider "willfully ignorant.")

I don't know when I'll make it to the museum, but if you go, make sure to take your Polarock camera --- I'll want to see some pictures. (Tip of the Tube City hard hat to Boing Boing.)


I'm embarrassed to admit that I thought this show was funny when it first aired, and knowing my sick sense of humor, I probably would still think it was funny now. Anyway, the producer of "Sledge Hammer!," the short-lived mid-'80s TV sendup of the "Dirty Harry" movies and shows like "Hunter," now has a Web site.

Please: I deserve your pity, not your scorn. Or as they might say down in Hebron, Ky., "hate the sin, love the sinner."


Erie bloggers (geez, I hate the word "blog") have their own Web site.


How did a gearhead such as myself miss this? From the people who brought you "Wonkette," it's "Jalopnik," a daily online magazine (I really, really hate the word "blog") devoted to gossip about cars and the automobile industry.


How did I miss this, too (or is that "two")? Jay Leno (you may have heard of him; he's on TV) is writing a very readable and entertaining column for Popular Mechanics.


The Global Schoolyard Rhyme Project is exactly what it sounds like. Now you can insult fifth-graders in whatever language you choose!


And finally, via Atrios, more evidence that irony is dead:

On Oct. 4, "Bush introduced Mike and Sharla Hintz, a couple from Clive, whom he said benefited from his tax plan. Last year, because of the enhanced the child tax credit, they received an extra $1,600 in their tax refund, Bush said. With other tax cuts in the bill, they saved $2,800 on their income taxes. They used the money to buy a wood-burning stove to more efficiently heat their home, made some home improvements and went on a vacation to Minnesota, the president said."

But on Tuesday, we learn that a "Des Moines youth pastor is charged with the sexual exploitation of a child. KCCI learned that the married father of four recently turned himself in to Johnston police. Rev. Mike Hintz was fired from the First Assembly of God Church, located at 2725 Merle Hay Road, on Oct. 30. Hintz was the youth pastor there for three years. Police said he started an affair with a 17-year-old in the church youth group this spring."

Um, yeah. The good Rev obviously had the "child tax credit" confused with the "marriage penalty." Or something like that.

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December 07, 2004 | Link to this story

Blacktop Jungle: Snow Big Deal

Category: default || By jt3y

Christmas lights are appearing throughout the neighborhood, wreaths and giant lighted snowmen are decorating homes, and commercial radio stations are in their second week of torturing us with holiday songs. Yes, it's that magical time that comes only once a year, which we call the Annual Mounting of the Snow Tires.

That coincides with the much-more regularly occurring events we call the Scraping of the Knuckles and the Using of the Very Bad Words.

Each year, I try to wait until as late in the season as possible, mostly because a good pair of winter snowshoes for the ol' sled is fairly expensive, and they wear out quickly on dry pavement. Invariably, I wait too long, and end up putting the snow tires on as it's snowing.

On Sunday, with the weather seeming to turn colder and rain and snow in the forecast, I decided to take a chance.

Naturally, it's rained for the past two days.

Incidentally, there must be something more depressing than a rainy day in December in Western Pennsylvania, but I can't really think of it. It's not bad enough that all of the leaves have fallen off of the trees and are rotting in the gutters, or that we have about six hours of daylight, or that everything has taken on a gray, dirty cast. No, now the sun is blotted out by clouds, and we're cold and wet, to boot. Why have you forsaken us, Joe DeNardo?

It almost makes one long for snow --- getting back the whole snow tire thing that I started out with. Many people believe that front-wheel drive negates the purpose of snow tires. Au contraire, motormouth. All other things being equal, a front-wheel drive car equipped with "all season" tires will have better traction in snow than a rear-wheel drive equipped with "all season" tires --- but a front-wheel drive car with a good set of snow tires will outperform them both. My late grandfather had a front-wheel drive Ford Escort equipped with snow tires that I think would have climbed up the side of an igloo, if you'd let it. It plowed through snow better than some four-wheel drive vehicles.

A few words of explanation are in order before the snow starts flying.

Front-wheel drive means just that; the front wheels propel the car. Probably 60 percent of the cars currently being built are front-wheel drive. (I didn't make any attempt to verify that stat, by the way. I plucked it out of the air.) Front-wheel drive cars have good traction in snow because the heavy engine sits up front, directly over the drive wheels. Rear-wheel drive means the opposite --- the power is transmitted from the engine up front to the wheels in the back via a long drive shaft.

Rear-wheel drive cars are good at lots of things --- most race cars and many performance cars are rear-wheel drive --- but driving in snow isn't necessarily one of them. The heavy motor is up front, and can't provide any weight to help keep the drive wheels on the road. Worse yet, in a really light car, the heavy front end sometimes wants to slide out of the way and swap ends with the rear wheels. That's why putting a 50 pound bag of sand in the trunk of a rear-wheel drive car is often recommended for winter driving. Rear-wheel drive is making a strong comeback --- Chrysler recently re-introduced its first rear-wheel drive sedans in years --- and maybe 30 percent of the cars being built today are rear-wheel drive. Most (if not all) trucks are rear-wheel drive, and they benefit most of all from a bag or two or three of sand in the back, especially if secured with boards and chains over the rear wheels.

Of course, many trucks and SUVs, and maybe 10 percent of passenger cars, have four-wheel drive, which means exactly what it sounds like. Four-wheel drive is not a license to drive like a maniac in the snow, and I know you nuts are out there. A four-wheel drive vehicle driven recklessly in the snow is just as likely to go plowing off the road and into a ditch as any other vehicle; it's just often easier to get a four-wheel drive vehicle back out of the ditch, because you have two more chances that one of your drive wheels will be able to get you out.

Now, back to the tires. Summer tires are just that --- for use in the summer. "All-season" tires aren't, as far as I'm concerned. They should be called "three-season" tires, because they aren't great on ice or snow. Snow tires use softer, stickier rubber --- good for gripping ice, but not very long-wearing --- and they usually have big, blocky treads that are good at digging into loose material.

Snow tires have a couple of drawbacks --- besides the fact that they wear out fairly quickly, they can also screw up a car's handling at high speeds --- but on a rear-wheel drive vehicle like my sleek, gray Mercury, they're essential. And having driven front-wheel drive vehicles both with and without snow tires, they're a useful safety feature, in my never-humble opinion, and well worth the money. A good snow tire should cost between $70 and $90, installed, in my experience. (Personally, I get mine from an independent dealer in Our Fair City that deals in both brand-name and generic tire brands, and I try to stick to American-made tires.)

I also know several people who put snow tires on all four wheels of their cars, on the grounds that steering and braking is improved in deep snow if all four wheels are similarly shod. Mechanics that I've talked to have told me that it doesn't help that much in the kind of snow that Western Pennsylvania usually gets, and that it's a waste of money, but if you drive frequently on unplowed roads, it might be worth the extra cash.

Also, if you don't mind changing your own tires --- or if you know someone who will do the job for you --- you can save time by buying a set of spare wheels for your car and having snow tires mounted on them. (You can get used or new wheels from a good junkyard --- I've bought them from both Spitz Auto Parts in North Huntingdon and Toll Gate in Greensburg --- and most yards will check to figure out what kind of wheels you need, if you don't already know.) That way, you don't have to leave your vehicle at the tire store to have the snow tires mounted; just leave the wheels, and pick them up when you're ready.

As long as you have a good jack and jack stands, and a flat surface to change the tires, you can put the snow tires on at home, when you're good and ready. Obviously, you'll need someplace to store the two tires you're not using; that would be a real problem from apartment dwellers, I suppose. (I guess you could prop them up in the living room and drape spider plants over them, maybe, or call them outsider art.)

Anyway, do you run snow tires on your car? And what kind of vehicle is it? I'd be interested in hearing from you. Drop me an email at jt 3 y at dementia dot org, or leave your information below by clicking on the "comment" link.


This is one of a new series of entries I'm going to be writing called "Blacktop Jungle," which was the name of an automotive column I wrote years ago for the Observer-Reporter in Washington. Look for another one soon on winter driving tips and techniques. Eventually, I hope to expand "Blacktop Jungle" to a new section of Tube City Online that will also include helpful shortcuts around Western Pennsylvania. (You can submit those, too!)


In other news, remember yesterday's rant about bad publicity being aimed at Our Fair City, and the bad image it gets in the media?

Some timing I've got, huh? Yoi and double yoi:

Attorney General Jerry Pappert today announced that agents from his Bureau of Narcotics Investigation (BNI) have intercepted a shipment of 11 kilograms of cocaine and have arrested two McKeesport, Allegheny County residents on charges of possession with intent to deliver the drug.

Pappert identified the defendants as Gregory T. Armstrong, 36, 3010 Grover St. McKeesport and James E. Jones, 45, 1026 Walnut St., McKeesport.

Talk about your snow. Estimated value on the purloined powder is about $1 million.

Speaking of mood-altering substances, if there's one thing I love, it isn't state-controlled liquor monopolies. (Tip of the Tube City hard hat to Cope.)

Meanwhile, researchers in Picksberg have taken bold steps toward preventing another monkey shortage by successfully cloning monkey embryos. This should shore up America's strategic monkey reserve and prevent terrorists and rogue nations from exploiting a monkey gap.

Some people have asked why, if we needed extra monkey embryos, we couldn't have just let the monkeys create them --- it being one of the things that monkeys (and other primates) are good at. Personally, I'm glad that Western Pennsylvania is working to protect America by ensuring that we remain safe, free and full of monkeys in the 21st century.

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December 06, 2004 | Link to this story

News You Can Use

Category: default || By jt3y

There was an interesting contrast in the coverage of Friday's Mon Valley economic development summit between the Post-Gazette's story and the story in The Daily News. (I didn't see a story in the Tribune-Review; if you did, let me know, and I'll link to it.)

The P-G story leads off with the negatives:

To McKeesport Mayor James Brewster, the need for economic development in the Mon Valley has never been more apparent than it was Thursday night when a young man was killed after an apparent drug deal went sour.

Working on very little sleep because of the shooting and subsequent arrests, Brewster addressed a conference of officials from all levels of government and local agencies about the need to provide economic opportunities that are part of legal enterprises.

Those economic opportunities are going to have to grow on land that is so polluted today that no one wants it.

Gee, thanks. But we have a great personality, and we're a good dancer, right?

The News' story is more upbeat, or at least neutral:

The Mon Valley is primed for industrial growth, said presenters at the Mon Valley Economic Development Summit.

At the summit, held yesterday morning at the Palisades along Water Street, McKeesport Mayor James Brewster gave an introduction that reminded attendees to "stay positive."

(long list of attendees deleted)

Major points of the strategy include the concentration of commerce into hub areas, the development of the Mon/Fayette Expressway, and the development of a proposed technical school called the Valley Academy of Science and Technology.

I don't want people to sugarcoat the problems that the Mon-Yough area in general, and Our Fair City in particular, still face. As Chuck Noll once famously said about one of his player's problems, "they are many, and they are large."

Nor would I expect any Pittsburgh reporter to drive past the abandoned Penn-McKee Hotel on her way to the Palisades --- where the meeting was held --- and come away with a positive impression of Our Fair City; or expect them to ignore the obvious.

But I still say it's not all doom and gloom, and I still say that a lot of the coverage of the Mon Valley is plain old lazy, full of stereotypes and cliches about "depressed old mill towns." It would be in everyone's best interest if we moved past those.

Also, I really liked this quote from Brewster that was in the P-G's story; I've never met the man, but as I wrote last week, I'm really starting to admire him:

Brewster, the mayor of McKeesport, said development will not come easily. He recalled overhearing a woman at a party say she wouldn't go to McKeesport because she was afraid. He said local officials have to turn that perception around.

"Why should we have to overcome that obstacle? We should market what we have. We should brag about what we have," he said.

I'd say he read my mind, but that would be like skimming a pamphlet.

In other news: the G.C. Murphy book project got a nice write-up in Friday's News, coincidentally enough, by the same writer mentioned above. The story isn't online, but you can probably get a back issue by stopping at the News. Every little bit of publicity will help! (Thanks also to Jonathan Potts for his nice mention at The Conversation.)

A few miles north, there's big news this morning in the Steel Valley, reports Ron DaParma in the Trib, and if irony were made of strawberries, we'd all be drinking smoothies:

U.S. Steel Corp. is expected to return to the site of its historic Homestead Works after almost two decades.

The Pittsburgh-based steelmaker, which closed the 550-acre plant in 1986, might purchase a vacant building on the site originally targeted for Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp. for fuel cell manufacturing. An announcement could come as early as today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has learned.

U.S. Steel would relocate its research and technology center operations from Monroeville to the site in Munhall, which is next to the popular, 270-acre Waterfront development of restaurants, stores and entertainment. Columbus, Ohio-based Continental Real Estate Co. owns the building.

Meanwhile (and also in the Trib), Jim Ritchie had a good piece about the soon-to-be-traffic-nightmare that will occur next year when the Homestead Grays nee High-Level bridge finally gets a long-overdue rehabilitation. The bridge hasn't been overhauled since 1979, Ritchie reports.

The traffic pattern at The Waterfront is crazy enough as it is; I have a hard time imagining what Eighth Avenue and Browns Hill Road are going to look like with the bridge restricted, but it won't be pretty. The Waterfront has already strained the existing roads to the breaking point, and any little disruption brings lower Homestead to a standstill. Saturday's Christmas parade down Eighth Avenue, for instance, snarled traffic for blocks in all directions.

Alternate routes being suggested include the none-too-good Rankin Bridge or the Glenwood Bridge, which regularly turns into a parking lot if any cars stop or stall in the curb lane on Second Avenue. Rots of ruck, it says here.

Thinking about taking the bus? You better pack a lunch and a change of clothes, because they'll be stuck in the same traffic as everyone else. One of the bus drivers on a route I use has already told me he's transferring from the West Mifflin division before the bridge closes.

Instead, the suggested Tube City Almanac alternative for Mon-Yough commuters heading to Picksberg is a helicopter. Or barring that, a giant catapult.

Finally, if you're looking for a way to waste some time (and if you weren't, why would you come to this Web page?), you can play "20 Questions" against a computer. I played four times; the computer beat me twice. (Tip of the Tube City hard hat to Eric Zorn.)

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Posted at 12:53 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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December 03, 2004 | Link to this story

Helpful Holiday Hints From Our House to Yours

Category: default || By jt3y

There are only 21 more shopping days until Xmas, or as James Lileks recently called it, the day that "we celebrate the birth of the Baby Claus Tree."

Many of our readers will be heading out to Century III or The Waterfront this weekend to make sure that the stockholders of Chase, Citibank and Capital One have a Very Merry First Quarter 2005; others, more in keeping with the high standards for which the Tube City Almanac is notably famous, will be doing their holiday shopping at the Pilot Truck Stop in Bentleyville and the Eastland Super Flea.

To make sure your holiday shopping trip is as safe, successful and stroke-free as possible, the cracked research and development team of Tube City Online, the Mon-Yough area's leading source of misinformation since 1995 (TM), has developed this list of helpful tips, based on long hours of consultation with a beer and a bag of taco chips:

1.) MAIL EARLY FOR CHRISTMAS. Christmastime is a busy mailing season at our local post offices, and long lines can be expected. Make sure to mail early for Christmas or Hanukkah. In addition, make sure that all of the items you want to ship are in boxes; taped closed; and have addresses on them before you get to the window. These may seem like obvious tips, but residents of the Mon-Yough area continue to observe postal customers breaking all of these rules. And if you get to the front of the line and pull out a Ziploc-brand plastic bag full of cookies and hand it to the postal clerk, saying "I want to mail these to my grandson, but I'm not sure what his address is," both the clerk and the people in line behind you are going to be plotting messy, painful ways to hurt you, and nothing spoils the Christmas season like being impaled on a giant lighted plastic candy cane.

2.) BE PREPARED AT THE BANK. In a similar vein, lines at banks and savings institutions are also heavy as people rush to cash in their Christmas clubs, withdraw money from their savings accounts, or beg for mercy. The half-hour wait in line is a perfect time to do things like filling out your withdrawal slips or endorsing checks, rather than standing there with your mouths hanging open, catching flies. Also, make sure you have an acceptable form of ID. A driver's license or state-issued photo ID is acceptable; the label in your underwear and your Rite Aid Thrifty Senior Card are not.

3.) COLD ENOUGH FOR YOU? It's a medical fact! Despite the cold weather, it is scientifically impossible for your jaw to freeze solid in typical Western Pennsylvania climatic conditions. And it's certainly unlikely inside a heated, well-lit Wal-Mart, Kmart or Target location! Therefore, if you're waiting in line at your local discount house, it is unnecessary for you to exercise your mouth by saying things like, "Boy, it's cold outside!" or "Gee, this store sure is busy!" to the other customers waiting in line with you! If you must, then please hang a sign around your neck that says "LOSER," so that we know not to get in line with you!

4.) GETTING THE BEST PRICE. According to Leading Retail Experts, the prices at large chains of department stores, electronics retailers and appliance dealers are set many months in advance by highly-paid experts with six-figure salaries who work in corporate office buildings far, far away. Therefore, if you don't like the cost of that "Hello Kitty" DVD player, please don't ask the clerk --- who is making $4.25 plus commission --- if they "can't do a little bit better on the price." They can't, and it just makes you look like a rube from the sticks.

5.) PRICING DO'S AND DON'T'S. DO --- Comparison shop. Often, store brands have the same features at a fraction of the cost of nationally-advertised brands. DON'T --- Stand in the middle of the darned aisle with your shopping cart, trying to decide if Food Club brand powdered sugar is as good as Domino powdered sugar. I will gladly give you the 11 cents' difference in price just to get you the heck out of my way.

6.) BE CAREFUL DRIVING. Driving in heavy traffic around a congested shopping area can be tricky. If you have more than three stuffed animals in the back window of your car and a sticker on your bumper that says "AAA 50-YEAR MEMBER," please consider asking your grandchildren to do your driving for you. Otherwise, try watching late-night cable TV for several nights before you go on your Christmas shopping trip; the language may shock you, but you're going to hear much worse yelled at you from the windows of passing cars as you drive through the parking lot of Southland Shopping Center at 5 mph with your turn signal on.

We here at the Almanac recognize that some of these tips may seem harsh and sarcastic, but believe me, we've been thinking much, much nastier things over the last week. And just think! There's three more weeks to go!


On a serious note, Our Fair City may be forced to seek Act 47 distressed status if bonding agencies don't agree to a plan to refinance debt incurred by the previous mayoral administration, reports Pat Cloonan in The Daily News:

Tuesday night, McKeesport officials were optimistic about getting a good rating for restructuring city pension and capital improvement bonds.

Last night, Mayor James Brewster was more nervous than optimistic as news expected from Arthurs, Lestrange & Co. Inc. never materialized.

"We still do not have a definitive answer (whether) they're going to insure the plan," Brewster told McKeesport City Council last night. "That's a major problem, that's a significant problem. It changes our demeanor from one of optimism to one of crisis."

If McKeesport is unable to get a favorable bond credit rating, it may have to consider an option the mayor has tried to avoid: Act 47 distressed city status.

Keep your fingers crossed that Brewster can pull off the plan he's proposed, and that the bond agencies will go along with it. It sounds like a sane option: Under the plan, the city would take advantage of current low interest rates to retire two existing bond issues, wipe out a deficit, lower its debt service payments and fund $5 million in demolition and urban renewal projects.


From the Tube City Almanac National Affairs Desk, Irony is Dead, Part 1:

An Alabama lawmaker who sought to ban gay marriages now wants to ban novels with gay characters from public libraries, including university libraries.

A bill by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." Allen said he filed the bill to protect children from the "homosexual agenda."

"Our culture, how we know it today, is under attack from every angle," Allen said in a press conference Tuesday.

Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed.

"I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them," he said. (The Birmingham News)

No, no, see, the traditional way to handle this is a book burning! Sheesh!

The next thing we have to do is tackle the problem of witchcraft. I'll bring the ropes and stakes!

Irony is Dead, Part II:

In God Wants You to Be Rich, bestselling author Paul Zane Pilzer provides an original, provocative view of how to accumulate wealth and why it is beneficial to all of humankind. A theology of economics, this book explores why God wants each of us to be rich in every way -- physically, emotionally, and financially -- and shows the way to prosperity, well-being, and peace of mind. (From the book jacket)

The next task for the Alabama state legislature, naturally, is to remove the following verses from the New Testament: Matthew 19:21 ("Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'"); Matthew 6:24 ("No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money"); and Proverbs 23:4 ("Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint").


To Do This Weekend: The holiday train show continues at McKeesport Model Railroad Club tonight, Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon. Call (412) 664-LOCO or visit ... McKeesport's 19th annual Festival of Trees is open at the Jacob Woll Pavilion in Renziehausen Park. Hours are noon to 9 p.m. now through Sunday. Forty-two custom-decorated Christmas trees are on display ... Pittsburgh Jitterbug Club holds a swing dance at The Palisades at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Call (412) 678-6982 ... the McKeesport Hungarian Social Club, Walnut Street at 30th Avenue, holds a dance at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Call (724) 864-0042.

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Posted at 12:43 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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December 02, 2004 | Link to this story

'What's Wrong' Example No. 2,412

Category: default || By jt3y

Welcome to "What's the Matter With Our Fair City," Example No. 2,412.

At hand is Mayor Jim Brewster's plan to return Fifth Avenue to two-way traffic to ease congestion and make it easier for people to get to and from the McKees' Point Marina and the Palisades.

Sounds logical enough. The one-way traffic pattern is a relic of the late '60s, when Downtown was congested by train and car traffic. In fact, a bunch of streets were converted to one-way traffic at the same time. Unfortunately, the one-way traffic patterns were designed to solve traffic problems that no longer exist, because the businesses that caused the traffic no longer exist.

Along comes a good man, Harold Byer, whose family was in the retail business in Our Fair City for three generations as the owner of Byer's Children's Shop on Fifth Avenue, to complain to city council about Brewster's proposal, according to Pat Cloonan's story in The Daily News.

"If Fifth Avenue can be re-established (as) two-ways, and retain the parking on both sides of the streets, such as we have now, that would be great," Byer is quoted as saying. "But the parameters of Fifth Avenue are such that you can't do it."

"Can't." If the Mon-Yough area could only sell "can'ts." We could supply most of the people living in North America with their daily recommended allowance of "can't."

Why can't you re-establish Fifth Avenue as two ways? Because of the concrete obstructions and landscaping that were installed in the 1970s to slow down traffic on Fifth Avenue.

If you spend as much time Downtown as I do, you'll notice that traffic is so slow right now on Fifth Avenue that, some days, you could take a nap in front of Byer's old store and not bother anyone.

And Cloonan makes a very cogent, but sly observation: "Byer noted two lanes of traffic could share space with two lanes of parking in the 200 block of Fifth Avenue -- between the Palisades and the intersection with Market Street. But that's not the case in the 300 block, he said, and it gets even tighter further east on what remains the main business street in McKeesport's main business district."

That could also as be read as "what remains of McKeesport's main business district."

Fifth Avenue --- "what remains the main business street" in Downtown --- is the main business street only in the memories of McKeesporters. It is clear to anyone else that congested, dingy, dark, narrow Fifth Avenue hasn't been the main business street in Our Fair City for at least 20 years; the lack of business on Fifth Avenue should make that self-evident. The "main business streets" in Our Fair City have long since become Lysle Boulevard, Walnut Street, and to a lesser extent, West Fifth Avenue, and more effort should be devoted to building up those corridors and making them attractive.

Why should the city fathers worry about maintaining parking on both sides of Fifth Avenue in the 200 and 300 blocks, when many of those parking spaces are empty?

This is the same mentality that --- a few years ago --- led the city to eliminate free parking on Saturdays. I was visiting an office on Fifth Avenue on a Saturday afternoon not long after that when my meter ran out. I came down a few minutes later to find a $2 parking ticket on my car. The rest of Fifth Avenue was empty.

I don't begrudge the city its two bucks, but ticketing cars on an almost-empty street is pretty self-defeating, isn't it?

Yank out the concrete obstructions on Fifth Avenue! Make the street open to two-way traffic again! Otherwise, the city is trying to maintain parking spaces for businesses whose owners have either long since moved to greener pastures or retired.

In fact, while we're at it, make on-street parking Downtown free. Further down in Cloonan's story, Mayor Brewster says that "motorists who park along Fifth Avenue these days aren't necessarily 'near or at' a desired shopping place. The mayor noted that some are employees, others are carpoolers parking in McKeesport --- and running the risk of a $4 ticket --- to save money on parking in downtown Pittsburgh."

With due respect to Hizzoner, who I am really starting to like, so what if they're carpooling to Pittsburgh? They're going where the jobs are. Be happy that they're spending time in Our Fair City at all. The city's best shot at survival, long-term, may be in establishing itself as a low-cost bedroom community. Let people park all day Downtown and carpool to Pittsburgh!

What's more, it would be nice if there were some bagel shops where carpoolers could grab breakfast on their way to work, and some restaurants where they could stop Downtown to eat before they went home.

Let me go one step further. There's a big empty parking garage on Lysle Boulevard that's currently closed, but which the city must still pay to insure, maintain and protect. It's within sight of Port Authority's big bus terminal, and less than a block away.

So here's a novel idea. Give it to Port Authority Transit on the condition that they turn it into a free park-and-ride lot for carpoolers, vanpoolers and people who catch the bus to Pittsburgh. There's precedent; PAT is building a new parking garage at South Hills Village for park-and-ride use. It's costing PAT more than $21 million.

I'd wager that renovating the Lysle Boulevard parking garage in Our Fair City would cost a great deal less than that. And there isn't currently a park-and-ride lot in Our Fair City, which is why I currently take two buses to and from work.

If you had a busy park-and-ride lot next to the bus terminal, then private businesses might be encouraged to open a coffee shop or a cafe nearby.

You could also fairly easily erect a heated, lighted walkway from the Lysle Boulevard parking garage across the street to The People's Building --- now largely empty --- which would suddenly make it attractive to companies otherwise moving their offices to Monroeville, North Huntingdon or Cranberry. Having a captive audience in The People's Building would spur retail activity that would be necessary to keep those office workers fed, shod and clothed.

None of this is brain surgery. It just takes getting past this attitude that we "can't" do this or we "can't" do that, and it takes getting past this attitude of waiting for the 1950s to come back to Downtown McKeesport. It isn't going to happen.

The sooner the Mon-Yough area learns to take what it has and move forward, rather than sitting around moping over what was lost, the better off we'll all be.


Someone took me to task Tuesday night for writing about Our Fair City because I don't actually live within the limits of Our Fair City. In point of fact, I don't.

Actually, I've never lived within Our Fair City, and have always lived in the towns that border Our Fair City (except for while I was in college, and for a year or so after I graduated).

Currently, I live in North Bittyburg, which borders Our Fair City, and shares its roads and some of its services. When I bought my house, I chose it based on its proximity to a bus line that would get me to work in Picksberg as cheaply and with the least amount of trouble possible. If I could have found a house in Our Fair City that would have provided that opportunity, I would have purchased it. As it is, moving from one side of Our Fair City to the other has cut my commute time in half, which is no small beans.

So am I a resident of Our Fair City? Legally, no, and I never have been. But economically and for all practical purposes, yes. Frankly, the fortunes of North Bittyburg --- like all of McKeesport's suburbs --- rise and fall with McKeesport's. North Bittyburg has no identity of its own. It exists solely because of its historical proximity to Our Fair City.

And I wouldn't make a bit of fuss if North Bittyburg and all of the other towns would get over their Edifice Complexes and merge into Our Fair City. In fact, I wish they would --- though I know it would send some of the members of North Bittyburg Borough Council into apoplexy if I suggested that to them.


In more news stories you may have missed, a venture capital firm based in eastern Pennsylvania has announced plans to acquire Tube City Holdings --- descendant of the old Tube City Iron and Metal --- for an undisclosed amount. Tube City got its start as a scrapyard in Our Fair City many years ago, but has long since moved to Glassport.

Tube City currently provides support services for the steel industry, including equipment leasing, byproduct and slag recovery, and scrap metal processing.

As part of the deal, Tube City will merge with International Mill Services, which does similar work with the steel industry. The companies are calling it a "merger of equals," and Michael Coslov of Tube City will be the CEO of the new firm.

Earlier this month, Tube City was honored by AK Steel Corporation for providing "outstanding service, value and strategic support" to the company.

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December 01, 2004 | Link to this story

Local News You Might Have Missed

Category: default || By jt3y

Around the region, and around your neighborhood, the Tube City Almanac is taking action ... for you!

Dateline Uniontown:

State police in Uniontown offered no comment Tuesday on the circumstances surrounding the death of 70-year-old Jeanetta Nicholson, who was hit by two vehicles Monday evening in Fayette County.

The accident occurred as Nicholson, of 115 Indian Creek Road, Springfield Township, chased her husband, Robert, 71, while wielding a butter knife, said county Deputy Coroner Elsie Dvorchak. (A.J. Panian, Tribune-Review)

Talk about your twists of fate. Deputy Coroner Rod Serling could not be reached for comment.

The moral is, never try to kill your husband with a butter knife if you live on a busy street. (Tip of the Tube City hard hat to an Alert Reader.)


Dateline Youngstown:

Two nonunion newspapers owned by one of the nation's largest publishing companies -- the same company that operates The Plain Dealer and suburban weeklies in the Cleveland area -- are soliciting volunteers from their staffs to come here and replace striking members of the Youngstown Newspaper Guild.

The newspapers are The Times-Picayune, published in New Orleans, and The Oregonian, published in Portland, Ore. They are owned by Advance Publications Inc. of New York, which publishes 25 daily newspapers, 40 weekly business journals -- including titles in Pittsburgh, Columbus and Dayton, the Parade Magazine Sunday insert and popular magazines such as Vanity Fair and Glamour.


Other communications obtained by The Business Journal confirm that The Times-Picayune is similarly notifying its employees of the opportunity to make extra money. The publisher of the New Orleans newspaper, Ashton Phelps Jr., refused to answer questions. "I have nothing. I don't talk on the record," he said, and hung up. (Andrea Wood, Youngstown Business Journal)


Questions for class discussion:

1.) If a reporter from the New Orleans Times-Picayune (I've always loved that name, by the way) called the New Orleans police chief and asked for a comment, and the police chief hung up on that reporter, Publisher Ashton Phelps Jr. would be in high dudgeon, because the people's business was being conducted in private. Why is it OK for Publisher Ashton Phelps Jr. to conduct the business of Louisiana's most powerful and influential newspaper in private? Please answer with an essay of 100 to 150 words, and try to keep a straight face.

2.) Do you think it's fairly obvious that Advance Publications is considering buying the Youngstown Vindicator, which would potentially render all union contracts null and void? Explain your answer.

3.) A search of the Cleveland Plain Dealer Web site reveals no stories about this interesting news item. Draw a flowchart showing how the Cleveland Plain Dealer --- one of the 20 largest newspapers in the U.S. --- might have overlooked this story.


Dateline Guntown:

When they first heard of the announcement of a Main Street-style development proposed for the former Western Center property in neighboring Cecil Township, Canonsburg officials were taken aback.

Canonsburg, which celebrated its bicentennial just two years ago, already has an authentic main street, although in the borough it's known as West Pike Street.


The state sold the property, including 39 buildings, in August to the county for $2 million, payable interest-free in 10 annual installments.

Washington County Authority recently announced its plans for the 225-acre development, known as Southpointe II. The business and residential community will include a cinema, hotel and two-story department store. (Harry Funk, Observer-Reporter)

Question for class discussion:

According to this story, local business owners are worried that a taxpayer-funded development placed in direct competition with them will put them at a disadvantage. Can you think of any other examples where this has happened?

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