Filed Under: default || By jt3y
Category: default || By jt3y
The Almanac entry the other day about Downtown car dealers, including Standard Auto, the Chrysler garage where Sunray now has their warehouse, inspired a reader to ask: "What was at 801 Walnut? Looks like it was an impressive building, now fallen into a little disrepair, and a church is selling furniture in the building as well as the one next door."
I think the church in question is called Voice of Vision Outreach Ministries, and my understanding is that their furniture thrift store has some real values. (I have no first hand knowledge, because I don't have enough cash to pay attention right now, much less buy more furniture.) Corrections are welcome, as always.
As for 801 Walnut, which is a four-story brick and terra-cotta building across the street from the post office, the first floor was most recently Progressive Music, which recently moved down to the old Rubenstein shoe building on Fifth Avenue. But originally, it was Baer Brothers Studebaker. In fact, if you carefully at the roof of the building on the Olive Street side, you'll see a circular engraving. That's the Studebaker "turning wheel" emblem. (As for "disrepair," I can't comment one way or the other, but according to county tax records, the building was recently sold to a couple from Jefferson Hills, and I've seen workmen going in and out since they bought it. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they're fixing it up. There appear to be people living in the upstairs apartments.)
Walnut Street was "Auto Row" in Our Fair City, much like West Liberty Avenue is in Dormont today. Most of the city's auto dealers were either on Walnut or within one or two blocks. Besides Baer Brothers Studebaker and Standard Auto, Eger Motors Ford was on Walnut (in the building currently used by Mon Valley Plumbing, but originally the Hippodrome theater). Booth Chevrolet (later Deveraux) was on Sixth Street behind the Penn-McKee Hotel; Palmer's Garage (the Pontiac dealer) was on Market across Seventh Avenue from St. Peter's Church; Galen & Jones De Soto-Plymouth was on (I think) Ninth Street about a block east of Walnut Street; and Hunter Cadillac was in the old W.W. Hunter Livery building on Sixth next to Hunter-Edmundson-Striffler funeral home. If I remember correctly, Spitz Auto Parts --- the junkyard --- was between Walnut and Market between 10th and 11th avenues, near the train tracks.
The other major dealers were John P. Mooney Packard (later Edsel, then Volkswagen) on Fifth Avenue at Hartman Street (there's a car wash there now); Palace Garage (the Nash dealer) on the first floor of the Palisades; and Sullivan Buick (on Lysle Boulevard where Rite Aid is now, they also had the Rambler franchise at one time). Bruce Browne Oldsmobile was on West Fifth Avenue near the Mansfield Bridge (it's an office building now).
I'm probably missing several other auto dealers. I'm not sure who the Dodge dealer was before Paul Jones picked up the franchise in the '60s, when his dealership was out on Eden Park Boulevard where S&S Transit is now.
By the way: Regarding yesterday's Kyrgyzstan spoof, only one factoid in the piece is entirely fictional. The others are true. You could, as they say, look them up. I'll leave it to your imagination to spot the completely bogus one (though you probably have a good idea already).
Category: default || By jt3y
Western Pennsylvania has a lot of ethnic social clubs, but the other day out in Wallboard Township I ran across what I think is the region's only Kyrgyz-American Social Club. It's three miles south of the Business Route 31 Bypass on Shun Pike Road.
If you decide to visit, you can't miss it; it's a one-story cinderblock building with a Diet Rite Cola sign and a statue of Attila the Hun.
The only person there when I stopped was the club president, Zbigniew Czolgosz, who told me that he was working on the annual charity drive.
"The collapse of the Kyrgyzstan government has only made the collection more necessary than ever," he said. "We want to complete this year's drive in time for Kyrgyz Independence Day."
I interrupted him. "When's that?"
"August 31. That's when Kyrgyzstan declared independence back in 1991. Every year we hold a traditional Kyrgyz folk festival where we dance to traditional Kyrgyz melodies and old favorites like "Shüüdüngüttün Jürüshü. We also eat traditional Kyrgyz foods like assip, shurpa and besh barmak."
"That must be popular. Who doesn't enjoy a good besh barmak?"
"You'd think that, but the festival isn't as successful as we'd like," he said. "And of course, we always sing the Kyrgyz National Anthem."
Czolgosz handed me a copy of the sheet music for "Vpered Kyrgzskii Narod."
"How is this pronounced?" I asked.
"With great difficulty," he said.
Czolgosz showed me some of the club's exhibits that document life in Kyrgyzstan, like the dioramas showing sheepherders working beneath high-tension power lines.
"I understand the land of the Kyrgyz people was occupied by the Russians for more than 700 years," I said.
"That's right," he said. "And Kyrgyz culture was brutally oppressed by the czarists and the Soviets. That's why so few people have ever heard of Kyrgyzstan's great artists and composers. Everyone knows about Tschiakovsky, but how many people have ever heard of Sagïmbay Orozbak uulu? How about the great Kyrgyz inventor Tkszycky Fydrzyksy?"
"What did he develop?" I asked.
"The reversible fabric belt. But the Soviets thought he represented a dangerous threat to the native Russian pleather reversible belt industry, so they deported him to a gulag, where he was forced to make double-knit polyester suits for high-ranking Communist party officials. It's a miracle that he was able to get his life story out to the people."
"How was that?"
"A lime-green leisure suit with two pairs of pants was to be sent to the head of the Communist Party in Osh, so Fydrzyksy embroidered his autobiography into one of the pairs of pants. That pair of pants was diverted into the Kyrgyz resistance movement."
"When did you become interested in your Kyrgyz heritage?" I asked.
"Right after I discovered that I can claim to be one-thirty-second Kyrgyz on my mother's side."
"So I take it your great, great, grandfather was Kyrgyz."
"No, but my great, great, grandmother changed trains in Pulgon in 1918, and that's about as close as anyone else here in Wallboard Township."
We walked to the lobby, where a large oil painting depicts a barge laden with cement --- the product of one of Kyrgyzstan's top industries --- on Lake Issyk-Kul.
"How many people are in the Kyrgyz-American Social Club here?"
"Well, counting me, my wife, my mother, my kids, my cousins, the people who own the building --- we gave them honorary memberships --- and, um ... well, you're not Kyrgyz, are you?"
"No," I said.
"Seventeen, then," he said.
"When I first walked in, you said you were collecting for Kyrgyz relief," I said. "What type of clothes are in most demand?"
"Not clothes," he said.
"Well, Kyrgyzstan sounds like it's still mostly agrarian," I said. "Surely you're not collecting food."
"Nope, not food ..."
"No, although those are always in demand," he said. "But that isn't the most pressing need."
"And that would be ... ?"
"Vowels," he said. "The entire country is suffering from a severe vowel obstruction. Until the recent trouble in Kyrgyzstan, the government was close to a trade agreement with Tahiti --- Kyrgyzstan was going to send Tahiti consonants in exchange for Tahiti's loose vowels."
I started heading for the car. Czolgosz followed me.
"Up to 45 percent of Kyrgyz suffer from irritable vowel syndrome, and each year 1 in 1,000 children choke on a glottal stop while saying their own names," he said as I tried to unlock the car door.
"That's fascinating," I said, opening the door and getting in. "Listen, good luck."
"Can't you please help?" he said, blocking the doorjamb with his elbow. "Just one ouguiya a day can help a family of four."
I started the car and put it into gear. "That's amazing," I said.
"We're also accepting oolong, unguent and auks!" he shouted as I drove away.
But as I left, I wondered if I hadn't left too hastily.
After all, even if I didn't have any extra vowels with me, I'm sure he would have accepted an IOU.
(P.S. Tip of the Tube City hard hat to Officer Jim for the idea.)
Category: default || By jt3y
I see Uncle Harris has changed the design of the license plates again. I saw two of the new plates the other day. You may recall the big hullabaloo in 1999 when the Commonwealth began issuing plates with its Website URL on the bottom of them:
The idea was that no matter where Pennsylvanians went in the United States, people would see our URLs and say, "Ooh! Isn't Pennsylvania spiffy! They know what the Internet is!"
Meanwhile, the reason that the Pennsylvanians were in the other states was because they were moving the heck out of Pennsylvania, but that, as they say in the circus, is rear elephant.
Well, at least a few police officers have told me that the typeface of the word "PENNSYLVANIA" was hard to read on that light blue background, and that they looked too much like a West Virginia license plate to be easily distinguished at a distance:
Apparently, their complaints have been heard. The great minds of PennDOT put their shoulders to the wheel, and promptly got stuck in a pothole, but then they put the wheel back on the road and came up with the new Pennsylvania license plates:
You'll notice that "PENNSYLVANIA" is a bolder typeface and on a darker blue background which doesn't fade out, like the old plates did. Also, the gold at the bottom of the plates is darker and doesn't fade to white.
I have no strong opinions on the new design one way or the other. It's kind of dull-looking, though. If they wanted a license plate that was easy to read from a distance and instantly identifiable, they should have gone back to this one:
For crying out loud, it's shaped like the state of Pennsylvania. How much more identifiable could it be?
It could be worse, and it's about to get much, much worse, in fact. The Commonwealth has just announced a special licensing deal with the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing --- you've heard of them, right? --- to put the names and numbers of NASCAR drivers on Pennsylvania plates.
Which means that pretty soon, you're going to be seeing plates like this one:
I wish I was making this up, but I'm not. There's no "Dick Trickle" plate yet, but I'm hopeful.
The proliferation of speciality license plates is really becoming problematic, I think. I don't even know if I would mind a plate that said something generic like "AUTO RACING" --- maybe with a checkered flag on it --- but branding it with the NASCAR logo seems to be a bit too much. (Yes, I know, a "portion of the fees" from each NASCAR license plate goes to charity. I'll bet PennDOT spends more in one day for soap in the washrooms at the I-79 Welcome Center.) Once you brand the plates with "NASCAR," can "SpongeBob SquarePants" license plates be far behind? How about Nike? Adidas?
Besides, we already have enough nitwits driving Route 30 at 90 mph as they live out their NASCAR fantasies. Now they're going to demand banked curves. They had just better watch out for the walls, that's all. Turn, damn you, turn!
(1999 and 2005 Pennsylvania tag images courtesy John McDevitt's "PA Plates" Website. West Virginia tag and 1970 Pennsylvania tag from "Nick's Pl8s." Dale Earnhardt plate courtesy PennDOT Office of Driver and Vehicle Services.)
(P.S.: If you get one of those new plates, I'll bet they'd look really good with one of these.)
Category: default || By jt3y
Easter Sunday always seems so anti-climatic --- you spend all of that time decorating the Easter tree, hanging the Easter decorations, going Easter shopping, and then on Easter morning, you drink some green beer, shoot off the fireworks, and it's over.
Or maybe I'm mixing my holidays again. We almost lost an altar boy in church Easter morning; we were sitting quietly while people filed up for Communion when there was a loud "clonk!" at the altar. The church ladies had stacked tulips, daffodils and lilies in pots on the wall at the back of the sanctuary to decorate it.
Well, one of the flower pots tipped over and dropped to the floor, nearly bonking one of the kids on the head. Talk about church abuse!
I can see the sad tableau at the funeral home now: "How did your son die?"
"A senseless Easter flower accident."
That afternoon --- after visiting with the relatives --- I played Betsy Ross. My American flag was starting to become unraveled at one end and was presenting a pretty sorry sight to the neighborhood, so I stitched the stripes back together (insert your own "binding up the nation" metaphor here). My needlework isn't great --- we took metal shop, not home ec --- but it's serviceable. The flag is a little bit shorter at that end because I had to cut away the frayed fabric, but I don't think anyone will notice. Also, I checked the World Almanac, and there don't seem to be any uniform standards for the length of a flag.
After last week's discussion of Bugs Bunny sawing away Florida, I was tempted to remove one of the stars, too, but I didn't know which one was Florida's, so I left them alone. God forbid I should accidentally pull off Rhode Island's star or something by mistake.
Otherwise, it was a pretty uneventful day, which is nice. Alert Reader Officer Jim noted that Our Fair City has apparently got some new police cars, so I made a field trip to the Municipal Building.
Indeed, there were three shiny Chevrolet Impalas parked on Fourth Avenue --- and they're painted in Our Fair City's traditional white with red and blue stripes, not the black-and-white of the previous mayoral administration. Hooray! I'm no fan of the modern new lettering, but it's nice to see the red and blue stripes back on the squad cars. The police cars had those stripes for at least 30 years before the recent change. If I ever get the flatbed scanner hooked back up to the computer at Tube City Omnimedia World Headquarters, I could have even grabbed a photo.
To continue this pointless exercise in nostalgia, I don't remember Our Fair City ever having Dodge or Plymouth police cars. As far as I can remember, they've always been Chevys or Fords. I've even seen photos of McKeesport squad cars from the '50s, and they were Fords and Chevys.
It's not as if Our Fair City didn't have Chrysler dealers; for a while in the 1950s and '60s, we had two --- Standard Auto on Walnut Street (currently the Sunray Electric warehouse) was the Chrysler dealer, and Galen & Jones Motor Company (now gone, it was on Ninth Street, I think) was the DeSoto-Plymouth dealer. I don't know who had the Dodge franchise before Paul Jones (Eden Park Boulevard, it's now the S&S Transit Company garage) took it.
(Fords, of course, were sold by the Red Coats at Eger Motors on Walnut Street, now Mon Valley Plumbing but originally the Hippodrome theater, while Chevrolets were sold by Booth Motor Company on Sixth Street behind the Penn-McKee Hotel. Booth became Deveraux, which moved to Eden Park Boulevard; Devie's location is now Pro Bowl Ford.)
Where was I? Alert Reader Alycia points us to a now-completed eBay auction of sound-effects and music tapes from Kennywood. Sixty tapes covering everything from the Noah's Ark sounds to music for the Lagoon Stage Shows to Fall Fantasy parades going back to 1974 went for $400.
I don't have any of that stuff, but I do have a copy of the "Voice of Kennywood" closing announcements and music that are broadcast over the public-address system 15 minutes before the park closes. One night while I worked there, we tapped a reel-to-reel tape recorder into the PA system and made a dub.
I worked for Kennywood for five summers, yet I never once thought to just sit on a bench for an hour somewhere between the carousel and the calliope and tape the ambient sound. I often think that the sounds of Kennywood --- the music, the roller coasters, the noises of the games, the kids shouting and yelling --- are as much a part of the experience as the sights and smells. If you recorded a tape like that on a June afternoon at about 3 p.m., and played it back for almost any Mon Valley person, they'd only need to listen for about a minute before they'd know instantly what it was.
Alert Reader "Elka Bong" writes to inform us that the Sky-Vue Restaurant on Lebanon Church Road near the Allegheny County Airport has apparently closed. I hope this is temporary. I just ate there a few weeks ago (with two alert readers, come to think of it) and the food was still fine. The Sky-Vue is a great place for a quiet meal, and a lot of lightplane pilots depend on it when they fly into the county airport for a "$500 hamburger."
A first-time alert reader wrote to say that the 1964 photos of Eastland Mall in the History section of Tube City Online "take me from 43 years old to 4 years old in an instant! Wow ... I remember that so vividly. Thanks."
Well, you're welcome. There's lots more to post, if I ever get around to it. Maybe if I spent more time working on the Web site, and less time sewing up old American flags ...
From the Tube City Almanac National Affairs Desk, the word "acerbic" was invented to describe Vanity Fair writer and online columnist James Wolcott, but anyone who likes "Pogo" can't be too bad. Wolcott helpfully pointed to a pop-culture blog called "By Neddie Jingo!" which recently discussed at length the appeal of Walt Kelly's immortal comic strip.
"Neddie" included an audio file of Kelly singing (growling, is more like it) a song called "Go-Go Pogo." I think it's my new favorite song. I downloaded it and burned it to a CD, which I then played about 20 times in the car this weekend:
As Maine go, oh so Pogo go, Key Lar-ar-ar-go,
Otsego-go to Frisco-go to Far-ar-ar-go,
Okeefenokee playin' possum on a Pogo
Stick around and see-ee the show.
Land-alive a band o' jive will blow go Pogo,
I go, you go, who go, to go, parlez-vous go,
From Caravan Diego, Waco and Oswego,
Tweedle-dee, he go, she go, we go, me go, Pogo!
The song is from the 1955 LP "Songs of the Pogo," and you can buy a nice clean digital CD copy of your own.
And finally, Professor Pittsblog points us to a shocking expose of the so-called "blogosphere" (pronounced "blow-gosp-EER"), or as hip teens today say, the "live journal," helpfully provided on Sunday by One of America's Great Newspapers.
Apparently these so-called "blogs" (short for "bologna logs") are sort of online diaries where people (called "bloggers") can write about themselves. According to the sidebar called "Navigating the Blogosphere," they often use so-called "emoticons," animated faces that illustrate the writer's state of mind. (Gee, thanks! Next, can you explain this hippy-hoppy rock combo music that all of the kids are so wild about?)
Because these "blogs" are available on the Internet (a worldwide network of "computers," which are portable electronic calculating machines), anyone with a so-called "Interweb browser" (such as "Microsoft Netscape") can look at them.
By the way: For the benefit of our younger readers "navigating the blogosphere," a "newspaper" is a kind of a version of Google! News edited by poorly-paid, overworked humans and printed on large pieces of paper ("newsprint") made from dead trees. Sadly, it also sometimes turns out to be a collection of yesterday's news tomorrow.
Category: default || By jt3y
One of the richest African-American women in the United States is a native of Our Fair City. Sheila Crump Johnson is the co-founder --- with her ex-husband, Bob Johnson --- of the Black Entertainment Television network, or BET.
Johnson, who has a net worth estimated at more than a billion dollars, and is planning to build a $50 million resort and stable in Virginia horse country, according to a profile this week in the Palm Beach Post. She divides her time these days between Virginia and Wellington, Fla., which is a far cry from her old stomping grounds.
OK, it may be a little bit of a stretch to call her a McKeesporter, since she hasn't lived here since she was a small child. Her father was one of only a handful of black neurosurgeons in the country; barred from practicing at many "white" hospitals, he worked for the Veterans Administration. Her mother was an accountant for the government. As a result, they moved around the country.
According to the Palm Beach newspaper, she's a graduate of the University of Illinois and an accomplished violinist. Johnson has also become a prominent philanthropist; she's the spokeswoman for the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, sits on the board of directors of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, and recently donated a $7 million endowment to the Parsons School of Design in New York City. (According to this article from Ebony, she also supports the United Negro College Fund and the State University of New York.)
Altogether, she's done quite well for herself (and others) and she sounds like a classy lady, to boot.
There are two obituaries of local interest to report. Judith Ann Bruhn Serrin died Saturday in New York City after an accident at home. She was 58. Serrin is a former reporter for The New York Times and the Detroit Free Press and is the wife of William Serrin, author of the landmark book Homestead: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town.
In recent years, the Serrins have been teaching journalism, he at NYU and she at Queens College in New York; they recently collaborated on the book Muckraking: The Journalism That Changed America. I was delighted to meet and interview the Serrins when they came back to Homestead to talk about muckraking journalism at the Pump House, and I found them both warm, funny and charming.
Besides her husband, Serrin is survived by two children and her father. Contributions may be made to the Judith Bruhn Serrin Memorial Scholarship Fund, 3 Washington Square Village, 2P, New York, NY 10012. Deepest sympathies to Bill Serrin and his family.
Also, Treshea Wade reported in the Tribune-Review that a longtime colorful fixture on the Mon-Yough scene has died after a long battle with cancer. Frank Sinatra --- the businessman from Glassport and Elizabeth Township, not the other one --- was 57.
Sinatra owned an advertising business in Glassport and devoted many hours of volunteer and charitable work in and around the Mon Valley. He was also an enthusiastic booster of the community and his alma mater, Point Park College (now University). According to Wade, Sinatra's wife said he made the most of his famous name, but he couldn't sing a note:
"People would always ask my husband to sing them a tune, and he always joked that he even hummed very badly," (Carol) Sinatra said, with a laugh. "He always handled the teasing and the questions very well."
Besides his wife, Mr. Sinatra is survived by two sisters, two brothers, and nieces and nephews. Contributions may be made to the Frank Sinatra Memorial Fund at Point Park University; to the Pittsburgh Italian Scholarship Fund, 24 Mt. Hope St., Pittsburgh, PA 15223; or to the Elizabeth Township Area EMS.
Requiescat in pace.
On happier notes: Ann Belser had a nice story in the Post-Gazette on The Palisades Ballroom, which is about ready to turn a profit again. Besides the dancing and other community events, the Palisades is also home to the Water Street Cafe, a restaurant on the first floor.
Belser reports that the previous city administration had been giving away the use of the ballroom for free for many events instead of charging for hall rental. That led to the Palisades losing $6,751 in 2002 and nearly $10,000 in 2003. Now, Belser writes, the Palisades is on track to earn about $6,000 this year --- not a big revenue generator, but better than a deficit.
Unfortunately, Our Fair City is still subsidizing the operations of the McKees Point Marina to the tune of nearly $100,000 per year. As city auditor Raymond Malinchak tells her, "That's not the way you run a railroad or a boat dock."
The Marina has been a wonderful addition to the Mon-Yough area, but it doesn't seem fair that city taxpayers should be subsidizing it. First of all, it's a regional asset used by many non-city residents. Second, it still hasn't spurred the kind of redevelopment of lower Fifth Avenue that would justify a city investment of $100,000 per year; but in fairness, the Marina was supposed to be part of a complete redevelopment of the McKeesport waterfront stretching all the way down to the Monongahela River, and that hasn't happened yet. That, I suspect, is due to a lack of state or federal funding to relocate the Camp-Hill pipe yard that currently occupies much of the land.
It would be nice to see some private money invested or donated to boost the waterfront rehabilitation, which might surround the Marina with taxpaying businesses that would offset the city's subsidy.
Hmm ... does anyone have Sheila Johnson's phone number? 'Cause the "Sheila Crump Johnson Marina" doesn't have a bad ring to it.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Barnes writes in the P-G that city officials and RIDC have their eyes on redeveloping the old McKeesport Connecting Railroad roundhouse at the former U.S. Steel National Works. The roundhouse could be used either for light manufacturing or shopping, RIDC officials say.
The Antique Motor Coach Association of Pennsylvania currently use part of the roundhouse as a garage for the buses that they're restoring; their most recent project, a 1947 bus restored into the colors of the old Harmony Short Line is to be unveiled in April at the Heinz Regional History Center in Pittsburgh's Strip District.
To Do This Weekend: In your Easter bonnet, with all of the frills upon it, you'll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade. Unless you're a guy, in which case, you're going to attract some stares, I suspect. ... Dallas Marks is at Big Tony's Bar & Grille, 699 O'Neil Blvd., Saturday night. Call (412) 498-1373. ... Nomad is at Guitars & Cadillacs (formerly "The Whinery") on Route 48 in White Oak tonight; call (412) 672-5750. ... And the Al Louis Band swings the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, Saturday night; call (412) 678-6979.
Category: default || By jt3y
As Tommy Roe might have sung, I'm so Disney, my head is spinning. Who would have thought that there was so much repressed frustration among the teeming tens of Almanac readers about the Mouse House? Tuesday's mention of a story from Jim Hill Media about an incident at Disneyland in Anaheim brought a few vociferous responses.
Alert Reader Officer Jim writes:
Regarding the "Almanac" entry, I seem to recall a story from a few years back; not sure where I read it, I think a police-oriented publication ... Anyway, Dizzy World built a sort of "company town" outside of Orlando for seasonal, temporary and transient employees to stay in (named "Disney Village" or some such thing).
They started having crime problems, including some pretty serious assaults and such. I seem to remember that the Orange County Sheriff's Office got a 911 call concerning an assault (it may have even been a rape call) and when the ambulance and deputies arrived at the gates, the Mickey Mouse PD refused to let them in.
I think it was resolved when the sheriff's supervisor on scene threatened to arrest the entire security shift for obstruction. I also recall that the deputies union was p----d because it wasn't the first time and the incidents were being hushed up.
Of course, it may be an "urban legend" but I knew a guy in college who had interned with Disney for a semester (he was a film major) and from what he said about Disney security, I'd be inclined to believe it. (He may in fact have been the one who told me the story, now that I think about it.)
Sweet Jesus, that Disney post hit too close to home. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was escorted off the premises of a certain public venue because someone complained about me. I'm still not sure exactly what the complaint was, except that I have a bad habit of conversing with strangers, and one of them probably didn't like my attention. ...
A friend of mine worked for Disney, and I can confirm that (Jim Hill) is not alone in his experience. Step out of line once, or show the slightest inclination of making any trouble, and by gum, they'll collar you, detain you, collect your vital information, and throw you out. It's a sea of smiles, patrolled by the Gestapo; an artificial happiness, like the Twilight Zone episode where everyone was forced to "think happy thoughts."
(E)verytime something f----d up (happens) that involves Florida I keep thinking of the Bugs Bunny cartoon when he sawed off Florida from a life-size map of the U.S.A. and yelled "South America, take her away!"
Category: default || By jt3y
I spent last night reading about the Terri Schiavo case, despite telling myself, over and over again, that I wouldn't. So don't hang around here expecting something light-hearted today; it isn't going to happen.
I have strong feelings on the Schiavo tragedy, and I could write a big, long soliloquy about the case, but there's nothing that I could argue that hasn't already been argue by people both better and worse informed than I am. There's also nothing particularly local about the case, so it's not really Almanac material.
It's just a thoroughly depressing affair, and it's really hard to imagine the hell that everyone --- Schiavo's parents, her husband, their families, their neighbors, the judges --- must be going through. Place yourself in the shoes of Terri Schiavo's parents. Of course they want their daughter to live, by any means necessary, even if she's only a shell of the person they raised. Her physical presence is a reminder, every day, of better times. And can you imagine how painful it must be for people like Michael Schiavo to watch, for 15 years, what's left of someone they loved whither away to nothing?
Neither side could have possibly predicted that their private grief would be turned into an international media circus, that they would be assigned motives by every idiot with a talk show and, yes, a Web page. The radio and cable TV yobbos keep obsessively dissecting little tiny scraps of information over and over again like a dog chewing on a bone, and listening to them blabber for 15 minutes makes it perfectly, painfully clear that they have absolutely no idea what they're talking about.
Anyone who can't sympathize with both sides in this debate is simply blinded by their own ideology, and the blowhards and greedheads who are exploiting this family's grief to score a few cheap Nielsen ratings points or to further their own political causes have the intellectual depth of puddles and the morals of alley cats in heat.
Which brings us, naturally, to the lunatics in the Senate and House --- and the White House --- who decided, on the basis of almost no information, to jump in with both feet and see if they couldn't make a bad situation even worse. When Democrats were in charge of Congress, Republicans used to joke that the scariest phrase in the English language was, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." Well, seeing the Republican "help" over the weekend should leave any thinking American just as scared.
No matter what happens, there will never be any resolution for either the Schindlers or the Schiavos that leaves them satisfied. Whether Terri Schiavo's feeding tube is reinserted or not, she will never have a productive and happy life. After CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC and the chattering radio nimrods move onto to the next big "breaking news story," the Schindlers and Schiavos will be left alone with their heartbreak, forever.
Like I said, I could work myself up into a lather over this, but there's very little that I could write that hasn't been written better. Here are links to some of the better things I've read recently about the Schiavo case, and hopefully we'll have a lighter, happier Almanac on Thursday.
(P.S. The nearest newspaper to Pinellas Park, Fla., where Schiavo is hospitalized, is the St. Petersburg Times, which is regarded as one of the best newspapers of its size in the country. They have a complete archive of Schiavo coverage that is well worth your time, if you're so inclined.)
The end justifies the means.
When you have enough power, you can tell the courts to get lost, you can overrule the self-government of an entire state, you can obliterate the rule of law.
It does not matter that Florida's courts ruled that Terri Schiavo expressed the wish not to be kept alive artificially. We are entitled to ignore court rulings.
Neither does it matter that the doctors say that her brain has largely turned to fluid. We may dismiss these facts with a wave of the hand, or a sound bite on CNN.
Congress knows all. The federal government knows all. The strutting Tom DeLay and the unctuous Bill Frist know more than all the judges and doctors combined.
The Florida Legislature saw a half-dozen video snippets of Terri Schiavo in 2003 and hastily passed an unconstitutional law that kept her alive for more than a year.
Last week, Bill Frist, majority leader of the U.S. Senate and a doctor, reviewed the video images, pronounced her conscious and decried her "starvation." Then, he and his congressional colleagues also passed a "save Terri" law.
Through it all, well-meaning people all over the country have called Schiavo's husband a murderer and compared Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer to Adolf Hitler. (....)
In late 2003, I reviewed all four hours of videotape from Terri Schiavo's court-ordered medical evaluations, not just the four minutes and 20 seconds that are posted on the "terrisfight" Web site, and wrote a story about it. The complete videos -- the latest ones ---- are part of the court file. ... The video is poignant and, at times, painful. Mary Schindler bends to her daughter's face to chat and coo. On two occasions, Schiavo's eyes seem to focus and her mouth seems to broaden. Could that be a smile? (....)
(M)ore often than not, the parents' and doctors' ministrations elicit no apparent reaction --- at least not to someone unfamiliar with the nuances of her expressions. She mostly lies in bed with stiff limbs, loose jaw and unfocused eyes --- no matter how hard her parents try.
Q.: As a priest, how do you resolve questions in which the "sanctity of life" is involved?
A.: The sanctity of life? This has nothing to do with the sanctity of life. The Roman Catholic Church has a consistent 400-year-old tradition that I'm sure you are familiar with. It says nobody is obliged to undergo extraordinary means to preserve life.
This is Holy Week, this is when the Catholic community is saying, "We understand that life is not an absolute good and death is not an absolute defeat." The whole story of Easter is about the triumph of eternal life over death. Catholics have never believed that biological life is an end in and of itself. We've been created as a gift from God and are ultimately destined to go back to God. And we've been destined in this life to be involved in relationships. And when the capacity for that life is exhausted, there is no obligation to make officious efforts to sustain it.
This is not new doctrine. Back in 1950, Gerald Kelly, the leading Catholic moral theologian at the time, wrote a marvelous article on the obligation to use artificial means to sustain life. He published it in Theological Studies, the leading Catholic journal. He wrote, "I'm often asked whether you have to use IV feeding to sustain somebody who is in a terminal coma." And he said, "Not only do I believe there is no obligation to do it, I believe that imposing those treatments on that class of patients is wrong. There is no benefit to the patient, there is great expense to the community, and there is enormous tension on the family."
What are the two Americas? If you read the Washington Post, you read about a woman who had a heart attack and suffered brain damage in the process. In (MSNBC's) "Scarborough Country," you hear something else. You meet an impressive Nobel nominee --- and he makes "explosive allegations." He tells you she had no such heart attack. Instead, he suggests she was strangled by her husband.
These two Americas have existed for years. If you live in cable America, you routinely hear whole sets of things that never appear in the Washington Post, things that the Washington Post rarely attempts to discuss, describe or debate. Cable viewers live in one world; newspaper readers exist in another. Newspaper readers rarely hear what's being said in the other America. And for that reason, people who live in the cable America sometimes get played for plain fools.
Like last night, for example. Consider the impressive Hammesfahr, the brilliant Nobel Prize nominee. Here's what we found when we ran a search: Three years ago, David Sommer of the St. Petersburg Times reported that Hammesfahr "advertises himself as a nominee for a Nobel Prize based on a letter his congressman wrote to the Nobel committee." Yes, Hammesfahr was "nominated" for the Nobel Prize by his Republican congressman, Peter Bilirakis, back in 1999! And uh-oh! In 2003, William Levesque of the St. Peterburg Times described more of Hammesfahr's brilliance:
LEVESQUE (10/25/03): In a 2002 order by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer ruling that Mrs. Schiavo could not recover, Greer labeled Hammesfahr a "self-promoter." The judge noted that Hammesfahr testified that he had treated patients worse off than Mrs. Schiavo yet "offered no names, no case studies, no videos and no test results to support his claim."
Category: default || By jt3y
Since buying a house, I've been trying to cut expenses in any possible way. That hasn't quite extended to flushing every other time, or making my own paper from wood pulped in the bathtub, but I have become obsessed with keeping the thermostat set low in the wintertime (if you can't see your breath, it's warm enough) and turning off unused lights. I don't have cable TV any more --- if there's nothing on the goggle box, that's my cue to do something useful with my time. Be frugal, that's my motto; watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.
I'm also buying a lot of store-brand and generic products. So far, I haven't really gotten burned too badly, except in one case, which I'll get to in a moment. Most of the stuff seems as good as anything else --- I haven't noticed a particularly off taste in store-brand breakfast cereal versus the Kellogg's or Big G varieties, for example, and no-name sponges absorb just as much water as the "O-cell-o" ones.
Is there a rule, though, that says that store-brand products have to have poorly illustrated labels and gaudy colors? Some law that governs graphic-design of non-nationally advertised consumables? ("Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, Sec. 14: That no food, drug, or liquor that is not supported by handbills, traveling vendors, photoplay advertisements, or other promotional activities shall prominently display its name in ugly type using illustrations that shall make the contents as unappetizing as possible.")
I realize that one of the reasons that the store brands are cheaper is because they don't spend as much on packaging as the national brands, but they could hire a first-year student from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh to come up with more attractive labels than they use.
Maybe they figure if we're too cheap to spring for the name brand, we don't deserve a package with a label that isn't eye-poppingly awful, or they're trying to shame us into paying more for the more expensive products. All I can assume is that the labels are designed by the daughters of the foremen who run the factories.
"Look, daddy! It says 'grape jelly!'"
"No, sweetie, it says 'grepe jelly,' but that's close enough for people who are trying to save 79 cents off of a jar of Smuckers."
Also, I love how store-brand product packaging tries to get as close to the nationally advertised packaging as they can without getting sued. Take Pepto-Bismol, which comes in a familiar pink bottle; the store brands are invariably called something like "Pepta-Bismate" and come in bottles that are almost, but not quite, the same shade of pink.
The store-brand imitation of Sugar Smacks cereal (with "Dig 'Em Frog" on the package) will be called "Sugar Snackers" and feature a cartoon character called "Excavatin' Toad." In tiny type on the package will be the sentence: "Try this if you like Sugar Smacks!"
The one I love is the store-brand corn flakes. Unlike the Kellogg's Corn Flakes, the store-brand doesn't have a rooster on the package --- I think it has a cartoon of an ostrich with a thyroid problem --- but it has giant black capital letters on the package that say, "CORN FLAKES." And underneath in tiny letters, it says "Try this if you like Corn Flakes."
Well, duh. I'm glad they put that sentence on there. They must have gotten a lot of complaints. "Gee, I bought this cereal with the words 'CORN FLAKES' prominently displayed on the box, but I don't like Corn Flakes. I only wish they had warned me."
The product that surprised me most was non-Heinz ketchup, which was surprisingly good. I know, Pittsburgh loyalty and all that, but I don't feel too bad; I bought Bell-View brand, which is packed right over in Penn Borough, and it was significantly cheaper. (In fact, the whole Bell-View line --- pickles, relish, mustard, jelly, etc. --- is excellent for the price. I actually prefer Bell-View peanut butter to Jif or Skippy.)
Indeed, the only store-brand product that I've bought that was a complete disaster was saltine crackers. Usually I buy the Sunshine saltines, which are themselves about a dollar less than Nabisco Premium saltines, but the store-brand saltines were a buck cheaper than Sunshine saltines. Well, I couldn't resist --- it was like saving two dollars, after all!
Let me just say that store-brand saltine crackers are awful, awful stuff. I think they're made from recycled acoustical ceiling tile. They can't be eaten on their own, and they don't taste good in soup. The birds won't even eat them. I don't know how a cracker factory could screw up something as simple as saltines, but they did it.
Still, I hate to waste food, so I'm currently scraping off the salt to melt ice in the driveway and mushing up the crackers to spackle holes in the plaster.
Like I said, I'm trying to be frugal.
In other news, No. 7,151 of the "Reasons That I Hate The Walt Disney Company." Disneyphile Jim Hill conducts personal tours of Disneyland in Anaheim to explain the history of the park, but yesterday:
... 20 minutes into my 2 o'clock tour, I was suddenly interrupted by two officials from the park's security staff. They quietly pulled me aside and said that they'd had complaints about my tour. That they'd heard that I was saying negative things about their theme park. More importantly, that my JHM tour was somehow undercutting Disneyland Guest Relations' ability to sell its own tours of the theme park. ...
I can't help but think that the First Amendment sort-of, kind-of covers this issue. The right to tell somewhat embarassing stories about the Mouse. That's somewhere in the Constitution ... isn't it?
Well, that's clearly not how Disneyland Security sees it. The next thing I know, I've got an Anaheim police detective advising me that -- should I decide to continue with my tour -- the park's security staff could have me escorted off property. Worse yet, they could have me arrested. Which -- to my way of thinking, anyway -- wasn't exactly the best way to end my day at "The Happiest Place on Earth."
Category: default || By jt3y
I saw an interesting handmade sign tacked to a phone pole on a West Mifflin side street this weekend: "No Kids, No School Taxes." I've heard the same thing said by a lot of callers to talk radio shows, and in private conversations with people.
It's the American spirit, 2005 Edition, and it nicely summarizes the virus with which neo-conservatives have successfully infected the American body politic over the past 20 years: "Why should I contribute to anything that doesn't directly benefit me?"
It's the same watery thinking that leads to "I'm not old, why should I pay Social Security taxes?" and "I'm not poor, why should I pay for welfare?" Or the message I saw posted on a sign last week; I'll summarize the pungent, scatological argument as "I don't ride public transportation, so why should I pay taxes for it?"
We can expand that reasoning further. "I don't live in an area that could be invaded by a foreign power, so why should I pay for the Department of Defense?" "I don't care if I dump raw sewage into my own backyard, so why should I pay the sewer authority?" "My house isn't on fire, so why should I pay for a fire department?"
The whole idea of having a government that "provides for the common defense," "promotes the general welfare," and "ensures domestic tranquility," as the Founding Fathers put it, is that we all contribute together to do things that we can't do individually.
I'm "libertarian" (small "L") in so far as not wanting government to impose laws to protect people from their own stupidity or immorality. You want to view pornography until your eyeballs rot? Hey, knock yourself out. You want to sit home and smoke reefer and drink beer until you dissolve into a messy puddle? Don't let me stop you. I believe abortion is reprehensible, but I don't find it my place to go into someone else's home and tell them they can't have one.
You want to peddle porn to kids or drive your car while you're stoned or murder someone else's unborn child? Now, we have a huge problem.
School taxes fund a public education system that's supposed to ensure that American students can compete in the world economy. We can argue over the efficacy of current public school systems, but I thought the arguments over the value of public education had been settled in the 19th century.
No, I don't have kids, and I went to parochial school, but I pay my school taxes in hope that the school district will educate the little nippers so they'll go out and get decent jobs, and not break into my house and steal my ... well, what is it that I have of value? I support welfare-to-work programs, but it's nice to know that if someone loses their job, they won't have to resort to breaking into houses, either. And we can't have welfare-to-work without having a way for former welfare recipients to get to work, which leaves us stuck providing public transit.
That's why you just can't "opt out" of those parts of society you don't want, and why "no kids, no school taxes" is an idiotic statement. According to the Pennsylvania Economy League, it costs more than $9,000 to educate each elementary school pupil --- paying for the cost to heat the buildings, buy the chalk, pay the teachers, run the school buses around, the whole nine yards. A family with two children earning the median Pennsylvania income of $43,000 would be paying out nearly half of their pre-tax cash on educational expenses, to say nothing of feeding and sheltering the kiddos and keeping them in Garanimals and Underoos.
Can we argue over Pennsylvania's method of public school funding? Most definitely. Property taxes are a patently ridiculous way to fund education; they don't take into account the property owner's ability to pay. They don't account for people who may be land-rich but cash-poor, like the elderly. Property only has a value when it's sold for cash, after all. Sales taxes aren't particularly good, either --- they're outrageously regressive --- and higher income taxes would be politically unpopular.
But simply saying "no kids, no school taxes" (or "no Social Security") marks one as a member of the Flat Earth Society. It's not just short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating, it's downright cruel.
Civilized societies stay civilized when they distribute the burdens of civilization over as broad of a segment of the population as possible. Yet the neo-con philosophy seems to be to concentrate both burdens and wealth on limited portions of the population --- the burdens onto the people who need the help, and the wealth on the people who already have it. The poor keep borrowing money, and the rich keep getting tax cuts.
That isn't sustainable for very long. And if the chartered members of the Flat Earth Society who currently seem to hold the reins of power in Washington keep steering us in this direction, we may find out just how Flat the Earth is when they drive the whole dadblamed American economy right off the end.
Category: default || By jt3y
Got a haircut the other day, and the price has jumped another dollar. This is really starting to bug me, too, although I didn't tell the barber that. (Never argue with a guy holding a straight razor, that's my credo.)
I still don't understand why I should pay 100 percent of the price, when I don't have 100 percent of the hair. If you were paying someone to cut your lawn, and your lawn was only half the size of your neighbor's lawn, would you expect to pay the same price as they pay? Of course not.
So, hair was on my mind --- which means, I guess, that those few remaining hairs have deep roots --- when I saw what Harry Shearer (whose name has never been more appropriate) wrote at Talking Points Memo the other day in regard to the departure of CBS Evening News anchor "Gunga" Dan Rather:
I’m amazed that a salient fact about Dan’s last few years escaped notice during last week’s barrage of Rathermania and Ratherphobia. Namely, what other distinguished personage of such lengthy service in the public eye suddenly decides, in the last few years of his career, to change the side of his head on which he parts his hair? That, my friends, is plain weird .... Somehow, Dan decided ... that the twilight of a long life on camera had to be marked with a migratory part. And nobody asked why.
Shearer (who has a terrific radio show heard locally Monday mornings at 12 a.m. on WDUQ) goes on to link to something called the Hair Part Theory. Simply stated, this theory (developed by a man in Syracuse, N.Y.) states that:
A left hair part draws unconscious attention to the left side of the brain, which controls activities traditionally associated with masculinity. A right hair part draws unconscious attention to the right side of the brain, which controls activities traditionally associated with femininity. ...
Only 7 percent of presidents had a definite right part. Only 16 percent of the male governors in office as of last September had a definite right part. Only 13 percent of the male senators and 16.4 percent of representatives in the last session of Congress had right parts.
Parting my hair, admittedly, is like trying to water ski on the Youghiogheny River. It can be done, but there isn't much surface material to work with and there's precious little margin for experimentation. Nevertheless, I've been parting my hair on the right for years now, which could explain my meteoric rise to mediocrity.
So, Dr. Pica Pole, director of the Tube City Online Laboratory (motto: "We can fix it, or we can fix it so no one else can") decided to round up photos of a few local personages of note and see where they part their hair.
As you can see, the left part goes across local, state and federal political boundaries, and across ideological lines. Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, a Democrat (1); U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican (2); and Governor Ed Rendell (3), a Democrat, all have left parts, and have achieved notable political successes. But the left part is no guarantee of success in an election, as the erstwhile Fox Chapel resident pictured in (4) proved last November. Dr. Pole couldn't find a photo of Mayor James Brewster of Our Fair City, but I met him years ago, and I seem to recall that he parts his hair on the left, too. (Photo credits: City of Pittsburgh, United States Senate, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States Senate.)
But wait! A right part is not necessarily harmful to one's career in politics, as photos of former Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey (5) and current Allegheny County Council President Rich Fitzgerald (6), who represents the Steel Valley, would appear to indicate. As in the first set of photos, the right part is also bi-part-isan; Roddey is a Republican, while Fitzgerald is a Democrat. Also, Dr. Pole disputes the notion that a right part some how emphasizes a man's "feminine side," because anyone calling Steelers Coach Bill Cowher (7) "feminine" would do so at their own peril. I agree. (Photo credits: County of Allegheny and Pittsburgh Steelers.)
Also, the Hair Part Theory provides no means to evaluate those people who have no discernible part, and yet there is no shortage of local personalities of note who fall into that category. Dr. Pole turned up two prime examples: Current Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato (8) and ... well, does the fellow on the right (9) need any introduction? (Photo credits: County of Allegheny and Mario Lemieux Foundation.)
Obviously, the Hair Part Theory requires considerably more study, and if there are any foundations who want to make a large cash grant, Dr. Pole will be glad to set the entire vast research and development arm of Tube City Online to work on the problem. (Please, send only small, non-sequential bills, and no worthless checks.)
Unlike Dr. Pole, I didn't need to do any research. I needed to check only one man --- a man who has come to symbolize all that is great and distinctive about science, culture and commerce in Western Pennsylvania to me and to many others.
As you can see, Joe DeNardo (10) parts his hair on the left. Though Dr. Pole's research is not conclusive, that's a pretty strong endorsement of the left part. (Photo credit: WTAE-TV.)
Worth Noting in the News: Ann Belser of the Post-Gazette had a nice article for St. Patrick's Day about the long-running "Echoes of Erin" program on WEDO (810). (Belser calls it "White Oak's" WEDO, which is sort of true. WEDO's studios are in White Oak, and the transmitter is in North Versailles, but the station is licensed to Our Fair City. Welcome to the world of FCC deregulation.)
Pat Cloonan of the News reported that $7 million for construction of overpasses into the RIDC industrial parks in Our Fair City and Duquesne has been included in the latest U.S. House surface transportation bill. Currently, access to the parks is restricted by the railroad tracks that separate the McKeesport and Duquesne sites from Lysle Boulevard and Route 837, respectively. It remains to be seen if the bill will pass the Senate.
To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Area High School presents "Grease," through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium, Eden Park Boulevard. Tickets are $5. ... South Allegheny High School presents "Honk," through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the auditorium at the high school, 2743 Washington Blvd., Liberty Borough. Tickets are $7. ... An Easter egg hunt will be held tomorrow morning beginning at 11 at Renzie Park. Call (412) 675-5020.
Category: default || By jt3y
The hills above Our Fair City were alive this morning with the sound of chirping birds. The swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, and the spatsies return to North Bittyburg, I guess. I even heard a hoot owl last night: "Whoo! Whoo!" Who? Me, that's who.
I suppose we could still get a big snowstorm, but the National Weather Service is saying that temperatures should remain in the 40s and 50s through the next week or so, and the only precipitation expected is rain. We ought to be seeing some blossoms on the trees soon --- I haven't seen any yet, but I haven't really been looking, either.
I don't mind winter that much, mostly because I'm not a summery-type person. I'm not interested in hanging out on the beach or playing softball; sitting on the porch with a beer is more my speed. I also can't stand bugs (as far as I know, they're no big fan of mine, either), and winter is notable for its near total lack of them. The return of the birds --- which I enjoy --- means the imminent return of flies, fleas, mosquitos and assorted other pests.
Also, while the winter may be cold, you can always put on more clothes. Come August, when the temperature and the humidity are both hovering in the 90s, and my shirt is clinging to me like a wet rag, I'll be looking at Alaska travel brochures again with wistful longing. I much prefer fall --- baseball playoffs, cool nights, the sweet smell of falling leaves.
Still, the gray griminess of winter gets to me after a while, and spring is most welcome. Rain washes away the dirt and dust that settles on everything, and without rain, everything around the Mon-Yough area seems to take on a pallor in the wintertime. The tons of rock salt and cinders that road crews spread only accentuate the crud with a fine white layer of powder that really brings out the highlights of the ugliness. In some parts of the country, where the snow tends to stick around, the crumminess of winter isn't so noticeable, but Southwestern Pennsylvania doesn't get quite enough snow to hide the grit.
Then, too, by March in the Valley, people have started to forget what colors look like --- everything is in muted shades of brown, tan, beige and gray, with salt and cinder accents. Sure, people put bright red and green decorations out at Christmastime (sorry, at Christmakwanukah), but those colors are so artificial that they don't count. Besides, after a week or two they're buried under a thin coating of crud like everything else. While the first redbird or tulip that makes an appearance in March almost hurts your eyes, it's the good kind of hurt.
So here's to birds singing outside my window, to trying to get the lawnmower started, to Easter baskets, to taking the snow tires off the car, and to bringing in the storm windows and hanging the screens. Plus, Pirates' opening day is only 18 days away, and you know what that means: It's the last time this season that the Buccos won't have a losing record.
Because let's face it: I'm happy about spring's imminent arrival, but I'm not delusional.
Update, 4 p.m.: Looks like reports of Mike Madison's departure were a hoax. Professor Pittsblog is emphatically not leaving. Someone appears to be having a little fun at his expense, which is pretty immature, but sadly, not unheard of:
In the comments to my last post (on the current production at the Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh, which you all really should go see), someone posted a couple of comments under what purports to be my name. Allegedly, I'm moving back to California; I never really liked it here; sorry to the people I misled, etc.
Sorry to disappoint you, whoever you are, but I'm not moving back to California. I still do like Pittsburgh. And I intend to continue to do so, and say so, here.
What? Somebody wrote something on the Internet that wasn't true? But that's unpossible! Anyway, we apologize for falling for it. But still, I wouldn't blame Madison if he wanted to move to California, Pa. Seriously, 29 cent cheeseburgers at Pechin's are hard to beat.
Category: default || By jt3y
An otherwise nice story in the Post-Gazette about H&H Fish Market --- a landmark in Our Fair City since the 1920s --- is somewhat spoiled by the very first sentence: "Tucked into a skinny storefront on a one-way side street in what's left of downtown McKeesport, in the shadow of the blue onion domes of Holy Virgin Dormition Russian Orthodox Church, is a shop straight out of the old days."
Gee, do we come to your town and remark on how crummy it is? Why must staff writers at the P-G continually reach for these easy cliches whenever they write about the Mon Valley? It's as if anything south of Hazelwood is forbidden territory for One of America's Great Newspapers --- they're like Lewis and Clark, meeting the natives for the first time.
A few years ago, the P-G did an entire series about canoeing down the Yough and "discovering" places like Sutersville and Whitsett. This line still sticks in my craw: "For much of this week, Annie and I have felt like a team from National Geographic, drifting through some exotic river region's spectacular scenery and distinctive culture."
Yes, you haven't lived until you've seen the aborigines of Buena Vista, running around bare-chested with bones in their noses, hunting tigers with spears and setting out on the Youghiogheny in their outriggers to dive for pearls. (Or are those Allegheny whitefish?)
In all seriousness, the profile of H&H is otherwise very nice, and frankly, since most stories from the Picksberg news media about the Mon-Yough area tend to focus on fires and shootings, it's very welcome.
But we're not savages, for crying out loud. We've got penicillin, flush toilets, telephones, cable TV and everything.
"What's left of downtown McKeesport," indeed. Been to downtown Picksberg lately?
(Update: I originally named the writer of the H&H and canoe trip pieces, and I then revised this entry to remove his name, because this isn't a personal attack on him --- it's just an observation on something I've noticed. He's otherwise a good writer, and for all I know, a very nice guy. We are a kinder, gentler blog.)
Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune has a feature called "Fine Lines," in which he quotes great passages from stories in the news. I thought this paragraph by Karen Ferrick-Roman in the Beaver County Times, about the new bomb-sniffing dog at the Pittsburgh International Airport, was a winner:
At the airport, Pascha is all work and absolutely driven. Miller calls his partner, the only female on the force, his lady. He also has a little less flattering term for his four-footed significant other: "a German Shepherd with ADD." A malinois is a bit leaner, a bit edgier than a shepherd. Those triangle ears cap so much energy that Albert Einstein might be forced to rethink his computation and make energy equal to malinois squared.
(Tip of the Tube City hard hat to Ol' Froth.)
Another fine line: "In private life, I am honest as the day is long, which, in early February, is not as long as it could be, but that's another matter." --- Garrison Keillor answering his email on the Prairie Home Companion website.
Slate profiles Dunkin' Donuts, which is trying to hold its own against Starbucks, Krispy Kreme and other pretenders to its soggy throne.
I've never understood the fascination with Krispy Kreme's doughnuts, which taste like so much deep-fried air. Dunkin' Donuts aren't as tasty as good bakery doughnuts, but they beat Krispy Kreme, hands down.
Not that I've ever turned away a Krispy Kreme doughnut, mind you.
Which reminds me ... is it time for me to cut another hole in my belt?
The readers of "Something Awful" do it again, with more digitally-altered images, now featuring "Boring Movies." It's hit and miss, but there are a few gems (warning: strong language 'n at).
A Nova Scotia woman who goes by the handle "Ronniecat," and who I only know from her posts on Usenet, is suffering degenerative hearing loss. You can read about the progress of her disease, and about her decision to get a cochlear implant, at her website.
I'd recommend you go back to the beginning and read forward. If you don't find yourself choking up, you have no soul. What a writer, and what an ordeal.
She's also providing one helluva service to other people who are suffering from hearing loss; after all, her journal will be searchable via Google and all of the other usual suspects. When someone who's going deaf starts looking for information, and stumbles onto Ronnie's page, they're going to get better details from her than any doctor would provide.
Now, are blogs really just "CB Radio"? Hmm.
Category: default || By jt3y
I was a weird kid. This should come as no surprise to people who know me as a weird adult, but I was. I was entertained by things that I had no right being entertained by --- and I'll thank you to get your mind out of the gutter.
When I was just a little shaver, I discovered a show on PBS that I didn't know of anyone else watching --- I don't think my parents watched it, anyway --- and I thought it was just about the most wonderful thing in the world. It was just a dapper-looking Irishman, sitting on a stool with a glass of what appeared to be whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other, telling stories, with occasional breaks for sketch comedy. Usually there was a theme linking the stories with the sketches, but not always.
He was calm, suave, droll --- imagine an Irish Dean Martin with a PhD, and you'll have something almost, but not quite, like the impression he gave. For one thing, he was much more dismissive of authority than Dean Martin ever appeared to be. It wasn't until years later that someone pointed out that he was missing part of one of his fingers; I never noticed that. I was too busy watching him. This is what being an adult --- a man of the world --- was about.
I can thank him for opening my eyes and making me more accepting of many things later on --- sketch comedy and British humor (or should I say "humour"?), for instance, and Douglas Adams and Monty Python in particular. He also showed that it was possible for humor to be adult without being profane, and for you to make jokes about religion without being sacrilegious. He was a lapsed Catholic (or as he put it, "an atheist, thank God") but his jokes about the Church, or the differences between Protestants and Catholics were pointed without being vicious.
His show was on Saturday nights. We used to go to Mass Saturday nights. Can you imagine the irony? Our priest was an Irishman, too, and a kind and decent man, but he was as dry as the sands of the Mojave, and prone to giving these long stem-winding homilies. Then I'd go home and sneak off and watch another Irishman (and an atheist, no less) deconstruct the Catholic Church!
Like I said, no wonder I turned out weird. Years later, in high school, I discovered that the guy who would turn out to be my best friend --- still is, in fact, thank God --- also knew about this comedian, and like me, had snuck off to watch his routines on Saturday nights. To this day, when one of us is getting ready to tell a story, we'll lean way back on our chairs, pantomime holding a cigarette and a highball glass, and begin, "So an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a pub ..."
At some point, WQED stopped running the programs --- which were several years old when I first saw them --- but I never lost interest in the comedian. Occasionally, notes about him would appear in the newspaper (not much, however, because he never made much of a splash in the U.S.), and I even called a talk-radio program one time when the topic was "obscure celebrities."
Later, the Internet made it easy to track him down --- he was still working clubs in the U.K., had a regular series on the BBC, and had done bit parts in a few European movies. There was even a minor scandal a few years ago when a joke he told on the Beeb included the big granddaddy of all swear words: "We spend our lives on the run. We get up by the clock, eat and sleep by the clock, get up again, go to work, and then we retire. And what do they give us? A f--king clock!"
(Echoing the sentiments of Lenny Bruce 30 years earlier, he explained that it was the only appropriate word to use in the joke. "It's a disdainful word," he told reporters, "because it's not a damn clock, it's not a silly clock, it's not a doo-doo clock. It's a f--king clock!")
I had thought of him just the other day, and Googled his name --- soon I found a Website for British TV buffs where many of the posters had the same kinds of memories as I did. I kept hoping that PBS, which keeps cramming 30-year-old British sitcoms down our throats, would some day rediscover this guy and import some of his newer stuff to our shores, but they never did. I don't have digital cable, so I don't know if any of his stuff ever showed up on BBC America, but if it did, I never heard about it.
Like I said, he was a much bigger star in the U.K. and Australia than he was here; his humor was an acquired taste. Maybe Americans prefer British comedians to work in broad farce, like Benny Hill and John Cleese. Still, I was hopeful; everything else is coming out on DVD, including "Hee Haw," for crying out loud. Surely, sooner or later, someone would do a retrospective of his work, right?
And then yesterday, I checked in at Ivan Shreve Jr.'s "Thrilling Days of Yesteryear" and learned that Dave Allen had died suddenly over the weekend at the age of 68. The poor sod didn't make it to St. Patrick's Day, which doesn't quite seem fair.
I learned a lot about him from reading the obituaries in the British press; he was the son of a famous journalist, Cully Tynan O'Mahoney, an editor of The Irish Times. Allen wanted to be a reporter himself at one time, and worked as a copy boy for a while before getting a job at a British resort, the Times of London reports. He tried out his comedy act on tourists in the talent shows and was encouraged enough to go on a BBC talent show in 1959. In the early 1960s, Allen gained some notoriety as the opening act for a then little-known band called The Beatles at many of their performances in the U.K. and France; given the group's subversive sense of humor, that's some how not surprising.
He produced a number of documentaries and hosted several TV series in Britain, the last of which left the air in 1993. Allen also continued to tour the U.K. and British Commonwealth countries with success, though a series of concerts in Boston in 1981 was apparently a disaster. According to the Manchester Guardian, "U.S. audiences (found) the sacrilegious content of his act more difficult to stomach." No offense to the Grauniad, but Dave Allen was about as sacrilegious as a Jesuit, and the fact that his concerts in Boston were received so poorly says more about the uptight nature of that city's Catholics than it does about him.
One of the obits I read mentioned that a collection of Allen routines had just been released on DVD. I checked the usual suspects --- Amazon, Barnes & Noble, even Chapters in Canada --- and none of them had it, or could get it. I finally found the DVD on Amazon UK, and they're shipping it to me; technical support at Dementia Unlimited assures me that I'll be able to watch it on my computer. (Warning: If you don't know the difference between a "Region 1" DVD and a "Region 2" DVD, educate yourself before you order a DVD from overseas.)
I'm hoping that the routines are just as funny to me now as they were 20 years ago. I think they will be. When it arrives, I intend to sit back with a glass of whiskey (I don't smoke) and watch with a big happy grin on my puss.
In the meantime, Dave Allen, wherever you are, your sign-off makes a fitting epitaph: "Good night, and may your God go with you."
Category: default || By jt3y
Category: default || By jt3y
Allegheny County Prothonotary and Democratic candidate for Mayor of Picksberg Michael Lamb is now calling for commuter rail between Downtown and Oakland, according to Tim McNulty in the P-G:
Lamb said the city could work with railways to connect those two job centers, as well as Hazelwood, using new passenger rail cars that hold 200 commuters each. The main expenses would be the $2.9 million cars and new stations, which he said could be partially funded by Oakland hospitals, universities and other non-profits. The proposed route would be the same one used as Amtrak and share Amtrak's Downtown station.
Category: default || By jt3y
I realize it's kind of absurd for someone from the Mon Valley to criticize ill-advised redevelopment schemes in Dahntahn Picksberg --- pot, meet kettle; kettle, meet pot --- but if I had anything nice to say, I wouldn't be a writer, so I will cast my asparagus and you, alert readers, should feel free to toss it back at me.
I had a meeting Dahntahn on Wednesday morning at One Oxford Centre, and parked over at the Municipal Courts Building garage on First Avenue. My walk to and from Oxford Centre took me right past what's left of the old Public Safety Building, formerly the Post-Gazette Building, at the corner of Grant Street and the Boulevard of the Allies. It's being ripped down to make room for a new parklet that will serve the PNC Bank building across the street, on the site of the old Baltimore & Ohio commuter train station.
Explain to me, someone, why the City of Pittsburgh --- which is constantly belly-aching about how non-profit institutions and tax-exempt land are robbing it of desperately needed revenue --- is allowing a prime corner Downtown to be used for a parklet? (The Post-Gazette's editorial board, which never saw a redevelopment scheme it didn't like, called it a "dandy" idea. If the P-G likes it so much, maybe it should be paying for it, too, but I digress.)
Now, I realize that the Public Safety Building, as a government-owned structure, wasn't providing any revenue to the city's coffers anyway. But it could have been sold to someone who needed office space, or it could have been converted into the residential housing that Downtown Pittsburgh so desperately needs. And then it would have been put back onto the tax rolls.
Yes, the Public Safety Building was rundown, mostly due to 40 years of deferred maintenance, but it wasn't that old --- I don't think the Post-Gazette moved there until the mid-1930s. Watching the bulldozers and jackhammers try to pull the beams down yesterday led me to believe it was still structurally sound, even if the mechanical and electrical systems were aging.
Meanwhile, there's the spiffy new (well, a couple of years old now) Municipal Courts Building, a misbegotten lump of post-modern piffle along the Monongahela River next to the Hotel Graybar, aka the Allegheny County Jail. It's just south of the Liberty Bridge, on what was roughly the passenger coach storage yard for the B&O train station.
Someone, please, explain to me why commercial land --- the railroad property --- was seized for public use, therefore taking it off of the tax rolls; while two blocks away, a perfectly serviceable building is being torn down to make way for a park primarily for use by PNC Bank employees. Call me a starry-eyed old dreamer, but couldn't the old Public Safety Building have been turned into the Municipal Courts Building?
And that brings us to the story of the old Baltimore & Ohio train station. Erected in the 1950s, it was used mostly by the railroad's commuter trains from Pittsburgh to Connellsville (and thusly through Our Fair City); B&O long-distance passenger trains used the P&LE depot (now Station Square).
In 1989, the Port Authority killed the remnant of the old commuter service that ran between Pittsburgh and Versailles. At the time, PAT officials said the service died because of declining ridership, but people who rode the trains tell me they thought it was an assisted suicide; the railroad didn't want to run passenger trains in the first place, and thus did its darnedest to make them as inconvenient and problem-prone as possible. (Have you ever heard of a train running out of fuel? The PATrain did.)
There was also the little problem of the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County coveting the land occupied by the train station and the passenger coach yard. But they couldn't actually build on the land as long as the trains were running. So they killed off the train and took private, eminently developable land --- on the riverfront, no less --- and built the monstrously ugly jail and the neighboring, slightly less repellant court building.
Now, the City of Pittsburgh is doing it again --- taking prime property and turning it into a parcel that will generate no revenue. (Although it may be privately owned by PNC Bank, it will be assessed, I'm sure, at a fraction of what an occupied commercial building would be assessed at.)
And as if to add insult to injury, former City Council President Bob O'Connor, the man who would be mayor, has proposed launching a rail service between Dahntahn and Oakland. Admittedly, he's talking light-rail over the Forbes and Fifth corridor, but wouldn't it be convenient to have self-propelled railcars traveling up and down Second Avenue to Panther Hollow in Oakland? Too bad we don't have a railroad station conveniently located right on Grant Street --- oh, right, we did. Never mind.
Picksberg's financial woes stem from many problems endemic to older urban areas --- aging infrastructure; legacies of debt and bureaucracy; and labor contracts created primarily to serve as political patronage, not to ensure the reliable delivery of public services.
Yet so many of the wounds, particularly in economic and urban development, are self-inflicted, and a prime example can be found in a two-block area near the corner of First Avenue and Grant Street. No private corporation would erect a new office building across the street from a building that they know will soon be empty; and then tear down the empty building for creation of something that produces no revenue. But to the City of Pittsburgh power structure, this seems like a perfectly sane thing to do.
Thus does the city's body politic continue to shoot off its own toes. On the other hand, what's the loss of a few toes when you have a giant sucking chest wound?
Category: default || By jt3y
It's a short Almanac today, and one which requires at least a working familiarity with the comic strip "Doonesbury" and the late writer Hunter S. Thompson. If you're not familiar with either Garry Trudeau's brilliant creation or Dr. Gonzo, then bugger off.
No, I don't mean that. I'm tired and cranky, that's all. But what else is new?
Anyway, as those of you familiar with "Doonesbury" and HST know, the character of "Uncle Duke" was heavily inspired by Thompson. Duke was introduced as a booze-swilling, pill-popping, gun-toting writer for the underground press, and a womanizing lout. Thompson hated, hated, hated "Uncle Duke," possibly because Trudeau didn't compensate him.
Indeed, Thompson threatened Trudeau with physical harm if their paths ever crossed, though in later years, he supposedly made piece with the Uncle Duke character --- especially as Duke's adventures became ever more fanciful.
At various times, HST's comic strip doppelganger has been governor of America Samoa, an NRA lobbyist, coach of the Washington Redskins and a zombie. Most recently, he's been a member of the occupation government in Iraq.
So, when Thompson snuffed himself Feb. 20, people naturally wondered --- what would Trudeau do with Duke? Comic strips have a lead time of several weeks (although Trudeau works on a shorter deadline to allow him to respond to events in the news), so naturally, his initial response had to be confined to a statement on the "Doonesbury Town Hall" website: "The late Hunter S. Thompson was indeed the initial inspiration for Doonesbury's Uncle Duke ... Their paths diverged as Duke took on a life of his own, and over the decades his ever-evolving career has differed dramatically from that of HST. ... The Town Hall respectfully raises a hefty tumbler to Hunter S. Thompson, a powerfully innovative and influential journalist and writer whose voice will be missed."
But then came this week's series of "Doonesbury" strips. Monday's installment was fun (the third panel is a homage to Thompson friend Ralph Steadman, who illustrated some of HST's articles and books), but Tuesday's installment was ... well, at first I thought it was over the top, and then I laughed hysterically.
As I write today's Almanac on Tuesday night, the newest "Doonesbury" hasn't been published yet, so I have no idea whether Trudeau continues the story, or if this was just a two-strip nod to Thompson's legacy. But if you're a "Doonesbury" or HST fan, what did you think? Tasteless or funny?
I vote for "tasteless and funny," and some how, that seems a fitting enough monument to the late Hunter S. Thompson.
Category: default || By jt3y
I learn something new every day. Last weekend, I learned that Roy Orbison had recorded a version of "Love Hurts" --- a big hit in 1976 for Nazareth --- back in 1961 as the B-side of a single called "Running Scared." But Orbison's wasn't the original version, I came to find out; a little online search determined that the first recording of the tune was by the Everly Brothers.
What a great talent Orbison was, and I didn't really appreciate him while he was alive. He just seemed like some weird old guy with sunglasses and a bad haircut who recorded "Oh, Pretty Woman," and 3WS was burning that out by playing it 20 times a day. But his catalog was deeper, and broader, than that, and included some really solid stuff, and he died way too early.
I also learned that "Are You Lonesome Tonight," a monster hit for Elvis the Pelvis' back in 1961 and the number two song that year ("Runaway" by Del Shannon was number one), dates back to the turn of the century. That I learned when Mike Plaskett played a 1920s version of it on WDUQ Saturday night. I emailed this to a friend of mine in radio; "the 'chairs in your parlor' line is a giveaway," he replied. In retrospect, I suppose it is.
Did people still talk about sitting in the parlor in 1961? I doubt it. The parlor had become the TV room by then, and people were sitting on the sofa, watching "Gunsmoke" and "Perry Mason" on the Philco. But no doubt Elvis had heard the song on a scratchy 78 while growing up in Tupelo, or else it was the kind of song his mother or aunts sang while doing laundry.
To digress for a second, though today's Almanac is nothing but a digression, Elvis' musical influences, and his ability to synthesize them, are truly remarkable. Here's a guy who was able to take everything from barrelhouse rhythm and blues jump music to gospel to 1920s pop and turn it into his own brand of rock and roll, with little or no formal musical education. I'm not a big Elvis fan, but you have to respect that.
My own music tastes are all over the map. Pop music and I parted ways somewhere around 1984. Even to my tender ears, the synth-pop and hair band music seemed so phony and artificial that I just couldn't get into it. Like so many yinzers who heard WDVE in utero, I drifted into 1970s guitar and folk rock --- Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Boston, Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, Steve Miller, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Somewhere along the line, I started seeking out the originals of the old blues records that CCR had covered. That led me to enjoy '40s and '50s blues, which led me to sample jazz and swing. For a while --- and well before the swing-band revival of the 1990s --- I was heavily into the big band era. I was probably the only kid at Serra High School with a collection of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Woody Herman records. But R&B also got me into doo-wop; and doo-wop got me into rockabilly, which took me into old-time country and bluegrass. Someone (Ray Charles, I think) said that rock, jazz, blues and country are all only about a half-beat off of one another, and it's true.
(Ray Charles is like a god to me, by the way. I just happen to think that Brother Ray could sing anything --- a grocery list, assembly instructions for a swing set, the ingredient list from a package of Wonder bread --- and make it sound cool.)
I was lucky to grow up in a household where this kind of foolishness was tolerated, and it didn't hurt that my own family's musical tastes were eclectic. Dad was into Porky Chedwick-style oldies and country music, so a ride with him was likely to feature an "Alabama" 8-track or WIXZ or WEEP on the radio. Mom loved Motown and pop, so she'd be listening to 13Q or Stereo WTAE, featuring Don Berns and Jim Quinn, who was still a liberal back then. (I know, I know, you're asking: "How long ago was that again?") And my maternal grandfather, who I spent a lot of time with as a kid, loved '40s and '50s pop.
Pap also loved big cars, which probably was an influence on me, too. He had a Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a "Wonder-Bar" radio that could search for radio stations automatically. In the era before seek and scan and digital tuners, this was a marvelous thing for an 8-year-old geek to play with. You'd press the button, and the pointer would start moving along the dial, pausing on any stations it found. When it got to the end, it would "ka-CHUNK" like an electric typewriter and the pointer would shoot back to the beginning again.
We'd be riding along in his Cadillac with WJAS on the radio when "Round and Round" or "Wanted" would come on. "You know who that is?" Pap would say. "That's Perry Como. He's from Canonsburg. He's the greatest singer that ever lived."
Though I loved Pap, I couldn't stand that kind of music as a kid. But it's funny; recently I've gotten heavily into '50s pop --- Guy Mitchell ("There's a pawn shop on the corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania"), Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin, Patti Page, and yes, good old Mr. C. The music is so square that the records have corners, but I love it, and every time I hear "Papa Loves Mambo," I think of my grandfather.
None of this is of any relevance, necessarily, but it goes a long way toward explaining why I can't name any current artist on the Billboard Hot 100.
Category: default || By jt3y
News item in Saturday's Daily News (the story isn't currently online): Complaints were lodged last week at a Glassport borough council meeting over a Website called glassportboro.com, which features, as you might expect, information about the TV show "ALF."
No, of course not; it features information about Glassport. According to the story, "some residents" are upset, which I would interpret as "some residents who the author of the Website has criticized are upset."
A quick review of the Website, owned by Dennis Marini of Glassport, reveals a lot of content that looks to be strictly factual and obtained from public records --- things like reprinted council meeting minutes, police press releases, and the borough's monthly financial statements.
But there are also editorials --- some signed, some unsigned --- critical of elected officials and the direction that the borough of 4,900 people has taken. Candidates for political office have also posted comments and declared their positions.
I know even less about Glassport than I know about anything else, and there are lots of things about which I know squat. Suffice it to say I don't know how to evaluate the claims of various people writing on glassportboro.com for truth or accuracy, and I have no idea what kind of axes are being ground, or whose oxen are being gored.
But I do know that the beauty of the First Amendment is that Mr. Marini can host a Website called glassportboro.com that makes an argument, and that people who disagree with him can create their own and make opposing arguments. And the beauty of the Internet is that it's made it a lot more convenient to disseminate the information.
Years ago, if you had a niche message --- targeting people who care about politics in Glassport, for instance --- you would have had to write pamphlets or newsletters, photocopy or ditto them, and mail them or pass them out on street corners. Yet despite the fact that it was a bit of a pain in the rear, there was a burgeoning industry of "'zines" in the late '80s and early '90s.
Now, you can skip the whole printing and publishing process and go straight from creation of content to distribution. And rather than seeking out readers, they seek you out through search engines like Google.
Rumors of the demise of the "mainstream media" at the hands of Web publishers are greatly exaggerated, mainly by delusional bloggers who are seriously overestimating their own importance. Newspaper circulation and TV viewership are both down, especially among those who spend a lot of time on the Internet, but TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers are still the big dogs, and Web publishing is not going to topple them any time soon. If TV wasn't still a major force in advertising, would so many Websites advertise on TV? Also, some top Websites are controlled by the same conglomerates that own major newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets, such as AOL Time Warner. As their marketshare of "traditional" media declines, they'll gain eyeballs for their "new" media.
Nevertheless, the Web sure has made it easier for the voiceless to have voices. They may be shouting into a wind tunnel, but they never even got a chance to see the wind tunnel before, so that's some kind of progress.
An Alert Reader recently pointed me to a column by Mike Seate in the Tribune-Review, which called people who self-publish online "fools" for writing for free. Maybe we are.
Is it foolish for Mr. Marini to care enough about Glassport to want to maintain a Website about it? Is it foolish for Mike Madison to care enough about events surrounding his local school board to keep tabs on them over at Pittsblog? I guess it's in the eyes of their readers.
Personally, I make sure I do my best writing for the people who pay me to write; publishing the Almanac is more of a daily writing exercise to limber up my typing fingers. It's practice. That's why I don't bother spilcheking it or making sure the grammar is gooder. If people get a kick out of reading it, so much the better.
Jack Kelly wrote in the Post-Gazette recently that his newspaper held a editorial discussion about many topics, including Web logs, and "the consensus seemed to be that we needn't worry much about them." But as Kelly pointed out, it was these "fools" who have broken several big news stories, including the story that Eason Jordan of CNN had alleged that reporters in the Middle East were being deliberately targeted by American troops.
"The earth rumbles, and we think it's our big feet, stomping the Lilliputians," Kelly says. "But what if it's an earthquake about to swallow us up?"
Maybe, but I wouldn't count my earthquakes before they've hatched. It remains to be seen if Web publishing and blogging is here to stay, or if it's just a faddish hobby; Seate suggests it's like the CB radio boom of the 1970s, which had a huge surge of popularity and then faded out.
Yet many bloggers are doing nothing more than keeping a diary online; instead of hiding them under their beds, they put them on the Internet. And keeping diaries or journals is hardly a fad. It's probably as old as written language itself; all that's changed now is the medium the diarists are using.
In any event, I'd hesitate to call anyone choosing to exercise their First Amendment rights a "fool," unless their opinions are truly in the realm of cloud cuckoo land. Was it foolish for Thomas Paine to print up pamphlets the 1770s that supported American independence? Was it foolish for William Lloyd Garrison to publish abolitionist newspapers in the 1830s? Was it foolish for Soviet dissidents to distribute underground newsletters calling for the overthrow of Communism?
Not only did those folks write for free, they published at great risk to their own lives. That sounds like the very definition of foolishness.
Whereas I only risk making myself look --- well, foolish --- on a daily basis. But I have fun.
A correspondent reports that she was waiting in line at a Lysle Boulevard convenience store behind a young man who had his wallet on a chain. Which is not necessarily unusual, except that this was a white plastic chain --- of the type often used to hang plants from hooks on front porches. She asks whether this is a trend, and as far as I know, it isn't.
It could have been worse, of course. He could have had his wallet on a macrame chain.
(Lest anyone think that my comments about Mike Seate's column are motivated by some evil purpose, in the interest of full disclosure, I used to work at the Trib, and some people there were happy to see me go. I also happen to enjoy Mike's column, but don't hold that against him. Also, I had shredded wheat for breakfast, I'm wearing brown socks today, and I just got a haircut. How's that for full disclosure?)
Category: default || By jt3y
Now, this is the kind of story that we at Tube City Almanac world news headquarters like to read! Patrick Cloonan in last night's Daily News:
McKeesport Mayor James Brewster said his city is in a "renaissance" aimed at addressing a wide range of needs, including three years of demolition and two years of reconstruction within city government.
"In the next 24 months the city will be focusing its efforts on addressing the inherent problems that have gone unchecked for years and have left our once great city on the verge of Act 47 status," Brewster said Wednesday. "This plan is designed to address the ongoing exodus of young people and declining tax base that has occurred over the last decade."
(The) mayor said "Renaissance 2005" addresses economic development, residential development, removal of blight (and) upgrading infrastructure and recreational facilities.
He said aims include "improving day-to-day services offered by the city and revitalizing public safety." Brewster said it represents a shift from the "fix and repair" mode that characterized the first 13 months of his administration.
"People are interested in McKeesport again," Brewster said. "And that's a good thing. And I think it's because we've taken a hard position on certain things."
As Twinkies celebrates its 75th anniversary, dozens of photographic interpretations of the iconic snack will be unveiled at an opening reception for the annual Object Show Exhibit and Contest sponsored by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers on Friday, March 11, 2005 at Point Park University from 5:00pm - 8:00pm. Internationally acclaimed photographer and artist Duane Michals will be the guest of honor.
Category: default || By jt3y
In Our Fair City it was Cox's, in Washington, it was Lang's and Caldwell's, and in Greensburg it was Troutman's. Every city with pretensions to importance had a fancy department store. Those that actually were important had several; Youngstown, for instance, had Strouss's and McKelvey's. Pittsburgh had Kaufmann's, Joseph Horne Co., Gimbels, and others.
Remember the bells that used to call clerks to various departments? Bong. Bong-bong-bong-bong. It meant someone was needed in department 14. Those bells are playing a funeral dirge right now.
Naturally, the news that Downtown Picksberg's last remaining department store, Kaufmann's, is about to be swallowed by Macy's is sending a few people into spasms. And if you think Pittsburghers are upset, in Chicago --- where they're liable to lose Marshall Field's, a name that is as synonymous with the Windy City as the Cubs --- they're practically in apoplexy.
The problem is that the department stores have lost their relevancy, and while I've read a lot of things this week blaming Wal-Mart, Target, and the other usual suspects for the decline and fall of great names like Kaufmann's, as far as I'm concerned, Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores have no one to blame but themselves.
Appropriately for a guy who's writing a history of G.C. Murphy Co., I've always been interested in retailing, and I've read histories of Macy's, Dayton's, Hudson's, Gimbels and the others. These department stores always competed with the "discounters" of their eras --- Woolworth's or Murphy's or McCrory's --- and their prices were always higher. The reason their prices were higher, as Max Hess of the Hess's Department Store chain in Allentown explains in his book "Every Dollar Counts," was that they offered ridiculously high levels of service.
A customer who approached a counter at Macy's or Gimbels or Hess's back in the old days could count on being swarmed with attentive clerks. Hapless husbands would enter the lingerie department, tell the salesgirl "my wife is about your size," and she'd devote an hour to finding exactly what he wanted. Clerks kept files on the sizes and style preferences of their regular customers, so they didn't have to guess what they wanted --- they knew. Lose your credit card? Horne's would look up the number. Need a suit in an emergency after store hours? Chances are that someone at Kaufmann's would open the store for you. All of the bigger stores offered personal shopping services; many also had travel agencies, and some even offered rental cars.
There's a famous story about a fire in a Neiman-Marcus store that destroyed a bunch of wedding gowns on a Friday night --- hours before the brides were supposed to pick them up for their Saturday weddings. Neiman-Marcus flew in seamstresses and gowns from other stores and fitted them to the brides on Saturday morning, with time to spare.
Do you think that would happen today? Maybe at Neiman-Marcus, which like Nordstrom's on the West Coast, still has a reputation for going above and beyond the call of duty. But I was in a Kaufmann's not long ago, looking for a small gift for a lady friend. It was an effort to tear the clerk at the jewelry counter away from her telephone call, and then it was an effort to get her to show me anything. Her attitude was --- can't you see it from the aisle way? Not at those prices, no, I couldn't.
And good luck finding a salesperson in men's wear or any of the other departments where items are "on the rack," so to speak. Gee, Kaufmann's: If I've got to find the clothes myself, and schlep them to the counter, and you're not going to do any alterations, then I might as well go out to Syms and save 25 percent off of your prices, huh? (Lordy, lordy, do I miss Kadar's, where Len and Dorothy knew my sizes, my tastes --- or lack thereof --- and alterations were always free.)
A lot of the services in these department stores disappeared, I suspect, when the names on the front doors ceased to mean anything. The clerks at Cox's were responsible to "Mr. Robert" and "Mr. William" (William and Robert Cox, that is), not to a nameless board of directors in Cincinnati or St. Louis. The decline of Gimbels can be directly traced to the time when the last of the Gimbel family left the company and it was sold to British-American Tobacco; and I'll wager that the decline of Kaufmann's, Horne's, and all of the others began when the founding families gave up control.
The stockholders want higher profits; overhead, like attentive clerks, eats up profits. So they've laid off much of the help and replaced the old-time clerks with younger people who can be paid less money, and who have less invested in the store. They've also cheapened the merchandise to the point where the shirt you buy in Kaufmann's isn't necessarily better than the one you can get out at Kohl's or Target. The problem is they haven't lowered the prices commensurately with the drop in service or quality. As a result, the department stores have shot off their own feet.
The other problem is that the conglomeration of little chains into May Department Stores and Federated Department Stores --- which is not a new trend; it dates to the 1930s --- has left individual stores standing for absolutely nothing distinctive.
For a long time after Kaufmann's became a part of the May Company, and Horne's became part of Associated Dry Goods, the stores maintained their individuality. A Kaufmann's store in Pittsburgh didn't look like a May Company store in Los Angeles, and Lazarus in Columbus, Ohio, was different from Goldwater's in Phoenix. That's because these stores maintained their own local buyers and marketers, and they tailored their stores, their merchandise, and their advertising to their communities.
But all that individuality cost money, too. So the chains eliminated it. Now an L.S. Ayres looks like a Hecht's looks like a Kaufmann's. Take a look at the websites for the different May Company stores if you don't believe me; they're identical except for the names. And they're all identically dull.
Thus, under the thumb of Wall Street pension fund managers, actuaries, accountants and other bean-counters, all of those once-great department stores have become bland and overpriced. This may have helped the stock prices of Federated or May --- for a little while, anyway --- but dull and expensive is not a sustainable business model. It didn't even work for Rolls-Royce, which has been split up and sold piecemeal to the Germans.
While I can get nostalgic for the old department stores, I have no nostalgia for the present state that they're in. They're not dying; in point of fact, they died 20 years ago and just haven't been buried yet.
Perhaps the corpses of Federated's and May's old soldiers --- Marshall Fields and Hecht's and yes, Kaufmann's --- can still be reanimated, but some how, I doubt that consolidating these massive, faceless companies into an even bigger conglomerate is the jolt of electricity that is going to do the job.
Category: default || By jt3y
Last night, because the temperature was supposed to get so cold, I put a blanket on the motor of the car. This is something my grandfather used to do when the weather got cold, supposedly to make the car easier to start in the morning. It's never made sense to me --- just how much heat could a flimsy blanket retain? --- but I do it anyway.
For all I know, this is something my grandfather's grandfather did back in Hungary --- but in his case, great-great-grandfather was putting a blanket over the mule at night when the weather got cold, and I have a feeling it was benefiting the mule a lot more than it benefits the car. Nevertheless, I keep doing it anyway.
When I had my little Datsun 200SX, I also used to put a 150-watt trouble light under the battery at night to keep it warm when the temperature got below zero. Again, I have no idea if it helped or not, but it made me feel like I was doing something.
At least when the motor club showed up to jump start the car, I could tell the driver, "I don't know what the problem is. I mean, I put a blanket over it and a light bulb under the battery and everything." And then I suppose he would reply, "No, that's for chickens that are trying to lay eggs, not for cars, you big doofus."
Actually, the only time that car ever stranded me was on a brutally cold winter day. I was working at my first job and had just moved away from home; I left the newspaper office, went out to start the car, and ... nothing. The motor club came and determined the fuel line was frozen, and they suggested it be towed to a garage. I said fine.
I had just moved to town, and didn't know any of the mechanics, so the tow truck took my poor old 200SX to the Nissan dealer, which is a fairly logical choice, but the Nissan dealer in town also happened to be the Mercedes-Benz dealer. You can imagine what their hourly labor rate was.
It still gives me a pain in the wallet to remember how much it cost to allow a 15-year-old Datsun to thaw out for several hours in a Mercedes-Benz dealer's service bay, but it was a week's pay, and they made me wait all day for the car. I still hear the dealer's commercials on the radio, and every time I do, I think: I hope that you get an itch someplace that you can't scratch, you rotten so-and-so. "Friendly dealer," my fanny.
In other business, Alert Reader Officer Jim writes to suggest I link to the ohfishul "Pogo" Website, dedicated to the great comic strip by the late Walt Kelly and says, "Sometimes I have way too much time on my hands; of course, I don't have a website dedicated to Pogo (or McKeesport, for that matter)."
Well, sure, I go Pogo, so I can link to it. I wish someone would reprint "Pogo" in a large format book like they do "Doonesbury." There is a company called Fantagraphics that has been reprinting "Pogo" strips in comic book format, but they only reprint a few months' worth in each book, and they're fairly expensive.
Speaking of comic strips: Someone turned me onto some great software called "Comictastic," which scrapes the comic strip webpages of your choice each time you load it up, and loads only the comic strips, ignoring the advertisements and other tedium. This is great stuff, but you Wintel PC users are out of luck: It only works on Mac OS X.
Drawbacks? The software costs $15, and depending on how many comic strips you read, it will take a while to configure the settings at first. But if you read a lot of comic strips, and I do, it will greatly speed the download time. Also, Comictastic doesn't care if you're reading online webcomics or syndicated newspaper comics; it can find them just the same.
If I haven't mentioned this before, shame on me. James Lileks of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and "The Bleat" has started a new online fiction-writing experiment. He bought a bag of old matchbooks and has created a character he calls "Joe Ohio."
Each day Lileks pulls out a matchbook and writes a story about what Joe was doing the day he got that matchbook. Some days are more interesting than others, but it's a great idea, and I'm hooked. Check it out.
Finally this morning, only from Fayettenam does one hear stories like this:
Four Connellsville-area men are accused of stealing a Pygmy goat, killing it and trading its meat for crack cocaine. ...
Police said charges of theft, receiving stolen property, cruelty to animals and criminal conspiracy were filed Tuesday with Bullskin Township District Judge Robert Breakiron.
The quartet allegedly took the goat the morning of Dec. 24 from Laura and Robert Locke's property on Englishman Hill Road in Bullskin Township.
Police said Albright removed the goat from a pen with a piece of rope, dragged it to a patch of woods and tied it to a shrub. Albright and Charles Smith Jr. allegedly beat the animal to death by striking it on the head with a hammer and/or a steel pipe. (Paul Paterra, Tribune-Review)
Category: default || By jt3y
Whenever it snows, I enjoy listening to the school closings and delays on the radio, even though I'm not a teacher and I don't have any children. It takes me back to childhood.
Remember when there were days like this when you were a kid? I can remember turning on the old Atwater Kent in the parlor to listen to Rosey Rosewell read the school closings while my mother heated up some Postum for me. This is a strange thing to remember, because Rosey Rosewell died before I was born, and we didn't have an Atwater Kent, and I've never had Postum. So let's start over.
If you're a Mon Valley kid, you probably grew up turning the radio over to KDKA when there was the threat of snow in the forecast. And by "threat," I mean, "a snowflake anywhere within 40 miles of the Monongahela River," because when you're a little kid praying that school might be cancelled, well, you can always hope, right?
I used to feel bad for kids who went to places like Yough School District, because they had to wait through the entire alphabetical list to find out if their schools had a one-hour delay, a two-hour delay, a two-hour delay with no morning kindergarten, or ... be still my heart ... were closed.
There were a few schools that always mystified me. What or who was "Providence Heights Alpha"? When I was growing up, it seemed like they were always getting school canceled, lucky buggers. And then all of those "Montessori schools." I had no idea what they were, but there were a lot of 'em.
If anyone doubts that there are a lot of Catholics in Pittsburgh, one listen to KDKA's school closings would disabuse them of that notion. Jack Bogut or John Cigna would read "Riverview" and then they'd be into the "Saints." "St. Angela Merici, closed." "St. Anne, closed." "St. Cecilia, two-hour delay." The poor kids from Shaler had to wait until that whole list was done, and it wasn't even like they could go to the bathroom during "St. Edward's," because for all they knew, there might be no other Catholic schools closed, and then they'd miss their announcement.
And if you missed the announcement, brother, what a pain. You had to wait through a half-hour of weather, banter, news and commercials before they'd read the list again. By then, it was time to get to the bus stop; if you went to the bus stop and your school was on a two-hour delay, you'd be standing out in the snow like an idiot. On the other hand, if you waited to hear whether your school district was on a delay, and it wasn't, you'd miss the bus. Who says childhood isn't stressful?
Luckily for me, the parochial schools I attended never canceled, so listening to the school closings was at best (you'll pardon the expression) an "academic" exercise. The nun who was the principal, Sister Mary Herman Goering, believed in the value of a good education, I'll give her that. Every other school around ours might be closed, there might be snow up to the top of the steeple on the church next door, and we'd have to find a way to school, or get marked "absent."
I'm not sure when that changed. It might have been in March of '84, when we lost most of the third-grade in a drift between the flagpole and the front door. The kids survived by eating a box of Fruit Roll-Ups they found in Timmy Johnson's book bag, and some Pop-Tarts they found in Timmy Johnson's book bag, and eventually, Timmy Johnson.
That eventually turned into a bit of a scandal, as you might well imagine. It was Lent, after all, and the Diocese couldn't decide whether eating Timmy was allowed on Fridays. He wasn't seafood, though as I recall his pants were usually wet. I don't remember how the controversy was resolved, because I was young, but if you looked in back issues of the Pittsburgh Catholic, I'm sure there was coverage.
When the snow melted, the custodian found the third-grade, of course, to the great relief of their teacher, Sister Mary Hypochondria, who was counting on them to meet their goal for the annual Easter candy fundraiser. But for those few weeks, it was pretty nerve-racking. The Bishop came for a visit and the teachers had to sneak the second-graders into the third-grade classroom through the windows while he was out in the hallway.
I thought I'd find a different snow day policy when I got to Serra, but no such luck. The monks were equally reluctant to cancel or delay the start of school; I guess they figured that if they could make it into the building wearing sandals and robes, a little snow and wind couldn't be that tough for teen-agers wearing Dockers and boat shoes.
The official explanation that I got from someone in the office was that we couldn't delay school. Many students came on buses from other school districts that weren't canceling or delaying school, and they would arrive on-time, and everything had to be ready when they got there.
That logic didn't hold up, because what about those kids whose districts did delay school? They showed up two hours late, thus missing parts of three classes and homeroom, where attendance was taken. It also hosed those of us who got rides or drove to school.
I can remember one snowy day when about 80 percent of the school didn't make it in. Those of us hopeless nerds who made it in for first bell got to sit in study hall for two hours, which gave us a lot of time to fold paper footballs and flick them at one another.
Then came college. No one expects colleges to cancel classes. Except one year, when the temperature approached negative oh-my-God and the snow came down in clumps, like on a bad '70s sitcom. The Governor declared a state of emergency and ordered all non-essential businesses and offices to close by 3 p.m., and told all non-emergency vehicles to stay off the roads.
All day, we kept asking the college administration: We're going to close, right? And the word came down, no, we're staying open.
Until about 3:20, when the power company threatened to knock the college off of the grid, and someone said: "Hey! You can go home, now! We're canceling classes!" By which time the Port Authority buses had stopped running.
This, incidentally, was the first winter I decided to commute to school instead of living there, which meant I was neatly hosed.
A co-worker who I considered a friend had a car, and was heading home to the Mon Valley. I figured if he could get me close, I could walk the rest of the way, or find someone to give me a ride.
He lived in Munhall, so I asked, "Can I ride with you as far as Eighth Avenue?"
"Um ... no."
"Wait a minute, come on! It's on your way!"
"But I'm not asking you to take me home ... just drop me off at Eighth Avenue in Homestead!"
"No, I'm sorry, no."
Now, there are a few explanations possible. Maybe he drove back and forth to campus in a truck that his family used to haul pig manure, and he was embarrassed. Maybe he liked to dress in drag when he drove his car, and didn't want anyone to know. Maybe he had a one-seat car.
Or maybe he was just a jerk. Needless to say, we were no longer friends after that, though I often wonder when they finally found him.
Er, I mean, I often wonder whatever happened to him. Yeah, that's it.
Anyway, I get nostalgic when I listen to the school closings on the radio. And until the statute of limitations expires, I refuse to say more on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me.