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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

July 29, 2005 | Link to this story

I'm Lost, But I'm Making Great Time

Category: default || By jt3y

To the guy in the black Pontiac sedan with the out-of-state plates, I apologize, but I have an explanation.

I was on Forbes Avenue in the Oakland part of Picksberg Thursday night, when I heard someone calling me. For all I know, it could have been Bruce Bedspring himself. "Excuse me?" he said again. "Hello? Excuse me?" I tried to ignore him, because I knew what he was going to ask for.

Finally, he pulled alongside me and I couldn't avoid making eye contact. "Hi," he said. "Can you tell me how to get to Darragh Street? Is it somewhere around here?"

My mind raced. Is that the one up by Presbyterian hospital? No, that's O'Hara Street. Or is O'Hara Street the one in front of Western Psych? Which one is "Cardiac Hill" --- DeSoto Street? You know, in East McKeesport, it's spelled DeSota Street. They stopped making DeSotos in 1960, and the official announcement was made during the Pittsburgh Auto Show --- which didn't much for the morale of the people working the DeSoto exhibit, I'm sure ...

"I'm sorry," I said, "I don't know where it is. Sorry." He gave me a look that spoke volumes: Stupid jerk, lives in this town and can't even give me some simple directions. He drove about a block up the street, and I saw him stop in front of another pedestrian and ask them the same question. I crossed to the other side of the street to avoid him.

There are two reasons I hate giving directions. First, I can count on one hand the times that I've actually gotten useful directions from a stranger. If you're really, really lucky, and you're in a city neighborhood, you might spot a cop, a firefighter or a mail carrier, who might actually know where a street is. Nine times out of 10, however, all you find are slack-jawed yokels who mutter and point vaguely; follow their directions, and you are doomed to get seriously lost.

If you're in a residential neighborhood, it's even worse. Slow to a stop in front of someone's house and lean out the window, and they instantly think you're a child molester.

Time was you could stop at a service station and ask directions, but nowadays you're more likely to find a gum-cracking 18-year-old behind the counter who's more interested in talking on his or her cell phone than giving directions, much less selling gas, cigarettes and Doritos. For that reason, I always carry a map when I'm traveling.

The second problem is that when I'm walking around, I am that slack-jawed yokel. Stop me in Our Fair City or any of its immediate suburbs, and I might be able to give you directions. Unfortunately, they're going to be of the caliber of "take a right just past the place where R&J Furniture used to be, and then hang another right onto Walnut, and then make the immediate left onto Shaw Avenue ... or is that Sixth? I think it's Shaw. You'll see Stickrath's old place."

I've done this a few times, and you can watch the driver's eyes glaze over as they realize they've inadvertently struck up a conversation with a complete nut. Pretty soon, he's saying, "Thank you! Thank you!" and letting the car drift forward, because he's trying to escape.

So my direction-giving ability isn't great to begin with. It drops exponentially the further you get from the intersection of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers. Not long ago, I was standing in front of Falce's Restaurant on Main Street in Munhall, waiting for a friend of mine so that we could eat breakfast, when a young couple with two children in tow approached me. They were carrying a package.

"Excuse me, please," said the woman, in a thick Russian accent. "Tell me, please, where is post office?"

Post office? Erg. I immediately thought of two: The one in Whitaker and the big one on Eighth Avenue in Homestead. I wasn't hardly going to send these people on a wild goose chase to Whitaker. They might take a wrong turn on one of the dead-end back streets and never be heard from again. But surely they could find Eighth Avenue, right?

"Do you have a car?" I asked. They did.

With great difficulty, I explained how they could go down Main Street onto West Street, around the old Homestead Hospital, then down to the bottom of the hill and onto Eighth Avenue. They were just leaving as my friend walked up.

He and I went inside Falce's. "Who were those people?" he said.

"They needed directions to the post office," I said. "I think I got them hopelessly lost."

"Why? Where did you send them?" he asked.

"The post office. Down on Eighth Avenue."

He laughed. "You dummy," he said, "there's a post office two blocks up the street here, across from the fire hall."

For all I know, that couple is currently wandering around Duck Hollow, saying, "We should have stayed in Russia."

...

Meanwhile, Kaufmann's is dead, and I don't feel so good myself. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know by now that Federated Department Stores has confirmed that it's dumping the name "Kaufmann's" from its Pittsburgh-area stores once it completes its takeover of the May Company.

If misery truly loves company, than you'll be happy to know that they're just as distraught in Boston, where Filene's is being nuked (but not Filene's Basement, which is owned by someone else now); in St. Louis, which is losing Famous-Barr; in Washington and Baltimore, which will say goodbye to Hecht's, and elsewhere around the country. All of those storied names are being replaced by Macy's. Two Mon-Yough area Kaufmann's stores --- Monroeville Mall and South Hills Village --- are slated to close as well.

All of Pittsburgh's great department store names --- Gimbels (originally Kaufmann & Baer), Joseph Horne Co., Frank & Seder, Rosenbaum's, and now, Kaufmann's --- will thus be gone.

There's a bitter irony in that Pittsburgh is finally experiencing what Our Fair City (Cox's, Jaison's, Immel's, anyone?) and Greensburg (Troutman's and Royer's) went through in the '80s, and Washington (Lang's) went through in the '90s. (Rick Stouffer had a nice overview of Kaufmann's history in the Trib several months ago.)

I was recently given an envelope full of never-before-seen photos of Cox's by an anonymous contributor. In honor of Kaufmann's demise, they're coming to Tube City Online; check Monday's Almanac for details.

...

To Do This Weekend: If you missed Bruce Bedspring (and can't wait for the Dead-Enders), make sure to see his friends Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers tomorrow night at Riverfront Park, Water Street between Fifth and Ninth Avenues ... Also, Elizabeth Riverfest begins with a parade through the borough tonight at 6. Food, games and craft booths open at 4 p.m. tomorrow. ... Chalfant Borough presents a free outdoor screening of "Shrek 2" at Serviceman Park, starting at 9 tonight. Kids receive free popcorn.



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July 28, 2005 | Link to this story

In Braddock, It's Steel The One

Category: default || By jt3y

Wonders may never cease: U.S. Steel is repainting the Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock. Over the past two weeks or so, the gray and brown patina of the long metal mill buildings along Braddock Avenue has been replaced, by a bright, clean coat of white paint, no less. (Can you imagine a steel mill being painted white 30 years ago? Pollution controls have come a long way.)

And there's big, shiny black lettering on the sides of the buildings now, too: "United States Steel Corporation." The general office building got a paint job, too, and a new sign. I can't remember the last time I saw a steel mill get a new coat of paint, although one of the buildings at Clairton Works got a billboard-style sign several years ago.

To paint the entire mill white signifies that pride, and a little swaggering confidence, is back in style at U.S. Steel. And why not? Profits were up 16 percent in the last quarter, Wall Street brokers like the company's stock (although they're a fickle lot), and U.S. Steel's gamble in Serbia is paying off, as Len Boselovic reported in a series of stories for the Post-Gazette.

True, basic steelmaking is far from healthy in this country. Several producers have been in and out of bankruptcy for the past 10 years, and LTV Steel dried up and blew away a few years ago. Pressure from state-subsidized steel mills in China and elsewhere --- who can crank out tons of product unhampered by such niceties as pollution controls, safety regulations or living wages --- has seen to that. Even steel producers that specialize in high-quality (and high margin) finished products are having trouble competing on a decidedly unlevel playing field.

But --- but! --- if you'd told me when I was a kid that U.S. Steel would still be around in 2005, and would be giving the Edgar Thomson Works a nice coat of white paint, I'd have thought you were crazy. Heck, if you'd have told anyone 20 years ago that we'd be rooting for U.S. Steel, they'd have said you were crazy. I know a lot of people who refused to buy gas at Marathon Oil when U.S. Steel bought it. Now, there's a Marathon station right on West Fifth Avenue --- you can see the stacks at Irvin Works from its parking lot --- and I've got a Marathon credit card.

And I always laugh when people tell me that Pittsburgh doesn't make steel any more. What are they making at Edgar Thomson, toothpicks? What are they rolling out at Irvin, draperies? What is all of that pipe at Camp-Hill Corp. in Our Fair City made out of, bamboo?

Of course, steel's contribution to the local economy is only a fraction of what it was years ago; while I don't know what the Mon-Yough area's economic future is based on, it seems unlikely that it's steelmaking.

I also suspect it's not retail and service jobs, despite the success of The Waterfront. Rob Rogers had a great cartoon in the P-G last week about the new Pittsburgh Mills shopping complex up near Tarentum. A steelworker is asking a diner waitress, "Remember when 'Pittsburgh Mills' meant American dominance in steel?" In the last panel, we see him behind the counter at the food court: "May I take your pretzel order?"

Indeed. If we all end up with service and retail jobs, to whom will we sell our greasy fast food and overpriced Chinese-made plastic tschotchkes? I suspect that not too many retail clerks can afford to eat at the restaurants in The Waterfront, other than maybe Chick-Fil-A, Steak 'n Shake and McDonald's. Even then, $5.75 an hour, minus taxes, doesn't stretch too far. There's a middle ground somewhere; we just haven't found it yet.

I also suspect --- no, I know --- that all of the malarkey we were sold during the '80s about retraining people for highly-paid jobs in healthcare, computer technology and the lot was just that. Not everyone is suited to sit behind a desk, and there isn't an infinite need for computer jockeys, anyway. We need some kind of employment where people who have skills and a willingness to work hard physically (rather than only mentally) are rewarded. I don't think the local economy --- let alone the American economy --- is going to stay healthy if manufacturing goes down the drain completely.

Anyway, that's for wiser minds than mine to puzzle over. I'm just happy to see U.S. Steel walking tall again in its second century.

Would I like to see some more manufacturing around the Mon-Yough area again? Uh, sure, but I'm not holding my breath.

For now, I'll accept the fresh paint at E.T. It beats the hell out of a "For Sale" sign any day of the week.

...

In other news, they're ice-skating in hell today, and was that a pig that just flew past my window? Great googly-moogly, I agree with the Post-Gazette editorial board, which says much the same thing I wrote in the Tuesday Almanac ("For Whom the Bell Knolls") about the made-for-media Catherine Baker Knoll "controversy":

But with the greatest sympathy to the family, some of the other objections to Mrs. Knoll's presence at the funeral seem based on misconceptions. Most funerals are not private and the obituary notice in the paper did not say this one was. Indeed, the church in Carnegie was filled to overflowing for the funeral on July 19 -- and not all of this crowd would have been "invited." ...


It is a good thing -- not bad -- that Mrs. Knoll has been going to funerals for fallen servicemen -- and not just that of Staff Sgt. Goodrich. The state of Pennsylvania should be represented on such occasions, as a mark of respect and sympathy from the highest levels of the state government.


Huzzah, says the Almanac. Great minds think alike ... or at least this one and the ones at the P-G do, on this issue.



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July 27, 2005 | Link to this story

Clip 'n Save

Category: default || By jt3y

Choosing a mate, buying a house, declaring allegiance to a sports team ... they're all important, life-changing decisions. But to me, the most important choice that a red-blooded 'merkun male can make is a barber.

I've been going to the same barbershop for more than four years. It's a real, honest-to-goodness barbershop, not a damned hair salon or "family styling center," which means a honest-to-goodness barber cuts my hair, not some giggly 20-year-old girl. (And just to prove that I'm not a complete Neanderthal, they have a lady barber, too, but she's a solid, salt-of-the-earth type whose name isn't Brittany or Tiffany or Amber.)

I tried some of those "hair care" places, including all of the major chains. It seemed like every time I went, there were kids running all over the place, toys on the floor, women with their hair being put in curlers, and mirrored waiting rooms with giant glossy posters of androgynous people with frosted hair. There was almost always a boom box somewhere blasting out Kiss FM. Whenever I left it would take me hours to get the stink of perm solution and Bubble Yum out of my nose.

The barbershop that I use has Wahl clippers, straight razors and combs soaked in that greenish liquid (I think it's called barbicide, which sounds like something that happens when a mobster is angry over his haircut). The chairs where you wait have copies of Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News, not US and People. And the place is always busy, which tells me I'm not the only guy who doesn't want to get his hair cut in a beauty parlor.

It hasn't all been sweetness and light, as I've written about before. The shop recently raised the price of a haircut again, to $13, which strikes me as unfair ... at least to customers like me. I have half as much hair as most of the people there. Why should I pay the same price as everyone else? If you have a 1/4-acre lot, you don't pay the same to get your grass cut as a guy who has two acres, do you? A cynic might point out that it takes the barber that much longer to cut my hair because he has so much less to work with, but I digress.

Otherwise, in the main (or is that "mane"?), I'm happy with my barber. Except for one thing. I moved to North Bittyburg, on the edge of Our Fair City, almost one year ago. The barbershop is way over on the opposite side of Our Fair City and one town over. It wasn't so bad when I worked out in that direction, or even when I was regularly shopping in that part of town, but now it takes me a half-hour drive to get a haircut, which strikes me as a little foolish, especially when gas costs $2.30 a gallon.

So, the big life-changing question is: Should I find a new barbershop? There are two near my house and both have been there for a long, long time. They're run by guys with old-fashioned barber names like Vinnie and Dominic, and for my money, if a guy is willing paint his first and last name on the shop window, he must feel pretty confident in the quality of his haircuts.

But how do I check them out to make sure they do nice work? Based on the look of both shops, I have a strong suspicion that their regular clientele consists of retirees who get crewcuts or "baldies." If I walk in there, is the barber going to give me a crewcut, too? I still fancy myself young enough that I don't want to get a haircut that makes me look like an Alabama sheriff's deputy in 1958.

On the other hand, I also like a haircut that disguises (OK, not well) my bald spots, and presumably a barber who caters to guys in the 60s and 70s is going to be used to doing those kinds of jobs. (But for crying out loud, I don't want a combover. I still have a little bit of dignity left.)

It's too bad there isn't a rating system for barbers like there is for restaurants, or that barbershops aren't reviewed like movies. ("Tony Giacodomo's latest trim started out briskly, but began to drag toward the end, and the tight, well-planned trim along the sides was undermined by pronounced shagginess at the collar.")

I suppose I could stake the place out and watch the customers going in and out, maybe even take before and after photos. But that won't prove anything, will it? If the guy goes in asking for a "high and tight," a bowl cut, or a mullet, and the barber gives it to him, that doesn't prove he's a bad barber.

Eventually, I guess, I'm going to have to bite the bullet and try one of the shops. And if things go completely wrong, at least I have a large selection of hats to wait until the damage grows out. Or in my case, falls out.



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July 26, 2005 | Link to this story

For Whom the Bell Knolls

Category: default || By jt3y

I'm at a loss to understand the whole Catherine Baker Knoll kerfuffle. In brief, she attended the funeral Mass for a Marine, Staff Sgt. Joseph Goodrich, who was killed in Iraq. Goodrich had previously worked as a police officer at Kennywood, in Indiana Borough, and in Our Fair City. The family complained, loudly, to the local media that she was uninvited and that she gave an aunt one of her business cards, which gave the appearance that she was campaigning. (Knoll has since apologized.)

I'm no Catherine Baker Knoll fan. In fact, from talking over the years with people who have worked for her and with her, I'd say my impressions of her aren't totally favorable, and I think Rendell could have found a stronger lieutenant governor --- particularly since the last two lieutenant governors (Mark Singel and Mark Schweiker) both ended up serving as governor at times.

Still, this whole thing smelled of a political smear job, and the media lapped it right up. First, since when does someone need an invitation to go to a funeral? Second, how else does one introduce one's self in professional life other than handing out a calling card?

Third, and most importantly, as a friend pointed out to me yesterday in a conversation, someone from state government darned well ought to be attending these funerals as a sign of respect. Who better than Knoll, who's the lieutenant governor and is from Western Pennsylvania?

Like I said, the whole thing smelled funny, and a story in Tuesday's Post-Gazette hints that the relative who made the loudest complaints might have had an ulterior motive. (It turns out she's politically active in the Republican Party in Indiana County.)

Knoll did two things which were tacky, and deserved scorn. The first was telling at least one person that she was against the war in Iraq. Nice job: Tell the family of a dead Marine that his service to his country was in vain. That'll earn you some points. The second was giving interviews to TV crews outside the church; the event was supposed to be about Sgt. Goodrich, not her. She should have politely declined to go on camera.

For those two things, she should have been chastised, but her mere presence at the funeral was not offensive in and of itself. And if anything, the people who turned this into a media spectacle about Catherine Baker Knoll's conduct --- thus diverting attention away from Sgt. Goodrich's life and work --- were equally as tasteless as Knoll's comments.

Can we thus get off of the bash-Cathy Knoll bandwagon, and refocus ourselves on paying tribute to Sgt. Goodrich for making the ultimate sacrifice for his country?



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Posted at 11:57 pm by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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July 25, 2005 | Link to this story

An Outside Perspective? The Eye Has It

Category: default || By jt3y

Some years ago, convinced that the quality of international reporting in much of the American media was, to put it mildly, krep, I started reading a number of foreign publications, including the Canadian newsmagazine Macleans, which carried some excellent reporting from inside Afghanistan and Iraq during 2000, 2001 and 2002. (Lately, with a new editor in charge and a new focus on "lifestyle" stories, the magazine has been woefully uneven. Macleans seems to be turning into a Canuck version of Newsweek, which is not what I subscribed for, and that may lead me to drop it.)

Of course, a side benefit of reading Macleans is that I know more about Canadian politics than anyone, including a Canadian, would care to. That Stephen Harper is quite a guy, let me tell you! (Or maybe not.)

I also subscribed to Private Eye, the British political and satire magazine, mostly because I was already reading a lot of their cartoons and features online, and wanted to be able to read the rest of the articles. It's fairly expensive for an overseas subscription to the Eye; at 38 (pounds sterling), my last renewal worked out to ... um, let me see ... carry the 1 ... well, it was expensive. And a fair number of jokes go over my head in each issue, or at least send me scurrying to the Internet to look up the reference, but that's to be expected, since the Eye is meant for a strictly domestic audience.

Nevertheless, the magazine never fails to give me at least one belly laugh in every issue (under the headline "Pope Condemns Harry Potter for Corrupting Children," we see a photo of Pope Benedict captioned, "That's traditionally the job of the Catholic church"), and even the inside tales of malfeasance in Parliament, on Fleet Street, or out in the suburbs of London (the "rotten boroughs," in Eye parlance) are well-written enough to be entertaining. You don't necessarily need to know the characters, in other words, to find the stories good reading.

How to describe the Eye? I'd describe it as a blend of The Onion with the late, almost-forgotten Spy; but unlike the former, the Eye carries a fair amount of serious investigative reporting, and unlike the latter, the Eye cares more about lampooning politicians and journalists than celebrity gossip. In each issue of the Eye, for instance, Tony Blair is lampooned as the pious, pompous, self-aggrandizing vicar of "St. Albion's Parish" on a page laid out in the style of a church newsletter. The "parish news" usually includes a message from Rev. Blair's American counterpart, the Rev. Dubya of the Church of the Latter-Day Morons. (Um, ouch.)

There's also literary, TV and architectural criticism that wouldn't be out of place in The New Yorker, except that the Eye's critics are considerably more vicious. (Most of the pieces in the Eye are written either anonymously or under pseudonyms. Even the ownership is something of a mystery.)

When Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide a few months ago, the Eye savaged both his later, pedestrian work and the American and British journalists who produced long, overwrought, fawning obituaries. It's a pity that the Eye puts almost nothing online, because I no longer have the epitaph, but it was accompanied by a sketch of Thompson (done in the style of his longtime collaborator, Ralph Steadman), blowing his brains out. The following issue carried several letters commenting on the column and illustration; one writer said, "If you keep printing offensive material like that, I shall have no choice but to continue my subscription."

Needless to say, I was anxious to see how the Eye would handle the terrorist bombings in London. They wouldn't wimp out, would they?

The new issue arrived today, and I wasn't disappointed. Bombing spoofs and critiques of media coverage take up several pages. (A BBC executive is savaged for sending out a memo to staff praising its "highlights" and "briiliant performances." "Yes, 24-hour news channels actually covered a news story --- amazing!" says the Eye.) Inside, a double-page spread laid out in tabloid newspaper fashion is a riot of bold headlines and stories like:

LONDON CAN TAKE IT! SPIRIT OF BLITZ LIVES AGAIN

By Phil Space

We can survive! That was the gutsy response of millions of Londoners when they woke up to the shocking news that their city was to be subjected to the Olympic Games.

Said one cab driver, 76-year-old Monty Snozzer, "We lived through the Second World War --- they're not going to frighten us with a few velodromes and indoor volleyball parks."


Below that was another article from "Phil," headlined "SUICIDE BOMBERS 'NORMAL PEOPLE,'" written in pitch-perfect parody of the typical day-after news "analysis" story:

It's astonishing to discover that the four suicide bombers who attacked London were, according to reports, 'normal people.' One liked sport. Another owned a car. One had a house, with doors ... and windows. Another had parents. All of them had heads.

Perhaps all we can really conclude is that their normalness was so normal that their normalness was abnormal in its normality.


On a less humorous note (the Eye would put an aside here: "Surely 'humourous'? -Ed."), the current issue also has a column from Washington that says the London bombings "rescued" the Bush administration from "air-conditioned torpor." "You could almost hear the collective sigh of Republican relief wafting across the Potomac," writes the Eye's anonymous correspondent, who calls American reporters "slavishly supine":

In normal circumstances, the London bombings would provide yet more proof that the Bush strategy is flawed and dangerous. Yet so debased has the debate on terrorism and the Middle East become here that the administration can brazenly claim that the London attacks justify its misguided policies. As the commander-in-chief put it: "The war on terror goes on."


The populist/fundamentalist/plutocratic coalition which has captured power in Washington learned long ago that the (global war on terror) is a wonderful way to distract attention from the administration's failures, lies and misdemeanours, of stifling serious political debate, of curtailing civil liberties, of whipping up vote-winning patriotism, of making billions more from military/oil/security contracts, and of hastening the Second Coming of the Lord. It's a no-brainer.


That's strong stuff, and unlikely to appear in any mainstream American publication, but commentary like that is another reason why I enjoy getting a different perspective on events, and why I find the Eye valuable.

If nothing else, once the seditious rabble-rousers in this country are finally rounded up and sent to the camps, I may wind up as the best-read inmate at Gitmo.



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July 22, 2005 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: default || By jt3y

In light of yesterday's rant, I'd be remiss in not mentioning that former East Hills denizen Bob Braughler shares my interest in the funnies; he deconstructed "Mary Worth" on Thursday over at "Subdivided We Stand."

...

Via Daryl Cagle's cartoon blog at Slate, here's a great political cartoon from M.E. Cohen on the Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court.

...

From Jan Ackerman in the Post-Gazette comes details of Homestead's 125th anniversary celebration. The events start with a parade and end, of course, with fireworks, because we in the Mon-Yough area do love us some fireworks. Steeler and Homestead native Charlie Batch (who's done some awfully good things for his hometown recently) will be the grand marshal of the parade, while Porky "Bossman" Chedwick will be a featured guest.

There's also going to be a film festival at the Steel Valley Arts Council; among the films to be screened is a documentary about Homestead's late, lamented Leona Theater. What the Memorial Theater was to residents of Our Fair City, the Leona was to the Steel Valley. Given that tomorrow is supposed to be hazy, hot and humid, staying inside for part of the afternoon to watch movies doesn't sound like a bad way to spend a few hours!

...

Can someone tell me why there seems to be a Subway on every corner in the Mon-Yough area these days? Are Subway franchises inordinately cheap to start, or are they that profitable? Out in Monroeville, I recently noticed that there are now three Subways about a mile from each other (one on Monroeville Boulevard, one on William Penn Highway, and one just north of William Penn Highway, near the Pittsburgh-Monroeville Airport).

A new one opened recently in the old Begandy Furniture building on Dravosburg Hill, and I'm rather stunned that there would be that much potential business there, other than for the office workers at Bettis Laboratory and the old Harbison-Walker research center.

Anyway, via "The Sneeze," I learned all of the Subway-related gossip I care to know at the website of Thom McGrath, who runs several restaurants for the sandwich chain.

...

To Do This Weekend: The Homestead celebration, obviously! Also, Dale Hetrick and The Burgh Big Band play the bandshell at Renziehausen Park, 7 p.m. Sunday. ... "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" wraps up its run at McKeesport Little Theater, Coursin and Bailie avenues, on Sunday with a 2 p.m. matinee. Call (412) 673-1100.



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July 21, 2005 | Link to this story

He's a Big, Lecherous Dog

Category: default || By jt3y

Complaining about comic strips quickly can mark one as the kind of crank who writes letters to the editor when the female news anchor on Channel 2 gets a new haircut. ("Why couldn't they leave well enough alone? Until Jennifer grows her hair out, I'm not watching any more.")

Still, I have so few real pleasures in my life (among them, cold beer with Italian food, and scratching my back with a plastic knife ... ahhhh) that the comics are something I really look forward to each day. (I've often thought that The New York Times would amount to something if it ran funnies.)

Thus, it pains me that One of America's Great Newspapers recently began shrinking one page of its comics section to near subatomic size. Even worse, on the opposite page, they're unconscionably stretching some of the strips, including one of my favorites, "Get Fuzzy." That's strictly bush league stuff.

The Trib, which used to have a terribly weak comics page (anchored by "Marvin" and "The Phantom") has added a number of very good strips and is close to parity with the P-G in funnies, if not a little better; it's a pity they insist on running the (badly) colored versions.

The News has always had a quirky mix of comics, often running strips that I've never seen anywhere else. One recent addition to the News that I really enjoy is "Big Top," and against my better judgment, I've gotten hooked on "Funky Winkerbean," which is a odd mix of a soap-opera strip and a gag-a-day comic.

On the other hand, there are a number of strips that don't run in any of the local papers, and even more that do run locally that are utter krep. It's sad, but there have been many, many days recently when the best comic strip in the newspaper was a 30-year-old "Classic Peanuts."

For instance, has anyone ever even smiled at "Mallard Fillmore"? To quote the liner notes on an old Tom Lehrer album, it seldom has any points to make but obvious ones. Recently, its creator, Bruce Tinsley, has been on a rant about Jon Stewart, who parodied "Mallard" in America: The Book. Tinsley is convinced that his regular readers (all 10 of them) were confused, and might think that he (Tinsley) was actually contributing to a Jon Stewart book.

This proves that Tinsley not only can't write satire, he can't recognize it when he sees it.

Then there's "Beetle Bailey," ostensibly set in the Army, but it's clear that Mort Walker's memories of Army life are becoming increasingly dim, and no one else working on the strip apparently cares enough to do any real research. Thus "Beetle Bailey" now does little more than rehash sight gags that were old and tired when Milton Berle first stole them.

"Garfield" needs to be taken to the vet and put down; it had one joke that has been repeated endlessly for the past 27 years. He's a cat. He's fat. He likes lasagna. He hates Mondays and dogs. And please don't get me started on "Ziggy," "The Family Circus," and the rest of that lot of "family friendly" comics. "Family friendly" need not necessarily equal "unfunny" (see yesterday's Almanac about Bob Newhart), but "Family Circus" is spectacularly unfunny.

Every time I read a "Family Circus" panel, I can actually feel a few brain cells die. Yet there it sits, on the comics page of nearly every newspaper I regularly read. It's impossible to avoid, so I end up reading it, and then I groan. "Well," I think, "there went 30 seconds of my life I'll never get back again."

Luckily, the Internets have liberated me from newspaper tyranny. Not only can you discuss comic strips with like-minded geeks at newsgroups like rec.arts.comic.strips, or read the commentary at sites like "The Comics Curmudgeon," you can now download whatever mix of comics you like using programs like Comictastic.

My current daily reads include some fairly obscure syndicated comics like "Arlo & Janis," "9 Chickweed Lane," "Brevity" and "Barkeater Lake," along with web comics like "Medium Large," "Kevin and Kell," "Sinfest" and "You Damn Kid." And I get them in nice vivid colors, unmolested by stretching or shrinking.

If you're not that computer savvy, visit the website of your favorite newspaper and build your own comics pages. The San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle and Washington Post all have comics page options; most of the major syndicates also put their comics on the web.

Also using the 'net, I can also avoid the comics I can't stand, which means I haven't paid any attention to "Marmaduke" in months. Like "Garfield," "Marmaduke" has one joke. The main character is a big dog who gets into comic misadventures because of his large size. Hilarity, theoretically, ensues. I have never, in my life, even smiled at a "Marmaduke," but unlike "Family Circus," it seems to be easy to ignore.

Thus I missed several recent "Marmaduke" panels that could make you wonder exactly what's going on in the "Marmaduke" family. (Marmaduke's owners are actually named the Winslows. You could, as they say, look it up.)

Here's the first "Marmaduke" in question, which ran on July 9:



Hundreds of papers ran that strip, and yet I can't see any plausible joke there except for the obvious double entendre. I mean, is he trying to make soup? Eh? I've never known a dog to want food heated, and after all, dogs don't really eat bones; they lick the marrow out of them and chew on them. So it ain't funny ... except on the filthy, unintentional level.

Or was it unintentional? Because a few days later, on July 11, along came this "Marmaduke" panel:



Um ... OK. "Woof on my shoulder" makes it sound like he's going to barf on her, and indeed, he's got his mouth (snout? muzzle?) hanging over her back. But the embrace seems fishy, especially given the fact his girlfriend (a poodle, which must make for some interesting ... er, mechanics) just dumped him. Is he looking for a rebound girlfriend?

You may think I just have a sick mind (and I do) but yesterday, this "Marmaduke" ran:



Good Lord! They're having an orgy, and the dog wants in!

This is exactly what conservatives have been warning us about for years. Rick Santorum said that if you allowed gays to marry, the next thing society would endorse was "man on dog." Who knew that it would happen on the funny pages? Paging Dr. James Dobson, stat!



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July 20, 2005 | Link to this story

The Public Bobcasting Service

Category: default || By jt3y

I can find a lot to dislike about public television these days. With its diet of pop culture tributes (concerts by aging Motown stars and "Antiques Roadshow"), threadbare British sitcoms, and thinly-disguised infomercials (Suze Orman, Gary Null, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, et al, ad nauseam), it is increasingly difficult to defend PBS's status as a non-profit organization. In Pittsburgh, WQED is sadly typical of most (but not all) big city PBS affiliates.

One thing PBS does right, however, are its marquee programs. There is nothing on CNN, MSNBC or Fox to match the quality of "Frontline," and I'm not even going to bother counting what passes for "investigative journalism" on CBS, ABC and NBC. "NOVA"'s science segments are 10 times as detailed as anything you'll see on the Discovery Channel, and yet they do a better job of explaining complex topics.

I've just finished (Tuesday night) watching a "NOVA" hour explaining the recent Mars Rover expedition. It was as gripping as a blockbuster movie but gave me a whole new understanding of the technology involved in going to Mars. "The American Experience" should be required viewing for every taxpayer and registered voter.

And note that despite conservative claims to the contrary, there is nothing overtly political about any of these shows. "Frontline" speaks truth to power, but it's just as likely to attack the failures of the Clinton administration as it is to question the war in Iraq.

Another of my favorite PBS programs is "American Masters." An installment I saw a couple of weeks ago about Ella Fitzgerald was both entertaining (how could a program featuring Ella singing not be?) and educational. I had often wondered why Fitzgerald always looked so uncomfortable on stage; "American Masters" explained, in sometimes heartbreaking detail, the emotional pain that she went through off-stage. A&E's "Biography" is sometimes very good, but I have yet to see an episode that matches any given episode of "American Masters."

So I was delighted when I learned on Monday (entirely by accident) that Bob Newhart, one of my all-time favorite comedians, is being featured tonight on "American Masters."

I happen to think that Newhart's comedy albums are some of the funniest routines ever recorded. If you only know him through his sitcom work, you've missed a lot. A great introduction to his sometimes sarcastic, always deadpan comedy is "Button-Down Concert," a fairly recent (1997) performance done in front of a live audience in California.

On the album, Newhart talks between the tracks about his life, and the process of writing the routines, and his commentary is often as funny as the monologues. The audience is also made up of hardcore Newhart fans; at one point, he jokes, "Please stop mouthing the routines along with me, because it really screws me up."

I wouldn't say that Newhart had the societal impact of a Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor, but he was able to be a little subversive simply because he looked, and sounded, so dull and establishment. (He was trained, and worked for a while, as an accountant.) He didn't comment on sexual and societal foibles as graphically as Bruce, or explore racial politics with the passion of Pryor.

Still, there was nothing respectful in Newhart's treatment of the U.S. Navy in "The Cruise of the U.S.S. Codfish" (a submarine's commanding officer lambastes the crew for stealing the door off of his office as the sub is surfacing off of "the familiar skyline of either New York City, or Buenos Aires?") or the rituals of corporate life (an outgoing middle-manager veers away from his prepared retirement speech to complain about the "crummy watch" he's been presented with, then blackmails his co-workers by threatening to sell tapes of the office Christmas parties).

I don't know for sure if Newhart is as important to American culture as Ernest Hemingway, Richard Rodgers, or F. Scott Fitzgerald --- who are also subjects of "American Masters" this year --- but I'm sure the program will make a compelling argument.

I'm not sure if the 10 or 12 hours a week that PBS airs things like "American Masters," "Frontline," "NOVA," "NewsHour," etc. justifies the 20 to 40 hours a week of crud that it runs. But I guess I am grateful that there is still some quality educational programming on PBS. It's hard to find sometimes amid the dross, but it's there.

...

In other news, is McKeesport "Fun City, U.S.A.," or Sodom-on-the-Mon?

McKeesport Magisterial District Judge Thomas Brletic said he wants to make an example of two people charged with open lewdness.


Jamar McGriff, 23, of N. Charleston, S.C., and Taren Roberts, 19, of West Mifflin, were arrested earlier this month after they allegedly had sexual intercourse on a picnic table in the No. 5 Pavilion at Renziehausen Park. ...


Brletic said the alleged incident occurred July 10 at 7:42 p.m. "It was in clear view of everyone in the area," the judge said. "We can't have that Sodom and Gomorrah stuff going on here." (David Whipkey, Daily News)


I'm with the judge here, to a point. At 7:42 p.m.? For crying out loud, get a room, you two. Or at least go off in the weeds somewhere, or wait until it gets dark, like generations of McKeesport kids have done at Renzie. Not that we're endorsing that.

On the other hand, the Sodom-and-Gomorrah comparison is a little bit harsh. I mean, it wouldn't be sodomy unless they were ... well ... you know ... oh, never mind. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, ask Rick Santorum.



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July 19, 2005 | Link to this story

Breathlessly Anticipating Cooler Weather

Category: default || By jt3y

No, there was no Almanac yesterday. Try to conceal your disappointment for a few minutes, and let me explain.

Forgive me if I write about myself today. Over the past two weeks, I have had practically no energy. I might otherwise chalk this up to my general laziness but for the fact that this hot, humid weather is really playing hell with my asthma, and that's left me generally pooped.

I've had asthma since I was very young --- my grandfather had it, too --- and I usually have no problem keeping it under control. Oh, it has discouraged me from engaging in a lot of athletic activities, but not as much as the fact that I am possibly the worst athlete in Allegheny County, and maybe the three-county area. (My spectacularly awful performance in little-league baseball has become the stuff of legend, and is still recounted in hushed tones.)

Anyway, I can go weeks at a time without needing my inhaler, but I've needed it every day since the humidity ratcheted itself up. The humid air traps smoke and pollution, and the resulting mix (besides being unpleasant) makes every breath an adventure. I've got AC at home, in the car, and at work, but any trip from one place to the other leaves me huffing and puffing and exhausted.

Add in hay fever, and I have a combination that leaves me permanently tired, crabby and miserable, and not in much mood to write.

I'm crossing my fingers that the humidity is going to break soon, but I'm not very optimistic. The National Weather Service is saying that a "pseudo cold front" is supposed to move through the region today and tonight, which may help temporarily. But another high pressure center is expected to move in, which will make it hot and smoggy again by the end of the week.

At the suggestion of my pharmacist, I recently changed my allergy medication, and the new stuff has helped my hay fever and sinus trouble quite a bit, so I'm hopeful that I'm going to feel better soon. I should be back on a regular Almanac schedule tomorrow, with all of the poorly-sourced, ill-considered miscellany that you've come to expect.

In the meantime, if you or someone you know has asthma or allergies, here are some resources you might find helpful:

NIH Medline

American Academy of Family Physicians

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

State DEP air quality indexes

Southwestern Pennsylvania ozone readings



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July 15, 2005 | Link to this story

Shooting the Messenger

Category: default || By jt3y

Yesterday's Almanac highlighted a story in Sunday's Tribune-Review that detailed the trials and tribulations of eight members of Duquesne's 1993 state champion football team; they were convicted for their roles in a $13 million multi-state drug trafficking ring.

A few days later, Duquesne City officials responded. How? Why, by blaming the media, of course. (Hey, it works so well for the President, right?)

Jennifer Vertullo explained in last night's Daily News:

Councilors said it was thoughtless and tasteless to print 12-year-old news. (Mayor Phil Krivacek) said it was nothing more than an opportunity to sell more newspapers.


"It's the bad news that sells papers," Councilman Tim Petrisko said. "The good news doesn't sell."


Stop. Right. There. If that hoary old chestnut is the best you fellers can come up with, then we're off on the wrong foot already. Bad news does not sell newspapers. No one ran out to the newsstand Sunday morning hoping to see a story about eight former Duquesne High School football stars. If the Trib sold any extra Sunday papers because of that story --- other than a handful in Duquesne and West Mifflin --- then I'll gladly eat a Sunday Trib at high noon at the corner of West Grant Avenue and Second Street.

(In fact, with circulation slipping at all but a new newspapers, a lot of highly-paid executives right now are trying to figure out just what, exactly, does sell papers.)

Personally, I think obituaries, box scores, lottery numbers, horoscopes and (in the fall) high school football round-ups sell newspapers --- at least local newspapers. Some people say that names and photos sell papers; when the newspaper does a story about the high school musical, for instance, and prints the names of the cast members and their photos, you can almost guarantee that every member of the cast and their families will buy copies of the paper that day. But bad news doesn't sell newspapers.

Also, let's go back to the idea that it's "12-year-old news." The people in the story are in prison right now. Their families are dealing with the aftermath, and will be, for years to come. So it's not "12-year-old news" to them.

Or are the mayor and city council denying that there's still drug dealing going on in the Mon Valley? Because I can introduce them to a few people in Burns Heights who would say otherwise.

And if it was "thoughtless" and "tasteless," then one wonders why the families and friends of the people who were put in jail decided to talk to the Trib. Back to Vertullo's story:

Krivacek asked where newspapers and television stations are looking when good things happen in Duquesne. He asked the same of skeptical residents.


That last sentence slays me. "Skeptical residents." One suspects they're skeptical because they see what's going on in their neighborhoods, despite attempts by elected officials to run around painting smiley-faces all over the landscape. Who are they supposed to believe --- politicians or their lyin' eyes?

The "good things" reference makes me laugh, too. There's plenty of good news about Duquesne in the newspapers. When Duquesne police Sgt. Dan Burns wrote a book about the city two months ago, the Post-Gazette had a story and a photo. Last week, all of the newspapers and TV stations ran stories about Kennywood's plans to redevelop a brownfield and the old Kmart plaza in Duquesne; two weeks ago, I read about improvements in the Duquesne school district.

And here's a lengthy story from last week about the creation of a community crime watch in Duquesne, with a quote at the end from (wait for it) Duquesne Mayor Phil Krivacek.

I suspect that the mayor is right when he says there are many "good things" happening in Duquesne that are going unreported. Does anyone from the city call the TV stations and newspapers to alert them? Personally, I can't count how many times during my mediocre journalism career that people told me about "good things" days or weeks after they happened. Rather than getting defensive, perhaps the city should go on a so-called "charm offensive."

I bow to no one in my belief that the Mon-Yough area has much to recommend it. That's why I started Tube City Online 10 years ago --- to promote the Mon-Yough region on the Internet. I grew up running around with friends in Duquesne and West Mifflin, and I'm still in Duquesne on a regular basis. I think the Mon-Yough area has gotten the lousy end of the stick for 20 years, and I've long grown tired of newspaper stories about "depressed Mon Valley milltowns."

But I'm also not blind to the real problems, including the continued drug problems in every community in our region. (As that loathsome Trib article pointed out, heroin has become an issue in communities like North Huntingdon, Irwin and Latrobe.)

Denying our problems, or chastising the media for reporting what we already know, is not the first step to solving them.

...

Jonathan Barnes reports in the Post-Gazette that officials in Our Fair City are close to a deal for the old McKeesport National Bank building at Fifth Avenue and Sinclair Street. Erected in the 1880s, the bank building is a registered historic landmark and was designed by the famed architectural firm of Longfellow, Alden & Harlow.

The city plans to move its offices out of the 1960-vintage municipal building on Lysle Boulevard and the Peoples Building and consolidate them at the National Bank building. About 40 percent of the National Bank building would remain rented to tenants, and the city would occupy the rest.

Historically, it would be an appropriate move. City offices were in both the National Bank building and the Peoples Building (formerly the Peoples Union Bank building) at various times before the municipal building was constructed in the late 1950s.

On the other hand, it's too bad the previous administration sold off the Peoples' Building, at what turned out to be about half of its market value. They could have consolidated the offices over there, couldn't they? But it's too late to cry over spilled milk, and I'm glad to see the National Bank building has a secure future.

By the way, I happen to like the funky '50s aluminum, tile and glass architecture of the municipal building --- but I realize I'm probably the only one.

...

To Do This Weekend: Jimmy Beaumont & The Skyliners play the Renzie Park bandshell, 7 p.m. Sunday ... McKeesport Little Theater's production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" continues, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday ... William Dell & The Wee-Jams perform at Gergely Riverfront Park, Water Street, 7:30 p.m. Sunday.



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July 14, 2005 | Link to this story

In Case You Missed It

Category: default || By jt3y

Chris Osher had an intriguing, if depressing, look at a slice of life from the Mon-Yough area in Sunday's Tribune-Review. In "Ring of Fire," Osher writes that eight members of the 1993 state champion Duquesne High School football team are now serving prison sentences for their role in a drug trafficking operation that moved more than $13 million worth of heroin into the region.

Federal prosecutors allege that the eight formed the Western Pennsylvania connection for a Dominican heroin wholesaler in Philadelphia, distributing stamp bags marked with a jaguar from Duquesne.

Thus, Duquesne, which once exported steel around the world, earned the dubious distinction of exporting heroin to Pittsburgh neighborhoods and suburbs alike in the 1990s. (I can remember a cop down in Washington County telling me in the mid-1990s that Route 837 was the "heroin highway," because so much was moving from Duquesne to Clairton, Donora and Monessen, and then out into rural areas.)

Osher writes that not everyone from the championship team ended up dealing drugs. The running back took his football scholarship and put it to good use, earning his degree from Duquesne University and becoming a broker for Mellon Financial. And bless him, Jade Burleigh, now 29, moved back to Duquesne, where he's involved in coaching youth football.

As the football coach, Pat Monroe, points out, sports is just a "temporary distraction." (Duquesne, which once had seven public schools and three parochial schools, is now lucky to graduate 30 high school students a year, according to a school director in Osher's story.)

Blame the professional sports leagues; unsatisfied with drafting college kids, they increasing want to draft high schoolers. That's fueled a lot of fantasies for kids in Western Pennsylvania over the years, who think they can blow off their educations and wait for a multimillion dollar NBA or NFL contract.

No one ever warns them that if they don't get that offer, they're going to land flat on their backs, without a high school diploma or much of a future. When the cheering stops, the stadium sounds awfully quiet.

And blame their parents and peers, too (that translates as "the rest of us") for not placing the same premium on education that we place on watching the Stillers, ESPN, "March Madness," etc.

...

On a happier note, historian and West Mifflin resident Brian Butko, who wrote the book (literally) on Isaly's, is getting good notices for his newest release, Greetings from the Lincoln Highway: America's First Coast-to-Coast Road. Appropriately enough, the reviews are coming from newspapers in the small and mid-size towns that the Lincoln Highway has served best for most of a century.

The Canton, Ohio, Repository calls it both "a history book and travel guide," while the Nevada, Iowa, Journal says it's "funny" and "insightful." Bonnijean Adams also interviewed Butko in the Daily News.

...

Meanwhile, I mentioned last week that the 15th Avenue Bridge is going to be renamed in honor of retired state Sen. Albert "Bud" Belan. I didn't realize that the Clairton-Glassport Bridge is being renamed in honor of another retired state senator, Clairton's Ed Zemprelli, as Brandy Brubaker and Pat Cloonan reported in the News this week.

The "new" bridge opened in 1985 and cost $22 million; Zemprelli was instrumental in seeing that money was available for its completion. The old Clairton-Glassport Bridge, which opened in 1927, wasn't anywhere near as old as the 15th Avenue Bridge, yet it always seemed to be in a much more advanced state of dilapidation.

I suspect that the chemicals from the coke ovens in Clairton --- which in the old days used to strip the chrome from car bumpers --- caused the bridge to corrode much more quickly than usual. That same pollution also used to kill all of the vegetation on the Glassport-Lincoln side of the river, but ironically didn't prevent several trees from taking root in the dirt and crud that had collected in the superstructure of the Clairton-Glassport Bridge.

At the Clairton (actually, "Wilson") end of the old bridge, all of the traffic had to make a sharp right and then a sharp left to get onto Route 837. In the "crook" of that L-bend in the bridge sat a bar called the "Wiltin' Hilton." I wish I was making that up, but I'm not. Actually, as a kid I thought it was a pretty clever name.

...

Correction, Not Perfection: Contrary to the old essay I posted earlier this week, the 15th Avenue Bridge was completed in 1908, not 1906. I've corrected the mistake.

Actually, if you want to be pedantic, the McKeesport & Port Vue Bridge Company was chartered in 1906, but construction of the 15th Avenue Bridge didn't begin until 1907.

The bridge was opened in September 1908 (after a lengthy legal battle with city authorities, who refused to allow the Port Vue Traction Company to connect its streetcar tracks with Walnut Street). I also believe that the 15th Avenue Bridge was a toll bridge, at least at first, because I've seen pictures showing what appears to be a toll booth at the McKeesport end.

You can read all about Our Fair City's legal battles with the Port Vue Traction Company, among other tales, in Ron Beal's wonderful book McKeesport Trolleys.



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July 13, 2005 | Link to this story

Third Ward Observations

Category: default || By jt3y

Short entry today. Your patience is appreciated.

After roughly 30 years (on and off) of living in the Mon-Yough area, it never ceases to amaze me that I keep discovering new places and things. I recently noticed for the first time that the recreation center at Harrison Village has been renamed for Detroit Shock forward and city native Swin Cash. It's also been decorated with a very colorful sign incorporating the Olympic rings, in honor of Cash's gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games.

It's nice for Our Fair City to be known as the hometown of Swin Cash; some how, it has more cache than bragging that it's the hometown of Miss America 1935, Henrietta Leaver. (Other famous McKeesporters include Art Rupe, founder of Speciality Records, one of the all-time great R&B labels. But I digress.)

In a way, it's gratifying to keep learning on turf that's otherwise familiar to me, but it also frustrates me to think that I never noticed this giant sign on Harrison Village before. Worse yet, it was covered by the Daily News. Where was my head at that day? (On second thought, don't answer that.)

Incidentally, Harrison Village has benefitted from extensive renovations in recent years after a long period of neglect; no one will confuse it with the Ritz-Carlton, but neither should people in public housing be forced to live in buildings that look like cell blocks, either. But that's just one man's opinion.

I also discovered that 12th Avenue between Walnut Street and Market Street has apparently ceased, technically, to exist. I discovered this, to my chagrin, when I made a quick left turn from Walnut (inbound to Downtown) onto 12th, trying to bypass the little knot of congestion that always forms on Walnut between Lysle and Ninth Avenue.

Suddenly, I found myself off of the pavement and into gravel and dirt, and about halfway to Market, the street ends. Would anyone who knows care to tell me what the heck happened to the road? I know there was a sinkhole in that area, but presumably it's been repaired. Why is the pavement gone? And if it's not going to be replaced, shouldn't the road be barricaded?

It could be worse, I guess. I could have found myself in the sinkhole.



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July 12, 2005 | Link to this story

More File Footage

Category: default || By jt3y



As promised, I spent last night rustling up old photos of the 15th Avenue Bridge. That means today's Almanac is going to be fairly short again. There are seven pictures up now, including pictures of the demolition.

A note on the photos: These were taken in roughly 1993 or 1994 with my fixed-focus plastic Kodak 35 mm camera, because I didn't get a decent camera (a secondhand Canon QL17, bought at Photographics Supply for about $85) until 1995 or so.

As a dorky pre-teen and teenager, I was always running around Our Fair City, taking pictures of things, never knowing that someday, Al Gore would invent the Internet, and I'd be able to bore the hell out of people all over the world by forcing them to look at blurry snapshots of old buildings and bridges.

I only wish I had a better camera back then. If I had a time machine, I'd go back and confront the 14-year-old version of myself. I'd say, "Kid, ditch the camera, comb your hair, and go get a girlfriend, for crying out loud."

Also, a note on terminology: While many people call it the "15th Street Bridge," all of our Our Fair City's numbered streets are technically "avenues." Thus, it should correctly be called the "15th Avenue Bridge." I didn't know this little tidbit of information when I wrote the bridge demolition story 10 years ago, but I was educated later on by Don Dulac and Elmer Brewer when I went to work for the News.

It also occurred to me last night that I've now seen two bridges get blown up (or as Joe Flaherty and John Candy used to say, "blowed up real good!"). The other was the old Station Street bridge in North Irwin.

The photo above, incidentally, shows the Port Vue side of the 15th Avenue Bridge, in the view that a motorist coming from Our Fair City would have had. Just past the end of the bridge was a hairpin left-hand turn, and past that was a intersection providing access to River Road, River Ridge Road and Liberty Way. The entire intersection has now been re-aligned, and no longer exists.

That picture may make the 15th Avenue Bridge look a little bit ratty, and I apologize for that. In person, it actually looked a whole lot worse. And we drove over it in this condition for years.



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July 11, 2005 | Link to this story

From Our Archives

Category: default || By jt3y

In honor of Friday's Almanac and Derrick's comments about the character of the new 15th Avenue Bridge (or the lack of character), there is no new Almanac.

Instead, I've reached back into the vast (half-vast?) archives of Tube City Online and resurrected a 1995 piece I wrote about the 15th Avenue Bridge called "15th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Lousy)." (I was on a Simon & Garfunkel jones at the time.) In the best tradition of non-fiction essays by undergraduate English majors, it's probably as pretentious as all heck, but I didn't have time this weekend to re-write it. Also, I don't know what (if anything) I would add.

Check back there in a few days, and I should have some photos scanned in.



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July 08, 2005 | Link to this story

It Takes a Nitwit

Category: default || By jt3y

I've tried to work up a good head of outrage over the new book by U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Spanish Inquisition), but I just can't any more.

Also, I'm somewhat constrained by the fact that I haven't seen his weighty tome, nor do I have any intention of buying it. Thus, I'm left to comment on other people's interpretations of what the good Senator has written. That some how doesn't seem fair. (Forgive me. As a couch-potato moderate-leftist, I'm still constrained by a sense of fair play.)

Based on what I've read about the book, however, I take it that Santorum has repeated several things that he's said before. Namely, that people who can't afford to go to college shouldn't go to college; that there shouldn't be public education; that women should not work outside the home; and that "feminists" and "liberals" are responsible for society's ills.

What is Santorum saying that he hasn't said before? Or that other prominent neo-conservative pundits haven't said before? Why are people shocked, shocked to hear these things?

A little personal anecdote, if you don't mind: When Santorum was running for the Senate the first time, I was in college. He had recently uncorked several statements similar to the ones above; I seem to recall that in particular he had called for the abolition of the federally-guaranteed student loan program and the elimination of Pell grants. As someone who was in college through the grace of the financial aid office, the federal government and McKeesport National Bank's loan officer, I was offended.

I was drawing a weekly cartoon for the college paper, and I uncorked one about a Senate candidate named "Rich Sanitarium" (my rapier-like wit was as leaden then as it is now) visiting a small, working-class town, spouting some of this nonsense about education, and being hooted off of the stage by the locals.

That semester, the college Republicans had successfully agitated for a weekly talk show on the campus radio station, which was great fun to listen to, because it was slightly to the right of Torquemada and Louis XIV. We used to tune in at the newspaper office and hoot at the radio in derision. Well, lo and behold, that week the guest was none other than Rick Santorum, and the hosts read my cartoon to him. And the good congressman went after me, on the air. (Not that this was a terrible thing, because the radio station's signal barely made it out of the parking lot.)

Now, the radio station was right across the hall from the newspaper in the student union, so I went over, introduced myself to the board operator, and he put me on the air. I don't remember exactly what I asked Santorum --- I seem to recall it was something about a Tribune-Review story out that week that rated him one of the "least effective legislators" --- but I do remember one of the hosts grabbing me by the elbow and hissing, "Shut up. This is our show, and we ask the questions. If you want to ask questions, get your own show." At that, I walked out, and back across the hall to the newspaper office, to general applause and backslapping.

Anyway, my point --- and I do have one --- is that none of what Santorum has written is new. He's been on the record as holding these kinds of views for more than a decade. His conservatism is not that of Eisenhower or Goldwater or Nixon, who held that government should stay out of commerce and people's personal lives, but could do some good for society. Instead, Santorum's conservatism is that of the pre-1900's, which views that life is a case of every man for himself. If you can't swim on your own, then you can sink to the bottom, and tough luck for you --- don't expect society to help.

Santorum is always depicted as a devout Catholic, but as a product of 13 years of Catholic education, I'd say his social views are more Calvinist in the mold of Calvin Coolidge.

Pennsylvanians have twice sent Santorum to the Senate, knowing full well his stands on the issues. Ron Klink was a rather colorless candidate in 2000, but he didn't want to dismantle the public education system. Harris Wofford was a magnificent civil rights advocate, and was trounced in 1994.

Perhaps before Pennsylvanians point figures at Santorum, they should take a good look in the mirror. You should have known what you were getting. Why are you so surprised at what you got?

...

In other, happier political matters, state Rep. Marc Gergely checked in at the Almanac on Wednesday to say:

Kudos to the Tube City homepage. As a frequent visitor to the site I enjoy the discussions. I'm pleased to give you the inside scoop on the new name for the 15th Street Bridge. In the early-to-mid '90s, state Sen. Albert "Buddy" Belan kept in the transportation budget the over $15 million that was needed to re-build our bridge to Liberty, Lincoln, Port Vue and beyond. Bud was a supporter of the Mon Valley in all aspects and so to his memory the 15th Street Bridge will be renamed the Albert V. "Buddy" Belan Bridge. I amended language into a Senate transportation bill and (it) was passed on Sunday. I know this is not the biggest issue of Commonwealth politics at this time, but I think (it's) of direct interest to the Mon Valley. Good luck, I enjoy the Almanac and I know that many times we will agree to disagree.


This is indeed an appropriate honor for Bud Belan. I remember Belan holding hearings at the old Romine Avenue School in Port Vue to discuss plans for the replacement of the bridge. I later had several occasions to work with Belan's office --- in one case, he intervened on behalf of an elderly relative who was being denied health care under Medicare --- and I always found him to be aces. Indeed, one of my fondest memories of Belan came on the bitterly cold morning that the old 15th Avenue Bridge was blown up. Despite the cold (temperatures were hovering in the single digits, with below-zero wind chill), Belan (clad only in a business suit and a top coat) stuck around to the very end.

The same bill --- S.B. 406 --- will also honor another good man who I had the privilege to meet, the late District Justice James Russo, by renaming part of Route 65 near Leetsdale the "James E. Russo Highway."

I'd like to thank Rep. Gergely for the update, and for the kind words, but I also want to warn him that when his constituents find out he's reading this drivel, they may start to wonder if he has too much free time on his hands.

By the way: Gergely is one of the Mon-Yough area legislators who voted against this week's pay raise. The others were state Reps. Jim Casorio of Irwin, David Levdansky of Elizabeth, and Harry Readshaw of Carrick; and state Sens. Wayne Fontana of Brookline, Sean Logan of Monroeville, and Bob Regola of Hempfield Township. (Visit the comments section of yesterday's Almanac for a complete list.)

...

To Do This Weekend:

* Braddock's Field Historical Society celebrates the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Monongahela with lectures, exhibits, and re-enactments, beginning at 8:30 a.m. and running through 5 p.m. Saturday at various sites in Braddock and North Braddock. Call (412) 351-5357 or visit frenchandindianwar250.org

* McKeesport Little Theater, Coursin Street near Manor Avenue, presents "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Call (412) 673-1100 or visit mckeesportlittletheater.com

* Springhill, the Mystic Knights and Jill West and the Blues Attack play a free blues concert at McKeesport Riverfront Park, Water Street between Fifth and Ninth avenues, Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. This might be the best local concert of the summer, at least for fans of blues and roots music, and the price is right.



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July 07, 2005 | Link to this story

But How Much Does it Cost to Ride the State Capitol?

Category: default || By jt3y

As if to prove the point made by yesterday's Almanac --- that people in the Mon-Yough area don't appreciate Kennywood --- there was a letter to the editor in the Daily News last night complaining about the prices. Sigh.

You know, Kennywood isn't a utility or a public park. It's a business. And I have to wonder if any of the people complaining about the prices at Kennywood have priced tickets at Geauga Lake, Hersheypark, Cedar Point or any of the other parks within a half-day's drive of Our Fair City. (Geauga Lake's ride-all-day price is $24.95, a little less than Kennywood's $28.95 price. You can also use a Kennywood ride-all-day pass to get admission to Sandcastle on the same day. Cedar Point's is $44.95 and Hersheypark's is $39.95.)

Anyway, at least one of my predictions was correct --- Kennywood is buying the old Union Railroad shop property under the bridge at the southwest corner of the park. The details of how the park intends to use the land remain to be seen.

Kennywood is also asking for tax relief, especially from local taxes. In 2003, West Mifflin increased the amusement tax from 50 cents to 5 percent per ticket. According to the Post-Gazette, Kennywood's taxes now make up almost 12 percent of West Mifflin's revenues.

Former state representative and current West Mifflin Councilman Richard Olasz Sr. argues that the borough views Kennywood as "a golden goose." Isn't that what I wrote yesterday? It isn't often that I find myself on the same side of a political issue as Mr. Olasz, but he's right. Kennywood does strain certain government services, especially police, and especially during the evening hours when the park closes --- try to get a car down Hoffman Boulevard at 11 p.m. on the night of a big school picnic or Italian Day --- but 12 percent seems a bit excessive. How much does Century III Mall contribute, for instance?

Meanwhile, the state General Assembly has approved an average 16 pay raise for itself, which according to published reports would make them the second-highest paid legislators in the country, after California. The new pay scales, which also cover judges and members of the governor's cabinet, are tied to federal salaries for comparable jobs. For instance, state representatives are going to be paid 50 percent of the salary of a member of the U.S. House, plus an annual cost-of-living allowance.

Alert Reader Arden asks if there isn't some way to tie state legislature pay to the mean annual wage in Pennsylvania --- which is $35,780 --- say, by making legislator pay an even multiple of that average. (One is tempted to suggest that the multiple should be "0," but that's not very nice.) Arden suggests that citizens should rally and get a referendum on the ballot to amend the state Constitution.

The problem is that under Article XI of the state Constitution, amendments have to be approved by the General Assembly. There is no provision to amend the Constitution via a referendum. (And to digress for a minute, I'm not sure that there should be. You could end up with an endless stream of confusing, contradictory propositions being placed in the ballots all of the time, as in California.)

Now, do you really think anyone would vote to potentially lower their own salaries?

Legislators argue that they deserve to be compensated at a level commensurate with the amount of work that they do, and I have no argument against that. I know of a few who I truly admire, because they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to answer constituent questions and meet with other political leaders, and are constantly on the road somewhere. But I also know of a few who got elected and immediately vanished until the next primary election.

So how much should a legislator be paid? I'm not sure. If you go to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can look up the average wages for various occupations in Pennsylvania. There aren't many that are being paid more than a state legislator's new minimum salary of $81,000.

Some of the occupations that make more than the new minimum for Pennsylvania state legislators include air-traffic controllers ($97,120), surgeons ($167,860), general practice doctors ($132,590), podiatrists ($91,360), dentists ($109,660), optometrists ($90,350), lawyers ($100,790) and physicists ($91,840).

Legislators will make more than architects ($64,330), electrical engineers ($71,530) and pharmacists ($77,610), among others.

Some of the occupations that will now have comparable salaries to state legislators in Pennsylvania include sales managers ($84,020), operations managers ($88,420), nuclear engineers ($81,650), computer scientists ($87,640) and epidemiologists ($82,930). (You may think that being a state legislator isn't rocket science, but you'd be wrong. Aerospace engineers, according to references (1, 2) I was able to find, make anywhere from $59,520 to $97,250 per year.)

Managers in general have a mean salary of $79,060 in Pennsylvania, and if you can view state legislators as managers of a sort, then a minimum $81,000 doesn't seem that outrageous. On the other hand, it's my tax money, dagnabbit, and Pennsylvania isn't exactly known for its low taxes.

It's also worth noting that 79 members of the House and 23 senators voted against the pay raises. I couldn't find a breakdown by name of how various legislators voted. As soon as I do, I'll post the votes from the Mon-Yough area.

So what say you? Leave your comments below (and keep 'em clean, please!).



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July 06, 2005 | Link to this story

Ride, Captain, Ride

Category: default || By jt3y

Suddenly, this is turning into the Kennywood blog. (Which is better than when it was the Paul Winchell blog for a few days there.) The One and Only Roller Coaster Capital of the World is preparing a big announcement about major park expansion plans, the details of which are to be unveiled today.

A news release from Kennywood stated only that the park has purchased a 23-acre site and a former industrial area, or "brownfield," for redevelopment. Kennywood apparently is in the process of purchasing the old Kmart shopping center on Hoffman Boulevard, which the park has been eyeing for some time.

Early speculation among the Almanac's informed sources is that the brownfield is the old Union Railroad shop at Thompson Run, which abuts the park on the southeast. What exactly Kennywood might be doing with that property is unclear, since it sits in a ravine and wouldn't be that conducive to adding rides.

More speculation involves an expansion of the rides into the pay parking area, with a monorail or pedestrian bridges connecting both sides of the park across Kennywood Boulevard. (Sources tell the Almanac that Kennywood actually purchased a monorail from the "Dutch Wonderland" theme park a few years ago, and has it in storage.) We'll know for sure in a few hours.

Kennywood also has been buying up houses along Shadynook Avenue and Valeview Drive --- two little streets to the northwest of the park --- for several years now. In part, that was to buffer the park from complaints from residents who disliked the noise and lights from the rides and games. (One has to wonder about people who move next to an amusement park and then complain about the noise. Isn't that like buying a house next to the airport and complaining about the airplanes?) It's possible that the park is going to expand that way, as well.

All of this makes sense; Kennywood hasn't made a major capital investment since remodeling the Steel Phantom a few years ago, and even that didn't add anything new to the park, it merely renovated an existing space. The last time that new rides and attractions were added was with the creation of Lost Kennywood, and that was nearly 10 years ago.

Kennywood is a great, underappreciated attraction in the Mon-Yough area. Pittsburghers appreciate it, but I think people in the neighboring communities either take it for granted or even resent it a little bit. Like the man with the goose that lays the golden eggs, they seem to think as if they can kick Kennywood around and tax the living daylights out of it, but that Kennywood shouldn't demand anything in return.

It amazes me that despite this sometimes contentious relationship, Kennywood continues to be a good neighbor; park executives are involved in all sorts of community and civic organizations at every level. One suspects that if Kennywood were owned by, say, some big multinational company, and not by the same families that have owned it since 1898, that it wouldn't be such a good corporate citizen.

(In the interest of full disclosure: I worked for Kennywood, part-time, for six years, including one winter, so I'm biased.)

No matter what Kennywood does, however, to expand, the bigger question is what does the surrounding community plan to do to keep the park healthy? Driving to Kennywood takes a visitor down one of the worst-looking corridors in Allegheny County. Across the street from Kennywood are two abandoned fast-food restaurants; Kennywood Boulevard itself is a string of muffler shops, bars and marginal businesses like a coin-operated car wash.

You get to Kennywood either via Homestead (which takes you past the junkyard at the end of the Rankin Bridge); via Duquesne (past the remains of the U.S. Steel Duquesne Works, still rusting away 20 years after the plant's closing); or through Swissvale and Rankin.

I haven't been to Cedar Point lately, but I've been to Kings Island, and I can assure you that you don't approach that park by driving past miles of dilapidated, decaying structures. And yes, I'm aware that Kennywood is eager to get the Mon-Fayette Expressway built, in hopes that it will make it driving to the park easier and more pleasant --- but it could be another 20 years before we see the highway completed. Why should we wait that long?

Kennywood can invest all it wants, but that investment is going to be futile if the Mon-Yough area doesn't get its act together. The park doesn't exist in a vacuum, and unless the expansion plans include a giant protective plastic bubble and pneumatic tubes to shoot people there from Pittsburgh International Airport, it needs the cooperation of the elected officials to improve the Route 837 corridor to make it more attractive and more useful. That requires tax incentives for businesses to locate along the corridor, coordinated zoning and planning efforts, better traffic signals and signs, and increased code-enforcement.

Such improvements wouldn't just benefit Kennywood, of course --- they'd improve the whole valley, all year around.

Instead of waiting around for maglev, slot machine gambling, or the Mon-Fayette Expressway, the Mon-Yough area needs to capitalize on the assets that it already has. Kennywood's expansion plans present a perfect opportunity to make a lasting improvement on the region --- will we seize it?



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July 05, 2005 | Link to this story

No Particular Place to Go

Category: default || By jt3y

I forgot to mention I'm taking yesterday off. Ahem.

Happy Independence Day, too, one day late. Or, happy P.T. Barnum's Birthday, if you prefer. Speaking of a sucker born every minute, my house sits on top of a hill, which provides me with views of the fireworks in Our Fair City, Downtown Picksberg and Kennywood, at least on a clear night.

But when it comes to fireworks, I'm inclined to remember what the late Chet Smith supposedly said about the NBA: "If they were playing in my front yard, I'd close the blinds." You've seen one, you've seen 'em all, is my attitude toward fireworks.

Thus I thought Brian O'Neill's Sunday column in the Post-Gazette was particularly amusing:

I made myself go see "Land of the Dead" all for one inside joke.


Pittsburgh's own George Romero, who is to zombie pictures what Van Gogh was to sunflower paintings (and mangled ears), has this gimmick in his movie: The walking dead, or "stenches," stop their insatiable blood lust only to watch fireworks.


That knowledge allows the heroes in the film to go around in a big armored truck, sending up "sky flowers" and foraging for food while the zombies stare stupidly upward at the displays. ...


Anyone who has spent a summer in Pittsburgh knows the mouth-agape, skyward look that strikes almost all of us when the fireworks go off, which happens only every time it gets dark. So it seems anyway. As my friend Sean Cannon of Shaler has said, Pittsburghers would flock Downtown for free rectal exams if fireworks were promised afterward.


As a famous philosopher once said, "Hmm, hah!"

Which only serves to remind me that Stiller fan Arlin Roth has set up a Myron Cope tribute website with lots of sound bites of Myron, Tunch, Bix and the rest of the crew at (what else?) www.myroncopesounds.com. Yoi!

And speaking of radio (were we speaking of radio?), I hadn't been to Dick Ruby's "World of Radio" website for a while, but he's recently posted pictures of the old Long Run Road studios of McKeesport's late, lamented WIXZ (1360). Scroll down the page to see a young, slightly paunchy disc jockey named "Jeff Christy," before he discovered his talent "on loan from God" (and Oxycontin, for that matter).

Meanwhile, Alert Reader Jonathan passes along a link to a John Tierney column from the Noo Yawk Times about the Supreme Court's eminent domain ruling, with special emphasis on eminent domain:

The city managed to clear out shops and an office building to make room for a new Lazarus department store, built with $50 million in public funds, but Lazarus did not live up to its name. It has shut down and left a vacant building. Meanwhile, the city's finances are in ruins, and businesses and residents have been fleeing the high taxes required to pay off decades of urban renewal projects and corporate subsidies.


Yet the mayor still yearns for more acquisitions. He welcomed the Supreme Court decision, telling The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that eminent domain "is a great equalizer when you're having a conversation with people." Well, that's one way to describe the power to take people's property.


Also, for an opposing viewpoint on eminent domain, check in with the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat. He thinks some of the hot air vented last week was "fairly paranoid."

A belated welcome to the ADB, and we'll try to drive slowly the next time we're on Grant Street, just in case he's weaving through the crosswalk. Also a belated welcome to Jonathan Barnes, who has his own blog called "Barnestormin"; Jonathan frequently writes about Our Fair City for the Post-Gazette.

In other local Internet news, Bob Braughler has returned from his recent month-long hiatus, meaning that Subdivided We Stand has new content again, while Professor Pittsblog ran an interesting series of articles last week called "Welcome to Pittsburgh." It's information you're unlikely to see in Whirl or Better Homes & Yinzers ... er, I mean, Pittsburgh Magazine.

And finally, speaking of Whirl, I hope you didn't miss Chris Potter's very funny examination in City Paper of the recent boom in local city magazines, which are mostly devoted to overpriced boutique fashions that I don't want, parties that I'm not welcome to, and restaurants where I can't afford to eat.

Potter makes what may be the understatement of the year when he writes that "Venerable Pittsburgh Magazine has always run consumer and lifestyle features." I'd agree, although when perusing (but rarely purchasing) Pittsburgh Magazine at my local newsstand, I often suspect that the target readers are indiscriminate consumers with boring lifestyles.

Every issue seems to have features like "Pittsburgh: Aren't We Swell?" and "25 Places to Get Pancakes in Shadyside." If the goal of Pittsburgh Magazine is to produce a bland magazine that won't offend anyone, then it's succeeding admirably, but I doubt that very many people eagerly await its arrival in their mailboxes each month.

Now, if someone ever comes out with a magazine called "McKeesport," I'll be first in line to buy it. (Suggestions for feature stories: "25 Recipes Using Stoney's Beer," "How to Keep Your '87 Monte Carlo SS Running Forever" and "Living With Mine Subsidence ... and Loving It!")



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July 01, 2005 | Link to this story

School Daze, School Daze

Category: default || By jt3y

McKeesport Area school director David Donato is questioning the "constitutionality" of a state House bill, introduced by Rep. Marc Gergely of White Oak, that would close the loophole that he and one of his political allies used to knock their rivals off of the school board during the primary.

You may recall that Donato and Lori Spando, whose terms on the school board expire in 2007, chose to run in the primary for terms that expire in 2009. In the process, they knocked incumbent school directors Gerry Tedesco and Harry Stratigos (whose terms expire this year) off of the board.

Assuming Donato and Spando get elected in November to the 2009 terms, their current seats will be vacant, and the school board will choose two people to fill those seats. Thus they've effectively thwarted the will of the residents of the McKeesport Area School District --- which includes Our Fair City, Dravosburg, South Versailles Township (Coulter), Versailles and White Oak --- to choose their representation, at least until the next municipal election.

Donato doesn't see it that way. He tells Pat Cloonan of the Daily News that the primary results show that the people "wanted Lori Spando and David Donato and they did not want Gerry Tedesco and Harry Stratigos."

I don't know Dave Donato from the man in the moon. If I saw him in the Giant Eagle I wouldn't recognize him. I couldn't name his positions on any three issues (though from newspaper articles I've read over the years, I'd say he's a libertarian-conservative) and I don't live in his school district. But allow me to say that he's full of hot soup.

As has been pointed out by the Almanac before, most people have no idea who's on their local school board. They may recognize a few of the names --- like, say, Dave Donato, who's been running for various offices in Our Fair City for 20 years --- and that's it.

Chances are that people saw Donato's and Spando's names on the ballot in May, recognized them, and they thought their terms were expiring, so they voted for them. Mr. Donato has to know this, right? Thus, he's playing semantic games. He pulled a fast one on the residents of the school district, and he got away with it.

Rep. Gergely's motives may be partly political, to be sure. Gergely is a longtime Democrat in a family of Democrats, and Donato has been sand in the gears of the local Democratic party for a long time. Also, as Spando has pointed out, she ran against Gergely in 2002 for the state House.

But regardless of what other motivations Gergely may have, he's absolutely right when he tells Cloonan that Donato and Spando "are blatantly distorting the law for their own benefit." Gergely says dirty tricks like this discourage people from participating in local politics, and I tend to agree.

His bill to close this loophole has 51 co-sponsors from both parties, including Reps. Paul Costa of Wilkins Township, Jim Casorio of Irwin, Ken Ruffing of West Mifflin and Ted Harhai of Monessen.

Donato has often billed himself as a reformer and a champion of the people against the powerful. That may be true; as I said before, I don't know enough about him to judge him. But by pulling this stunt, I can say that I don't think he's reforming anything. He's only adding to a long and dubious tradition of sneaky political stagecraft in the Mon-Yough area.

...

Speaking of the state Legislature, may we present the Honorable Reps. John Myers of Philadelphia and Thomas Yewcic of Conemaugh?

There was a debate on the floor of the state House on Wednesday over a bill that would compel homeowners' associations to allow residents to fly the American flag. (Some planned communities have very strict rules governing what colors people are allowed to paint their houses, what decorations they're allowed to use during the holidays, who they're allowed to date, etc. I couldn't live in a place like that, myself.)

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Yewcic stood up and said that anyone who wanted to fly a flag from a different country should "go back to their ethnic origins and fly it there." (Yewcic wouldn't like International Village much, I suspect.)

To which Rep. Myers responded by calling Yewcic a "cracker."

House Speaker John Perzel called them both to the rostrum and admonished them, at which point Myers apologized. But that wasn't satisfactory Rep. Eugene McGill of Horsham, who complained that several people laughed at Myers' apology and that he didn't think it was sincere enough.

And then they recessed for an hour.

By the way: For the third consecutive year, the state House was unable to pass a budget on time. But they have found time to introduce legislation that would give themselves a $10,000 per year pay raise.

As Brad Bumsted and Debra Erdley point out in the Tribune-Review, that would boost their pay to nearly $80,000 per year, or more than twice the average yearly wage in Pennsylvania.

Eighty grand, eh? Some of these guys can't get their work done on time, but they do have the time to debate flag-waving nonsense and to call one another names. Sounds like they're worth every penny.

...

On a somewhat nicer note, Ann Belser writes in the Post-Gazette that 87 houses in Our Fair City are being torn down this year as part of Mayor Jim Brewster's "Renaissance" program to demolish dilapidated structures and improve the city's neighborhoods.

Her bittersweet story examines the history of the some of the structures being torn down. Some of them have been in the same family for more than 100 years, but with no living heirs able to keep the houses occupied and in good repair, they sit abandoned and unloved. It's well worth a read.

...

To Do This Weekend: Kennywood's "Grand Victorian Festival" continues through Tuesday with a parade and fireworks every night, along with arts and craft booths, an antique car show, strolling performers and live music. Call (412) 461-0500 or visit their website ... Our Fair City's Independence Day celebration includes live music at the Renzie Park bandshell, beginning at 12 noon and continuing until 9 p.m. Fireworks begin at 9:30, weather permitting ... White Oak holds its annual Community Day at Heritage Hill Pool from 12 noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, including games, food, a demonstration by police dogs, and fireworks after sunset. Call (412) 672-9727.



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