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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

November 30, 2005 | Link to this story

English Spammers Wanted

Category: default || By jt3y

I'm used to spammers having a limited grasp of English, but an email I received recently rose (?) to new levels:

From: Sjaak Abram
To: Romolo Spier
Subject: Re: opium Pharramacy

Hello, We acknowledge you for being our customer. Thus, we put wise you of information and renovates between whiles. Our records indicate that you may be in need of a refill.

We apologize and hope you will take a jaundiced view at medicaments we sell. Again, let us introduce our drugs at attractive prices which may be urgent needed. We also offer you impeccable customer care.

Sincerely Yours, Customer service department

Well, Sjaak, of course I'll take a jaundiced view of your medicaments, and I appreciate your acknowledgement.

Or, to put it another way, as a different spammer recently wrote to me: "czarina little and deoxyribose marinate for vet against."

No, I'm not against czarina little, or marinating vets in deoxyribose. Who could argue with either of those? As Mitzi Cohen, another spammer, told me, "help me Denisse Richards Sports CDC: West Nile in 1993 FINE." I'm not sure if Denise Richards ever helped Mitzi play sports with the CDC in the West Nile, or if West Nile Virus is helping Mitzi to stop Denise Richards from playing sports. Either way, I sure hope things worked out.

Why do these people send these mysterious messages? An email I received recently from may hold the answer: "The Internet is a gigantic place were millions and millions of people roam!!! As long as there is an Internet there will be a way for people to make money on it."

Truer words were never spoken, Denmark, but why do these people keep clogging up my email? Let's ask Galen Smiley, who wrote to me pitching low-cost home mortgages: "You bespoke to be imparted of knowledge of offers from either us or one of us partners, if you do not want to obtain extends from ourselves once again have the will to get hold of us here."

Well, if I'm the one who bespoke to be imparted of it, then I guess I have only myself to blame when you obtain extends to ourselves.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go bang a dictionary against my head until sentences start to make sense again.

Meanwhile, here's something for you to do to waste time (besides reading the Almanac, that is). It's a gallery of classic Christmas-themed television commercials from the '50s, '60s and '70s, including the memorable spot featuring Santa Claus riding down a snow-covered hill on the top of a Norelco electric razor. (A tip of the Tube City hard hat to "Drink at Work.")

And, from the useless trivia department, the Wikipedia entry about "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which notes that "the special has not been seen in its original, uncut form since its original telecast in 1965. The opening and closing credits contain references to Coca-Cola, the show's original sponsor. The main titles have Linus and Snoopy crashing into a Coca-Cola sign, while the final end credit mentions "Merry Christmas from your local Coca-Cola bottler."

I was at Compass Federal Savings Bank in Wilmerding last week, and the big plasma screen TV in the main banking room was playing "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on an endless loop.

As much as I love "Peanuts," and I do, I feel kind of sorry for the tellers. By Christmas, I figure they'll have Linus' monologue memorized, and they'll be ready to strangle him with his security blanket.

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Posted at 07:12 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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November 28, 2005 | Link to this story

A Bang-Up Thanksgiving

Category: default || By jt3y

They say that pride goeth before a fall. Sometimes pride goeth before the winter and during the fall.

I make no secret of the fact that I drive a big car (and I've decided I'm not getting anything smaller until they pry my Gulf card from my cold, dead hands).

Oh, I used to have compacts. Loved 'em. But when the frame fell out of my dearly departed Datsun 200SX, and I needed a cheap car in a hurry, I wound up with the first of two Grand Marquises. (Marquii? Grandes Marquis?) And as they say, once you've had Grand Marquis, you never go back.

Or something like that.

One of the things that I'm proud of is that I can maneuver it almost anywhere. Take heavy traffic. I enjoy getting stuck behind a garbage truck on a city street, with cars parked on both sides, and one lane barely open. Light touch on the gas, eyes ahead, and right through.

I particularly enjoy looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing the expressions of the people driving subcompact cars. They know that if a big boat like my sleek, gray Mercury can get through, then their Kia Rio can get through, but they can't get past the notion that it might have been an optical illusion.

Or parallel parking. There aren't many places that I can't park. Oh, occasionally I bump the tires on the curb, but I'm sure the QEII bumped the dock once in a while, too.

Even snow driving is entertaining in a rear-wheel drive car, though many people, conditioned to front-wheel drive, look at me with abject horror at this time of year. "You're driving a what? In the snow? In Pennsylvania?" Proverbial piece of ice-cream cake, I tell 'em, especially with a good set of snow tires.

In fact, the worst winter driving experience I ever had came on a perfectly dry, clear day. I was driving Route 136, heading east, in Hempfield Township one warm winter morning when I made the right turn at Millersdale Road to head under the Amos K. Hutchinson Bypass. Suddenly, the world began to revolve and I found myself in a nice, lazy 360-degree rotation.

When the car, and my head, stopped spinning, thanks to the rear bumper's contact with the guardrail, I got out to see what had happened. It seems an overenthusiastic PennDOT salt truck driver had laid down a perfect carpet of granulated de-icer across the entire lane for several hundred feet. Since there wasn't any ice, snow or rain, it was still there, like a blanket of BBs. As I looked for damage on my car, another motorist made the turn, slid sideways, and came to a screeching halt, spraying salt through the air. I got out of there as quickly as I could.

Anyway, driving in winter or otherwise holds no terrors for me, so Wednesday night, despite steadily falling snow, some ice, and frigid temperatures, I started backing out of my driveway. When the back tires slipped a little bit, I just fed them some gas.

... and slid off the driveway and slammed right into a metal pole, putting a nice big crease into the right rear fender above the wheel. I'm no body man, but I'd estimate the damage at somewhere around $1,000 by the time the metal is pounded flat, smoothed with body filler, primed and repainted.

The problem, of course, is that I don't have a grand to spend on this little misadventure. So I've got a call into one of those "painless dent removal" places in hopes that they can pull the fender relatively straight. Then I can do the rest of the work myself. Otherwise, I'll have to attack it with a slide hammer, which involves drilling holes and, usually, pinching my fingers several times. (Having driven junkers for many years, until buying this car, has left me with a variety of "skills," and patching holes and dents is one of them.)

Of course, the pinched fingers are nothing compared to the damage I've already done to my ego. Especially embarrassing was the fact that I did this in front of my house, in full view of the neighbors.

Now, they say if you fall off of the horse, you're supposed to get right back on again, before you lose your confidence. And though I obviously haven't stopped driving, I am eyeing this week's weather reports warily. I don't know if I want to get back into the snow again.

On the other hand, the incident has taught me a valuable lesson: It's hard to drive while you're patting yourself on the back.

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November 22, 2005 | Link to this story

Looking for Courage in All the Wrong Places

Category: default || By jt3y

From the Tube City Almanac National Affairs Desk: In case anyone didn't catch the sarcasm in Friday's entry, I was kidding about Jack Murtha. (I realize that my rapier-like wit sometimes has the same razor-sharp edge as a cinderblock, so I thought I might as well be clear.)

The attacks on Murtha's patriotism and credibility were as predictable as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. The current Republican strategy is attack, obfuscate, confuse, smear and shout ... much the same play book we saw in 2004.

Take Murtha's erstwhile Central Pennsylvania colleague in Congress, U.S. Rep. Bill "Just Call Me Bud Jr." Shuster, R-Daddy's Boy. He issued a statement saying that the immediate withdrawal of forces would be "irresponsible, ineffective and premature. ... The Democrats’ policy of turn, run and give up would allow the proliferation of terrorism in the Middle East, which would put the fight off until they can strike again."

Whoa. Fightin' words from the Gentleman from Interstate 99. It's a shame that isn't what Jack Murtha called for, but thanks for answering a question that no one asked, Rep. Shuster.

No, Murtha called for the United States to "immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces ... create a quick reaction force in the region ... create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines ... diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq." Kudos to Slate magazine's Fred Kaplan for cutting through the B.S. (and a tip of the Tube City hard hat to Mark Evanier).

You also could have easily predicted that other Democrats would scurry and hide instead of rallying to Murtha's support, which come to think of it, is how the United States got mired into this mess in the first place. Instead of standing up in 2002 and demanding hard answers before we went to Iraq, they allowed themselves to be stampeded to war. (You remember the standard bearer of this principled approach to governance, 2004 presidential candidate Mr. "I Voted For It Before I Voted Against It.") Nice job, guys. Way to stake out a position. You've shown all of the moral authority of Marshal Petain.

(Where is Swissvale's Mike Doyle on this issue, for instance? Yes, he said very nice things about Murtha last week in the newspaper. But what's his position on Murtha's plan? You won't find it on his website. He is, however, against Medicare cuts and for lower gas prices.)

It's well worth noting that where people know Murtha best --- in Johnstown --- they're mostly sticking by him, according to the Tribune-Democrat:

Rocklyn W. Myers, a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 103rd Armor, returned home from Iraq after nearly 18 months of service.

Choking back tears, Mrs. Myers said she fully supports Murtha’s comments and wants all families to be able to feel the emotions she had as she watched her husband walk off of the train in fatigues.

Mrs. Myers, who kept in contact with her husband through twice-weekly phone calls, agreed the war should end and all soldiers should come home.


Tom Joyce, a Vietnam veteran from Somerset, believes the war should stop.

“Like Murtha, I believe we should stop it and bring them home and get them out of there,” he said. “If this turns into a civil war, the U.N. should take over and we should not be the main force in Iraq.”


Charles J. Vizzini of Ebensburg, a World War II Army veteran, agrees with Murtha’s call for troop withdrawal.

“It’s something we should have done a long time ago,” said Vizzini, long active in local veterans organizations.

“I feel sorry for the families who are losing their sons over there,” he said.

“It’s just not worth being there,” added Vizzini, who holds two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star among his World War II medals.

James Kirkstadt of Westmont, a retired Air Force colonel, described the situation in Iraq as “no win” for the United States.

He favors a scheduled pullout of U.S. troops. Kirkstadt added that he feels there are some good things taking place in Iraq relative to the U.S. presence that are not widely known.

At the same time, he believes the U.S. presence there is creating more terrorism.

Dick Cheney can growl his way around the country all he wants, spouting slander and calumny about men like John Murtha, while President Bush can accuse his critics of trying to rewrite history.

"Rewrite history." Ha! I heard Cheney on the radio this week saying that American troops were in Iraq under a "U.N. mandate." Boy, it's funny how we ignore or denigrate the United Nations when they do things we don't like, then run and hide behind their apron when we're looking for cover. And if it's a U.N. mandate, shouldn't a U.N. or at least NATO commander be in charge of the Iraq occupation? Does anyone buy this kind of malarkey any more?

It is becoming obvious to anyone with an IQ bigger than their shoe size that the Bush administration was looking for an excuse --- any excuse --- to invade Iraq. They released only the information which bolstered their claims while ignoring any evidence that they didn't like, and the idea that Murtha and other Democrats had "the same intelligence" as the White House did is simply a flat-out lie, as Knight-Ridder newspapers points out:

The Congress didn't have access to the President's Daily Brief, a top-secret compendium of intelligence on the most pressing national security issues that was sent to the president every morning by former CIA Director George Tenet.

As for prewar intelligence on Iraq, senior administration officials had access to other information and sources that weren't available to lawmakers.

Cheney and his aides visited the CIA and other intelligence agencies to view raw intelligence reports, received briefings and engaged in highly unusual give-and-take sessions with analysts.

Moreover, officials in the White House and the Pentagon received information directly from the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an exile group, circumventing U.S. intelligence agencies, which greatly distrusted the organization.

Jack Murtha only said what most Americans now think --- that the Bush administration took us to war using information that, to be charitable, they should have had reason to believe was flawed. Maybe we were all too busy sticking American flags on our cars to realize that then, but we understand it now. The administration also appears to have no plan for ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The people in Johnstown can see that. So can most of us in McKeesport, Munhall and Monongahela.

One hopes the scales will eventually drop from the eyes of Republicans like Rep. Shuster, the shameful Jean Schmidt (who called Murtha a "coward," and later disavowed her own comments, speaking of cowardice), and the rest of the people who supposedly were elected to watch out for the best interests of the United States of America --- not to act as the cheerleading squad for a President who, frighteningly, seems to be increasingly out-of touch with reality.

One hopes that some Democrats will rise to the challenge of statesmanship and demonstrate some moral courage, rather than continuing to waffle, waver and spout mealy-mouther palaver. (They seem to think their election prospects in 2006 are excellent, though they present little reason to vote for them other than the fact that they're "not Republicans.")

Given the events of the past four years, however, one is not inclined to hold one's breath.


Mea culpa: Last week I forgot to mention that Our Fair City's "Salute to Santa" parade was to be held Saturday. You can read all about in the News. ... Resquiescat in pace to former city police Chief James Lundie, who will be laid to rest Wednesday. He died Friday of complications from heart disease at age 69.

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Posted at 07:03 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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November 21, 2005 | Link to this story

Breaking News: Fisher Body to Close

Category: default || By jt3y

Ouch. The General Motors stamping plant in West Mifflin (relegated some time ago to producing replacement body parts) is set to close in 2007 as part of a massive restructuring plan by the automaker:

The long-awaited cuts were deeper than expected at a time when the automaker is burning through cash, fending off bankruptcy rumors and close to losing its position as No. 1 global automaker to Toyota. ...

"The decisions we are announcing today were very difficult to reach because of their impact on our employees and the communities where we live and work," said GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said in a news conference at the automaker's Renaissance Center headquarters.

"But these actions are necessary for GM to get its costs in line with our major global competitors."

The cutbacks are expected to help GM reduce its annual costs by $7 billion a year. (The Detroit News)

Known to nearly everyone as "Fisher Body," the West Mifflin plant opened in the 1940s, in part to take advantage of the location of U.S. Steel's (technically, Carnegie-Illinois Steel's) then-new Irvin Works just across the road.

This is a lousy Christmas present to give thousands of Mon-Yough area families. No doubt lots of fingers will be pointed at the United Auto Workers union for allegedly soaking the company. But in my opinion, it's hard not to blame GM management for turning out cars that have by turns been either bland (any of what seems to be dozens of Chevrolet models) or crudely designed (Pontiac Aztek anyone?) for the last 20 years. (Full disclosure: I'm a UAW member.)

There's more to come, I'm sure. (Canadian perspective from the National Post.)

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November 18, 2005 | Link to this story

Time to Celebrate Mail Pattern Boldness

Category: default || By jt3y

So what do you think about John Murtha, far-left looney fringe retired Marine Corps colonel, denigrating the service of our brave men and women? Maybe he and the rest of his Hollywood buddies in Johnstown would be happy if we just bowed down to Al Qaeda? Why does he hate freedom?

This is typical of the Hillary Clinton crowd, and Murtha has always boosted those traditional left-wing causes like higher defense spending and stronger armed forces. I think Murtha is French for "surrender," isn't it? While President Bush was bravely defending the citizens of Texas from an officer's club in Alabama, where was Murtha? Hiding out in the jungles of Vietnam (no coincidence that it used to be called "French Indochina"), that's where!

Oh, and Murtha wanted to give his purple heart to some allegedly "wounded" soldier. (Wounded on a swift boat, perhaps? Ha, ha!) Then he started to cry. Boo-hoo! Maybe he can get his buddy John "Teresa Heinz" Kerry to help him throw their medals over the White House fence? If they don't like America, why don't they leave?


Whoops! Sorry. Some how I accidentally mixed up the Almanac with today's Jim Quinn and Fred Honsberger talking points. Either that, or it's a sneak preview of the upcoming Ann Coulter column, staining a Daily News editorial page near you sometime next week.

So until I sort out my notes and take my meds, maybe I should open up the mailbag, where we find this missive from Bob in Elizabeth, who writes:

I've been reading your stuff for a number of years and found your Tube City Online a while ago. I spent some time reading the archives of the Tube City Almanac which I enjoyed. ... I'm somewhat of a history enthusiast and was looking for photographs of Elizabeth, my hometown and came across this collection of photographs at "Historic Pittsburgh." Here you may search all of the collections of photos they have. I found quite a few for McKeesport and surrounding areas.

There are a number of photos of McKeesport in this website also. You will have to scroll down and look for the captions to find them. A lot of them are at the old B&O Station. There are some here, too.

Thanks for the nice comments, Bob! I've seen those "Fallen Flags" railroad pictures, too, and they're definitely worth a visit, even for non-railroad buffs.

Along a similar line, John M. writes:

I've always been interested in looking at old photos of McKeesport, particularly downtown. In fact, that's how I discovered your site some eight years ago. Anyway, I came across a site that you might find interesting. It's McKeesport Tiger, which is an MSN group that posts their photos of McKeesport. Most interesting to me were color photos of the "Famous Fire" in 1976. There were several others on there that I never seen.

Nice website, John! I've linked to McKeesport Tiger before, but it never hurts to do it again.

We're approaching the 30th anniversary of the big fire that John mentions. It started in the old Famous Department Store building at the corner of Market Street and Fifth Avenue, spread to the Elks Temple next door, and jumped across the intersection, taking out Kadar's Sportswear, Coney Island Grill, the Apple Shop (formerly Riggs' Drug Store) and a bunch of other buildings. It also damaged Immanuel Presbyterian Church, the Penn-McKee Hotel and the McKee Cinemas, formerly the Memorial Theater.

The Penn-McKee and the church were repaired, but the theater (which had already been reduced to running soft-core porn and second-rate Hollywood films) never reopened. (Want to feel old? It's now been 20 years since the Memorial was torn down. I can remember watching the demolition like it happened yesterday.)

Look for a large update on Tube City Online about the fire as the anniversary approaches. I meant to do it five years ago, but "real life" intervened.

And speaking of the Penn-McKee, still threatened with demolition: The noble but faded old hotel is featured on the cover of the newest CD from McKeesport's Mikey Dee Band. I couldn't find a listing on any of the on-line retailers, but I assume it's available wherever finer polka CDs are sold, or write to Mike 426 Hillview St., McKeesport 15132.

Meanwhile, Dennis has a beef:

You don't even live in McKeesport! You're like one of Madonna's boobs! YOU BIG FALSIE!

Gee whiz, real nice detective work, Dennis ... if that is, in fact, your name (Dennis's email address lists his name as "Arnold") ... when did I ever say I lived within the city borders? I've said I lived in a suburb of Our Fair City (specifically, "North Bittyburg").

But North Bittyburg would have no reason for existence if it hadn't been for the city (even if some of my good neighbors would like to deny that). So as far as I'm concerned, it's up to all of the suburbs to band together with the city, and understand that the city's problems are their problems, too.

Do you think when a visitor drives south across the Mansfield Bridge, they look to their right and say, "Gee, Glassport sure looks a lot nicer than McKeesport!" Or when they head south on Route 148 from Route 30, they say, "Boy, I sure can tell the difference between North Versailles and McKeesport!"

And this isn't just a McKeesport problem. There's no need for separate municipalities of Irwin, North Irwin and North Huntingdon, or two Elizabeths (borough and township), or Monongahela and New Eagle, to name just a few examples.

We can either start banding together, or we can continue to snipe at one another across artificially created boundaries that outsiders don't recognize. This isn't 1940. None of these communities are strong enough any more to keep going it alone. The sooner we all start sharing services (I see that Dravosburg is considering a contract with McKeesport for police service, while Port Vue already uses the city's ambulance service) and making common long-term plans that benefit everyone, the better off we'll be.

And another thing, Dennis. Why do you hate freedom? Why, maybe you and John Murtha should join Michael Moore and Hanoi Jane Fonda and the rest of the ...


Thanks, I needed that. Dave writes regarding my recent broadsides at Harrisburg (which are something like attacking the U.S.S. Missouri with a pellet gun):

Jason, excellent observation of local and state politics. We may never trust state politicians again.

Will future candidates for state office in Pennsylvania be better than the limo-riding, self-serving public servants who think they are corporate CEO's and lie to little children? Let's hope they are!

It's hard to imagine how they could be worse. (Well, maybe they could manipulate some intelligence reports and send the Pennsylvania State Police to invade West Virginia.)

A good start, in my humble opinion, is to toss out, bags and baggage, the ones who voted for the pay raise. (I don't agree with the agitators who say we need to "replace everybody." There are some good ones, too.)

The next good start is to reduce the size of the legislature. Eliminating one of the houses of the General Assembly would be one way to do it. (Nebraska is way ahead of us, having reduced to a single state senate back in 1937.)

As the situation currently stands, it costs Pennsylvania's taxpayers $462 million to run the state General Assembly. It's up to the people to decide if they think we're getting our money's worth.

On another political note, Roger says:

I am searching for the history of McKeesport mayors. Can you direct me anywhere?

The official repository of city historical information is the McKeesport Heritage Center in Renzie Park, open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Call (412) 678-1832. The first place to start would be the McKeesport history book produced in 1976 in celebration of the American bicentennial. Carnegie Library of McKeesport also has a copy available. Since that book was written, the mayors of McKeesport have been (if I recall correctly) Lou Washowich, Joseph Bendel, Wayne Kucich and currently James Brewster. (There might have been someone between Tom Fullard and Lou Washowich, but I don't think so.)

Or, why not go to the source? Write to Mayor Brewster's office at 201 Lysle Blvd., McKeesport 15132, or call (412) 675-5020. Maybe they have a handy listing ready to go. (As a good faith gesture, you might want to save the taxpayers of Our Fair City 37 cents and send along a self-addressed stamped envelope.)

To Do This Weekend: Football bragging rights in the Mon-Yough area will be decided at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Heinz Field when McKeesport Area High School plays Woodland Hills High School. Considering the number of mixed marriages in the area (Turtle Creek Valley residents with McKeesporters, and vice versa), there could be some very uncomfortable silences around the breakfast table Sunday morning. No matter who wins (like how I straddle the line? sorry, I have too many friends on both sides), it ought to be one heck of a football game. ... Don't like sports? Penn Sembles Tamburitza Orchestra presents its fall concert at 2 p.m. Sunday at McKeesport Area Senior High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd. Dinner and dancing follow at American Legion Post 701 in White Oak. Call (412) 672-8904.

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November 16, 2005 | Link to this story

And It Wasn't Even Sent Postage Due!

Category: default || By jt3y

I'll give him this much: He had the stones to respond.

Let me back up. You may remember the wise-cracking, sarcastic letter I wrote to my state senator last month, congratulating him on his pay raise, and explaining what life was like for those of us peons in his district.

Well, lo and behold, I arrived home last night to find a thick, creamy envelope in the mailbox, embossed with the Seal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Motto: "Virtue, liberty and per diems"), and inside, a response.

Now, frankly, an appropriate response would have been "go take a flying jump at a rolling doughnut, you malcontent." But either he's too polite for that, or he didn't get the sarcasm. (I tend to think he did get the sarcasm, but is playing it cool, or is being equally sarcastic himself. He helpfully printed out several web pages for "low-income assistance programs" and attached them to the letter.)

Anyway, I'm no less distrustful of him. But I am impressed that he responded to someone who was clearly trying to bait him (namely, me):

Incidentally, I figure it took about 30 minutes for him to write that letter, so I did some quick math. At his current rate of pay, divided over 52 weeks in a year, and assuming he works 40 hours per week, that letter cost the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania $25.

Believe me, I got more than $25 worth of satisfaction venting on him in the first place, so I'll call that part even.

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November 11, 2005 | Link to this story

Now Boarding for Sign Off and Tails Out

Category: default || By jt3y

Alert Reader Alycia the Stunt Violist reports that she recently rode a Port Authority bus to "BLANK SIGN." I've never been to "BLANK SIGN," though I have ridden buses to "SEE SIGN BELOW." The drivers just gave me funny looks when I asked the precise whereabouts of "SEE SIGN BELOW."

Also, the buses to "CHARTERED," "OUT OF SERVICE" and "TRAINING" never seem to stop, and they won't let you ride to "WEST MIFFLIN GARAGE," no matter how nicely you ask.

Along the same lines, the two TV programs I always wanted to see when I was a kid were listed in the paper as "To Be Announced," which I suspect was a variety show, and "Sign-Off," which I envisioned as a talk show, hosted by someone like Joe Pyne --- sweaty, chain-smoking cigarettes, and railing at the world.

But I never was allowed to stay up and see those, and I don't see them listed in the paper any more. Maybe they've been cancelled. Or maybe they survive in late-night reruns on the stations in Chartered and See Sign Below.

All this reminds me of a story I've heard from friends in broadcasting. It supposedly happened at WDUQ-FM, when that was still primarily a college station operated by students at Duquesne University. It seems one night a DJ didn't show up to do his show. Luckily, there was an emergency program on a reel-to-reel tape, wound (as many broadcast reels are) with the end hanging out to protect the tape from damage.

So the DJ who was leaving cued up the tape, gave the station ID, and then confidently announced the name of the program, which he read from the box: "And now, 'Tails Out.'" And if you haven't already guessed it, melborp eht dexif dna gnorw saw tahw tuo derugif enoemos litnu sdrawkcab gninnur cisum fo setunim ynam revewoh txen eht draeh srenetsil.

I hope that story's true, because as Doug Hoerth says, it's too beautiful to be a lie.

Sorry that the Almanacking has been kind of light lately, but I'm still busier than a one-armed paperhanger. The Christmas decorations are already up on Fifth Avenue in Our Fair City. In fact, they were up at National City Bank (the old WPNB main office at Fifth and Walnut, and before that, the First National Bank of McKeesport) about two weeks ago.

A cynic would ask if it really serves any purpose to decorate a business district that is now, by and large, devoid of business. Not me. I like seeing the holly (artificial) and the lights back on the street poles. I'd really like to see some stores on the sidewalks and some shoppers, too, but I'm realistic enough to understand that the days when Fifth Avenue was going to come back as a retail core are probably well behind us.

Lysle Boulevard still has potential, I think, that hasn't been realized --- the stretch between Huey and Sinclair streets, for instance, is almost unused. That block includes the Central Station post office, the old David Israel store, the Amvets, Photographics Supply, the old Helmstadter's store (which was damaged by fire earlier this week) and the old Murphy's home office. I'm not sure if any of those buildings are worth saving, but if they are, then new entrances should probably be built facing Lysle. And there had better be free parking nearby.

I suspect stores and restaurants that catered to people working for EchoStar would do well there. It's a shame that the old Murphy office is now being used for warehousing, something that doesn't attract foot traffic, and something better suited for the outskirts of town --- not the central business district --- though I suppose it beats having another empty building.

By the way, the "CONDEMNED" placard on the Penn-McKee still depresses me every time I see it. And makes me a little mad. With the marina nearby, there's no reason that building should still be empty. If it were in Shadyside or Squirrel Hill, a building like the Penn-McKee would be in demand for loft apartments or senior citizen housing. I'm not sure why people buy buildings to leave them empty --- speculating on Mon-Yough urban real estate wouldn't seem to be a lucrative past time --- but it's a problem up and down our river valleys.

Here's hoping that we don't soon see a "CONDEMNED" placard on the People's Bank Building when the city treasurer's office moves out.


Local News You May Have Missed:

• Ed Blank of the Tribune-Review reports that an independent filmmaking team, including the son of George Romero, is going to use the vacant former Loews movie theater in North Versailles Township as a soundstage for a movie.

The Loews closed about two years after it opened on the site of the old Greater Pittsburgh Drive-In Theater, and the only thing it's been used for recently has been a flea market and a haunted house at Halloween. Maybe someone should tear it down and put up a drive-in.

The real question, of course, is whether any of the big chains (like Loews) will show the film once it's completed, since they tend to almost exclusively show extravagant and overwrought Hollywood dreck. (As opposed to small, independently produced dreck.)

• Speaking of Loews: I predict the days are numbered for the Loews Waterfront, and not in real large numbers, either, unless something drastic happens to turn that megaplex around. It's been crowded full of noisy, poorly behaved teen-agers since it opened (which led to the decision earlier this year to require them to be accompanied by adults after 5 p.m.).

A fatal shooting inside the theater on Tuesday night is just about the worst thing that could have happened, and the negative stigma attached to the theater is eventually going to hurt other merchants in the shopping center. I imagine some heated conversations have already been held between the Waterfront's management and Loews. At what point will the theater chain just cut its losses and close the place down?

(I found the comments of a Loews' spokesperson delightfully idiotic and disingenuous. "(We) want to assure moviegoers that this was an extremely rare and isolated incident," he said. Well, no kidding. I thought people were being gunned down inside your theaters every day. Thanks for the tip.)

• Marsha Forys reports in the Trib that the plans for a new school in the Hahntown part of North Huntingdon are complete. It could be ready by 2007, pending approval by the township commissioners. Meanwhile, Casey Harper, owner of the C. Harper car dealerships, has been elected to the Norwin School Board.

• Tuesday was probably the last time voters in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties will pull a lever to vote. The federal government is forcing all local election boards to scrap mechanical voting machines in favor of new systems.

One problem not covered in an otherwise interesting Trib story by Rich Cholodofsky: Many of the new electronic systems being marketed provide no paper trail for recounts or audits, and a few can easily be hacked. Read more at Verified Voting and Black Box Voting.


To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Little Theater presents "Come Back, Little Sheba," 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call (412) 673-1100. ... The Monte Carlo Night scheduled for Saturday to benefit Carnegie Free Library of McKeesport has been canceled. Call (412) 672-0625 for details ... CCAC South Campus Theater, 1750 Clairton Road, West Mifflin, presents the play "Inspecting Carol" at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday. Call (412) 469-6220.

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November 04, 2005 | Link to this story

Dissembling in the Assembly

Category: default || By jt3y

Well, I didn't learn about the "poison pill" until I got home last night. That's the language in the state House's version of the pay raise repeal --- inserted either through incompetence or on purpose --- that could torpedo the entire thing.

Was I angry? No. Bears get angry when you poke them with a stick. Hornets get angry when you knock down their nest. I wasn't angry. I was in a white-hot furious rage.

I felt like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction: "I'm Superfly T.N.T., I'm The Guns of the Navarone, I'm a mushroom-cloud-layin' mother- ... "

(Ahem.) Well, you get the idea. I was sore.

What in the name of Samuel W. Pennypacker is wrong with these clowns? From the Harrisburg Patriot-News:

Despite the differences, many lawmakers insisted yesterday that this is not a charade intended to let them tell constituents they had voted to repeal the raise, while keeping it on a technicality.

Sure. I believe that! It was an accident. After all, the law is a complicated thing. How can we expect an entire building full of professional politicians, many of them with law degrees, to figure out a teensy-weensy thing like a severance clause? Heck, next they might have to open up Robert's Rules of Order or Charlie Brown's Encyclopedia of State Government. Why, it's hard to expect the largest full-time legislature in the United States of America to focus on every tiny little detail. Cut them some slack!

Or ... could it be ... that this is the political equivalent of passive-aggressive behavior? Should I be suspicious that the only two votes against repealing the pay raise were cast by two people on the House Rules Committee, which apparently was where the "poison pill" was inserted?

"I am not that cynical," said Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery. "I intended to repeal the pay raise, and I believe everybody did."

Oh, really? Everybody?

Rep. H. William DeWeese, who cast one of just two votes against rescinding the raises, said in a news release that he hopes those people who disagree with his vote "will recognize that I was consistent.

"I believe that it was the only honorable thing for me to do." DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, stated in the Thursday release.

Yes, for certain narrow definitions of "honorable." Oh, Mr. DeWeese? We have that truckload of hubris you ordered. Shall we drop it off in the back?

Do you know why they get away with this stuff? Because no matter what happens, no matter how many angry letters-to-the-editor are written, no matter how much pressure that every radio talk-show host and non-profit group applies, nine out of 10 of these guys are going to be re-elected by overwhelming margins.

In the case of someone like DeWeese, who's been in office for 30 years (you can even watch a video of highlights!), he may not even have an opponent. If he does, he can count on the mostly elderly voters of his district to turn out in force and vote for him as a "thank you" for some negligible favor he did 15 or 20 years ago for them --- forwarding their driver's license renewal form to Harrisburg or some such rot.

That makes me want to pound my head on the floor. (Luckily, I'll only hurt the floor.)

It may be time for another Constitutional Convention in this state (the last one ended in 1968). Items for discussion should include an amendment to make it easier for Pennsylvania voters to get referenda onto the ballot, and another that enables us to hold recall elections. I'd be willing to back almost any state political leader who pushed for those.

I don't think we should be voting on every issue, like some western states, because you end up with ballots that have dozens of conflicting and confusing propositions. But if our representatives aren't willing to act on our issues, then we need to go directly to the voters.

And the very first referendum on the ballot should be shrinking the size of the state legislature. Right now, there are 203 state representatives for 12 million Pennsylvanians, or about one legislator for every 60,000 people. They make about $81,000 per year.

By comparison, Allegheny County Council has 15 members for 1.25 million residents, or one representative for every 83,000 people, and those councilors work part-time for $9,000 per year. Westmoreland County has three commissioners for 369,000 residents, or one for every 123,000 people; they make about $60,000 per year.

I don't know if either of those bodies is a model of efficiency, but they haven't ground to a halt, either, like the General Assembly has on several occasions. If the General Assembly worked on the Allegheny County Council model, the state House would have about 150 legislators. By the Westmoreland County standard, we'd have about 100. Those seem like nice, round numbers to me.

But until we get some real reform --- meaning until the voters of Pennsylvania stand up on their hind legs and start tossing some of these people out, tap-shoes over tea-kettles --- they are going to continue to play us like fools and suckers. Because we are.

So let me ask you: Have you called, written or emailed your state legislator or senator yet?


Then we're getting about what we deserve, aren't we?


Now, before I collapse on the floor, frothing at the mouth and ripping up pieces of carpeting, perhaps I'll move on. With a reminder, of course, that opinions expressed in the Almanac are mine and mine alone, and are not influenced by any organization, company, group, coffee klatch, sewing circle, church, mosque, synagogue, militia, or acrobatic troupe for which I may do work or of which I may or may not be a member.


Good News You May Have Missed: The McKeesport Symphony Orchestra has hired a new music director, according to the Post-Gazette. Bruce Lauffer is a teacher in the Jeannette School District who has conducted the MSO, the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra and concerts by famed Irish tenor Cahal Dunne.

Residents of the Seventh Ward have erected a new playground with help from volunteers and a donation from Home Depot, also according to the P-G. Funds were raised by White Oak residents Norinne and Roy Jenkins and kids from the LaRosa Boys' and Girls' Club helped design the facility.

The French American Cultural Exchange has provided five French films for viewing during November at Penn State McKeesport. Mary Ellen Higgins, assistant professor of English, was instrumental in securing and selecting the films, according to a PSU news release. The next two films will be shown Tuesday and Thursday. (Or, as they say en français, at least according to Babelfish: "L'échange culturel américain français a fourni cinq films français à voir pendant novembre en le campus de McKeesport de l'université de l'Etat de Penn.")


To Do This Weekend: North Huntingdon -- St. Agnes Catholic Church, 11400 St. Agnes Lane, North Huntingdon Township, hosts a luncheon, Chinese auction and vendor fair, noon to 3 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5. Call (724) 864-2347. ... Yough Central Model Railroad Club holds a model train show and sale from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Versailles Volunteer Fire Co., 4919 Third St. at Walnut Street, Versailles. Admission is $2. Call (412) 849-6755. ... McKeesport Little Theater presents "Come Back, Little Sheba," Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons through Nov. 20. Call (412) 673-1100 ... Residents For a Clean and Healthy Mon Valley hold a workshop and information fair about air pollution from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Jefferson Hills Elementary School, 875 Old Clairton Road, Jefferson Hills Borough.

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November 03, 2005 | Link to this story

They're Just Sorry They Got Caught

Category: default || By jt3y

Am I supposed to get all warm and runny over the fact that the Pennsylvania General Assembly gave back the pay raises that they shouldn't have given themselves in the first place?

Let no one lose sight of the fact that those state senators (in the Mon Valley, Jay Costa) and representatives (Paul Costa, Joe Markosek and Ken Ruffing) who voted for the pay raise --- and who have now voted to repeal it --- didn't change their minds because of an attack of conscience.

They only decided to give back the money because they got caught.

As villagers prepared effigies, boiled oil and sharpened the tines on their pitchforks, the brothers Costa, Mssrs. Ruffing and Markosek, and all of their cronies heard the rumblings of mutiny and said, "You know, maybe we can get by on $70,000 per year after all."

I don't call that altruism. I call it "saving their own hides," and I say, to hell with it.

I can almost admire the only two people in the Legislature to vote against repealing the pay raise --- Reps. Bill DeWeese and Mike Veon --- for their honesty.

Many of their colleagues wanted to stick it to the taxpayers as long as they could get away with it, but chickened out at the last minute. DeWeese and Veon stood up proudly, wrapped themselves in the Pennsylvania state flag, and defiantly gave their constituents the bird. Bully for them.

I'm a simple guy. So allow me to make a simple analogy: You have a small business and catch one of your employees stealing from the till. You confront them with their dishonesty, fire them, and threaten to call the police if they don't give the money back. They hand over the loot. Would you then re-hire them?

Of course not. Personally, I'd have a difficult time ever trusting them again.

Many, but not all, of our state legislators got caught with their hands in the state cookie jar. (It's worth noting that Mon-Yough reps Jim Casorio, Marc Gergely, David Levdansky and Harry Readshaw, along with senators Wayne Fontana, Sean Logan and Bob Regola didn't vote for the pay raise, and several of them were punished as a result.)

So, do you want to re-hire them when they're up for re-election?

I sure don't.

Besides, have you heard so much as an apology out of anyone? "Gee, I voted for the pay raise, but I shouldn't have. I'm sorry. We should be satisfied with our already ample paychecks."

Well, there haven't been many (or any) apologies because they're not sorry. And many of those legislators who voted to repeal the raise are mumbling that they only cast their votes because the "process" used to enact the raise was wrong.

In other words, they still think they deserve the money, and no one is ruling out trying to pass another pay raise in the near future.

If they voted for the pay raise in the first place, throw 'em out. The fact that they voted to do the right thing now --- at the point of a gun --- shouldn't make us forget what they did wrong in the first place.

Don't let them play you for a sap. Educate yourself. If you don't know who your legislators are, for goodness sake, find out. And find out if they voted for the pay raise.

Sure, they'll try to bribe you with cheap trinkets before their next re-election campaign --- jar openers and emery boards --- or try to impress you with constituent services (like driver's license forms) that they're required to offer anyway. Don't be fooled.

Because while they're handing you a free state highway map with one hand, they're picking your pocket with the other. And is a free map worth $100,000 a year to you? Personally, I'd just as soon join the AAA.


Meantime, guess who attended the official state dinner at the White House held in honor of HRH Prince Charles? None other than "Mr. Lynn C. Swann, Commentator, ABC Sports Collegiate Football," and his wife.

If I'm Bill Scranton III, I'm jumping up and down on my hat and cursing right now. I get this sense that the Republican National Committee has tapped Swann as their chosen candidate to go up against Ed Rendell next year.


On a happier note: Join Vince Sims of WPXI-TV and Dr. Curtiss Porter, president of Penn State McKeesport Campus, at a book sale tonight at the Westinghouse Recreation Center, Greensburg Pike in Forest Hills. Proceeds benefit the Carnegie Library of Braddock, which is in urgent need of your support. Numerous local authors will be there with signed copies of their work, and new and used books by other authors will also be on sale.

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November 01, 2005 | Link to this story

Reach Out and Choke Someone

Category: default || By jt3y

I have long advocated supporting small, local businesses instead of big, national chains, even if it cost me some extra money, and even when I've been mocked by friends and family. Call me old fashioned, but I agree with what Garrison Keillor wrote in Lake Wobegon Days: You might like the Calvin Klein jeans you bought at the mall, but Calvin is not going to come with the rescue squad when your house catches fire. The guy who owns the store in town might.

So I buy groceries at the supermarket down the street --- the one my friend Dan calls "The House of Rancid Lunchmeat" --- even though I know I could probably save 10 or 20 percent and find a better selection at one of the two Wal-Marts near me. (The cost might be my eternal soul.)

That said, I went over to the dark side of the force yesterday. After two years with an independent telephone company, I'm dumping them for the biggest, baddest monopoly of them all, Verizon. (If they're not the Dark Side of the Force, then why is James Earl "Darth Vader" Jones their spokesman?)

I'm not going to mention which phone company I had, except that they aren't far from Our Fair City and they bill themselves as a "hometown phone company." Well, that may be true if your hometown is Amityville, because their service (at least in my experience) has been one horror show after another.

Call the company's office to ask a question, and you spent several minutes punching through various voice mail options, only to learn that the person you needed to talk to had gone home for the day. If you actually reached a human being, after numerous attempts, they either didn't know the answer or cheerfully gave you the wrong answer.


Yes, cheerful. The one thing they've had going for them, despite their incompetence, has been their relentless niceness. Oh, sure, they couldn't provide service that would have been acceptable in a third-world country, but they were very friendly about it.

When I moved last year, I called several days ahead of time to make sure the telephone was hooked up at the new house. A nice lady --- I'll call her "Barbara" --- took the information and assured me that two days later, they'd disconnect service at the old address and connect it at the new address.

Three days later, a repairman was nowhere in sight. I called the phone company: "We don't have anyone named Barbara here," said "Susan." Well, could I put in the order with Susan? No, I could not. Susan would have to have Bonnie call me back. Bonnie assured me that, absolutely, positively, they could move the phone line two days hence.

Two days hence, they disconnected the old phone, all right. But they didn't connect it at the new place.

Called back. Talked to Tracey, who said they didn't have a "Susan" or a "Bonnie," but they'd surely connect me by the end of the week. Will there be a message on my old number, saying that I'd moved? Sure, Tracey said, full of sunshine and chipperness.

Yep, the phone worked the next day. But people started calling me at work: What happened? When they called my old number, it said it had been disconnected, and no further information was available. So I called "Tracey." If you've read this far, you know what happened next. "John" said they didn't have a "Tracey" there, and there was no work order on my account asking for a re-direct message on my old number. Couldn't they do it now? Nope, said John, full of apologies. It was too late.

For this "service," I paid $65 to have my phone line moved from one address to another.


Even the simplest task seemed to be beyond their ken. Take ordering phone books. That's a pretty simple job, I think. You call up the phone company, ask for a phone book, and they mail it to you. At this phone company, I called the office, navigated 47 layers of voice mail, and reached "Bob," who happily took the information, wrote it down onto a piece of paper, hung up the phone, and then went out to the hallway, where he turned my order into a goddamned paper airplane and sailed it out into the lobby.

The final straw came this summer. I arrived home and found the message light blinking on the answering machine, but when I played back the messages, all I got was a nasty humming sound. I figured the answering machine had died, until I picked up the telephone, and heard the same nasty buzzsaw noise on the receiver. So I unplugged all of my phones and went outside to the telephone network interface box, where I disconnected my wires and plugged the phone directly into the company's wiring: The noise was on their line.

The noise vanished that night. Then it came back. Then it vanished. And then a few days later, I lost all service --- no dial tone, no nothing, except some static.


I called the phone company. "Joe" at repair service assured me that a repairman would be out the next day. Three days later, I had dial tone, and I was perfectly happy until a bill arrived at the end of the week for $155. I called the phone company in a white-hot fury. "Our repairman didn't find any trouble when he got there," "Hank" said. "So you were billed for an unfounded trouble call. The problem must be in your home wiring."

"The problem is not in my home wiring," I said. "When I unplug my wiring from your network, and listen to your lines, the noise is still there. How do you explain that?"

"Well, it certainly sounds like it's in our network, then," he said. Would he take the charge off of my bill? No, he would not.

The following day, the buzzsaw noise returned, and it's been more or less a constant presence ever since. It's a lot of fun, and very professional, when your boss calls the house and you get to scream back and forth over what sounds like a B-29 revving its engines in the background.

The company's repair service very sweetly said they'd investigate ... for another $155. Maybe, they suggested, I could keep a record of when the problem occurred? That would help them track down the source. So, I started taping the interference, in preparation for filing a complaint against them with the FCC, the state Public Utility Commission, and anyone else who would listen, up to and including the Department of Agriculture.

Then I called my "hometown phone company" ... only to learn that they'd sold my account to another provider in Philadelphia.


Well, that was it. I put up with this for more than two years because this was a local company, but if they weren't local any more, either, then screw them. I began investigating other options for local phone service. You know, Pennsylvanians have a choice now for their local utilities.

I started by visiting the state's website,, only to find that the state let the domain name expire, and it's been taken over by someone else. Another website, operated by the PUC, is full of dead links and incorrect information. (One company I called said they offered Internet service, but not phone. Another said they never offered service in Allegheny County. Several have gone out of business.)

I also called the biggest independent phone company in the Pittsburgh area, whose name will not be mentioned here, either. Despite the fact that their service map clearly shows that they operate in the Mon-Yough area, the salesperson couldn't seem to locate my address in her computer. She's "checking" on the problem. I expect she still will be several days from now, but they've lost a sale in the meantime.

You call this utility choice? Some choice! I say "ptui" to these choices. Yes, the other phone company was cheaper than Verizon, but my phone only worked about 50 percent of the time, and my bill sure wasn't 50 percent cheaper.

By comparison, Verizon was a breeze to deal with --- frankly, they always have been, in my experience, dating back to the Bell Telephone days. They're charging me $12 to switch my service, not the $65 my other company charged. They even caught me in a weak moment and asked if I wanted DSL service ... I didn't, but they offered it to me for $7 less than I'm paying for my current dial-up connection. And they're sending a free DSL modem.

I guess I'm giving up my current Internet provider, which I've had since 1997, and which I've been largely happy with over the past three years. (I wasn't always happy under their previous ownership.) The company is Winbeam in Greensburg, and I would not hesitate to recommend them.


So, I'm hooked back up to the Death Star, starting tomorrow. Hopefully, the problems will go away --- or if they don't, at least, perhaps, someone with an IQ above room temperature will be handling them. I don't mind if they're evil, so long as I can actually complete an intelligible telephone call (making my calls sound intelli-gent is probably beyond even the abilities of George Lucas).

And if it means I've betrayed my principles, well, feel free to call me up and complain. At least I'll be able to hear you.

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