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July 31, 2006 | Link to this story

I Blame Al Gore For This

Category: default || By jt3y

Tube City Weatherbird Millie Monongahela says: 'I'm sure glad conservatives say there's no such thing as global warming, because otherwise, I'd be damned hot.'

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July 28, 2006 | Link to this story

Sweet Smell of Excess

Category: default || By jt3y

I came through Elrama and West Elizabeth the other night, and even if I hadn't seen the old, familiar landmarks along the road, my nose knew exactly where I was.

It's the worst smell I have ever smelt, and whoa, lawdy, mama, it was powerful that night --- acrid, like burning plastic, with a chemical "tang" that stings the eyes and nose. Imagine a pile of styrofoam cups is on fire, and then toss in some chlorine bleach --- that might approximate the effect.

As far as I can tell, it comes from the old Hercules (now Eastman) chemical plant, just north of Floreffe in Jefferson Hills.

I used to drive that stretch of 837 several times a week when I worked down in "Little Worshington," and I never got used to it. If I was heading north, I'd take a big gulp of air while passing the notorious Ashland Oil depot (looking for any leaks as I passed), and try not to inhale again until I saw the Martin's Furniture warehouse.

The stench is especially pungent at this time of year, when the temperatures and the relative humidity levels both hit the high 80s, and winding up the windows of your car is no help at all: The odor seeps right through, literally scalding the insides of your eyes and nose until you get near the Elizabeth Bridge and finally blow the last clinging remnants from you.

Luckily, you're soon in Clairton, where the sooty, sulfurous smoke of the coke works is almost a comfort: Mmm ... it's just coke gas.

Now, I'm not some wacko environmentalist --- I realize that if it weren't for petrochemicals, you wouldn't be reading the Almanac right now, because we wouldn't have plastics for many of the parts that go into a modern computer.

(OK, if you want to get technical, the West Elizabeth plant doesn't make "plastics" --- it makes resins used in adhesives and glues. But let's go with my plastics/computers analogy right now.)

My point --- and I do have one --- is that I can accept that if we want to have modern conveniences, we do need to manufacture the raw material, and that manufacturing produces by-products that we have to tolerate.

I just don't understand how (or why) anyone could live in that valley and smell that crud day in and day out, and yet there are houses directly across Route 837, within sight of the chemical plant.

If any of the folks who live down there should happen to read this, could you please tell me how you tolerate that smell? Do you get nose-ectomies? And why on Earth would you buy a house down there? Because the Eastman-nee-Hercules plant has been there as long as I can remember.

. . .

A little searching reveals that residents of that valley are monitoring the air quality. This 2004 story from the Trib by Reid Frazer reports that some are taking air samples with the help of Clean Water Action.

Another story, by Alison Heinrichs and also from the Trib, notes that five of the seven school districts surrounding the Eastman plant and other factories report higher than normal rates of asthma.

Five chemicals linked to various ailments (including leukemia) have also been found in the air in that area in higher-than-normal concentrations.

Look, I want to stress that I'm not some anti-industry kook. As a McKeesport kid who grew up in the waning years of the steel industry's glory days in the Mon-Yough area, I know that a puffing smokestack means that my neighbors are working.

And as an asthma sufferer, I'm willing to accept a little dirty air once in a while if it means a better economy for the region. (Heck, I can walk out my front door and see Irvin Works, and if I have to wash some grit off of my car every so often, well, I don't mind.)

But I don't need any fancy tests to tell me that breathing that stuff in Floreffe is bad for you --- my nose knows.

. . .

Speaking of things that stink in the Mon Valley ... this story from Bentleyville stinks bad.

A man who had 17 previous convictions for drunken driving was sentenced Monday to four to eight years in state prison for running down and killing a 15-year-old jogger in August of 2004.

Police say Armand Pistilli Jr. was traveling 72 mph in a 40-mph zone when he struck Alexzandra Loos near Bentworth High School. Just a month earlier, he'd caused a multi-vehicle accident on I-79 near Canonsburg.

Terri Johnson's story in the Observer-Reporter has more detail. Pistilli's attorney called Loos' death an "accident," and was sharply corrected by the judge: "This is a crime. This is not an accident."

Seventeen prior convictions? Anyone can make a mistake, but 17 times? Eight years in prison isn't enough.

And it's too bad they can't also lock up his idiot friends and family members who kept giving this guy a car after his first and second DUI arrests.

Oh, I know, they'd say he needed his car to get to work.

Yes, and the Loos family needs their daughter back, too.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Sorry if this Almanac seems a little bit heavy. Here's something on the lighter side: St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 220 Eighth Ave., Downtown, will hold a chicken barbecue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinners come with your choice of two sides. Call (412) 664-9379. ... If you missed that one, then get out to North Huntingdon on Sunday, where Stewartsville Lions Club is selling chicken barbecue from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Norwin Towne Square. Call (412) 751-4308. ... Barbecue goes well with country music (and as John Kerry might not have said, "who amongst us does not love country music?"), and Dallas Marks is playing two local gigs --- tonight at Bootsie's, 699 O'Neil Boulevard, (412) 672-1120; and Saturday night at Kanczes City Saloon, 915 Duquesne Boulevard, Duquesne, (412) 466-9666.

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July 25, 2006 | Link to this story

There's Good News Tonight

Category: default || By jt3y

At times, it seems like the Almanac is full of griping and moaning. Sometimes, it helps to remember that there are lots of good things going on the Mon-Yough area, too. Here are just a few items of good news you may have missed:

. . .

McKeesport Area School District now has the lowest property tax rates in Allegheny County --- 17.71 mills --- after the passage earlier this month of the 2006-07 budget.

It's worth noting that some school directors and the district's business manager are uneasy about the cut. The tax cut is being facilitated by drawing down most of a relatively small budget surplus this year, and once that balance is exhausted, the district will likely have to increase taxes.

Still, it should provide a little breathing room, even if just for a year or two, for taxpayers in the city, White Oak and Dravosburg boroughs, and South Versailles Township --- and unlike the federal income tax cuts of a few years ago, it's not as if the district had to go into deficit spending to fund it.

Plus, it gives McKeesport an enviable bragging right, even if just for a year. I call it a win for taxpayers, even if it's a wash for the school district.

. . .

By the way: If you haven't seen the high school lately, you haven't seen it. I attended the last concert of the McKeesport Symphony's 2005-06 season and got to nose around the building a little bit. The infrastructure improvements visible from the street --- particularly at the old Vocational-Technical School, or "Voke" --- are only the tip of the iceberg.

Also, the displays of art and vocational projects in the hallways were impressive in both quality and quantity.

. . .

Two local men were recently awarded Carnegie Hero Medals by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. The prestigious award recognizes people who risked their lives in attempts to save others from bodily harm. (PDF file)

Robert H. Blasko of North Huntingdon Township received one of the awards for rescuing a woman from a domestic dispute in the parking lot of Rainbow Village Shopping Center in November 2003.

Blasko, then 71, saw a 36-year-old man grabbing and shaking a woman during an argument and intervened. The man turned as if to walk away, then sucker-punched Blasko twice, sending him to the pavement.

The man was apprehended by White Oak police and is in jail; Blasko was in a coma for weeks and required months of physical therapy to recover.

White Oak police Sgt. Don Govanucci told reporters that Blasko's actions might very well have saved the woman's life, and Blasko says despite the setbacks he suffered, he would do the exact same thing again.

Meanwhile, Jarrett M. Cherok of Whitaker was honored for rescuing his sister and a 47-year-old man from a burning house back in June of 2005.

Cherok, who then lived in Hazelwood, was getting ready for work when he saw flames coming from his sister's house across the street. Barefoot and clad only in jeans, Cherok, then 23, broke down the door and carried his sister to safety.

He then went back into the burning home, crawled upstairs through the smoke, and found her fiancee, badly burned and lying on the second floor. Cherok and his sister suffered from smoke inhalation but recovered; his sister's fiancee died about two months later of his injuries.

I call Cherok and Blasko two impressive individuals, and further proof that real heroes aren't wearing baseball or football uniforms --- in fact, they just might be your next-door neighbors.

. . .

UPMC Braddock is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. (PDF file)

The hospital opened June 27, 1906, in the former Isaac Mills mansion at the corner of Holland Avenue and Fifth Street, after the people of Braddock raised $11,000 and U.S. Steel Corp. contributed another $10,000. The first hospital --- equipped at a cost of $7,000 --- had 30 beds.

During the Depression, Braddock Hospital nearly closed, as many patients couldn't afford to pay their bills. The hospital's operations were turned over to the Sisters of Divine Providence in 1935, and under their guidance, the facility began to grow and prosper again. New buildings were erected in 1959 and 1973, and in 1996, the hospital was taken over by UPMC.

Today, despite being located in a severely depressed community, UPMC Braddock and the affiliated Heritage Health Foundation provide vital acute and emergency health care services to residents of Braddock and the surrounding boroughs.

. . .

Cyber-learning has come to two Catholic schools in western Westmoreland County, according to a story by Mary Pickels in the Trib. Students at Queen of Angels in Irwin and Mother of Sorrows in Murrysville can now take advanced courses in math, foreign languages, science, business and the arts.

. . .

Finally: This is not a Mon-Yough area story, but it's good news for airplane, train and car buffs and "kids of all ages." The landmark A.B. Charles & Son Hobby Shop --- recently given the cruel shoe by the landlords of its longtime location on West Liberty Avenue in Dormont --- will reopen in October in neighboring Mt. Lebanon.

I hesitate to think how much I've spent there over the past 15 years, but whether it was $5 worth of parts or a major purchase, I have always been able to rely on the same, ultra-friendly and competent service from Ed "Bud" Charles, his son Scott, and other employees.

"Bud" (the "son" in "A.B. Charles & Son") has suffered some health problems over the past year and was forced to retire from day to day operations, but from the reports that the Almanac has received, Scott Charles was bound and determined to keep the 61-year-old store operating.

In an age of big-box national chains, there are still some small, family-owned businesses that are surviving and thriving, and I look forward to having Scott Charles separate me from some of my money in a few weeks!

. . .

Editor's Note: I borrowed today's headline from the legendary radio newscaster Gabriel Heatter. Known for his sunny on-air disposition, in real life, Heatter was forced to overcome serious personal problems, including what we would now call clinical depression. His biography at Wikipedia is brief, but nevertheless inspiring.

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July 20, 2006 | Link to this story

Good Grief

Category: default || By jt3y

I neglected to mention the debut of Dave Copeland's newest venture, a blog called Rejection that's dedicated to highlighting failures of all kinds: Romantic, creative, financial. And Lord knows, I've had all three.

Cope is a former cow-orker and Picksberger who moved back to Boston about a year ago; Rejection has already gotten a solid write-up on the business page of the Boston Herald, which calls it "virtual group therapy, where people can share the embarrassment of being turned down."

Anyone who knows me also knows that I'm a fan of Charles M. Schulz, going back to kidhood, and the first thing I thought of when I read about Copeland's new blog was Snoopy, sleeping under a pile of rejection slips.

"Don't those keep you up at night?" Linus asks him.

"Only when they fall on me," Snoopy thinks.

I also remember Snoopy making a quilt out of rejection letters, papering the inside of his doghouse with them, and a few other choice moments --- and once I became a writer, the rejection slip cartoons became all the more poignant.

Apparently, I'm not the only one --- in Half-Price Books a few weeks ago, I noticed an entire collection of "Peanuts" strips called Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life.

Anyway, I imagined Copeland sitting under Snoopy's pile of rejection slips, and wanted to procrastinate a little bit, and try out my new drawing table ... and one thing led to another ...

To make a long story short (though I don't usually), this salute to the new Rejection blog is intended only with deepest respect for the late Charles M. Schulz, and for Cope --- you're a good man, Charlie ... er, I mean Dave ... Copeland.

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July 19, 2006 | Link to this story

Dog Days of Summer

Category: default || By jt3y

True story: Not long ago, on a warm Friday night, I was standing on Walnut Street in Our Fair City, chatting with some people, when I saw two children approaching with a dog.

The closer they got, I realized that the distance had caused me to badly misjudge the perspective --- the two people were adult-sized, but the dog was massive.

As they got near us, I realized it was a wolf-dog hybrid, but frankly, it looked like a full-bred wolf. They were walking it on what looked like a tow chain. The "dog" looked like he outweighed his "master" by 50 pounds.

I tend to like dogs, so I took a deep breath, and said "Hi, pooch!" and I said good evening to them, and something about the dog taking them for a walk, and they laughed, and the wolf-dog just looked as happy as could be, tongue out, giant tail wagging. His paws were bigger than my head.

Luckily, wolves can smell fear, because that smell covered up the fact that I had just evacuated my bowels.

This came back to me when news reports broke this week that a woman near Export had been mauled by a pack of wolf-dogs she bred.

According to a story by my old Trib colleagues Paul Peirce, Jen Reeger and Liz Zemba, a humane officer had repeatedly warned the victim of the dangers --- wolves in the wild rarely attack humans, because they're afraid of them, but wolves raised in captivity have no such fear.

Local animal shelters say they don't put wolf-dog puppies (cubs?) up for adoption because they're too aggressive; they're euthanized instead. The animals that mauled the woman in this case were tranquilized and then destroyed by state troopers.

This is at least the second time locally in recent memory that we've had an exotic animal kill its owners. A python killed a young girl in Irwin a few years ago.

The people who adopt exotic animals typically do so because they think the animals are beautiful or majestic, and because they're fascinated with them. The Trib story, indeed, notes that the victim was part native American and considered raising the wolves "part of her ethnic background."

(I understand what this means, but I don't think native peoples actually raised wolves; I think the wolves kind of raised themselves.)

Anyway, I'm not going to judge anyone else's choice of pet. But if you love an exotic animal that much, why would you want to trap it?

It's one thing to keep a domestic dog or cat, conditioned by thousands of years of breeding to want to live with humans. It's a whole different matter to coop up a wolf in the backyard of a city house --- or even in a pen out in the country --- where it can't roam around freely.

I have no doubt that many of the people who care for these exotic animals are dedicated pet owners --- the fact that they put up with great inconveniences and expenses to keep them as pets leads me to suspect they may be considerably more dedicated than the average dog or cat owner. (The woman who was caring for these wolf-dogs was collecting roadkill to feed them --- that's a bit more difficult than buying a bag of Purina Chow at Shop 'n Save every week.)

But never mind the fact that keeping a wild animal is dangerous --- it still seems a little bit cruel, even if the animals (like the wolf-dog I saw) seem happy.

So, why do people keep wolves or other "wild" animals as pets? I'm open to explanations and theories.

. . .

Around the Town: Summer is a great time to be a car buff in the Mon-Yough area.

I saw a black 1960 Studebaker Hawk on River Road in Liberty Borough the other night. Not five minutes later on Romine Avenue in Port Vue, someone went past me in a white drop-trop 1968 Oldsmobile 4-4-2. (And not a minute after that, the Port Vue squad car peeled out behind it with its lights on. I didn't stop to see who the cop was after.)

I know we're stuck in the past, but spotting two rarities on a weeknight when there's no car show around was unusual even for us, and it put a smile on my face.

On the other hand, a local restaurant has just started having a "car cruise" in their parking lot each week. It seems like every other restaurant in town has a weekly "car cruise," and I don't think the public was clamoring for another one.

In fact, we may be at the limit of the number of car cruises that the Mon-Yough area can support --- I drove past this week during this place's "car cruise" and there were four (count 'em) cars, total. That's not a car cruise --- that's a group of people out for lunch.

By the way: I stumbled on this while looking for something else --- you can watch vintage commercials for Oldsmobile muscle cars at this website. (Click on the car images; you'll need to have Flash installed. I love the one of the guy doing doughnuts on a beach in a 4-4-2. It's so politically incorrect and also so quintessentially a Madison Avenue product of the early '60s, when cool guys had short, Brylcreemed hair and wore preppy clothes and shades while listening to bongo drums.)

. . .

Questions For Class Discussion: Can it really be considered a "car cruise" when the cars are stationary? And would allowing wolves to roam at will through a car cruise make it more exciting? If so, should the wolves wear preppy clothes and shades? Explain your answers.

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July 17, 2006 | Link to this story

Hot and Bothered

Category: default || By jt3y

According to Saturday's Daily News, Dr. Cyril Wecht* has called for an inquest into the death of 39-year-old Gregory Green, the Hill District man who died June 30 after a brief police chase. (The story is online for subscribers only.)

Wecht was asked to consult on the case by Green's family. Reporter Ryan Kish quotes Wecht as saying that there was evidence of fresh bruises on Green's body, and that he did not die from "natural causes."

That appears to contradict preliminary reports attributed to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office which indicated that there were "no signs of injury."

However, Wecht acknowledges that he was not privy to the toxicology tests, and from my reading of Kish's story, Wecht is not alleging malpractice by city police; rather, he's arguing that whenever a suspect dies in police custody, an inquest is warranted.

I don't know enough about the details of this case to comment intelligently (which has never stopped me before) but I respect Wecht, and I tend to agree that an inquest would not cause any harm, and may actually do some good.

A more cynical person would claim that Wecht is trying to gain publicity and distract attention from his legal problems, but I don't tend to agree; his work on the Green case didn't even make the Pittsburgh papers, as far as I could tell.

I also know some law enforcement officers who consider Wecht "anti-police," and from my experience with Wecht, that isn't true, either.

I suppose we will have to wait and see what the final autopsy report from the medical examiner's office has to say.

And that's all I have to say about that. It's too hot to do anything else. The next jerk who tells me that they just love hot weather gets, in the words of the late Harry Secombe, a "punch up the conk."

* --- I was going to write "celebrity forensic pathologist, author and former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht," but I decided that anyone who hadn't heard of Cyril Wecht probably wasn't reading the Almanac. Or, possibly, they can't read.

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July 15, 2006 | Link to this story

Get Out and Blow The Stink Offa Yinz!

Category: default || By jt3y

It's too darned hot to work around the house, so here's a special expanded Tube City Almanac "to do this weekend" list:

  • The Garden Club of McKeesport hosts the "McKeesport In Bloom" flower show, 1:30 to 7 p.m. today, at its arboretum on Pinoak Drive in Renziehausen Park. The famed rose gardens will be open for display, along with special floral designs and pathways.

  • McKeesport Girls' Softball League hosts the A.S.A of Southwestern Pennsylvania Class "B" state championships today and Sunday at the fields in Renziehausen Park. Female athletes from ages 8 to 19 will be competing. More information at the MGSL website.

  • Liberty Presbyterian Church, Elizabeth and Valley streets in Liberty Borough, holds a flea market, book sale, and bake sale from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today ... lunch will also be served.

  • Pittsburgh Area Jitterbug Club hosts a dance at 8 p.m. tonight at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street downtown. DJ Bill Miller will be spinning the tunes. Call (412) 366-2138 or visit the website.

  • Finally, at Homestead Community Days, the borough salutes the Daddio of the Raddio, this afternoon and evening at Frick Park. At 2 p.m., local dignitaries will unveil a plaque in honor of Porky Chedwick; a similar plaque is to be installed at the original WAMO radio studios on East Eighth Avenue at the High-Level Bridge. Other events include live music, art and craft exhibits, and refreshments. The Homestead Volunteer Fire Department will also stage a "battle of the water barrels.

I get tired of hearing people complain that there's "nothing to do" in the Mon Valley. Here's a list of five events that, with the exception of the dance, cost little or anything to attend (and even the dance isn't expensive) ... and have something for practically everyone's taste (or in the case of the flea market, lack of taste).

Nothing to do? Gedouttahere, ya jagoffs!

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July 13, 2006 | Link to this story

Well, Duh

Category: default || By jt3y

Stop the presses! The American Iron and Steel Institute reports:

An economic study released today concludes that the Chinese steel industry has benefited from massive subsidies, and that the industry’s recent explosive expansion, nearly tripling production between 2000 and 2005 from 126 to 349 million metric tons, is the direct result of government policies.

As a consequence, the Chinese steel industry, which produced more steel than the next four largest producing countries combined, has grown far beyond the size it would have reached under market conditions. This government-funded and driven expansion is already having an enormous impact on the world steel market. (PDF file)

I await upcoming reports titled: "Sun Still Rising in East, Setting in West," and "Study: Water 'Makes Things Wet.'"

I'm not mocking the AISI, mind you --- I think they've performed a valuable service by quantifying this information --- but why has it taken this long for someone to do this study? Where were our elected officials?

Why did we have to wait for thousands of good-paying jobs at LTV, Bethlehem, Wheeling-Pittsburgh and other companies to evaporate before someone sounded the alarm? And I'm not talking about in the 1970s and '80s ... I'm talking about over the past five years.

After years of disastrous labor and industry policies brought U.S. steel companies to the brink of ruin 20 years ago, they made tremendous investments in new products and processes. Unionized steelworkers made enormous concessions to preserve their livelihoods. They learned their lessons, and modernized, trimmed deadwood, improved quality, lowered costs.

We repaid the steel industry's effort to reinvent itself by throwing open the doors to unrestricted foreign imports from China.

Take a walk through your neighborhood hardware store and try to find steel products that aren't made in China --- and never mind looking for electronics or clothing at discount stores that isn't made in China.

Look, China is not a free country. It is a socialist dictatorship where the rights of citizens are severely restricted.

Our private industries cannot compete with state-run firms in China who (in some cases) are being motivated by ideology as much as by the desire for profits --- and who are running flat-out with no protections for Chinese workers, no environmental regulations, and no concern for anything but making as much money as possible for those in charge.

And in many, many other ways --- such as its willingness to sell arms to enemies of the United States --- China's leaders have shown they are not our friends.

Indeed, argues The Boston Globe, "the reason to worry about China is that it is capitalist --- in an especially unrestrained, unprincipled way. ... With more than $1 billion in arms exports, China is the sole major arms exporter that has not entered into any multilateral agreements prohibiting arms transfers to regimes likely to use them in severe human rights abuse." (Emphasis added.)

Some people argue that the "marketplace" has decided that Americans would rather have cheaper goods imported from China rather than paying for goods made in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, Japan or some other industrialized, Western democracy.

I would submit to you that there is no evidence that those importing goods from China instead of making them in a free country have lowered the prices.

(Maybe that study's coming next, from the American Wal-Mart and Target Institute.)

And I have yet to hear an "average" person --- not a bureaucrat, a think-tank analyst or a so-called "expert" --- who thinks the flood of Chinese imports to this country is a good thing for our long-term economic health.

Polls consistently indicate that despite supposedly healthy economic indicators, Americans are "concerned" about the economy. I have no evidence, but I suspect many of those who are "concerned" are worried about two things: Gas prices and cheap imports.

We can't do much about the first thing, other than aggressively funding or otherwise encouraging the development and commercialization of alternative fuels and mass transit. But we can do something about the latter.

Instead of prosecuting (some would say persecuting) illegal immigrants from Mexico, I'd like to see those immigrants made legal U.S. taxpaying citizens, contributing to the U.S. economy.

And I'd like to see the avalanche of cheaply-made, government-subsidized Chinese goods flooding ashore in this country --- and slaughtering our manufacturing sector --- stopped.

Protectionism doesn't help anyone: American companies and workers must produce quality goods and services at competitive prices. But allowing other countries to play by their own rules, while failing to protect our own interests, isn't "free trade" --- it's suicide.

It has already destroyed the clothing and electronics industries in the United States.

Right now, the steel industry is being clobbered.

And when cheap, Chinese cars start being imported to this country, perhaps we can kiss the U.S. auto industry goodbye, too. (And yes, many of that industry's problems are self-inflicted --- much like steel's problems were in the 1970s.)

In the 1970s, by the way, steelworkers were urged to retrain themselves for white-collar jobs --- now those are being outsourced to overseas firms as well.

At the rate we're going now, I suspect that in 20 years, the only jobs any of us will have will be selling Chinese-made crap to one another.

. . .

Crossing Update: The River Road railroad crossing in Port Vue is still a problem for motorists, but the Almanac's complaints are being heard in Harrisburg.

The state Public Utility Commission informs me that they have asked CSX Railroad why the crossing has been left unrepaired for more than a month, and they are scheduling a meeting with the railroad at the crossing.

Stay tuned. Maybe we'll see some action soon!

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July 10, 2006 | Link to this story

O'Cause For Concern

Category: default || By jt3y

As much as the Almanac practices a form of Mon Valley chauvinism little seen since Tom Mansfield retired from the Daily News, it's obvious that each and every one of us has a vested interest in the health of the city of Pittsburgh (that community of some size north of Our Fair City).

Thus it is particularly distressing that Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor has a rare form of lymphoma and has developed two tumors --- in short, he has brain cancer.

There may be two scarier words in the English language ("President Santorum"?), but "brain cancer" is near the top of my personal list.

I've only met O'Connor, briefly, on two occasions that I remember, but I don't mind saying that I got a catch in my throat when I read the news last night (on Dave Copeland's blog, of all places). Besides the obvious sympathy I feel for O'Connor as a fellow human being --- not to mention the fact that he strikes me as a genuinely nice guy --- I feel as if having him out of commission for any length of time would be bad for the city.

Doing a web search on any medical condition is a good way to turn yourself into a hypochondriac, and turns up a wealth of misinformation, and contradictory and confusing information. One article, from the American Journal of Oncology, says conditions like O'Connor's are "curable" and that treatment results are "excellent"; another, from that noted medical journal WebMD, says that patients survive only about a year and a half.

Somewhere in between is the truth; one problem is that only about 1,000 cases of "primary central nervous system lymphoma" are diagnoses in the U.S. each year, so there simply haven't been many comprehensive studies.

The TV news yackers sounded upbeat and positive tonight, but they're so desperately trying to hype the baseball All-Star Game that they would have put a positive spin on an explosion in an orphanage.

And I couldn't help but think of the late Dick Caliguiri, another dynamic mayor of Pittsburgh who was diagnosed with a serious disease while in office. (Being a bit of a pessimist, my first thought, in fact, was "oh, no, not again." I certainly hope not.)

I'm not comparing O'Connor's performance to that of Caliguiri's, of course --- it's a bit early in his term to do that --- but I have been impressed with O'Connor's performance so far. His sunny outlook and positive energy are just what Pittsburgh needed after a long period of tension between the mayor's office, city council and the county; and even if some of what O'Connor says are platitudes, they're at least the right platitudes.

If it sounds like I'm babbling, I am. I'm saddened, and a little worried, and I don't know quite what to say.

I just know that I feel bad for O'Connor, and I'm pulling for him, and if you're a praying person, it sure wouldn't hurt. Besides the fact that I hate to see a fellow human being struck down, I'd like to see what his vision and energy can do for McKeesport's downstream suburb.

. . .

A brief aside: Not only did I learn about Bob O'Connor's illness from Cope's blog, but Cope learned about it from Mark Rauterkus' blog. I don't know what this says about the future of conventional news media, but it wouldn't seem to be good.

Also, I don't know if I ever mentioned it here, but Cope is training to run in a marathon to raise money for the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society. As a guy who only runs his mouth, and who gets winded opening a beer, I'm impressed. Find out more here.

. . .

Finally, as the self-appointed online pundit for all news stories regarding the Mon-Yough area, I feel compelled to comment on the recent death of a suspect in the custody of McKeesport police.

I have no personal knowledge of this case. And yes, I have heard plenty of stories about local police in the Mon Valley behaving improperly --- people even email me lengthy treatises --- but no one ever offers hard facts. (It's always, "a friend of a friend told me, and it seems like a strange coincidence," etc.)

Nevertheless, I feel qualified to state that no one ever died as the result of a police chase if they didn't get chased by the police in the first place.

I have sympathy for the family of the person who died. He was wanted for questioning in connection with a domestic dispute --- he was not convicted of anything.

If the police acted properly --- and it should be noted that preliminary reports from the medical examiner's office indicate that no signs of injury were found on the victim's body --- then this was a tragedy.

I realize that I write as a white, working-class male who's been stopped by the police maybe a half-dozen times in my entire life. But no situation involving police won't become worse if you fight or run.

Keep your mouth shut, act polite, and cooperate --- and if the police are wrong, you're going to have one hell of a good lawsuit, and you'll be alive. The ACLU (of which I'm a member) gives exactly the same advice.

Also, according to a story in last week's Daily News, city police are getting anonymous phoned-in death threats over this case.

In an age of caller ID, there may be stupider things to do than crank call the police station -- but I've been thinking all day, and I haven't come up with any. Seriously: Borrow a clue.

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Posted at 11:32 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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July 06, 2006 | Link to this story

It Was 30 Years Ago This May

Category: default || By jt3y

OK, I'm a little late on this. Mea culpa. But it took me a while to pull this together, which is a major reason that Almanac production has been even thinner than usual.

May 21 marked the 30th anniversary of a devastating day in McKeesport history --- the day that a massive fire ripped through Downtown.

Just before 4 p.m. that Friday afternoon, sparks from a cutting torch set the roof of The Famous Department Store ablaze. Winds quickly whipped the flames into an inferno that spread uptown, wiping out seven buildings and damaging two dozen others.

The final damages were estimated at $5 million, or about $17 million in today's dollars. And the state and federal government both told McKeesport --- which was already facing a big budget deficit --- to go pound sand.

It wasn't the blow that wiped out the Downtown business district, but it certainly didn't help. Indeed, several of the lots that burned that day are still empty.

In preparing this new section of Tube City Online, I was especially fortunate that a friend, who has asked to remain anonymous, donated several color photos taken during the fire and the following morning.

(Also, if you were around on May 21, 1976, feel free to leave your comments below, or email them to me at jt three y at dementia dot org. Naturally, you'll need to replace that spelled-out "three" with the numeral "3.")

Otherwise, and without further ado ... return with me now to May 21, 1976. We pick up our story in the office of McKeesport Fire Chief David Fowler ....

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Posted at 11:08 pm by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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July 04, 2006 | Link to this story

The Declamation of Indignation

Category: default || By jt3y

WHEN IN THE COURSE OF HUMAN EVENTS, it becomes necessary for me to work on a holiday, and I have to be in the office at 5:30 a.m., a decent course would be to expect that I would get to bed early.

And if the neighbors go out of town, and their children decide to throw a pool party, a decent respect for the rest of the neighborhood would dictate that said children not shoot off fireworks from 12 to 1 a.m.

Such has been my patient sufferance that I did not, to wit, produce a baseball bat, storm outside, and threaten to clobber every last 15- and 16-year-old. Prudence, indeed, would dictate that such activity would be unlawful, and very, very uncool.

Therefore, we hold these truths to be self-evident: If it ever happens again, than it shall become necessary for me to dissolve the bands of friendship that prevented me from calling the cops on their sorry asses.

And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence and the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, Title 18, Section 5503, we pledge to talk to their dad as soon as he gets back into town.

. . .

Damn, but I hate fireworks.

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July 03, 2006 | Link to this story

Arrested Development

Category: default || By jt3y

Peter Leo writes in the Post-Gazette about wacky police reports. I've spent a fair amount of time around police officers (and a few times, I wasn't even in custody), and contrary to popular belief, they are human, and many of them have wicked senses of humor. From what I've seen, you have to develop one to do that job without losing your mind.

In fact, you find the same types of personalities among cops, in my experience, that you find in just about any profession: There are some real great people, some crumbs, and a lot of us that have our good days and our bad days.

When I was a beat reporter, I got along well with practically all of the cops I dealt with on a regular basis ... which was tricky at times, since one of the departments was under federal investigation.

There are ethical boundaries that have to be respected, to be sure, and I knew more than one police reporter who didn't know where they were. One was on the police softball team and would hang out with them after work. Another would frequently take privileges extended to cops, like parking in their parking spaces. These may seem like little things, but I tended to think they blurred the lines between "friendly professional acquaintance" and "going native."

On the other hand, there was no excuse, in my opinion, for not being courteous and friendly. Some of the reporters I worked with were astonished that I would shoot the breeze with police dispatchers and desk sergeants even when they didn't have any newsworthy information to tell me.

"Who were you talking to for all that time?" someone would say when I'd get off the phone.

"Sgt. Jones up at the barracks," I'd say. "His daughter just got into Penn State."

"How can you talk to those cops like that?" they'd ask.

"I don't know, I put up with you," I'd reply.

This attitude problem could explain my exit from the newspaper business.

Anyway, my point (and I do have one) is that behind the wheel of that black and white Crown Victoria, wearing the mirrored shades, may be a guy or gal who's worrying about making the mortgage payment this month, nursing a sore back, wondering why the Pirates stink so badly again this year, and hoping they get home in time to watch "The Simpsons."

Or, they could just be a jerk. But don't assume that.

. . .

When I was at the Daily News, Jeff Vavro compiled a package about wacky police reports, "and I helped," with a few choice selections from my archives.

One of my favorites came from Troop A state police in Greensburg ... I still have it somewhere:

Found Property: Assorted marital-type aids discovered along SR xxxx, xxx township. Owner may contact PSP Greensburg.

. . .

Another was from state police Troop B, Washington. It described how a suspect had swallowed a large amount of suspected drugs in balloons, so troopers took him to Washington Hospital and had a strong laxative administered.

The report concluded something like this:

The suspected narcotics were recovered by state police and transported for analysis. The suspect was arraigned and remanded to Washington County Jail in lieu of bond. PSP Washington would like to remind residents that it always gets its man in the end.

When I read that report, I laughed so hard, to quote my friend, the late Larry Slaugh, I thought my pants would never dry.

. . .

In other business, people who live in 11th Ward and Versailles Borough will have to go someplace else for overpriced lunchmeat sandwiches: The Arby's on Walnut Street has closed.

Inside most Arby's, there's a bell that customers can ring if they've had good service. My buddy Dan says the one in that store is probably in mint condition.

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