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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

April 27, 2007 | Link to this story

Free Clinic Sets May Opening

Category: default || By jt3y

The first free medical clinic outside of Pittsburgh will open next week in the YWCA of McKeesport, Downtown. The Ninth Street Clinic will be staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses on Thursday nights, Laurie MacDonald, interim executive director of the Y, told the Almanac this week.

The clinic will be headed by Dr. Bill Markle, a family practice physician at UPMC McKeesport, MacDonald says, and will be modeled after Pittsburgh's Birmingham Free Clinic.

The clinic is intended to answer a need for medical care among the Mon-Yough area's working poor, she says. "A lot of people don't have insurance but do have jobs, and they don't qualify for (free) medical assistance," MacDonald says. People without health insurance wind up using emergency rooms for illnesses that would otherwise be treated by a family practice doctor. Perhaps more seriously, chronic conditions that could be treated through regular visits to a doctor wind up as debilitating illnesses before the patient finally visits an ER.

In addition to providing preventative and pallative care, the McKeesport clinic will also be referring patients to mental health and mental retardation services, MacDonald says. The clinic will be 100 percent staffed by volunteers, and if you or someone you know can help, call (412) 664-4304.

. . .

McKeesport's YMCA, seen in this 1920s postcard, is a beautiful building, but what goes on inside is even more beautiful.Y? Because We Need It: It's no secret around town that the YWCA has been struggling for some time with declining membership, though it continues to offer community services like Y-Teens for local girls, and to function as a community center for activities like the clinic.

But a little birdie recently told the Almanac that the YMCA is entering serious financial difficulty, brought on in part by the cost of maintaining its beautiful but expensive landmark building at the corner of Sinclair and Ringgold streets.

Besides offering a very good collection of fitness equipment, a nice swimming pool, an indoor running track and exercise classes for all ages, the Y also offers "residence rooms" for transients and the poor, and the upkeep on those is steep while the "profit" is slim to non-existent.

I learned to swim at the McKeesport Y and took my driving test there, and generations of other local kids have taken advantage of health and fitness classes, personal development coaching and other community services. If you're paying for an expensive membership at some commercially-run gym in Monroeville or West Mifflin, consider joining the YMCA instead. It's cheaper and every bit as good, plus your membership helps support an important resource to the community.

And if you can contribute time or treasure (the McKeesport YMCA is a United Way qualified agency --- make sure to designate Code 112 on your form), consider doing so. We need agencies like the YMCA now more than ever. To volunteer, call (412) 664-9168.

. . .

I Want to Ride My Bicycle: U.S. Steel Corp. and Allegheny County announced yesterday that 1.5 miles of property near the former Duquesne Works has been transferred to the Regional Trail Corporation. Once grading and other improvements are complete, the new land will close a major gap in the planned hiking and biking trail between Point State Park and Washington, D.C. ... and incidentally, will provide easy bike trail access to Kennywood.

U.S. Steel cleared the land by removing parts of the old pipeline that carried coke oven gas from Clairton to the former blast furnaces in Duquesne and also began the process of grading the land for the trail. (Map)

A significant gap still exists Downtown between Christy Park and Duquesne. In a prepared statement, Allegheny Trail Alliance President Linda McKenna Boxx said that local agencies and volunteers are “we’re working hard to make the connection to Point State Park by next fall.” She hopes to have the entire 335-mile-long "Great Allegheny Passage" complete in time for Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary celebration next year. (Tube City hard-hat tip: Alert Reader Kris.)

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Norwin Senior High School, Mockingbird Drive, North Huntingdon, presents The Taffetas, at 8 p.m. today and tomororow in the auditorium. Admission is $5. Call (724) 861-3005 ... Deaconess Ministry of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, 90 Port Perry Road, Crestas Terrace, North Versailles, holds its spring tea from 12 to 3 p.m. Saturday. Featured speaker is Rev. Avis Williams of First Baptist Church, West Mifflin. Call (412) 823-2841 ... Pleasant Hills Rotary Club will hold an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner and a bake sale from 1 to 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Pleasant Hills Community Church, 199 Old Clairton Road. Tickets are $7 for adults, $4 for children under 12. Call (412) 551-6015.

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April 25, 2007 | Link to this story

Hungarian Goulash No. 5

Category: default || By jt3y

Whenever he's too busy to write, Mark Evanier posts a picture of a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup. Since I'm Hungarian, I'm posting a picture of canned goulash instead. I don't know if you can buy canned goulash in any of the stores around here or not, and frankly, I don't want to know.

Besides, I'd rather have instant chicken paprikas, which you also can't buy in McKeesport. And yet if there ever was a market for instant Hungarian food (and there isn't) you'd think the Mon-Yough area would be that market.

Oh, well. We don't have a bookstore or a fancy coffee shop either.

In addition to work deadlines, which are looming over me like a giant can of goulash, my free time has been spent redesigning the Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online website, to which I have contributed over the past seven years.

Founded in 1998, PBRTV predates blogging by a few years, but that's what it's really been. Now, editor/founder Eric O'Brien has made it official. With the help of my former Serra classmate Tom Schroll, PBRTV has migrated to a Dutch (!) content management system called "Pivotlog."

While I'm more familiar with blog software like Movable Type and WordPress, Tom says Pivotlog has more features and tighter security.

It definitely does have some real flexible publishing options, though trying to interpret the instructions (some of which were obviously written by non-native English speakers) hasn't been fun. (Actually, I'd love to be Dutch, "wooden shoe"? Ha! I slay me.)

So, go check out PBRTV if you haven't looked at it for a while. It's not often that two Serra grads get to help out a Vincentian grad like Eric, but we products of the Diocese of Pittsburgh's rapidly diminishing educational system have to stick together.

. . .

In other business, last week I asked if you remembered the physician who had his office in the little red brick building at the Elizabeth Township end of the Boston Bridge, and which pharmacy was located next door.

The correct answers are "John's Pharmacy" and "Dr. Raymond Wargovich," and the trivia questions were correctly answered by none other than Alert Reader Jim Wargovich of Massachusetts. I think he liked Boston, Pa., so much that he wanted to see what the other town with that name looked like:

Raymond Wargovich was my father. He originally had his practice at 911 Huey St. in McKeesport (the corner of Huey and Versailles). His office was part of our house. We moved to Elizabeth Township in 1969.

I went to Holy Trinity School (now closed almost 37 years ago) until 1969. One of my classmates at Holy Trinity was Thomas Hose (now infamous!).

It is fun to go to your website to see what's going on in McKeesport. I visited McKeesport in 2005 with my wife and kids to show them where I grew up. I warned them that it wasn't going to be pretty. I expected deterioration but was shocked by how much deterioration there was.

Too bad things don't turn around. Crime seems to be the biggest factor. Yet I was amazed how much nicer the area was without all the steel mill pollution that I remember as a kid. Can McKeesport be salvaged?

Your website is very useful to us "ex-McKeesporters" who like to see what's happening at their old hometown from time to time.

Well, you're welcome and I'm glad you find it useful! As for "what's happening" in the old hometown, we'd like to think some good things are happening after a long period of bad things.

Jim's reaction back in 2005 is not atypical, but he also makes another good point ... the area is much nicer without all of the pollution. (Pollution meant jobs, too, so that's a mixed blessing at best.)

"Can it be salvaged?" I like to think it is being salvaged, but we need more people to take a chance on McKeesport, Duquesne, Glassport, West Mifflin and the rest of the Mon-Yough area. We need owner-occupants to replace absentee landlords, and small businesses to take advantage of tax incentives and low real estate costs. Locate here instead of Cranberry and Murrysville!

With respect, I think the "crime" perception is exaggerated, especially when people are being abducted at knifepoint at the Waterworks Mall or shot to death in Baldwin. (No one ever says Baldwin and Fox Chapel have crime problems.)

We do have a lot of loafing and loitering, which every urban area has. We need activity to offset that, and that's where enterprising people have to step in.

. . .

Speaking of enterprising people, here's one now. As Margaret Smykla reported in the P-G, John Yost is trying to get a movie studio launched in Glassport. This has been tried in the area before with mixed success (notably in Trafford), so I wish Yost rots of ruck, but at least he's trying. Visit his website; the company's called Mogul Mind.

. . .

Finally, "Matt H.," one of the Interweb's leading apologists for Picksberg Mayor Opie "Luke" Ravenstahl, has endorsed candidates for Allegheny County Common Pleas Court at his blog, Pittsburgh Hoagie.

It's always been fairly pointless for newspapers to endorse candidates, but when a semi-anonymous blogger endorses political candidates, we've achieved an entirely new level of futility, thanks to the Internet.

I might as well start endorsing canned goulash. Come to think of it, isn't a can of goulash is running for West Mifflin Borough Council? Everyone else is.

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April 23, 2007 | Link to this story

Welcome to Lukesburgh

Category: default || By jt3y

Unlike our furry friend there, I don't actually harbor any ill will toward Picksberg Mayor Opie "Luke" Ravenstahl. Whatever missteps he and his retainers have made --- the Dennis Regan hiring, the Catherine McNeilly demotion, the attempts at "secrecy" surrounding the ethics board --- they've been so ham-handed and transparent that I have a hard time getting angry at him.

Politically, "Everybody's Boy" just seems feckless ... or maybe "feck-challenged."

Now, if he were devious and competent, my opinion might change, because it's a dangerous combination for someone in power. (See also Haldeman, H.R.) But "clumsy and trying to be devious" is almost charming in a way. At the very least, it's amusing. I suppose I would feel differently if he were my mayor.

One thing that I do find irritating about "Everybody's Boy" is his proclivity to put his name on everything. There may have been politicians who were more obvious about using public money to campaign, but none since Boss Tweed come to mind. It started when Ravenstahl stuck his name on Bob O'Connor's "Let's Redd Up Pittsburgh" campaign, and it shows no sign of abating.

Over at The Burgh Blog, Pittgirl teed this one up last week: "My own personal email address seems to have been added to the mailing list to receive 'Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s Neighborhood Message.' That is what it is called. Not 'The Neighborhood Message' or 'Won’t You Be My Neighbor,' but 'MAYOR LUKE RAVENSTAHL’S Neighborhood Message.' ... And boy, is it all about him."

Then, over the weekend, One of America's Great Newspapers had some fun at Opie's expense, pointing out that "Everybody's Boy" pushed aside a bunch of potential slogans for the marquee of the Garden Theatre and instead put his own name up in lights:

Last week, this slogan was announced as the one going up: "The Return of the Garden / Directed by Luke Ravenstahl." Many mayors and many officials have had a hand in the resurrection of the Garden Theatre, and Mayor Ravenstahl is the least of them. Talk about claiming credit for yourself. If it happens, someone should remind the mayor that his name will be on the marquee of what was until recently a porn theater.

There's something charmingly small-town about Ravenstahl's efforts. A lot of sheriffs in rural counties paint their names on the sides of their department's squad cars --- the Washington County sheriff used to, and I'm pretty sure that the Bedford and Somerset county sheriffs still do.

Some people may say that when the mayor of Picksberg insists on slapping his name on everything, he's behaving like a rank amateur, but I say it's just ... well, feckless.

So give the guy a chance, for goodness' sake! That's what his defenders keep saying, and I agree.

Just don't be surprised if, like the sheriff of Bumpkin County, his name is suddenly painted on the sides of the police cars. And if you see Hizzoner, tell 'im "Gomer says hey," and whistle a happy tune.

. . .

Closer to Home: Back in Our Fair City (where some of us think you should actually do something before you brag about it), Gov. Rendell and the state Department of Community and Economic Development have honored Mayor Jim Brewster, city council and administrators with the 11th annual "Governor's Award for Local Government Excellence."

The citation praises McKeesport for "cutting expenses, creatively negotiating labor agreements, refinancing debt and working with the city's stakeholders" to eliminate a $1 million budget deficit and generate several new commercial developments without raising taxes.

There are still serious problems, of course (read Tom Olson's story in Sunday's Tribune-Review about foreclosures --- McKeesport is full of "ramshackle" derelict houses), and no award wipes those away. Still, it's a nice honor for the city to receive.

(And someone should tell Everybody's Boy that Brewster didn't even need to stick his name on anything.)

Others honored included the Steel Valley Council of Governments and Anthony Russo Jr., executive director of the Wilkinsburg-Penn Joint Water Authority.

. . .

Speaking of other McKeesporters who have achievements of which they can be proud, McKeesport native, WNBA star and Olympic gold medal winner Swin Cash was honored at the annual Dapper Dan awards as "Sportswoman of the Year." She joined the Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Steelers owner Dan Rooney on the dais at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

The P-G's Colin Dunlap says of Cash that her "basketball skills coupled with her off-court charm have made her the standard to which the current crop of local high school players strive."

Ravenstahl was at the Dapper Dan Awards. Do you think he learned anything from Swin Cash's example? Namely, that first you do something worthwhile, and then you accept accolades from other people. That way, you don't have to go around praising yourself all the time.

Ah, but what do we know? We're from the Mon Valley.

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April 20, 2007 | Link to this story

Ramblin' Around This Dirty Ol' Town

Category: default || By jt3y

A little tidbit of information about Indiana, Pa., birthplace of Jimmy Stewart (in case you haven't heard that in the last 20 minutes): The Indiana County Transit Authority is called "IndiGO" (get it?) but the buses are painted red and white. Shouldn't they be --- I don't know, indigo?

Anyway, I've been in Indiana a few times recently for the first time in my life. Indiana County is a pleasant piece of Pennsylvania, and Indiana Borough is a charming little town.

I do find one thing curious about the downtown area, which is home to the headquarters of two large, publicly-traded banks --- First Commonweath and S&T --- as well as the Indiana County Courthouse and (of course) Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The main street in Indiana is a wide state highway with parking and turning lanes. And yet the only retailer in Indiana that seems to be successful is whomever is selling the "Going Out of Business" signs.

It seems like practically every other storefront along Philadelphia Avenue in Indiana is vacant, or is getting ready to close. A few restaurants and coffee shops are hanging on --- I suspect mainly to serve the local office workers --- but the rest of the business district is on a slow slide to oblivion.

If Indiana Borough can't keep a business district going with a captive audience of college students and white-collar office workers, what hope is there for McKeesport or Homestead? And what's killing the downtown businesses in Indiana? Indiana Mall is not exactly a new phenomenon.

Any of you Almanac readers who're graduates of IUP (home of the Indians ... er, I mean the "Crimson Hawks"), feel free to chime in with your theories. I'm not sure I understand it.

. . .

Anyway, while in Indiana last week, I had a very pleasant visit with local attorney Joseph Mack, who introduced me to the Rev. George Hnatko, founder and executive director of the Eastern Orthodox Foundation.

An independent, non-profit foundation affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox Church ,it recently celebrated its 40th anniversary and operates a nursing home and camp for indigents, the elderly and homeless of Western Pennsylvania.

In addition to its 200-acre property in Penn Run, Indiana County, which includes a dormitory and an assisted living facility, the foundation also runs a personal care home in the former Homestead Hospital on West Street in Homestead.

Father Hnatko says that the EOF is also partnering with Turtle Creek Valley MH/MR to offer services to Steel Valley residents at that site. You don't have to be a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church to use their services, either, and they don't seem to proslytise, though the foundation is run along Eastern Catholic principles and there are on-site chapels.

The EOF depends largely on contributions and donations to provide services, and Mack jokes that it loses "about a quarter of a million dollars a year," meaning that's about what staff members need to raise every year. Donations of cash or property to EOF are tax-deductible, so visit their website and learn how you can help.

. . .

Also in my travels, I caught up with an old friend and Serra High classmate, Karl Puskaric, who's running the antique store at the Elizabeth Township end of the Boston Bridge. (It's the red-brick building with all of the signs on it, next to the bike trail.)

The antique store is only one of many enterprises run by Karl, who must be the hardest-working man in show business. Most of the items are from estates that he's purchased over the years, so there's plenty of Mon-Yough area items, along with glassware, tools, photos, books, kitchen utensils, furniture --- just about everything you can imagine.

And as someone who's visited more than a few "junque" shops in my time, I'd have to say Karl's is about the best-organized I've ever seen (it's very easy to browse, because he's actually got things labeled and sorted), and his prices seem very reasonable. Check it out Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays if you're in the Elizabeth Township or Versailles area.

Tell him I sent you and maybe he'll give you something ... a punch in the nose, I don't know.

. . .

“McKeesport Appreciation Day”: Everyday is "McKeesport Appreciation Day" at Tube City Online, but this Sunday is "McKeesport Appreciation Day" in the Municipality of Monroeville. To coin another phrase, I am not making this up.

According to the Post-Gazette, the mayor of Monroeville wants to honor the city for hosting the first Kennedy-Nixon debate back in 1947 at the Penn-McKee Hotel. Thanks for the nice thoughts, Mr. Mayor, but don't throw flowers—send cash.

. . .

Trivia Question: What was the name of the drugstore that used to be in the building at the corner of Smithfield Street and the Boston Bridge before Karl and his family bought it? And what was the name of the physician who long had his office in that same building? Put your answers in the comments if you remember. If no one gets it, I'll answer the question next week.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Whistle a happy tune, young lovers, where ever you are, 'cause Serra Catholic High School, 200 Hershey Drive, presents "The King and I" tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Call (412) 751-2020 ... Pure Gold plays the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Call (412) 678-6979.

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April 19, 2007 | Link to this story

To McKeesport, Via The Greensburg Bypass

Category: default || By jt3y

The Tribune-Review's connection to McKeesport pre-dates its planned purchase of the Daily News and even the launch of its Pittsburgh edition in 1993. In fact, the present-day Trib got its start in McKeesport.

Howzat, you say?

In 1877, a man named Lewis F. Armbrust started a paper in Turtle Creek called the People's Independent. Armbrust was born and raised in Adamsburg (just east of Irwin) and was a descendant of German immigrants and a prominent Westmoreland County family, the Gongawares.

In 1878, Armbrust moved his family and the newspaper to Greensburg, then sold the paper a few years later and moved to McKeesport.

In 1882, Armbrust opened two papers, the McKeesport Tribune and the McKeesport Herald, which he operated until 1890, at which time he moved back to Greensburg and merged his Tribune and Herald with the Independent to form the paper that eventually became the Greensburg Daily Tribune.

. . .

The historical record is a little fuzzy in places. One 1906 history of Westmoreland County indicates that the Greensburg Tribune and Herald were founded before 1870.

But a list of Greensburg newspapers compiled from records at the State Library in Harrisburg implies that the original Tribune and Herald were merged into the Greensburg Press and discontinued circa 1882. And the Library of Congress also records the date of origin of the present Tribune-Review as 1890, when Armbrust moved back to Greensburg. So it seems that the McKeesport Tribune is the direct ancestor of the present Tribune-Review.

The Tribune eventually merged with the Greensburg Morning Review in 1955.

. . .

Another McKeesport connection: The Tribune-Review eventually was purchased by descendants of Indiana County's prominent Mack family, whose most famous members (at least in the Mon-Yough area) might have been John Sephus Mack --- chairman and president of the G.C. Murphy Company until his death in 1940 --- and J. Gordon Mack, a well-known McKeesport attorney.

The editor and publisher of the Tribune-Review in the 1950s was David W. Mack, who was a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, earning the Air Medal for heroism in combat. His plane (a B-17 named Witches Tit, and I'm not making that up) was shot down over Germany in 1943, and he survived in a POW camp until being liberated in 1945.

Appointed publisher of the Trib in 1951, Mack became involved in a number of charitable and civic activities. Tragically, he died of a massive heart attack on Feb. 23, 1962, in the lobby of Greensburg City Hall (the old West Penn Railways trolley station) after attending a meeting there. Mack was only 46.

The Trib was sold by the Mack family in December 1969 to present publisher Richard Mellon Scaife. You could say, then, that by purchasing the Daily News, the Tribune-Review is returning to its historical roots.

And now (to coin a phrase) you know the rest of the story.

. . .

More Useless Information: Incidentally, other English-language McKeesport newspapers, according to the history book published in 1976 by the city's Bicentennial Committee, have included:

  • The McKeesport Standard, founded Dec. 16, 1854 by John Collins at the corner of Walnut Street and Church Alley. It was discontinued in 1861, and one suspects Mr. Collins quit the paper because he joined the Army.

  • The McKeesport Paragon, a weekly founded by John W. Pritchard on June 18, 1870.

  • Another weekly, the McKeesport Record was launched on April 30, 1880, by John B Scott.

  • The Daily Paragon and weekly Paragon Record, formed from a merger of Scott and Pritchard's papers, but they went out of business in April 1889. (The Daily News had begun operation in 1884, and I suspect the competition was too much for the Paragon.)

  • The McKeesport Times, which began as a weekly on Aug. 5, 1871, and went daily in 1876. Its early editors included Bartley Campbell, who had some success as a playwright in the late 19th century. Wikipedia reports that Campbell "was declared insane" and committed to a state mental institution in 1886. (You can write your own joke about "crazy journalists" there.)

  • And the Daily News, founded on July 1, 1884, as a "penny paper," which aimed to reach a wider market than more established papers by printing more news from the lower- and middle-classes. The Pittsburgh Press was another of the "penny papers."

The Daily News was sold in 1905 to J. Denny O'Neil, a prominent McKeesport Republican who later became county commissioner and chairman of the state highway department (O'Neil Boulevard is named for him). It was sold to Senator William D. Mansfield, William J. Cox and several business partners in 1925.

I believe there was also a shortlived Sunday-only McKeesport paper in the 1950s called the Sunday Record, but I've only seen one issue of it, and I have no information about its founding or how long it lasted. (Its slogan was "Let's Get It On The Record.")

. . .

Local News You May Have Missed: This is just awesome. The mayor of Washington, Pa., while chairing a hearing, wrote little disparaging comments next to the names of the speakers. Most of the speakers are African-American. Then he accidentally gave away his notes, with little marginal comments like "retarded" and "who cares," to the president of the NAACP.

Needless to say, comedy ensued. The kicker came when he denied writing the notes until the NAACP had the handwriting analyzed and, yep, it was his. Now, as expected, people are demanding his resignation.

And he had the gall to call the people speaking "retarded"? To quote a great American philosopher, Bugs Bunny (b. 1940): "What a maroon!"

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April 17, 2007 | Link to this story

News From Virginia

Category: default || By jt3y

Virginia Tech website

The Roanoke Times

Planet Blacksburg

Collegiate Times (Virginia Tech's student newspaper)

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April 14, 2007 | Link to this story

Don't Make The News a Scaife-Goat

Category: default || By jt3y

OK, who here didn't think that the Tribune-Review was eventually going to end up owning the Daily News? Show of hands? Anyone? Bueller?

(First things first: Those of you who know me know that I'm about as welcome around the Trib as a terminal case of toe fungus, or Hillary Clinton, or maybe Hillary Clinton with toe fungus. So you can judge my credibility accordingly, and according to some people at the Trib, I have none.)

Now, before you go into apoplexy over the idea of Dick Scaife owning the great, gray lady of Lysle Boulevard, my strong suspicion is that if you're just a reader, very little is going to change about the Daily News.

They are not going to suddenly begin investigating rumors that Vince Foster is buried in Renzie Park, or that Teresa Kerry is running for White Oak Borough Council. As best as I can tell, Mr. Scaife does not care about the slant on community journalism.

Frankly, the Trib's suburban papers seem to exist mainly to carry the Trib's classified ads and to boost circulation of the Sunday Tribune-Review. (If you've been buying the News in conjunction with the Sunday Post-Gazette, well, forget it --- if you're a News subscriber, you're going to get the Sunday Trib whether you want it or not.)

. . .

If the same thing happens at the Daily News that has happened at the other papers that the Death Star ... er, I mean the Tribune-Review has taken over, yes, you will start seeing some editorials from the Trib as well as sports and news stories.

Unfortunately, I suspect there will be some job losses --- mainly on the printing and distribution side --- because I assume the Trib will move printing either to its plant in Warrendale or Greensburg. Maybe not. I hope no one loses a job --- too many people have lost jobs at the Daily News lately. But I'm afraid it's likely.

Also, the look of the Daily News will change drastically, because it will be designed in Pittsburgh on the Tribune-Review's giant centralized copy desk. (I hear it looks like the galley of a slave ship, with a guy beating on a kettle drum as the overseer yells, "Faster! Faster! More headlines!")

In other words, it's going to look a lot like the Tribune-Review. With all due respect to my friends at 409 Walnut St., that may be an improvement, because the typography of the News over the last decade has been ... erm ... interesting. And the website will be pulled into the Trib's system.

Otherwise, the content is unlikely to change much.

. . .

A lot of McKeesporters are going to jump up and down and stomp their feet and cancel their Daily News subscriptions.

But if you've been reading the Daily News faithfully, you can't help but notice the lack of advertising. Newspapers don't even cover their printing costs through subscriptions and street sales. They need about 50 percent of their content to be advertising to stay profitable.

I'd guess that many days the News is running about 15 to 20 percent advertising. That's not sustainable. Any newspaper with that kind of ad lineage is going to eventually go out of business.

Being owned by the Tribune-Review will make the News more attractive to advertisers --- they can deal with one salesman and get their ad carried in Connellsville, Monessen, Kittanning, McKeesport, Greensburg and Pittsburgh.

Also, Scaife has much deeper pockets to sustain losses --- if necessary --- than either Latrobe Printing and Publishing Company or the Mansfield family ever did.

So, if you're asking me if I'm happy that Richard Scaife will now own the Daily News, no. But I'd only be happy if the paper was locally owned again, and that's not going to happen. And if the alternative is no Daily News at all, then I will grudgingly accept that. No News is not good news, in other words.

. . .

Let me say something else --- something I have told several Daily News employees recently, and they probably think I was blowing smoke at them. The Daily News is not the Washington Post, but a lot of days, it's pretty damned good.

I hear a lot of McKeesporters criticizing the Daily News. The paper stinks, there's no news in it, it's full of mistakes, blah, blah, blah, bitch, whine, complain.

  • Fact: There's been more news in the News over the past 10 years than at any time since the 1960s.

  • Fact: There's less bias in the News in the last 10 years than ... well, since ever. Go read some Daily News coverage from the 1920s through the 1960s. You'll learn more by seeing what the News didn't report on --- rackets, racism, pollution, corruption --- than what it did.

  • Fact: The News has news from practically every community in the Mon-Yough area every week, if not every day. If you're not reading it, shame on you.

. . .

If you have a bug up your butt about Dick Scaife for whatever reason, then spite yourself. Don't buy the paper.

But when your taxes go up, or there's a string of burglaries in your neighborhood, or a school closes, don't complain because you didn't know about it. Chances are that the Daily News had a story. Maybe it wasn't a perfectly written story, but what do you or I do that's perfect every single day?

Don't take your dislike of Dick Scaife out on the people at 409 Walnut St. (By the way, Scaife's foundations have donated thousands of dollars to Mon Valley groups, including the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and the Garden Club of McKeesport, which maintains the arboretum at Renzie Park. Put that in your National Tube and smoke it.)

And remember that if you don't support that newspaper, well, Scaife's not going to throw money down a hole forever.

Whatever Scaife's political activities may be, no one at the Daily News (and hardly anyone at the Trib) is involved. The people at the News are trying to make a living and maybe do some journalism, and no matter who owns them, they're going to be out there picking up police blotters and covering school board meetings and high school sports the way they have for 123 years.

And if we should be so lucky, for another 123 years to come.

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April 13, 2007 | Link to this story

Random Thoughts From a Specific Mind

Category: default || By officerjim

(Guest Commentary: Officer Jim)

I’m starting to get the feeling that I need to rectify the previously mentioned lack of Internet service at home, if only so that I can begin paying my bills online. Heretofore, I’ve been quite content with writing out a check and affixing a stamp to an envelope.

But in the month of February, I apparently somehow never received a billing statement from the holder of my student loans and now, as I found out Thursday, from my cell phone provider.

As a result, in March I had to make a double payment on my loan which was quite a hit all at once. It’s also resulted in repeated phone calls from my “loan counselor.” Not that I know exactly what he wants, because every time he calls I don’t recognize the number so I don’t answer it.

But I can only assume it has something to do with the missed payment (the one missed payment, in the last five years, by the way) and they’re trying to cover their arses if I should default on the loan.

'Cause, ya know, missing one payment in five years is certainly an indicator that I’m a deadbeat.

Not that I’m not a deadbeat, mind you. (I swear, I’ll pay my brother the $230 bucks I owe him from the trip to North Carolina. Eventually.) But surely my track record isn’t that bad. (No it’s not, and don’t call me Shirley.)

Granted, it’s not the fault of the United States Postal Service, the loan holder, or the phone company to keep track of what statements I’ve received or what bills I’ve paid.

But I have several bills that come in each month, not counting my rent payments. And while I’m usually pretty good at keeping my unpaid bills organized, and paying them on time, I can’t remember everything. So there are only two conclusions I can make:

  1. I received the statements in the mail, but simply ignored them or threw them out, then used a mind-altering device or substance to totally wipe out any memory of them, or;

  2. They were never delivered to me in the first place.

Now, I hate to cast dispersions on the good men and women of the Postal Service. They do a fine job of delivering a fistful of junk mail to my doorstep six days a week.

But I suspect they dropped the ball on this one. Or, more accurately, they dropped my mail down a sewer grate or something. And seeing as how I can’t afford to have my credit screwed up with missed bill payments (okay, okay, screwed up any more), I guess I’ll have to stumble just a little more into the late 20th Century and start exploring Internet Service Providers.

I’m sure that the USPS is quivering in fear right now. I just hope Wilfred Brimley doesn’t show up on my doorstep.

. . .

I followed a car yesterday with a NASCAR license plate, duly issued by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I don’t know why this bothers me, but it does.

A plate for wildlife conservation? Sure, I can support that.

Something showing support for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission? Yeah, okay.

A plate for our nation’s veterans? Absolutely!

But really, NASCAR? I know that it’s one of the fastest growing spectator sports in the country. But what on God’s green earth made PennDOT decide that we needed to approve a NASCAR license plate?

Maybe I’m just a grump on this (maybe?), but the proliferation of license plates is really getting on my nerves. You can’t tell where the heck a plate is from anymore until you’re right on top of it. Can we just get back to simple two-color plates with bold, clearly legible letter and numbers? Is it too much to ask to be able to distinguish a Pennsylvania plate from an Ohio or Kentucky plate without resorting to a guide book?

. . .

And from the Department of Pointing Out the Obvious, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a story in yesterday’s paper detailing several lawsuits filed by candidates for positions on the McKeesport school board.

I’m not going to go into details of the maneuverings being performed and challenged by various sitting board members who are candidates but not for their current seats but for another seat but who want to hold their current seat but want to run for a different seat, blah blah blah ...

It's an interesting, creative, and in my opinion dubious attempt being made to circumvent the electoral process in my opinion, but I don't want to get into that just now.

Instead, I’d just like to point out the headline that One of America’s Great Newspapers used for the story:

“McKeesport school board candidates playing politics”

No! Really? I don’t believe that! I am shocked, shocked I tells ya!

No offense to the editorial staff of the P-G, but couldn’t you have come up with a better headline? After all, they’re candidates for political office in the Mon Valley: What the heck would they be playing, backgammon?

The headline in The Daily News at least didn’t point out the bloody obvious.

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April 11, 2007 | Link to this story

The Stingy Man Pays the Most

Category: default || By officerjim

(Guest Commentary: Officer Jim)

Uh oh! I'm gonna be in trouble here, leaving The Almanac without an update for so long. Sorry about the delay folks, but unfortunately I happen to be a very cheap guy. You see, I'm one of the few people left who doesn't have a connection to the internet tubes in my humble domicile.

It's not that I have anything against the internet. Far from it. I use it every day, in fact. I'm just too darn Scrooge-like for my own good. Heck, I'm still holding out against getting cable. And I don't think that Guglielmo's invention is anything more than a trend. And that Ford fella's too clever for his own good! Harumph!

Okay, okay, so I'm not that behind the times. It's really for the best that I keep from having internet access. As it stands now, I get home from work about 11:30 in the evening and usually don't go to bed until 2 or 3 in the morning. If I had internet access, I'd probably be up all night drooling over images on some bizarre website.

So you see, it can be somewhat difficult to post to a blog without the requisite access to an internet connection. Normally this isn't much of a problem, as my employer is somewhat generous in the amount of down time that I'm able to take advantage of; or, at the very least, "what chief don't know don't hurt me!"

These last few days, for whatever reason, have kept me a little too busy. I mean, I hardly had time to finish the second doughnut let alone sit down and write something witty and clever (and then erase that and type the dreck you've been reading).

So, mea culpa on my part for not fulfilling the obligations that I made to your humble (!) webmaster and you, the dear reader(s?). I swear on my sainted Aunt Eunice's grave that I will never, ever slack in my duties, or may I be run over by a streetcar.

Of course, I never had an Aunt Eunice...

And the closest thing to a streetcar line is the "T", and I live in the Mon Valley...

But you get the picture.

. . .

Speaking of pictures, the Garden Theatre (spelled "re" 'cause it's classy that way) has shown its last adult film. Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority finally won its six-year battle to claim the theater under "eminent domain" in an effort to spur further revitalization of the North Side.

According to the article in today's paper, the URA bought the theater for $1.1 million back in February. They have no new buyer yet for the property, but URA project manager Angelo Taranto "said interested developers will be shown through the building as soon as consultants can assess the building's soundness, the content and value of its interior assets and clear debris."

In the meantime, $1.1 million of public money was spent for yet another building in the county to be owned by a public entity and off the tax rolls. That's just the purchase price, of course. That doesn't take into account the no doubt millions in legal fees that have piled up over the last 6 years, all at taxpayer expense.

I'm no smut peddler, nor have I ever set foot in the Garden Theatre (or other like establishments). And while I'm not a prude, I can acknowledge that an adult establishment isn't exactly the type of joint you'd want next door to your home, or on the block that your children walked to get to school, or across the street from the grocery store you shop at. On the list of desirable businesses, I imagine it ranks far down on the list next to "rendering plant" and "medical waste incinerator."

But it is a tax-paying entity, is it not? Property taxes were being paid, right? Income taxes and the $52 Emergency and Municipal Services tax were being paid, right? Sales taxes were being paid, right? There was a tax-paying business on that property, albeit a non-desirable one, right?

And now there's another empty, government-owned building on the North Side. Somehow, another empty building in Pittsburgh seems slightly more obscene than the movies that were once shown there.

. . .

Locally, the Borough of Homestead is looking at a lawsuit from another entity that wished to purchase the empty former bank building at Eighth Avenue and Amity Street for use as a "gentleman's club."

According to a March article in the Post-Gazette, two national operators of strip clubs signed a sales agreement for the $660,000 lease-purchase of the property in June 2006. Allegedly, after representatives met with borough officials, council passed an ordinance that effectively would prevent the firm from doing business in that building.

Again, do we necessarily need a strip club at the entrance to the Waterfront development? And seeing that Eighth Avenue already possesses two adult businesses, as well as open prostitution on the same street, does Homestead really need that type of business? Maybe not.

But one thing Homestead definitely does not need is another building sitting empty. (Or near-empty, as the basement houses a day care center. Presumably that present tenant wouldn't co-exist with the potential new one.)

I dunno. In an area that is starved for business and tax dollars, can beggars be choosers? These types of businesses are going to exist somewhere. They're going to be giving those tax dollars to some municipality, who will gladly take their money even if they (understandably) accept the cash with an up-turned nose.

So why shouldn't one city that's still in the throes of Act 47 bankruptcy, and another borough that's just barely clawed its way out of bankruptcy, take advantage of those tax dollars (and maybe reduce the burden on the tax-paying residents a little)?

I could be wrong about it, but isn't a bird in the hand worth two in the ... er, um, you know what I mean.

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April 06, 2007 | Link to this story

More Room For The Rest of Us

Category: default || By officerjim

(Guest Commentary: Officer Jim)

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics released on Thursday, it took a catastrophic natural disaster to keep the Pittsburgh region from losing more population than New Orleans.

We’ve also got, according to a story in One of America’s Great Newspapers (but not America’s Finest News Source), the rare distinction of having the lowest influx of international immigrants combined with high death/low birth rates.

The article cites, among other causes, a continued “decline resulting from the steel industry's collapse a quarter-century ago, which led to a heavy exodus of working-age people.”

I’m so tired of hearing that. Frankly, I think it’s a bunch of baloney. I realize that the shuddering of the mills and collapse of the steel industry in Pittsburgh has had long-lasting and far-reaching influence in the local economy.

But after 25 years, I don’t think we can still be bemoaning the loss of manufacturing for the continued decline of the region. It’s about high time we got over it and moved on.

Sadly, we have a lot of people who seemingly want to wallow in self-pity and cry about “the good ol’ days of U.S. Steel” while waiting desperately for some “white knight” to come in and rescue the region.

Ain’t gonna happen, people. And until everyone: the politicians, tax-payers, community leaders, analysts, and even the pensioners wake up and admit that we need to rebuild the region from the ground up, we’ll still continue to lose population and have stagnant job growth.

Our infrastructure is archaic. We have crumbling roadways, a dysfunctional mass-transit system, and a colonial-era patchwork of county and municipal governments that more often than not work against each other as opposed to co-operating to better themselves. Until this area starts to drastically overhaul everything, including public safety, public works, public education, and public transportation, we’ll never get anywhere.

There are a lot of young people still in this area. I’m one of them. I’d love to stay here; heck, last year I turned down a job in Florida for a chance to stay here! But it gets increasingly harder to do when nothing ever changes, and no one wants the make any sacrifices.

I don’t have any easy solutions. We need comprehensive reform of our tax codes; we need to consolidate municipalities and municipal services. But moreover, what we really need is a group of brave and far-sighted politicians who are willing to put forth, and force through, these ideas.

I’d love to hear some candidate for borough council somewhere around here campaign on putting him- or herself out of a job, via municipal consolidation.

But ah, therein lies the rub! Nobody wants to do that because, to quote the Honorable Governor William J. LePetomaine: “Gentlemen, we’ve got to protect our phoney-baloney jobs!”

Will it take absolute bankruptcy of every single political subdivision in the county to force change? I hope not. I’d like to think that somewhere, someone is working on proposals for real reform and change to the betterment of the Pittsburgh region.

Of course, I’d also like to think that the Pirates sweep of the Astros is a sign of a winning baseball season. Only time will tell, assuming that it’s not too late already.

. . .

Lest you think that investment and cooperation in the region is all “gloom and doom,” Thursday’s Daily News reported that Our Fair City and the county have entered into an agreement to expedite construction of the proposed “flyover” bridge connecting Lysle Boulevard with the McKeesport RIDC park.

While there is some controversy that this may be detrimental to two current businesses at the proposed intersection, the easier access that it will bring to the industrial park may outweigh the impact it will have. Whether in the long run it will attract more development in the RIDC park remains to be seen, but I’d like to think it’s a step in the right direction.

. . .

Thursday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also included a mention of McKeesport native Helen Richey on the comics page, under the “My Generation” section aimed at kids. I can’t find an online link to the story (I doubt there is one), but I thought it was a nice write up.

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April 05, 2007 | Link to this story

Lousy Smarch Weather

Category: default || By jt3y

Mother Nature to the Mon Valley: "Get bent."

I can't afford many nice things at my little heavily-mortgaged slice of Pennsylvania, but at least I have the daffodils and tulips that the previous owner planted. I really enjoy seeing them ... dead, like my soul.

They say in Maine that if you can't stand the winters, you don't deserve the summers. But in Western Pennsylvania, the summers and winters suck, so what do we have left? Spring and fall.

Do you know what happens during fall? Here's a reminder.

And now you've taken spring away from me, Mother Nature, you cruel harpie.

Damn you to hell! I'm puttin' my whole 401(k) --- that's right, all $342.17 --- into ExxonMobil stock. I hope they pump so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that you choke on it and when you do, you just remember the delusional crackpot whose flowers you crushed beneath your frosty stilleto heels.

. . .

Then again, on the other hand, hope springs eternal:

The Twin Hi-Way Drive-In out in Robinson Township is reopening after 13 years.

With any luck, it'll be open before locusts and blood rain from the sky.

If not, you can just forget about going in a convertible.

. . .

P.S.: Yeah, yeah. I know Officer Jim is supposed to be handling the Almanac chores this week. I just couldn't hold this rage inside. I'm sorry you fine folks had to see it.

. . .

P.P.S.: The G.C. Murphy Memories website has been updated with a new photo of the month ... the toy department at the Monroeville Mall store, set up for Easter.

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April 04, 2007 | Link to this story

When You Have Nothing Else To Talk About

Category: default || By officerjim

(Guest Commentator: Officer Jim)

People have been talking about it for the last few days. I haven’t watched the TV news, but I’m sure it’s been the lead story. And I’m certain that the area grocery stores are stocking up on provisions.

What am I talking about? Why, the weather, of course! (Had it been September, you could have guessed either “weather” or “Steelers” for equal credit.)

More specifically, I refer to the forecast for the end of the week. Now, it’s as much of a shock to my system as to anyone else’s. It was in the 80s on Tuesday, and according to the National Weather Service it will be 36 degrees by Saturday. (By the way, how do they know it will specifically be “36?” Saying “mid-30s” I could see. But isn’t it a bit arrogant to presume to know what the exact high or low will be?)

The temperature isn’t the only shock, however. Pittsburgh’s biggest dirty word was used in the end-of-week forecast. (No, not “metropolitanism” or even “regional cooperation.”) I mean S-N-O-W!

I’m not panicking, though. I expect cold, I expect rain. I’ll even give that a few flakes may fall. But I know that we won’t get any accumulation, and even if some does build on the grassy areas, it won’t last long. So please, give the nice folks at Foodland, Giant Eagle and Shop ‘n Save a break and don’t storm them (no pun intended) and wipe out (pun intended) the area’s supply of toilet paper and milk.

. . .

It’s a little far from the Mon Valley, but according to an article in that other newspaper sold in Our Fair City, the former Latrobe Brewing plant now owned by Wisconsin-based City Brewing will soon be turning out that lovely amber liquid again.

The Boston Beer Company has announced plans to contract out brewing of its Samuel Adams brand lager to the Latrobe facility. A Boston Beer Co. posting on their website says that they anticipate that an “investment in the Brewery is expected to be between $3 million and $7 million and commensurate with Boston Beer's commitment to the brewery, the parties are discussing the potential of Boston Beer having an ownership interest in the brewing facility.” The P-G reports that the projected employment could be 250 people within 3 years.

This is great for a town that was left high and dry after being trampled by Clydesdales. I’ve never had a Sam Adams, but this news might just induce me to add a new brew to my rotation of favorite beers. Now if only we could get them to start brewing some Tube City ...

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April 03, 2007 | Link to this story

Pointing Out The Obvious

Category: default || By jt3y

. . .

From Sunday's Post-Gazette:

When the state directed a financial board of control to run the Duquesne School District in October 2000, then-Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok said he hoped it would bring financial stability. But, "more importantly," he said, he hoped it would help the children "get the education they need and deserve."

After more than six years, it hasn't happened yet.

Instead, the district's financial state has worsened and its options for students have narrowed.

"It's like the perfect storm," said Chris Berdnik, director of finance for Pittsburgh Public Schools, which the state hired last summer to help manage the district. "You've got a declining population base, declining enrollment, significant competition through charter schools, high special education costs, a challenged local tax base."

Enrollment, according to Shawn Farr, who has chaired the Duquesne board of control since July 2005, has been in a "death spiral," from 925 in 2001-02 to 746 currently. Staff turnover has been high. The district's test scores have stayed at or near the bottom in the state for years -- though some improvement on state math and reading tests appeared last year.

. . .

Does anyone think this is fair to the students of Duquesne, who are getting a subpar education?

Does anyone think this is fair to the city of Duquesne, which has a hard enough time attracting new development without the stigma of a failing school system?

Civilized societies should not allow this to happen.

It is long past time for the Duquesne City School District to be absorbed into one of the neighboring systems. West Mifflin Area (which already incorporates Whitaker Borough) is the obvious candidate, but Steel Valley also might make some sense.

In the meantime, West Mifflin's refusal to even discuss a merger has a distinct odor. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association --- which has a vested interest in maintaining as many school boards as possible --- should also be ashamed of itself for opposing school district mergers.

. . .

People can point fingers (justifably) at teachers' unions for allegedly holding back reform of public education in Pennsylvania, but our 19th-century school board system --- which encourages political patronage, inefficiency and the worst kinds of chauvinism and parochialism --- shares a lot of the blame.

Los Angeles County, Calif., with 9.7 million residents, has eight school districts. Allegheny County, with 1.2 million residents, has 43.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should provide financial incentives and support for school districts to merge. Legislation recently proposed by state Rep. Nick Kotik is a good first step, but there may have to be some shotgun weddings. It would be nice to see some leadership on this issue from the governor's office in between selling the Turnpike and legalizing slot machines.

Pennsylvania has many problems, but few are as blatantly obvious as the failure of small urban school districts like Duquesne's. Enough is enough. For the future of Duquesne and the entire Mon-Yough area, the next class to enter the independent Duquesne City School District ought to be the last.

. . .

P.S.: Officer Jim will be back. They let me out of the room with the really soft walls long enough to scrawl a cartoon and blather for a little bit.

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April 02, 2007 | Link to this story

There's No Crying in Baseball (Losing Yes, Crying No)

Category: default || By officerjim

(Guest Commentator: Officer Jim)

Hullo all you faithful denizens and ex-pats of the storied Mon-Yough region. Once again it’s time for your faithful editor to take his annual “vacation” at the lovely and bucolic state run “hotel” at scenic Mayview.

So as the nice young men in their clean white coats were dragging him off…er…I mean, “escorting him to the courtesy shuttle,” he was sure to think of you, his dear reader(s)?. In fact, his first request to me was that I, faithful private servant Officer Jim, keep the Almanac running smoothly until his return. (Okay, his real first request was that I stop jolting him with the Taser, but then I digress.)

So while I can’t promise that the Almanac will be updated every day this week, I will try to provide some “filler content” until next week. Sadly, my filler won’t be nearly as tasty as that of an International Village pierogi, but it should hopefully get you though until your regular editor can resume his duties and/or escapes.

Speaking of mental health issues, are you as excited as I am by the Opening Day of Pirates baseball?


You are?

Geez, maybe we need to inquire about Mayview’s group rate.

Seriously, though, I have to say that I am a baseball fan. Certainly I’m not the most rabid or knowledgeable, but I am a little excited to see the boys of summer take the field again. And while Pittsburgh fans have spent more than our fair share of time in the Mudville Nine, I can’t help but believe that maybe, just maybe, this year could be the one that pulls us out of the losing streak. After all, even Charlie Brown hit a home run eventually!

Of course, I’m a realist and I ain’t looking for a pennant this year. (Or next year... Or the year after that...) And maybe it says something about a team when all the fans desperately want is a season at or above .500. And maybe we in this region are way too forgiving of an ownership group who has allowed us to wallow barely above the bottom of Major League Baseball (thank you Tampa Bay and Kansas City for stinking even more than the Pirates). And maybe the fans have allowed the league’s lack of a salary cap and some sort of reasonable revenue sharing plan erode the spirit of fair play between the larger and smaller markets. But doesn’t the love of America’s pastime transcend all that negative thinking?

Naw, you’re right… It’s getting purty darn tough to enthusiastically root for a team that has continuously failed to produce a winning record for the past 14 seasons. Maybe the players and owners don’t owe anything to Pittsburgh and the region (I can think of 262 million things they owe, but I digress again), but it seems to this mild-mannered flatfoot that if I spent 14 years on the job with sub-standard performance I’d darn well have to answer to somebody. Not that I’m saying anything new or earth shattering here (or that hasn’t been said more eloquently by others). I’m just tired of all the losing, and I don’t know if it will get better under the current ownership.

Maybe I’m wrong, though. Maybe only a minority of fans are disgruntled whiners, and everyone else in the region is perfectly happy with the losing record. Obviously the owners are quite comfortable with it. I’m not, though, so if you see me wearing my Boston Red Sox (not Elizabeth Township’s Boston, but that other little town up north) cap more often than my Pirates cap, you’ll know why.

What was the point here? Oh yeah. It’s baseball’s Opening Day! Wheee! (Season Opener tonight at 7:05 in Houston. Home Opener April 9th versus St. Louis.)

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