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May 28, 2007 | Link to this story

Memorial Day

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I have not come here today with a prepared address. The committee in charge of the exercises of the day have graciously excused me on the grounds of public obligations from preparing such an address, but I will not deny myself the privilege of joining with you in an expression of gratitude and admiration for the men who perished for the sake of the Union.

They do not need our praise. They do not need that our admiration should sustain them. There is no immortality that is safer than theirs. We come not for their sakes but for our own, in order that we may drink at the same springs of inspiration from which they themselves selves drank.




I can never speak in praise of war, ladies and gentlemen; you would not desire me to do so. But there is this peculiar distinction belonging to the soldier, that he goes into an enterprise out of which he himself cannot get anything at all. He is giving everything that he hath, even his life, in order that others may live, not in order that he himself may obtain gain and prosperity.

And just so soon as the tasks of peace are performed in the same spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion, peace societies will not be necessary. The very organization and spirit of society will be a guaranty of peace.




We admire physical courage, but we admire above all things else moral courage. I believe that soldiers will bear me out in saying that both come in time of battle. I take it that the moral courage comes in going into the battle, and the physical courage in staying in.

There are battles which are just as hard to go into and just as hard to stay in as the battles of arms, and if the man will but stay and think never of himself there will come a time of grateful recollection when men will speak of him not only with admiration but with that which goes deeper, with affection and with reverence.




So that this flag calls upon us daily for service, and the more quiet and self-denying the service the greater the glory of the flag.

We are dedicated to freedom, and that freedom means the freedom of the human spirit. All free spirits ought to congregate on an occasion like this to do homage to the greatness of America as illustrated by the greatness of her sons.


President Woodrow Wilson
Memorial Day Address
May 30, 1914
(full text)



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May 24, 2007 | Link to this story

Anti-Smoking Vigilantes Strike Mon Valley

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Cartoon: The Tube City Tiger Takes The Law Into His Own Hands ... er, Paws.



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May 23, 2007 | Link to this story

Cheap Shots and Half-Truths

Category: default || By jt3y

Cluttered items from an empty mind:

. . .

What the hell: I paid $3.09 a gallon for 87 octane gas on Tuesday night. Jumpin' Jimmy Carters, this is worse than odd-and-even days. And the next wise-arse who says, "Well, they pay a lot more in Europe, I think we should be paying more," should be forced to ride from Rhode Island to Seattle in a 1970s school bus.

Of course, you could use public transportation, unless you ride the 50B Glassport, the Clairton, White Oak or Jefferson flyers, or any of the McKeesport local routes that are down to five or six trips a day. And about the service cuts: I suppose it's slightly better than the original plan to eliminate all local McKeesport routes --- we die from a thousand little cuts instead of a guillotine.

The Mon-Fayette Expressway looks like a better and better idea. Yep, let's build new highways, spread people further out, and make 'em use their cars more!

As for public transportation, I know the state can't fund it adequately, but at least work is underway on that new arena for the hockey team. Let's go Pens!

. . .

Speaking of Mr. Peanut: Way to show some backbone, Jimmy. You folded like a cheap card table. Now I remember why we look back on the Carter administration with such fondness. Says Mark Evanier, "You get the idea that the man's just plain giddy that he's no longer regarded as our worst recent president?"

. . .

Nobody Cares, But: I rarely write about writing, because no one but other writers care. On the off chance that someone does give a rat's patoot, however, I thought I'd give a little insight into the "creative" process as it's practiced around Tube City Omnimedia's World Headquarters overlooking Our Fair City.

Sometimes aspiring writers ask me for advice. After I tell them, "Don't become a writer," I tell them to "revise, revise, revise."

I did a lot of weird things during my failed career as a newspaper writer (sitting around in my stocking feet, for instance), but one that I'm not ashamed of was my habit of printing out my stories and editing them over a cup of coffee. My editor at the Observer-Reporter used to tease me whenever she saw me walking around the newsroom reading from a sheaf of copy paper: "Well, you must be almost done, because you're rewriting."

At right is a page from the long-promised G.C. Murphy book, which is going to be finished someday --- in fact, it's due to the publisher next Wednesday. (Next Wednesday? Holy crow, why am I writing this drivel?)

Depending on how I count, this is either the third or fourth draft, and you can see how much I'm still marking up, trimming and rewriting. Never let your first draft be your final draft --- edit your work and when you're done, edit some more.

You also have to learn how to cut passages of which you've really become fond. Former cow-orker Dave Copeland, who's apparently written a few things here and there, talked about this a few weeks ago. Writing teachers call it "killing your children," and I've had to kill a whole chapter of the Murphy book --- it had some funny stuff, but it just wasn't working.

Sure, you can --- as my art teacher, Sister Dorothy Ransil used to say --- "futz too much." At some point, you have to back off and say, "OK, it's good enough." (Another old O-R mentor, chief photographer Stan Diamond, used to tell me, "They can't all be Pulitzers.")

But if you want to be a writer, learn to edit your work ruthlessly. Few people have ever looked at an article, book or blog posting and said, "Gee, I'd like to read that, but it's too darn short."

Oh, and how to live on ramen noodles and peanut butter.

. . .

Get a Grip: Dan Rooney is wringing his hands with anguish over the fact that one of his coaches accidentally sent a dirty video out via email to half the known world. The usual suspects in the media are cluck-clucking their tongues.

The guy screwed up, but it's not necessary for the Steelers to cover him with ashes and flog him. It's the National Football League, not a ballet school for pre-teen girls. I don't seriously think many football players and coaches would be offended. I'll bet the air in the locker room at Heinz Field is plenty blue on game days.

And any fans that are offended are hypocrites: If you don't mind the cheerleaders and the endless bikini-clad bimbos hawking beer on TV during time outs, then cry me no tears about emailed porn.



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May 22, 2007 | Link to this story

Tragedy on Tragedy

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The song "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" by Cannonball Adderley came on the radio as I started this Almanac. That somehow seems appropriate.

The young man who died yesterday when the car he was driving slammed into DiSalla's Pizza in Munhall Junction apparently had an older brother who was shot to death in Mon Vue Heights last year.

According to the Post-Gazette, Homestead police spotted a car going the wrong way down a one-way street just after 12 a.m. Monday. When they tried to stop it, the car fled and the police pursued. A few minutes later, the car crashed into the wall of DiSalla's, narrowly missing one of the customers and critically injuring the driver, identified as Terrance Raiford, 17, of West Mifflin.

Raiford died last night at UPMC Presbyterian hospital.

Last year, Raiford's brother Eric Martin, 20, a specialist in the Army National Guard who was home on leave from Iraq, was shot in the back in Mon Vue Heights in what police called a "senseless, cold-blooded" killing. A 19-year-old McKees Rocks man was charged with homicide in connection with the slaying, but no motive --- if any --- has been revealed.

Martin, a former star tight-end on the West Mifflin High School football team, left behind a one-month-old girl. Now his mother and stepfather have another tragedy to cope with --- another son has died senselessly. KDKA reports that two loaded handguns were found in the car. If that's true, it explains why Raiford ran; otherwise, driving the wrong way down a one-way street is at worst a $25 fine.

There's no moral to this story, just despair that 17-year-olds are dying in car crashes after police chases, and that 20-year-old Iraq war veterans are being gunned down in the street for no apparent reason.

If you're a praying person, say a prayer for the Raifords. Say a prayer for the community.

Mercy, mercy, mercy.



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May 21, 2007 | Link to this story

Back Home Again In Pennsylvania

Category: default || By jt3y

Thoughts on returning from four days and three nights in beautiful southwestern Ohio at the annual geekout:

. . .

A few years ago, I described Dayton, Ohio, as looking like a large McKeesport: "(S)ome very nice sections, some very seedy sections, and a large muddled middle that could go either way."

I am happy to report that Dayton seems to have cleaned up its act ... a little bit. There are still lots of boarded-up buildings downtown and on the west side of town, but it looks like they're trying to make an effort to address blight.

The parallels with the Pittsburgh area are still pretty obvious --- Dayton is a middle-class industrial city devastated by the loss of its major employers, struggling to support its basic infrastructure while the tax base is collapsing.

It turns out there's another parallel, according to Sunday's Dayton Daily News, and it's a dubious honor to share: Dayton, like McKeesport and Pittsburgh, is still sharply divided along racial lines:

Areas in East Dayton were up to 99 percent white in 2000, while West Dayton had tracts that were up to 98 percent black. A few tracts, mostly in neighborhoods close to North Main Street, had diverse populations ranging from about 36 to 66 percent white ...

Scroggins, who is black, said the general pattern she has seen is that most people choose to live where their families have lived ... Wietzel thinks market forces determine who lives where, and he thinks city neighborhoods will become more integrated naturally as quality housing is developed in neighborhoods that have traditionally been racially homogeneous. He said another element that is needed is an economic recovery that will bring new homebuyers into the area.


. . .

I can't speak for Dayton, but neighborhoods in the Mon-Yough area are not going to be "mixed" as long as --- and I might as well just say it --- racial attitudes remain stuck in 1940s Selma, Ala.

Some percentage of people will protest that "there are black racists, too," and that "some of their best friends are black," and blah, blah, blah. Perhaps, but it's not African-Americans who are moving away from the area because there are "too many white people."

I have heard some astonishingly racist things said by friends and relatives, and I'll bet you have, too. I have not always argued with them as strenuously as I should have. That makes me a coward, and maybe it also makes me a racist.

We have a lot of supposedly educated people standing around, scratching their heads and wondering why Western Pennsylvania is still losing population --- especially young people.

I have a theory. We have a sizable and growing African-American population in the Mon-Yough area ... McKeesport is about 25 percent, while Braddock is more than 66 percent.

I wonder how many talented black teen-agers go away to college and never return to our area because they don't see any opportunities for themselves here? Why stay in the Mon Valley when a certain percentage of people are going to treat you like you're some sort of criminal?

You don't really notice how segregated the Pittsburgh area is until you travel through the South or many northern urban areas and see more African-American professionals, more integrated neighborhoods, and more diverse groups of people having lunch, playing softball, and arguing with each other.

It's no wonder that many of those areas are booming economically while Pittsburgh, Dayton and Cincinnati (another notoriously segregated metro area) are lagging behind.

Let's think about that the next time we hear someone uncork a ripe slur. More importantly, let's act.

. . .

Interesting, But Useless, Fact: Besides being the "birthplace of aviation" --- a fact that Dayton tourism publications, highway signs, obscene postcards, etc., point out every 10.5 seconds --- the city is also the birthplace of leaded gasoline and Freon. For obvious reasons, Dayton doesn't brag about those "better things for better living," as DuPont used to say.

Chemist Thomas Midgley Jr. developed tetraethyl lead as a gasoline additive while working for General Motors' Delco division and Freon for its Frigidaire division, both headquartered in Dayton. Tetraethyl lead, sold under the trade name "Ethyl," was designed to boost gasoline octane in high-compression engines; while Freon was a replacement for toxic refrigerants like ammonia.

Around Dayton, GM Executive Charles "Boss" Kettering tends to grab the glory --- there are buildings named for him and his family at the National Air Force Museum, the University of Dayton and Antioch University, and there's also Kettering Medical Center in the upscale suburb of Kettering, Ohio.

Yet Midgley did the work that made refrigeration affordable and safe and interstate highways possible. The trade-offs for those miracle inventions were lead poisoning and damage to the ozone layer and global warming, of course, but to quote one of my favorite movies, "you can't have Falstaff and have him thin."

Or something like that. Maybe the lead has gotten to my brain. (Midgley eventually contracted lead poisoning and had to take a leave of absence from Delco to recover.)

. . .

P.S.: Incidentally, now you'll understand all of the "Ethyl" jokes in Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1940s. Gasoline with "Ethyl" was probably the most celebrated consumer product of its day. (Think "Wi-Fi" now.) And you're welcome.

. . .

You've Got Crap! While I was off-line, only 62 spam emails made it through the filters. Most of them advertised various penny-stock frauds. Anyone who invests in a stock that they heard about in a badly-written email from "Mcelroy Freda" or "Moises Klein" deserves to lose their money.

If the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math, then spam is a tax on people who are in danger of drowning in the shower.



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May 16, 2007 | Link to this story

Primary Post-Mortem

Category: default || By jt3y

Cluttered items from an empty mind:

Let's put to rest the legend that Fast Eddie is a political genius. The governor can't seem to get anything through the state legislature, and the spanking Pennsylvanians gave to Act 1 on Tuesday suggests he can't get over on the voters, either.

The gov says voters "were confused" and didn't have enough information. Or maybe, unfortunately for him, we weren't confused, did have enough information and saw that this wasn't tax reform --- it was just a shell game that was going to result in higher taxes for millions of Pennsylvanians.

Arguably his tenure as head of the Democratic National Committee was undistinguished. Also consider such boneheaded moves as his apparent endorsement (quickly retracted) of Rick Santorum and the way that he goaded Teresa Kerry into confronting Colin McNickle back in 2004.

I'm not saying he's incompetent, but it's clear that the skills he used to become a power-broker in Philadelphia do not translate statewide. For whatever reason, he keeps misreading the mood of the citizens and other elected officials, making his political acumen looks less "David L. Lawrence in his prime" and more "second-term Milton Shapp."

If anyone on the national political scene still thinks Ed Rendell might make a good presidential or vice-presidential candidate, they're seriously out of touch.

. . .

Does anyone actually like having campaign workers lined up outside the polling place, thrusting slate cards in their hands? More to the point, does anyone actually make up their mind based on the slate card someone handed to them five minutes earlier?

If so, that person should not be allowed to vote. In fact, I'm against letting them pick the toppings for their "MTO" at Sheetz.

I do read the political literature sent out by candidates and my union (I'm a very lonely man), but I can't stand running the gauntlet just to get inside. Usually, though, I just mumble "thanks" and stuff the slate card they give me into the garbage. Very occasionally I will refuse to accept a slate card from someone, which has caused a couple of arguments. (There are a few Mon-Yough area politicians who I wouldn't vote for if their opponents were Pol Pot and Satan.)

There has to be a better way to campaign than shoving those stupid things in our faces minutes before we're supposed to vote.

. . .

Speaking of the atmosphere at the polling place, why does a little bit of authority turn some people into martinets? In Pennsylvania, elected constables function like deputy sheriffs --- they serve court papers and transport prisoners, and can also provide security at district magistrates' offices or polling places. Where deputy sheriffs work mostly on the county level, however, constables work mostly in local communities.

I've met many constables who were great, hard-working guys (believe me, many of them don't make much money and bust their humps). But I've met a few whose self importance was all out of proportion to their competence.

We had a constable at our polling place who was barking orders at voters for no apparent reason other than to justify his existence. (Our little polling place in North Bittyburg, Ward 3, Precinct 1, only got about 200 voters all day, so he wasn't exactly trying to control a surging throng of humanity.)

Maybe that hard-ass attitude is necessary when he's hauling DUIs and crackheads downtown for arraignment, but it sure seems self-defeating on election day.

No one has a constitutional right for life to be pleasant, but it's hard enough to get people to vote without making them confront the electioneers outside, and then the wanna-be Soviet prison guards inside.



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May 15, 2007 | Link to this story

It's Election Day!

Category: default || By jt3y

Cartoon: Feeling lucky, Pennsylvania?  2007 Jason Togyer/Tube City Almanac



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May 14, 2007 | Link to this story

Can't Leave Well Enough Alone

Category: default || By jt3y

Nebnose Notebook: Last year the Almanac raised a stink over CSX Transportation's failure to properly repair the River Road grade crossing in Port Vue. After an investigation by the state Public Utility Commission, the railroad eventually fixed the problem.

It's still bumpy --- compare CSX's work to the fine job Norfolk Southern did on its crossings recently in Dravosburg --- but at least you no longer have to drive into incoming traffic to avoid the washouts.

Unfortunately, CSX still hasn't fixed another long-running problem at the River Road crossing --- the malfunctioning gates. For several years, the gates have been screwy. At any given time one will stay down and the other one will go up, and the lights keep flashing, even when there's no train in sight.

They did it again last night, and like a good buttinski, I stopped at a pay phone Downtown and called CSX's railroad crossing hotline. After listening to the phone ring more than 20 times, someone answered, and I told them the crossing was out of order. (I even gave them the correct CSX ID number --- 584 680 K --- because that's the kind of nebnose I am.)

. . .

CSX Operator: "And what is your name?"

Me: "I'd rather not give that."

CSX Operator: "You have to give me a name and a call-back number."

Me: "Why? Isn't it enough to tell you that the crossing is screwed up?"

CSX Operator: "OK, what organization or agency are you with?"

Me: "I'm not with any organization."

CSX Operator: "Well, then you have to give me your name."

Me: "No, I don't, and besides, I'm at a pay phone, so it's not going to do you any good to call me back here."

CSX Operator: "So, you're refusing to provide me with your name or telephone number, is that what you're saying?"

Me: "All I'm telling you is that your crossing is stuck, and that you should probably have someone check it out. Isn't that enough?"

CSX Operator: "Thank you for calling."

. . .

For all I know those gates are still stuck --- I didn't head over there this morning --- but too many people already try to beat trains at that crossing. (Several cars have been struck and there's been at least one pedestrian fatality.) Frankly, the recurring malfunctions only encourage drivers to go around the gates when they see them down.

CSX's website says that it's "obsessed with safety." It seems like they're more obsessed with bureaucratic bullcrap and they're paying lip service to safety, but that's just me.

Railroads play a vital transportation role, especially as the price of gasoline and diesel fuel keeps rising (it's almost $3 per gallon in the Mon-Yough area), so we shouldn't begrudge their presence.

But it's not too much for McKeesport and Port Vue residents to ask for a functional, safe grade crossing on River Road.

. . .

More Nebbing: I don't know C.L. "Jay" Jabbour, who's running in tomorrow's Democratic Primary for Allegheny County Council District 9. I know a few people from West Mifflin who respect him, and I know they still speak highly of him down at the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club.

Still, I wonder whether Jabbour's constant electioneering should cause anyone to doubt his commitment to serving in office.

Jabbour served several terms on West Mifflin borough council before losing a re-election bid in 1993. In the meantime, he ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 1982, 1984, 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1996.

In 1998 he was elected to West Mifflin council again but within a year was running for Allegheny County council. In 2001 he was appointed to fill Richard Olasz Sr.'s term on council, forcing him to resign from borough council, then won election to the county seat in his own right. (Olasz and Jabbour have long been bitter political enemies.)

In 2006 Jabbour resigned from county council to run for state representative again. Now he's running for county council again.

There are too few good people running for local offices, and if someone thinks they can make a positive difference, they should run. Considering that Jabbour bailed out on District 9 just a year ago, should voters give him another chance? And do they have any guarantee that he won't run for state representative or some other office next year?



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May 13, 2007 | Link to this story

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

Category: default || By jt3y

In Friday's Almanac, we incorrectly reported that Kelsey Grammer had starred in a movie remake of McHale's Navy.

Hundreds of angry Tom Arnold fans have written to inform us that the former Mr. Roseanne Barr starred in the 1997 box-office bomb McHale's Navy.

They suggest that the editor was confusing that cinematic classic with another film flop, Down Periscope, starring Kelsey Grammer.

(Incidentally, the software used by Tube City Almanac keeps rejecting the name "Kelsey Grammer" as obscene for reasons known only to the little elves that wrote it.)

We would like to extend our sincere and heartfelt apologies to everyone upset by this terrible and disgusting error which inadvertantly confused two of the monumental motion pictures of the 1990s. Those responsible have been forced by Old Leadbottom to scrub barnacles in Taratupa.

Also, the entire staff and mismanagement of the Almanac would like to wish a Happy Mother's Day to all of you mothers.



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May 11, 2007 | Link to this story

The Old College Try

Category: default || By jt3y

I'm always nervous about writing about colleges and universities, because I know where I get my meal ticket. For instance, I would never, never write what Bob Braughler wrote this week about UPMC, or as I call it, "Choose a health plan as if your job depended on it." God bless UPMC, I say.

To paraphrase Nathan Hale (or maybe it was Nathan Lane), "I only regret I have but one life to give for my deductible." Come to think of it, maybe it was McHale's Navy. (The good one, with Ernest Borgnine, not the one with what's his face.)

To make a long story short, and I usually don't, I don't like to write about colleges or universities without a prominent disclaimer that opinions expressed at Tube City Almanac are not those of my employers or any organization with which I happen to be affiliated, and may not be reproduced without express written permission of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Major League Baseball.

I'm glad the trend of taking mediocre 1960s TV sitcoms and making terrible feature films has ended. Now they're just taking mediocre 1960s TV cartoons and making terrible feature films from them. I mean, a live action Underdog? Wally Cox would just plotz.

. . .

Let's start over: I don't like to write about colleges or universities (Editor's Note: Don't go through all that again, please.), but I notice that Chatham College is now Chatham University. "We are You" (get it?) goes the new slogan. Chatham used to be Pennsylvania College for Women. First they took out the "Women" (and you thought guys from Carnegie Mellon took out Chatham women, ha ha!) and now they've taken out the "College."

Chatham joins Point Park University (motto: "Quality education just a bus transfer away"), Robert Morris University ("Home of the Fighting CPAs Colonials"), Carlow University ("Just as Catholic as Duquesne, so nyahh") and Seton Hill University ("Hill, not Hall!") in changing from colleges to universities.

As I understand it, calling yourself a "university" instead of a "college" signifies that you offer graduate degrees, and it's somewhat more prestigious than being a "college." Also, in some foreign countries, the word "college" doesn't necessarily signify post-secondary education. Chatham College would be at a real disadvantage if financial aid officers in Belize won't give students financial aid because they think it's a glorified high school.

I can understand the need for money, but I remember when other countries wanted American dollars, not the other way around. Why, you could go to the movies with a nickel and have change to buy a loaf of bread and a new Buick! (Editor's note: You're off the track again.)

. . .

Sorry about that: How did the word "college" fall into disrepute? If the word "college" wasn't "prestigious," institutions of higher learning like Dartmouth College, Wellesley College, the College of William & Mary and Community College of Allegheny County would all be changing their names, too.

Frankly, I don't think "Community University of Allegheny County" has the same ring to it. No one wants to call the ivy-covered pre-stressed concrete walls in West Mifflin "CUAC," which sounds like a committee that investigated Communists in the 1950s, or the noise that a Communist duck makes.

I'm worried this trend won't end with colleges, either. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology might change its name to the Massachusetts University of Technology and make MIT a MUT. That would amuse the people at Harvard, but they're smug enough as it is.

I suppose this could be a plot to make alumni buy new T-shirts, stickers, beer steins, etc., with the updated name. Occasional Almanac contributor Officer Jim snagged two of the last "Penn State McKeesport" baseball caps when that institution changed from PSM to PSGA, which incidentally is also the name of a mountain in North Carolina.

. . .

I guess if increased sales of swag keep the tuition down, I'm all for it.

Otherwise, I'm for leaving well enough alone. It's the old "College Try," not the "University Try." Kay Kyser didn't run the University of Musical Knowledge. Bonzo went to college after he worked with Ronald Reagan (he came out a raving liberal, to the Gipper's dismay), and so did Andy Hardy and Blondie and Dagwood.

(Francis the Talking Mule went to West Point, and I think Ma and Pa Kettle went to graduate school.)

This has been a Tube City Almanac editorial. Responsible replies are unlikely.

. . .

In Other News: With all of the serious issues facing Our Fair City, it's nice to see resident Beatrice Longo is zeroing in on the most critical of them all ... city council has been opening meetings with a prayer. She wants them to knock it off. Eric Slagle has details in the Post-Gazette.

Like a certain failed Democratic presidential candidate, I happen to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU, but please. If anyone could use a prayer or two, it's our local officials. The next time they're sitting up there on the platform listening to nonsense from people who need to find a hobby besides complaining, I'd recommend the Serenity Prayer.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Here's a great gift for mom ... McKeesport Little Theater, Coursin and Bailey avenues, presents the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call (412) 673-1100.

. . .

Correction, Not Perfection: This Almanac originally reported that Kelsey Grammer starred in the movie remake of McHale's Navy. It was Tom Arnold. Grammer starred in the equally terrible naval-themed movie, Down Periscope. We regret the error. Those responsible have been sacked.



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May 09, 2007 | Link to this story

Grab Your Ankles, Boys and Girls

Category: default || By jt3y

I'm too busy to write an Almanac right now, which is bugging me, because I'd really like to write about the "Act 1" taxes that voters in most Mon-Yough area school districts are supposed to vote on next week. Act 1 would allow school districts to raise their wage taxes in order to lower property taxes. (Eventually, as I understand it, the higher tax rates are supposed to be phased out in favor of revenue from the state's slot machine casinos.)

It seems like a big fat boondoggle to me. The law allows districts to enact not just higher wage taxes but "personal income taxes." I think that would cover not just "earned income" but also income from dividends, lottery winnings, savings-account interest --- basically, any income you have to report to the IRS on your federal tax form.

If you're in one of those districts and your neighbors vote for Act 1 next week, get ready to pay more, not less, in school taxes. According to the figures that were in the Daily News this week (none of the stories or editorials are online), most taxpayers are going to take it in the shorts. In some districts, if you make more than about $26,000 per year, you're getting hosed.

. . .

You'll also have to fill out another lengthy tax form each year, which means school districts will pay more to process tax collections. If I didn't know better, I'd say this legislation is designed to benefit private tax collection companies like Berkheimer, Keystone Municipal Collections, Legal Tax Service, Pennsylvania Municipal Service, etc. I suspect many school districts that currently process their own wage and property taxes are going to throw up their hands and hire one of those companies.

The Rendell administration rammed Act 1 to us on the grounds that it would lower property taxes on the elderly and people on fixed incomes. But it seems to me that senior citizens are often living on savings and investments, which aren't currently taxed by school boards because they're not "earned income."

. . .

If their school districts impose personal income taxes, the cries are going to be loud and shrill. Effigy sales will be up 300 percent in parts of Western Pennsylvania, and boiling kettles of oil will appear on the lawns of some local high schools.

So, I'm really curious to see what happens on Tuesday. It's an off-year, primary election, which means that only the real die-hards are going to go to the polls --- and that means mostly elderly and retired voters.

One would expect them to vote for any referendum that promises to lower their property taxes. But if they realize it might also take a bite out of their investments, then they'd probably vote no. On the other hand, how many people truly understand the legislation? I'm not even sure I'm explaining it correctly.

. . .

Ronald Reagan famously said that the scariest words in the English language were "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." I'm firmly convinced that the Gipper was correct, at least when it comes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

It seems to me that Act 1 is a Hobson's choice at best, and a fraud at worst. If you're among the 20 or 30 percent of registered voters who go to the polls on Tuesday, you're voting on whether you'd rather be murdered or commit suicide.

Anyway, that's what I'd write if I had time to write.

. . .

Trash Talk: And if I had time to write, I'd also mention that Our Fair City is going to crack down on people who aren't paying their garbage collection bills. (Jen Vertullo story from the News, subscribers-only link.) If you don't pay, the city is going to stop collecting your garbage.

I understand the sentiment, but a high percentage of properties in the city are rented to low-income families, which is one of the things that's already destroying many neighborhoods. (According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3,862 of McKeesport's 11,119 housing units are rentals, or 34 percent.)

In many cases, I suspect the landlords are supposed to be paying the garbage fees, and either live out of state or are hiding behind real estate investment trusts. Most of them can't be bothered to cut the grass or maintain their properties now. When the city stops collecting the garbage, it will either sit on the curb and rot, or else tenants will throw it in the back yard or dump it illegally.

With due respect to Mayor Brewster and city council, how is this going to make McKeesport a nicer place to live?

I don't know how the city can easily punish deadbeat landlords ("slumlords" is more like it) but stopping garbage collection will only accelerate the decline of neighborhoods that are already suffering along Versailles Avenue, Jenny Lind Street, Evans Avenue, Shaw Avenue and elsewhere.

This seems like a well-intentioned proposal that's will backfire spectacularly. Kind of like Act 1, now that I think of it.

. . .

Like I said, I don't have time to write today. But if I did, those are the kinds of things I would write about.



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May 07, 2007 | Link to this story

Crab, Crab, Crab, Crab

Category: default || By jt3y

Today's headline is almost a "Carnac the Magnificent" punchline. "Crab, crab, crab, crab." (Rip! Blows into envelope.) "What are four things likely to be found in Paris Hilton's underpants?" (Ed: "Heigh-yo!")

Sorry, I'm in a crabby mood, so here are a few things that are bugging me, and I'll column as I see 'em:

. . .

Nobody Asked Me, But: Two criminal justice majors from California University of Pennsylvania (aka "Harvard-on-The-Mon") got into an argument Friday night in McMonagle's Pub in downtown California. One of them pulled a gun and plugged the other in the knee.

Naturally, they're both from the Mon-Yough area. (The shooter's from Turtle Creek, the shootee is from Elizabeth.)

If you're a criminal justice major and you shoot one of the other students, I think you should automatically fail, but I could be wrong.

By the way, finals started today at Cal U. Will the prof give the suspect an extension? "Sorry I couldn't take the test, Dr. Smith, but I was on the lam."

. . .

Continuing Decline of Newspapers Dept., Part MXLVII: Love him or hate him, James Lileks is undoubtedly one of the few writers at the Minneapolis Star Tribune who has a national following, largely on the basis of his extensive website, daily online journal, and several books about pop culture. (He happens to be a favorite here at Tube City Omnimedia World Headquarters ... though I don't share his politics, he makes me think.)

Naturally, the Strib has decided to promote Lileks' website and capitalize on his notoriety by recruiting him to help expand its online presence.

Ha ha! No! Because it's a newspaper, you see, and your average newspaper spends a great deal of time shooting off its own toes. Instead of leveraging Lileks' following for the good of the newspaper, as Lileks reports today, the Strib has canceled his daily column and demoted him to a general assignment reporter.

They also say that maybe since he knows something about these Interweb tubes that he can write about "dot-com startups."

("Dot-com startups"? Star Tribune, your table in 1996 is ready.)

Is this a punitive measure, designed to slap down Lileks because he's gotten too big for his britches? Is the Star Tribune, which was recently sold to a venture capitalist, just trying to cut costs and staff? Or are the editors that clueless? Well, it's a newspaper, so pick any two.

The biggest enemy of the newspaper industry is not "Craigslist," alt-weeklies, TV news, or any other influence --- it's newspapers themselves.

. . .

Cat Calling: An Alert Reader who does not want to be named read last week's Almanac about the animal control controversy in Versailles. She works with animals, but would prefer that I not say where, and writes:

(Cats) do not have "rights," especially if they don't have tags. A Pennsylvania dog law exists, but there is no such thing for kitties. And unfortunately, it is legal to euthanize a cat immediately after trapping.

It's also a bad idea for one to allow his or her cat to be an outdoor cat. They can not only be victim to the "dog catcher" (animal control) but also to predators, cars, other cats, and diseases ... not to mention the outcomes if cats are not spayed/neutered.

Yes ... all animals should have tags! I really hope that your readers take your statement to heart if they are one of those folks who feel that animal control will never pick up their animal or that their animal will never get loose or lost.


This reader directs me to the website for Animal Friends. There, you can read about the Animal Friends "tag day" on Friday, May 18, when volunteers will pass out dog license applications in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Incidentally, two friends recently adopted two cats from Animal Friends. They tell me that Animal Friends won't even allow you to adopt cats unless you promise to keep them indoors or on a harness when they're outside.

So get your cat licensed! You'd hate to find out your pussy was poached.

What? Did I say something funny?

. . .

CORRECTION, NOT PERFECTION: The Almanac incorrectly reported that Fallen Timber Shelter in Elizabeth Township was operated by Animal Friends, when even the runts in the litter know that it's run by the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. The editor has been smacked with a rolled-up newspaper by the Tube City Tiger, and regrets the error.



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May 04, 2007 | Link to this story

Grab Your Paranoia, Do-Si-Do

Category: default || By jt3y

There was a letter to the editor in Thursday's Daily News that was a fascinating study in ... something. Persecution complexes? Paranoia? Patriotism run amok?

A lady from Elizabeth Township --- I won't use her name --- wrote to complain because there are no square dancers at International Village, the annual ethnic food and music festival at Renzie Park. Apparently she called city hall, asking them to book her square dance group at the village, and the city declined, saying that square dancing is not ethnic dancing.

The lady is upset, she says, because "American" is an ethnicity as far as she's concerned, and she's sick of "Americans" being discriminated against in their own country. (I know I'm tired of having to use the "Americans Only" water fountain at the bus station, and I'm sure you are, too. And I think you'll agree that it was out of line for the Mexican police to make us sew those blue stars onto our clothes.)

Furthermore, she says, she can name at least one other group that performs at International Village that doesn't represent a foreign country, and she's tired of those people getting special treatment. Who do you suppose "those people" are? (Hint: It's not "Swedes.")

I don't suppose it occurs to this Gentle Reader that International Village exists to exhibit non-American cultures.

I don't suppose that it occurs that the entire United States of America is a daily exhibition of American culture.

I don't suppose that she ever considered that although we can see American culture anywhere in (surprise!) America, most people are unlikely to see tambura players or Polish folk dancers outside of International Village.

Nevertheless, I really liked her letter. Especially the thinly-concealed racism, because it's nice to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I also enjoyed the lady's obvious scorn and contempt for the very mission of International Village, because it's important to remember that no matter how nice something is for the community, there's always someone who can find something to complain about.

And the fact that she's heaping scorn on an ethnic festival because it doesn't recognize "American" as an ethnicity just makes the festival a little bit sweeter, in my opinion.

After all, you can't appreciate a rose garden if you don't occasionally grab a thorn and feel a little prick.

In the meantime, I sure hope that lady loosens up her gingham bonnet. I think she's cut off the circulation to her brain.

. . .

Kennywood's open! (Seriously, pull up your fly.) Also, the amusement park with the same name opens for the season on Saturday, just in case you've been living under a rock and missed the stories in the local media. Hours are limited to this Saturday and next Friday and Saturday; daily operations begin Wednesday, May 16.

Kennywood's newest ride is called the Vomitron ... er, I mean, the Spin 'n Hurl ... sorry about that, the "Cosmic Chaos." It's a UFO-themed ride that, according to the park's website, "seats 24 people on a giant disk which begins its untamed flight along the 120 concave track while its passengers spin around in circle. The result? An experience that offers guests an 'out of the world' experience!"

No, the real result is that your lunch takes wing. But some people like that sort of thing. Just save the fries, corn dogs, pizza, ice cream, cotton candy and caramel corn for afterward. (Me? I'll be on the Cadillacs in Kiddie Land. Speaking of Kiddie Land, there's a new ride there, too, called the "S.S. Kenny.")

Incidentally, Kennywood Entertainment has just added its second park outside of Pennsylvania. The Manchester, N.H., Union Leader and other newspapers report that Story Land in Glen, N.H., has been acquired by the West Mifflin-based, family-owned company for (as usual) an "undisclosed amount."

In addition to Kennywood, Sandcastle and Idlewild, Kennywood Entertainment also owns Lake Compounce in Bristol, Conn., which bills itself as the nation's oldest continuously-operated amusement park. It recently marked its 160th anniversary. By comparison, Story Land is a relative youngster, having been founded in 1954.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: The McKeesport Symphony Orchestra closes its 2006-07 season on Saturday with a concert featuring the winners of its Young Artists Competition and student musicians side-by-side with its own professional performers. I went last year and had a great time. The curtain rises inside the auditorium of McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd., at 7:30 p.m. Call (412) 664-2854. ... McKeesport Little Theater, Coursin and Bailey avenues, presents the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call (412) 673-1100.



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May 03, 2007 | Link to this story

Vocal Local Dogs Versailles Officials

Category: default || By jt3y

A district magistrate recently threw out harassment charges filed against a Versailles woman who put a sign in her front yard criticizing the borough's dog warden and the president of council. According to Raymond Pefferman in the Daily News (subscribers-only link), Carolyn Leitzell accused Ken Ferree of Ferree Kennels and Council President Walter Winkler of cruelty to animals, alleging that Ferree strangles stray cats (no, I'm not making that up), and that he was destroying cats without ID tags as soon as they were found.

Ferree denies the allegations. I'd note that Animal Friends has Ferree's address on its website --- and I suspect they or the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, which investigates animal cruelty complaints and which operates Elizabeth Township's Fallen Timber Shelter --- would have something to say if he were some kind of serial cat-strangler.

. . .

A quick aside: I don't own any pets, unless you count the rabbits that build nests in my back yard (and Port Vue Pete), because I'm terribly allergic. (I do like dogs, though, and I find cats pleasant enough company.)

So forgive me if I don't understand why people don't get their dogs or cats properly licensed and tagged. Yes, I understand cats like to roam around, and yes, I understand collars and tags can come off. But you're not doing your furry friends any favors by letting them run around without identification.

Anyway, Ferree and Winkler filed harassment charges against Leitzell, which District Judge Edward Tibbs has dismissed, according to the News (story not online).

. . .

I'm no lawyer, but I think I can understand Tibbs' ruling. Pennsylvania's harassment statute (Title 18, Section 2709) says that a person is guilty of harassment if they engage "in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which serve no legitimate purpose." Clearly Leitzell felt she had a legitimate purpose --- she was criticizing public officials.

The fact that her criticisms aren't accurate (according to Ferree and Winkler) doesn't constitute harassment.

On the other hand --- and again, I am not a lawyer --- I wonder if Ferree and Winkler have grounds for a defamation suit. Under New York Times vs. Sullivan, public officials must prove malice before they can win a defamation suit, and that raises several questions.

First, as an elected councilman in Versailles, Winkler is clearly a public official. But as the appointed dog warden, is Ferree? Second, did Leitzell act with malice, or is she merely wrong?

If Leitzell is criticizing a matter of "public interest and concern" and not acting out of malice toward Ferree and Winkler, then under Hoeppner vs. Dunkirk Printing Co., she's arguably protected by the U.S. Constitution even if (as Ferree and Winkler say) she's got her facts incorrect.

There's another wrinkle, however. Leitzell was one of the leaders of a petition drive that caused McKeesport council to stop using Ferree as the city's animal control officer back in December. An attorney might well argue that she's attempting to drive him out of business, and claim that as prima facie evidence of malice.

. . .

Incidentally, I found a posting from Leitzell on a North Carolina-based web forum for animal protection officers. It identifies her as being from White Oak, not Versailles.

. . .

Wow! You didn't expect a heavy First Amendment discussion at the Tube City Almanac, did you? These are the kinds of questions for which attorneys receive hundreds and thousands of dollars in legal fees, yet you're getting all this good stuff for free. (Arguably it's worth every penny.)

By the way --- nothing in this Almanac entry should be construed as legal advice, and anyone who relies on my interpretation of any law is a fool. Hire a competent attorney if you need legal advice.

On the other hand, if there are any real attorneys or lawyers out there who care to comment, feel free to add your comments below.

And if you believe that posting a comment constitutes providing legal advice, go ahead and bill the Almanac for your time while you're at it --- the Tube City Tiger hasn't had a good laugh for several days.

. . .

Breaking News ... Late Update (10:06 a.m.): According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, members of the Elizabeth Forward High School band were passengers on a school bus that collided with a tractor-trailer on the Pennsylvania Turnpike between the Morgantown and Downingtown interchanges, shutting down the toll road for several hours. The driver was seriously hurt while 30 other people sustained what are described as "minor injuries." More at the Inquirer's website. EF's website is here.



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May 01, 2007 | Link to this story

A Word From Our Sponsors

Category: default || By jt3y

Busy, busy, busy ... for those of you following along at home, that's the second Billy DeWolfe reference on the Internet in five days.

I don't have time to write, and Officer Jim must be too busy cracking hippies' skulls together to contribute to the Almanac, because I haven't heard from him lately. If you're passing by the doughnut shop, see if he's free.

Rather than post a picture of canned goulash again, here are two recent spots from my alleged radio show. I decided not to embed the links so that I don't slow down those of you on dial-up connections.

Any resemblance to real sponsors (or to humor) is strictly coincidental.



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