Tube City Online

Filed Under: Good Government On The March, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

September 28, 2007 | Link to this story

It's a Gas

Category: Good Government On The March, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

From The Associated Press via the York Daily Record (hat tip: Alert Reader Jeff):

VERSAILLES, Pa. --- A highly toxic gas is lurking under a small western Pennsylvania town, yet the federal agency that found the danger never told local officials the poison had permeated its soil, The Associated Press has learned.

The U.S. Department of Energy found high levels of hydrogen sulfide during a survey conducted over the past two years in the Pittsburgh suburb of Versailles, where they were searching for the source of --- and solution to --- a persistent methane problem, according to documents obtained by the AP.

Versailles, a town of about 1,700 people, sits on hundreds of poorly sealed gas wells from the early 20th century and on an abandoned coal mine. Experts believe the methane that has seeped into people's property over the years originates from one or both of these sources.

Experts, some directly connected to the Versailles study, say the discovery of hydrogen sulfide in the town should have immediately been reported to borough officials and led to testing in residents' homes. They say it was unlikely the hydrogen sulfide was isolated to one area.

Town officials said they have yet to be informed of the recent findings. And although residents signed waivers allowing federal officials onto their property, no testing was done inside homes, they said. (MORE)

. . .

(To the tune of "Rhythm of the Rain," 1963, peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's "Hot 100")

Listen to the hissin' of escapin' gas,
That fills Versailles with methane.
It's leakin' from the gas wells far beneath our town,
Drivin' everyone insane.

The people we pay taxes to have gone away,
The D-O-E and E-P-A.
All we're asking for them is to cap those wells,
Before we get Versailles Flambe.

God, please tell us: Did we make you mad?
For you to fill our town with gas and make us sad?
We can't even sell our houses,
Because the air smells so bad.

Listen to the hissin' of escapin' gas,
It's got a rotten-egg bouquet.
I wish the wind would blow it down to Coulter Town,
'Cause in Versailles I'd like to stay.

Oh, listen to the hissin' gas,
As it bubbles, causin' troubles,
Who-o-o-a listen, listen to the hissin' gas,
We can't breathe, got to leave,
Who-o-o-a ... (fade)

. . .

Editorial Comment: I see the people who assisted in the hurricane relief effort in New Orleans are now working in Pennsylvania.

Heckuva job, fellas! Congressional medals of freedom for everyone!

. . .

Your State Government In Action Inaction: If you still doubt that Pennsylvania State Government needs a complete overhaul, from the Governor's Office on down, read what happened when my old cow-orker, Scott Beveridge of the Observer-Reporter, asked for a simple copy of a public document ... a feasibility study (paid for by tax money, and compiled by state employees) on a proposed power plant to be powered by waste coal.

The local Conservation District officer told him the report was "too complicated" for him to understand, and refused to release it. After a county commissioner complained that it wasn't for government employees to decide who can and can't read public documents, they agreed to give the newspaper a copy ... for $219.23! (PDF)

According to an editorial that ran this week:

Most of the pages would be printed on "Williamsburg white" paper, but some others would be printed on "Mohawk color" or "Engineer white." There are charges for "special drilling, "hand fold," "tab typesetting" and "hand insert tabs."

For Heaven's sake, doesn't the county own a copier it would let the Conservation District use? We asked for a copy of a public document, not a customized printing job. But this is an old story: Make access to public records as expensive and difficult as possible. Maybe the public will go away and leave the public agencies in peace.

Tell your state representatives and senators that unless they get behind a movement for a Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, you're going to vote them all out. And let's keep voting them out until they learn.

. . .

Web-Swinging: Not everything is bad news. South Allegheny School District has a very handsome new website at Check it out! Lots of great information is available, and it's attractively presented.

Our Fair City has given its website a new look, too.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Caketown comes to the Tube City tonight for a tiger-maulin' ... it's the Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils vs. your McKeesport Tigers at Weigle-Schaeffer Stadium on the high school campus, 1960 Eden Park Blvd. Both teams are 3-and-1, and both are in the Great Southern Conference. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. McKeesport-licensed WPTT (1360) will carry the game live with commentary by my old cow-orker Paul Paterra.

  • East Allegheny High School and South Allegheny High School celebrate homecoming this weekend. Events get underway in North Versailles Township at 5 p.m., and local businesses and booster groups will have displays and items for sale. The Alumni "Wall of Fame" induction ceremony is at 7 p.m., and then the Wildcats play Southmoreland at 7:30 p.m.

  • In Glassport, events begin with the crowning of the homecoming king and queen at 6:30 p.m. and a parade; then the South Allegheny Gladiators take on Charleroi at Glassport Memorial Stadium.

  • On the road: Serra, Elizabeth Forward, Thomas Jefferson, Norwin and West Mifflin.

  • McKeesport Little Theater's production of "Grease" wraps up this weekend, with performances at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $15 or $7 for students (with a valid school ID card). The Little Theater is located at 1614 Coursin St., near the Carnegie Library. Call (412) 673-1100 or visit the website.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 07:26 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Good Government On The March, Mon Valley Miscellany | four comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 27, 2007 | Link to this story

Back to Hermann Hesse!

Category: Cartoons, History || By

If you remember that headline, then you're probably as big a fan of "Peanuts" as I am. "Peanuts" was an important part of my childhood. I learned to read from the paperback collections of the comic strip.

In my life, I've written fan letters to exactly two people. One was Charles Schulz, and the other was Art Buchwald, when he was dying.

And I will admit that when I heard Charles Schulz died (the same morning that his final new comic strip was appearing in newspapers), I choked up. It was like someone had killed Snoopy. A few months later, I heard his widow, Jeannie, being interviewed on the radio (I think by Jim Bohannon) and I choked up again.

When the Post-Gazette and other newspapers began reprinting the classic late 1950s and early '60s version of "Peanuts," I was really tickled. Many of them were strips I remembered seeing in those paperback books from the 1970s. And when some people --- like Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post --- argued that "Peanuts" should have been retired, to make way for newer comic strips, I got mad.

But lately I'm starting to conclude that "Peanuts" time has passed. Last week a funny sequence about Snoopy's doghouse being demolished for a freeway (no, not the Mon-Fayette Expressway) ended with Linus telling him, "Don't worry, the highway's not being built until 1967!"

When that particular strip was new, 1967 was seven years away. Now, the punchline lands with a resounding clang.

Yesterday, "Peanuts" made a Mort Sahl joke:

Yeah, that's a reference that'll really get kids reading newspapers again.

If you have to explain a joke, it doesn't work, but I'll explain this one. Mort Sahl was a notorious curmudgeonly comedian who was among the first stand-ups to base his act primarily on events in the news. Sometimes he'd actually bring the day's newspaper up on stage and improvise his act based on the stories. Think of him as the Bill Maher or Lewis Black of the 1950s and '60s.

Though Sahl is still working, he faded from public view 30 years ago. About every five years or so, someone does a story: "Whatever became of Mort Sahl?" Otherwise, no one under the age of 45 will get the reference, and it truly looked bizarre coming out of Lucy Van Pelt's mouth.

It's as out of place in a 2007 newspaper as an ad for DeSoto-Plymouth dealers, or stories about Sputnik. The comics pages of American newspapers ossified years ago, but this is the first case of them actually going backwards.

I touched off a raging discussion yesterday on a Usenet group (yes, I spend time on Usenet) by suggesting that "Classic Peanuts" should be gently retired. Several people who I respect argued that there are so many unfunny comic strips in the average newspaper that "Classic Peanuts" should be forgiven the occasional dated reference.

One poster wrote if "Classic Peanuts" is the first strip I'd want dropped from the newspaper.

No. "Spider-Man" would be gone in a heartbeat. But every newspaper that runs "Classic Peanuts" is a paper that isn't taking a chance on "Lio" or "Watch Your Head" or a dozen other new strips.

And there are other established strips that are left out to make room for "Classic Peanuts." We don't get Bill Holbrook's computer-themed strip "On The Fastrack" any more since the Daily News dropped it several years ago. "Luann" doesn't run anywhere in Western Pennsylvania, as far as I know.

Meanwhile, I can read "Classic Peanuts" any time I want, thanks to the copious and abundant reprints.

Someone else noted that "Peanuts" is as consistently funny as any new strip, and far funnier than most of the "edgy" or "modern" strips that could be added. I agree. There is some real dross on the average "funny" page.

So let's bring "Pogo" back, too. And "Toonerville Folks." Who doesn't think that "Pogo" was better than "Mallard Fillmore," or that "Toonerville Folks" was better than "Drabble"?

I don't mean to be dismissive. But I think, maybe, that "Peanuts'" time has passed. CBS isn't showing "Dick Van Dyke" in prime-time, either, and it's 10 times funnier than "How I Met Your Mother."

Newspapers are dying. Taking up space for Mort Sahl jokes isn't a strategy for saving them.

I hope "Sparky" Schulz will forgive me.

Some newspapers --- the Valley Independent in Monessen and the Observer-Reporter in Washington among them --- are running more recent "Classic Peanuts" strips from the early 1980s. It doesn't change the basic argument.

Charlie Brown and his friends will live in our memories (and in books and animated specials) for years to come. Let's give them a break from the comics pages.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Cartoons, History | four comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 26, 2007 | Link to this story

We Acted Better in '59

Category: History, Politics || By

In a photo from the Sun-Telegraph, a motorcade carrying Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev passes Chiodo's Tavern in Homestead.

My grandfather was made of stern stuff.

For 20 years he fired the boilers of steam engines for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, but the arrival of diesel locomotives in the 1950s left him unemployed, and he took a job at PennDOT.

Though "Pap" worked on many projects around the state, one of his fondest memories was of Sept. 24, 1959. That's the day when Pap helped block roads around Pittsburgh for the arrival of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who toured Mesta Machine's plant in West Homestead and spoke at the University of Pittsburgh.

I think about Pap often, but I thought in particular about that story as I listened to talk-show hosts and callers go into apoplexy over the visit to Columbia University by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Maybe I'm naive, but Khrushchev in 1959 represented a bigger threat to the United States than Ahmadinejad does in 2007. And we behaved ourselves a lot better.

From the conversations on KDKA, WPGB-FM and McKeesport-licensed WPTT, you would have thought Satan himself had arrived in the Big Apple.

. . .

Smile When You Say That: The New York press was worse, of course. Rupert Murdoch's conservative New York Post called him a "kook," a "madman," a "thug," a "lunatic," and a "guest of dishonor." "The axis of evil wacko" is "polluting our airwaves," said one story.

Even the usually somewhat-saner New York Daily News was driven around the bend, printing covers two days in a row that showed Ahmadinejad's face crossed out with a giant slash and telling him to "GO TO HELL!"

An editorial called Columbia's invitation to Ahmadinejad "monstrous idiocy" and called for the resignations or firings of the university officials who invited him. I can only imagine what New York talk radio sounded like.

. . .

'K' and 'A': Let's compare Khrushchev with Ahmadinejad:

  • Ahmadinejad wants nuclear weapons. Khrushchev had them, and they were pointed at the Mon Valley.

  • Ahmadinejad wants to wipe Israel off the map. By 1959, Khrushchev had already wiped several countries off the map and had brutally crushed an independence movement in Hungary.

  • Ahmadinejad has allegedly been funding terrorists in Iraq. Khrushchev was openly funding terrorists in Laos.

  • Iran has about 70 million people, a 15 percent inflation rate and 11 percent unemployment, and is considered "semi-developed" because so many people work on subsistence farms. In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union covered one-sixth of the earth's land, had 209 million people, and controlled 20 percent of the world's industrial production, and that's not counting the "Eastern Bloc" nations.

Was the Soviet Union in 1959 less dangerous than Iran is today? I sure don't think so.

. . .

48 Years Ago: Earlier this week, I went to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and pulled microfilm of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph to read the coverage of Khrushchev's two-day visit.

The Tele, which closed less than a year later, was an afternoon paper that competed directly with the Pittsburgh Press. It was the closest thing to a lurid New York-style tabloid newspaper that Pittsburgh ever had, and it was owned by the arch-conservative Hearst chain, which was arguably the Fox News of the 1940s and '50s.

Populist and colorful, the Sun-Telegraph carried two pages of comics and lots of sports and crime news. It was extremely popular with Mon Valley steelworkers; many households got the Daily News or Homestead Daily Messenger during the week and the Tele on Sundays.

You might expect the Tele received a lot of angry letters to the editor about Khrushchev's visit, and you'd be right:

"Khrushchev's presence in our country is the biggest hoax of this century," wrote Muriel Martin of Aspinwall. "We are simply breaking bread with Judas ... The peace which Khrushchev wants is the peace to use his tanks on countries that reject his 'friendship.'"

"Why should a Christian nation be asked to welcome an ungodly despot like Khrushchev?" asked John E. Sutlare of Pittsburgh. "We resent him and all he stands for."

. . .

Protests, Patriotism: And the Tele didn't hesitate to promote the American way as superior to life under Communism.

On the day of Khrushchev's speech, a full-page story profiled the "typical working class household" of Bill and Ruth Anne Connor in Wexford, comparing their living conditions with those of Russians. "Does this family look downtrodden to you?" it asked.

In another piece, the news director of Channel 11 (then WIIC) discussed his recent visit behind the Iron Curtain: "When the wheels of our plane touched down in Frankfurt, Germany, I said, 'Thank God I'm back in a free country. It's a sensation you can't explain.'"

Average Pittsburghers voiced their opinions, too. Protesters picketed the Carlton House in downtown Pittsburgh, where Khrushchev was staying. Some carried signs calling him a "butcher" and reading "Communism Means Death."

One story notes that steelworkers "grilled" a Russian magazine editor who tried to interview them. "The trouble with you is you're brainwashed," one of them told her. "See, we're really the capitalists in this country."

. . .

Respect, Dignity: But Pittsburghers also comported themselves with dignity. Mayor Thomas Gallagher presented Khrushchev with a "key to the city" and 100,000 people lined his motorcade route through the Golden Triangle.

In one of the most famous incidents in Steel Valley history, a worker at Mesta Machine, William Jackey, handed Khrushchev a cigar as he passed by his workstation. Khrushchev, delighted, took off his wristwatch and gave it to Jackey in thanks.

That day at the University of Pittsburgh, Khrushchev shared the dais with Governor David Lawrence, the chairman of Pitt's board of trustees, and University Chancellor Edward Litchfield. His speech was carried live in McKeesport by WEDO radio, which pre-empted the CBS soap opera "Ma Perkins."

Across the street from Pitt, Mrs. Khrushchev toured Children's Hospital, where employees spontaneously rushed up to kiss her and thrust presents in her hands to take back for her grandchildren.

. . .

Hearst's Editorial: Though conservative and fiercely patriotic, the Sun-Telegraph itself treated Khrushchev with respect, too. A signed editorial by publisher William Randolph Hearst Jr. called on Pittsburghers to neither "cheer nor jeer":

There are sound historical reasons why feelings of hatred and hostility should exist, as Khrushchev has never hesitated to use ruthless methods if it suited Russian policy ...

The memory of Hungary, Poland and Korea is still strong. It is well that we do not forget these examples of Communist aggression.

Nevertheless, the twin causes of peace and freedom will be improperly served by any violent demonstrations of these understandable feelings ...

Let's have no fawning over him, nor any hostile gesture toward him.

. . .

Generation Gap: When a powerful dictator like Nikita Khrushchev visited, we responded with confidence and demonstrated that the American principle of freedom of speech --- even of speech we disliked --- was alive and well. Even Pravda was impressed, reporting that Pittsburghers had "opened their hearts" to him.

Something has gone terribly wrong with the American psyche if we're now too weak to withstand a visit by a tinpot terrorist like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Like I said, my grandfather was made of stern stuff. So were your grandparents, I'll bet.

They knew that the United States of America was the world's greatest nation. They proved it by acting graciously to a sworn enemy.

We'd be a lot better off in the future by copying their example instead of continuing the jingoistic, immature behavior that many of us demonstrated this week.

It was downright ... if you'll pardon the phrase ... un-American.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: History, Politics | 19 comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 25, 2007 | Link to this story

West Mifflin: GM Strike Hits Home

Category: Cartoons || By

© 2007 Jason Togyer/Tube City Online

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Cartoons | three comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 24, 2007 | Link to this story

Please, Mr. Postman

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Reader mail: Saving brain-dead writers from having to come up with ideas for more than 200 years!

Our first lengthy missive comes from Alert Reader Arden, who has a lot on his mind and seems to be channeling either Larry King in USA Today or Earle Wittpenn in The Valley Mirror:

  1. So, do you think there will ever be a Pulitzer Prize for Blogs?

  2. Why, oh why, are there so many freaking cars on the road? It was never this busy 10 years ago.

  3. The troops are never leaving Iraq.

  4. I keep thinking of "Thank you, sir! May I have another?" when I hear the remaining Republican Congresscritters back any crackpot idea from G.W.

  5. President Huckabee. Think about that for a moment....nah scratch that...but seriously how is this guy even relevant anymore? Are the GOP candidates that bad? Yeah...but geez!

  6. If the Steelers make it to the playoffs this year or (gasp) make it to the Super Bowl, what does that say about the legacy of Bill Cowher? Did he call it quits after he won his last Super Bowl?

  7. The Pirates will never have a winning season. Face it they suck, the owners suck, and no matter what the fans will still keep going. Please reference "Thank you sir! May I have another?"

  8. So who was the better governor, Tom Ridge or Ed Rendell? Tough choice ... since I don't think either did anything spectacular.

  9. Pittsburgh may have problems, but Philadelphia is really screwed up. They are having "citizen patrols" to control the neighborhoods. I don't know if that is the best idea ...because I just see a lot of people getting hurt for no good reason.

  10. You can see that Republican marketing has worked on the general populace, like the comment about the Democratic party from your blog, about redistributing wealth. But seriously don't these local jokers understand that what they do has a reflection on the party and just enforces these crazy ideas? I don't understand why Braddock couldn't work out an agreement with that company. What a waste.

Whew! OK, responses, in no particular order:

  • Actually, starting this year, blog entries and other "online-only" content can be submitted to the Pulitzer committee in a variety of categories, but it has to be submitted by a traditional daily or Sunday newspaper to "keep faith with the historic mandate of the Pulitzer Prizes."

    (I'm worried that the Pulitzer committee may be painting the deck chairs on the Titanic.)

    It's inevitable that as readers and resources continue to move toward the Web, some online-only publication is going to produce Pulitzer-caliber work. I don't know if it's happened yet, but some of the investigations done by Talking Points Memo, among other Web sites, sure come close.

  • I think Ridge was marginally more fiscally responsible and seemed to work better with both Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly. Rendell can't seem to get anything passed without a struggle; he does have several years left on his term, so it's possible he can salvage something. Otherwise, he leaves almost no legacy.

  • The "local jokers" in any borough or township are so disconnected from the national party apparatus, in many cases, that they are Democrats or Republicans by accident of birth. I doubt that the Republican councilors in Sewickley or Edgewood are concerned about the national party's policies any more than the Democrats in North Charleroi or Pitcairn.

  • Finally, "President Huckabee" fills me with marginally less dread than "President Giuliani" or "President Paul" (which, barring divine intervention, is not going to happen anyway). "President Clinton" doesn't thrill me, either. And "President Thompson" might be the first president who takes the oath from an armchair.

Frankly, mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again ... and gee, our old LaSalle ran great.

. . .

Speaking of defunct automobiles, Alert Reader Vince plowed through my long screed on the Edsel a few weeks ago, and went out to get the book Disaster in Dearborn: The Story of the Edsel, which I recommended:

Read it. Loved it.

It never ceases to amaze me how completely shortsighted we as a people can be, be it in the realm of automotive innovation or foreign policy.

Yeah, I went there.

Oooh, you in trouble now, boy!

You're probably in favor of the redistribution of wealth, too. Or as a editorialist, writing about a health insurance program for poor children, said in Sunday's editions of a newspaper that now owns the McKeesport Daily News, "the 'S' in 'S-CHIP' stands for 'Socialist.'"

They say economics is a "dismal science," and that was sure the most dismal column I read this weekend.

. . .

Alert Reader Jeff says he's been catching up on back issues of the Almanac (apparently the prune juice is paying off, but I hope he prints it out on two-ply paper):

Enjoyed the shoe item. I have had great luck with Dexters.

I also read with interest the St. Paulinus item/link. My brother-in-law lives about 100 yards behind the church on the old Bosses Row in Wilson. I think that is the coolest church. I love the use of stone for the church and rectory. I know it's very well built as I have been inside and the walls didn't come tumblin' down. (RIMSHOT!)

Regarding the Sliders game: I'm glad to hear the kid caught the foul ball. He probably saved you from getting hurt.

I had my car broken into while parked on one of the lots along Forbes below the Arena (Lot Motto: "We only have security until the lot is full of paying customers.") The thieving little f---s broke a back window and ransacked the car, taking a few items. But I had 10 to 15 cassettes (this was the late '80s) - mostly oldies-blues-soul from the '50s, '60s and '70s. The little bastards didn't steal one.

I was glad, but a bit insulted --- they didn't deem my music worthy of stealing.

Good to see they're still playing nice in McKeesport government. I saw two or three potential lawsuits. And from one meeting.

. . .

Finally, Alert Reader Andy sends along a link to the "All-American Clothing Co." of Arcanum, Ohio, which promises that all of its products are made in the U.S.A.

"All-American" used to be known as "Union Jean Co.," and believe it or not, I ordered a few items from them before this email came in. A pair of black chinos has arrived already; the jeans haven't been shipped yet.

Honestly, the chinos are a disappointment. The workmanship is fine, but the fabric is awfully thin, and they're almost shapeless. Even ironing them didn't give them much of a crease.

I'll wait and see how they stand up after several washings --- the fabric may be tougher than it looks --- and report back. Also, the jeans may be a lot sturdier than the chinos. But for now, I'm underwhelmed.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:27 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Mon Valley Miscellany | four comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 20, 2007 | Link to this story

Thumbs-Up and Say It's Tickety-Boo

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

The Almanac spends a lot of time gassing off about slights (real and imagined), cruddiness, and other aggravations both minor and major. "Wouldn't it be nice," I hear a mythical straw man saying, "if just once you said something nice?"

Well, luckily for you, Mr. Hypothetical Example I Made Up Just For My Own Purposes, today's your day! Here's a few businesses that I like:

. . .

Jerry's Fine Used Records: I hadn't been to Jerry's Fine Used Records on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill for several months, and was pleasantly surprised to find that Dave's Music Mine (a used CD store) and Heads Together (a video store specializing in the off-beat and off-the-wall) are now located on the same floor.

Say it with me: "You got your CDs in my vinyl!" "You got your vinyl in my CDs!"

I've been shopping at Jerry's for at least 15 years. I recommend a trip to anyone who likes music, even if they don't necessarily collect old records. If you can't find some genre of music you like at Jerry's --- from vintage rock 'n roll to European folk to 1920s jazz to hip-hop and ska --- you're not trying.

The inclusion of Dave's and Heads Together has decreased the floor space substantially, but the shelves are still overloaded with great music, terrible music, and everything in between. It doesn't matter if it's out of print or rare; chances are, Jerry Weber has a copy of it somewhere --- either in the store or stashed in his warehouse in Swissvale. In one recent interview he estimated his stock at 750,000 items. I believe him.

The best part is that his prices are eminently reasonable. I've been to a bunch of used record stores (including one late, lamented one in Our Fair City) where everything was priced at the very upper limit of what the value guides demand. Not so at Jerry's; most records are priced between $4 and $10. Even super-rarities seldom sell for more than $40.

And Jerry and his staff don't sell junk; these aren't moldy, scratched flea-market LPs. They've got their jackets and sleeves intact, and though many records aren't pristine, they're clean and playable.

Again, even if you don't collect records, I highly recommend a trip. Plan to spend an hour or more. If you don't have a working turntable, Jerry will happily sell you one of those, too.

I have a turntable (several, actually), and walked out last Saturday with a bizarre agglomeration including some vintage R&B, a copy of "Windfall" by Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band, the audio version of a 1974 BBC-TV interview with Peter Sellers, and a copy of (so help me) "Arthur Godfrey's Golden Hits."

"Most of these records are never going to make it onto CD," Jerry said when I checked out.

"Some of them never should have been released on vinyl, either," I said.

. . .

Able True Value Home Center and R.C. Walters & Son: There are damned few real, honest-to-goodness hardware stores around. James Lileks lamented the other day that he went to Home Depot looking for a simple faucet washer, and couldn't find one:

"They didn't have them. I understood; no reason a hardware store the size of three counties in Montana would take up precious space on washers. Heck, if you decided to carry every washer in the world you'd have to put a whole wing on the back. This ain't the House of Washers, kid. Now, peanuts, you want peanuts, we got those."

If you live in the Mon-Yough area, you're within driving distance of two very good ones: R.C. Walters & Son in Boston, Elizabeth Township; and Able Home Center in Great Valley Shopping Center, North Versailles. Schnick's Hardware in Duquesne is worth a visit, too.

Since the demise of Levine Brothers Hardware in Homestead as a retail store (they still do repairs), R.C. Walters is the closest thing you'll find around here to a really old-fashioned hardware store. If you remember Ungar's on Walnut Street in the Third Ward, you'll appreciate Walters. They've got guns and ammunition up front, custom-mixed paint in the back, lawn and garden supplies, faucets, brand-name tools, and all kinds of little fiddly things (like faucet washers and springs).

The aisles are crammed to the gunwales with merchandise at reasonable prices (I find they're a few pennies more than Home Depot or Lowe's, but not much).

Able is just slightly more modern and carries a wider variety of home-improvement stuff (I bought my water-heater from them) like lumber and roofing supplies. They also don't carry the hunting and fishing tackle that Walters sells. It's also a little bit shabby-looking in spots, but don't let that put you off: it's very well-organized and the prices are extremely competitive with the bigger guys. If they don't have an item, they'll order it, and you'll never get more than a few steps inside before someone offers to help you.

If I have a complaint about Able, it's the influx over the last few years of Chinese-made tools into their stock, but it's harder and harder to find anything not made in China ... even once-proud American names like Stanley and Milwaukee are being made overseas. But they still carry things like ChannelLock pliers (made in Meadville) and genuine Vise-Grips.

Check one of 'em out the next time you need plaster, paint, grass seed or one of those metal things with the screw threads that does the thing, you know.

  • Able Home Center, 355 Lincoln Hwy., North Versailles: (412) 824-5900

  • Schink's Hardware Inc., 515 Grant Ave., Duquesne: (412) 466-5441

  • R.C. Walters & Son: 1441 Boston Hollow Road, Boston: (412) 751-5500

. . .

ABC PhotoLab: After endorsing local, independent businesses, I'm about to recommend an out-of-town place that does most of its business over the Internet.

What?! Sacrilege!

'Struth. I know, I know, I should be going digital. But I like my cameras, film is cheap and plentiful, and I do get a CD-ROM of images burned whenever I get film processed.

The problem has been getting the film processed. The in-store photo labs at places like RiteAid and Target are hit-or-miss. The quality varies from store to store and even from clerk to clerk. Some one-hour outfits return very nice prints; others return smeary prints with lousy color.

Here's a real conversation between me and the photo-lab clerk at a Walgreen's:

"You do digital photos from negatives?"


"What DPI are they scanned at?"

"I don't know. I just work here."

"Well, how big are the files? 5-by-7? 8-by-10?"

"Um ... I don't know. Do you want me to call the main office?"

I've tried sending them out via drug store "next day" service, but that's been a crap shoot as well. The last time I tried "next day" service, I got the prints back 10 days later.

If I'm going to wait that long, I might as well send 'em out myself. A little Internet detective work led me to ABC PhotoLab, a small outfit in Connecticut operated by ex-employees of Mystic Color Labs. It's more expensive than Wal-Mart, of course, but the photos look better than Wal-Mart's, and they send you a free postage-paid mailer. Shipping costs are minimal ($1.95 for one set of prints, $2.95 for two or more sets) and in my experience, they turn most orders around in a few days.

If anyone can recommend a good, local lab in the Mon-Yough area, I'm willing to give them my business. Until then, I'm happy to recommend ABC.

  • ABC PhotoLab LLC: Olde Mystic Village, Bldg 1A, 27 Coogan Blvd., P.O. Box 262, Mystic, CT 06355-0262, 1-866-720-PHOTO

. . .

Your Turn: Any businesses or services you'd like to recommend? Share 'em in the comments.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 07:23 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Mon Valley Miscellany | six comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 19, 2007 | Link to this story

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Category: Cartoons || By

From Brian Lundmark's long-running webcomic, Rockwood.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Cartoons | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 18, 2007 | Link to this story

Closed For Business

Category: Good Government On The March || By

The Valley Mirror reports that one of Braddock's few remaining businesses is leaving the borough. A.J. Silberman & Co., a wholesale grocer and tobacco distributor on Braddock Avenue, is relocating to Harmar Township, according to a front-page story by editor Tony Munson.

Munson writes that the key factor in Silberman's proposed move is Braddock's decision to retroactively collect a mercantile tax that was enacted in the 1970s, "but was not rigorously enforced."

The tax, according to Munson, amounts to 0.1 percent of sales for retailers and wholesalers. In July, the borough capped the tax at $40,000 in any calendar year, but they're claiming that Silberman is in arrears and owes back taxes, "which appears to have become an insurmountable problem," Munson writes.

According to the company's website, Silberman's was founded in 1935 in neighboring Rankin and currently serves about 2,200 independent restaurants, newsstands and convenience and grocery stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Munson says the company has about 100 employees.

This situation comes as neighboring West Mifflin continues its two-year-long p-ssing match with Kennywood over another case of selective enforcement.

Kennywood sued the borough when it learned that the West Mifflin amusement tax --- which theoretically should apply to arcades, driving ranges, theaters, bowling alleys and the like --- was only being collected from Kennywood.

No offense, but what is the matter with the council members in Braddock and West Mifflin? They seem to view the U.S. Constitution's "equal protection" clause with the same contempt as President Bush. Laws have to apply to everyone equally.

If Braddock didn't collect the mercantile tax for the last 30 years, that's Braddock's problem, not A.J. Silberman & Co.'s problem. And if West Mifflin has an amusement tax, it has to levy it against all amusement and entertainment facilities, not just the ones that it thinks are "rich."

Ultimately, these communities wind up shooting themselves in the feet. Braddock is poised to lose one of its few taxpaying, growing businesses (Silberman erected a brand-new half-million dollar warehouse about 10 years ago and also renovated an abandoned bank building for use as an office).

And Kennywood is buying other theme parks outside of Western Pennsylvania, like Story Land in New England, with money that (presumably) might otherwise have been invested in West Mifflin ... fattening the property and wage tax rolls.

Conservatives (Democratic and Republican) around Pennsylvania often spout off against consolidating school districts and communities. They talk about "local control" and how small, independent governments know what their communities need better than "bureaucrats" in Pittsburgh or Harrisburg.

If "local control" continues to give us short-sighted, mule-stubborn officials, then I'll take metropolitanism, please.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 07:23 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Good Government On The March | thirteen comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 18, 2007 | Link to this story

News From a Net-Wit

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Depending on where you get your Internet service, you may or may not be able to see right now; checking one set of name servers this morning, I found the domain was alive again. But a different set of name servers was still telling people the domain was down.

(UPDATE: Obviously if you can read this, you're in the right place.)

So, we're staying in business at the same old location for now. It sometimes takes 48 to 72 hours for a domain name to "propagate" throughout the Internet. (The series of tubes gets clogged, I guess.)

If you need some Tube City Online content (a sudden desire for information about tinplate production, for example) you can get there directly and bypass the DNS server:

. . .

Also, if I haven't mentioned this lately, I should: Derrick Brashear has hosted Tube City Online for free for more than 10 years. He has fielded countless late-night and weekend tech support calls and emails and has never complained or asked for a dime.

When he's been out of town on a few occasions and the Dementia server has decided to go toes-up, he's even roped friends and cow-orkers into fixing problems.

I can't possibly thank him enough ... but thank you, Derrick!

. . .

As for me, I spent the weekend exporting about 700 Almanac entries from Movable Type into Pivot. About 80 percent of them made the move automatically, without a problem. The other 20 percent drove me right up the fershlugginer wall, becauise I had to import them by hand.

Now I know why so many people just abandon their old blogs and start over.

By the way: I have been pretty happy with MT for the last three years, but Pivot was the choice of Tom Schroll, who maintains the server where is housed.

Though I'm pretty pleased with it so far, I'm sure I'll be complaining soon. (I always am.)

. . .

Already Pivot has shown that it has "quirks" like any other software package. For instance, after futzing with the Almanac for days and days last week, Pivot suddenly decided it didn't want to maintain monthly archives any more. It seems like the "weekly archive" feature is still working, so when (if?) the Almanac moves, it'll have weekly archives for a while.

I'm still fixing a few things --- mainly moving comments that MT wouldn't export or Pivot wouldn't import for whatever goofy reasons --- and your continuing patience is appreciated.

Just in case this drags on for more than a day or two, I'm thinking about getting a couple of guys to stand around with shovels and orange barrels.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 07:00 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Mon Valley Miscellany | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 14, 2007 | Link to this story

Work, Work, Work

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By jt3y

At Tube City Omnimedia's World Headquarters overlooking Our Fair City, we are frantically working on a new, improved Tube City Almanac for debut ... hopefully ... on Monday.

Your editor is on a very steep learning curve as I try to simultaneously understand the new content management system, called Pivot, and teach myself CSS (cascading style sheets).

I'm way behind in my understanding of CSS, which would help me in my day job, so I decided there was no time like the present to teach myself. (Some people say I have a fool for an instructor and a bigger fool for a student.) A book from Pogue Press' "Missing Manual" series is helping me greatly.

Anyway, this should take my understanding of HTML (the language that all webpages are built in) from my present 1997 knowledge to roughly ... oh, 1999.

What does this mean to you, our the 500-or-so loyal Almanac readers? Hopefully a cleaner-looking page that loads faster ... and without the fershlugginer frame that currently surrounds the Almanac.

In plain English, you should be able to more easily link to any entry you like. Also, the current clunky filter that rejects many comments will go away. Huzzah!

. . .

Point, Counterpoint: Comments are still coming in on the Mo-Fo Excessway essay. Feel free to add yours. Mark Rauterkus, candidate for Pittsburgh city controller and city council, writes:

The talk of HEAVY RAIL as an alternative would be welcomed. The freight lines can often be diverted. We've got plenty of lines. We have a glut of lines. I think they can live in harmony. Other cities have trains. And the line from McKeesport didn't stop just at Station Square -- it went to Sewickley (years ago).

A few comments, if I can interrupt: First, it's easy to talk about "diverting" freight railroads in the abstract. Try selling that idea to CSX and Norfolk Southern and their stockholders.

CSX alone hauled 160,000 carloads of freight out of Pennsylvania last year, serving 300 different companies. Most of that haulage was through the Mon Valley. The company has five main freight yards in the state; three of them are in the Monongahela and Youghiogheny valleys, including Demmler Yard in McKeesport.

"Diverting" that traffic is a hell of a lot easier said than done, and it would have to be done at the taxpayers' expense. If you think it's hard getting funding and approval to build a highway, try telling people you're going to build a railroad for a private company through their backyard ... and their expense.

Second, "other cities have trains." Yes, notably New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Boston-to-Washington corridor is one of the most-densely populated stretches of land in the Western world. Pittsburgh is not comparable.

Third, there hasn't been passenger service to Sewickley since the 1960s, when the Pennsylvania Railroad discontinued its local commuter service around Pittsburgh, when it was losing thousands of dollars a day ... mainly to Ohio River Boulevard.

I love trains. I think it's a great way to travel. I think it's very efficient and environmentally friendly. I just think it's a pipe dream (although with oil possibly going to $100 a barrel by the end of the year, it becomes more realistic every day).

Mark continues:

PA Turnpike makes new PA toll roads. Go figure. PAT (a bus company) isn't well suited for light rail either. Go figure. We can do better and think again about rail, the rails for human cargo, and freight elsewhere.

I can't argue with any of this. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission builds turnpikes. That's all they know. And as a friend often tells me, "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Alert Reader John M. writes:

$3-some billion in tax money doesn't have a lot to do with the free market. You fight the tide by fighting the tide, otherwise you are just part of it.

I hate to sound like a wiseguy, but I assume you've been to the ocean. You can't fight the tide. You drown.

I want to be convinced that there's a viable alternative to the Mon-Fayette ... or to some limited-access highway serving the Mon-Yough area. It hasn't happened yet.

. . .

Here's a Thought: What if the Mon-Fayette was re-routed from Large to McKeesport out to Monroeville, like the old Route 48 bypass was supposed to go, and avoided Hazelwood, Braddock, Turtle Creek, etc.? Is that crazy?

. . .

Tragedy in Elizabeth: Officials are investigating a suspicious fire in Elizabeth Borough. Fire Chief Lenny Bailey Jr., who was also an Elizabeth councilman, died on his way to the scene of that blaze. Raymond Pefferman has more on Bailey and the investigation in the Daily News.

There's a discussion thread ongoing at the Elizabeth Borough website, where residents can post comments and remembrances; the funeral is set for tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. at Bekavac Funeral Home on Second Street in Elizabeth. Requiescat in pace.

. . .

National Affairs Desk: Something about the President's address last night leaped out at me:

The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is "return on success." The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home.

What's he saying? That it's the fault of our American soldiers and Marines that they're still in Iraq? "If only they were more successful," they could come home. So it's their fault, not the President's ... nor the Vice President's, though by many accounts Cheney has micromanaged the Defense Department.

Oh, my aching head. If Bill Clinton had said that, they'd be burning him in effigy in Lafayette Park this morning ... and rightfully so. History is not going to be kind to us for re-electing this man in 2004.

. . .

In Other Business: In the Post-Gazette, Eric Slagle writes about the proposed referendum to change the city charter and allow employees to run for public office.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: State Rep. Bill Kortz hosts a sportsmen's and outdoor expo at The Palisades, Fifth Avenue and Water Street, tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Representatives of the Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen, and other groups will be on hand to answer questions. Refreshments are free; free flu shots will also be administered.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Mon Valley Miscellany | thirteen comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 12, 2007 | Link to this story

Who's That Again?

Category: So-Called Radio Humor || By jt3y

More alleged humor from the radio show.

Remember, I kid because I love.

And also because I'm an extremely warped, frustrated and jealous hack.

Incidentally, the announcer at the end is a former WEDO disc jockey, Glenn Tryon, who went onto bigger and better things at WQED-TV and elsewhere; he's presently retired and in Puerto Rico, but I was introduced by a mutual acquaintance and fortunately get to correspond with him from time to time. (He's even cut some material for me.)

Harv Pauley's The Story Behind The Story: Labor Day Edition (2.8 MB)

. . .

Page ... 2: Speaking of WEDO, did I ever mention that the website for McKeesport's "Station of Nations" is back online?

There's no streaming audio, unfortunately, so you'll have to use an actual radio if you want to hear "Benedictine Oblate Connection with Fr. Donald Raila" or "The McKeesport Slovak Hour with Barb Mima."

. . .

Page ... 3: The best Harvey impersonation I ever heard was done by Rich Hall on a 1980s Showtime special that I and about two other people saw called Rich Hall's Vanishing America.

Good day!

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: So-Called Radio Humor | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 11, 2007 | Link to this story

Meeting of the Minds

Category: Good Government On The March, Mon Valley Miscellany, Politics || By jt3y

As usual, there's almost as much truth this one story from The Onion as in a week of the AP wire. (Thanks to Alert Reader Jeff for sending along the link.)

Some people hate borough and township and school board meetings. I love them. They're a great place to meet people, corner public officials who don't return phone calls, and get ideas. I could attend a township commissioners' meeting and return to the office with a week's worth of things to write about.

But there are a few crackpots at almost every meeting who month after month demand the microphone during the public comment period and say nothing. (The great American philosopher Melvin Kaminsky nailed this phenomenon years ago in a classic documentary, as this soundbite will demonstrate.)

During my failed newspaper career, I was able to identify a few archetypes:

  • Angry Balding White Guy: Every month he singles out the councilmen or school directors for some perceived slight that happened 25 years ago when they were in high school. He usually tries to couch his attacks in weak, sometimes ethnic, jokes.

  • Elderly Nervous Lady: She walks up to the podium, quivering, with pieces of spiral-bound notebook paper clutched in her hands, which she then reads from in a timorous voice. She's terrified the planning director might leap from the stage and beat her to death for questioning his decision to grant a side yard variance on Elm Street.

  • Crazy Wanna-Be Academic: A self-professed political independent (who nevertheless has never voted for a Democrat), CWBA is smarter than you. He spends his spare time listening to right-wing talk radio, poring over state websites, and demanding photocopies of contracts and ordinances from the township manager. At meetings, he gets his kicks by grilling the roadmaster on finely nuanced points of the second-class township code.

  • Shouting Heavy-Set Woman: She's angry, dammit. About everything! That's why she put on her good sweatpants before she came down here! Kids are going to get killed! She pays taxes! Somebody better do something! And her family and neighbors are mad, too! (They're the ones in the audience spitting tobacco chaw into paper cups and clapping loudly whenever she pauses.)

There's been a new twist on this phenomenon recently at West Mifflin borough's council meetings, thanks to former state representative, now borough councilman, Richard Olasz Sr.

Olasz sits on the dais until public comment period, then walks down to the audience podium, and as West Mifflin Resident Richard Olasz Sr. he questions Councilman Richard Olasz Sr. ... and then he walks back up to the dais to answer himself.

Perhaps it's more evidence that the state should rethink its decision to close Mayview.

As always, H.L. Mencken (himself a notorious crank) offers a useful comment on this situation: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

. . .

'Next To Yours, The Best Town in The U.S.A.': Speaking of people who have attended a few public meetings in their lives, my old cow-orker Scott Beveridge of the Observer-Reporter has been writing about the history of Donora and its neighbor across the Monongahela River, Webster, an unincorporated village in Rostraver Township.

Check out his series called "Welcome to Nowhere" at his blog, Travel With a Beveridge.

And don't miss other entries, like his story about how Tom Savini is bringing the dead to life in Monessen.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Good Government On The March, Mon Valley Miscellany, Politics | one comment | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 10, 2007 | Link to this story

Goin' Down, Down, Down

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By jt3y

Occasional Almanac contributor Officer Jim writes:

As much as I hate to say this, I thought that the Trib's story on the Mon Valley was pretty good. It wasn't overly optimistic, but it didn't trash the region either. "Fair and balanced" in the Trib? Say it ain't so!

And I'd like to say that we both have brilliant insight into regional redevelopment, but obviously not:

Demand for industrial space is low in Pittsburgh, Stephenson said -- doubly so for a location without a major highway.

"If somebody can go someplace and they get easy access off the turnpike, why wouldn't they go there instead of getting caught up in the Mon Valley?" he said.

The "brilliant insight" to which Jim refers is last week's thumb-sucker, published here, about the Mo-Fo Excessway.

Although the Trib piece, by Mark Houser, was a nice package, I could nitpick a few details. The chart called "Homicides 2001-06" doesn't weigh the crimes by their per capita population. Ten homicides in Braddock Borough (population 2,900) works out to a much higher per-capita rate than 18 homicides in McKeesport (population 24,000).

And I'm not sure how useful it is to measure only "homicides"; "all violent crime" might have been more helpful.

But finding that data is difficult; some Mon-Yough area police departments don't submit Uniform Crime Report data to the federal government, and Pennsylvania's notoriously weak open-records laws mean that police departments don't have to release information if they don't want to.

So these are minor quibbles, and overall, it was a pretty good story.

Still, I remember writing a cover story called "Mon Valley Makeover" for City Paper in roughly May or June of 1996. And I'm sure if I thought about it, I could find other stories in other outlets about the "Mon Valley's recovery" from the last 20 years or so.

We writers keep churning out pieces about the "Mon Valley's recovery." When is the region going to, y'know, recover?

. . .

Old King Coal: Also in Sunday's Trib, Rick Stouffer wrote about the use and abuse of "pollution credits" by coal-fired power plants. There are two big coal-fired power plants in the Mon-Yough area --- Allegheny Energy's Mitchell Power Station near New Eagle and Reliant Energy's former Duquesne Light plant in Elrama.

Meanwhile, the Observer-Reporter and other outlets note that the Eighty-Four Mine in Washington County will close next year. About 100 miners will be laid off.

The closure comes about 10 years after 84 Mine's owners, Consol Energy, began longwall mining under several townships in Washington County, causing millions of dollars in property damage to homes, businesses and highways.

File that under the heading "long-term public welfare traded for a few short-term jobs."

And remember to look at that file once the new casinos open.

. . .

That's Not Funny, That's Sick: A few jokes stolen from Sunday night's Johnny Lightning show on WBCQ:

  • "They say Osama Bin Laden's new video tape is trying to exploit our memories of 9/11. Wow. Someone get him a job on the Rudy Giuliani campaign."

  • "An Ohio congressman was found dead inside his Washington apartment. His family is mourning their loss. They're comforted by the fact that at least he wasn't found dead in a men's room at the airport."

  • "Did you hear that Halle Berry is pregnant? And she's going to keep the baby. There was a rumor that she was going to have an abortion, but after all, she already made Catwoman."

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Mon Valley Miscellany | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 09, 2007 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: History || By jt3y

"Inauspicious night for birth of a Nation."

That's the headline on Bob Dvorchak's story in Sunday's Post-Gazette (motto: "That smudgy gray thing your grandma reads").

They're referring to the "Steeler Nation," of course.

But you don't suppose that the headline writer realized they were also making reference to one of the most infamously racist movies of all time, do you?

I suppose it's better than the alternative headline. I heard the story was originally called "Triumph of the Steeler Will."


Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: History | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 06, 2007 | Link to this story

Charter Schooled

Category: Good Government On The March, Politics || By jt3y

Our topic today is the City of McKeesport's Home Rule Charter (PDF file), which states:

No person who holds any compensated appointive City position shall make, solicit or receive any contribution to the campaign funds of any political party or any candidate for public office or take any part in the management, affairs or political campaigns of any political party, but he may exercise his rights as a citizen to express his opinions and to cast his vote.

That seems pretty clear, right? And the penalties prescribed are tough: If found guilty, violators are subject to a fine and forbidden from holding any city office for five years.

Except that, er, one city employee is already serving as an elected official (Mark Holtzman, deputy police chief, is a school director and ran unsuccessfully for district magistrate). And several others (recreation director Jim Brown, police officers Joe Lopretto and Chris Halaszynski, and administrator Steve Kondrosky) are candidates for school board in November.

Not surprisingly, this has landed the city in court; local political activist and school director Dave Donato has filed a lawsuit calling on Mayor Jim Brewster to uphold the charter and remove these employees if they refuse to drop out of the race.

Last night, city council voted 5-1 to place a referendum on the ballot to amend the charter and allow city employees to seek any public office except mayor, city council, city controller, or district justice. They could still run for school board. Councilor Paul Shelly cast the lone "no" vote.

. . .

Also not surprisingly, I have an opinion. Several, actually.

First, I don't like provisions that block employees from seeking public office. I don't like term limits, either. If you want to block someone from winning public office, we have a mechanism: It's called the ballot box.

Brown, Lopretto, Halaszynski and anyone else should have the right to run for any office. Whether they should serve is up to the voters. If you don't like them, run against them or vote against them.

But the charter is crystal clear, and the city shouldn't selectively enforce any provisions. And while I respect council's effort to change the charter, amending it ex post facto (or is it nunc pro tunc?) to keep these school board candidates within the letter of the law leaves a bad taste.

Shelly thinks so, too. He writes on his blog that the resolution passed last night all but admits the city charter has been violated, and that amending the charter while litigation is pending is "ill-timed" at best.

Shelly also calls the resolution "self-serving": "It says to me that the Mayor and this Council, of which I am a part, are fearful of city employees running against us, yet it is OK for them to run against (almost) anyone else."

. . .

Maybe I'm naive, and maybe I've spent too much time with local elected officials over the years, as a reporter and a community volunteer, but I don't see any deep-seated corruption. (It doesn't sound like Mr. Shelly does, either, and I should note that we have been exchanging emails about this topic for some time.)

Personally, I see a couple of things:

  1. The people who are likely to pay the most attention to local politics are the ones who work in local government. As the Almanac has lamented before, most people pay thousands of dollars in taxes every year to their school district and city, borough or township government, but they don't pay attention to what those bodies do until something goes wrong.
  2. There is a shortage of good, qualified candidates. I can name two local boroughs that have to appoint councilors almost every two years because not enough people run for the open seats.

Add (1) and (2) and you get local employees running for local office. It's natural: They have a knowledge of the issues and a vested interest in local affairs.

. . .

I wish this had been handled with more finesse. The city could have amended the charter, and then these folks could have run without a cloud over their heads.

Instead, we got a lawsuit (all too common under the administration of Brewster's predecessor), finger-pointing, and allegations that Our Fair City is being run just like it was in the "bad old days."

. . .

That brings me to one last allegation. A few White Oak council members are throwing a fit because all seven of the candidates for McKeesport Area School Board in November are from the city. Council President Ron Massung is threatening legal action and has twice publicly accused Brewster of "trying to take over the school board."

If White Oak's political leaders are concerned about representation, they need to organize and get borough residents to run in two years. Or they need to draft a referendum to elect McKeesport Area school directors by district, just as school directors in East Allegheny and Woodland Hills are elected.

And I agree with a remark Brewster made to Eric Slagle of the Post-Gazette: "It's a slap in the face to the citizens of McKeesport suggest that we would do something detrimental to the community of White Oak. White Oak is a community we need to prosper."

I like Brewster. I happen to like most of the people in local office right now. I think the city and the region are moving in the right direction again after several years of floundering.

There are some very well-intentioned people in local government.

But this episode is not their finest moment.

And we all know what the road to hell is paved with.


Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Good Government On The March, Politics | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 05, 2007 | Link to this story

Rhymes With Pretzel

Category: History || By jt3y

When I was growing up, one of our neighbors in the Liberty Manor section of Liberty Borough had not one, but two, Edsels. (Alert Reader Tim will know who I'm talking about, I bet.) Maybe this early exposure to abject failure explains my present warped personality, and my love for "lost causes."

Well, in case you missed the news coverage (Wired, The Detroit News, The Washington Post, etc.), yesterday was the 50th anniversary of "E-Day" ... Sept. 4, 1957, the day that Ford Motor Company unveiled its new car division, the Edsel, the worst new product introduction in American history.

Many of the feature stories that appeared yesterday commented on how "ugly" the Edsel supposedly was. The Edsel wasn't ugly at all by 1958 standards. In fact, the early reviews of the styling were overwhelmingly positive. When the car was shown to dealers for the first time in the summer of 1957, they gave it a standing ovation; reportedly some Ford executives wept for joy.

In contrast to most 1958 cars, the Edsel didn't have fins, it didn't have gaudy-looking two-tone paint, and most importantly, it wasn't larded with chrome. For a look at some truly ugly cars, try the 1958 Oldsmobiles and Buicks. Legendary General Motors styling chief Harley Earl was forced into retirement over those monstrosities; the company's products were greeted with such hoots of derision that GM went into a crash program to completely redesign its 1959 models.

But Buick survived and thrived, and Oldsmobile did, too, until recently.

The name gets a lot of blame, too. "Edsel" was the name of Henry Ford's only son. Before his death at an early age from stomach cancer, he was widely revered in Detroit for saving the Ford Motor Company from insolvency as his father became increasingly irrational. (One of the major freeways in Detroit is still named for Edsel Ford.)

Sure, "Edsel" isn't a great name for a car, but consider some of the others. "Oldsmobile" had "old" in the first three letters! "Chevrolet" is a French name that isn't pronounced the way it's spelled. "Plymouth" was named after a brand of twine used by farmers. (You can look it up.)

The Edsel tanked for other reasons --- mostly rotten quality control and a severe worldwide recession that knocked the pins out from under the car market.

Despite the folklore, the name and the styling of the Edsel were the least of the problems. They got the blame from Ford employees desperate to salvage their own reputations. As the saying goes, "Success has 1,000 fathers, but failure is an orphan."

. . .

McKeesport had an Edsel dealer, naturally. John P. Mooney Co. on Fifth Avenue at Hartman Street had been the city's Packard dealer for years until that one-time luxury make began its quick slide to oblivion in the mid-1950s.

At the time, independent car companies like Packard, Studebaker, Hudson, Nash and Willys were withering under a massive sales onslaught from the "Big 3," GM, Ford and Chrysler.

Hudson and Nash merged into American Motors and survived by refocusing their efforts on small cars ... namely, the Rambler. Willys dumped its slow-selling car line and put all of its money into four-wheel-drive Jeep trucks and what would call today the SUV.

Packard and Studebaker merged, too, but instead of finding a "niche" like AMC and Willys, they tried to go head-to-head with the "Big 3," and lost their shirts.

Many of the new Edsel dealers, like Mooney in McKeesport, had been Studebaker-Packard dealers, and were desperate to swim away from the rapidly sinking company.

The arrival of the new Edsel franchise must have seemed like salvation. Finally, they would be selling cars backed by a healthy corporation and would own a franchise which (they thought) had a long future.

By 1962, Mooney was selling Volkswagens and the Edsel was a punchline to a thousand jokes.

. . .

Edsel seemed like salvation to Ford Motor Company at first, too. For years, the industry said, Ford's primary job was making customers for General Motors.

In the 1920s, GM President Alfred P. Sloan hit on the formula that spelled the company's success for the next 50 years. Instead of competing against each other, GM's different divisions --- Chevrolet, Pontiac-Oakland, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac --- would each compete in a certain price range, with Chevy at the low end and Caddy at the top.

To save money, the divisions would share hidden components and many substructures, but outwardly, styling would be as different as possible. Chevrolet customers who wanted to move up could buy a Pontiac, but they'd still be in a GM car.

When Walter P. Chrysler took over Maxwell Motors Corp. and renamed it for himself, he copied the same formula. Soon Chrysler Corp. had the same kind of model range --- with Plymouth at the low-price end, followed by Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial as the premium brand.

But until World War II, Henry Ford was in charge at Ford Motor Company, and he wouldn't hear of any of this. In fact, he wouldn't discontinue the Model T until the car was totally obsolete and losing customers to Chevy and Plymouth.

Ford did purchase the Lincoln Motor Car Company and made it a luxury division. And in 1939, it introduced the Mercury as an upscale Ford. But Mercury was frankly only a very small step up from Ford, and there was still a huge price gap between the most expensive Mercury and the cheapest Lincoln.

Consequently, Ford customers who wanted to move up didn't buy a Lincoln. They bought a Dodge or an Oldsmobile.

Henry Ford's penury and refusal to introduce modern technologies nearly caused the company's collapse during World War II, just when the Army and Navy needed its production capacity. Henry's grandson was brought home from the war to salvage what was left.

By the mid-1950s, Ford Motor Company was finally making money again, and was ready to plug the price gap. The decision was made to move the Mercury upmarket to the Buick price range, and introduce a new lower-middle-priced car. That car became the Edsel.

. . .

A variety of factors plagued the Edsel's debut. First, the car didn't live up to its hype. Ford put on an expensive, extensive publicity blitz for Edsel for a year before the car's debut. When it turned out to be just another average-looking car, people were disappointed.

Second, any new product is likely to have problems. Unfortunately, in Edsel's case, the excitement and hype meant that all of the early quality control problems were magnified.

It didn't help that relatively small numbers of Edsels were being built on assembly lines that were handling much larger numbers of Fords and Mercurys. Stories spread of Edsels going out the door with the wrong parts attached, or missing key pieces altogether.

Finally, the most severe recession of the postwar years caused widespread layoffs and tightened the credit supply. The new-car market collapsed, and practically everyone's sales went down --- except AMC and Volkswagen, because they were selling economy cars. (Rambler sales nearly doubled from 1957 to 1958.)

. . .

Under those circumstances, the Edsel's 1958 production run of 63,000 isn't so bad. The new division nearly tied Chrysler and was ahead of Lincoln, Studebaker, DeSoto and many other established makes.

By then, however, Ford President Robert McNamara (who later became defense secretary and led the escalation of the Vietnam War) had decided to kill the Edsel.

The practical, frugal McNamara didn't like fancy cars. The Edsel project had been proposed before he had taken over the company, by executives who he eventually forced out of Ford Motor Company, and he was against it from the very start.

Instead of upscale cars, McNamara believed compacts were the wave of the future, and if Ford was going to bring out a line of small cars, it needed the money and resources that were committed to the Edsel. The new brand was expendable.

In late 1958, McNamara forced Edsel Division to merge with Mercury and Lincoln, and the brand was de-emphasized. In November 1959, he finally killed it altogether. (The announcement leaked out in the Ford Foundation's annual report.)

In 1960, the year that McNamara was named defense secretary, Ford introduced its compact car, the Falcon. It was a roaring success, and a slightly upscale version called the Comet was introduced. It, too, was successful, with 116,000 sold in the first, abbreviated model year.

Ironically, the Comet was originally supposed to be sold as an Edsel; the earliest cars even carried Edsel serial numbers. If Edsel had hung on for another few months, the Comet might have saved the division, but it didn't happen.

. . .

So, in about 1,400 words, that's the story of the Edsel. If you're inclined to learn more, I highly recommend Thomas Bonsall's book Disaster in Dearborn: The Story of the Edsel, which is one of the best books I've ever read about the automotive industry in the 1950s. In fact, it's one of the best books I've ever read about business, period --- and it's got a lot of photos.

As for John P. Mooney Co., it eventually moved to Long Run Road (Route 48) and enjoyed two decades of success as a Volkswagen dealer. The building is presently the home of Bob Massie Toyota.

Other than those two Edsels I used to see in Liberty Borough, I don't know of any other restored Edsels in McKeesport or its suburbs. But I'm willing to bet there are a few.

After all, if you live the Mon Valley, you have to be willing to love the unlovable, to find virtue where other people only find things to mock --- and to root for the underdog. Luckily, the Edsel story has a happy ending; the cars are highly collectible today.

Edsel: The official car of the Mon-Yough area? No, but it could be, kids, it could be.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: History | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 04, 2007 | Link to this story

Build The Mo-Fo Already

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By jt3y

I came to a reluctant epiphany on I-79 last week. It's something I didn't want to admit, but in my corroded, embittered heart, I know it to be true.

The Mon-Fayette Expressway has to be built.

Yes, I have questioned the idea, and I agree with the Angry Drunken Bureaucrat, who calls it "the Mo-Fo Excessway." I think the highway's negatives are very, very high.

But it doesn't matter, because people like high-speed, limited-access highways. They have for 75 years. And until they are forced by circumstances to use some other form of transportation, they will continue to prefer driving their personal cars on limited access highways.

. . .

No Alternative: Sorry, but I don't see any viable alternatives:

  • Light-Rail: I love light-rail. I think Port Authority missed the boat (bus?) by not building a high-density light-rail line instead of the East Busway. In a highly traveled corridor like the one between Downtown Pittsburgh, Oakland and the East Hills, light-rail would rock; it excels at moving masses of people from Point A to Point B.

    But it stinks when lots of small numbers of people are making lots of trips to a variety of different points. That's why it's no substitute for a limited-access, high-speed highway in the Mon-Yough area.

  • 'Heavy Rail': I love trains, too. But the railroads that own most of the tracks in the Mon Valley (CSX and Norfolk Southern) don't want passenger trains on their lines.

    Amtrak was created specifically so freight railroads wouldn't have to run passenger trains any more. Wondering why Amtrak trains always seem to run late? By law, freight trains have priority; Amtrak trains are only tenants on the tracks, and as any train buff tell you, the freight railroads don't miss many opportunities to screw up Amtrak.

  • Buses: Buses combine the joys of traveling in a crowded, smelly elevator with the inconvenience of getting your grandpa to drive you to work. Nobody willingly gives up a car to ride the bus. The bus is a public necessity because many people cannot drive, but it is not a highway alternative.

  • Maglev: Don't make me laugh. Maglev Inc. has wasted public and private money for almost 20 years without producing so much as a Lionel train. I have become firmly convinced that maglev, at least in Pennsylvania, is a perpetual motion machine powered by hot air.

  • Water Taxis, Car-Sharing, Bike Trails, Etc.: Sure, and why not personal jet-packs or self-propelled auto-gyros, too? Or giant pneumatic tubes to shoot people from McKeesport to the airport, where friendly dragons will fly us to Candy Land?

. . .

Highways Are Rotten, But...: I can think of 1,000 reasons why highways are bad ideas:

  • They Squander Oil: Not only do we need oil to run the cars and trucks, we need oil to pave the darn highways. It's really wasteful.

  • They're Maintenance Headaches: As Joe Grata pointed out in the Post-Gazette a few weeks ago, whenever we build new roads or bridges, we leave the old ones intact. Thus we keep increasing our maintenance headaches and adding to the infrastructure we have to maintain. For that reason ...

  • They Squander Tax Money: This should be obvious. We keep adding maintenance burdens faster than revenues can match them; liquid fuel taxes don't cover a fraction of the cost of building, maintaining, and providing emergency services for highways.

  • They Enable Sprawl: Building highways allows population to disperse thinly throughout an area, which requires more infrastructure, which wastes more oil and tax money.

    As Braddock Mayor John Fetterman has noted, highways also destroy a sense of community by allowing the "haves" (people with cars) to get further away from the "have-nots."

But it doesn't change the basic equation. People still like to drive on highways. Given a choice between working, living and shopping in places with highways, and places without highways, Americans overwhelmingly choose the former.

. . .

'Peak Oil': Depending on which alarmist you prefer, we have 20, 30, 40 or 50 years before pumping oil out of the ground and turning it into fuel becomes too expensive, and the current car-based economy collapses.

Human beings are very bad at looking at long-term consequences. Their thinking is, "In 50 years, I'll be dead." So: Arguing against highways on the basis of the long-term negative consequences might make you feel morally superior, but it won't convince the vast American public to move to a place without highways.

And if we wait 20, 30, 40 or 50 years to build the Mo-Fo, hoping that something else will come along, McKeesport, Duquesne and Clairton will be dead, too.

. . .

Get Here From There: I tell people that it takes me only about 15 minutes to get from Pittsburgh to McKeesport or most other places in the Mon Valley. I might as well give directions for driving from Jupiter to the Moon.

They don't want to hear about Irvine Street or Camp Hollow Road or Commercial Avenue. They want to know: "What exit do I take?" And to most non-natives, getting to McKeesport from the Parkway East seems like a terrible ordeal.

The last best hope for the Mon-Yough area is to serve as a bedroom community for people who work in Downtown Pittsburgh, Oakland, Monroeville, Cranberry, McMurray and elsewhere.

We have an abundance of inexpensive housing. We have recreational, cultural and educational institutions; we have hard-working people; we have beautiful vistas to see.

But because we don't have a major highway, 95 percent of the people who might like to relocate their family or their business to the Mon Valley never even visit.

. . .

By Any Other Name: My fellow expressway skeptic ADB actually floated an interesting idea last week as an alternative to the Mo-Fo: "acquire all the properties in the right of way, move them 50 ft. back and build a four-lane neighborhood boulevard."

I like it, even if the idea was meant sarcastically (the Bureaucrat also suggested that we "throw in a light rail line down the middle and give everyone a gold sovereign").

But when it comes right down to it, it's still a highway. Less objectionable in many ways, but still a highway. (And eventually, it would start to look like McKnight Road.)

So I'm gagging as I'm writing this, but I know it's true, and you do, too:

We are wasting time by looking for non-existent alternatives that may never come. Elected officials: Find a way, and just build the damned expressway.

OK, commenters. Now tell me I'm full of it.


Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Mon Valley Miscellany | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

September 03, 2007 | Link to this story

Happy Labor Day

Category: History, Politics || By jt3y

Above: United Mine Workers Vice President Philip Murray, Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Musmanno, railroad fireman Clinton S. Golden and other backers of the Steel Workers' Organizing Committee lead the union's first mass meeting from atop a coal truck at the McKeesport city garbage dump, June 21, 1936.

Mayor George H. Lysle had forbid the union organizers from meeting anywhere else in town.

. . .

"The enormous concern of the future is to divide its profits, not among hundreds of idle capitalists who contribute nothing to its success, but among hundreds of its ablest employees, among whose abilities and exertions success greatly depends." --- Andrew Carnegie, 1902

. . .

"It is important to this people to grapple with the problems connected with the amassing of enormous fortunes, and the use of those fortunes, both corporate and individual, in business.

"We should discriminate in the sharpest way between fortunes well-won and fortunes ill-won; between those gained as an incident to performing great services to the community as a whole, and those gained in evil fashion by keeping just within the limits of mere law-honesty. ...

"More important then aught else is the development of the broadest sympathy of man for man. The welfare of the wage-worker, the welfare of the tiller of the soil, upon these depend the welfare of the entire country; their good is not to be sought in pulling down others; but their good must be the prime object of all our statesmanship.

"Materially we must strive to secure a broader economic opportunity for all men, so that each shall have a better chance to show the stuff of which he is made.

"Spiritually and ethically we must strive to bring about clean living and right thinking. We appreciate also that the things of the soul are immeasurably more important.

"The foundation-stone of national life is, and ever must be, the high individual character of the average citizen." --- Theodore Roosevelt, 1906

. . .

"The problem of wealth will not down. It is obviously so unequally distributed that the attention of civilized man must be attracted to it from time to time. He will ultimately enact the laws needed to produce a more equal distribution." --- Andrew Carnegie, 1906

. . .

"We will try not only to secure a better economic position in life through processes of collective bargaining, but we will strive to supplement those efforts through the usages of improved social legislation and measures that will be of material value to our people as well." --- Philip Murray, 1936

. . .

"You express sympathy for a wage raise. I am sure the men appreciate the 'sympathy of management.' But when a steel worker goes to the clothing store, he is unable to cash the sympathy of management for a new suit of clothes, a dress for his wife, or shoes for his children to go to school." --- Philip Murray letter to Benjamin Fairless, president of Carnegie-Illinois Steel, 1936

. . .

"We are not communistic in theory, practice or deed. We are ordinary citizensÑmembers of a trade unionÑassuming the responsibility of trying to help our country and the people living in this country. This is our task.

"The SWOC has neither the time for, nor is interested in, any 'isms' other than unionism and Americanism. We are dedicated to American institutions. We are organizing American workmen into American unions. When that is done, America will be able to function for the benefit of all the people." --- Philip Murray, 1938

. . .

"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.

"With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: 'This is not just.'" --- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

. . .

"You work three jobs? Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." --- George W. Bush, 2005

. . .

Sources: George Swetnam and Helene Smith, The Carnegie Nobody Knows (Greensburg, Pa: McDonald-Sward Publishing Co., 1989); Theodore Roosevelt, letter to Elihu Root, May 20, 1904; Roosevelt, The Man with the Muck-Rake, speech of April 14, 1906; Vincent Sweeney, The United Steelworkers of America: Twenty Years Later (Pittsburgh: United Steelworkers of America, 1956); Martin Luther King, Jr., Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, speech of April 4, 1967; George W. Bush, President Discusses Strengthening Social Security in Nebraska, speech of February 4, 2005.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS FeedXML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: History, Politics | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites


Next Archive

Previous Archive