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October 31, 2007 | Link to this story

Murder Mystery

Category: History, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Because it's Halloween, I've looked around my tattered, dusty archives and found a grisly tale. Back in 1998, I was asked to write a "10 years later" piece on the Tony Michalowski murder for the Tribune-Review.

Well, it's 19 years later, and police still don't know how or why Michalowski was killed, or who dismembered him and scattered his remains in three Mon Valley towns, so it seems as good a time as any to look back.

Police always suspected Michalowski's killer was Robert Wayne Marshall, 37, of Shadyside, who was also a suspect in the death and dismemberment of another man. But before they could pull Marshall in for questioning in 1992, he took an overdose of pills and liquor and slashed his wrists open, committing suicide in May of that year.

You can read about the Michalowski case in the "Local History" section of Tube City Online. There doesn't seem to be anything else online about the case; who knows, maybe having it out there where Google can find it will prompt someone to remember the slaying.

. . .

In Related Stories: Floyd Nevling, who's quoted throughout the Michalowski story, was recently dismissed as Pleasant Hills police chief in what sure sounds like a political vendetta. The borough accuses Nevling of being unprofessional and creating a hostile work environment for police officers.

Nevling notes that these accusations only became an issue after he sued the borough for a disability pension, and after his wife won the Republican nomination for a seat on Pleasant Hills council.

Ah, local government in the Mon-Yough area ... making Chicago in the '50s seem sane by comparison!

. . .

The Shop Around The Coroner: Incidentally, if you read the Michalowski story, you'll also note that I quote former Allegheny County Coroner Joshua Perper. About a week after the original Michalowski story ran in 1999, I received a letter from Dr. Cyril Wecht, who (it's safe to say) dislikes Perper.

"It must have been difficult for you to write such a lengthy article about the coroner's office without mentioning my name," Wecht wrote to me. "Thank you for not associating me with the failings of my predecessor."

I still don't know if that was a slam or a compliment, but I treasured it anyway. I happen to be a fan of Wecht and own a couple of his books; unfortunately, what I really wanted was a letter from Wecht like this one.

Ah, maybe some day I'll get one. Then I'll know that I've arrived.

. . .

Sorry 'Bout That: You'll forgive me if Tuesday's Almanac never appeared. I spent most of the day in bed with a sinus headache, waking up only to head to my local grocery store, the House of Rancid Lunchmeat, where a large woman was haranguing one of the cashiers.

"Where the Halloween candy?" she asked.

"All we have left is what's on that shelf," the cashier said. There were a few lonely bags containing "fun-size" packets of M&Ms and plain chocolate Hershey bars.

The lady looked it over, snorted, then went back to the checkout line. The only thing she was buying was a 5-pound bag of Domino sugar.

I desperately wanted to ask, "Are you making your own Halloween candy? Or do you want a straw so you can eat that here?"

But I didn't, which is a good thing, because she easily outweighed me by 100 pounds and would have splatted me like a bug.

. . .

Also Noted: At the House of Rancid Lunchmeat, there was a neatly printed sign on the frozen-food cooler that said, "Due to the recall of Banquet pot pies, we are unable to sell them at the present time. Sorry for the inconvenience."

Underneath, someone had pasted a copy of a fax from ConAgra discussing the recall. On the fax they had written in felt-tip pen: "We are NOT ALLOWED TO SELL the pot pies. Don't ask!"

I'm assuming that people heard: "Hmm, Banquet pot pies were recalled because they might cause diarrhea, vomiting and rectal bleeding. Maybe the supermarket will sell 'em to me cheap! Whoo-hoo!"

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: We're in no need of our own Mensa chapter any time soon.

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October 29, 2007 | Link to this story

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Category: Alleged Journalism, Politics || By

Last week, a newspaper had the following headline on page 1, over what was described as an "investigative report":

Drawback is Hair Fall Out

Now, was that in the New Pittsburgh Courier, or The Onion?

I'll give you a hint: It wasn't raining last week. Those were bitter tears being wept in Heaven by Robert Vann, Teenie Harris and McKeesporter Hazel Garland.

Notes an Alert Reader: "Hard-hitting investigative stuff. With all of the problems in the black community -- black-on-black violence, fatherhood, just for two -- this is the subject they tackle. No doubt Vann has a new nickname in the cemetery -- 'Pinwheel.'"

Honestly, was it that slow in Pittsburgh that the Courier couldn't find anything else to write about? Jeepers.

. . .

In Other Business: In case you missed it, Colin Dunlap had a really wonderful piece in the Post-Gazette a week or so ago profiling the former Duquesne High School football players who transferred to East Allegheny, and who have proved to be a major factor in the Wildcats' current 6-3 record.

Writes Dunlap, "There have been no fights, no cross words, no hostility, no scenes. A divide anticipated by so many never materialized. Funny how things shake down -- the adults bicker and complain while the kids innately make it all work, meshing toward a common goal, ignoring the distractions."

The kids from Duquesne High, and their parents, are still awaiting their apologies from the North Versailles and East McKeesport "officials" who predicted anarchy would reign in the hallways at East Allegheny this year.

I hope they're not skipping desserts while they wait.

. . .

Wine, Wine, Whine: There was some great satire last Saturday by Chad Hermann over at Teacher. Wordsmith. Madman about the Picksberg mayoral race:

A Boy one day spied a beautiful bunch of FOP grapes hanging from a tree at a press conference along Banksville Road. The grapes seemed ready to burst with juicy endorsement, and the Boy's mouth watered as he gazed longingly at them.

The bunch hung from a branch with high standards and even higher expectations, so the Boy had to jump for it. The first time he jumped he missed it by a long way. The second time he jumped, he tried to knock them down with his golf clubs, but he still could not reach them. So he rode off a short distance in his Homeland Security SUV, had a couple of beers, and returned to try again, only to fall short once more. Again and again he tried, but always in vain.

Now he sat down and looked at the grapes in disgust.

"What a fool I am," he said. "Here I am wearing myself out to get a bunch of sour grapes that are not worth selling the taxpayers down the river for."

The moral, according to Hermann? "There are mayors who pretend to despise and belittle that which is beyond their reach."

Like this and this, I suppose.

. . .

And Finally: Last week, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney "accidentally" confused the names of Democratic candidate Barack Obama and terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.

According to Johnny Lightning last night on WBCQ, Obama has made an offer to Romney. Romney can continue to refer to Obama as "Osama," as long as Obama can refer to Romney as "that weirdo Mormon m.f.'er."

Hey, Johnny said it, not me.

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October 28, 2007 | Link to this story

The Greatest Generation

Category: History, Our Far-Flung National Correspondents, Politics || By

I always get in trouble when I write about politics, but eh, what the heck. The waters have finally settled since I dared to write about Khrushchev, so it's time to throw some raw meat to the sharks again.

Imagine that CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox are preempting their regular schedules tonight so that John Kerry can make a speech. (Boy, this really is fantasy!)

Now, imagine that this is what Kerry said, as reported by the Associated Press and carried by the Post-Gazette on the front page:

Kerry asserted that the record of the war to date was not such as to inspire "any sublime faith in the infallibility of our military and naval experts."

Reporting to the nation on his recent world tour, Kerry described as "misdirected censorship" the idea that non-military experts or persons unconnected with the government should refrain from making suggestions about the conduct of the war, "military, industrial, economic or political."

"Let's have no more of this nonsense," Kerry said. "Military experts, as well as our leaders, must be constantly exposed to democracy's greatest driving power --- the whiplash of public opinion developed from honest, free discussion."

After describing what he termed a "reservoir of goodwill" existing in the nations he visited on a trip which took him to the Middle East, China and Russia, Kerry asserted that this reservoir was "leaking dangerously" through holes punched not by Osama Bin Laden, but by us.

Kerry also scored what he termed the "half-ignorant, half-patronizing way in which we have grown accustomed to treating many of the peoples in Eastern Europe and Asia."

"Stupid, arbitrary and undemocratic" censorship, Kerry declared, has resulted in an "atrophy of intelligence," and he said the facts he collected on his trip "should be given to us all."

At another point, Kerry declared: "Men with great power usually like to live free of criticism. But when they get that way, that's the time to increase the criticism.

"We must fight our way through not alone to the destruction of our enemies, but to a new world idea," Kerry said. "We must win the peace."

. . .

What would be the reaction to a speech like that? Fox News would go insane. Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity would call for Kerry to be arrested on treason charges. The New York Post and Wall Street Journal would demand Kerry's resignation from the Senate.

President Bush would attack Kerry for "emboldening the terrorists," and his press secretary would go further; she'd call Kerry a coward and a traitor. New rumors would be circulated about Kerry's war record; conservative newspapers would begin dredging up more dirt on Teresa Heinz.

And the Democratic Party would quickly move to distance itself from Kerry's remarks, with Harry Reid saying that "Senator Kerry has gone too far" and each of the Democratic presidential candidates calling press conferences to denounce Kerry.

By the end of the week, Kerry's political career would effectively be over.

. . .

You knew this was a trick question, right? Because John Kerry wouldn't give a speech like that.

The speech, instead, was given almost exactly 65 years ago by Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican presidential nominee. I stumbled across the speech while doing research last week for Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.

Willkie wasn't talking about Osama Bin Laden, naturally. He was talking about Hitler.

Everything else is a direct quote from Willkie's Oct. 26, 1942 speech, as carried by NBC, CBS, Blue (later renamed ABC) and Mutual.

And naturally, none of those things that I predicted actually happened in 1942. Indeed, until his untimely death from a heart attack in 1944, Willkie continued to have a brilliant law career and remained an admired and respected figure. (My grandmother, a lifelong Democrat, named her dog for Wendell Willkie.)

In fact, one of Willkie's duties was to serve as a special envoy for FDR.

Imagine George W. Bush appointing Al Gore or John Kerry as a special envoy.

Forget it --- that taxes the imagination too much.

. . .

Willkie eventually went too far for the Republican Party's tastes when, in 1943, he defended the rights of a Communist Party member to advocate for the overthrow of the U.S. government. The case went to the Supreme Court; Willkie won.

Afterward, Willkie said: "Those who rejoice in denying justice to one they hate, pave the way to a denial of justice for someone they love."

Remember that if you think secret military tribunals, offshore prison camps, and torturing suspected terrorists is acceptable.

. . .

Think about Willkie's remarks as the White House continues to beat, beat, beat the drum for war with Iran.

Think about them every time a Fox News pundit or White House spokesperson attacks anyone who dares to question the President.

Think about them as the craven, cowardly Democratic Congress trembles in fear at the thought of opposing the Bush administration.

That's how badly the climate in this country has been poisoned by far-right-wing propaganda, and how badly skewed our perceptions are.

Try to skew yours back. I'm trying to skew mine back, too.

. . .

P.S.: I can't wait to see the comments this Almanac attracts. I'm afraid they're going to prove a point.

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October 25, 2007 | Link to this story

Dinner and a Show

Category: History, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

My old colleague and cow-orker, Scott Beveridge of the Observer-Reporter, has a look back at a beloved Mon Valley landmark, the Twin Coaches on Route 51 in Rostraver Township.

The nightclub, built around two old Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad passenger cars, was once among the largest in Western Pennsylvania and hosted stars like Bobby Vinton, Shirley Jones, Liberace, the Four Tops, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Johnny Mathis and Rosemary Clooney.

While campaigning for the presidency in 1960, John F. Kennedy dined at the Coaches on scrambled eggs and Stoney's Beer (it was a Friday and he couldn't eat meat), and Johnny Carson used to mention the nightclub on The Tonight Show.

As Scott points out, the era of the great night clubs like Monroeville's Holiday House and North Versailles Township's Vogue Terrace went into eclipse in the 1960s and 1970s, as musical tastes shifted from pop to rock 'n roll. The last entertainer booked at the Twin Coaches was Sammy Davis Jr.

But the Candy Man never got to perform. A spectacular fire destroyed the club 30 years ago this month --- ironically, as Scott notes, on the first day of Fire Prevention Week.

Anyway, go read it. I'll see you tomorrow.

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October 24, 2007 | Link to this story

Oh, Danny Boy, The Public's Searching

Category: Good Government On The March || By

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato wants to block users from searching the county's real estate website by the names of property owners.

According to Justin Vellucci of the Tribune-Review, Onorato told county council the website "has been used for purposes other than those intended by council, such as locating law enforcement officials, teachers, judges and victims of violent crimes."

Interestingly enough, according to Vellucci, Onorato's spokeswoman "could not provide details on those incidents Friday."

Hmm. I don't want to say Onorato might be blowing smoke, but there's a definitely a whiff of something in the breeze.

I don't deny that some baddies have likely used to the property assessment website to look for information on people. Here's the thing: Bad guys have always been able to find out the addresses of people they wanted to harm or stalk. I'm not convinced that the real estate website is such a clear and present danger. And whenever a property is bought or sold, the listing is published in the newspaper anyway. This is a fig leaf at best.

. . .

But do you know who else people can search for on the website? Politicians. They can find out what properties that elected officials own. They can see if those properties are being maintained. And they can see if those local officials are paying their real-estate taxes on time. That includes your school board members, state legislators, borough councilors, township commissioners, etc.

I am not accusing Onorato of any wrongdoing. But I'm against almost every measure to restrict access to public records that the public pays for. We already block the public from searching too many records in this state. (Pennsylvania's open records laws are among the worst in the nation.) We don't need to add more restrictions.

And I am 100 percent against measures which make it harder to keep public officials accountable.

If you care about holding your public servants accountable, write to your county council representative and tell him or her that removing the names from the property database is a bad idea:

  • Joan Cleary, District 6 (Baldwin, Baldwin Township, Brentwood, Castle Shannon, City of Clairton, Jefferson Hills, Pleasant Hills, South Park Township, West Elizabeth, Whitehall)

  • Dr. Chuck Martoni, District 8 (Braddock, Braddock Hills, Chalfant, Churchill, East McKeesport, East Pittsburgh, Edgewood, Forest Hills, Monroeville, North Braddock, North Versailles Township, Pitcairn, Rankin, Swissvale, Trafford, Turtle Creek, Wall, Whitaker, Wilmerding)

  • Bob Macey, District 9 (City of Duquesne, City of McKeesport, Dravosburg, Elizabeth, Elizabeth Township, Forward Township, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln, Port Vue, South Versailles Township, Versailles, West Mifflin, White Oak)

. . .

Braddock's Defeat: Alert Reader Derrick notes that the vacant A.J. Silberman & Sons wholesale grocery warehouse on Braddock Avenue in Braddock has already found a new owner, according to the Trib:

Trau and Loevner Inc., a supplier of imprinted sportswear, plans to relocate its distribution and warehouse facilities from Shadyside into the three former A. J. Silberman & Co. warehouses in Braddock.

The company recently completed the purchase of the 62,000-square-foot complex for $795,000. Its current site at 5000 Baum Blvd. in Shadyside was acquired by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said Martha Graham of Massaro Properties LLC, who represented Trau and Loevner in its purchase.

Silberman, a wholesale supplier of food, cigarettes, candy and beauty care products, is relocating to the former Mitchell Plastics Inc. building at 267 Blue Run Road in Indiana Township.

A reader from Braddock who wants to be anonymous writes:

The new tenant was described to me as a "T-shirt firm," apparently someone's idea of how to slander a long-established Western Pennsylvania business.

The Silberman boys never shared their father's feelings about helping poor Braddock. No doubt also, the idiots in charge of the Borough Council and the greedy tax collection firm compounded the problem.

What is unpleasant is the role of the state and county agencies in moving a major employer out of the Mon Valley so they can claim it as a new industry for Indianola (near Fox Chapel/O'Hara Twp). There was no chance this business would have moved to Ohio or another state.

There was a book a few years back titled "A Confederacy of Dunces." This problem resulted apparently resulted from an "Aggregation of A--holes." Sad.

The large mayor was so busy attracting non-paying artrists to Braddock he was unable to be a factor in preventing the loss of a major employer.

That's the nice thing about Braddock ... just when you think things can't get much worse, they surprise you!

. . .

A Discouraging Word: I'll add one thing ... Why, indeed, was the county involved in "helping" Silberman's relocate to poor, disadvantaged Indianaola?

A lot of people have found fault with the Waterfront development in Homestead, specifically that it turns its back on that community, Munhall and West Homestead. But one thing that impresses me is that Park Corp. and Continental Real Estate said they were going to tear down the Homestead Works and build a shopping complex ... and they did.

In McKeesport, Duquesne, East Pittsburgh and Turtle Creek, where abandoned mill sites are being handled by Allegheny County and the Regional Industrial Development Corp., it took 15 years just to pull down the buildings, and big tracts of property still remain empty.

Perhaps Homestead Works was easier to redevelop than National Works because it was adjacent to Pittsburgh.

But why --- 20 years after Westinghouse closed the East Pittsburgh Works --- isn't there more activity at the RIDC-run Keystone Commons? It's near two exits of the Parkway East and just a few minutes from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, connected to both via Route 30, Route 48 and the Tri-Boro Expressway.

Although there's arguably a need for RIDC and other county redevelopment agencies to work on certain projects, the agencies we have aren't proving their worth, and I suspect private developers would have done a better job in Duquesne and McKeesport by now.

Maybe RIDC and the county could spend more time in areas that need to be redeveloped, like the Mon and Alle-Kiski valleys, and less time in Warrendale (at the RIDC-run Thorn Run Industrial Park) and Indianola, where private industries have no trouble developing on their own.

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October 23, 2007 | Link to this story

It Could Happen To You

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, Politics || By

Sweet sainted ghost of Gilbert F. Myer, I never thought I'd see Port Vue on Page 2 of the Washington Post's "Style" section.

And I never, ever thought I'd see North Huntingdon Township on Page 1 of the "Style" section.

And I never, ever, ever thought that the road to one of the biggest divorce cases in Western Pennsylvania history was running right through Our Fair City.

No wonder philanthropist and publisher Richard Mellon Scaife bought the Daily News. He was driving past the building often enough.

. . .

When Mr. Scaife's divorce papers were plastered all over the Post-Gazette a month ago, I decided: I'm not touching those with a 50-foot pole.

First, it was unseemly.

Second, as much as I enjoy a steamin' glass of schadenfreude as much as the next guy, who amongst us has not been unlucky in love?

I could easily see myself in Mr. Scaife's place. We're a lot alike. After all, we're both self-made media moguls. Oh, sure, he inherited a few dollars, but my mom also bought me a bunch of Series E savings bonds when I was a kid, too.

Anyway, live and let live, that's my motto.

But David Segal of the Washington Post decided to wallow through them. Boy, did he ever! Editor & Publisher calls his story an "epic report" of the "tawdry divorce details."

And if anyone has leaped to the top of the Trib's fecal roster, it's Segal. Right now, I suspect Accuracy In Media is pounding out a 400-page "white paper" on how Segal doesn't wash his hands after going to the bathroom.

. . .

McKeesport-Area Lodgings: There's a lot of chortling over the fact that the notorious Doug's Motel on Route 30 in Stewartsville is featured prominently in the Washington Post story. When I covered North Huntingdon, it seemed like some of the patrons at Doug's were frequent fliers on the police blotter.

A quick Google search last night found Doug's (which has changed hands and its name) on a website for "swingers." Somehow I don't think they were talking about people who are fans of the Dodge Dart.

You know, there was a story in a local newspaper a few years ago about a much nicer motel in North Huntingdon ... oh, here it is! It's the Penn-Irwin Motel, near the turnpike.

Anyway, remember, if you have relatives coming in from out of town and they need a place to stay, Tube City Online has a handy guide to McKeesport-area hotels and motels.

The Huntingdon Inn (nee Doug's Motel) didn't make the list, unfortunately, but maybe it should, now that it's world-famous.

. . .

In Other Business: City Councilman Paul Shelly Jr. writes that the lawsuit alleging that the city violated its Home Rule Charter by allowing employees to run for public office "may not be over."

The lawsuit, filed by local political activist and school director Dave Donato, was specifically about the McKeesport Area School Board race. Last week, Allegheny County Judge Eugene Scanlon dismissed the suit.

I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that Scanlon is just punting the complaint to Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., saying (in effect) that if the charter was violated, then it's up to the DA's office to investigate, because it's a criminal matter, not a civil matter.

Though I don't want to make light of this, "it seems to me that we are engaged in a desperate battle for time," as Bob & Ray said in their classic skit, "Public Lawyer."

Council (sans Shelly) is trying to change the city charter and allow employees to seek certain offices. If the charter is changed, then Donato's complaint becomes moot.

But if the charter stands, then I suspect pressure will mount on either Zappala or the state Attorney General's Office to investigate. Tick ... tick ... tick ....

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October 22, 2007 | Link to this story

A Fruggin' Good Time

Category: History, Mon Valley Miscellany, Politics || By

Put on your poodle skirts and saddle shoes, girls! Guys, get out the Brylcreem and comb your hair into a "DA." "It's Pony Time"!

OK, this clip from about 1968 is too late for saddle shoes and Brylcreem. Would you believe Nehru jackets and go-go boots?

Last month on Pittsburgh Radio Nostalgia, local broadcast historian John Mehno posted a link to a clip on YouTube from "Teen Time," a live dance-party show on Steubenville's Channel 9. Channel 9, then a CBS affiliate called WSTV-TV, is now NBC affiliate WTOV-TV ... the calls changed in 1979.

"Teen Time" was hosted by Del Curtis, who as John and Ed Salamon pointed out on PRN, later worked for legendary New York City country station WHN (1050) under his real name, Del Demontreaux.

(Read the rest at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.)

. . .

In Other Business: This is not a photo of the Upper St. Clair police department trying to restrain the McKeesport Tigers on Friday night, but it's close:

(Photo credit: New York Daily News)

. . .

Continuing Decline of Civilization Dep't.: After reading this story, I'd swear that more and more people around here are eating dumb flakes for breakfast:

When the New Pittsburgh Courier reported last week that Sylvia Washington, who is Black, stormed out of the North Shore Deli after being greeted by an employee wearing a T-shirt depicting lynchings, the store’s’ owner, Karl Mattern, said he, too, was stunned by the incident.

“I grew up in this neighborhood. I know where my roots are, and people know me and my family and know we’re not like that,” he said. “I’ve known Sylvia for years, and for her not to come to me directly, blows my mind.

“I told (the clerk) this ain’t how things are here, but he’s a kid and they don’t always think. I got a business and my livelihood here—and I don’t go for that at all.”

It turns out that the T-shirt was promoting a local punk band; the designer said it's actually an "anti-racism" message.

Yeah, but ... who the heck thinks photos of people being lynched are appropriate to decorate a band T-shirt?

I think the lady is overreacting a little bit, but on the other hand, I can understand why she had that reaction.

I'm hoping the guy that made the T-shirt, and the kid who wore it, will both learn a lesson. I'm not holding my breath.

. . .

Silberman Move Confirmed: As first reported by The Valley Mirror and picked up here at Tube City Almanac on Sept. 18, Braddock's A.J. Silberman & Co. is moving to Indiana Township. According to Mike Mallory of Tarentum's Valley News Dispatch, it's a done deal, and the move is all but complete.

Silberman's website has already been updated with the new address.

Braddock Administrator Ella Jones told the newspaper that the borough is "comfortable" with the arrangements it made with Silberman's regarding its business privilege tax.

It was Braddock's ham-fisted attempts to penalize Silberman's over that tax that convinced the company to leave in the first place.

Mrs. Jones, you should not be comfortable. Braddock Borough Council extracted a pound of flesh from A.J. Silberman & Co. at the expense of chasing one of its few legitimate businesses away.

What's worse, your borough just told new businesses to stay out of Braddock --- as if any other discouraging signs were needed.

No, Mrs. Jones, you and the Braddock Borough Council should be upset and embarrassed, not "comfortable." Unfortunately, based on the past behavior of some councilors in Braddock, I think it's all but impossible to embarrass them.

. . .

Speaking of the Alle-Kiski Valley: This month's murder of 82-year-old Flo Ranta of Clairton was truly shocking in its brutality. That a 15-year-old kid killed her, basically for what seems like "kicks," is nauseating. Pat Cloonan had the story in the News.

Not quite as sickening, but definitely annoying, was this little item from the Valley News Dispatch about last week's Leechburg Area school board meeting:

High school Principal Cynthia Portman related concerns that band director Robert Reams has about the band travelling to Clairton for Friday's football game ...

Board member Robert Cinpinski recommended school administrators contact the Clairton School District and police department concerning security at Neil Brown Stadium. Board member John Peterman said Clairton officials put the team and band buses inside the stadium and there are separate bleachers on either side of the stadium for fans.

The board recommended the administration make the final call to whether the band and cheerleading squads should not go, but both units will either go or stay home.

That's gross. You might say their fears weren't motivated by racism, but it sure smells bad to me. The only thing Leechburg had to fear Friday night was the 67-8 whomping that Clairton's football team put on them.

The sooner that our attitudes around Western Pennsylvania move away from the mindset of 1957 Selma, Ala., the sooner we will stop losing young people in droves. Until then, they don't call us "Pennsyltucky" for nothing.

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October 19, 2007 | Link to this story

The 'Pittsburgh Mystique'

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

I'm not going to say what I think Serra Catholic High School's football team might be able to do this season. I don't want there to be an "Almanac jinx" like the Sports Illustrated jinx.

Let's just say I had a big, dopey smile on my face at Homecoming two weeks ago, when the Eagles pasted Bethlehem-Center, 54-14. My old religious studies teacher and faculty adviser, Mike Luft, was smiling, too.

"Did you ever think you'd see the day when Serra would score 50 points?" Luft, now principal, asked me.

"There were a few years when we didn't score 50 points all season," I said. I was exaggerating, but not much.

Our Fair City's other high school, up on Hershey Drive in Haler Heights, has plenty to smile about these days. Besides the football team's success under Coach Rich Bowen (they're ranked No. 2 in WPIAL Class A) things are looking good academically and financially, too, according to Luft.

Oh, yeah: And a few years ago, they finally put lights up at the football field.

When the Franciscan monks who had taught at Serra since its creation in 1961 announced they no longer had the personnel to send to McKeesport, a nasty rumor spread that the school was about to close, and enrollment fell. Now, there's a waiting list again.

. . .

I'm not going to make any specific claims that Serra is "better" academically than any other local high school. There are some awfully smart kids coming out of McKeesport, South Allegheny, East Allegheny, Woodland Hills, West Mifflin and elsewhere.

Also, Serra students are a self-selected sample ... do they do well academically because their parents insist they do well, or because of something they get at Serra?

Whatever the case, in my own graduating class, we had three National Merit Scholarship finalists, and we've now got a PhD, a couple of commissioned and non-commissioned military officers, a few corporate executives ... and me, doing whatever the hell it is I do. Serra continues to turn out good kids; one of last year's seniors, Luft said, received a full-ride scholarship to Notre Dame.

And the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is allowing regional high schools like Serra to incorporate themselves as independent entities. It was done to help North Catholic High School build its new campus in Cranberry, but it will also insulate the other high schools from any financial problems the diocese might have, and will make it easier for them to raise money. Serra received its charter earlier this year.

Serra has been forced to adapt to the Mon-Yough area's steadily declining population base. Besides McKeesport and vicinity, the school now accepts students from Gateway, Woodland Hills, Steel Valley, Ringgold and other fairly distant districts. They're attracted by the school's reputation, small class size, and family atmosphere.

. . .

One thing, unfortunately, does hold Serra back.

"It's the Pittsburgh mystique," Luft told me. "We're recruiting against Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic." Students and parents hear "McKeesport" and decide one of the Pittsburgh Catholic high schools is better because ... well, because it's in Pittsburgh.

I can understand why a kid from Edgewood might turn up his or her nose at going to McKeesport. How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Commercial Avenue in Swissvale?

But a lot of McKeesport-area residents are swayed by the "Pittsburgh mystique," too. We seem to educate a lot of kids who go away to college, get a job back in Western Pennsylvania, and buy a house ... in Cranberry. Or Moon. Or Murrysville. "I'm not going back to McKeesport," they say.

. . .

There's a defeatist attitude among many people who stay in McKeesport, too: "Your doctor (or lawyer, or whatever) couldn't be any good if he's in McKeesport."

(It's not exclusively a McKeesport malady. I'm sure you can hear the same thing said in other older cities, like Latrobe, Uniontown, Monessen and Jeannette.)

That attitude sure didn't exist a century ago, when Edwin Crawford built the world's largest tinplate factory on the Youghiogheny River, or when Seph Mack and Walter Shaw took over the G.C. Murphy Co..

It didn't even exist two generations ago when institutions like the McKeesport Symphony, the McKeesport Little Theater, and Serra were founded.

Having pride in one's community doesn't mean ignoring the problems. It means addressing the problems.

And it doesn't only mean pride in your sports teams, though I'm rooting for the Tigers to clobber Upper St. Clair tonight.

It also doesn't just mean nostalgia. It means determination to save what you have that's worth saving, and to build new, too.

. . .

I wish I knew how to make sure that the "best and the brightest" from the Class of 2008 at Serra, McKeesport, South Allegheny and elsewhere will stick around and contribute something back to the communities and people that raised them.

We can't change the fact that these are relatively small towns, or that we talk funny, or that the buildings are old. But are those necessarily bad things? (OK, the yinzer accent isn't necessarily a good thing.)

McKeesport and vicinity have a lot of assets. As a community, we need to accept responsibility to leave things better than we found them --- and instill that sense of responsibility in our friends and neighbors.

It starts with us. We need to do less complaining and mourning over what we don't have, and more investing time or money (whichever we can afford) in improving what we do have.

In the meantime, the only "Pittsburgh mystique" I'm dreaming about is on the North Side.

I'm hoping --- just once --- that the road to Heinz Field will go through Haler Heights.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: McKeesport hosts Upper St. Clair tonight at Weigle-Schaeffer Stadium, 1960 Eden Park Blvd., while Serra hosts Frazier at the high school campus, Hershey Drive. Kickoff in both games is 7:30 p.m. ... Tomorrow, there's a "harvest ball" dance at 7 p.m. at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street. Call (412) 678-6979 ... In Homestead, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, 903 Ann St., holds its fall festival and craft show from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Ethnic refreshments will be on sale Saturday, and there will be a bingo Sunday afternoon. Call (412) 461-9437.

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October 18, 2007 | Link to this story

Spare a Few Shekels

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

It's that time again. No, not Christmas, although they already have the decorations and Christmas candy on sale at Walgreen's in Pleasant Hills, right next to the Halloween items. (Arrgh!)

No, I'm talking about United Way time. Many employers are running their United Way campaigns right now. Back in 2004, I compiled a list of eligible United Way agencies from the Mon-Yough area. It's become an annual tradition around here (mostly because it makes it look like Tube City Almanac is published in the public interest).

Most of the agencies listed below receive United Way money only if you specifically write their code number onto your United Way form.

If you want your pledge to go to a specific organization in the Mon-Yough area, you have to say so.

I'm sure they'd appreciate it. Note that most employer-run United Way campaigns allow you to remain anonymous, so you won't be pestered by fundraisers.

If you know of any other local groups that are participating United Way agencies, add them in the comments section below, please.

City of McKeesport ("Our Fair City")

American Cancer Society, Mon-Yough Division: 1311
Boys & Girls Club of McKeesport: 7051
Long Run Children's Learning Center*: 406
Lutheran Service Society (Meals on Wheels): 3040
McKeesport Hospital Foundation: 888454
McKeesport Collaborative: 9514
Mon Valley Education Consortium: 2910
Mon Yough Community Services, Adult Training Center: 1490
Salvation Army, McKeesport: 4875
UPMC McKeesport hospital: 360
UPMC McKeesport Diabetes Center: 9354
UPMC McKeesport Oncology Center: 4905
UPMC McKeesport pediatrics center: 4904
YMCA of McKeesport: 112
(* --- formerly McKeesport Pre-School for Exceptional Children)

To see a list of United Way participating agencies located in the Mon-Yough area outside of Our Fair City, click on the "more" link ...


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October 17, 2007 | Link to this story

Radio is a Sound Salvation

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, Politics || By

I chipped in my nickel on the WDUQ controversy today over at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.

By the way, a few people (very few) have asked me recently: Whatever happened to the effort to bring a public radio station to the Mon-Yough area?

Briefly, the group that I'm involved with, called Lightning Community Broadcasting Inc., applied for a license back in 2001. We even approached the Redevelopment Authority of the City of McKeesport about acquiring space in The People's Building, and putting the transmitter on the roof. (I still think that's a good idea.)

But at the urging of the broadcasting lobby (and National Public Radio), the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress ignored the scientific data the FCC had collected and said small, 100-watt FM stations would cause too much interference.

That blocked our application and thousands of others, and the FCC was forced to reject them.

This was the first time, but not the last, that Republicans in Washington rejected scientific evidence in favor of something being spoon-fed to them by lobbyists.

(Ahem. Sorry, a little political editorializing crept in. Herbert Hoover, shown above while listening to Jack Bogut, would not approve.)

Anyway, with the change from Republican to Democratic control of Congress, legislators are trying to roll back the restrictions. U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Swissvale) is leading the effort, at the urging of Penn State Greater Allegheny Campus in McKeesport.

Back in 2000, our group was working with Penn State to apply for a shared license; Penn State ultimately decided to apply for its own license.

Well, in August of this year, we voted to help Penn State Greater Allegheny with their effort to get a radio license in any way that we can, including fundraising and technical help. We've written to their student-run Internet radio station (WMKP) and their faculty adviser with that offer, and we're waiting for a response.

When I hear more, I'll let you know. The comment line is open. What's on, your mind?

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October 16, 2007 | Link to this story

Decline and Fall of Newspapers Dep't., Part MCXVII

Category: Alleged Journalism, Politics || By

Lots of people in the newspaper business are worried about ... um ... the future of the newspaper business.

One of the nation's savviest businessmen, Warren Buffett, owns the Buffalo News and a large portion of the Washington Post, and he says that if cable TV and the Internet had been invented before newspapers, newspapers would never have existed at all.

"Fundamentals are definitely eroding in the newspaper industry," Buffett wrote this year to shareholders of his conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, arguing that newspaper executives "were either blind or indifferent to what was going on under their noses," and that they are "constantly losing ground in the battle for eyeballs."

Meanwhile, newspaper industry analyst John Morton argues in this month's issue of American Journalism Review that newspapers are right now fumbling the transition to the Internet.

And over at the Poynter Institute's Web site, journalism professor Roy Peter Clark is arguing that we have a moral obligation to buy a newspaper every day. (Tube City hard-hat tip: Dave Copeland.)

"I have no proof, but a strong feeling, that even journalists, especially young ones working at newspapers, don't read the paper. That feels wrong to me -- and self-defeating," Clark says. "So join me, even you young whipper-snappers. Read the paper. Hold it in your hand. Take it to the john. Just read it."

. . .

That's right, you young whipper-snappers! Buy a newspaper!

"But" --- I hear you say --- "what am I missing in our two local metropolitan newspapers?"

Why, I'm glad you asked, hypothetical straw-man I made up for the sake of my argument!

I do my part by buying at least one newspaper every day. Let's look at two articles I read over the weekend, hmm?

. . .

On Saturday, One of America's Greats featured an op-ed by former reporter Gene Jannuzi, who wrote about this new phenomenon on the Intarwebs called "spam":

Now it's time to reveal how SPAM became spam. Wikipedia tells us. Blame it on a skit by Monty Python's Flying Circus about 20 years ago.

The skit is set in a cafe where every item on the menu includes SPAM Luncheon Meat. The server calls out the SPAM-packed items, while patrons sing a song that goes, "SPAM SPAM SPAM, wonderful SPAM," to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." Soon after that skit SPAM morphed into spam, which became the name of unwanted e-mail.

. . .

Where to begin ... first, junk email has been flooding in-boxes since at least 1994, when I and millions of other Usenet readers saw our first piece of crap from Canter & Siegel. The definition of "spam" as "junk email" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary way back in 1998.

Running a column about spam now is about 10 years too late.

Second, Monty Python broke up more than 20 years ago. In fact, according to Jannuzi's source (Wikipedia) the "Spam" sketch was first broadcast in 1970. That's closer to 40 years ago than "about 20." And, um, the song in the sketch doesn't sound anything like "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean."

Other than that --- hey, great piece! That was worth 50 cents.

. . .

How are things across the river? Let's check Sunday's column by Tribune-Review editorial page editor Colin McNickle, who wrote about the Nobel "Fraud" Prize:

For his "work" on global warming, former Vice President Al Gore on Friday was named the 2007 co-winner of the now thoroughly discredited prize along with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It might as well have been the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (bad fiction at that, filled with historical inaccuracies) or the Wurlitzer Prize for Organic Circular Illogic given the dung both have been peddling as seasoned cordwood ...

Never mind that the work of Gore and the U.N. panel are rife with errors so significant that they are a mockery of the scientific method and disgrace the word "education."

. . .

"Never mind that the Trib," you'll recall, unsuccessfully argued for years that Vincent Foster's death was part of a vast conspiracy led by Hillary Clinton, that Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham murdered her husband, and, more recently, that Russ Grimm was the new head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It seems to me --- a failed newspaper reporter who "couldn't hack it," according to some people at the Trib --- that newspapers with those kinds of track records should be careful before accusing others of being "rife with errors" and "filled with historical inaccuracies."

I'm not even going to address the meat of the argument. Sure, the United Nations is wrong about climate change.

So are the World Health Organization, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and the governments of the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France and Norway.

They're all wrong on global climate change, and the Tribune-Review is right.

And I have a bridge in Versailles to sell you.

. . .

Why are newspapers failing? Let's blame reporters, the Internet, cable TV, the education system, the economy, sunspots, Al Gore, and climate change.

But don't blame the fact that many major newspapers (or at least their editors) are hopelessly out of touch.

So --- hey! Go buy a newspaper! I hear "Marmaduke" is hysterical today.

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October 15, 2007 | Link to this story

Beat 'Em, Bucs!

Category: History || By

Above, in a photo scanned from Jim O'Brien's book Maz and the '60 Bucs, you see Benny Benack's "Iron City Six" playing outside Forbes Field before Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

The hand holding the upright bass belongs to my friend and mentor, the late Larry Slaugh of McKeesport. (Larry, as much as anyone, deserves credit for warping my young psyche.)

For more than 20 years, Larry taught music in the Greensburg-Salem School District, but he made a good piece of change on the side playing bass in various bands, including with Benack, a bandleader from Clairton who led several Dixieland combos, and like Larry a graduate of Carnegie Tech's music department. (One of Benack's bands was made up of music teachers such as Larry. It was called, naturally, "Benny Benack and The Schoolteachers.")

. . .

During the Pirates' run to the 1960 National League pennant, Joe Negri and Seymour Bloom wrote a raucous little novelty record called "Beat 'Em, Bucs!" Benack recorded the tune using his standard sidemen, including Larry.

(You can hear it by scrolling about halfway down this webpage devoted to Pirates sound files. The song makes "Meet The Mets" sound quiet and dignified by comparison.)

Anyway, the record took off like a rocket. And when the Bucs landed in the World Series, Benack was hired by Pittsburgh Brewing Co. to play outside Forbes Field before the home games on behalf of Iron City Beer.

Naturally, Pittsburgh Brewing wanted the band outside Forbes Field to sound like the band on "Beat 'Em, Bucs." Well, that presented a problem, since the musicians on "Beat 'Em, Bucs" were part-time musicians, like Larry, who had day jobs.

Yet who would pass up an opportunity to play outside a stadium during the World Series?

. . .

Needless to say, five suburban music teachers mysteriously got sick (cough, cough) every time the Pirates played at home. Then they donned straw hats, bow-ties and linen "Southern-style" sportcoats, and went down to Forbes Field to play Dixieland jazz on the back of a flatbed truck.

As Larry told the story, on Oct. 13, 1960, he was merrily playing away on South Bouquet Street in Oakland as 36,000 fans streamed into the gates. Then at one point he looked down into the crowd and straight into the eyes of an assistant principal from Greensburg-Salem.

But the assistant principal was playing hooky, too. So he shrugged and smiled, and wordlessly they agreed not to rat each other out.

It was the perfect crime, and Larry had gotten away with it.

. . .

Fast forward several months to the end of the school year. There was an assembly in the gym at the school where Larry was teaching, and the district had arranged for a film of highlights of the 1960 Pirates season to be shown. (I have no idea if it was "We Had 'Em All The Way" by Bill Beal, and unfortunately, I can't ask Larry, but I suspect it was.)

Everything was fine until the film started depicting the excitement outside Forbes Field during Game 7 of the World Series. And as the camera panned across Benny Benack and his "Iron City Six," it paused for what seemed like an eternity on the bass player, who was wearing what Larry remembered years later as "a big sh-t-eating grin."

The whooping and yelling by the kids in the auditorium was something like what the crowds did at Forbes Field on Oct. 13, 1960 when Mazeroski hit the homer.

. . .

For more nostalgia, click over to Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online, where today you can read about the broadcasting setup for the 1960 World Series and hear the real call (not a re-creation) of Maz's historic, game-winning shot.

And Larry, I hope I did justice to your story.

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October 13, 2007 | Link to this story

Return of The Cranky Old Coot

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

I'm with PittGirl on the "Bodies" exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center. Call me an ignorant, small-minded fool, but seeing muscles and tissues unspooled and on display turns my stomach.

And no, I'm not swayed at all by the endorsement of former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht, J.D., M.D., L.S./M.F.T., the man who Doug Hoerth calls "one of the nation's leading introverts":

"I think it's fascinating. As much as I've been told about how wonderful it is, I'm truly impressed," Wecht told center Director Joanna Haas and exhibition medical adviser Roy Glover, who accompanied him on the tour of nine galleries filled with about 200 body specimens and 15 full cadavers preserved with silicone rubber.

Wecht walked away from it with a new sense of awe.

"It makes you think about the marvelous, incredible structure of the human body, its complexity, the way in which all of these things function and the interrelationship of the organ systems," he said.

The opinion of Pittsburgh's one-time leading pituitary gland salesman notwithstanding, I can think about the "marvelous, incredible structure of the human body" without looking at 24 feet of human entrails.

To me, there is also something vaguely unsettling about gawking at someone's most private parts, even if the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has concluded that it's OK by them, ethically speaking.

If you went, more power to you. But I have a feeling you're going to have a hard time looking in the meat case at Giant Eagle for a while.

. . .

Speaking of Wecht: Looking for information on the "Bodies" exhibit, I discovered that Our Guy Cy has a blog, but it hasn't been updated since August 2006. Does this mean Cyril Wecht has run out of things to say?

. . .

The War's Over For God's Sake!: Have you taken a walk through Barnes & Noble or Borders lately? They already had entire sections devoted to nothing but World War II books.

They now also have an entire rack of magazines about World War II.

(Why, by the way? What new information is breaking about World War II that requires a monthly or quarterly magazine?)

I come home and turn on the TV, and there's Ken Burns' damned World War II documentary running on PBS (it's already on sale on DVD).

And if I turn on the History Channel any time of the day or night, chances are they're running something about World War II. (The red "H" in the corner of the screen doesn't stand for "History." It's for "Hitler.")


I think a lot of you people secretly admire the Nazis, and are hoping that maybe, in one of these documentaries, Hitler will win.

Stop it! If I see you with a book, magazine, TV show, board game, playing cards, obscene sampler or toilet-seat cover commemorating World War II, and you didn't actually live through the war, I'm going to sieg heil right in your face, and to hell with der Fuehrer!

. . .

And Another Thing: If you put up orange twinkle lights, cotton spider webs, and giant inflatable ghosts for Halloween, you're an idiot.

A jack o'lantern? Fine. A cardboard witch on the front door? Knock yourself out.

But decorating your house for the month of October is twisted. Stop trying to turn every single holiday into Christmas. Get some other pointless hobby.

Put up a website, for instance.

. . .

Time to Cut Back to Decaf: A few times a week, I stop at my neighborhood Shop'n Rob to get a cuppa coffee and a tasty, delicious doughnut.

Often I have to wait behind someone who spends 10 minutes futzing around with coffee flavorings and special creamers.

If you have to add cinnamon, chocolate, nutmeg, caramel, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme to your damned coffee, let's face it: You don't really like coffee. Just buy a Coke or a Pepsi instead. Seriously.

So get out of my way. If I'm stopping at the BP station at 7 a.m., I really, really need my coffee. You'll be lucky if I don't hit you with my cane.

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October 10, 2007 | Link to this story

Barney Google, With The Goo-Goo-Googley Maps

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Sorry, Liberty Borough, you didn't make the cut. Your fellow South Allegheny Gladiators in Port Vue and Lincoln are out of luck, too, and so is most of Glassport.

Our Fair City also got short shrift, and Braddock was completely ignored, but Duquesne made out like a bandit, as did Rankin, West Mifflin, East McKeesport and North Versailles Township.

I'm talking about the "Street View" feature on Google! Maps, the newest service of the web-searching behemoth.

Google! Maps already featured satellite and aerial imagery; the Pittsburgh region (also known as "Greater McKeesport") is now one of 15 metropolitan areas whose streets were prowled by Google's camera crews to capture low-resolution, 360-degree pictures.

You can learn how to use the Street View feature by visiting Google's help page.

North Versailles native and sometime Almanac reader Jim Lokay had the story on KDKA-TV last night, but he covered it from Market Square in Picksberg.

Inexplicably, he didn't visit his alma mater, which is included in Google's Street View feature, as is a certain bowling alley in Pitcairn called "Lokay Lanes."

Yet big swaths of the Mon-Yough area aren't covered, and some of the omissions are puzzling.

One side of White Oak is done, but the opposite side isn't. Patches of North Huntingdon have been photographed, but parts of Monroeville weren't.

At first I thought they might have selected more populous census tracts and ignored smaller ones, but why do parts of Penn Township and not Elizabeth Township?

And there doesn't seem to be any demographic pattern --- meaning I don't see any race or income-based selectivity. Duquesne (no one's idea of a wealthy community), for example, is well-covered.

It looks to me as if the Google folks drew a rough circle around the Golden Triangle and covered most of the streets within that circle, then grabbed some of the busier secondary roads. I suspect the blank areas (like Braddock and Braddock Hills) will eventually be filled in.

As best I can tell from various clues (the Street View image was taken after Eastland Mall was demolished, for instance, while Kennywood's parking lot is full) the photos were all taken this summer.

According to Elwin Green's story in yesterday's Post-Gazette, Google is sensitive to privacy concerns, and if someone wants their picture removed, they can ask Google to remove it, but according to Wired Magazine, it's not all that easy.

I had trouble finding Google's own help page on the topic, and when I did find the text, it turned out to be fairly terse.

(Green's employer is pictured on Street View, by the way, and so is the competing newspaper across the river. But the great, gray lady of Lysle Boulevard is only barely visible.)

But as Green points out, "Street View" is not real-time video, and the pictures are fairly blurry and indistinct. You'd have a hard time making out facial features or license plate numbers or other identifying information, and your rights to privacy on a public street are almost non-existent.

Besides, anyone who wanted a picture of your home or business could just drive past and take one.

So, I wouldn't get too concerned about your privacy being invaded, and anyway, there's a much bigger problem to worry about.

Playing with Google's Street View is an enormous time waster. You could easily lose an hour or three scrolling around different neighborhoods.

Does anyone remember how we shirked responsibilities before the Internet?

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October 09, 2007 | Link to this story

Sweet Smell of Success

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

I hadn't been to the flea market at the Wallboard Township Twin Drive-In for several weeks, because I didn't need any moldy 8-track tapes, dirty stuffed animals, out-dated copies of Sports Illustrated, or expired bottles of Tylenol.

But just for something to do, I drove over there this weekend.

To my surprise, I found vendor after vendor selling gas masks of every variety, so I asked one man why they were so popular.

"There's a lot of demand around here," said Joe Fonebone, chewing on a Marsh-Wheeling stogie. "All of a sudden everybody thinks they got methane."

"Oh, yeah, everybody from Versailles comes down here, they want a gas mask," said his neighbor, Mary Potzrebie, whose own table was laden with gas masks, flower pots and mildewed copies of National Geographic.

"Not just Versailles," Fonebone said, "people from 10th Ward and Port Vue, too. They can't stand the stink from the sewage plant."

"I saw the article in the paper," I said. "I guess it gets pretty bad."

"Smells like an earthquake in a graveyard," Potzrebie said.

"And there's always need for gas masks for people who live in Liberty Borough," Fonebone said.

"Because of Clairton mill?" I asked.

"It sure ain't 'cause of the slag pond in Dead Man's Hollow," Potzrebie said. "Of course, some people say the smell is worse on Friday nights during football season. You see, when the wind shifts over Glassport stadium ..."

I quickly cut him off. "What else is selling around McKeesport besides gas masks?" I asked.

"Everything you'd expect," Fonebone said. "Air Wicks. Nose plugs. Spring-loaded clothes pins ..."

"But not maps," Potzrebie said. "People don't need maps. If they smell rotten eggs, they're near Versailles. Fire and brimstone, you must be near Clairton. And if you're near Downtown McKeesport or the 10th Ward, it smells like sh..."

"... surely," I interrupted, "the sewage plant situation is temporary. And the Clairton Works has smelled bad for as long as I can remember. So once the methane scare in Versailles ... um ... blows over, aren't you going to be stuck with a lot of unsold gas masks?"

Mr. Fonebone snorted, pulled another Marsh-Wheeling from his shirt pocket and bit off the end. "I already got a plan if that happens," he said.

"Yeah?" I said.

He nodded and grinned. "Just wait until April. I'll stand out front of PNC Park and sell 'em on opening day."

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October 04, 2007 | Link to this story

Happiness is a Warm What?

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, Politics || By

As you've probably heard by now, on Saturday night a Grover Street resident shot and killed a man who police say was trying to force his way into the house. Another man was seriously wounded.

I've seen several gun enthusiast sites lauding this story as a reason why gun-control laws are a bad idea, and why everyone should arm themselves.

Something similar happened after the Virginia Tech shootings. Anti-gun control advocates said the bloodshed there could have been prevented if more students were packing heat. And when Ronald Taylor went on a shooting rampage in Wilkinsburg back in 2000, Dimitri Vassilaros wrote the same thing in the Tribune-Review.

Now, I'm no gun-control nut. People have a right to own a legal weapon and to defend themselves when necessary. And if someone's going to get hurt, I want it to be a bad guy, not a law-abiding citizen.

But I know a fair number of cops, and I've never had one tell me the biggest crime problem in the United States is "not enough weapons." In fact, even the cops I've known who were gun buffs have told me that our existing gun laws stink, and that enforcing the toothless regulations we do have is almost hopeless because too many cheap weapons are flooding the market.

So I don't know if the lesson to take away from the Grover Street shooting is, "More guns, please."

Seriously. Do you think Virginia Tech's campus would be safer if 18-year-old freshmen were carrying 9-mm pistols? I know some 18-year-olds who I wouldn't trust with plastic forks and knives. Ditto for little old ladies riding the bus in Wilkinsburg.

As a civil libertarian, I believe in the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

But I look forward to the day when we can have an honest debate about what the Second Amendment really means.

Lots of things guaranteed by the Bill of Rights are sanely regulated. "Freedom of speech," for instance, doesn't extend to libel, slander or inciting a riot.

And we (mostly) sanely and effectively regulate ownership of lots of things that aren't mentioned in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, like dogs, cats, boats, trains, cars, airplanes, sliced bread, wrapped gum, and hundreds of others.

Each of those things are completely safe when used as intended. We should be able to sanely and effectively regulate things whose only intended purpose is to maim, wound or kill. But the issue has been so corrupted by political lobbying groups, I'm not holding my breath.

In my darkest moments, I wonder why the most fervent gun control opponents seem to be people in rural or semi-suburban areas, far away from city neighborhoods where most gun crimes are being committed.

Are they hoping that enough poor people and minorities will kill each other to reduce their populations?

Or do they just not care because "it's only the (blacks/Hispanics/Asians/crackheads) shooting each other"?

Either way, because of the shooting on Grover Street, there's apparently one less bad guy in the world.

How come I don't feel any safer?

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Posted at 12:00 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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October 03, 2007 | Link to this story

Be Careful What You Wish For

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

When I interviewed for a job at the Daily News in the fall of 1997, suburban editor Dave Fennessy asked me a standard question: "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?"

"I'd like to be editor of a little weekly newspaper someplace," I said.

Well, I jinxed myself. For whatever reason --- perhaps I didn't get out of the way fast enough --- last week, almost 10 years to that fateful day, I was named the editor of our official weekly newspaper where I work.

Seriously, God, this is really funny and all, but I was thinking more along the lines of the Claysville Weekly Recorder or the Bentleyville Times.

I don't like to talk about work too much here. Suffice to say it's a promotion, and I'm very honored and a little bit intimidated. I'd make some joke here about the fact that I've had to change my underpants several times this week, but I haven't. It was all scared right out of me when I got the news.

People keep asking me if I "like it so far." Ask me if (when! I mean when!) the paper actually goes out the door on time.

Anyway, right now I'm shoveling copy as fast as I can, and I have two freelance jobs that are due this week, plus a big article I'm working on for PBRTV. (It never rains, but it pours.)

As another Daily News editor, the late Marie Havrilla, once told me: "If they strapped a broom to your a--, you could sweep the floor while you walk."

So if the Almanac is sucking this week (more than usual, I mean), I hope you, gentle reader, will understand. There just isn't a whole lot left in the tank right now.

By next week, I'll either have found my groove and life will settle down, or I'll be pumping gas at Tyke's Gulf on Greensburg Pike.

Or possibly I'll be rocking back and forth and finger-painting at Hillside Psychiatric Clinic.

One way or another, things should be back to normal (or what passes for them) at the Almanac.

But if entries next week look like they've been finger-painted, at least you'll know where to find me. And if you visit, bring me tapioca pudding. That's my favorite.

. . .

(P.S.: As always, opinions expressed at Tube City Almanac are not those of my employers or any organizations with which I might be affiliated. And the nurses who bring my meds agree.)

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October 02, 2007 | Link to this story

Picture Book

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

I haven't succumbed to gas fumes (or even hot air) from Versailles, but the editorial dept. at Tube City Almanac has been very busy this week. Your patience is appreciated. We should resume normal service temporarily.

Rather than posting the canned goulash picture, how about some pictures from this year's International Village? None of these are being submitted for Pulitzer consideration, but they should give you the flavor (no pun intended) of the three-day festival.

Just call us the International Village Green Preservation Society.


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