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Filed Under: So-Called Radio Humor || By

April 30, 2008 | Link to this story

A Word from Our Sponsors

Category: So-Called Radio Humor || By

We now pause Tube City Almanac for these words from two of our sponsors, which may in fact actually be content from my lousy radio show:

(P.S.: Make sure to visit the Modern Mechanix blog. It's a wonderful time-waster.)

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April 29, 2008 | Link to this story

Give McKeesport the Business

Category: Local Businesses, News || By

Business development in McKeesport is not an contradiction in terms.

And that's what the city will try to prove tomorrow to more than 150 business owners and local officials at the first McKeesport Economic Development Summit, to be held at the Palisades Ballroom, Fifth Avenue at Water Street.

Events begin with a catered luncheon at noon, and featured speakers will include Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato; District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Jr.; Jack Machek, regional director of the state Department of Community and Economic Development; Richard Roberts, owner of Book Country Clearinghouse in Christy Park; Chuck Starrett, coordinator of the Clairton-Duquesne-McKeesport Enterprise Zone; and Bob Stevenson, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corp., owner of the industrial park at the former U.S. Steel National Works.

Public safety officials, including city police Chief Joe Pero and others, are expected to attend and will field questions.

Director of Community Development Bethany Budd Bauer says exhibitors also will include representatives of McKeesport Housing Corp., Blueroof Technologies, career-training agencies, the McKeesport Trail Commission, and various local government agencies and nonprofits.

The afternoon is designed as a networking opportunity for entrepreneurs who might be interested in relocating to the Mon Valley, as well as for people who already own or operate businesses in the city, Bauer says.

"We have some programs available in McKeesport that we're not sure if our existing businesses are aware of, so we're trying to get the word out," she says.

Those programs include county, state and federal tax incentives and low-interest loans targeted at distressed neighborhoods and "brownfield" (former industrial) sites.

Mayor Jim Brewster would also like to highlight some of the economic development projects that are underway, but which might not be obvious to business owners or residents.

That includes the planned "flyover" ramp between Lysle Boulevard and the RIDC industrial park, which will allow traffic to bypass the two railroad crossings (at Locust and Center streets) which provide the only access to the facility.

Construction of the flyover, to be placed at the foot of Coursin Street*, is expected to begin within 12 months. Ground was recently broken for a similar ramp between Route 837 and the RIDC park in Duquesne.

"When you work in city hall, you know about all of the projects we have going on, but you don't know if people in the city or the surrounding communities are aware of them," Bauer says.

Besides trying to attract entrepreneurs, Brewster said earlier this month that he's trying to open a dialogue with existing businesses.

Often times, he said, business owners don't know where to turn with complaints, and decide to move away instead.

"We should be reaching out to them," Brewster said. "When you're business friendly, that's friendly to your residents, because it lowers their tax burden."

Brewster is encouraging city council members to participate.

Although RSVPs were requested by April 24, Bauer says late reservations will be accepted. Call Karen or Johanna at (412) 675-5020.

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April 28, 2008 | Link to this story

S.S. McKeesport Memorial Tomorrow

Category: Events || By

Whatever McKeesport's other fame --- or notoriety --- no name was a more welcome sight to the French suffering under the German occupation in 1940. Wrote Norman H. Davis, chairman of the American Red Cross, to Time magazine:

The S.S. McKeesport, loaded with all sorts of supplies and enjoying safe conduct from the British blockade authorities, is now headed for Marseille where its cargo will be distributed to the millions of refugees and war-wounded in Southern France under the direction of American Red Cross representatives.

In 1945, when the American cruiser USS Pittsburgh was struck by a typhoon and its bow section broke away, wags on board nicknamed the smaller piece the "U.S.S. McKeesport." Both pieces of the Pittsburgh made it safely to Guam.

The real S.S. McKeesport was a World War I-era freight-carrying ocean liner operated by the American Hampton Roads Line through the 1920s and '30s. Along with other civilian freighters, it was pressed into service for the U.S. Navy during World War II.

That's when the McKeesport met a grim fate. On April 29, 1943, while part of a Allied convoy in the North Atlantic, Nazi submarine U-258 torpedoed the McKeesport.

Renowned U.S. naval historian Samuel Eliot Morrison reported that the McKeesport's crew under the command of U.S. Naval Reserve Ensign Irving H. Smith "stood by their guns until ordered to abandon ship" but were unable to spot the U-boat and return fire.

One crewman died of exposure in the icy waters; 68 others were rescued.

As they have for the past several years, veterans, naval reservists and others will gather tomorrow morning at McKees Point Marina, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, to honor the McKeesport with a wreath-laying ceremony.

Events begin at 11 a.m. Music will be provided by the McKeesport Area High School Tiger Band.

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April 25, 2008 | Link to this story

75 Years on the 'Baum Squad'

Category: History, Local Businesses || By

If you grew up in Penn's Woods, Highland Meadows, Manns-Conroy, Golfview or any of the other suburban housing plans that sprung up around McKeesport in the 1950s and '60s --- or if you live in one of those houses now --- tomorrow is your chance to say "thank you."

All of those neighborhoods were developed with help from the city's Wilson Baum Agency, which on Saturday will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a barbecue, open house and live remote broadcast of Jack Etzel's handyman show.

Even if you didn't grow up in a house from Wilson Baum, you're invited, too, to celebrate with what used to be called "The Baum Squad" in advertisements.

A former Wilson Baum Agency employee came up with that slogan decades ago, says Robert W. Baum, who now runs the agency his father founded in 1933. "She said I should have paid her royalties," he says with a laugh.

. . .

Wilson Baum wasn't just involved in housing development, of course. Bob Baum estimates that the elder Baum also approved more than $105 million in mortgages for McKeesporters over the years.

Since many of the mortgages were tiny by today's standards --- houses valued at less than $5,000, with monthly payments of $15 or $20 --- an awful lot of Mon Valley families must have purchased their first home with the help of a loan arranged by Wilson Baum.

"I can remember a big mortgage payment being $130 --- wow!" jokes Bob Baum, who is celebrating his own 50th anniversary in real estate this year. "You wondered how they could afford it."

These days, about two dozen employees, based in the agency's offices at the corner of Walnut Street and Long Run Road, handle more than 300 home sales per year and millions of dollars in residential, personal and commercial insurance for people throughout the Mon Valley.

And they still broker home financing, too, through a division called Abby Mortgage Inc. (It's named for Bob Baum's seven-year-old long-haired dachshund, who accompanies him to the office.)

. . .

Wilson Baum is also a franchise (they prefer the term "branch-ise") of Pittsburgh's Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, which is now the seventh-largest real estate brokerage in the United States. That gives the McKeesport agency national reach.

"There was a time that I didn't want to sell a house more than three miles away," Baum says. "Now, I'll list a house in Erie."

That's pretty tall cotton for an agency that was started almost by accident in 1933, when Wilson W. Baum was working for Montgomery Ward & Co. in Butler, and living with his father, a Methodist minister, in a church parsonage.

Wilson Baum's brother Herb was the McKeesport representative of a Harrisburg-based savings and loan. When he was transferred to the Pittsburgh office, Herb Baum was asked to recommend a replacement. He suggested his brother.

So Wilson Baum rented a tiny office on the second floor of 520 Locust St., Downtown, to collect deposits and arrange mortgages for the State Capital Savings & Loan Association.

. . .

Bob Baum doesn't know why his father branched into selling houses. But it was the Depression, and the state didn't require real estate agents to have a license then. One suspects that Wilson Baum first got into real estate to help sell the houses of mortgage customers who couldn't meet their payments.

In fact, during the dark days of the 1930s, Wilson Baum sometimes made payments on his customers' houses to keep them out of foreclosure. Bob Baum has found a ledger several inches thick recording payments that his father made on behalf of struggling homeowners --- including some prominent local families.

"He and my mother used to save 35 cents so that they could afford to go to the movies every two weeks," Bob Baum says. "That was their entertainment."

State Capital required Baum's mortgage customers to obtain fire insurance, so he started offering that, too. From there, Wilson Baum Agency kept growing, acquiring four other McKeesport real estate companies and opening branch offices in Greensburg, New Kensington and North Huntingdon. (The last of the branch offices was sold a few years ago.)

Despite that, Wilson W. Baum never wanted to own any real estate or stocks of his own. "Everything he saved, he saved in a passbook savings account," Bob Baum says, and when State Capital Savings was swallowed by several larger savings and loans, his father was distressed.

The elder Baum died at age 74 in 1985, so he didn't live to see the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, which pushed the company that had bought State Capital Savings into federal receivership.

"He lived and breathed State Capital," Bob Baum says. "He often said he didn't like the mergers, and if knew what happened, he'd be flipping over in his grave."

. . .

These days, Wilson Baum Agency remains successful despite operating in a real estate market that's more challenging than the one Baum's father faced during the Depression.

Many Mon Valley neighborhoods are filled with pre-World War II houses that have deteriorated or been abandoned, driving down property values. (Baum Agency pays its agents an above-average commission on sales to compensate for the lower housing prices.)

And Bob Baum says the most difficult thing about selling houses in the Mon Valley remains the perception that the communities aren't desirable.

"Our town is not as unsafe as people think it is," he says. "Do we have some problems? Yes. I'm not going to whitewash them."

But Baum, who sits on the board of the McKeesport Trail Commission and the McKeesport YMCA, says the city and the McKeesport Area School District are much better than many people assume.

The school district is "ranked third in the state for the range of programs that they offer, from college prep to vocational training," Baum says. "If the perception of the schools was better, that would make my job easier."

Some more cosmetic improvements would help, he says. The city needs to continue to clean up blighted properties --- the Jenny Lind, Soles, and Bailie street corridors are particularly tough to sell, Baum says --- and especially improve the main entrances to McKeesport.

. . .

Otherwise, Wilson Baum Agency has the same focus that its founder had 75 years ago: Face to face, personal attention.

Bob Baum says roughly 30 to 40 percent of the company's insurance business is done by walk-in clients, many of them older residents. "They want to see you eye to eye," he says. "People can find my products anywhere. If people come here based on my price, they'll leave us based on price. I'm selling service."

Howard Hanna's trademark green now graces Wilson Baum Agency, both inside and out. But Wilson Baum Agency's office also displays the picture of an old-fashioned gaslight that has been the smaller company's trademark for decades.

The gaslight was Bob Baum's idea.

"I thought the lamp represented warmth, or a homey touch," he says. "To me, what that lamp means is the lamp of service."

And they've kept it glowing in McKeesport for 75 years and counting.

. . .

If You Go: Wilson Baum Agency will hold a barbecue and open house from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. A 32-inch color TV and other door prizes will be given away.

Jack Etzel, host of a handyman show on McKeesport-licensed WPTT (1360), will broadcast live between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. (Incidentally, the Wilson Baum Agency building also housed radio station 1360 from 1969 to 1974, when it was known as "WIXZ." If you ask nice, Bob Baum will show you the control room where Rush Limbaugh worked. Though it's now a conference room, it still looks like a radio studio.)

The agency is located at 314 Long Run Road, at the intersection of Walnut Street and Route 48. RSVPs are suggested; call (412) 751-2200, extension 130.

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April 24, 2008 | Link to this story

Waiting for God

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

You probably know Ronald Reagan's pony joke.

I'm going to screw it up, but it goes something like this. A little boy comes downstairs on Christmas morning to find a giant pile of horse manure next to the tree.

When his parents come down a few minutes later, they find him happily digging through the manure.

"Jimmy, why are you digging in that horse manure?" his mom says, horrified.

"Because, with all of this horse manure, there must be a pony nearby," Jimmy says.

Why am I telling this story? Because I'm going to try and dig through the pile of racism in the Mon Valley and find the pony.

Go back and read the comments earlier this week from Aynthem and Lauren, who were rightfully horrified by the article that appeared in the Washington Post this week about Our Fair City.

I was more embarrassed than horrified. Maybe I've become used to hearing stupid racist stuff for years. And you probably are used to it, too. (Which is really depressing, when I think about it.)

After reading what Aynthem and Lauren wrote, I tried coming up with a nice, polite, reasonable response.

Well, screw that. Let's cut to the chase: Statistically speaking, the Mon Valley is very old. It has an disproportionate number of old white people whose racial attitudes are Neanderthal, and slightly younger people who grew up listening to the old bigots spout a lot of crap.

Some of the people in the older generation grew up when the mills were using African-American labor, imported from the South, to bust the unions. That's no excuse. I'm not forgiving them. But it's the root of some of the attitudes that persist to this day.

In a normal area, people with outdated racist attitudes would be one small part of a larger population. This is not a normal area. We lost an entire generation of people in the 1980s, and we haven't recovered yet.

So, the bad news is that people with antique racial attitudes often seem to drown out the voices of good intentioned people. The worse news is that the old racists are not going to change.

Here's the good news: They don't need to change. Time is catching up with them. As Dick Morris and Eileen McGann wrote in the New York Post this week:

Of the 50 states, only Florida has a higher over-65 proportion of its population. But there's a key difference: Florida's elderly moved there --- Pennsylvania's are the folks that are left after the young people moved away.

I don't know how else to say this, so I'll blurt it out.

The old farts are dying at a rapid pace. The median age of the residents of the Mon Valley --- and all of Pennsylvania --- is going to inevitably move back toward the national average within a generation or so, and their grandchildren have more enlightened attitudes.

Racism isn't genetic. While there are plenty of under-30 bigots in the Pittsburgh area, there are too many black and white kids going to school together, hanging out together, working together and dating for me to think that racism is endemic in the younger generation. (You didn't see interracial couples in the Mon Valley 20 years ago. No one bats an eye now.)

People who aren't small-minded have to keep speaking out against prejudice of all kinds. And includes arguing with dad, grandma or our friends whenever they say something incredibly bigoted about any group.

We need to make it clear that these attitudes aren't acceptable.

Not because we have a chance of changing their minds. But because we have to make sure that their outdated attitudes don't infect the next generation.

Although bigotry isn't genetic, it is a communicable disease.

Rest assured, time is always on the side of justice. God is going to judge the bigots, and in some cases, soon.

Until then, unfortunately, we're going to have to keep plowing through the racist horse crap.

The pile gets a little smaller every year, but it can't go away soon enough.

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April 23, 2008 | Link to this story

Those Oldies But Goodies

Category: General Nonsense || By

After all of the heavy discussions of the past few days, I think it's worth bringing back this bit for an encore.

And now, from approximately coast-to-coast, Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding wrap up the election returns for you, in a segment from the original recording of their 1970 Broadway show, Bob and Ray: The Two and Only:

The Concession Speech (MP3, 3.1 MB)

. . .

New Duquesne Blog: An anonymous tipster sends us a link to a new blog that promises to expose all of Duquesne's "dirty secrets."

I didn't think the dirt in the Mon Valley was a secret. In fact, the problem is that all of our dirt is out in the open where everyone can look at it. We could use some secrets.

Anyway, here's the link. Judge the accuracy for yourself; there are some pretty serious allegations on there, but our tipster claims that "all of the info contained on it is true, accurate and easily verified."

Well, maybe. If it isn't, then it sure looks like some Grade-A, top-quality, gold-plated libel.

. . .

In the Mood for Food?: Tube City Brewhouse on Walnut Street in Christy Park is back in business under new management. Several of our spies have sampled the place during its "soft opening," and frankly, we're very pleasantly surprised. The service and the food are better; they weren't anything to write home about before the place closed.

It's one of several new restaurant reviews added to the "Tourism/Visitors" section of Tube City Online.

Also reviewed: Di's Kornerstone Diner, Mellon's Pub and Hot Metal Diner. Jason says check 'em out this weekend.

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April 22, 2008 | Link to this story

Perhaps the Last Hardscrabble Watch

Category: Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch || By

Finally, the presidential candidates found their way into the Mon Valley.

And finally, the national media have obliged us with the kind of stories we've been waiting for --- we're a bunch of beer-swilling, redneck rubes who live for the past in "crumbling ghost towns."

Yeah, there's an element of truth in these stories. I'm not blind. I know what our towns look like. But these reports don't do us any favors.

Then again, we don't do ourselves any favors, either.

This story from Dana Milbank of the Washington Post kind of sums up how the world sees Our Fair City, rightly or wrongly.

It's headlined, "In This Forgotten Town, Obama Can Forget About It":

This town was bitter before bitter was fashionable.

The Monongahela River Valley lost its steel mills in the '80s and, a quarter-century later, this sad town in the heart of the Mon Valley still hasn't recovered. Its downtown is a collage of crumbling buildings, and its once-proud landmark, the 102-year-old People's Union Bank Building, has signs in the window: Bank Repo Sale. Excellent Deal. Eight stories. Priced to sell!

It is, in short, just the sort of place Barack Obama was talking about when he said he wasn't getting the support of blue-collar workers of the industrial heartland because they "cling" to guns and religion out of economic bitterness. It is also the place Obama chose to visit on Monday night, on the eve of Tuesday's primary -- and the reception here explains why Obama, the national front-runner, is expected to lose Pennsylvania.

And it goes on like that, getting worse and worse and worse.

Make sure to read the comment that Obama just wants to be president "because he's black," and about the guy who plans to vote for McCain if Obama gets the nomination.

Like I said, we don't do ourselves any favors.

. . .

I noted last week that a reporter for the U.K.'s Telegraph was in Clairton. His story has finally appeared:
In Clairton, a once-thriving community, where The Deer Hunter was filmed in the mid-1970s, the population has shrunk by two thirds in the past 30 years.

Jobs at the huge steel mill beside the Monongahela River have steadily disappeared.

And blah, blah, blah.

Actually, The Deer Hunter wasn't filmed in Clairton. It was filmed in Cleveland and Mingo Junction, Ohio. But --- whatever.

. . .

After the Pennsylvania Primary, will the national media stick around to tell any good stories about the Mon Valley?

Will they look for any positive signs of life?

Will they interview the people who have turned the old YWCA on Ninth Avenue into The Common Ground?

Will they talk to the volunteers at the Carnegie Library of McKeesport or the McKeesport Symphony Orchestra or the McKeesport Heritage Center or the Bethlehem Baptist Church or any of the other organizations who are invested in our community?

Will they talk to any of the bright students at McKeesport or Serra or South Allegheny or East Allegheny or Steel Center Vo-Tech or West Mifflin?

Of course not. The Washington Post, the New York Times and all the rest don't care.

It's easier to make us a punchline. And we in the "forgotten towns" will be forgotten again by the national media.

At least until the fall.

Hey, what do you know? I guess I am bitter!


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April 22, 2008 | Link to this story

Color Me Cynical

Category: General Nonsense, Politics, Sarcastic? Moi? || By

Listen to this old radio public service announcement from my (half) vast archives, and see if the song doesn't get stuck in your head for the rest of the day:

Get Out and Vote! (1962)
(44 seconds, MP3, 700KB)

If you're an independent voter or a party-ticket backer, exercise your privilege --- and never be a slacker!

If you want to keep on living the American way, be sure to do your duty on Election Day!

Vote the way you want to vote, but voter get out and, voter, get out and, voter, get out and vote!

. . .

Predictions: I spoke last night with Dr. Pica Pole, director of research for Tube City Online Laboratories, who has spent the last 24 hours crunching survey data, demographics, voter registration numbers and Doritos.

Based on his reports and the chicken entrails I had for dinner, I've decided to make some predictions.

Keep in mind I had gotten into the Dewar's before I wrote them.

. . .

Clinton by 11 over Obama: I know Obama supporters are hoping for some sort of a miracle. I keep hoping that Roberto Clemente's plane didn't crash, but was actually sucked into the Bermuda Triangle, and that he might emerge and start playing the outfield again.

It ain't gonna happen, and Barack Obama ain't going to win Pennsylvania.

Monday night, the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" (motto: "Yes, we're still on") was reporting that Obama was likely to carry Allegheny County.

CBS' crystal ball is cloudy. I doubt that Obama will even carry the City of Pittsburgh, though he will likely win the East End, including Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze, Oakland, Homewood, the Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods.

As for McKeesport, I think he'll win the city --- thanks in part to an aggressive group of volunteers --- but suburbs like Port Vue, White Oak, Liberty, etc., are going to be solidly behind Hillary Clinton.

Obama is expected to easily win Philadelphia and its suburbs, and I think he might pick up support in places like Erie, the Lehigh Valley, and even around State College.

But the rest of the state? Forget it.

This goes to prove an old adage about Pennsylvania politics that my grandpappy taught me:
"An African-American cannot win a statewide race in Pennsylvania ... if the entire state Democratic Party, a former president, the governor, the mayors of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and the Allegheny County Chief Executive are all working against him."

(Yeah, my grandpa was psychic.)

It's a shame, because if Obama gets the nomination, and ultimately the presidency, then our top elected officials will have truly screwed the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the eyes of the new administration.

But hey, we get the government we deserve.

. . .

By the Way: It turns out that Hillary Clinton could still win the Democratic nomination. This video explains how.

. . .

McCain by 70 over Paul: Someone erected a whole bunch of "Ron Paul for President" signs around McKeesport and West Mifflin over the weekend, including a big one at the end of the Mansfield Bridge.

C'mon. Ron Paul? Seriously?

Yeah, he'll probably pull 10 percent of the vote, but 10 percent of the public will vote for anyone. Hell, more than 30 percent of Americans believe in witchcraft and alien abductions.

Some of the votes for Ron Paul will come from true, die-hard supporters, but the others will just be protest votes against John McCain.

. . .

Kortz by 15 over Jabbour: People who have worked with Jay Jabbour tell me he's a good man. I've never met him, but I believe them.

It's too bad that 60-plus years of public service and goodwill have been swept aside over the past 10 years, as Jabbour has engaged in campaigns that seem mainly to have been waged to settle old grudges and vendettas.

State Rep. Bill Kortz hasn't done anything, so far as I can tell, to have wound up on the wrong end of Jabbour's poison pens. He should easily win the Democratic nomination for re-election to his 38th District seat.

. . .

Costa by 100 over apathy: State Sen. Jay Costa Jr. is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the 43rd District. No one is running against him. And no Republicans filed.

Costa was one of the backers of the late-night state legislative pay raise. Anyone remember? That's what I thought.

Like I said, we get the government we deserve.

. . .

Marlins by 10 over Pirates: Dr. Pica Pole recommends that Pittsburgh trade Mayor Ravenstahl and the Pirates to Altoona for the Curve and Mayor Wayne Hippo.

Buccos of Suckitude, indeed. Let's just shorten that to "Succos."

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April 21, 2008 | Link to this story

Listen to This

Category: History || By

Did you know that one of the first 100 radio broadcasting stations in the United States was in Our Fair City?

It's true. Radio station WIK, operated by the K&L Electric Co., was located on Shaw Avenue near Jenny Lind Street. The "L" in "K&L" was Hunter Lohman, whose ham radio callsign of W3OC is still in use by McKeesport's Two Rivers Amateur Radio Club.

WIK operated from March 1922 until early 1925. Broadcasting hours were daily from 6:30 to 7 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m., and Sundays from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

Programs included live music (mostly ethnic and light classical selections) and speeches by local dignitaries and ministers.

Like many early radio stations, WIK wasn't a success. Radio receivers were extremely expensive. The cheapest, crudest sets cost nearly a third of the average worker's weekly take home pay, while better sets were priced (relatively speaking) to what we would expect to pay today for a high-definition, large-screen TV.

Worse yet, until May 1923, all U.S. radio stations operated on the same two frequencies, 750 kHz and 833 kHz. Trying to receive any signal was a challenge for even a dedicated radio buff.

Two or three weak signals in the same town just created noise and interference, while stronger stations could push weaker stations off the air. Little WIK was no match for KDKA, KQV and WJAS, which were owned by wealthier companies, and which all used the same frequency.

Some day, I'll write up a history of WIK. For now, you can get a taste of what radio was like 85 years ago by reading today's installment of "Monday Morning Nostalgia Fix" over at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.

. . .

Meanwhile, Alert Reader Mike wants to remind me that there's another candidate --- Dan Davis --- running for state legislature in the 38th District:
Hey, Tiger! There's a third choice in the wonderful fracas that festers in the tumultuous region of the 38th District wherein which you reside.

Granted, under the illustrious Commonwealth's closed primary system you'll be unable to cast a ballot for him this Tuesday, you might consider him for the general election.

Wait, there's something besides the Democratic Primary? Now I'm really confused.

Next Mike will try to tell me that I can vote for third-party candidates.

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April 20, 2008 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: Sarcastic? Moi? || By

Now Richard Mellon Scaife is endorsing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. (In related news, the victory party is Tuesday night at Doug's Motel.)

I don't know what you think, but personally, when I add Scaife's support to the endorsements that Clinton has already picked up from other people who I greatly admire, like Ed Rendell and Opie "Luke" Ravenstahl, the choice becomes fairly obvious.

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April 19, 2008 | Link to this story

Jabbour's Jibber Jabber

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

Jay Jabbour's campaign literature isn't attractive. Worse yet, in several of his recent direct-mail pieces, he's made the same blunder.

He's made his opponent's name larger than his own. He's even using a picture of state Rep. Bill Kortz's signs. At first glance, the flier pictured above looks like one of Kortz's mailings.

I'm surprised that Jabbour would make such a rookie mistake.

As many times as he's run for various offices (about every two years for the past three decades) you'd think he'd have the hang of it by now.

. . .

The Mon Valley has long been known for spiteful, nasty, petty political campaigns, so the scorn that Jabbour is heaping on Kortz is hardly unusual.

The only surprising thing is the amount of his own money that Jabbour is dumping into this race. His most recent finance report filed with the state indicates that he has more than $21,000 in his war chest, but $20,000 consists of a contribution Jabbour made to his own campaign on April 5.

Jabbour's an accountant, and I suppose tax season was good to him. But if I was 75 years old, and had $20,000 to burn, I'd be golfing, or traveling, not running for the state legislature for the eighth time.

. . .

I haven't seen any of Jabbour's TV commercials, but I have seen all of his newspaper ads and mailings, and they've ranged from inane to insulting.

Take the mailing above, which attacks Kortz for firing the office staff of his predecessor, Ken Ruffing.

Well, duh. Kortz defeated Ruffing in the 2006 Democratic primary, another nasty race. Why would Kortz retain people who were loyal to his political opponent?

Another mailing lambastes Kortz for allegedly not supporting West Mifflin in its fight to collect amusement tax from Kennywood Park. (Kortz says he thinks Kennywood should be paying the tax, and that Jabbour's mailing is misleading.)

As everyone knows by now, Kennywood is suing West Mifflin, because the borough was collecting the tax only from the amusement park and not from any of the other entities subject to amusement taxes in Pennsylvania.

I'm no lawyer, but it sure seems to me that West Mifflin's actions violate the equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitution. And if West Mifflin loses the lawsuit --- which it very well might --- the borough's taxpayers will bear the burden. Jabbour's position on the Kennywood tax is not only legally questionable; it's financially questionable.

Yet I can understand why Jay Jabbour is defending West Mifflin's tax collection policies. One of the people who set those policies is the vice president of West Mifflin Borough Council: Jay Jabbour's wife, Arlene.

. . .

Needless to say, these are pretty thin arguments on which to build a campaign.

Now, I don't know Kortz. I've only met him once, briefly. And I haven't liked everything he's done. (The Post-Gazette, while endorsing Kortz for re-election, noted that he's a reformer who needs to deliver more reform. That sums up my feelings nicely.)

Nor are his hands spotless in the current campaign. Kortz's ads make a point of using Jay Jabbour's real first name, "Caleem."

Kortz is either implying that Jabbour isn't quite "American," or that Jabbour is hiding from something. Neither one is true.

I also didn't like Kortz's unsuccessful attempt to get Jabbour's name taken off the ballot. Let the voters decide, Mr. Kortz. (Notice that I refrained from making a "courts"/"Kortz" pun.)

On the other hand, it's worth noting that Jabbour also used the courts to get his longtime political rival, former state representative and county councilman Richard Olasz Sr., removed from the ballot in 2001.

And I can understand why Kortz would pick up Jabbour's mud and fling it back at him. I would, too, in his position.

I'm also mostly satisfied with Kortz's performance after two years. I see no reason to toss him aside in favor of Jabbour, whose biggest claim to fame --- besides 16 years on West Mifflin borough council --- is being a perennial pain in the rear-end to Dick Olasz.

"We can't ask the voters to do what they have refused to do seven times before," the Post-Gazette says, adding that "Mr. Jabbour's attacks against Mr. Kortz in this race lack credibility."

True, dat.

. . .

Perhaps the funniest part of Jabbour's campaign is his slogan: "He's a keeper!"

Yep, he's such a dedicated public servant that he quit his county council seat to run unsuccessfully for state representative, then ran for county council again a year later.

So if Jabbour is a "keeper," then maybe we should keep him in the Mon Valley, and send Kortz back to Harrisburg.

By the way, in several ads, Jabbour calls Kortz "a promise breaker."

Considering the accusation comes from a guy who couldn't make up his mind whether he wanted to be on county council or in the state legislature, the irony is pretty thick.

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April 19, 2008 | Link to this story

Listen Up, Bitter People

Category: Politics || By

If you're going to U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's speech tonight in Renziehausen Park --- or, more likely, you're reading this after the fact --- I want to hear from you.

Yeah, I'd go myself, but I've been on the go since 6 a.m. Friday morning (minus a few hours' sleep Friday night), and I'm all in.

And yeah, maybe that's a poor excuse, but I don't get paid for doing this, you know.

Anyway, tell me what Sen. Clinton had to say, why you attended the rally, and whether you're voting for her. Email

Digital photos would be tres bien, too, as they say in high-class places like White Oak.

Also, city Councilman Paul Shelly reports that Clinton's opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, is also coming to Our Fair City.

Details are on Obama's campaign website:

Join Barack Obama at a Town Hall in McKeesport on Monday, April 21st.
On Track for Change Town Hall with Barack Obama

Penn State Greater Allegheny
Wunderley Gymnasium
4000 University Drive
McKeesport, PA 15132

Monday, April 21st
Doors open: 4:00 p.m.
Program Begins: 6:00 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public. However, seating is limited and tickets are required. Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis.

For security reasons, do not bring bags. Please limit personal belongings. No signs or banners permitted.

Same deal here: I have a real job, and I can't go. But if you go, I'd be interested in hearing from you.

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April 17, 2008 | Link to this story

What, Me Bitter?

Category: Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch || By

Whenever I want to take the pulse of the Mon-Yough area, I don't look around and talk to my neighbors and friends.

No, I ask anti-Semite former Nixon speechwriters and failed presidential candidates.

Now, where can I find someone like that ... oh! Ladies and gentlemen, here's Pat Buchanan:

It was said behind closed doors to the chablis-and-brie set of San Francisco, in response to a question as to why he was not doing better in that benighted and barbarous land they call Pennsylvania.

Like Dr. Schweitzer, home from Africa to address the Royal Society on the customs of the upper Zambezi, Barack described Pennsylvanians in their native habitats of Atloona
(sic), Alquippa (sic), Johnstown and McKeesport.

Wow, it only took Pat two sentences to work "Africa" into his column so that he could remind everyone that Barack Obama is black.

Incidentally, Pat's column was titled "Deepest, Darkest Pennsylvania." Just in case you forgot that Barack Obama is black.

Pat continues:
In Barack's mind, black anger and resentment at "racial injustice and inequality" are "legitimate." But the anger and resentment of white folks, about affirmative action, crime and forced busing are born of misperceptions -- and of "bogus claims of racism" manipulated and exploited by conservative columnists and commentators to keep the racial pot boiling and retain power, so the right can continue to do the bidding of the corporations that are the real enemy.

You tell 'em, Pat! I wake up every day and curse the heavens that I was born a white male Christian American.

Why God, why? Why couldn't I have been a black Muslim lesbian in a wheelchair? I would have had so many advantages!

According to Pat, Barack Obama's an elitist. But Pat's the one who can't be bothered to correctly spell "Altoona" and "Aliquippa."

. . .

Meanwhile, Bob Braughler's favorite word continues to pop up in political stories about Pennsylvania.

Remember when you read these stories that it's Barack Obama who's looking down on us, not the national hot-shot reporters and politicians.

  • Here's "hardscrabble" Allentown in the Chicago Tribune, while a different article, also in the Chicago Tribune, introduces us to the "working-class residents of hardscrabble towns in the valleys and mountains of southern Pennsylvania."

  • The Los Angeles Times visits "hardscrabble" (and "gritty") Philadelphia neighborhoods, while the Huffington Post takes us to "hardscrabble" Altoona.

    The Huffington Post is the outlet that broke the "Barack Obama is an elitist" story. Of course, it was founded by Arianna Huffington, whose own hardscrabble background includes her MA in economics from Cambridge.

  • And here's the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, running a photo of Hillary Clinton in a Pittsburgh laboratory with the note that she's trying to appeal to "the hardscrabble working people of Pennsylvania."

    You all remember the hardscrabble research chemists at Alcoa and PPG, and the hardscrabble bioscientists at UPMC, who take their lunch buckets down to their laboratories.

    When I was a kid, my grandpappy used to take me to shift change time at the cyclotron, so I could watch the guys trudging through the clean room when the whistle blew.

  • The U.K.'s Economist, in an article that will send the chamber of commerce types running for their Alka-Seltzer, says that "Pittsburgh feels decayed" and that the area is full of "beaten-up rustbelt towns":
    Parts of Pennsylvania offer classic rustbelt fare --- battered by downsizing and fearful of change. The state was a cradle of America's industrial revolution, the home of robber barons such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. But today it is littered with shuttered factories and shrinking towns. It has seen the slowest population growth of any big state in the country.

    What? Rusty? Shuttered? Battered? Why, take a look at the Mansfield Bridge, or Braddock Avenue in Braddock, and see if you can figure out what they're talking about. I sure can't!

    Remember, we've reinvented ourselves, we have world-class this and that, Pittsburgh is America's most livable city, and blah blah blah.

  • Last and certainly least, here's a blogger for New York's free Metro newspaper: "After all, this is Pennsylvania. And outside of the Obama-friendly confines of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the rest of the state could very well be called Pennsyl-tucky. If it were located below the Mason-Dixon line, Pennsylvania's small-town electorate would be dubbed 'rednecks,' 'good old boys' or the 'NASCAR vote.' Instead, they're euphemistically called 'blue collar,' 'white ethnic' and 'Middle Americans.'"

And Barack Obama's the elitist. Not the New York-and-Washington-based media.

This is how we pick a president. Excuse me while I throw up.

. . .

Finally, a little birdie tells the Almanac that a correspondent for Italy's national financial newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, was in Our Fair City this week, while a reporter from London's Daily Telegraph was in Clairton.

At least you can get good Italian food in the Mon Valley. Where the hell do you get bangers and mash?

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April 15, 2008 | Link to this story

Turnpike Gnomes

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

The backers of the Mon-Fayette Expressway and the Underpants Gnomes from "South Park" have a lot in common.

In a 1998 episode of the long-running animated series, one of the children discovers that tiny gnomes are stealing his underpants. When they're confronted, the gnomes reveal their business plan:
  1. Collect underpants

  2. ?

  3. Profit!

Last night, the University of Pittsburgh's William Pitt Debating Union hosted a forum on the Mon-Fayette Expressway at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium in Oakland.

And like the underpants gnomes, those who spoke in favor of the MFX aren't quite sure what comes after "Phase 1: Build Highway," but in Phase 3, we're all wearing silk drawers.

. . .

In fairness, two of the speakers were students, and though neither was from Pittsburgh, they did a good job summarizing the various arguments, pro and con.

Pitt senior Colin Esgro, taking the "pro" side, compared the region's transportation system to a patient with clogged arteries.

"The heartbeat of Pittsburgh is still strong, but without a major bypass operation, our region may suffer serious cardiac arrest," he said.

Citing Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission studies, Esgro said the proposed expressway spur between Hazelwood and Monroeville would cut delays at the Squirrel Hill Tunnels by 75 percent.

He quoted figures from highway lobbying groups that claim every dollar spent on highways returns nearly $6 in social and economic benefit.

The completed expressway through West Mifflin, Dravosburg, Braddock, Turtle Creek and other municipalities would serve 715 businesses employing 25,000 people, Esgro said.

. . .

The student taking the con position, Pitt sophomore Richard Pittman, chided Esgro's "clogged arteries" metaphor as like "trying to perform open-heart surgery on a patient with high blood pressure."

The MFX is a myth, he said, like "the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot." In reality, Pittman said, "it has stood in the way of facing the real problems that confront the Mon Valley" by discouraging investment in Hazelwood and Braddock, where large sections of property would be needed for the expressway.

Even if the MFX was completed, he noted, brownfield sites in McKeesport, Duquesne, Clairton and East Pittsburgh would still be accessed via surface roads, which the toll road won't help.

In fact, they would likely become more congested around the toll road interchanges, Pittman said.

. . .

Esgro was a better advocate for the highway than Lynn Heckman, assistant director of planning for Allegheny County's economic development office --- though again in fairness, Heckman was a last-minute substitute for Shawn Fox, chief of staff to Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. Fox cancelled Monday afternoon due to illness.

Completing the MFX in Allegheny County "will serve the greatest ridership of any section," Heckman said, remove traffic from surface streets like Second Avenue in Hazelwood, and "most importantly, offer upgraded access and interchanges in Oakland, which is our region's major economic generator."
An aside: I'm not sure that Heckman's "most importantly" line should be taken literally. It was probably intended to help an audience of Pitt students, faculty and staff relate to the topic.

But it sure rings cold to people whose houses or businesses stand in the highway's path. My house is one block from the projected Dravosburg section of the road.

And it also adds strength to the argument that the MFX isn't really intended to help the Mon Valley --- it's to help Pittsburgh and East Hills commuters bypass the Mon Valley.

. . .

The MFX will make it easier to market the RIDC industrial parks in Duquesne and McKeesport and encourage existing businesses to stay in the Mon Valley, instead of relocating to areas with better highways, Heckman said.

Allegheny County's biggest request each year for community development funds is for demolishing old houses, she said.

"We should not be demolishing, we should be developing," she said. The MFX would support "in-fill" developments in older neighborhoods by making them attractive as bedroom communities, Heckman said.

But no one last night has any idea how to pay for the road. Last month, the Turnpike Commission announced that it was seeking proposals from private companies to finish the road.

And obviously, there's no way to reliably estimate what development the MFX will actually generate in the Mon Valley.

Instead, like the Underpants Gnomes, MFX backers are hopeful that after the highway is complete, new development will happen and thus generate "profit!"

. . .

Opponents of the expressway often say the estimated $4 billion to $7 billion needed to complete the Allegheny County segments would be better used on other projects.

Heckman and Esgro noted that the Turnpike Commission can't spend money on non-toll road expenditures, and any federal or state dollars already pledged must be spent on the MFX.

But no one has even tried to raise any money for any other projects, noted Pittman's debating partner, Andrea Boykowycz of PennFUTURE and the Oakland Planning and Development Corp.

Boykowycz, who has posted comments about the MFX on Tube City Almanac, is one of the highway's vocal critics.

Rather building on brownfields in places like McKeesport, Boykowycz said, creation of the MFX will allow developers to build on farms and wooded areas in Washington and Fayette counties, which are cheaper to develop because they don't have the environmental problems presented by old mill sites.

. . .

The Pittsburgh region has an $18 billion projected shortfall for infrastructure repairs over the next 30 years, she said.*

Onorato and other MFX backers would better serve the region by improving existing roads, bridges, and water and sewer lines in the Mon Valley, all of which desperately need repairs, Boykowycz said.

"Directing all of this attention to the MFX has really distracted people from raising money for this need," she said.

As for relieving traffic congestion on existing roads, Boykowycz said, "it's no wonder people are looking for alternatives --- the existing roads are in very bad shape."

"Trying to raise money for the Mon-Fayette at the expense of Route 51 is really a waste of time," she said.

. . .

Boykowycz is right, of course. No one from PennDOT, Allegheny County or any local municipality or council of governments has ever put together a comprehensive plan to revamp and improve roads like Braddock Avenue, Second Avenue, or routes 51, 885 and 837.

Since the 1960s, virtually all of the Mon Valley's business and civic leaders have been talking expressways, expressways, expressways, even as the Mansfield Bridge (to take one example) crumbles around our ears.

Boykowycz calls it a failure of "political leadership" and a lack of "political courage."

. . .

Yet Boykowycz and other MFX opponents, including Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, are fighting 100 years of automobile culture in the United States.

People may grumble about high gas prices, but they still like driving their cars.

People may dislike traffic, but they like new shopping centers and housing developments.

Two students last night questioned why developing greenfields in Washington and Fayette counties would be such a bad thing.

"You said that when the Parkway East was built, Monroeville developed overnight," one student said. "I'm from Uniontown, and I look at the Mon-Fayette as a big economic development (opportunity) for the whole region."

Boykowycz pointed out that spreading people further away from the city increases pollution and wastes fuel, and creates more expensive infrastructure that needs to be maintained.

"It's not sustainable development," she said.

. . .

But it's difficult to ask people to sacrifice an immediate near-term benefit to prevent a possible long-term consequence.

And today's political leaders, frankly, aren't worried about consequences that might develop 30 years from now, when they're out of office.

From a practical standpoint, it's also a lot easier to bid a coalition to support one big regional highway project than 1,000 little projects scattered all over the county.

So like the underpants gnomes of "South Park," the Turnpike Gnomes of Pennsylvania keep tunneling away.

Maybe some day in the future, when (if?) the highway is built, we'll find the Mon Valley full of "profit!"

Or we'll find ourselves standing around without any underpants, waving at the cars as they drive by.


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April 14, 2008 | Link to this story

It's Not a House, It's a Home

Category: And Now, The News, Local Businesses || By

Even if you're by yourself, you're never lonely in the Blueroof Technologies "model home" on Spring Avenue in the city.

Open the front door, and "Amy" announces your arrival. Turn on the bathtub faucet, and Amy announces that, too. Use the cabinets, the stove or the refrigerator, and Amy tells you right away. She doesn't miss much.

"Sometimes what Amy says drives us crazy," jokes John Bertoty, executive director of Blueroof, whose offices are on the home's second floor.

He and the other members of the non-profit corporation's small staff get to hear the voice of "Amy" --- a digital speech synthesizer, run by a computer in the basement --- all day long.

But Blueroof employees aren't the only one listening to Amy. The federal government is listening, too.

. . .

Next month, U.S. Rep. John Murtha, a Johnstown Democrat and one of the most powerful members of Congress, will be testing out Blueroof's newest project --- a special assisted-living cottage for wounded Iraq War veterans.

Equipped with technology that allows disabled or partially paralyzed vets to live independently, it can be attached to an existing house, saving their families tens of thousands of dollars in expensive modifications.

The Blueroof "Independence Module" will be exhibited May 29 and 30 at Johnstown's Showcase for Commerce. Using the onboard "telemedicine" equipment, Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, will have his vital signs checked by a doctor 166 miles away at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey confirmed to the Almanac that the congressman will be touring the Blueroof module, but it's not known exactly which day.

. . .

People in the Mon Valley have heard a lot of promises over the years about miracle start-up companies with can't-miss high-technology projects. Most of them were never completed.

Blueroof isn't a pie-in-the-sky proposal. The model home was built three years ago. Since then, a for-profit subsidiary of Blueroof has erected 10 more homes in the city, Elizabeth Township, North Versailles Township, White Oak and other suburbs.

Each is equipped with some variation of technology that enables people with physical disabilities to live on their own.

Ground will be broken for the newest Blueroof home this Wednesday in the Third Ward. It'll be used by faculty and students from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon to gather data for gerontology research.

And there's more to come.

. . .

What's so special about Blueroof's model home? It looks like a thousand other frame houses in McKeesport.

OK, it's a lot newer than most of them. (More than 80 percent of the city's housing was built before 1960, and nearly half is from before World War II, according to the U.S. Census.)

The point is that the model house blends nicely with an older urban community. It also wouldn't look out of place in a new suburban development.

Even inside, the voice of "Amy" is the only obvious difference between the Blueroof house and the average comfortable older home in Myer Park or Port Vue.

That's by design. The technology in the walls of the model home is designed to be "invisible" to occupants, Bertoty says.

. . .

Under the surface, the Blueroof house is a very sophisticated dwelling, designed to allow independent living to people who have restricted mobility, including those with degenerative muscle diseases or who have lost the use of their limbs to accidents.

"Senior citizens don't want to be warehoused," says Bertoty, retired principal of McKeesport Area High School. "When we talked to seniors, we found they really wanted to connect with what goes on in their neighborhoods. They want to connect with young people. That really belies what we've been doing with senior high-rises and so forth."

Unfortunately, the typical 1920s or '30s "four-square" Mon Valley home isn't easily modified to accommodate a wheelchair or a walker. The bathroom is on the second floor; the hallways are narrow; the kitchen cabinets are too high; the bathtub is hard to climb into.

The model home has more than 1,000 square feet of accessible living space. Kitchen cabinets are wheelchair accessible. A person in a wheelchair or walker can get into the bathroom just by rolling over a small lip.

. . .

All this is fine, but what's with "Amy" and all of the sensors?

Well, if you're living alone, what happens if you fall and become incapacitated?

What happens if you have a chronic illness and lapse into unconsciousness?

If you don't have a regular caregiver or close family, it could be days before you're found.

Or what happens if you're suffering from memory loss? Maybe you started making dinner, got distracted, and forgot you left the oven on. Carbon monoxide poisoning or a fire could result.

In a house equipped with Blueroof technology, caregivers anywhere in the world can monitor sensors remotely, over the Internet. Conditions like a faucet left running, or an oven left turned on, trigger alarms.

And there are sensors in and around the bed. If you don't get up and move around every day, they know that something's gone wrong, and they can summon help.

. . .

Most of the sensors are simple off-the-shelf components like motion detectors and water-flow detectors --- but can provide a surprising amount of data, Bertoty says.

"If you haven't opened the refrigerator for a couple of days, you're probably not eating," he says.

The model home is also equipped with remote-controlled video cameras, but Bertoty says most clients want to maintain their privacy and don't ask for cameras.

And with the help of components from Nintendo's Wii video game system, doctors can even provide physical and occupational therapy from anywhere in the world.

Reading data from the Wii game controllers, which measure real-life force and velocity, enables physical therapists to ensure that patients are doing their exercises properly, and evaluate their progress.

. . .

Using off-the-shelf parts and pre-fabricated housing components keeps the cost of a Blueroof home low.

A house like the model cottage can be assembled for the same cost or less than a so-called "stick built" home, according to Bertoty.

The independence module for disabled veterans costs about $50,000, plus site preparation. Bertoty says the cost has to be weighed against the expense of modifying an existing home for wheelchair accessibility.

In January, the independence module was trailered to Walter Reed, where doctors and researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs spent several days evaluating it.

And more than 300,000 people toured the independence module during the Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show in March.

More tests are coming, and the new "research cottage" will go a long way toward securing the funding Blueroof needs to take its work to the next level.

"We believe this technology can help support people, but now we have to prove it," Bertoty says.

. . .

Coming Wednesday in the Almanac: Blueroof's proposed role in economic development ... and in the rebirth of the city's Third Ward.

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April 13, 2008 | Link to this story

The Nerve of Some People!

Category: Politics || By

I wish Barack Obama would stop saying things that make people uncomfortable:

But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them.

What's he talking about? Duquesne, Monessen, Charleroi, Jeannette, McKeesport, where the good-paying jobs left 25 years ago and nothing's replaced them?

Why, you take that back, Barack Obama!
And it's not surprising that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Is he trying to imply that white flight to the suburbs has left the Mon Valley more segregated than ever before, where communities like McKeesport have a minority population above 20 percent, while neighboring Port Vue and Liberty each have about 1 percent?

Is he trying to imply that protectionism and anti-immigration politics play well here, or that politicians have encouraged us to look for scapegoats for 20 years, or that fear has motivated many of us to buy guns or embrace churches that preach apocalyptic end-times scenarios?

As a gun-owning church-going Pennsylvanian, I resent Barack Obama's decision to point out the obvious!

Pennsylvania has a tradition to uphold as a parochial, territorial place, hostile to foreigners and other outsiders.

Without clinging to our past and ignoring the problems we face, it will be difficult for us to keep out new ideas and people, and to maintain the outward flow of young Pennsylvanians that has made us a leader in national population loss for the past 20 years.

Look at the great presidents we've had over the last 16 years or so. Remember their moving platitudes, like "I feel your pain" and "compassionate conservatism"?

They didn't try to make us confront reality. They didn't ask us to make any sacrifices or hard decisions. They sure didn't try to make us think. They told us that we could have it all --- increased government spending and lower taxes, war and peace.

Obama should just wear a flag pin and talk about abstract concepts like "creating jobs" and "freedom" and "the American dream." That's what Hillary Clinton and John McCain do.

Let's hope Sens. Clinton and McCain win their parties' nominations, so that we can bring an end to Obama's hate-filled, divisive, reality-based politics. I look forward to hearing both candidates talk fondly this fall about patriotism, children, democracy, rainbows and soft, fuzzy puppies.

And thank goodness for the brave men and women of cable TV and syndicated talk radio, who we can count on to attack Obama's insistence on talking about issues.

If I didn't have Tim Russert, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews to tell me how bad Obama's comments were, I might have to pay attention to the facts.

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April 11, 2008 | Link to this story

This Just In

Category: Politics || By

West Mifflin Council then ruled that Clinton was subject to the borough's amusement tax and assessed her $2 million. (Rimshot.)

KDKA-TV has video here.

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April 10, 2008 | Link to this story

God Bless Chimerica

Category: default, Local Businesses, Pointless Digressions || By

The first rule of shopping in dollar stores:

The larger the image of the "stars and stripes" on the package, the more likely that the product was made in China.

The corollary to the first rule:
If the flag has the wrong number of stars and/or stripes, the likelihood approaches 100 percent.

The second rule of shopping in dollar stores:
Brand names are meaningless. Most brand names are now slapped on junk indiscriminately.

. . .

Man, if you really want to get depressed about the U.S. economy --- and you probably already are --- wheel through one of the Mon Valley's many, many dollar stores.

It's not just the fact that so many of the products are made in China, it's that they're so appallingly, obviously cheap --- and people are still buying them.

And I'm going to guess that most of the people buying dollar-store shampoo or school supplies aren't doing it because they want to. They have to.

. . .

Now, I've long been an advocate of buying certain things from the dollar store. Wrapping paper at Christmas, for instance, or tablecloths for picnics.

Why spend big money for something that only has to look pretty for 10 minutes, and which is designed to be thrown away?

But dollar-store kitchen utensils, towels, shower curtains, kids' clothes and toys just feel and look awful in ways that even stuff from Kmart and Wal-Mart doesn't approach.

There was a story in the Detroit News last month claiming that "people in mink coats and Ralph Lauren wind breakers" are evidence of an increasingly "upscale" clientele at dollar stores. I'm sure that dollar stores do have a sort of "reverse snob appeal" to some people.

But I think that's a small subset of people. If you walk into fifth grade wearing a shirt from Dollar General, you might as well have a name tag that says "I'm poor!"

. . .

Despite this, or maybe because of it, dollar stores are one of the fastest growing segments of retailing. Although Family Dollar's sales are down 4.4 percent, it's still a Fortune 500 company (number 359).

Dollar General is No. 273 on the same list, ahead of Nordstrom's, Dillard's and Saks Fifth Avenue.

In a lot of ways, dollar stores are just a refinement of the old five-and-10 stores. There was nothing particularly upscale about Murphy's, Woolworth's or H.L. Green's, and the "fashions" those stores sold were often pretty awful, just like the stuff dollar stores sell.

On the other hand, those stores carried more of a variety (which is why they called themselves "variety stores") and usually offered better-quality brands alongside the bargain-basement stuff. You could get the Murphy's brand hammer, or you could buy a Stanley.

At dollar stores, you get one variety of an item --- chintzy.

. . .

And the old five-and-10s put a premium on --- for lack of a better word --- showmanship. The displays (especially the endcap features) were fun to look at. Let's face it, they put the puppies and tropical fish at the back of the store so that kids would drag their parents past the other stuff.

But dollar store merchandise seems like it's thrown onto the shelves. Sometimes the packing cartons double as the "displays."

I don't know what shopping in the Soviet Union was like, but I have a feeling the experience was similar to, say, Dollar Tree. ("In Russia, dollar store shops you!")

There can be some unintentional comedy at times, too. Though the chain stores are dreary and look pretty much the same, up at Olympia Shopping Center, in the old G.C. Murphy Co. store, there's a store called Warehouse Outlet. It used to be located at Eastland Mall.

. . .

Warehouse Outlet carries a lot of the same imported stuff as the big dollar stores --- bolts that don't quite fit the nuts, misshapen serving spoons, questionable extension cords.

But it also buys up closeouts from defunct retailers. That means Warehouse Outlet could supply auto-body touch-up paint to most of the Tri-State area. Unfortunately, it's mostly in '70s colors like orange and lemon yellow.

If you've got a 1974 Dodge van and need avocado paint, well, they're your go-to guys.

They've got an entire endcap that's stocked with toy trucks emblazoned with the Pitt Panthers' logos ... to be more specific, the disliked, discontinued logos from 10 years ago. They're labeled "LIMITED EDITION ... 1 of 5,000." By my count, about 4,975 are still available, so act now.

Also in the toy department: A stack of helicopters in New York Giants colors. Yeah, if you want your kid to get a beating from the children of Steelers fans, buy him one of those.

. . .

As of Saturday, back in the paperback book department, they still had plenty of copies of Bill Clinton's "Plan for America's Future" for $1. There were also guides to operating MS-DOS, and the TV department was well-stocked with prerecorded VHS tapes of public-domain cartoons.

The stationery department was offering great prices on Memorex five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy discs and line-feed labels for dot-matrix printers.

At some point, I suspect that it's more expensive to store (and dust) this stuff than to just throw it away. But it's got great entertainment value, if you're a little bit sick, like me.

. . .

Still, it's pretty depressing to look at a shelf full of paper products labeled "Made in China" and realize that it's apparently cheaper to ship even bulky items like paper napkins and notebook fillers from overseas than to make them here.

When we can't even crank out toilet paper profitably, there isn't much left for us to do.

Sometimes I wonder what they sell in the dollar stores in China. (Or do they call them "yuan stores"?) Maybe there's some guy wandering around those saying, "Why do they keep shipping this 'Made in the U.S.A.' crap over here?"

If you're that guy, email me. I can get you a great deal on touch-up paint and toy trucks in the Pitt Panthers' 1997 colors.

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April 08, 2008 | Link to this story

I Heart the Internet

Category: General Nonsense || By

Just a quick note to mention that I love the Interweb tubes.

Yesterday, I concocted this convoluted analogy between the city-county merger and the Studebaker-Packard merger in 1954, and I figured that everyone was going to roll their eyes and think, "Well, grandpa's off his meds again."

Needless to say, instead Alert Reader Vince and I got into a long discussion of postwar Packard arcana.

(Before the Internet, people like us would have had to get a life.)

And then, who should post a comment but the owner of the nifty Studebaker Lark that sparked my article in the first place?

Writes Alert Reader J.R.K.: "That is my car, and yes it makes a decent commuter car, 17 mpg in Oakland traffic isn't bad for a 40-something-year-old car. It's fun, a little slow but who cares when you sit on Bates for an hour or two everyday any way?"

You're a man after my own heart, J. I wrote here three years ago about my unrequited lust for either a Rambler convertible or a Studebaker Lark Wagonaire. When I was taking the pictures, I must have had a big cheese-eating grin, because the guys who run the parking lot started teasing me: "You wanna marry it? You look like you wanna go on a date."

I showed the pictures around the office, and my supervisor also fell in love with your Lark ... and she's not a car buff. "That car's cute!" she said. "I want one!"

Alas, I have made a vow that no more cars are going to follow me home until I get this beast running:

I put a new electronic ignition on her, and now she runs worse than before. I think the timing is messed up.

My goal this summer is to get her street legal again, and then I'll drive her into work and we'll park next to you, J.

Maybe your coolness will rub off on us, but I some how doubt it.

. . .

In Other Business: I was prowling around last weekend, looking for a new image for the Tube City Online home page. With the warm weather we've been having, the snowy shot of the Carnegie Library just wasn't making it.

Unfortunately, nothing was blooming yet at Renzie Park or the riverfront, and the public works crews hadn't finished setting up the docks at the marina.

I wound up poking around down at the RIDC Industrial Park. I know it seems like that site's been empty forever, but there's a lot of activity going on under our noses.

Steel City Products, which distributes auto parts, cleansers and hardwares to stores throughout the mid-Atlantic states, is adding a new wing onto their building, and work should be underway soon on a new "flyover" ramp to carry traffic from Lysle Boulevard over the CSX Railroad tracks.

Next to Huckestein Mechanical Services' new headquarters, there's this nifty speculative building that's suitable for offices or light manufacturing:

Do you know any entrepreneurs who need a building? There's one ready to go in McKeesport.

Yeah, it's not as cool as a Studebaker Lark, but it'll hold more passengers.

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April 07, 2008 | Link to this story

City-County Merger? It's No Lark

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

Last week, someone who parks in the same lot that I use started driving to work in a 1962 Studebaker Lark.

Hey, if you have to drive in Oakland traffic, there are worse ways than in a Studebaker Lark.

It's a cute little car. With a six-cylinder engine and standard shift, it probably gets reasonable mileage, too. Pity it's an orphan.

Four years after this early compact rolled off the factory in South Bend, Ind., the Studebaker Corp. exited the car business.

. . .

Also last week, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Opie "Luke" Ravenstahl announced their support for a merger between the two governing bodies.

When they did, I couldn't help but think of a semi-famous joke involving Studebaker. It was a very sick company when it was acquired by another faltering automaker, Packard Motor Car Corp.

One Wall Street analyst supposedly cracked, "It's like a man swimming in shark-infested waters, being rescued by a man in a leaky raft."

. . .

What was wrong at Studebaker? Well, Studebaker management refused to take a strike, instead giving their unions everything they wanted.

Executives made bad product-planning decisions, saddling their dealers with slow-selling cars the public didn't want.

And management was famously short-sighted. Instead of investing in a modern factory, they used their profits to pay themselves fat dividends and acquire non-automotive companies.

Like Studebaker, Detroit-based Packard had an expensive work force and a rundown plant. It also had a lot of dowdy, unpopular cars. But Packard had money in the bank.

When the Eisenhower administration hinted that it would be willing to send defense work to Studebaker, Packard purchased the Indiana company.

. . .

The joke about Packard and Studebaker was prophetic. The weaker company dragged the stronger company to a watery grave.

The defense contracts never arrived. The unions refused to accept concessions. Banks cut off Studebaker-Packard's credit. The country entered a recession.

In 1958, the company stopped making Packards and closed the Detroit plant. Five years later, the plant in South Bend closed, too. In 1966, the last Studebaker cars left a Canadian assembly line.

. . .

Like Packard, Allegheny County is in marginally sound financial shape. But like Packard, it owns a lot of old infrastructure, it's laden with debt, and it's saddled with terrible union contracts, especially at Port Authority transit.

And like Studebaker, the City of Pittsburgh is far worse off.

As a homeowner in Allegheny County, I don't want to see the City of Pittsburgh fall to pieces.

But as a taxpayer in Allegheny County, I also don't want my money used to rescue Pittsburgh when our own life raft is shipping water.

. . .

Yes, the Studebaker analogy is apt in a lot of ways. Pittsburgh's seven decades of one-party rule have discouraged it from taking risks.

Instead of accepting painful short-term cuts for long-term benefits, the city's so-called leaders have treated its payroll like a full employment program for Democratic voters.

They've paid themselves fat salaries and larded the budget with perks for themselves and their cronies.

They've spent millions of dollars to introduce slow-selling products --- like the Lazarus and Lord & Taylor stores downtown --- that the public didn't buy, while their infrastructure has suffered from lack of investment.*

. . .

Merger proponents promise that the city would be placed in a separate "asset district," and that county tax revenue wouldn't be used to bail out Pittsburgh.

I have a hard time seeing how that would be legal. On its face, it violates the equal protection clauses of the state and U.S. constitutions.

I also remember how we voted not to use public tax money to fund stadium construction ... and they went ahead and did it anyway. So make me no promises, Pittsburgh Democrats.

. . .

Before the county helps the city onto its leaky life raft, I'd like to see the city make good faith efforts to get its house in order.

First, Pittsburgh doesn't need nine people on city council. Westmoreland County, with twice the population, has three commissioners. Cut six councilmen and their staffs. That should save several million dollars annually.

Second, take immediate steps to end duplication of services:
  • Fold the city's redevelopment authority into the county's.

  • Merge the city and county parks and recreation departments; most people consider Schenley and Frick parks to be regional assets anyway.

  • Merge the public works departments.

  • Combine the city police with the county police --- and the transit police and the housing authority police, too.

. . .

Prove to us, Pittsburgh, that you're willing to cut patronage jobs and give up some of your fiefdoms.

Prove to us that this isn't just a power grab by the same Pittsburgh politicians who have driven their city into receivership over the past 70 years.

Otherwise, I'll be damned if I'll vote for any merger with the City of Pittsburgh.

. . .

Maybe I'm cynical, but I wonder if Onorato and Ravenstahl want this plan to fail. After all, phasing in joint operations of departments like public works could be accomplished without going to the voters. And smaller cooperative efforts would prove that a bigger merger could work.

But the voters reject an "all or nothing" plan, Pittsburgh's old ward heelers can sit back and say, "See? We told you the public doesn't want a merger."

And the political power structure will remain in place, hoping that someone else bails out the city.

. . .

Generally, I'm all for municipal cooperation. Merge Port Vue, Liberty and Lincoln, for crying out loud. Combine East McKeesport, Wall and Wilmerding into North Versailles. There should be wedding bells ringing for White Oak, South Versailles and Versailles, too.

They're small communities that share borders and school districts. They're relatively free of debt and have few serious long-term problems.

I'm not in favor of rescuing Pittsburgh's back-slapping old boys' club from its own foolishness. They made the mess. Let them start fixing it, and then we'll talk.

Otherwise, this sure looks to me like we're being offered a used Studebaker, and we're being told it's a cherry Ferrari.

Sorry, Dan and Luke. The Mon Valley has enough old clunkers of its own. We don't need yours.


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April 06, 2008 | Link to this story

True Grit(ty)

Category: Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch || By

One of the disappointments so far of the Tube City Almanac Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch has been a relative lack of reporters actually visiting the Mon Valley.

Twenty years ago, this place would have been crawling with TV crews, looking for closed steel mills to report from. Chiodo's Tavern in Homestead would have been lousy with correspondents from the Chicago Tribune.

Now, Chiodo's is a Walgreen's, and the reporters all go to Johnstown and Altoona.

On the other hand, I'm delighted to see The New York Times is living down to its reputation as a bastion of East Coast elitism. I can always count on the Times to look down its snoot at the peasants.

. . .

"Gritty" is surpassing "hardscrabble" as the word of choice when describing Pennsylvania cities, as Michael Powell of the Times illustrates:

So in Johnstown, a small, economically depressed city tucked in a valley hard by the Little Conemaugh River, Mr. Obama on Saturday spoke to the gritty reality of a city that ranks dead last on the Census Bureau's list of places likely to attract American workers. His traveling companion, Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, introduced the candidate as an "underdog fighter for an underdog state."

Note the word choices: "Tucked hard," "dead last," "small," "gritty reality."

I've finally figured out why these stories grate on me. The hidden message is, "why are you people so stupid as to live in Johnstown?" (Or McKeesport, or Braddock, or Altoona, or Ambridge.)

Maybe we're not stupid. Maybe we can't afford to move. Maybe we have to take care of our families.

Or maybe we like it here. Maybe we feel a sense of loyalty to our hometowns. Maybe we feel like we can make it better.

You know what, New York Times? I've been to New York, and I've been to Altoona. And while you may take Manhattan, I'll take Monaca, the 'Port and Neville Island, too.

. . .

Close behind the New York Times in elitism is Time magazine. Now, maybe I'm engaging in some stereotypes of my own, but in my mind, the typical Time reporter remains Roland Burton Hedley III of "Doonesbury."

Hedley was memorably introduced in a series of mid-1970s "Doonesbury" strips in which Zonker and other students at Walden College convinced him the hippie movement was making a comeback. (Hedley thought that a lilac bush was actually a marijuana plant.)

In "Doonesbury," Hedley represents every elitist, superficial reporter, and his fingerprints are on this story:
"If there aren't major policy differences, it's about perceptions, it's about who is feels your pain," said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Stanford Washington Research Group, which tracks economic policy issues. "Hillary is slightly better; she appeals to beer drinkers, Obama appeals to chardonnay drinkers."

You know, we do drink wine in Pennsylvania. Hell, my grandfather used to make it in the basement. But I guess "Hunky red" isn't what the connoisseurs at Stanford Washington Research Group consider a fine vintage.

. . .

While "gritty" has taken a clear lead in political dispatches from Pennsylvania, "hardscrabble" continues to pop up. Mike Dorning of the Chicago Tribune worked it into this report:
Barack Obama hit the bowling lanes and walked the factory floor, hoisted the local brew and even nursed a calf as he introduced himself over the weekend to the working-class residents of hardscrabble towns in the valleys and mountains of southern Pennsylvania ... (at) Pleasant Valley Lanes in Altoona ... Obama exchanged his polished black oxfords for a pair of size 13-and-a-half blue-and-white Velcro bowling shoes.

Thirteen-and-a-half? Damn, my man's got some big feet. I wear a 12-and-a-half, and I thought those were barges.

You know what they say about guys with big feet.

Right. We have to pay more for shoes.

(Tip o'the Tube City hard-hat: Dave M. and Brian O.)

. . .

I don't want to be too hard on the Times, whose Paul Vitello turned in a very thoughtful story last week on a subject most of us choose to ignore, although he did make sure to work "abandoned steel mills" and "blue collar" into his report:
(In) the first presidential campaign with an African-American as a serious contender, there may be a new gyration in the way voters think, the need to explain the vote against the candidate who is black ...

In a place like Latrobe, which the census says is 99 percent white, the race issue is almost an unexplored country that people visit like tourists with a phrase book. Driving past abandoned steel mills and a brewery and through a neatly swept downtown where tulips have sprouted along the 19th-century railroad line that spawned the city, diversity is mainly in the exterior paint of the residential bungalows.

Vitello quotes many Latrobe residents saying that although they couldn't vote for Obama, they're "not racist" and "it's not about race." One of them even uses a variation of the famous "some of my best friends were black."

I'm not going to jump to conclusions. But I've noticed that often when someone says, "it's not about race," it's about race. And if they start a comment with the words, "Now, I'm no racist," whatever they're about to say is usually incredibly racist.

(Hard-hat tip: Alert Reader Jeff.)

. . .

Apparently they don't listen to Billy Joel songs at The Wall Street Journal, because they don't know that in Allentown, they're closing all the factories down. A Journal writer found a garment factory there amidst the "depressed manufacturing and coal-mining towns" in "the nation's Rust Belt."

After "gritty," the words "Rust Belt" seem to be the most popular description of Pennsylvania.

I suppose the "Rust Belt" is between the Red Belt and the Orange Belt, but what roads does it connect?

. . .

Finally, Dale McFeatters, whose father (I think) was a cartoonist and business writer for the Pittsburgh Press, shares our pain in a column for Scripps-Howard News Service:
There's something about Pennsylvania, and especially Pittsburgh, that makes the cable-TV talking heads adopt this faux blue-collar persona. They try to project a sense of "I may be a multimillionaire celebrity with a designer haircut, professional makeup and famous friends, but at heart I'm just a rugged workingman -- maybe a steelworker doing something that involves lots of sparks -- who likes to belly up to the bar of the Legion Hall for a shot and a beer."

(O)utsiders seem to find the place irresistibly exotic. Wrote a New York Times reporter, "Question to our Keystone State readers: What is it with this Pennsylvania fetish for bizarre world food combinations? In Johnstown, this New Yorker encountered the artery-clogging prospect of cheese fries."

Cheese fries? I'm thinking he was either overcome by the sheer foreignness of Johnstown, a city that puts the grit in gritty, or else he was the victim of an overly sheltered childhood. Cheese fries are readily available all over Manhattan, although perhaps not at the kinds of places where he dines.

Maybe Pennsylvania is as strange as the national press thinks and growing up there you just don't notice it. I was back in Pittsburgh for a convention of mainly out-of-staters and the hotel served what it called a Pittsburgh buffet -- city chicken (breaded veal on a stick), kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, pierogi. The guests seemed to find this novel and unusual fare. I thought, "I'm back in my high-school cafeteria."

Ask permission before photographing the natives.

A-freaking-men, Dale.

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April 04, 2008 | Link to this story

News, Notes and Nits

Category: And Now, The News, Events || By

First things first. Alert Reader Mr. B, McKeesport High class of '60, sends along the following announcement:

One of our McKeesport alumni, Kula Manolakis-Goughnour (class of '72), is a heart transplant recipient. She received the heart from a donor in Atlanta, GA. She is now dedicating her participation in a team event in honor of her sister Ali Manolakis. Ali fought pain on a daily basis from the age of 13 from Systemic Lupus and end-stage Renal failure. Ali's battle ended on February 24, 2007.

Kula says, "I'm taking part in the 2008 U.S. Transplant Games (Team Pittsburgh) to raise money for National Kidney Foundation of the Alleghenies: please make a donation by visiting my Firstgiving page.

"You can donate online with a credit card. All donations are secure and sent directly to National Kidney Foundation of the Alleghenies by Firstgiving, who will email you a printable record of your donation.

"Please send my page on to anyone who might like to donate!"

When you click on the above link you will see a picture of Kula's sister Ali in the upper left corner.

The transplant games will be held in Pittsburgh from July 11 to 16, and will include a 5K foot race on July 13.

I don't know Kula, but she's been a reader and occasional contributor to Tube City Online for more than 10 years, and I believe she also used to maintain her own website of McKeesport-area history and information. (I can't find a link right now.)

But I know this. Earlier this year, someone who works in our department went into the hospital complaining of chest pains. Doctors quickly determined that she had congestive heart failure, and that a transplant was her only hope.

In the meantime, other major organ systems began shutting down. She died Monday, only 50 years old, still awaiting a transplant that never came. Three months ago, she was helping us move offices during a renovation project and was from all external signs healthy.

The need may be nearer than you think.

. . .

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast: Betty Boatshoe and Louie Leadfoot, pay attention. If you drive through the city, your number is up next week.

Assistant Police Chief Alfred Tedesco said Wednesday that city officers, in cooperation with PennDOT and the national "Smooth Operator" program, will target so-called aggressive driving next week.

That means they're looking out for tailgaters, speeders, and people who pass unsafely and commit a host of other violations.

So, let's stop running the red lights on Lysle Boulevard. I guess I should quit practicing my "Rockford 180s" on Walnut Street, too.

Also, Tedesco reports that with the arrival of warmer weather, police will be going through neighborhoods, citing vehicles parked on public streets that don't have valid license plates or inspection stickers.

. . .

Field of Dreams: Contractors have finished leveling the infield at Helen Richey Field in Renziehausen Park and making improvements to the drainage, according to city public works director Nick Shermenti. The outfield will be upgraded in the fall, and the city is also investigating replacement of the bleachers. The improvements are funded in part by the 1 percent Regional Asset District sales tax.

Mayor Jim Brewster notes the improvements should leave the venerable ballyard "a premium field" but there's a price for progress: After everything is complete, it's likely that cars will no longer be allowed to park on the field during International Village.

But will we be allowed to square dance?

. . .

In Other Business: McKeesport Area school directors are looking for a site for a new elementary school, probably in the Myer Park area, which would replace the present George Washington school, reports Norm Vargo in the Post-Gazette. There's also a chance that Cornell Intermediate School (the old high school) might be salvaged instead of replaced.

A North Huntingdon Township woman is a semifinalist in a national quilting competition, notes Leann Junker in the Tribune-Review. Ona Mark and her quilt, "Ladies in Red," are headed to the 24th annual American Quilter's Society Quilt Show in Paducah, Ky., later this month. (Don't wait until the last minute to book your plane tickets, folks.)

Carnegie Free Library of Homestead's music hall is becoming a regional destination for concerts, notes Tom McGee of the Woodland Area Progress. The Valley Mirror and Daily News have also reported recently that the library owns a fairly rare model of Steinway grand piano, and that it's raising money for the instrument's restoration.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: On that note, it's a good time to mention that the music hall will host a concert by Spoon, The Walkmen and the White Rabbits at 8 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $25 ... Penn-Trafford High School presents Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" at 7:30 p.m. today and tomorrow in the auditorium, Route 130, Harrison City. The musical, set aboard a trans-Atlantic ocean liner, features classic songs like "Anything Goes" and "I Get a Kick Out of You." Call (724) 744-4471.

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April 02, 2008 | Link to this story

What a Ham!

Category: History || By

I'm a little late with this, but in my defense, Easter came early this year. (Yeah, excuses, excuses.)

It strikes me that the kind of people who read Tube City Almanac will also enjoy seeing photos of the displays at the G.C. Murphy Co. store in Wheeling, W.Va., in March 1958 --- a half-century ago.

They're now up on the G.C. Murphy Memories website.

Note that worries about inflation and recessions are nothing new. The sign in the lower-right corner says "Our Prices Are Still Low." The country was in the midst of a severe recession that year, which was exacerbated because prices actually went up, instead of down.

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April 01, 2008 | Link to this story

Exciting New Venture

Category: Pointless Digressions || By

If you read the Almanac through an RSS feed, you might not have seen today's exciting announcement.

Click here to see what you missed.

And we're back to what passes for "normal" here at the Almanac.

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