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Filed Under: So-Called Radio Humor || By

July 31, 2008 | Link to this story

A Word from Our Sponsors

Category: So-Called Radio Humor || By

It's been a busy week, but luckily, we have sponsors like the new Pittsburgh version of "Family Feud," debuting soon on WRCT-TV:

"Family Feud, Pittsburgh Style" (952 KB, MP3)

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Posted at 11:51 pm by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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July 30, 2008 | Link to this story

Letters from the Editor

Category: Pointless Digressions, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

(Editor's Note: This is an adventure in navel-gazing. People who don't care about listening to me bloviate should probably go somewhere more fun.)

. . .

On Wednesday morning, before I'd even finished my first cup of coffee, an article from the Post-Gazette got up my nose.

It talked about an incident at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's main branch in Oakland. On one of the library's entrances, someone using spray paint scrawled a phrase from T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

Most of the article, headlined "Line from T.S. Eliot poem intrigues literature buffs," speculated on why that particular poem was chosen, noting that it had "stirred the whimsy of the city's literature buffs."

Over at The Burgh Blog, PittGirl was aggravated, too. She imagined the internal monologue of the vandal or vandals: "This is why we do what we do. The chance to be famous. To be somebody. The chance to see our art in the newspaper and to have that newspaper speak to college literature professors about what our motivation might have been for that particular choice of a quote."

Yeah, that's about how I reacted, too.

. . .

So I emailed the author:

Perhaps I'm too cynical, but I find nothing intriguing or poetic about someone spray-painting the steps of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

As a journalist, I understand that this story was worth covering. But with respect, I question whether your piece in this morning's paper struck the right notes. I had to read to the eighth paragraph before you called this incident what it really is --- vandalism. (The Tribune-Review nailed it in the first three words.)

If a bank robber quotes Shakespeare after pistol-whipping a teller, I wouldn't compliment him on his tortured artistic soul.

By quoting literary experts, you're granting legitimacy to something that is essence a crime --- and one against an important public institution. Our RAD tax money will be spent to scrub away someone else's "art" when it could be spent on after-school or literacy programs.

When I think of the few hundred dollars that it costs Carnegie Library each time some "street artist" makes a "meta-allusion" to T.S. Eliot, it doesn't "stir my whimsy." It just makes me mad.

Ah, I love the smell of righteous indignation in the morning!
. . .

Now, I usually ignore the crank email that I receive. But to her great credit, the author wrote back.

It turns out that she's a journalism intern at the Post-Gazette. An art history student at Yale, she's writing a senior thesis about graffiti, and that's why she took the slant she took.

Anyway, she tells me:
I set out to write a human interest story with a personal twist. On its own, an instance of vandalism simply isn't newsworthy.

Because it was a "riff" (to use my editor's words) and not standard journalism, I took full liberties to indulge my own views.

That puts the story in an entirely different context, and makes me feel like a perfect twit.

But why didn't the Post-Gazette note that in the story? Who knows?

. . .

I wrote back:
Thanks for the thoughtful reply, and I understand more where you're coming from.

I realize that we're coming at this from very different viewpoints. But as you work on your thesis, I think it's important to keep in mind the feelings of the people whose property is being transgressed by "graffiti artists," and yes, I'm using scare quotes, because I don't consider it "art."

I hope you're interviewing some of the recipients of this "art," because many of them feel violated, just the way someone feels after their home is burglarized.

All meaningful art is transgressive of some boundaries, but where a provocative poem, painting or sculpture might disrupt someone's emotional viewpoint, graffiti "art" causes actual physical damage to their possessions.

Maybe the victims of "graffiti art" get upset because they have an unnatural attachment to their objects, but maybe they also get upset because they're on a fixed income, and the graffiti "artist" has just cost them time and money they can ill afford.

I can understand why a graffiti "artist" might lash out at an institution like the police or a major corporation, because they represent authority figures and possible repression.

Targeting a library or a private homeowner, however, seems less like a statement about society, and more like needless cruelty and thoughtlessness.

Most artists create to express something in their souls; if graffiti vandals are "artists," and feel the need to inflict pain on people to express themselves, then there's something very ugly inside them.

. . .

She responded: "Thanks Jason. Definitely all things I've thought about and will continue to do so."

I just wanted to say that while I still don't think graffiti is worth studying as "art," it's awfully refreshing in this day and age to have a disagreement with someone via email that doesn't devolve into a flame war.

And I'm definitely glad that I decided to send email instead of acting out on my first impulse: I was going to spray-paint my comments on the side of the Post-Gazette building.

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Posted at 11:44 pm by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Pointless Digressions, Rants a.k.a. Commentary | one comment | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

July 29, 2008 | Link to this story

Strictly Commercial

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Click for more information

And now, we pause for a transparent attempt to take your money an important message of interest.

I noticed the other day that Shop 'n Save, Foodland, Giant Eagle and even my local grocery store, The House of Rancid Lunchmeat, are all selling reusable grocery bags made out of canvas.

And I said to myself, "How can I cash in on this trend help conserve our country's precious natural resources?"

Introducing Tube City Online's answer to the grocery bag problem. It's also suitable if you need a matched set of "hunky suitcases" for your summer vacation.

I'm making a whopping 98 cents on each one, so please, feel free to buy several. Send 'em to your relatives. Take 'em to Whole Foods for a little reverse snob appeal, and when you see the free-range, organically grown, carbon-neutral, sustainable citrus soft drinks, say, "Hey! Ain't yinz got no Lemon Blennd?!"

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Posted at 11:00 pm by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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July 28, 2008 | Link to this story

Five Thousand Words

Category: Pointless Digressions || By

My brain is a little bit sprained right now, folks, because of a couple of side projects I've gotten myself involved in. That means there's not a lot of mental gasoline in the tank, and since mental gasoline tops four bucks a gallon and payday's still several days away, you'll have to be content with a few photos.

After all, a picture's worth a thousand words, so consider this a 5,000-word essay.

None of these pictures are anything special, but I've started carrying the digital camera around and snapping things whenever they catch my eye.

You know, when you live here most of your live, you tend to focus on the decline, and ignore the nice things. It's not a bad-looking place in a lot of ways.

I should point out that no Photoshop trickery was required on any of these pictures. No photons or electrons were harmed, either.

Over the weekend, I had a very pleasant dinner with an Almanac reader and his wife. Afterward, she asked me, point-blank, "Why are you still here?"

I don't have a good answer to that question. As a writer, I'm pretty much resigned to not making a lot of money. Writing friends of mine have moved to New York and Chicago, but the cost of living is several times higher than the cost of living here, and they're not getting paid any more for their assignments than I get paid. So there are economic considerations.

Family and friends? Well, a lot of my friends have moved away, and so have some of my family members, but those are important reasons, too.

Still, there's obviously something more than that. I could live pretty cheaply in Dubuque, Iowa, or Sidney, Ohio, and I'm not moving to either place.

Why do I stay here? I don't know. It's historic, it's parochial, it's interesting, it's frustrating, it's creative, it's maddening, it's inspiring, it's depressing, and as Tom Lehrer sang, "what the hell, it's home."

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Posted at 11:00 pm by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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July 27, 2008 | Link to this story

City Controller Responds to Finance Questions

Category: Another Viewpoint || By

City Controller Ray Malinchak sends along his thoughts on recent comments made by an Almanac reader:

First, kindly do not attribute the shutting off the street lights statements to the city elders. Only one elder made the statement -- the city controller. Not one other elected official contributed to, or endorsed this (alleged insane) option (idea).

In addition, an alternate abhorrent option was offered to terminate staff and thereby reduce expenditures by $500,000. Please be advised that the city is self-insured and will have to reimburse the Commonwealth for all unemployment benefits. Also, the city is obligated to pay other termination benefits specified by collective bargaining agreements. Hence, it would take over a year for the city to realize any benefits from staff reductions.

I do not recall it being revealed that the controller responded to Mayor Brewster's delineation of $500,000 of unforeseen divergences. Mayor Brewster accurately described a list of unexpected and unbudgeted discrepancies totaling about $500,000. However it was not revealed that the controller indicated that a $1.25 million reserve (in CDs and interest bearing devices) is insufficient to retire a $1.5 million Tax Anticipation Loan due by year end. Therefore, the mayor has to discover another $250,000 to satisfy this additional deficit.

It is not over yet, next kindly move on to historical and consistent deficits each year since I have been controller (i.e., budget expenses that exceed revenues). These "customary" deficits are usually more than $600,000 each year as documented by the independent and publicly available annual audit reports. The controller projects more than a $600,000 deficit for this year.

Finally when you add up the above grief, it totals $1.35 million in contrast to the $500,000 deficit reported that was ascribed exclusively to unexpected and unbudgeted expenses.

Now back to insane ideas (options) to reconcile a projected $1.3 million deficit:
  • increase the earned income tax back to 2 percent

  • increase property tax by about 30 percent

  • terminate a significant number of employees

  • reduce all energy costs, liquidate about $2 million of assets (if the city has any liquid assets of that magnitude), or

  • slither into the Act 47 "Municipalities Financial Recovery Act"?

None of the above is palatable -- even shutting off street lights. In conflict with reality, several public officials have vowed that they would never raise taxes or support Act 47 proceeding or reduce public services. Can one translate that into supporting mitigation of public illumination?

Act 47 lists ten separate entities that can request a determination of municipal financial distress from DCED Secretary Dennis Yablonsky. The first entity listed is the DCED itself and the last or 10th listed is the Chief Executive (i.e. mayor) of the municipality. Unfortunately and stealthily, the city has already satisfied one criterion for Act 47, e.g. a deficit for three consecutive years of more than 1 percent of the budget, excluding one-time revenues.

Mayor Brewster has preformed magnificently to date in keeping distant from drastic measures. Can this continue? Only time and the pending early intervention study by Delta Financial will determine the financial destiny of our beloved city.

This is where the late Nick Perry would say, "The preceding was a response to a recent editorial on this station. Responsible replies are welcome."

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Posted at 10:59 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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July 26, 2008 | Link to this story

Public Service Announcement

Category: News || By

"Don't obsess over what people think. No job is beneath you. Tell the truth." --- Randy Pausch, 1960-2008

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July 25, 2008 | Link to this story

Eats, Writes and Leaves

Category: Events, General Nonsense, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what's an empty desk the sign of?

Here's some of the clutter on my desk, and on my mind:

. . .

Knowing The Angles: A video on a website called "TeacherTube" spotlights Brian See, a math teacher at McKeesport Area High School.

See demonstrates how he teaches the Pythagorean theorem to his students:

TeacherTube, launched last year, allows elementary and high school instructors to upload instructional videos that demonstrate techniques they use to reach students. You can read more on the project's website.

. . .

Diner Beware: For the first time in the 12 year history of Tube City Online, I've had to withdraw a restaurant review.

I'm doing it with great reluctance, because --- as I've pointed out before --- I am not an impartial reporter. I am very biased toward new businesses in the Mon-Yough area, and I want to see them succeed.

But I also try to be an honest broker of information. My very unscientific process of restaurant reviewing includes visiting once by myself, visiting again with friends, and talking to other people who've eaten there to get their impressions.

By the way, I pay for meals myself, which is not a big ordeal because I like to eat out, and besides, very few of the restaurants around the Mon Valley are what anyone would call "expensive."

Also, I'm not fooling myself into thinking that anyone cares what I think of their restaurant ... but I hold out some small hope that people using the Youghiogheny River bike trail or visiting relatives might appreciate a little bit of guidance.

. . .

A Few Nice Words: Speaking of the bike trail, a recent visitor has a few nice words for Our Fair City.

. . .

Department of Corrections: The Post-Gazette finally takes notice of the sale of the People's Building ... and gets the details wrong.

It wasn't Western Pennsylvania National Bank, for gawd's sake. It was People's Union Bank and Trust, a competing bank. WPNB was on the opposite corner.

Gee whiz, if you're going to rehash stories the Almanac had a month ago, at least copy the information correctly.

But I'm not going to be too harsh on the P-G, because the Daily News has repeatedly mixed up one of the details, too, saying that the People's Building once housed "a branch" of People's Union Bank and Trust.

Nope. The building was the headquarters of People's Union Bank. Yes, Virginia, it may be hard to believe, but McKeesport was once important enough to boast the headquarters of three fairly important banks --- People's, WPNB and McKeesport National.

Admittedly, People's and MNB were small by modern standards. Still, it chafes me to see these kinds of details botched. (I probably need more important things to worry about.)

People's disappeared in Union National Bank in roughly 1970; three years later, WPNB became Equibank, which is also now gone; and MNB merged into Three Rivers Bank, which is now part of Huntington Bank.

I'm allowed to criticize other writers, because as you know, I newver mak mistaeks.

. . .

Save the Date: Kelly Stanczak of McKeesport Relay for Life writes to alert us of their next upcoming fundraiser, to be held Aug. 9 and 10 at McKeesport Area High School's Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium.

Registration costs $100 for eight to 15 people, and includes T-shirts and other materials. Participants take turns walking or running around the stadium track for 24 hours; between laps, they're invited to enjoy entertainment, food and games.

It's a nice, healthy outdoor activity that really doesn't cost much, and benefits cancer research and treatment that affects patients from the Mon-Yough area.

The Relay for Life is also selling luminaria in memory of people who died of cancer or in honor of cancer survivors; luminaria can be ordered in advance or purchased during the event. The suggested donation starts at $10.

Cancer survivors can also join the Relay for Life to participate in a "Celebration of Life Lap" on Aug. 9, followed by a free dinner in their honor.

The Relay for Life is open to the public at starts at 12 noon Aug. 9. Visit the website for local volunteers or call Denise Fry at (412) 919-1041.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Recreation Committee is hosting two free concerts at Renzie Park this weekend. Tomorrow night, enjoy a performance by the U.S. Air Force Band; Sunday night, it's a "Beatles Tribute" by a group called "Come Together." Both concerts get underway at 7 p.m., and all seating is on the lawn in front of the bandshell, so bring a blanket or a folding chair. Visit the committee's website to see other events.

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Filed Under: Events, General Nonsense, Mon Valley Miscellany | four comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

July 22, 2008 | Link to this story

City Seeks Lower Trash Bid

Category: News || By

City officials are seeking new bids from garbage haulers in an effort to cut costs and save money.

A legal advertisement was placed in the Daily News this week seeking proposals, which could be voted on at the Sept. 3 city council meeting.

It's not a sign that the city is dissatisfied with Scottdale-based Greenridge Waste Services, its current collector, but it is a sign that an economy move is in full swing.

The Greenridge contract will automatically renew on Sept. 30 unless the city chooses to opt out.

McKeesport is staring at a half-million budget shortfall caused by several unexpected problems, including rapidly rising expenses for health care and fuel, and lost revenue from a proposed cell phone tower in the Seventh Ward that's yet to be built because of objections from nearby residents.

Mayor Jim Brewster says the city currently pays Greenridge about $1.2 million per year for trash collection. The price is guaranteed through 2009.

Last month, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl pitched his city's services --- including fire protection and trash collection --- to other municipalities in Allegheny County.

McKeesport City Administrator Dennis Pittman said the city would be interested in receiving a proposal for trash pickup from Pittsburgh, which already collects residential garbage in Wilkinsburg Borough.

The three-year agreement between Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh is saving the smaller community an estimated $1 million annually.

But Pittman says the city also expects to receive bids from more conventional, private-sector haulers, such as Waste Management.

And he and other city officials cautioned residents against assuming that a new hauler will be selected.

Small trash collection companies might not have the capability to collect from all of the city's nearly 10,000 households without adding equipment and personnel, they said, and there's some doubt that they could ramp up their capacity between September --- when a potential new contract would be awarded --- and Jan. 1 of next year.

On a related note, a study published Sunday in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review questions whether the deal between Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg is really providing any benefit.

Authored by Jake Haulk and Eric Montarti of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, the study suggests that city of Pittsburgh taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of trash collection in the neighboring borough.

While that city is charging Wilkinsburg $120 per household for residential waste pickup, Haulk and Montarti estimate the real cost to Pittsburgh is about $202 per household.

They argue that because of inefficiency and pension obligations, Pittsburgh's municipal trash collection services are more expensive than those a private hauler would provide.

Headquartered in Mt. Lebanon, the Allegheny Institute is a conservative/libertarian think tank funded in large part by grants from charities controlled by publisher and philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife, owner of the Tribune-Review, Daily News, and scores of other weekly and daily newspapers around the Pittsburgh area.

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July 21, 2008 | Link to this story

Senseless, Speechless

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

I've tried a couple of times to write something about the slaying of Kia Johnson, and I just don't have the words.

In case you're out of town or don't follow the news, Johnson is the 18-year-old city resident who was murdered, apparently by someone who wanted to take the unborn baby from her uterus.

The baby survived; Johnson's remains were found on the floor of a Wilkinsburg apartment rented by the main suspect in her killing, Andrea Curry-Demus.

Her body was badly decomposed, and the medical examiner's office says they may not be able to determine an exact cause of death because of that.

Johnson's corpse was discovered after reporters covering the arrest of Curry-Demus visited the apartment, noticed the smell, and called the cops.

No, the neighbors didn't report it. Surely they heard Kia Johnson crying out in agony; if not, they had to have to realized from the odor that something was terribly wrong.

But they let her body lie there, face down, on the floor, rotting.

That's depraved enough --- and we haven't even gotten to the case that police are building against Curry-Demus, who's been charged with homicide and kidnapping in connection with Johnson's murder.

County police allege that Curry-Demus met Johnson, found out she was pregnant, lured her to her apartment, and cut the baby from her womb. Whether Johnson was dead before the child was removed is a thought too horrible to contemplate.

Curry-Demus' public defender calls it "a sad state of affairs." I realize he's her attorney, but that doesn't begin to describe this case.

Another attorney, who defended Curry-Demus 18 years ago when she stole another infant, told reporters that she wasn't in her right mind at the time.

Should I laugh or cry? No, she's clearly not in her right mind, and yet if Curry-Demus' lawyers are going to try for an insanity defense, they've got a "catch-22" situation --- you would clearly have to be crazy to do what she's accused of doing, but it was done with such cold-blooded ruthlessness that it's hard to argue that she's insane. If she did it, she seemed to be in control of herself at all times.

Personally, I'm not a big advocate for the death penalty --- I don't think it has any deterrent factor, and I think too many innocent people have been found recently on death row --- but if any case cried out for the suspect to be put to death, this one qualifies.

As for what the case says about modern society, well, society has always had depraved people, back to the day when Cain slew Abel.

The only consolation is that Kia Johnson is hopefully in a place without cruel, indifferent, horrible monsters, like the one who treated her with such brutality and disrespect.

And my fervent prayer for the child she never got to see is that he'll get a good upbringing from her family or from foster parents who love him.

They say that living well is the best revenge. I hope that Kia Johnson's little boy lives very well, and I hope her killer spends a long time in a very dark, cold place.

. . .

Memorial contributions for Kia Johnson should be sent to PNC Bank, 560 Lysle Blvd., McKeesport 15132.

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Posted at 11:21 pm by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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July 20, 2008 | Link to this story

At Diamond Jubilee, City's 'Jewel' Still Gleams

Category: Events, News || By

Photo (c) 2008 Jason Togyer/Tube City Online

While McKeesport's noisy neighbors to the north were celebrating the 75th anniversary of sandwiches with fries and cole slaw on top, Our Fair City was hosting something a bit more genteel.

On Saturday, members of the Garden Club of McKeesport celebrated their organization's Diamond Jubilee with their biennial flower show.

Hosted at the McKeesport Heritage Center's grand banquet hall in Renziehausen Park, all of the club's 45 members were expected to enter the competition, which was a sanctioned event judged by other members of the National Garden Clubs, Inc.

Entries range from simple specimens of flowering plants and shrubs to table arrangements and home-decorating displays.

Photo (c) 2008 Jason Togyer/Tube City OnlineThe Garden Club of McKeesport is not McKeesport's only organization for horticulturalists --- others include the Home Gardeners' Guild and the YWCA Garden Club --- but it's probably the best known.

Founded Aug. 17, 1933, by a group of the city's most prominent and elite women, the Garden Club is a more egalitarian organization these days, says Jane Miller, its current president.

"We have some pretty dedicated members," says Miller, of North Huntingdon Township. Though many of the club's members are from McKeesport and its suburbs, others come from as far away as Greentree and Moon Township.

The club's primary activity includes cultivation of the city's arboretum in Renziehausen Park, which is maintained in cooperation with the Pittsburgh Rose Society.

Located next to the Heritage Center, the facility covers more than three acres, including 1,800 roses, beds of perennials, a goldfish pond and water feature, a herb garden and butterfly garden, and a gazebo that's popular for weddings and other events.

"We're already booked for some months next year," Miller says.

Photo (c) 2008 Jason Togyer/Tube City OnlineDubbed the "Jewel of McKeesport" by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the city's arboretum is one of only 123 in the United States certified by the American Rose Society and is the second-largest in Pennsylvania, after only Hershey Gardens in Hershey, Pa.

The arboretum is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. until dark. Admission is free.

Educational events, many held in cooperation with other enthusiasts in western Pennsylvania, are also hosted at the Garden Club's building.

During the first five years of the club's existence, Miller says, members met at the Penn-McKee Hotel or in each others' homes.

But in 1938, the city invited the club to create the arboretum at Renzie Park. The club got a permanent headquarters building in 1983. A two-story ranch-style building above the gardens hosts space for members to work and a gift shop.

Members gather every Wednesday, rain or shine, to tend the flower beds or work on pressed flower arrangements, wreaths, and other crafts for the club's gift shop.

Regular monthly meetings are held on the third Monday of the month at 11 a.m., and the club also hosts four teas during the summer months.

"We work right up until December," Miller says. "There's a lot of work to getting the garden ready for the winter."

The club then goes on hiatus before resuming activities in April.

Photo (c) 2008 Jason Togyer/Tube City Online"I find my peace in the garden, I really do," says Mary Jane Hickman of White Oak, a member of the club for the past eight years.

She calls working in the garden a great "stress reliever. If I have something that's really bothering me, that's where I go," she says. "I come in early on Wednesday morning, with the birds singing, and go to work."

Like many other social and hobby clubs these days, the Garden Club has a hard time getting new people to join. Many of the current members are retired, and some are in their late 80s. But the Garden Club welcomes prospective members, Hickman says; they should plan to attend a few work sessions to get to know the other volunteers.

Younger enthusiasts are very welcome, she says. The Garden Club has a lot to offer younger gardeners --- men and women alike, Hickman says. Besides fellowship and encouragement, the club hosts educational programs throughout the year in conjunction with experts from around the region and state.

"We're always learning new things," she says.

. . .

The Garden Club of McKeesport will host an open house on Sunday, Sept. 15. Watch the club's website for details.

The club is located at the corner of Tulip and Arboretum drives in Renziehausen Park, one block from Eden Park Boulevard, near city Fire Station No. 2 and Penn State Greater Allegheny Campus.

To inquire about renting the arboretum for an event, call Grace Krepps at (412) 751-8656. For other details about the club, call (412) 672-1050.

Photo (c) 2008 Jason Togyer/Tube City Online

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July 17, 2008 | Link to this story

Potluck Today

Category: News || By

Miscellaneous leftover news items that we have to use up before they go bad:

. . .

Five new city police officers are expected to hit the streets next year, with the assistance of a state grant.

Frank P. Durante, Floyd M. Gault, Bryan P. Morris, Julian Thomas and Justin Toth, all of the city, are entering the Allegheny County Police Academy and expect to graduate in January, officials said.

City council this month approved a deal with the state to fund training expenses for the five, and obtain reimbursement from the state.

In a separate move, council also OK'd an application to the U.S. Justice Department for $14,154 to help pay for four new police cars.

The new cruisers will replace cars which have been damaged in accidents, or which have racked up so many miles as to be unrepairable.

Three of the cars are going into the patrol fleet; the fourth, a four-wheel-drive vehicle, will be used by police Chief Joe Pero, whose current car will be added to the police motor pool, officials said.

The federal grant will pay for the first year's lease payments on the four new vehicles.

. . .

The former Penn-McKee Hotel and Eagles lodge are among 30 blighted properties that city council has approved for demolition.

Council voted 5-0 to accept the recommendations of Building Inspector Chris House and Fire Chief Kevin Lust that the properties are dangerous and pose a health and safety danger.

The condemned buildings include four houses in the 2900 block of Grover Avenue, three in the 1100 block of Craig Street, and others throughout the city, including several in 10th Ward.

As reported by the Almanac last month, the Eagles lodge on Market Street was the former home of a prominent local doctor, Henry W. Hitzrot, and was built in 1892 at a cost that would top $1 million in 2008 dollars.

The building was sold to the local lodge, or "aerie," of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1911. That lodge disbanded more than 15 years ago for lack of members.

A non-profit corporation called Museum Hair Institute now owns the Hitzrot house. State records indicate the principal officer of MHI is Henry W. Russell, and according to a report in the Pittsburgh Business Times, MHI recently obtained a $300,000 mortgage on the building.

The Penn-McKee, built in the 1920s, was the site of the first debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon and once boasted a nightclub and a ballroom in demand for weddings, formal gatherings, meetings and other events.

After years of decline, the hotel became a boardinghouse for transients and the indigent and closed in 1985.

Although county tax records list a corporation called "See Bee Inc." as the hotel's owner, a White Oak evangelist told the Almanac last month that he is trying to save the building.

No demolition date for any of the structures has been set.

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July 16, 2008 | Link to this story

Call Me Unavailable (Temporarily)

Category: Pointless Digressions || By

I don't usually write about my personal life at the Almanac, but I've been absent for a few days, and I thought I should explain. I've been a little bit busy.

After nearly seven years, I've left the University of Pittsburgh and taken another job.

And although I don't like to mix my professional life with what I do at the Almanac, I will give you a little clue where I'm working now:

Audio Clue No. 1, 900K, MP3

Not sure yet? Here's another clue:
Audio Clue No. 2, 1.4MB, MP3

(By the way: That's the best ... fight song ... ever.)

Normal service will resume shortly; thanks for your patience.

And before you wonder, the parting from Pitt was very pleasant, but difficult. I worked with a really wonderful, witty, warm and talented group of people there, and I will miss them greatly.

But I got an offer I couldn't refuse, and besides, I didn't go too far away, as you've probably already tumbled.

Meanwhile, does anyone out there need any blue and gold neckties? I've got about a dozen that I'll trade. I need some Scottish plaids.

(P.S.: The usual caveats remain in place. Opinions expressed on and at the Almanac are not necessarily those of any employer or organization of which I'm affiliated. I'm not even sure if they're mine.)

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July 13, 2008 | Link to this story

Ear, Nose, Throat and Cleats

Category: Cartoons || By

Cartoon (c) 2008 Tube City Almanac

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July 12, 2008 | Link to this story

Hold That Line

Category: Politics, Rants a.k.a. Commentary, Wild World of Sports || By

I like John McCain. I don't agree with many of his political positions --- OK, we're both in favor of the American flag, Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet --- but I generally respect and admire the man. I've read Faith of My Fathers and I've followed his career for years.

That's why, for the past decade or so, I've found McCain's public life kind of sad. In a desperate attempt to convince the president's hardcore partisans that he's suddenly become a Bible-thumping, big-government neo-conservative, McCain is saying a lot of things that he clearly doesn't believe, and he's cozying up to a lot of people he never had much use for before.

Yes, I know all politicians do this. Barack Obama isn't playing nice with Hillary Clinton because he's suddenly forgotten all of the nastiness of the Democratic primaries, and he didn't vote for the president's FISA legislation because he suddenly believed the administration should be allowed to tap phones without a warrant.

But on the other hand, much of McCain's appeal has been built on his willingness not to behave like a politician --- to say what's on his mind, even when it didn't endear him to the left or the right.

Alas, now he seems willing to say anything to get elected. To quote Jon Stewart, the Straight Talk Express has been rerouted through B.S. Town.

My old cow-orker Jonathan Potts has the skinny on the latest from the Arizona "maverick":

John McCain told Jon Delano that the Pittsburgh Steelers helped him endure torture at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors:
"When I was first interrogated and really had to give some information because of the physical pressures that were on me, I named the starting lineup -- defensive line -- of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron-mates!"

There's just one problem with that story:
...the Steelers aren't the team whose defensive line McCain named for his Vietnamese tormentors. The Green Bay Packers are. At least according to every previous time McCain has told this story. And the McCain campaign just told ABC News that the senator made a mistake -- it was, indeed, the Packers.

Notes Jonathan, "Yes, a mistake he just happened to make while he was in Pittsburgh, a town with a singular devotion to its football team and the second largest city in a critical swing state."

It's pretty bad on its surface. Below the surface, it's one of the dumber things McCain could have said.

As any true Steelers fan knows, they were one of the worst teams in football before Chuck Noll became the head coach in 1969.

McCain was captured by the North Vietnamese in 1967, after his plane was shot down over Hanoi. The previous season, the Steelers had gone 5-and-8.

While McCain was enduring unspeakable torture in a POW camp in 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1971, the Steelers were going 18 and 50. (They won two games in 1968 and one in 1969.)

The team didn't post a winning record until 1972, when they won the AFC Central Division by defeating the hated Oakland Raiders. (You may have heard about that game.)

McCain wasn't repatriated until 1973.

My point is that there's no way anyone outside of a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan (and there weren't very many in the 1960s) would have committed the 1967 Steelers roster to memory.

And there's no way that McCain (who grew up in northern Virginia) was a die-hard Steelers fan.

On the other hand, the legendary Green Bay Packers of the 1960s would have been familiar to anyone who followed pro football back then.

Why didn't he just tell the story straight --- about the Packers? Why did he feel the need to fudge the truth?

I'm not trying to read anything more into this story than necessary. I don't think it shows some pattern of dishonesty, or some deep character flaw. McCain doesn't have to prove his character to anyone.

But I do think it's sad.

And although I don't think I would vote for him for president, I'd like to see the Straight Talk Express upright and on the rails again.

I sure hope it happens before McCain starts to brag about listening to Bob Prince call the 1960 World Series on the radio, or seeing them raise that B-25 bomber from the Mon.

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July 11, 2008 | Link to this story

Rally Organizers Seek End to Violence

Category: Events, News || By

Sponsors of an upcoming rally for Mon-Yough area youth are trying to encourage and inspire them to stay away from drugs, alcohol and crime.

The daylong event is set for August 9 at Stephen Barry Field in Renziehausen Park, says Alease Paige, one of the organizers and a member of the McKeesport Healthy Communities PartnerSHIP.

Although plans are still tentative, she says the program will probably include music, food, free health screenings and a motivational speech by the Rev. Karen Garland, recently appointed pastor of Zion Apostolic Assembly Church.

It's the second such rally sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of the Mon Valley, Paige says. An organizational meeting is set for July 19.

"The Mon Valley has changed, and our youth really have changed," says Paige, retired from Sky Bank and its predecessor, Three Rivers Bank. "You can't turn on the news without hearing who was shot, stabbed or robbed."

Drug crimes and gun violence don't respect neighborhood borders, she says. "Crime has no face --- no color," Paige says. "And it's not just McKeesport --- it's everywhere."

Besides city Mayor Jim Brewster, she says, the mayors of Port Vue and Clairton are also involved in the planning, along with representatives of the McKeesport branch of the NAACP and the Steel Valley OIC.

"We're trying to reach out to as many people as possible," Paige says, "and we're trying to get as many people as we can to come out."

Perhaps the most promising sign is that local teen-agers are doing much of the organizing themselves, she says. "We plan what they want to do," Paige says. "They tell us who they want to speak to them."

For more information, call Paige at (412) 673-2206.

. . .

Fire Guts Apartments: The American Red Cross is helping about 40 victims of a fire this morning at the Hi-View Gardens apartment complex on Coursin Street, according to broadcast and published reports.

Several suburban companies joined city firefighters in battling the multiple-alarm blaze. Seven people had to be rescued by fire personnel and some residents were taken to UPMC McKeesport hospital for treatment.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation by the Allegheny County Fire Marshal's Office.

Michael Palcsey and Jennifer Vertullo have more in the Daily News. The Watchdesk website has additional photos.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: You can help say goodbye to the "Daddio of the Raddio," Munhall native Porky Chedwick, at a dance Sunday night in Sharpsburg.

Chedwick, who pioneered the programming of so-called "race" music on Homestead's WHOD (860) in the late 1940s, is credited with introducing generations of white teen-agers to rhythm, rock and blues songs recorded by black artists.

At age 90, Chedwick is relocating to Florida after a radio career that has spanned 60 years and an untold number of stations, including WHOD's successor WAMO, Jeannette's WKFB (770) and McKeesport's WEDO (810).

The dance starts at 7 p.m. at Jimmy G's Restaurant, 1822 Main St., Sharpsburg. A donation of $10 will be requested. Call (412) 781-4884.

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July 09, 2008 | Link to this story

Tax Breaks, Loans Abound as Enterprise Zone Grows

Category: News || By

Almanac photo

Businesses in almost every city neighborhood are now eligible for low-interest loans, tax breaks and outright grants after the expansion of McKeesport's "Enterprise Zone" designation.

The zone, previously restricted to Downtown and Walnut Street, now encompasses:
  • Grandview Avenue

  • Versailles Avenue

  • Eden Park Boulevard

  • O'Neil Boulevard

  • Lincoln Way

  • the 10th Ward, and

  • part of Long Run Road (state Route 48).

Those streets comprise most of the business districts in the city.

In addition, Enterprise Zone benefits --- previously restricted only to so-called S- and C-corporations --- are now available to almost all kinds of businesses, including "mom-and-pop" stores, sole proprietorships, and limited partnerships.

That allows everyone from major industrial firms to small, independent companies to take advantage of state financial assistance.

The changes took effect July 1.

McKeesport, Duquesne and Clairton have had designated "Enterprise Zones" since 1996. Development in the three local Enterprise Zones is coordinated by Chuck Starrett at the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Duquesne.

Bethany Budd Bauer, community development coordinator in McKeesport, says communities are required to renew their Enterprise Zone status periodically.

Almanac photoMcKeesport officials originally tried to have the entire city declared an enterprise zone, she says. The state Department of Community and Economic Development, which grants the Enterprise Zone designation, turned down the idea, saying that too many residential areas would have been included.

Still, Bauer notes, the Enterprise Zone now includes all of the city's major streets and commercial, industrial or mixed-use areas, including the Christy Park area and neighborhoods around McKeesport Area High School and Penn State University's campus.

"It doesn't go into the side streets, just the main corridors," she says. "But because of the university being located down there, I wanted businesses to be able to take advantage of the program."

Enterprise Zone benefits are generally restricted to capital improvements, and are not intended for ongoing costs, like meeting payroll.

But stores and other companies are allowed to apply for grants of up to $500,000. They can also get state tax credits covering 25 percent of any improvements they make, up to $500,000 per year.

In addition, several state agencies will provide financing below market rates to businesses who are expanding or locating in an Enterprise Zone.

"In some instances there are tax credits available for purchasing new equipment or expanding and improving buildings," Bauer says. "There are also low-interest loan programs, but there are job creation requirements."

Although residents and homeowners don't directly receive Enterprise Zone benefits, Bauer says they do create jobs and put vacant properties back onto the tax rolls, which helps the entire city.

Local businesses that have already taken advantage of Enterprise Zone programs include:
  • Book Country Clearinghouse, which relocated last year to the old Potter-McCune Co. warehouse on Walnut Street;

  • Steel City Products, which is expanding its distribution facility at the RIDC Industrial Park on the old National Works site; and

  • Columbus, Ohio, based Huntington Bank, which built a new office on Fifth Avenue near UPMC McKeesport Hospital to consolidate two former McKeesport National Bank branches Downtown.

. . .

For more information about the Enterprise Zones in McKeesport, Clairton and Duquesne, call Chuck Starrett at (412) 469-8744.

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July 07, 2008 | Link to this story

Faces in the Crowd

Category: News || By

Jason Togyer/Almanac photo

It's usually not polite to stare.

But it would be impolite not to stare --- or at least take a good look --- at the new mural taking shape on Market Street, Downtown.

With help from students at McKeesport Area High School, Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh, nonprofit group called the MLK Community Mural Project is decorating the side of the former Abriola Auto Parts store with a collage of faces: white, black, native American and Asian.

Jason Togyer/Almanac photo"We've got a good bunch of kids here," says teacher and artist Jeff Katrencik of Houston, Washington County, who is helping lead the team working on the mural Downtown.

The mural is one of about two dozen that will be completed this summer, says artist Edward Rawson of Squirrel Hill, chief operating officer of the MLK project. Another is underway right now at the Port Authority's park and ride lot on Duquesne Boulevard in Duquesne.

Funding is provided in part by National City Bank, with additional support from several local foundations.

Some materials are provided by PPG Industries and Golden Artist Colors of New Berlin, N.Y., Rawson says.

City native Robert Qualters, an artist who has worked on murals throughout the Mon Valley, is among the MLK project's board members.

Founded by artist and graphic designer Kyle Holbrook, the group painted 26 murals last year, primarily along the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway.

Jason Togyer/Almanac photo"We work with a lot of high school age kids, 15 to 18," Rawson says. "All of them are interested in the arts."

The MLK project's murals have depicted a variety of subjects, including local history, people, places and events. The theme of the mural Downtown is the connection between different people in the community --- friends, family members and neighbors --- and the faces include those of several city residents.

Students working on the community murals are paid for their time, Rawson says.

"We like to get kids from different neighborhoods mixing it up," he says.

When the mural is complete, it will be sealed with a protective anti-graffiti coating supplied by PPG. The MLK project also has a $5,000 maintenance fund for each mural that will provide ongoing repairs for the next 10 years.

Rawson and Katrencik say the students working on the murals are stoked to realize that something they're doing today will remain part of the neighborhood for years to come.

"Sometimes the real story is working with the kids," not the murals themselves, Rawson says.

Jason Togyer/Almanac photo

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July 04, 2008 | Link to this story

There's Gonna Be Fireworks

Category: News || By

Update: I just gotta add this, with a tip of the Tube City hard hat to Francesco Marciuliano:

. . .

A Bang-Up Fourth: If the weather cooperates today --- and that's a big "if" --- a full slate of Independence Day activities are planned at Renziehausen Park.

City Recreation Director Jim Brown says three country and western bands will entertain at the bandshell, starting at 2 p.m., when Bren Marie takes the stage.

At 4:30, it's Buck Wyld, and from 7 to 9 p.m., John Kiger.

Refreshments will be on sale throughout the afternoon, including hot dogs, kolbassi, ice cream and funnel cakes, but the biggest attraction comes at 10 p.m., when the Mon-Yough area's biggest July 4 fireworks display gets underway.

Brown recommends that visitors arrive as early as possible to find a parking place.

"During the day, there are plenty of spots in the park," he says. "After 8 o'clock, that's when it gets really, really packed."

Attendees should plan to bring a blanket or lawn chair to sit on, Brown says.

There's no rain date planned, he says, so Brown and others have their fingers crossed that the clouds will part for at least a little while today. "This weather has been murder," he says.

. . .

P.S.: The concert by Chuck Blasko's Vogues set for last Sunday at the Renzie bandshell was rained out, Brown says. It's been rescheduled for this Sunday at 7 p.m.; the concert is free, so bring a blanket and plan to attend!

. . .

Snap, Crackle, Stop: City Councilman Darryl Segina doesn't mean to be unpatriotic, but Independence Day is rapidly becoming his least-favorite holiday.

The reason? All of the fly-by-night fireworks vendors who set up shop around the valley.

"We're putting fireworks into the hands of amateurs and children," Segina said. "We've got neighbors getting into fights about it, because they're worried about their houses catching on fire."

He said he'd counted at least six different vendors around McKeesport in the weeks before the holiday.

State law permits residents to use "ground and hand-held sparkling devices" and "novelties."

Forbidden for private use without a "display permit" are cherry bombs, M-80s, M-100s, "Roman candles," and any explosive devices or aerial devices.

But they're not illegal to sell to "non-Pennsylvania residents" --- the legal fiction is that purchasers will take them out of state (wink, wink) before lighting them.

"We can't stop them," City fire Chief Kevin Lust told the Almanac. "We tried two years ago --- you're allowed to sell them, but you're not allowed to use them. It's unbelievable."

City Solicitor J. Jason Elash said the city collects a $1,000 permit from vendors, and that they are required to file a business-privilege tax form.

Otherwise, Pennsylvania municipalities have little oversight over transient fireworks vendors.

Lust said many of the fireworks on sale from roadside tents are legal; rather than shooting into the air, they just make a showers of sparks and smoke on the ground.

But as he and others pointed out, "legal" doesn't mean "safe." Segina noted that many fireworks are imported under less-than-rigorous conditions, and that the results can be unpredictable and dangerous.

"I don't know where the state legislature is on this issue, but they've really got to crack down on this," he said.

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July 03, 2008 | Link to this story

No Rabbits, Just Red in City Budget

Category: News || By

City Administrator Dennis Pittman wrote a name on a slip of paper last night --- "Harvey" --- and passed it to Mayor Jim Brewster.

As in the giant rabbit from the Pulitzer-winning play and the movie of the same name starring Jimmy Stewart.

As in the "super rabbit" that City Controller Ray Malinchak says that Brewster will have to "pull out of his hat" to keep the city in the black this year.

But if a six-foot-tall talking rabbit like "Harvey" was standing by, ready to help, he wasn't speaking up at last night's city council meeting.

. . .

A combination of rapidly rising fuel costs, unexpected expenses and revenue shortfalls has the city staring into a half-million-dollar hole this summer.

As a result, Brewster said he has asked every department head to conserve resources and money. Police cars, for instance, are no longer to be left idling while not in motion.

"We can't even pave some streets right now, because paving a street which used to cost four to five thousand dollars now costs $20,000," he said. "As employees leave, we're not replacing them, which is not a good thing."

Besides escalating oil prices, the biggest unbudgeted expense this year is an unprecedented 83 percent increase in the health insurance premiums paid for about 80 city employees to Highmark, the region's Blue Cross/Blue Shield affiliate. The additional charge amounts to $620,000.

Although the city is negotiating with another health insurance carrier, Brewster said premiums are still likely to go up as much as $300,000.

. . .

Revenues are off by $150,000 --- the amount the city expected to be paid by a cellular telephone company that wants to erect a tower at the old Union Avenue reservoir.

The proposal was tabled when residents of the Seventh Ward expressed concerns about increased RF radiation the tower might generate; the mayor said last night he and council have asked for a report on the health effects of cell towers, and will have another meeting with residents to discuss the report before taking any action.

Other unexpected expenses have included emergency repairs to a collapsed sewer main on Palm Street and to the roof of the former municipal building at 201 Lysle Blvd., now used by police and firefighters.

. . .

Brewster said last night he's "working" on several things in hopes of balancing the budget. City officials say they're very close to signing several tenants for the empty offices at 201 Lysle.

And it's still possible that the cell phone tower will be erected on Union Avenue.

"But if it phases in late enough in the year, we'll get maybe $10,000," Pittman said, "and the rest will be a receivable. That $140,000 a year from now won't pay any bills in December."

The state's decision to allow the annual $52 occupation, or "emergency services," tax to be paid quarterly, rather than as a lump sum, will also hurt the city's cash flow in the fourth quarter, he said.

. . .

In Other Business: Plans to build a new regional courthouse in the Third Ward continue to progress, Brewster said.

Last week, city and county public works employees cleared weeds and debris from the so-called Capco property along Walnut Street, where the courthouse is likely to be built.

The lot holds a half-finished warehouse that was going to be used by the now-defunct Capco Construction Co.

Capco was seized by federal investigators after authorities discovered its founder, Thomas Cousar, was diverting funds and material from U.S. government projects to his own businesses.

The property on Walnut Street is now owned by the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, which had underwritten a $400,000 loan to Capco.

Brewster said he's been in steady contact with Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.

"Once it's completed, 35 different communities will be coming to your city to our courthouse, which I think is a tremendous thing for McKeesport," he said.

The mayor said he could not comment further on reports that the parent company of the Tribune-Review and Daily News was considering the city for the site of a $75 million printing plant.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss it, but as we get more permission, we will disclose more details," Brewster said. "It's got great possibilities."

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July 02, 2008 | Link to this story

Do the Math

Category: Good Government On The March, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

That's not my "economic stimulus" check. It's worse. Much worse.

It's the second year in a row that I've received a $1 check from the gubmint for overpaying my taxes.

I may be the last person in the world who still does his own 1040 form, by hand, without help from a computer program.

And for the third consecutive year, I've screwed it up. Three years ago, I got a cream-colored "FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY" envelope from the IRS and nearly soiled myself. I looked like Ralph Kramden. Did they find out about the statue with the clock in its stomach that I won at the Raccoon Lodge Christmas party?

No, but I was being asked to submit a check for $6 to the IRS, because I had underpaid my taxes.

Then, last year and this year, I got back $1 for overpaying.

God is trying to tell me to have someone else do my income taxes next year.

But look at it this way. H&R Block this year charged the average consumer more than $172 to prepare their taxes. TurboTax costs $45.

Between the $6 extra I owed in 2006, and the $2 I got back this year and last year, I'm only down $4, instead of $45 or maybe $172.

Maybe the money I'm saving should go into some remedial math classes, because clearly I need them.

. . .

Speaking of remedial math, state Rep. Jim Casorio, Democrat from Irwin, doesn't need any math help.

Casorio can figure out that the $3.2 million that North Huntingdon's taxpayers cough up for police protection is a lot more than the $0 that neighboring Hempfield Township pays.

In case you didn't realize it, Hempfield --- which has more residents than both North Huntingdon and McKeesport, more than Monroeville and White Oak combined --- doesn't have its own local police and doesn't spend a nickel for protection, except what all state residents pay in Pennsylvania taxes.

According to the Penn State Data Center, there are only 20 communities in Pennsylvania that have a larger population than Hempfield.

As for municipalities with more than 10,000 residents, only four occupy more square miles (76.6) than Hempfield. (It's even larger, by area, than Pittsburgh.)

Yes, assuming you live in a community with a police department, you pay for the police needs of Hempfield's 41,000, mostly white, middle-class residents.

That's why Casorio and state Rep. John Pallone of New Kensington have introduced legislation that would obligate communities with more than 10,000 residents to create their own local police forces, or pony up $100 per person to pay for state police protection.

. . .

Of course, Hempfield and Unity township officials can also do remedial math. And they're complaining that Casorio's proposal would put an unfair burden on their residents.

"If the state finds a need that they need to increase the state police complement, then the state should of itself fairly find a way of supporting that, not penalizing some residents of the state of Pennsylvania or some municipalities of the state of Pennsylvania, and not others," Hempfield Supervisor Doug Weimer told the Tribune-Review.

"Penalizing" them! Wow!

These same officials attracted many of their new residents to their townships over the past 20 years by "keeping their taxes low."

Well, sure, it's easy to keep taxes low when everyone else is subsidizing your costs.

I found it interesting to learn that about 56 percent of Hempfield residents are registered Republicans.

That means many of them also write letters to the Trib complaining loudly about welfare and Medicaid recipients who are "sponging" off the government.

. . .

I'd like to propose a compromise. Hempfield and Unity township can continue to get free police protection, but all cars registered in Hempfield and Unity will have to carry a bumper sticker that says "WELFARE RECIPIENT."

And signs will be erected at the township borders that read, "HOME OF THE PARASITES."

"Political analysts" are already predicting this bill won't go anywhere, because legislators who represent welfare capitals like Hempfield will be afraid to vote for it.

But good for Casorio and Pallone for putting their cards on the table.

As for Unity and Hempfield: What a bunch of whiny deadbeats.

If you're so broke, I'll send you my $1 tax rebate. It's the least I can do ... and it's about all I'm willing to do.

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July 01, 2008 | Link to this story

C'mon, Let's Twist Again

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, maybe too much knowledge is even more dangerous, at least when it comes to the weather.

Specifically, if you're talking about those computer-generated 3-D storm-tracking weather graphics that the three big Pittsburgh TV stations use.

As some of you know, I work part-time in local radio at two different stations. Sunday afternoons usually find me "riding the board" in North Versailles.

This past Sunday, I was working the day watch when the Emergency Alert System box squawked to life, printing out a little receipt that looked something like this:

My reaction, needless to say, looked something like this:

. . .

Our station is better equipped than most, but we don't have a news department, so we don't have an AP wire machine, and Internet access is limited. My connections to the outside world on Sundays are confined to the telephone, a police scanner and an RCA ColorTrak TV that's 30 years old, if it's a day.

Also, we run a fair amount of pre-recorded programming, which means I had to find a point to interrupt the ongoing show that wouldn't be too disruptive, and issue a warning that made some sense to the listener.

So I broke into the program, issued the tornado warning, and turned on the police radio and the TV to see if I could get more information.

Although the police radio was mercifully quiet, the coverage on the tube strongly suggested that I should get my affairs in order, particularly the reports on KDKA-TV, which offers something called "VIPIR" weather.

. . .

VIPIR weather systems, according to the company that sells them, "automatically (track) the most dangerous storms at neighborhood-level" and offer images detailed down to two feet.

That enabled KDKA to start tracking the path of the "tornado cell," which (according to the station's full-color digital map) passed through the intersection of Richland Avenue, Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard and Bettis Road.

Since my house is on the hill next to Bettis Lab, this was a bit of unpleasant news.

Continuing east, KDKA reported with an alarming level of precision, the "cell" (painted in an angry purple color, like a bruise) would arrive in North Versailles at 5:50 p.m.

"In fact," the meteorologist said, "VIPIR shows it passing directly over the Pittsburgh Plaza East Shopping Center."

. . .

Pittsburgh Plaza East is the shopping center that's home to the Destinta Theater, and the radio station is close enough to see the shopping carts in the parking lot of the Giant Eagle next door.

Except that the radio station is higher than the shopping center.

So, if there really was a tornado on the way, and KDKA's pinpoint VIPIR weather was correct, I had picked exactly the wrong places to 1.) buy a house, and 2.) work.

At the bottom of the hour, I interrupted the current programming again to repeat the tornado warning. Luckily, the quiver in my voice drowned out the sound of my knees knocking.

. . .

Well, the wind howled, and the rain came down in sheets, but we survived otherwise unscathed. Twenty minutes later, the rain had stopped, and I went down the hill for a cup of coffee.

A group of tornado-chasers was pulling out of the parking lot --- they told the clerk that they heard a tornado had hit McKeesport, and they were disappointed because they hadn't seen anything.

I almost felt sorry that they had wasted a trip. Hey, maybe we'll do better next time.

. . .

When you take basic math and statistics classes in high school and college, you're warned against "false precision."

"False precision" practically defines TV weather, which now offers "neighborhood forecasts" that confidently report the high temperature tomorrow in Library will be 78, while the high in Glassport will be 79.

Really? What if it's 78 in Glassport and 79 in Library? Do we get a refund? Isn't it enough to say --- like the National Weather Service does --- that highs will be "in the upper 70s"?

. . .

I'm guessing no one at KDKA-TV took math and statistics, or else they skipped those courses in favor of "Introduction to Teeth-Whitening," because they love false precision.

At several times on Sunday, they also issued VIPIR weather warnings for the McKeesport-area communities of "Otto" and "Port Perry."

You surely know where Otto and Port Perry are, right? No?

Well, "Otto" is a tiny borough near the present-day Mansfield Bridge that merged into Glassport in 1902, while "Port Perry" is an abandoned section of North Versailles.

. . .

No, I'm not making that up: KDKA was calmly reporting that the "storm cell" would pass through "Otto" and "Port Perry." I'm betting that no one lives in Port Perry except raccoons and squirrels, and that no one who lives in Otto knows that they live in Otto.

Apparently, VIPIR's data is a bit old, or else it doesn't distinguish between mere points on the map and actual incorporated communities.

It's too much to hope that some human at KDKA would look at VIPIR's output and say, "Hmm. I never heard of 'Otto' and 'Port Perry,' might as well leave those out."

. . .

As for me, I think I'll go back to getting my weather from the Old Farmer's Almanac.

Their weather maps aren't in color, they don't come with flashing alarms and warnings, and best of all, they're a lot less precise.

Besides, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the moon is favorable in McKeesport this week for planting turnips and broccoli, and I'll bet VIPIR doesn't know that.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure about planting conditions in Otto and Port Perry. You'll have to work those out on your own.

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Posted at 07:17 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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