Archive for February, 2007

How not to breed nerds



(Image courtesy of fille_de_photo.)

There appears to be a mild hooha brewing in Pittsburgh about CMU’s decision to allow opposite-sex roommates. This is silly. No, I’m not going to make a “because CMU students never have sex” joke. Anyone thinking that CMU dorm rooms are going to become hotbeds of fornicatory cohabitation has clearly never observed the dating behaviors of college students. Relationships are formed, conducted, and dissolved on timescales as short as a week. No student in hir right mind is going to go through room draw with hir significant other, because by the time they’re scheduled to move in together, chances are that they’ll have broken up and won’t even want to speak to each other. You think it’s awkward running into your ex at the gas station? How about sharing a room with them that’s smaller than the average Fox Chapel closet? I know these things of which I speak, for I was in a coed fraternity in college. There was a whole suite of people who got involved in a complicated love triangle; the chill coming from our third floor could have air-conditioned the house all summer.

In other words, chill out, Pittsburgh. You’ve got much better things to worry about (like, for example, the patient I saw today in clinic who’s had buildings on all sides of her arsonized by a nascent gang in Carrick). Go take care of important work and rest assured that any roommates who don’t keep it platonic will suffer worse fates than any you might wish for them.

I figured out why the Mayor is not responding


Despite not just once but twice requesting a clarification the views of Mayor Ravenstahl, seen here absentmindedly signing his name as “Mrs. Lukey Shields,” I have gotten no response. I think that I have figured out the reason.

You see, I have been sending my questions on contraception to the City of Pittsburgh Mayor’s Office. Because they grow out of a campaigning-type event, he must have decided that it would be inappropriate to use city resources to respond. It was a really unacceptable oversight on my part.

As a result I have looked up Lukey’s campaign e-mail, and have re-asked my questions there. I am sure that he will get back to me quickly now that I have asked for information in the proper forum. By tomorrow afternoon I am sure I will finally have my response.
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Mayor Tom Murphy


In 1995 the Post-Gazette had this to say about Tom Murphy’s “Picket Fence” program:

Begun last summer, Project Picket Fence cleared trash and weeds from about 80 vacant lots, then strung picket fences along the fronts and sometimes the backs of the lots. The fences showcase lots available for sale. Community groups — 19 of them so far — have pledged to maintain the lots.

The mayor wanted to expand the program this summer, but City Council balked when it learned that in some cases, the weeds had grown back taller than the fences. So far, there are more lots than groups committed to maintaining them.

Then most people quietly forgot. Wandering through Garfield today I came across a relic of Tom Murphy’s program, seen here rotting in obscurity. It functions as an unfortunate metaphor for Tom’s mayorship: what began in solidarity and optimism is now sqalid, weed-choked, and sad.

Saturday: to your roof


What great luck: a lunar eclipse you don’t have to wait up for.

Saturday night the moon, seen here with some guy wandering around on it, will be rising partially eclipsed. It will be easy to find: just locate the setting sun and look in the opposite direction. It will come up a little after six, and as far as anyone who is not an astronomer is concerned will be wrapped up by quarter after eight, leaving plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and catch a movie. I reccomend Ghost Rider, which I saw two nights ago, if you are into scenes of Nicholas Cage conveying either hysterical laughter or incredible pain. With Cage, they are pretty much indistinguishable. Then he turns into a CGI flaming skeleton and hits people with a steel chain.

What is worse for a teenager than having an embarrassing parent?


That’s right: having an embarrassing parent with a popular newspaper column.

Tony Norman, seen here wishing he had a clean shirt that wasn’t a mock turtleneck on the day they took Post-Gazette class pictures, commemerated his son’s eighteenth birthday in his column today. His aim in doing so seems to be to give Jeremy Norman’s friends something with which to mock him for years to come:

When Jeremy’s head crowned, Sting’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” was playing on the room’s portable boombox. It was part of my wife’s repertoire of mood music designed to get her through the evening. My first view of my firstborn was startling. Jeremy looked vaguely amphibian because his seven-pound-something-ounce body was squirming and wiggling underwater.

Thoroughly immersed in the pool’s warm water mixed with his mother’s blood, Jeremy was the most beautiful and enigmatic creature I had ever laid eyes on.

Even as I cut the umbilical cord, he looked more like an alien from another dimension than either one of us, his parents.

When he finally entered the realm of air breathers with a burp and a cry, the midwife lifted him into my wife’s exhausted arms.

“Hi there,” she said between bouts of laughter as tears streamed down her face. “Hi there, little Jeremy” she cooed while staring into her son’s face still temporarily pinched from the effort of breathing outside the womb.

Horrifying. A little later, when T. Niddy comes to the present, we get a sense of why this might be happening:

The “cool kids” orbiting Jeremy would have shunned his old man three decades ago. To my amazement, he was ducking girls at 15 who would have caused me to weep with joy had they merely acknowledged my existence when I was his age.

So Tony’s jealous. I understand; I was a loser in high school too. You can tell by the fact that I just used a semicolon. Torpedoing your son in the newspaper, though: that’s pretty cold.

The Perception of Doors

Today I was reading The Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov — Russian novelists and superb social critics of the early 20th century. The novel, which was made into a Mel Brooks movie, is comic and disturbing and provides a chockful of insight into human behavior. I came across the following lines about the limitations of the Great Socialist Experiment.

. . . traffic problems are being solved; enormous power stations are being built and very great scientific discoveries are being made, but there is no one to devote his life to studying the problem of the closed door.

Ilf and Petrov go on to describe movie theaters, stadiums, and circuses and how multiple entrances were created to accomodate people but for some reason “the doors, the cherished doors, closed as far back as Peter the Great, remain shut.”

Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, capitalism has yet to solve the problem of the closed door. Or at least in Pittsburgh we haven’t. How many doors do you know that have signs that say “Please use other door.”? From the corner store to august institutions of learning and commerce, the doors are there but they’re only for looks.

Do architects design extra doors knowing that these doors will never be used? Some are gleaming steel or brushed aluminum; some have shimmering glass and precision-machined handles; and some have handsome bas reliefs of classical athletic or pastoral scenes. All are sure to include a folded piece of 8 1/2 x 11 hand-marked with a Sharpie instructing patrons to try another entrance.

I promise you this is something I’ll investigate in the coming weeks. If you see a “Please Use Other Door” sign please send them to the Please Use Other Door flickr group, or to me at mail [at] markstroup [dot] com.

Taking lessons from the best?


I got an e-mail from one of the many political groups I had the poor judgement to share my address with inviting me to this thing:

DFA Night School, our pioneering online campaign training program, is back for the 2007 Spring Semester. We’re kicking it off Tuesday, March 6 with our guest expert Tom Swan, Director of Connecticut Citizen Action and former campaign manager for DFA-List candidate Ned Lamont.

That’s right, you too can hear from Tom Swan, seen here wondering if his Treo is edible, about how to turn a rousing primary win into a debacle in which you lose by 115,648 votes to the same candidate you beat in the primary.

Next on the agenda: Making the most of your second presidential term with guest expert Jimmy Carter.

No response from the Mayor yet


Mayor Ravenstahl, seen here driving a city snowplow in probable violation of union rules, has not yet responded to our request for a clarification of his views on contraception and associated issues. Since it has been a weekend and a working day and a half, I worry that he might not have gotten my message. I am sending it again, just in case. I also included my telephone number in case he is having e-mail troubles.

On the other hand, he might just think that I am picking on him. In one sense this is true: if he hadn’t been reputed to say that he doesn’t believe in contraception, or, as I am now hearing, that he does not belive that people who receive contraception from Planned Parenthood deserve protection from aggressive protesters, in keeping with his councilmanic votes on bubble laws, this would never have come up. On the other hand, no candidate should have to answer questions that his opponent does not.
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I can’t win the caption contest


The Post-Gazette has for some time had a caption contest, an idea they stole from the the New Yorker. I had some limited success in the early days (and I still say Mikhail Gorbachev in a fruit hat is funnier than J. Edgar Hoover in a fruit hat), but lately the caption contest gods have turned against me.

For the one you see here, the last one for which winners have been announced, I failed to win even an honorable mention. I did not save an exact trascription of my entry because I do things in a half-assed way, but it was something to the effect of:

Oy, Pan. Every day at five o’clock, it’s “What’s everyone doing after work? Who wants to crack some amphorae, dance in the clearing with some concecrated virgins?” It’s just pathetic.

I think that’s pretty good. Better than some kind of strange half-joke that justifies racism, anyway.

The P-G gets it right

I tend to agree with the Post-Gazette editorial board more often than not, but today they really knocked it out of the park. You may, perhaps, have heard that our dear Governor intends to pay for needed road maintenance (including all our lovely crumbling bridges) by selling the Turnpike. The P-G editors have a better idea: sell the state liquor stores.
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