Archive for June, 2007

Why We Need Blogs

Since, I am not trained as a journalist and am not a natural writer, I wonder a lot about why I feel I need to be blogging. For, the most part– it’s to say things, that I feel need to be said and notice stuff that might be overlooked. The recent bad behavior of the Pittsburgh Pirates is sad but common case in point. Thanks to a large extent to huge government subsidies, the team manages to get by year after year with a pretty lousy product–as in 15 losing season’s worth. Management, knowing suckers when it sees them, seems satisfied to milk the team as a cash cow rather than investing in it– spending $20 million less on payroll than small market, Milwaukee Brewers.

A few long suffering fans have planned a meager protest at today’s game that has been met with a pretty draconian response on the part of the Pirates. “They have asked their television announcing crew not to discuss the walkout with the media. They have removed all comments about the walkout from their message board at They have the support of their television rights holder, FSN Pittsburgh, which does not plan to show the protest as part of its game coverage.”

Pittsblog has repeated a call for all bloggers, and supporters of alternative media to make sure that this protest is not squashed. “Aux armes, cell phone, PDA, and mini-cam owners! Shoot photos and videos of the walkout yourselves, and upload the results to YouTube and Flikr. (Don’t shoot images of the game being played, though.) Fans for Change can aggregate the links at a site of their own. The protest will automatically get a permanent archive — and Pittsburghers around the world (diaspora check, here) can see what’s happening locally. ”

It’s not Tiananmen Square, but a way for the average fan, who has sold out for the great views and dozens of bobbleheads to gain back some dignity.

Nuclear Stress Test?

I’m sure this sign refers to something medical (cause the sign says so), but I can’t help but see something slightly sinister behind its bold, block letters. Perhaps a massive nuclear reactor thrums quietly beneath Shadyside’s Arlington Apartments, providing its secret bounty of electrons to the power-thirsty, Apple-using hordes of hipsters.

This site and its regulation-enforced sign are a small hint as to the office’s true purpose: to occasionally crank the reactor to its highest possible level, just to see if the ancient turbines can still handle the output of a fist-sized chunk of uranium harvested long ago from from a decommissioned CMU experiment in time travel or wormholes.

Yeah. It’s obviously something medical.

Ravenstahl full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

Mayor Ravenstahl, seen here earnestly wishing the guy in the blue hat would quit laughing at him, Tuesday:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said today that the promotions last week of three police officers with domestic issues were “unacceptable” and that the procedures for approving upgrades in rank are “obsolete and unacceptable.”

Sounds like a prescription for quick action, especially after yesterday’s big-turnout council meeting, which the mayor did not deign to attend. And here he comes, roaring out of the gate:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will not demote three controversial police officers promoted June 18 despite domestic abuse accusations, but he is implementing, starting today, what he described in a press release as “a new policy that will set a standard of zero tolerance for domestic abuse.”

Impressive. No more domestic abuse. Of course, domestic abuse that happened in the past can’t be addressed, because how could these officers have possibly known that it is not acceptable to do violence to spouses and children? Maybe the mayor can shed some light on the situation:

Mandatory Domestic Violence training is currently provided to all Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Officers.

Oh. Well, surely there is some accountability.

With regard to Charles Rodriguez and Eugene F. Hlavac, as I have said, I was unaware of there being any issues in their background prior to public reports last week. That is a result of the Police Department not reporting to me that information. Had I known of that history, I would have urged that extraordinary steps be taken to further look into their respective issues, just as I had done with Detective Trosky. I have reprimanded Chief Harper for not sharing that information with me.

I see, it is the Chief’s fault. No more of this, then:

The promotions were approved by Mayor Ravenstahl on recommendations of police Chief Nate Harper.

I guess that means that Nate Harper will be suspended. No? Docked pay? Demotion? Humiliating fraternity prank?

Nope, just a mean letter from the boss who promised to be his Best Friend Forever earlier this week. I think the same thing happened to my sister in middle school.

Headline writers vs. reporters

Valley News Dispatch (part of the Tribune-Review empire) headline, written by some editor: “Fireworks danger persists in nation, Pa.

Sounds dangerous. Sounds like fireworks are injuring people at a higher rate than they used to, or at least the same rate. That is what I would assume, if I only read the headline, as many people do. The text of the story, by Jenni Easton:

Demand for fireworks has skyrocketed nationwide, but injuries related to the explosive novelties have hit their lowest rate in years, according to data released this week.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported Wednesday that fireworks imports into the United States have increased 700 percent in the past 30 years, amounting to about 272 million pounds in 2006.

At the same time, injuries per 100,000 pounds imported were estimated at 3.4 in 2006, down from 7.5 in 2000 and 38 in 1976, when the commission began enforcing stringent industry safety standards.

No basis for that alarmist headline here. Maybe lower down in the story?

The [eleven]deaths have prompted some national groups, including the National Fire Protection Association, to advocate banning consumer fireworks. NFPA has coordinated a coalition of like-minded professional groups to form the Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks, which works to increase the number of states with comprehensive bans.

They say there is no such thing as a safe firework.

“When you’re talking about a product that injures 10,000 people a year, a large percentage of which are children, that’s far too many,” said Lorraine Carli, an NFPA spokeswoman.

Yup, ten paragraphs down we see some professional alarmists being alarmed. That is a shock worthy of a headline that ignores the actual story.

Good Riddance


Andrew King, the Pittsburgh Public Schools administrator who salvaged his career after a well-publicized arrest in 1999 and later sued the district for passing him over for the superintendent’s job, will retire Saturday.

The school board last night approved Dr. King’s retirement as part of a settlement of a lawsuit and related complaints that he had filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If he sued, he must have had a good reason, right? Discrimination?

Officers said they caught Dr. King having sex with a homeless woman in a van near a Hill District school.

Well, that’s pretty bad. It isn’t exactly work related, though. You can probably have sex with homeless women and still be a good administrator.

As interim superintendent, Dr. King quickly made waves by firing or demoting a number of top administrators and by introducing a pilot math program without consulting the district’s top math and science officer.

Well, I guess that is pretty bad, too.

Dr. King, who is black, alleged discrimination and the use of secret, subjective criteria to exclude him from the superintendent’s job, even though Helen Faison, a former superintendent who helped lead the search, also is black.

After Mr. Roosevelt’s arrival in August 2005, the board named Dr. King assistant to the superintendent for compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Dr. King called the change an illegal demotion, though it involved no loss of salary.

In the end, this cost the district what District Solicitor Ira Weiss called “only” $75,000, not, as far as I can tell, including legal fees. The lesson: go to work for the school board, get into fights with your colleagues, and get caught by the police having sex with a homeless woman in your van (in King’s defense, the officers had clear, bumper-sticker warning not to come a knocking). If you do, you will not only not get fired, you will not only not get a reduction in salary, you will even receive a year off and a $75,000 bonus.

In Greek tragedy people used to get punished for hubris.

Appeals forever

The Post-Gazette:

The Steelers and the Pirates today filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court challenging the decision by the city planning commission to approve the master plan for the proposed North Shore casino.

… … …

Under law, the appeal goes directly to the state Supreme Court as a means of expediting the litigation. Casino developer Don Barden is still awaiting word from the court as to whether he will retain the casino license after appeals by the two losing bidders.

It has bothered me from the beginning of this casino thing, back when Governor Rendell first ran for office, that no one seems to want to ask whether we want to be the kind of place that supports fleecing people for their money. It is all about the tax money and the supposed benefits to the community, which worked so well in Atlantic City, seen here enjoying gambling-based prosperity.

There is no question that fleecing people is the aim of these, and all, casinos. In this case the argument was made that West Virginia is making money from this, New Jersey is making money, why shouldn’t we? I would argue that we shouldn’t because it is a betrayal of the spirit of community to rob our most vulnerable neighbors to fill our government coffers. Others might say that people who don’t realize that slot machines are designed to empty their wallets at a very steady rate deserve what they get.

Now it seems to be too late to have that discussion. What we can hope for, and what I do hope, is that these appeals in the courts might delay the opening of this monstrosity indefinitely.

Pittsburgh Has A Gallery Guide

One of the things that makes me optimistic about Pittsburgh’s creative future is that it’s not we have been trying very hard. One thing that stands out is that the city has never had even a simple printed guide to it’s galleries and museums. It also barely shows up in any regional guides like the Mid-Atlantic Gallery Guide which the Warhol didn’t bother to list in.

The guide, that was created was put out with the meager funds of a lot of very poor galleries. The larger and better funded folks, which are in Pittsburgh non-profit institutions took a wait and see approach, with eager promises to do it next time when it’s in their ( simple listings cost $200) budget or if it meets their standards.
The Glass Center, The Pittsburgh Center For the Arts and in the Cultural Trust stepped up in the end with some support. The Carnegie, Warhol, Mattress Factory, The Silver Eye, AIR, Future Tenant and the major college galleries of CMU and Pitt did not list themselves.

The final product looks good but falls far short of being a comprehensive guide to our art scene which is full of all kinds of fascinating things being done by people with almost no money. As I expected, having even a small fee, put listings beyond the grasp of all the Penn Avenue spaces like Garfield Artworks and Modern Formations. The project does involve an evolving website that promises a lot more.

No music like ‘burgh music

The Homegrown Hoo-ha is happening this weekend at the Post-Gazette Pavilion.

An all-day event, the concert will feature some of Pittsburgh’s best, including (my favorite) The Clarks, Rusted Root, Donnie Iris, and Good Brother Earl, among others.

I am always impressed by The Clarks’ live shows, and imagine that they will continue to exhibit their modest yet sensational performances this weekend. With two live sets and several other performances, it will be a considerable celebration of Pittsburgh’s most recognized musicians.

There’ll even be fireworks.

Tickets are on sale at Live Nation.

Shows That Will Rock (chairs included)


I know I’m getting older now that my first thought when I hear about an upcoming show is whether or not I’ll get to sit. It’s a sad fact of life, but ultimately I’ve made peace with my transition from an angry mosh-pit teen to a tired oldie who just wants a seat, and maybe a beer, during the show.

Needless to say, I’m quite excited about several shows this next month or so that feature some of my favorite female performers with the added bonus of chairs.

On July 2, Sarah Shannon comes to Club Cafe for the 7:00pm show. Formerly of Velocity Girl, Sarah’s solo albums are more lounge-singer than indie-rock, but I’ll be sure to catch this show since I never miss a chance to support my indie-idols of yesteryear (do you know how many times I’ve seen Juliana Hatfield?).

Later in the month, the Cultural District Live Series brings Neko Case (pictured above rocking a Penn State t-shirt) & Lucinda Williams to the Byham Theater.

Then, on August 1, Patti Smith performs at the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead. According to the Tribune-Review, Pete Zorn also plays there on August 14. I’m assuming that this is actually referring to Pete Yorn and is also a sign that the Trib is actively searching for a sassy new entertainment reporter who actually knows the name of popular musicians (note to Trib: call me!).

What is the Role of Technology in Politics

Yesterday, I was writing about too much technology. Today, I am wondering about the power of technology. I have watched trailers for a couple of documentaries coming out this summer. No End In Sight (Clip is included below) about the Irag war (which also won some awards at Sundance) and Sicko about health care in the US. Over the past couple of years that I have been working on campaigns, I know that these are both major issues in politics, but ones that are removed from many Americans.

Will these documentaries, and the access to this level of information – images, video, interviews – play a role in shaping public perception about these issues. Currently most American’s interact with these issues through the lens of the main stream media. Will these documentaries play a greater role in shaping public perception.

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