Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How To Succeed In Life Without Really Trying

Aspiring young journalists who spent the decade following high school studying journalism, editing their college newspapers, completing internships, developing their craft at small publications and repaying student loans have learned that they miscalculated.

The proper preparation for a network assignment, it turns out, would have been bleaching their hair, partying hardy, getting arrested, pledging the Kappas as a legacy, getting arrested again and -- most important by far -- ensuring their father was a President, their grandfather was a President, and their great-grandfather was a Senator.

What's next? Hiring the Obama girls to cover Fed policy during summer vacations and over Christmas break?

P.S. Speaking of the value of education, check the "Back To School Specials" at Infinonyvision (right).

Time To Address City's Pension Problem Is Now

The City of Pittsburgh's reaction concerning proposed imposition of adult supervision with respect to its egregiously underfunded pension system has reached the caterwauling stage. While the mayor is pleading almost incoherently, others are taking less predictable positions.

The Comet is sympathetic, endorsing months of delay as a sensible response to decades of decay. The Post-Gazette, curiously, has been silent, perhaps waiting until its editorial page queue clears of such weightier topics as the Pitt-Penn State rivalry, Plaxico Burress' schedule for the next couple of years and, of course, news from Sycamore Island. The ossified, ineffectual residue of Pittsburgh's power structure, meanwhile, has lined up with Harrisburg and against the mayor.

I'm with [choke] the [sputter] Allegheny Conference [choke] on this one [cough]. No more delay. No more pretense. No more dysfunction. If the city wishes to explore the (seemingly dopey) prospect of selling or leasing its parking garages, and decided to use that money to satisfy a state-mandated funding obligation, Pittsburgh should be permitted to do that. But decades of dysfunction and roughly $1 billion in ignored obligations is enough. The city needs a funding schedule, and it has proven itself incapable of accomplishing that. The Commonwealth should help the City of Pittsburgh find its wallet (and some accountability). Now.

How Much Of A Dick Are You If You Are Most Likeable When Shooting Friends In The Face?

George W. Bush has had the decency to remain silent as others have worked to address the problems caused by his failures; in turn, Americans are neither pestering him for an apology nor holding him to exacting account for his mistakes.

Dick Cheney lacks that decency. Today, the former vice president blasted the investigation of whether certain government agents overstepped even the cretinous rules established by the weak, cowardly, overwhelmed policy-makers of the Bush administration as "clearly a political move," and expressed his comfort with the prospect that some lines were crossed when shackled prisoners were beaten to death or innocents were shipped to outsourced torture venues.

Why does Cheney conclude the investigation to be political? Because "there is no other rationale for why they are doing this." One must excuse Mr. Cheney on this point; his immoral nature prevents him from apprehending the reasons a decent people might wish to examine incidents of torture and murder

The interview offers more insights into Cheney's depravity and delusion. You know what "offends the hell out of" a man an entity such as Dick Cheney? That President Obama hasn't solicited Cheney's advice on anti-terrorism tactics. You know what Cheney regrets? That he never got the chance to bomb Iran. You know what else? Calling Dick Cheney scum would unfairly disparage congealed algae.

Every day the Republican Party refrains from disowning Cheney and his chickenhawk daughter is a day of shame for every Republican. Our country works best with two functioning political parties, and our country will be grappling with the consequences of eight years of Bush and Cheney for some time, so I hope the Republicans regain their footing soon.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Now We Know Which Bait Works Best With Nuts

Responding to Pittsburgh's grapple with special-circumstance legislation concerning the balance between protest and order during the G-20 event, gun rights advocates have raised legitimate questions about the propriety of proposed provisions concerning guns.
The city may be trying to "bait people" to bring rifles to G-20 protests, said Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of, which encourages people to openly carry guns.
He said his group is not telling members to bring guns to G-20 protests.
If you believe the proposed legislation constitutes an attempt to "bait" anyone, you are a gun nut.
If the proposed legislation would "bait" you to bring a rifle to a G-20 protest, you are a gun nut.
And there is no nut quite like the gun nut.

Another Bad Sign From Pitt's Basketball Program

Last year, as the Pitt basketball season developed, there were disturbing signs of a lost team -- a breakdown in coaches' authority on the court, players preparing for big games by partying until dawn, strained personal relationships between players and coaches. The season ended with a loss to lesser athletes (but what appeared to be a better team) from Villanova.
Before this season has begun, another bad signal: a starter, Gilbert Brown, is academically ineligible.
The best explanation of this development, given the academic support resources associated with a program at the level of Pitt basketball, is dysfunction. 

Friday, August 28, 2009

You Knew Ellie, Whether You Knew It Or Not

Until a few days ago, Eleanor Louise Greenwich could hear "Be My Baby" on a radio or in a store, then walk along a sidewalk singing "River Deep, Mountain High" or "Da Doo Ron Ron," and then switch to humming "Leader of the Pack" and "Chapel Of Love" or "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home") . . . and then feel however it must have felt to have written every one of those songs (sometimes with help).
She provided backing vocals for Frank Sinatra, discovered Neil Diamond and produced his early hits, released her first record at 18, and helped Phil Spector build the Wall Of Sound.

Ellie Greenwich placed 17 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during 1964 alone; six songs on Rolling Stones' list of rock's best 500 songs; and innumerable ditties in people's brains over a period of nearly five decades, before dying this week at 68.

Propositions Board: Wagering Window Is OPEN

Confidential correspondent Agent Ska has (confidentially, of course) questioned some lines on the Propositions Board (far right column), which triggered a thought:  I need to open a wagering window.

This is it.

Please use the comment feature to place your wagers, ridicule the odds, criticize the choice of subjects regarding which propositions are offered, suggest new propositions, gloat about winnings, etc.  I hope to open a Wagering Window each week.

So far, just two rules:

Only The Cometeer may wager pocorobas (provided he explains the term no later than placement of his next bet).

Only Secret Agent Ska may wager cookies.  

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Global Infinonymity, By Strange Request

Amusement among the Intertubes:

I have no explanation, but Infinonymous visitors have with increasing frequency been exiting to translation pages such as this one summoned by a reader from Egypt's Nile Online today.

Ten recent Google searches that led inquisitive Intertubers into Infinonymity:

heather arnet arnett cute one

senator thorogood good idea

who called zober a snot

happy hour north shore pittsburgh

week and a latina end it

weekend with latina end it

kevin acklin pathetic yarone zober pathetic

dok harris loser

fox chapel bylaws laundry

anthrocon donkey cute

and, at least once nearly every day:

who is infinonymous?

Is A Cornered City About To Turn The Corner?

The rehab program is likely to be lengthy and difficult, but the City of Pittsburgh may be exhibiting the initial flickers of recognition that its prolonged financial bender may be near its end . . . or, at least, approaching the beginning of the end.

Not because Pittsburgh has decided to sober up, of course, but instead because adult supervision may be about to be imposed.

A period of petulance is to be expected. The pension board planted a lame press murmur about a lawsuit against the Commonwealth (sure to be every bit as helpful as Yarone Zober's recent public analysis of Tom Caltagirone's career). Firefighters union leader Joe King -- apparently answering a call for the 'absolutely last guy in town who ought to be yapping about grimy politics' -- is moaning about "how politics work." Mayor Ravenstahl, taking a cue from Zober's approach to city-state relations, is publicly asking local legislators, "Don't you represent us?"

The city is insolvent. It is dysfunctional. It has defied reason, actuarial principles, common sense and the self-preservation instinct for decades, squandering money, forgoing revenue and living far beyond its means while failing to fund important obligations. That trajectory is unsustainable. That it has been tolerated this long is madness. That the trajectory seems about to change seems a welcome, overdue development.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy Overcame His Advantages, And Sins, And Became An Exemplary Public Official

I dislike nepotism and inherited wealth, so Edward M. Kennedy -- whose launch as a United States Senator (at 30, three years after law school graduation) relied on his brothers' wake, and whose entire life was privileged as heir to a sketchy fortune --brought substantial baggage to his career as an elected official, from my perspective. Ted Kennedy's serial personal failings were too substantial to be obscured by wealth and power.

Despite those handicaps, Ted Kennedy's death concludes the most important Senate service of a half-century. An ardent liberal, Kennedy nonetheless embodied friendship-based bipartisanship and effective practicality even as Congress coarsened and became polarized.

Kennedy championed many great causes -- health care, minimum wage, immigration, education, civil rights -- but I believe his most consequential and enduring accomplishment denied Robert Bork, an unhinged ideologue, confirmation as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The unexpected ferocity and success of the Kennedy-led opposition to Bork's nomination likely disinclined President George H.W. Bush to nominate a hard-core conservative three years later. Instead of Robert Bork and a clone, the Supreme Court seated Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. For that accomplishment alone, Americans should celebrate the considerable contributions of "the Lion of the Senate," Edward M. Kennedy.

Two Tales Of A City . . . In A Single News Cycle

As local elites feverishly spackle lipstick on a Pittsburgh (in the largest-scale rehabilitative cosmetology project since Windows Me Windows Vista Sarah Palin), two strikingly different cities were in the news today.

One city, described by the affable mouthpiece of the region's ossified, ineffectual power structure Allegheny Conference, is a 'showcase' and 'case study' of a region that has 'really turned itself around and transformed itself' with 'one of the biggest economic comebacks in the United States in more than a half-century.' (quotations from linked video at The Comet)

The other city was depicted as no longer competent to arrange its own affairs, dysfunctional and insolvent, requiring (despite desperate pleas for a reprieve) imposition of a brutal financial reckoning by outside authorities.

Which city is Pittsburgh? It is difficult to believe that it can be both.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Meet The New Boss . . . And The Other New Boss

Some situations (apparently) require lots of rules. Other situations involve fewer rules, such as bankruptcy proceedings, in which the first rule is that there are no rules -- merely guidelines, loosely enforced.

Amid the caterwauling and contrivance, the closures and confusion and the cover-up, the convincing apprehension and curiously hopeful signals concerning control and dissent with respect to the G-20 event that will be conducted in Pittsburgh next month, there currently exists just one rule (apparently a difficult one for yinzers to apprehend):

The rules are not The Rules until Vic Walczak and Donetta Ambrose say so.

UPDATE: I suggest you buy as many Who albums as you can, beginning with Who's Next and Quadrophenia . . . and Tommy and Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy . . . and The Who By Numbers and The Kids Are Alright . . . and . . . hell, just watch this and all will become clear:

'Fool For Christ' Michele Bachmann On Her Knees . . . And On The Propositions Board

When Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Outer Jesusland) talks about how important it is for her to be on her knees, who am I to deprive her of a spot on the Propositions Board? Far right column, under 'Next Social Conservative Caught With Pants Down'

On the strength of her State Of The Union tongue-twister with President Bush (left), she starts at 15-1. Same video premium as Palin. Place your bets.

Byham Looks Good Even In New Pitt Uniform

I doubt I will be the only person rooting for Pitt tight end Nate Byham this football season, particularly if people read this article.

Byham's inspirational story is more than enough to overcome the return of Pitt athletics director Steve "NikePuppet" Pederson and his piss-poor preferences in uniforms and logos.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Maybe Snoop Could Introduce Luke to Shante?

I know it would have been impossible to pry Bill Newlin's hands from legal fees association with Tom Murphy's destruction of the city economic development projects, especially those associated with PNC Park, but we can nonetheless dream about what might have occurred if Pittsburgh had hired the lawyer who represented child rapper Shante -- that's Dr. Roxanne Shante, thanks to the lawyer -- to negotiate the stadium contract with the Pirates.

Maybe Pittsburgh wouldn't have the worst franchise in the recorded history of major league baseball major professional sports, a club with a lesser record, lower attendance, and a lower payroll than was the case before Murphy handed a couple of hundred million taxpayer dollars (and control of invaluable land) to the Pirates' owners?

I acknowledge it might become necessary to revisit the issue next month, but today's bright side concerning Luke Ravenstahl is that he isn't even the worst mayor in Pittsburgh's recent memory.

For legal matters going forward, Luke should probably think about getting the number of Dr. Shante's lawyer from his pal Snoop (who, conveniently, will be in town next month, for a show at Mr. Small's Funhouse). I have not received official confirmation that Luke has a Snoopadelics ticket, but the round-the-clock Taser-and-cuff drills being conducted by Millvale police suggest word has been passed.

UPDATE: Agent Ska apparently had not seen the SnoopaLuke shot before (too much nose-in-the-book time, young lady?). She is conducting a caption contest.

UPPERDATE: The Post-Gazette has published a front-page announcement of the Snoop show -- about three months after the show was announced. The P-G newsroom obviously continues to lack a Google-compatible Intertubes apparatus -- with Labor Day just around the corner, what about that telethon?

If You Can't Step Away From The Screen (Vol.3)

I keep meaning to add a movie to the "If You Can't Step Away From The Screen" list (which follows the "Please Step Away From The Screen" list in the center column) each week, but until someone shuts down the URA, Luke tapes Zober's mouth shut (and vice versa), Judge Wettick introduces Dan Onorato to the constitution, Kevin Acklin's supporters stop requiring regular spankings, and Mylan starts stops producing asswipes, that schedule is probably too ambitious.

This is late notice, but a great film -- featuring smart writing, one of film's greatest villains, and a strong local angle -- is to be broadcast in the Pittsburgh area tonight (7:30, on a channel called WPCW). The Silence Of The Lambs earned five Oscars (the five: picture, writing, directing, actoring, actressing) after being filmed in locations such as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, McKeesport, Western Center (Canonsburg), the former Allegheny County Jail, and Perryopolis.

Is it difficult to focus on spotting local landmarks, however, when Dr. Hannibal Lecter -- a physician who provides new meaning to "pathologist," at the intersection of erudition and dysfunction -- psychoanalyzes fledgling FBI agent Clarice Starling, demonstrates the power of attention to detail and deductive reasoning, or discusses culinary concepts.

There might be a dozen better films in America's inventory. There might not be. I encourage you to try to resolve that issue.

It's Official: Hosting G-20 Event Makes No Sense

On one of those vapid local vanity programs that makes one pine for 30-minute infomercials, I watched Bill Flanagan (the affable mouthpiece for the region's ossified, obsolete, selfish, self-promoting power structure the Allegheny Conference), present what I take to be the official list of reasons infliction of the G-20 event on Pittsburgh makes sense.

This has solidified my conclusion that hosting the G-20 makes no sense. WWVB agrees, more eloquently.

Watching four or five minutes of this morning's Region's Business Report made Billy Mays' death seem all the more tragic.

UPDATE: I don't think Mr. Flanagan and the Allegheny Conference approved this G-20-related release.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

You Don't Mess Around With Jim Luke

Perhaps taking a cue from Dan Onorato's inexplicable defiance toward the courts regarding assessments, the mayor of Pittsburgh has -- apparently purposefully -- redirected discussion of city pension funding toward a series of belittling exchanges with state legislators.

Pittsburgh hasn't seen this approach to city-state relations since 1998, when Tommy Tantrum Murphy called a (fatally premature) press conference to ridicule and insult state legislators for failing to catch a "stealth" stadium funding provision snuck into an unrelated bill.

As most teenagers learn eventually, the path of hollow defiance becomes less attractive as the rush of mindless emotional satisfaction yields to the pain of substantive consequences.

In Mr. Onorato's case, his posturing can't obscure the fact that his position on assessments is unconstitutional and immoral, conditions ineligible for legislative cure. He is likely to learn soon -- when the county next appears before Judge Wettick -- that his stubborn public posturing has been irrelevant at best, but more likely counterprodutive.

In the case of Mr. Ravenstahl and the city's pension problem, he and Yarone Zober act and talk as if they have a straight flush and a huge pile of chips. Instead, they hold a nine-high and are insolvent, with a $600 million gambling pension debt.

Mayor Murphy later called his news conference "the worst decision we ever made"; the legislative outrage caused Gov. Ridge, who had supported the bill that prompted Murphy's unseemly crowing, to veto the bill. The mayor and his chief of staff probably recognize that the "arrogant, arrogant snit" eruption is not a good sign, but adolescents generally require more than a single episode to learn the lesson concerning idle defiance.

Maybe someone could buy Ravenstahl and Zober a copy of Jim Croce's hits, and point them toward this one (featuring Tom Caltagirone as "Slim"):

Friday, August 21, 2009

PittGirl: Still A Mystery, Even Without The Mask

I never understood PittGirl.

Originally, I knew nothing about her. I wasn't aware she existed until she quit. A brief check of her archives didn't help; they seemed largely content-free, resembling high school cafeteria chatter. Her site's popularity was puzzling.

When PittGirl introduced herself as Virginia Montanez, it gave me a good feeling and I was rooting for her. I resolved to follow "That's Church" (overlooking the title, which evokes "mindless dogma") for a while, hoping to catch the fever. The feel-good angle, however, was a one-day story, overrun by news that her employer fired her.

I still do not understand. What caused the relatively small, inconspicuous not-for-profit organization for which she worked -- Negro Emergency Education Drive (NEED) -- to terminate Ms. Montanez' employment one day after she revealed her PittGirliness?

The wave of good will I experienced when PittGirl removed her mask has been replaced by distaste. I hope the reasoning underlying NEED's dismissal of six-year employee Virginia Montanez emerges, and I hope it makes more sense than I can currently imagine.

Good luck, Virginia.

UPDATE: Additional consideration has settled my thoughts. Unless NEED provides an adequate explanation, I wouldn't object to seeing it wither and die. Another organization can succeed it with respect to any good works, and there are plenty of other board positions available for the resume-padders.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mayor Addresses PittGirl's Unmasking With Style

Mayor Ravenstahl has responded to the revelation of PittGirl's identity with commendable deftness, humor and grace:
"In the interest of moving Pittsburgh forward, Dread Lord Zober and I have decided to let bygones be bygones and let this one slide. And that's church," Ravenstahl said in a statement.

I reserve the right to withdraw the commendation, of course, if Virginia Montanez is reported missing before being discovered, dismembered, on the site of any project receiving URA funding.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mr. Coury Goes Fishing -- For Whistle-Blowers

Mylan Inc. has commenced a fishing expedition designed to reveal whistle-blowers lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Mylan no doubt claims its image has been damaged and its revenues diminished. This inclines me to suggest that Mylan, the pharmaceuticals company led by Robert Coury, explore introduction of a new product line -- proprietary "personal hygiene tissues" endorsed by the guardian of Mylan's self-proclaimed "gold standard" of quality.

In other words, Robert Coury buttwipes.

In a better world, this idea would score me a job and a big promotion, but I am not optimistic about my future at Mylan, because I have never claimed to possess an unearned degree.

UBS To Rat On Swiss-Account Tax Cheats

You know what is un-American?

Enjoying the benefits of living in the United States, yet hiding your income and assets in (formerly) anonymous foreign financial accounts to evade taxes.

I hope these 4,000 wealthy leeches are publicly named, roundly shamed and forced to choose between (1) paying multiples of the dodged obligations and (2) imprisonment.

I also hope the federal government directs excruciating pressure toward other outlaw nations that solicit and harbor tax cheats.

Calling Out Tom Corbett, Political Prosecutor

Jim Gerlach, candidate for the Republican nomination for governor (right), makes a good point about his opponent, Tom Corbett: Making a political splash about investigating certain legislative corruption is incompatible with simultaneously courting support and cash from certain legislators. Some would call this conduct unseemly, others unwise, still others unethical. I choose all three.

The legislator whose inquiry triggered Corbett's political plundering investigation has chosen "humorous," calling Corbett's work "a joke" in which "he grabbed a whole bunch of Democrats a first-year law student could have prosecuted." That's John Eichelberger -- Republican Senator John Eichelberger of Altoona -- talking.

Responding to criticism from those coarse enough to note that no Republican has been among those indicted, Mr. Corbett said he is not worrying about the issue of partisanship." That is obvious, because the only thing Corbett is worried about is personal ambition. Not justice, not ethics, not his oath -- just votes and money.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Apocalypse Arrives (At South Side Works)

Fried baloney, deep-fried Twinkies and country music -- it doesn't get much worse than this. (Unless one considers the ridiculous public subsidies associated with the already faltering South Side Works.)

Let's hope URA funds are involved, so we won't have to put up with this addition to Pittsburgh's culinary landscape for very long.

Taking Them Out To A Ballgame -- Night Game

This article is worth five minutes.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Local G20 Preparations Make Forecasting Cloudy

The three most apparent prongs of local government's strategy with respect to managing the G20 summit are (1) close every downtown institution for the entirety of the event, (2) deny permits to those who seek to engage in protest during the event and (3) establish a harsh security perimeter several to a half-dozen blocks from the Convention Center.

The first point generates doubt the event could generate a substantial, if any, net benefit for the city or region. It will be expensive, and disruptive, for businesses that must relocate or suspend operations, employees who lose shifts and income, parents whose daycare will be unavailable, and the like -- even before the first window is broken.

The second and third points increase the difficulty of forecasting the course or consequence of politican-police-protester interactions associated with the event -- and decrease the likelihood local officials know or will be prepared to manage what is to occur. Their deny-it-and-they-won't-come approach to dissent seems likely to provoke angry conflict in Pittsburgh's streets . . . and to ensure local officials will be relatively low on the chain-of-command-and-influence list as the event unfolds.

I now expect the call-the-shots ranking to be
(1) Secret Service (and, exerting influence solely in extraordinary circumstances, the United States Department of Defense),
(2) Chief Judge Donetta Ambrose of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania,
(3)(tie) Vic Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union, and
(3)(tie) the new United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania (or, if Mary Beth Buchanan has not yet been replaced, a special designate of the United States Department of Justice),
(5) an amorphous mass consisting of (a) the Mayor of Pittsburgh, (b) the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, (c) the Allegheny County Executive, (d) protest leaders, including state Sen. Jim Ferlo, (e) protesters' lawyers, (f) the FBI and FEMA, (g) the Pennsylvania State Police, (h) the Pennsylvania National Guard, (i) the Governor, (j) county emergency services officials, and (k) whichever adults the mayor relies upon when the fur flies.

Unless local officials reached a shared understanding with Walczak and protester lawyers before the event begins, I expect Judge Ambrose and Walczak to be dictating terms along a timetable initiated by Walczak. Some local officials seem destined to learn quickly that dealing with Judge Ambrose is nothing like having a security detail deal with an agitated boyfriend at McFadden's. In any event, the outcome range currently seems vast.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Glenn Pavone: Rocked But Still Rocking

Please read Rege Behe's account, in today's Tribune-Review, of the struggles and transendence of Glenn Pavone of the Cylones.

Then, please treat yourself to a show or two by the Cyclones, Billy Price (with whom Glenn played when the Decade was still roaring), the Iron City Houserockers (who seem to be reuniting), Bill Toms, Bill Deasy, the Clarks, or the other local artists defending Pittsburgh against a decline into the faux-twang hell of modern country music.

I can't find an upcoming appearance by the Cylcones to include in the "Please Step Awat From The Screen" listings (middle column). But the Iron City Houserockers concerts being arranged at the Altar Bar (first weekend in December?) deserve a spot on your calendar, and any Billy Price or Bill Toms show is worth considering. When I get information on Glenn Pavone's next appearance, I will post it.

UPDATE: Another story of a musical journey, this one featuring a performer of somewhat greater notoriety . . . or maybe a complete unknown . . .

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More On Acklin's Strange Path To 'Independence'

I sense that, in general, Democrats perceive Republicans to be highly organized and well-funded. At a national level, I believe this perception to be accurate. An effective system of think tank/advocacy groups amplifies the conservative message beyond its natural volume throughout the United States, particularly in publications, on campuses and among lobbyists. There are more Olin/Bradley/Cato/Heritage fellowships/scholarships/awards/stipends fully funded and available and than there are conservative students, professors and wonks to take them.

At the local level, however, I believe Democrats' fear of Republican organization and cash is not only overblown but nearly unfounded.

Recent discussion of Republican involvement (or lack of involvement) with respect to the Kevin Acklin-orchestrated challenge of Dok Harris' nominating petition signatures generated a comment suggesting the local Republican heirarchy opposed Acklin's candidacy, an assertion that conflicted with my observations.

It is difficult to walk from the Carlton to the Common Plea without hearing someone mention the latest contribution to Acklin's campaign by the spouse-sibling-employee-parent of a prominent Republican Party figure. If county Republican chair Jim Roddey has been 'putting out the word' that Acklin is not to be helped, he must be doing so in a voice so quiet that it can't be heard one pillow over (by Acklin contributor Elin Roddey, left).

Recently, I have been told, some Republicans have objected to Acklin's support among committee members, pointing to the delicious irony that the Republican Party has (1) a rule requiring committee members to support endorsed Republicans and refrain from supporting the opponents of endorsed Republicans and (2) an endorsed candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh. . . named Luke Ravenstahl.

I also have been informed that the county Republican committee's leaders reacted to this problem -- which is a problem, of course, only if the party leaders wish to support Acklin -- by summoning their solicitor. (The solicitor identified by the county Republican website is a lawyer whose practice focuses on bankrupt entities, which makes her a natural fit for an assignment to promote Republican ideology.)

The Republicans' solicitor is said to be ready to grant (or to have already granted) written permission for county committee members to support Acklin (right) over Ravenstahl, on the basis that the rule was never intended to apply to support for a former Republican whose views on 'family values' and 'fiscal restraint' and other Republican buzz phrases are congruent with conservativism. (I haven't seen the written opinion, but I assume it also will contain a snotty, sarcastic and accurate swipe at Ravenstahl.)

This doesn't damn Kevin Acklin -- for all I know, his familiarity with local Republicans might cause him to prefer not to have their help, and you can't always pick your supporters -- but it suggests that those who claim the local Republican establishment isn't backing Acklin energetically either don't know what they are talking about or are being disingenuous.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Closing Time At URA (Neverending Happy Hour)

If any doubt had survived until yesterday concerning the need to close the Urban Redevelopment Authority, it didn't survive a Happy Hour session in which the URA board ran up a $550,000 bar tab, setting taxpayers up for a triple-strength hangover.

The URA approved $300,000 for public funding of new ownership of Penn Brewery, despite dissenting board member's Jim Ferlo's apt observation that there is no deal yet. From the P-G report, it appears no one had the guts, while the board was considering this "investment," to say aloud: "Iron City."

It got worse. The URA is putting $200,000 in public funds into the latest restaurant proposal from Greensburg's Ernie Vallozzi. Mr. Vallozzi's two most recent restaurant ventures -- a fancy pizzeria in Squirrel Hill, a brewpub in Greensburg -- are no longer with us. The proposed restaurant is near the site of the recently opened (and promptly abandoned) Richard Chen restaurant in the East End. It has been reported that the public will put up half the money for the proposed restaurant. Sounds like a sure thing to me.

Apparently, the URA board figured it would be unfair to ignore the wholesale end of the beer business after throwing public money at a brewery and a bar. URA rules, however, prohibit lending to a beer distributorship (go figure). So the board suspended the rules and voted to give $50,000 to a beer distributor in Brookline. For inventory. You read that correctly: Taxpayers are buying $50,000 in beer for a local, drive-through beer distributor. Economic development, Pittsburgh-style. The only thing missing is a handful of fries on top.

URA Executive Director Rob Stephany (right) defended the Brookline beer binge, saying it was important to help an 'important business' while it 'refinanced debt.' In other words, this beer distributor gets taxpayer money because it is on shaky financial footing. And it's not like another beer distributor would fill the void in about 15 minutes if Brookline Beer closed.

It's time to put the URA out of its misery. We should wait until Rob Stephany sobers up, though -- the benefit of the doubt figures he was temporarily drunk, rather than permanently stupid, when he defended yesterday's allocations -- so we're sure he knows he can stop coming in to work.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Life Ends, But The Sustain Remains

One of my favorite things about Arnie Palmer occurs when he enters a hospitality establishment and orders an Arnie Palmer. Whether the barkeep recognizes Arnie or not -- I have seen it both ways -- he gets what he ordered, usually as a prelude to more lively liquids.

Similarly, I have wondered what it might be like for Les Paul to wander into any guitar shop -- as he could have any day during the past five decades -- and asked someone to hand him a Les Paul for a spin.

Les Paul, master and pioneer of the solid-body electric guitar, died today, at 94, seven decades after he built an electric guitar from a 4-by-4 (and thereby precipitated rock 'n' roll), six decades after he designed Gibson's Les Paul, five decades after devising seminal recording methods.

Lester Polsfuss' mother once received a note from a music teacher: "Your boy, Lester, will never learn music." Lester not only learned it, he changed it, and I -- despite being a confirmed Fender man, Telecaster and Music Master in particular -- consider myself a beneficiary of his genius and his effort.

Mylan's Coury Give Drug Dealers A Bad Name

The federal Food and Drug Administration has announced closure of an investigation of Mylan's warning-bypass problem.

The FDA investigation was triggered by a Post-Gazette report that quoted an internal Mylan report as described "pervasive" and "very serious" violations of quality control procedures at Mylan's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in West Virginia, including "falsifying information" and "altering product."

Does Robert Coury (left), Mylan CEO chairman, a man with no apparent pharmaceutical industry experience when selected by a friend to become a Mylan executive seven years ago, take a useful lesson from this episode? Sure. In fact, he takes two: This never happened and newspaper reporters are scum, especially when they do their jobs.

Coury sees this affair not as a cautionary tale -- described as "very serious" by industry experts whose paychecks are not issued by Mylan -- but instead as a reaffirmance of Mylan's "48-year exemplary record of quality."

"Mylan's manufacturing facilities -- especially our plant in Morgantown -- have always represented the gold standard when it comes to quality, Mr. Coury said, apparently using "always" to mean 'except when employees were repeatedly falsifying reports, ignoring and disabling quality-control alarms, misusing passwords and altering products.'

Mr. Coury, whose journalism cred apparently rivals his lifelong devotion to pharmaceutical quality-control standards, excoriated the P-G reporting for being based on "improperly obtained documents, uninformed third-party commentary and anonymous sources." I notice the absence of any complaint about "non-genuine" documents, "false" third-party commentary and "inaccurate" sources. Mr. Coury does not identify, let alone controvert, a single point of information he claims to have been wrongly reported by the Post-Gazette.

That's a curious focus for an executive who has just been shown that his company needs some practices-and-ethics training. Unless you figure Coury for the kind of guy who might respond to news that one of his employees has been caught inflating a resume with an uawarded (and apparently unearned) degree -- a scandal that cost the university president, who was a friend and business associate of the academically confused employee, his job -- by promoting that employee.

It's too bad pharmaceutical labeling requirements don't require a listing of the CEO whose company actually produced a generic product, because I know I'd be looking for Mr. Coury's name when deciding whether to purchase a pill.

Synonym For Donkey, Found In "Assessment" ...

The Post-Gazette just posted its report of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's order denying Allegheny County more time to avoid its constitutional obligations with respect to fair assessment of property taxes.

The P-G adds a couple of angles to this story.

First, the P-G describes "what is now an inevitable reassessment."

Second, it ascribes to Donald Driscoll, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, this appraisal: "It's now just a matter of when. A reassessment is coming. It's now just a question of whether it will happen soon enough for the 2010 tax year."

Then, it includes Dan Onorato's assessment of this legal development: "Nothing has changed."

If that wasn't enough to cause officials of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (which counts Mr. Onorato among its graduates) to begin researching retroactive rescission of law degrees, Mr. Onorato's amplification of that remark -- "I'm a lawyer, and . . . I don't believe judges should order something that the people in the county don't want" -- must be enough to have mayors of countless Southern cities looking for time machines to hop into, hoping to recruit Mr. Onorato to handle their Civil Rights-era litigation.

That Mr. Onorato would make such statements to a reporter indicates anew that he assumes there is no Post-Gazette delivery in Judge Wettick's neighborhood. That, or he enjoys sending Mike Wojcik to jurisprudential slaughter sessions.

Time To Reassess (The County's Legal Position)?

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued good news for Allegheny County property owners disfavored by the county's discredited and unconstitutional system of assessments. The Court denied the Onorato administration's request to ignore the Court's substantive ruling of unconstitutionality maintain the unfair schedule of assessments long enough to enable Onorato to run for governor the legislature to consider the issue.

The Propositions Board has been adjusted to reflect this development. Congratulations to those who bet on the Supreme Court to vindicate the state constitution rather than to provide political cover for a gubernatorial candidate at the immoral expense of mistreated property owners.

This development tosses the ball back to county judge R. Stanton Wettick, who, I believe, told the county administration more than a year ago to expect -- and, more important, prepare for -- this ruling and a consequent order requiring a prompt reassessment. The county solicitor should be summoned to Judge Wettick's chambers any day now to report on the state of those preparations.

Adolescents And Alcohol Are A Bad Mix -- As Today's URA Board Meeting Should Demonstrate

Adolescents are fascinated by (if not fixated on) alcohol, but bad things happen when the combination occurs. Cue: Today's scheduled URA board meeting.

The meeting agenda indicates the URA board will rubber-stamp consider three grants loans -- all of which, remarkably, appear to be related to the sale of booze. (Is this the Ravenstahl administration's new economic development policy -- a city-wide kegger?)

First the URA will hand $50,000 to Brookline Beer, a neighborhood beer distributor. Then the URA will hand $300,000 to someone who is trying to buy Penn Brewery, a North Side brewer fallen on hard times. Finally, the URA will hand $200,000 to something called E.L. Vallozzi's LLC, which I figure as the latest venture involving Westmoreland County restaurateur Ernie Vallozzi, who has one established, high-quality, successful restaurant (Vallozzi's, in Latrobe) and a string of less successful restaurant ventures (such as the long-gone Pi pizza of Squirrel Hill and the Red Star Brewery & Grille in Greensburg, recently closed and transformed into a Mexican joint). I doubt the URA is investing in the successful side of the Vallozzi culinary empire.

Given the Ravenstahl administration's job-killing record (and that of URA board chair Yarone Zober) when it mixes public money, economic development efforts and booze, today's URA meeting seems certain to provide another example of why adults try to keep the kids away from the liquor cabinet. On the bright side, sending a half-million plus down the drain has to work out better than the Ravenstahl administration's "save the brewery" plan -- spending $4 million to kill a couple of hundred jobs -- at Iron City.

Or, as someone once said: Luke Can't Even Be Trusted To Get The Beer

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kevin Acklin's Strange Idea of Independence

Kevin Acklin -- whose current, self-applied "independent" label is difficult to square with some of his choices of playmates -- has been found back in the partisan sandbox, trying to toss some sand into the gears of Dok Harris' campaign.

The Tribune-Review reports (yet the Post-Gazette, so far as I can tell, does not) that three city residents have challenged Dok Harris' nominating petitions, based on what appears to be a week of painstaking legal analysis of more than 3,000 signatures submitted to the Elections Bureau in early August. One of the challengers acknowledged acting on Acklin's behalf.

Acklin's streetfighting politics -- it seems unlikely, based on the mathematics, that Acklin's challenge will succeed, but the two campaigns are likely to devote substantial time, effort and cash to the battle -- are unbecoming, but the real problem is that early reports identify Republican political operatives and lawyers (largely from outside the city) as the muscle behind Acklin's challenge.

This is no way, Mr. Acklin, to incline people to forget that you were quite comfortable, not so long ago, snuggling with the likes of Rick Santorum and Pat Toomey.

UPDATE: The Post-Gazette has published an account in which the petitioners are described as "[s]upporters of independent mayoral candidate Kevin Acklin."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Even Superman Drives To Philly These Days

My air travel has declined roughly 75 percent since the advent of shoe removal, shampoo-in-a-baggie, and hour-long security lines. Anything short of Chicago, Boston or Atlanta, I drive.

This is part of my reasoning. Cost-cutting, outsourcing, show-trial security measures, disregard of customers and disregard of common sense have reached the point at which I am no longer a comfortable fit with airline operations. Give me a steering wheel, a half-dozen CDs and a six-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

So, I Finally Went To A Pirates Game . . .

because O.A.R. was scheduled to perform a postgame concert. It wasn't surprising that the Pirates were outclassed by Albert Pujols and his Cardinals teammates -- predictable and deserved -- but who would have guessed that Marc Roberge would lose his voice one song into the performance?

I left when a fireworks display began 10 minutes after it became apparent Roberge couldn't sing, and apparently missed a game attempt by a raspy Roberge to make it through About Mr. Brown, a favorite. I don't blame the Pirates for this -- especially not when there is already ample reason to blame the organization for just about everything else -- but I believe Pittsburgh deserves a full-strength version of a fine song (and, because About Mr. Brown can't be embedded, that song is Conquering Fools):

Proof WWVB Does Not Work For The County or City (And Especially Not The Airport Authority)

Just as the Airport Authority (a particularly sketchy part of the county's financial shell game, consequent to a ruinous decline in customers) experiences a predictable and ominous decline in bond rating, the proprietor of WWVB refutes any prospect he might work for local government; this makes too much sense.
The Obi-Wan angle*: If Rendell's next employer (you know he has the gig already lined up), Onorato's biggest bankroller (Mr. Doich), or Ravenstahl's college roommate can figure out a way to make money on this idea, it just might be adopted as official government policy.

* our only hope

Saturday, August 8, 2009

George Thorogood Destroys The Palace

George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers visited a Gibson-fueled rock-and-roll tornado upon a sold-out Palace Theatre in Greensburg last night. For those who made the mistake of missing a fine show (including a worthy opening set by Jonny Lang), one of the few songs I wish Lonesome George would have added to the setlist:

Friday, August 7, 2009

Online Revelations Disturb In Several Directions

The Post-Gazette journeys through the mind of a murderer, as reflected by online information harvested by a Canadian hacker. The ease and mechanics of the harvesting might well surprise some, disturb others.

As the Intertubes increasingly demonstrate (at least for the savvy) the interconnectedness of human lives, we will become more familiar and comfortable with such revelations. I do not expect anything, however, to make this less creepy.

Unless it is this .

In-And-Out Week For America's Latina Judges

Mixed bag for America's Latina judges this week.

The Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor, placing a woman of Puerto Rican descent on the United States Supreme Court. Soon-to-be-Justice Sotomayor consequently will resign her Article III commission as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and begin to interpret the Constitution for litigants and the public.

Paula Abdul*, meanwhile, announced that she would depart her position as judge for American Idol, forcing Americans to choose among fungible, vapid voices without her. Fox announced it would attempt to fill the intellectual void with the likes of Posh Spice and the "I Kissed A Girl" chick.

* Her father was raised in Brazil and she was married to Emilio Estevez.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Some Improve Our World, Others Stain It

What is the last thing a cowardly loser does before raining his bitter dysfunction onto innocent women?

He calls his mommy.

Mrs. Sodini appears to be conducting herself with integrity, diminishing the prospect that the heartache inflicted by a coward's bullets would be amplified by the emergence of another Margaret Poplawski.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Read The Story, Wish Jim Motznik Well

This story from the Post-Gazette prompts several questions in a moving context involving Jim Motznik and his mother, each of whom deserves a kind thought after a trying experience.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Kseniya Simonova, Ukrainian Sand Animator

I stand ready to be informed that time-lapse photography is involved, or that some other aspect of this story is suspect or discredited, but I liked the recorded sand animation of Kseniya Simonova of Ukraine, consequently available on Infinonyvision (and thereafter, I hope, by YouTube link).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ed Rendell+PLCB=No Other Information Needed

The oily details.

Surveying The Propositions Board (Far Right)

Iron City/PWSA Payback odds adjusted to reflect Dowd's outmaneuvering of the mayor's office, likely an expensive development for Iron City's owners. Comet pounced on newly attractive numbers before Board revised. Related: Dowd prospects improve; rat-a-thon risk lowers Sewergate indictment number.

Wilson, Sanchez trades mean bets on Pirates success continue to be losers. Like the club's owners. And the fools who gave them a stadium.

Management thanks everyone who wagered on state budget enactment. Not a single winning ticket yet.

Specter and Toomey appear destined to joust, which is good news for Democrats. Neither Onorato nor Wagner generating excitement, which is good news for GOP.

Board ignores Palin divorce rumor, but still marks hers most likely socialcon scandal.

DeJuan Blair seems slimmer (maybe biggest point for the young man), and is smiling, but Board wonders why Spurs haven't confirmed agent's "guaranteed" money announcement. Board still likes Young as top pro from last season's Panthers.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

From Formerly Murky Sewers, Some Brightness

Was it something in the water?

The city administration, recently occupied by reaffirming inexplicable sweetheart deals and stiff-arming requests for information, changed its tune toward Iron City Brewing almost completely at a Water and Sewer Authority board meeting on Friday.

Tim Hickman of Iron City, meanwhile, continues to repel credibility at a rate resembling the brewery's sales chart for the past two decades.

Mayor Ravenstahl -- following a counterproductive course originally chosen by Tom Murphy and continued by Bob O'Connor -- permitted Iron City to amass huge delinquencies for water and sewer service. The Ravensthal administration compounded the problem by agreeing to forgive nearly $4 million (a crucial concession that kept inept and disingenuous management in place during a bankruptcy), in part by ignoring written conditions attached to some of the forgiveness, then threw in hundreds of thousands of dollars in public "economic development" subsidies to "save" the brewery and hundreds of jobs.

The brewery's owners -- one the son of a Chicago mobster who died six days out of prison, another recently indicted in Connecticut -- repaid these courtesies with a series of broken promises culminating in closure of a 148-year-old business and the loss of every last manufacturing job at the brewery.

PWSA director Michael Kenney, naturally, had declared that Iron City had complied with the "spirit" of the concessions and that he saw no reason to expect Iron City to repay most of what it had received. The Post-Gazette, Dowd and another elected official requested relevant documents and other information; the PWSA stonewalled; rumors surfaced concerning a politically tinged land development deal dependent on clearing the brewery's real estate of liens.

Council member Dowd went public. challenging Kenney's assertions that the city was legally entitled to no more than $600,000. A PWSA board meeting was rescheduled.

At the meeting, the mayor's finance director signaled a change in the administration's position: Instead of shoving cash into Iron City's pockets and quietly waiving repayment conditions, the city was now expressing outrage concerning the manner in which Iron City "let down the Water and Sewer Authority . . . let down the workers . . . let down the people of Pittsburgh."

Mr. Kenney leapt onto the new bandwagon, describing his earlier description of a $600,000 repayment obligation as a "mistake," backtracking from the decision to ignore the written conditions, and acknowledging that the dubious concessions arranged by the city adminstration earlier this year had not been approved by the PWSA board.

The 180-degree turn is welcome but curious. I still think the man to watch is Patrick Dowd -- maybe a play for even more than the million?. From another direction, has the city responded to the Post-Gazette's records request yet? If Len Boselovic could spare a moment while manhandling the entire state of West Virginia into submission, it would be interesting to see him reset his sights on Iron City Brewing and its dealings with the City of Pittsburgh. I don't believe we have heard the last from either Dowd or Boselovic, and it will be interesting to watch what occurs if they provoke Iron City to turn on the mayor.

A recap of the manner in which the city administration's about-face wrecked my predictions concerning coverage of Friday's PWSA board meeting:
PREDICTION: two-paragraph blurb, at most, in the Trib (which outdid itself with the Heather Bresch promotion story that mentioned neither her illusory degree nor the current, stock-roiling FDA scandal), with no mention of the Iron City angle
PUBLISHED: 16-graf story, leading with the Iron City situation (ahead of the revelation of a projected $2 million deficit)
PREDICTION: six-paragraph summary in the Post-Gazette, a bare-bones recounting of votes and reports with no context
PUBLISHED: 10-paragraph article, short on context but focused almost exclusively on Friday's Iron City developments (at the expense of the deficit revelation)
PREDICTION: an extensive report at The Comet
PUBLISHED: next to nothing. Just snippets from Dowd, P-G, Trib, which suggests The Comet did not attend (or perhaps did not wish to risk being perceived as a blowhard?)

Strike one, strike two, strike three. I guess I'm ready to bat cleanup for the Pirates.

NOT PREDICTED: Brian O'Neill's spot-on suggestion for a new Iron City slogan.