Sieg Wheel

Wednesday, 02 December 2009 07:30 AM Written by

(where’s indiana jones when you need him?)

As I sat at a red light at Beeler and Wilkins this morning, a black G-Class Mercedes SUV came barreling toward me, and my brain instantly did what it always does whenever I see one of those monstrosities:

1) Start playing the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark

2) Wonder if they come with free swastika armbands in the glove compartment

3) Try to imagine what would possess someone to buy a vehicle that looks like it just drove off the set of Triumph of the Will.

I’ve never gotten a good answer to #s 2 or 3, but #1 always makes me smile.

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With All the Madness in My Soul

Wednesday, 02 December 2009 02:00 AM Written by

(together, wendy)

On a personal note...

...Today, it's all about one person.

One smart, lovely, sweet, funny, make-my-heart-dance-and-my-soul-sing person.

Fantastic wife and fantabulous mom. Queen, dean, director of all things student affairs-y. Mean, green, side-yard gardener. Front-yard, backyard piddler. Pens-game fidgeter. Steelers-game cleaner. Rock and roll and soul. Twenty-year twinkle in my eye.

She didn't have me at hello. She had me before that. The first time I saw her: August 13th, 1989, across a crowded room in the Duquesne Towers.

I knew a lot of things at that moment. But one thing I did not was that I would come to celebrate December 2nd not just as the day that gave birth to her, but as the day that gave birth to the rest of my life.

I love you, sweetie.

Happy birthday. 

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A Face in the Plowed

Tuesday, 01 December 2009 09:37 AM Written by

(and another for the ads)

The more I see and think about that anti-Mayoral Shakedown Tax ad run by the University of Pittsburgh, the more it annoys me.

The way it cherry-picks, the way it proselytizes, the way it posterizes one best-case-scenario grad student and tries to make him symbolic, or emblematic, or at least unctuously representative of Pitt’s whole, pure and innocent and perfectly tax-paying student body, makes my skin crawl.

I was going to write another post about it, getting into even more details and specifics about its rhetorical and intellectual dishonesty, but then I got a sneak preview of another ad that Pitt is planning to run — one that complements the first and provides some much-needed balance and ballast to the whole campaign.

So I thought I’d just display it here and let it speak for itself...

Yeah. That one makes me feel a lot better.

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A Face in the Cowed

Tuesday, 01 December 2009 04:54 AM Written by

(and another on the tax)

Yesterday I noted that the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education and Higher Student Tuition But Not Higher Student Taxation has been running, almost daily, a quarter-page ad in the Post-Gazette — it appears again today; current spending total: $20,814 — that argues against The Mayor’s Student Shakedown Tax.

The ad is a Reader’s Digest condensed version of the argument laid out in The Council’s Sunday op-ed, and so, for reasons I have already explained at considerable length, is condescending at best and downright deceptive at worst. But it’s not nearly as grating nor as cloying as another ad run by the University of Pittsburgh.  

The Pitt ad, which first ran last Wednesday and then again yesterday, cherry-picks a tax-paying, car-owning, home-owning-and-rehabbing grad student named Daniel Jimenez to be the face of the poor, imperiled, insufferably noble university students whose spirits the Shakedown Tax will crush, and whose minds and bodies it will send scurrying for asylum in some far-off, tax-free, college town:

After Mr. Jimenez, the president of Pitt’s Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, was quoted in a Rich Lord article about opposition to the tax and also spoke before Pittsburgh City Council yesterday, City Paper editor and wit Chris Potter noted that Mr. Jimenez is rapidly becoming the best-known Pittsburgh college student not wearing a jock strap. This is true. And also unfortunate.

During his testimony yesterday, Mr. Jimenez, responding to a question by councilor Bill Peduto, declared that he earned about $25,000 a year. That sounds about right. What sounds less right, however, is his declaration in the Pitt ad that he paid sales taxes on approximately $15,600 worth of purchases in Pittsburgh stores this year.  

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Traveling Matt

Tuesday, 01 December 2009 02:00 AM Written by


On a personal note...

...TRM wishes a sunshine, blue-sky, Blu-Ray, good beer, big portion, hard rockin’, healthy line-up kinda birthday to Matt Smith.

May your day be as cool as you. 

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The Insufficiency of Sound Bites and Short Quotes

Monday, 30 November 2009 08:01 AM Written by

(when insufficiently attacking the tuition tax)

After four straight days of running a quarter-page ad against The Mayor’s Student Shakedown Tax — the ad returns for another engagement today; see a scan of it here, and see below for a few thoughts on it — The Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education and Higher Tuition yesterday turned to a PG Perspectives piece to make its case. Though council chair and Carlow University President Dr. Mary Hines gets the byline, the piece (A tuition tax would be grossly unfair) draws also on the power of the other nine university presidents who sit on the council, and a note explains that it reflects [their] views.

Because it makes some excellent points, because it misses several others, and because it makes a great show of presenting the facts even as it fudges more than a few of them, the piece seemed ripe for a line-by-line reading, response, and occasional rumination.

The city of Pittsburgh is facing a budget shortfall, and is looking to the students who benefit from "the privilege of studying in Pittsburgh" to fill the gap this year and into the future. Legislation has been proposed to tax their tuition at the full listed price in order to cover "city services they use but do not pay for."

Correct on all counts. An objective, straight-up representation of the issue at hand.

Too bad it won’t happen again until the last paragraph.

It is time to provide details about this proposed tuition tax. Sound bites and short quotes in the media are insufficient to capture the complexity of the issue.

This is true, of course, but also a bit hollow, coming as it does from the head of an organization that three weeks ago led off with the We’re all about helping the students to receive affordable, accessible education sound bite. And the this takes away our competitive advantage sound bite. And the attracting students to this area sound bite.

But we’ll go with it for now, because the premise is correct.

Of the 65,201 students who now study in Pittsburgh at the institutions which are members of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education, 46,804 live in Pittsburgh and thus pay real estate taxes (including amounts included in leases if they rent) and other taxes to the city.

This is an interesting argument, and a good one.

The Mayor’s rationale for the Shakedown Tax is that students must be made to pay their fair share for services provided by the city in which they live. On its face, that supposition — you should pay for what you get — is hardly inflammatory. And if we presume that The Mayor is ignoring all the other city fees and taxes that students pay and is focusing solely on the property taxes that their university landlords do not pay, then it’s still difficult to find fault with the basic premise that students get something for nothing when they live on campus.

But as Dr. Hines and her fellow presidents rightly note, only about a quarter of their 65,201 students live on campus. Which means that only about a quarter of their students reside on tax-exempt property and thus, according to The Mayor’s limited but not unreasonable benchmark, get something for nothing.  

You’ll forgive me, however, if I would like to see a more accurate accounting — and even a full breakdown — of these numbers. The math seems too easy, and at least a little fuzzy.

According to Dr. Hines, 18,397 students do not live in Pittsburgh and thus pay real estate taxes.

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Notes From a (Black) Friday Afternoon

Friday, 27 November 2009 12:49 PM Written by

(busting the doors of my mind)

For your holiday-weekend consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations, culled from and inspired by this morning's headlong journey into the heart of Black Friday darkness:

• When I was a kid, most stores would open for Black Friday shopping at their regular time. Others would get the jump by opening an hour early. By the time I was in college, most stores were opening at 8, a few as early as 7. No one ever went out at 5. Or at 4. Much less at midnight. And yet, somehow, we still managed to get all of our shopping done.

• It’s only a matter of time before Black Friday, like the rest of the Christmas season, starts about two months too soon.

• If last night’s live remotes were any indication, the people pitching tents at Best Buy weren’t there to shop; they were there to eat, to get on TV, to have a good story to tell tomorrow, and to hang out with people whose lives are as sad and as lonely as theirs.

• If I ever reach the age when anyone considers slippers or after-shave lotion a suitable Christmas gift for me, I will stop accepting presents. Or kill myself.

• Once again, CVS Pharmacy locations were touting their Black Friday Sales. This year, they were even open on Thanksgiving. I'll give ten bucks to anyone who can sufficiently explain why. And I'll give twenty to anyone who actually went and bought a gift there.

• The Best Stocking for Sale Award goes to this little two-sided gem I spotted hanging on the wall at Target:

It's almost enough to make you want to be naughty.

• For the third year in a row, the boys were barely able to pull themselves away from the Kapoosh Slotless Knife Block. I don’t know how it would work or look in your kitchen, but if you’ve run out of toy ideas for your kids, it might be worth a look.

• Among the many reasons I am happy to be the father of a fifteen-year-old boy is the realization, never more heightened than on days like these, that it is difficult to find clothing for a fifteen-year-old girl that does not make her look like a ten-year-old kid or a twenty-year-old whore.

• Door-Buster Bargain of the Day: the now almost ubiquitous 32" flat screen TV. Everywhere we went, people were toting them, carrying them, snatching them, grabbing them, guarding them — and then trying to figure out how the hell they were going to stuff them into their cars and get them home. There were at least a few tense moments outside Best Buy, when I'm pretty sure that a Dad with a half-crazed look on his face realized that if he had one less kid to drive home, he could get that Samsung LCD to fit.

• Most Unexpected Item of the Day, spotted on display at Barnes & Noble: the Guggenheim Museum Lego Architecture set.

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Thursday, 26 November 2009 05:33 AM Written by


Today, sometime between the food and the football, we're supposed to stop and give thanks. To take time simply to recognize and appreciate and acknowledge all of the gifts with which we've been blessed, those precious parts of our lives that make us glad simply to live them. It's a great and storied tradition — one made all the more savory by its coincidence with whipped-cream-topped wedges of pumpkin pie. 

But I digress. 

That I am thankful for my beautiful family and my wonderful friends, of course, is thanks always already given. You know who you are, you know what you do for and give to and mean to me, and you know that, from the bottom of my heart and the top of my soul, I love you.

And so, in this entry, I'll shine my holiday light of thanks on blessings and bounties more esoteric, more superficial, if not much less intimate and personal. These are the people, places, products, and paraphernalia that empower me, today or every day; the comforts and companions, influences and inspirations that bring joys both great and small to my life and work. (The first two, even more than most of this list, should come as no surprise.)

Here, then, are hefty endorsements made and hearty thanks given:

Apple, whose whole bushel of brilliance brings grace and elegance to every digital thing I do. 

Bruce Springsteen, whose music has provided the soundtrack for the last 34 years of my life.

John Ciardi, for Most Like an Arch This Marriage and Memo: Preliminary Draft of a Letter to God the Father alone, but really for all of his poetry, and for being the poet whose influence is most deeply heard in my writing and felt in my living. 

Dish Osteria, a South Side culinary treasure and my favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh.

Eddie Bauer, for about 80% of my wardrobe.

Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe's brilliant movie about life and love and writing and rock & roll. (How could it not be my favorite film of all time?) 

TarGet, for being the one-stop shop for just about everything we need, for proving that a discount retailer can be bright and clean and fun to visit, and for ensuring that I will never, ever set have to set foot in a Wal-Mart again.

Homewood Suites, for vacation destinations, for great accommodations at even greater prices, and for being the Official Hotel of the Hermann Family.

iPhone, for keeping me beautifully, effortlessly connected everywhere and at all times. (But not while I’m driving!)

Dr. James Romberger, for a fretting father’s pediatric peace of mind.

The WeeK, for being the one newsmagazine I read cover-to-cover, and the only one I have to read at all.

Lewis Black, for being the funniest man in an often unfunny America. 

Max & Erma's on Walnut Street, a restaurant that used to be quite literally up our alley, and one that continues to provide comfort food and familiar ambience for family dinners at least twice a month.

NHL, for eight and a half months of fun and entertainment with the highest level of the world’s greatest sport.

Flannery O’Connor, whose Complete Stories provided my first truly life-altering college experience, and whose exquisite writing alters and inspires me still.

Pittsburgh Penguins, for being my favorite team in my favorite sport, for being the #1 passion and pastime of the Hermann Family, and for thrice-weekly adrenaline rushes to get us through more than eight months of the year.

DuQuesne University, perhaps the most underrated college in America; it was my first choice then, and it would be my first choice now.

Dennis Roddy, for being the most consistently probing and entertaining writer in the city, and for staying with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when he's good enough to have gone anywhere else. 

The Squirrel Hill Branch of the Carnegie Library, the smartly redesigned, walking-distanced destination of choice for my family of voracious readers.  

Drive-By Truckers, for being the best damned rock band in America.

Hot FUzz, for doing for action films what Shaun of the Dead did for zombie movies, and for being the funniest damned movie I saw this decade.

DirecTV, for digital clarity and customer service quality, for high-def DVRing, and for the weekly glory that is NFL Sunday Ticket. 

The Wilbur Chocolate Company, whose Wilbur Buds have always been my favorite chocolate in the world, and a wonderful Hermann Family Holiday tradition.

MaTalbot, for the unmatched pleasures of watching an athlete who knows his role, never stops working, and helps his team in a dozen different ways that never show up on the score sheet. And for that one spectacular night in June.)

Yuengling, America's best beer and oldest brewery, for those times when milk or Mountain Dew just aren't enough.

Pittsburgh Post-GaZette, for my morning print fix, for my online local news fix, and for hosting and humoring me these past ten months. 

And there you have them: twenty-six of my life's little pleasures. If I've omitted far too many others, well, such are the (admittedly malleable, elliptical) restrictions of an alphabetical list. But that leaves me with a hole lot of great ingredients from which to cook up next year's list. Until then...

Enjoy the food, the thoughts, and the food for thought. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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