Birth of a Nation

Monday, 24 August 2009 12:49 PM Written by

(of ninnies)

Just when I thought the infantilization of our children could not get any worse, along come the Pittsburgh Public Schools to prove me wrong:

On the first day of school, September 3, 2009, all other high school students, with the exception of those who attend special schools or regional special education programs, will have a four-hour delayed start as District high schools and 6-12 schools devote the morning to the new 9th graders as part of the 9th Grade Nation First Day of School Transition Day program. The staggered start times for the first day of school ensure that new 9th grade students receive a special welcome and the full attention of the high school staff.

That’s right, folks. This year’s 9th graders, most of whom are 14 years old, are coming from the city’s big middle schools, have been in school for at least 9 years, and likely have been in Head Start or day care or pre-school programs far longer than that, need an extra-special four-hour transition period when all those big, scary sophomores, juniors, and seniors aren’t yet in the building, so they can get acclimated to their surroundings, feel some warm and fuzzy vibes, and maybe find their lockers or their first few classrooms without the fear of wetting themselves before nap time.

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(capping the carbon of my mind)

For your consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week...

I’m going to try not to make a habit of this, but... I’ll begin again with an apology for not getting around to finishing that post (or posts) on the reaction to the Collier Township shooting. (Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: like we give a damn. But I do.) A week I thought would have fewer distractions turned out to have just about as many as the one before, and I’m taking my time here, because there are some things I want to get absolutely right. So it’s still coming. Some day.

• The PG’s great Tony Norman has already weighed in on the silly story out of New Jersey last month, in which music legend Bob Dylan, unrecognized by a young Long Branch police officer, was detained as a suspicious person until his identity could be verified. But his first sentence — As encounters with cops go, it wasn’t Gates-Crowley II — stops short of where I wanted to go with it. Namely that it wasn’t Gates-Crowley II for one obvious reason: unlike Professor Gates, Mr. Dylan did not blow a gasket when approached by a police officer who, responding to a 911 call, was just doing her job.   

• Had both the pleasure and the pain of attending the Candidates’ Comedy Night last night. Though Senator Arlen Specter didn’t quite bring down the house as much as he is reported to have done — the Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond sex jokes, which bordered on the uncomfortable, clearly gained from their incongruity with the joke-teller — but he was indeed pretty funny. Of course, almost anyone would have been funny in his slot, sandwiched between a seemingly endless string of judicial candidates who, if comedic chops were any qualification for the bench, would not be allowed to judge even a wet t-shirt contest.  

• Kevin McCarthy and Judge Judy Olson were the exceptions, each genuinely earning their laughs in disparate ways: he with clever material and charming, understated delivery; she with some sharp jokes and a brassy, commanding stage presence. But the rest of their colleagues were appallingly unfunny. So unfunny, in fact, that many of them moved through the so-unfunny-it’s-funny stage and settled right into the so-unfunny-it’s-physically-uncomfortable stage.

•  When one of the judicial candidates brought two of her sons on stage to bail her out and sing a straight-up, a capella version of John the Revelator, I feared someone might call CYS. But the most shocking and — who are we kidding? — offensive moment of the night came when Judge Robert J. Colville began his act by making fun of another, female judicial candidate who’d preceded him, capping off his imitation of her by declaring, That [begins with a B, rhymes with witch] stole my act! Now. I know he was kidding. And I know it was a comedy show. But it was still wildly inappropriate.

• When I looked around my equally astonished table for other reactions to Colville's utterance, an equally gobsmacked friend leaned over and said, That... was a “Macaca” moment.

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Asleep at the Wheel

Thursday, 20 August 2009 05:50 AM Written by

(and at the switch)

This morning’s home- and front-page headline, DUI crackdown aims at women, caught my eye. The fact that sobriety checkpoints — which I will always believe, precedent and case law be damned, should be unconstitutional — are a key part of the crackdown got my blood up to a nice, rolling boil. But three "expert" quotations in the piece darned near made my head explode.

Here’s the first, from Barbara Harsha, Executive Director of the Governors Highway Safety Association:

Women are driving more like men and, unfortunately, have picked up some of their dangerous habits.

As a good friend of mine emailed to note, Ms. Harsha here accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of insulting both genders at once; she paints all men as careless, dangerous drivers — as opposed to, say, the small percentage of men who actually fit that description — and then suggests that all women, far from free moral agents who make their own choices or develop their own bad habits, are easily influenced, and thus led astray, by these careless, dangerous men.

As an extra added bonus of absurdity, Ms. Harsha imagines drunken driving as a male habit — one presumably more dangerous than scratching themselves or leaving the toilet seat up, but less frequent than, say, farting or belching or playing fantasy football.  

The second quotation, from Mothers Against Drunk Driving President Laura Dean-Mooney, is less inflammatory but equally fanciful:

What you’re hearing more is that women are under more pressure, they’re now perhaps the breadwinner because of the unemployment rate.

We’ll ignore the thought that Ms. Dean-Mooney almost seems to be creeping up to the not-so-delicate edge of suggesting that these increased numbers of female drunken drivers should be excused, or at least empathized with, because they must now bear the burden of compensating for the economic failures of their down-sized, dead-beat husbands, and move right to the fact that the 30 percent increase in arrests of women driving under the influence that has prompted these new measures come from FBI statistics for 1998 through 2007. They measure, in other words, the ten years before the unemployment rate began again to soar.

Is it possible these women were psychic? Were they driving under the influence because they could see this economic downturn coming? If so, someone should ask them to look into the future and tell us when things will get better. Or at least whether the Penguins and Steelers will repeat.

The third quotation, my personal favorite, also comes from the unintentional comedy stylings of Ms. Dean-Mooney:

We need to make sure women understand that if you’re a drinking driver, you’re just as likely as a male to hit or kill or injure someone, or perhaps even kill yourself.

I have to give her some sort of crazy, grudging credit for that one, if only because she manages to do what I would not have thought possible: provide a quotation even more condescending to, and even more infantilizing of, women than the one Ms. Harsha uncorked a few paragraphs earlier.

Just when we thought that women were blank-slates ready and waiting to be written upon by the most foul and dangerous habits (commandeering the remote control? eating pork rinds?) of men, we learn that women are, in fact, empty-vesselled idiots incapable of understanding that both their drunken impairment and their careening-out-of-control vehicles are not any safer than those of the men they are likely, especially now that the unemployment rate has crept over 9 percent, to emulate.

If Ms. Dean-Mooney is correct, perhaps the ad campaign should be written in crayon. 

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Wednesday, 19 August 2009 05:24 PM Written by


Today comes word that the Squirrel Hill Panera Bread location will soon close. Official word is that the franchisee has decided not to renew its lease. Unofficial word, at least among people who’ve tried to dine there any time in the past few years, is that the inevitable, hastened by increasingly spotty selection and shoddy customer service, has finally occurred.  

Almost four years ago, without realizing it at the time, I bore witness to the beginning of the end:

All I wanted was a bagel.

Technically, I suppose, I wanted four bagels. But you gotta figure that where there's one, there's four. And that where there should be dozens, there will at least be four. Which, of course, shows you how little I've learned from the ongoing epidemic of customer service fiascos.

Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill. 11:20 on a typically hustling, bustling Saturday morning. All sorts of cell phone, strollers, and lattes on parade, flailing and flying in the manic hands of the sandaled, khakied throng, everyone flitting about at full-throat and full-throttle, beginning to think about feeding and filling their broods. The streets are alive. The shops are only slightly embalmed. It's prime time for bagel-buying.

I slide into Panera Bread. The wi-fi is working, but the employees are not; two guys sit tap-tap-tapping away at their laptops, but everyone in an apron is standing still-still-still behind the counter, no doubt calculating the time until one of them is forced to refill the sample basket. I scan the bins. One or two decaying Cinnamon Crunches. A Sesame that seems to be missing at least half its seeds. A few other random, sickly bagels, looking like they might have been plucked from the rooftop of a New Orleans Panera and air-lifted to Pittsburgh, hoping, perhaps, to find a good home for refugee baked goods.

It will not be with me.

Nor, apparently, with anyone else. 

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Her Majesty's Not-So-Secret Service

Wednesday, 19 August 2009 12:36 PM Written by

(and ballot)

In 2004, PittGirl voted for George W. Bush.

I wonder what the minions will make of that.

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A Most Excellent Post

Wednesday, 19 August 2009 10:02 AM Written by

(i wish i’d gotten around to writing)

I have, for some time now, been kicking around a post about the common sense of universal health care, and another about the uncommon, insidious genius of the term, Death Panel.

In a blog post from Monday that I just read a few moments ago, the great Roger Ebert beats me to both.

So just read him instead.

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Favre, Favre Away

Tuesday, 18 August 2009 02:56 PM Written by

(on the dark side)

Lord knows I shouldn’t do this, since it’s the very attention he craves, but since Brett Favre keeps turning up again and again and again, like the baddest and most interception-prone of bad pennies, like Ned Ryerson and that damned snowy puddle in Groundhog Day, like death and taxes and Cyril Wecht falling in love with the sound of his own voice, I thought it would be fun to fire up the way-back machine, dig into the old TWM and CSB archives, and offer, for your relative amusement and bemusement, #4's less than greatest hits...

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Radical Radio

Monday, 17 August 2009 10:22 AM Written by

(with mark, anna, and melissa)

That's right, folks — in the wake of Netroots and the little ripple of Right Online, it's time for another Bloggers' Roundtable on Pittsburgh Business Radio.

Tune in this afternoon from 5-6pm to hear your Radical Middle correspondent, along with Anna Dobkin, Melissa Walters, and man-about-town-and-behind-the-mic Mark DeSantis, punditize on all things Pittsburgh and beyond. Listen to WMNY Money Talk 1360 AM, catch the live stream online, and/or participate in the accompanying real-time TalkShoe chat.

If you miss it — and, really, I wouldn't blame you if you did — I’ll post a link to the podcast later this week. But if you're stuck in traffic, or just trying to pass the time before dinner and don't have bikini-clad, middle-school cell-phone screamers to keep you entertained, I promise we'll be worth the listen.

Update, 8/19: Here's the link to the podcast.


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