Opinion

The Bad Apples

Thursday, 18 February 2010 04:58 AM Written by

(in the ems bunch)

Yesterday’s post about the multiple EMS failures and breakdowns that left Curtis Mitchell to die in his Hazelwood home has produced an interesting and still ongoing comment thread. I urge you to check out the full exchange here.

But this morning I want to highlight, and reprint here on the main page, a pair of comments that deserve a larger audience than they might find among comment thread curiosity seekers.

The first, from a reader who goes by DBROL, shares a similarly disturbing, but (thankfully) more happily ended, story:

I fear this happens more than we realize. Two summers ago, while suffering from Congestive Heart Failure, medics forced me to walk a city block to the ambulance.

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The First to Die

Wednesday, 17 February 2010 07:29 AM Written by

(for a mistake)

While everyone’s focused on yet another incident that proves Rob Rogers’ depictions of the Mayor as a whiny, petulant child are, if anything, too kind by half, I can’t get past this:

Emergency vehicles were within blocks of his home three times — once so close Ms. Edge could see the ambulance lights from her porch — but did not make contact with him. They finally reached the home on Sunday morning, Feb. 7, but Mr. Mitchell was already dead.

And this:

The [first] call was canceled after paramedics learned that Mr. Mitchell was in too much pain to walk out to them.

And this:

"If he wants a ride to the hospital, he is just going to have to come down to the truck," a medic told the dispatcher. Mr. Mitchell said he would try to walk to the truck, but later told them he couldn't make it across the bridge. The second call was canceled.

Read those passages again. Think about them for a moment or two. Let their grim, sickening reality sink deep into your marrow.

And then ask yourself:

How close does an ambulance have to get before paramedics will consider it not too much of an inconvenience to come and save your life?

How many inches of snow are too high for on-call paramedics to ford, but low enough for someone suffering from severe abdominal pains to suck it up and make the trek?

How many city blocks are close enough for a dying man to walk to his own ambulance, but too far for healthy, able-bodied rescue workers to walk to get to him?

How long before all 911 calls are answered, What’s your emergency, and how long will it take you to get here?

How can an EMS team, a public safety department, a city government, a community of human beings with hearts and souls and still some semblance of moral and spiritual outrage left to them, accept this atrocity with such seeming ease and dispassion?

I would ask more questions like this, or perhaps attempt to answer them, but right now, after thinking about this all morning, I feel like I have to throw up.

Which worries me all the more, because it’s snowing outside. If this stomach pain gets worse, I may be on my own.

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One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Tuesday, 16 February 2010 08:40 AM Written by

(or, picking up the blitz)

Here, with context but little comment — they speak loudly and clearly enough for themselves, I’d say — is a series of photographs I took with my iPhone this morning, while making a round of work-and-school drop-offs through Squirrel Hill & Point Breeze:

(And, for the record, my vehicle was always stopped, and there were never any cars waiting behind me, when I took them.)

Wilkins Avenue, between Murray and Shady, 7:48am:



Northumberland, in front of the Zone 4 Police Station, 7:51am:



Shady Avenue, in front of The Children’s Institute, 7:52am:



Shady Avenue, on the hill between Hastings & 5th, 7:53am:



Linden Avenue, in front of Linden Elementary, 9:15am:



5800 block of Aylesboro, 7:49am:



5700 block of Aylesboro, 7:50am:



Notice anything peculiar? Something, perhaps, out of the by now well-established ordinary?

Go ahead and look at them again. I’ll wait.

. . .

There. See what I mean?

A heavily traveled east-west thoroughfare, leading past one of the East End’s universities and taking many drivers toward the other two, is slushed and rutted and snow-covered. An almost-as-heavily-traveled east-west thoroughfare, leading past both a police station and a firehouse, is slushed and rutted and snow-covered.

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Tuesday Morning Double Jeopardy

Tuesday, 16 February 2010 03:31 AM Written by

(one off, one really off)

Another post, in which we take note of an always curiously cleared East End street, will follow later today. But for now, here are a pair of thoughts that hit me as I woke up, turned on the news, and looked out my window this morning:

• It may be a beautiful city in a wonderful country, but with indoor (?!) opening ceremonies, an Olympic Flame cauldron that would not emerge or properly light, snow that had to be trucked in from other parts of Canada, rain on the first full day of the games, temperatures in the 50s, postponed downhill ski races, a Zamboni that gouged the speed skating ice, and a luge track that killed a man, Vancouver has set a new low for the first four days of the Winter Games.

• During that dark middle passage of Groundhog Day, when Bill Murray repeatedly tries and fails to kill himself, I’ve always assumed he was driven to those extremes by the existential torment of living the same day over and over (and over) again. But now I realize he was driven to it by the torment of watching it snow every day.

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Tartan Mistrust

Monday, 15 February 2010 08:17 AM Written by

(in which one percent is greater than three. and four.)

Remember those heady days in mid-November when the leaders of our local universities assured us that their students could not possibly pay another 1% on their tuition?

Remember when the member states of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education held press conferences and bought quarter-page newspaper ads and regularly rent their garments to proclaim they were all about helping students to receive affordable, accessible education and that an extra 1% atop tuition would eliminate their competitive advantage in attracting students to this area?

Remember when I promised that all this melodrama and unibabble, all this hyperventilating, hysterical sound and financial fury would not prevent these very same universities from abandoning their allegedly principled stand and jacking their students’ tuition (and room, and board) for next year?

Well, here in the snowy days of mid-February, right on hypocritical cue, the folks at Carnegie Mellon have proven me right. And themselves, if not wrong, at least risible and regrettable.

(For the record: I deserve no credit for this prediction, which was no greater a feat than promising that the sun will rise tomorrow, or that more snow will fall today; like swallows to Capistrano and dogs to their own vomit, university administrators return, annually and inevitably, to tuition increases. Even when they have spent the past three months arguing that their students’ tuition expenses could not possibly be increased.)

Without a hint of shame, nor of self-awareness, Carnegie Mellon, which just three months ago lent its considerable voice to the chorus crying over and over (and over) again that 1% on tuition was just too much extra for its students to pay, announced Friday it would increase tuition next year by 2.98%.

Those two hundredths of a percentage point will surely be a relief to students (and parents) who feared it might rise by as much as 3% — when they’re done setting their tuition increases, CMU’s Board of Trustees will go back to pricing CDs and gallons of gas — but not to students (and parents) who hoped that their university would not gouge them at a rate three times higher than their city wanted to.

Carnegie Mellon, of course, thinks 2.98% is just a jim-dandy number. One even worth crowing about. Here’s the headline of the press release:

Carnegie Mellon 2.9 Percent Tuition Increase For Fall 2010 Lowest in Decades

There are only two small problems with that:

1) The increase is 2.98%, not 2.9

2) It’s not true.

(The second sentence of the press release, by the way, cops to both faults: This year’s increase of 2.98 percent follows a 2.94 percent increase last year.)

Now, I’m no CMU quant jock, but I took enough math classes in my time to know that 2.98 is not the same as 2.9. To know that, if I were going to round off 2.98, I would have to round it up to 3, not down to 2.9. And to know that 2.98 is most definitely greater than 2.94.

Which means, of course, that Carnegie Mellon’s tuition increase for Fall 2010 is not even its lowest in a year, much less in decades.

And which thus begs the questions: Are the folks at Carnegie Mellon that lazy, that sloppy, or that disingenuous? Can they not even do and properly announce their own math, or have they so little regard for their students and for their community that they tramp out self-serving press releases with deliberately deceptive and repetitive rhetoric, hoping that no one will notice and figuring that no one will bother to call them on it if they do?

I’m guessing an untoward mix of both.

First, let’s go with lazy and sloppy.

Here’s the standard-issue third-paragraph quotation, attributed to Vice President for Campus Affairs Michael Murphy, in last year’s press release:

Given the current economic climate, the university felt it was important to hold down the rate of the tuition increase. We understand the financial difficulties families may be facing and feel it is important to respect that while continuing to manage the university's resources efficiently and effectively.

Now here’s the third-paragraph quotation, also attributed to Vice President Murphy, in this year’s press release:

We understand that many families continue to face difficult financial times, so we felt it was imperative to hold down the rate of the tuition increase. At the same time, we will continue to manage the university's resources effectively and efficiently, ensuring that we maintain the exceptional quality of our educational program.

Notice any echoes? Repetitions? Striking similarities?

How about in these two quotations, from later in the press releases...

2009: Both parents and students tell us that maintaining the exceptional quality of our educational programs is very important to them.

2010: We continually hear the same refrain from both parents and students — that maintaining the extraordinary quality of our educational programs is of paramount importance to them.

Anything sound familiar?

(For the record: I know Vice President Murphy. My wife used to work for him. He’s a good man, an icon at CMU, and that most rare breed of university administrators: someone truly and deeply and often selflessly committed to the well-being of the students in his charge. I like him, and I respect him. And I also understand that, given the nature of how press releases are written and proffered, he has likely never said any of these things attributed to him. Which is good, because they’re just so much piffle anyway.)

You’d think that with all that tuition money, and with an endowment still measuring upwards of $700 million, the folks at Carnegie Mellon wouldn’t have to resort to recycling, much less to borderline plagiarizing, their own unctuous press releases.  

You’d also think they might feel at least a little shame, maybe some hint of regret, at least the slightest far-off whisper of chagrin, about deliberately fudging claims and numbers — here comes the disingenuous part — that run so counter to their own rhetorical cudgelings from just a few months ago.

A 1% tax on tuition was just too much for their poor, impoverished students to bear, but a 2.9 — er, 2.98 — hike in tuition will be no problem at all. Nor, apparently, will even greater hikes in room and board cause any hardship or lack of competitive advantage:

Increases for room and board were contained at a rate of 3.96 percent.

Once again, the CMU PR flacks recycle from last year’s statement, this time repeating the stunningly bad bit of double-speak that proclaims a four-percent addition a containment.

(Last year’s room and board increase, by the way, was 2.89%. Perhaps they had more containers back then.)

The tax fighting, tuition-raising folks at CMU are hoping, of course, that you don’t compare the numbers. And that you don’t the math. But that wouldn’t be any fun now, would it?

A 2.9 — uh, I mean, 2.98 — percent tuition increase, across Carnegie Mellon’s tiered tuition structure, results in a low increase of $1,135 and a high increase of $1,201. If we average those two, we get $1,168.

A 3.9 — which is to say, a 3.96 — percent increase in room and board results in an additional $240 for room and an additional $170 for board.

All of those increases, taken together, produce a low of $1,545, a high of $1,611, and an average of $1,578 for the next academic year.

The amount of the Student Tax hit, by the reckoning of the CMU Student Senate, would have been roughly $400.

That would have been far, far too much extra for those poor, disadvantaged sprites at Carnegie Mellon to pay next year. But an amount 3.95 times that figure, at almost a full $1,200 more, well — that’s just one more year of business as usual at University, Inc. And don’t expect any press conferences, or op-eds, or quarter-page ads to tell you any different.

If only because this proves, yet again, the naked hypocrisy of the universities’ position — which amounts, as I have argued before, to the higher-ed equivalent of Nobody hits my brother but me:

Nobody fleeces our students but us.

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Monday Morning Double Feature

Monday, 15 February 2010 03:55 AM Written by

(one on, one off)

A post we all knew was coming, albeit with a surprisingly despicable twist, will follow later today. But for now, here are a couple of quick programming notes:

• Thanks to last week’s double feature of Snowpocalypse and Snowpocalypse II, which rendered city roads impassable and city residents long immobile, a new episode of Radical Pittsburgh will not appear this week. Unless this afternoon’s Snowpocalypse III proves much more imposing than our wayward meteorologists seem to think, we’ll film a new edition on Friday for posting as usual next Monday. In the meantime, you can catch up on the first three episodes here.

• The PG’s best sports writer, Dejan Kovacevic, has produced a brilliant piece of analysis from Vancouver. All Sports Can Learn From Luge is easily the best read in this morning’s paper, and surely the best reaction to Friday’s fatal Olympic accident I’ve read by anyone, anywhere. Sports fans, and fans of great writing and thinking, won’t want to miss it.

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Back in Black

Saturday, 13 February 2010 07:08 PM Written by

(one more, in the name of love)

It began as a post on my old blog. It provoked a great and passionate outpouring of email. And so, slightly tweaked, it became an annual tradition.

Last year, it became a First Person essay in the PG. I heard again from readers, some old and some new, who feel the same as I do and were glad to see someone express it in print. And so, untweaked and unbowed, it becomes again an annual tradition: a black little letter of hate to that cruel majesty, to that manufactured monstrosity, we call Valentine’s Day...

A Day to Love... And Hate.

Welcome to the day devoted to love that everyone hates. Irony doesn't get much better or thicker, but we're all too engaged, too obsessed and obsessing, to enjoy it. Or even to notice it.

We're too busy running around in search of the sweet and the cute and the red, white and pink, scrambling for gifts and cards and flowers and chocolates and teddy bears and lingerie and little lacey things that earn a few oohs and aahs before spending a few days on a night stand and the rest of the year cluttering up the back of a bedroom drawer.

We're too busy venturing to Victoria's Secret, hustling to Hallmark, trying desperately to find that one pure and precious (and probably overpriced) gift that will, better than anything we could say or do or create ourselves, proclaim, I love you, sweetie. Or perhaps, I didn't know what else to get you, honey, so I hope this is good enough.

All this business assumes, of course, that you're married or committed or at least casually dating. That you're able to honor, or at least commemorate, some critical state of romantic entitlement. That you are not thoroughly depressed, diseased or disgusted by thoughts of the attached and attaching. That you're willing to accept the scuttling about to shops and kiosks and candle-lit corners of pretentious restaurants to celebrate this grand and glorious day of romantic hope and harmony that forces you fully to acknowledge the love, or the lack thereof, in your life.

Bruce Springsteen once sang, When you're alone, you ain't nothin' but alone. But you ain't never more alone than when you're alone on Valentine's Day.

Oh, sure, you know it's a sham, a show, an artifice, the only day of the year that some spouses or partners or significant others would even think to get or give a present that says they care enough to buy the very best. And only then because the retail-industrial complex tells them they must.

You tell yourself you're above it all, or maybe beneath it, and that you're not going to get bitter or angry enough to wallow in the echoing silences of your own empty heart. You know it all means nothing, but, like so many things when you're alone, it feels like it means everything.

Attached, unattached, being one and wanting to be the other... it doesn't matter. You still can't enjoy it. Valentine's Day is the great no-win holiday, the ultimate lose-lose proposition.

If you're in a relationship, then you're a lover, and the pressures of the day make sure you show it. If you're not in a relationship, then you're a loser, and the oppressions of the day make sure you know it.

For years, I did my best to protest the compulsions and conventions of Valentine's Day. I wore black instead of red. I bought a present for my wife and gave it to her on the 11th, the 12th, maybe the 15th. For a few years, I didn't buy her anything, and she bought me nothing in return.

On our first Valentine's Day as a couple, we avoided romantic comedies and went to see The Silence of the Lambs instead. On our first married Valentine's Day, we holed up in our Baltimore apartment and watched The Brood, a great low-budget horror flick about the brutal physical and psychological scars of a failed marriage that, thanks to radical techniques in psychotherapy, come to life in the murderous rampages of killer dwarves. (Yes, really. It's better than Kramer vs. Kramer. But I digress...)

We protested, resisted, battled and backpedaled. We waged our own little matrimonial war on the institutional terrors of the day, shooting symbolic slings and arrows into the hearts of the rabid, romantic fundamentalists waging their Hallmark jihad and shoving their saccharine, sugar-coated conventions down our throats.

Not because we wanted to be different. And not because we wanted to be cool. But because we've always believed that this all-too-manufactured occasion ignores a couple of simple, natural notions. That you shouldn't need an arbitrary day to tell you whom or when or how to love.

And that, if you're doing it right, every day is Valentine's Day.

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The Cards That Could Have Been

Saturday, 13 February 2010 05:31 AM Written by

(in case you forgot)

Yesterday afternoon, lurking with the boys in the back of a ramshackle card store, wading our way through an endless sea of pink and red and fuschia and magenta and hoping to find just the right, understated card for a profoundly wrong and overstated holiday, I noticed something odder and stranger than greeting-card-usual tucked among the wretched racks.  

On those cloying but helpful little inserts that help you find just the genre you need — WIFE; MOTHER; SON; DAUGHTER; FROM BOTH OF US; FROM SIX OF US; FROM THE FAMILY PET; FROM THE RED-HEADED STEP-CHILD; FROM A CHEATING FIANCE TO AN IGNORANT GIRLFRIEND — were a few titles that seemed, well, at least a little obvious. Like the one labeled ROMANCE. Or the one marked LOVE.   

To distinguish them, I suppose, from all the Valentine's cards with messages of HATE and INDIFFERENCE.

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