Opinion

Get Out and Vote

Tuesday, 03 November 2009 03:25 AM Written by

(that's all)

 

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TRM on the Radio: Special Extended Edition

Monday, 02 November 2009 04:37 AM Written by

(with mark and anna and other special guests)

It’s time for another Blogger’s Roundtable segment on Pittsburgh Business Radio — and this one’s expanding to a full three hours, complete with interviews, special guests, and all the Pittsburgh Punditizing you’ve come to know and occasionally to enjoy. 

This afternoon’s show runs from 2-5pm.

You can listen on WMNY Money Talk 1360 AM, catch the live stream online, and/or participate in the accompanying real-time TalkShoe chat.

If you miss it — if you’re, say, stuck in a meeting, or trapped under something heavy — I’ll post a link to the podcast later this week.

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Dr. Dixon and the Deadly Dishes

Sunday, 01 November 2009 07:27 AM Written by

(or, a tale of two piggies)

If you read this Friday’s Notes — especially the first eight of them — you know that the Chicken Little response to the Porky Pig flu has me at my wit’s, if not yet my elbow’s, end. As if on cue, and almost as if he’s testing the limits to which my head will expand before it finally explodes, Greg Victor, the PG’s great Op-Ed editor, serves up a Forum piece by Charlie Stewart, a local father who concludes that there’s just nothing funny about the Swine Flu, remembers how hard it is to take care of someone who’s sick, and professes that he’s now so paranoid he can’t even touch a doorknob anymore.

Whether this is a personal choice, or a consequence of writing from inside a padded cell, he does not explain. But I have my suspicions. And they were confirmed right about the time he declared that when his son was sick, he washed the dishes with the hottest water he could handle, then ran them through the dishwasher twice.

Presumably Mr. Stewart did not throw them away, or bury them in his backyard, or perhaps chain them in a sack, drive them to a quarry, and hurl them into the deep black water below, for fear that their spirits might one day rise and return as porcine poltergeists or flesh-eating, Purell-resistant pig zombies. Someone should ask him. Or perhaps check with his Exorcist.

In stark — and I do mean stark — contrast to Mr. Stewart’s derangement comes another, happier reflection of Friday’s Notes: a wonderful piece by Michael A. Fuoco on Dr. Bruce Dixon, long-time Director of the Allegheny County Health Department. It’s a great read, and a vivid portrait of a man held in high esteem not just by those who value sense and reason and perspective and proportion in their public health pronouncements, but by anyone fortunate enough to know, or to have benefited from, the good doctor’s work.

Think about it: that’s not just eighteen years of selfless and honorable service to his community; it’s eighteen years of talking down and setting straight the Charlie Stewarts of the world when they think that an acid bath and a Tamiflu enema are the only things standing between them and grim and certain sniffles.

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Tricks and Treats

Saturday, 31 October 2009 06:54 AM Written by

(and not-so-scary sequels)

Five years ago, not knowing how the costume would fit or how long I might actually want to wear it, I dressed up as a blogger for Halloween, put jittery fingers to keyboard, and, like John Hurt convulsing on the dinner table while that screeching, skittering little alien burst forth from his chest, gave birth to a screeching, skittering little thing I called TWM.

Like the incredulous crew of the Nostromo, I watched with surprise and horror, awe and amazement, as that little beast rose and grew and bared its teeth, ran off into the shadows for a while, then evolved and reappeared here, transformed into an imposing, acid-blooded presence I could not possibly have imagined.

Sometimes, when I look at TRM or the server software that powers it, or when I consider the posts I've made and the number of hits I get each day, or when I look at the sheer and shocking body of work I've spit out over the past five years, I feel a little like Harry Dean Stanton, staring up into the great and savage maw of the alien and thinking, just before it eats his face, that he probably should have forgotten about the damned cat.

But then there are times, when I'm watching tv or driving to work or sitting at my desk and some random thought or inspiration hits and compels me to share it, or when I'm feeling something so deep in my head or my heart or my soul that it feels like I might possibly die if I don't write about it, or, like right now, when I'm sitting here thinking and typing and writing something that I hope I will love and be proud of later, when I feel like Sigourney Weaver, going back for the cat and risking her life and then, in the end, bringing the big old alien along for the ride anyway.

And that’s good. Because continuing the adventure, no matter where it takes you, is better than hanging around on a self-destructing ship. And, even though most of them just plain stink, some sequels really are more rich and rewarding, more wild and exciting than the original.

TWM was a labor of love. And maybe, in some small way, an act of desperation.

TRM is as an experiment. And still, in many ways, an unfinished one.

Either way, and in every way, I’m enjoying the ride. I hope you are too.

As this election season winds down and the time I have to spend here picks up, I’ll work even harder to earn, and so to deserve, your support and indulgence. And I’ll do my best to make what lies ahead (and beneath, and beyond) in this sequel more Aliens than The Fly II, more Evil Dead 2 than Exorcist 2.

I have some big ideas, and at least a couple of tricks and treats, for what to scare up next in a space where everyone can hear you scream.

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(Unsanitized) Notes From a Friday Afternoon

Friday, 30 October 2009 08:01 AM Written by

(testing the immunity 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...

• When I read the first two sentences of yesterday’s front-page lead story (Visitors to an open house in Squirrel Hill last weekend were greeted by the homeowner, but not with a handshake. "We're doing elbow bumps," Janet Anti told her guests, offering the outside of her bent arm.), I thought they must be ironic. When I read the first half of the third sentence (“Because of the national emergency,” she added,), I was convinced they were ironic. When I read the rest of that sentence (...and everyone nodded knowingly.), I realized I was wrong. And I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.

• By the time I got to this sentence — At least one professor at the University of Pittsburgh has asked students to e-mail their assignments rather than turn them in on paper to avoid transmitting the virus — I was ready to get up, go to the kitchen, get some tinfoil, and make myself a hat.

• It’s the flu, people, not the plague. I know three people who got it, went to a bed for a couple of days, got better, and moved on with their lives. In the six weeks or so since it’s hit Allegheny County, exactly two people, both of whom had underlying medical conditions, have died. Which puts this flu on par with pretty much every other flu that comes down the pike. Except, of course, for the hysterical press coverage.

• I’m beginning to think the most viral thing about H1N1 is its marketing.

• Or else its hysteria.

• The lone voice of reason in that front-page freak-out belonged to Natalie Caplan, Director of the great Carriage House Children’s Center in Squirrel Hill: We just do a lot of hand-washing, but no more than we already did. Perhaps because Ms. Caplan, the folks at Carriage House, and other people with sense and reason and good health habits know that you should be washing your hands and keeping them away from your face and coughing and sneezing into your sleeve all the time — not just when the news you watch and the Twitter feeds you read have terrified you into believing that the Black Death Pig awaits anyone who touches more than a properly clothed elbow.  

• And don’t even get me started on the guy I heard on the radio yesterday, no doubt speaking for plenty of other people whose minds are as uncritical as their web browsers, asking Allegheny County Health Department Director Bruce Dixon — who’s been an oasis of reason in this Sahara of paranoia — if the H1N1 vaccine was, indeed, made from mercury and anti-freeze.  

• Dr. Dixon gave the man a far more detailed and thoughtful response than he deserved. Or likely comprehended. What he should have said was: Yes, it is. And there are many terrible side effects. But the good news is you can go outside all winter and not have to wear a coat!

A White House basketball game with no female players? Really? That’s the reason some liberal columnists and bloggers have decided to beat up on President Obama? I guess now that he’s ended warrantless wiretapping, eliminated military tribunals, refused to support Patriot Act extensions, allowed gays to serve openly in the military, and ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have nothing more important to criticize.

• Oh, wait. Never mind.

• Here’s a question, in this week of incessant political commercials, that’s been nagging me for a couple of days: How, exactly, do Superior Court Judges protect my family? What do they do, walk a beat? Run a home security system on the side? Send a bailiff over to my house every now and then to make sure we're alright?

• I must have missed the memo that declared last weekend the It’s Alright to Park in Front of Fire Hydrants Weekend. If my travels were any indication, people in Oakland, in Shadyside, and (especially) at South Side Works must have gotten multiple copies. 

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Save Money. Shop Worse.

Thursday, 29 October 2009 04:15 AM Written by

(expect more. pay a little more.)

A second, more trivial but still interesting photo in the PG also caught my eye yesterday morning, below a headline that read:

REMAKING WAL-MART
Big-box retailer overhauling a look that some customers say is too plain



Before I’d read a word of the article, one thought leapt immediately to mind:

They’re trying to be more like Target.

The wide aisles. The bank of flat-screen TVs. The brightness and cleaniness and just general pleasantness of a store in which you might like to stop and shop and spend some time and that, once you do, won't make you feel as if you need to go home and take a shower and try to scrub the filth and stagnance from your flesh.

The garish signs, the cold tones, and all that crap along the left side of the aisle suggest they still have a long way to go if they ever hope to copy achieve the aura, the vibe, the warm and welcoming groove of a Target store.

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Now All That Remains

Wednesday, 28 October 2009 09:36 AM Written by

(is their love for you, brother)

Woke up this morning, came downstairs, and shuffled out into the rain. Picked up my paper, brought it back inside, and spread it open on the kitchen table. Staring back at me was a photo by Mark Wilson of Getty Images — not the one below, but another from the same shoot — of the remains of a young soldier from Michigan coming home to Andrews Air Force yesterday.



Took Wendy to work and the boys to school, came home and showered, got dressed and back in the car. Headed for work, fired up the iPod, and hit Shuffle. Roaring back at me was a song by Bruce Springsteen, so sad and bitter and fitting for the morning that it’s like he, or at least the hard drive, could read my mind and see the image still hanging upon it.

This, in a week when I’ve already offered a work from another of my idols and influences, and when I've spent a lot of time thinking about life and love and hope and death, seemed worth sharing with you.

I would tell you to enjoy, but today, that’s not the point...  

GYPSY BIKER
Bruce Springsteen

The speculators made their money
On the blood you shed
Your Mama's pulled the sheets up off your bed
The profiteers on Jane Street
Sold your shoes and clothes
Ain't nobody talking 'cause everybody knows
We pulled your cycle out of the garage
And polished up the chrome
Our Gypsy biker's comin' home

Sister Mary sits with your colors
Brother John is drunk and gone
This whole town's been rousted
Which side are you on
The favored march up over the hill
In some fools parade
Shoutin' victory for the righteous
But there ain't much here but graves
Ain't nobody talkin'
We're just waitin' on the phone
Our Gypsy biker is comin' home

We rode her into the foothills
Bobby brought the gasoline
We stood 'round her in a circle
As she lit up the ravine
The spring high desert wind
Rushed down on us all the way back home

To the dead it don't matter much
'Bout who's wrong or right
You asked me that question, I didn't get it right
You slipped into your darkness
Now all that remains
Is my love for you brother
Lying still and unchanged
To them that threw you away
You ain't nothin' but gone
Our Gypsy biker is comin' home

Now I'm out countin' white lines
Countin' white lines and getting stoned
My Gypsy biker is coming home.

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Keep Your Eyes on the Screen, Your Hands Upon the Keys

Tuesday, 27 October 2009 06:44 AM Written by

(the reply is uncertain, and the end is always near)

Regular readers of TRM will know that it doesn’t take all that much to make my head want to explode. But I hope you’ll believe me, and so indulge me, when I say that last week’s Anya Sostek article about the brain-dead, solipsistic idiots who insist on text-messaging while driving made my cranium swell almost to Barry-Bondsian proportions.

That they do it — in the face of logic and reason and that increasingly rare commodity known as common sense — is bad enough. That they rationalize it after the fact with a mix of moral relativism and unfettered id that would make a drunken frat boy, or maybe even Britney Spears, blush — is worse. And far more disturbing.

I wanted to write about these miscreants last Thursday — oh boy, did I — but couldn't find the time. Today, I found it.

First, let's start with some context:

Half of adolescents send text messages while driving, according to a study released this week from the National Center for Children in Poverty.

Which means, of course, that the drivers who most need to pay attention to what they’re doing — the ones with the least physical practice and accumulated experience on the road — are those paying the least attention. This alone should be enough to frighten you off the road for a while. And then you read this...

Other studies have pegged the percentage of all drivers who text at nearly 25 percent.

...which may be enough to frighten me off the roads forever.

Because, in other words: when it comes to texting-and-driving, the population as a whole, from ages 20 to death, is only about half-again as wise, as careful, as thoughtful and responsible behind the wheel as teenagers.  

Here’s Exhibit A...

"It's so stupid," said Noah Caplan, 32, describing the practice that he does roughly "every single time I'm in my car."

On Thursday, I suggested this behavior is a kind of insanity. I could still make that case — the folly, the senselessness, the derangement are all acute enough to make it stick — but the more I think about, the more I think this behavior is really just a form of abject and willful stupidity.

The insane do not recognize their own insanity, and the ignorant do not recognize their own ignorance. People who acknowledge their own pathology, and then proceed apace as if they alone possess some special immunity, leave us with but two suitable descriptors: recklessness and stupidity.

Unless, of course, there’s some truly compelling reason for the behavior.

Though he knows texting while driving is dangerous, it's also irresistibly convenient, he said, explaining that friends and co-workers who text him want to hear back right away and that a text message is far more efficient than a phone call.

Like, say, convenience. Or the impatience of friends whose every digital squawk and croak must be acknowledged, lest they fear the social has left their media. 

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