Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fulfilling A Responsibility

Michael Luo has an interesting article in today's New York Times about life post-Speakership for U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert.

From Michael's article:

Mr. Hastert, 65, of Illinois, who at eight years was the longest-serving Republican speaker in history, is getting used to life among the proletariat in the “People’s House.” He is one of the few speakers, and the first since Joseph W. Martin Jr. in the 1950s, to rejoin the rank and file.

“You miss being in the fight every day,” Mr. Hastert said in a rare interview. “That’s part of human nature. I’m an old coach. You like the competition, but, you know, things change.” ...

There has been talk of an ambassadorship in Mr. Hastert’s future, but he all but ruled that out, saying his wife was reluctant to leave Illinois. They also have a new grandson. His plan for now, he said, is to serve the rest of his term. He hinted he might run again, pointing out that he was raising money.

“People elected me in my district to run and to be a congressman, whether I was speaker or not,” Mr. Hastert said. “I’m going to fulfill that responsibility.”

(New York Times photo above by Doug Mills.)

In Memoriam: Don Tayor: 1927 - 2007

During my State House campaigns, I came to really like a group of the old-timers from the Burgettstown area -- many of whom I met through the Burgettstown Knights of Columbus and Our Lady of Lourdes Church. On Monday, we lost one of these old-timers -- Don Taylor.

Don's obituary is in today's O-R. It makes note of his service as a Mt. Pleasant Township supervisor and his work with the Knights and the Burgettstown Senior Center.

In 2006, Don attended some of my campaign events and spent time on my behalf outside the polls. But more important to me was his advice about changes in the local political scene. His instincts were nearly always on-target. I'll miss him.

From the prayers at the end of the funeral Mass:

Don,

May the angels lead you into paradise,
may the martyrs come to welcome you,
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

They Went Away

We are now in the fifth week of Lent. Sunday's Gospel at Mass, the story of the woman caught in adultery, shows us Christ's wisdom and mercy. From John Chapter 8:

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them.

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.

They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.

Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.

But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.

And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.

So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She replied, “No one, sir.”

Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Monday, March 26, 2007

Good News for the 33F

Reporter Mike Jones brought us some great news in Saturday's O-R: It looks like the Port Authority of Allegheny County's 33F bus will keep on rolling through McDonald!

From Mike's article:

The Port Authority of Allegheny County announced Friday it plans to cancel some of its proposed route cuts, including one of the two weekday routes through McDonald.

The 33F, which runs from the borough to Carnegie, where riders can catch a transfer bus into Pittsburgh, will remain on the schedule, albeit only during rush hour in the morning and afternoon.

PAT spokeswoman Carmen Bray said there will be "some level of service" before 9:30 a.m. and after 3 p.m. She said there may need to be some changes during those times to accommodate other routes and schedules.

"A lot of those details haven't been decided and we're still working on those plans," Bray said. "There will be rush hour service, but how those trips will be adjusted - when they begin and end, and the frequency of service - we're still working out."


The 28G route is still slated for elimination.
The 31E, which departs from Gladden and connects through Bridgeville, will remain on a limited schedule. The transit authority's Consumer Relations and Operations Committee approved the recommendations Friday and sent the revisions to the board of directors. A final decision will be made March 30.

Friday, March 23, 2007

108 Lives

In May 1999, I spent about two weeks participating in a journalist exchange program in the City of Novokuznetsk in Sibera, Russia (about 200 miles from the Chinese and Mongolian borders).

This week, the world learned about Novokuznetsk after an explosion at a coal mine there killed 108 miners and other workers -- making it one of the worst mining accidents in recent history.

There's an AP story at CNN.com with details from funerals.

O-R Editor Park Burroughs also has coverage at his blog. Park organized our trip to Novokuznetsk back in '99.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pathetic

Yesterday, Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto pulled out of the race for Mayor of Pittsburgh, seemingly giving Luke Ravenstahl a free pass to a win in November. Pathetic.

There is no longer democracy in the City of Pittsburgh. The City government is an oligarchy controlled by the Democrat Committee and the handful of dominant Democrat families and their loyalists. Communist China and the ghosts of Soviet Russia would be proud.

Can any city thrive or any region grow without political competition pushing its leaders?

The “leaders” of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh Republican Committee should resign. They have shown themselves incapable of sustaining the two-party system.

Today's P-G has an excellent editorial also lamenting this sad state of affairs.

(P-G photo above by Rebecca Droke. Rebecca's caption: Pittsburgh Councilman William Peduto announces he will withdraw from the Democratic primary for mayor at a news conference at his campaign headquarters in East Liberty yesterday.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Crashing in Queens

Today's P-G includes a story about Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's recent acceptance of some perks.

I found it most interesting that, after taking that flight on a billionaire's private jet, the Mayor of Pittsburgh crashed at the apartment of a friend of a friend in Queens. (No specification provided on whether he slept on a couch or an air mattress.)

To my mind, this shows Mayor Opie wasn't looking for any hand-outs. If he had, he would have spent the night in Manhattan.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Coffee Runs, Celebs & Carol

My cousin, Casey Colby, objected in an e-mail today to the fact that I had not yet done a blog post about my time in New York. So, to satisfy the person who may be my most international reader (Casey lives in Holzwickede, Germany), I hereby tender a few New York stories.

I arrived here late last week to start my new gig, which I can report is going pretty well. (Observant readers may have noticed that, on Friday morning, the job title in my Blogger profile changed from "Political & Media Consultant" to "Marketing & Communications Professional.") The folks at my new workplace have a standard a.m. coffee run to a deli across the street -- which is usually a pretty good sign.

Having already lived in NYC for four years during college, I know that one of the ways you can mark time is in the sightings of celebrities and quasi-celebrities. My first occurred on Saturday at the Barnes & Nobles on Union Square when I was standing next to Morgan Spurlock, the guy from the documentary "Supersize Me." It's not surprising Spurlock was the first -- I think he lives in Lower Manhattan and he's a fellow NYU grad.

And, not an actual sighting but close: Tonight, Chris Daughtry, last year's runner-up on American Idol, played at Irving Plaza, the club next to the little hotel where I am staying (also at Union Square). I didn't get to catch the sold-out show, though. A scalper tried to sell me a ticket but I balked at his $100 asking-price for the $20 ticket.

Another interesting story -- even if it will sound rather self-righteous: On Saturday afternoon, I bought a meal for a homeless person. I was inside St. Francis Xavier Church waiting for the 12:05 p.m. Mass to start when a homeless woman (maybe 45 or 50 years old with shoulder-length stringy blond hair) walked up to me in the pew and loudly asked, "Will you help me get some food?"

Being one of those flashing-neon-sign "WWJD" moments, I walked with her to the nearby deli on the corner of 5th Avenue and 16th Street. "Carol" got a ham and cheese sandwich on a hoagie bun with a bottle of Coca-Cola and two yellow apples. Walking back to church, Carol told me she was "a domestic violence case from Pennsylvania." Hearing this, I told her I was from Pittsburgh and she said she was as well. She exclaimed she was happy to meet another Pittsburgher.

When I got out of Mass, Carol was already gone. She said she was staying at a shelter on 96th Street with her 16-year-old son.

Tonight, just after the interaction with the above-mentioned scalper, another homeless person (this time a grumpy little man) also asked me to help him get some food. But, the New Yorker in me kicking in, I just responded, "Sorry, man" and kept on walking. Guess I'm not so holy after all.

To close, here's a prayer by Thomas Merton that I've been carrying around with me the last few days. The ending is very grim, but you'll get the point:

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Prodigal Son

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Lent. The Gospel at Mass today included the Parable of the Prodigal Son. From Luke Chapter 15:

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So to them Jesus addressed this parable:

“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’

So the father divided the property between them.

After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.

So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.

Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’

So he got up and went back to his father.

While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.

He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’

But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’

Then the celebration began.

Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.

The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.

He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’

He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

Low Expectations

Last week, we saw "300," the nearly universally-panned yet crowd-drawing film depiction of the Frank Miller's graphic novel set during the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.

The critics' reviews were so bad that I set my expectations so low that I actually liked "300" more than I thought I would.

Cheesy dialogue. Slim plot. Gratuitous violence. Iffy history. But it worked in some ways -- especially for a fan of battle scenes like those in the "Lord of the Rings" films. And, at least millions of American teenagers will now have some background on the Ancient Persian Empire and the city-states of Ancient Greece.

In interviews, the filmmakers said they weren't attempting to draw parallels between that ancient war and our current Western World - Middle East conflict. But, it's all there. Politics influences art -- and it's plainly on display in "300." (I bet Rummy loves this movie. The queen even has a line to the effect of "Freedom isn't Free.")

We also caught the comedy "Wild Hogs" last week. It was an uninspired, formulaic "four buddies go on a road trip to discover themselves" movie but I'll admit that I laughed a lot.

William H. Macy was slumming it. John Travolta should shoot higher, too.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

In time for St. Patrick's Day tomorrow, I thought I would share the Old Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

(The image of St. Patrick above is from an oil on canvas by Roberta Williams.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Greater Love

From February 2000 to June 2003, I worked as a case investigator at the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. It's the Pittsburgh-based foundation that awards the Carnegie Medal to individuals throughout the United States and Canada who risk their lives to save the lives of others -- often from burning vehicles, burning buildings, drownings and assaults.

Yesterday, the Hero Fund announced its latest awardees, including four local men who saved two men from drowning in the Ohio River. The P-G's Steve Levin has the story.

Since the Hero Fund was founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1904, it has awarded more than 9,000 Carnegie Medals. Each medal carries the bible verse "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

Sunday, March 11, 2007

David Brooks on The Underdog

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently penned a good column on the White House bid of Gov. Bill Richardson (D-New Mexico).

In the spirit of rooting for pudgy underdogs everywhere, I'm pasting it below:

So there I was, sitting in my office, quietly contemplating suicide.

I was watching a cattle call of Democratic presidential candidates on C-Span. In their five-minute speeches, they were laying it on thick with poll-tested, consultant-driven clich├ęs of the Our Children Are Our Future variety. The thought of having to spend the next two years listening to this drivel set me wondering if it was literally possible to be bored to death.

Then Bill Richardson walked onstage. He was dressed differently — in slacks and a sports jacket. He told jokes that didn't seem repeated for the 5,000th time. He seemed recognizably human, unlike some of his overpolished peers. He gave the best presentation, by far.

Then a heretical question entered my head: What if Richardson does this well at forums for the next 10 months? Is it possible to imagine him as a leading candidate for the nomination?

When you think that way, it becomes absurdly easy to picture him rising toward the top. He is, after all, the most experienced person running for president. He served in Congress for 14 years. He was the energy secretary (energy's kind of vital).

He's a successful two-term governor who was re-elected with 69 percent of the vote in New Mexico, a red state. Moreover, he's a governor with foreign policy experience. He was U.N. ambassador. He worked in the State Department. He's made a second career of negotiating on special assignments with dictators like Saddam, Castro and Kim Jong Il. He negotiated a truce in Sudan.

Most of all, he's not a senator. Since 1961, 40 senators have run for president and their record is 0-40. A senator may win this year, but you'd be foolish to assume it.

When it comes to policy positions, he's perfectly positioned — not by accident — to carry liberals and independents. As governor, he's covered the normal Democratic bases: he raised teacher pay, he expanded children's health insurance, he began programs to stall global warming, he built a light rail line.

But he also cut New Mexico's top income tax rate from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent. He handed out tax credits to stimulate economic growth. (He's the only Democrat completely invulnerable on the tax cut issue.) He supports free trade, with reservations. And he not only balanced the budget — he also ran a surplus.

On cultural issues, Richardson has the distinct advantage of not setting off any culture war vibes. He was in college in the late 1960s, but he was listening to the Beach Boys, not Janis Joplin. He was playing baseball in the Cape Cod League, not going to Woodstock. He idolized Humphrey, not McCarthy.

Richardson is actually something of a throwback pol — a Daley or La Guardia who doesn't treat politics as a moral crusade. That might appeal this year.

On the nuts and bolts of the campaign, he has some advantages as well. He won't have the $150 million war chests that Clinton and Obama will have. On the other hand, he won't have the gigantic apparatuses that fund-raising on that scale requires. While those campaigns may be bloated, overmanaged and remote, Richardson has the potential to be small and nimble.

Furthermore, he could generate waves of free media the way John McCain did in 2000. He's a reporters' favorite — candid, accessible and fun to be around. "I'm a real person, not canned. I don't have a whole bunch of advisers. I'm a little overweight, though I'm trying to dress better," he told me last week. So far, rumors of personal peccadilloes are unfounded.

Finally, there is the matter of his personal style. This is his biggest drawback. He's baggy-faced, sloppy (we like our leaders well groomed), shamelessly ambitious and inelegant. On the other hand, once a century or so the Democratic Party actually nominates somebody the average person would like to have a beer with. Bill Richardson is that kind of guy.

He is garrulous, amusing, touchy-feely (to a fault), a little rough-edged and comfortably mass-market. He's Budweiser, not microbrew. It doesn't hurt that he's Hispanic and Western. In short, when you try to think forward to next winter, you see that this campaign will at some point leave the "American Idol"/"Celebrity Deathmatch" phase. The Clinton-Obama psychodrama may cease to fascinate while the sheer intensity of coverage will create a topsy-turvy series of revolutions.

I wouldn't bet a paycheck on Richardson. But I wouldn't count him out. At the moment, he's the candidate most likely to rise.

Burning Bushes & Fig Trees

Today is the Third Sunday of Lent. The readings at Mass teach us by means of burning bushes and fig trees.

Hope for all of us from Jesus, the Master Gardener, in Luke Chapter 13:

And he told them this parable:

“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’

He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

Bad Parenting

We had the chance to catch two movies this past week. On Monday evening, we saw "Babel" at the $1.50 movie theater (formerly Star City) on Route 50 adjacent to Bridgeville.

"Babel" is one of those movies with loosely-connected characters and parallel plots set in multiple locales (in this case, Morocco, Japan and Mexico). Its overriding theme could be summed up in two words: bad parenting.

While I wasn't totally enamored with it, I can see why "Babel" garnered some Academy Award nominations. Adriana Barraza's supporting actress nod was deserved.

Thursday evening, we caught "Black Snake Moan" -- at full-price. Two-word summation?: excising demons. The movie was interesting enough but not required viewing. Samuel L. Jackson was good, of course, in the leading role of Lazarus -- even if it was something of a MAAF part. Turns out SLJ can sing, too. Christina Ricci was decent. Justin Timberlake was melodramatic in a not-so-necessary supporting role.

-- Spoiler alert --

There is a scene late in "Black Snake Moan" where SLJ's character stares down Timberlake's character with a gun pointed at him. Problem is we've seen SLJ do this before -- at the end of "Pulp Fiction" (remember Honey Bunny?).

But, there's absolutely no comparison with the tension and spot-on dialogue in that classic diner scene from "Pulp Fiction" and what you get in the so-so "Black Snake Moan."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Listen to Him

Last Sunday was the second Sunday of Lent. The Gospel at Mass was of Christ's Transfiguration from Luke Chapter 9:

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.

While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.

And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

But he did not know what he was saying.

While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.

They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

I was remiss in posting this earlier due to being away last weekend at the L.A. Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, CA. It was an excellent, spirit-filled gathering. I had the opportunity to attend a "Jazz Mass," a first for me that I enjoyed very much. I also saw two of my old NYU friends, Alicia Delisio and Pete Sullivan.

Pete's Brainbucket Films had a short film last weekend in the Beverly Hills Film Festival. Entitled "07," it was a spoof on "24." The plug is the least I can do for Pete, who was kind enough to drive me back to Orange County's John Wayne Airport.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Decorum?

Earlier today, a friend and I had lunch at Mr. Gyros, a tiny Greek restaurant on West Maiden Street in Washington, PA. Just about the time we were ordering, a TV in a corner of the room was tuned to CNN showing the "breaking news" of the guilty verdict in the Scooter Libby case.

On the other side of the small restaurant, a woman was calling out her approval of the verdict and clapping -- two, maybe three times this happened.

What makes this noteworthy? The woman exclaiming her happiness at the verdict was Debbie O'Dell Seneca, the president judge of Washington County, the head of our county court system (pictured).

From Marvin

Today's O-R also has a column by Mike Kovak and an interview with Marvin Lewis on Mr. Garry. Two good quotes from Marvin:

"He was everything that was right about high school athletics, in my opinion, and I think it is people like him that are missing from it that are one of the problems with high school sports today." ...

"The best thing about Mr. Garry was that he would have you ready to run through a wall before the game," said Lewis. "He would be going through the lineup and sometimes he would repeat somebody's name at a position. But he just had a way of getting you ready to go out there and play, it was amazing."

Fundamentals

Today's Post-Gazette includes a featury obituary on Mr. Garry. It includes the 2002 photo above by Matt Freed and this quote from Cincinnati Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis (FC Class of '76):

"What he instilled in me, and all the Fort Cherry players, was a sense of how important the fundamentals were and how to do things the right way," Mr. Lewis said of Mr. Garry.

"He never cursed at us. Instead, he instructed us and treated us with respect. I think, in some regards, he was even a little underappreciated for exactly how good of a football coach he was."

Monday, March 05, 2007

In Memoriam: Mr. Garry: 1926 - 2007

Jim Garry passed away Sunday at age 80. He was the coach of the Fort Cherry H.S. Rangers for more than 40 years and for a season or so before that at the old McDonald High School. He was a good, humble man whose presence on the sidelines, around town and at church has been missed since his heath began to decline a few years back. Mr. Garry taught me how to drive, too.

My cousin, Luke Snatchko, sent me this e-mail earlier today that describes extremely well how many of us felt about Mr. Garry:

I read today that Jim Garry passed away. What a huge loss for the McDonald community.

Coach Garry influenced thousands of young men over the years directly and hundreds of thousands indirectly, including myself. During his 40-plus years at Fort Cherry, he produced two NFL coaches, numerous NFL players, scores of div I prospects and thousands of good men. You always knew what you would get with his teams ... Line up, let his big farm boys blow you off the ball and run the ball well. He coached eight uncles and dozens of cousins and friends of mine and all my youth football coaches. In his coaching he never tried to fool anybody, he dared you to stop him and his teams. A good formula for life.

I spoke to Coach annually growing up and he always made a great impression. He was a regular at the family greenhouse every spring and I always made a point to ask him about the prior season and the one coming up.

The conversation would always get around to how many of my relatives he coached and what good people they were (including your dad). When he stopped showing up a couple years ago, everyone noticed. He always left you with something to think about and you felt better after talking to him.

Jiminy Crickets...

Truly a sad day. My heart goes out to my friends at Fort Cherry.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

His Own Mind

"If we are to survive, we must have ideas, vision, and courage. These things are rarely produced by committees. Everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself."

-- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the great American historian and social critic, who died yesterday at the age of 89. The New York Times deemed him a "Historian of Power."
(NYT Photo by Jack Manning)