a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Friday, April 30, 2010

The weekly inspiration

From the Webster United Methodist Church in southwestern Pennsylvania today: "If you're old, give advice; If you are young, take it."

The Rev. Bruce Northey, pastor

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A small town readies for a soldier's burial

Ted Dutton, left, and Bob Armstrong, both officers of Claysville American Legion Post 639, ready an antique caisson for the upcoming funeral for a Pennsylvania soldier killed this week in Afghanistan (Observer-Reporter photo)

From today's O-R:

CLAYSVILLE, Pa. – Ted Dutton spent the better part of today repairing an antique black caisson before it will be used for the first time to carry a soldier’s coffin to a grave.

It's about to be pulled to Claysville Cemetery by two Belgian horses and followed by one without a rider, representative of Nathan Kennedy, a local man who was killed this week in Afghanistan.

“We are going to do it top flight,” said Dutton, commander of the James R. Hunt American Legion Post 639 in Claysville.

The Legion post has never been called before in modern history to host a funeral for a fallen soldier, Dutton said. He’s preparing for a crowd of 5,000 to attend the upcoming one for the popular 24-year-old Kennedy, who was shot and killed Tuesday while serving as a sniper in the U.S. Army.

Let's hope it's the last time this vehicle will be put to use for such an event.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Camus' strange translations

By Scott Beveridge

If ever there was a book that changed my perspective on life it was Albert Camus' "The Stranger."

It caught my eye on a roommate's bookshelf while I was down with the flu at college in 1979 for no other reasons than it having been thin and had the appearance of being really easy to read.

The novel first published in 1942 ended up being so fascinating that I finished it within the course of a day. At first, I was mortified that the title character, Meursault, was tried and executed in France in a murder for reasons that had more to do with his seemingly emotionless existence than the circumstances surrounding the revenge killing.

The author also had me romanticizing about wanting live out my life as an existentialist without having to conform and react to drama in the normal patterns accepted by society.

Little did I know then that this book was considered a classic by academia. That revelation would soon follow after I heard student after student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania complain about how much they hated the book.

Suddenly I felt as if I belonged to a secret society whose members understood that great literature was being ignored for no other reason than it having been required reading for a college class.

Years later, I decided to read the book again, only to find a much different modern translation, which was supposed to be closer to the words Camus originally penned in the book also known as "L’√Čtranger"

Meursault had suddenly been transformed from a likable character into a cold-blooded killer who, at the end, exhibited emotions that would have made a Roman Catholic priest cringe with pain.

Yet, I was able to forgive the earlier translator who had given America a sanitized version of the book. It still had enough of Camus in it then to reawaken in me a passion for reading that might have otherwise died with those damned, dull books I had to read that summer in a civics class.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A highschooler's Obama art captured my imagination

By Scott Beveridge

NEW EAGLE, Pa. – Let's be frank. I 'm bored with all of the silly anti-President Barack Obama rhetoric comparing him to a socialist bound to ruin the United States with his policies.

But, this colored pencil drawing of Obama caught my eye today while touring a rather cool high school fine arts exhibit in southwestern Pennsylvania.

I'm not sure if the senior at Ringgold High School who drew it was attempting to suggest that our first black president should be surrounded by armed goons to protect him from angry racists or if Obama would support sending such an Army into society to enforce his agenda.

It doesn't really matter, though, what message the artist, David Petrosky, was trying to send in the piece, "Change?" He made me think. I liked his art. His work was done.

The biggest picture involved his teacher, Jocelyn M. Robison, who has been inspiring her students at the Carroll Township, Pa., school to pull off some incredible works of art.

What's more surprising was that her students have been selling their stuff at prices many professional artists would envy, especially in the Mon Valley, whose economy collapsed long before Obama took office.

The exhibit, which ranged from batiks to clay sculptures, was  scheduled to be on display this week, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the district's administration building off Route 88 in New Eagle, Pa.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Teacher flunks spelling

It appears little Nicholas does so well in school that his kindergarten teacher has made up a whole new word to congratulate him for his achievements.

"Is it a combination of terrific and perfect?" asks writer Amanda Gillooly, who submits this photo of her nephew's report card.

The kid from a Pittsburgh suburb is awesome enough to rate his own language. Better yet, he needs to find a teacher who can spell.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

Trash builds up around an illegal burn pile a few years ago in Denbo, Pa. It seems we have met with little or no success in preventing slobs from tossing about their litter alongside roadways. In honor of the 40th Earth Day, here is something I wrote for the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa., when the event turned 30.

Nearly four decades into the environmental movement, guardians of the planet can thank themselves for cleaner air and water.

But activists looking forward to Earth Day Thursday say more needs to be done to protect the environment. For example, residents of Washington and Greene counties could be doing more when it comes to reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills, state officials say. 

"I see some problems," said Lisa Cessna, Washington County's assistant planning director who oversees local recycling efforts. 

Across the state, many counties have far exceeded the state recycling goal to reduce the amount of trash dumped at landfills by 25 percent, said Rick Morrison, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. Because most efforts have been so successful, the DEP has raised that goal to 35 percent by 2002. 

But in Washington County, recycling efforts had only reduced the trash taken to landfills by 14.7 percent in 1996, the most current recycling statistics available. In Greene, the efforts had reduced trash by 4.4 percent. 

For the most part, the lagging efforts are blamed on lack of centralized collection sites for people to take plastics, cans and glass. Fayette County has a centralized drop-off center, and it reduced trash through recycling by 44.4 percent in 1996. 

And many communities in Washington County don't meet the 5,000 or more population requirement to mandate recycling programs. None of the municipalities in Greene falls under the mandate. 

Aside from recycling, many environmental projects locally as well as across the state are exploding with interest and accomplishments.

More and more people each year volunteer to pick up trash along state roads and waterways.
Last year, 1,540 volunteers took part in the annual River Sweep in June across Southwestern Pennsylvania. They removed more than 50 tons of trash and nearly 900 tires from streams and river banks last year, said Betsy Mallison, DEP spokeswoman in Pittsburgh. The amount of trash removed and the number of volunteers have significantly improved since the sweep began in the region in 1990, she said. 

And nearly 500 new groups are added each year to the list of participants in the annual litter pickup, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, which will be held Saturday. 

But they seldom win the war of ridding the state of roadside garbage. 

"I see those highways as clean as clean can be ... and the next day somebody throws garbage on the road," said Madeleine John, who coordinates the effort in the region for the state Department of Transportation. 

"What do you do about the people who don't care if you throw out garbage?" she said.
"There's still a lot of trash we have to get to," added DEP spokeswoman Rita Zettelmayer. 

She said the number of groups that monitor water quality in small streams also is increasing. They call themselves watershed alliances, and several are at work in Washington and Greene counties. 

For the past two years, Dr. Robert A. Vargo, a professor at California University of Pennsylvania, and his students have been monitoring a section of West Pike Run and its tributaries in Eastern Washington County. They are keeping watch of the water because it is polluted with iron and aluminum that seeps from a reclaimed strip mine in West Pike Run Township. 

The DEP's Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation receives free field workers, and Vargo, who is chairman of the Pike Run Watershed Association, has the opportunity to give his students hands-on experience. 

The students in his field and hydrology class routinely take samples of the orange- and white-stained water and send them to Harrisburg for testing. The test results will determine what kind of treatment facility will be needed to filter out the pollution. 

"You need industry, but yet you need somebody to clean it up after, and that's what we try to do," said Bill Knizner of Marianna, a Cal U. senior participating in the project. 

He is surprised to find wildflowers growing in the middle of the polluted stream. The class also is finding that there is enough water flow to dilute the acid. 

"I wouldn't drink this water," said Vargo, who recalls the beginnings of the environmental movement.
He was a schoolteacher in the 1960s in Springdale, Allegheny County, the hometown of Rachel Carson, who is credited with starting the movement. 

Carson's 1962 book, "Silent Spring," predicted the dangers of misusing pesticides. The scientist and ecologist also testified before Congress the following year on the need for policies to protect health and the environment.

Also in 1963, then-U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wisconsin, pressed President Kennedy to embrace an environmental platform.

But the movement did not pick up speed until 1970, when Nelson called for an environmental sit-in in Washington, D.C., to shake up the political establishment, according to Nelson's Web site. Twenty million people attended the protest in the spring of that year. That protest is now considered the first Earth Day. 

"One positive thing of the environmental movement is it caused people to take notice," Vargo said. "We can't shut down society. We can't shut down industry, but somebody has to act as a safeguard."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Smiling for the camera at the doctor's office

nurse., originally uploaded by allison marisa.

The nurse came at me today with a digital camera before pulling out the blood-pressure armband during my mandatory annual physical examination.

She seemed overly apologetic as if I was one of "those" people who might be armed with an anti-government rant about this portrait buying into a federal government treading too heavily on healthcare.

It's going to be mandatory, she explained, under this new Obamacare reform we have all been hearing about this year.

My physician has been ahead of the curve, as he began to digitize his patient records years before it became law, she added.

It's true. This physician spent his own money to take his medical practice into the new century so he can talk to patients from his laptop and eliminate duplication and possible errors. It's a BIG reason why I have been paying him to treat me in an era when too many physicians have been acting like medicine's equivalent to theater directors overseeing cattle calls.

Think about this. We've been paying Pennsylvania for years to plaster our faces on drivers' license so that traffic cops can identify us for any number of motoring situations. Why wouldn't we want to make damned sure the physician who might be coming at someone with a scalpel is dead certain that the face on the table matches his or her medical insurance card?

Later today, while talking with a friend about this new practice, she tells me about someone she knows having been illegally charged for a knee surgery on the wrong credit card. Ideally, the skyrocketing cost of healthcare could curbed by reducing fraud while also improving technology, she says.

So put my photo on my medical card ASAP. It should have been there all along.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Titan loves the broom

Titan loves the broom, originally uploaded by Yankees Man.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Freaky Swedish flick is winning U.S. audiences

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – It was refreshing earlier today to see long lines form outside a movie theater for something other than the latest 3-D Hollywood blockbuster.

Those moviegoers turned out for showings of a Swedish thriller, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," at an obscure art house in Pittsburgh's Edgewood section, a theater where Saturday matinees have typically been lucky to draw a dozen people.

The 2009 film based on a European best-selling novel by Stieg Larsson makes its United States debut this month and took the screen this weekend at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Regent Square Theater.

It's a crazy story involving a disgraced journalist, freaky Goth computer hacker, rich and powerful family, corrupt corporate giant, dangerous probation officer with a passion for bondage, serial killer and few Nazis. The rest of the story centers on the 40-year-old disappearance of a rich heiress.

Despite the complex plot and subtitles, director Niels Arden Oplev has delivered an easy-to-follow and suspense-packed movie that was capped here with rousing applause.

Expect this sleeper starring Michale Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace  to show up at the 2011 Oscars. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Aboard the safety train

Derrick Mason, a Norfolk Southern safety manager, performs a dual role of porter for the Operation Lifesaver safety train program as the locomotive pulls two passenger cars through New Eagle, Pa.  (Observer-Reporter/Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

ON THE RAILROAD, Pa. – A trip today into southwestern Pennsylvania coal country aboard a train with a camera feed from the front of the locomotive into the passenger cars had us sitting on edge at times.

We watched the TV screens and braced for the worst as the train approached one railroad crossing after another with limited views of the approaching roads between Pittsburgh and West Brownville, Pa.

This was a 60-mile one-way route past decaying industrial buildings and other  tall structures that hug the Norfolk Southern line and obscure the side vision of those who regularly ply the rail line for a living.

Imagine the nerves of steel this work required of the conductors and engineers who man these heavy locomotives, which can move at 55 mph and take a mile or more to come to a halt after a collision.

This excursion known as Operation Lifesaver was hosted for the media by the railroad and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to help spread the word about the dangers of crossing railroad tracks.

An editor from Johnstown was along for the ride as research on a profile she has been writing about a retired engineer whose life changed forever after a train he operated killed someone. Meanwhile, I was using a laptop to feed live reports about the event to the Washington Observer-Reporter newspaper’s Web site.

This train once struck a car crossing tracks two years ago in North Carolina, Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband said. Another safety train was traveling behind a locomotive two years ago between Reading and Harrisburg when the that engine struck a car occupied by a woman and young child.

“It was sobering to say the least to witness the damage,” Husband said. “Fortunately both were not injured. We’ll probably see some trespassers today.”

“It’s amazing the risks people take,” added state Rep. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, who also was along the ride.

We were fortunate to have made it back without incident to the Amtrak station in Pittsburgh.

The closest we came to a collision took place in Monongahela, when the driver of a beat-up blue pickup truck successfully won a race over a crossing as the train’s whistle blared.

It was enough of a scare, though, played out with the assistance of modern technology used in two cool, retrofitted 1949 passenger cars.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Author finds Col. Fawcett's land of Z

By Scott Beveridge

True stories penned by journalists always seem to appeal to my reading tastes.

And no other such author has captured my imagination and adventurous spirit more than David Grann in his “The Lost City of Z.”

Grann uses the book to chronicle his obsession to trace the trail of British explorer Percy Fawcett, whose disappearance in the Amazon became one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.

He immediately lured me into the story in the preface, a chapter in books that I usually tend to overlook for their snobbery prose.

But, Grann ended his book’s introduction with a story about his being mosquito bitten and hungry in the jungle, only to have been startled by shadowy figures among the bush. “What the hell am I doing here?” he asked himself.

There was no turning back from the pages of this National Bestseller.

They revealed that Fawcett was the inspiration for many of the jungle adventures featured in movies starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, as well as Harrison Ford. It appeared Fawcett even inspired many comic book, television and other characters whom appealed to children of my generation, too.

Fawcett, after surviving service in World War I, was a washed up explorer when he secured the funding and set off in 1925 with his son, Jack, and another companion in 1925 in search of a glittering gold city they believed had survived, unchanged in Brazilian jungle.

A number of wild-eyed theories about Fawcett's fate would follow, including one that he found an eternal underground utopia, while more than 100 people died in search of his party.

Grann, who admitted his physical limitations early on, still pushed forward in his attempts to solve the mystery despite reports before his trip that gunman had killed a 73-year-old nun in the territory he would soon visit.

The New Yorker staff writer believed he eventually found Z, and that Fawcett was on target when he apparently died at the hands of hostile Indians. Grann made an excellent case for his findings.

They are too fascinating to spoil here; take this excellent journey on your own. It's that good.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why Pittsburgh bleeds black and gold

With a bit of embarrassment today, I had to admit to a question from a Texas visitor to Pittsburgh that I didn't know why all of the city's professional sports teams wear black and gold uniforms.

It seemed to be sacrilegious for a native member of Steelers Nation like me to not have a clue as to why the city bleeds these colors.

But, there was some redemption when the guy from Dallas turned up his nose at Primanti Brothers, a Pittsburgh landmark restaurant that smothers its sandwiches with French fries and coleslaw.

So to make sure I never make such a faux pas again while hosting an out-of-towner around the Burgh, tonight I looked to Google for enlightenment about why the Penguins and Pirates also wear these colors. It turned out the colors were taken from Pittsburgh's official city flag, which was inspired by the family coat of arms of William Pitt, the English gentlemen for whom the city was named.

Janet Pickel, a reporter at the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., of all places, appears to best explain the story. Click here for the skinny.

Tree with eyes and nose

Kellys friend, originally uploaded by dmp_1959 aka Den.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Golf gig to help charities

There are a lot of charities lining up to benefit from proceeds at the upcoming PGA Nationwide Tour's Mylan Classic. Anyone interested in purchasing tickets to the golf event to further the work of the Washington County Literacy Council can do that at this link.  Here is a story from the Observer-Reporter newspaper that explains the rest:

By Mike Bradwell

SOUTHPOINTE, Pa. – Organizers of the PGA's Nationwide Tour's Mylan Classic, to be held Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 at the Southpointe Golf Club, said Friday that the event is expected to generate a local economic impact of "millions and millions" of dollars as well as contribute substantially to local charities.

Tournament director Chase McClain and Tim Iley of the PGA told about 200 members of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce at the Southpointe Golf Club that the tournament will also give Southpointe and Washington County several days of international exposure through constant coverage on cable television's Golf Channel, which has viewership around the world.

McClain described a 72-hole stroke-play event that will draw 156 players from 68 countries who will play the Southpointe course in a four-day tournament. The Nationwide Tour group of 29 tournaments is also the place where up-and-coming players vie to make the tour's top 25 list in terms of earnings.

"The focus of every player throughout the season is making it on the Top 25 money list," McClain said, noting that the achievement earns those players a PGA tour card for the following season. The local event will have a $600,000 purse, with $108,000 going to the champion.

The Nationwide Tour has produced 333 graduates to the PGA, which is now made up of more than 70 percent of former Nationwide Tour players.

The local tournament also means international exposure for Southpointe and Washington County, McClain said, noting that cable television's Golf Channel will carry all four days of the tournament.

The event will be telecast over all basic cable systems around the world and the final day of play will be repeated on the Monday following the tournament.

Iley, who said the event will generate "millions and millions" of dollars for the local economy, added that the economic impact will last long after the tournament is over. According to a tour news release, early projections indicate the immediate impact for the region will be nearly $9 million.

"A lot of eyes around the world will be on this facility and this tournament," Iley said. "People will want to vacation here, bring some business here and maybe relocate some businesses here."

This year's outing at Southpointe won't be a one-shot deal. Iley said following Friday's meeting that the tour has committed to the golf club through 2012, adding that it is viewing the site as a long-term engagement.

Both Iley and McClain stressed that the event is not just about golf, but about charity as well.
Iley noted that since PGA-sanctioned events began in 1937, they have generated $1.5 billion in charitable contributions, "more than twice what all the other sports have given combined in the same period of time."

Rod Piatt, vice chairman of the board of Southpointe-based Mylan Inc., a global generic pharmaceutical company with 15,000 employees around the world, said charity will be at the forefront of the Southpointe tournament.

"One of the driving forces is supporting regional and local charities," Piatt said, noting that charitable organizations can sign up for the tournament's "Tickets Fore Charity" program, which returns 100 percent of all net proceeds from ticket sales to the participating groups. Tour organizers met Wednesday with representatives of nearly 60 area nonprofit organizations to discuss the plan.

Piatt also announced Friday that Consol Energy Inc. will be the presenting sponsor for the tour, which will be referred to as "The Mylan Classic Presented by Consol Energy."

Consol spokesman Joe Cerenzia said the company has been a sponsor of the Nationwide Tour Event in West Virginia and views it as an ideal event for charity.

"We're really here for the people who can't be" Cerenzia said.

For more information about the "Tickets Fore Charity" program or about volunteer opportunities at the tournament, call Melissa Myler at 724-579-6049. For information about sponsorships for the event, call Lynette Stevens at 724-579-5035.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Donora-Webster Bridge faces a shortened lifespan

By Scott Beveridge

WEBSTER, Pa. – It appears the historic Donora-Webster Bridge will disappear without a battle cry to preserve the span over the Monongahela River in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Donora Historical Society will not spearhead efforts to save the 103-year bridge as its board members have much bigger problems to confront. They want to keep a low profile because a house was destroyed in the collapse of the historical society’s former headquarters during a heavy snowfall last month, damages that likely will be resolved in an ugly lawsuit.

So the bridge negotiations with the state Department of Transportation will be left up to the state Historical and Museum Commission, which was unable over the past six months to save the nearby and similarly-built Charleroi-Monessen Bridge from demolition.

Both spans were closed to traffic last year after inspections revealed structural problems. PennDOT must consult with the PHMC on the bridges’ fates because both are listed on the National Register of Historical Places because they were pinned together in a style borrowed from the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Construction of the new, $30 million Charleroi-Monessen Bridge is set to begin later this year, and its history will be remembered on interpretive signs on both sides of the new span. The panels should include photographs of former Pennsylvania Gov. John K. Tener, who once lived in Charleroi and pushed for that bridge, as well as photographs of Monessen steelworkers whose cars once created the bulk of the local traffic.

About 10 miles to the north in the sleepy village of Webster, some of its residents don’t miss the traffic their bridge created, especially the steady stream of drive-by drug deals that since have been detoured away from the church parking lots.

Despite the peace, state Sen. J. Barry Stout is supporting a plan to build a new Donora-Webster Bridge once PennDOT obtains historical clearances to demolish the existing one and he finds the construction money. The metallurgical properties of the steel supporting the bridge are shot, he said.

“I know how important that bridge is to the Mon Valley,” Stout, D-Eighty Four, said today to a reporter at the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.

UPDATE: The PHMC said Tuesday it had little to say about the bridge negotiations with PennDOT at this point,  other than the meetings are expected to begin soon, and that it was under the impression PennDOT would preserve the span.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Outside the Box Primitives

WEST ALEXANDER, Pa. - Robin Armstrong Seeber usually wakes up each morning with a picture of a doll in her mind.

Before the West Alexander woman has time to think, it's 11 a.m. and her creation is well under way to being sold online at eBay or via her Web site.

"It is my passion in life. It makes me happy," said Seeber, who has made such a success with her folk art that she left her career as a registered nurse.

It's also taken her a long time to get to this place.

She missed an opportunity for fame as a doll maker three decades ago when the upscale FAO Schwarz of New York liked a toy she had made in response to the chubby, pillowy 1980s sensation known as the Cabbage Patch Doll.

Fast forward to this year:

Seeber is excited about a new line of her small dolls that will be mass produced in resin in the Philippines by Bethany Lowe Designs Inc. in Illinois. Lowe's business has grown from her farm to become a major global wholesaler of collectibles made or designed by folk artists. The work is sold in luxury department stores from coast to coast.

"When I went through her catalog, I saw that she had cloth dolls," Seeber said. "I said, 'I'm going to pop her a couple pictures to see what she has to say.'

"She responded, and three days later I had a contract to sign. I felt like I was dreaming. I gave her 13 or 14 submissions. She accepted them and immediately sent them to her factory."

Seebers' dolls will be in Lowe's catalogs in July and in stores in January.

(The above is an excerpt from a story in the Observer-Reporter newspaper, Washington, Pa.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

It's Mr. Easter Bunny

All the person who lost this photograph on Pittsburgh's South Side district has to do to get the original back is drop me an email. This photo is too precious to lose.
Happy Easter.