Friday, June 26, 2009

Don't Cry for me Argentina

Gov. Sanford Convenes His Cabinet

“The only vice which cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.” (Hazlitt)

Do as I say, not as I do: So often life can be summed up in a twisted homily. Do unto others, but do it first… Many are called but few are chosen, many are cold but few are frozen. But there are actual homilies that include Alexander Pope’s, “To err is human, to forgive divine” which is tempered by Mahatma Gandhi’s “Hypocrisy and distortion are passing currents under the name of religion.” What brings these quotes and misquotes to mind today is the recent activities of some elected officials, namely Senator John Ensign and Governor John Sanford and their fellow legislators.

Ensign's designs, Sanford and Sin: First things first. Politicians have a long history of infidelity. In 1884 Grover Cleveland had been elected President when the opposing party developed a motto that underlined an affair that had produced an out-of-wedlock child, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.” More recently the same could have been said about presidential hopeful John Edwards who had nearly been nominated but not elected. Bill Clinton’s dalliances provided headlines for months, Idaho Senator Larry Craig is banned from airport bathrooms, Bob Livingston was scheduled to replace Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House when he was forced to withdraw after being exposed. Newt himself made headlines when he went to the hospital where his wife was recovering from cancer surgery to get her to sign divorce papers so he could marry his mistress. David Vitter’s name was among the list of services provided by a hooker.

Sex lives and private lives: If Newt wants to dilly dally, Vitter prefers hookers, Craig taps to the beat of a different drummer, and Smokin’ Willie has a roving eye, what business is it of ours or any other American as long as these guys do their jobs as elected officials? As far as I’m concerned it isn’t our business unless they’ve broken the law while breaking their vows. But to some who consider themselves the moral police of the world, it seems to make a difference. John Ensign chastised others who have strayed, made an overt vow to honor the sanctity of his marriage including a pledge to never be alone with another woman, and blasted his fellow politicians who have strayed. Ditto Mark Sanford who was the first to call for Bob Livingston’s resignation and that of others who stumbles.

Hypocrisy Caucus: Former Republican senator from Idaho Larry Craig, was embroiled in an airport sex sting operation; Nevada Senator John Ensign suggested if he were in a similar position, “resigning is what I would do” (he lied). When the stain of infidelity marked President Clinton, Ensign was the first member of the Nevada delegation to call for Clinton’s resignation. Florida congressman Mark Foley engaged in inappropriate conduct toward a 16 year-old, male congressional page. Soon, other accusations surfaced and Foley resigned in shame. Oh yes, he also chaired the Congressional Caucus for Missing and Exploited Children. The man who replaced Foley was eventually derailed by his OWN sex scandal. Democrats John Edwards, Elliot Spitzer, and Bill Clinton were each engaged in sex scandals, but they did not devote the better part of their careers claiming moral status above everyone else. In the aftermath of the Lewinsky scandal, Bob Livingston was chosen to replace Newt Gingrich as speaker. But he instead admitted an affair and stepped down. Archconservative Idaho congresswoman Helen Chenoweth who blasted Bill Clinton's infidelity, copped to a six-year affair with a married rancher from her home state. Dan Burton admitted to having an extramarital affair and fathering a child out of wedlock after reporters said they were set to report on it. When confronted by a reporter, former House Judiciary Committee chairman Henry Hyde admitted to having had an extramarital affair. Gary Condit’s affair with an intern became exposed after the girl, Chandra Levy, disappeared. Levy was eventually found dead in a DC’s Rock Creek Park and someone else was charged her murder.

The sharpest dresser in New York: There was no greater New York tabloid story than former cross-dressing New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s high-profile divorce from wife Donna Hanover. She accused him of “notorious adultery,” and Giuliani married girlfriend Judith Nathan. The married-with-children former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevy -- with his wife by his side -- resigned as governor after admitting that he was having a gay affair. Spokane mayor James West who long opposed gay rights bills, was recalled from office after a gay Internet sex scandal and more were revealed. Pennsylvania congressman Don Sherwood lost his House seat after it was revealed that he’d had an extramarital affair with a woman 35 years his junior. She’s called 911 from a closet claiming that he’d choked her. He said he was just giving her a back rub. She won a $500,000 settlement.

Sex oozes from both sides of the aisle: As he was weighing a 2008 presidential run, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich acknowledged an extra-marital affair to the Christian conservative group Focus on the Family. Married San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome admitted to sleeping with the wife of a top aide. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa admitted to having a secret affair with a TV reporter. Married Louisiana senator David Vitter got caught up in the DC Madam prostitution scandal. Eliot Spitzer who will be remembered as “Client No. 9,” saw the meteoric rise of his career come crashing down after it was revealed he’d spent tens of thousands of dollars on hookers. Soon after assuming office, the man who replaced Spitzer acknowledged that both he and his wife had slept with people other than each other. One-time Democratic shooting star John Edwards admitted to sleeping with a woman his campaign hired to shoot Web videos despite his wife’s very public bout with cancer and his 2008 presidential run. Married former congressman from Staten Island, Vito Fossella, who had three children with his wife, admitted he’d had a secret affair and children with a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel from Virginia. Finally, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick ended up in jail after he was convicted of lying about a text message/sex scandal.

A little blogging music Maestro... “I Don’t Ever Wanna See You Again” by Uncle Sam.

Dr. Forgot

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Circle of Life

Death is a Once in a Lifetime experience

The old Man: The old man (I use this term as one of respect in lieu of his name and to protect the privacy of those in today’s post) was approaching his nineties. He’d had a full life but the ravages of Parkinson’s disease had taken their toll. He was taken to the hospital for a routine problem but after an episode in the Emergency Room, still unexplained, had lapsed into a coma from which he would not awaken. The old man left this earth April 11, 2002 six months to the day after the Twin Towers were bombed. His date of passing was also of note as he died on his great grandson’s eighteenth birthday.

The Great Grandson: The great grandson, Theron, had his own struggles as well. His mother lost her life at age 35, suddenly and unexpectedly of the effects of a massive heart attack, the underlying causes of which are also still unexplained. She had been stricken as she sat behind the wheel of her car in a parking lot while chatting with a friend. She too remained comatose until her life ended weeks after the heart attack and two years after the death of her grandfather.

The old man’s brother: The old man had several brothers, one of whom also had a great grandson. His great grandson, Brian, was stricken at age 33 with Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The young man’s fight with ALS has been chronicled in the journal kept by the great grandson in his wife, as well as highlighted in this blog. Last Friday Brian lost his fight with ALS. He passed away quietly after a long fight with the disease. He never lost his sense of humor or his brilliant mind. He packed more into 35 years that do most people who live more than twice that long.

The Great Grandson Theron and the Circle of life: Theron lost his Mom not long after he graduated high school. He had three younger siblings to look after and he got on with his life. He joined the National Guard, married, attended college, worked two jobs and did all the responsible things firstborn children usually do. He also had another event that ties into the theme of today’s circle of life post. On Father’s day, two days after the death of his distant cousin Brian, Theron became a first-time father. His daughter, Daija Michelle, is named in honor of his late mother. It is Daija’s photo that graces this post.

Words from Angela’s Ashes: From Frank McCort’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Angela’s Ashes there is a conversation that echoes every time I think of the circle of life. Young Frank is about to go to America to try to make a better life. He and his family have been through a most difficult life of poverty and hardships. His mother has died and the paraphrased words of wisdom are, “Be good to the ones you love because when you no longer can you’ll wish you had.” We close with that thought. Hug the ones you love a little tighter, phone the loved ones from whom you are estranged and open a dialog. Remember that life is always too short but never too sweet.

A little blogging music Maestro... From the musical “Fiddler on the Roof, “La Chiam, To Life!”

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Pappy Day

My Computer Can Beat Me At Chess, But Not Kickboxing;
Misc. News

Happy Father’s Day, from your issue: Father’s Day is celebrated in 52 countries and in the U.S. on the third Sunday in June. The first observance of Father's Day is believed to have been held on July 5, 1908 in a church located in Fairmont, West Virginia. However it was not proclaimed a national holiday in the U.S. until 1966. Mother’s Day predates Father’s Day and was also started in West Virginia. In fact, by most accounts, a woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd thought of celebrating Father’s Day while listening to a sermon on Mother’s Day. There are plenty of quotes about fathers but one of my favorites is, "My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it." -- Clarence Budington Kelland

Not another Tehranian Square: We Americans are so ego-centric. One reason is probably because our country is so vast but few differences exist amongst us. Compared to differences that exist among residents of say, Russia or China we're almost homogenous. We consider ourselves to be a melting pot but many others around the world see us a homogenous. Our President gave a speech in Cairo recently. Soon after that speech Lebanon elected a western-leaning government. The media immediately began to call the election a result of the “Cairo effect.” Shortly after that Iran had elections and young people protested the announced results. More Cairo effect. President Obama has taken the position that the internal strife in Iran must be handled internally. Many Republicans reacted that we needed to take action and help tilt the election back in the “right direction.” Of course, Iran president Ahmadinejad already accuses the U.S. and other western countries of meddling. An active American reaction would be just the reason needed to send tanks into the street and mimic the tragedy of Tiananmen Square. Our history in that area is not stellar. Memo to those loudmouths calling for U. S. intervention: SHUT UP!

On the other hand, what if: CNN reports: “A 19-year-old woman who was wounded by Iranian paramilitary forces with clubs escaped with her camera and shared her photos with CNN -- after tricking a paramilitary soldier into thinking she had given him the images on a disk.” Fox News reports: “Gunfire Erupts at Iranian Pro-Reform Protests, At Least 1 Killed” Other international news sources have similar reports. But wait! Iran has expelled nearly all journalists and muzzled others. So where do these reports originate? The newest buzzwords on the lips of every news junkie are Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, and Twitter. The media sources all express caution that “these events cannot be verified, but all continue a steady stream of such reporting. Most of it is probably accurate, but what if it isn’t? What if the news from Iran is a well orchestrated hoax perpetrated by young computer geeks? It could happen.

Dumb and dumber – maybe dumbest: A Lincoln Park, Illinois man by the name of Victor Delfi found himself a little short in the cash department. His hastily-laid out plan took him to a local store where he shoplifted a pair of panty hose and pulled them over his head. He then proceeded into the local bank, simulated a gun, demanded and received cash. But the accompanying dye package exploded as he sprinted along his merry way, coating the cash with indelible red ink, making it unspendable. Thus, Victor did not spend it but deposited it into his bank accounts. BUSTED! Another dumb criminal is Floridian James Robert Chapman who deals with child pornography. He works at a hospital where he used the company copy machine to duplicate some child porn then left the originals in the machine. BUSTED. The third police bust is enough to make you say “Son of a Mitsubishi!” Buddies Anthony Gossett and Nicholas Houston dozed off in their car in Athens TN. The officers who happened upon them noticed a good sized bag of some sort of weed on the seat between them. After awakening the two sleeping beauties, the officers searched their car and discovered 26 bags of wacky tobbaccy worth about a grand. BUSTED!

All Nevada news is NOT about gambling: Ok, let’s see if we can get this one done without punning the reader to death. Senator John Ensign (R-NV) is a veterinarian by trade so I guess he could be foxy. His campaign ads always show him hugging puppies, not his own. He has been considered to be a, uh, rising star in GOP national politics. But let’s be affair about this, any human can stumble once – although his quickie romance lasted nine months. As the famous Vegas philosopher Francis Albert Sinatra once said, “The higher the top, the longer the drop.” It seems that the senator and a woman (thank goodness, as he is as anti gay as Idaho Senator Larry Craig) had been carrying on. They were married. Good. Not to each other. Not so good. The well tanned Senator, a Promise Keeper, had once vowed not to be alone with a woman in a car, and who said of the Senator Craig affair that if he were ever in a similar situation, he’d resign. He was. He didn’t. The object of his affection, who had been on his staff saw her hemline and salary rise as the affair continued. Two things that have fallen in this instance are his ego and his approval ratings.

Green with envy: Finally, from the “everybody must do their part” department comes the story of Vermont dairy farmers Tim Maikshilo and Kristen Dellert. In an effort to reduce their cow’s greenhouse gas emissions they added a diet that includes flaxseed, alfalfa, and grasses high in Omega 3 fatty acids. The diet reduces the amount of methane gas that is emitted from the cows when they, uh, expel gas. We will NOT conclude this segment by saying the cow’s carbon footprint is a kick in the...

A little blogging music Maestro... “Price of Gas” by Bloc Party

Dr. Forgot

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Clairton Story

Can Good History Repeat Itself?

As a youngster in Clairton I delivered The Daily News so an article by Robb Austin caught my eye. Turns out Robb was not only a reporter for the paper, he was somewhat of a prodigy. Born in Cleveland (ok, we won’t hold that against him), he graduated from George Washington University and came to Western Pennsylvania to work. At age 27 he defeated a 3-term incumbent to win a state House seat. He later challenged Ed Zemprelli for a Senate seat but lost. It might be noted that Ed Zemprelli was a Clairton boy and attorney who was admitted to the bar the same year Robb Austin was born.

Austin left elected office and became a force in Washington as an advisor and is currently head of Austin Communications, a powerful political consulting firm. His story follows:

“As a cub reporter for the McKeesport (PA.) Daily News I got an early education into the working minds of local politicians and a first-hand glimpse at two young movie actors who are now screen legends.

It was the summer of 1977, and it was sweltering in Pittsburgh. As the beat reporter for the City of Clairton - it was my job to know everything that was going on in the community - including its politics, police and fire activities, and the schools.
Clairton is located along the banks of the Monongahela River - 14 miles southeast of the City of Pittsburgh. It was (and more so now) a distressed city. It was home to the Clairton Coke Works - and by 1977 already had its share of unfavorable press attention stemming from high unemployment, a rising crime rate and declining economic base.

But residents were proud of their town and worked hard at every turn to ward off any unfavorable perceptions that might do the city harm.

Thus it was no surprise when Mayor Lloyd Fuge - a bright and successful attorney - asked me to accompany and drive him (Lloyd had lost his sight in an accident as a young boy) to the Pittsburgh International Airport Holiday Inn some 30 miles away where he hoped to meet up with a young movie director by the name of Michael Cimino.
The mayor had received word that Cimino was directing a movie that was to take place in a small steel town named Clairton. He feared that once again the city would be on the receiving end of bad press - this time on the big screen before a national audience.

His goal for the meeting was to convince the director to change the name of the city where the movie would take place. Although he had no idea what the movie was about or how the city was going to be portrayed - he feared the worst.
We arrived at the motel and went straight to the front desk where Mayor Fuge asked the desk clerk to find Mr. Cimino for him. When asked who he should say was requesting to see him - the mayor authoritatively flipped open an official police "badge," and simply said, "I am".

As mayor, Mr. Fuge was head of Clairton's police department (although he had no jurisdiction at this location) but his unusual movie-style ploy had the desired effect - a worried Mr. Cimino arrived within minutes.

We sat in the lobby of the motel where Mayor Fuge first apologized for his novel approach in getting Mr. Cimino's attention - then articulated his concern that Clairton might be unfavorably portrayed in his movie. At one point Mayor Fuge said that he might seek an injunction to stop the director from using the name Clairton in the movie.

The director was concerned and went to great lengths to reassure the mayor that the movie would in no way damage the image of Clairton - "It's about relationships of people," he said, describing the script.

The mayor was satisfied and the meeting ended - but as part of the solution and to show transparency - Mr. Cimino invited me to watch the filming the next day to see for myself that the City of Clairton was not the focus of the movie.

I arrived on a high bluff in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, for the filming of a funeral scene the next day. The film crew had taken an abandoned piece of property and turned it into a makeshift cemetery. It was a 90-degree day - so they dyed surrounding tree leaves red/orange and large fans were brought in to create the illusion of a windy-cold fall day.

The movie was The Deer Hunter - winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1978. Mr. Cimino won the Academy Award for Best Director.
That day following the funeral scene - Mr. Cimino escorted me to an unassuming trailer where he set up an interview for me with one of the movie's lead actors - someone by the name of Robert DeNiro. We talked for a while about the movie and his method as an actor.

As the interview ended, he turned to an actress inside the same trailer and said to me, "I want you to interview the real star of the movie - meet Meryl Streep".
The Deer Hunter put the actress on the map, and the City of Clairton, too.”
Robb Austin, former newspaper reporter and elected Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and has successfully run numerous Congressional campaigns. Learn more at

Article Source:

A little blogging music Maestro... “Deer Hunting Son of a Gun” by Da Yoopers.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, June 13, 2009

We Reap What We Sow

Inaugural Commencement Ceremony

‘Tis the season: Next summer I will return to my hometown of Clairton, PA to attend my high school class reunion. Last night in preparation for that event I attended the commencement ceremony of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas (photo right). Tennis star Andre Agassi (photo left) is a local product but unlike many Las Vegas celebrities he has given back to the community. Perhaps because his own education was interrupted by a stellar tennis career, he and wife Steffi Graf have focused on educating local children. Through his foundation he’s funded a Boys and Girls Club, scholarships, after school projects, Child Haven for abused and neglected children, summer camp, and many other worthy causes. But his crown jewel is the $40 million Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy built in what many consider the most economically depressed part of the community.

How to grow a school: The first Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy class was comprised of at-risk students in grades 3-5. Grades K-2 were added and the school grew. As each school year was completed the original fifth graders and other grades advanced one year. Last night the fifth graders who by now had become seniors took part in a commencement ceremony for the inaugural graduating class. But a top notch education does not come cheap – or easily.

The state of education in Nevada: The state of Nevada funds its public schools at one of the lowest of any of the 50 states, roughly $ 6500 per student per year, about half the national average. The Agassi Foundation’s goal is to make up the difference through fundraisers and donations. To that end Mr. Agassi holds an annual “Grand Slam” fundraiser. That is the background story. Agassi Prep is a Charter School under the auspices of the local school district. The charter requires students to attend school two extra hours per day and two additional weeks per year. Faculty and staff are meticulously interviewed and go above and beyond the school’s requirements. The result for the first graduating class is a 100% graduation rate with every student accepted into college and collectively earning hundreds of thousands of scholarship dollars. Grads have been accepted at and plan to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, University of Tennessee, Alcorn State University, Spelman College, Pepperdine University, Concordia University, Cornell College, Grambling University, Ithaca College, Lehigh University, Prairie View University, University of San Francisco, and all the Nevada universities as well as others.

Not your grandpa’s graduation: Students fortunate enough to attend Agassi Prep – and there is a waiting list of hundreds – receive extra consideration if they live within a two-mile radius of the school. They are selected randomly by lottery and those who win the lottery must have parents or guardians willing to support their students and the high standards of the school. Teachers, parents and students working together make up a team that yields quality graduates. Those who stay the course take part in extracurricular activities that include the usual such as sports (the Boys basketball team went to State this year) and the unusual, such as a recent senior class trip to France.

Not your grandma’s graduation either: The graduating class of Stars (that is the Agassi Prep mascot) took part in a ceremony whose speakers included Mr. Agassi, himself an accomplished public speaker, Chancellor Marsha Irvin, Student Body President Alexis Wallace, and Valedictorian Desmend Jetton. Musical numbers were performed by the Agassi Orchestra Ensemble and graduating senior Je’na Givens singing “Over the Rainbow,” as well as the musical group Mosaic singing “End of the Road.” But the highlight of the Commencement Ceremony came when Chancellor Irvin presented Mr. Agassi with a congratulatory letter that had arrived at the school by Special Delivery that morning from President Obama. Each graduating senior received a copy of the letter.

Words of wisdom: Some of the advice that Andre Agassi gave to the graduates included: “Tennis was not my life, it was my job. My life was my life.” Also, “Stay strong in your faith and have faith in your strength.” Senior Class President La’Mayah Hodges reminded the graduates that since they’re the first graduating class, by default they’re the best! Salutatorian Simone Ruffin remarked, “Some along the way have short-sightedly labeled us as at-risk. Well, we are at risk -- at risk of excellence, at risk of success,” she continued. “We are at risk of having a class where 100 percent of the students graduate and go to college,” Mr. Agassi echoed the students’ sentiments when he told the students they are pioneers and sometimes pioneers get lost, but they continue to strive, “Tell yourself again the story of how you were a pioneer,” Agassi told the students. “How you proved all the naysayers wrong; how you defied the odds and made your parents and teachers and that one old tennis player very, very proud.” Mr. Agassi also said that he hoped that after college many of the graduates will return to the community and make a difference for future generations.

Things I realized at the ceremony: That cocky young tennis phenom and rebel with the wild hair who took the stodgy tennis community by storm is now a bald husband and father who has made it his life mission to give back to the community that spawned him. He looked every bit as good in his academic regalia (see photo above) as he did in his tennis outfits. He is as focused on facilitating his goals today as he was when he won eight grand slam singles tournaments. I also realized that poor children, who we as a society call “at risk,” can compete and excel when given opportunities equal to those of their successful peers. Finally, I remembered what I had known for a long time; that putting together “at risk” students, committed teachers, a strong administration, and a community’s resources, is not only a formula for success but it is the gift that keeps on giving to future generations.

A little blogging music Maestro... The theme of nearly every Commencement Ceremony, “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Dr. Forgot

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Put Downs and Stand Ups

The Art of the Putdown
And one who did something about it.

Humor international: During my college days – the late 19th century I believe but cannot remember for sure – I had a most interesting and diverse roommate. He was Chinese, born in Shanghai, but reared in Peru. He was a series of contradictions; Chinese but 6’2” reared in South America but spoke English without an accent, and named Sandy. The years went by and we went our separate ways, but always stayed in contact. Sandy had an exciting job that took him to domiciles in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. He is now retired and lives half the year in California and half in Thailand. Sandy has retained his razor sharp wit and recently sent me a series of insults and putdowns attributed to notable people. I would like to share them with you:

A Member of Parliament to Disraeli:
"Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease."
"That depends, Sir," said Disraeli,
"Whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

"He had delusions of adequacy." -
- Walter Kerr

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."
- Winston Churchill

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."
- Clarence Darrow

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
- William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."
- Moses Hadas

"I didn't attend the funeral but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."
- Mark Twain

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."
- Oscar Wilde

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend... if you have one."
- George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one."
- Winston Churchill in response.

"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here."
- Stephen Bishop

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator."
- John Bright

"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." –
- Irvin S. Cobb

"He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others."
-Samuel Johnson

"In order to avoid being called a flirt she always yielded easily." -
- Count Talleyrand

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him."
- Forrest Tucker

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."
- Mae West

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they don't go."
- Oscar Wilde

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination."
- Andrew Lang

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music."
- Billy Wilder

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."
- Groucho Marx

The classic exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor:
She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison."
He said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

Do unto others – but do it first: In response to the quotes sent to me by Sandy I’ll add a few of my own, proving once again that two wasted youths are better than one.

A woman bet her friend that she could get Calvin Coolidge to speak to her, which was something he was reluctant to do. She went up to him and said: "Hello, Mr. President, I bet my friend that I could get you to say three words to me."
"You lose," Coolidge replied dryly, and walked away.
~Author Unknown

Just the omission of Jane Austen's books alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn't a book in it.
~Mark Twain

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say "when."
~P.G. Wodehouse

I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.
~English professor, Ohio University

The problem with the gene pool is that there's no lifeguard.
~David Gerrold

"When you go to the mind reader, do you get half price?"
--David Letterman

The above comments are fodder for humor. But when the depiction of groups of people becomes represented as “accurate" in the media, it is no longer humorous but unfair and serves no useful purpose.

Some words and images are designed to hurt: Dr. Jack Shaheen was born and reared in Clairton, PA. The graduate of Clairton High School went to Hollywood after graduation to get an insider’s view of the world of entertainment. Clairton had been a classic example of a melting pot during Jack’s youth – Anglos, Germans, Hispanics, Asians, Arabs, African Americans, and countless others all working, living, and shopping together in his hometown. So it was that he was taken aback by the stereotyping he witnessed in the entertainment industry. From the Step-and-fetch-it portrayal of African Americans, to the “Only good Indian is a dead Indian” portrayal, to the terrorist portrayal of Arabs, the stereotypes were both unfair and inaccurate. Young Jack decided to devote his life and work to include lectures and writings that illustrate damaging racial and ethnic stereotypes of Asians, African Americans, Native Americans and other innocent people.

From youngster to scholar: Dr. Shaheen, Professor Emeritus at Southern Illinois University is an Oxford Research Scholar and the recipient of two Fulbright teaching awards. He holds degrees from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, (Carnegie-Mellon University), Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Missouri. He has authored four books and more than 300 essays. He’s delivered lectures in all 50 states and on three continents and is a former CBS consultant on Middle East Affairs. He has won numerous awards recognizing his “outstanding contribution towards a better understanding of our global community.” He is an internationally acclaimed author and media critic, and a committed internationalist and a devoted humanist. Dr. Jack Shaheen, Clairton boy.

A little blogging music maestro… “We Are the World” by Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey Buckingham, Kim Carnes, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Sheila E., Bob Geldof, Hall and Oates, James Ingram, Jackie Jackson, LaToya Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Michael Jackson, Randy Jackson, Tito Jackson, Al Jarreau, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis and the News, Kenny Logins, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, Jeffery Osborne, Steve Perry, The Pointer Sisters, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Michael Boddicker - Synthesizers, Programming, Paulinho da Costa – Percussion, Louis Johnson – Bass, Quincy Jones – Producer, Michael Omartian - Keyboards, Producer, Greg Phillinganes – Keyboards, John Robinson – Drums

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Clairton's First Twenty-Five Years

Laughter is a smile with the volume turned up

Why I write about Clairton: The head of my crack research team recently reminded me that author John Updike was a Pennsylvanian. In fact, she sent me one of his quotes which describes the attachment to my hometown of Clairton although I have not lived there for nearly a half century. The quote reads, "...I have never really left Pennsylvania.... that is where the self I value is stored, however infrequently I check on its condition...."

Test your Clairton memory: I recently did a post about the number of car dealerships in Clairton during the 1940s and 50s. Since then I have taken the time to read the 1947 Fiftieth Anniversary Memories booklet. It was a beautifully done booklet with a silver cover created to commemorate the Silver (25th) anniversary of the founding of Clairton as a city. Although the periodical in my possession is tattered, I will share some of the ads for sponsorship placed in that booklet: Mauro Auto Sales featuring Desoto, 527 St. Clair Ave., Carroll Pontiac, 537 St. Clair Ave, B&B Oldsmobile, 205 State Street, North Clairton (Marraccini) Buick, Airport Kaiser-Frazer, 506 St. Clair Ave. Worthington (Nikolich) Hudson, 1115 Worthington Ave., Clairton Auto Dodge, 419 St. Clair Ave., Gumbel Chevrolet, 623 St. Clair Ave., Ed Collins Ford, 416 State Street, Ping Young Nash, 701 Miller Ave., St. Clair Packard, 108 St. Clair Ave., and Gregg Chrysler, 5th St. and Park. Ave. Of note, three of the dealerships; Gregg, Mauro, and Clairton Auto also sold Plymouths. Thus, in 1947, in a six block stretch of St. Clair Ave. there stood at least six car dealerships. Not in the booklet was a seventh dealership on St. Clair, Winters Motors sold Studebakers as well as Royak Gulf Station which also sold Willys Jeep vehicles.

St. Clair Avenue rocked in the 40s and 50s: In addition to the eight car dealerships on St. Clair Avenue, other businesses that advertised in the Silver Anniversary booklet, all on St. Clair Avenue, included: First National Bank, Smith Café, Clairton Grill, Pilgrim Press, Columbia Hotel, Friend and Rebhun Insurance and Real Estate, Penn Clair Hotel, State Pool Parlor, ABC Auto Parts, Pete’s Pocket Billiard and Restaurant, Royak Service Station, Graubard’s, Andrew Kvasnak Insurance and Mortgage, St. Clair Restaurant and Soda Grill, City Plumbing and Heating, St. Clair Billiards, Garden Electric Shop, Tomich Atlantic Service Station, Penn Cleaners, Harris Style Shop, The Clairton Progress, Mike’s Tavern, Vitelli’s Service Station, Bernardo’s Hotel, Grisnik’s Bakery, and The American Leigion. Twenty-six businesses in six blocks of one street, including three pool halls – and those are just the ones that advertised.

On State Street, that great street: State Street had the advantage of being several miles longer than the six blocks of St. Clair Avenue, but it boasted Jaskol’s Apparel, D&D Body Shop, J&J Restaurant, Martin’s Department Store, Peyton’s Tavern, Betty’s Quick Lunch, Spanovich Groceries, Joe’s Texaco, Walter Water’s Funeral Home, Korchak Furniture, Batinich Fancy Groceries, Lomicka’s Grocery, Patsty’s Grill, Recht Furniture, Milas Brother’s Beer Distributing, Central Grocery, Mark’s Café, Clairton Baking Company, McFarland’s Hotel, Garcia Restaurant, Nick’s Market, Haines Super Market, Clairton Works Benefit Club, Helmsteader’s Dry Goods, R. M. Sharp Jewelry, Roberts’ Brothers Service, Clairton News, Frederick Florist, Leonard Drug, Burd’s Service Station, Sam’s Pure Food Market, Martell Distributing, Marraccini’s Grocery, Wiesenthal Groceries, M&L 5 and 10 Cent Store, Simpson’s Barber Shop, Farrell’s Furniture, Four Roses Bar, and Pavlack Distributing. Thirty-eight places of business including 15 grocery stores and eating establishments and more than a dozen bars. It must be noted that State Street runs parallel with the steel mills.

Clairton’s choking lifeblood: The United States Steel Corporation also placed an ad in the Silver Anniversary booklet. In 1947 the mills were at full throttle as they switched from providing steel for the war effort, to sending it to Detroit for the auto industry. In the ad the steel mill boasts that it turned out more than 70 million tons in the six years of the War. The ad further discusses other products produced by the coke ovens which include, “Perfumes and fertilizers, medicines and poisons, laughing gas and embalming fluid are just a few of the infinite number of products we get from the modern method of transforming coal into coke.... Gas for fuel, tar and the long list of coal tar products – improved gasoline for your car and greater mileage for your tires, creosote to preserve railroad ties, nylon hose, billiard balls, spectacle (eyeglasses) rims, all contain byproducts of the coke oven...” The ad neglects to mention the soot and particulates that fill the air and turn the shingles on new homes black in a matter of weeks. Nor does it mention the odor of the quencher that permeates the air during the process, brings tears to the eyes and coats car windshields making them difficult to see through. Ah, but that was the lifeblood of the community. It paid taxes that built schools and maintained municipal services and beautiful parks.

A few notes: The Finney and Bekavac Funeral Home phone number was Clairton 57. That’s it. No area code and no seven digit number. In fact there was no need for a dial on the phone. You just picked up the receiver, listened to see if anybody else was talking on your party line and told the operator, whom you usually knew by her first name, the person or phone number you wished to call. No ringers to the tunes of rappers, no cell phones, no “Can you hear me now?” ads. Just pick up the phone and ask my Aunt Mary the operator, “Mary, can you get me Clairton 57?” Or simply, “Can you ring for Tony Bekavac?” We will offer more of the gems from the Silver Anniversary Memories in future posts.

A little blogging music Maestro... “The Air that I Breathe” by The Hollies.

Dr. Forgot

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tit for Tat Tuxedo Cat

A Tale of Two Kitties

A little background: Today’s blog post is more therapeutic for the writer than anything else, so if you are looking for some Clairton history, clever witticism, or other raconteur chatter, this might not be the column for you. However if you are a cat person, a pet junkie, or have a soft heart when it comes to not-so-dumb animals, this might be one you’ll want to read.

Not exactly a dark and stormy night: It was a cold Sunday winter morning in the desert. Christmas was just around the corner and Mrs. Dr. Forgot and I were hanging lights on the outside of our shanty. People who have been to Las Vegas in the summer and lived through triple-digit temperatures 24/7 for weeks often imagine it is warm here year round. But it does get cold in the winter relatively speaking. It can dip below freezing overnight and occasionally we’ll awaken to a dusting of snow, but not very often and it doesn’t last very long. So it was this winter morning. Temperatures were probably in the high thirties and as we hung our lights there was a “meooooow.” From the corner of my eye I saw a large black cat. I’d seen one like it in the neighborhood but whenever I approached it, the cat darted away, so I told Mrs. Dr. Forgot not to waste her breath by calling it, but when the mini panther meowed a second time she said, “Come here sweetheart,” and it did!

No room at the inn: I explained to my bride that it was absurd to take the cat into the house. We’d always had dogs and our little poodle (who was smaller than the cat) was in the autumn of her life. Zindi the poodle was ill, blind, and did not have much time left. Add to that my Mother was ill and I was to fly out to Pittsburgh the following morning to see her. So I made it clear that in the spirit of the Christmas holidays we would do the humanitarian thing and take this cat into the house so it would not freeze, but it would go directly to the veterinarian in the morning. They are professionals and would be able to tell the gender, whether it is chipped, if it is healthy, etc. They could also place the cat in a good home. Besides, I was not too crazy about cats and I’m allergic.

Not an overnight sensation: We bought a single-use $2.00 kitty litter, got some food from a neighbor who had a cat, filled a bowl with water and put the wayward wanderer in the garage until morning. At about 10 that night I peeked into the garage to check on the cat and it was standing in the litter box shivering. The concrete floor was too cold on its tender feet. I took control of matters and said, “Ok, you can stay in my (carpeted) office overnight,” and I let it into the office then continued, “Let’s set some ground rules; I don’t like cats, I don’t like you, and I’m allergic. Understand?” With that the stupid cat jumped into my lap, rolled onto its back, and began to purr. What a dumb cat! He didn’t even understand English. We named him Licorice since he was all black, but soon changed his name to Casanova as it became clear he’s really a lover. That was six years ago and Casanova still runs the house. It was the best of times.

Do I have a sign on me that says “Sucker?” After hearing a suspicious noise in the back yard the other night I took my 1,000 watt fishing lantern (I don’t fish) and went out to investigate. Sitting atop the 6 foot fence was a black and white tuxedo kitten, crying its eyes out and afraid to jump down. I lifted the kitten off the fence and brought it in the house. It was so traumatized that Mrs. Dr. Forgot stayed up with it all night as it would cry until exhausted, then sleep a while, awaken, cry, eat, sleep, and so on throughout the night. The next day we took it to the vet (I’m sure we’ve paid for that vet’s kids braces over the years). It was a she, healthy, but neither neutered nor computer chipped. We paid for her shots, spay, and exam, and said we’d drop her off at the shelter. WRONG! The vet posited that this was probably a “Foreclosure kitten” who had been left after a neighborhood house had foreclosed upon. She had been somebody’s pet and did not know how to fend for herself. The shelters are so overloaded with such pets that to take her there would have been a death sentence. So we decided to keep her and named her Belladonna as she would become Casanova’s little sister.

Sad ironies abound: We’ve become attached to the little Jellicle kitten but Casanova was shattered. After being the “only child cat” for six years (and believe me, he hit the lottery in this house) he had competition. He either ignored Belladonna or hissed at her. Bella wanted so bad to have a big brother but he’d have none of it. “Oh well,” we figured, “He’ll get used to it.” He sulked.

It was the worst of times: Yesterday I took Bella to have her hysterectomy stitches removed. On the way home, we pulled up to the mailbox and saw the “Lost Kitten” poster with Belladonna’s picture (her name had been “Tootsie”). I faced a major moral dilemma. Do I call and perhaps give away this precious little fur ball, or not? It had been nearly two weeks and we (except for Casanova) had bonded with Belladonna, nee Tootsie. The song from Les Miserables rang in my ears, “If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned.” So I made the decision Jean Valjean had... I made the call.

All’s well except for a broken heart: The owner lives one street away. She’d had company and when a friend opened the door the kitten darted out. The owner had been walking the neighborhood and checking the shelters daily and in a last-ditch effort, made the posters and hung them throughout. Bella’s (Tootsie’s) reaction removed any doubt that this young lady was her chief of staff (Dogs have owners. Cats have staffs). The owner had moved in with her father a couple of years ago while attending college. He was recently killed in an auto accident. The kitten was very important to her. Yes, it was important to me as well, but it was REALLY important to her. With glassy eyes we said “Goodnight Belladonna. Consider your time with us a vacation. We’ll visit you and bring you toys.” Casanova smiled. And that, my readers, is A Tale of Two Kitties.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by Neil Young.

Dr. Forgot

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Final Exam Time

If you think there is no prayer in schools, stop by during Finals.

Semester Exam: Ok boys and girls. You have been reading the Clairton posts all semester. You’ve had practice quizzes, stayed up late into the night to study after Dancing With the Stars was over, and now you’re ready for your final exam. No cheating. Remove all books and materials from your desk and get ready... GO!

1. The first recorded survey of property occurred in
a. 1776
b. 1911
c. 1769
d. When Hell froze over

2. The borough of Clairton was chartered in
a. 1776
b. 1903
c. 1917
d. December 7, 1941

3. The borough of Wilson was chartered in
a. 1776
b. 1907
c. 1944
d. The day the earth stood still

4. North Clairton, chartered in 1915 was also called:
a. Woodland Terrace
b. The Blair District
c. The City of Prayer
d. Newtown

5. All three boroughs above incorporated as the City of Clairton in
a. 1777
b. 1856
c. 1922
d. When the moon was in the seventh house

6. The Piano company factory in Wilson in 1889 was named for:
a. Wilson
b. Clairton
c. Mendelssohn
d. St. Clair

7. The first Post Office, established in 1848 was located in
a. Wilson
b. Clairton
c. Coal Valley
d. Marracini’s Market

8. Central Park, along the River in Blair in the 1890s included:
a. A pavilion for dancing
b. A dining room
c. A thoroughbred racetrack
d. All of the above

9. The first FHA approved large scale housing project in the nation:
a. Malmady Village
b. Colonial Village
c. Woodland Terrace
d. Wilson Newtown

10. The first chartered bank in the City was:
a. Three Rivers
b. Nationsbank
c. Union Trust
d. Clairton Bank and Trust

Ok, while you sharpen your pencils for the next session, exchange papers with the person next to you and check your answers. Remember, no cheating or you will be sent to the principal’s office and Miss Brogan has a paddle machine especially designed for cheaters. Ready? 1. c, 2. b, 3. b, 4. b, 5. c, 6. c, 7. c, 8. d, 9. b, 10. c. Ok, ready for part II?

1. The Clairtonian who won a Congressional Medal of Honor:
a. Capt. Reggie Desiderio
b. Col. Reggie Bush
c. Lt. Roger DiNiro
d. Captain Marvel

2. Clairton High School’s two All Americans were:(choose 2)
a. Ken Stilley
b. Andrew Berchock
c. Jim Kelley
d. Ron Lancaster

3. The two attended college at (choose 2)
a. Notre Dame
b. Penn State
c. North Carolina
d. Pitt

4. Clairton War Hero Ed Skvarna once danced with:
a. Ginger Rogers
b. Lucille Ball
c. Madonna
d. Donna Reed

5. Clairtonian Nell “Honey” Kohler was recognized for:
a. Unionizing steel workers
b. Crocheting 13,000 blankets for orphans
c. Being the model for “Rosie the Riveter”
d. Being Clairton’s first female Police Chief

6. What Clairton lad acted in “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?
a. Michael Green
b. Frank Russo
c. Don Nesti
d. John Moio

7. Which one the following was a Clairton elementary school?
a. Short Street
b. Sixth Street
c. Chestnut Avenue
d. Milner Avenue

8. How many boys graduated in the first CHS class of 1907?
a. 1
b. 5
c. 10
d. None

9. Harry Gilmore, CHS ’55:
a. Was the first Ambassador to Armenia
b. Was the highest ranking American Diplomat in Berlin when the Berlin Wall fell
c. Was the last American to cross Checkpoint Charlie
d. Earned the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal

10. May 30, 1930 Clairton celebrated
a. The end of the Korean War
b. Its 50th anniversary
c. The opening of the new Clairton High School
d. The opening of the new swimming pool.

Ok, exchange papers again. The answers are 1. A, 2. B&C 3. A&C, 4. D, 5. B, 6. D, 7. A, 8. A, 9. (All are true) 10. D. That is your semester exam. If you passed you will be promoted to the next grade as a Clairton Expert. But don’t get too cocky because some define “ex” as a has-been and “spurt” as a drip under pressure.

PS: For the reader who asked about a picture of anything from the Central Park along the river, the Dance Pavilion from that park appears in the Silver Anniversary “Memories” booklet published in 1947. A copy, I am told, resides in the Clairton Room of the Clairton Public Library. The pages of the booklet aren’t numbered but it is in the “Borough of Clairton” section. Toward the back of the booklet there is also an artist’s rendering of the entire Central Park. Also contact the Mifflin Historical Society (web address below) for an extensive Clairton memorabilia collection.

NOTE: The photo above is the original Clairton High School. It was a three-story red brick building on Fifth Street. When the school could no longer accommodate the influx of students a new school was built across the street that became the present Clairton High School. The original CHS was retrofitted and renamed Fifth Street Elementary School. Inside the tower atop the school was a heavy iron bell that pealed each morning to tell the kiddies they’d better hurry to get to school on time. As time took its toll on the school, engineers determined that the weight of the bell could no longer be supported and it was removed and placed on a concrete stand at the school’s entrance. Fifth Street Grade School was eventually demolished. All that remains is the open space across from the CHS entry.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful.

Dr. Forgot

Monday, June 1, 2009

Then and Now

What Happens in Clairton....

Clairton Then: At least 16 new car dealerships, Service stations pumping gas under brand names of Enco (Miller anad Wylie Avenues) Sunoco (Miller and Halcomb Avenues), Nikloich Service (Miller and Park Avenues) Mobil (St. Clair at State Street), Gulf (St. Clair and Fifth Street), Atlantic and Cities Service (St. Clair and Sixth Street) Esso (St. Clair and Woodland Ave.), HC (Woodland Avenue and Halcomb), Spur on State Street, and several others.

Clairton Today: There are no new car dealerships and a handful of used car lots, but many people simply place a “For Sale” in their car window and park the car in an area they hope it will be noticed. Most of the gas stations have closed or changed service. The Enco on Miller became a Stop-n-Go. The Sunoco became Carl’s Auto Repair. Nikolich Service closed. The Gulf station next to the post office that also sold Willys autos still sells cars. Cities Service became a beer distributor. The Esso station was razed and a Chinese restaurant stands in its place and the HC station is now a used car lot.

The U.S. Today - cars: Of the cars sold at the 16 American new car dealerships, Crosley, Kaiser-Frazer, Hudson, Packard, Studebaker, Rambler, and American Motors no longer exist. General Motors today announced it is officially bankrupt. Thus, of the GM cars sold in Clairton, Pontiac will no longer be produced and Chevrolet will be one of probably three GM nameplates that will survive. Chrysler Motors is hanging on by its fingernails and is predicted to also enter bankruptcy shortly and of the Chrysler products once sold new in Clairton, Desoto is long gone as a brand, Plymouth is iffy, and the Dodge and Chrysler nameplates hang on for the moment. Willys, ironically, sold its Jeep nameplate to American Motors, which in turn sold the brand name to Chrysler and has been Chrysler’s strongest revenue source. Ford is the only one of the “Big Three” to remain standing, which is also ironic as it had gone through a phase of buying up foreign brands including Saab, Volvo, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Merkur. But they rid themselves of all foreign nameplates except Volvo, which may also soon be jettisoned.

The U.S. Today – Service Stations: Over the years the term “Service Station” in America changed to “Gas Station” as services such as window washing, oil and tire checks and the like disappeared. The brands in logos from Clairton stations also changed. Enco was brand names for Humble Oil, a brand that traces its roots to Humble Texas in 1911. The Enco brand started in 1960 as an acronym for ENergy COmpany. Humble Oil also featured Esso brand and mottos were “Happy Motoring,” and later “Put a Tiger in your Tank.” But when the company realized the Japanese word for Enco meant “Engine Failure,” they rebranded both Enco and Esso to Exxon, in 1972. “Atlantic Keeps your Car on the Go,” touted Atlantic stations, but merged with Richfield Oil to become ARCO, whose east coast stations were acquired by Sunoco. Cities Service merged with Gulf Oil and became CITGO, and in 1986 was purchased by Petroleos Venezuela. In sum, none of the gasoline brands that graced the signs of Clairton in the 1950s exist today.

Clairton Works Then:
In 1946 Clairton Works was using 30,000 tons of coal daily to produce 21,000 tons of coke for the blast furnaces. By 1950 a new battery of sixty-one coke ovens went into operation placing the total number of ovens at 1506. By 1952 Clairton Works set a record high of monthly output when open hearth steel production soared to 83,382 tons. In 1956 US Steel announced plans to build a multi-million dollar light oil plant at the world’s largest coke producing mill, Clairton Works. By 1960 two blast furnaces were taken out of operation as steel production declined. By the late 1960s environmental concerns began to be raised regarding dumping unhealthy residue into the rivers. In the 1970s production continued to plummet and issues of air pollution began to be raised more frequently.

Clairton Works Now: Although steel mills up and down the river have been long closed, throwing the entire Mon-Yough valley into fiscal recession, Clairton Works and its coke production plant hangs on. The community’s size has fallen by half since its heyday and issues regarding air pollution from the mill continue to be battled. On one hand what little income that still exists in the industry comes from what is still the largest coke-producing plant in the world. On the other hand, the air has been deemed to be among the unhealthiest in the country. US Steel recently announced the shutdown of three oven batteries, reducing the plant’s coke output by 25%. It has been more than 20 years since the City of Clairton was named an economically distressed community by Pennsylvania’s Department of Community Affairs. Some efforts have been made to right the economy but the once prosperous city continues to struggle with poverty and its related consequences.

The US Economy:
Some might say that Clairton was ahead of its time, or “as Clairton goes, so goes the nation.” For some of the same reasons – loss of industrial jobs – the nation currently is in the midst of its worst economic times in over 70 years. Most industries that fueled post World War II prosperity have been brought to their collective knees. The past decade of paper profits in real estate has disappeared into thin but polluted air, and the nation’s economy is on the brink of collapse. We have no clever answers or easy fixes to offer. But what once made this country great – sacrifice and ingenuity must again fix what is broken. We are optimistic that it will happen and when it does our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will enjoy another era of good times.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” by Danny O’Keefe

Dr. Forgot