Currently viewing the tag: "Pittsburgh"

IMG_2789I am not sure when it happened and which flailing body part gave me the bruise, but it currently sits very brown-yellow-purple on my upper arm, looking for all the world like a piece of stage makeup because it’s a little too perfectly oval.

Last Monday night I mostly stayed out of the Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo Bay School of Medicine mosh pit at a sparely attended Mr. Smalls show. Biafra — looking a little grayer than he did back in 2010 when I saw him last — did as he always does, which was sing newer songs which provoked polite, if sincere appreciation, and then the occasional Dead Kennedys number which brought about a more enthusiastic, cheerfully violent response.

In between songs, Biafra slipped in plenty of topical, geographically relevant rants. Former PA Sen. Rick Santorum got a reference. So did Gov. Tom Corbett. Fracking repeatedly came up. So did the Tea Party in general.

Biafra’s rants are, as always, bracing and amusing in their formulaic way. He calls the Tea Party racist, fascist whatevers, and my face takes on a bemused expression and I imagine — the the spirit of the old Conan O’Brien worst chant ever skits — yelling back instead of “yay!” something like “Yes, many Tea Party members are theocratic creeps, but some people like Rand Paul and Justin Amash have some Tea Party affiliation and they have fought for many good causes, most prominently in opposition to drones and the NSA! Furthermore…” [Booooooooo!]

Or: “I am uncertain of the science behind fracking, but human society demands trade-offs, one of which is energy that pollutes! I believe that knee-jerk opposition to fracking is making the perfect the enemy of the good! Certainly further research…” [Boooooooooooo!]

Nuance of this kind is completely antithetical to the Jello Biafra spirit. The appeal of the Dead Kennedys lay in the killer buzzsaw/surf rock guitar riffs from East Bay Ray, the solid basslines, the weird warble of Baifra’s voice, and the very existence of songs with titles as direct as “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” and “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” Subtlety, even later Clash era variety, was not their forte.

Arguably, an exception is the best Dead Kennedys song, and one of the finest punk songs of all time,  is “Holiday in Cambodia.” “Holiday in Cambodia” is a blistering, (comparatively) subtle condemnation of both Pol Pot’s slaughter and fashion radical, whining lefty college students.

It’s also the only time on Monday that I didn’t fear the mosh pit.

I’ve been at country shows too long. I now have even less pit stamina than I did at age 17, when I first stared in fear at the squished together youths going nuts for the tubby old profane Irishman Jake Burns and the rest of Stiff Little Fingers (yes, I love me some old punks). I enjoyed that show. I kept my elbows up and kept my eyes out for people bouncing out of the pit and flailing into me — and then when I heard the opening guitar for “Suspect Device” I found myself joining the joyful masochism of the pit without much thought.

Since that day, at all punk shows, this same feeling never fails to happen, provided I love the music enough. It is difficult to dance to bad music (one reason I’ve never been to a club in my life), and it is much harder to mosh to music you dislike, or even are indifferent towards. The fearless, foolish mosh urge cannot be faked or summoned at will.  Moshing is a fucking stupid activity, and it is wonderful one. And it simply is or is not. I had a hint of the desire to move with everyone else for “Chemical Warfare”, a solid tune off the Dead Kennedys’ first album. I bumped a little on the edges of the pit. I tried my hand at the non-douchey, non-punching people in the face version of hardcore dancing, but that was all.

And then, after more over the top rants from Jello, more pleasant, but unknown solo stuff, there came the familiar notes of “Holiday in Cambodia.” It was all over. I jumped in. All worries over broken glasses, gimp legs kicked, or teeth knocked out vanished in an instant. All was happy screaming along with drunk, disgusting strangers. All was the highest form of musical joy that music exists to bring us all. We smashed together, my friend A. — tiny and blind, and a better mosher than I am — and I tried not to sexually assault Jello Biafra when he crowd surfed on our hands. (A drunk girl asked if I believed her when she said she had groped the man in an unfortunate place. I did. I think we all did. But unlike my youthful grabbing of the leg of Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello, I did not intend to do so. It was more an earnest effort to prevent him breaking his face.)

I used to be bothered that punks and certain leftists thought I was a ring-wing scumbag — that I was never, ever going to be one of those black hoodie and Municipal Waste t-clad people at the Roberto Project, or Gilman Street. I had so many happy experiences with these strangers, and if they knew me, I would never be one of them. The music wasn’t enough, but it felt like it should be. I knew some left anarchist kids in Pittsburgh who tolerated my occasional presence, but I was not in solidarity with them. Nor did I want to be, even then, I suppose. I have been a libertarian since I was 13. (Since I realized George W. Bush was full of shit when he said he knew everyone executed under his watch was guilty. But that didn’t translate into leftism, unfortunately for my teenage social life.)

I can put my fist in the air in shameless emotion, arms around sweating strangers, in a painfully earnest Defiance, Ohio pit, and then the next day go back to my internship at Reason to rake in those David Koch dollars. And as I grew older, I could laugh about that dichotomy more.  It might be more satisfying to be “part of” the scene, than to feel like I alone had that secret joke, but the more “liberty movement” (for all its flaws) I found, the less that alienation from the motivation for this music I love mattered to me. (Plus, after hearing horror stories about the East Bay anarchist scene from T., I once again think I am good. I am not a punk.)

Music is more important than politics, and I wish my politics could be translated into kick-ass song, but at the end of the day, the baggage that goes with these ideas belongs to me for two hours at a show, and then I drop it. It’s not about growing out of it. Or that those shows don’t matter. It’s just…compartmentalizing. Metal fans don’t get to go home and be wizards or orcs. I don’t get to go home and be a punk. It’s a costume — an exaggeration that feels meaningful, and comes from real anger but maybe also is pretend the way “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” or “Fuck Tha Police” is a portrait of a feeling, not a photograph.

I try to explain to my mother the joy of the mosh, but she never quite gets it. I remember distinctly a girl who was my year at Chatham trying to tell me once that she was too old for pits. She was actually two years younger than I was, but that wasn’t even the point. My annoyance stemmed from the fact that this was water from the wide river of grow the fuck up, wear business casual and heels. Certainly the mosh is not everyone’s cup of tea — and again, I don’t believe it can be forced — but the teenage perfection of it, which still feels holy, and mad, and necessary, and not political, is not something to grow out of.

Richard Scaife — the billionaire owner of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who died July 4 — was a complicated and interesting man, politically, personally and philanthropically.

If he had been a Democrat and liberal-funder of nutty leftwing causes like Teresa Heinz, instead of a Republican funder of libertarian conservative think tanks, media and politicians, President Obama would have ordered America’s flags to fly at half mast.

If you want two versions of Richard Scaife’s amazing life — and a textbook lesson in the rank subjectivity of newspapers — compare and contrast the obits written by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Trib:

The PG obit:  Obituary: Richard M. Scaife / Ideologue, philanthropist, newspaper publisher

The Trib obit:  Richard Scaife, conservative champion, newsman & philanthropist, dies 

Decide for yourself who Richard Scaife really was. Good luck.

I worked at both papers — the PG in the 1990s and the Trib in the 2000s. When I decided to defect from the PG to the Trib, the first person I met for an interview was Richard Scaife. I worked my way down the chain of command and, after two years of interviews and dogged persistence on my part, I left the PG one Monday morning, crossed the Allegheny River and began work at the Trib 20 minutes later.

The Trib‘s obit is biased in Scaife’s favor, clearly. It leaves out all of the real-and-imagined dirt, nastiness and controversy, political and personal, all of which is debatable and too complicated for this blog item. It’ll be in someone else’s book someday, not mine. Or in a movie.

But the Trib‘s obit, while spun with loving positivity, gives Scaife his full due as a generous and important man. It also contains lots of mini-eulogies from political big shots like Romney and Jeb Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.

For the next week Scaife will be beat up in the mainstream media for his conservative-libertarian politics.

Many creepy liberal pundits and partisans will dance on his grave because he so generously funded the post-Goldwater conservative movement and spent a couple million bucks in the 1990s attempting to bring down the Clintons, who, hilariously, became chummy with him once they were out of power.

Politics, politics, politics. The debate over whether Scaife was the Devil or an angel will, as usual, depend on what your politics are  and it will never die.

Bu what people of every partisan stripe should give Scaife great credit for was making Pittsburgh a competitive two-newspaper town.

Starting in 1993 as the Pittsburgh edition of Scaife’s Greensburg Tribune-Review, his heavily subsidized paper, the Pittsburgh Trib, improved the journalism of the area in countless ways.

Growing slowly, adding talent and steadily improving the quality of its journalism, the Trib applied a strict conservative-libertarian ideology to local, state and national news and politics.

The Trib became a valuable counterweight to the Post-Gazette, which was a union-loving, public-sector loving, liberal Democrat establishment paper that was too cozy for too long with the political and corporate power-brokers of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

The journalism of both papers — news and opinion — was biased to reflect their publishers’ views. But the Trib editorial page (very very much Scaife’s political voice and generally a source of embarrassment/shame for the liberals running the paper’s news side) was not a mindless Republican cheerleader or a right-wing echo chamber.

During the 2000s, when I worked there, The Trib‘s editorials and op-eds were highly critical of any Republican who was insufficiently conservative.

It never got the national credit it deserved, but the Trib, entirely because of Richard Scaife’s positions, editorialized against going to war in Iraq in 2003, wisely/bravely came out in favor of marijuana decriminalization five years ago, and was steadfastly pro-choice.

In 30-plus years of newspaper journalism at the L.A. Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Trib, I worked for and with a lot of good, smart people and a few miserable assholes.

Mr. Scaife, as I called him when he dropped by the office, was always as nice to me as my favorite uncle. He gave me raises, put me on the paper’s masthead as an associate editor and sent me notes of praise for my op-ed columns and feature stories.

Best of all, unlike my previous editors/publishers, he didn’t hold my radical libertarian politics against me. He appreciated them.

Bloomfield, Pittsburgh

Bloomfield, Pittsburgh

10351721076_b00243b4a9_o

Bill Peduto, a grown-up,  will be Pittsburgh’s next mayor and he clearly has a better brain than his predecessors, which, unfortunately,  isn’t much of a compliment.

But instead of seeing if he can break the modern mayoral record for getting laid in office, Peduto is doing some thinking/hinting/promising about what he might do when he becomes the 734th straight Democrat since 1934 to take over Pittsburgh’s City Hall.

Peduto has been talking about tinkering with the bus stops downtown to relieve congestion on the sidewalks. Businesses are complaining about all those unsightly humans standing around on corners waiting for a government megabus to lumber along. (I suspect that the skin color of many of those bus riders might have something to do with the bizmen’s concern, but that’s because I am a cynical ex-newspaper guy.)

Now that I don’t have to slave at a job at the PG or Trib, I rarely see downtown. (I hear the Twin Transit Tunnel to Nowhere is done. And that Market Square has been rejuvenated and its population of drug salesmen, homeless and mentally disturbed people has been reduced to a just a handful so that everyone can go to the fancy new restaurants.)

The City of Pittsburgh — like so many rust belt towns — continues to be crippled by the bad politics, poor leadership and stupid ideas that helped its decline. As far as I can tell, that isn’t going to ever change in my lifetime or my kids’.

Let’s hope Bill Peduto proves me wrong.

Meanwhile, as part of my never-ending quest to bring more human and economic freedom to a shrinking city population that has been tortured for decades by too much government, I offered Mayor-to-be Bill this advice on Facebook about what he should do about the transit scene downtown and elsewhere:

Please, Mayor-to-be Bill.

Don’t tinker with the Port Authority bus stops/schedules. Blow up the city’s current government public transit monopoly (figuratively, of course, dear NSA). Get the county/state/feds to deregulate it, privatize it, defund it, outlaw it, whatever, in the long run. But first ban all of its gargantuan lumbering 40-foot-plus buses from the city limits and then declare Pittsburgh an open transit city. Open up the taxi and bus markets in downtown and Oakland and especially in the neighborhoods that are poor and have been un-served by Yellow Cab for 75 years. Invite anyone with a valid driver’s license and insurance to operate a minibus or a cab or a rickshaw downtown — without subsidies or privileged territories. Decriminalize and publicize the jitney drivers, who have served the city’s citizens far far better than Yellow Cab’s obscenely expensive and religiously awful “service.” Praise and encourage and welcome transit entrepreneurs, not transit bureaucrats and intermodal planners who should be working in Moscow, circa 1983, not Pittsburgh 2013. Tell the county and state lawmakers that you want Pittsburgh to become a model city that wants to break up the clumsy, expensive, inefficient socialized transportation systems U.S. cities take for granted and perpetuate. Encourage maximum economic freedom for transit. It’s radical. But if the market can give us all the shoes we need, all the bad TV we can watch and $30 Megabus rides to New York, it can give Pittsburgh a decent ground transportation that doesn’t include $70 cab rides from downtown to the airport and too little cab service to poor people. The transit unions, the pro-government transit media (especially the PG and City Paper), the transportation “experts” and other entitled government bus interests, including riders, will cry. But in a year there will more affordable ways to move around in the city than anyone can imagine. It’ll take balls, Mr. Mayor-to-be, but it might make the city famous for something other than having North America’s slowest light rail system …

Pokey_bw

Since 2000 Pittsburgh’s downtown population reportedly has quadrupled to about 10,000. How all those people could be living in subsidized (tax-reduced) penthouses, lofts and studio apartments at places like the old Otto Milk plant in the Strip or the former Lazarus store downtown is a mystery.  I did not advocate government subsidies as a way to pump up Pittsburgh’s plummeting population, which as of this morning is about 306,000. But apparently lots of old farts — empty-nesters, mainly — read my cutting-edge satire in the Pittsburgh Trib in January of 2003 and called the moving man.

 

Wrinkle City North

 

Sunday, January 5, 2003

Before I reveal my modest proposal for reversing Pittsburgh’s long economic decline, I have an important news flash for our region’s professional boosters and movers and shakers:

YOUNG PEOPLE ARE NOT

COMING TO PITTSBURGH. EVER.

And short of erecting a Pittsburgh Wall around the city where a six-lane beltway should be, there’s nothing you or anyone else can do to keep the youth of the city’s neighborhoods or suburbs from seeking their fortunes in more dynamic area codes.

It doesn’t matter how many quarter-billion-dollar sports playpens or Downtown entertainment complexes you guys build. Or how many new bike trails or boat docks or outdoor skating rinks you create on the riverbanks and at lonely Point State Park.

And you PUMP punks can stop asking for any more of those pathetic $1 million marketing campaigns to sell Pittsburgh to young people. No matter how many more laughably clueless PR execs and ad firms the region’s economic development agencies hire to find the city’s “brand essence,” the young and unwrinkled of America will never believe Pittsburgh is the hippest/trendiest region this side of Austin.

By the way, why is Pittsburgh’s 50-year exodus of youth automatically a civic tragedy? What’s so great about young people anyway? Most are poor as dirt and live with their parents or rent apartments in packs. All they do is blow their paltry service-sector wages on CDs and pizza. They drive too fast. They drink too much. They commit most of the violent and nonviolent crimes. They spit. And they don’t read newspapers.

So give up that tired Chamber of Commerce ghost. Let’s let our young people go. What Pittsburgh really needs if it is to grow and prosper in the 21st century is lots more of what we supposedly have too much of already – old people.

 CALLING ALL OLDSTERS

Seniors. Fogies. Geezers. Old-timers. Coots. Seasoned citizens. Retirees. The aged. AARP-heads. Call them what you want, Old people are Pittsburgh’s best hope for a better, prosperous, rust-proof future. We just need to figure out how to get half a million more of them to immigrant here.

That will take a sharp, honest national marketing campaign, a real challenge for Pittsburgh’s ruling booster class. But we could realistically promote Pittsburgh as the perfect retirement place for “The Greatest Demographic” — the oncoming waves of aging baby boomers who already are scouting for places other than Florida to move to and die in peace and quiet.

We can’t do anything about our winter weather, except pray for cheap natural gas prices and more global warming. But thanks to a cruel combination of unstoppable global and national economic forces and a century of high local taxes, public mismanagement and broken big-city politics, Pittsburgh today is made to order for old people.

Since 1950, the city’s fiscally challenged policy czars have brilliantly, albeit unwittingly, done their best to make room for 500,000 new old people to live within its borders.

The city’s population – once a thick, industrious stew approaching 700,000 – is now a thin gruel of 340,000 and still evaporating. Downtown sidewalks are empty of bustling shoppers and dangerous/scary street vendors. The city’s park benches are virtually unused. And there are so many pigeons to feed.

Our leaders’ failings have made the erstwhile Smoky City a kinder, gentler place for old people. Along with driving off most of that annoying 18-to-35 mob — which, by the way, no longer is the darling demographic of national advertisers — our leaders have cleansed the region of the noise and dirt of industry that would rattle and offend fragile seniors.

It’s true, local wage and school taxes are hyper-high. But that’s no problem if you want to attract old people. Old people don’t work, so they don’t earn or spend wage income. They spend stock dividends, 401(k) dollars and Social Security money. Old people don’t particularly care if the city schools are failing, either, because their kids are grown and gone.

Pittsburgh’s private sector also has been unconsciously preparing the region for a tsunami of elderly immigrants. A solid old-people infrastructure already is in place; it’s no coincidence the National Senior Games Association chose Pittsburgh from among 19 contenders to be host city of the 2005 Senior Olympics.

We have all the senior centers, reasonably priced family restaurants, enclosed malls, bingo parlors and golf courses we need. Oldies have been Pittsburgh’s most popular soundtrack for decades and WQED is the flagship of PBS’ Doo-Wop renaissance. We have all the health-care facilities, nursing homes, hospices and cemeteries ready. We have gorgeous empty churches and multiethnic funeral homes in every neighborhood. All we need are a few score miles of wheelchair trails.

Plus, the institutions that only old people really support anymore – the shrinking and fiscally bleeding symphonies, museums, operas, ballets, art galleries, libraries, lecture series, VFW halls, ethnic clubs, etc. – are desperate to reverse their subscribers’ high mortality rates. Imagine how a mass migration of hundreds of thousands of retirees will resurrect and sustain them.

 BEFORE THE SALE

But before we put out the official invite to the world, there are a few minor things our civic leaders need to do to really sell America’s old people on the joys of dying in Pittsburgh:

· Our political leaders should seize control of the city schools and begin cutting budgets by 50 percent each year while simultaneously raising real estate taxes on single family homes. In no time, no family with a kid will be left within city borders and the suburbs will be alive with children again.

·  The city should use eminent domain power to begin the process of making Pittsburgh America’s most elderly-accessible city. Abandoned Downtown corporate headquarters towers – especially the Gulf, Koppers and Alcoa buildings – should be stripped of their commercial tenants (mostly lawyers and government bureaucrats) and converted into affordable condos and apartments.

·  The city, in cahoots with Gov.-elect Ed Rendell, should speed up their plans to legalize gambling and finalize all the option deals with Harrah’s and every other gaming industry interest-in-waiting. This will keep the city’s existing old people population from busing to Atlantic City and Niagara Falls on weekends.

·  The city should scotch its not-so-secret plans to gentrify Oakland. Instead, assuming the U.S. Supreme Court will not rule “age apartheid” unconstitutional, Pittsburgh officials should use target zoning to maintain Oakland as a urban youth preserve for college students and the minimum-wage work force old people need for reliable pizza and pill delivery.

·  Lastly, before the current regime resigns and turns the city over to Sophie Masloff, it can ensure its legacy by officially renaming it — i.e., branding it — “Wrinkle City North.” Don’t forget the trademark.

OH, THE POSSIBILITIES

Economically, there’s no reason Pittsburgh could not thrive by serving the future specialized needs of America’s old people. With the right guidance and planning from our crack regional economic redevelopment experts, our industrial remnant could be retooled to make elevators, wheelchairs, iron railings and artificial hips. Our bio-medical labs could mass-manufacture body parts. We could become the gateway to the fall leaf tour industry, a sector sure to grow as the national population continues to age.

We lost our best chance for resurrecting Pittsburgh through orthodox means in the early 1990s, when we didn’t invite the entire colony of Hong Kong to move here (with their fat savings accounts) when the Chi-coms took them over.

But that’s so much spilt milk. Pittsburghers have a new chance to guarantee their own future growth and prosperity – from the bottoms up — if we dare.

If we all pitch in, we can make it happen. Encourage your kids to declare their independence and leave town at 18. Let them sow their wild oats, get their MBAs, pay off their $1.5 million townhouses, raise their kids, fatten their 401(k)s and strain the over-taxed infrastructure in some boomtown in the Sun Belt.

Then, when they are older and richer and childless again, do everything you can to get your late-50-somethings to move back to Wrinkle City North, where old people come when they’re ready to die in peace and quiet.