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Monday, January 31, 2011

Posted By on Mon, Jan 31, 2011 at 3:50 PM

Happy Monday!

In observance of this most celebratory holiday week, we at FFW>> are proud to bring you one of our favorite Steelers-related songs. It was our MP3 Monday a couple years ago -- actually, right around the time the Penguins won their last Stanley Cup. We're bringing it back because, well, this is the perfect time for it.

It comes to us from the Dirty Faces, and it's about a dude with a lot of guts. It's called "Rocky Bleier." Download it, add it to your Super Bowl mix, and enjoy. And watch out for a story in the paper this week on some other Steelers songs recorded by local bands.

click to enlarge Dirty Faces rep their town.
Dirty Faces rep their town.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Posted By on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 6:12 PM

In case you missed it, our very own Chris Young has a piece wrapping up the Dreaming Ant raid we reported here last week. This piece -- in the current print edition -- focuses on some of the legal concerns arising from the case.  Also, I'll take this opportunity to satisfy some requests we've had for the full copy of the search warrant used in the case, and the affidavit filed to secure it. 

While we're on the subject of policing, it's worth noting this story, from the Post-Gazette's Sadie Gurman. 

The city's Office of Municipal Investigations has sustained a woman's complaint that a Pittsburgh police officer engaged in unbecoming conduct toward her during her May arrest at the Municipal Courts Building Downtown.

In the incident, Officer Anthony Scarpine charged Christine Condarcure, of North Apollo, with intimidating a witness and simple assault after he wrote in a sworn affidavit that she "threw an elbow/forearm" into the chest of a witness who was testifying in a case against her son, Taylor Condarcure, as he left a courtroom.


OMI questioned whether Officer Scarpine actually witnessed the incident.

"The office reviewed video surveillance of the incident and determined that while you made contact with a prosecution witness, you did not throw an elbow into the witness' chest/stomach area as alleged in the investigative report and affidavit of probable cause," OMI Manager Kathleen Kraus wrote in a letter to Ms. Condarcure, dated Jan. 10. "Moreover, Officer Scarpine alleged that he observed the incident between you and the prosecution witness. This office determined that Officer Scarpine never observed this incident."

If the name "Anthony Scarpine" sounds familiar to you, it may be because of THIS story, also from Sadie Gurman. Scarpine was one of the officers accused of making a wrongful arrest on the North Side last year, alleging a drug deal that video evidence suggests never took place.

A judge later tossed out the case against Scarpine, saying he was relying on information provided by another officer. But prosecutors said they might refile charges against him -- and that they were reviewing his role in other cases. And now, it seems, Scarpine is involved in a second case where video evidence apparently doesn't confirm police accounts.


On a totally unrelated matter, Rich Fitzgerald will be kicking off his campaign for county executive tomorrow morning -- and he intends to hit the ground running.

The Fitzgerald camp is predicting that when his campaign officially gets underway, it will have somewhere between $750,000 and $1 million in its account. And I've heard from multiple sources that Fitzgerald, who is currently the president of county council, will come out of the gate touting the support from dozens of Democratic committee ward chairs, including those representing most of the city. Democratic officeholders will be in his ranks as well, including Congressman Mike Doyle. 

Fitzgerald's rival, county controller Mark Patrick Flaherty, has boasted of having roughly $500,000 in its account. And of course, he's got that magical Flaherty name. But by all accounts I'm hearing, Fitzgerald has attracted much more support from other officials, as well as traditional Democratic backers in labor and elsewhere. 

Fitzgerald tells me he's not expecting any other Democrats to enter the fray. "The next county executive will be either me or Mark Patrick Flaherty," he says.

Of course Republicans might have something to say about that, and a moment later Fitzgerald added that he "doesn't take any challenger lightly." Local Tea Partier leader Patty Weaver is rumored to be considering a run, and Fitzgerald says he takes her seriously. But "If my opponent is [county councilor] Matt Drozd," he said, "I might have a chance." This was, I think, a bit of wry understatement.


Posted By on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 1:29 PM

OK, this really isn't a political post -- I'll have some more of that stuff before the day is out. But if you're a sucker for bookstores, as I am, it's just as important.

Eljay's Used Books is moving from its East Carson Street location to ... Dormont, which owner Frank Oreto calls the place "where hipsters go to have kids." And he should know: He and his family have lived in Dormont for more than 6 years. 

Oreto hopes to open in the new location -- at 3229 W. Liberty Ave. -- by March 1. (And not to wax too mercenary here, but apparently he's offering a 20 percent sale to help him reduce inventory before the move.)

Now I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong: This is not a case of a South Side merchant disgusted with the increasingly chaotic Carson Street bar scene."

"I happen to like South Side bar culture," Oreto tells me. "I like that you can get some Proust, a shot of Jack Daniels, and a tattoo all within a few blocks. Sure, people throw up occasionally, but who doesn't? I have kids."

Even so, Oreto acknowledges that the perception of drunken activity and crime has hurt walk-up business. The South Side "isn't what they show on TV -- it's not that same guy shoving somebody else into a wall over and over again. But you see enough of that, and people get scared about whether they'll be safe."

But the move was probably inevitable. While Oreto owns his shop's current building, at 1309 E. Carson, he says, "I've never been able to afford being in this space. I skimp on the rent, because I believe in giving myself a break, but the bookstore really does need to stand on its own feet." That was brought home last year, when he got an offer to buy the building; the deal fell through, but Oreto says he decided two or three months ago to move out anyway.

After all, he says, this way he can walk from home to work every day.

Oreto says he's already lined up a tenant for his Carson Street storefront: a tattoo shop moving in from elsewhere in the neighborhood. His Dormont store will be somewhat larger than the current location, which he points out "has pillars up in strange places." 

The new location faces a parking lot near the Dormont Junction T stop, and is near Franco's Trattoria restaurant. Obviously, it lacks some of the synergy of the current store, which is just a few doors down from City Books, perhaps the city's quintessential used bookshop. In Dormont, Oreto's nearest competitor will be a small bookstore on Potomac Avenue that goes heavy on beach reading. 

Will the Eljay's product mix change in the new location? "Things will be somewhat market-drive," Oreto says. "If everyone comes in looking for Nora Roberts, I'll probably have some more Nora Roberts there. Right now, because there are so many students nearby, everyone wants writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut. And every two or three years, they bring it all back."

Sometimes those customers come back, he says, "and get all teary-eyed about the store. I'll miss that."


Monday, January 24, 2011

Posted By on Mon, Jan 24, 2011 at 3:35 PM

The Dynamic Men of Dance program this past weekend marked the ensemble's debut as a professional company, but already it's looking like a potent addition to Pittsburgh's dance scene.

That shouldn't be much of a surprise, given that artistic director Greer Reed-Jones doubles as artistic director of Pittsburgh's most venerable modern-dance outfit, Dance Alloy Theater. Moreover, some form of the AWC Ensemble has been performing for two years now, honing its chops and making an impression on local stages.

Still, it had to set some in the August Wilson Center audience on their heels to see a program this ambitious and polished from a company of dancers this young: At least three of the nine dancers are still in college, the rest in their early 20s.

While it didn't hurt to have strong material to work with, the program of four short works by emerging New York-based choreographers -- all world premieres -- was a challenge the troupe was up to.

For instance, a group of five dancers seemed to handle easily the athleticism of "Pulse," from Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company member Antonio Brown. Notable were Annalee Traylor and James A. Washington as the work's central couple, tasked with a series of sensual and combative sequences. Meanwhile, as she would throughout the program, Angela Dice stood out for her remarkably fluid movement.

Darrell Grand Moultrie's "Body and Soul," set to a jazz tune sung by Ruth Brown, was a lovely solo, danced by Kendra Dennard, a sort of extended swoon punctuated by staggers, stumbles and tremors.

Pittsburgh-born Kyle Abraham contributed "Function," a complex and vibrant work for eight dancers set to an electronic score. The piece explored group social dynamics with wit and passion. Abraham performs and choregraphs frequently in his hometown, and is always a welcome presence.

The show ended with Moultrie's "Regality," an exciting work for eight dancers set to three percussive acoustic-guitar numbers by Rodrigo y Gabriela.

Thus the AWC Dance Ensemble continues making its mark in Pittsburgh and, says Reed-Jones, beyond. In a talkback following the Sun., Jan. 23, matinee performance, she said that this year the Ensemble will play New York's popular SummerStage outdoor performance series.


Posted By on Mon, Jan 24, 2011 at 3:30 PM

You may remember Justin Andrew from my column about him last year -- in which we discussed his job as a sound tech at Brillobox. I mentioned in it that he plays music himself, and that's what brings us back to him today. Justin -- who used to be in the band Camera -- now performs solo and with an assemblage of musicians he calls the Justin Andrew Band. This week's MP3 Monday is a brand new, as-yet unreleased track from the band's forthcoming album, due sometime in the spring, if that ever comes.

It's a sweet little mid-paced alt-country ditty called "Early Bird," and it was recorded by Justin and mastered by Derek White, of New Shouts. If this is how the rest of the album is going to turn out, sign me up.

Download it here! If you enjoy, check him out at Lava Lounge on Feb. 3, Club Cafe Feb. 23, or the Smiling Moose March 8.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Posted By on Sun, Jan 23, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Our diligent reporter Chris Young has the latest on the police investigation of the FOP press release hoax.

On Wednesday, police executed a search warrant on video-rental store Dreaming Ant, seizing a hard drive and wireless router the store shares with the Crazy Mocha coffee shop. Young has acquired the affidavit -- a sworn statement made by police detective James Glick -- needed to secure the warrant. And according to that statement, police were led to the Bloomfield business after receiving their own copy of the e-mailed press release, forwarded to them by WTAE reporter Ashlie Hardway.

That faked press release "states [that] the FOP has changed their stance on the support of the officers," Glick's affidavit says. "The letter contained various names and referred to specific events that occurred involving FOP members." But it "misrepresented the position and or actions of the organization."

Based on this catalogue of horrors, police began to investigate the origins of the e-mail.

As the Post-Gazette's Sadie Gurman also notes today, the police traced it back to an IP address belonging to a wireless network operated by Dreaming Ant and Crazy Mocha. 

In theory, anyone could have logged into that network -- even if they hadn't been inside, drinking a latte at the time. But what police are looking for, apparently, is records of the "MAC address" used by the computer at the time the e-mail was sent. 

For those of you who ordinarily read the print edition of newspapers, "MAC address" refers to the media access control address, which identifies the network card on a computer logged into a network. Apparently, the police are hoping that this number will fingerprint the machine, in hopes of chasing down its owner.

It remains to be seen whether this internet sleuthing will work. I'm no internet ninja -- I mean, I write for a print newspaper -- but even I can find an online how-to guide for changing your MAC address. Presumably, somebody willing to create an entire fake press release -- complete with a trumped-up Latin slogan and a profane acrostic -- could spend a few minutes setting up a fake MAC address as well. 


Posted By on Sun, Jan 23, 2011 at 8:41 AM

While one must empathize with any arts event happening this Sunday, there's one I can recommend that won't interfere with your game-watching -- promise.

It's the closing event for the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Artist of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year shows, 1-4 p.m. Sun., Jan. 23 (at 6300 Fifth Ave., in Shadyside).

Both are good shows. The emerging-artist honoree is Gregory Witt, whose Things That Float consists of several of his cunningly weird, and weirdly cunning, machines that serve no functional purpose but to make you think about them and maybe laugh a little.

The machines are sort of avatars from an alternate universe. One, the room-sized "Room," uses gears made of drywall to slowly and slightly raise and lower some platforms and the metal arms attached to them, at the end of a couple of which are clusters of cinder blocks hung from stout ropes. The odd stasis of it all somehow makes you ponder the space you're in, though what conclusions you might reach I couldn't guess.

I am still more enthusiastic about Brian Dean Richmond's artist-of-the-year show. Richmond works in several media, though the show is dominated by his large-scale mixed-media paintings, most of which he creates in collaboration with nature – leaving canvas or paper outdoors, with objects on top and pigment selectively deployed. The effect is frequently stunning; the multi-panel paintings invoke the rhythm and mystery of nature perhaps even more than they incorporate it.

Still, my favorite piece might be Richmond's short film "Unter der Mittlerbrüke." It's a black-and-white work shot in an urban area, much of it on and around a river, and it's glorious. Richmond's characteristic layered imagery (multiple exposures, in effect), instinctive hand-held camera movements and other in-camera effects (like making light sources streak) create a nine-minute tour de force. In one sequence, a multiple-exposed water lily literally pulses with life.

In fact, I just stopped by the PCA today, and Richmond himself showed up and mentioned that he considers "Mittlerbrüke" his best film. Recommendation enough.

It was also Richmond who tipped me to the Sunday closing event, which he said will feature a "pots-and-pans marching band" and a performance by The Working Poor, the splendid band for which he plays bass.

And don't worry: It'll all be done in plenty of time to catch the 6:30 p.m. game: Richmond, a devout Steelers fan, doesn't plan on missing it either.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Posted By on Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 7:26 PM

OK, just a few things in no particular order here.

First, a quick update on the FOP hoax story we've been following

Fans of movie-rental spot Dreaming Ant will be happy to hear that it is back in business; police have returned the computer they seized Wednesday evening in an investiaation of a forged press release. In a post online, owner Dean Brandt credits police detective James Glick for "understanding that we have a small business to run." Brandt also thanked the media for helping to "expedit[e] the reopening of our store" -- even though he added that he "was, and still am, instructed to keep my mouth shut for legal reasons."

Also, just for those of you who are fans of this hoax -- and I know you're out there ... a sharp-eyed reader has pointed out that the faked press release also contains another secret message, in addition to the one we've previously noted

If you look at the very first letter of each line of the release, it spells out the following message: 

"Fuck da pigs in pgh." 

Moving on to slightly less contentious ground, there's yet another candidate to challenge city councilor Patrick Dowd in District 7: Lawrenceville resident David J. Calfo.

Calfo is a master carpenter, and he's not afraid to let you know about it. In a release sent out this afternoon by his campign, Calfo is quoted saying, "Things [in Pittsburgh] aren't built right. That's the biggest problem facing the city. Whether it's sidewalks, roads, bridges, or pensions -- it's all the same. You've got to build a strong foundation."

Oh, and Calfo's an artist too. And perhaps most intriguingly, his press guy is apparently ... former mayoral candidate Franco "Dok" Harris, son of the Steelers great.

Ordinarily, I'd be tempted to say that the entrant of a second challenger in this race -- the first was Tony Ceoffe Jr. -- would help the incumbent. Something tells me that's not the case here. But in any case, it's shaping up to be a pretty lively spring for Dowd. 

Finally, a minor plug here. On Monday night, I'll be hosting an event I've been fortunate enough to be involved with for a couple years now. The folks at cityLIVE! are hosting their third installment of "10 People/3 Minutes" -- a chance for 10 bright locals to share their ideas for the city's future. In the past, proposals have ranged from the practical to the fanciful to the sort-of disturbing. This year's roster should be a good one, with names ranging from Renaissance woman Vanessa German to design guru Dutch MacDonald, from filmmaker Chris Ivey to I Made It! market founder Nina Barbuto.

Each gets three minutes to share their vision for the city's future. I'm basically there to take drink orders and provide momentary substance-free breaks. In other words, pretty much the same thing I do here at the paper. 

Anyway, it's Monday, Jan. 2, 6:30 p.m. at the New Hazlett Theater. Check the link above to RSVP. It'd be great to see you there -- a lot of times, I don't have anyone to drink with. 


Posted By on Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 11:34 AM

One disadvantage of being a weekly, obviously, is that a ton of shit happens the day your paper hits the stands, and you don't get another crack at it in print for another seven days. And because we wait a day to post our print edition online -- don't ask -- sometimes our stories are already outdated by the time they hit the web. 

So it was with our  story on the emerging storylines in this year's Pittsburgh city council races.

Since that issue went to press, district 7 councilor Patrick Dowd has made his reelection bid official. As we first reported Wednesday, he'll be facing Tony Ceoffe Jr., and will likely have his hands full. Meanwhile, Cory O'Connor -- who was unwilling to officially declare his candidacy in city council district 5 when we spoke to him -- has since formally challenged Doug Shields for the seat.

While we're on the subject of campaigns, we've also learned, courtesy of the Post-Gazette, that city controller Michael Lamb plans to run for his post again, rather than chase the Allegheny County Executive post.

Which I think is interesting for reasons that have nothing to do with either of those posts. Here's what I think it means: In 2013, Lamb is gonna be running for mayor.

This is mostly just idle speculation. But a Lamb candidacy may be the best hope progressives have of gaining that office.

It's true that Lamb ran for mayor back in 2005, and finished third -- just behind Bill Peduto, and well behind foregone-conclusion candidate Bob O'Connor. Ordinarily, that would make Peduto the obvious champion. But I think Peduto's abortive run against Ravenstahl in 2007 cost him, and their are geographical considerations as well. 

As Tom Murphy was fond of saying, to win citywide, you need to win two of the city's three geographic areas: south of the rivers, north of the rivers, and between the rivers/East End. Peduto is an East Ender, Lamb from the South Hills. And my hunch here is that it's easier for a South Hills guy to appeal to an East End progressive than it is for an East End progressive to appeal to a South Hills voter. 

Take a look at ward-by-ward results from 2005. Peduto crunshed Lamb in East End areas like Ward 14. But in the critical 19th ward -- which includes Beechview and environs -- Lamb not only beat Peduto but O'Connor as well. The same is true in Ward 16, Ward 17, and Ward 32. In other south-of-the-river wards, he finished second, often very close to O'Connor. 

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Let's try that analysis again, this time actually using the correct ward results, as opposed to those I cited above. O'Connor actually won wards 16, 17 and 32. Peduto placed second in the first two districts, besting Lamb by a few score votes in each. In other south-of-the-rivers areas -- namely wards 20, 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32 -- Lamb was the second-place winner. Overall, the pattern holds true: Lamb did better south of the rivers. But my numbers were off, and I apologize for the error.

And in the half-dozen years since that election, let's recall, Lamb won his current citywide post. He beat his next-nearest challenger -- city councilor Doug Shields, another East Ender -- by a convincing two-to-one margin

Plus, I don't know if you noticed, but Lamb was playing a very active role in deliberations during last year's Great Pension Debate. (He worked closely with Patrick Dowd, especially, in trying to propose alternatives to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's failed parking-lease plan.) In my 15-plus years as a reporter here, I don't recall a city controller being so closely involved in crafting legislation. Although in fairness, much of that decade-and-a-half was spent with Tom Flaherty holding the controller's office ... and his style tending more toward bomb-throwing.

In any case, there's no question, as we reported earlier, that these council races are critical for Luke Ravenstahl's political future. But he might want to pay attention to the guy running for controller too. 


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Posted By on Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 3:06 PM

Intrepid reporter Chris Young has been trying to get to the bottom of last night's police seizure of computer equipment at Dreaming Ant in Bloomfield. Here's what he's learned so far:

Pittsburgh police detective James Glick confirms that officers seized a computer and wireless router  from Dreaming Ant last night at around 5:30 p.m. They did so after they tracing back a fake FOP release to the Dreaming Ant IP address. 

Contrary to an assertion made to City Paper earlier today, Glick says that police took nothing from Crazy Mocha, the coffee shop that shares space on Liberty Avenue with Dreaming Ant. And he stressed that Dreaming Ant owner Dean Brandt "has been cooperative. We don't believe he's a suspect."

The department's Computer Crimes Unit is analyzing the computer and router data, and Glick says that once the work is done, the equipment will be returned to the video store as soon as possible.

Glick says multiple charges will likely be filed, including trademark counterfeiting and identity theft. (The release, as we first noted last week, includes a distorted version of the FOP logo. And it also names two FOP officials, though it doesn't ascribe any quotes or other information directly to them.) Other charges are being looked into, Glick says, though he could not provide specifics. 

But First Amendment concerns seem almost certain to arise in the matter. For one thing, generally speaking, trademark counterfeiting and identity theft involve the attempt to cheat people out of money. It is hard to see how that could have been the intention of the fake FOP release.

Mike Healey, a local attorney who often works on civil-rights matters, is not involved in the case (at least not yet). But when City Paper spoke to him earlier today, he professed surprise at the investigation. He couldn't see how the FOP stunt was any different from what The Onion does on a daily basis: The satirical online publication often puts words into the mouths of public figures. And yet, Healy notes, "They have never been charged with a crime."