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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 5:46 PM

Assuming you haven't obliterated the 2011 political season from your memory -- and truly, who could blame you? -- you may recall that activists were conducting a pair of write-in campaigns on the November ballot.

In the District Attorney's race, advocates for police accountability were waging a somewhat paradoxical "whisper campaign" to write in the name "Jordan Miles." Miles, of course, is the Homewood high-school student accosted and beaten by undercover police back in 2010. Critics have been hoping -- vainly -- that Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala would press criminal charges against the three officers involved. And Zappala was up for re-election -- unopposed -- this year. 

Elsewhere on the ballot, environmental activist Dana Dolney and her supporters sought to write in her name in the county executive race. This was a reprise of Dolney's impromptu campaign during the spring Democratic primary; environmentalists were upset that all the major candidates in the race supported drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus shale layer. 

So how did these write-in candidates do? Here are the totals, which our very own Chris Young has delivered fresh from the county's Elections Board (which requires a few weeks to tally write-ins):

Jordan Miles: 1,476 write-in votes (out of a total of 3,520 cast)

Dana Dolney: 704 write-in votes (out of total of 1,730 write-ins cast in that race)

On the bright side, the folks behind the Miles effort did garner more support than Republicans bothered to seek. And Dolney improved on her performance in the primary, in which she polled just under 500 votes.

But it's hard to imagine either Zappala, who garnered more than 181,000 votes, or county exec-elect Rich Fitzgerlad (142,000) losing much sleep over that. 

I mean, to not capture a majority of the write-in votes, at least? Oof. If you can't garner the "malcontented smart-ass" vote -- which makes up the write-in electorate -- it might be time to rethink your political strategy.


Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 12:03 PM

There’s a really short version of this interview in today’s paper; I talked to Claire last week when YACHT was on tour with Yo Gabba Gabba’s stage show. It was a really interesting interview, so I’m bringing you the long version! The band plays at the Rex Theater on Mon., Dec. 5.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 5:35 PM

Elsewhere on the interwebs, some pro-choice activists are raising concerns about Siri, the voice-activated iPhone function that caters to its user's every whim.

Well, maybe not every whim. Siri, it seems, can tell you where to find Italian restaurants in North Beach, remind you about appointments or chores you need to do. But when it comes to abortion and reproductive health, advocates worry, the cat seems to have its tongue:

I have heard from others in the women's reproductive health community that Siri is noticeably silent on these issues.

Siri works by reading your speech, translating that into whatever action is necessary -- pulling up a contact's information, adding an appointment to your calendar, or, if information is what the asker is after, pulling from the web. ... [So] if abortion information is plentifully available on the interwebs, and Siri is pulling those types of requests from the web, why does Siri not have an answer about birth control or abortion?

(H/t to DailyKos for link.)

We were curious about how Siri would handle reproductive-health related questions here in Pittsburgh. But inasmuch as we work in print journalism, we're not what you'd call "early adopters." So we consulted Andrea Shockling, who owns a newfangled Siri-compatible phone, and is an acquaintance of our music editor. 

Shockling -- who was within city limits when she sought out this information -- found that when asked for women's health options around town, Siri indeed appeared a bit tongue-tied:

Requests for information on birth-control also prompted a shrug:

Still, when Shockling asked for Planned Parenthood by name, she got locations for clinics in the area. And even a more open-ended request produced valid results -- a listing of nearby OB-GYN practices:

Shockling suspects the problem may be that the interface system isn't quite as sophisticated as it may seem.

"The thing about Siri is you can't be too conversational," Shockling says. "She's a computer not a confidante. But ask for Planned Parenthood, and she'll tell you where they are located.

"I don't think there's any conspiracy," Shockling adds. 

In fact, as with the sometimes comic results obtained by a mobile device auto-correct function, Siri's search results can provide some laughs. Assuming your medical condition isn't too dire, of course.

If you ask for "family planning," for example, you get family restaurants:

Though honestly, a few visits to a restaurant with your kids in tow -- or someone else's kids at the next table -- might actually be the best advertisement for birth control I know of. 

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Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 5:19 PM


This week's Local Beat column -- which you'll read tomorrow -- is about longtime local singer and songwriter Yves Jean. The Haitian born pop singer is releasing his latest Hope for the Best ... But Expect Nothing this Thursday with a show at Stage AE. Want a sneak peek? Download this weeks's free MP3: "Last Forever."


To download MP3, right-click link and choose "save link as" or "download linked file as."  


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Monday, November 21, 2011

Posted By on Mon, Nov 21, 2011 at 6:41 PM


Welcome to another installment of MP3 Monday up in the FFW>> music blog. This week's local MP3 comes from likely our youngest MP3 supplier yet, 16-year-old Marcus Meston. He recently released an EP, Fake, Fixed, Happy, fully of sunny pop tunes. He shows his chops on the track he's offering here, "Waiting". Enjoy!


*Download link has expired*

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Posted on Mon, Nov 21, 2011 at 11:32 AM

Sure, the Republican candidates for president may all seem like losers, but you can still be a winner. For the next debate -- 8 p.m. Tue., Nov. 22, on CNN -- download our Republican debate Bingo cards, and get ready to turn meaningless clichés and buzzwords into victory.

There are six different Bingo cards, created by City Paper's Al Hoff, who has sat through every GOP debate this season. Using the links below, download one, two or all six!

Bingo Card 1

Bingo Card 2

Bingo Card 3

Bingo Card 4

Bingo Card 5

Bingo Card 6

TO PLAY: Every time a candidate -- not the moderator -- says the word in quotes listed on your card, cross off that square. Likewise if a candidate makes a reference to a category in capital letters (e.g. says "India," for ANY ASIAN COUNTRY). The middle square is a freebie: Cross it off when the first candidate says "Obama."

Mark off any five squares in a row -- vertical, horizontal or diagonal -- and that's a winning Bingo. Alternatively, the player with the most crossed-off squares at the end of the debate wins.

Bingo turns the debate into a nail-biter: Can this many Republicans talk for so long without saying "tax and spend," or mentioning  their own wonderful family?

But wait, it's also educational! Playing Bingo forces you to listen to every word the candidates say. You'll never again miss a bungled reference to a Nirvana song, Rick Perry calling Americans "untrustworthy," or Ron Paul's insistence on "real money."

No need to thank us. Let the games begin! 


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Posted By on Sat, Nov 19, 2011 at 1:33 PM

Great world-premiere program last night by this company led by Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham. Live! The Realest MC is the latest by the dancer and choreographer, who's now based in New York City and getting plaudits from the national dance press, but who maintains close ties with his hometown, and especially the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.

In the hour-long Live!, which repeats tonight (Sat., Nov. 19), the seven dancers embody Abraham's vision of "realness" as played out in a context of black urban gay life, informed by Abraham's own experience growing up. A key theme was an interrogation of the performance of masculinity as represented in hip-hop culture. In one sequence, Abraham plays an MC who alternately blusters and breaks down in tears.

As always, Abraham's choreography was wonderfully supple, by turns athletic, precisely spasmodic and astringently artful. There's even a strong dose of humor injected by the inclusion of hip-hop dance instruction video and audio. The group of dancers might be the strongest Abraham has brought with him in his frequent Pittsburgh shows over the years.

The production itself was striking as well. It featured an evocative, heavily electronic soundtrack; potent lighting design, by Dan Scully; video projections by former Pittsburgher Carrie Schneider; and an innovative backdrop consisting of these sort of giant, narrow, vertically hung louvers (like window-blinds hung sideways) that served as a projection surface but intermittently rotated, producing an interesting visual effect.

The second and final Pittsburgh performance of Live! The Realest MC is at 8 p.m. tonight.


Posted By on Sat, Nov 19, 2011 at 1:31 PM

Chamber operas are basically small-scale, contemporary operas. Neither is the audience for them large; I hadn't even heard the term much before Pittsburgh's Microscopic Opera, dedicated to such works, appeared, in early 2010. 

But the field has its stars. One is surely composer Jake Heggie, best known his full-scale opera Dead Man Walking, which Pittsburgh Opera staged several years back. Heggie also composed the stunning chamber opera “To Hell and Back." That piece was one of two works Microscopic staged in its debut. And to Heggie the company returns with its latest winner, Three Decembers.

This chamber opera is Heggie and librettist Gene Sheer's adaptation of Terrence McNally's stage play Some Christmas Letters. Three Decembers is a beautiful piece, with gorgeous music and a good deal of depth to the characters: a stage-actress mother and the two adult children with whom she has a torturous relationship, as played out over three holiday seasons a decade apart, 1986-2006.

The live, 12-member orchestra conducted by artistic director Andres Cladera provides the music, and the cast of three the voices. Soprano Mary Gould sings Madeline Mitchell, the stage diva; baritone Daniel Teadt her son, Charlie, whose lover dying of AIDS she'll barely acknowledge; and soprano Erica Olden his sister and confidante, Beatrice.

At about 100 minutes, including an intermission, Three Decembers, directed by Lisa Ann Goldsmith, is the longest work Microscopic has staged yet. The singing is great, the material emotionally fraught but regularly leavened with humor.

The only thing that might test your patience, in this show staged in Pittsburgh Opera's Strip District studios, is making out the lyrics in Act I. At first, the voices seemed to compete with the orchestra. That's less problematic with verse-chorus songs like you'd get in musical theater, moreso when the lyrics are actually complicated dialogue, sung through. But gradually the ear adapts (or in-house adjustments were made?) and by Act II at Thursday night's opening performance, discerning both the words and the music was easy enough.

Three Decembers is the last Microscopic show to be staged while Cladera, who's also done fine work as artistic director of the Rennaissance City Choirs and with Quantum Theatre, is still a Pittsburgher. But though Cladera's moving to Colorado, he and Olden -- who's also cofounder and artistic director -- will continue to run the company.

Three performances of Three Decembers remain as of this writing: at 8 p.m. tonight and Sat., Nov. 19, and 7 p.m. Sun., Nov. 20.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Posted By on Wed, Nov 16, 2011 at 6:38 PM

I spent the Tuesday evening live-Tweeting Occupy Pittsburgh protest at the Developing Unconventional Gas conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. But here are a couple quick observations from the event:

*For one of the first times during the month-long occupation, tensions between protesters and police escalated as determined Occupiers crashed an opening-night reception hosted by oilfield services company Halliburton. Five protesters were arrested and charged with failure to disperse, defiant trespass and obstruction of roadways. The Post-Gazette has the identifications here.

I was surprised the number didn't increase. At one point, about 200 protesters and 20 officers -- including three K-9 units were standing toe-to-toe. At that point the ball was in the Occupiers court. If they wanted to, certainly some of them could have made it to the conference doors. However, most seemed to stick to their guns and did not give officers any reason to take action against them, just as they have for the entire occupation thus far.

The number looked as though it might rise to six when officers surrounded a protester (pictured above,) and accused him of touching and impeding conference attendees as they made their way downtown toward their hotels. Did some of the protesters get up close and personal with some of the attendees? Absolutely, and police warned them about it.

However, officers seemed to do little when attendees laid their hands on or got a little too close to protesters. I personally witnessed three or four instances of antagonistic behavior by those at the conference, but no admonition came from the cops.

*The other thing that struck me on Tuesday night was the interaction between those at the conference and those protesting. For the most part, protesters were well behaved. They were emphatic, they were loud and they were passionate, but by and large they were well-behaved.

The same can be said for most of the conference attendees. They were either polite as they made their way through the throng of protesters into downtown.

But then you had those on both sides who did nothing but belittle the other. There were multiple middle fingers flying throughout the evening, along with harsh words.

"How the fuck can you sleep at night?" screamed one protester at the passersby.

"Go to work," yelled one conference attendee. "We've got rigs and need people to work them."

But then you had both protesters and conference attendees who actually engaged one another, listening to each other's point of view. Neither side wavering, of course, but listening just the same

One conference-goer stood and talked to protesters for at least 20 minutes, listening to their perspective and sharing his own. While he didn't wish to give his name, he did talk with me a bit about why he decided to stop and chat.

"What I was trying to convey was that I've obviously spoken to a lot of gas people … and I [wanted them to] understand that no one here is anti-earth and we're working to make sure that the drilling is done as safely as possible.

"I think we need to be working toward using renewable energy as much as possible, but I also believe that right now natural gas is better than coal."

And while some protesters listened, it was pretty clear they were still skeptical of the industry and its regulation and planned to continue their protests.

"This whole industry is like a magician who urges you to ‘keep your eyes on my right hand' and in that hand he's got jobs and promises," says activist Elizabeth Donohoe. "And then when you're not looking at the left hand they're using it to put money in the pockets of a few by raping the natural resources of this state."

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Posted By on Wed, Nov 16, 2011 at 2:51 PM

Citing a "humanitarian civil rights issue," advocates want to amend the city's hiring process, so that job applications for many government posts no longer inquire about an applicant's criminal history.

Currently, city job applications require candidates to check a "yes" or "no" box about whether they have been convicted "of any felony of the law." A subsequent line requires applicants to describe the offense.

But in a joint press conference and post-agenda meeting with City Council members Tuesday, representatives from the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project, Black Political Empowerment Project, Urban League and other groups asked that the box be stricken.

"In the right situations, with appropriately placed inquiry, criminal background checks promote safety and security at the workplace," said Dean Williams, director of the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project. "However, imposing a background check that denies any type of employment for people with criminal records is not only unreasonable, it can promote public-safety issues and can also be illegal under civil rights laws."

Advocates joined council member Rev. Ricky Burgess, who proposed a bill this spring to remove the box from city applications. (Burgess' bill exempts applications for public-safety positions like policework and firefighting; applications for those posts would still require a candidate to disclose any criminal history.) Yesterday, Burgess announced plans to expand his legislation to cover vendors who do business with the city.

"It is important that a criminal conviction doesn't become a life sentence," Burgess said. "These are people who have paid their debt to society and ere entitled to employment."

Burgess says that his bill wouldn't require the city to hire anyone with a conviction. Nor would it prevent the city from asking about a criminal background; it would only delay that question until after the rest of the applicants' history had been considered. "After the first interviews, if they are being seriously considered for the job, [the city] has every right to ask," Burgess says. "Then that person -- in person -- can defend or give context for their life history."

The FCCP put forward its own legislation at a post-agenda yesterday. The group's legislation extends beyond government hires, prohibiting all private employers within city limits from asking about criminal records on their written applications. The FCCP bill looks to the city's Commission on Human Relations, which investigates claims of discrimination, to enforce the measure.

"The problem with the box is that it doesn't distinguish between a person who has committed a low-level offense many years ago and has been completely rehabilitated versus a person who has recently committed a violent crime," says Williams.

Advocates met with Burgess and councilor Bill Peduto yesterday at a post-agenda hearing on Burgess's bill. Burgess said he planned to put forward a compromise version of his legislation, with hopes of passing it by the end of the year.