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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 4:12 PM

It's the final weekend for performer and playwright Kim El's engaging one-woman show. Read a few words more in Program Notes.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 4:09 PM

In the way of many solo shows, Kim El’s new work is a tour de force.

In this full-length autobiographical play, the local performer and playwright portrays eight characters, only two of whom are explicitly versions of herself. And she’s a strong enough performer and storyteller that the more didactic aspects of the show seldom seem too heavy-handed.

There’s plenty of humor, too. If El’s portrayal of her grandmother coming to terms with a naked Barbie isn’t alone worth the price of admission, it’s close.

And if the show’s heart is El’s struggle with clinical depression, there’s much more to it than that. Particularly engaging is the protagonist's evolving relationship with the Hill District’s projects — from the downscale place she dpesn’t want to live as a kid but had to when her parents broke up, to the neighborhood she ardently defends as a college student when a clueless Duquesne University student advisor puts it down.

Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review for CP.

There are three more performances of Straightening Combs this weekend, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $15-25.

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Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 12:35 PM

This morning, mayoral candidate Jack Wagner racked up a set of key labor endorsements. The Fraternal Order of Police and firefighters union joined Teamsters Local 249 and Operating Engineers Local 66 to back Wagner on the steps of the City County Building.

Wagner called the support a "very important day in the campaign for Pittsburgh," and taken together, the unions represent the bulk of city union workers. (Though Bill Peduto previously garnered the paramedics union, which has often been the odd man out in the city's public-safety sector.) Also notable was the backing of state Sen. Jim Ferlo, who was briefly a candidate himself after the surprise withdrawal of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, an ally who had put Ferlo on the Urban Redevelopment Authority board. (See editor's note below.)


Ferlo and Wagner both served on council for a time beginning in the late 1980s — not always amicably. And while on council, Ferlo was a leading advocate for increased oversight of the police — a position that often put him at odds with the FOP. But he was unfazed to find the union backing the same candidate today: "I wouldn't take the union endorsement as meaning that Jack isn't going to take on the issue" of reforming the department," Ferlo said. If anything, he added, "The fact that he has the respect [of police] means he has the ability to engage with police" on reform.

For his part, FOP President Michael LaPorte told reporters that the union backed Wagner due to his "impeccable reputation for integrity." He also praised Wagner for wanting to remove the city from Act 47 oversight — which has governed city spending on labor contracts and other expenses — and Wagner's openness on other issues. Wagner has, for example, suggested that the next police chief in the scandal-rocked bureau should be hired from within: And while LaPorte said overhauling the system "may require somebody from the outside," he added "You never want to be an organization that doesn't provide an opportunity to climb up the ladder ... We have a lot of qualified people in our department." LaPorte also said Wagner was "not opposed to" lifting a residency requirement that requires police to live in the city — something LaPorte said would make it easier to attract and retain new recruits to the department.

In fact, Ferlo claims Wagner is the only candidate in the field with the ability to reach out across various city constituencies. "There's a vacuum here in the city, and there's only 7 weeks [until the election] ... I think we need to emerge with a mayor that has some consensus" for governing. (One reason Ferlo says he dropped out was the likelihood that if he won, he'd still only have a minority of the vote.) PArt of Wagner's appeal, says Ferlo, is that Wagner has been out of city politics and thus can rise above factional disputes ... and he praised Wagner for not discounting "the positive contributions of the Ravenstahl administration."

Which raises a question: Given that Ferlo was a Ravenstahl backer — as were some of the unions who also endorsed Wagner today — is Wagner now the "Ravenstahl candidate" in a Ravenstahl-less field? Ferlo said he couldn't speak for who Ravenstahl was backing, but added that as the state's auditor general, Wagner had earned respect across the aisle for being "an equal-opportunity critic" of government lapses. He said he didn't expect that to change.

"I think [Wagner] is going to be his own man," Ferlo said.

Editor's note: Originally, this story indicated that Ravenstahl put Ferlo on the URA board: In fact, Ferlo was originally installed on the board during the brief term of Ravenstahl's predecessor, Bob O'Connor. Ravenstahl has twice reappointed Ferlo to the URA since then. Also, originally I wrote that the unions that endorsed Wagner today represented the bulk of city workers; in fact, I should have qualified that to say they represented the bulk of UNIONIZED workers. Apologies for those mistakes.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 8:21 AM

In case you missed the historic action at the Supreme Court yesterday, you can find a recording of oral arguments in one of two same-sex marriage cases being argued this week. (There's also a transcript, in case you want to follow along and figure out which justice is which.) A second case, this one involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act, is on the court's calendar for today. The conventional wisdom is that the court may be looking for a way to punt on the whole issue, so the political process has more time to play out. And a lot of the discussion yesterday was about standing -- the right of a plaintiff to file a suit in the first place. A decision -- even a decision not to decide -- will probably be handed down in June. In the meantime, Clarence Thomas is apparently coming to Pittsburgh in a few weeks ... to give a speech. That shouldn't take long.

Make that two St. Patrick's Day altercations involving police which the FBI is now reviewing.

A tale of two cities: US Airways CEO Doug Parker goes to Philadelphia, to discuss how a merger with American Airlines would be good for the city. But over on this end of the state, Parker warned that the merger may mean the closure of a taxpayer-funded operations center.

Here's a useful idea from City councilor Patrick Dowd: Why not disguise cellphone towers to blend in with their surroundings, incorporating them into church steeples or flagpoles ... or perhaps the Tripods used by our conquering Martian overlords? (That last one is just my contribution to the dialogue here.)

Oh, who gives a shit? Forbes magazine, in one of those dopey, arbitrary city rankings that people obsess over, ranks Pittsburgh Pirates fans 28th in terms of "team loyalty". That's an improvement over 2012, when Pittsburgh ranked dead last. Frankly, I think a more interesting metric would be to look how loyal the team is to its fans: Do they actually live up to promises? Field a competitive team? Allow you to purchase nachos even if you aren't in the "nacho line" (I had a bad experience once)? But in any case, I just hope the fans' improved performance here inspires the Pirates to new heights: Dare to dream of being something less than a total embarrassment, fellas!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 10:10 AM


Bicycle, pedestrian and safe streets advocates are calling on mayoral candidates to support programs and infrastructure to make the streets and neighborhoods safer and more accessible.

The petition, according to Bike Pittsburgh's website, is to "tell the candidates you want to put an end to dangerous driving, that you want to make it safe for young Pittsburghers to bike or walk to school, and that you want our city to compete with all the other world-class cities investing in better bikeways and pedestrian facilities."

Interested in signing it? You can find the petition and more information here.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 8:33 AM

Remember Bradley Walker, the detective who attacked an unsuspecting motorist in 2010 during an apparent road rage incident? Remember how the city was getting sued for not removing Walker from the force prior to that point, when he had numerous complaints lodged against him? Remember how I said it would be "ironic" if the city was able to dodge the blame in court by claiming Walker was off-duty during the road-rage incident, considering a judge in another case ruled that officers are never really off-duty -- even when they accidentally shoot someone? Well, guess what: The legal system is ironic. And in other policing news, it looks like former/indicted police Chief Nate Harper was talking to the FBI much earlier than previously known. And that his side business involved more officers. Meanwhile, it's still a mystery as to where some $38,000 in public funds that weren't spent by Harper ended up.

And as if to prove over-the-top allegations against police aren't just a 'Burgh thing, Beaver County Sheriff George David is indicted for making threats against a campaign volunteer and a blogger. State Attorney General Kathleen Kane says of David, "It's not enough for law officers to simply abide by the law. They must also set a good example for others." Really? Someone should tell the Pittsburgh police!

Last week, the state's top official at the Department of Environmental Protection, Michael Krancer, stepped down -- to work as a lawyer for the energy companies he used to "regulate," of course. And who better to serve as an interim replacement than a staffer with no environmental experience, who appears to be serving only part-time? This state belongs to gas-drillers, folks. The rest of you just live here.

"Mon/Fayette Expressway advocates optimistic" reads the Tribune-Review headline. Well of course they are -- how else could they still be expressway advocates after all this time? But now they are pinning their hopes on Gov. Tom Corbett's transportation spending plan. Since, you know, all the maintenance on existing roads has been taken care of.

I've avoided offering up too many headlines concerning GOP plans to revamp the way the state parcels out votes in the Electoral College, since the Republicans can't win the old-fashioned way. Perhaps I'm as starry-eyed as a Mon-Fayette proponent, but I don't see a lot of movement on these plans, and I find it hard to believe that even state Republicans can be THAT shameless. But Democrats are taking plans being kicked around Harrisburg very seriously, and maybe they're right. If nothing else, it's a great fundraising tool! In any case, they are sounding the alarm through robocalls and e-mail blasts.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Posted By on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 5:48 PM

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court of the United States begins hearing arguments in the first of two cases regarding same-sex marriage.

Tomorrow's case is on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages. On Wednesday, the justices will hear arguments in another case challenging a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. (Need a primer on the cases? Read this.)

Across the country, marriage equality advocates are planning vigils to mark the cause. In Pittsburgh, there will be a vigil at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at the Federal County Courthouse, 700 Grant St. Downtown.

The vigil is being led by Marriage Equality for Southwestern PA.

Joshua Adam Szczesny, Co-Founder of Marriage Equality for PA, says that the movement for marriage equality in the state has expanded to 13 chapters. ME4PA willl hold vigils and actions on Tuesday and Wednesday. ME4PA, he says, is working on the grassroots organizing behind mounting a campaign for statewide marriage rights.

"It's going to depend on the Supreme Court cases," he says. "If we get a favorable ruling, it'll make it a lot easier to challenge in Pennsylvania courts."

Szczesny acknowledges there is work to be done. After all, lawmakers haven't been able to muster enough votes to pass a bill that protects from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and identity. But there's reason to be hopeful; the state General Assembly's Equality Caucus has more than doubled this year. It's also up in the polls; one poll earlier this month reported that support for same-sex marriage has increased by 14 points in the last year and a half. Activists like Szczesny are hoping the movement will be buoyed by such shifts.

"I don't know how it'll shape out — opposition is fierce," Szczesny says. "But the public opinion shift has been huge."


Posted By on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 2:24 PM

Switch, a globe-trotting new documentary exploring society’s energy options, gets a free screening at Pitt tomorrow night.

The feature-length film’s narrator and co-writer is geologist and educator Scott Tinker, who travels the planet visiting sites pertinent to everything from fracking, peak oil and “clean coal” to nuclear energy and renewables. He interviews leaders in government, business and academia about the attractions and risks of each energy source, and about the world’s growing demand for energy.

The well-reviewed film, directed by Harry Lynch, is currently touring university campuses.

Sounds worth seeing, but keep your antenna up: The film’s promo materials say it's "agenda-free" and tout its “balance.” Often in discussions of energy, that’s code for “let’s compromise on pollution” or “all energy sources have their downsides, so let’s keep using them all.”

It’s also curious that you can fart around on the website for quite a while — or watch the film's two-and-a-half minute trailer — without finding any mention of climate change, which is merely the single largest energy-related issue on earth. (The site seems to note it only by implication, as when mentioning "carbon policy.")

The film’s a key component of GSA Switch, a project of the Geological Society of America.

Tinker himself is director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas, and is State Geologist of Texas. University geology departments are noted for their ties to the fossil-fuel industry, and I don’t guess those in Texas are any exception. Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, a writer on — who recommends seeing Switch — has called out a Chesapeake Energy official for lying on camera about the risks of fracking.

Judging from its website, the film ends up touting energy efficiency as the way forward.

Anyway, see for yourself at 8 p.m. Tue., March 26, in Thaw 104, 4107 O'Hara St., on the Pitt campus, in Oakland. It's hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Geology Club.

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Posted By on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 1:06 PM

Steel Clover
  • Steel Clover

Hey yinz! Looks like I spoke a bit too soon about the end of winter. It's cold out there! If you're looking for some inspiration to carry you through the week, MP3 Monday has got your back. This week's artist is Sue Borowski, aka Steel Clover, who has remained positive and determined to continue making her touching Celtic music during her battle with breast cancer. She's been donating a portion of her CD sales to local cancer charities, and performed in this year's St. Patrick's day parade. It's a story that is deeply inspirational and makes you count your blessings. Oh, and her music's pretty good too! You can stream her song "Pride of Ireland" below.

Pride of Ireland

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 11:26 PM

There's a free show at Market Square, Downtown, three times daily this weekend. (Yes, it's outdoors, and a wee bit chilly.) More on the clowning, juggling, trapeze-swinging Zanies in Program Notes.