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Counting Out

Top 5 great moments in being an election-year "swing state" 

1) Presidential campaigns rush to top each other in the "just plain folks" category: Hillary Clinton pumps gas in Bloomfield, Barack Obama turns out to be a bad bowler in Altoona, John McCain chows down at Primanti's. By these standards, we could be presidential candidates.

2) Richard Mellon Scaife and the Tribune-Review sit down with the Whore of Babylon, Hilary Clinton herself -- and then endorse her in the Democratic primary. Could this be an effort to sow division in the Democratic Party? If so, better luck next time.

3) Rural Pennsylvanians decry Obama's characterization of them as "clinging" to guns and religion ... and then rush out to buy guns once he's elected. 

4) McCain claims to have pondered the majesty of the Steelers defensive line while a POW in Vietnam. He later retracts the claim, since his biography says it was the Packers he was thinking of. Just so long as it wasn't the Browns, John. 

 5) McCain volunteer Ashley Todd -- who apparently was so unreliable she didn't even fit in with the Ron Paul campaign-- carves a "B" into her face, claiming a deranged Obama supporter attacked her along busy Liberty Avenue. We expect to see Ms. Todd back in town to help Pittsburgh's GOP mayoral candidate next year. 


Top 5 PR headaches for UPMC

1) Liver-transplant expert Amadeo Marcos departs UPMC amidst a swirl of controversy. Was he let go because of his behavior toward female staff? Or did his aggressive approach -- doing liver transplants in cases where other doctors might not, and using organs others might have avoided -- worry superiors? Answers have been slow in coming, but even the Wall Street Journal has been asking questions.

2) UPMC lays off 500 employees this autumn ... just days before announcing its hospital operations brought a 16 percent increase in revenue from the three-month period a year before. 

3) Shortly before Christmas, an 89-year-old patient wanders from her room and is found dead on the hospital rooftop ... apparently using a door that was supposed to sound an alarm when opened. 

4) UPMC slowly mounts giant sign atop US Steel Tower. For a couple days, only the "U" and "P" are visible from some angles ... prompting some of us to wonder if the message was going to spell "UP YOURS." 

5) UPMC tries to close House of Hope -- a center for treating drug-addicted moms in Braddock -- while in the midst of opening up pricey medical centers in other countries. In the face of public outcry, UPMC reverses its decision, pledging to expand House of Hope services. Which makes us wonder what else they'd be willing to do if more people took them on. 


Five Glimpses of a (Potentially) Greener Pittsburgh

1) Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan. In June, the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative, a collaboration between Pittsburgh's Green Building Alliance and the nonprofit Clean Air -- Cool Planet, issued this report outlining how everyone from government to individuals can might mitigate climate change and its effects, and setting an aggressive target for reducing the city's greenhouse-gas emissions.

2) City Sustainability Coordinator. Lindsay Baxter, a 25-year-old local native who compiled the Climate Action Plan, was then hired to implement it. It's a brand-new position we'll hope to see energy-saving results from soon.

3) Bike Guy. The City of Pittsburgh also just created the role of bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, and hired Stephen Patchan to fill it. Anything that moves people away from burning up the planet in their gas tanks is a good thing.

4) Phipps Conservatory Living Building. It's just announced, not built, but the idea of a building that generates all its own energy on-site from renewable sources, and recycles all its water, needs to become a model we can replicate.

5) Rebecca Flora Changing Jobs. It hurts to lose her to the U.S. Green Building Council, but if one of the nation's top sustainable-growth advocacy groups wants the longtime head of Pittsburgh's Green Building Alliance to head its research and education efforts, we must be doing something right.


Top five accomplishments by City Councilor Dan Deasy

1) Getting elected to the state legislature.

2) Getting elected to the state legislature.

3) Getting elected to the state legislature.

4) Getting elected to the state legislature.

5) Composing a cost-effective and prudent plan for municipal-debt reduction. Just kidding. This should read "Getting elected to the state legislature."


Top five Pittsburgh viral videos 

1. "The Last Lecture." Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch's inspiring Last Lecture has been viewed more than a million times. In September 2007, Pausch -- who died of pancreatic cancer last July -- gave a speech on achieving your childhood dreams. The video of that lecture became its own online phenomenon, becoming so popular that it led to a spin-off best-selling book. "If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself," Pausch told us. (

2. "The Moon Has Landed." University of Pittsburgh debate coach Shanara Reid-Brinkley gets mooned by Fort Hays State University's Bill Shanahan at a tournament this year. We understand the same thing happened during the Lincoln-Douglas debates -- but that was before YouTube. Both schools were caught with their pants down when a video of the squabble found its way online. 

3. "The Sassy Knoll." Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll -- who died of cancer in November -- seized the mike at an April rally for Sen. Hillary Clinton to announce that Dan Onorato and Luke Ravenstahl "can't stand women." Knoll seemed to make nice afterward, but for a brief moment she infused a campaign stop with something politicians try to avoid: spontaneity.

4. "City Councilors Gone Wild." Council President Doug Shields takes an Aug. 13 discussion about female contracting, and uses it to beat up on a female employee, city personnel director Barbara Trant. Shields accuses Trant of "obfuscation" and "baloney," in an effort to figure out ... well, something. The climax comes when Councilor Jim Motznik tried to slow Shields down, prompting Shields to fire back, "I've got a pack of lies here, Jim!" (

5. Some jackass shows up with an Obama monkey doll at a Johnstown political rally for Sarah Palin ( Thanks for catering to everyone's impression of Western Pennsylvania as a bunch of slack-jawed racists, dipshit. 


Top 5 Reasons to Be Optimistic for 2009

1) Hill District CBA. Construction of the Civic Arena in the 1960s decimated the Lower Hill District, but things should be different when the Pittsburgh Penguins build a new home nearby. An ad hoc group of community organizers fought for, and won, a first-ever "Community Benefits Agreement," which guarantees access to jobs and opportunity for the long-suffering neighborhood.

2) In a rare moment of accord, city council and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl create a Mutual Commitment Registry for same-sex and other unmarried-but-committed couples. The registry offers a means for the city -- and employers who want to offer domestic-partner benefits -- to provide such benefits. Now if we could just get people to actually sign up on the thing ... 

3) A handful of phrases will soon be dropped forever from the local lexicon: "Pittsburgh 250," "restaurant smoking section," and "U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan."

4) We'll continue to have bus service after all. 

5) Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's bold ethics initiatives. The mayor has had his missteps, no doubt, but you could argue that he's done more to advance government reform than anyone else. Sure, he vetoed legislation to set limits on contributions to political campaigns ... but no one is a better advertisement for why they are needed. 


Top 5 media embarrassments

1) Former KDKA radio reporter Rob Milford shows up at the county courthouse to cover a trial -- with a loaded handgun in his briefcase. Milford's attorney claimed Milford didn't know the gun was there.

2) The Tribune-Review continued to be the Tribune-Review, regularly featuring perspectives by right-wing groups bankrolled by its publisher, R.M. Scaife himself, without telling readers. The high point: a handful of laudatory articles spotlighting America's Survival, Inc., a conservative group that claimed to have found "lots of unconnected dots" linking Barack Obama to communism. The stories, though, didn't connect the dots linking the group to hundreds of thousands of dollars from Scaife. 

Counting Out
J.R. Block's dog on treadmill

3) As the Post-Gazette suffers from painful staff cutbacks, publisher J.R. Block shows signs of being as loopy as Richard Mellon Scaife. At least twice in 2008, the P-G did stories about an anonymous East Ender, who installed a treadmill for his dog, and a special driveway alarm to keep his child from being run over by delivery trucks. In both cases, the anonymous subject was ... J.R. Block. What next? Sending ace reporter Dennis Roddy to investigate "mysterious deaths" in Chicago?

4) In February, rescue crews saved a homeless woman from freezing cold water in pipes beneath the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. News accounts, meanwhile, were clearly at sea when it came to describing Rebecca Hare, a transgendered woman. Hare was initially called a man by the Post-Gazette and WPXI; "a man in the process of having surgery to become a woman," by KDKA; and simply "the person" by WTAE. 

5) City Paper compiles its "list issue" in a shameless bid to fill space on a slow news week when everyone is on vacation. 


Five Thought-Provoking Local Art Exhibitions (according to CP art critic Savannah Guz) 

1) Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men (Miller Gallery, CMU). As curated by Astria Suparak, activists-cum-corporate impostors The Yes Men display their methods for uncovering corrupt agendas hidden behind feel-good marketing strategies. Exhibited creations included Halliburton Survivaballs -- inflatable emergency suits resembling bloated parasites. (Show runs through Feb. 15.)

2) Pinky Swear: A Political Exhibition Addressing Promises (Fe Gallery). Through the incisive work of more than a dozen local artists, curator Vicky Clark called out the Bush administration for its many unfulfilled promises and deftly pointed up consumer culture's empty assurances. Most of the multimedia pieces reached the rarified space where aesthetics, argumentative thrust and conceptual purpose converge.

3) History Remembered as an Image (Pittsburgh Center for the Arts). Ohio University professor Matthew Friday examines the manipulation of historical memory by fact-eclipsing visuals. He seamlessly incorporates disparate elements -- film stills, celebrity icons, resurrected social-realist heroism, fear-provoking symbols -- to make his underlying message palpable. (Show runs through Jan. 25.)

4) Voices (Society for Contemporary Craft). Including submissions from 23 internationally recognized artists, this invitational show demonstrated ceramics' movement from domestic utilitarianism toward politicized testimonial. From Pavel Amromin's deceptively delicate depictions of physical and metaphorical persecution to Benjamin Schulman's stoically violent Jocko-ornaments, Voices revealed that clay can also serve up razor-sharp commentary. 

5) Inner and Outer Space (Mattress Factory). Nine international artists bend the properties of space, matter, light and abstract conceptions of time, while questioning museums' and galleries' spatial boundaries, along with viewers' sensory limitations. (Show runs through Jan. 11.)


Five Dance Works That Delivered Sensory Wonder (according to CP dance writer Steve Sucato)

Counting Out
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Kleinrock

1) Attack Theatre: Preserve and Pursue. Everything including the kitchen sink (literally) enlivened the New Hazlett Theater in this blend of multimedia wizardry, from dancers dancing with projections of themselves to the live performance of two commissioned works by Japanese composers, creating an introspective yet intoxicating experience.

2) Dance Alloy Theater: Feed Your Head Café. The evening-length show at the New Hazlett was artistic director/choreographer Beth Corning's most ambitious work to date. This was a mix of Alice in Wonderland and "Alice's Restaurant," with mind-blowing visual effects. 

3) Ultima Vez: Spiegel. A retrospective of the first 15 years of works by Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus, Spiegel ("Mirror"), a Dance Council show, had dancers at the Byham Theater hanging upside-down and from hooks, as well as wrestling and throwing bricks at one another.

4) Pillow Project: Twenty Eighty-Four. A mesmerizing sociopolitical extravaganza with Orwellian themes performed at The Space Upstairs at Construction Junction, Twenty Eighty-Four was perhaps artistic director/choreographer Pearlann Porter and company's finest work yet. 

5) Inbal Pinto: Shaker. At the Byham courtesy of the Dance Council, Tel Aviv-based choreographers Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak and company presented a fanciful and metaphorically dark world inside a snow globe.


Five Great Sets on a Budget (according to CP theater critic Michelle Pilecki)

1) Pittsburgh Playwrights Co. brought us an impeccably crummy diner for August Wilson's Two Trains Running, but that should not overshadow the company's impeccably crummy diner for James McManus' Dorothy 6, whose set (which included part of a steel mill) was designed by director Marcus Muzopappa.

2) And Pittsburgh Playwrights guiding spirit Mark Clayton Southers also gets honors for the 1970s-era working-class home for the New Horizon Theater's production of Phillip Hayes Dean's Freeman

3) Less explicitly realistic, steel mills also loomed big in (and over) Gordon Phetteplace's multi-level set for the Unseam'd Shakespeare Co.'s revival of Andy Wolk's adaptation of Out of This Furnace, a tale of three generations of Braddock steelworkers.

4) Also strikingly effective in the minimalist department was James V. Thomas' monochromatic pieces in New Horizon's production of Tracey Scott Wilson's newspaper thriller, The Story.

5) Let's finish with something frivolous and pretty: the devastatingly divine evocation of Noel Coward's era, by Scott P. Calhoon, for the Theatre Factory's sparkling comic Blithe Spirit.


Three Positive Trends in Pittsburgh Film (according to independent filmmaker Chris Ivey)

1) More production. This has been great year for Pittsburgh-based film production. Crews here worked on various features and programming, including Hollywood stuff like Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Hopefully that will take care of many professionals through the winter, when most major production work ceases. 

2) More Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is hitting its creative stride with the short-film compilations Greetings From Pittsburgh: Neighborhood Narratives (spearheaded by Kristen Shaeffer and Andrew Halasz) and Pittsburgh: Reframed at 250 (produced by Pittsburgh Filmmakers). My Neighborhood favorites included Sam Turich and Gab Cody's brilliant "Mombies," a beautiful send-up of both George Romero's zombie films and the idea of Pittsburgh as a place you go to get your nest on; and Nelson Chipman and Jeremy Braverman's Regent Square entry, which really captured the shift from old Pittsburgh to new. Yes, some Neighborhood entries were god-awful, but at least the opportunity to produce and screen them publicly was there. Let's do it again next year and get Garfield, Larimer and Homewood into the mix.

3) More activism. Props to the activists who use the medium as a tool for education and awareness -- such as Aisha White, who shows films about African Americans whihc explore race, class and social justice. Also Paradise Gray and Jasiri X, who always try to have their fingers on the pulse of struggling black Pittsburgh.


Five Reasons You Still Didn't Need Cable in 2008 (according to CP arts editor Bill O'Driscoll)

1) Cavemanman. Even visitors who found the Carnegie International: Life on Mars lackluster were drawn to -- and into – this multi-room-sized, barely pre-apocalyptic environment, fashioned by Thomas Hirschhorn from brown paper, packing tape and the desperate afflatus of a culture bent on self-destruction. (Life on Mars runs through Jan. 9.)

2) Two Trains Running. While Pittsburgh Public Theatre drew deserved praise for its production of August Wilson's final work, Radio Golf, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.'s production of a Wilson classic had it all, distilling a world to the byplay in a neighborhood diner.

3) Warhol-o-Rama. Other local poets turned out good work, but Peter Oresick's bold, provocative and conceptually rigorous evocation of Andy Warhol (on the occasion of his 80th birthday) was the singular highlight: an incisive tribute from the city Warhol himself rejected.

4) England. At the Andy Warhol Museum's Off The Wall series, British performance artist Tim Crouch and collaborator Hannah Ringham used two voices, one gallery and zero props to tell a deep and harrowing story of illness, desperation, Western privilege and the value of art.

5) The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? Edward Albee's bizarre and steely 2002 play, whose premise involves a successful architect falling in love with a goat, received an unnervingly precise production from Point Park's Rep, courtesy especially of director Rodger Henderson and actors Tony Bingham and Robin Walsh.


Five memorable concerts I saw in 2008 -- and that people will be claiming they saw years from now. (By CP music editor Aaron Jentzen)

1) Centipede E'est at Machine Age. Celebrating its new album Confluence, the arty, groove-heavy band upped the ante for local release shows. The free, freaky, food-included, all-ages, under-the-stars show outside Machine Age studios was a gracious gift to the band's supporters.

2) Girl Talk and Grand Buffet at Gravity Nightclub. This sold-out bash in a former roller-rink was a great victory lap for Girl Talk, possibly the year's greatest success story for Pittsburgh music. And with a blistering, brain-teasing set by hip-hop duo Grand Buffet, it pointed out another great Pittsburgh act that's ripe to burst onto larger stages.

3) Ra Ra Riot at Garfield Artworks. This high-energy January show has the makings of a "saw them before they were big" story: Just months before the brainy chamber-rock signed to indie heavyweight Barsuk Records (which released its excellent debut in September), and just months after the tragic passing of their drummer/songwriter John Pike.

4) British Sea Power at Mr. Small's Theatre. Hardly anyone was there, but these rag-tag sailors from another century brought the goods. They may be about as out-of-step with the times as "having the world's greatest jazz quartet," as one unnamed journalist remarked, but their otherworldly lyrics, gorgeous textures and energetic riffs seemed more like setting sail for uncharted waters.

5) Japanther at Carnegie Museum of Art Courtyard. This free summer show offered one of the most intriguing musical atmospheres of anything in the city limits this year. The damaged disco beats and distorted melodies, large dinosaur puppet and light show combined with the courtyard's sculpture and architecture for an epic sensory overload. 


Pittsburgh(ers) in the Movies

1. Pittsburgh's newest, most unlikely, idol of the silver screen is ... former Alcoa head and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. In IOUSA, he puts the smackdown on the economic policies of his former boss, Prez Bush. He's also among many Burghers interviewed in Carl Kurlander's My Tale of Two Cities. It turns out that O'Neill breakfasts regularly at Ritter's Diner. Stars -- they're just like us!

2. The city – and its neurotic academics – gets a fair shake in the romantic dramedy Smart People. The characters even pay a visit to the Goodwill in Cheswick. Stars – they're just like us!

3. George Romero cameos as a cop in his latest zombie-fest Diary of the Dead, even if the Western PA-set film was actually filmed in Canada.

4. The photography of Baldwin High alum Charles Graner gets parsed in Standard Operating Procedure, Erroll Morris' doc about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. 

5. Hazelwood gets its snowy, grubby close-up in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Monroeville doesn't look much better.

Hands off Rafah protest in East Liberty
21 images

Hands off Rafah protest in East Liberty

By Mars Johnson