Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Slight Interruption

Not on hiatus, but the time I am able to devote to this has been severely reduced because of the role I have accepted as Press Secretary to Kevin Acklin, the independent candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh. I plan to revisit this from time to time, rather than let this sit idle. Feel free to leave comments regarding the blog or any other subject you like. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you. Andy

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Common Sense Gun Control

The shots that took the lives of three Pittsburgh Police Officers were heard across the country and have resumed the debate about the sale of assault weapons, like the AK-47, which Richard Poplawski had armed himself with when he took on the city's police force back on April 4th. Governor Rendell was right when, in the wake of Poplawski's rage, he said, "these weapons have absolutely no purpose but to kill." I mean, how many of even the most die-hard gun and hunting enthusiasts would endorse the idea of trying to bring down a deer with an AK-47? Certainly not with the aim of bringing it home in one piece. What some might view as a distasteful illustration of its fire power only serves to illustrate my point. This is a killing machine, a weapon of war, not to be viewed as "a collector's item" for so-called "sports enthusiasts". And that's why Governor Rendell, joined by Pittsburgh's Mayor, is calling upon congress to reinstate the ban on the sale of assault weapons that was lifted ten years ago. But if what happened in Pittsburgh City Council this week is any indication, that will remain an elusive target. A delegation of State Legislators, led by Republican Daryl Metcalf of Cranberry has vowed to block any effort on the part of council to pass local gun laws that would, among other things, prohibit the sale of assault weapons. No way, says Metcalf and others, that the state is going to relinquish control of such matters to local jurisdictions. This came even as the head of the National Rifle Association was whipping up the crowd at a rally in Harrisburg, warning, once again, that the right to bear arms is in jeopardy. Excuse me, but hogwash! Are all gun owners and those who speak for them suffering from a severe deficit of common sense? And that, by the way, includes the legislators who cower at the idea of being in the NRA's sights. What will it take for them to suddenly become enlightened? Another massacre? Or just a few more police officers being ambushed by an AK-47 wielding deranged gun owner.

Speaking her mind

She said nothing derogatory, demeaning or profane towards or about those Perez Hilton professes to represent. She was simply asked for her opinion and it cost Miss California, Carrie Prejean, the title of Miss USA. Whatever you might think about such beauty pageants, it's important to remember here that the candidates are not running for political office. So Ms.Prejean and her competitors are not about initiating or shaping public policy. She was simply asked to speak her mind and, in accordance with her beliefs, she did so. She does not believe in gay marriage. "I was true to myself", Ms.Prejean later said. Isn't that an admirable trait for someone pursuing such a title? Especially, of course, as she was not outright condemning the beliefs of many others or recommending they be treated as lepers. She and the other candidates on stage with her earlier this week deserve the right to answer questions put to them without fear of intimidation. The audacity of Perez Hilton to think her answer had to be his answer! By the way, any semblance of credibility or credentials he might have brought to the table were totally shattered by Hilton's later reference to Carrie Prejean as "a dumb bitch". While she lost the title she no less managed to take center stage. It would be interesting to see how Hilton would fare on "Celebrity Apprentice", hosted by the same man who put together this year's Miss USA Pageant. Be nice to hear Donald Trump giving him a much deserved, "You're Fired"!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Holy Hot Buttered Popcorn!

Holy hot buttered popcorn, Batman! Did you catch those prices? Ten four, Robin. That’s why I smuggle Orville’s into the theater, if I can get it past the concession police. Holy half hour of previews before the main attraction, Batman, I’m not talking about the popcorn but the ticket prices! Especially for the 3-D movies. That’s certainly the way I felt this past weekend while dolling out $19-bucks for two tickets--for a registered AARP member and a ten-year-old! They up the ante, as you probably know, to cover the cost of the 3-D glasses. Now I know that in this time of severe economic crisis, more people are going to the movies, just to get away from it all. And it seems the theater owners and movie makers are putting a premium on escape, rather than cutting you a break. By the way, these were matinee prices! $9.50 a piece, instead of the usual $6.50 a head. Six dollars more, the result of the $3.00 “surcharge” per ticket, to cover the cost of the 3-D equipment that theater operators lease. Never suspected I’d be stiffed like that but not wanting to disappoint my 10-year-old grandson who had been successfully reeled in by the barrage of tv promotions in advance of the film’s release, I took the plunge. However, I struck popcorn and a drink from the menu to avoid adding another eleven-bucks to the bill. . .

This being the third 3-D movie we’ve seen in the past couple of months, I wondered if we could save 6-bucks on a pair of tickets by holding on to our 3-Day glasses from the earlier films. “ No way,” says a teenager at the ticket counter with the tone of a teacher, chastising you for being late with your homework assignment. After some prodding, you’re told you can use the glasses from a previous 3-D like the “Jonas Brothers Concert”, “Coraline”, and “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. However, you still have to pay the 3-dollar “surcharge”. Covers the cost of the 3-D equipment theater managers lease to be a part of the latest movie craze. But it seems the movie managers are making more than enough to cover the cost of the 3-D technology. What’s next, will we have to pay extra for the “Birthday Crowns” at Burger King? You wonder about the wiggle room the movie chains have to work with and why, in this time when we all need a break from reality, that they seem bent on cashing in on it. The weekend gross for the debut of “Monsters Versus Aliens” was projected to be well over $58 Million in ticket sales. That’s well ahead of “Race to Witch Mountain” following its debut three weeks ago. Seems it’s time for a price break at the concession stand. Like maybe a buck or two off that bag of hot buttered popcorn that costs no more than a few cents to make and doesn’t really contain butter. Where’s Batman when you need him?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

AIG Bashing

If there was any doubt about it, the appearance recently of AIG's new CEO before a Congressional committee demonstrated that, Americans in general, are, "mad as hell and they're not going to take it any more". It gave members of the House Financial Services Committee a chance to crow and distance themselves from a debacle for which their constituents are likely to hold them equally accountable. And why not? As we taxpayers are holding 80% of AIG.It's little comfort to anyone recently laid off, facing the prospect of being unemployed or agonizing over the loss of their life's savings, that Edward Liddy, AIG's new chairman, finds, "it's distasteful to have to make these payments", meaning, of course, the $165 million in bonuses paid out to more than 200 AIG executives. All of whom, by the way, had they been managing a major sports franchise, would have been fired mid-season. With AIG the logic seems to work in reverse. While the company says it is contractually obligated to pay the bonuses, it admits that to have denied them might have triggered a mass exodus of talented executives! Talent? And who would want those who proved they were neither the best nor the brightest but otherwise greedy enough to bring AIG to the brink of extinction. Even though it is unlikely Americans will get the revenge they feel entitled to, they are nonetheless determined to get an accounting of who got what and are likewise itching to know who knew what and when. Senate Finance Committee member, Chris Dodd, has nobly offered it was his decision to let the bonus payments go forward but only after being "pressured" by others. Let's hope it's someone who was truly culpable and not just a scapegoat paraded before the cameras to appeal to those wanting blood. It's a new era, says President Obama. Right now Americans are wondering how much longer before it begins.

"Twelve Angry Jurors?"

Reginald Rose is probably rolling over in his grave, again. Shameful use of alliteration, I know but it opens the door to some thoughts prompted by a recent network news report dealing with the new, bi-lingual production of West Side Story.

And, what’s that got to do with Reginald Rose? Well, Rose as you probably know is the author of “Twelve Angry Men”, an intense drama that peels away the layers of bigotry, hatred and machismo as twelve men decide the fate of a teenage boy accused of murdering his father. While it’s believed the “boy” is of Puerto Rican or Hispanic descent, we never know for sure--only that a guilty verdict by the twelve white, middle-aged men will send him to the electric chair.

It is regarded as a “classic” and has been formally honored as such by the Library of Congress and the American Film Institute. West Side Story is likewise regarded as a classic. And yet, 90-year-old,Arthur Laurents, who penned the original story of gang rivalry on New York’s upper west side, is behind the play’s revival, in which the Sharks sing in Spanish and their rivals, the Jets sing in English. Having seen the original stage production, I, like many others, have no problem with this. Because, well, let’s face it, English-Spenglish, Spanish-Manwich, it’s what Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein did with lyrics and music respectively, that made the 20th Century version of Romeo and Juliet what it is. The well-worn plot is secondary.

Not so with Twelve Angry Men, which is why many are likely to bristle at the repeated efforts to modernize it, as was the case recently with the production at the Bethel Park Community Center, under the title, “Twelve Angry Jurors”, to allow for the fact that women were also deciding the boy’s fate. I think it is safe to say that Rose wrote it as he did, not just because the story preceded women’s lib and other aspects of the later Cultural Revolution in the United States, but also because the dynamics in that jury room were only intensified by the tenor of the times. We were in the heat of the Cold War and the McCarthy era, which brought out the worst in millions of Americans. Juror number eight, played by Henry Fonda, was the voice of reason in a room choking with ignorance, men feeling they must live up to what was then a narrow-minded version of what the male role in society was. And some how most of them initially thought, deciding this boy’s fate was a way of getting even for all that was wrong in their lives. Getting over those hurdles, so prevalent at the time, stood in the way of the justice the defendant ultimately received. The dynamics of men, then burdened with so much male baggage, played a key role in the intensity that play brought to the stage and later to film. It seems to me that to attempt a production of it with less than those ingredients serves only to subvert an American Classic that deserves to be left as is.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Simon "Scowl"

Simon "Scowl" and Paula "Ab-dull." One the genuine article, given his propensity for cutting "American Idol" hopefuls off at the knees. The other, each week giving new meaning to the word saccharine and more and more at a loss it seems, to put into words her assessment of the most recent performer. All of which only intensifies the frustration that Simon has for the judge to his immediate right. Contempt might be the more appropriate word, if you didn't sense the two have torn a page from the World Wrestling Federation's playbook, in which acting is more of a prerequisite than athletic ability.
You can almost hear AI's producer whispering in Simon's ear, "ratchet up the nasty and the loathsome. It's good for the ratings. But try not to humiliate Paula, as easy as that is to do, cause we don't want viewers, especially females 18 to 49, tuning us out. " No indeed, in a season where the ratings have taken a hit. (Although the show still remains in the top ten spot, evidence that some of the tweaking the show's producers are doing is paying off). Should that not hold up, they may want to try and put some real talent on stage. Hard to believe, out of the 100s (or is it 1000s?) they went through, this is the most talented group of "American Idol" contenders they could find. Hmmm, maybe they should have "Scowl" turn up the heat under "Ab-dull."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Bottomless Pit

With the market falling faster Monday than the snow blanketing much of the East Coast, you had to feel as helpless as the communities ill-prepared for what's likely to be this winter's last gasp. Unfortunately, we're all now understandably reluctant to say the same about the breathtaking descent on Wall Street.
There is no day any more, it seems, when it's safe to assume the worst is behind us. The dizzying free fall this time led by the post of the biggest quarterly loss in U S corporate history. All the billions it has already received still not enough to put American Insurance Group, AIG, back together again. The hope is that another $30 billion now on the way will make it whole again.
We are running out of silver bullets and are leaking hope that there's a bottom to this pit almost as fast as our 401Ks and IRAs are shrinking.
Certainly we've lost faith in those who are supposed to know better than we average investors who, only weeks ago, were saying, after the market fell to 8,000, that the worst was behind us. I mean, who do you believe any more? Or do you take some comfort in the belief that the blunders of the Bush Administration brought us to the edge of the cliff? Whatever solace that once offered is rapidly dissipating.
For all the points he's scouring in the popularity poll, you have to wonder if President Obama's exorcising the market's demons from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange would make a dollar of difference. (Although he might want to consider a visit there.)Small wonder hiding it under the mattress is creating a lot of interest these days.


It began long before the bottom fell out. To one degree or another, we all played a role in it. Buying that home or car we couldn’t afford, lying about our income status on mortgage applications, adding a big screen TV to the list of stuff we have to have, even rolling the dice a little longer than we should have on our 401K. Greed, upper or lower case, got the best of even those of us who like to think we’re cautious, responsible Americans, endowed with more than a fair degree of common sense. Granted the fire was fueled by an administration that was asleep at the switch and battered by one major foreign policy blunder after another. That aside, it’s the appropriate time for all of us to take inventory of ourselves and ask what we might have done to contribute to the morass in which we’re now mired. Yeah, it’s a lot to be asking of ourselves but it is, obviously, just what President Obama was referring to when he summoned us to be more responsible Americans. Part of the recovery package he and congress have authored is designed to bring relief to homeowners whose mortgages approach 40-percent of their grossly monthly income! Yes, those who played it safe are paying, will be paying for a long time, for those who didn’t. And the banks that enabled such fiscal irresponsibility are being warned they will be held “fully accountable”, as they should be. Equally hard to swallow is the multibillion-dollar bailout for Detroit, in spite of the situation the auto industry has created because of its own “bad practices”. “We can’t afford to govern out of anger”, says the President, but as Americans we can’t help but resent those who have placed such a heavy burden on us, in many cases, turned our lives upside down. The financial institutions, the banks, greedy lenders, and the millions who simply bit off more than they could chew, because they wanted it all and they want it now. Our ability to recover will depend as much on our collective resolve to forgive and move on as it will the recovery plan laid out by the best and the brightest in the Obama administration. Let’s hope they are just that, as for too long we believed we had those of that ilk at the helm before we went disastrously off course.