Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Public Service Announcement

I've been asked to relay this message:

Despite the cobwebs, dark passages, torture devices on display, screams of terror, and general paranormal activity, the County Office Building is *not* a haunted house. If anyone comes at you with an axe or knife, they are dangerous. If you see what appears to be the minions of the undead, these are just County Elections Staff.
Thank you.

A Halloween Horror Story

I have a friend named Bill.  Bill used to work for the City, 35+ years in the City Real Estate Department.  He loved it there.  His job was to go through all the deeds for upcoming treasurer's sales and city property acquisitions, review the deeds to make sure that the titles were OK, and pass off the information to the legal department.  A lot of people thought this was boring work, but Bill enjoyed it up until his sudden retirement earlier this summer. 

The retirement was unusual.  For people that have worked for the City as long as he did, there's usually a bit more warning (at least enough to get some cake and balloons together).  Bill, however, came in on Wednesday morning, submitted his notice to his boss, and was gone by noon.  Nobody knew what had happened and he wouldn't respond to phone calls or emails to his home. 

Bill lives close by my house and I used to see him out and about on sunny weekends, but since he left the City, his curtains have been shut and his lights have been turned off.  His neighbors said that, yes, he's still up and around, but that he doesn't say much anymore and he mostly only leaves the house for groceries.  Recently, I happened to be walking by his house, when I noticed Bill coming outside to get his mail.

"Bill," I shouted to him, "What's going on?"

"Shape without form!  Shade without color," Bill shouted back, and quickly ran back into his house. 

I followed him up to his door, rang the bell a couple of times, but to no avail.  As I turned to leave, I heard something slide out from under his door.  It was a note from Bill.  All it said was "Ed will explain." 

I assumed that Bill meant his former coworker Ed, who had also worked for the City for at least as long as Bill.  They were terrific friends because they had to work so closely together: Bill did all the back office paperwork for City properties, while Ed actually visited the properties to make sure that they weren't unsafe. 

I called up Ed. 

"Hey, Ed!" 

"Hey, what do you need?"  (Ed is a very get-to-the-point kind of guy.)

"What do you know about Bill leaving?" 


"He said 'Shape without form!  Shade without color' and left me this note saying you'd explain what happened."

There was silence on the end of the phone.

"I-I-I don't know anything," he finally stammered back and hung up the phone. 

About five minutes later, I received an email from Ed saying "10 minutes; my office."

I rushed down to his office.  Ed was there looking very nervous.  His eye was twitching almost imperceptibly and I could tell that he was trying very hard not to shake.  He offered me a seat and started telling me the story:

Apparently, the City had recently put a slew of properties into a Treasurer's sale.  It was Bill's job to review the old deeds to make sure there weren't any surprise easements, covenants, or other restrictions that the courts would have to remove.  Usually these things are pretty dry, akin to reading boilerplate for a living, but something this time caught Bill's attention.  Amidst the boring recitals, there was a paragraph in one of the deeds that read "Subject to all easements and servitudes apparent from inspection of premises as noted in previous deeds of record.  THE DARKNESS IS HERE." 

Bill was taken aback a bit.  "THE DARKNESS IS HERE" was definitely out of place in this or any other deed. 

He decided to pull up the previous deed, just to confirm that this was some para-legal playing a joke on an under-observant lawyer.  The previous deed had a similar paragraph: "Subject to all easements and servitudes apparent from inspection of premises as noted in previous deeds of record.  FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM."

Bill is slightly nervous at this point, partially because the wording of the deed had changed (which can be a bureaucratic nightmare to straighten out) but mostly because this was getting slightly creepy. 

He pulls up the prior deed and the deed before that and the deed before that.  All of them have the same basic "Subject to..." and then another, seemingly random disturbing phrase.  He finally gets back to a deed without the line in it, dating all the way back to 1925, and begins to piece them together.  The phrases, when put in chronological order, formed a fairly disturbing poem:

Now, Bill gets a little nervous about all this and decides to start looking at the deeds a bit closer.  Turns out, the property has been owned by a particular family, the Eliots, since around the turn of the century.  The property is always passed by deed (as opposed to by inheritance) to another member of the family prior to the death of previous owner.  The last owner, a Theadora Smith (nee Eliot) died recently at the age of 78 and, without an heir or a will, left the property to be scooped up by the tax collectors. 

Interestingly enough, the owner at the time the "first" deed was written was a Thomas Eliot, who was a suspect in a series of missing persons cases in the 1910s.  Apparently, several of Mr. Eliot's romantic companions were spotted in his company and thence never again.  Many people in the neighborhood gossiped that Eliot had killed them and hidden the bodies.  The police, however, could never pin any of the disappearances on him and when he died in 1926, passing the property off to his nephew Timothy, the matter was dropped.  Bill had found in old copies of the newspaper, however, that for many, many years later, neighbors had complained about "a foul odor" coming from the house which would appear suddenly and vanish just as quickly. 

At this point, Bill is really nervous.  He calls up Ed and says that they need to inspect the property personally. 

They get in a city municipal vehicle and drive to the building: an old row house in Lawrenceville, partially falling down.  They break out their flashlights, remove the plywood from the door, and go inside.  The interior is a wreck and smells old and rotten, which is normal for a house that's been vacant for so long.  The light between the boarded up windows is just enough that they can make out the interior.  They move slowly from room to room looking for anything particularly suspicious, but it all seems fairly normal. 

They go into the basement.  The stairs are old and creak under the heavy weight of two full grown men.  To pierce the darkness, they turn on their flashlights.  The basement is cold and dank, but fairly typical of Pittsburgh basements. 

"That's not right," said Ed suddenly.


"The wall over there," said Ed.  "It doesn't make any sense.  That's not the foundation of the house." 

Bill moved closer to the wall to inspect.  Sure enough: it was plaster, not stone.  He tapped on it with his flashlight.  In an instant, all the rotted plaster on the wall collapsed, revealing a secret back basement. 

Not so much of a basement, really; it was more of a slaughterhouse.  Strewn about were the various implements to remove flesh from victims, pots to boil their skin, and pikes to roast them over open flames.  Everywhere was evidence that this room had been used to torture and destroy unwitting neighbors who had fallen into a trap, only to be consumed by generations and generations of Eliots. 

And in the center of the room the ultimate horror: propped up in a chair, was a partially devoured figure holding a placard which read the final line of the terrible poem that had brought them here:
Bill quit his job in terror the next day. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

No se hable anglais ici.

If you picked up the Pittsburgh city paper last week you read about two bills in the state legislature mandating English as the official language of the commonwealth.

House bills 361 and 888 would make English the official language for all Commonwealth business. In the case of 888, proposed by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Cumberland), it would extend that mandate to the state's political subdivisions, like municipalities. And both bills would mean no longer printing materials -- like the kind found at the DMV -- in languages other than English.
Of course, when this kind of silliness comes up amongst the more xenophobic amongst us who offer solutions in search of problems, it is fun to remember the mongrel nature of the English language. It's a bit German, a bit Nordic, a bit Latin, a bit French, and a handful of other languages to fill in the gaps that we didn't have words for. As the old saying goes, English does not borrow from other languages, it follows them down dark alleys, mugs them, and rifles through their pockets for loose grammar.

We've spent at least the last thousand years, honing our language to be as clear as mud and slippery as a ghoti. It's a mess. Ever day we violate our rules of grammar, create new words, and generally work our language like a rented mule in order to kinda, sorta, make ourselves understood, maybe.

That's even setting aside the confusion of major national variations (American, British, Austrailian, South African, Indian Englishes) and the sub national dialects that make Bostonians and New Yorkers so damned difficult to understand. So somehow, I don't think the folks in Harrisburg are really in the position to be arbiters of "official English"... That would make them, you know, French.

But, here's my solution: instead of "Spanish", speakers should should start referring it as "English 2". "English" is still the official state language, and people can still say what ever they damn well feel like. Boom! Problem, solved.

Or "No problemo" as the English 2 speakers say.

Region Loses Its Collective Shit Over Early Snow

The Pittsburgh Region lost its collective Shit yesterday because of an earlier than normal snowfall.

"We are all going to die!" shouted one relatively calm woman who broke into KDKA-TV's downtown studios for the sole purpose of attacking meterologist Dennis Bowman. Others, who were not as calm, resorted to self-immolation or canabalism as almost an eighth of an inch of snow blanketed the ground.

Eyewitnesess at the Camp Horne Road Giant Eagle report several fights over the remaining cans of French Cut Beans, carts filled with milk, eggs, and toilet paper, and at least one knife fight over the free samples of shrimp cocktail.

"I need fried onions," said one customer in an interview. "We might be stuck until Spring and I may want to make casserole at some point."

Former Anthropogenic Climate Change skeptics attacked and slaughtered visiting representatives from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (a Global Climate Change Denying organization) in an apparent sacrifice to appease, what they termed, an angry, angry God. Chants of "How's that Global Warming for ya?" echoed throughout Downtown as the Body of CEI Director Myron Ebell was ritualistically burned.

Reports have also come in from across the region of literally thousands of motorists that have apparently forgotten how to drive their cars.

Pittsburgh occasionally loses its collective shit during major winter storms, but this marks the first time since 1993 when the city has lost its shit during the month of October.

The National Weather Service predicts that the Region should lose its shit at least twice more this season, depending on when salt supplies run out.

Friday, October 28, 2011

UPMC to Create "Death Star" In Bloomfield

UPMC announced plans Thursday to create a $294 million research facility that officials for the health system say will focus on personalized medicine, the biology of cancer and aging, and crushing Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

The UPMC DEpartment of Aging, Therapy, Holistic medicine, SiTe for Advanced Research (DEATH STAR), scheduled for completion in late 2014, is expected to create 375 new scientific and administrative jobs, including several thousand construction contractors. The project will include a $3 million renovation of the old Ford Motor Co. building on Baum Boulevard on the Bloomfield-Shadyside border and a laser gun capable of destroying a planet.

Chief Financial Officer Robert A. DeMotti said in a press statement "This facility will be the ultimate power in the universe." 

In leaked emails, however, Executive Vice President Jeff Vader told DeMotti "Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a competitor is insignificant next to the power of forcing our customers to use our providers."  Vader also raised concerns that if Highmark obtained a complete report about the center, it is possible, however unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it in a lawsuit, supporting their claim that UPMC has a de facto monopoly in the region's health care, adding that he found DeMotti's lack of corporate governance "disturbing". 

CEO Jeffrey A. Palpatine has been in Harrisburg this week, working to dissolve the State Senate bill 203 permanently, which would sweep away the last remnants of the old state health care system, giving the Governor direct control.

Both Palpatine and Vader have been criticized by public policy advocates for their dark sided approach to the massive non-profit, which began as an outgrowth over a battle to producing similar populations of genetically identical individuals in laboratory conditions at the University of Pittsburgh.  Since then, UPMC has grown to encompass a large section of Oakland and the Outer Rim Territories. 

The "Death Star", when fully armed and operational, will probably be used to acquire or destroy other hospitals that are part of the rebellious West Penn Allegheny Health System. 

Many Bothans died to bring us this information. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

OWs! It hurts!

Since I was away, it seems like there have been several major Cities across this Great Land of Ours infected with these dirty Hippies calling themselves "Occupy Wall Street," who are obviously seditious traitors to this Country advocating the overthrow of our Capitalist Government and its replacement by, what I can only assume would be some sort of naked Kenyan-Muslim-Fascist Flag Burning Ceremony.  At least that's what I assume they're after; for all I know it could be worse.

I mean, do these protestors not realize that in 1989, Ronald Reagan himself Singled handedly defeated Communism, tearing down the Berlin Wall, and converted the entire Soviet Union to Christianity so that we could live in a world where men would not be judged by the content of their character, but by the cash in their wallets? These OWS folks are espousing a failed doctrine that states that the labor of the working class is exploited by Capitalists.  They seem to think that somehow the workers of the world must unite and cast off their right to work two jobs at 60 hours a week with no health care.  That's just insanity.

Are these people really under the delusion, that the standard of living for the 99% of Americans has stagnated, while the top 1% has grown?  Come on: we all have iPhones, Cable TV, and Refrigerators; that's more than most average citizens in most countries get.  I am informed that the people of Canada, a heathen country if there ever was one, are forced to eat a mixture of potatoes, gravy, and cheese and speak French.  

French!  What kind of Anti-American bullshit is that?

And of course, we have the Pope coming in now, pushing his Papist agenda on the world economy.  What kind of "Christian" really believe in the end of Laissez-Faire Capitalism or that Governments shouldn't be promoting the good of a few select individuals at the expense of the rest?  Show me where in the Bible Jesus says *anything* about "economic justice".  Oh, I found in: it's in the Book of "Not In There" chp. 4 v. 7-Nowhere.  

Everyone knows, and Rick Santorum and Bill Donahoe can back me up on this, is that the New Testament is all about stopping abortion, fighting terrorism, and keeping those homo-queers from having butt sex.   Right after He turned those loaves into fishes, Jesus said on the mount, "God helps those who help themselves".  He didn't say anything about "The Poor" or "The Hungry" or "The Persecuted"... I mean, what do you expect Him to give them?  The Kingdom of Heaven?  That would be Socialism of the worst kind.  

But of course, this pronouncement from a minor Curia of the Vatican is just the kind of communist tripe one would expect from a former member of the Hitler youth. 

The Vatican is obviously oblivious to the fact that a full 47% of people in this country don't pay taxes, because they have the audacity to not earn enough money. Meanwhile, there they are sucking up services like food stamps or public housing or prison, while the rest of actually work for a living, refusing government services like interstate highways, police protection, or food safety inspections.

So, I say: OWS go home!  Your kind isn't welcome while a new episode of Jersey Shore is on.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rick Perry Won't Stop Singing Karaoke

(Reuters) Austin, TX - Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry will not stop singing karaoke at Jim's Bar & Grill, according to local sources, despite numerous requests by the DJ to stop.

"The Governor comes in here every Thursday and literally takes over the microphone," said bar owner Duke "Duke" Dukenson. "We've asked him to find another bar or change up his repertoire, but honestly he's so bad that he's driving away other customers."

According to an aide who wished to remain anonymous, the Governor became interested in karaoke after he saw Mitt Romney perform at a fundraiser in Aimes, IA in the spring.

"The Governor saw Mitt (Romney) perform and said to us, 'Hey, I could do that.' And what were we going to tell him? No, you can't carry a tune in a bucket and you regularly forget the words to the songs. Nope, we invested in earplugs and signed him up for karaoke."

Governor Perry has performed his rendition of the Bee Gee's classic "Stayin' Alive" before packed, if hesitant, crowds in Austin. Numerous patrons have chosen to avail themselves of the facilities instead of listening. Undaunted, Perry performed a medley of "God Bless the U-S-A" and "Muskrat Love", which confused the audience further.

The reviews were not great.

"He's just, well, not that great," said a patron to Jim's Bar & Grill. "I mean, I kinda expected that the Governor of Texas wouldn't look like such an amateur on the stage, but he's kind of out of tune with the other songs. On the plus side, he's not that much worse than the other singers."

Herman Cain later performed his version of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" which left the crowd wanting less.

Governor Perry's team insists that he doesn't have to be good, just be a better singer than all the others.

More as this story develops.

We Can't Stop Here! This is Tax Country!

There are times where I'm just so angry, I need to create new words to truly express how kardsadically pissed off I truly am about stupid sheissm. Case in point:

Under Mr. Peduto's bill, commercial and industrial developers would receive 10 years of tax breaks, with no cap on annual savings. Developers would get a 100 percent tax break for the first two years. After that, the tax break would decline by 10 percent every two years, concluding with a 60 percent tax break in years nine and 10.
Gee und da miff spleeb! Pliffoo blaboo!

Sorry, I'll watch my language.

Those of you that are still reading this blog will know that I have a peculiar bugbear when it comes to real estate taxes in the City of Pittsburgh. I won't go back over it here, except to say that the elimination of the land/building property tax split is one of the dumbest things that City Council ever did, including Jim Motznik.

Basically, Peduto's plan provides an abatement to real estate property improvements up to a certain amount.

Fine, except that (1) it will probably accidentally include a bunch of projects on which the City will end up losing tax revenue (e.g. the next phase of Bakery Square), (3) the tax benefits of such a program are so minor that most of the deals that get them are going to happen anyway and not because of the abatement, and (3) this solves a problem brought about by eliminating the land/building split in the first damn place.

It's almost a Rube Goldberg public policy device for solving a particularly simple matter of taxes.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Oh no! Not again!

Terrific. Now National Geographic is jumping on the "Ain't Pittsburgh Grand?" bandwagon. As if we didn't have enough of these international yahoos interrupting our fair city during the G-20, now we're going to have Jane Goodall wannabes traipsing through Beechview, trying to "live amongst the yinzers".

This distinction now puts us up with such destination as cosmopolitain London, rugged Iceland, and whatever the fuck Oman is. I mean, OK, if your choice is between a vacation in Pittsburgh and Muskoka, Ontario, I can see why you'd pick a place that doesn't reek of Canadians.

Of course, what this means is that now we're going to have to set up Pittsburgh wildlife preserves to protect our native species (the white tailed deer, the pigeon, and the Onorato) so that foreign tourists don't mess up their natural habitat (Homewood Cemetery, Mellon Plaza, and Saw Mill Run, respectively). And now there's going to be "Authentic Pittsburgh Experience" survival tours, which, consists of getting lost in the South Hills for five hours and then stuck in the Ft. Pitt Tunnel traffic for another two.

I suppose we all need to get crackin' on our native dress and native dance for when the bus loads of Japanese tourists show up to take a picture.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

And now a moment of Limerick

There once was a candidate Paul,
Whose White House ambitions were tall.
With ideas contrarian
And a bit Libertarian
I don't remember the rest but that dude is, like, offering poor answers the modern problems of United States governance.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Road Goes Ever On and On

If you were chained up in Joe Grata's basement this week, you probably saw this story coming out of Harrisburg:

Gov. Tom Corbett signaled that a new transportation funding bill is not a top priority for his administration this year and questioned the effect of proposed new fees on the state's brittle economy.

In remarks after a speech to the national Waterways Symposium Downtown, Mr. Corbett said he would "take a look" at any transportation bills proposed this year but that they would battle for attention with measures on school vouchers and Marcellus Shale regulations. He said transportation might have to take a back seat, especially because the Legislature's current session is only half finished...

Repeated studies show the state's transportation infrastructure to be in worsening condition, too: It has 8,000 miles of poor roads, 5,000 structurally deficient bridges, 650 weight-restricted spans and another 50 that have closed. Leaders of the Port Authority also have warned of a "death spiral" of continuing service cuts, fare increases and layoffs if there is no state action.

Mr. Corbett said he was aware of the transit concerns affecting the greater Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions -- as well as other parts of the state -- but wanted to fully study long-term funding of the transit systems and other infrastructure needs."
That all makes sense, of course, I mean when you're in the midst of an economic downturn, why should you spend more on services that people aren't going to use because they're in the middle of an economic downturn? I mean, it would be like a child's parents investing in his/her education when they are poor! What good will any personal improvement do, if you're already shit out of luck? That doesn't make any sense, now does it?

Moreover, why should we be investing in roads and bridges and mass transportation anyway? It's not like there are any goods that we're transporting and there aren't jobs for people to get to. Unemployed people don't need to take a bus from their bed to their couch. If anything, we should be reducing our level of service to match what the market says we need.

And moreover moreover, it's not like Corbett is a big ol' dummy. He knows that if he lets the Demmycrats in the State Legislature pass any sort of bill in the next year and the economy happens to pick up, people are going to get the stupid idea that it was the left-liberals in Harrisburg who caused a recovery, not their God fearing Governor. Even worse, they might actually go out and vote for more of those yahoos! That would be awful.

No, the Governor is right on; we need a Marcellus Shale based economic policy, one that will provide jobs right now in the energy industry, as well as future jobs in the soon to be fast growing environmental reclamation, cancer research, and hazardous material disposal industries.

It only makes sense, especially if you don't really think about it too hard.

Friday, October 21, 2011