Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I hate American cheese. HATE it. I don't think they should even be allowed to call it "cheese." It's not cheese. It's processed shit with yellow coloring. Disgusting. And I don't even think it tastes good, regardless of its content. There are a number of food items in this world that always have American cheese on them. Okay, granted, most of the things I'm talking about are fast food. Any breakfast sandwich at McDonald's but specifically the Egg McMuffin. And the Big Mac. If I could get true cheddar cheese in place of American cheese on a Big Mac, I would be in heaven.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cheney Torture
Tuesday, 30 August 2011 08:53
Written by Rob Rogers

Dick Cheney said his new memoir would have "heads exploding all over Washington." Maybe heads falling asleep all over Washington. According to those who have read it there really isn't anything new, just a little snarkiness toward Colin and Condi. He continues to endorse "enhanced interrogation" defend Bush and stroke his own ego. He hardly touches on Iraq, let alone apologizing for it. Sounds like a tortuous read.

Monday, August 29, 2011

If Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were alive today, their infamous sketch, "Who's on First?" might have turned out something like this:


ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?

COSTELLO: Thanks I'm setting up an office in my den and I'm thinking about buying a computer.


COSTELLO: No, the name's Lou.

ABBOTT: Your computer?

COSTELLO: I don't own a computer. I want to buy one.


COSTELLO: I told you, my name's Lou.

ABBOTT: What about Windows?

COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?

ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows?

COSTELLO: I don't know. What will I see when I look at the windows?

ABBOTT: Wallpaper.

COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.

ABBOTT: Software for Windows?

COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?

ABBOTT: Office.

COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?

ABBOTT: I just did.

COSTELLO: You just did what?

ABBOTT: Recommend something.

COSTELLO: You recommended something?


COSTELLO: For my office?


COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office?

ABBOTT: Office.

COSTELLO: Yes, for my office!

ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows.

COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows! OK, let's just say I'm sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?


COSTELLO: What word?

ABBOTT: Word in Office.

COSTELLO: The only word in office is office.

ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.

COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows?

ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue 'W'.

COSTELLO: I'm going to click your blue 'w' if you don't start with some straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: That's right. What do you have?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?

ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.

COSTELLO: What's bundled with my computer?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?

ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.

COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer? How much?

ABBOTT: One copy.

COSTELLO: Isn't it illegal to copy money?

ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.

COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?


(A few days later)

ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?

COSTELLO: How do I turn my computer off?

ABBOTT: Click on 'START'.............

Friday, August 26, 2011

And a Rob Rogers double-feature to end the week . . .

Brewed On Grant: Missing Batman
Wednesday, 24 August 2011 08:44
Written by Rob Rogers

The filming of Dark Knight Rises is over. Pittsburgh will have to find a way to carry on without the thrill of Batmobile sightings and fake snow. I don't know about the rest of you, but I am having serious withdrawal.


Thursday, 25 August 2011 09:50
Written by Rob Rogers

My first thought when my drawing table started to wobble is that it was an earthquake. I had felt them in California and it felt the same to me. Then I thought, no, this is Western Pennsylvania, it has to be something else. Then it came to me. Mine subsidence. That must be it!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Each week, I enter The New Yorker caption contest. It's a very competitive contest. I have never had any of my caption submissions selected as one of the three finalists. But I keep trying. I am going to start featuring my caption submissions on my blog. Even though the folks at The New Yorker don't seem to like my captions, I think they're actually not so bad. Enjoy.

"You know that I can't resist any buy two, get one free sale."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why can't famous women stay clothed?
Friday, August 19, 2011

Remember when Janet Jackson accidentally exposed one of her breasts during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show and everyone -- and by everyone, I mean the FCC -- freaked out because boobs are supposed to be kept in their proper, hidden place?

Well, apparently in 2011, wardrobe malfunctions are no longer cause for alarm. In fact, they have become common occurrences.

During a June interview on "Fox and Friends," Khloe Kardashian flashed nippleage when the partially sheer black top she was wearing (sans bra) shifted as she happily chattered away about "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

During a live Aug. 5 performance on ABC's "Good Morning America," Nicki Minaj also inadvertently put a breast on public display when her halter top went rogue. The network apologized and removed the unintended nudity from later broadcast feeds.

A day after the Minaj incident, singer Kelly Rowland exposed both breasts during a concert in West Orange, N.J., when her bra-like top slid upward in ways she, presumably, did not anticipate. Since she wasn't on TV, the moment might have gone unnoticed if it weren't for the Internet. Photos of Ms. Rowland and all her mammary glory appeared, causing her name to spike as a super-searched term on Google.

Needless to say, this is an unfortunate trend, and one that raises a question: Is it so hard for famous women to dress themselves?

I don't mean to suggest that Ms. Rowland, Ms. Minaj or Ms. Kardashian set out to purposely flash an unsuspecting public. But how difficult is it to wear something in which one's goodies are clearly covered and secure?

Millions of women do it every day. And if those women were asked the following question in a survey -- "If you make a public appearance, would you be extra careful to make sure your chest remains unexposed?" -- I am fairly certain that the vast majority of answers would imply extreme vigilance.

Look, accidents happen. I get that, and I am sympathetic to any fellow female who accidentally shares a part of herself she didn't mean to share, especially when paparazzi are there to capture every pore on her exposed skin for the consumption of the online, photo-enlarging masses.

But this is why halter tops must be tested before one goes onstage. This is why, generally, one should not wear sheer fabric around one's bra-less chestal region when appearing on "Fox and Friends." This is why, hey, I don't know, maybe it's a good idea to wear a top with a good old-fashioned crew neck once in a while.

Because, as the old adage goes, there's no such thing as a wardrobe malfunction when one's wardrobe functions properly.

Fine -- that's not really an old adage. But it ought to be. And every celebrity should take heed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I see that some folks have finally found a way to make education fun for teachers and students: no Fridays.

South Dakota schools cut costs with 4-day week
Aug 21, 6:17 PM EDT

IRENE, S.D. (AP) -- When the nearly 300 students of the Irene-Wakonda School District returned to school this week, they found a lot of old friends, teachers and familiar routines awaiting them. But one thing was missing: Friday classes.

This district in the rolling farmland of southeastern South Dakota is among the latest to adopt a four-day school week as the best option for reducing costs and dealing with state budget cuts to education.

"It got down to monetary reasons more than anything else," Superintendent Larry Johnke said. The $50,000 savings will preserve a vocational education program that otherwise would have been scrapped.

The four-day week is an increasingly visible example of the impact of state budget problems on rural education. This fall, fully one-fourth of South Dakota's districts will have moved to some form of the abbreviated schedule. Only Colorado and Wyoming have a larger proportion of schools using a shortened week. According to one study, more than 120 school districts in 20 states, most in the west, now use four-day weeks.

The schools insist that reducing class time is better than the alternatives and can be done without sacrificing academic performance. Yet not all parents are convinced.

"The kids are going to suffer," said Melissa Oien, who has four children in the school and serves as vice president of the parent-teacher organization. "Of course they will. They're missing a whole day of school."

The downsizing comes as schools in some larger cities are moving in the opposite direction. In Chicago, school officials hope to add school days so students will learn more and have better employment prospects.

Irene-Wakonda's predicament, like those of many other rural districts in the Great Plains, is compounded by declines in population and enrollment. The two towns, which are eight miles apart, combined their school districts in 2007 to save money. Wakonda got the elementary school and Irene the middle and high schools. Farming is the largest share of their economies, though some people commute to jobs in Yankton or Vermillion.

Johnke, the superintendent, said the district will add 30 minutes to each day and shorten the lunch break to provide more class time Monday through Thursday. In elementary school, recess and physical education classes will be shortened.

The changes won't entirely make up for losing Friday, Johnke said, but the district will still exceed the state's minimum standard for class time and will teach all the required material.

"We feel they'll get the same instruction. It'll have to be done a little bit differently," he said.

South Dakota's Republican-controlled Legislature slashed aid to schools this spring by 6.6 percent to help close a $127 million budget gap. Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard said state revenue has not grown in three years while costs have risen for medical services for the poor.

He ruled out revenue increases. "I believe in shared sacrifice," Daugaard said earlier this year. Education groups hope to put a tax proposal on the 2012 ballot.

Facing budget shortfalls in the sour economy, many other state Legislatures also cut public education spending this year -- some, like Texas, sharply.

In South Dakota, the cut comes in a state that, according to recent census data, already ranked 44th in state spending per pupil. The Associated School Boards of South Dakota estimates another $233 million a year is needed to adequately fund schools.

Many districts reduced staff or eliminated programs to make up for the lost money. The number of districts going to four-day weeks has nearly doubled in just two years.

Wayne Lueders, the recently retired director of the Associated School Boards, said a four-day school week won't actually save much because schools still must pay salaries and benefits, "but every dollar counts in this current situation."

Schools can save on busing, food and other operations.

South Dakota's state education secretary, Melody Schopp, says schools that have switched to four days haven't suffered in achievement tests.

In Deuel, a 500-student district that shortened its week four years ago, Superintendent Dean Christensen said as much as $100,000 a year has been saved and the failure rate has declined, which he attributed to more time for tutoring and teacher training.

"It's not something to be scared of," Christensen said.

Woonsocket, a tiny eastern South Dakota district of just 185 students, plans to drop one Friday per month as an experiment, saving about $4,000 annually.

"I'd kind of like to put my feet in the water a little bit and see if this four-day week is as positive as everybody is talking about," Superintendent Rod Weber said.

James Hansen, former head of the state Education Department, is among those who worry that less schooling will put students at a disadvantage in a global economy.

"I think the students should be in school more than they are now," Hansen said. "The other countries are doing a far better job of making sure their students are prepared to meet the competition of the world."

While studies have confirmed the value of extending classroom time, no substantial research yet exists on academic achievement when it's shortened, said Michael Griffith, a senior policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States and author of a recent report on the four-day week.

In Irene-Wakonda, which had already dropped an arts teacher and several aides to cut costs, teachers and students said they'll make the best of the situation.

"I think it'll be fun for students because you'll get an extra day to do whatever you want," said Melissa Hessman, a 16-year-old junior. But, she added, "The longer the weekend, the more the brain's going to slow down, I think."

Farmer Don Logue said he accepts that there are few options.

"Nobody wants change, but where there is, usually you adapt to it," Logue said.

Friday, August 19, 2011

JIM: I see that a number of young Hollywood starlets are banding together to start a group against women having cosmetic surgery. I wonder how they will feel once they are not young any more and start getting those first wrinkles. Anyway, just by coincidence, I watched the movie Soul Surfer with my kids the other night (yeah, I know, but the Phillies were rained out). All of I could focus on through the whole movie was that Helen Hunt was barely recognizable. Wow did she get some bad plastic surgery.

DAVE: I haven't heard about that. It's all bullshit. EVERYBODY in Hollywood gets plastic surgery. I used to be in denial about some of my favorites, but I have come to accept that they all do it, and some of them go way too far. I haven't seen Helen Hunt, but I can only imagine how bad she looks. I see some women around here who have obviously had their face worked on. It looks terribly unnatural to me. I once dated a woman who had had some work done. She was gross, to be quite frank. I couldn't take her or her body seriously.

JIM: Don't you have to wonder what these people are thinking? I mean, they see everyone else who has had surgery and looks terrible. what makes them think it will turn out any different for them?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Target of murder plot hatched on Facebook is killed, police say
By Dave Warner, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston
Reuters – Tue, Aug 16, 2011

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A man who authorities say was the target of a murder-for-hire plot hatched on Facebook by the mother of his child was shot and killed in Philadelphia, police said on Tuesday.

Corey White, 22, died at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on Monday shortly after being shot in the chest on a Philadelphia street, police spokeswoman Tanya Little said.

White's ex-girlfriend, London Eley, 19, and Timothy Bynum, 18, who have been implicated in an alleged plot to kill White, were in jail at the time of the shooting, Little said.

The pair were arrested in June and charged with criminal solicitation for murder and attempted murder. Police began probing Eley and Bynum after getting a tip that Eley had posted on Facebook asking for someone to kill White, Little said.

Eley had offered to pay a "stack" -- slang for $1,000 -- for the killing, and Bynum allegedly responded on the social media site that he would do the job, Little said.

Prior to the shooting, the two were ordered by a municipal court judge on Monday to stand trial.

No arrests were made after White's death, but two unidentified men were seen in a brown car driving away from the scene, Little said.

(Reporting by Dave Warner, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bucs and Phils . . .

JIM: I saw recently that the Pirates already announced that they are raising ticket prices for next year. Bunch of Mensa candidates running the organization. What the hell can they be thinking???

I am also going to the Phillies game tonight. I had no idea until the Phillies sent me a reminder that I had purchased tickets for tonight's game (I actually thought I had tickets for Thursday!). Now that's classy, sending email reminders to ticket holders to remind them. It's actually very cool because we will now get to see the dedication and unveiling of the Harry Kalas statue.

DAVE: I predicted at the All-Star break that the Pirates would be raising ticket prices next year. They have been holding pretty steady on ticket prices since PNC opened in 2001, due primarily to the fact that they couldn't raise ticket prices for a horrible team. I knew that as soon as they even sniffed being competitive that the Pirates would see their opportunity to raise prices. Ticket prices for Pirate games are VERY cheap compared to other teams like the Phillies. You can get a great seat for $35-40. I mean, a great seat. So, I knew an increase was coming. Then, when they picked up Derek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, I knew it for sure. They were showing the fans that they were willing to make moves. So, now that they have shown that, they can justify raising ticket prices. They have been waiting for this opportunity for ten years.

I can only imagine what you spent on tickets for tonight's Phillies game.

JIM: But when do you ever see a team announce price increases for next year during the season? Their timing seems extremely odd, to say the least.

$28 for tonight's tickets. They are upper level behind home plate (actually down first baseline a little), which to tell the truth is one of my favorite places to sit. You can see the whole field and everything is always right in front of you.

DAVE: Good point. I guess only the Pirates. Where did you hear about the price increase?

I think you're describing a location where I, too, used to like to get tickets for games. $28 doesn't sound too bad, actually.

JIM: A friend of mine who's from Pittsburgh and is a big Pirates fan told me the other day. It's like they don't know what to do now that they actually have real crowds coming to the ballpark, so they did whatever they could think of to kill any enthusiasm that the fans are showing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This is a good, thoughtful essay . . .

The good, short life: why I will let myself die
Retired journalist DUDLEY CLENDINEN comes to understand that dying is also about living and loving
Sunday, August 14, 2011

BALTIMORE -- I have wonderful friends. In this last year, one took me to Istanbul. One gave me a box of hand-crafted chocolates. Fifteen of them held two rousing, pre-posthumous wakes for me. Several wrote large checks. Two sent me a boxed set of all the Bach sacred cantatas. And one, from Texas, put a hand on my thinning shoulder, and appeared to study the ground where we were standing. He had flown in to see me.

"We need to go buy you a pistol, don't we?" he asked quietly. He meant to shoot myself with.

"Yes, Sweet Thing," I said, with a smile. "We do."

I loved him for that.

I love them all. I am acutely lucky in my family and friends, and in my daughter, my work and my life. But I have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., more kindly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, for the great Yankee hitter and first baseman who was told he had it in 1939, accepted the verdict with such famous grace, and died less than two years later. He was almost 38.

I sometimes call it Lou, in his honor, and because the familiar feels less threatening. But it is not a kind disease. The nerves and muscles pulse and twitch, and progressively, they die. From the outside, it looks like the ripple of piano keys in the muscles under my skin. From the inside, it feels like anxious butterflies, trying to get out.

It starts in the hands and feet and works its way up and in, or it begins in the muscles of the mouth and throat and chest and abdomen, and works its way down and out. The second way is called bulbar, and that's the way it is with me. We don't live as long, because it affects our ability to breathe early on, and it just gets worse.

At the moment, for 66, I look pretty good. I've lost 20 pounds. My face is thinner. I even get some "Hey, there, Big Boy," looks, which I like. I think of it as my cosmetic phase. But it's hard to smile, and chew. I'm short of breath. I choke a lot. I sound like a wheezy, lisping drunk. For a recovering alcoholic, it's really annoying.

There is no meaningful treatment. No cure. There is one medication, Rilutek, which might make a few months' difference. It retails for about $14,000 a year. That doesn't seem worthwhile to me. If I let this run the whole course, with all the human, medical, technological and loving support I will start to need just months from now, it will leave me, in 5 or 8 or 12 or more years, a conscious but motionless, mute, withered, incontinent mummy of my former self. Maintained by feeding and waste tubes, breathing and suctioning machines.

No, thank you. I hate being a drag. I don't think I'll stick around for the back half of Lou.

I think it's important to say that. We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don't talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren't one of life's greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative -- not governing -- in order to be free.

And that's the point. This is not about one particular disease or even about Death. It's about Life, when you know there's not much left. That is the weird blessing of Lou. There is no escape, and nothing much to do. It's liberating.

I began to slur and mumble in May 2010. When the neurologist gave me the diagnosis that November, he shook my hand with a cracked smile and released me to the chill, empty gray parking lot below.

It was twilight. He had confirmed what I had suspected through six months of tests by other specialists looking for other explanations. But suspicion and certainty are two different things. Standing there, it suddenly hit me that I was going to die. "I'm not prepared for this," I thought. "I don't know whether to stand here, get in the car, sit in it or drive. To where? Why?"

The pall lasted about five minutes, and then I remembered that I did have a plan. I had a dinner scheduled in Washington that night with an old friend, a scholar and author who was feeling depressed. We'd been talking about him a lot. Fair enough. Tonight, I'd up the ante. We'd talk about Lou.

The next morning, I realized I did have a way of life. For 22 years, I have been going to therapists and 12-step meetings. They helped me deal with being alcoholic and gay. They taught me how to be sober and sane. They taught me that I could be myself, but that life wasn't just about me. They taught me how to be a father. And perhaps most important, they taught me that I can do anything, one day at a time.

Including this.

I am, in fact, prepared. This is not as hard for me as it is for others. Not nearly as hard as it is for Whitney, my 30-year-old daughter, and for my family and friends. I know. I have experience.

I was close to my old cousin, Florence, who was terminally ill. She wanted to die, not wait. I was legally responsible for two aunts, Bessie and Carolyn, and for Mother, all of whom would have died of natural causes years earlier if not for medical technology, well-meaning systems and loving, caring hands.

I spent hundreds of days at Mother's side, holding her hand, trying to tell her funny stories. She was being bathed and diapered and dressed and fed, and for the last several years, she looked at me, her only son, as she might have at a passing cloud.

I don't want that experience for Whitney -- nor for anyone who loves me. Lingering would be a colossal waste of love and money.

If I choose to have the tracheotomy that I will need in the next several months to avoid choking and perhaps dying of aspiration pneumonia, the respirator and the staff and support system necessary to maintain me will easily cost half a million dollars a year. Whose half a million, I don't know.

I'd rather die. I respect the wishes of people who want to live as long as they can. But I would like the same respect for those of us who decide -- rationally -- not to. I've done my homework. I have a plan. If I get pneumonia, I'll let it snuff me out. If not, there are those other ways. I just have to act while my hands still work: the gun, narcotics, sharp blades, a plastic bag, a fast car, over-the-counter drugs, oleander tea (the polite Southern way), carbon monoxide, even helium. That would give me a really funny voice at the end.

I have found the way. Not a gun. A way that's quiet and calm.

Knowing that comforts me. I don't worry about fatty foods anymore. I don't worry about having enough money to grow old. I'm not going to grow old.

I'm having a wonderful time.

I have a bright, beautiful, talented daughter who lives close by, the gift of my life. I don't know if she approves. But she understands. Leaving her is the one thing I hate. But all I can do is to give her a daddy who was vital to the end, and knew when to leave.

What else is there? I spend a lot of time writing letters and notes, and taping conversations about this time, which I think of as the Good Short Life (and Loving Exit), for WYPR-FM, the main NPR station in Baltimore. I want to take the sting out of it, to make it easier to talk about death. I am terribly behind in my notes, but people are incredibly patient and nice. And inviting. I have invitations galore.

Last month, an old friend brought me a recording of the greatest concert he'd ever heard, Leonard Cohen, live, in London, three years ago. It's powerful, haunting music, by a poet, composer and singer whose life has been as tough and sinewy and loving as an old tree.

The song that transfixed me, words and music, was "Dance Me to the End of Love." That's the way I feel about this time. I'm dancing, spinning around, happy in the last rhythms of the life I love. When the music stops -- when I can't tie my bow tie, tell a funny story, walk my dog, talk with Whitney, kiss someone special or tap out lines like this -- I'll know that Life is over.

It's time to be gone.

Dudley Clendinen is a former national correspondent and editorial writer for The New York Times, where this was first published, and author of "A Place Called Canterbury."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Could it happen here . . . ?

London Riots
Thursday, 11 August 2011 16:32
Written by Rob Rogers

I am sure there are a plethora of reasons for the riots in London and other cities. Some sociologists think there is a connection between the mob violence and Britain's austerity cuts. It's something to think about before we start cutting our own spending.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I call this guy the "Risky Business" Burglar . . .

Teen burglarizes 13 Shadyside homes, leaves notes for owners
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pittsburgh police said a young burglar charged in a series of crimes left notes for some of his victims offering to return their belongings in exchange for cash.

The 15-year-old boy was charged this week in 13 burglaries in the Shadyside area and detectives believe he worked with at least one co-conspirator.

Police began receiving reports of the burglaries June 20. The crimes were similar in that the burglar would enter a home late at night while the victims were still there, often through unlocked doors or windows, police said. The thief took more than $120,000 worth of property, including six vehicles, electronics, computers, jewelry, cell phones and a electronic gaming station, said Sgt. Kevin Gasiorowski of the burglary squad.

Twice, he said, the burglar used the stolen cell phones to send text messages to contacts in the victims phones, offering to sell them back their stuff. In another case, the burglar left a similar note on a victim's door.

"It's rare to have that many notes tied to a suspect," the sergeant said.

Police said a tipster, surveillance and evidence led to the arrest.

The juvenile is being held in Shuman Detention Center and also faces 10 counts of conspiracy, eight counts of theft and one count of attempted burglary.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Knowing what we know about test answers being changed by school personnel, how much faith can we really put in this report?

More Pittsburgh students fare better on state tests
Thursday, August 11, 2011

A preliminary review of state test data indicates a larger percentage of Pittsburgh Public Schools students rated proficient or better in math and reading, district officials announced Wednesday.

According to early data from the 2011 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, the percentage of students deemed proficient or advanced increased on 11 of the 14 tests.

The exceptions were math and reading results for sixth grade and math results for third grade. On those three tests, the percentage of students proficient or better declined.

The share of students scoring advanced on the PSSA rose on 10 of the 14 tests, with the exception of grade 6 reading and math, grade 3 reading and grade 11 math.

The district also pointed to another encouraging sign that showed fewer students scored poorly on the tests. The percentage of students scoring below basic decreased on 13 of the 14 tests, except for grade 3 math.

Superintendent Linda Lane released the district's results to a meeting of principals and other employees at the Pittsburgh Professional Development Center in the Greenway facility.

She acknowledged that more work was ahead and that significant improvement takes time, but nonetheless she said the results "suggest that we are making gains and are making progress."

Asked about sixth-grade test declines, she said more analysis was needed on what's behind the scores. "Is sixth grade just lower statewide, or is it just Pittsburgh?" she said.

The results released were broken out by grade and by race but did not include a school-by-school breakdown of performance. Officials said a fuller presentation would be made Monday night to the school board's education committee.

Ms. Lane said the district is awaiting final word from the state Department of Education on whether Pittsburgh Schools achieved adequate yearly progress, an academic standard known as AYP that is used by the federal government. That announcement is expected next month.

The early data indicates that 66 percent of the district's students collectively in grades 3 through 8 and 11 were at least proficient in math, up from 62.3 percent in 2010 and 55.4 percent in 2007.

In reading, 60.5 percent of students collectively in grades 3-8 and 11 were at least proficient in reading, compared with 56.6 in 2010 and 51.4 percent in 2007.

The PSSA is administered in grades 3-8 and 11. Performance on the test is one of the measures by which a district can achieve AYP, a threshold that districts must meet under the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act. Also weighed are attendance, graduation rates and test participation.

Schools and districts hoping to achieve AYP must satisfy a complex set of requirements that includes hitting overall student targets and targets for specific enrollment categories such as minority children, poor children and those receiving special education instruction.

The requirements become more stringent over time and by 2014 stipulate that all students be proficient in math and reading.

The data released indicates that a sizable disparity remains in the performance of white students versus African-American students.

However, district officials said African-American students have moved closer to parity with white students in all grade levels tested since 2007, as achievement levels for both groups increased.

The disparity in reading scores decreased to 27.7 percentage points from 32.3 percentage points in 2007, and the math disparity decreased to 25.9 percentage points from 31.1 percentage points during that period.

According to this year's results, 76.7 percent of white students scored proficient or better in reading compared with 49 percent of African-American students. In math, 81.1 percent of white students scored proficient or better, compared with 55.2 percent of African-American students.

Officials highlighted results from Pittsburgh Arsenal K-5 and Pittsburgh Perry High School.

Arsenal's reading proficiency increased 18.2 percentage points from 2010 and 22.5 percentage points from 2007. The school's math proficiency rose by 9.4 percentage points from last year and 26.1 percentage points from 2007.

At Perry, reading proficiency rose by 7.5 percentage points from last year and by 7 percentage points from 2007.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Brewed On Grant: Sophie
Wednesday, 10 August 2011 09:12
Written by Rob Rogers

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett was asked by officials at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG to name a newborn sea lion. Corbett chose former Pittsburgh Mayor and malaprop queen, Sophie Masloff, as his inspiration. While I applaud his choice of Sophie, many of his other choices are not worth applauding.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Corbett names new sea lion after Sophie Masloff
Monday, August 08, 2011

Gov. Tom Corbett today named the newest addition to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium -- Sophie the Sea Lion.

Shortly after the sea lion was born in June, zoo officials asked Mr. Corbett to name the animal, suggesting that he select a name that would bring to mind the governor's hometown. The pup will be moving with her mother, Callie, to the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. next spring.

"As a lifelong Pittsburgher, I can't think of a single name that evokes the spirit of this town the way 'Sophie' does," Mr. Corbett said in a news release, explaining that he chose the name in honor of former Mayor Sophie Masloff.

"Sophie Masloff isn't just one of Pittsburgh's best-loved people," Mr. Corbett added, "She is a civic institution, the smiling face and straight-on voice of a big small town."

Monday, August 8, 2011

If the Easy-Bake Oven can adapt to a world without incandescent light bulbs, then I have faith that the rest of the country can do it, too.

Easy-Bake: Change makes a bulb go off
Thursday, August 04, 2011

Congress may be pulling the plug on 100-watt light bulbs come 2012, but the ban to keep non-energy-efficient bulbs out of homes won't dim another piece of Americana -- the Easy-Bake Oven.

Since 1963, the toy appliance by Hasbro has delighted children 8 and up with trendy colors and an assortment of desserts and snacks kids could cook up thanks to the incandescent light bulb that heated the unit. This fall Hasbro plans to launch a redesigned oven with a new heating element, larger cooking chamber and extended line of goodies -- including red velvet cupcakes and pretzels -- for aspiring bakers and chefs to create.

The Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven ditches the light bulb heat source for one that is "very similar to a conventional oven," said Michelle Paolino, vice president of global brand marketing and strategy for Hasbro Girls Brands. "It heats just like a real oven ... [and] it plugs into the wall." Hasbro says the updated product maintains the same level of safety as the former model and is appropriate for the same age group.

The new oven is roomier and accompanied by larger baking pans. Each oven also comes with a cupcake pan, pan pusher/spatula and storage drawer.

To complement the upgrade, Hasbro has come up with a variety of new treats to prepare. Old favorites, such as cookies and cakes, will be joined by pizza, pretzels, brownie sticks, red velvet cupcakes, checker cakes and cinnamon twists. "What we try to do is look at what tweens are eating and what they'd want to make," Ms. Paolino said.

Although Congress' legislation largely informed the new look and makeup, Hasbro is always brainstorming how to keep toys fresh, she said. Over the past 40-plus years, the Easy-Bake Oven has undergone more than 10 makeovers that embodied colors and styles that were on-point at the time. In 1969, it boasted an avocado-green facade and an oven hood. It was designed like a microwave for a more modern flair in 2003.

While the Internet and a bevy of electronic gadgets compete for kids' attention these days, she said she is hopeful the Easy-Bake Oven won't meet the fate of the 100-watt bulb anytime soon. "We feel like baking is more relevant and cooler than ever," especially because of personalities like Martha Stewart and reality shows like TLC's "Cake Boss." "We can give kids a tool to be those next famous bakers and chefs."

The Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven is expected to arrive in toy stores nationwide in late August or early September and retail for $49.99, up from $39.99.

Friday, August 5, 2011

That's one lucky kid.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

JIM: I just got back from hanging out a bar playing pool. On a Wednesday night! Am I a party animal or what?

Now I wish I had a pool table. Or mini pool table. Hell, I'd even settle for bumper pool.

DAVE: Having a pool table at your disposal is pretty freaking great. Sometimes I think that I prefer having the mini version to a big table. I play on it everyday. However, I am still waiting for my game to get better.

JIM: Yeah, I found out last night what my game is like these days. It wasn't pretty.

DAVE: At least with the mini table, I can clearly see the ball at the end of the table when I miss the shot.

JIM: I made the comment several times while playing last night that I couldn't even see that far when I had a long shot to try to make.

DAVE: You may appreciate this. In my building, there is now an army soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan living below me, and the young woman who lives above me has been seeing a Pittsburgh policeman in recent months.

JIM: You appear to be surrounded.

So, we've been getting fracked since 1982 . . .

EPA in 1987 found fracking fouled well water in W.Va
Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A 1987 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finding, which the agency has ignored for years, concluded that hydraulic fracturing of a deep natural gas well in Jackson County, W.Va., contaminated groundwater and private wells.

Although the gas drilling industry has repeatedly claimed that such "fracking" operations in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale natural gas fields pose no threat to rural underground aquifers, groundwater and drinking water wells, EPA investigators concluded a gas well drilled and fracked by the Kaiser Gas Co. in 1982 did contaminate groundwater.

The EPA finding was unearthed by Environmental Working Group, which conducted a year-long investigation of the incident and released a report on the finding, "Cracks in the Facade," today.

According to the 35-page report by EWG, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that does health and environmental research, several abandoned natural gas wells near the more than 4,000 foot deep Kaiser gas well could have been conduits that allowed fracking gel to migrate into a water well. The gel is a common chemical additive in fracking fluid, which is pumped deep underground under high pressure to crack the shale formation and release the gas it contains.

"When you add up the gel in the water, the presence of abandoned wells and the documented ability of drilling fluids to migrate through these wells into underground water supplies, there is a lot of evidence that the EPA got it right and that this was indeed a case of hydraulic fracturing contamination of groundwater," said Dusty Horwitt, EWG's senior oil and gas analyst and author of the organization's report.

"Now it's up to the EPA to pick up where it left off 25 years ago and determine the true risks of fracking so that our drinking water can be protected," he said.

The EWG report recommends that local, state and federal governments implement a moratorium on fracking near drinking water supplies until a comprehensive risk evaluation is performed. The drilling industry has hydraulically fractured hundreds of thousands of wells since the EPA made its determination, and in 2002 combined fracking with horizontal drilling in the Barnett Shale formation in Texas. The industry has used horizontal drilling and fracking at hundreds of Marcellus Shale deep gas wells in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland, and in other shale formations in the South and West.

In 2005 hydraulic fracturing was exempted from regulation and enforcement under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act based on a 2004 EPA study of fracked methane wells in coal beds that found minimal risk to well water supplies.

The EPA, as ordered by Congress, last year launched a $1.9 million study of fracking's impacts. The study is scheduled to end in January.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dog days can be deadly for pets
Saturday, July 30, 2011
By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The dog days of summer are no fun at all for dogs. Dog days are downright deadly when temperatures topping 90 degrees are coupled with high humidity.

I've seen people walking panting dogs during the height of the midday heat. I'd like to stop my car, get out, smack them in the head and ask, "What are you thinking?"

Pablo Wilson Fuoco isn't very happy right now. Our family's thick-coated cocker spaniel has been benched for more than a week because it's too hot to walk. He's clearly under-exercised, bored and annoyingly clingy, but he's panting even inside our air-conditioned house.

I think a breed's long-distant country of origin has current effects. Cocker spaniels were bred in England to hunt birds, for hours on end, in the cooler climes of northern Europe. Pablo is unstoppable on winter walks, and I've never seen him shiver.

In the summer Pablo is eager to walk, but he pants and drools and will stop and sit when he's had enough.

Some dogs would joyfully and endlessly walk or fetch balls until they collapse in extreme heat. That includes Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers. Both breeds hail from cold countries where they were bred to have great endurance and a high tolerance for pain so they could hunt all day. Several years ago, a 2-year-old golden retriever died in Pittsburgh during a five-mile fundraising walk held on a very hot day. The dog gave no signs that he needed to stop.

If you walk dogs in the heat, you must carry water for them and look for the danger signs.

Signs of severe heat stress include heavy panting, increased heart rate, glassy eyes, staggering walk, vomiting and diarrhea, according to a news release from Animal Friends. They may have trouble breathing, have seizures or collapse, a news release from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society cautions.

Contact a veterinarian immediately. Take immediate steps to cool them down, but the cooling must be gradual. Move the pet out of the sun. Wrap legs and feet with wet towels. Immerse the pet in cool water -- but not ice-cold water. Apply ice packs to the head, neck and chest and provide cool drinking water.

Hot pavement can literally burn the pads of pet feet, according to veterinarians at the Banfield Pet Hospitals. Dogs can't sweat like people and can only cool down through their paw pads and by panting. Walking on hot streets and sidewalks makes it harder for them to cool off.

Here's a tip from me: The Mushers Secret Wax that protects paws from snow and ice in the winter protects against hot pavement and hot sand at the beach. It conditions and softens paw pads that are dry or cracked, and it will not stain furniture, floors or rugs.

Dogs and other animals can die if left outside in extreme heat without shade and water. But dogs and cats can overheat inside houses and apartments that are not air-conditioned, especially pets that are older, overweight or suffering from heart or lung diseases.

Also at high risk are flat-faced animals such as pugs, English bulldogs and Persian cats because they cannot pant and cool off as quickly as animals with long noses.

Years ago, I lived with a pug named Twerp in a house without air conditioning. Morning and night, in extreme heat, she got a quick dip in the bath tub. She liked it so much she would jump into the tub even when it wasn't hot. Twerp lived to be 17 years old.

You can soak towels in cold water, wring them out and put them on tile floors for your pets to lie on, suggests the Humane Society. I can't imagine most cats would like this, but it's worth a shot.

Cooling vests, wraps and mats are sold at the Humane Domain page ( the Humane Society of the United States. Dogs can lie on the Keep Cool Mat ($24.95-$54.95) that uses water-absorbent crystal beads to keep pets cool while keeping their fur dry. After soaking the mat in water for 15-20 minutes, the mat stays plumped up for up to three days.

Police officers and humane officers from animal shelters are working long hours investigating reports of animals left outside in the sun. Some of those owners will be prosecuted.

Never leave pets in hot cars, not even for a few minutes. Canines and babies and toddlers die agonizing deaths in hot cars.

The most recent and horrific victims are veterinarian Karen Murphy and her son Ryan. Virginia authorities charged the mother with felony murder after Ryan, 2, died June 17 in a hot car. Ms. Murphy had forgotten to drop Ryan off at day care before she went to work.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

DAVE: How was the shore?

JIM: Shore was good. My head is a little sunburned though. Did I tell you that right before going to the shore the week before I got the first buzz cut of my life? I never had to worry about my scalp getting sunburned before, so I didn't even think about it.

DAVE: You got a buzz cut? Why? Are you losing your hair? As you may recall from your last few visits, I was sporting a bit of a buzz cut for a while. I looked awful, but I was dealing with depression, and the look of my hair was a low priority. But now that I'm feeling better, my hair is back and looking good.

JIM: I did it just to try it. My wife doesn't like it, so I don't think I'll ever be doing it again.

DAVE: I think it's something that every guy has to do once in his life. It's like women with long hair who once in their lives get their hair cut short just to try it out. Men or women, sometimes it works out, but I think most of the time, it is a disaster. It does make getting ready in the morning a little easier, though.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Focker's thoughts on baseball . . .

I saw the Pirates and Phillies play yesterday at Citizens Bank Park. Before I went, I was going to commence a re-familiarization with sports so I could at least "talk the talk" with all the meatheads, neanderthals, working-class stiffs, and other interesting folk who follow sports religiously.

Besides, it could loosen me up a bit and add some "fun" to my otherwise increasingly Presbyterian austere-like existence.

Well, the game yesterday was like being at a Christian revival concert or something. Or maybe it was more like being transported to an alien-like netherworld. Everyone takes 4 hours out of an otherwise glorious summer day so they can pay $50 (yes, $50!!!!!!!!!!) to bake in 95 degree sunshine at the highest levels of the ballpark, sweat all day, drink $7.25
beer, and somehow pay attention to this game that crawls along as slowly as paint dries. I was dying for players to get out so the game would end. Guys brought their girlfriends and they both would have Phillies t-shirts on. So cute.

A good amount of Pirates fans were there as well. When the Bucs did well, they would cheer. Some of the Phillies fans would then heckle them. Back and forth, like children at a high school basketball game or something. "I like Pirates!" "I like Phillies!"

OK, enough of my sarcasm and cynicism. I actually will go back, and am going to try and keep an eye more closely on the Phils, but it all still makes me wonder about the attraction of this game. I think you just need to be raised with the sport, and needs to be a tradition in your family.
I saw the East End's famous marathon walker Crazy Steve walking down Fifth Avenue on Saturday night. It's been a while since I've seen him. But these days he is gray and looks worn, and his steady pace has visibly slowed. But he's still around, and he's still walking the streets.