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Culture

Training women for office

An observer of the Legislature might conclude there’s something rotten in Harrisburg. Whether it’s the middle-of-the night pay raise in 2005 or recent revelations about the legislators’ fatuous bonus expenses, it’s clear where their interests lie. And with 253 of them, we have the most state legislators in the nation (except for New Hampshire’s anomalous, …

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Hold That Thought—Now’s the Time to Act

“Things do not change; we change.”—Henry David Thoreau Soon you will be asked to choose the purpose, shape, size and basic character of your local government. Fellow citizens are organizing now to ask you whether to reorganize the many layers and types of local government that have defined Allegheny County for almost 250 years. The …

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Song of Lawrenceville

As a child growing up in Pittsburgh in the ’50s, I thought that Lawrenceville was named for our mayor and that the soldier statue at Butler and 34th Street was David L. Lawrence as a young man. Umm, wrong. The immortal soldier who guards “Larryville” from his circular pedestal at Doughboy Square is a World …

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Almost Human

Who says you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?! In his new book, “Almost Human: Making Robots Think,” Lee Gutkind, the guru of creative nonfiction, does just that; using his literary skills to transform prosaic material about machines into an exuberant celebration of human creativity. Not that the topic isn’t interesting. …

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Who is That Guy, Anyway?

Collecting is an addictive passion. My wife and I collect architect-designed chairs, carved and inlaid wood items, textiles, bakelite dress clips, pre-Revolutionary maps of New England, miniature hats and, perhaps the strangest, glass swizzle sticks with a Pittsburgh provenance. My main collecting interest over the past 25 years has been fine art prints and watercolors of …

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Reading Between the Lines

In September, Block Communications announced that if it’s unable to reach satisfactory agreements with its unions by Dec. 31, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette may be sold. News outlets reported it as a provocative salvo in stalled negotiations, but it would be a mistake to view the release as posturing. Several facts shed light on the situation …

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From the Outside In

Pittsburgh has always left vivid impressions on the mind of the outsider. For some reason, however, visiting writers have been less kind to Pittsburgh than visiting artists. Over 20 years ago, flying to this city for the first time, I was reading a 1927 essay by H.L. Mencken, describing his view of Western Pennsylvania from …

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The Real George

The blood splatters on the lawn would wash away with the next rain, but Mary and I knew the crimson stains on the tree trunk would be there a long time. The most jarring moments came when we encountered the body on the floor, head half shot away. His name was Trevor, and he lay …

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Which Came First?

It is almost invisible now, a ghost of a building squatting in the shade of looming hemlocks at the edge of the highway. Though it’s now rundown and overgrown, the brooding brilliance of the place endures. You still can see its crisp, horizontal lines formed by the distinctive, rough-hewn rocks, laid by hand three-quarters of …

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The Life of an Ex-CEO

Leaving a job after 10 or 15 years is more like mourning the loss of a close friend than it is a career change. Think about it. You spend 20 years of your life sleeping, five years going the bathroom and 80 percent of what’s left working. So your job is a big part of …

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From the Publisher, Winter 2007

Eight years ago, working at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I suggested that the city editor have someone check the number of sunny days we’d seen, or rather the lack of them. Weather stories tend to bore journalists, and no one checked. When I finally did, it turned out we’d had four sunny days in four months. …

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Stocks & Pedestal, Winter 2007

Mayor Tom Murphy used to decry the lack of risk-tolerant Pittsburgh developers willing to invest in the city. In Damian Soffer, the city found the perfect partner. Together, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Soffer turned blight into beauty and created the dynamic Southside Works. The URA bought and remediated the land, and Soffer brought the …

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Song of Weirton

We talk about living in the Tri-State Area, figuratively. The “we” in Weirton live in it literally. My waitress at Mario’s Italian Restaurant on Main Street is a fine example: She’s wearing a black-and-gold, No. 7 Roethlisberger jersey as she serves up the boss’s home-and-handmade spaghetti, while a poster behind her proudly announces Dean Martin …

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Pipe Dream

It’s Saturday night at Oakland’s Sphinx Café. To the right, inside the cavernous, old church, musicians chat with the owner about an upcoming gig. On the left, sipping tea, a trio of men joke in Arabic. In the rest of the dim interior, small groups cluster around low tables, resting on brightly colored pillows. They …

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The Lay of the Land

Have you ever stopped to ponder to what extent anatomy — or more correctly, topography — is destiny in the historical development and popular perception of Pittsburgh? Martin Aurand has. In an ambitious, new publication from the University of Pittsburgh Press titled “The Spectator and the Topographical City,” he endeavors to explain how three of …

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The Sword Over the City

There is a problem in the center of our region that almost defies description in one peculiar aspect.  Somehow, the larger it gets, the more invisible it becomes. The problem is debt. The City of Pittsburgh owes almost $1.2 billion, most of it borrowed over the last 15 years. It must pay another $400 million …

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The RSVP: An Art Lost?

Many years ago, when Sam Menefee was a student at Oxford, he would arrange to meet a friend for dinner by leaving a handwritten note in the pigeonhole, or mailbox, of his friend. The friend would respond by leaving a note in Sam’s pigeonhole. The charming and humorous notes were part of a wonderful tradition …

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Andy’s Not the Only One

Sometimes when trying to assess the importance of any one artist, I am reduced to playing the auction trick. What’s it worth? People who have pooh-poohed Andy Warhol think twice when they hear one of his paintings sells for $14 million. It may be the wrong road to art appreciation, but in our glib, new …

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Capital ideas

Currents in the nation’s philanthropic world continue to take their lead from Western Pennsylvania patterns and people. In May, the Council on Foundations held its annual meeting in Pittsburgh, co-hosted by the Heinz Endowments and the Pittsburgh Foundation. At the meeting, the Council chose Heinz’s Max King as its new chairman. The other major national …

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Pittsburgh Roars & the Pirates

On a pedestal: Pittsburgh roars ahead Western Pennsylvania has never been a place where marketing held much sway.  The companies that supplied the oil, steel, glass, aluminum and money for America’s expansion didn’t need to market. America called on them. Marketing may even have been somewhat distasteful in Pittsburgh, where understatement is a virtue. Times …

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Say What?

If you think it’s hard understanding a George Will editorial, you ought to spend time with the technology intelligentsia as they evaluate a prospective investment in a start-up company. Every industry has its own vernacular, but this gang can befuddle the most erudite among us. Show me the money: names for start-up investors In the …

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From the Publisher, Fall 2006

On my last night on the island I sat down to pen this column. Ahead lay fall and a return to the world of squeezing productivity from every minute of the day. On the porch of the old house overlooking the water, I considered what I was leaving behind. On the far shore of the …

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