Friday, February 29, 2008

Let The Games Begin .....



Voices Concerns About Process and Absence of Public Scrutiny

Pittsburgh, February 29, 2008….City Councilman Bruce A. Kraus announced today that he will introduce a resolution on Tuesday, March 4, 2008, asking Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to rescind the LED sign zoning approval granted to Lamar Advertising for the Grant Street Transportation Center. The approval was granted without being brought before the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board, or City Council.

The no-bid agreement was the subject of a lengthy special meeting this week during which Council Members questioned Planning Director Noor Ismail, Zoning Administrator Susan Tymoczko, City Solicitor George Specter, URA Director Pat Ford, and Pittsburgh Parking Authority head David Onorato.

“Though Council had the opportunity to engage in an extensive review of the events leading up to the deal with Lamar, there are just too many significant questions that remain unanswered,” said Kraus. “Council needs to understand whether the intent of the law was followed and how the absence of proper process excluded any possibility of public input or scrutiny.”

The Councilman is also asking David Onorato, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, to rescind or invalidate the lease agreement. “A lease agreement has the potential to provide significant revenue to the city,” said Kraus. “However, just like the zoning matter, the lease did not receive Board Action.”

Kraus notes that City Council recently joined in signing a pledge with the Mayor and Controller’s Office that is to improve governance in Pittsburgh. “It is critical that we adhere to that pledge,” said Kraus. “Whenever public property and public funds are involved, it is incumbent upon elected officials to assure our citizens that their government is working in their best interest.”

(Will Of Council Below)

WHEREAS, following a recent fact finding meeting held by City Council on the issue of an LED Sign for the new Transportation Center, City Council believes the Zoning Department, in consultation with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, acted in error regarding its interpretation of the language and regulations contained in the Pittsburgh Code; and

WHEREAS, while language is often subject to legal interpretation, it is clear that the authors of the Home Rule Charter and the Pittsburgh Code of Ordinances clearly intended to ensure that the right of the people to participate in major decisions, particularly land use matters, was the foundation for the very existence of the Regulations; and

WHEREAS, given the current controversy over the zoning process, and the fact that the Mayor and all Members of City Council recently signed a formal pledge that prioritized “excellence in service, increased access to and confidence in all City services by ensuring equity for all Pittsburghers;” and also committed to “improve the quality of life for future generations by identifying current land use opportunities and challenges facing the City” and “ensure the ethical operation of the offices,” it is only appropriate that the matter of the LED Sign be rescinded at this juncture.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh hereby requests that the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh direct the City Zoning Administrator to take the necessary steps to rescind the current permit issued to Lamar Advertising for approval of an LED Sign on the Transportation Center, and direct that a new application be filed and processed under the guidelines of a Conditional Use Application as outlined in the City Code; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh also requests that the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority rescind the Lease Agreement between Lamar Advertising and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.


And The Cheese Stands Alone .....

WQED’s “On Q” hosted a special edition town hall meeting on the controversy surrounding “Bodies: The Exhibition”. Moderated by Chris Moore, the show’s expert panel included Director Joanna Haas from the Carnegie Science Center (host of the exhibit) as well as other area leaders in the fields of religion, science and ethics.

The evening provided not one, not two, but actually three surprises. The initial surprise was that the Carnegie Science Center agreed to appear in such an unscripted, public forum. I wrongly surmised that there must be a fair amount of support for the Center among the other panelists or the Center would not have braved the event in the first place. But I was wrong. The only panelist and maybe the only person in the entire studio to communicate any meaningful support for the exhibit was Dr. Karl Williams, the Allegheny County Medical examiner. Every other expert guest expressed varying degrees of moral and ethical concern. Every audience comment, whether on camera or off, was not a happy one. Groans and heavy sighs were commonplace.

The final surprise of the evening was the weakness and often downright silliness of the arguments put forth by the Science Center. Every flawed statement uttered by Ms. Haas was immediately put down by multiple parties. I would have felt sorry for her had the subject matter not been so very gruesome.

Ms. Haas opened by saying the decision to host the exhibit was a strategic one. The exhibit would provide the general public with a view of the human body previously only afforded the medical profession. Since their mission was to promote science education to the masses, they reasoned this unique opportunity was one they could not pass up.

Dr. Alan Meisel, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Bioethics and Health Law agreed there was obvious educational benefit to the exhibit. He cautioned that there was just something inherently wrong with this display, however. “In 50 years we will look back at this like it was a circus side-show. There are other ways to educate the public. Even now, frog dissections have been abolished in high school. Out of respect for the frog, we do the dissections by computer. Shouldn’t we respect a human as much as we respect a frog?”

Dr. Meisel went on to say that sometimes the best educational method may actually be the most undesirable choice. “I would imagine that the best way to teach Sex Ed would be to provide paid-for sex partners. But I can’t imagine anyone would think this approach would be appropriate no matter how successful the results were.”

Dr. Scott Miller, Chief of Medical Ethics at Allegheny General Hospital agreed with Dr. Meisel. He said the exhibit provided some educational value, but the same end results could be achieved in a different manner. He was troubled by the controversy of how the bodies had been obtained.

Ms. Haas tried to convince the crowd that all possible “due diligence” had been done. “Even 20/20 ended their show saying there was no conclusive evidence one way or another. We have belief in our documentation. These are unclaimed bodies or people who have given their consent.”

Bad move on Ms. Haas’ part. The crowd took off their gloves at this point.

“Do we really need absolute proof,” chimed Dr. Miller, “or is reasonable doubt good enough with something this important?”

Dr. Meisel agreed that the due diligence standard in this instance should be extremely high but opined that the standards applied by the Science Center “were not high enough for me.”

Father Jim Wehner from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh said that moral framework was extremely important and that the end never justified the means. “The church was initially provided with information [from the Science Center] which said a good faith effort had been made to authenticate the bodies. But was there really enough investigation?”

Rabbi Daniel Schiff of the Agency for Jewish Learning pulled no punches. “This is no way to treat our dead. We have a responsibility to treat an unclaimed body with the same respect that we’d give a relative. And the question of consent is not even part of the issue. At issue is what moral standards do we wish for our society and culture? If I were to give consent to offer my body as food, for example….. If I agreed to have my body cut, packaged and sold at the grocer’s ….. Would our culture agree and abide with my wishes? Of course not. I am condemning this exhibit. We’re not importing cheese here. These are human beings we are talking about.”

Ms. Haas said their intent was the best. She reminded the panel that the Center had engaged many of them prior to contracting the exhibit as part of their “due diligence” on community perceptions and concerns. The Science Center was a prestigious organization after all and would never engage in anything untoward. Besides, the body exhibits had been touring the country for a few years by now. Pittsburgh and the Science Center were not the first to host the bodies. Other cities had concerns but had already worked through them. Ms. Haas was sure we would work through our concerns as well.

Another bad move.

Dr. Meisel lit into her. “I hate to have to remind you that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. You can’t just say, ‘Oh well, everyone else is doing it.’ And, ‘We’re prestigious and we’re making a lot of money.’ These are not good excuses.”

“Sure, you consulted with us at first,” the Rabbi said to Haas. “But you already had your mind made up. You were going to believe Premier no matter what we said and we knew it.”

Dr. Jim Weber, Professor of Business Ethics at Duquesne University sort of came to Ms Haas’ defense. “Just because something is profitable does not make it unethical. However we need to be very careful as to where these bodies come from. There is a pattern with China that raises questions. I have my concerns. I think we need greater certainty.”

You would think Haas would decide to just shut up and smile at this point. But no. She embarked upon the silly segment of her justification. She proudly proclaimed that the exhibit had prompted patrons to adopt a healthier and more responsible lifestyle. She anecdotally recounted how many people said they would quit smoking after seeing the diseased lung. And a surprising number of people had filled out organ donor cards, she chirped.

Groans were audible at this point.

“If this is such a fantastic way to get people to quit smoking …… then why are you charging a fee for this exhibit? Don’t you wish poor people to be healthy too? If this is in fact the case, the government should just take our cigarette tax money and pay for these exhibits to come to every school in every city instead of you charging admission to a few.”

Commander Maurita Bryant, Head of Pittsburgh Homicide, simply said she had not seen the exhibit and didn’t have plans to go. “I see too many dead bodies in my work every day. The hard part is trying to comfort the family of someone who’s been murdered. But there are always strangers who also gather around just to look and laugh and make jokes. Its hard to see this too. I wouldn’t want to go to the exhibit and have to see people pointing and laughing at those bodies there.” Commander Bryant went on to say she was currently an organ donor, but was now reconsidering that decision.

Everyone but Haas laughed. She had no more arguments. She finally decided it was time to just shut up and smile.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Sign That Is Not A Sign

From left to right: Ravenstahl’s bodyguard, Ravenstahl’s father, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, “Development Czar” Pat Ford

A copy of yesterday’s televised marathon City Council post-agenda on zoning irregularities must be saved for posterity. As every history buff knows, there are specific points in time which denote the exact moment something passes from one state to another. The turning point of a war, for example. Or something liquid passing into a gaseous state. Or the moment of conception, the moment cancer metastasizes, the moment irreconcilably-different words come out of one’s mouth and you can never take them back.

These defining moments have happened a billion times a day since the beginning of time. But rare is the occurrence when such a moment is captured on film. This, my dear readers, is what happened yesterday. We televised what a civilization looks like just prior to the moment it looses its capacity for language, logical thought, hierarchical structure and commonplace functionality.

At issue was a Lamar Advertising LED billboard for the Grant Street Transportation Center which was approved without City Council or public discourse. City Council contended that such a structure requires “conditional usage” approval from the Zoning Department and Council. Having received neither, Council argued the billboard was not legal. Planning Director Noor Ismail, URA Executive Director Pat Ford and Zoning Administrator Susan Tymoczko all agreed that the 20x60 ft object which would be lit using electricity and would display advertising, messages and images…..was NOT a sign, “electronic” or otherwise. In fact, all three agreed the object in question had yet to be defined, did not exist yet in our governmental or human lexicon, and therefore no codes or regulations applied to it.

When asked for his opinion on such a preposterous assertion, City Solicitor George Specter said he would have to think about it, he’d have to study the matter, and it would take him at least two weeks to come to a final decision.

Ergo, our city was caught on tape at the exact moment before being thrust into our very own chapter of the next Dark Ages.

The details ……

Noor Ismail
Even though she is the Director of City Planning and Susan Tymoczko (below) reports to her, she only heard of or knew of the not-a-sign “in passing.” She never officially spoke to the mayor, the URA or the city law department about the matter. In fact, she was only made aware of Susan Tymoczko’s decision “after the fact.”

Susan Tymoczko
Using the vast knowledge she has acquired in her long city planning career, Tymoczko 1) Decided this LED billboard was not a sign 2) Said something powered by electricity was not “electronic” 3) Concluded the not-a-sign was not a “new or changed structure” 4) Concluded it was not a “change to the building’s exterior” even though the not-a-sign-certainly-not-an-electronic-sign was being built as part of the building’s exterior and was a change to the building’s originally approved form. 5) Was not aware that Zoning had previously denied a permit for this very same not-a-sign on this very same building. 6) Did not seek legal counsel from the city even though the only legal opinion made part of the application was that of the applicant’s own attorneys. And said attorneys of course advised Tymoczko as to all the reasons why the sign-that-is-not-a-sign should be allowed. 7) Notarized the not-a-sign application herself even though a notary is not supposed to notarize any document relating to any transaction where they themselves play a part. Tymoczko played an integral part in the application process as she was approving it. 7) Did consult on this matter with URA Director Pat Ford (below) who is not in her chain of command, is not even a city employee and therefore has no decision-making powers in such city matters. 8) Failed to consult with her official direct supervisor, Noor Ismail (above).

Pat Ford
The most awesome Super City Planner ever to roam the earth. Mr. Ford keeps copious notes of every conversation he has ever had with anyone in his life and indexes them for date, time and probably other super-secret designations that he would rather kill for than divulge. Ford testified 1) He’s a court-designated zoning expert and that this not-a-sign was the most debated, studied and researched not-a-sign in his 20 yrs of super-duper experience. 2) He thinks it would be unfair to deny city employees his vast reservoir of knowledge just because he has been promoted so quickly and so many times and now has no direct supervisory role with regards to said city employees. 3) He personally counseled O’Connor and Ravenstahl on this deal and “takes full responsibility” for it. 4) The not-a-sign approval was not based in code because there is no code for objects which are not signs and this object is clearly not a sign. 5) Approval was based upon action taken in 2003 whereby Lamar was allowed one new LED not-a-sign for every six regular signs they took down. The 2003 deal was struck because that was when the city discovered they had no laws regulating objects that looked like signs but were not. So instead of enacting zoning regulations for these overlooked objects, the city chose to “set a precedent” allowing them to do whatever they wanted to do at that moment. 6) Ford chose to continue with the 2003 precedent rather than clear up the “loophole/gray area” because QUOTE: “I liked the technology, [Ravenstahl] liked the technology, we had received no complaints, so I went ahead with it.”

Anne Marie Lubaneau (Correction thanks to ADB)
Ms. Lubaneau is the Executive Director of the Community Design Center of Pgh and member of the Planning Dept Design Committee. Ms. Lubaneau was on the Design Committee in 2004 when the LED sign was first proposed for the Grant Street garage and was DENIED. Lubaneau was also the ONLY person who testified yesterday that the LED object in question was in fact a real sign and should be regulated per existing zoning codes pertaining to signs.

Other troubling discoveries from yesterday’s testimony:
o An organizational chart exists which shows that City Planning reports to the URA even though this is an illegal arrangement because the URA is not a city entity and therefore has no legal jurisdiction or administrative oversight of any city functions. URA Director Pat Ford extrapolated his sign-is-not-a-sign logic to conclude that the organizational chart was not really an organizational chart …. It was an “Informational Hierarchy.”

o The city has already turned over $12 million to the URA in 2008, but the URA has no approved budget for 2008.

o Ford and Ravenstahl are planning a consolidation of City Planning and the URA (even though one is a city entity and the other is state) and they have not shared these plans with City Council nor have they asked Council to participate in the process.

o Councilman Patrick Dowd seemed more perturbed at the meeting's length than the blatent illegalites and incompetencies before him. Dowd also seemed unconvinced that his responsibility is to not only enact laws, but to also make sure they are executed as written.

o It will take City Solicitor George Specter two weeks to decide if a sign is in fact a sign.

Bottom line? Council President Doug Shields says he’s troubled that no one can give him the definition for a sign. “It unfortunately looks like we are headed to court.” Shields bemoaned. Unless, of course, the city can no longer define what a court is by that time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bodies Reminder

Pictured Above: ABC’s 20/20 hidden camera photographs workers preparing “Bodies” at China’s garbage-strewn “Dalian Medical University Plastination Laboratory”

WQED is holding a special town hall edition of “On Q” to discuss the controversial “Bodies” exhibit presently running at the Carnegie Science Center. There has been such unprecedented interest in this production, WQED will air the live discussion tomorrow as planned from 7:30 to 8pm, but will continue a live feed until 9pm on WQED Neighborhood Channel (13.3 digital), on WQED-HD and will be streamed live on WQED Interactive at

If you wish to attend, it may be best to arrive early to get a seat:

What: Town Hall Meeting on the ethics and issues surrounding “Bodies … The exhibition” at Carnegie Science Center
When: Thursday, February 27th, broadcast begins at 7:30pm
Where: WQED, 4802 Fifth Ave in Oakland, Studio A
- Joanna E. Haas, Director, Carnegie Science Center
- Dr. Karl Williams, Allegheny County Medical Examiner
- Dr. Alan Meisel, Founder and Director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Bioethics and Health Law
- Commander Maurita Bryant, City of Pittsburgh Police, Head of Homicide
- Dr. Scott Miller, MD, MA, Chief of Medical Ethics, Allegheny University of the Health Sciences, Allegheny General Hospital
- Dr. Jim Weber, Professor of Business Ethics and Management and Director of the Beard center for Leadership and Ethics at Duquesne University
- Rabbi Dan Schiff, Agency for Jewish Learning
- Father Chris Stubna, Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

Interest in this program has not been limited to just the local level. Harry Wu, noted Chinese human rights activist wanted to lend his voice to the panel, but inquired too late to be included. Instead, On Q host Chris Moore offered Harry an hour on Chris’ KDKA Sunday talk show. Mr. Wu spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps so he will undoubtedly have invaluable first-hand information to share.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Check Is In The Mail, I’ll Call You In The Morning, And The “Bodies” Gave Their Consent

After China has produced ....
- Children's toys coated with lead
- Children's toys coated with the 'Date Rape" drug
- Exploding cell phone batteries
- Exploding tires
- Tainted antibiotics
- Poisoned pet food
- Unstable fireworks
- Fake birth control pills and HIV drugs
- Tainted leukemia drugs causing paralysis
- Candy, pickles, crackers and seafood laced with formaldehyde
- Bogus rabies vaccinations
- Baby formula containing only 6% of nutrients needed to sustain a baby
- Toothpaste & cough medicine laced with antifreeze
- Fish loaded with antibiotics
- Dried apples preserved with carcinogens
- "Farm raised" scallops & sardines coated with putrefying bacteria (from feces)
- Mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides
- Prunes tinted with unsafe chemical dyes
- Fruit, juice & bean curd found by the FDA to be "filthy"
- Poisonous swordfish, eel
- Deadly Puffer Fish "mislabeled" as Monkfish
- Moth larva in chocolates
- Pesticide tainted dumplings
- Defective space heaters causing fires
- Pork from pigs fattened with force-fed wastewater
- Lard made from sewage
- Dairy cows given so many antibiotics, yogurt cannot be made from their milk
- Hairdryers with electrocution hazards
- Unsafe electric extension cords
- Overheating Boomboxes prone to catching fire
- Flammable baby clothes
- Collapsing recliner chairs
- Etc., etc., etc., etc .........

Are we really going to take them AT THEIR WORD that the "Bodies" being peddled over at the Carnegie Science Center are actually those of people who have "died of natural causes"? Or gave their permission to be skinned and posed shooting hoops so millions could be "educated" and a few could make millions? Even though many in the medical field say the corpses look like people who were without disease and in the prime of their life? Even though the Chinese government either has not or cannot provide any consent papers? Even though China's crimes against humanity are well-documented and on-going? We are going to take them at their word NOW?????

PA Rep Michael Fleck is sponsoring a bill that would regulate traveling exhibits of human corpses. "I'm ashamed to say this needed to be done long ago, but at least we're working on it now," Mr. Fleck said. "If we regulate taxidermy and funeral directors, we should regulate this."

The legislation has 20 co-sponsors so far, but NONE from our area. Come on, guys. This one is a no-brainer. China is a modern-day monster for all they routinely butcher and torture. The only thing worse than a monstrous butcher is the enlightened "educator and purveyor of fine art" who profits from this abomination.

The biggest surprise of all? That it’s the venerated Carnegie Science Center that turns out to be the profit-mongering body-merchant in the Pittsburgh segment of this grisly horror flick.

Contact our area state representatives to let them know we are repulsed:
Dan Frankel-23 <>
John Maher-40 <>
Thomas Petrone-27 <>
Mark Mustio-44 <>
Mike Turzai-28 <>
Harry Readshaw-36 <>
Sean Ramaley-16 <>
Frank Dermody-33 <>
Anthony DeLuca-32 <>
David Levdansky-39 <>
Chelsa Wagner-22 <>
Marc Gergely-35 <>
Joe Preston-24 <>
Paul Costa-34 <>
Don Walko-20 <>
Joseph Markosek-25 <>
Randy Vulakovish-30 <>
Jake Wheatley-19 <>
Nick Kotik-45 <>
William Kortz-38 <>
Lisa Bennington-21 <>
Jessie White-46 <>
Matthew Smith-42 <>

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bodies: Even a Guinea Pig Knows Better

Pictured Above: Premier Exhibition CEO Arnie Geller and the “Dalian University Plastination Laboratory” where exhibition bodies are procured and prepared.

By this time many Pittsburghers have undoubtedly been thrilled and enlightened by the sliced and diced cadavers on display at the Carnegie Science Center courtesy of Premier Exhibitions. “Bodies: The Exhibition” has created tidal waves of controversy as it has toured this country and the globe. Locally, the controversy took the form of one very brave, principled woman, Elaine Catz. Elaine was the Science Center’s education coordinator for 11 years prior to her resignation in protest of the exhibit. Catz warned the Science Center that the “plastinated” bodies on display were those of Chinese prisoners. She offered evidence that the Chinese government routinely executed prisoners IN ORDER TO harvest their bodies and body parts, IN ORDER TO keep their lucrative black market organ and body industry flush with new “inventory.” Instead, the Carnegie Science Center closed their eyes, ignored the grisly facts before them and chose the mega-profits associated with hosting an exploitative freak-show that reads like an artistic collaboration between the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer and Josef Mengele.

Nationally, the controversy prompted ABC’s 20/20 to look into the matter, sending investigative reporter Brian Ross to China to gather the facts. Those facts were quite sobering:

* Premier CEO Arnie Geller insists that all the bodies in his exhibition were legitimately acquired from a respected source ……China’s Dalian Medical University. But when asked, the university’s president flatly denied that they supply bodies to Geller or any other body merchant.

* Geller says the bodies are “prepared” at the Dalian University Plastination Laboratory. But 20/20 found there is no such lab on the university campus. Thirty miles away, however, there is a garbage-strewn property (pictured above) that uses the university’s name but has no present legal connection to it. This ramshackle location, which looks more like a Silence-of-the-Lambs workshop than a bona-fide laboratory, is where human and animal cadavers are skinned, filleted, plastinated and transformed into the “educational works of art” that Premier peddles.

* 20/20 pressed Dalian’s president and found the medical university DID own a 70% share of this “offsite” lab, but ended the collaboration when the world press started hounding them and when China made the exportation of human bodies or body parts illegal in 2006. The “university lab” is now a private company, but is still run by a professor from Dalian Medical University.

* Where does the lab get its bodies? Are they unclaimed indigents as Geller claims? Do some have papers showing the deceased gave their permission to be sliced, diced and displayed for the enormous benefit and profit of Mr. Geller? Caught on hidden camera, the lab manager told 20/20 he has no idea where the bodies come from. They just “arrive.”

* Chinese plastinated bodies can now be purchased online from a company called Corcoran Laboratories, Inc. Now isn't that special?

* The Chinese bodies come to the U.S. through the Port of Los Angeles. In order to circumvent U.S. laws regarding human remains, the bodies are listed as “plastic models” on the bill of lading. When asked about this transport description, CEO Geller says the bodies are so full of plastic that they can no longer be considered human bodies. They are basically just plastic models at this point. However, when advertising the exhibit and to attract the largest horde of gawking customers possible, Geller and all participating venues prominently advertise that people will get to see “real human bodies” when they plunk down their side-show admission fee.

Maybe this nightmare horror flick has finally had enough exposure to be outed as the abomination it actually is. Chinese-American Assemblywoman Fiona Ma from San Francisco has introduced legislation (AB 1519) which would require body importers to show proof that the corpses were legally donated. Without hard proof that the deceased agreed to become a titillating commodity, the corpse would be denied entry into this country. Says Ma: “We’ve made it a criminal offence to mutilate or violently or sexually abuse a corpse. And now in the 21st Century we have exhibits that have turned into multi-million dollar industries at the expense of someone’s son, father, daughter or unborn who do not wish to be there. This is more than dead body trafficking. This is grave robbing and abuse.” (You Tube Video)

But we as a society have become so sophisticated and enlightened, not much fazes us anymore. As one enthusiastic exhibit-goer put it: “It doesn’t bother me. I’m of the opinion that after we’re dead, we’re meat.”

But Rabbi Louis Feldstein of Atlanta feels differently: “I see a society that has turned death into entertainment. And thus what was once filled with hope and love and meaning and caring…..Another human being is now just this thing an audience can be entertained with.”

Unfortunately I think Rabbi Feldstein is speaking to a generation no longer with us. The generation who had to sift through the remains of Hitler’s death camps. The generation who was horrified that Jews had been slaughtered and that their skins were made into lampshades, their body fat made into soap.

Like Mr. “We’re Just Meat” above, today’s generation doesn’t blink at the sight of a human skin lampshade. Or a dead body skinned and posed running with a briefcase in one hand, grasping his own skin in his other hand. Skin which has been tossed casually over his own shoulder like an overcoat. No, today’s generation just proclaims these sights as “educational” and “art” and then quickly rushes to eBay or Corcoran Laboratory’s web site to purchase some of this extraordinary fine art for their own personal enjoyment.

I had the unfortunate experience of walking into an apartment yesterday where the owner had apparently “forgotten” and left two guinea pigs in a cage without food or water. One of the guineas was dead, the other was in an hysterical state. The live guinea sat on the highest perch possible, getting as far away from his dead friend as he could. He sat there screeching non-stop, making a noise I didn’t know was possible for a guinea pig. The poor little guy was thoroughly traumatized.

Yes, he wanted food and yes, he wanted water and yes, I gave him both. But most of all, the little guy wanted out of the cage where his dead friend lay soft, decaying and in a frighteningly flattened oozing form. Even Mr. Guinea Pig, with his little pea-sized brain, had the instinct (if not the intellect) to perceive the obvious difference between a dead comrade and just a piece of meat.

Postscript: Rep Christopher Smith of New Jersey is calling for a moratorium on all Bodies exhibits and asking the U.S. attorney general to investigate. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has started a probe on the exhibits in that state. And locally, WQED is holding a special televised town hall meeting edition of “On Q” on Thursday, Feb 28th at 7:30 PM. “On Q” panelists will range from the director of the Carnegie Science Center to the Allegheny County medical examiner to various religious and medical ethics leaders. If we’re lucky, this town hall session might renew and restore our human sensitivities to the level of those displayed yesterday by Mr. Guinea Pig. At least that is my hope.

Forgive My Prolonged Silence .... I've Been Down With The Flu

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I Don’t Understand. At Least I Hope I Don’t Understand.

Because of public outrage over the senseless “collateral damage” killing of a 12-yr-old girl, our local and not-so-local authorities have blitzed area gang-infested neighborhoods with a serious show of force. This show of force must have hit a mark because according to the Trib:

[Ex-Philly gang member Richard Garland] said many of the gang members said they were afraid when they heard that city, county state and federal authorities were saturating the North Side in an attempt to stop the shootings and round up known gang members. “They got worried when they saw that law enforcement is bringing all they have to the table right now,” Garland said.

Richard Garland who runs a street intervention program called One Vision One Life brokered a meeting between District Attorney Stephen Zappala and “leaders” from eight of the gangs who roam the North Side. Garland added that, “[The gang members] recognize that when a child got shot, a major line was crossed.”

The meeting produced a cease-fire agreement between the gangs in attendance. Garland hopes similar cease-fire “agreements” are arranged between the remaining 70 or so gangs who operate in the Pittsburgh area. Zappala praised the gang members who did show up for the meeting saying, “They recognize the seriousness of this situation and realize that no more children can die as part of this feud.”

???: Have they recognized that no more PEOPLE of any age should die as part of their “feud”?

???: What “serious situation” do they speak of? Is it the fact that they are murderous, drug-addicted criminals? Or that the authorities are finally breathing down their necks?

Zappala said authorities would continue to investigate active gang members but would encourage a peace agreement.

??? Does this mean authorities will back off from the blitz a bit? Now that The Surge is working, are we going to pull back our efforts to round up these miscreants? If they enter into mutual “peace agreements”? Because tough police work is just too tough to sustain in the long run?

???: Does this mean if they quit shooting each other or innocent bystanders, that we'll lay off the drug trafficking and other "lesser" criminal activity?

???: Is this Gaza or is this Pittsburgh?

I don’t understand. At least I hope I don’t understand.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Good News About Jolesa's Murder

“I can imagine that [there is] the perception that [gang violence is on the rise] …. Because you have two incidents that are relatively close together that involve young kids,” said Sgt. Mona Wallace. “As far as I can tell, there’s not a real upsurge.”

Hmmm. Seems like a lot of good “surge” news lately. The Surge in Iraq is working. And there doesn’t seem to be an Upsurge here.

Well, whether it is gang-related or not, it appears to my eye at least that violent, senseless crime is on the increase here in Pittsburgh. Our own Mayor Ravenstahl would disagree with that statement, however. In his Dec 20 inaugural address, Luke said 2007 has been “the safest year for our citizens in more than 40 years.”

Tell that to the family, friends and loved ones of Ernest Tolliver, 15 and Jolesa Barber, 12 pictured above. Jolesa was killed by a spray of bullets which pummeled the home of a relative she was visiting. And Ernest was shot, in front of his mother and sister, as they waited in a fast food drive-thru lane.

How and why does Luke think things are so rosy? Because Luke is making strides at mastering Governor Rendell’s “Law of Selectivity”. Simply stated, the Law of Selectivity says if you don’t like that which stands before you ….. Simply parse, cherry-pick, re-arrange, blend or fabricate until you come upon something that is pleasing enough to the taste and will be eventually swallowed by enough voters to be re-elected.

Luke declared our city to be the safest in 40 years by first looking at raw crime numbers which are down. True, our city’s total population is half of what it was 40 years ago, so it would be logical to expect that with half the people, you’d have half the crime. But the beauty of the Law of Selectivity is that it allows us to laud the dramatic decrease in crime numbers without considering that half the city has moved away.

Ravenstahl fabricated further good news. He told us the combined number of homicides, robberies, rapes, arsons, aggravated assaults, thefts, motor vehicle thefts and burglaries are down from previous years. True, but if you look at the number of violent crimes all by themselves ….not lumped together with car thefts …. We have a definite “surge” of violent crime.

Jolesa and Ernest were cut down before they had a chance at anything. Cut down just sitting around doing normal, boring everyday things like visiting friends or waiting for their food. Are we at all comforted by the fact that these two lives were snuffed out at the hands of gang members but that gang crime is down this year? Would we be more comforted yet if they had been killed by a crackhead flying solo, with no affiliation to any gang or group? Maybe even a crackhead from out-of-state? Are crimes committed by crackheads from out-of-state included in any of Ravenstahl’s stats or would those just selectively be placed in some other category?

Whoever did what belonging to whatever affiliation … two kids are dead. It is an ugly horrible thing. Let’s quit trying to find the best spin and put our efforts into making it go away. This isn’t Baghdad …. This is Pittsburgh.