Category Archives: Uncategorized

The slow decline of America’s most liveable city

I take no pleasure in this post. But I call ‘em as I see ‘em.

I love mass transportation. Sure, it can be a hassle sometimes, but so can sitting in a traffic jam on clogged expressways. The lifeblood of a world-class city revolves around a mass transit system that can get people around. It needs to be accessible and utilized by both the stock broker and the stock clerk, the architect and the brick layer, the young lawyer and the aged grandmother. This is how it works all over the world.

I’ve used mass transportation in many cities. I love the Metro in Paris. On one trip there, while sleep-deprived and jet lagged, I was able to figure out how to use two metro trains to get to the booking company and find the landlord of our rental apartment, who happened to be only one block from the apartment in the first place. I love the art deco signs that mark the Metro system all over Paris. I love the El in Chicago, the subways in New York, the Metro in D. C., cable cars in San Fran, and even the fairly useless Metro system in L.A. You just have to get used to taking a subway to go under a mountain when an earthquake could hit at any moment. It’s like a reverse lottery — if your number comes up, you lose.

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh’s status of most liveable city is about to go on life support. This week, the Port Authority board approved deep cuts set to go into effect on September 2. The cuts will eliminate 46 of the city’s 102 routes. Service across the city will end at 10 p.m. for all but 13 bus and rail routes. Between 400 and 500 employees will be laid off. ACCESS, the agency’s nationally recognized paratransit service for the elderly and disabled that provides 6,000 daily rides, will be reduced by 35 percent, stranding an estimated 1,800 riders. Zone 1 fares will go up a quarter, to $2.50. Ridership is expected to drop by 20 percent. That’s right, 1 of every 5 riders will be forced to either drive their cars into the city or quit their jobs or schooling. And studies show that even if the routes are restored one day, most of those folks won’t come back. They just won’t trust the system anymore.

All this because of a $64 million deficit in the P.A.’s $370 million budget. They face rising fuel costs and health insurance premiums. Their pension obligations are up 965 percent since 2005. And in the end, the Authority is legally obligated to balance their budget. Of course, this will impact the poor much more than the wealth. Money buys you options. Of course, few will care.

Conservatives will be quick to put all the blame on those evil, greedy labor unions. They would be half right, as usual. First of all, unions only exist because greedy employers used to work powerless workers on 12-hour shifts in dangerous conditions at slave wages in order to make their first million. (Don’t think they wouldn’t do it today if they could get away with it. Foxconn?) After enough workers fell into the slag pots, the minions finally realized that there was power in numbers, and they organized. In the end, there was plenty of greed on both sides of the negotiation table. Then, many decades ago, unions and their employers discovered that companies could get around wage increases by deferring money into pensions and retirement health care. Back then, many people were like my grandfather. He retired on a Friday and had a heart attack on a Sunday. In 1973, all they knew to do for heart attacks was to put him in an oxygen tent and hope for the best. He died that night, having never experienced a day of retirement. Today, they would have put him on blood thinners or blood pressure and cholesterol medication or done a bypass, and he would have had another twenty years, at least. As Hamlet said, “There’s the rub.” Retirees are living decades longer today. Heath care costs are a good 600 percent higher than in the 70s. The result is that companies and government entities can no longer meet the pension and health care obligations that they made so long ago. The pressure is on unions to give back all the gains they once accepted in lieu of pay raises.

At a time in which the city is beginning to break ground on large square blocks downtown for high-rise towers and new urban development, this will be a devastating blow to the economy of the region. At a time in which we should be investing in light rail and additional forms of public transportation, we are gutting it instead. Governor Rendell was always good at finding money in the budget at the eleventh hour. The current governor, Corbett, seems to relish the cuts. He is holding a gun to the union’s head, insisting that they give back everything they have ever bargained for before the state makes any contributions. The unions don’t trust that the state will give anything and are demanding that Corbett make a pledge of equal support first, but they mistake the Gov for someone who cares. There are many in the general public who see all unions as corrupt, evil socialist entities. Generally, these are not people who depend on bus service. Thus, there is little talk of finding additional revenue from corporate sponsorships or gas taxes or increasing the P.A.’s share of the sales tax. It all must be done through cuts in service, layoffs, and union concessions.

No one seems to have a stomach for investing in infrastructure these days. That lack of foresight will come home to roost in our city in the coming years. It’s the same mentality that is eager to throw out NASA, Planned Parenthood, and the Post Office. But hey, at least we’ve got a nifty new $523 million North Shore Connector so that people can get to the casino without having to walk over a bridge. So there’s that.

Sorry for not bringing the funny today.

Follow Fridays

This humble blog began on October 28, 2009. My first post was a short little blurb about a time when Pittsburgh was building casinos and threatening to close multiple libraries, and something about that just felt wrong. It was a time when I was bored with my job and needed an outlet for my writing. I had no pet cause or theme. It wasn’t a sports blog or a mommy blog or a home town blog. It was a little bit of everything. Whatever was on my mind that day. It’s still that way. Two and a half years and 354 posts later, we’re still going. I could probably build a bigger audience if I picked one theme or direction and stuck with it, but I would probably burn out on that in a few months. And I don’t do this to build a huge readership. I still do it as an outlet. That’s not to say that I don’t completely adore my audience. I do. Each and every day, I am humbled and amazed that anyone at all stops by to actually read what I write. I am also grateful for the small community of blogger/commenters who share their reactions and lend support. Over these past few years, we have formed at rather rag-tag community. We visit each other’s sites to contribute, encourage, and keep up with our lives. This has been an unexpected and rewarding bonus to the whole blogging thing. Some of us try to get together once a year or so, and will be doing so again this summer.

But then there is that anonymous army of people who visit your blog… only known as numbers on my statistics page. Some may be regulars who stop by to read what’s going on. Others probably end up here by accident thanks to some wayward Google search. Why, just today I received hits from Google searches for “green stamps,” “dwight d. eisenhower,” and “dog melancholy.” We aim to please. Also, Dog Melancholy would be a solid band name. I’m just sayin’.

Even knowing that these statistics are not necessarily avid fans, I’m still amazed at the numbers for my blog. I’m no blogging phenomenon. I average a very pedestrian 75 hits per day. My biggest day ever was 293 hits. But I think it’s cool that in the last seven days, I’ve had visitors from 34 countries, including 1 each from Morocco, Bahrain, and Tanzania; 2 from Sudan, and 3 from Slovakia. I’m huge in Slovakia!

But perhaps the most amazing thing is the people who have signed up to “follow” my blog just in the past few months. (You can do that by clicking the “FOLLOW” button over there on the right!) I’m amazed because my blog is all over the place and I fear that these followers come for a specific post on a certain subject. In fact, I know this is true because I see the posts in which they click the “follow” button. When I go to their blogs, I find that they have such incredibly diverse and fascinating backgrounds. And I have no idea why they would keep coming back here. But they follow, which means they get a little email every time I post. So, as a way of thank you, I’d like to share some of these followers. I hope you’ll at least go to their sites once to check out what they are doing.

Adam P. Bellotto eats and sleeps television. I know this because the name of his blog is Eat, Sleep, Television. He is a college student at Virginia Commonwealth who dissects and reviews all the shows I never watch: Mad Men (I know, I’m sorry, I never committed), Eastbound and Down, Game of Thrones, and Justified (I watch this, but on DVD and he is current, so I dare not read). I wish I watched these shows and could contribute to the conversation, but I don’t. I have HBO for three months as some kind of DirectTV promotion but once that’s over, I’m cutting it. The movies during this promotion have been horrible. I can’t justify the monthly cost. But back to Adam! He also reviews a few movies. So check him out!

Matt Lomax lives in the UK and writes Lomax Bike. It’s filled with all kinds of cycling info about the latest biking technology, gear, trips, and how many days to the Tour de France. He hit follow after my lone bike post about the opening of a trail to the Pittsburgh airport. I can only imagine his level of disappointment since then at my plethora of bike-free posts. So if you like bikes at all, or just the Brits in general, visit his site!

Then there’s Old Jules. Right there on the front page of his blog, So Far from Heaven, he tells you that he’s “69 years old, living in the middle of nowhere in the Texas Hill Country with four cats and a dozen chickens.” It’s hard to nail down Jules’ angle on things. He will not be put into a convenient ideology box. I also love how he describes himself on his “about” page: “This blog is the reflections of a man late in life carrying a brain that’s traveled a seemingly impossible, certainly unlikely, and admittedly sometimes banal journey beginning during WWII and threading through the social experiment that was the last 69 years. I’m sharing it with you because there’s almost no likelihood you’ll believe it.  I wouldn’t expect you to, you being who you are.” I love this blog because it’s like the Big Lebowski if he lived on the Texas back roads. Give it look.

Then there are the folks who have been drawn by my posts on faith. Heidi White writes In Search of Sanctuary somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. She hasn’t posted in quite a while, though, so let this be a friendly kick in the backside to “hie thee hence” and get back to it. Andrew and Sarabeth Toy only recently hit follow. They’re from Kentucky and write AdoptingJames about their process of trying to adopt their first child.

Alle is from Pittsburgh (I think, but I don’t know why I think that), and she is a huge book fan who is trying to read like 75 of the classics in the next three years. She has a list. And a plan. But she writes about other things, too, so check out Allegraphy.

Jon is a baseball hitting instructor who hit follow about 20 hours ago after my Jamie Moyer post, so he hasn’t even had time to be disappointed in me yet! I’m not sure where he hails from but if you have anyone in your life who needs instruction in the art of swatting a baseball, check out hittingmorelinedrives. Pedro Alvarez, I’m looking at you!!

Stew’s Brew is written by my cousin in Chicago. He writes some great posts on travel and food and drink and, basically, all things having to do with enjoying life a little more.

Emma is one of my dear friends here in Pittsburgh. She had a rather traumatic brain injury while on a mission trip in Mexico a few years back and continues to suffer almost constant pain and other concussion-related issues. She amazes me with her ability to cope with it all while remaining a wonderful, intelligent, funny, and fascinating person. She writes Em-anating which is full of humor, wonderment, and her desire to run in 50 races in 50 states before she turns 50. She has a couple decades to go and is well on her way, so check her out.

My last highlighted blogger is Stella Marr. She hit follow after my post on how much men suck and how women should probably be running things. I went to her site and was completely blown away by her story. She was a prostitute in New York City for ten years and now writes about the sex trade industry in her blog, My Body the City: The Secret Life of a Callgirl. She recently wrote a post featuring a letter to her younger self which is just so devastatingly beautiful. Her story is so powerful, I’m almost afraid to post responses there because what do you say to a story like that that doesn’t sound trite? Especially as a dude.

So these are some of my peeps. Baseball coaches, ex-hookers, biking Brits, old Texans, collegiate TV reviewers, classic literature fans, slightly concussed 5K runners, and much more. How do you keep this group entertained? I have no freakin’ idea, so I will just keep doin’ what I do and see what happens. Just know that I love all my peeps, including the two of you in Sudan and the three in Slovakia. Dobrý deň!

And for those of you who never say anything, dare to write a comment every now and then, just to let me know you’re out there!

Happy Follow Friday!

NHL Hockey: flying organs and high fives

Not much time for a post today. Have a wedding rehearsal and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tonight. It will be fun parking with the Pirates and Pens also playing. I have suspended myself for the rest of the Pens’ series. I watched the first three games. Didn’t watch the fourth. I can only assume that my visual presence is a deterrent to our level of play. Hence, the suspension. If the Pens pull off a series win, however, all bets are off in the next round.

But to get ready for hockey fight night in Pittsburgh, enjoy some Taiwanese animation taking on the Penguins and NHL violence. Beware: includes flying organs and actual players turning into Penguins. The Taiwanese also seem to think that hockey is played on ice covering the deep end of a swimming pool. Enjoy. And go Pens!

Random weirdness

Going back to work after nine days away is never easy. But there is something to be said for easing back into a routine. You know, knowing what you’re supposed to be doing at the various hours of the day. Having all that time off led to some pretty unfocused behavior on my part. Like shopping. I don’t shop a lot, and when I do, it’s more like a hunting expedition. I hunt for what I’m looking for. Get it as quickly as possible. And go home. It’s not something to be enjoyed or savored. But on several of my shopping trips during Thanksgiving week, I ran into things I’ve never seen before. Some so strange I took pictures. (Apologies ahead of time for the foggy state of my iPhone camera lens. Someone needs a good cleaning!)

Let’s start with this gem. Yeah, I’m like twelve years old sometimes. This was in Chicago, but it proves that the good folks at Heinz are making more than just ketchup these days. There were cans and cans of dick in this aisle. It must be some sort of ethnic Thanksgiving food because I’ve never seen it on shelves before. I’ll save you the Google. It’s some sort of English fruited pudding. Those English. So cheeky.

Back in Pittsburgh, I guess the kids are eating Fleury Flakes. I’m not exactly surprised to see sports stars getting food named after them. After the 1985 Bears’ championship, there were Bears players on everything. But I’m not sure they renamed products after them. And of all the Pens, the goalie gets the honor? I know, I know… he’s awesome. Okay, I get it. But this was the only Pens-endorsed product I could find. There was no Malkin Milk, Crosby Croutons, or Tangradi Tangaray. Deryk Engelland spotted dick? That seems like a natural.

Gotta admit. I was rather gobsmacked by this one. Right there in the Giant Eagle, I just stared at it for a good minute. And it was on one of those end-of-the-aisle shelves. A Justin Bieber singing toothbrush. God, I can’t think of anything I don’t want coming out of my foam-filled mouth more than the  Biebs’ voice. But it’s good to know that he’s concerned about the dental hygiene habits of his fan base. On the other hand, I’m sure I can think of somebody who really needs one of these this Christmas. (Hello, White Elephant gift?)

Then came Small Business Saturday. What better place to do that than the many small businesses of Lawrenceville. First stop was the vintage furniture and more store, Who New? This place has everything from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I usually walk around the place saying, “We used to have that. We used to have one of those. We totally had that.” Of course, now it’s all vintage and pricey.

Of course, all I could think of when I saw this was our good blogging friend Bluz Dude. This is so him. I can just see him in a shag-carpeted, wood-paneled basement playing “Me and Mrs. Jones” as he romanced his own Mrs. Robinson. Ah, Bluz.

The whole store is like this. You can outfit a whole room in some groovy shades and shapes.

But then, I ran into this…

What the hell kind of amateur dentistry are we practicing here? “Just make yourself comfortable, rest your head back, and let the Justin Bieber singing toothbrush do the work!”

I don’t even want to know why someone would want this chair.

On the way home, I couldn’t help snapping a shot as they begin to disassemble the Igloo. Since I didn’t spend my childhood there, I really can’t get that worked up about them tearing it down. I’ve been in it recently. It’s a dump. And my feeling is, the land should be put to the best possible use for the both the Hill District and the city. But it sure would be less painful for the city if they could just dynamite it like they did Three Rivers Stadium. Boom, one moment it’s there; the next moment it’s not. I guess dynamiting it is not an option what with all the asbestos in there. Since the Hill was devastated by building the thing, I guess we shouldn’t poison them in taking it down. It’s the least we can do.

Well, that’s a quick photo journal of my few days off. Now it’s back to a desk full of paperwork, a slog of emails to work through, and a long commute on each end.  Back to routine.

Being Thankful

Popping my head out of the Thanksgiving witness protection program long enough to attempt a post using the iPad. We are in the far-flung Chicago suburb of Burr Ridge. I sure hope there was a guy named Burr and that they didn’t name this town for those annoying thorny balls in the woods that stick to the bottom of your pant legs. But I digress…

Because all my family fled Chicago decades ago, we are spending the holiday with Mrs. Bagger’s family, including the infamous Princess and Duchess from Occupy Wall Street fame. And since Mrs. Bagger’s Scrooge-like employer is making her work on Friday, we are having Thanksgiving tonight (Wed) before driving back to Pittsburgh tomorrow (Thurs).

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For the meal, I was assigned the green bean casserole. Really? What a slap in the culinary face. That’s what they give you when they think you are worthless in the kitchen. As in, “Give him the green bean casserole. If he ruins it, no big deal.” Yeah, homie don’t play that. I’ve got game in the kitchen! So, I decided to take their green bean casserole and knock it out of the park. Found a recipe at Epicurious. Bought fresh green beans and sliced mushrooms. In addition to the traditional cream of mushroom soup and fried onions, I’m rocking some horseradish and Worcestershire sauce. Bam! As of this morning, however, even that as been taken away and given to the nieces. Now, I’m the guy who has to go get the rolls. Seriously, THE ROLLS! Why not just call me the long snapper? Stick me on the fourth line. Designate me as strictly a pinch-hitter.

That’s okay. Actually, I think it was my lovely wife having mercy on me, knowing that I would much rather spend a few hours of my vacation blogging in a Starbucks. And for that, I’m thankful.

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Besides my beautiful bride, what else am I thankful for?

For my life in Lawrenceville and greater Pittsburgh in general.
For my fellow bloggers.
For the summers I get to spend watching Andrew McCutchen.
For the return of Sidney Crosby (knocking on all things wooden)
For full employment, plus a few career dreams I’m not yet too old to dream.
For good friends and family all across the country.
For my loyal and fluffy dog.
For the ability to post on a normal computer because doing this on an iPad is truly a pain in the ass.
And for the fact that despite complete political gridlock, economic doldrums, and corporate malfeasance, this is still a pretty good country in which to live.

Happy Thanksgiving!! I’ve got rolls to buy.

It’s not just the states that are red and blue

“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” — Morpheus

What a prophetic movie The Matrix was in 1999. One of the greatest conspiracy/Big Brother tales ever made. I contend its legacy would be even greater if they hadn’t felt the need to make two lesser sequels. Isn’t that just like Hollywood? You actually stumble into a truly great and inspired story, and then, ruin it with two uninspired and materialistic attempts at repeating the magic. But you can’t recreate the original. It existed as art. The sequels were just a money grab that tarnished the shine of the original. Ironic, given the original message.

Neo: “Why do my eyes hurt?”  Morpheus: “Because you’ve never used them before.”

That’s just stellar.

And of course, there were the pills. One red; one blue. You are free to select the one you wish. They aren’t an entrance into reality but a free choice. Do you want to know the truth? Or, would you rather not know? You can make that choice. But understand that knowing comes with a price, a cost. Ignorance is bliss.

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. ” — Morpheus

There is very little actual comfort in knowing. Dorothy was probably better off believing in the image and myth of Oz. By peering behind the curtain (actually, I think it was Toto who pulled it back for her), the idea that had been Oz shattered, only to be replaced by a frail, fallible human being frantically pulling at levers and strings to keep the entire fallacy afloat. Oops. Some things can’t be unseen. That kind of knowledge changes things.

We say we want to know the truth, but do we really? Do you really want to know the health department reports on the kitchen of that restaurant you love? Do you really want to know what everybody else thinks about you? If you could, would you want to know the date of your own death? Some things are better left to fate and the great unknown.

I often feel that way about other things these days. I wish I could look at the Wall Street protesters and roll my eyes and laugh them off as a bunch of spoiled, whining, ungrateful, Socialist hippies. I wish I could look to the Wall Street tycoons and corporate CEOs as the civic pillars of all that is right and honest and true. I wish Washington were filled with Mr. and Mrs. Smiths, representing the interests of the common man and fighting for the rights of the underdog. Oh, to have Edward R. Murrow smoking and delivering the cold, hard truth every night.

I’d much rather believe that markets are free, that elections matter, and that an unbiased media tells it like it is. That would be so much easier. You could “wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.” Go about your day. There’s nothing to see here. Move along. The status quo is sufficient; no change is necessary.

“I know what you’re thinking, ’cause right now I’m thinking the same thing. Actually, I’ve been thinking it ever since I got here: Why oh why didn’t I take the BLUE pill?”  –Cypher

History is filled with radicals, weirdos, and freaks who took the red pill. It’s not for everyone. It makes you stand out. It makes you stand up. It makes you march into the spotlight. It makes you stick your neck out. Most would just rather not. Indeed, the red pill-takers have almost always been mocked, insulted, and brushed aside by  status quo blue pill-folks.The blue-pill folks are not bad people. They just aren’t able to see it. Good people looked at slavery and saw nothing wrong. Good people paid children very little to work in factories. Good people told black people to move to the back of the bus and didn’t think anything of it. Why? I don’t know. Some people saw it; some people didn’t. We’d be fools to not think that it’s the same way today.

“What’s your problem?” “Why are you so ungrateful?” “Can’t you just enjoy what you have?” “Why do you have to cause trouble?” “Why don’t you just get a job?” “You don’t see the rest of us complaining, do you?”

The men who took part in the original Boston Tea Party did not wave British flags, wear patriotic costumes, or brag about “taking their county back.” They were subversives and revolutionaries. Instead of wearing bandannas, they hid their identities by dressing as native Americans. They broke the law. They engaged in economic terrorism. They trashed another man’s business. (I assume that some businessman had imported all that tea!) They no longer felt represented by their government. They didn’t want to take back their country; they wanted to blow it up and start something new. Anarchy! Who does that sound like? Today’s Tea Party or the Occupy movement? They were opposed by Loyalists, primarily businesspeople, politicians, and regular citizens who may have thought their taxes were a bit too high, but not to the point of rebellion and treason. They were opposed by Anglican clergy who cited the Bible: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” They were called criminals and an angry mob.

“What’s your problem?”

In the early 1900s, fringe groups began to oppose child labor practices, even though it provided income for immigrants and a needed source of cheap labor for the industrial revolution. Protests sprang up, not to deport the workers but to put them into school where they belonged. People in the big cities marched on behalf of the children. A constitutional amendment authorizing federal child labor legislation was passed by Congress in 1924, but the conservative political climate of the 1920s, together with opposition from some church groups and farm organizations that feared a possible increase of federal power in areas related to children, prevented many states from ratifying it. It took the Great Depression to weaken conservative opposition and pave the way for actual reform.

“Why are you so ungrateful?”

Isn’t it hard to believe that it wasn’t until the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1920 that women were guaranteed the right to vote? After all, black men had secured their voting privileges all the way back in 1869. During the beginning of the twentieth century, as women’s suffrage faced several important federal votes, a portion of the suffrage movement known as the National Women’s Party became the first “cause” to picket outside the White House. Several suffragists were arrested and jailed. Their movement was opposed by upper-society women (women who felt they already had a behind-the-scenes influence and didn’t want to lose it), Catholics (who subscribed to male leadership in all things, including politics), Southern whites (afraid of black women getting the vote), and saloon owners (afraid women would vote to ban alcohol). Imagine the guts it would take to protest and march when you don’t even have the right to vote.

“Can’t you just enjoy what you have?”

Wikipedia dates The Civil Rights Movement from 1955-1968. (I’m sure there are those who would say they were fighting for civil rights long before ’55.) It’s hard to believe that more than one hundred years after slavery was abolished, black citizens still had few rights in this country. In my lifetime, blacks were banned from white swimming pools, restaurants, drinking fountains, and rest rooms. Civil Rights protesters were hardcore. They were putting their lives at risk, and indeed, some paid the ultimate price. If you think you would stand out holding a sign at Mellon Green, imagine how these folks felt marching in Birmingham, Alabama. Radicals. Freaks. Revolutionaries.

“Why do you have to cause trouble?”

And then, there were the anti-war protesters in the late 1960s. They were called every name in the book. Commies. Hippies. Cowards. But they saw what was going on. They were appalled by the body counts on both sides. They were morally outraged at the way their country had little concern for the sacredness of life. They were offended that so many young black men were being sent away to fight and die for a rich white man’s war. They were shocked at the brutality and war crimes. Some were convinced that violent acts of terrorism were the only methods that could have an effect on such a morally bankrupt government. Most, however, resisted peacefully.

“Why don’t you just get a job?”

These Americans (or future Americans) all took the red pill. They could not remain silent in the face of the injustices they could not “unsee.” And in each case, they were opposed by the entrenched society–usually conservative forces who generally responded with dire predictions of what would happen if the protesters got their way. Nothing would be safe. Fear would rule the day. Mob mentality would prevail. Anarchy. Communism! Blue pill citizens shook their heads and looked upon the demonstrators with shame.

“You don’t see the rest of us complaining, do you?”

But in each case I’ve listed above, the protesters were ultimately proved right in their cause. History is firmly on their side. I’m sure it didn’t feel that way at the time. I’m sure it didn’t look that way to others who were shocked at their dissent. But these radicals just knew that things weren’t right.

Those involved the Occupy movement have heard it all. Get a job. What’s your problem? What a bunch of whiners and complainers! You can’t change things. Just accept it. Don’t make waves.

The long-time protesters participating in the Occupy protests will tell you a great truth: they’ve never seen most of these people before. That goes for Occupy Wall Street as well as for Occupy LA, San Francisco, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Ft. Wayne, Bozeman, Fairbanks, Manchester, Peoria, Cumberland, Kalamazoo, and many more. Don’t get me started on the list of cities all over the world. These are regular people. Educated people. Thinking people.

This is not political, this is sociological. Rush Limbaugh only wishes this was some Democratic or Move On.org-manufactured movement. If it were, it would died in a week.

When Pat Robertson recently spoke out against Christians participating in the movement, he called it “atavistic.” I’m not ashamed to say I had to look that one up. The dictionary definition is “relating to reversion to a former or more primitive type.” In other words, he’s afraid we are descending from the social order of things. But there is also a scientific definition: “Relating to an inherited trait that reappears in an individual after being absent from a strain of organism for several generations.” That sounds more like it. It’s like the world had successfully bred out our “give a shit” gene so that they could run roughshod over us. But at some point, that recessive gene–the “give a shit” gene–kicked back in. Suddenly, there is a significant portion of the population that is resistant to the bullshit. And that has got to be scary to those corporate and political geneticists who thought we would just keep shopping and watching television in silence. What does all this mean?

“It means fasten your seat belt Dorothy, ’cause Kansas is going bye-bye.” — Cypher

Everything in me hates having to quote a corporate ad campaign at this point. But in some way, I guess you could say that Steve Jobs was to corporate America what Occupy Wall Street is to the political system. Maybe? Yeah, maybe not. Still, for a corporate Apple ad, this is truly inspired, and is true about all the movements I mentioned above:


So, that’s why, as a 49-year-old homeowner with a good job and income, I fully support the Occupy movement. Although I can’t camp down there (although I may before it is over), I may not get arrested (although I may before it is over), and I can’t participate in every march or action (although I will be in a few), I stand with them. I have seen how broken the economic, political, and media systems are. I love my country, but not enough to stand idly by as it chews up and spits out so many of its citizens. I’m sickened by what deregulation, political corruption, derivatives, Alan Greenspan, Larry Summers, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke, BP, Goldman Sachs, The New York Times, Rupert Murdoch, and all their like have done to this country. I’d rather pretend that none of it happened and that none it matters. But it did and it does. 

“I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.” –Morpheus

The post in which I complain about the greatest game in baseball history

First, let me state this again: I am a huge baseball fan. I travel to watch minor league games. I go to Spring Training games in Arizona between two teams I could care less about. I HAD A SEASON TICKET PACKAGE TO WATCH BRANDON MOSS PLAY FOR THE PIRATES, PEOPLE!

So, why did I turn off the TV during the 8th inning of arguably the greatest game in baseball history last night?

And it was history. The Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out of the playoffs the last week of August. They had to win their final game of the year to get into the post season. Then, they beat the best team in baseball, the Phillies. Then, they came back to beat the team with the best home record in baseball, the Brewers.  In last night’s game, an elimination game if the Rangers had won, the Cardinals were down to their last strike twice. They trailed 7-4 in the 8th inning. In fact, they trailed 7-5 with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning before St. Louis native David Freese (whose name could only be familiar to the nerdiest of fantasy baseball folks) ripped a game-tying triple. In the tenth inning, the Rangers struck again with a home run from another St. Louis native, Josh Hamilton. Game over, right? Not this night. In the bottom of the tenth, aging Lance Berkman tied things again with a clutch double. Then, finally,  in the bottom of the eleventh, David Freese came up again and won the game with a walk-off home run to straight-away center field.

Why would I miss out on all that?

Well, for starters, the Cardinals were involved. For long-time Steeler fans out there, you might as well substitute the Browns, or better yet, a team with a history of beating you, like the Patriots. The Cardinals play in a hot muggy city where there is absolutely nothing to do but stare at a huge piece of bent metal that towers over the urban blight. Their red-clad fans descend upon your stadium like a plague of locusts. Without a huge payroll, they just seem to be good every single year.

Then, there’s the Cardinals manager, Tony LaRussa. What’s wrong with him? Well, there’s his hair. Strike One.

Then there’s the fact that this immortal Nosferatu mofo began his managerial career with the White Sox in 1979, the last year of the Carter administration. What kind of evil deal did this Dorian Gray wannabe strike with the devil? There’s no way he still owns his soul, right? Strike two.

And speaking of losing your soul, this hypocrite turned a blind eye as he shared a clubhouse with some of the most notorious steroid users in baseball history: Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire, Albert Pujols??? This guy has seen more needles than Florence Nightengale. When questioned about it, Tony said, “I’ve tried to build my career on credibility and trust, that’s what we do with our players. I’m telling you — we ran a clean program. That’s the way it is. That’s what I say, that’s what I believe.” This guy is ready to testify before Congress! Strike three; grab some bench!

That said, other than hatred, I really don’t have a lot of emotion for either the Cardinals or the Texas Rangers. Part of me thinks it would be cool to see the Rangers finally get a title. When I went to college in the Dallas/Ft.Worth area, the Rangers were a complete joke. Their stadium was right next to Six Flags over Texas. Nobody wanted to go and sit in 90 degree temperatures in Arlington in August to watch a crappy team. A part of me likes the fact that the Mavericks and Rangers could be champs while the Cowboys struggle to remember the last time they played football in January.

But none of those reasons add up to why I missed out on history last night.

At a quarter to twelve, I turned to the game. It was 7-4 in the eighth inning. You’ve got to be kidding me. I don’t know what’s worse. That they allow these games to routinely go more than four hours? Or that the league submits to Fox’s demand that the game not start until after 8:00 on the east coast so that they can get the end of the game into prime time on the west coast.

As a kid, there are some golden baseball moments imprinted in my memory. I remember watching Roberto Clemente and the Pirates take on the Orioles in a (gasp) World Series day game. I remember Hank Aaron hitting home run 714. I remember Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse in an All-Star game. I remember Carlton Fisk’s home run against the Reds. I remember the ball trickling through Bill Buckner’s legs. I remember Kirk Gibson hobbling around the bases after hitting a World Series pinch-hit home run. I can pretty much guarantee that none of these things happened after midnight, and that if they had, I wouldn’t have seen them.

Baseball’s legacy–its investment account, if you will–lies in the way it can worm its way into little boy’s hearts. (Okay, I’m sure there are some girls, too, but I’m going to go ahead and be sexist on this one.) For the good of baseball’s future, little boys need to go to bed with dreams of their heroes winning the game as the fans go wild. Last night, any parent who let their children stay up past midnight on a school night should probably be investigated by child services. ESPN reported on the many Cardinal fans who were seen leaving the game during the 7th inning. While some probably didn’t want to watch the Rangers celebrate in Busch Stadium, I’ll bet many of them were simply carting home exhausted kids who had to be at school this morning.

It baffles me why a sport would want its greatest moment to occur in the early hours of the morning. Even the Super Bowl isn’t fool enough to start at 8:05 p.m. because they actually want people to be able to see it. Shame on Major League Baseball. Go cash your check from Fox. But I don’t want to hear you complaining about how there aren’t enough kids playing baseball any more.

Autumn leaves… (well, it will leave eventually)

I must admit to feeling a bit muddled lately. My mind feels as scattered as my Twitter feed. Here’s just a snapshot of what it has looked like the past few days (taken from actual tweets)…

Police arrest 130 protesters in Chicago

Boyz II Men issues new album today

Qaddafi sodomized after capture

Found a delicious recipe for pumpkin cookies!!!

NBA owners and players emerge from 19-hour session with no movement

Army Ranger killed in Afghanistan on 14th deployment.

Jenna Elfman joins cast of Damages

Pittsburgh settles G-20 lawsuit for $60,000.

MLB to ban beer from clubhouse

The US has the highest overall poverty rate and the highest childhood poverty rate of any major industrialized country on earth.

Rangers go with same lineup for game 5 of World Series

Panicked crossing guard drags dead third-grader to adjacent intersection (from The Onion)

President Obama outlines new foreclosure plan

The McRib is back!

 Is it any wonder I feel so overwhelmed and distracted? I don’t know whether to march in the streets, watch baseball, or eat a fattening yet delicious sandwich that is only available until Nov. 14. I’m not sure whether I should enrage and engage or tune in and drop out. Is the world more complicated, or is it just hurtling in my direction at a much higher velocity?

This weekend will be filled with activities that range from cleaning up the house to cooking food to donating some warm weather gear to Occupy Pittsburgh to attending the Pittsburgh Symphony to participating in Lawrenceville’s annual progressive dinner.

I’m not complaining. It’s all good stuff. Great stuff! It’s just such a rush of activity, a mix of high brow and low brow, a dash of social action with just a pinch of self-indulgence for good measure. Before I know it, it will be Sunday evening and I’ll be wondering where the weekend went.

Meanwhile, autumn is rushing by. It’s dark when I get up and when I drive home. Maybe that’s why it’s hard not to find myself just staring out my window at work… especially with this view.

Hope you’re enjoying the fall while it lasts. And Tweeting about it.

Occupyin’ dahntahn Pixburgh n’at

James Buchanan, one of our nation’s worst presidents, is reported to have said, “I like the noise of democracy.”

Horrible president or not, I with Jim on that one.

Market Square, Pittsburgh

I am endlessly fascinated, inspired, and perplexed by the Occupy movement. It is sometimes ragged, often messy, usually chaotic, spectacularly unorganized, and stubbornly dedicated. On Wednesday, the movement turned one month old. Though the numbers of those actually camping out are modest, the numbers of those participating, supporting, and donating to the effort is silently and invisibly growing. It has been reported the Occupy Wall Street group has received more than $435,000 in donations. This is without doing much in the way of fund raising. Most of that money is being used to support the occupiers with food, shelter, clothing, and hygiene.

Mrs. Bagger and I marched with two to three thousand of our fellow Yinzers last Saturday and attended the Market Square rally afterward. Never saw Cher and Rich from AskCherlock because, did I forget to mention?, there were two to three thousand people there!

On Monday, I visited the camp to donate a bagful of hats and gloves, and some medical supplies. Donations of food, medical supplies, and clothing have been creeping in. To keep up with their needs, you can check their Website, which is updated daily. The camp itself has all the city planning of a small town. It is believed that somebody–either from the city or Mellon–hosed down the park beforehand to ensure that the camp would become a muddy mess. Did they think the protesters would go home because the grass was wet? Hmm. In the end, all that brilliant move achieved was to endanger the park’s grass. Hay–supplied by the good folks at NYMellon–was spread out by the protesters in an attempt to spare the green space beneath. Pieces of cardboard were then assembled into walking paths throughout the campsite. The campers refer to each group of tents between the paths as neighborhoods. At the upper end of the park (eastern side) are the tents for food, supplies, media, and medical.

I stayed to eat dinner with the occupiers and attended a General Assembly held across the street from the campsite. Although the group seemed small next to the tall buildings and city hubbub, there were approximately 150 people present. Some of them are what the media likes to call “unkempt.” If you didn’t know about the Occupy Movement, you might assume them to be homeless. In a sense, they are. This park is their home for an undetermined time. They are camping. Do you look ready for a job interview when you are camping?

Despite the media’s attempts, you can’t really pigeonhole this group. Certainly, some are of the younger counter-culture variety. Others are most likely college students. But there are also moms holding toddlers. There are fifty-plus-year-old men and women. There are even some grandparents. Most are wearing denim, plaid quilted shirts, or sweatshirts, but others are wearing business suits. This went along with my impression on Saturday that the Pittsburgh group’s median age is a little older than their New York counterparts. And for the record, they are not all unemployed. Some are, but others come and go from the park to work actual, you know, jobs.

This General Assembly was not like the ones featuring general announcements and calls for action that I had seen in New York. This was a down and dirty discussion about procedures, the decision-making process, and other questions of polity. From their first meeting, the group has dedicated themselves to utilize the Consensus Decision Making process, and were struggling even then to fully understand the method as they attempted to put it into practice. This led to many cul-de-sacs and pot holes in the communication and decision-making process. Ensuring all voices are heard takes great patience, understanding, and deference. It means respecting those with different ideas and opinions. It is slow and painstaking. It is where the Democracy sausage is made.

All in all, the protesters themselves have a great and positive attitude. They hear dissent and insults shouted at them from cars and from a few Pens fans as they pass by. For a while they kept a running tally of every time someone misguidedly shouted “Get a job!” Before long, that got old. They are not at all deterred by the haters. They are also aware of the constantly honking horns from sympathetic drivers on all sides of the park. They are aware of support from union bus drivers, custodians, and, yes, even police officers. On the first night, Mellon turned off the overhead lights, plunging the park into complete darkness. You might think this would be helpful for sleeping, but it also makes doing anything outside of your tent after sundown almost impossible. In support, the custodial staffs of both the Mellon and UPMC buildings turned on every light on their side of the building to provide a useful illumination.

I get a kick out of Conservatives who have let the protests worm their way so far under their skin. As far as I recall, as put off as Progressives and Liberals were by the Tea Party demonstrations, I can’t remember anyone on the Left suggesting that they shouldn’t be allowed to do what they were doing. You would think that Conservatives would take the position of Voltaire, who famously said,  “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!” Instead, many seem to be incensed by the very presence of protesters of any kind. They react with the most hateful name calling and character assassination. Protesters are routinely and inaccurately called “Commies,” “Whiners,” “Freeloaders,” “Losers,” “Criminals,” and much worse. I sort of think of them as Patriots facing an overwhelming opposition for the sake of their friends and neighbors. During my visit, I was pleased to discover that much of the criticism bothered me a lot more than it did the the protesters, who remain, for the most part, quite unaware of all the media and Internet vitriol. They don’t sit around listening to talk radio, watching cable news, or reading right-wing blogs.

What many are slow to pick up on is that this is not just a protest against unemployment or rich people. Fundamentally, it is a stand against systematic injustice and inequity. While there are individuals with some extreme views, overall, it is not a call to dismantle Capitalism or free markets. At its base, it is a clarion call warning people that our markets are far from free, and that our capital has been hi-jacked and grossly mismanaged by a few who continue to profit from their crimes. Do they have answers and remedies? Some do; some don’t. Even if they came up with a list of policy fixes, would it matter? Our system is so rigged, no such remedies would have a chance of being heard, let alone being made into legislation. When the party that holds both the White House and the Senate can’t even get a hearing for their ideas, what chance do the rest of us have?

And although this began in New York, this is no longer an American protest. Unlike the Tea Party movement, this party has gone global. And let me tell you, there are those across the ocean who are pretty hardcore at this protesting stuff. Consider Spain…

Or England…

How about Perth, Australia…

And Copenhagen, Denmark…

Frankfurt, Germany…

Here’s a list of demonstrations outside of the U.S. No, really, you should check out the size of this list.

Thus far, authorities and institutions have found themselves in a tough dilemma. On the one hand, I’m sure they’d prefer to just enforce the law and clear out the demonstrators. In most cities, the police could do–and have done–the job swiftly and with a strong hand. (See Chicago, Denver, and Phoenix.) In a Times Square confrontation over the weekend, New York police decided it was a good idea to ride horses into the crowds. This created some ugly scenes which led to several injuries and one horse having to be put down. You see, authorities are well aware that when they act, they will immediately appear on YouTube looking like some kind of third-world dictator. No city police force wants to be compared to Cairo or Tehran or Beijing. Damn that instant social media. It’s getting so you can’t crack hippies heads like in the old days when grainy black and white film had to be developed and then aired by a corporately owned TV news network. Today, everybody is freakin’ Edward R. Murrow. They also know that, like a weed, whatever they crush today will only come back that much stronger, larger, and angrier the very next day.

Still, as protests grow in size and volume, there’s only so much “the man” will take. At this point, I think the authorities are hoping against hope that the icy grip of winter will do their job for them. If the protesters prove to be weather resistant, however, it’s only a matter of time before confrontation occurs. Riot gear will be donned. Horses will be employed. Hopefully, Kent State has taught us that the National Guard should be left out of it, but you never know.

So, to borrow from David Letterman, if you were wondering if the Occupy Movement is something or nothing… a month old and global in scope, I think we can all say that this is most definitely something.

Occupy Wall Street… part II

This is part II of my weekend in NYC with Occupy Wall Street. If you missed part I, scroll down or go here.

The Occupy Movement is as much an exercise in real democracy as it is a protest. They are not there to support a political party or to shove an agenda down people’s throats. In my opinion, they don’t need a coherent message. The reason they are there is plainly evident:

  1. Wall Street broke the economy badly.
  2. Middle America is still suffering for it.
  3. Three years later, Wall Street has never been held accountable for it. (In fact, we paid to wipe out their debts and today, they are coming after us for not paying ours!)
  4. Now, Wall Street is using its power and its money to keep us from fixing the mess.

Class dismissed. That will be on the test.

What do I mean by saying Wall Street broke the economy? How about this: Three years ago, twenty percent of our country’s net worth–accumulated over two centuries–evaporated. (That’s one out of every $5!)

How are we suffering for this?:

  • 24 million Americans can’t find a full-time job.
  • 50 million Americans can’t see a doctor when they are sick.
  • 47 million Americans need government help in order to feed themselves.
  • 15 million American families owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth.

That’s just the start. And I haven’t even mentioned the 10 years of war at the cost of trillions of dollars that continues to this day!

So, you can say you don’t agree with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. You can say they are wasting their time and that it won’t amount to anything. But please, don’t pretend to not know why they are there and why they are so angry.

Recently, I saw George Will giddily compare this protest with the anti-war movement of the 60s. He said that all the hippie movement achieved in the end was Richard Nixon in the White House. He expressed hope that the same result would happen today. Hey George! For one, history would suggest that all those foolish hippies were dead right about the Viet Nam war. And two, do you really want to put Richard Nixon out there as a proud Republican accomplishment?

Anyhow, these were our reasons for going to Occupy Wall Street. These are the reasons we will stand with Occupy Pittsburgh. These are the reasons people are rising up without wanting to associate with either political party in this country. Now where were we?

Oh yeah. With the General Assembly scheduled for 3pm, we scooted up to Greenwich Village on the subway and explored Bleecker Street around NYU. It’s a wonderful area of mom-and-pop shops, chess clubs, small restaurants and cafes, and hipster clothing stores. We grabbed some much needed rest at the Danté Cafe, where I slurped down a tasty cappuccino. As the protesters began to arrive for the Assembly, so did dozens of NYPD in vans and paddy wagons, and on motorcycles and horseback. This was a good neighborhood for a rally like this. It’s already populated by young counter-culture folks. The protesters don’t stand out here like they do next to Brooks Brothers.

The park filled up quickly, completely surrounding the fountain.

Okay, I’ve been saving this until now. Laws in New York forbid the protesters from using any type of voice amplification whatsoever. That’s right, it seems that there are more regulations on protesters than on Wall Street traders. Thus, they have had to invent their own system of voice amplification, which they use for all announcements, soap box speeches, or any other communication. It’s called the “People’s Mic.” Basically, it’s a rhythmical repetition in which the speaker says a short line, which is loudly repeated by the those close enough who can hear it, which is loudly repeated again by the people who heard the first repetition. There are a couple of rules to this. You are to repeat anything that is said, even if you disagree with it. No editing or censorship. Whatever it is, it is their right to say it. You repeat it for the people behind you. When the whole thing starts to break down–as it inevitably does–the leader or speaker yells “Mic check!” This is repeated all the way back and serves to reset the system. It’s a bit clunky but it works. Everybody hears what is said no matter how loud the speaker is. As the speaker, I’m sure it takes some time to get used to speaking in short bursts while waiting for all the repetition. I’d probably lose my train of thought. But here is how it works….

The Princess liked the “People’s Mic.” She said that repeating the message helped her to engage with the speaker and made her feel more a part of the group. Kind of deep, huh?

The Assembly introduced the heads of each “working group.” These are task groups that work on ideas to go before the larger group. There are “working groups” on communication, outreach, arts and culture, sanitation, comfort, medical, and direct action. There are others but these are the ones I remember. They were basically giving an invitation to anybody who wanted to join. At the end, a gentleman who had been part of the Arab Spring in Egypt made a short address to the group, encouraging them and reminding them that the world was watching and supporting them. They ended by encouraging people to mingle and get to know each other. We talked with a guy about our age who was from Switzerland. He was there out of concern for the power of the big banks. His message was to switch to smaller community banks. The guy next to him was fighting for the rights of small farmers or something like that. There was one older lady sitting in a chair next to an open chair and a sign that read “I’m willing to listen.” Everybody had a great story. It was very inspiring, and a bit overwhelming. Mrs. Bagger quickly stated that this was one of the best days of her life. (Partly because it was so awesome, and partly because she was able to share it with the Princess.)

Mrs. Bagger and the Princess debrief after the General Assembly

By this time, we had been on our feet and pounding the pavement all day. Our dogs were barking. We wanted the Princess to see some part of NYC that she wanted. Growing up, she was quite the Sex in the City fan. So, we headed up to Times Square, swung by 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and ended up at the shops on 5th Ave.

When do they drop the ball?

While we were there, a wedding party of Air Force dudes came out to get some pictures. What?! They couldn’t get the Naked Cowboy in the shot? He was about sixty feet behind us.

Ah, New York City. (Psst. We decided not to share this blatant side trip into materialism and commercialism with the other protesters. But we didn’t buy anything other than an I ♥ NY shirt for the Duchess–younger sister of the Princess–from a sidewalk vendor.)

By this time, my feet were going beyond “barking dogs” and venturing into “bloody stump” territory. I needed to take a load off and get some sustenance. Mrs. Bagger sat us down and went in search of food. Of course, she found the perfect little garden-level Italian restaurant around 51st and Park Ave. that looked as if it hadn’t changed a bit since the days of Sinatra and Mantle. The place was empty (6:00pm is a little early for NYC folk) and we had a great dinner. Afterward, we decided to visit Zuccotti Park once more on our way back to the ferry.

At night, Zuccotti Park is awash in an orange glow from the street lights. Half the park was engaged in an “open mic night” of soap box speakers, repeating each word so everyone could hear. Fighting against this were those in the other half of the park, who were engaged in a large drum circle. The signs were placed on the ground around the perimeter for passers-by to read. Several of the campers were settling into their bunking spots for the evening. Some were writing in journals, making new signs, or just talking with others. I’m sure I didn’t want to know what else was going on beneath all that plastic wrapping.

That morning, this had all seemed like a strange sort of movement and we were just visitors. By that evening, we felt more a part of things. Earlier in the day, a rather dazed, shirtless, and pungent young man wandered around the park giving out hugs. He had a scraggly beard and looked like he lived a forest. At the time, we had politely declined or avoided him. (We did hug the large man with the Yin-Yang symbol tattooed on his forehead because you don’t turn down a large man with a Yin-Yang symbol tattooed on his forehead.) At the end of the day, however, we all hugged the shirtless, smelly man. These were our people now. Through her rose-colored glasses, Mrs. Bagger thought he had taken a shower. The Princess and I weren’t as convinced.

As an act of disobedience, I refused to ignore this guy's sign. I'm a rebel like that.

We made it back to the ferry terminal for the 10:00 ferry. Unfortunately, they had canceled it, however, and we had to wait until the 10:30 ferry. Oh well, you live by the free boat, you wait for the free boat. It hurt, though, because we still had the hour and a half drive back to Bethlehem after a long and tiring day. Who am I kidding? I had the drive as Mrs. Bagger and the Princess slept.

All in all, it was a great day. Occupy Wall Street is many things to many people but it has proved to have staying power. This is not just a party. It’s not fun and games. And unlike the Tea Party, they are multi-generational, multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-ideology. The one thing that keeps them all together is the notion that things are broken, we are paying for it, and nobody will fix it until we rise up to make them fix it or do it ourselves. I don’t know where it’s going. I don’t know if it will need to morph into something else to be effective. I don’t know what will happen when the snow and ice fall. I don’t know what will happen when the patience of the NYC authorities and the police wears thin. What I do know, is that this whole thing is just starting and, given the current political climate, it isn’t going away.

Bidding good-bye to NYC.


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