What’s at Stake in the Pennsylvania Special Election

When I moved a bit farther out into Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs just ahead of the 2016 election, a fair number of my new neighbors’ yards sported Trump/Pence signs, with one lonely Clinton/Kaine sign holding down the corner. Eighteen months later, as the special House election between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone looms, campaign signs have sprouted in many more yards and Lamb is definitely leading in my very unscientific sign poll.

Terrorists’ ghastly photo op

The photo op is an example of what historian Daniel Boorstin called a “pseudo-event,” an event that takes place solely for the purpose of being covered by the press. Closely related is the staged photo, supplied by institutions of all stripes to project an idealized and in essence persuasive image via the credible medium of the press.

Let’s support real news

Imagine you are a farmer. You invest in land, seed, equipment and labor. The overhead is tremendous but your crop grows true. Then, at harvest time, a pack of freebooting strangers charges across your land, harvests your crop, sells it at market and kicks back not a cent. To subsist, you gather up what stray stalks remain and sell them by the roadside. This is the current business model of American journalism.

The G-20 is coming! The G-20 is coming! (Uh … what’s the G-20?)

Journalists, like playwrights and personal injury lawyers, love conflict. A house divided against itself may not stand, but it makes a really neat picture crashing down. This is why the news media, particularly local TV, are covering the upcoming G-20 economic summit like an impending Super Bowl or, better, a post-Super Bowl riot in Oakland.

A tale told by an Amadan

“Amadan,” for instance. There’s a word I’ll surely never hear again. It is an old Gaelic word that translated loosely – and gently – refers to someone who is not terribly bright. More specifically, when I was a boy, an “amadan” was any careless driver (see also: “horse’s ass” who pulled into my father’s path on the highway.)

Small circus big on wonder

The circus comes to us from an age beyond living memory; something resembling a circus first appeared in Philadelphia in 1793 and Aron Turner took a canvas big top on the road in 1830. But the circus as we know it took shape and reached its peak of popularity in the 1890s, as did the World’s Fairs and the scientific museums – developments that not coincidentally paralleled and age of American expansion and imperialism.

The hurt no doctor can heal

From a distance, it was a touching scene really. The big man’s arm was wrapped around the slender shoulders of his woman, his enormous, calloused paw gently cradled her head, his gait slowed to a shuffle so she could walk at her own slow pace. The nurse directed them to an examining table and pulled a curtain to remove the couple from view, but their voices could not be curtained.

Saying farewell to a mountain

The kids on the hillside had it good. We had neighbors and stores and could go downtown. But we could also retreat to the forest and in the summers we did, playing war among the crumbling stone walls of long-gone farms, building forts, making death-defying climbs along the 50-foot cliffs out of sight of meddlesome parents. When we got older, we hauled sleeping bags, food and, invariably, a six-pack pilfered from someone’s parents, to the cliffs, building bonfires and settling to sleep watching the lights blink out one at a time in the hills beyond.

With the Memphis blues again

His name was Charlie Washington and he was returning home from his mother’s house in Cleveland. He had been hiding out there for the duration of the Elvis-death celebration in Memphis. Guys like Charlie, who live mostly on the street in Memphis, are quickly shoved out of sight when the tourists are in town to mourn the King.