Friday, March 31, 2006

Circle of hands

Circle of handsThis is a picture of a group project we made with the children in the closing "depot" of this Wednesday's Grand Central Station program. We are doing a unit on the Good Samaritan from Group Publishing Company's Bible Venture Centers.

We had everyone make a cut-out of their hand. Then each person would say something they would do with their hands to help someone and would tape their cut-out in a line to the previous one.

It was a great idea, but from the very beginning there was a curve to the line. We ended up with this ring of hands when the last hand taped on joined the first.

Maybe we were unconsciously just replicating the circle we formed when we sang grace before supper. Or maybe God has designed human beings so that all our interactions have the potential for good coming back to us. Or maybe it is the work of God in redeeming and reconciling us that brings this about. I wonder.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

If the stop sign doesn't convince you to slow down

If the stop sign doesn't convince you to slow down,

stop sign at corner of Allegheny St. and 2nd Ave., Tarentum

perhaps the oversized speed bump will.

obstacles at corner of Allegheny St. and 2nd Ave., Tarentum

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"V for Vendetta" satisfies and disturbs

"V for Vendetta"Last Friday I went to see a matinee showing of "V for Vendetta." This translation of a graphic novel into film was filled with scenes of violence, fight scenes with blood gushing and spattering, and simulated detonations of historic structures.

Gosh, it was satisfying.

And, gosh, it was disturbing to discover that somewhere inside me there was a level of emotional turbulence that would find those depictions of violence and destruction cathartic.

This was an anarchistic morality tale about a totalitarian government in a version of the U.K. where a Nazi-like party had risen to power after engineering the illusion of a terrorist attack through the outbreak of a deadly virus for which the party had the cure. The movie carefully guides the viewer to see how reprehensible the fictional government and its leaders are, and how justified its ultimate downfall is.

The movie begins with an explanation of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The protagonist in the film, who goes by the name V, always wears a Guy Fawkes mask. Hugo Weaving, who played V, had to communicate for his character with only gestures and his voice coming from behind the unchanging mask. Natalie Portman was quite good as Evey, the young woman who becomes a protege of V. Stephen Rea was also quite good as Finch, the detective who, while on the trail of V, comes to understand the secrets behind the rise to power of the totalitarian government.

It is definitely not a film for children, having received an R rating for strong violence and some language.

One of the taglines for the movie is "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." I realize that the experience of seeing this movie is one of the events that informs my discussion on this blog (here and here) of the Sunshine Act. I also realize that this is not a totalitarian setting, but it is so unhealthy when governments at any level keep secrets to maintain power, as opposed to occasionally holding some information in confidence for the betterment of all.

The hoarding and guarding of secrets only leads to less trust, and more reason for governments justly to fear their people. Secrecy feeds into a vicious cycle that can be very hard to break. The Pennsylvania Sunshine Law recognizes that the public's rights are "vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process." The continuation of illegal secrecy can only lead to poorer functioning of the democratic process. Governments ought to fear their people enough to do their governing through an open process.

With apologies to W.H. Auden, sometimes I think that we have seen the actual vision of open government but failed to entertain it as more than an agreeable possibility. There ought to be a way to arrive at a truly open government without encouraging people to pursue the convenient shortcuts through anarchy. Those shortcuts do not address the underlying problems of trust and do nothing to lay the foundation for better functioning of the democratic process.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pennsylvania Sunshine Act

A thoughtful and blunt anonymous commenter here said:
You know, the reason these public officials feel free to tromp all over the rights the Sunshine LAw gives you people is that you never bother to learn what those rights are.

The commenter is right, and many people do not know what their rights are. There is a good summary of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act here.

The Act gives the public the right to be present at the public meetings of a large number of defined "agencies." It gives the public the right to witness deliberation, policy formulation, and decision making of those agencies. The public has the right to the advertizing and public notice of agency meetings, and must be given reasonable opportunity to comment on the business before action is taken.

The Act provides only six valid purposes for which an agency can meet in executive session, and they are listed in the article linked above.

Knowing the rights is critical. Deciding how to exercise and protect those rights is left to each individual.

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shadow on frost

shadow on frostI guess I am thinking about shadows a lot lately, or noticing them more.

Saturday I was surprised to see this when the morning air was still cold and there was frost on the ground. As the shadow moved on the earth, only a narrow outline of exposed frost was in the process of melting. The rest of the sunlit lawn was free of frost.

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shadows on Sixth Ave., TarentumAs I took a walk up Sixth Ave. yesterday I noticed the shadows of a tree on the patterned sidewalk.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Tarentum skatepark plans forming; recreation board holds closed meeting

one proposal for Tarentum skateparkThe newly reconstituted Tarentum Recreation Board met tonight at 6:00 PM to receive information and make some preliminary decisions about the design of the skateboard park. Three representatives of the local skaters were present to report on the planning process they had gone through on Sunday.

Carl Magnetta, chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee, called on Dan Schmidt of Gibson Thomas, the Borough's engineers, to report on the parameters within which the design would need to be done. His starting point was that the Community Development Block Grant on which the Borough was counting had been reduced. Because the block grant was to be matched by a 15% share from the Borough, his starting assumption was that the borough's share of the project would be reduced accordingly, in spite of the fact that the Borough had budgeted over $30,000 for the project. Based on his calculations the skate park needed to be done within $120,000.

Mr. Schmidt said that he anticipated two contracts: the first being one for excavation of the site, laying the surface, and fencing the park; the second being the equipment itself. Mr. Schmidt explained that the equipment manufacturers were reluctant to give out per piece prices for the items of equipment, but wanted to bid on collections of equipment to be installed.

Mr. Magnetta said that he felt the borough should put down the full pad in the first phase of the project, and leave space for additional pieces of equipment as funding becomes available. He indicated that he was going to pursue grants from the Scaife Foundation and the foundations of local industries in order to get the needed equipment for the skatepark.

There was a question about whether the Borough was pursuing a grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation. I was somewhat confused at this point because some were claiming that the Borough had to pay that foundation in order to get a grant from it. My own review of the application materials did not show the necessity of paying anything to the Tony Hawk Foundation in order to get a grant.

Reff Revilla of the Skate Park of Natrona reported on the design process the local skaters had engaged in over the previous week. The representatives of the skaters presented a list of obstacles (i.e., equipment) rated in order of popularity, and described the process by which the skaters had been polled. The representatives also made it clear that they felt the full pad should be put in first and that the obstacles should be added as funding was available.

Plans and specifications for the park will need to go to the Allegheny County Council of Governments by April 17. The borough engineer will develop these to go for the maximum size concrete pad.

Councilwoman Ginger Sopcak raised a question about whether the existing fencing can be used temporarily. Mr. Schmidt explained that there is no mandate for fencing around the park, but that the recommendations are that where there is fencing it should be about six feet high, to prevent impact of the skaters with the top edge of fence.

There are no plans to put lighting into the skateboard park, so skating should be limited to daylight hours.

Ginger Sopcak raised the question of who decides about spending all of the money allocated for this project in the borough's 2006 budget. At first it seemed that the answer was the Recreation Board, but as the question was pursued it became clear that the Council will need to tackle this question. Many of those involved in managing the borough's funds have been assuming that the Borough's part of the project should be the engineering fees plus the required 15% match to the block grant. Ms. Sopcak reminded the group that the borough has already budgeted over $30,000 for the skatepark based on the previous assumption of the size of the block grant.

The Recreation Board finished this part of the meeting at 6:43, at which point Council President Magnetta asked those who were not members of the Recreation Board to leave. This request was made a number of times, so I left because I was a member of the public and not a member of the board. I feel that the requests for the public to leave were unnecessary and inappropriate, especially when the Recreation Board had not gone into executive session. But because the council president stated that the meeting was a closed meeting I left.

The work of the borough, its committees and boards, ought to be transparent to the public. We have a right to know what is being discussed and what is being decided. In the earlier part of the meeting there had been some difficult points when it was not clear who had what status at the meeting. If the seating had been planned for this meeting it would have been possible to set up the room so the members of the new Recreation Board were clearly identified, and those of us who were observers and citizens would have been identified as well. Mixed general seating for all was an invitation for participants to get confused about who had what level of official involvement in the decisions that needed to be made. With separate seating areas the Board could have maintained good order while allowing the public to see and hear what was happening.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act should have been a sufficient deterrent to any leader's request that members of the general public leave. If the Board had reason to go into executive session they could have made the decision to do so in public.

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Get the tree!

Get the tree!Now here is a dog trying to fetch a bigger stick than I've ever seen a dog go for.

I was attending a birthday party on Saturday and the hosts showed me the trick their dog Elke does. She runs and leaps and scratches and snaps and bites at one tree.

She's a very friendly dog, but I would not want to be the tree. She's persistent, and I believe that in the battle between dog and tree, the dog is going to win eventually.

But I don't know how she is going to carry this stick around when she finally gets it down.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

The lone BANANA of Tarentum

Valley News Dispatch, March 25, 2006, p. A8 editorial "Kids bring parents"Today's Valley News Dispatch has a great editorial on the astonishing ongoing opposition to the Tarentum Skate Park by Mayor James Wolfe.

In my own wanderings around Tarentum, the "elderly mayor" is the only senior citizen I have found who voices opposition to the skate park.

I concur with the VND editor's assessment of this opposition as "odd."

Once upon a time I had heard about NIMBY-ism, where the acronym stands for Not In My Back Yard. More recently I learned about the BANANA mentality: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

It is encouraging to see the skate park project moving forward even against the mayor's opposition.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Police chief safe, Tarentum council relocates proposed skatepark

Tarentum Borough Council, March 20, 2006Last night the Tarentum Council held its monthly meeting and took important actions to move forward with the proposed skatepark. Beginning at 6:30 the meeting took 48 minutes to complete its work.

The meeting began with a moment of humor as the roll was being called. When Police Chief William Vakulick's name was called, I heard the mayor say what sounded like "Taken prisoner." With visions of a secret hostage situation in this tranquil riverside borough rising in my mind, those on the council were clearly doing a double-take as well, so the mayor explained that the chief was taking a prisoner to Pittsburgh.

At the time of citizen comments there was an extended conversation about a meeting of select business owners that had taken place recently, with questions about why only certain businesses had been invited.Councilman Bill Rossey explained that a number of such meetings were still to take place. I was a bit puzzled when he described a meeting in 2004 as having been poorly attended. I had been at that meeting, had met a number of new people, and had thought that the group was an adequate size for a useful sharing of information.

There was a specific citizen concern raised about pellet guns allegedly being sold to young people from the junk store at the corner of 4th and Corbet. That store sells a lot of potentially dangerous items (some that appear to be collectibles), and the possibility of these items coming into the hands of children is a serious concern. The police confiscated a number of pellet guns from children over the last week.

When the council came to the part of the meeting for acting on the proposed skatepark, I was surprised to notice that none of the skateboarders were present. There had been a number of them at the committee meeting the previous week, and they explicitly had been invited to come to the council meeting when actions would be taken and their input would be needed. For some reason, none were present.

Council President Magnetta reported that the county had given permission to the borough to relocate the skatepark project, so the borough council voted to move the project to the Dreshar Stadium Recreation location. Now that the location is settled it is possible to start designing the skatepark. The intention has been all along for the skateboarders to be involved in the design of the park. In January Council President Magnetta asked for names and telephone numbers of interested skateboarders to be provided to him so that he could work with them. So far no names have been submitted. It would be a real shame if the local skateboarders allowed the project to lose momentum by failing to participate in the planning process, especially when it is now so close to coming into reality.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Superior Sports Cards getting ready to open

Superior Sports Cards at corner of Fifth and Lock in Tarentum, PAToday they were putting up a sign at the new location of Superior Sports Cards in Tarentum. It is great to see the sign that now announces the new business that has been expected to open in that location for some time. The sign is a welcome explanation to the activity around the store after the mysterious appearance of a poster in the window last month.

Drew Jonczak told me that he expected the store to open in a couple weeks — by Saturday, April 1, if I understood him correctly.

He showed me around the inside of the store, where he is still getting ready. The landmark building was once the location of Chapman's Pharmacy, and he has retained the original racks that were used for dispensing medicines. He is also using signs that once had been on the exterior of the building to decorate the interior.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Tarentum Borough faces financial deficits

Tonight the Tarentum Borough committee meeting came to terms with financial deficits that have the potential for becoming a serious problem. The meeting was 70 minutes long and focused on the report of the Borough's auditor. Because of a previous commitment I had to leave for part of the meeting, but the Valley News Dispatch sent Wynne Everett to cover the meeting, so I expect to read a more complete report of the meeting in Tuesday's paper.

Council President Carl Magnetta explained that this year the Borough was about $800,000 in the red, and he called on auditor Rich Hill to explain the situation. Hill explained that the 2006 budget is overbudgeted by about $831,000. This is a more serious deficit than the Borough experienced in 2004 which had a $510,000 deficit.

The Borough has been able to get by through the income from water and electricity. However, the borough has not been setting aside any profits from these utilities as a reserve to be available for capital improvements. Instead, the excess monies have been used to cover expenditures from the rest of the budget. The result of the lack of a maintenance reserve is that a major failure in the water or electric systems could create a crisis when the Borough is not able to pay for necessary repairs.

Hill explained that the deficits have grown in recent years, but that the Council does have excellent monthly budget-to-actual reports that should enable it to stay on top of the situation.

There had been some confusion about whether the Council was going to deal with the skateboard park at this meeting. I had understood the sense of the previous month's committee meeting to have included an intention for the Parks and Recreation Committee to meet tonight. There had also been a communication from Blank Skate Supply that tonight's meeting was to include plans for the Tarentum skateboard park. However, the Parks and Recreation Committee was not prepared to move to that stage of planning tonight, and the meeting was intended to focus on the Borough's finances.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What a difference an "L" would make

Setting May Occur
So the people who make frozen Chinese food in Tulsa, Oklahoma don't use proofreaders. At least they did not say that 'Contents may set.'

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

I wonder if anyone reads the ads on the church page

Valley News Dispatch, March 4, 2006, page B6
Ok, so you caught me reading it, at least the top of a full page of church ads.

A full page of undated ads run on March 4, 2006.

With the heading "Come Worship With Us This New Year!"

In Tarentum, where the New Year starts in March, and as long as you make your ad changes by Wednesday noon you might get timely information into the paper.

By the way, Central Presbyterian Church will have a ham loaf dinner on March 18, but I don't think we'll buy an ad for it in a June edition of the local paper. People are waiting for this news, but we won't make them wait that long.

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The reserved pastor on roller skatesSo this afternoon I was invited to a birthday party at the Tarena for an eight-year old.

I don't think I have gone rollerskating in around 25 years. It is loads of fun.

Just to prove that I have a semblance of a sense of balance, a friend took a few pictures of me out on the floor.

Just to prove that I'm honest, the following picture shows what the Tarena looks like when the reserved pastor is flat on his backside.
A view of the Tarena from the floor.
When I was at the Tarena today there were two birthday parties going on, lots of kids and families having a good time. There were also some very experienced skaters out on the floor showing some of the things that were possible on inline skates. It was a very wholesome environment.

The experience leaves me wondering why Mayor Wolfe keeps complaining at every Council meeting about how terrible it will be if Tarentum ends up with a skateboard park. At the last Council meeting he made it sound as if the Tarena was a serious problem. I did not see any problems today, and I certainly did not see anyone call the police to claim that there were problems there.

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I-Thou: Connections in Clay - Ceramic Work by Chad Martin

I-Thou: Connections in Clay postcardChad Martin is displaying about twenty-five ceramic pieces he has made in a month-long exhibit at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 616 N. Highland Ave. The exhibit "I-Thou: Connections in Clay" is in the Kelso Bible Lands Museum at the Seminary, and will run until March 31, 2006.

On March 18, from 2 to 4 the exhibit will include free ceramic demonstrations, hands-on clay projects, and museum tours. This would be a good day for families to visit.

While I was visiting the exhibit yesterday evening, I met Scott Holland, pastor of the Monroeville Church of the Brethren, and a professor at the Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana. He pointed out how intriguing it was to see pieces made over the last two years side by side the museum's year-round exhibit of archeological finds. Some of Martin's pieces were made with very old techniques, but some were more modern.

Martin describes his childhood experience of the creative process, saying "I learned to believe that I could shape the world around me, that I am capable — that everyone is capable — of making something beautiful out of the hodge-podge world that surrounds me."

Martin is writing a thesis on aesthetic theology in the Master of Arts Program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and expects to graduate in May. A 1998 graduate of Goshen College, he has lived in Pittsburgh for eight years, is a founding board member of the Union Project, and has taught at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

He says that one of the reasons he makes things by hand is that handmade objects "invite the potential for turning everyday life into sacred, celebrative moments."

He also discusses the experience of creation saying, "My hands know things in ways my head cannot."

Conjoined forms
The piece "Conjoined forms" was intriguing on its own, appearing to be a jar emerging from or merging into a curved rectangular slab. But notice the shadow cast by the overhead lighting on the wall behind it. Is that possibly the shadow of a hand reaching down? Is it an accident of lighting, or a reminder of God's involvement in the creative process, or both?

three red squares and three grey squares.JPG
There was an interesting contrast between two platters. On the left was a Majolica platter with three red squares. On the right was a Raku platter with three grey squares.

offering bowls and pitcher
Tea for Two and Glossy Vase
large vase
two lidded boxes
To schedule a tour of the museum, call 412-441-3304 x 2276.

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