Thursday, June 29, 2006

Visible from Tarentum

Opposite shore of Allegheny RiverYesterday evening the surface of the Allegheny River was so undisturbed that the views of the opposite shore had wonderful reflections.

These pictures were taken from Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum.

beach on the opposite shoreWhat a beautiful part of the world this is!

Scenes such as this will be very attractive to people who are considering buying condos at The Landing along First Avenue.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Customizing MySpace

I've had a page on MySpace since sometime late in 2005, when I signed on because a friend invited me there. From the time I started the page I was daunted by the peculiar steps necessary in order to customize my profile page. I was so daunted, in fact, that I simply put off trying to fix it until I could get some decent instructions.

I made a few forays into Google searches for any hints about how one should do it, and kept giving up. Until this week. Thanks to Cynthia Closkey, a bona fide web designer active on Pittsburgh Bloggers, I found a pointer to an article by Mike Davidson who took on the challenge of writing the code necessary to customize a MySpace profile so it would look decent.

It took me a while to follow Mike's instructions and Cynthia's example. The problem I faced was that I usually edit code in the Windows notepad, but when I copied from notepad into the Myspace forms for editing my profile, something kept going wrong so that my graphics did not show up at all. Eventually, I simply copied Mike's code directly into the MySpace forms and edited the code right in the form. That worked.

I don't have all the design for my MySpace profile in a final form, but at last I have something that doesn't embarrass me, and I can fine-tune it at my leisure.

There are a large number of bloggers who have started their blogs on MySpace. Because my blog was already going strong when I signed onto Myspace, I decided I would simply use the MySpace blog to point to this blog. Feedburner's Headline Animator works very well for that purpose. A single entry in my MySpace blog has the code for the graphic that will be generated fresh whenever needed, and will always display the titles of a handful of my recent articles on this blog.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The plight of a stray cat

stray catFriends on Second Avenue in East Tarentum have found a stray cat. Although the fur makes it look big, it is very skinny, and appears not to have eaten for a while.

The male cat has no tags showing its name, its owner, or what shots it has had. He seems good around people, and the fur around his neck appears to have had a collar at one time.

My friends cannot afford to take care of the cat, and have searched to find a shelter to which the cat could be entrusted. As it turns out, many of the local animal shelters are so pressed for space and resources that a cat would be euthanized in 24 hours if not claimed by the owner.

stray catMy friends have found a local "no-kill" shelter but would really like to see the cat returned to his owner. If you recognize this cat, let me know.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Ka-chow! I saw "Cars".

Cars movie poster A few weeks after it opened I went to see "Cars" and enjoyed it immensely. Although this is the first time I have seen a Pixar feature film in a theater, I have caught a few of them on video when visiting with people who were watching at home.

This is a film that has a wonderful message about the importance of having and valuing friends. At the beginning of the story the lead character "Lightning McQueen" has a reputation for having a lot of speed and ability but very bad relationships, having fired a string of pit bosses during his meteoric rookie season. By the end of the story he has learned not only how to be a friend, but how to show his genuine esteem for those who had inspired him.

As in many quest stories, the hero meets up with characters who impart to him the abilities he will need to conclude his personal journey. From the beaten-up tow truck "Tow Mater" he acquires the skill of driving backwards. From the incognito "Hudson Hornet" he learns how to make high speed turns on dirt. From "Sally", the Porsche that had left the big city to settle in Radiator Springs (the town Lightning calls "Hillbilly Hell" in the middle of the story) he comes to appreciate community and loyalty.

There is an interesting parable of blindness and sight buried in this story. Lightning has no real headlights, only stickers of headlights. Sally deflates his egotism by giving him the nickname "Stickers", referring not only to his fake headlamps, but to the swarm of endorsement stickers all over him. As a race car he thinks he has no use for real headlamps because all the racetracks are well-lit. But he learns in Radiator Springs that the Piston Cup is just an empty cup - a reality that is not illuminated for his nemesis "Chick Hicks" by the glare of the racetrack lights.

It was a great film. The animators and all-star cast of voices brought the personalities of the characters to life. The soundtrack was great. The backgrounds had so much detail that at points I wondered whether I was really seeing photographs on which the characters were superimposed. This film is definitely worth seeing on the big screen.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Walk a mile in another person's mocassins - if you can make it

Much of the so-called "analysis" of what happened at the PCUSA General Assembly has focused on how things can be made to appear rather than what the Assembly actually said. The usual source for authoritative pronouncements has been the polemic material generated by opponents containing assertions of what specific proposals would do, while being selective in listening to what the proponents of the proposals were saying about their intentions.

We need to keep listening to each other. Dave Walker's cartoon today reminds me about the importance of perspective.

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Stability needed to ensure sustained change

"Magnetta returns as council president", in Valley News Dispatch, June 20, 2006Yesterday's Valley News Dispatch had an article about Monday night's meeting of the Tarentum Borough Council, but the article did not make it onto the VND website.

In the article questions are raised about whether the change in the presidency will mean a return to a style of local government that is not transparent to the public. The answers to these questions are important.

In my view Tarentum's local government needs a culture change more than a change of officers. A certain amount of stability in the leadership is a prerequisite for being able to see sustainable changes in the way the borough council functions.

Before the April ouster I had seen signs that President Magnetta was giving attention to the Sunshine Act, and that he was determined to ensure that the government functioned openly. I didn't get a chance to see him follow through on that.

After some initial serious concerns about Mary Newcomer's presidency, I had begun to see committees doing their work in public, and was looking forward to a further opening up of Tarentum's government. Her ouster this week interrupted that process.

The battle of personalities has got to stop long enough for any leader of the council to have an opportunity to take steps to open up the government and to be held accountable for success or failure in doing so.

I am concerned that near the end of the council meeting there was a vote to cancel committee meetings for the summer. I have been told that the Tarentum Borough Council does this each year and that I should not be alarmed. President Magnetta said that any committee chair can request a meeting if needed.

If the next Council agenda has the usual slew of motions coming from committees that did not meet publicly, I will take that as a sign of Tarentum Council's return to functioning behind closed doors.

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PUP report adopted without changing ordination standards

The 217th General Assembly of the PCUSA adopted the recommendations in the report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church on Tuesday. The Presbyterian News Service story erroneously describes this vote "gives ordaining bodies greater leeway in applying those [ordination] standards to individual candidates for ordination."

At the center of the controversy is the so-called Recommendation 5, which was amended in the committee and again on the floor before it was adopted, so that it now reads

5. The Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church recommends that the 217th General Assembly (2006) approve the following authoritative interpretation of section G-6.0108 of the Book of Order:
a. The Book of Confessions and the Form of Government of the Book of Order set forth the scriptural and constitutional standards for ordination and installation.

b. These standards are determined by the whole church, after the careful study of Scripture and theology, solely by the constitutional process of approval by the General Assembly with the approval of the presbyteries. These standards may be interpreted by the General Assembly and its Permanent Judicial Commission.

c. Ordaining and installing bodies, acting as corporate expressions of the church, have the responsibility to determine their membership by applying these standards to those elected to office. These determinations include:
(1) Whether a candidate being examined for ordination and/or installation as elder, deacon, or minister of Word and Sacrament has departed from scriptural and constitutional standards for fitness for office,

(2) Whether any departure constitutes a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity under G-6.0108 of the Book of Order, thus barring the candidate from ordination and/or installation.
d. Whether the examination [assembly amendment: and ordination and installation decision] comply with the constitution of the PCUSA, and whether the ordaining/installing body has conducted its examination reasonably, responsibly, prayerfully, and deliberately in deciding to ordain a candidate for church office is subject to review by higher governing bodies.

e. All parties should endeavor to outdo one another in honoring one another’s decisions, according the presumption of wisdom to ordaining/installing bodies in examining candidates and to the General Assembly, with presbyteries’ approval, in setting standards.

I have highlighted the committee's amendment in green and the assembly's amendment in red; both of these changes mean that those commenting on the language in the originally published report are interpreting something other than what the General Assembly actually adopted.

So what is the significance of these changes? The original recommendation 5.d. attempted to limit what a higher governing body could review in an ordination decision to whether the examination had been conducted "reasonably, responsibly, prayerfully, and deliberately." It attempted to shield from review whether the examination was ultimately correct, and whether the ordination or installation decision made on the basis of the examination was correct. The language as adopted makes it clear that higher governing bodies can examine those basic questions.

There is no additional leeway given to ordaining bodies, and Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick said very plainly, "With the vote today we have not altered the fundamentals; we have the same standards as before."

It has always been the responsibility of ordaining governing bodies to make such decisions, and they have always done so with the possibility of review by higher governing bodies.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Tarentum skatepark contracts awarded; Borough Council restores Magnetta to presidency

The Tarentum Borough Council awarded contracts for the construction and equipment for Tarentum's public skatepark tonight. Councilwoman Ginger Sopcak reported for the Allegheny Valley North Council of Governments on the lowest responsible bidders for the projects to be accomplished with Community Development Block Grant money. The contract for the fence and pad for the skatepark was awarded to Santamaria Landscaping and Fence of Apollo at a cost of $76,453.45. The contract for the skatepark equipment was awarded to True Ride Inc. of Duluth, MN at an approximate cost of $61,000. The elimination of one of the desired pieces of equipment brings the skatepark in within the amount the Borough has budgeted for this project.

The Borough Council also awarded the contract for the generator for the pump house to Schultheis/T.S.B. Inc. for the Kohler generator at a cost of $52,200.

In a surprise series of votes near the beginning of the meeting the Borough council voted to restore Councilman Carl Magnetta to the position of President of the Council, to elect Councilman Tim Rapp as Vice President of Council, and to hire William Rossey as Borough Manager effective September 25, 2006 with a starting salary of $54,500. Council President Magnetta announced that the events of the recent months were "over his head" and that he would make new committee appointments in the next week.

The citizen comments at the beginning of the meeting included: concerns about First and Fourth Amendment rights; a statement from the Recreation Board that had not been given access to the Council Agenda since its election; a commendation to the Council for the openness of the process at the committee meetings the previous week; and a request to reconsider approving the retirement of Borough Manager Jeff Thomas. As I watched the Council give the citizens full opportunity to air their concerns I was impressed that then Council President Mary Newcomer had reached a level of comfort with her office such that she was able to handle some very hard questions and deep concerns with firmness and grace. But I did not know that a round of musical chairs was in the offing.

From the committee meeting last week I had been anticipating a difficult discussion of a motion to change the line 451.530 in the borough budget and take funding away from the Recreation Board. During the time for citizen comments, the chairman of the Recreation Board, Harmon Boston had explained that the Council had formed the Board by an ordinance in 1968, following Article XXVII in the Pennsylvania Borough Code, and that the Board wanted to keep its funding.

Solicitor Strellec opined that there was no ordinance to create the Recreation Board, having researched the matter as far back as 1985. Representatives of the Recreation Board had copies of the 1968 ordinance available. The motion to change the budget failed by a vote of 2-5.

In other business, the Council passed the Family Medical Leave Act policy, voted to advertize an ordinance granting Salsgiver Communications a non-exclusive franchise agreement, approved a Mutual Aid agreement with Allegheny Ludlum, hired a full-time police officer, accepted an addendum to the Agreement with Frazer to provide police services, approved 2 handicap parking spaces on Allegheny Street near First AVe., and awarded a street paving contract to Ron Gillette at a cost of $160,469.30.

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"Alternative Presbyterian Churches"

I just finished a lengthy phone call with an anonymous telephone caller whose first question to me was whether Central Presbyterian Church was a PCUSA church. I proudly told her "Yes."

She told me that she almost threw up her lunch when she heard Fox News tell her that "alternative Presbyterian churches" are thinking about gender inclusive language for worship which is not just Father Son and Holy Spirit, and want to use other names for God such as "mother", "child", and "lover" - which she sees as atrocities. My understanding is that the Trinity report talks about these terms as metaphors rather than names. Am I incorrect?

And I still don't get what is so atrocious about acknowledging that God loves us.

I had a hard time pinning her down about what exactly was the source of her information. She rambled on and on incoherently, but I am guessing that she might have heard a propaganda piece about the Trinity report coming to the GA.

For some reason connected to the PCUSA in her mind, she brought up the recent election of a female archbishop by the Episcopal Church, and asked if I knew about it. I told her, "Yes, I heard about that. Wasn't it great?"

She was shocked at my response and told me I should start wearing a skirt.

She was absolutely positive that the Spirit is male. I asked her where she got that. She claimed that she had read the Bible in all the languages. I asked her about Greek. She had no clue that the word for spirit in Greek was neuter. I asked her about Hebrew. She had no clue that the word for spirit in Hebrew was feminine. Why was she positive that the Spirit was male? Simply because she believed that God is male.

In the course of the phone call I advised her not to be eating her lunch while she listens to Fox "News".

She hung up on me to end the phone call.

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Gag reflex editorial in VND

Editorial, 'Gag Reflex' in Valley News Dispatch, June 19, 2006, p. A6The editorial in the today's Valley News Dispatch follows up on a news story last week about the Allegheny Township supervisors' lifting of a gag order on employees, while deciding that the supervisors themselves will not respond to reporters.

The editorial's conclusion that "this new 'no comment' policy is as silly as the gag order" is understated. Although the overturned policy was likely illegal - and that is a serious matter - the new policy sounds more silly.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

New flowers planted at Central

Ageratum and rudbeckiaToday volunteers at Central Presbyterian Church planted some new flowers in the garden along the back of the building. The selection was a change from last year.

This year an annual Rudbeckia called 'Indian Summer' was planted along the rear of the flower bed. They don't look like much now, but you can see what they might look like later here.

Along the front of the flower bed we planted Ageratum. They already have their distinctive blue flowers, but you can see what they might look like when they fill in here.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Big Ben apologizes

The local blogosphere has been filled with posts about Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident Monday. Perhaps his apology today will bring some closure to the incident.

I've been trying to get my head around the mystery during much of the week. On the football field Ben faces only 11 hostile opponents at a time, each of them weighing 200-300 pounds, and he wears a helmet for protection. In traffic he faces an endless stream of vehicles that may not be out to get him, but weigh an average of a ton apiece for the passenger vehicles; but he wore no helmet while riding a motorcycle that could reach speeds of 180 mph.

There have been a lot of great jokes about the incident this week. I've enjoyed most of what I read on The Carbolic Smoke Ball, especially this post and this one.

The New Ben Roethlisberger
A friend sent me this picture of "The New Ben Roethlisberger."

All these pictures and and jokes are attempts to deal with our annoyance, or perhaps it could be said more bluntly, our anger that a person who matters so much to so many would take such risks with his own well-being.

Dave Walker (a blogger for whom the term "Big Ben" has a very different meaning) in his Cartoon Blog has a very helpful and thoughtful note today about Online Anger. It is worth reading.

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Three hundred years of Presbyterianism celebrated in simultaneous meetings

The General Assemblies of three Presbyterian denominations are meeting in Birmingham at the same time, but in different halls. The General assemblies of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will share worship services, and exhibit hall, and a forum on our joint history. (Presbyterian News Service story here; statement of purpose for the concurrent meetings here)

These simultaneous meetings should have a special meaning to the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum, that was founded in 1888 by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1906 there was a congregation-by-congregation decision to merge the Cumberland Presbyterian Church with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Many Cumberland churches made the switch; the Cumberland church in Tarentum was one of them and was officially chartered by the Pittsburgh Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in 1914 with the name Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum.

There is some good historical information about the origins and history of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America at their joint historical site, and especially here.

This joint meeting is not part of any effort toward organic union of the three denominations, but is an exciting ecumenical opportunity to be together, to worship together, and to discover whether there are more opportunities to cooperate in accomplishing the Church's mission.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Powerless in the center of things

When I arrived at Central Presbyterian Church this morning there was no power in the building. The first volunteer to arrive for the day was in a tizzy because she did not even know how to make a phone call with the power out. When I went out to find out what was going on, I discovered that all the activity was happening right in front of the church.

Tarentum borough bucket truck
There were two trucks from Tarentum Borough Electric present working on repairs to a single line that had fallen. Borough Manager Jeffrey Thomas was present, and explained to me that most of the town was without power because of this line break.

While the crews worked on the repair, alarms at Golden Towers brought a response from all three fire companies in town. The alarms turned out to be only alarms going off.

And Central Presbyterian Church was right in the center of all the activity. Almost like being at a parade.

Trucks from all three fire companies

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Something for meeting-watchers

logo for the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)Many of those who read my blog either watch local meetings with me or get some information from my blog about what happened at meetings they could not attend. Today you'll have an opportunity to watch live streaming video of a large Presbyterian meeting, of the sort that has informed my ability to follow a meeting's process.

The 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will meet in Birmingham, Alabama June 15-22. The meeting will be broadcast over the web with streaming video that you can watch here.

The opening business session will begin at 1:00 PM Central Daylight Time today. (That's 2:00 PM on clocks in Tarentum) On the video of that part of the meeting you will see such things as the convening of the meeting, some orientation of the commissioners, training in how the commissioners will use the electronic voting system at their tables, etc. There are usually some humorous questions asked of the commissioners to train them in using the voting keypads.

Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase will report on his activities as the Moderator of the 216th General Assembly over the past two years. The host Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley will welcome the General Assembly and give a presentation about its history, life, and mission.

The evening session begins at 7:30 PM CDT and the main business will be the election of a Moderator. There are four candidates, each nominated by his or her presbytery. Each of the candidates could do the job, but each would bring to the job a distinct set of experiences, skills, and interests.

Those who watch the streaming video will unfortunately miss out on watching the four candidates interact with a large group of commissioners and visitors to the assembly at the Outlook dinner that immediately precedes the evening session of the Assembly. When I attended Assemblies, the presentations during that dinner have given me a better sense of who the candidates are, and how they would be as moderator.

Presbyterian blogger Apostle John has endorsed candidate Joan Gray and predicted her election. I believe she would do an outstanding job as moderator. I warm deeply to her candidacy because I sense the kindred spirit of a person who is passionate about our polity. But I think that the things that make me like her may not be as broadly valued in the PCUSA as I would prefer. She is absolutely right that a challenge facing our denomination is to "stay with the pain," but I wonder whether a majority would rally around that flag so early in the meeting.

Apostle John dismisses Deborah Block as a viable candidate because she is a member of the Covenant Network. I would not discount the influence of the Covenant Network so quickly. It is my perception that among the various groups advocating for the ordination of gays and lesbians, the Covenant Network is cloer to the Presbyterian center than organizations such as More Light Presbyterians or That All May Freely Serve. Block is also not a single-issue candidate; she is involved with the Jewish-Presbyterian Consultation, which is highly relevant as the Assembly deals with the possibility of continued study and possible divestment from some corporations operating in Israel and Palestine. I note that she has selected my favorite portions from the "Brief Statement of Faith" as footers to the pages of her candidacy dossier, and those may resonate with a large number of commissioners as well.

Timothy Halverson brings some important concerns and experience to the Assembly, and I would love to see his ideas get broader attention in the church. I am not sure how his passion for evangelism translates into leading a meeting of the General Assembly. He certainly brings an impressive set of connections: he is a fellow Yalie who was ordained in one of the more conservative churches of a presbytery I once served; his running mate is Carol Divens Roth, the current moderator of Pittsburgh Presbytery. He is also a strong candidate.

I agree with Apostle John with his reasons for dismissing Kerry Carson as a viable candidate.

Without the benefit of meeting the candidates or hearing them prior to the election process this evening, I think Block is the strongest candidate, even though I wish Gray would be elected.

The result of this election will be an important indicator of where the General Assembly may go with much of its business in the coming week.

Does anybody want to gather around the streaming video to watch the election tonight?

Update: 11:50 PM: It was Joan Gray on the third ballot. I am delighted.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Some kids have the greatest answers

Tonight the Tuesday Evening Meal and Ministry took our Bible Study down to the Riverview Memorial Park after supper. We sat around a picnic table for the Bible Study and time of prayer for many of our concerns.

child walking ahead of usThen we headed back to the church.

Most of us walked up the sidewalk as a group, continuing to chat. But one of the youngsters walked on ahead.

Concerned that the group was getting too spread out before we got back, I called ahead to him, "Hey ... why are you getting so far ahead of us?"

"Because I walk faster than you," was his reply.

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Tarentum borough council committees meet in public; conflict brewing about recreation board

Tarentum borough council committees met in public for almost three hours Monday evening. Near the end of the meeting there was an extensive discussion of a looming conflict between the recreation board, the council's parks and recreation committee, and a previous recreation board. This conflict will come to the Council next week through a motion to "correct" line item 451.530 in the borough's budget.

There are many facets to the conflict about the recreation board, involving its identity, role, authority, and funding. As to the identity of the recreation board, it has been claimed that a previous recreation board existed, with the chair of the borough council's Parks and Recreation Committee as a member. Past Council President Carl Magnetta acted at the beginning of this year to recruit volunteers to help with recreational activities in the borough. At the February meeting it became clear that the intention was for this group of interested people to replace the previous recreation board. If the previous board had been meeting, there do not appear to be such basic records of its existence and functioning as minutes of meetings or a roster of members with their terms of service. Then Council President Magnetta deemed that the old board was non-functioning, and began the process of appointing a new board, which was elected by the Council in March. That board began meeting and has done some preliminary organization.

Meanwhile the list of those alleged to have been members of the previous board has gradually grown, although it still has not yet reached the size of a board that could meet to do anything.

Solicitor Strellec admitted that there was confusion about the identity of the recreation board, and said that it was a problem that the old board was never dissolved or dismissed.

Councilwoman Ginger Sopcak asked the borough manager to send a memo to the members of the old board and the members of the new board to ask them to state their interest in serving on the recreation board. If some people are not interested, there may be a way for the council to fill vacancies and give a voice to everyone who cares about recreation in Tarentum.

There is great confusion about the role and authority of a recreation board. Solicitor Strellec pointed out that under Article XXVII of the Borough Code, a recreation board has the responsibility for providing, improving, maintaining, and regulating recreation places, which is distinct from recreation activities such as concert series, parades, or bingo games. If the Borough ever formally established a recreation board under Article XXVII, the claimed role of the old recreation board with respect to recreational activities was mistaken. And the role with respect to recreational activities that was offered to the new board would be similarly mistaken.

On a side note, it would also mean that the Recreation Board ought to be involved in the skateboard park project, given that the skateboard park will be a recreation place.

In the borough budget line item 451.530 is allocated to the "Recreation Board", but as long as people can remember the money under that line has been used for recreational activities. It would be reasonable to assume that when the Council put the money into the budget at that line they intended it to be used for the same kinds of activities as had been done in the past. Meanwhile the new board, that is eager to do its work and will need funding in order to accomplish anything sees a budget that says there is money for their use. From the perspective of the Council's Parks and Recreation Committee (with two members) the Council misspoke when it used those words in the budget, and the budget needs to be corrected. From the perspective of the new Recreation Board (nine members), the change is likely to be seen as a change in the budget that takes away their funds. This conflict comes to the Council at the next meeting.

In other committee business there was an hour-long presentation and discussion with representatives of H&T Capital Markets about a callable note and redoing a bond issue. Because it was deemed to be time-sensitive the council voted to instruct H&T to begin work for redoing the bond issue. This action does not commit the Council to anything, but enables a formal bond proposal to come to an advertized meeting of the Council without delay.

There was an extensive discussion of how the borough is managed, i.e., who supervises the department supervisors, and whether the borough needs a manager or a secretary.

At the next council meeting there will be a motion to advertise an ordinance granting a franchise for cable service to Salsgiver on the same terms as the franchise granted to Comcast. Residents of Tarentum may soon have a choice about who will provide their cable TV service.

Councilwoman Sopcak reported on the bids for the projects being done with CDBG money through the Allegheny Valley North Council of Governments. It appears that the lowest bidder for the skateboard park construction used a different material than that in the specifications for the project. A group of skateboarders is discussing whether this difference would be acceptable. The second lowest bidder for the construction did use the material specified.

I felt this lengthy meeting was very positive in light of the fact that most of the committees were doing their work in public. Ever since I started watching the Tarentum Borough Council I wondered when the committees that brought all that business to the Council actually met. Frequently most of them did not appear to hold advertised meetings. Tonight's meeting feels like a healthy transition to a more open local government.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

A quilt square out of the past

District 1 quilt, Pittsburgh Presbyterial AssociationWhile I was at the Pittsburgh Presbytery Center today I noticed some quilts hanging on the wall. I had not noticed these previously, but I understand that they were put up to soften the acoustic qualities in the "Great Hall." There were three quilts, made by the districts of the Pittsburgh Presbyterial Society in 1988.

I found the square submitted by the Women's Association of the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum on the quilt made by District 1.

It was an interesting depiction of the front of the church building, that should be recognizable by any of the people who approach the Central Presbyterian Church building along Third Avenue. Unfortunately, it is a bit distorted because of the way the whole quilt is hanging.
Central Presbyterian Church Women's Association quilt square

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

God speaks to some very selective listeners

This weekend I have found myself ruminating about the very selective ways in which we human listeners decide what we will hear or recognize that might be a message from God.

My pondering of this issue was prompted from many directions. On Friday a friend asked me to reconsider a decision I had made, and his request has put me back into a process of trying to discern what God wants me to do.

On Saturday, I read a very helpful note by "Apostle John" about the call process in the PCUSA. Apostle John says:
I served a church in Tennessee once and found the people there were always saying, "God is telling me this or that."

Not, "I feel that God is moving me to do this or that," but that "God is telling me this or that."

My first reaction was to think, "How arrogant, that people would think that God speaks to them and no one else."

My second reaction was to think, "How dangerous."

Later in the same note he talks a bit more about how people use this language.
One reaction I heard was in a committee meeting. "God is telling me this or that," one of the members of the committee said. It was her way of saying, "It's my way or the highway. I'm putting God's seal of approval on my opinion so you can argue with it."

In other words, "God is telling me..." was a way of using the Lord's name in vain.

I read this note a week after a presbytery meeting where I noticed the same kind of language, not necessarily used as an exercise of power. At one point in the meeting we were told that the associate pastor had a conversation with the pastor about which of them should bring the greeting to the gathered presbytery, and it had all been cloaked humorously in language about what God was telling each of them, and whether it was God who was speaking. (By the end of the meeting they had each greeted the Presbytery, so maybe they were both right.)

In the same meeting one of the committees made the claim that God kept showing them a particular issue. And I found myself wondering whether there were things being shown to me over and over, but my own mental processing was simply very adept at keeping me blind to some repeating things while allowing me to notice the repetitions of other things.

Some of the times when I have been the most certain that I was doing something God wanted me to do have been times when I had no idea at all about where it was headed, or what was intended to follow from what I would do.

And then there are the times when I can have a pretty clear impression of what future lies at the end of either diverging path that is before me, and still be deeply unsure which path is the one I ought to follow toward an almost predictable future.

I asked my Dad for advice tonight. He told me that God would never give me more than I could handle. "But sometimes it is the case that I take on more than God is asking me to do," was my response. So it goes.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Bids open, Tarentum skatepark closer to reality

Fountain at entrance to University of Pittsburgh Applied Research CenterToday at the offices of the Senate Engineering Company in the University of Pittsburgh Applied Research Center, there was a public opening of sealed bids for projects in Tarentum.

Thomas J. Benecki, Executive Director of the Allegheny Valley North Council of Governments conducted the bid opening. He explained that after the opening the bids would still be examined by the municipality and AVNCOG for such things as accuracy and legality. At the end of the opening today we only knew who was the apparent low bidder.

The skateboard park project was divided into two contracts: one for construction of the concrete pad and fencing, and the other for the park equipment. The bids for the park equipment were to be broken down by item, so Tarentum can select pieces of equipment to keep the project within available resources. As a result, the actual total for equipment may vary from the total shown on the formal bids.

There were four bidders on the construction contract. The apparent low bidder was Santamaria Landscaping and Fence at $76,453.45.

There were three bidders on the equipment contract. The apparent low bidder was True Ride, Inc., at $83,710.13.

Although these two low bids combined are more than the total amount now budgeted for the skateboard park, there are a number of ways to eliminate the gap. The borough might find additional funding in the form of a grant, or it might select fewer pieces of equipment to stay within budget. A public skateboard park in Tarentum is closer to reality than it has ever been before.

Bids were also opened for Tarentum's Water Intake Building Generator project. There were eight bids on this project, with each contractor having the opportunity to submit two base bids, one with a Cummins generator, and one with a Kohler generator. The apparent low bid with the Cummins generator was Ell Inc., at $58,300. The apparent low bid with the Kohler generator was from Schultheir/T.S.B. Inc. at $52,200.

Dan Schimidt of Gibson Thomas (Tarentum Borough's engineers) was present at the bid opening.

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So how tough is Godzilla really?

As it turns out, Godzilla can be pretty tough, even in miniature, especially when you don't have Mothra around to help you out.
Godzilla pinata

At a ten-year-old's birthday party yesterday there was a Godzilla pinata as one of the games.

This was one tough monster. The wire holding him up broke twice in the course of the attack by the individual children.

Then Godzilla was allowed to be a sitting target for battery.

Immobilize Godzilla and you might stand a chance
Or hit him with the hard end of a stick
Or maybe the problem is the padding on the business end of the improvised bat.

Fractured bat
Or maybe no human-made instument of destruction is sufficient for an attack on Godzilla.

(No live lizards were harmed in this children's game.)

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

New colors at two ends of the same block of 4th Ave.

Here are a couple of pictures I took Monday showing some new color and beautification along Fourth Avenue in Tarentum.

New geraniums have been planted in each of the planters around Central Presbyterian Church. Members donated the flowers on Pentecost, and now they appear around the church.

Some of the new geraniums planted around Central Presbyterian Church, Tarentum
At the other end of the same block, the Praha has a new sign, closer to street level. Ever since I came to the area I have found the sign reading "Hotel Praha" painted high on the wall of the building to add a certain European charm to the neighborhood. The new sign reverses the words to the American style. I'm glad the higher sign is still there. And of the course the awning has the single word: Praha.
Praha signs

Then again, maybe they changed the name on the sign to avoid confusion with another Hotel Praha, 'cause it's classy.

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Tarentum Festival starts this week

The Tarentum Street Fair in West Tarentum is over, but now people are getting ready for the Tarentum Festival, June 8, 9, and 10 in Riverview Memorial Park.

It is a pretty neat event to attend during the day. There are lots of booths with crafts and other goods for sale, interesting food, music, and games.

And then there is the beer tent, the reason so many locals call this event the DrunkFest.

I know I am a transplant to this area, so I don't have the same history as the rest of the folks in town. I have gone to the Tarentum Festival each year since I moved here, and have never been at the Festival when the atmosphere became unpleasant. So I am always a bit mystified at the resistance of people from Central Presbyterian Church to have a booth at the Festival. Their memories are longer than mine, I guess.

There are events and activities appropriate for children at the Tarentum Festival, especially during the daylight hours.

I've been noticing hits on this blog from people looking for the Tarentum Festival, where the search pages people were using would not steer them to the Festival's website. So I'm posting this blog entry to make sure that people looking for info about the Festival can find it.

Save the dates:

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Monday, June 05, 2006

I'm not very Pittsburgh.

... which is to be expected.

I scored a 32% on the "How Pittsburgh are you?" Quizie! What about you?

They didn't want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot

New Kensington City Council, June 5, 2006The New Kensington City Council held its regular monthly meeting tonight with about 75 citizens present to advocate for protecting the playground for young children behind City Hall.

Over the past month there has been a lot of activity to mobilize residents to support this playground. There have been letters to the editor of the Valley News Dispatch and at least two articles (here and here).

Part of a mosaic inside the New Kensington City HallThere was no business on the agenda for tonight's meeting related to closing the playground, so the City Council heard from citizens after it had accomplished the scheduled business for the evening. Before hearing from the citizens, Mayor Link explained that the City Council wanted to preserve a playground for the children, that there had never been a proposal to eliminate the basketball courts, and that the Council was concerned about improving the playgrounds for children and making them better.

Councilman Regoli acknowledged that he had been quoted accurately in the newspaper, but explained that his statements had been about two separate issues.

The citizens who addressed the council spoke about the importance of the playground, and expressed their gratitude to the City Council for the explanation of what it was and was not doing. Nevertheless there were serious concerns from the citizens to ensure that the energy for resolving problems with the playground get resolved.

In unrelated business, Mayor Link also drew attention to a petition in support of rail service between New Kensington/Arnold and Pittsburgh.

This was the first time I had ever observed the New Kensington City Council. Readers of this blog have been following my notes about Tarentum's Borough Council, and I was interested to see how the style of Tarentum's government compared with another local government.

The City Council of New Kensington had four councilmen and the mayor - a smaller council than that in Tarentum, yet governing a larger municipality. I was impressed by the climate of mutual respect between the council members, a climate that fostered a healthy and respectful relationship between the council and the citizenry.

In spite of all that people have told me about how New Kensington was in trouble, my perception of the community at this meeting was very different. People were working together with a positive spirit, and there was a lot of positive energy in the room. I was impressed by the involvement of a number of the local clergy in the effort to ensure the continuation of recreational facilities and programs for the children. I can see why people love New Ken.

The Council meeting was organized very well. The agenda had the full text of each motion to be made. The Council used a consent agenda to streamline business and be able to take non-controversial actions very expeditiously.

My one criticism of the meeting was that the time for citizen comments on the agenda was labelled "Audience Participation." The terminology used did not reflect what was actually happening. The citizens present were not an audience, but actual participants in the democratic process. This meeting was not a TV talk show like Oprah or Phil Donahue, and in fact Mayor Link did not run it on the model of those "audience participation" formats. It was clear throughout the meeting that the elected officials were listening to the citizenry and ready to enter into partnership to work on solving the city's problems.

The next meeting to work on the playground issues will be June 15 at 6:00 PM at Mt. Calvary Church.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Habitat for Humanity raises walls in New Kensington

The Leonard Family holds a post signed by students at the St. Luke Lutheran School in Cabot, 06-03-06Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley raised walls for a new house on McCargo Street in New Kensington today. (Yes, you read that right. We didn't raze walls in New Kensington. We raised walls!)

This new house will be the home for the Joyce Leonard Family of New Kensington. As partners with Habitat for Humanity, the Leonard family was present to help with the project and will put their own sweat equity into the house.

This new house is part of a push by our local Habitat affiliate to increase our building capacity. In previous years we have built one house a year; last year we built two; this year we will build three! The new house on McCargo Street will be a duplex - houses #8 and #9 for our affiliate. This year's third house will be in Tarentum at a location yet to be determined.

Key assistance this year comes through a grant from Thrivent Builds - a partnership between Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Habitat for Humanity. Thrivent Builds sponsors the Leonard house in this duplex. The Pittsburgh Mills is sponsoring the other house of this duplex.

The students of St. Luke Lutheran School in Cabot raised almost $2,500 for this house. They signed their names to a 2x4, which was presented to the Leonard family at the wall-raising today. The Thrivent Builds partnership has led to the involvement of a large number of local Lutherans in this project and others.

Before the walls were raised today there was a brief worship service at the work site. Rev. Dr. James Legge, President of the local affiliate, read a letter from Bishop Donald J. McCoid, of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod. The Rev. Dave Matthews, pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Verona and the Apostles Lutheran Church in Penn Hills offered the closing prayer in the service.

After receiving some instructions in safety, the volunteers present lifted the first wall into place on the count of three.
Wall being raised at 300 McCargo St, New Kensington, June 3, 2006
Wall being raised at 300 McCargo St, New Kensington, June 3, 2006
Wall being raised at 300 McCargo St, New Kensington, June 3, 2006
(And that is the same count we'll use to build three houses in 2006.)
First wall seen from the outside at 300 McCargo St, New Kensington, June 3, 2006
The first wall was impressive from the outside.
Second wall at 300 McCargo St, New Kensington, June 3, 2006
And a second wall went up within an hour of the first.

It was truly inspiring to see so many people working together to bring into being one part of a plan to end poverty housing.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Please don't rain on my Summit Hose Company 100th Anniversary Parade

Hoping the rain will hold off for the Summit Hose Company 100th Anniversary parade
Inclement weather interfered with a timely start for the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary Parade on Friday, June 2. Scheduled to start at 6:30 sharp, the parade eventually started at 7:00 PM under pouring rain.
Umbrellas out as the rain starts falling again
The Allegheny County Sheriff was near the front of the parade.
Allegheny County Sheriff
Summit Hose Company brought their 100th Anniversary birthday cake. Someone left a cake out in the rain, and I'll never have that recipe again.

100th Anniversary birthday cake for Summit Hose Company, Tarentum
A large number of neighboring fire departments were present in support of Summit Hose Company's 100th anniversary. East Deer was present.
East Deer Fire Department in the Summit Hose 100th Anniversary parade, Tarentum
East Deer Fire Department in the Summit Hose 100th Anniversary parade, Tarentum
The Worthington Lionettes Marching Corps was not intimidated by the weather...
Worthington Lionettes Marching Corps in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
... not even the littlest Lionettes.
8 little lionettes.JPG
The Pioneer Hose Company from Brackenridge was here for the parade...
Pioneer Hose Company, Brackenridge in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
... as was the Hilltop Hose Company from Natrona Heights.
Hilltop Hose, Natrona Heights in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
Men of the New Kensington Fire Department showed up in their dress uniforms, but their truck was not able to start the parade with them.
New Kensington Fire Dept in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
The Springdale Fire Department showed up ...
Springdale Fire Dept in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
... as well as Upper Burrell.
Upper Burrell Fire Department in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
The Eclipse Senior Drum and Baton Corps got out to march in our parade.
Eclipse Senior Drum and Baton Corps in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
The Apollo Fire Department helped with the celebration ...
Apollo Fire Dept in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
... as well as North Apollo, ...
North Apollo Fire Dept in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
... Aspinwall, ...
Aspinwall Fire Dept in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
... Lower Burrell, ...
Lower Burrell Fire Department in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
... and the Lower Burrell Kinloch station, ...
Lower Burrell Kinloch in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
... and Frazer.
Frazer Fire Dept in the Summit Hose Company's 100th Anniversary parade
The Arnold Fire Department was also present. The New Kensington Top Hats were also here but it was far too wet by the time they would have appeared in the parade.

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