Thursday, September 27, 2012

PSU's Milton Hershey Center Snafus

As if Penn State didn't have enough problems with the child abuse scandal, now a subcontractor on a construction project at the school is saying the general contractor is molesting it and other subcontractors.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Arte TV Documents Pittsburgh

As I've said, Arte TV is doing a documentary of Pittsburgh. I have been working with reporter/cameraman Vladimir Vasak and soundman Sebastian Guisset on the project, which will appear in October. Here's a fuzzy photo of us, from rabblerouser Doug Shields' home. Pictured from left are Vladimir, Sebastian, and me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Frackdown at Flagstaff

PennEnvironment, in conjunction with Food and Water Watch, are rallying in Pittsburgh against gas drilling on Saturday. The event is at 11 a.m. on Saturday, September 22nd  at Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park. It's part of the Global Frackdown, so come to Flagstaff Hill and let your frack flag fly!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Interview with Gloria Forouzan, Lawrenceville resident and Fracktivist

Lawrenceville resident Gloria Forouzan, who works for Pittsburgh City Council president Darlene Harris, is one of several founders of Marcellus Protest, an anti-fracking group. Fracking—or hydraulic fracturing—is a process in which drillers pump fluid mixed with sand, water and hundreds of chemicals into rock strata deep in the earth, to harvest natural gas trapped in the rock. Critics of the process, like Forouzan and many others, say fracking harms water and air, is not safe, and should be banned altogether.

I recently spoke with Gloria in the Crazy Mocha coffee shop, near her home in Lawrenceville. She explained how she became aware of fracking after the natural gas drillers began quietly petitioning her neighbors to have them sign leases to place distribution pipes beneath their property. Then she and other neighbors heard the nearby cemetery had signed a lease for a well, and interest in the topic exploded.

At the time of our interview, I was helping out a two-man film crew from Arte TV, a public TV network in France, who was en route to interview her as part of a documentary on Pittsburgh. Fracking is banned in France, and some French are amazed that people are promoting it here in America.

While we were waiting, I figured why not ask her a few questions myself.

Why did you decide to speak out about fracking?

GF: Prior to that [cause], I was just a regular person trying to save Lawrenceville Library.

Are you surprised by the lack of outrage of people regarding fracking?

Our side doesn’t have the money they have—we don’t have the means to do the counter-campaign we need.

Do you think people are catching on to this contentious method of drilling for fossil fuel?

I think they are. I think we are reaching out into quarters… Marcellus Protest is becoming a lightning rod. We’re getting emails from people in small towns reaching out to us.

MP’s network now is in the hundreds of people, whose opinions are influencing thousands, perhaps many more. But people still say that you can’t smell or taste the fracking, so what’s the big deal?

You can smell it and taste it in the water—ask the people in Dimock, PA. Ask Ron Gulla from Washington County about his water. He’s been fighting fracking for years—and he worked in the gas industry.

Money is oiling all the wheels—even down to the local level in townships and counties. Many of the local politicians have vested interests, and they will not recuse themselves… But nobody’s giving me a dime for this!

What do you think people would be surprised to learn about fracking?

How expensive it is to attract gas [through the process], though the gas is in limited quantities… We’re talking twenty years of gas.

What are Marcellus Protest’s goals?

To stop fracking, and to make drillers pay an environmental impact fee… We know getting a ban is very difficult.

Are you hopeful that a fracking ban can be achieved in Pennsylvania?

Not in my life. I’m going to be a grandmother in February. It’s our duty to leave the world at least better than when we found it.

On Oct. 17, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case pitting several municipalities against state legislators—a battle over Act. 13. The sweeping state law effectively overturned local bans and strictures on fracking, making the state law come before all others. Many people who are opposed to fracking in the Keystone State say the toxins from spent fracking fluid has tainted out public water sources. What do you think?

I think it’s in our water, yes. Thirty percent of the fracking fluid comes back out of the ground, and it has radon in it. And our state government wants to make a law that says if 75 percent of your neighbors want fracking, you have to do it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On Famiglia

"How come-a you were married seven years and have-a no kid? How old-a you, 36? You young, you still have time," 97-year-old Armando Belisario said to me yesterday at his cousin Joe Belisario's Barber Shop along Atwood Street in Oakland.
I could've kissed him on his wrinkly forehead for calling me 36.
"Don't be like me... You gotta have a famiglia! ... This world, what happen when you get sick, who gonna help you? You gotta have-a famiglia!"

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Weak Haters

"Haters will passive aggressively offer you help, though they couldn't hold your jockstrap." -Barnestormin

Monday, September 03, 2012


There is no Fairness Doctrine on my Facebook Wall. There is only the Barnestormin Doctrine, which is why I’m puzzled by folks out there in the social media ether who think I should give them fair time on my wall, when I don’t agree with them and I don’t even know them. Now why in the world would I let wrongheaded people or for that matter, even people with a mean attitude I’d rather not tolerate, to act the fool on my Wall?

I promise you one thing: If you are a consistently stupid person, you will not last long posting on my FB Wall. You will soon find yourself unplugged and out of the conversation. As I’ve written before, it’s my chalkboard and it’s my eraser.

Why all the griping? Because a while back I had a Super Gingergirl Gas Booster trying to tell me off on my own Wall. That wouldn’t fly, since I consider the Wall my own personal space, similar to Barnestormin. These are my spaces and I let you hang out and interact in them, but I have to set some limits.

I’m getting off topic. Long and short of it—Super Gingergirl, whom I will call Pleather McBane, tried to defend the down home Americanism of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas or “fracking,” as it’s called. She tried to defend her opinions and spar with me online but it was clear she was spouting views others had fed her and soon I knew the source of that misinformation. Shortly after this interaction online, McBane’s fianc√©, whom I’ll call Dick Butinksy, tried to friend me and I rejected the offer because I knew who he was and that he worked for a natural gas driller, and I suspected he wanted to post propaganda. So Butinsky sends me an email complaining about not getting fair time to present his views on the Wall, which is ludicrous.

One problem with these fracking boosters is that they have a zero tolerance policy for any criticism of the industry. But I done gradee-ated college and I smell BS when I hear a person obviously parroting someone else’s words, like when Pleather started to protest any suggestion that fracking was less than Christian Apple Pie. After I got offline I ended up being called an “aquitard” by Miss Pleather McBane. I didn’t realize she’d flamed me for a while, because I don’t always pay attention to my FB notifications. I mostly pay attention to the Likes, and of course the Pokes.

But here’s a fact I know: Soon after Cabot Oil and Gas workers started digging a natural gas well a few hundred feet from Dimock, PA resident Ron Carter’s home, his well water became tainted with fecal contaminants. Later the water problem also became potentially explosive, with methane leaking into the well water and into the home, where the Carters had to shower with the windows open—but who would want to anyway with that smell in the water, Carter asked me when we talked.

For two years Cabot delivered water to the Carters and others in Dimock, and they stopped doing so several months back. Now the DEP is providing water for the Carters and other families in Dimock. In the meantime, Cabot hasn’t been exactly transparent with the DEP, which only began to receive records from the company within the last year. The agency’s first installment of those records was thousands of pages long. The filing was followed by another filing of 100,000 pages of records.

Early this year, I spoke with a bright young researcher, a student in Pitt’s graduate school of public health, and I asked him about the many reports of bromides and carcinogens in our region’s water, and how they are related to the fracking process. The guy is studying the issue, and he said McKeesport and other local water treatment authorities in the region were treating fracking wastewater until recently. The DEP asked them to stop accepting the fracking wastewater, and asked the drillers to stop delivering it. Supposedly both groups agreed to do so, but you have to ask, what kind of industry thinks it’s OK to do irreparable harm to the environment, to permanently pollute our water? The answer is the drilling industry and at least some in the wastewater treatment industry, who allowed poisonous water to be discharged into our rivers, into our water system, and into our bodies.

Those toxins in the rivers get into the sediment in the riverbed. The little fish get the toxins, and the bigger fish get them too but in a bigger dose, since they eat the smaller fish. So it has a compounding effect.

Then there are the fracking-related earthquakes—in Arkansas and Oklahoma and not too long back, closer to home in Youngstown, OH. Experts believe these earthquakes are being caused by fracking operations, often from drillers injecting wastewater so deep into the earth that it could be getting into fault lines and causing the quakes. They suspect the fault line scenario, but researchers aren’t sure about it.

You must ask what kind of industry poisons the public’s drinking water and causes earthquakes, all just for profit? The same industry that claims “energy independence” can be attained by drilling for fossil fuels and selling the fuels overseas. Yes, we are talking about the industry that says fossil fuel drilling is all about manufacturing, not about exploiting the earth’s natural resources.

It’s funny, living here in the place once widely known as the Steel City, I can’t help but think of the old days. Things were different back then, when manufacturing meant making steel, cars and other products.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

East Pittsburgh Brewers: Full Pint Brewing and East End Brewing

It’s late afternoon and the August sky is a gorgeous mix of pink green and blue, lit up like a painting for visitors at Full Pint Brewing Company in North Versailles. Though it is perched on the hillside overlooking busy Route 30, the place has an almost bucolic feel—as comfortable as a weekend away from the city.

The brewery’s open, garage-style growler room has a half-dozen patrons sipping samples and drinking pints of the brewer's tasty beers. The contrasts between Full Pint and my regular brewery haunt—the citified East End Brewing Company—are hard not to notice. Where East End Brewing has a narrow, cramped, hallway-like room with a bar manned by friendly growler-masters such as Nordy, Albert and others who always remember you and will recall your favorite brews and particular tastes, Full Pint Brewing’s equally attentive staff will remember you and what you like, but the large open room that serves as the pub (right next to the brew house), is as open as a football field. And you can buy full pints of beer there, too, since Full Pint has a pub license.

In addition to the bar space at Full Pint, the place has tables and chairs where patrons can enjoy a beer and the occasional homemade pizza, whipped up quickly and laid out for free by one of the brewing company’s owners. Some of the ingredients for the pizza come from the brewing process, giving the dough a more pita-esque look and a wonderful flavor. Freshly picked toppings added to the tastiness, which patrons quickly gobble while quaffing beers.

Not to bust on East End Brewing, since the company is working on expanding and will occupy a new space with larger brewing facility and roomier growler room in the not too distant future. But word has it that the new place won’t have a license to sell pints—a selling point that Full Pint obviously has over East End. Offerings at Full Pint also are more numerous and growlers, which require a $5 deposit versus East End’s $3 deposit, can be refilled for just $10. East End has growlers that range from $10 to $16, after the deposit.

East End Brewing offers the obvious advantage to me (at least while they remain in the current location) of being close enough to walk to from my Park Place home. It's great to stroll down and pick up a growler after having some beer samples and munching some of the ever-present hard pretzels, provided courtesy of EEB patron Eli Zloftas. Nothing’s better than kicking off work around 4 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon and taking a nice stroll down to the brewery to see some friends and have some beer. After a while, you begin to recognize other Friday regulars, who sometimes bring their dogs inside so everyone can pet them.

But on the other hand, Full Pint also offers cases of their excellent brews for just $30 at the brewery—a real steal, compared to the cost of the same beer in distributor’s coolers. These same yummy beers such as Chinookie, White Lightning and Night Of The Living Stout range from $5.50 and more per draft in local bars, such as at The Loft in Regent Square, where Full Pint Brewing co-owner Sean Hallisey bartends some nights. Next door, his brother Corey bartends at the Map Room, a favorite of the Irish-Scots music crowd, which often gathers there Sunday nights to hear music. At Map Room, though, East End Brewing’s beers—Big Hop, Black Strap Stout, and Fat Gary’s Brown Ale--are featured. All of the aforementioned beers, and generally speaking all of the beers brewed by both of these fine brewers, are top-notch. It’s really a question of one’s taste or for those more seasoned drinkers, a question of the mood they are in.

If you want to taste a really spectacular Belgian white beer that will put other very famous brands to shame, drink White Lightning. If you’re up for an excellent ale, either Big Hop or Chinookie will wet your whistle. For a dark stout, you’ll notice a smoother finish to Night Of The Living Stout, but you may feel like you’re getting more kick out of Black Strap Stout. Really though, when it comes to either East End Brewing Company or Full Pint Brewing Company, it’s simply all good.