Friday, September 25, 2009

The absurdity of the Summit

The G-20 this week was supposed to be an opportunity to showcase Pittsburgh. Instead, the city turned into a police state as 4,000 officers tried to fend off freaks run a muck. Obviously, we all expected this to happen, but it is very disappointing that many in the international press corps are expressing dismay that there aren't any real yinzers to interview. But would YOU go dahntahn and be immersed in the possible mayhem? These reporters have to be a little disappointed when they can only train their pens and notebooks on Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Steelerstahl.

Clearly, the most bizarre moment happened when a man in a bloodied seal costume crawled on the sidewalk with the anarchist mob. The Post-Gazette and their Big Story blog put it this way...

***The goal is to reach the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where The G-20 is set to convene. How close they will get, even what route they will take, remains unclear. Nobody at the park had a clear idea, nor a single message.Near one entrance, a group of city bicycle patrolman watched a man dressed as a bleeding baby seal drag his way along the sidewalk.

"I think he's a seal," said the one officer.

In truth, he looked like a bleeding mushroom. The guy dragged himself until he got out of camera range, then got up and joined the others.***

(Here's the video that shows the ailing seal about one minute in)

I don't mind most of the protests, in fact, some are quite clever. But I sure hate those anarchists. Obviously, their title says it all. However, why do mom 'n' pop shops deserve their business windows smashed because their owners are trying to make a living? How are they a part of this globalization conspiracy when they're probably barely making enough money to keep the lights on? It's ridiculous, and I wish the anarchists many arrests during their recent vacation to Pittsburgh.

(Photo by Scott Beveridge)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The small business plan

By Greg Tarr
BLB Guest Blogger

Last month, I wrote a little about an idea I had to use my photography skills to open a small business. Some readers asked if I knew what I was getting into when I announced my plans to start my own business with a heavy concentration on photographing weddings. They didn't question my ability to handle the wedding day assignment, but wondered if I knew what preparations are needed to start a new business.

To answer that question simply, yes. I am aware that the business plan is a very important step in launching a start-up business. I certainly am not taking this step lightly. That's why I'm working with the University of Pittsburgh's Small Business Development Center. I'm also tapping the brain of a friend who developed his own business plan a year ago to start his chiropractic practice. Luckily, there’s another friend who just opened up a bridal boutique in town. That's a great resource for me considering we'll be looking at attracting the same demographic. A lot of time and effort will be put into my plan before I executing it by going to banks and asking them to invest in my idea.

Right now, I am not a business man, but I am learning. Photographers who produce less than satisfactory work can make it if they are great business people, and even the most talented photographers can fail if they are not business savvy. I am preparing myself and not jumping into the deep end without knowing how to swim. I am trying to be cautious and calculated without being afraid of failure.

I am not getting into wedding photography solely to make money. Of course, that will be nice, but I am really excited to document the amazing and happy event of a wedding. I've talked to wedding photographers from other states and they all love it. Sure there will be stress involved and bumps in the road, but like I said in the past, I've worked under stressful situations and feel that's when I produce my best work. I'd also like to add that one of those photographers is from San Francisco and she has invited me out to assist her on a few weddings. I’ll take up her on that offer once I purchase my own photo equipment. She is an amazing photographer and I can't wait to learn from such a talented shooter.

I hope that begins to lay out my plan to anyone who may have had questions. Please feel free to ask me more questions if they arise. Some readers have stated that they have a real interest in entrepreneurship and small business start-ups. I'm looking for any and all help and constructive criticism from people in the know. Don’t hesitate sending me an e-mail with your suggestions. I would appreciate your help.

Greg Tarr previously worked as a staff photographer at the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa. The wedding photo above was shot by Tarr in May 2005. He can be reached by e-mail at

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A happy Saturday in the valley

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The stadium shook and the crowd roared every time Penn State marched into the endzone. And that was during a 31-6 snoozer against... Temple? I can only imagine what it feels like to witness an important college football game here when the Nittany Lions play a real opponent at Beaver Stadium.

These people take their football seriously. Of course, most college football fans do. I should know, coming from West Virginia University where there are no pro sports teams in the state. Each Saturday, people from all across West Virginia gathered at Mountaineer Field to watch their team play.

But Happy Valley is different. From the thundering "We Are ... Penn State" cheer where the students actually shout "Thank You" to the alumni, to a slow motion wave around the stadium following the Lion's first touchdown. It's pretty neat.

Then, of course, there's that goofy Lion mascot, who must have fleas becuase he's constantly scratching his ears. He crowd surfs through the student section, break dances on the field and directs the crowd to a chrescendo of cheers before kickoff. But with the game decided long before either team took the field, my girlfriend, Tiffany, and I spent most of our time watching him as he entertained.

It's just unfortunate, though, that Penn State and head coach Joe Paterno feel the need to play so many cupcake non-conference teams (Akron, Syracuse and Temple) rather than schedule a real rival, such as the Pitt Panthers. It's all about ticket revenue from home games, and they certainly packed the stadium. But it's sad that most left before the start of the fourth quarter. Oh, and as for that giant S in the middle of the student section? It melted into metal bleachers long before the game ended.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Legal pad ambitions

“If a man constantly aspires, is he not elevated?”
-Henry David Thoreau

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

Like patience, time-management skills have always eluded me, as my BFF Candy remembers well. She had the misfortune of living with me during the most crammed time of my life – sophomore year of college when I was dealing with an 18-credit class load and leading the school newspaper as editor.

Now, while my classmates toted sophisticated planners, I had a veritable cornucopia of yellow legal pads for basically the same purpose. The lists would get updated as the hours wore on, with seemingly more “things” added to than crossed off. But by the end of that first semester, I had attained the dean’s list and managed not to burn the newspaper office down and/or alienate too many people during my tenure as neurotic, disorganized editor.

Failure was not an option. If I didn’t get the paper to the South Side by early Thursday morning, all the friends who helped put it to bed or design its pages wouldn’t get their due. If I didn’t get at least a 3.0, my Presidential Scholarship would be gone like the wind. If I didn’t get the story, it didn’t get told that day and worse, you might get beat. That is a travesty perhaps only another newspaper geek could understand (or really want to).

But there has been a peak and then a plateau on the motivation front during these past few post-layoff weeks. Yes, I have an occasional meeting to cover, and a few feature stories here and there to write. And my work with the Innocence Institute is the most challenging in my career. Even so, gumption is difficult to gather when you don’t have eight hours of your day automatically cordoned off for work.

Deny as you might, but I doubt I am the only person wallowing in an unemployment-induced lack of focus. For as much as I always argued that making people dress in crisp button-down shirts and khakis didn’t influence professionalism, I was dead wrong. It is far more difficult to center your writing chi in that getup, than say, a tank top, Capri sweats and fluffy slippers. Unlike coworkers, my cats don’t mind when I work sans mascara.

And as it turns out, “telecommuting” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. An inviting front porch, a case full of still unread books and a beautiful day complete with “Simpson’s” clouds each offer too many distractions for me. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no slouch. I apply for jobs and write for a local newspaper and volunteer for a nonprofit. I blog for two of my friends and colleagues and am The Most Awesome Aunt in the Universe.

But none of it is at the same intensity. When every day is an unpaid vacation, I have a tendency to relax too much. And I haven’t felt the same rush of adrenaline when you know you have the scoop of the day. I haven’t felt my heart pound when I submitted a story to an editor with a risky lead and waited for it to move through the gauntlet of editors. I guess the deadlines don’t feel quite so real or looming when you aren’t in a newsroom to observe them.

The point here isn’t to be nostalgic.

I suppose I’m just trying to remind myself and all the other bread liners out there that we have all the time in the world (OK, about 59 weeks) to improve ourselves and our crafts and get a new jobby job. For me, it is time again to focus on getting my awesome on.
Because I have noticed there is a tendency to sleep in a little later and drink a few more beers at night (because, perhaps, of said ability to sleep in). There is too much Internet surfing completed and too much football analysis consumed.

Well, for me anyway. And realizing the only corner of the universe I can change is my own, I’ve made a decision to revert to some of my pre-furlough, Type A tendencies.
But I won’t bore you with the details of my plan to again take over the journalism world. They are mine to mull and edit and perfect. And I figure even if I don’t get that plum job as a columnist for Maxim, at least I’m again competing.


Because aspiring to be more is key. Almost as important as the legal pads.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for the Valley Independent in Monessen, Pa. She can be reached by e-mail at

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"You lie!"

With those two words, Congressman Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, summed up the rallying cry of the anti-health care reform crowd. In that ugly moment during President Obama's speech to Congress last night, an elected official lowered himself into the political slop that has garnered so much media attention at town hall meetings about health care reform. It is no wonder that so many people at those town hall meetings have refused to even listen about potential health care plans or offer solutions. Instead, they have turned them into cage match brawls by shouting down their elected representatives and causing disruptions.

It is a sad indictment on our country that the days of civil discourse and discussion about important issues are gone. Congratulations, Rep. Wilson, for epitomizing everything that is wrong with our system today. Americans look to their elected leaders for guidance, and I will not accept this type of behavior from one of them.

UPDATE: 5:54 p.m. - The Associated Press interviewed some of Wilson's constituents in South Carolina, and they're overwhelmingly supportive of him and his statement.

"He's the only one who has guts in that whole place," said John Roper, an insurance agent in Columbia, S.C. "He'll get re-elected in a landslide."

Most of the other people interviewed for the story regretted the fact he shouted at the president in that forum, but still plan to vote for him next year. If that's what the Republican Party wants, then it can have him.

(Photo by Getty Images)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A somber afternoon

PITTSBURGH - It felt like I was entering a funeral home while walking through the PNC Park gates Sunday afternoon to watch the Pirates. The Buccos have lost for 16 straight seasons and were one more defeat away from achieving 82 losses this year. That would break a professional sports record for consecutive losing seasons. I was 9 years old when the Pirates last had a winning season, and today was the first time in my life I rooted against them. I came to the ballpark because I wanted to stare this woeful accomplishment in the face.

The game seemed to be going according to plan when catcher Jason Jaramillo chucked the ball over pitcher Paul Maholm's head, allowing a run to score in comical fashion. What else would you expect from the worst franchise in pro sports history. The Pirates clawed back to tie the game until Rick Ankiel launched a Jesse Chavez pitch into the centerfield bleachers in the top half of the 9th. I stood and applauded the Pirates' tragic destiny as Ankiel rounded the bases.

But it wasn't meant to be because rookie first baseman Garrett "The Legend" Jones cranked a single into the gap for the game-winning RBI. Many of the 19,000 fans in attendance roared with approval. I did not. I just stood there with my hands in my pockets and watched the celebration near second base. They escaped this shameful record for one more day.

Then I caught a glimpse of a father and his young son cheering next to me. They had been talking the whole game as the father taught his boy about baseball. That's when it struck me. No matter what owner Bob Nutting and these atrocious Pirates do on the field, they still can't take baseball away from us. There's no other place in Pittsburgh I'd rather be than PNC Park on a beautiful summer afternoon.

UPDATE - 9/7/09: The Pirates clinched their 17th consecutive losing season Monday and set a professional sports record in doing so. Congrats, and no luck next year.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rejection No. 1

The e-mail was short and straight to the point...

Mr. Jones,

Thank you for the opportunity to review your credentials for Job XXXXX.

Unfortunately, we have decided to focus our attention on a group of candidates who more closely match our requirements.
Please continue to visit our website at for listed positions should you be interested in other opportunities here at ###.

If you have any questions please contact ########, who is copied on this email, at 412-555-5555.

We wish you every success in your career endeavors.

In that moment, I didn't know whether to be upset with the rejection, or encouraged that I finally heard back from a job to which I applied two months ago. That makes me think the numerous other positions to which I've sent my resume are still reviewing my credentials. I have applied to dozens of jobs without a response, and I considered that the rejection. No news is bad news, right? But now I know that it is a long, hard process to hire new employees. And it makes me hopeful the other jobs I want might still be within my reach.

I share this news with all of you because I want this blog to be honest and open about what it is like to look for a new job in this environment. I don't ask for your sympathy, just that you understand.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Health insurance should be a right

For most of this summer, we've heard both sides of the health care debate. President Obama has made reform a top priority of his first-year agenda as he tries to push a government health care option through the system. There has been vocal opposition to his plans, though, as we've seen passionate - and often angry - demonstrations against a public option. I really wonder if they are railing against health care, or just doing whatever possible to undermine a Democratic president. I don't mind disagreements about the plan, but there is a civil way to handle these debates.

But simmering below the angry debate are real stories of Americans hurting due to our jumbled health system. WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh last month featured Heather Sherba, a local 22-year-old woman who was seriously injured during the LA Fitness shooting rampage that left three women dead. Because she had just graduated from college and had not yet found a job (who has in this economic climate?) she was uninsured and, therefore, responsible for the hospital bills. Rachel Maddow discussed the issue on her MSNBC show recently. Family and friends held a car wash to raise money, and they received about $500. But that is hardly enough to pay for the entire medical expenses. I imagine she will sue the gunman's estate, but how much will she receive? What this shows, though, is a system that has too many cracks and needs to be changed.

I, too, have no health insurance because I lost my job. I have considered using Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) insurance, but obviously that is very expensive. Although the government will now pick up 65 percent of the tab, I still must pay about $145 a month to retain the coverage. That is a difficult decision when you do not have a full-time job while still be required to pay full-time bills. Hopefully I will remain healthy.

Some will say stories like these pull at our emotions and should have no bearing on the debate. I think they're wrong. Sherba's story illustrates the problems with our system. Although some will disagree, I believe it shows that health insurance should be a right, and not a privilege. How can anyone think differently in the wealthiest country on Earth?

I understand there are serious political undercurrents with every decision, and this issue should not be rushed. But there clearly needs to be a new system. I will leave you with an hour-long PBS Frontline special on what it means to be "Sick around America" and let you decide.

UPDATE: 1:30 p.m. - Just found another Frontline video about how several nations across the world handle health care. They are vastly different as "Sick around the world" exposes the positives and negatives of each system. I strongly encourage everyone to watch these two programs to have a better understanding of our own system and those elsewhere in the world.

(The political cartoon above was drawn in 1994 by Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It doesn't seem like much has changed in 15 years.)