Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Gutter: P8 summit fails

Just as heads of state have gathered annually to deal with the world's major economic and political issues, so did the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday prior to the Buccos' evening game against the Colorado Rockies.

The Pirates were suffering through a four-game losing streak, a run of futility that began on the occasion of the beginning of the "official" start of the second half of the season. That is to say, the Pirates had lost each of the four games they played since the All-Star break. The losses began with a three-game sweep by the Braves in Atlanta and continued in Pittsburgh, where the Bucs fell to the Rockies in the first of a three-game series. Monday night's game was a disappointing 10-8 loss, a failure that becomes even more disheartening when you consider that the Pirates nearly doubled their average run output (4.1182 runs per game) but still fell to the Rockies.

Therefore, rather than allow the losing to go any further, Pirates manager Jim Tracy called a meeting of the team's top figures. There were eight of them in total, and they became the group that shall be known as the P8.


However, this group of eight figures was not successful in their efforts, as the Pirates proceeded to lose Tuesday evening (6-2) and again on Wednesday afternoon (5-3). The losing streak has climbed to six and the Pirates have now been swept in back-to-back series since the All-Star break.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Peak: Hall and Oates

Admit it: they're awesome.

Gutter: A poor venue for yoga

As I said in the last blog entry, I've taken up yoga as a means of physical activity in the interest of weight loss. However, my first few attempts have been handicapped by a lack of suitable yoga space. As such, I've had to work on achieving stability, proper breathing, and balance in the following cramped conditions:


I shall not be dissuaded. I will persevere. I will achieve 191.

Peak: Goals set, terms defined

So, I've set the goal for my weight loss at 191 pounds. Generally speaking, I'm looking for a transition similar to the one in the photo at left. I don't think that should be too tough.

The next step, then, is to define the parameters of my weight loss program. In addition to a diet regimen that won't be detailed here, I've determined that a reasonable amount of physical activity will be necessary to achieve the weight loss goals.

Here's the rub: I am averse to physical activity. In fact, I have spent the past two years working as Internet-based sports journalist operating out of my home, a situation that lends itself very easily to a sedentary lifestyle. Clearly this employment habitat has led to my current weight, but breaking the pattern will be difficult. So I put together a list of possible physical activities I could take up in the interest of perfecting my physique:

Running
Swimming
In-house exercises (sit-ups, etc.)
Gym exercises
Thai kickboxing competitions

As is my habit, I have been able to find complications with each possibility. Running is far too strenuous; when I get in the pool I tend to float rather than attempt movement; in-house exercises require motivation beyond what is available when I'm staring at my TV and computer and other distractions; gym exercises require gym memberships; and Thai kickboxing competitions require a passport, not to mention a chiseled physique and an undeniable ability to kick ass.

I meet none of those requirements, so it's back to square one (technically, setting a diet was square one, so determining a physical activity is square two, but you get the point).

So I had hit an impasse. Until salvation hit in the form of Suzanne Deason and Yoga for Weight Loss.



Now I embark on a crusade of proper breathing, stability, and inner balance. And, God willing, that Holy Grail of 191.

Namaste.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gutter: A new endeavor

It was pointed out to me recently that my blog posting, since April, has slowed to nothing. Largely that is due to my revolving door of ambition and creativity, a door that always swings out and rarely opens in. In lieu of having anything to say about current events or the like, I have decided to simply report on the mundane tactics I employ to use up the hours of the day.

Having already accomplished the feat of winning a track event in business attire (see photo at left), I recently decided to turn my attentions to an increasingly unpleasant problem that has been developing as of late: like many a middle-aged housewife before me, my weight has become rather unsightly. It's a common affliction, and one that many people easily choose to ignore with little regret, that is, until heart disease or diabetes catches up with them. Still, my cause for concern is less health-related and far more superficial. You see, like the movie actor John Travolta,



I too have undergone a bit of a transition through the years.



The left photo was taken at the 2003 Fox Chapel High School prom, an event that I, as a 24-year old deli manager, attended. The right photo was taken on Memorial Day of this year at the Fox Chapel High School softball team's car wash fundraiser. The lack of attention I received at the latter event was striking, and I vowed on that day to work to curb my merciless mid-section.

And so I set out with the goal of re-attaing the svelte 191 pounds I once carried like a billboard of pride. As I sat on my couch the day after Memorial Day, Doritos in one hand and donuts in another, my motivation ran out and the plan faded away. It was another gradiose notion that got lost in the oblivion of my existence, and the only remorse I felt had evaporated by the end of the next commercial break. My ambition, to be quite frank, had left my body like so much flatulence before it.

Then, as June neared its end, I took a vacation to the Outer Banks, and fate flung itself in front of my fat flatulent eyes when I saw the following photo of myself chatting on the phone while sitting on the beach.



It was then that I realized my weight had gone far enough. It was time to trim the fat and rediscover the me that has been lying dormant inside for all these years. The quest for 191 has begun!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Peak: LaRoche 3:16

For Littlefield so loved the Pirates that he acquired his only begotten left-handed first baseman, and whosoever shall believe in him (and stick around for 16 innings) shall not perish, but shall bear witness to a dribbling grounder that represents the end of a slump.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, and sometimes the mystery circles around the exploits of a career .274 hitter with 65 home runs in three seasons who, through 17 games and 61 at-bats with the Pirates this season, had produced just 6 base hits for a crushing .098 average. But last night, when his team, his new city, and he himself needed it the most, Personal Lord and Savior (PLS) Adam LaRoche came through with a dribbling grounder that slid past the Houston shortstop, scoring Jack Wilson and ending a 16-inning, five-hour affair that saw two teams combine for 26 hits, 3 errors, and 7 runs.

Now that he has won a game for the Buccos, perhaps PLS LaRoche has turned the corner. This is the Year of LaRoche, it just took 17 games for it to start.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Peak: A new rock-throwing suspect

Due to certain professional and social obligations, I’ve been off the clock a bit on all the latest news on local rock-throwing. But I’m back at it now, and not a moment too soon.

Let’s review:

Thursday, March 22 - State police arrest Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, the alleged Parkway West Rock Thrower. Ramous admitted to two years of throwing bricks and large stones. State police say that they know Ramous’ motives, but they are not disclosing that information. Intrigue grows.

Friday, March 23 - The state police promote Lt. Sheldon Epstein to the rank of captain. Epstein was a member of the crack team of investigators that took down Ramous.

Saturday, March 24 – A copycat emerges, as more rocks are thrown on the Parkway West. Details are sketchy but terrifying.

Sunday, March 25 - More details emerge about the copycat.

Monday, March 26 - State police announce plans to increase their surveillance of the Parkway West.

Wednesday, March 28 - Panic and paranoia spread, as a wayward wrench socket drops off an overpass on the Parkway East. Undue connections are drawn. Facts later catch up to hype.

Thursday, March 29 - A preliminary hearing is held for Ramous, where state police testify that he told them that he threw rocks after drinking and smoking weed.

Thursday, April 5 - New rock-throwing occurs when two vehicles were hit within moments of each other. Despite the chronological proximity, the two attacks are geographically separated, with one happening on the Parkway West near Campbell’s Run Road and the other taking place in Robinson. I missed this one due to the aforementioned (but not specified) professional and social obligations.

Okay then. We’re up to date. Let’s move forward.

This case originally intrigued me because of its rather bizarre nature (which has been outlined in my previous blog posts on the subject), and the latest developments have followed suit. As reported in a number of news outlets, including the Trib and the Post-Gazette, state police collared another suspected rock-thrower yesterday.

This new rock-thrower has not been identified by the police, although word has gotten out that he is a 19-year-old white male from Westmoreland County. Where things get interesting is in the details of his detainment.

Apparently, this 19-year-old was driving outbound on the Parkway West late Monday night when he lost control of his car and crashed between the Green Tree and Carnegie exits. Sounds normal enough: even I have been in a car crash between the Green Tree and Carnegie exits going outbound on the Parkway West. But when police were called to the scene, they made a rather startling discovery. From the Trib:

Rocks found in his car "are consistent with rocks found along the Parkway West," Trooper Robin Mungo, a state police spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The Trib article goes on to state that police “took [the 19-year-old] into custody after they became suspicious of things he said and the rocks in his car.”

All the news outlets claim that the 19-year-old admitted to police that he had thrown rocks at cars. While the state police did not arrest the 19-year-old, his statements were bizarre enough that they did take further action. Again, from the Trib:

Authorities involuntarily committed the man yesterday morning to an undisclosed hospital for evaluation…

The Trib also tells us that the 19-year-old’s evaluation is psychiatric in nature. What interests me about this course of action is that Ramous also admitted to throwing rocks when he was initially arrested (although he now claims innocence), but the state police did not see a need to have him committed. Perhaps they are building a case against the 19-year-old and they fear that he is a flight risk, so they have concocted this psychiatric evaluation as a means to detain him without due cause. I would assume that the rocks found in his car are being tested for ballistics or some marking that would tie them to the point of rock-throwing attack.

It’s interesting that while “Police have been using thermo-imaging cameras to catch the people who they think are responsible” (WTAE), in the end all it took was finding some rocks in some guy’s car.

I’m not sure what just yet, but something seems very odd about this latest development in the rock-throwing case.

Gutter: 5 Things I Never Want to Hear on ESPN Again

5. The term "Vinsanity"

4. Anyone associated with Outside the Lines

3. Any mention of Don Imus

2. The obligatory but unnatural urban influence of Stuart Scott and Steven A. Smith

1. Any reference to Entourage

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Peak: Party like it's 1903

I know it was just one game out of 162, but the Pirates opened the season last night with a 10-inning win over the Astros in Houston, and by God if they can do it there, where they didn’t win a single game last season, they can do it anywhere. Don’t forget, these are the Pirates who opened the 2006 season with an 0-6 record, so by starting 1-0 they’re already ahead of the game.

But last night’s game was great for a number of reasons: Zach Duke pitched very well, giving up just 2 earned runs on 8 hits in 7 innings. And he got a lot of help from some excellent defense, including three double plays (two of which featured Jose Bautista) and some great throws from Chris Duffy in center field.

The Pirates got offense, too, although for much of the game they were under the spell of Astros’ hurler Roy Oswalt. With the Bucs down 2-0 in the eighth, Nate McLouth came off the bench and took Oswalt deep to cut the lead to 1 run. In the ninth, Xavier Nady hit a shot off Brad Lidge to tie it. And with one man on in the 10th, Jason Bay delivered with a long ball of his own, putting the Pirates ahead 4-2 and securing the win.

As is always the case with the Buccos, there’s a downside. On Monday night, that downside was Personal Lord and Savior (PLS) Adam LaRoche, who came to bat five times and struck out in four of those plate appearances, including when he led off the ninth with a three-pitch K against Lidge. I still have hope that PLS LaRoche will be a huge positive for this team, but in his regular season debut he was a bit disappointing.

Still, I can’t help but feel good after this win. I would like to see the Pirates do a little better in the early innings, but a win is a win. As Ryan Doumit said after the game:

“Dude, that was fun!”

Monday, April 2, 2007

Gutter: The love song of J. Angelo Ramous

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’
Let us go and make our visit.

- T.S. Eliot




Last Thursday, the ongoing saga of Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, hit a culmination of sorts when Ramous stood before District Judge Gary Zyra in a preliminary hearing. And while the preliminary hearing, in which Zyra ordered Ramous to stand trial on 10 counts each of aggravated assault, propulsion of a missile, risking a catastrophe, and recklessly endangering another person, isn’t an end to the intrigue of The Parkway West Rock Thrower, it represents perhaps the biggest development in the case since Ramous’ arrest on March 22nd.

(A note of attribution: clearly this blog is a few days behind, so in case you missed it, the Post-Gazette and the Trib both had detailed articles on the preliminary hearing, and I drew my information from those two newspapers.)

Much of what was learned at the preliminary hearing corroborates the information that was made public at the time of Ramous’ arrest: in the last two years, Ramous, 49, threw more than 100 bricks and large stones at cars from the Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle onto cars on the Parkway West, reportedly hitting 12 vehicles over that span.

We also get some new information regarding the case, such as this interesting bit from the P-G:

Mr. Ramous said he used police scanners to monitor the activities of law enforcement in the area and rail traffic. Three scanners were recovered from Mr. Ramous' residence in an apartment complex behind Rocky's Lounge, where he worked, in Scott.

But while it is notable to mention Ramous’ timing of his attacks (reminiscent of the way racers monitored police scanners in that great 21st century cinematic epic The Fast and the Furious), that info is but a minor technical detail, a mere sidebar to what we really want to know about the case of The Parkway West Rock Thrower, that is to say, the primary question at the heart of this mysterious saga, succinctly summed up as one simple word:

Why?

It is an inevitable question, and anyone who heard of Ramous’ attacks over the past two years inevitably considered it: why would someone stand over the Parkway West and rain down terror on travelers?

Of course, the first impulse was to dismiss the attacks as pranks on the part of small-minded juveniles, adolescents who couldn’t see the potentially horrific results of their actions. And with that notion, much of Allegheny County was able to move past the attacks, secure in the belief that the only thing separating the rock-throwing from other pranks such as egging or pumpkin-smashing was the possible severity of the acts.

But when Ramous was arrested, things became a bit more mysterious, if not altogether sinister. Here was a 49-year old man from Scott Township, a dishwasher/cook at Rocky’s Lounge, a bar near his apartment. He was a generally non-descript man whose neighbors spoke well of. But those neighbors didn’t know what happened at night, when Ramous would go out to the old train trestle and terrorize travelers on the Parkway.

And to add to the intrigue, KDKA’s Ralph Iannotti gave us this ominous statement in his original report on the arrest, which I discussed at the time:

State police tell us they know the motive for Ramous’ actions, but they are not disclosing it at this time.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that quote blew my doors off. On top of all the mystery surrounding Ramous and his arrest, we had reason to believe that there was some greater motive, some beyond-imagination cause behind his actions. I didn’t know what that motive was, and I speculated on a number of different possibilities. But whatever the motive turned out to be, there was a feeling that maybe, just maybe, this all meant something. With a statement like that from the state police, I saw the possibility that we may have found a real activist in our midst, someone who felt so strongly and so passionately about his beliefs that he took to action. I disagreed with his actions, as throwing rocks at traffic on the Parkway West is dangerous and potentially life-threatening, but I admired his dedication to his cause, whatever that cause may have been. In this day and age when it seems that so few people are really capable of greatness through action, I thought that we may have really found a man of belief.

But in reality, we learned from the preliminary hearing that Ramous was not a man of belief; rather, he just liked to get drunk and stoned and throw rocks at cars.

[Ramous] told police he got a "sense of euphoria" from throwing rocks and bricks at vehicles traveling on the Parkway West and often did so after drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, a state police trooper testified Thursday. (From the Trib)

Are you kidding me? A sense of euphoria? You 49-year-old-alcoholic-burnout. What the hell is wrong with you? You threw rocks at cars driving over 65 mph on a major highway, and for what? People could have died, and for what? I’m not saying that it would have been okay if Ramous had a reason, but if you’re going to do it, do it for a cause, make it worth something.

State Trooper Francis Murphy, who investigated the rock throwings, testified that Mr. Ramous, 49, told police he threw projectiles…intending to cause accidents.

Trooper Murphy said Mr. Ramous told them he would stand on the catwalk of the railway trestle between the Green Tree and Carnegie exits facing away from Downtown Pittsburgh and throw rocks or bricks found in a nearby refuse pile until he either saw an impact or heard "screeches and screams." (From the P-G)

You are a sick S.O.B., Ramous. You have 40 charges against you, and I hope they get you on every single one. This is my ninth blog post on Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, and I hope that number 10 is in reference to the severe sentencing of the aforementioned rock thrower.

Gutter: The tell-tale bird

I’ve been a bit busy the last few days and haven’t had the time to sit down and really dissect the preliminary hearing of Jeffrey Angelo Ramous (aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower) that was held on Thursday. I’ve got a lot to say about it, but mitigating circumstances have prevented me from devoting the necessary time.

That’s not entirely accurate, though. See, I had time yesterday to put together a blog about the preliminary hearing, and I have time today as well, but at this point in time I am suffering from a very serious distraction:

I first noticed it when I woke up yesterday morning to an odd repetitive noise, a thumping that occurred from time to time. It happened intermittently throughout the day, and I searched the house for its source, with no success. I could hear that the noise was coming from a certain area of the house, that area being the window that is in the hallway that runs the length of my ground-floor apartment. So I stood at the window, trying to figure out where the noise was coming from. But I couldn’t see anything, so I left the area and resumed the day’s activities.

But just as I would get back into the book I was reading or turn the TV back on or log onto the internet, the thumping would start again. It wasn’t a constant “thump thump thump;” rather every few minutes or so there would be a new thump. And with each passing thump, I became more perplexed and, as time went on, more frustrated. I grew maddened with the thumping and, on at least one occasion, I wondered if the thumps were just in my imagination.

I harkened back to the Edgar Allen Poe story of the tell-tale heart, and considered the possibility that the thumping was really a product of some deep-seeded guilt that I had buried in my subconscious mind. Now, I can readily admit that I have plenty of moments in my past that could have resulted in buried guilt, but as I searched for the source of the thumping, I couldn’t imagine why the guilt would appear now.

So the cycle continued: after each search, having found nothing I would return to my previous activity, and shortly thereafter the thumping would resume. Madness crept ever closer.

Then, by some fortune, I happened to catch a glimpse of the culprit. After several thumps, I rose from the couch and walked into the hallway toward the window where the thumping originated. Just as I got to the window, I saw a blur of feathers fly away from the sill, and at that moment I understood: a bird, through some madness of his own, had been flying into the window. Finding no success, he had perched himself upon the windowsill and continued to attempt entry. This had been repeating over and over again all day.

The thing is, my windows aren’t exactly the type that are so clean a bird could mistake it for an open passageway; on the contrary, my windows are so dirty that I wonder how the bird could not have seen them. But he continued to do it, over and over and over and over again. At one point the bird perched himself upon the fence next to the window and remained there long enough for me to get a good view of him. Clearly he was in the throes of madness, with ruffled feathers and a deranged look in his beady little bird-eyes.

But solving the mystery of the thumping has done little to eradicate the problem, as the thumping has resumed today. This appears to be the same insane bird, and today I positioned myself so that I could watch the whole process. There I sat in the hallway, watching as this lunatic thumped himself against the window once, twice, three times, four times, before flying away, only to return several minutes later and repeat the process.

Then, later this morning, I heard the thumping again but it appeared to have a different origin. To my dismay, I followed the source of the sound to the back of the apartment, where the same insane bird was now attempting to enter via the kitchen window. This time he was brazen, repeatedly flying into the window as I stood in plain view. He flew against the kitchen window with a force far greater than that which he used on the hallway window, and I can only hope that the glass stays strong until this idiot bird either gets bored or knocks himself out.

As I type this, there is a momentary lull in the thumping, but I have no doubt that it will resume soon. If and when the infernal thumping restarts, I plan to go outside and take some pictures of this avian lunatic.

Then, perhaps I will be able to accomplish my real goal, which is to return to my examination of The Parkway West Rock Thrower.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Gutter: Hype above facts

About eight or nine years ago I shared an apartment with several other college students who, like me, couldn’t quite afford the luxury of expanded cable service. In fact, we had to rely on an antenna, and our antenna was so cheap that it only picked up one station. That station was WPXI, Channel 11 in Pittsburgh. This limited access to television led to watching a lot of programs that I wouldn’t ordinarily watch.

But in addition to “Game Warden,” “Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict,” and a whole assortment of teen-based Saturday morning programming, a steady diet of Channel 11 also includes (features) local news. And during this period of single-channel isolation I grew to love the often-ridiculous nature of local news broadcasts.

Since that period of my life, though, I have become financially secure to the point where I can afford a higher-tiered cable service. As such, I haven’t watched local news with any degree of frequency for the past six or seven years. But with the ongoing saga of The Parkway West Rock Thrower, I have found myself drawn back into the sensationalizing web of local news, often furiously flipping between Channel 2, Channel 4, and Channel 11 for the latest updates. And with this return, I have also been reminded of why I used to enjoy ridiculing local news broadcasts (which is remarkable, really, when you consider how little I remember from that period of my life).

Anyway, as the case of The Parkway West Rock Thrower has developed, particularly with the advent of The Copycat Rock Throwers, I have watched as the local news stations have toyed with the truth, creating leaps of logic and making assumptions that challenge rationale thought. Such an example came with the reports that a van on the Parkway East had been hit with a wrench socket. As I investigated the available reports, I found that the incident appeared to be unrelated to The Parkway West Rock Thrower (aka Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, who was arrested last Thursday) or The Copycat Rock Throwers. I came to this conclusion based on a number of circumstances, as outlined in my post on the topic, and you can follow the logic I used.

However, while it seemed clear to me that this was an unrelated incident, Channel 2 didn’t agree. In fact, the staff at KDKA, particularly anchor Keith Jones and reporter Bob Allen, appeared to be convinced of the connection in their report from yesterday, repeatedly making statements that drew direct links between the incidents on the Parkway West and the singular accident on the Parkway East. As I said yesterday, I found Allen’s reporting and KDKA’s take on the story wholly sensational and under-investigated.

Turns out I was right. See this graph from today’s Trib:

[Trooper Robin] Mungo said investigators don't believe an incident Wednesday afternoon on the Parkway East is related to the other attacks. A man from Jeannette was driving near the Greensburg Pike exit when a ratchet from a wrench smashed through his windshield about 2:30 p.m. He wasn't injured. Mungo said the tool piece either fell from or was kicked up by another vehicle.


Score one for me, but don’t think the sensationalism is over. In fact, today’s dose of sensationalism comes from our old friend, Channel 11.

Seems that around the same time a wrench socket was falling on a van on the Parkway East, someone threw a rock at a taxi cab on the Parkway West, right near the Carnegie exit, which is the same general vicinity of the attacks of The Parkway West Rock Thrower. This comes just days after a taxi cab was one of three cars hit with rocks on Saturday night on the Parkway West.

Two cabs hit. I guess that it was probably inevitable that at least one local news source would lead with the following headline:

“Are Cabs Being Targeted on Parkway West?”

Quite frankly, Channel 11, the answer is probably not. Since the arrest of The Parkway West Rock Thrower (who never tended to any specific type of vehicle), four cars have been hit. Two of those cars have been taxi cabs. That’s 50%, and I wouldn’t exactly consider it a trend.

Channel 11 followed up on those reports with some very sensational language in today’s broadcasts, such as the “Channel 11 News On Demand – Midday Update”, where Newlin Archinal uses the phrase “rocks came raining down on cabs.” Then, on the noon broadcast, Bob Bruce used the exact same wording, again stating that rocks were “raining down on cabs.”

Raining down on cabs? Really? Two cabs get hit over a five-day period and now rocks are raining down on cabs? In Wednesday’s incident, it was never confirmed what actually went through the window of Earl McKnight’s cab. In fact, McKnight thought it could have been a BB.

Never mind the fact that the projectile went through McKnight’s driver’s side window, a rarity in recent rock-throwing incidents, which have all seen rocks crash through front windshields. And the object hit McKnight’s cab while he was driving to the airport, meaning that the projectile either came from another vehicle or ground level, which would be difficult considering that the thrower/shooter would have had to be positioned at least two lanes away, if not more, and with a highway divider in between, no less. I guess the rock (or whatever it was) could have come from above, but it would take a pretty good shot to hit a side window.

Now, I know that it’s not exactly a big revelation that local news broadcasts over-hype and sensationalize on a regular basis. But in this case, with the real danger posed by The Parkway West Rock Thrower and the subsequent Copycat Rock Throwers, I think it’s important that the media stick to relevant facts. As I said yesterday: spreading fear only plays into the hands of the evil-doers.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gutter: A new theatre of conflict?

I missed the news last night, so this story passed me by until this morning when I saw it online. Yesterday around 2:30 PM, a car on the Parkway East was hit by a wrench socket. The socket went through the windshield of the van, which was driven by Kenneth Gantt of Jeannette.

This story is available at the websites of the Post-Gazette, the Trib, and the TV stations: KDKA, WTAE, and WPXI.

The obvious first question: is this incident related to The Parkway West Rock Thrower and the subsequent copycat rock throwers? That’s certainly the first impulse that I had, and it’s not surprising that all of the news reports reference Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, who was arrested last Thursday and was scheduled for a preliminary hearing today.

With the mention of Ramous and the subsequent rock-throwers, the news outlets are making all the connections for us. For example, I just watched Keith Jones on the KDKA noon broadcast call the Parkway East incident “similar” to the Parkway West incidents.

I have to say, I’m not so sure about that.

Here’s what I’m thinking: for starters, yesterday’s incident happened at 2:30 PM, while Ramous’ attacks and the subsequent rock-throwing all took place at night, specifically between 8 PM and 3 AM. Also, as has been reported a number of times, Ramous and the subsequent rock-throwers all used bricks or large stones. And there’s also the little matter of geography: yesterday’s incident took place on the overpass near the Greensburg Pike exit off the Parkway East, while Ramous and the subsequent rock-throwers did their dastardly deeds on the Parkway West, reportedly from the Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle.

It just doesn’t seem to add up.

In fact, I can easily see how this could have happened by accident. It’s not hard to imagine a wrench socket falling out of a truck that is driving on the overpass. A few unfortunate bounces later and it’s flying through Gantt’s windshield. I think that’s a perfectly acceptable explanation for what happened, and I think that some of the news outlets agree, since the Post-Gazette, the Trib, and WPXI all stick to basic facts (a wrench socket struck a windshield, no one was hurt, police are investigating) without explicitly drawing any conclusions.

Not so for KDKA. I already mentioned that Keith Jones opened the segment on the incident by taking about Ramous and the Parkway West before proceeding to call yesterday’s accident “similar,” which is a leap of logic, since there are a fair amount of dissimilarities. In addition to that, if you read the write-up on the KDKA website and watch the video report, you’ll see that Channel 2 has already determined the nature of the accident.

For starters, Jones (here anchoring KDKA’s CW-based morning broadcast) flat-out says that “a piece of metal was thrown at a car on the Parkway East.” (Never mind that he says it happened “last week;” I’ll chalk that up to misspeaking). Bob Allen is the reporter for the story, and he repeats the assumption.

Transcribed (by me):

Kenneth Gantt of Jeannette was driving relatives to the airport when someone tossed a metal tool object through the windshield of his van.

Allen then draws a direct connection to the Parkway West incidents.

Transcribed (again, by me):

This is the latest incident since the weekend when someone threw rocks from an overpass through the windshields of two vehicles on the Parkway West between the Green Tree and Carnegie exits.

Allen goes on to claim that state police believe that the “latest incidents are the work of copycats.” Maybe the state police believe that the incidents over the weekend are the work of copycats, but I’m inclined to think that the police haven’t made that assumption about the Parkway East accident just quite yet.

In fact, Channel 4’s report, which actually appears to be the best report available, says that state police have NOT drawn the connection.

Police don’t know if the object was purposefully dropped or if it bounced out of a vehicle.

Why believe Channel 4 over Channel 2? Well, Channel 4 also got the police to identify the object as a socket “from a 5/8 inch Craftsman ratchet wrench,” while Channel 2 had to operate on the speculation of Gantt, the driver of the van:

Gantt believes the culprit threw a socket from a wrench.

So we get two pieces of information from that statement:

1. The item was a wrench socket.
2. Someone threw it.

And I’ll add a third piece of info from my own deduction:

3. Kenneth Gantt is now a police investigator.

”I don’t know what their sick mind is doing. They could obviously kill somebody like that,” [Gantt] said.

I’m not saying that this wasn’t a criminal incident, and I’m not saying that this wasn’t another rock-throwing copycat. If this turns out to be a purposeful attack, I will lead the charge in bringing the criminal to justice. I’m just saying that we need to be careful about spreading fear and creating panic if, in fact, it was just an accident.

The worst thing we can do is allow the rock-throwers to make us fear the worst every time we see an overpass. If that is their goal, then sensational stories with under-investigated reports serve the rock-throwers, not us, the law-abiding travelers.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Peak: Maybe they should give him a couple beers

Another welcome diversion from The Parkway West Rock Thrower case appeared today when I noticed an odd-sounding headline on my Hotmail home page. Quite frankly, I can honestly say that this might be the greatest story I have heard in quite some time, and it successfully distracted me from thinking about rock-throwers and evil-doers and protecting the homeland that is the Parkway West.

Therefore I present the following:




Do you know what’s happening in that photo? That is a Thai zookeeper showing a giant panda some...wait for it...wait for it...panda porn.

Seriously.

The story appears on MSNBC.com, and it’s one of international intrigue and erotica of the panda variety.

It seems that Chuang Chuang the panda, who lives at the Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand, isn’t too attracted to his zoo-mandated partner, Lin Hui. With panda numbers dwindling, the Thai zookeepers are very interested in getting Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui to become intimate, but since he doesn’t seem to be up for it, the zookeepers have taken a new approach.

Actually, the approach is only new in Thailand, since Chinese zookeepers have been using panda porn to increase the captive panda population significantly for the past few years, according to a separate MSNBC.com article. As a result, 31 captive panda cubs were born in China through the first ten months of 2006, more than double the numbers for 2005 and over three times as many as were born in 2000. It’s a successful program, and one that the Chinese are now hoping will work oversees.

Our unexcitable friend Chuang Chuang is the first experiment. Thailand is renting him and Lin Hui for $250,000, so it’s time to start getting some bang for that buck, so to speak. Thus far, the porn hasn’t been working, as Chuang Chuang still appears uninterested. Apparently the idea isn’t that the porn is supposed to excite the panda, per se, but rather to act as instructional footage, something along the lines of “panda-see-panda-do.” Either way, Chuang Chuang isn’t doing.

Maybe the zookeepers just aren’t scratching him where he itches, if you know what I mean. Human males have different preferences; maybe it’s the same for pandas. Perhaps Chuang Chuang would prefer something a bit more, I don’t know, unconventional. Maybe watching two pandas isn’t his cup of tea. Maybe something like this is more up his alley:




It should be noted that this isn’t the first time that Chuang Chuang has had trouble, um, mating. Earlier this year the zookeepers had to put the big fella on a diet because he was too fat for loving. (Again, this story comes from MSNBC.com, the leader for news on panda sex.) But now he’s down to 313 pounds after weighing 331 as recently as January, which is good for Lin Hui, who checks in at a petite 253 pounds.

Still, the zookeepers are having trouble getting the pair to get wild. Personally, I don’t know what Chuang Chuang is thinking. I mean, I don’t know much about pandas, but Lin Hui looks like she’s probably a catch, don’t you think?


Gutter: Businesses wanted (full clothing required)

Well, my last six blog posts have been about The Parkway West Rock Thrower, so I decided it was time for a diversion.

A sexy diversion.


A lap-dancing diversion.

A dollar-bill-waving-at-a-dirty-G-string diversion.

And when I want that kind of diversion, I head on over to the Pittsburgh Comet. Okay, so maybe I don’t go to that blog when I want that kind of diversion. But I did go there today in search of some kind of diversion, and I found something that fit those categories I listed.

The blog post that I am particularly interested in is the reference to Eric Heyl’s column in the Trib. The column is about an apparent attempt to open a Scores gentleman’s club in Homestead. (In case you’re unsure, here’s a link to the Scores website, courtesy of the Comet.)

Anyway, the gist of it is that a developer wants to put Scores in the vacated Monongahela Trust Co. building on East Eighth Avenue. That’s the main stretch in Homestead, the one that the Hi-Level Bridge ends on. But of course, there is significant opposition in Homestead.

In fact, there is so much opposition that laws have actually been changed, not to prevent the strip club from coming to Homestead, but rather to make Homestead an altogether unappealing place for a strip club to operate.

Upon hearing of plans to open Scores last summer, borough officials tweaked the local law governing adult gyration and hyperventilation.

Distance requirements now exist between dancers and patrons, and no tipping is allowed. Because most women in such places dance for tips rather than a strenuous cardiovascular workout, the law's impact on Scores could be devastating.

Okay, I’ll be honest about two things:

1) I don’t really care if there is a Scores in Homestead or not.

2) I don’t really care if the people/government of Homestead want to prevent Scores from setting up shop.

Heyl’s column has a headline of something about “free speech” and “morality” or some such; being honest again, I don’t really care about that either. If the borough doesn’t want a strip club on the main street, that’s their prerogative. If they think it’s immoral (or perhaps just amoral), so be it. Like I said: I don’t care.

However, there are some interesting points in Heyl’s column that I think are worthy of discussion.

If the club ever opens, it would be one of the few businesses in recent memory to debut along East Eighth Avenue, the borough's main thoroughfare…

…In the eight years since the sprawling Waterfront shopping and entertainment complex opened on the site of the former U.S. Steel Homestead Works, borough officials anxiously have awaited trickle-down development.

This is what always gets me about Homestead: they really believed that the Waterfront would reinvigorate the area by increasing the sheer volume of people who visited. They were correct in the projected number of visitors to the Waterfront, but there was one major oversight.

With the Hi-Level Bridge being the primary source of access to the Waterfront, and ramps from the aforementioned bridge leading straight into the Waterfront, people could hit up the shopping center and entertainment complex without once touching Homestead. So the trickle-down effect didn’t exactly take place, and Homestead has fallen far short of the renaissance that was expected to result from the Waterfront.

What we’ve ended up with is a sprawling shopping center that, through what now appears to be almost coincidence, abuts a dilapidated former steel town. But never mind that wreck of a village, out-of-town-visitors; after you’ve finished your shopping you can get even further away from dingy borough by driving from the Waterfront directly to our city’s water park, Sandcastle. And when you’re done there, just hop back on the highway and never even soil your eyes with the vacant-building-ridden streets of Homestead.

But hey, at least those vacants aren’t home to women dancing naked for money.

…people in Homestead aren't at all irate that the borough is attempting to keep out what most financially struggling communities strive to attract: a new tax-generating business.

Count Duke's bartender Lindsay Ellis, 21, among those who prefer the old trust company building remain vacant if the only adaptive reuse for it involves women sliding down a metal pole.

"If they're trying to build up Eighth Avenue, that's not the way to do it," the Point Park University student said. "I know I don't want to have to drive past a strip club every time I go to the Waterfront."

I’m sure Lindsay would much prefer to drive past rat-infested vacant buildings. Those are not only less visually-appealing than the exteriors of strip clubs (or any maintained building), but they also provide a rent-free home to some of the less desirable elements of society.

"I think [Scores] would bring a bad element in, an element we could do without here," said Joe Ducar, owner of Duke's Upper Deck Cafe, about a block from the old trust company building. "Personally, I'd rather see something else go in there."

Even though Ducar says "bad" and I say "less desirable," I don’t think he and I are talking about the same elements.

And I can appreciate the fact that Homesteaders like Ducar and Ellis would rather see a well-meaning, community-based, public-interest company take over the vacant building. Something respectable like Duke’s Upper Deck CafĂ©, I’m sure. But it’s not like businesses are beating down the doors to get into Homestead.

As I said, this is Homestead’s decision to make. I don’t this is discrimination or a free speech issue or anything like that. It’s a matter of a borough deciding what goes on within its geographic limits, and if they don’t want a strip club, then that’s their call.

No, I’m not saying it’s wrong to keep Scores out. I’m saying it’s stupid.

Really, Homestead, be honest: what else do you have going on?

Peak: We must move forward

Well, it’s been three days without any rock-throwing attacks on the Parkway West. More specifically, it’s been three nights since the last attack, which is the proper designation since all of the rock-throwing has taken place at night.

As such, there isn’t much to report, and the major local news outlets reflect this lack of new information. But I’m not a major local news outlet, and this case is still on my mind, so I’m going to keep writing about it until something does happen.

Yesterday the gist of my post on the case was that state police are upping their surveillance of the Parkway West. I think that’s a good idea, particularly since the incidences of rock-throwing became even more dastardly with the appearance of a copycat rock-thrower several days after the arrest of The Parkway West Rock Thrower. With the emergence of copycats, Pennsylvania’s Finest know that the need to crack down on rock-throwing is an even higher priority. The rock throwers must be made to understand that the state police will not rest until it is once again safe to drive on the Parkway West.

I fear, though, that this may be a case where a true feeling of safety is never regained. Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, terrorized travelers for nearly two years before an aggressive investigation by state police brought him to justice last Thursday. But while we all breathed a sigh of relief and Pennsylvania’s Finest patted themselves on the back, new rock-throwers were plotting to carry the torch for Ramous; on Saturday night our worst fears were realized.

If there is one evil-doer and he is brought to justice, a feeling of safety and security can develop. But when more evil-doers emerge and strike, we are reminded that safety and security are illusions, and we realize that we are never truly safe or secure.

No one who is familiar with this story will ever be able to drive under the Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle on the Parkway West at night without wondering if their evening travels will be ruined by a rock raining down from above. In a way, Ramous and the subsequent rock throwers broke more than just windshields when they did their acts: with every rock they threw, with every window they cracked, Ramous and the subsequent rock throwers shattered the confidence of safety that travelers should be able to expect when they drive the highways of this city, this county, this commonwealth, and this nation.

The Parkway West Rock Thrower, and The Copycat Rock Thrower(s), took all of that away with the toss of a rock.

But we cannot bleat like sheep and stray from the Parkway. In this time of terror and fear, we cannot allow the evil-doers to force us onto time-consuming and poorly-maintained side roads. We must rise above the fear that the rock-throwers have caused and fight back in the only way that law-abiding citizen-travelers can: by continuing to drive on the Parkway West.

It will take courage, and it will take perseverance, and some of us may fall victim to the evil-doers/rock-throwers. But we cannot be dissuaded from driving on the Parkway West. In the end, continuing to drive on the Parkway West may well be the only recourse we have against the rock-throwers. We must remain ever vigilant and always aware of the dangers that lurk, but we cannot allow The Parkway Rock Throwers to control our lives.

And at this time of our darkest hour, when we are in the grasp of unseen and unknown assailants, I think we can all take guidance in the words of Anne Frank:

The best remedy for those who are afraid…is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God.

For those of us in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, we cannot allow The Parkway Rock Throwers to take away that place where we can be alone with the heavens, nature, and God:

The Parkway West.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Peak: State police look to amp up Parkway West surveillance

I guess since nobody threw any rocks last night or Sunday night, the mysterious case of The Parkway West Rock Thrower and The Copycat Rock Thrower isn’t much of a news story anymore. None of the TV stations’ websites have anything new or updated, save for a few recycled quotes repackaged as a fresh report. And the Post-Gazette didn’t see fit to devote any space in today’s paper to one of the most heinous travel-related serial crimes in recent Western Pennsylvania history.

The Trib provides the most extensive report. Most of it is repeat information (like the TV sites) but in the end the gist is this:

State police are increasing their surveillance of the crime scenes along the Parkway West.

Not surprisingly, the cops aren’t talking about what exactly the extra patrols will include, but they did give us some idea of the tactics that will be employed.

The plan could involve helicopter surveillance and positioning troopers in the woods near the area where someone late Saturday and early Sunday heaved softball-sized rocks at vehicles traveling between the Green Tree and Carnegie exits, police said.

State police said they don't want to give away details that could help the culprits. The latest attacks came just days after police arrested a suspect in similar incidents.


We already know that the investigation which led to the arrest of The Parkway West Rock Thrower was “aggressive” and included night vision cameras as well as troopers hiding in the woods. The result of those tactics resulted in Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, being arrested last Thursday. Now that The Copycat Rock Thrower has emerged, we can only assume that the state police, presumably under the direction of super-cop Captain Sheldon Epstein, will pursue equally aggressive surveillance methods.

Of course, this investigation could get a bit more complicated, as a driver who was struck by a rock on Saturday night has hypothesized that the projectile came from am moving vehicle rather than the Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle that overlooks 279-South between the Green Tree and Carnegie exits, which was the preferred launch pad of The Parkway West Rock Thrower. This may require Pennsylvania’s Finest to really ramp up the efforts, although they aren’t completely abandoning the “stationary rock thrower” theory.

Authorities used at least one police dog to search the woods near the parkway during the weekend but have no leads or suspects, Carnegie police Chief Jeff Harbin said.


While on-the-ground surveillance is a very steady approach to capturing The Copycat Rock Thrower, I fear that more attack may occur before this criminal is brought to justice. As such, the state police may need to employ more “unconventional” tactics. I’ve got an idea on what they might be able to try, but I’m still formulating it.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Gutter: More rocks thrown, more intrigue sown

When I first posted yesterday about The Copycat Rock Thrower, the details were sketchy but terrifying: three days after the arrest of Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, someone took up Ramous’ cause, throwing rocks at cars traveling on the Parkway West Saturday night. I based yesterday’s post on the report that appeared on the Channel 2 website in the morning, but most of the details were similar to other reports.

Since yesterday morning, though, more details have emerged about The Copycat Rock Thrower, and Saturday night’s crime has grown more worrisome with each new piece of evidence.

But with the emergence of new details, some of the old information regarding the case has become, well, false. For instance, the initial reports on The Copycat Rock Thrower indicated that two vehicles were hit Saturday night, and the story became even more exceptional when it was reported that both vehicles were hit by one rock. I took the liberty of equating this scenario with the “JFK-magic bullet” theory, but it turns out that those details weren’t exactly accurate.

Now, with the wisdom of time, various news outlets have provided us with a far clearer picture of what happened Saturday night.

A quick overview of what has happened: around 8:30 PM Saturday night, two cars were hit with rocks near the Green Tree exit on the Parkway West. The first rock hit a taxi cab, but the driver was not injured. The second rock hit a Toyota Camry; the driver of that car had cuts on his face, but his passenger was unharmed. Later that night, reportedly around 2 AM, a third car was hit. Minor injuries were reported in the third incident.

You can find the sources for this summary at the following links: Channel 2, Channel 4, Channel 11, the Post-Gazette, and the Trib.

A note on these sources: each news outlet reported on this story, but they all have varying degrees of newsworthiness. For instance, Channel 2 leads the TV pack, as The Copycat Rock Thrower headlines the station’s website, and they feature two video reports along with a write-up. The write-up appears to contain all of the facts, save for the name of the driver of the Camry. This is interesting because the Channel 2 report from Sunday morning clearly states that David and Margaret Cosnek of Coraopolis were in the Camry when it was hit (this is the only source I can find online that names those two).

The other TV stations mailed it in on the websites, as Channel 4’s worthless drivel doesn’t provide much beyond very basic information, and Channel 11 still doesn’t even list the third incident from Saturday night.

On the print side, the Post-Gazette basically follows the Channel 2 report. But the real leader in today’s reporting on The Copycat Rock Thrower is the Trib. I didn’t like the Trib on Sunday because their site was running slow; well, they’ve made up for it today by providing the most informative and thought-provoking report available on The Copycat Rock Thrower.

In addition to the basic facts, Carl Prine starts his report by throwing this wrench into the gears of the rock-throwing legend:

The latest series of rock attacks against Parkway West motorists could have come from passing vehicles or from an overpass, state police said Sunday.

Passing vehicles? This is totally new speculation, as Ramous (The Parkway West Rock Thrower, in case you forgot) was a stationary rock-thrower, usually throwing from the Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle. The possibility of a rock being thrown from a passing vehicle is a major development that could drastically alter the police investigation. Some of this speculation comes from Cosnek, the driver of the Camry (who is not identified).

[Cosnek] said the rock might have been pitched from another automobile, not from the Norfolk Southern railroad trestle or a nearby highway bridge.

If that is the case, this would be a major development in the ongoing case of rocks being thrown at cars on the Parkway West. In the original investigation, state police nabbed Ramous through extensive surveillance, using night vision cameras and troopers hiding in the woods. But if these rocks are being thrown from passing vehicles, such antiquated means of police work would be ineffective.

In fact, this case could test even the mettle of super-cop Captain Sheldon Epstein. Luckily, the Green Tree police know that they can’t take this one down alone.

"We don't have any leads right now," said Green Tree Police Department officer Bob Monaco. "The Pennsylvania State Police are the primary investigators and this is an ongoing investigation."

While Monaco and the rest of the Green Tree fuzz are deferring to Pennsylvania’s Finest, one of the local officers apparently floated this theory to the Trib.

Authorities don't know if the latest are being carried out by a person who might have teamed with Ramous during his alleged rock-throwing spree or by a copycat.

And this little tidbit adds a bit more intrigue. See, I had been referring to this case as The Copycat Rock Thrower, which I will continue to do. But if this newest rock thrower is in fact a cohort of The Parkway West Rock Thrower, then we are facing a conspiracy, perhaps even a group of anarchists (such as the type suggested in this comment) who are hell-bent on taking out the travelers who choose the Parkway West.

This would play in with the ominous statement of Ralph Iannotti who, in his initial report on the arrest of The Parkway West Rock Thrower, said that state police “know the motive for Ramous’ actions, but they are not disclosing it at this time.” Perhaps state police found evidence that Ramous was part of an activist group, American extremists who are seeking to inflict damage on the Parkway West and its traveling inhabitants.

There are so many questions. At first, I was simply perplexed by the motives of The Parkway West Rock Thrower. Now, as the case has grown and become more mysterious, I have begun to wonder just how large the scope is. I can only hope that more details emerge and, more importantly, the authorities are able to curb these dastardly acts.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Gutter: A copycat!

Just when we thought it was over, our worst fears have been realized.

Three days after the capture of Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, a copycat has taken up Ramous’ cause: on Saturday night, someone threw a rock from an overpass near the Greentree exit.

You can take your pick of source info on this one: Channel 11, Channel 2, Channel 4, or the Post-Gazette. I assume that the Trib has it too, but their website was slow this morning and getting on my nerves, so never mind them.

As with the original story of the apprehension of The Parkway West Rock Thrower, I defer to Channel 2 on this latest incidence of rock-throwing. Paul Martino has all the info for us, and he’s a worthy substitute for Ralph Iannotti.

But this story isn’t about the reporters. It’s about The Copycat Rock Thrower.

It appears that late Saturday night, someone threw a rock; those circumstances are very similar to The Parkway West Rock Thrower. However, this new culprit seems to be a fair bit craftier, as this rock not only struck a taxi driven by Mary Pucci, of Carnegie, but then went on to hit a Toyota Camry driven by David Cosnek, of Coroapolis. It’s almost reminiscent of the “JFK-magic bullet” theory, except in this case it’s not a bullet, it's a rock, and instead of killing a president, it damaged a Camry.

Ramous was never able to accomplish a double-hit like this, and the magic rock has got local police, like Lt. Chad Rannigan of the Greentree squad, perplexed.

“This is, to my knowledge, the first time we’ve had multiple vehicles basically at the same incident,” Rannigan said. “Normally, it was just one vehicle.”

Nice try Lt. Rannigan, but this case may be a bit over your head. Hopefully the resources of super-cop Captain Sheldon Epstein will be available in catching The Copycat Rock Thrower. Epstein, as you may recall, is the state policeman who had a hand in nabbing The Parkway West Rock Thrower. Ramous was arrested on Thursday and Epstein was promoted from lieutenant to captain on Friday, leading some (me) to conclude that his work in the case of The Parkway West Rock Thrower was a career-maker for him.

Clearly, the Greentree police are going to need all the help they can get on this one.

“It’s very possible, maybe it’s a copycat,” said Rannigan, the small-town cop. “It might just be a coincidence, somebody else throwing rocks.”

It should be noted that one of The Parkway West Rock Thrower’s original victims, Jim Christy of Oakmont, feared that such a copycat would surface. In Ralph Iannotti’s original report on the arrest of The Parkway West Rock Thrower, Christy, whose car was hit by a rock last November, worried that someone else would “get the wrong idea.” Well, Jim, it looks like someone else did get the wrong idea: the wrong idea that it’s okay to throw rocks at cars on the Parkway.

Anyway, it looks like the Parkway is once again a crime scene. According to Channel 2’s Martino, police “conducted an active search on Saturday night,” but with no success. Let’s hope that The Copycat Rock Thrower is brought to justice soon and the Parkway is returned to its normal level of safety.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Peak: The continuing saga of The Parkway West Rock Thrower

Yesterday I posted about state police arresting The Parkway West Rock Thrower and the mysterious circumstances surrounding this particularly vile villain. If you haven't been following this ongoing tale of criminal intrigue, I suggest you peruse my post on the topic.

Well, while it is notable that state police took down this terrible thrower, this hurler of horror, this proverbial large stone of fear that flies in the night, it now appears that the apprehension of The Parkway West Rock Thrower is even bigger than I once thought.

Like I said yesterday, Channel 2’s Ralph Iannotti informed us that the arrest of The Parkway West Rock Thrower on Thursday was the result of "an aggressive investigation”. As it turns out, not only was this investigation aggressive, it was also career-making, since the state police have now promoted a lieutenant involved in the investigation.

That’s right: according to the Trib, “Lt. Sheldon Epstein was promoted to captain and assigned as director of the Safety Program Division in Harrisburg.” Epstein (he's the officer pictured above) had previously served as station commander at the Moon Township base and he has served with the state police since 1981. That’s a long time to spend with the state police, so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to call The Parkway West Rock Thrower the culmination of his career. This was the big one, the case Epstein waited 26 years for.

Apparently it was a bit of a red ball, too. That’s the only way I can explain 1) the devotion of man hours to the investigation, which included night vision cameras and troopers hiding in the woods, and 2) the promotion of Epstein, which came one day after the arrest of The Parkway West Rock Thrower. (If you’re unsure about what a "red ball" is, it’s a term that originated on the TV show Homicide: Life on the Street, and it denotes a case of high priority that commands the attention of an entire police force. A red ball demands a certain amount of urgency, and the high-end of red balls demand the utmost urgency. Therefore, I would think that closing a high-priority red ball case could lead to promotion; hence Epstein’s new rank of captain.)

However, I want to make it clear that the promotion of Lt. Sheldon Epstein to captain is no accident. As reported in the Trib’s article, Epstein, a 1977 graduate of Carnegie Mellon, heightened his investigative prowess by attending the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. He graduated from Quantico in 2001, and in the past year he put his expertise to work in the case of The Parkway West Rock Thrower.

We should all be thankful that Pennsylvania's Finest employ someone with Epstein's qualifications, so that when the good people of the Commonwealth are threatened by a dastardly villain like The Parkway West Rock Thrower, Captain Epstein and his men can be counted on to crack the case.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Peak: State police unmask The Parkway West Rock Thrower

One of the most horrifying travel dangers in recent Pennsylvania history came to an end this week when the state police arrested The Parkway West Rock Thrower. This story is available on most of the local news websites, such as Channel 11, the Post-Gazette, and the Trib, but my main source is the report on Channel 2. I couldn’t find anything on Channel 4, but they do have this handy Parkway ActionCam. I think that’s the Parkway West, so that can give you an image of the highway in question, or, as some might say it, “the scene of the crime.”

Anyway, the summary of the story is that this guy was standing on an overpass throwing rocks and bricks at cars traveling in both directions on the Parkway West, mostly between the Roslyn Farms and Greentree exits. This had been going on since 2005, so as you can imagine, drivers were quite concerned about traveling on 279-South (yes, that’s the same road as the Parkway West; I know, south and west seem to be different directions, but hey, it’s Pittsburgh. We understand it).

But now those drivers can rest easy, because Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, has been apprehended. And it took the full resources of Pennsylvania’s Finest to capture this dastardly hurler. According to Ralph Iannotti’s report on Channel 2, the state police’s “aggressive investigation” included “surveillance and night vision cameras and troopers hiding in the woods near the Parkway.” Very covert actions were taken to reign in The Parkway West Rock Thrower.

I have to digress here for a moment and tell you that I am a fan of Ralph Iannotti. Iannotti has the disposition of a middle-to-late-aged man who has been laid off from his office job of 35 years and, as a result, has had to take a job at Staples, where he finds it difficult to mask his brash indifference to the fact that you aren’t sure what type of ink cartridge your printer takes.

If you look at Iannotti’s profile on the Channel 2 website, you’ll see that his favorite TV program is “Lou Grant.” In case you’re unsure, “Lou Grant” was an Ed Asner vehicle that spun off from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” three years after that show ended. “Lou Grant” ran from 1977-1982, and this is notable because Ralph Iannotti started working as a reporter for Channel 2 in 1982. Clearly, his origins as an investigative reporter are tied to the goal of uncovering the real reason “Lou Grant” went off the air.

Anyway, the profile on the Channel 2 web page says that Iannotti is “well known for his gritty no-nonsense style and his track record of being the first to break major stories.”

Well, the case of The Parkway West Rock Thrower certainly falls into those two categories, as Iannotti turns in some fine work in his reporting.

After laying out the facts, like the real identity of The Parkway West Rock Thrower (Jeffrey Angelo Ramous) and the fact that Ramous has admitted to throwing 100 bricks and large stones, Iannotti brings us up close and personal with a real life victim of The Parkway West Rock Thrower’s dastardly actions: Jim Christy of Oakmont.

Jim Christy is your average guy, a regular joe who’s just looking to visit his son and “people down there” but hasn’t been able to take the Parkway because of The Parkway West Rock Thrower. Christy got hit by The Parkway West Thrower last November when he and his wife were driving on the Parkway and an object went through his front windshield, flew through the car, and exited through the rear window. Christy wasn’t hurt in the accident, nor was his wife, but as Iannotti ominously puts it, “he always suspected foul play.”

Yes. The foul play of The Parkway West Rock Thrower.

Now that Ramous is in handcuffs, Christy can once again drive on the Parkway West when he visits his son and “people down there.”

Iannotti then gives us the perspective of one of The Parkway West Rock Thrower’s neighbors. The neighbor isn’t identified in the video, but in Iannotti’s write-up, he outs the man as Mark Franc of Scott Township. Franc calls The Parkway West Rock Thrower, who he knew as “Jeff,” a “very good neighbor.”

So the image of The Parkway West Rock Thrower becomes one of growing intrigue. By day he was Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, dishwasher and cook at Rocky’s Bar on Route 50, a fine man who was always willing to lend a hand to his neighbors. But those neighbors, the generally trusting people of Scott Township, had no idea that, under the cloak of night, the man they knew as “Jeff” became The Parkway West Rock Thrower, terrorizer of travelers, hurler of horror, the proverbial large stone of fear that flies in the night.

But there’s even more intrigue in the case of The Parkway West Rock Thrower; consider the dark statement that Iannotti makes at the end of his report:

"State police tell us they know the motive for Ramous’ actions, but they are not disclosing it at this time."

Whoa. So this is more than a dangerous prank on the part of a bored 49-year old? Seriously? There’s a deep, dark, secret motive underlying the actions of The Parkway West Rock Thrower? Now, on top of the double-life that Ramous has led since 2005, it appears that he’s a man on a mission, a man on a quest to accomplish something or make a statement about something or...or...or...

I really have no idea. What could be the motive for The Parkway West Rock Thrower? Perhaps he has a vision of eradicating air pollution by decreasing the number of travelers on the Parkway West. Perhaps he is trying to encourage drivers to abandon the highway in favor of more scenic “back roads.”

Maybe it’s more personal. Perhaps Ramous is a scorned lover or a victim of unrequited love who discovered that his true love was unfaithful to him or that she (or he) loved another man, and perhaps somehow the Parkway West figured into his discovery of this betrayal. As such, perhaps Ramous created the mysterious persona of The Parkway West Rock Thrower to take vengeance against the highway that he equates with his pain.

Whatever it is, I want to know The Parkway West Rock Thrower’s motive. Is he an activist? Or is he really an emotionally scarred man who just wants someone to love him? The possibilities are endless.

I can only hope that Ralph Iannotti’s gritty no-nonsense style will keep this story alive long enough for us to find out the true motivation for The Parkway West Rock Thrower.

Gutter: Insert your witty "Pitt lost in the Sweet Sixteen again" cliche here

Okay, let’s say the obvious:

Pitt lost in the Sweet Sixteen. Again. Fourth time in four tries. Fourth time in six years. Nevermind that they got there; it only matters that they died there. Again.

Is it out of the way? Good, because I don’t want to hear it. This isn’t a program problem. Those four losses featured two different head coaches and a dozen or two different players. It’s hard to say that a college program has a problem getting past a hurdle like the Sweet Sixteen since the personnel of the team changes over time. And at Pitt, not only have the players changed, but the coach has changed, too.

So this isn’t a problem with the program. That’s not the story. The story is how Pitt lost this game, the game played in 2007, not 2002 or 2003 or 2004. 2007.

Do we have that out of our system then? Good.

For Pitt, the Sweet Sixteen opponent in 2007 was UCLA, coached by former Pitt head man Ben Howland. The game was proceeded by piles of talk about how the game would pit Howland against his former assistant, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, and how the game would feature two teams that played very similar styles. In particular, the teams shared a common focus on playing tough, lock-down defense.

For once, the pre-game talk was on-point, as Pitt and UCLA engaged in the basketball equivalent of a 9-6 football game. The final score was 64-55, and if you’re a fan of defensive basketball (and I guess there are people like that out there), then you probably loved this game. Otherwise, you probably hated it. Actually, I take that back: if you’re a fan of watching two teams really gut it out and play very hard against each other, then you were probably really into the game, even if Pitt and UCLA didn’t score much.

And really, you have to admire the effort of both Pitt and UCLA. Both teams wanted to play tough defense and make it really difficult for the other team to score, and both teams did just that. But why, exactly, is Pitt’s season over? Why couldn’t they beat the Bruins on Thursday night?

Well, it’s quite simple. Two reasons, really.

1. Pitt made a low percentage of their high-percentage shots.
2. UCLA shot miles above their heads from the free throw line.

That’s really what it comes down to. Time and time again, Pitt had layups that were on the low end of the difficulty scale, the highest of high-percentage shots, and they bricked them. Never mind Ronald Ramon’s fine three-point shooting (4-of-7); sure, those shots helped Pitt look like it could mount a comeback, but it was the bunnies that didn’t fall that killed their chances.

Numbers don’t usually lie, and this stat certainly doesn’t: Pitt hit 20 of their 55 field goal attempts.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to speak with former Pitt player Brandin Knight. Knight is currently the Panthers’ video coordinator, and he played at Pitt when Howland was the head coach. Figuring that he would know as well as anyone, I asked him what it takes to beat a Ben Howland team. He said a couple things about sustaining pace and tempo and that sort of basketball speak. Then he summed it up succinctly:

”It all comes down to who’s making shots. That’s the main thing.”

How very prescient, Brandin.

That’s what it was: Pitt needed to make its shots. And not the tough shots, not the fadeaway jumpers from just inside the line, not the turn-around hooks, not the NBA three’s. Pitt needed to make the shots that it makes on a nightly basis, the shots that piled up 29 wins this season. This was a team that shot nearly 70% against Georgetown during the two teams’ regular season match-up in Pittsburgh. Now, on that night they got a few lucky bounces, but by and large their astronomical shooting percentage came from getting the high-percentage shots to fall.

That’s what they needed against UCLA. And that’s what they didn’t get.

Pitt was even with UCLA in rebounds. They had more assists and fewer turnovers than the Bruins. And they had more blocked shots, more offensive rebounds, and more steals.

But the shots didn't fall for the Panthers. As such, they lost. Simple as that.

And then there’s the matter of UCLA making every single free throw. Okay, not every single one, but 23 out of 26 is pretty darn close to 100% (according to ESPN, it’s 88.5%). The thing of it is, the Bruins are a team that shoots 65% from the charity stripe. They’re not a great free throw shooting team. They’re not even a good free throw shooting team. As a matter of fact, they’re widely considered to be among the worst free throw shooting teams in the nation, at least among the teams that are considered to be “good.”

But they made their free throws on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Pitt was 8-of-14 from the line. That’s a 15 point difference in free throws alone. A 15 point advantage in a 9 point game is a big difference.

And so it goes. Pitt lays an egg, and the season is over. The Panthers may be able to take something away from this game, knowing that they had a chance to top UCLA and advance to the Elite Eight.

But they didn’t make their shots, and they aren’t moving on.

It’s over.



Anyone want to talk spring football?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gutter: Who do you think you are? Nickelback? (part 3)

I meant to post on this when it first came out, but several other things happened (namely Bob Smizik’s overwhelming excitement, Bill Peduto dropping out, and the Pirates having a good inning), so I got a bit distracted. But those digressions have passed, and now I can get back to a recurring subject on this blog:

The continuing saga of members of the Pitt men’s basketball team refusing to address the media (Part one, Part two).

Well, it happened again. See Ron Cook’s column in the 3/20/2007 issue of the Post-Gazette. Cook writes about Pitt basketball players Levance Fields (point guard, men’s team) and Marcedes Walker (center, women’s team) and the impact that those two have on their respective teams. And what’s more, Cook writes about the off-court relationship of Fields and Walker. It’s been known for some time in Pitt circles that the two are romantically involved; now Cook has outed them to the public.

But that’s not what this is about. Granted, there are probably a lot of cheap jokes to be made about this situation, but I’m going to attempt to avoid them (Raul Mondesi makes enough jokes for the both of us). What’s relevant, at least to me, is something Cook mentions about seven or ten paragraphs into the column.

It’s unfortunate, Fields refused to come out of the Pitt locker room yesterday to talk about Walker’s game, probably because his teammates were teasing him unmercifully when they found out someone wanted to talk to him about his girlfriend of more than a year.

Hey, we’re not proud of it, but it’s a guy thing.

No, no, no, Ron, don’t let Fields off the hook that easy. Fields refused to talk to the media. Period. Don’t make excuses about being embarrassed or too proud; Fields refused to talk.

Now, this may not be the same situation as when Fields refused to talk when the team was leaving for Buffalo. Maybe he really didn’t feel comfortable talking about his relationship and, quite frankly, I’m not sure it necessarily needs to be written about in One of America’s Great Newspapers. It’s rather gossipy, and even though Cook sticks mostly to basketball, the relationship angle is still the theme and focus of the column.

That being said, I don’t think it would have harmed anyone to have Fields give a couple quotes about the way Walker plays and her game (on the court, that is). Walker talks about the way Fields plays, why not have Fields do the same? I spoke with someone about this idea, and they felt that the column was based on a poorly-chosen subject (the relationship) and that it shouldn’t have been written to begin with. I’m not interested in debating the column itself. What I’m interested in is the fact that, once again, Levance Fields has flat-out told the media ‘no.’

And it wasn’t just Cook that got ‘big-timed.’ The day that Cook was conducting his interviews was Monday, the day that the men’s basketball team was leaving for San Jose, where they would face UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament. As was the case when the team was leaving for Buffalo, a number of players and coaches addressed the assembled media throng at the Petersen Events Center loading dock before boarding a bus to the airport. And, just like last week before they left for Buffalo, Fields slipped past the media.

Aaron Gray spoke to the media. Levon Kendall spoke to the media. Mike Cook spoke to the media. Ronald Ramon spoke to the media. Keith Benjamin spoke to the media. Jamie Dixon spoke to the media. Brandin Knight spoke to the media. But Levance Fields, the team’s starting point guard, the player who will lead the Panthers onto the court and act as their floor general when the team looks to advance past the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history, refused to speak.

So I ask again:

Who do you think you are? Nickelback?

Peak: Pirates save Tokyo! (for one inning, at least)

One of the unforeseen shortcomings of this "Peak and Gutter" gimic that I've been basing this blog on is the fact that those are subjective terms. I've also come to realize that, by and large, the application of "Peak" or "Gutter" is really quite relative to the topic I'm ruminating on. As such, this post is listed as a "Peak," but that's largely because the standards are so low for the Pittsburgh Pirates that even a modest accomplishment, such as one mildly productive inning, is a high point.

So, for a (short) time on Wednesday afternoon, the Pirates made $103 million look like a bad sushi roll when they faced Boston Red Sox “rookie” pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

You might remember Matsuzaka as the MVP of the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Oh wait, no one watched that, so you probably don’t remember that. Okay then, you might remember Matsuzaka as the Japanese pitcher who was so coveted by major league teams that he, along with agent Scott Boras, got $51 million from the Red Sox, and that was just for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka. After ponying up that $51 million, the Red Sox then turned around and gave Matsuzaka a 6-year $52 million contract.

So that’s a grand total of $103 million for a player who had yet to throw a single pitch in a Major League Baseball game. But the Red Sox saw Matsuzaka’s 96 mph fastball, which tops off an arsenal that includes a splitter, a changeup, a cuveball, a slider, a shooto (the so-called “reverse slider”), and the delicious-sounding gyroball; as such, Boston paid Masuzaka his money, and the man the Japanese called “The Monster” (although in the U.S. he has taken on the far more urban nickname of “Dice-K”) was headed for Fenway Park.

But before he got to Fenway Park, Dice-K had to take part in the opening rites of baseball in America, spring training. His spring was planned to consist of seven scheduled starts. The fourth start got rained out, and he took the field for his fifth scheduled start on Wednesday when the Red Sox faced the Pirates in Bradenton.

And for one glorious inning, the Pirates rolled the Dice-K.

It started with Chris Duffy. Like a true lead-off man, Duffy performed his duty of getting on base when Dice-K plunked him with the second pitch. Success: the Pirates had a man on base. Shortstop Don Kelly and catcher Ronny Paulino then each grounded out, moving Duffy to third. And just like that, the Buccos had a runner 90 feet from home plate against Dice-K. Oh yeah, this was getting good.

Next up was first baseman/personal lord and savior Adam LaRoche, and the most highly-exalted acquisition of the off-season came through in a big way, dropping a bloop single into right field, scoring Duffy and striking a blow against Dice-K. Success!

Okay, so the Pirates’ joy was short-lived, since Dice-K proceeded to end the inning by striking out Jason Bay, the first of 11 straight Pirates he retired. The streak ended in the fifth when Nate McLouth walked, but that was the only Pirate other than Duffy or LaRoche to reach base against Dice-K. The Red Sox pitcher lasted 5 2/3 innings total, striking out 7 batters, walking 1, giving up 1 hit and 1 earned run. Dice-K’s day ended with a 12-pitch duel against Kelly, who fouled off six pitches before tipping one into Jason Varitek’s glove to end the at-bat.

So, all in all, Dice-K pretty much owned the Pirates. I won’t get into how he choked up Duffy with a gyroball or how the shooto twisted Bay, but I will say this:

We’ll always have that first inning.


Also notable on Wednesday:

Former Pirate Daryle Ward made some noise when he hit a walk-off grand slam to give the Chicago Cubs an 11-7 win over Texas. You may remember Daryle Ward from a couple seasons ago when he became one-half of the first father-son tandem to ever hit for the cycle (I believe the Pirates marketing department commemorated the occasion with t-shirts that read “Ward & Son Cycle Shop,” with a motorcycle motif; very clever).