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ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL BANS BOOKS FOR INMATES VOL. 3 ISSUE 40

Nov. 18, 2020 - Nov. 24, 2020

PGHCURRENT

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N E OP As COVID-19 cases skyrocket in Pennsylvania, state officials aren't locking down, instead trusting its citizens to take the lead and stop the spread. Isn't that how we got back here in the first place?


SUPPORT THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT AND THE FUTURE OF INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM

We are an influence-free, Independent alternative print and online news company in Pittsburgh Pa. As we’ve been reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve seen firsthand the dramatic effect it’s having on businesses around southwestern Pennsylvania. This is especially true for small businesses like ours. While we remain steadfastly committed to reporting on the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak through the latest information and features, we need your help. Support independent journalism through a sustaining or one-time donation to the Pittsburgh Current. 80% of all donations go toward paying our staff and content creators, 20% will help keep the lights on. And 100 percent of it will ensure this city continues to have an alternative, independent voice. Even before canceling events and staying at home became the new normal, media companies like ours were struggling to keep things going. But we, like others, have found a way because people depend on our product, they like what they do and we feel that appreciation every day. We announced last week that we were temporarily halting our twice-monthly print publication and focusing on our online digital edition because people aren’t going outside, and the businesses where we distribute are all closed. The good news in all of this is that our digital edition will now be coming out weekly instead of bi-monthly. So beginning March 24, you’ll be able to get the Current every Tuesday (to make sure you get it delivered to your inbox, fill out our email signup on our homepage). We are a small team with a big mission and we’re stubborn enough to know that with your help we will get through this. The Current, like many small businesses, is at a crossroads. We plan on doing our part to get you the information you need to make it through this crisis, but we need your support to make sure we’re also able to report on the next one. You can donate by clicking the popup on our homepage or clicking donate below.

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2 | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT


Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics By: Larry J. Schweiger Free Shipping Paperback $29.95 or purchase an eBook for $19.00 (Read the first 25 pages for free)

There is only one earth and our world is undergoing dramatic changes brought on by the climate crisis and other human-induced ecological disruptions. The world's top scientists studying these threats and the forces behind them have been warning us for decades to end the use of fossil fuels or face catastrophic consequences. Their long-ignored warnings have become more dire. Larry Schweiger has long been on the front line of efforts to enact rational clean energy and climate policies and has witnessed efforts to undermine our democratic system that has been rigged leaving America hoodwinked and held hostage to dirty fuels. Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics pulls back the curtain on the central role of big oil, coal, and gas interests in American politics through the flow of money to fabricated entities for independent SuperPAC expenditures for mass deception through distorted advertising. Larry wrote this urgent message aimed at parents, grandparents and young adults who care about their children forced to live on the ragged edge of an unprecedented climate crisis. This book is especially for leaders who understand that we must act now with a "Green New Deal" scale response. Together, we must confront and overcome the many toxic money influences, reverse a failing democracy and retake the reins of government to enact policies that secure our shared future and the future of life on earth.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 3


STAFF Publisher/Editor: Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com

contents

Advisory Board Chairman: Robert Malkin Robert@pittsburghcurrent.com

Vol. III Iss. XXXX Nov. 18, 2020

EDITORIAL

NEWS 4 | From the Editor 6 | Fahrenheit 412 7 | Christopher West 10 | A+ Schools 12 | Ricky Burgess

Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com Visuals Editor: Jake Mysliwczyk Jake@pittsburghcurrent.com

OPINION 14 | Larry Schweiger 16 | Alona Williams

Sr. Contributing Writer: Jody DiPerna Jody@pittsburghcurrent.com

Arts 20 | Happiest Season 22 | Prime Stage's Einstein 23 | Record Releases

Social Justice Columnist: Jessica Semler jessica@pittsburghcurrent.com Contributing Photographer: Ed Thompson info@pittsburghcurrent.com

EXTRA 24 | Matthew Wallenstein 25 | Dan Savage 26| Parting Shot

Contributing Writers: Jody DiPerna, Atiya Irvin Mitchell, Dan Savage, Larry Schweiger, Brittany Hailer, Matthew Wallenstein, Caitlyn Junter, Aryanna Hunter, Nick Eustis, Jessie Sage, Mary Niederberger info@pittsburghcurrent.com Logo Design: Mark Addison TO ADVERTISE :

Senior Account Executive: Andrea James andrea@pittsburghcurrent.com Charlie Deitch charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com

The Fine Print The contents of the Pittsburgh Current are © 2020 by Pittsburgh Current, LLC. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this publication shall be duplicated or reprinted without the express-written consent of Pittsburgh Current LLC. One copy per person. The Pittsburgh Current is published twice monthly beginning August 2018. The opinions contained in columns and letters to the editors represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Pittsburgh Current ownership, management and staff. The Pittsburgh Current is an independently owned and operated print and online media company produced in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood, 1665 Broadway Ave., Pittsburgh, PA., 15216. 412-204-7248. Email us or don’t: info@pittsburghcurrent.com.

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FROM THE EDITOR PA G E 7

IT'S TIME TO LOCK IT DOWN BY CHARLIE DEITCH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR

CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

At this point in my life, it takes a lot for me to really admire the actions of an elected official. Why? Because politicians rarely do the right thing when it means pissing off a large segment of the population. But that wasn’t the case earlier this year when Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine stepped up to fight coronavirus and locked it all down. It was the right thing to do in the face of a virus that we knew little about and could do little medically to combat until it was already ravaging your body. I admired their courage. People weren’t happy. They never are when they're told what to do, even for their own good. To make matters worse, soon-to-be-ex-President Donald Trump fired up his Flock and convinced a lot of people that the virus was a hoax that was being used as a political play to get him out of office. Those People fought back, refused to wear masks and made a lot of noise about their constitutional right to be idiots.

W

ithout an enforceable mandate, people will continue to do what they want.

So, we all loosened up over the summer and then the promised surge came. And no orders were given.The federal government is doing nothing to combat coronavirus. In fact, Donald Trump is committing genocide against his own people, especially minority communities which have been the hardest hit. It’s genocide by Indifference. And as things have continued to get worse. Health and government officials have been asking, urging, begging, pleading with people to take steps themselves to stop the spread. Many school districts populated by those same Trump sheep I mentioned earlier refuse to close their

schools. In October, people held large Halloween parties and unauthorized school dances and sleep overs and watching the game at bars. Now, here we are. Worse off than we were in March when Pa. set the standard for Coronavirus mitigation. Now we have leaders who have still not found the political courage to do the right thing and lock it down. Hopefully it’s coming soon. Just this afternoon, Allegheny County Heath Director Dr. Deborah Bogen issued a non mandated stay-at-home “advisory.” “For the past few weeks, I’ve asked people to follow the rules, curtail gatherings and parties, stay home except for essen-

tials, and wear masks. I’m done asking and today, I’m telling you that these are things we must all do to bring down the level of spread and keep our community safe,” Bogen said. Except she is still asking, so is the city, so is the state. Without an enforceable mandate, people will continue to do what they want. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are coming, we just have to wait it out a bit longer. But people don’t want to wait, so they won’t unless they’re forced. It’s time for Pa. to follow the lead of other states -- even Republican-led states -- and lock it down. Yes, it will be hard. Yes it will be a struggle and we’ll have to have to make allowances for people struggling financially. Yes, it will hurt small businesses. It’s hurting this small business as a matter of fact, but we don’t have a choice. Yes, we’ll be struggling, but at least we’ll be alive.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 5


NEWS

FAHRENHEIT 412

NEW RULE BANS ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL INMATES FROM RECEIVING BOOKS; ALL READING LIMITED TO 214 E-BOOKS THAT INMATES MUST PAY FOR AFTER LIMITED FREE CREDITS ARE USED BY CHARLIE DEITCH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR

CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Christopher West, aka Brother Hush, has been in the Allegheny County Jail for three months To help pass the time, he immersed himself into one of his favorite hobbies, reading. The jail had a policy, though, that inmates could only receive books directly from Barnes and Noble or the Christian Book Store. Hush took advantage of the policy and has tried to pass his time until trial (for more info on this, read story on opposite Page). But on Nov. 16, things changed. “Yesterday I woke up in Fahrenheit 451,” says Hush, a musical artist and activist, by phone Nov. 17 from the Allegheny County Jail. His reference was to the 1953 Ray Bradbury Novel that tells the story about a Dystopian future where books are banned and burned. On Monday, Nov. 16, the ACJ’s incarcerated population received a memo from warden Orlando Harper that read: “Effective Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, the Allegheny County Jail shall no longer accept books from Barnesandnoble. com and Christianbooks.com. Inmates living in our facility now have the ability to read over 214 free books and 49

free religious books through our tablet program. Inmates... also have access to a wide variety of books through the leisure library on each pod.” The ACJ’s “tablet program” began earlier this year after the county inked a new contract with Global Tel*Link. The new deal provided inmate with tablets that they could use for entertainment purposes, to photos and videos from their families and to have video visits. The problem is, each of these services costs money out of an inmate’s pocket and baked on those fee, Allegheny County receives kickbacks from the telecom company of more than $4 million. Inmates do get roughly an hour-anda-half of free credits. But after that they are charged anywhere from three-to-five cents per minute. “I love to read,” Hush says. “I’ve got a box full of books in here. But, now I’m being limited to only certain titles and if I want to read longer than my free credits allow, then I have to pay. With a book, I’m not charged by the minute. “What makes this situation worse is that because of Coronavirus, we spend 23 hours a day in our cell. Books

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(Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

at least made that somewhat bearable and they’ve taken that away.” Aside from the financial aspect, there are other issues with the new mandate. Brother Hush says that the tablets get poor reception in the cells and inmates are forced to stand at the door of the cell to read a book or try to have a $7.50 video visit with their families. In-person visits are still banned at the ajil due to COVID-19. But one of the greatest

indignations, Brother Hush says, is being told what they can and can’t read. Pittsburgh Current was unable to get a copy of the list, but the titles were described mainly as books that were in the public domain -- the works of Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, The Odyssey to name a few. “But I gave it a try, I thought I would re-read To Kill a Mockingbird.” They

Continued on Page 8


NEWS

SIX MONTHS AGO CHRISTOPHER WEST WAS PROTESTING THE DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD, TODAY HE'S SITTING IN THE ACJ FACING SERIOUS TIME IN A FEDERAL PRISON

B

y the end of November, Christopher West will have been sitting in the Allegheny County Jail for three months after he attended the May 31 Downtown Protest to remember George Floyd. He’ll be the first to admit that mistakes were made that day, but he didn’t expect this. The Allegheny County District Attorney’s office has charged West, AKA Brother Hush, with recklessly endangering another person, robbery, criminal mischief and riot. The charges relate to two incidents that day -- the burning of a Pittsburgh Police Car and the assault of a KDKA cameraman. The image of the burning squad car is one that nearly everyone has seen now. That day, West said he jumped up on top of the car to get a picture. Police say he kicked in a window, but West says it was already broken. The charge of felony robbery is related to an incident in which the photojournalist was assaulted. During the events, West says he did see the photographer filming and told the man to stop shooting. “I tried to lower his camera as I told him to stop shooting and it fell to the ground. I wasn’t trying to knock it to the ground but that happened. I immediately backed up said I was sorry because I didn’t mean for that to happen. Honestly, I feel real bad for the dude.” Others started to assault the photographer, but West says witnesses testified that he was

Christopher West, aka Brother Hush. (Photo: Felicia Brown

among them. “The robbery charge stems from the camera. I wasn’t trying to steal it and I never assaulted him. Once he was booked on the state charges, friends attempted to bail him out but they couldn’t because federal marshals put a detainer on him. “When I heard that I knew they were going to throw federal charges at me,” West says. West among eight people indicted federally that day because the police car had been purchased with federal grant money. In announcing the multiple indictments on July 30, U.S. At-

torney Scott Brady said: “Throwing IEDs and bricks at police officers, throwing projectiles at and striking police horses, and setting police cruisers on fire are not the protected First Amendment activities of a peaceful protest; they are criminal acts that violate federal law.” West was charged with “conspiring” with another man to set the car ablaze and causing damage to the car by kicking it and burning it. If convicted on all charges, West faces five to 30 years in a federal penitentiary. “If the gestapo was still around, they’d be proud of this prosecution,” West says. “I sit on

a car for a picture and the next thing I know, I’m sitting in jail facing a federal arson charge. They’re charging anyone who even touched that car that day. People are still getting charged from those protests. “I was out there that day because what happened and what has been happening isn’t right. Police are out there killing people and nothing happens. I sat on a police car and now I’m staring at federal time. I’ve wanted to talk about what happened since they locked me up. Because what’s going on isn’t right. It just isn’t right."

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 7


NEWS Continued From Page 7 don’t have it,” he said. “You limit us to reading classics,, but you don’t even have Mockingbird? It’s a bas joke.” The Current reached out to Allegheny County to ask several questions about the order including the price, the limited reading list among other things. A written statement from ACJ Warden Orlando Harper was sent back. “The Jail is constantly reviewing its policies and procedures, including those that relate to potential contraband in the facility, which is a safety and security issue for all there,” Harper wrote. “As part of that review, the policy was changed to discontinue shipment of books. Inmates have access to 214 books and 49 religious books on tablets, and inmate use of the library resources is free. Additionally, each pod has a leisure library where inmates can sign out books and there is also a room in the education department designated for donated books. There are over 1,000 different titles in that library which will be rotated throughout the facility for the inmates. “The policy is by no means permanent. As indicated, the facility is constantly reviewing its policies and procedures. The facility is also talking with the provider of the tablets about how to add additional books and resources, and how it may handle requests for specific books.”

One issue with the statement is that the only books coming into the facility are sent directly from Barnes and Noble and Christian Books in an effort to stop contraband. But there could be another motive. As mentioned above, the telecom company’s profit and the county’s kickback depends on how much the services are used by inmates. When contacted by the Current, Allegheny County Councilor Bethany Hallam was aware of the move and inquired further about it to Judge Kim Clark, the head of the Jail Oversight Board, of which Hallam is a member. Clark forwarded the following response to all board members: from jail administrators. “The change made this week to no longer allow incoming books from Barnesandnoble.com and Christianbooks.com was made to ensure the safety and security of all inmates and employees in the Allegheny County Jail. “I plan to put this matter before the Board in an executive session at the next meeting. For now, safety dictates that

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this action be taken.” Unlike the statement to the Current, Hallam points out that there was no indication that the move was temporary. “I was very surprised when I heard about this,” Hallam said. “And it’s not a coincidence that this happened at the same time tablets were implemented. We’ve been working towards increasing access to books and other publications and instead, with no warning to anyone, they

take that access away. “Slightly more than 200 ebooks and 50 religious ebooks? Not to mention they are limited to 99 minutes of tablet usage a day, and are unable to use the tablets after 10pm. This is a pandemic where these incarcerated folks are locked in a cell, lots of them for 23 hours a day, with no visits from their loved ones, and now we take away the one piece of normalcy they had.The majority of people I’ve talked to can’t find anything that interests them on the tablets.” Brother Hush agrees: “Mostly it’s the stuff from high school that you didn’t want to read in high school,” Hush said. “We’re stuck with old books nobody wants to read or authors you never heard of on a device that’s so Fugazi, it never works.”


PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 9


NEWS

PA G E 7

WITHOUT TEST DATA TO ANALYZE, A+ SC SCHOOLS' RACIAL INEQU

BY MARY NIEDERBERGER - PITTSBUR

MARY@PITTSBUR

I

n any other year, the A+ Schools Report to the Community would focus heavily on academic achievement in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. But annual state assessment tests in math, English language arts and science for elementary and secondary students in public schools didn’t happen in spring 2020 because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Absent new academic achievement data to analyze, James Fogarty, A+ Schools executive director, decided to use the 2020 report, released Monday, to reflect on a school system that has, for years, supported the success of white and economically advantaged students over students who are poor or Black. In his introduction, Fogarty quotes author Isabel Wilkerson in describing a “caste system” that exists in America and in schools — a system that, he writes, “perpetuates existing inequities in our society.” The report points to how those inequities exist in the Pittsburgh school system in the racial achievement gaps in academic performance, the racial makeup of gifted and advanced placement classrooms, the racial disparity in graduation rates and the disparate discipline that exists even though suspension rates are down from four years ago. The report also looks at the

district’s magnet system, which often makes acceptance more open to students from well-resourced families and is quick to eject students who don’t meet discipline and attendance guidelines. Fogarty insists that now is the time to address these issues. “It’s not like the [school] board and administration hav-

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en’t thought about it. … There are certain truths that are staring us in the face,” Fogarty said in an interview. During his presentation of the report on Monday, Nov. 16, Fogarty said that although the system is currently “unjust and inequitable,” the results “are not inevitable by any means.”

Fogarty said good work being done in some of the schools -- highlighted as “bright spots” in the report -- and increased collaboration between community groups and schools provide hope that improvements can be made. Minika Jenkins, chief academic officer for the Pittsburgh


NEWS

CHOOOLS FOCUS ON PITTSBURGH PUBLIC UITIES IN ANNUAL REPORT

RGH CURRENT EDUCATION WRITER

RGHCURRENT.COM

school district, and Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, thanked Fogarty for focusing on inequities in the system and highlighting the bright spots. Esposito-Visgitis pointed out how the COVID-19 epidemic has also magnified the inequities across the district. “More than ever we are not accepting them,” she said. Jenkins said the inequities that exist in Pittsburgh, particularly in advanced placement and gifted enrollment, exist nationally. She said she appreciated Fogarty’s focus on community collaboration, “It is really what is necessary to support our students.” The report also looks at the district’s magnet system, which often makes acceptance more open to students from well-resourced families and is quick to eject students who don’t meet discipline and attendance guidelines. Among the “bright spots,” where school staff is creating positive outcomes for students, is Colfax K-8 in Squirrel Hill, where third grade reading proficiency scores among Black students have increased from 35% in 2015 to 63% in 2019 under the direction of principal Tamara Sanders-Woods. Third grade reading proficiency is vital to a student’s future academic success as third grade marks the point in a student’s education where

they move from learning to read to the necessity to read in all subjects. Among other bright spots is South Brook 6-8, in the West Liberty section of Brookline, where the learning growth, as measured by state tests, puts it in the top 15% of schools in the state. The report also highlights a multifaceted effort to revitalize Perry High School, in the Perry North neighborhood on the North Side, where 77% of students are Black, the same percentage are economically disadvantaged and academic achievement is low. Perry senior Alyssa Vogel said in the report she and her classmates know they receive less technology and fewer resources because of the school’s small size — just 361 students in the building — and that makes them feel “disrespected and devalued.” However, for the past two years a collaborative of students, staff and community partners including A+ Schools and One Northside, an initiative of the Buhl Foundation, has been working to re-create Perry as a school that provides a “strong liberal arts foundation” with a chance to earn college credit in high school and offer technical skills that can lead to jobs. The effort has prompted the district administration to include Perry as one of three high schools targeted in the next phase of its strategic plan.

A continued sore spot in the district is disparate discipline. Among the 2,331 students who were suspended at least once in 2019-2020, 79% were Black and 12% were white. Districtwide, 52% of students are Black. The report said the 2019-2020 racial disparity in suspensions is “slightly greater” than the previous year. Of those suspended at least once, 34% had disabilities and 89% were low-income. Out-of-school suspension rates range from zero at Banksville K-5 in Banksville and Montessori PreK-5 in Friendship to 37% at Milliones 6-12 in the Hill District. At Milliones, 88% of students are Black and 89% are economically disadvantaged. Enrollment in AP classes shows 56% of white students have enrolled in at least one AP course, as compared with 27% of Black students and 4% of Hispanic students. Similar disparities exist in the gifted program where 66% identified as gifted are white, compared with 18% who are Black, according to the report. The report also contains a School Choice and Enrollment Guide which walks parents through the Pittsburgh Public Schools system of neighborhood and magnet schools, special education, English language learners services and other programs such as career and technical education. It also explains charter school opportunities. In showing the opportunities

at the district’s high schools, the disparities become glaring. For instance, CAPA 6-12, a Downtown magnet high school for performing arts which requires auditions for acceptance, has the highest percentage of students enrolling in post-secondary education — 84% — and the highest six-year college completion rate at 60% among the 6-12 and 9-12 secondary schools in the district. CAPA ties with Science and Technology Academy 6-12 in Oakland, another selective magnet, by offering the most advanced placement courses — 11. Only Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill offers more at 12. That compares with Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood, which offers three AP courses. The report also provides details on each of the district’s schools and the city’s charter schools, including three-year averages on academic achievement on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams for elementary students and the Keystone exams for secondary students, based on the years 2016-2017 through 2018-2019. There are no test scores available for 2019-2020. To read the full report go to https://www.ourschoolspittsburgh.org/ This article was written in collaboration with Pittsburgh Print, which is also publishing a version.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 11


NEWS

PA G E 7

IN A STRANGE LEGAL TWIST, PGH CITY LAW DEPARTMENT ARGUES ITS OWN CITY CHARTER IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

P

ittsburgh’s law department has filed a brief in Common Pleas Court stating the city’s Home Rule Charter is unconstitutional and has no way to remove a member of council who violates its provisions. The brief is in response to a lawsuit challenging whether Rev. Ricky Burgess, who was re-elected in 2019 to a fourth term on council, is legally allowed to serve in that position while working as a member of the faculty of the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). Carmen Brown, of East Liberty, an activist with Penn Plaza Support and Action, filed a lawsuit in Common Pleas Court claiming that Burgess is in violation of the provision of the Home Rule Charter that states members of council shall not “hold any office, position or employment in the government of the United States, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the City of Pittsburgh or Allegheny County.” The exception for that is

BY ANN BELSER - SPECIAL TO THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Pittsburgh City Councilor Rev. Ricky Burgess at a district event in 2019, (Photo from Burgess' official Facebook.)

being a member of the national guard or the appointment to an authority, to which council members are often appointed because of their position. The remedy, set out in the charter, is “members of council who violate any of the above provisions shall immediately forfeit their

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office.” The city law department, defending Burgess, filed a brief challenging the constitutionality of the home rule charter. Burgess and the city admit the facts of Brown’s case, that Burgess is a current member of City Council and that he has been a

tenured faculty member at CCAC since 1991. However, the city’s brief argues that “CCAC is not the type of government unit prohibited by the Home Rule Charter” and points out that while the Allegheny County Home Rule Charter prohibits employees from receiving


NEWS a salary from the county or agency of the county, the late Dr. Charles Martoni was employed at CCAC while he was also a member of County Council: “Thus it is clear that Allegheny County itself does not see CCAC as part of Allegheny County Government.” The city also argues that the provision in the charter that calls for his removal from office violates Pennsylvania’s constitution which only allows “all civil officers elected by the people” to be removed from office by the Governor with two-thirds of the Senate.” Bruce Ledewitz, a professor at the Duquesne University School of Law, called it crazy that the city’s law department would argue that the city’s Home Rule Charter violates the state constitution. “Why aren’t they defending the city charter? Isn’t their job to defend the city charter? That’s a little odd,” he said. Ledewitz said the city is arguing that if the court finds that CCAC is a governmental body covered by the charter, which it also disputes, then while Burgess’ position on council violates the charter, the city does not have any way to remove him because that can only be done by the

governor and the senate. Ledewitz also took issue with the argument that CCAC is not a governmental body because the county did not enforce the provision against Martoni. “The fact that somebody else violated the county charter doesn’t justify violating the city charter,” he said. Even if there is no way to remove him, Ledewitz said, Brown is still entitled to a decision as to whether Burgess is in violation of the provision of the charter that states he cannot be a government employee. And if the court rules he is in violation of the charter, “at the very least, the city should not be paying him to be a councilman,” Ledewitz said. The city law department would not comment on the case, Timothy McNulty, the city’s spokesman said it does not comment on pending litigation. Burgess did not respond to a request for comment. The arguments in the case are scheduled before Common Pleas Judge Joseph James on Nov. 19. This article was written in collaboration with Pittsburgh Print, which is also publishing a version.

OFFICIAL ADVERTISEMENT THE BOARD OF PUBLIC EDUCATION OF THE

SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH ADVERTISEMENT FOR BIDS

Sealed proposals shall be deposited at the Administration Building, Bellefield Entrance Lobby, 341 South Bellefield Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15213, on December 08, 2020, until 2:00 P.M., local prevailing time for: Pgh. Chartiers Early Childhood Center Finish Floor Replacements and Miscellaneous Work General and Asbestos Abatement Prime Pgh. Classical Academy 6-8 Bleacher Demolition Project General Prime Pgh. Miller PreK-5 Comprehensive Plaster Repair and Painting General, Mechanical, Electrical and Asbestos Abatement Prime Pgh. Perry High School CTE Cosmetology Relocation General, Plumbing, Mechanical, Electrical and Asbestos Abatement Primes Pgh. Perry High School Bleacher Demolition Project General Prime Project Manual and Drawings will be available for purchase on November 02, 2020 at Modern Reproductions (412-488-7700), 127 McKean Street, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15219 between 9:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. The cost of the Project Manual Documents is non-refundable. Project details and dates are described in each project manual. We are an equal rights and opportunity school district

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 13


OPINION

THE CULT OF TRUMPISM AND THE 'STOP THE STEAL' LUNACY

J

oe Biden is the declared presidential winner earning a record-breaking seventy-eight million votes and 306 electoral college votes. It is time for a transition, yet Trump rejects a smooth transfer of power that has been a Presidential tradition dating back to George Washington. While hospitals across America reach critical capacities, Biden’s health experts are shutout from response planning information. Meanwhile, Trump ignores the raging pandemic, turns his legal fight over to Rudy Giuliani and goes golfing. Ignoring repeated assertions by state election officials and other experts about the election's integrity and transparency, Trump, the poor loser, and Giuliana are fighting the overwhelming electoral and popular election results. In repudiation of Giuliani's court claims, top government, and industry experts, including the cybersecurity and infrastructure security agencies, declared the 2020 election “the most secure in American history." The GOP wall protecting Trump needs to crack wide open. While not acknowledging his defeat, some republican lawmakers are encouraging Trump to give Biden the needed National Security briefings. They must hold Trump accountable for ignoring the virus and move the transition forward. The Senate must now address the Heroes Act funding approved by the House. Millions of out-of-work Americans are going hungry. Trump lost numerous frivolously filed court cases including nine cases in a single day. The American Civil Liberties Union

BY LARRY J. SCHWEIGER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

"Stop the Steal" Protesers in Harrisburg. (Current Photo by Nick Keppler)

(ACLU) intervened in Trump for President v. Kathy Boockvar. This suit challenged seven county boards of election, including Philadelphia and Allegheny, where Biden won. The ACLU described what Trump and Giuliani are doing with lawsuits. The memorandum warned the "Plaintiffs have launched an all-out attack on voting by mail-in and absentee ballot. They have done so, unapologetically, in the midst of a global pandemic. The relief Plaintiffs seek from this Court is unprecedented, unsupported and

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unsupportable: They want to stop Pennsylvania from certifying the results of the 2020 General Election. If that fails, they seek (1) to prevent all mail-in and absentee ballots cast in up to seven counties, including Pennsylvania’s two largest counties from being counted – a request for relief that, if granted, would result in over 2.6 million voters having their lawfully cast ballots discarded; and (2) to prevent ballots cast by qualified electors in the seven named counties from being counted if a voter was afforded an opportunity to cure a mail-

in ballot. This flagrant attempt to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters must be rejected.” Two of Trump's lawyers were from the Pittsburgh-based firm, Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur. After well-deserved criticism, they withdrew, leaving one unaffiliated Philadelphia lawyer. Failing in the courts, Trump is spawning an anti-democratic movement. Eleven days after the election, his motorcade drove through a crowd of Trumpsters, including many white supremacists, Proud Boys, QAnons, and


OPINION anti-government extremists in a carefully coordinated “Stop the Steal” rally. Rodger Stone, the convicted political operative, the wacky My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, and Infowars founder Alex Jones were all involved in promoting the protests. Without a shred of evidence, they claim the election was rigged. Trump's failure to respect the legal and constitutional mechanisms of voting will undoubtedly continue to spawn doubt about future elections. The adage "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time" holds in this election. Fact-checking by The Washington Post found Trump uttered at least 20,000 lies and disturbingly misleading claims. During his failed administration, the consummate snake-oil salesman averaged more than 50 false claims a day. Trump has mastered the art of distraction, confusion, and deception and captured 47.4% of the votes. This very flawed man repeatedly lied and blatantly deceived about seventy-three million voters. Every Trump voter ignored or even embraced his freedom from mask nonsense. They discounted his consistent failures in handling the deadly virus, including his attempt currently pending before the SCOTUS to eliminate health care for millions of Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions. Early on, Trump hid the truth. When the virus went out of control, he failed to create a nationally coordinated response with mandatory PPE manufacturing, contact tracing, aggressive testing and targeted Federally mandated restrictions. Trump turned precautionary measures like mask-wearing into

a macho-political statement at his super-spreader events, ignoring and even mocking the CDC's warnings. He turned masks into a political wedge issue. He greatly exacerbated the spread of disease to 11 million Americans, with almost a quarter of a million deaths. Trump predicted that the media would not be talking about the pandemic after the election. With a million new cases this past week, the virus is spiking in every state, especially in the three battleground states that hosted many Trump rallies. Trump’s misleading claims and his super-spreader events were hazardous, but millions of voters did not seem to care. A staggering seventy-three million Americans voted for Trump, knowing he called the climate crisis a hoax. By voting for him, they endorse deregulations that have degraded the environment and threaten our children’s future. They voted for a President who blocked even modest measures underway to address the climate crisis. Trump voters ignored climate enhanced storms and the record-breaking 2020 hurricane season, now with 30 separate named storms. Trump voters also ignored the record-breaking massive climate-fires that burned more than 8.2 million acres in eight states during 2020 alone. They follow Trump in rejecting the compelling science linking the fires to a warming climate. By voting for Trump, they rejected the many climate scientists who warn that we are facing unstoppable climate disruption if we fail to rapidly move to a clean energy economy. The climate carnage continues unchecked. Nearly seventy-three million Americans voted for a man who in four short years tarnished our standing in the world. Trump

stown with an implicit racist insulted many democratic leaders message, "I saved your damn and distanced America from our neighborhood.” Despite his long-time, most stable demoAccess Hollywood confession cratic friends in NATO. He has tape, white women ignored what even insulted and demeaned our Trump told Bob Woodward, good neighbors in Canada and "You've got to deny, deny, deny Mexico. and push back on these women. Trump has been anti-demoIf you admit to anything and any cratic and it shows throughout culpability, then you're dead… his administration. He actively You've got to be strong. You've cultivated relationships with the world's most dangerous dictators got to be aggressive. You've got to push back hard. You've got to and strongmen including Vladdeny anything that's said about imir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Xi you. Never admit." Jinping, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Think about this. If only Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Rodrigo white women could vote in Duterte, and even Jair Bol2020, Trump would have won sonaro, who is destroying the the election since according to Amazon rainforest. He ignored exit polls, 55% of white womcompelling surveillance inforen voted for him. In a Salon mation that Putin was paying piece, Terry H. Schwadron bounties on American soldiers summarized, “Over a lifetime, while he was having numerous Trump regularly demeaned and private conversations with Putin insulted women, he faces multhat never even got a read-out. tiple charges of assault, he has Serving Putin’s treacherous paid off porn stars for sex, he ambitions, Trump just fired vital campaigned by telling suburban military and intelligence agency women he would find jobs for leadership and replaced them their husbands, he promoted with Trump's lackeys. policies attacking women of colSeventy-three million Ameror, Muslim women, immigrant icans voted for an undeniable women.” sexist and racist who repeatIt is now clear that “America edly made explicitly racist and First” was really about “Trump bigoted remarks, demonized First” since in a lame duck minorities, insulted numerous mode, he is doing nothing to prominent women, and estabstop the flood of infections. This lished far-reaching xenophobic is no longer just about Trump. It policies. With at least 26 womis about the millions of Amerien accusing Trump of sexual cans who voted for a man who misconduct since the 1970s, has repeatedly ignored the rule white women still supportof law, denied science, and vioed him in alarming numbers. lated so many American values. Trump has repeatedly demonTrumpsters need some serious ized Muslims and Latinos, introspection and reflection even banning entry from many about what was motivating their Muslim countries into Amerivote. Trumpism is a perilous ca. He denies that America still path for the virus, the climate, struggles with systemic racism. human rights, world affairs, and Trump's mean-spirited family for the future of America’s deseparation policy orphaned 666 mocracy. It is time to drain the Latino children. Yet he urged swamp of Trumpism. suburban white female voters to like him during a rally in JohnPITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 15


OPINION

THE 'MOST LIVEABLE CITY' CONTINUES TO PUSH OUT LOCAL BLACK ART

BY ALONA WILLIAMS - SPECIAL TO THE PITTSBURGH CURRE

Walking in the door of the Writers House Pittsburgh founded this fall of 2020,I was the youngest resident at age 23. I was the only Black person. I was the only poet. And, I was the only Pittsburgh artist in the space. The residency calls itself “a physical home and support community for writers,” with an emphasis on nonfiction storytelling, “offering residencies to writers who are poorly served by MFA communities including writers of color and those identifying as LGBTQIA. Further, each resident will have a living and writing space of their own, be paired with a mentor appropriate for their work and goals, and will have teaching or public programming opportunities via the House.” What I didn’t know when I arrived was that after 11 days, I’d leave in the middle of the night from this house because of how deeply microaggressively racist and violent it was toward me. The level of microaggressive surveillance via projection of “community” was so overwhelming that I could not do what I went there to do

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Alona Williams

for myself. I left before I was even given a mentor and could start working. My experience demonstrates how rich, white privileged “liberal” women create expectations and labor for Black people which is racist and violent. It demonstrates the laziness of whiteness and how

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it expects Black people to acquiesce to its every demand. It also demonstrates how whiteness can be careless and mediocre yet still have resources to enact this violence; whether they’re aware of it or not. Being isolated in more than one way was enough, but being Black and the only person

born and raised on Pittsburgh soil was definitely the most obvious anomaly. Local Black artists need efficient and substantial support that is not rooted in white supremacist parameters. We’re brought into these spaces because we have talent, but we are surveilled, scrutinized, questioned and treated differently than our white and white-adjacent counterparts.This is not an example of white supremacy extremism, but subtle and unconscious bias that is violent if not reflected on and adjusted. When these microaggressions build, they are no longer micro, and quite frankly they never were. There was an immediate feeling of isolation in the house. It became clear that I was expected to acclimate to the climate and culture of this residency which was based around eating and doing activities together. I was the outsider because I already existed outside of this space, so I was very intentional about taking my time easing into this residency space and what I was there to do. Which is write. After all,


OPINION

TISTS: MY EXPERIENCE AT THE PITTSBURGH WRITERS HOUSE RESIDENCY

ENT

I am the only person in this house like me. I have the right to say how I will exist in a space, especially one that was not even considering people like me. My boundaries were not respected. It was clear from the beginning that there was no respect or regard for the full person I am outside of the space. The residency director assumed that I cared for her approval and that she was doing me a favor. The entitlement to my social energy with scheduled bi-weekly dinners and “field trips/road trips'' -during a pandemic, no less -- ultimately pushed me out of the space. The first week there, the director planned a trip to Lake Chautauqua, in New York. We were expected to drive together in one car, and have lunch at a restaurant in a different state. I did not feel comfortable going with people I didn’t know much less during a pandemic. I did not respond to the invitation. The expectation of control that this woman thought she could have over my life was microaggressional at best and white

supremacist surveillance at worst. When I tried to talk to her about my work and hopes for my time at the residency, she diverted the conversation to the necessity of me getting to know the other residents. It was clear she was not interested in how I wanted to exist in the space, which was my first red flag. Instead of listening to me, she emphasized how she hadn’t seen me around the house and how she thought that would shift, once again placing expectations on how I existed. I also want to note that out of 3 bathrooms in the house, there was only one that was ready and there were 4 residents. I guess I was supposed to bypass the minimal expectation of the house being finished upon arrival, as she got more comfortable in her expectation of having access to me whenever she wanted. A blatant example of placing unnecessary uncomfort and labor on me. Our first house meeting was overwhelming. It was clear the director was adamant about being a large part of our experience and curating a lot of what it

would be socially. We were all required to do COVID testing before moving in. The director doesn’t live there, her children attended school, and participated in extracurriculars, and yet, was in the home every day without a mask because her office is there. When I went home to spend time with my family(who had been quarantining), she said I was “making the bubble bigger.” I took this as another attempt to isolate me from my existing community. The professor who recommended this program to me was my advocate. The director called this space an “intentional community” after I expressed my discomfort and stress in the house. The words were a white-savior shield, and I could only navigate this passive-aggressive white woman for so long before it wore on me. My professor acted as a bridge and ally for me and gave the director some feedback. This is her first time hosting a residency, after all, but it was clear she remained adamant in controlling the narrative about how people would

exist in the space. In fact, she positioned me as the problem, saying she thinks I got “cold feet,” while also stating I was her best applicant. In an Guardian interview with Leslie Lokko’s on why she left City College of New York, she said, “The Black woman arrives in an organization and everyone is so enthusiastic. It’s treated like the coming of the second messiah. Then she begins to question the organization and hold people accountable for their actions, and soon she’s targeted and made out to be the problem.” Pittsburgh-based writer, and National Book Award Finalist Deesha Philyaw told me she was disappointed but not surprised by my experience. “Sadly, this is an old story, this expectation that we will accommodate white people’s expectations, feelings, and comfort, even when they are not in service of our art or our best interests in general. And our resistance and insistence on our autonomy is never welcomed. Authentic community shouldn’t have to be forced. It grows from

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OPINION mutual respect, and nothing about this residency sounds respectful to the life and work of an artist.” I communicated with the residency director the best way I could and so did my professor. But once I saw that the director was not open to critique, I decided to leave without a word. I had zero labor left for her. This is another example of what Lokko expressed in her piece when she said, “There is a deeply embedded idea in America of the figure of the caring Black female who will simply pick up all the work.” On the night I left the residency, months after being accepted into the Writers House, I received a “contract” from the director via email. The language reiterates community over and over with a slight mention of writing, something I have never seen a real residency make secondary. The contract used language like, “you were seeking time in an intentional community bound by writing”, while the next sentence says “whether your reason to apply and accept were personal, professional, or financial the nature of the house —considering mission—

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lack artists, young Black artists of all intersections, deserve to have spaces molded to fit us, or at the very least be safe from the violence of racism and white supremacy in these creative spaces. alone means each resident is here to navigate this time in a supportive communal setting.” A contract by definition is “an agreement between two parties which defines expectations and obligations.” I’ve never seen a contract that told me what I was looking for in an experience before. The director was never clear about what the “intentional community” was intentional about. A residency by definition is, “A program that gives artists the opportunity to live and work outside of their usual environments, providing them with time to reflect, research, or produce work. During a residency, artists can explore new locations, different cultures, and experiment with different materials.” The Writers House con-

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tract did not have a direct or thorough mission statement that centered the artists’ work. Instead of the focus being the work, the focus was on hanging out together. The Writers House advisory committee is comprised of the director’s husband, and she was not forthcoming about whether there are more board members and if so, who they are. These are people who should be holding this director accountable. The local community needs to hold her accountable. Within the past month, new language has been added to the Writers House website, regarding the advisory committee, “We’re currently establishing an advisory committee of writers, librarians, and others with

the aim of including a balance of team members based in Pittsburgh and across the country with an emphasis on the Rust Belt and Appalachia.” Perhaps this change in language is a result of my leaving and the concerns I’ve raised. However, this is an attempt at saving face after people had already explained the systemic issues within the organization. A Writers House should not center around frivolous buzzwords that have nothing to do with participants’ actual writing. Language was not sacred in that space and was used carelessly. This experience has taught me a lot about assumptions. I assumed when I wrote my blurb about coming into the house (featured on the


OPINION website) that there was an understanding that when I said I wanted to “create a stable community that could support writers,” that they knew I was talking about Black writers and Black community. I’m no one’s token and being in a space where that is put on me made me feel obligated to bring more people like me in the space before I even got there. The director also had many assumptions about me and how this program would go for me. She acted like I needed her. When my professor recommended the Writers House residency to me, I initially thought it would be a beneficial opportunity. I was fresh out of undergrad. My goal was to revive a writing project centered on gentrification. I had planned to revise and write new poems about the changing dynamics of Pittsburgh and where that leaves me, and my community. I came into the Writers House, a young Black woman writer, from a heavily gentrified neighborhood, who still carries the spirit of her community with her. I wanted time and space to carry out this mission. Instead, I experienced nothing but rampant, ignorant and microaggressive

racism and white supremacy. This carelessness and lack of intention is exactly what pushes Black artists out of Pittsburgh. Local multidisciplinary artist Christina Springer also commented on her experience navigating her artistic autonomy in Pittsburgh, “The organization Christiane Leach and I co-founded, Sun Crumbs, closed our doors because it had been made clear to us increased funding was impossible without micro-management and surveillance, and also, that it would be ludicrous to expect to receive compensation for our labor. A tried and true aberration traditionally inflicted on non-White femmes. Microaggressions have always forcefully reminded me to go make and find my own opportunities." Not all is lost though. I will continue on my artistic journey with the same confidence and will continue my writing journey with excitement. Toni Morrison famously said, “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again your reason for being.” This experience was a very serious distraction indeed, but I know space is my birth-

right. Trying to micromanage and surveil me is a disservice, and I will not be rushed. This is what I deserve. The director has since then opened up another application to the residency, hoping to fill my space. Philyaw publicly expressed this was not a safe space on social media, and the one other non-white resident took it upon herself to send Philyaw an email trying to gas light and discredit my experience. In a residency centered on creating the best work, residents wouldn’t even be privy enough to think this was acceptable. From this action alone I know I made the right choice. I could not make my highest quality art if I couldn’t be my whole self safely. Nor could I be authentically in “community” with women that would attempt to discredit my authentic perspective. I want Black artists to know that this is not a space created with you in mind. We deserve control over our time and space. Black artists, young Black artists of all intersections deserve to have spaces molded to fit us, or at the very least be safe from the violence of racism and white supremacy in these creative spaces.

Take this as a call to action for pouring into the spaces that are built for young Black local artists to exist in without violence. They exist and need support. I am blessed to have a support system of seasoned Black local artists with dignity and authenticity who supported me through this. You can find out more about their work below. Let this be a lesson in control of the creative process for all of my peers. May you always exist in the space of your deep worth and authenticity when navigating a creative career in this city and beyond. ALONA WILLIAMS is a poet and Pittsburgh native. She is a 2020 graduate of Chatham University where she earned a BFA in Creative Writing with a Minor in Music. has been published (or has work forthcoming) in 1839 Magazine, The Minor Bird, MoonStone Arts Center’s Philadelphia Says: Resisting Arrest, and Femme Literati: Mixtape. She is a contributing author in two anthologies, the forthcoming Pittsburgh Neighborhood Guidebook and the recently released Tenderness – a Literary Anthology and Book of Spells: Evidence

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 19


FILM

BREAKING GROUND

PITTSBURGH-FILMED 'HAPPIEST SEASON' WILL BE THE FIRST SAME-SEX ROM-COM RELEASED BY A MAJOR STUDIO BY MARIA SCIULLO - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

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he day brought snow, postponing the start of schools in Pittsburgh and mucking with the morning commute. But at 31st Street Studios, it was beginning to look a lot like Clea DuVall’s Christmas. On Day 14 of a six-week “Happiest Season” shoot around the Pittsburgh area, crews were out scrambling to film the snowy landscapes that had eluded them in a previously dry winter. Inside the cavernous studio, a mockup of the grand foyer, dining room, living room and a bedroom overflowed with pine boughs, bows and twinkling white lights. It was a Hallmark setting, except... “Don’t worry about the gas smell,” a publicist said, breezily, “It’s just the [fake] fireplace.” DuVall, the writer/director of the feature film, “Happiest Season,” said she grew up addicted to watching those holiday movies where attractive couples kiss under the mistletoe. The kind where families reunite in huge Victorians tastefully decorated for the holidays. There’s hot chocolate, ice skating, perhaps a misunderstanding or two for comedic effect. Yet until now, that picture was incomplete: “I had never seen

Mackenzie Davis, left, and Kristen Stewart star in "Happiest Season," which was filmed around Pittsburgh earlier this year. (Photo: Lacey Terrell/Hulu)

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FILM myself represented in them,” DuVall said. “Happiest Season” is her reply. Starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis and produced by Sony TriStar, it is the first same-sex romantic comedy from a major studio. Originally scheduled for theatrical release, it debuts on streaming service Hulu Nov. 25. “It was not a hard sell at all -- surprising how not hard it was to get,” said director DuVall, who co-wrote the script with fellow “Veep” alum Mary Holland, who’s a scene-stealer in the film. In “Happiest Season,” Abby (Stewart) has plans to propose to her girlfriend, Harper (Davis) at the big party Harper’s conservative family celebrates each Christmas. Then she discovers Harper has yet to come out to them. The family assumes they are just good friends -- and isn’t that a familiar scene? “It’s always sort of weird, re-establishing the dynamics of family, and this one is full of it,” said Stewart between pre-Covid setups. She added that emotions were running high to shoot “Happiest Season,” and that the same-sex secret was just part of it. It is a big deal, but in a perfect world, it should not be. In the bigger picture: “I think people are going to get a real kick out of that all-too-familiar memory of going home for the holidays and kind of regressing back into when you were living in your parents’ home,” Davis said.

Producer Isaac Klausner also produced Netflix’s sweet, diverse coming-of-age story, “Love, Simon.” Inclusivity set amid traditional genres such as the holiday movie, he said, is “looking at how to update those genres. “ “It’s thinking about ‘what is a modern take on that? What is a relationship, what is a dynamic we haven’t quite seen, and how do you bring it into today?’” ‘It’s weird to say it’s ‘different’ because it is so in line with what has come before, but Clea has such a clear point of view,” Davis said. The cast includes other well-known actors: Victor Garber (“Titanic”), Alison Brie (“Glow”), Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”) and this year’s Emmy Awards golden boy for “Schitt’s Creek,” Daniel Levy. On this frigid Friday, Stewart, Davis and Steenburgen, who plays Davis’ mother, were running through a scene in the guest bedroom. “They hate me,” said Stewart, casually dressed in a navy V-neck sweater. “They don’t…” began Davis, wearing a cream-colored silk shirt. Steenburgen swept unexpectedly into the room, and the two younger women jumped. DuVall had them do it again several times, with different camera angles. After one of the takes, Stewart began laughing when someone in the crew called, “You’re drunk with power, Mary.” Later, the three women took a break to talk about filming in Pittsburgh.

Stewart, 30, was a teenager when she was here for director Greg Mottola’s “Adventureland,” which was primarily shot at Kennywood Park in 2008. “I’m bummed that it [the park] is closed for the season; I really wanted to just go and look around,” she said. “I was, I think, 17 when I was here last so it was ages ago, but I’m staying in the same place I did in the Strip [District].” Davis had dropped by the Mattress Factory (“the Kusama was so cool”) and of course, the Warhol. The Heinz History Center, she joked “was less about condiments than I would have thought.” Steenburgen had never filmed in Pittsburgh before but at the exact time of the set visit, her husband, actor Ted Danson, was guest lecturing at his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University. “I was here with him when they very kindly gave him an honorary doctorate degree last spring, and I was blown away by the beauty of Pittsburgh, and I still am.” Klausner was a producer for “The Fault in our Stars,” which shot around Western Pennsylvania six years earlier. It went so well, he was eager to return. As he sat at the head of a dining room table that looked like something out of a Pottery Barn holiday catalog, he explained why Pittsburgh ended up being not only the location for the shoot, but the setting for “Happiest Season.” “I was trying to figure out how to get back to Pittsburgh.

Clea had never been here; it was a suggestion we made.” Klausner noted DuVall was so impressed on a scouting trip, she proceeded to rewrite the script with Harper as a journalist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and using recognizable locations such as Skelton Jewelers and Vandal Coffee Shop in Lawrenceville, Ross Park Mall, Chartiers Country Club, the Carnegie Library of Homestead, as well as Nonni’s Corner Trattoria and the Guthrie Theatre, both in Grove City. Originally the movie was set in New York. But DuVall was so taken with “such a beautiful and cool place that I haven’t seen pictured a lot [on screens]. We decided to embrace it rather than pretend it was something else.” As towering shelves filled with faux frosted wreaths and trees were moved around behind her, DuVall took a brief time out to discuss particulars. Getting Stewart and Davis to sign on early in the project helped attract other “strong comedy people,” she said. With a comedy acting pedigree including “Veep,” but also dramas such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” DuVall agreed that choosing comedy to write and direct her first major studio film was a bigger challenge. “It’s so much harder to make them laugh than to make them cry,” she said. In “Happiest Season,” there’s a holiday serving of both. The Happiest Season debuts Nov. 25 on Hulu.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 21


ARTS PRIME STAGEOFFERING VIRTUAL 'EINSTEIN'

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n times of crisis, we often look to the great thinkers of the time for guidance. We look to Dr. Fauci and other leaders of the scientific community to address the spread of COVID-19, and just as we do that, those in times past did the same. “Einstein: A Stage Portrait” kicked off Prime Stage Theatre’s “Prime Online” series, which will feature three small or one-person shows disseminated virtually. “Einstein” will be followed by “One Christmas Carol” in December, and “Sojourner Truth” in February. The play is set in Einstein’s study, sometime between the end of World War II and his death in 1955. We initially see him hard at work, his easel coated in mathematical figures and equations, and his desk littered with letters. From that desk, he grabs one letter in particular, from a nine year old girl in Mississippi. She asks why Einstein helped create the atomic bomb, a question he struggles to comprehend. Even though he had no part in making such a terrible weapon, he is associated with it nonetheless, and tainted by such association. All Einstein desires is to clear up the misconceptions about him and his work. In doing so, Einstein pro-

BY NICK EUSTIS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Matt Henderson is Albert Einstein in Prime Theatre's Einstein: A Stage Portrait.

vides many insights into his personal life. He balks at admirers who refer to him as “relativity himself” (“Was Louis Pasteur ever called ‘rabies himself?’” Einstein wonders at one point). He expresses sadness at how his work separates him from his

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loved ones, particularly his wife Elsa. Most movingly, he vents anger and sorrow at Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party for what he did to his beloved home country. Einstein is also shown, despite his obvious predilection for science, to be just as passionate about the arts.

The play opens with Einstein’s office radio playing the idyllic and familiar strains of Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” and the scientist reveals he also dabbles in playing music on his own violin. “Did you know I give re-


citals? For actual audiences, who pay,” he jokes. “As long as men can believe in music, I will believe in the future of mankind.” Directed by Wayne Brinda, Matt Henderson stars as the titular scientist, bringing to life the script by Willard Simms. Henderson’s impersonation of Einstein was clearly well-researched and fully internalized. Not only did he bear an uncanny resemblance to the man himself, he very successfully emulated Einstein’s manner of speech, complete with German accent. He handled the arduous task of carrying a one-man show as if it were just another day, which is admirable. In addition to Henderson’s powerhouse performance, also laudable is the use of technology to broadcast the work. A live performance of the show was filmed and edited together, complete with camera work to provide a more immersive experience for the audience, while the jovial sounds of a live audience are maintained. All this ultimately to spread the joy of theater and storytelling as we all prepare for the slumbering embrace of winter. “Einstein: A Stage Portrait” will be available on Vimeo until November 20. Tickets and more information are available at primestage.com

MUSIC Recent Release Roundup BY MARGARET WELSH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUSIC EDITOR

MARGARET@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

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ere’s a quick roundup of just a handful of things that have been released in recent months that we haven’t gotten around to covering. If you have something you’d like to be considered for coverage, feel free to send it along!

The Mr. Roboto Project Benefit Compilation Vol. 3 Various artists dltsgdom.bandcamp.com/ album/the-mr-roboto-project-benefit-compilation-vol-3

Among many other tragedies of the pandemic, the closing of beloved venues -- including Brillobox and the Rex -- are particularly heart-wrenching losses. The Mr. Roboto Project hopes someday to continue hosting shows, whenever hosting shows might again be a thing. But before that, they have to continue to pay rent. Earlier this month, booking collective Don’t Let the Scene go Down on Me released the third in a series of comps to help raise money for the storied all-ages, DIY venue Like previous installations, Vol. 3 brings together tracks from a mess of different bands, all who have some sort of connection to Roboto -- some are locally based, some are from other places, but hit the venue

while on tour. A few of my favorites tracks this time around come from Philadelphia post-pop-punk band Church Girls, elegant dream pop duo Drauve, and long-running hardcore band Killer of Sheep, and there’s plentey of other great stuff to discover here. Pick up the digital album for $5 (or more if you have some extra money), and maye grab the other two while you’re at it.

Evans City Zombi zombi.bandcamp.com/ album/evans-city For Halloween, neo-prog/postrock duo Zombi released Evans City, named for the location of the cemetery in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Tom Savini remade the movie in 1990, and here Steve Moore and Anthony Paterra riff on Paul McCollough’s eerie score. As always with Zombi, the tone is both rich and chilled: hypotonic synths wail over slow, heavy drums; icy electric piano melds with lead-like baselines. It’s too late (or early) to add this to your Samhain playlist, but as long as there are pumpkins rotting on my neighbors’ porches (and that will be a long time) the world is still spooky enough to give this a listen.

Princess Jafar Princess Jafar princessjafar.bandcamp. com If you missed the release of Princess Jafar’s self-titled release back in September, it’s not too late to grab it from Bandcamp, along with the rest of the drag performer’s discography for just $5.10. (Of course you can always pay more than that, don’t forget to support artists when you can!) Back in another era, Princess Jafar hosted a late night, adultthemed variety show that was inspired by Disney movies and ’90s sitcoms and after-school specials and other cultural ephemera. Princess Jafar is, unsurprisingly heavy on reference, musically and lyrically: “GUMMI GRRRL,” for one, rewrites Aqua’s Barbie Girl as a slightly grotesque, playfully erotic oed to sweets, with lines about Simba, Hercules, Lipsmackers, Baby Bottle Pop, and Mentos. On paper this might read like a musical Buzzfeed quiz (“What kind of horny ’90s kid are you???”) but the gimmick, such that it is, works as a vehicle for genuinely interesting and emotionally complex minimalist electro pop. In other words when, in “Manwich,” her majesty said, “Hamburger help me,” I felt that.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 23


ESSAY

GREEN CARD BY MATTHEW WALLENSTEIN - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

B had just gotten her green card after a long rough process. She and I were in Tijuana. She grew up far south of there in Mazatlan but in adolescence she lived in Tijuana briefly. She knew it well. I had never been before. I was there to work and we were visiting friends. I got a Sansta Muerte candle in a shop that I still haven’t lighted. The man at the shop carved my name into it, said some words over it, put some dried things and oils on it. F was a long time friend of B’s. He worked at a tattoo shop and lived with A. We were staying with them. Their apartment was on the second floor behind a gate and a small courtyard. In the courtyard there were all these old cars and scattered car parts. Some of them had tarps over them. And there were many stray cats that climbed on the old cars, and humped, and called out in shrill brays, clawed at each other. Their neighbor was an American. He was old. I never saw him wear a shirt. He was pink with sunburn, had the belly of an alcoholic. A said the cats were there because of him, but I can’t remember why. A and F kept taking in the strays, feeding them, giving them a place to live. Their apartment was filled with them. To go from room to room you had to open the door a few inches and block them with your foot and

sneak through real quickly. In the courtyard the cats kept copulating and making more of themselves to climb and scream and copulate. The four of us ate together each night. B and A took turns cooking. We laughed and told stories over our meals. The food was delicious. F and A were good to us. One afternoon we walked in the direction of the ocean. F spoke in his broken English, I spoke in my broken Spanish and we tried to fit the piec-

24 | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

es of each other’s languages together. F and I had made it a rule when we talked to each other that I would only speak Spanish and he would only speak English. There were carnival rides being set up near the beach. They all had hand painted characters on them: crude versions of famous cartoons, inaccurate portraits of singers, devils, Our Lady of Guadalupe. The sun was setting, dropping towards the ocean. We went down to the board-

walk. There weren’t many people on the beach. We turned right. B and A were walking a little ahead of F and I. We were all talking, looking around. It was getting dark. Ahead of us stretching out from the land into the water was the wall that divided Tijuana and San Diego. A homeless guy asked me for money. He called me guaro and spoke with the cadence of a carnival barker. I gave him some. He reminded me of a guy in downtown Mexico City from when I lived there with B. I’d seen the guy in DF a few times and he would follow me and keep on with his sandpaper voice, ‘Guero, guero, guaro.’ We went all the way over to the fence. It was made mostly of thick metal mesh. People -- separated families, loved ones, friends -- would go to either side of it to reach their fingers through and touch fingertips. When it was created it had just been barbed wire. People from Mexico and people from the US could meet, kiss, hold, offer gifts to one another. It wasn’t that way anymore. The sky was black by then. I could hear the waves. I could hear car horns. Behind us to the right there was a bullfighting stadium. Bullfighting always made me think of blood, think of Hemingway, then always made me think of what a friend of mine said to me once about how He made it seem so appealing


SAVAGE LOVE

somehow. I still thought it was ugly business but I could see what he’d meant, there was something to grace in survival. But it always seemed to me I was more akin to the thing running at the matador’s sword than the matador. Standing there, it really set in that it was the first time in two years that, if we wanted to, B and I could go to the border and they could look at our passports and we could pass through to the United States together. The idea of being able to do this was amazing to me. Her visa had been taken away by a border officer two years before. She was sent back to Mexico. I’ve written before of the mess that followed: all that crawling time, and pain, and shit, and the devourment of hope, the loss of myself, herself, sanity. But to stand there on that beach knowing she finally had a green card, it was something like being born. A few days later when we did cross together I was terrified. I had to play it off like I had complete confidence that it would be fine, but that wasn’t what I was feeling then. All that residue from all those months had settled thick on me. As each person moved forward in line more of it got kicked up. It was okay. We went through. She was allowed. I breathed. I walked. I went up the street with the border behind me like so many other times. She did too right there next to me. A couple of old bulls with the matador’s sword between our teeth.

Savage Love Love | sex | relationships BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET I’ve lived with my girlfriend for over a year now till about a month ago when she moved to the East Coast so now we’re in a long-distance relationship. I supported her move because she’s following her dream career and we decided to stay together since communication nowadays is pretty easy. But every time I try to text or call she responds that she’s too busy or exhausted. I could understand if this was once in a while but it’s literally all the time. This has put a strain on our communication. I became irrational with these red flags and I looked up her address and a guy’s name popped up including his phone number. Then I did perhaps the most irrational thing ever and looked up our phone bill and his number is everywhere on her section of the bill. I asked her who this dude is and she states he’s her landlord and employer. That’s not a red flag, but him calling at 1 AM when I was working nightshifts before she moved is. I confronted her and she became defensive and turned everything back on me. She called me crazy and hurled more than one “fuck you” at me and threatened to call the cops on me. I’ve admitted to my wrongdoing in violating her privacy and I’ve repeatedly asked her to talk about it but it always turns into a fight. We’ve been together two years and I’ve never met any of her friends or her 20-year-old son. What do

you think? I’m Getting Nothing Outta Relationship Except Drama I think there’s only so much time you should waste on a person who doesn’t have time for you—to say nothing of a person who isn’t particularly kind to you and, after two years, hasn’t integrated you into her life in a meaningful way. I also think you need to ask yourself what’s more likely, IGNORED: your girlfriend—who can’t take your calls now but could take that guy’s in the middle of the night when you two were living together—is living with and working with a guy she knew before moving away or that your girlfriend is living with and working with and fucking with a guy she moved across the country to be with? I think the latter is far more likely. But even if she’s not fucking him—even if she isn’t holding on to you as a backup or doesn’t want to end things because you pay her phone bill—she doesn’t make time for you and it doesn’t sound like she’s particularly kind to when she can spare you a moment. I don’t know why she hasn’t done the right thing and ended it, IGNORED, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the right thing for yourself and end it.

about this, but here goes anyway: You described the wannafuckmath when arranging a foursome as far more complicated than the wannafuckmath when arranging a threesome. But the wannafuckmath isn't actually very complicated. For any n-some, the Wannafuck number = n • (n-1). So for the humble twosome, it's 2 • 1. Two! Just what you'd expect. For a threesome, it's 6. For a foursome, it's 12. So a foursome is wannafuckmathematically six times more complicated than a twosome but only twice as complicated as a threesome. Even the rarely seen hundredsome only has a wannafuck number of 9900: large, perhaps unachievable, but not infinite. Math Is Sexy Today and Yesterday I was once in a room where at least a hundred people were having sex—in Berlin, naturally—so I have seen the elusive hundredsome with my own eyes. Or the hundred-and-then-some, I should say. (And to be clear: I was a witness, not a participant.) But unlike a threesome or a foursome, a hundredsome isn’t an arranged-in-advance/ by-invitation-only affair. It’s more of a book-a-large-enoughspace-and-advertise-it-extensively-and-they-will-come affair. So paradoxically, hosting a by-invitation-only threesome or foursome—or even a by-invitation-only tensome—where you establish in advance that everyone is attracted to each other may be more difficult to pull off than hosting a Berlin hundredsome.

I expect many of your astute readers will have written to you PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 25


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PITTSBURGH CURRENT PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK PITTSBURGH CURRENT | NOVEMBER 18, 2020 | 26

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Pittsburgh Current. Volume 3, Issue 40. Nov. 18, 2020  

Pa must lock it down, A Book Ban at the County Jail, The city makes a strange legal argument, Racial inequities in Pittsburgh Public Schools...

Pittsburgh Current. Volume 3, Issue 40. Nov. 18, 2020  

Pa must lock it down, A Book Ban at the County Jail, The city makes a strange legal argument, Racial inequities in Pittsburgh Public Schools...