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STATE REP. SUMMER LEE FACES NEGATIVE CAMPAIGN MAILERS AND DISTORTION OF HER RECORD VOL. 3 ISSUE 14

May 19, 2020 - May 25, 2020

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BRET

MICHAELS THE WESTERN PA. ROCK ICON ON HIS NEW BOOK AND KEEPING CONTROL IN UNCONTROLLABLE SITUATIONS


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.

PA I D A DV E R T I S E M E N T

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STAFF Publisher/Editor: Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com Associate Publisher: Bethany Ruhe Bethany@pittsburghcurrent.com Advisory Board Chairman: Robert Malkin Robert@pittsburghcurrent.com EDITORIAL

Art Director: Larissa Mallon Larissa@pittsburghcurrent.com Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com Visuals Editor: Jake Mysliwczyk Jake@pittsburghcurrent.com Social Justice Columnist: Jessica Semler jessica@pittsburghcurrent.com

contents

Vol. III Iss. XIV May 19, 2020

NEWS 6 | Summer Lee 8 | Medical Marijuana 10 | Ask a Scientist 12 | Voice in Waiting OPINION 13 | Rob Rogers 14 | Toxic Money ARTs & ENTERTAINMENT 16 | Murder for Girls 17 | Fred Shaw 17 | Record Review 18 | Bret Michaels EXTRA 20 | Savage Love 21 | Mother's Day 22 | Parting Shot

Contributing Writers: Jody DiPerna, Justin Vellucci, Atiya Irvin Mitchell, Dan Savage, Larry Schweiger, Brittany Hailer, Meg Fair, Matt Wallenstein, Emerson Andrews, Matt Petras info@pittsburghcurrent.com Logo Design: Mark Addison FOR ADVERTISING RATES :

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NEWS

Pa. Rep. Summer Lee protests outside the Allegheny County Courthouse in January 2019 (Pittsurgh Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk). Opposite page: Chris Roland's recent mailer.

JUNK MAIL

NEGATIVE CAMPAIGN MAILER 'LIES' ABOUT PENNSYLVANIA REP SUMMER LEE'S VOTING RECORD BY CHARLIE DEITCH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR

CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

A

campaign mailpiece from her opponent, Chris Roland, has accused state Rep. Summer Lee of voting to “make it easier for sex offenders to work in schools,” despite the fact that it is 100 percent untrue. “He has sent other untrue mailers out about me, but this is by far the most egregious,” Lee told the Pittsburgh Current Friday afternoon, the same week she also received an endorsement from Vermont Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “I’m really con-

cerned about his ability to read and understand legislation. He either doesn’t understand it or he’s being intentionally misleading. Either way, it’s a problem. “People know me and they know my record. Does that even sound like me, like a decision I would make? Based on my record and the work I’ve done for the district, I trust the voters to see through this kind of thing.” Roland sent the mailer last week and based the claim on Lee’s neg-

6 | MAY 19, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

ative vote on House Bill 235, an adoption bill that would allow corrections officers to be witnesses to an incarcerated person surrendering their parental rights of their child. Lee, along with many other Democrats voted no on the measure. The allegation in Roland’s mailer comes from an amendment added later to the bill that adds specific language to state law regarding hiring practices and background checks to prevent sex offenders from working in a school or childcare center.

Lee said the language was required to allow the state to receive federal funding from the federal government. The language had nothing to do with the original bill and could have been handled in separate legislation. But the major fallacy here is that sex offenders are already prohibited by law to work in these facilities. Even if the law would have failed it wouldn’t have made any difference in the current laws. Lee had major concerns with the main bill because it allows correc-


tions officers to be a witness to an inmate surrendering their parental rights. She says a CO is in a position of power over an inmate and that can have undue influence on the incarcerated person. She says the sex offender language was added as a “poison pill” of sorts. Sometimes these are used to sink legislation but can also be used to force someone to vote yes on a bill they oppose or be faced to deal with a situation like Lee is in now. “Every time a poison pill like this is put in legislation, they expect you to cower” and change your vote, Lee says. Another main problem with Roland’s mailer is that it doesn’t just reflect on his opponent, it reflects on the other 31 House and Senate Democrats who voted no on the bill. Among those Democrats is Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, Sen. Lindsey Williams, Sen. Pam Iovino, Sen. Wayne Fontana, Rep. Ed Gainey, Rep. Sara Innamorato, Rep. Dan Miller, and Rep. Austin Davis. “If this isn’t a blatant lie, then is he also saying that Jay Costa supports pedophiles? What about Ed Gainey and Lindsey Williams, do they want pedophiles in schools? He’s not just doing this to me. He’s attacking our Democratic values and our ideology. “I’m also really disappointed in County Executive Rich Fitzgerald who endorses and financially supports my opponent. Our partners, those who support us, share in the responsibility of how candidates campaign. Do his supporters stand behind these negative and disgraceful campaign tactics?” Fitzgerald’s county spokesperson directed the Current to Fitzgerald’s campaign. Emails were sent but not returned. The Current submitted questions to Roland’s campaign in writing

NEWS

Monday morning as they requested. The email contained five detailed questions specifically about the mailer. The response back was a statement that not only avoided the questions but doubled down on the claim that Lee is light on sex offenders. Roland’s campaign manager Darnika Reed offered two other examples of times that Lee made similar negative votes. Roland’s campaign only directly answered one question about whether or not he was insinuating that the other public officials were also lenient on sex offenders. On that question, the campaign excused every other negative votes in this way: “We take the other elected officials at their word on the reasoning as to why they opposed their legislation because their records are much different than Summer Lee’s,” according to a statement attributed to Reed.

The statement then one on to claim Lee made negative votes on other pieces of legislation, one of them being the “Buyer Beware” law in Pennsylvania that addressed penalties for sex and human trafficking. The campaign claimed it was further truth of Lee’s beliefs. However, while Lee was only one of four to oppose that vote, the others, including Rep. Sara Innamorato and Chris Raab of Philadephia, also voted with her on SB 35, however, Roland’s campaign says the votes only means Lee favors sex offenders. The statements offered by Roland seem to have made in the same vein as the original mailer, using pointed written statements. While background information was provided on which bills the Roland campaign used to back up their statements, there was no opportunity for the Current to question them on the

tactics and they refused to directly answer specific questions. Repeating them here without the opportunity for direct questioning would just further spread the information without the candidate personally defending them. When contacted for her reaction to the statement, Lee said Roland’s willingness to give other legislators a pass on the vote was an obvious political “dog whistle.” “There seems to be this feeling of contempt toward me; it feels personal,” Lee said.”There are always legitimate issues that you can and should question a legislator on, especially when it’s a complicated vote. One thing you can be sure of is I do my due diligence before every vote. “When I was elected, I said I would stand up for marginalized communities. Doing that means I sometimes have to make the hard vote, not the easy one. Some legislators don’t always make the hard vote because at some points in their political careers, things like this are used against them.” In the case of the trafficking bill, Lee heard from a lot of sex workers who were against the bill and who would be personally harmed by the law. At the end of the day, she says, she supported that community. Lee says sometimes doing the right thing means standing in the minority. Take the vote for last year’s Marsy’s Law bill. The bill was touted as a victim’s rights act, however, many activists and advocates felt that it violated the constitutional rights of others. Lee was only one of four legislators in the house to vote against the measure. Before the law could appear on a ballot, the state Supreme Court ruled the measure was unconstitutional.

Continued on Page 8

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 19, 2020 | 7


NEWS C O N T I N U E D F R O M PA G E 7

*** Pa. Sen. Lindsey Williams knows something about negative campaigns. In her campaign two years ago she faced a Republican in the general election who went negative at every opportunity. In the end, she was able to win, turning a red seat, blue. Williams says that the language Roland is using to attack Lee with was an amendment “that had nothing to do with the atrocious bill” that it was added to. Williams disagreed with the bill and she, too, voted no. Williams says the amendment was merely cleaning up the language of existing state law to meet federal guidelines but “I and 18 other senate Democrats voted not to jeopardize the rights of an individual because the federal government wanted language on a completely different matter. Unfortunately, it happens all of the time and then during an election, you get mailpieces like this taken completely out of context because you wanted to thoughtfully weigh the pluses and minuses of a piece of legislation. That amendment never should have been in this bill. It does a disservice to my constituents. “Look at my colleagues who voted against this bill. These are champions of children and education.” The Pittsburgh Current has reached out to other legislators who voted against the bill and will add their comments as they come in. Williams had seen the mailer when she spoke to the Current on Friday and didn’t mince words about it. “It’s gross; it was a very dishonest mailer and it made me mad,” Williams said. “To put it more clearly, it’s

a lie. “For him to say that Summer Lee is against children is offensive. And if he’s saying it about her, then he’s saying it about me.” *** Unfortunately, says Gerald Shuster, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who specializes in election communications, negative campaigning can work. “It’s the kind of thing that catches fire,” Shuster says. “You and I both know that unless somebody has a particular interest in a race or a candidate, they don’t read all the available information or even everything in the mailer. A voter sees the words Summer Lee and sex and schools and that’s what they remember, that’s the danger of something like this. And the person who sent that mailer knows that. “Now the difficult part for Summer Lee is, ‘how do I handle this? Do I ignore it or do I respond?’ It’s a hard decision, but I think you just can’t push it aside.” And that’s what the sender of negative mailers and ads counts on, Shuster says. Lee says she hopes Roland is held accountable for his negative campaign tactics. “We need a party and a media apparatus that digs down and really scrutinizes these kinds of tactics,” says Lee. “My opponent’s mailer is nothing more than an act of self-preservation. And, apparently, we’ve learned he’s willing to sell his soul to try and win.”

8 | MAY 19, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

U.S. HOUSE PASSES STIMULUS BILL THAT WOULD ALLOW BANKS TO DO BUSINESS WITH MEDICAL MARIJUANA COMPANIES BY JUSTIN VELLUCCI - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

T

he U.S. House late last week passed a $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that includes, among several measures, efforts to normalize legalized cannabis business. The bill, dubbed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, now goes to the Senate. The SAFE Banking Act, which is included in the HEROES Act, would eliminate penalties for banks doing business with state-legal cannabis organization. That measure currently is in place because marijuana, federally, is a schedule I drug like heroin and LSD. U.S. Rep Mike Doyle, the Democrat who represents the City of Pittsburgh in the House, lauded the passage of the bill Friday. Doyle had cosponsored the SAFE Banking act, which the House passed last year in the fall but which later stalled in a Senate committee. “The Trump Administration shouldn’t be deciding which businesses to support and which they want to fail during this crisis,” Doyle told the Pittsburgh Current. “State-legal cannabis businesses serve an important medical purpose and shouldn’t be damaged or destroyed by outdated, counterproductive policies.” U.S. Rep Conor Lamb, the freshman Democrat who also represents much of southwestern Pennsylvania, did not return calls seeking comment. Chris Visco, co-founder and CEO of TerraVida Holistic Centers, watched the House vote very closely

last week. The woman dubbed by some media “Pennsylvania’s queen of cannabis” said traffic at her three southeastern Pennsylvania dispensaries, which serve some 35,000 medical cannabis patients, locations is up. But profits, she stressed, are being eaten away by heightened security, expenditures nearing $40,000 to build acrylic walls in the dispensaries and the cost of curb-side operations and delivering cannabis product throughout the region. “Our business is good but everything we’re making, we’re giving away,” Visco said Friday. “We’re taking care of our people.” Visco says federal laws and IRS tax codes that restrict how she can conduct a legal business – deemed “essential” by Pennsylvania during the pandemic – hamper her financially. If she makes $8 million in profits, she can claim few deductions and could face taxes as high as $10 million or more, she said. “This is my life every day,” she told the Pittsburgh Current. “You’re affecting everyday people who are working in a legal business in this state.” Visco stressed supporters of medical cannabis in Pennsylvania need to call key officials like Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, with whom Visco said she has discussed cannabis policy. Toomey has not conventionally been a supporter of medical cannabis but did, in 2015, voice support for funding of medical cannabis research. “He promised me to listen,” Visco said. “Everybody should be calling Pat Toomey.”


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Publisher, Pittsburgh Current charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 19, 2020 | 9


NEWS ASK A SCIENTIST

WE'VE GOT COVID-19 QUESTIONS SO WE ASKED AN ACTUAL EXPERT BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT LIT WRITER

JODY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

We live in confusing times, bombarded with both a dangerous virus and dangerous misinformation. At the Current, when we have a science question, we like to ask an actual scientist. We sat down with Zandrea Ambrose, PhD, via Zoom for a talk about coronavirus, pandemics and how viruses work generally. Dr. Ambrose is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh where she also runs an HIV research lab and has recently received a pilot grant to study SARS-COVID. (Answers are lightly edited for length.)

characteristics of the specific virus will determine how bad the disease is and how easily it is spread and transmitted between people or how pathogenic it is.

Can you talk about what a virus is, and how it attacks the body, and how that's different from bacteria?

Probably the most easily transmissible virus we know of is measles. That one is so easy to transmit, one kid can infect all of Disneyland, if people are not vaccinated. We just don't know everything about this virus yet, but it does appear to be easily transmissible. Another difference between this virus and influenza is it seems to be transmitted not just via the respiratory route, but also fecal-oral transmission may be in play here. There are scientists who are detecting the virus in sewage: instead of testing people, they're testing sewage to see how prevalent the virus is in different areas. The more I read, the more scientists are thinking there is a fecal-oral connection and there are definitely GI symptoms in a portion of infected people. That makes it somewhat different than most flu viruses.

In a way, it's like a parasite -- many viruses are. They don't have everything they need to replicate themselves, so they need to infect a cell -the human cell provides them things to replicate. They can't do it on their own. That distinguishes them from bacteria or protozoa. They have smaller genomes and can't do everything themselves, so they hijack our cells to propagate themselves. So they hijack and then use raw materials from our cells? Exactly. They co-opt materials and make their own DNA or RNA. But viruses are all different -- there are viruses that have DNA genomes and ones that have RNA genomes. This coronavirus, all coronaviruses, have RNA genomes. What differentiates a pandemic from an outbreak? It's just the severity of the outbreak. There's outbreak, epidemic, and pandemic. Globally, a pandemic simply affects more people. The

I read that the infection ratio for the common cold is one to one, so if I have a cold, I'll infect one other person. The ratio for the 1918 Influenza was one to two; and COVID-19 is a one to three ratio, which feels like the Spanish Flu hopped up on Red Bull and rage. Do scientists even know what makes this so contagious?

I feel like the symptoms are always changing. First we were to look out for a dry cough and fever, but now we're seeing the GI stuff and blood clotting issues. I don't think the virus is changing; I think our knowledge is changing. This is something that we've never seen before. What we realize now is

10 | MAY 19, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

Dr. Zandrea Ambrose

this virus can infect a lot of different types of cells. The gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory tract. There are reports of loss of taste and smell. There are reports about some cognitive disorders, so there is something going on with the central nervous system. (It's not clear if those cells are getting infected directly or if there is an inflammatory process.) Kidneys are affected. And the biggest one is the cardiovascular system. It's clearly doing something to blood vessels, making cardiovascular diseases worse and making people with those diseases more susceptible. But it's still new and it's still early -- there are probably a lot

of people who are undiagnosed. There have been problems with the tests. Is this virus especially hard to test for? There wasn't a great response from the federal government; they had problems with the testing. I'm not sure why it was a problem or why it took so long to figure it out. There's nothing special about the test. It's called a PCR (polymerase chain reaction). Usually, to start out, you look at other coronaviruses and this is the seventh known coronavirus that infects humans. Lots of labs did it -- UPMC has their own test.


NEWS Because the federal government didn't get things together, some cities with major hospitals and research focused health centers were able to get their own tests up and running. So, the test in Seattle isn't exactly the same as the UPMC test. Because it's not standardized, it's hard to compare regions. We often see a disparity between countries, but it is insane that it is happening within our country -every county and town is their own little thing.

going to work. I don't know how we're going to keep hotspots from spreading the virus without testing and contact tracing. Why is coronavirus not like the regular flu? It's a different virus. The way that it enters cells is different; the cells that it infects are different; the way it replicates is different. Its genome is huge compared to the regular flu. It's a huge virus, actually. It's completely different -- like trying to compare a human to a cat. They're both mammals, but they're very different. That's the best way I can explain it -it's literally like a different species.

I've joked that Pittsburgh is a great spot to wait out a pandemic. It also helps that we don't have many international flights, we're not a major entry point. All of those things (early response, major healthcare systems) are why we flattened the curve.

EDITOR'S NOTE

This story was made possible through a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media

Other than everybody dying, how do pandemics end? Well, there is something to that. But honestly, it's a factor of isolation and stopping transmission -- the prevention methods we are doing in Allegheny County, but not all over the country. It helps if you have therapeutics -- some way to treat people. And then vaccines. We saw this with polio. A lot of kids and young people were getting infected and it all stopped when we had a vaccine. Let's talk more about vaccines. One step to a vaccine is identifying something that is effective. The other step that is concerning is dissemination of that vaccine. The current administration wasn't great at disseminating tests, so how are they going to be at distributing a drug that really works (not hydroxychloroquine) or an effective vaccine? That's a challenge. It's a real challenge for people at the forefront of public health. And the polio vaccine worked because we all got vaccinated. Exactly. First, you need to have

scientists working. This can't be done in your basement. You need a lab and you need funding. It's not cheap to do. And, you need political will. It's a matter of scaling up. We have millions of people who were not infected. How are we going to make enough vaccines? And probably we won't be able to right away, so how do we determine who gets it. Will that be older people? People at higher risk? How are you going to distribute it? I'm concerned about that. What are the most dangerous misconceptions that people have about this virus? I have had so many interesting conversations. I'm surprised that people still have this conception that it's just another flu. I don't know why people don't think it's scary. Another misconception is that everyone who is infected has a fever. Depending on the study, somewhere around a third of infected people

have a fever, so the idea that you can take your temperature and know if you're infected is or not, isn't a perfect marker. People think that it's only spread through the respiratory tract, but that's not the case. So if you wear a mask, if you're not washing your hands, that's probably helping it spread. There is also the idea that it is all over. That's a problem. Because we shut down early, we didn't have a high incidence rate, relatively speaking. Allegheny County did a good job of flattening the curve. We're opening up, and we're probably ready for that because of a low prevalence rate, but there are places that have higher numbers and higher rates of infection so a one-size-fits-all approach won't work. If somebody travels to a hot spot like New York or New Jersey, they could bring it back and it could spread again. The misconception is, we're doing fine, so we can re-open and go back to normal. That's not

        

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PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 19, 2020 | 11


NEWS VOICE IN WAITING

QUIETED BY GAME STOPPAGE, TIM DEBACCO SEES SILVER LINING AHEAD FOR PIRATES AND PENS BY THOMAS LETURGEY - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Tim DeBacco admits to being “pretty shy,” and wonders how or why anyone might be interested in how he’s dealing with the coronavirus lock down. But with the retirement of Steve Blass after last baseball season, DeBacco’s becomes the longest-tenured voice associated with today’s Pittsburgh Pirates. Without so much as a second glance, Pirates fans walk along with the unassuming announcer on sidewalks outside of PNC Park before and following games. The same can be said inside the park for pre-game festivities, where DeBacco joins in-game host Joe Klimchak for an employee dinner prior to each outing. Inside crowded elevators, fans make small talk with the equally gracious Klimchak, but don’t recognize DeBacco unless he utters…anything. Once the nine-inning contest is underway, the baseball ambassador’s presence has been unmistakable for 81 games over each of the past 32 seasons; and for many, he is a most welcome friend of summer. DeBacco, 55, remembers being involved in an audition just prior to the start of the 1988 season. The team was hiring a new public address announcer and the East Brady, Pennsylvania native was among the dozen or so candidates given a script and hot microphone, primed with direction to read into an empty Three Rivers Stadium. All of the aspiring announcers were encouraged to alter the script of starting lineups and promotional plugs to their liking, and DeBacco did as he waited his turn. The then-recent Clarion University of Pennsylvania alum was proud of his best effort and returned home as well as his to day job in television production. A week later the Pirates’ Public Relations Director Rick Cercone called and made

sure that DeBacco “wasn’t going to be moving” anytime soon. The job was his. (For those wondering, play-by-play announcer Greg Brown would join the broadcast team six years later.) It was an exciting opportunity for the long-time baseball junkie who, in his teens, recorded his own recaps following games. DeBacco has introduced the names of thousands of players to untold numbers of fans since Barry Bonds first strode to the plate in the bottom of the first inning on April 11, 1988 to face the Philadelphia Phillies’ Kevin Gross. He has done everything he could for the Pirates, including help with the annual Fantasy Camp in Bradenton, Florida. In 1999, the team asked Tim if he could drive Willie Stargell from the airport, a task that floored the life-long fan. As circumstances arose, they talked about Willie’s practice of leaving his right pinkie extend below the

12 | MAY 19, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

baseball bat. Stargell told DeBacco a story about learning the trick from Mickey Mantle. Then an impressionable announcer, DeBacco would years later roar with laughter as he discovered an interview where Stargell gave a completely different origin to broadcaster Nellie Briles. A decade ago, DeBacco gained another break when he became the in-house organist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That experience has been remarkable, since that team has had regular success in the NHL playoffs. This year’s 40-23-6 team was third in the Metropolitan Division and poised for another run at the Stanley Cup when much of America, and all of professional sports, came to an immediate halt. “We were close to the playoffs and it’s been an exciting year,” he said. “It’s been tough to flip the switch.” The stoppage has (temporarily)

left fans of both teams without Tim DeBacco’s unique contributions. In the meantime, he owns and operates a communications firm, and is able to work from his Oakmont home. Tim “hunkers down” with Susie, his wife of 28 years, as well as their college-aged daughters Sophia and Cassy, who are completing their courses online. Unfortunately, DeBacco has no inside knowledge as to if or when hockey playoffs might start or major league baseball could return for his 33rd season. “I don’t hear anything other than what fans hear,” he says. He does believe that if crowds are to return to home ball parks this year, fans will respond with a standing ovation upon the initial pitch of the season. “It will be amped up,” he said cheerfully. “We all miss it,” he says. “We want to welcome it back if it’s safe.” He notes that the Pirates have a new regime with new team President Travis Williams, General Manager Ben Cherington, and manager Derek Shelton, so he’s eager to get back to work. Through all of this this, he misses all of his co-workers at both the Penguins and Pirates, some of whom work nearly every sporting event in town. “There is a Silver Lining in all of this,” continues a faithful DeBacco. “We’re having meals together as families, cooking together, playing games. Most importantly, we ‘stay the course,’ and we will be one day closer to normalcy.” And for Pittsburgh sports fans, normalcy means hearing Tim DeBacco play the pipe organ at PPG Paints Arena for ruckus Pens fans, and enthusiastically introduce that first batter at an overjoyed PNC Park.


OPINION

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OPINION TOXIC MONEY AND THE 2020 ELECTIONS BY LARRY J. SCHWEIGER - FOR THE PITTSURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGH CURRENT.COM

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s we approach the 2020 elections, American voters are being inundated with propaganda paid for by secret money sources including Russian trolls, corporate polluters, and elements of the neo-aristocracy that are overwhelmingly pro-Trump. This is a severe threat to a functioning democracy with an incompetent and corrupt President. Democracy has a fragile underbelly made more so by social media and the failure of the Trump administration to respond to Putin's interventions. Even the Republican-held Senate in 2018 found millions of Russian posts aimed at promoting Trump in 2016. Since Trump is failing to address this interference as he has failed to address the pandemic adequately, our 2020 election is now increasingly about life and death for many Americans. In perhaps the worst court decision since Bush v Gore or even the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. In the January 21, 2010 decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court embraced two flawed theories including that “money” equals “free speech” under the 1st Amendment, so campaign money cannot be restricted. Corporations are not people; they are legal structures on pieces of paper yet the high Court declared that “corporations” have personhood status under the Constitution. This flawed ruling gave corporations, including the NRA, polluters, and even International corporations

sweeping, dangerous, and undue influence in elections. “This decision and the subsequent interpretations that mega-rich individuals could spend unlimited amounts of money through secret front groups channeling to super PACs has severely undercut the functioning of democracy. In American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock decision, the Supreme Court struck down a Montana ban on corporate political transactions, ruling 5 to 4 that the 2010 Citizens United ruling also applies to state and local elections. Constitutional rights reserved for people should never have been granted to corporations. This dangerous decision by the Republican- majority in the Court extended legal protection to corporate speech. It allowed the formation of Super PACs

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to spend as much money as possible to alter the outcome of any election at every level of government. In doing so, the Supreme Court unleashed an unprecedented wave of undisclosed toxic money. During the 2018 Congressional elections, for example, $5.7 billion was spent on congressional elections. A USA TODAY analysis showed donations from ten super-rich individuals accounted for more than 20% of the money given during the mid-term elections to super PACs. Cash from the 0.001 percenters now often overruns retail politics and small contributors. When the checks and balances between money and voters break down, America ceases to be a vibrant democracy serving more than 329

million people instead becomes an oligarchy serving about 3,000 mega-rich. Right-wing judicial activism is deliberately advancing elites, fostering minority government by, and for the corporate class. By legislating from the bench, something they promised not to do during Senate confirmation hearings, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court broke utterly free of logic and placed enormous and undeserved confidence on the Internet to prevent election abuses. The majority opinion stated: "With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations, and elected officials accountable for their positions, and supporters. Shareholders


OPINION can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are “‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.” Voters do not know who is behind the ubiquitous advertisements, nor can a significant number discern fake news. Few know what ads are being produced by a group fronting for a libertarian billionaire or even Russia. The Justices voting for this travesty knew it would dramatically shift the center of power. The People for the American Way point out that “the Court’s watershed ruling is the logical expression of an activist pro-corporatist jurisprudence that has been bubbling up for many decades on the Court but has gained tremendous momentum over the last generation. Since the Rehnquist Court, there have been at least five justices— and sometimes more—that tilt hard to the right when it comes to a direct showdown between corporate power and the public interest. During the Roberts Court, this trend has continued and intensified.” During his State of the Union on January 27, 2010, President Barack Obama warned: “Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limits in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.” In a rare public rebuke to a President, Republican-appointed Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the author of the Citizen's United majority opinion sitting in the front row of the house chamber, challenged the president by shaking his head no, and mouthing, “not true.” In light of Maria Butina’s guilty plea and the

possibility of large amounts of Russian money passing through the NRA, including part or all of the untraceable $30 million from undisclosed sources, Justice Alito needs to re-evaluate his position. Former President Jimmy Carter criticized Citizen’s United warning, “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or of electing the president., and the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. senators, and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want, and expect, and sometimes get favors for themselves after the elections over...” Reforms may not prevent the bribing of public officials or the manipulation of voters, but we can reduce the temptations with much-needed spending caps and timely disclosures of all donors to super PACs and C4's. Real change will not happen until we see a turnover in the Supreme Court or until the Constitution is amended to make it clear that corporations are not people, and that money is not free speech. The right to speak and the right to be heard are two vastly different things. If free speech is equated to unlimited spending, then the right to be heard is restrained by inadequate financial resources to access television or to populate social media with paid ads. With this flawed interpretation, poor people have little or no free speech because they have no money. Their small voice is crushed under the weight of massive spending. In an unprecedented move,

Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate prevented Judge Garland, a well-qualified and widely respected moderate, from receiving a single hearing. Now McConnell is running a 2020 re-election video showing a clip of President Barack Obama urging him to give Garland a fair hearing, along with McConnell’s outrageous response, “It is the president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check.” The video includes Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh being sworn in with a Fox News anchor recounting how McConnell jammed these nominees through the Senate. Through Senate rule changes, Trump and McConnel have been able to stack thirty

percent of the Federal bench with “corporatists” and often unqualified Trump judges. The Supreme Court has five ideological “corporatist” justices who will continue to have a profound impact on the functioning of our government. Our vote matters this November as never before. The 2020 election will determine the future of our courts and the future of America. In voting for a President, we are also voting for the future of the Court system. It is a safe bet that we will witness even greater amounts of toxic money. With a flood of political advertisements and social posts coming to our screens, voters must ask, who speaks? And why?

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 19, 2020 | 15

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A&E KILLER TRACKS ON ITS NEW TOMMY STINSON-PRODUCED RECORD, MURDER FOR GIRLS EXPLORES A NEW APPROCH BY MIKE SHANLEY - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUUSIC WRITER

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

When a band works in the studio with a producer, the members often find themselves pushed out of their comfort zone in the attempt to get a good recording. Former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson did that for Pittsburgh’s Murder for Girls, and he exerted his influence before the the band even arrived at Bipolar Bear Studios in Hudson, New York. “When he showed up to the practice space the night before we left [for the studio], he unplugged all of our [guitar] pedals and said, ‘You’re leaving these at home. You’re not taking them with you,’” recalls guitarist/vocalist Stephanie Wallace. “It was like, what?! Everything I’ve written is using fuzz and distortion pedals in certain combinations. He said, ‘If the emergency calls for it, I’ve got a Rat pedal in the studio that you can use.” Tammy Wallace, the band’s other guitarist (who isn’t related to her bandmate) didn’t have a problem using the studio’s amplifiers, but she thought she’d use her own Les Paul. “I plugged it into the amp that he suggested I use,” she says, “and [Stinson] said, ‘No, I don’t like that. Do you want to try this one?’” He handed her a vintage Les Paul from the ’50s. While some musicians might push back against suggestions like these, the four members of Murder for Girls accepted Stinson’s ideas. “Just to go record with him and not do anything different would not be the point,” Tammy says. “We wanted to see what he would draw out of us.” What he drew out of them gives Done In the Dark, their third album, a sound that maintains the raw feeling of their live performance. But with the cleaner

Murder For Girls (Photo Courtesy of Casey Marzell/Stay At Home Dad Art)

guitars and a strong focus on the harmonies between the Wallaces and drummer Michelle Dunlap, there are more layers to the band’s sound. Songs like “Goth Girls” and “Patchouli” show a humorous side but others like “Star” and “Semiautomatic” play up the band’s hooks, casting them more like a hard rock version of the Shangri-Las. No wonder they never needed to borrow Stinson’s Rat pedal. Murder for Girls evolved from the band Lullaby Engine, which included bassist Jonathan Bag-

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amery. In 2013, he was looking for new bandmates and he had specific ideas about what to do. “I wanted to have a diverse lineup. I wanted to have women involved, and people of different backgrounds,” he says during a Zoom interview with his bandmates. “The other aspect was that it was going to be an equal partnership. It wasn’t going to be me hiring people and then dictating to them what was going to happen. We all were equal partners.” He explained this all to Dunlap,

after seeing her in a youtube video titled “Best Female Drummer in Pittsburgh.” Tammy, who played in the punk band Bunny Five Coat, came aboard after answering an ad. With Bagamery as the only original member of Lullaby Engine, a new name was in order. The current moniker came after seeing a website called “Band Names for Girls,” and substituting random nouns into that phrase. Stephanie caught the band during a brief period when they were a trio (fourth member Zoe Weslowski having departed) and joined soon after. True to Bagamery’s idea, the band writes as a unit. The bassist is the only member that doesn’t sing, but his bandmates says he frequently introduces riffs which everyone helps to develop, with one of them eventually adding a melody and lyrics. As a result Murder for Girls has a cohesive sound where the guitars interact rather than taking on lead and rhythm duties, and the rhythm section gets heavy during aggressive songs like “Patchouli.” Plans were already made for a May release of Done In the Dark before the pandemic put the kibosh on live shows. Nevertheless, the disc dropped last week and they promise a release party some time in the future. In the meantime, the album can be purchased on Bandcamp. Anyone wanting to see the group can get a glimpse in a video for “Goth Girls” which is posted on their youtube page. While they’re not happy with the lack of a release show, it seems like the sessions with Stinson, which happened last fall, offer enough to keep them motivated. All his suggestions were for the best, and the time with him left them with plenty of stories. “We generally had the feeling that we were hanging out with a friend,” Bagamery says. “And every once in a while it would dawn on me — this is Tommy Stinson. This man has rock and roll history here. I would personally lose sight of that from working with him during those few days.”


A&E A

FRED SHAW'S 'SCRAPING AWAY' IS A PERSONAL LOOK AT THE SERVICE INDUSTRY

RECORD REVIEW

BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT LIT WRITER JODY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

BY MIKE SHANLEY PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUSIC WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

nybody who has ever waited tables or worked in a busy restaurant kitchen knows how bone-wearying that work can be. But there is a pull to it, too. And it's not just pay. Something about working in public spaces and feeding people sates a need for community and connection, as well as pay; the network that sustains friendships and families is a business that is both demanding and invigorating. These immersive experiences are the focus of many of the poems in Fred Shaw's collection, 'Scraping Away,' just released by CavanKerry Press. "My goal is to write in a specific way, to be open and vulnerable, with the idea that other people can make some sense of that world. And it won't seem too far away from their own experiences -- they can relate to it," Shaw told the Current via telephone. Shaw has worked in restaurants his entire adult life, giving this appropriately titled collection a lived-in, intimate feel. His poems open up whole little worlds to us: these are places with their own language and life and rituals. We get to listen in on conversations and catch fleeting glimpses of a unique ecosystem. "I'm not the first person to write about working in a restaurant," Shaw said. "Heck, Jan Beatty has done it really well. But it seemed like my voice fit and I think all the stories that restaurant workers tell made it come alive. I didn't want to specifically get political, but I thought it was important for people to understand who is making their food." There is power in writing about the everyday with precision, and Shaw's poems do just that. They are contemplative and decidedly modern, full of the beauty of his own particular familiar -- a blistering wok tended by an undocumented immigrant, tattooed line cooks talking shit, long-gone generations of women elbow deep in flower to roll out kluski at a kitchen table, and a Mr. Yuk sticker clinging to

STUTTER STEPS Reeling (Blue Arrow) stuttersteps.bandcamp.com

Fred Shaw and Scraping Away

some old metal shelves in the corner. The collection is about more than work. It is often about grief and loss and music; and about our less than perfect relationships with our less than perfect parents. And yet work, not just paid work, but the work that makes a life, is always close by. The work is the raw material and the poems point to the kitchen sink, the bookcase, the lost screwdriver, the symphony playing on the old radio, and the unsaid sentiments. This is who we are. In 'Easy to Use as Modeling Clay', Shaw writes, "of Grandpa's workbench / into a cardboard box -- mismatched // nuts and screw by the pound, a stray / doorknob from a Pittsburgh house, …" You can smell the basement workroom, the mixture of dust and hinge oil, old iron and wood shavings, turpentine and wood polish. You know the feel of the pipefitter's hands which

collected and used these little bits that hold a house, and a story, together. "These little moments, these places are really important. Writing can take place anywhere," he said. It's hard not to draw lines from Shaw's work to our present day reality. Though he now teaches as an adjunct at both Carlow and Point Park, he also keeps his hands in the restaurant life, working some holiday and weekend shifts at Revival on Lincoln in Bellevue. That work is on hold because of COVID. "Out of all of this, maybe we're starting to re-think what is essential work," Shaw said. "Maybe some good can come out of this. Maybe this gives us a little time to step back and appreciate those people who oftentimes go unappreciated."

Youngstown doesn’t typically appear in close quarters with the adjective “dreamy.” But the word aptly describes the sounds created at Peppermint Productions, the studio in that Ohio city where Stutter Steps recorded its latest album. Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Ben Harrison, who spends most of his time as the Curator of Performing Arts at the Andy Warhol Museum, the band excels at dreamy indie pop built on layers of guitars, some droning keyboards and healthy dose of reverb. Anthony LaMarca, of War On Drugs, produced the album which continues Harrison’s approach that takes inspiration from bands like the Velvet Underground and the multiple projects of Dean Wareham. The rich, reverberating sound of the album recalls indie producer Kramer’s knob work with Wareham’s first band, Galaxie 500 in the late 1980s and early ’90s. While that band’s singer had more of a reedy voice, Harrison's has a stronger quality that makes you want to dig through the reverb to get a better read on his lyrics. Some of the early tracks on the album have a similar quality in terms of tempo and basic structure. All are engaging, though the delivery makes them blend together a bit. “On Our Own” turns a corner by, ironically, slowing things down. By reducing the beats-per-minute, Harrison lets the music breathe more and creates a lasting impression. It clocks in close to six minutes and none of that time is wasted. The energy carries over into the next track, “Been Here” which takes off on a quicker clip. Throughout Reeling, Harrison and LeMarca build arrangements with multiple guitar parts. Sometimes they play basic lead parts, and the intro to “It’s Waiting” has the sweet-meets-harsh feel of My Bloody Valentine. But the subtlety and understatement are key to the album’s success. Even when things get loud, they still feel gentle.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 19, 2020 | 17


A&E ROSES AND THORNS

WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA'S BRET MICHAELS IS TELLING HIS STORY HIS WAY BY CHARLIE DEITCH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR

CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

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ret Michaels isn’t screwing around with Coronavirus. “As soon as I realized that I was at high-risk to catch the virus, I took it absolutely seriously,” says Michaels, the 57-year-old rocker who was born right here in Western Pennsylvania and grew up near Harrisburg. “You have to mentally stay positive. I avoid self-pity and feeling like a victim and I work hard to make things that are a negative,a positive.” A lot of people hearing that would be quick to say, ‘Oh Yeah, easier said than done.’ But for Michaels it has been a legitimate tool of survival. Consider for a moment the health challenges the former Poison frontman has dealt with in his life. At age 6, Michaels was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and has been in treatment his whole life. In 1994, Michaels crashed his Ferrari into a telephone pole busting his nose, ribs, fingers and teeth. In 2009, Poison was performing at the Tony Awards when Michaels was hit in the face by a falling prop as he exited the stage. In 2010, during an emergency procedure to remove his appendix, doctors found a severe, nearly life-ending brain bleed. A bit later in 2010, Michaels has a stroke caused by a hole in his heart that he’d apparently had since birth. And that’s not all. With the recent release of his new book, “Bret Michaels: Auto-Scrap-Ography,” Michaels tells his life story through a series of pictures and anecdotes from his life. It turns out he had even

I live in the here and now with a constant respect and gratitude for the past and the path that has gotten me to this moment in my life and I will forever have a pay it forward spirit...

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ow some people say they see their life change over the course of a year but mine truly changes hourly or even sometimes by the very minute...it is in constant motion and always shifting so I never wanted to write a one-off swan song autobiography. In fact, the thought of it makes me cringe. The truth of the roses and thorns of my life is much funnier, exhilarating and painful than a ghost writer could possibly make up trying to fill in the blanks having not been there through it all with me...and the thought of some focus group or editor trying to sell me as a certain caricature of myself or only wanting to write about a certain time period of the Poison years just didn’t sit right with me. (No disrespect intended to ghost writers.) Everything matters and has a cause and effect so don’t get me wrong, my life has covered every bit of the gambit, the sex, drugs and rock and roll...music is primitive and brings out the sexy beast in all of us... but I didn’t want this to be just a book of tales of braggadocious

A sample page from Auto-Scrapo-Graphy by Bret Michaels

more brushes with death, including nearly drowning on tour in Venezuela and being held at gunpoint with his friends at 16 years-old. Add to that Michaels’ legendary party-lifestyle during the heyday of Poison, it’s a bit surprising that he’s survived long enough to have a career spanning nearly four decades. Like the near-drowning incident, Michaels doesn’t just tell you the story, there’s a photo of him puking up water on the beach. Even if the health challenges didn’t

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get him, it’s a bit surprising that simply dealing with all of these issues hasn’t caused the guy to hide away. Well, until COVID-19. “The main thing that you have to have, the thing that supersedes everything else, is willpower,” Michaels said. “I’m not going to lie to you, it’s almost like a placebo. I may have gotten the pill that did nothing, but my willpower made me believe I was going to get better and oddly enough I did. “I go as long as I can for as much

quality as I can. And I want to be clear, it’s not easy. I don’t want people to think, ‘oh la-dee-da, I’ve got cancer, I’ve got diabetes, it’s no big deal.’ It’s a very big deal, but the secret is, you take that card you’ve been dealt and you deal with it but you don’t let it supersede the quality time you have left. Find what rocks your world and do it for as long as you can” Quality of life has always been important to Michaels and that life is on display in Auto-Scrap-Ography. Being his first book, Michaels wanted


A&E the project to be the type of book that he always wants to read. A big fan of biographies, he always felt the photos were an afterthought and that there weren’t enough of them. “You read these things, and I love reading people’s life stories, but there are usually 400 pages and like 12 pictures,” Michaels says. “If you’re telling me in your book for three chapters about how you started out in a crappy garage or basement, I want to see a picture of that basement. I don’t need 50. But give me one. That’s the idea with this book. Every story has a picture and every picture tells a story.” The book, which is Volume I (with Volume II coming out later this year) documents Michaels’ life growing up in Central Pa. with a dream of becoming a Rock God. He remembers those times fondly and while maybe not glamorous, they are his beginnings and even at the start, Michael was confident rock stardom would happen. “When we started out playing the Pine Grove Inn in Central Pennsylvania, I never bitched about, I made the most of it,” Michels says. “This was a place where in order to play, we had to move the pool table out of the way so we could set up. I remember we would bring these coffee cans full of this stuff and when we lit it, it looked like we had pyro. We even painted the cans black so they’d look professional, even though they were so dangerous.” In 1984, Michaels decided to “bet on myself” and the band packed up a “broken-down van, an old pickup and a Chevette to move to Los Angeles.” He and his bandmates lived in the back of a dry cleaners while they tried to make it playing gigs on Sunset Boulevard. But that was easier said than done. “There were 10,000 bands all

trying to make it in this 10-block area,” Michaels laughs. So to stand out, the band would go to Sir Speedy, a print shop and they negotiated to have their show flyers printed on the green paper that was in large supply because nobody wanted to use it. “We took it because it was cheap and later on it actually becomes a merchandise color, Poison-green, that everyone eventually used. But back then, they’d see the green flyers, know it was us and come to the shows. “The other thing I’ve always had

is gratitude. And I have that because I come from Pittsburgh and Harrisburg and the work ethic that lives here. I never thought I deserved it, but I knew that if I worked hard enough, I could get it.” Beyond the hard work though, another thing that helped the band in the long run, was Michaels’ need as a “control extremist” to make sure that he would make it his own way. Poison was long an independent band that held on to its publishing rights. Michaels didn’t fall into the “stardom trap” that a lot of young bands did.

“A lot of artists mean well. They’re talented but they buy into a bad contract,” Michaels says. “They would give it all away to a record company for a limo ride and a leather jacket. We wouldn’t allow ourselves to get into that situation. “I’ve alway been hands on, I have to be. Who else is going to do it and care about it as much as I will. There’s no shame in an artist getting what they deserve. You can live your passion and still take care of your business.”

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 19, 2020 | 19


EXTRA

Savage Love Love | sex | relationships BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET

Here's a non-COVID question for you: I’m a queer white female in a monogamish marriage. I vote left, I abhor hatred and oppression, and I engage in activism when I can. I’m also turned on by power differentials: authority figures, uniforms, hot guys doing each other. Much to my horror this thing for power differentials plus too many WW2 movies as a kid has always meant that for my brain (or for my pussy) Nazis are hot. Fuck me, right? Other maybe relevant bits of info: I’m not interested in roleplaying with actual partners, I’m fairly sure this proclivity is not reflective of any deeper issues, and I'm both sexually and emotionally fairly well sorted. Not perfect, but fine working order and all that. And I get it: people like what they like, don't judge yourself for your fetishes, just get off without being an asshole to anyone. The problem is that my usual way of getting off on/indulging my fantasies is to read erotic fiction on the Internet. I'd love your input on whether seeking out Nazi porn is problematic for some of the same reasons that porn depicting sex with kids is problematic. Am I normalizing and trivializing fascism? Freaking About Search Histories Seeking out child porn—searching for it online, downloading it, collecting images of children being raped and sexually abused—is problematic (and illegal) because it creates demand for more child porn, which results in more children being raped and sexually abused. The cause-and-effect is obvious, FASH, the victims are real,

and the harm done is incalculable. But while it may discomfort someone to know a nice married lady who donates to all the right causes is furiously masturbating to dirty stories about hot guys in Nazi uniforms doing each other, FASH, no one ever has to know that. So you do no harm—not even the supposed harm of discomforting someone—when you privately enjoy the fucked up stories you enjoy. And while there are doubtless some actual Nazis who enjoy reading dirty stories about other Nazis, most people turned on by dirty stories about Nazis are turned on despite themselves and their politics. Transgressive sexual fantasies don’t arouse us because they violate societal norms and expectations (in safe and controlled manner), FASH, but because they allow us violate our sense of ourselves too (ditto). Just as a feminist can have rape fantasies without actually wanting to be raped herself or for anyone else to be raped, a person can have sexual fantasies about hot guys in Nazis uniforms doing each other without wanting Nazis to come to power. I have to say it was a easier to give anti-Nazi Nazi fetishists like you a pass—to shrug and say “you do you” but please keep it to yourself— before racist demagogues, white supremacists, and anti-Semites started marching around waving Trump flags. But no one picks their kinks and being told “that shouldn’t turn you on” has never made a problematic or transgressive kink less arousing. And when you consider the number of non-erotic novels, movies, and television shows the culture cranks out year after year—and how many actually trivialize fascism (I’m talking to you, Hunters)—it’s seems insane to draw a line and say, “Okay, this story about Nazis isn’t okay because that lady over there masturbated

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while reading it in private.” I'm an apartment-dweller in a dense urban area. Last night I overheard my neighbors having sex—no big deal, right? I consider myself a sex-positive person, and have always held and espoused the belief that if you can't have loud sex in your own home, where can you have it? But the sex I overheard last night was fairly kinky. Someone I read as a cis man was dominating someone I read as a cis woman. They were in the apartment right across from mine—about 20 feet away—and my bedroom window faces theirs. There was a LOT of derogatory talk, hitting, name-calling, giving orders, and some crying. I could tell it was consensual—she was very clearly having a good time—and I eavesdropped long enough to witness the post-coital return to equilibrium. Everything seemed great. But physically I experienced this as overheard violence. I was shaking and had a hard time getting to sleep afterwards. I'm glad I stuck around until the end. It helped me feel better. I guess what I'm saying is that I needed some aftercare. I'm still thinking about it this morning, and I'm concerned that being triggered by my neighbor's sex is going to become a regular part of my life. I'm wondering about the ethics of the situation: Do kinky folks have an obligation to muffle potentially triggering sounds? Or is any overheard sex potentially triggering to someone and am I therefore applying a double standard here? What do you think? The Vanilla Neighbor You went from overhearing kinky sex to eavesdropping on it—meaning, you went from accidentally hearing your neighbors fucking to intently listening as your neighbors fucked. And you needed to do that. You heard something that sounded violent but hearing more led you to guess it was consensual sex and listening all the way to the end—all the way through the aftercare—confirmed your guess was correct. So for you own peace of mind, TVN, you needed to keep listening. But you don’t need to listen next time. If it triggers you to hear your neighbors fucking, don’t listen. Close the window and crank up some music or go for a walk and

listen to a podcast. That said, TVN, you raise an interesting ethical question: Are kinksters—particularly the kind of kinksters who enjoy verbal abuse and impact play—obligated to keep it down? While I think people should be considerate of their neighbors, people are allowed to have sex in their own homes, TVN, and it’s not like vanilla sex is always quiet. But if the sex a couple enjoys could easily be misinterpreted as abuse or violence by someone who accidentally overhears it, that couple might wanna close the window and turn up some music themselves—not only to avoid alarming the neighbors, but to spare themselves the hassle of explaining their kinks to a cop. For the record: I would tell person who enjoys a good single-tail whipping to find a soundproof dungeon to enjoy that in (because that shit is loud) but I wouldn’t tell a person who screams her head off during PIV intercourse to find a soundproof box (even though her shit is just as loud). Instead I would urge her fuck at 8 PM, when most people are awake, rather than 2 AM, when most people are asleep. (It can be annoying listening to someone screamfuck but it’s even more annoying to have your sleep ruined by a screamfucker.) Is this a double standard? Perhaps. But it’s one I’m willing to endorse. 1. Is it safe to hook up again? 2. Will it be safe to hook up again soon? 3. You’ll tell us when it’s safe to hook up again, right? Getting Really Impatient. Need Dick. Really. • It isn’t. • At some point. • I will. Hey, Everybody: Me and Nancy and the tech-savvy/at-risk youth will be doing a special Savage Love Livestream on Thursday, June 4th at 7pm PST. You can send your questions to livestream@savagelovecast.com or ask them live during the event. I’ll answer as many as I can in one fun-filled Zoom meeting! Tickets are $10 and all proceeds from the Savage Love Livestream will be donated to Northwest Harvest, a non-profit that distributes food to more than 370 food banks in Washington State. Go to savagelovecast.com/events to get tickets!


ESSAY MOTHER'S DAY 2020 BY MATTHEW WALLENSTEIN - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

M

y father called me the day after Mother’s Day to tell me that for the next two weeks he wasn’t able to see his new girlfriend who he is crazy about. He said he had been around a few siblings and nephews and did not want to risk giving her the Corona Virus if he had been exposed to it. It was his way of leading into what he wanted to talk to me about. He went on to tell me about why he had been around them. He was woken up by a phone call. His sister, my aunt Nancy, and her husband Eaton’s house was on fire. He rushed to his car and drove through the towns between to get to the old country road where their house was. A few of his siblings and two of Nancy and Eaton’s sons were there standing in the cold. Black smoke dumped from the house out into the sky. He talked to my cousin Aaron for a while, both of them shaking, blowing into their cold hands, looking for composure and doing their best to keep it. Eventually they brought out the bodies. They had died of smoke inhalation, ten feet apart from each other in their bedroom. Aaron told my father how much Eaton had softened in the past year, how much their relationship had grown. He was calling often, asking about his grandkids. I had always liked Eaton, he had the dry deadpan humor of an old New Englander, but it was good he had softened, giving his kids a more human side before the fire took him.

My uncle Mark is a carpenter. He was largely taught by Eaton’s father, a talented but rough man who had been hard on Eaton. Mark called some people who worked for him and my dad helped them board up the windows and doors to keep people from taking their things or getting to the wiring and plumbing for scrap. There was frost over Nancy’s Garden. The men’s breath rolled out of their mouths in clouds while they held plywood and drilled and hammered. My father is in his 70s, Mark in his 60s. It was cold out and unpleasant work to be doing. Not far from Nancy and Eaton’s house is their shop Not Necessarily Antiques. The sign faded, the white paint chipped. When I was a kid we would go there to buy our Christmas trees each winter. If I remember right, my father introduced them to the idea of selling them to make some extra cash. My sister and I would argue over which tree was best. Then, I would go inside and smell the cigar boxes and hide in the stacks of old furniture. The shop was always very crowded with antiques and I loved the look of the old wood, the scratches and red stain. There are still a couple of saw horses sitting outside on the side of the shop that Eaton used when he was fixing up the furniture to sell. A sort of evidence of a life, of quiet work and craft. Hanging above the basement stairs at my father's house is a painting Eaton did when he was 16. He and my father used

Illustration by Matthew Wallenstein

to smoke cigarettes and listen to old jazz records and paint together. Eaton often came by his house when they were teenagers, sometimes just to sit on the porch where my grandfather had his office and ask him for advice. The last time I saw them I ate dinner at their house. Eaton made curry and talked about his time living in Thailand, the endless rain, how cheap it was to live, how beautiful it could

be. He told me a lot of stories, more than I had ever heard from him. He told me about the time he was thrown through a plate glass door by a Hell’s Angel when he worked as a repo man. Nancy made the first and only Rhubarb pie I have eaten. It was delicious. Then she took me outside and walked me around her garden, showed me the rhubarb plants and the strawberries she used in the pie.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 19, 2020 | 21


PA R T I N G S H OT

PITTSBURGH CURRENT PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 19, 2020 | 22

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Pittsburgh Current, Volume 3, Issue 14. May 19, 2020  

State Rep. Summer Lee faces dirty campaign tactics, the latest on the medical marijuana business under COVID-19 and a new book from Western...

Pittsburgh Current, Volume 3, Issue 14. May 19, 2020  

State Rep. Summer Lee faces dirty campaign tactics, the latest on the medical marijuana business under COVID-19 and a new book from Western...

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