Section 8 In Pittsburgh

Richard’s internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has ended, but his last story for the paper wasn’t published until after he had left.  It’s a really good and interesting piece about Section 8 housing vouchers and their limitations.  The story obviously struck a nerve with many people, because it provoked a lot of social media reaction, including 46 comments.

Richard is a talented writer in my humble opinion, but the neat thing about this story is that it combined traditional journalism — finding and interviewing people on all sides of the story, learning about the subject matter, collecting quotes, and then writing the piece itself — with some investigative journalism techniques, including obtaining and analyzing data from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh and then using the data to demonstrate how Section 8 recipients are concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods and seldom used in wealthier neighborhoods.  The map at the bottom of the story is the product of those efforts and really drives the point home.

Our family journalist has now moved on to the Chicago Tribune, where he will be working on the business desk and becoming reacquainted with the Windy City.

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The Hospital Of The Future

Richard has a splendid story in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the hospital of the future.  Appearing on the last day of his internship there, it’s a thought-provoking think piece about what the hospital of the future might look like.

IMG_1112I would expect communications technology to change hospitals, as it has changed law firms, retail stores, and just about every other business you can think of.  To me, the most interesting part of the piece was about the physical design of hospitals, and specifically how hospitals are striving to make their facilities more inviting and capable of being “branded.”  Rather than the institutional, brightly lit corridors most of us know, the new hospitals are warmer, gentler in their design and lighting, and chock full of things like gardens and coffee shops.  They’re bound to be less depressing than the sterile, wholly functional designs of the past.

In that respect, Richard’s article made me think of colleges, and how their focus has changed from the professor and the classroom and the curriculum to the posh student centers, rec centers, and health clubs that so many schools have built to attract more applicants.  We can bemoan the decline of serious scholarship on campus, but colleges clearly have recognized that they are competing for paying students and are willing to build what is needed to attract them.  As hospital systems become more competitive for patients — and in Columbus, we’ve got three gigantic ones duking it out — they’re bound to follow suit.

The Terrible Costs Of Drunk Driving

Richard has a really powerful piece in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a fatal drunk driving incident that has devastated two families.  It’s a very sad story about one life cut short, another changed forever, and mothers, wives, friends, and children wrestling with the terrible aftermath.

Drunk driving is one of those areas of conduct where societal perceptions have changed completely during my lifetime.  In the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s, when comedians and celebrities frequently joked about drinking and driving, police often seemed bemused by drunk drivers and occasionally would escort them home rather than arresting them.  When people finally focused on the true costs of drunk driving, thanks to the work of advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the tolerance ended and state criminal laws changed to ensure that drunk driving was appropriately punished.

Despite all of the public service announcements, ad campaigns, sobriety checkpoints, and special police patrols, however, drunk driving continues.  In 2012, 10,322 people were killed in drunk driving accidents in America — a number which represents an increase over 2011.  Richard’s piece today forcefully reminds us of the individual stories of personal loss, anguish, and pain that lie behind each one of the abstract statistics.

Richard And The “Chicken From Hell”

Scientists have discovered and properly named a new dinosaur species. Its technical name is Anzu wyliei, but it’s been commonly described on the news as the “chicken from hell.”

Of course, it’s not like any chicken we’ll ever see — fortunately. This creature weighed 500 pounds, had a crested skull, long beak, and powerful claws, and lived during the late Cretaceous period at the same time that Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the planet. Like all of the late dinosaurs, the “chicken from hell” went extinct after a meteorite struck the Earth and changed the climate in which dinosaurs had thrived.

Richard’s connection with the “chicken from hell” is that paleontologists from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh played an integral role in the discovery of Anzu wyliei. Richard’s interesting Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story about their discovery is available here.

Holocaust Survivors

Richard has a fine story in the Post-Gazette about a meeting of Pittsburgh-area survivors of the Holocaust. We can’t imagine what they’ve been through, but it’s heartwarming to know that they meet, remember, and worry about whether that especially unforgivable, murderous chapter in the sordid history of the human race can happen again.

Reading Richard’s story reminded me of the first time I focused on the fact that I met a Holocaust survivor. I was traveling through Europe and encountered a vivacious older woman, probably in her 50s, with flaming red hair and an outgoing personality. We were talking, she shifted in her seat and moved her arms, and a crude numerical tattoo that I hadn’t noticed before was exposed. I looked at it and realized what it was, and she saw that I had seen it and decided to tell her story.

Her name was Bella and she was from Poland, she said. When she was young, the Nazis came and took her family away. She never saw her father and brothers again. She was separated from her mother, and she and her sister lived in one of the Nazi death camps. Her sister died, but somehow she survived. When the war ended and she was miraculously freed, she found that her entire family had been killed — but she felt it was essential that she live on. She related her story in a flat voice, and you could tell that she lived with those horrible ghosts and memories, but there was a definite steeliness to this woman who had endured so much.

Talking to her, I felt embarrassed and ashamed to be a member of the race that could commit such a monstrous act. I also was uplifted, however, by her positive attitude and by her view that, by surviving and going on, she was spitting in the eye of Hitler and the Nazis and their idiotic notions of an Aryan “master race.” There is still much to be learned from victims of the Holocaust.

Assignment in Punxsutawney

Here’s something cool: Richard, who is in the midst of an internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, will be covering the annual Groundhog Day ceremony in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the newspaper. He’s already tweeted about getting ready for the assignment by watching the classic film Groundhog Day for the 200th time.

It will be hard for Richard to rise to the level of deeply moving rhetorical brilliance displayed by Bill Murray’s weatherman Phil in his last live broadcast after he lived through Groundhog Day, over and over and over again, for countless years. (The initial script for the movie had Phil trapped in the Groundhog Day time loop for 10,000 years, and Phil spent enough time reliving the day to learn how to play some killer piano, speak fluent French, and mature from a selfish, self-absorbed jerk into a sensitive guy who really cared about the citizens of Punxsutawney.)

However, the movie does offer some helpful tips about surviving Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney. Be on guard for an insurance sales pitch from Needle Nose Ned Ryerson. Watch out that a kid in a tree doesn’t fall on you. And when you walk across the main street next to the Punxsutawney town square, be sure not to step into the puddle — it’s a doozy!

A Bit Closer To Home

The geographic orbit of the Webner clan will tighten come January.

Richard told us yesterday that he will be working next semester at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  The University of Missouri apparently requires students getting their Master’s degree in journalism to have a professional internship in the last semester of their second year, and Richard will be fulfilling that requirement at a fine newspaper in the Steel City.  Russell, meanwhile, moved into his new lodgings in the Detroit area yesterday.  He’ll be starting work toward his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art on Monday.

So, after years of Richard hundreds of miles to the west and Russell hundreds of miles to the east — each honoring the unwritten but apparently ironclad “no parents within 8 hours driving time” buffer zone — our family circle will shrink spatially.  With Richard and Russell each in a neighboring state, we’re looking forward to seeing them more often, and the fact that they will be located in interesting places we haven’t had a chance to explore yet makes the prospect all the more enticing.

The world is a big place, and New Albany, Ohio is just one tiny spot on the globe.  As parents, we want our children to dream big dreams and then try to make those dreams a reality.  That means having the independence and self-assurance to go out on their own and move far away if necessary as they pursue their passions and interests and work to build careers and lives that make them happy.

We understand this, intellectually — but our hearts tug in the opposite direction.  It will be wonderful to have the boys a bit closer to home for a few months.