Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gates Foundation Awards $40 Million to Pittsburgh Public Schools

Falcon, here World Family with some exciting news. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has just award the Pittsburgh Public Schools its largest gift ever -$40 million to put in place an $85 million initiative for teachers and to increase teacher effectiveness.

The entire story is in the Pittsburgh Post-gazette online. Please follow this link:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tax Students Tuition at Pittsburgh Universities? No Way!

Hey World Family,

Falcon is about to have a little rant: apparently, no one in the mayor’s office understands how funding for university students works because a plan to tax student tuition 1% is the stuff that comes across as embarrassing as a suggestion to the even slightly informed, much less those who fully comprehend what a region-killer this tax would be.

An overview: the city of Pittsburgh needs to offset some of its pension fund deficits. I get that. Suggestion: tax the TUITION of college students attending Pittsburgh universities-INSANE! Why? One: it’s illegal. Two: the tax funds would end up coming right out of families’ pockets because it is highly unlikely that any student aid in any form would cover it. Three: on principle alone, it would drive students to attend schools located out of the city and possibly out of the region entirely. Four: the tax wouldn’t be even; it would be burdensome to the students who could afford to pay it the least. Let me explain.

Tuition (not meal plans, housing, etc. but just the cost of the education itself) is something that can be covered in a variety of ways. Cash is obviously the favorite, but there are other ways: federal funding, independent scholarships, university merit scholarships, sports scholarships (NCAA, NAIA) and private donations. These are put in place to pay for the cost of a student’s education, NOT a tax on the cost of that education. No one pays the same amount.

At a state funded school, in-state residents pay one tuition, out of state students pay a higher tuition. At a private university, it is the same for all usually. If a student receives a merit scholarship (think discount) from the university that they are attending, then they only pay the difference. The tax would be based on that which is billed to the student and their family. A student who was not fortunate enough to get merit money will pay the full tax amount. Not fair, is it? Further, if they are making ends meet by threads, it is highly likely that the funds would have to come out of their pocket: not federal money (can’t go for something like that), nor private scholarship money, and certainly not NCAA money. That will be family money. Since we already know that there is a HUGE inequity in the way merit money is handed out around here (minority students are at a HUGE disadvantage at certain public schools; private schools are much more generous with merit aid), then guess who pays more money again??? Those who can least afford it.

Out of state students and international students who did not have merit scholarship money would really pay, since their tuition is the highest, yet they come the farthest to attend. Once again, is this remotely fair? Of course not.

Universities in the region may be on non-taxable land, but they also give a lot to the city and the county through bringing in some of the most gifted students from this region and the world to our doors. They help with security in areas of shared space like all of Oakland, and in the North Side during game times, since the football games are played at Heinz Field for the University of Pittsburgh. I would tend to think that they spend a lot more on security than they would if they were an enclosed campus in the country. They don’t charge the city for that.

This shared relationship is sacred, and keeping it in balance is the key to reducing crime, keeping students safe, and giving them an enriching experience in one of the finest cities in the world. All of that gets tainted by the idea that the city wants to tax the tuition of students whose hard working parents’ money pours into the city in so many ways because their son or daughter attends a university within the city borders.

To ask families from Pittsburgh to once again foot a bill in an indirect and illegal manner for a city whose fiscal woes were not caused by them is inappropriate.

Being a solution centered kind of women, I do have some suggestions as to where they can get some additional funding for the pension accounts. Current employees recognize that in order to garner the pension they have worked so hard for, they may need to put more in. The city can cut costs by going greener faster. Instead of just going for the proverbial ‘low hanging fruit’, the city needs to start looking at retrofitting, conservation, and renovation moves that get funding from elsewhere, but will save the capital budget millions. There are brilliant people working in city government in the city of Pittsburgh; let’s get to work on how to make this work, rather than burdening the most vulnerable working citizens one more time.

Oh, and one more thing: education is a right, not a privilege. Americans have the right to be properly educated to qualify their acquired skills for the greatest opportunity for enfranchisement for themselves and by extension, their community. College education should not be enjoyed simply by the privileged, but by all who aspire academically to that goal. It is vile to think someone could come up with an arbitrary tax on the cost of that vision.

Falcon and Dove

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Frick Park is Dog Park

For Locals Only: Ok, Pittsburgh people; I have been saying I was going to write this post for months, and now with all the comments in the Pittsburgh Post-gazette lately, I feel the time has come. Frick Park is a beautiful woodland environment, full of hills and valleys, interesting paths and lost hollows along with small creeks and Nine Mile Run. It is also full of something else: Frick Park is full of people with dogs.

The dogs probably outnumber the people on any given day, since many people have more than one dog. There is a leash law, but like that scene in “Pirates of the Caribbean” it is more of a suggestion than a mandate. After all, who is going to police the park at all times? Mostly, dog owners.

Now, I must say, my dog is always on a leash. This is because my lab would go on a walkabout and not be seen for a week if I let him off the leash. Many people have dogs that are perfectly well behaved; I do not. Mine is over a decade old (around 74 years old in dog years; a dog ages one year for every 52 days) yet he acts as though he is a puppy on his first visit to a park on a leash. He was a farm dog, you see, and has never adjusted to that funny thing around his neck tethered to me. He looks at me funny every time I put it on, and rolls his eyes, but acquiesces to my request.

Some people have complained recently that they would like to see the dogs on the leash, at least until they reach the OLEA (Off Leash Exercise Area-a magnificent space with barrels, tubes, and planks, as well as a large space perfect for ball and Frisbee toss), and that is fine. Others wish that people would clean up the number 2’s left by our 4 legged brothers and sisters in various locations in the park. Some wish they wouldn’t go in the creeks and streams, which they couldn’t if they were on a leash always. Here’s what I think:

Dogs are beautiful beings; they truly love unconditionally, even those who probably have not earned their love and trust. Most are gentle and fun, unless trained or abused to be otherwise. Poop is poop; it’s not fun, and it has germs, and it is messy, but it is not the end of the world. I wish all we had to worry about in the entire world was walking in the occasional pile of puppy poop. The world would be blissful if that was the only thing we needed to concern ourselves with…so here is my compromise suggestion.

People: clean up after your dog…ok, not in the 12 foot pampas grass, but elsewhere; you know what I mean. As far as the streams go, gosh, can’t a dog have a little fun? I wonder about a world where everything has to be put under glass, and we all have to stay on the path. I haven’t let my dog in the water for years, but I love watching when others do. People: stay close to your dogs, don’t let them get a quarter of a mile away, walk up to other people’s children and perhaps frighten them. I love having the dogs of everyone in the East End approach me from the woods, but many folks don’t.

People without dogs who may not like the loose four legged friends: Frick Park is Dog Park. It just is. I think it’s wonderful, even when I am there without my dog. Why? Because I feel safe, always. Dogs are very intuitive, and they sense trust. They innately protect, and that is what I love about them. Don’t like dogs? One woman commented in the editorial section of the Post-gazette to go to Schenley instead. That is not far from Frick, so maybe not walking distance for some, but still a short bike ride. No worries.

Frick Park is dog park; let’s just accept it, and for those who can, embrace it. That is one of the most wonderful urban parks in the world to me. It is full of ancient trees and hidden treasures. Check it out, with or without your dog escort.

Falcon and Dove

Monday, November 2, 2009

Falcon and Dove’s Fall Movie Preview

Hello Everyone,
Well, it's time for the Fall Movie Preview. We tended to avoid writing about films that weren't that interesting, and instead have brought you a batch of what we thought were worth seeing...with only a couple of exceptions. Enjoy!

A Serious Man
The Coen Brothers are at it again, this time looking back at one of my favorite eras of waxing nostalgia, the late 1960’s. A young Jewish man is trying to make sense of his life in a world of Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane and his marriage. He feels he is trying to do the right thing, yet he also thinks his world is changing faster than the world around them is spinning. It is supposed to be tongue in cheek funny, but there will be much too much profoundly familiar in this quirky film.

Act of God
Interesting independent doc involves conversations with people who have been struck by lightening (wow-I wish they would have talked to me!). This film looks at the metaphysical implications and eye witness stories of what these individuals were like before they were struck…and after. This film is by Jennifer Baichwal.

Yes, another version, aka ‘Slumdog’ style; very modern Bollywood film with special effects, wild costumes and lots of dancing. It looks like Xanadu meets the classic Magic Lamp tale. Our take: skip it.

Hillary Swank gets the nod to play the famous pilot Amelia Eckhart on Fox Searchlight. Ewan McGregor, Richard Gere give respectable performances. Great cinematography.

An Education
Alfred Molina stars with a strong British cast (Emma Thompson, Dennis Cooper) in a period piece (aka 1962 abouts) that looks a little like Educating Rita with less of an age gap. Girl gets into Oxford and runs off with a man she met to Paris-more exciting, yet not what she thought it would be, go figure.

As Seen Through These Eyes
Maya Angelou gives a powerful narration to a powerful documentary montage of images of Nazi survivors in photos and artwork, along with their own voices and stories. Magnificent art, challenging stories.

We are all waiting for this. If the story unfolds as well as the trailer does, and the special effects deliver, this will be one of the best films of the year. It looks like moving Rodger Dean artwork with Native American embellishments. We hope the film lives up to the hype.

Broken Embraces
A nice French film with strong performances, featuring Penelope Cruz, beautiful yet a bit tortured since all of the saturation as that 60’s early 70’s feel, deliberately. Good date film.

Capitalism: A Love Story
Michael Moore’s magnificent indictment of greed, lying and the price the average person pays for a system without a moral compass. Includes sending perfectly good children to prison while judges get kickbacks (here in PA, believe it or not), farm families having their homes forclosed upon, and conversations with people who have just had it.

Teen film with Self-self discovery/affirmation film with Sandra Bernhard featuring Emmy Rossum, Zach Gilford and Alan Cumming (who I hadn’t seen in a film in awhile). It breaks out of the typical a bit, and the actors make it worth the trip.

Edge of Darkness
Mel Gibson returns as a homicide detective whose 24 year old daughter was killed on his doorstep. Turns out her world was more dangerous than his. This is a January release, so no one really holds a lot of hope for this one,(January is usually the time for films that are expendable) but it is better than it looks.

From Monterey Media comes a very strong film with tricky filming that doesn’t blink with a highly diverse film of quality actors, including William Hurt. Very, very good.

Extraordinary Measures
True story about John and Aileen Crowley whose children were diagnosed with a fatal disease called Pompe, which is genetic, impacts the heart and usually fatal. They started a business, left their jobs and started extraordinary research to save their children’s’ lives. Appearances by Harrison Ford and Brendan Frazier.

Five Minutes of Heaven
Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt star in an interesting film about an adult revolutionary who killed Nesbitt’s character’s brother as a teen. The two have an opportunity to meet. It is a film about truth and reconciliation. Forgiveness…is it possible? The character’s are deeply well developed.

From Paris, With Love
Starring Welsh actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers and John Travolta, directed by Peter Morrell. Action, laughs, more action, lots of things blowing up.

Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Heath Ledger has one more hurrah, Christopher Plummer and Colin Farrell along with Johnny Deep (sounds like a dream I would love to have) and directed by Terry Gilliam. Wow. It looks incredible and has all the makings of a spectacular nominee, IF the voting members don’t write this off as just a special effects feast. Shot in Bulgaria, it is visually stunning and magnificent. It is nice to see “Academy Award Winner” before Heath Ledger’s name. It is really sad that he is no longer with us here.

Killing Kastzner
Was he a hero or in collusion with the Nazi’s? A documentary looking at the trial, his daughter, and the questions. Did he make a secret deal? His name brings gratitude and rage to many. See the film and see how you feel.

Lies and Illusions
Cuba Gooding, Jr. along with Christian Slater star in a thriller about a man whose book of fiction has more truth to it than he wishes it did. Cuba, good to see you back; I hope you have a great agent and we will see more of you-such a strong actor. Christian has been on TV lately, and it is nice to see him back on the big screen. This film has some promise; I hope it delivers.

The Lovely Bones
An excellent thriller novel by Alice Sebold filmed in Pennsylvania, directed by Peter Jackson, handled with beauty and sensitivity. Susan Sarandon and Mark Walberg deliver strong performances. Must see it to believe it.

The Men Who Stare at Goats
Yu don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but this is based on a true story. Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and George Clooney, Kevin Spacey star in this 1970’s tale of ‘remote viewers’ aka psychic Jedi Knights. Inspired by the book by Jon Ronson.
Just go with it…

Paranormal Activity
Produced for a mere $15,000, this film opened at number one for weekend receipts after garnering a million clicks demanding that this film be released country wide. Wow! What a story. The film itself is a fine first film and looks like a couple doing their own episode of “Ghost Hunters”, but it goes badly wrong. That’s the fun part for you! A little “Blair Witch” camera work in spots, but really well done overall.

Peter and Vandy
Relationship movie that is incredibly honest in its portrayal and entertaining. Jason Ritter is warm and loving, and controlling and manipulative-perfect.

Pirate Radio
Already out and fantastic, stars one of my favorite actors, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, along with Billy Nighy, and my absolute favorite, Kenneth Branagh

Every living human begin above the age of 12 should see this film. A Lee Williams film, based on the book, “Push” by Sapphirewith an unbelievable cast: Sherri Shepherd, Mariah Carey, Mo’Nique, Lenny Kravitz. Oscar, can you hear me?

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
Extremely well cast ensemble around a central character who is looking at renewing the quality of her life at a crossroads. Alan Arka, Keanu Reeves, Juliann Moore, Winona Rider, Robin Wright Penn are part of an excellent examination of a woman’s personal portrait, exploration, and eventual liberation.

Red Cliff
A strong film by John Woo focus on epic battles during the third century in China during civil war. This picture makes Helm’s Deep look like a little skirmish at a stronghold.
Cinematography great, special effects, strong, period costuming, nice.

Serious Moonlight
Meg Ryan stars with Timothy Hutton stars in this comedy directed by Cheryl Hines. Over the top a bit, but entertaining. See this with the girlfriends, laugh a lot. See it with men, and the guys will be trying to escape the theater.

Sherlock Holmes
Like you have never seen him before, Sherlock Holmes is played by Robert Downey, Jr. and Watson is played by Jude Law. Rachel McAdams rocks! Watson whines a little. Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Strong deliver the goods. Very nicely done. I bet if this one is successful, like Harry Potter, they will make more. By the way, this is not for the kids.

The Book of Eli
The Hughes brothers have put together a little post apocalyptic film with Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman that looks like a fun little romp in Mad Max land. It’s a January release. You know what that means. Maybe it will be better than they think. The trailer is very cool…kinda video game like, but cool.

The Road
Viggo Mortensen is awesome in this Cormac McCarthy’s unoptimistic novel made into a film. Charlize Theron is also in this portrait of what happens after…
This was filmed in Pittsburgh, and when we ran out of snow, up near Erie.

The End of Poverty
A stunning documentary narrated by Martin Sheen on how we got in such a financial mess, and how contrived poverty is. Some may actually be surprised that ‘trickle down’ doesn’t work, and how deliberate and systematic the atrocities are globally. This is another film I feel strongly about that everyone should see.

The Fourth Kind
Based on a sleep study, complete with footage of the actual sessions included in the narrative drama side by side, this film asks the question: have we had more than casual contact with aliens? Who are they? Why did these people in Alaska have the same experiences? Are they all delusional, abused…or what? This film may have you leaving with more questions than you came in with…

The Messenger
This just opened the Savannah Film Festival on Halloweeen and stars Woody Harrelson (finally in a film that’s actually good) with a magnificent support soundtrack of awesome pieces Ben Foster gives an unforgettable performance. This film will strike a chord with so many as these two men are the messengers of the undeliverable message of the loss of a man or woman at war. Very, very, very good.

As good as the previous movie was: this film is the polar opposite of that one. Let me paint a picture: Roland Emmerich, who I had a ton of respect and support for when he did “The Day After Tomorrow” has completely abandoned his fracking mind and made a film that while the special effects are incredible, has virtually no real plot or character development.

Most films we here at Falcon and Dove thought just plain sucked we didn’t talk about in the Fall Preview. Some we just didn’t get a chance to properly review. Falcon has seen nearly 20 minutes of this film and can’t stand a moment of it. Why? Besides being kind of a downer (end of world on 12/21/12- I won’t mention what time, everything goes to you know where, and the government has secret underground bunkers for the select few, blah, blah, blah) it has some plausibility problems, and not just the obvious ones.

If I were a filmmaker showing the end of the world, with collapsing buildings all around, I would have remembered the people. THE PEOPLE> the ones being blown to bits, thrown around like rag dolls, and falling into the open crevasses in the earth that is now heated and cracking. You barely see any human toll. That would have been an “R” rating, I suppose. The human side of this story is gone. Woody Harrelson (can’t believe he did this film and The Messenger in the same year. Note from Falcon: if he doesn’t get an Oscar for his role in The Messenger, he may have this film to thank for it-memories are long at Oscar time). He plays a character who wants to leave the proverbial building first by setting himself in the middle of the caldera at Yellowstone. He’s on radio, the Net, takes questions and calls, and has a website for you to follow until the end. He wears a long haired wig and a Moroccan style hat-looks great on Dumbledore, on Woody…not so much.

So…where do I begin? First, Roland, you really DON”T understand the prophecy of the Maya; so stop. Not enough of the real feelings of many Native American people are in this film…oh, yeah! I forgot! It’s about the bang and the money. Silly, me…

The hopelessness of this film is so bad, I would not let a child see this film, period. There are children in it I feel sorry for. No one who has had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder should see it either. There is a loss of continuity in this film that is astonishing, but no loss of special effects of destroying many monuments gone wild.

The dialog is occasionally comedic in the most inappropriate times. The moment before all of California is about to go from the inside, there are humorous remarks made by the lead character (John Cusack, who in interviews doesn’t sound like he believes it, either) about the state governor’s acting just moments before the bottom falls out-literally. There are moments that are so confused between comedy and annihilation that I wasn’t quite sure what the director was going for. The film doesn’t take itself very seriously in spots. Maybe we shouldn’t either.

So here’s the supposed science: the earth’s core will heat up and break up all the weak spots when the planets align with the Milky Way and the Sun on the other end. In Native tradition, it is a configuration of the Alligator (a representation of the Cosmic Matriarch) giving birth to the Sun). We personally consider this time a time of birth, higher consciousness and new revelations. That revelation may be that the earth will continue without us, if WE MESS UP. We do have choices, and our behavior is what determines our fate. What is written is change and transformation. It will not be easy, but it is not all doom and gloom unless we succumb to the misery and negativity of things, and fail to rise with courage to change what we can clearly change.

Otherwise, no underground bunker, hermitically sealed with O2 from plants clearly underground in greenhouses and energy from geothermal ( we ought to have plenty of that)can save us-according to their complete disaster, there won't be any fresh air for years, the underground too warm in most places and with plate shift, where are the fresh water aquafirs, or am I over thinking this? Contamination would be rampant, and we would be cooked anyway. The End. Wow...what a fun film!

Twilight Saga: New Moon
Okay, this will be better than the first film; it already looks better. I don't just mean the special effects...THE MEN!!! Look, this is an eye candy story; I am not a teen, I am there for the 'visual effects', you feel me? Yes, there's a bit of a story, and I am not even sure I like it. Dove says it's ok, but I am there for the guys. With an ensemble of men that hot, you tend to ignore weak storylines. Okay, actually generally I do pay attention to plot...who care? It looks great! I'll be there on Nov. 20, watching it with all the rest of the young men and women. The whole vampire thing doesn't really do anything for me...gotta love those werewolves, though! Whew! Is it hot in here???

Alright World Family, there is Falcon and Dove's quick overview of the fall movies. Our Holiday Film Special blog/podcast will be out during the Thanksgiving weekend, as always.

Be strong, stay safe, and enjoy the fall offerings.
Falcon and Dove