Written by Natalie Bencivenga on .

pop3 490

Pittsburgh POPS!

Over 1,300 of Pittsburgh’s young professional crowd (yes, there are that many of us) enjoyed a night of grooving, drinking, and networking at the Heinz History Center’s 16th annual Poptastic! event on Friday night. The lively evening encompassed all five floors of the History Center, with everyone talking about the excitement of the “fifth floor.”


As I meandered through the impeccably dressed crowd, I overheard several people saying “how the fifth floor is where you want to be.” “Everyone will be on the fifth floor.”


Putting my immediate curiosity aside, I chose to build the suspense leading up to the fifth floor by taking in the scene through the rest of the exhibits first ...


 pop2 490 Burton Morris' Poptastic exhibit. Natalie Bencivenga/Post-Gazette photos


The first floor had live music, food, and was your designated meet-and-greet area where plenty of people were texting, mingling, and trying to locate their friends before heading up. The invitation encouraged guests to dress up like their favorite pop icons, it seemed at first that no one was encouraged. But then, I spotted Amber Fitzgerald and Jamie Moore dressed as Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball. They looked fantastic and were happy to pose for a picture.



The second and third floors had plenty of interesting exhibits to take in. As Andy Masich, the president and chief executive officer of the History Center said, “You can enjoy the party, the food, and the music, but if you need to take a breath, come chill out and walk around the exhibits.” I took his advice to heart, and when needing to catch my breath (mostly from choosing to take the stairs in stiletto heels) I wandered off to check out the newest exhibit: Poptastic! The Art of Burton Morris, which was, I must say, colorful eye candy.



The fourth floor was packed with people networking, taking some candid shots in the photo booth, rejuvenating with organic juice shots from Steve Bland’s Savasana Juice Bar (to balance out the vodka, of course!), or indulging in tasty treats from restaurants like Donato’s.


Correction/clarification: This post has been updated to reflect an attendance figure of 1,300 for this event.


Yet, the fifth floor kept calling my name. Organic juice shot in hand, I headed up to see what the fuss was all about. Upon entering, I noted Massage Envy had set up a station to assist tired patrons who must have needed the pampering after experiencing the excitement of the fifth floor. I was intrigued. I could hear music coming from my left and so I headed in that direction, stopping briefly to chat with others who were also excited to experience “the fifth floor” as well.


pop6 490Fifth floor dance party!


Who knew this existed in the History Center? The area had been transformed into a New York-style club, complete with a DJ, dance floor, and plenty of couches to lounge. There were food stations set up with sandwiches, so you could nosh while dancing.


Smiles abound, I had found the heart of this incredible party. The Heinz Center brought the fun, and it was indeed Poptastic!


pop4 490George Jones, Rebecca Mix, Juan Pablo Rubiano #bestspecs

 pop5 490Amber Fitzgerald and Jamie Moore channel pop icons Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball

pop7 490Eloho Ufomata and Teresa Walker bringing fabulous pops of color!

pop1 490Andrew Masich (left) and the "Uncorked" committee.

(Top image: An aerial view of the party.)

Correction/clarification: This post was updated to reflect an attendance of 1,300 for this event.


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"We just want to have a good life in Ukraine... for us and not for Russia or the European Union."

Written by Olesya Kravchuk on .


Olesya Kravchuk lives and works in Kyiv. Below are her reflections on the situation in Ukraine, published with Olesya's permission on Pittsblogh.

I am from Ternopil, Ukraine. It's in the western part of Ukraine. People from Western Ukraine have a distinguishable characteristic, historically they've been driven by patriotic feelings and pursuit of freedom. We have been part of Poland and Austro-Hungarian Empire longer than we have been part of the Soviet Union. People from the western part of Ukraine have a legacy of fighting for independent, free Ukraine. It is important for us to be speaking up now for our future, for a good life. 

Ukraine ProtestsPeople gather at the Independence Square in Kiyv on Friday (Marko Drobnjakovic/Associated Press)

I used to work as a journalist for a long time, now I work for an international project, I would not want to name it because the views expressed here are my own, and I don't want to make it seem as if I am saying things simply because of where I work…

So here is how things began. Ukrainian people started gathering on the square because they wanted our government to sign an agreement with the European Union. I myself went to the square in November for the first time, and I went there because I saw that it was the place where people gathered to express their will, not because someone paid me or forced me to go there. I stood there for my rights. I thought our President would pay attention and hear us. It didn't happen...

I have been coming back to the square in the past 3 months. I donated money, I talked to people there. I wanted to know what they think and what they are going to do next. The last time I went to the square was about a week ago. People were tired of standing there and they were disappointed that the government does not hear them. I know a lot of people who have been standing on the square in Kyiv and on the squares in different cities across the country. I recently met a girl who was friends with Belorussian guy that got killed on Jan. 20. She said she didn't understand why it happened. She also said she will stand on barricades for her friend now. 

About two weeks ago I woke up because I had a nightmare. It was as if I was at work (which is in the center of Kyiv) and the entrance to the subway was closed by police. In my dream I asked myself, "What should I do?" - walk home, go home by bus or go to the square and fight. In my dream I chose to go and fight. On Tuesday, Feb. 18, my dream came true. The subway in the entire city was closed. I live not far from my work, so it took me about 40 minutes to walk home. Most people were not that lucky and they had to walk 2-4 hours. On Tuesday, when I was walking through the crowd, I heard people saying that they walked 20 km. I also read in the news later that day that older people were just falling down on the streets -- too tired, they couldn't walk for long. The traffic was horrible. Because of all the fires in the city, I had trouble breathing while I was walking. When I was little, I had bronchitis so even now I can feel the changes in the air. I didn't go to the square this week. I wanted to, but then I remembered that I am the only child. I thought of my mom and went home. 

It's really frustrating to sit at home and just to watch TV. I always feel I want to go outside and do something, but yes, I am scared, and I think of my family. I am also thinking that I am just a woman and cannot do much. I didn't go to work for three days, but I went grocery shopping. In my part of the city (which is like 5 km away from the square) everything looks safe and kind of normal. The shops and markets work, there are just less cars and less people on the streets. I made some food and brought it to the hospital, for the wounded people. There were a lot of people at the hospital and all of them brought food, medicine or money. Everyone wanted to help!

I feel like I live in some horror movie produced in Hollywood or am stuck in a nightmare. I wish I could wake up tomorrow and forget everything that happened to my nation. I know that those who died will never be with us again and this makes me cry when I am watching the news. Those people on the square are not extremists, they are not terrorists! We just want to have a good life in Ukraine that is not corrupt and is for us and not for Russia or the European Union. We want to save our independence and we want to be free. We are sick and tired of bandits dictating us what to do, taking our businesses away and wanting us to shut up. More than 100 people died, and police said they killed themselves because, apparently, the police force does not have guns. Who are they fooling?

I have a lot of friends all over the world and everyone is concerned about the situation in Ukraine these days. I get asked about it a lot and I really appreciate the support from everybody. There are sometimes those, who want to help Ukraine, and they ask what they can do in their own countries. Please call or email your city mayors, your local and country governments and let them know they should impose sanctions against Ukrainian government. Tell them to ignore Yanukovych and other government officials from Ukraine at the official meetings. Tell them he is a dictator and people in Ukraine struggle and are getting killed by his regime. People are dying every day and this is only his fault. We, Ukrainians, need your help and we hope we can solve this conflict in a peaceful way with the help of the international community. We do not want blood, we just want a good life for us and our children!


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Marriage and the religious future

Written by Peter Smith on .


"For years, many states had a tradition of segregation and even articulated reasons why it created a better, more stable society. Similarly, many states deprived women of their equal rights under the law, believing this to properly preserve our traditions. In time, even the most strident supporters of these views understood that they could not enforce their particular moral views to the detriment of another’s constitutional rights. Here as well, sometime in the not too distant future, the same understanding will come to pass."

 Judge John G. Heyburn II, U.S. District Court for Western Kentucky, Feb. 12, 2014

In his decision nullifying part of Kentucky's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, one can only wonder if Judge Heyburn was measuring the "not too distant future" in a matter of hours rather than generations. The legal cases may keep coming for a few years, but it's clear we've passed the tipping point, and the trend toward legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide seems inevitable.

In fact, the decisive turn in this front of the culture war has occurred so quickly that another social milestone -- legalized medical marijuana -- is already upon us, and appears to have passed its own tipping point.

And whereas opponents once could blame such trends on activist judges and the like -- and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is certainly the human tipping point in the gay-marriage debate -- it's clear that the tide of public opinion is turning.

To wit: In 2009, a majority of Pennsylvanians said same-sex marriage should not be recognized. By 2011, a majority said it should. More to the point, more people in every age group under 65 support rather than oppose gay marriage recognition, with those under 35 agreeing by more than a 2-1 margin, according to a survey by the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

And the Franklin & Marshall College found a similar reversal.

And these trends are being felt deep in the Heartland, including my old Kentucky stomping ground.

When that state passed its constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004, the Bluegrass Poll showed support for the ban across all regions and age groups, in both major political parties and most religious categories.

But earlier this year, while a majority of state residents remained opposed, the latest Bluegrass Poll showed young adults in Kentucky polling 47 to 33 percent in favor of gay marriage. Only a minority of Democrats are opposed, and Kentucky's most urban region is evenly split. Similar demographics were the most supportive of legalized medical marijuana.

Such overhauls prompted a veteran Kentucky political observer to predict trouble among younger generations for Republicans in a state they have largely dominated in recent national elections. 

That's an issue for religious groups, too. Some will stick to their traditional opposition to same-sex marriage on principle, some will support it on principle, some may do one or the other for pragmatic reasons of appealing to one constituency or another. 

In fact, many religious opponents to same-sex marriage have switched to a rear-guard strategy of seeking protections for religious groups and vendors who don't want to participate in such weddings.

The fact is that the young are both less religious and more liberal on gay marriage. It's hard to know which came first, the secularism or the tolerance, but they clearly trend together. 

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Town Meeting examines progress of African American sports experience

Written by Ethan Magoc on .

Paul Zeise JT Thomas photo by Ethan Magoc Post-Gazette

Paul Zeise listens to J.T. Thomas discuss race during his playing career in college and the NFL Thursday morning at the Fairmont Hotel in Pittsburgh. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette photos)

Are American sports fans blind to color?

This and many other questions were the focus of a Post-Gazette Town Meeting Thursday morning at the Fairmont Hotel.

WNBA player Swin Cash said the answer is 'no' and cited the reaction on social media to Richard Sherman's NFC championship post-game interview as evidence.

Cash was part of a four-person panel that consisted of former Steeler J.T. Thomas, current Steeler Will Allen and Post-Gazette sports writer Paul Zeise. Post-Gazette's Executive Editor David Shribman moderated the discussion for 300 attendees.

JT Thomas photo by Ethan Magoc Post-Gazette

J.T. Thomas is the winner of four Super Bowls with the Steelers and the first black player at Florida State University. He said the Steelers locker room was still quite segregated when he arrived in 1973. But it certainly wasn't as bad as the treatment he sometimes received at FSU. "I used to get letters before games at FSU from the KKK," he said. "And I'm not talking about the Kool Kolor Klan."

Paul Zeise photo by Ethan Magoc Post-Gazette

Shribman asked each of the panelists which African American athlete had the most influence on them. For Paul Zeise, it was John Chaney, a Hall of Fame basketball coach who had a prolific career at Temple. Zeise did his graduate work at Temple during some of the years when Chaney coached, and he appreciated the coach's accessibility.

Will Allen photo by Ethan Magoc Post-Gazette

Will Allen, safety for the Steelers, acknowledged the difficulty Michael Sam could face in attempting to become the first openly gay NFL player. "His entrance is the next barrier" that could come down in sports, Allen said.

Swin Cash photo by Ethan Magoc Post-Gazette

 Swin Cash has roots in McKeesport. She also has two NCAA national titles, three WNBA championships and two Olympic gold medals. Still, as for other female athletes, her struggle today remains equally difficult to gain recognition as a female as it did for African Americans in prior generations. "Women are still fighting," she said, referencing the fact people overlooked the WNBA championships her team brought to Seattle well before the Seahawks finally won this year. "Still trying to get visibility and acknowledgment that we are the best in the world."

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Chevron sent pizza coupons to Bobtown residents after gas explosion

Written by Pittsblogher on .

Chevron endured criticism on blogs and social media today for giving residents in about 30 homes near the Dunkard well site a gift certificate for pizza at a local restaurant, Bobtown Pizza, in the aftermath of the massive gas well explosion on Feb. 11.   

Chevron spokeswoman Lee Ann Wainwright said in an email that the company handed them out to residents affected by the sudden activity in the area as a "token of appreciation" for their patience — and to support Bobtown Pizza, which provided food for first-responders and workers on the well site.
"Our operation response has included a lot of construction activity which has resulted in increased traffic and congestion in the area," said Chevron spokesman Trip Oliver in a conference call Tuesday
Chevron went door to door to distribute the coupons. Residents appreciated company officials visiting their homes, Mr. Oliver said.
The sentiment online was not as kind.






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