Given the shit that's, supposedly, about to hit the fan, why would the Bush Administration allow Miers to withdraw now?
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Mike Madison over at Pittsblog has a long discursive post on The Allegheny Conference on Community Development and what he would say should they invite him to speak in front of the conference's annual meeting.
Right now, Pittsburgh is trying to grow from the top. That's why you're having this meeting: it's growth from the top. So change has to come from the top. And with all due respect to the history of the Allegheny Conference, that's why I'm telling you to go home. It's why I'd send the same message to Mark Nordenberg, who has done an extraordinary job as Chancellor of Pitt, and to Jared Cohon, his equally remarkable counterpart at CMU. Private sector CEOs and top management at the universities need to join forces and -- let it go. They need to turn their technology loose.It's worth a read; although I'll spoil the ending and tell you that Mike wants the Conference to get out of the way and instead focus our energies on developing mid-level managers and capitalizing on tech transfer. [I hope I summarized that correctly.]
Pittsburgh's CEO culture is deep and strong. The top folks are talented and have enormous respect for one another, and they spend a lot of time doing what CEOs do well: strategic planning. We have consortia and greenhouses, alliances and councils and conferences. Strategic planning, though, doesn't grow companies or jobs. There's so much planning, and so much CEO involvement and control, that the money and the talent and the ideas can't find each other.
I have, of course, a couple of comments:
(1) I would include development of ready-to-go sites proximate to the Universities as a "need". Pittsburgh seems to have a room to grow, but no places for companies to locate RIGHT NOW or expand to RIGHT NOW. That puts us at a disadvantage.
(2) What the heck does the Conference actually DO anymore? OK, I understand what the Chamber of Commerce does (advocates for regional businesses), what the PRA does (advertises the region), and what the PEL does (research & analysis), but WHAT, now that Richard King Mellon is dead, does the Conference actually DO? Having worked in regional government for quite awhile, I've never once heard anyone say "We can't do THAT, the Conference would have our ASS!".
(3) This may be heretical, but why do we need to do Economic Development and what's the big deal with job creation? OK, I understand that (a) an increase in jobs and development leads to an increase in tax revenues, (b) politicians that create jobs and development have an increased chance of being re-elected, and (c) there's a certain amount of region pride involved. That I get. But, and here's the $6.4 billion question: can the region improve without doing all that Economic Development growth stuff? Can we have a better quality region, without a bigger region? I don't know, I'm just asking.
I have other comments, but I'll hold off for now.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Matthew E. Kahn over at Environmental and Urban Economics has an interesting piece lifted from the NY Times on Information and Urban Problem Solving in NYC. From the article:
Mr. Bloomberg exercises control over the city much like Mel Karmazin, the former Viacom chief, famously did at his company: by closely monitoring the numbers produced by a team of star department heads who are free to run their agencies as they see fit so long as they meet strict production targets. An interesting concept this: the anticipatory use of information in public decision making, one that we, as Bureaucrats, don't always think about.
It is a strategy grounded in his experience in the business world. Mr. Bloomberg spent 15 years on Wall Street with Salomon Brothers, working his way from a $9,000-a-year position in its bank vault to a partner in charge of running the firm's information systems department. Pushed out of the firm in 1981, he then earned billions by using his $10 million severance to create a machine that compiled and analyzed real-time data from the financial markets to help traders gain an edge.
As mayor he has tried create a similar system from which to govern. Data analysis is religion for Mr. Bloomberg, and numbers are the lifeblood of his administration. They drive policy rather than just track progress.
It was in large part in the pursuit of more city data that Mr. Bloomberg created the 311 help line. It provides one-stop shopping for people seeking information about everything from parking rules to trash pickups. But perhaps more significant, residents' grievances on the line are also stored in a database so the city can immediately identify a festering problem area, and react.
Linda Gibbs, Mr. Bloomberg's homeless services commissioner, said she began the first citywide census of homeless people on the streets this year guided by the mayor's results-based approach. The census provoked serious debate within the administration, she said, because by creating a new set of numbers "you're taking the risk it could go in the wrong direction."
"His reaction was," she said, "you're not going to be able to overcome an issue unless you really understand it."
Ms. Gibbs said that at the height of a homeless crisis in 2003, she presented Mr. Bloomberg with a chart showing some good news: an alarming rise in the number of people in shelters was finally stabilizing. But the mayor was not content, and drew a line pointing downward from the plateau on the chart, saying, "Come back when it looks like that."
For example: one of the big problems that I personally have is the ability to bring large sets of data together for a given segment of the region. I can say that I'm doing X number of widgets at location Y, but, because of the still arcane system that we use, I'm unable to say much more than that. Tracking large amounts of data, over multiple data types, requires a lot of staff time and effort. Unfortunately, that's the kind of information that we, the policy makers, need to have to make well informed decisions.
Unfortunately, without the data to back up proposed courses of action, we're often left to the whims of the political leaders who can only make uninformed, or worse, badly informed decisions. [Of course, that assumes that politics actually plays no role in political decisions, a proposition that we know is a falacy.]
I long for a good regression analysis... hell, I long for good data.
Posted by O at 9:32 PM
Saturday, October 22, 2005
I awoke, looked outside and assumed I was up just before the crack of dawn, a strange occurance for a weekend, I must admit. It was only a moment later that I realized it was quarter to two in the afternoon and that I was in Pittsburgh. Now is the Season of Grey.
Today's forcast for Southwestern Pennsylvania:
Grey from the South East through the afternoon, turning into pitch Black by Evening.
Keep your spirits up folks... we have another five months of this weather.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
ADB friend and associate PIQ-B got roped into going to the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development "Town Hall" meeting, despite his vicious protests and threats of self inflicted violence against his person. He afterwards spent 2 hours on the phone, in a drunken stupor, giving me his low-down on the event. (Fortunately, ADB was spared this apparent travesty of community development, and spent his evening on the couch watching reruns of The Simpsons.)
The event was billed as a chance for community groups to set priorities and an agenda for the upcoming administration, and a chance for local CDCs and CBOs to speak with one voice... but in reality, it was the same old crap wrapped up with voting opportunities.
Some notes from the drunken Mr. PIQ-B:
(1) The event was too large. Someone, apparently, thought that a focus group of 70 people was manageable and that it would be easy to have a reasonable dialogue. The only this that was missing from the ensuing circus was a fire-eater. A more reasonable number for an exchange of ideas would have been, like, 10. Moreover, there were a lot of actors that were not present that could have informed the discussion (read: ranting) a wee bit better.
(2) Nobody at the Community/Neighborhood gives a damn about the private sector. Everyone is far more concerned about what the government sector can do for them rather than how they can work with the private sector to grow a neighborhood.
(3) Unfortunately, no one actually knows what the Government actually does and does not do (Rule #12).
(4) There are a lot of ignorant people at the community level, with no understanding about how neighborhood development actually works. Combined with #3 above, they are much more likely to blame some faceless "government" for their problems, instead of their total lack of experience, intelligence, and knowledge about... well... everything. Ms. CDC Executive Director, ever think that the reason that development doesn't happen in your neighborhood is not because the URA or City Planning is conspiring against you, but because you are a worthless piece of shit with the development accumen of, let's say, toe fungus? Or to be more eloquent: the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in City Planning, but ourselves. [PIQ-B was pissed.]
(5) The neighborhoods and the neighborhood groups continually see themselves as "victims."
(6) Loud people will always set an agenda not because they are right, but because they are loud.
(7) The Pittsburgh Community Development scene has no new ideas.
(8) The Pittsburgh Community Development scene has no big ideas.
(9) The Pittsburgh Community Development scene cannot think outside of their own narrowly circumscribed world to focus on larger city and regional issues. [No one talked about cluster development strategies or tech transfer, btw.]
(10) Seriously, who are we kidding with this meeting: no one is going to give up anything so that someone else can be better off. Central Northside, for example, would never agree to a plan that would benefit Bloomfield at their own expense. Politics (and Community Development) is local; to pretend that all the seperate groups could join hands and sing kumbayah is ridiculous.
(11) And finally... according to a gentleman who spoke up in one of the group sessions, this is the same meeting that occured EIGHT YEARS AGO with THE SAME ISSUES BEING BROUGHT UP. EIGHT FRIGGIN' YEARS AND WE'RE STILL TALKING ABOUT THE SAME SHIT!
PIQ-B was obviously frustrated by the meeting, feeling that the combination of ignorance and parochialism meant that nothing useful would be accomplished at all. Instead, this was a massive bitch session, with no clear focus and no clear agenda, and no useful outcomes.
Oh, and apparently they used the words "proactive." "paradigm," and "empower." If I was there, I would have thrown a chair at someone's head.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Right now we know that President Bush is very unpoular with solid approvals in only six states. He has completely lost independents and is facing a rebellion on his right flank from parts of the conservative intelligentsia over the Miers nomination. He is in probably the weakest position politically since before 9-11. He is also a lame duck with no designated successor.Allow me to add to this growing pyre the Plame "incident" and the recent poll indicating that a majority of Americans favor Bush's impeachment if he lied about Iraq.
Now, let's play pretend and ask some questions.
(1) Has Bush strayed from Conservative principles over the Miers nomination?
(2) Has this made him now functionally useless as the leader of a party whose intent is to further those principles?
(3) Would the Republican Party (or certain segments thereof) try to squeeze out Bush over this, believing that they could find a better leader for their party and principles?
Now, not knowing the inner machinations of the Republican Party, I can only wildly speculate, but is such a scenario possible. Is there a desire to eliminate all sources of opposition to party orthodoxy whatsoever? A general purge, perhaps?
Truly, it is theoretically possible if you could get enough disaffected Republicans on board, and impeachment proceedings would be easy with all the angry Democrats in both houses ... provided some real "evidence" could be brought to light.
Just a bit of speculation, implausible at nearly every level. I do not believe that it could any way happen, but it's fun nonetheless.
Posted by O at 9:40 PM
PITTSBURGH—A zombie-preparedness study, commissioned by Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy and released Monday, indicates that the city could easily succumb to a devastating zombie attack. Insufficient emergency-management-personnel training and poorly conceived undead-defense measures have left the city at great risk for all-out destruction at the hands of the living dead, according to the Zombie Preparedness Institute.
How's that for a engaging title for a post? Did I say Porn? I meant Concrete.
Sorry for the confusion.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is out with their PPI numbers again. I'm not sure the Republic can handle it, but here I go plunging into the gooey caramel center goodness that is Plywood, Steel and Concrete.
Like I said, or at least meant to say, before, I feel that a surge in these prices will carry over to an increase in housing costs... which is bad, especially if us curmudgeons are right about this housing bubble bursting: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria.
Or something like that.
Anyway, to satiate your appetite for graphs...
Cement & Concrete
Architectural and Structural Metals
Hard to miss the dramatic swing in Plywood Prices (+9.76%) in September, which could be attributed to Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Michael Brown, and other disasters. Also, it's hard to miss the continual increase Cement and Concrete (+.69%). May numbers in Plywood and Cement & Concrete were revised upwards from last month, which is interesting. Architectural & Structural Steel went down .34% in September.
BTW, CPI went up 1.22% in September. Plywood's rising faster than Ron Jeremy on Viagra AND inflation.
Again, make of this what you will, but I wouldn't want to be in housing construction or development right now. If I was a contractor, I don't think I'd be willing to hold my prices for more than a week.
Me? I'm going to go finish off my nightly bourbon.
*I suppose it was about porn after all.
Posted by O at 12:01 AM
Monday, October 17, 2005
This is weird: for some reason, there are Europeans who desperately need to know why I feel Carthage should be destroyed, utterly.
I kid you not:
Nearly all those European dots were searching on the phrase Praeterea censeo Carthaginem esse delendam,which, for those of you not in the know, is apparently how* Cato the Elder ended every speech in the Roman Senate, no matter what the subject. The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat is your #1 Google hit for this phrase.
So to my brethren in Europe: I don't know nearly enough Latin to be useful, only enough to be dangerous. Try the Pope next time; I hear his translation is infallible.
P.S. Attention! Dude from Qatar! Are you lost?
**The alternative formulation, by the way, is Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam, but really who cares?
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Four weeks from Tuesday, the good voting citizenry of Pittsburgh will go to the polls to make an important choice... no, wait, they won't... we did that in May, right?
The November Election is to Pittsburgh Politics what the Supreme Soviet was to the USSR: a rubber stamp validating the choice of the ruling clique. Or, to be less smarmy, it's a pain in the ass to vote twice; we've just shortened the process 'round here.
Honestly, four weeks to go before the general election and I have heard next to nothing with regards to local politics. Zero. Zilch. Nadda. Nothing. And this is from a guy who has his fingers on the pulse of the guy who has his fingers on the pulse of Pittsburgh. You would have thought that I would have heard... ya know... SOMETHING ALREADY.
I've seen a few O'Connor signs up on lawns, true, but they've pretty much been up since February. One guy down the street from me had posted a Weinroth sign, which I believe was eventually stolen... not for malice, but for novelty. The Santorum/Casey race is generating more interest... and that's still a year away... and half of that race isn't even officially nominated yet.
Really, the public visibility has been exceptionally low for the Pittsburgh Mayoral race. I'd heard that Bobby O had agreed to several debates with a cup of coffee, but they were poorly attended by the general public. Joe Weinroth had a compelling engagement with a ham salad sandwich, which ended with a two hour bout of intestinal hemorrhaging, or something. And the other candidates... let's call them "Steve" and "Phil", for I refuse to waste my time finding out if anyone else is actually running... lost their debates with an ATM and the MoviePhone guy, respectively.
Bob's been taking a very laid back approach to this part of the campaign... any more laid back and it might be mistaken for a mural. Part of it, of course, is that he, officially, does not want to seem presumptuous. Pittsburgh does not like presumptuousness (Plaxico, who?). The other part, I feel, is that Bob really isn't quite sure what he wants to be doing when he gets into the mayor's office; better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open ones mouth and lose an election.
This general election may surprise all of us curmudgeons out there, but I doubt it. My money, as well as most of the money out there, is still on O'Connor, and, short of coming out in favor of infanticide or female circumcision, I think Bob has it in the bag.
Shall we start talking about the May 2009 primary yet?
Friday, October 14, 2005
The recent lack of postings can be attributed to my death.
Or, more specifically, what has felt like my death.
Whatever sickness has been going around, I got it, and it has kept me in bed with the covers around my head, hopped up on cold medication, and out of commission for the last five days. It has only been within the last day that I have felt coherrant enough to post anything intelligible... if this rambling post could, in fact, be considered intelligible.
Unfortunately, because of this here internet, I was still "available" to do work, even from home. And because the Bureaucracy doesn't function anymore without me, I was on call between fits of sneezing and coughing.
My tax dollars at work.
Anyway, the sweet smell of Vixx Vapo-rub is calling me.
We'll pick this up Monday once the Ny-Quil enduced halucinations stop... until then, Abe Vigoda and I are flying to Des Moines on a giant moth.
Posted by O at 7:45 PM
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Monday, October 10, 2005
Friday, October 07, 2005
I was perusing the "Laurels and Lances" column of the Trib today, when I came across this:
An observation: Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy has agreed to donate the papers of his administration -- 12 years' worth -- to the Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. Says David Halaas, the center's director of library and archives: "It would be a boon to scholars and people who want a better understanding of their government." Actually, the papers should serve as a textbook for how not to run a government.After I got past the final snarky comment, it got me to thinking, what would I, the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat, have in my morass of an office to donate to the Heinz History Center to give future generations a better understanding of The Bureaucracy?
So I threw open my files and drawers to see what was there:
- One Coffee Mug, stained;
- Dozens of Pay stubs;
- "Request for Leave" forms;
- A screed for Richard Florida from the Pittsburgh City Paper;
- A screed against Richard Florida from the Pittsburgh City Paper;
- Wet naps;
- A bowl;
- One plastic spoon;
- Two plastic forks;
- Seven plastic knives;
- One Hundred Twenty-Three Business Cards;
- A package of transparent sleeves to hold One-Hundred Twenty-Three Business Cards that don't quite fit in the Rolodex.
- One packet of "Hot" Sauce;
- A half-empty bag of cough drops;
- One Scathing Letter to Authority X, terminating a Business Relationship;
- One complementary personalized calculator with "Pittsburgh" spelled wrong;
- One coffee mug warmer (banned);
- 1000 paperclips, in a chain;
The actual files themselves are pretty arcane, and consist mostly of invoices and well worded and finely crafted directives telling people to "get bent." The telephone & complaint log would be an interesting addition, if you care to know I was called a g*d*mn motherf*cker by an irate Mrs. S, on January 13, 2003 at 10:34 AM, 11:47 AM, and 3:12 PM, and then again on January 14, 2003 at 8:15 AM.
Not much to start a library, but I'm hoping to add the World's Largest Rubberband (Gumband) ball, which will, no doubt, be the start attraction. I may have to apply for a grant.
The position of curator is open and I am accepting applications.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
A new survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit assessing the "liveability" of 127 cities worldwide has found Vancouver to be the most attractive destination. The survey shows cities in Canada, Australia, Austria and Switzerland as the most ideal destinations thanks to a widespread availability of goods and services, low personal risk and an effective infrastructure.Shit, there goes my rant for today; all is now sunshine and lollypops.
Although higher crime rates and a greater threat of terror puts US cities below those of Canada, US cities are still among the world's most liveable. Cleveland and Pittsburgh are the joint best scoring cities in the United States (7%), in joint 26th place in the global ranking. A lack of availability of recreational activities and certain infrastructural shortfalls put Lexington as the least liveable US city surveyed, in 56th place-although its rating of 13% is still low.
The Economist Intelligence Unit's liveability ranking is an expansion on the methodology of previous "Hardship" surveys that have been published. In addition to the factors that were previously attributed to specifically causing hardship a number of other factors have been included to give a more rounded impression of how liveable a city is.
The survey takes over 40 factors into consideration which are weighted across five different categories: Stability; Healthcare; Culture & Environment; Education; and Infrastructure. Across the survey a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data are used, which are combined to give an overall Quality of Life Index rating. Each indicator is given a rating of between one and five, where one means there is no impact and five means the factor is extremely challenging. These are then weighted to produce an index, where 0% means the a city is exceptional and 100% means it is intolerable.
Still, waiting to hear about the criteria, though... bet it doesn't measure Custard Consumption.
More as this breaking news... um... breaks.
UPDATE: Via Amos the Poker Cat: The National Business Review.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
And we go 'round again:
Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato today announced that he was discarding his second attempt to create new assessed values for next year and is instead asking County Council to reuse values from 2002.Ugh.
That year, when the county conducted its last reassessment, would serve as a "base year," echoing a practice used by many nearby counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania that haven't conducted full reassessments in decades.
"The uncertainty in the process will be removed," Mr. Onorato said alongside five of council's eight Democrats at an afternoon news conference, just two hours before council was scheduled to vote on a plan that would have led to a countywide average increase of 5.8 percent for residential properties.
The worst thing about this whole debacle is that those of you who are buying/have just bought houses in Allegheny County currently have NO IDEA WHAT YOUR REAL ESTATE TAXES ARE! It's terrific for those of you that are wrapping up those taxes into their mortgage payments... well, unless you are expecting your mortgage company to actually pay the taxes in the correct amount.
So you don't know your assessment...
So you don't don't what your taxes are going to be...
So your tax payments may be off (if you're having your mortgage company pay them)...
So you may find yourself on the wrong side of a Treasurer's Sale or a Sherrif's Sale for non-payment of taxes.
Certainly removes the uncertainty for me, Danny Boy... can we just get on with it?
Posted by O at 9:00 PM
Monday, October 03, 2005
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Fester has been going on about the housing bubble for some time now. The underlying premise from Mr. F. seems to be, to borrow an old saying from my people, "We is all gonna die."
Well, maybe that's just paraphrasing on my part.
Mr. F. is concerned, it seems, on the consumer side, tracking things like sales, availablity, ARMs, etc. All of the analyses he presents make me need to change my undies at least a few times. Both of us, it appears, are in agreement that there is a bubble and it will burst soon.
I've recently been tackling the producer side of the equation, and would like, if I may, to pull the Producer Price Indices from the BLS for various housing materials over the last few quarters. I've chosen plywood, structural metals, and concrete for my basic materials, as each are fundamental to modern housing construction and should be indicative of general housing costs. Basic premise: increase cost of materials mean an increase in the cost of new housing; an increase faster than the rate of inflation is bad. The results make me a little nervous.
Cement & Concrete
Architectural and Structural Metals
There's a clear trend upwards in Cement & Metals, but Plywood varies as much as 12.69%. This does not take into consideration, however, the recent Hurricanes and the effect of reconstruction.
From December 2003 to August 05 (est.) the PPI for Plywood decreased .6%; Architectural and Structural Metals increased 17.7%; Cement and Concrete Increased 16.30%. Meanwhile, the CPI increased 6.57%.
So the $64,000 question: will the cost of production drive housing costs up too high for consumers to actually buy, or, will consumers try to bend over backwards for housing they can't afford?
We shall see.
Posted by O at 8:59 PM