Monday, June 30, 2008

What The Fuck?

In the flurry of activity I had over the weekend, I missed this story, which can be pieced together from the P-G and the Trib:

An off-duty Pittsburgh police officer was arrested and suspended from the force yesterday after investigators say he assaulted a man in the head with his service weapon and wounded the individual in the hand as the gun discharged...

Paul Abel, 34, an eight-year police veteran stationed in the city's Zone 3 police station, is charged with aggravated assault and two counts of driving under the influence. Abel is accused of assaulting Kaleb Michael Miller, 20, of Sidney Street. Miller was shot in the right hand and was treated at UPMC Mercy hospital, Uptown... The assault occurred at the intersection of Sidney and South 20th streets in the South Side at 2:11 a.m., according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by police to support the criminal charges...

Chief Harper said the officer and his wife were patrons at the Town Tavern earlier and had driven away in their car when it was approached at a stop light by two unknown men. The officer apparently rolled down his window and for reasons unknown, one of the men punched him, the chief said...

A witness, William Detweiler, whose address was not given, told investigators he was at the corner of South 20th and Carson streets when he saw two men at the window of Abel's silver Jetta. They appeared to be arguing, according to the affidavit. Abel was trying to open his door when a black male pushed it shut. After the officer rolled down his window, a white man started to punch Abel in the face, police said...

The two men fled. Abel got out of his car, opened the hatch and pulled out his service revolver, Harper said.

He tried to follow the two men, but returned to his car. As Abel drove away, Detweiler heard him use an obscenity and say he would "get" someone, the affidavit stated.

At the corner of South 20th and Sidney Streets, Detweiler saw Abel get out of his car and wave his gun in the face of Miller, who was not involved in the earlier altercation, the affidavit states. Miller stood with his hands in the air as Abel told him to get to the ground, hitting Miller in the head several times with the butt of his gun, the affidavit states...

The pedestrian's clothing description did not match that of the men who earlier approached the car, and police were investigating why he was singled out.

"The gentleman who was in the physical altercation [with the officer] is an innocent victim as far as we can tell," Chief Harper said. "He was just walking."

After the shooting, Abel was taken to police headquarters, where, to those questioning him, he appeared to be intoxicated, police said. His blood-alcohol reading was 0.111 percent, police said. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.

Officer Abel is from a family of policemen. His father, Paul Abel Sr., is a sergeant with the Scott Police Department, and his brother, Matthew, is a fellow member of the Pittsburgh force.

The two brothers were among officers who were involved in the violent arrest of a man at a birthday party in Mount Oliver in 2002.

The man, Charles Dixon, 43, of Altoona, died of positional asphyxia Dec. 23, 2002, two days after several officers had pinned him face down to the floor. Mr. Dixon's family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit, which was settled with Mount Oliver in 2003...

Last year, Abel and his brother-in-law were involved in a fight inside the Allegheny County Courthouse. The men were waiting to testify in a trial involving an assault on Abel's wife. The brother-in-law, Muhamid Thorton, known as Desmond Thornton, of Carrick was convicted of disorderly conduct.

HOLY SHIT! Basically, what these articles tell me is that had I been wandering around the South Side at 2 AM, as I am wont to do, I could have been jacked up by a drunk, off duty police officer. I have enough to worry about: "where's my credit card," "where did I park," "didn't I come here with another person?" I want to be worried that supposed officers of the law are going to ambush me, pistol whip me, and shoot me in the hand for no fucking reason.

But I need to ask what's going on in Abel's head?

Dammit! I lost the guy that assaulted me. Well, I might as well beat up this guy instead since he's here.

That's just messed up. I mean, honestly. What. The. Fuck?

Obama: "I will never question others' patriotism"

John McCain responds: "That's just the kind of thing a godless, commie-terrorist Moslem would say.

Hording Quarters

Everything you ever wanted to know about how not to finance a casino (but were forced by the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission to find out).

First the good news (if you wanted to see a casino built in Pittsburgh):

Mr. Barden's spokesman, Bob Oltmanns, said this afternoon that a private investment firm headed by Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm has committed to provide $120 million in equity for the project.
But then the bad news (if you wanted to see a casino built in Pittsburgh):
Mr. Barden has been looking for a total of $780 million, however, to cover the casino project's full costs... Mr. Barden has been unable to pay his contractors at least $10 million for work done since March. Mr. Barden met with them today, and they decided to suspend work while awaiting payment, Mr. Oltmanns said.
Now, I don't know much about construction (I doubt that I could tell an I-beam from reinforced concrete or a rivet from a flange), but I do know two things. First, never piss off anyone with power tools. Second, never ever piss off anyone that has access to a backhoe or a bulldozer.

Not to be nervous or anything, but the suspension of construction activities (which the story spins as a mutual "decision," rather than an attempt to preempt a walkout) seems to be an attempt for Barden to run away just out of firing range so he can apologize from a nice, safe distance. Given the condition and volatility of the markets, I find it hard to believe that two weeks will make any major difference in the search for permanent financing.

Of course, I'm probably wrong about that. If I really knew anything about high casino financing, I wouldn't be working for the government, would I?

Perhaps, in order to alleviate this problem, Don Barden should erect a temporary slots parlour. It would be a big hole in the ground into which everyone would throw their quarters and other loose change. I can only imagine that the expected payoff to the gaming customers would be slightly worse than the full blown slots parlour.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Business Casual Friday

I grew up listening to FM & AM and Class Clown on the original vinyl, both of which are sadly not available on YouTube. Such is the nature of progress.

So, enjoy this routine by the late George Carlin instead:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

City Council Review Surveillance Laws

Luke Ravenstahl no longer allowed to watch you poop.

Sugar Sugar

Because I'm fundamentally odd, I found this news story of particular interest:

In an ambitious maneuver to help restore the Everglades, the state of Florida has struck a tentative deal to buy U.S. Sugar Corp. for $1.75 billion and turn many of its 187,000 acres of farmland into reservoirs...

Under the deal, which still has to be negotiated, the South Florida Water Management District, an independent state agency with its own taxing authority, will make the purchase in part with property taxes earmarked for Everglades restoration. Some company assets could be sold to other sugar companies, leaving some cane fields and orange groves still under cultivation. Because the U.S. Sugar holdings are scattered, the state will try to swap land with other sugar cane companies to create a single corridor for water to flow into the reservoirs and on to the Everglades...

U.S. Sugar is based in Clewiston, "America's sweetest town," on the west bank of Lake Okeechobee... Today it employs 1,700 people and produces 700,000 tons of cane sugar annually...
Now those of you that know me know two things: (1) I kinda want to see most of Florida sink into the see and (2) I think that the U.S. Sugar Industry is ridiculously subsidized. From the Cato Institute:
Nowhere is there a larger gap between the U.S. government's free-trade rhetoric and its protectionist practices than in the sugar program. Through preferential loan agreements and tariff-rate quotas, the U.S. government thwarts price competition to maintain an artificially high domestic price for sugar--a price that can be twice the world market price or higher.

The program benefits a small number of sugar producers, but virtually every governmental and non-governmental survey concludes that the program results in a net loss of welfare for the U.S. economy, with U.S. consumers suffering the most. Direct costs to consumers due to higher prices could be as much as $1.9 billion a year and the net welfare loss to the U.S. economy nearly $1 billion. Moreover, the U.S. government spends close to $1.68 billion a year buying and storing excess sugar to maintain those artificially high domestic prices.
Long story short: the US artificially inflates the value of its sugar (and suppresses foreign sugar) to turn a profit for the US Sugar Industry.

Now, with U.S. Sugar Corp getting out of the business, one must wonder if these means that these kinds of trade protectionist policies will also close up shop due to decreased domestic supply. My guess is not in the short run, but with the price of corn and corn syrup on the rise, we may see an increase in the price of sugar to counterbalance the effects of the protectionist policies.

Still, Count Chocoula and the Trix Rabbit have powerful friends, so I'm betting that anyone who tries to threaten Big Sugar will just find themselves in a vat of molasses somewhere in the East River.

Sweet dreams!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Local Icon Admits Steroid Use

Pittsburghers were stunned today when it was revealed that a local icon admitted to past steroid use.

In an interview with Playboy magazine, former mayor Sophie Masloff (90) said that she was ashamed of the past drug use, but it was the only way to deal with Michelle Madoff and Eugene "Jeep" DePasquale.

"I mean, at first [former Deputy Mayor Joseph Sabino] Mistick said that the shots were medication for my lumbago, but eventually it got to the point where I was taking the stuff every other day. Once before a particularly intense council meeting Joe injected 40 ccs of human growth hormones right into my buttocks. I... I nearly ripped Jake Millones' trachea out during that meeting for looking at me funny."

Today, the effects of prolonged steroid use are obvious: the loss of short term memory, the high pitched voice, calling Bruce Springsteen "Bruce Springbed", and the loss of short term memory.

Former Mayor Tom Murphy says he's not surprised:

"Back in '93 she ran a hell of a campaign, better than a woman half her age. Tom [Cox] and I were surprised by her vigor, and the fact that she ripped a parking meter and nearly clubbed Sal Sirabela to death."

Mayor Masloff regrets her past steroid use, but does not regret her term in office.

"People like to see exciting politics. That's what we gave them. Just because we went a little gray doesn't mean that we were any less of an administration."

Former Senator George Mitchell has been appointed to head a commission investigating the use of performance enhancing drugs in Pittsburgh Politics. The Mitchell investigation will continue as soon as the commission discovers evidence of enhanced performance in City Government.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Vice President Edward G. Rendell?

Buzz Bissinger makes the case for a Vice-Presidential candidate from Pennsylvania:

There are a number of conventional reasons for Barack Obama to consider Mr. Rendell, who is now serving his second term as governor of Pennsylvania, as his running mate this fall. In the same indefatigable fashion that Mr. Rendell delivered a nine-point win for Hillary Clinton in the April Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, he could deliver this crucial swing state to Mr. Obama come November. Mr. Rendell is popular statewide, and, more important in a presidential election, he continues to maintain Herculean strength in the suburbs surrounding Philadelphia, a traditional Republican stronghold that John McCain must do well in to have any chance of gaining the state...

It's his very unconventionality that makes him such an intriguing choice.

Craving some pizzazz to counter the watch-your-back mentality that has become Washington politics? Pick Rendell.

Want passion, candor, off-the-cuff gems, moments of keen insight? Pick Rendell.

It's true that his one real foray into national politics, as Democratic National Committee chair under Al Gore when Mr. Gore was running for president, ended up in what some would say was excommunication because of a tendency to speak out of turn. But that's what makes Mr. Rendell arguably the most refreshing politician in the country...
While Mr. Bissinger may make a convincing argument, It is my belief that Gov. Rendell will not be the Vice-Presidential candidate. As my proof, I present the following 1,000 words:

However, I wouldn't be surprised if you see Ed Rendell as, say, Secretary of Energy sometime after January 2011.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Business Casual Midsummer

To all my Wiccan friends: enjoy the extra sunlight, the Warner Brothers, their Sister Dot, and the Bard:

And now remember that the days only get shorter from here on in.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Schenley pt Deux

And then there was this proposal from Councilman Otis "Am-I-Really-On-The-Stadium-Authority-Or-Not-Or-Should-I-Go-To-Norway?" from Mayberry to use the proceeds from selling off Reizenstein Middle School and using the the proceeds/taxes to fix Schenley, which isn't all it's really cracked up to be:

Back of the envelope:
$37.9 Million in taxes over 20 yrs works out to be about $1.895 million/year. Assuming the School District doesn't raise it's millage rate (13.92), that would logically be about $13.6 million in, apparently, housing sale on the Reizenstein site. As of 2000, over half of the structures in that census tract are valued at between $150,000 and $300,000, so I'm going to assume that everything that's built on the Reizenstein site will be worth $200,000 to be safe, which works out to be about 68 houses.

For comparison purposes Summerset at Frick Park is supposed to have 710 houses/condos/townhouses.

What this doesn't take into consideration is the construction of public roads, utilities, infrastructure, etc. and the cost to other City/County/State departments to provide these items.

And, of course, is this $37.9 million the aggregate amount of yearly payments over 20 years or is in the present value of those series of payments. I'm guessing aggregate value, so I figure that the real value of the series of tax payments is closer to $24 million (at a 5% discount rate) than $37.9 million.

Let us not forget that this all apparently assumes full collection of taxes for 20 years and that contractors have given Billy P. accurate numbers... because no contractor has ever low balled an estimate, ever.

But that's just me, my envelope, and about a six pack of Tröegs talking.

My Schenley Answer

In re: this post from Monsieur Briem.

The long term problem that exists for Schenley HS is summarized as follows: damned if you do, damned if you don't.

The asbestos issues, as Chris points out, is there "whether you tear down Schenley or not." Indeed, there are a whole slew of people over at Air Quality Control at the Health Department that will be closely monitoring any repairs, remediations, or demolitions which occur at the site. This does not come cheap. Renovation of the building itself may be more time consuming and difficult (thereby more costly) than just throwing through a wrecking ball, but in either case its going to be cheap. [I'd said it could easily cost as much to knock the building down (without asbestos) as it would cost to remove the asbestos alone.]

Now, with that in mind, if the School District decides that it wants to sell the building, the value is as follows:

Value without asbestos - Cost of asbestos = Total Value of Schenley HS
... More or less.

Any developer who is looking to rehabilitate the structure, do a quick calculation and figure out exactly the revenue that he expects to get out of the building, what the maximum loan term mortgage he can support, and back into how much he should be willing to purchase the building for.

To give cost comparisons, the South Hills High School renovation is $20 Million... and my guess is that there was plenty of public aid to making that work. I can only assume that Schenley will be at least that much, if down privately... meaning "on the cheap."

Of course, one of the problems for the District is that the longer that Schenley sits vacant, the more likely there will be long term mothballing costs (heating, security, etc.), which will slowly eat away at the BoE's budget anyway. Indeed, let us not forget that apparently many of the problems at Schenley were self inflicted, that is, poorly thought out facilities management which caused moisture, heating, and mold problems.

Given recent fluctuations in the real estate market, there is no guarantee that either a high sales price or a low price for asbestos remediation can be maintained.

Ultimately, the BoE will probably just sell the property for $1 like it has tried to do with so many of its vacant buildings.

And, who knows, it may even suffer the glorious fate of the erstwhile Syria Mosque.

Business Casual Monday Pt. III

And even more amusement...

Business Casual Monday Pt. II

More fun:

Business Casual Monday Pt. I

I've been delinquent in trying to keep up on these things, so this is me trying to make it up to you folks:

A Short, Open Note to Client #281

Dear Snowflake,

You are neither precious, nor unique.

You are, however a cock-gargling, queef-sniffing, taint-face who's been wasting my time for the last week and a half.

Go fuck yourself.


The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Numbers, Data, and Maps Oh My!

I know what everyone in the Burghosphere is thinking: where can I get massive amounts of data without actually having to go to the Census Bureau or the BEA or, you know, do work.

Well, wonder no longer folks as the usually secretive Mayor's Office has posted a whole bunch of data for people that are interested in Police Rape or whatever.

Now, you too can be Chris Briem and create blog posts with actual facts, instead of wildly rambling opinion pieces about how the neighbors down the street are purposefully trying to steal your garbage.*

* No, not really. Mr. Briem is as they say around UCSUR, the shiznit..

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On Vetoes and Campaign Finance Reform

So the Mayor vetoed the proposed Campaign Finance legislation and Council failed to override it.  All things considered, this should be no surprise.  On one side you have Shadyside's Otis, the Guy Who Won't Shut Up, a Minister, and a Guy with Really Good Hair and on the other you have A Gas Thief, a Ditch Digger, Waldo, a Chainsmoker, and Opie.

Something tells me that it's the latter group that is most interested in higher office and would be the most hurt in State races by the proposed legislation.  Indeed, it seems a long shot that Opie is going to retire as Mayor of Pittsburgh, so he's obviously going to need some sort of career after Grant Street, whether that's courier service accounts manager, Public Works Employee, State Senator or any career that doesn't involve him being eligible for parole in 5-10 years.*

So, it stands to reason that Messrs Opie, Thief, Digger and Mmes Waldo and Chainsmoker are going to be running for other, higher offices in the near term and don't want to mess with the rules just yet.  [Mr. Digger is obviously running already... as he has already proven his leaderhip abilities.]

As for the other cohort, well, perhaps they haven't though that far ahead. 

* "Felon" seems to be a very popular retirement plan amongst many of our local elected officials.     

Monday, June 09, 2008

Egoistic U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agents Restock Allegheny with Mussels

Critics call the plan "shellfish".

Public Housing & Garfield

The Post-Gazette has an article about the rebuilding of the Garfield Public Housing in today's edition. Here are the nuts and bolts:

When the reconstruction effort was announced in April 2006, it was billed as a $60 million project involving 265 homes that would meld seamlessly into the rest of the neighborhood. The local public investment in the 90-unit first phase, to include 20 market-rate apartments, was put at $10 million.

Not included then: the cost of preparing the site and building roads and sewers. Not anticipated: a market downturn that reduced the value of federal tax credits backing the project.

Now the local public investment in the first phase is expected to be $17.4 million, and the authority may make another $3 million loan to KBK...

Housing Authority Executive Director A. Fulton Meachem Jr. said Friday that he knew a year ago that he had yet to identify $4.1 million needed for roads and sewers. He was holding off on committing his agency's money while he sought state funds...

The gap was filled when [Former HACP Chairman Pat] Ford got a $2 million commitment from the Water Authority and the Housing Authority put in $2.1 million.
And so on.

Dawdling over the Pat Ford scandal once again, Rich Lord doesn't get to, what is in my mind, the big issue until the last few paragraphs:
Some in the community, though, are wondering whether the final product will truly mesh with the rest of Garfield, or remain isolated, allowing it to revert to its troubled form. An older plan involved abandoning some land near the highest part of Garfield Heights and instead building lower down, right into the street grid that runs north of Penn Avenue. That option seems to be off the table.
Indeed, if you look at so much of Pittsburgh's Public and Low Income housing, very little of it is in places that you can get to easily: Addison Terrace, Bedford Dwellings, Arlington Heights, St. Clair Village, Fairywood, Garfield Heights, etc. are all set away from the rest of the communities and, more importantly, without easy access to amenities, necessities, and jobs. Indeed, if you want to get anywhere in these communities, you'll either have to take a long walk, take several buses, a jitney, or drive. None of these options seem sustainable for people that are, by definition, on a low and fixed income. One would have thought that, if HACP was thinking this all the way through, they would have strategically disbursed their public and low income housing throughout the communities or at least provide them with reasonable access to transportation.

I mean, the goal is to get people OUT of public housing and into private housing eventually, right? Right??

Of course, the reason why they didn't is obvious: the Housing Authority had a problem, they had a place that they owned, and they had a budget (and God help them if they deviated from that budget!). It was a short term solution to a long term problem.

It would seem that, as the middle class struggles with $4/gallon gasoline, planners in the Housing Authority should have considered that the costs of transit and access would be equally (if not more) burdensome to the working and lower classes.

But, hey, I'm sure that they'll enjoy replacing Garfield Heights in another 50 years.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

I'm All For Intermodal Transit, but *What*?

Saw this in the Trib:

The Allegheny County Airport Authority board Friday approved opening up Pittsburgh International Airport to a Montour Trail extension.

The trail will be extended six miles from Enlow Road in Imperial to the airside terminal, allowing cycling enthusiasts who want to fly in or out of Pittsburgh direct access to the trail.
And I can't help but think that this is the silliest transit oriented decision made in the region since they built the Port-Authority parking garage next to the free lot down at South Hills Village.

There are a couple of things that I can't figure out here:

(1) Who exactly are they expecting to bike all the way to the airport, lock up their bike, and get on a plane? Are these bikers that have already contacted Hertz for a rent-a-bike in Philadelphia or Cleveland? Surely, these aren't travelers that are going on an extended stay, otherwise they'd have luggage and, as they were traveling down the trail, would look something like this:
And if you thought sitting next to the fat guy on the plane was bad, just think about how bad its going to be sitting next to the sweaty guy who just biked in from Coraopolis.

(2) OK, perhaps the trail extension isn't for travelers. Perhaps it's for the Saturday leisure bikers who think "Gee, you know what would be a great way to spend the Weekend? Biking six miles to the airport and getting frisked by the TSA. That way the bicycle seats won't be what's hurting your ass on the way back!" Yeah, that's fun!*

It sounds like someone at the Airport Authority had a bunch of money to blow through and decided that the best way to spend it without getting fired for gross incompetence was to blow it on some funky, urban amenity that no one is really going to use.

If that was the case, they should have just put up a vegetarian coffee house and poetry reading corner in the middle of the runway.

* My guess is that anyone who uses this trail will be immediately put on the No-Fly list by the TSA, because, seriously, anyone who thinks this is a good idea is obviously mentally deranged and, therefore, is a treat to our national security.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Cheney Apologizes for Inbreeding Joke

Claims he didn't even know that George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush (nee Pierce) were related.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Rule #31

Without further comment:*

Rule #31: Data, technology, and automatic processes can never completely supplant human interaction.

* And with the further comment, yes, I recognize the irony, thankyouverymuch.

Ickes Named to Mathematics Chair

Cambridge, MA (AP) - Former Clinton Chief of Staff and current Hillary Clinton supporter Harold Ickes has been named to the prestigious Mittag-Leffler Mathematics Chair at Harvard University for his recent work on the practical application of recipriversexclusonary numbers.

In a press release, Mr. Ickes said that he is pleased with the appointment and would use the position to break down the barriers between rational and imaginary numbers.

Professors at Harvard University, in their letter of appointment, noted Mr. Ickes' proof at the recent DNC Rules Committee meeting that 175 was greater than 600,000 and that 12,217,745 was greater than 12,891,604 for certain large values of 12,217,745. Mr. Ickes later went on to prove that Ms. Clinton has an infinite number of votes and should, therefore, be accorded the Democratic nomination.*

Professor Noam Elkies called Mr. Ickes appointment a "new chapter in the world of mathematics."

Recipriversexclusonary mathematics were first pioneered by theoretical mathematician Douglas Adams in his book Life, the Universe, and Everything as a "number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself."

Just as Albert Einstein's general relativity theory observed that space was not an absolute but depended on the observer's movement in time, and that time was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement in space, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute...
The appointment has been seen in academic circles as exculpation for the firing of another Clinton aide Lawrence Summners as University President after he argued that women are just "no good at math."

* Given that Clinton has won 13,403,104 in popular vote (including Michigan and Florida), which is an even number, and given that the votes themselves were awarded oddly, and given that the only "number" that can be both odd and even is infinity, Clinton must, therefore, have an infinite number of votes. Q.E.D.