So, now that you have your new assessment in hand, there are several things that you can do to help lower you property tax liability for 2012. No, I'm not talking about appealing your assessment or making sure that you're signed up for all the appropriate tax exemptions and abatements that the City and County have to offer. I'm talking about real, tangible ways to lower your taxes. For example:
(1) Burn down your house. Because of the way that the City, County & School District structure their taxes, the value of your property is greatly influenced by the value of any structure that sits there upon. So, if you have a building worth $80,000 and land worth $20,000, the combined value of the property is $100,000 and your taxes are $2,941. Now, let's say that somehow you don't have a building anymore. Well, then your taxes would rest solely on the value of the land ($20,000) and be only $588.20. The savings of $2,352.80 are well worth the initial investment of a few gallons of gasoline and a packet of matches. (Note: Most insurance agencies, fire departments, and neighbors generally frown upon arson so do your homework first.)
(2) Vandalism. If arson doesn't sit well with your insurance company, vandalism is also a good way to help drive down your property value. While you'll never be able to zero out the value of your structure, allowing a few windows to go broken, a porch to sag, or trash to be strewn upon your front lawn will be more than enough to reduce its value to a negligible level. If you're lucky, you can get the neighborhood children to help you by throwing rocks at your house or spray painting graffiti on your front door. Moreover, by decreasing the value of your property, you help to decrease the value of your neighbors' properties, allowing them to decrease their tax liability as well.
(3) Become a violent crime king pin. Any realtor will tell you that the three secrets to real estate are location, location, location, but those three secrets also play a part in your property assessments. Highly valued locations are, unsurprisingly, generators of higher tax revenues; lower valued locations are the reverse. So, if you want to lower your assessment, try making your surrounding neighborhood, what the Realtor's Association technically calls, a "shit hole." The easiest way to do this is to become a violent crime king pin, committing all types of violent and property crimes in your area from murder to loitering and everything in between. This will drive down the livability of your neighborhood thereby lowering the value of your location, which in turn will lower the amount of taxes you must pay.
(4) Leave your Christmas lights up year round. This is similar to point #3, only much more drastic and egregious. No one really wants to live next to "those" neighbors.
(5) Hire disreputable contractors. According to City code, when you do any improvements to a property you're supposed to let the Bureau of Building Inspection know what you're planning so that they can issue the appropriate permits. As a side effect, these permits also flag the County Assessor's office so they know that you're making repairs or improvements to your little hovel. As soon as they see that your contractor is done making improvements to your house, an assessor goes out and *BAM* hits you with a reassessment. But, let's assume that you use a contractor that's less than reputable... say one that doesn't have -- let's say -- "time" for all that -- let's say -- "paperwork". Now, what the County assessor's office doesn't know, isn't going to hurt you. Sure, you may have a botched wiring job from an uncertified electrician or your new toilet may now be leaking on your media room, but the point is that you'll be screwing over the City, County, and School District for literally hundreds of dollars.
(6) Become a multinational corporation. Since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, becoming a multinational conglomerate has become easier and easier. A clever homeowner will be able to use his new found status and capital to twist some arms down on Grant Street and procure political favors, tax incentives, and other favorable conditions to help you eliminate your tax liability entirely. Now, as a job creator bringing untold (read: "unsubstantiated") investment to the region, you will be hailed as a captain of industry and a keystone of Pittsburgh's economic success.
(7) Organize as a tax exempt non-profit. This is only slightly less evil than point #6, unless your organization's stated goal is to kick puppies or provide health care.
(8) Become a municipality. Similar to #6 & #7, when you consider all the cities, boroughs, towns, Authorities, School Districts, and other government related organizations, there are currently something like 84 billion "municipal entities" in Allegheny County alone, each with swaths of tax exempt properties on the rolls. People aren't going to notice if there are a couple more. You just need a friend or two at the State Legislature (I'd recommend an Orie) to write some enabling legislation for you and you're all set to form your own little town. This exact strategy worked very well for Pennsbury Village.
(9) Convert to "virtual" properties. I'm not all that familiar with Facespace, Mybook, Friendster or any of those social media, interactive thingamadoodles, but I understand that there are places you can go where you can "farm" "land" and "raise" "crops" and do a bunch of "things" that you would do with ordinary real property. This virtual world is unreachable by the Allegheny County Real Estate Department and Department of Property Assessment, so, if you have the opportunity, sell everything, convert yourself into tiny pixels and live on a virtual farm... until the man from the virtual bank forecloses on you and you have to move out to California with the iJoads.
(10) Buy a houseboat/RV. The tax man can't tax what they can't chase down.
So, there's some suggestions. I'm sure the less ambitious among you will just hitch up your pants and pay the extra tax, but then you're probably the stupid ones.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
So, now that you have your new assessment in hand, there are several things that you can do to help lower you property tax liability for 2012. No, I'm not talking about appealing your assessment or making sure that you're signed up for all the appropriate tax exemptions and abatements that the City and County have to offer. I'm talking about real, tangible ways to lower your taxes. For example:
If you're like me, you're 5' 11", named "Steve", live in the city and received a notice of Property Reassessment from Allegheny County as a belated Christmas present this week. (Frankly, I would have much rather received the three French Hens or the eight maids a-milking, but the County's on a shoe string budget, so I won't begrudge them for that.) If you're even more like me, you opened up your assessment and noticed two things: (1) that you now the proud owner of the Taj Mahal (or at least close enough for tax assessment purposes) and (2) the County is in absolutely no way responsible for this *COURT MANDATED* reassessment.
Indeed, if you don't have him on your junk mail list already, you probably also recently got a letter from Hizzoner Luke Ravenstahl informing you that he had nothing to do with the reassessments, so don't blame him when your taxes go up and he is forced by the Courts to roll around naked in the resultant piles of windfall cash. I'm sure that Luke is just sobbing himself to sleep every night with the thought that his short term budget problems are temporarily relieved.
Even more not to blame are the folks like Dan Onorato who fought so hard to keep assessments from incrementally ticking up so that one day in the future when he was out of office, the whole damned thing would blow up in everyone elses' faces. (Note to Highmark: make sure that any golden parachutes handed to Danny Boy are long term pay outs.) But you know, hey: at least they can say that they never raised property taxes.
Even even more not to blame are all the people that paid $X for houses who are now shocked and appalled that the County believes that their homes are actually valued at $X like their deed transfer tax said they were. Where does the county get the nerve to trust that the amount that a buyer is freely willing to pay for a good is actually indicative of its value? Are we in some sort of Communist dictatorship where market value is determined by some all controlling "invisible hand"?
The message here is clear: please ignore all economic and political realities and just be outraged.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Editor's Note: We don't usually do this, but our friend and sometimes colleague The Passive Aggressive Paperpusher had some things to say and offers up this post. Enjoy:
This Wall Street Journal article from last summer gives a quick overview of the Greater Pittsburgh medical insurance and medical provider markets.
newly combined Highmark-West Penn will face off against... UPMC. The prestigious $8 billion,19-hospital network employs 2,881 doctors and has about 56% of the inpatient market share in Allegheny County...On the provider side, there is the UPMC gorilla, the Allegheny General dog, and then numerous independent or small chains of community hospitals (Heritage Valley, Excela Health.) The payor/insurance side is dominated by Highmark. UPMC runs an insurance company but its definately a secondary business interest for UPMC as the true money maker is the medical/hospital side of the non-profit. Aetna, United Healthcare and Cigna also compete in the commercial group medical market.
UPMC, which is the region's biggest provider. Highmark has reserves of $3.71 billion and market share of more than 50% in western Pennsylvania...
That is the overview of the two interrelated healthcare markets in Western Pennsylvania. Each side is dominated by a single large player, and those players each have a sideline business that is on the other gorilla's turf. The silverbacks have been beating their chests and bleating for the past six months until political pressure forced a one year cooling off period earlier this week.
So why did this happen, and why will the 2013 contract negoatiations be just as nasty.
CASH money homey.
Let me back up and go back to grad school for a moment. The two markets are highly consolidated, the GINI co-efficients are relatively high. Now what is a GINI coefficient?
The Gini coefficient (or Gini ratio) is a summary statistic of the Lorenz curve and a measure of inequality in a population.Gini co-efficients are a quick glance way of measuring market power and consolidation. The higher the Gini co-effcient, the more concentrated an industrial sector, and the more the largest players in that market sector can be price makers instead of price-takers. Price-taking behavior is the underlying assumption of Econ 101 market competition as it assumes no one producer or buyer is big enough to move a market. That is not the case in Western Pennsylvania healthcare.
The Gini coefficient ranges from a minimum value of zero, when all individuals are equal, to a theoretical maximum of one in an infinite population in which every individual except one has a size of zero.
In an interrelated set of markets like medical provision and medical paying, an interesting exercise is to compare the Gini co-efficients between the sectors. This produces an outcome grid like the one below:
Currently the Western Pennsylvania health markets are stuck in the top left hand corner --- two gorillas both attempting to apply market pressure against the other to capture as much consumer surplus as possible. Each gorilla would like to move the situation to a High-Low combination and capture much more consumer surplus. The Econ 101 solution space is the bottom right hand corner where the consumer (us) is not getting royally shafted.
UPMC's strategic goal is to fracture the insurance market so that it, as the dominant provider, does not have to deal with a countervailing payor organization that can take its 3 million members and go home. Closing out access to most UPMC hospitals would force Highmark consumers and more importantly, their HR departments to begin to look elsewhere. The UPMC play was never intended to wipe-out Highmark, just defenestrate it. The was combined with new contracts signed with national insurance carriers that gave them in-network access to UPMC hospitals. These steps would minimize market concentration in the insurance/payor market, and thus allow UPMC to maintain a long-term upper hand in all rate negoatiations.
Highmark's strategic goal is to survive as an 800 pound gorilla/dominant player. They have a tougher hand to play, for if PPACA is upheld, in 2014, the state health insurance exchanges will simplify and lower the costs of entry for new insurers to enter the Western PA market. That will naturally lower the payor Gini co-efficient and favor large, integrated providers who can hold the individually weaker insurers over a barrel.
If Allegheny General was to close, there would be no counter-vailing provider with which Highmark could credibly threaten to redirect their customers to if UPMC got too expensive. The community hospitals are too small and too general for high end/specialized care to fill that roll. Highmark will most likely seek to first rebuild AGH, and then begin to cherry pick some of the healthy community hospitals. This will allow Highmark to create one of the two highly likely vertically integrated medical care silos in Western Pennsylvania over the next decade.
So that is the basic outline of what the fight is about: it is barely about reimbursement rates.
The Passive Agressive Paperpusher is the author of several blogs and a regular contributor to The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat. Join him at 3 PM on Monday December 26 on ADB+ where he will take readers' questions.
In a non-descriptive bank building in downtown Pittsburgh, the heads of the major health insurance players and their aides hammered out an agreement for the control of drugs and other health care costs in the Western Pennsylvanian Market.
UPMC CEO Jeffrey A. Romoff thanked the Highmark CEO Kenneth R. Melani, M.D., and the heads of the other five familiar players in the negotiations: Governor Tom Corbett from Harrisburg, Rep. Randy Vulakovich from Shaler, and Rep. Dan Frankel from Squirrel Hill.
"How did things ever get so far? I don't know. It was so -- unfortunate -- so unnecessary. Melani lost patients -- and I lost patients..." said Romoff speaking to the goup. "If Melani agrees, then I'm willing to let things go on the way they were before."
Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato thanked Romoff for helping to set up this meeting, and praised Romoff for his modesty. Melani objected, however, that Romoff carried too many judges and politicians in his back pocket and refused to share them.
Romoff countered that he never refused to collaborate on shared interests with Highmark, except for one time, because "I believe that Obamacare is going to destroy us in the years to come."
He continued, "I mean, it's not like chiropractic or acupuncture -- or even mental therapy -- which is something that people want nowadays, and is mandated by HHS. Even the lobbyists that've helped us in the past with malpractice insurance restrictions and other things are going to refuse to help us when it comes to Obamacare. And I believe that then and I believe that now."
Onorato suggested that, while the times have changed from one in which Health Insurance Providers could do whatever they want, Romoff needed to share his influence in Harrisburg and Washington and that UPMC could bill Highmark for these services, adding "after all, we are not Communists."
After Corbett suggested that Health Care should be provided to those that could afford it, but not to children or African-Americans, Romoff relented and offered a wish that a peaceful solution could be found to their problems. Romoff would provide political influence in exchange for the extension of health coverage in Western PA.
Melani insisted, however, that assurances be provided that as UPMC's position become stronger, Romoff would not exact a hostile takeover at a future date.
Romoff objected to the insinuation saying that he had selfish reasons to keep to the deal: his youngest son Michael had been forced out of the health care field by false charges and it was Romoff's desire to bring him back into the fold. If, however, information were to be leaked to the Department of Health and Human Services or to the FDA, he would blame people in the room.
With that the meeting concluded, but an anonymous insider with UPMC later suggested that Romoff believed that it was Onorato behind this manufactured crisis the whole time.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
It's almost that time of year again where we forget about everything that's happened in the prior year and focus squarely on the upcoming on. So, without any further ado (except this little bit right here), here are the ADB predictions for 2012:
City & Region
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Anybody else remember the following picture?
Don't feel bad if you don't, but for maybe a week in 2002 this was kind of a big deal and the apex of the Fith/Forbes development planning. The Murphy Administration had big designs for Downtown Pittsburgh: high end retail & living accommodations anchored by big named tenants. It was going to be a "transformative" event, to use the common parlance being bandied about at 414 Grant Street today. Murphy lasted a few more years, but the Fith/Forbes Development sputtered and died because of community and political pressures.
But, if you were to ask the Mayor's Office today, they would tell you that what they're doing Downtown is absolutely, totally, utterly and completely different from what was proposed under previous mayoral administrations. So, of course, the above image is nothing like the following image:
Absolutely, totally different:
And may God help you if you even try to suggest otherwise.
Friday, December 16, 2011
As both of you who read this blog may have noticed, the number of spelling and grammatical errors have increased considerably since I came back from my extended hiatus. This is not (generally) because of my 2 bottles of wine/day habit, as one may have assumed. Instead, I have recently made the great leap in computing technology from a TRS-80 to an iPad 2.
The upgrade was mandated by my Cats, who were tired of trying to wedge themselves between my lap and the keyboard and decided that, rather than argue with me over the issue, they would work together to push the 50 pound behemoth off of my desk, causing it to shatter into a hundred thousand little bits. Also, I did want to play a version of Angry Birds that didn't involve me chucking the entire computer at a flock of birds.
So, I don't begrudge the change, but the iPad 2 is much more difficult to compose long strings of prose than the old computer. For some reason, the iPad 2 hates the letters "t", "h", and "e", so "this" becomes "his" or "is", "the" becomes "he" or "e", and "rhythm" becomes "rym". This I attribute to my disturbing monkey-like, sausage fingers and decades of learning how to touch type (at the expense of not learning how to play the piano), which has made me unable to type with fluidity on what is basically an expensive pane of glass. Sure, it's light and convenient, but I look like an awkward hipster Tyrannosaurus now.
Anywho, as noted at the bottom of the page here spelling and grammatical errors are "par for the course", so if I see them, I'll fix them, but if I don't... well, just ignore the mistak.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Hang onto your cotton candy, hot dogs, pizza, funnel cakes, and deep fried oreos, kids:
Thrill-seekers will have one more thing to scream about at Kennywood Park in 2012. The new Black Widow will swing a circle of 40 riders back and forth like a pendulum while at the same time rotating them counter clockwise. At its peak, riders will hang 146 feet off the ground -- upside down -- while moving at 68 mph.As my Grandmother used to say "OH SWEET JESUS I'M GOING TO BE SICK! HELP ME LORD OH HELP ME LORD!!"
I can only assume that this thing was design to get the maximum puke coverage over the park; whereas he Pittfall only had a hork-splash area of about 10 feet around the tower, his thing will send huey from Old Kennywood all the way to the Racer.
Seriously, I think I'm about to throw up just thinking about it.
Paging Ralph to the porcelain phone. Ralph to the White porcelain phone.
Members of the State GOP today unveiled a new restrictricting map, which seeks to redefine the concept of "Map-ness".
Flanked by prominent members of the post-modern philosophic elite, State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks called the new map "a bold deconstruction of the hermeneutical boundaries of visual language".
"When most people think of maps, they impart some sort of arbitrary meaning to the representations. Our goal here is to remove those artificial structures that we as a society impose upon ourselves in the hopes that we can truly understand what it means to be representatively governed".
The "map" itself is not a map in the tradition sense of the word, but rather large ideas, pictures, and strange symbols plastered to the side of a cow with a helmet on. The words "4th District" and "Chocolate Pudding Slide" figure prominently into the designs, which draw influences from such disparate sources as Ludwig Wiggenstein and Jacques Derrida and also eliminates Rep. Jason Altmire's district entirely.
The work was immediately denounced By State Democrats.
State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware County, blasted the shape of the 7th District, calling it "an absolute, unmitigated disgrace. I am shocked and speechless. It disregards continuity. I am shocked at what people who are drunk with power would do when given authority."
"Plus, it is totally phallic in shape, a symbol of the oppressing patriarchy of what can only be described as the cold, womb-less environment of our state government."
Classical Philosophy trained Government Officials have also denounced the map, preferring instead to leave the final decision on the shapes up to a panel of philosopher kings.
Monday, December 12, 2011
From the P-G:
The county is in line to collect $6 million by the end of this year in return for a portfolio of tax liens worth $7.2 million. The liens are claims against almost 5,000 properties for unpaid real estate taxes for the years 2008 through 2011...If I'm reading this right and doing the math correctly, we're looking at round about $1.5 billion worth of property that's tax delinquent (assuming that any multiple liens sort of even out). Even if it was a third of the value, that's still a lot of property to be tied up with a third party collections gency.
The $7.2 million in tax liens cover 4,977 properties throughout the county.
Those parcels are among more than 18,000 properties across the county on which $14.6 million is owed in back taxes and penalties for the three years. The county had sought bids for the sale of all those liens, but the offer to buy them came in at just $7.5 million. That deal would have gained the county about 52 cents for each dollar owed.
The county has used tax-lien sales to raise revenue in the past. A 2007 tax-receivable sale yielded $13.4 million from the sale of liens valued at $18 million. That represented an upfront payment of 75 cents for each dollar owed the county.
Ms Griser estimated that, based on past experience, it will take the buyer of the liens about four years to get back the $6 million initial investment.
So tax portfolio sales seems to be one of those great get rich quick schemes municipal entities try to use to balance their books riiiiight before a crisis. Of course if we learned anything from the City's Capital Assests debacle*, we remember that for a short term influx of cash, the City's hands were tied when it tried to assemble large swaths of property for redevelopment. Capital Assets literally stuffed all of these bad liens into a black hole (for you clever dog Latin fans) and held up development progress for years. As a colleague of mine once said, "It was the dumbest thing the City could have done."
Flash forward to today: even though the County taxes are a fairly minor sum when compared to other taxing bodies, in an economic downturn it seems odd that the portfolio purchaser would seem to value it so highly. Without knowing what types of property specifically were in that pool of liens, they paid $.86 on the dollar... which I would assume means that they expect to collect at least 87% of the liens. I don't know if I can say for sure if this is unreasonable or not given the national economic trends, but I get the feeling that they may be waiting a loooong time for their purchase to pay off. In the meanwhile, depending on how well their collections go, this new delinquent tax lien holder could wait it out, slowing community redevelopment until others with deep pockets come and pay them their full asking price.
If not, they can always package it as a security and create a "safe" vehicle for investors. You know... again.
**That post is almost five years to the day, by the way.
Thursday, December 08, 2011
As the second best source for local news reported, Pittsburgh City Council, mistaking itself for a group of drunken college students, today started it's end of the semester rush to finish all of it's work, in the hope of passing Introduction to LED Billboards, Public Expenditure Analysis, Environmental Sciences, and Zen and the Art of Rhetoric. In all, I think everyone is just shooting for a C+ Average.
Anyway, amidst the flurry of bills that were introduced there were a few that the P-G missed:
* A bill to require the Historic Review commission to mark the location of all the former Isaly's as a Pittsburgh way finder system.In all, it was one of the more exciting meetings.
* A bill to not go for it on 4th and Goal.
* A bill increase the minimum drink limit at Council to 4.
* A bill amending the capital budget by diverting $6,000 from Mainstreet improvement on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill to Mainstreet improvement on East Ohio Street in East Allegheny.
* A bill re-amending the capital budget by re-diverting $6,000 from Mainstreet improvement on East Ohio Street in East Allegheny to Mainstreet improvement on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
* A bill re-re-amending the capital budget by re-re-diverting $6,000 from Mainstreet improvement on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill to Mainstreet improvement on East Ohio Street in East Allegheny.
* A bill re-re-re-amending the capital budget by re-re-re-diverting $6,000 from Mainstreet improvement on East Ohio Street in East Allegheny to Mainstreet improvement on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
* A bill amending the capital budget by diverting $6,000 from Mainstreet improvement on Broadway Avenue in Beechview, $3,000 to Mainstreet improvement on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill and $3,000 to Mainstreet improvement on East Ohio Street in East Allegheny.
* A bill amending the City Charter making the Councilperson representing Beechview give the Councilpersons representing Squirrel Hill and East Allegheny a foot rub.
* A bill telling the Councilpersons representing Squirrel Hill and East Allegheny to shut the hell up.
* A bill to why don't you make me shut the hell up.
* A bill to oh, on it's on now.
* A bill to throw a right, a left hook, a right jab, to pull hair, to kick in the crotch, and to bash the Councilperson's head off the table.
* A bill to pick up the Councilman's teeth off of the Council floor.
* A bill to call the ambulance...
* A bill to make December 14 Chocolate Pudding Day in the City of Pittsburgh.
* A bill to end this list of bills.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
According to sources on the 5th Floor of the City Council Building, Mayoral Chief of Staff Yarone Zober refuses to give up an enchanted monkey paw that grants its owner five wishes.
Reports are sketchy as to where the monkey paw originally came from. Mr. Zober initially claimed that it was given to him as a birthday present by a cousin in 2006, although that claim was later proven to be false. He later claimed that he acquired the monkey pawn in a, since disappeared, Chinese market in the Strip District from an old man with a long beard.
In any case, the monkey paw apparently grants its bearer five wishes. Three are known to have been granted: (1) the July 2006 purge of B.J. Leber, Susan Malie, and Paul Leger; (2) his ascension to the position of Chief-of-Staff; and (3) the elimination of former URA Executive Director Pat Ford. Sources indicate that he may have also used a wish to assure a Ravenstahl victory in the last Mayoral campaign, although that has not yet been confirmed.
The Mayor's Office staff has been pressing Mr. Zober to use his final remaining wish wisely, perhaps to provide for additional funding to the city, to resolve outstanding Act 47 issues, or even create a giant permanent chocolate pudding slide in Beechview.
Mr. Zober, however, appears to have refused to use his final wish yet. Another source on Grant Street indicates that Mr. Zober intends to use the monkey paw to create more wish bearing monkey paws.
Local Tarot reader and expert on the occult known only as "Madame Kovarian" offered a dire warning to the City of Pittsburgh: "It is a thing of great evil and must be destroyed at all costs. And the monkey paw too".
More as this story develops.
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
I'm beginning to wonder if the 2012 Capital Budget has any money in it for plowing away the large amount of gray that seems to be accumulating this winter season.
Forty Days and Forty Nights of gray was God's original plan to destroy the Earth, but he couldn't get Noah out of bed to build a giant multi-hued candy and puppy factory... So he went with a flood and an ark instead. Sure, the flood was a physical catastrophe, but the gray would have been emotionally devastating.
The moral of the story is that, sure you can drive a car through Beechview when it's graying outside without sliding down the hills smashing into every car on your way, but you kinda wish you would just to add some excitement.
Monday, December 05, 2011
A recent CNN-Time Magazine poll has revealed that a slim majority of Americans (51%) believe that the answer to this question is Yes, down from 60% only 5 years ago. Fully 47% of those surveyed believed that the answer to the question was No, with the remainder answering "Jar of Walnuts". By comparison, nearly 90% of Europeans, when asked the same question, responded with "Yes", a position that has been steadily growing over the last 10 years.
The debate between Yes and No has spilled out into classrooms, legislatures, and sports arenas, fueled by increasing fanaticism from the No supporters.
Defenders of the Yes position say that there is ample evidence on their side, and that those who are advocating No are few and far between.
"Look, despite the massive amounts of scientific evidence, case law, and religious dogma in our favour, there is still a small vocal minority out there that cling to this contrarian position," says Professor Peter Ian Staker of the University of Sandford in Gloucestershire, UK. "They do not offer a a sound intellectual or moral argument for 'No', but they feel that in their heart-of-hearts they must be right. One can only assume, therefore, that they are massively ignorant or are being actively mislead by others."
Indeed, a review of all 5,000 peer reviewed scientific articles on the Yes versus No question, only three defended the No position and even then merely tangentially. However, in a review of major popular media outlets during the same period, nearly half of the reports were either proponents of No or espoused a neutral value to either positions.
"There is no neutrality here," says Professor Staker, "There is a clearly defined, unambiguous, settled argument here with the exception of people that are pants-on-head crazy, ignorant, or crazy-ignorant."
Despite this sentiment, the Anti-Yes contingent continues to generate millions of dollars per year in grant funding from highly placed philanthropists and industry trade groups, such as George Squaash Faices (heir to the Squaash fortune) and the Americans Against Anti-Negativity (a front for the National No Foundation, which is funded by No, Inc., No, Never & Not At All LLP, and Not on Your Life Sonny-Boy Enterprises, amongst others). These individuals and organizations have used friendly media outlets, internet message boards, researchers, and apathy towards the debate to convince the general public that the No Position is seriously being debated outside of their echo chamber. In turn, this backlash at Yes has enabled many Pro-No supporters to be elected to the highest levels of state & local government.
Joseph Duddley, a plumber's assistant and author of the blog "Say Yes to No," says that Americans are sick and tired of being told that Yes is the answer.
"My grandfather didn't come to this country to be told by some pointed headed academic that the answer is Yes. He was his own man and he raised my family to believe in the values of hard work, apple pie, and No. There's all this evidence that No is the answer, but they just refuse to listen."
Professor Staker disagrees.
"False equivalency in the media between the Yes and No positions is a major source of confusion for the public. People assume that the media is an unbiased observer, reporting facts, but the truth is that in the rush to objectivity the media does a disservice by portraying balance when there clearly is none."
While both sides have their points, at the moment the question seems to be remaining unsettled for now.
Sunday, December 04, 2011
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is urging members of Council to vote for a bill the details of which are not yet know.
The City Clerk received a large brown envelope on Friday of morning, the contents of which were not shared to anyone, including the Clerk herself, Linda Johnson-Wasler. Sources in the Mayor's Office have, however, confirmed that it is a bill to be set before council for approval. Only after approval will the nature of the bill be revealed.
"It's a good bill," said the Mayor in an interview to KDKA-TV, "Just because Council hasn't actually had the opportunity to read it or know what it is doesn't mean they shouldn't vote for it. They need to trust me that I know what I'm doing as Mayor.".
The Mayor's opponents on Council, however, do not share the same optimism.
"For all we know, the Mayor could be offering a bill to sell the City for a handful of magic beans and a small yak," said Councilman Bill Peduto in a statement. "As responsible members of City Council, I think we need to know at least the title of the bill before we vote for it."
Rev. Ricky Burgess, a staunch ally of the Mayor on City Council, defended the Mayor's approach.
"I don't know what's in the bill, specifically, but I'm guessing that it's some sort of pony. We really should trust he mayor on this and do what he says. I think it'll be good."
Insiders in the City Clerks office managed to peak at three words of the bill, which they believe to be "Soffer" and "Waffle Iron", but could not explain what the bill old possibly be about.
This would not be the first bill that Mayor Ravenstahl has tried to slp past Council. Only last year he tried to sneak through a "Hookers and Blow allocation to Mayors with names ending in '-Avenstahl'" stapled to the back of a CDBG funding bill.". That bill was opposed by all except Rev. Burgess.
More details as this story develops.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
OK, maybe half a map. Moving on...
Now, I don't like being a technological determinist (I think of it as lazy sociology), but on some level I'm a materialist and I believe that our societal condition is reflective of real, tangible things and not just some aethereal Hegelian Thesis. So, I will readily accept that things like the automobile, highways, two car garages, etc. changed the way we approached urban planning. If there's any doubt as to the impact of the automobile on the development of Western Pennsylvania, ask yourself if places like Cranberry, Monroeville, or Robinson Township would even begin to approach their current scale without it.
So, let's step back and consider, for a moment, how the urban fabric would be different if the above map had actually played out. Let's assume, therefore, that by 1985, the entire rapid rail system would have been built, stretching from nearly Armstrong County to the Greater Pittsburgh Airport.
If you read the transportation plan you'll notice two things immediately. First, while it notes that Pittsburgh's population has dipped slightly and is trending downwards, it predicts that the population will move out to the suburbs and the county trend will be a 50% increase in population over the next 15 years. Second, the study believe that the current trends in employment will remain more or less constant all through 1985.
(You may take a good hearty laugh right now.)
OK, so that didn't work out too well, but the planners of the day didn't know that yet. It does note, however, that there's a trend towards personal automobile ownership, but I'm not quite sure it grasped the full magnitude of what was about to happen.
Now, the map above is a little blurry, but there are 8 major corridors: Ohio River, North Hills, Allegheny Valley, Wilkinsburg-East Hills, Monongahela Valley (really the lower East End), Pleasant Hills (really the Mon Valley), South Hills, and the West End. All of these corridors focus in on Downtown, in the wheel & spoke model that Pittsburgh's bus riders are familiar with.
Interestingly, the report suggests that the Downtown to Monroeville Transit Route would be the most used, followed by a route to Route 19 and Castle Shannon, while more people would head towards the County Airport than Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. Highest priorities, then, were the route from Downtown to Monroeville, from the North Hills to South Hills, then to the County Airport.
I guess in some sense, the report was generally correct: the Monroeville Route is pretty much the existing East Busway and the Castle Shannon Route is pretty much the existing T-Line.
But what was not really predicted was the expansion Northward and Westward. The report notes that the demand to go to the Airport was minimal at best. Also, Oakland is presented almost as an afterthought to the planning, with so-called "knowledge economy" still being years after the impending collapse of the steel industry.
Also not taken into consideration is the racial migration and segregation patterns that fully took hold in the '60s. The Civic Arena had already been built, but the Middle and Upper Hill still had some life left in them.
What would a rapid transit enabled City of Pittsburgh look like then?
I think in some sense it would, from a distance, look much the same: the patterns of development (Robinson and Cranberry excepted) are served mostly by the East Busway, T-Line, and North Hills HOV Lane. The creation of a single rapid transit system would have probably caused those areas, particularly Monroeville, to concentrate into more densely organized enclaves to take advantage of the proximity of rail stations. Ergo, I believe that the Miracle Miles Shopping Center would have been more of a Miracle Acre. If you take a look at the development in the South Hills where the T did in fact go, you see fairly concentrated development (although this could also be explained by the tight topography of the area), which sort of backs up this suspicion.
If a line had gone out West towards the airport, however, we would have seen a much different pattern than what we have now. Robinson and South Fayette would not have slouched all over the airport area and people would stop complaining about commuting into Downtown through the Fort Pitt tunnel, because of all the people coming in from Robinson and South Fayette. It might have actually been a halfway decent place to live.
I also imagine that places like East Liberty and Homewood would have not suffered as sharp a decline over the last 40+ years, as these difficult-to-access neighborhoods would have been tied into a larger transit network capable of disbursing residents throughout the county. Perhaps that might have convinced transportation planners that stupid roads like the Mon-Fayette Expressway wouldn't really be needed.
Downtown and the surrounding areas would have probably benefited from the cheap, quick transportation and companies that would eventually seek new office space would seek to be if not in or near downtown then along one of the transit arteries. If anything, the oil crunch in the '70s would have made such sites much more valuable.
This assumes that the population trends remained the same and that by the mid 1980s, with the collapse of the Steel Industry, the City fathers didn't just throw up their hands and give up on the lines (which is some sense, they did). Not addressed in the plan, of course, are former industry site like the South Side and Hazelwood, one of which, today, is booming while the other remains stagnant. Because it would have been less accessible, I could see that the South Side may have lost it's trendy character to areas like Uptown, which would have been easier to access by the student populations.
Anyway, this is all just a big old thought experiment which needs more than just three glasses of cheap red wine to fully hash out. Planning for such a large project with a large time horizon is hearly impossible. In reality we're kinda stuck with what we got.
Until the Port Authority develops time travel.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Breaking News: Not waiting for an accuser's press conference to make news of the latest accusation made against him, Presidential Candidate Herman Cain went to CNN on Monday afternoon to announce: "This individual is going to accuse Godfather's Pizza of tasting like salty garbage... And frankly, I can't say I disagree." Cain added, "I mean, seriously, have you ever eaten it? It's total crap." when specifics are known. Atlanta's Fox News 5, which is scheduled to run its report at 11 p.m., is teasing the interview by calling it names and talking smack about its mother.
More as this story develops.
Breaking News: Not waiting for an accuser's press conference to make news of the latest accusation made against him, Presidential Candidate Herman Cain went to CNN on Monday afternoon to announce: "This individual is going to accuse me of actually being two little people in a highly complex biomechanical suit." Cain added, "My campaign will respond" when specifics are known. Atlanta's Fox News 5, which is scheduled to run its report at 11 p.m., is teasing the interview with the latest Cain accuser by saying that he was initially approached to play the upper torso and right arm of the Cain suit.
More as this story develops.
Breaking News: Not waiting for an accuser's press conference to make news of the latest accusation made against him, Presidential Candidate Herman Cain went to CNN on Monday afternoon to announce: "This individual is going to accuse me of personally ordering the cancellation of critically acclaimed sitcom Arrested Development in 2006." Cain added, "My campaign will respond" when specifics are known. Atlanta's Fox News 5, which is scheduled to run its report at 11 p.m., is teasing the interview with the latest Cain accuser by saying that he was close to the cast and crew and known solely as "Mr. F".
More as this story develops.
Breaking News: Not waiting for an accuser's press conference to make news of the latest accusation made against him, Presidential Candidate Herman Cain went to CNN on Monday afternoon to announce: "This individual is going to accuse me of being the child of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, kidnapped in 1932." Cain added, "My campaign will respond" when specifics are known. Atlanta's Fox News 5, which is scheduled to run its report at 11 p.m., is teasing the interview with the latest Cain accuser by saying that she was one of two women hired to take care of the infant by the convicted kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann.
More as this story develops.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
(Reuters) Washington D.C. - The Republican National Committee announced today that it has hired critically acclaimed director David Lynch to direct and produce its August 2012 Presidential Convention in Tampa, Florida.
Speaking on behalf of the 13 member Committee, RNC chair Reince Priebus said that they are excited to be working with an artist of Mr. Lynch's caliber.
"You don't often hear praise of a member of the Hollywood elite from the RNC," said Mr. Priebus to chuckles from the press, "but we want to show that the Republican Party is willing to think outside the box in 2012."
Mr. Lynch is most well known for his films Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet and Dune as well as the cult TV show Twin Peaks, for which he won an Emmy award in 1990.
Many have criticized the major parties' national conventions over the last few Presidential cycles as being nothing more than three day ads, with little to no substance or drama. This criticism was being all three major networks' decisions to reduce their coverage to no more than a few hours.
Mr. Lynch was asked what he hoped to bring to the GOP that would help to make this year stand out.
"Well, I'm thinking of using a surrealist ethos in my directing of the convention. I plan to use light and shadow, maybe a large swath of red covering the speakers, a continuous hum and thunk of engines, five giants with bright blue eyes who talk backwards in a low voice, a dwarf in a gas mask dancing around the slaughtered carcass of a donkey, three midgets eating mustard off of a fat woman, and a crazy-looking lady running very slowly to the stage. I think all of that will serve to reinforce the underlying metaphor that the GOP is trying to get out to the voters, namely that of fiscal responsibility, social values, and security at home."
He added, "Also, I expect Kyle MacLachlan to do something with a severed ear."
This will be the first Presidential Convention for both Priebus and Lynch, who previously worked together in the movie Dune where Priebus played a spice transformed Guild navigator.
In other news, not to be outdone, the Democratic National Committee has hired Joss Whedon to direct, Dan Harmon to write, and Mitchell Hurwitz to produce what they expect to be a critically acclaimed, but ultimately commercially unviable Democratic Convention.
Friday, November 25, 2011
On K-Street in Washington D.C., thousands of special interest lobbyists lined up at at the wee hours of the morning, hoping to get a jump on 2012 campaign season.
"I'm really looking forward to getting a good deal on a Senator, maybe a Congressman," said Lloyd Blankfeinn of Goldman Sachs. "I hope to have all of my shopping done well before the Iowa Caucus."
The doors to Capitol Hill opened at 7 AM, prompting a jostling throng to press their way through, making a bee line to the incumbents, which were on special for a campaign contribution and a corporate jet ride. There was a rush on swing state Congressmen and vacant Senate seats.
Elsewhere in the country, lobbyists lined up at state capitols to get bargain local deals. John H. Pinkerton of Range Resources, Inc., a gas fracking company, says he looks forward to this time of year.
"You know, with a little planning, I can get over half of what I want right away. I've already bagged a Governor which came with a [Department of Environmental Protection] appointee. The kids are going to love it and I don't have to worry about last minute horsetrading before votes."
Many lobbyists had ben camped out for days outside federal, state, and local government buildings hoping to be first in line for deals. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform was looking to save money on a Inheritance Tax Scheme.
"I gave the kids a roll back on their marginal tax rate a few years ago, which was great, but they really want an end to the Death Tax this year. I told them if they were good, they might find that Alan Greenspan had left them a little present in their stockings. I really need to get a Commerce Committee chairman today, though, if I'm going to make that promise work."
There were some incidents of violence reported. One in Albany New York where two stockbrokers got into a fight over the last Attorney General and one in Sacramento California where a Coal Industry Lobbyist ran over a member of the Sierra Club in order to buy an EPA administrator.
Black Friday is traditionally the start of the Lobbying Season and set the tone for the next election year. Presidential futures were up in the morning, with Romney, Obama, Perry, and Gingrich all polling higher. Campaigners seemed eager this year to get a jump on contributions, despite an overall weak economy.
Those sitting out the lobbying frenzy this year are reminded that there are only 46 more legalized bribing days until the New Hampshire primaries.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
And this shocked and appalled me:
A new survey of New Jersey voters comes to a provocative conclusion: Fox News viewers tend to be less informed about current events than those who don't watch any news at all...This can't be allowed to happen! This shall not stand! So, in the interest of improving Fox News viewers and making them, as they say, more learned by comparison, I'm embarking on a campaign of misinformation in order to bring down the average knowledge of everyone else. So, I want everyone to remember these new facts:
"The results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don't watch any news at all," said Dan Cassino, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson.
Those who watched Sunday public affairs shows tended to be the best informed on current events, the survey found. Readers of national newspapers also were more likely to respond correctly.
*The new Prime Minister of Italy is Mario Batali.I hope you all feel dumber for reading this.
*The chief export of Spain is grapes and ball peen hammers.
*The recently lost Russian Mars probe was called the Findus-Gunt.
*Barack Obama cast the decided vote to kill the Supercommittee negotiations.
*The main countries involved in the "Arab Spring" uprisings were Tunisia, Egypt, Hatay, and Aladin.
*The European Debt crisis was caused by credit default swaps on national bonds and Speedos.
*The Occupy Wall Street movement was being funded by Steve Jobs until he died.
*Speedbumps are part of a government conspiracy with the auto industry to get you to buy new cars faster.
*French and Italian are the same language.
*Vladimir Putin has announced his candidacy for President of the Moon.
*Global warming is directly tied to the increase in the number of housecats in the U.S.
*Jello pudding is Evil.
*Gary Coleman was the Anti-Christ.
*Dogs are all Atheists
Now off to Wikipedia to make hose "facts" official.
From the P-G-est P-G that ever P-G'd:
The Pittsburgh Public Schools board has approved changes aimed at making the district more financially sustainable, including closing seven schools, opening a new elementary school, eliminating single-gender classes at Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12, selling two school buildings and changing some school feeder patterns.So, if you're counting: that's one high school left on the Northside, none left in the Western neighborhoods, and the elimination of 3 grade schools in the West (taking the number down to 3, I believe).
The school assignment changes approved Tuesday night are for the next school year.
Ultimately, the changes are part of a plan that calls for eliminating about 400 school-based and central office positions to stem the district's growing operating deficit...
The two schools which the board agreed to sell are Pittsburgh Reizenstein in Shadyside to Walnut Capital and RCG Longview for $5.4 million, and the Ridge Avenue building on the North Side to the Light of Life Ministries for $1.1 million.
The Reizenstein developers plan to demolish the building and replace it with a $119 million development that includes housing as well as office and retail space.
The board rejected bids on Schenley in Oakland, Belmar in Homewood, Madison in the Hill District, Mann on the North Side and Morningside.
The new K-8 school approved Wednesday will be in the building now housing Pittsburgh Langley High School in Sheraden, which will close at the end of this school year. Langley High students will be reassigned to Pittsburgh Brashear in Beechview...
In addition to Langley High School, schools that will close at the end of June are:
• Pittsburgh Oliver High School on the North Side, with students assigned to nearby Pittsburgh Perry, which will continue its magnet program open to students throughout the city. Some students will travel to the Oliver building for career and technology programs as well as for JROTC.
• Fort Pitt PreK-5 in Garfield, with students assigned to Pittsburgh Arsenal PreK-5 in Lawrenceville, Woolslair K-5 in Lawrenceville and Fulton PreK-5 in Highland Park.
• Pittsburgh Schaeffer K-8 in Crafton Heights, with students assigned to the new K-8 school in the Langley building. Both the Schaeffer and Sheraden buildings that housed Schaeffer K-8 will close.
• Pittsburgh Stevens K-8 in Elliott, with students assigned to the new K-8 in Langley, Westwood K-5 and South Hills 6-8 in Beechview...
Now, I don't begrudge the BoE for reducing school space; a declining population necessitates fewer capital resources (i.e., you don't need as many school buildings). Further, I don't necessarily want to get into the discussion of whether neighborhood schools are the model that Pittsburgh should be trying to use; I'd say that there are benefits to that and benefits to larger feeder patterns.
What I'm concerned about, however, is the larger amount of real estate that that's under the control of the BoE that now going to be vacant. These are now, like Schenley H.S. before them, going to be large, vacant, money sucking holes in the Schools District's budget; while there may not be students in there, you still have to light them, heat them, secure them, and make sure, in general, they don't fall down.
I guess my complaint here is that the BoE is making its decisions in a vacuum: the closing of these schools will have a long term effect on the economic conditions of several of these neighborhoods. Without a plan to figure out the next highest and best use for these properties, they will continue to sit as vacant, non-tax revenue generating properties. Now, you would hope that they would enter into this with some sort of end game that both divests themselves of these loser properties and helps out their colleagues in the City Government to generate some economic development.
But this is the School District; anything other than education is furthest from their minds.
Well, education is definitely in the top ten, anyway.
Anyway, my point is that as one of the major landowners of non-taxable properties in the City of Pittsburgh, I can only hope that the BoE has some sort of plan as to how they're going to deal with these properties.
My guess is that they don't and our School District taxes are going to go towards unnecessary expenses.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Smithfield, England (London Gazette, 1381) - Leaders of the so-called "Occupy London" movement have announced a meeting tomorrow with the King to discuss and air greviances relating to feudal abuses amongst the top 1% of the gentry.
"We are disatisfied with the current state of serfdom," said spokesman Wat Tyler. "We want the nobility to be aware that we are willing to cause trouble for them. Since the end of the Black Death, we demand that wages and living standards become for equitable for the remaining 99% of the population."
The so-called "Occupy London" movement arose from the imposition of an unpopular tax at the beginning of the young King's reign. Many have blamed the collusion of vested interests amongst the landed gentry and the Church, exploiting the inexperience of the current administration.
Critics of the movement have called the participants "a rowdy mob of dirty serfs" who are "unclear on their demands." The King's Uncle and Duke of Lancaster John of Gaunt has publicly called for the protesters to "get a job -- one that we make you do because of your feudal loyalty to your masters". Popular bards, under the patronage of the Lord Chancellor, have written controversial ballads ridiculing the movement.
The cost of serf Labor has increased since the cessation of the plague, but feudal Lords have refused to increase wages amongst the peasantry. The previous administration had pegged wages to pre-plague levels, causing further consternation amongst the serfs; many have been unable to find employment at livable wages.
"We are committed to our cause," says Tyler, "and we intend to fight the Lords of this land until our demands are met."
The meeting at Smithfield with the King is scheduled for early tomorrow. The King's Knights have warned the protesters that they are willing and able to use violence, if necessary
Saturday, November 19, 2011
And then there's this kerfluffle brewing at PWSA:
A year of frustration at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority boiled over Friday when city Councilman Patrick Dowd called the agency's board "pathetic" and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office accused him of grandstanding.According to my contacts over at PWSA, Mr. Dowd's comments need to be submitted to staff in writing within 5 days so that they can be reviewed for 30 days for comments by PWSA consultants, at which time Mr. Dowd will need to resubmit his motion with the necessary changes for a second review. After the re-resubmital, PWSA staff will re-review for 60 days and ask for additional corrections that they forgot to mention the first time. After the third review, PWSA staff will call a meeting with Mr. Dowd asking what this submital is and why they haven't seen it before, reminding him that they need at least 30 days notice before they can approve any submital. Mr. Dowd will then protest that he's already submitted the comments to PWSA three times at this point and that they are perfectly aware of them. PWSA staff will deny all knowledge of this and make Mr. Dowd submit for a fourth time, which they will lose under a stack of paperwork until it decomposes and is used in a onsite water retention system that PWSA doesn't let you build anyway. By now, everyone involved will have retired and the point will be moot.
The PWSA's top management job has been vacant since December, when executive director Michael Kenney resigned amid questions about his ties to a vendor.
Mr. Dowd, one of six board members, says the management void has existed far too long. He became angry Friday when fellow director Scott Kunka suggested postponing the search for a management company that could oversee operations on at least a temporary basis...
Asserting that the board's main roles are to hire top management, make policy and hold managers accountable, Mr. Dowd said, "we have failed in each of those categories, and our failure is pathetic, and it is enormous."
The comments brought rebukes from Mr. Kunka, who is also Mr. Ravenstahl's finance director, and state Rep. Dan Deasy, D-Westwood, the board chairman.
Fortunately for Mr. Dowd, this is the PWSA "fast-track". The normal process involves a fight to the death with spears and pipes.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
From the Tribune-Review:
Pittsburgh's Bureau of Building Inspection has made strides since a 2008 audit lambasted the department for failing to respond to complaints in a timely manner, City Controller Michael Lamb said today.Whoa! Wait a second! Back the fu' kup!
But a lack of new hires and the slow adoption of a new computer system has caused complaints and permit requests to back up, he said.
"Given the resources, they have been making decent progress," Lamb said upon releasing the results of his office's 2011 performance audit on the department. "But I thought they'd be a lot further along than they are."
John Jennings, acting chief of the department, did not object to the findings...
"Acting" Chief of Building Inspection? Wait, that can't be right... Let's see... there was Ron Graziani (fired 2007), then Dan Cipriani (resigned 2008), then Sergei Matveiev (resigned 2009)... so, yeah, I guess it sounds like we've been without a Chief of Building Inspection for almost a year now.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there some sort of deadline to fill these types of city jobs permanently?
Hell, sounds like BBI's been going through more Directors than Darrens on Bewitched.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
In 1980, Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel released a concept album about the travails of prostitutes, workers, and students, which was universally panned by the French theater critics. Re-released, revamped, and retranslated into English sometime later, that same musical, Les Miserables, has gone on play for over 10,000 performances and win multiple Tony awards. A new, stripped down, off Broadway version has been playing for the last several weeks, bringing a new interpretation to the classical musical.
The story is familiar to any follower of musical theater: Jean Valjean, recently freed from prison for stealing a loaf of bread, tries to redeem himself, while being endlessly pursued by the ruthless Inspector Javert. On the way, Valjean saves a destitute woman's daughter and gets wrapped up in a Paris student Revolution. In this new version, however, most of this story has been cast off in favor of focusing solely on a modern retelling of the student rebellion part. It is a bold attempt at reframing the plot of the musical away from Jean Valjean and towards the everyday people building the barricades of Paris.
The Director, who's name escapes me, has managed to cobble together a lavish al fresco set along with a cast of hundreds. Where one would have expected to see an impressive rotating set, the director has, instead, chosen to immerse the viewer with in the action itself. This is not "theater in the round," rather, it is "theater around you."
Costumes are set in the modern period, with students, workers, and military all thoroughly represented. If anything, the attention to detail is a little too good: the actors themselves have a overpowering odor which is jarring, but fits within the context of the narrative.
The music too has been stripped down to it's barest roots; where one may have expect to hear such rousing songs as "One Day More," instead one hears incessant drumming, a clever play on the tension between the battle that is about to break out and the creative forces of the performers.
If there is a major flaw with the performance it is this: the director chose to drag out the activity before the storming of the barricade for far too long (several weeks too long, in this critic's opinion). The result is a bit of an anti-climax, although several people have assured me that the final scene will come as an utter surprise.
For all of its flaws, however, this version of the performance has already begun touring to excited audiences. The performance in Oakland CA was met with standing room only, shouting crowds so large that the police had to be called in to disburse the frenzied mob.
In all, it is an excellent performance, even if the director's message isn't very clear. I expect it to join the ranks of musicals like Rent, showing the gritty underbelly of New York from the safety of our theater seats.
(Terry Teachout is the Wall Street Journal's Theater Critic)
Monday, November 14, 2011
If you were forced against your will to City Council chambers today*, you will have heard the mayor's annual budget address. As always, the Mayor promised to invest more capital dollars into the various Pittsburgh neighborhoods, which has become sort of an annual right of fall to be forgotten about by the Spring... sort of like NBC's primetime lineup.
If I recall correctly, there was a significant amount of money set aside in the previous year's budget for capital improvements, all of which eventually failed to materialize. The Mayor's Office said they really needed that money for some really important stuff, while Council sat around in stunned silence like it was left with the bill at a fancy restaurant. In any case, the Mayor totally promises this time to divvy out the money to the neighborhoods and pinky swears that he has no current plants to yank the money at the last minute again.
And you wonder why the last three Mayors have campaigned on a platform to "invest more in the neighborhoods."
Anyway, there's a couple of more line items in the budget that people are glossing over, but are important to note:
* Removing the Doug Shields smell from Council Chambers - $5,000Once again, the West End gets totally stiffed for much needed Walrus repair. Typical.
* Lottery tickets - $10,000
* Inflatable bouncy castle - $4,000
* Three threatening looking guys with bats to stand outside of the PWSA offices - $15,000
* Hair gel - $7,500
* 311 Staff Person - $0
* Zober Wrangler - $55,000
* Three even more threatening looking guys with bats to stand outside of the Parking Authority offices - $40,000
* Ick-Ray Itzgerald-Fay Estruction-Day Und-Fay - $100,000
* Walrus Repair (Northside) - $33,000
* Pothole Repair - $7.34
* Mt. Washington Based Space Laser - $200,000,000
* Levitating Tables - $5,000
* New old funk smell for Department of Finance's Office - $15,000
* Cello - $300
No word on when the Council President will issue her shadow budget for the Northside.
*Don't laugh. It's happened to me before.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
When the David L. Lawrence convention center opened in 2003 as the world's largest "green building" it was hailed for it's energy operations, waste reduction, and sustainable operations.
Yesterday, however, the Center for American Energy Independance released a study showing that because of the "eco-friendly" nature of the convention center, hundreds of thousands of jobs in the region have been lost.
"This convention center consisistently uses less energy than buildings twice it's size," says CAEI CEO Tucker F. Borstal. "Every kilowatt hour that the convention center saves is a job removing the top of a mountain in West Virginia that is lost. Every ton of trash that is diverted from the waste stream is a landfill operator diverted to the unemployment line."
The study said that creating buildings such as the convention center is bad for the economy, because it does stuff that doesn't make other people as much money now. It cited a further study that showed a correlation between the drop in energy usage to a drop in CEO Stock option payments.
A spokesman for natural gas fracking conglomerate Range Resourses said that the presence of the convention center is just "proof that Pittsburgh government is unfriendly to mining beneath homes, shooting an undefined liquid into the rock, and leaving any potential mess for future generations to deal with. That kind of thinking is just down right unAmerican."
Supporters of the convention center say that it is a powerful symbol for the next wave of Green Technology, of which the region hopes to be at the forefront. Critics, including ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson, say however, that such a future is a pipe dream.
"I mean, come on! Look at the world! You really think that reducing energy dependencies or making smart decisions for the long term is any way to live?".
The CAEI report will be available for purchase on baby seal skin later this week.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Posted by O at 11:00 AM
Thursday, November 10, 2011
So, let me start out by saying that I don't do "serious" very well. I've read through some of my earlier posts and I've found them trying to be stuffy and important (like you do when you're starting out). I can do "funny" or "irreverent" or even "witty" on occasion, but "serious" has always been a stretch for me. But, since there's no real way I can not not talk about it without seeming out of touch, I shall do my best. Please forgive, gentles, if this comes off as crude.
Let's start out with this: one of the few -- very few -- points that all Americans seem to agree on is that child molestation is always wrong.
Abortion: toss up.
Capital punishment: maybe.
Clean & water: perhaps.
Child molestation, however, doesn't get any gray area. While I can't say I've thought about it too deeply, I don't think anyone could really come up with a mitigating circumstance that defends child molestation. In fact, I would say that the only gray area we seem to tolerate is whether child molesters should be locked up indefinitely or whether they should be chemically castrated.
We're pretty solid on this particular point.
Now, we get to Joe Paterno.
If you've read the Grand Jury report, you'll know that Joe had second hand knowledge of an incident involving Sandusky in which Sandusky, I believe the description is, "anally raped an 11 year old in the shower". That's a pretty damning charge. Elsewhere in the complaint, there's talk of inappropriate "hugging" and "wrestling", which one could rationalize as being perfectly innocent. I would argue that "anal rape" is probably not perfectly innocent.
(Wait. Why am I qualifying that with "probably"? There's no probably about it!)
Now, Joe did report the matter to his boss, which is what he was supposed to do, per school policy. What he didn't do, however, was pass this information onto the cops. Did he do right by the school? Yeah, probably. Did he do what was ethically or morally right? No. No. A thousand times no.
One could ask, however, that without the benefit of hindsight if we were in a position like Joe's, would we know the right thing to do?
The answer of course is, "What? Are you f*cking crazy? You've just been told that a coach anally raped an eleven year old boy? Yes, you go to the f*cking police, you a-hole!"
Now, personally, I don't understand the deification of JoPa. Perhaps it's because I didn't go to Penn State; perhaps it's because the smarter half of my family went to Pitt. So, you'll understand that I don't understand why the students at Penn State would riot in support of him. I'm just assuming that Penn State students would riot over anything, in much the same was as any WVU student sees any couch as tinder.
Should Joe have been fired? Yeah, he should.
Is he taking an unreasonable amount of the blame for this? Probably; if you read the Grand Jury report, you see a string of missed opportunities and people ignoring what should have been an obvious to spot crime.
Should other people also be charged as complicit in a cover up? I think we're going to find out that answer really damned soon.
So in summary: child molestation is bad (and I feel awkward for feeling like I even have to write that).
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Monday, November 07, 2011
Just when I thought I wasn't going to have anything to write about tonight that didn't have to do with "improprieties" at Penn State* there's this:
The city Urban Redevelopment Authority board will vote Thursday on a recommendation to enter into exclusive negotiations with PMC Property Group for the acquisition and redevelopment of the John P. Robin Civic Building at 200 Ross St.I've been in that building once or twice in my local government career and I can say without fear of contradiction that it is the third or fourth worst government building in the City. I can only assume that PMC is shorting asbestos in an attempt to corner the Mesothelioma market.
PMC is proposing to convert the building, which houses City of Pittsburgh, URA, and city housing authority offices, into 100 residential units plus possible first-floor commercial space. It is offering $1 million for the building.
*There was no way I was going to be able to make that funny.
Sunday, November 06, 2011
Long time readers of this blog (both of you) will, of course remember that I refuse to directly endorse candidates for any particular office. Partially, this is to avoid the appearance of any impropriaty, but mostly it's because I've become so cynical that I see all politicians as lying bags of crap. That being said, you have to vote for someone on election day.
Of course, that doesn't mean you have to vote for anyone that's technically on the ballot. You can always annoy the poll workers and write someone in. So, if you feel cynical like me and want to amuse yourself, here are some names you should consider writing in:
(1) Barack Obama - OK, sure, he's probably not going to give up his current job for, say, district magistrate, but you never know. I think I would rather deal with building code violators than leading the free world, but that's me. Plus, Mr. Obama has the advantage of not being mistaken for some other "Barack Obama".
(2) Dan Onorato - Dan's not standing for election this time around. That's probably good for him, but I don't think he's been properly punished for being so mediocre a county executive. Write him in for school board if you think he should suffer a bit.
(3) Doug Shields - Doug lost a bit for district magistrate earlier this year. Probably for the best; Doug's not really -- let's say "qualified" -- to be a judge. That being said, Doug will now be left to his own devices and will probably be living on the street within a matter of weeks yelling incessantly at people. He needs the work, people.
(4) Mickey Mouse - Classic write in candidate, marred only by his previous association with the John Birch society.
(5) Tasty Cakes - Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as Tasty Cake. (Editor's Note - I think those radio commercials are getting to you.)
(6) Salvador Dali - He's dead, but that's never stopped him before. He'd make a good County Treasurer.
(7) Richard Mellon Scaife - Also technically not alive, but if you're going to vote for a lying sack of crap, you might as well vote for a professional.
Thursday, November 03, 2011
I was busy all night making a fennel and onion tomato sauce* so I didn't have time to write anything of substance. Plus, I finished off a bottle of Shiraz by myself, so I'm roughly as competent as any random State legislator at this point.** So, for the next thirty seconds or so I'm going to type strange words just to fill up space.
Bingle bongle dingle dangle lickey-doo lickey-da ping pong lippy-tappy too tah.
And Number 23: I don't want to eat a pear.
And that fulfills our blogging quota for the day.
*Oooh. Look 'e's multi-dimensional! Fancy that!
**If that doesn't scare the willies out of you, nothing does.
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Several hundred members of Occupy Pittsburgh, who may or may not have been communist fascist Muslims according to unnammed sources, and their supporters (who potentially could have been draft dodging unwashed america hating hippies) marched through the streets of Oakland tonight without BURNING DOWN PRIVATE BUSINESSES AND GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS.
There were no arrests and no reports of damage by protestors (as far as anyone is willing to admit, given the pressure that the OBAMA administration has sought to support these protests), who marched in the streets surrounding the University of Pittsburgh campus, according to Pittsburgh police Cmdr. George (who may or may not be covering for nefarious ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT OVERLORDS).
Elizabeth C. Pittinger, executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, monitored the protest and said police exhibited "extraordinary patience and restraint." And as far as we no there were no MASS RAPES OF INNOCENT COLLEGE STUDENTS.
Pittinger said marchers, who did not have a permit and did not CAUSE MASS CHAOS IN THE STREETS OF OAKLAND, spilled into the streets and obstructed traffic for a short time before heeding orders from police to keep to the sidewalks AND STOP HATING AMERICA.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review contributed to this report.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
(Bloomberg) New York City - Bullshit shares plummeted again today on the New York Shit Exchange, as nervous investors faced the possibility of a glut of Bullshit on the world markets.
Bullshit ended today's session at $10/Barnum, a record low for the commodity, which has been fallen steadily since September 2001.
"People are tired of Bullshit," says Bullshit trader Hans Delbrig. "We've seen a general rise in the availability of domestic Bullshit, which has served to depress prices, which in turn causes more Bullshit traders to dump more of it into the world market. The availability of cheap Chinese Bullshit only serves to depress the markets further. And now we have this Greek Bullshit to deal with."
This morning, the European Central Bullshit Bank dumped 1,000,000 Barnums of Bullshit into the world Bullshit supply, in hopes of driving down the cost of the Bullshit it will take to resolve the Greek Bullshit crisis.
Among the major purchasers of Bullshit is Newscorp, who refines and packages Bullshit for domestic consumption. Newscorp, however, has hedged their bets by also investing heavily in the cheaper, and more widely available, Horseshit.
American Bullshit centers (New York, Washington, and Los Angeles) remain strong, but small, local Bullshit producers have been hurting.
Joe Anderson, a part time High School Football Referee says that he used to be able to produce a Barnum of Bullshit in a year.
"Parents always said to me 'That's real Bullshit Ref!' and I was proud of my work. Now, I can barely make it."
It is hoped that Congress will deal with this issue after the November elections with another Bullshit bailout plan.
Monday, October 31, 2011
I've been asked to relay this message:
Despite the cobwebs, dark passages, torture devices on display, screams of terror, and general paranormal activity, the County Office Building is *not* a haunted house. If anyone comes at you with an axe or knife, they are dangerous. If you see what appears to be the minions of the undead, these are just County Elections Staff. Thank you.
I have a friend named Bill. Bill used to work for the City, 35+ years in the City Real Estate Department. He loved it there. His job was to go through all the deeds for upcoming treasurer's sales and city property acquisitions, review the deeds to make sure that the titles were OK, and pass off the information to the legal department. A lot of people thought this was boring work, but Bill enjoyed it up until his sudden retirement earlier this summer.
The retirement was unusual. For people that have worked for the City as long as he did, there's usually a bit more warning (at least enough to get some cake and balloons together). Bill, however, came in on Wednesday morning, submitted his notice to his boss, and was gone by noon. Nobody knew what had happened and he wouldn't respond to phone calls or emails to his home.
Bill lives close by my house and I used to see him out and about on sunny weekends, but since he left the City, his curtains have been shut and his lights have been turned off. His neighbors said that, yes, he's still up and around, but that he doesn't say much anymore and he mostly only leaves the house for groceries. Recently, I happened to be walking by his house, when I noticed Bill coming outside to get his mail.
"Bill," I shouted to him, "What's going on?"
"Shape without form! Shade without color," Bill shouted back, and quickly ran back into his house.
I followed him up to his door, rang the bell a couple of times, but to no avail. As I turned to leave, I heard something slide out from under his door. It was a note from Bill. All it said was "Ed will explain."
I assumed that Bill meant his former coworker Ed, who had also worked for the City for at least as long as Bill. They were terrific friends because they had to work so closely together: Bill did all the back office paperwork for City properties, while Ed actually visited the properties to make sure that they weren't unsafe.
I called up Ed.
"Hey, what do you need?" (Ed is a very get-to-the-point kind of guy.)
"What do you know about Bill leaving?"
"He said 'Shape without form! Shade without color' and left me this note saying you'd explain what happened."
There was silence on the end of the phone.
"I-I-I don't know anything," he finally stammered back and hung up the phone.
About five minutes later, I received an email from Ed saying "10 minutes; my office."
I rushed down to his office. Ed was there looking very nervous. His eye was twitching almost imperceptibly and I could tell that he was trying very hard not to shake. He offered me a seat and started telling me the story:
Apparently, the City had recently put a slew of properties into a Treasurer's sale. It was Bill's job to review the old deeds to make sure there weren't any surprise easements, covenants, or other restrictions that the courts would have to remove. Usually these things are pretty dry, akin to reading boilerplate for a living, but something this time caught Bill's attention. Amidst the boring recitals, there was a paragraph in one of the deeds that read "Subject to all easements and servitudes apparent from inspection of premises as noted in previous deeds of record. THE DARKNESS IS HERE."
Bill was taken aback a bit. "THE DARKNESS IS HERE" was definitely out of place in this or any other deed.
He decided to pull up the previous deed, just to confirm that this was some para-legal playing a joke on an under-observant lawyer. The previous deed had a similar paragraph: "Subject to all easements and servitudes apparent from inspection of premises as noted in previous deeds of record. FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM."
Bill is slightly nervous at this point, partially because the wording of the deed had changed (which can be a bureaucratic nightmare to straighten out) but mostly because this was getting slightly creepy.
He pulls up the prior deed and the deed before that and the deed before that. All of them have the same basic "Subject to..." and then another, seemingly random disturbing phrase. He finally gets back to a deed without the line in it, dating all the way back to 1925, and begins to piece them together. The phrases, when put in chronological order, formed a fairly disturbing poem:
SHAPE WITHOUT FORM. SHADE WITHOUT COLOR.Now, Bill gets a little nervous about all this and decides to start looking at the deeds a bit closer. Turns out, the property has been owned by a particular family, the Eliots, since around the turn of the century. The property is always passed by deed (as opposed to by inheritance) to another member of the family prior to the death of previous owner. The last owner, a Theadora Smith (nee Eliot) died recently at the age of 78 and, without an heir or a will, left the property to be scooped up by the tax collectors.
TREMBLING WITH TENDERNESS.
THE SUPPLICATION OF A DEAD MAN'S HAND.
FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM.
THE DARKNESS IS HERE.
Interestingly enough, the owner at the time the "first" deed was written was a Thomas Eliot, who was a suspect in a series of missing persons cases in the 1910s. Apparently, several of Mr. Eliot's romantic companions were spotted in his company and thence never again. Many people in the neighborhood gossiped that Eliot had killed them and hidden the bodies. The police, however, could never pin any of the disappearances on him and when he died in 1926, passing the property off to his nephew Timothy, the matter was dropped. Bill had found in old copies of the newspaper, however, that for many, many years later, neighbors had complained about "a foul odor" coming from the house which would appear suddenly and vanish just as quickly.
At this point, Bill is really nervous. He calls up Ed and says that they need to inspect the property personally.
They get in a city municipal vehicle and drive to the building: an old row house in Lawrenceville, partially falling down. They break out their flashlights, remove the plywood from the door, and go inside. The interior is a wreck and smells old and rotten, which is normal for a house that's been vacant for so long. The light between the boarded up windows is just enough that they can make out the interior. They move slowly from room to room looking for anything particularly suspicious, but it all seems fairly normal.
They go into the basement. The stairs are old and creak under the heavy weight of two full grown men. To pierce the darkness, they turn on their flashlights. The basement is cold and dank, but fairly typical of Pittsburgh basements.
"That's not right," said Ed suddenly.
"The wall over there," said Ed. "It doesn't make any sense. That's not the foundation of the house."
Bill moved closer to the wall to inspect. Sure enough: it was plaster, not stone. He tapped on it with his flashlight. In an instant, all the rotted plaster on the wall collapsed, revealing a secret back basement.
Not so much of a basement, really; it was more of a slaughterhouse. Strewn about were the various implements to remove flesh from victims, pots to boil their skin, and pikes to roast them over open flames. Everywhere was evidence that this room had been used to torture and destroy unwitting neighbors who had fallen into a trap, only to be consumed by generations and generations of Eliots.
And in the center of the room the ultimate horror: propped up in a chair, was a partially devoured figure holding a placard which read the final line of the terrible poem that had brought them here:
"MICHELLE BACHMANN FOR PRESIDENT". Bill quit his job in terror the next day.