Friday, April 29, 2005

Boxes, Little Boxes, in the Filing Room...

Yesterday was national take your child to work day. Today is clean out your files day at THE BUREAUCRACY. It would have made sense to combine the both and send the children to the file vault.

Unfortunately, because of federal regulations, we're required to keep stuff up to 15 years, I believe. That would be 1990. Vanilla Ice:1991. George Bush I: 1992. Scary.

So today will be spent slogging around the file vault throwing out crap we don't need... like Vanilla Ice and George Bush.

On an unrelated topic: the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG) and the Community Technical Assistance Center (CTAC) are holding a Mayoral Debate at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater from 6:30 to 8:00 PM on May 2nd on the subject of neighborhood develoment. Not sure if this is an open invite, but try PCRG at (412)391-6732 to see if you can score some tickets.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

An O'Connor Apologist?

I'd hate to seem like I'm bucking the collective will of the Pittsburgh Blogging Community or seem like an apologist for Bob O'Connor, but I've been considering the impact of an O'Connor Administration, and I'm finding things that I actually kinda like about it.

First, it has been generally said around here that Bob seems to be pretty much an empty suit, spouting off clipped sound bites rather than giving off real policy positions. I would like the mayor to have a bit more of a grasp of policy intricacies, but, on the other hand, I'd like it better if the mayor knew his limits and would just shut up. The current mayor and other politicians, to be fair, are notorious for promising things on the fly and then turning to the administration staff to find some way to meet the promises. I hate that. I'm OK if Bob will be limited to platitudes.

Actually, and this is my second point, the office of Mayor in Pittsburgh may be actually limited to platitudes anyway. With Act 47, the ICA, Council, the Legislature, and dwindling coffers, I don't actually see the mayor doing much of anything outside of fiddling with administrative changes. In my opinion, the biggest power the mayor has, after all the real power has been stripped is now his Bully Pulpit as Mayor of Pittsburgh. So, if Bob isn't saying much, I'm OK with that; it's just fewer promises that he has to keep. Just keep smiling Bob, giving away those platitudes.

Third, with so much of the power of the city now tied up with Legislative squabbles, the next mayor needs to be chummy with Harrisburg. Like it or not, this is Bob's arena and he is head and shoulders and hair above his nearest rivals on this one. The next mayor doesn't need to ask for money (although ultimately he does) as much as just get the Legislature to stand down a bit and let the City catch its breath. Confrontational (some would say idealist) mayors are not going to be well suited to that task. Further, Bob's base of support, other than his general affability, provides him enough of a cushion to push the programs that he wants for the city.

Do I think that Bob O'Connor is the best candidate for the office? Ideally, no. Practically speaking, however, there could be worse choices. Ringing endorsement right there.

In any case, the problems of the city aren't going to be solved by the next mayor anyway. There is a long series of issues that need to be resolved, everything from taxing policy, to administrative realignment, to road paving. It's a lot of work.

My advice for Dauphin O'Connor is simple: take a look at your opponents good ideas and steal them. The ideas, not the opponents. Peduto has a few, Lamb has a few, and even Joe Weinroth has had a couple good ones.

Maybe in four years, I'll be enthusiastic about a second O'Connor term.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bureaucratic Techniques

Just a quick post about some of my favorite bureaucratic techniques for confounding pesky incompetent wretches or bringing bad projects to a halt.

Cmdrsue has already talked about the Unexpected Bureaucratic Strike ("which is where you can reach up a sleeve and produce three files and multiple emails to substantiate your position"). This technique is useful for not only providing job security (a bureaucrat that can put information out of his/her butt at a moment's notice is extremely valuable) but also to shock bring bad ideas to a screeching halt.

Somewhat related to this is Instant Recitation, or the ability to recite, on cue, chapter and verse of obscure laws to back up your position. This is a technique I wish I had, but I'm working on. Few people actually check these laws, but if you can pull this off with enough authority, they will believe anything.

This is not to be confused with Institutional Total Recall, which is the ability to explain, at length, all the precedents for why we do what we do. Often the explanation involves the organization getting sued as the punchline, but it always involves a looong, rambling story, preferably involving people that no longer work there.

Another side is, of course, the Dinosaur Strategy, i.e., doing nothing and waiting for the problem to go away. The dinosaurs had a good run, 150 million years or so, and bureaucracy can take at least that long. I'm sure that there's still some Allosaurus out there waiting for the response to the amended corrections to form 12645-A, regarding relocation in the event of asteroid strike. This strategy is particularly effective for those without a lot of time or energy to spare.

Finally, for today, is the Camel Technique, or, the ability to retain large amounts of liquid in your bladder through excrutiatingly dull, but important meetings. In important meetings, if you can get the participants to feel that, should they leave the room, a decision will be made without them, participants will often succumb to their natural urges to pee, and agree to any decision that gets them out to the bathroom. Last one standing wins the meeting.

Today's agenda involves 4 Strikes, 7 Dinosaurs, and a Camel.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

How Will He Maintain Control Without the Bureaucracy?

Sorry for the dearth of postings, but I was out over the weekend gettin' my geek on at the Star Wars Convention in Indianapolis with 28,000 of my closest nerds. [Go ahead, laugh it up fuzzball.] A good time was had by all.

Nice to go away and get to avoid the increasingly frustrating world of politics and government, at least for a little while. Biggest political discussions seemed to be around whether the Empire would start to privatize the old age pension fund and up the death benefits for widows of clone troopers. But that's all fiction, so who cares?

Glad to say that in the midst of the whole story arc about the slow decline from democracy to dictatorship, I never once saw it as an analogy to the current political situation in America. The mindless oblivion of a fantasy realm just means that Karl Marx didn't know jack about opiates.

Also, you can never have too many Leas in the slave outfit.

Now back to the real world.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

How to Win Back the Red States

Since the 2004 election when so many of our Liberal hearts had been broken, the powers-that-be in the Democratic Party have analyzed to death the apparent decimation of Liberal ideals at the national level. Significant too is the death of Democratic control in the national legislature and in the various state legislatures. The Republicans have found a way to increase the turnout of people sympathetic to their cause (or causes), while the Democrats have not.

The result is an obvious erosion of the Democratic base, and a questionable future for the Democratic Party.

Many plans have been set out to combat this problem, most notable of which is the Howard Dean plan to take the Democratic Message out to the heart of the so-called Red States. The hope, it seems, is that once confronted with the ideals of the Democratic Party, like-minded individuals will realize the errors of their ways and begin to vote Democratic.

This plan, as elegant as it is in its simplicity, belies a larger flaw, i.e., there is no guarantee for the Democratic Party that campaigning in the Red-States will convert anyone to our message. Moreover, in the long run there is no guarantee that those who do convert will consistently vote with the Party, and not cross over to the other side.

The Democratic Party's problems are also compounded by a few other, seemingly unrelated issues:

(1) Those with higher education tend to vote liberal;
(2) The Democrats are strong in the Cities, and not in the suburbs;
(3) Those with higher education tend to have fewer children.
In the long run, only a drastic strategy of personal sacrifice will wrest control of this country from the hands of the conservatives. Democrats must be willing to direct all of their combined energies towards the achievement of this goal, as difficult as it may seem now. We Democrats cannot be held hostage to what we know is a radical minority interest in the Country, and we must come together to outwit, out perform, and, above all, out number the Right Wing.

With all this in mind, and after careful consideration, there can only be one solution to this long term problem: the Democratic Party must out breed the Republicans. This will be a difficult, long term task, but one which I believe our Party is willing to undertake for the good of the Country.

The Democrats are positioned to take advantage of several key unique features of members of the Party in order to facilitate the breeding process.

First, it has been noted by several prominent culture critics, that the Democratic Party is by far the most attractive of the two Parties. Compare, for example, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi with House Majority Leader Tom Delay. I believe I can safely say without contradiction that the country would rather wake up in bed after a drinking binge with Ms. Pelosi instead of Mr. Delay.

Moreover, our virtual lock on the media establishment enhances our ability to not only make our party members seemingly more attractive (through hazy filters, body doubles, etc.), but also to establish them as the media deigned pinnacle of human excellence.

Second, as is evident by the conduct of our 42nd President, the Democratic Party has been known to be, as our British brethren would say, "a bit randy." While the other party has had its own sexual indiscretions, the Democratic party is by far much more open about consensual sex, public groping, and other lascivious actions. This hint of sexual titillation inherent in our party will only enhance the appeal of the breeding plan.

Third, our generally laissez-faire attitude towards controlled, mood altering substances will allow our less attractive Democrats to meet and reproduce at a rate commensurate with the more attractive members of our Party. This plan is largely the same as the strategy developed on college campuses to increase copulation rates

Unfortunately, despite our distinction as the Party of "Gettin' Some," the breeding process will need to involve the formation of families to control the indoctrination Stage of the Breeding Process. To the dismay of many of our Party members, we will have to settle down, get jobs, and raise the children. Divorce will be out of the question. Single family and divorced households will be fine for Republicans, but not for the sexually charged Democrats.

In all, there are two major Phases to the plan: First the Homsteading, Second the Breeding.

Stage 1 of the Homesteading Phase involves loyal Democratic Homesteaders marrying (or domestic partnering) and moving out to traditionally Republican areas. For the sake of efficiency, the first step of this migration should involve tackling districts that are only marginally Republican (or those that have been Gerrymandered so), in order to win over certain house seats. The first wave of settlers must be from solidly Democratic areas (New York, Chicago, Boston, DC, etc.) so that the impact of the loss of these voters will be negligible in their home Cities. It would be foolish to expect first-wave settlers from such marginally held areas as New Hampshire or parts of Ohio. After they are substantially settled in their new homes, Homesteaders will move on to the Breeding Phase.

As areas become "secure," more Homesteaders will be required to push out into the Red Frontier, ever increasing their numbers.

Once Stage 1 of the Homesteading Phase is complete, these first Democratic Settlers need to move to Phase 2: breeding. Settler families will be required to have at least 4 children, effectively doubling the number of Democratic voters in the area, and providing for two back-up votes. For the average party family, four to five children would be adequate to show dedication to the Liberal cause. The more fervid of members, however, should strive for at least nine or ten children. Party leaders would be expected to have nearly a dozen offspring. This Phase II will be far more difficult than Phase I for Democrats, because our belief in Birth Control, Abortion, and Women's Rights. Unfortunately, for the sake of the Greater Good, these values will have to be abandoned so that women can remain constantly pregnant with future Democrats.

If only the Party could have retained a greater share of the American Catholic vote, such extreme measures would not be necessary.

This strategy will also be hard on our loyal gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered brothers, sisters and brother/sisters. As our goal of domestic partnerships cannot be reached as of yet, and this precludes homosexual partners adopting children, the GLBT community will have to "take one for the team," as it were, and participate in the breeding as well. While this may be an inconvenience, our GLBT Friends must realize that heterosexual copulation is the only route to homosexual marriage. I believe that once this is understood, the suburbs will be teeming with Democratically Inclined Gay Babies.

The Breeding Strategy, I will admit, is a long term strategy. Given the Constitution and human growth patterns, I would estimate that our Democratic Breeding Strategy must last at least 25 years, in order to educate and bring new voters to maturity.

Still, in the interim, the Democratic Breeders need to be on guard against Right-Wing propaganda in the form of Public Education. If not checked, these hotbeds of radical conservatism could influence future Democratic voters to lean towards right-wing positions on gun control, environmentalism, God, and the Middle East. While some leakage is inevitable, it would probably behoove Breeders to home-school their future voters in order to protect them from the evils of "popular" right-wing culture. Those that are more cautious may feel the need to establish Democratic ghettos or compounds throughout the Red States, where fellow liberals can associate freely and educate their children without interference from the government.

It is vitally important, however, that we do not merely sit still in our cosy neighborhoods content to concentrate our votes. Any concentration of left-wing voters can be easily Gerrymandered around by nefarious, single-child Republican legislators. In order to be maximally effective, we must always be willing to spread ourselves out in even the most remote of places. This plan, from the very outset, involves the endless expansion into the West, wrestling it from the unwashed heathens, as is our preordained manifest destiny from God/Allah/YHWH/Shiva/No One.

Guided, therefore, by the Creator (if any) and the inexorable tide of human history, it is imperative that we, the members of the Democratic party, settle down, get a mortgage, start shagging, and pop out babies. Only by breeding like rabbits can we hope to turn the country away from the utter nonsense foisted upon us by the other party.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Federal Tax Credits

You know my feelings on Federal Historic Tax Credits (or at least you can guess them). Via the PG:

Pennsylvania ranked second in the nation last year in the amount of money invested to fix up old buildings qualifying for federal historic preservation tax credits.

Missouri led the nation with developers spending nearly $358 million for qualifying buildings, according to a report from the National Park Service.

Pennsylvania had about $224 million in spending on buildings certified for the federal tax credits.

Last year's incentives across the country leveraged $3.88 billion in building rehabilitation.
Good news for Pennsylvania, I suppose but Missouri?


Seriously? Missouri gets more historic tax credits than Pennsylvania? That I don't get. Isn't Pennsylvania where US history comes from? 1643? 1776? How old is Missouri, really? 184 years old? What do they have in Missouri that beats us to the punch? What do they have that's so historic?

C'mon! Show me!

I'm sorry for that. All that feigned outrage for the sake of a lame pun. I make myself sick.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


So I was going to write a lengthy diatribe about the media's obsession over the Papal Conclave and how, ultimately, only 115 men in the Sistine Chapel actually have any idea about who's a "front runner" and who's a "dark horse."

Then they went and picked a German guy who apparently used to play Cliff on Cheers.

Y'all missed a perfectly good rant.

Anyway... Knowing that rarely does the RCC do anything that isn't symbolic, I went and took a look at the previous 15 Benedicts to see if we could see a pattern:

Benedict XV (It.) 1914-22: Organized significant humanitarian efforts during WWI, pushed international reconciliation, and quieted the capaign against the "modernists". Slightly less successful against the Cubists. ADB Rating: +

Benedict XIV (It.) 1740-58: Denounced the custom of accommodating Christian words and usages to express non-Christian ideas and practices of the native cultures, which had been extensively done by the Jesuits. Refused to even think the words "feng shui." ADB Rating: -

Benedict XIII (It.) 1724-30: A reforming pope and endeavored to put a stop to the decadent lifestyles of the Italian priesthood and of the cardinalate. Could not put a stop to the decadent frosting on Devil's Food Cake. ADB Rating: +

Benedict XII (Fr.) 1334-42: He was a reforming pope, and tried to curb the luxury of the monastic orders, but without much success. As Bishop of Pamiers, however, he pursued a rigorous inquisition for heretics amongst the Cathars of Montaillou. This inquisition, in contrast to the later Spanish Inquisition, was slightly more expected. ADB Rating: -

Benedict XI (It.) 1303-04: Supporter of the temporal and spiritual primacy of the Pope, although was unable to carry out much in 8 mos. Last Pope before the "Babylonian Captivity" in Avignon, France. Always missed the good parties and wouldn't shut up about it. ADB Rating: -

Benedict X (It.) 1058-1059: Antipope. When combined with Pope, produces pure energy. ADB Rating: N/A

Benedict IX (It.) 1047-1048: Very young, perhaps the youngest pope, possibly age 12. Possibly a fetus. "Anointed" by his father Count of Tusculum, he was the nephew of Benedict VIII and John XIX. Unsuitable. Simoniac. Resigned. Jerk. ADB Rating: - -

Benedict VIII (It.) 1012-1024: Member of the Tusculum family. Fled like a girl from Rome when opposed by Antipope. Restored to the throne by Henry II of Germany. Total Jerk. ADB Rating: -

Benedict VI: (It.) 972-974: Member of the Tusculum family (again). Under protection of Emperor Otto the Great, upon whose death the citizens of Rome rioted against the Pope. Benny was strangled to death on orders from the son of a former Pope's concubine. [Seriously!] Absolute Total Jerk. ADB Rating: -

Benedict V (It.) 964: Elected by Romans in May... Deposed by Emperor in June. Well done there. ADB Rating: -

Benedict IV (It.) 900-903: Possibly a being of super intelligence from the planet Thetas.. Probably not. ADB Rating: N/A.

Benedict III (It.) 855-858: 2nd choice after controversial election. Apparently Pious and learned. The hold of the emperors was weakened under his reign, as were the knees of his female groupies, who were known to thrown their sack cloths and ashes on stage. ADB Rating: 0

Benedict II (It.) 684-685: Under his reign, popes were no longer confirmed by the Byzantine Emperor. He is the patron saint of Europe... his name has since been changed to Pope Freedom II. ADB Rating: +

Benedict I (It.) 575-579: Plagued by famine, Lombards, and weasels, otherwise not much is known about him. ADB Rating: 0

In summary: the History of Popes named Benedict is a rich tapestry of pious Saints and utter bastards. Which is about par for the course.

Monday, April 18, 2005


If you haven't read Jerry Paytas' Opinion piece in the PG on Pittsburgh Regionalism and the Mayor's Election, you probably should. Jerry's right on his command for the next mayor to embrace regionalism or die, but I have a slightly different take on it. But first, the RAND study he references is found here. A highlight:

The analyses of earnings are based on where people live and work. We [RAND] construct simple metrics to estimate the amount of earnings from workers who live and work within their community and those workers who bring their earnings home from other jurisdictions. Our analyses show that ten municipalities have estimated net deficits in earnings of more than $100 million, with the City of Pittsburgh at over $5 billion. Another fifteen municipalities have net surpluses in earnings of more than $100 million.

The flow of earnings across municipal boundaries is used to describe the degree of economic interdependence in Allegheny County. We find that 80 percent or more of the total earnings flowing into county municipalities are generated by jobs outside a municipality for 114 municipalities (88 percent). Further, 124 of municipalities (95 percent) in the county "export" 60 percent or more of earnings from jobs within their municipality to nonresident commuters. The amount of earnings flowing across the boundaries of municipalities is not surprising given that, on average, only 13 percent of residents work within their own municipality.
It continues...
This report demonstrates that there is a dense web of economic flows that closely tie the municipalities of Allegheny County to the City of Pittsburgh and to one another. The web is created through vast numbers of workers in Allegheny County who live in one municipality and work in another, meaning that enormous sums of income are flowing back and forth across jurisdictional lines. Similar to the other municipalities, the City of Pittsburgh is integral to the web when it comes to attracting commuters. However, the city is the lone exception in not "exporting" its residents as workers to other jurisdictions, with nearly 70 percent of city workers working within its boundaries, as compared with an average of less than 15 percent of workers in the other municipalities working within their own municipalities. Moreover, Pittsburgh is the economic engine of the county, with jobs in the city accounting for over one-third of total commuter earnings in the county and at least 15 percent of the commuter income in 116 of 130 municipalities.
Pittsburgh itself exports [defined as exporting more earnings to nonresident commuters than their residents import from other areas, yielding net deficit earnings for the municipality] a whopping $5.3 BILLION in earnings to the surrounding area, with Monroeville, Findlay, Robinson, and Green Tree following well behind at $300-350 million. On the obverse side, Mount Lebanon and Penn Hills rake in $350 million in earnings from their workers.

From an economic perspective it is clear, we should all be very concerned about the fate and future of the City of Pittsburgh for, as Jerry notes, the ability for region to regenerate jobs if Pittsburgh's economy collapses, will take a long, long time.

With that said, however, the state of the City of Pittsburgh is much more akin to the Econ 101 "Tragedy of the Commons" in which marginal value is driven down by collective overuse, driven by pursuit of individual advantage. Politically, Pittsburgh is often seen an economic commons for the region, the location for doing business. Collective neglect of the commons will lead to a decrease in the marginal productive value of the City... or in other words, if the suburbs (and the governmental units and politicians therein) don't give a damn about the city, assuming that it's in the City's problem, the City will slowly collapse.

To compound the problem, individual municipalities, rationally pursuing their own strategies, will inevitably conflict with the larger "good," leading to a less than optimal outcome. If one municipality can get away without paying out to the City, that municipality comes out ahead... so it makes sense for ALL municipalities to pursue the same strategy.

With that in mind, I suggest that the problem is not just with Pittsburgh, but also with the surrounding municipalities. This is a vital issue that will confound the plans of the next mayor. The problem, or one off several problems, all of which are important, is this: Pittsburgh is just one ship in the great fleet that is Western Pennsylvania. One hundred thrity-odd municipalities, not including regional authorities, school districts, tax districts, water boards, or the county IN ALLEGHENY COUNTY ALONE, need to follow one harmonious course in order to grow Pittsburgh.

If Pittsburgh does fabulously well, the region will benefit, yes. The Region, however, does not benefit if Pittsburgh benefits at the expense of its surrounding communities. If Blawnox is washed into the sea, Western Pennsylvania is the less. As said above, however, independent municipalities should not be expected to give up their autonomy in attracting development just because Pittsburgh wants it and especially if they stand to "lose".

So, it's not just Pittsburgh that needs to embrace regionalism it's the REGION that needs to embrace regionalism.

But no solutions to this problem this morning... not before the 2nd cup of coffee, anyway.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Virginia is For Lovers (and Pennsylvania Senators Named Dick)

I just thought the choice of words and juxtaposition of ideas in this article from the Trib was interesting:

Former U.S. Rep. Doug Walgren lost the Democrats' endorsement for Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge this spring, but he's already won something more important: top slot on the primary ballot...

The fact that he only recently moved back to Allegheny County after living in Northern Virginia hardly seems to matter. Walgren lost his seat in 1990 to Rick Santorum, who painted him as a carpetbagger. Santorum now is a U.S. senator.
Two points:
(1) The second paragraph is superfluous to the rest of the article, which is really about the role that name recognition plays in PA's election of judges, but more importantly...
(2) Do the Editors at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review know what irony is?

Why not go further? A better conclusion to the second paragraph could have been:
"Santorum is a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, and now lives in Northern Virginia."
"Santorum now is a U.S. Senator, and is now screwing the taxpayers of Penn Hills."
"That Dick is now a U.S. Senator."

My soul is weary; I have to go lay in the bath for awhile, lest I have an aneurism.*


*If it wasn't for the horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Huzzah for Pointless Milestones!

Hey folks! Wake the kids and rattle the neighbors! I just hit my 100th posting since my First, Angry, Drunk, Bureaucratic Post! And just to make it extra special, I hit 1,000 visits since I began counting.

This means that we have met our fund match goal and that Anonymous from Squirrel Hill will be donating another 1,000 visits to our drive.

Thanks to Mr/Mrs./Ms. X of the domain for putting us over the top. He/she/it will get a free tote bag and a CD recording of my best postings.

To everyone else, I'm sorry I've wasted your time.

City Taxes Are Awesome

Ever the procrastinator, I waited until last night to e-file my City of Pittsburgh taxes and, despite the long queue to get access to the server, using their system was awesome, at least for me.

The great thing about City taxes, if there is such a thing, is that without deductions or any other nonsense, I can enter in my income (as paltry as it is), multiply it by 3% and figure out if it matches what I paid.

Couple passwords and that's it. BAM! I'm done. I can go back to watching season 2 of Aqua Teen Hunger Force in my robe and slippers.

Awesome! I love when technology makes my life easier.

Granted, I'd love it more if I never had to pay any taxes to the government, but former alternative of conquering and plundering countries is a bit messy for my taste.

I mean Rome did it for mumble-mumble hundreds of years, and it worked for them, that is, until the lead pipes made their emperors nuttier than Chinese Chicken Salad. Still, a triumphal procession down Pennsylvania Avenue showing off the spoils of the conquest of, say, Belgium sounds cool, but probably more complicated to pull off than the 1040 EZ. Probably also put a bunch of tax accountants out of work... or into the army. Yikes! Armed accountants here to forcibly audit you. How do you record the conquest of Brussels in your books? Is it a Current Asset? Liability? Equity? Do I need to get an actuary out there to give me the net value of a billion tulips? And I mean, the Army spends $500 for a hammer, think about what they'd say a windmill is worth.

To sum up: I like taxes better than invading Belgium.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Here I Am (Rock You Like a Hurricane)

I apologize for my lack of a posting yesterday. I had a really good one lined up when Blogger decided to eat it.

So I waited until after work, tried to write it from memory, and post it again...

Only this time IE decided that it was tired of life, went postal, and took my machine and several innocent passerbys with it.

So I went home and, after my nightly ritual of Simpsons & Daily Show reruns and a shot or two of Scotch, I went to try and post for a third time... only this time my evil cable ISP went to Mars or Des Moines or something, shutting me out entirely.

I finally came to the realization that that post was never meant to be and it will never see the glowing electronic light of the Internet. 'Tis a shame as it assigned the stunning visual imagery of a brick encased Walnut, a robotic duck from the US Postal Service, and a pack of lemurs all named "Phil" to Bill Peduto, Michael Lamb, and Bob O'Connor... although not necessarily in that order.

Speaking of which, did anyone else who received Bobby's new campaign mailing notice that the picture of him "Hard at Work" on the inside has the "work" sideways? You can clearly tell that the words are not reading from left to right (or even right to left if he was reading Hebrew). Oops! The picture suggests that Bobby doesn't know and isn't paying attention to what he's doing... which, if this was a cynical blog, could be used as a metaphor to describe his campaign.

But this is not a cynical blog.

Those of you interested in Design, Community, & Quality of Life and the Pittsburgh Mayor's Race will be interested in the Mayoral Forum being held by The Pittsburgh Civic Design Coalition on Wednesday, April 20, 2005, @ 6 PM in the Convention Center. RSVP to (412) 471-9548 or email info[at] This is Peduto's "New Pittsburgh" crowd, so expect him to do well in front of these guys. Expect Lamb to try to make in roads and explain what a prothonotary knows about design. Expect O'Connor to pretend to know what he's talking about, but be generally affable. Expect everyone else not to be invited.

OK Blogger... eat this!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Did Anyone Catch This One...?

OK, I'm getting the heebee-jeebees over this article, which reads, in part:

Phyllis Schlafly, doyenne of American conservatism, said [Supreme Court Justice Anthony M.] Kennedy's opinion forbidding capital punishment for juveniles "is a good ground of impeachment." To cheers and applause from those gathered at a downtown Marriott for a conference on "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith," Schlafly said that Kennedy had not met the "good behavior" requirement for office and that "Congress ought to talk about impeachment."...

Not to be outdone, lawyer-author Edwin Vieira told the gathering that Kennedy should be impeached because his philosophy, evidenced in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute, "upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law."...

"The people who have been speaking out on this, like Tom DeLay and Senator Cornyn, need to be backed up," Schlafly said to applause yesterday. One worker at the event wore a sticker declaring "Hooray for DeLay."
Read the rest of the article... it gets worse.

Now, I could launch into a tirade over the separation of powers, pointing out that a free judiciary is a protection against tyranny, or I could discuss the neo-conservative push towards the amalgamation of governmental and political powers, or I could point out that Kennedy was, in fact, appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan, or I could say something along the lines of "when did we start slouching towards an Iranian style oligopoly?" Instead, however, I think I'll stand by my initial reaction:


I'm going to change my undies now.

Monday, April 11, 2005

In case you missed it...

From David S. Broder in the Washington Post on Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) reduction and transfer of its responsibility to the Department of Commerce:

Time was when presidents not only listened to mayors, they sought their advice. HUD has been run by former mayors throughout much of its history, but this is an administration whose political base stretches outward from city boundaries through the suburbs and into the gloriously red precincts of exurbia and rural townships.
For Bush, city voters are no more than an afterthought, so why not put a vital urban program into a department where bottom-line corporate thinking is the norm?
So who benefits with Bush's plan? Probably the auto industry, the construction industry, the oil industry, the logging industry, WAL-MART... basically everyone who benefits from sprawl and urban decay (in whichever order that actually occurs). Basically, all Bush is doing is creating disinsentives to investing in the inner cities and urban areas, increasing the development of greenfields, and increasing our dependence on the automobile (and oil).

Fortunately, it seems that enough moderate Republicans are concerned enough about their own districts (and they're own necks) that this plan may never make it through...


Sunday, April 10, 2005

Quote of the Weekend:

"I have the physique of a god...

Unfortunately, it's Hephaestus."

Friday, April 08, 2005

Friday Afternoon Rant

Article in the Trib pissed me off, surprisingly enough, not because of the story or the reporting, as is the norm, but rather what was said by the interviewees about downtown Pittsburgh.

"They have to make it easier for people to come and park," said Reggie Cox, manager of Sneaker Villa on Wood Street. "They're real good at towing cars around here, but maybe they ought to make the meters last longer than seven minutes for a quarter."...

"Downtown is dirty," he [Calvin Moore, manager of EZ Records] said. "If they just planted some trees and flowers, it would make a big difference and maybe get people more interested to take their time and shop a little."...

"I think waiting for the big, sweeping change there may have slowed things down," he [Rich LoPresti manager of Lubin and Smalley] said. "If, five years ago, they had tried to develop it block by block, well at least they would have been doing something. They want big picture kinds of things to happen, but something happening is better than nothing happening."
Do you see a common pattern in their answers? Please, Calvin, Reggie, Rich, tell me, who are "They*"?

Which They is supposed to come in and fix what's wrong downtown? Where do They live? Do They have family? Where is this mystical organization out there with access to billions of dollars who can wave Their checkbook and solve all of our problems. Does They wear brown robes and recite ancient incantations to the Dark Lords of Economic Development while sacrificing virgins? Is They omnipresent, ever lurking the shadows, leaping out to right wrongs and dispense justice? Who ARE They and how do I get THEM to pay off my credit card bills?

But it's not just downtown. In my travels and travails through the region, more often then not I hear "They should do this" or "The Government should do that" or "The City should do the other thing." It spans all types of issues and isn't just limited to certain projects, ideas, or areas. I've heard it in Crafton, I've heard it in East Liberty, I've heard it in Braddock. I've heard it about Bike Trails, about Riverfront development, about art, about race relations, etc. It worries and upsets me that some people believe that there is an all powerful "They" out there with the magical powers to cure problems. It depresses me further that us Western Pennsylvanians seem to have a mentality that someone else (usually the government) is supposed to fix our problems for us.

An anecdote (probably apocryphal) told to me by a coworker, tells of a time she was talking with some executive at Freemarkets who complained that They were not providing enough night life downtown. Her response was, "Listen asshole: get your beer drinking, dot-com buddies together and build your own damned night life! You have time and money! Fix it yourself! Don't expect Them to provide it for you.

They are good at policing the streets, putting out fires, dispensing justice, picking up trash, building your roads, destroying your roads, maintaining your roads, building sewers, remediating brownfields, accessing funds, providing funds, holding property, planting trees, and providing other services not easily done by the private market. They are not here to do things for You. They are not Your panacea to fix every thing that is wrong; They're from the government, and They're here to HELP.

Stop laughing. I mean it.

The Government is not here to drive these deals; the government, as Fester & I have alluded to, is here to assist in these deals. In areas that are traditionally the perview of the private market, Government cannot make bad deals work; government can only make marginal deals work.

If you are complaining about why THEY aren't doing anything, why don't YOU ask why YOU'RE not doing anything? Have we lost the ability to do anything by ourselves without relying on Them to do it for us? Self determination? Community activism? Getting up off your lazy, whiney asses? No? Nothing? Not a bit? Hello? Is this thing on?

Alright, I'm done. I have to go fix someone's problems now.

* I mean, other than The Horde of Ecumenical Yodelers (T.H.E.Y.) Narf!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Houston, We Have a Crossover

It brings great joy to my little bureaucratic heart to discuss an article in the PG that discusses not only Pittsburgh Politics but also touches on Pittsburgh Bureaucracy. Now, if the article would only reference The Machine That Goes PING!, I'd get no work done today whatsoever.

Democratic mayoral candidate William Peduto said yesterday that he wants to "professionalize" appointments to city agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority or the zoning board by choosing candidates from a list developed by a third-party panel....

Peduto, a city councilman from Point Breeze, said if he were mayor, anyone could apply to be on the city agencies, and a third-party panel would study the candidates and issue recommendations on appointees to the mayor.

"These authorities spend hundreds of millions [of dollars] each year. We must take politics out of this process to create boards that accurately represent the interest of the citizens, not the special interests," Peduto said at a news conference yesterday....
You'd think that I'd be giddy writing about this, but, ever the knee-jerk contrarian, I am of mixed minds.

First, I wish to reiterate the point that Politics is the Enemy of Good Government [Rule #6], so anything, in my opinion, that reduces Government's dependence on Political Inanities can't be a completely bad thing. It would be nice, for a change, to allow bureaucrats the freedom to "Do What's Right" and not what's politically popular.

ON THE OTHER HAND: Peduto's quote, "These authorities spend hundreds of millions [of dollars] each year. We must take politics out of this process to create boards that accurately represent the interest of the citizens, not the special interests..." is probably one of the dumbest things I've seen in print since I read 1001 Dumb Things in Print by Herb Dumdedumb (Harper-Collins Press).

The POINT of having political oversight, at least in theory, is to ensure that the interests of the citizens IS accurately represented. The POINT of having qualified people on these boards is to ensure some level of responsibility for spending those millions of dollars. SOMEBODY NEEDS TO ULTIMATELY TAKE RESPONSIBILITY AND BE THE FRIGGIN' GROWNUP

If anything, Peduto should be pushing for MORE political oversight, not LESS. Now, we bureaucrats are overly burdened with towing the political line, this is true. From my deeply ingrained passion in political theory, however, I would not like it if us Bureaucrats were given unfettered free reign in defiance of our tradition of local popular democracy.

ON THE FURTHER HAND: C'mon, seriously... does Bill actually expect this to be effective?

OK, let's assume that the 6th Seal is Broken and we end up with a Peduto administration. Bill goes to his appointment committees, who come back with a list of appointees to the various Authorities. These appointees, who are not necessarily beholden to Bill's Political ideals, but operate, rather, on their own skill, independent of the mayor's office.

At least at first.

Then the URA, HACP, SEA, PWSA, PA, etc. goes and does something bureaucratically effective, but unpopular at the mayor's office. Mayor Bill get's leaned on by those that got him elected and is told to "do something about this." ...

Then what happens? Either the Mayor stares down those that elected him (politically risky), or the Mayor interferes where he said he wouldn't (governmentally risky). If it is the former, re-election is going to be difficult; if it is the latter, the Bureaucracies have been put back into the same position where they were before... just where Bill said he wouldn't put them. And now, the Bureaucrats are in this nebulous grey area where they're not supposed to be beholden to the Mayor, but yet they are.

And hilarity ensues.

ON THE FOOT: This is kinda what Murphy did way back in 1992 by promoting various community organizers to positions of power. Mulugetta Birru, formerly of the Homewood CDC, was promoted to head the URA; Stanley Lowe, formerly of Manchester, was picked to head HACP; Tom Cox, also formerly a North Side activist, was chosen as Deputy Mayor for Policy. Murphy's strategy, it seems, was to chose people that had experience in the community and use their talents on a broader scale.

We can debate the efficacy of his choices later.

Now, URA is headed by a former URA Bureaucrat, HACP is headed by a former HACP Bureaucrat, and other agencies are similarly staffed. So rock on Pizzburgh Bureaucratz.

ON THE RIGHT EARLOBE:Is he seriously considering letting anyone apply to be on the city agencies? Really? Obviously Bill hasn't spent enough time listening to people speak at the public comment portion of council meetings. Those people are insane... rip roaring mad... one step away from hanging out with a Doormouse and a March Hare, offering tea to strange girls that wander by.

But more to the point, what would ensure that this appointment committee would appoint people that either (1) know what they're doing, (2) represent the public interest, and (3) can be held politically accountable?

Well.. hey, the school board is elected and they're... well... you know.

So, if ANYONE is actually going to be able to be appointed, I'm nominating me, my drinking buddies, and Sombrero Man. That'll show 'em.

OK, I've enjoyed my nexus of Politics and Bureaucracy.

In sum: this is the most expensive post in the whole hospital. We leased it back from the company we sold it to. That way it comes under the current budget and not under capital accounts. Thank you; we do our best.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Deep in the Heart of Texas

In Richard Florida's tome The Rise of the Creative Class and How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, Dr. Florida has this to say about Austin TX.

Two decades ago, Austin was not on anybody's list of high-tech places, but today it ranks seoond on my Creativity Index, sixth in innovation and seventh in the Creative Class. What Happened? Austin worked hard to develop all 3Ts [Talent, Technology, Tolerance] of its economic development strategy and build the kind of habitat to compete and win in the Creative Age. [p. 298]
So it struck me when I found this very interesting article via the Austin-American Statesmant discussing Austin's $20.1 Million tax break to Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. in order to lure the company away from Chicago IL:
Austin offers $20.1 million tax break to keep Freescale

Chip maker says it will add 500 jobs as part of the agreement.

By Shonda Novak
Friday, April 01, 2005

The City of Austin will give property tax breaks worth $20.1 million over 10 years as part of a major incentives agreement with Freescale Semiconductor Inc....

Most of the tax breaks are connected to a $600 million expansion of Freescale's manufacturing facilities in Austin that will add 500 jobs to Freescale's Austin payroll, now about 5,600 workers. The average wage for the new jobs will be $77,000 a year, according to city figures.

The city is waiving all property taxes related to the expansion for 10 years. In moving the headquarters from Oak Hill, Freescale will transfer 300 jobs to its Parmer Lane complex, which will become the company's new corporate address.

The size of the package is expected to grow substantially with further tax breaks and incentives to be negotiated with the Austin Independent School District and the State of Texas. The agreement was worked out after months of tough negotiations....

Mayer said the size of the incentives package "clearly played a role in our decision" but said that Austin's unique qualities, including its quality of life, improving downtown and the University of Texas, also played a role. UT was involved in the negotiations to keep Freescale, Austin's biggest corporate headquarters.

Chicago is thought to have offered incentives worth about $20 million.

"This is not the Windy City, but we are glad" to have chosen Austin, Mayer said.
[Sorry for the long quote, but you can thank me later for not making you register.]

It strikes me as interesting that in the midst of what Florida appears to claim as a winning formula for competing in the "Creative Economy," it was a tool of the Traditional Economy (tax breaks) that attracted Freescale to Austin.

A minor blip, you say? Well, Austin is doing the same thing with Home Depot, offering abatement on "100 percent of taxes on business equipment and 50 percent of taxes on improvements to the site for the next 10 years."

That doesn't sound very "Creative" to me. Where're the coffee shops? Where're the "Hippie Hours"? Where're the street musicians? CHRIST! CAN'T A MAN GET A DAMNED GRANDE DOUBLE LATTE WITH CINAMON DUST IN THIS TOWN???

Austin sounds down right a-creative here; this is the same "old-economy" smokestack chasing you see in... say... the movie Gung Ho! Shouldn't Austin be able to ride on the crest of its Creative Class rather than stoop to the level of dirty, dirty tax incentives to attract businesses? Isn't this the kind of activity that the economic development in the age of the Creative Class is supposed to avoid? Asked a third way: if there is inherent economic value in the creative power of the City of Austin, why does it have to dish out additional public subsidies in order to attract corporations? Would these companies locate (or have located) in Austin if tax incentive had not been provided? Do you want more rhetorical questions?

In his analysis of Austin, Dr. F. has clearly left out a "T" (Taxes) to be included with his magic triad of Tolerance, Talent, and Technology (so I suppose it's a "tetragon").

Oh yeah, and beyond being a counterfactual for the Creative Economic Development Types, it's about the money. It's ALWAYS about the money.

BTW: Check out Fester's semi-related posting on the trials and travails of adaptive reuse. [Hint: It's also about the money.]

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Words I Want

The English language is glorious because it is so laissez-faire. We'll gladly pick up words from other languages and use them with impunity. Unlike languages like, say, French, which have boards of control to keep their language "pure," English is a damned mutt of a language.

This probably explains why we have like 30,000 words that mean "smell". It also explains why we let Warren G. Harding get away with "normalcy" when "normality" was a perfectly acceptable and alliterative alternative.

Anyway, I have a few words I'd like to see included in the O.E.D.:

"Whelm" - Of course you can be overwhelmed (affected deeply in mind or emotion), and I've heard people using "underwhelmed" (affected shallowly in mind or emotion), but I want to be affected in mind or emotion in just the right amount. I want to go into the movie and say, "Meh, I was whelmed". Kinda explains the general reaction to this blog.

"Couth" - Between the belching, hacking, and farting, my coworkers are rightly called uncouth... but are the rest of us just "couth"? I think so.

"Craptacular" - This one is a Simpson's reference, but I saw Rob Owens in the PG use it once, so it's on its way to becoming a real boy. It is awesome.

Gahzinnus - The entrance... 'cause it "Gets us in"... not to be confused with the Gahzahtus, which would be the exit. I use these on a fairly regular basis, and either people are humoring me or they know what I'm talking about.

Just a few for now... more later, but if you all would start using these words now in regular conversation, that would be great.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Thoughts on the Death of JP II

Where to begin? No idea; so no particular order, I promise to mix my general smarm with my heartfelt sympathies:

1) For 26 years, John Paul II has been not just Pope, but THE Pope. Few of my peers can remember a time where anyone else occupied the chair of St. Peter. For that reason, John Paul has become synonymous with the office of Pope at least for the current generation. His passing is rightly called an end of an era, without irony or sarcasm.

2) His reign was characterized by what has sometimes been described as the Catholic Third Way: a cling to the old traditions of social conservatism with a push towards economic liberalism. In this context, he did not fit in the traditional mold of left vs. right; Democrats vs. Republicans; Us vs. Them. Each of our sides can claim a portion of his legacy, without being able to fully claim the whole of it.

3) News media, please don't poll people on whether he is the Greatest Pope in history; until the general population can give me a short biographical description of about Adrian VI, Julius II, Innocent III, Linus, Sylvester, Gregory the Great, Leo the Great, etc., they are in no position to confer upon the John Paul II the status of "The Greatest Pope in History."

4) News media, the general Catholic population doesn't vote for the Pope. Learn this fact well. There are 117 Men in Red who will decide, in secret, who the successor to St. Peter will be. No matter of polling of the opinions of Catholics, let alone US Catholics, will change the outcome.

* Additional... the girl on CNN who compared John Paul II to Jesus should be given the ol' bell, book, and candle routine.

5) News media, please don't circle like vultures. The 24 hr vigil before his death was OK, but bordered on disrespectful. Talking about the guy in the past tense before he was dead is just tacky. Talking about his potential successors before he was dead is just wrong. Let the guy get in the ground... erm… tomb.

6) I'm uneasy about lowering the flags for Pope John Paul II. Seems to be a clear violation of Church & State and also an honorific for a foreign Head of State. Would we do the same for the death of Ayatollah al-Sistani or for the Queen of England? Maybe, but it seems like a cheap political ploy in this case, excuse my cynicism. I would, by the way, be OK with lowering the flag for Karol Wojtyla. Am I sniping? Probably, and I feel bad about it.

7) How do you choose a successor to JP II? Much has been said in the media about how the Cardinals have been substantially appointed by him and how they share his views. There is, however, a key difference between them and him: they are not him. The Cardinals, for the sake of the office of the Primate and for the sake of the Church, may probably chose a placeholder Pope, i.e., someone bordering on 80, not expecting him to live that long. The shoes of JP II are so big, it may behoove the Cardinals to bring the office back down to Earth, making it less defined by one man. We may see a succession of short-term Popes, just to bring balance back to the relationship between Bishops and the Holy See.

OK... I'm done. More smarm later.

Green Development Follow-up

I was talking to an equally Angry, Drunk Bureaucrat over the weekend, and our discussion brought up a couple of interesting supplemental points to my post here on Peduto's Green Development Incentive Plans.

As you recall, Peduto is proposing non-monetary incentives to the developers of Green Buildings. I still can't seem to find any hard details on the matter, but it still seems to refer to leniency on zoning issues for Green Buildings. The bill (2005-1222) directs City Planning Department and Law Department work in cooperation to prepare legislation by May 1st that will provide incentives for green building construction. That's all; no specifics only speculation.

Anyway, onto the questions...

First, what is the monetary benefit to Peduto's deferment of regulations? Rental income is easier to calculate if you will benefit from a greater unit density, but how much is a quicker turn around time from Building Inspection or Zoning worth? Will that make a difference to developers?

Second, are the monetary cost of building Green outweighed by the benefits of not building Green somewhere else. See the First point above; is it worth my time, as a developer, to undertake the cost of building Green with all these benefits, when I can build a standard building on any other vacant brownfield or blighted area in the City? Is development demand in Pittsburgh that great that developers will be chomping at the bit to gain a marginal short term advantage? I would hazard to guess that the answer is "No."

Third, what happens when the first "special" Green Building that plugs a non-conforming use into a neighborhood goes to the Zoning Board of Adjustments? Will Zoning accept such deviations from the surrounding neighborhood context and, if so, will the neighbors acquiesce or will there be blood?

[As a side note about the viciousness and pettiness of Zoning Hearings, I've actually sat in on a meeting where a Homeowner objected to his Neighbor installing a handicap ramp for his MS afflicted wife. The Homeowner complained that the ramp on his Neighbor's property would lower his own property values and that the Neighbor shouldn't have bought the house in the first place if he knew about his wife's condition. I believe that the Zoning Commission was appalled and we nearly beat the crap out of the Homeowner following the meeting for being a dick.]

Anyway, just some thoughts this morning. I'll admit that we have no idea what City Planning & City Law will ultimately come back with... could be nothing.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Must See TV

Via the PG:


Dr. Robert "Bob" P. Strauss (8-1)
Dan "The Man" Onorato (5-0)

3 Rounds
KD/PG Sunday Edition
11:30 a.m. April 3, 2005
on KDKA.

No Holds Barred
Kids Seats Just $5
Old People Not Allowed

Prepare to be Reassessed

The rumble has been postponed; air time TBA.

Friday, April 01, 2005


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