Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rant #45985

Attention worthless piece of human sputum:

Please explain, exactly, how it is my fault that you have lost the ability to use abstract reasoning, derive logical conclusions from available data, and contemplate your own existence. Should I also be restraining you from licking your own genitals and throwing your own feces across the department?

While I understand that scientists continue to debate the role of nature versus nuture in human development, in either case you would have to have been raised by a pack of retarded donkeys that beat you regularly to descend to this level of stupidity.

Common household items have more drive, initiative, and intelligence that you. My cable box is more responsive, and, at this rate has provided better service. I have several lamps that are brighter than you and several knives that are sharper. I even have a spoon that's sharper.

By the way, I would stay away from sharp metal objects and wall sockets if I were you. That combination can only result in tears and flames.

In future, I will, instead ask the wall, my chair, or the funk underneath my garbage can for assistance rather than you. At least the funk under the garbage has some potential to evolve into something intelligent.

I can only hope that you refrain from breeding. I know a few doctors that will be glad to help you out. I can only hope that if you did have any children you followed the example of hampsters and ate them all. It is the only way that the species can advance.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

This Blog Supports Luke Ravenstahl for the Hell of it

I was quite disturbed to wake up this morning, open up the Post Gazette's "Early Returns" section, and find myself lumped in with a bunch of damned, dirty, hippie, Peduto supporters. According to the two headed beast that is James O'Toole-Rich Lord, yours truly is one of several local blogs that skewer Mr. Ravenstahl almost daily, and heap scorn on mainstream media reports that, in their view, go easy on the mayor.

Is it me or does that almost make this place sound like a RonCo Showtime Rotisserie?*

If anyone thought that we were attacking Mr. Ravenstahl because we had an affinity to another candidate, they would be sadly mistaken. Mr. Ravenstahl happens to occupy a very conspicuous position in City government, one where it is not easy to hide, making him vulnerable to slings and arrows thrown by people like me. The mayor is a target; Luke happens to be the mayor. As I said to some guy at the City Paper,

I think that the recent obsession with Ravenstahl is more of a function of the general proliferation of blogs. Tom Murphy was hit pretty hard too towards the end of his term as blogs were coming into their own, and there was some nasty, nasty stuff written about him (both fair and unfair) on the internet. Something tells me that if David L. Lawrence or Ebeneezer Denny were alive during the time of blogs, they would have been similarly reamed. (I think Thomas Paine actually wrote a pamphlet about Denny called "An Appeal to the Common Sense of the Citizens of Pittsburg and their Mayor" questioning his service in the Revolutionary War.)...
If there was a reason that we aren't doing more Peduto critiquing, it's not because he's a better candidate or he's somehow better liked by the author here, but because he's not out standing in front of the cameras every day throwing out new policy proposals, conveniently timed to improve his chances of being elected mayor.

Or perhaps he IS doing that, and we're just not paying all that much attention to him.

I'm sure as the election gets closer and closer we'll start being snarkier and snarkier 'round here, and we'll be making the obligatory comparisons between Ravenstahl's Opie and Peduto's Otis in this Maybury we call Pittsburgh.** Indeed, we raised the ire of some ardent Peduto supporters on several occasions last time he ran for the mayor's office.

So with that in mind, here are today's obligatory shots at Councilman Otis: I find it hard to believe that a guy who represents some of the most privileged portions of the City of Pittsburgh can truly appreciate the problems of the least advantaged. I'm also skeptical of the air of faux populism that he seems to engender in his most loyal followers. I am not convinced of the superiority of his policies and am deeply concerned that they will unnecessarily cost me time and cause me needless frustration.

Of course, having said that don't let anyone think that suddenly I'm supporting Ravenstahl either.

In general, however, I'm not a big fan of politicians, so I certainly see no reason to change my opinion during this race. I will remain safely agnostic for now until a real candidate runs.

What's Joe Cusick doing these days?

*Set it and forget it! Only 4 easy payments of $39.95!
**H/t to Luke. Somebody should pay him royalties.


Monday, February 26, 2007

And... BOOM!

With all the sirens and helicopters around downtown this afternoon, I thought that some yinzer was shooting at pigeons down on Penn Avenue again. Unfortunately this time the mayor was not needlessly running into danger; it was an honest to goodness, let's-ignore-the-PA-One-Call system gas rupture.

Let's take a listen.*

Personally, I just think that this was an illconceived and poorly executed attempt by the Ravenstahl administration to switch from "moving the City forward", to moving the City upwards and outwards.

At least bits of the City anyway...

*Editor's Note: Violent explosions of gas are not funny. Now pull my finger.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Smokestacks Caught

There was a time back in the '80s, as industry was folding up shop across this great land of ours, when the powers that be went to the heads of major manufacturing corporations (by then mostly Japanese) to plead on bended knee for some sort of branch plant to open up in their increasing destitute metropolises. They brought with them all manner of concessions, grants, loans, and other incentives in order to lure these branch plants in. The result was an unsustainable economic development practice commonly known as "Smokestack Chasing" and the moderately amusing Michael Keaton vehicle Gung Ho.

For those of you that think might have thought that Smokestack Chasing is dead:

Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways (NYSE:LCC) said Pittsburgh won the bidding over Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C., for the operations center, a deal that brings with it 150 new jobs and keeps 450 in the region. Salaries at the center would average about $40,000 per year, US Airways said...

US Airways said the new operations center will be about 60,000 square feet, located on a 10-acre site. Groundbreaking for the project is slated for later this year. The first day of full operation is scheduled in early 2009.

Pittsburgh's offer for the operations center included $3 million in state and county grants, $12.5 million in loans and $750,000 in state tax credits tied to the number of jobs created by the project.

Phoenix's offer was about $36 million in grants and loans. Charlotte did not disclose its bid.
I've never been particularly comfortable with this type of economic development, partially because it an endless race to the bottom by metropolitan regions and partially because at the end of the day there's nothing inherent in the region (like talent or resources) that would compel an industry to remain after the initial bribe is spent.

Let us also set aside the fact that I've never been particularly thrilled about chasing after this particular smokestack.

This is an interesting situation, however, in that what is being reported is that Pittsburgh actually offered LESS than another region, and according to Mr. Briem's calculation and a conservative multiplier effect from construction, we, as a Region, would be making some money back, assuming the tax credit period wasn't too long.

So, is this a good investment by the powers that be? Depends, I suppose: how many of you are USAirways frequent fliers?


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ADB Commissions Special Study on Pittsburgh Studies

Christ, not this shit again:

Pittsburgh Councilman William Peduto, a mayoral candidate, introduced legislation today to study how to encourage development in city neighborhoods.

"The redevelopment of our neighborhoods is integral to the future vitality of our city," he said in a press release. "We must carefully study the economic impact of any new program to ensure that we are using the appropriate tool to address the problem."

Mr. Peduto wants the city to spend as much as $10,000 for a study that would be conducted by Steve Zecher, a former city development official who is now a consultant based in Israel.

Seriously. This is getting out of hand. Does it seem to anybody else that this region is pathologically obsessed with eternal naval gazing? Can we not undertake a policy without it being examined, re-examined, having the examination examined, and then having the examination of the examination re-examined? Have we been reduced to municipal Hamlets*, afraid of acting without deep reflection until everyone lies dead around us and the Norwegian crown prince has taken over?

At this point is it a search for real practical wisdom in the Aristotelian sense, or is it just merely pseudo-intellectual masturbation?

And if it is the latter, it better damn well come with a box of Kleenex.

*No pun intended.


Development '07

While I was out buying carpet yesterday, as is my President's Day Tradition, I missed this story about the appointment of Pat Ford as development "Czar" for the City of Pittsburgh. Some thoughts after the quote:

Pittsburgh Planning Director Pat Ford will become the city's development czar, assigned to unify efforts to assist new construction and job creation, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced yesterday.

Mr. Ford's title will be director of economic and community development, and his role will shift from monitoring and regulating development to encouraging it.

"It's important to have a leader, or a point person, for individuals and developers to go to, to get the job done," said Mr. Ravenstahl. He said the city has to become "an advocate" rather than "an obstacle" to construction and jobs...

The mayor and Mr. Ford said they will try to streamline permitting processes, while preserving community input into large developments.

They said another priority will be coordinating the activities of city departments with the work of independent authorities that are involved in development, like the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, the Housing Authority and the Parking Authority.
I'm not going to knock the creation (or re-creation) of this post, as the process to get approvals, permits, waivers, signoffs, legislation, and all the other details you need to do development in the City of Pittsburgh is a bit Byzantine...and that's coming from a Bureaucrat, mind you. The less often my colleagues have to retreat into their secret lair, don the Bureaucrats' garb, light the Bureaucrat Candles, and read from the Great Big Book of Bureaucratic Rules, only to tell the Public "No", the better. The ceremony is often days long and the secret Bureaucrat underwear chafes in a place only customs men dare to probe.

So, if someone can streamline, organize, or otherwise sort out the processes, that would be great.

In the different sense, however, this action is indicative of a broader initiative by the Ravenstahl Administration to bring Development to the top of its campaign agenda. You look at all the recent announcements in the media (lien buybacks, clean up initiatives, development announcements, tax breaks, coordinator position, etc.) and you start to see a pattern emerging. Clearly, if these initiatives go force it sends a message that the Mayor's top priority is to jumpstart development (and this is the important bit) before the May primary.

Why? Three reasons:

First, Community Based Organization and Community Development Corporations (CBOs & CDCs) ache to do development, partially because of their missions and partially because it impresses their funders. More importantly for the Mayor, however, CBOs and CDCs can provide the valuable legwork in making tangible "progress" in neighborhoods for which Luke can take credit. Grassroots (or near enough to grassroots) support is a good thing.

Second, Professional Developers have deep pockets. Luke doesn't have to directly offer these guys subsidies, but he has been able to lower their barriers to entry in the lower the investment needed to make a decent ROI. I'm sure that some of these developers will be grateful enough to offer some campaign contributions.

Third, the areas that Luke seems to be targeting are areas that Bob O'Connor carried strongly in 2005. Luke doesn't have the same fervorous support as the Peduto camp, so it will be necessary for him to make greater in-roads in the areas that should already be favoring him and bolster his base.

By combining all three approaches, Luke hopes to circumvent Peduto's powerbase in the East End and concentrate on raising capital and support in the North-South-West areas of the city.

Will it work?

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Shining City on the Hill

For some time now, I've been meaning to comment on this post over at Mike Madison's place regarding this little blurb in the P-G last Sunday. Unfortunately, that little thing I do between blogging (read: "everything") got in the way of actually being able to sit down and cobble together a coherent post.

I did manage to cobble together several incoherent posts, which I left over at Little Green Footballs and Free Republic, figuring no one would know the difference anyway.

Anyway, in my next life I would certainly love to add some physical structure or concrete development to the City of Pittsburgh, but in this life I have resigned myself to pushing little bits of paper across my desk and adding up numbers that never return the result I want. In short, I'm no architect nor do I claim to be one. I do, however, have some comments on Mr. Pfaffman's proposed plan:

(1) First, let me say that I like the plan. It is an interesting and innovative use of what would otherwise be a parking lot or a low-rise apartment building.

(2) However, having been to more public hearings than I care to remember, I can safely say that "a plan" means nothing. A plan is barely worth more than the ink and paper its written on. Custer had a plan, for the love of Pete! I've watched very slick people try to convince whole neighborhoods to follow their lead because they have "a plan" only to watch them crash and burn. I don't trust "plans."

(3) Still, a "plan" in this sense is an opening volley on what is sure to be a heated battle between people with more political aspirations than brains. Mr. Pfaffman has already begun to frame the discussion in one direction, so good for him.

(4) Architectural plans, specifically the ones made by architects, in my experience are either too expensive or don't work. This is a rash generalization, of course, but in a city that is burdened by crushing debt, it seems unlikely that they will make the investment in preserving the Arena in this manner if it costs too much.

(5) What's even worse: half-assed plans. On the edge of the City of Pittsburgh, back where no one goes in Fairywood, there is a two-lane highway that runs 6 blocks. Back in the day it was supposed to be a vital link to Route 60 near Crafton. Today, I think you can get to the UPS depot. That is a half-assed plan and it sucks. I'd hate to see the Arena end up like that.

(6) Mr. Pfaffman starts off his short plan with a short quote from Hill playwright August Wilson: "My plays insist that we should not forget or toss away our history." If you know the history of the development of the "Melody Tent" site, you'll appreciate the irony. In fact, I'm sure you can find enough people in the Hill that would be fighting to be the first in line to drive a bulldozer through the Arena.

(7) Which brings up the larger question: who speaks for the Hill? The City? The Penguins? The Councilperson? The Churches? The Community Organizations? The Residents? The Old Residents? The New Residents? There is no doubt in my mind that no matter what the eventual decision is, a large, vocal minority (or even majority) will be unhappy.

(8) And then, of course, who determines what the "Good" for the Hill actually is?

So, that's the opinion of a person that doesn't know a fascia from a soffit from a Fresca. Take it for what it's worth.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Perfect Political Storm

Tonight's weather may determine the Mayoral Primary.

That's only slightly a joke as I believe we truly have a perfect political storm brewing here, like the bastard love child of Joe DeNardo and Jon Delano.* You see, despite all of our punditry and pontificating, at the end of the day, the citizens of the City of Pittsburgh basically care about whether their day-to-day needs are being met. As much as we've enjoyed bloviating about them, Luke's little run in with the law or Jim Motznik's blog or Dennis Regan's, well, everything, are not going to be major factors in the May primary...

As long as the streets get plowed tonight.

Garbage pickup, crime, snow plowing, and the like are obvious, tangible examples of public works, both in the general and specific-Costa-run senses. The mayor is in charge of these services and, no matter the financial crunch impressed upon him by a previous administration or the limited number of resources at his disposal, if he cannot deliver, he's going to face a lot of angry voters.

Which is why the cynical part of me believes that the Mayor asked everyone to stay inside tonight.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go horde toilet paper and milk.

* No amount of mental bleach in the world can scrub that image from your mind.


AIA's 150

Those are you that are architecture groupies* already heard that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) recently announced the results of its "America's Favorite Architecture" poll. Two structures of local significance made the list: Frank Lloyd Wright's Kaufmann residence in Bear Run, PA, commonly known as "Fallingwater" came in at 29 and Henry Hobson Richardson's Allegheny County Courthouse came in at 35. Still, while I appreciate being able to experience at an architectural masterpiece on a daily basis (both inside and out), there are dozens of structures in the Western Pennsylvanian region that deserved to be on the list. We did a little research on a couple of buildings that didn't make the list:

The City-County Building

This structure was left off the list, despite its status as an engineering masterpiece, being one of the largest buildings in the country supported by hot air.

The Mellon Arena

Formerly the "Civic Arena," this public sports facility featuring a retractable dome is the oldest such building in the United States dating back to 1961... which is obviously a lie as no one was alive 46 years ago with such dome making technology. The same people perpetuate the lie that the Earth isn't 6,000 years old.

The Gulf Building

The iconic skyscraper of the Pittsburgh skyline, characterized by it's flashing orange and blue lights which indicate the weather was left off the list. You'd figure that the oil companies would have more pull, wouldn't you, I mean, especially over architects.

The Cathedral of Learning

The Cathedral of Learning is the centerpiece of the University of Pittsburgh's campus and the second tallest educational structure in the world. Turns out, Pitt is just overcompensating for being tiny in other areas.**

One Mellon Center

No self respecting architect could ever support a building that looks like a giant penis.

The David L. Lawrence Convention Center

Word on the street is that this edifice, one of the largest LEED certified buildings in the world, was supposed to be nominated, but its paperwork fell through the cracks.


* I followed I. M. Pei during his "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" Tour. I still have the "I Louvre Pei" t-shirt.
** Yeah Nordenberg, we went there.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Meditations on Bureaucracy, Pt. I

The Faceless Bureaucrat had an interesting post on What Bureaucrats Do, which is a must read for those of you who, like me, are buried under an endless pile of paperwork. Seriously, Sisyphus didn't know how good he had it. In the post, TFB postulates that there are two basic types of Bureaucrats: "The Operatives" (your typical low level DMV, Prothonotary, auditor, etc.) and, what I'll call, "The Wonks" (your higher level, policy setting administrators).

The Operatives have no authority in and of themselves, but are rather instruments of the rules; as TFB points out, these are the Bureaucrats "wrap themselves in the "rules" as protection against the demands of their customers". These are the people that have to light a candle, don the special Bureaucrat robes, and consult the Great Big Book of Bureaucratic Rules before doing anything.

The Wonks, on the other hand, are the ones that are setting the rules for the Operatives and the Public, while at the same time being bound by the rules that they have created. This is where more of the authority lies, being created from knowledge and judgment of this class. These are the people that wrote the Great Big Book of Bureaucratic Rules, like Moses, the Evangelists, Mohammed, or a cabal of Illumanati-Freemasons*.

I'll go a little further and offer that within any Bureacratic structure, an individual is somewhere within the continuum between an Operative and a Wonk. Unless an organization is horizontally structured (which most Bureaucracy are not), decisions will have to go up the chain of command to a point where a "decision maker" is found. This decision maker, depending on the nature of the matter to be decided, has a degree of latitude to, in effect, make policy. At the top of this chain, you have an ultimate Wonk who knows the rules and can change them, but never directly implements them.

I'll go even one step further to argue that as you approach the Bureaucratic apex, you see a subtle shift from "Wonk" to "Politician", that is, from someone who is bound to the Rules to someone who is bound to the electorate. In most US Government Situation, this delienation is obvious: career Bureaucrats make up the bulk of the Civil Service, but the top of the Bureaucracies are staffed by appointees. It's not always that drastic, but you get the idea.

It is within this continuum of Operative-Wonk-Politician that the basis of bureaucracy exists: a dynamic between enforcing the rules, creating the rules, and, frankly, getting re-elected.

I'll continue with some of the more standard ways to try and get around the Bureaucracy in Part II of this post, but for now I have to go read the Pittsburgh City Paper .



Monday, February 05, 2007

Reflections on the Pittsburgh Mayoral Primary

It is now February, 3 1/2 months before the 2007 May Primary, and the oddest thing has happened, or rather not happened: only two people have officially declared their intentions to run for the office of Mayor of Pittsburgh. One would have presumed, with a generally inexperienced mayor, we would have been seeing a crowded field filled with those with mayoral aspirations.*

Sadly, however, this is not the case and it's making for a dull political season, although it is doing wonders for my insomnia.

Still, what's atypical is that the current mayor is in a fairly weak position for an incumbent. This is not, as some would scoff, because of any perceived wishy-washiness, but because of the unusual circumstance that he finds himself in. For a typical incumbent, there are about four years worth of policies (both good and bad) to run on (and run against). The current administration, through no fault of its own, has only five MONTHS of policies to stand behind. Off the top of my head, I can list the following policies: grieving, appearing on Letterman, firing Dennis Regan, buying back old liens, denying the mayor was arrested, moving Pittsburgh forward, and smacking around Jim Motznik.** Some of these are better policies than others, but not so much to run on.

But, now it's crunch time. Mr. Ravenstahl has about 3 1/2 months to do... well... something, ANYTHING that will get him elected in May. That, of course, gets to the nub of Luke's greatest advantage: as Mayor he has the ability to set the policy agenda for the City of Pittsburgh, to effectuate real policy, and to implement projects. Such is the advantage of the incumbent.

One can only assume, therefore, that the Mayor's Office will start to aggressively push highly visible items in order to garner press for his agenda, in the hopes of generating some sort of grass roots support. With time running out, it means this is going to be a rush to get things done. With a nearly empty field, it is vital that the Mayor does something, ANYTHING so as to differentiate himself from his opponent and to start attracting votes.

Stay tuned...

* Of course, who wants to be Mayor for only two years? And who wants to live forever? And who wants pie?
** Yeah, yeah, I'm being unfair.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Thousands of Suspicious of Devices Found Throughout City

Downtown (AP) - Police announced today the discovery of thousands of unidentified, potentially lethal, devices spread throughout the City, causing the shut down of several major arteries.

The discovery of the first of these devices was first reported at around 9:15 this morning downtown. Several minutes later, another was reported nearby. By 11 AM, well over one thousand devices were reported throughout the City, on or near every corner in every neighborhood. Bomb units scrambled to investigate. All devices were destroyed.

Witnesses report that the devices had been in place for several weeks, perhaps months before police were notified. Several other witnesses also reported the presence of men, possibly of middle eastern decent, seen lurking within 500 feet of the devices.

At a press conference earlier today, the Chief of Police announced a sweep of the City for suspicious activities. "We are deeply disturbed by these turns of events. Each one of these devices, we have been informed by reputable scientists, contain the nuclear energy equivalent to hundreds of Hiroshima type bombs. Additionally, the contents of the devices contain materials that are related to the production of nuclear weapons, specifically deuterium. Those responsible for bringing fear to this City will be brought to justice."

As the investigation was unfolding, Gail Marcinkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said the link to terrorism was inconclusive.

Police, however, said they were taking no chances. "Fourteen people have been arrested in connection with these devices, including the head of the Department of Public Works. We fear that this conspiracy goes right to the top. As a precaution, the Mayor and four of his closest aids have been arrested, all libraries have been closed, and habeus corpus has been suspended. As a precaution, a curfew has been instituted. Those found violating the curfew are to be shot on sight."

Additionally, because of low water pressure, all citizens are asked to conserve water.



Image Courtesy of

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