Friday, April 27, 2007

Ultimate in the News

Ultimate frisbee superstar Acadia Klain is featured in a P-G article by Mark Roth.

He spends way too much time on Frisbee physics, golf, and freestyling. We would rather have seen more on the 25th anniversary of summer league, and on the reigning summer league MVP herself.

P-G video of Acadia teaching throws.
CMU Money Mellons team roster and bios.
Pittsburgh Pounce team roster and bios.

You are most welcome.

Womens League starts this Saturday and you can still register, HERE.
Co-ed Summer League opens registration soon, details HERE.

The Ultimate Cop-Out Post

Mayoral spokesman Dick Skrinjar has been transferred either to parks and recreation, or to the seniors department, depending on who you ask. Neither would be a promotion.

Marlene Cassidy and Anna Dobkin: similar stories.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

How's your city? It's livable.

We remember 1985, when we first won the honor of America's Most Livable City. We were like, really? No way. Really? Cool!

Of course, we were ten. But it was a great feeling, and it lasted years.

This time around, it doesn't come as a shock. Yes, we know this is a great place to live. It's utterly obvious. That's not the problem.

Unfortunately, many of the things that distinguish us -- low cost of living, light traffic -- don't exactly dazzle. It's like we have a "great personality." Not exactly what the young professionals are looking for.

Also, we won by being above-average in all their little metrics, yielding a high composite score. In a game of "Fantasy Country," we'd be everyone's capitol and first-round draft pick. Even though our defense is lousy, and we always choke in the playoffs.

Yes, yes. Low crime is great. A high score in "recreation" is great, too.

The real problem is: NO ONE ELSE KNOWS IT. And when they find out, no one ever believes it.

Some light Googling suggests this little Rand study didn't get covered anywhere outside of Pittsburgh. And why should it? Who died and made them Judge Judy?

And even if we wind up on Good Morning America again, we're still Pittsburgh. Smokestacks. Grime. Bessemer converters. We know that reporters will dig up archival footage of live steel mills, if that's what it takes to "get the story."

Years ago, the Comet had an inspiration that what we really need is a name change. Pittsburgh has the word "Pits" in it, for heavens sake! That blows it for the children even before they learn about heavy industry.

The best we could come up with was "Hydropolis." Not great. But you get the idea.

Our reputation is so bad, that being a great place to live is entirely beside the point of getting people to live here.

P-G to Planning Commission: Do Something

Oh, inscrutable P-G editorial board. What are you getting at, exactly?

The citizens of Pittsburgh are in no position to judge the validity of a traffic study on the impact of the Majestic Star casino. But the sharp minds on the city planning commission are.

The Steelers are forecasting nightmare traffic scenarios. PITG and some of its allies disagree.

The editorial urges the planning commission to "take the time they need" -- but what does that mean? Ordering Don Barden & Co. back to the drawing board, for a more comprehensive traffic study?

Say they do that. And let's say, instead of another measured conclusion that's easy to interpret either way, the answer actually comes back, "Yeah, it's going to suck, bad!" What next?

The state awarded this casino the license, in significant measure, because it was deemed the least problematic in terms of traffic. This assesment was close to indisputable.

Are we going to tell Mr. Barden that unless his outfit arranges for massive new roads and bridges, he can hit the road? Are we going to tell Pittsburghers that we can't give them a casino after all?

Of course not. But the real danger is, if we coerce Mr. Barden through more delays and studies, he will be less inclined to cooperate on other serious issues: not just the Science Center, but redevelopment strategies throughout the western North Side, and the Hill District.

And for what? The Steelers Nation will find a way to pack Heinz Field, even if it has to privateer teams of horses. And on the return trip, there is every reason to suspect a casino will ease traffic concerns; more football fans will elect to stick around the North Side for another hour or three.

We suspect the Steelers are really worried about the impact on certain "luminaries" who will have just touched down at Pittsburgh International Airport. A 90-minute limo ride, and missing the first quarter, would spoil their buzz, and perhaps ruin their perceptions of our most livable city.

We sympathize. We promise to meditate on it. Maybe a Black n' Gold HeliTaxi of some kind?

But at any rate; let's not irritate a great new civic partner for no good reason. Like the P-G, we also trust the Planning Commission; in this case, we trust it will focus on issues that truly merit attention, and are a bit less high-profile.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wednesday Roundup

The TRIB's Eric Heyl, donning his consultant-to-the-mayor hat, is entertaining as always.

Editorial Aside: But this time he's way off base. The Comet sees no need for holding up the Planning Commission any further, on account of traffic studies. We would, however, strongly urge Don Barden to mitigate the Carnegie Science Center's legitimate lighting concerns.


Meanwhile, the P-G editorial board strongly endorses Mike Dawida for city controller. We know this because they used the word, "strongly."

Editorial Deconstruction: Some members of the ed-board were no doubt taken in by Dawida's rowdy maverick shtick, of which we are also a fan. However, we wager that other members calculated that endorsing Dawida would not hurt Michael Lamb -- but would rather hurt his rival Doug Shields -- all while putting some daylight between themselves and the froo-froo progressives.


The P-G's Rich Lord submits a tiny little article about city automobile repair, with huge implications -- not just for the race for controller, but for city-county consolidation.

On the same pages, Joe Smydo reports that Pittsburgh Public Schools are "re-thinking special ed logistics," all without mentioning the words "Roosevelt," "Tezca," or "Cave-in."

The President: For The Hour

The best interviewer on the planet, Charlie Rose, soothes the savage beast that is George W. Bush, transforming a 20-minute session into a 60-minute in-depth extravaganza.

We found that it strongly resembled conversations between fictional mob boss Tony Soprano, and his therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Yet at the very least, the President demonstrated that he's on top of all the salient details in the world, in his own way.

Pour yourself a brandy, settle into your favorite chair, and enjoy. Thank you, WQED, for keeping us connected.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Interview: Michael Lamb

"I decided to run for this office before he got sick -- I actually talked to Bobby about it."

That would be Mayor Bobby O'Connor, and this was sometime around June of last year.

"He was very open about it" Lamb says.

So, does that mean back-slaps, and cigars all around?

"No, no." Lamb laughs. "At the time, Tony [Pekora] was the only other guy interested. He said I should probably talk it over with Tony."

Since the tragedy that befell the O'Connors, had he ever thought about switching gears, and running for Mayor right now in '07 instead of City Controller?

Not really, he says. "You have an incumbent, in a multi-candidate field -- well, I might have given it more thought."


"The city code says there should be fiscal audits of every department every four years" Lamb explains. Some departments, he says, have not been audited in over ten years. He claims there have been years when they have not audited a single department.

He doesn't remember City Council ever having been audited.

We asked if he was sensitive to the intense budget cuts at the Office of Controller. He admitted that conducting the audits to meet the letter of the charter is out of the question right now. And he also allowed that the annual report takes a lot of manpower and energy.

Still, he insists, "There just hasn't been leadership for the basic stuff."

We asked for his priorities on day one, and he kept harping on two themes: improved information systems, and greater city / county collaboration.

The controller's office and many city departments are not even using the same accounting software, he says, and that makes it hard to function.

He has encouraged city government to make some upgrades, but, he says, "I'm dealing with that resistance."

Is "that resistance" what he would call a "Pittsburgh thing"?

"I don't want to say it's not disciplined," he begins, "but there's a failure to stay ahead on the tech curve." He describes a city that reacts to stress by falling back on what is familiar -- even if it fails to address the actual problem.

He suggests that the city piggy-back on some good and flexible software already utilized by the school board. He says that will save not just the cost of a new system, but a ton of work.

That brought up the subject of School Board audits. "Clearly the Controller is the Controller of the school boards -- but we still need permission to do any kind of performance audit." He recommends making a more persuasive case to the school board for these, asserting that these have been shown to save the schools money in the past.

We asked if something similar was going on with the Pavement Management System. He says in that case, when the city could no longer afford to pave all those roads, it solved the problem by generating the full list, and then picking and choosing off that list.

"Once you start picking from the list, though, it becomes a lot easier..." and he kind of trailed off.

This gets him on the subject of data-driven decision making, on which he is passionate.

"When I talk about the kind of government I talk about on the stump ..." he talks a lot about a government Pittsburgh can be proud of ... "the key is having a government where the decisions are data-driven."

Okay, we asked. Aside from science. Will you use the office to advocate for anything in particular?

"I will tell you this. We will not do an audit without advocating a collaborative effort," usually between the city and the county. Although they may wind up recommending against collaboration in a given review, he doesn't seem to think it'll happen that often.

Even on issues of diversity, he recommends a merger between the two redundant offices charged with assisting qualified minority contractors, at the city and county level. He thinks this would be much more efficient for the interested businesses.

Given the city's looming fiscal crisis, we asked, where exactly in the budget he would begin to look for savings?

He wants that decision to be "data-driven" in itself -- he is stubbornly messianic and serious about this. But we pressed him, and here's how he broke it down:

"You need to have someone asking questions. How do you buy smoke-busters for offices in a smoke-free building?"

Lamb also points out that over 70% of city workman's comp is collected by firefighters. Yes, he agrees, that's a dangerous job, but how about the police? Public works, even?

He shrugs. "My guess is it's about training." He even joked wryly that although it's a wonderful thing to have brave firefighters, maybe ours are a little too brave.


Speculation abounds that Michael Lamb is running for Controller as a stepping stone toward running for Mayor in '09. But with all these reforms on his plate -- surely he would rule that out?

He says something about the office of controller being a good challenge for him, for the foreseeable future.

"I've actually stood for office in every municipal election this century" he sighs. "I've had enough."

"Besides," he says, "I have a feeling that by 2009, this current mayor will be doing some things -- he'll be well on his way."

Review: Big Momma's House of Soul

Big Momma's House of Soul is a new take-out restaurant near the corner of Penn Avenue and 16th Street. You go now. They put shrimp in the cornbread.

The sweet potato pie is made fresh every morning, as is the apple cobbler. Both made us weak in the knees.

The grilled chicken sandwich is just a big honking cutlet of chicken, with a thick slather of extremely zesty barbecue sauce, slapped between two buns. The side-order of collard greens made it all good for us.

The prices are right in the zone. The decor is tasteful / adorable, although a little seating would be nice.

UPDATE 4/10/08: What are we saying? When the weather is nice, the empty lot next door converts into the a picnic area, replete with giant outdoor grill. WHY HAVEN'T YOU VISITED YET?

Now It's Time For An Update

Ah, the joys of editing the blogroll! The Comet welcomes the Pissed Gazette [no relation] whose editor is the winner of the movie-poster contest. We eagerly await her submission.

Cognitive Dissonance has been long overdue. Also, good old Skip.

To make room, the Comet bids a fond farewell to Tunesmith & Anthony. Fans know how to reach them through PittGirl.

We welcome the Steel City Stonewall Democrats to our expanded Resources section. Since the Man still kind of sucks at blogging, much of the contents have been collapsed therein.

Speaking of Resources, have you ever checked out those City Paper Gyrobases? One click brings up a list of everything going on in the city tonight. Any night. Now that's a service we're happy to pirate!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Four Hundred Miles into Mexican Territory

In advance of Memorial Day, Null Space brings to our attention the Battle for Vera Cruz in 1914, which took a heavy toll on soldiers hailing from Pittsburgh.

The battle took place during the thick of the Mexican Punitive Expedition, for which Mr. Briem links to a history in a Part 1 and a Part 2.

We don't know if Mr. Briem was getting at this or not, but the parallels between the Mexican Punitive Expedition and current U.S. conflicts are numerous, obvious, and salient.

So how did the M.P.E. work out? Spoiler alert:

Despite its failure to capture Pancho Villa, the Mexican Punitive Expedition can be deemed a success. Secretary of War Baker praised the efforts of Pershing and his men by stating that "its objective, of course was the capture of Villa, if that could be accomplished, but its real purpose was a display of the power of the United States into a country disturbed beyond control of the constituted authorities of the Republic of Mexico as a means of controlling lawless aggregations of bandits and preventing attacks by them across the international frontier. This purpose is fully and finally accomplished."

After a strategic and orderly withdrawal of all U.S. forces, everyone lived happily ever after. The End.

Monday, Monday

The P-G's Joe Smydo finally breaks down the big fight for District 2 School Board in a way we can understand.

Heather Arnet is a strong supporter of Superintendent Roosevelt, and has the backing of Patrick Dowd, the departing incumbent. Stephanie Tezca is more ambivalent about Roosevelt's heavy-handed reforms, especially as they impact special-needs children. Although Tezca had originally pledged to respect Dr. Dowd's choice for a successor, we suppose things change.

On a separate page, the P-G editorial board endorses Arnet, not seemingly on those issues, but because she is a "bright, young professional" that is "brimming over with ideas."


The TRIB's Jason Cato examines the House Judiciary Committee's interest in speaking with local U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan. We weren't expecting this:

Her office has opened at least five investigations into prominent Democrats over the past five years. Critics say she has ignored allegations against fellow Republicans during that time.

Editorial Aside: The Comet reserves judgement until some of these critics come forth to make a case. (UPDATE: Their name might be "Arlen," h/t Early Returns).

So far it would appear that Ms. Buchanan is only guilty of identifying strongly with the avowed priorities of the Bush administration. Of course if the Congress feels a need to question her, we hope she acquits herself better than Attorney General Gonzales. Here we go, Pittsburgh.


You all must hear the podcast and read the post on the Ethics Board beat from the Busman. The upshot:

All three are very circumspect in their answers. They emphasize what they see as the educational and service role of the Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board.

He reports. We'll decide.

Interview: DaMon Macklin

DaMon Macklin is desperate not to be pigeon-holed as the African-American candidate for Controller. It is true one of his central campaign planks is to "demystify" the bidding process for city contracts, and to be far more pro-active in encouraging qualified minority-owned businesses.

But it seems more accurate to pigeon-hole Macklin as the youth candidate.

He received a Bachelor's in Finance from Slippery Rock University in 2005. He got a job as a loan officer for the North Side Community Development Fund, but after a time, he got laid off.

He applied to many companies, and got called back to second and third interviews -- but never crossed the finish line. He tried opening his own company, but Pittsburghers thus far have been resistant to trust the new kid on the block.

"This is an old city, pretty much run by an old guard." he says. "People tell me, go to another city, you have these credentials, you're feisty!"

"We have some of the brightest minds in this city, with all the colleges and universities," Macklin laments, "but when you graduate, it's like, Happy Trails!"

Stubbornly refusing to abandon the city that he still loves, he decided to channel his emotion into politics.

He admits that on the campaign trail, people are leery of voting for someone they see as running for a job. But he's hard on "lifetime politicians" who aren't performing -- let alone political dynasties. "You're telling me your family is the only one that knows how to think?"

"Look around the city, you see blight, despair, no hope. I wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on."

"If you look at the qualifications of the people who are in office..." Macklin frequently reminds audiences of his finance degree. "You talk about experience -- but we're moving backward."

Macklin sees doesn't see public office-holding as a career. He thinks people should be popping in and out of the private sector more frequently. "I want to do a service, lay a foundation, and pass it on."

"I want to help Ravenstahl -- if he fails, that's a hindrance on me."


Macklin plainly states that "small businesses are getting murdered." That's the focus of his reform measures, in terms of seeking out and awarding city contracts -- he wants to cater to smaller businesses, minority-owned or otherwise.

"We invest heavily into structures," Macklin asserts, by which he means buildings of all kinds. "What I want to do is invest into people." He wants to have a person in the Controller's Office that specifically deals with community issues.

On fiscal policy, Macklin is a pragmatist. He says the biggest problem we face as a city is a declining tax base, and so would recommend lowering some taxes and offering phased tax-incentives to attract big business.

At the same time, with the budget crunch we face, Macklin says we need to utilize the tax base we do have to generate more revenue. "Take a look at the occupation tax -- it should be on a graded scale."

He also recommends a commuter tax, and cites Philadelphia as an encouraging example.

Macklin is also a big one for government transparency. "No one likes an auditor -- but every city council person needs to open their books." He also wants to watch closely that the city gets its fair share of revenues from the new casino.


Despite his veiled threat to skip town if the May primary doesn't work out his way -- remember, every time a young professional leaves Pittsburgh, an angel dies -- Comet readers should be pleased to hear that Damon Macklin scored a local job in his field. He acknowledges his underdog status in this race.

"I put myself into the fire," he explains. "I wanted to learn, and to experience. Pittsburgh does sort of have a mentoring problem," which he looks forward to addressing, either way.