Friday, February 9, 2007

Off-Q, Off for the Weekend

Nothing against Jim Roddey, or Dan-O for that matter -- but we think it's now clear that we of Allegheny County really missed an opportunity, when we passed over Wacky Uncle Cyril for the post of "Grand High Commissioner." Woah, momma.

On a related note, the Comet would like to apologize on behalf of the entire blurghosphere (save AntiRust) for not having mentioned the debacle at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. We must have been navel-gazing in the wake of the C-P cover story.

Let the record show: this is bad. And will get worse.

We were not entirely alone in our inattention; we refer you to yesterday's "report card" of public officials in the Trib. Still fresh, still spot-on.

That's it. See you on Sunday.

Myron Cope Notwithstanding...

Another week has come and gone, and still no breakthrough on a new arena.

With each passing day, Mellon Arena grows more and more beautiful.

In the Hill District, as the sins of its construction recede into history, there is growing apprehension for the sins of its replacement.

We remember a troupe of Toronto Maple Leafs fanatics spilling out of a bar on Seventh Street, enjoying their third trip to Pittsburgh this year. They volunteered to us what an awesome city we had, and that we have the best remaining hockey venue on the continent. Of course, they were Canadians, and drunk, and therefore romantics. But still.

We ask again -- is there really no way to cram some superboxes in that thing? Open off the roof and build another level? How hard could it be? Use that same Barden money. Use that same Rendell money. Put the CMU architects on the case.

Take some time to think it over. One more year! One more year! One more year!

Charm Offensive on the North Side

Timothy McNulty of the P-G brings us news of the Charm Bracelet project, an effort "to connect destinations -- among them, the Children's Museum, Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Science Center, National Aviary, Mattress Factory, New Hazlett Theater, Allegheny Commons park and sports stadiums -- in a way that positions the North Side as the city's 'family district,' just as Downtown's theaters and galleries are grouped as the Cultural District."

At first we thought, greeaaaat ... a splashy PR initiative that hopes to reverse fifty years urban decay, by way of subsidizing a few technicolor art projects, promoting a few well-heeled interests, and deploying "Family Ambassadors" to coerce untouchables (which includes both panhandlers and singles) to relocate back over the river.

Parochial Comet naysaying was given pause, however, when we discovered the old game plan from the CMU Urban Laboratory, which included a lot of encouraging rhetoric about housing, mixed-use development, communication with existing neighborhood coalitions, and utilization of existing community assets.

We were especially encouraged that the "Housing as Catalyst" division of the Charm Bracelet was headed by architects Dan Rothschild and Ken Donyo -- the dynamic duo bold enough to foresee and publicize the advantages of PITG's North Shore casino proposal.

The plans will be unveiled (discussed?) at the Children's Museum on Tuesday the 13th. The Comet may actually do some original reporting. We are curious how much of the original mission was able to survive the input of our city's "knowledge workers."

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Peduto the Prodigy?

Today at high noon, the C-P's Chris Potter promises a searchable online database of donors to the mayoral candidates. Huzzah!

(If assembling the software was the difficult part, may we humbly inquire whether similar databases might be forthcoming for city council candidates?)

Anyway, using previous data provided by the P-G, the Comet submits this theory for peer review: Bill Peduto's contributors are artsy!

Henry John Simonds: filmmaker. Charles Humphrey: makes filmmakers. Michael Berger: gallery owner. Susan Rothenberg: artist, we think, if it's the same Susan Rothenberg. Ellen Kaplan Goldstein: appears in the Scene section, at benefits (very suspicious). Burton Morris: the pop artist has made no financial donations yet, but is an old friend of Peduto, and seems to have made in-kind contributions in the past. Peduto enjoys significant financial support from more private individuals than Ravenstahl, and we wonder how many of these are connected to the arts world.

Of course, Ravenstahl has his developers, contractors, and financial institutions. We leave it to others to judge the lesser of evils.

The Comet has Arrived!

No, we're not talking about the Marty Levine C-P cover story about the blurghosphere. We are far more gratified to appear in the one political blog that Levine somehow snubbed: Delano's Den!

We tried to defend the honor of bloggery, but to little avail. The current KDKA poll shows 64% of respondents think blogs are "just a lot of hot air on the web," which is kind of embarrassing, since its an Internet poll!!!

Jon's new post actually opens an interesting subject: Is the media politically biased? He cops to three "institutional" biases: dramatization, personalization, and authority / incumbency. We would respectfully add a fourth: the bias against exposing patent nonsense, for fear of losing access, or alienating part of one's audience.

Jon defends the media for covering "both sides of the story." Yet how many times have we heard the report, "Smith tells us that the sky is blue, whereas Jones insists that the sky is plaid with blond highlights. Fascinating contrasts. We'll find out who's right in November!"

As to the Den, we are forced to holster our snark-gun, and admit this venture shows some potential. We offer a few suggestions:

1. More updates. If you don't show some new content a few times a week, people forget you exist.

2. Respond to your commenters. If you're lucky, you might find yourself in a flame-war, or even a bona-fide feud! The Comet would be happy to volunteer, you son of an English k'nigit.

3. Make your space appear at least a little different from the rest of KDKA's website. In the blurghosphere, it's always Casual Friday. Try adding a simple graphic novel!

In regards to the City Paper piece, we actually would like to register a quibble. We were clumsily paraphrased in one of the last paragraphs. The Comet detests the phrase "knowledge workers" -- we imagine it takes a lot more knowledge to operate a lathe, or install ceiling tile, than it does to design new packaging for Go-Gurt. In drawing distinctions between the candidates' bases of support, we do recall having uttered words like "wired," "progressive," "traditional," and possibly "yinzers." We are appreciative that the City Paper sacked Marty for his shoddy work.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Meditations on Barney

We got to thinking after our last seventy viewings of this NSFW-licious video, posted recently over in Junkietowne.

Like most white folks, the Comet is not entirely "at home" with the African-American community's double-standard in regards to the the n-word, which persists despite Jesse Jackson's recent hapless efforts.

Then again, we acknowledge that perhaps we don't have standing to complain, seeing as how throughout the last half-millennium -- um, yeah -- let's just say mistakes were made.

However. There is a long-standing tradition in the music industry of releasing two different tracks of albums: the original uncensored version; and the cleaned-up, radio-friendly, lame-ass version. Might we suggest third:

The white-friendly version. We would very much like to continue enjoying the full emotional impact of all the Motherfuckers and Fuck Your Bitches, to say nothing of the explicit drug-use references! All those phony lyrics, eerie silences, and cow bells on the clean tracks just don't get the job done.

All the same, we would prefer not to suffer a neurotic liberal aneurysm every time an artist drops the n-bomb. That word has become so integral, today's rappers are blithely rhyming n***** with n*****, time after time. You wonder how so many of them can boast of dope rhyming skills with a straight face!

This not a charity thing -- we'll buy it! And for you local artists out there, might we suggest that once you blow up, and can afford to put out multiple versions of your albums, the phrase "yinzer" is a respectable stand-in. Slur it down to "yizzah" and even preserve much of the flow. Give it some real thought.

Sparking Long Overdue Attention

"Out of control ... it's so outrageous." Sen. Jane Orie R-McCandless

"Unequivocally, I do not support the governor's plan. It's irresponsible." Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods

"The same old story from Gov. Rendell, higher taxes and higher spending" Rep. Daryl Metcalf, R-Cranberry

"There is a chart in my office that shows the word 'no' in 50 different languages, and we may have to use every variation before this budget process is over." Sen. Gib Armstrong, R-Lancaster Cnty

Finally, he must be thinking, that No Chart is reaping dividends! Hat tips for the Trib's Brad Bumsted and the P-G's Tom Barnes for all these, by the way. Anyway, you'd expect nothing less from the R's, but the D's are a pretty hard sell:

"The Governor's tax proposals give me great pause." Rep. Joshua Shapiro, D-Montgomery

"While legislators may not all agree on all the governor's solutions to all of the state's problems, his ideas will help spark long overdue bipartisan attention to issues we can no longer afford to ignore." Sen. Robert Mellow, D-Lackawana Cnty

TRANSLATION: the massive raft of tax increases is the opening bid in negotiations. This stays, that leaves, both sides go home to claim victory, we may actually get a bus or two.

ANALYSIS: We hate sounding like we just fell off the turnip truck, but we absolutely loathe when politicians spend a year in campaign mode, telling everybody who'll listen what they stand for -- and then weeks after their victory, they get all thunderstruck with inspiration, unveilling massive proposals that are (bad) news to everybody! We resented it with President Bush and Social Security, and we resent it with Governor Rendell and tax increases.

Lynn Swann was the political equivalent of Leaping Lanny Poffo; a charismatic punching bag we all knew never had a chance to take down the Macho Man. Why not campaign on your, you know, plans for the state, and go into this with a mandate?

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Karaoke for the "Meet the Press" Set

We haven't found much to blog over today, but here's a doozy: the special guests for CIVIC DUTY are good to go.

John Fetterman: Mayor of Braddock, PA

Nish Zuvarnaker: Pittsburgh League of Young Voters

Deborah M. Todd: The New Pittsburgh Courier

(Debbie will be doing a practice run for Civic Duty, by appearing on WQED's Off-Q program, next Friday the 16th.)

We will also have a 4th panel chair reserved for lucky / awesome audience members. I will be facilitating questions from the audience, hopefully more in the style of Phil Donahue, rather than Jerry Springer.

We will be discussing public transit, race relations, economic development, public safety, state tax increases -- and whatever's in the news at the time. If we feel ambitious, we may even get into the War on Terror and the such. DIVERSE VIEWS ARE ENCOURAGED.

The incomparable DJ Carazmatic will be spinning tunes to break up all the heavy talking. Catch him on 92.1 WPTS, every Thursday from 7 to 9.

That's the premier of CIVIC DUTY, at the Shadow Lounge in East Liberty. Sunday, February 25th, at 9 o'clock.

Monday, February 5, 2007


Bill Peduto, when asked by KDKA's Marty Griffin whether he can take on the firefighter's union and still become mayor:

"If you don't take on the contract, and win the race, what the hell did you win?"

We're awful late to this game, so we'll kick you right over to the Burgh Report to play catch up. But there's a lotta, lotta, lotta ballgame left on this front.

Union president Joe King was able to respond that they can't reduce overtime because firefighting staff is limited under Act 47, thank you very much Councilman Peduto. But it sounds like the councilman wants to negotiate the new contract from scratch. Although he insists pensions are off the table, he's definitely talking minimum staffing requirements, if not pay scales. Of course, King countered with the safety card.

Peduto is banking on resentment from Tom Murphy's late-in-the-race concessions to the firefighter's union, and the resulting financial hardship. He describes "a city that can't afford to pay its bills."

When Peduto describes himself as "being responsible rather than critical," we are reminded of Mayor Ravenstahl's frequent insistence that he "believes in Pittsburgh's future."

The Ravenstahl camp has been the one touting present and planned development, so we are left to infer economic growth will take care of any lingering financial woes.

The Grand Analogy just keeps broadening in scope.

Preservation or Bowlderization?

When we read this lede graph by the Trib's Justin Vellucci, we got really psyched:

The blast furnaces at the Carrie Furnace site will be part of a museum that will be built on the property. The blast furnaces and a massive blowing engine house were recently named historic landmarks.

Awesome! If its on the order of the Fort Pitt Museum, or the Heinz History Center, that will be entirely unique. A "Steel Heritage" museum? A museum of capitalism, basically? Pittsburghers are so ingrained from birth that they're from a steel town, they often forget to investigate just what that means.

Then came the comparisons to the Waterfront, with the claim that it "proves struggling communities can grow through investments linked to new development." Walk fifty yards south of the Waterfront, and tell me more about growth and linkages.

"We have no interest at all to put any big-box retail at the (Carrie Furnace) site. It's not needed," said Dennis M. Davin, the county's director of economic development. "We don't want to develop sites just to develop sites or just (to) move offices around."

This kind of talk is encouraging. The development is supposed to be light industrial and office parks, and it is a public-private partnership that seems awful weighted towards public, at least until the rights are sold. The devil will most certainly be in the details (see below), but on balance we're pretty excited.

Public Subsidies: you gotta be bad, bold, wiser, hard, tough, stronger, cool, calm, stick together...

Wonderful piece by Bill Toland in the P-G yesterday on public subsidies for private development deals, but it's hard to figure out anyting to do with it.

Anyone with even the thinnest libertarian streak hollers, "That's OUR money!" Meanwhile, folks like the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership are always screeching, "But we're the core! The CORE!!!" Politicians presume that by doling out cash, it'll come back as goodwill and campaign contributions, but that can just as easily backfire.

What's the solution? We guess you've just got to be canny. Pick the right development projects that seem like they're really going to help. And make sure your resume is sprinkled with occasions on which you've said "No!"

One thing's for sure: it would have been much easier to talk those legislators from Berks County and King of Prussia about public transit, or municipal pensions, if we hadn't asked them to build (probably) three sports stadiums in the last ten years. I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

On Kelly: I Vote For Global Warming

Jack Kelly is a former Marine and Green Beret who was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force during the Reagan administration. He is presently a columnist at the Post-Gazette, and can be described as a reliably hawkish unilateralist and free-market fundamentalist. As a special feature of the Comet, we will attempt to debunk the dangerous and foolhardy ideas put forth by Pittsburgh's most prominent ultra-conservative.

We have been describing Jack Kelly as a "hawkish unilateralist" in foreign policy, and a "free-market fundamentalist" in economics. It is remarkable how often, in think-tankery, those two unrelated threads coincide. After reading I Vote For Global Warming, we are reminded that those are always joined by a third: the stubborn refusal to believe the increasingly vast majority of climate scientists. Stunning.

It is almost as though these unrelated positions spring from some sort of bedrock principle: that those who possess power ought to be free to satisfy their appetites and pursue their designs, without any heed to the consequences for others, let alone some ephemeral "common good." I suppose one could call this "greed," although thanks to Ayn Rand, it's a decidedly sexy, heroic brand of greed.

Jack Kelly writes of the new climate change report:

And this is based on hypothetical piled upon hypothetical and computer models which cannot duplicate the actual climate of the present or the recent past.

Translation: I don't trust your fancy "science."

No, seriously. Kelly goes on to admit some global warming, but only unrelated to the industry of mankind. He blames natural cycles, notably cosmic rays and sun spots. He then cites a few dissenting scientists: Singer & Avery, Svensmark & Calder, and Abdussamatov.

That last fellow seems to be the new kid on the block. The St. Petersburg space researcher is also cited in a (strikingly similar) column this week in the National Post of Canada. We mention this because the last time Kelly wrote a piece on global warming, it also bore striking similarities to a piece in the National Post of Canada. (h/t TPJs). We wonder about that curious pipeline!

The point is, the arrival of Abdussamatov notwithstanding, you can literally count these guys on one hand. The current score is literally 3,750 against maybe 6; the "new discoveries" by the 6 are in no way unfamiliar to the 3,750. Unfortunately, we all must acknowledge that Copernicus and Einstein were once in the minority. Its very difficult for a lay-person to fisk the arguments of a few media-savvy scientists.

Yet clues as to how to proceed can be found throughout the text of the Singer-Avery book, which Kelly cites. Rather unlike your standard scientific report, the authors constantly pause to insult their opposition: They hate mankind. They hate progress. They get a thrill out of scaring people. It's like academic Turrets Syndrome, and it's revealing of a weakness.

What sounds more likely: a global conspiracy among 4,000 scientists, all in pursuit of the purely psychic reward of spite, and dislike of Wal-Mart?

Or a conspiracy among 5 or 6 scientists, supported by 5 or 6 global energy consortiums, in pursuit of a real and vast monetary reward, for being able to milk their present business-plans just a decade or two longer?

I suppose Jack Kelly could find it suspicious that a taste for economic regulation, a distaste for warfare, and a willingness to heed the scientific super-majority, so often coincide.

In our case, the common thread is a simple concern for our fellow man, a compassion in no way specific to our own culture, but which is often called "Christian." No doubt Ayn Rand would find us quite unappealing.