Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene Resources

The Weather Underground.

The latest Daily Downpour audiocast, which is billed as the "final" Hurricane Irene special, from Fri. August 26th at 4:30 PM.

The attached map is of relative storm surge probabilities (h/t Jeff Masters at WU again). Lots of H2o for the Mid-Atlantic coast and waterways.

Fox News Extreme Weather Center.

WRAL Raleigh Durham Fayetteville liveblog-style coverage.

*-UPDATE: staff report about Sunday's situation.

Friday, August 26, 2011

An Invitation, a Question, and a Rant

1. Remember last year's blurghosphere-wide (and then some) Community Human Services or CHS Holiday Gift Drive to provide individuals and families with unique challenges practical gifts for the holiday season? It is launching earlier and more ambitiously this year, with the Pirates vs. Marlins game on Saturday Sept. 10th at 7:05.

Those who consent to watching the Pirates live at PNC Park alongside web-loggers like myself, Virginia Montanez, Jennifer England, and Kevin Acklin (his campaign was basically a five-month long blog post, right?) in the special Roberto Clemente section will enjoy the view from the lower left infield, fireworks and a Clemente t-shirt all for just $20. Register now! Please join us.

*-UPDATE / INSPIRATION: For those of you familiar with CHS's work and who don't care to join us at this ballgame -- how about getting your Christmas donating out of the way now, while your credit card bill still fits in an envelope?

2. Professor Briem points us in the direction of a couple interesting articles in the most recent Pittsburgh Business Times. Go read them through his portal -- or read as much of them as you can without a PBT subscription. We'll wait right here. Dum de do.

3. Back again? Good. Now, a serious request. Can somebody quickly remind us why it is crucial to prevent our pension fund management from getting "taken over" by PMRS? We understand why the local pension board itself would be anxious to prevent a takeover by a statewide investment cooperative with a far superior track record. Very clear on that. We just need a quick refresher course on why Pittsburgh At Large ought to be persuaded to "all row in the same direction", towards what is in any event the same waterfall around the next bend.

4. If two or more providers of similar products or services operating in the same area are by definition in the same "market" -- and this state of affairs necessarily entails "competition" among the two "competitors" -- and this "market competition" absolutely mandates the cessation of cooperation between competitors to further efficiency in delivery of these products and services -- how can we possibly be discussing institutions of purely public charity, or non-profits?

Some cry in cowardice, bad judgement or bad faith, "Don't kill the goose that lays golden eggs!" Health care is the new steel, the new coke, and the new coal combined. Health care is one of the few consumables guaranteed never to go obsolete or out of style. Those remaining in charge of it -- only the most aggressive and methodical practitioners of corporate piracy, the monopolists -- have obviously given up any pretense of being motivated by compassionate instincts. Watch any old telephone company commercial -- "We bring mothers and daughters together, over distances! Communication! Aren't we the sweetest things?" This is the very self-same self-serving non-sequitor. Extravagant claims about "charity care" have never been audited. Taxpayers entirely underwrote the construction and evolution of one of these two self-involved "competitors": the University of Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, a ridiculously high volume of tax exempt land is slowly but now noticeably strangling this city in particular, just as it's struggling to rebound. The center cannot hold.

Tax these deluded phony plutocrats. Tax them no harsher than all the other duly celebrated profit-seekers in this vibrant working world must be taxed. Tax them whether they agree to play nice with each other or not.

Who knows? We might actually be able to hire some teachers for our schoolchildren, or update some critical infrastructure to keep us from drowning in the rain.

Lower-most image: PBT, Jim Snively. And did you find this post valuable? If so, then please consider voting for the Pittsburgh Comet again today in the Most Valuable Blogger thing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl = 19% Job Approval?

So says Pittsburgh's own Civic Science Inc. in an interview with KDKA's Jon Delano, that is.

*-UPDATE: "CSI Pittsburgh" offers up some thoughts and answers to suddenly frequently asked questions on its blog. Original post continues:

Before folks start breaking out into song, a few important caveats. Civic Science Inc. is a consumer market research firm, and something of an innovative high-tech start-up at that. It does political tracking mostly "for fun" (and, apparently, for publicity). Although they reputedly were alone in accurately predicting the results of the Rich Fitzgerald / Mark Patrick Flaherty race for Allegheny County Executive, this particular business avowedly isn't even their specialty -- as evidenced by the lonesomeness of their one and only local politics query.

Furthermore, this is somehow an Internet-based poll -- though it looks as though there's more to it than the straightforward, rinky-dink, answer-as-often-as-you'd-like polls any of us can slap on our website. There is talk for example of "sampling", "demographics" and "science".

Judge for yourself how the firm's CEO, John Dick, answered the Comet's cursory question about compensating for the "digital divide," or the fact that several sets of demographics interact with the Internet a lot less frequently and intensely than others:

1) We believe in the law of big numbers. While there is admittedly bias in any human sample, those biases can be measured when you have large enough data. In the case Ravenstahl #s, a 26,000+ person sample included enough people in every imaginable demographic to build reliable models. 2) On the matter of "digital divide:" First, this is a dying phenomena. Web connectivity is virtually ubiquitous among all but the oldest and most indigent populations. Compare that with the landline telephone (still the prevailing means of opinion research). Only 74% of US households have a land phone. Among those, at least half subscribe to Do-Not-Call Lists and CallerID services, rendering them unreachable. If there is a "digital divide," think of it as a crack in the sidewalk. The "land-phone divide" is Panther Hollow.

In our non-expert opinion, if there happens to be any significant sampling biases (if there are no significant controls for age, race, income, and for whatever psychology explains people choosing to fill out Internet political polls on their own initiative) "large numbers" would not do anything to fix that. We don't feel like we have the data quite yet to weigh whether that is in fact a problem here, but the amount of attention this poll is garnering so quickly suggests that's likely to change.

All of that aside -- 19% job approval! It's hard to imagine any skewed sampling of any variety that could make Mayor Ravenstahl feel okay with a number like 19% being produced. Colonel Gaddafi used to poll at least in the low 30's.

Next time we hope they also measure the "job approval" of City Council, or of other specific local public officials. The responses may have simply reflected a general "Aw, phooey" sentiment towards city government as a whole, until we discover some one or some thing polls any better.

And we hope there are many next times. Poll numbers are like crack for the media, and nonpartisan polling data would make local politics a lot easier to cover and analyze. Kudos to Civic Science for taking some first steps!

MORE: That's Church seemed to be at least a little impressed by the "trust me, geniuses" argument, though Null Space wonders how much better this is than a radio call-in poll. Maria of 2PJ's in fact broke out into song 40 minutes before we published this.

COMETNONYTUNE: Hey Nineteen (Steely Dan)

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Quake Rocks City on Heels of Embarrassing Flooding Gaffe

Official reaction to inquiries over what caused today's earthquake:

Too soon?

Now, onto the very real deadly flooding and today's news conference:

Reacting to statements from Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and Allegheny County Sanitary Authority that water volume was the culprit, not the quality of their systems, Mr. Ravenstahl said, "I'm not necessarily 100 percent satisfied with that answer yet." (P-G, Joe Smydo)

That's pretty much where I'm at. And no further. It's too easy to say, "PWSA in particular and city government in general drives me up the wall, they must be at fault here."

But there are still some unanswered questions:

For example, though it was quickly made to sound like all the relevant parts of the system were recently inspected and confirmed to be operating in perfect condition, we're now considering "using robots to inspect the submerged outfall pipe". How critical is the function of that outfall pipe to systemic function, and when was the last occasion on which it was inspected?

Do we still really not know whether the storm drains on Washington Boulevard were clogged with rocks prior to Friday's storm, or whether the clogging occurred as a result?

Do we have any confirmation yet by meteorological professionals that this was in fact a "100-year storm"? We know it was bad. Three inches in an hour, two inches in 37 minutes is bad. Can actual weather experts state with the same confidence our public officials are employing that it was the Storm of the Century, the implication being, no sense fretting over another one that bad?

Even if it was an event we might once have considered a 100-year storm, is that still the case?

Finally, assuming we won't be laying this all at the feet of a submerged outfall pipe and clogged storm drains, I think we can take ALCOSAN readily at its word that an engineering solution preserving Washington Blvd. as we know it will take billions (with both a "B" and an "S") no matter which option we settle on.

Talk about a big dig -- imagine four or five North Shore Connectors.

Where in the hay is that supposed to come from?

Better to make sure those flashing warning signs work really well, and maybe add some mechanical arms to discourage the real idiots.

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