Thursday, September 30, 2004

Debate postmortem

I checked out Fox News after the debate, which I like to do to temper my own views, and for the most part they gave the edge to Kerry. Of course, something about the president's speaking style aggravates me, so I may be a wee bit biased. Still, the president seemed excessively annoyed on several occassions, and, as a Fox commentator said, he seemed to run out of material about halfway through. You could have created a pretty decent drinking game based on the number of times he used the phrase "hard work." (The same goes for Kerry with the phrase "I have a plan.")

When they're alone, he calls him Vlad the Impaler

Was it just me, or was it odd that the president twice referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin by his first name alone?

Rewriting history

John Kerry is at this moment stealing my idea for this post. During the debate, in response to a question about whether the Iraq war would make the president more likely or less likely to launch another pre-emptive war, he said he never imagined four years ago he would have to, but that the enemy attacked us.

Um, gee, didn't Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda orchestrate that attack?

Bush's response: "Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that."

Whew. I'm glad that's cleared up.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Best lunch ever

I sure am glad I'm not Alexander Harvey IV.

Step right up!

Randy Bish earned his pay with today's cartoon.

There's this little thing called the Constitution

You'd think a Republican Congressman would have heard of the First Amendment, but then again, these are strange days we are living in, so perhaps it is no surprise that Joe Barton, chair of the House Commerce Committee, is threatening television networks with legislation that would enforce objectivity. Who would decide whether that standard is being met? Remember when Republicans believed in small government?

Personally, I think news outlets should be free to dispense with objectivity, an impossible standard, so long as they disclose their biases. As Copeland points out, regarding the print media:

Do you know why newspapers are supposed to be objective? It has nothing to do with fairness. Following the Civil War, when more and more newsapers were falling into the hands of private ownership (as opposed to political party ownership), owners realized that leaning one way or another immediately offends half of your potential advertisers.

Fairness, not objectivity, should be the coin of the realm.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Hell no, they won't go

This probably isn't a good sign.

Monday, September 27, 2004

October surprise

Christopher Hitchens raises some very valid points in Slate about the tenor of the Democrats' recent comments regarding the war on terrorism, and he is right to take Teresa Heinz Kerry to task for her statement that the Bush administration is planning to capture Osama bin Laden in time for the election. That implies that they know where he is and have the capability to capture him, but are waiting until the right moment--even though just about any moment would be the right moment, politically speaking--or they have him stowed away somewhere and are waiting for an opportune time to announce his capture. I'm willing to believe bad things about the Bush administration, but not that. Is she implying that they are going to try harder, now that an election is upon us? Good. More power to them if that's the case. I think there are a lot of good reasons to defeat Bush--many owing to domestic policy, which I believe still matters--but I'm not going to hope that things go badly just so he loses. On the other hand, it is legitimate to criticize the president's conduct of the war on terror, and his decision to invade Iraq, understanding that your opponents will always imply that you are undermining the nation's efforts when you do so.

Some dictators are more equal than others

The New Republic points out that the Bush administration believes that promoting democracy is integral to winning the war on terror--unless you are Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan, etc. This may be available only to subscribers--I'll give you a taste:

That basic contradiction--that this administration promotes democracy least where the war on terrorism matters most--runs throughout Bush's foreign policy. Consider U.S. behavior toward two of the countries closest to terrorism's frontline: Uzbekistan and Pakistan. Uzbekistan's secular dictator, Islam Karimov, nicely illustrates the Bush administration's argument that repression fuels terrorism. His regime jails, and often tortures, anyone who seems excessively religious--and thus, Uzbekistan's once largely peaceful Islamist movement is turning violent. It would seem like exactly the kind of place the United States would be pushing democracy hard. Instead, in March 2002, the Bush administration signed a "strategic partnership" with Uzbekistan that has paved the way for hundreds of millions in U.S. aid. That money is supposed to be conditioned on human rights improvements. But, as The American Prospect's Matthew Yglesias recently pointed out, the United States has waived those requirements for the last two years. The reason? Uzbekistan, which provides a base for American troops operating in neighboring Afghanistan, is too important to the war on terrorism. As Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman recently put it, Karimov "has learned that all he really needs to do is provide us with assistance in the global war on terrorism and that the rest is really not that important."

Warning: Cul-de-sacs may be hazardous to your health

Move to the city. The life you save may be your own.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Give peace a chance

I think the murder of John Lennon, like the murder of anyone, was a horrible crime. But somehow I don't think he'd want his fans promising revenge on his killer.

Mulu's gone, but his spirit lives on

The URA apparently doesn't think it has done enough damage Downtown. It was so successful in bringing a Lazarus store Downtown, it wants the right to approve the next big retailer to come Downtown. Where will that retailer locate? Why, in the building left vacant by Lazarus, which blew town after, what, five years or so, leaving taxpayers holding the bag for a loan they will never have to repay.

But what do I know? I'm just a naysayer.

Cleveland rocks

Back when Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy was trying to convince the RAD board to pony up money for a new ballpark, he and Cleveland officials led members of the Pittsburgh media--including yours truly--on a tour of Jacobs Field and the downtown neighborhood surrounding the stadium. McClatchy said the a new ballpark for the Pirates would transform Pittsburgh as it had Cleveland.

About three years later, I went back to Cleveland to write a story about the city's school voucher program, which had been challenged by opponents as a violation of the separation of church and state and had ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court. I saw another Cleveland--a city with boarded-up storefronts, graffiti-strewn neighborhoods and failing public schools. A few blocks from downtown, where tourists went to baseball games, ate in steakhouses and toured the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, people were struggling to eke out a living and keep their children safe. That's also the Cleveland that the PG's Milan Simonich found when he traveled to America's poorest big city.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Bad news

Could CBS' bungling of the George Bush National Guard story be having a chilling effect on its coverage of the administration? From the New York Times:

The CBS statement followed a report in the online edition of Newsweek that described the frustration of CBS News reporters and producers who said the network had concluded that it could not legitimately criticize the president because of the questions about the National Guard report.

If this is true, then all CBS is doing by holding back is confirming that their zeal to air the National Guard report was motivated by politics. They will be undermining for years their credibility in covering politics--even more than they have already done so.

Goodnight Saigon

Here's an interesting story about the late Eddie Adams and his famous Vietnam War photograph.

Get on the bus, gus

I'm a pretty big advocate of public transportation, and I hate to see the Port Authority flirt with making such drastic cuts, but I also wonder whether the our transit system operates as efficiently as it could. Somehow, I doubt it. I question, for example, whether there was sufficient demand to re-open the T's Overbrook line. Based on my own anecdotal experiences riding the bus on a regular bus, I wonder if the Port Authority couldn't scale back some its off-peak service. There seem to be an awful lot of near-empty buses running in and out of Oakland every day. And the fact that any money, whether federal, state or local, is being channeled into a massive and unnecessary project like the North Shore subway line while transportation agencies can't even afford to offer basic service is a travesty.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The Chilito

My wife, knowing how much I once loved the chili cheese burrito, and how many I consumed at Taco Bell during days when I was less concerned with my health, discovered this Web site in homage to one of the greatest culinary achievements of all time.

They also want to ban the flag, mom and apple pie

As an example of how nasty and paranoid our politics have become, Republicans are sending out mailings claiming that liberals want to ban the Bible. I'm picking on the right with this example, but the left has plenty of blood on its hands as well.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The fix is in

Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains that because of redistricting and racial gerrymandering, congressional elections in most districts are rigged in favor of one party or the other. And racial gerrymandering, while creating majority-black districts, has marginalized blacks left in majority-white districts:

The creation of black-majority districts was necessary when the Democratic Party had a monopoly in the South, and whites would almost never vote for blacks. But since 1990, districting deals between Republicans and black Democrats have led to political mischief. Shepherding black voters into black districts left other districts lily-white - and skewed to the right. You saw the consequences in 1994, when the House came under Republican control.

Iceburgh answers to no one

As my wife found out, a penguin's work is never done.

Keeping the conversation lively

My latest post about the situation in Iraq elicited an interesting discussion among my readers (I have at least three, I think.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Is Pittsburgh burning?

Since I beat up on the Pittsburgh firefighers union, I'll give them credit for offering to cut $10.7 million from their budget. And the Trib has a new blog.

Between Iraq and a hard place

OK, so John Kerry's Iraq position(s) is becoming a bit of a joke. His big problem is that, like the president, he refuses to admit that he made a mistake, so over the summer he continued to claim it was OK to vote to authorize war, but that the president had bungled the job. Now, he says the war was a mistake to begin with. I agree, but it's now all too easy for the president to paint Kerry as a waffler who sees four sides of a two-sided issue. It's too late for Kerry to transform himself into Howard Dean. Remember how Kerry was supposed to be the electable one? As one of my readers once said, Thanks Iowa.

David Brooks brings Kerry's dilemma into relief, though I take issue with some of the neocon columnist's arguments. Such as:

The president's case is that the world is safer with Saddam out of power, and that we should stay as long as it takes to help Iraqis move to democracy. Kerry's case is that the world would be safer if we'd left Saddam; his emphasis is on untangling the United States from Iraq and shifting attention to more serious threats.

Rhetorically, this was his best foreign policy speech by far (it helps to pick a side). Politically, it was risky. Kerry's new liberal tilt makes him more forceful on the stump, but opens huge vulnerabilities. Does he really want to imply that 1,000 troops died for nothing?

First of all, the world does not appear to be safer--at least so far. History may prove me and all other war opponents wrong. In the short term, innocent Iraqis are suffering as they did under Saddam, only now, U.S. soldiers and civilian workers are added to the death toll. Plus, al Qaeda now has another front on which to attack U.S. interests and whip up anti-American fervor. As for whether the troops have died for nothing--well, that will be history's judgment. It pains me to suggest that brave young American men and women are dying in vain, but if they are, it's no reflection on them, but on the government that sent them on their mission in the first place.

The big question that remains is whether the continued presence of U.S. troops is helping the situation or hurting it. It's one thing to have opposed the war--as Kerry may or may not have done. It's quite another to cut and run when doing so may condemn a nation to a violent and protracted civil war, and perhaps leave the United States vulnerable to even more terrorism.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Sharon way

I'm not sure if it's available online to nonsubscribers, but The New Republic has an interesting article this week that says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is succeeding at stamping out Palestinian terrorism and in making terrorism unpopular among the Palestinian citizenry. This seems to be in contradiction to the impression the rest of the American media conveys about the situation in Israel, but the authors provide compelling evidence. The lesson they say Sharon's approach offers the U.S. is that the perpetrators of terrorism must be wiped out before the political grievances behind terrorism can be addressed. They also note that Sharon has to create a broad political coalition to move forward with policies such as the unilateral withdrawl from Gaza, and that Israel has paid a great price in her relations with much of the rest of the world--the United States being an exception.

The writers steer clear of too many comparisons to America's war on terror and the political debates it has engendered. If their portrait of Sharon's policies is accurate, than supporters of President Bush could claim vindication in choosing to topple Saddam Hussein. But that would assume that Saddam Hussein's aims were linked to al Qaeda's, a connection that has never been established. Indeed, it seems clear that to fight in Iraq, the government had to divert resources from Afghanistan, and that the U.S. allowed Osama bin Laden--the guy responsible for killing almost 3,000 Americans in a single day--escape. That would harldy seem to be the Sharon way.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Sam the Lion

Tonight the Sundance Channel is airing "The Last Picture Show", one of the greatest films ever made. I was always a little surprised that it lost to "The French Connection" for the Best Picture Oscar in 1972. I've only seen the latter once, but it left me a bit underwhelmed.

The ugly truth

The dirty litte secret of negative campaigning: It works.

Strip mall blues

The Sunday morning papers carry some interesting development-related discussions. First, like the Trib yesterday, the Post-Gazette has a story today that blames overdevelopment for the severity of the flooding that occurred Friday and Saturday. Here's an excerpt:

With miles and miles of concrete and asphalt roads and parking lots, rainwater has nowhere to drain. Instead of seeping naturally into the ground, the water runs quickly into streams, causing overflow, and taking with it pollutants like fertilizer and oil picked up along the way.

"The term sprawl is used a lot, and that's one of the impacts of sprawl," said Baldassare. "We keep adding more impervious surfaces with roadways and driveways."

He used Monroeville as an example of the impact development can have on flooding. The buildup of that area's shopping district, with its huge buildings and equally large parking lots, led several years ago to heavy flooding in Pitcairn.

Over on the Trib's op-ed page, George Will talks about a fight in Connecticut over whether a local government there can use eminent domain to force home and business owners to sell their property to make way for a new mixed-use development that is supposed to generate more tax revenues.

I'm heartened to see that eminent domain abuse has become a national issue. Downtown merchants and historic preservationists have fought a so-far successful battle to stop the mayor and the URA from using eminent domain to remake the Fifth-Forbes commercial corridor. As Will says:

The question is: Does the Constitution empower governments to seize a person's most precious property -- a home, a business -- and give it to more wealthy interests so that the government can reap, in taxes, ancillary benefits of that wealth? Connecticut's court says yes, which turns the Fifth Amendment from a protection of the individual against overbearing government into a license for government to coerce individuals on behalf of society's strongest interests. Henceforth, what home or business will be safe from grasping governments pursuing their own convenience?

The Trib also a good column by my friend Bill Steigerwald regarding the who-served-who-didn't Vietnam hypocrisy, and Neal R. Pierce has an essay about efforts to curtail corporate welfare. It does not appear to be online.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Water water everywhere

Needless to say, Choice Cuts was cancelled last night. More later on whether September's reading will be rescheduled, or last night's writers folded into another event.

With a storm as powerful as Ivan bringing rainfall to the region, flooding is of course inevitable. But suburban sprawl served to make the situation worse, according to the Trib's flood coverage:

A combination of factors led to the rampant flooding yesterday, said Ken LaSota, associate professor of natural sciences at Robert Morris University. Not only did the deluge set records, it came just over a week after the remnants of Hurricane Frances saturated the ground. Plus, so much of the county has been developed and paved, the water simply had nowhere to go, LaSota said.

Thanks for allowing me to exploit this calamity as a forum for my own personal views.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Things to do in Pittsburgh when you're alive

Go to Choice Cuts Friday. Come for the readings. Stay for the cookies.

I wanna be sedated

Three of the four Ramones are now dead. I'd look twice before crossing the street were I Tommy Ramone.

War happens

Here's my favorite part from this story about the latest presidential poll numbers:

But voters said they trusted Bush more to handle terrorism, 54 percent to Kerry's 38 percent; the situation in Iraq, 49 percent to 43 percent; and taxes, 47 percent to 44 percent.

I love the phrase "the situation in Iraq" as though what's going on there happened on its own, and now the president has to address it. Of course, the president seems to be doing a good job of snookering people into forgetting that this is a war he recklessly started on a dubious premise and then failed to prepare for the aftermath his administration was either too arrogant or too incompetent to foresee.

The president says that your enemies don't attack you because you show strength, but because you show weakness. How strong do we look in Iraq these days?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Thanks to this man, you'll never have to pledge your loyalty to the state merely for the privilege of earning a living.

Legalize drugs now

Everyone else is exploiting 9/11, so why not the Drug Enforcement Administration? NPR reports on the DEA’s traveling anti-drug exhibition, which links drug abuse to international terrorism. You’ll recall that in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the government ran commercials that accused the average teenage pot smoker of supporting terrorism, because Afghanistan produces most of the world’s opium.

I’d like to make the counter argument that it is the government’s war on drugs that makes the drug trade so profitable, and thus a means for funding terrorism. Prohibition—now where have I heard that term before?—creates a lucrative and unregulated black market that the government will never able to stamp out. If drugs were legal, it is probably true that consumption would increase, at least initially. But drug-related crime likely would decrease, and all the money wasted on incarcerating drug offenders could go toward treatment and prevention. Not to mention the government could collect taxes on drugs like it does on alcohol and tobacco. (Also drugs, by the way. Just socially acceptable ones.)

With a little help from my friends

I heard from a couple of former co-workers this week. First, Eric Heyl correctly answered Sunday's trivia question. The answer: "The Last Detail." It's classic 1970s Nicholson.

And Rich Lord has a book out. You can find out more about it here.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Real tomato ketchup Eddie?

Here's a little trivia for you: For which movie did Randy Quaid receive his only Oscar nomination? Hint: His co-star was Jack Nicholson. The first person who answers correctly without looking at the IMDB everlasting respect.


Last night my wife and I watched "Freaks", the 1932 horror classic by Tod Browning. The film centers on the "freaks" in a circus sideshow, who were portrayed by people with real physical deformities, many of whom were genuine sideshow performers. In the movie, a dwarf, Hans, (portrayed by Harry Earles, a member of the Lollipop Guild in "The Wizard of Oz") falls in love with a conniving trapeze artist who is merely using Hans because he has inherited a large fortune. When the freaks find out, they exact their revenge.

The film was quite creepy, and many of the actors' deformities were disturbing--even more discomfiting to the film's original audiences. The ending was choppy and unsatisfying, and it turns out the film's original ending was cut because it, well, freaked out filmgoers. The DVD's extras include an interesting commentary by a film historian--it's definitely worth checking out.


Dimitri Vassilaros examines how the Republicans and Democrats keep third-party and independent candidates off the ballot. And I can't help but agree with a lot of what Cope says about Sept. 11, three years on.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Save us from ourselves

Let's hope the federal government denies funding for this insanity. Essentially, the Port Authority is expanding the T to the North Shore to serve two private businesses--the Steelers and the Pirates. The one good thing to come out of it is the expansion of the T to the convention center. That would put a T station practically next door to the bus and train stations, as well as within walking distance (at least for most people) of the Strip District.

Then there is this boondogle--a publicly financed hotel. Did it ever occur to our fearless leaders that the reason no private company wants to build a hotel at the convention center is because they don't think it's profitable? And how would you feel to be the proprietors of other city hotels, watching tax dollars finance your competition?

Where have all the soldiers gone?

Here's one person who won't be voting for Bush. And here's where you can find Ryan M. Campbell's name, along with 999 others.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The world's oldest profession

I got an email today in praise of my site from this blogger who says she is a New York City escort. She tells her readers that during the recent Republican National Convention, delegates loved New York in more ways than one:

Politics aside, business was good this week - I met a bunch of red-blooded clients from the red states at all hours of the day and night. The only opportunities to really rest came during the prime time hours when the speakers were at the convention.

Most of the Republicans weren't too bad either. They were like a lot of the guys I've met at other conventions - normally nice suburban dads who play when their wives are away. From their reactions at seeing me, though, my guess is that the women in the red states aren't nearly as hot as the women in NYC!

My only real complaint is that a lot of the Republicans were lame tippers. Maybe they're not used to dealing with escorts or maybe people in the Midwest or South are just stingier, but a lot of these guys just didn't give me any tip.

Does Fodors include hooker etiquette?

Monday, September 06, 2004

Happy Labor Day

Charles McCollester bemoans the "assault" on city workers that he said will be the result of the Act 47 process. While his defense of labor unions in the abstract is admirable, he chooses to ignore or gloss over several important facts about Pittsburgh's present situation. He implies that any job cuts are bad, but offers no evidence that Pittsburgh's workforce is understaffed. McCollester insinuates that police cutbacks are to blame for recent high-profile crimes, but he offers no evidence of causation. He neglects to mention the city's overpaid crossing guards (now paid for by the school district), who receive health insurance and paid time off, and nowhere do I find a mention of the fact that not only do the firefighters have a no lay-off clause in their contract, but so do the city's clerical workers. And he also trots out the fact that a majority of the city's sanitation workers are African American as one reason not to privatize trash collection. If the city can do a better job collecting trash than a private company, and can prove it, then don't privatize. But the composition of the workforce is no reason to keep a unit operating if it doesn't bring maximum efficiency to city residents. The city is not an employment agency, though it has acted like one for some time.

Of course, unions are not entirely to blame for the city's woes. They occupy only one side of the bargaining table in any negotiation. On the other side are elected officials, who McCollester would have us believe have served us well. If that was the case, why are we in this present situation?

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Hitting the jackpot

Bully for Brad Bumsted for pounding the governor for sneaking by taxpayers a provision of Pennsylvania's new gambling regulations that will allow members of the Gaming Control Board to hold onto their current jobs even as they collect a $145,000 annual state salary. Today's Trib also tells us that the state is spending $7.5 million to create a new state police unit to monitor casinos.

Why do I feel that the odds the public will actually benefit from the slot partlors keep getting longer and longer?

Friday, September 03, 2004

Baby you can drive my car

The Post-Gazette laments that fewer drivers are using the HOV lane on the Parkway North, even as total traffic on the road has increased. (Commuters who want to use the HOV lane must have at least two occupants--the idea is to encourage carpooling and thus decrease fuel consumption and gridlock.) The PG suggests that state lawmakers allow drivers of hybrid vehicles to use the HOV lane even if they carry no passengers.

I have a better idea for North Hills commuters--live closer to where you work. Instead of devouring more and more land for sprawling communities that require residents to drive everywhere for everything, consider living in the city. (You can stop laughing--I'm serious.) Or look into high-density suburbs like Dormont or Bellevue. Hell, even Mt. Lebanon is a very walkable community with a vibrant business district and ready access to public transportation. You'll spend less time in a car and have more time to devote to your family, friends, hobbies, etc.

Just a suggestion.

And the truth shall set you free

The Washington Post carries water today for John Kerry, running this analysis of the attacks made on his record during the Republican National Convention. It's a good example of the kind of scrutiny the media should be giving to campaign rhetoric; I just hope they give Democratic claims the same treatment. (I'm too lazy to search the Post's Web site to see if they ran any similar stories during the Democratic National Convention.) Here's my favorite example:

Both Vice President Cheney and Miller have said that Kerry would like to see U.S. troops deployed only at the direction of the United Nations, with Cheney noting that the remark had been made at the start of Kerry's political career. This refers to a statement made nearly 35 years ago, when Kerry gave an interview to the Harvard Crimson, 10 months after he had returned from the Vietnam War angry and disillusioned by his experiences there. (President Bush at the time was in the Air National Guard, about to earn his wings.)

That little stab at President Bush's National Guard service was probably unnecessary. I realize it is meant to add some perspective to the picture of an angry young John Kerry, saying something that would come back to haunt him. But despite what Kerry says--and regular readers of this site know that I'm supporting him--his Vietnam service has little or no bearing on his qualifications to be president; conversely, Bush's lack of combat experience bears little relation to his abilities as commander-in-chief.

That said, Kerry's criticism of the war after his return to Vietnam does not in any way diminish or dishonor his military record, assuming he believed he was telling the truth about atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers in that war. Americans who believe their country is engaged in an unnecessary and/or unjust war have an obligation to speak up.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Facts are stupid things

Slate sets the record straight about all those weapons systems John Kerry supposedly voted against. It turns out that Kerry voted against military appropriations bills which included weapons systems that the administration at the time, including the secretary of defense, wanted to eliminate. The secretary of defense in question even castigated Congress for wanting to give the military more weapons than it needed. Who was this secretary of defense so anxious to weaken the U.S. military? Some weak, French-looking Democrat? Actually, it was a guy by the name of Dick Cheney. Perhaps you've heard of him--bald man, glasses, bit of a sharp tongue. I wonder what ever happened to him...