Monday, May 29, 2006

Help wanted

Are you prone to aggression and violence? Do you like to flaunt your authority? Do you commit destructive acts while under the influence of alcohol?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board just might have a job for you. Come work for us, and in no time, you could be just like this go-getter:

(Justin) Husar makes $64,000 a year as an investigator with the board's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, which is responsible for looking into the backgrounds of those applying for slots licenses.

Husar, who lives on Pretense Way on the South Side, faces charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, escape and public intoxication after a verbal and physical altercation with off-duty police officers working a security detail at the Town Tavern on East Carson Street around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, said Pittsburgh police Sgt. William Vollberg, who helped subdue Husar.

Town Tavern manager Aidan Kiernan said Husar flashed his gaming control badge to a bouncer, asking that he be admitted to the tavern's second-floor dance area without paying the $5 admission. The bouncer let him in but would not let Husar's friends in free. After arguing loudly, Husar was escorted outside the bar. Husar then launched into a tirade, Vollberg said.

When Husar refused to calm down, Vollberg and another off-duty officer, Kenneth Stevwing, attempted to arrest him. Husar then attempted to flee but promptly ran into two on-duty officers. It took all four officers to subdue Husar, according to a police report. Husar was then transported to the Allegheny County Jail.

And Justin is no exception, either:

Husar is the fifth Gaming Control official to get into legal trouble in the past year-and-a-half even though no slot machine parlors have opened. Kevin P. Eckenrode, a former press aide, faces homicide charges after his girlfriend fell to her death from the 23rd floor of his apartment building in February. Both had been drinking heavily.

Two control board lawyers were arrested last year after drunken brawls. A control board investigator was charged in April with making false statements on his job application to the agency.

So if you think you have what it takes to police Pennsylvania's hottest new industry, then sign up today. We'll keep a jail cell waiting for you.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Quote for a Sunday

"I am a sinner who does not expect forgiveness. But I am not a government official."
from "Deadwood"

What did you do during the war, Daddy?

I sympathize with John Kerry that his military service in Vietnam has been so maligned, and I suspect that this would have happened to him regardless of how he portrayed himself during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Yet I always believed that he made a huge mistake in placing such a strong emphasis on his service in Vietnam. (I wrote an essay about this in 2004 for Pulp, but it is no longer available online and I won't bore you with it now.) First, if it was such a big deal that Kerry served in Vietnam, while Cheney and Bush didn't, then why was it not a big deal in 1992 that Bill Clinton had not served in Vietnam? Certainly, the idea that someone would be trashing Kerry's record, while our own president had apparently used his political connections to avoid combat, was odious. (As was Bush's attempt to link his service in the Vietnam-era National Guard to service in the National Guard today, when members of the guard are much more likely to see combat.)

But Kerry's service in Vietnam was no more relevant to his ability to be commander-in-chief today than was George H.W. Bush or Bob Dole's service in World War II. It did not negate, for example, his vote against using force to expel Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, a conflict that met all the criteria for armed intervention that Kerry laid out in his 2004 campaign. Furthermore, Kerry's emphasis on his war record--and by extension, his patriotism--implicitly conceded that the Democrats needed to prove they were just as patriotic as Republicans. In other words, he allowed the GOP to define the terms of the debate.

Of course, that's not to say that once Kerry did make an issue of his war record, that he should not have immediately taken to the offensive when it was attacked. I hope that he is doing so now simply to preserve his legacy. Because I do not believe that if he runs again in 2008, the result will be any different.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

On the road again

The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat has some good thoughts--or bad ones, depending on how you look at it--about the Mon-Fayette Expressway. Here are the killer lines:

I'm not interested in creating a "Cranberry South" that will detract much needed revenue and resources from communities that need them more. I do not believe that the State and Local Governments should be active participants in facilitating sprawl or unsustainable development.

But hey, that's me.

I weighed in on this boondoggle here and here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

More reefer madness

Tell me again why marijuana is illegal?

People who smoke marijuana--even heavy, long-term marijuana users--do not appear to be at increased risk of developing lung cancer, according to a study to be presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference on May 23rd.

Marijuana smoking also did not appear to increase the risk of head and neck cancers, such as cancer of the tongue, mouth, throat, or esophagus, the study found.

It's just one study, but still, it's evidence that marijuana, at least in one respect, may be less harmful that a legal drug, tobacco. Of course, marijuana has other ill effects--but so does tobacco. Marijuana is intoxicating--but so is alcohol, a far more dangerous drug.

One might hope for a more sensible drug policy from our government. One might just as well hope for world peace, with as much chance of seeing it come to fruition.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

On casinos and death squads

Fester and "O" have some thoughtful things to say about the city Planning Department's review of the casino proposals. (As does the Allegheny Institute.)

And would someone tell me how much more incompetence we are supposed to stomach from this president:

Like so much that has defined the course of the war, the realities on the ground in Iraq did not match the planning in Washington. An examination of the American effort to train a police force in Iraq, drawn from interviews with several dozen American and Iraqi officials, internal police reports and visits to Iraqi police stations and training camps, shows a cascading series of misjudgments by White House and Pentagon officials, who repeatedly underestimated the role the United States would need to play in rebuilding the police and generally maintaining order.

Before the war, the Bush administration dismissed as unnecessary a plan backed by the Justice Department to rebuild the police force by deploying thousands of American civilian trainers. Current and former administration officials said they were relying on a Central Intelligence Agency assessment that said the Iraqi police were well trained. The C.I.A. said its assessment conveyed nothing of the sort.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


A friend, visiting from Philadelphia, spent some time Saturday in and around Downtown, the North Shore and the Strip District. He remarked that walking from the North Shore to Downtown, he had a tough time finding his way past the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to the streets that lead beyond it.

I'm not surprised. The convention center, in and of itself, is an attractive building, but like much modern architecture, it overwhelms its surroundings, and does not allow for any kind of meaningful street life. (I might add that it seems like an incredible waste of what would otherwise be some of the most valuable Downtown real estate.)

As I discussed in this article, officials say that the convention center has failed to meet expectations because it does not have a large enough adjoining hotel. As I also discussed, this is the same refrain heard in other cities with underperforming convention centers, and the hotels that are built in response--with public money, or publicly owned--also fail to live up to the hype.

It's a viscious circle, and a reminder that cities should try to be, first and foremost, good places to live, and not merely amusements for people who live elsewhere. That's why I agree it is better for Downtown redevelopment to focus on luring residents and not retail. My concern, as I've discussed previously, is that with so many high-end residential projects already online or in the works throughout the city--the North Shore, East Liberty, the South Side, to name a few--is that we may end up with a glut of luxury condos and loft apartments. That's why it's imperative that we hold Jack and Lucas Piatt to their promise not to seek local subsidies--and why they should not seek state subsidies, either. Let them assume the risk, and they'll be welcome to the rewards.

Friday, May 19, 2006


When you tell people you're from Latrobe, they typically name one of the following--Mr. Rogers, Arnold Palmer or Rolling Rock beer, which, now that the beer has been bought by Anheuser-Busch, will no longer be brewed at the Latrobe Brewing plant. Ironic, given that the beer continued to be brewed in Latrobe even after it was bought by Labatt in 1987 and then later by the Belgian brewer InterBrew.

I didn't drink in high school, but when I went to college, I'd often drink Rolling Rock--on those occassions when I could afford to graduate from the Beast or Keystone Light. I geniunely enjoyed the taste, but I also liked how it identified me with my hometown. (OK, so I actually grew up in Unity Township, but I went to junior high and high school in Latrobe, and that's got to count for something.) When my buddies and I would get together at home over break, we'd go to a place called the Pond, where the owner would pour us 80-cent Rock drafts before we had even plunked down in our stools. Drinking Rolling Rock made you feel like you came from some place.

Assuming no one buys the plant and keeps it operating--which seems an unlikely prospect--250 people will lose their jobs, and that could be devestating to a small town like Latrobe. I never knew anyone who worked at Latrobe Brewing, but I'd always heard it was a good place to work, and an interview I saw on KDKA tonight with an employee confirmed that it was the kind of place where jobs were handed down from one generation to the next.

The economic impact will be bad enough. But losing the brewery could very well strike at the heart of the town's identify. Nine years ago, when a fellow reporter at the Trib was quitting to return to his home state of Washington, I took him on a Latrobe bar tour. As we drank Molsons at a bar called the Brew House, just down the street from the brewery, I looked around the room and realized that everyone but us was drinking Rolling Rock. I felt, momentarily, like a traitor.

Sure, you'll still be able to buy Rolling Rock, and I'm sure it will still come in the distinctive green bottle. But it will no longer be brewed in "the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe." And in the town the beer made famous, that's sure to go down hard.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"There's no getting out."

During season four of "The Sopranos", Rosalie Aprile warned Carmela against having an affair with Furio. Tony and his men, she warned, "are living in a different century."

Well, the best that might be said of Tony is that he lives in the 1950s, at least when it comes to his marriage. On Sunday, he finally submarined Carmela's ambition to be a home developer, and the final straw was his clumsy attempt to give a distraught Meadow relationship advice. (A great scene, providing another reminder that "The Sopranos" is as much sitcom as it is drama. How many times have we seen sitcom dads giving poor counsel to their daughters?) The thought that Carmela might achieve some measure of financial independence was bad enough. But the prospect of having to come home to make his own dinner, and having to shoulder the load in dealing with their spoiled and emotionally stunted children, was more than Tony could stomach. He's already given up his favorite pastime, adultery. I mean, how far can you push a man?

Contrast Tony with Johnny Sack, whose fierce devotion to his plus-sized wife Ginny has always been good for comic relief, and more than one tender moment. His decision to accept a plea bargain was motivated in no small part by the fact that it allowed Ginny to keep enough of their assets to support herself. What a turn for Johnny Sack. Last season, he consolidated his power with ruthless efficiency, while Tony was nearly undone by guilt over his cousin. (Thank goodness for him that Dr. Melfi was there to relieve that guilt.) Now it is Johnny's turn to be brought low by sentimentality.

Not that this is good news for Tony. Once again, he finds himself in a face-off with Phil Leotardo, who wants him to kill Vito, and who, with Johnny Sack disgraced and out of power, will no longer feel obliged to keep the peace with Tony. Will Tony do what needs to be done, or will he hesitate, and once again place his empire in peril?

Which brings us to Vito. I was growing bored with his adventures in Stonewall, but this recent episode provided a nice coda. Vito no longer felt liberated in his new life, but imprisoned; like Tony, he is driven mad by the demands of domesticity--the man couldn't even perform a few hours' honest labor, for God's sake. He sinks back into gambling, and by necessity, murder. You might be able to take the man out of the mob, but you'll never take the mob out of the man.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

You're a loser baby

Isn't there something deeply cynical about this?

As strange as it might seem, there are moments when losing is winning in politics. Even as Democrats are doing everything they can to win, and believe that victory is critical for future battles over real issues, some of the party's leading figures are also speculating that November could represent one of those moments.

From this perspective, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world politically to watch the Republicans struggle through the last two years of the Bush presidency. There's the prospect of continued conflict in Iraq, high gas prices, corruption investigations, Republican infighting and a gridlocked Congress. Democrats would have a better chance of winning the presidency in 2008, by this reasoning, and for the future they enhance their stature at a time when Republicans are faltering.

...Another worry is whether some Democrats would use their power in what could be perceived as payback against Republicans. Party leaders like Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, have talked of investigations into allegations of malfeasance across all parts of the Bush administration.

Call me naive, but shouldn't good government be the goal? And if you don't trust what your leaders will do with power, elect new leaders. It also seems to me that the writer has taken the wrong lesson from recent political history:

Democrats these days look back to 1994, when Republicans took over Congress, as inspiration for why the party can take over today. Equally instructive might be the experience the Republican Party had after it took power for what turned out to be two tumultuous years marked by the House's shutdown of government.

The transition from being the critic out of power to being the leader proved difficult. That is a lesson that at least some Democrats are thinking about today, even as they put their Champagne on ice.

While it is true that Newt Gingrich's hubris led the GOP into a disasterous budget showdown with President Clinton, the party held onto Congress and has won two of three presidential elections since. Yeah, that would be terrible for the Democrats.

Being afraid to lose is understandable. Being afraid to win is pathetic.

Cities in mind

Fester picks up on my latest discussion of Pittsburgh's Downtown bus routes, and Sam hosts a healthy debate on the merits of planned redevelopment over at AntiRust.

Meanwhile, at the Trib, Ralph Reiland cites a couple of sources to expose the myth of the Philadelphia miracle:

In terms of "image," there was new glitz in downtown Philly -- i.e., "futuristic office towers and classy new hotels and restaurants," plus a reinvigorated Center City with more arts attractions and an expanded selection of upscale watering holes.

But the "reality" of the city after Ed Rendell's eight years as mayor, reported Siegel and Hymowitz, wasn't as stylish or flourishing as the trendy new French bistros: "Philadelphia remains a crime- and tax-ridden city of collapsing schools and continued middle-class flight, still suffering from economic decline. Much of the last decade's new urban thinking that has put the bloom back on cities from coast to coast has yet to reach the City of Brotherly Love."

Rendell proved to be "an old-style big-city mayor who has fought welfare reform, despite its successes in so many other cities, and he has looked to Washington subsidies to solve local problems instead of fixing his own faltering economy," concluded Siegel and Hymowitz. "Philadelphia has lost almost 150,000 people since 1990 --- more than any other city."

...In addition, the total number of jobs in Philadelphia, despite the many millions of tax dollars spent in public-subsidy deals to expand employment, was smaller after Rendell's eight years as mayor than when he took office in 1992.

Cities are nothing unless people want--and can afford--to live and work in them. All the convention centers and Cheesecake Factories in the world won't change that.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Lucas Piatt, the vice president of Millcraft Industries, one of two developers vying to redevelop Downtown Pittsburgh, read and responded to this recent post taking his company to task for proposing that buses be restricted from the Fifth and Forbes shopping corridor. Below is his response, taken with his consent from an email he sent me:

We really want to do what is best for the city as a whole. We are planning affordable housing, luxury housing, more parking, more transit, student housing, wonderful retail, some work live boutique offices, and some great public space for downtown. Development doesn’t get much more comprehensive than that.

We just can’t build buildings; we have to look at all of the issues. We have to look at transportation and the vital infrastructure and how to make it work the best. I don’t think the situation now is what we need. The fact that nearly 1,000 buses per day are humming down 5th avenue is staggering! There has to be a better way of doing this.

We think that maybe the city could bring back a trolley or a connector system to shuttle people to where they need to go. Maybe the buses should be on a city wide loop with larger bus stations where the rider transitions are made. Then if people want to travel downtown they can take the connector which could be a free system… I am not sure. It really needs to be studied to make proposals.

Our true goal is to create a livable neighborhood around market square that is sustainable, environmentally efficient through LEED certified design, and finally get the city back some $$$ so it can operate properly. Please, we are not racist or elitist; we just want to make things happen for the better.

What follows is my response to Lucas, also from an email:

I may need to reconsider my position about the buses. My concern is that there has been too much central planning, and too much resistance to the sort of organized chaos, if you will, that makes great cities work. You are the second person to suggest to me a shuttle bus system with outlying depots. (Trolleys would be great. My wife's always said that would garner great publicity for the city.) My big concern is that the depots, or substations, would create more blight than the buses do. Part of that comes from my lack of faith in the Port Authority--as a friend once remarked, the T stations are reminescent of 1960s-era East Berlin.

But if they could be attractive buildings, with amenities like a coffee kiosk, newspaper stand, well, that's something different.

If you read the comments that follow my original post, you will see that Lucas' idea for shuttle buses and outlying depots is similar to what Mark Rauterkus proposed. In any case, I hope Lucas continues to read and that we can continue this dialogue.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The rest of us are crying on the inside

I know just how you feel, kid.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Race for the cure

Copeland is running in a marathon, and for a good cause.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Oh say can you...something

ABC News demonstrates how silly it is to judge a person's patriotism or loyalty based on his or her knowledge of a song written about a battle fought during the War of 1812:

The tune — and its notoriously archaic lyrics — have been mangled by singers ever since. A recent poll revealed that 61 percent of Americans cannot correctly recite the lyrics, much less sing them.

So on a glorious spring day last week, we went to Capitol Hill and — armed with a cheat sheet of lyrics printed on a piece of paper — we marched up to tourists, school groups, tour guides and our elected officials and posed the question: Oh, say can you sing — the national anthem?

A Chorus of Excuses

Right away we thought we might have arrived at the home of the brave as Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, sweetly sang the entire song beginning to end with gusto, gesturing broadly over the final stanza to the gleaming dome of the U.S. Capitol building. But alas, she was the last to solo.

One congressman, Rep. Gene Green, R-Texas, sang the anthem along with a group of students from Houston's Herrera Elementary School. But most of the other dozen or so House members we approached suddenly had important business to conduct and fled after offering lame excuses.

"I can probably sing it with a group," said Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala. "If I was in a group, I would sing it."

"I'm not that good," said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., as he begged off.

And Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio, a reported target in the ongoing federal probe of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, waved us off claiming, "I'm on the phone with my wife."

The often-partisan bickering on Capitol Hill was absent on this issue: Every member of the House or Senate we approached insisted that the national anthem should be sung only in English. Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif., said, "It's an insult" to use a foreign tongue.

One technique several congressmen used to demonstrate their lyrical knowledge of the "The Star-Spangled Banner" without having to perform it was to offer arcane facts about the song as they walked away.

"Francis Scott Key," shouted Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., as he rushed to the House floor. "In the harbor. The flag still standing."

"Oh, say can you see ABC?" mocked Rep. Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio.



My latest Pittsburgh Business Times article appears here.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Get on the bus, Gus

I think Millcraft Industries should stick to Washington County, because they obviously have no respect for cities, nor any idea how they work:

Washington County developer would like to remove hundreds of Port Authority buses from Fifth Avenue as part of its plan to revitalize the Fifth and Forbes retail corridor Downtown.

Millcraft Industries Inc. fears that smog from the buses, loitering in front of buildings, and traffic congestion could hinder its plans for residential and retail development on Fifth, one of the main bus corridors through Downtown.

"It seems to be kind of a dangerous situation right now, especially since we're going to have more people, more shoppers, on the street," said Lucas Piatt, Millcraft vice president of real estate.

Most of the reasons why this is a horrible idea are spelled out in the article. Let me add that city neighborhoods need a diversity of people, present for different purposes, at different times of the day, using the streets and sidewalks, in order to thrive. Bus riders add to this diversity.

But Millcraft apparently has about as much regard for diversity as a country club. And speaking of diversity, banning buses from the Fifth and Forbes corridor would make it less convenient for the residents of the Hill District to shop there. Hey, wait, aren't a majority of Hill residents black? I don't mean to suggest this proposal is racist, but--Oh, wait, actually, that's exactly what I mean to suggest.

Actually, racist probably is the wrong word. Elitist is a better one. Millcraft, and its supporters in City Hall, want a Downtown populated by rich people sipping lattes and shopping at Crate and Barrel or whatever upscale chain they can bamboozle or bribe into coming here. As for the rest of us, we can pretty much pound sand.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Amused to death

The Internet was abuzz with talk of Stephen Colbert's withering performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. From what I heard and read, it sounded like funny stuff. The president, however, was not amused, and some who attended wondered if Colbert didn't violate some kind of unwritten rule of decorum.

To me, there's something very insidious at the heart of these dinners, which is the idea that it's all a game, all for show, and that at the end of the day everyone is just playing a part and they are all in on the same joke. That was all well and good during the 1990s, when the country was at peace and the economy was great and the biggest scandal was that the president couldn't keep his pants on. (Even then, of course, someone was capable of going too far. See Imus, Don.) But now that thousands of people are dying in an unnecessary war, the government is saddling our grandchildren with debt, and our civil liberties and the rule of law are eroding faster than the North Carolina coast, I'm finding it harder and harder to laugh.

Apparently, no one told Stephen Colbert what the rules are. No one wants to be reminded that there are real issues at stake. That the people in the audience aren't supposed to be cozy with the people on stage. That it's not a game. That it's no joke.

No, that's not what they want to hear. They just want some good-natured ribbing, Jay Leno-style, so that they can get back to their cocktails and to schmoozing with George Clooney and Ben Roethlisberger. After all, tomorrow's another day, and the show must go on.