Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Taken for a ride

Mark Rauterkus and the Allegheny Institute have some good thoughts on the North Shore Connector, an unneeded project that moves forward even while the Port Authority plans to slash service everywhere else.

Let's keep in mind that while the federal government may be ponying up the lion's share of construction costs, operating costs will be born locally. And let's not forget that the Port Authority doesn't have a great track record in predicting success. Use of the Wabash Tunnel is a fraction what the authority predicted; same with the West Busway. (Of course the latter will get even less use with the demise of the 28X airport route.)

Port Authority CEO Steve Bland says he only wants to hear constructive criticism at the public hearings to discuss the service cuts, but he and other local officials are bound and determined to ignore the most valid criticism of all.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Volunteers wanted

AntiRust wants the Penguins to leave town, because it seems the only way they will stay is if they can fleece taxpayers for a new arena. I'll do him one better. I'll volunteer to help them pack. I'll even organize the moving party. Anyone who wants to help out, please leave your name in the comments. I'm sure the team would be willing to spring for beer and pizza.

I just hope they don't have anything really heavy.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Two for the price of one

Fester connects the dots between the latest developments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Pittsburgh math

Downtown Pittsburgh has a high office vacany rate. The solution? Build another office building! (With subsidies, of course.) Sam at AntiRust has the goods.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

But what about the children?

Sen. Barbara Boxer says she wasn't taking a dig at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for being childless; rather, she was pointing out that like the senator herself, Rice has no family members in the military, and thus doesn't appreciate the personal toll that Iraq War is taking on military families:

Senator Boxer read excerpts from a radio interview with an American family that lost a son in Iraq. “You can’t begin to imagine how you celebrate any holiday or birthday,” Ms. Boxer said. “There’s an absence. It’s not like the person’s never been there. They always were there and now they’re not and you’re looking at an empty hole.”

It's no doubt true that unless you have a loved one in the military, you don't what it's like to watch them go off to war, nor what it is like if they don't come back. Every kind of loss is different, and any kind of grief you've experienced is no doubt unlike what someone else has, and vice versa.

But is that any kind of basis for setting foreign policy? Don't get me wrong; I feel the same way about the war as Barbara Boxer. But a person's right to agree or disagree with the president's policy should not be diminished by the fact that they have no relatives in uniform, any more than the opinions of those with children or other relatives in uniform should count for more than those who don't.

I'm reminded of the pointless criticism of the president for waging a war in which his own daughters will not have to fight. Would you be more in favor of the war if the president's daughters were patrolling Baghdad right now? Perhaps you think he would not have gone to war in the first place were his daughters in the military, or subject to a draft. Somehow I don't think it would have changed matters much. After all, not every parent of a child lost in Iraq feels the same way as Cindy Sheehan.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

They can have my trans fats when they pry them from my cold, dead arteries

Will Clower argues in this Post-Gazette op-ed that Pittsburgh should join New York City and Chicago in banning trans fats. He argues that the costs incurred as a result of diseases associated with trans fats trumps any libertarian concerns:

The problem in ridding foods of heart-damaging oils is not the price, or the flavor or the bother of changing to healthier ingredients. The real problem is more fundamental. It comes from that kernel, lodged deep within each of our foot-stomping, you're-not-the-boss-of-me Libertarian hearts, that screams that no one can tell us what to do.

The same impulse made people rebel against the mandatory seat-belt law that has saved tens of thousands of lives, the motorcycle helmet law (since repealed in Pennsylvania) and the institution of smoke-free zones.

I'm all for cutting the cost of health care. I've had several vigorous debates at this site over how to do so. (Here is one example.) But the problem with prohibiting an individual from engaging in an activity or consuming a substance based on the social costs is that there really is no end to what government can decide should be proscribed. Burger King, for example, might boast flame-broiled burgers, but if you order one with bacon and cheese on it, you're not doing your heart any favors. So why should we allow bacon cheeseburgers?

Yes, slippery slope arguments have their limits. It's a ludicrious and, I'll admit, a cliched example. But I never thought I'd see the day when the government decided that because some Americans are unable to make healthy choices (and I'm devoured my share of trans fats myself, no doubt) that restaurants would be told what kind of cooking oils they can and cannot use.

I'll admit to being ambivalent about the smoking ban. Other people are affected by one person's decision to light up in public. But I'm hurting no one but myself if I decide to order a bucket of extra crispy and wash it down with some buttermilk biscuits. (Oh, wait. KFC has voluntarily stopped using trans fats. Maybe we don't need that ban after all.)

And yes, I happen to think people should be able to ride motorcycles without helmets, so long as they are adults, and I do believe people should be able to drive their cars without seat belts, even though I won't put my car into gear without strapping myself in. (Again, that's a choice I should be able to make for myself, not, for example, for my 15-month-old daughter, who does indeed deserve the protection of the state were my parental concern insufficient.)

In short, the government has no obligation, nor should it have any power, to protect me from myself.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

The suburbs keep looking better and better

So if there is so much demand for Downtown housing, why does the mayor want to bribe people to live there?

Ravenstahl has said he supports subsidies for affordable housing and tax breaks for those who move Downtown.

But it's a thought that doesn't sit well with some city residents who already feel overtaxed.

"I pay for my house. Why should I pay for someone to live here?" said Dan Johnson, 36, of Bloomfield, as he walked to work Downtown. "I don't think that will fly here."

Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson, I'm afraid it just might fly here, whether people like us like it or not. Pittsburgh isn't exactly synonymous with good government, and here is example number 5,679,456. As Sam at AntiRust points out, there is at least some overlap between the market for Downtown housing, and the market for housing elsewhere in the city, as the above referenced Tribune-Review article notes:

Heather Miller sold herself on buying a new condo Downtown. A Cranberry native who lives in Mt. Washington, Miller already shops in the Strip District and works as a site coordinator in the old Union National Bank building on Fourth Avenue, which is being converted into The Carlyle. That place will have 61 luxury condos.

Last I looked, Mt. Washington is inside the city limits. I fail to see why it makes sense to spend tax dollars to allow Ms. Miller to move across the river.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Dude, I hope you are not getting a Dell

I don't have time to go into details, but for the second time in two months I find myself having to ship my Dell laptop off to be serviced. My wife is finding out via the Internets that a lot of people with our (now discontinued) model have had similar problems. Extremely frustrating.


Pardon me, Mr. President

I've always accepted the conventional wisdom that Gerald Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon was, in the long run, the best thing for the nation, but Tube City makes a persuasive argument otherwise. (And my wife, who has better things to do with her time than opine on a blog, also has been trying to set me straight.)

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