Sunday, June 29, 2008

A city at risk

In a nice little column Sunday about Pittsburgh's Little Italy, Joseph Mistick declares, "With gas prices through the roof, the time for a return to the great American urban neighborhood may be here."

I certainly hope Miskick is correct. I've written (ranted) ad nauseum on this blog in favor of urban living and policies that promote walkable, sustainable communities. But there's a major obstacle standing in the way of this great urban renaissance, and the events of the past week in Pittsburgh have brought it into relief. Simply put, Pittsburgh -- and other cities which share its woes -- will continue to struggle with population loss and the resulting economic stagnation so long as it has what is perceived to be a failing school system.

That's certainly not an original observation on my part. The link between a community's livability and the quality of its public schools is quite well-established. Schools are a big part of the reason that people move to places like Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair and Fox Chapel.

But absent from the public discourse about Pittsburgh's future is much evidence that people understand that the fate of the city and the fate of the school district are inextricably linked. The school district's troubles may have once been a symptom of Pittsburgh's economic decline. Now, cause and effect are reversing themselves, and the school district is dragging the city down with it. (That is not a comment on the two entities' respective governing bodies. In truth, the school district has been better managed than the city over the past two decades.)

If the numbers aren't enough to convince you, try talking to suburban parents. My wife belongs to a moms' group, and when another member finds out we live in the city, her first question to my wife is, "What are you going to do when it's time for your daughter to go to school?" As far as they are concerned, the city schools aren't even an option.

I don't know what the solution is. The first step is to acknowledge that this a crisis in the life of the city that must be dealt with, and soon. A lot of the people who got involved in the fight over Schenley High School understand this, and regardless of how you feel about the decision to close the school, it does provide what educators call a teachable moment. We have the opportunitiy to push the school system to the top of the public agenda. The energy that was expended to fight for this one school must be turned toward saving the entire system -- which means that some of the people who hurled insults at one another are going to have to work together from here on out.

We owe it to our children. And to our city.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thanks, Supremes

Boy, did the Supreme Court do Barack Obama a solid today. Never mind gay marriage amendments. Can you imagine the furor among conservatives had the court ruled 5-4 that the Second Amendment does not allow for individuals to own guns? They would have forgetten real quick whatever beef they have with John McCain as he fell all over himself promising to appoint gun-loving judges to the high court.

Besides, the court's ruling leaves plenty of wriggle room for sensible restrictions on gun ownership:

But the court held that the individual right to possess a gun “for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home” is not unlimited. “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” Justice Scalia wrote.

The ruling does not mean, for instance, that laws against carrying concealed weapons are to be swept aside. Furthermore, Justice Scalia wrote, “The court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” (link)

In other words, the Second Amendment is no more absolute than any of our other constitutional protections, just about all of which have had some kind of Supreme Court-approved sanctions imposed on them throughout the history of the republic. Somehow, I doubt that little nuance will merit much attention by those who praise the wisdom of today's ruling.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

One nation, under God

The New York Times reports that conservative 527 groups are having trouble raising money to defame Barack Obama. The Times cites as an example a group dedicated to unmasking Obama as a Muslim:

The second spot highlights a Roman Catholic elementary school roster from Indonesia showing that Mr. Obama registered as a Muslim. The campaign said that the notation was probably made because Mr. Obama’s stepfather was nominally a Muslim but that the candidate had never been a Muslim. He is a committed Christian. (link)

I'd like to think I'm a pragmatist, so I understand that given the political climate in the U.S. since 2001, Obama has to quash the rumor that he is a Muslim. But wouldn't it be nice if instead he could engage his opponents in a debate over whether we really want to live in a nation in which a candidate for office, or any person, has to prove what his or her religion is, or isn't. Isn't a religious test contrary to just about everything we are supposed to stand for as Americans?

Some people would answer that question differently than I would. But I think the debate would do us all good.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"What's left to hope for?"

I discuss the film "Children of Men" over at my other blog.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Don't stop believin'

You thought I was obsessed with "The Sopranos"? I don't know when I'll have time to read this multi-part deconstruction of the final episode. (Which, after a second viewing, I've decided is one of the best series finales ever.)

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