Archive for July, 2007

Pittsburgh Tunnel Traffic

Likely cause all the hype on “Pittsburgh’s Entrance”, we have some weird traffic here which this wise guy thinks is funny. Of course he had to leave town cause here we would wash his dirty mouth out with soap.

Local Cats Release Hostage; Motznik’s Family Relieved to Have Dog Back

Pittsburgh has its fair share of stupid, money-draining boondoggles, but the one that nearly passed today would have been one of the stupidest.

Alik posted about this before, but I’ll reiterate: Councilman Jim Motznik is sick of losing fish out of his pond, so he wants all cats to be licensed. His proposal was defeated today by a margin of 1 vote.

That’s it. One.

In a staggering reversal of Pittsburgh political practices, voter-againster Jeff Koch said it was “an extra tax burden,” suggesting that members of the City Council actually believe that some taxes are not good. I’m still boggling.

One suggestion endorsed by some is to create a Cat Bounty, wherein Pittsburghers are given money for any intact cat brought in for fertility reassignment surgery. This might work, except for the cat farms that will doubtlessly spring up, as enterprising entrepreneurs breed a few hundred cats a year and deposit a whole mess of soon-to-be-euthanized felines into the system while simultaneously depositing a sum of money into their checking accounts.

I propose a different solution, one that could make a somebody very rich: Cat Traps. The first model could be a deadfall with a cheezburger as bait.

The Toll Road Debate In Texas

Follow the debate on the Austin Metroblog, the Orange County Metroblog, the Houston Metroblog,
and on the L.A. Metroblog.

The Congestion Pricing Debate

This is a global debate that is just starting to emerge that I doubt most Pittsburgher’s know is going on.

No More Boring Data

Convention Centers and Public Choice Theory

Thanks to Antirust for pointing out a Brookings Institution study on one of the biggest government sponsored “development” fads–Convention Centers. The trends are not fully clear and the total convention business may still start to grow again, what is very clear is that the chances of it keeping up with the massive amount of newly built convention centers and hotels is very slim and the supply keeps coming.

What one is seeing are a number of the classic problems that all government financed projects face. First is the tendency, (which is limited in the private marketplace by investors) to throw good money after bad and reinforce failure rather than success. Then you have a classic subsidy war with each city needing higher and higher subsidies and discounts to compete with other city’s subsidised facilities. (like the stadium wars) This one is particularly strange in that many people in the business claim that the hotel taxes which often partly fund these facilities are a big drag on demand.

From what I can see, only Public Choice Theory, gives a rational explanation as to who tends to benefit from these projects and why they are so hard to kill.

“Public choice theory is often referenced when discussing how individual political decision-making results in policy that conflicts with the overall desires of the general public. For example, many special interest and pork barrel projects are not the desire of the overall democracy. However, it makes sense for politicians to support these projects. It may benefit them psychologically as they feel powerful and important. It can also benefit them financially as it may open the door to future wealth as lobbyists (after they retire). The project may be of interest to the politician’s local constituency, increasing district votes or campaign contributions. The politician pays little to no cost to gain these benefits, as they are spending federal public tax dollars. Special interest lobbyists are also behaving rationally. They can gain government favors worth millions or billions for relatively small investments. They face a risk of losing out to their competitors if they don’t seek these favors. The taxpayer is also behaving rationally. The cost of defeating any one government give-away is very high, while the benefits to the individual taxpayer are very small. Each citizen pays only a few pennies or a few dollars for any given government favor, while the costs of ending that favor would be many times higher. Everyone involved has rational incentives to do exactly what they’re doing, even though the desire of the general constituency is opposite.”

Large scale mega projects may or may not be worthwhile from a standpoint of economic development but by nature they have characteristics that almost always benefit politicians, unions (these are almost always union jobs) and rent seeking developers. They are big visible things that they can put their name on and claim they “got done”. They also bring immediate impacts in terms of jobs while deferring and or hiding costs.

The True Cost Of…

an iPhone is $2,206.92 over 2 years. Check out this post on the Mint blog. Mint is still in beta, but I think it is a new website for managing your money. They have some really interesting articles on the Mint blog. I have always had a fascination with smart money management and I was reminded at lunch today that I frequently use the term penny wise and pound foolish.
I find this number for the true cost of and iPhone to be interesting. I actually thought it would be higher. I think it is not crazy to spend $1000/year on a cell phone. While at first $1000/year on a cell phone seems crazy, that little cell phone, at a cost of about $100/month lets me do lots of things. I can jump on a conference call from anywhere. I can quickly check an email. So for me, I think it is an expense that is worth the investment.
the folks at Mint also list out the true costs of having a dog, owning a house, driving a car and raising a kid. The true cost of dog ownership is – around $12,000 – I was surprised by that one. What do you think – is your dog worth $12,000? I wonder how much a cat costs? Don’t forget to factor in cat licensing.

Dodged Another Bullet

Pittsburgh dodged another bullet with the end of Morgan’s Calvary raid on July 19th 1863. The net effect of the raid seems small now and history has shown it to have not been planned to coordinate with Lee’s invasion. But it was plenty scary at the time.

“For 46 days as they rode over 1,000 miles (1,600 km), Morgan’s Confederates covered a region from Tennessee to northern Ohio. The raid coincided with the Vicksburg Campaign and the Gettysburg Campaign, although it was not directly related to either campaign. However, it served to draw the attention of tens of thousands of Federal troops away from their normal duties and strike fear in the civilian population of several Northern states. Repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to return to the South by hastily positioned Union forces and state militia, Morgan eventually surrendered what was left of his command in northeastern Ohio.”

It seems like the raiders counted on finding a lot of support along the ride from a region known for Copperheads.

“The Copperheads had numerous important newspapers, but the editors never formed any sort of informal alliance. In Chicago, Wilbur F. Storey made the Chicago Times into Lincoln’s most vituperative enemy. The New York Journal of Commerce, originally abolitionist, was sold to owners who became Copperheads, giving them an important voice in the largest city. A typical editor was Edward G. Roddy, owner of the Uniontown, Pennsylvania Genius of Liberty. He was an intensely partisan Democrat who saw blacks as an inferior race and Abraham Lincoln as a despot and dunce. Although he supported the war effort in 1861, he blamed abolitionists for prolonging the war and denounced the government as increasingly despotic. By 1864 he was calling for peace at any price.”

Pittsburgh Blogger Co-curates Show In NY

Blogging seems to have opened up the idea of identity in new ways. For example there is a very small but amazingly great exhibition of photographic portraits at a small but very respected NY gallery. The curator, who happens to live in Pittsburgh, makes a living as an astrophysicist, is a pretty serious photographer and has none of the traditional credentials to be a curator. A little over five years ago he started a blog to channel his interest in contemporary photography, a medium that is well suited to following online, which is now one of the most followed blogs on the subject. He has a strong commitment to hunting out new work on artists websites and also does a number of great artist interviews.



Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, entered the Senate’s LBJ room early this morning, looking for a cot and a chance to nap during a rare overnight debate on the Iraq war.

“There was one kind of blob in the corner. And I’m trying to figure out, who is it? Who is sleeping over there? It was none other than Bob Casey,” she told reporters today.

… … …

Pennsylvania’s junior senator was the first lawmaker to take advantage of LBJ cots. He slept for about an hour.

… … …

Ms. McCaskill wasn’t comfortable, so she left, waking Mr. Casey on the way out. She apologized to him.

We don’t seem to be raising them very hearty in Pennsylvania these days. The 47-year-old Casey couldn’t outlast his 77-year old senior colleague, or even any of the six octogenarian Senators currently serving.

On the other hand, maybe the hints at Senator Casey’s reputation hidden in this story give us a clue. Why, I wonder, was Senator McCaskill, seen here lookin’ fine with Barack Obama, so “uncomfortable” with the idea of napping in the same room as a colleague? Could it be that Casey has a habit of taking advantage of overtired lady senators in the nap room? If so, he may have been cruising, and his “waking” was just part of his plan to draw another sexy legislator into a “private caucus,” if you know what I mean. The old “horizontal quorum.” A little bit of what true American patriots call “freedom kissing.”

Another clue from the P-G:

“I picked the one beneath the portrait of Thomas Jefferson. I figured that was safe,” [Casey] told reporters. “He was watching over me while I slept.”

Yeah, I think that Jefferson would have approved.

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