Archive for August, 2007

List time

It is late August once again, the time when newspaper columnists’ thoughts turn to getting their columns in quick so they can get to the park and enjoy the weather. As such, it is list time at the Post-Gazette.

Columnists love lists because they are simple to compile and fill space quickly. As Tony Norman says in today’s column:

[I]n lieu of actual work, I present a list of fiction and CDs I’ve picked up over the last year that I’ve enjoyed.

This is an error on Tony’s part. He should have gotten two columns out of this premise, one of books and the other of records. As it is, he is only able to discuss the books in any detail, and the records section is nothing but a list of names, indicating nothing except perhaps that Tony Norman listens to far too much college radio for a man of his age.

Brian O’Neill, known on the streets as Bone-Ill, takes Tony to school. he got not just one but two columns out of a much more limited premise: lists of Pennsylvania movies. Now that is opinion-writing excellence.

When you see these fellows out on the frisbee-golf course, you can ask them for the secrets of their success. They will tell you:

1. Listing things.
2. Writing them down.
3. Typing them into a computer.
4. Commentary, if there is time.
5. Out of the office by eleven!

Luke continuing to not understand the problem

Trib:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl refused to release a letter Thursday that contains changes the city Ethics Hearing Board has recommended to ethics rules.

I must point out that I am not the first or second Pittsburgh weblogger to mention this.

The Mayor, seen here pretending to be George Washington, makes the argument that the letter is a personal communication between the city Ethics board and himself. I must say, I didn’t even know that public boards even had the ability to send personal correspondence. No matter, someone is talking, at least in general terms, to the Post-Gazette:

The city of Pittsburgh’s Ethics Hearing Board has written to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl urging limits on participation in high-dollar charitable events like the charity golf outing that recently got him in hot water.

This is pretty much what everyone expected any such correspondence to say. Why the Mayor, with Ethics Board Chair Patrice the Nun backing him up, would make the extremely dubious claim that a letter from a public board to a public official who they recently questioned about his behavior could possibly be personal is a question that gets at the heart of the problem here, and indicates why the Mayor and his defenders feel so put-upon by this whole series of events.

The argument from the Ravenstahl camp goes like this: What Luke did isn’t specifically against the rules, and plus everyone does it. The second point is irrelevant and likely to make enemies, as John McIntire pointed out in his City Paper column this week. The first, the facts of which are arguable at best, assumes that ethical behavior is equivalent to acting strictly within the written code.

As long as the Mayor regards his ethical responsibilities as a public official as getting his hands on as much as he can without specifically violating the ethics code he will continue to have trouble, because he has a tin ear. Ultimately the reason that he is in trouble here is because he blew off an important meeting for his extremely expensive golf outing.

Now, he refuses to release a letter that, barring something really shocking in the contents, could not possibly make things worse for him. Why would he be secretive about such a thing?

It can only be because he is an idiot. And that is the root of all his problems. How dumb do you have to be to not guess that people will be upset if you promote a bunch of woman-hitting police officers? How dumb do you have to be to not realize that people will be upset if you blow off a neighborhood group concerned about construction to fly to New York for late night drinks with they billionaire who is pushing the construction? How dumb do you have to be? How do you smack someone out of that level of dumb?

My suggestion: send Ravenstahl an e-mail, and make your own request under Pennsylvania’s right to know law. Here is mine:

Dear Mayor Ravenstahl,

I was interested to read about the City Ethics Board letter to you of 8/28/07. As a concerned resident of the City of Pittsburgh, I would like to see the contents of that letter. I can pick it up some time in the next five working days, as provided for by the Pennsylvania Right-to-know law.

Yours,

McArdle Booker

The more people who request this, the less Luke can pretend the problem is “yellow journalism” or political opponents who are out to get him because they are closet Republicans, or hate handsomeness, or whatever it is that Luke believes makes people attack him. His e-mail address is luke.ravenstahl@city.pittsburgh.pa.us, and requests must be made in writing (e-mail counts).

Update: The P-G has more information on the letter:

“We are concerned, however, that attendance by city officials at certain types of charitable events, while technically in conformity with the city Ethics Code, can be misunderstood by the public,” it continues. “We are thinking of exclusive events where the price of admission is above the means of most city residents, and where the cost of admission is underwritten by an ‘interested party.’

“Even if no quid pro quo is granted, the perception of favoritism or privileged access may persist. Such concerns could lead to an erosion of the public’s trust in the impartiality of city officials in making key decisions, signing agreements or awarding contracts.”

This is the most charitable way of putting it, pretending that the problem is not the Mayor using his position to get a bunch of free stuff, but the public’s “misunderstanding” of the nature of how the Mayor gets free stuff.

Still, dummy Mayor says:

“Their recommendations are something that we’ll consider,” said Mr. Ravenstahl. “Perhaps there are other components of the code that we can look at as well.”

He said he agreed that the board should be made available for advice, but hadn’t yet decided whether rules on invitations to charity events would make a difference.

Of course it will make a difference. Your friends will not be able to give you free stuff in that particular way. You will have to find a new way for them to give you free stuff.

Is this how we will spend the next two years? Luke sparring with the rest of the city, all the time dreaming up new ways to take gifts from companies that want something from him, occasionally promising to do something wonderful that he can’t pay for. The rest of us will constantly pressure the rest of government to do what they can to keep Luke in line.

It sounds exhausting, but with a Republican running against Luke who refuses to take running for mayor seriously, we are stuck. I still recommend requesting the Ethics Board letter, and I think the reasons above remain valid, even if someone had the good sense to give at least part of the letter to Rich Lord.

BraddockMade


BraddockMade

Originally uploaded by gophotogo

I am sitting here at Borders, flipping through one of the magazines I
often look for ideas to inspire t-shirt themed blog posts, ReadyMade.
There on page 72 is a montage of pictures of places I have been. Before
I even read the text I recognize the sign for “Fossil Free Fuel” and the
Carnegie Library in Braddock. It is really awesome to stumble upon this
article which highlights for the entire ReadyMade readership some of the
great things I have had the opportunity to see first hand. The pictures
of Braddock are great. Of all of the people I have met since I started
working on political campaigns 4 years ago, I am most excited about the
mayor and deputy mayor of Braddock. While I am interested in many
political campaigns I find that I most often tell others about
Bra.ddock. I am inspired by their enthusiasm for Braddock. So yes, if
you aren’t in western Pa, check out ReadyMade and read about Braddock.
If you are in western Pa, I hope you will take a short drive and visit
Braddock yourself. It is really nice to see on of these publications
write about a location in our neck of the woods.

BraddockMade


BraddockMade

Originally uploaded by gophotogo

I am sitting here at Borders, flipping through one of the magazines I
often look for ideas to inspire t-shirt themed blog posts, ReadyMade.
There on page 72 is a montage of pictures of places I have been. Before
I even read the text I recognize the sign for “Fossil Free Fuel” and the
Carnegie Library in Braddock. It is really awesome to stumble upon this
article which highlights for the entire ReadyMade readership some of the
great things I have had the opportunity to see first hand. The pictures
of Braddock are great. Of all of the people I have met since I started
working on political campaigns 4 years ago, I am most excited about the
mayor and deputy mayor of Braddock. While I am interested in many
political campaigns I find that I most often tell others about
Bra.ddock. I am inspired by their enthusiasm for Braddock. So yes, if
you aren’t in western Pa, check out ReadyMade and read about Braddock.
If you are in western Pa, I hope you will take a short drive and visit
Braddock yourself. It is really nice to see on of these publications
write about a location in our neck of the woods.

Herron Hill

Pittsburghdrawing18-thumb.jpg

So where does your drinking water come from?

As a water main break in Oakland this afternoon disrupted water pressure in parts of Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze, and Greenfield, I began thinking about the urban watershed and where my water comes from. According to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s website, there are over 1200 miles of pipe carrying water around the city. I live in Friendship, and I think we’re connected to the Garfield Heights reservoir, but I’m not certain. I’d love to see a color-coded map, showing how the water gets distributed around the city.

[Update – historical context: a map showing the affected areas when the water main broke near the same intersection, seven years ago. I imagine that similar areas are affected this time.]

OK, This Is Cool

Thanks to Arts Blog for this one.

“What’s yellow, round, and can dance independently to music? Keepon (pronounced, “key-pong”) is a Carnegie Mellon robotics project turned internet sensation. CMU student Marek Michalowski and Hideki Kozima of Japan’s National Institute of Communications Technology featured the adorable Keepon robot in a music video for Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On”, which has now been viewed more than 1.3 million times on YouTube.

The bot uses a gimbal-based system to move through about as full a range of motions as two spheres are capable of, and is able to react to both music and visual stimulation. According to the designers, “Keepon is designed to perform emotional and attention exchange with human interactants (especially children) in the simplest and most comprehensive way.”

Best Hipster Shows How It’s Done

Hipster Olympics Live Coverage

Yes, our problem is we don’t have enough of these people. I don’t think the NY Metroblog covered this event– I guess only unhip people would bother.

Thinking About Youngstown

This piece originates from the book One for Sorrow, written by the author Christopher Barzak.I found it by looking at the Burgh Diaspora Blog, who linked to the Shout Youngstown Blog

With some of its scenes set in the Steel Valley (another steel valley) and downtown Youngstown, the book is available for pre-purchase from Amazon and will be published this summer by Random House.

“The tracks led into the downtown through a valley that had once been a bed of industry, and we followed them until we came out of dead space and into the valley. Under the cover of real night, we entered the city and lights began to spread in all directions like a sea of strange, glowing pearls.

The valley itself was a wasteland. Vacant factories with smashed-up windows. Black scars on the ground where steel mills had been demolished by their owners years ago. Yellow-brown weeds and thorny bushes. Leftover machine parts. Rotting car frames and engines. Rusty metal workings. Toilets covered in strange stains. Broken forty ounce beer bottles. Couches with springs curling out of the stuffing. And far too many stones to look at and be reminded of Gracie.

The dead roamed here also, trudging through the thin layer of snow that had fallen. They wandered the rubble of the mills, leaving no footprints as they went. They lingered in doorways, smoking cigarettes, nodding as we passed. Most were men wearing grease-stained jumpsuits; others were young women wearing long tweed skirts, carrying folders pressed to their chests.”

Really, don’t know much about the book but I guess it’s set in Youngsown Ohio and it’s likely damn powerful stuff, if that’s just taste. I’ve passed through the place, and that’s about all I can say about it. I don’t mean to imply that, every Steel town is the same, but I saw an interview with this author that makes me think that there a lot of common threads in our history. The interview is really the subject of this post. The opening say’s a lot of stuff that applies to most places around here to one degree or another.

“Shout Youngstown: Please describe your recent path, from Youngstown to Japan to back in Youngstown.”

“Chris Barzak: I did my undergraduate and graduate degrees both at Youngstown State University. What I recall about those years between 1994 and 2004 is that the community couldn’t even recognize itself as a community. There was very little effort made, or at least taken out and put into the hands of the people, to bring us together, to feel as if the city was ours. People passed through the city or went around it in some cases; they didn’t live in it. I lived in it, but it felt very similar to living in a vacuum. My best friends were the books in the university library. I spent more time there reading things that weren’t even assigned for my classes, looking up from a space where people in some other place in the world (and some other time, in many cases) felt it was important to think and to put thoughtfulness down on paper, to leave it behind for others to use it if they could. The city I saw when I looked out the windows of the top floor of the library, though, hadn’t been treated in the same way. It had been used and abused by people, corporations and big businesses and corrupt organizations and politicians over the course of a few decades, and people – the citizens of the city – had allowed it to happen. They had forgotten or chosen to pretend it was their duty to protect the public space they lived in. The disintegration of not only the physical world of Youngstown but the communal bonds of the people living within and around it eventually became so oppressive to my spirit that I decided to leave.”

After several years he recently came back.

“When I came back to Youngstown, I was afraid I’d find nothing had changed and that I’d want to return to Japan very quickly. And though it did take me some time to readjust to living in my own culture again, I was immediately heartened and filled with hope for other reasons. The city, it seemed, had changed to some extent while I was gone. The downtown was open, people were actually walking in it – not just people who worked downtown either. There were businesses open – a music store, a gorgeous martini bar that is just as good if not better than any bar I’ve frequented in New York City or Tokyo, a fashionable and hip nightclub, and there was this amazing group of young people meeting at the Oakland Center for the Arts to hold this event called The Stage, where people could show off their talents – in art or music, literature or dance, standup comedy, acting, drag performance, anything at all really, and everyone was supportive of each other. It felt like a real community”

SY: Can you elaborate more then, on the difference in the city during your earlier years here, and after your sojourn in Toyko?

“CB: I’ve noticed that the people have come out to the streets again. This is always a healthy sign of life in a community. I’ve noticed they are beginning to insist on having a say and a hand in the creation and maintenance of their city and city life again. I’ve noticed that, though there are exceptions, many of these people are the young, the new generation. They are refusing to accept a life of stagnancy and “holding on”, waiting for someone outside their own community to save their community for them. We’ve put “the hope for some industrial giant to swoop in and save things” behind us, and really, thank God for that. We should find healthier ways to grow an economy here. Rather than allowing ourselves to become dependent on big business, we should encourage small business and entrepreneurship within the community and surrounding area itself. We will learn how to live by our own means, rather than be subject to a life provided for us by a few of the very wealthy in the nation, a life that isn’t something we should settle for anyway:”

SY: What do you want Downtown Youngstown to be like in five years?

CB: I want Downtown Youngstown to be even more full of people than it is now. I want businesses to open that value creativity, community and civic awareness as well as businesses that foster economic trade. I want an independent bookstore, I want a place where local artists can sell their work by consignment to the public, I want a newspaper that attempts to engage with the people rather than just the politicians and business owners in the region. I want a fully functional Arts Center (the Oakland Center for the Arts would be the perfect place to grow this from, if the board of directors for the Oakland could be persuaded to see themselves functioning more in that way) that provides a space for all of the arts in the area: writers, actors, artists, musicians, encouraging them to come together and exchange ideas, giving them a place to display their talent and to act as an “incubator” for the artists and thinkers of the region.”

“I want to see a downtown with a grocery store, a dry cleaner, and affordable housing so that people can come out of their hidey-hole apartments in the cut-up sections of the city and come together again, where they can live and work together. I want more social activist groups to stand outside of the courthouses and the mayor’s office and raise their voices until they must be heard by the decision makers of this city. I want more than anything more members of the community to join those choruses of voices, so that we can all be heard. Without a forum for the community to feel as if it can be heard and attended to, without a process for the community to feel as if they have ownership of their city streets, any progress that’s made will eventually fail once again.”

Notice that he didn’t say, I wan’t jobs, jobs, jobs at any price.

Report From A Possible Future

I got a hold of this fictional report from a future world from a great blog called, I will Shout Youngstown. The rosy picture it paints is sort of possible, if highly unlikely. It should be understood, however that the historic trend in development before the mid twentieth century was generally sustainable, so this would be just a reversion to the norm.

It starts like this.

“Last week, the EPA released its annual data on US greenhouse gas emissions. For the fifth time in a row, they announced a substantial reduction–to levels not seen since the population stood at half its current size. This represents a remarkable turnaround, one that has confounded all predictions of how catastrophic climate change would be averted.

Technology has not been the main solution–most cars still run on internal combustion. Nor have emissions declined because of widespread economic hardship–real median income has never been higher. Instead, the threat of global climate change has been met by an even more powerful force: a seismic shift in the American Dream.”

“Americans began driving less and living closer together. The ideal of a ranch home with a two-car garage and a spacious lawn gave way to something more sociable and intimate. More and more people began settling in places with a strong sense of community, where daily amenities could be found within walking distance. Somehow, the public realm had been elevated over private luxury.

As a result, many cities and towns are virtually unrecognizable compared to their former selves. Houston, to name a widely-cited example, is now served by more track-miles of light rail than lane-miles of highway infrastructure. Once known for its reflective skyscrapers financed by fossil fuel profits, it is now most famous for Discovery Green–a public square in the heart of downtown–and the dozens of smaller public spaces that have cropped up throughout its neighborhoods.”

A bit further on

“Your street network, your public institutions, your retail businesses, your waterfront, your parks and greenways–none of these exist in a vacuum, and they all converge at physical places. So once you change the frame of reference and start thinking about interconnected places instead of separate systems, then you can start shaping cities in ways that very tangibly improve many different aspects of people’s lives. And once you’ve shown people what that looks and feels like, they want more of it; they want to become part of the process.”

“The widespread appeal of this approach to building neighborhoods, towns, and cities is quickly apparent in maps of settlement patterns around the world. The unmistakable trend for the past five years has been the growth of population centers and the decline of spread out development. Not all of these new concentrations are mega-cities. In fact, most are small towns and suburbs that have shifted away from the old sprawling forms and towards something more city-like, where walking and transit are the preferred modes of transportation. You can credit new laws and regulations for bringing this change about, but the truth is it never would have happened if most people didn’t want it to happen.”

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