The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


OK, not like Atrios needs a link from me, but here's his Roberts post, related to mine below.

2 of his excerpts were summarized below.

Info from the Washington Post.

Wow. Right-wing Roberts

Unless Nina Totenberg - normally moderately liberal at most - is really shading things in this report, Roberts turns out to be - or to have been in 1982 - a raging, anti-civil rights right-winger.

This is in reference to the massive doc dump (and kudos to NPR for getting so many substantial nuggets on air in 12 hours flat) from yesterday. I haven't had a chance to review any other news or views on this, but Nina quoted at least a half dozen different docs in which Roberts basically looks at Ted Olsen (!) and says, Stop being so liberal.


Congress was trying this BS where Congress tries to limit the courts' rights to rule on prayer in schools, etc. Olsen reported that it was dubious constitutionally, and bad policy. Roberts flayed him, claiming that "real courage would be to read the Constitution as it was written."

He opposed any but the narrowest reading of Title 9.

He opposed many of the EEOC complaints brought by the very conservative Reagan appointee in charge.

He basically opposed the heart of the Voting Rights Act signed by Reagan.

He opposed funding for Coretta Scott King's programs at the King Center.

So apparently I spoke too soon. The guy isn't just a partisan hack. He's an ideologue, through and through.


OK, one tiny sidelight issue on the whole Plame matter. I keep seeing the term "boondoggle" being used as if it were synonymous with "junket." But it isn't. As Apple's handy built-in Oxford Dictionary puts it, a boondoggle is
work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value;
• a public project of questionable merit that typically involves political patronage and graft.

I would say that the second definition is precisely how Rove, et al. have tried to spin Wilson's mission, and is, from their POV, accurate. I would argue that it's inaccurate (just as the White House's statements about the Plame matter and about Iraq's nuclear program were inaccurate), and it could be argued that they're hinting that Wilson's mission was somehow plum, but I find objections to the term boondoggle on the basis that Niger is an undesirable destination to be beside the point.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Top Ten

I'm going to keep at this until I get one that I think makes me look cool (to someone else, I mean).

Little Green - Joni Mitchell, Blue
Don't Get Around Much Anymore - Nat King Cole, Classic Jazz - Jazz Masters 1
'Til I Fell In Love With You - Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind
Some Day The Sun Won't Shine For You - Jethro Tull, This Was
Autumngirlsoup - Kirsty MacColl, tropical brainstorm
Born As Ghosts - Rage Against The Machine, The Battle Of Los Angeles
All You Fascists - Billy Bragg and Wilco, Mermaid Avenue Volume 2
Round - Jethro Tull, This Was
Voices of Old People - Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends
There Goes My Gun - The Pixies, Live At The BBC

I'm a bit embarrassed that the Cole is a compilation, but what can I say - it's a good compilation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Obligatory Roberts Post

It's hard to gauge just how bad this guy is. I mean, he's clearly a lifelong partisan hack, and, unlike the rumoured Clement, doesn't seem to have a moderate bone in his body. Yet.... He doesn't seem to be a Scalia-esque ideologue, either.

Basically, I'm of two minds on this: fight this guy tooth and nail, hope that the public gets the impression that W has gotten a real right winger in there, and hopefully he'll be in worse position to nominate a real ideologue next time; OR, save the powder, get Rove back in the headlines, and talk about our positions and plans as much as possible.

Actually, Amanda at Pandagon makes a strong point, one I've seen echoed elsewhere: this is a great opportunity for the Dems to take a smart loss. Marshal your arguments, explain why this guy's trouble (with specifics, not generalized "he's too conservative" - that's a dealbreaker for us, but not for most Americans), and show Americans what we believe in.

Why am I so defeatist on this? Is it that I think we have to quit on every issue from here til '08? Is it because it's not my body, not my choice, and therefore not my fight? No and no. Unacceptable as his views are, this guy's not Bolton at the UN (Tom Delay to SCOTUS would be Bolton to the UN, and we'd win that one, too). The press is all ready to paint Dems as nihilistically obstructionist on this one, which is OK if you can win anyway. But we don't have the votes. Thanks to the Gang of 14 Idiots, we've given up the filibuster for all but the most outrageous nominees (if even for them). No way do any of the 7 Republicans in that Confederacy of Dunces consider Roberts "extraordinary circumstances." I doubt more than a couple of the Dems do, either. So - barring skeletons, of course - we can't win. Like the Pirates, we're mathematically eliminated in Spring Training. But, also like the Pirates, we can try to go out there, make a strong effort, and win over the public regardless.

Which I guess sounds like I'm on the side of fighting it out, with a clear vision of the goal - hearts and minds. I still know Dems who blame Dems for Anita Hill - think it shouldn't have been brought up. Right or wrong, we can't risk that kind of self-inflicted wound in a battle we'll likely lose regardless. Let's have people talk about the Roberts battle as one between Principled Opposition and Partisan Hacks. That would be a win.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Credit Where Credit is Due

This morning on NPR, David Greene laid out an excellent timeline of what the Plame story is about - a timeline that ended in July 2003. Because the point of the whole situation is that the Bush Admin was lying about Iraq's nuclear program, and Wilson provided evidence to this effect. Plame's outing was pushback, and everything else is arguing over details. So the piece quotes Bush citing "the smoking gun that could be a mushroom cloud" (God, he sounds so smarmily grave when he utters that lie) and Cheney dismissing ElBaradei's conclusion that Iraq had no nukes ("has no credibility on the subject" - that's what Cheney said - about someone else!).

One of the benefits of doing the story that way is that it avoids most of the truly contentious issues - not even a Republican apologist can deny that Bush and Cheney said those things, nor could they deny that that they said them to build a case for war. It doesn't vouch for anything Wilson says, either, simply presenting the fact that he raised doubts. The story in no way hinges on Wilson's word (which should relieve Warpath Bob).

Of course, this wouldn't be complete without noting that this excellent story followed a piece in which Linda Wertheimer interviews the nonpartisan Victoria Toensing about the 1982 Intelligence Identities Act. To Toensing's credit, she quickly knocked down the notion that if Rove said "Wilson's wife" he somehow is off the hook, but she proceeded to trot out doubts that Plame was really all that covert. There's a rebuttal from someone else (who is referred to, not quoted on tape), but this is exactly why it's useless to have partisan hacks like Toensing on at all - whatever good is done from her actual expertise is washed away by her efforts to spin.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Foxy NPR?

Nah. Just useless NPR.

What's sad is that I heard that report, and heard those same two errors/oversights/spins, and still thought, "Well, not too bad for Juan Williams." You know, the moment I found out my wife was pregnant, I was actually in the midst of cursing Williams over some crummy report - maybe one of his patented softball interviews. I'm proud to say that I don't actually recall what it was, but my wife had to interrupt my rant to tell me the news.

For awhile, I thought my theme - beat, as it were - for a blog, were I ever to start one, would be So-Called Liberal NPR. I have a whole thesis on this that I'll write up some day, but the short version is that their news coverage is about as straight as possible, their political coverage is all over the place but rarely liberal (with pride of place given to worthless conventional-wisdomers like WIlliams and Cokie Roberts), and the cultural coverage is liberally earnest and multicultural, but rarely blue state-liberal as such (you hear a lot more Southern accents than you do in anyone else's cultural programming this side of TNN. Which doesn't exist anymore, if I recall correctly). Anyway, I've been getting a bit less angry about the nonsense I hear on NPR lately, but it's still there.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Digby on a roll

Digby, of Hullabaloo, has long been one of my favorite bloggers, combining fearless partisanship with pretty stark analysis. A few of his premises I've adopted more or less wholesale. And for the last couple weeks, he's been on an amazing roll. 22,500 words (some of it quotes, but not that much...) in the last 7 days. And he's on the West Coast - 5 more hours to write tonight.

If, somehow, you haven't been, or haven't been lately, get over there.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Actual Logical Thought on Terrorists?

Via Yglesias, a fascinating interview (in The American Conservative, no less) with a guy who's actually studied every documented suicide bombing of the last 25 years and determined that, basically, suicide bombers are inpired by one thing, and one thing only: territorial occupation by a readily-demonized "other."

Why yes, now that you mention it, that would have been handy to know back in the winter of '02-'03.

Anyway, it's really worth a read, as it wipes away all of the rhetoric, all of the "moral clarity," and gets to the bottom line:
The central motive for anti-American terrorism, suicide terrorism, and catastrophic terrorism is response to foreign occupation, the presence of our troops [in the Persian Gulf]. The longer our forces stay on the ground in the Arabian Peninsula, the greater the risk of the next 9/11, whether that is a suicide attack, a nuclear attack, or a biological attack.

To summarize the rest, a few specific points he hits:

- The #1 suicide attack group in the world is the secular, Marxist Tamil Tigers. Couple this with the virtually complete absence of suicide bombers from Iran and Sudan, two populous, radically-Islamist countries, and you see the fallacy of those who insist that Islam itself is somehow the problem.

- The presence of a political process - "light at the end of the tunnel," as it were, has a powerful reducing effect on suicide (and other) attacks. Evidence for this has been seen in Palestine & Northern Ireland.

- The cessation of occupation leads almost instantly to cessation of suicide attacks. Lebanon here is an extremely clear example, where dozens of attacks occurred while US, French, & Israeli forces were present, and stopped quickly and almost completely once they were removed.

The notion that "they" attack us because they "hate our freedom," or feel economically shamed by Western wealth simply has no basis in observed fact. Sure, the rhetoric may indicate some of that, but for the rhetoricians to actually get recruits, they need bodies, and the surest way to get bodies so filled with rage as to kill themselves is to create a situation where every day brings with it fresh outrage, fresh evidence of seemingly-endless occupation.

To be honest, I bring this up less as a point about our being in Iraq (although the lessons are crystal-clear), and more about our overall approach to terror. While non-suicide attacks are clearly no more inherently evil, no more devastating than others, they are a useful barometer. If it is possible to identify viable strategies to reduce or eliminate such attacks, it follows that other attacks would also be reduced, to the point where they are, as someone once put it, more of a nuisance and less of an existential threat.

Here's the Situation:

Please no more of that smug little homunculus*, smirking at me from Salon's daypass and the NYT's sidebar and wherever else the cretin's face is being plastered to support his latest atrocity. I just can't take it.

*Courtesy of David Neiwert's "friend Charles," whom I believe to be Pierce the Great.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Tierney Rebutted

By Mayor Tom Murphy in today's Post-Gazette.

It touches on many of the points I already raised, although he's silent on the Garden Theater.

As I noted over in the (newly moderated) comments at Sucher's place, it's important to recognize that "Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance."

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

And Another Thing....

OK, let's talk design.

You'll note that they don't bother to show any eye-level perspectives. No, it's all distant, iconic views, plus a couple simple, scaleless elevations. Why would that be? Because, perhaps, the most subtle renderer on earth couldn't make 20 blank stories look humane? Because even the sunniest sketch couldn't help but reveal the windswept, inhospitable sidewalk that they've proposed?

If there's one thing I'll never disagree with David Sucher about, it's that how a building meets the ground is the most important thing about it for the vast majority of people who will never enter it. The effects of such a staggeringly anti-urban building will reach far beyond one block on West. As any of you who wandered Downtown Manhattan before the towers fell will recall, the dead zone around the WTC stretched for blocks - arguably was half the reason Downtown was moribund for so long. Take 4 city blocks and turn them into an anti-pedestrian zone, and it'll ripple outwards.

Somewhat surprisingly, Witold Rybczynski, an excellent urbanist, likes this monstrosity. He identifies the base as one of two weaknesses, but his problem is how it interrelates with the shaft - 20 stories up! Who cares? I mean, I do, but, really, that transition won't be at all visible from the street, where tens of thousands will stream by daily. Where millions will come to see the memorial. I suppose you'll get a decent view of it from the memorial, but that's not exactly the point, is it?

So aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how do you like the thing? Well, I'm not a fan in the least of the current vogue of faceted, irrational buildings. Barcelona sickens me. I didn't think much of Liebeskind's original design, and I think Version 2 was pretty flawed as well.

And yet. The new design is handsome enough, but it's nothing special, is it? I mean, Hong Kong has a half dozen towers that are more interesting, more memorable. It does a decent enough job of evoking without mimicking the Twin Towers, and I also disagree with Witold about the spire - I think it's very well-proportioned, and with some minor tweaking could work pretty well. But I just don't think it's up to this task.

Paul Goldberger had a great (now bittersweet) line about the Twin Towers - "so banal as to be unworthy of a Midwestern bank building." Well, I'd say that David Childs has given us something that would make a really nice Midwestern bank building. But "Freedom Tower"? I'm afraid not.


Have the Terrorists Won?


Look at the bottom of that tower. 200 feet of virtually unbroken concrete and steel. Set back 65-120 feet from the street (65 feet is enough for 5 generous lanes of traffic). It's a bunker. A twenty story bunker. And this is "Freedom." This is supposed to be the embodiment of every ballsy New Yorker who said, even before the second tower fell, that we would rebuild, just as tall if not taller. This is supposed to be the symbol of America - 1776 feet tall, people - land of the free, home of the brave.

Land of the fortified, home of the cowering.

What sickens me most about this is that it is the symbol of America. George Bush's America.

Turn Lady Liberty around. Sink Ellis Island. Non-Yankee, go home. We're too scared.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Another view on porn theaters

I would be remiss not to address this piece from a very thoughtful commentator on the urban scene. In it, he imagines another path for the block containing the Garden Theater, one in which incremental development could have led to a less fraught outcome for the theater, and a much better outcome for the block (and neighborhood).

The scenario he imagines is certainly plausible, but I'm not convinced that it's likely. As he indicates, the block was pretty much for shit 7 years ago; I have no idea what's supposed to inspire this incremental development. "If they had just redone one building a year, I thought, the project would have not only been realizable, it would have been done by now." Well, yes. If only "they" had done it. So who is "they"? Clearly Miller doesn't want the URA. Maybe they could pump some money in, but that requires responsible owners with capacity, and they're farther and fewer between than urban idealists might imagine - running a successful barber shop says nothing about one's ability to fix up and maintain a building, or to find decent tenants. Inheriting a property doesn't speak much to one's abilities, either.

Furthermore, "they" would have to be unafraid to invest next door to a ratty porn house, unconcerned by an open air drug market, unintimidated by violence and rumors of violence. Thing is, this block is halfway between 2 healthier areas: Mexican War Streets, an incredibly successful historic district of lovely homes and insufferable snobs, and East Ohio Street, a neighborhood shopping district rent by a highway (funny that the ED projects everyone agrees are constitutional do the most damage) and just holding on. Mere proximity to these two areas did nothing for the Garden Theater block. Something more seems to be called for.

As I said in my earlier post, this is a pretty good example of a public use of ED that would result in a private property transfer. It's not the first option, or even the tenth, but it belongs in the arsenal.


More on Judicial Tierney

If you pronounce it right, it's a pun.

OK, nevermind.

Anyway, I wanted to get at another piece of nonsense in Tierney's piece, one not directly related to eminent domain.
The city managed to clear out shops and an office building to make room for a new Lazarus department store, built with $50 million in public funds, but Lazarus did not live up to its name. It has shut down and left a vacant building. Meanwhile, the city's finances are in ruins, and businesses and residents have been fleeing the high taxes required to pay off decades of urban renewal projects and corporate subsidies.

Here's another excellent example of throwing shit on the wall to see what sticks (there's probably a term from Latin rhetoric for that). There are a lot of reasons for Pittsburgh's crappy finances (Here's one take on it from a lefty, anti-ED viewpoint {link probably short-lived, but there's an archive}), but you have to be pretty fanciful to blame a $40M operating shortfall in a $389M annual budget on one-time capital boondoggles. Or pretty dishonest. You choose.

"Thriving small businesses"

You know, like porn theaters.

What the hell am I talking about? Well, just remember that, when earnest conservatarians talk about the evil of eminent domain, they're liable to fudge the facts a bit. Like describing a battered old XXX theater, located across from a landmark park and an elementary school, as a "thriving small business."

The Garden could not better embody the pro-Kelo argument, but of course John Tierney knows that readers of the Times are unlikely to know that. They also probably don't know that the Pittsburgh Wool Co., displaced by an expansion of the Heinz (now DelMonte) plant- the last major plant in town - is still in business, across the river in one of those "newly gentrified neighborhoods with renovated homes and converted warehouses." I was opposed to that move, but to be honest, it had more to do with the beautiful old building (and the proposed steel warehouse replacement) than with principle. As often happens with eminent domain, the family owners of the business got more for their property than they ever could have in the open market, and, their contemporaneous protestations to the contrary, they're still in business, even expanding their new location.

So what else? Well, Tierney is right about a lot of his history – we in Pittsburgh are surrounded by eminent domain gone wrong. That’s why it’s been odd for me to find myself so vociferous in criticizing Kelo’s opponents. So what’s the deal?

Well, first of all, most of our bad history in ED – the Lower Hill, East Liberty – had nothing to do with Kelo-style considerations. It was foolish, but taking private property for public parking or public housing (I guess there is one “upscale apartment building”) is within any “literal” reading of the Bill of Rights. Meanwhile, his lament about the Ville Radieuse-style Gateway Plaza (which is financially successful, and architecturally isn’t that bad - and I hate that kind of shit) ignores Point State Park, the main beneficiary of ED downtown, and a vast, smashing success. Again, see the opening of this piece.

But anyway, the main point is that we have, to a great extent, learned our lessons about ED. The Lazarus failed largely because the rest of the Mayor’s plan was scotched by citizens who opposed it. You know – democratic action, rather than decisions made by unelected judges in Washington?