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

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On a Related Note:

Can we please stop pretending that Posner is anything but a fucking hack apologist?
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act makes it difficult to conduct surveillance of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents unless they are suspected of being involved in terrorist or other hostile activities. That is too restrictive.
He's not an astute thinker, he's not challenging. He's a goddam sophist, an apologist for hire, same as that rat-bastard Scalia. I think it's a sign of how debased our culture is that we genuinely don't seem to be able to distinguish sophistry from philosophy. Anyone in a black robe who writes concisely gets lauded as "brilliant." Fuck that. If the "brilliance" points to one end every time, picking and choosing different means, it's nothing more than a Mensa version of Powerline.

Did I mention Posner's pathetic attempt to defend Bush v. Gore? An embarrassment. To all of us.

Note: A lot of legal scholarship decrying Posner's stance is out there, mostly archived behind paywalls; hence the citation of The American Prospect and not, say, Loyola Law.

It's not King George who's Mad

It's the rest of us.

I haven't written anything on this spying issue, partly because others - including, for once, one of my elected representatives - are saying much of what needs to be said, but mostly because it's freaking me out. I mean, I've known Bush doesn't "get" democracy for a long time, ever since his quote to Woodward: "I do not need to explain why I say things. — That's the interesting thing about being the President. — Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation." As our greatest poet of Democracy put it, "the genius of the United States is [...] always most in the common people. Their manners, speech, [...] the President’s taking off his hat to them, not they to him...." 35 (75?) years of imperial presidency has, it seems, quashed that understanding in most Americans. To quote Whitman again, "[T]he citizen is always the head and ideal, and President [... is an] agent for pay."

But this seems like it could be enough to wake the sleepy American populace to the fact that something is, indeed, happening here. And what it is is pretty goddam clear. We have a president who doesn't think he needs to tip his hat to citizens, Senators, or the law itself. I mean, the DC police would, literally, be justified in taking this self-confessed lawbreaker into custody.

But, all too soon, the standard apparatus of apologia and obfuscation has reared its ugly head, and I'm not sure anything will come of it. And if the President - any President - can stand up and claim that he can break any law on his own recognizance, and nothing comes of it.... Well, I really don't think we can claim to have the constitutional democracy we like to think we do. And that scares the hell out of me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Downtown Pittsburgh: Take 3

I've alluded, here and over at City Comforts, to the saga of Fifth & Forbes, Downtown Pittsburgh's primary retail corridor. About 7 years ago, the area - comprising two city blocks along two major avenues - was still anchored by a trio of department stores and retained a pretty broad variety of retail, but was clearly declining: increased vacancy rates, steadily lower-rent businesses, and so on. Mayor Tom Murphy, having just wrangled the financing for two new stadia and an effectively all-new convention center, decided to tackle this next. Trouble was that his plan - pretty much developed in secret - relied on a Chicago-based mall developer to take over essentially the entire area, including the demolition of dozens of historic buildings, some of which were legally protected.

When the plan was announced, in '99, an uproar ensued. Preservationists, conservatarians, business owners, and neighborhood groups resenting the focus on downtown all united in opposition. Rancorous public meetings and threatened lawsuits all played a role, but the ultimate nail in the coffin of the project was Nordstrom's decision not to come to town. In the meantime, a landmark bank was gutted to become a Lord & Taylor's and a heavily subsidized store was built for Horne's-Lazarus-Macy's. But, between the recession and the absence of any improvement in the rest of the district, both shut their doors within 5 years. Fifth & Forbes is now almost completely moribund - it's grim down there, even during the day when office workers swarm the streets.

Well, there's been big movement of late. Last week Piatt, a developer who made his money with a huge exurban office park/golf course/housing plan one county south, announced that he would buy the now-empty new dept. store building, putting in housing, adding townhouse-style penthouses on the roof, and, he hopes, a grocer on the first floor. Yesterday, PNC Bank, which snorked up one entire block before and during the original Fifth & Forbes push, announced that it would put a skyscraper on the site, including condos, a hotel, offices, and retail (complicated, I know). Meanwhile, a retail developer from out of town is looking at the collection of city-owned properties in the area for redevelopment, and is expected to get moving in '06.

All of which is exciting. The reason I bring it up is the twin questions of eminent domain and public subsidy. It was the threat of ED that aroused the greatest anger to the original Fifth & Forbes, and since then the concept has been taboo in this town. Since the heavily-subsidized new dept. store building was such a failure, what was already a dicey prospect (bankrupt city putting cash towards private development) looks even worse. The Piatt deal involves no direct subsidy, although he's getting the empty store in a sweetheart deal. PNC, on the other hand, is getting $48 million from the state and from local TIFs. So, as Jake Haulk, a minion of Dick Mellon-Scaife, put it, "I don't understand why taxpayers should be subsidizing a company that can well afford to put money in this." And I don't know the answer to that.

I'm not at all opposed to public investment in redevelopment. As I always argue with David Sucher, Pittsburgh is struggling to stanch the flow of people and business out of the city and region. If a little "gap" financing can turn around a moribund area, I have no philosophical objections. Furthermore, it's working, right in my neighborhood - a Home Depot and a Whole Foods came into what was a utterly failed '60s redeveloped business district and have - together with entrepreneurs - largely transformed it. East Liberty was synonymous in Pittsburghers' minds with the South Bronx. Another 3 years, and it'll be Park Slope (OK, most Pittsburghers probably have no clue where or what Park Slope is, but most of y'all do). So I think it can work, and I think it can be appropriate.

My biggest problem with the PNC deal is the amount of money, and its purpose. We're talking almost 30% of the development, and 2/3 of that is just a handout from the state. Certainly value will be added, and, as in the E. Liberty example, this may be a crucial catalyst, but we're not talking about seed money for something risky (like investment in a poor neighborhood) or with a big potential return (like a robotics incubator). We're talking about a law firm that's already downtown relocating, about a large bank adding a third tower to the two that are already adjacent, all on land that they already own (my wife would like to add that we're talking about some of the better historic buildings in Downtown being torn down, as well). So, sure, give 'em a little Tax Increment Financing to sweeten the deal - there's little question that it's a good deal for the taxing bodies. But all that state money? Feh.

We'd better at least get a decent building out of this. The rendering sure isn't impressive.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Friday Random Ten

Indian Red - Daniel Lanois, For The Beauty Of Wynona
Can't Get Off - Chris Whitley, Din Of Ecstasy
All Tomorrow's Parties - Rasputina, The Lost & Found
We Want It All - Zack de la Rocha, We Want It All - Single
May This Be Love - Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
Sleepy Town - Jim White, Wrong-Eyed Jesus
Journey to the Center of the Mind - The Amboy Dukes
Hello Hopeville - Michelle Shocked, Short Sharp Shocked
Cryderville Jail - Pete Seeger, A Link In The Chain
Pan Dance - Jethro Tull, Minstrel In The Gallery

Sometimes I'll cheat and let the ol' iTunes roll for awhile before I grab 10, but this is how we started right off this morning - a good start, as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Santorum Gains, but Bush Remains Albatross

I probably could have stretched that metaphor, but I'll just stick to the facts:
HARRISBURG -- U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's support of President Bush hurts his chances for re-election next year, Pennsylvania voters said by a 2-1 margin in a poll released today.

More than one-third of all Republicans surveyed in the Quinnipiac University poll also said Mr. Santorum's re-election prospects aren't helped by his support of the president.

The poll showed Democratic state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr. leading the two-term Republican incumbent by 50 percent to 38 percent in the 2006 Senate race, compared to a 52-to-34 percent lead in Quinnipiac's October poll. Voters also said they disapprove of Mr. Bush's job performance, 59 percent to 38 percent.
Now, as I've said elsewhere, Santorum has always been too wacky-conservative for PA (running stealth campaigns), and his leading role in the Schiavo mess indelibly demonstrated that to most Pennsylvanians. Even if Bush recovers by 2006, I think Santorum's toast. He simply can't pretend to be just a nice Catholic boy anymore.

"President Bush is clearly hurting Santorum in Pennsylvania, and he's still further behind than an incumbent should be entering the campaign year," said Clay Richards, assistant director of the Hamden, Conn., university's polling institute. "Santorum's best hope is for a third-party abortion-rights candidate to emerge and pull Democratic votes from Casey."
I don't want this to seem like a "keep quiet, ladies, we're trying to win here" post. I wish to hell that Casey were pro-choice. But he's not. And the reason that he's the front-runner is much more than his abortion position. But the bottom line is that Casey (Sen-PA) is miles better for abortion rights than Santorum. This isn't a case of putting principles aside for power. It's a case of not letting the perfect (a broadly-popular, pro-choice candidate - who doesn't exist in PA right now) be the enemy of the good.

Monday, December 12, 2005

What the...?

Just got an automated phone call, conducting a survey on abortion. Well, I certainly want to throw my tiny weight on the right side of that issue, so I stick around. But get this: after I press 9 to indicate that I am "pro-choice, supporting abortion rights," the computer says, "Thank you for being pro-life!" It started to ask me if I wanted to help the pro-life cause, but I hung up in disgust. I suppose I should have stayed on the line to find out who was perpetrating this nonsense, and possibly to give someone an earful, but I was too annoyed.

My question is whether this "survey" was just a ruse to generate a mailing list, or whether this Diebold-style vote will actualy be publicized somewhere. No way to know, unfortunately....

Friday, December 09, 2005

Thursday Random Ten

Every Little Thing - The Beatles, Beatles For Sale
I Want You (She's So Heavy) - The Beatles, Abbey Road
Don´t Let Me Down - The Beatles, Past Masters, Vol. 2
While My Guitar Gently Weeps - The Beatles, The Beatles (White Album)
Rocky Racoon - The Beatles, The Beatles (White Album)
Because - The Beatles, Abbey Road
She Said She Said - The Beatles, Revolver
Honey Pie - The Beatles, The Beatles (White Album)
The Night Before - The Beatles, Help!
Hey Bulldog - The Beatles, Yellow Submarine

Actually, not so random - the first pass was almost all Paul songs (started with Yesterday, for Pete's sake) - but I've never been a huge believer in strictly segregating anyway. If there's anything the last 35 years have taught us, it's that none of the four of them could have done more than a handful of their Beatles work as well without the others. So, for John, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Honey Pie, as well as I Want You (She's So Heavy) and She Said She Said.

You know, I had just turned eight when he was shot, but I'd been a Beatles fan all my life, even then - wore the grooves out on the Red, Blue, and White albums. But I think that I was as astonished that John had been alive as that he'd been shot. They were so much bigger than life, it was impossible to imagine that one of them was just living everyday life there on Central Park. And yet he was. He had been. Then he wasn't. Dammit.

Friday, December 02, 2005


To everyone visiting from Eschaton, Buzzflash, and TBogg. Hope you'll find some other things to read, as well.

174 hits in the time it took to post this. Jeebus.

Friday Random Ten

Whistling in the Dark - They Might Be Giants, Flood
Smash It To Pieces - Anti-Flag, BYO Split Series Vol. IV
Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black) - Neil Young, Live Rust
Song Of Joy - Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Murder Ballads
China Gate - Chris Whitley, Perfect Day
Pictures Of Lily - The Who, Who's Better, Who's Best
I won't back down - Johnny Cash, American III Solitary Man
God Was Drunk When He Made Me - Jim White, No Such Place
Thank You Girl - The Beatles, Past Masters, Vol. 1
Into the Fire - Bruce Springsteen, The Rising

I actually had a long, detailed (and of course odd) dream about seeing Chris Whitley one last time the other night. I only wish I really could.

Newsflash: Malkin Full of Shit on Stamps

Very useful article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by the excellent Dennis Roddy, debunking the myth that the Post Office has permanently discontinued religious stamps for Christmas.
The annual brouhaha over whether it's Christmas or "the holidays" spilled over into the U.S. Postal Service this week, with the Internet and public conversation awash with horror that no new religiously themed stamp was printed for the 2005 season.


But patrons looking for a new religiously themed stamp this year are getting leftover Madonna printings from last year, touching off a wave of reports that the Postal Service was planning to discontinue religiously themed Christmas stamps.

"It's absolutely not true," said Diana Svoboda, spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh district. Next year's printing will include a new Madonna and the price stamped over her left shoulder will explain why a new one wasn't printed this year: Rates are going up to 39 cents per letter Jan. 8.


The time being the cyber era, and the culture being skittish, the theory of the vanishing Christmas stamp has taken deep root in the American imagination, alongside complaints about school pageants with new words to "Silent Night," possibly sung under a "unity tree." A story similar to Rev. Murphy's can be found on various Web sites.

One, called "Darleen's Place," carried a vivid account on Nov. 24 in which the author's mother asks for the Madonna stamps, and the clerk pulls out the previous year's issue and tells her, "These are all I have and they'll be the last you ever see."

"Mom asks, 'What do you mean?' He explains the USPS will not be issuing any more 'religious' stamps."

The encounter also has the clerk informing Darleen's mom that he is not permitted to say "Merry Christmas." Darleen did not respond to an e-mail requesting more details.

A similar story turned up on a Web site run by right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin. A reader there reported calling the postal service's public line and being told that religiously themed stamps were being discontinued "to avoid any legal constitutional issues."
As they say, Read the whole thing.

A Defense of GM Cars

Matt Yglesias - who fills a valuable niche by being a self-proclaimed East Coast liberal elitist (a niche shared with the very different Eric Alterman) - says something very typically elitist about GM cars:
I don't know much about cars and never owned one. But a little while back I was contemplating buying one, and literally zero percent of the people I discussed this with recommended an American brand.
The problem, according to everybody, is that American cars . . . don't work and require constant repairs.
Now let me be very clear: I drive a VW, my second in a row. For my last purchase, I never considered a GM, or other US, car. BUT.

I really like to drive. Yes, "Drivers wanted" is a slogan, but an apt one. Driving a VW is nothing like driving any American car. Nor is it like driving any Japanese car (at least in a comparable model). As VW's market share shows, the taut VW driving experience is not one highly valued in this country. Similarly, the distinctive Honda driving experience - high-revving Civics - is also not much appreciated. Americans like American-style cars - softly-suspended, blandly-steering highway cruisers (large or small). There is not a single car in the top ten that doesn't meet this description (relative to any VW, or most anything sold in Europe, that is). So it's nonsense when car reviewers say - as they do - that GM & Ford don't sell cars that people want. The Camry is, for all intents and purposes, an Oldsmobile.

So why is Camry still here, Olds all gone? Well, Matt points to a reputation for crappy quality: "stuff that doesn't function reliably." But as years of surveys have shown, this reputation is largely outdated (today's GMs are better in initial quality than Lexuses of ten years ago). So why doesn't anyone tell Matt to buy a GM? The same reason GM was still huge in the mid-'80s, 10 or more years after even a plurality of their cars were among the best on the market. Over-lived customer loyalty.

I came from a GM (specifically Olds) family. For 40 years in America, you were what you drove - and what your father drove, etc. In the '70s and '80s, Boomers abandoned the generational loyalty to American makes... and replaced it with loyalty to Japanese makes (and occasionally European). So now you have 30 year olds who can't imagine driving a GM, because they never have. And no one in their circle has, either. It's not informed consumerism. It's tribalism.

It doesn't excuse poor management, or actually poor cars (hello, Cavalier. And good riddance). But the deck stacked against GM in trying to rebuild its market share is tall, and it consists largely of people with the same sophisticated mentality as those who chanted "Ford MoCo" - "Ford NoGo" 40 years ago.

Counterintuitive Slate Article

Also, "February Snowstorm in Fargo."

I haven't really got much of a handle on John Dickerson, Slate's new Chief Political Correspondent. He doesn't seem to be quite the self-satisfied Lord Saleton, nor the I'm-so-clever-my-deepest-cut-on-Bush-is-his-verbal-flubs Weisberg. But he also doesn't seem to have a lot of meat to his work. I'm not sure he's given me anything to think about yet.

But today's rather lame effort, Kerry Swift-Boats Bush, certainly qualifies as one of Slate's endless parade of articles that seek to delve only far enough below the surface to appear counterintuitive. The subject of the column is John Kerry's response to Bush's supposedly important speech yesterday. Kerry's argument is that Bush is ignoring reality on the ground - that the very presence of US forces drives the insurgency. Dickerson thinks that Kerry is Swift-Boating Bush - that it's an unfair attack, because of course Bush understands this; he just won't say it aloud.

Let's set aside for a moment whether this argument has any validity - the fact that Dickerson supports himself by saying that Bush's strategy-free speech has a strategy that proves the argument isn't impressive - and look at the comment, "Kerry is leveraging Bush's reputation for stubbornness and lack of candor and turning it into a deadly flaw."

Is this somehow out of bounds? I mean, Bush's entire rhetorical strategy - the one that won him election over Kerry - is based on stubbornness and lack of candor. Is Dickerson actually arguing that, in a democracy, lying to voters is a pure action, one that must not be questioned or impugned?

Look, Bush has gotten where he is today by bullshitting Americans - lying about Iraq and 9/11, lying about his own tax cut plans, lying about Iraqization of the war. Live by the sword, die by the sword. If Kerry can use Bush's official statements to damn him, then it's fair game. Let Bush prove Kerry wrong by admitting that he's been lying to the American people in speech after speech after speech. But, until then, fuck John Dickerson and his effort to weasel Bush out of the hole he's dug himself.