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

Monday, January 30, 2006

Sea Change in the PA Legislature?

I've been meaning to write about this for months. As some of you may know, there's been a big controversy for the last 6 months over the PA leg voting itself a pay raise last July. This created an entirely unexpected firestorm, for the following reasons (beyond a basic taxpayer revolt):

- The PA constitution forbids pay raises taking place in the same session in which they're voted on. So the Assembly & Senate (both Republican-run) came up with an end-around, calling the pay raise reimbursement for "unvouchered expenses."

- The vote took place at 2 am, with no public announcement beforehand.

- The vote included raises for the PA Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of its constitutionality, despite its clear intent to run around the constitution.

Note that the Chief Justice was voted out in a retention election in November - the first time that's ever happened in PA. And this was after badgered legislators voted to rescind the pay raises. The grass roots anger over this pay raise has not abated, and is like a tidal wave.

And here's the thing: the most organized group on this issue is PA Clean Sweep, which is run by a fairly conservative Republican from Mt. Lebanon, a comfortable suburb of Pittsburgh. But he has been entirely nonpartisan in his attacks on the leg (although the Republicans were more culpable, both because they wrote the pay raise bill and voted for it at higher rates, both parties are guilty on this issue), and is recruiting challengers of both parties for November.

Because of PA's geography ("Philly and Pittsburgh with Alabama in the middle"), this presidentially blue state has had a solidly red state house for years. But any kind of major upsetting of the order can only be good for the Dems. While quite a few challengers will be Republicans going against incumbents in primaries in red districts, the resulting candidates will tend to be weaker in the general election (as they will be single-issue and, more often than not, more conservative).

Both Pittsburgh and Philly could really benefit from a Democratic State Ho. Furthermore, given how bitterly partisan redistricting has become, we need as many blue state capitals as possible. So keep an eye on PA - times may be a-changin'.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Next Lance, or the Next LaLoosh?

Smack talk from the New York Times regarding Tom Danielson (Lance's heir apparent on Team Discovery (ex-USPS)):
A relaxed, self-assured 27-year-old from Colorado, Danielson has a public persona that recalls that of Nuke LaLoosh from the movie "Bull Durham." He seems almost coached in his delivery of relatively meaningless sports platitudes, making certain he says nothing controversial or accepts too easily the mantle that some have tried to place on him.
Now, I don't know if the writer, Edward Wyatt, meant that quite as negatively as it sounds - to me, at least, Nuke was pretty much an idiot savant of the mound - but I can see a sports writer viewing athletes in his mold as dull (in every sense), but not insultingly so.

At any rate, this is the first slam I've heard on this guy. He won last year's Tour de Georgia, until now America's only meaningful pro race, but was held out of the Tour de France, ostensibly for general training reasons, but possibly for exposure reasons, as well (I always thought it was odd to hold off the last chance the guy would have to ride the race in the shadow of Lance, as opposed to in the glare of his absence, but what do I know?). This article says he'll be held out of the Tour again, which strikes me as odd - Lance was considered over the hill at 33, and Danielson is already 27. Hold him out another year, then assume it takes him a year or two to get used to the race, and you're basically resigning the guy to no more than 2 realistic chances to win. Strange for someone who's not necessarily the Next Lance, but is certainly Discovery's only candidate to fill his carbon fiber shoes.

I also think about Yaro, Yaroslav Popyvich, the White Jersey (best young rider) winner at last year's Tour. Perhaps Team Discovery is holding out Danielson as a sop to American fans of Lance, but Johan Bruyneel thinks Yaro is the Team's real future. Part of me is terrified that Team Discovery will turn into 2006's T-Mobile, with competing teammates leading to a situation where no one can succeed. We'll see.


Friday, January 20, 2006

OK, maybe I'm just being an architect about this, but....

I think Timothy Noah's critique of the Times piece on Susan Orlean's country house is off-base in almost every particular. I mean aside from just a general faux-egalitarian tendency (it's OK to have really nice stuff, but pretend you don't - for the sake of the little people!), he seems to swing and miss on each of his main points:

1. Orleans, as a journalist, needs the "ability to identify with the ordinary people about whom one is called upon, at least once in a while, to write." But Orleans isn't a journalist as such. She's a magazine writer. If Orleans were a beat reporter in the Bronx (or Columbia County, where the house is, for that matter), this might be an issue. But if the Capote showed us anything, it's that getting into people's heads and telling their stories compellingly doesn't necessarily have anything to do with material or cultural cues.

2. Orleans, as a journalist, should "show less inclination to flaunt privilege." Setting aside the profession issue raised above, the article makes clear where the money's coming from - her insurance exec husband. Indeed, if anything, she's living a standard fairy tale - hard worker swept off her feet by Prince Charming. This isn't Tim Russert taking his NBC millions and buying a place on the Vineyard - it's someone who (if you don't consider her a gold-digger) hit the jackpot, falling in love with someone of means. Big Deal.

3. She's falsely modest, wanting a house "that felt spacious but wasn't pointlessly huge," but what she really has is "a house that (including land) cost more than $2 million." And here's where I really call Bullshit. What number is missing from this recitation? Size. Size of the land and size of the house. She has 2,700 square feet on 55 acres less than 2 hours from NYC. Gracious living no doubt, but we're talking about a house that is all of 6% bigger than the median new house in the Northeast. It's expensive because it's nice - it's well-designed. But it is very reasonably sized. Of course, Noah didn't mention square footage, because he couldn't - it punches a hole in his insinuation that Orlean is living like Maria Antoinette.

If Orlean had done the typical thing, she could have built 5,000 square feet for a typical price and had a million dollar home - which is a lot, but not exactly impressive in this market. It would have been much more indulgent, profligate, and pointless - but it wouldn't get Noah saying "she has lost her mind."


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Just another placeholder

To remind everyone that Scalia is a hypocritical hack.

You know, I might be able to tolerate Alito, if he'll at least spare us sanctimonious bullshit about what a judicial purist he is.

What is wrong with journalists?

Not a political post. And I'm an unabashed Mac fan, but this isn't really about that, either. Can anyone tell me what's wrong with the following sentence from the AP, via the New York Times?
[Apple] shipped 1.25 million Mac computers in the quarter, up slightly from 1.05 million units a year ago
Yes, you in the back?

That's right. In no rational world is 19% year-on-year growth in an established market considered "slight."

What's that? The others? The same or less. Dell 20%, HP 16%, Lenovo 13%.

Look, if Apple having the second-biggest growth of any PC company is going to be dismissed as "slight" growth, then what's the point of having journalists? Maybe we just need numbers to be released, and let people draw their own conclusions. Because the effect of this nonsense is to have people skip making conclusions and accept the perceived expertise of the journalist. "Hmm, looks OK to me, but Mr. Business Reporter says it's 'slight.' Maybe everyone else did 40%."

Hopefully, Brad DeLong will fix all this.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Transdimensional beings composed entirely of greed"

In other words, Republicans.

Ezra Klein comes up with this brilliant description in talking about Congressional Republicans' principled stand not against gov't spending or big gov't, but against good gov't - even at the cost of potential electoral disasters like the Medicare Drug "Benefit."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Comment Roundup, Pt. 2

David Sucher over at City Comforts responds to an article in the Tacoma News Tribune, titled, "Roundabouts don’t always lead to solution." To which David says, essentially, No duh. Nothing "always lead to solution." But my reaction was:

What struck me in reading the article is that this area has (apparently fairly new) Home Depot, Target, & other stores, with more big boxes and 1,000 new residences (meaning at least 2,000 more cars) on the way. And people are blaming roundabouts for their problems!? How about blaming a planning process that allows development that completely outstrips local traffic capacity? How about blaming unsustainable retail economics that puts big boxes in close proximity as if they were High Street shops? You can't have multiple big boxes in a car-dependent area while maintaining any sort of pedestrian-friendliness. It's like bitching about how unpleasant it is to walk along the freeway. Well, yes, it is.

Look, this isn't a rant against big boxes per se. But people need to admit what their priorities are, and not pretend that they can have it all. There's a reason that walkable, well-maintained towns & neighborhoods are expensive: they're desirable, and, frankly, require either the ability to pay small shop prices, the means to drive somewhere the locals have abandoned to big boxes, or the willingness to do without. But people in those places have made the choices that have left them with walkable streets and tolerable traffic. Others have made other choices, and should learn to live with the consequences.

Comment Roundup, Pt. 1

In the style of the estimable Daniel Davies, I'm going to link to a couple comments I've made elsewhere recently.

First up, Matthew Yglesias cites a study suggesting that, subjectively, 20 is the midpoint of a typical adult's life. In other words, 0-20 and 20-7x seem to take about as long. Setting aside the merits of that claim, Matt makes the comment,
This explains, I suppose, the well-known phenomenon of the annoying relative or other adult acquaintance proclaiming that a child is "growing up so fast" while the child feels himself to be growing up slowly.
To which my response was:

But about the "growing up so fast," I'll testify as a still-fairly-new father. Everyone who already has kids (esp. ones who are 10 or more) tells you, every day, to "enjoy it, because they grow up so fast." And it only took me about 4 months to get their meaning. Kids are changing all the time - not just physically, but in every way. And I will never, ever again get to spend time with my daughter-at-6-months. And she was a great kid. I miss her. Even though every age so far has been better than the preceding one, we nonetheless loved her at those preceding ages, and it's bittersweet to know that they're gone, forever. This has also given me insight to obsessive recordation. I've always disdained the parent-with-videocam, but now I see the value. I know that soon, and for the rest of my life, I'll want to be able to see exactly what she was like - how she spoke and moved - each step of the way.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"Joy to Horror"


I didn't even hear before I left the house this morning. I went into a store with newspaper boxes out front, and had to come back out as the headline quoted above sank in.

Awful. Just awful.

Twelve Alive!

I can't tell you happy and relieved this makes me. Only a couple hours ago I saw that the first miner had been found dead, and I immediately feared the worst. In truth, I'd been fearing the worst since before noon; the signs were bad, and it seemed that whatever hope was being held out was for the benefit of the families. But here we are - a near-miracle. So much joy and relief for 12 families, and incredibly conflicted feelings for the family of the lost miner, whose name has not yet been released.

Although the mine in question is a couple hours or more from here, it's been treated as local news, with radio and newspaper updates all day. The parallels to the amazing "All Nine Alive" rescue at Quecreek Mine in Somerset County, PA in 2002 have brought the story even closer to home for many of us. Even though I'm not a native of the region, I know people who had friends and family in Quecreek, and it's hard to describe what the shared experience was. I think part of it was the way it tapped into the region's blue-collar, coal & steel identity: for 3 days, we were, once again, all tied to these men whose way of life is rapidly receding into history. Furthermore, coming less than a year after 9-11, and within a few miles of the Shanksville crash site, there was a palpable sense that, while 9-11 had been a helpless tragedy, with effectively no survivors in New York or Pennsylvania, here hope and struggle and community paid off. A symbol of that is this little diner-style restaurant nearby that transformed itself into Our Coal Miners Cafe, complete with photos of the Quecreek Nine, mining paraphrenalia, and coal for sale (and, I should add, quite good food).

So anyway, here's to the survivors, the bereaved, and the rescuers, and thanks be to teamwork, community, and the Mine Safety Administration.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Junior High in Four Words:

Wow, those years sucked.

From Fontana Labs, at Unfogged.