Monday, March 31, 2008

Singles Burgh.. no, really... there is a map.

Richard Florida et al has work in the Boston Globe over the weekend on where the singles are (or aren't). Take a look at the dot representing the 'excess' single women in Pittsburgh. Proof of a great dating scene for men in town? Part of it has to be the concentration of students here which are more and more likely to be women in college and graduate school.... but its more complicated than that of course. They filter out the elderly, but do count up to age 64, so there still is an age/health impact (men die earlier). And a lot of urban areas suffer from the selective nature of incarceration, see what I posted a few days ago on how Forest County, PA has the highest percentage of men in the Commonwealth. When you look at that national map, you also have to take into account international immigration which is more made of men than women as well. I am pretty sure several of those large 'excess men' bubbles are military concentrations as well.

I can't resist but point out some of the confusions here at least when looking at the demographics of singles in town... which I went over in this old post: Unbearkable Confusion of Two Sided Matching - or Forbes Strikes Again.


The history of working women in Pittsburgh

Wall Street Journal over the weekend had a good writeup on gender workforce/economic/political issues here in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania: In the Gender Wars, By Jonathan Kaufman and Carol Hymowitz.

Which bring up one of the most remarkable quotes I have ever found and use whenever the topic comes up:

(Pittsburgh) will, however, slowly decline unless new industries employing women and those engaged in the production of consumer goods are attracted to the area.

Which is from a report witten by a place called the Econometric Institute based News York City and titled: "Long Range Outlook for the Pittsburgh Industrial Area", stamped February 12, 1947 and was for the Allegheny Conference and the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.


actually, I will say that again: 1947.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

random YouTube for the weekend

It's not the title given it, but I would rename this Life: The Infographic Version:

video h/t: SimpleComplexity. Reminds me of the book I mentioned: The Works: Anatomy of a City, by Kate Ascher,

and from now on I am going to skip the abacus I normally use and count everything with rice:

and Ms. Mon lets us know about Colbernomics:

no reason:


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Patchwork Nation

An interactive Map of America not to be missed in the Christian Science Monitor: Patchwork Nation. And I think our rebranding folks can declare success and go home, the CSM has defined a representative Industrial Metropolis and it is not us, but rather Philadelphia.


Super Bowl memories

A Pittsburgh Steelers fan in Western Washington state is at the center of this as reported in the Kitsap Sun: Seahawks Fan — and Fast Food Cook — Arrested for Spitting on Steeler Fan's Burger. I would say that your average Seahawks fan does not want to know what happens to their food in local eateries.... but do the few Seahawk fans that must exist here (maybe?) ever show their support in public? And then would the local perpetrator of a similar act be arrested here, or given an award?

Actually, the byline for the story is South Kitsap. I don't want to impugn the residents of Kitsap proper. I wonder if it make sense to call it a suburb of Kitsap. And the headline does not mention it, but the arrest may have had more to do with offering a police deputy a bag of marijuana. It really is a funny story.

Which sparks the random thought of the day... don't ask me the logic that lead to this: Remember the Rocky Mountain News columnist Bill Johnson? He was not even the sport's columnist out there, more the Brian O'Neill of things Denver I would say. His current column is something about Bison? I bet our statsgeek has written about Elk at some point in his writing portfolio... Yet he was sent out to Pittsburgh to cover the Pittsburgh-Denver game and wound up insulting us. Note the link to his initial Pittsburgh column has expired. I know many here consider the Pittsburgh-Denver AFC playoff game back then far more important than any political primary.... but it seems that from Denver's perspective the upcoming primary race is a newsworthy event. Someone should use the primary as an excuse to invite ol' Bill back to the Burgh for the political coverage, sort of a sequel. He said he wound up liking the town (sort of). Why that latter link is there but not the former.. hmmm.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Can't completely ignore the population numbers

I really have been trying to not comment on some population numbers out last week... Mostly because they are usually overplayed in the media and I am glad they have kept a low profile especially compared to last year.

But some offbeat population coverage from beyond Pittsburgh: The Trib noted Forrest County has the highest percentage of male residents in the state. As the story correctly points out, there is this little issue of a State Correctional Institution impacting those numbers. A lot of men live Downtown here as well (technically in the Bluff actually). Begs the question of what part of the state has the highest percentage women, and why.

and to the south, in Columbus, (Georgia, not Ohio) the Ledger-enquirer says that Muscogee County lost 5,000 people in the last year. But it's because of what we call a temporary federal movement, seems that one of the brigade combat teams deployed to Iraq was based there. That article does call their area the "Mean statistical Area" which is a mistake both in semantics, but also pretty bad from a marketing point of view.


Obama Event

From this morning:

Just for balance:

update: I had to laugh at the Reuters coverage of this. The only angle they could come up with was the venue's connection to the movie: The Silence of the Lambs.... though they didn't mention steel, soot, or past economic miasma either so that's something.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

I love headlines

OK, I typed this post and then decided against posting it. First the Trib has a headline today: "Foreclosures in Pittsburgh region in February hit 22-year high" which I have no reason to dispute in and of itself. I was going to quibble with the discordance I see between the headline and the data being reported. I figured I would be just ranting over a single article, and then the Pgh Biz Times has this article on same: Foreclosure flood in Pittsburgh region.

(update: can't let PG off, they now have their version as well, though it does have one sentence of moderation in there. As an aside, I worry a bit about commentators trying to make up for lost time, which could be as harmful as missing this story for the most part in the first place. The media has started it's own introspection on this. See: Where Was Media When Sub-Prime Disaster Unfolded? I actually don't understand why there has been no media coverage at all, locally or nationally, looking into the reasons why local foreclosure rates across SW Pennsylvania are barely a fraction of what they are just up the turnpike in NE Ohio. There has to be an important story in that. Earlier this year I blew up a map from the Atlantic Monthly which really highlights that contrast.)

Flood? Since neither article has much context with other regions across the country, you have to wonder what readers will take away from reading either version.

So I read the Trib version to see what constitutes a '22 year high'. According to the article, the total number of foreclosures in a 5 county region here over a 2 month period (Jan and Feb of this year) was 742 total foreclosures which was higher than the previous 2 month high of 708 over a comparable period in 2005. So 4.8% above a comparable period 3 years ago which arguably was before the current foreclosure crisis really began to percolate. Is that saying foreclosures here are remarkably high, or remarkably close to what the normally are all while rates are shooting up astronomically everywhere else.

So the headline may be true, but does it really mean local foreclosures are shooting skyward as might be inferred. I wonder how many more foreclosures there are in Cleveland over the last few months compared to a period 3 years ago. I bet its not +4.8%. Move the decimal point to the right and then some. According to this article, Cleveland's foreclosures are up +112% just in the last year. I bet the headline there could be something like this every month: "Foreclosures in Cleveland hit XX-year high"... just pick your value for XX each and every month. They might even be a the point where they skip the 'XX years' part and just say 'ever'. We are just quibbling over whether the current number is higher than what took place in that benchmark year of 2005.

Then you get into some small number fallacies. Some of the county level numbers cry out for parsing: "Allegheny County had a 32.9 percent increase with 222 in February vs. 167 for the same month last year". OK. bad for those 222 folks no doubt. But 222 foreclosures... again from that article below Cleveland had 49,071 foreclosure filings in 2007. I am too lazy to go dig up numbers for Cuyahoga county, but the scale is clearly different. Or for other counties in the region it gets better. Another quote: "Butler County had the highest increase with 24 in February of this year compared to 8 in 2007, a 200 percent jump. ". Umm. 8 to 24 in a county with how many households in the county? Yes, that does represent 200%, but amid the worst foreclosure crisis (actually have there been past 'foreclosure' crises?... economic crises for sure...) Butler County counts all of 24 foreclosures. If the number of foreclosures jumped from 1 to 3 would the sentence still decribe it as a 200% increase? If not, how small is too small for fairly reporting percentage changes? You might say, ok but Butler county is more affluent than most elsewhere in the region and any foreclosures are telling. But that is in fact the point about what is going on nationally. The foreclosure crisis has become such an issue because its not just folks at the lowest income strata being impacted, but in Cleveland and other places a real foreclosure crisis has clearly extended into middle income and affluent households as well.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Booming Pennsylvania?

For just about the most positive commentary ever (well, in an awfully long time at least) written on the state of Pennsylvania, economically or otherwise, see the article written by national columnist David Ignatius: Electoral pessimism can't hide Pennsylvania's fine future.

and I like to think of myself as a positive guy, but the punch line from this verbatim is that " this state is truly a laboratory for change".

Wow. I have to move there.


A different car crisis

I try, but it's hard to ignore all the local news and commentary over the complete breakdown of civic discourse over the provision of vehicles within city government. Sad as it may be, all that I have read or seen would pale in comparison to how bad intra-council or council-mayor relations have been at various points in the past. I mean, nobody is even swearing at anyone else on the record. At the same time I wonder a bit whether the last redoubt of civility is really an artifact of those darn cameras. You have to wonder what would be going on if every word was not potentially captured for Youtube.

But I really have a solution to all of this, and it is quite simple.



Lots of interesting tidbits in this story in the Pitt News from earlier this week: Drivers' counts don't always add up. The main point has to do with some data compiled by students watching drivers count riders boarding for free with their Pitt ID's and supposed overcounting of those riders. While that is an important point in itself, it's worth noting that the Pitt-Port Authority contract is fixed price so in the short run any overcounting does not directly generate any more revenue for the Port Authority. I would still hope all is being done for accurate collection of ridership data. Overall the story seems to come out much more positive for the Port Authority than the headline would lead you to believe. Assuming the ridership numbers are broadly correct, the story documents how the deal allowing Pitt students and staff (so as disclosure, that would include me) to ride for free has generally increased ridership among those eligible. The most telling factoid quoted in the piece:
"reduction of the Port Authority service hours have made Pitt riders a much greater proportion of total ridership. Pitt riders now make up more than 8.5 percent of total rides in the system".
So if students are continuing to ride in equal or greater numbers but overall ridership is down, who is literally being kicked off the bus? and 8.5% are from Pitt! That is not 8.5% students across the city, that is 8.5% for Pitt alone. Granted it's a big institution, but still just one institution. What if you add in all the other students using the system, many with passes of their own, seniors who are covered by the state funded free fare system, and other groups I am probably unaware of... Remember when during the debates over route cutbacks the one big factoid that many liked to throw at the Port Authority was how low their percentage of revenues collected at the fare box is compared to some other systems. Well, if you have a disproportionate concentration of seniors and students whose fares are covered by other means, is it surprising that Pittsburgh would have a comparably lower proportion of farebox generated revenue? It just is amazing that in one sentence you will hear so many people tout what a great place this is that there are so many students here attracted by quality educational institutions, but then overlook some of the costs that such a concentration of students will generate. You can't really have it both ways in the end.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Defining recession

It is hard not to miss the incessant news on the still undemarked recession and it's impact on our lives. Whatever the current state of the economy nationally, Pittsburgh has a far different perspective on what it means to experience recession. Here is a picture of total unemployment in the region which I typically start with when talking about the state of the economy: Past, Present and Future.

Total Unemployment in the Pittsburgh Region 1970-2005

I have pointed out in the past an interactive tool I was playing with to read the historical trends in the unemployment rate here. Also a work in progress obviously.

I was going to let that picture stand on its own, but there are a few points worth explaining. This may look like Pittsburgh's economic miasma was an intense, but very brief, period decades ago. Several things are worth keeping in mind in taking in what that chart says. One is that the official count of unemployment in the United States is based on a fairly narrow definition of what it means to be unemployed. To be unemployed officially you must be in the labor force. If you are not working, in order to be counted in the labor force you must be actively looking for work. While that big spike in unemployment appears to drop almost as fast as it jumped up, there is no doubt that a lot of that drop represented people giving up on looking for work. Discouraged workers in the region remained long after that total unemployment number dropped rapidly. Another reason unemployment dropped: a large part of the regions youngest, and presumably most adaptable for the future, workers left the region quickly as they saw their economic prospects fading here. It has taken a long time for the region to overcome that alone. And as bad as those overall numbers were, the numbers for specific places within the region are even worse. Beaver County for example would peak at 28% unemployment in the early 1980's, a level most states would never reach during the depression.

Also, consider also how different the labor force was decades ago. Most of the jobs that were lost were in households where there was just one earner, or at least one main wage earner. So when that job went away and unemployment compensation ran out, back then households were more likely to be left with virtually no source of income compared to the situation today where most households have more than one wage earner.... more than likely multiple wage earners in different industries that are less likely to laid off simultaneously.

If that is not enough, realize also that the jobs here were very concentrated in manufacturing and steel and most of the workers who were losing their jobs then had spent their entire careers in a single occupation. What that meant was that most had few other skills that could be adapted quickly to other jobs and occupations in town. Given that the job losses were concentrated in those same occupations, most who were losing their jobs back then would never go back to mills ever again.

Add it all up and things were bad in a way that has not been replicated in the region since that time. Maybe Pittsburgh could paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen: Recession. We know recession. This is no recession. (or at least I would add 'yet').


Monday, March 24, 2008

mapping voting districts

The AP reports there are 110,000 or so new voter registrations in the last 6 months. Is that a lot? I dunno, but it is good to keep in mind that every presidential year brings about a surge in registrations. I would guess that given the lack of heavily contested races, at least within the Democratic Party, in recent cycles there are some latent registrations that piled up going into this election.

But today (Monday the 24th) is the deadline to register to vote. You may also need to re-register if you have moved from wherever you were registered in the past. At the very least, your voter registration needs to be postmarked today, so just dropping it in the mail after last mail pickup may not be enough. So don't be late.

But here is something that is obviously a work in progress. A pseudo request in a comment here was for a map showing detailed street maps and voting districts... something that would help people figure out what voting district they live in if nothing else. This is slow, but I have figured out how to overlay City of Pittsburgh voting districts in google maps. It seems to work, but tasks the system a bit too much which is why I did it just for the city.... still pretty slow, but it works. Any suggestions that would make this work better appreciated.

Try this link if you want to give it a spin:

Update: I'll add more when I get around to it. Here are similar voting district overlays for:

Allegheny County outside the City of Pittsburgh
Armstrong County
Beaver County
Butler County
Fayette County
Washington County
Westmoreland County
Montgomery County

and Eliz. P. points out you can just download the *.kmz files and load them directly into google earth where they run much better. If you want to just get the *.kml or *.kmz files directly they are here:

Allegheny County outside the City of Pittsburgh
Armstrong County
Beaver County
Butler County
Fayette County
Washington County
Westmoreland County
Montgomery County


Sunday, March 23, 2008


Education these days..... I honestly checked to see if this was an urban legend. Who knew that CMU has a course dedicated to the study of sneakers: Sneakerology 101 according to a blog dedicated to Sneakers: Sneaker Obsession. What I wonder, is this a course in popular culture? kinesiology? marketing? history? or international trade?


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Weekend OT: Traffic Jams and more

A series of good stuff from the Transportationist blog.

1. is a lead to another blog with some great photos of: Incomprehensible Intersections and World's Worst Intersections & Traffic Jams

2. A post on: Transit Ridership and Observation Bias, which I think would have fit right into all of the public debate over Port Authority cutbacks last year.

and 3. a link from a news article: "evidence is thatPublic transit ridership up in U.S., by 32% since 1995 (to the highest levels since 1957)"


Friday, March 21, 2008

bankruptcy watch

From the Birmigham (Alabama) News today:

Bankruptcy may be best option for debt-laden Jefferson County, two county officials say

just following up on my thoughts on the possibilities of bankruptcy here.


Memphis machinations

Different city, same story. Take this headline yesterday: Memphis Tax Structure at Root Of Struggles, Expert Says

You could almost replace "Memphis" with "Pittsburgh" and rerun that story here. Memphis is in the news today because of an unexpected announcement that the mayor there is going to resign over the summer. Memphis is worth keeping an eye on because they have their own ongoing debate over the efficacy of city-county consolidation. Some of their past political infighting sure sounds familiar and their current legal issues are pretty similar as well. Also, the history of the Memphis Manifesto has several Pittsburgh linkages as well.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pittsburgh-Canada connections everywhere

Some in far flung places. Take a second and read down to the bottom of that link for a real story that almost gets lost in the telling. Some of the snippets in there include: "first female"..... "from Pittsburgh"... and adding to the new vernacular: "non-kinetic ops". It's a little hard for me to comprehend why stories like this have no US, let alone local, coverage while we are up to like 50 omnimedia stories on the obscure and esoteric aspects of administrative law impacting billboards... with more to come I am sure.

I should probably disclose, Stephany is a friend and colleague...


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why do we have primaries?

With all the attention on the Pennsylvania primary I would think there would be some mention of Pennsylvania's history in helping create the direct primary system. Paraphrasing from an earlier post, it really is worth why we are even having a primary election in the first place. Most modern democracies in the world do not hold direct primaries like we do. It's actually kind of hard to explain the entire primary season to folks from elsewhere because it is so unlike what is done elsewhere. Not even all states in the US have primaries. The caucus system is still in use in Iowa and other places as we all re-learn every 4 years. Can you imagine a caucus system in place here? But for all the haranguing sometimes over the influence of party endorsements in selecting candidates, in most countries political parties have a much more powerful role in this initial round of candidate selection.

It turns out that the direct primary system got its start in Pennsylvania. Crawford County, Pennsylvania created the direct primary system in 1842. The local Democratic Party there had a chaotic and ultimately failed county convention that year whereupon no slate of candidates was nominated. In the machinations that followed, they ultimately dealt with the situation by implementing a novel idea of allowing all Democrats to cast equal votes for who would represent the party in elections scheduled that fall. Seems like a normal enough idea now, but it was not how things were done back then. The idea was so well liked that it transformed from a provisional measure to the permanent method of selecting party nominees. While the idea spread throughout the state and nation, it was not an overnight change. It would not be until later in the late 19th/early 20th centuries that most states converted to direct primary elections. Pennsylvania would not have a comprehensive law requiring primaries until 1913.


Monday, March 17, 2008


If Montana is Big Sky country, then all of our hills must make this Little Sky country for sure. For the Montana-Pittsburgh connection you can read the hometown perspective of new Carnegie Museums Director, and Montana native, Samuel McElroy Taylor in the Great Falls Tribune.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

diasporas past: the road to Coolacloy..... and back

I would say this is off-topic, but nothing Irish is off topic in Pittsburgh... especially this weekend. Just an obligatory post in honor of St. Patrick's day. My great grandfather was one Patrick Halloran who was an American citizen that actually emigrated to Ireland in the late 19th century. Family lore is that he was involved with the Molly Maguires in NE Pennsylvania and was forced to flee the country in some haste. He would marry Mary Ann Coyne and all 9 of their surviving children would emigrate to the US, many to Pittsburgh and environs, from Coolacloy, County Galway over a century ago. That does mean that if you are an O'Halloran, Joyce or Coyne, or married to an O'Halloran, Joyce or Coyne locally, we are probably related.

Try and find Coolacloy on a map. The picture on the right is what the road to Coolacloy looked like a decade ago. Actually the road became much little less 'formal' just past the point where this picture was taken and well before it finally reached the 'town' which is the picture below. Given the growth over there this may all be a shopping mall by now.. well, maybe not, but still its a different Ireland than the past.

and just for a cross cultural postscript. I always wondered what those from elsewhere thought of some of the St. Patty Day festivities. For that, if you run into him say hello to itinerant Pittsburgher FRANS HERMANTO .


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Make that the 91st neighborhood in the city

I thought it would be interesting to track all the national news coverage Pennsylvania will be getting over the next month. What I didn't think about until I read an article sourced from the Philly Inquirer is just how foreign the two ends of the state can truly be from each other. The Philly Inquirer sourced this article which was ran in the Beaver County Times on Friday: Clinton campaigns on energy policy in Pennsylvania. The article had this line:
Earlier, Clinton stopped in the city’s Bloomville (sic) section for her energy-related meeting with reporters, held in the service bay of a gas station.
Bloomville? Certainly not in the list of Pittsburgh neighborhoods these days. An honest error I am not trying to overplay, but this is from a newspaper in our own state. I bet folks in Weirton are familiar enough with the city to not make that type of mistake. And just for added measure, CBS ran another story on Friday saying:
After introductions from Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Director David Onorato, Clinton promised the crowd....
David Onorato of course being the head of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Shrunken Rust Belt Cities.....

From the local AP office, but picked up first in Toronto which is interesting in itself is this background piece on Johnstown: Shrunken Rusk Belt City Shows Grit.


PA voter registration.

Looking forward to the primary, just a map of party registration in PA. If you click on the image it will give another graphic with some additional popup info:

But this does not give you a real feel for the population density across the state. For example, there are more Democrats registered in Philadelphia than in 46 other counties across the commonwealth.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

things that matter: libraries and you

Sometimes the more important news almost gets lost in the shuffle. There is usually media attention when a local municipality is forced to disband its local police force. An important issue for sure. Also the crisis in local volunteer fire departments gets a little attention. Barely noticed is this news item today that explains how some local libraries can't stay open. A bigger issue than you may think when you consider the economic impact of libraries across Pennsylvania.

Which brings to mind an old post on school districts. There has not been much news of late of how the forced integration of Duquesne School students into neighboring districts that is going on. That has to be one of the more important local government stories of late. It came to mind because I noticed that more than a few people have hit this blog of late via a blog search for "Woodland Hills Wilkinsburg School District Merger"... something I have neither written about nor think is being talked about.. interesting.


Take it from the kids: Pittsburgh

A friend says I have been quite negative of late. Maybe we should take a lesson from the kids:


Wednesday, March 12, 2008


More on our diasporan-san-in-chief. Recent media coverage of Perry's Jerome White in CNN, in Business Week, and AFP. Yet, the only local coverage of late remains the 129 words buried in the PG. Oh... wait, CP goes all out with 173 words.

C'mon Toland.... if this isn't a diaspora story written to order for you, what is? Scoop your own A&E department with what a big story it is.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

known unknowns and political misunderstandings

For readers from afar you may just want to skip this. Just some uber-local political musings:

Here is an admission. I feel I am a relatively informed person, interested in local issues, keep up on the news, vote when I'm told and all of that. Yet for all of that I have to say that my understanding of what is really happening in local politics is really quite minimal. So if true for me, what does it say about your typical voter. Think I am being a bit self-deprecating? I am quite serious.

Let's go back to the race for the 21st Legislative district, which as I have said is my own district. I will not go into it more, since I have pretty much beaten the topic to death, but the decision of current state rep Lisa B. to quit Harrisburg after just a year in office is still hard to make sense of.

The question now however is who is going to replace her, which only gets me more befuddled. No less than 6 folks sought the Democratic committee endoresment. Each with their own stories and potential political bases.

First off, former City Councilperson Len B won the endorsement which surprised me not because of anything good or bad about him, but the 21st district did not really include the core Lawrenceville Districts that went for him even in his losing city council race. LD 21 extends into Shadyside and way out into Ross. By my count only 12 of 70 voting districts in the state house district include any of the districts are in City Council District 7. Take that for what it's worth. I am just guessing, but I figure Len will have the money advantage in this race as well.

Then there is Paul Mckrell who said he was running, but does not appear on the list of candidates. In the early stages he had the only active campaign. Did he withdraw because he didn't get the endorsement? You would think so, yet that makes no sense since from doorknockers I received at my house he must have been out walking streets during the time that the endorsement vote was taking place. If the endorsement vote was important to him, why was be mostly ignoring it. If it wasn't important to him then why drop out when he didn't get an endorsement that couldn't have been expected in the first place. I don't get it, but I am sure he has his reasons. But he did this the last cycle as well: he announced he was running for this same seat in 2006 and then withdrew later on. Didn't he also have a mock run for a hypothetical state office even before that? So he clearly wants the job and was probably planning this longer than most others. In fact, as of this moment his campaign web site is still up and running. Strange is all and cynical me will stop there before speculating, but why spend time and money on this:

Brenda Frazier makes a point in news accounts that she has won a couple races against endorsed candidates in her bids for county council. Barring her last minute de jure resignation, she can also claim to have been the only currently elected official running in this race. I am not so convinced people focus on the county council races too much so I am not sure what that buys much in the end. And even though I suspect any news is good news for most politicians, she did get more press than she ever had in the past with some top of the fold coverage over some discussions to appoint a caretaker to her county council seat so that she could return to office if she does not win this race. Who knows how all that balances out.

Dan Demarco was the only candidate from north of the Allegheny River. Since the district is now 40-50% outside of the city and with 5 other candidates potentially splitting city votes you would think that would be good mathematically for the only non-city option, yet he got a few votes and called it a day. About all I can discern there.

Then there is former City Police chief Dom Costa popping up to run for office for the first time. Naive me just guessed he had a decent shot at the endorsement. Years as a cop in the city ought to earn you friends. He was supporting Peduto I hear which you think might have helped in those Shadyside districts at the very least. Time as the Penn Hills police chief could have earned him some cred outside the city. So he came in third which I suppose is respectable, but really nowhere near the support needed to get the endorsement.

Who else? [update: Apparently nobody else. proving my point, I didn't know Pistella filed but must have already withdrawn since he is no longer on the list of candidates.] Former incumbent Frank Pistella ran and came in second to Lenny. In the news he suggested he may not run if he did not get the endorsement, but the state says he filed. Since I went into Franks career a bit when kvetching over the Lisa B. withdrawal I won't do any more now. Maybe he can run as the free air candidate. Nobody openly run's as the anti-air candidate do they?

Which is all a lot of words to tell everyone who is asking that I don't have a clue who will win. Will the widely split race make for a cakewalk for the endrosed candidate Len B? Maybe 4 men will split the vote that will give Brenda F. an edge. Maybe Dom C. will build a coalition of support in suburban districts and some core support groups within the city? or maybe the vote is split evenly and Frank P. has some residual support form the past that will pull out a plurality.

A blog that is covering the race semi-actively, albeit with a particular geographic focus up in Ross Township is That blog is interesting because it looks like Len B. has engaged the blogger actively online. Len looks like he first started by actually commenting on that blog in this post. That was odd since Len addresses his first comments to "Dan" yet the blog author is clearly Jeff and there are no comments by a Dan. Maybe I am missing something, but maybe be presumes the erstwhile candidate Dan D. is out there, but that would be strange. And why would Len all of a sudden become active in the blogosphere, he didn't seem to be personally connecting like that at all during his city council race. New staff helping him out maybe?

So there you go.. Each candidate with advantages and disadvantages. Support that will split in uncountable ways in a race that could potentially be one of the higher turnout primaries in a Pennsylvania presidential primary cycle which is a big and unknown wildcard this time around.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Two Pittsburghs... and then some

Mark Desantis has a remarkably brief retrospective on his Mayoral campaign last fall in Pittsburgh Quarterly. The theme: There exists two Pittsburghs. Really? There has to be more to say on how that race came down.

So just to practice some programming, here is a tool I put together with the results of that race with some interactive popup information. To match Mark's theme I put it into a stark two color motif. To bring it up: click here (you will probably need to allow ActiveX for the full effect). Comments appreciated if it works for you that is.

But for those who can't bring up that link, here is the image:


Sunday, March 09, 2008

OT: Как времена меняются

Off topic and as an editorial note: Felix Edmondovich, you may want to avert your eyes; this may cause you some trauma.

Some years ago I spent part of the summer in the USSR (well, technically I think they were calling themselves the CIS at the time). One weekend the only western news I could find was an outdated edition of the Economist magazine which I felt empowered reading while sitting against a wall of the Kremlin. Even that would have been impossible months earlier, and you could feel history tilting all around.

But one of those pictures that define a generation may be the picture below I found on the Innovation in Newspapers blog, though the w's are not specified and I wish I knew the original sourcing. But if this picture does not say it all:


Trains west, trains east...

Now wait a second. Amtrak is looking at expanding rail service in Ohio.... yet they are not even thinking of extending its upgrade of the Philadelphia-Harrisburg link to the rest of the state. What's up with that? Here in town, Sam can't even find the entrance to the Amtrak station which isn't even being incorporated into the the design of the Grant Street Transportation Center just across the street. What are we, the doughnut hole in the rail system?

A transit book of the moment:


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Bankruptcy watch: Jefferson County, AL

If I had time I would have a blog just on all the news piling up on urban fiscal distress. The news in Vallejo is quiet for the moment (update: more background on the Vallejo situation is in the SF Chron), and I suspect in the end they will work something out to keep things above water for now. The bigger news I had not been following was how Jefferson County Alabama (home of Birmingham, the Pittsburgh of the South coincidentally) is in default of credit terms and is also floating the potential of a chapter 9 bankruptcy. It's a different case altogether and looks an awful lot like Orange County's bankruptcy in the early 1990's. Seems like Jefferson County invested in some derivative swaps that didn't go well for them and now they are underwater. Why governments think they have the option of taking on risk like a hedge fund is beyond me, but even odder given the well-documented experience of Orange County which would become the largest Chapter 9 bankruptcy to date.


Friday, March 07, 2008

diaspora note: Buhl Planetarium

Just wondering how many astronomers out there were first inspired by Buhl Planetarium?

Which just brings to mind a question. I have to admit I have not been over to the Carnegie Science Center in some time... Did they ever find a home for the old Zeiss Projector? I always figured it would end up a static display. Many years ago I talked to some friends over at the science center and showed them this old picture of a static zeiss projector I literally ran into unexpectedly in a mall in Jena, Germany.. the home of the Zeiss company and thus the birthplace of our Zeiss projector.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Who would have guessed: A Pennsylvania primary season

Well... it looks like the PA primary is now topic number one. What does that mean for local races if there is indeed a much larger turnout than may have happened if the presidential race has been decided?

But given all the talk there has been so far on the iss of timing and the PA primary, its surprising there is much more worth reading on the topic. But the WSJ's Numbers Guy column does a good job at going beyond the headlines on the history and issues. See: Pennsylvania’s Missed Opportunity.

But just as there was a micro (and temporary one can hope) diaspora of political foot soldiers from PA into Ohio last week, expect reverse over the coming month. When you meet one of the army of Clinton or Barack supporters that you inevitably will, ask where they are from.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Labor roundup

Where to start? There is a lot of labor news out there of late.

We have this tidbit that the Allegheny Conference is warning of a potential Port Authority strike this summer. It could happen, but I wonder if the probability of a Port Authority strike is any higher than normal during the period heading into contract talks. At the same time the City of Pittsburgh firefighters are opening up the possibility of early negotiations. On the potential for a Port Authority strike, it is worthwhile to look at some of the impacts from the last strike that shut down city transit service in the 1990's. It is important because it highlights the complexity of figuring the true cost benefit analysis of transit service.

Many know about this I suspect, but coming up in Pittsburgh in a few weeks: Good Jobs, Green Jobs: A National Green Jobs Conference. Could be interesting in that it is jointly sponsored by the United Steel Workers and the Sierra Club. Also could be interesting given the timing if the PA primary is still relevant.

Then there is the news that union membership is up in Pennsylvania for the first time since 2001. Mentioned here, but I am still confused by the lack of attention to the news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that union membership in the US increased in 2007 which I think would make it the first time in decades.

Obligatory historical factoid: it was a century ago that labor supply in Pittsburgh made the New York Times. Does any of this sound familiar?

Come to Pittsburgh is the message being sent to the workingmen throughout the world. Stay in Pittsburgh is the advice to those already here. From President A.C. Dinkey of the Carnegie Steel Company comes the latter counsel. He supplements it with a number of reasons why Pittsburgh at present is, and in the future will be, the best home in the world for the workingman.

Notice they didn't say workingwoman back then.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Steel to heal....

Some may be surprised that there is nary a mention of Pittsburgh here... but worth a read:

Mayo with everything in the Feb 23-29 edition of the Economist. Subtitled: "Cities and Hospitals...... What happens when a clinic takes over a metropolis?"


Monday, March 03, 2008

NPR on the great neologist

One more elegy you may have missed: NPR over the weekend on the passing of Myron Cope.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Null Prices

What comment can there be? From the Sunday PG with data from Realstats on real estate prices in the City of Pittsburgh's 13th Ward (Homewood):

  • 2006 - Median Price = $10,000 on 108 sales
  • 2007 Median Price = $8,500 on 117 sales

Yet if you have ever looked at maps of parcel vacancy across Homewood, you would see even at these prices, the market does not clear.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

follow that story: UPMC Bonds

More on the auction rate bond miasma that UPMC got caught up in. See the PR on their new bonds to refinance their way out of that. The earlier blog post on that is here.