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November 14, 2018

Amazon Eats "Local" for Lunch & Real Estate is On The Menu

Amazon's core business is disintermediating previously geo-zoned small-to-mid businesses through economies of scale, computing power, and fullfillment logistics.

In other words: Amazon competes with and replaces "local business". Ask any small-to-midsize retailer. Amazon doesn't need a local footprint; in the retail market they use UPS, USPS, and Fedex to manage the last mile. For Amazon, tech makes "place" irrelevant.

Mayors and County Executives have distilled and delivered to Amazon extremely comprehensive info on local markets, infra, and incentives. Amazon now has the playbook for corporate real estate markets in every major American city, and they got it free. Your tax dollars payed for the complication and transfer of knowledge. Local politicians gave it away.

Losers will be the previously-local winners (soon to be known as legacy placeholders) in the corporate real estate markets, just like local business is the loser in every market Amazon offers. Second-tier losers will be the local law firms that service local corporate real estate companies.

Economics (it's been said) is the story of who eats whom, and today's menu focuses on local real estate sellers and developers.

Ironically, local real estate companies are major financial supporters of the Mayors and County Execs who just threw their industry and their well-heeled livelihoods under the bus. Third-tier losers will be politicos who benefited from local real estate's corrupt largesse.

Imagine local politicians giving away the knowledge base of local business in other contexts - say, manufacturing. They'd be burned in effigy and turned out of office.

Might be fun to watch, except an economy more focused on Amazon is not really good for anybody but Jeff Bezos.

November 10, 2018

Two Pittsburghs: Privilege in the Golden Triangle

I have written about "Two Pittsburghs" before. It's not a new mode of analysis; we saw John Edwards talking about "two Americas" before he imploded. Sue Kerr has been out in front on the topic. Mayor Bill Peduto has talked about it on NPR.

First Pittsburgh is America's Most Livable City. If we'd gotten Amazon's HQ2, we'd rename it Pittsburgh Prime. This is the Pittsburgh we saw after the Tree of Life massacre; caring, empathetic, enlightened; smiling happy people holding hands. The yard signs say, All are welcome.

Lesser Pittsburgh is racist, unprivileged, and Old School. The flags are confederate, or worse. The yard signs say, Make America Great Again. We don't mourn black deaths in Second Pittsburgh the way we mourn dead white First Pittsburghers. Legacy Pittsburgh makes a bigger deal about a killed Police Dog than a dead black Pittsburgher.


Rob Rogers

I thought First Pittsburgh and Lesser Pittsburgh were colocated, sprinkled among each other with varying distributions. Last week my friend MCC suggested: First Pittsburgh is between the rivers; Forgotten Pittsburgh lies outside the rivers.  Think about an expanded Golden Triangle as the sweet spot.

I've tried to map the two Pittsburghs. I think it's a map of privilege vs poverty, of an easy life vs a struggling life, of diversity vs homogeneity, of professionals vs working class. It's a map of Uber-Robotics Pittsburgh vs. Inconvenient-Unfunded-Throwback Pittsburgh.

It's Uber vs. jitneys. It's walkable communities vs car communities. It's a map of the Penn Plaza evictees vs the gentry who'll be moving in. It's a map of privilege. It's a map of UPMC and colleges. It's probably a map of NPR donors.

It's deadly. It's a map of developers making a killing vs a map of where cops kill people. It's the map of people who were killed at Tree of Life vs. the people who did the killing. It does, to an extent, follow the rivers with the exception of an unprivileged column that starts in Bluff/Uptown, runs through the Hill, and flows east to East Liberty, Larimar, Lincoln-Lemington, and Homewood. I wonder if I've coded Bloomfield correctly.

map of two pittsburghs, privileged and forgotten

There's Gold in the Golden Triangle, in the space between the rivers; it's just not evenly distributed. It's Richard Florida's Creative Class vs people struggling to get 40 hours a week out of their boss. It's FLSA-exempt vs non-exempt, it's managers vs workers - you can say it's Normans vs. Saxons. It's the place where capital will invest vs. places capital passes over.

It's the 18 funded neighborhoods out of 90; it's political power vs #WontWorkHere; it's EastSide and BakerySquare2 vs East Liberty. It's increasing life expectancy vs decreasing life expectancy. It's similar to a map of the Bike Share stations.

There's pockets that don't fit the map (for instance, the Mattress Factory / City of Asylum / Randyland node is outside of the rivers). If anybody has feedback about what neighborhoods are First Pittsburgh vs. Inconvenient-Unfunded Pittsburgh, please make a comment.

The black-white areas outside the Golden Triangle are not Enlightened, Fred Rogers Pittsburgh. And the burbs surrounding Pittsburgh are often throwbacks too, like these fine folks in West Mifflin flying a swastika flag because of their mixed-race neighbors.
Nazi swastika flag in West Mifflin, Pittsburgh Mr Rogers Neighborhood

Mr. Rogers weeps.

November 04, 2018

Historical Patterns at Tree of Life & Squirrel Hill

The shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue was Robert Bowers, 46, of suburban Baldwin, just outside of Pittsburgh. His own father's life included crime in Squirrel Hill and gun violence.

  • In 1979 Randall Bowers, the father of the shooter, followed a woman out of a pizza shop, forced his way into her car, and had her drive them to Squirrel Hill. He threatened and raped the woman but Squirrel Hill residents intervened, chasing and holding Randall Bowers until police arrived. He was found guilty, and was out on bail awaiting his sentencing.

    He was convinced he was going to be sent to prison. Randall Powers took his own life at the Tionesta Dam.

    It seems like not too big a reach to connect the father's experience in Squirrel Hill to his son's hatred, but it is only speculation.


    2018 wasn't the congregation's first brush with an attack. According to the Post-Gazette, in 1935 the Tree of Life Synagogue (located then in Oakland) was attacked by vandals.


    (click image to embiggen)

    My conclusion is that hatred is an old evil, often passed down in families - which really isn't one of the theoretical functions of a family, but it does seem to be a real one.

  • August 25, 2018

    My Two Fathers: a catholic Tale of Trauma

    Trigger warnings: rape, beatings, jail, prisoner, Catholic, priest, family.
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    The adjective catholic (with a lower-case c) means: universal, comprehensive, widely shared.  Something that's catholic is bigger than you might think.  

    I need to set down my own catholic experience. You might not know anybody affected by the Catholic systemic child-rape scandal. Maybe you do know a victim and you just aren't aware of it yet. I'm one of them.

    I volunteered to became an altar boy because on school-day funerals, you got out of class and sometimes you got $5. It seemed like a good deal. My dad recommended it. The old GI rubric holds true: Never Volunteer.

    From September 1965 to June 1968 - Fourth through Sixth grades - I was repeatedly raped by a parish priest. It happened in the rectory on Monday afternoons, and on overnight trips to a vacation home his family provided. I was 8, 9, and 10 years old.

    To belabor the point in a vulgar manner, he was in my ass and in my mouth for three years.  Major portions of my existence are fucked up because of it. 


    Ordinarily I would never tell my father (a cop) about a problem but I told my dad about the priest early on. I needed grown-up help. My dad did not believe me and tried hard to get me to recant. He seriously beat me (which was a thing he did) and I wouldn't give in. He said, you think you're tough? We'll see.

    That weekend we went to the police station where he worked. He had arranged for an empty cellblock, no prisoners. He put me into a cell. He said, we'll see how tough you are. He shut the cell, locked it; he walked out and closed the cellblock door behind himself.

    Everything you've read about the sound of a closing jail cell being the loudest sound in the world is an understatement. It was an earthquake rattling my skeleton. There was a single bunk, a thick board on a hinge and chained to the wall. It had a thousand profanities scratched into it. There was a coarse wool blanket. There were cockroaches.

    I don't know how it is for anybody else.  Being locked alone in that cell is one of the essential, core experiences of my life.  I had made a terrible mistake by telling my dad. He betrayed me.

    Now I was in a cage like the animals at the zoo. They talk about humans responding to threats with "fight or flight" but neither was an option. My universe was about 6x9 feet.

    I was probably only alone for as much time as it took him to have a smoke and a coffee. He came back into the cellblock and looked at me through the closed cell bars. I told him, I'm not taking it back. He opened the cell and led me out. We never spoke of it again.

    In less than ten minutes, I was profoundly and forever changed. Ever since I have a visceral dread of "getting into trouble" because for me, being in trouble means the cell is a possible outcome. In some ways, I'm still in that cell.


    Between the priest and my dad, the floor had dropped out from under me. It was terrifying that my world could change so fast. Certainty was lost. Safety was an illusion. Grownups were threats.  The rest of my life is a footnote to being raped and being locked up. 

    The priest continued at me. My dad had a fave phrase he'd continually impress upon the kids: "suffer in silence", and that's just what I did. I would never rock this boat again.

    When Seventh grade began I expected to be summoned but the priest never sent for me. I asked another kid who was involved, what was going on? He said, he's got some new fourth graders. I had mixed feelings. I was both glad and jilted. Replaced by a younger kid.

    They're both dead now, the priest and my dad. They live on inside my head. I really try to stay out of trouble and to be a good boy. I am so fucked up.


    • This is not about gay priests. This is about pedophile rapists in positions of authority
    • The church must release all documents including the 'unsubstantiated' events
    • Promote nuns into parish management positions with full authority
    • Make Women priests now
    • Pay men and women clergy living wages rather than off-budget 'fringe benefits'
    • Release all legacy settlements from non-disclosure agreements; let the stories flow
    • The Pope saying he's on the victim's side is onanistic rhetoric without action


    When I read about the kids separated from their parents at the Mexican border, I think about eight year old me, sitting in that jail cell, terrified. If you think that what happened to me in 1965 is wrong, then if follows that what we're doing to these kids is wrong in 2018.
    --  --
    August 20, 2018

    Bishop Zubic DID go to prosecutors in 2013

    I am so glad that Bishop Zubic went to the authorities and demanded that criminal charges be filed.

    I refer, of course, to the April 2013 event ("the spring fine arts parade") in which student Katherine B. O’Connor, 19, of Pittsburgh, dressed the upper half of her body as a Pope, and left the lower half of her body naked except for some topiary work in the sign of a cross. As she marched, she handed out condoms.

    Bishop Zubic, who knows a wrong thing when he sees it, went to the head of CMU and insisted that criminal charges be pressed against the woman. She was arrested.

    The student eventually made a deal with prosecutors, agreeing to perform 80 hours of community service work in exchange for the prosecutor dropping charges. A conviction would have meant she'd have to register as a sex offender.

    I remember at the time thinking: When did Jesus ever go to a prosecutor and demand that charges should be filed? Didn't He say, "let you who is without sin throw the first pitch?" So why is this Bishop acting like this?

    But with a bit of hindsight and the recent release of the PA Grand Jury report, I can see that Bishop Zubic was adhering to the same consistent standard that is still in use:

    • young women challenging the patriarchy must be prosecuted and kept in their place
    • no church officials (men) should be prosecuted; especially not for raping altar boys.
    January 13, 2017

    Calling the Horses amid the Hostages at the Potemkin Racetrack

    In the Senate, any one Senator can oppose legislation via filibuster which means: normal legislation requires 60 votes to beat a filibuster. The R's have 51 votes, so they can't meet the 60-vote requirement to pass a partisan Senate bill. However, the Senate can pass a Budget Reconciliation bill, which can only contain basic additions or removals from the budget. No sweeping legislation or procedures; just "adds" and "takeaways".

    The R's vowed to cancel ACA. Reconciliation is the only tool they've got to accomplish the thing they vowed. They can't do it in the Senate through normal procedures because of the filibuster/60-vote process, so they're doing it via Budget Reconciliation which only needs 51 votes. Which brings us to the start of this year's sporting events.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, the first event for this year's racing, the Senate's midnight cancellation of Obamacare aka ACA at 1am via a budget reconciliation process. If the House approves it, and President Trump signs it, ACA is dead in two years - including such wildly popular features as: 25 year olds on their parent's insurance, no pre-existing conditions, and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHiP).

    Why would they do that? Why would they cancel without a replacement at hand? Why would they specifically reject options to preserve the cherished parts, like: CHiP, 25 years old, pre-existing conditions? Because they can cancel (that is, destroy important things) with only 51 votes. You might think that's a problem, I might think that's a problem, but if you think like a thug, like a gangster, you might say: Ooh, maybe I can make this somebody else's problem, and maybe it's an R-opportunity. Because that's thug-thinking.

    Whatever they want to introduce as TrumpCare, or R-Care, will need to get 60 votes in the Senate. The 50-vote reconciliation rule can not be used to implement programs. They're going to need D's in the Senate to vote for TrumpCare.

    I think the cynical strategy goes like this: With their 51 Senate votes, they've sentenced precious programs to death in two years. Now - just saying - if the D's want to cooperate, maybe the terrible thing won't have to happen. I mean, people can work together, right?

    This is just the first event in a two-year race, the timing of which was established by the Budget Reconciliation Bill.

    As time progresses, the nation will come around the curve and begin to line up for the straight-away.

    In ten months, when they've developed TrumpCare, Team-R is going to look at the Senate Dems and say: Here's our program - sure it does a lot of things you don't like, but hey- it restores 25 year-olds, it restores NoPreExisting Conditions, it restores CHIP. We've heard you on these issues. We've listened. We're meeting you in the middle.

    In the final stretch, the R's will say to the Dems: Will 10 of you support TrumpCare to restore these vital programs, or will you make Americans suffer to force a debacle in the name of politics? And the NPR announcer calling the race will be quite excited,

    It's Charade in the lead, with Booker and TrumpCare by a neck, and Kabuki close behind, then ChIP and Trumper and Warren and Bernie close - and Booker stumbles, ladies and gentleman, Booker is down, and riders down everywhere and at the wire it's TrumpCare, it's TrumpCare followed by Charade and Kabuki, Chip survived, PreExisting got through, looks like TwentyFive made it, and there's horses and riders everywhere.. There's carnage in the field..

    I think the R's will get 10 D-Senators to vote to restore CHiP, 25 year-olds, and NoPreExisting Conditions. This week's news doesn't make any sense if you're a normal human, but it makes a lot of sense if you're a gangster thug.