NextBurgh, PA          @VannevarB      About      Pittsburgh Murals
January 19, 2009

Pittsburgh is NOT going to the Super Bowl

Actually, Pittsburgh is NOT Going to the Super Bowl.
The Steelers are going to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh isn't going anywhere.

First, let's get past the terminology. Using Pittsburgh to refer to the Steelers is an example of the lesser type of synecdoche, where the whole of something is used to refer to a part of it. You might go further and suggest that using Pittsburgh to refer to the Steelers is a metonymy, but let us not mince words.

Second, let's be clear on where Pittsburgh is going.
The city is in receivership.
Toledo (aka Frog City) has a bigger population.
Buffalo has a busier airport.
Pittsburgh's air is ranked among the nation's worst.

The Steelers are a business. An entertainment business. Just like the Civic Light Opera or the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. It's a stage, not a field. (edit)

For some reason, we teach our children to identify with this Steelers business in a way that they never identify with Bayer, Alcoa, Westinghouse, or any outfit that might someday employ them. Our schools have days when students wear Black And Gold™ and we indoctrinate them so they grow up to be Steelers fans, and - unless they move away to find work - our children grow up to support the taxes, subsidies, and give-aways that our politicians provide to this business. Good little Steelers fans!

There is very little new under the sun, and this maneuver isn't new either. Juvenal used the phrase bread and circus to refer to the Roman practice of providing welfare and entertainment as a means of gaining political power through populism.
...Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.(Juvenal, Satire 10.77–81) (credit)

Juvenal also said, "It is hard NOT to write satire", when speaking of the Rome of his day. When the Boy Mayor changes his name to SteelersStahl, how can we see ourselves as somehow different from other decadent, frivilous societies?

Pittsburgh's population is half that of 1950.
Young people continue to leave to find work.
Pittsburgh has no semi-unique economic niche.
Downtown is abandoned and shut down at night.

The insane multitude of interlocking and overlapping municipalities, each well-supplied with nepotism, corruption, and incompetence makes regional progress a fantasy. This is the exact situation Micheal Heller calls The Tragedy of the Anti-Commons and is the topic of his recent book, The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives. (edit)

The short list above consists of the local items.
We are losing young Americans each day in war.
The financial sector is tanking.
Our automotive and other manufacturing businesses are failing.
We hand Senate seats out as perks of celebrity or family.
Businesses abandon commitments in bankruptcy and expect public subsidy.
We're about to spend borrow our way out of a financial crisis.

Don't pay attention to all that boring stuff.
Sing along: Here we go Steelers, Here we go!


Matt H said...

Ya damn right!

All those things you talked about at the end of the post suck, no doubt about it. But the Steelers are a great distraction and this great town deserves it.

Cheer up and get with the program!

CFluck said...

Although distractions have great value, especially in economic bad times and winter, they are short lived. Hopefully the bad times and winter will also be short lived. The goal of regional sustainable development is a long term one. Society and individual mindsets that respect and are based in the concept of commonwealth are long lived and, if a sufficient number of people adopt them, can bring about progressive change, not in the way that a sudden Polamalu end game interception can but with "season" long planning, correction, and cooperation.

Gene said...

I agree with your post, however what do people like us have that replaces what we know to be false? It is not enough to tear down.

Maybe we've fallen into the same trap, turning not wanting anything into not liking anything. The two are not synonymous. Bread and circuses seem to imply a missing third element, reverence? Humility?

Vannevar said...

CFLuck, excellent comment. Long term improvements will happen when problems are exposed to the public and discussed in a civil manner, people will see examples of what works in other places, and in spite of intertia progress will come. Really, progress is everywhere, it just isn't evenly distributed.

Gene, WOW. I agree that it's never enough to tear down. This is a remarkable week; a jet went into the Hudson and all survived; control of our nuclear-armed government changed hands peacefully; a black man was elected President. Surely this is a great country that can do anything; the trick is to choose wise goals. Turning away from bread and circuses, we'd do well to focus on Family and the Virtues, and Pittsburgh is a place that does well with them.

I'd like to thank you for your reasoned and thought-provoking comments.

Anonymous said...

As a ex-pat P-burgher, I'd LOVE to move back home, raise my kids, and eek out a life where my family did for countless generations. But, until both the jobs, and the willingness changes, I'm stuck in the metro Philly/DC corridor (in between, with the Balti-morons, but there ARE good tech jobs here).

I've lived thru the Milton Shapp era, the blizzards of '76, and even Thronberg's admin, seen how good PennDOT maintains the roads (and, its nepotism and countless scandals), and realize there is life beyond the Three Rivers.

But, home will always be home. Just wish my kids could graduate from the same school their parents did.

I follow the news and happenings, as best I can, and marvel how its managed to stay afloat as long as it has, when Big Steel left. Its one of the reasons why I left in the late '80s for the Army - it was the only avenue left that didn't cost a fortune, except for time.

The need for a statesman, *someone*, without fear and longing for re-election or profiting from government, to rise, bring light to the hindrances prohibiting functional (and historic) change, and beating down those minions of status-quo, is long overdue.

All the pontification and illumination is moot, unless the desire, and public outcry trump the business-as-usual (BAU) and power-holders grasp. It can be done, but the fight does seem far greater than one statesman can bear.

But, I do have hope - but realize I can visit the remaining family that habitate there via the rejuvenated turnpike.... as the work schedule permits.

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