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August 31, 2009

Post Gazette Plus Subscription

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is launching a subscription-only, value-added web presence at midnight tonight.
PG+ will not replace, which will continue to offer the same breaking news, features and multimedia content as always. Rather, it will allow subscribers access to a new stream of exclusive blogs, videos, live chats and behind-the-scenes insights into the news of the day.

The new site, hosted by a team of PG bloggers, will emphasize user interaction, with commenting throughout the site. Members also will be able to create a social networking profile to keep the conversation going.

The content will be provided by some of the Post-Gazette's best-known personalities, including Ed Bouchette, Mackenzie Carpenter, Doug Oster, Gene Collier, Reg Henry and Jack Kelly.

What's Conventional Wisdom on Pay-for-Web-News?

The conventional wisdom consists of three words, three words which are even scarier than "starring Ben Affleck": Doomed to Fail. Rupert Murdoch keeps threatening to move his news content ("news content", seems like "cheese product" - its kind of cheese, but..) beyond a pay-wall. I notice that he hasn't found the right situation to actually do that, yet.

The New York Times experimented with this in their Times Select product. They moved their best content - the editorial writers, the blogs, reader comments - behind the paywall. Here's some of the talent: Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman. Total web eyeballs plummeted. Web ad revenue dropped. The subscriptions were not sufficient to justify the overall loss of web advertising. The NY Times was unable to make this work. (I really liked the Times Select product. My friend Mark bought a subscription. About a dozen of us used it.)

So, on the face of it, the Post Gazette appears to be betting that (1) they're smarter than Rupert Murdoch, (2) they're more webby than the NY Times, and that (3) Friedman, Kristof, Herbert and Krugman pale in comparison to Bouchette, Carpenter, Oster, Collier, Henry and Kelly. None of those propositions is true.

Let's Refute Conventional Wisdom

The P-G may get away with this, or at least get a one-year bounce out of it. In the current newspaper era, a one-year bounce isn't a bad thing, especially if you're trying to package the paper for a sale.

What does the PG have to lose?

If the PostGazette really does keep all it's present content free, and only puts additional, value-added content behind the pay-wall, they don't have much to lose. Normal web traffic should remain the same. If the incremental web traffic for PG+ is insufficient to pay the incremental salaries (which I bet is truly a relatively small amount), then there's not a lot of risk in this experiment; they can shut it down easily enough.

What will subscribers get?

Subscribers will get blogs, opinion, and social media - comments and discussion with other subscribers. This seems like a sure attraction for office workers that can't listen to talk radio at work, but have a web connection. That can't be too many people.

Timing is everything

Will the national attention on Pittsburgh for the G-20 bring a lot of subscribers? (Hint: Yinz can just read PghComet and Nullspace n'at.) Will the national focus on "the Pittsburgh Miracle" cause people from around the country to want to read what's going on? Will the Burgh's national sports visibility (football and hockey champions, and the Washington Wild Things) bring a desirable cachet?

A PG+ Formula: Hyperlocal + Diaspora + Geezer 2.0

How could PG+ succeed? I think a winning formula would require a financial committment to establishing hyperlocal news, subscription from the Diaspora, and bringing Geezers into Pittsburgh social media.

Hyperlocal news has been profitable by subscription. Hyperlocal news would, for instance, give us a news feed down to the specific neighborhoods. Instead of carrying Pittsburgh news and identifying it by neighborhood, "hyperlocal news" would have a blogger and a forum specifically covering Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar - and every other neighborhood. Perhaps you could configure your PG+ page to cover the neighborhoods that you live in, and the areas you and your spouse work in. In a city with such diverse and well-established neighborhoods, a hyperlocal news approach might succeed.

Will the Diaspora Subscribe?

If the Pittsburgh Diaspora (the legions who have left {for work, mostly} but still consider themselves Black and Gold) subscribe, this could be a successful adventure for the P-G. Just look at the list of Steelers' bars around the country.

Geezer 2.0

AOL was successful (for a decade) because it brought the web and webbish things to non-geeks. Your Aunt Mary could surf AOL and do email. The Geezer Demographic (which looks a lot like Pittsburgh) isn't tweeting, and they aren't into Facebook. If PG+ can bring "social-media-light" to the Geezers, they may have another profitable niche.

So, we'll see. Snarky prediction: Absence of a "two-day pass", like Salon uses, will keep people from buying something they cannot see; expect to see a "free look" option in 45 days. Unless they pursue the options above (hyperlocal, diaspora, geezer 2.0) this will struggle for eighteen months and then go away. Pundits will start referring to the "free" Post Gazette website as PG-Minus.

I wish them luck and success. They're not "too big to fail", but success of a local newspaper is important.

Click here for other Post Gazette Plus posts.
August 30, 2009

Tag Cloud Update

I don't imagine this is interesting to anybody but a Geek that uses Blogger, but I'm getting closer to the desired Tag Cloud Page.
August 29, 2009

A Geek Call for Blogger Template Help

I've seen various calls for help in my time - both explicit and implicit. I've reached a stage where it's time for me to Call for Geek Help.

In Blogger (August 2009), you can have a tag cloud in a sidebar widget. That's great, but I'd like something different. I have 621 "labels" (as Blogger calls tags) and that's too much for the sidebar.

What I'd like is to have a blog post that presents the label-cloud / tag-cloud in the big content area, rather than in the width-constrained sidebar. Once I can get those labels/tags into the content section, I think I may be able to do some interesting things with the data.

UPDATE I've managed to place it on the page where I want it. What I think I need to do now, is to figure out how to only display the TagCloud when the page title is equal to "tag cloud".

What I've done is I've created a post titled "Tag Cloud". It's at this url: (I date my special function pages in October 1981.) This is the page where I want the tag-cloud / label-cloud to appear.

I've realized that I probably can't procure the labels through the Blogger Content Management System (CMS), so in an attempt to touch the flow pre-compilation I've amended the Template to execute certain code only when my "Tag Cloud" page is summoned:

The code above generates the following output on the Tag Cloud page:

What you see is the output from the "special code", followed by the actual content from the Blogger CMS (in this care, *****).

I am striking out. I can get it to output the tags-labels for this individual post, but not for all the labels. I believe it's because I'm calling for the data in the wrong context, but I can't figure out (or find) the syntax for an appropriate data call.

This is an S-O-S to my fellow Geeks: Can anybody offer advice, please?

What I Want for Christmas

I mean, sure, there's the universal thoughts — peace on earth, goodwill to man, consistent browsers, extinction of IE6, a smooth transition to HTML5 and CSS3 — but on a more immediate personal gratification level, I've got to admit that this sure beats "my two front teeth":

The SpaceBook is the absolute opposite of the netbooks trend. As opposed to the IBM Thinkpad 700W which has a smaller second screen, the SpaceBook features two same-size screens (15", 17", or 19") - which is why it weights 13 pounds. The target market includes designers, photo editors, and military commanders.

Just when you think you've seen it all, there's also the concept design of the MacBook Tri-Screen, which has not been adopted as a product yet.

My favorite Ode to Technology

August 27, 2009

Finished "The Age of the Unthinkable"

Finished reading "The Age of the Unthinkable", by Joshua Cooper Ramo.

This was an excellent book with implications in both international diplomacy and in preparing for a high-change future. Ramo's premise is that we've seen a lot of previously unthinkable things occur, that we're about to see a lot more, and that we should change our weltanschauung so that likely events become thinkable and we stop getting surprised.

Ramos offers Bak's Sandpile as a metaphor for world conditions - we're in a complex inter-dependent sandpile with obscure internal structures and sand grains keep falling at random. Bak's research indicates that beyond a certain point, stability is unknown and an avalanche can occur from any random grain of sand.

Ramos talks about how our models are usually based on one-on-one interactions of simply defined objects (the Arab world, the finance community) that resemble Newtonian clockwork physics, when in reality it's a many-on-many web of quantum mechanics in which the context (environment) is perhaps more significant than the primary object. He goes on to discuss Occidental and Oriental views on Objects vs. Context, or Foreground vs. Background, that results in Change Blindness (see NY Times article).

It seems like it could be a too-theoretical discussion, but there's a lot of interesting perspectives. He talks about the fall of Russia with Gorbachev, interviews the CTO of Hezbollah, talks with an Israeli spymaster, dwells at length on Chinese military theory, and draws examples from the recent financial debacle. It's very interesting.

He suggests, for instance, that nation-states and their militaries will be unable to deal with most future problems. He also professes that existing Western power stuctures are "change blind", unable to see change in even the short-term, and likely to be surprised.

He recommends using a holistic, context-sensitive long-term approach and personal empathy to build Relationships and Resilience, which he holds as the key to "Deep Security". He urges multiple indirect approaches rather than a direct, Newtonian approach to problem solving.

Part of his point about Resilience is to produce environments where many options are available, echoing the "opportunity diversity" I recently read about in "The Logic of Failure". In TLOF, Dietrich Dorner referred to the same pattern as "efficiency diversity".

He offers as an example Chinese war heroes who used their influence to modify situations and environments, making the desired outcome inevitable without ever resorting to force.

Finally, he suggests that the future is a race between bad innovation and good innovation, and says we're not doing enough to empower good innovation while paradoxically, we're training our opponents to evolve through experience while motivating their (bad) innovation. He suggests that's an unwise strategy.

This was an interesting, thought-provoking book (not a beach book). I recommend it.

This book left me interested in learning more about Bak's sandpile, and I wonder if there isn't some application to normal-distribution models driven through a quincunx. (online demo) It would be very interesting to see if high-volume normal distributions begin to behave like Bak's sandpile, producing avalanches at unexpected times.
August 26, 2009

Ayn Rand and John Galt : Anarchists

Who was John Galt?

John Galt, the inventor who was himself only an invention of Ayn Rand's mind, rejected the existing government, economy, and society. He withdrew from the prevalent culture - physically, economically, spiritually - and developed his own alternative economy and social system in Galt's Gulch.

The story itself appears to be (at best) a derivative of The Driver, by Garet Garreth, which is somewhat in conflict with Rand's stated position in favor of intellectual property rights.

John Galt was an Anarchist

John Galt's Oath is instructive: "I swear by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." I'm trying to imagine my relationship with Princes Charles if the Founding Fathers had felt like John Galt.

What do Anarchists believe?

First, there's the dichotomy of what a scheme professes and how it exists in the world. You could criticize Communism, and hear "the problem is with the Russian implementation of Communism, not the essence of Communism". So let's talk about professed, theoretical anarchy.

Essentially, Anarchy (an-archy) is a system of no-rulers, of individuals living on terms they define. Anarchism is the belief that people can organize themselves without having someone tell them what to do. Anarchists believe that it is better for everyone to have a direct say, instead of having leaders or bosses make decisions for them. Anarchists also believe that participation (in society, in government, in an economy) should never be compulsory. (link)

What did Ayn Rand / John Galt believe?

Rand believes in gold as the only true medium of exchange. In her utopia, depicted in Atlas Shrugged and symbolized by “Gault’s Gulch”, cash is worthless because there is no value in a piece of paper just because a government assigns it a value. Gold is the only medium of exchange in her paradise. When Ragner returns wealth to the producers he does not use paper, he gives Reardon bars of gold. Rand's admiration of the dollar sign as a symbol of wealth is only consistent while that dollar is worth some amount of gold.


John Galt was not just a generic anarchist; he was an Anarcho-Capitalist, an anarchist who specifically rejects a monopoly economy or an imposed economy, and who rejects currency because he disputes government's legitimacy to assign value to paper scrips.

What do Anarcho-Capitalists Believe?

Anarcho-capitalism is an anarchist philosophy that is against the idea of political government and a compulsory economy, and for voluntary, economic government through free market capitalism mediated by supply and demand.

Anarcho-capitalists think that people can protect themselves without any government. Instead of stopping intrusion with laws, people could protect their own things, or agree to pay other people such as insurers, and private defenders to protect them through the marketplace. Anarcho-capitalists say that the government is a thief because it takes taxes away from people against their will, and keeps them from making unfettered agreements between themselves. (link) This is completely consistent with Rand/Galt's beliefs.

By accepting an axiomatic definition of private property and property rights, anarcho-capitalists deny the legitimacy of a state on principle:
"... the ethics of private property is also incompatible with the existence of a state defined as an agency that possesses a compulsory territorial monopoly of ultimate decision-making (jurisdiction) and/or the right to tax."

Murray Rothbard was a preeminent 20th-century anarcho-capitalist. "I define anarchist society as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of any individual. Anarchists oppose the State because it has its very being in such aggression, namely, the expropriation of private property through taxation, the coercive exclusion of other providers of defense service, and all of the other depredations and coercions that are built upon these two invasions of individual rights."

What do Anarcho-Capitalists say about Ayn Rand?

In the late 1950s, Anarchist Murray Rothbard was briefly involved with Ayn Rand. Rothbard admired Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged and even wrote to her saying so. After a few brief encounters the two had a falling out and to this day their followers continue the rivalry. Why they fell out is unknown, but rumor was that Rand gave the agnostic Rothbard an ultimatum to divorce his Presbyterian wife within six months. Rothbard did not and it is said that Rand’s group (the “collective”) held a trial in his absence and removed him from the group... Rothbard regarded Rand as psychotically running a cult and wrote The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult about that.

Who was John Galt? John Galt was an Anarcho-Capitalist

He seems like a rather unlikely role model for American patriots who attend Tea Parties.

August 25, 2009

Christmas in Four Months

This one's just a head's up on an impending event, sure to crowd downtown, focus our attention, and have a significant economic impact: Four Months until Christmas!

In Belfast, Ireland, they're putting up Christmas lights early in the Rochdale section.

Near Edinburg, Scotland, a tavern called the Laird & Dog Inn in Lasswade, Midlothian, has got their Christmas tree up. Ever the pragmatist, the manager said the tree was a reminder for patrons to book their holiday party early.

In London, England, posh department stores Harrod's and Selfridge's have opened their Christmas departments four months early.

I'm just saying. Think we're ready?


Joys of Search vs Finding

Emily Joffe has a top-notch article on the physiological and biochemical differences between searching (which stimulates) and finding (which satisfies).

Searching - Seeking: Stimulation

According to Washington State University neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, the act of Searching stimulates the lateral hypothalamus with the neurotransmitter dopamine. The dopamine circuits "promote states of eagerness and directed purpose," Panksepp writes. It feels so good that we seek out activities, or substances, that keep this system aroused— cocaine and amphetamines are particularly effective at stirring it. Apparently, so is Google.

Panksepp has spent decades mapping the emotional systems of mammals, and he says, "Seeking is the granddaddy of the systems." It's why captive animals prefer to search for their food rather than have it delivered. Dopamine also affects our internal clocks; time moves differently when we're searching. In the natural world, that's OK — but given a laptop we're eerily like the lab rats, continually hitting "search" to get our next dopamine spike.

Finding and Liking: Satisfaction

Kent Berridge, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, describes the "finding/liking" (that is, satisfaction) system as the alternative to the searching-seeking-dopamine complex. When we experience pleasure it is our own opioid system rather than our dopamine system, that is being stimulated. This is why the opiate drugs induce a kind of blissful stupor so different from the animating effect of cocaine and amphetamines.

Lost Symmetry in Stimulation / Satisfaction

Stimulation (Seeking/Searching) and Satisfaction (Finding/Liking) are complementary. The former catalyzes us to action; the latter brings us to a satisfied pause. Our Seeking behavior needs to be shut off, so that the system does not run in an endless loop. When we attain the object of our desire, we engage in consummatory acts that reduce arousal in the brain and temporarily, inhibit our urge to Seek.

Unfortunately, with our laptops and multi-tabbed browsers, our Seeking may not be inhibited and we may continue in an endless loop of Searching. All our devices — e-mail, Facebook, texts, Twitters — are feeding our Dopamine appetite and destroying the Search/Find symmetry. We hear "you've got mail" and we salivate like Pavlov's dog. No wonder we call it a "CrackBerry".

Ms. Joffe closes by suggesting: If humans are seeking machines, we've now created the perfect machines to allow us to seek endlessly. Maybe Google's Search is more addictive than Starbuck's Coffee.

This is a new sort of column by Joffe, and I hope she continues to explore these issues. She's an excellent writer.

The Searching-Stimulation/Seeking-Satisfaction duality seems to cut across several fields. It's Dating-vs-Marriage. Is Divorce the Dopamine reasserting it's influence? Are people who are eager to settle down Opioid-oriented? It's Jobs-vs-Career. Is the midlife crisis Dopamine-driven?

Searching vs Finding ala Hitchcock

What really rocked me about Joffe's article was it's explanation of the beginning sequence of Hitchcock's movie, Rope. The key scene started at about 1:50 (There are some interesting alternative explanations of the opening scene.)

The movie begins just after a murder has been committed by the two dandy antagonists. Phillip wants to sit quietly afterwards (satisfaction), while Brandon wants to move on to the next thrill (search). Given Yoffe's article, it seems that Phillip has an opioid preference, and Brandon is a dopamine guy.

It's curious to think that every time we press the "search" button, we're just like the lab rats pressing a lever for a pellet.

"You've got mail".
August 24, 2009

G-20 Pittsburgh: Open Questions at D-30

I would like to offer accolades and commendations to both the Post-Gazette, which has a G-20 "topic" page at:, and also to the Tribune-Review, which has a similar G20 page at

Here's a partial / early listing of announced G20 closures:
  • Federal courthouse, Downtown: Closed Sept. 23-25.
  • Pittsburgh City Council offices: Closed Sept. 23-25.
  • Community College of Allegheny County: Closed Sept. 23-25.
  • Duquesne University: Closed from noon, Sept. 23-25.
  • Point Park University: Closed Sept. 23-26.
  • Robert Morris University: Pittsburgh Center and Bayer Center closed Sept. 23-27. Moon campus will be open.
  • Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh: Early dismissal Sept. 23 and closed Sept. 24-25 for 13 elementary schools and 14 high schools
  • City Charter High School: Closed Sept. 24-25.
  • Pittsburgh Public Schools: All 66 schools closed Sept. 24-25.
  • West Mifflin Area School District: Closed Sept. 23-25.
  • Harris Theater, Downtown: Dates to be announced.
  • Amtrak: No trip can start or end in Pittsburgh from Sept. 24-26.

Sunday's The Observer writes about London's G-20 experience.

(coming soon to a Burgh near you)

I read a well-written post by Sue about City Council closing and the impact on lower-paid employees. She says it better than I can:
What about the rest of City employees? The ones making $24,000/year who need to conserve their PTO for their kids sicks days? What about the non-unionized service employees? What about the people who live Downtown (and not just in the penthouses)? ... I saw a press conference snippet of Joanna Doven practically shaking her finger admonishing people to reschedule their medical appointments. She fails to explain how the small business optometrist is going to weather the enforced closure of his practice for a few days. Who pays the "inconvenienced" staff salaries?

The AngryDrunkBureaucrat has a great G-20 Update that synthesizes the state of affairs: no local people know anything. You may think this means Uncle Sam has this covered. Or, you may think that Luke's administration is hosed. Glass half full, glass half empty. We'll see.

To summarize (ie, repeat) my open questions:
  • Who actually said "yes" to having the G-20 in Pittsburgh? What elected official is responsible for bringing it here?

  • What elected official is responsible for public safety in the streets around the G20 perimeter - is it Luke Ravenstahl (city), Dan Onorato (county), or Ed Rendell (state)?

  • Why is Pittsburgh planning on a much smaller police presence than London and Italy used for their G-20 meetings this year? Who made that decision?

  • Was Pittsburgh the first city offered the G-20, or the eleventh?

  • Will government be reimbursing lost salary to people who lose work because of the security zone?

  • After the G-20: What work was done here? Or was it a photo-op?
These questions matter (to me) because in a democracy, government action doesn't just appear from the heavens as a fait accompli. Decisions are made by elected officials, and implemented by careerists. Nobody shuts down a city without the people knowing who made that decision, and holding them accountable. That's the American way.

The alternative, where unidentified, unelected government agencies/ officials take action and the hoi polloi "Make the best of it", is totalitarianism.
I get that for security reasons, some details are tightly held. It's too easy for a lazy bureaucrat to wrap himself in that blanker. None of the questions above are security issues.

Philosophically, if we tolerate the (current) totalitarian approach and don't insist on democratic transparency, we're making the Anarchist's argument for them.

Here's my G20 Confidence Chart at DaysToGo=30:

Other than that, readers might want to review the "Miami Model" of American police strategy that we're probably about to get a good view of. Here's a story about the Miami Model at the Republican Convention, one year ago. Expect to see: Police control of the news, embedded reporters reporting from the official point of view, unidentified officers, lethal force, and treating dissent and protest as an offense. Chances are they'll treat the Thomas Merton protesters (the local good guys), the Anarchists (their favorite scapegoat), and the transient sociopaths (who'll be in the mix) as one homogeneous group.

The Pittsburgh Organizing Group's Updates ( Update 5, Update 6, and Update 7 ) are online.

This will, I believe, be my last post on the subject of the G20 in Pittsburgh. Thanks for reading.

August 23, 2009

Pitt Girl Fired at the Ravenstahl Bunker with Dread Lord Zober (Der Untergang)

I must say explicitly that Ms. PittGirl has no connection to this secret video of a staff meeting at the Ravenstahl Bunker.

The people who fired her are idiots. A public non-profit, depending on good will and fund-raising, firing a popular, witty columnist - who continues to publish in a local magazine. Idiots.

Last week, NEED was "Who?" This week, NEED is the clueless outfit that fired PittGirl. Next week, (1) NEED is going to be the outfit that was smart enough to rectify a P-R disaster, or (2) the person who fired the perfect social media advocate should also be looking for work, or (3) maybe not. Life's not fair.

I do like the line in the video about Pittsburgh: Black, Gold, and Green™.
Link to PittGirl's blog:

The background video comes from the German movie, Der Untergang (The Downfall) (2004). There's a whole genre of people taking the movie and inserting their own dialogue into the sub-titles. Unfortunately, the mashup sub-titles are generally inappropriate for children.

Example videos include:
August 21, 2009

What's the G-20 Doing in Pittsburgh? Where's the Emphasis?

Many people ask, What is the G-20 Doing in Pittsburgh?

Generally, these questions develop along the lines of: Why Pittsburgh and why not: San Francisco, Charlotte, Boston, Chicago, Phoenix, Denver, etc? I mean, people understood why it isn't Cleveland - no question. But why not another key city? Why Pittsburgh?

When I ask, What is the G-20 Doing in Pittsburgh?, I'd like to pursue a different line of inquiry. I want to ask,
what are they doing while they're here
that's so special that it's worth shutting down Universities, Businesses, and a City? What are they going to accomplish here that's worth displacing thousands of people's lives?
What global economic improvement will be made here that justifies costing Pittsburgh janitors, cleaners, waitresses, secretaries, maintenance men and other lower-wage earners four days of pay
because their buildings and businesses are closed? What is the new deliverable made here that's worth affecting our air ambulance helicopters? What is the accomplishment that justifies the certain economic costs and risks the possible loss of human life?

There's a few possible perspectives of what gets done at a G-20 Summit:
Column A:
The Sanguine View
Column B:
The Jaundiced View
Change and progress happens at G-20 Summits. Nothing gets done between Summits. Change and progress are continually developing, in an ongoing process. Summits are dog-and-pony shows.
Heads of State negotiate, strong-arm, and jaw-bone for their causes at Summits. They play paper-rock-scissors as a tie-breaker.Qualified staff, bureaucrats, and sophisticated economists do all the work in a continual process. None of them are at the Summit.
Important work only gets done when the Heads of State get in a room together. Their presence is required for progress.These visitors are politicians, not economists. They're not qualified to set economic policy. The outcome of this facade is pre-coordinated.
These heads of state and their minions do not have video-conferencing or email. They must meet face-to-face.The G-20 Summit is simply a media opportunity for politicians.

I'm more aligned with Column B, the Jaundiced View.

Does anybody believe that the various heads of state are going to wrestle with economic problems and conflicts and come up with solutions - in 36 hours already crammed with greetings, press conferences, formal dinners, and VIP departures? Or do you think the work is already done behind the scenes, using things like video-conferencing, email, and the internet — and the Summit is a formality and a photo opportunity?

The G-20 Summit is a glorified photo opportunity. It cuts both ways; it makes the Heads of State stand up and profess continuing allegiance to the economic policies staked out by the ministers and technocrats, and it lets them get their picture taken standing up for their stakeholders and doing something about the world economy - which in truth, they hold very little sway over.

When the G-20 summit has come and gone, when the kettles are released and the lawsuit settlement negotiations have begun, when the injured are treated and the dead are buried,
what work will have been done in Pittsburgh besides announcements of previously developed positions, and photo opportunities?

Remember how the G-20 coming to Pittsburgh seemed too good to be true? How the news fed our needs? How we bought into our own dream, the basis of every swindle?

IMO, this is a sham. Pittsburgh, like all marks, has been duped because in our own dark place we want to be the showcase of the world, and we've been sold our own wannabe dream. (And we bought it.) If/when somebody dies (police, protester, bystander) what accomplishment will justify their death?

Before John Kerry was a Brahmin, before he was a Heinz, John Kerry was a clever young man who asked: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" That's an excellent rhetorical question. I'd like to ask, "How do you ask a city to risk riots for a photo opportunity?"

I notice that there are some opportunities, such as the World's Fair or the Olympics, that are highly sought after. Venues are claimed years in advance. Cities compete for the privilege of hosting those events. I notice that cities don't compete to host the G-20.

I think the irony meter is probably pegged. Pittsburgh is spreading canvas over construction sites and abandoned buildings to be a good little Potemkin Village, when the G20 itself is nothing but a facade, a setpiece provided so the politicians can preen, posture, and be photographed, in order to advance their own agendas.

How did this fiasco happen to us? I'm thinking Team-Obama was eating Pamela's Pancakes while wondering, Man, the G-20. Where can we stick this turkey? And they looked over at Mr. Rooney and said, "Ambassador Rooney, these are great pancakes. Tell us about Pittsburgh. Maybe we can do something to you for you."

Maybe Cleveland is smarter than Pittsburgh, after all.

August 20, 2009

Pittsburgh's G-20 and the Battle in Seattle

Ten years ago, protesters at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle overwhelmed local preparations and local police. The clash between the 40,000 protesters and the police resulted in a police panic and a conflict known as the Battle of Seattle.

The Seattle News carries the story that the protesters rioted one day (Nov.30), and the police rioted the next day (Dec.1). The Seattle News said,
Despite months of planning, city and conference officials confessed they were unprepared for the costly protest violence and, by inference, that police intelligence had failed them. But police sources say City Hall had the threat analysis information it needed and chose to disregard it, enacting a less dependable, stand-back plan.

Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper was forced to resign over his police force's use of chemical weapons (tear gas) on the protesters. Seattle Mayor Paul Schell lost his re-election over the insufficient preparations for the WTO meeting.

According to this BBC correspondent's eyewitness report, police had engaged peaceful protestors who were gridlocking streets. At the moment that the police were completely engaged, the "black anoraked anarchists came into play". Police were unable to stop the rioters from smashing windows and damaging property.

I think the most interesting read is the Seattle Police Department's After-Action Report, including this--
In retrospect, SPD commanders put their faith in historical precedent – the Seattle tradition of peaceful protest – in assessing the needs for policing the WTO event. While we needed to think about a new paradigm of disruptive protest, we relied on our knowledge of past demonstrations, concluding that the “worst case” would not occur here.

...In summary, the Department’s planning assumptions and analysis
underestimated the capability of criminally disruptive forces.
According to Appendix C and D of the After Action Report, Seattle had 1200 police officers, and roughly 650 officers from local mutual-aid police departments, for a total of 1850 state and local police. Estimates of protesters have been as high as 40,000.

My purpose in writing is not to be a Cassandra, predicting woe and misfortune. But I'd like to repeat some police staffing numbers I've presented before, and ask some questions.

According to the Beaver County Times, as of August 9th there are 900 Pittsburgh police officers, and 1800 officers committed from other local departments. Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper hopes to bring his force up to 4000 police.

In Chicago 1968, an overwhelmed police force rioted.
In Seattle 1999, an overwhelmed police force rioted.

What happens when an under-prepared and under-staffed police force is challenged by overwhelming numbers of protesters, some of whom are malefactors with criminal intent? The police will draw their weapons and defend themselves. I would too. But it ends up with a body count. That body count is attributable to inadequate prior preparation, and there's usually a politician responsible for that.

Police presence for G-20 meetings in the last year:
  • Italy had 15,000 police
  • London had 10,000 police
  • Pittsburgh hopes to have 4,000 police

Here's my questions:
Why is Pittsburgh police staffing so low for the G-20?
And a few follow-up questions:
  • What branch/level of government is responsible for security in the streets of Pittsburgh - not within the closed inner circle, but in the protest areas? Is it the City, the County, the State?
  • Who is the politician responsible for security in the streets outside of the central perimiter? Is it Luke, Onorato, Rendell, or the Attorney General?
  • Who made the decision to invite/accept the G-20 in Pittsburgh?
  • Tell me again - why are we doing this?

August 19, 2009

Virginia Montanez aka PittGirl: That's Church. Amen.

Big announcement on the Post Gazette today: PittGirl outs herself. Her name is Virginia Montanez and she's introduced a new blog, That's Church, which contains the archives of her previous BurghBlog..

This is good news for blogging in Pittsburgh. One, because she's a blogger who caught and posted the Burgh Vibe. Two, because somebody re-opened their blog and in made the front page of Dead Man Walking (aka the Post-Gazette).

She's risking it all (her job, not her life/family) to come out from anonymity. I admire that. If her job or the City or the Boy Mayor Luke give her any grief, I hope she summons Legions of Pigeons, blog-fans, and G-20 anarchists upon them.

8/21/09 Unfortunate Update: PittGirl Fired. CNN coverage.
August 17, 2009

The Least Interesting Man In The World

(Other than myself.)

I'd like to recommend Randall Munroe's to your attention (wiki). This most recent comic is excellent:

I love (It is not always tween-safe.)

In case you've missed the reference, it refers to these commercials (which are mildly interesting in their own right):

Stay thirsty, my friends

August 16, 2009

Woodstock and "the Times, They Are A-Changing" 2.0

I recently went to Kevin Acklin's website and saw a small logo of a bird and thought, how clever! Somebody embedded the Woodstock logo into Acklin's webpage to generate a little recognition among the "experienced" (ie, my age) voters.

Then I googled the image and realized it's not the Woodstock bird, it's not a shout-out to my youth, it's a Twitter bird and a harbinger that the time's have indeed been a-changing, I'm out of sync, I'm outdated, and I'm misinterpreting symbols that aren't even there. And besides that - Acklin's website isn't targeting me and mine, they're targeting Twitter-heads that get it, and obviously - I don't.

Arghh. I hate it when that happens. Never mind.

This is the Woodstock poster that I thought Acklin's people were alluding to:

And, lest anybody get all rhapsodic about that "magic time" of the beautiful people with flowers in their hair:

August 15, 2009

Ayn Rand, John Galt, and Labor Unions

The Pope is pro-union. (I mention the Pope because (1) he's a much more credible, moral, and educated person than I am. No disrespect. and (2)because I hope to return to the topic of unions shortly). Also, Rand-boi's are fond of writing hypothetical discussions between Ayn Rand and various holders of that good office, and I'd like to explore an area of clear disagreement.

Ayn Rand, on the other hand, was strongly anti-union:
The artificially high wages forced on the economy by compulsory unionism imposed economic hardships on other groups—particularly on non-union workers and on unskilled labor, which was being squeezed gradually out of the market. Today’s widespread unemployment is the result of organized labor’s privileges and of allied measures, such as minimum wage laws. For years, the unions supported these measures and sundry welfare legislation, apparently in the belief that the costs would be paid by taxes imposed on the rich. The growth of inflation has shown that the major victim of government spending and of taxation is the middle class. Organized labor is part of the middle class—and the actual value of labor’s forced “social gains” is now being wiped out.

Who Was John Galt?

John Galt was the hero of Ayn Rand's most successful book Atlas Shrugged, the best work she'd ever done (which she dedicated to both her husband and her lover). Unsurprisingly, her younger Rand-boi Nathanial Branden is also staunchly anti-union.

Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy was directly against organized societies of mutual obligation; she was all about rugged individualism. She saw humanity as Producers and Moochers. The Producers created value. The Moochers (that would be me, apparently) are people who mooch off the system powered by the Producers. In a thousand ways - taxes, laws, rules, charities, safety nets - the Moochers take from the Producers, with no justification other than the larger number of Moochers and their effective Moocher rhetoric.

Her philosophy can be understood in light of her father, a business owner and Producer who had his property and position taken away by the Bolsheviks. In truth, if you're shallow like me, what you need to know is that Ayn Rand was scared as a child by mobs who took her Daddy's business, leaving the family struggling, and sending her to the United States where she became an illegal immigrant, a screen writer, wife of an American, a celebrity, and a novelist (in that order).

John Galt was a Union Activist

In Atlas Shrugged, John Galt was a mysterious figure initially introduced as a suspicious character who was involved in the absence of engineers, financiers, and other Producers. As the plot unfolds, we learn that John Galt was been organizing the Producers to band together and withhold their labors from the world at large.

Offended by government-imposed "takings", and rejecting socialism and Big Government, he withdraws from society and persuades other capitalist creators to join him in his strike, his voluntary withdrawal of his labor from the economy. (The original title of the book was The Strike.)

John Galt was a Union Organizer

So the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, speeds around the globe, inciting like-minded men to join ranks with him for their mutual benefit, and to withdraw their efforts and labor that are being unjustly taken from them without due compensation.

Holy Cesar Chavez! John Galt was a Union Organizer! Who knew?

John Galt was a Strike Leader

In fact, the working title of the book was The Strike. From John Galt's speech (spanning 90 pages in most editions):

"We are on strike, we, the men of the mind.

“We are on strike against self-immolation. We are on strike against the creed of unearned rewards and unrewarded duties. We are on strike against the dogma that the pursuit of one’s happiness is evil. We are on strike against the doctrine that life is guilt.

"We, the men of the mind, are now on strike against you in the name of a single axiom, which is the root of our moral code, just as the root of yours is the wish to escape it: the axiom that existence exists.

"If you want to know what you lost when I quit and when my strikers deserted your world-stand on an empty stretch of soil in a wilderness unexplored by men and ask yourself what manner of survival you would achieve and how long you would last if you refused to think, with no one around to teach you the motions...

"I have taught my strikers that the answer you deserve is only: ‘Try and get it.’

"I have done by plan and intention what has been done throughout history by silent default. There have always been men of intelligence who went on strike, in protest and despair, but they did not know the meaning of their action.

"...the man who gives up rather than give in, the man who functions at a fraction of his capacity, disarmed by his longing for an ideal he has not found-they are on strike, on strike against unreason, on strike against your world and your values.

Atlas Schlepped

John Galt was Mother Jones, Ned Ludd, Joe Hill and Nikola Tesla rolled into one. People read Atlas Shrugged and see themselves in John Galt. I have news: You're no John Galt. Neither am I. He's a messianic inventor-philosopher, a real Nietzschean UberMan. And that's okay. It's a work of fiction. A lot like the more recent Da Vinci Code, it's just a fictional story; it can only go wrong when people try to make it something else.

Let's be fair

John Galt was organizing a strike by self-selected elites against the common man, but he was a union organizer and a strike leader nevertheless. To that extent, and only to that extent, I salute John Galt.

The Lady Protests Too Much

In the end, Ayn Rand's condemnation of labor unions, social adhesiveness, and mutual obligation is incongruous with her hero's activity. More to the point, John Galt's key activity is inconsistent with Ayn Rand's selfish egotism.