Violence Against Women? Or Not?

My friend Chad Hermann finally finished and posted his commentary on the George Sodini/Collier Township/LA Fitness murders, and I feel obliged to respond -- briefly -- because Chad points out my earlier, brief post on the subject as Exhibit A in the gallery of how smart commentary missed the boat on the meanings of the shootings.

I wrote that the Sodini murders were (are) illustrations and evidence of the problem of violence against women.

Chad takes issue with the proposition that separately identifying "women" as victims of the attack helps anyone understand how to fix the underlying problem.

Chad's bottom line:
The problem with the George Sodinis and the Ronald Taylors of the world isn’t who they’re killing; it’s that they’re killing at all. And, while I wish I knew where the best solutions can be found, I’m fairly certain they will not come from overstating the threat, nor from sensationalizing the impact, of violence against one particular group. And I'm damned sure they will never come from responding to one man’s insanity with a well-meaning, but ultimately misguided, assault on reality.
Ronald Taylor was the black perpetrator of mass killings of white men in Wilkinsburg nearly 10 years ago. Chad wonders about the absence of commentary at the time about violence against white men. Speaking only for myself, I have to say that I wasn't blogging then. More important, there is no evidence in Chad's post that the Taylor murders were motivated by animosity towards white men. Where Chad sees two nearly identical events -- but for gender -- I see two very different things.

I wrote:
The shootings in Collier represent a horrific act of violence against women. Violence against the three women who were killed. Violence against the nine women who were wounded. Violence against all of the women who happened to be at the gym at LA Fitness on Tuesday evening. And indirectly but distinctly, violence against all women everyone [sic -should be "everywhere"]. Wives and girlfriends and partners, mothers and sisters, daughters and nieces, friends and neighbors and colleagues. The shootings in Collier meet my definition of terrorism: acts of violence against unarmed individuals who are accused of representing an entire community. In his mind, the gunman was attacking all women.
Chad writes that I "who damned well ought to know better, could not resist the contention that there are larger, and more ominous, macro lessons to be learned from this most micro of examples." He's done some good homework, picking out statistics -- that I don't quarrel with -- showing the number of men who are victims of violent crime ("homicide, rape, robbery, and both simple and aggravated assault") exceeds the number of women who are victims of violent crime. But micro examples often do supply more ominous, macro lessons, and if we ignore that possibility, then we may miss all the macro lessons and lose ourselves in the micro. Not will, but may.

Curiously but importantly, Chad doesn't actually disagree with anything that I wrote. He doesn't really respond to what I wrote. I don't want to go on at the length that he does, but I do want to emphasize two points that are lost in the defense of gender equity:

First, to take my post apart sentence by sentence (as in other cases Chad is expert at doing):

"The shootings in Collier represent a horrific act of violence against women." No argument there; Sodini didn't target any human beings; he targeted women because they were women. I'm happy to join Chad in condemning violence and violence crime against humans (and animals, too; we're looking at you, Mike Vick), but nothing that happened at LA Fitness gave me any personal pause about my safety or security.

"Violence against the three women who were killed." No disagreement there.

"Violence against the nine women who were wounded. " Or there.

"Violence against all of the women who happened to be at the gym at LA Fitness on Tuesday evening." I don't see a disagreement on this point, but perhaps we're disagreeing about the semantics of "violence." When it comes to "violence," and "violence against women," my definition is broader than the definition used by the Justice Department in compiling the statistics that Chad cites. Were the LA Fitness patrons who were not murdered or injured that night the victims of a violent attack? I believe so. And I'm sure that the women themselves believe so.

"And indirectly but distinctly, violence against all women everyone [sic -should be "everywhere"]. Wives and girlfriends and partners, mothers and sisters, daughters and nieces, friends and neighbors and colleagues." I'm trying to be careful here, avoiding a glib equation of what happened to the three murdered women with what happened to those who survived or with what was felt by women who felt personal revulsion when they heard the news -- "there but for the grace of God," etc. No disagreement in Chad's post.

Second, it's wrong to promote the cause of ending murder, rape, and assault against all people -- again, a cause that no reasonable person can disagree with -- at the expense of dismissing the real harm suffered by members of groups who are targeted for violence solely on account of their gender -- or race, or other characteristic. We don't dismiss anti-Semitism and violence against Jews just because the numbers of victims relative to the overall population is relatively small; we don't say "anti-Semitism isn't the problem; violence against all people is the problem." We don't do that when the Ku Klux Klan targets African Americans. The examples are unfair in a sense, because I'm hoping that Chad doesn't disagree on this point. But I'm hoping that he sees that my parallels are closer to the Sodini murders -- in the sense that the victims were targeted for their gender and for no other reason -- than the Taylor murders are.

And I am counting violence here in the sense not only of the pain suffered directly by the murder victims and the wounded, but also in the sense of the empathic pain and anxiety suffered by the other women at LA Fitness that evening and women elsewhere and the actual violence of women injured every day -- physically -- in ways that do not show up in crime statistics. Whether or not you wish to call it an "epidemic," there is a massive amount of it in this country (around the world, in fact) directed at women because they are women, and a great deal of that violence does not show up in Justice Department statistics on murder, rape, and so on. is speculation on my part to say that there is no comparable massive amount of violence in this country or anywhere else directed at men because they are men, but I'll say it anyway, because I believe, and I've never seen a credible account that offers data to the contrary.

Even if there were not a massive amount of violence against women because they are women, even a small amount of violence on that score is cause for serious concern. (Likewise, violence against men because they are men, which does exist, is also cause for serious concern.) It is a cause for speaking out against it and for conducting prayer vigils in its wake. Its presence in our society scares all women, just as violence against Jews in the Middle East today scares Jews in the United States and violence against African Americans in the South today scared African Americans in the North. It reminds them of the precariousness of their positions in this world. Violence against women because they are women scares me on behalf of the women I love.

And saying that does not lessen the seriousness of the cause of reducing violence overall. Violence of any sort, against any person or animal, denies the humanity (in people) and individuality (in animals) of the victims. Violence treats victims as objects. Things. I'm pretty sure that Chad and I agree on that point, and I'm pretty sure that we agree that this is what happened at LA Fitness in Collier. But things aren't things aren't things; they are not all the same. Not at all.

The Story Behind Pittsburgh's Revitalization, Part I

[Part I is here] [Part II is here] [Part III is here] [Part IV is here] [Part V is here] [Part VI is here] [Part VII is here] [Part VIII is here] [Part IX is here] [Part X is here]

The G-20 is coming! The national and international media are here (yes, they're here already). And they all want answers to the same question:

How did Pittsburgh do it? How did Pittsburgh "revitalize" itself and achieve the "renaissance" that justifies holding the G-20 in the first place? How did Pittsburgh get so hip?

This post is the first of several that will take a crack at answering those questions. Back in March, I offered a short thumbnail. The new series of posts will offer more detail.

To start:

Question: Did Pittsburgh revitalize itself?
Answer: No; cities don't "revitalize" themselves, at least not if you assume that "cities" or "a city" can decide to do such a thing.

Question: Has Pittsburgh been revitalized?
Answer: In some superficial respects, yes; in many structural ways, no.

Question: Is Pittsburgh undergoing a renaissance?
Answer: Only if you focus on bright, shiny buildings in the Downtown neighborhood and in a couple of neighborhoods nearby.

Question: How did Pittsburgh do it? I pose that question because many people will ignore or overlook the previous questions, and the answers. There's no doubt that the tone of the city and the region is different and sunnier today than it was even five or six years ago. Pittsburgh is acquiring a not-altogether-deserved international reputation as a successful post-industrial city, largely because the cost of living in Pittsburgh is so low relative to the range and depth of its urban amenities.

Why is the cost of living in Pittsburgh so low? Because over the last 30 years, so few people have wanted to move here. Why is the range and depth of its urban amenities so rich? The answer to that question is the start of the answer to "How did Pittsburgh do it?" The rest of this post is devoted to beginning at the relevant beginning.

Question: Why did Pittsburgh need to do it?
Answer: Because Pittsburgh screwed itself up in a big way. In many significant respects, Pittsburgh's current success begins with Pittsburgh's massive failure.

As everyone in the world knows, for the first half of the 20th century Pittsburgh was the home of an extraordinary and extraordinarily successful confluence of industry and finance. Pittsburgh built the world.

The steel industry and related businesses were so successful, wealthy, and powerful in the Pittsburgh region that they largely interfered with processes of entrepreneurship that might have diversified the economy. The demise of steel in the 1970s and 1980s was not a surprise; it was foreseen, and its effects -- which were dramatic and traumatic -- might have been mitigated. But planning for the transition wasn't done. For more, refer to the work of Ben Chinitz, cited in earlier posts at Null Space and also here at Pittsblog (and here). And refer to the work of Clayton Christensen, who characterized mini mills as a disruptive technology that led to the demise of complacent steel companies that continued to rely on vertically integrated production.

If you have read Pittsblog before, you know that I'm not a fan of historical explanations (or prognostications) that rely too much on personal virtue and heroic figures. You will no doubt read a lot in the next few weeks about Pittsburgh's can-do spirit, about the resilience of its citizens, and about the never-say-die ethos that characterizes the region. (I've even contributed to that theme, here and there.) But other regions are happy to characterize themselves the same way, and truthfully. There's no credible way to claim that Pittsburghers are better (more entrepreneurial or innovative, faster, stronger, able to jump higher) than residents of St. Louis or Providence or Detroit. (Cleveland, of course, is a different matter.)

A new book from Pitt professor Franklin Toker thoughtfully suggests that Pittsburgh's many neighborhoods are what keeps the city afloat. That's a common view and a highly romantic one. But I think that it's wrong. Pittsburgh's neighborhoods are strong, and they've provided an important social fabric for what remains of the city's population. Think of the neighborhoods, however, as a lattice that allowed Pittsburgh residents to hang on, but with little momentum of their own.

Sometimes, key individuals can be galvanizing in important ways -- both good and bad. More often and more important, however, are institutions.

And in some critical ways, identified above, Pittsburgh's key institutions let the region down. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost when the mills closed. Hundreds of thousands of people left the city and the region. Because so many of those mill jobs were highly paid, thanks to the successful efforts of labor unions to negotiate to help their members with both wages and benefits (steelworker wages increased in the 1970s even as demand for steel declined and steelworker employment fell), the amount of money that left the region with those people was likewise enormous.

Paradoxically, however, during this same period (beginning in the 1950s), other Pittsburgh institutions were working dynamically to move the city forward. In the short term, the most visible of those was the Allegheny Conference on Community Development (the ACCD), a private group of civic leaders (mostly from the business community, including some leading steel industry players ) that partnered with the city of Pittsburgh (led by Mayor David Lawrence) and Allegheny County to address some of the city's most pressing environmental and infrastructure issues. The ACCD led efforts to clear Downtown Pittsburgh of the relics of its industrial past. Train sheds at the Point were replaced by the Gateway Center towers, for example, and Pittsburgh's skies were largely cleared of the smoke that prompted the legendary description of Pittsburgh as "hell with the lid off." The Port Authority and Point State Park were also products of this era, now recalled as "Renaissance I." Pittsburgh's leaders concentrated on the structure of Downtown and on some key infrastructure issues, and did so successfully, at precisely the right moment. With additional (if not always successful) investments in Downtown during the 1960s, 70, and 80s, Pittsburgh's Downtown retained a strong foundation on which current development has built.

Renaissance I and the ACCD have long been widely recognized for sowing seeds that paid off in the short term. It's important to recognize that those investments are paying off today, too, even if Pittsburgh's contemporary political leaders, and the modern ACCD itself, are far less equipped to negotiate regional solutions to environmental and infrastructure challenges than they were 50 years ago. Had Renaissance I not taken place, it is difficult to imagine Pittsburgh looking as relatively bright as it does today.

The second major institutional development of 50 years ago was one that attracted far less notice at the time and had relatively modest short-term implications for Pittsburgh. But it was a move that in time has made a world of difference to the city that now defines its economy in the popular (if inaccurate) phrase "eds and meds." In the 1950s, various wings of the Mellon family donated more than $50 million to the University of Pittsburgh to finance the construction of a new medical school, and to endow the program. For the first time, Pitt and Pittsburgh were in a position to operate a world-class medical research program, and operate it Pitt did. Jonas Salk was a young researcher at Pitt in the early 1950s, and in Pittsburgh he researched and tested what became the polio vaccine. (In a preview of what has become a complex local, national, and international debate about the university's pursuit of patents and profits at the expense of the public interest, Salk famously refused to patent his work so that it could be distributed as broadly and inexpensively as possible. The University of Pittsburgh, at least initially, wanted to pursue a patent. Salk left Pittsburgh and established the Salk Institute in La Jolla.)

The long-term payoff of the 1950s investment in Pitt's medical school and research program has been profound, however. The clinical program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which benefited from enormous publicity surrounding its transplantation practice in the 1980s and 1990s, is recognized as among the world's best, and UPMC has become one of the largest and most economically influential institutions in the region -- the leading presence among the area's "meds." On the research side, the University of Pittsburgh accounts for close to $1 billion -- "b"illion -- in federal research funds annually, which puts Pitt in the top-most tier of federal research universities. That number has gone up dramatically over the last 10 years. Among other things, that represents a significant and strategic decision by leaders at Pitt and UPMC to build on a regional asset that was first identified in the 1950s - back when steel still ruled the city.

The Mellon investments in Pitt's medical school are also emblematic of a third and final major institutional force at work today: Pittsburgh's philanthropic community. The steel era in Pittsburgh enabled the accumulation of enormous wealth, much of which was concentrated in a small number of Pittsburgh families that, fortunately, had the wisdom and foresight to direct much of it to philanthropy. Much of that wealth remains at work in the region, distributed via foundations, and that funding has been essential to the sustainability of much of Pittsburgh's cultural infrastructure even as the collapse of steel undermined the region's economy in other critical ways. Pittsburgh's Downtown Cultural District, the Cultural Trust, and the city's traditional cultural institutions -- the Symphony Orchestra, the Carnegie Library, and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh -- now have diversified income sources (if not always stable income sources), but they are here today in no small part because of support that's a legacy of Pittsburgh's industrial heritage.

Pittsburgh philanthropy has changed in recent years, and that change (like Pitt's strategic decision to grow its portfolio of federally-funded biomedical and bioscience research) has contributed in a significant way to the recent "brightening" of the city. Ten or twelve years ago, cultural philanthropy gave the outward appearance of noblesse oblige. When Pittsburgh celebrated its arts and cultural communities, what it celebrated were the elite institutions that the philanthropic community and the upper echelon of Pittsburgh society had long valued: the symphony, the museums, and so forth. Over the last decade Pittsburgh's foundations have started to take a broader and more forward-looking view of their role in the region, sometimes quite aggressively investing in artists and arts organizations that don't fit the Cultural District model, investing in social enterprises, and investing in infrastructure for economic development throughout the region -- this last being a role that in Pittsburgh was long reserved primarily for the Allegheny Conference. The philanthropic community is a long-standing Pittsburgh player that has taken on a new role.

The post is long enough, and perhaps too long. Even then, an account like this omits almost as much as it includes. But it is only Part 1. Watch for the next Part.

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (I)

I've long been a casual baseball fan. I grew up reading the sports section of the Chronicle, following the exploits of Marichal, McCovey, Fuentes, Mays, and Bonds (Bobby), and I loved listening to Vin Scully on TV (!) on Saturday mornings. But I never played the game, and I never went to a baseball game -- at any level -- until I sat in a box seat at old Memorial Stadium and watched the Orioles play the Angels in the Summer of 1982. I had already finished three years of college.

So I'm in no position to critique anything that the Pittsburgh Pirates organization have done this season, or over the last 15 to 20 years, on baseball grounds. For all I know, some of the team's moves have been or may still be winners. I went to a game a week ago and was captivated by the play on the field. In competitive terms, the youth movement may yet pay off.

Instead, I've titled the post "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" (delivering in part on a promise made back in July) because the failure of the Pittsburgh Pirates isn't merely a failure to put a winning team on the field. The failure is a failure of leadership, and that failure goes much deeper and cuts more sharply into Pittsburgh's collective soul than that.

I'll make the case in a series of propositions.

Proposition one: Pittsburgh is a great baseball town. It doesn't look like it now, not with more than 15 consecutive losing seasons under its belt, but professional baseball in Pittsburgh has a history and tradition and a legacy of success over a period of many decades that rivals those of the Steelers, the team's only long-standing rival for the city's sports affection. You can feel the heart of that baseball town beating faintly today, usually when certain names are tossed into conversations -- Mazeroski, Clemente, Stargell, Tanner, Leyland. Even Bonds (Barry) gets those juices flowing, precisely because the man so disappointed all of Pittsburgh. The game is designed to break your heart, at Giamatti wrote, and Bonds broke Pittsburgh's.

Proposition two: More than any other professional sport in the US, baseball traditionally has been a community phenomenon. Community in this sense doesn't just or only mean city. Community often means neighborhood; sometimes it means region, or more. (Outside the US, soccer/football often shares this characteristic.) It might be the case the baseball owes its popularity, its history, and its traditions to the fact that more than any other sport, baseball is the people's game. Calling baseball "a community phenomenon" probably doesn't do justice to the way that in the best cases, teams and towns are intertwined. Baseball is a game about place. I'll let better fans than I am play out examples in their own minds. Living in a city or a neighborhood is about place. Fans and residents alike feel like they own a piece of where they live and what they love. It is just short of a spiritual thing. The church of baseball.

And proposition three: The connection between fan and place, between fan and team, has to be reciprocal for it to be sustainable. If the fan gives and gives and gives, and the team or place don't give anything back, then the relationship will wither. It may limp along for a long while and maybe not expire altogether. But the potential richness of that relationship -- the durability of large-scale passion for a team -- will be lost. If the team returns the relationship, not only will the relationship thrive, but it will be passed from generation to generation, young fans listening on the radio or studying the box score while they learn just why their parents won't give up that ragged ball cap.

That is the sin that the ownership of the Pirates today has committed, and I emphasize the ownership because it is a sin of leadership not a sin of player performance. As I look at the Pirates organization, as I read the sports section of the Post Gazette and talk occasionally to people who know a lot more about baseball than I ever have, I see a baseball team that has all but turned its back on the Pittsburgh community. I see an organization that talks intently about its commitment to player development and to working its way back to a winning record -- someday.

But at the leadership level, there is no engagement with the community. No one who represents the team is out there in the spotlight, personifying the team-as-place. One might say, Nutting? Nutting? in the monotonic way that Ben Stein once said Anyone? Anyone?. There is no one out there to make sure that the next generation of Pittsburghers become baseball fans, and Pirates fans. As Doc Brown might have said, it's the kids, Bob, you've gotta do something about your kids! Baseball may know no greater tragedy than a team that turns kids off of the sport.

There is no one right way for the leadership of a sports team to connect with the town. In Pittsburgh, the Rooneys offer one model, Mario Lemieux offers a second. And the relationship between owner and community need not be warm and fuzzy. I was a 49ers fan in the 1980s when Eddie DeBartolo owned the team. San Francisco loved him and loved the Niners, even before The Catch. Eddie was many things (and SF knew only the half of it), but he was not warm and cuddly. Charlie Finley and the Oakland A's. Hardly warm and cuddly. Steinbrenner and the Yankees. Find your own examples. My favorite, from personal experience, is Al Davis and the Raiders. Say what you will about him as a coach or as an owner, but the man has an incredibly strong relationship with Oakland. In fact, I think that most of Oakland hates Al Davis.

Most of Pittsburgh hardly cares about Bob Nutting and the rest of the ownership group.

Winning salves a lot of wounds, so the current mini-winning streak seems like an inopportune time to point out the Pirates' problems. There's no way to get rid of Nutting and his group if they don't want to go. From media reports, Nutting personally seems like a decent guy but not at all the sort of personality who would enjoy being the face of a sports team. And I like to go to PNC Park as much as the next casual fan. Which is not to say that the PNC experience couldn't be improved. In baseball, I'm a traditionalist. If it were up to me, I'd tear down the Jumbotron, put away the fireworks, turn off the music, send the Pierogie racers home, and bring back the organ.

So I have this diagnosis and no prescription. (I have an unrealistic prescription: Impose promotion and relegation on professional baseball. Send the Pirates to the minors.) But if you happen to know Bob Nutting, think about letting him know this: Even in the near term, the community needs to hear that you care.

Pittsburgh Citizen Launches

Welcome to the online world to The Pittsburgh Citizen, a "citizen journalism" project hatched under the auspices of the Public Square Project, a local social enterprise backed by the Sprout Fund and led by Ryan Hopkins. The official launch happened last night at the Sprout Fund's annual Hothouse event (a party that I was too tired and not hip enough to attend), but the site went live shortly before that.

What is The Pittsburgh Citizen and what is "citizen journalism"? The quotation marks are there because I'm not sure of the answer to that question. Perhaps no one really knows, at least not yet. The Pittsburgh Citizen (originally "PittPoint" but now renamed and somewhat refocused) aims to aggregate some existing volunteer writing about Pittsburgh (you will find some Pittsblog content there) and also to publish original writing.

The game plan is partly to "crowdsource" the news, thus defining one bit of jargon in terms of another, but also to advance some balls that the traditional media might miss. The Public Square Project is about citizen-led efforts at transparency and accountability in local government. And there is clearly room in the region for a sort of local Huffington Post, an aggregation of sharp commentary on topics that existing media might or might not cover, might or might not have room to cover, or might cover only with the blandness that appeals primarily to the older, backward-looking demographic that makes up so much of the Post-Gazette's audience. The Pittsburgh Citizen might even take on the role of telling Pittsburgh "that's the way it is" in the way that no local medium does today. As I wrote earlier when I mentioned PittPoint, Bram Reichbaum, Chris Potter, and ADB can do only so much.

Will this work? I don't know. But it's worth a good try. Will The Pittsburgh Citizen look in six months like it looks now? I doubt it. It looks good today. I hope that it looks even better then.

Three Tales of Pittsburgh

There are several Pittsburghs in the news these days, three narratives that weave in and out of and back on each other. It's Pittsburgh-as-Escher. The three-ring circus can get a little confusing. Here's how I try to keep track of what's going on:

The G-20 summit and what it will do for the city: This is the "short" story. Thousands of economists, politicians, bureaucrats, media, protesters, and law enforcement will arrive in Pittsburgh in late September, mill about together (or separately) for a couple of days, then leave. Local politicos hope that the result of this stew will be a surge of positive publicity for the city and the region, especially if Downtown buildings are scrubbed of graffiti and grime and some eyesores are covered in big sheets. (Many residents hope that the result will be as little disruption to their usual lives as possible.) My sense is that far too many eggs are being placed in the G-20 basket. Pittsburgh is and will be whatever Pittsburgh is and will be, and there is very little that can come of the G-20 to change that.

Pittsburgh as revitalized, green, and hip: This is one "long" story. All around me, everyone is talking about what a cool, great place Pittsburgh is. This is a strange and sometimes neat thing, to travel around the country, introduce myself as a Pittsburgh area resident, and have the immediate response be "cool" or some equivalent. It's almost impossible to explain or understand how this transformation in the image of Pittsburgh has taken place. Some of it has to do with media and coverage of the city. Some of it has to do with very specific things -- some high profile green architecture, for example, and the Super Bowl and Stanley Cup in the same year, and some great artists and their success. I'm not complaining about the phenomenon. I'm just noting it. Pittsburgh is a happening city.

Pittsburgh as a bankrupt city, sliding sideways in no great hurry: This is a second "long" story, but it's one that you see when you look the other way through the telescope. It's the city that's stalemated, not the city that's on the move. The event that prompts that observation today is the pull-and-push now being revived in conversations about the state's role in the city's pension melodrama. Pittsburgh has accumulated a huge deficit in its pension obligations. For a long time, local politicians have said that the only way to resolve that burden is to engage the state legislature in a bailout. The state legislature is now paying attention to the problem, but not surprisingly the state legislature would offer a solution on the legislature's terms, not on the city's terms. So the city wants to say: No, thanks. We created our problem over a long period of time, so we'll take our sweet time in resolving it ourselves.

Meanwhile, the Pirates have won a few games, a feat that deserves a trio of stories in itself. More shortly.

Eds and Meds and Tech. Oh My.

Taking stock of the breadth of Pittsburgh's technology economy, Kevin Lane writes in TEQ, the magazine of the Pittsburgh Technology Council:
And if you choose to count health services as an important component of the life sciences industry cluster, then the numbers become a geometric progression. Counting Pittsburgh’s robust health services industry, the number of technology companies represents nearly 11 percent of the region’s total companies. These firms employ 17 percent of the area’s overall workforce and pay them 24 percent of the region’s total annual payroll.
That's fudging the numbers considerably, since it appears that UPMC is being swept into the pool. But it's certainly fair to argue that Pittsburgh's technology sector is broader and deeper than sometimes thought. Not all of the legacy tech in Pittsburgh is steel-oriented; not everything new has to do with robotics. The piece talks about:
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data Storage
  • Electro-Optics
  • Energy Technology
  • Entertainment Technology
  • Micro-electromechanical Systems
  • Nano-technology
  • Robotics
  • Specialty Metals
  • Supercomputing
  • System-on-a-Chip
  • Tissue Engineering

Worlds Colliding

Once in a great while, my different blogging and professional lives collide. PittGirl, er, Virginia Montanez (of all people!), is the hook for a little collision today.

As everyone on Planet Pittsburgh now knows, on Wednesday PittGirl identified herself as Virginia Montanez. And then she was fired from her job. This came as a surprise to no one, though it disappointed many. Somewhat impertinently and in a transparent attempt to increase Pittsblog traffic, I challenged VM to raise her blogging game, since she now has something to play (write) for. To which she responded (if you follow her on Twitter): no pressure there!

That's side one. Here's side two:

Today at CNN.com, VM's experience is the hook for a little update on blogging and anonymity online. Can and should the two co-exist? (As a mandatory G-20 aside, somewhere in the corridors of power in Allegheny County, someone is cringing: millions of eyeballs directed at Pittsburgh's alleged renaissance over the next month, and CNN is writing about formerly anonymous bloggers?) And the commentariat at CNN consists of my Internet policy-and-law colleagues Judith Donath (at MIT and Harvard's Berkman Center) and Dan Solove (a law professor at George Washington University).

Can and should anonymity and blogging co-exist? There really isn't a story there. Anonymity coexists with blogging until it doesn't or shouldn't, and both culturally and legally, the burden of showing that it shouldn't usually falls on those who would expose the anonymous author. Once in a great while a meteoric example comes along and shows how this works.

If an anonymous blogger comes out voluntarily, as VM did (more or less, according to her own story; she wasn't coerced by a court but felt pressure from others who might have outed her involuntarily), then the event is food for CNN, Twitterers, and chat rooms. People worry about First Amendment values, the tradition begun with Publius and others, and what Ben Franklin would have thought about anonymity as a cover for snark. In the end, most of the time, people slow down to see the aftermath of the accident, and there's less to see than we hope for.

If an anonymous blogger resists and, more important, if the blogger's host or ISP refuses to give up the name, then the courts get involved. The usual pattern is: Anonymous blogger or poster defames someone. The victim sues the anonymous writer and the ISP, and demands that the ISP give up the blogger's true identity.

While there is no legal clear rule on what happens (should the court order the ISP to give up the name?), here there is a story. The other day the federal circuit court for the District of Columbia (the "DC Circuit" to lawyers and judges), one of the most influential in the country, endorsed a complicated, multi-factor standard that courts should use in these cases. Basically, the victim can't get the defendant's name just by filing a lawsuit; the victim also has to have a substantial amount of evidence that the victim is likely to win the case. The approach is similar to the test that some other courts have used. The name of the case is Solers v. Doe, and you can find the whole thing here.

Mylan Bullies the Post-Gazette

Say what you will about the Post-Gazette, when bullies are trying to knock it down, you have to hope that the PG will kick sand -- and more -- in the bullies' face.

The bully of the day is Mylan, the West Virginia company that sued the Post-Gazette yesterday over the PG's reporting a month ago of quality control problems in Mylan manufacturing. (My Pittsblog post describing the PG's work is here.) So far as I can tell, Mylan is smarting over the disclosure of the incident, not over alleged falsity in the reports. And Mylan is no doubt still smarting over the PG's earlier investigation of Heather Bresch, now the company's president, and her receipt of an executive MBA under dubious circumstances from West Virginia University.

The irony, of course, is the Mylan makes generic pharmaceuticals -- meaning that in this age of debates over the high cost of health care, it should be riding high as a friend of consumers. Instead, just about the only time I read about Mylan is when it is in the middle of a PR imbroglio that is largely of its own making.

The lawsuit against the Post-Gazette was filed in West Virginia state court, which the company no doubt hopes will provide a friendly hometown forum. The recent Caperton litigation suggests that in West Virginia, that's not entirely wishful thinking. But Mylan has hedged its bets; it hired Pittsburgh's Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti to represent it.

Legally, while yesterday was just Day One of the case, I have to think that on the merits it's a complete loser. According to media reports, here is no allegation that the paper published anything false about Mylan. According to the complaint,
"The article also contains numerous statements that adversely affect the business reputation of Mylan; impugn the integrity of its manufacturing and quality control procedures; impugn the integrity of management personnel; and thereby threaten current and prospective business relationships in the highly competitive market of generic pharmaceuticals," the suit states. It goes on to say the Post-Gazette story and follow-up articles are "sensational and misleading articles based on improperly obtained and misconstrued confidential, proprietary and/or privileged internal documents" creating the "false appearance" of quality and regulatory issues.
(I'm quoting from this news report.) That key paragraph contains a lot of nasty sounding words ("confidential," "proprietary," "privileged," "impugn," "misleading"), but it doesn't contain the ones that are usually key to successful lawsuits against newspapers: "false," "reckless," and "malice." It reads to me like a complaint that throws up a lot of smoke to get around the difficult fact that there isn't a lot of fire, at least not at the Post-Gazette. It reads to me like the Post-Gazette got the facts right.

Mylan is no doubt hoping that "pressure" will motivate the PG to call off its investigative team, Len Boselovic and Patricia Sabatini.

Mylan also may want more than to get the PG off its back. Jim Edwards at bnet thinks that Mylan is after its own people, who may have shared internal information with the PG. Sources, in other words, that no self-respecting newspaper or reporter will give up voluntarily -- and many will not give up even involuntarily. (Toni Locy, among the most recent reporters to face punitive sanctions for refusing to disclose source, taught recently at WVU.) Edwards also suspects that the lawsuit may be motivated by financial losses suffered by Mylan's Chairman and CEO, Robert Coury, and by the wish to preempt a possible libel claim against the PG's team against him.

Mylan has money, time, and the home court advantage. The PG is in a world of hurt and has better things to do, one might think, than pay its lawyers. But I'm guessing and hoping that John Block thinks otherwise, and I'm guessing and hoping that friends of the press and friends of the First Amendment will come quickly and materially to his aid.

Back in July, I wrote that the PG's latest look at Mylan " should justify the cost of a subscription over the next several weeks." Looks like I was right.

Out

PittGirl preemptively outed herself today, so she's back, blogging, under her real name (Virginia Montanez, Ginny to her friends and family), now at That's Church. You can find it on the blogroll to the left.

I never added PittGirl / The Burgh Blog to the Pittsblog blogroll because that brand of snark -- snark for snark's sake, snark just to entertain -- didn't interest me. I have two teenagers in my family (well, I had two teenagers); I have enough snark for snark's sake in my life. And taking aim at things like Ben Roethlisberger and pigeons is like shooting fish in a barrel, even if PittGirl did it with enormous wit and verve.

So, now Virginia Montanez is out. That took some courage, even cohones, something rarely seen in Pittsburgh media. (Sound of two hands clapping.)

She's still got enormous wit and verve. And her fans call her Your Majesty, or a Pittsburgh superhero, or both. They love the snark.

But I'm hoping that she's got more than mere snark in her arsenal this time. What Pittsburgh needs is its own Stephen Colbert (the fictional Stephen Colbert, not the real Stephen Colbert): Snark directed at things that matter, as well as at the occasional thing that doesn't.

Is Virginia Montanez the one? Here's hoping.

Pittsburgh Media Futures

Read the Post-Gazette editorial that somewhat defensively reserves pride of place to print journalism in the face of surging social media.

Read Chris Briem's deconstruction (demolition?) of that editorial.


Chris's punchline:
It’s not that the medium is changing, but how people are relating to the news that is changing. Print media once ruled because it was a captive and passive audience that had little other source for the news that mattered to them. Both the captive and the passive part are history. The former more so than the latter, but give it a few months. Newspapers have to realize they will never again be that sole source of information. Their future will be finding a role in that new world where we are all ‘prosumers’.
That's half of the story -- the half that talks about the audience. Music, film, television -- all are dealing with precisely the same McLuhan-ish problem. It's not that some like it hot. It's all hot.

The other half of the story, though, has nothing to do with the audience and everything to do with the supplier. Newspapers are doomed if they think of themselves as being in the "print" business. (They may be doomed anyway, the Post-Gazette included, but thinking in "print" terms only hastens their demise.) Newspapers delivered print because print was the only way that newspapers could deliver the news -- and only newspapers could deliver the news.

But anyone can deliver "the news" today. What no one gets from newspapers any longer isn't print, but journalism, in the sense that journalism really means: the skill and craft of not only finding out and deciding what is "news" in a meaningful sense, but analyzing, assembling, and presenting the "news" to an interested audience. Newspapers used to give us the facts because no one else did, but newspapers also used to tell us what the facts meant. Political scientists remember great debates in the 1980s about whether news media set the political agenda for the country by choosing what things to report and highlight; they spent hours and hours reading the New York Times and coding story placement and headlines. Those debates seem pretty quaint today. Whatever traditional newspapers used to do, no one worries that they shape our worldview so much that politicians can't think of anything else to say.

But they could do that.

Folks under 35 -- hell, folks under 40 -- have a difficult time conceiving of how the world worked before CNN, before you didn't know what happened in the world until you picked up the paper in your driveway, on your front porch, or at the newsstand in the morning or tuned into the CBS Evening News at night, before there were so many facts in your face that there wasn't time to figure out what they all meant. They often don't know what they're missing; in the absence of leadership, the blogosphere fills the void with whatever is at hand. "News" today just means "facts," the more and faster the better. When the Post-Gazette admires the symbiosis of "print journalists" and bloggers, it's talking about a blogosphere that exists largely because real journalism mostly disappeared long ago -- with occasional and salient exceptions, some stories at the PG included. The idiocy of Fox News isn't its right-slanted tilt; it's the "We Report, You Decide" slogan. That isn't journalism; it's abdication. As Pogo intimated long ago, the inmates are running the asylum.

You want to know what "traditional" (read: print-based) media are thriving in the changed all-the-information-you-can't-eat economy? Media that can charge lots for both online and offline content? It's things like The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times -- journals with strong foundations in the relatively well-off financial and economic sectors, to be sure, but also journals whose bread and butter isn't telling us "the facts" so that bloggers can run with them.
We already have "the facts." These are journals who tell us what facts matter and why. With an edge and a perspective, usually fully disclosed, but with the craft that accompanies training and discipline, worn lightly but clearly for all to see, read, and appreciate.

If the Post-Gazette and other daily papers want to carve out a niche for themselves going forward, among other things they need to abandon the fiction that anyone needs them to give us "the facts." The facts are out there, free for the taking, and citizen journalists -- as imperfect and ill-trained as they are today -- will get them out. As time passes, they will do better.
Walter Cronkite was a newsman before he was a TV celebrity, and when he said "And that's the way it is," he meant not just that he was Joe Friday in the anchor chair, giving us the facts, but instead that he was telling us what mattered. If he didn't say it, then it didn't. There are newsmen of the same stripe -- and women -- writing and editing the Post-Gazette, but they are rarely seen or heard. The Post-Gazette tells us what happened, but we already know. What we don't know is the way it is. What newspapers and real journalists can and should do is give us the world.

Um, Thanks, Kos

From the Daily Kos, final thoughts on NetRoots Nation in Pittsburgh:

So my favorite moment of the conference --

I'm at the Daily Kos party, introducing the comedy segment of the evening, and I ask, "Be honest, how many of you thought Pittsburgh was a shithole before you came here?" And just about everyone raised their hands. I assume those who didn't were mostly locals. Then I asked, "So what do you think now?" And everyone cheered wildly.

The Allegheny Conference and VisitPittsburgh couldn't have scripted it any better. "Not the shithole you thought it was!" There's a helluva slogan. I can't wait to read something like that from the President, after the G-20.

No Whining in Pittsburgh

A letter to the editor in today's Post Gazette is ripe for a skewering at Chad Hermann's Radical Middle, so vividly does it illustrate the entitlement culture that permeates the worst of contemporary American society. I really, really hate whining, and this is great big whine:

Tipping reminder

As a server, I'm writing this letter as a means to inform (or remind) the general public of the federal minimum wage standards for tipped employees such as waitresses and bartenders. In Pennsylvania, the law requires a pay of only $2.83 per hour.

Some people may not be aware of that fact or may choose to ignore it. Yes, there is such a thing as bad service. We've all had that experience. But instead of not tipping, speak to the manager so the problem can be corrected for the next patron. And if you can't afford to tip appropriately, maybe you should think twice before dining out.

Economists will tell you that American-style tipping is wildly inefficient. If you really want good service, you should bribe, er, tip your server before the meal begins. That way, you reap the benefits of your own investment, instead of investing in good service that benefits the next customer. Economists will also tell you that European-style tipping, in which the tip is automatically added to the bill and the customer is not expected to add more, is also wildly inefficient, because the server has no incentive to improve the quality of the service. The American system of tipping post-meal is the worst of possible worlds.

Fortunately for all concerned, I'm not an economist.

I'm a teacher. I used to be a lawyer. Around teaching circles, occasionally you will hear a wry joke along the following lines: Teaching would be a great profession if you didn't have to deal with all of these students. Lawyers sometimes say the same thing about clients.

When I was starting out as a lawyer many years ago, I used to hear that joke, and occasionally I would repeat it. And then I stopped, after I heard a partner in my firm repeat a simple, obvious proposition:

It's a service business.

Full stop.

Sure, when you're working hard, what you get paid doesn't always match what you think you deserve, or what makes sense from society's perspective. Teachers are often underpaid and sometimes overpaid. Lawyers are often overpaid and sometimes underpaid -- but other things being equal, the actuarial tables will get them in the end. Students raise hell and underachieve. Clients bitch and moan and won't pay their bills. Add it up: No whining. It's a service business.

Restaurant servers (not to mention all of the other folks who staff restaurants)? Almost certainly underpaid, all of them. And restaurant jobs are hard, and these days, like almost any job, they can be difficult to come by.

But do not blame your customers for their alleged ingratitude when service -- your service -- is lousy. It's a service business. When I eat out, I walk in with a default setting that says I will leave a 20% tip at the end of the meal. For some people, that default is 15%; for others it is lower. That default, whatever it is, is part of an implied bargain: hold up the restaurant's end of the deal -- adequate service, not even spectacular service -- and that default is yours. Keep it all, or share it with your colleagues; that's up to you. Drop the ball, and the deal's off. No whining. It's a service business.

Occasionally I wonder whether Pittsburgh's reputation for mediocrity across a wide range of services is deserved, and whether the entitlement mentality indirectly reflected in that letter has something to do with it. I can't say; maybe Pittsburgh simply reflects a broader national trend. But I can say that I am surprised and impressed as hell when I do receive great service in Pittsburgh, that is, when I see a local shoulder and there is no chip on it.

Take Casbah, for example. It's a very good restaurant, though in my view not a great one. I've eaten there a lot, both lunches and dinners, and the food, while good, is a little uneven. The wine list is excellent, but the main part of the restaurant can get so crowded and noisy that conversations are difficult. Still, the service is a regular delight, and it's a big reason that I keep going back and using it as a main destination for dinners with out of town guests. You want to know how to earn a tip? Have what they're having.

Gardening Resources in Pittsburgh

The PG's story on late blight in this year's tomato crop prompts a reminder of the tremendous resources that backyard and urban gardeners in Allegheny County (indeed, across PA!) have at their disposal. The number of gardeners and the scope of their efforts is exploding across the US. And there are people ready to help:

Let's start with your tax dollars at work. Penn State University operates a Cooperative Extension Service across the Commonwealth.

There are two webpages for PSU's extension programs:

Here's a link to one, for the PSU Extension (link from the Department of Horticulture).

Here's a link to the other one, for the Cooperative Extension (link from the College of Agricultural Sciences).

Penn State has a Cooperative Extension Office in Allegheny County, which is quite active in a number of ways.

Here's a link to the webpage for the Cooperative Extension in Allegheny County.

The Penn State extension trains Master Gardeners, as part of a long-standing national program to train Master Gardeners through publicly-funded state universities and, through their volunteer efforts, deliver knowledge about agriculture to local communities.

Here's a link to the main webpage for the Penn State Master Gardeners program.

The mission of the Master Gardeners program:

The mission of the Penn State MG volunteer program is to support the Penn State Cooperative Extension by utilizing research-based information to educate the public on best practices in consumer horticulture and environmental stewardship.
Among the educational programs now in full swing and supported by the Master Gardeners here are efforts to educate the public about the importance of pollinators (love your bees: plant a pollinator-friends garden!) and the "Don't Move Firewood!" campaign to limit the spread of the Emerald ash borer.

Here's a link to the main webpage for the Allegheny County Master Gardeners.

Here's a link to a related website for the Allegheny County Master Gardeners.

The Master Gardeners of Allegheny County engage in a host of community projects -- demonstration gardens in North Park and South Park and courses throughout the county (the "Backyard Gardening Lecture Series") on gardening and, for fruits, herbs, and vegetables, what you can do with the produce. Sandy Feather, who works for the Cooperative Extension in Allegheny County, writes a Q&A column on gardening for the Post-Gazette.

The Penn State Master Gardeners staff a FREE call-in service provided by the Extension for your gardening questions: Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. from March 16 through October 29. Call 412-473-2600.

For more information about the Master Gardener program in Allegheny County contact them at 1-412-473-2540 or alleghenyext@psu.edu. The PG ran a nice feature recently on Penn State Master Gardeners, what they do, and how to become one.

Allegheny County also offers extensive information about gardens and gardening. Here's a link to the County's gardens webpage.

Finally, on the not-for-profit but private side, the Phipps Conservatory and its Master Gardeners also offer free gardening and other horticultural advice. (The Phipps Master Gardeners program is not part of the national network of Master Gardener training supplied by state cooperative extension services.) Here's a link to the Phipps info page. That page includes an email form for questions. Alternatively, you can call the "Dr. Phipps GreenLine" anytime at (412) 665-2364.

Last but not least, I looked around briefly for active Pittsburgh gardening blogs and came up mostly empty-handed. I did see the Pittsburgh Gardening Experiment, a forum for urban gardening. What did I miss?

Welcome NextBurgh, on Burgh Entrepreneurship

A belated welcome to the Burgosphere to Nextburgh, a new blog covering Pittsburgh's entrepreneurship community, with a special interest in tech and new media. NextBurgh is the brainchild of Tim Marman, a New York-based entrepreneur who is relocating to Pittsburgh.

What Pittsburgh Can Learn From NetRoots Nation

Yesterday's post on What NetRoots Nation Can Learn From Pittsburgh was pretty long. Pittsburgh is an old and complicated place. Not everything there is to learn is a good thing, but there is a lot to learn.

This post is shorter. That's partly because NetRoots Nation is a new and relatively simple phenomenon. It's partly because I skeptical that "Pittsburgh," however you might take the place name as standing in for one or more city and regional populations, is capable of learning much of anything. We are who we are, as Popeye might have said. The local folks who are mostly likely to learn from and adapt the ideas and tactics of NetRoots Nation are the folks who are already learning from and adapting the ideas and tactics of NetRoots Nation. Last night I went to the NetRoots Nation after-party at the Warhol Museum. I saw Dok Harris there, and Kevin Acklin. It's possible that Luke Ravenstahl made an appearance; after 11 pm the place got pretty crowded, and when the lines at the bars got 15 people deep, I ducked out. Was Luke there? The place didn't have a Ravenstahl vibe.

But reckless optimism is sometimes warranted; once in a great while, it pays off. The younger/progressive wing of Pittsburgh can learn from NetRoots that naive enthusiasm is not enough. I talk to younger people in Pittsburgh who are wildly and unrealistically optimistic about Pittsburgh's bright future; they are unaware of the daunting financial challenges that lie ahead. They can learn that social media and connectivity are not enough. (I'm getting better with the social media stuff; Pittsblog is now on Facebook and Twitter.) You have to have a message, and you have to connect the content to on-the-ground strategies. Content matters; you have to have something that's worth saying. And that wing can learn that a narrow base isn't enough. (Mayoral campaigns that build foundations in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Point Breeze, Regent Square, and Highland Park are unlikely to get much traction outside those neighborhoods.)

Some of those messages are already sinking in; there were more than a few Pittsburghers in the NetRoots crowd last night. But there is much to be done.

Turning from younger/progressive end of the socio-political spectrum to the older/establishment end of the socio-political spectrum, there are complementary lessons to be learned: Adapt or be swept away. When the younger/progressive wing gets better organized and gets more strategic, and if it can come up with serious arguments on the structural economic and financial problems facing the region, then that wing becomes a force to be reckoned with. It isn't necessarily an irresistable force, but it has to be acknowledged in a way that in Pittsburgh, today, it rarely is. You can almost sense the traditional institutions of power creaking under the wind blowing from a NetRoots-type direction. (Cf. the question about Luke Ravenstahl, above.) The Post-Gazette's economic and editorial heads are barely above water. The Allegheny Conference and its partners are tweeting and Facebooking. Can the PG survive? Can the ACCD remain relevant? I think that the answers are yes and yes, but to do that both institutions need to get out in front of the political/technological curve, not chase after it. There are progressives/subversives lurking in the corridors of economic and political power in Pittsburgh, people who are waiting for the time to arrive when they don't have to place nice with the region's top-down, CEO culture in order to effect change and move the region into the 21st century. I know this because I know many of these people, and I know what they would like to do if history and politics didn't hold them back today. The time may come when patience and political good will are exhausted, when their strategic sense and sheer numbers will overwhelm the legacy institutions of the region, when they will stop pausing at the entrances to the metaphorical tunnels here that lead to Pittsburgh's future. Here and there, you see this happening already -- in the arts and technology communities, for example, where innovators and creators aren't necessarily going to wait for the blessings of traditional funders. The odds of that happening on a large scale are, in my view, low. But NetRoots Nation shows Pittsburgh that change is coming, like it or not.

What NetRoots Nation Can Learn From Pittsburgh

As Ratso Rizzo might have said, I'm working here, so I don't have the time to engage in person with NetRoots Nation, which gets underway in Pittsburgh today. Still, as the sometime consigliere of the Pittsburgh blogosphere, there are NetRoots things for me to say and share.

I don't know why, precisely, Pittsburgh was chosen to host NetRoots Nation (though I'm not one of those people who is surprised that conventioneers want to come here), and for most purposes, including mine, it doesn't matter. Major conventions like this one are opportunities for communities to learn from each other.

What can NetRoots Nation learn from Pittsburgh?

There is good, bad, and ugly.

Good:

Something that NetRoots Nation has learned over the last few years is on display in Pittsburgh as they will see it almost nowhere else: Institutions matter. And by "institutions" I mean not only traditional, formal things like companies and professional sports teams and governments but also less traditional and only sometimes formal things like neighborhoods, community associations, Pittsburgh's entrepreneurship, arts, and technology communities, the Pittsburgh Diaspora and even Pittsburgh Bloggers. These things are the backbone of Pittsburgh's future, whatever it is, and these things (institutions generally, not necessarily these examples) are what kept Pittsburgh from falling permanently into the abyss during and after the meltdown of the steel industry in the 1970s and 1980s.

Grass-roots and bottom-up activism can be fantastic things, but they flame out quickly if they are not institutionalized. NetRoots Nation is itself an example of this, of course; it has a long way to go before it can be said to be a permanent or semi-permanent fixture of the socio-political landscape, even just in this country, but it is headed that way. And "how to institutionalize" something -- how to give it heft and momentum and stability -- is the great mystery of sociology and anthropology. How did Pittsburgh get this way? Many of us know the threads of economic and social history that brought the region to the cusp of the 21st century without looking or acting like, say, Detroit. In both respects, Pittsburgh benefited from and suffered from a monochromatic, one-large-company-dominated economy and society to a degree unmatched anywhere else in America. But the details of how those pieces came together, and precisely how they influence contemporary Pittsburgh, matter at least as much as the overall scheme, and just about no one knows exactly how our current fabric came to look or feel like this, let alone precisely how to make it durable for the next 20 or 50 or 100 years. So we keep plugging away, as a region and in our respective parts, the most optimistic among us trying to build and rebuild institutions as well as we can.

Oh, and did I mention six Super Bowl wins and another Stanley Cup? Or the fact that the men's *and* women's basketball teams at Pitt are now among the best in the country, year-in and year-out? Pittsburgh is again a City of Champions. Today is the day; football begins. Pens sweaters into the closet; Steelers jerseys on display. Here we go!

Bad:

Institutions have their dark side. They impede and obstruct; they are often more backward-looking and rigid than forward-looking and flexible. The fact that Pittsburgh officialdom is bending over for the G20 but is largely ignoring NetRoots Nation bothers me only in the sense that it reminds us of the City's official and unofficial priorities: Traditional hierarchies and communities here are validated and reinforced by government and by the mainstream media to a degree that at least matches and may exceed comparable dynamics elsewhere. (The PostGazette again this morning referred to NetRoots Nation as a bunch of "liberal bloggers." If you're attending NetRoots Nation, be sure to leave your bathrobes in your hotel rooms!) For decades in the late 19th century and 20th century, Pittsburgh was a one company and big company town. Both practically and symbolically, political, economic, and social power here were concentrated among a small number of white men with offices in Downtown Pittsburgh who ran steel companies, banks, and newspapers. The region prospered. By and large, the people were happy.

In many respects, not much has changed. There is still a small number of white men with offices in Downtown Pittsburgh who imagine that they do, or should, control most political, economic, and social power in the region. The region is at peace, if it isn't really prosperous. By and large, the people accept the status quo.

At the edges, new faces have started to appear -- different ages, different colors, a different gender, both in the corridors of power and in venues that challenge the status quo. But what you read on the front page of the newspaper is symbolic of the struggle between old and new that characterizes almost everything that you read and see and experience here. Take note of a seemingly trivial incident over this past weekend, when Pittsburgh's new casino opened and bicyclists rose at once, and loudly, to protest restrictions that the casino owner had put on access to a riverfront trail. The cycling community immediately protested to local government; local government quickly and rightly saw what should be done; the problem was fixed. But why was this ever a problem in the first place? Why didn't local government protect riverfront access from the get-go? Pittsburgh accepts change very, very slowly, when it accepts change at all.

The ugly:

Despite its reputation as a great, livable city, Pittsburgh suffers from some dramatic and tragic urban ills: Most of the Steel Valley (up the Monongahela River) has never recovered from being crushed when the steel industry evaporated. Pittsburgh's homicide rate is far higher than it should be, and when you map poverty and lack of opportunity onto Pittsburgh's geography of race, a cruel and bleak picture emerges. What's left of Pittsburgh's manufacturing economy, once critical to its economy, has been decimated in the current recession. A long standing lack of in-migration to the region, especially among non-white and lower-income populations, threatens to starve Pittsburgh of economic and social juices that have been vital to growth in other mid-sized cities. Drivers slow down needlessly when they approach tunnels. And Pittsburgh is the home of a professional sports team that long ago set a record for consecutive losing seasons, whose ownership and management have committed the ultimate sin in sport: They have caused local children to lose their faith in the redemptive power of baseball.

Tomorrow: What Pittsburgh Can Learn From NetRoots Nation

Welcome NetRoots Nation -- We Didn't Clean Up for You

Official Pittsburgh is starting frenzied preparations to steam-clean and blow-dry the city in preparation for September's G-20 meeting. We have to make nice for three or four thousands assistant treasury ministers and the trailing TV cameras!

For the thousands of "liberal bloggers" of NetRoots Nation (and don't you all just love that not-so-subtle pejorative lobbed by the PG's headline writers!) who descend on Pittsburgh this week, no such luck. NetRoots attendees will see Pittsburgh as she really is -- blue skies and rivers and green hills, slightly brown summer air, and the grease and grime of the 20th century in evidence throughout the several air and auto corridors into Downtown, as well as throughout Downtown itself.

Considering the jobs, habits, communications skills, and interests of these two populations -- assistant treasury secretaries and mainstream media, on the one hand, and globalized, highly networked "liberal bloggers," on the other hand -- is one group more likely than the other to have greater throw-weight when describing Pittsburgh to friends, family, and others outside the city and during and after the conference? Is one group more likely than others to influence the narrative arc that will accompany the future of the city?

Just wondering.

Everything Old is Old Again: Historic Preservation Paradoxes

Historic preservation for old buildings, especially old buildings that appear to be completely worn out, brings out the best in some people and the worst in others, and which is which depends entirely on where you stand ... or sit. Two stories in the paper today and yesterday bring that point crashing home. Each of the stories is interesting; together, they frame a window onto the conflicts in Pittsburgh's soul.

Yesterday, the PG carried a long feature about the future of the "old" Children's Hospital, in Oakland, now that the new facility in Lawrenceville is up and running. The story was filled with quotations from folks who used to work there, or who had friends or family treated there. The nostalgia is thick; the building is part of them.

This isn't a historic preservation fight -- yet -- but watch out for fireworks when UPMC, which owns the building and controls the site, comes up with a plan to reuse it. The Children's building sits on prime real estate in Oakland, and the despite the thick crust of meanings that connect the facility to a large number of living locals, UPMC would be foolish not to push forward with a plan aggressively to redevelop it. The building is undistinguished architecturally, but there will be push back. Pittsburghers have an awfully difficult time letting go of the recent past, which is to say, their own recent past.

Today, the PG reports that a rotting building on the Boulevard of the Allies is on a track to receive historic status following a recent recommendation by the city's Historic Review Commission. Once upon a time, and beyond the scope of living memory, the building and its neighbors played key roles in the city's history of film distribution and exhibition. I have to admit that I've wondered about the building, as I've ridden and driven up and down the Boulevard. Over the door facing the street is a faded, chipped "Paramount Pictures" logo, and I've thought: Where did that come from?

As the PG reports, and as the proponent of historic status found (that's Drew Levinson, a local student) there is a nifty little story behind the door. Contemporary efforts to bring a feature film production business to Pittsburgh have a decades-old historical bookend. "Hollywood on the Mon" ("Hollyburgh," anyone?) isn't a completely novel concept.

But historic status? It turns out that historic preservation here offers a sliver of financial advantage to certain modes of renovating the property -- but not in a way that would reconnect it to the city's filmmaking revival. And aside from certain features of the terracotta facade (that sign, for example), again the building is undistinguished architecturally. The building, like its neighbors, is a warehouse, and the owner (UPMC - again! Surprised?) makes an entirely plausible argument that the thing shouldn't be treated differently than any other old warehouse. Aside from the film buffs, to whom I'm usually pretty sympathetic, there will be no public outcry if UPMC were to bring in the bulldozers. The whole of Pittsburgh just doesn't care. To put the point less cynically and to quote a different piece from today's paper (the letters), "Nostalgia for the past is prolific. We must remember, however, that any architecture is never separate from the culture of its time."

Pittsburgh is fundamentally Victorian: it likes to collect and preserve old stuff. But like the original Victorians, Pittsburghers' collective sense of history usually extends back only a generation or two, and only along a handful of dimensions. For us, that's 50 or 60 years into the 20th century, and not much farther, and the relevant dimensions either involve us personally (or our parents and grandparents) or bear the imprint of steel, either literally or, as in the case of a certain sports franchise, metaphorically. The old Children's Hospital fits the first dimension; expect lots of public resistance to whatever UPMC proposes. The Paramount building fits neither; expect UPMC to fight vigorously to protect its power to tear it down.

Often, I wish that Pittsburgh's Victorian culture were more inclusive and that the community's historical sense ranged more broadly. The stories of the native populations of the region (not native Pittsburghers, but pre-Europeans) are badly neglected in public discourse, aside from their roles in the French and Indian War, and Pittsburghers' view of that affair is usually reduced to "Duquesne, Braddock, and George Washington were here." Iron built Pittsburgh in the 19th century; steel was forged on its industrial foundations. There were industries here before iron, especially glass, which was world-beating in its own right, and boat building.

Re-reading this post, I suspect that some might infer that I'm making an apology for UPMC, which I don't mean to do. A final note, then, and something that has to be left for another time and other posts, is the role of dominant institutions in framing Pittsburgh's historical narratives and future trajectory. Should UPMC's current dominant status (and the status of US Steel as the predecessor dominant institution in the region) give it the power to frame Pittsburgh's historical narratives? That's a rhetorical question. But if we want to resist that influence, what's the best way to do that?

Never Too Late

On the heels of vigils to remember the vicitims of the Collier Township shooting, the PG's Rob Rogers hit the nail on the head with his editorial cartoon this morning.

The cartoon doesn't appear on the PG's site yet, but check out the August 10, 2009 entry when it does. Link to Rob Rogers cartoons.

Nice work. Let's hope that the paper continues to cover issues involving violence against women. Pittsburgh may be a great place for working moms, especially relative to the kind of place it was decades ago, but there is this huge other side to that story.

Thoughts on the Collier Shooting

The Post-Gazette's coverage of the Collier Township tragedy has been comprehensive, but both the news side and the editorial side have missed an important part of the story.

On the news side, the events of Tuesday night have been packaged as the acts of a deranged, isolated lunatic, assaulting innocent strangers, a narrative that is familiar to all. (There is a bizarre hint in that piece that the Internet is to blame, because it allegedly contributes to social isolation.)

On the editorial side, the deranged-individual-and-innocent-strangers narrative has been supplemented by a Rob Rogers cartoon that pushes the gun control button, as if the tragedy could have been avoided had guns been less easily available.

Some people get what's missing, including the organizers of a candlelight vigil being organized for tonight (Thursday, August 6) at 5:30 pm at the City County Building.

What's missing is this:

The shootings in Collier represent a horrific act of violence against women. Violence against the three women who were killed. Violence against the nine women who were wounded. Violence against all of the women who happened to be at the gym at LA Fitness on Tuesday evening. And indirectly but distinctly, violence against all women everyone. Wives and girlfriends and partners, mothers and sisters, daughters and nieces, friends and neighbors and colleagues. The shootings in Collier meet my definition of terrorism: acts of violence against unarmed individuals who are accused of representing an entire community. In his mind, the gunman was attacking all women.

If you are a woman, then it's likely that you know this already. If you're not a woman, then ask one to share her feelings. Or watch and listen as women react to this tragedy. For them, the world just got a little scarier.

All of us need to change that.

The New Pittsburgh, Same as the Old Pittsburgh?

Back at last from summer travels, I'm learning about plans for Hollywood to shoot movies in the region and to set yet another TV series here. (As the PG noted, the spate of film productions is a win for the region's economy -- and wouldn't be possible without a state tax break.)

I'm still waiting, however, for the media and entertainment industries to fully escape their stereotypes of "true" Pittsburgh. Rob Owen wrote this in today's coverage of "Three Rivers," a coming medical drama:

... Pittsburghers ... often wonder why characters on Pittsburgh-set series never evince a Yinzer accent. Barbee said a scene was shot for the "Three Rivers" pilot using a local actor that got cut.

"There's a scene where Andy is paged to come to the ER and there's a guy from the neighborhood -- Eddie, a working-class guy -- who got in a bar fight and figured if he asked for Andy he'd get seen sooner," Barbee recalled. "It was a wonderful scene that gave a sense of Andy's connection to Pittsburgh and this one neighborhood. We cast a guy from Pittsburgh and he did the whole Yinzer accent and he was hilarious, doing the whole Yinzer thing. But once we got into editing we found it slowed the pilot down."



I don't wonder that. Do you? Count me as a Pittsburgher (of course, not a native Pittsburgher) who doesn't need to hear a Yinzer accent in order to validate something or someone as "true" Pittsburgh. Who can do without the images of molten steel that so often illustrate Steelers football on Monday night television. Who is thrilled that the "true" Pittsburgh that will be represented at September's G-20 summit includes the Andy Warhol Museum and the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. I hear a Yinzer accent and I think "Pittsburgh," but I'm certainly capable of thinking "Pittsburgh" without hearing a Yinzer accent. I trust that Tom Sokolowski and Richard Piacentini and their institutions will be tremendous ambassadors for today's Pittsburgh -- with no Yinzer accent as part of the package.

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About Pittsblog

Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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