Nobody Asked Me ...

Once in a while, I read the morning paper and get all ... wound ... up.  Today is one of those days:

Brian O'Neill doesn't feel bad for fired Pirates manager John Russell.  Of course not.  No one should feel bad for a Pirates manager.  Or a Pirates player.  Or a Pirates fan.  Or starving and sick children in Africa, who really do deserve our pity and more support.  Neither sadness nor pity is the relevant emotion.  The relevant emotion is anger.  Should anyone be angry at John Russell or any of the Pirates players?  In the short term, maybe; the Pirates were a terrible team this year, but they were much, much worse on the road than at home, and it's not unreasonable to believe that managerial and on-field performance changes here and there would have turned a 100+ loss season into, say, an 85+ loss season.  In the long term, no.  If John Russell walks away with $500k for the coming year of non-work and we're angry at him, then we're blaming the employee for management's stupidity.  Sure, the amount of money that professional athletes and coaches get paid (and some college athletes and coaches) is obscene relative to what we believe to be the value they contribute to society.  But the real obscenity is ownership.  There are good owners (Mario; let's go Pens!), great owners (the Rooneys), and miserable bottom-dwelling owners.  Channel your emotions accordingly.

Out in the Sto-Rox school district, the School Board is unhappy that the Superintendent has stepped in to block immediate enforcement of a Board-approved rule that prevents students from participating in extracurricular activities if they haven't met fairly minimal academic standards.  Here is the story about the Superintendent's intervention.  The link to today's story about the blowback is not working at the moment.  What is the fuss all about?  Here's a clue:  a link to the PG's neighborhood story today about small town football.  The hed says it all:  "Dying tradition on Friday nights? Small towns cling to high school football in face of possible mergers // 'It's like the last remaining piece of our pride and dignity.'"  Want pride and dignity?  Want to give dying towns a future?  Make schoolwork a priority.  Of course, that's easy for me to say, sitting in a well-funded school district that is preparing to spend $113 million to rebuild a high school facility that could be rebuilt for $70 million.  Sure, that extra $43 million will make Mt. Lebanon residents the envy of all Western Pennsylvanians, and of course that's what counts in Mt. Lebanon.  But what do you think the schools in Sto-Rox could do with an extra $43 million?  Or $5 million?  How about Jeannette?  Clairton?  While I'm at it:  Go Clairton Bears!  So far this season, the Bears have scored 204 points -- in 4 games.  And given up 12.  That defense is slipping a bit.  Look for the Bears to tighten things up tomorrow night.

Project Olympus, the CMU-based showcase for grad students looking for a VC hookup, had one of its periodic Show-and-Tell events last Tuesday, and the PG did a nice job of writing it up.  That writeup -- which focused entirely on the gee-whiz quality of some of the IT stuff on display -- reminds me of something that I left out of my recent post about the startup/business formation issue here in Western Pennsylvania.  There's a lot of value in figuring how to increase the number of new companies formed in Western PA.  But job growth is not a big part of that equation.  All those tech companies and other small businesses that everyone hopes will spin out of CMU, and Pitt, and Duquesne (RMU, Chatham, etc. etc. - have to be fair to everyone)?  Cool things, lots of promise, optimism -- all of that is important.  But these are not job creating enterprises.  The vast majority of new businesses fail.  Most of these new spinout businesses will fail.  Even the ones that succeed involve very small numbers of jobs in the short run, only very modest numbers of jobs in the middle run, and maybe -- a big maybe -- more jobs in the long run.  Aggregate all of those jobs over the long run and we might see a decent number (Innovation Works does a nice job with this kind of arithmatic, which is a good thing for IW, which needs to show jobs-related activity to justify its state funding), but that means a lot of scrambling now for a remote, risky payoff later.  The better way to look at new business activity is this:  Startup business development and new business activity means income for the region.  More money in circulation.  More money for service businesses, retailers, and local neighborhood economies.  I am told that in the last decades of Steel (capital S), in the 60s and 70s, steelworkers in Steel Valley towns could buy powerboats and store them in their driveways.  That didn't happen just because of jobs.  It happened because of income.

Finally, today's paper carries a Letter to the Editor that is so witless that only a full-on Chad Hermann evisceration will do.  I can only hint at the issue.  One Dan Franks, a security guard at a Downtown office building, takes issue with a recent piece by the PG's Patricia Lowry about the enclosure of Downtown's open spaces by aggressive building owners and their private quasi-police.  Dan Franks looks at the general public and sees only drug dealers and the homeless.  Rather than use common sense and human judgment to distinguish between the petty criminals and lunchtime loungers (not that the homeless are petty criminals, but that's a post for another day), he'd prefer to roust any citizen who is dumb enough to believe that "any member of the general public is permitted to sit in these plazas."  Because Dan Franks has a job to do.  Yes, it is all about him.  Who does this "general public" think they are, anyway?    

Patricia Lowry's point wasn't truly about the zoning code.  It wasn't about dictionary definitions (though Dan Franks, having relied on his dictionary's definition of "pedestrian," could also look up the meanings of "public" and "citizen" and "common sense" and "decency.").  Patricia Lowry's point was that cities are places for the public to gather, and that gathering is fundamental not just to city life but to community life.  To citizenship.  To family.  To progress.  To economic comfort and security.  The zoning code is there is protect all of that.  Protect the zoning code, protect the city.  Have a problem with drug dealing?  Put that security guard training to use.  Call the real police, if you need to.  Have problem with exercising your judgment?  There must be some safe, rules-and-regulations, no-thought-required workplaces out in the suburbs.  I understand that Mt. Lebanon is a nice, leafy place to live and work.  Plus, when that new high school gets built, it will be the envy of all Western Pennsylvanians.  I'd bet that the "general public" won't be allowed to sit there.

Great cities produce great wealth, if you're after money, but they also produce health and happiness, in the big picture of things.  Open spaces for the general public sitting in plazas are not just parts of the package -- they are keys to it.  Visit a truly great American city -- New York, or Boston, or Chicago, or dare I say it?  Go Pens!  but ... Philadelphia.  You'll find open spaces, plazas, and lunchtime loungers sitting on benches built by (gasp!) titans of industry who own famous skyscrapers.  And the sky ... does ... not ... fall.  In fact, Dan, security guards still seem to do OK.  Is Pittsburgh ever going to be a great city again?  Only if it gets the small town attitude off of its Downtown sidewalks.

Over to you, Chad.


2 Responses to "Nobody Asked Me ..."

Chad said... 10/07/2010 9:45 AM

It may take a day or two, Mike, but I plan to go there.

Oh boy, do I.

Mike Madison said... 10/07/2010 9:49 AM

So much to anticipate. Let's go Pens!

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Updated September 2020:

Pittsblog 2.0 was written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, from January 2004 through December 2011.

Since then, Pittsburgh-themed essays have appeared from time to time at, on law and technology, and in some of Pittsburgh's classier professional media venues.

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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.

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