Opinion

TRM on Your AM Dial

Monday, 13 July 2009 02:45 AM Written by

(with mark, anna, and melissa.)

It’s time for another Roundtable Discussion on Pittsburgh Business Radio.

Tune in this afternoon from 5-6pm to hear your Radical Middle correspondent punditize on all things Pittsburgh and beyond. Listen to WMNY Money Talk 1360 AM, catch the live stream online, and/or participate in the accompanying real-time TalkShoe chat.

If you miss it — if you’re, say, stuck in a meeting, or trapped under something heavy, or just gently admiring all the Hallmark Christmas ornaments you bought over the weekend — I’ll post a link to the podcast later this week. 

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The In-Laws

Monday, 13 July 2009 02:30 AM Written by

(part one.)

On a personal note...

...TRM wishes a sunshine, blue-sky, green-grass, big-woods, lush-garden, good-book, cold-beer kinda birthday to all-pro father-in-law Ralph Moeslein.

Happy Birthday, Dad. May your day be as great and as genuine as you.

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Yesterday's Sign of the Apocalypse

Sunday, 12 July 2009 05:53 AM Written by

(it's the most wonderful time of the year)

Spotted in the window of a Hallmark store at Pittsburgh Mills, one week after the 4th of July, while a soft summer rain fell outside...



Only 165 shopping days ‘til Christmas!

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Here Come da Judge

Saturday, 11 July 2009 05:35 AM Written by

(after one more year)

On a personal note...

...TRM wishes a sunshine, blue-sky, big-laugh, good-joke, great-movie, lemon-pie, perfect-pizza, Frank-Rizzo, Dalai-Lama kinda birthday to the great Tim Murray.

May your day be as smart and as funny and as richly rewarding as your friendship.

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(Nothin' But) Notes From a Friday Afternoon

Friday, 10 July 2009 10:57 AM Written by

(watching the tram cars of my mind)

For your consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week...

•  KDKA led off last night's 10 o’clock news (on Pittsburgh's CW!) with this story, so I thought I would too: Pittsburgh Police say at least a dozen boats were burglarized at a marina in the Strip District. It happened overnight. Items stolen included electronic equipment, life jackets and even a remote control toy boat. Boats are vulnerable and easy to break into. So far, police do not have any leads. And it was, I assure you, all down hill from there... 

• I heard a rumor that something might have happened to Michael Jackson. Can anyone confirm that? I haven’t seen anything at all about it on the news.

This may be the most depressing and/or infuriating piece I’ve read in a long, long time. (I’ve been wanting to link to it since I first read it on vacation — talk about a downer after a great day at the beach — but I kept forgetting to do so.)  Rolling Stone’s great Matt Taibbi does some of his best and most incendiary work, detailing how one investment bank always seems to have its tentacles simultaneously in the sewer and in your wallet. It’s all compelling stuff, but here’s the one-sentence summary: If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain.

Here’s another link I’ve been meaning to get to for a while: a New York Times piece that explains how the research grant system may be undercutting the possibility of major advances in the cure for cancer.

• Playing it safe so they can keep their jobs and keep their donations flowing? What are they — cancer researchers, or congressmen?

•  Just when you thought the two-week-long Michael Jackson Media Frenzy couldn’t get any more over the top, along comes this little gem of a photo link yesterday on MSNBC. I’m sure that’s not Michael Jackson’s real brain — it would likely be smaller, and no doubt bleached white by now — but knowing the often leering, lurid lengths to which NBC and MSNBC will go to milk every last morbid detail out of an already rotting, festering story, it really wouldn’t surprise me if it were. 

• Here’s a new one: at the intersection of Wilkins and Shady Avenues this morning, the light turned green, and the first car in line did not pull out. The driver of the next car grew impatient and, after a few seconds, beeped his horn. Which prompted the driver of the first car to lift his cell-phone-holding hands from his lap, wave them in the air, and then thrust the device back toward the honking driver, as if to mime, Hey, give me a break, I’m texting here!

• Which, besides giving me a good and bitter laugh, makes this news item seem all the more timely.

• Earlier this week, a Facebook friend updated his status with nominations for the most perfectly formed rock albums of the past three decades. Not the best, not the most influential, not the most popular. The most perfectly formed. A great concept and a great challenge. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around the 80s or the 90s yet, but my nominee for the 70s came to me in a nanosecond: Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.

• Yeah, I know. Not exactly a shock coming from me. And yet it really is perfectly formed: the 8-song cycle, stretching from morning all the way back ‘til dawn; the 4-song-per-side symmetry, with the run-away anthems at the top, the dark, brooding epics at the back, and the brighter side/darker side pairs in between; the musical ebbs and lyrical flows, with characters who would have been at home in a Martin Scorsese picture inhabiting landscapes so full and rich they could have come from a John Ford film. It really is 40 minutes of rock & roll perfection.

• As you start thinking (I hope) about your own nominations — 70s only, please; we’ll cover a new decade each week — this seems like a good time to recall one of the many great and memorable distinctions I learned from Duquesne’s late, great Dr. Al Labriola: To say that something is perfect is not to say that there is nothing better. It is only to say that the thing can not possibly be improved.

• Though I wouldn’t call it perfect, Wilco’s new — and cheekily titled — Wilco (The Album) is the band’s best and most beautifully formed work since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Though it lacks the searing high points of A Ghost is Born and Sky Blue Sky, it also lacks those albums’ tangents and excesses. It’s compulsively listenable (and hum-able, and strum-able) from first track to last.

• Joe Sakic was a class act, a hell of a hockey player, and one of my all-time-favorite non-Penguins to watch. Enjoy your retirement, #19; we’ll see you in the Hall of Fame.  

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Don't Ask, Do Tell

Thursday, 09 July 2009 03:26 PM Written by

(don't care.)

One of TRM’s most favorite readers and writers — we’ll call him Mr. R. — emailed today to alert me to, and thus to share his consternation with, an especially vexing bit of diction in an AP story about an Erie man who’s been forcing women to undress at gunpoint.

After noting in the headline that the man has been forcing women to undress, and after noting in the lede that he’s been accosting them and threatening them and force[ing] them to undress, the piece turns decidedly soft or fuzzy (or both) in the third sentence:

On June 22, a man holding a gun approached a woman but was scared away before she complied with his request to undress.

Did the gunman, just that once, decide to accost his victims with greater courtesy? Did he suppose he might get a more favorable, or at least less frightened, response if he became the sex crimes answer to the Gentleman Bandit? Had he just taken a Dale Carnegie class in How to Win Victims and Influence Undressing?

Or did the AP writer and editor(s) just get lazy? Apathetic? Oblivious to the dubious intellectual rigors of having to pass on yet another story that, while hardly commonplace, is hardly worthy of national attention. It is not, after all, as if the gunman were an aging pop star, or the woman a 20-year-old waitress who’d been sleeping with a retired quarterback.

As Mr. R. rightly notes: When someone with a gun proposes that a woman disrobe, I doubt she views it as a "request." A request may reasonably and safely be "declined." Yet the Associated Press, ever the guardian of neutrality, proposes that this is a "request," as if he were carrying an umbrella and asked her if she had a book of matches to spare.

The lack of that last, extra ounce of sensationalism is, I suppose, refreshing. Even if the diction and indifference are not. 

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Thieves in the Temple

Wednesday, 08 July 2009 08:31 AM Written by

(or on grant street?)

Let me get this straight: the city is using totally obsolete, more-than-ten-years-old, hasn't-been-updated-in-years accounting software that'ss prone to crashes, susceptible to a catastrophic event crash, and lacks the technological and management controls to monitor who spends how much on what? Really?

Really:

The potential for theft by current or former city employees is dangerously high already, he said, citing an independent report on city financial management released last month. Authored by accountants The Binkley Kanavy Group, it found a lack of technological and management controls that makes it impossible for the city to fully monitor who spends how much on what.

Mr. Lamb said that even when the software is running well, there's no way to tell what the city owns and where it is housed -- except for computers, which are tracked -- so the city may be buying supplies it already has and material can "go walking away" without anyone missing it.

You'd be forgiven for missing it among the far more important Michael Jackson Memorial coverage, but Rich Lord's by turns frightening and infuriating piece on the city's accounting system is required reading for anyone who pays taxes in the city of Pittsburgh. Or anyone who still suffers the delusion that our city's finances are tightly tracked and controlled.

You might want to pay special attention to the end of the third paragraph, in which Controller Michael Lamb's contention that we've been dragging our feet in the city and the county for the last year seems at least a little at odds with some yard signs I've seen around the city.

Dragging our Feet, huh? Now there's a campaign slogan.

Or maybe better yet: Getting it Gone.

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21st Century Shakedown

Tuesday, 07 July 2009 01:21 PM Written by

(greed day.)

Got an email from my friends at Ticketmaster yesterday, reminding me that I had an Upcoming Event on Wednesday, July 22nd. I didn’t actually need the reminder, since any upcoming Green Day concert, much less the first one to which you’re taking your rock-and-roll-loving fifteen-year-old, is pretty hard to forget.

But the reminder, for some reason probably best chalked up to procrastination on another writing project, compelled me to take another look at my tickets. Which resulted in another look at my invoice. Which reminded me once again why I hate Ticketmaster, and why I should never, ever look at my invoices.  

I know that speed and service and convenience all come at a price. I understand that both Ticketmaster's technological infrastructure and the labors that support it also come at a price. And I realize that, for the ability to log on and select my seats and place my order and receive my tickets all while still wearing my pajamas — I was actually wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and shorts, but since that's still everyone's favorite e-tailing scenario, I went with it — I have to pay some sort of premium.

But that premium is getting pretty pernicious.  And kind of ridiculous.

Consider my invoice:

Price Per Ticket: $47.25
Building/Facility Charge Per Ticket: $2.25
Convenience Charge Per Ticket: $8.65
Order Processing Charge: $3.80
TicketFast Email Charge: $2.50

ORDER TOTAL: $91.30

See what I mean?

Pernicious. And absolutely freaking ridiculous.

Let's break it down as simply as possible:

Total paid for 3 Tickets: $141.75
Total paid for Miscellaneous Charges: $39.00

Which means that over twenty percent — 21.6%, to be exact — of the final cost of the purchase went to miscellaneous fees and charges. And that 82% ($32.25) of that money went directly to Ticketmaster. For $8.25 more than the charges, I could have bought a fourth ticket.

All of which leaves me, for one more reason than usual, with some Green Day lyrics running around my brain:

I don't feel any shame
I won't apologize
When there ain't nowhere you can go...

I'll bet that somewhere, someone at Ticketmaster is smiling. And thinking the very same thing.

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