Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Pittsburgh Finances

Others have been all over recent developments regarding the city's fiscal oversight board &mdash including the Post-Gazette's court victory forcing them to open the meetings in accordance with state law. So I won't recap that.[1]

Today, however, the P-G reports that the board is close to making its first recommendation. Sticking close to what he knows,

James Smith III, chairman of the five-member Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority and a bond underwriter, said yesterday that he has been studying the city's staggering debt load and has determined that some of it could be refinanced, saving some money in the short term.

Smith said the savings would be rather small compared to the city's estimated $40 million cash problem looming this fall, but should be considered anyway.

"It is small relief, but a viable opportunity exists," said Smith, who works for Merrill Lynch. "It doesn't solve the problem, it doesn't even make a dent, but it needs to be looked at."

The arcticle does go on to note that Merrill Lynch won't get the business due to conflict-of-interest laws. This is, however, the basic problem with creating a board that is so invested in the status quo. Faced with a $40M annual hole in the budget, they are finding ways to save a few hundred thousand dollars a year. In the meantime, they suggest that this year the problems might be resolved by sellng off assets to raise cash. There doesn't seem to be any mention of how next years problems might be resolved.

[1] OK, there should be links in there, but I've mostly switched to blog reading via RSS feed and I am no longer positive where I read these things. That said, I am quite sure that Fester and Praktike have both been all over this.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Huh, What?

I haven't disappeared. I'm not ignoring the turmoil in CART or the status quo in F1. I'm not even missing much NASCAR. I've noticed Pitt is doing well in the NCAA tournament. I have, however, attempted to avoid nearly all other news since life seems to have intervened lately, and time is evaporating. In short order:

  • We bought a house, and are therefore in the midst of preparing to move
  • We had houseguests, and a busy schedule entertaining children
  • I have been preparing for and going to a very promising job interview in a situation that seems fantastic

Now I have to go and talk to a bunch of utilities to make sure that we have power and heat and stuff by next week.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Election Coverage

Yesterday I was too busy to even take the newspaper out of its bag, and look what I missed (via Salon's War Room). Major right wing groups are gearing up to Hillarize Teresa Heinz Kerry, following the lead of Pittsburgh's own Ruth Ann Dailey.

Incidentally, Dailey today acknowledged that writing a substantive weekly column is harder than writing a weekly suburban column about life, so after only a few tries, she is resorting to writing about her correspondents. Apparently a number of them found her attack on Heinz Kerry as biased and foolish as I did.


The Financial Recovery board is getting into full swing. After a grueling first meeting, in which they managed to appoint legal counsel and then adjourn for a well-deserved rest, they are now conducting secret meetings, and getting sued for violating the state's open meetings law.

NASCAR raced, too

Last season's champion, Matt Kenseth, won. Since he was noted more for reliability than for stellar finishes last season, this was a nice change! Now the question is whether or not he can keep it up.

As I watched both this race and the F1 race this weekend, I thought some more about why I am willing tolerate moving chicanes like Minardi in F1, but find them a foolish annoyance in Nextel cup racing. As I watched Dale Earnhardt Jr struggle around the track while having an uncharacteristically bad day, and then retire early, my thoughts on the subject began to gel somewhat. Minardi may struggle to keep their cars running on the track, but they rarely affect the race for the title. Since F1 doesn't score championship points for all the cars, the order of the backmarkers is largely irrelevant, they are only there to provide launching platforms for some drivers careers, and to provide signage for their advertisers. However, the non-competitive cars actually gave DE Jr a points advantage by racing and dropping out as soon as they had earned their appearance money. The extra 24 championship points that he got could easily affect the end of the season standings, particularly since the top ten teams after 26 races get put an equal footing to duke it out.

I applaud the no-hopers with a dream, I just don't think they should be allowed to affect the standings as much as they can in NASCAR.

Ah, Rats!

We woke up this morning to snow. Not a lot &mdash it didn't even settle on the driveway &mdash but enough to remind us that Spring doesn't start until March 20. That seems early, but perhaps the leap year shifted the date up. In the meantime after a week in the 60s and 70s, we are back to the cold for a few weeks.

Still, I'd rather have this than the oppressive heat of late Summer in Austin!

A Good Day for Tifosi

The promise of the early sessions of the Australian Grand Prix was fulfilled for Ferrari. Not only did Michael Schumacher win the pole and the race, he also set the fastest lap and led every lap. Achieving all four of those things is something he has only done four times in his career, and it is a notable accomplishment.

Renault also had a good day, getting Fernando Alonso onto the podium, and putting Jarno Trulli in the points. As for the other teams...

  • McLaren:Ghastly day. They have the honor of being the first team to lose an engine to the new one engine/race meeting rule. Since Mercedes supply their engines, this is not a good thing!
  • Williams: It wasn't an awful day for Williams with both of their drivers in the points, but they definitely didn't rise to their level of expectations. Montoya had a ghastly start, but he has very little experience with unassisted standing starts[1].
  • Jaguar: Showed some promise. Their lead driver retired with gearbox problems, but the rookie in the second car finished the race only a couple of laps down.
  • BAR: Actually looked promising. Perhaps this will be the year when they live up to the massive amounts of tobacco funding they have squandered since 1999. Au revoir, Jacques...
  • The rest: Jordan, Minardi, and Toyota just didn't shine. While that is expected for the first two, Toyota need to step up their game a little bit, since Honda is looking to have a good year with BAR.

Now on to Malaysia in two weeks. The anticipated hot weather should help the Michelin tires, and perhaps someone will threaten the Ferraris. With a series of flyaway races in a row, however, there won't be any significant changes in the equipment for a couple of months, however.

[1] CART (his previous series) does rolling starts, and F1 had allowed computer-assisted launch control for the last few years. Taking it away this year is going to hurt someone with Montoya's history more than the other drivers.

Friday, March 05, 2004

NASCAR notes

After a week off NASCAR is going to be back in action in Las Vegas this weekend. At the moment they are listing 44 cars entered in the race. Since the whole field is 43 cars, that only leaves one driver who might go home. In the last few days, however, the entry list has dropped from 48 to 44, so it is quite possible that there will be one more drop out before qualifying starts. In the meantime, it looks as if there are perhaps four or five cars on the entry list that are unlikely to make it past the 20 lap mark -- either they will drop out early and just collect the last place money, or they will fail to maintain sufficient speed on the track and be black-flagged.

I think that the TV contract requires a full field for each race, but it doesn't seem to me that NASCAR is doing itself many favors padding the field with these no-hopers. On the other hand, Formula One has Minardi, so I guess the moving chicane is a racing tradition!

Salad Days

Apropos of nothing at all I notice that the top two headlines on the Salon wire report right now are

That strikes me as odd, so I thought I'd share.


Finally, the Formula One season has started again. All of the speculation can be put to rest, or at least quieted down a little. Yesterday in Australia (well, actually it was today in Australia, but last night in Pittsburgh, 'cos right now it's tomorrow in Australia, or something...) the first free practice sessions of the new season were held. Unfortunately, Ferrari pretty much kicked everyone else off the track. Still, we can't read too much into practice times since each team is pursuing its own agenda -- if Ferrari were preparing for qualifying while Renault (say) were preparing for the race then Ferrari should be faster. A second a lap is a lot, however.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Advertising Irony

There was a commercial for a major insurance company that ran a couple of times during the Oscars last night. (It is probably running a lot more often, but we generally don't watch TV live, and consequently rarely see commercials any more.) Anyway, while I can't quote it exactly, the commercial started something like

Someone once said everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes...

I can only assume that Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes are up, if he is no longer considered more recognizable than "Someone"!