Friday, September 26, 2008

In case you forgot

Zell Miller was a Democrat. As governor, he was moderate to conservative on many issues, and liberal on a few, as well. Despite his recent statements, he was pro-choice and along with the rest of the GA Dems pretty much kept abortion-related issues off the table. The HOPE Scholarships of course barely passed the statewide referendum because of the objections of religious conservatives. Zell was well within the mainstream of Georgia Democrats.

In case you had forgotten that, check this excerpt from Matt Towery's book (via Political Insider):
As Towery reveals, “Zell didn’t want to hurt Bush. In fact, he thought a third-party effort might move more moderate Democrats away from Bush’s opponent … His real motivation was to push for a whole set of issues he thought the national Democrats had abandoned. That included his initiative to see the so-called ‘Black Belt’ - an area of the South that is predominantly African-American and has been stuck in poverty for generations - receive almost a ‘Marshall Plan’ degree of assistance to pull folks out of the trap of poverty, poor health care, and substandard education.” [emphasis added - bk]
Can you imagine the folks in charge of the state house going for that sort of plan? Or our GOP House delegation? That is grade-A, old school liberal populism. Now, I'm not saying that Zell didn't go off the deep end in 2004, or that he is still a Democrat in any realistic fashion. I'm just saying that he did a lot of good stuff over the years, and that I can't help but feel a little respect for a guy who wanted to talk about the Black Belt and poverty in 2004. Heck, even John Edwards didn't go as far as proposing a Marshall Plan for poor, rural, Southern blacks.

FWIW, I always thought that if Mark Taylor had run as Huey Long he would have done a lot better against Perdue.

Cover out at Planning dept.

This is not always the timeliest blog around. School pretty much ensures that. So I'm a few days late noting that Steve Cover, the head of the city's Planning and Community Development department, is resigning for a private sector job. Thomas reported this like, three days ago.

Cover had done a pretty good job with the department. Whenever I saw him speak or the very few times I interacted with him, I could tell that he really grasped the bigger picture for how development needed to proceed within the city. The best thing, though, was that he was able to cut the permitting time for construction about in half.

From the outside, I got the impression that he did a decent job organizing that department, which we desperately needed. I hope we get a replacement as good as Cover.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Reader email part II

SF's email had another portion:
Also, I'm looking for Atlanta book recommendations, focusing on either history or development. So far, I've read Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn and Living Atlanta, and The Temple Bombings is sitting on my living room table, but I haven't started it. If you have any recommendations, I'd like to hear them!
I also highly recommend Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn. Living Atlanta is actually on my imaginary list of books to read. I have read portions of Atlanta and Environs, by Franklin M. Garrett. It is the authoritative history up until about 1939, and I recommend it although I have not made it through the whole thing. It is about 1,000 pages long, in two volumes. There is a third volume by another author that I have not read. Your best bet for this book is the library, as I think it is out of print.

Also, it is not really a 'history' book, nor is it particularly original, but I enjoyed Atlanta: Then and Now. As a real estate guy, I love all the old pictures of the city. In the same vein, although with some history of the buildings thrown in, is Atlanta Architecture: Art Deco to Modern Classic. I think it was supposed to be part of a series, but I haven't read or found any others in the series. You should also check out Atlanta Time Machine if you haven't already, and be prepared to spend a few hours.

I honestly haven't read too much in the way of books regarding Atlanta history. A good friend loaned me Regime Politics, but I never read it. I think he may have read it for a class in urban policy at GSU.

A decent portion of my knowledge of Atlanta history has come through spending time at two place in the course of various jobs or projects:
  • The stacks at the Central Library looking up old copies of the Atlanta Journal or the Atlanta Constitution.
  • The Atlanta History Center
I have found some great old maps of the city, as well as incredible pictures and stories about areas you never thought about. I particularly enjoyed learning about the Terminal District Fire of 1908 - how many of you knew about the Terminal District at all (CAP people not included). I also found some great pictures of parades downtown for when Tech won the Rose Bowl and the national title in January 1929. The paper calls them the Golden Tornado instead of the Yellow Jackets, and there is a picture of a sign saying something like "UGA is proud of Tech". Swear to God. The parade for when Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam was awesome, too, and has some great pictures of this blog's namesake being mobbed with people.

Also, did anyone know that Sig Samuels Dry Cleaners used to be downtown? Siggy's has been around since 1932, and an old city directory I saw has an address for Sig Samuels on Mitchell Street. My family has been going to Siggy's for probably 30 years, so I remembered that little fact. I find these little bits of history that relate to my life to be a lot more interesting than some of the big ticket items.

Reader email part I

A reader, SF, sent me an email that I figured I would post with my response, since I figured others might be interested. I am breaking the email into two parts.

Part I:
Long time listener, first time caller. I was curious if you do any biking in Atlanta - your blog post on 9/22 mentioned that most of your destinations are within five miles of where you live, and that's a pretty feasible biking distance. I bike to work every day, mostly cause I love biking and hate a) traffic and b) parking, and am making more of a concerted effort to not use my car at night (although this week, granted, it's because I'm low on gas and am having trouble finding some).
Anyway, I do enjoy the site, but you don't mention bicycling that much, so I was hoping to get your take on bicycling in Atlanta.
I don't write about biking because I don't bike. At all. Not even for leisure on the weekends around the park. I tried borrowing my friend's bike for a few months when he left the country, but when I popped both tires on one pothole half a mile from the house I gave up. Before the tires popped, I biked around a bit with a friend who is a serious biker. I tried to follow him as he skirted down the side of a row of cars stopped at a light, but I ended up banging into a truck and feeling like a giant asshole.

Other reasons I don't like biking:
  • Hills. Atlanta has way too many hills for this to be a fun activity for me.
  • Traffic. SF writes that she bikes as a way to avoid sitting in traffic. I find that the traffic scares the bejesus out of me on a bike.
  • The heat. I like that my car has AC. A lot.
  • I'm lazy. I'll admit it.
Also, can I make a request of bikers? As a driver with a decent number of friends who bike, I make extra effort to be a conscientious driver. I don't pass unless there is ample room, and if I have to follow behind someone because I can't pass I try to do so at a safe distance and not ride up their ass. It's not that much trouble really.

Could y'all do me one favor? Please follow the same rules of the road that I do. Stop at stop signs and stop lights, and please don't cut in front of me when I'm stopped. It's kind of scary - I have no desire to hit a biker because I let go of the brake just before somebody cuts in front of me or darts through on a red light.

Also, and this is not a request but an observation, Critical Mass is kind of annoying. From a PR perspective, it probably does more harm than good for the cause of promoting bicycling. I'm not sure that is the purpose, of course.

Still, I have no problem with bicyclers. I think it's great that people are interested in biking more, and I totally support their right to do so and to share the road and all that. So, in that spirit, if you are interested in biking to work, check out this event:

Join the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign (ABC) and the Downtown TMA for a

Biking Roundtable

Tuesday, October 7th

Stop by any time between 7:30 – 9 a.m.

The Central Atlanta Progress Board Room

(Located at 50 Hurt Plaza in the Hurt building. For directions, please visit our website http://atlantadowntown.com/Directions.asp.)

Are you interested in cycling to work? Would you like to know more about biking and incentives for current commuters who bike to work? Don't be discouraged if you're not a cyclist! All Downtown commuters are welcome!

Join ABC and the Downtown TMA for an open forum on cycling Downtown.

  • Learn more about ABC's Bike Buddy program
  • Ask questions about biking Downtown
  • Meet experienced cyclists and other bike commuters
  • Explore possible bike routes to work

Stop by on your way to work! Light complimentary breakfast will be served.

RSVP your attendance to Crystal Clark at cclark@atlantadowntown.com by Tuesday, September 30th.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Munson

Although I am a Michigan alumnus, I grew up a Georgia fan. This was mostly because a lot of my friends were Georgia Tech fans, but my mother went to UGA for her JD so I could claim some allegience to the red and black.

Following UGA football meant that you watched the game on TV on mute so that you could listen to Larry Munson call the game. There was a slight delay, so you would hear Munson's call and then see what happened about half a second later. It made for a slightly odd viewing experience, but after listening to Munson you realized how truly afwul the TV announcers were, so there wasn't really an alternative.

My most vivid memory of listening to Larry Munson was from the 2002 Georgia-Florida game. God, I hated Florida. At the time Michigan was on a 10-3-1 stretch against Ohio State, and I hadn't really learned to hate them yet. Tressel had beaten us the previous year, but I thought that was going to be an anomoly. I was a junior, and Michigan was definitely my team, but to be honest Florida still held its place as the worst school on the face of the earth.

Georgia's futile history in that game during my lifetime made this game extra important. UGA was undefeated, number 4 in the country, and Spurrier was finally gone. We had a chance.

For some reason, I was in North Carolina with my folks instead of in Michigan, and they didn't have a TV at their place. My dad and I were huddled around a little old radio he must have had since 1975 or something, listening to Munson call the game.

Georgia was struggling, but late in the 4th they had a shot to tie Florida. David Greene threw a pass downfield to Terrance Edwards, and I remember Munson's call went something like, "Oh my God, he dropped it. We had a sure touchdown over the middle of the field, and he dropped it." The anguish was palpable. Munson's voice had all the frustration of all those years wrapped up in it, and we all knew that the game was over. Georgia lost 20-13, the only loss of the season.

Larry is retiring. He was one of the best, and I'll miss him even though I don't really watch Georgia games much anymore. Here are two of the happier calls. I listened to each of these about three times in a row before I put up the links:

We really need more hotel rooms downtown

The ABC reports that Toyoko Inn is planning to build a 861-room hotel at Luckie and Forsyth Street. I'm underwhelmed. More hotels for downtown. How exciting. Yawn.

I'd much prefer to see some sort of residential use for that piece of property. A quick look at the deals easily explains why that can't happen. Toyoko bought it from Selig in April for about $4 million. The property is only 0.3099 acres, for a price of $292/sf. You'd have to be able to get top level Buckhead and Midtown rents or price points to make residential feasible there, and downtown simply can't support that.

That little lot was always a favorite of mine for some reason. It's just a nice urban site right in the heart of Fairlie-Poplar, an easy walk to most of downtown's cultural offerings (such as Theatrical Outfit and the Rialto), big employers, as well as both parks. I get that this is probably one of the only development options for that parcel given the economics, but I'm still really disappointed.

I'm also a little curious to see the design of this building, since that lot is so tiny and Toyoko hasn't bought any of the adjoining lots. I wonder what their parking ratios are - are they going to build a twenty story parking deck, or are they just not going to have much parking? There are plenty of parking decks nearby, of course, so this may not be a huge issue. Still, that is a tight site.

More benefits of urban living

I got gas last week when I first saw reports about gas prices spiking and gas shortages. I still have about 2/3 of a tank left, and am probably cool for at least the rest of the week. My car gets decent gas mileage, but its not stellar or anything. It's just that everywhere I go is within about a 5 miles radius from my house.

Unrelated: I'll try and have pictures from this weekend's camping in a day or two. I was debating whether to link them to Google Maps, as I like the relative low traffic at Pantertown. Then I realized that this is a fucking blog, and putting some pictures on the interwebs isn't going to flood my favorite camping spots with people. Besides, it couldn't have a worse impact than the 27-person Boy Scout trip that was there this weekend. Without getting into specifics, may I make a few suggestions?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Weekend plans

The Michigan football team has a bye this week, so I am taking the opportunity to get out of Dodge for the weekend. I'll be spending Saturday night at Panthertown Valley in western North Carolina, and plan on going to Granite City as well. These are two of my favorite places, and if the weather is nice we might go to a third, Tarzan Falls. I'll try and remember to take pictures.

I'm going up there with a few old buddies from youth camp, and reveling in the dirty hippiness of it all. We are going to squeeze four people, a dog, and associated gear into my car. I'm told the dog just naturally smells bad, so I'm looking forward to that. I haven't used any of my camping gear in maybe two years, so I'm also hoping there are no holes in the tent or that my stove doesn't blow up.

I planned this trip about two months ago, before I knew what my class schedule would really look like. I think Sunday night and Monday will be rough playing catch up. Oh well, I desperately need a mini-vacation, and I'm glad I won't be spending another Sunday afternoon studying at San Fransisco Coffee, which is the best coffee house in town even if the parking lot in the front angers me every time I go there. (Seriously, would it have been that hard to put the parking in the back?) I'll get to dive into some spreadsheets and some marketing research when I get back.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More benefits of dense living

While I'm on the subject of transit, I wanted to reference a post from Matthew Yglesias highlighting the benefits of living in transit-friendly areas. The post is basically the following graph showing that people living in transit friendly areas spend less on housing and transportation combined:
I have discussed this previously with the Affordability Index map, which showed geographically for Atlanta what these graphs show. I feel like I've seen the above pie charts previously, but I can't remember where.

All this talk of density reminds me of an exchange with a class mate yesterday. He lives in Cobb County (I think), and came into town to meet with me for a class project. He was pretty surprised by the density of Virginia-Highlands. He asked me, "How do you live here??"

I forget sometimes how foreign my way of life must be to some folks.

More evidence that transit requires density to work

An interesting graph from Greater Greater Washington showing the correlation between density and transit use:
Atlanta isn't on the graph, but I think it would fit in as a pretty normal city. The metro area has a population density of just 671 people per square mile, while the City itself has a density of 3,162 people per square mile. The 3.7% of metro residents who take public transit falls right in line.*

Interestingly, 15% of City of Atlanta residents take public transit, according to 2000 Census data. That would seem to be an outlier, although if this graph is based on Metro areas some of the inner cities on it could exhibit a similar pattern of high use in the city and very low use in the suburbs and exurbs.

The take-away for me is that we can blame MARTA management, lack of service, race relations, or elected officials, but at the end of the day the name of the game is density. Obviously increased density for the region in the level needed to get transit ridership up is out of the question, so getting density up for the city should be the goal.

Short term, the real estate market and the economy will prevent a certain amount of this, but the long term growth numbers for Atlanta are still good. Generally speaking, the city has recognized the need for increased density, so I'm really advocating for something that is already occurring. It's just more data supporting the premise.

*Combined Census data for the city and metro area here.

I didn't see that coming

The AJC reports that BentleyForbes is eying a 315 room hotel for the Bank of America Plaza:
The hotel would go in the first 16 floors and require Bank of America to move its offices in the building, said David Cobb, president and chief executive office of BentleyForbes, the Los Angeles-based owner.
Bank of America's lease is actually coming up for renewal, and is looking for new space. I am not familiar with an office-hotel conversion for such a high-profile building. Considering that they paid a record price for the building in 2006, I'm a little baffled. Surely they didn't foresee putting a hotel in there?

I've always hoped that the owners would try and build out BofA Plaza with some ground-level retail on Peachtree Street, personally. Could a hotel on the first 16 floors include some additional construction there? I'm probably just dreaming.

Monday, September 15, 2008

How to measure effectiveness

There has been a lot of criticism of the new homeless meters. The AJC points out that they don't raise much money, the Creative Loafing calls them "change we can't believe in," and the regulars at Peach Pundit are piling on.

I for one don't think CAP is dumb enough to think that the meters will "stop homelessness" or even really reduce homelessness. As far as I see it, the point isn't even to raise money. I don't care if it raises money. What I care about is whether people will stop giving money to the panhandlers, who are really quite separate from the chronically homeless.

My understanding of the idea is that tourists, students, and downtown workers will see the meters and it will give them a mental excuse not to give money to the panhandlers. You know how lots of people are always confused by panhandlers? "Will I really help them, or are they just going to buy booze or crack? Am I really making a difference? Man, I feel like a jerk just ignoring them..."

Well, the meters reinforce the idea that giving money to panhandlers is an ineffective way to help. It is enabling. You aren't being a jerk if you don't give them money. The meters let people assuage their guilty conscience, or at least give them that option, so they don't feel bad saying "no" to the panhandlers. So, they give less money, and the panhandlers have to find better stalking grounds.

In that respect, these programs have been somewhat effective:
“We saw a drop in panhandling along the waterfront,” said Baltimore’s Yeager. “But a reduction in homeless people? No. They just went to neighborhoods where they didn’t have meters.”
The AJC article also notes that Buckhead has seen an increase in panhandling as a result of the police crackdown downtown. It is not a "solution". But it is a decent idea that is worth trying. The city isn't even paying for the meters:
The money for the program — $40,000 — is coming from Central Atlanta Progress, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Atlanta Police Foundation and the Georgia World Congress Center.
I don't see how it can hurt to try it, in addition to the increased enforcement by police. Obviously a long term solution is to try and deal with structural issues, which the city actually addressed first by setting up the Gateway Center.

Another factor is "solution by dilution". Anyone who has been to a major urban center with a healthy downtown (hell, even Ann Arbor) knows that panhandlers are tolerated when they are outnumbered by everyone else. When you have enough people walking around doing regular business, panhandlers don't stick out so much, and there is a relative feeling of safety in numbers for pedestrians.

We'll never get enough people downtown for it not feel like a shelter unless we first get the panhandlers out, though. Buckhead and Midtown aren't going to just let all the panhandlers set up shop their, either, so eventually Atlanta will lose its reputation as being a regional center for panhandling. Atlanta does have a reputation, and panhandlers actually travel here from elsewhere because it is tolerated.

Why it's a great time to be in school

I'm not going to pretend to have a clue how this will all shake out, but can a certain political party stop pretending that we aren't in a recession? To recap Sunday's and this year's events:
In one of the most dramatic days in Wall Street’s history, Merrill Lynch agreed to sell itself on Sunday to Bank of America for roughly $50 billion to avert a deepening financial crisis, while another prominent securities firm, Lehman Brothers, hurtled toward liquidation after it failed to find a buyer...

But even as the fates of Lehman and Merrill hung in the balance, another crisis loomed as the insurance giant American International Group appeared to teeter. Staggered by losses stemming from the credit crisis, A.I.G. sought a $40 billion lifeline from the Federal Reserve, without which the company may have only days to survive...

Though the government took control of the troubled mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac only a week ago, investors have become increasingly nervous about whether major financial institutions can recover from their losses...

The Treasury and Federal Reserve had already stepped in on several occasions to rescue the financial system, forcing a shotgun marriage between Bear Stearns and JPMorgan Chase this year and backstopping $29 billion worth of troubled assets...
That's not counting Countrywide or IndyMac, and I'm sure any number of other collapses. Did I mention that there is almost a seven years supply of condos in Atlanta for sale? Also, I have a suspicion that we are going to have an oversupply of apartments pretty soon. The pace construction over the next three years really outpaces the absorption rates, at least for certain markets.

I'm just glad I'm in school. I'm only wondering if I should go for an MSRE in case this mess isn't over by the time I've got an MBA. I had a professor use the term "stagflation" the other day. That was a special moment, to be honest.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A surprisingly optimistic post on the Michigan-ND game

That six turnover loss was pretty embarrassing, especially the two turnovers in the first five minutes. Jimmeh! dropping TD bombs on the secondary was pretty bad, too. I never like losing to Notre Dame, and some of my worst semi-memories of undergrad came after a ND loss.

The embarrassment of losing to ND is compounded by Ohio State's poor showing in California. I picked Ohio State to at least beat a 10 point spread. I don't think I'll score out well on my picks this week, either. Oh well, it's a long season. Plus, it makes games that I could care less about more intersting, like Cal-Maryland.

I'm conflicted about Ohio State - on one hand I want to enjoy some schadenfruede at their defeat. On the other hand, they currently represent the best of the Big Ten and continually make the rest of the conference look awful. It's not like Michigan has helped lately, of course. I can't wait until Michigan gets back on its feet so I don't have to watch Tressel keep screwing things up. Mostly though, I'm pissed at Ohio State for not beating the spread. Hey Tressel, thanks for making me look stupid. Asshat.

Having said all that, I'm actually mildly okay today. Sure, Michigan lost in a pretty embarrassing fashion. But the offense looked good for the first time all season. They actually out-gained ND 388-260 yards. McGuffie looked great - his youtube clips were no joke. He torched the ND defense (25 rushes, 131 yds, 4 rec., 47 yds, 1TD).

Threet probably solidified the starting position. He was hitting guys downfield a bit, including a few really tough passes into tight spots as well as a few nice downfield balls. Threet's numbers are pretty good, especially considering he got pulled for part of the second half (16-of-23, 175 yds, 1TD, 0INT). He seems to have a hard time holding onto the ball. Each of the last two weeks he's had a ball slip out of his hand while going back to pass. Gotta stop that.

More concerning to me were the deep bombs that the defense allowed in the first half. Our secondary looked really ugly on those. I'll have to wait for MGoBlog's UFR to see who the culprits were. ND didn't try to do much the second half, just pounded the ball on the ground. They didn't really try to challenge the Michigan defense, so there isn't much to take from the second half. Still, zero offensive touchdowns isn't anything to sniff at. The new defensive coordinator seems to be good at making half-time adjustments, which is a great change from the past.

1-2 isn't a great start to the season, but if the offense keeps improving at the rate it has so far we'll win a few Big Ten games. We've got an off week, and if Threet gets all the 1st team reps in practice I'm looking forward to his progress. I'm not optimistic about getting to a bowl game, but I feel okay about the long term prospects for the team.

Friday, September 12, 2008

There they go again...

Thomas has an interesting report from the secessionist movement in Buckhead. To sum it up, he says:
All in all, this was a surreal experience.
I'm sure it was! I've already said plenty about this, so no use wasting my breath. I will add that I've talked a one community leader in Buckhead about this who seemed pretty pissed off at the idea. So I'm not really worried about it. Of course, I've said that before and been dead wrong. The real reason this will never in a million years happen? From Thomas's post:
State Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Buckhead, told the crowd that a secession and attempt at cityhood would be complex and politically difficult. Any move first must be approved by the Atlanta delegation in the House — of its 15 members, 14 are Democrats who don’t live in Buckhead, Lindsey says.
Um, good luck with that. Also, maybe the FCTF should think about the fact that it's not like other cities and governments are having an easy time making budgets work these days. We are in a recession, or didn't you notice?

For the record that I'm not completely in disagreement with the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation. I think option number 1 is entirely worthwhile:
There are two ways out of the mire, the attorney told the crowd. Residents would have to either vote for fiscal-minded city and school board leaders or split from the city. He also advocated a complete switch to charter schools and privatizing some public services.
Also, charter schools and privatizing some services are not bad ideas. I'm not sure I would agree with them as to which services, of course, but the ideas should certainly be on the table. However, using charter schools as a way to pass the buck on paying for education is a canard. A community has a responsibility to educate all of its children. The debate over charter schools should be discussed on its potential benefit to our youth, not as a way to avoid taxes.

I'm in complete agreement that the city is in desperate need of reform. I just think the secession idea is a non-starter that will only breed more resentment and division, which is not how you move a city or a region forward. And moving Atlanta Forward has been the goal since 1925! (you'd probably have to be an Atlanta history buff to get that joke... I always found the name of that program hilarious.)

A final note on homeless and panhandling

A GSU professor has an op-ed in the AJC regarding the city's new panhandling initiative. He uses a failed 1986 CAP initiative to say that "tough love" doesn't work with panhandlers:
In 1986, CAP recommended the creation of a “safeguard zone” along the Peachtree Street corridor, where police would be authorized to move aggressively against violators of “quality-of-life” ordinances against panhandling, public intoxication, loitering, and so on. The proposal put “vagrants” at the top of the undesirable list.

According to press reports, CAP also discussed the desirability of issuing special ID cards to homeless persons, imposing mandatory alcoholism treatment for chronic offenders, and incarcerating incorrigible vagrants in the city’s prison farm.

While these extreme measures did not become part of the final recommendations, they alarmed many Atlantans. In the face of opposition by the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, Open Door Community, ACLU, and local churches and synagogues, Mayor Andrew Young felt compelled to distance himself from CAP’s safeguard zone. The proposal was shelved.
Isn't the lesson here precisely that we haven't really tried tough love? We didn't institute these ideas, and the situation has continued to get worse. The prof finishes with:
Simplicity notwithstanding, tough love will not get us very far in comprehending either the problem or the solution. By encouraging us to see panhandling and homelessness in terms of individual acts of charity, and by ignoring the structural factors at the root of the problem, it also keeps us from seeing Woodruff Park for what it really is: the public stage on which our nation’s most ferocious inequalities come out of the darkness and into the light.
But, the city's plan isn't to encourage people to see panhandlers as individual acts of charity. People who see panhandlers as "individual acts of charity" would be likely to give them money, right? "That's my little part to be of service to him," I imagine they think. The city's initiative is saying that we need to deal with the underlying issues, through organizations like the Gateway Center which have a good track record at job training and helping people obtain self sufficiency.

Let's talk about the structural issues, absolutely. Let's talk about our failed War on Drugs TM, about our education policy, about poverty in this country. Let's talk about how health care costs drive people into bankruptcy and foreclosure. Let's talk about how many homeless are mentally unstable, and about our responsibility to them. All of these are challenges must meet as a society, and a commitment to finding solutions to them is one reason why I am proud to be a Democrat.

But let's not ignore the fact that many of the panhandlers downtown are either drug addicts or not actually homeless. Addicts deserve our prayers, and (yes) tough love. I have little sympathy for non-homeless panhandlers, as they are making it that much harder for actual homeless folks to get help.

The structural issues in this country do not give panhandlers the right to harass, threaten, and harm people. They do not require us to sit back and watch what should be the crown jewel of the Southeast get turned into a shelter and a drug trap.

SoPo Bikes and the Whole Foods fundraiser

I posted the following as a comment to a Creative Loafing post. SoPo Bicycle Cooperative worked with the Task Force for the Homeless and Whole Foods on the fundraiser which the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance pressured Whole Foods to cancel. SoPo wants the fundraiser rescheduled. My comments are below:
I'm sure Sopo Bicycle Cooperative's idea is well intentioned. I'm all for helping people get jobs and get to them. The issue has nothing to do with Sopo Bicycle Cooperative, but with the organization they have chosen to partner with.

They should choose to work with a reputable organization, such as the United Way's Regional Commission on Homelessness or the Gateway Center. These organizations have a much better track record actually helping people, which Creative Loafing has chronicled.

There is a reason that the Task Force is no longer eligible for federal or city funding - they do not provide effective assistance to homeless, they refuse to cooperate with other regional care providers (notice they are not involved with the Regional Commission, and they have worked in the past to undermine it), and their presence is a blight on the local community.

Also, can someone clarify for me if Paideia high school itself is involved, or if the intern is simply a student there?
UPDATE: I also sent the following email to Whole Foods, and cc'ed the SoPo folks. I don't want y'all to think I'm trying to torpedo you or be sneaky. Please try to work with the United Way or the Gateway Center! I think your program makes a lot of sense. I just (obviously) have a problem with the Task Force.

The email:
to lesley.sifford@wholefoods.com
cc info@sopobikes.org,
Thomas Wheatley
date Fri, Sep 12, 2008 at 12:33 AM
subject Thank you for canceling the Task Force fundraiser

Reply


Ms. Sifford,

I am a lifelong resident of Virginia Highlands who shops regularly at Whole Foods (I probably drink a bottle of 365 Sparkling Water a day). I wanted to thank your for working with the Midtown and Ponce neighborhoods to cancel the fundraiser for the Task Force for the Homeless. While I think SoPo Bicycle Cooperative's idea to help homeless volunteers commute is well intentioned, I applaud Whole Foods for realizing that working with the Task Force would harm their standing among the local community.

There is a reason that the Task Force is no longer eligible for federal or city funding - they are not a reputable organization. Other organizations, such as the United Way's Regional Commission on Homelessness and the city's Gateway Center, provide much more effective assistance for homeless persons who seek help. Even among many homeless, the Task Force shelter at Peachtree and Pine is considered a drug trap. In addition, the Task Force has consistently worked to undermine the Regional Commission, and has very negative relations with its neighbors, the Midtown and Downtown communities.

I wholeheartedly suggest that Whole Foods and SoPo Bicycle Cooperative work with the United Way or the Gateway Center to reschedule this fundraiser, and thank you once again for responding to the community's concerns regarding the Task Force.

Sincerely,

Ben King

cc:Sopo Bicycle Cooperative

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The panhandler post

I have been avoiding writing this post, because I don't think the issue is an easy one to deal with. I have pretty strong feelings about panhandlers in Atlanta, and I didn't want to write a post where I flew off the handle.

So, there have been numerous developments regarding panhandlers and the homeless in Atlanta.
Overall, I am pleased with the aggressive action taken towards panhandlers. My general feeling about panhandlers is as follows:
  • Services such as the Gateway Center exist and are very good at serving truly homeless people who want help. I generally support these services and would be fine if spending increased for them.
  • I know a few people who used to be homeless, and they generally say that they didn't want to get off the street, and clean and sober, until things got "bad enough." Giving money to panhandlers is really just enabling.
A clean and safe downtown is absolutely vital to my dream of a pedestrian friendly city. The city (and really the entire metro region) as a whole has a vested interest in seeing the area with the best street grid and public transit infrastructure gain residents and businesses. A viable downtown will really support the rest of the city, since MARTA would be a ton more useful. You could actually live without a car downtown if the right services (like grocery stores) existed. You won't get a grocery store until there are enough people, and its all a chicken-and-egg mess.

Panhandlers, drug dealers, and addicts are the single biggest obstacle to downtown's resurgence. I wholehearedly support spending whatever resources are necessary to clean up downtown, and I think it is worth trying any method possible to do so, including undercover officers and these donation meters.

I also agree with the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance folks that The Task Force for the Homeless is a mess. While the folks in charge may mean well, in practice the Peachtree-Pine Shelter is a drug trap. I suggest you occasionally talk to some of the folks asking you for money. I usually give people directions to the Gateway Center, since that gets most of the aggresive panhandlers off my case and might actually be useful for someone who actually wants help. In my experience, the ones that seem earnest about improving their situation will tell you that Peachtree and Pine is a mess.

I'd love to see some investigative work by the Police turn up some sort of code violation or illegal acts to close down that place. My libertarian sensibilities tell me this is a bad idea, of course, and that the government shouldn't target people or organizations they don't like. When panhandlers are shooting people, it is hard to remain reasonable. I don't think that event should be used as a rally cry or anything, but it is pretty damn hard to ignore. I'm fed up, and I'm glad that the city seems to be fed up, as well.

UPDATE: Just to add to the list of things homeless related that caught my attention recently: Apparently homeless were the cause of a warehouse fire on North Avenue I drove past earlier this week.

Our socialist housing system, by request

My friend Johnny complained to me (half jokingly) this morning about how the housing market has gotten so "socialist" as a result of the Fannie and Freddie takeovers, and teased that I should blog about it. Tease, and you shall receive!

Really, the current events haven't really changed the larger picture for how the government is involved with our housing market. IIRC, the current 30-year mortgage really came into existence when the FHA was created in 1934 and when Fannie Mae was created in 1938. Prior to these institutions, the typical mortgage was a 3 to 5 year balloon mortgage. This is why there were so many foreclosures during the Great Depression.

My limited understanding of European real estate is that, historically, most of Europe did not have the same sort of mortgage system we did. It was much harder to buy a home, and more people rented. It wasn't until recently that Europe saw the same sort of mortgage products we have had for quite a while here. Our system has been different for quite a while, and the government has had a big role in our mortgage markets for decades. Complaints about the "socialized" system that the US has are really about 70 years too late.

So what is the big deal with owning a home? Why do Americans almost feel entitled to home ownership, and why do our politicians talk about an "ownership society" as a necessarily positive thing? Sure, there are some financial benefits to owning, but contrary to what your agent will tell you, I don't think they are great enough to make it a the best thing since sliced bread. When it leads us to the credit messes we are in, surely we've taken this concept too far.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pop culture and sports blogging

Less-than-serious blogging!

Michigan won ugly over Miami of Ohio, and I am still very concerned about next week's game against Notre Dame. It helps that Charlie Weiss is an arrogant blowhard, however, and every time they showed the ND sideline their QB was flipping his hair in the fan like a prima donna.

Also, bonus points for the level of aggravation the mention of Charlie Weiss brings my father. He follows college football mostly so that he can talk with me about Michigan football, so I am always surprised how much invective spews forth when Weiss comes up. It's not like my dad reads blogs or watches the press conferences where Weiss's really arrogant stuff comes out - there is just something about Weiss who deportment that aggravates him.

Also, the new season of Entourage started last night. Best line is Turtle suggesting a film title: M is for Amnesia. HBO needs Entourage to prop up its limping Original Series division, because True Blood is, um, not so good. All the accents sound weird, and I'm not sure how self-aware the campiness of show is. HBO still hasn't produced a quality replacement for Deadwood, which was the best show on TV. Damn you, John from Cincinnati!

Why it's hard to hate Johnny Isakson

Galloway has an article today about Johnny Isakson and high speed rail. Isakson is putting his name on a bill by John Kerry (yes, that John Kerry) to revamp the funding model for rail transportation, and perhaps on $200 billion in bonds to finance high-speed rail lines.

I certainly am not a fan of Johnny Isakson - I'm too partisan for that, and I disagree with him on most issues. He doesn't get me that worked up, though, and I often find myself with a begruding respect for him. I'm almost always impressed by his political skill. This transportation bill is a perfect example of why Isakson will be in the Senate as long as he wants.

Isakson has a carefully crafted "moderate image," even though on most issues he is fairly typical of the GOP. What Isakson has excelled at is picking moderate issues important to the business community, and pushing for them without making a big stink. He is definitely a moderate in temperament - he avoids the headlines that some of his Georgia colleagues relish.

So the reasons that make it hard for me to hate Johnny Isakson - his initial support for a reasonable immigration bill (even though both he and Chambliss later caved in the most blantanly craven way possible), his compromise on an energy bill recently, and this transportation bill. Isakson isn't a Johnny-come-lately (I couldn't help it!) on high speed rail, by the way. He's been pushing for this for years, and he has secured federal funds for feasibility stuides on numerous occassions in the past.

Isakson's willingness to work with Kerry is also impressive. Everyone knows that Isakson was rumored to be eying the Governor's mansion. He decided to stay in the Senate, and I presume that was because he believed he could still get things done. He's a veteran of working from the minority, as he was never in the majority while serving here in the state House. This bill is an indication that he is more interested in getting things done than in looking for political scapegoats.

It is hard not to respect that, and Georgia can do a lot worse if we are going to have conservative Senators (see: Zell Miller). I can't imagine the GOP would ever challenge him in the primary, and his moderate reputation will ensure that Dems never get riled up enough to really challenge him. Most politicians will see a race against Isakson as unwinnable, so I doubt you'll even see many challenge him unless the real goal is something like raising name ID and gaining experience for something like a real run at Governor.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Calling all transit buffs

So I'm a bit late on the AJC article regarding commuter rail. You can see the proposed routes from the GDOT Transit Planning Board, which has recommended the rail lines. Not really any "news" per se, other than the approval.

Take a look at the travel times - they take a little longer than it does to drive. Can any transit buffs tell me why it doesn't make more sense to pursue high-speed rail? If we are spending $100 million to $500 million per line in start up costs, why aren't high-speed rail options being discussed?

The original Southwest Airline model was based on the idea that they were really competing against drivers, not other airlines. The Southwest folks decided they would make it easier to fly to these middle-distance destinations rather than drive by making it cheaper and quicker. I feel like the same mindset should be used for commuter rails - we need to make it quicker and cheaper for people to take the train to Athens.

I'd love to hear from someone who has had a chance to dig into the financials of a high-speed rail line instead of old technology. I have too much going on right now to really dig into it all. Is it prohibitively expensive, or just "more expensive"? What sort of return on investment could you expect with a high speed rail vs. conventional rail?

That's just how we say it down yonder

Sounding Southern may impact your wages, but that doesn't mean people actually dislike how you sound. After the "General American" accent, the Southern accent is the most popular accent in the nation:
Americans would next choose Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon's Southern drawl over other domestic accents...
Does this mean that they think we are stupid, but pleasant company nonetheless?

Also, I can't help but enjoy this nugget:
The accent Americans would least like to have is the New Jersey/New York dialect, as exemplified by James Gandolfini in his role as Tony Soprano, the poll said.

Less than serious blogging continues

An awesome slide show courtesy of the Gwinnett Daily Post: a Waffle House wedding. What are the odds that it is fake? My vote is that this is the real thing. I particularly love the bridesmaid fixing the bride's hair, with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.

Maybe I'm being an elitist intown jerk. In my defense, the words of a fake redneck comedian popular among this particular set, "I don't care who you are, that's funny."

Also, I recall many warm memories of the Waffle House off Scott Boulevard, however, and consider myself a Waffle House enthusiast.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Newly found respect for QBs

If you ever thought football was just something for mindless jocks, take a gander at the Smart Football blog. Particularly this older post on "conceptual passing" designs for offenses. Conceptual what? Exactly.

If you've ever had your life sucked away by NCAA Football on the PlayStation, the articles are very interesting and you can probably follow along alright. But it's not exactly light reading in a world where sports broadcasters prefer to cover the dramatic "story lines" of a game.

Having never played the game in an organized manner, I can only speculate that a QB needs to have a pretty attuned spatial intelligence to be successful. It certainly gives me some sympathy for a guy like Michigan's Steven Threet who spent most of Saturday staring down field trying to figure out who was open.

That was my way of rationalizing Michigan's loss to Utah on Saturday. Learning a new offensive system isn't easy, and I'm trying to cut our QBs some slack. Otherwise, I think Braves and Birds has a better analysis than I could offer.

Regular blogging about esoteric topics will resume tomorrow most likely. I am considerably busier this semester than I was during the summer, so posting will slow down.