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Joshua Sharf

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« August 2006 | Main | October 2006 »

September 29, 2006

View From Today

I don't see any way around it. The whole format of this thing is going to have to change, probably to something more like Lileks, only without the witty comedy stylings. When I worked at home, I would get up early, maybe around 6:00, to read the papers and have something to blog on, or at least something to chew on. Now, I get up at 5:00 and still have something to chew on, but it's a bagel on the way in to work. It's pretty much non-stop meetings and report-writing until at least 7:30, usually 8:00. And then maybe I get a chance to look at the paper. So having something to blog on with my (or your) coffee is pretty much impossible.

Since I like to actually have something to say, rather than just reacting to the first headline that crosses the monitor, I'm beginning to think that the best thing to do is to set aside a serious 15-30 mins at night for writing. Anything during the day is bonus. I know, I've been at this for 4 years and I'm still figuring out when I say it, never mind what I say. Well, hey, it's worth what you pay for it.

I'm also typing this on the new Bloomberg keyboard they sent me. The keys feel different. They're flatter, don't have as much give, and some of them are slightly smaller leading to unsightly errors when I have to used the arrow or INS-DEL-HOME-END keys. All this for a subscription that may not even be renewed in a month. The top row of keys doesn't work yet, and since I don't want to reboot right now, I may not find out until Tuesday if they ever will. There's also a plug for the speakers, in case I want to listen to Hugh & Dennis through my keyboard rather than proper speakers. I don't think the thing is programmed to filter out everything but Bloomberg radio; it's not Microsoft, after all.

Still, it's a real Bloomberg keyboard, none of those cheesy stick-on overlays that look like the last page in a book of S&H Green Stamps, where you picked up the groceries at the gas station because you only needed one more row to fill out the book.

There's also this cool gizmo in the upper-right where I can sign in using my thumb, saving me a full 5 SECONDS!!! in the morning, but also making me wonder if the next time the phone rings it'll be Jack on the other end asking me to move satellites around for him.

In the meantime, Monday's Yom Kippur. We all know about Yom Kippur, but it's worth remembering that while it's a fast day, it's solemn without being somber. The intention is self-reflection, not self-flagellation, and at the end of the day, the break fast is usually festive, and often held at peoples' homes. There are certain parts of Jewish culture that tend to survive even the most benign environments, and the Yom Kippur break fast is one of them.

One of the guys here at the office, who's about as Jewish as you can get and even more non-religious, is hosting a break fast at his home Monday night. His wife insists on real babka, real chocolate bobka, even if it's the last one in the store. He sent the other trader off to the East Side Kosher Deli, Denver's only reliable babka supplier, and in the course of events, bought lunch for everyone. Thus was Wm. Smith & Co. treated to the spectacle of everyone else in the office being trained on the proper way to eat a kosher pastrami sandwich, while the only guy who keeps kosher was chowing down on a beef enchilada.

It was also Decision Day for the sod guy. Through a combination of drought & dog, the back yard has been gradually transformed from an edenic paradise into a weed-infested wilderness. It's time to give up and start over. I've already got the sprinkler system, although it could use a little repair work itself, but it's time to make the back yard fit for public display. Not to mention working from, with a tall glass of iced tea and perhaps even lunch.

The kicker is that there are some sections that are still shielded from the sun, where even the depredation of Landscaping by Sharf couldn't stamp out the grass, and it flourishes still. I've suggested leaving it, but the sod companies all assure me that it won't match, and that the only thing worse than weeds and grass is grass that doesn't match. Apparently inside of every sod installer is a little Givenchy struggling to get out.

In the end, though, for the moment, it looks like October 17. So on the same date that Burgoyne surrendered Saratoga, and Cornwallis surrendered Yorktown, my old yard will be surrendering to reality. Ironically, it's also the anniversary of the date the President Grant suspended habeus corpus in certain counties in the South. Make of it what you will, but no doubt the jackboots will be roughing up the new sod any day now.

Could be worse. Could be raining.

September 27, 2006

Tradesports Arbitrage

Has Tradesports internally mispriced the chance of the Democrats retaking the Senate? That is, do the chances of the Dems winning the individual races they need "add up" to the same number as the chances of them winning back the chamber as a whole? Mind you, this is an entirely difference question from whether or not Tradesports has accurately priced the contracts. I'm only looking at whether or not Tradesports is internally consistent with itself.

(I'm not the first one to think about this. A Google search turned up this somewhat amateurish attempt, along with these more sophisticated ones.)

Tradesports is a futures market based on real-world events. If you buy a contract, you pay, say $0.56 for a contract stating that the Republicans will hold the House. If they do, the contract expires with a value of $1.00, and you make $0.19. If Speaker Bela Pelosi is sworn in on Jan. 1, then the contract, like promises to control spending and defend the country, expire worthless, and you lose your $0.81. Ideally, the sum of the prices on a given event should equal 1. And the prices of equivalent events should equal each other. If they don't then an arbitrage opportunity exists, which means free money, which means drinks for everyone.

For instance, if the contract giving control to the Republicans is selling for $0.49, and the contract giving control to the Democrats is selling for $0.49, then you only have to pay $0.98 to buy one of each, kind of like what business is doing.

As for the notion of equivalent events, here's a simple example made complex. Suppose I can bet on two flips of a coin. I can bet on each flip by itself, and I can bet on the end result of both flips. In the real world, there's a 50% chance of getting heads, a 50% chance of getting tails, and a 25% chance of getting tails both times. So the prices of the contracts for tails on the first flip = 0.50, tails on the second flip = 0.50, and tails both times, 0.25. Betting the two tails separately is the same event as betting the two tails together.

Now suppose the market thinks that tails is a 60% likelihood, or a 2-3 bet. The chance of two tails should be priced at $0.36. (0.6 x 0.6 = 0.36) If it's not, if it's still priced at $0.25, then there's an arbitrage opportunity based on the idea that the market will discover & correct this discrepancy. Either the 0.25 is right, and tails is overpriced, or the 0.6 is right, and the combination is under-priced, or they're both wrong. But the two numbers are inconsistent with each other.*

So. When I did the math earlier, the contract for the Senate remaining Republican was selling at $0.816. If you take all the possible Senate race outcomes, and multiply them together, and add up the probabilities of those combinations that give the Democrats the Senate, do you get $0.816? If not, there's an arbitrage opportunity, because the market's not pricing the equivalent events the same.

Excel's a wonderful thing.

There are 33 Senate races contested this year. Currently, the Dems hold 18 of the seats, the Republicans 15. To take the Senate, the Dems need to pick up 6 seats. That means after Nov. 7, they need to have 24 of these seats to the Republicans' 9. I found the contract prices for the Democrat and the Republican in each of these races (counting Lieberman as a Democrat). Now, with 33 races, there are 2^33, or 8,589,934,592 possible combinations. In order to simplify things, I took as given any races where one party or another was judged to have a 95% or greater. Of those races, 13 go to Dems (also giving them the Socialist Bernie Sanders), and 6 to Reps. This means that Dems need to win 11 of the remaining 14 races to get to 24.

The contested races (and the Democrat's contract prices) are: Arizona (.09), Maryland (.65), Michigan (.90), Minnesota (.90), Missouri (.48), Montana(.80), Nevada (.09), New Jersey (.43), Ohio (.76), Pennsylvania (.84), Rhode Island (.80), Tennessee (.35), Virginia (.40), and Washington (.88). With 14 races, the number of possible outcomes is only 2^14, or 16384, which Excel can handle. If you write down all the possible outcomes, calculate the probability of each - as determined by Tradesports traders - and add up the likelihoods of those outcomes where the Dems win 11 seats, you get... 7.27%

This means that collectively, Tradesports prices the chances of the Dems taking the Senate at 18.4%, but taken race-by-race, they only get a 7.27% chance. Now, it's clear that the individual elections are not independent events, even though Tradesports lets you bet on them that way. A single event of national significance could swing voters all over the country, affecting every race that's in play, and given the Dems' percentages in the races in play, it would take a bigger event to swing the electorate Republican than to tip, say, Tennessee and Virginia to the Democrats.

If I move the cutoff to 0.80 from 0.95, that tips Arizona & Nevada to the Republicans, and Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington to the Dems. Even then, the percentage only moves to 10.88%.

But overall, Tradeports seems to be saying either that 1) it can't find the races to put the Dems over the top, or 2) some individual Republicans are getting a benefit of the doubt they don't deserve.

Sooner or later, the market's got to figure this out. Doesn't it? If it does, the beer's on me.

*If the coin actually is fair, and the contracts are consistent, that doesn't mean you hedge perfectly by buying one and selling the other. That's because you're adding the results of the two individual tosses to determine one payout, and multiplying the results to determine the other payout. If anyone's interested, I email me and I'll send you the math.

September 22, 2006

Shanah Tovah

Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It's a holiday commemorating the enthronement of God as the ruler not only of the Jewish people, but of the world.

One of the key insights of the holiday is that Rosh Hashanah also commemorates the creation of the world, but that the day itself is actually the 6th day of Creation, the day when Man was created. Therefore, God's kingship is meaningless without mankind, the only creature with a moral sense, and the only creature capable of being God's partner in creation.

Shanah Tovah, and we'll see you on Monday.

September 21, 2006

Asking Kazerooni the Hard Questions

Our Favorite Imam is at it again, this time with the enabling help of the Denver Post. Asked about the Pope's comments and the worldwide Islamic justification thereof, Kazerooni replied:

Said [Denver Archdiocese Chancellor Fran] Maier: "Holy war is becoming a cult in parts of the Islamic world, and naming that for what it is needs to be done. The pope spoke reasonably and truthfully. The criticism so far is neither."

Kazerooni said Benedict's comments inflamed tensions as the Middle East simmers over Danish cartoons portraying the prophet Muhammad and President Bush's comments about "Islamo-fascism." Kazerooni leads an interfaith program based at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral.

Asked about the violence in recent days in the Muslim world, Kazerooni said, "I condemn violence of any shape or form. But one has to understand, if you have a charged atmosphere and add fire to it, the situation gets out of control. People in the Middle East, rightly or wrongly, they perceive or believe this is the old crusade coming back."

Kazerooni called Maier's comments about a cult of holy war a stigmatization of all Muslims.

As Wolfgang Pauli used to say about some of his dimmer students' work: This isn't right. This isn't even wrong.

Kazerooni focuses on one sentence in the speech, reducing it to the very caricature (oops!) that the radicals used as a catalyst for the violence in the first place. He avoids the call for dialogue that he's supposedly employed to pursue. He notes the "charged atmosphere," but conveniently forgets his co-religionists who've ionized it in the first place. He refuses to engage the Pope's definition of and call to defend Christianity.

He avoids the fact that Islamists - alone among those criticized - decided to burn churches, some of them Catholic, and shoot nuns. Maybe he's been in on meetings at St. John's where the church fathers are discussing their imminent midnight raid on the cathedral. As for the crusades, the Islamists have been referring to Israel as a "Crusader State" for at least 15 years. And this idea that Maier, who hedged his indisputably true comments so much they need garden clippers, has "stigmatized all Muslims" is just victim politics, pure and simple.

In the meantime, the US has played host to two Iranian Islamo-fascists speakers and at least half a dozen speeches by them. The Post unthinkingly reprints a Boston Globe report calling Ahmadinejad "conciliatory." Here's an example of his conciliation:

The pretexts for the creation of the regime occupying Al-Qods Al-Sharif are so weak that its proponents want to silence any voice trying to merely speak about them, as they are concerned that shedding light on the facts would undermine the raison d'être of this regime, as it has. The tragedy does not end with the establishment of a regime in the territory of others. Regrettably, from its inception, that regime has been a constant source of threat and insecurity in the Middle East region, waging war and spilling blood and impeding the progress of regional countries, and has also been used by some powers as an instrument of division, coercion, and pressure on the people of the region. Reference to these historical realities may cause some disquiet among supporters of this regime. But these are sheer facts and not myth. History has unfolded before our eyes.

At the same time, Mohammed Khatami spoke at the University of Virginia's Rotunda. He began his remarks by quoting Jefferson: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," which is like Hitler quoting the Hebrew Bible of Amalek from a synagogue pulpit.

Kazerooni has at least indirect ties to these guys, he's a Shiite Iranian Imam who studied in Qom and was chosen to translate a speech by Mesbah-Yazdi celebrating the Iranian Revolution and ridiculing the Jews in the process. (To call Mesbah-Yazdi the Iranian Billy Graham is to explain all you need to know about the difference between the Islamists and contemporary Christianity.) You'd think he might have some useful insights, some telling embarassment, or more-telling lack thereof, on these speeches. Instead, crickets. They bury the story, leaving the questions not only unasked, but even un-alluded to. Readers wouldn't even know those questions are there to be asked.

All of this allows Kazerooni to pose as the wounded, spurned moderate. It's a useful mask, and one the Post ought to be exposing, not enabling.

The Looming Tower

I've been reading Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower. Your friend and mine Mark Steyn has written a review:

In an Islamist grievance culture, the tower doesn't have to be that tall to loom. The tragedy in Wright's book is that across little more than half a century a loser cult has metastasized, eventually to swallow almost all the moderate, syncretic forms of Islam. What was so awful about Sayyid Qutb's experience in America that led him to regard modernity as an abomination? Well, he went to a dance in Greeley, Colo.: "The room convulsed with the feverish music from the gramophone. Dancing naked legs filled the hall, arms draped around the waists, chests met chests, lips met lips . . ."

In 1949, Greeley, Colo., was dry. The dance was a church social. The feverish music was Frank Loesser's charm song Baby, It's Cold Outside. But it was enough to start a chain that led from Qutb to Zawahiri in Egypt to bin Laden in Saudi Arabia to the mullahs in Iran to the man arrested in Afghanistan on Sept. 11. And it's a useful reminder of how much we could give up and still be found decadent and disgusting by the Islamists. A world without Baby, It's Cold Outside will be very cold indeed.

But read the whole thing.

September 20, 2006

Owens the Party Builder

No, he doesn't get all the blame. But he was sure quick to assert his prerogatives when intervening in the party's nominating process this year. Here's the Republican share of the aggregate vote for State House of Representatives since 1996:

Notice a pattern? There's a slight rise in 2000, probably because of the Presidential election, but this is a governor without coattails. The 2004 win by the Dems was exaggerated by the Four Horsemen, but this was seizing an opportunity as much as anything else. I'll repeat: Owens at the state level has been to the Republicans what the Clintons are to Democrats nationally: very good for himself, very bad for the party.

Polled by Rasmussen

So now, there's one less American who can say, "you know, you always read about these polls, but I've never been asked." Rasmussed just called, so it was even a reputable one.

September 19, 2006

DeGette on Earmarks

As noted last week, my Congresscreature, Diana DeGette, voted against earmark reform in the House. Despite her opposition, the resolution passed, so with a couple of exceptions, anonymous earmarks are dead in the House.

I called her DC office to ask why, and one of her aides, Mr. Andrew Ginsberg, called back today. I'm happy to report that he was courteous, helpful, and responsive. What he had to say, I was a lot less happy with.

When I ask why she had voted against the rule change, he gave two arguments. First, it didn't do enough, like H.Res.659 and HR4682, both of which she supported. But both of those bills are huge, omnibus bills, seeking to address all sorts of rules problems, real and imagined. Sinking legislation you don't like by adding parts to add opponents is one of the oldest tricks in the parliamentary book. When the Republicans, wanted to pass reforms in 1995 per the "Contract With America," they passed each rule change on a separate vote, getting different majorities for each measure.

Voting against a measure you support because you can't get fifteen other measures is either not believable or petulent.

The other reason was that not all earmarks would be included. For instance, only bills reported out of committee fall under the new rules, and only tax earmarks which apply to one person would apply. But almost all spending legislation originates in committee, certainly all appropriations bills do. Most legislation that tries to originate on the House floor gets referred to committee, since the chairmen wouldn't have it any other way. And in any case, the author of the bill, or of the floor-offered amendment (another exception), knows what's in his bill or amendment, and who proposed it, so there's an address to go to there. Tax earmarks are another story, but an earmark for a large corporation - an example offered by Mr. Ginsberg - would almost certainly benefit or shareholders in many states. An individual's tax earmark is exactly the kind of thing most likely to be proposed by a representative who would be embarassed by the revelation.

We'll see if Mrs. DeGette lets the best become the enemy of the good when it's stem cell research that's up for debate.

As for specific earmarks, it turns out that Cong. DeGette is responsible for at least $600,000 in anonymous earmarks coming back to Denver. These include:

$200,000 for Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, for a naturally occurring retirement communities demonstration project.

I have no idea what this means. "Naturally occurring retirement communities." What, do they put a bunch of 60-year-olds in caves? They need $200,000 for blasting? Actually, it seems to mean what happens when all the kids at Wisteria Lane grow up and move out, and the families don't want to leave. For some reason, Jewish Family Services seems to be a leader in this nationally.

$150,000 to the City of Denver for housing assistance, mentoring, and other services for homeless families and seniors
Hospice of Metro Denver, for the Life Quality Institute
$150,000 to the Denver Rescue Mission for transitional housing for the homeless

Look, all of this is worthy stuff, but it's $600,000. If every man, woman, and child in the city of Denver gave a dollar, the Federal government wouldn't need to be involved in this at all. I don't want to revisit Referendum C, but why is it any better to have these guys hiring lobbyists to beg for them that to run ads and make their case to the people whose support they profess to have?

When asked why these requests were made anonymously, Mr. Ginsberg replied that, well, that's how earmark requests are made, and that there's no process for attaching a Rep's name to an earmark. Well, there is now. And before, these requests could always be offered as amendments.

So here's a question for you. If Mrs. DeGette ends up in the majority, will she vote to roll back this rule change before or after she proposes her still-unpassable omnibus reform bill? And will either of the papers report on it?

September 16, 2006

Syria? Syria?!

I agree with the thrust of Powerline's posting on Milbank on Powell to McCain, I think it was a mistake to include Syria among those cooperating with us. (I know, there was a fairly heavy qualifier in front of it, but still.) The embassy attacks had all the earmarks of a setup by the Syrian government. See Counterterrorismblog for a more detailed discussion, although it was the first thing that leapt to my mind, too. Remember, the Syrian government follows Soviet doctrine in most things, and this is a classic Soviet ploy.

Add to that that we know Syria is supporting Iran & Hezbollah, and that we have strong reason to believe Iran cooperates with al-Qaeda. Syria is reqesting, "more Western intelligence" so it can operate in a regional manner. First, what region? Turkey? Iraq? Jordan? Lebanon? These are pretty much the last places we want Syria operating. Second, Syria's a police state; they know what's going on inside their country as well as Saddam knew Iraq. This plea sounds like a request that we turn over our counterintelligence networks so the Syrians can help the Iranians roll them up.

We've all gotten a lot better at reading enemy (Islamist) and opponent (Democratic & MSM) propaganda more critically. We can't let those faculties desert us when the news appears to be good.

Unintentional Irony

So, I'm reading Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, when I come upon the following paragraph:

After Israel's victory in the 1967 Six Day War, the entire Arab world sank into a state of despondency. Turki became so depressed that he began skipping classes, then had to make up the work in summer school. One of his classmates, a gregarious young man from Arkansas named Bill Clinton, spent four hours coaching him for an ethics test. It was August 19, Clinton's 21st birthday. Turki got a B in the class, but he dropped out of Georgetown soon afterward without finishing his undergraduate degree.

So far, I'm impressed. The book starts with Sayyid Qutb, whose thought turns out to have crystallized while doing a turn at UNC's predecessor in Greeley, CO. The footnotes actually have sources, as opposed to, "conversation with anonymous Pentagon source." I'll have a full review when I finish it.

September 15, 2006

Earmark Reform Passes

Instapundit reports that earmark reform has passed the House, which can only be a good thing. According to the official tally, all four of Colorado's Republicans voted in favor, joined only by Democrat John Salazar. Democrats Diana "Oil Conspiracy" DeGette and Mark Udall, both in very safe Democratic seats, voted against.

With records like these, discussed at To The Right, you can see why the Dems weren't thrilled with the rules change.

The rules change essentially eliminated anonymous earmarks in the House, and takes effect immediately, although it's not clear how much difference it will make this close to elections and this late in the budget cycle. Also remember that we're in the McCain-Feingold blackout Incumbent Protection period, preventing non-Party media ads criticizing incumbents who are running for re-election.

Still, it's a good start.

Beware Oil

It's a truism that prosperity breeds bad management, and that extended prosperity breeds exceedingly bad management. Example A: Bethlehem Steel (Ticker: PAWS.UP). The legendary CEO of the company used to send people ahead each morning to make sure he wouldn't have to share an elevator. Eventually, the elevators stopped running altogether. Finally, when USX faced bankruptcy, a bunch of mini-mills in the South figured it out and started delivering high-quality, low-cost steel again. A couple of years ago, the leader of the rebellion, Nucor, itself ran into some management problems, opening the door for dozens of others.

It's hard to imagine a set of American companies more victimized by their own success than oil. The automakers learned this less in the late 70s and early 80s, and today's problems are more failures of imaginarion than anything else. But the oil companies, small and large, have a history of making terrible mistakes and then getting rescued by some international crisis or large expanding economy.

Historically, the worst of those mistakes has been over-investing at the peak of the cycle. Anyone from Colorado or Wyoming can tell you about boom-and-bust, and it's a mentality that oil and gas has never seemed to get under control. Right now, they seem to be making the same mistake yet again. I'm not talking about the strike in the Gulf. That kind of exploration has a life cycle of decades. I'm talking about the smaller companies that are now running cash flow deficits because they're looking at the forest and seeing

It's not exploration, which would make sense. It's actual free cash deficits in the face of rising returns, which happen because a company is spending more on its capital investment than its getting from ongoing operations. It's the sign of an expanding supply to meet demand, but it's also risky to plow this money in at the top of the curve time after time. Many of these wells are only profitable at high prices, and when oil prices drop - as they seem to be doing now - a lot of these smaller companies are going to be left with expensive, unprofitable, and idle equipment.

Dueling Party Websites

The state Republicans have finally got their site up. No doubt, they'll tell me that it was only down a couple of days, that I just happened to catch it while it was down, that the new site is much better, and that I should stop griping. All of the premises are true, but I'd still argue with the conclusion. Extra pit-stops never won anyone a race.

The site still says that there's something new coming, and I hope that has something to do with, oh, candidates. Right now, there's still nothing on the front page that even suggests that there are Republicans running for office this fall. Both of the news headlines are about Ritter, and there's no link to candidates or their websites.

This may be because the Party is concerned about a Common Cause (as in, "make common cause with the Democrats") lawsuit if they're seen as colluding with the candidates. But the Dems have such a link on their page, and sych links are indispensible on the national Senate, House, and RNC pages. Even supposing such a lawsuit were to be feared - and I think it's the headlines that scare more than the suit - the Party should be ready to fight back with suits of their own. Certainly if we can find Republicans willing to sue other Republicans during the primary process, and Republican lawers willing to represent them, we can find Republicans wiling to file countersuits in order to protect the Party's legal rights.

In the meantime, the page is an ad for outgoing officeholders in the middle of an election season.

September 14, 2006

Political Markets Also Bounce

I gave up blogging about the political markets a little while back, not so much because of the bad news, but because I didn't need to be a ticker tape. Since good news is more fun to report than bad news, I also didn't want to risk being one of those wartime news services that report only victories, but victories ever further away from the enemy capital.

But there's been a bounce in the President job approval rating. Naturally, the same MSM which trumpeted collapsing and plumetting ratings as they fell from 47% to 37%, now considers the reverse movement to be "slight." It may still prove to be transient, but the distance is the same in either direction.

In any event, it looked like time to see if this was translating into support in the markets, and it seems to be. The betting parlors are pushing the Republicans back up over the 50% to hold the House. Both Tradesports and the Iowa Electronic markets have done so. Arguably, the IEM has better-informed investors, but Tradesports has a broader base.

Since the idea behind the "Wisdom of Crowds" is that more is better, and that the crowd doesn't have to be particularly well-educated in the speciality, take that for what it's worth. Right now, it's worth about 3 cents on the dollar difference between the two markets, which I suppose constitutes an arbitrage opportunity.

September 13, 2006

Betraying Mr. Jefferson

I graduated from Virginia in 1987. My sister graduated in 1982. My father graduated in 1957. My mother, while she left school after my father graduated, as was the style in those days, also was a student at U.Va. I bleed orange and blue, a condition which tends to confuse the doctors, but makes perfect sense to me.

Which is why I am seeing crimson.

I found out today, via Hugh Hewitt, that my University had the dishonor of hosting Mohammed Khatami, lately president of Iran. Now, not without dissent. But still.

I'm sure the members of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, all of whom Mr. Khatami and his kind hold in utter contempt, would agree with the Cav Daily's editorial:

After Khatami's visit to the University, he will speak at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. a church, that, if it had an ideological affiliation, would be to toleration and reason -- values instilled by Jefferson into the American conscience. One can only imagine the reception many would give to an American official speaking at one of the holy sites of Islam. But here, political posturing aside, Khatami will encounter an attentive, respectful audience. And that alone will be a victory.

I'm sure that Mr. Khatami would count it as a victory, anyway. Ah well, never mind. You like the Cowboys, I like the Redskins, but we can all go out and have a beer green tea afterwards.

Not merely having him speak on Grounds, but at the Rotunda no less. If there is a Holy of Holies at the University, the Rotunda is it. It was the original library, housed the original classrooms. As Hugh pointed out, Jefferson detested theological absolutism. When he wrote, "I have sworn on the altar or God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," it was Khatami he had in mind. Some arguments we settled a while back.

It's from the same building (although not the same room) that FDR delivered his famous "stab in the back" speech when Italy entered the war against France:

Surely the new philosophy proves from month to month that it could have no possible conception of the way of life or the way of thought of a nation whose origins go back to Jamestown and Plymouth Rock.


On this tenth day of June, 1940, the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor.

On this tenth day of June, 1940, in this University founded by the first great American teacher of democracy, we send forth our prayers and our hopes to those beyond the seas who are maintaining with magnificent valor their battle for freedom.

To invite the modern-day equivalent of Mussolini to speak at the Rotunda is to betray everything the University of Virginia is supposed to stand for.

Colorado GOP Under Destruction

I don't think I've seen anything implode this quickly since they set charges to the Kingdome. The latest tactical brilliance comes from the state GOP's website. Here it is:

I mean, here's the entire website.

Yes that's right. In the middle of a statewide election campaign, sitting one seat away from the Senate and a list of Democratic vulnerables away from the House, with redistricting on the line in the governor's race, and Democratic Secretary of State now a real possibility, the state GOP has decided that now would be a good time to take down the website. The filename of the graphic is "cologopundercon," but perhaps "cologopunderground" would be more appropriate.

You don't just decide to redo the website in the middle of the fall campaign on a lark. This kind of incompetence takes lots of planning. The election's been on the calendar since the founding of the Republic. Either the party planned to roll out a site - and therefore be offline - long before September, or Owens and Benson just did their best Mickey Rooney - Judy Garland impersonation. "Hey, whadday say we go out to the web and put up a site?" News flash: the time to figure out rebranding isn't when everyone's looking.

As long as free-spending Bruce Benson is turning into the Peter Angelos of American politics, you'd think he could find a little spare change for a web design firm. On the other hand, that might encourage people to give money. One way to look like the big fish is to shrink the pond.

Now Cut That Out!

It's September 13th again.

Last year, I posted about turning 39 and put up a different picture of Jack Benny.

Readers may draw their own conclusions.

September 12, 2006

Foustian Bargain

Christina Foust is an assistant professor in DU's Department of Human Communication Studies (the mind balks at the alternatives), and has been kind enough to invite me to speak to her class later in the quarter. He class focuses on the conservative and anarchist movements as examples of successful self-organization, and I'll be talking about the role of blogs in the conservative side of that equation.

I'll be speaking on Election Day, by which time we'll have a better sense of the immediate future of the conservative movement in Colorado. Hopefully, we'll still be doing better than the anarchists.

The Carnival of the Capitalists

Hello, and welcome to this week's belated Carnival of the Capitlists. My apologies for the delay, but I'm sure you'll find the posts well worth it. And even though it's now September 12th, September 11th can still be remembered.

Mike Buckley at Mine Your Own Business reminds us why business-somewhat-as-usual is a victory in itself.

Jack Yoest shares his Memories of 9/11

At Debt Free, Steve Faber discusses the terrorist attacks' effects on the stock market

UPDATE: Hank Stern has posted a moving tribute at InsureBlog to someone he didn't even know. It's part of a tremendous blogospheric memorialization of those who died 5 years ago. If I may indugle: may you be moved to tears, moved to anger, and moved to action.

In a somewhat more disgusted note, Ali Eteraz argues that day-strippers in Haditha may not be the most high-minded way to be winning hearts and minds.

Wenchypoo, who dispenses Frugal Wisdom from Wenchypoo's Warehouse, explains Why the upcoming business contraction is part of a long-term demographics-driven retrenchment.

Adam at Creative Destruction debunks the Kevin Drum article about Median Income.

Boring Made Dull wonders why everyone asks about the exploding price of college education, but nobody does anything about the costs.

James Hamilton of Econbrowser cautions that some of the enthusiasm about the recent oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico may have been overdone.

Leon Gettler of Sox First notices that someone's sure making money out of the war on terror and soaring oil prices!

Trent of Stock Market Beat examines evidence that employment is slowing.

At Scatterbox, Steven Silvers discusses how irritated editors and insiders now routinely spotlight inane attempts to generate positive publicity -- but instead make the companies being promoted look like idiots. Or worse.

Tam Hanna at Tam's Palm claims that lots of pre-defined choices can be economized more easily, while keeping (almost) everyone happy.

On the other hand, Barry Welford at StayGoLinks argues for websites with fewer choices, and draws some interesting conclusions.

Deborah Brown of BizInformer has a new take on Craig's List for customer generation.

Over at Whisper, Steve Cranford reminds us that there's more to branding than just a pretty logo.

Kevin Stirtz of Winning With Service claims that just because a given customer service practice is repeatable doesn't mean it's good.

Jim Logan writes at Bootstrapping Business about 10 Tips To Managing A Customer Crisis.

Kicking Over My Traces points out that if your customers can't understand (or read) your ad, they probably won't remember your product. Illiteracy can reduce even the most clever ads to background noise.

Management & HR
David Maister at Passion, People and Principles suggests that since character is as important as skills, screen for that, too.

Yvonne DiVita of Lip-sticking has doubts about CBS's hiring process for their evening news, and a few other candidates for the job.

David St Lawrence of Making Ripples notes that avoiding failure through parental intervention or by refusing to make decisions is a scenario for eventual disaster. There is no attention on making better decisions, only attention on avoiding responsibility for bad decisions.

Elisa Camahort of The Worker Bees Blog shows how social networking can provide diversity of experience and opinion.

Free the Drones has a post on how to answer a common job interview question: why do you want to work for us?

Carmine Coyote of Slow Leadership discusses how shareholders can help keep management's mind on the long-term.

Peter Kua at Radical Hop lists three personalities you need to hire to go from idea to sales. Not for nothing is "Tipping Point" the recommended book.

Pawel Brodzinski at Software Project Management explains why habit is the enemy of creativity.

More and more employers are beginning improve their employee benefits packages. Henry Stern at InsureBlog has the numbers, and the rationale behind this move.

Michael Wade at shows how to get upper management’s backing when you want to fire someone.

Innovation & Entrepreneurship
Dave Free at Seeds of Growth gets you to look at things differently.

Andrew Trinh of Trizoko Biz Journal shows how innovation along isn't enough for David to beat Goliath...

...while A Samuel at New Build Blog uses Rightmove as an example,

Rob May at BusinessPundit examines entrepreneurs making the pitch. Be prepared, be concise, be focused.

Wayne Hurlbert of Blog Business World reminds us not to rest on our laurels.

Andrew MacGill of Diary of a Startup explores scarce resources & economics at their most elemental and tradeoffs in IT decisions for a startup company.

Tom Hanna at Financial Options gives us his weekly roundup of upcoming financial and economic indicators. And a suggestion that this might be the week to make that patriotic return to the stock market for those who've been waiting.

Moneywise at The Real Returns looks at real returns in large non-American mutual funds.

Starling Hunter at The Business of America is Business questions the ethics of public pensions divesting from Wal-Mart over alleged human rights abuses.

Nina Smith at Queercents wants Netflix to pay a living wage.

Joe Kristan at Roth & Company Tax Update

Vihar Sheth of Green Rising offers some cheerful optimism on the future of the planet.

Dan Melson of Searchlight Crusade explains why even seemingly simple real estate transactions are complex, and why that's not a bad thing.

The eponymous Alan K. Henderson of Alan K. Henderson's Weblog sees mischief in unions pushing to abolish the secret ballot for organizing votes. After all, you wouldn't want to be on the losing side of one of those, would you?

Brandon Peele at GT urges us to Grow! Give up politics! Become a Democrat! Really!, in Politics is Philosophy for the Intellectually Lazy.

Personal Finance
Scott on Scott on Money advocates bad debt avoidance.

David A. Porter at Pacesetter Mortgage Blog calls "state income" mortgages "Liar's Loans," and explores their contribution to the housing bubble.

Free Money Finance explains why being nice is just as good a buying strategy as a sales strategy.

The Prince of Thrift at Becoming and Staying Debt Free argues for leading a cash only lifestyle rather than taking out credit. Hint: it costs less, to start with.

Michael Dawson at The Time & Money Group contemplates how to apply to business concepts, like investing in assets now, to buy your financial freedom over time.

Andrew Leahey at Personal High Finance asks, "Is a reverse mortgage for me?"

It's no sin to be miscellaneous, it's just...different.

Ask Uncle Bill about starting an MBA program.

Mike Simonsen at Altos Research Real Estate Insights claims that a local business group got a bunch of headlines this week with a wrong-headed study about Silicon Valley competitiveness.

That's all for this week. Look for next week's carnival at OK, Dork.

Carnival of the Vanities #208 also went up tonight, a special edition completing four years as the original carnival, which inspired the creation CotC (which itself will be three in a few weeks).

September 11, 2006

September 10, 2001

No, I've not given in to the September 10th mentality. But a September 12th mentality only works by comparison to what came before.

September 10, I was looking forward to starting a new contract, after having been looking for several months. As a last little exercise of my weekday free time, I got in the car, and drove up to Adams & Adams bookstore in Laramie to buy a book I had seen there earlier in the year. I can't even remember if I called ahead to see if they still had it.

Later, much later, I remembered the trip, but not the date. Not until I happened to open the book to the flyleaf, where I always write my name & when I bought the book, did I remember when I had had time to drive 2 1/2 hours to buy a book. The next day was a close-range bullet-hole in the calendar, spreading poweder burns backwards and forwards.

CotC on the Way

Today's Carnival of the Capitalists will be up soon. Stay tuned.

September 10, 2006

Auditing the Books

Tagged by Jared:

1. A book that changed my life:

Good to Great by Jim Collins - Like the best writing and analysis, it moves past the complex to the simple, drawing not just from business but from all walks of life. Key insight: the hedgehog concept: what's the one thing you love doing, that you can be the best in the world at?

2. A book I have read more than once:

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov - Everything science fiction is supposed to be: an epic of galactic proportions, real thought about technology, human nature, and human ingenuity.

3. A book I would take to a desert island:

Any book of essays by Joseph Epstein. Probably the only frustration would be having to look up the cultural references. Great, literate essays.

4. A book that made me laugh:

Up Front by Bill Mauldin. Life as a dogface. Great cartoons, greater stories.

5. A book that made me cry:

1939: The Lost World of the Fair by David Gelernter. A story of lost optimism. I first read this book before September 11. I fight to remain optimistic, but now wonder if we can recapture that hope.

6. A book I wish had been (hope will be) written:

Almost Armageddon: How the US Government Averted Terrorist Disaster, Saved American Icons, and Delivered Iran to a New Generation of Leaders. There's still time for this one, though.

7. A book that should have never been written:

Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book has been responsible for more mischief and Jew-hatred than even its authors could have imagined.

8. A book I am currently reading:

Blow the House Down by Robert Baer

One of the first War on Terror spy thrillers. I'm a little suspicious of the overdrawn conclusions and paranoia about the "neocons," but it's full of great tradecraft and you can't put it down.

9. A book I am planning to read:

The Clintons: An American Tragedy (published 2009 by the Free Press). A detailed description of the smallness that was the Clinton Presidency, and the stunning failure of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

10. People I will send these questions to:

John Andrews, Clay Calhoun, Michael Alcorn, and Richard Duston

Well, There's Islam And Then There's Islam

In last Sunday's Denver Post, John Andrews refers to "Islam's violence problem." It's a formula that inevitably draws protests that the problem lies not with Islam, but with some violent people who claim to practice it. This is misdirection masquerading as nuance.

I think there's a terminological problem here. "Islam" is a religion, described by books, and defined by religious, theological, legal, and ethical traditions. There are many versions of "Islam." To say that "Islam" (these aren't scare quotes, just quotes to distinguish terms under discussion) can't be peaceful, or isn't peaceful is indeed too broad if it's this "Islam" we're discussing.

"Islam," however, is also a community, a people, with current religious and political institutions. The shape that "Islam" the religion takes is determined by what direction "Islam" the community directs it to take. In that sense, "Islam" has a serious violence problem, which it needs to rid itself of. I don't doubt that many if not most American Muslims, as terrified of the bomb-makers as we are. But there are specific steps that Islam the community can take to isolate and destroy the radicals.

I'm going to take the unusual step of suggesting that Islamic (or Arabic, in this case) terminology may help clarify matters. Rather than discussing "Islam," criticism of which will inevtiably lead Muslims to argue the first definition, I suggest saying that the "Umma," or the Muslim community, has a violence problem.

I don't doubt that Islamic texts give plenty of sanction to violence to expand the religion. Jihad is as jihad does. But by making this distinction, it then becomes possible to pin the responsibility where it belongs. When a Muslim says, "Islam doesn't have a violence problem, certain Muslims do, or certain people calling themselves Muslims do," then the proper response can be, "OK, so what is the umma doing to isolate and rid itself of these people?"

It's a case where we can, with little effort, use the language of those we're trying to persuade to simultaneously clarify the issues, and to discredit our enemies. And if a Muslim responds by saying that the religion and the umma are indivisible, then we can go right back to saying that Islam does have a problem, after all.

September 8, 2006

Back on Air

Honestly, I don't know why we bother with vacations. You go off someplace, fight like a madman to carve out a few days for yourself to see family, squeeze in a day to sing "16 Tons" with the pipefitters union, and then when you get back, you realize that the treadmill's still running and the handrails have gotten awfully far away.

So it's rework the model for this company and finish killing off the widows and orphans on this other 20-page term paper, help spruce up the revenue model for another company, and prepare talking points for meetings. All the while whittling down the options for the next report. Suddenly it's Friday and the blog's been dark and you didn't even notice because you were worried about the friends' dog coming for another weekend sleep-over, and why that full moon in the middle of Elul leaves you more frustrated than anticipating.

And if you go from writing CF from a living to writing reports, from code to words, suddenly putting in another hour each evening to polish up your fun writing seems, well, less fun.

On the other hand, the 20-page term papers are basically drained of every ounce of personality, as personality is considered incompatible with seriousness of purpose. There's a reason Mr. Potter is Lionel Barrymore. The blog tolerates these references. That's because you're probably not reading this at the same moment that you're deciding whether or not to write a multi-million dollar check to the author. (If I'm wrong, don't tell me; just send the check.) In a way, this makes sense. I like the cheerier attitude out west, but I'd still rather have the bank tellers dressed in dress shirts and slacks. Let the security escort for the pay train wear jeans.

It's also hard to write about stocks all day and then war at night, and it's even harder to find something original to say about either. I know baseball, road trips, and Googie architecture can seem trivial compared to Iran's Armageddijad, but even FDR understood the restorative power of a few hours at the ballpark now and again. Sage could choke on Fala, but the idea's the same there, too.

I was going to write that war even intrudes on business, but perhaps there's a way to make business intrude on war. I'll be hosting the Carnival of the Capitalists this week, despite my own lack of recent business writing, and I'm going to be running a special 9/11-and-business section. So maybe all is not lost.

Shabbat Shalom.

September 1, 2006


I had forgotten what it's like to live in a jungle. I grew up outside of DC, so was acclimated to Tarzan-like confditions from early on. So when I moved to Denver, the dryness was a revelation and a relief. Coming back east and south in August has reminded me what it's like to swim to your car from your front door.

I'm typing this in my sister's kitchen nook watching the cardinals feed at the trough and fend off squirrels. That's another thing we don't have out west. Cardinals, not squirrels. We have magpies, redwing blackbirds, and the occasional meadowlark, but no cardinals.

The occasion is my niece's bat mitzvah, and my parents' 50th anniversary. My parents didn't want to steal her thunder, so it was just a dinner out for that. Off-Broadway, the kosher meat restaurant here, has tremendous fried chicken and chicken florentine. Orthodox synagogues don't give girls or women aliyahs, so she'll be speaking at her party on Sunday night. Everything else is a lead-up to that Big Moment.

The family I'm staying with hasn't got wifi, despite other fine accomodations, so it's going to be catch-as-catch-can, but that's the life of the blogger on the road.

In the meantime, Happy Labor Day, and Shabbat Shalom.

The Goof is in the Pudding

So is pudding a gel or a liquid? Because security seems to think that sealed Jello pudding cups (mmm, only 60 calories each), are a mortal threat to life and limb. After having waited on line for 20 minutes. After having gone through the ritual x-ray screening. Then, the guy takes the pudding out and informs me that while I may continue on, the pudding, and the plastic spoons, have been confiscated.

"What if I eat it?"
"I mean, eat it, right here. Is that ok?"
Incredulous: "No?"
"No. You can go back out there and eat it, but not here."
Grasping: "What if I eat it over there, in that corner?"
"But I'm not taking it on the plane then, I'm just eating it."

There are some people who were just born to be security checkers. I know the guy has what has to be pretty close to the Worst Job on Earth, but let him buy his own damn pudding.


Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud