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Joshua Sharf

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« September 2006 | Main | November 2006 »

October 30, 2006

Eruv Rav

Today's Rocky features an article by religion editor Jean Torkelson about Jim Watkins, Eruv-meister and my former landlord, and his prominent role in constructing eruvs - communal boundaries that permit carrying on Shabbat - here in Denver, and now, in Boulder.

Property Rights

The Taylor Ranch controversy is one of those nasty points of intersection between economics, politics, and the judiciary. In 2002, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a series of landowners who border the Taylor Ranch had the right to continue doing what they had been doing for about 150 years, namely, freeloading off the Taylor Ranch resources. We had the chance to interview Dick Johnston, author of The Taylor Ranch War, which follows the 40-year (!) series of lawsuits required to resolve this issue.

In essence, the court ruled that the communal rules of the original Mexican land grant from the 1830s and 1840s overrode the American notion of exclusive use.

It hadn't occurred to me before, but is it possible that communal property right could be an answer to the question, "Why is Mexico so poor?"

October 27, 2006

Backbone Radio

We'll be talking about Limit the JudgesTM, Danny Ortega's attempted comeback in Nicaragua, school safety, the swamp that is CU Boulder, market reforms in health care, and property rights here in Colorado.

It's on 710 KNUS at 5:00 PM Mountain Time, so turn the TV volume down on the 4th quarter, and turn the radio up.

The Last Four Digits

Mike Coffman has been airing radio ads discussing how easy it is to register to vote, noting that you only need to provide the last four digits of a Social Security number, any Social Security number. There's a certain risk in broadcasting how easy registration fraud is to commit, especially for a Republican. You wouldn't necessarily want to run those ads on stations with lots of unregistered, left-leaning listeners. They might decide to exercise that ability in order to protect it.

Ken Gordon apparently has been running whimsical ads obliquely promoting campaign finance reform. It looks as though the choice will be between restricting free speech and protecting ballot integrity.

October 26, 2006

Finally, Snow

Finally, snow. We've had the major networks reporting snow, "in and around Denver" for weeks, and all it's been is a dusting here. Sure, the mountains get pounded, which is nice for the omnipresent Winter Sports Enthusiasts, but Denver just gets a little white and a lot of grey. But this morning, we got actual, real, heavy, wet, thick snow. Four inches of it. Naturally, it's all melted now.

Most of our snow comes from warm fronts, which means the clouds linger. The sun's radiation goes right through them, of course, and those nice white trees only last for a couple of hours. It's very rare that a cold front blows through, dropping its load and leaving behind blue skies. Happened once, in February 2001.


Cultural Reversal

So suppose that Chinese brokerages have the same conflict-of-interest rules that we do.

What do they call the separation between the research & investment banking departments?

Conference Train Scrip

We subscribe to a nifty little service called Street Events, which makes available earning releases, and almost instant transcripts of corporate earnings conference calls. I needed to go down to the Courthouse to file some paperwork, and knowing the line would be staffed by a single underpayed civil "servant," I took along a preliminary transcript of a call that I need to write up.

"Preliminary" is generous. The thing looks as though it was created either by someone barely conversant in the English language, or by Version 0.2 of dictation software, programmed by someone who was barely conversant in English. Either or both are completely possible, but it renders picking through the transcript an Adventure in Homophones. (Thurber had a similar problem at one point.) Consider the following:

I'm reinforce way made in the prees also those related to sale growth and the affect that copper and pressure metal have had on sale and I'll review our acquisitionings have had on the quarter and the accounting treatments affects the year over year comparisons. Then aisle review the outlook...


Good afternoon. The first Gordon before he took off he was pushing all the mu products which finally hit in 06 are there products you are stock marketed to accentuate 07 growth.

Of course that's the mole of the company.

I think the mole of the company was busy preparing this transcript.

I don't want to make too much of this. A better transcript will be available soon, and when it is, I'll let you know what the hell these people were saying to each other, because I certainly can't figure it out.

October 25, 2006

Wednesday Afternoon

Someone left the following comment on the version of my One Night With The King review: "The Christian Bible is the same as the Hebrew Bible except that the Christian Bible includes the New Testament." Right. And the United States is the same thing as North America except for Mexico and Canada.

This afternoon, a company we're covering had an earnings conference call, and I need to write an update. I will point out that some people apparently don't know how to spell, even if you spot them the entire word. I've been saying, "S-as-in-Sam-h-a-r-F-as-in-Frank" for so long it really it one long, hyphenated word. Apparently, for some people hearing it for the first time, "F-as-in-Frank" sounds like, "P." And so on the Newport Q3 2006 Conference Call Transcript I will forever be "Joshua Sharp." *Sigh* Perhaps she was just translating it from the Yiddish.

It's earnings season, and I also need to upload a bunch of our updates to First Call and Bloomberg, so it's going to be light blogging, I think.

Working on a new song, and a couple of possibly original insights into the Islamsts. Otherwise, nothing much going on.

October 24, 2006

Reporters Without Borders Redux

Apparently, for the Reporters Sans Frontiers who decided that France has a freer press than the US, the definition of a "free press" includes the right to slander entire countries, and then to haul into court anyone who bothers to question that right. Richard Landes reports on the Paris trial of Philippe Karsenty, who questioned France 2's coverage of the Mohammad al-Durah Pallywood Production. Karsenty has been found guilty of libeling France 2.

Landes, tartly:

After all, the definition of honor-shame culture is one in which you are allowed, expected, even required to shed the blood of another for the sake of your own (alpha-male) honor. And the definition of a civil society is one that systematically substitutes a discourse of fairness for violence in dispute settlement. When a civil society uses the very courts that were created to make that transition from violence to discourse, in order to unfairly protect the honor of dishonest people who pump poisons into its information stream, it corrupts the very life-blood of its republic.


There Are Whistleblowers We Like...

...and those we don't. In the < I>Denver Post's case, they don't llike whistleblowers who leak to Republican campaigns. Of course, they're more than happy to report on the reaction of the Perlmutter campaign to a story planted by that campaign in the Post itself.

The Post ridicules Beauprez's claim that his source is courageous, even as it campaigns for federal shield laws for journalists. It states that Beauprez's source leaked for partisan political purposes, even as it defends the New York Times for publishing information that's likely to get Americans killed, in pursuit of its own political agenda.

Someone needs to remind the Post that "freedom of the press" is a right reserved to all the people, for all political speech, not just to newspapers.

In the meantime, I'm sure the paper will make much of this report by Reporters Without Borders, with the absurd claim that press freedom is eroding in the US:

"Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of 'national security' to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his 'war on terrorism,' " the group said.

"The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 U.S. states, refuse to recognize the media's right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism," the group said.

The fact that relations between an administration and a partisanly hostile MSM have deteriorated is no evidence at all of actual curtailment of press freedom. At this point, the only journalists to serve time in a terrorism-related case did so because of an investigation initiated at the behest of the newspaper that published them. If RWB really believes that the administration has conducted some sort of war against hostile journalists, they've been toting more than laptops back from Columbia. (I would note the scare quotes around War on Terrorism, except that RWB might accuse me of censorship.)

Vanity of Vanities

Haveil Havelim #90 has arrived. Thanks to Soccer Dad once again for spending way too much time reading and evaluating blogs.

October 23, 2006

Fate and Destiny

Over Shabbat, I finished reading Rav Joseph Soloveitchik's Fate and Destiny, his defense of and definition of religious Zionism. In short, the Rav equates Fate with the isolation that happens to the Jewish people, represented by the Covenant with Abraham. He equates Destiny with the moral role of the Jewish people that they have a hand in creating, defined by the Covenant at Sinai.

The Rav uses as his base text the line, "Kol Dodi Dofek," from Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs). At that point in the story, the maiden hears her lover knocking at her tent and she responds - tragically, too late. Fate and Destiny hears God knocking at the Jewish people's tent, and calls for us to respond by rallying around and helping to build Israel before it's too late. It's brilliant, accessable, and required reading for anyone whose Zionism is rooted in religious faith.

The book is a translation of one of the Rav's Israeli Independence Day lectures, and contains this astonishing line:

The State of Israel today is isolated in precisely the same manner that the Jewish people has been isolated during the thousands of years of its history. If anything, the isolation of the State today is even more striking than the isolation of the Jewish people in the past, for the present-day isolation manifests itself in the international arena.

This lecture was delivered in 1956.

The notion of Israel as the Jew among the nations has gained some currency among thoughtful commentators in the last year or so. Just a f ew weeks ago, Mark Steyn wrote in MacLeans:

The energy expended by the world in denying this particular regional crisis the traditional settlement is unique and perverse, except insofar as by ensuring that the "Palestinian question" is never resolved one is also ensuring that Israel's sovereignty is also never really settled: it, too, is conditional -- and, to judge from recent columns in the Washington Post and the Times of London, it's increasingly seen that way in influential circles -- tolerated as a current leaseholder but, like Anthony Hope's Jew, it can never truly own the land. The Jews are once again rootless transients, though, in one of history's blacker jests, they're now bemoaned in the salons of London and Paris as an outrageous imposition of an alien European population on the Middle East. Which would have given Aaron Lazarus a laugh. The Jews spent millennia on the Continent without ever being accepted as European. But no sooner are the Continent's Jewry all but extinct than suddenly every Jew left on the planet is a European.

The Rav saw it coming 50 years ago.

Monday Morning

My father was in town visiting for the weekend, so we had a chance to drive up to Loveland Pass (snowy, windy, closed) and around the Dillon Reservoir before the show. He actually made it to the studio, but ESPN and Don Imus notwithstanding, radio isn't the most exciting thing in the world to watch. Sadly, he refused John's invitation to sing.

He was expected, but not until Friday evening, so when the dog started up at 3:00 AM Friday morning, the house was a scene of much confusion. Turns out the he decided to save a night's hotel room and turn I-70 into his own private Le Mans de 24 hour. I wasn't feeling terrific to begin with and I'm afraid his first day here was spent mostly reading the paper and watching me drink tea.

The bad news is that he headed back this morning. The good news is that there's hope, after all. Just remember: "When dangling, use participles."

I can't say I'm a big fan of diagramming sentences. I do think that the best way to write well is to read a lot, but only after you learn to operate the machinery, and grammar is the machinery. Grammar isn't the engine, but rather the stick shift. Get it right, and you've got both power and control at your disposal. Screw it up, and you've stripped the gears and burnt out the head gasket. Stretch a metaphor too far, and you sound like a pompous moron. Some people figure this stuff out early. We call them, "writers." Some people never quite get the hang of it, and we call them, "editors."

Making a fetish of grammar is an unappealing but probably necessary phase for anyone who takes it seriously. I'm glad to say that I am now more likely to be confused than morally offended at mistakes in parallel construction, for instance. More like to roll my eyes than to cringe at people who think "it's" is possessive. According to his daughter, Clifton Fadiman had taken to correcting restaurant menus on red ink, although not to actually grading them. This seems to me going too far. Subsequent patrons deserve the levity of seeing chicken described as "foul" just as much as you do.

Strunk and White (or, Strunk and White) get it about right - the important thing is to be understood, and grammar should aid, not inhibit, that quest. If you're spending minutes on end trying to shoehorn your idea into a 4th-grade teacher's idea of proper grammar, you might want to tear up the sentence, or the idea, or both, and start over.

The other advantage of my Dad's visit was that I had a chance to introduce him to a couple of my best friends in town. Both Dad and Dov have a virtually inexhaustible fund of stories, so they were able to keep each other entertained. You might think I was bored by hearing two sets of stories for the multipleth time, but in fact, it just keeps me sharp listening for something new. In my Dad's case, it turns out that a couple of bank robbery stories (cut it out: he used to work at a bank, not rob them) that were separate had somehow merged into one in my retellings. With them untangled, I now have two stories instead of one.

I also spent Shabbat reading a couple of essays by my favorite essayist, Joseph Epstein. If there are any books by Epstein you don't possess, fix that. Now. I don't save and display emails, but I was delighted to get a reply to a fan email I sent Mr. Epstein telling him that the only reason I had bought a particular number of the Weekly Standard was one of this essays.

Most of his stuff is somewhat light, a little wisful. But his essay defending Mencken against charges of anti-Semitisim is serious business, even if he seems to have lost his lonely argument with the rest of academia. The judgment was so swift and so decisive, even if so unjust, that in the 15 years or so since the controversy over his diaries erupted, Mencken has been quietly dropped from the journalistic pantheon by the same people who've squandered all the capital he spent his career building up. Any biopic is unthinkable, since he exists now only as a caricature of a curmudgeon.


October 22, 2006

Return to the Air

After a holiday-enforced absence from Backbone Radio, I'll be rejoining John Andrews and Krista Kafer this evening. We'll be talking about Referendum 40 (Limit the Judges), South Dakota's initiative to limit abortion, TABOR issues in Littleton, US Attorney Troy Eid, and more.

October 19, 2006


If ESPN's Chris Fowler can be forgiven for repeatedly referring to the U.Va. grounds as a, "campus" (my fingers rebel at typing the word), U.Va. itself can't be for replacing the pep band with this banal marching monstrosity. Still, it was good to see the U again, even if only on TV.

This was one of those games that ESPN dreads having to show. A 1-5 team vs. a 2-5 team, on opposite Game 7 of the NLCS. Sure, they dredge up this "Oldest Rivalry in the South," thing, the loser of the first game being left to scrawl "Roanoke" on a tree,

As for baseball: looking? He struck out looking? Maybe it's because they didn't have that crazy woman sitting behind home plate endlessly signalling "illegal motion" like in '86. More likely it's because Wainwright started mixing in curve balls that the Mets haven't seen since Doc Gooden.

So now it's a rematch of 1934 and 1968, both 7-gamers themselves. You can count on it, every 35 years or so, the Cards and the Tigers both make it to the Series. Everyone's ready to hand this thing to Detroit, but they're obviously demented. These are the same people who were holding betting stubs for a Subway Series. There's no reason this can't go 7 games again, and it's just a shame it's not being played in old Tiger Stadium.

October 18, 2006

Political Quick Hits

It's too bad Steny Hoyer apologized before anyone had a chance to remind everyone that all the actual slaveholders were Democrats.

If libertarians really are this year's swing vote, then maybe "the Common Good" isn't the best 45th slogan for the Dems.

Bill Ritter is beginning to strike me as the kind of guy who could create very, very expensive structural majorities.

Ben's Ballot

RMA blogger Ben DeGrow has compiled a sample ballot, for handy use in the voting booth on 11/7. Of course, given the hysterics from some quarters, you'd think the voting machines were programmed to download it directly from his site.

First Snow

It wasn't enough to shut down the city - although I did seem some plows in search of accumulation yesterday afternoon. It was enough to collapse the as-yet-still-assembled sukkah. I had planned to take the thing down Monday evening, but events, as they say, overcame. So of course, it finally collapsed in a heap of plastic, PVC, and tinsel. The truly amazing part is that the whole thing didn't just turn into a giant Pick-Up-Stix project when I backed the Jeep away from it this morning. Trees still dry from the summer went down, too. There was one blocking Ogden at Speer this morning.

It never stuck to the streets, but this morning, the clouds burned off to show white foothills for the first time this year. That's starting to melt already, too, but it's a warning that Winter's here, and he means business.

Naturally, the sodding is just going to have to wait until Spring, if it happens at all. I may still rent a tiller on Sunday and try to till, seed, and weed-kill the back yard, and see what comes up in April.

Political Markets Breakout

Election Day is 20 days away, but the political markets appear to have already voted. Take a look at the IEM graph of futures for control of the US House. The thing had been bouncing back and forth for a couple of months, and if the races were tightening, are at least indeterminate, they'd probablly have swung back towards parity by now. Instead, the Dems Win has broken out of the trading range to the top, and the Reps Win has broken out of its bottom.

We've been surprised on election night before, but this one doesn't look good for the Republicans. It's probably about time to open a market on the new Republican Minority leader...

October 16, 2006

I'll Be Seeing You

Just what I need - another new project. More likely this will turn into Song Of Whichever Week I Have Time, but at least you know it won't be more than one per week.

I'll Be Seeing You was written by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain, both members of the Songwriters' Hall of Fame, but each with only a couple of other titles you'd have heard of, much less heard. Still, if you're going to have one major hit together, this isn't a bad one to pick. It's been my favorite song for as long as I can remember.

I'll be seeing you In all the old familiar places That this heart of mine embraces All day through

So right away, it's a song of goodbye. Maybe they'll meet again, but there's no expectation of that in the lyric. It's goodby in a relationship with a history. Maybe the boinked like bunnies back in her apartment, and he just carried the memories with him into the streets, but that's not likely. They went places together, probably places that he knew before her, but that he now can't imagine without her.

In a way, that's the story of the song itself. We can't imagine it without WWIIt, but the song actually predates Pearl Harbor by 3 years. We usually of a soldier going off to war, and that's how it was in the 1944 Ginger Rogers/Joseph Cotten vehicle, but the song was actually introduced in the 1938 flop "Right This Way." For a show that closed after 15 performances, "Right this way," could well refer to the ushers showing the patrons the exits. But it did have this one hit.

The show itself was less than pedestrian, about a foreign correspondent in Paris who has to leave his love to return to the States. Star-crossed lovers are eventually happily reunited, but not before Tamara Drasin as Mimi introduces the song. If you've never heard of Tamara Drasin, that's ok. She was actually a pretty serious star in her day, sharing the stage with Bob Hope, Sidney Greenstreet, Fay Templeton, and George Murphy in 1993's Roberta. Five hundred people came to her funeral in 1943, after she was killed in a plane crash near Lisbon. But her movie career was virtually non-existent, and where there's no film, there's no memory.

In the small cafe The park across the way The children's carousel The chestnut tree The wishing well

So this is where they spent time together. These are simple lyrics, with a simple sort of meandering tune at this point. But we all know cafes, parks, carousels, trees. Maybe not wishing wells. So the listener conjures up little sight-bites as he hears the list, and can even populate the scene himself.

A word about tempo. Wikipedia lists 67 different covers for this song, from 1938 all the way to 2006. Virtually every version I've ever heard uses various degrees of adagio. That's how Sammy Fain himself sang it. Play it over in your mind's ear, and you'll hear the singer linger over "In," pause after "park." Sammy Cahn used to say that the great ballads were all rhythm songs, and if you bang out the cadence of that stanza, it's ONE-2-3-4 right through, with the "4" getting a slight push each time. Lots of room to pause, muse, and reflect. And since the rhyme is so complex, rhythm is virtually the only thing holding it together.

Just about the only guy who had the nerve to sing this song up-tempo was Frank, first with Tommy Dorsey and then again in 1965 on "A Man And His Music." In the talk-up to the song, he never explained why he did it that way, just that that's how Mr. Dorsey wanted it. It was a return to form for him, after 1962's "Point Of No Return" where he slowed it way down.

I'll be seeing you In every lovely summer's day In everything that's light and gay I'll always think of you that way

I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new

I'll be looking at the moon But I'll be seeing you

It sounds as though it's the same thing over again, but then, right at the end, "I'll always think of you that way," bends up rather than down, and the strings come in with that swooping harmony line. The phrasing I like best is where there's almost no break between "way" and "I'll find," as though the singer himself is swept up in the reverie.

And here's where the composer makes all the difference. After 13 lines of a song you could talk through, the crescendo build through "morning sun" and then, right on "new," when you're expecting a soaring high note - and a few do sing it that way - the whole reverie comes crashing back down to earth. It's positively heartbreaking, and it's reinforced by the next line.

There are too many syllables for it for one thing. You have to talk through it, and past "I'll be" it's all one note. Then the lingering coda, with that final, finally high-note "you" fading out.

October 15, 2006

One Night With The King

The story of Purim, the biblical Book of Esther, would make a terrific movie. Hopefully, One Night With the King hasn't ruined its chances. This is what happens when you start letting goyim make movies. (That's a joke people.) The producers of the film are religious Christians, whose hearts are clearly in the right place, but who could have used a little more research before committing this thing to film.

Hollywood of the 1950s and 1960s produced tremendous biblical epics, based on Hebrew Bible and the Christian one, set in the First Temple period and the Second Temple era. I'm willing to give a wide degree of artistic latitude to filmmakers who take on this material. I'm even willing to allow for screenplays that do some violence to subtleties in the Rabbinic backstory (known as MID-rash).But in this case, the decisions to do so were completely unnecessary, and more inquisitive minds, who go back and actually read the story, may end up believing that the filmmakers' innovations are part of that tradition.

To be sure, they did get a couple of details right. Ahashverosh is a fool, easily manipulated by advisors. The Jews, by and large, did not return to Israel after Cyrus the Great permitted them to, and the existential threat is interpreted in part by the Rabbis as punishment for this assimilation. But these details are lost in the reworking.

The main motivation for the action is Xerxes's impending invasion of Iraq, er, Greece, to avenge his father's death four years earlier, and to prove his manliness to the court. Vashti, who in Esther refuses to attend the King's banquet out of her regard for her own royal dignity, is now set up as an anti-war protester. Esther - rightly called Hadassah - has some sort of magic jewel that acts as a kind of planetarium projector under the right light.

The Midrash tags Ahasverosh as being insecure because he's a usurper, having married Vashti, Nebuchadnezzar's granddaughter, to secure his right to the throne. What, marriages of political convenience aren't enough? And if you're going to make a story out of a book who main point is that God can act through seemingly natural events, having a tailor-made-for-marketing magic crystal act as the witness for Esther's Judaism undermines the whole enterprise.

In the Midrash, Haman has spent time among the Jews, and hates them anyway. Here, he's just sort of anti-Semitic from the get-go and from afar, murdering Esther's parents (another complete invention). How much more texture would the real Haman have had.

The Midrash provides more than enough material for a great movie of palace intrigue, romance, and politics on an epic scale. The changes replace the sublime with the ridiculous. Esther's bold venture into the King's presence, and Mordechai's moving speech that prompts it, are robbed of almost all their considerable inherent dramatic value by this setup act.

I'm even willing to cut the evangelical filmmakers a little slack when it comes to Christological interpretation, even though the older generation usually played it straight with Samson and Delilah, and David and Bathsheba. But the whole Greek-invasion-Jewish-sympathizer stuff acts as a Trojan horse, so to speak, for their ideas. Haman wages his campaign against the Jews on the notion that they're forming a fifth column for the Greeks. He also claims that the Jews talk of a redeemer, a "King of Kings" who will level all men.

The implication is clearly that the Jews are being persecuted for their correct beliefs. But Christianity stands on Jerusalem and Athens, and the Jews refer to God, never the Messiah, as the "King of Kings." In any event, the concept of the Messiah does not appear to have been developed anywhere near that fully by 500 BCE. It's possible, of course, that they don't even realize what they're doing, that they think they're doing Jews a favor by showing how Judaism shares democracy's core idea that "all men are created equal."

They get their western history wrong, too, claiming that the Persians "permitted" the Greeks to retain their hate democracy after a military defeat. In fact, the Greeks defeated the Persians in defense of their civilization.

The romance portion is just silly as presented. They could have at least had the King come up to Esther at a masquerade ball and ask her if she knows where he could find, or even if she were, this Esther that he's heard about. Instead we get "The Bachelor in Shushan," with the Master of the Harem acting as Master of Ceremonies. I'm sure Chris Harrison is delighted to be played as a eunuch.

Even some of the attempts at Jewish authenticity are laughable. In a scene from the book, Haman confronts Mordechai when he refuses to bow down, knocking him down with his scepter. The Jewish hand extended to help Mordechai up is clearly wearing a red string around the wrist.

The casting director got it about half-right. John Rhys-Davies is natural and riveting as Mordechai. Omar Sharif turns in a workmanlike performance as Xerxes's general. Someone named Tiffany Dupont proves that you don't have to be Jewish to play Esther, although the role here isn't all that demanding. But Luke Goss is as wooden as his sword as Xerxes, and a number of the minor roles stick out like afterthoughts in a community theater production of Shakespeare.

The main redeeming feature of the film is that it looks fabulous. The rendition of the city of Shushan is jaw-dropping. The costumes are what is usually called, "sumptuous," and the military encampment is appropriately, er, Spartan.

For anyone who's interested in reading a coherent narrative of the Purim story, based on selected Midrashim and presented as a compelling story, I'd strongly recommend putting the price of the movie tickets towards Turnabout, based on the writings of Rabbi Meir Leibush. It's a great read, will probably take about as long to read as to sit through the film, and will be much more rewarding.

October 12, 2006

Gotcha Politics in the Colorado 7th

Sure looks that way. The Denver Post this morning essentially accused Republican candidate for Colorado's 7th District Congressional seat of unethical - or at least hypocritical behavior - for accepting a weekend trip to Panama:

Republican congressional candidate Rick O'Donnell, who has blasted politicians who accept perks, took an expenses-paid trip to Panama with his girlfriend arranged by a TV station doing business with a state agency he headed.

O'Donnell took the trip three weeks before he resigned as the head of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to campaign for Congress full time.

KCNC-Channel 4 gave him the trip, paid for by the CBS network, after the commission purchased television ads encouraging Latinos to attend college, O'Donnell said. Such perks - called incentive trips in the industry - are commonly used for heavy advertisers.

O'Donnell said he did nothing wrong.

This has all the hallmarks of a typical Denver Post election-year hit piece on a Republican. The trip took place over Super Bowl weekend, the first weekend in February, over 8 months ago, a fact which is deliberately obscured in the reporting.

The boilerplate, "O'Donnell said he did nothing wrong," tries to cover for the reporter's lack of due diligence on whether or not he actually did do something wrong. Since Ace here couldn't be bothered to read the code of ethics himself, he could have at least asked one of the experts that journalists are supposed to keep on call for just such a contingency.

In fact, I just spoke with the O'Donnell campaign's Communications Director Jonathan Tee, and he pointed out that the decision to advertise on CBS came about as a result of a consultant's recommendation. The consultant - whose contract was let by competitive bid - concluded that the best way to reach the young, male, Latino target demographic was through Broncos games. In order for there to be a quid pro quo, O'Donnell would have had to rig the bid process, so as to choose a consultant likely to recommend CBS's local affiliate for the ad run. All that for a weekend trip to go see the Canal.

The timing of the release suggests a number of questions, none of which are answered in the report:

  • When did the former commission employee tell the Perlmutter campaign about the trip?
  • Why did the employee not go to the ethics board, if there were a problem?
  • Was the employee "former" at the time he coordinated with the campaign?
  • Was the employee a political employee or civil service?
  • Did the communication take place from his office, or from a government office?
  • When did the Perlmutter campaign inform the reporter about the trip?
  • Why dd the Perlmutter campaign not simply issue a press release?
  • When did the reporter follow up on the tip?
  • When did the reporter ask the O'Donnell campaign about the trip?

At least one question answers itself: the employee didn't go to the ethics board because there was no ethical vioation. Come to think of it, all of the "whys" pretty much answer themselves, don't they?

Don't hold your breath waiting for Perlmutter or the Post to answer the others, though.

October 11, 2006

Things Seen & Heard in a Coffee Shop

So I'm sitting here in the Cherry Creek Panera, trying desperately not to stare at the girl in the actual tin foil hat. It looks like a colonial-era wig, only made from folded sheets of aluminum foil. Once upon a time I would have gone up to her and asked her what bet she lost.

I also notice that, for some reason, Panera seems to have switched from classical to jazz. This isn't a step down, but it's at least a step...over. It changes the feel of the place, to a little more hip and a little less civilized. I'm not sure why it was necessary; when I've been here during lunch, they draw an SRO crowd with plenty of high school students not scared off by the sounds of violins and brass.

In other change news, it'll soon be ok for me to get more than an emerency couple of gallons at the 7-11 downhill from the house. 7-11 has announced that it's dropping Hugo Chavez's personal ATM, Citgo, as its gasoline supplier. I've been boycotting Citgo for years, and now I'll probably have a chance to support semi-local Sinclair. It's actually based in SLC, but everytime I drive through Wyoming, I drive past a gigantic Sinclair refinery ("The Most Modern Refinery in the US!", which it was when the sign went up). It's local oil, made from real Wyoming dinosaurs, yessir.

Boston City Councillor Jerry McDermott want to take down the Citgo sign overlooking the Green Monster, although with the Saux having missed the playoffs, it's a moot point for a few months, anyway. And independent Mass. gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos wants to dump Citgo as his gas supplier for his convenience stores. The Boston Globe, naturally, doesn't get it. They still want to accept Chavez's gift of oil for the poor, so maybe they should change their motto to, "Ain't Too Proud To Beg."

I've also put up a new section on the site, which I may be expanding over time. It's a collection of anti-Hitler political cartoons, along with a little commentary and discussion. Sooner or later, maybe sooner, I'll put a link to it on the homepage. For now, this is the ony way to get there.

More Partisan Shopping

Upon further reflection and observation, there's something else extremely worrying about the whole notion of partisan shopping - the extension of ownership past, well, ownership.

When I buy a bottle of seltzer at Wal Mart, I give Wal Mart my money, and they give me their seltzer. I take the receipt, walk out the door, and while I might have the right to return the unopened seltzer, my ownership of that money is gone. It's now Wal Mart's money. The company is free to do whatever it wants with it. Likewise me and the selzter. I can drink it, use it to take out a stain, shake it up and leave it as a practical joke, or pour it on the ground in their parking lot, if I feel like it. My seltzer.

Their money. Just as Wal Mart doesn't have the right to follow me around and police my seltzer-usage, I don't have the right to tell Wal Mart what to do with its retained earnings. It can spend it to clean or open stores, pay employees, put it in the bank, or even buy its executives minor-league baseball teams for their own enjoyment. The shareholders may disapprove of the last, but I can't.

This may seem pretty simple, and it is. It's called, "ownership," and it's something that the most recent Nobel Prize winner in Economics built his life's work understanding.

And again, once we establish the principle, what's to keep a government from establishing a commission - purely advisory, no doubt, no doubt - to, ah, guide corporate political and social giving? Or to establish, you know, purely voluntary guidelines for companies wishing to establish branches within city limits? I mean, after all, it'd be much more efficient than actually having to declare and collect taxes...


Daniel Pipes takes on a proposal to have Muslim cab drivers put a special light on their taxis, so that passengers carrying alcohol know to look elsewhere. Maybe the cabbies should look elsewhere for work. Taxis are a highly-regulated industry, artificially limited in supply in order to subsidize fares. As long as they're operating as a public utility, they need to operate by the same rules as everyone else.

In any case, if a Muslim cabbie has a problem with carrying my bottle of wine, that's his problem, and he should bear the burden of it. I don't expect my employer to have kosher food at functions, and I don't expect MLB to take Saturdays off so I can pursue my dream of being a big-league radio announcer. The fact that some of them are trying to leverage their 75% position as drivers into forcing Sharia on the rest of us should be highly worrying.

Now, maybe they shouldn't have to operate as a public utility. Then we could have as many cabs as the demand required, and if Metro Taxi decided to not carry alcohol, someone else who would, could be free to enter the market. Fares would fall, cabbies who were offended by carrying a bottle of scotch would have to lower their rates further, perhaps past the point where they could make money. I'm sure that some would cry, "Racism!" when Sharia Cabs tanked, but hey, the marketplace is pitiless.

Hat Tip: (Powerlilne).


The Instaprof notes that cursive may be joining shorthand in the Bourne From Which No Penmanship Returns. Most answers in bluebooks now tend to be block printed rather than written. Shorthand is long-gone, a victim of the boss's abillity to type his own memos now, and I suspect that even long written answers will be passe soon. The Palm Grafiti was a clever intermediate step, but you'll notice that manufacturers started attaching keyboards to their PDAs as soon as they could figure out how to.

Reynolds notes that beautiful script is a small loss, but in fact, penmanship has been deteriorating for well over a century. If you can dig up a hand-written letter from, say, 1900, look at the writing, and you'll see that the script is so elegant it's almost unreadable by the modern eye. Losing script altogether is the next step in functionality.

In fact, I still write cursive most of the time, a decision that dates back to college. My own handwriting used to be unreadable to the modern eye, too, or any eye for that matter. Growing up I probably had the worst penmanship withing 50 miles of DC. The only reason it wasn't a greater radius is that I'm sure there was some senile nonegenarian in Baltimore who could barely scratch out his request that the soup be smoother next time. I write left-handed, but I throw, kick, and bat right-handed, so maybe that has something to do with it.

My handwriting was so bad (how bad was it?) it was so bad, that my 8th-grade Geometry teach, Mr. Allison, used to grade down my homework assignments because he claimed he had to work too hard to read all those right answers. Didn't help when I started spending an hour lettering them. Didn't help when I switched to ink. B. B-. 100%. B+. In the long run, the grade wasn't that important, but these were high school grades now, and if I wanted to get into Virginia, A's were going to have to be the order of the day. I wasn't going to let some frustrated calligrapher stand between me and Cavalierdom.

The only thing that helped was when I started typing - yes, with an Underwood electric typewriter, typing, my assignments. I typed out the proofs (you know, rule you're using on the left, logical result on the right, like an accounting T-chart). I used an underlined ! for "perpendicular," and an underlined / for "angle," and went back and drew in the "T". Not being a complete idiot, I penciled the solid-geometry drawings, then traced them over in ink. Finally, "A's."

My handwriting was pretty much the same through the first couple of years in college. Third year, I read a column by George Will about the virtues of fountain pens (I suspect another one is forthcoming on the heels of this article), and went out and got a cheap $10 model at Rose's. I liked it, so I got myself a more expensive Schaeffer model a few months later.

So I had the dream-to-write-with pen, one you couldn't really print with, and I decided to slow down and upgrade my handwriting to match. Write slowly, and everything falls into line. The first time a checkout girl complemented me on my handwriting I almost asked her out. I was 25, and I can honestly say it was the first time in my life I had heard the words, "wow, that's really nice handwriting." The only reason I knew she wasn't making fun of my was that I asked if she were.

So, another buggy-whip skill mastered just in time.

October 10, 2006

The Departed

Suitable for children.

Ahhhh, no. As your head stops runing like a bell from the soundtrack, the first thing you remember about The Departed is the prodigious amounts of tomato juice. There's a hell of a lot of blood in this film, which is so unlike Scorsese, and a couple of the shots are jaw-dropping, less for the violence that for the suddenness and for their plot implications.

The second thing is that about 2/3 of the dialogue consists of f-bombs, yet still manages to get off some good lines. At a command center during an attempt to trap Nicholson, there's, shall we say, a little inter-departmental rivalry. "Who are you?" "I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy."

The last thing is that this is a terrific movie, with some fine performances, a premise that grabs you from the beginning, and pacing that never lets up.

The setup is deceptively simple: Jack Nicholson is a Boston mob boss who inserts Matt Damon as a mole into the State Police. The State Police insert Leonardo DiCaprio as a mole into Nicholson's organization. Both Damon and DiCaprio fall for the same police psychologist. So...who gets to whom first, and how many other people do they have to go through the get there?

Both Damon and DiCaprio are impressive. Damon's still the action-anti-hero, but the performance here is a little more subtle than in the Bourne films. DiCaprio is starting to grow on me as an actor. I liked him in Catch Me If You Can, and here, he's an appealing guy who wants to do the right thing, but whose life is coming apart under the strain of being undercover.

Nicholson will get raves for his performance, but he doesn't really deserve them. It's a solid job, but he's played the criminal-with-subcutaneous-currents-of-violence a couple of dozen times by now. He doesn't mail it in by any means, but it's also clear that the role's not much of a stretch for him. When he stands at the front of his guys, confronting the Chinese mob at a drop, wearing sunglasses in the middle of the night, you'd swear it was the Joker.

The only role that doesn't quite come off is the shrink. Vera Farmiga just doesn't carry off the mix of professional, vulnerable, confused, and suspicious that the role demands. She is all of those things, but the transitions aren't believable, and her character is hard to pin down as a coherent personality.

One small bonus is getting to hear Alec Baldwin praise the Patriot Act.

Make no mistake, this is a violent, violent film, unusual for noir, which relies on the threat of violence to ratchet up the tension. There are enough surprises to keep it interesting, but Scorsese never relies on coincidences. We see enough of both mob and police culture for them to be believable as well.

Enjoy, at your own peril.

Partisan Shopping

I received an email the other day from a local denver Post reporter trolling for partisan shoppers. That is, people who actually drive miles out of their way to go to Wal-Mart rather than Costco, or vice-versa, because the company in question gives (or is perceived to give) to the party of one's choice. My response: eh, who needs it?

"The personal is political" has been the watchword of the Looming Left ever since the stay-at-home mom became first a figure of fun, and then, when she refused to get a job and a pantsuit, of venom. But mapping out a route that takes me by "red" stores while scrupulously avoiding "blue" stores would probably reduce my computer to singing, "Daisy, Daisy." It's too much to keep track of, and then, what, do you start chatting up the cigar store owner to find out his politics?

What's worse, once you legitiamize this sort of thing, it has a way of seeping into the public discourse, and then candidates get a hold it. Regulatory power being what it is, those corporate shakedowns will migrate from Green to Blue. As a businessman, it ought to be enough to deliver something someone wants at a reasonable price while navigating through the tax code, land use code, and employment code. You shouldn't have to worry about losing 48% of your clientele because you happen to like squeezing off a few rounds down at the range.

It's one thing if you want to reward Hobby Lobby because they give their employees Sunday off. Everyone's got individual practices you like or don't. The companies pursue those practices at a certain cost, because they think it's worth it, and you're just encouraging that. Buying at Costco because they support HilPac begns to range into authoritarian territory.

Politics has to stop sometime. Isn't enough that we fight elections every four years, blog round the clock, have shortened the news cycle to the lifespan of an amoeba? Does the Permanent Campaign really need to extend to economic civil war?

October 1, 2006

Aspen Pix

From the weekend trip a couple of weekends ago. Posted for your enjoyment without comment for lack of time. I'll try to add comments tomorrow evening.





Erev Yom Kippur

Unfortunately, the sodders won't be here until the 17th of October, so Sukkot will have to take place in the embarassing wilderness that the back yard has become. At least there aren't shards of broken glass, but I will have to clean the place up from the dog's various deposits of toys and, ah, dog deposits.

But that's tomorrow. Today, it's get ready for Yom Kippur. Naturally, for a fast day, the bagel store was hoppin'. As usual they had brought in some extra help for the day, and as usual, they didn't know any of the prices or the clientele. No matter. For a staff trying to deal with a bunch of Jews, they were doing pretty well.

From there, it was on to a nice, long walk with the dog at the dog park. Cherry Creek Reservoir has a hugh off-leash area, and while Sage used to play with the other dogs, now he mostly just enjoys the chance to run freely and smell everything without being dragged along on a rope. He did manage to find a chocolate lab his size to play with this time. He dutifully tried to dominate him, and the chocolate let him get away with it for a while before running away and seeing if Sage would give chase.

I apologized to the owners for Sage's behavior, but they said they didn't mind, and actually were laughing at their own dog's failure to hit back. I give them credit. Usually, I'm a little embarassed by Sage's need to show every other dog who's boss, but the real problem isn't with the other dogs, it's with the owners who seem either offended or threatened by it. The other dog will have one of three reactions. Either he'll put up with it indefinitely. Or she'll take it seriously, get her hackles up, and let Sage know that he should at least spring for dinner and a movie. Or he'll start playing himself. Any of these reactions is ok, and the dogs will generally figure it out. If a dog is the type who won't figure it out, he shouldn't be off-leash at a dog park. But I've run into owners who've gotten really angry at this stuff, and one jackass who actually started throwing tennis balls at Sage.

Tennis balls! Why didn't I think of that? Perfect! Let's punish a dog who's playing with our dog by rewarding him with a game of fetch! In that case, it wasn't just the guy's dog who could have used a little socialization.

No today's idiots were of a different order. Now the sign clearly states that Motorized Vehicles are not allowed. Fair enough. There are horses out there, dogs who think they have the unfettered right of way, little kids who aren't exactly known for situational awareness. Yet some mother thought it was perfectly fine for her little tyke to go riding around in the big-wheels version of an ATV. I could have outrun the thing, when her little angel does what boys do and tries to catch that little dog with the short legs and bad hearing, she's gonne regret it.

The other was a comment I heard on the way out of the park: "Gee, I hope she's not in heat again..." Gee, I hope she was talking about her dog. Or maybe not. I had Sage's doghood snipped off before he had a chance to miss it, but why on God's green earth would you bring a dog in heat to an off-leash dog park unless you wanted a lot of company? And this in a country with mandatory sex ed in the schools.

Then it was on to a tour of the Evil Big Box stores: Wal-Mart and Home Depot. I still think the liberal hatred of Wal-Mart doesn't have anything to do with unions, health benefits, cheap generics, or leaning on suppliers. I think it dates back to their unwillingness to carry certain books, magazines, and CDs on the theory that, well, they didn't want to carry them. The Left went ballistic, screaming, "censorship," when in fact, if they had the least bit of imagination, they would have been screaming, "business opportunity." Or at least attending shareholders meetings.

As it happens, Costco is also on the Odyssey. I noticed that Air America has a book out, with the ravings of their various hosts. Just in time for bankruptcy! Someone pointed out that Air America had found the one talk radio format that doesn't work. You can get people to listen to other people talking about anything, from cars to fantasy baseball to whatever This American Life thinks counts as human interest. But these bozos managed to fail with politics.

I actually like Costco. They have kosher Empire chickens, much cheaper than the deli. Not once but twice people saw them in my cart at or after checkout, and wanted to know where they were in the store. In one case, it was a couple of Israelis in the parking lot. They didn't know when the deli closed, but since it's on the speed dial, I called and asked for them. That's one of those scenes that was completely unimaginable 10 years ago, and will probably be again 2 years from now, when I'll just pull out the web PDA and check the website.

The one thing I don't like about Costco is having to wait untl you clear the store to pocket the receipt. The opposite-of-the-greeter solemnly checks the list, including the items buried in the box where she can't possibly see them, checks them all off, and you are finally released to your car. I can't believe that company management still thinks actually accomplishes anything.

Sandwiched in-between was a small-shirt drop-off at Goodwill. I pulled into the motorized drop-off lane, and then called out to the guy in front of me, "Don?" Turned out it was the guy who used to own Willow Creek Books, one of my favorite used book stores. He always had new stuff, the best selection of Judaica in town, and was the source of numerous presents, including a book of opera librettos compressed into doggerel. When he was selling out, I considered buying the store from him and taking it Internet-only, but couldn't figure out the financing.

Still a small town in a lot of ways.

All right, on to Yom Tov. See you on the other side. Or at least, that's what I'm praying for.


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