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Joshua Sharf

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May 30, 2008

Bad News From Canada

On the face of it, this would be good news. After all, the journalists sound as though they're defending Steyn. (Via Instapundit):

The Canadian Association of Journalists has formally applied for standing as an intervenor at the upcoming British

Columbia Human Rights Tribunal hearings on a complaint of religious and racial discrimination against Maclean's magazine.


The CAJ has applied to intervene in defence of freedom of the press, freedom of expression and because journalists' interests are clearly affected, on many levels, by the proceedings. One argument the CAJ hopes to make is that human rights cases under section 7 must consider the intent of the writer in assessing published material. (emphasis added)

The problem is that they're defending him on grounds that Styen himself (and Ezra Levant before him) resoundingly and rightly reject. Author's intent doesn't matter at all: the government simply has no business regulating what its citizens may read, or what its citizens may write. Period.

When the Albertians asked Levant about his intent in his hearing, he replied that he had made his intent clear in other forums, but that for the purposes of that hearing, he wanted the Commissioner to assume the basest, most foul, most offensive motives she could allow her blinkered mind to imagine.

If only the CAJ had those, er, guts, Steyn and Levant wouldn't have had their problems to begin with.

UPDATE: Added Links


Finally. In a fit of simultaneous relief and and anticipation, we turned in 958 signatures to the Secretary of State yesterday, and will, barring some unexpectedly catastrophic turn of events, be on the primary ballot come August 12. The SoS seemed to think it would only take a couple of days to check each signature line-by-line, and while they have until June 13 to finalize the ballot, we'll know for sure by the early part of next week.

For larger petitions, for say Congressional or statewide seats office or initiatives, they'll do a statistical analysis first, and then when the loser complains, they'll do a more thorough analysis. But in this case, a concerted effort would take a day or so to manage. Since I'm not the only candidate or initiative petitioning onto the ballot (just the only one I'm writing about), it may take them more that a few hours to finish the job.

In the event, 25 people helped to gather signatures, some having an evening to gather a handful, and some having seemingly endless amounts of time, and bringing in over 100. Every last one of them mattered - which is also clearly a lesson for the primary and the general. Some will be moving on to other pursuits, although most have made it clear that they want to help out in whatever way possible for the rest of the campaign. A heartfelt and sincere thanks to them all.

UPDATE: Well, naturally it was a "fit" of relief, not a large coniferous vegetation of relief.

May 28, 2008

The Home Front

There's a reason that wartime movies are rarely about the home front. Aside from the fact that the front is where the action is, any good picture derives its energy from conflict, and conflict on the home front can only be bad for morale. Soldiers don't want to see movies about their girlfriends (or worse, wives) fighting over them (or worse, someone else). Those at home are doing their part, usually through some sort of economic sacrifice, and don't want to be reminded that some people cheat, hoard, steal, or lie. Once in a while, but rarely, do you get a "Since You Went Away," which dealt with serious homefront issues, but nowadays seems saccharine.

Which is why a TV series like "Foyle's War" could only be made 60 years after the fact. Its main character, Christopher Foyle, is a police inspector in the coastal town of Hastings. It's as near the front lines as he's likely to get, given that he served in the Great War. Initially eager to leave his posting for something more directly helpful to the war effort - military intelligence or some such - Foyle resigns himself to police work for the duration.

What sustains him and his team is, at first, a deep and abiding sense of justice. Just because the Germans are liable to come swarming over the coast at any moment doesn't mean that a murder victim isn't due justice. Later, as wartime restrictions and rationing come into effect, we get the occasional reminder that hoarding is a betrayal of all those seamen serving on convoys. Likewise, Foyle himself is extremely reluctant to permit any perversion of justice in pursuit of the war effort.

The producers took extraordinary care on historical detail, going back and digitally erasing curbside road markings, satellite dishes, and the like. It pays off in atmosphere, as does the attention to the various British accents. As important is the fact that most of the incidents in the show (aside from the murders), actually took place. A bureaucratic mishap did actually strand English refugees in a schoolhouse that was eventually bombed. Lacking Nevada, the British were forced to conduct certain biological experiments on home soil near populated areas. And so on. Upper-class Brits did hide out at "funk-holes," away from the reach of authorities and the draft.

At least one episode is devoted to wartime relations with their American cousins. At the beginning, an American Army truck convoy, clearly lost in a maze unrelated to any rational grid system, comes roaring through a small town. The episode is titled, "Invasion," and a small boy, seeing the trucks, runs off yelling, "The Jerries are here! The Jerries are here!" The chief engineer's American accent is a little shaky - apparently just as we perceive them to all be speaking in falsetto, they perceive us to be talking through our noses - and the writers eventually settled for having him hail from Massachusetts.

Given that most of the episodes involve some breach of wartime rules, one can be forgiven for thinking that the series is an endless parade of unpatriotic betrayals. But the best murder mysteries always involve people lying for reasons unrelated (or sometimes related) to the murder at hand. Anthony Horowitz and his crew never portray most Englishmen as anything other than muddling through, and the stories he tells are part of the overall history of the war, which we should be well past romanticizing.

Michael Kitchens's performance as unperturbable Foyle, by the way, is masterly. Foyle is reserved, but observant. He never says more than necessary, and Kitchens is able to stay totally in character, portraying surprise, disgust, dismay, or just plain resignation about human nature, with little more than a glance or lopsided expression.

At a time when too many politicians are willing to undercut the war effort, troop morale, and civilian resolve, for their own purposes, "Foyle's War" is a reminder of the close interaction between the home front and the shooting war.

Comparative Advantage

So two old Jewish guys are sitting on a bench, watching the waves roll in.
"You know something, Hymie?"
"What, Abe?"
"If I were as rich as Rothschild, I'd be richer than Rothschild."
"How's that?"
"Well, I'd do a little tailoring on the side."

This is funny, because we all understand comparative advantage, whether we want to admit it or not.

May 27, 2008

Atoms for Peace Redux

In private conversations over the last few months, I've been expressing the notion that McCain sees himself as a potential president in the Eisenhower mold. His military record is a fundamental but largely unspoken part of his campaign. He's more centrist than the party as a whole, although essentially conservative. He's more focused on foreign than domestic policy.

Today's revival of the Atoms for Peace speech was another step in that direction. What follows is my reaction to the speech, for which I literally had a front-row speech.

After touring the main foreign policy problems he'd be confronting as President, McCain focused on today's theme of nuclear proliferation. I have to say, that while McCain's delivery was statesmanlike and deliberate, the content of the speech was something of a disappointment.

The main theses of his nuclear policy are that 1) as the Soviet Union no longer exists, we and Russa are "no longer mortal enemies," and therefore the large nuclear arsenals we had in the past are unnecessary 2) to possess nuclear weapons was to threaten the world with extinction, and 3) international organizations - either the existing IAEA or new ones - can be made sufficiently robust to handle the problem.

All three legs are at least open to serious question, and suggest an Eisenhower-type approach to the problem, unfortunately with the benefit of 50 years of seeing what works and what doesn't.

Leg 1) assumes that Russia, as the only other large-scale nuclear power, is the only reason for retaining a large nuclear arsenal. But this sort of bilateralism ignores the rise of other nuclear threats. Reducing our own nuclear arsenal makes the remaining nukes more vulnerable to attack, and the Chinese have shown themselves to be a very resourceful adversary thus far. Their interest in space warfare puts our command and control - especially of our submarines and satellite intelligence assets - at risk. Advances in anti-submarine warfare could make us with for the day that we had a reserve force of land-based nukes. And such scenarios hardly exhaust the need for a large, survivable deterrent.

Leg 2), while unspoken, is wrong on the face of it. As has been pointed out before, we don't care about the British, or even the French, having a sizeable arsenal. We don't worry about Pakistan having nukes, although india does, and perhaps we should, as well. Even if Canada were to acquire nuclear weapons, it could hardly influct more damage than its influx of comedians has. (Quebec, though, might be another story.)

Leg 3) is in many ways the most problematic. If you read down to the end of Eisenhower's speech, you'll see many of the same proposals McCain tried to revive today, principles that were supposed to be the basis of civilian international control of nuclear power.

The governments principally involved, to the extent permitted by elementary prudence, should begin now and continue to make joint contributions from their stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials to an international atomic energy agency. We would expect that such an agency would be set up under the aegis of the United Nations. The ratios of contributions, the procedures and other details would properly be within the scope of the "private conversations" I referred to earlier.

The United States is prepared to undertake these explorations in good faith.Any partner of the United States acting in the same good faith will find the United States a not unreasonable or ungenerous associate.

Undoubtedly, initial and early contributions to this plan would be small in quantity. However, the proposal has the great virtue that it can be undertaken without the irritations and mutual suspicions incident to any attempt to set up a completely acceptable system of world-wide inspection and control.

The atomic energy agency could be made responsible for the impounding,storage and protection of the contributed fissionable and other materials. The ingenuity of our scientists will provide special safe conditions under which such a bank of fissionable material can be made essentially immune to surprise seizure.

The more important responsibility of this atomic energy agency would be to devise methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind. Experts would be mobilized to apply atomic energy to the needs of agriculture, medicine and other peaceful activities. A special purpose would be to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world.

But these proposals only work if the countries involved cooperate - i.e., if they see the threat of nukes to be worse than the nuclear arming of their allies. It should be quite clear by now that Russia (Iran), and China (North Korea and Syria), hold fundamentally the opposite position on this question from ours. The countries hell-bent-for-leather (in Iran's case, quite literally) on developing a Bomb have made it quite clear that they are willing to impoverish their countries in the effort, and thus far, in both Iran's case and North Korea's, the local population has failed to rebel. And the IAEA, under Mohammed El Baradei, has been worse than useless in deterring Iran's ambitions.

Instead of dealing with the Iranian problem on its own, McCain seeks to enlarge the problem to one of nuclear proliferation generally. In doing so, though, he threatens to blunt our own ability to deal with Iran in yet another international bureaucratic nightmare.

Memorial Day Weekend at Bernie's

From Obama's speech yesterday:

On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes -- and I see many of them in the audience here today -- our sense of patriotism is particularly strong.

May 26, 2008

Bill Mauldin...or Michael Yon?

Ft. Logan National Cemetery - Memorial Day 2008

Thank you.

May 23, 2008

The Brooklyn Bridge at 125

This day, in 1883. No doubt it made the delivery of "The World's Breakfast" much easier. It was also this bridge, as much as anything else, that made the 1898 absorption of Brooklyn into New York City both possible and inevitable.

Where are all the tall buildings? Not built yet. Chicago wouldn't invent the skyscraper for another 2 years, making the bridge construction all the more remarkable.

May 22, 2008

Walking the District

I'm not going to pretend it's not a lot of work walking the precincts. Going door-to-door, asking people to sign for you, it's a lot of work. But it's an education, and it's actually fun once you get into it.

One lady said that, "it's terrible what they make you do to get on the ballot." Well, I appreciated her sympathy, but the fact is, it makes sense. If your can't get 30% at Assembly, then you should have to prove that there is a significant number of party members who want you on the ballot.

People have, in general, been very nice, even when they don't sign. And the number who won't sign is very, very small. This being a heavily-Democrat district, many Republicans are simply happy to see a fellow Republican aggressively running a well-organized campaign. Hugh's right that regulars are suspicious of activists, but well-groomed candidates are the kind of activist everyone likes.

About 3/4 of homeowners have dogs. And about 1/2 the owners are scared their dogs will bolt out the front door. I haven't worried about that too much, ever since I accidentally left the gate open and Sage ran away to the front porch.

I've had a great team of signature-gatherers. They've been tireless, and some of them don't seem to have any other extra-curricular activities. But the fact is, I'm my own best advocate, and I think I get a better reception than they do, not out of any great talent, but because people seem to respect someone out there walking for himself. I certainly respect the help I've had.

You also get to see how diverse the district is. There are precincts that are apartment buildings, precincts with small, medium, large, and palatial houses. But with few exceptions, people are friendly in all of them.

So far, I've walked my own precinct, some neighboring ones, a couple down in the southern part of the district, and one out east. Next week, I'll probably try to visit the western part of the district, where I haven't been yet.

And this is only the beginning.


I had forgotten how much I loved Camelot growing up. We had the Broadway cast album, and since children by definition have no judgment, I didn't know squadoosh about lousy film casting. I've heard the music occasionally ever since then, but musicals are meant to be performed, not just sung. It's musical theater, not recital fodder.

A couple of weeks ago, PBS's Live from Lincoln Center broadcast a semi-staged production of the show from Avery Fisher Hall. With the New York Philharmonic up on stage, the production featured Marin Mazzie as Guenevere, Gabriel Byrne as Arthur, and Nathan Gunn as Lancelot. These are actors, not just singers (certainly not in Byrne's case), and miraculously, you care about the story and the characters, no mean feat in a 50-year-old show. (Also remarkable, given that the orchestra was probably rooting for Mordred.)

Camelot wasn't as popular as Lerner & Loewe's previous collaboration, My Fair Lady, for a couple of reasons. Most shows are a series of catastrophes, but the lead-up to Camelot's premiere was worse than most, with the director and the composer suffering health problems. The tone of the show changes darkly at intermission, leading to an ending that's bittersweet at best.

Like all good tragedies, it's both political and personal, compounding the sense of loss. Arthur's courage to be king comes through his wife. The personal betrayal eventually undermines the more lofty ideals. So much for Arthur's attempted, ah, compartmentalization at the end of Act I. Leaving the personal matters aside, Camelot is also about the ability of a free society under the rule of law to deal with those who would use that freedom to hollow it out from within. Cutting down Mordred's role and cutting out "Fie on Goodness" unfortunately minimizes this aspect of the show.

The casting and the performances are note-perfect. Gabriel Byrne charms as the slightly world-weary Arthur, rejuvenated by the arrival of Lancelot at court.

But while Camelot is Arthur's story, Camelot is Guenevere's and Lancelot's. If Broadway still had material capable of creating stars, Marin Mazzie would own the place. She's 48, and yet carries off Gennie's transformation from girlish mischief to sadder-wiser-older ex-Queen-now-sister with complete persuasiveness. Watch her face, her eyes in the two big Act I solos. What looks on TV like a little overacting is perfect for the stage:

She's devoted her career to musical theater, and art form that probably doesn't do someone with her talent proper justice any more.

By comparison, Nathan Gunn is visiting from the world of opera, which should require acting as well. Watch the little gestures, the hand movements, how he conveys Lance's cocksureness. We've heard this song a million times, but Gunn, French accent and all, makes it funny, and not in some self-conscious, post-modern, Lance-really-has-a-man-crush-on-Arthur sort of way, but in a way that does the material justice.

The two of them together are pure dynamite:

The minor roles are cast for laughs - Christopher Lloyd as Pellinore, Fran Drescher as the chocolate-hungry Morgan Le Fey, Stacy Keach as Merlin. The costumers dressed Mordred as a Goth, which is very, very funny.

Watching the snippets on YouTube is fun. But right now, it's probably the only premium that could get me to contribute to PBS.

The Ruinous Effects of Tom Lehrer

So the Big Band channel for some reason decides to play Don Cornell's "I'm Yours," one of the sappy, string-backed ballads from the 50s when popular music was descending into madness. Anyway, one of the lines is, "I stand here before you/My heart in my hand..."

Anyone who's ever heard "The Masochism Tango" would have to have a heart of stone to hear that line without bursting into laughter.

To salvage this post, I'll point out that the next song was, "I'll Walk Alone." Mark Steyn delights in showing the universality of 1940s popular culture with the story that some wag had written on a ruined German tank, "I'll Walk Cologne."

UPDATE: According to the always-suspect Wikipedia entry, there were three versions of "I'm Yours" on the chart at the same time in the Spring of 1952. *Sigh* As Hugh likes to say, "That which is rewarded gets repeated."

May 21, 2008

Urban Planning Blogging

The post on top-down urban planning brought a fair amount of response, and led me to seek out some decent blogs devoted to the subject. Here's the haul, and, as always, read at your own risk:

NY Sun's Culture of Congestion: A New York-based blog that is devoted primarily to NYC issues

Peter Gordon's Blog (from his USC website): A blog exploring the intersection of economic thinking and urban planning/real estate development and related big-think themes. Mr. Gordon seems to bring a free-market economist's sensibility to the subject.

City Comforts: Another NYC-based Seattle-based blog, mostly but not always about urban planning and urban living. Covers topics both big and small.

Demographia: takes a free-market, basically libertarian approach to urban living. Sort of the anti-urban planning blog.

Denver Infill: the best blog covering Denver development issues. The author likes planning and big-ticket public projects way too much for my taste, but he certainly covers the waterfront. Or he would, if we had a waterfront.

May 19, 2008

The Life Cycle of a Political Party

Why does a political party exist? To win elections? Or to promote ideas?

The fact is, the Republican party has ceased to do the second because it has effectively abandoned its efforts to do the third.

The question is, therefore, should it continue to do the first?

A fair number of Republicans, some of them recent candidates traumatized by public disaffection for the Iraq War during the last election cycle, believe that the party is dead, and should be put out of its misery as quickly as possible.

Others believe that, since the party has basically abandoned efforts to hold the government to its limitations under that obscure statute known as The Constitution, it can no longer address the critical issues of the day, and deserves the same fate as the Whig Party. The Whigs, incapable of producing a coherent philosophical position about slavery, found itself quickly put out of business, replaced by the Republicans, who knew exactly where they stood on the issue.

Statewide, the party leadership made a number of catastrophic mistakes, practically scripted to damage the brand, split the membership, and leave it in minority status. Aside from Ref C, which cost the party is claim to be the low-tax party, it also failed to confront campaign finance "reform," which created loopholes big enough to drive a truck through - loopholes all of which were conveniently located on the left-hand side of the road.

These mistakes left the party defenseless against attacks it was practically begging the Left to launch.

Some commentators are taking the "worse is better" approach to electoral politics. This has a soft form - lose an election badly enough to shake up the membership - and a hard form: lose badly enough to collapse the party entirely and leave room for a more principled replacement. The first is a reckless gamble, the latter a childish approach to politics that would throw away the eminently salvageable political machinery of generations.

The problem is, either one of these alternatives will leave a vacuum (which nature and justice abhor) giving over massive majorities to the Democrats. We've subjected the country to the tender mercies of the Democrats a few times in history, and the results haven't been stellar. In reverse chronological order, they've resulted in an intractable welfare state (LBJ and the Great Society), massive economic mismanagement (FDR and the Great Depression), temporary abandonment of the rule of law (Woodrow Wilson and WWI), and the dismemberment of the country (Buchanan and the Civil War).

The election laws aren't favorable to third parties, and it could take several election cycles before a new party established itself. And crushing electoral defeats can lead to decades of self-doubt and disintegration (see Democrats 1972 to 1992). In fact, the party could simply limp along in minority status for decades, decades that the country simply no longer has the luxury of. It's done so before.

The fact is, instead of cynically rooting for disaster, we would be better served to begin rebuilding the party brand now. We should be looking for candidates who stand for something, rather than being happy with the, "well, we're better than them" line, which has been played out for several elections.

We should be looking for candidates who can begin pushing the Constitutionalist ideals which the rank-and-file expect it to. We should be supporting those candidates.

May 18, 2008

Will the Bauhaus Never End?

Susan Barnes-Gelt is all about urban planning for democracy. Appropriate for the 125th anniversary of the birth of one of the most destructive architects of the 20th Century.

Lileks has done this better, but hey, as long as they keep trying, we'll have to keep batting them down.

For the past six years, George Hoover's advanced design studio/ seminar at the University of Colorado's School of Architecture has addressed the Colorado Station transit site at Interstate 25 and Colorado Boulevard. The graduate course includes readings from the Declaration of Independence, Aristotle, Benjamin Barber, Jurgen Habermas and, of course, Denver's Comp Plan 2000. Students develop master plans and specific designs for the transit site.

Well, I'm glad to see that Denver's Comp Plan 2000 is now on par with Aristotle. And judging by the pace of progress, by the time it's finished, it'll be as old as the Philosopher is now. Of course, a properly structured education would put Constitutional theory and Aristotle first, and then fill in the urban planning gaps with doses of William Whyte and Jane Jacobs. I mean, no, of course we wouldn't want to lock the poor, impressionable minds into outdated modes of thought. But my experience in b-school ethics is that to the extent that Aristotle is deep, he is ignored, and to the extent that he can be used, he's reduced to a sound bite. There's no framework for analyzing him, much less applying his thought, which is worse than useless.

This year's class was extraordinary. Students understood the delicate balance of the individual and community and embraced obligations of every stakeholder, beginning with the architect.

Well, just go ahead and capitalize "Architect" for crying out loud. The architect is only a stakeholder insofar as the success or failure of selling the project determines his future commissions. The architect is a chicken, the people living there are pigs

This group of young professionals considered the elements of a livable city in the context of what they consider the most pressing question of the 21st century: global sustainability.

Pause for a moment of silence for Global Sustainability. Good Lord, we pollute less per capita, use less per dollar of GDP, have fewer children (aside from the cultural suicidal Europe) than the rest of the world. We do this because we've actually advanced past the stage of subsistence living to the point where we can actually worry about cleaning up our messes. So maybe, if Global Sustainability is the issue, we should put the stick to every thieving third-world kleptocratic maniac to stop stealing from their own people long enough to let them develop institutions that are capable of maintaining the water treatment plant after we leave.

They explored how personal, social, political and religious fragmentation and conflict might be overcome in a new, sustainable paradigm that respects and even celebrates differences.

Personal fragmentation can be solved by wearing a helmet and not sticking your foot under a running lawnmower. "Religious fragmentation" is a proper contraction of "Religious figment-of-imagination." I live in the most heavily-Jewish district in the state, and it's barely 10%. I wasn't aware that Catholics and Presbyterians were busily self-segregating. Or by politics, for that matter. As for social fragmentation, this could mean either race or class, but by God, if those rich people are bound and determined to spend their money on more comfortable surroundings, they should be stopped, even if it means piping the neighbors' musical selections in through the air vents.

...All of these elements contribute to the armature of a high-population-density, transit-oriented Denver community. Their urban village becomes a test bed for change, a concept that philosopher Michel Foucault terms "heterotopia."

I can't tell you how happy I am that I don't have the faintest idea what this means.

Foucault uses heterotopia to describe places and spaces that function in non-hegemonic conditions — a campus, prison or hospital where architecture might facilitate the creation of more open and equitable systems.

"In the cells, the prisoners come and go, talking of Michel Foucault." I'm sure just what we need is a more egalitarian prison system. Campuses are already run by the inmates. And at my first (and hopefully last) hospital stay, the staff and doctors were so deferential I was concerned they weren't doing their jobs. You know something, there are places that have hierarchies for a reason.

It wasn't surprising that among these 16 graduate students, one was an organic farmer and another expressed the master plan as a perfectly organized quilt. The group designed living units as small as 140 square feet; beautifully organized and conceived small and large public gathering spots; green pathways; and areas of solitude that juxtaposed perfectly with the high-intensity hardscape of the development.

If Ms.Barnes-Gelt is happy being thought of as organic corn or a little quilted square of fabric, well then, less power to her. The large public gathering spots will be perfect for hearing the message from The Farmer, or The Quilter. And I find it hard to believe that the "areas of solitude" won't be overrun with solitude-seekers if the place is such a high-density area, with solitude available only through the technological bliss of noise-canceling-headphone-laden iPods, in which case why not crawl back into your apartment closet for solitude, which is the real reason for having single-family homes in the first place?

Consistent with their roles as citizens, they designed places where democracy might flourish.

Apparently, democracy only flourishes when we're all stacked up like ants in some 1930s John Cheever apartment building. Soul-crushing conformity is what flourishes in this logical extension of the HOA That Ate My Self. Remember that these ideas come from the same people who think that high-density living alleviates congestion, and will tax that congestion into the suburbs, in order to prove it.

Urban planners have brought us every major step in the destruction of our cities from 1930 onwards. It goes back at least as far as this and this and this. (Try crossing the street in any of them.) Which means they've been trying for at least 70 years to get us to live tidily, and for some reason we refuse to cooperates. Some people never learn.

May 17, 2008

Bob Schaffer at the J-GOP

Thursday night, Bob Schaffer addressed the Jewish Republicans, with a version of his stump speech tailored for small audiences. It was a masterly performance, with Schaffer covering almost the full range of national issues, from national security, to energy, to the environment, while mentioning his disappointment with the national party leaderhship in the past, and his willingness to fight within the party for the ideas we all care about.

When the race started, it looked as though Iraq, and the declining Republican brand were going to be the major issues in the fall. Now, with greater success in Iraq, and declining enthusiasm for Democrats, pocketbook issues are more important.

And among pocketbook issues, energy looms the largest. Schaffer made the point that our current energy prices are a combination of increased worldwide demand, and a deliberate policy by liberals, environmentalists, and socialists (er, is there a difference there?) to limit domestic energy production on the basis of aesthetics rather than economics.

So let's see: we turn our food into energy, which is an inefficient use of everything involved in the process: corn, fertilizer, natural gas (which is what you make fertilizer from), energy itself. We prevent drilling in Alaska, offshore, in-state. (Cuba apparently is less environmentally sensitive.) We streamline the nuclear plant licensing process at just the time when materials and design costs are double plant costs. We limit our exposure to the world natural gas market by preventing LNG terminals.

And then we're surprised when the cost of energy, relative to everything else, rises.

As for budget issues, he struck at the silliness of pay-as-you-go rules, which are a mask for preventing tax cuts. He made a pitch for dynamic scoring, which takes into account expected growth spurred by cuts. It indicates a solid grasp of how Washington works, but also a solid grasp of how economics works, something sorely lacking in most elected officials.

In foreign policy, Schaffer clearly is on top of threatening developments in our relationship with China. He mentioned their eyes on a blue-water navy, their ASAT capability, their neo-colonialism in Africa, their missile bases opposite Taiwan, and their computer virus library, a precursor to technological warfare in the event of a crisis.

I particularly liked his comment that in the Cold War, "I like to think they won, too." Meaning not the communist dictators, of course, but the people of eastern Europe. One much say the same about the Axis powers in WWII, and the people of every country whose overlords we have decisively defeated in conflict.

His encapsulation of Israel's relationship to the US is common-sense and clear-headed: the US's interest are best defended when Israel has the political and military ability to defend itself. One might add that this is also to Israel's advantage. After all, it's not much of an ally who's a constant liability. And it's a much stronger formulation than President Bush's echo of the Serbian-Russian alliance: We and the Americans, 307 million strong.

The good news is that Bob's out-raising Udall in in-state funds, The bad news is that very few Senate races are decided by in-state funds any more, and Udall's getting the DC PAC, DSCC, and union money. So when you get a chance, help Bob out. This is one of the few races where the Republicans actually have a chance to improve the brand this fall.

May 16, 2008

Saturday Sports I Missed

Big Brown won the 133rd Preakness Stakes today by 5 1/2 lengths, and it wasn't that close. Coming out of the final turn, Brown showed he had one, possibly two gears that the other horses just don't have. Running three-wide, with Big Brown on the outside, Brown just effortlessly pulled away from the rest of the pack. Jockey Kent Desormeaux looked back with about 1/16 to go, saw little but turf, and slowed the horse up for the rest of the stretch run.

The race isn't on YouTube yet, but you can see the same sort of explosive speed on display at the Florida Derby, the horse's final race before the Kentucky Derby:

In a way, it's a shame that this is Big Brown's year. The field he's racing against isn't the strongest, and you'd really like to see a Triple Crown winner who's tested in all three races. The Belmont may still pose a challenge though: other owners may run long-distance specialists to try to stop history from being made. Nevertheless, Secretariat didn't exactly beat a field of all-stars in any of his races, and 35 years later, is still fairly well thought of.

As for lacrosse, Virginia got by Maryland today 8-7 in the NCAA quarterfinals. The two had split during the regular season, but Virginia, who's been first or second most of the year, won it in overtime this year. Their opponent will probably be Syracuse, who faces Notre Dame, and whom Virginia beat 14-13 in overtime on a neutral field back in March.

The other side of the bracket features perennial representative of evil, Johns Hopkins, and newly-minted representative of evil, Duke. Duke has gone from being the joke of the ACC 10 years ago to being a national powerhouse, and Virginia lost to them twice this year. Best outcome of next Saturday - a U.Va.-Hopkins final. Worst outcome: Duke-Syracuse.

Lacrosse used to have 3 or 4 competitive teams among a field of 8 perennial powerhouses. But lacrosse has been getting more competitive, with all four ACC schools making the field of 16, and every quarterfinalist had a reasonable shot at the title.

Clash of the Joshes

So the dog goes nuts, I go to the door, and it's...Josh Hanfling, who's also petitioning onto the ballot, on the Democratic side. Susie used to be registered as a Democrat here in Colorado, before she became that increasingly rare bird, a New York Republican. So Hanfling was here for her signature, not mine.

He seems like a nice fellow with a winning personality, who's genuinely more interested in policy than politics per se, but who's also clearly too liberal for the state. It'll be fun debating him in the Fall, carving up his policy proposals, and showing that if he really wanted to get elected, he should have stayed a Republican.

He also doesn't seem like the sort who would have the time (he's petitioning on, remember) or the inclination to play games by sending over his people to support my opponent in a primary dust-up. Which raises the question: who exactly is supporting my primary opponent, if not Republicans?

Goodies from Amazon

Got home last night to a new lawnmower still waiting to be used. Between the afternoon showers and the Campaign Coffees with Captains, it's been a lonely week for new hardware.

The Amazonians did deliver three offerings while I was at work, however. In The Gravest Extreme, by Massad Ayoub, and reputed to be one of the best primers about tactical and situational awareness in personal defense. The Denver Post may find it paradoxical that people carrying weapons aren't out there hunting big game on the mean streets of LoDo, but for most of us, it makes perfect sense not to want to shoot somebody. And no, not just because of all the paperwork.

Then there was the kochtopfe. A 10-piece cast aluminum with triple inner and outer non-stick layering. Of course, the "10-piece" business includes the tops, which it like saying that I have a three-piece car because the key and the gas cap aren't physically connected. And for some reason, the knobs on the tops were attached to the underside, and needed to be unscrewed and re-attached to the other side. They probably take up less room that way, but it's still the first cookware set I've gotten with some assembly required.

I gotta say, it's sturdy, heavier than cheap stuff and lighter than iron or copper, and the non-stick outside promises easier cleaning.

Now, if only I had the time to cook.

May 15, 2008

Office Space

So we're finally moving the office. No, not putting it up on wheels and moving it across the parking lot. Given what happened to the roof a few weeks ago, the permit process itself would probably have to undergo Polar Bear review before that happened.

No, the whole happy lot of us is moving upstairs to a different conference room. I've working in offices (with and without office-mates), cubicles (with and without unendurably loud neighbors), at home, in coffee shops, and in quarters so temporary they'd make an army tent look like the Pentagon. But this is by far the weirdest set-up I've endured: 6 (now 5, soon to be 9) people in one conference room without walls, cubicles, or any semblence of privacy or climate control. Add to that the tendency to use the speaker phone when you're the only one on the call, and the room's transformation into an over-sized Easy Bake oven around 11:00 AM, and it wins the Environment Least Conducive to Productive Work running away.

Now we're getting ready to move upstairs into a larger conference room. There will be more space, and the opposite wall won't make you feel as though you're re-enacting the trash compactor scene from Star Wars. Since there are no windows, the room will be cooler, which will irritate some but which I find refreshing. We will have a clock, which, being that we're all contractors, we will occasionaly watch.

The hardest part wasn't the move itself, but the negotiations yesterday over the interior design. It was like the Paris Peace talks. We were literally talking about the shape of the table. Or at least, their arrangement. We all more or less wanted the same thing - a big horseshoe with a table for the projector in the middle, and then we spent 10 minutes moving them this way and, until they were just right.

There was a time when this sort of thing would have bothered me - just put them someplace and live with it! But now, I sort of accept it as the overhead of making everyone happy and feeling as though they've had a say. So I tend to stand there without much to say, which probably makes me look uninvolved. Oh, well. That's part of the overhead, too.

This came right after the Rosen interview yesterday. It's not often you get an hour to run free on the Blowtorch, with a chance to plug everything from the campaign to the blog, to the other radio show.

And then last night, the Colorado Union of Taxpayers spent about an hour on a briefing from legislative staff about the uses and misuses of Referendum C money. As with the Flatiron Building, what it looks like depends on where you stand, but it's pretty clear that the Legislature (and not just Democrats, unfortunately) has been playing pretty severe games in the expectation that they won't get caught.

So frankly, High Society last night was a much-needed tonic.

May 6, 2008

White Water

Apparently, the crews are working overtime to clear Independence Pass this year by Memorial Day.

Actually, that's not snow. It's the styrofoam we put out in the winter, and then hire the college kids to slowly remove and store inside the mountains during the summer.

Which means that it won't be melting, causing flooding and then disappearing down to Arizona because we don't have enough storage to keep it here in Colorado.

Most of the comments on the Rocky article are of the "Thank goodness for global warming," variety, which is understandable, given that this winter saw record snowfall in China, cold snaps in Canada (that's news?), extremely heavy snow here in Colorado, and snow in Iraq. (And given the Mahdi Army's recent performance, maybe they ought to go ahead an adopt the snowflake as their symbol.)

Look, long-term trends don't get undone by one cool, wet winter. But let's keep an open mind here. My money's still on the sun, not on us, and if it does start to get cooler again in the next few years, we may regret having turned so much of our food into fuel.

Musical Quotes

A while back, Lileks expressed righteous indignation at Paul Whiteman's tendency to quote "Rhapsody in Blue" in about 90% of the records he cut from that point on. (This before his successful career tormenting Jack Benny in various service roles, and his later reincarnation as Kansas's football coach.)

So here I am, listening to the Fletcher Henderson version of the King Porter Stomp (if you're still reading this, you already know the Benny Goodman version), when what do I hear, but that same set of descending chords.

So either Fletcher was having a little fun at Paul's expense, or he was putting in a bid for his share of the royalties, or lots of bandleaders like quoting famous bits of other songs in the middle of their own riffs.

UPDATE: So who is this on Roy Eldridge's "Stop! The Light's on Red" who sings it like "Stob!" as though she has a cold? Turns out it's Anita O'Day, who had the famous banter with the cab driver (actually Eldridge himself) in "Let Me Off Uptown." Nicknamed, "The Jezebel of Jazz," she seems to have had one of the roughest lives in jazz, with being eaten by dogs, Jeeves, just about the only misfortune she escaped, which is good, because she apparently liked raising them.

The story has as much of a happy ending as can be expected in real life for someone who went through so much. She did seem to revive her career in the 90s, riding a wave of nostalgia, but also her considerable talent, back to the bandstand.

May 4, 2008


So Friday, before Eight Belles's terrible fate at the Derby, the Wall Street Journal had an article about the pervasive influence of Native Dancer's bloodlines in modern, top-class horse racing.

Native Dancer won everything in sight in 1953, and 1954 before he was retired at age 4 because of, you guessed it, injury-proneness in his feet. (He was also descended from the brilliant but completely unmanageable Hastings, most famous as a great-great-grandsire of Seabuscuit, but also known for stomping a groomsman to death.)

But that success has led breeders to mate Native Dancer's progeny so often that the thoroughbred gene pool has shrunk. And as it shrinks, another trait of the Native Dancer line is becoming more pronounced.

Like hemophilia in the Russian royal family, Native Dancer's line has a tragic flaw. Thanks in part to heavily muscled legs and a violent, herky-jerky running style, Native Dancer and his descendants have had trouble with their feet. Injuries have cut short the careers of several of his most famous kin, most notably Barbaro, a great-great-great-grandson who was injured during the Preakness Stakes and was later put to death.

Overbreeding has exacerbated the problem. "There's a lack of durability right now," says Ric Waldman, the former head of operations for Windfields Farm in Canada, which has bred and raced Native Dancer's descendants.


Some believe the success of this line, coupled with the boom in the breeding market, has come with a price. The risk of injury and the prospect of guaranteed millions in the breeding shed have taken many great horses out of the sport at a young age. That's left fewer veteran stars to lure fans to the track.

It's also what happens when a sport's top-level success becomes disconnected from its farm system, so to speak. Eight Belles was, and Big Brown is, descended from Native Dancer, Big Brown on both his sire's and his dam's sides. (The WSJ has also provided a pedigree chart, showing the links back to Native Dancer, and to the other main Royal bloodline, Nasrullah's, which produced Secretariat and Seattle Slew.)

The good news is that breeders are starting to look to foreign bloodlines; interbreeding with them may make horses more robust. The bad news is that it's likely only to be a temporary infusion, until the flaws in whatever new royalty emerges become apparent.

There's also an argument for genetic engineering in crops here. Continued experimentation is the only way to make sure that a crop with a specific weakness, that hasn't manifested itself yet, can be quickly replaced with another, less-vulnerable crop. We live in a world market for seed now, like it or not, and we need to be encouraging, not discouraging, experimentation.

Another Year, Another Triple Crown Hope

Six years ago, it was War Emblem.

Two years ago, it was Barbaro.

This year, Big Brown.

Horse racing hasn't had a Triple Crown winner since 1978's Affirmed, and his three-race duel with Alydar. But when your horse comes from the 20th position to win the Kentucky Derby by 4 3/4 lengths with a finishing kick, you know he's got the chops to run the Belmont. The question is, will he fall victim to some sprinter having a career day two weeks from now at Pimlico?

I like horse racing. But I want to love horse racing. Sadly, horse racing's owners have managed to do damage to their sport that baseball owners can only dream of. Sally Jenkins has it half right in today's Washington Post:

But thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it. Twice since 2006, magnificent animals have suffered catastrophic injuries on live television in Triple Crown races, and there is no explaining that away. Horses are being over-bred and over-raced, until their bodies cannot support their own ambitions, or those of the humans who race them.

The only reason they look over-raced is because they're over-bred. Go take a look at Seabiscuit's record in the back of Laura Hillenbrand's book, and you'll see that horses used to race a schedule that NASCAR drivers would have a hard time with. John Henry (whose history and physique look a lot like Seabiscuit's) ran until he was nine. Secretariat and Bold Ruler at least raced through their four-year-old seasons.

The horses need to race long enough and often enough to develop fans, and the top of the sport can't succeed without the dozens of tracks and thousands of races around the country. But off-track betting has diluted the track atmosphere, and ever-larger takes (er, taxes) have made almost impossible for even a successful horse-picker to come away a winner. The combination has simultaneously killed both the romance and the avarice, and the romance of the avarice.

As for the top stakes races, there's virtually no TV coverage except for the Breeders Cup and the Triple Crown. The other major stakes races barely get a mention, except for perhaps the Wood Memorial and the other races leading up to Derby Day.

Maybe the horse owners should form a league, and spend some of that breeding money on a TV contract. And let their horses get a little more robust.

May 1, 2008

McCain in Denver

I had the chance to see John McCain's combination Health Care symposium and townhall meeting this morning over at the JCC. It was packed, as these events ought to be by now, and McCain aquitted himself well as a speaker.

Eventually, there was some stuff to like, and some to remind me of why he wasn't my first choice.

He started off by thanking us for all the water we send to Arizona. Now this was interesting, because in 2005, he made a joint appearance with George Bush to promote Social Security reform, he opened by saying how glad he was to come to Colorado to visit his water. This elicited somewhat good-natured boos and hisses, but it's amazing how his tone changed, now that he was asking for votes.

He also singled out Divided We Fail, the AARP's attempt to unite America under a crushing burden of debt, by blocking any meaningful reform of Medicare. I couldn't tell whether he was actually being supportive, or whether he had caved to a group that was shadowing his every appearance on this issue. But the whole post-partisan idea of a purple Donkephant ignores the fact that the two parties are supposed to present very different visions for the country. It's something that McCain himself has been accused of forgetting.

As for the apparent centerpiece of his health care proposal - a $5000 tax credit for individuals buying their own health insurance, while simulatenously starting to remove the incentive for businesses to provide that, is a terrific step in the right direction. He rightly pointed out that individuals are presumed not to be smart enough to intelligently spend the money, but fairly quickly learn what works and what doesn't. At the same time, divorcing health insurance from business will increase portability, and probalby add more cash to employees' paychecks at the same time.

There is some concern about what happens to group coverage. He didn't directly answer that, but my own guess is that this reform will have to be combined with the ability for small businesses and individuals to band together to form their own groups. At the same time, increasing competition by allowing insurance to be bought across state lines will bring prices down.

The rest of the plan sounded like more nany-state hectoring, though. All those extra plans to encourage people to be more healthy could be implemented much more efficiently through, oh, more expensive insurance for those who don't?

One moment stood out for me. I don't think it was a planted question, but when one woman who runs a laser- and massage-therapy clinic with her husband asked a question, McCain interrupted to prompt her to define and discuss laser therapy and its benefits. It was obvious he knew the answer, but just as obvious that he wanted her to say it. He didn't need to prove how smart he was by lecturing; he could do it just as well by letting her talk with pride about her work.


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