December 31, 2004

Blog Flog

A full review of Hugh's Blog is up. I haven't read any of the other reviews, so if this repeats what you've seen, it's not derivative, just unoriginal.

If you're already here, you know a lot of the facts. But Hugh's an institutional and contextual thinker, and his book puts the last year or so of blogdom into those perspectives. If you want a good review of how we got where we are, and some informed speculation on where we go from here, it's the book for you. And if you're familiar with blogs, and trying to figure out how your business can benefit, Hugh's got some ideas on that, too.

Check it out.

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December 29, 2004

Look What Came in the Mail

Review Pending.

I feel like Peyton Manning in that commercial.

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You might want to live in some of these. Then again, you might not.

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Rube Goldberg Does Coffee

When I left this contract a few months ago, they had a normal coffee machine. The kind you find everywhere. Fill up the filter, press a button, and come back later to find the pot almost empty and you get to do it again.

I return to find - this. Only there's no demo, so I blink at it, uncomprehendingly, like some Star Trek barbarian who's been transported up to the Enterprise in a show of force. (Obviously, the translucent arm in the demo is that of a creature caught halfway between our universe and some other dimension.) I've taken to calling it "The Repicator."

The system works with little single-serving coffee bags. You pick the bag you want, put it in the little slot, and the machine cuts a hole in the bottom and forces hot water through the thing. I suppose the advantage is that you aren't stuck with One Flavor of regular and One Flavor of decaf.

Since every cup is a process unto itself, it also eliminates the general feelings of unfairness on the part of the one person who always has to make the new pot of coffee. (Oh stop it. You wouldn't have any idea what I'm talking about.)

Still, doesn't this seem like a solution in search of a problem?

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Not Generous?

Note that the people doing the complaining are the NGOs, not the recipients. Show them they're delusional.

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Back to Work - and Something to Chew On

It's back to work, so I'll have less time for blogging. This doesn't mean no time, just fewer days like yesterday.

In the meantime, here's some economic analysis to chew on from Robert Samuelson. (It seems that old orders are crumbling all over the place.)

Samuelson notes four major changes happening in the US and world economies:
• The economy is bound to lose the stimulus of rising consumer debt.
• The benefits from defeating double-digit inflation are fading.
• The welfare state is growing costlier.
• The global trading system has become less cohesive and more threatening.

All four of these are long-term trends, not short-term problems. The fix is going to come from internal restructuring (reducing the welfare state costs, for instance), and external sources (watching China and India mature from export machines into internal markets).

Probably the most important thing we can do is to restrain our mercantilist impulses.

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December 28, 2004

McGrow Up

A local neighborhood group near East Colfax has planted yellow signs all over their front yards to protest the planned arrival of - a use car lot? a tattoo parlor? a whorehouse disguised as a motel? No, that symbol of corruption and neighborhood decay everywhere - a McDonald's!

For several months, McMad has been holding weekly demonstrations at the former used car lot that would be home to McDonald's. More than 2,400 residents have signed a petition opposing the chain's plans. Many people might be surprised that another fast-food restaurant on Colfax would even be controversial, but those who are McMad say that is exactly the problem.

"We want different kinds of businesses on Colfax," said Kris Bergquist, who lives in the area. "We want a strip where you pull up and get out and visit several shops. We all want Colfax to change."

What started as concern over the impact of a drive-through lane on a quiet residential block of Krameria Street has escalated into a demand for wholesale revision of the city's zoning for Colfax - and city officials seem ready to oblige.


"There's an apartment building where people will look through their windows right into the drive-through," said Sandra Adams, who lives just behind the site. "We're saying don't destroy our neighborhood."

Many residents thought the type of building allowed on East Colfax would change when the city approved its Blueprint Denver land use plan in 2002. That plan calls for pedestrian-oriented construction on Colfax, with ground-level retail and apartments and condos on upper floors. However, the city still hasn't revised the zoning for Colfax to reflect the goals of Blueprint Denver, and McDonald's has the right to build under the current B-4 zoning.


For its part, McDonald's believes it is trying to do something nice for the area and is being unfairly criticized as some sort of blemish on Colfax.

"This will be the nicest building for several blocks," said Chuck O'Rourke, the franchisee who wants to build the new McDonald's. "We'll have a very contemporary building with minimum signage and maximum landscaping. We're reinvesting in East Colfax."

O'Rourke owns the McDonald's at Colfax Avenue and Glencoe Street, which has been open for 38 years and will be closed once the new location is complete. He said a new building is needed with more parking and a better drive-through. At the request of Denver officials, O'Rourke said, the new drive-through is being redesigned to funnel traffic on and off Colfax and away from the residential area to the north.

How is this faulty? Let us count the ways.

1. What's There Now
Here, arranged map-like for your convenience, is the current layout of the intersection of North Krameria and East Colfax:

And this woman is afraid it will spoil the view? Look, I understand these people wanting something better than the rest of Colfax. With the exception of the couple of neighborhoods they cite (more on them later), the place is an open wound on an otherwise pleasant body civic. But you've gotta be hittin' the Special Sauce pretty hard to think that a McDonald's won't be an improvement over what's down there now. There are two, two abandoned buildings, boarded up, just waiting to attract rats and possibly rodents, and these guys want to wait for Just the Right Developer to come along.

2. Basic Property Rights
The property owner has a deal. He's going to be collecting rent, finally, providing some jobs to the local gentry of the high school kind, and he's completely within the zoning laws. Now, in Imitation of Linda Cropp, the city council is considering pulling the rug out from under him. They going to compensate him for lost rent? For opportunity cost of having to play their games when he could be working on other deals? Somehow, that part didn't make it into the papers.

Speaking of property rights...

3. A Subsidy of Good Times
Take a close look at that northwest corner again. Yes, it's a Good Times burger joint. With a drive-thru. Now, they didn't pay for a monopoly on grilled ground beef in the area, but they're going to get one, aren't they? Personally, I know of no studies showing that Good Times's burgers are better for you than McDonald's burgers. If the Good Times clientele isn't leaving wrappers on the neighbors' front yards, why will the McDonald's patrons? Conversely, if the morning paper comes hooded in a Good Times paper bag, why aren't the neighbors complaining about that?

4. Neighborhood they want to emulate
In addition to this and this (where I started writing this piece this afternoon), the neighborhood they mention as a model also has...this! So apparently, not all forms of mass franchising are created equal. There's no question that the Steele St. intersection is nicer than most of East Colfax. I'd use it as a model too, but...

5. McDonald's Has Room to Design
Neither McDonald's nor O'Rourke wants to come into a hostile neighborhood. So they've already redesigned the drive-thru so it uses Colfax rather than the toddler-laden Krameria. This was their original objection, after all. They could probably fix it so it was a little more upscale, too. In my experience, a McDonald's is as nice as it wants to be. There are Brooklyn McDonald's, where homeless guys in wheelchairs linger on long after they've left, and then there are McLean McDonald's, where they ask for tax returns at the counter. There's no reason at all the place couldn't use its exterior to market itself as a nice place.

6. Where are the signs, anyway?
Ah, now it gets nasty. Some of these signs are in the neighborhood. Some of them are so in the neighborhood, they're at the corner of Monaco & Colfax. For people who have to Stop, Look Both Ways, and wait for the crossing guard to go from their living rooms to their kitchens, don't you think it's a little late to be worried about traffic?

Others of these signs are Far, Far Away. One of them is near Crestmoor Park, where Sage chases squirrels when the dogcatcher isn't looking. That's 14 blocks away. Which makes me think the real problem is...

7. Wal Mart Envy
Not wishing that they had a Wal Mart, but wishing that they had a Wal Mart to protest. They don't, so they have to settle for McDonald's. Look at the name of the group, McMad. That's calculated to conjure up images of calm, reasoned discussion of people coming together to solve problems. The Links page lists other neighborhoods that successfully fought McDonald's. It opposes their "clogging our arteries and our side streets."

If they don't want McDonald's, there's a simple answer: don't go there. It's not like the place is lacking for competition. The aforementioned Good Times aside, there's a Burger King at Quebec, a cafe at Krameria and 14th, and a donut shop on the other side of Monaco. These places rely on neighborhood traffic to a large extent, and if the locals boycott the place, they won't be around for long.

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What to Do About Next Time?

It's interesting to compare the Wall Street Journal and the Denver Post on the Tsunami, and what to do about the Next Big One. The two responses tell you everything you need to know about how they think.

Here's the Journal:

It is preposterous to blame the inexorable forces of nature on the development of industry and infrastructures of modern society. The more sensible response to natural disasters is to improve forecasting, put in place efficient communications and evacuation procedures and, should the worst arrive, conduct relief efforts and rebuild what nature has destroyed. Those cautionary measures, as is now clear, cost money. The national income necessary to afford them is made possible only by economic growth of the sort too many of environmentalists retard with their policy extremism.

Rich countries suffer fewer fatalities from natural disasters because their prosperity has allowed them to create better protective measures. Consider the 41,000 death toll in last December's earthquake in Iran compared with the 63 who died when a slightly stronger earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989.

The principal victims of the tidal waves in Sri Lanka and elsewhere Sunday were the poor people living in coastal shanty towns. The wealthier countries around the Pacific Rim have an established early-warning system against tsunamis, while none currently exists in South Asia. Developing countries that have resisted the Kyoto climate-change protocols have done so from fear that it will suppress their economic growth. These countries deserve an answer from the proponents of those standards. How are they supposed to pay for such protection amid measures that are suppressing global economic growth?

And here's the Post:

Coloradans join with people worldwide in mourning the horrendous loss of life from last weekend's tsunamis in south Asia. As the awful toll grows, it's appropriate to ask if anything can be done to prevent or minimize future calamities. The answer is yes - but only if governments, including the U.S., invest in science and technology.

The international community is responding to the immediate humanitarian crisis, although the magnitude of the tragedy likely will provide a severe challenge in the coming weeks and months. Looking to the future, officials of the nations hit by the tsunamis recognize that they were unprepared for the disaster and need to create a warning network. Some may need international funds, but all need outside expertise.

Now, without any warning in either case, the San Francisco quake killed about 0.1% of the number killed in Iran, or in the India quake, or in the Mexico City quake. The presumed benefits to the tens of thousands of others came from building codes that wealthy countries can afford.

The Journal wants to extend those benefits to the developing world, along with all the other attendant benefits of higher living standards. The Postwants an expensive government international welfare program, with only one purpose and one primary benefit.

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Thoughts on ID

I am an Orthodox Jew. I am also an evolutionist. How I resolve the assumed conflict between the two is one matter, but if it was good enough for Rav Soloveitchik, it's good enough for me.

Ben has linked to the online discussion brewing amongst Hugh, Rand Simberg, and John Mark Reynolds. All make good points, but my sympathies here are with Mr. Simberg.

Science looks for natural mechanisms for how the world works. By definition, it cannot accept a deus ex machina. And ID, by definition is a Deus ex machina. The impression I get is that, deny it though they may, proponents of ID do argue from the missing bits rather that from what's there. Arguing that scientists should open their minds to other possibilities is like arguing that chess players should think about having the queen jump pieces every once in a while.

The WSJ published a good critique of ID, February 13 of this year. Since it's no longer available on line, I've taken the liberty of reprinting it below. Read the whole thing.

Let's remember that while evolution has been around for a couple of hundred years, grand theories adapt slowly. Galileo was 400 years ago, yet only now are we getting to a theory that may tell us what space is. We've only understood the molecular structure of DNA for about 40 years.

It's also important to remember what evolutionary theory does explain. Evolutionary biology, which looks to explain biology in terms of evolutionary theory, is becoming increasingly important.

The problem with scientism, as opposed to science, is its assumption that the material world is all there is. It leaves no room for the spiritual, no room for the moral, no room for Man's relationship to God, no room for a God. Religion should and must have a problem with that.

Moreover, evolutionary scientists seem to forget that they, like religion, like everyone else in the world, have to continually re-make their case to new generations. There are alternate ways of thinking about the world, and no battle is ever permanently won. By talking to each other too much, they risk forgetting the arguments that won them their pre-eminence in the first place.

Kestrel, you are an atheist, so unburdened of the need to reconcile the two. Your comments?

Evolution Critics Come Under Fire for Flaws In 'Intelligent Design'

Sharon Begley

EVEN BEFORE Darwin, critics attacked the idea of biological evolution with one or another version of, "Evolve this!" Whether they invoked a human, an eye, or the whip-like flagella that propel bacteria and sperm, the contention that natural processes of mutation and natural selection cannot explain the complexity of living things has been alive and well for 200 years.

Biologists used to just roll their eyes (and sometimes descend to name-calling) at all this. More recently, they've been joining with First Amendment groups to oppose moves to water down the teaching of evolution in classrooms. But now they are firing back with science. Their target: a line of attack that has promised over the past decade to "smash through the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence to bring Darwin to the canvas once and for all," as cell biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University, Providence, R.I., puts it.

The latest flaps are over Georgia's proposal (withdrawn last week) to eliminate the word "evolution" from science classes, and a Missouri bill requiring that biology curricula include a creationism off-shoot called "intelligent design." This new antievolution argument evolved (no irony intended) from the belief that living things are so complex they only could have been designed by an intelligent being.

For years, intelligent-design theory had been bogged down in what one wag calls "the argument from personal incredulity" ("I can't see how natural forces could produce this, so it must be the work of God").

DARWIN'S NEW FOES, however, are smart enough to realize that just because most of us can't imagine how the sun can burn so hot for so long, it doesn't follow that God, not nuclear fusion, keeps the fires stoked.

In 1996, biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa., therefore offered a stronger argument against evolution. Complex living structures, he argued in his book "Darwin's Black Box," possess "irreducible complexity." That is, they can't function until all their components are assembled, much as a mousetrap isn't much good until the base, spring, bar and all the rest are connected.

Moreover, the individual parts of complex structures supposedly serve no function. Because evolution selects only the fittest innovations, useless ones vanish. The odds against a bunch of useless parts lying around at the same time and coming together by chance are astronomical, mathematician and evolution-critic William Dembski of Baylor University correctly notes.

But a funny thing happened when biologists started scrutinizing structures said to be irreducibly complex. Take the flagellum. It turns out that its base -- which Darwin's foes assert has no stand- alone function -- is made of the same necklace of proteins that compose a kind of syringe used by primitive microbes.

Called the type III secretory system, this microsyringe enables a bacterium to inject a toxin into its victim (this is how bubonic- plague bacteria kill). This component of the flagellum, then, could have been hanging around a very long time, conferring benefits on any organism that had it, ready to combine with other structures (which also perform functions in primitive living things) into a full-blown, functional flagellum.

"As an icon of antievolution, the flagellum has fallen," says Prof. Miller, a practicing Catholic. "If bits and pieces of a machine are useful for different functions, it means that natural selection could indeed produce elements of a biochemical machine for different purposes."

IT'S LIKE DISCOVERING the mousetrap bar was a fine toothpick long before it got together with the other parts to kill rodents.

Components of other irreducibly complex structures and systems, it turns out, have functions, too. Humans, for instance, have a complex multipart biomachine that plays a key role in how cells produce energy.

Irreducibly complex? Maybe not. Two of the six proteins that make up the proton pump that produces energy are dead ringers for those in ancient bacteria. Evolution could have co-opted them when it was putting together the more complicated biochemical processes inside animals, including people.

Biologists have pinpointed the origins of only a few of the complex structures in humans and other higher organisms. Even in these cases, Prof. Behe argues, they have not explained, step by step, how simple systems could evolve into complex ones. But with discoveries like the microsyringe, Darwinians have cast serious doubt on the claim that it is impossible for evolution to shape any complex system.

In one of those strange-bedfellows moments, theologians are joining biologists in criticizing intelligent design. Biologist and Anglican priest Arthur Peacocke, for instance, argues that evolution is God's way of creating. George Coyne -- astronomer, Jesuit and director of the Vatican Observatory -- goes further. Invoking God to explain what we can't otherwise account for, he says, is "a kind of idolatry," because true faith should come from within and not because we can't fully explain the natural world.

The evolution wars show no sign of ending, but maybe they are starting to generate a little light as well as much heat.

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Flight Notes

You don't hear about this too often, small planes losing power and safely landing in fields. That's because they don't actually just lose power too often. Nowhere does the article mention that this is completely, 100%, entirely, the correct thing for the pilot to do. Look for a soft farmer's field and set down. Not a road, because they're too bumpy, too narrow, and you're liable to get turned into a pinwheel by a telephone pole or a power line.

Anyway, someday those small prop planes will be a thing of the past.

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Terrorism as Law Enforcement

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal carried another article about the growing internal Muslim threat to Europe, "New Terror Threat to EU: Extremists With Passports."

Interviews with dozens of investigators, terrorism experts and acquaintances of Mr. Azzouz, as well as access to previously sealed court documents, suggest he may be more than a lone, misguided youth. Prosecutors see him as the face of a new terrorist threat: a homegrown network of young European Islamists dedicated to waging jihad at home.

Until this year, the West's struggle with Islamic terrorism has largely been a battle to stop outsiders from entering and doing harm. But according to European officials, the Continent now finds itself fighting members of its own Muslim communities -- young men like Mr. Azzouz who were born in Europe or moved there at a young age.

The challenges for law enforcement are huge. These young men hold local passports, speak local languages and fit into local immigrant populations. And instead of using Europe as a safe house for plots against the U.S. as earlier groups like al Qaeda had done, they are taking aim at targets across the Continent.


Terrorism experts say Europe is also proving to be a good substitute for Afghanistan, where from 1996 to 2001, an earlier generation of Islamic terrorists trained and coalesced from disparate bands into a coherent organization. Although Europe doesn't have the sort of training camps used back then by groups like al Qaeda, it has its own advantages. Instead of pickup trucks, transportation is on high-speed trains across the borderless Continent. Money doesn't come from charities or rich donors, but from petty crime in urban areas packed with rich tourists. And recruits come not from Peshawar guesthouses, but from pools of common criminals or the disaffected youth of Europe's immigrant slums.


Mr. Issar, who is thought by police to be hiding in Italy, is believed to have introduced the group to the teachings of Takfir wal Hijra, an ultra-orthodox sect that arose in Egypt in the 1960s. Takfiris view violent jihad as an obligation for every Muslim, and they have expanded targets of jihad to include practically everyone outside of their sect, investigators say.

Bolstered by Takfiri thought, younger European Islamists have turned to petty crime against infidels to finance their actions. Radicals in Spain, for example, bought the 440 pounds of explosives used in the Madrid bombings with hashish smuggled from Morocco, investigators say. In France, a Brinks security guard in March allegedly helped steal more than $1 million from an armored truck by simulating a kidnapping. Some of the money was later traced to Algerian radicals, and officials believe the rest is likely being used by European cells.

We probably want to avoid making too much of the Takfiris themselves. If they're spending time targeting other Muslims, they may be lethal when encountered, but unlikely to be encountered much.

What really bothers me is that we see articles like this every couple of months, and Europe still doesn't seem to get it.

By now, the demographic problem that Europe faces is well-known to everyone but the Europeans. Apparently, so is the ideological problem. These people take Saudi-trained clerics, mix in a dash of Iranian mullah-worship, and claim to see theocracy as only a bomb's-throw away. But their governments are happily midwifing an Iranian bomb, so long as it's aimed at the real threat to peace and stability, the Jews - er - Israel.

All they're doing is playing defense, expanding their treatment of the Law-Enforcement-and-Intelligence Problem, without understanding that there's a war going on out there.

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December 27, 2004

Bauxing Day

Yes, Boxing Day was yesterday, but the title was just too good to pass up.

If anyone wants to see what "industrial policy" can do, they should take a look at China's aluminum industry. Unlike the steel industry, which has been a problem since at least the Mother of All Industrial Policies, the Great Leap Forward, aluminum has been profitable for some time, but it's gotten out of whack with the country's needs Now the government is trying to crowbar the thing back into alignment.

The booming Chinese economy has kept aluminum prices high, even as the country is a net importer of both aluminum, and a key smelting ingredient, alumina. The Chinese have been trying to slow down their economy. Whether or not they're succeeding depends on what month you read the WSJ. (3/23 - maybe; 4/7 - No; 6/1 - Yes; 8/11 - No; 10/29 - Maybe; 12/21 - No.)

The difficulty is multiplied by the fact that China has only just signed a Memorandum of Understanding to join an international regime to help ensure more accurate statistical reporting of both consumption and production. (China's claims to have passed the US in both categories have to be read as all Chinese economic statistics - you're lucky if there correct to within an order of magnitude.)

Now, with world aluminum prices falling, China has imposed both an export tax on aluminum, and a ban on small smelting plants' importing alumina.

(Here's another problem: the Chinese business media doesn't seem to have discovered basic economics. A recent report attributed falling alumina prices to a major supplier, Jamacia, going offline. It also attributes plants' holding back on their purchases to these falling prices. This is quite obviously garbage of the highly recyclable kind.)

Now, the WSJ quotes analysts and believing that China has neither the capacity it needs, nor the energy is needs to supply that capacity. So even as it's shutting down smaller plants, forcing them to buy importing rights from the larger plants, it's building more large plants.

The simplest expanation is that the government wants to shut down these smaller plants, because they're eating up too much energy. The problem is obvious. If the economy is slowing down, the smaller, less-efficient plants will be the first ones to fold, anyway. If the economy heats up again, that capacity will be lost. And aluminum, unlike steel, goes mostly to private ventures rather than public ones.

Aha! Could that be it? Could it be that the government is shutting down less-efficient aluminum plants in order to conserve energy for the state-owned steel plants? Which provide mostly low-grade steel for government make-work projects? Or maybe it's to make the new plant venture more attractive to the Chinese banks backing it. In either case, this kind of interference suggests that the Chinese still have a lot to learn about basic economics.

Nobody knows, and nobody is going to know, because economic statistics are produced by local governments and parties who are tasked with meeting certain growth goals. Their incentive is still to cook to the books, rather than to provide transparent information for investing. The only real information we have is indirect, like world commodity prices. The Chinese can no more insulate themselves from these forces than anyone else.

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Well, How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Another book review up, this one about interviewing techniques in the contemporary business world. Apparently, puzzles are in.

Still no review of Hugh's new book, for some reason...

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December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas

To Whom It May Concern. I'm on my way to the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, (Maynard, not Stonewall, or even Jesse), so it looks like the last few days have been an Blogging Holiday, after all.

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December 23, 2004

Family Album

Had dinner with my sister and her family last night. Of the kosher restaurants in Atlanta, one strives to fulfill a variety of stereotypes by providing Chinese take-out.

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December 22, 2004

Family Matters

Heh. My nephew has come down with the Virus of the Season, and my niece has a demonstration at school today, where I'll get to fill in for absent parents. For some reason, she's doing a cooking demonstration on a fast day...

This means negotiating cross-town Atlanta traffic an extra couple of times, so blogging will suffer.

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December 21, 2004

Medved, Boteach, and Me

Clay refers you back to Charles Krauthammer's column today about secularization and, as Jimmah would have put it, the Inordinate Fear of Christmas. It's part of the growing understanding that religious Jews and religious Christians have more in common, socially, than they do with their secular counterparts.

This isn't a call for any sort of syncretism. Although religiously, the twain shan't meet, politically and socially, there's a lot we can accomplish. There's also still a lot to work out, and a lot of maintenance to be sure that what has been worked out, stays worked out.

A couple of weeks ago, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Bill Donohue, a prominent Catholic lay leader, turned Scarborough Country into he Western Front, circa 1916. The two are friends, but got into it over an assertion by Boteach that Hollywood was poisoning American culture, and a agreement by Donohue that "secular Jews" there were responsible.

Rabbi Boteach went nuclear. Now, he's not Christian-baiter. He argues in the current Jewsweek that we need to stop tearing each other apart over religious displays. But the fact is that Donohue's reference to Jews, while technically correct, is completely irrelevant to his argument.

Yesterday, Michael Medved had him on his show to debate whether or not the Rabbi had overreacted. When Medved agreed that, sadly, too often secular Jews did seem to be leading this charge, Boteach was astounded. I called in trying to square the circle, suggesting that yes, as an Orthodox Jew I was embarassed that so many Jews, like those named Streisand and Dershowitz and Paul Newman were on the wrong side of this.

The fact that secularists wield such power is an American problem. But the fact that they are disproportionately Jewish is a Jewish problem, something that Donohue needs to butt out of.

If Jason Whitlock can admit that blacks in the NBA have a problem, then I don't think it's too much for us to admit that Jews are disproportionately represented in the ranks of secularists. Not to do so smacks of wanting it both ways - look at all the Jewish doctors, Nobel Prize winners, conservative columnists, but what, us, secular?

The reason that so many Jews are secularizers (as opposed to just plain secular), is that we don't like being killed, ghettoized, or proselytized. The law and society will stand up for us in the first two cases, and it's up to us, as Jews, to build a Jewish society that can stand up to the last.

Too many falsely believe that the way to stand up for their Jewishness is to marginalize Christianity.

The sad fact is that they've been given this leeway in large part by well-intentioned Christians. Eager to avoid giving offense, Christians both zealous and more relaxed have essentially said, "OK. We don't want to offend you. You tell us when we go too far." This system works when people assume good faith on each other's part. It's built to handle the occasional school choir leader who insists on Christmas Carols as the price of participation. It means that I as an individual can draw lines with missionizers. It was never meant to swing the entire legal structure of the country into action to make most people self-conscious about their religion.

The system also only works if Christians like Bill Donohue do a little self-examination, too. Because if the deal isn't meant to deal with Jews' self-image, then it is meant to deal with how the majority sees us.

The problem isn't one of being offended, or of Donohue stirring the Jewish Collective Memory. The reason this is a problem is that when Donohue says, "secular Jews," there are too many people around who will forget the "secular" and remember the "Jews." Those people may cut the Boteachs and the Medveds and the Sharfs of the world a break today, but they'll forget those distinctions soon enough. There aren't, and won't be, enough of them to rerun Nuremburg, but Jewish life in this country isn't good because it isn't Nazi Germany, it's good because it is 21st-Century America.

This topic could fill libraries and probably has. I will almost certainly revisit it in this space. And while there's always the chance that in 20 years, whatever I'm writing now will look remarkably prescient, there's also the considerable risk that it will look tragically naive.

It's up to us to decide which happens.

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Light Blogging Today

Actually working on a contract today. Lots to write about - but it needs time to steep.


  • Charles Krauthammer, Michael Medved, Shmuley Boteach, and me
  • The Price of Zinc in China

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December 20, 2004

My Mind's Made Up, Don't Confuse Me With the Facts

Welcome RMPN readers. Here's the piece Alan links to. A somewhat longer reply to his piece is at the top of the blog.


Gerard Hauser’s article in Sunday’s Denver Post "Perspective" section is typical of the sophistry that passes for political argument on the left today. We no longer debate opinion, we debate facts. Such divisions over facts are especially poisonous in a democracy, which depends on common facts, even as we dispute their meaning.

He's right, but Professor, heal thyself. Here, the "fact" he presents is that conservatives can't think straight. In Prof. Hauser’s world, only Republicans who watch Fox News resent the truth-tellers who come to explode their delusions.

Hauser quotes the University of Maryland study purporting to find high levels of misconception lurking in the President's supporters. The problem with the study, pointed out by the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto at the time, is that it examines only possible conservative biases, and is intended as an indictment of Fox News. It completely misses liberal biases, held by viewers of the three major networks.

Even then, the specifics that Hauser cites are pretty weak. The Duelfer Report does not claim that "Iraq did not have a significant WMD program." In fact, the report spent about 1000 pages arguing that the oil-for-food scam was part of a larger plan to maintain just such programs that could be quickly mobilized, once sanctions were lifted.

Republican skepticism about Kerry's motives in citing the report had less to do with their preconceptions, and everything to do with Kerry's own selective and misleading use of the report during an election campaign. The idea that Bush redefined the justification for war is fantasy. In fact, it was the Democrats who repeatedly insisted that the President had cited an "imminent threat" in his State of the Union Address. While everyone now admits that Saddam didn't have WMDs in quantities large enough to repel an American invasion, the "gathering threat" actually noted was more than justified by the Duelfer findings.

Even the New York Times and Washington Post figured this out, as summarized nicely in Powerline at the time. Professor Hauser might have known this, had he been willing to read outside his own echo-chamber.

Hauser doesn't do himself any favors by his reporting on a 25-year-old energy "crisis," either. Gas lines were not caused by a shortage of oil, or an impending energy crisis. As David Frum demonstrates in his book, The 70s, gas lines were caused by price controls, preventing refiners and retailers from selling gas at a price high enough to cover their costs. Europe experienced no gas lines. Miraculously, once prices rose, lines disappeared and new car designs had better mileage.

He brings up that whole sorry episode in American political economy to show how the President can frame the debate during important crises. The public may have gone along with President Carter's idea to "punish" the Iranians by buying less oil. This proposal, like Carter's "Windfall Profits Tax" on the oil companies, was based on the same flawed economics that caused the lines in the first place. So eventually we were sitting in lines, and we didn't have the hostages back.

If the President is going to "connect the dots," he'd better be sure he knows how to count. Eventually, people will figure out the truth. In Carter's case, it was that we weren't nearly as impotent as he wanted us to believe. In Bush's case, it was that Saddam's European-backed pursuit of WMDs was a threat, even if he hadn't got there yet.

Hauser admits that the echo-chamber is a two-way problem. But if the misconceptions are all on the right, then the advantage for the left in breaking out of it is purely rhetorical. In fact, Hauser seems to be trying to make the case that Fox News, by presenting a conservative viewpoint, is balkanizing the country. That we'd all be much better-served by using the liberal line of the mainstream media as the baseline for political discussion.

Hauser is correct that when basic facts come into dispute, civil discourse dissolves. So for an article about facts in a section titled "Perspective," it’s a shame that Prof. Hauser should offer so little of either.

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December 19, 2004

Urban Planning...

...or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Right Angles.

Which Atlanta doesn't have. Since leaving Virginia, I had forgotten what it was like to navigate streets laid over cowpaths and property lines defined by "that creek and this hill." As opposed to following a grid system like graph paper.

Every surrounding town has signed onto the same system, so Alameda is 300 S even as you go outward past Aurora. Sometimes, the roads diverge a little. 100E is Lincoln, 200E is Sherman. Down in Englewood, they get a little further apart, leaving room for a street at 150E, which some town wit named "Lee."

It also doesn't leave much room for individual cities and counties to honor their own. Route 123, as it leaves DC headed for Lorton, is called, by turns, Chain Bridge Road, Dolly Madison Blvd., Maple Ave., Ox Rd., and probably a couple of other names I've forgotten. So of course, everyone gives directions calling it "one twenty-three," and reverts to addresses at the destination.

People in Denver generally give directions based on compass points, which requires you to carry a little mental compass around in your head.

People in Atlanta give directions using "left" and "right." Following them is like driving-by-recipe. But it leaves you almost no way to reorient yourself when you inevitably miss the 3rd light or take the wrong turn, and go half a mile down the wrong fork where the road changes names even though you went straight, looking in vain for the brick wall you were told was right there on your left.

This is why people need OnStar.

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December 17, 2004

Colorado's Colleges

Turns out that CU's athletic department has been taking advantage of some scholarship funds for what would most generously be described as "recruiting." While the prior scandals and non-scandals happened before Gary Barnett showed up, this stuff is on his watch. He might want to put that Big 12 Coach of the Year Trophy in a safe deposit box before the writers have second thoughts.

But Mike Littwin has his eyes on a bigger problem - the fact that Colorado, despite a high personal income and good jobs, can't seem to fund top-tier public universities. Mike and I both went to U.Va., and so both benefitted from the Commonwealth's strong public university system. He also went out to California, so saw another strong system up close. The TABOR-Amendment 23 box is squeezing out discretionary spending like that for public colleges.

The universities really only have themselves to blame for this.

Why? Why isn't this blaming the victim? One reason. Arrogance. Arrogance that says they don't have to account to us. And arrogance that says we ought to be happy about it.

I wrote Littwin to ask about his column. He replied with a complaint about high tuitions. Those high tuitions are a result of the same problem, the question Littwin fails to ask in his column: what are these universities doing with our money, and what do we get out of it? We want college for ourselves and for our kids, so we're willing to take out second mortgages to pay for it. But we rarely ask if those psychology majors really do us any good. Or if the research the professors produce does our psyche any good.

Universities believe that their value is self-evident. So they don't discuss how they spend their money, they don't look for efficiencies, and they dismiss questions about the value of "feminist economics" as coming from those under-educated rural white guys who elected Bush again.

But by doing so, they reduce the justification for massive public spending to its practical effects, almost all of which relate to science, technology, or business. And these are precisely the areas where multi-culturalism is irrelevant, or less relevant. (After all, any society where one plus one doesn't equal two is a society unlikely to have put a man on the moon.) Which is why operations like the University of Phoenix have gained a foothold.

Every other business in the country has to, at some point, examine its operations and ask about its mission. Universities have both suffered mission creep - in terms of research and facilities - and have lost sight of their core competency - education for citizenship and life. They've been insulated from the realities of economics by a public willing to pump money into what's become seen as a necessity for middle-class life.

That may be coming to an end.

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Black Church Rally

Of greatest interest is a march that barely got play outside Atlanta. As we learned at the "W Rocks" Rally at Red Rocks, mega churches come in all colors.

Thousands of Christian soldiers marched through one of Atlanta's most storied neighborhoods Saturday, opposing gay marriage and promoting what they see as a moral agenda for the country --- especially African-Americans.

Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, led the march arm-in-arm with the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Long organized the demonstration and carried an Olympic-style torch lighted from the eternal flame at the King Center, where the march began.


According to New Birth's Web site, the march advocated "a constitutional amendment to fully protect marriage between one man and one woman." But some who participated said gay marriage was only one of the issues motivating them.

"As a result of today's march," said New Birth member Janice Russell, "I feel like people will realize that the church --- the kingdom of God --- is alive and that we have risen up as one voice to let the world know we will stand for what is right, morally and ethically."


But some critical clergy suggested that he might be trying to garner favor with Republicans to position New Birth as a recipient of funds from President Bush's faith-based initiative. Long would not comment Saturday.

Bush supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Political polls during this election year have shown that many African-American Christians --- like their white evangelical brethren --- agree with the president on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, even though black voters remain heavily Democratic.

The anti-gay marriage sentiment is part of a larger fear on the part of many conservatives, black and white, that the culture is shifting away from the values they hold.

Polls show that almost three-quarters of African-Americans --- a larger percentage than Americans as a whole --- believe the nation is losing its "moral compass" by removing prayer from public schools and banning display of the Ten Commandments on government property.

Maressa Penderman, a lesbian who serves as deacon at Unity Fellowship Church in Atlanta, said she believes the Republican Party is using black churches as a "Trojan horse" because of the black community's homophobia.

That Republican touch is nice. I'll bet that not one in 10 of those marching voted Republican this time. But this is clearly a mindset and a set of issues that Republicans can use to help establish a working relationship with the black community.

President Bush has tried to bypass the traditional NAACP-Jesse Jackson-Al Sharpton leadership. Maybe this foundational work will pay some political dividends. Maybe not. But 9/11 created War Democrats who support the President on the war, while opposing him on social issues and economics. Perhaps the black community is reaching a tipping point where significant numbers of voters will support the Republicans on moral and social issues. This may not help Republicans win elections, but it may help pass referenda.

Also, it gives the lie to the self-comforting northeastern liberals who portray religion-and-politics as the province of undereducated rural whites. It'll be interesting to see how the next Democratic candidates play to this group.

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Peach State Blogging

I'm visiting my family in Atlanta for the week, as well as working on a contract that'll be easier to finish from here. So no more photoblogging until I get back to the scanner, and a little bit of local color.

I'm at the Panera near my parents' house, and I notice a large number of parents bringing their kids in here before school. I've not seen that in Colorado. The kids do seem to be drinking orange juice and milk, not coffee, though.

And two seats away, the executive board of a local country club seems to be holding an unofficial meeting. Or maybe it's an official one.

Different city, different airlines, same problems (registration required). At least ATA, when it went bankrupt, sold off some of its gates rather than holding onto them with a death grip like some airlines.

Same airport, new name, though. I noticed that they have changed the name to Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. There's only one reason for this: Hartsfield was white, and mayor in prehistoric times. Maynard Jackson was black. As near as I can tell, Jackson's main contribution to the city was screwing up the Olympics.

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December 16, 2004

Academia Taps Business to Help Government

A few weeks ago, outgoing DU Chancellor Daniel Ritchie announced a panel to examine Colorado's budget crunch:

University of Denver Chancellor Daniel Ritchie on Tuesday announced a panel of 16 civic and business leaders who he said will take a fresh, nonpartisan look at how to unsnarl the state's fiscal problems.

Initially, the panel will try to find a solution to the budget squeeze created by tax limits of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and the K-12 education spending mandates of Amendment 23.


People on several sides of the -debate welcomed the effort proposed by Ritchie. A spokesman for Gov. Bill Owens said he is open to the panel's work.

"The governor will look forward to whatever advice and comments this group comes up with," spokesman Dan Hopkins said.

Carrie Harmon, a spokeswoman for the Bell Policy Center - a think tank critical of TABOR - also said she thinks the panel is a good idea. "We think the DU panel will be very helpful to the ongoing effort to understand and solve the state's fiscal problems," she said.

No kidding. The governor has to say that, Bell has a freer hand, but has every reason to be optimistic that the panel will try to make long-term changes to TABOR. While Ritchie himself is a pretty staunch Republican, his committee members seem to lean the other way.

Of the 13 committee members who have given to political campaigns, 5 have given primarily to Republicans, while 8 have favored Democrats. Of these, 2 of the Republicans (Tointon and Robinson) have given substantial amounts, while three have given small donations over time.

However, one of the Democrats is a former officeholder, Richard Celeste, former governor of Ohio, and responsible for inviting Hanan Ashrawi to come speak at Colorado College on September 11, 2002. Kim Patmore has spread money all over the Democratic map, including contributions to Maxine Waters and to Ernest Hollings in 2002. Salazar has given money to both John and Ken (I've been unable to determine so far if they're related, but Marguerite is also from the San Luis Valley.) She also signed a press release that suggests fairly strong political leanings.

Academic committees, like academia itself, clothes itself in an air of intellectual purity that doesn't apply, and doesn't obtain. Their findings are reported with an air of reverence and respect all out of proportion to what they deserve. Businessmen, like academic and intellectuals, bring certain biases and attitudes to their work. Effectiveness in the committees isn't measured merely by numbers, but also by the strength of conviction, and the willingness to defend an ideology. The balance of power here clearly favors the left.

One of the most widely-held misconceptions about business is that businessmen by definition favor Republicans. Business favors business. Small business tends to favor Republicans, but big business is decidedly bi-partisan. This is partly out of misguided attempts to cover their bets, but also partly out of a desire to raise barriers to competition. If new regulations don't apply to small business, they do kick in at some number of employees - frequently 50 - making the transition from small annoyance to serious conpetitor that much harder.

All that adds up to a committee that, in the popular mind, would be expected to defend TABOR. When it doesn't, that will be cited as evidence of TABOR's failings, rather than the committee's.

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December 15, 2004

One Last Favorite

OK. One more. This is an arch at Canyonlands National Park, one of the more under-rated national parks. It's right next to Arches, which tends to get a lot more attention.

The shot is facing east, there's that canyon just behind it, but the arch perfectly frames the LaSal Mountains (last seen from the Uncompahgre Plateau) just east of Moab.

Since then, I've wanted to go back, and get the same shot 1) in winter, 2) with a full moon behind it, and 3) at sunset. Looks like I'll get a chance. (Hint: Moab, UT, 12/26/2004)

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San Luis Sunset

This is one of my favorite pictures of all time. OK, one of my favorites among ones that I've taken, but then isn't that always the case?

It's a picture of a winter sunset in the San Luis Valley, driving back up 285 at the end of a long weekend.

As always, click to enlarge.

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Cutting the Wires

Good news: The FCC is getting ready to approve air-blogging. Bad news: it's going to take two years and be very expensive.

They may even approve cell-phone use, so someday, people will read this passage from On Paradise Drive...

...workaholic corporate types boarding airplanes while talking on their cell phones in a sort of panic because they know that when the door closes they have to turn their precious phone off and it will be like somebody stepped on their trachea.

... and ask, wistfully, "you mean there was a time when they couldn't use cell phones on a plane?" You mean there was a time when I didn't have to listen to the next Donald Trump yell over a jet engine into his phone and into my ear all the way from Washington to Los Angeles?

Hold the champagne for a little bit, though. It's more of the same: "why, what would they need us bureaucrats for if we let people make these decisions on their own?"

The FCC approved a measure to restructure how frequencies for such "air-to-ground" services are used and allow the airlines to offer wireless high-speed Internet connections.

Left undecided was the issue of how many companies the FCC would allow, through an auction, to offer such services. Verizon Airfone maintains that letting one company handle the service would ensure the best quality, and existing technology can't support two competitors.

Others, including Boeing Co. and AirCell, argue for two competitors to prevent one company from having a monopoly. FCC officials said the auction would take place within a year.

Once plans are completed and planes outfitted with the equipment, wireless high-speed Internet access might be found on commercial domestic flights by 2006, said Jack Blumenstein, chairman and CEO of Louisville, Colo.-based AirCell.

I know this is too much to expect, but, guys, what about allowing the airlines and the phone companies to figure this out? You'd have more plans, newer technology, maybe even ways of sharing frequencies. Personally, a duopoly has never impressed me as being much better than a monopoly: the weaker company knows you're only keeping it around because you have to.

There's no reason to believe that the FCC will be as good at setting technical or performance standards, price levels, or terms, as airlines who are grasping for any source of revenue they can think of. There's absolutely no reason to wait until 2006 to get this thing going.

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Fun With Scanners

The building being reflected is the D&F Tower, downtown. It used to be considered a skyscraper. Yes, that's with a polarizing filter. My first boss wrote a program called GeoClock. It showed a map of the world, and where it was light and dark. Eventually, it also calculated the position of the sun at any time at any place. I used it to figure out when the sun would be hitting one side of the tower straight-on, and then I could take the picture at a 90-degree angle to that, to maximize the polarizing effect.

On New Year's 2001, they shot fireworks out of the windows. A year later, that was considered inappropriate.

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Telecom Reregulation

The problem with reading a book like The Future and Its Enemies is that you see Stasists vs. Dynamists all over the place. Stephen Moore has a good example.

Specifically, the FCC is going to decide this week whether to promulgate new regulations that would allow the competitors of the incumbent telephone companies — the "Baby Bells" — to have access to the infrastructure that the phone companies built with billions of dollars of private investment capital. Yes, of course, competition is a desirable goal. But if the government mandates that the privately financed infrastructure must be shared by all competitors, who will make the initial investments in the first place?

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December 14, 2004

Views From a Height

One of the things I miss most is flying. Taking pictures and flying. Some of you may recognize this city. As for the monolith, I didn't see any evidence of aliens. Yes, I was flying the plane at the time. Yes, I took my hands off the wheel to take the picture. Click to enlarge.

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The Student Prince

For some reason, yesterday was Mario Lanza Day on TCM. Since it wasn't either his birthday or the anniversary of his demise, I can't explain it. Lanza's singing was always worth hearing, but he only made two movies worth watching - The Student Prince and The Great Caruso.

Although, of course, he didn't really make The Student Prince. He was slated to play the role, got into a fight with a director who didn't like his singing(!), and walked off the set. Of course, the studio owned all the cards, and got to use his voice while Edmund Purdom lip-synched the songs. When he wasn't singing, Purdom was impersonating Cary Grant, so he may not have had a voice of his own at all. Lanza, of course, went on to release an album of the songs.

The movie, shall we say, took a few liberties with the book. If you've ever seen the play, you'll know what I mean. The basic storyline is the same: boy gets girl he doesn't want, boy gets girl he does want, boy gets yanked back to reality to marry girl #1 and live out his life on memories. (The part where boy loses throne to Bismarckian unification is saved for later.)

It tells the same story, only differently. In the play, Karl and Kathie essentially fall in love at first sight, and the first act is all about them, the second act about Karl trying to relive his youth. In the movie, Karl's a stiff, spoiled brat who has to grow up and earn Kathie, and the trip back to Heidelberg is for closure. The movie is much more his story, the play is more about them.

UPDATE: No, my memory wasn't playing tricks on me. The movie contains at least two songs not in the play, which radically alter the character. "Beloved," sort of a "Stella, Stella" moment for the Prince, and "I'll Walk With God," when his grandfather dies and he takes over the throne. The latter is clearly supposed to be a transitional song, where he grows. So the problem the filmmakers faced was clear - if he's matured enough to be King, and to understand what that means, then he's got no business taking a weekend bender back to school to visit his chums. No wonder the play reads more like fan-fiction than it does the original.

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December 13, 2004

Happy Chanukah - VII

In the spirit of the holiday, we present: this. Dave Kopel would be proud.

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Fiscal Responsibility?

Isn't this exactly the sort of thing the Democrats complained about before they won the election?

A Democratic leader in the Colorado House wants to change the way the new college voucher plan is classified under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights to help solve the state's budget deficit.

Rep. Tom Plant, of Nederland, who serves on the Joint Budget Committee, has created a creative accounting plan that would treat each student's $2,400 voucher as a tax refund under TABOR.

That reclassification would take the state's $300 million in higher education costs out of the budget and would clear up the $263 million deficit in fiscal year 2005-06, Plant said last week.

Note that this doesn't actually save the government any money, and it may actually increase the tax burden on families receiving the cash.

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Could this be the sort of thing that gives employers a bad name?

Swift & Co. is laying off 800 employees at its Greeley meat-packing plant, in anticipation of losing business from some major feedlots. Four days before Christmas.

There's never aa good way to announce layoffs, but there sure are some lousy ones. I once had a contract with Corporate Express, in Broomfield. The stock price had tanked back in September of that year, and the company was awash in rumors. (Management tip #1 - don't ever let that happen.)

Then, in December, two weeks before Christmas, management called a company-wide meeting. Contractors were told to go home. (Fine, that's the nature of contracting.) Employees were told to go back to their desks and wait for a call. Maybe that sort of treatment was why they had hired Bruno, the former interior lineman for the Broncos, to stand by the guard desk in the lobby as security.

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2008? How About 2006?

The Rocky has a rundown of their leading candidates for the 2006 Colorado governor's race. While they acknowledge that this early in the game, their crystal ball is going to be a little cloudy, a couple of points worth questioning.

First, they quote one analyst claiming that a US House candidate or officeholder would have an advantage. I beg to differ. As we've seen, legislative skills don't necessarily transfer to the executive. Both current two-term governor Bill Owens, and his three-term predecessor, Roy Romer were both state Treasurers before becoming governor. And in 1998, in a competitive race, Owens beat then-Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler by a few thousand votes.

The Rocky may be right when they list Bob Beauprez as an early Republican front-runner. Beauprez used to run a bank, a business, and a farm, so he's got credibility on fiscal issues. Of course, so does current Treasurer Mike Coffman, and Coffman has also been out in front on state fiscal issues like the tobacco settlement and the budget.

Now, this is a whisper piece. If somebody wanted his name in the bowl at this point, it would be there. So two omisssions are notable. First, Lt. Gov. Jane Norton doesn't come up. Could she be considering a Senate run in 2008 when Sen. Wayne Allard's term is up?

Secondly, the "Four Millionaires" candidate is Rutt Bridges, who backed out of the Senate race when Salazar declared. But keep your eye on Jared Polis. Polis is ambitious, also has business experience, and has gotten himself elected to the state school board. This could be some early misdirection by that Democratic faction.

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December 12, 2004

Dog Bites Man - Arab Leaders Blame Israel

For a case-study in denial, see this Washington Post report on an Arab Forum in Morocco. Naturally, they blame Israel, and its US support, for the lack of reform. There's probably some truth to that insofar as Israel provides a convenient excuse. If that sounds like the circular logic of people who've been talking to themselves for too long, well, it probably is.

"Let us face it: Our differences are neither religious nor cultural," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal said. "We perceive no clashes of civilization or competing value systems. The real bone of contention is the longest conflict in modern history."

Bold words from a weak little man. If our differences are neither religious nor cultural, explain how every Saudi-funded madrassah ends up turning into a recruiting ground for terrorists. In fact, the "longest conflict in modern history" is nothing but a religious and cultural conflict.

Reform has nothing to do with Israel, and everything to do with corrupt societies ruled by corrupt, dishonest, thieving little murderers. First, they used Israel to excuse their failures as leaders to their people. Now they've turned the argument outwards, using Israel to excuse their failures as "reformers" to us.

This is appeasement-politics in another guise: make progress in dismantling Israel, and we'll give you what you say you want. But of course, it's not what they want. They've maneuvered the discussion into purely economic matters, because what really matters to them is maintaining a death-grip on political power.

It's a transparent effort on at least three levels. First, it's an obvious attempt to talk to their own people through this conference, explaining once again that those darn Jews are the reason they can't have an uncensored newspaper.

Second, Israel would clearly find it easier to make peace with democratic, or at least pluralistic, neighbors. The US understands this, which is why it has placed the burden of proof on the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis.

Therefore, third, the Arab leaders are being stung by the fact that the US and Israel can deliver more democracy to Arabs than Arabs can. So they need to take the pressure off the Palestinians to behave, because that will only lead their own people to ask, "why not us?"

Powell didn't really give much ground, but someone needs to tell these people in no uncertain terms that their day is up.

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December 11, 2004

Happy Chanukah - V

After a day off for Shabbat, we're back.

Just a quickie - about the Jewish notion of time. One of the blessings we say when lighting the menorah reads, "...Who performed miracles for our Fathers in those days, at this time." One might think that just means Winter, or on this calendar day, but Matis Weinberg makes a deeper point about the Jewish notion of time, contrasted with the traditional Western view.

He claims that Jews think of time not as a line, but as a spiral, coming around to the same place on the X-Y plane every year, but with a different Z. We are different each year, but the time is the same. The time is special, and in fact, Weinberg claims that the time of year for events has been set up far in advance. It's when the People and the Moment meet, that something, like Chanukah, or the Exodus, happens.

Weinberg, by the way, is brilliant, and I can't really do his ideas justice here. If you get a chance to read his Torah commentary, or his unfinished Patterns in Time set, one on Rosh HaShanah, one on Chanukah, you should do so. He draws in ideas from Western culture, as well as Jewish tradition, and he's really an original thinker in an area that, after 3000+ years, doesn't produce much originality.

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Pour Your Heart Into It

Spending Shabbat here in Frisco (Colorado, not San Francisco, as some Alliance Members seem to think), gave me time to finish off Howard Schultz's Pour Your Heart Into It, his memoir of building Starbucks from the ground up.

It's a good book. Virtually every course I've taken in b-school shows up in some way. But the heart of the book is about company values - for the product and for the employees. It's 7 years old now, but given Starbucks's ongoing growth, it doesn't seem to be dated.

On a political note, this is the same Howard Schultz who turned over $50,000 of his own money to Terry McAwful in 2000, and $2K to Tom Daschle in 2004. Fortunately for the country, he seems to be a much better businessman than political investor.

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December 10, 2004

The Blogosphere Graduates

Ah, well, the blogsphere is starting to grow up. For a long time, it lived in sort of a frat house neighborhood of the Internet, insulated from the real world. I was commenting to Rich at the President's Greeley rally that there was a sort of sophmoric, collegiate feel to the blogosphere.

Now, with the election signifying a sort of graduation ceremony, bloggers are looking around asking, "where's the beer?"

Well, part of the real world is the Government. Things you could get away with in college suddenly pack Consequences in the Real World. Captain Ed has been all over the story of Jon Lauck's being a consultant for the Thune campaign. In the end, it Lauck's ethics come off considerably better than those of his accusers at CBS.

But now, CBS is talking about government regulation of the Internet's political speech, sort of an FEC Blog Patrol. Having grabbed defeat-by-blog from the jaws of victory-by-McCain-Feingold, the MSM is now turning to its big brother to close off this front.

Well, just like in the Real World, there are some things too big for the Government.

The goal isn't to ban certain types of political speech, but to catch coordination with campaigns. The response time of the blogosphere is way too short - frequently minutes - so that stories that might look like cooperation is really just a complicated game of telephone.

Even under the old rules, coordination was virtually impossible to prove. One of my b-school ethics professors used to be the Chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party. When I asked him in class what sort of coordination was permitted between the candidates and the party, he replied, "None. But I'd have had to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to be able to read the papers and see frompublic statements where the party could help out." No word on his pinball skills.

This isn't to say that the blogosphere is unaccountable. It's accountable to its market - readers who want informed opinion, and want to inform their own opinions. Eventually, the blogosphere looks less like the Front Page and more like the op-ed pages. Facts matter, in support of informed opinion. We'll end up adopting something that looks like the current journalistic ethics, because those have been tested through experience.

The problem with the MSM isn't that they don't have standards. It's that they're evidently incapable of living up to them.

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December 09, 2004

Happy Chanukah - III

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Election Rules Blue Ribbons

I attended the first meeting of the Secretary of State's Blue Ribbon Panel on election reform. I left both optimistic and worried. Optimistic because even the more outspoken members like Sen. Ron Tupa, 25% of whose district is routinely disenfranchised by voting Republican, seemed to take the proceedings in a more dignified, serious manner than the members of the public who showed up. Worried that these proceedings could turn into a circus if not properly managed, and there were some signs of that this time.

The Secretary addressed two sets of issues directly: what to do about registration fraud, and what to do about the timelines. A number of people were shocked to find out that there are no criminal penalties for refusing to turn in a registration, for instance.

We also got to a see a show-and-tell about two items: voting centers, which Larimer County Clerk Scott Doyle instituted in 2003, and some very fancy electronic voting machines. Both look like sound ideas.

Voting centers are basically precinct-less voting. Judges either configure the machine, or hand out a paper ballot, reflecting the ballot style in a voter's home precinct. They do cost less. But the really nice thing is that with fewer places to vote, election judges can connect to the county's voting rolls electronically. So much for tooling around the county, getting a tour of the local churches and schools while you vote early and often.

We also saw touch-screen voting machines used in Nevada this year. They print out a paper trail that the voter can see, but not touch. (This prevents someone from voting, and then using their paper receipt to collect on the $5 promised for voting a certain way.) The papers are sealed, kept by the cleark, and used for either hand-recounts or statistical spot-checks. Cool stuff.

This didn't come up, but if you combine the two, and remember that by 2006 we'll have a statewide electronic voter list, you could have the whole state on such a system. That way, when an early snowstorm traps Denver voters in Durango, election judges there could configure the machines for any precinct in the state.

On the good side, the Secretary has done her homework. She's organized the various reforms. When one agitators for a local paper-based blog tried to make the case for same-day vote fraud registration, she replied, simple, "this panel is not considering same-day registration." The panel members themselves seem to reflect the need to balance access with security.

Another fellow asked about students voting, and the Secretary was less-than-sympathetic. Paraphrasing: "we've had problems with students voting here and in their home states. The legislature specifically ruled out using student IDs as a valid form of ID for registration purposes." Letters from the college administration, however, do work, but I guess the idea is to make it more trouble than it's worth to vote twice.

Naturally, some members of the public were more interested in complaining, mostly about electronic voting, than about solving the problem. And the erroneous Alan Gilbert was there, pushing his exit-poll strategy. Gilbert showed up about an hour late, and proceeded to talk more than anyone else in the room except for demonstrators. He had more to say about Ohio than Colorado. As long as the local papers insist on giving him a megaphone, the Secretary is going to waste valuable time dealing with him. On the other hand, who knows more about stealing elections than a Marxist?

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Blogging Every Election, and Why the Net Depends on It

The radio talk show host who best understood (and continues to understand) the importance of blogging in general to the political debate is Hugh Hewitt. Striking while the iron is hot, Hugh's got a new book coming out in January,

Blogs are a new part of the process. There are thinker, linkers, and Nod. Or at least, community hosts. Powerline: Thinkers. Instapundit: Linker. Little Green Footballs: Host. There's room for all of them, and no matter where this blog goes, it's been fun to have been part of the Springtime for Blogs.

BTW, it appears as though someone has just bought the inaugural product sold through this site. Thanks!

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December 08, 2004

Happy Chanukah - II

This is the second night of Chanukah.

As mentioned before, Chanukah is about the struggle between Judaism and Greek Culture. But what exactly was it in Greek culture that was so objectionable?

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of the luminaries of modern Orthodox Judaism, wrote a book, Halakhic Man. It's a dense book, quoting with equal ease the Talmud, later rabbis, Kierkegaard, and Shakespeare. Rabbi Solovetchik received a degree in Philosophy from the University of Berlin; he was clearly no intellectual shut-in.

In it, he compares two aspects of human nature, the "Dignified Man," the man of work, the man who dominates nature, and "Religious Man," who shrinks before God and His infinitude. Judaism seeks a synthesis of the two, Halakhic Man. Soloveitchik's argument is that man's soul can survive neither the self-abnegation of Religious Man nor the self-aggrandizement of Dignified Man. Halakha, Jewish Law, is an attempt to connect the finite & tangible with the infinite.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the current leaders of Modern Orthodox thought, suggests that Greek culture wasn't wrong, it was just too one-sided. It emphasized Dignified Man at the complete expense of Reigious Man. Judaism was attempting to restore the balance.

In a lecture delivered 30 years ago, long before the current Culture Wars were well-understoof, Rabbi Lichtenstein articulated the faults in Greek culture: a determination than the earth existed for Man, that Man could completely understand and control the universe, and that man is the measure of all things.

Judaism takes a different view. Man is, in some sense, in charge of the physical world. But the universe should be a source of awe, not self-satisfaction. One can understand, but should approach the examination of creation with the proper respect for Creation.

It was this sense of balance that Judaism was seeking to restore.

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A Cogent Explanation

Stealing a headline from many blogs, outgoing State Senate President John Andrews tries to explain "What Went Wrong."

Andrews boils it down to three things: money, message, and motivation. The three are all intertwined, but tellingly, money is largely a function of message and motivation. The party, having failed to settle on a message, couldn't persuade people that it was governing effectively, and couldn't even motivate its own troops. No wonder it couldn't raise money.

He also touches on the internal party factions which are now threatening its long-term health. The fact is, activists will tend to look at tactical issues such as money, before they look at message. Right now, the party activists and insiders need to do the spadework, to be sure.

But the party leadership, starting with the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Treasurer, will set the tone.

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Musing About Chanukah

Chanukah represents the Jewish rejection of Greek culture, while Christianity sees itself as the synthesis of the two. It would seem to me, therefore, that in some ways Chanukah would embody the differences between the two religions better than many others. Especially given the historical time frame.

This topic is now open for discussion.

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December 07, 2004


This, on the other hand, is truly alarming. (Requires Flash and a Soundcard to be properly scandalized.)

I know what I wish they were satirizing.

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Happy Chanukah

Tonight's the first night of Chanukah. Most people know the basic outline: the Maccabees, also known as the Hasmoneans, led a civil revolt against the Greeks, in this case, Greek-ruled Syrians. The Syrians had gone from attracting Jews to their culture to imposing it on an unwilling population. Naturally, this included a radical secularizing (heh), defilement of the Temple, and outlawing its use.

After the rebellion was won, the Jews found only enough ritual oil to last one day. The 8-day celebration derives from the oil miraculously lasting 8 days, at which time new oil had been smuggled in from Saudi. Er, no, not that kind of oil.

I used to rebel myself against the occasional rabbi who would compare Greece to America, and it's pretty clear there's not a whole lot in common between today's America and the Greece of 165 BCE. And yet, it is inescapable that there are some fairly unseemly aspects to current American culture, that calling attention to that fact is liable to get you sneered at by certain elites, and that some Jews have been all-too-eager to embrace even those qualities.

Of course, Antiochus never allowed elections...

So naturally, we're sitting here watching a "Charlie Brown Christmas."

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President Bush at Camp Pendleton

The President is speaking at Camp Pendleton to the Marines, using the Pearl Harbor anniversary as an opportunity to talk about the war.

The speech has a great rhythm. He started out talking about the Marines' history, citing Chesty Puller and the battle out of Cho Sen in Korea. Perhaps significantly, in that battle, one Marine division took out 7 Chinese division. "I know what you were."

He then talks about the victories, progress, and future in Iraq. There's not a lot new here, but he lays out the case nicely. "I know what you are."

And then, a long extended discussion of the casualties, those not killed, but injured. Not merely numbers, but real empathy for those who've sacrificed limbs, eyes, fingers, and just plain recovery time for their country.

He makes a point of talking about private initiatives to help wounded soldiers in their post-war lives. And then, in case you doubted we were in the Internet era, repeated twice,, as a nationwide clearinghouse on those national and local efforts. He finished the appeal to the American public by looking, as Kerry would say, right into the camera: "Stand up for the men and women who stand up for America."

It's a good speech, and after the unbridled enthusiasm of the campaign trail, it's good to get back to some sense of normalcy. While the guys behind him are standing and taking digital photos, not sitting like my friend Jason, and nobody yells out in the middle of the speech. Perhaps because of the serious nature of the speech and the men, then enthusiasm is real, but muted. But the Army and Navy cadets have nothing on these guys for their mutual love for the President.

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Sneak Attack

Has it really been just 63 years?

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December 05, 2004

Denver Convention Center

The New Denver Convention Center, under construction for several years, is ready to open.

Denver has a law requiring 1% of any public works project over $1 million to be reserved for public art. Shame it didn't say it had to be for good art.

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Damn Spam

Evidently, someone has hijacked the email domain, and has been sending out email with a spoofed header, using as the return email address. Given that the sender seems to be from Russia, using a Chinese ISP, I don't think I'm going to make much headway in getting the ISP to shut them down. Hopefully, I can ride it out.

Aside from the general ethical issues of sending email to people who don't want it, it's a terrible annoyance to me as well, since I'm getting all the rejections from spam-killers and bad email addresses, to the tune of several thousand a day.

If anyone has any suggestions, please send them to In the meantime, if you're here out of pique from having received spam apparently from this address, my apologies, but please reserve your wrath for the cretins who actually send this stuff out.

By the way, there's an easy, market-based solution to all this: charge a small amount, say, 1/10th of a cent, to send an email. I'll happily pay it, and it will make life so much harder for so many spammers.

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Election Rules Confab

The Secretary of State has announced a Blue Ribbon panel to examine the state's election rules, and what can be done to assure greater confidence at the polls. The first meeting is December 9.

I can't say I place a lot of faith in these sorts of panels. While I doubt that anyone is going to willfully sabotage the proceedings, I also wonder at the inclusion of politicians in the place of citizens. Ron Tupa, for instance, was one of the main movers-and-shakers behind an initiative that contemplated throwing the whole election into court, had it passed.

As I've said before, ID is easy to obtain. The ID should have an address and a picture. You show up at the polls, you vote. If you can't show up, you request an absentee, but you need a reason. There should be no same-day change of address, no same-day registration-because-I-entrusted-my-registration-to-the-homeless-guy-with-the-clipboard, no large-scale "helping" of those Alzheimer's patients at the nursing home vote what's in their interest.

Once we get a statewide voting list, things should be easier, especially in a state with few large cities close to the state borders. (It's hard, therefore, for someone to organize a bus caravan from Cheyenne to Denver, while filtering hundreds or thousands of people across the bridge from Camden to Philadelphia is relatively easy.)

I'll be in contact with the Secretary of State's office, but if there's a way to submit concerns ahead of time, I'll pass it along.

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Guilt by Association

Bill Rhoden, on this morning's Sports Reporters, went from wrong to dishonest. In his blind defense of Barry Bonds, Rhoden said, among other things, that:

  1. Bonds' use of steroids didn't diminish his assessment of Bonds as a ballplayer
  2. Maybe the other players should have had better chemists
  3. We don't know for sure that Lyle Alzado and Ken Caminiti died from the effects of steroid use

Tom Boswell and Mike Wilbon dispose of point #1 in yesterday's WaPo. And the reason that #2 is illegal is because we do know #3. So much for Mr. Rhoden.

Sports has got a couple of bigger problems. As many writers have noted, baseball's most beloved records have fallen, or are about to fall, not to the heirs of Ruth and DiMaggio, but to the heirs of DuPont and East Germany. (Maybe that's unfair to DuPont.) Even if Bonds goes off the juice tomorrow, he probably still passes Hank Aaron. There's no way of "putting and asterisk," or noting those records were cheap in any meaningful way: the official records still list the 1919 White Sox as the World Series winners.

At the same time, the NBA is dealing with the dark side of the hip-hop culture on a weeklky basis. Entire teams were turned into wholly-owned subsidiaries of Gangland (the Portland Trailblazers, for instance), and now "respect" justifies jettisonning the playground ethic of picking on someone your own size.

Sports needs to reinstate, or expand, its ethic of guilt by association.

After 1919, Judge Landis made not only gambling, but associating with known gamblers, an offense. It got Leo Durocher suspended for a year, even though he had stopped. (As it happens, it got him suspended from managing the 1947 Dodgers, where he probably would have gotten himself killed by cumulative injury defending Robinson.)

Baseball, the NBA, the NFL, need to make associating with known gang members, or known steroid-dispensers, an offense against their respective leagues. Not only won't we tolerate you using drugs, we won't tolerate you hanging around with people who deal them. Or people who shoot other people. Or doctors who have a habit of slipping a little something extra into the exercise shake. They can certainly afford the background checks on their personal trainers.

Mike Wilbon made it clear on PTI the other day that he things Carmelo, a good kid, needs to grow up and get some new friends. Well, it's not just true for Carmelo, it's also true for about 1000 other guys who play professional sports for a living.

I suspect there's no way on God's green earth that the baseball players' union is going to go along with this. And I can't blame Selig for not wanting to pick a fight with a union that wins every one of them. But it certainly would solve the problem, and maybe help some of these young men grow up.

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December 04, 2004

Where Was the Cavalry?

This time, it looks like it was on the other side. In a small item, the Rocky reports that over $550,000 of the $2.1 million that the "Four Millionaires" spent to buy back the Colorado legislature for the Democrats came in during the final weeks. One of the costs of focusing on the national races at the expense of the state races.

They also report that Salazar outspent Coors in the Senate race.

The final campaign numbers show that Salazar spent $8.5 million to $7.3 million for Coors. And that includes the $1.3 million Coors loaned himself, with $500,000 of that coming in the final week.

One of the key factors in the primary was the belief that Coors would be able to compete more effectively on money than Schaffer would have. This report shows that Coors did have trouble raising money, possibly because of his wealth.

A friend of mine, who strongly supported Schaffer during the primary, is still convinced that Schaffer could have been effective raising money, but these numbers indicate otherwise. After all, if Salazar outraised Coors almost 3-2 ($8.9M to $6.2M), it's unlikely that Schaffer could have done much better. And this was with the state party leadership focusing on the race. And in any case, I saw plenty of Coors ads down the stretch. It isn't as though he wasn't getting his message out.

Still, while money is necessary, it isn't sufficient. Tom Tancredo barely outspent his opponent, but cruised in for re-election.

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Skeleton Man

What's this? Sharf reviewing a book that's been published in the last year? Much less the last four months? Hey. a Costco membership can work wonders. And with Jared jabbering on about how Hillerman is his hero, I figured I'd better beat him to the punch.

On the other hand, I just got the first book in the Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, which was only written last year. Still, it's 916 pages long, not including Bonus Author Postscript Material, so don't expect a review for a while.

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December 03, 2004

"Churchill on Leadership"

A full review of Steve Hayward's terrific character study is available here. But for the moment, consider Hayward's Four Keys to Understanding Winnie:

1 - Plain Speaking
2 - Decisiveness
3 - Historical Imagination
4 - Balancing the Big Picture with Attention to Detail

There's a lot more, but, um, do these remind you of anyone?

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Christmas in Denver

It started with taking the Columbus out of Columbus Day. You knew it would come to this.

Denver has one of the most garish but beloved Christmas lights displays in the country. Included is a sign that says - gasp - "Merry Christmas." Naturally, the mayor thought it would be a good idea to replace that with "Happy Holidays." Evidently, that tremor they picked up at the earthquake center in Golden was the Wrath of Nordlinger, because today, the mayor has, ahem, clarified his position. "Merry Christmas" stays; "Happy Holidays" is turned away at the goal line.

In an example of moral clarity that is the hallmark of contemporary mainstream Christianity...

...Philip Wogaman, president of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, wasn't so sure.

Wogaman said as a mayor representing a diverse citizenry, allowing a phrase that is decidedly centered toward one faith - as "Merry Christmas" is - could be considered somewhat exclusionary to those who aren't Christian.

"On that score, I would have to say it's not proper for a political figure to imply that the entire community is of any one faith," Wogaman said. "On the other hand, I could understand a political figure extending the same kind of courtesy to all different faith groups."

In fact, the mayor is scheduled to be at the Federation's menorah lighting, so Mr. Wogaman needn't lose any sleep over any implied exclusivity.

(Aside: one of the annoyances of Messianic Judaism's presence is handling clerks who say, "Merry Christmas" without looking to see the yarmulke perched on my head. I've never had any use for the snarkier comebacks some people spend time perfecting. Good grief, these people are just being nice, and you want to punish them for not being PC-nice? I always just smile and say something like, "Thanks, you too." If they notice, they're usually a little embarassed, and hopefully they'll look next time, but at least I wasn't the one who embarassed them. The problem is, with Christians wearing yarmulkes lurking around, they may think I mean it.)

Now, the lights display is clearly Christmassy. It's got reindeer, a Santa, Frosty, and... a creche. Yes, it's legal, but it still bothers Mike Littwin. Littwin's pretty much of the same mind on Public Christmas as I am (except that he's married to a Christian). I have to agree that I find the creche a little bit jarring, but probably because we've been - protected - from religious imagery for so long that it looks out of place. I pretty much just look past it. Like the Greeks in the Greek Orthodox Church across the street look past the menorah.

But to drop a line claiming that we are, "clinging, and at times tenuously, to the concept of separation of church and state" is just absurd. I suppose it's possible that the secular side of the argument really believes it's under siege, but then why is the ACLU able to systematically remove public displays of the Ten Commandments from around the country? The ADL actually puts out a little pamphlet advising cities and schools how they can avoid the marauding bands of civil rights attorneys this year.

Which brings us to The Parade. Each year, for 30 years, Denver has had a Parade of Lights. This year,

[Pastor George] Morrison wanted to enter a float featuring multicultural Christian themes and a Merry Christmas message. Parade officials told a representative from Morrison's church, the 4,000-member Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, that religious messages aren't allowed because they might offend others.

You just roll your eyes at this sort of thing. When some moron of a pastor decided to do a little co-branding with a certain movie earlier this year, and put up a marquee saying that the "Jews Killed Jesus," probably a dozen FBC members trekked down from Arvada to join us in protesting. They're there for every pro-Israel event. They paid for bringing Bus 19 to Colorado on its US tour. They're the Church Voted Least Likely to Object to a Truck-Driven Menorah. The Downtown Denver Partnership missed the bus here, because they had a chance to open it up to everyone and instead alienated a lot of people.

So instead of shouting "Silent Night" over a V-8 powering an F-150, they'll just come down to sing carols ahead of the parade start time. (No word on whether the hot chocolate will have a hechsher.)

Still, there are a lot of tall buildings downtown, and they might want to scope out the area ahead of time:

And you thought the Target CEO was the Grinch.

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December 01, 2004

Ted Rall's Worst Nightmare

According to Ted Rall, who can neither think nor draw, all these people are idiots.

I particularly like this quote:

McMaster said he knew his troops had grown close while serving in Iraq, but he was surprised the regiment more than doubled its goal for re-enlistments.

"A lot of these guys found service in Iraq rewarding," he said. "These soldiers knew that their nation and fellow soldiers were counting on them." (emphasis added -ed.)

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Good Riddance

It looks as though Sean Harrigan, of Calpers, is going to get the boot. Both the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal covered his impending demise. Can't come too soon, as far as I'm concerned.

For instance, Calpers seems to extend notions of conflict of interest to corporate boards that it's not willing to apply to itself.

At Safeway, Calpers charged head-on into the grocery chain's labor dispute. Acting at Mr. Harrigan's direction, Calpers's Mr. Feckner wrote Safeway Chairman and Chief Executive Steven Burd on Dec. 17, 2003, two months into the United Food and Commercial Workers union's strike against the chain's California stores over cuts in employees' health-care benefits. Noting that Calpers owned $77 million of Safeway stock, the letter urged Mr. Burd to wrap up union negotiations "fairly and expeditiously," adding that "fair treatment of employees is a critical element in creating long-term value for shareholders."


In the interview last month, Mr. Harrigan said he directed Mr. Feckner merely to look into the issue in response to comments at a November board meeting by members of the public and the board. Besides being Calpers's president, Mr. Harrigan is executive director of the UFCW's Southern California council. Big public-pension funds rarely take sides in a labor strike, corporate-governance experts say. (emphasis added -ed.)

This sort of meddling has already led to further politicization of Calpers:

Meanwhile, another controversy was on the horizon. On Oct. 18, Philip Angelides, a Calpers board member and the California state treasurer, issued a news release on the fund's behalf urging directors at CACI International Inc., where the Army is investigating three civilian interrogators who worked at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, to "get out of denial and hold company executives accountable for any misconduct that has hurt both shareholders and the country." Mr. Angelides cited Calpers's $12 million stake in CACI.

CACI responded on Oct. 19 with a statement that rejected Mr. Angelides's "crass, politically motivated antics" and said that if Calpers wanted to walk away from a stock that had risen more than 50% since August, "we fully support their decision."

Good for them.

Harrigan pioneered the use of Calpers as a tool of shareholder leverage, to affect corporate governance, rather than merely selling shares of companies it was worried about. As one of the few institutional investors large enough to throw its weight around, Calpers effectively began exercising regulatory control that it hadn't been given. Certainly everyone wants to be on guard against corporate executives plundering the company for their own benefit, a la Dennis Kozlowski and Ken Lay. It's far from clear that Calpers's judgment as to executive salaries is any better than that of the boards of the companies they invest in.

Calpers's job is to manage a pension fund, not enforce its own ideas of corporate good governance, ideas which may not have been vetted by the marketplace first.

The question of shareholder rights, and corporate governance is a tricky one. On the one hand, shareholders do own a piece of the company. On the other hand, the company has hired Boards of Directors and executive management teams whose job it is to run the company. Shareholder revolts tend to be a pretty blunt management tool.

Without a doubt, board members also tend to be large shareholders, and take very seriously share price drops. In other words, boards already tend to get upset when the market punishes bad management, even if there's no rule that says that they have to.

As stock ownership becomes more widespread, it's clear that a clubby sense of corporate governance won't cut it. But there are existing regulatory tools, like the SEC.

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Another Benefit of the Fence

Last week's Washington Post discussed the effects of Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank on both Israelis and Palestinians. A lot of it sounds eerily familiar to the sort of thing we heard from the first Intifada: the Palestinians are just trying to live their lives, etc.

Typically, the Post, in an effort to gain sympathy for the Palestinians, mixes the trivial with the more worrisome:

As the Palestinians inch forward, armed soldiers standing behind sandbagged concrete walls shout orders to have bags opened and their contents dumped on the ground. On one recent morning, soldiers demanded that a man squirt shaving cream from an aerosol can to verify its contents. They ordered another man to rip the red-and-silver wrapping paper off a box to reveal what was inside: a doll for his granddaughter.

"You can't look at a person and know if he's good or bad," said Israeli Sgt. Nadav Efrati, a stocky, square-faced 21-year-old who recently finished his military service after spending months at the Hawara checkpoint. He said the limited Arabic that the Israeli army teaches most of its soldiers exacerbates the friction between the two peoples. "The main words they taught us were: 'Stop. If not, I will shoot you,' " Efrati said.

This is under the heading, "A Glimpse of Brutality." Demanding an aerosol be squirting? Unwrapping a present? I go through more "brutality" than that trying to get on a Frontier Airlines flight. And it's because of these guys. As it happens, when I was leaving Israel in 1993, I took back a present that a friend of mine had wrapped. The security guy unwrapped it.

As for the language difficulty, the Army could do a better job of teaching some Arabic to the soldiers. But Hebrew is the predominant language in Israel. If you were under occupation, and you wanted to make your life a little easier, wouldn't you take the trouble to learn a little of the Army's language?

In fact, the most troubling incident, one of clear abuse, came not from a Jewish soldier, but from an Arab, a Bedouin. He almost certainly was under some pressure to be "more Israeli than the Israelis," and he also understoof the taunts and insults the Palestinians were hurling at him.

Now people are people, and anyone can get to enjoying a little power a little too much, but the problem here isn't primarily that the soldiers are enjoying their power, but that they're not enjoying it. It's miserable work, not fighting, having to interrupt people's lives this way.

In fact, it's a fine argument for getting on with the fence, and finishing the disengagement.

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