May 25, 2005

MBA Almost-Mortem

With one more class to go, and an independent study to finish polishing, it's time to start looking forward to graduation and the post-MBA/MSF career around the corner. But it's also a good moment to pause briefly, turn around, take a deep breath, and consider what I'm on the cusp of finishing.

Let's do the numbers (Light, frothy piano version of, "We're In the Money", please):

  • Years: 3
  • Degrees: 2
  • Courses: 25
  • Credit Hours: 100
  • GPA: 3.72
  • Hours at Assistantship: 600
  • Courses Paid For by Assistantship: 6
  • Courses Paid For by Daniels Scholarship: ~4
  • Student Loans: ~$54,000

Now, Peter Robinson wrote an entire book about this, so I don't expect to be able to cover the whole thing in one blog posting. I'll do what I can.

First, this was a hell of a lot of work. I took courses over the summer, and DU runs on an archaic quarter system, designed to kill off the weaker students at the end of each August. There's a 5-week break that covers Thanksgiving to New Year's. After which, a 20-week marathon, 28 weeks if you're taking summer classes. Total time off between New Year's and Labor Day: 4 weeks.

Most of the courses actually required a fair amount of writing. These could be group projects, case studies, exercises, case studies, problem sets, group projects, mid-terms, group projects, finals, or case studies. Take away Friday night & Saturday, and that meant three years of endentured Sundays, be they to homework or housework. I will say that I cannot recall a single student who complained about our having to hold group meetings on Sundays or weeknights.

Most of this time I was working, too. Ah, yes, working. I remember one quarter when an exceptionally understanding contract allowed me to take 16 credit hours while putting in about 30 a week, and taking 10 during the evenings to babysit printers for the assistantship. Yum. Sleep? I'm sorry, I don't know that word....zzzzzzzz. (There was actually a reason for that. DU used to have a billing system where you didn't pay for any hours above 12 in a given quarter. That extra 4 hours was free.)

While there was never a time when I thought of quitting, there were certainly times when I questioned the value of the project; was I really learning all that much, or was it just ticket-punching? Seeing DU get top-5 honors in finance and top-50 honors overall, two years running, in the WSJ recruiter rankings certainly made me feel better about the whole enterprise.

Part of the reason I never thought of quitting was that first quarter. I had probably the best accounting professor on the face of the planet. I mean good. Buff Honodel is former USAF, runs his class like a drill sergeant, and keeps things lively. I was actually excited to walk out realizing that the numbers embodied actual concepts. And while the less said about the finance professor the better, the class itself made it clear that you could interpret these numbers in a meaningful way.

It won't surprise readers of this blog to find out that I also found plenty of room for participation in the ethics & law class first quarter. I am told - by a reliable source - that when I missed one evening session, the professor looked over and wondered out loud if it was worthwhile even having the class.

I blogged only sparingly about the classes while they were going on. Part of this was just because I wanted to give the thing a chance to play out. Part of it was fatigue: I was writing up case studies for the class as it was. It's also hard to blog as a spectator when you're a participant. I'll spare you a class-by-class rehash of the program, but I assure you I can remember something from every single class.

If DU were to ask me what I'd do to the program, I'd have three suggestions. First, re-introduce economics. Incredible as it may seem, DU's graduate business program doesn't teach econ. That's like being a pilot and not learning about the weather. One course. One lousy course: 5 weeks macro, 5 weeks micro. No excuse, really, especially with Thomas Sowell's masterpieces out there.

Second, make sure that every course referred back to the Foundations courses, the basic accounting and finance. Even the management courses. How can you even think about negotiating a labor deal when you don't know your costs? By the time I took the advanced accounting course, I was using concepts I hadn't even seen in 2 years. Every course.

Finally, include 2 or 3 top-flight Bill James articles in the finance courses. Silly? Oh, no, my friends. You may or may not like baseball, just as you may think of finance as a roadblock between you and those juicy organizational behavior texts. But you can't dispute James's writing, his love of subject, clarity of thought, and above all, his ability to tease meaning from numbers like nobody before or since.

OK. As Crash Davis said to Nuke, "moment's over."

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May 24, 2005

"Judaism is Wrong"

National Review Online has published a remarkable piece of religious over-reaching. It's entitled Judaism is Wrong On Stem Cells, a truly breathtaking pronouncement, no matter what the stakes and no matter what the religion of the pronouncer.

I freely admit that I have no idea what Mr. Cohen's Jewish affiliation is, that is whether he considers himself religious or secular, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, somewhere in-between, or somewhere else entirely. None of the points I make below judge in any way his Jewishness or Judaism, his religiosity, or his knowledge of Jewish soruces. I can only address the arguments offered in the piece. So this is offered in the spirit of debate, and not personally.

Donít assume that the OU speaks for all Orthodox Jews. Itís big, itís influential. Agudah is to its right, and the Rabbinical Council of America is to its left. Hereís the RCA statement on stem cell research. I couldnít fund an Agudah statement, but this is the closest I could come. I wouldn't characterize either of these as, "full steam ahead."

And donít assume that the OU (or the RCA) wonít come out with a statement opposing the creation of embryos solely for research. Judaism draws distinctions based on the reason for doing something all the time. Rabbi Jack Breitowitz, a very well-regarded expert in halachic matters draws this distinction. Meir Soloveitchik, a young man but from a very prominent rabbinic family, recently published an article making more or less your argument (the latest issue of the RCAís Tradition).

I don't know that the OU has come out in favor of research cloning. I certainly couldnít find anything online that clear-cut. Certainly the RCA at least seems wary of it. Personally, it worries the hell out of me. That said, even if the OU supports research cloning, why is their position disingenuous? NR argues in favor of parental notification Ė on narrow grounds pertaining solely to that issue Ė when it actually supports much broader restrictions on abortion. (I support greater restrictions on it myself, although I take a Jewish rather than a Catholic position on the matter, as Iím sure Mr. Cohen does, too.) The OU is addressing the matter at hand.

The fact that is that Orthodox Judaism is still working out its response to many medical issues, stem cell research among them. Frequently these responses work from analogy to previous technology, frequently they look for overriding principles. Orthodox Judaism works within the bounds of halacha, and frequently those lines have been drawn before. Many of the medical ethics issues arise from end-of-life questions, and there are clear Halachic definitions of death that need to be considered. Rabbis Ė Orthodox rabbis Ė will come to varying conclusions on many of these questions. The issues he raises will come into play. They may not be dispositive.

The difference between Rabbi Breitowitz and Rabbi Soloveitchik, and the NRO piece, is that their discourses are grounded in Jewish sources and Jewish law. National Review frequently argues that leftist Catholics are simply not arguing from Catholic sources with respect for Catholic principles and Catholic reasoning; rather they are arguing from secular liberal principles, seeking to impose them on their church. NR is right. It's jaw-dropping that they would publish something that looks like itís doing something very similar with respect to Judaism.

National Review doesn't have an anti-Semitic bone in its body. It need make no apologies and it needs no defense on that score. It publishes articles of Jewish interest - David Klinghofer comes prominently to mind - seeking to explain Jewish issues to a broader audience. Mr. Cohen himself has published a essay in First Things that attacks the issue with much greater subtlety and insight.

It's a shame that - nuance - isn't in display in NRO.

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Newsweek's Klaidman on Al-Jazeera

The Indispensible MEMRI has posted a partial transcript of a May 19 Al-Jihadi Al-Jazeera interview with Newsweek Washignton bureau chief Daniel Klaidman.

We can't see the initial question, but Klaidman goes on for two paragraphs describing the technical journalistic question of sources and sourcing, how this item ended up in their magazine. I assume the question was something like, "why did you run this item?" Then, this:

Klaidman: ...we concluded that we did not have the information that we needed to make the assertion that we did in this item Ė that this had happened.

Host: But there is no proof that it did not happen either...

Klaidman: We are neutral on whether any form of Koran desecration took place. ...we are also saying that this specific act of Koran desecration was not confirmed by the US military investigators, and that is what we reported. As to whether these things happened or not, we are, like the rest of the people out there and news organizations - we donít know. We have heard the allegations, we continue to report, and the US military and other entities are investigating, and as I said, we are neutral on whether any of this ever happened.

One would be tempted to ask what on God's green earth Klaidman was thinking, if we didn't already know.

The Al-Jazeera reporters deftly changes the subject from Newsweek's lousy reporting to the truth of the underlying charges, asking Klaidman to admit that he can't prove that George Bush isn't receiving intergalactic messages through his fillings.

And Klaidman goes along! Here he is, appearing on what amounts to the propaganda arm of Al Qaeda, the closest thing we have to enemy television. He's staring into the eyes of man who quite obviously hates him as an American and as a Jew. He's got the attention of millions of people for whom CNN isn't anti-American enough. And he acts like he's trying to be the peacemaker at a college debating society.

Even if Newsweek's judgment weren't already compromised, merely by agreeing to appear, Klaidman calls into question his ability to differentiate reporting from propaganda. But this "defense," this complete refusal to defend his country's conduct of the war only compounds the problem.

Look, I don't expect him to go on enemy TV and say something like, "you people need to cool it. Some of your co-religionists have issues with perspective and proportion, and some of you might want to take them aside and teach them how to behave like civilized people." No, that would be asking too much, and Newsweek already has image problems in Arabic.

Something like, "the reason this was news at all was because the US Army has tried so hard to be Religiously Correct that they've issued a supply contract for prayer mats and Korans, and practically has the kitchen staff fom the Mecca Marriott preparing the meals down at Gitmo," would have worked.

Whose side are they on, indeed.

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Revenge of the Sith

Saw it Saturday night. I almost wrote, "finally," because even though it had only been out two days, the movie had been announced 28 years ago. Yes, despite it all, despite Jar-Jar Binks and CGI-Yoda and an Attack of the Clones that had enough storyline to fill a 20-minute short, I'm a fan. Now, I don't go around putting cinnamon buns on my head, but I'm a fan.

I liked it. A lot. Was it Return of the Jedi? No. But Lucas effectively used our nostalgia for the old series (sadly heightened by the flubs of the new one) by leaving us off at a familiar place, 20 years before where we were, 28 years ago. It left me wanting to buy a DVD player so I could watch Episodes IV, V, and VI again.

First, everything you've heard about the dialogue is true. The less said, the better, which should have been applied to the script.

Most of what you've heard about the acting is true. Apparently, the Jedi pharmacy stocks lithium, because that pretty much explains Samuel L. Jackson's performance. And Natalie Portman, who, unlike Carrie Fisher, had the sense to make some films in-between Episodes, is given little to do except lie back and think of the franchise. But Ewan MacGregor brings warmth to Obi-Wan, Hayden Christensen wears the struggle on his face, and Ian MacDiarmid is persuasively, chillingly, oleaginously evil.

But finally, mirabile dictu, the plot works! MacDiarmid confuses Anakin with moral relativism, playing on his personal fears and weaknesses to corrupt and subdue him. At the end, Anakin, now Darth Vader, seems more defeated than triumphant. It explains his Emperor toss at the end of Jedi perfectly.

The politics works reasonably well, too. Palpatine's use of a manufactured war as a means to power predates Casear, and Lucas has said he had Hitler in mind when he concocted the story, several decades before Bush II. (A montage of unsuspecting Jedi getting it in the back all over the galaxy reminded me of The Godfather.) A little more backstory here would have helped, but between the 20wenty, the previews, and 140 minutes of revenge, I understand that length became an issue at some point.

Way too much has been made of the "If you're not with me, you're my enemy," line. It's personal, not political, and if the two merge, it's only to remind us that imaginary fears often hold the greatest power.

There's also been a lot of confusion about Obi-Wan's comment that "only the Sith deal in absolutes." I honestly don't see anything here that should set off conservative alarms. Palpatine is palpably evil, yet he uses moral relativism to confuse Anakin, and open his internal, mental doors. Of course he becomes absolutely evil. Of course, he labels the Jedi as such. But his willingness to accept this is only made possible by the denial of evil in the first place. This is an insight conservatives ought to cheer.

So if Lucas the writer and Lucas the director continue to prove the Peter Principle, Lucas the myth-builder can still bring it. In a perfect world, we'd get to see Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, created by Lucas but written and directed by someone else. Lucas at this point it too much enamored of his own "creative freedom" to let that happen, though.

This movie doesn't redeem Phantom or Atatck - nothng could do that -, but it does make a satisfying closing of the circle. To the extent that it feels incomplete, it's in large part because those two movies were so weak that we really didn't care much about the characters. Episodes I and II were disappointing wasted opportunities. I walked out thinking that it completed the original trilogy better than it completed this one.

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May 19, 2005

This Would Be Really Funny...

...if George Allen were even thinking of defecting on judicial filibusters:

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May 16, 2005

Biweekly Forecast: Continued Sluggishness with Outbreaks of Creativity

So while I graduate on June 3, barring a last-minute breakdown worthy of the 2004 ALCS Yankees, it's going to be an action-packed couple of weeks. First, while I'm only taking one class, there's a case write-up, or something similar, due every class. This means that on days that I don't actually have class, I'm still preparing for the next one. I specifically waited to take Portfolio Management so I could have this incarnation of it, so my latitude for complaint is somewhat - limited.

Ah, but then there's that pesky Independent Study. Details to remain under wraps for now, but it's over at Janus, and they're actually expecting a paper that they can use and that the professor can grade.

Add in actual work, you know, work I get paid for rather than pay for the privilege of doing, along with the continuing house maintenance and housekeeping activities, along with other ongoing changes, and there's not enough caffeine in the world. (Do they still have those pesky benzedrine restrictions?)

Honestly, while the PM class is terrific, and the extra work involved is probably wiring fundamental ideas into my brain at the mitochondrial level, case studies began to seem like make-work about three quarters ago. Writing up my own work on the Independent Study is much more interesting, since it's actually new stuff. Probably not Nobel Prize-winning research, but new stuff nonetheless.

Case studies? Meh.

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May 13, 2005

Maguire on Kaus on Limbaugh on Starr on Filibusters

Mickey Kaus is accusing Rush Limbaugh of Dowdifying Ken Starr's position on judicial filibusters. Tom Maguire isn't so sure. (Hat tip: The InstaProf.) Here's the transcript of the whole Nightline segment featuring Starr:


(Off Camera) And joining me now, Kenneth Starr. He's the dean of the Pepperdine University Law School. He was the independent counsel on the Whitewater investigation of the Clintons, US Solicitor General under the first President Bush and a judge for the US Court of Appeals. Let's talk first of all, Judge, about these assaults, some of them actually physical, most of them these days, though, verbal. I, I noted at the very beginning of the program, going back to the days of, of, of the calls for the impeachment of Judge Warren that it's not new ...




(Off Camera) ... to this country to have these kinds of assaults. Nevertheless, it seems to be particularly widespread and vitriolic these days. Your, your response.


Yes, the stakes are very high. Feelings are running extremely high. But you're so right. Chief Justice Warren was the subject of calls for impeachment. William O. Douglas was, as well. But there is, I think, now a more focused set of issues and concerns that are leading a number of our political leaders to be very, very stringent in their comments and, and criticisms. And I think it does raise issues with respect to the independence of the judiciary that we need to be very mindful of.


(Off Camera) Well, let's parse that a little bit. I, I don't think any judge would complain about being criticized. None of us is above criticism. But when the calls come, explicitly or implicitly for impeachment, not because a judge has committed any crime, but because the judge may hold a, a set of views that are, that are inconsistent with those, of those calling for the impeachment, what do you think of that?


I think it's unfortunate. I completely agree that as a coordinate branch of government, the judiciary is appropriately subject to criticism. That's our system. Justice Brennan put it very well in a different context when he said, in a democratic society, debate should be robust, uninhibited, open-ended and it's gonna make us uncomfortable. That is good. But where we do, in fact, step over the line, in my judgment, is when we say, or our political leaders say that we so fervently disagree, that we think that impeachment is appropriate or necessary. When those judges are, whether right or wrong, exercising their independent judgment, under Article Three of the Constitution.


(Off Camera) So, if, if Majority Leader DeLay were to come to you and say, Judge Starr, I've always admired you, you think I need to stifle it for a while? What would you tell him?


I would say, criticize but criticize in the spirit of Justice Brennan. Be robust but don't go all the way over to say that a conscientious judge or justice, exercising his or her judgment, should be impeached or, or to call for impeachment.


(Off Camera)What ...


-I, I would say moderate the tone a bit.


(Off Camera) When you were quoting Justice Brennan a moment ago, you referred to his admonition that debate should be open-ended. Which, of course, in the framework of the US Senate, is what the filibuster is, is all about. What are you views on the filibuster, as it relates specifically to judicial appointments?


Well, the Senate has the raw power and has, in fact, used it once famously, in the process of considering the proposed elevation of Abe Fortas to the Chief Justice-ship. But I think it's imprudent and unwise for senators to invoke this important device. I think it is more apt, more appropriate for legislation but not for, for judging, I think, or for ruling on judges and voting on judges. I think that does trench on the independence of the judiciary. But even more so, I think that in our system of separated powers, the President does deserve a vote on his nominees, up or down. And especially when we're talking about the courts of appeals. We're not even talking about the United States Supreme Court.


(Off Camera) -Expect, I think we are talking here about the US Supreme Court, aren't we? I mean, it, it is everybody's expectation that everything that is going on right now is just sort of a dry run for what is assumed will happen sometime, if not in the next few months, then certainly in the next year or two. And that is that President Bush will have one, two, possibly three appointments to the Supreme Court. So, what happens in the US Senate now is exceedingly important. Would you go so far as to do away with the filibuster?


I would not do away with the filibuster, in terms of Rule 22. But I would say, be judicious in its application. And I don't think that that's been happening. And I regret that.


(Off Camera) So, you're, you're opposed to the invocation of the filibuster, in this case. But you wouldn't go so far as to get rid of it.


I'd be very cautious about getting rid of it. I think that the filibuster rule's a part of our traditions. But I think it needs to be, like a lot of tools in the tool chest, very cautiously used.


(Off Camera) Judge Starr, always a pleasure, thank you very much for joining us.


My pleasure, Ted.

Koppel clearly doesn't ambush Starr. The conversation starts out discussing the heated rhetoric over judicial decisions, and then moves into the filibuster. But Starr never says it shouldn't be done, only that we should be cautious. He clearly draws a line between using it for judicial nominations and using it over legislation. And when he talks about it being "part of our traditions," he may have in mind its broader use, not this specific application. In fact, he says that it's never been used before in this way, which pretty much rules out judicial filibusters as being "part of our tradition."

I think it's not as clear as Rush would like, but if Starr's actual position is somewhere between where Kaus places it and where Rush puts him, it's much closer to Rush's view.

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The RMA Recaps With the Governor

As Clay has mentioned, several members of the RMA had the distinctive opportunity to meet with Governor Owens yesterday and recap the legislative session. We had been told we'd get 30 minutes, but the Governor graciously extended that to over an hour. Besides Clay and I, Kestrel and Mr. Virtus attended, contributing far more insight than I to the conversation.

As with Clay, I'll reserve my comments until I've had a chance to consider them, but I'm afraid that this blog, and its purple houses, may yet contribute in some small way to a gubernatorial veto. The issue is still undecided...

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Kingdom of Heaven

This is why I'll never be an actual reporter - deadlines. This thing was supposed to be written last Friday, but events, my dear boy, events, intervened.

I admit, I've always been a sucker for movies where the fate of empires rests on the shoulders of thousands of extras, so I've been waiting for this film for a long time. Indeed, the final battle scene, the siege of Jerusalem, is probably worth the price of admission all by itself. It's not quite Minas Tirith, but then, Saladin is a lot better than chief Orc, too.

Ridley Scott likes to take on themes of grace under pressure. In this case, it's a knight who tries to live up to the Chivalric Code in a Jerusalem completely bereft of honest leadership. The king, Baldwin IV, is dying of leprosy. His successor, Guy, is spoiling for a fight with Saladin for which both he and his army are completely unprepared. His allies in this venture are the Knights Templar, representatives of the Western Church. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, representative of Eastern Orthodoxy, acts as a stand-in for an Eastern Empire that can't and won't fight for what it no longer believes in.

In the middle is Balian, Defender of Jerusalem. He's got some religious qualms of his own, but also a sort of proto-Enlightenment faith in the people he's sworn to defend.

This history itself is pretty good, with most of the incidents reflecting actual events. The story does write little Baldwin V out of the script, and invents a romance between Balian and Sibylla, Baldwin IV's sister and Guy's wife. The real Balian himself was well aware of his ancestry, son of the Count of Tripoli, and he didn't stay behind in Jerusalem, but survived the debacle at Hattin that set it up. But none of this materially affects the story.

What does affect the story is the need to balance the two sides. And the need to secularize Balian, as though his fealty to the Chivalric Code only counts if he's given up on God. Saladin is just as noble, just as decent, only he's able to keep his lunatics in check, mostly because he wins. Indeed, it looks as though he needs to be prodded to take Jerusalem, although later he celebrates understatedly as he takes the city. It isn't until the city is lost that Balian seems to realize that he's really lost anything.

In any hands other than Scott's, this movie would have come out as disdain for religious belief. In Scott's hands, it merely warns of the need to rely on God, but keep military necessities in mind, too. It's not critical of religious belief as such, or even as the motivation for action. But it does seem to put a little too much of the blame on the Christians: Guy and Reynaud may have lit the match, but the wood had been drying out for a while. And Saladin really did want the city.

To the extent that the film fails in its big ideas, it's in the conflation of tolerance with truce. Historically, both sides were forced by the other to tolerate. (The Third Crusade, usually presented as a failure, did restore the rights of Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem.) But both sides were also willing to kill and die in large numbers to be the tolerators rather than the tolerated.

The acting itself is pretty good. Liam Neeson looks suitably tragic, as Balian's father, and the Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud gives Saladin both strength and depth. Ed Norton does all his acting behind a silver mask, used to hide King Baldwin's leprosy, but still manages to make the King three-dimensional and commanding.

I like Orlando Bloom, but he doesn't really radiate army-leading charisma here. He brings courage but rarely victory. The idea that men would fall in behind him so willingly doesn't really seems believable. And while Eva Green is a gorgeous Sibylla, you get the sense that Elizabeth Taylor wouldn't have settled for asking "what happens to us, now?" with her eye halfway through the film.

For those of you who like Scott's charactistic high-contrast, low-saturation camerawork, there's plenty of it here. As usual, it adds to the dreamlike quality of the film, as do the somewhat disjointed storytelling, slightly confused geography, and completely invented Jerusalem.

On the whole, somehwta less than Gladiator. Maximus was an indestructible hero fighting for Rome the Virtuous Republic. Balian's role as Defender of the People seems just a little thin, matched by a Bloom who seems just a little small.

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May 10, 2005

Short on Time

Even if I'm short on time, as long as the Reactionaries are around, I'm never short on material.

We all know (cough, cough) that there shouldn't be a religious test for public office. Today finds the Reactionaries shedding crocodile tears over a church that wants to establish an Official Politics. I agree completely.

And then, laying their mud foundation for next year's Governor's race,

According to an independent campaign finance website,, Rep. Beauprez has taken $29,901 from embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's PAC, Americans for a Republican Majority or "ARMPAC".

"We are concerned that Beauprez is being bought and sold by Tom DeLay," added Huttner.

Given that one of Hillary's chief fundraisers has actually gone to trial, I'm sure we'll be seeing a call soon for Ken Salazar ($10,000) and the Colorado Democratic Party ($10,000) to return their money to HillPAC.

I'd add Tom Strickland ($10K) and Mike Feeley ($5K) to the list, but there's no point, I suppose...

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Politically Tone-Deaf

Byron York previews the hard filibuster negotiations still ahead. He suggests that some Republicans are still more concerned with process rather than result:

"Who cares about these individual nominees?" adds Republican A. "You care about the process going forward. Frist isn't in this to protect Janice Rogers Brown or Priscilla Owen. He wants to fix this and have a system that works for both sides going forward."

Republican A is so politically tone-deaf that he shouldn't be allowed to campaign, much less plot strategy. We all know why Justice Brown and Justice Owen and Judge Estrada scared the Democrats the most.

Abandoning them will allow the leftist identity politicians to bang the drum that the Republicans, those racist, sexist pigs, were willing to ditch the girls and the blacks to make sure their white men made it through, conveniently ignoring who it was that opposed them in the first place. Seriously, couldn't you see Bill Clinton getting up in front of a black church political rally and saying that?

Such is the nature of leftist political rhetoric.

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May 09, 2005

Business Blogging

This week's Carnival of the Capitalists is up!

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May 06, 2005

Lapses in Coverage

How can you have a Denver blog titled "Strategic Intelligence" and not mention this?

And how can you throw around the term "chickenhawk" like the wooden nickel it is, and not even mention this?

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Get Well, Jim

Alliance stalwart Jim Cannon is battling Gullian Barre Syndrome, and it's kept him bouncing between hospitals and the free world for a couple of years.

Right now, it's got him back in the hospital, and it's a helpless and frustrating experience for everyone. Sadly, visitors are barred from the ICU, but prayers and wished to Jim's dad, Guy, are welcome and appreciated.

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May 05, 2005

Hedge Fund Hijinks

I had written before that hedge funds and other major MCI shareholders might have been manipulating the Verizon-Qwest auction process to accept a Qwest bid loaded with equity, that they would then have to race to dump. Now, it looks as though some of them were also manipulating Qwest's share price to help keep that bid credible when it was financially unsound.

The Denver Post first reported last week that Qwest's stock spiked during the last 15 minutes of trading on the New York Stock Exchange from March 28 to March 30 to close above a critical price threshold known as a "collar."

Had Qwest's stock closed below the collar, investor confidence in Qwest's bid for MCI could have been shaken. Qwest was dueling against Verizon, which this week locked in a merger agreement with MCI.


Maintaining a certain stock price was key to Qwest's offer for MCI, which in late March was $26 a share in cash and stock. Qwest guaranteed the value of its stock within a 10 percent collar above and below $4.15 per share. Below the collar, MCI shareholders would receive less value for their Qwest stock.

Actually, since the number of shares, rather than the dollar value, was specified in the deal, any drop in share price would have cost MCI shareholders money. The collar was there to limit, not eliminate, such risk. Had Qwest decided to try to make up the difference with even more shares, they could have crossed the 50% threshold beyond which MCI would, in effect, have been buying a controlling interest in Qwest.

Since MCI shareholders clearly wanted cash more than they wanted to run a telecom, this wasn't quite the deal they were seeking. Moreoever, under federal M&A laws, it would have changed the entire structure of the deal, affecting valuation, taxation, and the ability of shareholders to resell their newly-acquired Qwest stock.

In fact, this kind of manipulation, if it in fact happened, is grossly illegal, and harkens back to the Wild West on Wall Street, detailed firsthand by Bernard Baruch and secondhand by Charles Geisst.

Whether or not it happened, the fact that it could have will likely be enough to stir up more calls for further regulation of hedge funds. That's too bad, because there's no inherent reason why funds, any more than individuals, should be restricted in the kinds of investments they can make.

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Eastward, Ho!

This evening, I'll be at an advance screening of Ridley Scott's latest epic, Kingdom of Heaven, about the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 to Saladin. Review to follow.

While doing a little background reading this morning, I found a few interesting tidbits to chew on. First, from Barbara Tuchman's Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour. In a turn of events disturbing to all conservatives, the fall of Jerusalem catalyzed Europe into launching the Third Crusade, and led to Henry II imposing England's first income tax.

The Saladin Tithe, as it was called, despite its high purpose was regarded, says Roger of Wendover, as "a violent extortion which veiled the vice of rapacity under the name of charity and alarmed the priesthood as well as the people."

The other comes from Norman Cantor's magisterial Medieval History. The Franks of First Crusade took advantage of Muslim disunity (cough) to establish a series of coastal Crusader Kingdoms. (The French have always done better at interleague play.) This brought them into close diplomatic contact with the still-dying Byzantines. While the disembarking Franks didn't exactly say, "Justinian, we have returned," the following should give one pause:

In the face of Byzantine grandeur and culture, the Franks had a strong sense of inferiority, and they compensated for their rusticity and crudeness by condemning the Greeks and effeminate and corrupt. Actually the mannered Greek courtiers rightly found the Frankish prices boors by comparison with themselves. There was merit in each party's criticism of the other, but the Franks were representatives of a still youthful and extremely vital civilization, while Byzantium was sterile and decadents and have to rely on its western enemies for salvation from the more pressing Arab foe.

I guess the Franks have been overcompensating ever since, but the echoes are unmistakable.

Posted by joshuasharf at 08:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

Campaign Finance Ironies

At the risk of meta-blogging (the story is rarely the blog; usually the story is the story) The Washington Post reports today that the FEC is concerned about possible black-ops political blogging by campaigns. Ironic that the current McCain-Feingold dismemberment of the First Amendment was achieved in no small part by similar, non-blogging tactics, on the part of the Pew Foundation.

It also includes this unkillable inaccuracy:

The FEC is taking up the disclaimer issue after news reports last year indicated that a handful of campaigns from both parties had put bloggers on their payrolls. The most contentious example came in South Dakota, where GOP senatorial candidate John Thune paid $35,000 to two local bloggers who ran sites critical of the state's largest newspaper's coverage of Thune's Democratic opponent, incumbent Thomas A. Daschle.

Neither the Thune campaign nor the bloggers revealed the relationship until it was disclosed in his finance reports.

In fact, Jon Lauck, the history professor and author of Daschle v. Thune, did disclose (although not advertise) the relationship on his blog, months before the campaign finance reports made it the center of attention.

Posted by joshuasharf at 06:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack