View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Saturday, March 13, 2004

Oh, That Liberal Media! 

I have been invited to join a group blog, run by Stefan Sharkansky out of Seattle, known as Oh, That Liberal Media!, dedicated to documenting liberal media bias. Stefan gets frequent mentions on Instapundit, and the list of contributors includes the Northern Alliance's Captain Ed, of the Captain's Quarters. This isn't my first contact with the Alliance, but it appears to be the first formal cross-alliance endeavor between the Rockies and the Flatlanders.

Friday, March 12, 2004

527 Amen Choir 

In an article about the Democrats' 527 machine, and its ability to fill in the gap for Kerry between now and the convention, we find this:

So they needed extra megaphones - outside groups that could put ads on TV; a think tank that posts anti-Bush talking points on its Web site (the new Center for American Progress, helmed by another ex-Clinton aide); and some liberal talk-show hosts to balance the Rush Limbaughs (Air America Radio, starring Al Franken and others, starts March 31 in four major cities, and Philadelphia later).

Republicans don't seem upset about the new think tank or the talk-show hosts; they dominate in those areas. But they have dispatched lawyers to complain about the ads, because they think some of the groups are violating federal law.

Dick Polman, who writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer, misses the point. First of all, the Republicans consider Rush to be balance for the networks, sloppy local news reporting, and newspapers like his own. If the Democrats are unappreciative on this score, that doesn't mean they're right.

Republicans aren't upset about think tanks, not because they dominate in that area, but because there are already plenty of Democratic think tanks. We aren't upset about their Talk Radio project because we're convinced they don't get it, don't understand what makes a market-driven medium work.

The reason that Republicans are upset about the Democratic 527s, as Mr. Polman gets to in the 10th paragraph, is that they're advocacy for a specific party, against a law that the Democrats voted heavily in favor of. A law they supported having already figured out a way around it.

Hypocrisy is a very weak charge to make, but it is worth pointing out, which Mr. Polman doesn't, that the Democrats have also been front-and-center in condemning the corrupting influence of a small number of large-money donors to political causes. He fails to note the diffculty, and political danger, in trying to prove coordination between campaign and 527.

In short, the article works to make the Republicans out to be whining children, when in fact they just made the mistake of assuming that Democrats would play by rules they dictated.

Surprise Visit 

Stopped by Jared's office on campus yesterday after one final and having picked up some of next quarter's books. Happy to report that he's every bit as nice in person as he is on his blog. Still, there's that little matter of the photo of Bill Clinton on his office wall. Probably listens to Mark Larson over the Net, too.

Yossi Klein Halevi Speaks 

Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of hearing Yossi Klein Halevi speak at Temple Emmanuel here in Denver. For those of you who don't know, Halevi is, as Bill Eigles puts it, a "partially reconstructed leftist," who once supported Oslo but has come to recognize the folly of that path. Halevi writes for the New Republic, the Jerusalem Post, and has his column syndicated in the L. A. Times, as well. He writes clear-headedly about the past and the present, and even about the immediate future, but still betrays some of that self-admitted self-delusion when discussing anything beyond that.

Halevi was in Colorado Springs to conduct a 3 1/2-week seminar at, of all places, Colorado College, on Israeli society, culture, and politics. Colorado College, some of you will recall, was the scene of some controversy in which yours truly was tangentially involved. The College had invited Hanan "May Her Name Be Blotted Out Forever" Ashrawi to speak. We got Daniel Pipes to address a demonstration on the college campus, protesting her appearance there as offensive and insulting to Americans and Israelis alike. Halevi credits that demonstration with sensitizing the College to the problem, and, as he kindly put it, "allowing them to feel more comfortable with discussing the Mid-East on campus."

Halevi made the point that over the course of that seven years of Oslo, he noticed that many Israelis had made an effort to put themselves in the Palestinians' shoes, and to understand that they had a case. The first Intifada had forced them to do that. But he had yet to come across a Palestinian who had effectively done they same. The Hebrew term for self-examination, "Cheshbon HaNefesh," or literally and "Accounting of the Soul," had only happened on one side. Most Israelis had come to understand that the Palestinians had a case. Almost no Palestinians had come to the same conclusion, but it was precisely this faulty assumption of symmety on which Oslo was premised.

It was also only belatedly that Halevi came to understand that Arafat never intended for Oslo to work - that he intended this war from the beginning, as the endgame of the struggle. It is well-known now that Arafat, along with much of the Arab leadership, speaks with forked tongues in different tongues. But in September of 1993, according to Halevi, the very night of the signing, Arafat flew to Amman, and gave a speech saying that he didn't understand all the criticism: he was just implementing the two-stage solution. Halevi now admits to having allowed his own hopes, and his dim opinion of the conservative Jerusalem Post, the only new outlet to report the story, to interfere with his judgment, both journalistic and otherwise.

If the Left was right about the corrupting effects of occupation, the Right was right about trying to negotiate with terrorists. So if you can't occupy, and you can't negotiate, you're left with separation. A couple of notes about the mechanics of the Fence. First, it is a fence. For about four or five miles, it's a wall, where Palestinians were taking up sniper positions overlooking highways. While the general route is a political matter, the tactical route has been dictated by military concerns. Roughly 85% of Israeli Jews, who couldn't agree on the color of the sky, support this fence. Moreover, the murderous Intifada has essentially taken the Green Line off the table. It has, at this point, no legitimacy or authority, and the fence will, he hopes, make produce facts on the ground to support that change. In reality, it was just the 1948 cease-fire. There's no particular reason why it should have held more authority than the post-1967 borders.

The effect of the Fence will be to finally force partition, and give the Palestinians a chance to build a state. While they could have had 80% of the land in 1937, under the Peel Commission Report, or 45% in 1947, or even 20% in 2000, they have now lost any chance at any part of Jerusalem. The question for them isn't viability, it's whether a state born in this way, with this leadership, can have any moral integrity.

Halevi believes that it might have been possible to reach a modus vivendi with the post 1967 Palestinians, since for them it was a border dispute, rather than an existential question. His hope for the fence is that it can, after a period of violent Palestinian upheaval, transform the question back into one about borders rather than existence. He hopes this even as he acknowledges that the fence is not a Chinese Great Wall, and that conflict will continue.

Halevi did have good things to say about the Iraq War, saying that its effects on Arab society were only beginning to be felt. The obvious benefits of a potentially democratic Iraq were supplemented by the development of an anti-Baathist movement in Syria, a human rights movement in Saudi Arabia, and other internal developments in other Arab countries. That this hasn't happened to the Palestinians, because the Europeans and the other Arabs have been too busy enabling their transition from adolescence to pathology.

In the end, I think he is perhaps once again being overly optimistic. It is certainly possible that the Palestinians, deprived for the most part of Israel as a target for their anger, will turn on their leadership and demand something better. He regards the fence as a chance for "if not peace, then at least stability." But one of the lessons of the Middle East is that stability requires freedom. Left to their own devices, the Palestinians are at least as likely to come up with another Saddam or bin Laden as they are to come up with Sadat or King Hussein. Such a leader would be no more successful in alleiving his people's suffering, but might provide enough order to mask his failings with another war.

Moreover, Halevi notes that each side represents the other's worst nightmare. For the Arabs, the Israelis represent Western colonialism and the Crusaders, and have made some mistakes which add to that impression, such as allying with Britain and France in 1956. (Whom Israel should have picked as allies in a war that even Halevi describes as "necessary" he can't or won't answer.) And the Arabs have come to symbolize the truly eternal Jew-hater, Hitler and the Tsar and Torquemada, and have done much to justify that image in the Jewish mind. But even as he says this, even as he says that the Arabs haven't really tried to come to terms with Israel's existence, even as he must know that Israel has tried mightily to undo this impression, the Arabs have done everything prove their fitness as a nightmare.

It's a shame that someone who so thoroughly understands his mistakes of the past seems unable to keep from repeating them.

Finally, a Candidate 

Seeing the Democratic and Republican parties in the state scramble for nominees is a lesson in the political reality. The primary process was supposed to open up the nomination, to make sure that the "smoke-filled rooms," illegal now in many cities, didn't dictate candidates to the populace. And now, what do we have? Both the Democrats and Republicans are trying desperately to avoid a primary battle. Both parties have decided that unity is more important than freedom of choice.

There's nothing the matter with this, and it's almost certainly connected to the rise of partisanship and hardening of party lines. Winning has always been important to the party faithful, but now that faithful includes a higher percentage of the public at large, whether or not they're willing to admit it.

Right now, with Schaffer the only announced candidate, eyes are turning to former RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson, and Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. Both, I think, may have image problems. Nicholson's a good guy, and comparing him to someone like Terry McAuliffe is like comparing, oh, Steve Spurrier to Joe Gibbs. But he's also seen as more of a political operative than a public servant.

And nobody knows anything about Jane Norton. Oh, suppose if you ran an exhaustive search, you might be able to come up with some old position papers or something, but she's done a complete Hubert Humphrey since the last election. She might well be capable, and would have months to make the case, but if this is such an important Senate seat, be sure the national Democrats will be in there defining her for us.

There is one other factor at work here. Colorado is not a large state. It's physically big, but the battleground areas are well-defined, and the population only rates 7 House seats. It's possible, even necessary, to campaign at the retail level here. It doesn't make television irrelevant, but it does mean that candidates aren't so beholden to it. That helps narrow the gap considerably between whoever the Republicans choose and Salazar.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Reviewing the Situation 

In yet more evidence that the Labour Party is more anti-semitic than the Conservative Party has been in 25 years, Labour Party chairman Ian McCartney referred to the Tories' economic spokesman, Oliver Letwin, as "a 21st-century Fagin." Sadly, Britain has actual legal recourse for these sorts of things, and the Scots are investigating.

Director of Liberty and Law Gerald Hartup, who lodged the complaint to the police about the comments, said the allusion to Charles Dickens's "archetypal evil Jew" had "dragged political debate into the gutter."


He was also disturbed that, "if you make anti-Semitic comments from the Left you seem to be immune from prosecution." There was, he added, "a tendency to regard the Left as socially progressive and, therefore, to regard criticism from the Left as legitimate."

Is there any doubt he's right about the last? "Fagin" in England has roughly the same resonance as "Uncle Tom" in the South. You can try to squirm out of the reference all you want, but everyone listening knows exactly what you mean.

Israel's Economic Liberalization 

Benyamin Netanyahu has announced a Reaganesque tax-cut plan, hoping to spur economic growth. The article doesn't give many details, such as the scheduling for cabinet and Knesset approval. Netanyahu is also once again pushing for privatization of the ports, but how he intends to overcome the opposition from Histadrut (the major public labor union) us unclear.

Ma'ariv isn't the most highbrow, or the most conservative of the Israeli dailies. It's probably something like the Denver Post; the articles are shorter, the coverage a little more cursory, but not so ideological. There are now three Israeli papers (Ma'ariv, Ha'aretz, and the Jerusalem Post), publishing daily websites in English, and they're all worth looking into.

Israel to Help Spain 

The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is preparing to send a forensic team to help identify the dead in Madrid:

An Israeli forensic team was on standby to travel to Madrid Thursday night following a formal request by Spanish rescue services to the Israeli Embassy for help in identifying the dead.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed his "deep shock" at the horrible attack. He sent his consolations to King Juan Carlos, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and the Spanish people, and he wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.

Jacky Levy, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Madrid, told The Jerusalem Post that it appeared that there were no Israeli casualties and that Spanish forensic experts had requested assistance from their Israeli counterparts.

In addition, the Mayor of Jerusalem has offered to send help as well, citing extensive local experience in this area.

Spain has been an erstwhile supporter of the US, but its diplomats, editorialists, and political cartoonists have been, er, less than supportive of Israel in its battle with terrorists. I can think of about 500 products that Israel would rather be able to export to Spain. But it sent these guys, anyway, with question, without hesitation, as was proper. When someone there starts to ask, "why are you here?" they'll stop themselves in the middle of the question. And the next time they see an attack in Israel, and there will be a next time, they'll think about what those guys they met are doing then.

None of this is in any way to suggest that Spain, or the innocents murdered in today's attack deserved what they got. Of course, they didn't. Spain has been an anchor of sanity in the European sea of short-sightedness and unenlightened self-interest. It's only to point out how Israel treats even countries that don't particularly like it - as people.

Local Spanish Consul 

For those of you in the Denver area, Spain has a trade consul here:

Consul Luis Fonseca

5740 Oak Creek Lane

Greenwood Village, CO 80121

Phone: (303) 797-0656

I have no doubt that he would greatly appreciate any expressions of sympathy to this close ally in the War on Terror.

The Re-Reconquista? 

ETA is denying it had anything to do with this morning's very deadly attack at a Madrid subway station. Whether previous ETA denials have been worth anything, I don't know, but there's some contradictory evidence here. First, this isn't ETA's general modus operandi, according to the Post, but it does look a lot like the al-Queda-type Chechens. To much fanfare several years ago, a new mosque opened in Granada, the first in over 500 years. Secondly, ETA has been hurting badly the last few years, issuing calls for negotiations which the Spanish government has rightly ignored. The attack could either be beyond their means or a desperate attempt to make themselves the center of a national conversation that's moved on to other topics, just before a national election.

UPDATE: Al Qaeda is now claiming credit for the Spanish bombing this morning. ETA is denying having anything to do with it. So it's starting to look like Islamofascists may be responsible, although we still don't really know for sure. The comment about the mosque wasn't idle. I have no idea what kind of imam is running the joint, and mosques serve a social purpose as well as a ritual function. After all, a number of mosques in London have been identified as centers of radical activity. Just because all mosques, or even most mosques aren't a problem, doesn't mean they're not a logical place to start.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Two In a Row 

Even better, since this one's in the Washington Post's reporting rather than on the editorial page:

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) dueled with President Bush over taxes and the economy yesterday and then, in an offhand comment to factory workers in Chicago, called the Republicans "the most crooked, you know, lying group I've ever seen," triggering an angry denunciation from Bush's campaign.

Dan Balz evidently isn't buying the spin, and now the Kerry campaign has been reduced to trying to defend the comment on its non-existent merits.

Enrichment Program 

I'm off to hear Yossi Klein Halevi speak at one of the local synagogues. Full report later.

Curiouser and Curiouser 

Well, at least we know who the Democratic candidate will be. Salazar scared off Rep. Udall, who's back to running for re-election to his House seat. Rutt Bridges, probably the most interesting candidate, a center-leftist who founded the Bighorn Center, and his millions, also dropped out. Bridges had been persuaded to run by Salazar himself, which isn't exactly Al Gore endorsing Howard Dean over Joe Lieberman but still must sting a little. This saves Salazar a primary battle, which puts more pressure on the Republicans to unite behind a candidate, if only for the sake of statewide party finances.

Whom will that be? (Aside: AP writers use words for a living. Will somebody please send a memo around pointing out where in the style guide it says "none" is plural? "None" is singular.) Right now it looks like it'll come from the House or the ex-House. Tancredo, Beauprez, McInnis, or Schaffer. Too mean, too new, too tired, too old. Now, not necessarily, although I'll have to defer on Schaffer until I see more of him. It reminds me of what they said about Al Oerter. Too young, then too sick, then too hurt, then too old. He won four consecutive discus golds, so anything's possible.

Tom Tancredo is not a mean man. But he comes across that way, and his tough immigration stand makes it easy to paint him that way. He doesn't really understand compromise, and frankly, I don't think he'd be that effective as a Senator. Bob Beauprez is a sharp farmer and businessman, but he's still getting his political sea legs. Plus the party wants an incumbent in a 121-vote-margin district. They'll owe him, and if he wants Allard's seat in four years, maybe he gets that. McInnis. I just don't see how a guy can say he's tired of Washington, and then turn around and get jazzed up by a shot to move up the greasy pole. How do you answer the question, "why do you want to be Senator?" without sounding like a rank opportunist? Schaffer looks the part, was popular among his colleagues. Right now, my money's on him for the nomination, if he wants it, but I have no idea how he'd do in a statewide race. Ben?

UPDATE: At the Halevi speech, I ran into Dan Kopelman, who really knows Republican politics in the state. He insists that the state party is powerless to stop Beauprez if he wants to run, and that Tancredo can hold Salazar to a draw in the parts of the state Salazar has to win big in order to carry the day, especially Pueblo. Dan seems to think that the established hispanics in the south of the state resent the illegals as much as the Anglos do. But Salazar is hispanic himself, which carries a fair amount of weight. I'm not convinced, but it's only March, and the primary is in August. Time will tell.

Senate Silly Season Starts 

This is shaping up to be the most interesting Senate race I've seen up close in 10 years - since the 1994 four-way free-for-all in Virginia, where Ollie North challenged incumbent Democrat Chuck Robb. Enough Democrats were disenchanted with Robb to induce former Democratic Governor Douglas Wilder to run. Enough Republicans were unhappy with North that Marshall Coleman, Virginia politics' own version of the Buffalo Bills, made it a foursome. Robb ended up winning re-election, but was defeated 6 years later by George "The Future is Now" Allen. Well, his son, anyway.

Ben over at Mt. Virtus has been all over this, as has Clay Calhoun. Sorry Clay, but with Salazar in the race, Bob Schaffer looks like the best Republican candidate. Scott McInnis wouldn't be credible, retiring from his House seat with Washington Fatigue. Beauprez is a fine guy, but Schaffer had been around for a while, he's got more strength within the party, and is better-known statewide. If Tancredo runs, he's got no chance, but he can make Schaffer look better by comparison.

The big winner in all this seems to be Salazar. Udall is probably too liberal to win statewide office, but Salazar has been a pretty effective Attorney General, his gallingly weak, albeit successfull, attack on the redistricting plan notwithstanding. Udall also can't run for both House and Senate, so if he loses, he disappears for at least two years. If Salazar wins, he goes to Washington, and probably stays there for the rest of his political life. (Unlike Virginia, the state capital here is seen as a step lower than Washington.) If he loses, he stays in office and runs for governor in '06, with a higher statewide profile than Coffman, who's not going anywhere.

One other note: everyone keeps citing that 51-48 number as though the only other Senate seat up for grabs was in Alaska. Control of the Senate does not hang on this seat. Even if we lose it, Republicans are likely to pick up three seats in the South, and have a good shot at two or three others. Barring electoral catastrophe, the Senate is not going Democratic. However, the Republicans believe that they need to net four or five seats to Leahy-proof the judicial nominations process. Losing Colorado would make that all but impossible.

When Professors Go Bad 

I was brought up to understand that professors were meant to profess a certain point of view. Not only do I have no problem with that, I actually think that, given sufficient intellectual diversity, it serves an obvious purpose of getting the students to think. But this also calls for the professor to play fair. Last night, the professor didn't play fair.

The class professor is a Shiite Muslim from Iran, but not exactly the kind of guy who'd be caught drinking tea with the Mullahs. He came to the US from Shiraz, that Muslim city being the originator of that type of wine. Eventually, he stayed, married a Christian woman who did not convert, and is raising his son as a Christian. I should also add that on all discretionary portions of my grade thus far, I have done extremely well, and there is no, zero, none, nada evidence that my being Jewish has in any way affected my grade one way or the other.

At the end of the class, as one student team finished presenting its country report on Israel, the counterattack came. Now, the students were doing a report on Israel. Not mentioning terrorism would have been like not mentioning the elephant in the sealed room. They were scrupulous about keeping their discussion to the effects on daily life and the effects on business. They assigned no blame, provided no "solutions to the problem," and mentioned politics only to note that bringing it up could be bad for business.

Suddenly, "apres moi, le deluge," or, "after we're done, it's time for the editorial." The professor let loose with about four minutes of uninterrupted polemicizing, among the points he made were:

  • People have the image of the terrorists as being Arabs, but Jews used to be terrorists, too
  • Menachem Begin, who blew up the King David Hotel, became Prime Minister
  • People only resort to suicide bombings if they're desperate in some way
  • The man who assassinated Rabin was also a terrorist
  • What Sharon is doing is just as extreme
  • Now, a Rabbi Hertzberg (sic) has come out in favor of a two-state solution
  • Need to find some other way of talking and fixing the problem

Now, the main point here isn't that he wrong. He's obviously wrong. There neither is nor ever was any Jewish equivalent of Hamas. The Irgun blew up British Military Headquarters, after telephoning repeatedly to warn people to get out of the building. Two years ago, some chimpanzee who had been trained to pass an employment exam disguised himself as a waiter and blew up 50 people sitting down to a seder. Yigal Amir is in prison and isn't getting out in some prisoner exchange for all those Labour MPs who are out of jobs because they were willing to give away half of Jerusalem. The fence hasn't killed anyone.

I have no idea who Rabbi Hertzberg is. If he's Israeli, it's not news that Israeli rabbis can be as pragmatic about this stuff as anyone. If he's American, he's not relevant, since American Jews no more make foreign policy for Israel than this professor decides how deep the bunkers have to be for the Iranian nuclear program. In any case, there's never been any shortage of Jews willing to settle for a two-state solution.

No, none of this is the point, although it all needs to be answered, again and again, as many times as it gets raised. No the point is that this was a business class, not a political science or international relations class. It was being held in the Daniels College of Business, not over in Ben Cherington hall as part of ISIME. It was pure polemic, distilled editorializing, placed at the end of class to prevent the second half a discussion that was out of place, anyway.

Israelis get presented as victims of terrorism, affecting the business climate and their lifestyles, because they are the victims, and businesses do care about the security situation in countries they might enter. Until the Palestinians figure out a way to make calculus as anti-Semitic as subtracting dead Jews from live ones, nobody's going to put money into a research park in Ramallah because the students will stop learning math about the time they learn how to strap on a bomb belt. But if you're Intel, and you're putting a plant in Kiryat Gat, it matters to you what the attrition rate is on the morning commute. And if you're an employee being rotated over on assignment, you'd like to know how best to ensure your repatriation comes in one piece and on schedule.

What makes this doubly alarming is how acculturated the guy is. He's what we all want our immigrants to be, and isn't even particularly religious. His co-author, with whom he's written two books, is Jewish. But when push came to shove, in a situation that offered only an oblique opening, he went charging through like a bulldozer over St. Rachel. To me, this once again raises the ugly specter of a democratized Arab world, wtih religion and national identity still potent influence, still hostile to Israel. Still, my suspicion is that once the Mullahs are gone, most Iranians would be perfectly happy accepting a foreign policy that accepts Israel. But it's by no means guaranteed.

The Post Gets It 

The Washington Post's reporters may not understand, but the editorial page writers seem to, mostly. Today's lead editorial criticizes both the European leadership and the Democrats for reflexively supporting Arab dictators in their resistance to democratization. It also chastises the Bush Administration for not being bold enough.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Hell Freezes Over... 

...Littwin makes sense. Oh, he talks about swastikas and movies, but doesn't draw any conclusions. And he reports a surprise twist on the major stories of the last two weeks here.

Masonic Tragedy 

A man was killed during a Masonic ceremony when a gun, supposed to be loaded with blanks, wasn't. As if we needed this. People are going to see this and it's just going to start all the Skull-and-Bones type stuff we heard about until it turned out that John Kerry was a member.

I'm a Freemason. So is my dad. So was my grandfather. So is my uncle. I can state with complete authority that the ceremony involved doesn't call for any pistols being fired. It doesn't call for anything remotely like what was being described. No Masonic ceremonies I went through involve gunplay, real or pretend. I have no idea what these guys were doing, and I have no idea why someone, even a 76-year-old, would carry a loaded gun in the same pocket as an unloaded gun.

Owens Not Running 

What a revoltin' development this is. Governor Bill Owens won't be running for Senate. Kestrel, in a comment, suggested that there may be some skeletons. Owens claims that he has more work to do here in Colorado, and there will be endless speculation about what was really behind the announcment. Since this was his best shot at national office before a rumored Presidential run, we have to give an edge back to Powerline's Gov. Pawlenty in '08.

As for the remaining possibilities, there's really nobody with Owens's stature here in the state. But it's going to be a real interesting year.

Muhammed Gets Death 

The lead sniper in 2002's DC-area killing spree was sentenced to death today by the judge, who noted that, "these offenses are so vile that they were almost beyond comprehension." I wonder if Mike Farrell thinks they got the wrong guy.


Gil Asakawa has a brief paean to the wrieless revolution in last Friday's Denver Post. Personally, I love where this is going. Right now, the main restriction is the fact that there's no service-sharing. Starbuck's has T-Mobile, but the airport is on AT&T, and I don't care all that much for Starbuck's coffee to begin with. I like Panera, and their access is free, but because of that I can't get to my old SMTP server to send mail out.

Still, these are details, soon to be worked out. There's no reason this can't be dealt with the same way as phone service. Now, if they can just do something about battery life so I don't have to be tethered to a wall the whole time...

Drug Reimportation 

Slumming over at NPR on the way in this morning, I heard the capsule report of yesterday's Senate hearings on the Administration's choice to head the FDA, "the agency which oversees Medicare and Medicaid," never mind making sure that what we put into our mouths and nurses put into our veins won't kill us.

Aside from letting us know what NPR's priorities are, the report emphasized the depressing news that the Administration has chosen to fight drug re-importation on a safety rather than an economic basis. When Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was on Hugh Hewitt's show during the Minnesota State Fair, he defended this idea by claiming reliance of the free market, therefore on free trade. This is perhaps one of the most intellectually dishonest claims I've heard made on this issue, since Canada tightly controls its drug prices, and hardly constitutes a free market.

Canada is already concerned that we'll buy up all their prescription drugs at their bargain rates. But the net effect wil be to drive down prices here to reflect Canada's socialist pricing policies. Drugs won't be more available, they'll be less available. And our own research and development will also begin to resemble that of Canada. Who right now, has to import drugs from us.

There's really no way out of this scenario. Drug reimportation tries to create a unified market with disparate regulation. Companies won't seek to answer the resulting shortages with greatly increased production, since their profit margins will have shriveled. Canada might try to keep drugs from leaving the country, in effect defeating our re-importation, creating a black market, and re-creating the situation we have today. Consumers here, having tasted lower prices for a while, may begin to agitate for price controls here, making shortages permanent.

Washington Post Polling Follies 

Hindrocket is no doubt feeling the effects of the long Minnesota winter, now nearing its midpoint. I took a somewhat closer look at the Post's current poll, and it looks like they're doing a Star-Tribune on the party registration balance. Correcting for this isn't enough to put Bush ahead, but it's certainly enough to close the gap by at least the stated margin of error.

Using Excel's Solver, I was able to tease out the reported party registration of the respondents: and it stands at Democrats 37%, Republicans 30.6%, Independents 32.4%. Because of rounding error, I had to run the solver for each response, and then average the results. It's obvious to even the most casual observer that these results make no sense. Giving equal weight to all three, which still probably slightly understates Republican strength, boosts Bush by about 1.5%, and cuts Kerry's support down by that much. It also puts the President's approval rating back up to 52%.

The raw data itself also has some anomalies. For instance, it has Kerry winning the South by 15 points, 55-40, his largest margin outside of the East, at 55-39. Now I can believe the East number, even in the Fall. But 15 points in the South? Can anyone think of a southern state Kerry is actually likely to win? What, did they poll Castro, project his opinions onto the entire island of Cuba, and then include Cuba? Even with the poll's stated error of +/- 3 points, the best you get is 52-43, which is still indefensible under the Laws of Common Sense.

The next step is to do the same for previous polls. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Business School Technocrats 

Last week it was liberals. This week, technocrats. First of all, please understand that I'm not a candidate to be calling in for Medved's "Conspiracy Day" show. I don't think there's a massive conspiracy of business school professors, or even economists, to corral us all into a one-world government run by black helicopters and blue helmets. But I do think some of them are comfortable with the idea.

Take, for instance, my professor for multinational finance. A very large portion of multinational finance involves guarding against currency fluctuations and worse. These play havoc with just about everything a multinational corporation does, from accounting to operations to finance. For a while, gold was the international standard. After WWII, the dollar, pegged to gold became the world's benchmark. This worked as long as half the world's economy ran through Wall Street. But in the 70s, this exchange rate mechanism broke down, and the world went to a variety of floating mechanisms.

The net result of this has been, quite apart from currency collapses and panics like the Asian Flu of 1997-98, increased uncertainty, and billions of dollars spent every year hedging against this uncertainty. Since each country has its own central bank, and since each central bank (or treasury, in some cases) controls how much national currency there is out in the world, the rates are constantly fluctuating. Companies can take some measures to insulate themselves against these changes in the short-to-mid term. But even the best hedging mechanisms can't save some currencies from cratering, taking national economies and whole overseas sectors with them into the abyss, at least for a while.

The only, repeat, the only way to avoid this problem at this point, would be to have one worldwide currency. Run by one central bank. No doubt, under the control of one central government. There are professors for whom this poses no philosophical problems at all, preferring as they do to dodge the notions of nations as expressions of culture and values. And of course, the inconvenient possibility that there's no guarantee that our values and our protections of liberty would survive such a melding process, no matter how long it took. To them, the harmony of a single currency is worth the price. To me, the defense of our freedoms imposes a much more bearable cost.

The point here is that business is not socially conservative, liberal, or libertarian. It is not even necessarily politically liberal or conservative. It runs by its own goals - efficiency, in this case. They can be goals that do not respect national interests, or social values. While I thoroughly agree that call centers in India can lower my prices and shorten my on-hold wait-times, I don't cavalierly dismiss the fact that the destructive part of creative destruction can hurt. Some professors dismiss the short-term with a wave of the hand, noting that in the long-term it's all for the best. Voltaire aside, they forget that for some people, the short-term is all they have left to worry about.

If business school students are being taught to think either like technocrats or like creeping statists (a nice plant for the backyard, the Creeping Statist), there's little room left for them to think like classic liberals.

More Local Passion 

Jared has quite a post on The Passon over at his site. It's hard not to be impressed by the emotional and religious intensity of his experience.

To paraphrase Hillel Goldberg in this week's Intermountain Jewish News, it's a remarkably good sign that so many Christians can watch this film and come away not generalizing about Jews from the specific. The more I read, the more I'm convinced that the movie is what you make of it. People like Jared make something good out of it. Muslims who read that God "outschemed the schemers" are likely to make something quite different from it.

The Velocity of Jobs 

Business school students read the WSJ and Investors Business Daily with some regularity. IBD had a very good point last Friday about the jobs situation. The number of hours worked had been falling for two years, it's now up for the last two quarters, that last quarter up 1.4%. This, combined with slowing increases (still increasing, though) in worker productivity, indicate that there's less output to be gained from existing workers. That points to a slow tightening of the job market.

Now for the original thought. You've heard of the M1, the money supply. Dollars in circulation. There's also M2, often called the velocity of money. If M2 is a leading indicator of economic activity. When money starts moving faster, it means people and businesses are spending more of what cash they have. As long as that's not a result of inflation, that's a good thing.

I'd like to propose that there's a similar notion of the velocity of jobs. The unemployment rate is low, we're probably pretty close to full employment, but how easy is it for someone to find a new job? When the "velocity of jobs" picks up, when it's easier for people to find new work, then they start to feel more secure, and more optimistic. Full employment without options isn't satisfying. An unemployment rate of 6% but with lots of new openings provides hope. It's the possibility, or threat, of finding new work, that can allow workers to better their situations in the short term.

I can think offhand of a few ways of measuring the ease of finding work, but most of them are qualitative. A new survey of the number of people switching jobs. Some survey that measures the mean-time-to-success for job searches. The ratio of help wanted advertising to the size of the local job market. So far, I haven't actually been able to find accepted metrics, but it would surprise me if this hadn't been looked at.

Right now, we're still taking up the slack from an unsustainably low unemployment rate. People got used to an unsustainably high ease of finding new work. Psychologically, people's opinions about the job situation won't change until enough slack is gone that they can again find new work, to improve their situations, easily.

With the unemployment rate, it's a very high bar, I'm afraid.

Needle in a Haystack 

The Rocky this morning leads its vandalism-cleanup story by noting a Muslim who showed up to express outrage of the swastikas. Obviously, I hadn't seen him there, but should have known that the press would find him. Kudos to him, and hopes that he never has to clean spraypaint off of his mosque. None of which exonerates the local imams from their deafening silence regarding the matter.

Interestingly, the Rocky, unlike the Post and the AP, refused to speculate on any connection between The Movie and the vandalism. Instead, it focused more on the presence of non-Jews at the cleanup. At shul Sunday morning, I overheard one man saying that the smart thing to do would be to wash off the stuff as quickly and quietly as possible, to deny the vandals the satisfaction of seeing their handiwork in the news. Certainly making a public show was a gamble, but it paid off. This is the kind of publicity that's more likely to deflate than satisfy the perps.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Paper Plates and Osama 

For the first time in 10 years, according to the little record I keep in a spiral notebook, I took the Taurus out to the range and rendered some paper plates unfit for use. I had forgotten how much fun it was. If you read through the whole Book of Esther, Purim is actually a fairly appropriate day for an Orthodox Jew to go surprise the people at the gun range.

It's the not the first time I've fired a weapon in 10 years. Last year, on a Passover trip we took a jeep trip into the Sonoran Desert north of Phoenix, where we got to fire a .22 at some tin cans. I promise you that the .38 has a little more kick to it.

Since I'm cheap, I just picked up some paper plates for targets. The guy in lane #2 next to me was a little more current, plugging away at a picture of Osama. Seemed to do pretty well, too. Maybe it was a motivator.

As for me, I was pretty consistent at 15 ft. and 20 ft., but started to miss some at 25 ft., so I need a little more practice there. Still, 20 ft. is probably most of the length of the hallway in the house, so please ring the doorbell and wait for someone to answer.

NPR - Not as Well-Read as They Think 

"It's hard to imagine the English reenacting the Norman Conquest, for instance..."

  Ira Glass, This American Life

But What About The Rest of Him 

Cleanup Crew 

This morning, at 10:00, about 200-300 people gathered to hear speeches (what, you forgot this was at a shul?) and see the beginning of the grafitti scrubbing. While the crowd was mostly Jewish, there were a fair number of women wearing crosses (and what one presumes to be their husbands or boyfriends) there, too. Rabbi Cohen had his own statement, and read a letter of support from Bethany Baptist Church. The general feeling was that the support of the Christians was extremely welcome, all the more so because nobody was going to blame them, anyway, for something like this.

I should also note that, despite the fact that the cleanup was initially posted to the ISIME mailing list, no doubt reaching a number of prominent local Muslims, none showed up. It's also worth noting that while the ADL is usually first in line to comment when somebody looked cross-eyed at a mosque, none of the local Muslim leaders seems to have been contacted by the local media, nor sought it out to condemn the spraypaint. Maybe they were out celebrating Purim.

Democratic State Sen. Ken Gordon spoke as well, plugging hate crimes legislation:

He compared scrawling "Elvis Lives" on a shul with writing "Hitler Lives," and drew the obvious conclusion. I've never been a big fan of hate crimes legislation. I'm still not. Intent to do something matters, so intent to intimidate matters. Unless you're planning to intimidate me with peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, bad jumpsuits, and swiveling hips, I would tend to agree there's a difference between the two. Treating them differently still doesn't require creating a class of thought crime.

Synagogue Pictures & The Denver Post 

Naturally, the Denver Post this morning, gets it wrong. The whole focus of their article is on some supposed connection between "The Movie" and the swastikas. For this, they provide exactly zero evidence, although they're pretty generous with the conjecture. All of the "Related Links" in the column to the right are about the movie - its box office, the controversy, the sign.

Drawing a connection between "The Passion" and this is like connecting global warming to rising Slurpee sales - really good politics, and maybe something Al Gore should have thought of, but not necessarily good science. There's no doubt that this was a propitious time for something like this, and it probably comes more from the controversy around the film, and the assumption that it spurs anti-Semitism (for which Mona Charen and Charles Krauthammer have provided excellent commentary). The Nazis were pagans, after all.

It's tempting to draw these straight lines, both for simple-minded newspapers and for mono-focused organizations like the ADL (although they seem to have time to promote gay marriage on the side, too). There's no doubt that 1800 years of blaming the Jews prepared the ground for the Holocaust. There's no doubt in my mind, although the Caltholic Church denies it, that the Holocaust was the reason for Vatican II's "clarification." The two phenomena are connected, and one is the horrible, logical final outcome of the other. But people have been drawing swastiaks on buildings as long as I can remember.

We may actually find out the connection here, if there is any. The Denver Police seem inclined to investigate. The Boulder Police would probably still be figuring out if it's a hate crime. Swastikas on the sidewalk and on a sukkah didn't seem to qualify for them, about 18 months ago.

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