Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Editor's Note

I just added a slide show of my Picasa Web Albums in the sidebar. Thanks to Phydeaux3 for creating it. The only upgrade that I would like to see in this widget or probably in PWA is to allow for a single RSS feed that can randomly select any photo that I have posted on PWA. Nonetheless, what I have now is pretty cool.

Phydeaux3 also has a pretty cool label cloud that I am going to implement as soon as Google Pages starts working again.

I also added a couple of Google AdSense ads to see how that works. I am not planning on making much money, but it will be cool to see how it works out.

Drunk Santa

My friend Liz forwarded this to me.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Australian Wildlife

Check out these two videos of Australian Wildlife that Lori and I shot on our honeymoon last month.

We took these videos with our Panasonic VDR-D300 video camera. I used a combination of Panasonic's video editing software and a trial version of Adobe Premeier Elements 3.0 to edit the video and create an MPEG file for upload. We used DVD-RAM disks to record all of the fotage, which turned out to not really be a clean process because Premeire Elements cannot talk directly to the camera when the camera is using a DVD-RAM disk. The process that I had to go through was to use the Panasonic video editing softare to pull the data onto my PC as an MPEG file and then import that data into Premeire Elements for editing. Premiere Elements is a much better video editing product than the Panasonic program.

When I switched to a DVD-RW Premiere elements was able to talk to the camera because it appeared like a DVD drive so for the future, I am going planning to use DVD-RW disks.

Becker Posner

This afternoon, I read a couple of really interesting posts on Gary Becker and Richard Posner's blog. This blog is a really interning idea because Becker and Posner both present their viewpoints on an issue. It's not exactly a debate in that it seems that both men sometimes agree on certain aspects of the issues, but it is certainly illuminating. The last three issues that these two debated were reports on wealth inequality, the case for subsidizing student loans, and whether to raise the minimum wage.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Education Reform

The Commission on the Skills of the American People has just published a new report: Tough Choices or Tough Times describing how they propose to reform our primary and secondary education systems. The executive summery of the report lists 10 problems with our current education system as well as a ten point plan for reform. Highlights of the report are that the commission would fund education systems at the state rather than the local level by essentially creating a statewide voucher program, establish state exit exams and allow students who passed those exams to leave the school system bound for either community college or advanced studies, and reform teacher compensation to attract more talented teachers and motivate teachers to excel instead of just remain employees.

All of these points seem like good things to do, but good luck getting them implemented. Such drastic overhauls would be terrible news for the existing teacher's unions, which have prevented reform for decades. Education vouchers are just a toe in the water compared with the recommendations in this report. We need real reform, but are only likely to get tweaks at the margins.

I will try to include more details as I have a chance to do further analysis.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Beach Takeoff

This YouTube video shows a plane taking off from a sand beach in Fraser Island in Australia. I have never seen something quite like this, so I recorded it for everyone to see. My Dad is a professional pilot so he was really interested to see this as well. Enjoy...


So I just started playing around with Dodgeball, which is a mobile social networking service. Basically that means that dodgeball will help me coordinate with my friends when we are going out for the evening. The idea is to replace sending a text message to everyone in my address book with sending a single text message to Dodgeball and having them relay it to everyone else. There are also a bunch of other features that you can check out on their site.

It seems like the biggest problem with Dodgeball is that no one is using it. According to this dude Dodgeball is a has been. The service has apparently been around for years and was even acquired by Google over a year ago. I just registered and I am only user number 58804. So that is not too good. Also I currently only have two friends, one of which is my wife. Finally, by "checking in" (sending a message to Dodgeball) four times I am currently tied for the lead as the top user in Boston over the past ten days. I am planning on going out again tonight so it looks like I may be able to take the lead alone!

Nonetheless I do think that Dodgeball could be a really cool service if I can get enough of my friends to sign up. One pretty interesting feature is that Dodgeball only sends messages to friends who are in the same city, which means that a particular user just has to keep updating his location and Dodgeball can take care of informing the people that are close enough to meet up.

One application where I think that this would work really well is for coordinating tailgating at Notre Dame (or other college) football games. Oftentimes I randomly run into friends that I didn't even know were in town. Obviously we could have emailed or called each other prior to the game, but most of the time it is not really convenient to let all of my friends know what I am doing especially if it is unlikely for them to actually be able to meet me. I think that there are probably a bunch of situations just like this were Dodgeball will come in handy. So sign up and be my friend!

Andrew Sullivan on Christianism

Andrew Sullivan just published a great post explaining his definition of "Christianist" and why he believes that many people take offense to it. I believe in a universal truth represented by the Catholic Church, which illuminates the nature of God and points toward how we ought to interact with our neighbors. Of course, my faith also teaches that each individual must freely choose to accept faith. This, I think, is the main tension between what I consider authentic Christianity and Christianism. Although I believe that Christianity is universal and want everyone to believe in it, I cannot force my faith upon them, especially through the use of state power.

I think that I first articulated this general principle about six or seven years ago, but only in the last couple of years have I been able to firmly hold the political positions that it requires. I really do not want to be in favor legal abortions because each one is a tragedy. Homosexuality seems very foreign to me, but I accept that it is real so I have to support some version of gay marriage to grant everyone the same basic legal protections that I enjoy. It has been tough for me to come to hold these positions, but they are pretty much the only option if I want to be honest with myself.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Live each day as though it is a bonus day

Sunday's Gospel reading introduced John the Baptist and his ministry of baptizing people in the Jordan River. Fr. Peter's homily focused on the act of baptizing and the reality of rebirth. He told a story of fly-fisherman who lost his balance in the middle of a river and was pulled under a sheet of ice. Seeing what had happened another man came to the rescue and saved the fisherman's life. This near death experience prompted the fisherman to view each day as a bonus day in which he could do nice things for others. Fr. Peter compared the fisherman's experience with the experiences of the people whom John baptized.

I found this analogy inspiring and hope that everyone I know can live each day as though it is a bonus day.

Editor's Note

I just switched to the the beta version of Blogger. I had to recreate my template and some of the links, but the new version looks like it operates pretty well.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rip Current Drowning in Ocean City

I am a little late in posting a link to this article describing the events that led to the death of a 24 year old man in the waters off Ocean City, Maryland. I was involved in the search and rescue efforts following reports that the man was likely submerged in the water. The newspaper version of the article included a picture of paramedics attempting to resuscitate the man after he was found. I actually appear in the background to that picture.

Unfortunately this tragedy once again highlights the potential dangers of swimming in the ocean.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Andrew Sullivan on the Minimum Wage

So I am currently quite confused about Andrew Slavonic position on the minimum wage. Yesterday he wrote:

Just to scramble things up, I also favor a raise in the minimum wage. I didn't
used to. But I've been persuaded by the evidence that the benefits outweigh the
costs, and that its worth has been deeply eroded in the recent past. The plight
of the working poor in a globalized economy deserves addressing.

But back in May he wrote the following when discussing a list of progressive policy proposals:

Most I dislike (progressive taxation, clumsy statist environmental policy,
indexing the minimum wage, ending abstinence education, making Medicare even
more costly).
Since I could not find any other references to the minimum wage in the interim, I was completely confused about what caused him to reverse his position about the relative costs and benefits of increasing the minimum wage.

Then to add even more confusion into the mix, Andrew linked to a post on Greg Mankiw's Blog, which he described as a "A sane, smart argument against raising" the minimum wage.

I would tend to agree with Andrew that the plight of the working poor deserves addressing, I am just not sure that the government should address it by raising the minimum wage or even that the government is the entity that should address it in the first place.

As a bonus after browsing on Greg Mankiw's Blog, I found this post discussing a survey of PhD members of the American Economic Association. Check it out to see the areas where economists agree and where they disagree. One of the main areas of disagreement is interestingly enough on the minimum wage.

Recent Pictures

Here are a couple of pictures from our recent trip to Australia.

This album contains three beautiful panoramic landscape shots.

My Windows on our Honeymoon album contains pictures looking our some of the windows where we stayed in Australia.

Finally, this album contains some of the best pictures that we took on our vacation.

David Kuo's Open Letter

David Kuo has written an open letter to James Dobson and Chuck Colson to reiterate the argument that he recently spelled out about his desire for Christians, as an organized group, to take a break from politics. It is hard for me to see how authentic Christianity can ever square itself with political power. State sanctioned abortion, gay marriage, gambling or anything else short of religious persecution cannot impact an individual Christian's faith the way power and hypocrisy can.

Krauthammer on Iraq

Charles Krauthammer has an interesting post on National Review Online about the current state of affairs in Iraq. Krauthammer makes the point Iran and Syria really have nothing to offer us in Iraq so there is no benefit in negotiating with them. I think that Krauthammer offers a pretty accurate analysis of the situation, but then he offers this prescription:

The U.S. should be giving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a clear ultimatum: If
he does not come up with a political solution in two months or cede power to a
new coalition that will, the U.S. will abandon the Green Zone, retire to its
bases, move much of its personnel to Kurdistan where we are welcome and safe,
and let the civil war take its course. Let the current Green Zone–protected
Iraqi politicians who take their cue from Moqtada al-Sadr face the insurgency
alone. That might concentrate their minds on either making a generous offer to
the Sunnis or stepping aside for a new coalition that would.

Giving the Green-Zone politicians and Sadr the opportunity to face the Sunni insurgents alone would seem toguaranteee an all out fight between these groups. I am not sure how the outcome would be anything other than the victoriousmilitiaa putting its leader in place. At present I cannot see any better approach than a continuation of the current strategy of building up government controlled forces with US advisors to hopefully temper their worst impulses.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fisking Frank's Grand Bargain

James Taranto pointed me towards this article in the Boston Globe about Barny Frank’s agenda once he becomes chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Taranto makes a good point about how Frank’s agenda would be more like a protection racket in the private sector. The article also illuminates a number of important aspects of Frank’s worldview that I thought interesting enough to fisk below.

Representative Barney Frank has proposed in a series of meetings with business groups a "grand bargain" with corporate America: Democrats would agree to reduce regulations and support free-trade deals in exchange for businesses agreeing to greater wage increases and job benefits for workers.

So we are going to reduce regulations in return for more regulations on minimum wages and benefits. What does this even mean? The article does not make clear exactly which regulations are at issue here, but clearly they must not be doing much if he is willing to get rid of them in exchange for businesses paying their employees more. Furthermore, the usual protectionist concern about free-trade deals revolves around increased competition for higher paid US workers from lower paid foreign workers. Simultaneously removing trade barriers and increasing the minimum wage, would have the effect of putting more people out of work. So, how does this make any sense?

Frank, the Newton Democrat who is in line to chair the House Financial Services Committee, has struck a conciliatory posture with financial-industry leaders in recent years. But since the morning after Election Day, he has moved quickly to lay out an ambitious plan to try to end the political stalemate between Republicans and Democrats on broad economic issues.
"What I want to do is break that deadlock," Frank said in an interview. "A lot of policies that the business community wants us to adopt for growth are now blocked. On the other hand, the business community is successfully blocking the minimum wage [increase] and created a very anti union attitude in the Congress."

Well, you cannot really blame the business community from attempting to block anti-growth minimum wage increases can you? As for creating an anti-union attitude in Congress, I see the existence of unions as evidence of poor corporate management at some point in the past simply because in the presence of good management employees would not feel any need to form a union. Unfortunately, unions also tend to make their companies less competitive. So being anti-union is really just being for good corporate management, which is ultimately a pro-growth and pro-prosperity position.

Frank proposes that if businesses support a minimum wage increase and provide protection for workers adversely affected by trade treaties, Democrats would be more willing to ease regulations and approve free-trade deals.

What kind of protection can a business possibly provide to workers adversely affected by trade treaties? A US based business with expensive workers has products with a higher cost than a business with inexpensive foreign workers. So in the presence of free trade, consumers will tend to buy products from the low cost foreign business than from the high cost US business. That will ultimately put the US business out of business. I have no idea what Frank can possibly mean by this.

Frank also would support changes to immigration rules favored by businesses, and noted that allowing more immigrants would put needed funds into the Social Security system.

I assume that he is talking about increases in the number of H1-B visas granted for highly educated immigrants, which would certainly be a positive for the economy, although I am a little skeptical that H1-B people are going to save Social Security. Also at least in the short term, the presence of more immigrants, highly skilled or not, would put more downward pressure on wages, which would seem to be at odds with the plan to raise the minimum wage.

Furthermore, true immigration reform, would have to include allowing anyone willing to work the ability immigrate to the US. These low skilled immigrants would certainly prove helpful to the US economy, but they might not be able to find legal work if the minimum wage were increased.

Frank casts his proposal as a way for capitalists to quell some of the populist fervor that was expressed in last week's election, when many Democrats vowed to crack down on companies moving jobs overseas.
"I'm a capitalist, and that means I'm for inequality," Frank told Boston business leaders on the morning after Election Day, in a speech about his grand bargain. "But you reach a point where you get more inequality than is healthy, and I believe we're at that point.

It is actually quite reassuring to hear a liberal Democrat describe himself as a capitalist who is for inequality, though I am curious to see how Frank defines more inequality than is healthy.

"What we want to do is to look at public policies that'll get some bigger share of the increased wealth into wages, and in return you'll see Democrats as internationalists. . .. I really urge the business community to join us."

I am not sure quite what to make of this statement. I assume that Frank is talking about creating policies to increase wages relative to corporate profits, which illustrates how much Frank trusts the government in relation to private business. I remain convinced that the only way to have general prosperity is to have wildly successful businesses that can identify problems and offer to solve them in new and innovative ways.

After 26 years in Congress, Frank's ambition -- and his ability to broker such a deal -- is at an apex. His power will take a quantum leap when his chairmanship is approved by House Democrats -- an approval that is little more than a formality. The 70-member Financial Services Committee oversees everything from banking to housing to urban affairs.
Frank is also a close adviser to Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, with whom he bonded during the campaign when Republicans deemed both of them reasons to be fearful of Democrats.
But while Frank has won support in Massachusetts among financial-services executives, some national business leaders are skeptical. Bruce Josten , chief lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce said he is worried that Frank's grand bargain would mandate costly benefits to employees, including health care , in exchange for support of free trade.
"His grand bargain . . . certainly is not going to sail with the American business community," Josten said in an interview. Josten noted that Frank historically has been at odds with the US Chamber due in part to opposition to trade deals. In 2005, for example, Frank supported the chamber's issues only 33 percent of the time.

Hopefully this post illustrates some of the reasons that Frank’s grand bargain is not going to sail.

Frank, for his part, is unconcerned. Asked about the chamber's low ranking of him, he responded with one of his classic zingers: "That's more than I give them."
Frank said he will work out details of his grand bargain after conducting a series of hearings starting early next year. "I am not claiming I have majority support," he said. "I expect to spend much of the next year in the committee documenting this." But he said he has general backing from Pelosi and other top Democrats.
A starting point could be health care. Many businesses are trying to shed high health care premiums. Frank hopes that workers and businesses can agree on a government-administered plan paid for by workers that would reduce burdens on businesses, which would pass on savings to employees through higher wages.
"I think employer-paid health care is a mistake," he said. "I think it depresses wages."

Employer-paid heath care is certainly a mistake, but not only because it depresses wages. Employer-paid health care is a mistake because it greatly reduces consumer choice and responsibility. Forcing the majority of Americans into low deductible healthcare plans whose premiums are employer-paid causes major distortions in the healthcare market by removing price signals from the consumer’s decision-making process.

What we really need is a worker-administered plan paid for by workers. The reason that we do not see this today is because businesses who pay healthcare insurance premiums for their employees can deduct the money paid for those premiums from their earnings for tax purposes. Because individuals cannot deduct premium payments from their income for tax purposes, the current logical solution is for the employer to pay the premiums so that both employer and employee come out ahead and the government gets less in taxes. The simple change here is to allow employees to deduct healthcare insurance premiums from their income for tax purposes. Simply creating one more individual tax deduction allows for the market to function; creating an optimized healthcare insurance market.

Then you can worry about what to do with low-income individuals who cannot afford or choose not to purchase health insurance. Frank would likely favor a governmental solution while I would prefer private charities to fill this need.

Stephen J. Collins , president of the Automotive Trade Policy Council, which represents Detroit's Big Three automakers, said business leaders would welcome such a discussion with Frank. "Our companies are very open about the fact that they are facing massive competitive challenges of a global nature that need big answers," Collins said. "There has to be a partnership between government and industry to solve some of these problems, and health is one of them."

Of course the automotive industry wants to talk to Frank about this. They are terrible at managing their people and are uncompetitive because of it. I am sure they would love to have some government subsidies to keep them afloat so that they do not need to do the hard work of making their operations efficient. Foreign-based automotive manufacturers have been opening plants in the US for decades and they are killing the Big Three. The problem has nothing to do with American workers or government policy. It has everything to do a legacy of terrible management.

Much of Frank's work on economic issues has been behind the scenes until now. In the months before the election, Frank wrote a series of strategy memos to Democratic colleagues in which he urged them to campaign on "how poorly most workers have fared under the Bush economy."
In one memo, Frank went through a point-by-point rebuttal of a White House report on how workers fared under the Bush administration, arguing that only the wealthiest Americans have seen a significant income gain.

Yeah a 4.4% unemployment rate is really terrible for workers, right? Come on, the economy is tearing it up and has been for the last five years.

While it might seem like a stretch for one of the most liberal members of Congress to believe he is in position to strike a monumental deal with big business, Frank said he has a track record of working with banking and financial companies that should allay such concerns.
For example, he said, he put pressure on Bank of America to retain jobs in Massachusetts, but he also helped pass rules allowing banks to process more money electronically.

Although I am sure that passing rules to help banks process more money electronically is helpful to banks (why are there even federal rules on this in the first place?) I am not sure that putting pressure on a company to do something qualifies as working with the company. It sounds more like threatening the company to me.

He also has backed measures to help banks by making it harder for Wal-Mart and similar national chains to enter the retail banking business.

Well that certainly qualifies as working with banks. Of course it also qualifies as working against Wal-Mart, working against Wal-Mart’s customers, and working against efficiency in the economy. If Wal-Mart can offer its customers banking services less expensively or more conveniently than a traditional bank then it should be allowed to do so. Failing to allow a new company to enter into an established market is called being parochial and is an anti-growth position. The only ones better off are the banks. Everyone else is worse off.

For Boston's large money-management industry, meanwhile, Frank has served as an important ally. For instance, he once sided with Fidelity Investments chief executive Edward C. Johnson III in arguing against a law that would require mutual-fund boards to have independent chairmen.

Admittedly I agree with Frank on this point. It was certainly a courageous stand considering his base and congressional allies.

Many national representatives of the financial industries have become major Frank supporters. In the 2006 election cycle, banking and financial industries poured $457,299 in Political Action Committee money to Frank's campaign fund, accounting for the majority of the $721,561 in committee funds that he received. By comparison, labor union committees , a more traditional ally of liberal Democrats, gave Frank $83,000.

If they were successful in keeping Wal-Mart out of their businesses then this looks like a great deal.

At the meeting with Boston business leaders, Frank was lauded as a liberal who has helped the financial industry. "I believe he's one of the voices in the Democratic party that is trying to reposition the party as a pro-growth, pro-jobs party as opposed to simply being against things," said Paul Guzzi , president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the speech.

As stated there are certainly some positives in Frank’s record but I also have some major concerns. Nonetheless at least he is not talking like the socialist wing of the Democratic Party.

Former representative Steven Bartlett , a Texas Republican who served with Frank in Congress and who now represents businesses as the president of the Financial Services Roundtable, said Frank's ability to work with business leaders and Republicans should not be underestimated.
"I'm a very conservative Republican and Barney is a very liberal Democrat, but we worked a lot of legislation together," Bartlett said in an interview.
But even Bartlett wonders whether Frank will be able to broker something so large as a grand compromise between business and labor and Democrats and Republicans. Bartlett said Frank's effort sounds more like a political framework than legislation.
Frank, however, is optimistic. Asked how much his power increases by going from ranking minority member to committee chairman, he responded: "It's a quantum difference. It is the difference between 'I wish I could do this' and 'I'm going to do this.' "

Monday, October 30, 2006

Better Late Than Never

A little more than a year ago, I posted some pictures of Rob, Kelli, and me waterskiing in Lake Geroge NY. Now, by the power of YouTube we have posted two videos of us all waterskiing. Check it out... the way, I am the one on the viewer's right. And yes, that is me wiping out!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

And Islam's response

38 leading Islamic scholars responded responded to Pope Benedict's recent lecture, in which he contrasts the Christian and Islamic traditions treatment of reason and faith. The scholars correct the Pope on elements of Islamic tradition where he may have been in err and reiterate the principles that Muslims believe. I can only echo Andrew Sullivan in saying that I am stunned to see such a clear statement of tolerant and non-violent principles from such an apparently diverse group of Islamic scholars. In addition these scholars condemn the murder of a Catholic nun in response to the Pope's statements. Would that they go farther and condemn the broader patterns of Islamic violence, such as Al Queda, in the same unequivocal terms. That said this is very interesting reading for anyone interested in understanding the current state of Islamic thought. Hopefully our Christian religious leaders can continue this meaningful dialog.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006 When Not Seeing Is Believing -- Oct. 9, 2006 -- Page 1

Time has just published an extended excerpt of Andrew Sullivan's upcoming book on the intersection of religion and politics, which I intend to read in the very near future.

This essay contrasts the fundamentalist religious faiths that Sullivan sees emergent in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam with what Sullivan sees as more authentic versions of Christianity in which doubt plays a more important role in faith than certainty. This challenging notion strikes me as particularly authentic to Christianity, a faith that describes its key tenants as mysteries. I hope to have more on this later, but for now I encourage everyone to read the essay.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Pope's Speech

Here is a link to the Pope's recent speech about faith and reason. Many Muslims found portions of it objectionable in the the Pope implied that Islam can justify violence as a part of the faith, while Christianity has a much harder time justifying violence based on Jesus' example. Nonetheless the main thrust of the speech addresses secularism in the west and seeks to bind faith to reason.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Social Conservatives

I recently read a post by Travis about how social conservatives differ from his brand of libertarians.  I agree with much of what he wrote.  Travis proclaims to not be a member of any organized religion, which is fine with me, but as a practicing Catholic, I want to add a few of my thoughts on the subject.  

Sadly, most social conservatives do not realize that by using the powers of government to enact God’s will they themselves commit a sin on their own terms.  As most social conservatives are Christian, a quote from the bible is certainly appropriate:

Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, "I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me." Jesus said to him in reply, "It is written: 'You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.'"  Luke 4:5-8

Where many looked for a Messiah to conquer and achieve temporal power, Jesus specifically rejected that option and equated it with worshiping false gods.  A government, even a Christian government, cannot achieve good.  Only individuals can achieve good when they freely choose to do so.  The best we can hope for from government is to provide order and security so that individuals are free to choose good or choose evil.  

At that point, it is up to the faithful to try to convince others to choose good, with the understanding that as humans many will in fact choose evil.  The emphasis must be on individual choice.  Without the opportunity to choose evil there can be no opportunity to truly respond to God’s grace.  

For this reason, I think that Travis correctly differentiated between the nature of religious organizations and governments.  Religious organizations call people to choose to worship God in response to his grace.  Governments offer no such choice.  Governments will enforce their laws, forcibly if necessary.  This contrast between choice and power is why the separation of church and state is necessary not only to provide individuals a choice of religions, but even more importantly to avoid the corruption of the religion that happens to be ascendant.  

Andrew Sullivan has been popularizing the term Christianist to describe social conservatives who hope to use government power to achieve Christian ends.  This mingling of faith and government can only end up hurting both.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Texas Ranch House

A couple weeks back, Lori and I somehow got wrapped up in a PBS reality series called Texas Ranch House. The premise is 15 people living in manor of an 1867 ranch, complete with rounding up cattle, driving them to market, and surviving with 1867 technology.

As interesting as that sounds, what really made the show interesting were the interpersonal dynamics between members of the cast. The show was setup such that a family (mother, father, and three daughters) owned the ranch. They employed 9 ranch hands to build corrals and round up cattle as well as one "girl of all work" to help around the house. The ranch owner turned out to be an incredibly ineffectual manager who alternated between micromanaging and completely neglecting his employees. His wife had strong opinions about how to run the ranch, but forced her husband to lay down the law while sat in the background listening. At points I even found myself getting really upset about the inept way that they were managing their business.

I really liked this idea about using shows like this as management training tools. Experience is the best way to learn management, and shows like this could be really interesting case studies.

Here and here are a couple of blog posts about the show that I liked.

Banned in Boston

Interesting article last week in the Weekly Standard about the conflict in my home state of Massachusetts in the wake of legalized same sex marriage. Catholic Charities recently stopped providing all adoption services because they feared that they would be forced, on antidiscrimination grounds, to allow married same sex couples to adopt. Over the last few years, I have become more of a supporter of same sex marriage (more on that later). However, this situation strikes me as an example where government has exceeded its mandate by attempting to regulate thought. We need government to take a step back and allow citizens the freedom to define their own morality, even if that upsets people.

Guess I Was Wrong

Andrew Sullivan explains the Money Quote. And I thought that he was running a family website...

Money Comment

This is hilarious. When I first started reading Andrew Sullivan, I was amused with his "Money Quote" references. It never occurred to me that quite a few people might not get the reference. Apparently, Andrew never explained it and now I am quite sure that he will never will. In the mean time, numerous other bloggers also picked up on the terminology. For me this is classic hands off internet humor.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Immigration Reform

Dobber was correct in a comment that he made about my immigration post last week.  I should have been more specific about the problems with the current system and the necessary reforms.  

Broadly, governments should allow any activity that people want to pursue as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.  In the case of immigration, the activity that government is wrongly trying to prevent is moving to this country to contribute to the economy.  One may argue that the presence of immigrants lowers wages and increases unemployment for US natives, but this argument assumes a static economy, which is dubious in light of the empirical data.  

The reforms necessary to bring government policy in line with reality are: 1. Grant any citizen of a friendly country a temporary work permit upon request so that anyone who wishes can contribute to the US economy; 2. Grant some kind of temporary legal status to the 11 million undocumented workers currently in the US; 3. Allow temporary workers to earn permanent legal status and US citizenship.  

This is essentially the same immigration policy that the United States employed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  This policy worked then to create the country that we know today and it will work in the future to continually reinvigorate our country’s fabric.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Gmail Note to Self Feature

I just submitted the following suggestion to Gmail.  If you think it is a good idea please let them know.

It would be really great if I could take notes in Gmail and have them associated with a conversation.  Quite often I have additional information associated with a conversation that I need to keep for myself, but do not necessarily want to share with my email correspondents.  The feature that I envision would add an action or a button to take a note when viewing an email.  By clicking on this button, the editor window would open so that the user could type the notes.  The user could then save the note so that it would appear as a “Note to Self” immediately following the previous email in the conversation.  The user could in effect comment on each message received.  

Here is an example of how I would use this feature.  About a month and a half ago, some friends and I organized a ski trip.  The conversation view made it really easy to organize all the communications (so thanks for that).  My job was to make the hotel reservations.  By doing this, I had some information that I wanted to share, like the price, but some information that I didn’t want or need to share, like confirmation number, the sales person’s name and direct extension, and the credit card that I used.  What I actually did was to save all this information in a text file, which was ok, but it was completely unassociated with the rest of the context.  

Other applications could include noting that a user called the contact to discuss an email, summarizing poll/vote responses, and noting that a user plans to follow-up or take some action based on an email.  

Finally on the left hand menu there could be a “Notes” box that would show all current, or archived, or time dated (not sure what would be best here) notes.  

There are a couple of ways get some of this functionality currently in Gmail like creating a draft email or sending an email to oneself.  The problem with the drafts is that they show up in red in the drafts folder, which is a little confusing and not really what I want.  Sending an email to oneself works a little better, but the user can never go back to edit the note once sent and the message automatically goes to the end of the conversation.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wright Amendment?

Over the weekend, my friend Becca, who recently began her career as a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines, brought the dispute over the Wright Amendment to my attention. The Wright Amendment is a federal law that limits flights departing from Dallas’ Love Field to a select number of states bordering or near Texas.

For those new to the debate, Dallas has two major airports, the older and smaller Love Field and the newer and larger Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Southwest is the primary airline operating out of Love Field, while American Airlines has the largest presences at DFW along with many other major airlines.

I am not sure about the details of how this whole situation came into being, but it seems that when Dallas decided to build DFW, they convinced the major airlines to go along with the relocation by telling them that the city would close Love Field. Unfortunately for that plan some of the smaller airlines wanted to keep Love Field open and a federal court agreed with them. In response to that, city and major airline interests lobbied for the Wright Amendment to limit competition from the airlines operating out of Love Field.

Below I briefly describe some of the principle stakeholders in this situation and their interests. Southwest wants to get rid of the Wright Amendment so that they can compete with American to destinations throughout the US. By operating at the larger DFW, American has to pay higher gate and landing fees than Southwest does at Love Field, so American is concerned about allowing Southwest to compete with a lower cost basis (I have not been able to find out how much higher the fees are at DFW than at Love Field). The Cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, who together own DFW, are concerned because DFW apparently has lots of debt due to recent expansions so they want to make sure that DFW can continue to service its debt. The traveling public just wants convenient and inexpensive air transit to and from Dallas and not to have to pick up the tab on DFW’s debt.

To solve this situation, the federal government should repeal the Wright Amendment and the Cities of Dallas and Fort Worth should privatize both Love Field and DFW. Privatization of Love Field and DFW would allow private sector airlines to negotiate the terms of their landing and gate fees with competing private sector airports. This would help equalize the fees at both airports as other low cost carriers, such as Jet Blue, have indicated that they would want to operate out of Love Field if the Wright Amendment was repealed thus bidding up fees. We saw recently in the Indiana Toll Road Deal that private companies are interested in owning infrastructure. So private capital can retire any DFW debt. Finally removing the political conflict of interest can allow market mechanisms and creativity to drive innovation at both DFW and Love Field, which will result in increased value for the consumers.

Other than the narrow interests of the involved politicians, why can’t this work?

For background information look here, here, here, and here.

Labor Shortage in China

Labor Shortage in China May Lead to Trade Shift - New York Times

I am not sure if this article represents a trend or an outlyer. If it is indeed a trend, we may see China represent less of a deflationary force in the world economy.

Thank You Immigrants!

Yesterday, I attended a rally for immigration policy reform in Boston. Similar rallies took place in over one hundred cities across the country in an effort to focus attention on our ridiculous immigration policy that has lead to up to eleven million undocumented people contributing their efforts to the economy outside the law.

I say thank you to the immigrants for having the courage to move to a new country to make a better life for themselves and their families. I also say thank you to the contributions that they have made to our economy by providing the manpower for many of the necessary functions in our economy – in many cases outside legal protection and in jeopardy of being deported by the government of what should be a grateful nation.

Most of all I say thank you to the immigrants for providing me with an opportunity to take part in this kind of rally. Unfortunately there are not very many rallies in support of the policies that I support such as lowering taxes, reducing the size and scope of the federal government, federalism, using American power to topple dictatorships, and reducing trade barriers and distortions. On immigration, I have finally found policy alignment with a group of people who have the desire an ability to hold this kind of rally. So, thank you for that!

I really enjoyed seeing all of the hardworking people rallying so that they can enjoy the freedom to just keep doing what they are doing. At one point, I struck up a conversation with an immigrant carpenter because I couldn’t remember what the chant “Si Se Puede” meant. At first he was a little confused because he thought that I looked Spanish. He really appreciated it when I told him that I am a forth, fifth, and sixth generation immigrant and that I supported their cause. This guy and millions like him are just here to make a buck like the rest of us. They deserve the chance. They contribute. This country needs them.

On a side note, here is an amusing anecdote: While I was listening to one of the speakers, who were generally pretty good the woman handing out the revolutionary communist newspaper did not even bother to ask me if I wanted one. She asked the woman to my left if she wanted a copy, looked at me for a moment, and then moved on to ask some other guy if he wanted a copy. I guess that I did not look enough like a member of the proletariat in my business attire. Unfortunately, I failed to realize quickly enough what was happening or I would have asked her why she was discriminating against me. I guess I had better watch my back when the revolution begins…

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ethanol in Brazil

Yesterday's New York Times reported on the increased use of ethanol in Brazil as a substitute for gasoline. Apparently the Brazilian are greatly increasing their use of ethanol and are nearly energy independent as a country. Good for them.

The key technology here is flex fuel vehicles, which allow the vehicle to operate on either gasoline, an ethanol blend, or some mixture of the two. From the picture in the article, it appears that the ethanol blend sells for approximately 30% less than gasoline, so obviously people are eager to use it. What I am not sure about in this situation is how much of this progress is attributable to private innovation in the presence of a monopoly and how much of this is attributable to government intervention. Brazil has been one of the leaders in "Latin American State Capitalism", so the later would not surprise me at all.

Unfortunately, here in the United States, we are not really doing a good job of following in Brazil's lead:
But Brazilian officials and business executives say the ethanol industry would develop even faster if the United States did not levy a tax of 54 cents a gallon on all imports of Brazilian cane-based ethanol.

The farm belt sees corn based ethanol as a new market to exploit, but only if they can protect it from lower cost imports. How is that good for the US consumer? What we really need to do is drop the tax on ethanol imports and let the market develop. Since Brazil will not be able to supply all of the demand in the near term or any term, there will be a place for corn based ethanol along side the cheaper imports. We need to get smarter about energy policy and by that I mean let the market figure it out.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Looking for a Good Cause?

Support my friend Jon Hilton and The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Jon is currently raising money through Team in Training and is currently training for a Triathlon in Philadelphia.  

Torture Revisited

Andrew Sullivan seems somewhat baffled by the latest poll showing that the majority of Americans favor torturing our enemies in some circumstances.  This poll would seem to indicate that the majority of Americans would agree with me that Charles Krauthammer got the better of Sullivan in the torture argument.  Most Americans are probably comfortable employing torture if it means maintaining order and security even though it is unquestionably evil.  

Although torture is evil, it is evil in a very human kind of way.  In fact it is exactly the evil that Jesus came into the world to illustrate, to make explicit.  Maybe this is even why Christians seem to be more comfortable with torture than agnostics or atheists.  Jesus accepted torture from Cesar but He did not attempt to become the Cesar who did not torture.  He explicitly rejected that.  

This seems like an interesting irony to the Christianits philosophy that Sullivan rightly calls the administration on.  While Christianists want the government to act morally except in the case of torture, Sullivan wants the government to refrain from being a moral actor, except in the case of torture.  My own view is that it is not possible for the government to ever be a moral actor, but to only act from self-interest, which is why it is so hard for a Christian to become a Cesar.  

A couple of other foot notes: First another way of looking at the Christian vs. atheist/agnostic divide on torture is that if one believes that a person is more than just a body it might be easier to torture that body, but that if one believes that a person is just a body that body becomes more sacred.  Second, although it seems to me that the government should the ability to torture in limited circumstances, evidence (pointed out in many cases by Andrew Sullivan) suggests that torture is much more wide spread than I could ever justify.  If we are going to do evil, we should make it a conscious decision in every case.  It should never become policy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Skiing: Days 10 and 11

As I rode the lift at Killington on Sunday, I realized that I should have blogged this entire ski season so that I would have a record of fun.  Well I am starting now better late than never…

I skied Saturday and Sunday at Killington in Vermont.  This was my third trip to Killington of the year, and contrary to my expectations it was the most fun.  Saturday was pretty rough with cold weather and lots of ice, frozen after a week of 60-degree weather.  On Sunday, however, the resort had great conditions after about 4 inches of snow on Saturday night.  I spent the morning lapping the mogul run Outer Limits.  They were making snow the entire day so the bumps stayed soft, although some parts got a little icy due to the number of people who had the same idea that I had.  

In the afternoon I took a couple of runs with my family on the greens that my mom likes and then on a couple of blues for my dad before returning to Outer Limits for the low point of the day.  That occurred at about 3:15 when I decided to take a couple of last runs for the day.  I bombed down about 85% of the hill before I had a spectacular crash.  I tweaked my MCL a little bit (ok a lot) and that pretty much ended my day and maybe my season.  

So, unless I am able to squeeze in another day on the slopes before the snow goes away, I am looking at 11 days of skiing this year: 5 at Whistler; 4 at Killington, and 2 at Stowe.  I also had two days of snowboarding at Jay Peak, which is a great resort that I am defiantly going to return to next year.  

Indiana Toll Road Deal

I seem to have missed this story last week.  In a very positive development, it turns out that the State of Indiana plans to lease the Indiana Toll Road to a private company for a term of 75 years.  Macquarie-Cintra, an Australian-Spanish consortium will pay the state $3.8B for the lease and will have management control over the toll road including maintenance and collecting toll revenue.  Apparently, Indiana plans to spend the lease money to finance other road improvements in other parts of the state.

I have previously written about the potential of privatizing much of our transportation infrastructure.  We need many more of these kinds of deals where government turns over operational responsibility of public assets to private firms.  (In fact I would go farther and assert the Indiana should simply sell the toll road to Macquarie-Cintra.)  

I found a pretty good financial analysis of the Indiana Toll Road that Crowe Chizek Financial prepared for the state.  Currently the tool road has annual revenues of about $95M and annual operating expenses of about $70M.  The financial analysis projects these revenues and expenses out for the next 75 years based on a variety of assumptions to reach the conclusion that if the state continued to operate the toll road it would be the equivalent of a public company worth $1.92B.  That Macquarie-Cintra is willing to pay $3.8B shows how optimistic the consortium is about its ability increase cash flow!  

It will be interesting to see how this deal unfolds.  Macquarie-Cintra is clearly paying a fairly dear price for the toll road based not only on the financial analysis, but also on the fact that there are not too many public companies with $100M in sales, 20% net operating margins, and $3.8B market capitalizations.  To make this work out, Macquarie-Cintra are going to have to move quickly to implement cost reducing technology, such as EZ-Pass, and find ways to increase revenues.  Hopefully, this deal and others like it will show the benefits to private profit seeking firms operating a larger share of what was once considered public property.  

Friday, March 17, 2006

Pandora Stations

I just added a box at the bottom right with links to my Pandora stations. Pandora is a really cool internet radio station that chooses songs based on which artists or songs a user says that they like. I am still trying to tune the stations to my liking, but it is a really fun way to discover music. Enjoy!!

If you would like to add Pandora stations to your blog, step by step instructions are here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Breath of Freedom

Tamar Jacoby had an interesting opinion piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal detailing the ongoing debate on immigration reform in the US Senate.  At issue is the fate of the eleven million undocumented workers currently in this country.  We simply have to find a legal framework so that these people can continue to contribute to our country’s economy.  We currently have a 4.8% unemployment rate and in the worst times of the last downturn, unemployment never went much above 6%.  That is a spectacular performance even with 11 million undocumented workers who supposedly steal Americans’ jobs.  

Undocumented workers do not threaten America’s prosperity.  They increasingly form the backbone of many labor-intensive industries.  I can only describe plans that call for undocumented workers to return to their home country before applying for legal status as ridiculous.  Are we really going to disrupt entire sector of our economy so that people can go through the motions of visiting their home country and then returning.  The same goes for any so called amnesty.  The problem is not that people have broken this country’s laws in order to try to improve their lot in life.  The problem is that our current immigration laws are ridiculous.  

Passing laws and building fences to try to keep people from realizing economic prosperity can never work.  The resourcefulness of our undocumented workers in bypassing our border patrol and evading our INS agents proves that.  It also proves these undocumented workers have the stuff to make a positive impact in our society if given the chance.  

Here is a proposal: lets truly liberalize our immigration policy so that anyone who wants to move to this country to work can do so.  That solves the current problem as well as the problem going forward.  If our system cannot handle all that at once then lets phase it in over five years, but by all means give these masses a breath of freedom.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Road to Serfdom

Although it is a bit simplistic in its reasoning and over dramatic in result, I like this cartoon, which illustrates the dangers of ceding too much control to government planners.  Defeating Fascism and Communism abroad took the better part of last century.  Defeating Islamic Totalitarianism abroad will likely require the better part of this century.  We must remain vigilant against the specter of totalitarianism at home.  

Friday, March 10, 2006

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sales Philosophy

Sales is the process of creating value for your customer in order to capture a piece of that value for your company and yourself.  

A few years back I heard a non-sales executive say that sales is the process of overcoming objections.  This seemed wrong to me, but at the time I could not exactly say why.  Now that I have formulated my own definition I know exactly why that executive was wrong.

The sales process actually consists of two separate but interrelated processes: creating value and capturing value.  Because creating and capturing value is what business is all about this clearly makes sense, but lets look at how these two processes influence sales.

When people talk about creating value, often they mean creating value for their company’s shareholder, but in sales creating value means creating value for your customer and your customer’s shareholders.  Creating value can take a number of different forms.  Maybe the product is so fantastic that its value is obvious to the customer.  In that case sales just got a lot easier!  

More often, creating value takes the form of explaining the product and more importantly how the customer can utilize the product to improve some business metric.  When the underlying products are nearly identical, creating value may take the form of improved delivery, better terms, or easier business process interactions.  Alternatively the salesperson could have such a pleasant personality that the customer just loves to do business her; that’s also creating value.  

Notice that in the discussion about creating value, I did not mention price.  As the sales process progresses, your customer will place a certain value on your total sales offering.  The price that the customer pays for that value is the mechanism that your firms use to capture a portion of the value that the customer sees.  If your sales offering can deliver much greater value to your customer than your competition then you will have the ability to command a higher price.  

It is really that simple.  Unfortunately many people do not seem to understand that sales is a two way street.  If the customer does not see the value, you either have not done a good enough job of articulating the value or you are deluding yourself about the value that your company can provide to your customers.  Likewise, just because one customer thinks that a particular product is the best thing in the world does not mean that another customer will recognize that the product brings the same value to them.  Value is customer specific, so creating value is a separate, often personal process with every customer.  

So that is my sales philosophy.  I try to make sure that it permeates every aspect of my sales engagements.  If you like it, make it the framework for your sales engagements too.  That is of course unless you are calling on my customers!

South Dakota and Abortion

So, South Dakota just passed a law prohibiting all abortions except to save the mother’s life. My response to this is, “Oh brother…”

I have wanted to write a longer post on my position on abortion, but that never materialized. So here is the short version.

I believe that abortion is morally wrong. It is morally wrong not because of its similarity to murder, but because the action represents an active rejection of God’s invitation to love. It seems very difficult to reconcile the act of abortion with Jesus’ urging that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

So what about the legality of abortion? Abortion is not like murder. While I reject murder on the same moral grounds, of failing to love, as abortion, the reason that we need a law against murder stems from the state’s obligation to enforce order. Society would simply cease to exist if individuals could murder one another with impunity. The parallel for abortion simply does not hold.

In fact not only is society not threatened by abortion, but laws designed to prohibit abortion actually threaten society’s morality. I firmly believe that the state should not have the power legislate morality. Travis keeps using a Janice Rodgers Brown quote, “Where government moves in community retreats…” I think this is true. I also think that where government moves in morality retreats. Although we may fail to actively sin when the state (read men with guns) prevents us from sinning, we also fail to actively love.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Monopoly Power

On 3/4/06, Travis links to an article written by Allan Greenspan in the 1960’s to assert that monopolistic behavior does not exist. Travis misreads Greenspan if he thinks the article disproves the notion of a monopoly. Greenspan states:

Therefore, the existence of a free capital market does not guarantee that a monopolist who enjoys high profits will necessarily and immediately find himself confronted by competition. What it does guarantee is that a monopolist whose high profits are caused by high prices, rather than low costs, will soon meet competition originated by the capital market.

Monopolistic behavior exists. Greenspan’s point is that if a monopolist holds his prices too high for too long he risks allowing a competitor to profitably enter his market. In the presence of free capital markets, monopolies, like glory, are fleeting. Here is where I actually have an issue with Greenspan’s article.

Greenspan uses the nineteenth century western railroad industry as an example of how flawed government policy aided in creating monopolies, which other flawed government policies tried to eradicate. However, Greenspan’s analysis hinges on “the existence of free capital markets.” However one of the notable characteristics US economy of the nineteenth century was the lack of liquidity in the capital markets. Without free capital markets, competitors would not be able to generate capital to challenge firms charging monopoly rents. In fact of the reasons that many people wanted to move to a silver standard was to increase liquidity so that competition could emerge in the railroad industry. The nineteenth century railroad industry is a poor example because the mechanisms that Greenspan advocates to regulate monopolies did function well at the time.

In addition, while there may be some truth to the fact that Standard Oil gained important efficiencies by being an integrated monopoly oil supplier, Standard Oil is also a poor example of a good monopoly because of the well documented cases of corruption and thuggery that protected it’s monopoly status.

Nonetheless, I did like the thesis of Greenspan’s piece in that it illustrates that monopoly power can be regulated by the threat of competition posed by the capital markets funding new market entrants. However, this regulation can only be viewed as a kind of delayed regulation in that it takes time for other firms to enter monopoly markets and become competitive. Unfortunately, this type of regulation cannot remove the dead weight loss caused by monopoly.

So are we ready to dispense with the Justice Department’s regulation of monopolies? Certainly our capital markets are extremely liquid and persistently low long-term interest rates ensure that firms should have no trouble finding capital for new investments. In fact, one of the bigger concerns about today’s economy is the lack of new investment ideas. But my concern is, why does monopoly power still exist? In this case, why is every song on iTunes $0.99? Are there structural issues in the music industry that allow monopolies to exist there without the threat of emerging competition? I will be interested to see the follow-up to this investigation.

Monetary Policy and Monopoly Power

While I was writing the Monopoly Power post, I thought about an interesting monetary effect. If capital markets ultimately regulate monopoly power, then, all else being equal, the extent of monopoly power that a firm can exhibit will be directly related to interest rates. When interest rates are high, like in the late nineteenth century, firm’s monopoly power will also be relatively high. When interest rates are relatively low like today, monopoly power will be low.

So, in addition to the other effects that accompany the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to cool the economy, we can add increasing firms’ monopoly power. (Other than commodity companies, each firm has a monopoly on its brand and products.) So rising interest rates give firms extra margin to raise prices, which increases the dead weight loss to the economy and contributes to the slowing effect.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Roundup of Regular Reading

So here is a brief list of blogs and articles that I read on a fairly regular basis. Check them out and please let me know if I am missing something that I might really enjoy!

I read the Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish in its entirety every day. I appreciate Andrew’s writing because of our shared classical liberal/libertarian worldview and our shared Catholic religious background (although Andrew’s current relationship with the Church tends to be in flux). The writing really challenges my thinking because Andrew is a real intellectual while I am a wanta-be intellectual and because of the very different experiences that he has had as a gay man.

The first blog that I started reading and one that I still read almost every day is James Taranto’s Best of the Web Today (the blog has a different url every day and is usually updated around 3:00). Taranto usually has a good roundup of the top political news stories of the day from the viewpoint of a conservative editorial page writer. The site makes regular digs against lazy journalists and overly politically correct behaviors. Sometimes there is a bit of an inside baseball view of journalism, but this is made up for by Taranto’s wit.

Ever since the week that Dan Savage guest blogged for Andrew Sullivan last summer, I have regularly read Dan’s Savage Love advice column. In fact I spent hours reading most of the archives that are available! I don’t know which rock I must have been under for the past decade, but now that I know about it I find the column one of the most entertaining things that I read each week. Dan’s often irreverent responses to the wide range of sexual and relationship questions is must read material.

In the same vein, just yesterday I came across Clue Chick which is a blog written by an anonymous chick who is into picking up dudes online for no strings attached sex. I have never been into this scene myself or known anyone who was so it is really interesting to read about some of the finer point of this lifestyle.

On the Sports side, my friend Pat and some other guys write The Blue-Gray Sky, which is probably the most in depth blog commentary on Notre Dame Football. For those unfamiliar with Notre Dame Football, the title of this blog is a reference to Grantland Rice’s “The Four Horsemen”, an article that led to the creation of one of the most famous sports pictures. The first sentence of the article is, “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again.” Pat and friends do a great job of analyzing the Notre Dame’s games, opponents, recruiting, coaching, polls, and much more. Recently some members of the group also started a site focusing on Notre Dame Basketball called The Fieldhouse, which is a reference to the first building where Notre Dame’s basketball team played. Like most Notre Dame fans, I am not a big a fan of basketball as football, but I bleed gold and blue no matter what the sport. The great thing about both sites is that for years, I have used Pat as my information gathering system on Irish sports, but now everyone has the same access.

Finally, I always try to read Dobber’s World and Neoperspectives by my friends Dobber and Travis, respectively. Dobber and Travis are big-time libertarians and constantly inform their readers about the doings of the mafia-government. Of course Dobber is actually a military officer for that mafia-government, but I guess that is beside the point…

What am I missing? Please drop me a line in the comments section if there is a great blog out there that I should start reading.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

School Choice

Thanks to everyone who commented on my compelling interest question a few weeks back. Glad to see that we were able to get some discussion going. Also I am glad to see that most people seem to believe that the government has some interest in funding the education of the next generation. My concern with a completely private education system is that parents of school-aged children typically would struggle to fund their children’s education, which could result in a generation of people who lack the skills to make a meaningful contribution to society – especially in a rapidly globalizing world in which low skilled laborers in the U.S. must compete with people in third world countries that are just joining the world economy. Ultimately threat of increased competition at the lower end of the skills spectrum should focus public attention on the great importance of improving education so that the U.S. can continue to maintain a competitive edge.

With that in mind, I was happy to read this opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, which describes the state of education in Minneapolis, one of the leaders in adopting school choice. Apparently low income and minority parents are pulling their children out of the public schools and sending them either to suburban public school districts or to charter schools in the city. I particularly liked this paragraph containing quotes from a community leader:
Black leaders like Louis King have had enough. He has a message for the school board: "You'll have to make big changes to get us back." He says the district needs a board that views families as customers and understands that competition has unalterably changed the rules of the game. "I'm a strong believer in public education," says Mr. King. "But this district's leaders have to make big changes or go out of business. If they don't, we'll see them in a museum, like the dinosaurs."
School choice has been a reality in Minneapolis for over fifteen years, but is not even offered to the majority of parents and students in this country. We need to increase the pressure to allow more educational options in this country or we will not be prepared for the emerging threat of globalization.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Corporate Philanthropy

Below is a graph that I have been sitting on for a while. I have been thinking about writing a comprehensive article on the conditions when corporations should engage in corporate philanthropy, which I loosely define as any outlays that are not incidental to doing business. Donating to the Red Cross would qualify while salaries or a Christmas part would not. Upgrading a public road to improve logistics to a facility would probably not qualify either although it certainly would benefit others.

My thesis is that corporate philanthropy can only be justified if it can generate increased value for shareholders, which is the sole mission of corporate officers.

As the graph shows, some non-zero level of outlays in support of philanthropic causes will increase share holder value. However at some level, those outlays cease to increase value and become a waste of the shareholders money. Where this inflection point occurs will vary from firm to firm and perhaps industry to industry and can only be determined based on the individual executive's judgment. I hope to elaborate on the considerations of this process in future posts.

Nonetheless, at this point I will comment that philanthropy should not be used as a kind of insurance policy. Corporate philanthropy should be used in cases where corporate and philanthropic objectives align, not to curry favor with the public in the event of a scandal. The best insurance policy against a scandal are strong internal accounting controls and a culture that promotes ethical business dealings.

Ski Selection

A while back I mentioned that I was looking for a new pair of skis for this season. Well I may be a little late in providing an update, but better late than never. For the past couple of months I have been riding Dynastar's Legend 8000. They are really a great ski for the style of skiing that I enjoy most i.e. able to make quick turns across the fall-line or through a mogul field but also able to float in the power. I really got a good chance to learn about my new ski's performance in the powder while skiing in Whistler, BC. They had a ton of fresh powder three of the five days that I was out there. Although the 8000's did not float as well as a true powder ski they held up very well and certainly will perform better than any powder ski in New England ice! I highly recommend these skis to anyone interested in a great all mountain ski.

Congratulations Sgt. Wasilewski

My friend Josh Wasilewski has recently been promoted to Sergeant in the Ocean City Beach Patrol, where I work part time in the summers. This is a picture that I took of Josh last summer before we went to work.

Here is another picture of Josh on the OCBP's website along with his biography!

Also congratulations to the other three newly promoted Sergeants: Ryan Cowder; Jamie Falcon, and Nick Thompson.

Imagine That A Contested Election

It seems like this might actually be old news, but it appears that the Republicans is actually going to run a candidate against Edward Kennedy in this year’s senatorial election. Four years ago, John Kerry did not have a Republican challenger in his election even though the Mitt Romney was running a strong campaign for governor. This year, Kevin Scott plans to challenge Kennedy. I doubt that Scott has much of a chance to beat Kennedy, but it will at least be nice to have a choice of candidates on Election Day.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

BCS Season

I am a little tired today after staying up after midnight for the past three nights watching some of the best college football of the season in the four BCS bowls. Each of the four games, Notre Dame vs. Ohio State, West Virginia vs. Georgia, Pen State vs. Florida State, and the Southern California vs. Texas provided excellent competition. The players really left everything that they had on the field.

I was a little disappointed with Notre Dame’s play against OSU. On offense the team did not really seem to be in synch with many dropped passes and way too little protection for the quarterback. Our defensive line was unable to get any pressure on OSU’s quarterback and the lack of blitzing meant that Troy Smith and his receivers had plenty of time to pick apart our secondary. On the positive side, Darius Walker had a number of great runs and showed that he can be a huge threat when he is healthy.

On the other hand, I was not disappointed at all with last night’s Rose Bowl. Texas and USC put on a great competition for the National Championship. I was impressed with Vince Young’s ability to make some tough passes, but was even more impressed with the way he seemed to effortlessly gain yards when scrambling away from USC’s defense. These teams were so evenly matched, and had both had such success during the regular season that there can be no doubt that these two teams were the best in the nation. Congratulations to Texas for their victory!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Deciding to Withdraw Medical Care

I liked this post detailing concerns making decisions about how and when to withdraw medical care. In medical care, as in all other aspects of life, we constantly find ourselves required to make choices about how to allocate finite resources most effectively. The questions that Julian asks help to clarify the difference between economic justice and resource allocation that often become confused in the actual decision making process and in general debate:
There's one question about economic justice, whether someone has a share of resources we think is adequate to give someone a fair range of real options—to put food on the table and also, if she wants it, provide for medical insurance. There's a distinct question about how we react once people have disposed of just shares as they see fit and still find themselves in dire medical straits.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Compelling Interest?

Travis and Dobber posted an interesting collection of opinions about obsticales to enhanced school choice. Clearly everyone in this group believes that increased choice is imperative in the education market, but it seems that the group breaks into two divisions based on whether they believe that society, through government, has an interest in insuring that every person has some minimum level of education.

So, here is the question for you guys, does society, through government, have a compelling interest in guaranteeing that every person has a minimum level of education?

If the answer is yes, then tax funded charter schools and voucher programs are an appropriate solution to providing competition to government run schools. However, if the answer is no, then the tax funded primary and secondary education system should be privatized.