Thursday, November 15, 2007


A few days ago I got an invitation to the Hulu Beta. Hulu is a joint venture between NBC and Fox for internet distribution of their current programs. My favorite feature is the ability to display clips of shows my own web page. Below is a funny clip from Kitchen Nightmares and also shows what the interface looks like:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Web 2.0 Stuff

So it has been awhile since I have posted and part of the reason is because much of the energy that I had been putting into blogging has gone into other Web 2.0 applications. Here are some of the interesting applications that I have started using over the last few months:

Over the summer my friend Rob invited me to join the Facebook revolution so I signed up not really expecting much in particular. Now I really enjoy using the application especially due to all of the 3rd party gadgets that are available to add into the site. I have used LinkedIn for a few years to manage my business connections, but I don't really like LinkedIn as much for personal friends. At this point I still think it is reasonable to manage two social networks one for business and one for friends, but it would be great if some of the widgets could span both networks. More on that later.

Dopplr is an interesting service that I signed up for a few months back but am only recently began actively using. The service is a way to share your travel plans with acquaintances so that you can meet up with people when you happen to be in the same city. I think that this is really more about passive communication in that instead of having to remember who lives where and start sending out emails, Dopplr will do the matching for us. Doppler recently added a Facebook application, which is great because duplicating my Facebook network would seem to be a little pointless. Next up, I would love to see Dopplr use OpenSocial to create a LinkedIn application.
Grand Central bills itself as the new way to use your phones. I am not sure about that, but it is a nice service that will allow people to dial a single number that will ring all of my phones at the same time so that I can choose the one that I want to answer. It also has some great features that allow callers in my address book to be treated in different ways based on my address book entries. The only problem that I have with the service is that everyone already has my mobile number and just uses that so it will be a bit of a pain to get all of my contacts to switch over to my Grand Central number, especially when my mobile number still works. Google recently purchased Grand Central so as a next step I would really like to see tighter integration between Grand Central and Gmail to manage all of my communications.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mankiw's Carbon Theorem

On his blog today Greg Mankiw posits the following theorem:

Cap-and-trade = Carbon tax + Corporate welfare

I this theorem just absolutely hits the nail on the head. Politically it looks like some sort of carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme is coming both for national security and environmental reasons. The real question left is: where will the money from the tax or cap-and-trade scheme go? Will it go to corporations or will it go to the federal government? My favorite suggestion would combine a carbon tax with a reduction on income taxes. Of course I would also favor an increase in federalism in road construction.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More OCBP News Coverage

I just got back from a great week of working on the Ocean City Beach Patrol. I spent the week working with the Inlet crew which is always a fun experience both because that section of the beach offers some challenging surf conditions and many of the people who come to that section of the beach have limited swimming experience. Over the course of the week I made seven rescues and had to work pretty hard warning many other people about dangerous conditions.

While I was in Ocean City, the CBS Early Show ran a segment about the dangers of digging holes in the sand that featured the the OCBP. Every parent should watch this video because it highlights the dangers and potential deadly consequences of a seemingly safe activity. In addition to Captain Butch Arbin, the video features Lt. Wes Smith warning a kid that his hole was too deep.

The danger of digging holes in the sand recently gained a higher profile when Dr. Bradley Maron and his father published a study on the topic in the New England Journal of Medicine. Here is a Washington Post account of the story.

In other recent Ocean City News, here is a podcast featuring Jesse Houston, Ocean City's Planning Director.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Look at Your Neighbor!

This past Sunday's Liturgy, we heard the story of the Good Samaritan - the man who stopped on the road to help a victim of robbers when everyone else just passed by. Lori and I went to St. Clements so Fr. Peter gave the homily. I really admire the way that Fr. Peter just strips away all of the extraneous information and comes straight to the point in his homilies. This one was no different.

Fr. Peter began by relating a complement that he had received from a person in the neighborhood about why he is such a good gardener. The person said that Fr. Peter was a good gardener because he looked at his plants. He looked at them to know if they needed water or had too much. He looked at them to know if the soil was too hard or too soft. He looked at them to know if they had too much sun or not enough. Only by looking at his plants could he find out what they needed and fix it.

Now the point of the Good Samaritan, according to Fr. Peter, is that probably only the Good Samaritan bothered to look at the robber's victim. The other travelers on the road probably did not stop because they simply did not take the time to look at the victim. Since they did not take the time to look at him, they could not feel sympathy or compassion for him and thus it did not even occur to them to stop and help. Only the Good Samaritan bothered to look.

Living in the city, I think that this message really hits home for me. How often do I just blow by panhandlers on the sidewalk because I just do not take the time to look at them? How callus do we become when we do not take the time to look at our neighbor?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Cambridge at Dusk

Here is a neat picture that I took on Friday night from our roof deck. I was actually a little late snapping this picture and it should should have been exposed a little more, but I think that the lighting on the roadway came out nice.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"Feed My Sheep"

This is a nice story about a couple who created an innovative way to help others. Eight months ago they opened a restaurant with good food and no prices. Each of their customers pays what they think the meal was worth or if the cannot pay they do some work after they finish their meal.
"If Jesus ran a restaurant, would he use this model?" asked Brad Birky. "We'd like to think so. Not that we're comparing ourselves to Jesus or his work. We're just inspired by him and his work."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dan Savage: Smokin'

I always get a kick out of reading Dan Savage's weekly Savage Love columns and his relatively new blog entries are usually pretty good as well. Today Dan goes off on the Seattle Times for running a cliche report on Federal Agents raiding a number of marijuana grower. Really Dan at his best.

Truth in Carbon Taxes

The other day the New York Times reported that that Representative John Dingell planned to introduce a bill to raise gasoline taxes to combat global warming. Apparently Representative Dingell, who is from automobile producing Michigan, wants to illustrate that the public and specifically Democrats in Congress will not support an increase in gas taxes.

But Mr. Dingell, in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on C-Span, suggested that his goal was to show that Americans are not willing to face the real cost of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. His message appeared to be that Democratic leaders were setting unrealistic legislative goals.

“I sincerely doubt that the American people will be willing to pay what this is really going to cost them,” said Mr. Dingell, whose committee will be drafting a broad bill on climate change this fall.

Today the Wall Street Journal weighed in with an editorial praising Representative Dingell for his his honesty relative to others who would prefer to combat global warming through increased regulatory standards on fuel efficiency, but coming out as opposed to increased fuel taxes nevertheless.
Speaking for ourselves, we don't favor a carbon tax. In theory, such a tax might make sense if it were offset by lower taxes on income tax rates and capital investment--which would be a net plus for economic growth. However, there's not a chance in melting Greenland that the current Congress would offset any new carbon taxes; it would merely pocket the extra revenue to permanently increase the government's share of GDP.

Although I certainly do not trust anyone in Congress to immediately refund any additional gasoline tax revenue, I do support increased gas taxes, although I support them primarily on national security grounds. The Islamic Fundamentalists and the Iranian regime receive the majority of their funding from oil sales so reducing their revenues should be a key component to our strategy. While we cannot immediately cease all foreign oil purchases we can slow the rate of our oil consumption by imposing additional taxes and then use a portion of that money to oppose our enemies.

Of course we would also see some environmental benefits. Benefits that would be much more tangible than those obtained through increased fuel efficiency. Nonetheless, the reason to increase gas taxes is national security not the environment.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

OCBP in the News

Here is an interesting article in the Washington Post featuring Butch Arbin who is the captain of the Ocean City, MD Beach Patrol. The article is apparently one of a series of articles about the interesting things that teachers do during the summer months. Before joining the beach patrol, I would never have guessed that so many teachers work as lifeguards during the summer months but it actually is a great combination.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Businesses Thank Government

Here is an interesting advertisement that I noticed the other day when spending a little extra time at Philadelphia International Airport. I love how these businesses are trying to capitalize on the restrictions that the TSA places on what travelers can and cannot bring with them on the plane. What do you think the chances are that these restrictions will ever be relaxed even if the terrorist threat abates? Not likely, especially now that the TSA has created a built in constituency to keep the restrictions in place.

Energy Honesty

Charles Krauthammer comments on how the Senate hopes to hide the true costs associated with increased energy efficiency in the recently passed energy bill. Money quote:
I have no objection to paying more to reduce our dependency on foreign energy. But it is hard to conceive of a more politically dishonest and economically inefficient way to do it than with mandates that make private industry do Congress's dirty work, hide the true cost of energy efficiency and perpetuate the fantasy of the tax-free lunch.

To me the really sad thing about the current debate on energy policy is the complete lack of discussion of the costs associated with increasing fuel efficiency the use of renewable fuels. Unfortunately, these costs will impact the poor the most because they represent a higher portion of a poor person's income than a rich person's income. In my view it is best to deal with these costs openly rather than to try to hide them in the hopes of appearing to offer a free lunch.

I Passed 8th Grade Science

Mingle2 Free Online Dating - Science Quiz

Click on the picture above to take an online quiz to see if you can pass 8th grade science class!

Monday, June 25, 2007

June 24th 2007

On June 24th, I was exactly half as old as my Dad. I was 30 years and 24 days and he was 60 years 48 days. So we celebrated by playing golf at the Lake of Isles. The course is probably one of the most challenging that I have ever played, but some of the holes are absolutely breathtaking. We had a great day of golf! Take a look at the pictures below in the new Picasa slideshow embed.

Quote of the Day

"For my part, I believe Jesus had no politics, let alone the big government politics of our time. And the attempt of both right and left to coopt his truth corrupts faith and politics simultaneously." - Andrew Sullivan

Friday, June 22, 2007

Senators: Not Serious on Ethanol

A couple of days ago, the Club for Growth blog mentioned that the Senate had rejected an amendment to eliminate the 54 cent tariff on imported Ethanol. This strikes me as completely disingenuous at a time when the same Senators are concerned about price gouging for gasoline. Just for fun I used Google Maps to create this map showing how the Senators from each state voted. Now we have a visual representation of where the real price gougers live!

Update: A picture of the map is now included below.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fingerjig - Flash Fun

For the past couple of days, I have been playing around with Fingerjig, which is a typing game done in flash animation. The game consists of a series of seven typing test using random words out of the dictionary - the first two focus on relatively short words, followed by a test of individual letter, then come two tests of words that use only one hand, and finally two tests that use long words like communicativeness.

Based on the final scores, it looks like I am basically an average to slightly above average typist - I am typing in the mid forty words per minute, after accounting for errors and have a high score in the 700,000's. Interestingly, I am better with my left hand even though I am right handed. If you are looking to test your typing with a fun online animation, check out Fingerjig!

Sad News from Ocean City

Sadly, Ocean City had its first drowning of the year this past weekend and at least as of the time of the linked article the victim's body had not been recovered. Our hearts go out to the family members who now have to cope with the loss of a loved one on a day that was supposed to be filled only with fun.

Here is another link with a picture of the attempted search and recovery.

Remember to always swim near a lifeguard and to swim parallel to shore when caught in a rip current.

Update: Here is a link to a blog post with additional pictures.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Now On Skype

Update: So I also tried out Youtube's new Remixer feature to create the version of the video below. I guess the issue with using the quick capture uploader for webcams is that you cannot cut out the beginning and end of the video so I think that is a key application for the Remixer. Remixer uses Adobe's technology so it has the same look and feel as Premier Elements, which I use on my PC. It was really easy to edit out the portions of the video where I was not looking at the camera and I even added a neat border. It looks like Remixer videos have a slightly different play box from regular videos, which is king of interesting. My only gripe is that Remixer creates an entirely new video and does not give the option to replace the original so I guess I would have to manually delete that if I wanted to do that. I am not sure that I am going to use this feature a ton, but it is still kind of fun.

Update 2: Interestingly enough when I embedded the video in this webpage, the edits remain but the border is not there. You have to click through to see it. I wonder if this is intended or not...

Green Day for Darfur?

So Green Day has dedicated their music video for Working Class Hero to raising awareness of the horrific situation in Darfur where allegedly government backed militias are systematically eliminating the local population. We have heard about the horrible problem in Darfur for a few years now, but finding a solution remains elusive. In the video, one of the people who fled Darfur states that he does not want military might, but that he just wants UN peacekeepers to protect the civilians. Come on, what does he think UN peacekeepers are other than military might? I would even go so far to say that peacekeepers are ineffective at best. In my view the better approach would be for the people, like Green Day, who care about the people of Darfur to contribute money to arm them so that they can defend themselves. The problem in Darfur is certainly ugly, but the solution is equally ugly. Thinking that there could possibly be a clean solution borders on fantasy.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Stick with the marketing message...

... only if you want to turn off the customer.

Here is an interesting article by Charles Green at Trust Advisers commenting on situations where the marketing message does not help the sales process. I think that the real issue here is that after almost a century of mass marketing broadcasts, consumers and business decision makers can easily discern which marketing messages apply to them and which do not.

As consumers we constantly find ourselves inundated with marketing messages and sales pitches. Many actually apply us and our situation, but many more do not. If we were not able to weed out the messages that apply from the ones that did not we would never be able to make any decision due to information overload. That is where sticking to the marketing message, particularly the wrong marketing message, can absolutely destroy the credibility of a salesperson in the eyes of the customer.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Assessing Risk

Daniel Bonevac at Right Reason asks a question about how likely a terrorist network is to detonate or even try to detonate a nuclear device in a US city in the next five to ten years.

Overall I believe that there is some risk of a nuclear or other spectacular attack by terrorists on the United States, but to try to go much behind that and to assign say a low, moderate, or high risk so such an attack is beyond the scope of my ability to obtain and process information about the threat. In fact it is probably not possible for any member of the general public. Nonetheless I think that it is reasonable for me to take a shot at discussing some of the risk factors that I have to consider when assessing the risk. Listed below, in roughly descending order of importance are some of the factors that contribute to the threat.

My assessed risk of a nuclear or other spectacular attack on the United States:

is higher now than before 9/11, the Bali bombing, the Madrid bombing, and the London bombing due to the terrorists' demonstrated ability and will to execute these attacks.

is higher to the extent that our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan encourage more individuals to engage in terrorist activities, but is lower to the extent that terrorists focus their efforts and resources on attacking US military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. I view the net result of these to effects as lowering the threat of an attack on the US, but that assessment is open to interpretation.

is higher due to the presence of both terrorist networks and nuclear weapons in Pakistan.

is lower to the extent that incidents like the Virginia Tech shooting illustrate the ease with which individuals could carry out this sort of small scale attack. Why do we not see more of this type of attack?

is lower due to the extent that the predominant terrorist network,Al Queda is Sunni Muslim and that Sunni versus Shitite conflict in Iraq illustrates lack of cooperation between the two groups - assuming Iran as a source for a nuclear weapon.

is higher to due to the demonstrated terrorist abilities of Shiite organizations like Hezbolla - again assuming Iran as a source for a nuclear weapon and that Hezbolla would gain the ability to target states other than Israel and Lebanon.

is higher to the extent that natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina illustrate ineffectiveness at various levels of government.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

NBC Online Video

Last week I watched the final episode of The Black Donnellys, a fairly mediocre organized crime drama that premiered on NBC in January. The noteworthy thing about this is that NBC actually canceled the show after the first few episodes, but still made the show available on their website. This is the first time that I have been able to continue watching a show via the Internet after the network canceled it from their prime time lineup, which makes me think that this could become an increasingly popular entertainment delivery mechanism.

NBC actually made a few bucks from my watching the episodes on their website. In place of the regular commercial breaks, they played a single 15 or 30 second commercial and all of the commercial breaks were for the same company. Although the commercials certainly do break up the show - it is not quite like a DVD - I found that the commercials really did not bother me because they were so short. Actually I found it a better viewing experience than skipping through the commercials on a DVR with the benefit that the advertiser actually has a chance to get a message to me.

In addition to the website that I linked to above, NBC also offers episodes of the show for download on iTunes. Each episode costs $1.99 so I assume that NBC probably charges their website advertisers something less than that.

Given that NBC decided to cancel The Black Donnellys halfway through the season I assume that the series was probably a loser financially, but the fact that NBC was able to make some of their money back through online advertising sales and through iTunes. This probably changes the equation for new episode launches to some extent because the network does not automatically have to forfeit all revenue from the later episodes when they cancel a show. My guess is that networks will probably try to launch more new series to try to find winners because they now have an additional option for monetizing a show that does not pick up a following large enough to justify keeping it in their regular lineup. Hopefully this exciting development will encourage networks to take more risks on innovative programs.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Becoming Catholic

David Howard shares some interesting commentary in the Wall Street Journal's Taste page on the recent conversion of Francis Beckwith form Evangelical Christianity to Catholicism. It is nice to see that Howard, who remains an Evangelical, has acknowledge "that we nevertheless have much in common as fellow Christians."

To me, the interesting dynamic between Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity is that Catholics view Evangelicals as wayward members of the Christian flock, while many Evangelicals view Catholics as a separate non-Christian religion. Hopefully this new development will help to heal the wounds of division in God's Church.

The Changing Politics of Ethanol

Kimberly Strassel has a great article in her Potomac Watch column about the changing politics of the corn Ethanol debate. Predictably after the federal government mandated the use of more ethanol as motor fuel the price of corn, from which U.S. ethanol is made, has more than doubled. This increase means that various groups of food producers are being hit with higher costs. This combined with environmentalists' laments about increased use of land for corn farming has put the politicians who implemented ethanol mandates in the tough spot. As usual when the government gets involved no one will be happy with the results.

The real way to resolve the "energy independence" problem is two fold: 1. Remove the quotas on sugar and sugar ethanol so that less expensive alternatives to corn ethanol can enter the motor fuel market; and 2. increase federal taxes on gasoline so that we use less oil products.

Friday, April 27, 2007

NFL Draft Predictions

A few months back I entered a posting contest at the Blue Gray Sky with an analysis of how well the end of year college football awards do at predicting the NFL draft. The analysis is posted here.

One of the questions that this analysis brings into focus is why is there so much divergence in how well the various awards predict the top player chosen in the draft. For example the tight end, lineman, and defensive back awards to a pretty good job of predicting the top player drafted at those positions, but the running back and quarterback awards do a much worse job of predicting the top player drafted at those positions. I really don't know the answer to this questions but I would be interested to find out.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Skiing: Days 8 and 9 Killington

My family and I had two incredible days of skiing at Killington over the weekend. The mountain had snow every day and we skied our brains out. Outer Limits, Double Dipper, Downdraft, and Cascade all had great bumps so we skied them a bunch. One of my biggest issues with the people who ski Killington is that they tend to slide into the bumps which makes the troughs incredibly wide and icy. Come on people you need to learn to make turns around the bumps instead of sliding into them.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Skiing: Day 7 Watterville Valley

Lori and I skied Watterville Valley last Sunday and had a blast! I have not been to Watterville Valley in the last three years so it was nice to ski it again. We only had time to take a day trip so Watterville was the perfect place to go. We spent most of the day skiing off the Sunnyside Triple. We liked Gema, True Grit, and especially Bobby's Run. The video below has some shots of us skiing the bumps on Bobby's Run. My run looks a little rough due to the size of the moguls, but we still had lots of fun!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lost Your Camera in a Boston Taxi?

If you lost your camera in a Boston taxi yesterday and these are your pictures then I have your camera. To get it back, please leave me a comment below with your email address. I will ask you to describe some of the other pictures that were on the camera so that I can be sure that it is yours and then send it back to you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sirius & XM Merger Analysis

The big business story of the week is that Sirius and XM proposed a merger of equals that will create a single satellite radio broadcaster in the US. In order for this deal to proceed the companies will need the FCC and Justice department to approve the merger. I am sure that we will see quite a bit of debate about whether the government should approve this merger. So I thought that I would take a look at some of the issues that we need to consider in this proposed merger.

Market Definition

Is the merger of Sirius and XM going to create a monopoly? Well that depends on the definition of the merged firm's market. Should we define it narrowly and deem the firm a monopoly or define it broadly and see the firm competing in a vigorous market?

Narrow Market Definition
Satellite Radio - currently only two firms

Broad Market Definition
AM & FM Radio
HD Radio
MP3 & CD

Stakeholder Perspectives

Both Sirius, XM, and a potential merged firm impact quite a few other stakeholders including customers, content providers, and competitors. Any potential merger will likely affect these stakeholders so we need to consider the impacts on each.

Customer Perspective
Prospect of monopoly rents
Mitigated by potential competition in broad market definition
Single company allows consumers to access all satellite radio content - MLB, NFL, College Football, Howard Stern...
Reduced confusion
Potentially lower commitment innovation

Content Providers
Single company allows for only one possible satellite radio partner
Each content provider has a monopoly on their content - so merged firm will gain only slightly more negotiating leverage.
Likely a push

AM/FM Broadcasters
Would prefer two weaker satellite radio competitors to a single stronger competitor

Government Role

Some people may argue that the government should not have a role in approving the merger of these two firms. However the reality is that neither one of these firms or any other radio or television broadcasters would exist with out the government regulating the broadcast spectrum to keep others from broadcasting in their spectrum. With that realization and with the realization that both of these firms understood that the government wanted two satellite radio competitors I think that it is perfectly reasonable for the FCC and the Justice department to review this merger. The reviewers should pay particular attention to how customers will be impacted by assessing the potential of the merged firms to raise the monthly costs to monopoly rents. Ultimately this gets back to the original question of how to define the market - either narrowly or broadly. If it appears that the firms would dramatically raise prices after a merger the deal should not go through, but if it appears that all the other competing technologies will force them to keep prices low then the government should approve the merger.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Ever wonder how music producers create the interesting beats featured in popular music? Well now nfxbeats has created a series of tutorials on YouTube illustrating how they actually do it. My favorite is this his remake of In Da Club. Enjoy

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

History the Minimum Wage

Minimum wage laws remain controversial in our current politics. Many people would like raise them and many others would like to abolish them. Even economists are split. In an attempt to better understand the current issues I investigated the history of the minimum wage. The following includes a couple of interesting items that I found.

The US Department of Labor has a chart covering the history of the Federal minimum wage. The chart shows the periodic increases in the minimum wage, but the thing that I found most interesting was the notes at the bottom of the page. It turns out that the Federal minimum wage, which began in 1938 originally only covered "employees engaged in interstate commerce or in the production of goods for interstate commerce." I assume that this had something to do with the US Constitution. Of course then in 1961 the minimum wage started applying to "employees in large retail and service enterprises as well as to local transit, construction, and gasoline service station employees." Then in 1966, the minimum wage started applying to "State and local government employees of hospitals, nursing homes, and schools, and to laundries, dry cleaners, and large hotels, motels, restaurants, and farms." So eventually everyone was covered even if they only had a peripheral relationship to interstate commerce.

Also interesting was that prior to 1937, the U.S. Supreme Court had consistently struck down minimum wage laws on the grounds that the government could not interfere with private contracts. Of course this position changed when FDR proposed a court packing plan in an attempt to stop the Supreme Court from blocking his New Deal legislation. This shift on the Supreme Court ultimately enabled minimum wage legislation for the purpose of benefiting workers in a time of economic turmoil.

But where did the idea of a minimum wage originate. The idea of a minimum wage originated with Progressives at the turn of the 19th century. The interesting idea that I found in this research paper is that the Progressives did not intend for the minimum wage to benefit all workers but to keep undesirable workers out of the labor force. Specifically this included women, children, and minorities whom the advocates of a minimum wage believed took jobs from deserving workers. Their thinking was that by setting a minimum wage higher than the wage a business was willing pay for women, children, or minorities the law would lead to lower employment for these groups and higher employment for white men. Tellingly, all of the early minimum wage laws that the Supreme Court struck down were specifically women's minimum wage laws. So over the past century the politics of the minimum wage has shifted from attempts to keep people out of the labor force to attempts to benefit the labor force.

Save Boston!

Check out this hilarious game, which is an hilarious take on the recent controversy over an Aqua Teen Hunger Force promotion.

Update: I shamelessly ripped off the picture from this guy.

Update 2: I added the YouTube below, which is a pretty funny commentary on the event.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Interview with Lee Tavis

Read this great interview with Prof. Lee Tavis, who was one of my finance professors at the University of Notre Dame. The interview covers Prof. Tavis' wide ranging interests and provides a great window into his thinking on how corporations can help improve society. Prof. Tavis emphasises the transfer of values from successful corporations to indigenous populations and encourages western companies to engage with the local populations as his story about General Motors in South Africa describes.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Virtuous vs. Moral

Andrew Sullivan continues his debate with Sam Harris over the nature of religion as I noted before. Now Andrew posts a comment from a reader that points to a potentially critical distinction between Sullivan and Harris. Namely, what gives our lives meaning? I assume that Andrew would say that the meaning from his life comes from God, but I wonder where Sam attributes the meaning to his life or even if he believes that his life has meaning at all. I hope these to writers touch on the subject in future posts.

If I was going to be an Atheist, I would intimately link the meaning in my life to virtue - fully realizing myself as a great man. I am pretty sure that I would not tie the meaning in my life, as Andrew's atheist reader does, to making things just a little bit better for others. Come on how lame is that? If you are going to be an atheist you have to dream big and live large. What other meaning could you see in life other than exercising your will on the grandest scale possible? Isn't this what ancients Greeks and Romans aspired to achieve? What would Nietzsche think of an atheist who aspired to nothing more than making the world just a little bit better for those around him? I bet Nietzsche would say that that person had been cowed into abandoning his larger dreams by the prevailing Christian culture.

Though I certainly feel this call to virtue, I have to temper it with Christian morality, which comes from God and represents a universal truth. I resist the temptation to treat others as objects out of love, based on Jesus's example. What else, besides following Jesus's example, could motivate a person to give up his selfish desires and to love others instead. I think that Kant formalizes a way of thinking about this, but ultimately his philosophy crumbles unless its foundation is a universal law of love.

When atheists attack Christianity and the bible for the former's dogma and the later's internal contradictions, they miss the key point. They miss that God is love. They miss that creation, even, perhaps especially even, if it happened through the process of evolution was an expression of love. They miss that Jesus's life and especially his death was an expression of love. And they miss that every act of Christian worship ought to respond to that love. That framework gives meaning to my life. The tension that I feel between the urge to exercise my will and the call to love helps to prove to me that God exists more than any proof or even a momentary religious experience ever could.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Democratic Spending Restraint

I am happy to read in the Washington Post that the Democratic leaders in congress are actually planing to restrain spending for the last 8 months of fiscal 2007.
To quickly resolve the current budget, the Democrats are writing a resolution to fund the government -- without earmarks -- for the remainder of the year. Obey and Byrd expect the resolution to total $463 billion [sic], the amount left over from Bush's 2007 budget after the homeland security and defense budgets are removed.

I really never thought that I would cheer on Senator Byrd for fiscal responsibility, but that is just what I am doing. By eliminating earmarks in this budget the Democrats caused some heartburn at universities and other recipients of federal largess. So here is half a cheer for the Democrats. Why only half a cheer? Well with Post continues:
Obey and Byrd said earmarks will resume with the 2008 budget, but under new rules passed by the Democrats. Legislators will have to disclose any earmark they insert and will have to certify they have no personal financial interest in the earmark, among other changes.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Skiing: Day 6

Yesterday some friends and I skied at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire. Lori and I won free lift tickets from WFNX, a local radio station, as part of their Snow Riders program. This was my first trip to Bretton Woods, but unfortunately unless I win free lift tickets again, it will probably be my last.

Although the mountain's snow quality was actually OK for an East Coast resort - a little icy in spots, but overall pretty firm and flaky due to the very cold temperature, the bigger problem that I have with the mountain is just lack of terrain. Bretton Woods just does not have the enough vertical drop. All of the runs are very short and the steep sections are even shorter. For example, in the "bump" runs I considered myself lucky to find more than four moguls in a row - just too short to really start having fun. I will give the resort props for all of the gladed terrain available (unfortunately much of it was closed due to lack of snow), although I am pretty sure that even this is not enough to get me to return at $64 per lift ticket.

So thanks again to WFNX for the free lift ticket and the chance to explore this new mountain. Hopefully we can do it again sometime.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Let's Get Serious

Charles Krathammer unloads on the President's ridiculous energy proposals in today's Washington Post. Krathammer makes compelling arguments for taxing gas, drilling for oil in the Arctic and outer continental shelf, and increasing use of nuclear power to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy. The problem is that all of these solutions have costs, which means that our politicians do not want to talk about them.

Guaranteeing access to energy is a compelling national interest. We need to start acting like we believe that by taking the tough steps necessary to decrease our reliance on foreign energy sources.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Skiing: Days 1 - 5

This pas week, I had the opportunity to travel to Vancouver, B.C. for some meetings at my company's headquarters. While there I spent five days skiing at Whistler. Both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains had fantastic conditions. I usually gripe about Whistler's wet snow, which tends to become very unless they constantly have new snow, but last week, even though they did not have a ton of new snow, the colder than usual temperature kept the snow soft and flaky.

My favorite runs on the Whistler side were the Whistler Bowl going into Shale Slope, and certain sections off the Harmony Lift. On the Blackcomb side, I liked the Sunburn run off the 7th Heaven lift, and especially Outer Limits, which is a steep gladed run that holds snow incredibly well.

State of the Union

After watching the President's State of the Union address last night, I think that the speech was pretty much at least a year too late.

The most positive aspect of the speech was the President's proposal to level the playing field on health insurance by making health insurance premiums tax deductible and making employer provided health insurance a taxable benefit. Where was this proposal last year? The Wall Street Journal editorial page has been talking about this reform for the better part of the last decade. Of course now that the democrats control congress this proposal has just about zero chance of passing. This smacks of building up an electoral issue instead of trying to improve our nation's laws.

Perhaps the most depressing domestic policy proposal was the President's approach on reducing gasoline consumption by 20%. I do not necessary disagree with the goal, but setting increased fuel efficient standards and requiring the use of more ethanol is nothing more than a heavy handed way for government to regulate the markets. The sight of all the farm state congressmen whopping it up when the President mentioned increasing ethanol use disgusted me because we could easily increase ethanol use by just reducing the tariffs on sugar or ethanol produced by sugar as I have mentioned before. But these guys don't want that. They want the government to require consumers to buy more expensive corn produced ethanol from their constituents. Talk about mafia government...

And while were are on the subject: earmarks. The president's goal is to cut them in half this year. Please. Why not cut them to zero. How hard is that? Oh but then all the lobbyists would have to schlep off to 50 state capitals to make their money. We couldn't have that now could we.

On the Iraq war, I am certainly not happy with the situation, but it is just too important to lose. Any kind of significant US withdraw this year, next year, or probably for the next five years will likely cause even more chaos in the region. We have to stabilize that country. So I am willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt and give his plan a chance to succeed. Nonetheless, why didn't we "plus up" last year or the year before that?

On net I thought the speech was OK, but would have been better if the president had delivered it last year when he actually had congressional support.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sullivan vs. Harris

Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris debate if anyone can rationally hold religious beliefs. Harris says no, while Sullivan says yes. Readers of this blog know that I am certainly partial to Sullivan's position and I think that Andrew makes a strong case for belief in both religion and logic.

Without trying to jump too much into the middle of this debate, it seems that Harris' downfall here is trying to make the perfect the enemy of the good. In his latest post Harris states:
The bottom line is that this pope, and all his predecessors (and you, apparently) believe that the Bible is a magic book: that it was not authored by human beings, however brilliant, but by some supernatural force.
This just is not the case as the following quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear. Paragraphs 80 - 82 of the Catechism illustrates the relationship between sacred scripture and apostolic tradition:

One common source. . .
"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal." Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own "always, to the close of the age".
. . . two distinct modes of transmission
"Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."
"And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."
As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."

So this "magic book" not the sole basis for the Church's beliefs. For this reason the faithful must constantly struggle to interpret scriptures in a search for truth. We must constantly try to rectify scripture with tradition and our own experience. Paragraphs 107 - 110 describe the nature of sacred scripture and how Christians should use sacred scripture to augment their beliefs:
The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."
Still, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book." Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living". If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the
eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."
In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.
In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in
prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression."

The Catechism goes on to describe the various methods that the faithful should use to interpret scripture. This of course goes to the heart of Harris' misunderstanding of faith, especially the type of faith, which I profess. We must base our faith not only on scripture but on the entire tradition of the church. This tradition, if completely captured in writing, would encompass an entire library and run into the millions of pages. Our current cannon, was an attempt by men, guided by the holy spirit, some 1700 years ago to distill that tradition into a manageable volume that contained the truth as they saw it. This human effort, while perhaps not foreseeing moral breakthroughs like the end of slavery, gave us a book which continues to inform us about the truth and made those breakthroughs possible.

I doubt that Andrew will ever convince Sam of the merits of Christianity through this debate, but he can certainly help to fortify the beliefs of his fellow Christians in an age where vivid fabric of moderate belief seems torn between one dimensional atheism and fundamentalism.

Good Luck Andrew!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gas Tax Proposal

Back in October Greg Mankiw published an article calling for a much higher gas tax. I am beginning to agree but for slightly different reasons. Though instead of just raising taxes, I would like to see the American people get something out of this that will improve the efficiency of government.

So here is my proposal: Keep the federal gas tax as is but eliminate the Federal Highway Trust Fund and instead dedicate the taxes to General Revenue.

This proposal removes the federal bureaucracy and federal legislature from funding decisions on highways, which are regarded as complete. I would like to return decision making for highway investment to state governments, who are closer to situation and thus able to make better decisions. Under this proposal states would not receive any highway funding from the federal government so they would be forced to find other alternatives such as raising their gas taxes or privatizing their highways along the Indiana Toll Road model.

The remaining federal gas taxes will fund the military expenditures that are increasingly necessary to guarantee the supply of oil from unstable regions like the middle east, which is a proper federal priority.

Our Federalist system calls for each state to look after its own interests and for the federal government to look after the interests of all of the states. Before we had completed the Interstate Highway System, road construction was a proper federal priority on national security grounds. As that system is now complete this proposal will serve to refocus federal attention on national security and refocus state and local attention on maintaining their roads.

The obvious problems with this proposal concern vested interests. The federal bureaucracy and legislature like the clout that come from telling the states how to spend money on roads and the State governments like to pass the buck to the federal government. Government at all levels needs to get serious about their proper priorities.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Surprise Surprise

A recent Business Week article is titled "Chavez Moves Venezuela Toward Socialism." Yup. That's about right.

It turns out the Chavez plans to nationalize electricity production. This is really discouraging news from Venezuela since it is just going to further exacerbate the condition of that nation's poor. Any foreign oil company would be very foolish to invest on dime in Venezuela as long as Chavez is at the helm, which will mean that cutting edge technology in oil production will not be available. So although it looks like some US companies are going to take a haircut on their holdings, but the ultimate looses are going to be Venezuelans who are going to be further cut off from foreign investment.

Notre Dame in Uganda

For the next week, Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, is touring Uganda with a group from Notre Dame. You can keep track of their progress on Father John's Website. They have some great pictures including some pictures of the ordination of some local CSC deacon candidates. Good luck to Father John and the rest of the group on their journey!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Lori's Blog

My wife Lori now has her blog up and running! Make sure to check out Life According to Lori!