Friday, December 29, 2006

Classical's next generation gets harder to reach

By MARC FISHER, Washington Post
First published: Thursday, December 28, 2006

WASHINGTON -- As a Chicago second-grader, Christopher O'Riley was listening to the radio one day and happened upon a concerto played by violinist Jascha Heifetz. Drawn to the sound like a moth to the light, the boy dug into his communion money and bought himself an FM radio.
Now O'Riley is 50, a concert pianist who is perhaps better known as the Pied Piper of young American classical performers. As host of "From the Top" -- the weekly radio show that gives promising teenagers the chance to show their musical chops -- O'Riley plays the roles of Art Linkletter, Johnny Carson and Garrison Keillor, all wrapped up in an on-air persona that owes as much to Jim Carrey as to Leonard Bernstein.

But the kind of happenstance that led O'Riley to the love of his life is rapidly becoming nearly impossible for today's young music explorers.

For example, "From the Top," which is produced for public radio, aired in Washington on WETA (90.9 FM) until that station dropped classical music two years ago. The show moved to the city's commercial classical station, WGMS (104.1 FM), but now its format is about to vanish from the airwaves, with the station becoming Redskins owner Dan Snyder's fourth sports-talk outlet in the Washington area. Locally, the show airs at 5 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday on WMHT (89.1)

As school systems cut back on arts classes, music instruction and classical music, O'Riley's eight-year-old show fights against the tide, presenting the classics as a form of achievement as accessible as a great college sports game.

Despite O'Riley's rejection of an elitist tone on the show, he is also adamant that the music not be dumbed-down, as he far too often finds it is in the ever-narrowing spaces for classical music in the mass media.

On "From the Top," you hear young people diving into contemporary compositions, a Japanese work for the marimba, a 20th-century piece for trombone.

The point is that O'Riley and the kids who appear on his show get a blast out of smashing through categories, even as they eagerly try to introduce the classics to an audience that knows far too little about the music that has lasted for centuries. And too often, O'Riley finds that one of the most difficult obstacles to category-busting is the nature of the radio business.

"When we started 'From the Top,' the original idea was to cross genres, to include bluegrass and a jazz quintet from New York," he says. "But when we shipped the pilot shows to classical stations, they said, 'If you have one minute of jazz or bluegrass, you're off, because we're a classical station.' "

Even if radio remains strictly segregated by genre, the pianist has no intention of adopting the business' tunnel vision. O'Riley, who lives in Ohio with his fiancee, has an album of Nick Drake tunes coming out in the spring.

But he worries that young people have few points of entry into classical music. Despite the seemingly infinite array of pop and rock music available to share on the Web, there remains an odd paucity of classical music to download. The kids who appear on "From the Top" have generally gotten into the classics because the music was available in their homes. "Usually it's some 2-year-old who just started to pound on the keys of the piano, or it's someone being brought to an orchestra concert and seeing the flute and saying, 'That's me!' " O'Riley says.

That moment of discovery rarely arrives on the Internet because listeners have to know what they're looking for; rather, he says, it is still radio that provides that introduction that can alter the course of a young life. So O'Riley finds himself angry that so many radio stations have dropped classical music, including his show, to focus exclusively on news and talk. Some stations made a show of telling listeners that they were holding on to the popular "From the Top," only to tuck away the show in a 5 a.m. Sunday time slot.

O'Riley says some public stations across the country remain committed to intelligent and local classical programming. And in a handful of cities that no longer have public stations that play music, it's the commercial classical stations that have adopted "From the Top," partly to help seed the next generation's love for the music.

Several of those commercial stations run the show without ads, O'Riley says. "They're doing it because they want it on their schedule."

In the spring, "From the Top" expands to TV, with a 13-part series on PBS, with guests such as soprano Dawn Upshaw, violinist Joshua Bell and genre-bending banjo player Bela Fleck.

On TV and on the radio, O'Riley is searching for the right blend of fun and serious music-making.

"The music is great because it has always been great, not because someone says your SAT scores are going to go up if you listen," O'Riley says. "It's about the pursuit of excellence, in the same way that Andre Agassi is so good at his craft. Notice no one ever says he's elitist."

From the Top airs on XM Satellite Radio's Channel 133 on Sundays at 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.; and on the show's Web site,

Sunday, December 24, 2006

American Idol
New York Times

Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.
By Barack Obama.
375 pp. Crown Publishers. $25.

In a more perfect world, a graduate program complete with a doctoral thesis might be required of all those seeking the presidency. In certain ways, “The Audacity of Hope” qualifies as Senator Barack Obama’s thesis submission. While exhibiting his leadership attributes, life experiences and personal qualities, largely in anecdotal form, this book also displays reasonably wide and thoughtful, if occasionally predictable, responses to domestic controversies and underscores that in his brief time as the junior senator from Illinois, he has been exposed to conflicts in the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.

The self-portrait is appealing. It presents a man of relative youth yet maturity, a wise observer of the human condition, a figure who possesses perseverance and writing skills that have flashes of grandeur. Obama also demonstrates a wry sense of humor. His life has given him many reasons to be wry.

The senator is a global man for the age of globalization, and his story is now familiar. A Kansas mother, a Kenyan father, an Indonesian stepfather, and years growing up in the disparate places of Hawaii and Indonesia marked him for distinction the moment he walked through the doors of the United States Senate, and provided him with a unique prism through which to view the glory and the folly of American politics.

Obama disarmingly admits to ambition, “chronic restlessness” and envy of more successful younger politicians. Before rolling the dice on a risky Senate race, he had begun to harbor doubts about his choice of career, and suggests here that he went through at least some of “the stages prescribed by the experts”: “denial, anger ... despair.” And, in a particularly Tolstoyan moment, he confesses to “acceptance” of “my mortality.” He listened to countless people’s stories and came to a Roosevelt-like epiphany: “Government should help.” He laments the loss of a shared civic language and the widening gap between the myth of American life and its reality, and he devotes this book to the discovery of “a new kind of politics” and “civic life,” to “the notion of a common good.” He specifically refuses to offer “a manifesto for action, complete with ... 10-point plans.”

Confessing guilt at being “insufficiently balanced” in his political views — “I am a Democrat, after all” — Obama insists that “government has an important role in opening up opportunity to all”; he also believes in “the free market, competition and entrepreneurship.” He suspects that some of his views — his open-mindedness on social issues, for example, combined with economic traditionalism — will cause him trouble. His relative newness on the political scene, he admits, will also cause him to be seen as a “blank screen” on which a variety of people will project their own views, but he then quickly acknowledges that he must “avoid the pitfalls of fame.”

Given his recent media exposure, Obama would be well advised to follow his own counsel in this regard. “Precisely because I’ve watched the press cast me in a light that can be hard to live up to,” he writes, “I am mindful of how rapidly that process can work in reverse.” The media age has been known, as he wisely recognizes, to devour what it doth create.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A little canine can-do spirit and the value of capitalism
Linda Seebach
Linda Seebachis an editorialwriterfor the Rocky Mountain News. She can be reached by telephone at (303)954-2519or by e-mailat

Too late for Christmas delivery perhaps, but if you were thinking about a special something for your canine companion, how about a stylish new place for him to stay while you’re not home?

I was snowed in Thursday, and thus happened to run into my next-door neighbors, Scot and Heather Korth, when they came back from taking their dogs out. (People were skiing on my unplowed street, they said. It was sensible of me to stay in.) So we got to talking, as neighbors do when they’re not going anywhere, and Scot happened to tell me about the crates he had designed and built for their two dogs to stay in while he and Heather are gone during the day. And he invited me in to have a look.

See, our condo units are nice, but they’re small. Having two standard-issue dog crates — the kind you see in airports — shoved into a corner or pushed up against a wall does not add to the effectiveness of the decor. So Scot made some that double as furniture.

He and Heather use one as an end table next to the sofa in the living room, and two as nightstands. They’re basically cubes, made of acrylic panels cut with a laser, with laser-cut air holes and one side that slides up and down or locks in place if you prefer so the dog is free to come and go.

You can see Owen, the pug, next to his daytime home at online.

I’m not much for dogs, though Owen and Sammy seem nice enough, but this is pretty nifty. You can order the acrylic in a number of different colors to fit your home’s color scheme and, if you like, you can even order the air holes in a design of your own choosing; say an elegant F for Fido. And if I hadn’t already known this was furniture for dogs, I would probably not have given it a second glance. It just looks like furniture.

Well, not like my furniture, which is mostly thirdhand attic from the house I grew up in, but it would fit in almost anywhere.

However, I wouldn’t have bothered to tell you this little homegrown story except that it is nifty in another very important way. Here are a couple of people who improvised a solution to a space problem they share with many urban dwellers who live in small spaces. They have a company. They have a Web page. They have access to sophisticated materials and the tools to work them. They can fill custom orders and ship them anywherein the lower 48 (though they’ll deliver and install in and around Denver). They take PayPal. They even offer accessories.

And it’s all no fuss, no bother. Like them, anybody with a plausible idea can start a company, and you don’t have to wait months and pay a fortune in bribes as is the case in many poor countries. And of course that is part of the reason they’re poor.

As some readers will know, I started a business in 1972 to print and sell parts catalogs and shop manuals for Studebakers and Packards (yes, we had permission from the company). You might think that is a rather specialized economic niche, and that’s true, but worldwide, there was no one else occupying it. We even did a respectableamount of export sales, in part to Australia because, I was told, you could leave cars to your heirs there free of inheritance tax. An immaculately restored classic Packard could easily be worth six figures, and besides, you got to drive around in it before it became part of your estate.

We incorporated the business, I don’t remember exactly when, but basically we filled out a one-page form and sent the Minnesota secretary of state a dollar. We hired teenagers after school to assemble books (we paid above the minimum wage) and in 1976 we hired our first full-time employee and moved the presses out of our basement and into cheap space in a rickety hotel in downtown Northfield.

We sold the business to one of our employees in 1986, because we were going to China for a year. He later went on to other things as well, but somebody took over the printing and if you want the books, you can still buy them online. That means 30 years of full-time employment for somebody and a good deal of part-time work as well. Not a lot? No, but there are millions of specialized businesses, and taken together they are a significant part of the economy.

No central planner would ever have planned my business, or Scot and Heather’s designer dog crates, so they just wouldn’t have happened. That’s why, I believe, central planning has never worked and never will.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I wrote this letter to the editor of the Denver Post
this morning:

RE: Denver has fewer bulldozers, more snow.

Thanks for the very informative article on this big,
big problem.

I've lived in Denver for nearly all of the last 58 years.
Denver never shut down like this for big snow storms.
City services clearly have not kept up with our growth.

From what I can gather, while Mayor Hickenlooper
should have been planning for snow removal, he
was planning how to get homeless kids sleds.

Same thing as with the elections. The new art
museum is a disaster. The problems with the
justice center, the homeless, it goes on and on.

When is someone going to start a campaign
for mayor and look beyond the Hickenlooper PR?
What is really happening in Denver? Isn't that
why we have elections?

The election is next May. It would be a great
service to the city if one of our experienced
leaders would stand up now and help us wake up
to the fact that this Mayor wears no clothes.

John Wren
960 Grant St. #727
Denver CO 80203

My letter was in response to this front page article today:

The scoop: Denver trails big cities in bulldozers but not in snowfall
By Chris Frates Denver Post Staff Writer

Denver has far fewer snowplows per mile of road than Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit and New York, despite getting more annual snowfall than any of those cities.

Each Denver snowplow driver would have to drive about 70 miles to clear the city’s 5,000 lane miles. That’s more mileage per driver than the four other cities combined.

As Denver residents stayed home by the thousands Thursday because of impassable streets, the city’s 71 snow movers worked nonstop to bring life back to a mostly deserted downtown...

History of the 12 Days of Christmas

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality, which the children could remember.

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

Two turtledoves were the Old and New Testaments .

Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit-Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit-Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.

The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles' Creed.

I hope you and your family and friends have a very Merry Christmas! John

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Robert H. and Beverly A. Deming Center for Entrepreneurship has won the 2006 Award for Excellence in Specialty Entrepreneurship Education from the National Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers.
The center was cited for its Sustainable Venturing Initiative, which advances programs that educate students, support innovators, acknowledge cutting-edge research and showcase emerging opportunities in the clean-technology and renewable-energy sectors.

From the Denver Post, 1/21/06

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The recent 2006 Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference, organized by the school's Entrepreneurship Club, the issue of what makes a successful entrepreneur, inviting a group of entrepreneurs to discuss their backgrounds and business philosophies and offer advice to those interested in taking the plunge.

Raffi Amit, academic director of Wharton's Goergen Entrepreneurial Management Programs, set the tone for the discussion by noting that academic research has debunked much of the conventional wisdom about entrepreneurs.

"There's a myth that entrepreneurs have special traits that distinguish them from other people," he said. "But research shows no unique characteristics. There's a myth that entrepreneurs are risk takers. But research has shown that they try to manage risk. They outsource it where they can. And there's a myth that entrepreneurs have some sort of secret method that they can apply to venture after venture. But many second-time entrepreneurs fail."


***When you graduate is as good a time as you'll see to start a business. The negative is you're broke. But the positive is you're broke, so you've got nothing to lose.

***"The more wealth and prestige you accumulate, the more risk averse you become.

***"There's too much emphasis today on venture capital as a funding source. Historically, most businesses are funded using friends and family, credit cards, Small Business Administration loans and second mortgages. Very few companies are venture backed. One entrepreneur shared he started his business with $25,000 in credit card debt.

***Venture capital makes sense for very few companies. When you're in something that requires a lot of money to start or where time-to-market is critical, then maybe it makes sense.

***Did anyone ever notice how rich VCs are? That money comes at your expense if you're an entrepreneur who is financed by VCs.

*** Before turning to venture capital try to tap personal savings, debt, angel investments, government loans and grants and even financing from potential vendors and customers. One entrepreneur increased her student loans to start her business.

***Another pitfall for aspiring entrepreneurs is spending too much time thinking about all the gee-whiz features they might add to their products. Instead, they should bang out prototypes and put them in consumers' hands as quickly as possible. Remember the KISS rule: 'Keep It Simple, Stupid. Give your product to your mom. Can she use it without any problems? Then you're ready to go.

***"Fail early and learn. Once a company starts attracting customers, many of the other obstacles facing new ventures, like finding investors, will begin to work themselves out.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

On this day in 1903 the Wright Brothers flew the 1st powered aircraft.

Who Americans Are and What They Do, in Census Data
New York Times

Americans drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water per person in 2004 — about 10 times as much as in 1980. We consumed more than twice as much high fructose corn syrup per person as in 1980 and remained the fattest inhabitants of the planet, although Mexicans, Australians, Greeks, New Zealanders and Britons are not too far behind.

At the same time, Americans spent more of their lives than ever — about eight-and-a-half hours a day — watching television, using computers, listening to the radio, going to the movies or reading.

This eclectic portrait of the American people is drawn from the 1,376 tables in the Census Bureau’s 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, the annual feast for number crunchers that is being served up by the federal government today…

… since 2000 the number of hobby and athletic nonprofit associations has risen while the number of labor unions, fraternities and fan clubs has declined.
“The large master trend here is that over the last hundred years, technology has privatized our leisure time,” said Robert D. Putnam, a public policy professor at Harvard and author of “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”

“The distinctive effect of technology has been to enable us to get entertainment and information while remaining entirely alone,” Mr. Putnam said. “That is from many points of view very efficient. I also think it’s fundamentally bad because the lack of social contact, the social isolation means that we don’t share information and values and outlook that we should.”

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The art of the yearly Christmas missive

Garrison Keillor
TribuneMedia Services

I love reading Christmas newsletters in which the writer bursts the bonds of modesty and comes forth with one gilt-edged paragraph after another:

“Tara was top scorer on the Lady Cougars soccer team and won the lead role in the college production of Antigone, which by the way they are performing in the original Greek. Her essay on chaos theory as an investment strategy will be in the next issue of Fortune magazine, the same week she’ll appear as a model in Vogue. How she does what she does and still makes Phi Beta Kappa is a wonderment to us all. And, yes, she is still volunteering at the homelessshelter.”

I get a couple dozen Christmas letters a year, and I sit and read them in my old bathrobe as I chow down on Hostess Twinkies.

Everyone in the letters is busy as beavers, piling up honors hand over fist, volunteeringup a storm, traveling to Beijing, Abu Dhabi and Antarctica; nobody is in treatment or depressed or flunking out of school, though occasionally there is a child who gets shorter shrift.

“Chad is adjusting well to his new school and making friends. He especially enjoys the handicrafts.” How sad for Chad. There he is in reform school learning to get along with other little felons and making belts and birdhouses, but he can’t possibly measure up to the goddess Tara. Or Lindsay or Meghan or Madison, each of whom is also stupendous.

This is rough on us whose children are not paragons. Most children aren’t. A great many teenage children go through periods when they loathe you and go around slamming doors and playing psychotic music and saying things like “I wish I had never been born,” which is a red-hot needle stuck under your fingernail. One must be very selective when writing about them for the annual newsletter: “Sean is becoming very much his own person and is unafraid to express himself. He is a lively presence in our family and his love of music is a thing to behold.”

I come from Minnesota, where it’s considered shameful to be shameless, where modesty is always in fashion, where self-promotion is looked at askance. Give us a gold trophy and we will have it bronzed so you won’t think that we think we’re special. There are no Donald Trumps in Minnesota: We strangled them all in their cribs. A football player who likes to do his special dance after scoring a touchdown is something of a freak.

The basis of modesty is winter. When it’s 10 below zero and the wind is whipping across the tundra, there is no such thing as stylish and smart, and everybody’s nose runs. And the irony is, if you’re smart and stylish, nobody will tell you about your nose. You look in the rearview mirror and you see a gob of green snot hanging from your left nostril and you wonder, “How long have I been walking around like that? Is that why all those people were smiling at me?” Yes, it is. So we don’t toot our own horns.

We can be rather ostentatious in our modesty and can deprecate faster than you can complimentus. We are averse to flattery. We just try to focus on keeping our noses clean. So here is my Christmas letter:

"Dear friends, We are getting older but are in fairly good shape and moving forward insofar as we can tell. We still drink strong coffee and read the paper and drive the same old cars. We plan to go to Norway next summer. We think that this war is an unmitigated disaster that will wind up costing a trillion dollars and we worry for our country.

"Our child enjoys her new school and is making friends. She was a horsie in the churchChristmas pageant and hunkered down beside the manger and seemed to be singing when she was supposed to. We go on working and hope to be adequate to the challenges of the coming year but are by no means confident.

"It’s winter. God is around here somewhere but does not appear to be guiding our government at the moment. Nonetheless we persist. We see kindness all around us and bravery and we are cheered by the good humor of young people. The crabapple tree over the driveway is bare, but we have a memory of pink blossoms and expect them to return. God bless you all."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to strength. William James

Businesses You Can Start For Under $5,000
Mary Crane, 12.04.06, Forbes Online

Eight years ago, Texas resident Cynthia Ivie, a 43-year-old sales rep for Newsweek, struck out for Chicago with no more than a business idea and a 1989 Toyota Corolla packed with clothes, books, a vacuum cleaner, a stereo and a cocker spaniel named Buckley. Ivie's big moneymaking idea: organizing the apartments and offices of busy people.

Today, Ivie's company, White Space, offers "clutter control" services to hundreds of clients across the country, many of them recently relocated by big companies like the Walt Disney Co. and Exelon. White Space now has five full-time and eight part-time employees; Ivie expects revenues to top $1 million in 2007. "I knew the business would take off if I could survive long enough," she says. "I had a lot of gumption--and probably a little naiveté that kept me going."
Gumption, naiveté and very little cash. Ivie couldn't afford a cellphone, so she bought a pager and a voicemail system for $200--"I knew where every pay phone in Chicago was," she claims--and scraped together another $1,000 for brochures and business cards. For six months, she slept on a futon mattress in her friend's basement. Eventually, she moved into her own home office, outfitted with two hand-me-down computers ($107) and two desks made out of hollow-core doors laid across cheap file cabinets ($20) from Office Depot. Total startup costs: around $1,500, including gas.

There are plenty of Ivies out there. And a lot them didn't have--or need--gobs of green to launch their businesses.

In Pictures: Nine Businesses You Can Start For Under $5,000
Indeed, there are myriad ways to preserve precious cash while starting and building a business. Our special report, called "Small Business On The Cheap," offers plenty of helpful tips--from slashing marketing costs and telecom bills to cutting health care bills and travel expenses.
Like Ivie, fledgling entrepreneurs can save a bundle by selling services rather than products. "It's really hard to start any product-based business for under $5,000," says Richard Stim, co-author of Whoops! I'm in Business: A Crash Course In Business Basics with Lisa Guerin. In general, he says, there is less overhead for service-based businesses, which don't require large outlays for equipment and inventory.

The best services to choose from are those that people don't want to do themselves. Think yard work or preparing legal documents. Educational services such as teaching yoga, ballroom dancing or how to take the SATs are attractive, too. Better, still, if you can help people avoid or solve a problem--say, by inspecting homes for water quality or environmental safety.
There are some startup costs, of course. But when it comes to service businesses, the nice thing is that many don't require expensive technology, save for maybe a computer and an Internet connection. If you want to start a child-care facility, for instance, you'll want to spend a few dollars on toys and perhaps some childproof locks.

In some cases, as with child-care providers or real estate agents, you may need a state license or other certifications to set up shop. Child-care licenses run up to $100, depending on the state; you'll also have to be certified in first aid and CPR (maybe $50 all in) and you'll need some liability insurance (say, $450 per year).

A service startup's biggest expense is probably marketing, be it printing brochures and business cards or placing ads in local newspapers. (Check out VistaPrint, which specializes in low-volume runs for smaller shops.) Setting up a blog can be a cheap way to get your message out, and it's a lot less expensive than maintaining a Web site.

The best--and cheapest--advertising, however, is word of mouth. Offering free initial consultation meetings is a good way to get people talking. When Ivie landed in Chicago, she sent postcards to 30 local business people, promising three hours of organization services for free. "People snapped it up, tried the services, liked them, referred me to other people and the business started to grow," she says.

In smaller markets, getting on friendly terms with the competition also can be good for business. If one piano teacher has too many students, she might sluice the spillover to you.
Whatever you do, though, remember to be patient. "If you're looking to get rich quick, forget about it," says Stim. "Instead, try to make a profit, enjoy what you're doing and make it something that can keep going and going."
Learning to Keep Learning
New York Times 12/13/06
(This is why the IDEA Cafe and Franklin Circles are important. John Wren)

I recently attended an Asia Society education seminar in Beijing, during which we heard Chinese educators talk about their “new national strategy.” It’s to make China an “innovation country” — with enough indigenous output to advance China “into the rank of innovation-oriented countries by 2020,” as Shang Yong, China’s vice minister of science and technology, put it.

I listened to this with mixed emotions. Part of me said: “Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a government that was so focused on innovation — instead of one that is basically anti-science.” My other emotion was skepticism. Oh, you know the line: Great Britain dominated the 19th century, America dominated the 20th and now China is going to dominate the 21st. It’s game over.

Sorry, but I am not ready to cede the 21st century to China yet.

No question, China has been able to command an impressive effort to end illiteracy, greatly increasing its number of high school grads and new universities. But I still believe it is very hard to produce a culture of innovation in a country that censors Google — which for me is a proxy for curtailing people’s ability to imagine and try anything they want. You can command K-12 education. But you can’t command innovation. Rigor and competence, without freedom, will take China only so far. China will have to find a way to loosen up, without losing control, if it wants to be a truly innovative nation.

But while China can’t thrive without changing a lot more, neither can we. Ask yourself this: If the Iraq war had not dominated our politics, what would our last election have been about? It would have been about this question: Why should any employer anywhere in the world pay Americans to do highly skilled work — if other people, just as well educated, are available in less developed countries for half our wages?

If we can’t answer this question, in an age when more and more routine work can be digitized, automated or offshored, including white-collar work, “it is hard to see how, over time, we are going to be able to maintain our standard of living,” says Marc Tucker, who heads the National Center on Education and the Economy.

There is only one right answer to that question: In a globally integrated economy, our workers will get paid a premium only if they or their firms offer a uniquely innovative product or service, which demands a skilled and creative labor force to conceive, design, market and manufacture — and a labor force that is constantly able to keep learning. We can’t go on lagging other major economies in every math/science/reading test and every ranking of Internet penetration and think that we’re going to field a work force able to command premium wages. Freedom, without rigor and competence, will take us only so far.

Tomorrow, Mr. Tucker’s organization is coming out with a report titled “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” which proposes a radical overhaul of the U.S. education system, with one goal in mind: producing more workers — from the U.P.S. driver to the software engineer — who can think creatively.

“One thing we know about creativity is that it typically occurs when people who have mastered two or more quite different fields use the framework in one to think afresh about the other,” said Mr. Tucker. Thus, his report focuses on “how to make that kind of thinking integral to every level of education.”

That means, he adds, revamping an education system designed in the 1900s for people to do “routine work,” and refocusing it on producing people who can imagine things that have never been available before, who can create ingenious marketing and sales campaigns, write books, build furniture, make movies and design software “that will capture people’s imaginations and become indispensable for millions.”

That can’t be done without higher levels of reading, writing, speaking, math, science, literature and the arts. We have no choice, argues Mr. Tucker, because we have entered an era in which “comfort with ideas and abstractions is the passport to a good job, in which creativity and innovation are the key to the good life” and in which the constant ability to learn how to learn will be the only security you have.

Economics is not like war. It can be win-win. We, China, India and Europe can all flourish. But the ones who flourish most will be those who develop the best broad-based education system, to have the most people doing and designing the most things we can’t even imagine today. China still has to make some very big changes to get there — but so do we.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Both newspapers have been featuring articles about the high cost of political campaigns in Colorado and the negative impact of the 527 committees. So I wrote this letter to the editor and sent it to several newspapers this morning:The long-run solution to high-cost campaigning is a return toshoe-leather, door-to-door organizing in every neighborhood
by each of our major political parties. We saved the Colorado
neighborhood caucus in 2002 with the defeat of Amendment 29,
now we need to start using it.If our state party chairs get serious about the 2008 Colorado Neighborhood Caucus,
Presidential campaigns will finance our efforts, just as they have in Iowa wherethey spent an average of $40 per caucus attendee in 2004 Iowa Caucus.How to get involved? First, call the major party of your choice
(Democrats 303-623-4762, Republicans 303-758-3333) or call
them both, then pick the one that best fits you.

Then go to Scott Heiferman's, search on the political party
or presidential candidate of your choice, and attend the Meetup nearest you.
You'll meet people who want to make the parties more responsive to
the grassroots, and who can answer your questions about how to organize
your neighborhood and participate in the 2008 neighborhood caucus.Let's save our neighborhoods by increasing the informed participationin our March, 2008 caucuses in the 3,000 neighborhoods acrossthe state by each of us pressuring our party to promote the 2008 caucus
and spending 2 hours a week helping in our own neighborhoods.

John Wren
960 Grant Street
Denver 80203
cell (720)495-4949

John Wren helped organize Save the Caucus which defeated the 2002 Amendment 29
which would have killed the neighborhood caucus, and he is the founder of the new
Denver Republican Meetup which will next meet
this coming Thursday, December 14 at noon, Panara Bread, 13th & Grant.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Eve and Mary are the models of the right way and the wrong way to start a new project, business, campaign or career.

Eve listened to the snake and ate from the Tree of Knowledge. This is the SBA approach to startup, the venture capital model, formal market research and strategic planning. Dr. Amar Bhide has found that successful businesses just don't start this way.

Mary was inspired and said yes to the birth of Jesus. This is the aha! of startup, the I in our IDEA model. For more see

To see more about Eve and Mary:

Monday, December 04, 2006

…the baby boom generation… is expected to reshape the way Americans think of retirement. Many will seek re-education over the next few years as they retool to take on second careers.

A 2005 survey conducted for Merrill Lynch by Harris Interactive found that 76 percent of baby boomers plan to keep working and earning in retirement.

"As a result of living longer, this generation plans to be 'younger' longer and work longer. Most boomers will stop working for pay and retire in the traditional sense at some point. However, that phase is more likely to begin in the late 60s, than at age 60 or 65," according to the study.

From: Denver Post Article Today (12/4/06): Baby Boomers Rething Retirement

Merrill Lynch Retirement Study

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Liberal zillionaires buying Colorado politics
NATIONAL REVIEW, December 4, 2006The Color PurpleHow liberal millionaires are buying Colorado’s politicsBy John J. Miller

When Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave votes on abortion, she votes pro-life — always. The National Right to Life Committee has given the Colorado Republican a top rating during her two terms in the House, and in truth her pro-life record stretches back even farther, to her days in the state legislature. “I’m 100 percent pro-life,” she says.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when a group calling itself Coloradans for Life launched an expensive ad war against Musgrave this fall. One radio spot even claimed that she had “turned her back on the unborn.” The charge was provocative; it was also utter nonsense. “This is a cynical political ploy to trick pro-life citizens into casting a vote against their conscience,” warned Colorado Right to Life president Brian Rohrbough in a statement.

Despite its name and rhetoric, Coloradans for Life sought to exploit the pro-life movement rather than advance it. Although several Republicans faced challenges this year from at least nominally pro-life Democrats, Musgrave did not: Her opponent, Angie Paccione, supports abortion rights. Yet Coloradans for Life targeted Musgrave and spent enormous sums against her. In late October, the Fort Collins Coloradoan estimated that the organization would devote at least $2.3 million to defeating Musgrave — more than Paccione’s entire campaign budget. “It’s just amazing to me,” says Musgrave. “Why can’t these people stand up and fight fair?”

On Election Day, Musgrave overcame the wave that drowned so many of her colleagues and cost the GOP its majority: She nipped Paccione by 3.5 points. Many of her fellow Colorado Republicans weren’t so lucky. For the second election in a row, Democrats made major gains in the state: They won the governorship, prevailed in a GOP-held congressional district, and picked up seats in the state legislature.

National trends certainly had something to do with it. At the heart of this accomplishment, however, lies a well-funded plot to transform Colorado from Republican red to Democratic blue. The creative use of extra-party organizations such as Coloradans for Life to shade the state purple is a strategy that the Left may decide to imitate elsewhere.

Just four years ago, Republicans were riding high in the Rockies: Gov. Bill Owens was reelected by a huge margin, both senators were Republican, and so were five of the seven members of Colorado’s House delegation. The GOP also controlled the state legislature.
Today, the situation is rather different. Not only is Colorado’s governor-elect Bill Ritter a Democrat, but so are one of its senators (Ken Salazar) and four of its seven incoming House members. Democrats also hold majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. “They’re on a roll,” says John Andrews, the former Republican head of the state senate.
There are plenty of explanations for this sea change. Demography is one of them: A growing Hispanic population leans Democratic, and a small wave of Californians has moved into Colorado and imported the west coast’s liberal politics.

Some will describe Colorado’s political reversal as the result of Western libertarians’ rejecting social conservatism. Yet that interpretation has its limits. This November, voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and rejected a referendum that would have created domestic partnerships for gays.

Many conservatives blame the GOP’s woes on its complacency. “Republicans are getting the comeuppance they deserve,” says Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute, a think tank based in Golden, Colo. When Republicans controlled the state government, they made progress in several areas — tax cuts, charter schools, public-school accountability — but they also presided over the weakening of an amendment to the state constitution that had checked the growth of government.

A large number of Republicans believe that their hard times ultimately come down to a single factor: money. “We haven’t seen anything like this before,” says Katy Atkinson, a longtime GOP consultant. “The money factor is absolutely enormous.” The problem began in 2002, when the voters approved a new campaign-finance law that gave unions a big edge in raising and distributing funds. It continued two years later, as wealthy liberals poured resources into “527” groups, unregulated campaign organizations named after a section of the tax code.

Only Florida and Ohio saw more 527 spending in 2004 than Colorado did, according to one estimate. The Rocky Mountain News calculated that Democrats raised $4 million for friendly 527s, compared with $2.9 million raised by Republicans, but GOP operatives believe the difference was much larger. “We think that they outspent us by three to one or four to one,” says Alan Philp of the Trailhead Group, a Republican 527 that was created to fight back. “It’s hard to know for sure because the law doesn’t require much transparency.” The only certainty is that Colorado’s political mechanics are totally different from just a few years ago.

Three millionaire liberals are working the state’s electoral levers. “They’re trying to buy the political structure of the state,” says Governor Owens. “Everywhere we look, we see their money and their resources.” The ringleader is Tim Gill, the founder of Quark, a software firm; over the last decade, he has donated tens of millions to gay and lesbian causes.

His political activism dates back to 1992, when Colorado voters amended the state constitution to restrict certain gay-rights laws. “Nothing can compare to the psychological trauma of realizing that more than half the people in your state believe that you don’t deserve equal rights,” he once told the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Gill’s allies are heiress Pat Stryker and dotcom entrepreneur Jared Polis. “If you were to put a gun to the head of most Democrats, they couldn’t tell you who their state chairman is,” says one Colorado insider. “But they all know about these millionaires — each is like a mini–George Soros for Colorado.”

Two years ago, Ray Martinez learned firsthand what their money can do. He was a former police sergeant and a popular three-term mayor of Fort Collins. When a state senator retired in his district, he threw his hat in the ring. “We thought he would win easily,” says Owens. The district is home to about one-third more registered Republicans than Democrats. But then Colorado’s liberal millionaires swooped in, bankrolling slash-and-burn ads about Martinez. Many of them aired in Denver’s pricey TV market — an extravagance previously unheard of in state-senate races. “You know how you hear about elections that are bought? That’s what happened to me — my opponent’s election was bought,” says Martinez. “My campaign cost about $350,000, and the other side spent as much as $1.7 million against me.”

One commercial accused Martinez of bilking taxpayers through his mayoral expense account. Another savaged his views on abortion, with images suggesting that he likes to peek into bedroom windows. “That was such character assassination,” he says. “I’m pro-life. I was raised in an orphanage, adopted, and only recently did I discover that my birth mother was a rape victim and that I’ve got brothers and sisters. And they’re trying to portray me as a perverted Peeping Tom.” At one point during the race, Martinez enjoyed a double-digit lead in the polls. This soon vanished, and he lost. “Their lies worked,” he says.

This year, state representative Matt Knoedler, a Republican, came in for similar treatment when he challenged Democratic state senator Betty Boyd. Their race was billed as one of the most important in Colorado: “Control of the chamber probably hinges on the matchup,” wrote the Denver Post.

A 527 called Clear Peak Colorado — funded by six-figure donations from Gill and Stryker — came out swinging, in ads that accused Knoedler of weakness on immigration. “This is a complete lie,” complained Knoedler on his website. His supposed sin was to oppose a watered-down version of a bill to prevent illegal aliens from receiving certain public services. In fact, he backed a tougher version; he had also served on the staff of Congressman Tom Tancredo, a prominent supporter of immigration restriction. But the ad worked, and Knoedler lost the election by nearly 13 points.
The mini-Soroses of Colorado aren’t merely dabbling in elections — they’re building a permanent infrastructure. “We are finally realizing that how we win is by creating an environment of fear and respect,” boasted Gill adviser Ted Trimpa — described by one politico as “the Karl Rove of Colorado” — to the Bay Area Reporter, a gay newspaper in San Francisco, earlier this year.
They’ve established several websites, including, that have started to shape political coverage in the state. “I can’t tell you how often reporters would call 36 hours after something appeared there,” says Owens. They’ve also founded Colorado Media Matters, an offshoot of David Brock’s national group of left-wing watchdogs. It currently employs about a dozen people. “That’s more media critics than there are in the rest of the Colorado media combined,” says David Kopel of the Independence Institute. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal group that tries to publicize GOP scandals both real and fake, has a Colorado field office as well. Gill would even like to influence the GOP: He hired former Owens staffer and conservative-movement veteran Sean Duffy to work on the domestic-partnership referendum, and convinced Patrick Guerriero to resign as head of the Log Cabin Republicans in order to run the Gill Action Fund.
Given their incredible success over the last two election cycles, Colorado’s liberals are no doubt already looking forward to 2008. GOP senator Wayne Allard may retire. Even if he doesn’t, the battle for his seat will be one of the hardest-fought Senate contests in the country. Denver is a leading candidate to host the Democratic convention that year, and there will be a major push to deliver Colorado’s electoral votes to the party’s nominee.
Potentially more important is Gill’s determination to export the Colorado model. “If I can make a difference in Colorado, you can make a difference in your home state,” he said earlier this year in Miami, at a meeting of financial heavyweights in the gay-rights movement, according to the Rocky Mountain News. To liberals, that may sound like a hope. Conservatives should hear it as a threat.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Upside of Down: Leveraging Catastrophe for Positive Change

Date: 11/09/06

Speaker(s): Thomas Homer-Dixon, Director, Trudeau Centre for the Study of Peace and Conflict, University of Toronto at the World Affairs Council of Northern California.

Description: From the rise and fall of the Roman empire, to the devastation of the 9/11 attacks; from the slums of the megacities in Latin America and Asia, to ground zero of the SARS outbreak in Toronto and Hong Kong; we are, says Thomas Homer-Dixon, on course for breakdown. Simply managing our problems is no longer good enough. As population, energy, environmental, and economic stresses build in force deep underneath our societies, as our technologies grow more complex and interconnected, and as events in one place increasingly cause effects that cascade around the planet, major system failure becomes more likely. But rather than giving up in despair, we must embrace this possibility as an opportunity for revolutionary change. By adopting a "prospective mind" - a mindset adapted to constant surprise and instability - we can create something new from the unexpected, and something useful from turmoil and crisis.

These are my notes:

The Upside of Down, Thomas Homer-Dixon
Audio available at:

Crisis can lead to creativity. San Francisco earthquake and fire led to enormous creativity, creation of one of the most important institutions of the 21st century.

Thesis of the book: We (Humans) are in grave trouble, but there is great hope depending on how we respond. Two parts, diagnosis and prescription.

Diagnosis like peeling an onion.

First layer, what is the nature of the crisis. Crisis is overloading the adaptive mechanisms that have worked in the past. We tend to see the individual parts rather than the whole. Past examples of collapse, French, Russian revolutions, convergence of multiple overloads. It is like an earthquake, stress builds, released in catastrophic way.

Stresses of today:

1. Demographic stress. Not size per se, but fact that poor population growing while rich population is declining. Sets up flows of migrants.

2. Energy scarcity of the post-petroleum era, within two decades of peak global oil production. Peak in discovery was 1964, use has grown faster than new oil discovered ever since.

3. Local and regional environmental damage in developing countries. Erodes the institutional strength in these countries.

4. Climate change. Tipping point in the information from the scientific community on this in the last year or two. Concern that consequences of climate change is creating even more warming.

5. Economic imbalances, increasing gaps between the rich and the poor.

Two multipliers that make the force of these stresses greater:

A. Increasing connectivity of speed of materials and information, makes it more likely that we will see cascading failures. Similar to an accident in heavy traffic leading to chain accidents on freeways. It is not true that the more connectivity the better, can lead to cascade of calamity.

B. Power effect of new technology, especially computing power, gives individual enormous analytic and computing power. Unfortunately also growth of power to kill and destroy.

These 5X2 can lead to simultaneous failure that will affect the world. Europe oil shortage, climate shock could produce civil instability.

This is the first layer.

Second layer, energy essential for complex society and technology. We are going through an energy transition. EROI (Energy Return on Investment) declining. Was 100 to 1, now 17 to 1 in West Texas oil. As we move to 1-1 there is less energy available to solve complex problems.

Third layer:

Underlying problems that casuse all this, the dynamic of modern capitalism. At $15K or so of income per capita, more money doesn’t make us any happier, in fact lots of evidence that happiness may decline as income goes up. So why do we insist on maintaining growth?

Theory is that we need growth to absorb the unemployed that result from technological change, otherwise there will demand failure. Need 3 to 5% per year growth just to stay even, it is said.

So we may not be able to tech-fix our way out of the problem.

Conclusion of diagnosis:

We can’t predict the future. But a probability of breakdown, catastrophic collapse is rising fast. The future is going to be a volatile time. So what do we need to do?

1. Recognize that we may be able to bring about reform because of the breakdowns. Complex adaptive systems go through periods of growth, breakdown, and adaptation. takes place in market economies all the time, creative destruction. Social/ political systems don’t work like that, we get locked into a management paradigm of incrimentalism. We need to start thinking creatively about what we are going to do during moments of breakdown.

2. We shouldn’t be surprised by being surprised.

3. Increase the autonomy of units of production. Produce power locally with solar, geothermal. Produce food locally.

4. Increase resilience by loosening coupling. Create more space within systems so people have more time. Move away from things like just in time production.

Second part of prescription:

1. Start thinking about what we will do in crisis NOW. Non-extremists have to collectively solve the problem of what we are going to do in times of crisis. Discuss core values, develop plans for response, build social capitol, networks of trust and reciprocity.

2. Catagenisis, down birth, rebirth. San Francisco after the earthquake great example. Water system rebuild, parallel system for fire fighting. 1907 financial failure triggered. Led to the creation of the Federal Reserve System.

Little progress will be made with our greatest problems until our society experiences great shock. Moments of opportunity will occur, we have to be ready.


Q: No mention of religion. How does it fit in?

A: Who asked? Book has discussion of values and fundamentalism, they are related.

Rise and spread of fundamentalism is a dangerous think, people who want to substitute a creed for thinking. They are subject to being manipulated, being violent against other groups.

I advocate an expansive discussion of our values, utilitarian, moral, and existential.

We don’t have a sufficient conversation about what it is that we want. Consumer conversations fill up all the space. One of the most important crisis that we face.

Q: What about the aging and medical crisis?

A: Relates to the demographic trends. Rich areas have aging populations, poor have youth buldges. We are not effectively exploiting technological productivity gains.

We need growth to support pension systems, that is a challenge.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On this day in

1095 - On the last day of the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II appoints Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy and Count Raymond IV of Toulouse to lead the First Crusade to the Holy Land.

1660 - At Gresham College, 12 men, including Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, John Wilkins, and Sir Robert Moray decide to found what is later known as the Royal Society.

The motto of the Royal Society, "Nullius in Verba" (Latin: "On the words of no one"), signifies the Society's commitment to establishing the truth of scientific matters through experiment rather than through citation of authority. Although this seems obvious today, the philosophical basis of the Royal Society differed from previous philosophies such as Scholasticism, which established scientific truth based on deductive logic, concordance with divine providence and the citation of such ancient authorities as Aristotle.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Skeptical Guide to Multi Level Marketing:

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle: For Some People, Intimacy Is Toxic
New York Times
November 21, 2006

It is practically an article of faith among psychotherapists that an intimate human relationship is good for you. None other than Freud himself once famously said that health requires success in work and in love.

I’m not so sure. It seems that for some people, love and intimacy might not just be undesirable but downright toxic.

Not long ago, a man consulted me about his 35-year-old son, who had made a suicide attempt.

“I was shocked, because he never seemed depressed or unhappy in his life,” the man said of his son. “He always preferred his own company, so we were relieved when he started to date.”

He went on to tell me that he and his wife had strongly encouraged their son to become engaged to a woman he was dating. “She was perfect for him,” he recalled. “Warm, intelligent and affectionate.”

Everything seemed to be going well until, one day, the father got a call from his son’s girlfriend. She had not heard from the son for several days, so she went to his apartment and found him semiconscious in a pool of blood. He had taken an overdose of sleeping pills and slit his wrists.

After a brief hospitalization, where he was treated for depression with medication, he returned home and broke off the relationship. Soon after, he moved to Europe to work but remained in frequent e-mail contact with his family. His messages were always pleasant, though businesslike, full of the day-to-day details of his life. The only thing missing, his father recalled, was any sense of feeling.

I got a taste of this void firsthand when his son came home for a family visit during the holidays. Sitting in my office, he made little direct eye contact but was pleasant and clearly very intelligent. He had lots of interests: computers, politics and biking. But after an hour of speaking with him, I suddenly realized that he had not mentioned a single personal relationship in his life.

“Who is important to you in your life?” I asked.

“Well, I have my family here in the States and some friends from work,” he said.

“Do you ever feel lonely?”

“Why would I?” he replied.

And then I suddenly understood. He wasn’t depressed or unhappy at all. He enjoyed his work as a software engineer immensely, and he was obviously successful at it. It was just that human relationships were not that important to him; in fact, he found them stressful.

Just before he made his suicide attempt, he remembered, he had been feeling very uncomfortable with his girlfriend and the pressure from his parents. “I wanted everyone to go away,” he recalled.

Typical of schizoid patients, this man had a lifelong pattern of detachment from people, few friends and limited emotional expressiveness. His well-meaning parents always encouraged him to make friends and, later on, to date, even though he was basically uninterested in social activities.

“We thought he was just shy but had lots of feeling inside,” his father told me.

That’s what his son’s therapist believed too. When I telephoned her, she explained that she had been pushing him over the four years of treatment to be more social, make friends and finally date. She attributed his failure to do this in any significant way to his underlying anxiety and low self-esteem. “With time,” she said confidently, “I expect he’ll make progress.”

When I got off the phone, I wondered if we had been talking about the same patient. I found him calm, detached and self-confident about his abilities and work.

His therapist apparently believed that no one could genuinely prefer solitude and that there must be a psychological block preventing this patient from seeking intimacy.

But after four years of weekly therapy the patient had basically failed to reach any of these goals. You would think that for this reason a therapist would question whether the treatment was really the right type for the patient. After all, if your doctor gives you an antibiotic that doesn’t kill an infection, he or she should question the diagnosis, the treatment or both.

Granted, psychiatric illnesses are generally more difficult to treat than simple bacterial infections, but why should psychotherapy be any less self-critical and self-correcting than the rest of medicine?

I had a hard time explaining all this to the patient’s father. Finally, I came up with an analogy that I had some hesitation about, but since I discovered that both of us were dog lovers, I gave it a try. I explained that some breeds, like Labradors, are extremely affiliative; other breeds are more aloof and will squirm if you try to hold them.

“You mean my son is detached by nature,” he said. “I guess we all pushed him too hard to do something he couldn’t do and didn’t want.”

Emotional intimacy, it seems, is not for everyone.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

$17 million was spent on advertising this past election, most of it by out-of-control 527 committees on negative ads, according to today's Rocky Mountian News:,2808,DRMN_24736_5153574,00.html

So I just sent out this letter to the editors of the Denver papers:

The solution to high cost campaigning is a return to
shoe-leather, door-to-door organizing in every neighborhood.

In 2002 we saved our wonderful Colorado neighborhood caucus
system. Now let's start using it. Instead of a 96-hour campaign
the final days before the election, let's elect political party
leadership that will support a 100-hour campaign, 2-hours a
week in our local neighborhoods every year.

Phone banks and mass advertising have just about killed
the Colorado grassroots, but we can each make a difference.
A beneficial side effect, restoration of our neighborhoods.

If our state chairs get serious about the caucus, Presidential
campaigns will finance our efforts, just as they do in Iowa where
they spent an average of $40 per caucus attendee in 2004.

How to get involved? Call the state or county party of your choice
or go to, search on the political party or
presidential candidate of your choice, and attend their
next meetup nearest you--or start a new meetup.

Let's save our neighborhoods by increasing the informed participation
in our March, 2008 caucuses in the 3,000 neighborhoods across
the state.

John Wren, founder
The New Denver Republican Meetup
Denver just keeps shifting the homeless about
By Tom Morris
November 12, 2006
Rocky Mountain News,2777,DRMN_23970_5139303,00.html

The recent flap about feeding the homeless in Civic Center ("Meals for homeless exit park," Oct. 13) reminds me that Denver's solution to the homeless problem since 1966 has been a game of musical chairs.

In 1966 the city approved the Skyline Urban Renewal project which claimed Skid Row for commercial development. At the time I asked one of the eager young business types roaming downtown with fliers promoting the project what the city had in mind for the inhabitants of Skid Row. "Oh," he opined, "they'll move up north somewhere."

Which they did for a while until they were dispersed throughout the city by the attempted gentrification of Curtis Park.

They ended up sleeping in city parks, hanging out on Colfax Avenue, creating favellas under the bridges over Cherry Creek and the South Platte River and generally floating around looking for an untended place to call home.

The hard-core homeless, like the rest of us, are free. They are citizens of a country dedicated to the proposition that each of us must choose our lives from the smorgasbord of our abilities, ambitions and luck.

The administration of Mayor John Hickenlooper has launched a wishful program to stamp out homelessness. I believe that we can guarantee that the hard- core homeless will continue to prefer the vagabond life to the stability of submitting to the well-intentioned programs designed by the social scientists.

It is clear that the Daniel Libeskind design for Civic Center had absolutely no plans to accommodate the homeless. Indeed, the design sought to reduce the areas where such people could congregate. The homeless will again be scattered to the winds.

The question remains, what does a city do to accommodate this choice of free people to continue their wayward ways? There are two equally unsatisfactory answers: We can set aside a Skid Row or we can continue to disapprove of their existence.

Neither solution benefits the city. The first has the unfortunate unintended consequence of attracting the homeless. The second is a failure of our Judeo- Christian principles. Perhaps the first step is to recognize the inevitability of the homeless.

Tom Morris is a resident of Denver.

Copyright 2006, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

How area seniors make these years the best
By Helen Dennis

This week's column is based on contributions of about 30 adults who attended Torrance Memorial's Advantage program called "Conversation With...." The "with" person is yours truly. The overall theme was successful aging with a focus on making the best of the rest of your life.

Attendees were between 60 and 87 years. Some were working full time; others part time and others were retired. Here is what "making this time the best time of life" meant to this stellar group of men and women:

For some, the best time started at the beginning of the day. "Getting up in the morning is a gift." I recall a similar statement made by the renown cellist, Gregor Piatigorsky. At one of his lectures at UCS's Thornton School of Music, he was asked what gave him pleasure. Piatigorsky, in his early 70s, replied, "Waking up in the morning and being able to wiggle my toes. I know I am alive." Simple pleasures are important even to the "great ones."

For others, the best time meant freedom: "Having my own schedule, no financial worries, going places when others are at work and having no obligations." Others felt free to "do what I want to do, be who I am, and free to do nothing and decline invitations."

Everyone valued time. This life stage is a time to "reinvent myself, be more focused, take care of myself, help others, smell the roses, spend the day with a friend, recognize there is no time to waste and realize what's important." Material items were considered less important than they used to be. "I don't need high density television." And spirituality was of much greater value than any material goods.

Activity and relationships were important. Individuals enjoy walking, playing bridge, taking classes, preparing for holidays and traveling. Relationships with family, friends and grandchildren ranked high.

During the meeting, an attendee mentioned that one of his gratifying activities was visiting frail and ill patients in the hospital. He would spend time with them and bring each patient a flower on a regular basis. "This small act means so much to them."

This same man stayed after the session and chatted with me. What he did not say during the meeting is that these acts of kindness occur while he is being treated periodically as an in-patient in the same hospital as those he visits. He cares for others, while the medical team cares for him. Giving has no boundaries.

A closing theme of our meeting centered on freedom. Some perceive older age as a time of zero responsibility and ultimate freedom. The reality is that our life stage requires us to assume a profound responsibility, one that has shifted from our children and family to us. Our responsibility is to do everything in our power to remain fit, vital, and as engaged as possible. No one else will do it for us. And perfect health is not a prerequisite.

The timing of our topic was fortuitous. The essence of the evening is captured in a recently published book, How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life (Nelson Books. 2006, $24.99) by Mark Victor Hansen and Art Linkletter. The book begins, "If you're lucky, you're going to grow old." "Aging is not optional. That means if you want to enjoy life, there is only one thing you can do: don't get old. Grow old."

Growth is reflected in our expanding and deepening capacity for wisdom, spirit, knowledge, talent, love and healing ... there is no end. And yes, to grow older means that we can get better with age.

I recently heard Linkletter discussing his book as the keynoter at a conference. He was impressive. At 94 he didn't miss a beat, was hilarious and didn't use a note.

Think about what makes this time of your life -- your best time. Feel free to share your thoughts with me.

I extend a special thank you to the 30 contributors to this column. As we know, life is not a dress rehearsal. And this group knows it. Enjoy and have a good week.

Helen Dennis is a specialist in aging, with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Send her your questions and concerns in care of the Daily Breeze Today section, 5215 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, CA 90503-4077; or fax to 310-540-7581, or e-mail to

Find this article at:

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Election Day
Micheal Kinsley
New York Times

...Recent elections have seen the rise of self-styled militant moderates, following the flag of white-horse candidates starting with the businessman Ross Perot and continuing, so far, through Gen. Wesley K. Clark. Business and the military are two fertile breeders of excessive self-confidence, but the only essential qualification for a white-horse candidate is a total lack of experience in running for or holding elective office. And the only essential requirement for white-horse voters is to be, like Howard Beale in Paddy Chayefsky’s movie “Network,” “mad as hell” and “not going to take this anymore.” It is not essential to know why you are so mad, or what exactly you’re not going to take.

The militant moderates drove “Crossfire” off the air after the comedian Jon Stewart appeared on the show and declared it was “hurting America.” A Tocqueville-type outsider examining the condition of American democracy at this moment might well raise an eyebrow over the growing power of unelected television comedians to set the political agenda. But this complaint is on no one’s list. Just don’t get your militant moderate started on TV evangelists, though...

For a charmingly recherché complaint, check out “Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America,” by Dana R. Fisher. Fisher, who teaches sociology at Columbia, is upset about the professionalization of grass-roots campaigning, which he believes has sliced the bottom rung off the political ladder and keeps inspired young people from entering politics and pointing it in a more salubrious direction. In fact, many aspects of politics that used to be volunteer work — not just dialing telephones or licking envelopes, but making strategy — are now businesses...

Michael Kinsley is American editor of Guardian Unlimited (, the Web site of The Guardian of London. His column appears in The Washington Post and Slate.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dave Zweifel: AA's method could solve other issues

By Dave Zweifel
November 3, 2006

With all the problems in the world these days, a fellow named Francis Fennell thinks that he's got an answer to solve a lot of them.

Who is Francis Fennell? Well, actually, he doesn't exist, at least by that name. It's really the pseudonym of a longtime member of Alcoholics Anonymous, who has been so smitten with the way AA works that he's convinced beyond a doubt that other problems - everything from drug abuse to domestic violence - could be solved by using AA's techniques.

So he's written a book, "Stake Your Claim to Happiness," that he has self-published and hopes to get in the hands of people who will take his message and make use of it.

Fact is, I know the real Francis Fennell quite well. He has long been a strong player in the campaign to solve alcohol and other drug abuse problems in Wisconsin, and he brought his book for me to read before it was actually published. It's a good and thoughtful read, full of suggestions for people who want to make a difference in their lives. And it suggests that our propensity to lie and cheat, which he sees as a scourge on our country, could be altered by Americans achieving that difference.

Fennell describes in easy-to-understand fashion how AA's famous 12-step approach to conquering alcoholism can be modified and used for many of society's other ills. AA's free support to alcoholics has been enormously successful, much more so than counseling and therapy, and Fennell sees no reason why it couldn't do the same with other problems.

Plus, truth is, he's not out to make big bucks with the book, but rather to spur support for the concept.

That it is already having some impact was evidenced in a report by Ben Bromley of our sister paper in Baraboo, the News-Republic. He recently wrote of how Fennell's book has already led to efforts to form groups in Sauk County to begin putting the book's suggestions to practical use.

"His efforts to acquaint south central Wisconsin residents with this concept started as an effort to sell books," Bromley wrote. "But that pursuit soon became secondary to a new goal: Organizing a committee of stakeholders to combat our communities' ills."

Fennell, who in his real life has operated alcohol treatment programs based on AA's principles, plans to help the groups get under way.

"We want to get across the message that there is a serious problem in society that is affecting our youth," he told Bromley. "I think a lot of things that are going on are really impacting drastically our strength as a nation." With any luck, Fennell hopes to someday attract a national publisher to get the message spread countrywide. If you'd like to get a copy of "Stake Your Claim to Happiness," go to

Monday, October 30, 2006

Andy Andrews lived a relatively normal life until the age of 19. It was then that both his parents died—his mother from cancer, his father in an automobile accident. Within a span of several years, the young man found himself literally homeless, sleeping occasionally under a pier on the gulf coast or in someone’s garage.

It was at that time Andrews asked a profound question that would alter his own life, and ultimately affect millions of people: “Is life just a lottery ticket or are there choices one can make to direct his future?” Andrews read more than two hundred biographies of great men and women, and decided to put characteristics used by famous individuals into effect to change his life.

I'm reading his book The Traveler's Gift--Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success, and finding it very helpful.

This is a reader review from Amazon:

Not a read for the shallow thinker.., July 9, 2006
Reviewer: RJ "ledog3" (snohomish WA) -

If this is one of those books that some physcology teacher "assigns" you to read for a later book report, forget it. Put the book back and drop the class. It's just doesnt fall into that kind of catagory. This book is an extension of that old saying "You make you're own bed, so sleep in it".

If you're not a deep thinker and don't consider spirituality (I don't neccessarily mean religion, so chill) anything more than a magic act, then don't bother picking Andys book up. Its not you or for you. Having said all that, I liked it. It had some solid words (the 7 decisions thing) to live by that are not anything more than you already know in your own gut. He just brings it all to the surface a bit so you can digest the meaning and perhaps try it yourself. I cant call it a self help book. I've read several of those and most of them get thrown out with last nites pizza box. This is a simple, short page turner that you could knock out in a couple of evenings. No big words or long speeches. But dont read it that quick. Do a couple of chapters then put it down for a day or two.

He uses the "time travel" vehicle as nothing more than an example for you to hold on to while the message is getting told. Yes, we all know time travel likely doesnt exist. Thanks for the reminder. So many of the early reviewers must have just got through reading The Davinci Code or something. Exactly what were you expecting, a bottle of fix-it pills with each copy?? If you're looking for a little refill of your already learned life lessons and what they should mean to you and others, this book is great. Its not about what you did wrong. Its about what happens now and later. This is not a review of YOU birth-to-presentday. Its not a textbook, or like I said, a self help book. Its not religious or anything like that. No thee's thou's or thou arts. You're not getting brainwashed and they dont ask you to send money to a P.O. Box in Florida at the end of the book... Its written for those of us living in the western world who can't seem to believe in ANYTHING without seeing it, smelling it or touching it or having an unretouched digital internet image as proof of existence. Its just a little bit of walk-around enlightenment for your every day use. So go deep. You can't lose here. The book only costs 10 bucks and I got mine on sale.
As the midterm campaign enters the homestretch, the GOP congressional juggernaut that has dominated national politics for more than a decade may be over. Polls show Democrats extending their leads in pivotal races across the country. But the man largely responsible for the Republicans' glory days — and arguably still the most powerful political operative in the United States — is far from discouraged.

Instead, (Karl) Rove is giving a virtuoso performance designed to prevent the Democrats from taking control of the House and Senate or, if that is no longer possible, to hold down the size of the Democratic victory to make it easier for the GOP to come back in 2008. His plan is three-pronged: to reenergize any conservatives who may be flagging; to make sure the GOP's carefully constructed campaign apparatus is functioning at peak efficiency; and to put the resources of the federal government to use for political gain.,0,440699.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Sunday, October 29, 2006

"It wasn't courage it was stupidity. You have to be so dumb you that you say, 'let's just do it, maybe it will work out.'" Neil Simon on CBS Sunday Morning.
I've twice come close to starting startups since Viaweb, and both times I bailed because I realized that without the spur of poverty I just wasn't willing to endure the stress of a startup. Paul Graham, founder of Yahoo.
This is a week to note our solidarity with all the dead (on Thursday 2nd), the saints (on Wednesday the 1st), the uncanonised and maybe the accursed. We are one human family. St Matthew, listing the pedigree of Jesus, draws attention to the harlot Rahab and the adulterous David and Tamar. What mixture of DNA is in my makeup, linking me perhaps to farmers, poets, kings, rapists, the violent or the victims? This is the makeup in which I work out my way to God. I inherited it, I did not choose it. But like a good card-player, I can make much or little of the hand I am dealt. Lord, how am I doing? Help me to improve my play.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

On this date in 1919 Congress enacted the Volstead Act, which provided for enforcement of Prohibition, over President Woodrow Wilson's veto.
New criteria for Idealab businesses:

A few weeks ago, Google announced that it planned to install a large solar energy system on the roof of its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. “Green tech” is all the rage right now in Silicon Valley, with venture money pouring into environmental start-ups, and hip technology companies falling all over themselves to show their earth-friendly bona fides.

But that’s not why the Google announcement caught my eye. No, what intrigued me was the company that was building its solar system: EI Solutions, a division of Energy Innovations. And Energy Innovations is — are you sitting down for this? — an Idealab company.

Idealab? The original “Internet incubator” founded in the mid-1990s by the charismatic, hyperkinetic Bill Gross? The one that flew so high during the Internet bubble — with companies like eToys and and — only to crash and burn once boom turned to bust? The one that was sued in 2002 by some of its most high-profile investors, including T. Rowe Price, which asserted that its money had been misused and wanted it back? Yes, that Idealab.

We haven’t heard much about Internet incubators lately — and with good reason. Many of them no longer exist. Several that went public during the boom, like CMGI, now sport anemic stock prices, and aren’t really incubators anymore. The essential business model of an incubator — that a company could exist purely to create start-up companies — is now viewed largely as bubble folly...

But Mr. Gross and Idealab, it turns out, are still very much with us. Idealab is still a company that exists to create start-ups, most of which begin life as a glimmer in Mr. Gross’s fertile brain. The companies it starts aren’t always about the Internet anymore, though some are. Mr. Gross has started a company that is making an affordable 3-D printer, which it hopes to bring to market next year. Another Idealab company sells proprietary robotics technology to supermarkets and toy companies. Yet a third,, is an Internet search engine in which advertisers pay only if customers take an action, rather than simply click to a site. (Mr. Gross is the inventor of the “paid search” idea that Google went on to perfect.)

He never lost his belief that his model of company-creation could work — if, that is, he could learn to bring his own frenetic idea-generating brain under control.

So, no longer would Idealab start a company a month. “We needed a much higher bar for the kind of companies we would create,” he said. “We needed to have protectable intellectual property. Our companies had to be in growing industries, with high margins — and protectable margins. That was something we never used to think about. EToys had great customer service, but it had no protectable intellectual property. Anybody could do it.”

And finally, Mr. Gross said, the companies he wanted to start had to be able to make a real difference in the world. You could argue, I suppose, that to make such a grandiose statement suggests that Mr. Gross and his colleagues were still afflicted with at least some of the hubris of the bubble days. But Mr. Gross argues that building a company requires so much effort, and entails heartbreak, that it just didn’t seem to be worth it unless Idealab companies were going to do something that mattered.

One of the first companies to emerge from this new focus was Energy Innovations.

From New York Times 10/28/06

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Case for Alcoholics Anonymous:
It Works Even if the Science Is Lacking
October 17, 2006; Page D1
The Wall Street Journal Online

A newly published review of addiction-treatment research delivers a verdict that is being interpreted as highly critical of the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous.

"No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of A.A. or (professional 12-step therapy) for reducing alcohol dependence or problems," concluded a group of Italian researchers in a July review in the prestigious Cochrane Library. The purpose of the study was to compare the efficacy of A.A. and professional treatment based on A.A. with other types of alcohol therapies and interventions. The study concluded that A.A. and A.A.-based therapies were no more or less effective than the alternatives, and that more and better studies of A.A. and 12-step therapy are needed.

News coverage was immediate. "Review Sees No Advantage to 12-Step Programs," read the headline in a national newspaper.

Could this mean that A.A., the world-wide fellowship of recovering alcoholics, doesn't work?

What it actually means is that the pursuit of evidence-based medicine sometimes produces conclusions and headlines that are misleading. That untold multitudes of problem drinkers have become abstinent after attending A.A. meetings is undisputed. Also undisputed is that anyone who follows the A.A. recommendation of abstinence will never again experience drinking problems.

The Cochrane conclusion indicates that A.A. hasn't been subjected to the gold standard of medical experiments, the double-blind randomized clinical trial. As a result, no scientific proof exists that A.A. causes its members to quit drinking, that they wouldn't quit eventually on their own or that an alternative might not work just as well.

It is hardly scandalous that A.A. hasn't undergone the most rigorous of scientific testing. Evidence-based medicine is designed to root out false marketing claims and unnecessary costs. A.A. makes no marketing claims and charges no fees. Instead of being handed scientific literature, newcomers to A.A. hear existing members tell how they used the program to get sober. Evidence-based medicine is also designed to compare treatments. An A.A. spokesman in New York says, "We're not in competition with anybody. We're not saying we're better than anybody else. We don't recruit members, and there are no dues or fees for A.A. membership."

A.A. doesn't comment on published research or public criticism, including from addiction specialists or other treatment providers who might view A.A. as competition. This no-comment policy makes A.A. an easy target. A Penn & Teller documentary, televised in 2004 and viewable on the Web, characterizes A.A. as a marketing and financial fraud -- without mentioning that A.A. charges no fees. Subsisting on the sale of literature and donations, A.A. is a nonprofit that in 2005 reported total revenue of $13.2 million and total expenses of $12.9 million.

Many problem drinkers quit with no help. And for those who fail at that, differing addiction treatments tend to succeed at similar rates.

Founded in 1935, A.A. is a decentralized collection of nearly 53,000 groups in the U.S. alone, each autonomous and without any membership list, which would make difficult any effort to conduct a double-blind randomized clinical trial. Such a trial could raise ethical questions if, for instance, a newcomer were steered to an alternative treatment -- including possibly a control group receiving no treatment at all.

A multitude of studies show that A.A. attendance is associated with reduced drinking and higher social functioning. Addiction specialists say these benefits likely apply to newer self-help groups such as Smart Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety and Women for Sobriety.

Unlike randomized clinical trials, associative studies don't prove cause, but are often treated as powerful evidence. For example, although no studies prove that moderate drinking enhances health, a wealth of highly publicized data show that a drink or two a day is associated with reduced rates of cardiovascular disease, among other benefits.

Questions about the efficacy of A.A. arise in part because the treatment industry often immerses its patients -- at a cost -- in the same 12 steps that A.A. introduces free. If professionals are charging for what amounts to an introduction to the A.A. model, experts say, there ought to be evidence of efficacy.

Some experts say the demand for efficacy data on A.A. reflects disbelief among professional therapists that their services are no more effective than a fellowship of recovering drunks. But Marica Ferri, lead author of the Cochrane study, says, "I do not distrust A.A."

Following professional therapy of any sort, A.A. attendance is associated with better outcomes, studies have shown. A year-2000 Journal of Studies on Alcohol study of 466 problem drinkers found that for those who attended A.A. following professional treatment, the three-year abstinence rate doubled, to more than 50%.

Professional therapy is often necessary because it gives the patient a chance to speak in private, and because it allows for the diagnosis of co-existing disorders such as depression and anxiety, which are common in alcoholics, particularly women.

Write to Kevin Helliker at kevin.helliker@wsj.com1

URL for this article:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Barack Obama is a phenomena, we can all agree on that. David Brooks puts his finger on why in his insightful column today. In this election, and probably in 2008, it just doesn't make sense for politicians who want to win an election to brand themselves as a liberal or a conservative, no matter what Rush Limbaugh advises.

Jimmy Carter was elected because he held out the hope of a new way. Obama is doing the same thing; who is the Republican that can beat him?

The Era of What’s Next
New York Times
Wooster, Ohio

Sometimes liberalism is dominant and sometimes conservatism is dominant, but sometimes there is no dominant ideology.

Between 1932 and 1968, liberalism dominated American politics. The big accomplishments were liberal accomplishments — Social Security, Medicare, the civil rights movement. Even if Republicans sometimes held the White House, the general drift of things was still to the left.

Between 1980 and 2006, conservatism was dominant. The big accomplishments were conservative accomplishments — the defeat of communism, the reinvigoration of the economy through deregulation, tax reform and monetarism, the rebalancing of the culture to emphasize family, work and individual responsibility. Even if Democrats sometimes held the White House, the general drift of things was to the right.

But in some eras there is no dominant political tendency. The 1970’s were such a period. That decade was marked not by a change in political winds so much as by disillusionment and a scrambling of political categories. People who once had been liberals drifted away. Voters became cynical about politics itself. The pendulum swung not only from left to right but from politics to antipolitics. Jimmy Carter promised a break from the normal methods of political life.

We’re about to enter another of those periods without a dominant ideology. It’s clear that this election will mark the end of conservative dominance. This election is a period, not a comma in political history.

That’s clear not only because Republicans could lose their majorities, but for several other reasons. First, conservatives have exhausted their agenda. They have little new left to propose and have lost their edge on issues like fiscal discipline and foreign policy. Second, conservatives are beset by scandals, the kind of institutional decay that afflicts movements at the end of their political lives. Third, the Reagan coalition is splintering, with the factions going off in wildly different directions.

Fourth, there is no viable orthodox conservative candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Orthodox conservatives like Allen, Frist and Santorum are fading, and only heterodox figures like McCain, Giuliani and Romney are rising.

If you look at the political landscape, identification with the Republican Party is falling but identification with the Democratic Party is not rising. Instead, there is a spike in the number of people who do not identify with either. People correctly perceive that neither party has a coherent agenda this year.

In the near term, the candidates who thrive will be those who offer a new way of politics. This might be the maverick independence of McCain, or the ostentatiously deliberative style of Obama, or it could be the manner of somebody whom none of us are even thinking about. Candidates who seem conventional will have a tough time. This includes Hillary Clinton.

Process issues will come to the fore, issues that have to do with the way politics is conducted. So will issues of character and decision-making style. George Bush’s secretive and declarative method will soon seem archaic — like the silent picture acting style in the age of sound. Instead, voters will look for candidates as interactive as the technology around them.

The center of political gravity will shift. In the liberal era, the urban Northeast dominated the landscape. In the conservative era, it was in the South and in bedroom communities like those in Southern California. In the coming era, the center of gravity will move to the West and the Midwestern plains, and to the pragmatic, untethered office park suburbs sprouting up there.

The people who will be most important are those who can most precisely identify the new era’s defining problems. The first is the continuing rise of Islamic fundamentalism. It’s clear the categories of the nation-state era — rollback and containment — are not working to reverse extremism, but what will? The second big problem is entitlement spending and the stultification of government.

The third challenge is the emergence of China and India — seizing the opportunities afforded by those new workers, mitigating the pain associated with tougher competition and managing the fiscal imbalances. The fourth is the growing importance of cognitive skills and cultural capital, the need to surround people, especially children, with stable relationships if they are to flourish.

One party will become distracted by passing squalls, but the other will focus on those issues. Then, a new period of dominance will begin.

Motto for IDEA Cafe/ Franklin Circles:
"Rooted in Christ, Accomplish" from today's
lectionary reading, Eph 3:14-21

Brothers and sisters:
I kneel before the Father,
from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory
to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self,
and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;
that you, rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine,
by the power at work within us,
to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus
to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.