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.