Thursday, November 30, 2006

Low Prices Uber Alles?

Quote of the day:
“Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what’s for lunch.”
--Orson Welles

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Winter is only a verb if you’re rich.”
--D. Robert Lennon

Two news items about Wal-Mart this week: they reported lower-than-expected earnings and said the holiday season will not be stellar; and the San Diego City Council has outlawed super-centers which also sell groceries, an action which bars Wal-Mart from opening any new stores within the city limits.

There are many factors at play here. Wal-Mart has been lambasted for years for the effect its store openings have had on local businesses. Yet when they open, people flock to them and keep coming back. They have been criticized for their hiring practices, and their pay and treatment of employees. Yet when they open there are many applicants for each available position.

It seems like the bottom line is that people need jobs, and people either need or must have low prices. It is common to hear someone complain about the store and yet regularly shop there.

The main issue for San Diego had to do with development--to what extent are more stores this size good for the city in terms of land use, congestion and appearance. The decision fits with the long-term history of the city--it is a bit difficult to build here. I think the city looks north to Los Angeles as an example of how not to develop.

The recent death of economist Milton Friedman has stimulated discussions about the value and pitfalls of free markets. In an ideal world, all businesses, on their own, would operate always in the long-term best interest of their communities (and themselves, ultimately). Unfortunately, this is not what happens. The drive to move dollars to the short-term bottom line invariably trumps interest in long-term anything.

It’s tempting to think of the possibility of a completely free and unfettered system--pure capitalism, if you will. But I think it’s appropriate for government to limit or regulate any business when there is significant doubt that it will operate in the broader, long-term public good.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Darfur = Texas

Quote of the day:
“You’re supposed to stop and smell the roses, and I do. But not while I’m working.”
--Lorne Michaels

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Stop and smell the roses. And remember that someone has grown them.”
--Preston Creston

Over the last four years in the Darfur region of Sudan, more than 200,000 people have been killed, and thousands have been brutalized, according to the BBC. Two million people have fled their homes. The Sudanese government remains opposed to allowing UN troops in the region.

There are so many interests involved in the Darfur situation, it can be hard to remember how this violence began. Here is an excellent, brief summary:

“The Darfur region is located in the western part of Sudan along the border with Chad. Darfur, which means ‘the kingdom of the Fur,’ is the size of Texas.

“The current conflict began in 2002 when two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, began attacking government targets because of the Khartoum government’s perceived discrimination against African ethnic groups such as the Fur, Massaleit and Zagawha. The conflict is rooted in local struggles over land
and water between the nomadic ‘Arabs’ and the land-tilling ‘Africans.’

“The categories of Arab and African are rather arbitrary, however. There have been decades of intermarriage between the two groups, both of which are Muslim. A split within the government of Sudan in 2000 over the correct expression of political Islam led to the declaration of a state of emergency and fueled violence between the two groups.”

--Sandra Joireman in the November 28 "Christian Century."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hurray for Koppel on Iran

Quote of the day:
“Are you going to come quietly, or do I have to use earplugs?”
--Spike Milligan

Dateline of the day:
“Bio, Mass.”
--On a story by Sam Ness in the November 27, 2006 Weekly World News about the danger of aliens disguised as vegetables invading salad bars and produce departments.

Quote of the day no. 2:
“My analogy [of 24/7 news] is its rather like standing two feet away from a railroad track and watching the trains go by. And, boy, you’re close and it’s exciting and there’s a lot of energy and you really feel as though you’re on top of it, but you can’t for the life of you see what’s going on.”
--Ted Koppel

Ted Koppel’s Discovery channel special “Iran: The Most Dangerous Nation?” should be must-see TV. It is a superbly rational look inside a country that some of our leaders are demonizing. Much of the documentary was filmed before last summer’s Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

Insightful interviews with government and religious leaders are interspersed with the comments of academics (who often disagree with each other) and ordinary Iranians. There are many beautiful sights in the program, and some unsettling ones. In a way, this is also a travelog. I had a real sense of what it would be like to visit this fascinating, ancient culture.

With all our posturing and endless chatter about Iran, this show is an amazing and humanizing gust of fresh air. Just in time for the holidays, too. It’s compelling TV and well worth your time. Check the Discovery schedule, and plan to watch it--you’ll be glad you did.

For highlights of the show, including interviews and a slideshow, go to and look for “Most Dangerous Nation” at the left of the screen.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Christmas: Are We There Yet?

Quote of the day:
“Hey Coach, your tie is horrible.”
--A Texas-San Antonio basketball fan, addressing University of San Diego coach Brad Holland, who had just been ejected from Sunday’s game.

Live television ultimate truth of the day:
“You go on when it’s 11:30, not when you’re ready.”
--Lorne Michaels, Creator and Executive Producer of "Saturday Night Live."

Quote of the day no. 2:
“We are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not have universal health care. We are also the only industrialized nation in the world that still has the death penalty. In these two cases, we seem to favor death more than life.”
--Studs Terkel, interviewed in the November 2006 "Sun."

The Christmas season has been underway for a while. I’ve heard “Let It Snow” at least four times, and it’s not December yet. The decorations were out at our local Wal-Mart eight weeks ago.

This week the liturgical season of Advent begins. Advent is commonly seen as the “getting-ready-for-Christmas” season, but the reality is much more significant.

Advent is a good and appropriate and soul-nurturing season, because its focus is on quiet waiting. In the midst of ever-louder, ever-more-expensive, ever-more-hectic secular Christmas preparations, some intentional quiet and reflection can be mightily refreshing.

I hope some quiet can find all of us in this season.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Product Placement Royale

Quote of the day:
“I loved the work more than the success.”
--Neil Simon

Musician quote of the day:
“It’s the only thing I’m good at.”
--Keith Richards, on playing guitar

Follow-up to Fat on the Flag:
“His pen, to alter the proverb, became his sword, arguably the most powerful weapon of his presidency.”
--Douglas L. Wilson in "Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words"

Architecture quote of the day:
“Despite its criminally slow pace, the rebuilding of [New Orleans] is emerging as one of the most aggressive works of social engineering in America since the postwar boom of the 1950s.”
--Nicolai Ouroussoff in the November 19, 2006 "New York Times."

Have you seen the new James Bond yet? A lot of people have--its cash registers have been getting weary of kachinging.

"Casino Royale" is an enjoyable film and a great escape, though it is more violent and brutal than has been typical with Bond. Daniel Craig is excellent as Bond, as is Judi Dench as M, his boss.

At its heart this is an exceptionally well-made action-thriller, with beautiful locations and people, high technology, and cars. Yes, there’s an Aston-Martin, but there are many, many Ford products. I don’t think, outside of a factory or a dealer, you will ever see more Ford products in one place. Especially in the Bahamas.

Indeed, there is some in-your-face product placement, including a titanically unsubtle attempt to dub Omega as the new Rolex.

There is a closer-than-you-might-expect look at Bond’s character, and some very nasty bad guys. Throw in the usual martinis and a little high-stakes Texas Hold’em, and it’s not a bad time at the movies.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"When I Heard the News, I Was..."

Quote of the day:
“It starts cute with a shot of a box of squirming puppies and heads weepingly down the road to bathos and schmaltz.”
--Robert Laurence in today’s "San Diego Union-Tribune." He was reviewing "Candles on Bay Street," a Hallmark TV movie airing Sunday night.

Post-Thanksgiving quote of the day:
“It was your basic stoppage.”
--Jeff Hughes, a plumber quoted in today’s U-T, talking about a typical post-holiday call to unclog a kitchen sink.

Three dates to consider:
December 7
November 22
September 11

As you read those dates, you probably had no emotional response if you are under ten years old. If you responded to September 11, you are at least ten years old. If you also responded to November 22, you are at least 47. And if you responded to all three dates, you are at least 70.

The dates represent three life-changing national tragedies. Virtually every American who was alive on any or all of these dates remember exactly where they were when they heard the news: The Navy base at Pearl Harbor is under attack. President Kennedy has been shot. An airplane has crashed into the World Trade Center.

Each of these events changed the country and altered history. More than this, they left an indelible emotional imprint on every living American over the age of five or so.

Each of these events unified the nation, most obviously in the days and weeks just afterward. Even though this unity faded over time, everyone who watched the event is forever bonded in the shared memory of what happened.

While we can share stories with those who come along later, we cannot imprint them with the shared emotional memory. It is ours alone.

Studs Terkel and Enrico Caruso

Studs Terkel’s 1974 book "Working" was as compelling as any great novel, but it was a compilation of profiles of ordinary working people across the socioeconomic range. each of the subjects gave insight into the meaning of their work, whether it was reading gas meters or waiting tables.

Terkel’s most-recent book "And They All Sang" is interviews with musicians culled from his days as a disc jockey at Chicago’s WFMT.

Here is something from an interview he gave the November 2006 "Sun," and a follow-up to "Back in the Day":

“I was playing records, and you could play anything you wanted then. I played Enrico Caruso. I’d loved Caruso as a kid. My father would buy one-sided Caruso records for two bucks a head--that’s like fifty bucks today.

“John Ciardi, the Italian-American poet [and former NPR commentator] said Caruso was about the potential in the human race. A singer could hit a certain note--that’s as far as you could go--but Caruso would go beyond that.

“It told us that human beings have possibilities, that all of us are better than we may be behaving at the moment.”

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Remembering What Endures

Quote of the day:
“Excessive merriment was not a pressing problem for the half of the Mayflower’s 102 passengers who survived the first few months in wintry Massachusetts.”
--George Will in today’s "Washington Post"

Most-unknown fact of the day:
Butterball has a new owner. The most-famous turkey brand was sold by ConAgra to Carolina Turkeys last month. Carolina has changed its name to Butterball.
--Steve Hartson, the Associated Press

Science item of the day:
If the ground did not get in the way, rainbows would be circular.
--Sherry Seethaler, science writer for the University of California, San Diego

Word of the day:
--From the center of of one of the 82 inserts in this morning’s newspaper

Thanksgiving reflection:
“How easy it is to keep up with current events these days, and how tempting, with so many sources of information only a mouse-click away.... But all the screaming headlines will still be screaming their little heads off the day I die--and no matter how many newspapers and magazines and blogs I read, I won’t understand this mysterious world any better by then.

“Maybe I need to focus more on what’s enduring and true--the one story that illuminates all our seemingly separate stories. Meanwhile, History sits at the bar, raising his glass to whoever will pay for his next drink.”
--Sy Safransky, in the November 2006 "Sun"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Season of Gratitude

Quote of the day:
“It is unbelievable what an icon it is for visitors and residents alike.”
--Stephanie Naidoff, Philadelphia’s director of commerce, talking about the 8-foot Rocky statue now installed on the Museum of Art’s front steps.

Thanksgiving is the day many (most?) of us will reflect on what we are grateful for. Often people have told me that this is their favorite holiday of the year, because it is simple. We just gather for a meal, and give thanks.

Because every other day of the year--especially this Friday--is focused on what we don’t have and really want or need, it is a blessed relief to have one official day focused on the abundance and goodness in our lives. Even if we live very modestly in America, we are very, very wealthy by the standards of the world.

I’m not sure one day of gratitude is enough. In the last church I served, I took liberty with the liturgical calendar and declared the month of November the Season of Gratitude. We have plenty to be thankful for. Don’t get me started.

The Christian theologian Karl Barth called gratitude the best expression of God’s grace on earth. Whether you believe in God or not, this is a wonderful statement, because grace means that your life has meaning whether or not you think it does. And that itself is something to be grateful for.

As a logical concept, grace is very hard to pin down, and so is gratitude. Both of them are really about the great gifts we have been given, which are way beyond any “deserving,” and therefore also beyond any understanding. Thus gratitude is the best reaction to grace, and its best expression.

Iraq Logic

Seasonal reminder of the day:
The USDA recommends not stuffing the turkey, but baking the stuffing separately.

Quote of the day:
“Yeah, maybe. Whatever. Again, I don’t really care.”
--Darby Conley, in today’s Get Fuzzy

Richard A. Clarke is a former counter-terrorism expert in the Clinton and Bush administrations. His excellent book about Al Qaeda and September 11th, Against All Enemies, is a compelling summary of the U.S. government’s knowledge of, and response to, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in the years leading up to September 11, 2001.

One important point he made, in detail, was that the Bush administration was aware of the immediate risks that al Qaeda posed, yet chose to focus its attention on other matters. Clarke’s thesis in that book has yet to be refuted in any major way. On Monday, he wrote this about Iraq:

“Too often in the Iraq debate, we have let intuitions, slogans and appealing thoughts cloud logic. Perhaps the most troublesome example is the argument that we must honor the American dead by staying until we can build something worthy of their sacrifice.

“Stripped of its emotional tones, this argument is, in economic analysis, an appeal to sunk cost. An MIT professor once threatened to fail me if I ever justified actions based on sunk cost--so I learned what is gone is gone, and what is left we should conserve, cherish and employ wisely.

“A similarly illogical argument for staying in Iraq is that chaos would follow any near-term U.S. withdrawal. The flaw lies not in the concept that chaos will happen, but rather in thinking that chaos would only happen if we withdraw in the near term. Chaos will almost certainly follow any U.S. withdrawal, whether in 2008 or 2012.”

Monday, November 20, 2006

Quiet Convergence

Quote of the day:
“Once you’ve been attacked by these animals and have them hanging out on your deck, your respect for their lives is lower than your respect for your animal’s life and your own security.”
--Larna Hartnack, a resident of Venice, California, talking about raccoons that have been frequenting her neighborhood.

Investment advice of the day:
“We can’t all beat the market, because collectively we are the market. If somebody beats the market, somebody else must lag behind. In fact, once investment costs are figured in, there are very few winners and most of us trail the market averages.”
--Jonathan Clements, "The Wall Street Journal"

Follow-up to "Tastelessness on Fox":
"We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."
--Rupert Murdoch, after announcing cancelation of O.J. Simpson’s book and TV interview.

Follow-up to "Look Out! Plunging and Plummeting!":
“The feeble U.S. housing market showed more frailty when third-quarter home sales plummeted in 38 states, hitting Nevada, Arizona, Florida and California particularly hard, government data showed on Monday.”
--Lauren Villagran, AP, today.

This week it seems a significant step has been taken toward convergence of our video games, computers and home-entertainment systems.

The new Sony Playstation 3, which is being marketed as primarily a game device, also contains a top-of-the-line Blu-Ray (High-Definition) DVD player and a very powerful computer. It seems to be an all-purpose household entertainment and information system.

Whose room is it in?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Fat is on the Flag

Historical event of the day:
On this day 143 years ago, Abraham Lincoln delivered the most-important speech in American history. It was four minutes long--just 10 sentences. It followed a two-hour oration that has long been forgotten. Lincoln’s speech became known as the Gettysburg Address.

Musician quote of the day:
“That people actually still like us is staggering, really.”
--Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones

Related trivia of the day:
Number of tractor-trailer rigs required to transport the last Rolling Stones world tour: 54.

Technology quote of the day:
“The problem may be that our world has become overrun with gadgets that do more than ever because they can, not because they should.”
--John Maeda, MIT Professor, in today’s "Parade."

Did you hear about art student William Gentry? His senior project was pulled from the Clarksville, Tennessee art museum just 18 hours after being put on display. It was called “The Fat is in the Fire” and consisted of three U.S. flags with phrases such as “Poor people are obese because they eat poorly” and more than 40 smaller flags fried in peanut oil, egg batter, flour and black pepper.

This conflict is just silly. The problem of America overeating is not silly. The principles for which the flag stands are not silly. But this conflict is silly.

Art is always a matter of taste. But being offended by this exhibit is idol-worship. This artist is not denigrating America or American principles in any way, or even questioning them. He is making a creative statement of a well-known fact. Our biggest nutritional problem is overeating and poor choices, while in many developing nations there are no choices. A billion people live in situations in which nothing edible is ever thrown away and there is no Diet Coke because every calorie is vital.

I suspect that Benjamin Franklin, Dolly Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln would all respect and admire this art work.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tastelessness on Fox

Quote of the day:
“In a way, I didn’t think that management was that complicated.”
--Bill Gates, responding to Charlie Rose “marveling” at how a software geek and Harvard dropout could successfully run a large global corporation. From today’s "Barron’s."

Statistic of the day:
Number of Buicks sold so far this year in the U.S.:
Number sold in China:

Projected statistic of the day:
“By 2050, Goldman Sachs projects the Americans will have 233 million cars, the Chinese will have 514 million cars and the Indians will have 610 million cars. The Americans with 148 million cars already consume a quarter of the world’s oil.”
--David Hale, quoted in today’s "Barron’s"

Quote of the day No. 2:
“There is no sense in which it is not tasteless.”
--David Hinckley in "The New York Daily News," talking about O.J. Simpson’s book and the Fox television show supporting it.

Of the TV show, he goes on to say: “We can’t stop [producer Judith] Regan and Simpson from making it; we can’t stop Fox from broadcasting it. What we can control is whether we watch it.”

Friday, November 17, 2006

Let's Hear It For Elizabeth

Quote of the day:
“First and foremost, I am bound and determined to become cliche free.”
--Amber Lager

Historical event of the day:
On this day in 1558, Queen Elizabeth ascended to the British throne.

Way to celebrate:
Rent the excellent 1998 film "Elizabeth," starring Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush. In addition to wonderful performances and production design, it is a superb depiction of political intrigue, and an entertaining study of good management.

I suppose you could round out the picture by going to see the current film "Queen." Helen Mirren is getting much attention for what must be a fine portrayal of Elizabeth II.

A couple of thoughts about "Are We One? Or Two?" from Louis Menand’s excellent book of essays "American Studies:"

“People with no common set of beliefs are vulnerable to ideologues peddling, if nothing else, coherence.”

“Politics is a battle against process, just as life is. It is a war against the tendency of things to take their natural course.”

Are We One? Or Two?

Quote of the day:
“Cogito ergo sum.” (“I think, therefore I am.”)
--Rene Descartes

Mistaken quote of the day:
“Cogito eggo sum.” (“I think, therefore I am a waffle.”)
--Descartes Befour Dayhorse

Follow-up to Dwelling on Dwelling Prices:
“Median home prices seem to have soared: from $7,400 (1950) to $62,200 (1980) to $219,000 (2005). But since 1968, those gains equal less than 2 percent a year, after inflation.”
--Today’s "Life" magazine

Follow-up to "Chicken Little Has Crossed the Road":
The movie "An Inconvenient Truth" comes out on DVD in a few days. If you haven’t seen it, take the time. It’s worth it, however you feel about Al Gore.

More on "Rudyard Kipling and Ted Haggard":
We separate, categorize, and do battle. Are our thoughts distinct from our being, as most Descartes interpretations would conclude? Are there really two separate “beings” in each of us? Are they at war? Should they be?

This is very hard to talk about because conflict is around us everywhere. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times it’s not. Consider the battles we hear about in the news each day. Honest hard-working citizen versus indifferent big government. America versus terrorists. Gang versus gang. Tom Cruise versus Brooke Shields.

Conflict is central to much great literature and art. Often the conflict is very simply drawn--the good guys versus the bad guys. Think 95% of classic western movies. Think Star Wars. We seem to prefer hats to be clearly black or white. No grey hats for us.

Yet our experience tells us that life is not a black-and-white enterprise. It happens in living color.

Can we handle that, or do we have to continue separating, categorizing, and battling? Is it helpful to wall ourselves off from parts of ourselves? Is it helpful to see parts of ourselves in others and fight with them?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rudyard Kipling and Ted Haggard

Quote of the day:
“Contrary to popular belief, manners are far from superficial. Once ingrained, they become part of people’s humanity....”
--Judith Martin, "Miss Manners"

Untrue truism of the day:
“East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.”
--Rudyard Kipling

Punchline of old joke:
“Yeast is yeast and nest is nest, and never the mane shall tweet.”

News lead of the day:
“Evangelical leader Ted Haggard, in apologizing to his followers for contact with a gay prostitute, said he had sought help to combat a ‘repulsive and dark’ side of his life but that no approach had proven effective.”
--David Crary, the Associated Press

Like Ted Haggard, we often set up part of our lives as war. We do battle. We may face combat each morning when we get out of bed. Our main combat strategy seems to be separation. That is, we identify, categorize and separate ourselves from anything foreign.

Separation can take many forms. One of the easiest is to identify the foreign characteristic in another individual or institution and then either do battle with them or wall ourselves off from them.

We are constantly separating, as in:
the good guys from the bad guys,
stainless-steel appliances from white appliances,
time alone from time with people,
darkness from light,
BMW drivers from Ford pickup drivers,
evil from good,
work from fun,
religion from science,
sound from silence,
heart from mind,
thought from feeling,
men from women,
serious from funny,
Americans from terrorists,
rich from poor,
gay from straight,
cool from uncool,
the country from the city,
the good old days from today.

And the list goes on and on and on. More to come.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"I Have a Dream Today"

Quote of the day:
“It’s too bad that stupidity isn’t painful.”
--Preston Creston

Food quote of the day:
“On the Thanksgiving plate, turkey is never the star nor the most memorable dish. Turkey recipes are not passed down through generations, like your grandmother’s cranberry relish.”
--Kim Severson, "The New York Times"

Most inspiring news lead in quite some time:
“Two presidents, a renowned poet and lions of the civil rights movement joined thousands gathered on the National Mall yesterday to mark the spot where a memorial will be built to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., the visionary pastor who beseeched the nation to live up to its principles and earned a place in the pantheon of American history.”
--Petula Dvorak and Robert E. Pierre in today’s "Washington Post"

In news reports about the dedication of the King memorial site, reporters referred often to his amazingly stirring “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The depth and breadth of the influence of this speech, and of King’s speeches throughout his leadership of the civil rights movement, have only begun to be appreciated.

The “I Have a Dream” speech was an extraordinary accomplishment. It was just eight minutes long. It was delivered on a very hot August day. Most important, it was in no way casual, either in its preparation or in its delivery.

King did two things exceptionally well. First, he realized and embraced the opportunity the speech presented. Second, he worked very hard to prepare the speech. He chose words, phrases and images with careful thought and deliberation. He wrote, rewrote and rewrote again, and kept editing and then editing some more.

It would have been easy to focus just on the issue or policy of the moment. It would have been easy to make the speech up as he went along--he was certainly smart and talented and experienced enough. King did neither of these things.

Martin Luther King did with the “I Have a Dream” speech the same thing that Abraham Lincoln did at Gettysburg. He put into eloquent, memorable words the highest and deepest hopes of America.

It was a world-changing and world-enhancing achievement.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Baby Boomers and John Wayne

Quote of the day:
“It’s not going to stop till you wise up.”
--Aimee Mann

Follow-up of the day:
For more on "The Most Amazing Story of 2006?",
go to "The Christian Century," the October 31, 2006

Demographic observation of the day:
“Contrary to the usual understanding, the baby boomers didn’t create the culture of the sixties; they didn’t even inspire it. They consumed it. In 1968, the climax of the decade politically, the oldest baby boomer in America was just turning twenty-two. To the extent that baby boomers participated in protests, took drugs, and practiced ‘free love,’ they were responding to slogans, tastes, and fads dreamed up and promulgated by people much older than they were.”
--Louis Menand

Why airports get names, quote of the day:
“There is no better demonstration of the power of movies than [John] Wayne’s impact on American life.

“Wayne on the screen was nothing but image--lit, moved about, costumed, made up, photographed. Where the politicians had speechwriters, he had scripts. Only the superficial will think that these artistic means have a superficial impact on ‘real life.’ They are the tools for making the myths that go into our self-understanding as a people.”
--Garry Willis, in "John Wayne’s America"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What Will You Leave Behind?

Quote of the day:
"Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris without a radio. Nowadays people can't walk through the produce section without a cell phone.”
--attributed to Garrison Keillor

Response to "Examples of Business Ethics," from regular reader Andy Breece:

“Your blog quoted Yankelovich - ‘stewardship ethics’--operating with both long-term profitability and the broader public good in mind. 

“’Stewardship ethics’ – what a wonderful phrase.  Strikes me that it could be a lot more than balancing profitability and public good – it could be the basis for developing an approach to applying Christian values to the trials and tribulations of daily life.

“I think most people know what they want to do, or should do, they just don't have a ‘tool’ to leverage their way towards an action that sits well with them – too often people value what others tell them they should value. Even ‘public good’ is too esoteric for many, especially those who are living on the edge.

“Perhaps a stewardship view would influence their valuation.

“Caring for someone else's property as if it were your own, not because it's the ‘right thing to do,’ but because in a very real sense it does belong you.  

“It ALL belongs to you even though you may not have custody of everything ... besides whatever you have today will belong to others tomorrow. 

“Temporal custody is just that, temporary, but what you do when you have custody is forever.”

The New Populists

Quote of the day:
"Anti-war books are as likely to stop war as anti-glacier books are to stop glaciers."
--Kurt Vonnegut

Headline of the day:
“For Incoming Democrats, Populism Trumps Ideology.”
--Today’s "New York Times"

Populism is the political word of the moment. The word is used six times in today’s "" front-page story.

A “populist” is defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as “a member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people.” That seems clear, simple and desirable. And the new members of congress seem to be genuinely interested in making our government work better for us.

But the label “populist” is cause for some reflection. “Populism” has not always been a good or even benign philosophy of governing. Huey Long rose to extraordinary power as a populist, and his fame now rests on being one of the most corrupt politicians in our history. And, of course, Adolf Hitler and Mussolini both rose to power as populists, rebelling against the elites of their time.

It’s very tempting to jump on the populist bandwagon. After all, who wouldn’t want to stand against our “elites” right now, whether they are “pointy-headed-ivory-tower-liberal-intellectuals” or “greedy-corporate-insider-big-money lobbyists” or “fundamentalist-right-wing-holier-than-thou moralists” or “neocon ideologues.”

Louis Menand talks about a 1960s film that covered the court-ordered desegregation of the University of Alabama. This culminated in Governor George Wallace’s famous “stand in the schoolhouse door.” Wallace also built his career as a populist.

This how Menand describes the film: “Robert Kennedy, in the White House, and his deputy, Nicholas DeB. Katzenbach, in Alabama--Ivy League liberals, supremely assured of their virtue--are seen discussing their strategy for handling Wallace as though Wallace were an inconvenient road hazard, a man, in their calculus, of no moral account whatever.

“And Wallace is seen arriving at the university and accepting expressions of support from the people waiting to greet him, with the easy familiarity of a man who knows them and is part of a genuine community.

“Wallace was as successful a populist as the postwar era produced, and the Kennedy administration was undoubtedly the incarnation of the modern liberal mentality....

“There is something slightly chilling about the confrontation, as there is when you watch any ancient and deeply rooted thing smoothly and expertly obliterated by the forces of ‘progress.’ But Kennedy and Katzenbach were right, and Wallace was wrong.”

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Luck or No Luck

Quote of the day:
“As someone jibed, the real danger to this congress, now that it’s officially a lame duck, is that Dick Cheney will shoot it.”
--Alan Abelson in today’s "Barron’s"

Quote of the day no. 2:
“We got lucky.”
--Steve Fisher, coach of San Diego State University men’s basketball.

Fisher was responding to his team’s win in the opening game of the season, against Murray State. With about one second to go, star player Brandon Heath sunk a running shot from just past half court. The Aztecs won 87-84.

“Luck” is the correct word to use. The New Oxford Dictionary defines it as “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one's own actions.” In the five years I’ve been following this team, there have been other times when it got lucky and many, many times when it got unlucky.

Sometimes luck is used as an excuse, which gave rise to the expression “Luck is the meeting of opportunity and preparation.” This is a clever saying but not universally true. We are all subject to the whims of chance, completely detached from any external opportunity or internal preparation.

The addictive TV show "Deal or No Deal" is an excellent study of luck. There is no possible preparation that will help the contestant choose which cases to open, and there is no special opportunity available for “smart” selection (the opportunity is the same for every player). It is totally random. Sometimes a player gets lucky and opens mostly cases with small amounts. Other times a player gets unlucky and opens mostly cases with large amounts.

If you haven’t seen the show, it is a very simple game which operates sort of like a slow-motion slot machine. There are 26 cases randomly assigned amounts of money ranging from 1 cent to one million dollars. The contestant chooses one case which is his or hers, and then has to choose which of the other cases to open.

Every once in a while the player stops and has to choose whether to accept a money offer from the show’s “banker,” or continue opening cases.

If it wasn’t for that choice, the program could be called "Luck or No Luck."

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Pondering the Christian Right

Guinness record of the day:
World’s fastest desk: 90 mph.

Short-lived Wikepedia quote of the week:
“He resides in Flat Butt, Nebraska, with his husband, Joe.”
--From the entry for New Jersey Republican Senate candidate Tom Kean, Jr.

Follow-up to "Examples of Business Ethics":
“In one survey, more than seventy-five per cent of chief financial officers said that, given a choice, they would choose to improve short-term earnings at the expense of long-term cash flow.”
--James Surowiecki in the November 6, 2006 "New Yorker"

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, here is an item to reflect on:

“One of the most startling developments in the culture war is the apparent takeover of the Republican Party by conservative evangelicals who claim that the U.S. is a Christian nation, uniquely called and blessed by God.

“The 2004 Texas GOP platform affirmed ‘that the United States of America is a Christian nation,’ founded ‘on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible.’ Texas Republicans...declared the doctrine of separation of church and state to be a ‘myth’ that must be rejected in order to restore the founders’ original intent.

“One of the architects of that platform was David Barton, vice chair of the Texas Republican Party and one of the chief advocates for a Christian America. Barton’s view of American history has energized millions of voters and forced lawmakers to take conservative Christian causes seriously.

“Barton is clearly more interested in current cultural squabbles than he is in history. Put simply, Barton is a bad historian--his B.A., from Oral Roberts University, is in math education. He retrieves only those aspects of history that, often taken out of context, match his emphasis on America’s Christian identity.

“The founders were, on the whole, less religiously orthodox than the average American. They pushed the new nation toward tolerance and less reliance upon historic Christianity.”
--Kurt Peterson, who teaches history at North Park University in Chicago. He was writing in the October 31, 2006 "Christian Century."

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

A Cause for Hope

Quote of the day:
"The intelligent man is one who has successfully fulfilled many accomplishments, and is yet willing to learn more."
--Ed Parker

Election day is past.

I hope all of us can take a deep breath, enjoy a sense of relief, and relish the promise of some reasonable, constructive change.

I also hope that one of the things this election signifies is an end, at least for a while, of arrogance and rigidity as a primary political practice. Whatever the policy, ideology or opinion.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Examples of Business Ethics

Quote of the day:
“I always have a quotation for everything--it saves original thinking.”
--Dorothy Sayers

Musician quote of the day:
“Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?”
--The Flaming Lips

More on personal and business ethics:
“This ‘I win-You lose’ ethic infects company and culture, and it’s not doing us any favors.”
--Richard Louv, in today’s "San Diego Union-Tribune."

Louv cites public opinion expert Daniel Yankelovich, saying that he “argues that the deepest tradition of American business--the ethic of enlightened self-interest--has morphed into unenlightened self-interest: a commitment to immediate profitability even if it means long-term loss of market share.”

We’ve been here before. In the 1980s the discussion centered on the competitive threat from Japan. Their companies were said to be committed to the long term, even the very long term, while ours were perpetually preoccupied with this quarter’s results. From their behavior, I’m not sure that many companies remember this experience.

But there is hope. Yankelovich cites three companies as examples of what he calls “stewardship ethics”--operating with both long-term profitability and the broader public good in mind.

Toyota “took a big risk when it invested heavily in its Earth-friendly hybrid technology,” Louv says. “The investment may yet reap major, direct rewards. But the company (which unofficially plans to introduce an all-hybrid line by 2010) dominates the auto market.

“Similarly, Procter and Gamble is betting on its 20-year plan to introduce its water purification technology to the 40 countries with the highest rates of infant mortality.

“As for the work force, Starbucks now spends more on health insurance for its employees--including part-time workers--than it does on coffee: the company realizes that treating its employees well means that they, in turn, will be hospitable to customers.”

Monday, November 6, 2006

49Up and 20 Mule Team Borat

Quote of the day:
“Fear of drama is never cause to indulge oversensitive people--you gain nothing and the drama goes on unabated. I realize showing regard for others includes not trampling on
known sensitivities. But when someone has nothing but sensitivities, tiptoeing around them not only puts irrational restrictions on everyone else, but also validates that person’s every snit, fit and hissy.”
--Carolyn Hax in today’s "Washington Post," fresh back from vacation and in top form

Follow-up to "YouTube, MeTube, WeAllTube":
“Many people visit YouTube to watch blurry clips of unknown idiots making fools of themselves.”
--Allan Hoffman, Newhouse News Service

The new movie comedy "Borat" was the most-attended film over the weekend. I haven’t seen it, but it’s gotten gobs of press attention. I don’t know if the success of this movie will continue, but it’s not hard to imagine folks being in the mood for comedy more than anything else right now.

Having said that, I’d like to heartily recommend a film that is very different and authentically dramatic. Michael Apted’s "49Up" is the latest part of a documentary series tracking the lives of several Britons. The series began with a TV special made when all the subjects were seven years old, and Apted has made a new film every seven years since.

This is a singular and exceptional effort. Imagine watching film of yourself or members of your family answering the same questions every seven years. (Imagine if your home videos were that disciplined!)

We all have memories of what we were like in our past--but seeing it on film is an entirely different kettle of fish. One of the refrains of the film is the subjects saying they don’t recognize those earlier films of themselves, and sometimes they don’t agree with what they so fervently said years ago.

As I watched this film I began to realize it was a sort-of living cultural history of the last 49 years. I also found myself relating to many of the choices and mistakes these people had made, and what they had to deal with as consequences.

The film is a great lesson in the coming of wisdom from experience more than education or accident of birth. Most compelling, though, was watching growth and maturation happen right in front of me. The travels through hope, disappointment, joy, pain and contentment come together in an extraordinarily real portrait of life.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Voting Against, or Voting For?

Quote of the day:
“I’m impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it.”
--Klatu, from "The Day The Earth Stood Still," written by Edmund H. North

Quote of the day no. 2:
“I think it’s because we love our jobs, and they hate theirs.”
--U.S. Equity Strategist Byron Wien, when asked why his stock-picking performance was consistently so much better than his colleagues, most of whom were 20 years younger.

Headline of the day:
“The center may get its say.”
--Today’s "Los Angeles Times," in a front-page story talking about Tuesday’s elections

Definition of the day:
“Ideology: a system of ideas and ideals, esp. one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.”
--New Oxford American Dictionary

This morning I heard this Tuesday’s election called “the dirtiest in recent memory.” That comment is evidence of a very short memory. I can’t remember an election that was not dirty. Negative, nasty campaigns work, because we are much more likely to respond against a candidate or issue than for one. It is easier to motivate us negatively than positively.

This election is in large part a referendum on the direction of our government, and there is a lot of dissatisfaction about that right now. It remains to be seen if the source of that dissatisfaction is the ideology that has become our nation’s foreign and domestic policy, or if it is something more specific.

If the dissatisfaction is with the ideology, it is unclear what ideology we want to see replace it. I’m not sure that many of us know what we might be voting FOR, as opposed to voting against.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

1984 22 Years Later

Quote of the day:
“Never try to hug your rabbit; most don’t like it.”
--Steve Dale

Proposed bumper sticker of the day:
“Too cool for drool.”

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Like many ambitious people, I had developed a dependence on adrenaline. I could get so much done when my anxiety was in the red zone that I learned to live right on the edge of panic, in that optimum zone between alarm and collapse.”
--Barbara Brown Taylor

Political quote of the day:
“The language of American politics increasingly resembles an Orwellian monologue.”
--Christopher Lasch

And we have adapted to (and perhaps accepted) this “Orwellian monologue.” We are accustomed to ballot propositions on which a “no” vote actually means “yes” and politicians who say one thing to one audience and its seeming opposite to a different audience hours later. It’s part of the normal course of things, we say. Apparently it was not the normal course of things when George Orwell wrote "1984" and coined the term “doublespeak.”

His book portrayed a world in which doublespeak was the norm and no one seemed to mind. Everywhere there were declarations that up was down and good was bad and pain was pleasure.

And no one seemed to mind.

Masters of the Political Offhand

Quote of the day:
“Coming out of this thing, dazed, you may blink into the sunlight and wonder: Have I become a burrito?”
--David Elliott in today’s "San Diego Union-Tribune," reviewing Terry Gilliam’s new movie "Tideland"

Human nature quote of the day:
“People who know they alone are right find it hard to compromise, and compromise is the strategy of democracy.”
--Arthur M. Schlesinger

We have slipped into sometimes labeling our constant stream of talk-radio personalities as “commentators” or, worse, “analysts.” We sometimes do not see the reality that they are really highly-skilled masters of getting attention through expressing offhand, ad-libbed opinions. They are, above all, entertainers working without scripts.

Historical quote of the day:
“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia (Iraq) into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a simple withholding of information.... Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster.”
--T. E. Lawrence (portrayed later in "Lawrence of Arabia")
(thanks to Zenger’s Newsmagazine)

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Masters, Slaves and Artists

Musician quote of the day:
“Something’s lost but something’s gained, in living every day.”
--Joni Mitchell

Movie critic quote of the day:
“Art, perhaps unfortunately, is not the sphere of good intentions.”
--Pauline Kael

Actor quote of the day:
“I came to a place of agreement between my ambitions and limitations.”
--Glenn Ford

Novelist quote of the day:
“Their constant outward-looking, their mania for radios,cars, and a thousand other trinkets made them dream and fix their eyes upon the trash of life, made it impossible for them to learn a language which could have taught them to speak of what was in theirs or others’ hearts. The words of their souls were the syllables of popular songs.”
--Richard Wright

We are at the climax of a political season, a good time to ponder power. It’s been said there are two sides to power: the desire of the strong to be masters and the desire of the weak to be slaves. In our culture, we are endlessly preached at to “take power over our lives,” to be “masters of our destiny.”

The problem is that, while some of us (often irritatingly) delight in behaving like master-hood is the only option, others of us not only don’t want to be masters, we do want to be slaves.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Georgia O'Keeffe, Democracy and Coolness

Extraordinary quote of the day, and follow-up to "Look Out! Plunging and Plummeting!":
“Procter & Gamble yesterday posted a 33 percent jump in its first-quarter earnings....”
--Associated Press, today.

What makes this quote extraordinary is that none of the usual three hyperbolic “s” words are used: soar, spike or skyrocket. Seems like we have trouble getting through a day without hearing that something or another is plunging, plummeting (see stories on real estate prices) or soaring, spiking or skyrocketing (see stories on real estate prices 18 months ago).

Bumper sticker of the day:
“Commit random acts of coolness.”

Number of non-duplicate mailings about a single California assembly race we received last Monday:

Average number about the same race received daily since October 20th:

Political quote of the day:
“Democracy is working because public attitudes remain the dominant influence--not ‘big money’ or ‘special interests.’ But it is not reassuring. The trouble is that public opinion is often ignorant, confused and contradictory, and so the policies it produces are often ignorant, confused and contradictory--which means they’re ineffective.”
--Robert J. Samuelson, "Newsweek," November 6, 2006

Political quote of the day no. 2:
“The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting.”
--Charles Bukowski

Artist quote of the day:
“Low-toned dismal-colored painting.”
--Georgia O’Keeffe, describing impressionism. She also said this:

“Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”