May 2003 Archives

David Russ, my fraternity brother and fellow MIT alum, and who is, in fact, a rocket scientist, sends me a link to an insightful Weekly Standard column by Joel Engel, which points out the near-worship of intelligence among leftist intellectual circles. Character is not only considered irrelevant, but intelligence becomes a substitute for character:

In fact, the "right" kind of intelligence--call it Upper West Side smarts--is in some ways more tyrannical than the old Upper East Side, world-at-their-feet arrogance bred in "the best" prep schools three generations ago. While the Andover kids were at least taught manners and noblesse oblige, today's aspiring intelligentsia (especially in the bigger cities) too often learn that bright makes right. To wit: A jeweler I know brags that his 9-year-old son, away at overnight camp, mouths off to the counselors--"because he's so much smarter than they are." A friend can't decide whether he'd prefer his brilliant but tortured son to be happy or accomplished. A colleague's sister watches with pride and nods approvingly as her 7-year-old daughter calls me stupid for disagreeing with her memorized contention that the president has more important things to worry about--"like the economy, duh"--than Iraq.

It will not be surprising that the favorite recent presidents of this bunch are Clinton and Carter, and their least favorites, Reagan and Bush. Engel compares supposed intelligence with success in foreign policy and concludes that raw intelligence isn't as useful as common sense:

The best and the brightest, as we learned from JFK's advisers, offer little protection against absolute foolishness--and may, perhaps, be more susceptible to it, given the anecdotal evidence suggesting that brilliance and common sense are inversely correlated. It's no wonder Castro hoped Bush wouldn't be "as stupid as he seems." For 40 years the dictator has been surrounded and visited by brilliant people who swear that he's brilliant and benevolent--and if Bush were indeed a dimwit, he might see right through Castro and conclude that all those people willing to brave sharks, drowning, dehydration, and firing squads to escape from Cuba actually recognize something that the dictator's brilliant admirers do not.

From painful personal experience, I can tell you that intelligence is no guarantee of success, and as much as I admire the signs of brilliance I see in my children, I know that they will only be able to make the most of that brilliance if they have learned godliness and humility, hard work and practical common sense.

Another fraternity brother, Peter Sullivan, once told me this story on himself, which illustrates that an MIT education is no guarantee of common sense: One night he was restless and couldn't sleep. He was feeling nervous (about a test, if I recall correctly), so to mellow out he drank a "Mello Yello", which had the highest caffeine content of all the beverages offered by the Coca-Cola Company. He still couldn't fall asleep, and since he was unable to doze, he reasoned that he should take a "No-Doz", which made him about as calm and cool as Barney Fife confronted with an actual crimefighting situation.

Now let me tell a story on myself. My college social life was frustrating. As a skinny, spotty, charisma-deficient nerd-boy, I was certainly among my own kind at MIT, but I therefore failed to make much of an impression on the girls I went out with. There was one thing I had going for me -- I was smart enough to go to MIT and study computer science -- but that didn't seem to help me at all with these women. Many years later, I realized that they weren't impressed by my academic credentials because they were MIT students, too. I had foolishly restricted my dating universe to the set of women among whom my one competitive advantage was neutralized. There were plenty of attractive female students in the Boston area who would see an MIT engineer with good earning potential as a great catch (lack of charisma notwithstanding), but instead of looking up and seeing alternate routes through the dating maze, I kept my head down and continued bashing into the dead end I had found.

Anyway, I finally tumbled to this conclusion, oh, about three months ago. And I might have remained clueless and single until then, but providentially, toward the end of my college years, when I was not quite as skinny and spotty as before, God brought across my path a lovely young University of Arkansas student, who condescended to be my first girlfriend and, ultimately, to be my wife.

So don't confuse intelligence with common sense, people skills, or the countless other factors that separate success from failure.

Here is a very thorough set of links challenging the conventional wisdom about government-funded convention centers. It's accepted by even the most avid convention-center proponent that these facilities cost more to run than they bring in revenues. The question is whether they bring in enough additional dollars from outside the region to raise enough tax revenue to cover the operating deficit of the facility and to increase revenues for other public services. These articles are worth reading and absorbing as the Dialog / Visioning Leadership Team is considering which projects to include in a fall tax vote.

Too much whimsy, lately, sorry. I've been working on a lot of serious stuff off-line, so the web has become a source for comic relief. Checked out thetulsan.com for the first time in a while, which has a little blurb about the Indian Gaming / Class III Gaming bill, labeling it Wampumgate and condemning the scandal, although he doesn't explain what it's all about. In any case, the gaming bill failed to make it through before the end of the session, as you can read in this story from KFAQ.

There's also a link to thetulsan.com's ranking of Tulsa news websites, with pros and cons for each one.

The "Tick Tock Toys" section of "The Imaginary World" has images from a 1970s catalog of playground equipment. The cover image is of the "Space Cruiser", which bears a slight resemblance to the original USS Enterprise. They had one of these in the park near my cousins' house in Midwest City; as a trekkie of 9 or 10, I thought it was very cool. Last time I was by there, a couple of years ago, it was still in use.

The "Tick Tock Toys" page is full of commercial baby boomer nostalgia. There are images of food you begged your parents to buy (like Space Food Sticks), very un-PCdrink mixes, and much more. Go have a rummage through the images of our collective past.

Hans Kistner sends along links to a 2-minute Honda ad, which uses the parts of a Honda Accord in a sort of Rube Goldberg / "Mouse Trap" arrangement, a chain of reactions that begins with movement of a single part. It took over 600 takes to get this to work perfectly -- no trick photography or special effects.. The Daily Telegraph tells how the commercial was made.

The bigshots at Honda's world headquarters in Japan, when shown Cog for the first time, replied that yes, it was very clever, and how impressive trick photography was these days. When told that it was all real, they were astonished.

One of the more striking moments in the film is when a lone windscreen wiper blade helicopters through the air, suspended from a line of metal twine. "That was the first and last time it worked properly," recalls Tony Davidson, of the London-based advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy. "I wanted it to look like ballet."

After that, a few yards and several ingenious connections down the assembly line, another pair of windscreen wiper blades is squirted by an activated washer jet. Because Honda wipers have automatic sensors that can detect water, they start a crablike crawl across the floor. It is as though they have come to life.

Go see it. It is very cool.

A web search for photos of old-time playground equipment (of the sort they have at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas) turned up this little essay by Bill Van Dyk about a decision to tear down every playground in the Toronto school district despite the fact that the old equipment was safe:

What happened was this. An inspector from Ottawa had created a report that laid out some guidelines for new playground equipment, with the laudable goal of ensuring that they would be as safe as possible. The new guidelines were better than the old guidelines, of course. Some clever people have found ways to build playground equipment that is safer than ever before.

The Toronto School Board, having received their new guidelines, hired an inspector from a private service to check all of their playground equipment to see if they conformed with the new guidelines. They did not, of course. The old playground equipment is, well, old.

As it turns out, the old playground equipment was not very bad at all. Out of the hundreds of thousands of children who had played on them, no one had ever been killed, nor, apparently, were there many serious injuries. In fact, more children are injured on the paved areas of the playground and the yard than on the playground equipment.

Still, no cost is too high when it comes to children's safety. Except for the cost of common sense and rationality. The Toronto School Board ordered 172 sets of old playground equipment removed, on the off chance that someone, some day, might get hurt really bad.

A remarkable gift

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Blogger Rachel Lucas has posted a touching tribute to her grandpa, a WWII vet who passed away last week. She tells of a remarkable gift he gave his grandchildren:

You see, Grandpa had a camcorder in the 1990s, and at family gatherings, he was always there in the background, silent, recording little snippets of our lives. What I didn't know was that he also used to have an 8 mm movie camera (sans sound) in the 1960s and 70s. Unbeknownst to me, he'd taken reels and reels of footage of my siblings and me when we were infants and toddlers.

So, late in his life, he decided to put all the footage he'd ever taken onto one VHS tape. He sat down one day and set up his 8 mm projector to play the movies on a white wall. Then he put his modern-day camcorder on a tripod and aimed it at that wall. While he played the old movies, he recorded with the camcorder. The best part is that as the silent 8 mm movies played on the wall, he narrated into the camcorder.

Read the whole thing, and have a look at Rachel's more recent entries, too.

Yesterday I wrote about our visit to wonderful Riverside Park in beautiful Independence, Kansas. All along our route we noticed well-kept, attractive towns.

Ottawa has a picture perfect courthouse and a well preserved Main Street. (A 1999 series in the Ottawa Herald indicates concerns about their downtown, but it appears that the community has acted to save what they have.)

Garnett is another town with an intact Main Street and tree-lined residential streets.

Lawrence is set beautifully on hills overlooking the Kansas River. Massachusetts Avenue is the main drag -- a bustling Main Street serving both town and gown.

Here's an observation and a question: I am a proud Oklahoman, and yet I can't help but notice a quality and pride in these Kansas towns that I don't see in towns of similar size in Oklahoma. These Kansas towns seem to be surviving and thriving, while many similar towns in Oklahoma are on the wane, with Main Streets falling into disrepair, storefronts vacant or filled with sub-optimal uses and public spaces showing signs of neglect. The pride I've observed in Kansas I've also seen in many parts of Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, and Illinois. What accounts for the difference? I have some theories, but I'd love to see some of your ideas first.

In the midst of all the talk about racial preferences in college admissions, it's not often mentioned that many colleges which receive federal funds have racially-exclusive programs, a clear violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Roger Clegg, in NRO, reports that his organization has notified 26 universities that their racially exclusive programs violate the law and could be the subject of a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights. In 15 cases, the university responded to the notice by dropping the racial requirements without hesitation. When my alma mater was challenged, they hesitated a bit:

MIT's story is a bit more complicated. We first wrote to its senior counsel on February 20, 2001, after receiving a complaint from a parent whose child was ineligible for its summer program, which excluded whites and Asians. MIT said it was confident that its program was consistent with federal law, and so last year we filed a complaint with OCR, which launched an investigation.

That investigation is still ongoing, but MIT has concluded that we were right after all, and that a racially exclusive program is indeed indefensible. "Our best advice was that for racially exclusive programs, our chances of winning were essentially zero," said Robert P. Redwine, MIT's dean of undergraduate education. The university's senior counsel added that its decision was based on "an analysis of what our peers were doing around the country, and what conclusion other institutions have reached. . . ." So MIT has decided to end the racial exclusivity of its summer programs, too.

MIT's program is called Project Interphase. It was designed to help "underrepresented [i.e., not Jewish or Asian] minority students" make the transition to the pace of an MIT education:

Over a quarter of a century old, the goal of the program is to enhance the academic preparation of the participants who are expected to enter MIT as undergraduates in the Fall. The program emphasizes accelerated adjustment to the rigorous MIT environment and has a dual focus: academic excellence, and the development of social and institutional support networks and skills.

The new policy still has a focus on "underrepresented minorities" but acknowledges other circumstances for which such a program might be useful:

To that end, individuals of any race or national origin may apply to these programs. MIT will take many factors into account when selecting students for these programs, such as academic qualifications, and whether the individual is the first generation in his or her family to be headed for college, comes from a high school that does not send a high percentage of students to four-year colleges, comes from a background that presents challenges for success at an elite urban institution such as MIT, or comes from a racial or ethnic minority group that is underrepresented in educational programs and careers in science and engineering.

While I understand the good intentions behind Project Interphase, it was my observation that it may have interfered with the success of minority students. The program unfairly stigmatized minority students as uniformly and uniquely unprepared by their high school education for the intensity of the MIT experience, often described as like "taking a drink from a firehose". Furthermore, by bringing racially-exclusive groups together before freshman orientation, the program encouraged the development of race-based social networks, which preempted the formation of cross-racial friendships. Our fraternity offered several bids every year to African-American freshmen based, like all our bids, on our assessment of a freshman's compatibility with the current membership. Only rarely were those bids accepted, with many of these young men choosing to join their Interphase classmates in certain dorm floors of New House, dubbed "Chocolate City" by the residents.

A Google search on "Chocolate City" turns up this interesting page by a white Ohio State alum who links to a number of similar living arrangements at school around the country. The author says that his college experience would have been diminished had his African-American roommate chosen to live in self-segregated housing.

Just back from a weekend trip to Lawrence, Kansas, to see my cousin graduate from high school. We made some stops on the way there and back to give Dad a break and let the kids run around.

On the way home tonight, we stopped for nearly two hours at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas. Independence is a little city of about 10,000, county seat of Montgomery County. Like most Kansas county seats, it is a beautiful town, with tree-lined streets of tidy Late Victorian and Craftsman homes, a stately courthouse, and a downtown of beautifully restored commercial buildings which appear to be fully occupied.

Riverside Park sits on the north side of town, 124 acres above the banks of the Caney River, and features a small zoo, two playgrounds, an antique carousel, a lighted fountain, miniature golf, a miniature train ride, and tennis courts.

Our first stop on entering the park was the big playground near the Carousel. This is where Joe (nearly 7) wanted to spend his time. Visiting the playground is like traveling through time, starting with big metal behemoths probably built in the '50s, through '60s fiberglass bouncy horses, earth-toned climbing equipment from the '70s, up through a plastic play complex from the late '90s.

The behemoths to which I refer are old but very well maintained pieces of equipment which were designed with the assumption of a level of acceptable risk in child play which exceeds that of our safety-conscious age:

  • A 12 foot high platform, providing access to five slides -- two straight and flat, two straight but wavy, and a curly slide -- reached by two steep metal ladders. The platform has a "guard rail" about 18 inches high, just high enough to catch a grownup's feet as he falls off and ensure that he hits the ground head first. The steps of these ladders are wrought iron manifestations of the the words "FUN FUL", which I take to be the manufacturer's name. I only found one reference to such a company on the web, a photo of a merry-go-round ride called an "Ocean Wave", circa 1920. I remember something very much like that in the playground in front of Catoosa Elementary School, and I think I saw one in Seiling Park in Broken Arrow within the last 10 years (no longer there).
  • A twelve-foot high "fire tower" featuring a big hole in the floor (for a fire pole) as well as a straight slide.
  • A six-foot slide platform with metal sheets extending down either side -- the kind that will fry you like bacon on a hot summer day.
  • An antique ladder truck. A real one. Not something wooden and small with rubber bumpers over the sharp edges, not a relic fenced in and out of reach, but a real old fire truck that kids can climb all over. The steering wheel actually turns the wheels, which have real (mostly flat) tires. You can climb all the way back on the ladder. Sadly, the controls to raise, extend, and swivel the ladder have been disabled, probably by order of some safety-obsessed killjoys.
  • A spinning circle -- the kind with the raised elongated bumps at right angles for traction, and bars radiating and rising from the center, then forking out and connecting to the edge. Joe was riding it, having me spin him faster and faster. As he was spinning, and as I was pondering whether, out of appreciation for the City of Independence having the guts to keep this classic play equipment available, I would refrain from filing suit if one of my kids were injured -- as if he could read my mind, Joe launched himself off the circle. His foot was caught by one of the handholds and it seemed he might be dragged around, but the circle stopped quickly. Joe was fine, grinning. He got up, brushed off the sand (that's what they use around all the play equipment -- not hard, splintery wood chips, but nice soft sand). "I intended to do that. I thought it would be cool to jump off!"
  • Big heavy seesaws, the kind that will perform reverse traction on your spine if your partner suddenly scrams.

Katherine (nearly 3) was not all that interested in the playground. She wanted to ride the carousel with Mommy. And she did, probably about 15 times. When it's only a nickel a ride, you can ride 15 times. The carousel is beautifully restored, protected from the elements by a recently constructed canopy.

The train wasn't running -- it's only 25 cents -- and we didn't take time for the mini-golf course which illustrates the history of Independence (only $1 a game). We did stock up on sodas from the vending machines for the ride home -- only 50 cents a can.

The extra carousel rides and time on the playground was in lieu of a stroll through the park's Ralph Mitchell Zoo. The zoo mainly features small animals, and the centerpiece is a WPA-built monkey island, which was once home to astro-monkey Miss Abel. As recently as our last visit, three years ago, the zoo was just part of the park, accessible whenever the park was open. Now there was a tall wire fence surrounding the zoo, and they close the zoo at 8 p.m. My wife asked the lady at the carousel ticket booth what had changed. She said federal zoo regulators required the fence and the 24-hour presence of a zookeeper.

As we loaded up the car for the trip home we could hear the wild cries of the peafowl which roam the zoo grounds.

A bit of belated blogging: A week ago I attended the monthly luncheon of the Tulsa County Republican Men's Club (a misleading name, since probably half of our attendees are women). The guest speaker was Howard Barnett, former CEO of the late great Tulsa Tribune, and chief of staff for former Governor Frank Keating for most of Keating's two terms of office.

Barnett spoke about the current budget mess at the State Capitol. He said that the process is messed up because it was designed that way by Alfalfa Bill Murray. Oklahoma's founding fathers didn't trust big business and didn't trust the railroads, and made it difficult for companies to do business here. They also didn't trust government, so they hobbled the executive branch as best they could. Barnett says Oklahoma really doesn't have an executive branch, as most state government agencies are run by boards, to which the Governor only has a minority of the appointees, and he can only remove his appointees with cause. If the Governor appoints someone apparently solid to a board, but then his appointee goes native, becomes more of an advocate than an overseer for the agency, the Governor is stuck. There is no accountable executive power, and there is no means for negotiating priorities among the different agencies of government.

Barnett says he's working on a book about Oklahoma Government, and his working title is It's Amazing That It Works At All.

Barnett called for reform of the State Constitution. He headed up the effort to rewrite Tulsa's City Charter in 1989, and reflecting on that experience, acknowledged that they hobbled the City Council excessively, out of a fear that Councilors could become ward bosses. Some would say that the result under the previous administration was a city-wide ward boss unfettered by checks and balances. Barnett said that some structures do a better job of functioning when you have the wrong people in office -- so constitutional reform is important -- but the quality of the office holder is the most important factor in the healthy functioning of government.

If I can find anything on the web that Barnett has written on this subject, I'll link to it, and post an update to this entry.

Abraham the missionary

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In NRO today, David Klinghoffer (who is Jewish) argues that there shouldn't be objections to Christians communicating the Gospel as they bring supplies and help to the Iraqi people. After all, Abraham, revered by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, was a missionary for monotheism, and used hospitality to create opportunities for his message:

Abraham was pretty aggressive. In another cryptic verse in Genesis, he's said to have planted an "eshel" in Beersheba (21:33). If that is just a kind of tree, as many translators say, who cares that he planted one? According to the Talmud, this eshel refers to an inn Abraham established in the wilderness, a hospice where he taught wayfarers to acknowledge God. The patriarch would give them food, then ask them to say grace.

Sound familiar? As Christian missionaries understand, food creates fellowship. We eat with our friends. And it is friendship that, more than food itself, leads to conversions.

How could any religious believer, who thinks his faith has the answers to ultimate questions, not share those answers with others? The patriarch operated in a free market of ideas, where he was able to share his conception of the One God. Part of his legacy is missionary work. Another part is the liberty to make friends by offering food, and then to tell them about your God.

When you studied human reproduction in biology class, did it ever worry you that the ovum seemed to have to float through the middle of nowhere to get from the ovary to the fallopian tube? Did you wonder what would happen if the ovum lost its way? BBC News has a fascinating story from South Africa of just such a circumstance:

A healthy baby has been born after developing in its mother's liver instead of in the womb. Reports from South Africa say Nhlahla, whose name means "luck" in Zulu, is only the fourth baby ever to survive such a pregnancy.

In NRO's Corner, Stanley Kurtz reveals that members of the National Association of Scholars -- professors who support academic freedom and oppose political correctness -- now have a virtual catecomb, in the form of a weblog, for their mutual encouragement. Meanwhile NAS members receive printed communications in a plain brown wrapper:

When I was a grad student, I was afraid to join the NAS for fear that if my membership were discovered, it would destroy my career. So I subscribed to Academic Questions, the NAS journal, but without formally joining. Eventually, I joined the NAS, but made sure it mailings came to me at home, rather than at school. Turns out the local NAS understood all this, and sent its information in envelopes with no organizational identification on the outside.

This time it's the limited government advocates who feel cut out of the Bush administration:

In a memo to hundreds of fellow conservatives, a former Reagan administration official says traditional views are being edged out by a neoconservative "national greatness" ideology that accepts big government and advocates interventionist foreign policy.

"Today, most conservative pressure ends up as simple cheerleading for the White House," Donald J. Devine, who was President Reagan's director of the Office of Personnel Management, wrote in the memo. "That can be helpful, but there is nothing that pushes politics further to the right, leaving conservatism and the Republican Party to drift." ....

The close identification between the conservative movement and Republican politics is part of the problem, said former Reagan administration official Floyd Brown.

"The Republican Party is becoming more and more entangled with big government," said Mr. Brown, now executive director of Young America's Foundation. "As that trend continues, the movement needs to stand up and differentiate itself from Republican politics — not that I am not a supporter of the president's, because I am."

A similar danger may loom for conservatism and the Republican Party locally as well. We love finally having a mayor who embraces faith and traditional values and who is willing to upset a few applecarts in order to reform city government. But what will conservative Republicans do if the Mayor backs a sales tax hike to build a new sports arena? Will conservatives swallow our concerns and rally 'round him? If the Democrats come out in opposition, will we feel more compelled to demonstrate loyalty to Our Mayor, or will we join with the Democrats against a regressive tax increase, on principle? And what if Republican leaders go in two different directions on the issues?

We can only hope that the Mayor won't put the Republican Party in such a tough spot.

Stephen Glass, "who fabricated details in 27 of the 41 stories he wrote" for the New Yorker has apologized with a hand written note to the head of the American Conservative Union for a 1997 article describing orgies and drug abuse amongst the College Republicans at that year's CPAC conference, an article Glass fashioned out of whole cloth. Nice of him to own up six years later when he's promoting a new book.

Time to drain Foggy Bottom

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Not a day goes by without a report that employees of our State Department (motto: "To protect and to serve... Saudi interests") is in some way undermining the policies of their nominal boss, President Bush.

Donna M. Hughes, Women's Studies Professor at the University of Rhode Island, reports on NRO that the State Department seems to be touting legalized prostitution to foreign countries as a solution to the problem of global sex trafficking:

Last week, the State Department took a Southeast Asian delegation for a tour of a brothel in Nevada. As a part of the International Visitor's Program, nine people from the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia visited the Moonlite Bunny Ranch and heard lectures on legal prostitution....

Taking foreign visitors to brothels in Nevada seems to be an ongoing practice of the State Department. In August 1999, I gave a presentation on trafficking of women and children for prostitution to a group of U.S. Information Agency visitors from East Asia. They told me they too had visited a brothel in Nevada as part of their tour....

The purpose of these particular State Department visitors' tours is to teach the participants about human trafficking and how the U.S. is combating the problem. One might conclude from the program of a visiting brothel and a pro-prostitution organization that the State Department is telling international visitors that legalization of prostitution is a solution to trafficking.

Meanwhile, the Washington Times reports on morale over at State Department HQ:

Walk the halls of the State Department's main offices in Washington these days, and you'll encounter an abundance of political cartoons — something you could not have found even three years ago. It's not that the diplomats at Foggy Bottom have suddenly developed a sense of humor, but rather a newfound contempt for the leader of the free world. The cartoons overwhelmingly lampoon President Bush as a simpleton who doesn't understand the "complexities" of the foreign policy.

Foreign Service sneering at a president is nothing new, of course, but such open disrespect for a commander-in-chief hasn't existed since Foggy Bottom's diplomats decried Ronald Reagan's description of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire." But at least then-Secretary of State George Schultz was able to keep something of a handle on his lieutenants and foot soldiers. Colin Powell has not.

Consider an example with deep policy ramifications. On March 31, representatives of the North Korean government told State Department officials, for the first time, that they were reprocessing plutonium, a key step in developing nuclear weapons. The Pentagon and the White House did not learn of this stunning announcement until Pyongyang told them during previously scheduled talks with North Korea in China on April 18. The State Department intentionally withheld this vital piece of information, fearing that, if the White House knew, officials there might call off the meeting. The White House was reportedly furious about this deception, but it has done nothing concrete to make sure it doesn't happen again.

And if you want more reason to get mad, read through NRO's archive of reporting by Joel Mowbray, who has relentlessly covered the State Department's policy of expediting visas for Saudi nationals, obstructing efforts to release abducted American children being held in Saudi Arabia, and undermining our relationship with Turkey.

Does the State Department exist to represent U. S. interests abroad, or to influence U. S. policy for the benefit of foreign countries? Is there corruption -- bribery -- behind this behavior? Or is it that people attracted to the Foreign Service are more likely to be enamored of foreign countries and disdainful of America? Does the glamour of jetting around the world and attending peace conferences in fancy hotels lead to a preference for "peace process" over real peace (which usually only results from the measured application of military force)?

Perhaps we ought to fire the whole lot and start from scratch. A government agency charged with representing our interests around the world ought to by manned by people who identify with those interests. Yes, Foreign Service employees should have an appreciation for foreign cultures, but they ought to passionately love our culture, our way of life, and our traditions of liberty and rule of law, and seek to defend them against all threats.

If someone views himself more as a "citizen of the World" then as an American, let him go join the French Foreign Legion. He doesn't belong in the U. S. Foreign Service.

A hat tip to Little Green Footballs for the link to the Washington Times op-ed. LGF is another source for a long litany of State Department outrages.

In today's edition of NRO, Kenneth Connor, President of the Family Research Council, warns that the Republican Party is in danger of alienating social conservative voters, who see the party leadership more interested in wooing those actively working to undermine traditional values than in defending those values. Connor points out that 4 million evangelicals failed to vote in 2000 and might stay home again:

Since church attendance was the single best indicator of voting behavior, the stay-at-home evangelicals cost Mr. Bush the popular vote and very nearly the election. If these evangelical voters were not highly motivated by eight years of the smarmy Clinton presidency, and were not eager to "run to the polls" and put the whole sorry Clinton era behind them, then it is dangerous to dismiss the possibility they might stay home again on Election Day 2004 if their core issue is treated in a cavalier fashion.

Vagrant reality

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A couple of interesting items yesterday regarding vagrancy (or as they call it these days, "homelessness"). John Derbyshire reports on the "battalions" of street people he encountered at City Hall Plaza in San Francisco, and reports that city leaders can't understand why the "homeless" population is increasing "despite" all the money they spend on the problem.

San Francisco is indeed generous to street people. A homeless adult on county welfare gets $395 a month, more than in any neighboring jurisdiction. There is no requirement that recipients have any roots in the county, nor is there any work requirement. I am willing to bet, though I haven't found a source, that there is not even a requirement for U.S. citizenship. So far as I have been able to discover, there are no requirements whatsoever. You just quit your job, move to a place with the most agreeable climate in the world, cease attending to matters of personal hygiene, get yourself a substance habit, and sign on for a hundred bucks a week, no questions asked. And Ms. Lelchuk wonders why the "homeless" population is growing!

Elsewhere on National Review Online, Jay Nordlinger links to a story from Oklahoma City TV station KFOR, in which Brad Edwards investigates what panhandlers do with the money people give them:

And, at another favorite panhandler intersection, I watched a crippled man flying a "need help" sign. He received four donations from drivers in only 17 minutes.

A local convenience store manager says the man doesn't limp when he's in using the donations to buy quarts of beer.

I approached him outside and the homeless man admitted to having cirosis of the liver and hepatitis, probably from alcohol abuse....

Meanwhile, back to our group of organized panhandlers who work their signs in two-hour shifts. They claimed the money wasn't for alcohol or drugs, they wanted to find a way off the streets. This, even though we found them sitting, well away from the highway, and out of sight. Drinks went behind the bench as we approached.

Tulsa has plenty of "hand-out" services for vagrants, but there is also a "hand-up" available. The best way you can help a street person who truly wants to escape self-medicated vagrancy is to get them to John 3:16 Mission, which offers a long-term rehabilitation program, as well as emergency food, shelter, and clothing.

John 3:16 Mission provides this list of eight ways to help the homeless.

With a tip of the cap to Andrew Stuttaford of National Review Online for pointing this out, here is a fascinating review by Christopher Hitchens of a new book on the origins of the King James Version of the Bible by Adam Nicholson. The review includes a link to the book's first chapter.

Although I find translations like the NIV or the more word-for-word literal NASB better suited for study and comprehension, the King James Version is a cornerstone of the modern English language, and its turns of phrase inhabit our everyday speech. That's why I'm happy that the scripture memorization my son does at his school is done in the KJV. That is the only appropriate choice for a school with a classical emphasis.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has posted this review, by Jonathan Yardley.

What's all this, then?

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Since I'm about to send a blanket invitation to many, many friends to let them know about this site, I suppose I ought to have an explanation ready in a prominent place.

This is a weblog, or 'blog' for short. It's meant to be a collection of reflections and ideas, mostly links to and comments on things in the news. Because my tastes are rather eclectic, you can expect this weblog to be eclectic too, symbolized in the names of the "stations" on the site logo above. Below you'll find comments on Tulsa's "Dialog/Visioning Process", urban design, and the joys of political volunteering, cute baby pictures, T-ball game reports, and a reminiscence about game shows.

I say a bit more about blogs and why I decided to try to keep one in one of my initial entries.

On the home page you'll find the last week's worth of entries, but if this is your first visit, I hope you'll read through the whole thing, as there's some rather good stuff that has already "scrolled off" into the archives. Use the calendar or the monthly archive entries on the left side of the page to read it all.

I'd welcome your feedback, and if you see a story or website you think I'd find interesting, send me a link (just a link please) to blog at batesline.com.

Happy reading!

There's more to the story of Abigail Litle. About a month after her murder by a terrorist, her father Phil, a friend of mine from college, collected his thoughts and remembrances of his daughter, of learning of her murder, mourning her death, and celebrating her victory over death through her faith in Christ. With Phil's approval and encouragement, I want to make her story known as widely as possible. The full text is below. (You can also download the original PDF from Phil. It's a large file, 961 KB, which included some color photos, but the text is identical to what you see here.)

Here's a quote from Phil's introductory letter, which is an apt summary of the article.

The measure of our love for Abigail can be found in the depth of our pain. How it hurts that we can no longer hold her, that our partnership in the dreams she dreamt is broken and that our dreams which included her being here on earth with us are over. But we are finding comfort and strength in the Lord through the prayers of the multitudes who are interceding for us -- many who we have never met. We are thankful that we can know that we will hold her once again as we share together in our Heavenly Father's Kingdom.

We have tried to record some of the events and our experiences beginning with the moments we first heard of the bus bombing in Haifa. Our desire is that the Lord would enourage your hearts and strengthen you as you pray for us in the weeks and months ahead.

More victims of hate

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Charles Johnson is reporting that there has been another terror attack in Jerusalem, in addition to a bus bombing earlier today. There is no negotiating with these people, and it is time the US stopped pushing Israel into committing national suicide.

If you care about the Middle East and want the unvarnished truth about our "partners in peace", you should visit Charles Johnson's website, Little Green Footballs, every day.

What follows is an article I wrote back in March. The article was written two weeks after the daughter of some dear friends of mine was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist on a bus in Haifa, Israel on March 5, 2003. I am re-publishing it here for the convenience of the readers of this weblog, who may not have had the chance to read it before. I also wanted to make a couple of corrections to reflect some better information that I received subsequent to its original publication. Here's a quote from the article; follow the link at the end of this entry to read the whole thing:

Two American young women died violent deaths in Israel in recent weeks. Much has been written about Rachel Corrie, the 23 year old radical, killed accidently when she chose to throw herself in front of a bulldozer as she tried to protect tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists. For some reason, the media hasn't given as much attention to the other victim, a teenage girl riding a bus. Let me tell you about her.

Wednesday, March 5, 2003, Abigail Litle, a 14-year-old American living in Haifa, a Christian attending a predominantly Jewish school, was going about her routine. She was taking the bus from her high school to a tutoring appointment for help with her dyslexia. Riding with her was a schoolmate, Juval Mendelevich. Juval was on his cell phone, telling his dad how his day had been. It was their last conversation.

The remark of Cain

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In case you missed it, an excerpt from the remarks of State Senator Bernest Cain:

"I got a quote the other day that I got from Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler. And I don't have the exact words, but here's basically what it says. He says, in our government we are going to put Christians in key positions of responsibility because there has been too much liberal access going on out there and we are going to straighten up and make sure that the Christian culture is back in control. Now folks, they took Jewish people and they took them out and they strung them apart, they killed them, they mass murdered some of those people, and all of the ideas that were behind that were, and they were doing this while they were having Christian music going on, while they were having hymns. They killed thousands of Jews while they were doing hymns. That is what happens when you let the right wing of the Taliban come in and try to dictate to the State how we should run our business."

You can read it all here in the context of the legislative debate, with a brief, apt rebuttal from State Senator Charles Ford.

Cain has used his position as chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee to block legislation aimed at protecting the dignity and sanctity of human life. For example, he blocked a ban on human cloning which passed the State House on a 96-0 vote and which was sponsored by fellow Oklahoma City Democrat Opio Toure. On this occasion as well, he took the opportunity to bash supporters of the bill.

"I'm not going to pass laws just so a bunch of right-wingers can go pump to their folks that they passed something," Cain said. "I'm not going to do that. We've got too much of that junk."

I see from Cain's bio (linked above) that he learned philosophy as an undergraduate at Oklahoma Baptist University. Hope they do a better job of filtering out the duds nowadays.

Separation of church and state notwithstanding, you can't separate your theology (or lack thereof) from your politics. What you believe about the existence and nature of God and the nature of mankind will shape your ideas about government and society. If we build public policy on a solid foundation of ideas that reflect the world as it really is, we will build a peaceful, happy and prosperous society. If we build policy on a complete misunderstanding of human nature, we will produce chaos and despair. That's why I like to ask candidates -- particularly judicial candidates who won't be drawn out on specific issues -- "Are people basically good, or basically evil?" If they get this question wrong, they'll make all sorts of bad decisions, and I'll end up in my house behind seven different kinds of locks, hoping the marauding hordes will leave me alone.

This is what got me thinking about this: In today's "Bleat", James Lileks tells us about a couple of Anthony Burgess's dystopian sci-fi novels (The Wanting Seed, A Clockwork Orange), and how they reflect Burgess's fascination with "the dynamic between the teachings of St. Augustine and the Pelagian heresy." Augustine said that it was not possible for man not to sin -- because of the fall, humans cannot acheive perfection, apart from God's grace. Pelagius said, yes, it was possible for man to be perfect, and Augustinians shouldn't be so lazy about attaining personal holiness. Of course, theology has implications for public policy: "...in this argument, Burgess saw the two poles of political philosophy at work in the West, and beyond. Augustinian philosophy, which saw man as flawed and sinful and basically hosed when it came to perfectibility in this mortal plain, was the conservative view. Pelagius was liberalism: our nature is not only perfectible, we can perfect ourselves here and now."

Which view you hold comes down to a matter of religious conviction but it leads you to very different conclusions about the role of government, how to educate, how to deal with crime. Some theological propositions aren't testable, but with regard to human nature, we have thousands of years of recorded history to draw from. We can see how real humans have responded to various methods of governing and quickly determine which set of presuppositions, which model, is closest to reality.

I am reminded of a Monty Python bit: The Amazing Mystico and Janet, an illusionist (and his assistant) who builds high-rise apartments by hypnosis -- they stay up as long as the tenants believe in them. In real life of course, apartment buildings stay up only if they are constructed in accordance with the immutable laws of physics, exploiting those laws to produce the desired result. In the same way, a society built in accordance with the immutable laws of human nature will stand firm, while no amount of sincere believing will sustain a society built upon an illusion.

Read the whole article. Lileks' Bleat is always worth reading, and the rest of his site is hilarious, thought-provoking, and amazing, too.

Showing some initiative

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Just got finished with our monthly Midtown Coalition meeting. We shifted it from our usual date and time in order to hold a discussion with area legislators. Tuesday falls in the middle of the legislative week and it's inconvenient to return to Tulsa for a meeting only to drive back to OKC the following morning. We understood, set a Thursday date at the recommendation of the legislators, who normally don't meet on Fridays, confirmed availability, got a meeting room. The only State Senator who said she would come backed out, citing the Senate's schedule, but so far no bad news from the House members. (Although Rep. Easley did warn me that so close to the end of the session, something might come up that would make the members unavailable.)

Monday I sent out reminder postcards to our members. Tuesday afternoon I sent an e-mail reminder to the legislators. Within minutes I received two replies saying that because of the addition of a session on Friday, the representatives regretted that they would be unable to attend our meeting. Wednesday afternoon another cancellation came in. I'm expecting a big crowd for this meeting, and so I started to worry, because the star attractions won't be at the meeting. So I asked Councilor Chris Medlock to have someone come to talk about the Route 66 proposal.

Thursday morning I got a phone call and an e-mail cancelling. Now we're down to one legislator left who confirmed he would be there and who hasn't cancelled. I assumed he had just forgotten or perhaps he figured that we will assume that he can't come like all the others. And since I hadn't heard if anyone could come to talk about Route 66, I called County Commissioner Randi Miller to see if she could come talk to us. At least we'll get to visit with one elected official.

Lo and behold, at 7 p.m., just before the meeting is set to begin, State Rep. Roy McClain (D) walked in. The reason he didn't e-mail with a cancellation is because he actually planned on showing up. I cast no aspersions on the others for cancelling. Perhaps some had committee meetings late into the day; for the older members, perhaps making back to back drives between Tulsa and OKC would be too much to take. But I was impressed that Rep. McClain took the time to be there and was willing to make the extra drive. (I wonder if his colleagues will scold him for showing them up.)

McClain may be just another Michael Flanagan. Flanagan, a poorly-financed Republican, beat Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, an entrenched and powerful but scandal-plagued incumbent, in 1994, but then lost big in 1996 as the seat reverted to its normal voting habits, replacing Flanagan with another Democrat.

McClain didn't wow anyone with his answers tonight, but the kind of initiative he showed just by showing up may indicate that he has what it takes to hang on to a district that is overwhelmingly Republican by tradition and character. Mark Liotta (R) and Mary Easley (D) are two examples of representatives who hang on against unfavorable voter registration numbers; they do it by maintaining contact with their constituents all through the legislative session, and by wearing out shoe leather during the campaign season.

Republicans who want House District 71 back in their column shouldn't take it for granted.

P. S. Thanks to Julie Miner of the City Urban Development Department, who came to talk about Route 66, and Commissioner Miller, for being available at such short notice.

Cute baby pictures!

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First baby toad of the season! The toads return to our backyard goldfish pond every year near the vernal equinox with a raucous party by the light of the full moon. Within a few days, strings of toad eggs decorate the water, and shortly thereafter, thousands of tadpoles.

It's two months later, almost a full moon, and tonight we caught this little fella. I would tell you whether it's a boy or a girl, but such activity was prohibited by my alma mater.

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Meanwhile, the grown-up toads (at least 11 by Mikki's count) are having another noisy full moon party, uninhibited by MIT regulations. More cute babies will be on their way soon, it seems....

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Joe reminded me of another cute baby picture I intended to post. We saw this armored little bundle of joy near his T-ball field, scuttling off the road into the tallgrass. Couldn't be more than five or six inches long, excluding the tail.

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TheTulsan.com

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Found another interesting local website, worth checking on a regular basis. Right now thetulsan.com features an article on goings on at KFAQ, a rank of Tulsa news websites. Most usefully, there are links to stories of local interest that would otherwise be difficult to find. For example, the home page has a mention of the disappearance in Iraq of aid workers with Bartlesville-based Strategic World Impact, and a link to KFAQ's transcript of the remarks of Sen. Bernest Cain, in which he compares Christians to the Taliban and Hitler. From the links and some of the comments, the site appears to lean right. Glad to have yet another source of local news and commentary on the scene.

Pools out for the summer

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Only four city pools will be open this summer -- haven't heard anything about the county's pools yet. We were hoping to have our kids take swimming lessons and then have a chance to practice what they learn over the rest of the summer. My wife thought to look into a membership at one of the private pools near our house. Some government agency (probably the City-County Health Department; don't know for sure) told one of these pools they needed $15,000 worth of work done before they could open for the summer. I don't want to see our children put in a dangerous situation, but it seems like this would be a good summer for government to find ways to let these private pools open, to take some of the pressure off of the few public pools.

Public storm shelters?

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While we cowered in our "hidey-hole" during last Friday's storm, we heard a radio station tell us that certain schools and public facilities would be open as storm shelters. I'm looking forward to hearing the whole story. Who gave the information to the stations and why did no one at the stations realize the absurdity of telling people to drive for miles in a tornadic storm to take shelter?

No-runoff nightmare

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The Democrat primary to replace convicted State Sen. Gene Stipe (D - Big Mac) has produced a narrow win for State Rep. Richard Lerblance of Hartshorne, with only 27% of the vote in a field of five candidates. There is no runoff in this special election, so Lerblance moves to the general election knowing that 73% of Democrat primary voters wanted someone else.

We had a similar result in the race to replace John Sullivan in the State House after his election to Congress in early 2002. Six candidates ran in the Republican primary, won by Chad Stites with only 35% of the vote. The predominantly Republican district gave him a healthy victory over the Democrat in the race, but then the man's flaws began to surface. One wonders if a runoff in that special election would have brought matters to a head earlier.

I believe in majority rule, and "winning" with 27% of the vote doesn't qualify as a majority. Given the closeness of the race, even a two-candidate runoff could fail to give the victory to the candidate preferred by the majority of the voters. The third-place finisher, with 22% of the vote, might have been the choice of those who voted for #4 and #5 if the bottom two candidates had decided not to place their names on the ballot. If all of their votes had gone to #3, he would have had 48% and far outpaced #1 and #2. A similar situation in Louisiana in 1991 sidelined the incumbent governor and left voters with a choice between "The Crook" (Edwin Edwards) and "The Klansman" (David Duke). The same sort of thing happened in Oklahoma in 1990 in both parties' gubernatorial primaries; Burns Hargis might well have placed 2nd had it been a three man race, and Steve Lewis easily could have finished 1st ahead of Walters and Watkins, if a couple of minor candidates had not been in the race.

(Gubernatorial -- doesn't that word just make you think of a peanut doing the backstroke?)

The only way to ensure that the most preferred candidate is elected is to have a series of runoffs, eliminating the candidate with the lowest vote total after each round.

Too expensive and time consuming you say? That's why they invented Instant Runoff Voting -- one ballot, one election, but all the runoffs you need to ensure that the voters' preference gets the victory.

The 2/5 cent sales tax for the use of the Sheriff's Department of Oklahoma County, opposed by the Mayor of Oklahoma City and the Chamber of Commerce as "too large ... too loose ... too long", was defeated soundly tonight, by an 80-20 margin. While the debate leading up to the vote was forceful, it did not appear to get personal, and as this Daily Oklahoman article (free registration required) shows, the two sides were respectively gracious in defeat and magnanimous in victory, with Sheriff Whetsel phoning to concede defeat, and a Chamber official offering to work with the sheriff to address the needs that prompted him to seek the tax increase. 36,000 people signed the petition to put the issue on the ballot, but only 10,059 voted for the proposition. Turnout was less than 14% of registered voters.

Bookmaker of Virtues

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Happy Fun Pundit also weighs on on Bill Bennett's gambling habit, with some thoughtful entries in the comments section. Some other time, I'll tell you about my views on gambling. For now, I just want to say how appalled I am at Bennett's choice of games -- video poker and slots. I had higher expectations of the man; thought he'd at least play a table game like blackjack where there is some skill involved and a way of narrowing the odds. And if he did just want to turn his mind off and push buttons, wouldn't the nickel slots work as well for that purpose as the $500-a-pull variety?

Some of the comments on Happy Fun Pundit's post suggest he did it for the complementary perqs given to high rollers -- free rooms, food, booze, limos, show tickets. My last year in college, in 1985, I went with several fraternity brothers to visit the parents of one of them, who were playing blackjack in Atlantic City. They had complimentary rooms at several casinos, had complimentary meals. They put us up in one of their complimentary rooms in the Trump Tower, and one of the guys ordered Dom Perignon via room service -- all included in the complimentary service. My fraternity brother's parents gambled enough at blackjack to qualify for all these goodies, but because they knew basic strategy, how to pace your bets, and possibly a little card counting, they never lost much, and usually came out slightly ahead, enough to pay for the airfare, and they got to live like kings for a couple of days.

Speaking of "High Rollers" -- remember that craps-based quiz show? It's what Alex Trebek did before Jeopardy, with Ruta Lee as his dice girl. Also in the '70s you had game shows based on blackjack (Gambit, with Wink Martindale), slot machines (Joker's Wild, with Jack Barry), and roulette-like games (Press Your Luck, Wheel of Fortune).

Sorry. I was going to say something about the "Book of Virtues", but I drifted a bit. Anyway, here's a page with memories of the 1974 game show line-up, including a photo of a very mod Alex Trebek. The author of the page recounts happy memories watching game shows with his grandmother during summer vacation -- me, too. My summer schedule was built around the game shows, and you could pretty much spend all day watching them -- every network had them, and they ran all day long. At Grandma's house, game shows were supplanted only by Cubs baseball or Star Trek.

I hereby change this entry's category from "Culture" to "Whimsy".

Star Trek Annoyances

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Happy Fun Pundit says the Enterprise needs some fuses, WD-40, and seatbelts. And fabric more flattering than spandex.

Hard vs. Soft America

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Michael Barone of U.S. News and World Report has an original insight into a significant contrast between what he calls "Soft America" and "Hard America" -- Hard America being "the part of American life subject to competition and accountability". Most modern American kids aren't exposed to Hard America until age 18, and that, Barone says, is why America produces incompetent 18 year olds and competent 30 year olds.

My wife and I are doing our part to produce competent 18 year olds. Our children, even at their young ages, deal with accountability and are held responsible for their actions at home. There's a place for softness -- being understanding and forbearing as a child matures -- while remaining firm and insisting that the child take responsibility for the consequences of his behavior. We willingly pay a premium so that our son can have an education grounded in the same philosophy.

It's a brilliant insight by Michael Barone (not an unusual occurrence) and worth a read. (Thanks to Instapundit for the link.)

Last night Mikki and I attended a banquet honoring Arthur E. Rubin, a pioneer, volunteer, and elder statesman in the Tulsa County Republican Party. Art, now in his 80s, campaigned for Wendell Wilkie in 1940, helped reorganize the local party after big losses in 1958, and has been in the party leadership ever since. He got Jim Inhofe started in elective politics, and has been an encouragement and supporter of countless other candidates, including John Sullivan and Bill LaFortune. He's a man of strong convictions, and a frequent writer of letters to the editor. When he started, Tulsa County was 4-1 Democrat; today, the county is solidly Republican.

The evening included an impression performance by the Trojanaires, Jenks High School's show choir, and a slide show starting with Art's early days on the farm near Fairland, Oklahoma, through his service in World War II, his wedding, and his many travels with his wife. The photo that got the biggest laugh was of him riding bareback on a donkey while on a visit to Greece -- a humorous illustration of his life's work.

Half the fun of these events is getting to talk to elected officials and other activists and hear some of the inside scoop, which of course I can't share in this forum. I will simply say that for someone as fascinated by politics as I am, talking to these folks is like "an adult Christmas every day", as Rush Limbaugh says about his radio show.

Not many years ago, I was on the outside looking in. I was interested in politics, but felt unable to make much of a difference. I had been involved in the late '80s and early '90s, but was frustrated by some of the internal party politics and backed off to invest more time in my church.

Sometime in the mid '90s, on the ok.general Usenet group, Dale Switzer, a computer engineer who was active in the GOP, mentioned that he had been part of a group of activists and leaders who effectively chose between two high-profile candidates for a major office. Both gentlemen were interested in the office, and were viable candidates, but as a result of the influence of activists like Dale one of the two filed for office, ran, won and served for many years, and the other never filed for the race. I asked Dale how he managed to get into such an influential position, and he said it was by being a dedicated, involved foot soldier in the party. It certainly wasn't money or power.

In the intervening years, I learned that Dale was absolutely right. As I've been constructively involved in campaigns and party-building, as well as civic issues, more people have come to know and trust me, and some of the friends I've made are now in influential positions. Many activists have had the thrill of seeing a candidate elected to high office, having helped knock doors or raise money for his first city council campaign. Politicians, the good ones, at any rate, remember and remain grateful to the folks who were with them from the beginning.

So if you love politics but feel left out, go volunteer, get involved, even if what you are doing seems insignificant. No one is going to appreciate the brilliance of your ideas until they see the sweat of your brow. Once you've demonstrated your bona fides, the doors begin to open. And doggone if it isn't a hoot!

Fine Arts Day

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This morning was Fine Arts Day for the "Enrichment" classes (pre-K and kindergarten) at Regent Prep School. There was a wonderful program: The pre-K children recited the Beatitudes and recited and acted out nursery rhymes. (Since it's a private school, Old King Cole was allowed to have his pipe, and seemed reluctant to give it up after his bit was done.) Both classes sang hymns, including "The Old Rugged Cross". Then the kindergarten class -- my son's class -- recited Ephesians 6:10-20 (the armor of God), recited a poem about the months of the year, interspersed with seasonal songs. Joe, our son, even got to play xylophone for one of the songs.

After the program, the parents and grandparents went to the classroom to view the children's art work. Regent has a wonderful art teacher, Mrs. Cathy Ambrose, who has a great rapport with her students and has really inspired Joe. He is ready to go to Paris and Rome tomorrow to see the Louvre and the Sistine Chapel. Art at Regent includes some free creation, but focuses on learning about the great artists and their art. They learn to notice details by doing reproductions of famous works.

Joseph was proudest of his seascape diorama, which featured a wobbegong, a kind of carpet shark found off the coast of Australia. Alas, a friend accidentally damaged one of the "sea fans" in the diorama and knocked down the fish, which had been suspended as if swimming. Joe was crushed, understandably, but what really bothered him was that the damage occurred before the other parents got to see what a great job he had done. He recovered and enjoyed the rest of the day, but we got an interesting glimpse into what motivates our boy.

Pat McGuigan visited Regent a few weeks ago; you can find his article at Tulsa Today. The school is in the midst of a capital campaign to purchase the old Children's Medical Center on I-44 for its campus. Regent is part of a national movement for classical Christian education, endowing the student with the wealth of our Western Civilization, and grounding him in a Biblical worldview. We've had to tighten our belts, but I'm thankful that God has blessed us with the means to send Joe there. Perhaps someday, a state school choice program in Oklahoma will give more children the opportunity to enjoy the advantages of a classical education.

Hearing news of a large tornado hitting the southern Oklahoma City metro area, nearly four years to the day after an F5 tornado cut a wide swath, like an expressway right-of-way across the southern and eastern suburbs of Oklahoma City.

Last weekend's Oklahoma Republican Convention was in Midwest City at the newly opened Reed Center, built in the midst of an area cleared by the 1999 tornado. Just a mile east on I-40 is Tinker Plaza, a now-rundown shopping center with a few tenants still in business, including Atkinson Development, the company that developed Midwest City after the opening of Tinker Air Depot. . I vaguely remembered going there once or twice as a child while visiting my cousins in town.

The center is surrounded by empty, razed blocks, another result, I assumed, of the same tornado. As I drove through I marveled that the tornado had spared the massive water tower -- tallest thing for miles -- and Tinker Plaza, but had destroyed everything in between. Turns out it wasn't the tornado's work after all, but a redevelopment project to create a "new urbanist" city center on 83 acres at the heart of the original 1940s development.

Does devoting half the area to surface parking lots disqualify the plan as new urbanist? Looks more like a slightly modified power center (like Southroads or Mingo Marketplace in Tulsa), but the architect for the project describes it as a "power hybrid", combining "big boxes" and "lifestyle" shopping. He rejects the term "power town" for this kind of development, because it lacks residential, office, and governmental uses, although by connecting to the street grid, it does provide something like a downtown.

If I read the site plan right, Tinker Plaza will vanish completely, so here's a photo with links to a couple more:

Tinker Plaza

Tinker Plaza, Atkinson Properties

Movie theatre, water tower and emptiness in between

Father of the Laugh Track

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The Wall Street Journal's Michael Judge offers an appreciation of the life-work of Charlie Douglass, inventor of the "Laff-Box":

"Sometimes called the Laugh Organ, the first Laff Box stood just over two feet tall and was operated something like an organ. Different buttons could be pressed to combine different types of laughter--belly laughs or chuckles, hoots or guffaws--and the operator could even choose the sex and age (man, women or child) of the laughter. Foot pedals were used to control the timing and duration of the laughter."

Judge says the Laff Box serves a useful social purpose and won't be going away anytime soon.

Today's featured article on the Wall Street Journal website is a note of thanks from Iraqi poet Awad Nasir. He says that it wasn't the Turks, the Iranian mullahs, the Arab League, or Jacques Chirac that came to free his people from the clutches of Saddam:

"No, believe it or not, Iraqis of all faiths, ethnic backgrounds and political persuasions were liberated by young men and women who came from the other side of the world--from California and Wyoming, from New York, Glasgow, London, Sydney and Gdansk to risk their lives, and for some to die, so that my people can live in dignity.

"Those who died to liberate our country are heroes in their own lands. For us they will be martyrs and heroes. They have gained an eternal place in our hearts, one that is forever reserved for those who gave their lives in more than three decades of struggle against the Baathist regime."

Read it all.

And in sports....

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Son Joe's T-ball team won 28-14, an impressive feat in a league that plays four innings, with a max of seven runs per inning. His team managed to shut the other team out in two innings by getting three putouts before they scored a run, a very rare feat in this league, where players cannot play the same infield position more than once a game. Joe, as second baseman, got an assist on one of those six putouts, scooping up the ball and tossing it to first just in the nick of time.

I guess Major League Baseball can be more exciting in some ways, but there's nothing like seeing six-year olds unexpectedly convert a ground ball into a "routine" out at first.

On the way down US 75 to Jenks for my son's T-ball game, I directed his attention up Lookout Mountain to the KTUL Channel 8 studios. "That's a TV station up there." Trying to find a way to explain the significance, I asked my wife, "Does he watch anything on Channel 8?" "We see bits of the news, sometimes."

Thirty-five years ago, the Channel 8 studios on Lookout Mountain meant something to Tulsa's six-year-olds. That's where you went to be on "Mr Zing and Tuffy" or "Uncle Zeb's Cartoon Camp". It's where you wrote to get an autographed Gusty cartoon by weatherman Don Woods. Lookout Mountain meant something to local musicians too, who appeared on John Chick's morning show, and to the many fans of Mazeppa's Uncanny Film Festival. It wasn't just that these programs were entertaining or informative, it was that you or someone you knew might be on the air. Stations like KTUL were woven tightly into local culture.

That connection is gone -- my son watches Animal Planet, PBS, Disney, and HGTV. He's probably seen more TV reporters in person, at the various political events we attend, than he has on TV.

If you want to relive a time when locally-owned TV (and radio) stations reflected and contributed to local popular culture, check out Mike Ransom's wonderful Tulsa TV Memories website.

Chamber Pots

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Tulsa Today has a powerful account of the self-destruction of the once-powerful Tulsa Metro Chamber, an organization that receives millions of tax dollars annually to promote Tulsa's economic development. The article quotes an unnamed staffer who describes Chamber CEO Jay Clemens as "a complexly bizarre kind of guy who vacillates between psychotic paranoia, arrogance, and bullying." The article goes on to detail the control-freak organizational culture that keeps employees in a state of fear and keeps board members in the dark.

The Chamber's influence has been on the wane since the November 2000 defeat of "It's Tulsa's Time", the $263 million sales tax increase for a new arena and convention facilities. I served on the Convention and Tourism Task Force leading up to that vote. It was supposed to be a grass-roots process to determine what Tulsans wanted for our city, and there were reports that the Steering Committee was developing a novel set of recommendations that would look very different from the failed 1997 proposal. The Chamber leadership and then-Mayor Savage sidelined the Steering Committee, a broad-based group which included opponents of the failed 1997 package, and created an "Executive Committee" that could be relied upon to reach the predetermined conclusion. The Chamber's campaign strategy was to avoid debate and pretend that the opposition didn't exist. The ostrich-like strategy didn't work, and Tulsa voters simultaneously turned down the Tulsa Time package and approved "4 to Fix the County", a sales tax extension for a variety of improvements to county facilities and infrastructure.

The Chamber leadership seems to still want to believe that they alone run the city, and they've rebuffed friendly overtures to include them as partners with other groups in developing a new vision for the Tulsa region. "My way or the highway," is the unspoken gist of the Chamber's response.

High praise to Mayor LaFortune and his team for setting out to scrutinize the effectiveness of the Chamber's economic development efforts. Meanwhile, the hundreds and thousands of ordinary businesses who belong to the Chamber ought to wonder if their interests are being effectively represented by the organization that receives their dues. The board's job is to hold the CEO and staff accountable; the members should insist that the board do its duty.

Hard to believe? Well, it's not happening here. It's happening in Oklahoma City, where Mayor Kirk Humphreys and the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce are joining forces to defeat a 0.4% permanent county sales tax sought by Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel to fund his department. The Daily Oklahoman quotes Humphreys as saying, "It's too large in the amount of money, it's too loose in accountability and it goes on for too long."

Approval of the tax on May 13 would create an oversight committee, but the members would serve at the Sheriff's pleasure. The tax will raise $30-$35 million a year. The Sheriff could spend it on anything. Mayor Humphreys says that having that kind of money to spend with no oversight would make the Sheriff more powerful than the Governor.

Competition over and coordination of tax elections takes place all the time behind the scenes, as overlapping government entities try to keep the money flowing. An ill-timed bond issue from, say, the Vo-Tech District could make it harder for another taxing authority, such as the city, to extend a sales tax. But an elected local official is usually reluctant to oppose another local official's tax hike, because he doesn't want to create enemies for the next time he must ask the voters for more money. So it's refreshing to see Mayor Humphreys break the code of silence of the Bureaucratic Brotherhood and take a public stand against a bad idea.

Here's the Oklahoman's collection of stories on the proposed tax hike.

Conservative media gains

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You have heard that Fox News won the war-coverage war, but conservative news outlets posted gains in other media as well. Local news/talk station KFAQ nearly doubled from the previous quarter, rising from 17th in the market to 11th. And the latest newspaper circulation numbers show New York Times circulation dropping 5.34% from the previous year, while Rupert Murdoch's New York Post gained 10.21%. Despite the war, the LA Times and Washington Post also saw numbers drop, although not as steeply as the New York Times. The story only showed the top 20 papers -- anyone know how the Oklahoman and the World did?

I want to be sure that all our Tulsa readers are aware of Coventry Chorale's upcoming performance of masses by Schubert and Schumann, Monday, May 12th, 7:30 pm at Trinity Episcopal Church, 5th & Cincinnati in downtown Tulsa. We performed the Schubert piece at Grace Episcopal Church in Ponca City last week, and it sounded beautiful and was well received.

The Chorale's website features a couple of Eastertide selections from our CD of works by the late Thomas Matthews, organist and choirmaster of Trinity Episcopal Church -- "The Day of Resurrection" and an organ improvisation on the hymn tune "Nassau". Stop by and have a listen.

We tend to use "democracy" as a shorthand description for the relatively free and stable social, political, and economic system we enjoy, but by looking at the post-colonial experience of most Third World nations, it's easy to see that a voting system alone is an insufficient basis for liberty. Peruvian economist Hernando DeSoto, in an interview in National Review Online, explains why establishing secure title to property is an essential step for "nation-building" in Iraq. He mentions a startling figure: There is no clear title to 78% of assets in Mexico, 90% of assets in Egypt. Investment and credit are impossible if no one can be sure who owns what.

Here's the website of DeSoto's organization, the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, for more on this concept.

Bricktown's Magic

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A highlight of the Republican convention was a quick visit to Oklahoma City's Bricktown. A half-dozen of the Tulsa contigent drove in from Midwest City after the banquet Friday night, paid $5 to park in the garage. Parking was not too hard to find, but there seemed to be plenty of activity on the streets. It was bustling but not claustrophobic. Several of the clubs had lines out to the sidewalk. Being that I was the baby of the group (age 39) and that none of us looked hip enough to gain admittance, we passed by the rope lines and strolled down to the Bricktown Brewery for an hour or so of specialty beers (I stuck with Dr Pepper) and half-heard conversation.

As Tulsans look longingly at Oklahoma City for how to revive our city's spirit and recreate a lively urban center, people tend to focus on the new Ford Center arena, the Canal, and the Bricktown Ballpark. But there was nothing scheduled at the Ford Center tonight, and the Redhawks were out of town. So what was bringing people in to spend money in Bricktown?

Bricktown is its own attraction. It was a success long before the Ford Center opened. The baseball stadium hosts less than 70 games a season. The big ticket, publicly-funded facilities may have called attention to the nightclubs and restaurants, but there is no question that these privately-owned businesses, and the variety of people that they draw, are the big attraction. People want to be where other people already are. Once you build a critical mass of people, more and more will come. That's why I believe targeted investments in public infrastructure (e.g. streets and sidewalks), aimed at encouraging investments like those already made by Michael Sager and other urban pioneers, will do more to make downtown vibrant again than an arena or ballpark. If we make it easier for more people to live in downtown, and if we remove anything in the public sphere that deters new investment, we'll see the kind of new life we've been hoping for.

Christine's Lullaby

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James Lileks introduced a new piece of music at this weekend's Minnesota Youth Symphonies concert, dedicated to a two-year-old girl who was on her way to Disneyland with her mommy and daddy on September 11, 2001, when her plane slammed into the World Trade Center. Lileks writes that her story "is the story that defines that day, and makes me unable to speak." Yet it was his task to introduce a piece written in her memory, with her grandparents in the audience, and then to introduce Mahler's Resurrection Symphony. Lileks wrote about Christine on the anniversary of 9/11; his words still give me chills.

We must never, ever forget. Read these columns and remember. And pray.

Interesting column by George Will in the April 28 newsweek on Oklahoma senator
Jim Inhofe. Here's the lead:

"Many members of the House and Senate say they ran for office out of love—of justice, equality, peace, the American way, etc. James Inhofe says he ran for Congress in 1986 for “vengeance.” In a city full of people who pretend to believe that politics should be kinder and gentler, Inhofe is refreshing. He does not even pretend."

Sorry about the lack of entries for the last couple of days, as I was down at the Oklahoma Republican Convention in Midwest City. It was a fun but busy time. Friday was a day-long seminar for grassroots party leaders. County party officers from across the state were there to learn about election and campaign finance laws, motivating volunteers, and fundraising. I gave a brief talk on using computers for campaigns and for off-year party building.

I went to my first State Committee meeting late Friday afternoon, where we debated amendments to the state party's permanent rules, deciding which would go before the full convention. The most controversial rule would have abolished the requirement that chairman and vice chairman not be of the same sex. It would have applied to every level of the party: precinct, county, congressional district, and statewide. I supported the move, as it would make it easier to fill precinct offices. I was surprised at the opposition to the change from the rural counties, which dominate the state committee. Some women expressed fear that women would be squeezed out of leadership if the amendment were passed. I think you'd be more likely to see women filling both top spots, given that women dominate grassroots activity in the party.

Friday night was the convention banquet. Ralph Reed , chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, and Joe Allbaugh , recently retired head of FEMA and one of George W. Bush's closest advisers in Texas, were our two main speakers, both introduced by political consultant Marc Nuttle.

The connections in politics are amusing -- Nuttle and Allbaugh first met in 1974, when Henry Bellmon was running for re-election to the Senate. The '74 Senate race (Bellmon was opposed by Ed Edmondson) was one of the closest in Oklahoma's history , and there was a controversy involving the voting machines in Tulsa County, which lacked a "straight party" lever. Bellmon was finally seated by the Senate 90 days after the election. That year Allbaugh was Bellmon's driver, Nuttle was campaign manager. 26 years later, both wind up in Florida, working on the closest presidential election in recent history -- Allbaugh as an adviser to Bush, Nuttle as an attorney working on the legalities of the recount process.

More later.

Yesterday morning I went downtown to the Dialog / Visioning 2025 Leadership Team to hear presentations on several proposed projects. These project presentations are part of the final phases of a process which will lead to the selection of publicly-financed projects to come before the voters in the fall.

I missed most of the arena and soccer stadium presentations, but got there in time to hear about two amphitheater proposals. Bill Bowman of Oklahoma Music magazine is building a $25 million amphitheater five miles west of downtown Tulsa, north of the Keystone Expressway at 81st West Avenue in a valley seemingly designed by God for the purpose. The financing is lined up, zoning permission has been obtained, and ground will be broken in June 2003, with a planned opening about a year later. The venue will be state-of-the-art, will hold up to 20,000 people -- 10,000 under the roof, designed to allow for year-round events. They plan to take advantage of Tulsa's fiber optic backbone to broadcast live concerts world wide.

The most impressive thing about this project is that it is entirely privately financed. After years of being told that Tulsans have to raise their taxes to build a venue worthy of Phish, Cher, and Paul McCartney, a private company comes along and just does it. They see a market, they think they can exploit and even drive demand, they are willing to take the risk, and if it works they'll reap the rewards. Meanwhile, Tulsa will have a world-class concert venue without paying higher taxes.

The only public investment Bowman is seeking is for improvements to nearby roads to accommodate the additional traffic -- widening 81st West Avenue to five lanes and improving the interchange with the Keystone Expressway -- about $5 million for a road that also can serve new development in Tulsa's undeveloped northwest territories.

The only other thing Bowman asked (indirectly and politely) was that the government not build a comparable publicly financed amphitheater. The issue was raised by a question from the audience, and Bowman said that the uncertainty about whether his facility would be competing with a tax-funded facility was making it hard to nail down deals with sponsors and promoters.

Predictably, the Tulsa World downplayed news of the development, but Tulsa Today has a great story.

Tulsans ought to get behind this and tell the Mayor, County Commissioners, and the other public officials and business leaders who serve on the leadership team to provide the small amount of help needed to make it happen. Let's hope politics doesn't keep a businessman from building something great for Tulsa.

Why a blog?

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I love surfing for news and commentary on the web. Sometime ago I discovered a trick for clipping and saving interesting articles using Netscape or Mozilla: Right-click on the page, select "Send Page....", then when the e-mail composer pops up, click save, and then close the window. Sometimes I edit the subject line to make it more useful to me, or I insert a particularly apt quote as a preface. The article is saved to the "Drafts" mail folder with the webpage attached, and from there I can file it by category or search for text. Much more useful than printing out hardcopy and filing it somewhere.

Although I use the Mozilla mail program to do this, rarely if ever do I actually e-mail the article to a friend. Although I don't mind getting forwarded links that a friend thinks I'll find interesting, I hate to intrude on someone else's mailbox too often. A handful of times I have blasted out an article en masse to my address book, and I've received positive feedback each time, with friends thanking me for keeping them informed, and some saying they'd like to hear from me regularly. So how to do this without wearing out my welcome?

Then I discovered web logs, blogs for short. First was "The Corner", the group blog on National Review's website. They kept linking to someone called Instapundit, the gateway to the blogosphere. From there I found Little Green Footballs, USS Clueless, Eject! Eject! Eject! and many, many others -- links to interesting news stories accompanied by a short description, a brief comment, or sometimes an essay inspired by an item in the news. Other sites were more personal in nature -- "what I did today", but written with style -- the Bleat on lileks.com is a favorite.

Blogs solved my quandary -- I could blast one e-mail to friends and family, point them to my site, and they could visit and read as much or as little as they pleased. I don't want to be intrusive, but if you want to know what I'm thinking about today, here it is. Come and get it!

Successful Install

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MovableType 2.63 has been successfully installed!

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

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