June 26, 2004


I've made the move to comment registration to limit spam (this spam, not this spam) on the site. For those who don't know, the people peddling Cialis and penis enlargement (two great tastes that go great together!) like to write automated computer programs that submit spam comments pitching their wares on blog post comment threads. I was getting 10 or so of these comments added to the site each day, and since I had upgraded to Movable Type 3.0 anyway (yes, license paid), I switched to the TypeKey comment authentication service as well.

It's easy, free, and fast. The next time you submit a comment, you'll be asked to log in (if you already have a TypeKey identity) or to register (if you don't). I provide a link for both in the comment window, and as I said before, it's fast, easy, and free, and you get to rest better knowing that you're helping to stop spammer scum. It's a one-time deal: once you've registered, you never need to again, and what's more, you should only need to log in once, as the service will put a cookie on your PC remembering your registration information.

Easy authentication for you, less spam for me. Everyone wins. Thanks in advance for registering, and I look forward to reading your spam-free comments.

Posted by Avocare at 10:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 23, 2004

Proof Via P. J.

I'm heads down in business, but have also been working (in my head) on a number of longer posts; I'll try to have them up on the next several days. In the meantime, my lovely wife tells me she heard P. J. O'Rourke on the local NPR station giving it to conservative talk show hosts. (Now there's a line I never expected to type in my lifetime: infamous conservative P. J. on NPR sticking it to Rush Limbaugh. Proof of God, right there, ladies and gentlemen.) And lo and behold, here's his content over at the Atlantic. Give it a read to pass the time, and here's a preview to whet your appetite.

I tried watching The O'Reilly Factor. I tried watching Hannity shout about Colmes. I tried listening to conservative talk radio. But my frustration at concurrence would build, mounting from exasperation with like-mindedness to a fury of accord, and I'd hit the OFF button.

I resorted to books. You can slam a book shut in irritation and then go back to the irritant without having to plumb the mysteries of TiVo.

My selection method was unscientific. Ann Coulter, on the cover of Treason, has the look of a soon-to-be-ex wife who has just finished shouting. And Bill O'Reilly is wearing a loud shirt on the cover of Who's Looking Out for You?

Coulter begins her book thus:

Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason. You could be talking about Scrabble and they would instantly leap to the anti-American position. Everyone says liberals love America, too. No they don't. Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy.

Now, there's a certain truth in what she says. But it's what's called a “poetic truth.” And it's the kind of poetic truth best conveyed late in the evening after six or eight drinks while pounding the bar. I wasn't in a bar. I was in my office. It was the middle of the day. And I was getting a headache.

Yep. Proof of God, right there.

Posted by Avocare at 11:54 PM | TrackBack

June 20, 2004

The Executive Office and Wooden-Headedness

From the comment thread in my recent rhetoric of Reagan post:

a mediocre actor can be remembered as a good president by putting excellent people in place and saying his lines well

Working with a large number of senior executives as I do, it occurs to me that they and many management theorists would read that comment and say it’s a perfect description of the effective chief executive:

  • Having a vision for the business (Reagan envisioned a “city on the hill” and a world without Communism)
  • Having a philosophy for how to get there (his conservative agenda … I'm not endorsing it, but he treated small government, lower taxes, strong military, etc. in both philosophical and strategic terms)
  • Setting that direction in a clear and credible manner (saying his lines well)
  • Allowing his or her direct reports to execute that strategy with more skill and talent than the executive could wield as one person.

I think part of the problem with our expectations for the Office of the President is that we presume the person who holds it should be a “hands on” leader. “Hands on” is a relative concept for an executive office. Good executives are hands on in matters of vision, philosophy, values, and strategy … but with execution, they get the hell out of the way and let their operational leads do their jobs.

This was Carter's problem: none of the former, all of the latter, and he nearly micromanaged the government to death. One of Reagan's failings was that he was appropriately hands off, but didn't necessarily hold his direct reports accountable for living the same value system … and we got Ollie North as a result.

But on the whole, I think history will show that the Reagan model is the right one for the office, especially in an increasingly complex world: manage as an executive, not as a legislator (who drafts, but does not set, policy) or operational lead (who implements, but does not set, policy). At first blush, it strikes me that Clinton was better than Carter and Ford in this regard, but was at times too involved in policy implementation (Hillary with healthcare). Nixon was in the end a disaster because of this … his paranoia-fed micromanagement went so far he tried to fix the election. LBJ was excellent in his domestic policy … he took stands based on a set of values and let his Legislative Affairs group push the resulting agenda through Congress … but his micromanagement of Vietnam was extraordinary.

It's an interesting dynamic, expecting our President to literally “run” the country when that's really not the job. A better metaphor is “producer/director” from the film industry: he/she should produce and articulate the “what and why” of foreign and domestic policy direction, and should play a slightly more active role directing foreign policy as he/she is the primary negotiator of State in many affairs. But “run” the country? No.

So looking at the choice this time around, one of the things I’m considering is “who’s the better CEO?” Everyone from the conservative camp (and some liberals as well) say this is a Bush strength: he sets direction and gets out of the way.

That said, I think there’s a legitimate cause for concern in his management style: A good CEO sets direction and creates a strong team to execute, but he/she also fosters … hell, encourages … creative dissent and productive confrontation among that team so the group doesn’t fall victim to groupthink. The markers of groupthink? They include:

  • Examining few alternatives
  • Not seeking expert or outside opinions
  • Being highly selective in gathering information
  • An illusion of invulnerability
  • Strong belief in group's inherent morality
  • Rationalizing poor decisions
  • Pressure to conform within group; members withhold criticisms
  • Pressure to protect group from negative views or information
  • Overt external or internal pressure to come to a decision
  • Individual group members look to each other to confirm theories

A similar pitfall, especially dangerous for executive officers, is what Sydney Finkelstein here calls “wooden-headedness”: the practice of “relying on preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs” (a term originally coined by historian Barbara Tuchman).

The Bush administration is famous … no, infamous … for its ability to speak as a single voice, and according to some, squelch dissent among the ranks (fear of Karl Rove, perhaps? If you haven't yet read this Nicholas Lemann profile, do so now). This is certainly the message Bob Woodward has been spinning in pitching his most recent book: that the nucleus around Bush is extremely small, extremely tight, and extremely aggressive about creating and promoting a single point of view.

Consider the management of post-invasion Iraq. Does anything feel like “relying on preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs” to you?

Posted by Avocare at 09:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 18, 2004

This Site Will Blow Your Mind

Really. Go see the JPL Solar System Simulator, and prepare for Time Suck 2004. Oh … and bring your kids.

Posted by Avocare at 11:01 PM | TrackBack

Shackle The New Media

Traveling as I do, I live in a connected world: email and cell, primarily. We all do. But when do we say, “enough?”

Just five years ago, you could actually conduct communication network research … find out who talks to whom, and with what frequency, so you could identify the connectors and opinion leaders in an organization. Not anymore … between email, instant messaging, cell phones, blogs, and all the other communication channels at our disposal, asking people keep logs of their communication (which are central to the research methodology) is now simply too difficult.

But the demise of organization-wide network analysis isn't the only consequence of channel proliferation … another, more important consequence is the rise of what we call audience inattention: the challenge of getting a recipient to attend to a message given the vast increase in the volume of communication in which most people now engage. But it's not just about awareness … making the message stand out … it's about retention … having an audience attend to a message well enough that they process its meaning.

The problem is described by Linda Stone, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Corporate and Industry Initiatives and founder of Microsoft Research's Virtual Worlds Group as “Continuous Partial Attention.” Regarding CPA, Inc.com noted:

[It's] just the way it is nowadays, said Microsoft's Linda Stone, vice-president of corporate and industry initiatives. Despite her bureaucratic title, Stone is a creative thinker who has coined the term continuous partial attention to describe the way we cope with the barrage of communication coming at us. It's not the same as multitasking, Stone says; that's about trying to accomplish several things at once. With continuous partial attention, we're scanning incoming alerts for the one best thing to seize upon: “How can I tune in in a way that helps me sync up with the most interesting, or important, opportunity?”

On the sender side, CPA is a significant problem. The only practical advice: keep messages concise, keep them consistent over time, and commit to communicating a few key messages with extraordinary depth, rather than communicating many things only marginally well.

On the receiver side, you need to create space in your day and your work to process information. You need to “shackle” the new media: to know when to turn off the cell phone, close Outlook or Notes, and process what you have. Stone notes this as well:

She says: “It's crucial for CEOs to be intentional about breaking free from continuous partial attention in order to get their bearings. Some of today's business books suggest that speed is the answer to today's business challenges. Pausing to reflect, focus, think a problem through; and then taking steady steps forward in an intentional direction is really the key.”

Bottom line: If you're attending to everything at once, you're attending to nothing. Disconnect and process … the world will adapt around you.

(And that's what I'm doing with increasing frequency: disconnecting. So if a few days go by without a post, please understand: Avocare, too, must be put in shackles from time to time. And while we're at it … when's the last time you went outside for some sunshine?)

Posted by Avocare at 09:32 AM | TrackBack

June 14, 2004

John Stuart On Life

I noted a few posts back that Villanova, which fielded Big Bird, had lost “battling commencement addresses” to Penn, which fielded Bono. Now I see that William and Mary fielded John Stuart, and all I can say is: Don't judge an address by its headline.

Here's a sample; the whole thing is in the extended entry. Enjoy.

But here’s the good news. You fix this thing, you’re the next greatest generation, people. You do this—and I believe you can—you win this war on terror, and Tom Brokaw’s kissing your ass from here to Tikrit, let me tell ya. And even if you don’t, you’re not gonna have much trouble surpassing my generation. If you end up getting your picture taken next to a naked guy pile of enemy prisoners and don’t give the thumbs up you’ve outdid us.

We declared war on terror. We declared war on terror—it’s not even a noun, so, good luck. After we defeat it, I’m sure we’ll take on that bastard ennui.

But obviously that’s the world. What about your lives? What piece of wisdom can I impart to you about my journey that will somehow ease your transition from college back to your parents' basement?

I know some of you are nostalgic today and filled with excitement and perhaps uncertainty at what the future holds. I know six of you are trying to figure out how to make a bong out of your caps. I believe you are members of Psi U. Hey that did work, thank you for the reference.

So I thought I’d talk a little bit about my experience here at William and Mary. It was very long ago, and if you had been to William and Mary while I was here and found out that I would be the commencement speaker 20 years later, you would be somewhat surprised, and probably somewhat angry. I came to William and Mary because as a Jewish person I wanted to explore the rich tapestry of Judaica that is Southern Virginia. Imagine my surprise when I realized “The Tribe” was not what I thought it meant.

Thank you Mr. President, I had forgotten how crushingly dull these ceremonies are. Thank you.

My best to the choir. I have to say, that song never grows old for me. Whenever I hear that song, it reminds me of nothing.

I am honored to be here, I do have a confession to make before we get going that I should explain very quickly. When I am not on television, this is actually how I dress. I apologize, but there’s something very freeing about it. I congratulate the students for being able to walk even a half a mile in this non-breathable fabric in the Williamsburg heat. I am sure the environment that now exists under your robes, are the same conditions that primordial life began on this earth.

I know there were some parents that were concerned about my speech here tonight, and I want to assure you that you will not hear any language that is not common at, say, a dock workers union meeting, or Tourrett’s convention, or profanity seminar. Rest assured.

I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this place. Seriously, it saddens me. As a person, I am honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better. And I believe we should. But it has always been a dream of mine to receive a doctorate and to know that today, without putting in any effort, I will. It’s incredibly gratifying. Thank you. That’s very nice of you, I appreciate it.

I’m sure my fellow doctoral graduates—who have spent so long toiling in academia, sinking into debt, sacrificing God knows how many years of what, in truth, is a piece of parchment that in truth has been so devalued by our instant gratification culture as to have been rendered meaningless—will join in congratulating me. Thank you.

But today isn’t about how my presence here devalues this fine institution. It is about you, the graduates. I’m honored to be here to congratulate you today. Today is the day you enter into the real world, and I should give you a few pointers on what it is. It’s actually not that different from the environment here. The biggest difference is you will now be paying for things, and the real world is not surrounded by three-foot brick wall. And the real world is not a restoration. If you see people in the real world making bricks out of straw and water, those people are not colonial re-enactors—they are poor. Help them. And in the real world, there is not as much candle lighting. I don’t really know what it is about this campus and candle lighting, but I wish it would stop. We only have so much wax, people.

Lets talk about the real world for a moment. We had been discussing it earlier, and I…I wanted to bring this up to you earlier about the real world, and this is I guess as good a time as any. I don’t really know to put this, so I’ll be blunt. We broke it.

Please don’t be mad. I know we were supposed to bequeath to the next generation a world better than the one we were handed. So, sorry.

I don’t know if you’ve been following the news lately, but it just kinda got away from us. Somewhere between the gold rush of easy internet profits and an arrogant sense of endless empire, we heard kind of a pinging noise, and uh, then the damn thing just died on us. So I apologize.

But here’s the good news. You fix this thing, you’re the next greatest generation, people. You do this—and I believe you can—you win this war on terror, and Tom Brokaw’s kissing your ass from here to Tikrit, let me tell ya. And even if you don’t, you’re not gonna have much trouble surpassing my generation. If you end up getting your picture taken next to a naked guy pile of enemy prisoners and don’t give the thumbs up you’ve outdid us.

We declared war on terror. We declared war on terror—it’s not even a noun, so, good luck. After we defeat it, I’m sure we’ll take on that bastard ennui.

But obviously that’s the world. What about your lives? What piece of wisdom can I impart to you about my journey that will somehow ease your transition from college back to your parents' basement?

I know some of you are nostalgic today and filled with excitement and perhaps uncertainty at what the future holds. I know six of you are trying to figure out how to make a bong out of your caps. I believe you are members of Psi U. Hey that did work, thank you for the reference.

So I thought I’d talk a little bit about my experience here at William and Mary. It was very long ago, and if you had been to William and Mary while I was here and found out that I would be the commencement speaker 20 years later, you would be somewhat surprised, and probably somewhat angry. I came to William and Mary because as a Jewish person I wanted to explore the rich tapestry of Judaica that is Southern Virginia. Imagine my surprise when I realized “The Tribe” was not what I thought it meant.

In 1980 I was 17 years old. When I moved to Williamsburg, my hall was in the basement of Yates, which combined the cheerfulness of a bomb shelter with the prison-like comfort of the group shower. As a freshman I was quite a catch. Less than five feet tall, yet my head is the same size it is now. Didn’t even really look like a head, it looked more like a container for a head. I looked like a Peanuts character. Peanuts characters had terrible acne. But what I lacked in looks I made up for with a repugnant personality.

In 1981 I lost my virginity, only to gain it back again on appeal in 1983. You could say that my one saving grace was academics where I excelled, but I did not.

And yet now I live in the rarified air of celebrity, of mega stardom. My life a series of Hollywood orgies and Kabala center brunches with the cast of Friends. At least that’s what my handlers tell me. I’m actually too valuable to live my own life and spend most of my days in a vegetable crisper to remain fake news anchor fresh.

So I know that the decisions that I made after college worked out. But at the time I didn’t know that they would. See college is not necessarily predictive of your future success. And it’s the kind of thing where the path that I chose obviously wouldn’t work for you. For one, you’re not very funny.

So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? And the honest answer is this. You won’t. And accepting that greatly eases the anxiety of your life experience.

I was not exceptional here, and am not now. I was mediocre here. And I’m not saying aim low. Not everybody can wander around in an alcoholic haze and then at 40 just, you know, decide to be president. You’ve got to really work hard to try to…I was actually referring to my father.

When I left William and Mary I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re in college it’s very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I imagine here everybody knows exactly the number of credits they needed to graduate, where they had to buckle down, which introductory psychology class would pad out the schedule. You knew what you had to do to get to this college and to graduate from it. But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this.

College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong…although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a different story.

Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.

And the last thing I want to address is the idea that somehow this new generation is not as prepared for the sacrifice and the tenacity that will be needed in the difficult times ahead. I have not found this generation to be cynical or apathetic or selfish. They are as strong and as decent as any people that I have met. And I will say this, on my way down here I stopped at Bethesda Naval, and when you talk to the young kids that are there that have just been back from Iraq and Afghanistan, you don’t have the worry about the future that you hear from so many that are not a part of this generation but judging it from above.

And the other thing….that I will say is, when I spoke earlier about the world being broke, I was somewhat being facetious, because every generation has their challenge. And things change rapidly, and life gets better in an instant.

I was in New York on 9-11 when the towers came down. I lived 14 blocks from the twin towers. And when they came down, I thought that the world had ended. And I remember walking around in a daze for weeks. And Mayor Giuliani had said to the city, “You’ve got to get back to normal. We’ve got to show that things can change and get back to what they were.”

And one day I was coming out of my building, and on my stoop, was a man who was crouched over, and he appeared to be in deep thought. And as I got closer to him I realized, he was playing with himself. And that’s when I thought, “You know what, we’re gonna be OK.

Thank you. Congratulations. I honor you. Good Night.

Posted by Avocare at 12:43 PM | TrackBack

June 13, 2004


The Command Post wants to know:

If the presidential election were held today, for whom would you vote?
George Bush
John Kerry
John McCain
Ralph Nader
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Posted by Avocare at 08:15 AM | TrackBack

June 06, 2004


When I was 17 or so, I was ranting about some piece of US foreign policy when my father looked at me with level eyes and said, “Buddy, if you’re not a liberal when you’re 18 you got no heart, and if you’re not a conservative by the time you're 28 you got no brain.”

Reagan was president then, and I was not a big fan. Now that I’m well into my mid-30s (“middle aged,” my wife says), I’ve come to appreciate and admire Reagan. He was the essential optimist at a time in which America desperately needed optimism. At a time when Jimmy Carter was telling us we should be confident, Reagan gave us reasons to be confident, and led the way through his own confidence and optimism. Many presidents have spoken of the shining city on the hill; Reagan truly believed in it.

I’ve also come to admire Reagan for his fundamental belief in the power of rhetoric … rhetoric in the classical sense, not the current and bastardized sense of double talk by evasive politicians. Reagan understood and respected the power of his words, and he understood better than anyone since FDR (yes, better than Kennedy) the power of presidential discourse in making great things possible.

Reagan has six speeches listed in American Rhetoric’s list of the 100 most significant American political speeches of the 20th century (the list was complied by two professors of Rhetoric and Communication, who asked 137 leading scholars of American public address to recommend speeches on the basis of social and political impact, and rhetorical artistry):

Only FDR and JFK have as many on the list. Some people, though, try to taint Reagan’s oratory as less substantive than some of his predecessors. These people remember him as the Actor President, noting with a curled lip that Reagan was all sizzle and no steak. But they forget that his most noted speeches were policy speeches wrapped in soaring oratory, and not soaring oratory alone.

Let’s take them one at a time.

The Time for Choosing speech, a campaign address in support of Barry Goldwater during the 1964 campaign, is actually in speech in which Reagan outlines what would become the Republican agenda 20 years later: the importance of small government over large, of empowering individuals to pursue their own interests, and of preserving America as “the last best hope for man on Earth” through winning the Cold War. He said that day:

You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin—just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard 'round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn't die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well, it's a simple answer after all.

You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” There is a point beyond which they must not advance. This is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater's “peace through strength.” Winston Churchill said that “the destiny of man is not measured by material computation. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits—not animals.” And he said, “There is something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on Earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

The “Putting America Back to Work” speech is remembered first as an eloquent and vital inaugural address, but in it Reagan declared his intentions to reduce the size of the federal government, return power to the states, reduce taxes, strengthen the country’s ties with its allies, and act with force in the world if required. This speech also closes with these lines, some of the greatest presidential rhetoric ever spoken:

This is the first time in our history that this ceremony has been held, as you’ve been told, on this West Front of the Capitol.

Standing here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on this city’s special beauty and history. At the end of this open mall are those shrines to the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Directly in front of me, the monument to a monumental man. George Washington, father of our country. A man of humility who came to greatness reluctantly. He led America out of revolutionary victory into infant nationhood. Off to one side, the stately memorial to Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence flames with his eloquence. And then beyond the Reflecting Pool, the dignified columns of the Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Beyond those moments, monuments to heroism is the Potomac River, and on the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery with its row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars of David. They add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom.

Each on of those markers is a monument to the kind of hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood, the Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam. Under such a marker lies a young man, Martin Treptow, who left his job in a small town barber shop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division.

There, on the Western front, he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy fire.

We are told that on his body was found a diary. On the flyleaf under the heading, “My Pledge,” he had written these words: “America must win this war. Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle
depended on me alone.”

The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many thousands of others were called upon to make. It does require, however, our best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together with God’s help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.

And after all, why shouldn’t we believe that? We are Americans.

Compare those words to these from Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech …

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path — the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem.

Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny.

The answer to America’s crisis of confidence is … energy policy? Compare these two speeches and the difference between telling Americans to be confident and giving them a reason for confidence should be clear.

I vividly remember the Evil Empire speech, and in particular I remember thinking “this maniac is trying to get us all killed.” But what Reagan was doing in this speech before evangelical Christians was sending a message to the Soviets that the policy of the United States would not be one of a nuclear freeze … that to do so would reward the USSR for its military buildup. Reagan knew the Soviets supported a freeze because it would freeze their military advantage, and more important, would free their economy from an arms race they could not afford. In this speech he was letting the Soviets know he knew, and that he wasn’t going to fall for it.

We will never give away our freedom. We will never abandon our belief in God. And we will never stop searching for a genuine peace. But we can assure none of these things America stands for through the so-called nuclear freeze solutions proposed by some.

The truth is that a freeze now would be a very dangerous fraud, for that is merely the illusion of peace. The reality is that we must find peace through strength.

I would agree to a freeze if only we could freeze the Soviets' global desires. A freeze at current levels of weapons would remove any incentive for the Soviets to negotiate seriously in Geneva and virtually end our chances to achieve the major arms reductions which we have proposed. Instead, they would achieve their objectives through the freeze.

A freeze would reward the Soviet Union for its enormous and unparalleled military buildup. It would prevent the essential and long overdue modernization of United States and allied defenses and would leave our aging forces increasingly vulnerable. And an honest freeze would require extensive prior negotiations on the systems and numbers to be limited and on the measures to ensure effective verification and compliance. And the kind of a freeze that has been suggested would be virtually impossible to verify. Such a major effort would divert us completely from our current negotiations on achieving substantial reductions.

He was also letting his allies and enemies know the gravity he attached to the Cold War: that he saw it not simply as an imperial arms race, but as a battle of philosophy regarding the freedom and potential of man. He was saying to his peers worldwide: “Liberty=Good, Totalitarianism=Bad, and I’m never going to forget it, so don’t ever expect me to let up on the pressure.”

The “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech, which Reagan gave 20 years ago today at the 40th D-Day anniversary in 1984, is one of his most eloquent. But this too was a policy speech. After showering appropriate praise upon the Rangers who climbed those cliffs 60 years ago, Reagan let the USSR and western Europe know that the policy of the United States would be to welcome improved relations with the Soviets, but that they must first change their ways. As he said then:

It's fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II: 20 million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.

It was then that he articulated the second point of policy: than until that change came, the US would actively strengthen the NATO alliance.

The “Space Shuttle Challenger” address was poetry, not policy, but it demonstrated the power of the president to salve our wounds during times of national grief … perhaps the most eloquent such example since Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Even here, though, he offered vision and outlined our direction as a nation:

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's take-off. I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.

I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program. And what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute.

We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.

Finally, the “Tear Down This Wall” speech, delivered in 1987. This speech represents the third element of what, along with the Evil Empire and Pointe du Hoc speeches, became a triumvirate of Cold War policy addresses by Reagan. That day he said:

We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control. Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace , if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom. Yet, in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and innovation, the Soviet Union faces a choice: It must make fundamental changes, or it will become obsolete. Today thus represents a moment of hope. We in the West stand ready to cooperate with the East to promote true openness, to break down barriers that separate people, to create a safer, freer world.

In this speech he completes his Cold War storyline: from we believe totalitarianism is evil and a threat we’re not afraid to fight (Evil Empire) to we’ll welcome you into the fold but you have to give up the fight (Pointe du Hoc) to the conclusion—now is the time; join us in creating a better world for people everywhere, and use Berlin as a symbol of your good intentions. And we now know that the storyline he offered is precisely, and not coincidentally, how history eventually unfolded: from standoff to cautious engagement to reconciliation and partnership.

Ronald Reagan believed words were important … that they meant something and should always be taken seriously. He believed that presidential discourse was more than political discourse, it was a means of getting things done: of shaping America, of articulating vision and charting direction, and of pressurizing the social and political system to achieve grand outcomes.

He knew that once a president of the United States says something, the toothpaste is out of the tube. Rather than fear that finality, he used his oratory with courage and conviction, making declarations that gave us reason to feel better about being Americans, that initiated paths of policy that led toward outcomes he desired, and that ultimately led us closer to that shining city on the hill.

In 1995, Ronald Reagan wrote a letter to the American people announcing he had contracted Alzheimer’s disease:

My fellow Americans, I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.

Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way.

In the past, Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that as a result many more people underwent testing. They were treated in early stages and able to return to normal, healthy lives.

So now we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clear understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.

At the moment, I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life's journey with my beloved Nancy and my family. I plan to enjoy the great outdoors and stay in touch with my friends and supporters.

Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes, I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.

In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

Thank you, my friends.

Though never spoken, this text was the ultimate entry in Reagan's oral history. And even in the end … indeed, in his very last line of public address … he reminded us of his confidence in us and our future. Here’s hoping he rests in peace and sunshine.

Posted by Avocare at 11:52 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 05, 2004


This is Philadelphia. Good run, Smarty. Thanks for the fun.

Posted by Avocare at 07:03 PM | TrackBack

Hold Your Breath

Today is a day of great trepidation in Philadelphia, for today is a day of possible deliverance.

Today is a day that can end The Curse. A day that can wipe away three consecutive trips over the doorjamb of the dance. A day that can reverse a sprawling, mad March stumble. A day that can put lightening back in the bottle. A day that can drag glory out of the cellar.

For today Smarty Jones runs in the Belmont stakes.

And here in Philadelphia, the prospect of this little-horse-that could—this horse that is oh so Philadelphia … smaller than the others, a bit beaten up, yet full of spirit and fight—the prospect of this Philadelphia horse winning the Triple Crown? Well, that’s a prospect that has the entire city on the edge of its seat. Holding its breath.

Because in Philadelphia sports the more you want something and the better your chances, the more you expect to fail. For 23 years (and really, for nearly a century), ours has been a history of regular mediocrity punctuated by brilliant flashes of failure … grand, majestic, operatic failure.


In 123 years of committing baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies have won just one world championship, in 1980. And in 1964, holding a 6 ½ game lead with 12 games to play, the Phillies lost the pennant in one of the great busts in baseball history. The ghosts of that late September haunt Philadelphia to this day:

In September of 64 I entered high school, struggled with Algebra and Chemistry and learned that polyester shirts with pocket protectors were not cool. A strange and traumatic world was only softened by the realization that the Phillies were going to win the pennant. They were the talk of the city. Phillies placards graced the sides of every bus and trolley car in town! Phillies baseball cards were quickly removed from bicycle spokes, and my previous Mickey Mantle “for anybody in a Phils uniform” card trades were becoming a shining example of my future financial savvy. In short, we were on top of the world. Nothing to do now but schedule the clinching party and wait for the first pitch of the series. A happy town awoke on the morning of September 21st, the Phils had a six and a half game lead, and the magic number was 7. Little were we to know however, there was a “darkness on the edge of town”! Every Phillies fan of the 60's recalls this day of infamy. 9-21-64 Mahaffey pitching, sixth inning, Chico Ruiz steals home! Phils lose to Reds 1-0.

From there, the Phils went on to lose nine consecutive games and the Pennant.

In 80 years of playing football, the Philadelphia Eagles have won only three league championships, all prior to 1960. They’ve been to just one Super Bowl, losing to the wild-card Oakland Raiders 27-10. Most recently, they’ve played in three consecutive NFC Championship games, losing each, and two at home, one each to the previously hapless and expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers.

Crashing the boards since 1967, the Philadelphia Flyers have engraved their names on Lord Stanely’s Cup only twice, in 1974 and 1975. In the 29 years since, they’ve played in the Stanley Cup Finals five times, losing each with a combined record of 20-6 and winning an average of just one game per series, and being swept 4-0 in their most recent appearance in 1997.

Finally, the Sixers. In their 41 year history in Philadelphia the 76ers have won world championships in 1967 and 1983. They have made four other trips, losing each time, most recently 1-4 in 2001.

This city has not had a parade down Broad Street in 21 years. That’s 84 combined seasons of play across the four major teams, and not one championship. In hushed tones, people here call it “The Curse”: that since city ordinances were changed to permit the building of structures higher than William Penn’s hat on City Hall, no major Philadelphia team has won its championship series. And when we’ve lost, we’ve lost in dramatic, bold fashion.

Because of this … because of our mad concoction of love of sport and dismal performance … we want the Triple Crown. We want it so bad we can feel it … hell, we NEED it.

Indeed, we want it so bad we’re afraid of it.

So around here today, Philadelphians everywhere are going about our preparations for The Big Race with an air of excitement, optimism, and hesitation. We’re asking ourselves questions like “Should I get a centerpiece for the table that has roses, black eyed susans and white carnations, or should I just get tulips?” Thinking, “Should I splurge for the short ribs, or should I just get beef ribs?” Wondering if we should buy the champagne.

Because we know: the more we want it, and the better our odds, the more likely we are to … well … we can’t say it. We just know it in our bones, where it aches like a cold, damp spring night.

That said, the necessity of being a Philadelphia sports fan is the necessity of optimism. We must find a reason to rise another day, regardless of the dampness of the night, and so we do. And out of this optimism, we dare to hope about Smarty Jones. In the end, we’ll buy all three flowers, the short ribs, and the champagne. Because today just might be the day … the day of our deliverance.

What’s more, there’s something a bit different about this latest opportunity for victory … something just a bit different about this horse, about this time, about this sport. He’s a tough horse. People say he looks at other horses like he knows he can kick their ass. He’s strong and fast and charismatic, and perhaps best of all for Philadelphia sports fans, who like their heroes bold but real, gritty but humble, Smarty simply wants to win. He simply wants to run, have fun in the dirt, and win. He’s an athlete as athletes once were, a hero we can admire once again.

So we feel today may just be a bit different … and as we talk about The Race with hesitation and trepidation, deep down inside there’s a small nugget of warm hope, an inkling of confidence that yes, by God, I think today’s going to be the day.

As Bill Lyon wrote today:

On Hempstead Pike, just down from the Triple Crown bar, just across from Gate 6 and the stable area entrance at Belmont Park, is a cubbyhole diner, and at the counter a man in faded jeans and white undershirt is bending over his eggs and potatoes and talking to himself.

Suddenly, he rises off his stool and puts the first two fingers of each hand on top of his head in impersonation of a horse's ears. With his right arm and hand, he makes the motion of a jet plane taking off.

“Smarty Jones,” he croons.

He watches as the imaginary Smarty soars up and out, presumably disappearing from view. And he looks and he looks, as we do while watching a loved one leave, and then he whispers after it:


Smarty Jones. The Curse. Whoosh … gone.

Posted by Avocare at 10:43 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 03, 2004

CNN Lead Headline

Sister describes last sighting of Laci Peterson.


Screw all official media. Read The Command Post.

Posted by Avocare at 10:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wiki Economics

Those interested in wikis might find this First Monday article of interest: Phantom authority, self–selective recruitment and retention of members in virtual communities: The case of Wikipedia by Andrea Ciffolilli. It offers an economic analysis of virtual community participation, using Wikipedia as a case. The abstract:

Virtual communities constitute a building block of the information society. These organizations appear capable to guarantee unique outcomes in voluntary association since they cancel physical distance and ease the process of searching for like–minded individuals.

In particular, open source communities, devoted to the collective production of public goods, show efficiency properties far superior to the traditional institutional solutions to the public goods issue (e.g. property rights enforcement and secrecy).

This paper employs team and club good theory as well as transaction cost economics to analyse the Wikipedia online community, which is devoted to the creation of a free encyclopaedia. An interpretative framework explains the outstanding success of Wikipedia thanks to a novel solution to the problem of graffiti attacks — the submission of undesirable pieces of information. Indeed, Wiki technology reduces the transaction cost of erasing graffiti and therefore prevents attackers from posting unwanted contributions.

The issue of the sporadic intervention of the highest authority in the system is examined, and the relatively more frequent local interaction between users is emphasized.

The constellation of different motivations that participants may have is discussed, and the barriers–free recruitment process analysed.

A few suggestions, meant to encourage long term sustainability of knowledge assemblages, such as Wikipedia, are provided. Open issues and possible directions for future research are also discussed.

The bottom line: wikis grow because they're easy to use, and the quality stays high because it's easier to revert to a prior page than it is to mess one up, especially via online vandalism.

Posted by Avocare at 07:53 AM | TrackBack

Paying At The Pump

Is there a cheaper gas station just down the road? Probably … visit Gasbuddy.com, where people post the lowest gas prices in towns all across the US.

Posted by Avocare at 07:44 AM | TrackBack

June 01, 2004

Electoral Calculator

The Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal has launched an online Electoral College vote calculator, which allows you to see electoral histories and the current landscape. And for the truly geeky: you can create and save scenarios, exploring how the election might unfold as the election polls to November. See the calculator and its backstory here.

Posted by Avocare at 01:39 PM | TrackBack