Friday, March 31, 2006

New Orlean's List of Enemies

The Christian Science Monitor reports that a geological fault might number among New Orlean's enemies. The article suggests that about 6 feet of New Orlean's sinkage in the last century might be the result of geological movement.

It seems to be the nature of this planet that parts of the earth go up and down. Glaciers advance and recede, floodplains fill up and drain. Volcanos go boom.

In such a world, one would expect to see an occasional loss of a city.

Of course, Suggesting that we not rebuild the "Chocolate City" would be racist. Yes, I wouldn't want to locate a business there, but we can have a major city where everyone lives on the government's tab. The free market's response to geologic change is migration. I guess that can be taken as yet another sign of why the free market has failed and should be avoided. I still can't help but wonder what, if any sign, we humans should take as an indication that a city must be abandonned?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A billion independent monologues

I keep a blog and read other blogs, because it is currently recognized as the thing to do ... blogging is a cultural phenomena.

What is interesting here is that millions of people are engaged in their own private monologues about politics, life and stuff. I am left wondering if this is helping people learn about discourse, or if it is simply accelerating the process of people collapsing into their own little world?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Cowboys Riding the Margin

According to the site, Colorado State University is having their annual rodeo this weekend (March 31 and April 1).

CSU was founded as an agricultural University in Fort Collins. The university has expanded through the years, but is still the states primary source for agricultural based education. One would expect the rodeo at a agricultural university in a traditionally agricultural based state to be a big thing.

The CSU Rodeo Club, does have a page that says that the 54th Skyline Stampede will take place on April 1st. The page does not give the year. Club web sites are often out of date; So, I decided to check the University Calendar.

The official CSU Calendar does not list a rodeo. So, I figured that this year's rodeo must have been cancelled. The CSU calendar seems to be quite complete. March 31 is, of course, Cesar Chavez Day. Cesar Chavez is a revolutionary hero who led masses of the oppressed in protests against the small farmers of yesteryear. April 1st is some sort of Green Gala Day. There is no mention of the rodeo. Anyway, I figured I would do more research to see when and why the annual Skyline Stampede was cancelled.

The Equine Science Page lists a rodeo. But that might be out of date like the Rodeo Club. After all, if the main recreation calendar of an argricultural university does not list the rodeo, then you can assume that the rodeo has been cancelled. All of the other team sports are listed on the calendar.

CSU publishes an extremely detailed quarterly magazine on Campus Activities. If there was a rodeo as the College of Equine Sciences and other Rodeo sites suggest, I suspect I would find it is the Spring Issue of the CSU Campus Recreation Magazine. This 52 page magazine only has one word about the rodeo (See PDF). The CSU Recreation brochure has full page layouts for everything from Yoga to Cycling.

I've found a large number of pages on the net that seem to indicate that CSU was a big thing for many, many years. The rodeo club claims to be a popular club. Rodeo athletes from the University seem to be in good standing, yet this activity only gets one word.

As for why I am writing this post. One more search of the CSU web site brought up the CSU Giving Page. This page which is pleaing for donations plays up CSU's proud tradition as a center for the sport of Rodeo.

If this rodeo actually exists. Then it appears that the two faced politically correct bastards at CSU are intentionally marginalizing their rodeo and their rodeo. To add insult to injury, they then hold up this group that they are intentionally marginalizing to solicit donations.

PS: My final conclusion is that the CSU Skyline Stamped must have been cancelled. I could find no reliable source indicating that it would take place this year. If you are looking for Rodeo action this weekend, you might voyage south to Denver and join in the fun at the Gay Rodeo which starts April 1st. The promotional literature for Brokeback Mountain may be true. 2006 just may be the year that the paradigms of "cowboy" and "rodeo" shift from describing western agrian lifestyle to a modern, urban sexual life style.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Crunchy Conservatives

I was listening to an interview with a Rod Dreher who is pushing a book called Crunchy Cons.

As an eco-jabbering meadow muffin, I am extremely happy to anyone talking up the imporantance of conserving resources and protecting the environment.

During the interview and in doing research on the web on Dreher, I keep coming across people suggesting that conservative conservationists is something new.

The truth is that, if we teleported back a half century, we would find that for much of US history the conservatives were the conservationists. The liberal movement kept demanding to put resources into production, while the conservatives kept being the fuddy-duddies.

The modern politically active conservation movement was born by Conservatives fighting big government projects like the TVA, Lake Powell and the like.

The sixties and seventies saw the transformation of the enviroment from something to be conserved to something that we should worship. The liberals hijacked conservation with the message that big government could save the environment.

I am an ecojabbering meadow muffin who puts preservation of remaining wilderness at the very top of the social agenda. I see the need to preserve our resources as the primary social priority. This need, however, is apolitical. Both Republicans and Democrats should be conservationists. For that matter, I know a very large number of people in the conservation community. Their beliefs pretty much span the political spectrum, but unite in the need to conserve.

While the Green Party likes to pretend that they are the exclusive guardians of the environment, most conservationists welcome all conservationists regardless of political leaning.

I think it is great that people read Rod Dreher's book. I simply wish to counter the impication that crunchy conservatism is new. The idea is not new. Just as the Republican Party used to be the party for black rights, the republican party used to be the party of the conservationists. The Democrats were skillful in stealing both issues.

I think the Democratic environmentalists are great. I love the hard effort they throw into the issue. My regret with the Green movement is that too many people in the green movement have the false belief that they are exclusive in their environmental leanings.

Nothing would please me more than seeing people united on the need for conservation.

My observation is that the people who work to preserve the environment see through the political debate and correctly perceive that conservation is not exclusively owned by one political party.

BTW, my favorite preservation group is the Nature Conservancy which works to buy easements for conserving land. I am less enthralled with political activists who see socialization as the only path to preservation.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Big Boxes and Banks

Walmart wishes to establish an industrial bank. This industrial bank would do the credit card processing for the Walmart stores. I think that this would be a bad idea.

I do not like the idea of large retailers having their own banks because such a system would give large retailers an artificial advantage in the marketplace.

As you probably know, credit card companies make their money by placing a transaction fee on purchases. This fee is quite high. The reason credit card companies can give lavish rewards on credit cards is because the fees charged to merchants are substantially higher than the rewards.

If big retailers opened their own industrial banks for credit card processing, they would be able to give themselves a sizable advantage over smaller retailers.

I should mention here that the Walmart bank issue is not simply an anti-Walmart issue. Were Walmart to open an industrial bank; other retailers would be compelled to follow. Yes, the competitive advantage of being able to keep the banking fees is sufficient that other large retailers would be compelled to open banks.

Allowing retailers to open industrial banks creates a negative situation where the big retailers are able to defeat smaller retailers at the monetary level.

A Walmart owned bank would raise the bar of entry for new retailers. Imagine a world where entrepreneurs would have to have sufficient collateral to start a bank before opening a store? Such a system would stifle innovation in retail.

BTW, the reason that banking fees are so high is that the fees were first established when the cost of processing a credit card was higher.

There is a problem with the lack of competition in the banking business to bring down these fees. The banks opened by the big box retailers would not bring the cost of credit card processing back in alignment with costs. A Walmart bank would probably further entrench the inefficiences because it would give a class of super retailers an economic advantage.

Consumers could see a significant drop in costs of goods if credit card fees were lower. Achieving this goal is difficult. Consumers chose their credit card based on the rewards they receive. Consumers tend to opt for credit cards that have higher merchant fees since that increases their rewards.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

In Praise of Thrift

Apparently, The Draper City Council wants to keep a thrift store from opening in their commercial core (SL Tribune -- broken link). The fear is that a large Deseret Industries store would sully the town's elitist image as an upper middle class haven.

IMHO, this type of aggressive zoning and regulations on who and what is allowed in our towns is exactly the problem that threatens the long term viability of our communities. I disagree 100% with the Draper City Council. Property owners in a commercial district should be able to put up whatever store they think will best serve their public without this micromanagement and judgment of politicos.

I happen to like thrift stores. I've spent a fair amount of time watching the evolution of communities in the internet age. One of the really interesting trends in the last several years is a growing interest in used items. There are two things that feed this. The dominance of box stores has made a tough climate for the small mom and pop type of shop that used to line main street. The second big factor is online auctions. A large number of Utahns supplement their income with eBay stores. This market where we can buy, sell and trade used goods totally transforms the perpective of a buyer.

People who get hooked on eBay are no longer just interested in buying cheap goods that they will toss out. eBayers turn from pure consumers to buyers and sellers. This new type of consumer has the potential to transform the marketplace because buying used is now chic.

While the Draper City Council might be trapped in an elitist vision that thrift stores are only for poor inner cities, I personally, I see thrift stores has having a very positive effect on the community. It is something that belongs in all communities.

This statement might seem bizarre to zoners, but I think that thrift stores actually end up contributing more to the local community than most other types of store. This idea would seem bizarre to planning commissions because the planning commissions look only at the tax revenues.

If you look at a community as a whole system, you get a different picture. What thrift and antique stores do is they take used items from within a community and resell those items to the community. Thrift stores are a closed system. All of the money spent at the thrift store stays in the community.

The big box stores that planning commissions tend to favor have the opposite effect. The typical big box store is owned out of state. They get their product from China. While the big box store might generate more tax revenues, the end effect of big box stores is they take price of the goods and the profits from the sales out of the community.

Thrift and antique stores end up doing one other really bizarre thing. When people see themselves solely as consumers, they end up with a trailer park mantality where they buy cheap stuff destined for the landfill. When people see buying and selling as a cycle, they end up buying higher quality of goods that have resell value. If you develop a system like the antique row in Denver, you end up creating a economic landscape where people actually have equity in the things they own ... which makes for a more stable and wealthier society.

While big box retailers become more and more distant from our community, I suspect that this trend my spawn another trend of more community owned thrift stores and antique shops.

Of course, the biggest enemy of this trend is the zoning commissions that lust after tax dollars. The political drones that haunt the halls of power tend to create tax and zoning policies that put thrift stores and used good stores at a distinct disadvantage.

The idiots on the zoning council probably do not see this. They would look solely at the tax revenues.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fuel and the Industrial Military Complex

Perhaps this is the answer to Bush's mysterious switch on conservation. Apparently, the US miltary is being weighed down by its consumption of fuel. Gelu Sulugiuc reports that the US military is consuming 12 times the fuel per soldier in Iraq than the US consumed in WWII.

I doubt Bush would have thought much of conservation if it was just something to preserve nature. The fact that the world's oil consumption is a major threat to the US military will spur action. The US prominence in the world today is funded strongly on our high per capita consumption of fuel. The great American suburban sprawl and dream of single family home ownership are not tenable at $10 a gallon gas.

One thing mentioned in the article is that armored vehicles consume more gas than unarmored vehicles. Did you notice in the recent spat about some US vehicles not having adequate armor only talked about the price of the armor and not about the price of the extra fuel needed to transport the armor.

How should human lives figure in this equation of conservation of energy? If doubling the energy consumption per US soldier could reduce American casualities in Iraq, should we double that consumption?

Anyway, do to the skyrocketing cost of fuel, the US military is now becoming a leading conservationist.

As for the rest of us. I am always baffled as to why so few people figure the cost of fuel into their various equations. We consider the cost of the RV into the our dreams of seeing the west, but fail to factor in the tanks of gas.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A Tale of Two Shopping Districts

A recent trip brought me through Magna, Utah. Being on the west end of town, I decided to check out the sprawl in the Southwest areas of Salt Lake County. I ended up visiting the large Jordan Commons shopping district.

Magna is a small blue collar town near the Kennecott Copper Smelter. The town is a beautiful example of some of the early thinking that went into town planning. The basic ideal of the day was that of a Main Street lined with independently owned shops. The center of town had a wonderful collection of small starter homes, a few free standing fourplexes and larger homes for well established families. Magna, itself, is within walking distance to the big chainlink gate that surrounds Kennecott.

To my dismay, about half of the shops in this traditional shopping district were boarded up and closed.

The Second part of my excursion brought me to the Jordan Landing. Jordan Landing is a new shopping concept. A good description might be a Mall on Steroids. A traditional Mall has a combination of anchor stores and smaller clingon stores in a connected enclosed space surrounded by an massive shared parking lot.

The Jordan Landing is more like a strip mall with free standing box stores. The Landing includes the first Sears Grand store, a Sams Club, Walmart, Kohls, Lowes, Circuit City and a string of other traditional free standing stores. The Landing also has a large number of free standing chain style restaurants. The stores are in an area that is almost 2 miles square. Most people, I suspect, drive from store to store.

Regardless, the area was packed. Here we are in the middle of March (not a big shopping season). The massive parking lots were close to half full and people were walking out of all the stores with big carts brimming over with goods.

In part what is going on is a major demographic switch. Unlike downtown Magna and Salt Lake City proper, West Jordan is expanding. The population of the West Jordan is currently something like 85,000. It is projected to grow to 185,000 within the next several decades. I suspect that central Magna (like Salt Lake City) is seeing its population decrease. The Salt Lake City zoning commission is extremely hostile to new businesses and growth. The result is that the natural population growth in Utah can only find housing through sprawl. In 2000, Salt Lake City's population was 181,743. The 2004 estimate is 178,605. Within the next thirty years, West Jordan, West Valley City and Saint George will all have larger populations than Salt Lake City.

The box store concept has many advantages. The selection is greater. Prices are less. Generally towns put a high sales tax on sales in traditional shopping districts.

It is hard to say if the phenomenal success of Jordan Landing is due to this demographic switch or if there really is something about the free standing box store concept that is innately appealing to the American mind.

Looking at Jordan Landing, I do wonder how well the concept will carry through the ages. If the current success is due only to demographic trends, the area might start to languish in the next 40 years or so. I suspect that the founders of Magna thought that they were building a downtown shopping district that would be thriving centuries into the future.

Comparing the blight in downtown Magna to the thriving success of Jordan Landing. I can't help but think that the real secret to long term success is slow sustained growth. Traveling through Europe several decades ago, I noticed that vibrant cultural centers had a long history of buidings being torn down and rebuilt as the area grew.

What the US has done with the our current cities is to create a political structure that is hostile to this sustained growth. A businessman who wants to expand a small business in Salt Lake City can't because the drones on the zoning commission. The truth in business, is that if you can't grow, you can only languish.

The aggressive zoning that dominates traditional downtowns creates this destructive cycle of blight followed by government subsidized urban renewal. Meanwhile, the people sprawl into the countryside because that is the only place were growth is allowed.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Mormonism and Evolution

Yesterday, I settled down at the bookstore and read a little tome called Mormonism and Evolution. This book contains the authoritative statements of LDS leaders on evolution. The last several chapters in the book give the common sense view that students should study evolution because this study is extremely valuable in understanding biology, geology, medicine, etc.. This rational face is what most Mormons show when talking to gentiles like me.

The first section of the book was extremely interesting. The early Mormon conflict with evolution was quite unique. Apparently, Mormonism promises that its adherents will become Gods (like the Heavenly Father) in the here after. This promise of Godhood is premised on an argument that Adam was a God just like the Heavenly Father. (Brigham Young apparently even toyed with the idea that Adam was God, and that Eve was one of God's many wives.)

Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken--HE is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do." (Brigham Young's 1852 sermon).

In this metaphysics, the Godhood that Joseph Smith promises his adherents is a direct result of humans descending from an Adam-God. Achealogy, genetics and other science that put humans in the primate family is a direct challenge to the genealogy that makes Mormons direct descendants of God. DNA results that refute the claim of the American Indians puts the Mormon theology of man descending from God in further conflict with science and evolution.

Now, I really don't think that this fantasy is the driving force behind most Mormon's faith. My guess is that most Mormons are attracted to the social structure.

I can see why, if someone held that they were a descendant of God and will become a multiwived-Heavenly-Father themselves, that evolution would be troublesome. The theory of evolution and genetics breaks the genealogy that serves as the foundation for such a belief.

The genetic code, the fossil record, our physiology and outward appearance puts us firmly in the primate family. Evolution does not really explain why humans reason and browse the internet while other creatures on this earth do not.

It was not until reading Mormonism and Evolution that I actually caught on to this unique under current of the Utah debate on evolution. I have to admit here, Evolution directly counters the speculation that the Heavenly Father (aka, Adam, aka The Archangel Micheal) came to earth with one of his wives Eve to spawn a separate species of whitesome and delightsome Godlets.

For that matter, I think the main current impulse for the Utah action is the simple human tendency for people to inject their philosophies into science (especially the science of evolution). Great example of people injecting philosophical nonsense into science are "modern" theories like Nazism. The National Socialists were pushing a view that an Aryan super race had evolved and that, to achieve its full glory, this highly evolved super race had to wipe out substandard races like Blacks and Jews. I've read a few things under the guise of Evolutionary Psychology that appeared to me to be little more than a new manifestation of the Material Dialectic.

Anyway, apparently Mormons are currently in a dialog on how they should deal with wild speculations made by their founders.

The actual study of geology, archaeology, genetics is so much more interesting than the weird things that philosophical or theological thinkers have tried to inject into the debate. I really hope that LDS students really aren't being confronted with the decision of choosing between good science and a fantasy that they are in fact Gods in training.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Memoirs of a Catholic School Boy

Odd. My blog is no longer visible.

I thought I should point out after my last post. I was a Catholic School boy going to Santa Clara University south of SF when the AIDS epidemic first emerged. Several of my friends were from SF. Many of whom were really upset with things going on in the gay community like the bath houses and a growing problem with pedophilia. Disliking pedophilia does not make a person a homophobe.

Health care workers were deathly afraid of AIDS. They did not know how it spread. They helped people anyway.

While the people in the trenches worked to overcome their fears to help others. The bastards in Hollywood belittled them for their legitimate fears.

Many health care workers, at the time, were opposed to a subculture that was advocating unprotected sex with multiple partners. The people who tried to say that AIDS was spread through unprotected sex with unprotected partners were labeled homophobes by the Hollywood elite.

I watched this drama from my protective little shell. I had a great deal of admiration for the health care workers who helped AIDS patients especially when it was not clear how the disease spread. I have zero respect for Hollywood Elite.

The reason I am upset with Clooney is that he is lying. Hollywood did not lead on this issue. The cultural elite belittled the people who tried to help in the early AIDS epidemic. They only became the champion of AIDS several years after the epidemic when AIDS was taking a large number of their own.

David Horowitz'e book Radical Son provides an interesting view of this era. Horowitz was part of the cultural elite. He realized that the cultural elite was sickness, and that people the elite denounced were the ones worthy of admiration.

Regardless, Hollywood's concern with AIDS arose not from some sort of wonderful altruistic instinct unique to the movie industry. AIDs took a disproportionate number of people from the movie industry.

Clooney's tiny minded political jab is simply a self righteous dilusion.

Group think never leads. It can only follow.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Nice History Revision Mr. Clooney

This is a funny quote from George Clooney:

"We are a little bit out-of-touch in Hollywood," Clooney said. "I think that's probably a good thing. We are the ones who talked about AIDS when it was only being whispered ... We talked about civil rights ... I'm proud to be part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community, proud to be 'out of touch."'

I happened to be living in Santa Clara when HIV/AIDS broke out. I read the papers daily. Had friends die of AIDS, etc..

I remember the health department and religious groups struggling to help people with AIDS while Hollywood shouted homophobia while resisting health efforts to shut down gay bath houses and promoting safe sex. It was not until about three or four years into the epidemic when HIV/AIDS became politically correct. Hollywood followed. They did not lead.

The people who led were the doctors, priests and nameless volunteers who actually risked their very lives to aid people with a mysterious disease no-one knew how it spread.

Hollywood did not lead. It followed.

Hollywood is simply a mechanism of group think and delusions. Group think never innovates, it is simply led around by its nose ring.