Sunday, December 31, 2006

Religion Tour #6, Gospel Lighthouse Pentecostal

A few years back, I went to bat for Gospel Lighthouse as they battled the city over an occupancy permit. The jist of it was that GL had the permit already, but the city, led by Mayor Becker, sought to prevent their occupancy, presumably so the property could be sold and turned into riverfront condos. The city probably realized they had no legal, not to mention moral, leg to stand on, so they backed off. GL is located at 6th and Memorial, in the former home of the REAL School.

As for the service, I probably couldn't be more mismatched, insofar as I tend to be something of a detached observer, while the GL congregants were very expressive in their faith. Lots of singing, swaying, amens, etc...

Pastor Ray Christensen gave a talk about a conversation that he had with a curious agnostic. The conversation was going nowhere, apparently, when Pastor Ray changed tactics. Rather than try to win the debate, he talked about the love Jesus (and Pastor Ray) had for the agnostic. Pastor Ray noticed a change in attitude from the agnostic, who seemingly was thirsting for more, according to Pastor Ray's interpretation of the exchange.

I can say that the congregants were quite welcoming. Several shook my hand to introduce themselves. The associate pastor gave me a brief overview of the history of the Pentecostals. I had to leave a bit early to go to work. I would have preferred to stay. I found the music quite nice and the people warm and friendly.

Journal Times Socialist Manifesto

Don't bother reading the JT's commentary today. I will summarize it for you.

If you want something, the government should provide it for you.
Beware of the private sector.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Racism Sans Racists

In the comments following a recent blog entry entitled "Rejecting Racial Representation", I encountered an anonymous blogger who laments the "many organizations right here in racine that subscribe to racial representation for white people." Yet despite my numerous pleas, anonymous was unable or unwilling to identify even one of the organizations, much less offer any evidence to support his/her claim.

The mindset of the anonymous blogger is hardly unique. But why complain about racism without identifying the racists?

As it happens, I have a theory that addresses this question. It serves the purposes of many people to have a problem with racism. I will get to who those people are a little later. It is best if the problem is vaguely and broadly defined, such that specific allegations must be avoided at all costs. Specific allegations of racism must deal with the vexing problems of facts, evidence, proof etc... Vague allegations can conveniently disregard evidence. Racism, of course, exists, and is harmful to both the racist and the subject of the racism. But for some, it is not all bad, insofar as it provides a useful excuse for personal failure. And lets face it, most of us would prefer to find external causes for our shortcomings. So the beneficiaries of the vague racism problem are blacks who would prefer to blame others for their failures. But it is not only blacks who benefit from the vague racism allegations. Whole careers are available for those who perpetuate the vague racism problem, and they must keep the story going or lose their livelihood. In addition to a livelihood, these folks also get to enjoy a feeling of moral superiority over the masses of supposed racists in our midst. Racism, vaguely defined, is an industry. An industry that must be confronted.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On Blogger Candidates

Fred Dooley of has announced his candidacy for alderman of the 7th district in Racine. Of course I wish him well, but that is not the point of this blog post.

As an obsessive observer of politics and the antics of politicians, I would like to share some of my observations about the differences between bloggers and politicians. Political bloggers, if they are to have any interested readers, will have to say something. Politicians, on the other hand, will usually try to get elected by saying nothing.

I find it very irritating to try to figure out what a politician might actually do once in office, as they are skilled in the art of speaking well without actually saying anything. As such, you don't know what you have until it is too late. For example, did any of our politicians promise the barage of tax and fee hike proposals that we are presently seeing? No, they did not.

On the other hand, blogger candidates will have a record of their thoughts, positions, attitudes, etc... such that a voter will have a much better idea of what he is voting for, or against. I find this to be a very positive development.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rejecting Racial Representation

I was having a conversation the other day about the redistricting controversy at Racine Unified School District. The Racine chapter of the NAACP is opposed to the idea of neighborhood schools, as they prefer efforts towards greater desegregation. I wondered aloud whether the NAACP is very representative of the average black person. Then I wondered how I would feel if an organization presumed to represent my interests because I have whitish skin.

I can tell you that the very idea would be abhorrent to me. My views, my hopes, my dreams are not the inevitable result of my whiteness. I have spent the better part of my life thinking, reflecting on experience, etc... as I attempt to carve out a consistent, logical, and moral world view. It would be insulting to think that a group could presume to represent my interests by consulting a color chart. I am more than that. And so are black people.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Religion Tour #5, Beth Isreal Sinai Congregation

I almost missed this service. Both the front and side doors were locked, so I hopped in my van to leave when I noticed someone entering an unmarked door on the other side of the building. I entered to find about a half dozen people and asked if it was OK to observe their service. They all introduced themselves and were exceedingly helpful in guiding me through the service. This included informing me that the Torah and the other book (name escapes me) were read from right to left instead of left to right. The service was quite long and much of it was in Hebrew. I was surprised that nearly all the congregants, by this time numbering about twenty, were able to speak Hebrew. I was told later that most probably did not know what they were reading. I got by because the readings were accompanied by an English translation. One of the readings that I found interesting was the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers, later rose to prominence because of his ability to interpret dreams, predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. His brothers later showed up seeking food and Joseph sort of toyed with them without revealing his identity. After the service a meal was offered and I ate lox for the first time. Not bad. The rabbi, who had recently lost his father, talked at some length about the rules governing mourning, which include beard growing (not sure why) and covering mirrors as it is not a time to look at your image but rather to reflect on the departed. I can't say I learned a whole heck of a lot about Judiasm but seeing as it is the first monotheistic religion with an enormous influence on both past and present, I am interested in learning more. I was told that a good book to read is called "Basic Judiasm" by Milton Steinberg. I think I will read it.

Madison Prohibitionism

The city of Madison has an alcohol coordinator. In the hundred plus years of its existence, Madison has managed without an alcohol coordinator. So the new coordinator is naturally tampering with the heretofor voluntary coordination of alcohol related activity. Until now, people interested in drinking alcohol did so at establishments run by people interested in selling alcohol. But with binge drinking identified as the problem dejour, this will no longer do.

Enter alcohol coordinator Joel Plant. He is proposing a ban on new bars. This is clever insofar as he may gain the support of some bar owners who would enjoy the protection from competition and the profits that would flow as a result of the ban.

Thankfully, some are fighting back. City Council President Austin King is opposed to the ban. "It is a huge fear of mine that this modern prohibitionist bent that we're headed around will drive students out of the bars and into less safe drinking environments."

A ban on new bars will do nothing to stop binge drinkers. It does undermine property rights and it may endanger more drinkers. Not a good idea.

City Will Fail in Real Estate Speculation

The city of Racine is finalizing the purchase of two buildings and some land adjacent to the site of the anticipated Metra depot. Many on the JT web site are appluading the action. Not me.

First, the city is overpaying (more than assessed value) for property that will only increase in value if the Metra does come to Racine. So the city of Racine is engaging in risky real estate speculation with our money.

Also, the city of Racine has a recent history of failure when delving into real estate. For example, they have shelled out large amounts of our money to tear down businesses in West Racine, in the hopes of luring a developer to the area. At present, they have failed to do so. Developers know that the city has deep pockets, so they will ask for tax credits, a reduced purchase price, and anything else they can squeeze out of the city. The city recently took a building next to mine in downtown Racine. After losing a court dispute, they had to fork over more cash to the former owner. They then sold the property at a big loss to someone else. The building remains vacant.

Granted these are anacdotal examples of mismanaged real estate ventures, but why should anyone assume that city officials will be better at real estate speculation than the people who do this for a living? The reason why the city, any city, will more likely lose money in these deals is because they are playing with money that doesn't belong to them. It is easy to take risks when others suffer the consequences of your mistakes. Additionally, there is an upside that is visible, while the downside is a largely invisible number on a sheet of paper. Thus the mistakes made by our amature real estate speculators will not become widely known to the public.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Religion Tour #4, Buddhism

I know a reporter at the Journal Times who invited me to last nights dharma talk. As it was described to me, it seemed the best opportunity to find out a bit about Buddhism.

Now, at the risk of offending the JT reporter, I felt as though I was among people who were "playing" religion, like children might play doctor. This says nothing about my attitude towards Buddhism and everything about my attitude towards the Journal Times. Roughly 25% of the group had a JT connection.

The evening started with the dozen or so people putting on gray robes with a red sash/apron. Thankfully I was not required to wear it. The purpose of this exercise, as it was described to me, was to not be distracting with our clothing choices. I honored their request to remove my shoes. By the way, everyone there was quite nice and welcoming.

My afformentioned attitude can mostly be attributed to the fact that JT city editor Dustin Block led a discussion of sorts. I like Dustin and I think he is a kind and gentle well meaning person, but lets just say it is unlikely he will ever be my spiritual guru. He talked about the peace that he felt when working on a collaborative painting, and about a strianed relationship at work that has improved of late, seemingly a result of Dustin's improved inner peace.

During a question and answer period with the Abbot Linda Somlia, I asked about the likelyhood that inner peace will be of much use when confronted by external hostility. There doesn't seem to me a very satisfactory answer to that problem.

My tentative conclusion here is that seeking inner peace and quiet is can be a wonderful exercise. And inner peace can be helpful in dealing with lifes difficulties. However, in the face of real external dangers, it seems of limitted usefullness.

Monday, December 18, 2006

More on Global Warming

Kathy and I have had a spirited discussion on global warming. See "Becker on Global Warming" if you want to take a look. Anyway, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting editorial on the subject of U.S. vs Europe and greenhouse emmissions.

The bottom line, despite greater economic and population growth, emmissions growth has increased more slowly in the U.S. in recent years. And the following pretty much sums it up:

"If global-warming activists were as interested in lowering air temperatures as they are in expanding the role of the state, they'd understand that the key to reducing carbon emmissions lies in unleashing the private sector, not capping it. That's the real lesson from the policies- and the results- in Europe and the U.S.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Religion Tour #3, Grace Church

I had been curious about this one. It had the look of one of those mega-churches from the outside. And I had never been in a Baptist church before.

The church itself was an impressive structure. Two large screens had the lyrics for the songs and the Bible passages that were being read. The main church was two tiered and sloping downward towards the stage. I don't know what else to call it. It looked like a stage and performance was a big part of the service. There was a band, lots of singing etc... The congregants were more expressive than I am used to. Several, at various times, would reach one or both arms out towards the sky. Was this a sincere expression of faith and joy or an effort to seem like a sincere expression of faith and joy? I don't know the answer to that question, as it could depend on the person, but it did strike me as a bit strange.

The message was interesting, starting with a reading from the Bible, a parable about vines and branches and fruit. If I could summarize the basic message, it was that the branches, us, can not bear fruit independent of the vine, God/Jesus.

Not a bad experience overall. I talked with a few people that I knew. The sermon was interesting. I got the sense that this church is somewhat ahead of the game insofar as recruitment goes. It was big, lively, and I got the sense that they were probably employing professional marketing skills to the whole operation.

Friday, December 15, 2006

McReynolds, Vos: Tax Hike Supporters?

My first foray into local politics began a few years back when the Racine County Board was wrangling over the issue of building an indoor ice skating rink. Needless to say, I opposed the idea. I felt that, at the very least, Racine County residents should be able to decide this issue via referendum. Yet, the supervisors who supported the rink idea were adamantly opposed to allowing voters to decide the issue directly. I thought that was ridiculous. I thought that a new ordinance could address this problem. I worked with my county supervisor Ken Vetrovec, who introduced an ordinance proposal which would have required expensive "quality of life" projects to be approved by direct citizen vote. The measure was going nowhere and I was getting more than a little irritated. Eventually, the measure came to a vote in the executive committee and was soundly defeated. Robin Vos offered a nonsense rationale for voting against the measure, and it was suggested to me at the time that he was doing the bidding of County Exec Bill McReynolds who was opposed to my proposal. So why is this relevant now?

Because if my proposed ordinance had passed, the funding for "quality of life" projects would be decided on a per project basis by Racine County voters. But now a task force, initiated by Bill McReynolds, has proposed a 1/2% sales tax increase for the purpose of funding "quality of life" projects. If it passes, voters will have much less say about which "quality of life" projects to approve. So if we support the proposed $69 million tax increase, it is likely that we will end up paying for a whole lot of expensive projects that we don't really want.

And I could have put and end to this nonsense two years ago, were it not for the opposition from our two most noted conservatives, Robin Vos and Bill McReynolds.

Reforms Always Fail, Except This Time

If there is one constant in public education, it is calls for reform. But according to Dr. Hicks, every urban school distict that has ever attempted reform, has failed. And he is right. But somehow he has managed to convince virtually all of Racine's movers and shakers that he can reform our district. Why do seemingly smart people believe that Dr. Hicks can accomplish what has repeatedly failed everywhere else?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hick's Message

I went to the state of the schools address today. Here is what Superintendent Hick's had to say: RUSD faces serious challenges, we are moving in the right direction, have faith.

Thinking Beyond Stage 1

A few years back I read a book by Thomas Sowell that had a tremendous impact on my thinking. The book has a very boring title and I still don't know what possessed me to pick it up and read it. It is called "Applied Economics" and subtitled "Thinking Beyond Stage 1." I will apply some of what I learned in that book to address the problem of one pending government mandate requiring sprinkler systems in appartments with three or more units.

Stage 1 is quite attractive. Sprinkler units may save some lives. Who could oppose an initiative that could save an innocent child from dying in a fire?

Sowells book suggests that you think beyond this stage. What will happen when the cost of building apartment units goes up substantially while the cost of building single unit housing does not go up? Answer: Developers will build single unit housing because there will be more demand for it because of the less onerous mandates and costs. This will contribute to more sprall, more roads, more environmental damage, more gas consumption, more traffic deaths, more time lost in vehicles etc...

Where will the poor people live? Answer: Since the cost of multiple dwelling units will go up, they will be even more out of reach for the poor. The poor will be stuck in the multiple units that they are in now. Fewer new multiple housing units will be built, so the older ones (most likely grandfathered in with no sprinkler systems) will become somewhat more valuable as they face less competition from newer units. But the poor have limitted incomes with few options. Owners of the multi-unit apartments will have no incentive to improve their facilities (sound familiar?), because their tenants can't afford to pay extra for the improvements and because the landlords are protected, by the sprinkler law, from competition by new housing units. Thus the poor will be huddled in unsprinkled, deteriorating, overpriced housing.

So I oppose the new sprinkler law because it will segregate and endanger the poor while resulting in urban sprawl, overconsumption of gasoline, more traffic fatalities, more cash in the hands of Middle Eastern despots etc....

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

For Your Amusement

My brother is an economist in Washington DC. He sent me the following e-mail:

I've been reviewing some applications from newly minted PhDs. Highlights from the applicants so far: Names have been changed to protect the innocent(s)

Cover letters:
I have also substantially improved my communication skills by actively joining the renounced speech club, "Toastmaster International"
I also have a diverse level of written communication skills.

From the Recommendation letters:
Matt's paper makes two important contributions. First is a policy contribution, but second is a significant mythological contribution on problems with measurement error in imputing tax prices.

And my favorite in the raised eyebrow department:
Susan has large, positive externalities....These externalities explain why I have latched onto her as my primary co-author.

Sorry but I can not attach a photo of Susan's large positive externalities.

Dousing Your Freedom

The Journal Times weighed in, sort of, on a battle brewing over a "Department of Commerce proposal that would require sprinkler systems in condos and apartment buildings with at least three dwelling units." The JT conclusion, of sorts, is "The people of Wisconsin deserve first class fire protection for their dwellings, but it should be done in the most cost-effective way, one that balances saving lives and saving livelihoods."

Well duh! But they have dodged the question of whether requiring sprinklers would be the most cost-effective way to balance lives saved and livelihoods saved.

The answer should be to keep our present arrangement, wherin these decisions are made by builders, owners, and renters. It is they, rather than government bureaucrats, who have the information needed to make the wisest decision.

My suggestion is that any lawmaker who wishes to vote in favor of this requirement should first be required to retro-fit his/her home with a sprinkler system. Only then will they have some understanding of the costs that they wish to impose on others.

Sustainable Racine No Longer Sustainable

The Journal Times ran a story today announcing the closing of Sustainable Racine. Here is one guy who will not be shedding any tears. Though the staff were friendly and well intentioned, their philosophy was harmful to Racine. Lets just say thet they never seemed to encounter a problem that didn't have a government solution. More power in the hands of government means less in the hands of individuals. The closing of Sustainable Racine is one step in the direction of a free Racine.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Religion Tour #2

For some time now I have considered visiting our many local churches and sharing my observations on this site. I am motivated in part by a curiousity about people and the beliefs that they hold. But I am also somewhat open to the idea of joining a church. I say somewhat because the very idea conflicts with my tendency towards independence. But perhaps I am missing something, and that is what I am setting out to explore.

Now you might be wondering why I have entitled this entry as Religion Tour #2 instead of #1. That is because I visited Grace Lutheran Church last week, where I met Preachrboy, aka Reverend Tom Chryst.

This week I attended St. Paul's Catholic Church on Spring Street in Mount Pleasant. And now it is time for a confession. My mind drifted regularly from the message offered by the priest as I wondered about the future of the church. Though the church was quite full of parishioners, and the church itself very new and fancy, I couldn't help but notice that the vast majority of worshippers were quite old. Without an influx of new members, I wondered how they will survive. I suspect that St. Paul's is not the only church that will need to grapple with this problem.

But my sociological observations did not stop there. In addition to being quite old, the parishioners were all white. I understand that people tend to gather among those whom they are most comfortable with, so I am not in the least surprised by this. In my youth, I attended St. Joseph's Church, against my will. While I am quite far from being a religious scholar, I can safely state that racial segregation is probably not exactly what Jesus had in mind for his followers. So I am left wondering whether people are members of their churches for extra-religious reasons. I have no other explanation for the obvious racial segregation. If people joined churches entirely because of shared beliefs, then I suspect that we would see much less segregation. I hope Preachrboy will be willing to offer his views on this subject.

Next week. A Wiccan ritual sacrifice of a black cat. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Becker On Global Warming

"I don't care if people believe in it or not," said Racine Mayor Gary Becker. "To me, why even argue the point? All the things to reduce global warming are things we should be doing anyway."

Like what sort of things? Well, we could use less energy, reduce mercury contamination from coal-fired power plants and reduce the nations involvements overseas, according to Becker. "Do the right things, and leave the debate about global warming alone."

Wow! Now I think we humans have a responsibility as stewards of the earth, but must we follow the dictates of King Becker without any debate?

Even if we assume that the earth is warming (much evidence suggests so) and that humans and their pollution are substantial contributors to the problem ( less evidence), does it follow that Beckers proposed solutions should be followed without debate?

Debate is sorely needed. Is global warming all bad, mostly bad, or would the good outweigh the bad? The folks in northern Canada, if there are any, might just welcome some warmer weather.

But lets assume that global warming is all or mostly bad and that it is caused by humans. Do we then follow Becker without debate?

No, because we would need to consider the cost of Beckers suggestions versus the potential benefits. For example, reducing energy use in some parts of the world could contribute to poverty. Would reducing our involvements overseas slow global warming? Would this be worth it if the result was the unchecked spread of religious extremism and terror?

I wish things were as easily solved as Becker seems to think they are.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Businesses Attacked for Urban Problems

I just finished reading a commentary from the Monday JT entitled "City lacks leadership, vision for the poor and under-served", written by self proclaimed leader Elliott Cohen, CEO/President of Abundant Life Christian Center.

"As one of the African-American leaders in the city of Racine, I am appalled and ashamed of the continuous neglect and absolute disdain for the poor and under-served communities in our city." writes Cohen.

He goes on to describe the laundry list of problems from joblessness, high dropout rates, violence, drug use, as well as some positive developments that mainly "benefit a certain population of the city".

Now here is his final paragraph: "Finally, let's challenge this city economically if situations do not change through boycotts and other effective nonviolent strategies to changing the status quo."

Which leaves me wondering, which business or businesses should be held accountable for the murders, drug use, joblessness and education failures that plague our city? A better idea would be to boycott the government that helps perpetuate these inner city problems.

The Right To Be Heard

I was catching a glimpse of an interview of Supreme Court Justice Breyer the other day. I don't have a transcript of the interview, so I will not be able to provide exact quotes. Breyer was defending the courts decision on the McCain-Feingold law. Basically, Breyer was saying that both sides of this debate had realistic first ammendmant claims. The losing side argued that free speech was being denied by the restrictions on campaign financing. But Breyer supported the view that prevailed, by saying that the speech of someone with only a dollar could be drowned out by the person with $20 million. And a new right, not found in our constitution, was created right before my eyes. The right to be heard.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Bloggers Exposed

I met preachrboy today in the receiving (departing?) line after accepting his invitation to attend his church service at Grace Lutheran Church. He mentioned that he had met another blogger recently and thought it might be fun to get together for coffee and conversation. I had been thinking about this anyway, and would love to meet any and all visitors and contributors to FreeRacine. Of course, for some of us, we would risk losing our anonymity. I would love to hear from you all on this subject especially. Would you like to get together, or do you prefer to keep intact your anonymous status? I envision a gathering at Java Vino, a smoke free coffee shop that also serves wine. I might even be persuaded to purchase the first drink or two for attendees. But first, I must know if you think the idea has any merit. Let me know. Denis.

Ethical dilemma

Help me, fellow bloggers, as I grapple with a perplexing interpersonal problem. Last night I was out to dinner with my family and a couple that we have known for several years. I consider them both to be very generous and kind people and I consider myself fortunate to be among their friends. We were speculating on the ethnicity of some little children who were playing nearby, and I mentioned that when I first met my friend, I was initially mistaken about his/her ethnicity(I don't want to give any clues about the identity of said individual). When asked, I indicated that I thought he/she was black. Friend became increasingly angry about this, said that I was ignorant about his/her ethnicity, said I had insulted him/her, was angry that I did not apologize, and refused to hear anything further from me on the subject. With no opportunity to defend myself, I excused myself from the table, apologized for the unpleasantries, and waited in the car until the others had finished their meal. And this is where we stand.

My question to you is whether or not I owe an apology for a mistaken initial judgement made several years ago? The reason that I am presently hesitant to do so is because I don't think it is an insult to be mistaken for a black person. Should I likewise apologize to actual black people for the misfortune of being black? Please weigh in fellow bloggers, but keep in mind that I would like both of my friends to remain friends if at all possible.