Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ventana Canyon Trail

A few minutes from our house is Ventana Canyon, one of dozens of canyons on the south side of the Santa Catalina Mountains, on the northern side of Tucson. It is just west of the more popular Sabina Canyon. This mountain range is part of the Coronado National Forest.

From the trail head at the Ventana Canyon Resort, the Ventana Canyon Trail (Tr #98) to the Maiden Pools is a good three hour hike up and back. It is a bit deceiving at a quick glace at the map. A 1300 foot increase in elevation over 2.5 miles seems reasonable. But the catch is that the bulk of those feet are in the last quarter of the hike to the Maiden Pools.

After meandering through an easement/right-of-way amide saguaro, cholla, barrel cactus, ocotillo, prickly pear, mesquite, the trail follows the Ventana Canyon creek. This creek is dry 95% of the time. Water might be found during the winter run-off in March or during the occasional monsoon shower in late-summer.

The beginning of the canyon is somewhat narrow, not a slot canyon, but with interesting spires raging overhead. After the tough last 1/2 or 3/4 mile, the trail levels off and even descends a bit to the Maiden Pools. If you are hoping for a waterfall, go in the spring after the winter snow melt.

The top photo was taken just above the Pools looking south back down the canyon and into east Tucson. The Santa Rita Mountains are in the distance. You can see the trail along the stream down below. The bottom photo is the view from the same location but looking north, up the canyon. The trail continues another three miles where it joins the Finger Rock Trail (Tr #42). From there one can go east and meet up with the Arizona Trail, Romero Canyon Trail (Tr #8), Esperero Canyon Trail (Tr #25) or west and catch the Pima Canyon Trail (Tr #62).

This hike, because of its low elevation and lack of any meaningful shade, is best done in months other than the summer. Like most of the hikes along the south side of the Santa Catalina Mountains, if you have seen one canyon, you have seen them all. Today though, I was graced with the presence of a roadrunner in the middle of the trail. He appeared as interested in me as I was in him.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Let's End the "I'm Offended" PR Efforts

American culture continues to spiral out of control. Give a politician and inch and he/she will try to make it an international event.

Rush Limbaugh, in commenting on President Hu's remarks last week, mimicked the Chinese language and Hu's possible comments for 20 seconds. Apparently there are a few Chinese American politicians, among others, who claim to have been offended by the comments.
California state Sen. Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco, is leading a fight in demanding an apology from the radio talk show host for what he and others view as racist and derogatory remarks against the Chinese people.

"The comments that he made - the mimicking of the Chinese language - harkens back to when I was a little boy growing up in San Francisco and those were hard days, rather insensitive days," Yee said in an interview Thursday. "You think you've arrived and all of a sudden get shot back to the reality that you're a second-class citizen."
----
"I want an apology at the very least," said New York Assemblywoman Grace Meng, a Queens Democrat. "Making fun of any country's leader is just very disrespectful for someone who says he is a proud American."

She added: "He was, in his own way, trying to attack the leader of another country, and that's his prerogative as well, but at the same time he offended 13 percent of New York City's population."
Talk radio is first and foremost entertainment. Rush's success is due in part to his use of humor. Political parody is part of the American culture. Making fun of politicians, regardless of their nationality, is core to our national humor identity. Paul Schanklin, the Capital Steps and Saturday Night Live have provided us with some pretty good political parody over the years.

One can only conjecture about how offended these Asian-American politicians are. But one can probably conclude that this is nothing more than an opportunistic response by liberal Democrats hoping to pile on the "I hate conservative talk radio and their "leader" Rush Limbaugh" pile.

Everyone gets offended only on different subjects. But are we really offended? Are we really that thin-skinned? Does every "offense" -- intended or accidental -- require an apology? Absolutely not.

Rush should not apologize. We'll just let these California and New York politicians (shocking that this is where this is coming from) have their 15 minutes of fame.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obama's Attempt to Be A Centrist

Last night's State of the Union speech by President Obama had some interesting and not so interesting points.

I personally liked the integrated seating because it minimized the applause periods. I liked a few of the character examples, especially the one involving the business that built the gear used in the rescue of the Chilean miners. Other that that, it was rather ho-hum.

It appeared he was trying to play this global centrist role, his version of Bill Clinton after the mid-term elections. It was less about the state of the union and more about some diatribe on topics he has no passion for.

Fresh off his time with Chinese President Hu, this speech will be remembered in part by his "China is great and we need to be more like China" attitude. He also made some attempts at JFK-isms. The Sputnik reference and his challenges to do "x" or "y" by some year in the future seemed more wishful thinking that an actual catalyst for something major.

I have tried repeatedly to like this man -- to give him a chance. But time and time again, I am disappointed. He is not an inspiring leader. His is still nothing more than community organizer. He would be a poor CEO, one that lacks business sense and one that lacks that "come on, follow me" charisma.

On one hand he wants to take us forward, taking these great steps, but on the other he knows that these are unlikely to occur because we lack the funding. He says we have to reign in government spending, just like he said last year, but he still spends and continues to propose new spending. His non-discretionary spending freeze is window-dressing.

As I listened, it appeared he was acting the Democratic politician to the fullest, talking about austerity on one hand but trumping it with lots of grandiose investment ideas and programs. The bottom-line is that the spending will continue to dwarf the cutbacks and the budget will continue to soar out of control.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Smart Investment = Government Spending

Recently, Obama and his advisers have been tossing out the spin-phrase "smart investment." Meaning spending on programs they think are the most prudent. It has little to do with investment, all to do with just more spending, more debt, more pet projects.

How much of government spending is actually investment? Investment implies spending now with the anticipation of receiving that amount plus more at some point in the future.

Some spending could be considered investment, for example, infrastructure and education (although 50 years of government education programs have been the opposite of investment; is has been a money pit.)

Some spending is necessary for society to work like police, fire, air control, border/port security, and national defense.

But most spending done by the federal government is broken down into entitlements (healthcare and social security to name a few) and lots of discretionary spending. Both are the result of politicians deciding what is best -- how our money can best be used. It also has a great deal to do with political corruption -- how money spent benefits the individual politician.

Obama and his supporters will try to spin this "smart investment" as wisdom. Of course anyone that looks at it will realize it is just a pleasing way to tell us how he wants to spend more money that we do not have on programs we do not need. These spending programs will just be Keynesian economics relabeled.

Every aspect of our federal government's budget is too big, from defense and homeland security to health and housing, from commerce and labor to agriculture and interior programs.

Will we ever hear again a president say that "government is too big and that we must cut "x" amount out of it this year, "y" next year and "z" the year after?" We might hear "spending freeze," but that will just be some programs, not all. The freezes will not reduce the deficit but will just increase it at a slightly slower rate. We need our politicians to do the hard stuff, right-size our government and reduce taxation for all.

I would welcome the politician who campaigns on and fulfills a promise to not pass a single law but to remove thousands and to dis-abandon program after program. It'll never happen. And because it will never happen, our politicians will continue to spend us into destruction.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Steelers, Packers, and Their Bandwagon Fans

Yesterday was painful for this sports fan. The Packers beat the Bears and the Steelers beat the Jets. Of all the professional athletic teams in any sport, I dislike the Steelers most followed closely by the Packers. This year's Super Bowl 45 -- that'd be Super Bowl XLV if you are keeping Roman numeral count -- is on my list of not-necessary-to-watch-TV.

These two teams have fans all over the place -- the so-called Packer- or Steeler-Nations. Very few of these fans are actually from eastern Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. The bulk of these fans are fair-weather fans. They got on the bandwagon because they only support teams that have winning traditions.

I dislike these teams not because I do not appreciate their winning ways but because they are key rivals of the teams I like: Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings. You cannot be a Browns or Vikings fan and support, in any form, the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Green Bay Packers.

Over the next two weeks, we will hear all kinds of crap, aka, professional analysis, on the sports stations, in restaurants, stores, and hang-outs. They will talk about how great these teams are, their traditions, their players, and how having these two team in the Big Game is good for the sport. I will do my best to not listen to any of it. If a political talk radio host starts talking about either team for more than 10 seconds, I will be changing the station and will not return until after the Event.

Over the next few years, I will run into Steeler and Packer fans in Arizona, Utah and Idaho and none of them will have a reasonable reason way they are fans of either of these two teams.

Support who you wish but you better have a good reason. Good reasons are "my dad was a big fan," "our family is from the area," "I wrote a letter as a boy to the coach and he sent me an actual response."

Just remember that if you are a fan of the Steelers, Packers, Cowboys, Saints, Yankees, Red Sox, Lakers, Heat, Manchester United, or Real Madrid, you are walking a thin line because there is a good chance that you are a textbook-defined bandwagon fan.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tunisia

Is the ouster of the Tunisian President last week by grass-roots revolutionaries a catalyst for good or a sign that fellow Arab leaders need to crack down more?

The Secretary General of the Arab League Amr Moussa was spot on when he said "the Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession."

Nowhere in the Arab world does a real democracy exist.

Consider the Arab states: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, Yemen. Any stars here? Qatar or Bahrain? Maybe.

When we hear comments from Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak about how they need to do a better job promoting economic opportunities, it is laughable. The problem with these Arab nations is their forms of government. They are the few ruling the masses. The leaders craved, obtained and wallow in their power. They have no intention to lessen their grip on their citizens.

My experience in the Middle East is limited having spent a week in Israel including the West Bank and a week in Lebanon. The people are great. The bulk of them want to do the right thing -- get an education or learn a trade, raise a family, work at a job they can be proud of, enjoy the simple things of life. Most prefer a secular state giving people the freedom to worship as they see fit. Most are not Islamic zealots desiring an Islamic state.

Arab governments need to get out of the way, to allow commerce to flourish and for investments to be made. They need to promote their own form of capitalism by giving people the incentives to work hard and take risks. For most people in these nations, there is no hope. They cannot trust the government -- the current one or the next one -- to not destroy what they have built. Most will not try.

It would be a wonderful thing to see Arab entrepreneurs build businesses in manufacturing, technology, medicine, communications, and transportation. Outsiders would welcome the opportunity to invest and build plants and open regional offices in Arab nations if the political climate was favorable.

Unfortunately, favorable conditions do not exist in the Arab world. As such, poverty, unemployment and recession will be status quo as long as these governments exercise their selfish policies.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hansel and Gretel - Utah Opera

Two lost children would be a tasty treat for the evil Witch, but Hansel and Gretel are too clever to be served as dinner. Grimm’s timeless fairy tale comes alive with glorious music, an eerie forest, and mystical woodland creatures.
Tonight I saw "Hansel and Gretel" presented by the Utah Opera in downtown Salt Lake City at the Capital Theater. Delightful.

Leah Wool, Hansel, Anya Matanovič, Gretel, were riveting. They have a rapport with one another. They like performing together. By the time they got to the gingerbread house, Jennifer Roderer, Witch, has a beautiful voice while adding a bit of humor. The 25 children involved added to the spell. A children's choir-like performance, I was every bit as proud of them as their parents and grandparents.

Singers and musicians were spot on. Now for a gingerbread cookie.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Obama and His Chinese Peer

I am not sure where Obama gets his foreign policy advice. His amateurism in dealing with his peers has been embarrassing for us as a nation. Whether it is cow-towing to to Arabs or bowing to his Asia peers, his body language, not to mention his policies, makes America look weak.

There is business and political culture and there is national culture. How Arabs interact with their fellow Arabs is their business; how the Chinese interact with their fellow Chinese is their business. Obama would be better advised to act professionally, and put aside his "I want you to feel comfortable around me" attitude. Act business-like and forget the cultural pomp.

Perhaps the photo of him bowing to President Hu from 2009 is a perfect picture showing how far America has fallen in global economics. The tide has been turning and it should be noted that under Obama and democratic monetary policies, China has trumped American financial fortitude. Granted is started with WWI and has gone down hill ever since, with no end in sight.

Rome did not fall overnight, likewise America has not either. But the history is clear as is the future given our current path and leadership. I hope Obama makes America proud this time he visits with the Chinese leader.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Banks Loosen Purse Strings

One of the headlines on the front page of the 15-16 January 2011 WSJ read "Banks Loosen Purse Strings." That turns out to be a bit misleading.

The good news is that banks are willing to lend money. The bad new is that most Americans do not need more debt.

It is good news that credit-card usage is up 10% year-over-year? It is good news that banks issued 3.4 million new credit cards in the fourth quarter, up 4% from the same period a year earlier?

J.P. Morgan Chairman James Dimon said "we see the consumer is getting stronger...that many Americans are still saving and paying down their debts, which will make them better borrowers." Better borrowers? Only from the mouth of a banker.

Less consumer debt is a good thing. It is not a good thing if we go back to more personal debt. Credit cards are only good for consumer if they pay of the balance monthly. If they pay anything less, then they are hostage to loan sharks.

Being able to get a loan for a car, house or college education are the only reasonable items the typical person should go in debt for -- homes, cars and schools that are prudent for the family income.

It is good that banks are loosening their purse strings but consumer beware. Banks will go back to marketing their services to many that should not have the loans, often with unexpected terms. We don't want to be right back where we were before this recession began.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Revolt In Tunisia and Potential Fallout

The significance of this week's revolt in Tunisia and ouster of a authoritarian leader is not that is was done through grass-roots efforts rather that it occurred in an Arab nation.

The catalyst -- they all have a catalyst -- was a street vendor setting himself on fire following a governmental crack down on him not having a vending license. Massive government corruption has been going on for years. Add to this the lack of economic opportunities, unemployment, social controls and a youthful society.

Will the results be a democratic Tunisia in the Middle East / Northern Africa? Who knows. We do know that after 23 years, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali resigned and has taken refuge in, of all places, Saudi Arabia. What will fill the vacuum is a major concern, especially in an Islamic country. Will it be democratic in nature? Will it be a dictator or another authoritarian? Will it become an Islamic / Sharia nation? A red flag goes up when Al Queda in the Islamic Maghreb wanted Ben Ali out.

It is unlikely that Tunisia will resemble a western democracy. The Islamic forces are too strong in this nation to let this opportunity go. More likely, it will be an authoritarian government lead by religious zealots. There are no real Arab democracies in the Middle East. Lebanon tried but has not quite figured it out, and probably never will.

Tunisia has its opportunity but as history suggests, it will get it wrong for the majority of its citizens.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tucson Memorial: Solemn Event or Political Rally?

Like most politicians, Obama never misses an opportunity to push his political agenda. Last night's Memorial in Tucson for the victims and families of last weekend's shooting spree was no exception.

The President was right in coming to Tucson, in holding a memorial. He did not do this for the Ft. Hood Shooting in Nov 2009 although he should have. His speech this week had some good parts in it. He's good with the teleprompter. However there were some questionable comments and omissions, given the solemnity of the occasion.

Granted, this was not a funeral, but it was a solemn event. What bothered me was his morphing into political campaign mode. His voice inflections and rallying cries toward his audience seemed out of place. If this were Reagan, GHW Bush, GW Bush or Clinton, this event would not have taken on a political feel.

For the most part, only people that actually like Obama would spend the time and make the effort to see and hear him live. For the most part, victim family and media personnel aside, most attendees were Obama supporters. He was playing to his audience.

Memorials are just that. They are for the victims, their family and friends, and anyone else effected by the tragedy.

Presidents should act presidential. Though he started off presidential this week in Tucson, he allowed his politics to show, dimming the presidential shine that should have been there in it fullness.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Political Rhetoric Post-Tucson Shootings

Like many "shoot first and ask questions later" individuals -- political positions aside -- those people in the MSM and many in elected positions have made fools of themselves. Their impetuous remarks should certainly come back to haunt them.

Politician will be politicians and will "never waste a good crisis." The Tucson shooting is just the latest. We expect this reaction. Gun control proponents will jump. Those that cannot compete with conservative talk radio/TV will do what they can to push the fairness doctrine.

The exercise in political rhetoric is not about civil discourse, moderation or civility. It is about how one side, and in this case, the Left, tries to place blame where it does not belong.

Case in point, Pima County Sheriff Charles W. Dupnik, the elected enforcement arm of the court, is entitled to his opinions, even if they are wrong. Placing the blame and partial reason for the shooter's actions on conservative talk radio is irresponsible and contentious. He is inciting the vitriol he claims to detest. Hopefully his remarks will cost him another term if his opponents are even half-way competent. Some opinions are best kept to oneself.

It is amazing what one individual that expresses himself violently can do to the public debate. This is just another catalyst in the world of political rhetoric, with no end in site.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Military Analogies No Longer Politically Correct

After the most recent wacko shooting in America, apparently, military analogies are no longer politically correct in the business and athletic worlds. We can no longer say the following, because doing so might offend someone and cause someone to go "postal" (or is it now "Loughner?"):

-- We must be on target.
-- We got them in our cross-hairs.
-- We will implement a flanking maneuver.
-- We will make a frontal attack.
-- We will take the offensive.
-- We must do proper reconnaissance / surveillance / counter-surveillance.
-- We must scout our opponent(s) / competitors(s).
-- We will crush our enemy(ies).
-- Shoot first and ask questions later.
-- Shoot from the hip.
-- Locked and loaded.
-- They are on our hit list.
-- Don't retreat, reload.
-- Plan of attack.
-- Fiery attack.
-- Exploit their weakness(es).
-- Aim for ...
-- Take the tactical advantage.
-- or insert favorite you favorite Sun Tzu / Art of War phrase

Political correctness has its place. For as many good ideas there are, there are probably twice as many bad ideas.

Leave it to the MSM to toss yet another grenade on what we can and cannot say.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Politics and the Shooting Spree in Arizona

The repercussions of Saturday shooting in Tucson are getting a bit tense. The tragedy is that six people were killed and 13 injured by a 22 year old assailant at a Tucson political event on Saturday morning for Arizona's 8th District Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Congresswoman Giffords is my congressional representative. I did not vote for her. I voted for her opponent, Jesse Kelly, in the November election. Congresswoman Giffords won by around 1%, mainly because she was able to split her opponents' votes with 4% going to the Libertarian candidate, away from the Republican. She was a smart campaigner, winning fair and square.

Congresswoman Giffords is considered a Blue Dog Democrat. She is a moderate and needed to be in order to win in our district. She supports the second amendment and strong borders (though is against SB 1070). She is pro abortion, pro-Obamacare and pro-federal-government bailout.

I appreciate her willingness to hold "Congress on Your Corner" events. She does a good job interfacing with her constituency.

This shooting is nothing more than a tragedy. It was an act perpetrated by a disturbed individual. It is not the first, it will not be the last. Turning this into a political debate will be the wrong reaction.

Sure we have a politically divided society. That is one of the great things about our society. We can discover for ourselves and vote accordingly as to what we want our government to be and do, given our constitution.

However, turning this particular tragedy in to political debate is the wrong outcome. This is not a statement on gun laws, freedom of speech, immigration, healthcare or abortion.

Did this young man fall through the cracks? Probably. Is this normal for a person distraught with the government? No. Could it have been prevented? Doubtful.

This is nothing more than a terrible tragedy.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Unemployment Hocus Pocus

This morning, the headline on the Drudge Report was that U.S. unemployment rate is now 9.4%, down from 9.7%. On the surface, the spin is designed to paint a positive picture. But how does the employment rate fall when new jobs added are below the number of jobs required just to stay even?
Over the past three months, the economy has added an average of 128,000 jobs. That's just enough to keep up with the population growth. Nearly double is generally needed to significantly reduce the unemployment rate.
The December numbers -- the catalyst for the report -- is that we added 103,000 new jobs. The math does not add up.

We are optimistic as a nation. I talk to people all day the manufacturing sector. The general sense is that there is "cautious optimism." We want to believe that 2011 will be better than 2010, but we were at the same position last year and the year before that.

The underlying sentiment is that American politicians have let us down, regardless of party affiliation. That this will not change with a Republican House (and Democratic Senate and White House.) The federal (and many states') debt burden and the inability to reign in spending and taxation will forever dampen real growth.

Until businesses have confidence in long-term possibilities, they will be reluctant to take the necessary risks needed to expand and drive commerce.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Goldman Sachs Invests In Dimishing Facebook

Why would the Goldman Sachs Group invest $450 million into Facebook? Is it because it is the most hit and used Web site today. It is because its private clients can invest $1.5 billion collectively, without the SEC's oversight? Or, as it is a relatively small investment for them, allows them to hedge a better position in a modern dot com trend? Is it just putting them in the ideal IPO position?

The Facebook concept is great. It really does allow people to connect and share. But I cannot help but think that it is a trend that has already ran its course.

I have around 500 Facebook "Friends." However, only an handful -- around 10% -- actual post or share their status on a regular basis. A few of them post way to much, namely because they link their Facebook page to their Twitter posts or they use Facebook as if it were a Twitter account.

Facebook, like Twitter, tends to be lots of noise. Sure, we like to keep up with friends and family in diverse locations. but more often than not, I find myself hiding friends because they tend to be "yelling".

Facebook is a trend that will diminish with time. An IPO will bring about its eventual "demise" but one that Goldman Sachs will ride, exploit and cash in on while it is trendy.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Which On-Going Conflicts in 2011 Will Impact America?

Which on-going conflicts in 2011 will Americans actually care about and be impacted by? Côte d'Ivoire, Colombia, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Venezuela, Sudan, Mexico, Guatemala, Haiti, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Guinea, or Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Unfortunately, most Americans have heard of less than half of these nations. A small percentage have a clue as to what is going on within each and how its strife may impact America. How many people actually know that over 4 million people have been hacked to death in Congo in the past decade? Makes me wonder why we focus so much on nuclear proliferation when the weapon of mass destruction is the machete.

Issues in Nigeria, Venezuela and Mexico will impact the price of oil, namely the prices we pay at the pump, for air travel, and the transportation costs associated with food and other every-day human consumables.

Issues in Columbia, Mexico, Pakistan and Afghanistan will impact the social and defense costs associated with illegal drugs.

Issues in Muslim nations like Iraq, Sudan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Lebanon and Nigeria will be battle grounds for Islamic extremism and terrorist breeding grounds.

We all hope 2011 is better than 2010. But there are still too many unknowns and risks that tarnish the optimism we tend to have at the new year. If we look back, 2009 was better than 2010 and 2008 was better than 2009.

Couple the self-serving politicians and corruption norm with the erroneous belief that government is the answer to all our woes, it is very unlikely 2011 will be better than 2010.