12.31.2008

MY FAVORITE POSTS OF 2008 - JULY

July 31 - At the Centers of Controversy
HUANG FAMILY NEWSLETTER, DECEMBER 2008

Adults - After many weeks of diligent studying, Amy passed the first of two boards and is now a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner; at some point next year, she'll then sit for and hopefully pass the Clinical Nurse Specialist exam. Lee's trying desperately to tie up existing client work, as 2009's thankfully looking like a busy year for his firm in terms of new assignments on a number of meaningful topics.

Kids - Aaron finally got his Certificate of Citizenship, which allowed us to get him a Social Security number and then set up a college savings account. Both were busy during the week with daycare/preschool and behavioral/speech therapy sessions, so we tried to make weekend fun: holiday parties, downtown shopping, and of course zoo and aquarium. They're looking forward to meeting their first cousin: Amy's brother and his wife are due in June.
WELL OIL BE

Holy smokes, Batman, even this conservative Republican oil exec sees the good of a higher gas tax: "This Oil Man Favors a Gas Tax." [Link courtesy of Greg Mankiw's blog.] How long will we let our addiction to cheap oil, big cars, and wide open spaces - swathed in patriotic terms to make them untouchable - keep us from doing sensible things to safeguard our future from an environmental, economic, and geopolitical standpoint?

12.30.2008

MORE VOICES IN FAVOR OF A CARBON TAX

When a key member of Reagan's economic team and a Republican congressman from South Carolina advocate for a tax, you know you're onto something: "An Emissions Plan Conservatives Can Warm To." [Link courtesy of Greg Mankiw's blog.]

This makes sense on so many fronts: environmental, economic, geopolitical. Throw in the political aligning of stars: new administration, economic challenges, high gas prices followed by plummeting gas prices. In other words, this is the right thing to do, and the right time to do it.
MY FAVORITE POSTS OF 2008 - JUNE

June 12 - The Long-Term Changes are the Hardest
WORDS

I got a chance to catch up with some old friends of mine this past weekend. We reminisced, caught up on our goings-on and those of our kids, and ate lots of pizza. It was great fun and left me wondering why, no matter how hard the scheduling logistics, we don't do this more often.

I was especially encouraged by a dear brother of mine in the faith, whose faith journey was so instrumental in my own decision to become a Christian. He has always been an encouraging sort, to me and to others, and he complimented me on something I had written to him earlier that year that was helpful to him. His words were genuine, specific, and positive, and I appreciated the boost to my morale.

Contrast that with my own words, which tend to be cynical (towards the world's systems) or deprecating (self or others). Even if intended to be funny and/or informative, they are often the opposite of my friend's encouraging words, if not in intent than in result. The juxtaposition at our get-together was too obvious for me to miss the lesson.

Here's hoping I can watch my tongue better, and use it more for building up than for cutting down. For words can do great good or great harm, so I ought to choose mine more carefully, and not only what proceeds from my mouth but what originates from my heart. As in my formative years in the faith, my encouraging friend has yet again set for me a useful example.

12.29.2008

MY FAVORITE POSTS OF 2008 - MAY

May 18 - Gays and Marriage
THE PERIL AND THE PROMISE

A nice piece by one of President-elect Obama's key economists, Larry Summers, in yesterday's New York Times: "Obama's Down Payment: A Stimulus Must Aim for Long-Term Results." The key phrase for me is "the peril and the promise": the economy is dangerously vulnerable on multiple fronts, and yet there is so much potential for transformative change.

I'm not politically savvy enough to extract any "dog whistles" out of Summer's words, but optimistically I hope that the focus will be less on "shovel ready" stimulus and more on smart investments to retool our economy and its workers. With every industry pulling a muscle positioning itself under the windows where money is going to be thrown out onto the streets, here's to an economic recovery plan that instead puts that money to the highest and best uses, even if those are the very things that sound the death-knell of some status quo industries and jobs.

12.28.2008

MY FAVORITE POSTS OF 2008 - APRIL

April 24 - The Gift of Pain / Make Angels Cheer
PRAY FOR ZIMBABWE'S CHILDREN

Here's a link to CNN's story today on children in Zimbabwe: "Zimbabwe's Children 'Wasting Away' - Aid Group." I know this is not a new story, but there is a special poignancy at this time of year, as I watch my kids unwrap gift after gift and smear assorted desserts around and into their mouth. Why are mine so rich and so many around the world so unfathomably poor? Here's a powerful slide show presentation to get you caught up on how the "bread basket of Africa" could end up in such a state: "Zimbabwe in Crisis." Let's endeavor to stay informed, take action where we can, and be ever praying for children such as these.

12.26.2008

WANNA GET LEAN?

You always hear about big companies implementing information systems and saving big chunks of dough on procurement or returns or something like that. Well, I'm here to tell you it can happen on a much smaller level as well. Earlier this year, the non-profit I used to work and where I'm now on the board was featured as a case study for the company we used to set up an online community for our board members. Because everything could be accessed and routed through this centralized site, we could free up much of a staff person's time from administrating board-related correspondence; and for an organization with barely a $1.5 million operating budget, that's not an insignificant cost savings. Good to see technology solutions can help places like ours get lean, too.
MY FAVORITE POSTS OF 2008 - FEBRUARY

February 19 - Can Another Company Be More Innovative Than Google
GREEN ROOTS

Here at my parents' house, I'm reminded of why I care so much about environmental sustainability. To put it bluntly, it's because my family is cheap.

To be sure, a lifelong subscription to National Geographic and countless family trips to national parks cultivated all of our love for nature, from which we cleave tightly to an ethic of stewardship and respect. But it's our Taiwanese thriftiness that governs what are now labelled as "green" activities: capturing "grey water" to flush our toilets and water our plants, reusing every possible thing from dental floss to plastic bags, and walking whenever possible. Notably, we deviate from the enviro-chic movement when it involves flashiness or higher costs; you'll not find any Priuses, burlap bags, or bamboo paint around here.

I've always been proud of my Taiwanese roots, from a cultural and linguistic standpoint. And, now more than ever, I'm proud of the ways those roots are geren as well.
TWO HOUSES, TWO WORLDS

Here in California, there are many reminders that we are far from home. One is three doors down from my parents' home. A house is for sale that is less than half the size of ours in Philadelphia, and yet takes up well over three times the lot size. And it's listing for ten times what we bought our house for eight years ago, and almost three times what we could probably sell our house for today.

Granted, the public schools where I grew up are outstanding, and some people would prefer having less house and more yard. But it strikes me as wacky that, if we decided to move out to San Jose and buy that house, we'd have to deal with half the space, tons more outdoor maintenance, and double or triple the car mileage . . . and somehow scrounge up well over ten times the mortgage we currently pay. So for now, SJ remains a great place to visit, but Philly's still our home.

12.25.2008

MY FAVORITE POSTS OF 2008 - JANUARY

I may be a little light on the posts over the holidays – trying to make time for family, rest, and reflection – so over the next 12 days, I'll post links to my favorite posts from the past year, one for each month. Enjoy!

January 14 - It's Not Cool

12.23.2008

GO WEST, YOUNG MAN

Here's a dreary thought, as gale force winds make it feel like 10 degrees around here: San Jose, where I used to live, was recently named the safest city of 500,000+ in the country, while Philadelphia, where I now live, was recently named the 5th most dangerous: City Crime Rankings by Population Group (500,000+). Meanwhile, one of my good college buddies, who grew up in Philly and has lived here all his life, just moved his family to Honolulu, the second safest big city; I always knew he was smarter than me.
MORE CAUTION URGED ON FISCAL STIMULUS ACTION

As a colleague of mine once put it, politicians usually operate under the following syllogism:

1. We must do something.

2. My plan is something.

3. Therefore, we must do my plan.

Unfortunately, as I noted in a post last year, sometimes doing something not only doesn't help but hurts. Fortunately, we're starting to see more caution being urged regarding if and how to stimulate our sluggish economy through government spending:

"Another Stimulus Spending Skeptic," Greg Mankiw's blog (December 20)

"Fiscal Policy and the Burden of Proof," Marginal Revolution (December 18)

"America 2050 Calls on New Administration to Invest Wisely," America 2050 (December 16)

"Don’t Prop Up the Old Focus on Highways With a Massive Investment That Will Perpetuate Our System for Decades to Come," Project for Public Spaces (December 12)

Will Obama and Congress be able to sift through all the hype and all the hands out? Will anyone pull a muscle running to the front of the line with their "shovel ready" projects? Will we turn this bleak season into a necessary turning point? Stay tuned.

12.22.2008

EVEN THE CAR GUYS WANT HIGHER GAS TAXES AND MORE RAIL SERVICE

A remarkable link over at Discovering Urbanism - even the guys at NPR's Car Talk think higher gas taxes and more rail services is a good idea. When even car guys are saying this, can't we agree it's time?

12.21.2008

MACHINES STILL CHEATING, ALL OF US STILL WINNING

I posted about automation and not outsourcing being the reason for manufacturing job losses earlier this year, but didn't provide any hard evidence. Well, thanks to the wonders of Google, here's what I learned in fifteen minutes this morning:

US "Manufacturing: Challenges and Recommendations," Council of Economic Advisers (2004)

* Manufacturing jobs represented 32 percent of all US jobs in the early 1940's (that's a lot of Rosie the Riveters!) and only 13 percent in 2000 . . .but during that time, manufacturing output increased 11-fold

* Because we've gained about 2 percent a year in non-farm productivity since 1950, each hour of work produces three times more real value

* Even China has lost manufacturing jobs - 15 million from 1995 to 2003

"US Manufacturing: Dying . . . or Still Going Strong," the US-China Business Council (2006)

* The US's share of global manufacturing output has risen every year since 1987, except for the 1990-1991 and 2001 recessions, and was 22.4 percent in 2005

* China's hefty gains from 1995 to 2005 (from 4.2 percent to 8.0 percent) came largely at the expense of Japan (down from 21.1 percent to 17.8 percent)

* The US is anticipated to lose 500,000 manufacturing jobs to China from 2001 to 2010 . . . but keep in mind that in any given month, 4 million jobs turn over

"Manufacturing Jobs Data: USA and China," Curious Cat (2006)

* From 1992 to 2003, manufacturing productivity growth was just about as much in the US (57 percent) as in China (about 60 percent)

* From 1995 to 2002, global manufacturing employment shrunk by somewhere between 10 and 20 percent; the US's decline was 11.4 percent, while China's was somewhere between 17 and 34 percent (from 1992 to 2003, the US's decline was 13.6 percent and China's was 18.0 percent)

* A direct quote from a paper by a Clemson University professor - "I conclude that, during the period 1990 to early-2005, US manufacturing productivity growth cost the US several times more manufacturing jobs than all other factors combined-—including global competition."

Of course, the big gainer in all of this is all of us humans, who can enjoy a vastly greater quality of life thanks to the efficiency of modern production processes. In other words, the machines "cheat," and all of us win.

12.20.2008

QUIT SPENDING MY MONEY

On the heels of President Bush's $13.4 billion loan to GM and Chrysler, I read this post at Greg Mankiw's blog, in which he notes that a recent AP story lists him as the only outside economist contacted by the Obama team who is skeptical of the need for fiscal stimulus. Obama's team didn't contact me, of course, but I would also have to side with Mankiw: this is a rare case in which you can actually just print more money, tax cuts may have more juice than government expenditures, and amping up public spending can be a hard habit to break.

Importantly, Discovering Urbanism also wisely points out that in the rush to spend money as fast as possible, we may be locking ourselves into current patterns of infrastructure investment, thus moving us further from long-term sustainability rather than closer. So, leaving aside whether all of this fiscal stimulus is needed or not, and what the long-term consequences are for our national balance sheet, haste can literally lead to waste. It'll be one thing to tell my kids they're on the hook for their per capita share of a really big spending bill; it'll be much harder to look in their eyes and tell them we spent it on bridges to nowhere and sprawl-inducing highways.
FREEDOM TO DISSENT

In a recent interview with CNN, Foreign affairs analyst Fareed Zakaria wisely points out that last week's shoe-throwing incident highlights both pent-up anger at Iraqi losses and a huge advance in Iraqi freedom. Throwing a shoe at a foreign leader may still be a crime in Iraq as it is most of the free world, but the incident suggests that other, acceptable forms of dissent are now more possible than ever.

If that's the case, let's hope for more, in Iraq and around the world. I mean, isn't expressing your disgust with your leaders what makes election-year conversations more fun? I certainly have enjoyed sticking it to Bush, Obama, or Congress in this space when I disagree with them.

In fact, not only is dissent allowed, it's a necessary part of modern democracy. That's why I'm so nervous about China and Russia; Thailand, are you listening? In the US, we don't jail dissidents, we give them prime-time cable shows. Let's hope Iraqis soon have the same luxury.

12.18.2008

MORE NEWSPAPERS CALL FOR HIGHER GAS TAXES

The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Wall Street Journal chime in on the subject. Could we see a sensible, bipartisan plan by the end of the decade? Let's hope so.

12.17.2008

OBAMA SURROUNDED BY PIGOU CLUB MEMBERS

As Greg Mankiw's blog points out, President-elect Obama is surrounded by policy advisors who favor higher gas taxes, most notably NEC Director Larry Summers and the new energy secretary, Steven Chu. Here's the money quote from Chu in the WSJ: "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe."

And Obama's response? "But Mr. Obama has dismissed the idea of boosting the federal gasoline tax, a move energy experts say could be the single most effective step to promote alternative energies and temper demand. Mr. Obama said Sunday that a heightened gas tax would be a 'mistake' because it would put 'additional burdens on American families right now.'"

Except that because of the huge negative externalities associated with gasoline consumption, the real burden of too-cheap gas is being borne by all of society and by our children and their children, in the form of depleted infrastructure, scarcer natural resources in the hands of volatile dictators, and a burnt-out environment. So by "mistake," Obama really means, "death blow to my 2012 re-election chances." Is this change we can believe in?

12.16.2008

WE COULD HAVE SEVEN MORE KIDS

Earlier today, I joined in on a discussion over at Discovering Urbanism concerning the amount of house the average American had in 1950 versus today. Over at 100K House, you can find the numbers: 983 square feet for 3.37 people in 1950 (or 292 square feet per person), and 2,349 square feet for 2.61 people in 2006 (or 900 square feet per person). In other words, we're consuming more than three times more house than before!

To better put this in perspective for myself, I considered how many people we could jam into our spacious twin in University City. Admittedly, we have an embarrassment of space, what with three full floors, as well as well over half our basement finished. (It is an equal embarrassment that we paid less than 100K for it just eight years ago.) If we lived at 1950 density, we could have a household size of 11! So, if we were OK with that kind of living space ratio, we could have seven more kids and not need to move out of our house. For now, I'll stick with the two kids we do have, and remind myself to quit grumbling about our living accommodations.
PHILLY’S ON THE MAP

As noted in the link to my boss’ article from last week’s Philadelphia Inquirer, City Mayors and PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimate that the Philadelphia region is the 9th largest metropolitan area – in the world. And that in 2020, it’ll advance one spot to 8th.

Flipping through the latest, “Best of 2008” issue of Mid-Atlantic Construction, which covers DC, Maryland, Virginia, the eastern half of Pennsylvania, and Delaware, I noticed that the Comcast Center garnered “Overall Project of the Year.” (The fact that we beat out the Newseum and the Pentagon Memorial tells you how impressive of an honor this was.) The Comcast Center was also featured in a two-page ad by Hill International – another Philadelphia-based company – with nine other skyscrapers: 8 in the Middle East and 1 in Poland.

In other words, by many measures, Philly’s on the map.

12.15.2008

TIME SAYS IT’S TIME

Wonder of wonders, a lucid argument on the merits of simultaneously lowering payroll taxes and raising gas taxes, from Time Magazine no less: “Black Gold: It’s Time to Raise the Gas Tax.” [Link courtesy of Greg Mankiw’s blog.] There’s a lot to like about this article, although I slightly disagree with what the writer suggests about our behavior when gas hit four dollars a gallon. Yes, we adjusted, but really only on the margins: taking transit to work, bundling errands, maybe even forgoing the SUV for the Aveo. But there wasn’t enough time at that price threshold to encourage the bigger, life decisions – for individuals, to live in a denser, less auto-dependent neighborhood; for businesses, to drastically reduce bulk and packaging in their products; and for governments, to invest in greener forms of commerce and transportation.

But this is probably quibbling. The bigger story is this story, and the platform in which it was told. (Does it get any more mainstream than Time Magazine?) Enact this shift over time, see people and organizations adjust accordingly, and say hello to a more sustainable way of life – and goodbye to a number of complex policies that you’d otherwise have to enact to get you to the same place, and that would likely have unintended, potentially negative consequences. America, this is our moment; let’s not miss it.
PAT THE BAT

Though I will always root for the Oakland A’s of my boyhood, I’ve grown fond of the Fightin’ Phils the longer I’ve lived here in Philadelphia. Of course, their recent World Series success has captivated the entire region, as has the presence of such likeable young talent as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels, all homegrown talent.

But for the last several years, if you had asked me who my favorite Phillie was, without blinking I’d say, “Pat Burrell.” If you know the up and down story of “Pat the Bat,” you know there have been years in which that answer would’ve gotten me quizzical looks. Maybe it was the fact that I first saw him at the minor league game in which I had “the conversation” with my then-future father-in-law. Maybe it was the fact that he worked hard and never dissed the fans or Philly even during the most discouraging of years. Or maybe it was the fact that, after all the booing and naysaying, he ended up having a pretty darn career here.

Whatever the reasons, in an age in which players come and go all the time, not seeing Burrell in a Phillies uniform will feel weird to me. But with the recent signing of left fielder Raul Ibanez, it is almost certain that the Phils will send Burrell packing. Hey, he went to Bellarmine Prep in the Bay Area, maybe the A’s can use him as a DH?
PROPERTY TAX ABATEMENT STORY, FRONT AND CENTER

One of the rewarding yet stressful things about my job is that what we’re working on often gets in the paper the next day. It’s rewarding because it means the things that matter around here, we get to make a contribution towards. It’s stressful because public exposure magnifies everything, even and especially mistakes. Both aspects of my job are significant motivators around here, in terms of why we get up in the morning and go to work, and why we work so hard to say something useful and get our numbers right.

This past weekend, after a praiseworthy effort over the past few weeks by Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Patrick Kerkstra, something I worked on not only made the paper but was the lead story on the front page: ”Is Tax Windfall Worth the Wait?” Off-line, I’d be happy to tell you more about our analysis and/or my take on the article itself. For now, I’ll just say there are a lot of important issues being discussed in Philadelphia, and this is one of them, so we’re glad the press is putting the story out there and we’re hopeful the dialogue can continue.
GREATER PHILADELPHIA

As much as I try to stay in touch with my parents in California, they’re still a little fuzzy about what I do for a living. To help rectify this problem, I’m giving them a copy of the inaugural issue of a publication produced by Greg Byrnes called “Greater Philadelphia: Projects, Markets, Trends, and Trendsetters.” (Full disclosure: my boss and I are both guest contributors. His entry, on historic preservation, is a lot better written than mine, and my unbridled optimism about the local real estate market may not only peg me as a lunatic but call the entire issue into question!)

As I flipped through the publication last month, I marveled at how many projects/clients and issues were profiled that I had had the good fortune of being able to work on at work this past year:

• Projects/clients – American Commerce Center, Navy Yard, University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Comcast Center, Cira Centre

• Issues – Creative Economy, historic preservation, transit-oriented development, mixed-use development

My parents are still probably going to scratch their heads, but at least they have some inkling as to the things that keep me busy from 8 to 6 each weekday. As for the inevitable follow-up question – “And are you enjoying yourself,” my response is an unequivocal “Yes!”

12.14.2008

Blood Day

Every so often, our junior high PE teacher would have what he would
affectionately call "blood days." At an age when many school
employees are contemplating retirement, he was conducting multiple
classes a day and in impressive physical shape. And on blood days, he
would work us out to the point of exhaustion. Though we loved him, we
hated his blood days.

In my pre-fatherhood days, running "Yasso 880's" were my blood days.
Yasso 880's were "invented" by a Bart Yasso, who thought people
training for marathons should mix in some speed work, and so
encouraged people to run 10 two-lap intervals at whatever time in
minutes and seconds as they wanted to run a marathon in hours and
minutes (i.e. two laps in 3 minutes and 30 seconds if you were
shooting for a marathon time of 3 hours and 30 minutes).

3:30 was indeed my goal, and so once or twice a month, I would run a
mile to Franklin Field on the Penn campus and knock out ten of them,
with a half-lap jog in between each interval. No one will ever accuse
me of being a speed demon, or of being an endurance runner for that
matter, yet I found Yasso 880's to be challenging but doable. And,
despite usually enjoying scenery when I run, I began to like the
sameness of going around the same track over and over again. (The
cushioned ground probably helped, too.)

But I hadn't done a Yasso 880 in years, as fatherhood has tended to
limit my running, both in terms of what time of the day I can go and
how long I can go for. But with Amy taking the kids to her parents'
for the afternoon, I had the opportunity to take my time. I didn't
even have Yasso 880's in mind when I headed out, but once I cut
through the Penn campus, I remembered and decided to head for Franklin
Field.

I'm in OK shape but not as good as even a few years ago, so the
intervals were considerably harder but still doable. After a while,
as before, I hit my stride, and the monotony of running around the
same track over and over again was actually restful and comforting, if
that makes any sense. When I was done, I had a big smile on my face,
and made mental note to do this again. But not for a while; blood
days have a way of leaving you pretty sore.

12.12.2008

PHILADELPHIA IN 2018

Three cheers for my boss, who had a nice piece in the special "Econ Outlook 2009" section of yesterday's Inquirer. Take a look here: "Oracles - What Will Regional Economy Look Like in 10 Years?" Everything he says is pretty much spot on; now let's hope we can get ourselves there as a region.

12.10.2008

CHEM IS COOL

One of the cool things about Center City Philadelphia is the hidden gems on seemingly every block. A few months back, the Inquirer’s architecture critic wrote a glowing review of the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s new exhibit space at 3rd and Chestnut. I made a mental note to check this out next I was down there, and then promptly forget about it.

But earlier this week, I happened to be down there for a work meeting, and decided to take a chunk of my lunch hour and check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. Architecturally, they have done a good job of displaying the exhibits; the translucent stairs were a particularly nice touch. And, let’s face it, chemistry is pretty cool; I especially liked the blurbs on controversial compounds through the years, like Prozac and DDT.

And did I mention that museum admission is free? All in all, it was time and (no) money well spent. In short, if your travels ever bring you to 3rd and Chestnut, I highly recommend the museum at CHF.
A GOOD MAN WHO KEEPS ON GIVING

Some nice positive press in today's Inquirer for an old hero of mine, Harold Taussig: "Reaching Out to Those in Need." I first met Hal in the late 90's, when he got involved financially and personally in our work at The Enterprise Center. I was immediately smitten. Here was a man well into his 70's (he's now 84) who was yet still being an entrepreneur even as he was taking care of his beloved wife. He was way ahead of the curve on eco-tourism (his business is called Idyll Untours) and on giving back (most if not all of his profits went into a foundation that made loans in organizations like The Enterprise Center, and his own energy and attention went with those loans). Where he was most prescient was in his environmental concerns: he rides his bike everywhere, lives in a simple home, and always prints on the back side of scratch paper.

Not surprisingly, though he was almost 50 years my senior, I felt a real kinship with this man, even as I grew to admire him and emulate him. Whenever I had the chance, I met up with him, or had him speak to the teens in my entrepreneurship program. He always cheerfully obliged, and he always delivered.

At the end of the Inquirer story, Hal is quoted as saying, "If you want to find Jesus, don't look in the manger. Go where the poor are. Jesus said, 'When you give to the poor, you give to me.'" Congratulations, Hal, on a great article and, more importantly, a great life. That you keep on doing what you're doing is an inspiration to me and others who seek to act as you have acted, motivated by the same values you hold dear.
MAY WE LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES

A nice post over at Discovering Urbanism on David Brooks' commentary on Barack Obama's infrastructure plans. (Yes, I realize the absurdity of offering a commentary on a commentary on a commentary.) Just as President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway Act literally shaped American life for 50 years - for better and worse - so we are possibly on the brink of big national actions that will have a similar effect for a similar time period.

Think, for a moment, of how momentous this fork in the road is. You have a President-elect from urban Chicago, demographic shifts that are moving the country southward and westward, climate change and $4 a gallon gas causing people to re-think their opinions on cities and density, and, by the way, the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression. Could all of this possibly be more interesting? I'm telling you, we will be telling our grandkids about this. (And you wonder why I blog so much; I'm afraid I otherwise won't remember!) Stay tuned and stay involved.

12.09.2008

ONE SIMPLE SOLUTION TO MANY OF OUR WOES

A nice Washington Post editorial about the sensibility of higher gas taxes. [Link courtesy of Greg Mankiw's blog.] Can we agree that it's silly to ignore this easier solution and instead proceed with so many convoluted political machinations designed to strong-arm auto manufacturers towards greener cars, deal with volatile geopolitics in oil-producing parts of the world, and address the looming specter of environmental catastrophe? Can we instead hope for the enactment of higher gas taxes, which (like $4 a gallon gas did earlier this year) will help lead to better consumption, investment, and land use decisions? Can we believe that a really bad year economically and a confluence of otherwise negative news can actually lead to a perfect storm for making this happen?

Let's hope we soon hear President Obama say in response: "Yes, we can."
AMERICAN COMMERCE CENTER

A belated congrats to the developer team behind the American Commerce Center, which got clearance last week from City Council's Committee on Rules to build at a much higher density on its site than the current zoning code allows. My firm is on the team and gave testimony, so I have been relatively mum on the subject in this space, but wanted to pass along this information. A full Council vote awaits; as do the tricky next steps for the developer of landing tenants and securing financing, not easy in this economy. But good to see that, while without controversy, the project is proceeding through the various regulatory steps.

In a day and age, and a city, in which opposition for new development can be fierce, it appears the broader public sentiment is twofold: 1) we need more jobs, economic activity, and tax revenues within the City, not less, and 2) we need development to be more dense and transit-oriented, not less. The fact of the matter is that, however prolonged our local and national economic woes are, at some point things will turn up, and when they do, do we want lots of activity centralized within a building in Center City that will be connected to one of the busiest transit nodes in the region, or do we want all that activity decentralized across the region in multiple, largely auto-dependent locations?

My Ten Purposes in Life

At the end of every year, in spite of (and, I suppose, because of) the
typical holiday rush, I try to make time to review the year, in terms
of major milestones and lessons learned. So as to see if my life
priorities have lined up with my daily schedule, I map what I've been
up to against what I want to be about.

On that note, below are my ten purposes in life, which I put together
earlier this decade. Different from goals (like "I want to visit all
seven continents" or "I want to learn a new language") or manifestos
(like "change the world" or "help somebody today"), purposes to me are
distinct expressions of what one understands to be important in life,
unique to the opportunities and talents one has been given to work
with.

I'd like to say that most if not all of these are influence by my
Christian faith, by my read of the Bible, and by the example of Jesus.
And, additionally, those influences are themselves influenced by my
childhood and upbringing, my educational and vocational experiences,
those people who God has put in my life to help shape and mold me, and
other subtle and not so subtle mechanisms by which my Maker has made
and shaped me.

If you know me, please let me know how I'm doing on these fronts, and
whether these represent the best use of my time, personality, and
skills. And whether you know me or not, please chime in as to what
these statements below mean to you, and/or if you have your own
purposes that in sharing them can help clarify what I want to be
about. Life's short, and there's lots to do and experience and enjoy;
let's help each other live the best lives possible, for the greatest
good possible.

1) Be fully allocated. My dad taught me to hate waste, and I've lived
that out to a fault in terms of time management. I probably should
have more down time built into my life, but there's so much I want to
do. I have to remember that the Creator commands rest, and does so for
our good.

2) Blaze a new trail. What's the fun in doing what's been done
before? Better to launch off in a different direction, learn
something new, and tell good stories. This way is way more tiring but
also way more exhilarating.

3) Broadcast good news. As Christians, our primary calling is not
just to live good lives but to live them in such a way that it
announces to the world the good news that is embedded into such a
life. My aspiration is that, amidst the messiness of our world today,
and my growing groundedness as I experience more of that messiness,
yet still I can convey a sense of goodness, possibility, and wonder.

4) Champion and shepherd others along. If life is a journey, it's not
a solo one. We are meant to be fellow sojourners, and the richest
lives come when we walk together. I think of the "Ascent" psalms
(numbers 120 to 134), which were sung by God's people three times a
year as they climbed uphill to Jerusalem; let us also do life
together, singing about joy and sorrow and hope and fear and danger
and rescue along the way.

5) Cross-pollinate between religious and secular. One of my
favorites, straddler that I am. It's fun to shake up both sides with
language and perspectives and causes that they're not used to. Of
course, oftentimes all that means is being misunderstood and
mistrusted from both ends, but who's looking for friends?

6) Give God room to come through. No less challenging even after so
many years of God picking up where I fall short; if anything, I've
gotten worse in this realm, experiencing greater anxiety instead of
deeper peace when I'm at the end of what I can do and am still a long
way from done.

7) Learn, savor, and live God's word. My times in the Bible may have
gotten earlier, shorter, and sleepier, but I still do like studying
it. I haven't been as diligent, and thus there's a lot I've unlearned
that I now have to relearn, so there's still a freshness about the
task on my better days.

8) Love the unlovely with Jesus. I am ever challenged by Jesus'
priorities, in terms of who he spent time with and what he valued. My
roles and gifts find me doing more planning and policy-setting than
doing, but even in that there's the challenge and opportunity to be
mindful of the marginalized, disenfranchised, and impoverished.

9) Mistakes, delays, and losses are opportunities. I am becoming more
acutely aware of how my healthy pursuit of competence and success can
run in opposition to much of how the God of the Bible teaches,
blesses, and uses His followers; and of how rich seemingly awful
seasons can be with rewards and improvements. Each year, may I
embrace more wholeheartedly the good that there is in every instance
and season of suffering.

10) Synthesize, document, and disseminate life lessons. Who knew
blogging could be so useful to the Kingdom of God? Individual
stories, pregnant with meaning and instruction, multiplied over the
blogosphere by faithful saints taking the time to share those stories
and what they learned in the midst. Having read many such accounts, I
am encouraged to record my own, in the hopes that I can help myself
and others.

12.07.2008

Sing Again

Earlier this month, I saw an old friend of mine who had suffered a
terrible loss several years back. She caught me up on her goings-on
over the past few years since I'd seen her. I asked her if she had
gotten back into singing - she was once an accomplished musician, and
to this day I can't hear some songs without hearing her powerful voice
echoing in the background - and she replied she wasn't quite ready.

There are seasons in the Christian life when even the greatest of
talents, even those used to bless God, are taken from us. Sometimes
they return on this side of glory, and sometimes they never do. God
is still good, even if we are muted for a moment. But one day,
whether here on earth or in heaven, she will sing again; and when she
does, it will be glorious.

Songs for Life

I've just started the book of Psalms in my morning Bible readings.
Even if you're not a Christian, you may know these are a collection of
150 songs that can be found smack dab in the middle of the Bible. But
even if you are a Christian, you may not fully appreciate how earthy
these songs are. But it doesn't take too long before you find lots of
things you might not expect to find in the Bible, like raw emotion and
desperate cries for protection and even vivid calls for God's
vengeance upon one's enemies.

When I study the Psalms, I can't help but think back to the summer of
1994, when I read one Psalm a day during my time in Eastern Europe.
Surrounded by unfamiliar words, faces, and places, the Psalms - and
the God of the Psalms - were my refuge. On many occasions, the
sentiments being poured forth were so poignant and so relevant, I
wasn't reading the words as much as praying along with them.

Less so but still to some degree, that's how it's been this time
around. This holiday season, here's hoping we don't get so lost in
end-of-year busyness, economy-related worries, and family stress, that
we lose sight of a God we can come to in whatever state we're in -
blissfully thankful or drearily despondent, desperately fearful or
angrily provoked. A helpless little baby in a manger should remind us
that, far from being distant and unfeeling, the God of the Bible is
the earthiest, most accessible deity around.

SANITIZING OUR HISTORY FROM RELIGION

Apparently, in addition to glossing over gross injustices and sanding over dubious low points, we as a nation have decided to sanitize religion out of our history. As seen at the Desiring God blog, the new Capitol Visitor Center is deliberate in its omission of the role of religion in the formation of our country and the values of our founding fathers.

As with the blog or with South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint's comments, I'm not hear to claim that we are a Christian nation or even advocate that we become one. In fact, my main sadness is not that in extracting religion from our presentation of the US Capitol, we've left out Biblical Christianity; although, to be sure, some of our founding fathers were devoted believers whose faith steeled them to do great and courageous things for which our nation is forever better.

Rather, my main sadness is that in extracting religion from our history, we miss out on one of the greater aspects of diversity that defines our country. To be sure, we have our religion-based conflicts, discriminations, and insensitivities. But by and large, our actions back up those famous words that we are guaranteed "freedom of religion."

What a loss in describing and experiencing the richness that is America that we have essentially turned that phrase into "freedom from religion." We are richer as people when we embrace our innate religiousness as humans and as Americans, more informed as citizens when we see how religion has woven into the whole of our past and present.

Or, as Senator DeMint puts it: "You cannot accurately tell the history of America or its Capitol by ignoring the religious heritage of our Founders and the generations since who relied on their faith for strength and guidance. The millions of visitors that will visit the CVC each year should get a true portrayal of the motivations and inspirations of those who have served in Congress since its establishment." To which, ecumenically, I say: Amen.

12.05.2008

Everyone in One Room

As a consultant, it's easy to get lazy and make blanket statements
like "the City should do X," leaving to someone else to figure out how
an entity within three dozen departments, hundreds of senior-level
managers, thousands of regulations, and billions of budget dollars is
supposed to somehow act in such a monolithic and unified way.
Slightly less lazy is the equally naive statement, "everyone from the
City that is involved in Issue X or Project X should just get into one
room and work it all out," like that would ever be logistically
possible.

But every once in awhile, you actually do get everyone in one room.
Alan Greenberger, the new head of the City's planning department, has
commendably instituted periodic presentations by local developers in
front of pretty much every department and entity that will need to
have interface to get a particular project off the ground. And this
morning, the project in question was one near and dear to my heart:
the Plaza at Enterprise Heights, which is near where I live, and being
advanced by the organization on whose board I currently serve.

And sure enough, in the room all at the same time were manifold City
and other agencies that will need to be coordinated with in order for
this project to become reality. In no particular order: Commerce,
Streets, Water, Fire, Licenses & Inspections, PIDC, PGW, Verizon,
PECO, and I'm probably missing a few. Needless to say, it was a
productive gathering; and, to the extent that it is going to be a
habit to meet like this, this bodes well for more good stuff getting
done in a more coordinated and expeditious manner in the City.

JAN GEHL IN PHILADELPHIA

Reclaiming public spaces once dedicated for cars back to pedestrians is par for the course in Copenhagen. In fact, the common practice there of having bike lanes between parked cars and the curb (vs. between the street and parked cars) is commonly referred to as "the Copenhagen solution."

One of Denmark's great voices on this subject, Jan Gehl, was in Philadelphia this morning, and I caught the front end of his presentation at the Center for Architecture. Sadly, for as tight and walkable as downtown Philadelphia is, there is still lots of room for improvement in terms of being friendly to pedestrians and bikers.

But judging from the size and stature of the audience, there's momentum to make those improvements. For the sake of our physical safety, our aerobic health, our environmental sustainability, and our inherent need to have more eye-to-eye interactions with our fellow man, let's hope so.

12.04.2008

WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP

As a follow up to yesterday's post, oftentimes the "yeah but" in the room is the notion that any carbon tax in the US would simply export pollution elsewhere and/or make the US uncompetitive vis a vis the rest of the world; and by "elsewhere" and "rest of the world" in those two statements, usually people mean "China." Well guess what? "China May Impose retail Fuel Tax." [Link courtesy of Greg Mankiw's blog.]

Good news, future grandkids of mine: we're heading towards a world in which carbon is properly priced. Now let's hope I'll also be able to tell those future grandkids of mine: "And then President Obama bravely moved the US towards a carbon tax that set in motion all sorts of rational behavior concerning consumption of natural resources, land use patterns, and transportation mode choice."

12.03.2008

PROBABLY THE ONLY THING RALPH NADER AND I AGREE ON

So apparently, there's something on which I not only agree with the left-leaning Canadian candidate for prime minister, but also with Ralph Nader. And that's a tax on carbon. Because $4 a gallon gasoline finally woke us up to the slowly boiling pot we're in, and made rational the kinds of decisions we should've been making all along, whether personal (carpool, ride your bike to work, don't buy a gas guzzler) or corporate (invest in transit, cut down on bulky packaging, encourage density). President-elect Obama, you have your own popularity, the opportunity that economic crisis brings, and global awareness of the earth's fragility on your side; make this happen! (Thanks to Greg Mankiw's blog for the link.)

Fwd: "Dear Zachary" premieres Sunday on MSNBC/opens Fri in San Jose

Two updates on "Dear Zachary," which I saw in LA last month: 1) it
airs on MSNBC this Sunday, and 2) it opens in San Jose theaters this
Friday. For those of you in the Bay Area, you get a special treat:
not only will Kurt himself be there for a few of the screenings, but
so will Kate and David Bagby, the heroes of the movie. Please go see
this!

***

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, Dec 3, 2008 at 12:00 PM
Subject: "Dear Zachary" premieres Sunday on MSNBC/opens Fri in San Jose

Hi Everyone,

Our big North American Television Premiere is finally upon us. "Dear
Zachary" premieres on cable this weekend...
Sunday night, December 7th at 9 PM (all time zones) on MSNBC. (See
www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036750/ for details.)
It will be re-broadcast that same evening again at midnight. This TV
version is just slightly trimmed down from the theatrical version (I
did all the editing personally and am very happy with the TV version)
in order to fit a 2 hour time slot with 31 minutes of commercials (9
commercial breaks). The Today Show (on NBC) will be running a 2
minute segment from the film sometime on their Sunday morning show
that same day.

In the meantime, we're continuing to play theaters and open Friday for
a week-long engagement in my (and Andrew's) hometown of San Jose. If
you're in the Bay Area, please come out to see the film in the
theater! I'll be there this weekend and would love to see y'all:

Opens Friday, December 5th in San Jose at Camera 3 Cinemas
288 S. Second Street (corner of 2nd & San Carlos)
www.cameracinemas.com

Showtimes:
(I'll be speaking at the 6:50 PM and 9:20 PM shows on Friday, and ALL
shows on Saturday; Kate & David Bagby will join me Saturday at the
6:50 and 9:20 shows)
Fri: 4:20 PM, 6:50 PM, 9:20 PM
Sat: 1:45 PM, 4:20 PM, 6:50 PM, 9:20 PM
Sun: 4:20 PM, 6:50 PM
Mon-Thu: 6:50 PM

Tickets available at:
http://www.cameracinemas.com/cgi-bin/movies.cgi?cmd=dm&m=14-35-07-10-24-2008-4848

Meanwhile, we're continuing our 5th straight week of theatrical play
in New York City at:
Cinema Village
22 E. 12th Street
New York, NY 10003
www.cinemavillage.com

Showing twice daily through Thursday at 1:10 PM & 7:30 PM
(It closes after Thursday night...but it was a darn good run.)

Future theatrical openings presently known:
Santa Fe, NM - Center for Contemporary Art - opens January 2nd
Chicago - Gene Siskel Film Center - return engagement begins January
30th (brought back by popular demand!)

In other news, "Dear Zachary" recently won Best Documentary at the
Orlando Film Festival and the Audience Award at the St. Louis
International Film Festival. Also, the dozens of glowing reviews,
interviews and news items from the past 5 weeks of theatrical play
have at last been added to the website -- check them out at
www.dearzachary.com/press.

Thank you again for all your support. If you're in San Jose, I look
forward to seeing you this weekend, and if you're not, please tune in
to MSNBC at 9 PM Sunday -- and tell your friends!

Happy post-Thanksgiving and all the best,

Kurt

***

Cinequest Jury & Audience Award Winner Dear Zachary Opens Theatrically

"One of the best documentaries I have ever seen in my entire life...a
film that will rock you to your core" (Cinematical)

"The most shattering documentary since Capturing the Friedmans" (Marshall Fine)

"By far one of the greatest films I've seen in the last few years. The
movie is phenomenal" (Ain't It Cool News)

"A must-see" (Premiere Magazine)

After an incredible film festival run, Kurt Kuenne's DEAR ZACHARY hits
the Camera 3 Cinemas this weekend with a powerful, emotional event and
special guests.

On November 5, 2001, Dr. Andrew Bagby was murdered in a parking lot;
the prime suspect, his ex-girlfriend Dr. Shirley Turner, promptly fled
the United States for Canada, where she announced that she was
pregnant with Andrew's child. She named the little boy Zachary.

Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, Andrew's oldest friend, began making a film for
little Zachary as a way for him to get to know the father he'd never
meet. But when Shirley Turner was released on bail inCanada and was
given custody of Zachary while awaiting extradition to the U.S., the
film's focus shifted to Zachary's grandparents, David & Kathleen
Bagby, and their desperate efforts to win custody of the boy from the
woman they knew had murdered their son.

What happened next, no one ever could have foreseen…

Showtimes:
Friday: 4:20, 6:50, 9:20
Saturday: 1:45, 4:20, 6:50, 9:20
Sunday: 1:45, 4:20, 6:50
Mon-Thu: 6:50 only

Camera 3 Cinemas
288 S. Second Street, San Jose, CA 95113
Showtime line: 408-998-3300

Director Kurt Kuenne will do Q&A's after the 6:50 and 9:20 Friday
shows and after every show Saturday.

David and Kate Bagby will do Q&A's after the 6:50 and 9:20 shows
Saturday (with Kurt).

12.01.2008

Broken Windows

Well, it was bound to happen at some point, but it still stinks:
sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning of Thanksgiving weekend, our
car got broken into. Apparently at least two windows on our street
were bashed in, one of them ours. The thief or thieves got away with
about $2 in change, a phone recharger, and a black pouch with our
vehicle registration, insurance card, photocopies of our passports,
and a five-dollar bill. So, in other words, they got about twenty
bucks' worth of stuff, if that.

What we got was a glass repair bill of $200+ (which I'm thankful for,
by the way; I was guessing it would be higher), a Sunday morning
headache, and a reminder that nothing is safe in this world. I am
grateful we lost so little in terms of material possessions, that the
financial cost is minimal, and that no one was harmed. I'm also
thankful that we're well off enough to have a car in the first place,
that an unexpected $200 expense won't wreck us, and that if we needed
a car in a pinch (which we don't), there's easily a good half-dozen
people we could have called in an instant and gotten help. There are
people in our own very neighborhood, let along all over the world, who
are much poorer than we are, in these regards.

Still, I'm upset at this personal encounter with the destructiveness
of crime. The fact that our change was taken but other items of value
- like our EZ Pass transponder - weren't tells me this was motivated
by the need for cash. And it was likely for drugs; I mean, when
seconds can mean the difference between getting caught and getting
away, to take the time to grab pennies and nickels out of our ashtray,
you really have to be desperate.

A lot of people often ask me if our neighborhood is safe, whether
Philadelphians inquiring about the relative status of University City
or suburban folks wondering what life in the city is like. I am quick
to tell them we feel fairly safe, that violent crime can strike
anywhere, and that policing has improved considerably in the last 15
years. But two sets of broken windows on our block this past weekend
give stark visual evidence that in our neighborhood, crime is still
alive and well.

THE O TEAM

In case you were wondering (I'm almost certain you weren't), I'm pleased as punch with Obama's picks so far: solid right-leaning economists, Clintonistas who remember what happens when you overreach, and a national security team that understands just how dangerous the world is.

A note about the last point. Obviously, it's hard to disentangle the circus that is the Clintons from their actual qualifications. But consider two things: 1) Chelsea Clinton was in Manhattan when the planes hit, so Hillary gets that terrorism is a terrible, fearsome thing that demands our vigilance and our attention. 2) Bill has dealt with world leaders as a president and through his Clinton Global Initiative, so how's that for the spouse of a Secretary of State?

Obama has demonstrated three really important leadership characteristics. First, he understands what's important. Second, he picks good people. And third, he is charismatic enough to get them to say yes to his call to service. In short, from where I'm standing, the Obama administration is off to a very good start.