Tuesday, August 30, 2005
But they we just plain flat. 7-1 in a quick game. (flat game)
In between all the (lack of) excitement came the car wash lie again - same license plate. All of our section is now aware of the repetitive use of the same license number and a different car. Shame.
Monday, August 29, 2005
The same could be true for politicians. In the California environment our last two governors have not gotten that simple fact. When a politician begins an earnest conversation with the voters - they listen and evaluate. They often will respond even when they perceive that the ideas espoused by the person are not their own. But when politicians speak in media bites - and look to the silliness of target communications, they ultimately are seen through by the public. What people want in their politicians is an understanding of a person's views and ideas. They realize that one person or even one administration will not have all the right ideas. But they do not want sound bites or spin.
But what have the media produced - exactly that. And the politicians seeing the power of that medium flock to it like lemmings. And we continue to be skeptical. When a politician understands that, they will be effective.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
If they play like they did tonight - they will.
Friday, August 26, 2005
From what I read the process in Iraq is not conforming to our established timetable but the people involved are making some very sensible decisions. For example, religion is going to play a part in the new state but it will not be the final control as it is in Iran or other places in the Middle East. Religious toleration is going to be the rule. A modified federalism is going to be the plan of organization - not a bad way to go for a country with the kinds of diversity in Iraq. Federalism involves two parts a plan and an execution and so we will have to wait a while to see what happens - but from my view the first plan looks pretty realistic - we will simply have to wait a while to see if the plan is realized when it is carried out.
We should cut these people some slack. From all indications they are coming up with pretty good ideas - they will not be the US but then their history and ours are not the same.
Surprisingly, my friends, both of whom are to the left of me, probably agree on the range of issues facing the state. We may or may not agree about the solutions but the definitions of problems is in pretty clear vision. For example, most Californians think the public schools are not in very good shape (or could be better); most would also agree that the current system of drawing districts is flawed; most would argue that the current system of taxation in the state is screwy; same thing for the range of governance options. There are undoubtedly a number of other issues that we would agree on - that need to be fixed.
If you know something about the history of the state we have a tradition of having a group of non-politicians come in an make changes that are ultimately adopted by the state. The progressives (when the word did not mean liberals)at the turn of the 20th century adopted a series of reforms that made sense when they were adopted. The changes the state established in the tax system in the 30s was another example of the process working. The Master Plan process for higher education in the 40s and 50s and 60s is also a good example. But recent attempts at reform have been mostly silly. We establish a commission they come up with pat or stylized issues that the interest groups then defeat and we continue to ad hoc issues through the initiative process.
I am not sure how we get out of that box. In earlier times it was pretty simple to corral the right people in a non-public setting to come up with some ideas. That is not possible nor should it be. But does that mean we should simply allow the state to muddle along? Lindblom notwithstanding I think not. But I am not quite sure how we escape the theater of politics on these important issues.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
But then I went to Washington and met George Gilder. George and I were members of something called the Ripon Society - as it turned out the group (especially the Washington Chapter - where I was the president) was called a liberal GOP group - but if you look at the people I was in the club with - some turned to become liberal democrats, some conservatives, some libertarians. What bound us together then was ideas.
George went on to do some powerful writing. He did one of the first bibles of supply side theory. He then did a couple of books on technology which were both informative and wacky. He ran into Carver Mead at Caltech and wrote a lot about technologies to come. He did a technology newsletter that was often wacky and off base but he was also the first person I read who understood the power of networks (Gilder's law about bandwidth - which was derivative of Moore's law was, if anything, understated.) well before most people could spell WWW or QQQ.
George went on to develop the Discovery Institute - it is a mix of technology and some of his earlier interests - with some of his old colleagues - Richard Rahn (who thankfully introduced me to the Austrian economists more than 30 years ago) is an adjunct of the group. And they are big into intelligent design.
The New Republic did an article in August by a guy named Stephen Coyne. I am not sure about Darwin. Nor am I sure about theology. I am convinced that there is plenty of evidence of a creator. But, like Darrow's character in the play (Henry Drummond) I am respectful enough of my own ignorance (and in this area I have only sketched the tops of the trees) that I become wary of someone who makes absolute statements.
Indeed, those in the theological side of the debate who make exact statements look as silly as Matthew Harrison Brady did in the play. But there are gaps, well beyond the gaps in the record (Coyne seems to state that were it not for some animals and plants not dying in sedimentary material we would have had all the answers to our questions.) that should allow us to have a rational discussion about what we do not know. At the same time, the best scientists are more than willing to admit that a good part of scientific inquiry is based on an initial premise of faith. So Coyne's argument, which is an unabashed attempt to refute the intelligent design people of all stripes, made me think that there might be some continuing limitations on Darwin.
I wonder what the biological line of the puffer fish is. I also wonder whether Coyne can be traced to it.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Two comments were particularly cogent for me. The first on freedom - where he recognized the key difference between freedom and license - ``Freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by a measure of truth and goodness,'' he said. ``This takes place so that we ourselves can truly become true and good.'' Madison and Adam Smith drew those same kinds of boundaries in their writings.
The second related to fashion in religion - a lot of what passes for theology today is comfortable. One passage raised some questions about the explosion of new religious attitudes/beliefs - "I have no wish to discredit all the manifestations of this phenomenon. There may be sincere joy in the discovery," he said. "Yet, if it is pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it." Ultimately religious belief like freedom involves obligations.
I first understood the idea of a long tail in a site called Change This! Change This!- that is a series of manifestos on a wide range of subjects. Some a very silly, others are quite substantive. The notion of the long tail came about when people started to understand that digital copies and distribution systems began to create after markets for related products. For example, assume that when Lance Armstrong rode to his seventh Tour de France win, people went to Amazon to get books about a) the Tour de France, b) Lance, c) Cancer survivors, d) French bicycles. The marketing model for Amazon will suggest related products - so in addition to selling books or memorabilia in one of those areas, the system might also discover an obscure book by another author from perhaps 1975, that covers the same subject. The marketing and production costs for the earlier (and possibly out of copyright material) are close to zero. So the net sale on 20 or 100 copies of the work is almost pure profit. That happens in any product that can be digitized.
Kling makes the argument that there is also a long tail for people in politics who do not consider themselves affiliated with any specific brand of politics. Those could be either independents or various other flavors of thinkers who do not feel attracted to the current brands of politics. Because politicians understand that they cannot hold on to these voters they move into some interesting behaviors. First, they add pork and lots of it. Second, they go more heavily into theatrical politics (Cindy Sheehan, Terry Schaivo, etc.) Third, because they cannot be sure of who they are talking to they actually isolate themselves from the general voter. They spend a lot of time with friends - in carefully constructed situations and not much time in places where they are not sure of the crowd. But Kling argues that ultimately people are less and less attracted to the two party system and thus become part of the long tail.
His suggestion is that we could evolve into "virtual federalism" a renewed argument for a Tiebout like environment where people begin to pick and choose what parts of the system they want to deal with. I am not sure his argument is correct. Why would politicians want to change a system that fundamentally works to their advantage. The combination of pork, coupled with theater and distance makes politics a lot less risky. Isn't that just another good example of classic rent seeking?
Kling's article deserves a lot of thought and comment.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Laura presented another California mother - not one who has lost a son but one who has a son who joined the Marines after 9/11 and has served two tours in Iraq. Her name is Debra Johns. She commented that she has been contacted by "more than 400 gold star families" in her quest to present the other side. She is doing a caravan to Crawford - but one wonders who will cover it.
The media coverage on Iraq has, for the most part, been almost exclusively negative. They have over-stated the impact of negative stories (in Iraq and in this country). They have ignored side stories that disprove their point. They have highlighted polls that show a declining level of support for our efforts there.
Any war divides. One need only look at the coverage and responses during the Civil War or WWI or WWII to understand that democracies do not have a stomach for war (that is a good thing). But with 24/7 news coverage that propensity is exacerbated. A better task for the media would be to do what Fox says it does - We report, you decide. But no one seems to care about that very important mission.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Friday, August 19, 2005
Jacob Hacker (from looking at his home page) is concerned about public policy. He is also worried about the "privitization of risk." He went on this morning about how the switch from defined benefit retirement plans to §401 (k) plans (shudder) moved American employees into a range of unprecedented uncertainty. What bothered me about his comments were a number of things. First, is his perception that allowing individuals more control over their lives (with the attendant increase in responsibility) a bad thing. Just how much additional security is provided by "experts" like him? Second, is the perception of additional security actually real when the experts run the show?
In my mind, most Americans want the additional flexibility that §401ks and other types of empowerment offers. Look at the consistent responses from surveys about the level of confidence in programs like Social Security. Although the President's plan to partially privitize Social Security seems to have failed, the consistent response by the vast majority of people under 50 is that Social Security is a ponzi scheme that will take an increasing percentage of wealth to administer, if not fixed.
Hacker and Franken patted each other down to suggest that all this uncertainty is something that is terrifying to individuals and that the changes have made American workers worse off. What nonsense. First, if you look at any income series - that includes total compensation (fringes) - wages in this country have not been flat at all. But as one would expect, as tax rates become too high and fringes become less taxed - employers have shifted their dough into fringes. Second, both of these yahoos seem to think that (at least if there is a democratic administration in place) the government can promise greater security than individual choices. Didn't they read about the fall of the Soviet Union and its wonderful long range plans? Do they really believe that government is better able to discern needs than individuals? Have they never read any Hayek?
Ultimately, any society needs to make welfare tradeoffs for at least some of the people who make wrong choices. But look at the projected returns that Social Security will offer people in Hacker's generation versus a passbook savings account. If that offer were made by a financial institution - government laws would probably be after them for false advertising.
There are some good examples of irresponsible actions in private pension plans. But they pale in comparison to the long term assumptions for Social Security. We have a choice we can fix the problems or inflate out of them or lower benefits in some other way. Hacker did a rough calculation about the required fund to offer a very modest pension. He suggested that you need about $150,000 in capital for a retirement payment of about a $1000 per month. In reality, the best guide is about $50,000 per year in income off each $1 million in resources. But compare that to the tax bite of social security versus the projected benefits.
Fracker and Hanken then went on to argue that a) health care is best when provided by the government and it was "odd" that the US did not follow other countries in offering citizens a public program. At the same time Hacker advanced the thesis that the GOP has a strange hold on the political system which enhances their advantage.
This is not to say that talk radio on the right is much better - although it is certainly more funny than the talk on Air America. For the last week all of the talk shows have been yacking about Cindy Sheehan. Ms. Sheehan is a pathetic figure. She should certainly be allowed to express and opinion on the president. But she has been so caught up in her own schtick that one wonders if anything but continued attention would satisfy her. It is disappointing that a country such as ours cannot have a better and sustained level of dialogue.
In 1998 my wife and I went to Ireland - there we heard an interesting brand of talk radio. People actually had differing points of view. They actually considered each other's arguments. It would be a wonder if the US could copy that format.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
The ranking of undergraduate programs involves many factors. Part of the decision on undergraduate programs is based on perceived prestige. But a lot of it depends on intangibles - location, ambience, etc. The US News rankings or the other ratings services try to capture those factors however imperfectly. Having worked with independent colleges for more than 30 years, I can't tell you how many times I have heard a president comment "The US News rankings are a bunch of baloney" and then bring his admission staff together when they don't get ranked somewhere.
But at the graduate level the ranking systems might be a bit less complex. Ultimately, graduate programs devolve down to the where get and where gone factors. Do other faculty members use the scholarly output of a graduate program in their own teaching and research? Ultimately, scholars are supposed to be a community that trades ideas - so looking at the market for ideas is pretty sound. The other side of the equation is what happens to the graduates - where do they get placed? For a lot of reasons many academics discount that factor.
So a couple of days ago at Tax Prof Blog a discussion got started about using the Social Science Research Network as an indicator of quality. Under the proposal which was originally made in an article in the Indiana Law Journal, schools could be ranked by citations in the SSRN. The SSRN is an insanely great tool. It is an electronic resource for scholars to vet their papers with colleagues anywhere in the world. It is an easily searchable database that serious scholars and even policy wonks can use for a very modest charge to think about issues. In today's TPB there are some responses to the idea.
One other comment, I discovered the TPB quite by accident. But it is a really good resource. It is a mix of three things - all of which are useful. First, it presents a pretty wide range of scholarly work in the tax area in short abstracts but with great links. Second, it presents some fairly frequent links to policy discussions (and as importantly links to their presentations or papers) such as the current commision on tax reform. Third, it presents profiles of individuals who are in the field and their scholarly work. In addition, the site( when you are not just rushing through the RSS summaries) has a bunch of additional resources. It is a bit weighted to law schools - afterall tax systems are made up of laws - so that is not unexpected - but it is an excellent resource for even people, like me, who did doctoral work in the area, remains interested in the field but are not in any way a scholar in the field. Paul Caron, who is at the University of Cincinnati, is the inspiration behind this project and he deserves a real vote of thanks.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Sacramento River Cats - Top of the 9th
Pitcher Change: Mike Koplove replaces Kerry Ligtenberg.
Shawn Garrett lines out to pitcher Mike Koplove.
Charles Thomas walks.
With Tom Gregorio batting, Charles Thomas steals (14) 2nd base.
Tom Gregorio singles on a ground ball to center fielder Carlos Quentin. Charles Thomas scores.
Freddie Bynum singles on a ground ball to right fielder Josh Kroeger. Tom Gregorio to 2nd.
Jermaine Clark singles on a ground ball to center fielder Carlos Quentin. Tom Gregorio to 3rd. Freddie Bynum to 2nd.
Jack Cust strikes out swinging.
Brant Colamarino walks. Tom Gregorio scores. Freddie Bynum to 3rd. Jermaine Clark to 2nd.
Andrew Beattie walks. Freddie Bynum scores. Jermaine Clark to 3rd. Brant Colamarino to 2nd.
Pitcher Change: Corey Myers replaces Mike Koplove.
Mike Rouse singles on a line drive to center fielder Carlos Quentin. Jermaine Clark scores. Brant Colamarino scores. Andrew Beattie to 2nd.
Shawn Garrett doubles (20) on a line drive to center fielder Carlos Quentin. Andrew Beattie scores. Mike Rouse to 3rd.
Charles Thomas pops out to second baseman Keoni De Renne.
Now they go back to 9 games up. To give you an idea about this kind of win. In the last three games the Cats played they scored 5 runs total off 16 hits, tonight they scored 16 runs off 17 hits. In the last 10 games they have scored a total of 49 runs off 84 hits. As I was listening to this game I went back for the last ten games and it is not as bleak as my impression had been from the last three games (where they were flat). For four out of ten of those games they had double digit hits. Doskow's review of the game was pure fun!
This was a game that really lived up to the slogan - Everybody plays!
Their remaining schedule works like this - 3 more against the Sidewinders, then 4 against the Stingers of Salt Lake, Then four in Fresno, four against Fresno here and then finishing out in Tacoma. Tacoma and Salt Lake are currently tied in their division. Fresno is out of it but just the sheer number of games against them is not a good sign. This could be a thrilling end to the season. This is the time when they need to regroup.
Monday, August 15, 2005
The NYT weltschmerzing is conditioned on two points - both of which are false - but still very real. The first is an assumption about expertise. One could do a long intellectual history about the base of this from the enlightenment but it is conditioned on the notion that all things are ultimately discoverable and more importantly that individuals can develop a clear understanding in an area that will be naturally superior to anything that a mere mortal can achieve. Indeed, as we developed knoweldge over the past several centuries and more importantly as we divided knowledge into discreet "disciplines" that process of elaboration became more and more prominent. But with our growing bodies of knowledge we forgot to think about common sense. Hayek talked about the importance of the knowledge of time and place (that some individuals possessed unique knowledge based on their experiences) but the assumption of communities like the Times is that the knowledge of time and place is not important. Were their dismissal of the knowledge of time and place the only flaw it would be troubling but then they assume that complexity of choices is troubling. That leads to the second false premise.
Namely, the Nanny State. If you posess absolute certainty about the truth then you want to impose that truth on others. And as important, if the market produces many choices people will be overwhelmed and expertise can step in and simplify. For example, before telephone deregulation we had one choice (albeit more expensive and less consumer oriented) but it was reliable. Before deregulation we had fewer airlines that were more expensive but it was simpler. Let the experts control the decisions and they will give you the "right" answers. Think Soviet agriculture or French culture.
One of the base conflicts in modern society was explained by Charles Lindblom in a book he wrote about politics and markets about 25 years ago. Lindblom suggested that one group in society is very optimistic about intellectual capacity but simultaneously believes that the non-elites in society cannot understand the complexities of the world. The other is skeptical of the capacity of any individual to understand the complexity of the world. The first group assumes that the right people (those with the knowledge) will find their way to the top of the heap and benefit us all. The second assumes that even though we are incompetent as individuals to see the whole picture that the combined weight of our decisions will actually come closest to satisfying individual needs and aspirations. That argument was improved upon in James Surowiecki's book The Wisdom of Crowds. In the end we probably benefit more from the second view.
Sure patients have a tough time negotiating the complexities of modern medicine. But so do doctors. And would anyone reasonably chose to go back to where doctors assumed control of our lives? I for one certainly would not.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
For the rest of the regular season we will also have to contend with the eventual shifts that are natural in AAA. Matt Watson got called up and missed this game - but it is unclear how long he will be up. There is the tension that he deserves the move but we need his bat and fielding skills.
It was cold for August. So cold that in the middle of the game the fan store was crammed with people buying jackets and other things to keep warm. I think they sold out of the All Star blankets ($32). I got into line - because I was cold too - and while in line asked the guy in front of me to tell me whether I had a) gotten the right size for the warm-up shirt I was purchasing and b) what was the price. He replied I had indeed chosen a large and that the price was $275 - it was pure silk. I gasped - and he said "It is really only $60 but I wanted to remind you to bring your glasses." What a good sense of humor.
In our section there was a large group of people from Fresno including a kid who had made up a group of handlettered signs. They left in the bottom of the 12th. I hope they notice the Rivercats fan in every one of their pictures with the new warm up shirt - actually quite a handsome fellow.
Many parts of the intelligensia have hit a roadblock in their thinking. They keep recycling bad ideas - in essence they are like what economists are criticized for - building a model and trying to fit a reality to the model. That is not just with the lefties like Rifkin - Pat Buchanan and some of his ilk are just as guilty. Wouldn't it be more interesting if we got people to do some more analysis before they wrote these tomes?
Friday, August 12, 2005
They went out early with a total of six runs only to error it back to a 6-5 game which they went on to win. Mabeus was in the Maybe yes mode tonight and Jairo was ok and ultimately held on to get the save. But there were too many errors. Bynum went back to his Hollywood mode missing a couple of real plays. In all this was a harrowing experience.
As I calculate it Tuscon can win the division with a phenomenal performance and if the Cats play sub 500 ball. I do not think that will happen but with the 3 errors by one player last night and the couple tonight - it is not out of the range of possibility.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Monday, August 08, 2005
Later in the game a batter hit one back in the section next to ours and over the back. When that happens the sound effects guy does a squealing cat. Mason remarked that "That cat is dead, got the air pushed out of him."
As part of the season ticket holder's benefits for the Sacramento River Cats you get a breakfast with the team in June. At that I won a chance to be in the broadcast booth with Johnny Doskow - the voice of the Rivercats. It was supposed to be for a half inning - but because the top of the fourth went by in about 8 pitches I got to do the whole fourth.
It was a fun thing to do. Doskow is one of the best play by play guys I have heard. He has the gift that Vin Scully has in being able to tell the story of the game and at the same time weave in a lot of extra information. He is also not a homers announcer - he calls them without the hoopla of some people in the profession - he is a real fan but he doesn't color it with rah rah comments. What I also found out yesterday was he also knows a lot about baseball. He remembered that Fernando Valenzuela came up in 1981. (FV was one of my favorites.) Doskow is a graduate of University of LaVerne - which is a member of the Association I am president of - and he liked his experience there.
This was the first time back to see the Cats for us in about 10 days - they were awfully flat. We went with some old friends who really know baseball. He is an A's fan and went to spring training and so knew a lot about many of the players. But even though they were 7 games up in their division they sure did not look it against the Albuquerque Isotopes (formerly a Dodger farm team now of the Marlins). Today the Round Rock Express comes in for four and then Fresno. Before the end of the month and the regular season they meet Fresno several more times - four this week, then five in Fresno followed by the last three at home against them. So a lot of the season depends on how well they do against one team.
The picture was taken by an intern that did not seem to understand that when taking into the light one uses a flash. Ah well - the real light came from the game and the announcers not the stupid picture!
Sunday, August 07, 2005
One of my favorite taunts is "Blue, bring your dog out there, he can help." In a recent game we had our grandson with us and he commented after I offered that suggestion to the ump - "Grandpa, there are no dogs on the field."
Saturday, August 06, 2005
I use Hotspots a lot - but this one was open and quite good. How welcoming a place to find an ability to check email and other net things.
There are a bunch of places in Sacramento with the same welcome mat. But this was the first one I found in an airport.
This was a stark comparison to the one in the Frenchman's Reef (discussed earlier) which was $20 a day and unreliable. In Miami the signal was strong. What a great aid to passengers. Thanks whoever put it up. Smart!
Friday, August 05, 2005
First, prices. Why should breakfast for two cost $40? Why should the cab union control access and egress from the hotel at outrageous prices? The cheapest way to get to town (about a mile away) is $6 per person.
Second, services. Internet here is inadequate - but $20 per day. The only place you can use wireless is in the lobby or by the pool. The system is such that it degrades terribly when more than one person is on a node.
Third, activity. I really do not like sitting around. My wife likes to lie by the pool. I do not. Watch the Iguanas being fed - swim a few laps and I am bored. We decided to "rest" today. So we had a leisurely breakfast and then went to the pool. I worked on the net for a while and took some photos.
Fourth - tshirts and jewelry. What is it that makes every resort sell them? Prices here are without tax but not remarkable. Jewelry here is nice but not anything much better than you could get in some careful shopping in the US. Ditto for electronics.
Yesterday we went to the British Virgin Islands and that was fun - some interesting things to do and an OK lunch.
My wife has not liked the humidity - what do you expect in the Caribbean during the rainy season?
One wish will be when Wireless is ubiquitous. Then I can go almost anywhere.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
On the second day we went to the rain forest (El Yunque) That was most of a day and we had a guide who was a cross between Newman on Seinfeld and digger o dell. The trip was a good explanation of how rain forests function but also a chance to see several levels of the forest. It was, of course, lush and humid (*duh) - but it was also a range of plants working together. I was impressed at how much more active the forest was than a traditional forest in North America - the processes are all going on there - but they were much more visible.
On Sunday we went on a 20 minute flight to St. Thomas. That was for a meeting of people who do what I do around the country - which meets each summer. We stayed at the Frenchman's Reef. I was not as impressed with St. Thomas as with Puerto Rico - My wife was just the opposite. The cab drivers in USVI have a real racket. On Monday for five of us to go about a mile away from the hotel was $30 - $6 per person. The first day I was there I was stuck in an elevator. I hate small spaces and this one really bothered me so I finally pushed the door open. I was hailed a being resourceful - what it really was was me wanting to get out of the small space. We played a croquet tournament - which I won. And went to a fancy smanzy dinner in a place called the Greathouse - really quite nice. The business meetings were interesting.
Today we went on a trip to the British VI - we strarted early in the morning and then went on to some major geologic uplifts - then to snorkeling (water was not as good as Palau - but few places are) and then to lunch and then to a beach. It was a fun low key day. Tomorrow we simply will veg out by the pool. The addresses of the shots from the US and British Virgin Islands are as follows -
US Virgin Islands with lots of Iguanas
Trip to British Virgin Islands
I have yet to complete the posts for Puerto Rico.