Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A correction

A couple of days ago I posted on the Academic Bill of Rights, which I think is a bad idea. In that post I incorrectly named the American Council on Trustees and Alumni as the source of funding for a project at UCLA to record PC professors. The actual group that did that was the Bruin Alumni Association and a person named Andrew Jones.

Coretta King

The world is sometimes strange. One of the people I work with is a consummate networker. About 25 years ago he tried to run a bill in the legislature to address a genuine injustice that had happened at his university. We opposed it successfully. But in the two years that he tried to run the idea - we became good friends. At one point he invited me to a baseball game (he shares my enjoyment for that) with several of my good political friends at it. It was low key but he was trying to get me to rethink our position.

The issue was a complex one. The University he worked for had hired a new human relations director who was an idiot. They had a professor who was beloved and who had spent all of his professional life at the university. (His name was Devine - which somehow fit the story). Soon after the ERISA standards (on retirement plans) were adopted, universities began to cover their employees with pensions - but because of the timing, this professor had he been retired, would have been sent out to pasture with a $300 a month pension. I spoke at a convocation and met the professor at lunch which Allen had arranged. That experience got me to think about creative ways we could solve the problem. We created a task force of presidents and professors and came up with an idea - that ultimately did not go anywhere but was helpful to getting us to think about the equity in the issue. In the end, when we could not get that adopted Allen pursued the issue at the federal level and ultimately helped to get mandatory retirement eliminated.

In his mid-70s he took the performance driving course at Laguna Seca. Most of the people taking the driving experience were less than half his age. But there was Allen out there competing in a Formula One.

After we got done with the legislative Allen tried for a couple of college presidencies. Allen is Jewish. At one midwestern university he was told by the chair of the board - we are looking for a good, intelligent, Christian president. Allen replied I can do two out of three of those! But he landed in a small very specialized place in California. When he took it over it was struggling. Now it has major relationships with the close by research university and a number of other innovative joint degree programs.

Several years ago, Allen was kind enough to invite us to a Seder. It was an interesting evening made up of a polyglot of people - some rich and famous, others not. Allen and his wife Dorothy patiently explained the significance of all of the elements of the Seder. Knowing very little about Jewish traditions, it was interesting and inspirational. This was another example of his ability to connect people in a positive way.

This morning I got a note from Allen, in his matter of fact way of writing, informing me that Mrs. King had died and also offering a rememberance of her. Soon after Dr. King was assassinated, Allen and Dorothy took Mrs. King to Puerto Rico to get away. Allen had never mentioned his ties to the Kings - there is no reason why he should have. But his note and rememberance were especially touching. I should not have been surprised - that is the kind of person Allen is. But instead of reading the announcement in the paper I got it in an Email from a friend.

Monday, January 30, 2006

California Connundrum

Today we presented the Chapman University Economic Forecast. For the past five years we have asked Jim Doti (the president of Chapman) and Essi Abidi (the director of the Anderson Center) to present their estimates for the nation and California to policy makers in Sacramento. Last year was a pretty robust year - one estimate suggests that the single effect of growth in Google produced more than $400 million in revenues for the state - based on options and capital gains. The forecast suggests that the dandy growth that we experienced for the last couple of years is likely to slow down a bit in the coming year. The forecast also presented a longer term problem facing the state that I believe is under-rated. Housing affordability in many regions of the state is dropping below 15% (that means that fewer than 15% of the families in a region can afford to buy a house in the area.)

The challenge for the state is twofold. First, we need to attract industries that will produce workers who can afford our housing. But as you look at the housing numbers in key areas of the state - a lot of the demand for housing is speculative. The net growth in the Bay Area counties is actually negative - they are building more houses as people (and jobs) are leaving the region. That is not a sustainable situation.

If the growth in jobs (either through self employed individuals or salaried employees) is not sufficient to meet demands - the value of housing will decline. The Bay Area is fundamentally unsound economically. Other key areas of the state are also fundamentally slow in their growth prospects.

One other notion that was presented by the forecast. The ratio of self-employed to salaried employment in California has been shifting to self-employed. The forecast suggests that comes from a couple of sources - especially real estate and mortgage brokers. But there is plenty of evidence that a good portion of the self employed are people who are entrepreneurial in nature. To the extent that these people are liimted to the real estate industry - as rates rise - employment (and thus tax revenues) will decline. One could argue that many of these new self employed are outside of the real estate industry - but we need to think about that issue.

Clearly in the last couple of years the California advantage (the wage differential that was present in much of the last 40 year between the state and the rest of the nation) seems to have been narrowed considerably. The long term prospects for the state budget are not very good - if our reliance on the growth in real property prices has been the engine for growth. I will have more on this problem in a later post.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

David Lean and Dickens

This evening we watched the David Lean version of Oliver Twist. Fagin was done by Alec Guinness. Like his version of Great Expectations - Lean seems to have understood what Dickens was writing about. This one was also in black and white. And again Lean used the elements of the camera to paint very different pictures in the stages of the story. Lean seems to have read Dickens well - he really catches the mood of the books. He also had a good idea for the characters - I am not sure who the actor was that played Bumble - but he was perfect. The relationship of adults to children - which is a constant Dickens theme is also presented well in this movie. This one too is well worth watching. Now on to Netflix to see if he did any other of CDs novels.

Why the Liberals are in sad shape in the US

The history channel did an excellent special on Lincoln recently which reviewed many of Lincoln's greatest speeches and at the same time had several historians offer views on what made him tick. The overall special was really good. But in one section on Lincoln's use of executive power author Gore Vidal commented that Lincoln had used legitimate power during the Civil War to do things he needed to do. He then first made a veiled reference to Bush and then made the following comment invoking emergency powers like Lincoln did during the Civil War to attack the war on terror is like starting a "war on dandruff." I am sure all of Vidal's buddies in the salons of the East Coast screeched with glee - but I will bet members of the 3000 people who were killed on 9/11 or the victims of the terror attacks faced by Americans in other venues did not think his comment was at all cute.

The Academic Bill of Rights

David Horowitz, the conservative commentator, has a movement to rile up academia. He argues that all of academia is mired in political correctness and the only way to solve the problem is to impose new legalistic rights on students and faculty which would lock colleges into endless litigation.

When I was a freshman at the University of the Pacific, I was also the county youth chairman for Barry Goldwater. In the middle of my first semester, in a course on Western Civilization, the professor began what turned out to be a six lecture exercise in pre-political correctness. He stopped our discussion of the Summerians and began to argue that Goldwated and fascism were the same thing. I listened to one lecture (or most of it) and by the second began to debate him in class. It was a wonderful experience. By the third class some other students began to feel empowered and raised questions both in support of me and the professor. The diversion limited my understanding of those parts of ancient history that we should have been studying but it was still valuable. When I first asked out my wife on a date - she went back to her dorm and one of her dorm mates said "Don't go out with him - he debates professors."

Horowitz's solution is simply the wrong way to go. Assume for a moment that higher education is pervasively PC. Even if it were, wouldn't it be better to try to get this generation of students to react in a different way - to begin to use their class sessions as a way to confront the intellectual slackers who resort to PC? At the University of Santa Clara, three conservative professors developed an extra program for students so inclined to learn about free market thinkers. The students read the great books of free markets and the Civil Society Institutealso holds lecture series on campus to stimulate debate and discussion on key issues. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni have even offered bounties to UCLA students who record leftist professors. Again, not a good way to solve a problem. The Civil Society Institute and creating clones in other academic settings seems a much better way to assure balance.

The point here is that universities should be a place of debate and discussion not litigation. Horowitz should think more creatively rather than reflexivly running to legalistic solutions.

Roman Hruska Reborn

In the Nixon era the two senators from Nebraska were Roman Hruska and Carl Curtis. Neither was given much credit for having brains. They were reflexive conservatives. When Nixon tried to appoint the notoriously unqualified G. Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court and the ABA refused to give him a qualified rating, Hruska defended the nominee with the phrase "of course he is mediocre but those people need a representative on the court too. " The joke at the time on the floor of the senate was "Which state has a senator who is dumber than (fill in one name of the two)?"

Well here comes Diane Feinstein, evidently running for re-election and worrried about the left (Cindy Sheehan has said she will run against DiFi) and declares she will support the filibuster against Judge Alito. In her statement on why she was opposing the nominee she made the following statement - "It’s a very different day and time than when Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer were before this Committee. There was not the polarization within America that is there today and not the defined move to take this Court in a singular direction." Indeed that is true. When Ginsburg and Breyer were considered they were considered on their legal background and demeanor. They both got huge votes for even though many members of the Senate knew what kind of justices they would be. But DiFi seems to think that it is ok to trash a nominee simply because of a disagreement in philosophy. Were the two nominees of Clinton moving the court to the left? Undoubtedly so.

It should be an embarassment that California's two senators now hold the title once owned by Hruska and Curtis - they are knee jerk to the left in the same way that the Nebraskans were knee jerk to the right. California deserves better.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Two quotes - can you fill in the rest of the story?

From the Sacramento Bee - January 28 - 1)The gap between rich and poor in the United States appears to be rising again because of globalization and other market forces that are limiting wage gains for low-and middle-income workers, according to a 50-state study released Thursday.

2) The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute both criticized the massive federal tax cuts championed by President Bush as overly tilted toward the affluent.

This kind of nonsense is reported as news - but here is the clincher line - Elizabeth McNichol, an analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said states could raise or establish minimum wages, upgrade unemployment insurance systems, strengthen safety-net systems for the poor and adjust often-regressive tax systems to lighten tax burdens on the poor.

One wonders whether there is an agenda here in this supposed research. Cafe Hayek did a great job at pointing out the advocacy in this "research".

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Zero Sum Games, Epiphenomenality and Political Correctness

Yesterday I attended a retreat for an organization I have worked with in higher education for a very long time. I presented some thoughts on two issues that seem to be evolving. First, at least among independent colleges, the middle class is not going to college. There is at least some annecdotal evidence that is also happening to the UC campuses - although the data is much less clear. The second issue relates to gender equity. In the last two decades the enrollments in higher education have shifted to a predominant female majority. Concurrently, the enrollments in basic and advanced programs in the science and math have declined. An OECD report last summer suggested that we compared to Mexico and Portugal among the developed countries in relation to our enrollments in the sciences and mathematics.

One of the errors of the liberal perspective is to think about the world as a zero sum game. Yet most of life is not organized in that fashion - my success does not often diminish your success. Yet liberals persist in seeing the world in these bimodal terms. About 25 years ago Julian Simon, in a demonstration of this principle, bet eco-doomsayer Paul Ehrlich that the world would not end in a decade. He offered Ehrlich the opportunity to establish some metrics to measure this issue and said let's bet the difference on the prices (of the market basket of scarce commodities). At the end of the decade Ehrlich was presented as the fraud that he has always been. He was simply wrong. He used a whole series of rationalizations to try to discredit the results but he looked even more foolish than he had in the start of the bet. Ehrlich looks at the world as a series of zero sum transfers, in the same way the Kyoto protocol drafters did. But that is not the way life works.

The gender problem in higher education is one that all of us should be thinking about - not in the zero sum sense. Currently about 57% of the students in higher education are female. When Harvard President Larry Summers raised the issue last summer he was derided into spending another $50 million in Harvard money to atone for his balsphemy. I wonder why a decreasing percentage of male students are choosing to go to higher education and to complete degrees. Is it because of the changes in curriculum in K-12 (as some have suggested)? Is it because this generation of young men have discovered that higher education does not matter? Is it because a large number of male students have been diverted from higher education because of other life commitments? I don't know. But it seems to me that we should be interested in trying to understand why this change has occured. One thinks that the problem was created inadvertently (epiphenomenality) but who knows. But the data looks to me as compelling - not in a sense that we should try to establish affirmative action or that we should reduce the number of women in higher education but more that we should think about why this generation of males is reacting differently than previous generations.

In the presentation yesterday one of the questions I got was about my sources. I have seen the data shifting for the last decade but an interesting article in the New Republic (Subscription Required but worth it) of January 23 the case is made that a series of factors has caused the shift. The first question I got was a political statement - my questioner said " The thought of you reading the New Republic boggles the mind." - this kind of question should not be limited by political correctness. But that may indeed be how we will handle the issue in the near future. That is a real problem for our society.

Davos and Old Line Media

This is the time for the World Economic Forum again. It is a classic closed loop. Fortune Magazine's Justin Fox made a novel argument about the forum of self-proclaimed heavy hitters. The founder of Davos created a semi-closed loop with hierarchies of players. Some people there get the E ticket (a historical reference to the best rides at Disneyland) while others get lesser activity. To assure that all these yahoos can yabber to themselves only the press that is acceptable is invited. The problem with that kind of event is it does not fit the realities of today's media culture. Ultimately, these kinds of discussions are more permiable than the sponsors seem to think they are. Transparency is a constant theme that will trip up both real and imagined leaders. Sometimes public comments can become magnified. But now sometimes so can private ones. The less transparent societal institutions are the less relevant they become. So while there might be a lot of dough in Davos, there may be a lot less importance than the participants think.

The importance of the event is a reflection of who attends. Christo- the idiotic cloth artist - is an attendee. Just what does he know about anything except conning the elites to put up his bizarre pieces of performance art? So is Michael Jordan - who is probably a pretty good businessman. But there are a whole bunch of other groupies that don't deserve to work at Walmart and certainly don't have a clue about how to build the world economy. What puzzles me is why some of the world's alleged economic leaders would listen to these bozos. So exactly what is the purpose of the forum? W.C. Fields once talked about being invited to join a club where he argued that if they invited people like him he would not want to join. Davos seems a lot like one of those clubs.

Ken Salazar and the Liberal Plantation

In recent weeks two prominent democrats have shown their true colors. First, Hillary in an MLK speech made a veiled (or not so veiled) reference to the "plantation" run by the GOP in the Congress - ending it with the code phrase "you know what I mean." Then comes Ken Salazar, the light weight senator from Colorado, who made a degrading reference to Justice Thomas yesterday in trying to explain why he was voting against Judge Alito. Thomas has written some very good stuff while he has been on the court. But the liberals, like Salazar, won't give him any peace because that is not the way that Blacks are supposed to act.

When Salazar ran for office, against Pete Coors, he clothed himself in the moderate cloth that would sell him in the state. But as he has operated in DC he has shown who he really is. Hillary, too, when she is trying to build her national campaign tries to put herself in the same moderate suit. But I don't think on a national basis many people will be fooled.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Jessica's Church

Tonight my wife and I and Mason went to the our son's fiancee's church up in Placerville. It was musical service with about a dozen praise songs. This is not the kind of music that I normally like but the energy in this service was palpable. The group- which was about 30 times the size of our own parish - was pretty mixed. There were lots of young kids. The music was rock based - mostly in the same key - but with a nice range of voices and a couple of songs that I thought were really inspirational. They had one bible reading - from the modern bible - and a couple of prayers and lots of music. The whole event was very positive. I guess I have a better idea why many of the evangelical churches are so successful.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The WSJ and the Legion of Christ

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal there was a front page story on the Legion of Christ, which is a Mexican Catholic order. For more than a decade I have worked with several universities that are part of the Legion. I have gotten to know more than a dozen priests, a host of seminarians, an even larger group of people who are active in the order either through the lay group (Regnum Christi) or simply as employees of these universities. I have worked on several campuses and have had the opportunity to get to know the people who are important in the order. I should say at the outset that I am neither a lay member of the Legion nor even a Catholic.

What bothered me about the article was what it left out. Indeed, the Legion has created controversy. They are a very young order. Like the Jesuits must have been early in their history, they are fervent. But that fervency is not intolerance. They set high standards for themselves. At the same time their priests are very much engaged with the world. The article also spent an inordinate amount of time on their relationship with the powerful of Mexico. One example they did not mention was that the priest who offered mass for President Fox before his inauguation was a Legionnary. Had they used that example they would have had to point out that the president elect celebrated a mass with some of the poorest children of Mexico City. The critics of the order argue that they minister only to the very wealthy. That is nonsense. The article did mention the annual missions trip where thousands of young people go into the poorest parts of Mexico and offer assistance. The contradition of the order, at least to some, is their absolute commitment to social justice without the silliness of political liberalism. The commitment to leadership involves a lot of discussion and direction to personal responsibility - but part of that commitment is to capacity building in that area. They don't look to government, as some religious groups seem to do first. In October I was on one of the campuses of the AnĂ¡huac system in Mexico City to celebrate that campus' 25th anniversary. The School of Business, which is one of the most prestigious in Mexico held an international conference on capital formation in Mexico. They had a wonderful group of people at the conference - the two experts who were writing the Mexican equivalent of Sarbanes-Oxley, several prominent venture capitalists, representatives of several of the largest family owned businesses in Mexico. On the opening of the second day, the new rector of the university got up and congratulated the group on its first day of discussions - which had been fascinating. But then he commented that we also had a responsibility for the thousands of people who had just been devastated by hurricanes. He told a story of his own involvement in disaster relief but he then challenged his audience to help raise fund and money to help the people in those parts of Mexico. That same university provides some very innovative training for small micro credit banks that have stepped in to aid the very poor in developing economic opportunities for themselves. That kind of commitment has been demonstrated to me time and again. So the order does work with the very powerful (afterall their inspiration is to deal with leadership) but that does not mean they forget the obligation of all Christians to serve the poor.

In my home area, we have a Shrine of Guadalupe which was the Mexican church traidtionally in the Sacramento area. Several years ago the Legion took over responsibility for it. The local free newspaper printed a series of articles about the Legion's changes. Priests in the Legion believe in Catholic doctrine and try to live it faithfully. That means they are traditional in their view on a number of issues. And the local free paper played that up. What the paper did not say is that what was once a very sleepy parish with declining numbers was transformed in less than a year to a vibrant community center - with thousands of parishioners each week. In the places that I have visited where the Legion is offering its efforts, standards are not a mantra but a way to live. But I have not found that to be oppressive.

The WSJ (and the free paper) also covered charges concerning the founder of the order, Fr. Marcial Maciel. I have never met Fr. Maciel, although I know several of the first generation of priests in the order. I also have no personal knowledge of the charges that have been made against him. I do know that the charges seem to come up frequently and that each time they have been looked at carefully they have been dismissed. But regardless of their veracity, one should not underestimate the real contributions that this order has made to Mexico and to the wider Catholic community. I am consistently impressed with people who work in and around the order. They work very hard at trying to live their lives with some clear Christian order. The lay people value their children. Priests and lay also work hard on achievement. They make a conscientious commitment to being leaders in their community but also to serving the needs of those who do not have resources. Ethics and social commitment are a conscious part of the formation that they include in their educational programs.

Like most human organizations there are complex stories to tell about this order. But when I look at the contributions that individual priests and lay people make to their societies, I am impressed with the breadth and depth of their commitment to firm values and great implementation. I am not sure why the WSJ could not also get that message.

Senator Feingold's Bizarre Comment on Alito

This morning I was watching the final discussions in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Judge Alito and Senator Feingold seemed to say something very odd. He argued that we should not confirm a judge who uses personal judgement - as opposed to Constitutional principles to decide cases. Does that mean he voted against Breyer and Ginsberg?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Technowizzies

Today, my associate and I were on one of the Microsoft campuses in Washington. We had some excellent discussions with some of the senior Microsoft staff. We talked about our own consortium with Microsoft that allows our members to purchase software at very favorable rates - but as important we also get some good technical advice. Today we explored some new ways to connect campuses and students and faculty using the web and cellular phones.

Universities have traditionally been considered as places with Ivy Covered Walls. At the same time they are fundamentally based on the theory of networks. Several years ago we explored those issues at an international conference at Universidad AnĂ¡huac del Sur in Mexico City. But as you think about these entities that have lasted for two millenia - those that will prosper in the coming years have figured out that ultimately the best universities are permeable walls - networks that at not limited by geography or by the artificial limits of disciplines. This new idea about the use of cellular phones would help build those new kinds of networks.

Microsoft is also developing some improvements in their Hotmail product which would allow colleges and universities to off load their emails (keeping their domain names) so that students (and alums) can stay connected to their university. Steve Sample, the president of USC, talks about his university in terms of "lifelong and worldwide" - he understands the absolute necessity for universities to make those kinds of connections and to build their linkages. Some of our discussions at Microsoft today show that others have also begun to think about these kinds of exciting opportunities.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Great Expectations

One of the best things about Netflix is their breadth of offerings. Beginning last week I began to relook at Alec Guiness movies. I am a great fan of Dickens so when I realized that one of Guinness' early movies (actually done with the director David Lean) was Great Expectations - it was immediately on my list.

I am such a fan of Dickens, that I must have a dozen versions of a Christmas Carol on film. (Yes, Alister Simm is the best one.) Each Christmas we have a tradition, that is mostly me now, of watching at least a couple of the versions in the days leading up to Christmas. Dickens characters constantly come up in my newsletter for the Association I work for. And the list of Dickensean references that one sees in every day life is huge. Pip, the name of the main character in the novel is a small seed or also the smallest unit of currency. Dickens had a way with names conveying more than just a name. Gradgrind, Pumblechuck, Scrooge, and even Pip all show up occasionally in our language.

When I was first in graduate school I was a bit bored. I came from an undergraduate degree at University of the Pacific to my first graduate work in International Relations at George Washington University. I was,at first, a bit intimidated. GW had a big time rep in what I thought then was a big time city. But I soon discovered that I could compete quite well AND that UOP had prepared me quite well for this program. So I began a process of self education. There was a big bookstore right above Foggy Bottom and I began about October to read authors. I would choose an author and buy all of his novels - by the end of the year I had read all of Hesse, Sinclair Lewis, Twain, Upton Sinclair, and Dickens (except Bleak House and the American Notes - I have since finished American Notes - which is really pretty good but Bleak House remains unfinished). I even took on some Thomas Mann. My idea at the time had been that I had spent my undergraduate career assiduously not reading novels and so I should get a somewhat organized look at some of the great novelists. That approach had two defects. First, when you read all of a writer's work at once the characters blend together. Second, although I think I got something out of all of the writers I chose - it is an odd list. I never got around to Tolstoy or some others that would round me out a bit. But the process kept me interested during that first year of graduate school. I never did finish a degree at GW - got into a riff with them about my language exam (it was pretty stinky, I did not take their language prep course and so I got a note I had passed and then failed, I protested and the Dean and the German department simply passed the buck saying if you convince the other I will change the result - so I left and went on to work in the White House and finally after a summer institute at the Harvard Business School went back to USC and finished a doctorate.)

The story in Great Expectations is well known. A country boy(PIP) is the recipient of a benefactor's gift which he suspects wrongly comes from one person but comes actually from another. He moves to London, pursues the ward of his supposed benefactor (at first unsuccessfully) and then discovers that his benefactor is actually a convict that he aided when he was a waif in the country. What I have loved about the story is the way that Dickens develops the characters. When Magwitch (the convict) is first seen on the screen he is truly scary. The lawyer, who is a crimminal lawyer (should be a clue but when I first read the book I completely missed it), Jaggers is typical of Dickens' pictures of lawyers - the lawyers in Bleak House are even more stark but this one serves his purpose. Miss Haversham (the character Pip thinks is his benefactor) is eccentric. Uncle Pumblechook is how Dickens always seems to portray relatives. Joe, his first guardian, is a wonderful mix of simple honesty. Estella is at first unattainable but has a good heart. Bentley Drummel, who Estella marries but then dies, is an upper class lout. So all of the characters are well drawn.

The movie is also striking because it has some very young and futurely famous actors. Herbert Pocket (Pip's room-mate and guide for his time in London) is John Mills - who went on to a distinguished career in stage and screen. Pip (mature) is Alex Guinness and you really have to strain to see him - the features are there but he is very young.

In the end the story is a good one. Magwitch finally reveals himself to be the benefactor. Seems he was sent away to Australia to be a sheep farmer and made a fortune there. He contacted Jaggers and because Pip had been kind to the convict when he was trying to escape from a prison ship - Magwitch drops this transforming gift on the young lad. The plot thickens because a part of the sentence that Magwitch is under is not to return to England. Pip figures this out and tries to spirit both he and Magwitch out of the country (his love interest has forsaken him so why stay) but Magwitch's former partner betrays him and he is sentenced to be hanged. Luckily, in a normal Dickens twist, either through the accident that happens in his capture or as a result of old age, Magwitch escapes the hangman by dying first. But because Magwitch is not a blood relative of Pip - the young ward loses his annual stipend. Luckily, because Bartley Drummel has died, he rehooks up with Estella - who does inherit the fortune of Miss Haversham and they sell the estate and (presumably) live happily ever after.

There are a couple of other versions of the story in film. This one is good because Lean used black and white very well. The goodness of some characters and the evil of others is extremely stark - just as in the novel. The transformation of Magwitch - which is partially done with the use of lighting and effect - is especially stark. The movie is well worth seeing, especially, if you like Dickens.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Kyoto and Reality

In an article in the WSJ this morning - the reality of rhetoric versus action is highlighted. The US has been criticized by our European friends and other signers of the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse emissions because we did not sign the thing. But the reality between yammering and action could not be clearer.

The editorial comments -

The U.S. thus saw a modest decline in greenhouse emissions of 0.8% between 2000 and 2002, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy. Overall since 1990, American greenhouse emissions are up 15.8%, but this still puts the U.S. far ahead of many of its European and Asian critics. And this despite U.S. economic growth (and increasing energy demand) that has far exceeded Europe's.

The article can be found at The Wall Street Journal (Subscription Required)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

John Shadegg in the WSJ

Arizona congressman is in the WSJ today with a stunning article about the leadership fight in the house (February 2). In part he says

Republicans promised the American people two things in 1994. First, we promised to rein in the size and scope of the federal government. Second, we promised to clean up Washington. In recent years, we have fallen short on both counts. Total federal spending has grown by 33% since 1995, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Worse, we have permitted some of the same backroom practices that flourished in the old Democrat-controlled House. Powerful members of Congress are able to insert provisions giving away millions--even tens of millions--of dollars in the dead of night. The recent scandals involving Duke Cunningham and Jack Abramoff have highlighted the problem, but this is not just a case of a few bad apples. The system itself needs structural reforms.
This has been clear for some time. I did not discover reform as an issue--like Saul on the road to Damascus--when I entered the majority leader race. It has been an integral part of my record, not at one time a decade ago, but constantly, year in and year out since 1994. Yesterday John Boehner wrote on this page about a proposal to reform the earmark process offered by Rep. Jeff Flake. While Mr. Boehner is suddenly talking about this idea, I was one of the first co-sponsors when it was introduced last spring.

The article can be found at The Spirit of 1994). It is well worth reading. Then send something to your GOP member - perhaps support for Shadegg's candidacy!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Is Ray Nagin really that stupid?

Yesterday at a commemoration of Dr. King, New Orleans mayor commented that the Big Easy will be a "chocolate" city again and that it was God's will for it to happen. No comment on his seems adequate.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Last Holiday

This afternoon we went to see the new version of Last Holiday. In the original Alec Guinness did a fine and understated job. In this one Queen Latifah does the same. I am constantly amazed at her versatility as an actress. In a bunch of different movies she seems to rise to the part. In the two movies out of Barber Shop, she played one character. In Bringing Down the House, a slightly different one. In Chicago she showed off both her singing and acting ability. In this one she is a bit frumpy at the start, a lonely, shy, single woman. As in the original - she gets diagnosed with a rare but fatal disease. If I remember Guinness' portrayal he dies in the end - but she does not. In all of her movies she has a graceful way of interacting with other people in the movie and in this one she does that well. The critics, for some reason, have not given this a strong response - but I liked it because the characters were engaging - the supporting cast is interesting (if a bit stylized) and the message is uplifting. It is an affirmation of good behavior. But not in a preachy way - it is very entertaining.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Blunt Glisters

Over the weekend Roy Blunt claimed victory in the fight for leadership. I don't have any inside knowledge but I would be surprised if he has locked up the necessary votes. There is just a bit too much glister here. (All that glisters is not gold.) The GOP would be foolish if it went such a traditional choice so easily. But we will have to wait until February 2 to see how silly they are.

Rough and Ready Days

This is a shot from a friend in Mexico who put it on his blog. We took him to Rough and Ready days a couple of years ago. It is a summer festival in the small town of Rough and Ready (the only city to Secede from the Union). The town claims 1500 residents - but that count is generous. The summer festival - to commemorate the actions during the Civil War includes a parade (it runs twice because it is not long enough if it only goes once) and food booths and all sorts of other community activities. It is in Nevada County and lots of fun.
In college I was one of those people who used Rough and Ready as an address, although I never lived there - it just sounded like a town I wanted to be from.
We had a good time that day. And Armando is actually a pretty good photographer. His flickr site is at Armando's Flickr SIte He works for a university in Xalapa, Mexico but is also in the process of starting a restaurant there. There are pictures of his new place on the site. It looks like a great place.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Leadership in the House of Representatives

On February 2, the House will vote on leadership. Clearly, we could do better. On the democratic side, we have Nancy Pelosi - a shrill liberal from California. In her vision, anything to the right of San Francisco is reactionary. Clearly, she represents what is wrong with the democratic party nationally (with Harry Reid and Howard Dean the party is in no shape to provide any guidance on any idea nationally). But the real fights are in the GOP.

Again, clearly something is drastically wrong. The role of K street, not just with Abramoff (all though he is bad enough) is too pervasive. That is shown by the role of set asides in almost every piece of legislation that is passed. Transportation bill, agriculture, energy bill - all loaded with narrow junk. Then there is the ability of former members to get on the floor at any time. A lot of retired members go up to K street. Why should they be allowed to go back on the floor when the House is conducting business? Then there is the open-ended junket problem - all sorts of interests can pick up a member and his staff fly then anywhere in the world for who knows what. In many cases the costs of the travel are required to be reimbursed but that is not enough. David Drier, the Chair of the Rules Committee, is working on a set of rules changes and when I heard him speak he at least had the right direction on many issues.

The real issue comes down to who is in charge. J.C. Watts, the former Oklahoma congressman, had a quip that the GOP became arrogant in 10 years while it took the dems almost 40 to do it. The leadership problems in the Congress are not just in this generation. Who can ever forget the Sleazer of the House - Jim (the booksalesman) Wright? The fight this time, comes down in part for one of the lesser positions to three people - John Boehner (Ohio), Roy Blunt (Missouri), and John Shadegg (Arizona). Boehner has been an interested chair in an area that I know something about (education). But he is a walking sign post for many of the things that are wrong with the Congress. He has a daughter that works for a subsidiary of the largest provider of student loans and a whole bunch of ties that look like conflicts of interest. Roy Blunt is Mr. set aside and the current majority leader. Neither of these guys seems like a likely candidate for change. Then there is John Shadegg. Yesterday a group of influential leaders from the blogosphere endorsed his candidacy.

I am not sure who the best candidate is. Clearly it is not Blunt or Boehner. What I am impressed about is a developing movement among some members to understand that some fundamental changes have to be considered and adopted. Dan Lungren, who is from the Sacramento area, and new this term (but has a lot of prior House experience) seems to be seeking out some new thoughts. He was an early opponent of set asides. He also has raised flags about his neighboring member (John Doolittle - who has the twin talents of being both sanctimonious and has a long and inglorious history of skating on the bounds of propriety - from his role in redistricting, to ties to Abramoff, to many things which are less visible). I am impressed with Dan's positions here. Hopefully, his positions will represent the new majority. If they do not, and if the GOP leadership does not recognize the genuine distrust of their position that is widespread around the country, then we might be blessed with a Pelosi speakership at the end of the year.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Alito Hearings

I listened to a couple of hours of the hearings yesterday while I was driving to and from Macworld. I was amused and perplexed. Biden and Kennedy were laughable or simply pathetic. Neither could seem to carry a thought to its natural conculsion. Biden was covered at radio blogger. - It is worth a listen! Schumer was Schumer; his parents should have taught him a bit of humility. But what got me about the hearings was not the quality of the questions, Alito seems up to the task of responding and looks to me like a pretty good judge. What got me was the odd and curious nature of the process. William Fulbright, an icon of an earlier democrat era, used to say the President should have the opportunity to appoint any "damn fool" he wants to. Not that the President should be given a pass - but the recognition that when a person is elected to the presidency he should have the opportunity to shape his appointments. But the opposition in this looks like petulant school children flailing at not being picked for dodge ball. There are good questions for any court nominee - but membership in a Princeton alum group with conservative leanings is probably not one of them. Biden's questions in this area were the worst. Hugh Hewitt had a very funny bit which contrasted his long and rambling question - expressing confusion - with a speech he gave a couple of years ago at Princeton. The process did not show the "world's greatest deliberative" body in a positive light.

Then this morning Durbin kicks it up a notch by commenting that Alito is a Springsteen fan. Does anyone else think this is funny? Are the minority thinking of bringing in Roseanne Roseannadanna? That would add a counterpoint of lucidity at this point.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Molly the Invincible


Molly and Me, originally uploaded by drtaxsacto.

This morning we had to put our dog of the last 10 1/2 years down. We've written about Molly before. She was a unique dog.

She actually chose us. In 1995 we decided to get a puppy. Emily was going to college and so we went out to West Sacramento to a place that had golden retreiver puppies. We sat on the front lawn and one of the little fur balls crawled up into Emily's lap. That was that.

She had a spirit that inspired me greatly. When she was a puppy she had two incidents with a skin problem that required her to be shaved clean. Both times she was a pathetic fur ball without fur. But she kept the spirit.

We took her to puppy obedience school and some rat bag dog snipped at her - so she was always cautious around other dogs. She and I began to do walks. I developed a new group of friends in the neighborhood who knew Molly and me but no one else. When others in the family walked her (when I was away) they were always asked where is Jon? She had an amusing habit of picking out one or two dogs that walked in the opposite circuit and being very fierce - except, of course, when she was off the leash.

She only learned one trick. That was to take a dog bone on her nose, flip it up and then catch it in her mouth. I tried other tricks but she simply refused. One was enough.

About five years ago we noticed a mass on her left rear leg. She began to limp and so we took her to UC Davis where they operated and then tried radiation to eliminate what turned out to a mast cell tumor. (very common in Goldens) The treatments took a lot out of her- both the surgery and the radiation. But as time kept going she began to recover. You could see her constantly trying to extend her walk a little bit each day.

Then last Spring she developed a limp in her front paw. We again tried a bunch of stuff and after a great deal of agony we again went to Davis and after a series of tests decided to amputate the leg. It was a sarcoma. The prognosis was not good but we decided that it was the best alternative. We visited her soon after the surgery. She wimpered and was in real pain. It was a horrible sight. We stayed with her for about an hour and then took her home the next day. When we left her the first night (only to come back the next day) she whined pitifully. The first night she was home she was clearly weak. She wimpered in pain - but constantly tried to show her spirit. But over the next several months she began to recover. We were able to go back to the dog park in our neighborhood.

Molly loved the dog park. She was adept before her surgery at catching a frisbee. Even after she lost the leg she would make a good attempt at playing frisbee. It was a good way for us to communicate. Even without one front paw she would occasionally make a heroic catch - leaping into the air to nab the frisbee. But what she really liked about the dog park was not that or the other dogs but introducing herself to all the other people at the park. People were really her main mission. Over the summer she slowed down a bit, became less interested in running but still loved to meet the people.

A couple of weeks ago she began to show a limp in the rear leg that she had had the mast cell on. We took her back to the vet. She recommended we do some incremental steps. But nothing seemed to work. Then last night about one am Pete noticed that the leg had broken. We took her to the emergency vet and found that her leg indeed had a compound fracture and more importantly that the leg looked like swiss cheese around the break. The vet in the emergency room said that looked like cancer.

So we took her home one last time. She slept in my home office again and I stayed with her to make sure she was comfortable. Then this morning we went back to her regular vet, confirmed the situation and decided that it was impossible to guarantee any quality of life for her.

Officially Molly was Peter's dog but she was really a member of the family. Each of had our roles with her. I walked her. Peter sneaked her biscuits each night. She also preferred to sleeep in his room. Quinlan took her to the vet most often. She was often Mason's protector. And Emily, even though she did not live here during Molly's tenure, was her occasional friend. All of us, except Emily who lives in LA, were with her when she expired. Jessica, Peter's fiance was there too. She ws always there for our important events. A constant warm presence whenever we came home regardless of the events of the day. She was always ready for a walk. When she decided that one of us was not paying enough attention she would nudgle up to that person and bring us back to the basics. She had a wonderful relationship with her vet. She was, except for today when she clearly was in pain, eager to go to the vet - it was another chance to see people - all sorts of people. And the vet and her staff loved Molly.

Molly was a wonderful part of our family. But what she taught us about spirit and love will stay with me forever.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Add one more

A few months ago I made the modest suggestion that we create an island where people like the entire Jackson family be confined so that we do not have to listen to their endless prattle. I suggested adding a lot of others - Cindy Sheehan for one. But then Pat Robertson comes up with what one commenter called the idiotarian perspective - when he commented that PM Sharon's stroke was an example of the wrath of God. That tops a series of statements of the same level of abstraction and thought that should consign this moron to his own island. Unless his kind of pronouncements would be enough to drive the others on the island nutty.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Pete and Me


IMG_6768.JPG, originally uploaded by drtaxsacto.

The smiley young man next to me is my son Peter. This was the second year in a row that we went to a national championship game. Pete is a real fan who also knows the game. One of the highlights of the game for us this year was the generosity of the fans next to us. When they learned that Peter is getting married in May, they all contributed their souvenier beer glasses to his glassware. By the end of the night he had a matched set of 10 high quality, unbreakable stemware.

Rose Bowl 2006


Rose Bowl 2006, originally uploaded by drtaxsacto.

Last night Pete and I went to the Rose Bowl. Needless to say, this is not the way the game ended. There were a couple of strange calls - especially an interception by SC late in the game that was called an incomplete pass. The Texas receiver looked, to me from the game and in the replays I saw, to have control of the football and thus was eligible to fumble.
I was struck however with two things. First, a good deal of the game was spent standing up. It was truly an exciting contest. I would have liked SC to win. But in addition to a couple of calls that I would have questioned there were a number of missed opportunities. It looked to me that the fourth down that we failed to convert should have been an opportunity for a short pass. But who knows whether that would have worked.

The second thing was the Texas fans. Last year at the Orange Bowl, the Sooners were insufferable. We got a lot of "you guys don't belong here" the night before in the bar. But this crowd was different. At halftime I was waiting to go to the head and a Texas fan was in front of me. We struck up a conversation and both of us ended with - this is a hell of a game and we hope our team wins - but it is a hell of a game. As we walked out, several Texas fans said something like nice game.

Who knows where SC will be next year? LenDale White certainly showed he is going to be a good force. So did a couple of other players. So, we wait until next fall to see. But it was a hell of a game.