Friday, June 29, 2007

IVB and Nutzpah

Investor's Business Daily coined a new word today which combines a common equivalent for crazy with "Chutzpah" - and its' first appellation was to Jimmy Carter for a speech he gave in Dublin which does not deserve to be covered. Carter's speech evidenced "nutzpah" - combining strident and hurtful rhetoric with some quite silly notions. Perhaps that might properly be applied to the former president whenever he speaks, it would just simplify things.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Seeming Common Sense

The San Jose State poll released numbers yesterday which might surprise some people in the political class.

On the proposed term limits proposal - which would reduce the overall time that any politician can spend in the legislature but would allow a small group of legislators to extend their terms - the voters seem to support (based on the notion that it will shorten the time that legislators can spend in the job of being a politician even if they can spend it all in one house). The margin is not entirely comforting to the measure's supporters - 56% with a +/- of 3.9%. Generally a measure tends to lose support as things progress so the margin may be a bit close.

The people were read the following statement, which pretty accurately reflects the proposal - “Reduces the total amount of time a person may serve in the state legislature from 14 years to 12 years. Allows a person to serve a total of 12 years either in the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination of both. Provides a transition period to allow current members to serve a total of 12 consecutive years in the house in which they are currently serving, regardless of any prior
service in another house.”

On granting a path to legal status for people who came into the country illegally - support is running well above 50% - with, not surprisingly Democrats and Latinos more heavily supporting the idea. But surprisingly 45% of the GOP poll responders support the notion. In the end that is pretty good. Rates of support have varied from 50-63% over the last several polls. One might wish that the politicians who want to demagogue this on both sides would listen to the voters a bit more.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

News as Advocacy

The Washington Post today led a story with the following - "President Bush has company at the bottom of the polls: The Democratic-led Congress is nearly as unpopular as he is. But look district by district, and the picture brightens for the new majority party. The first comprehensive survey of 2008 battleground House seats shows Democrats holding a distinct edge."

The latest polling on the President indeed shows his numbers are pretty much in the dumper - with Newsweek at 26%, Gallup at 32% and NBC/WSJ at 28%. The same NBC/WSJ poll shows that 48% of the voters think they need a new member of congress. The Real Clear Politics average for the President is a whopping 31.1% positive. But wait Congress' number is almost six points below that at 25.2%. So the term "nearly as unpopular" seems a bit off the mark. Disapproval numbers are also higher for Congress but only by a smidge - 63.8% to 64%.

But then you come to the clincher in the final paragraph of the page AO2 story it comes from the Democracy Corps a group run by James Carville and Stan Greenberg - two democrat operatives. The final paragraph sums up the story - "The Democracy Corps analysis included a big caveat: To capture additional districts, the Democratic Congress must show significant results, both in pressing the White House for a change of course in Iraq and in addressing domestic issues that voters care about. "These are both the best of times and challenging times for the Democrats," the memo concluded." I guess the Post believes that Carville and Greenberg's own press machine was not enough to get the word out.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

An Update

When the Rivercats had their luncheon with the players, we sat next to a young man named Lloyd Turner. I made a comment that he was a reason for hope in baseball. He was well spoken and had a lot of desire. The night before that event (May 18) he made a superb catch in the outfield - a diving effort where he landed on his catching arm but still kept control of the ball. When we had lunch with him he still had a bit of numbness in his hand. For the last month we have not seen much of him except as a pinch runner (he has great base speed) and as a first base line coach.

Yesterday he got sent back down to the Stockton Ports (the A's Single A franchise). That is one of the realities of minor league baseball - at the same time several Rivercats have been moved up to the bigs. There are now 5 players on the Cats roster who were there on opening day. Since the start of the season there have been 94 moves on the roster. Let's hope we see this young man back and then that he achieves his dream of getting to the majors.

Ron Flores, by the way, who seems to have earned a spot on the A's roster continues to do well with a 1.29 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 14 innings since he was called up. (The photo of Flores is from two seasons ago when he was literally giving me the shirt off his back for a charity fundraiser.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Contact with Reality

In 1936, soon after California adopted its first income tax a group of people from the movie industry sponsored an initiative to eliminate the hated tax. One of their arguments against the tax was that it would reduce employment in the state. (And indeed there is some credible evidence that some income taxes can reduce some employment.) But they then went on to guild their arguments a bit. They suggested that employment would be most reduced for "cooks, drivers and maids" for the swells in the industry. That suggested that the movie people were a bit out of touch with the rest of the state during the middle of the depression.

NBC/Universal's general counsel Rick Cotton seems to have taken a page out of that book when he argued recently that "In the absence of movie piracy, video retailers would sell and rent more titles. Movie theatres would sell more tickets and popcorn. Corn growers would earn greater profits and buy more farm equipment." The only thing missing from his comments is the laugh track.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The California Bluegrass Association Father's Day Festival

Jack and Molly Tuttle
Originally uploaded by drtaxsacto
Over the weekend we went to the CBA Father's Day weekend. As usual it had a great group of performers - we missed Rhonda Vincent and the Rage but did see Dale McCoury and Monroe Crossing and Country Current, and Dale Ann Bradley and the Jaybirds and.... you get the idea. Each performer has a chance to perform at least twice - so you get a good chance to see them.

The first we saw is a young lady from SF named Molly Tuttle. Quite frankly Molly's voice needs a bit of maturing. But here musicianship is well beyond her years. She is a great banjo player and has all the tools to be a really wonderful performer.

The festival is great because it is low key - music in the pines, relaxed and wonderful.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Today in History

Today my wife is retiring as an elementary school teacher after 39 years (32 in the same district). As I have thought about her career there are some contrasts that are important. During her career she has always chosen to work in districts where a large number of children are disadvantaged. At a couple of points in her career, she had the opportunity to either move out of that environment and into a more wealthy district or into administration - but she chose to stay with the children who needed her.

The district she is retiring from is an interesting one. It is in an area of our region that has a lot of immigrants. Thus, over the years she has seen waves of people coming into the district until they get enough resources to move to a better area. It is also a group of relatively low performing schools. The district has been plagued with low test scores and thus over the last couple of years made some changes which are more bureaucratic than helpful. The changes often overlooked truly creative teaching for a standardization that is mind-numbing for both the teachers and the students. No wonder that scores are not improving.

This year her principal was replaced with a young woman who has no teaching experience. She has the "multi-culti" language down pat. She also can babble on about leadership. The problem is that she seems to demonstrate little understanding about the real needs of children or of the genuine requirement for all leaders to inspire. The best principals I have noticed over time become the school - they are constantly visible. This amateur thinks that leadership comes from directives and meetings.

At the beginning of the school year my wife's district offered a retirement incentive and she took it in a flash. The current environment which is conditioned by the district's formulaic approach to achievement and the inexperienced principal gave her the incentive to leave the kids she loved.

That comes to my final point. There is a distinction that I like a lot between bureaucrats and professionals. Bureaucrats try to do things right, professionals try to do the right thing - my wife is a great example of a professional.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Media Styles then and now.....

On Tuesday two events happened which typify some significant changes in the setting for the media. First, Don Herbert, better known to a couple of generations of kids as Mr. Wizard, died. Herbert had trained to be a teacher but was attracted to the new medium of television to mix an interest in acting with an underlying gift to help young people understand science. He started on a Chicago TV station. The image you see of him is a good representation. Each week he would begin his show with a trick of science - something that did not make sense or surprised one. Then with the help of an audience of children he would explain the issue using concise and clear explanations. In short he saw his job as a teacher and he did it very well.

Also on Tuesday, Michael Moore, movie producer came to Sacramento to push legislation on universal health care. Moore has also used the media successfully. Over the last two decades he has done a series of "documentaries" beginning with a somewhat humorous Roger and Me which presented one person's opinion about closing the Flint plant of GM. He went on to do a couple of more movies, meant not to present an issue in Mr. Wizard's style of objectivity but with a clear ideological bias. His current project, Sicko, is like the rest of his work - heavily ideological and unwilling to even admit an alternative point of view.

In one sense, the Mr. Wizard media hero of the 1950s was understated. He made his point by the sheer force of his logic and his commitment to use the media as an instructional device. Moore, like his weight, is a bit over the top. Never mind that each of his documentaries is constructed to make a political point with little regard for the facts. Moore's "teaching" style is nothing but heavy handed. Herbert's style was to inspire, Moore's seems to be to incite.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Musical Choice

I have become a big fan of iTunes. As noted in an earlier post, some people think the model (purchase versus rent) is wrong but there is another issue in the model that I think is more important. On Saturday I was in Barnes and Noble buying a present for a new grand nephew. I stopped in the record shop and bought a CD of some bluegrass performers. I know the group and thought it would be a good addition to my collection. It turned out to be a disappointment. The album had a couple of songs that I really liked but several that I did not.

On Sunday, I was looking around iTunes and sampled an artist named Cathy Fink - who plays banjo in traditional styles. She had several albums on the site and I spent a couple of minutes listening to samples of her work, decided I liked it and purchased a couple of her albums. A the same time I also purchased one song from another group without having to purchase the entire album. That model seems a lot better than the hit and miss of purchase in a record store. I realize that B&N allows some sampling of some albums but the iTunes model allows that for all the music on the site.

Important News

"I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26 years old, and that act is no longer cute, It is not who I am, nor do I want to be that person for the young girls who looked up to me." Those were the words of Paris Hilton from the slammer talking to ABC. I am not sure about the reference to "young girls looking up to her" but the more important question is what if her shenanigans are not an act (if she really is that stupid)? The mind boggles. But regardless, I believe most people have gotten to the point that they don't care whether Ms. Hilton is dumb or smart rather they care that she simply disappear from our consciousness.

The self induced frenzy from these kinds of stories is annoying. I have hesitated to even comment on the AP story - but I could not resist. The media made me do it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wharton and Apple

For the past couple of weeks I have been listening to the Wharton podcast. In short order a professor of marketing made some pretty outrageous claims. For example, he spent one podcast trashing the iPhone. His claims seemed to have taken all of the negatives of this yet to be released product and ignored all of the potential positives. For example, he said few people will want to buy a phone that is between $500 and $600 - although there is plenty of evidence that there is a pretty strong market for these devices. A look at a couple of AT&T stores over the weekend suggest that the good professor should have done a bit more looking around. The proof of the iPhone will become more clear in the next couple of weeks - after the June 29 announcement. There are rumors that Apple will either have something in the range of 3 million units by the end of the year - or a shortage. There is also a lot of speculation about whether the claims that were originally made about the product will be sustained.

A lot of the focus has been on the internet feature of the phone. While techies argue about the goodness of 2.5G and 3G technology and whether Edge is fast enough - the real question should be will the first generation of technology be slick enough to satisfy those who will pay the initial fee. AT&T has been mum about the service cost for this phone - but it is likely to be based on some phone charges and also then a data plan. There will also likely be some alternatives to the iPhone - but in a column last week by Walter Mossberg - none of the ones he looked at seemed to fill the same need.

In another podcast the same professor suggested that iTunes is a lousy model. He argued that the subscription services were the model for selling music in the future. There is a press story which makes a bit more sense than his argument (which at least based on current market data contradicts the professor's line of reason) in Appleinsider today. At the Worldwide developers Conference which starts tomorrow there is a rumor that by the end of the summer Apple will begin offering a rental service for movies which can be obtained over the net. The article claims that Apple believes that the markets between music and film are different. Music is something that people want to own while movies are watched a couple of times and then not seen again. The service would charge something like $3 per movie to use them for 30 days. The download could be put on one other device (using a digital rights managment system). That sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

It is unclear what this new service would do to the current Apple sales effort for movies. The larger potential market would seem to be for the rental system but who knows?

The podcast from Wharton is one of the ones that so far has been disappointing. With commentary like Professor Faber's and some equally odd commentary on politics which was a bit absurd.

The podcast market is a quickly evolving one. Like any other information market, there will be a lot of variation in quality. But as the market expands there will also be two things happening. First, the range of offerings, at least initially, will continue to grow. Second, the best podcasts will continue to develop and adapt to the market.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


This afternoon I was driving to a meeting in San Francisco and listening to the Rivercats final game against Round Rock. They had lost three interesting but disappointing games and were in danger of losing their first series by a sweep. As I got closer to SF - the radio signal got weaker and right when the signal went out - Round Rock's Jesse Garcia got a solo homer to move them into the lead in the top of the 12th. Then the signal went out. But in the bottom of the 12th this team which has shown some good heart early in the season started off with a Dee Brown single and then a homer by Kevin Mellilo to win the game. The picture here is from an earlier game but Kevin deserves the credit. Reading the dry summary is not as good as hearing Johnny Doskow tell the story - but I will take the win!

The Cats have a day off and then start a four game series in Tuscon and then a three in Fresno before returning to Sacramento for the Father's day weekend.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Petty Crime

In today's edition of USA today there is an article about a guy named Jeff Scalf. His grandmother was John Dillinger's half sister. He seems to be trying to extort money from a little town in Iowa based on an Indiana law which allows "family" members to exploit the name of Dillinger (and other remote family members to exploint the name of their famous "ancestors") for 100 years after their (the famous person's death).

Mason City Iowa was the site of one of Mr. Dillinger's bank robberies in 1934, where the petty thug who was gunned down later that year at Chicago's Biograph theater, and so they, by any rights, should have an equal claim to use Dillinger's name in commemorating the robbery as the grandson of a half sister who never met Mr. Dillinger - at least Mason City met the guy. The law has also been responsible for closing down a small museum in Hammond, Indiana about Dillinger. Since when should this kind of law be applicable to a museum? This is just nonsense. Dillinger's entire career lasted about two years and this low life wants to try to exploit it until 2034.

Dillinger was a minor footnote to history. His semi-relatives should not have a claim on his name. Were there real justice here the law would stay on the books but Mr. Scalf would be required to pay restitution to all the places that Dillinger terrorized. That sounds like a fair trade.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

What makes minor league baseball interesting?

Rivercats #1 Fan
Originally uploaded by drtaxsacto
The photo is from a greeter who meets every fan coming into the right field gate of Raley Field. He simply refers to himself as the Number One Fan. He is consistently optimistic and high fives everyone coming through that entrance.

You then get to the discount supplies guy. He has a temporary stand which sells water and red ropes and sunflower seeds at a discounted price to the price in the stadium. (Yes, he wears a Raley Field badge and no he is not competing against the stadium.)

Then there is the hot dog cannon. Sometime during the game a truck comes out an shoots wrapped hotdogs to the fans. That is coupled with a whole host of other gimmicks (the Knock-Knock teeshirt, Roofman, Pop Fly payoff, etc.). Some of them are dumb - one called Who's in the can - has a fan guess who is in a portapotty. I am not sure who thought that one up. But a lot of them are just plain fun. There are the lawn seats - which our grandson seems to like a lot - mostly because he can roll down the hill. But what each of these parks tries to do is create an ambience. In one minor league park in New Orleans - there were pitchers of beer (plastic so you could take it to your seat) and cajun food. In another there were handouts of local candy. So there are a lot of things to entertain in addition to the baseball.

A key principle here is the players - who are not infused with the attitude that infects many major leaguers. There is a good mix of players who want to go to the "show" combined with those who have had their nights in the lights and a finishing out a career. So while the average age is young, there is a certain maturity in the game.

What is the definition of a great game in Baseball?

Last night we took a friend and his family to a Rivercats game which had all of the following characteristics -

A grand slam by a Rivercat, plus a couple of other home runs.
A dispute at the plate - where we won the ruling - during a crucial play. (By the way we should have won the ruling). A Round Rock Express player tried to come into home on a foul ball and was called back. (The shot is of the umpires conferring with the Round Rock manager to explain their ruling.)
The game went into extra innings (11) and there were a couple of opportunities for each team to break out of the tie.
A whole host of other great defensive plays.
and a couple of flubs.

The Rivercats lost the game but it was still lots of fun.

Our friend brought his two young kids (a kindergartener and a second grader) and they seemed engaged for all of the game.

The only difference that would have made the great game perfect was to reverse the score. The Cats are still playing well.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The utility of pulpits and conference tables in public policy

One of the issues that those of us interested in public policy need to grapple with is the differences in utility between a pulpit and a conference table in the advancing new ideas. A pulpit is great for transmitting ideas but not very good to recognize the nuances between issues and positions. A conference table is a much better place for that.

But both sides of most debates in the public arena seem more intent on using the pulpit rather than the conference table. The pulpit degrades our public discourse and puts us in the unenviable position of not being able to search for the best kinds of solutions. Wasn't that why we formed our representative system in the first place? We'd be a lot closer to thinking out issues from Iraq to Immigration if our public officials just relied on a different piece of furniture.