Thursday, January 31, 2008

A conservative dilemma

The Image really has not much to do with this post but I liked it. Now down to four candidates for President. (Assuming that you do not think that the Hucksterbee is actually viable and that Ron Paul is not going to be in the final mix.) Start with at least 10 premises. #1 - The economic policies of the last couple of decades (which with some exception for the Clinton years) have been generally positive those have included an expanded attention to the benefits of decreasing impediments to widened trade; #2 A lot of political actors talk too much about rights - there is not a right to health care or affordable housing or avoiding crazed chipmunks - and by being too loose about the definition of a right we lose their essential character; #3 - Some understanding that high tax rates and complexity can inhibit economic growth; #4 - A recognition that the ability of government to successfully solve problems in many areas is quite limited and that many definitions in government are so loose as to be unusable - thus making it often impossible to judge successes and failures; #5 - A recognition that in one area, noticeably responding to the threat of radical Islam, we need to be proactive in our policies; #6 - An understanding that sound conservation policy should not include radical regulatory policies to "protect" the environment but that we need to be concerned about how we use resources; #7 - An understanding that the "immigration" problem will not be solved either by completely open borders nor by building a fence; #8 - A recognition that opportunities in society should be offered to the broadest range of people, but that goal is thwarted by quotas and other numeric policies; #9 - An understanding that an educated population is an asset but that many policies of the government including No Child Left Behind and even some higher education policies are not contributing to improving the educational levels of our population and finally #10 - that politicians often act only in their self interest. Those set me up as a conservative.

But as I look at the remaining candidates each has both some possibilities and some major flaws. I am not into the debate on the GOP side about RINOs (Republican in Name Only) and wonder why there is not a similar debate on the Democrat side (DINOs).

Clinton is, IMHO, is a strange mix. There are several issues that bother me. In her most recent set of ads she claims "35 years of experience." That claim is an example of her willingness to do or say anything to get elected. As I have noted in a previous post a lot of her experience came about not because of her individual merit but because who she was married to. Some of it was downright lousy experience - the way she ran the health task force or the travel office firings suggests an inability to listen well. But equally troubling is her claim. She graduated from Yale Law School sometime in 1973, presumably that would make her claim about 35 years a bit dubious - but the long number is to compare herself to Obama's relatively short national exposure. The Clintons, regardless of whether you support them or not, have a pretty clear record of some very questionable behavior and a willingness to stretch the truth in Arkansas and Washington. Obama has both some good ideas and some very bad ones - for example I think his Iraq proposal would be a disaster but his health one is more thoughtful than Clinton's. His dogmatic reliance on stuffing more taxes on the "rich" ignores the negative potential effects both in terms of revenue generated and in the potential hit to economic activity. His legislative experience, counting his time in the Illinois legislature and the Senate, is actually longer than Clintons - although I am not convinced that either gives us a clear understanding of his abilities to lead on an executive level. I am worried about having a Carteresque reflux although he (Obama) is a good to great speaker. The last rookie we had as president was a disaster.

On the GOP side, a simple comparison of those ten premises would argue that I would prefer either candidate to either democrat. But I am concerned about Romney's glibness. I listen to him talk and wonder what he might say to a different audience. His changes from his role as a governor and his role as a candidate bother me. But McCain is equally troubling. Two things especially concern me. McCain seems to have a rigid streak where he prefers to lecture his opponents - his dogmatic support for his campaign finance law (which has done nothing but increase complexity and allow independent groups free reign) and stances like his opposition to drilling in ANWR under any circumstances suggest an aversion to pragmatism. I can understand, although I am not sure I agree with, his joining the Gang of 14 on judicial nominations. That move may prove positive if the dems increase their fraction in the senate and either Obama or Clinton wins in November. McCain's propensity to lapse into populist twaddle also concerns me. His attack on Romney's role in the debate is good rhetoric for a populist but lousy economics. Romney who seems to have legitimate executive experience was characterized by Senator McCain as a corporate raider in language that would have made Edwards absolutely giddy.

Surprisingly, as noted in an earlier post, depending on what happens over the next couple of months, I could vote for Clinton or McCain. But at this point I still suffer from electile dysfunction - I cannot get excited about any candidate.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Ok, so Hillary won the no account democrat primary. But the real news was McCain in the GOP primary - he won by a solid 5 points over Romney. I liked Giuliani (the best line for his came when one wag said all of the sentences by Rudy contained a noun, a verb and 9/11 - but he was actually a lot more). Supposedly Rudy will endorse McCain in the morning. That leaves Romney and Hucksterbee and McCain. Next Tuesday will tell the tale. California, New Jersey and New York seem to be in the McCain camp (which I will eventually evolve to - simply because I am not excited about Romney and am downright unrespectful of Hucksterbee.

The other story of the night was a false one. The AP carried a hodgepodge story about talk radio hosts and them losing control of their medium. It quoted Michael Medved, who is a McCain supporter, as saying the big loser in the primaries so far has been talk radio. It then went on to describe how Limbaugh and Hewitt and Ingram have made consistently negative comments on the front runner. The clear implication of the story was that all including Medved were aghast at the prospect of a McCain nomination. Indeed, it seems that some of them would be terribly bothered by that nomination. I have commented before about the odd role of Hewitt as a Romney tout - I wonder what he will say Wednesday about the significant loss by Romney in Florida. But the real story is a lot less than the AP one - Hewitt - who seems to be one of the most vocal McCain bashers has repeatedly said he will support McCain if he is nominated. Who knows what Ingram will do? More importantly, who cares? On our local conservative talk station the lineup of hosts went like this - Ingram (who knows), Prager (Giuliani), Medved (McCain), Hewitt (Romney) and Gallagher (Giuliani). I am not sure what that says about the state of talk radio besides it is not monolithic.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Irony revealed

One of the fun things about this election (and there are a few) has been the creative use of the internet. The Slate site video compares Clinton's campaign to that of an obscure 1999 movie called election that starred Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. The premise of the movie was the interplay between a high school teacher who runs student government and a driven student who wants to become student body president at whatever cost. The comparison to Clinton's campaign could not be more apt. The interplay of the video between the movie clips and actual election coverage is wonderful. But I was struck with one quote taken directly from the (real life) candidate. Hillary, in one clip says "I'm not just running on the promise of change, I'm running on 35 years of change."

It is odd when a candidate gets caught up in the moment like that - I'm the candidate of change because I have 35 years of being a key part of the establishment. That is not to say that other candidates don't engage in their own flights of folly, indeed they do. On a day when the Clinton campaign is seeking (according to the NYT) a "kinder,gentler" role for Mr. Clinton (because his bellicose role in South Carolina may have shed some voters, this video was delicious in its irony.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

An exchange on exchange....

I have a friend who sends me lots of emails - some very funny and some very topical. This is an exchange that began yesterday about economics.

On Jan 26, 2008, at 2:16 AM, Sue ********* wrote:

Subject: Made in America
Joe Smith started the day early having set his alarm clock (MADE IN JAPAN) for 6am. While his coffeepot(MADE IN CHINA) was perking, he shaved with his electric razor (MADE IN HONG KONG). He put on a dress shirt (MADE IN SRI LANKA), designer jeans(MADE IN SINGAPORE) and tennis shoes (MADE IN KOREA). After cooking his breakfast in his new electric skillet(MADE IN INDIA) he sat down with his calculator (MADE IN MEXICO) to see how much he could spend today. After setting his watch (MADE IN TAIWAN) to the radio (MADE IN INDIA) he got in his car (MADE IN GERMANY) filled it with GAS (fromSaudi Arabia) and continued his search for a good paying AMERICAN JOB. At the end of yet another discouraging and fruitless day checking his Computer (Made In Malaysia) (with tech support in INDIA), Joe decided to relax for a while. He put on his sandals (MADE IN BRAZIL) poured himself a glass of wine (MADE IN FRANCE) and turned on his TV (MADE IN INDONESIA), and then wondered why he can't find a good paying job in..AMERICA....

Here is my reply ----
Sue -
I must take issue with this one. Indeed all of those products are made somewhere else - but the fundamental reality today is that most all of those products that Joe Smith used have one of two characteristics - a physical and an intellectual one. On the one hand - the designer jeans (Made in Singapore - actually probably not at this point because Singapore's textile industry has probably moved) were probably designed in California. Forty years ago New York was the fashion capitol of the world - now about a quarter of all fashion design is done in California. The real value in those jeans is not in the cloth and zipper but in the design. That is ditto for the car and watch and TV. The products have a physical value (the cloth or the computer chips or the engines) and the intellectual component (the idea that make the jeans look good and the car go fast).

Think about one product the story does not mention,"Joe Smith" talking on his iPhone. The iPhone is constructed in China, made of parts from all over the world. It now costs about $400 - but the component parts of the device are worth only about $100. The real value of the phone is in its technology. A good confirmation of that idea is whether you can tell me what Apple does and what Foxcon does. (Foxcon is one of the assemblers of the iPhone). In an NYT article in June of last year Hal Varian explained in detail how the iPod value chain works - it is complex

Finally, and this is the most important part. When you ate your breakfast this morning did you only eat cereal, milk and fruit grown in Placerville? Of course not. Was it only from California? Probably, of course not. Did it hurt you to not consume only locally grown food? Ultimately, there are two concepts here - comparative advantage and division of labor. In economics a key concept suggests that even if I can grow better apples and oranges than you can - if you can grow pretty good apples and by having me quit growing them we will get superb oranges - then it is better for me to specialize in what I do best (comparative advantage) and it will always be better to assure that each of us is not forced to do everything. Think of how very poor Joe Smith would be if he grew all his own food and made all his own products and clothing.

Economics starts from one of two premises either the notion of scarcity or the notion of mutual benefits from exchange. My brand of economics begins from that second premise. In my opinion it is a lot more relevant to think about the ideas that drive markets. Does that mean we should not produce anything physical - no of course not. But I certainly did not worry that I was able to have raspberries from Chile this morning for breakfast. Jose (the Chilean farmer who grew them) is better off because he has a wider market for his product and I am better off because I can have a fruit that I associate with summer in the middle of the winter. It sure takes away my winter blues and both of us are better off by a lot.

I'm worried in this election cycle that a good many people are convinced by the nonsense of the story about "Joe Smith" and don't bother to think about the great things that come to us from more vigorous exchange. In the late 1950s Leonard Reed wrote something called I,Pencil which describes the trail of production that a pencil takes. The miracle of market coordination is something we should all appreciate. The Joe Smith story is typical of the mentality of commentators like Lou Dobbs who try to portray some market knowledge but rely on xenophobic nonsense of one market. It is too bad that more people don't question those absurd assumptions.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Narrowing the Fields

This week Dennis Kucinich and Fred Thompson left the field of presidential candidates. One wonders why Kucinich ever entered. Kucinich was like Ron Paul, a fringe candidate, although from his perspective the nutter left. Thompson, for many of us, was a breath of fresh air. One has to have a certain amount of respect for the (bizarre) process of nominations even though it probably does not deserve it. Thompson never seemed to catch on. Part of his problem, although he had some very good ideas, was that he avoided the first part of the campaign. The drop in Giuliani's support in the GOP seems to indicate that his wait and see strategy also has not been successful. If he does poorly in Florida I expect he will also join the also rans.

In the next few weeks Edwards should also leave, although the unions that are backing him may want to keep him in. The $400 Haircut Hypocrite should have dropped out weeks ago but the union money is propping him up. Ron Paul is not likely to leave and perhaps is destined for a third party run.

I have two other concerns at this point. On the Democrat side of the ledger, I hope Obama knows what he is in for. As the Clinton juggernaut tries to envelope him, he should be wary. They will do and say anything to advance Hillary's campaign. I thought his performance in the debate earlier in the week showed his true mettle. On the GOP side, I am concerned that the choices will devolve to McCain, Romney and the Hucksterbee. None of those would be my first choice and Hucksterbee is a person for whom I could not vote.

In my opinion the changes in the nomination process have not brought us the best range of candidates at a very time when we could use them.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Phil Specter's Initiative

In 1958 the only hit of Phil Specter's first singing group, the Teddy Bears, was "To Know, Know, Know Him, is to Love, Love, Love Him." On the February 5 ballot is a proposition which seems to have worked in the opposite way. The polling on Proposition 93 suggests that the more the voters get to know the proposition, the more they hate it. A month ago when about a quarter of the voters had heard about it, the Proposition was barely passing. Now two thirds know something about it and the positive side has dropped eleven points to less than forty percent.

Proposition 93 proposes to change the California term limits law which currently allows three terms in the lower house and two in the upper, for a total of 14 years. The measure would allow a legislator to serve only twelve years but serve all of them in one house. In a classic demonstration of political Rent Seeking, the authors added a self-serving kicker that extends their personal term limits well beyond the current standard of fourteen years. Opponents have pointed that delightful addition out and as voters realize that poison pill they are increasingly rejecting it. There might be a very good reason for changing the term limits to increase expertise in the legislature but the kicker is normal political BS.

The proposition had one other problem created for it. Our governor wants his proposal for a change in the health care system and so even though term limits is like a Rosetta Stone of mantras for republicans, he has made some ads to support the measure. Opponents have also pointed out that "tit for tat" stance, which has also weakened support. Dems and non-partisans are more inclined to vote for the thing. But the GOP support has dropped from 56% to 38%. One other interesting thing about the poll - the Governor may over estimate his influence. About 70% of the voters say his comments have no effect on their opinions about the measure.

Perhaps, as Specter awaits his next trial they could get him to come out in favor of the measure. That might really seal the deal.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sometimes Consensus is Not What We Want

In the last few days we have had a remarkable consensus develop at the national level. Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and George Bush seem hellbent to create a stimulus package to resolve the economic "crisis" facing the country. Remember this is the same group of politicians who a month ago seemed in permanent divergence. Excuse me if I am a bit skeptical.

There are at least three reasons why I am bothered by this new policy comity (no I did not misspell here):

1) Until you understand what the problem is it is probably not a good idea to devise a solution.
The financial markets in the last several sessions have been in a tizzy but besides the mundane explanations that we've heard about the mortgage meltdown, it is unclear why they have been in this state. Today's session was a good example - for the first time in several days we ended with an up session but in mid-day the session was down by an almost equal amount. There are a lot of things to be jittery about but there are also some good signs. There are lots of possible explanations about what we should be paying attention to - the housing meltdown, the disruption in the commodities markets by increasing demand from developing nations, terrorism, and many others. Until you understand the source it is hard to figure out a workable solution.

2) The evidence is that most stimulus packages are either too little too late or more likely too much too late.
In the last 24 months we have brought down the federal deficit through some growth, some tax revenue growth and some restraint (mostly the first two). Unemployment and inflation are in pretty good shape. There are some deep pockets of housing foreclosures but as you look at the map - those are localized. All of the talk contemplates a generalized response.

In addition, the politicians have not thought enough (new thing!) about whether the existing responses have begun to turn the trend (whatever the trend is). The first jolt was the Fed's panicked reaction on rates yesterday. The initial response of the markets was that it was not enough - although calmer heads seem to have begun to prevail. But the risk that Congress will take this Spring Christmas package and ornament it up are enormous. If Congress can act quickly then the infusion of $150 billion into a $13+ trillion economy might have a small effect but it is more likely to have an effect on the government - which will momentarily run up the deficit numbers. But the politicians think this will be a feather in their cap - so it does have some rent seeking benefits, at least to them that proposes it.

3) What George WIll originally described as "economic hypochondria" is something we should be wary of.
Warren Buffett has a great analogy that he has used in his annual reports for Berkshire Hathaway called "Mr. Market." (It is also presented in legendary Columbia finance professor Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor.) There are several places on the net that describe this idea. Here is one from Wikipedia- Mr. Market is "an obliging fellow who turns up every day at the share holder's door offering to buy or sell his shares at a different price. Often, the price quoted by Mr. Market seems plausible, but sometimes it is ridiculous. The investor is free to either agree with his quoted price and trade with him, or to ignore him completely. Mr. Market doesn't mind this, and will be back the following day to quote another price. The point is that the investor should not regard the whims of Mr. Market as determining the value of the shares that the investor owns. He should profit from market folly rather than participate in it. "

One of the significant dangers of the 24/7 news cycle is that all of the financial commentators believe they need to fill the time. So we get a seeming broad array of commentators who actually listen to a small number of sources. Thus, while there are differences between Lou Dobbs and Jim Cramer - to take two extremes - both are centered on a New York point of view. So we have constant data but not more useful information.

For my money, caution is important here. When was the last time you had a politician start with that principle?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Follow Up on Thin

Apple Insider published a comparative chart which I found very useful that went beyond my post yesterday. Note the one difference is in price where the Solid State component of the Air adds a lot to the price.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Apple Insider posted pictures of the Japanese unveiling of the new Macbook Air. The picture compares the Sony VAIO SZ with the Air. The Sony starts out with an 80 Gig drive and one gig or ram. It weighs a third more than the Air. It also comes with the equivalent of a super drive. You can also get a faster rated chip - and for additional cost you can get more ram. The two devices sell for about the same price in their standard configuration. The Air has double the memory but its only drive option is one size - 80 gigs. (Unless you go for the solid state device). One small addition I have discovered is a USB-Ethernet connector - which looks like the Apple USB modem - very small. I ordered that for mine - because there are times when Wireless is not available of practical. Both claim 5 hours of battery life.

The Vaio can also add hard disk space - probably degrading the amount of time that the machine can be used without power. And if you want the solid state device on the Mac - add about $1000 to the price. I am still struck with how the Apple engineer got me to think about a laptop - use the "cloud" - and so all that extra stuff on the Vaio is just a) more cost and b) not necessary.

The photo here says it all. But the comparison is interesting. I would choose the lighter machine (I did) but it will take a bit of conceptual changing from the way I have used laptops for the last 10 years.

How to reduce college costs

When the Congress comes back to work (about the time of the Super Tuesday Primary) they will begin the final process for considering the reauthorization of the higher education act. One of the key elements of this reauthorization has been college costs. Many members of congress have argued that college costs are out of control. I served on a congressionally established commission to study the issue. Like many other congressional ideas it was an odd amalgam. It required the commission to complete its work in 120 days. We worked hard and produced a pretty credible report which argued a couple of points. First, the issue of why college costs what it does is complex, and it is. Second, colleges are not structured in a way to look at costs carefully. Third, we argued that some common terminology and methodology would help clarify the situation. And almost immediately the National Association of College and University Business Officers developed a methodology to estimate the cost of an undergraduate education. Finally, we argued that the rich diversity of American higher education was an important quality to maintain. The Economist a few years later in one of their periodic surveys on an issue argued that the strength of the American system was that it was not a system.

So how do the chambers do on reducing college cost in this bill? Perhaps the best demonstration is their new requirements for reporting things. The US Senate adds more than 150 new reporting requirements, while the House adds almost 190. Each of these will require some diversion from the activity of teaching and learning to reporting. The new requirements ask for reports on college costs, campus safety, student results, financial aid issues and a host of other things. What that ultimately does to college costs is obvious to anyone but a member of congress.

Perhaps before the next reauthorization, which should come around in five years but based on this experience might take a lot longer, university officials could take some time with members of congress to think carefully about a set of information that would be useful but not intrusive. Many colleges are reluctant to even tell the good news about what they do. And many politicians believe that a spoonful of reporting makes everything right. Neither is correct.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I was there yesterday and even got to sit in on a remote of the Keynote. Here is what I saw:

#1 - The Air is really great! Look at the Address on the Apple site - Jobs played this up quite well. He pulled pulled the new Air out of an interoffice envelope. The first ad on the thing also uses that as a visual device. When you see it up close it is even more impressive. The solid state memory is very expensive but I expect it will increase battery life by a lot. The engineering is classic Apple. The battery is sealed which I am sure will get some people chattering. It is not a problem but some people will comment. The screen is well done. I also liked the keyboard and the touch pad. Mine will not come until mid-February. To use this you will have to begin to think about laptops differently. In the last few months, with 12,000 photos on my hard disk, my performance has declined. I spoke to an Apple engineer yesterday and he suggested that I need to think about what I need now and then put all the rest of it in the "cloud" - that sounds right to me. Key software and key files - then all the rest in the cloud - available whenever I need it. The two ports on the box will take some getting used to but I think they will work well. I suspect the $29 ethernet adapter will probably be useful - although I have never used the USB modem I bought for my Macbook Pro. The next version of this laptop should be a bit cheaper as solid state memory comes down in price. Last summer I found a 4 gig flash for about $30 at Fred Meyer - a year before that a similar device was more than $100.
#2- The iPhone changes are superb. I downloaded the iPhone software last night. (Hint - do the iTunes download first or you get a funny response which eventually corrects itself. I am going to be using the smart maps features a lot. Yes, I did rearrange my home screen. I probably would have paid for the upgrade but the free upgrade does two things. First, I was hoping the 3-G network would be rolled out yesterday - and because of the changes offered yesterday, I am willing to wait. But second, the map and the rearrange changes (that allow user defined "desktops" or home screens) will tie users to the device.
#3 - Time Capsule - $500 for a wireless Terabyte is pretty good - with the software for wireless backup. I will buy one of those when they come out. The engineer had one other suggestion - even with backup in Time Capsule you want to back the important stuff on another external drive. Best Buy has networked Terabyte drives for a bit under $600. So the price of the Capsule is pretty good.
#4 - Movie Rentals - This looks like real competition for Netflix but I have one question. Jobs suggested that most people do not want to have a movie library - thus the rental model. But a good marketing idea would be to have a renter become an owner by paying an additional fee. For example - I rent the Simpson Movie and then decide I want it. So I click back into the site and pay an additional $7-8 bucks (remember this transaction is all electonic - The Long Tail is important here) and I get an email back which allows me to unlock the movie so that it will not self destruct. My suspicion is that it could be coded - if the studios want it to have some DRM features. 20th Century Fox announced something called digital copy - which allows DVD purchasers to get an iTunes copy of movies purchased on DVD and that is a good step in the right direction but the broader link between rental and purchase still needs to be explored. The Apple TV upgrade was a smart move. The software upgrade is likely to make the device more useful. As opposed to the iTouch, the upgrade here makes the device more functional. The iTouch changes are really fundamental enhancements.
#5 - The software upgrades are also good enhancements for programs including iTunes - many of the new functions integrate with the new rental features.

I am not an iTouch user so I do not have a comment on the changes there.

On the show - I am not sure I will be back next year. After the Keynote I went to West Moscone to get my badge and they had screwed up the registration process so there was a long line. I went back to a friend's office had lunch and then came back later in the afternoon. I was able to get through the hall in about an hour. The new version of Office is out and looks ok. There were a million booths with iPod cases.

For me there were three great new software packages -

#1 - Wiretap Studio by Ambrosia Software. It is a simple program to allow you to grab sounds from any source and edit it. My wife's grandfather was a musician in the 1920s and there are a couple of his recordings on the net but I could never figure out how to take the sound down. Now I can. Inexpensive and simple to use.
#2 - Moneyworks - We've had a problem in the Mac world with accounting software. In my office we currently use a legacy package which is clunky. Moneyworks is well priced (about $500 for the Gold package). They have a test version and compared to the other available packages this one can do the job.
#3 - Yuuguu - A lot of the projects I work on involve some kind of distance related collaboration - where one or more persons wants to see someone's desktop or a file. Adobe and a couple of other companies have this kind of software but each of them is a) expensive to use and b) Clunky. YuuGuu is a) Free and b) simple - it runs off ad revenue and a linkage to a conferencing calling service.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Educational Luddites - Take 2

A professor at the University of Brighton has prohibited her students from using Google or Wikipedia. She is a professor who holds a BA, three masters and a doctorate and purports to understand technology.

She commented for the Times of London (and referenced in Inside Higher Education) - “Google offers easy answers to difficult questions. But students do not know how to tell if they come from serious, refereed work or are merely composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments. “Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content,”

The Luddite in question (one Tara Brabazon) claims that easy access to information has dulled student's sense of curiosity and has somehow stifled debate. She comments “Google offers easy answers to difficult questions. But students do not know how to tell if they come from serious, refereed work or are merely composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments."

On a bizarre twist of the availability heuristic (look it up professor) or (look it up here) she claims that they turn to Wikipedia "unquestioningly" because it is there. She cites her 18 years of teaching to suggest she has thought this out. She also argues that students need to learn interpretive skills before they learn "technology" skills.

I've had almost twice the experience of this professor. Indeed, I agree that "Students must be trained to be dynamic and critical thinkers rather than drifting to the first site returned through Google" (Her words) but that does not mean that one cannot train students to be dynamic and critical thinkers without cutting them from the technology they have grown up with. Isn't it the responsibility of a competent professor to teach those critical and analytical skills? Does Professor Brabazon actually think that all of the dusty collections in the library are of equal value simply because they were purchased by a librarian or a university purchasing committee?

The best of Wikipedia entries and search engines like Google offer a mixed bag - some very useful information and some less useful,some critically studied and some not. But look at the evidence. At least in the science area, Wikipedia seems to correct errors more quickly than other standard reference works. The value proposition of open source information is huge. The role and value of expertise in society is changing - that does not mean we should accept sloppy thinking either on the net or in the classroom. It is a shame that Ms. Brabazon wants to throw her shoe in a fit of misunderstanding. Has she not heard of a teachable moment?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What's a conservative to do?

The earlier comment about Daily Kos deserves at least some equal time. And indeed the WP has offered it. The Post has a story about Grover Norquist (anti-tax crusader) and Gun Owners of America and their continuing hatred for John McCain. But the most recent polling suggests that McCain and Giuliani are both very credible with the electorate.

Although I must admit that I am not a friend of either more taxes or gun control, I am also almost instinctually negative on one issue people and groups.

I still have not come down to my favorite candidate - although some in one camp have asked me to be on a steering group for one of the candidates - but at this point McCain and Giuliani look pretty good to me. There are parts of both of their campaigns that I disagree with and there are certainly other candidates (like Thompson) who have come up with some very good ideas. But if either McCain or Giuliani were to be nominated I would very likely be supportive. What I am looking for in this cycle is a person of integrity (from conversations with a lot of other voters I suspect I am not the only one in that position).

The Efficacy of a Fence

The shot above is courtesy of Marginal Revolution. It shows Nogales, Arizona in 1898 and 2008. (My son corrected this see comment below) There are a couple of apparent differences. First, both sides of the borders are larger cities in the latter photo. Second, in the latter picture there is a large metal fence that is 15' high, presumably built to stop the flow of traffic between the two towns. Third, if you look at the detail in the latter photograph - the fence has a lot of welded pieces in it where people from Mexico have successfully cut a hole in the fence and crawled through.

In this case a fence is a) ineffective in stemming illegal immigration, b) expensive, c) helpful in encouraging the people who want to get through the fence to learn a new trade (how to use a torch to cut through metal). All the blather about a fence is pretty silly in light of this photo.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Crystal Balls

Megan McCardle summed the reliability of Paul Krugman on his economic projections. Krugman is one of my favorites because of his almost consistent absurdities. In the last couple of days he did a column on the wonders of the European economy. But his projections of the coming recession during this administration have been legendarily bad - almost as bad as Henry Kaufman's absurd projections on the stock market in the 1970s and 1980s.

McCardle list the following Krugmanisms -
"[R]ight now it looks as if the economy is stalling..." (September 2002)
"We have a sluggish economy, which is, for all practical purposes, in recession..." — (May 2003)
"An oil-driven recession does not look at all far-fetched." — ( May 2004)
"[A] mild form of stagflation - rising inflation in an economy still well short of full employment - has already arrived." —(April 2005)
"If housing prices actually started falling, we'd be looking at [an economy pushed] right back into recession. That's why it's so ominous to see signs that America's housing market ... is approaching the final, feverish stages of a speculative bubble." — (May 2005)
"In fact, a growing number of economists are using the "R" word [i.e., "recession"] for 2006." - (August 2005)
"But based on what we know now, there’s an economic slowdown coming." - (August 2006)
"this kind of confusion about what’s going on is what typically happens when the economy is at a turning point, when an economic expansion is about to turn into a recession" - ( December 2006)
"Right now, statistical models ... give roughly even odds that we’re about to experience a formal recession. ... [T]he odds are very good — maybe 2 to 1 — that 2007 will be a very tough year." - (December 2006)

The list is helpful for two reasons. First, it shows that with malice aforethought that some people can be pretty bad at predicting. Krugman has shown consistently how badly blinders can inhibit your powers of observation. But second, it seems to prove the old adage, namely "Economists have projected 11 of the last 3 recessions." (Only in Krugman's case the ratio on the left side is a lot higher.

Sophomoric to an End

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of the Daily Kos urged his readers to vote for Mitt Romney in Michigan "we want Romney in, because the more Republican candidates we have fighting it out, trashing each other with negative ads and spending tons of money, the better it is for us. We want Mitt to stay in the race, and to do that, we need him to win in Michigan."

Zuniga has had his share of rants over the life of his popular blog. He's come up with all sorts of bizarre conspiracy theories since his flameout with Dean. In this case he has also shown at least a modicum of maturity by understanding that his proposal to trash the GOP primary in Michigan is not reasonable (in a follow up post). In a later post he offers a couple of reasons why he would make the suggestion. He finally makes the case that open primaries should be opposed and this is a way to help raise that point. That is baloney.

Kos makes the point in his follow up point "all's fair in politics. The stakes matter too much to unilaterally disarm." I guess it is my perception that a good deal of the distrust which Americans have for the entire political landscape is that too many politicos start from Kos's assumption and then occasionally step over the line. Kos is not advocating something which is illegal but it is clearly unethical and were he a real supporter of advancing our system, he would stay within reasonable bounds.

I'm not voting in the Michigan primary (I do not live there.) I am a "decline to state" in my registration and thus under my state's laws can vote in either primary. But when I enter the voting booth, I take my responsibilities seriously.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Doolittle Announcement

This morning John Doolittle announced he was not going to seek re-election. At one point in this blog I commented that his name Do-little fit his accomplishments. In his retirement statement he said the following:

"We have accomplished so much working together: Reforming the federal welfare entitlement to emphasize work, job training and education (producing a one-third reduction in the welfare rolls), continuation of funding for the anti-ballistic missile defense program (culminating in the deployment of the system to protect Americans against incoming missiles for the first time in our history), launching and prosecuting with vigor the war on Islamic terrorism, the rise of the Republican Party to majority status in the House of Representatives for the first time in five decades, and the enactment of tax provisions designed to stimulate job creation and economic growth for the long-term. We protected the Second Amendment and the right to own and enjoy private property secured by the Fifth Amendment.

Most importantly, our persistence was rewarded with the defeat of communism, the establishment of democracy for Eastern Europe, and the seeds of liberty planted for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. History will record that this era was a turning point for freedom. No rewrite of events will ever diminish these facts."

This was typical of the Congressman. On all of those things Doolittle was a consistent vote, but as for a firm legislative record where he provided significantly more than a vote, I can not think of any major legislation that he authored on any of those areas. If you go to his website and look at his legislative proposals most are either district based or are so narrow as to not stand a chance in being enacted. Legislators engage in the process of writing and working on legislation. When you look at his claims about what he accomplished most of it is taking credit (some it no doubt deserved) for district earmarks. He, like Strom Thurmond, spent a long time in the Congress and brought a lot home to his district but his legislative record, especially on those issues like welfare reform, is scant at best.

In fairness to the Congressman he would argue that his insider role paid off. Indeed, he argues that when he was Republican Conference secretary he was "the sixth ranking Republican leadership position in the House, placed Mr. Doolittle at the heart of the Republican House of Representatives, where he fought for limited, constitutional government, border security, spending restraint, constitutional campaign laws consistent with the letter and spirit of the First Amendment, responsible development of our national resources, energy self-sufficiency, and socially conservative policies including legal protection of the right to life, private property rights and the right to keep and bear arms. " If his key leadership role is accurate then he should also take credit for the defeat of the GOP majority (which were caused in part by the issue of earmarks). His rhetoric exceeded his accomplishments and the district will be better off with someone new.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Two more footnotes about Hugh Flournoy

Today held several phone calls from people, including a couple of reporters, about Hugh Flournoy. I went back to an article about his 1974 race for Governor in Time which profiled three other tough races for GOP candidates - they included Jacob Javits (who I worked with a bit when I worked for Winston Prouty) and who ran for re-election against Ramsey Clark; Bob Dole who was also in a tight re-election race(he eventually won) and Lamar Alexander (who lost to Ray Blanton). Javits was a remarkable politician and for him to be in a tough campaign and for Dole to be in a competitive race in Kansas suggests how tough 1974 was. The profile in the Time article was about right on Hugh.

The second issue was a question of why he worked for a New Jersey Senator. It turns out H Alexander Smith, who Hugh and I never talked about, was a Princeton alum. Smith had been the Executive Secretary for Princeton (after he graduated in 1901) until he went on to practice law and enter politics. Hugh never spoke much about his time with Smith. We had a lot of discussions about why he had become an academic. But Hugh's linkage of professional interests and political was pretty easy. The influence of Professor Rossiter here must have been important. Rossiter was a consummate academic but also a very practical thinker. In the late 1940s he published a book called Constitutional Dictatorship which analyzed the role of emergency powers in our system. In my undergraduate thesis I had written about the theory of power of the presidency advanced by James MacGregor Burns and then I followed it up with a thesis at the Master's level on war power in the Constitution. In both instances the professor I was working with recommended Rossiter's book. Hugh and I had several discussions both about Rossiter as a professor but also his thoughts about the appropriate balance between the branches of government.

One final comment. The best politicians mix intellect with practicality and Hugh did that in both the Assembly and the Controller's office. He confounded the pundits in part because he cared less about the dynamics of the process and more about the results.

New Hampshire and Sanity

Last night I listened to more coverage than I should have about the New Hampshire primary votes in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. As there is today on the blog circuit there is a lot of punditicating about what was happening. Well, I for one do not buy any of it. Did voters in Iowa vote more heavily for Obama because of a "reverse Bradley effect" (Named after Tom Bradley who some pundits claimed lost a close election for Governor because voters when they went into the booth let their underlying racism take over) or was it the Feiler/Skurnik Effect (which postulates that with the 24/7 news cycle that more and more voters wait until the last minute to make up their minds)? Or was it the Reverse Tom Hanks Theory (There is crying in politics even if there isn't in baseball). Or did the voters simply make a decision that was reflected in the polls?

The bonehead of the night had to be Hugh Hewitt. His guy (Romney) was crushed in his next door state after spending lots of dough and being ahead in the polls but here was the Salem Radio host claiming that it was not really a victory for McCain.

Here is where I see the races at this point.

Democratic - this one is easier. This is a two person race. Edwards is pathetic and ultimately will be forced out even if the unions keep paying his ticket. I admire the tenacity of the Clinton people but I would not underestimate the demand in the democratic electorate for change. If the national polls are at all accurate and if neither candidate makes a big blunder expect this to tighten up.

Republican - this is complex. There are credibly a couple of real candidates -Huckabee (although I am not convinced that the Christian right will sustain him when the lights go on in real states), Romney (although I would bet he will begin to fall in standing soon - two silvers and a gold in Wyoming for $120 million does not make it), McCain and Giuliani (although it is unclear whether he can make his ropa-dope strategy of avoiding the early states to concentrate on February 5).

If the rest of the candidates on both sides have not yet dropped out they should take a cue from George Burns - say good night Gracie.

One other comment. A lot of commentators and pundits have been arguing that the race for the presidency would be collapsed this year because of the advancement of the process. My suspicion is that the race has a lot more twists and turns in the process. It seems clear that while there is a lot of chatter, even among the voters, about the desire for change (and indeed this seems greater than in previous elections), there is not a clear consensus about where the mandate for change will land. The media have had a lot of coverage about this election but my perception is that there is a lot of potential movement left.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hugh Flournoy

In 1974 I had just returned to California and got to know the then Controller of the state who was running for Governor, his name was Houston Flournoy. 1974 was not a good year for Republican candidates. At the time he was 45 and had, in about 15 years of public service, developed a reputation as a thoughtful non-ideological politician. (The Photo is from the LA Times Obituary)

Hugh was born in New York City in 1929 and went to Cornell. He finished a PhD at Princeton. At Cornell he studied under legendary presidential scholar Clinton Rossiter. After he completed his degree he began a career in academe at Pomona College. After the 1958 election he wrote an article about why the GOP had lost so badly in that election. His analysis was on the money. In 1960 he ran for and won a seat in the Assembly. He held that seat until he ran for the Controller's position which he won in the Reagan landslide of that year. (Interestingly enough the first California Controller was one John Houston)

Both he and Bill Bagley, an assemblyman of the time and part of a group of "young Turks", agreed that he was talked into the Controller's race after a night where a group had visited several Sacramento nightspots. He and a couple of his buddies spent the night wondering why Alan Cranston, a United World Federalist who eventually ran for and won a US Senate seat (in 1968) had not generated an opponent for his re-election. Hugh would have to give up his Assembly seat to run, but that was OK. By the end of the night these youngsters had talked Hugh into running for against Cranston. Bagley paid the filing fee before Hugh had the chance to protest. Bill has told me that story a number of times, always with a characteristic twinkle in his eye. Hugh won that race in part because of a split in the California democrats that year (between Unruh and Brown's factions) but also because of the Reagan landslide. But then he worked hard to make the Controller's office a more important and ultimately less political role. Cranston had doled out the assessor positions as perks and Hugh curtailed that. Cranston ended his Senate career as one of the key figures in the Keating Five. Hugh's group of leaders had R's by their names but that R rarely involved overblown rhetoric and righteousness which so often infests politicians of both parties today. He proved that it is possible to hold to values without having to live with preachiness.

Hugh never seemed to want to run again for office. In the few times he was willing to discuss that decision I noticed two sets of considerations. I think he was always a bit chagrined that a dilettante like Brown could beat him. But I also think the glad handing was something he was not comfortable with. His runs for office in the Assembly and even for Controller were retail politics that type of campaigning is probably no longer possible.

In Hugh's peer group were an extraordinary group of public policy wonks who all came into the process about the same time - Hugh and Bill Bagley (a flamboyant Assemblyman who retired to become a successful lawyer and UC regent), Jack Veneman (an extraordinarily bright farmer who made some major changes in welfare), Bob Monagan (who became speaker of the Assembly when the GOP briefly took control of the lower house in 1968), Pete Wilson (who eventually became US Senator and Governor) and Robert Beverly (who was a lawyer who became minority leader of the Assembly and then a dean in the Senate). Each of them had a commitment which is rare in current times - they kept true to their philosophy but were willing to engage the other side to solve California's problems.

Hugh was first an academic. A lot of the time when I watched him campaign he seemed almost uncomfortable in the role - yet when he argued on policy issues he became very much engaged. In a Time article about him at one point he was quoted as saying "I don't have anything against passion, I just happen to be more committed to reason as a basis on which campaigns ought to be fought."

Hugh had two sets of passions in his academic career. First, was the Federalist. That came from Rossiter, who remains the foremost scholar in the history of that important document. Rossiter was the scholar who read the original documents and figured out who had written which paper (among Madison, Hamilton and Jay). I suspect Hugh may have been involved in at least some of that research as an undergraduate - although he never told me that. When I first worked with him at USC, we spent one drive in LA where we were going to the same meeting, trading quotes from the Federalist. He knew both the substance and spirit of those 85 essays which helped think out how our government should be formed. His second issue was reapportionment. When he first came to USC we talked about his interest in writing a book on the subject which unfortunately he never completed. The major case which created the new conditions requiring "one person, one vote" was developing about the time that Hugh was transitioning between Pomona and the Assembly. So in one sense he lived the issue both intellectually and professionally simultaneously.

He had the bad fortune to run for Governor in the year of Watergate. Even though he ran against a relatively flaky candidate, he had the albatross of Nixon which enveloped all GOP candidates that year. In the end he lost by about 180,000 votes or just under 3%. Hugh went back to academe and then served more than 20 years on the faculty of USC and he also established USC's first office of governmental affairs in Sacramento.

He retired from USC in 1999 and divided his time on a couple of corporate and foundation boards and between residences in Florida and California. He remarried a younger woman who actually worked for me for a while. She proceeded him in death because of a series of her own health problems. In those years at USC he served as a mentor to a lot of politicians and guide to many younger people like me on the ways of the Capitol. He was a part of the establishment but more as a senior statesman. But he had the ability to work with democrats also.

In one of my first years as President of the Association the then Speaker of the Assembly proposed legislation which would have drastically reduced aid to needy students in the independent sector. Hugh threw himself into that fight (which we eventually won in the Governor's office). At times when we were beaten in a committee, Hugh and I would go out and think out next steps - he was always a calming influence. In the end we were able to enlist two of his old friends (the Governor - Pete Wilson and the Dean of the Senate Al Alquist) and the bill was vetoed. That fight instilled a calmness that has served me in a lot of subsequent issues.

Hugh had been in declining health for the last several years and on Monday afternoon he died on a flight from San Diego back to his home in Bodega Bay. He was 78. The Governor, who I think never had the chance to meet Hugh, could benefit from having public servants with Hugh's commitment to using reason in the process. But then California could benefit too.

Not alone

In an Atlantic Article Matthew Yglesias makes some pretty compelling statements, especially as they relate to the externalities. He quotes an "academic study" (Most likely one by the the Woodstock Institute, There Goes the Neighborhood: The Effect of Single-Family Mortgage Foreclosures on Property Values) which suggests that property values decline by 0.9% to 1.136% for houses within one eighth of a mile of a foreclosed property. When you read the report it becomes even more stunning. The study done by Woodstock was done on an area in Chicago. It also includes some smaller estimates of effect and some larger ones. My suspicion is that the cumulative effects of more than one foreclosure has a larger effect. The Study was done by Daniel Immergluck and Geoff Smith and can be found on the Woodstock Institute Site.The organization is Chicago based and has a purpose of promoting community reinvestment and economic development in lower-income and minority communities.

The image is of foreclosures notice that the central valley of California seems to be ground zero of this problem.

Monday, January 07, 2008

More BS than C

Tonight's Bowl Championship Series reinforced the view that the current BCS championship is mostly BS. No sane person could argue that either of the teams that played the game tonight were among the two best teams in college football. This was a remarkably uneven season with lots of surprises. For my money a better game might have been between Georgia and USC but in reality perhaps the best alternative to the current system, which relies on a series of very flawed assumptions, would be to great a Sweet Sixteen Tournament which takes the best sixteen and then has a single elimination tournament.

I am not sure I agree with the idea of a national championship in football - the nature of the differences in conferences and the variability of week to week performance and the history of at least several of the bowls made the championship mostly silly.

LSU will claim that they are the first team to win 2 championships - although their first was a split win with USC winning half of the title. LSU went on in 2004 to lose two games go on to the Capitol One Bowl and lose to Iowa. USC went on, in what was called the "leave no doubt" season to win 13-0 and destroy Oklahoma in the next national championship.

For the latest data available the two championship schools had a 49% and 55% graduation rate (that is a six year rate). When you consider that very few of the athletes tonight actually play professional sports such a shoddy rate is pretty horrible. College sports should first be about college not about sports.

One other note - did the first look at posting for the coming year. USC and Georgia are ranked #1 and #2, with Ohio State at #3 (depending on which of their players go in the draft) - LSU is ranked #8.


On the weekend I was in Florida for a speech and got a car with XM radio. XM is one of two satellite radio services and this year they have added a channel (XM 130) which is a real delight. It has what the fairness doctrine claimed to have but never really achieved - that is it presents a wide range of political opinion.

For example on the drive to the hotel I got to hear an interview with Jonah Goldberg who is a National Review Columnist who has written a fascinating book called Liberal Fascism, a Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning while the book looks at the American left the most interesting point he made was the linkage of all people who want to advance state power. He asked whether there was a substantive division between something like "No Child Left Behind" and "It Takes a Village" - both assume an increasing role for the state in the management of children. I am just as concerned about an initiative on the right which assumes significantly greater power as I am about one on the left.

On the way back (at 5 AM in the morning) there was an hour show which presented first a perspective of the Christian Right and then "Progressive" ideas. I was amused that both of the programs spoke about conspiracies of the other side. (The Christian Right spent some time about the attempts to secularize our institutions and the progressives talked about the conspiracy to hold down legitimate protest). The parallels were fascinating.

POTUS 08 attempts to present 24/7 news of this year's presidential contest in a non-partisan manner. From my short chance to listen they seem to be doing a great job of doing that. The channel can also be accessed from the Web for those who do not have XM on a regular basis. POTUS 08 is but another example of why the fairness doctrine, which some democrats have sought to reinstitute, is so far out of date. Indeed, the airwaves and other media channels should give citizens a wide diversity of opinion - but indeed, that seems to be what is happening.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

More on the Caucuses

Tomorrow's WSJ (January 3) has an op-ed by a writer named Michael Judge titled "Ignore Iowa" - his comments make a lot of sense. Judge points out that a third of Iowa's voters (the independents) can't participate. Even with that only a small percentage of the possible party members actually attend a caucus. What is more Iowa is not a very good projection on the final choice. He points out that the last president they picked was Jimmy Carter.

He states "One thing's certain, he wouldn't have liked the Huckabee-Obama-Clinton-Romney-Biden-Giuliani-Dodd-Kucinich-Richardson-Thompson-Edwards-Paul pandering we Iowans have been putting up with for the past six months. He'd probably say these politicians remind him of the mayor's wife and her gaggle of followers in Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man." "Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep, cheep, cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more." In a sense that comment sums up all the posts I did in the last few days about the alternatives we are facing.

The full article can be found on the WSJ Website.

Reviewing the race for the presidency

At the beginning of this series of posts I said there were four things which concern me about candidates for president (which would make me less likely to support a candidate) - being a member of the US Senate, being a new kid on the block, whether the job of a president is to make proposals (I expressed skepticism about the capabilities of government) and I want a candidate to have at least a somewhat normal life. As I read through the posts on each of the major candidates - those turn out in 2008 to be pretty stringent filters which no candidate among the existing ones can pass. So then we come down to what one political wag called the "evil of two lessers." At this point, I am not prepared to support one of those candidates.

But I do believe the appointment power to the courts is a critical one and so in this election will have a slight edge to the GOP candidates. There is a lot of time between now and November (IMHO a bit too much for an intelligent campaign) but we'll see whether my current reservations will be abated.

Mr Romney

On the issues, Mitt Romney comes very close to what I think a president should say. His foreign policy ideas are close to mine although he is a bit more harsh on Cuba than I would (I think you overwhelm them with trade - fax machines and TVs work better than sanctions but neither the dems nor the republicans can seem to understand that). His tax language is fine. Generally he was less government in government.

But I have an uneasy feeling about him. He may be a bit too slick. I thought his speech on the role of faith was substantive and inspirational. He explained the key role of faith in the American tradition without going into the details of his own religious tradition (which should be outside of a presidential campaign. A lot of his other prescriptions seem to be canned.

Could I vote for him? Sure. Is he my first choice? No.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

One Surprise in the new Primary System

As I have thought about the primary system we may be going to a non-sequential system of primaries. For the past three or four elections we've lived in a sequential system - first came Iowa and New Hampshire and then a series of other primaries and caucuses. But they tended to build on each other. A candidate could falter in one of the early states but if they faltered more than once they would be knocked out. That gave disproportionate power to two states especially. In this election cycle that sequential nature of the selection process may no longer be true. Both candidates

In this cycle there was a determined effort by a couple of states to move forward the process, in my opinion, unreasonably. But here is the reality. Before the February 5 primary date (where more than 2000 delegates to the Democrat convention will be selected) there will be a total of about 170 delegates selected. While the early contests in the tiny states have generated a lot of blabber by pundits - the polls at the national level look pretty consistent. In the GOP polls, Giuliani holds a pretty consistent lead (by varying amounts). And while those numbers have floated a bit - they have not been as dicey as the ones in the tiny states. In the Democrat polling, Clinton seems to hold a consistent lead. Both candidates also have held strong leads (although Clinton's is much more commanding) in the Intrade political futures market. Both of the campaign leaders also have pretty good cash on hand balances. In the big states that vote on February 5 - there also has not been as much movement as there has been in Iowa. That could be based on proximity to the election (things will get dicier when the date gets closer) - or all the sound and fury from the tiny states may simply be that and not the beginning of a sequential trend.

So what does all this mean? I think one can discern two things from this data. First, the importance of small and unrepresentative states will be less than it was in prior elections. Hillary could get stunned in Iowa but were that to happen I believe she would be the strong favorite to be the nominee. Although there is a bit more uncertainty in the GOP contest, I think the same could be said for Giuliani. Second, we still seem to be spending a whole lot more time on nominating our president than I think we should - this long process may create a secondary dynamic - which the old system did not. I realize that a lot of people are hot to see the current president go. But I have also heard a lot of grumpiness about this long cycle. Perhaps the long cycle could reduce turnout in November - to uncertain effect. At the same time perhaps the long cycle could create a stronger opportunity for an unexpected event to change the game - for example, this long cycle might allow a non-traditional and independent candidate to have a better shot - with the simple (but subtle) message that I did not get into this mess until I discovered that the other alternatives were so absurd.

The Mayor

There is a lot I like about Rudy Giuliani. He was a superb mayor of New York. While he is criticized for his PR sense, especially after 9/11 (that he may have had style over substance), his visibility in the city after the tragedy offered a profound sense of the public role of a public official. Besides that, in spite of the apologists for David Dinkins (who claim that most of the credit for New York reforms were in place with the Dinkins administration), he really did make some very positive changes in the city. Were all of his ideas original?- of course not. But were they effective? - absolutely.

I think Rudy can be dinged for his personal life in a number of ways. His family relations have been absurd and that bothers me. A good friend of his has commented to me that Guiliani is an odd mix between an unstable personal life and an absolute energy, intelligence and commitment in his public life. I am not sure how I will finally come down on that but at this point it concerns me.

His policy positions, for the most part, are things I agree with. His tax policies are well thought out - especially his proposal to create an almost universal HSA like program to bring the market back into health care. It is the soundest response to escalating health costs that I have seen.

I am also bothered by some of the company he keeps. Soon after he left the Mayor's office he did a contract in Mexico on security issues which I thought, from some very limited first hand experience, looked a bit odd.

Would I vote for him? If I vote in the GOP primary he is likely to be one of the candidates that I consider most seriously.

The TV Candidate

Fred Thompson is something of a puzzle for me also. His whole campaign reminds me of the commercial where a person says "I am not a doctor, although I play one on TV..." Thompson has shown some, in my opinion, intelligence by refusing to play the game that everyone else who is seeking the office seems to be willing to play.

A good number of the debates this season have been absurd. His reluctance to play the "How many of you would support X policy (raise your hands)" debate format is wonderful. His announcement and several other public pronouncements have shown a very good command of the mood of the voters.

I like a lot of his advisors and his policy ideas. But there is simply something missing in him as a candidate. His reputation in the US Senate was mediocre. Many of my friends from Tennessee commented that he lacked energy as a senator - part of that could come from an unwillingness to play the stupid pet tricks like raising your hand if you want to debate X issue.

I am also unconvinced that he would present a strong alternative to either Clinton or Obama - the two front runners for the dems.

Would I vote for him, sure if he is the nominee. But based on this work thusfar, it is unlikely that he will emerge from the pack.