Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Katie Couric and Sarah Palin

I finally got to listen to the Couric interviews of Sarah Palin. I am not sure who I thought was worse. BOTH used cliches. Both seemed to come in with preconditioned notions of reality. It is not hard to understand why Couric has been such a downer for CBS news. Couric seems to believe that stringing together a bunch of cliches in a way to embarrass a candidate is a serious interview. That is baloney.

But I would certainly prefer a lot more substance in Palin's responses.

On one issue in particular I was particularly struck about Couric. She asked something to the effect "other than the questions raised about Fannie and Freddie what has John McCain done to help solve this issue?" Palin responded that the Fannie and Freddie questions came at a time when no one else was raising an issue. She could also have asked whether Obama or Biden had raised any substantive proposals on this issue before it became news. (The answer is NO)

Some more thoughts on the Credit Crisis

Over the last several days the weltschmerzing on the problems in the credit crisis has increased to a fever pitch. As I have thought about it there are three points that have not been made clearly enough.

#1 -Wall Street/Wall Streeters are not the only source of the problem. We've heard both liberal democrats and conservative republicans argue that the problem was caused by "greed" or "Wall Street" or some derivative of those terms (pun intended). That is nonsense. Obviously, part of it was caused by the markets moving too riskily into financial instruments that they should have thought about more carefully.

On my recent trip east I read a biography of Anthony Drexel who was a major financier of the Nineteenth Century. Drexel lived through several financial panics in his life - and each time they were caused by a bit more optimism or pessimism than was warranted.

Some of these problems came from Wall Street pushing the envelope and from compensation schemes that rewarded even mediocre performance. (That is not limited to Wall Street firms.) We should introduce not new regulations to discourage such rent seeking but more transparency so that investors will be able to know all about compensation schemes. Perhaps some careful review of the way we set tax laws on compensation could be considered, if we had confidence that our elected officials had the care to think about this issue with some caution (I do not have that confidence).

The new financial instruments which securitized mortgages are not the problem by themselves. The credit agencies did seem to drop the ball on doing their diligence. But the fundamental basis for these issues came from a number of sources.

#2 -Political inteventions in the marketplace have exacerbated the problem. Perhaps one of the wisest things that anyone could have said about our current crisis was said by Richard Epstein "The moral of this story is that bad regulation metastasizes."

A good part of this problem also came from the desire of some in Congress to increase the number of homeowners. They pushed the Government Sponsored Enterprises (Fannie and Freddie) to loosen their standards. That helped to create such novel ideas as "stated interest loans" and "teaser rates." As Adam Smith pointed out mercantilist systems tend to have odd results, even odder than market based systems. If government sets up the wrong incentives be sure that the business community will follow them anyway.

Another part of the problem came from the Community Reinvestment Act, which was passed to require financial institutions to invest "across the community" but whose real effects was to authorize loans to more risky entities. CRA worked in concert with the GSEs to broaden credit opportunities to borrowers. My concern with these types of things is the looseness in how they are defined. Supporters of the Act saw it as a way to increase housing ownership, but I think it was not that simple.

Part of my concern about the Paulsen plan is it seems to have been thought out on the back of an envelope. The concerns of the American people about the "bailout" are justified. I was less bothered by the rejection by the House yesterday than I was by the bitter partisan rhetoric about the package. I flew back from Washington with my congressman last night (a republican who voted for the package) and he described yesterday as "one of the worst days in my life." I understand why. I believe the tax proposals offered by the GOP are probably not appropriate to this act but Congress should have done more in thinking about the entire range of governmental efforts which brought us to this. That should have included tightening or privatizing the GSEs and limiting the scope of CRA. While I am not sure that I would have voted for the package, I am pretty sure he did what good public officials do - think about the best possible solution.

#3 - Be careful of listening to popular sages. Part of this problem came about as a result of excess liquidity in the financial system - money chasing yield. For all of the hype that Alan Greenspan created, his tenure at the Fed was not a magical mystery tour. Loose money came in part from a fairly loose money policy of the fed at times during this decade but it also came about because of foreign investors looking to stable investment markets. But there is hope, all this uncertainty might encourage a lot of investors to look to other markets as possible venues for their dough. That may make the loose money of the early part of this decade a bit less common but it may bring about some higher levels of stability in the markets. Fareed Zakaria is sound on the diversity of the world's political realm, the same should be said of the financial markets.

I would be a lot more comfortable about any package if I were sure that someone who was competent on financial issues were going to run the government's efforts. But there is precious little evidence that our policy makers have thought of that.

Monday, September 29, 2008

College Football Rankings,the Stock Market, and Joe Biden

For a USC fan last Thursday was a 777 point drop in the Dow. We played an unranked team and lost. We dropped from first to ninth in most polls. If we have a wonderful rest of season we will come back to play in one of the BCS games, possibly even the championship. But a lot of the commentators said USC is through for the season.

Today, the stock market dropped 777 points (what the 24/7 MSM called the largest drop in history - they should check their history). A lot of fans of our economic system were twitterpated after the House failed to adopt a rescue package that most Americans think is a mistake. Does that mean that we should adopt the mistake? Is the market likely to respond positively if we get a package that makes some sense? Of course.

Then, as I was going through Dulles, I noticed a number of stands selling political items - each having a standup picture of the candidates for President and VP - but do you notice Joe Biden is not there. He was not there at any of the stands. Does that mean he is going to give Pete Carroll advice on football or that he went to Wall Street? (iPhone Photo)

Reading signs or looking for cardboard cutouts can be an awfully deceptive thing to do.

Chino Blanco on comments on Prop 8

I got a follow up from Chino Blanco and am glad I did. Indeed, I am bothered by extremists, but according to CB he is not one - merely someone like me who has taken the time to think Prop 8 out. I can understand why someone would be for the proposition. That is a natural part of the political process. What has bothered me about both sides in the discussion of this issue is their intolerance to the alternative point of view. The militants in the gay community cannot conceive of a Christian as a thoughtful person. The militants in the community that is supporting the initiative cannot see any gay as a decent human being.

In CBs first comment he talked about how at least part of the Pro community was merely using this as a fund raising device. Indeed, that may be true. I am not sure whether it is an important fact in this campaign.

In any event, I appreciate CB for correcting me on my impression of him. Part of what I think we have lost in politics in recent years is the ability to respect another opinion. I misconstrued CBs argument.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Aunt Mary

A week ago today my aunt Mary died at age 92. She worked her entire career for the local (Winston Salem Journal) paper covering high school and college sports and other local sports events (including tennis tournaments). She was a tiny lady who had a profound effect beyond both her size and her venue. She was one of the first female sportswriters in the country. During her lifetime she received almost every award a sportswriter can gain, including the Red Smith Award in 2005, which is the highest award a sportswriter can receive.

Mary was the middle sister of three. My mother was the oldest. Her younger sister, Cornelia, died about eleven months ago. Since my dad was an only child and my mother's sisters never married, Cornelia and Mary were the only outside family I knew when I was growing up. Mary worked until about ten years ago and Neely never was employed outside of the numerous civic and family duties she fulfilled.

In 2005 I did a post about a visit that my siblings and I had to a house that my family has occupied continuously since 1924.

My two aunts were a study in contrasts. Neely was outgoing, Mary a bit introverted. Neely also seemed to know a lot of stuff about a wide range of topics from the financial markets to tin soldiers. Mary graduated from Hollins (where my mother also graduated). Neely did not complete college although she was an avid reader.

Since my wife and I moved from Washington DC, I would see these two ladies at least twice a year, usually when I was going back to DC on business. What has always struck me on visits, including this one, was the community in which they lived. Part of that community was something they actively worked with others to create - in their neighborhood and in the city at large.

Yesterday we held a memorial service for Mary and here is what I said about her.

"Writing this eulogy has been hard for me. When I started working in the political realm, four decades ago, before I wrote speeches for elected officials, I wrote eulogies. Every politician gets asked to say something about the passing of this or that figure and most believe that a good way to test the skills of new staffers is to have them write for an audience who is unlikely to object. Even after I left working for politicians I have been asked to write a bit more than my share of eulogies.

Last October I found it pretty easy to figure out how to describe Neely, Mary’s younger sister. That was driven in part because Neely’s considerable range of positive qualities were known to a smaller share of people. Neely was Mary’s fashion coordinator but had a lot of other wonderful qualities. So in essence I was expanding her story a bit. But since last Sunday I have been stumped about how to characterize Mary in a way that doesn’t simply parrot all the material that has been written. The Journal did a marvelous set of articles including an absolutely superb column called Mary Garber, Hero. They caught my aunt in a way that few writers could. But then I began to think about this tiny figure who loomed so large and I began to think about some themes that others who worked with her or lived in her neighborhood might not have thought about. With that preface, there are five qualities that struck me about AME.

First, Mary typified George Bernard Shaw’s definition of an unreasonable person - “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man” Mary was the quintessential exemplar of Shaw’s definition, in spite of the politically incorrect nature of Shaw’s verbiage.

There was a stubbornness built on minor things. You better not bring her a steak that was not “blood rare.” But that stubbornness extended to larger things too.

Mary had a profound belief in equity, not in the political sense but on a more human level. When she began with the paper during World War II, there was no one else to write sports, so she took the job up. When the war ended she had a sports editor who had the good sense to figure out how to use her. She started in covering Black high school sports. In those days most papers in the South simply ignored what happened in those games or put them in a narrow section. As Diane Gentry said “She felt black parents were just as interested in reading about their sons in the newspaper as white parents.”

Being an unreasonable ground breaker had its moments. And Mary benefitted from some individuals who thought enough of her to make sure she could do her job. For example, when she expanded into college coverage, she needed the assistance of a security guard named John Baker to roust the athletes out of their locker rooms to get her quotes. But the point was she did not whine about that but simply figured out a way to get her job done. Jackie Robinson said to her at one point “keep your mouth shut and get your job done.” Mary thought that was good advice. Her first experience in covering college ball after the war got her initially assigned to the ladies box instead of the sports box. The paper forced the issue about where their reporter would work. When someone from the college called her editor and said why do you want a woman in the press box. Her editor had a simple reply, "That's our business. We want her and that's the way we're going to have it."

Then there is the story about Johnny Fredericks, then a high school basketball player. It seems Fredericks had ripped his shorts and asked Mary to sew them up. She did not know how to sew but agreed because she thought in a gym no one could come up with a needle and thread. As she told the story, someone found the needle and thread. The gym was not well lighted and so at one point she lost the needle but the kids found it for her. She told me at one point that was the most unnerving game she ever covered. She said “I was so afraid every time that boy went up for a rebound, I could just see my stitches ripping and he being exposed in all his glory.”

Mary’s second quality was a dichotomous belief in humanity; she worked hard on treating individuals well – her columns on sports are a good reflection of that. Her lifelong friend from Winston Salem State, BIghouse Gaines, had a good understanding about both sides of athletic competition – he said “Mary was always trying to help the underdog. I think her greatest strength is her positive honest approach, Mary would always look for the good in people.” But she could frequently sharpen an issue to clarity with amazing facility. For example,last June I was on a periodic trip to Winston and my youngest grandson had just been born. I asked her if she had any interest in seeing a picture of her newest grand-nephew. She said “Not really, all infants look the same.” A few minutes later she relented and took a cursory look and pronounced that my newest grandson was OK.

Mary decided, by some accounts, to become a reporter as early as age 8 by reporting back to grandparents in Ridgewood, N.J. She understood the importance of the news business on the big scale – of getting the facts right and on the small scale of recognizing accomplishments. In the time that I came to Winston to visit my two aunts, I cannot tell you how many men would come up to Mary in a restaurant and pull out a yellowed press clipping of a story Mary had written about a particularly important game many years before.

A THIRD characteristic was an absolute commitment to integrity. She took all her assignments as a chance to tell a story. She said “there is no such thing as a minor sport for people who play them.” In a long set of interviews she did with Diane Gentry she described that commitment. She said “Your integrity is your most important asset. You must be a person that people can trust. And if you're not, you're just not going to last in the newspaper business. Be able to admit you're wrong if you are and don't make a lot of excuses. Yes, you're going to make mistakes. Yes, you're going to screw up. Yes, you're going to get beaten on a story. But you just have to realize that this is part of the game. Learn from your mistakes. Accept criticism even if it's unfair. If your situation is intolerant, if you get on a paper, you don't approve of the way they do things, you don't like anything about them, then go look for another job but don't stab your paper in the back. Don't criticize it. Just get out of there.”

FOURTH, Mary’s commitment to family mirrored her commitment to humanity. Her first commitment was to her profession, but that did not mean she neglected her kin. She would visit California every other year and each of us were offered a “Mary Day” – we could do anything we wanted to – movies, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and Edy’s Ice Cream were three of my favorites.

You can read a lot about Mary on the net. But one such interaction, which my daughter Emily pointed out this week is not widely known, although because of Emily’s blog, it is on the net.

When Emily was graduating from college. Mary wrote her a note. Emily had gone to college and quickly migrated from the core focus of the college she was at, in economics, to art and literature. She offered Emily “One bit of advice. Take your time deciding what you want to do, even if you have to take a job you don't particularly want at first. It is always easier to get a job if you have one.”

Oddly the advice she gave Emily was not taken by Mary herself. She decided early what she wanted to do in life and then pursued it with energy and integrity.

Finally was her lack of pretension. Mary received a lot of awards in her life. I think she was fundamentally indifferent to them. She cared more about her role as a reporter and as a person who could guide people As you go through her life you can find numerous stories about her willingness to serve not only as a reporter but as a guide; stories about shy athletes who were convinced to try some things that others had not recognized; the huge football player who was tongue tied until he explained propogation of roses or the country boy who became a doctor because Mary said “Why not?” or the tennis player who was realistic about his chances in a tournament, which were not good. And Mary wrote about this kid who used his time at the tournament to think bigger thoughts.

When she interviewed Jesse Owens he called her a rich lady. "You're rich because you're doing something you love and you've earned the love and respect of so many people." Mary I thought that was a very nice touch for someone who really didn't know her at all to say something like that.

A fundamental precept of Mary’s life was built on the individual accomplishments, large and small, that bind a society together. She often told the story of two kids asking who the short lady was at a Soap Box Derby. One said "Do you see that lady down on the field there?" And the other kid said, "Yeah." And the first kid said, "That's Miss Mary Garber. And she don't care who you are, if you do something, she'll write about you." She took that as the highest compliment she could have had."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The McCain Gambit

Senator McCain tried to reinforce the issue of attention to duty by claiming that the candidates should postpone their first debate until the credit crisis package is completed.

There are a couple of possible explanations of this thinking. But none of them is especially persuasive.

Ultimately, both candidate's role in trying to resolve this issue is likely to be minor - although both have a responsibility to make their position on the issues surrounding the sub-prime crisis clear.

I am not sure that the stylized discussions that we've had so far that the media calls debates actually are helpful in determining who will lead the country with the most skill. They include a lot of style points and not much substance. And I would favor having more open forums like McCain proposed. But that is not the game. I suspect McCain's strategy on this will not pay off.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Solving a problem requires first to understand its nature

The politicians would do well to take a breath before they prescribe how to get us out of a mess that they, in large part, created. Many of the problems we face come not from de-regulation but from increases in governmental involvement in the mortgage market. As the WSJ pointed out this morning, after the accounting scandals of Fannie and Freddie, the two Government Sponsored Enterprises sought to curry favor with policy makers by creating more "affordable housing." In reality that led a more than doubling of subprime mortgages and at the same time to the increasing use of mortgage instruments (with variable rates and teasers) that would make it harder for lower quality borrowers to maintain their loans.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I think a major part of the discussion about how to get us out of this problem is not to increase government activity but to reduce it, especially in the long term support for Fannie and Freddie. The private sector should and could establish a much better approach to guaranteeing mortgages without the window to federal funds. The clear example from this set of problems, is that in the long term privatizing gains and socializing risks leads to $700 billion pigs in pokes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

History in Real Time

The last 10 days have been exciting in the financial markets. Understanding the depth and breadth of the problems created by the sub-prime mortgage mess is something that a good book on the issue would help. As a part of the Amazon Vine program I got an advance copy of a new book called Financial Shock by Mark Zandi, who is the Chief Economist of Moody's Economy.com. The book is what you might expect.

Zandi is great at explaining background on the development of the crisis. For example, the term "subprime" is a specific reference point - the level is a FICO of 620 or below. In a number of chapters Zandi has some very good descriptions of the development of the problems. Where I have a problem with the book is Zandi's suggestions about policy prescriptions. The last couple of chapters are a mish mash of ideas that I think are quite unjustified. Xandi has a greater worry than I about the globalization of commerce and the financial system. Indeed, the number of countries that hold US debt including government debt are larger than they once were. In the 1830s the Europeans held more than 20% of the stocks in our financial markets. That was not that troubling to our markets. But that is a matter of difference in opinion and Zandi is very good on explaining the facts.

As I have watched the development of the Paulsen package, I am concerned, as members of congress have been also, about the potential for doing a pig in a poke. Ultimately, all of us need to think clearly about how this situation plays out. On the side of reason, Zandi's book has an excellent summary of the housing finance market. At the same time we need some more clear headed thinking about what should happen next. I am less sanguine about the utility of Zandi's book here.

The Bailout

Over the weekend I have been bothered by the "pig in a poke" nature of the bailout for financial institutions proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulsen. In the coverage this morning Speaker Pelosi argues for some deliberation before adopting a blank check that would be larger than our commitment in Iraq. I think caution is justified. Among other suggestions, she says she would want to put some limits on "excessive executive compensation." I wonder if that includes the rather lavish "retirement" package given to the head of Fannie Mae. Franklin Raines was a significant part of the reason for all the uncertainties in the financial markets - his fast and loose use of standards in running his government sponsored enterprise helped to bring about the frenzy that we are being asked to cover for - yet he has a huge pension and health benefits for life. (Note: according to press reports his pension is $1.3 million per year for life - plus health benefits and life insurance.) By any standard that is an absurdly generous package which should be included in Pelosi's net. The democrats have been big supporters of Fannie and Freddie and have consistently rejected calls to reign in the free and loose practices of these bodies. Note: Raines has already collected more than $5 million from this bonanza. His total service to Fannie Mae (if you can call what he did as service) was less than 10 years. By any account that is a pretty rich package.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Summary of Ballot Positions

For the last dozen years I have done a voter guide on propositions which in the 2006 cycle had a couple of hundred readers. This year's election guide is different from previous ones. First, instead of doing this as an email I have posted the issues to this blog. This post includes a summary of all of my thoughts on the propositions. There are three levels to the posts. The current one is a summary with click throughs on each issue (proposition 1 was dropped from the ballot). When you get to that level you can also find a hot link to the ballot summary arguments. I find these very helpful.

Two other summary comments on my approach to propositions. My default position on propositions of any type is to vote no. On bond issues, I believe the state has taken on an awful lot of debt in recent years and so my propensity is also to vote no, even for some very good causes. I also am especially skeptical of constitutional provisions.

That leads me to vote no more than the average voter.

Proposition 1 was dropped from the ballot.

Proposition 2 - Establishing Animal Pen Standards - VOTE NO
Proposition 3 - Children's Hospital Bond issue - Vote YES or NO
Proposition 4 - Parental Notification on Abortions - Vote Yes
Proposition 5 - Proposed changes in sentencing laws - Vote NO.
Proposition 6 Ballot Box Budgeting - Vote NO.
Proposal 7 - Energy Proposals Vote NO.
Proposition 8 Constitutional Definition of Marriage - VOTE NO.
Proposition 9 - Victims Rights Proposals - VOTE NO
Proposition 10 - Energy Bonds - VOTE NO
Proposition 11 - Preventing the Politicians from choosing their constituents - VOTE YES
Proposition 12 - Veterans Bonds - VOTE YES OR NO
Prop 1A - VOTE NO

Proposition 9

Proposition 9 creates some new rights for victims of violent crime. The proponents make some emotional arguments as to why we should change existing standards. The proposal would offer some mandated involvement of victims in various parts of the judicial, including bail decisions, and parole process. The arguments on this proposition are in the voter guide.

This is an ideal issue for a competent legislature to think about. Clearly there are some uncertainties in the current legal system based in part on the inherent balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of victims. But when an issue like this comes up, there are always unexpected glitches in the language that are not clear.

When presented with that kind of choice, I vote NO.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I'm a PC

Apple Insider suggests that the new Microsoft ad campaign called "I'm a PC" was created on a Macintosh using Adobe Creative Suite. Wow, impressive about the reliability of PC based machines.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Shamrock Principle and Hotel WIFI

About a year and a half ago I wrote an article for a national publication called the Shamrock Principle - where I argued that companies would do well to honor the division of labor which I first found in a saloon called the Shamrock that I frequented in college - they had a sign over the bar - "We have an agreement with the bank, they don't serve beer and we don't cash checks." It was a near perfect restatement of a Ricardian division of labor. I've always thought that sentiment made a lot of sense.

I am the kind of traveler that the hotel chains lust after. Last night was my 80th night away from home this year. That is a lot by any count. I look for hotels which have a couple of characteristics. First, I would like a place that has an adequate gym. Second, I would prefer a place that has windows that open. I don't like feeling cooped up with air conditioning. But third I would prefer a place which offers WIFI, preferably free but if not a recognized service like T-mobile.

I bring this up because last night I stayed in a Hilton chain (Doubletree). This particular one passed the first test but failed in the other two. A month or so ago I was in an actual Hilton in Pasadena and filled out a comment card for the manager where I said I would be a lot more likely to stay a lot more in Hiltons if the WIFI were free. The manager wrote back to me and said "If you were a higher level in Honors, you would get free WIFI."

Hilton is one of the last chains that continues to maintain its own WIFI system. I respectfully disagree. Most of the other chains I stay in either have free WIFI (Holiday Inn and Marriott) or have T-Mobile (many Hyatts). I stay there because of the free service not to get the reward. Surprisingly my level in the other chains is much higher because they offer the service.

MLIB is not yet there but the Cats are....

Tonight is the Brickyard Showdown. That is the single playoff game between the winners of the PCL (Rivercats) and the International League (Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Yankees). I am coming back across the country from meetings in DC and wanted to listen to the game which is on ESPN 2 and also on the net at MLIB. The sound for the video feed is intermittent.

The Cats won it with a great first inning and a wonderful double play in the 7th. In the audio that did come through I found that the Yankees have had more than 200 roster moves during the season - that makes the number of moves done by the Cats last season seem minor.

Last night I went to a Nationals game and was down in the good seats - three rows back (the photo is from the Nats game - not the Showdown). That was also a good game.

This is the second year that the Cats have won the showdown (last year by 7-1). MLIB has a way to go, but not the Cats - Congratulations on winning the whole enchilada two times in a row.

Fishing Guides and the Economy

The other story for me was the fishing guide I had last week in Colorado. He runs a small fly shop in Carbondale (discussed in detail in an earlier post) and last year doubled his business. He is in his third year and thus that might be expected.

The most interesting thing he told me was that he spent this year his last dollar on print advertising. He has been building an internet business and the use of Google AdSense is much more productive than the print stuff. His business is more regional or national than John Armour's in that he attracts clients like me from around the country and they probably buy a high percentage of his gear.

But like my trainer, a lot of the guiding he does is based on personal referral. Interesting contract with the fly shop and guiding business. I think both of these guys are pretty good businessmen.

Personal Trainers as a Leading Indicator

On Sunday I was working out with my personal trainer. I could do aerobic training until the cows come home. A long time ago I ran marathons and ultras. But in 1978 I broke my ankle and that slowed down my racing career.

A couple of years ago I decided I was getting out of shape and hired a guy who is very skilled at his trade. John Armour has a degree from UC Davis. Over the time he has been able to move an immovable object (me) to get into some weight training. I can see a lot of progress compared to where I began.

John is an intelligent person. He has a good gift of gab. But he also has the right mix of motivational skills to get me to do things I would not do on my own.

On Sunday, we talked about the declines in his business. He made a comment that "trainers go before maids." He described how his customers have declined over the last couple of weeks in a number of industries that have been hit by the recession.

That made me think about who would hire a personal trainer. On the one hand are the old guys like me that want to either get back into better shape or simply want to get in shape. On the other are the people I was when I was running that want to become more competitive. When I was running marathons we had a group of runners who played off each other. We made our own energy replacement drink - experimenting with various concoctions. We read a lot about prior trainers like the legendary Percy Cerruti - but mostly we were making it up on the fly.

The odd thing about his business is that it is mostly by personal referral. This is not a service that one can easily advertise.

I had not thought about the dynamics of his business, although when I did it all made sense.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Cats Repeat on the PCL

The Cats repeated their PCL championship by defeating the Oklahoma Redhawks 4-2 in the fourth game of the series (they won as they did the Pacific Division 3-1). What amazed me was how several of the Cats seemed to step up their game for the playoffs. The standouts were Rogowski and Conrad but there were others in the mix. Gonzalez contributed a lot to this series. Petit, today, made an outstanding catch. Chris DeNorfia came into the final game with a .542 batting average for the playoffs - that is a good 200 points above his season performance. But that was not the only big jump in play. The team produced an amazing number of home runs for both series of the playoffs.

Whatever skills the Cats bring to the playoffs, they sure seem to know how to step up their game when they need to. It was a wonderful season.

Note for the Mainstream Media

CNET is one of many techie sites on the net that has a range of news and opinion. On Friday they did a poll asking "If Barack Obama were a piece of tech gear, which would he be?" The four options were an iPhone, Facebook, Baby's First Walkman or Windows VIsta. The results were as follows -

iPhone 43.4%
Windows Vista 27.3%
Facebook 19.3%
Baby's first Walkman 10.0%

Those of you interested in politics can take the results for almost anything. But then those of you interested in technology can too. Note the survey got a total of about 2000 votes and only techies read the site but that does not mean that in the endless news cycle that some network commentator will pick this up, put a little lipstick on it and analyze it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Proposition 8 - the most complex issue on the ballot.

As noted in an earlier post, I generally am skeptical of Constitutional Amendments. This measure would, if enacted, establish a constitutional standard that marriage is only between a man and a woman. It was put on the ballot after a challenge to another initiative which defined in law that marriage in the same way as a statutory idea. In 2000 61% of the voters supported the standard which said “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” But in May the California Supreme Court struck that down in a poorly reasoned case by the narrowest of margins. (4-3)

There are a series of issues here which are very troubling to me. First, I believe that homosexuals should have civil rights which protect their ability to live the way they choose; that should include assuring appropriate family relationships which I believe are fundamentally contractual (inheritance and health care are two primary ones). At the same time, I think there are good social reasons why marriage is a heterosexual institution. I think the attempt by some in the gay community to appropriate a term diminishes the language - to use the language of one politician - it is like putting lipstick on a pig. Under existing California law creating domestic partnerships, “domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits” as married spouses.

Second, I believe that the California Supreme Court's decision declaring that "any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation will from this point on be constitutionally suspect in California in the same way as laws that discriminate by race or gender" was a seriously flawed decision. The decision authored by Chief Justice Ron George on such a narrow basis(4-3) undermines Californian's confidence in the court. If the Chief Justice could not cobble together a more substantial majority, he should have had the good sense to withhold the decision until after the vote on Proposition 8 had been completed. George seems to have thought that California opinion had moved since the vote on Prop 22, but that should not have been his call, especially when it was clear that the issue would be addressed by the voters in November.

Third, I have been deeply troubled by the schism caused in the Episcopal church, which declared a couple of years ago that they would bless same sex marriages. I believe the leaders who caused that vote cared less about religious doctrine and more about political correctness. I believe their actions will ultimately destroy the Anglican communion.

Fourth, I believe Attorney General Brown's intervention in the short title of this initiative was inappropriate. The retitling will confuse the context of the issue for some voters. Based on those four premises one would expect me to support the proposition, but I do not.

What compels me to vote for this measure is something more. I do not believe that marriage, or its definition, should be elevated to a constitutional standard. Ultimately, I believe we are in a transitional phase in our society. I am not comfortable with the extremes of either the religious right or the secular left. Dan Weintraub, the columnist for the Sacramento Bee said to me a couple of years ago that he thought the state should be agnostic on marriage. Marriage in this state would then be bifurcated, as it is in many other countries between a set of civil institutions and religious ones. The California decision makes the distinction between civil and religious institutions. The arguments for and against can be found on the Secretary of State's Website.

I believe that Proposition 8 will fail. If that happens, I expect that we will spend a fair amount of time assuring that the guarantees in the First Amendment on free exercise of religious belief are maintained. I believe it would be inappropriate for the state to begin to try to legislate its' secular standards on religious institutions. It is questionable whether the militants in the gay community will accept the appropriate division between church and state. But they should.

Because this is a constitutional standard, I will vote no on the measure but I hope and pray that will not encourage the extremists in the gay community to begin a further assault on conservative religious institutions. There are good reasons why the First Amendment has two parts (an establishment clause and a free exercise clause).

One other comment on this issue. In an earlier post on the propositions, I raised a question on Proposition 8, and one Chino Blanco posted a lot of stuff about the California Family Council, who is a major part of the proponents of the measure. I chose not to publish the comments, first because they were off the major point of the earlier post but second because I think the issues on this issue are ultimately not about the issues Blanco raised but go far deeper. I am bothered by the extremists on both sides.

Proposition 7 - another fraud

Proposition 7 is a fraud. I would vote no not only because of its policies, which are idiotic, but also because of its costs.

The easiest way to understand the proposal is to listen to what the proponents of the measure say it will do. It will raise the costs of the California Energy Commission, never thought to be a very effective agency, by $3.5 million per year. It will mandate increases in the percentage of alternative fuel buys by investor owned utilities for the next several decades. It claims to help solar power, but the California Solar Energy Association is opposed to it. It will add about 3% a year to our energy bills although it seems to add more to those who live in the regions served by investor owned utilities.

The arguments are on the Secretary of State's Site.

This is one the easiest ones on the ballot - Vote NO

Prop 6 - this year's ballot box budgeting measure

Prop 6 is a measure to require the state to spend almost a billion dollars a year on a set of projects, supposedly to improve law enforcement. The principle of restricting expenditures in the budget (Proposition 98,99) is horrible policy. This would add to the problems the state faces in making choices among competing priorities. The measure also adopts a series of new criminal standards, which I believe was meant to sweeten the pot. On their face some of the ideas sound good - but they would be better tested in our dysfunctional legislature. Part of the reason for that dysfunction is the number of measures like Proposition 6 that limit the ability of our elected representatives to think about alternatives.

The full arguments, such as they are are at the Secretary of State's website.

Even if the new policies are helpful, I will vote no on the measure because of its' further constriction of the budget process.

The Bonds issues on the ballot - Proposition 3,10,12

Bond issues on this ballot deal with Children's Hospitals ($980 million - which becomes $2 billion when the bonds are paid off),Alternative Fuel Vehicles ($3.425 billion becomes about $10 billion in future costs) and Veterans Housing ($900 million - $1.8 billion in future costs). Ultimately my thoughts on bonding are based first on a theory of the capacity of the state to borrow money. If we borrow too much, no matter how worthy the cause, our credit rating as a state goes down.

The second consideration I have on any bonding measure, if it passes the first test is whether the bond has any tweaks in it. Prop 3 focuses the hospital bonds on specific childhood diseases. Prop 10 focuses about a third of the dough on R&D.

Prop 3 is the second hospital bond measure in the last four years.(Prop 61). Also the definition of what constitutes a "children's hospital" is a bit loose. Part of this measure helps to fund acute care - which is pretty much in trouble. The arguments on Proposition 3 can be found at this address.

Prop 10 does a mish-mash of projects including funding a lot of R&D on cleaner fuels and provide rebates for people who buy more efficient vehicles. T. Boone Pickens funded the signature campaign for this proposal because in part it moves Californians toward one end of the "clean" fuels market. The arguments on this issue are here.

Prop 12 among the three bond measures on the November ballot provides funds to buy assets which produce payments to fund the bonds. California has had a veterans home program for almost 90 years. The remaining funds from the last Vets bond amount to about $100 million. The program is limited to vets who served in time of war - but not actually to combat veterans. The arguments on Proposition 12 are at this address.

Of the three, the least defensible in my mind is Proposition 10, but Proposition 3 is not far behind. I would vote NO on 3 and 10. The state's debt capacity is under pressure and even if the proposed purposes were appropriate and especially for Prop 10 I am not sure that they are, now is not the time to expand General Obligation bonds. Prop 12 is more of a question. On the one hand, the program is self financing, it provides housing loans for real assets for people who served their country. On the other hand, some would argue against these bonds on the capacity argument. I am generally pretty tough on any bond but inclined to vote for Prop 12 but if you are a fiscal conservative, vote against all three.

Money Should not Talk - Proposition 5

This is a classic proposition where the easy and correct answer is no. A couple of stipulations at the outset. Our sentencing laws for all sorts of things are silly. Like the rest of the country we have a lot of people in jail for odd and curious reasons. We also have made a choice as society to pay a lot to keep very bad people, and some not so bad people, locked up for very long periods of time.

This proposition would implement changes in the way society deals with drug offenses. Right now there are some offenses related to drugs that can divert the person from prison and into treatment. If all of the assumptions on this measure come true (trust that they will not) costs for the new diversion programs could exceed $1 billion. At the same time the diversions could reduce prison costs by a similar amount.

To the extent that the proposition moves people out of prison and they don't commit more crimes, the assumptions will come true. I find those assumptions highly dubious.

I am not sure about the sociology here (or is it criminology). Why I will vote no on this is based on who has funded it. Between George Soros and John Sperling (the founder of the University of Phoenix) $2 million have been donated to the cause. Two others (Bob Wilson and Jacob Goldfield) have donated more than $2 million more. I don't know what the right theories here are but I am pretty sure that Soros and company don't know either. The proposition 5 arguments can be found here.

MADD, the District Attorneys and the Police are against this. That adds credibility to me for the no position. If Soros and Co. really cared about this, they might spend part of their $4 million that they have invested in the proposition building a demonstration project to show that their ideas actually work. Then we would not need a proposition, and the legislature, which should look at issues like this, would be likely to do this in the legislative process.

I plan to Vote NO

The Redux Proposition - Proposition 4

One could arguably suggest that Proposition 11 also should qualify for this designation. The issue of whether a pregnant teenager should be required to seek parental consent to get an abortion has also been before the voters before.

For me this is a really simple issue. It is not about a woman's right to choose, although that is how California voters have chosen to interpret it when it was previously on the ballot. Under existing California law a teenager is required to get parental consent for almost any invasive medical procedure. This proposition would make the requirement for an abortion to be a constitutional mandate. I believe those kinds of mandates should be few and far between.

That could argue against the proposition. As you will see when I finally get around to discussing Proposition 8, that is an issue for me. But there is one difference. In 1987 the legislature adopted a requirement for parental notification, with proper safeguards. But that measure was challenged in the courts. The opponents argue an absolute right to abortion. And while I understand the choice arguments, I also believe that in these kinds of sensitive issues parents have an appropriate role. If a daughter broke her leg in a soccer game or faced some other medical procedure the physicians would be under an obligation to notify the parents.

The proposition has four outs that would allow a bypass of the requirement for a 1) Medical emergency, 2)if the parent has authorized a waiver, 3) if there is evidence of abuse or 4) if a court authorizes a waiver. Those provisions seem to offer flexibility.

The proponents argue that a teenager may be too embarrassed to tell her parents for any one of a number of reasons. In my opinion, that argument is bunk. The arguments on this proposition, which have been heard many times before, can be found on the folllowing link.

While I would normally vote against a constitutional provision, I believe the clear statement of legislative policy has been frustrated by the courts and thus this proposal is worthy of adoption. This is a close call but I would vote YES.

Proposition 2

A general assumption that I take to each ballot is that the prevailing logic for any proposition is to start with a NO vote. After all we pay 120 Californians to work on important issues and we should only use this process when they have failed us. For me Prop 2 is an easy NO vote.

Proposition 2 is a measure sponsored by the Human Society and the California Veterinary Medical Association to require that certain farm animals be confined only in pens or holding areas where they can fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around. Existing state law defines cruelty to animals and this would change that definition. Most of the changes would take place beginning in 2015.

The eminences who wrote the for and against arguments all seem pretty well qualified. For the Pro side there are WAYNE PACELLE, President The Humane Society of the United States (I tend to think the Humane Society has gone off the deep end on these issues), DR. KATE HURLEY, D.V.M., M.P.V.M., Clinical Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis and ANDREW KIMBRELL, Executive Director, Center for Food Safety. For the Con side there are DR. CRAIG REED, DVM, Former Deputy Administrator Food Safety and Inspection Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), DR. TIM E. CARPENTER, Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, UC Davis and DR. PATRICIA BLANCHARD, DVM, PhD., Branch Chief University of California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System.

The pro side present several arguments - it supposedly will reduce cruelty to animals,protect health and safety(that makes an assumption that the existing penning standards do not do that) and will help family farmers (I think that argument is an absurd one). The con side says Prop 2 will potentially increase the incidence of Avian flu and will harm consumers. (Which is also a potentially a silly argument).

I am not at all concerned by protecting family farms. If they are economic and productive they will survive without assistance and if they are not they should fail. The argument against relating to consumers, aside from the public health issue (which may be credible), is probably based on price changes which might be real or not. The arguments on this proposition are contained in the following link.

My no vote is based on one premise.. This is what we hire the legislature is hired to do. The pro side does not make a credible case that this issue cannot be addressed in the dynamics of the legislative process where the technical arguments can be separated from the baloney.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fishing in Colorado

For the past couple of days I have been fishing in Colorado. Some rivers are classed "gold medal" for their fishing and within a few miles of where I was, in Carbondale,there are four of those in close proximity. The place we stayed had the Crystal as a back yard. I will have some more pictures of the area in the next couple of days. I will also do a second post on thoughts gained from the guide we hired in Carbondale. But here is a rundown of the last couple of days.

The first day I was able to fish the Crystal and the Roaring Fork. I will post some in a later post but the waters were pretty, if unproductive. It often takes me a day or so to get into the strange rhythms of fishing. So on that day I am a little impatient - casting too much or to short.

Yesterday we went to one of the most technically challenging rivers in the country - the Frying Pan and then finished the day on a drift on the Colorado. The Frying Pan, even if you are not successful, is one of the prettiest rivers I have ever been on. There are fourteen miles of open water with lots of different kinds of challenges. We started at about mile 4 and spent a couple of hours working some seams. All of the local people said the fish were finicky here - and based on those two hours they were right.

In the afternoon we hired a guide for a drift trip down the Colorado. We ended up spending about 5 hours on the river. Drifting is different. We had two in the boat, plus the guide and the goal is to not step on your companion's territory. You are also trying to match the flow of the river and at first I had a great tendency to not be able to do that.

Our guide owns the Crystal Fly Shop in Carbondale. I am a great believer in guides, especially in areas you don't know well. They require a special mix of skills - they have to be dialed into the areas they are guiding but also into the people they work with. Dave Johnson has both elements.

For the start of the trip we had a pretty long dry spell but then for the remainder we seemed to hit a series of hot spots. All the time Dave gave us good tips about how to find the fish while all the time maneuvering the boat. I would rate him among the best guides I have ever hired. We got a lot of fish, looked at a lot of water, got some great instruction and all the while had a good time in the bargain.

Oddly enough, although we got some pretty good fish (mostly Browns and a couple of Rainbows) they seemed to hit on the smallest fly on the rig.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Dennis Prager and Higher Education

This morning Dennis Prager had Charles Murray on his show to talk about his new book on Education. Ever since he did a devastating critique of the welfare system, Murray has been a wise and interesting public intellectual.

Prager has a consistent rap which argues that most students should not go on to college. He bases that on a couple of premises. First, he suggests that colleges (and in this case he is not careful in separating the wheat from the chaff) impose values on their students which are antithetical to conservative values. Second, he says colleges cost too much. Third, he argues that colleges don't offer anything of value. I'm tired of Prager's rap here - and most of the time I find him an intelligent commentator.

Murray's argument seems a lot more subtle than Prager's. First, he says there should be no gatekeepers in deciding who should go to college. Second, at least from the interview he seems quite prepared to look at the college experience in a much more balanced way.

We should be talking about college costs and what college offers to American society. But Prager's constant and increasing irrational attacks on the emotional side of the issue belittles the real issues we should be thinking about. Prager seemed to be arguing that we should eliminate all government provided student aid (although he does not seem to understand that the largest source of aid is state subsidies in public institutions).

A good part of the change in college costs over time have come about because of governmental regulation and demands from parents. As parents and students demanded the end to in loco parentis, they demanded to replace it with what college administrators call "helicopter parenting." When I went to college in the 1960s I saw my parents at Thanksgiving and then Christmas and then in June. Today's generation of parents are constantly involved and demand a whole series of amenities that are expensive to maintain. Obviously there are other things which have affected college costs - some of them based on an inattention to costs by administrators.

I was on the National Commission on College Costs which produced a report analyzing where costs come from and how we could change those dynamics. So I am not just a casual observer. I wish I could spend some time with Prager seeing whether he is as irrational as he sounds or whether with some care and thought he could begin to think about this set of issues with the subtlety that he brings to many other issues.


Richard J. Daily, the Mayor of Chicago who presided during the 1968 democratic convention was an anachronism. But he offered up a term that I still love. Daily at one point said "I resent insinuendos."

For the last few days an email has circulated with Governor Palin either in a stars and stripes bikini or in a somewhat revealing blouse and high heels. Some of those photos have been circulated by detractors and some by supporters. The detractors try to suggest that Palin is not qualified because of the photos. One of the supporter's emails show pictures of the other three candidates (Obama, McCain and Biden) and suggest only an idiot would vote for those three. Both of the pictures are Photoshopped

The Obama Muslim rumors are of the same type. I am sure that there are similar issues with Biden and McCain. Ultimately, we should be talking about the issues that count - how do we fix Social Security, what is the right trade policy, what role should government have in health care?

What bothers me is how cavalierly some people take this process. Indeed, there are differences between the two sides, but let's have a thoughtful discussion about those differences rather than making it up. I guess I agree with the Mayor.

CLick on 80-20 and 90-9-1

The book Click, reviewed earlier, made two more contributions to me that are a bit outside of my earlier comments on the book. But as I thought about the contributions of this book, they are two which should be highlighted.

One piece of data (one of Tancer's mantras is "I Like Data") concerns Vifredo Pareto. Pareto was economist who developed a theory on equitable distributions called Pareto Optimality. The concept suggests that at the margin distributions should go first to the least well off. Tancer points out that Pareto also was the developer of the "80-20" rule - which posits that 80 percent of one's business will come from 20% of one's customers. The 80-20 rule is an essential idea relating to all sorts of marketing. And, until recently, drove many sales and distribution decisions. It is especially important for figuring out hits in products. Chris Anderson, a Wired editor, points out that when content is digitized the 80-20 rule is less applicable because of something called the Long Tail(the original Wired article which is much expanded in the book) As someone who has taught Pareto Optimality for a long time - I had not realized his contribution to the concept of 80-20.

Tancer also introduces something called the 90-1-9 rule which posits that for resources like You Tube or Wikipedia that 90% of the hits are from passive users - people looking for content. One percent of the users are active contributors and another nine percent are occasional users. This original idea came from a paper by Jakob Neilsen called Participation Inequality. But Tancer expands on the idea and speculates that for some Web 2.0 applications that ratio may be moving a bit. In the second half of Click he speculates about both what we know about web demographics (i.e. who are the one percenters in various situations - and they differ by age and background for different sites) and also about how to think about using the data that one can mine from the web stats. As I noted in the earlier post - this shorter section is well worth the book by itself.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The First Microsoft Seinfeld Ad

For about 8 TV seasons Jerry Seinfeld and producer Larry David produced a show about "nothing". It had some remarkable episodes - one of my favorites being something called the "soup nazi." All of the episodes revolved around the petty little things of life of four characters who lived in New York. Now, for a new $300 million campaign Microsoft has hired Seinfeld to pitch their products. At one point Microsoft was at the cutting edge but has lost that edge. That is in part their problem, a lot of their software is bulky - although some of it is pretty useful. In the last few years they have had a lot of issues. They produced a music player called Zune that is an also ran to the iPod. They spent lots of time and effort bringing a new version of their operating system to market only to find that most people did not want to buy it - disappointing sales on Vista is an understatement. They seem to have missed the boat on open source software with Microsoft's CEO making disparaging remarks about the movement in a number of venues only to look more like a churlish child than a commentator on technology. They have been ridiculed for the last few years in a series of Apple ads called "I'm a PC, I'm a Mac" - some of which are very funny and all of which are creative. So they decided to create this ad campaign to recover some of their lost position.

Their loss in position may also be a reflection of where technology is moving. Collaborative software, like Google Docs and Wimba (or Go to Meeting) seem to be increasingly useful. Technology does not revolve around one's PC. And Open Source products have proven to be more nimble and plenty reliable. None of those developments play to Microsoft's strengths.

When Seinfeld first debuted it had a very small following. The humor was subtle and a bit quirky. You could not get it by watching one episode. Evidently, that is what they were trying to achieve in this set of ads. I am not sure the same thing will happen. The connections here between the company and the ad are remote. Both Seinfeld and Bill Gates are playing themselves. But from my view, I am not sure that this first ad builds to anything. The Apple ads start with a theme and tell a short message. This first one looks like a mini-Seinfeld episode with one new character, Gates. This could build into something like the TV show or it could sell like the Zune. For my money, with the first installment of the campaign, it looks a lot more like the Zune.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Pacific Division

The Cats won the Pacific division of the PCL. They defeated the Salt Lake Bees 8-3.
The Oklahoma Redhawks tied their series at two so they will play the final game tomorrow night. I believe that Wednesday's loss to Salt Lake was the first we have ever suffered in a home playoff game. So coming back was even sweeter.

Sacramento will wait for the winner of the series between Iowa and Oklahoma beginning on Wednesday next. Tonight's Pacific Division game like the previous three - lots of hits and several homers. 97 hits in the series for the four games for both teams and 16 homers for the Cats was pretty impressive. When you think that the team had 134 homers for the season that was pretty wonderful.

The Men's Wearhouse

In recent years I don't wear as many suits as I once did. But we are in LA this weekend and discovered that the wedding we are attending this evening requires something a bit more formal than the sport coat I brought. For a long time when I did wear suits I had them made, down to the little tag in the coat which had my name in it.

But I needed something quickly and of reasonable quality. We went to the store, not knowing what they would have. I went to the store in Marina del Ray. Here is what I found. #1 - A very good selection of suits and men's clothing. #2 - A well trained staff who knew about the suits they were selling but also how to accessorize. #3 - Great service.

I must say I was impressed with the whole package.


Amazon has a new program called Vine where you can obtain advance copies of things to review. The first one I received is a book by a San Francisco Internet executive in a company called Hitwise called Click.

If you have any interest in how the internet is changing the way we look at the world, you should read this book. It is funny and informative. It offers a lot of interesting facts - for example -
* Porn sites on the web are a declining part of the total volume and Sunday is the weakest day for porn searches.
* The average teen couple spends $1200 on the Senior Prom and the search phase for prom dresses goes in two phases.
* Liberal blog spots like the Daily Kos, tend to cluster (move people to similar sites) more than conservative ones like Townhall.

All that would be interesting in itself but Tancer then goes on to think about some of the implications of all the data that is available from the net. What he seems to suggest is something that I first read in a book that Michael Lewis wrote several years ago called Next: the Future Just Happened Nancer has the same ability that Lewis does in weaving thoughts together in an entertaining way. But why I think Tancer's book is more useful is that he is able to link speculation about changes with data. While Lewis went from investment banks to baseball to technology future - Nancer seems to be imbedded in thinking about how the internet will change us by being able to link us in all sorts of new ways.

Tancer maintains a blog and a couple of other sites where he puts his current meanderings through data up. Some of his recent posts include the differences in olympics viewing and the market segmentation on how searches are conducted about McCain and Obama, which seems to show that blues and reds receive their news from different sources. So in one sense he is updating the initial premises in the book in realtime. But don't just go to the blog, read the book!

Friday, September 05, 2008

In furtherance of improbability

The second game of the Pacific division championship was played in Salt Lake tonight. There were 27 hits. Denorfia, Knoedler, Gonzalez, and Murphy(he had 2) homered. We won 13-5. That makes 80 hits in three games. What is amazing to me is not all those hits but the difference between the last couple of games against the Grizzlies. There are two more games in the Pacific division and obviously we need to win one of those. The Iowa Cubs went up 2-1 on the Red Hawks.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Cats Come Back

At Thursday night's game there were a lot of highlights. Brooks Conrad ripped out two homers - to improve on his one the night before. But Rogowski, Murphy and Denorfia also had round trippers.

The Cat's pitchers faced

37 batters - splitting the task almost equally, and looked credible. Sean Gallagher came down and Brett Anderson came up from Midland. They looked considerably better than the set of Cat pitchers in the last few games. Like last night this was not a defensive duel - there were 20 hits (instead of 34 last night) but this time the Cats scored early and held on to win 8-3.

This was our last game of the season for 2008. If the Cats make it through Salt Lake (they need to win 2 of 3 - they then face the Atlantic division champs in a best of five next week (the first two in Sacramento) but I am fishing and my wife is going to LA to visit her mom.

Last season I was surprised at how conservative Tony DeFrancesco was in moving base runners. This season I have been surprised at how long Todd Steverson has been willing to keep a pitcher in. The 15-0 rout we had a couple of days ago at the end of the regular season could have been improved somewhat with a bit more adroit use of pitchers. Last night, I am not sure anything could have helped but again better changes in pitchers might have helped.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Live blogging the first playoff game

I thought I would liveblog the first playoff game for the Rivercats. I started out and then watched a long game unfold and decided to give it a recap instead. This game was not ideal. 33 hits, 23 runs and the Cats lost by three. Salt Lake scored in the 1st (2), 3rd (5), 5th (5), and the 6th (1). We scored in the 2d (3), 4th (1),5th (3), 6th (2) and 8th (1) - we had plenty of chances to win but our pitching was sloppy. Salt Lake's fielding was something less than spectacular. Their first baseman had a very rough night. The game went on for almost four hours. Both teams left 10 on base and we left 7 in scoring position with 2 out while they left while we left but 4. Conrad and Baisley both had round trippers - but in the end we just could not get it together.

For us to win the series we would now have to win 2 in Salt Lake. We've done pretty well this season but if the last few games are any indication of how we will play tomorrow - I am not sure we can put it together. Well, the best I can hope for is the Scarlett O'Hara response from the club - tomorrow is another day.

Proposition 11 - One of the easy ones first

Proposition 11 would take the final process of the decennial redistricting process out of the hands of the legislature. Proposition 11 would create a God awful alternative procedure which is none-the-less better than the existing one where we allow legislators to choose their constituents. The truth is, however, that even this convoluted process will be better than the current procedure. IF you are a conservative and think that this will make significant changes in the partisan balance in the legislature, you are wrong. As occasional Bee contributor Tony Quinn commented recently there are really two Californias - which do not meet. The Bay Area, like the Northeast US, does not have very many republicans in it. So the chances of someone like former Congressman Bill Baker getting elected in the East Bay, no matter how lines are drawn, are remote at best. But what this plan, or indeed any one which will take the process out of the self interested hands of politicians, will do is create a somewhat larger incentive to have more moderates run in primaries. Right now, we often get the loonies of both parties running in their primaries. But with a change in the way districts are drawn there should be a certain number of legislators who actually have to appeal to a wider range of voters.

The measure would forbid drawing district lines to favor incumbents, candidates or parties. With today's computers it is possible to alter election results by deciding which voters will be in which district. That is destructive of the electoral process but it also alters the level of attention that elected members show toward their constituents. The real battle comes in the primary. You've heard these arguments before but if you are a glutton for punishment, you can find them at this site.

If you like the current budget stalemate, then vote this one down. If you don't then vote for Proposition 11. I plan to vote for Proposition 11. While the idea is not perfect, it is better than the status quo.

Election Guide

Twenty years ago or so I began to publish an election guide. It started out as a question from my mother in law who said "Can you make sense of all these propositions?" Over time the guide's readership has grown. In the last election, through its initial mailing and subsequent re-mailings the guide went to over 400 people in California. I try not to express an opinion on prominent positions for office. I figure if people cannot figure out who they should vote for president, I probably cannot help them. But on some of the lower offices I do provide preferences.

On this ballot there are a dozen items to figure out. There are 10 initiatives including a couple of very prominent ones. There are three that involve bonding authority. A couple of issues are fundamentally retreads - one is there because of a court decision by our supreme court, two are there in a slightly altered form as a result of the voters rejecting an earlier version of the idea. A couple are funded because of the wealth of people like George Soros and John Sperling (the founder of the University of Phoenix) - neither of which are fulltime Californians. A The Secretary of State lists their general title as follows:

Prop. 1A -Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act.
Prop. 2 -Standards for Confining Farm Animals. Initiative Statute.
Prop. 3- Children’s Hospital Bond Act. Grant Program. Initiative Statute.
Prop. 4- Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor’s Pregnancy. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.
Prop. 5 - Nonviolent Drug Offenses. Sentencing, Parole and Rehabilitation. Initiative Statute.
Prop. 6 -Police and Law Enforcement Funding. Criminal Penalties and Laws. Initiative Statute.
Prop. 7 - Renewable Energy Generation. Initiative Statute.
Prop. 8 - Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.
Prop. 9 - Criminal Justice System. Victims’ Rights. Parole. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.
Prop. 10 - Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy. Bonds. Initiative Statute.
Prop. 11- Redistricting. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.
Prop. 12- Veterans’ Bond Act of 2008.

Over the next two months I will present some analysis of each of them. I am not going to do them in order because I have not put equal thought into each. On a couple you may be surprised at my conclusion. Quite frankly, I am too.

Here are some operating principles that I begin with for looking at ballot measures. #1 - the underlying principle of any ballot measure should be "Why should I say yes?" The default option should always begin with NO. #2 - That is especially true for measures which propose to bring the state further into debt. A key idea from public choice economics (I am a fan of this line of reasoning) is that if we are committing future generations (who cannot vote for themselves) we should be extra careful. #3 - I have a general principle that the Constitution should be a relatively brief document. And finally, for the most part, although I do not always agree with the voters, I think, they make relatively careful decisions. With some major exceptions like Proposition 103 (the initiative which created an elected position for Commissioner of Insurance and did a whole lot of other oddities for state law) they are able to sort out issues.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Headlines and Sympathies

In this morning's Bee the column right headline was Race for '08 - Republican Convention - Gala is off to a stormy start FOCUS ON GUSTAV RELIEF SHAKEN BY PALIN DISCLOSURE

Two things seem pretty clear about the state of the election. First, as noted in an earlier post, the performance of the new Governor of Louisiana and indeed the relief agencies in response to Hurricane Gustav seems to have been up to par or better. Most commentators have offered praise to Governor Jindal. True, this hurricane was not of the same force that Katrina was but Jindal's response was far superior to the incompetence of his predecessor. If anything the Gustav may have burnished the reputation of the GOP and helped to separate all republicans from the current president.

Second, when you look at what the Palin nomination has meant to the GOP, it seems to have energized the base very effectively. True organizations like NOW have commented that the Governor is not "their kind of woman" - news flash, their kind only has one party affiliation. But the commentary about Governor Palin's private family issue has been consistently positive not distracting. This further confirmed that Palin lives the philosophy she espouses. Governor Palin said the following (quoted in the Bee) " We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support." The Bee also snuck in that Palin's husband had a DUI (24 years ago). Nice balanced touch.

I do not remember the Bee raise questions of the Obama set on the last night of the democratic convention about the ostentatious nature of the platform from which Senator Obama gave his acceptance speech. Obviously the more important story was what the candidate had to say - but the message from the GOP convention is not on unity or energy or even message but on side details. On the one hand the two strikes offered in the headline at the GOP campaign seem on balance to have strengthened not weakened their hand (although this is still a very close race) and on the other the Bee seems to have ignored an issue that generated a minor storm around the democratic candidate. (They should have.) But fair should apply to both sides.

One who got it right was Senator Obama. He said unequivocally when the scandal mongers began to ply their trade, "families are off limits."

Monday, September 01, 2008

Sarah Palin - the real deal

An interesting thing has happened. A governor from a tiny state with only brief experience (although more executive experience than the three guys who are running for Prez or VP) seems to have caught the nation by storm.

There are some interesting indicators. First, from listening to the conservative side of the aisle, there seems to be genuine excitement about Governor Palin. Second, the democrats are scratching their heads. They've started to try out the low level politics that have marred both parties for the last several years - a) she supported the bridge to nowhere, b) she has no experience, c) Alaska is not real experience, d) she has a daughter who is "with child" (shudder), e) she does not mirror the vast majority of women in the country , f) Palin's husband was arrested for a DUI 24 years ago, and my personal favorite - g) Joe Biden will eat her alive (she does not know what she is getting into). The level of shrillness seems to be increasing and that does not suggest that the dems are all that sure of their situation. Third, there has been a frenzy of digging to understand the new person on the scene. The evolving story seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. Fourth, the buzz on Palin is huge - she seems to be high in the Twitter ratings. Fifth, Obama's convention did not seem to move anyone. It is usual, after a week of coverage, that the candidate would get a post-convention bounce. That did not seem to happen. I thought it odd during the convention that I did not hear one person make personal commendatory comments on Senator Obama's achievements.

Does that mean McCain will win? I think it is still way too early. But Palin, seems in the first several days, to have shaken up the race and at the same time shown how the democrat's version of Strom Thurmond (long on seniority, short on actual legislative leadership) was such a poor choice. Obama's key speech line - "Change does not come from Washington, we bring it to Washington" may prove quite prophetic.

Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

The playoffs begin on Wednesday for the Rivercats. Based on the last game of the season, I am not sure they are ready for them. Today's game was exciting but they finally lost it before an announced crowd of a bit more than 12,500. The first half of the game looked like the Grizzlies did not have their heart in it, although they leapt to the lead. But then Marshall had a lousy inning and the Cats were down five runs. It was windy so if the ball got above the stadium it had a good chance to fly out - none did. The crowd was a bit smaller than the last two nights.

The Cats begin their playoffs on Wednesday against the Salt Lake Bees - who started the season hot as blazes but have cooled in recent weeks. They play two at Raley and then the remaining three in Salt Lake. If they win three they then go on to the PCL championships and have the same routine - Wednesday, Thursday of the next week in Sacramento and then three at the away site. So the Cats have their work cut out for them. If they pull it together - they will do fine.

This has been a fun season, nonetheless.