Monday, December 31, 2007

New beginnings

I was very flattered when Westy first invited me to join IJAB as a co-blogger back in August 2005. In my view he had a neat blog going at the time, and it was an honor to be given a chance to contribute to it. I wasn't sure how long I'd keep at it, maybe six months or a year, but I felt it was worth a try.

Well, more than two years later I can honestly say it's been a fun ride. Not only have I enjoyed writing a variety of posts on many different topics, but I have enjoyed reading people's comments and other people's blogs. The blogging community, both local and global, is quite a place.

A few days ago I let Westy know that after two years, it's finally time for me to step down as an IJAB contributor. I'm not sure if or when I'll start up my own blog, but rest assured I'll still read and comment on this one.

Westy, as I sign off for the final time, I just wanted to say "thank you" for inviting me to be a part of this creative outlet. You've got a great blog going here, and I'm sure some of your best posts yet will be in 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Do you see the GOP nominee?

Note: This post got long-winded. However, my campaign pledge to you is that I intend for this to be my last political analysis post on IJAB, or anywhere else, for quite a long while!

When I was 8 years old, I predicted to my mom that Howard Metzenbaum would defeat George Voinovich in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race that year. After my mom’s initial surprise that her little boy would offer an unsolicited opinion on such a topic had subsided, she asked me, “Why?” My answer was simple: I had seen a TV ad for both candidates and thought most people would like Metzenbaum’s better.

A few weeks later Metzenbaum went on to win in a landslide.

Now, I’m not sharing the aforementioned story to brag. After all, I was only 8 and based my prediction on a ridiculously small amount of information. Rather, I shared this story it to illustrate to you that I’ve been offering unsolicited, ill-informed opinions about politics for nearly 20 years.

Back in March I took a look at the Democratic presidential candidates’ chances at winning their party’s nomination, and at the time I said that I “might” offer up a similar post about the Republicans a few months later. The reason I was so noncommittal back then was because there were a few key variables that I wanted defined. First, I needed to know who would actually be in the race (as it turns out, Fred Thompson did hop in and Newt Gingrich didn’t). Second, I wanted to see which candidate would start to rally the Religious Right (looks like that’s Mike Huckabee). So I guess if I’m ever going to analyze the GOP field before the voting starts, it’s now or never…

Despite the national polls showing five Republicans still running strong in a fluid field, in my estimation the GOP race has essentially been narrowed down to three candidates with a legitimate shot to win their party’s nomination: Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani. But before I go much further, I should probably explain why John McCain and Fred Thompson are long shots.

In Fred Thompson’s case, he is a textbook example as to why all of the serious presidential candidates start running two years before the first votes are cast in Iowa. Most modern presidential candidates adhere to a formula similar to the following when launching their campaigns:

1) About two years before Iowa
  • Determine if you want to be president and if so, what experience and issues will you tout to rally people to your cause?
  • Do the necessary polling to see if your perception lines up with reality (i.e., if polling shows that only 17% of the people in your own state are impressed with your experience, then you probably should reconsider a presidential bid).
  • Go to the people who would campaign for you and only you, and see how much support they’re really going to offer. For instance, start with your spouse and gauge whether or not they’re on board 100%. If your spouse isn’t willing to sacrifice as much as you are to win, then it probably won’t work. Obviously, you then build out from here—talking to your kids and other close relatives and friends. Then go to your close professional/political relationships and see exactly who’s on board and how they can truly help. This is really the most important part, which is to find the core of your campaign, the inner circle of people who will stick with you no matter what; and this should be done about two years before Iowa.
  • Now that your inner circle of supporters is lined up, you start reaching out to other likely supporters, looking for money, advisors, potential endorsements, etc. At this early point, there are a lot of talented people in your party who would love the chance to be a part of a campaign but aren’t sure if they’ll get a chance. If you’re the first to ask them, then you’ve got a leg up. I am no expert on the nitty-gritty details of a presidential campaign, but it’s pretty obvious that most of the critical groundwork is set one to two years before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses.

2) About one year before Iowa

  • a) You’ve focus-grouped every issue from every angle, organized your campaign as best you can, and lined up enough support to be taken seriously. Now it’s time to officially announce your candidacy.
  • Fund-raising goes into full swing. All of your preparation leading up to this point should begin to result in strong fundraising numbers within three to six months. If it doesn’t, then let’s face it, you’re not a frontrunner and need to re-evaluate either your message or your candidacy.
3) The three months leading up to Iowa (and the rest of the early voting states)…
  • Now it’s open political war. Not only are people paying attention to the debates in increasing numbers, but things really are heating up from a “skirmish” to a “war” mentality. At this point you must unleash both a strong ground attack and aerial assault. By “ground attack” I’m referring to precinct captains and others who are organizing and going door-to-door as well as making phone calls, etc. By “aerial assault” I’m referring to TV and radio ads. Two candidates might be neck and neck in the polls, but the one who has raised more money is likely to have the advantage at getting their message out effectively and organizing voters during those crucial last two days.
  • In the final push, having big-name endorsers actually go out on the campaign trail can make a difference, so long as it’s somebody who is truly respected by the voters you’re trying to court. If you’ll recall, back in January 2004 Senator Ted Kennedy, who is respected nationally by most Democrats, campaigned long and hard for John Kerry in the few days leading up to the Iowa caucuses. Furthermore, Kerry’s wife also campaigned vigorously in the few days leading up to the Iowa caucuses, visiting with voters in their homes and talking to them personally. In fact, Kerry, his wife, and Kennedy often campaigned separately in Iowa those last few days in order to cover more ground. Long story short, having a high-profile, respected person shake hands on your behalf with voters a day or so before voting takes place in a small (population) state can make a big difference. (Food for thought: You know Bill Clinton will be in Iowa on January 2. Will Oprah?)

By not following the conventional model outlined above, Thompson has put himself in a game of perpetual catch-up. Aside from being way behind in money and trying to ward off accusations of not having the required “fire in the belly,” one can only wonder how many thousands of Republicans working for Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Romney and others would have gladly worked for Thompson’s campaign had he only asked them first?

Okay, so how about McCain? There’s a poll out today showing him leading the GOP field nationally and running a strong campaign in New Hampshire which could see him repeat his 2000 victory. In fact, there’s a real chance he could come out of New Hampshire with the win and leading in the national polls. Shouldn’t he be considered among the top contenders to win the GOP nomination?

As much as McCain is respected both within the Republican Party and among Independents and Democrats, he is going to have great difficulty translating that widespread appeal into actually winning the GOP nomination. If one were to analyze the core values of the Republican Party (as difficult a task as that would be), McCain is just a little bit too much out of step on a few key issues to win the GOP nomination. In New Hampshire, Independents can vote in the Republican primary, so if McCain does win New Hampshire it will be on the strength of his appeal to Independents. However, after New Hampshire I don’t see his campaign gaining enough momentum to win the nomination.

All right, enough of the backgrounder stuff. Let’s examine the top contenders. In looking at what Huckabee, Romney, and Giuliani must each do to win, this GOP race is turning into a complicated game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Each candidate has strengths and weaknesses in attracting certain types of voters, so this race could be all about the match-ups and, as the elder George Bush coined the phrase during an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1980, “The Big Mo.”

First up, let’s look at the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. He spent more than a decade as the governor, so he can tout a resume which shows executive experience. He also has a long record of being pro-life and has done the best job of connecting with the GOP’s Religious Right on a deeply theological level.

Overall, Huckabee has run a great campaign. That I’m even writing about him here is evidence of that fact, especially considering where he started out this year in the polls. However, with his surge in the polls comes increased scrutiny from both his competitors and the media. The biggest hurdle he’ll face with GOP voters is what many could perceive as being “too liberal” while governor of Arkansas.

Huckabee has a great chance to win Iowa, and if he does that, then he has a decent shot at the nomination. However, his campaign made an unforced error recently which could be their undoing. In the January-February issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, an opinion piece penned by Huckabee’s campaign under his name stated, "The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad.” Such a statement actually could work to Huckabee’s advantage in a general election if Bush’s approval ratings stay low, but such a statement will do more harm than good as he tries to court GOP voters in Iowa. Despite the fact that Huckabee has tried to back away from use of the phrase “arrogant bunker mentality,” Bob Dole, who won the Iowa caucuses in 1988 and 1996, has written an open letter denouncing Huckabee’s criticism of the White House’s foreign policy. If Huckabee fails to win Iowa, pundits will point to that Foreign Affairs opinion piece as one of the key factors.

Next up is the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. Of all the GOP candidates, he has come the closest to running a “textbook” campaign. His father had been a fairly popular governor of Michigan back in the day, and he had also run for the presidency. So not only has Romney launched this presidential campaign in an efficient manner, he’s seen firsthand how it’s done before (and has presumably learned from some of his father’s mistakes).

Romney has raised a lot of money (and has much of his own to add), and he’s appealing to a wider spectrum of GOP voters than any of the other candidates, evidenced by the fact that he is the only one polling in the top two for each of the first five states to vote: Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina. Although, Romney has not made the deepest inroads, which is why some national polls currently have him running fourth.

We can’t discuss Romney’s campaign without considering how his Mormon faith will impact Republican voters. As far as I can tell, most GOP voters will take Romney at his word when he says that he believes in the separation of church and state; although one negative for Romney’s campaign will be its inability to connect with the Religious Right on a deeply theological level.

Perhaps a bigger area where Romney will be attacked by his opponents is when he was running for office in Massachusetts both in the 90’s and 2002, he ran on fairly liberal platforms, including the fact that he was openly pro-choice. So while Romney has definitely tried to change his stance on many issues as he runs for the GOP nomination, his opponents are eagerly pointing out what his previously stated positions were. Although, one thing that Romney has in his favor on the issue of abortion is that he tells a rather compelling story, saying that as soon as he became governor and actually had to start making decisions of life and death, he changed his mind to always protect the unborn. (I’m not here to comment on whether or not his story is true, but rather that it is, on the surface, a compelling story. It’s reminiscent of George W. Bush saying that after a hangover from his 40th birthday party he finally decided to give up drinking and experienced a spiritual awakening. History shows that voters respond well to those types of stories, which also serve to inoculate the candidate from criticism of their actions during those prior periods. After all, if your opponent starts to criticize what you did in that past era, you can just say, “Yeah, that’s true, and here’s why I changed…” If it’s a compelling story, you come out ahead in that exchange.)

And then there’s former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has executive experience, a record of cleaning up crime and a high-profile name from his steady leadership in the aftermath of 9/11. Last year both Giuliani and McCain were considered the frontrunners, but naturally, the field has been changing.

Giuliani is a tough politician, which is a great asset both for dealing with public criticism as well as for formulating strategies to attack your opponents. Despite the fact that he’s not in step with much of the GOP on social issues, he’s been leading in the national polls for a long time and has been able to raise a lot of money. He will be a formidable candidate at least up until the eve of Super Tuesday (Feb. 5). In fact, if every state had to vote today, then Giuliani would win the nomination because he leads in many of the most populous states such as California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, etc.

But one curious thing about the Giuliani campaign is that not only has it been relatively absent in Iowa, one could make the argument that it hasn’t gone full force in New Hampshire either. When Giuliani is confronted with such criticisms about how his campaign is deploying its resources, his response is that he’s “running a national campaign.” If I’m not mistaken, his strategy is to let his opponents out-campaign him in Iowa and New Hampshire, states he feels he wouldn’t have won anyway, and he’ll out-campaign them in the Super Tuesday states where his high-profile name, ground organization, and massive TV and radio ad campaign will overwhelm and crush his opponents in one fell swoop.

And so the stage is set for Republicans to battle over the next five weeks, perhaps longer, for the soul of their party. Of the six contests before Super Tuesday, Romney could win all six. Huckabee could win five of six (it’s not looking good for him in New Hampshire), and Giuliani could win three of six (Michigan, Nevada, and Florida).

I have no idea who will win Iowa. It could go either way between Romney and Huckabee. Both need that state badly, but I’d say Huckabee needs it more because Romney’s still in the running for New Hampshire regardless. Funny enough, if Romney wins Iowa, the attacks on his campaign will reach a fevered pitch which could help McCain take New Hampshire.

While both Iowa and New Hampshire matter in terms of press coverage and momentum, the pivotal state for many campaigns will be Michigan. If either Huckabee or Romney wins Michigan, then that candidate will likely give Giuliani the biggest challenge on Super Tuesday. If McCain somehow wins Michigan, then that would likely just jumble the field more, giving Giuliani a bigger advantage on Super Tuesday. If Giuliani somehow wins Michigan, then he’ll be very close to wrapping up the nomination. With the exception of Giuliani, any candidate who loses the first three contests is facing dire odds at that point.

So who do I think will win the nomination? My brain tells me to stay out of it, but my gut does have a feeling as to who has the best chance to win the GOP nomination.

Back in 1980 when a little-known candidate named George Bush scored a surprise victory in the GOP’s Iowa caucuses, he told the national media that his campaign now had “The Big Mo” as in “momentum.” But do you know what happened? Ronald Reagan quickly stomped out that momentum by winning in New Hampshire.

So what about momentum? Is it real? Does it matter? Well, I don’t think that a state’s voters base their decision on how another state voted per se. But they do base it in part on how the media portrays the different campaigns. If you win a state, then the press is asking you, “Why did you win?” and they're asking your opponents, “Why did you lose?” In that sense, some (not all) of the press coverage turns to your favor. By winning a state, the perception is not just that your campaign did something well, but also that you the candidate did something right. On the flip side, if you start to lose too many states in a row in the early going, then a perception starts to build that you the candidate are doing something wrong.

Giuliani won’t win Iowa, and he very likely won’t win New Hampshire. The polling data isn’t looking good for him in Michigan either. If Giuliani loses the first three contests, which at this point is very probable, much of the media coverage he gets will be along the lines of, “How many states will he lose?” and “Is his campaign strategy incompetent?” The fourth contest is in Nevada where he’s currently in a dogfight for the lead, but if he loses that one too, I highly doubt his campaign will stop the bleeding in the fifth contest, which is South Carolina.

As former Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean could tell you, getting that first primary (or caucus) victory is the toughest. If you don’t get one early on, then you’re not sure if you ever will. That’s why I think Romney has the best chance at the Republican nomination. Even if Huckabee wins Iowa and McCain wins New Hampshire, Romney would still have a decent chance to pull out a close win in Michigan. Of all the candidates, Romney is the least likely to be shut out of the first three contests, and therefore, the most likely to have momentum break his way at the most important time, which will be for Florida on January 29 followed by Super Tuesday on February 5.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A "No Bull" Cause

When Scott Skiles was fired as head coach of the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Eve, he told the Chicago Tribune: "Hardly a day goes by that I don't demand accountability and stress results. Today was my day to be held accountable."

It's that type of vintage Scott Skiles attitude that I'm going to miss. But I'm not surprised that it came to this (although I didn't think it would be this December). He is unafraid to let others know what he thinks, and that can be a blessing and a curse. For young players trying to find their way in the NBA, a no-nonsense tough guy like Skiles can motivate them pretty well. For a veteran player who thinks he's paid all of his dues, a guy like Skiles wears thin pretty quickly; and once a veteran is openly rebelling in the locker room, it doesn't take long for others to follow suit.

While John Paxson's patience with Skiles had obviously run out, there are rumors that Skiles had repeatedly let Paxson know that he was dissatisfied with what he had to work with on the roster. Based on my own observations of the Bulls this season, I wouldn't be surprised if Skiles had indeed complained to Paxson about his roster. After all, the Bulls do not have a single All-Star, lack a legitimate inside scoring presence, and they frankly have various match-up problems at every position (with the possible exception of small forward where Luol Deng is a solid player at both ends of the court when his back isn't hurting).

Last year I felt as though the Bulls were assembling the pieces of a team that could eventually compete for the NBA championship. However, now that I've seen how this season has started, it's looking like Paxson will have even greater difficulty acquiring the missing pieces without giving up too much. It will be interesting to see how the team plays from here on out, and I will be especially curious to see how Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha progress under interim head coach Jim Boylan.

As for Skiles, even though he is no longer a Bull, I think if he ever got another NBA coaching gig you could still count on him to bring that same "No Bull" attitude.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


In a fascinating article, Intelligent Life magazine tells us that,

Average IQs are rising sharply from generation to generation.

This is called the 'Flynn effect'. So are you smarter than your grandpa? Why? The article is based on a book called "What is Intelligence" by James Flynn, which

...sets out his explanation for a mysterious phenomenon that bears his name: the rise in IQ from generation to generation. Your IQ is likely to be higher than those of your parents, and your children's IQs is likely to be higher than yours.

Truly very interesting stuff. But if that isn't enough, Malcom Gladwell adds his take in the latest New Yorker. The relevance to the study of racial differences in IQ is high. Gladwell notes that according to Flynn,

The lesson to be drawn from black and white differences was the same as the lesson from...years ago: I.Q. measures not just the quality of a person's mind but the quality of the world that person lives in.

Intriguing stuff. Basically it's the old nature vs. nurture debate. And if it's nurture, changing the environment might just have a positive effect...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

To Have A Home

Lance Freeman, assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University, recently commented on home ownership amongst minorities in our country.
Home ownership grew among white middle-class families after World War II when access to credit and government programs made buying houses affordable. Black families were largely left out because of discrimination, and the effects are still being felt today.

I was reminded of this reading an article called Forty Acres and a Gap in Wealth by Henry Louis Gates in the NYT. He noted,

I have been studying the family trees of 20 successful African-Americans, people in fields ranging from entertainment and sports (Oprah Winfrey, the track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee) to space travel and medicine (the astronaut Mae Jemison and Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon). And I’ve seen an astonishing pattern: 15 of the 20 descend from at least one line of former slaves who managed to obtain property by 1920 — a time when only 25 percent of all African-American families owned property.

Unfortunately, blacks were still facing the full effects of racism in our country in the periods after both World Wars, times in our country's history when home ownership grew rapidly. Thus, a large proportion of their population was left out of this wave.

Home ownership is key to advancing in society today. The ability to tap equity in their home allows the owner to put the next generation through college and into their own home. There is a direct correlation between parents who own a home and children who attend college. Having a college degree enables people to have better jobs and perpetuates the cycle of success. This is evidenced by the information documented by Gates. As Gates says,
People who own property feel a sense of ownership in their future and their society. They study, save, work, strive and vote. And people trapped in a culture of tenancy do not.

I would say that based on this, initiatives to provide the opportunity for people in poverty to move towards home ownership are key. Would it make sense to turn Section 8 into some sort of rent-to-own program? Would it be more worthwhile to give people a home rather than paying their rent for years on end?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


So I thought it would be fun to walk through some optical illusions. It's pretty amazing the tricks our eyes will play on us. Without any further ado, here we go:

1) Let's start simple. Is this possible?
2) Now,
3) Okay, are the purple lines straight or bent?
4) Do you see gray areas in between the squares? Now where did they come from?
5) Next, you should see a man's face and also a word...
6) Now, if you take a look at the following picture, know it's not animated. Your eyes are making it move. To test this, stare at one spot for a couple seconds and everything will stop moving. Or look at the black center of each circle and it will stop moving. But move your eyes to the next black center and the previous will move after you take your eyes away from it.... Weird.
7) And finally,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

That DJ down the hall

In college, one year my dorm floor had a resident named Vince who lived a few doors down from me. He was a computer science major but his true passion was for music--or rather playing (and making) music as a DJ. I don't exactly remember what my first impression was of Vince, but it was probably one of "Man, I'm glad he's not my roommate." He had a turntable (is that what it's called, maybe turntable/soundboard?) that could barely wheel in through the door of his dorm room, and once it was in there it took up about 20% of the room's free space.

However, as I got to know Vince better, I started to really respect him. Sure he had a magnetic personality, but more importantly, he seemed to be genuine. He came across as liking people in general and being happy to talk with anyone. He was a just a cool dude.

And he happened to take this whole DJ stuff pretty seriously. He had told us that he previously had some DJ gigs back when he was in Chicago (which is where he was from), and I think he got some gigs in Chambana too. However, when he had free time during the day, he'd be working that turntable all the time in his dorm room, honing his craft. And I do mean all the time. (If I had a nickel for each time I came home at 2 in the afternoon wanting to take a quick nap but would instead hear Vince scratching weird new beats to otherwise good songs...)

Vince the person was cool, but I had an inner conflict with Vince the DJ. Let's just say that as I continuously walked by his door throughout the year, judging his practice sessions in passing, many different thoughts went through my head. Sometimes I would think, "That doesn't sound difficult to do" or "He's messing up a good song" or "That song is so bad there's nothing he can do to save it." But I'd also have thoughts like, "Wow, it would be cool to be a DJ" or "He's doing pretty good with that one" or "How'd he do that?"

At some point I realized that when it came to being a DJ, Vince was the expert and I wasn't. As such, even if I didn't like some of his beats, there was no point in me trying to critique his craft because honestly I didn't understand it at the same level he did. And besides, these were his practice sessions that I was listening to. He was working hard to get better, finding out what worked for him and what didn't. It was quite possible that I could be walking past that door thinking to myself, "This one ain't working" and on the other side of the door Vince might have been thinking the same thing. Regardless, day after day, week after week, month after month, he kept at it; and for that, it was impossible not to appreciate his passion for being a DJ.

At the end of that year Vince left U. of I.'s CS program and headed back to Chicago. The last time I saw him he was just about to leave Chambana for good, and that final conversation felt too short. I was disappointed to see him go, and perhaps he wasn't exactly happy with the circumstances in which he was leaving. However, even then, I had this sense that, one way or another, "Vince would be back."

Well, I lost track of Vince through the years. along with most of the people I went to college with. As frustrating as it is, you can't keep in touch with all of them. Things move on and people get pulled in different directions. That's just the way it is in today's society.

But a funny thing happened not too long ago. I was driving in my car on the way home from work and switched the radio station over to Chicago's Hits and Hip Hop, B96, which I rarely do. There was some dance mix playing, and sure enough I thought of that guy named Vince back in the dorms who called himself "DJ Flipside." A few minutes later on the radio they were talking to a guy named "Flipside" and I thought, "No way..." But when I got home and Googled him I discovered that not only was it really him, he's apparently been pretty busy recently. In September 2006 he got his big chance at B96's Summer Bash where he brought the house down to rave reviews, which eventually enabled him to launch his new daily radio show: "Flipside at 5."

Way to go, Vince.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Car Repair Troubles

I guess this is why it's important to have someone you trust repair your car. And why it's difficult to trust chains such as these...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Family-Friendly Cities

The WSJ ran an interesting editorial espousing policies that would lead to more family-friendly cities. Due to an odd combination of high-priced homes and blighted zones or great schools difficult to obtain admission to and extremely poor schools, cities often struggle to retain families. At stake, though, is the very future vitality of the city.

There is a basic truth about the geography of young, educated people. They may first migrate to cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston or San Francisco. But they tend to flee when they enter their child-rearing years.

In San Francisco, for instance, the population of children living in the city has dropped by more than 33 percent since 1960 as families with children have moved out. Elementary schools have had to close. This is a problem because cities that don't have families tend not to experience economic growth. And losing families points to a problem.

In order to create a healthy vibrant city, the emphasis should be on retaining young people as they grow up, marry, start families and continue to raise them. In order to do so, cities must become more family-friendly.

The key is to work closely with local public and private schools, churches, and civic organizations to build up the support structures that might convince today's youthful inner city urbanites to remain as they start families. Looking at the parks, playgrounds, and schools that young families would use is paramount to convincing them to stay.