Thursday, December 30, 2010

Uncommon Denominator

I can't recall a Christmas where I was more pleased with my presents. Things that well do for what they were designed give me greater pleasure now. I used to think stuff is stuff. We've got plenty. Who needs more? And to a certain extent, that's still true. But on some particulars, it isn't. Two out of three of these presents I requested, though not the particular solution. The first was thermal socks. The ones I had were worn down, no longer snug and with holes in the heel. Thermal socks actually appeared in a piece I wrote a few years back - typical garb for the college professor. We've had a cold spell the last few weeks and to pinch pennies if not for social responsibility we try to keep the house at around 65. My office with two outside walls, a delight the rest of the year, is colder than the rest of the house. And I prefer not to wear shoes in the house. So I got some new socks from Wigwam, remarkably comfortable, thick but lightweight, and very reassuring to put on. What a mekheye! I got some others from Smartwool, more traditional in concept but not itchy at all, also a pleasure. There is satisfaction in requesting something and then having someone (my wife in this case) deliver the goods.

The next present was ear buds. A while back I had a pair from etonics that were pretty good. I kept them attached to an iPod Mini I had. Somewhere along the way I lost both. I got an iPod Nano as a replacement a couple of years ago, but I've been using the cheapie ear buds that came with that. The sound was ok, but not great. The real issue is that after a while my ears would feel like they were sweating and I'd want to take the things out. This was not a big deal when I used them mostly as I was walking - done after 50 minutes to an hour - but it matters now when I've got my iPad and I'm reading. The music acts as a cushion to get me into my own little world. Once there, I want to remain for a while. What I got were Bose IE2's. The first time using them, it was a bit weird and I didn't understand how the soft plastic piece should fit into the ear. Once I figured that part out (via a YouTube video) I started to really like them. They are quite comfortable to wear. The speakers themselves ride on top of the ear, not in them, which is helpful for the reverberation. The sound is excellent and is especially noticeable on symphonic pieces. They are not noise canceling, something Bose has been advertising recently on TV. You can hear house noise and conversation if you choose to pay attention to that. (When Ginger is outside and I'm the only one in the living room, I can hear her barking and let her in.) But they are very nice otherwise.

One of the joys of the winter holidays is the pieces David Brooks recommends in his Sidney Awards. It is a reward to read intelligent commentary. So much of what is produced comes up short, even when appearing in good outlets, more blather than insight. Brooks went for diversity in his choices, some of which I had already read. One of those was Hanna Rosin's piece, The End of Men. At the time I read that I thought some of the arguments were spurious, so I tried to respond with a Gail Collins-like critique. I found that extremely difficult to write. Poking fun at somebody else in writing is not something I do as a regular activity. My admiration for Gail Collins grew enormously as a consequence. Hers is a Bob and Ray style but with a small blade not as sharp as a dagger, meant to draw a little blood though not to do more harm than that. She pulls it off with seeming ease on a regular basis. If possible, in addition to the commentary I want to learn a bit from my reading about writing style, though often I don't pay attention to that. Sometimes I just read to find if there is something new in it for me. I had also read The Worst of the Madness by Anne Applebaum, the last piece Brooks recommended in Part II of the Sidney Awards.

The rest of the pieces were new to me. One really got my eye, The Truth Wears Out. It is frightening and illuminating at the same time. There is a certain selectivity bias in scientific publication. The novel yet plausible hypothesis, supported by data in a seeming statistically valid way, is what the journals want to publish so what active researchers go for in their own work. There is little or no effort put into the more routine, though important, confirmation of previously "established" hypotheses. So samples that are used to support new science have some tendency to be outliers that are, unfortunately, not recognized as such. The recognition comes only when there are attempts to confirm the results out of sample, done rarely enough that when it does happen non-confirmation comes as a surprise. In this respect the research scientist is no better than the rest of us, who as Stephen Jay Gould wrote about a long time ago in the Streak of Streaks have a proclivity to rationalize essentially random phenomena. I started to wonder how much I do of that. I guess I do it a lot, finding connections between seemingly disparate things. Maybe those connections aren't there at all except in my mind.

This brings me to my third present, the one I wasn't expecting, Jane Leavy's biography/investigation into the life and legend of Mickey Mantle, The Last Boy. Pretty early on, she writes about the aftermath of when Mantle's knee went out during the 1951 World Series, the consequence of charging to catch a fly ball, a tweener, only to pull of at the last split second and get his leg stuck on a drain in the outfield, as Joe DiMaggio called him off the ball. Mantle's father Mutt had a serious cancer then and was dying, but Mickey didn't know about it till they both end up at Montefiore Hospital. The trauma of these events did a number on him that affected his world view for the rest of his life. With his father's death and the deaths of other relatives who also died very young, Mantle came to believe that was his destiny too. Leavy demonstrates, fairly convincingly, that in this Mantle held an erroneous belief. The cause of his father's illness and his other relatives was environmental - too much exposure to toxins from working in the mines.

As it turns out my mother had her first hip replacement at Montefiore Hospital, in 1978 or 1979, and it was there that I met her oncologist and had a rather long conversation with him about her condition. I believe my brother had a similar such conversation. Afterward my mother reported that the doctor said, "I love your boys," which I took to mean that in his eyes we had a reasonable understanding of what was going on. Like Mickey Mantle, my mother believed she was going to die in the very near future; there were reasons for this belief but my mother got the causality wrong. My mom is still alive, 90 years old now, though full of dementia, She had cancer once, in the early 196os, but it went into remission. She loved tennis but would overdo it - applying the too much of a good thing syndrome which is so American - and would sit around in her tennis clothes after without taking a shower and cooling down properly. She had a lot of real pain from arthritis, but was convinced it was the cancer returning. She was extremely intelligent and persuasive, with a bulldozer personality. Somehow she wheedled her radiologist into giving her radiation therapy, a cure much worse than the disease. Her bones became brittle as a consequence. So in my mind I established a rather serious way in which Mantle's life paralleled my mother's. And the book allowed for an amusing connection as well.
Just how little I’ d really seen of him became apparent when he agreed to meet me for breakfast in Atlantic City fifteen years later. I was sitting at my desk in the sports department at The Washington Post when he called. “Hi, this is Mickey,” he drawled. “Mickey Lipschitz.”
“I didn’t know you were Jewish.”
“Let me tell you something a guy told me when I first come to New York,” Mickey said. “When you’re going good, you’re Jewish. When you’re going bad, you’re Eye-talian.”
He said he’d meet me at 11 a.m.

Part of an excert from the book that appears here.
I've written many times of feeling I'm turning into my father, but there are ways where I'm strongly linked to my mom and one wonders whether it's genetic or cultural/habitual: painful arthritis, being a fresser, an obsession with writing verse. Unlike Mickey, who felt obligated to become the realization of his dad's aspirations, I rebelled against my mom's pushing. But perhaps like Mickey I grew to be dependent on others making decisions for me, even if I didn't like those choices. I've been wondering for a quite a while now whether academia is a way to preserve childhood, not the playing ball and the carousing, but the daydreaming mainly and also the selfishness of staying wrapped up in one's own thoughts. The death wish or the death expectation then becomes an excuse for self-indulgence and I wonder if I have that too.

I know this from other than Leavy's book. Mantle expressed extreme regret later in life about all the carousing he did as a ball player. "He should have taken better care of himself," or something to that effect. Leavy argues that here too Mantle had a misconception. There was a history of heavy drinking in his family tree. Whether that's due to genes or habituation, who knows? And I've been wondering whether it is possible to break bad and longly held habits. So I see a tie with Mantle, even if that is only a mirage.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On Persistence in Writing

The Main Idea

In writing, my core proposition
Is for your ideas to regularly reposition.
Finding the next step
Will leave you full of pep
And improve your creative disposition.


When crafting essay rather than making rhyme
In advance it's a must to put in the time.
Trying out story lines in your head,
Determining those on which to tread,
Enabling the composing to be less of a climb.

Composing Verse

Armed with a thought fragment and a rhyming word
It's enough to make the sublime or the absurd.
Then the fun begins
With off-beat rhythms and odd spins
Sometimes authoring language no one's ever heard.

Don't Make Outlines

When writing using outlines makes me frown;
They're too rigid and block your inner clown.
Really it should be fun
Not feel that you're under the gun
With a burden so heavy you'll drown.

On Expectations

The learning's all in the doing.
There's angst but no virtue in stewing.
Early efforts show promise but not craft
Even after you've written multiple drafts.
Your own good taste can be your undoing.

On Proofreading

After composing a draft you must edit
Otherwise your ideas will get no credit.
To the end of your piece others won't read
When malapropisms and misspellings slow their speed
And of your writing they'll learn to dread it.

Hats Off To Edward Lear

A shout out to Edward Lear
Who made limericks something to cheer.
He showed us that just enough
Was exactly the right stuff.
A wisp's all you need to endear.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Pitfalls of Fandom

Watching the football Giants can make a fan grumble.
They tend to turnover the ball by way of fumble.
By the end of the day
Turnovers counteract all the good plays.
After recent losses all one can do is mumble.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Redrawing the Electoral Map

Population growth and migration
Can cause angst and frustration
For members of the House.

Because their numbers are capped
The Census changes the electoral map
Causing displaced members to grouse.

There's also the gerrymander
Easier than to each voter pander
Cutting property taxes on his house.

For there isn't a simple rule
Understandable by any fool
One man, one vote not to louse.

A member who loses his district
Is apt to see his good humor constrict
Then take it out on his spouse.

Doing the Census once in fifty years
Would put the redistricting into arrears
Letting each member be a man, not a mouse.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Too Tall Tisdale

A foul? Yes. An intentional foul? Hardly. The guy didn't even fall over. The refs I suppose don't make their determination on the basis of whether the fouled player could have been hurt. The driving question is whether the fouler was making an attempt to go for the ball. I would argue that with Tisdale, awkward as he is at times, you can never really know. We probably would have lost the game anyway. But this predetermined the outcome. I walked away from the TV and didn't watch the closing seconds.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lame Ducks Are Quacking

Lame ducks are quacking
After Obama's recent shellacking.

Senators we've learned to abhor
All of a sudden came to the fore.

Now it's time to ring the bell
For it's goodbye to Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Surely we have the Tea Party to thank.
They're why the lame ducks turned up the crank.

Knowing in the next Congress nothing will be done
We see politicians working well under the gun.

An observation that gets one to think
What can be done to put Congress on the brink?

For in the twisted logic that now seems our curse
Congress can function only when the next will be worse.

Perhaps we need to shorten their term
To uncloak their ideology which keeps their views firm.

Whatever it takes let's toast the lame ducks.
They've done something worthwhile, so let them cluck.*

*A friend reminds that it's chickens which cluck. My reply is we've got two fowls in one, lame ducks that are chicken.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Excel as a Presentation Tool for Microeconomics....

...and perhaps other subjects too.

Many students who take intermediate microeconomics believe the course title a misnomer, with a more correct title something like "graphs, more graphs, and still more graphs." They may be correct in that perception. Since many students struggle with reading a graph or get completely turned off when extensive amounts of content are provided in this manner (the formal word for this seems to be disidentification) a challenge is presented to the intermediate micro instructor - how to engage the students? One possibility is to move away entirely from the math/graphing approach and make the course more discursive, talking through complex issues rather than focusing on rather simple mathematical models, taking a history of thought approach to the subject, and/or trying especially hard to build connections students might have to the subject matter. I intend to do a bit of all of this in the class I teach next spring. Another possibility, however, is to utilize technology in a way that should make the graphs more penetrable and assist the students in uncovering what is going on with the mathematics. I intend to do more than a bit of this as well, utilizing my favorite tool for the purpose, Excel. Below is a movie about one of the tabs from a workbook on demand elasticity.

I want to discuss the benefits of using technology that can do math for such a presentation, but before I do I'd like to make the following observation. If one goes to the YouTube site for the video below and looks at the suggested videos in the right sidebar, there are many videos on the same subject. After all, demand elasticity is a core topic in microeconomics, and the technology is readily available to make short movies of presentations on this topic. The bulk of these videos are for hand drawn presentations. Though their might be a whiteboard instead of a blackboard, the presentation itself is remarkably traditional. The novelty is that the presentation is in YouTube. There are a couple of clips from Wolfram Research that use Mathematica. One might ask whether Mathematica is superior to Excel for this purpose. I don't know the answer to this, because I don't know Mathematica. Below I will argue where Excel is especially helpful.

1) Numbers or algebra. When I was a junior faculty member I thought everything presented to the student should be done with an algebraic presentation and that using numbers was babying the students. Perhaps true. Nonetheless, if the students don't understand what is going on then perhaps using numbers to illustrate the concepts is a good thing. Excel allows both. Numbers are displayed overtly in the cells and in the graphs, but formulas are readily available by clicking on a cell and looking at the formula bar. Students might have to translate the Excel formula to a hand written algebraic formula. I think such translation is a good thing for them to do. It will facilitate their understanding.

2) Comparative statics with the spin button. I should mention that in addition to not being able to read graphs, many students also have an inability to apply Calculus concepts to the economics, although they've all had the pre-requisite Calculus course. They simply don't get enough other practice elsewhere to internalize the ability to apply the Calculus. Excel offers a very nice way to visualize the comparative statics by using a button to control the value in a particular cell. Once the mouse is on the button, a student can click on it while focusing on the graph or on other cells in the spreadsheet. (With the spin button, holding the button down changes values in the cell but doesn't change the graph until the button is let go. You can get more or less a continuous change in the graph via rapid clicking on the button. With the activex alternative tool, the spinner, the graph changes continuously with the button held down, but as far as I know that tool is not in Mac versions of Excel.) This is far superior to an algebraic approach. When there are multiple buttons for controlling different aspects of the graph, the student can perform "little experiments" by first varying a parameter with one button and then seeing how things look changing another button. If seeing is believing, which I think is certainly true for learning this stuff, we now have much better way for the phobic students to penetrate the graphs.

3) Reverse engineering the spreadsheet. I don't know if all students will do this, but the mathematically inclined are certainly apt to do this and perhaps other conscientious students will do so as well. I have a colleague who believes when teaching this stuff it is important to do constructions in front of the students, building the graphs from scratch and talking one's way through that rather than using a PowerPoint slide where the graph is pre-drawn, so the students can understand the logic of the construction. On this, de-construction of a finished product may actually be a superior approach, because the students will have to supply their own narrative to the deconstruction activity, rather than rely on an instructor supplied narrative. Here is a little video explaining how to use the Excel tools, the graph itself and the spin buttons, to initiate such a deconstruction.

Let me close with a few comments about designing such a spreadsheet for presentation. There are quite a few tips and tricks in doing this, many of which can be uncovered by reverse engineering. So here I will note just a few. First, scrolling down in the worksheet one can see all the data that is plotted in the graphs and the labels with the data are used for the labels in the graph to make ready identification. Nothing is hidden. I've come to conclude that having it all out in the open is better, because it encourages students to do quick checks rather than have to go through a laborious process to reverse engineer. Second, the graph is relatively clean with little in the way of extraneous information to distract the student and not that complex. The goal is to make things as transparent as possible. Complexity is handled by having multiple worksheets, where frequently a subsequent worksheet builds on its predecessor. Last concerns the time entailed in such a construction. It took about a day of work to build the entire workbook, though I had been stewing about this content for months, wondering if I'd do something even more interactive. As the spring semester neared, I opted for what was do-able in relatively short order. Nevertheless, it does take longer to building something like this than to do a PowerPoint. So if it is one and done, maybe this isn't a worthwhile approach. But if the content can be re-used, then a good argument can be made that it's the better way to go.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Filly Buster

Filly Buster
Lost her luster
Now that Bernie Sanders is doing it.

Sustaining the Bush tax cuts
With no ifs, ands, or buts
Is how the negativity machine's construing it.

There is hardly enough heft
Among Senators from the left
In the next Congress to keep pursuing it.

And if they did
Would it end the Democrats' skid
Or for the economy further undoing it?

Of Filly Buster
Only in a Capra movie trust her
Proven by recent history reviewing it.

So put Filly Buster to bed.
Say what has to be said.
Then vote down legislation instead of skewing it.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

C + I + G

This is an interesting analysis by Dave Leonhardt. The underlying question is how stimulating this sort of stimulus will be. Of course, you have to eat and have shelter. The UI extension surely will stimulate. But for the fully employed who are still indebted, the reduction in the payroll tax may simply go to the creditors. If the creditors are already sitting on a pot of cash, that doesn't seem very stimulative to me. Fiscal policy of this sort then may be thought of as pushing on a string rather than pulling the economy out of the doldrums.

Public works projects, the obvious alternative to this approach, seem politically infeasible at present. They make more sense to me, however, in that they clearly would be stimulating. The choice of Democrats in Congress now seems to be either to accede to the deal as this editorial suggests, because it is the best feasible alternative, or block it and expect the economy to get even worse but for that to change the political climate in favor of more government spending, particularly of the public works kind. This is not a happy choice, for sure.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The online component of instruction – blogs or LMS? Some discussion

I’ve narrowed down my technology choices for this spring. In the intermediate microeconomics class I will use Moodle as the primary environment. In the behavioral economics class I will have student teams with their own blogs (my suggestion will be to use Posterous) while I will maintain the class blog in Blogger. Then I’ll keep Moodle for the grade book and to have secure messaging about work that has been graded. The last week or so I’ve been learning Moodle and in this post I want to make some comparisons between these environments that I hope will be useful for others.

Before I do that I’d like to make a couple of observations. I hadn’t used Moodle previously. A couple of weeks ago I got an overview and some further support from staff who support Moodle. These people were friendly, responsive, and very helpful to me. I appreciate their efforts. I’m going to say some things about the LMS as a teaching environment that are the opposite of cheer leading. None of those comments are directed at these staff. From my vantage, they are excellent. The other observation is in comparing Moodle to WebCT Vista, an environment I knew quite well from my prior role as Assistant CIO for Learning Technologies. In that comparison Moodle shows pretty well. It is remarkably consistent in the designer interface, it offers quite a bit of functionality, in the main one edits in the same place where students will find the object, and it does things like file attachments efficiently and without fanfare. (The one functional flaw I’ve found is that the text editor doesn’t appear enabled when using the Chrome browser.) I haven’t put Moodle through the paces for functions specific to very high enrollment courses, but I suspect it can handle that ok.

Now let me preface my comparison with how my thinking about teaching conditions my reactions to these online environments. Most recently I’ve taught seminar classes with fewer than 20 students. I’m expecting both of the classes in the spring to have enrollments in the mid 60’s. Yet I’d like to enable some elements of the seminar in these courses too. Indeed, one of the reasons I’m eager to teach this spring is to see what is feasible in this dimension. The mechanism I’ve come up with is that each team of four students will make a blog post about upcoming readings and discussion topics. Then other members of the team will make comments that follow up and extend the discussion. And somewhere within those comments I will make a comment too. This is not identical to the mechanism I wrote about in my Inside Higher Ed piece, but it clearly was informed by that prior experience. I’m hoping that as we get into the course the students will also see their way to commenting on other teams’ blogs. I will encourage this though I will not give credit toward the grade for it.

I haven’t taught intermediate microeconomics for 10 years, but I do have memories of it and as it turns out I also have some electronic materials for it from 10 years ago. Yesterday, I looked through an old midterm that was on consumer theory. I liked what I saw. It put students through their paces and tested them accordingly. It clearly was based on a problem set approach to understanding the economics. For students who are comfortable with that approach from their other courses, it seems a reasonable way to go. But the reality 10 years ago was that most students weren’t in this category and they had an aversion to this particular course. The question then as instructor is whether the appropriate response is, “tough nuggies, this is good for you.” I believe that was my approach 10 years ago, though it wasn’t pleasant teaching this way, because there was a lot of resistance. My intent now is to try something different, though retain some elements of the problem set approach. I want to get more at student formative thinking and I want to spend more of the class time on discursive rather than analytic aspects of learning the economics, in the hope that this will better engage the students and get them to appreciate that economics can help them understand a good deal of the complexity they will confront in their own lives.

In a nutshell my conclusion is that the LMS is a good environment for a problem set approach. It is not nearly as good for a discursive approach. The LMS encourages student work to be graded and in good part is conceived to facilitate that interchange. But much student formative thinking requires response only, no grade, just as in class discussion there is back and forth with no assessment of individual performance in that setting. For the particular mechanism I’ve come up with I played with Moodle (and I needed dummy student accounts to be able to visualize for myself what this would look like) and it appears either that team blogs can be private to team members only and the instructor or that they can be read by other members of the class, but these other class members can’t post comments (though they could indirectly comment in their own blogs). Perhaps there is a way to achieve this in Moodle that I haven’t yet found. This goes to my next point.

The LMS is a complex environment from the viewpoint of the instructor/designer. I can’t say whether other instructors envision the design problem as I do but my approach is to have a broad strokes view of what I want to achieve with the class, develop some understanding of the online environment, and then make a determination of whether to practice judo with this approach to leverage what the software is capable of or to use a shoehorn approach and make the software accommodate my prior design. This task is made much harder when the software is itself complex. My interpretation is that is apt to get a lot of mundane use with the LMS, because anything else becomes too daunting for the instructor. Or, the instructor may imitate the design from another instructor who has done the legwork, whether that is appropriate for this class or not.

The LMS is an online environment that comes out of Higher Education and as such it is informed in its design by educational theory. One element of this theory is the notion of scaffolding. I don’t know definitively that scaffolding explains the design of Moodle, but as with WebCT Vista, in the main class site everything remains a click away. The skeleton of the course is revealed this way. The flesh is hidden. Whether that is important to the students or not, I don’t know yet. It is important to me. I much prefer having dynamic content in the sidebar as well as in the main blog, with the tabbed pages for the static content. This way the content that is immediately important is most apparent. Why it should be a click away doesn’t make sense to me. (Incidentally, as regular readers of my blog know, I’m rather partial to misdirection as a teaching approach, since students have mental blocks that won’t make them appreciate apparent contradictions between their experience and their own held beliefs. I believe the scaffolding should be apparent after the misdirection, but not before.)

Here are a few other issues that are particularly important when taking a discursive approach.

(1) Copying from MS Word. I was told this was a problem. I’ve got Office 2010 and in my testing of it there doesn’t seem to be a problem in Moodle, though it may be with earlier versions of Word. It is a problem with Blogger. There is supposed to be a publish to blog function, but that doesn’t work. And the copy and paste problem is there with Blogger. Posterous is nice here because you can simply email the Word doc as an attachment and it will embed a converted version into the post, including the attachment as well.

(2) Width of text on the screen. There is little aesthetic design to the Moodle blogs or forums. Text can fill the screen. With longish posts, something I want to encourage in my classes, this becomes hard to read. Narrow columns are better. I wish this could be set as an instructor preference.

(3) Blog posts don’t’ have a pemalink in Moodle. They are just individual posts in a scrollable list of posts, arranged in reverse chronological order. I said a student on one team could in her own team blog comment on a post by a student on another team. But indicating which post to refer to would be tricky. This is a big deal if there is a lot of posting.

(4) No distributed administration. LMSs are hierarchical in their authority, giving all the power to the designer. If part of the current idea in teaching is to empower the students, it would be good for the software to encourage this. Having students administer their own site makes sense. Moodle does enable individual student blogs as part of the class site setup, but for team blogs, those are enabled by the instructor/designer.

Let me conclude. Since I had a former life as a campus administrator, I understand that some aspects of the LMS are there because Higher Ed is heavily regulated and the LMS aids the campus in coming into compliance with these regulations. Using blogs as I have suggested may be iffy in that way. But conforming with these regulations is of secondary or tertiary importance. The prime imperative is to encourage learning in the classroom and for that it may very well mean traditional approaches to instruction need to be reconsidered. This doesn’t mean abandoning the LMS altogether. As I argued in my ER piece from last year, what is needed is dis-integration. At present this is happening with the awareness but not the consent of central administration. I would like to see overt advocacy of the approach from those in authority. In my opinion, it’s where we should be heading.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Big Chill

It's been cold for the last several days and this morning we've bottomed out. It's time to put on the winter gear.

I wonder if the sentiment applies as well to the politics of our economy with unemployment persisting at a very high level yet with most of the discussion seemingly focusing on the deficits.

This morning in Paul Krugman's column, he provides an analysis not so much of what will happen if no deal on the Bush tax cuts are reached, but rather of what will happen if the tax cuts on the rich aren't extended. That much of his analysis I agree with.

But a deal seems likely. So if Krugman is actually urging liberal members of Congress to walk away from it, he should consider what will happen if none of the tax cuts are extended, meaning the middle class ones will expire as well. Presumably, that is a non-starter now, though as a long term proposition it seems reasonable to consider (that or capping the mortgage interest deduction).

What I still don't understand is why the following argument hasn't been popular: How has the economy done with the Bush tax cuts in place? How was it doing even before the housing bubble burst? What evidence is there that such tax cuts will improve the economy? The political rhetoric on these issues seemingly takes a point of view as a matter of faith when really it should be an empirical proposition. That idea, however, seems to be frozen out.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Will Agricultural Be The Political Litmus Test?

It is interesting to juxtapose these two pieces. The first is about rising U.S. exports of agricultural products, partially because of declining Russian production of wheat and partly due to expanding global demand, particularly from China. If the latter is a trend, perhaps it should inform our policy.

This other piece is about the ethanol subsidy, which is due for expiration and whether it should be renewed. Tea Party advocates say it shouldn't. I'm inclined to agree on this one.

I wonder why these issues are getting more press.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Reading As Candy

Sometimes events conspire to show we still have a sweet tooth. Of course, there’s Halloween. We typically don’t keep candy in the house, now that the kids are older. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it is the sweet tooth that gets totally out of control. It was Lays Potato Chips that came up with the tag line, betcha can’t eat just one. (I preferred Ruffles, which have ridges.) Actually, my downfall is Nestlé Crunch. When there’s a bunch of those hanging around, as there is apt to be after the trick or treating has concluded, I will lose the wager. With running out of candy before all the kids have rung the doorbell a total no-no, it’s the lesser of two evils.

The rest of the year offers no safe haven, though some times are worse than others, holiday weekends for example. With Thanksgiving recently concluded, I’ve come to realize the menace is right there in our ritual foods. Even though it was just us on turkey day, a bit unusual to not have any of the extended family or friends join us, we had all the fixings just the same, only a little upscale. My wife made what I thought was a new recipe for the cranberry sauce. Though we served it the traditional way, it easily could have been a dessert, a sorbet substitute of sorts. She has perfected a sweet potato dish, cooked in a frying pan and made with butter, maple syrup, and bourbon. Perhaps it could have nuts too, probably pecans. Almost pralines, and yet it counts as a vegetable dish. Yum. Leftovers don’t normally best the original, but the sweet potatoes made this way improve with age. I couldn’t get enough of this stuff.

The mindset for over indulgence already in place, I start to see other aspects of my life in this dimension. For the last several years we’ve had our Visa card with, so each purchase racks up points towards a gift certificate. When we used to have the credit card for frequent flyer miles, we’d hoard those till the family would take a trip (or I’d use on a solo trip that wasn’t work related). There needed to be a big chunk of purchases to get to a redeemable amount. And since I wasn’t a globe trotter as part of my work, I didn’t create a huge excess supply of miles. So we used what we had in a rather conservative way. I never used miles to bump up to first class, for example.

It’s different with the gift certificates. They come in $25 increments. Quite frequently, it seems we have idle certificates hanging around. So when I punch in the access codes into my account, it feels like I’ve got some mad money. For my Kindle books, which I now read on the iPad or the computer primarily, the latter when the iPad is charging or I’m taking a break from work but still sitting at the computer, though I’ve verified my original Kindle still works but doesn’t hold a charge as well as it used to, I can buy those Kindle books with 1-click, which is very convenient, essentially no transaction cost. But it still feels like a credit card purchase and I’ve been weaned to use credit responsibly. The gift certificates are a different matter. They feel a little bit like Monopoly money. And as I will be teaching a course on Behavioral Economics in the spring, I’ve had a prior disposition to be sensitized to this sort of anomaly. (We will be reading, or at least mentioning, a paper that argues the marginal propensity to consume out of income tax refunds is different (and higher) than the marginal propensity to consume out of ordinary income.)

A day or two before Thanksgiving I load two $25 certificates into my account and then start to surf the site for what it is I will purchase. I begin with the Thomas Harris page. Harris is the creator of the indelible character, Hannibal Lecter, who is even better in print providing the reader a lot of guilty pleasure than he is in movies where he terrifies, but that feeling is fleeting. The books take longer to transverse and probably with multiple sittings, so the immersion is that much greater. Harris’ first book, Black Sunday, is on a different theme, terrorism. I read it sometime in the 1990s, when the family was making a trip to Florida to see my parents. My recollection is often imperfect, but given that caveat I thought the book presaged the events of 9/11 remarkably well, and it was written more than two decades earlier. Alas, Harris doesn’t seem to be cranking them out anymore and I’ve already read the books he has written.

I become mildly annoyed with this observation and start to look for my “old standards” where I’m more confident there will be stuff available I haven’t read. Having made a recent post that mentioned John Grisham and page turner novels, I purchase two of his books, one by le Carré, and another by Dan Brown, all for the Kindle. In the back of my head I had a thought that this sort of fiction is the adult alternative to video games. In the 1990s my wife would buy me a computer game to play over the winter holidays. Most of the titles I no longer recall, though one year it was Myst and another year it was Railroad Tycoon. I don’t do that sort of thing anymore. And most of my reading in the last year has been non-fiction, the Motley Read of Dubliner’s the notable exception. My aim in an eclectic choice of reading materials is to seek out titles primarily for intellectual nourishment. With this recent batch of purchases, however, it’s needless calories I want, the type we sometimes crave.

Less than a week later, I’ve now read two of these books, and the bulk of a “serious” book, Winner-Take-All Politics, also purchased for the Kindle. I watched less than my usual quota of sports on TV, though I was by no means deprived in that category. I didn’t do much of anything socially productive, including not working on my Econ courses for the spring – another topic for that Behavioral Econ course is procrastination, which applies to the students and their teachers too. I don’t feel too bad about that; for the four days from Thursday through Sunday I believe there is a good case to be made that holidays are for relaxation and getting away from work while the rest can be argued by continuity (still a math nerd at heart), especially given that I’m officially retired. And I’ve also been having a bit of insomnia. While I find it difficult to do serious reading during the wee hours, breezy fiction is no problem whatsoever. It’s the reading breezy fiction that I’d like to discuss further. I may write a subsequent post about Winner-Take-All Politics, or let it out in drips and drabs in several future posts.

The first book I read was The Partner. Although going in my main desire was to get lost in the story, I couldn’t help myself from asking what is it that makes the book a page turner, and could I replicate that if I tried? You read a book differently if you are looking for clues about the writing craft than if you simply want a good story. I can’t multi-process on these. Instead I bounce from one to the other in an involuntary way. So my observations on the craft part are partial and far from complete.

Grisham must envision the reader as somewhere between a sleuth and a newspaper reporter, one who is making his own story, but who doesn’t have all the facts, actually none of them at all when the book begins. The lines from Ballad of a Thin Man come to mind:

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you’ll say
When you get home

Dylan, however, is angry at this reporter for not getting the story straight. It is Grisham’s story that we readers appropriate for our own. He does get it straight, but not immediately. He lets the facts come out in a stream that first seems very rapid, but is well chosen so that we readers make the wrong picture initially. Grisham practices misdirection in the story telling. (Randy Pausch, in his last lecture, talks about misdirection as a way to draw students in to an important and difficult realization that they won’t readily come to if confronted with a more direct approach, in which case they will resist rather than acknowledge the truth.) If you’ve read several of Grisham’s books already, you anticipate the misdirection, yet you can’t see your way to the truth he is leading us to till you are well into the book. There is anticipation of a strong element of surprise till then. That, I believe, is the underlying factor which makes the book a page turner. Further the events proceed according to a complex and detailed plan, one cooked up by the protagonist. Part of the engagement with the story is to see the plan unfold, appreciate the cleverness in it, and to see the actual events correspond with the plan so closely. Indeed, we readers learn of the plan by the events. Grisham deliberately conceals the plan otherwise, for once the cat is out of the bag Grisham has lost his biggest hold on the reader.

Something else got in my way reading this book. Ten or eleven years ago I wrote about half a novel, before I ran out of steam. (Maybe I’ll come back to it someday and finish it.) That experience seemed increasingly relevant as I read further into The Partner. In particular, I became conscious of the parts with dialog and the phrases used outside the quotes to describe the mindset of the character or the circumstances under which the quoted line was uttered. Those phrases started to seem artificial to me, not necessarily contributing to the story at all, but necessary because that is how dialog is written. I began to recall in my own writing that the choice of those phrases seems somewhat arbitrary, an afterthought not part of the story plan. And then it dawned on me that Grisham had influenced me a lot in the way I constructed my novel, though the substance of the book was indirectly taken from Michael Lewis’ The New New Thing, which is a non-fiction book about Jim Clark, and which I appropriated and intermingled with my experiences about teaching and learning. I also developed a very complex plan as the centerpiece of my story, though I made that plan more overt. My experience is that events never go as planned so I couldn’t write a story, as Grisham does, where the correspondence is near perfect.

Perhaps because of my own writing experience I start to see where the Grisham story will unfold pretty early on in the reading. So I become conscious of other aspects of Grisham’s technique. He has a very good sense of pace, when to let clues out, and with that how to build a narrative behind the release of clues. In this particular story there is a friend of the protagonist whose hidden job is to serve as the eyes and ears of the reader. As he learns about the plan, the reader does too. This guy and the other real friends of the protagonist are the only pure ones in the story. The protagonist himself is a good guy, but he has done something very dark to exact his revenge. For justice to prevail, the protagonist can’t go entirely unpunished, in spite of his very clever plan. The other characters in the story are either entirely venal, they are the objects with whom the protagonist levels the score, or they are unwitting accomplices of the protagonist, part of the criminal justice system.

Grisham’s sentences and paragraphs are simple and straightforward. A reader can race through them. And the chapters are short. There are many of them (over forty). As one comes to the end of one, then another, there is the sense of making progress and that things are going by rapidly, as if staring outside through a window while riding on a bullet train. This serves as a counterpoint since, after the very beginning of the book where the landscape is set, the clues emerge rather slowly. So while things may seem a whirl, Grisham doesn’t want the picture to come into sharp focus till near the end of the book.

Here’s one last comment about Grisham. I find his endings a bit weak, though perhaps that is an occupational hazard. He wants all the loose ends to be wrapped up in a bow. The bad guys need to be punished and they are. None get away with it. This is not for them to learn that crime doesn’t pay. It’s for us readers as fans. Our team wins. No reader can be rooting for the bad guys. There remains the question of what should happen to the protagonist, a good guy, a victim in a real sense, but who has done something dark. Does he get away with it or get punished? In my way of thinking the story should end with ambiguity on that score. Instead, Grisham provides a resolution but one not motivated at all by the rest of the story. This may be fair to the character, but as a reader I felt cheated.

The next book I read is the Malacca Conspiracy and it turns out I purchased it by mistake. The author is Don Brown, not Dan Brown, though I found the book by searching for Dan Brown at I only noticed my error after reading the whole thing and then going back to the book page and reading the descriptions there. From that I learned the book would top the lists for Christian fiction, my first (and probably last) foray into that genre. I read that book entirely out of compulsion, with no real pleasure in the reading at all. Thinking this was written by the author of The Da Vinci Code, I was going to make the point that sometimes you can’t resist candy long after the sense of reward from eating it has left. But now I feel compelled to reprimand myself that I probably need to change my approach at when looking for candy. First go to the page of a book I’ve already read and liked, then surf from there. This is more likely to produce related items that I will like.

Let me turn to another question that intrigues me about reading as candy. If we do a fair amount of that and on a regular basis will we read more serious stuff too? For me, a lot of what I do depends on where I’m located. I do different things sitting at the computer than when I’m in an easy chair away from the computer. Sometimes I sit on our couch in front of the TV and read there, but I find I read more if I’m away from the TV too, in a comfortable chair. What other purpose could I have for being there? Getting into the habit of that’s where I should be, I will then read what I can get at from my iPad. The candy then serves as a lure, for good habit formation. Growing up, I had always thought of treats as rewards given after the fact for work well done. Candy as lure to encourage before the fact behavior is a new idea for me.

Maybe the big lesson is that we need to make misdirection for ourselves.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I agree with this assessment

Recognizing I'm a majority of one, the Wikileaks story actually made me proud of our government, for acting sensibly in the area of international diplomacy. Sometimes when you look under a rock you find.....reasonableness.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

And Then There Were None*

*A movie from the Agatha Christie story

iscal drain in Spain,
Falls mainly on the brain.

Conservatives are prone to give very short shrift,
To the concept we know as the paradox of thrift.

The middle class had their day, before the revolution.
But income inequality got in their way, which spoiled their constitution.

Instead of blowing hot air the big bad wolf foreclosed on the house with a huff and a puff,
By the hair of his chinny chin chin, thereafter life for the little pig became very rough.

Without the FDIC,
A penny saved is a penny burned.

Down payment is dandy.
But leverage is quicker.

I do not like greenbacks paid to Uncle Sam.
I'm for tax reduction, Sam I Am.

Yankee Doodle went for peace and paid a lot of moan-ee.
Too bad he didn't know the Taliban leader, who turned out to be a phony.

Hi, said the multi-billionaire fat cat, I'll tell you the reason that.
The reason the country's lurched to the right, is from our stealthy funding that gave all a good fright.

There was an old lady who swallowed a horse,
And of reading the Times Op-Ed, she's had a divorce.

* * * * *

Of bad news, and giving thanks.
Today is not the day for elaborate pranks.
I'd like to wish all my readers good cheer.
By offering up lame rhymes instead of spreading more fear.

Happy Holidays.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lessons from Walden

I spent a good chunk of yesterday listening to classical music while finishing up Walden, both furnished by my iPad. People have commented about it's weight, which can give your wrist a workout (probably one that is unintended). I found that if you can sit in a a comfortable chair with your legs propped up, then your lap makes for an ideal book holder and the "getting immersed in the reading" can take over.

The passage quoted below offers some timely advice for us all. People today would benefit from reading the chapter that is the source of this passage, Spring, as well as the Conclusion.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Loopholes, Progressivity, and Lines in the Sand

The first John Grisham novel I read was The Firm, a book that enthralled me. I became fascinated with the genre of page turner novels, because I read it on an airplane with a sleeping infant in my arms. That book was the enabler that allowed the entire flight to pass uninterrupted. Since travel with the kids was a real schlepp, the experience reading The Firm is one I'll always remember.

The Firm is a story of greed run amuck. In a scene intended to presage the rest of the story, Avery and Mitch fly to the Cayman Islands to meet with Avery's client, Sonny Capps. Seeming a real sleaze, Capps' goal in life appears to be shielding his massive income from taxation. He is willing to pay the law firm big bucks to shave a few percentage points off his marginal tax rate. Mitch doesn't seem to belong at the meeting. Just out of law school, he hasn't yet played with the big boys. But he is very bright, just as brash, and badly wanting to prove himself. From out of left field he pulls some very obscure bit of the tax code that will be forthcoming later in the year, something that will save Capps a bundle. Suddenly Capps tone changes. Now he is grateful. Afterward, Avery tells Mitch it was a job well done and that he deserved a little R&R as reward.

And that's the part of the story where the transactions were all legal.

The original copyright on The Firm dates from 1991. Bush 1 was President. The Democrats were still the majority party in Congress.

Most if not all of Grisham's novels follow a certain trajectory. A talented lawyer has a fall from grace, temptation getting to the better part of his nature. He gets into a stupor, not seeing a way out. Out of his desperation, with his ingenuity reignited, he finds a way toward salvation. His better self emerges anew. The law is not simply the road to perdition. It can be the path toward betterment, of self and society.

The Tea Party seems to have read only a bit of Grisham and then garbled the rest of the story. They've got the part about the fall from grace right. But their hero on the path to redemption appears to be Sonny Capps.

* * * * *

People are trying to make heads and tails of the early proposal by the Chairmen of President Obama's Debt Commission. There's been much written about it the past few days. I will offer my own opinion below, but before I do I want to make a point from the parable above.

Milton Friedman taught us "there is no free lunch," an important lesson to learn. Human nature what it is, many of us search for the free lunch nonetheless. Dire Straits wrote a song about it. ESPN has a Web site devoted to poker, and does extensive television programming of the World Series of Poker. And, as I've already relayed, there are characters in fiction like Sonny Capps. There may be no free lunch, but all of us can pass a buck.

Economists call the phenomenon rent seeking. It is socially deleterious. The effort put into it doesn't make the pie bigger. It only puts a larger share into the hungriest mouth, while the effort itself burns up socially useful resources.

We learned from the financial crisis that complexity can be the breeding ground for rent seeking, and the social destruction that results can be enormous. For the financial crisis the culprits were various derivatives, credit default swaps and the like. The U.S. tax code is likewise incredibly complex. It encourages rent seeking behavior by having people look for tax shelters or tax dodges. It would be much more straightforward to get rid of all the loopholes and therefore have lower tax rates.

In a NY Times Op-Ed today, Glenn Hubbard has a piece that I largely agree with supporting this point. On Friday in his column, Paul Krugman ripped the proposal, mainly for its lack of progressivity - the rich being the primary beneficiaries of the lower rates proposed. That got me wondering whether Krugman is right or if there are enough loopholes in the tax code where in fact the rich, and especially the super rich, have lower average tax rates than the rest of us.

On Sunday Frank Rich had an interesting column on this very theme. Rich says that share of national income now going to the top 1% of the population is 23.5%, which is bigger than the federal government. And based on the point made in The Black Swan, the skewness in distribution gets even greater as you go higher in income, meaning the top 0.1% get much more than 2.35% of the income. Rich bases much of his argument on the new book, Winner-Take-All Politics. The tax code is obviously not the only way such politics manifests. But my sense of it is that Krugman is wrong here, because the existing system is not progressive at all, when starting at very high incomes. If that is a right, a straight flat tax would be fairer than what we have now.

Republicans argue for limited government, putting their trust in "the market" to generate wealth and economic growth. But the Republican rhetoric doesn't discriminate between real wealth creation and rent seeking. In a world where the latter is fair game, who among the rich can afford not to be Sonny Capps? And when that happens doesn't it suck the lifeblood among those engaged in the former.

This seems to be where we are now. If all of society is one big Grisham story, where collectively we are nowhere near as clever as a Grisham protagonist, might we never find the way out?

Friday, November 12, 2010

On Disagreement*

Reasonable people can.
Unreasonable people do.

*With apologies to G.B. Shaw.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Not Just Posturing About The Deficit

It wasn't clear from this what non Social Security spending would be cut, but I liked the tone of this. The document is coming at the right time.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

More Music My Father Played

This time it's a collection of standards from Pete Seeger.

Music My Father Played For Us

This is the Burl Ives album, The Wayfaring Stranger. We listened to it when we were kids. When my parents sold their house in New York, I took the vinyl for that and a bunch of other albums. Now those sitting somewhere in our basement. I'm very glad this is online at I don't believe this respects copyright law. Burl Ives hasn't been dead for 70 years. But it seems right that his music should now be available this way. There can't be much of a market for it.

It is beautiful to listen to.

Friday, November 05, 2010

One, Two, Three Zing....No!

"One, two, three zing" was an expression my dad taught us. It meant everything would be done quickly and then it's over. It had it's place, but it was certainly not meant as a way of life. We seem to have made it so. In economics, we might call it HRTP (high rate of time preference). Impatience is not a virtue.

We need a rhetoric for patience, an easy slogan to signify it, and then an in depth discussion of what it means. Yesterday, I indulged my post-election blues with reading and viewing, some serendipitous, some I actively searched for, that has me with at least a framing of what this discussion should be about. Below, I will embed several of these references and give a brief discussion of them to show how they should fit into the larger conversation. Oh, on the slogan, that's simple - Invest in America. If I were a politician now, instead of moping I'd begin with a campaign where that slogan became the unifying them.

Let's begin with this interview Charlie Rose had with Felix Rohatyn about 18 months ago, mainly to promote his book, Bold Endeavors. (And here is an interview Rohatyn had with Deborah Solomon, where some of the same points come up.)

There are many interesting points in this discussion. I want to zero in on just a few of these. One is a rhetorical issue. Now in discussing government spending, there is really no distinction made between investment spending, which Rohatyn argues we need more of, and consumption spending, which may very well need to be cut. Another is a leadership issue. Really big capital investment projects - the Erie Canal, for example - require leadership and vision to enact. Apart from Rohatyn, who is outside the political sphere, there doesn't seem to be an ongoing discussion of the type of investment he is talking about. That leadership needs to emerge. All the political rhetoric now is about doing what the American people want. So a grass roots effort centered around Invest in America could pay dividends. Third, there is the question of how to finance this investment. Rohatyn has the concept of a National Infrastructure Bank, whose job it would be to match funds with worthy projects, try to eliminate or dramatically reduce pork barrel projects, how it does this I don't understand so I will read his book, and keep an ample ongoing flow of funds into this sort of investment. Bringing this issue back into a world where I know more of the detail, my Campus, there is a great temptation to defer this sort of spending in lieu of other spending that seems sexier and will produce more immediate results. So we have a huge deferred maintenance burden. I think that translates quite well on the national level. So there is a need to take these investment decisions outside the realm of the other spending that Congress appropriates. That seems to me a huge issue.

Let me turn next to this book review by Malcolm Gladwell of Steven Rattner's book about the bailout of the auto companies.

Gladwell makes an argument in defense of the GM CEO who got ousted, Rick Wagoner. In so doing, Gladwell makes several arguments some of which parallel Rohatyn. First, if you have a troubled entity, for Rohatyn that was NYC in the early 1970s, for Wagoner that was GM at the close of the 1990s, then you need to enlist all parties who are stakeholders and get them jointly to make concessions in order to help ensure viability of the entity. Wagoner apparently was able to negotiate with the UAW for wage concessions and get retirees of GM to agree to modifications on their pensions. Second you really need to improve both productivity and quality of the product. But that takes investment. It doesn't happen overnight. Gladwell argues that when the auto company CEOs came to Congress in 2008, GM had turned the corner on these issues and was really a top flight competitor at that point. Penetration in China is the main evidence he gives to prove the point. Third, balance sheets don't tell the whole story. Rohatyn talks about this too. Balance sheets give too narrow a focus of value. Financial engineers, like Rattner, focus narrowly on the balance sheet. So they may get things wrong as a result. Senator Shelby of Alabama comes off very poorly in Gladwell's piece, because he doesn't seem to understand this point at all, though to be fair to Shelby, until reading Gladwell's piece I didn't understand that GM was producing good product now and had an optimistic future if it could get the financing. I was still thinking of it as that 1990s company.

I want to talk about one more interview. This from Charlie Rose a couple of nights ago with Richard Berner of Morgan Stanley and Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. (Sorry, they didn't supply embed code for this segment.) The focus was the Fed's new policy of buying up some longer term Government debt in an effort to stimulate the economy by lowering long term interest rates. They do overlap with the other pieces somewhat on the Invest in America themes. But they have some other stuff too that is highly relevant. They cast the issue in an international context, where the Fed policy will be seen as weakening the dollar and perceived as a generally unfriendly act by export oriented nations unless it is also accompanied by substantial fiscal stimulus. So this could ignite a trade war and indeed fundamentally alter the global monetary system unless other steps are taken, steps that seem quite unlikely in the current political environment. Then there was a rather sobering discussion of the mortgage default issue that will likely remain with us for some time and act as substantial damper on economic growth over the next couple of years. I want to talk about that as I understand it.

Many people who have not made mortgage payments for a year or more are still in their homes. Those loans are in the "toxic" category. The home values are no longer anywhere near where they were in 2006 or so. There are two fundamental issues here, one that will command all our attention but I believe is not as important. The other is the key issue, but we're not talking about it very much. The first is who will take the capital loss - the banks or tax payers. I said this issue is less important but it is blocking the discussion of the other issue, which is why it remains fundamental. The more important issue is this. If the home were "correctly" valued in the current market and refinanced, should their current occupants remain in them? The answer is probably yes if they could readily make payment on the new loans and no otherwise. So the process that would be desirable is to first renegotiate the loans, offer them to current occupants to see if they agree to those terms and only foreclose when that outcome doesn't occur. But we're not getting that. Instead we're getting this backlash about the paperwork, which is not really helping because it too is blocking a sensible resolution of the issue.

Now let's be blunt here about what is actually going on with the current process. The banks are clearly trying to pass the capital losses to the tax payers. Having done so, then foreclosure and resale of the properties is income for them. But that process won't necessarily get to anything like a correct value, because the banks won't want to hold foreclosed homes on their balance sheets. Buyers of such homes will be there shopping for bargains. This issue too needs a lot more discussion. Instead we are getting venting only and no progress.

In order to get to Invest in America, I believe we'll have to relive the past - quite a bit. There will be some self-flagellation in that, so it won't be fun. But having gone through the exercise we'll start to believe that progress is possible. Now it seems only destruction will be the outcome.

Invest in America.