Posted at 4:15 AM on December 10, 2007
by Bob Collins
MPR's Morning Edition crew is in Decorah, Iowa this morning for a live broadcast from a booth at the Family Table Restaurant. Iowa, as you may have heard, has caucuses in about three weeks.
The local newspaper's managing editor sounds like he's getting tired of the political talk, but only because the candidates aren't buying advertising in his newspaper. He'll run a story the first time a candidate pulls into town. After that, they'll have to win the White House without him.
In his assessment of the Iowa political landscape, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibi said, "advances in campaign tactics mean that nearly every campaign now has enough reach to score at least one face-to-face with every voter in the state." The stop-spot here is Luther College. Romney, McCain, Edwards, and Obama have been here, but only Obama's appearance seems to have students there still talking.
Political consistencies are nothing if not consistent. It's a college town. And it's being worked hardest by the Democrats. Only two have storefront headquarters in Decorah, Clinton and Obama. On Sunday night, volunteers in both offices -- nearly across the street from each other -- were working, making the phone calls few people like to get on Sunday nights.
Later on Monday: Updates from the Family Table.
Posted at 5:58 AM on December 10, 2007
by Bob Collins
I trudged up to the campus of Luther College Sunday night to talk to supporters of the Ron Paul campaign. He's a hot property on the Internet and the last "hot property on the Internet" was Howard Dean. There's nothing similar about Howard Dean, a liberal Democrat, and Ron Paul, a libertarian Republican, other than being hot properties on the Internet, if not the ballot box. I wanted to test a theory that people from different political backgrounds were coalescing around Dr. Paul, partly because of that Internet thing.
But Karl Amilie, right, a senior from Shoreview majoring in biology; Greg Schultz, center, a junior music major from Grand Forks; and Dan Summerfield, left, a junior from La Crescent, turned out to have come to the Republican candidate the old-fashioned way: they come from Republican families and are conservatives.
Amilie, who admits to playing online games in the past, has an explanation for Paul's popularity: the Internet as metaphor. The Internet is free and open (that's the country), and its defenders have turned aside efforts to restrict music downloading, or filter pornography, or end gambling, or tax purchases on it (that's big government). His message, Amilie figures, plays well to a crowd that understands the metaphor.
The Bath team found adverts which show drunken incidents - such as being thrown out of a nightclub, or passing out in a doorway - are often seen by young people as being typical of a "fun" night out, rather than as a cautionary tale.(1 Comments)
Posted at 10:45 AM on December 10, 2007
by Bob Collins
(Decorah, Iowa) --If you're a candidate, Iowa makes a lovely setting for the national stage. Most candidates are here - - physically -- but their message, although geared to win the caucuses here, are quite often aimed somewhere else.
Two advertisements in the blizzard of TV commercials seem to bear that out. In one, Barack Obama tells parents to turn off the TV and spend more times with the kids. Iowa seems an odd place to lecture parents about family time (it has one of the lowest divorce rates), especially from a candidate with two young children and a work schedule that took him to Iowa Friday, South Carolina yesterday, Los Angeles tomorrow, and Seattle on Wednesday. Oh, and there's the irony of using a TV ad to tell people to turn off the TV.
And then there was the Mitt Romney ad focusing on defending marriage, a wedge issue if ever there was one -- in 2004. The issue is one a candidate usually uses in a general election, rather than a caucus state in which same-sex marriage isn't an issue among Republicans, especially when Rudy Giuliani isn't working the state much.
At the Family Table Restaurant in Decorah, where MPR's Cathy Wurzer held court this morning, Tom and Jeanette Hansen (pictured above) have noticed that the candidates aren't really talking Iowa issues while in Iowa. They run an organic beef farm, they're voting for Bill Richardson, and they say the environment (which around here means hog farms) and the decline of rural towns are the two big issues. No candidate is running TV ads here about hog farms or rural towns.
"We used to be able to drive five or 10 miles and we'd go past farms owned by 27 people; now they're owned by 6" Tom Hansen says. Farm values are on the rise -- a good thing, usually -- but young people can't afford $3,000 to $4,000 an acre in taxes," says Hansen, who is running for an open state Senate seat.
At the other end of the Family Table diner in Decorah, these women meet every morning.
They say they don't see candidates missing regional issues because Iowa "is part of the nation." This is a diverse group, politically speaking. With one lone Democrat, a handful of Republicans and one independent. While they're not afraid to talk politics, none is fiercely loyal to a particular candidate. That's what makes them a testament to the true oddity of the political season in Iowa -- the relative absence of polarization in the political discussion.
"We're respectful of other people's opinions," one said, talking about her small group of friends, but obviously applying the lesson to her community.
Best Buy has apparently finished eating CompUSA's lunch. The rival to the Minnesota-based firm announced today it's closing its remaining stores, after shuttering its Minnesota stores earlier this year.
The blog, the Consumerist, says the sell-off of inventory begins Wednesday. The long-term cheer from Bloomington may be tempered by the short-term reality, however, that the sale could slow holiday sales at Best Buy, WalMart, and Circuit City.
With CompUSA's death, the concept of a "computer store" sinks farther beneath the waves. Most retailers have expanded their product lines or at least become more innovative.
Best Buy's stock today closed slightly higher, and not far from its 52-week high.
In addition to honoring the world's most brilliant people, Nobel Prize season also has the remarkable ability to make people wish they'd paid more attention in school.
Today, Minnesota's Leonid Hurwicz received his prize in economics.
Minnesota Public Radio's Art Hughes said Hurwicz's son, Maxim, "simplified his father's notable economic theory, which includes people he called 'interveners,' who act altruistically instead of in their own self-interest."
"He did not invent interveners, because interveners are real people. But as an economist he has discovered them and given them a name. He has created a space for them in economics. A little bright spot in a normally gray landscape," said Maxim Hurwicz.
Now, here's the explanation for those of us who didn't:
Take games with a desired outcome. The people playing the games are a wild card -- they want different things. So the game's desired outcome is achieved by giving the players incentive to act in a certain way. In a popular online game, a player can be convinced to head a certain way by giving him/her points for killing a dragon guarding a door, for example. In those games, though, the goal is to have one winner. While giving someone a reason to act a certain way to achieve a desired outcome is part of mechanism design theory, having a single winner at the end of the game is not.
Taking that a bit further, Reason Magazine, uses the example of two children squabbling over how to divide a pie.
Parents will already know one answer—one child cuts and the second child chooses. The second child will choose the larger half which gives the first child the incentive to cut as evenly as possible. The first-cut, second-choose solution is a simple example of an incentive-compatible mechanism.
Hurwicz applied his theory in economics in the '60s in the critical debate of the time, according to the economic commentary site, Vox. Which is better: capitalism or socialism?
His results did not, however, let Capitalism off lightly, because individual incentives are not always aligned with social incentives. It did, however, help governments think about how best to regulate a capitalist economy.
In economics, and perhaps in the group meeting you've recently had, there are "players" with different agendas. Hurwicz's work, at least in theory, provides a way to allocate scare resources -- the pie in the above example -- in a way that will achieve a desired outcome, be it happy people, developed nations, housing, whatever.
The importance to the world of having its disparate factions (game players) solve the problem of allocating scarce resources is obviously a big deal. The fact that Hurwicz came up with a theory that shows us exactly how that can happen is why he's a big deal, too.(6 Comments)