mm035: As National Candidate, Bloomberg Would Have to Multitask – New York Times

June 26, 2007

A lengthy story from last week’s NYTimes.


Published: June 21, 2007

It seemed to be no coincidence that the day after he announced his formal departure from the Republican Party and left open the door to an independent presidential campaign, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg mundanely announced yesterday that the city’s 311 customer service telephone line had received its 50 millionth call.

By focusing on this rather prosaic milestone, Mr. Bloomberg seemed to be trying to reinforce an image of himself as an adroit manager, as if to reassure New Yorkers that, whatever his lofty political ambitions in the future, he remains very much their meat-and-potatoes mayor.

But if the mayor’s tentative tiptoeing into a national campaign accelerates into a marathon, inevitably the question of whether he can run for president and effectively manage the city simultaneously will arise. Can he avoid diminishing the legacy he is still constructing because he will be distracted by a national campaign?

Precedent seems to say no. The consensus, though, is that Mr. Bloomberg, because of his immense wealth, competent staff and willingness to delegate work, may have a better chance of pulling it off.

“The mayor invested a great deal in establishing the 311 system so he doesn’t have to be a pothole mayor,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group and one of Mr. Bloomberg’s strongest supporters in his campaign to charge drivers for entering Manhattan below 86th Street, a program known as congestion pricing.

“He’s transformed the role of mayor,” she said. “It’s not micromanagement anymore. It’s ambassador to the world, business development, restoring confidence in New York City after 9/11.”

Still, running the city has long been viewed as one of the toughest jobs in the country, and some officials are skeptical that Mr. Bloomberg can juggle a national campaign — even an unofficial one — with the responsibilities of running the city’s sprawling bureaucracy.

“I think it takes tremendous focus to keep New York City together,” said Councilman Bill DeBlasio, a former aide to Mayor David N. Dinkins. “I think we are doing well today, but whether the financial situation or the safety situation, it doesn’t take much to have new challenges. And I just think it’s a very hands-on job.”

Moreover, Mr. Bloomberg has some very big plans for his final 924 days in office, including congestion pricing, redeveloping Manhattan’s Far West Side and revamping the way the city collects garbage. All require support in Albany, and while the mayor is known for delegating duties to top aides like Daniel L. Doctoroff and Edward Skyler, he has been personally working the phones to try to push those projects through, his spokesman, Stu Loeser, said.

Will he continue to push hard for those things if he is also regularly crisscrossing the country speaking on national issues? City Council President Christine C. Quinn, an ally of the mayor, said she thought he could.

“Mayor Bloomberg has been, since Day 1 of his first term, laser-focused on making this city better, and I think laser-focused on leaving a legacy of being the best mayor in the history of these five boroughs,” Ms. Quinn said. “Nothing in these last 900-plus days is going to get in the way of that.”

If Mr. Bloomberg eventually declares his candidacy — and, because of his personal wealth and the timing of primaries, he can quietly step around a race for months longer — he has only one precedent to turn to, and that one is not encouraging.

In 1971, two years after being jilted by fellow Republicans and winning re-election, on the Liberal Party line, to a second term as mayor, John V. Lindsay switched to the Democratic Party. He mounted a short-lived presidential campaign the following spring.

Mr. Lindsay, who called the mayoralty “the second toughest job in America,” was dogged by daily crises from City Hall — including the killing of police officers; vitriol over low-income housing proposed for middle-class Forest Hills, Queens; and political sabotage by the governor, Nelson A. Rockefeller, a Republican.

“No matter how good things are or seem to be today in the city, there is a daily controversy that crops up that creates problems for a national candidate,” said Richard Aurelio, who managed Mr. Lindsay’s aborted White House bid. “Something always was occurring in New York that distracted the campaign.”

For Mr. Lindsay, running for president after barely being re-elected as mayor seemed, if nothing else, like a good excuse to get out of town.

Without having declared himself a candidate, Mr. Bloomberg has already been getting out of town more than in the past. In the last 12 months, he has taken 26 trips outside the state, not counting foreign travel — eight more than he took in his first four years in office combined.

Still, unlike Mr. Lindsay, Mr. Bloomberg would run from a position of unusual popularity for a second-term mayor.

As a billionaire, he would not be distracted by time-consuming fund-raising or be vulnerable to conflicts of interest because contributors did business with the city.

Moreover, he leads a very private life, choosing not to live in Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence, and sometimes vanishing on weekends to Bermuda or one of his other retreats and insisting that his whereabouts are nobody’s business.

Edward I. Koch was such a visible presence as mayor that, when he ran for governor in 1982, he had to defend himself against concerns that the city might not survive without him when he left town to campaign. “A mayor of the City of New York is not a city manager,” he said at the time.

Still, Mr. Koch, said yesterday, “there’s no question people will be upset if he runs and doesn’t give up the position.”

“It will be unfair in my judgment, because this city is no longer in crisis,” Mr. Koch said. “He’s got a terrific set of people as deputy mayors and commissioners.”

Chris McNickle, the author of “To Be Mayor of New York,” recalled Mr. Lindsay’s candidacy and Fiorello H. La Guardia’s role as federal director of civil defense while he was New York City’s mayor in 1941, and said it was “hard to find an example of anyone doing both demanding things effectively.”

“At the same time, Bloomberg is the most skillful manager who has ever had the job,” Mr. McNickle said. “He has broken all the rules in the past and may break them again.”

In 1991, with two chartered planes waiting on the tarmac at the Albany airport and only 90 minutes left before a filing deadline in New Hampshire, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo capped weeks of tortuous public deliberations and stepped back from the precipice of a presidential campaign.

Mr. Cuomo blamed Albany Republicans for holding him hostage to budget negotiations.

Now, Mr. Bloomberg, too, is weighing the “plausibility” of a national campaign, Mr. Cuomo said. “He will not run just for the fun of saying he ran for president. He will run only if he thinks he has a good chance to win. And there is reason to believe that this time around might be easier for a third-party independent race than ever before.

“Would he do a better job if he concentrated 24 hours a day on the city? Of course,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Would he do an adequate job if he concentrated somewhat less than that for seven months? In some ways, he could make an argument that it would be better for the city because he could have more impact in Washington.”

In calculating the plausibility of a campaign, should Mr. Bloomberg consider whether he can still be effective as mayor? No, Mr. Cuomo said.

“The mayor doesn’t have those huge, big issues that are cataclysmic in their significance,” Mr. Cuomo said. “He can run the mayoralty from wherever he is.”

Danny Hakim contributed reporting.

As National Candidate, Bloomberg Would Have to Multitask – New York Times

A third party candidate has little chance of winning an election, so says conventional wisdom.

Are these not unconventional times? I wrote last week that I regret that our country doesn’t seem ready for a woman president, nor a (most literally) African-American one. By that criteria, could we possibly ready for a Jew?


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mm034: Vote for me, dimwit |

June 26, 2007

Just another example of why The Economist is, bar none, the most interesting, thoughtful and insightful reading I do.


Vote for me, dimwit

Jun 14th 2007
From The Economist print edition

How the electorate is irrational

Kevin Kallaugher

ANYONE who follows an election campaign too closely will sometimes get the feeling that politicians think voters are idiots. A new book says they are. Or rather, Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, makes the slightly politer claim that voters systematically favour irrational policies. In a democracy, rational politicians give them what they (irrationally) want. In “The Myth of the Rational Voter”, Mr Caplan explains why this happens, why it matters and what we can do about it.

The world is a complex place. Most people are inevitably ignorant about most things, which is why shows like “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” are funny. Politics is no exception. Only 15% of Americans know who Harry Reid (the Senate majority leader) is, for example. True, more than 90% can identify Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that has a lot to do with the governor of California’s previous job pretending to be a killer robot.

Many political scientists think this does not matter because of a phenomenon called the “miracle of aggregation” or, more poetically, the “wisdom of crowds”. If ignorant voters vote randomly, the candidate who wins a majority of well-informed voters will win. The principle yields good results in other fields. On “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, another quiz show, the answer most popular with the studio audience is correct 91% of the time. Financial markets, too, show how a huge number of guesses, aggregated, can value a stock or bond more accurately than any individual expert could. But Mr Caplan says that politics is different because ignorant voters do not vote randomly.

Instead, he identifies four biases that prompt voters systematically to demand policies that make them worse off. First, people do not understand how the pursuit of private profits often yields public benefits: they have an anti-market bias. Second, they underestimate the benefits of interactions with foreigners: they have an anti-foreign bias. Third, they equate prosperity with employment rather than production: Mr Caplan calls this the “make-work bias”. Finally, they tend to think economic conditions are worse than they are, a bias towards pessimism.

Mr Caplan gives a sense of how strong these biases are by comparing the general public’s views on economic questions with those of economists and with those of highly educated non-economists. For example, asked why petrol prices have risen, the public mostly blames the greed of oil firms. Economists nearly all blame the law of supply and demand. Experts are sometimes wrong, notes Mr Caplan, but in this case the public’s view makes no sense. If petrol prices rise because oil firms want higher profits, how come they sometimes fall? Surveys suggest that, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to share the economists’ view on this and other economic issues. But since everyone’s vote counts equally, politicians merrily denounce ExxonMobil and pass laws against “price-gouging”.

The public’s anti-foreign bias is equally pronounced. Most Americans think the economy is seriously damaged by companies sending jobs overseas. Few economists do. People understand that the local hardware store will sell them a better, cheaper hammer than they can make for themselves. Yet they are squeamish about trade with foreigners, and even more so about foreigners who enter their country to do jobs they spurn. Hence the reluctance of Democratic presidential candidates to defend free trade, even when they know it will make most voters better off, and the reluctance of their Republican counterparts to defend George Bush’s liberal line on immigration.

The make-work bias is best illustrated by a story, perhaps apocryphal, of an economist who visits China under Mao Zedong. He sees hundreds of workers building a dam with shovels. He asks: “Why don’t they use a mechanical digger?” “That would put people out of work,” replies the foreman. “Oh,” says the economist, “I thought you were making a dam. If it’s jobs you want, take away their shovels and give them spoons.” For an individual, the make-work bias makes some sense. He prospers if he has a job, and may lose his health insurance if he is laid off. For the nation as a whole, however, what matters is not whether people have jobs, but how they do them. The more people produce, the greater the general prosperity. It helps, therefore, if people shift from less productive occupations to more productive ones. Economists, recalling that before the industrial revolution 95% of Americans were farmers, worry far less about downsizing than ordinary people do. Politicians, however, follow the lead of ordinary people. Hence, to take a more frivolous example, Oregon’s ban on self-service petrol stations.

Finally, the public’s pessimism is evident in its belief that most new jobs tend to be low-paying, that our children will be worse off than we are and that society is going to hell in a variety of ways. Economists, despite their dismal reputation, tend to be cheerier. Politicians have to strike a balance. They often find it useful to inflame public fears, but they have to sound confident that things will get better if they are elected.

Easier to diagnose than to cure

In short, democracy is a mess. But dictatorship is worse. Mr Caplan observes that Winston Churchill’s aphorism—that democracy is “the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”—usually cuts the conversation short. He does not think it ought to. To curb the majority’s tendency to impose its economic ignorance on everyone else, he suggests we rely less on government and more on private choice. Industries do better when deregulated. Religions thrive when disestablished. Market failures should be tackled, of course, but always with an eye for the unintended consequences of regulation. Mr Caplan is better at diagnosis than prescription. His book is a treat, but he will never win elective office.

Lexington | Vote for me, dimwit |

So, now, for the few of us who actually think for ourselves (I know, I flatter both of us unashamedly!), I say now what about Michael Bloomberg? An intelligent man who tells the truth? More follows.

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mm033: ‘Rome Reborn’ Model Pushes Frontiers of 3-D Simulation

June 25, 2007

I can’t help myself, this is just cool. From Wired by way of SciTech Daily Review (–>).

‘Rome Reborn’ Model Pushes Frontiers of 3-D Simulation

Andrew Curry Email 06.14.07 | 2:00 AM

Looking out from the Roman Forum in a complete 3-D model of Rome.
Image: Copyright of the Regents of the University of California 2007

Rome was at its peak in the fourth century, with over a million inhabitants. It was the largest metropolis the world had ever seen: Not until Victorian London, 1500 years later, did an urban area surpass Rome’s size. This week, an unusual combination of classicists, engineers and archaeologists unveiled something not even HBO and Hollywood could manage – a complete 3-D model of Rome, circa 320 A.D.

It’s a huge model for a huge city. Running a fly-through, real-time model of the ancient city requires serious processing power. “It’s a big engineering problem to have a big model of something that has to be rendered that fast,” says Bernard Frischer, director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia and the “Rome Reborn” project’s organizer.

View of the 3-D modeled Colosseum.

Image: Copyright of the Regents of the University of California 2007

To create the digital model, researchers scanned a 3,000 square foot, 1/250 plaster model of the city – the “Plastico di Roma Antica” – which was completed in the 1970s. Because of the model’s intricacy – the Plastico’s Coliseum is only 8 inches tall — Italian engineers used laser radar originally designed to measure precise tolerances on jet parts to scan within a tenth of a millimeter. Each 6-by-6 section contained 60 million data points.

Digitizing the scan produced amazing results: a fly-through model of the entire city, street by street, column by column. Yesterday’s demonstration ran on a $2500 Shuttle PC equipped with a 1.5-Gb invidia graphics card that pumps out 30 frames per second, a refreshing change from the $500,000 UCLA mainframe test versions ran on in the late 1990s. The resolution is good enough to run on a movie screen. “We thank gamers for wasting all that time and money – that has really encouraged companies to invest in graphics cards and PCs,” Frischer says.

Frischer’s goal is to create a “moderated wiki” for Rome scholars to use as an online forum. Archaeologists can add or change buildings or monuments as new evidence is unearthed, architects can explore the city’s sightlines and traffic flows and art historians can add details and information to buildings that have been scanned by other teams.

Birds eye view of the digital Rome.

Image: Copyright of the Regents of the University of California 2007

Scholars hope the digital Rome will lead to a new understanding of how the city worked. “How we gather information defines how we understand the city,” says Dean Abernathy, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. “Publications made to go in a book end at the edge of the page. This gives you the whole context.”

But it won’t just be for academics. “Rome Reborn” has been licensed to a tour company in Rome, and was officially unveiled by Rome’s mayor June 11. In April 2008, an orientation film based on the model (“Rewind Rome”) will open in a converted playhouse across from the Coliseum to give tourists a sense of the city’s past, and dedicated PDA/GPS devices will let them walk the city and see what the view in front of them once looked like. And at some point it might be even easier to travel back in time: Frischer says he’s in talks with online community Second Life as well.‘Rome Reborn’ Model Pushes Frontiers of 3-D Simulation

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mm032: Hmm, wonder about my OfficeJet…

June 24, 2007

Too good not to capture, even third hand! From Machinist (–>) again.

Article removed at the polite request of the copyright holder

Machinist: Tech Blog, Tech News, Technology Articles – Salon

Printers for years have been such a razor/blade business. Kodak is supposed to be releasing a paradigm changing system soon (half the price of HP replacement cartridges). How truthy will they be?

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mm031: … on the other hand …

June 24, 2007

From Machinist (–>) in Salon (–>), a second opinion regarding the previous post.

What’s the most-hated tech term? An odd poll by the British survey firm YouGov found that “folksonomy” is the most likely of any nerd-word to make people online “wince, shudder or want to bang your head on the keyboard.” The word “blogosphere” was second, “blog” was third, and “netiquette” came in at number four. But do folks say many of these anymore? “Blogosphere” and “blog,” sure, but it was the last century when I last heard “netiquette.” “Blook” — the allegedly popular blending of “book” and “blog,” which came in at number five — gets under 500,000 on Google. “Onomatopoeia” is more popular. Sounds like a push-poll to me.

Machinist: Tech Blog, Tech News, Technology Articles – Salon

Differences of opinion are so rare in the ‘sphere. I still hear “webinar” way too often to suit me.

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mm030: The ten most hated words on the Internet

June 23, 2007

From Ars Technica (–>) via Digg (–>):

The Internet has much to answer for, but one of its chiefest sins is its relentless stupifidication of the English language. And no, I did not just make up the word “stupifidication.”1

UK pollsters YouGov have just completed a survey on the web’s most-hated words, the abominations that threaten to turn English into a long series of “plzkthxbye” utterances. At the top of the list (and rightly so) is the word “folksonomy.” It’s followed by:

  • Blogosphere
  • Blog
  • Netiquette
  • Blook (don’t ask)
  • Webinar
  • Vlog
  • Social Networking
  • Cookie
  • Wiki

Now, any survey of this type isn’t designed to get at some sort of mythical objective truth about the Internet’s effects on English; it’s designed to come up with a handy top-ten list that journalists can use to pad out slow news days. As such, it’s just a measure of people’s pet peeves, so this seems as good a time as any to share a few of my own that didn’t make the official list.

  • AJAXify. As in, “I’m just going to AJAXify the web site and then we’ll be all Web 2.0 and stuff.” “To AJAX” is not an English verb. Please don’t use it as one.
  • Web 3.0. Web 2.0 wasn’t bad enough, huh? Shove a finger into that soft spot at the back base of your ear and you’ll know how I feel about this one.
  • Podcast. Our own Peter Bright has a well-known man crush on Steve Jobs but can’t abide the term “podcast” when used to describe any recorded audio placed online in any format. He has… strong feelings about this.
  • Crowdsourcing. Typing tags on other people’s photos? I want in. Wait. No I don’t.
  • Flash mobs. Hipsters show up in public parks at the same time using only text messages and web sites; NO PAPER SIGNS NEEDED. This is not, it has to be said, a huge breakthrough.

So there you have it: my non-objective collection of irritants. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go blog about a webinar.

1Okay, I did. Score another blow for the Internet-based assault on English!

The ten most hated words on the Internet

My business is webinars, although I prefer the term web conferencing, some of my best clients use the term and thus by default so do I. Sigh.

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mm029: The Bing Blog Working from home? «

June 23, 2007

Discovered at Digg this morning… take it from one who knows, these are pretty spot on.

Hi there. It’s Friday afternoon and I thought I would offer a few suggestions to those of you who have told your bosses that you are “working from home” today:

1. DO NOT leave your cell phone back in the living room when you step out to the diner for a couple of hours.
2. DO take your BlackBerry and cell phone when you go to the bathroom.
3. DO schedule a few short conference calls with anybody who works for you, since they are probably at the office cursing your name. This will show them you are fully engaged in the business of the day, which, of course, you are!
4. DO NOT start a complex e-mail chain with your boss too early in the day, since they often result in incoming telephone action that will raise the question of where you actually are in the physical (i.e. non-virtual) sense. NOTE: Even if you have received permission to “work from home” don’t remind your boss that you have done so. Reminding him or her of your status may impair your ability to do so again next week.
5. DO NOT start drinking any earlier than usual. Not even beer.
6. DO send out that lengthy e-mail with several Excel attachments that people have been waiting for since last Tuesday. This will serve two purposes: 1) demonstrate that you are active and on the field, in spite of all appearances; 2) stop anybody from replying to you on any issue while they chew over a spreadsheet they have no desire to deal with on a Friday during July or August.
7. DO NOT leave your Elvis Costello album playing in the background while you talk with colleagues, even if they are junior to you. Word will get around.
8. DO NOT answer the phone during your nap. Allow the ring to wake you. Splash some cold water on your face. Then return the call and apologize for having been “caught up” in something else while it was ringing. You may not fool anybody but it will be worth the attempt.
9. DO attempt to call your boss at 6 p.m., when you know he has gone for the day. You will appear on his call sheet first thing Monday morning as any industrious corporate citizen should.
10. DO NOT conduct any sort of business in your underwear. People will know. I don’t know how, but they will.

The Bing Blog Working from home? «

I never conduct business in my underwear, I swear. Really. I’ll add this blog to my blogroll, as Stanley Bing seems to be a kindred spirit.

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