New Microsoft Tablet

The initial impressions I’ve been reading about the Microsoft Surface have been positive. I think the cover-as-keyboard is pretty neat too, although that assumes it works well as a keyboard.

This article on Ars Technica goes into some of the whys about Microsoft making its own hardware. Based on the last time I bought a computer (summer 2009), I’d have to agree with this:

PC hardware is plagued with mediocrity, but to a large extent it can get away with it. The simple fact is, the PC is an entrenched, dominant tool. It doesn’t have to wow anyone or win them over, because it already has.

Seriously, is there a PC laptop with a good trackpad yet?

Didn’t realize this until I read it:

The Windows business model is predicated on selling the operating system to third parties, and leaving the actual task of system-building to those third parties. We’re so used to Microsoft’s existence and the success of Windows that it’s easy to forget that it’s actually something that’s essentially unique. Apple sells hardware/software combinations. So does IBM with its z/OS mainframe platform and its AIX UNIX. So too does Oracle, with Solaris (though Sun did of course dabble with opening up the operating system), and HP, with HP-UX. The same was true historically, too; Amigas were paired with AmigaOS, Ataris with TOS, NeXT workstations with NeXTStep, and so on and so forth.

 And the parallels the article draws between the Surface and the Nexus One are interesting. It remains to be seen whether it works out for Microsoft (obviously), but it seems like a solid playbook to follow.

Presidential Power

I may have to look more into Watergate, based on this.

Why is it important? It tells us volumes about the limits of presidential power. The president may be presented in the civics books as sitting at the top of a pyramid, with executive-branch departments and agencies below him, but in reality the people at the next level down, such as Cabinet secretaries, are also responsive to Congress and to the permanent bureaucracy below them. In short, that means that presidents cannot give them orders and assume they’ll be carried out.

That doesn’t mean that presidents should simply accept their limited influence; to the contrary, effective presidents work hard to increase their influence over Congress, over the courts — and, yes, over the bureaucracy. But that takes hard work — what Alexander Hamilton famously called “energy in the executive.” It doesn’t come with the job. And it only works, Watergate tells us, if the president accepts that the inherent constraints of the office — and the other players in the policy-making system — are just as legitimate as the occupant of the Oval Office.

Party and Candidates

A trio of blog posts about the importance of voting for the party over the person.


I freely admit that Unger’s principles are better than Obama’s, that next to him Obama’s credentials as a progressive are muddied and blunted. If I had to choose between them as men of probity, I would prefer Unger as quick as the eye can blink. But in politics we never choose men of much probity. One of the recurring comedies of American politics is the rapture with which people elect a shining prince, and then collapse into self-pitying cries of betrayal when the shine comes off once the candidate is in office. A refrain of dismay runs the fairy tale in reverse: “We elected a prince and he turned into a frog.”

Obama was never a prince. None of them are. The mistake behind all this is a misguided high-mindedness that boasts, “I vote for the man, not the party.” This momentarily lifts the hot-air balloon of self-esteem by divorcing the speaker from political taintedness and compromise. But the man being voted for, no matter what he says, dances with the party that brought him, dependent on its support, resources, and clientele. That is why one should always vote on the party, instead of the candidate. The party has some continuity of commitment, no matter how compromised. What you are really voting for is the party’s constituency. That will determine priorities when it comes to appointments, legislative pressure, and things like nominating Supreme Court justices.


As Wills points out, noting that parties will be more responsive to some groups than others doesn’t mean that any particular group will get its way at all times. After all, both parties are made up of groups that frequently disagree about policies, and beyond that, politicians are also responsive to median (general-election) voters. It’s complicated — and to seriously engage in politics is to accept the complexity, rather than to retreat to the fantasy of a third party whenever things go the other way.

Elections are not only about choosing between sets of constituencies. We also choose one team of political elites or the other; we choose, more or less, between two sets of policy choices; it’s even true at some level that the individual in the Oval Office can make a difference, although a lot harder to foresee how that will matter. But, yes, we really are choosing between sets of constituencies.

 And Three:

Even among political reporters, there’s a tendency to separate the candidate from the party, as if a president is somehow separate from the constituencies that he represents. But the truth of the matter, as Wills points out, is that in most instances, the president works to fulfill the priorities and demands of the groups who elected him. Mitt Romney may or may not be a moderate—it doesn’t matter. What matter’s is that—if elected president—he’ll represent a Republican Party that has abandoned moderation in favor of radical cuts to the size and scope of government, and regressive views on social issues.

If you want, you can play this game with Barack Obama circa 2008. Anyone who looked at the Democratic coalition at the time, and thought Obama wouldn’t try to pursue health care reform, or support our involvement in Afghanistan, is fooling themselves.


(in all cases, emphasis mine)

I first came across this voting in the 2010 midterms. I went into it thinking that I would research the candidates and choose whoever I thought would best represent my views. I ended up voting straight Democrat, which wasn’t big surprise, but it did get me thinking. Who the candidates are exactly, only mattered on the margins. More important was what there positions were. Which is driven by who has a voice within the party.

As the three articles say, candidates don’t exist in a vacuum.


I’m actually okay with bringing in business leaders being brought in to run non-business institutions, since they may actually be good leaders. Bringing in business leaders simply for the sake of running non-businesses as businesses seems dubious at best.


For as much as this has been described as “remarkable” and “unprecedented,” I can’t help but see it as the microcosm of a dynamic playing out in our politics and across our public institutions. The constant denigration of government and public service, coupled with the often unjustified veneration of business, has led to a world where successful capitalists are privileged in all discussions. In an earlier time, we understood that the values and priorities of the market weren’t universally applicable; of course you wouldn’t run a university like a business. It has different goals, serves different constituencies, and more important, has a broad obligation to serve the public.

Pressing On the Upward Way

An excellent piece, looking at life right on the poverty line:

When nearly everyone in the county is poor, the distinction between have and have-not becomes meaningless. There are have-very-little’s, but even they wouldn’t always call themselves poor. Neither would the Christians. As far as Sue was concerned, “poor” was the word for giving up.

And luck (or bad timing or chance or whatever) as always plays a role:

Like many of America’s poor, the Christians had a few tantalizingly good years that set a standard of living they struggle to maintain during the bad ones. What they hadn’t known, of course, when they made the decision for Sue to go to college was that the global economy was about to collapse and J.C.’s work was about to dry up.


A Political Scientist Votes

And reaches this conclusion:

As for the tally: 32 votes today. Two election days this year, with a total of 38 votes; three election days this cycle, with 40 things to vote for. That compares with five election days and 115 votes in 2010, so this year is quite a bit slower — doesn’t look like we’ll get to 100. Next up will be any runoff elections generated from today’s ballot…no idea if we’ll see one or not.

And as always, it’s a great patriotic feeling to get out there and vote, but really we do vote on too many things.

Which brings some questions. What shouldn’t we be voting on? What should we vote on? And how do we distinguish the two?