Monday, January 28, 2008

A memorable event

Twenty-two years ago today I walked into the Flandrau planetarium for a lab associated with a Planetary Science class I was taking. Heading in I noticed there were a number of large televisions set up around the planetarium, and some classes of young school children already arriving, but none of this really registered on me.

Some 90 minutes later I exited the lab classroom back out into the main area, and stepped into chaos - just moments before the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded in large, bright, billowing clouds of smoke for several hundred local first-, second- and third-graders to see on all those thoughtfully provided TVs. I, and many of my classmates, were immediately pressed into service as supplemental emergency crowd control.

It's really the first "I remember where I was" moment in my life. I wasn't born yet when Kennedy was shot, and am too young to recall MLK. I only have vague recollections of the moon landings. I wasn't really into music, so John Lennon's shooting didn't have as much impact on me as it did many of my friends. I do recall the famous Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson pass which led to the phrase "Hail Mary" being introduced to football jargon, but that pales in comparison.

No, for me, Challenger was the first such event. I can recall the images, the noise, clearly, as if it had all happened yesterday, or maybe, at most, last week.

We, as a species, have an imperative to explore. Not everyone possesses this trait ... but enough of us do that there is never a shortage of people willing to take that next step into the great unknown, to see what lies over the next hill, up the next river, across the next ocean. With our geographical frontiers now being largely discovered, many of those looking for new vistas to explore are looking for them internally - how can one improve one's memory, or live longer, or sleep less.

Space remains out there, waiting for us. It's a hideous, harsh, dangerous place, unbelievably cold, filled with cosmic radiation, completely unforgiving. Any little mis-step will kill you. All things considered, our safety record in space exploration has been excellent.

Yet we no longer reach for space. We first landed a man on the moon nearly 40 years ago. The last time a man walked on our moon was over 35 years ago. Our technology has become immeasurably better, yet our goals have become immeasurably smaller.

Twenty-two years ago I had hopes and expectations I might live to see us walk on Mars, pull mineral resources from asteroids. I am older and wiser now, and have no such dreams.

We talk of landing a man on the moon again maybe 10 years from now ... wohoo! Better than nothing I guess, but all it would mean is we would have once again reached the point we were at in 1969. There is speculation of manned lunar bases, treks to Mars. Worthwhile goals in my opinion, and I desperately hope they occur ... but I am a cynic now, and will believe it when it happens, not before.

We can not allow ourselves to be limited to just this one rocky orb circling this one small star in a large, dangerous galaxy. We must find some way to spread out, first to our solar system, then beyond, even if such trips take thousands or millions of years. If we don't, our species will die out, either slowly (through resource depletion and, eventually, the sun's destruction) or quickly (by, say, passing near a super-nova ... who knows, that event could already have occured and we have but years to live) ... and we will disappear from the annals of the universe having left no mark or trace of our existence, other than some odd radio signals which some distant, alien intelligence might one day stumble upon and wonder about.

Kennedy said we needed to go to the moon not because it was easy, but because it was hard. For some reason, we seem to have lost our appetite for achieving the "hard" things, and strive for lower-hanging fruit instead. We need to change that. We need to go back, not just to the moon but beyond it, not just because it is hard, but because it is necessary.

Ignorant opinions

As a blogger and blog commentator, if there is any subject I know well it's publicly proclaiming one's opinion on some matter about which one knows little or nothing. I'm an expert.

ThinkRight provided a post yesterday in which he helpfully provided link to letters the Arizona Daily Star received vis-a-vis their simultaneously published articles on Gabrielle Giffords (discussing her 1st year in Congress) and Tim Bee (announcing plans to run against Giffords this fall), as well as a response by the Star's Debbie Kornmiller.

Not surprisingly, a number of the letters submitted took the respective length of the two articles (the Giffords article was considerably lengthier) as signs of clear bias on the Star's part. I take the letters as clear evidence the writers have no clue what they are talking about.

Full disclosure: Way, way back in the dawn of time I worked as a reporter for the Star, and knew both Bobbie Jo Buel (slightly) and Debbie Kornmiller (somewhat better). I haven't seen or spoken with either in at least a decade, mind you.

What I do know is Kornmiller's explanation rings true. There is no way, given the amount of time invested in the two different subjects those articles were ever going to be the same length. If the Star was going to run them the same day (which the Giffords article had apparently been scheduled to do for some time before Bee scheduled his announcement), then they made they best choice they could by featuring them with equal prominence on the front page.

One might argue they could have moved the Giffords piece a week earlier or later ... but, frankly, shifting something which had months of work invested in it just to accommodate Bee's story would have given more weight to Bee's announcement than it deserved.

The Star may have its biases, but the length of the articles in question is a thin reed on which to make the case.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The (un)consciousness of voters

X4mr has a throw-away comment in this thread on Arizona8th where he essentially claims bloggers and the issues they blog about don't have much effect on the general voting populace.

I find myself agreeing with him.

By-and-large, it seems those who blog about politics, or regularly read and comment on political blogs, are those who are already active followers of the political opera. By-and-large, we have already chosen up sides and enter into our debates with positions already held. That doesn't mean we are immune to persuasion, but it does make it less likely.

Meanwhile, the voting populace, which in general does not get overly interested in matters politic until the time to vote actually draws near (if then) is generally not aware of the existence of blogs yet. There are exceptions, of course - tech savvy types who already follow blogs to keep up on, say, the latest music news may think to peruse what is available in the form of political blogs when their thoughts turn to (I hope) informing themselves before they vote. Most voters, though, don't possess that savvyness.

At the national level, blogs are starting to gain influence. A recent example is the hoopla related by lefty blogs over Chris Matthews' recent comments vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton, said hoopla eventually leading to Matthews apologizing on-air. Still, while such incidents are becoming more common, I would still assert they remain notable because of their rarity.

At the local level, or at least the local level in Arizona, we are all largely talking to walls.

(And yes, x4mr, in case you ever read this ... since I suspect that last phrase will jog a memory for you ... I did write that phrase initially over on the DailyKos thread last year, posted as ChessGuy ... I can't tell you how much amusement I got out of you subsequently referencing it.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Showing one's work

Trent Humphries, otherwise known as Framer, the founder of and still (somewhat irregular) contributor to the blog Arizona8th, is running as a Republican candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives from district 26. As such, he has a brand spanking new web site up where he promises to provide regular updates and further details about his views and positions.

It's still a work in progress (links to a couple sections aren't active yet, for example ... presumably those are still under work), but just in the couple days the site has been up he has already added a new page titled Restoring Expectations, an explicit list of what voters can expect from him as a candidate and, should he be elected, as a Representative.

What particularly caught my eye was item #6:

An expectation of "showing my work." I intend to keep a blog after I am elected to discuss, most if not all of the votes I make and how I came around to that decision. Often, a politician assumes that they vote on an island and will sometimes hope that a particular vote goes unnoticed. I will carefully lay out my arguments, and hope that I am persuasive to my constituents.

If Trent wins election and carries through on this (and I fully believe he would), this, done right, could be a very important marriage of politics and the internet. Trent would be forced to lay out his positions in careful, reasoned manners for all to see and critique. He would be accountable for his positions, and there would be no chance of "confusion" or "misquoting" in transmitting his views through traditional media, since Trent himself would ultimately be responsible for the content of the blog.

Constituents would have a direct line into the reasoning of their Representative, and could decide for themselves whether they agreed, disagreed, partially agreed, felt Trent overlooked some things about the issue, or even ... in certain, rare cases ... might find Trent had considered something they had overlooked.

Without question, this could be very risky - Trent's thoughts would be out there for all to see, including opponents, and his words could easily be used against him in later races. Still, it's a cutting-edge idea, and one I think should be encouraged of all candidates.

Oil opportunities

With fears of a sustained recession widespread, oil prices have continued a recent decline. As I write this, the price per barrel is at $89.37, down $1.20. Prices had briefly cracked $100 per barrel a couple weeks ago.

Still, anything over $80 per barrel is supposed to be sufficient to spur private investment in alternative power research. Traditionally, this has included items like the new solar powersheets which Nanosolar began shipping last month, alternative bio-fuels like ethanol, or wind-power such as the wind turbine farms one sees from I-10 when making the drive out to LA.

In the wind-power arena, however, I can't help but be fascinated by the German company SkySails, which attempts to make what was old new again by harnessing the win to help modern vessels traverse the oceans, much as our ancestors did in the not-so-distant past.

These aren't sails in the traditional sense. Instead, the company attaches massive parachutes to the ships, said parachutes to be used in addition to, rather than in lieu of, standard motive power. We aren't talking about small ships here - the web site claims the devices can be added to cargo ships 320 meters in length (roughly 1000 feet) and weighing many, many tons (more when loaded) . The company claims savings of between 10% and 35% on an annual basis, provides an example video of the device in use and says it will begin major production this year.

I'm suspicious about the claims ... those savings seem high to me when compared to a ship making a lengthy trans-oceanic crossing in the same time as a ship not equipped with the device. I'd want to see some serious numbers crunched before I bought in. Still, the (fanciful) image of a massive, laden container ship para-sailing across the whitecaps seems quite evocative to me.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Liberal Dissonance

I clearly recall supporting our invasion of Afghanistan, but adamantly opposing invading Iraq. I felt at the time the case for WMDs hadn't been convincing, and certainly there didn't seem to be a clear link between Iraq and 9/11.

Then I read this paper discussing people's opinions and the 2006 elections, and I had to reconsider.

The paper's primary topic is how individual's views on the Iraq war affected the voting. It discusses the unprecedented polarization Bush's presidency has engendered (while his popularity among Dem's fell to single digits, and Independents to low double-digits, among republican's it remained around 80% ... which says everything one needs to know about whether he really is a uniter or a divider), and also discusses the forms of cognitive dissonance many conservatives suffer under (36% of FOX news viewers still believe the US discovered WMDs in Iraq) and folks like myself like to smugly mock, the really interesting part for me was the discussion of liberals reconstructing their recollections (this part begins on page 22).

Table 9 on page 24 sums everything up nicely. To summarize, surveys before the war found 46% of Democrats favored the Iraq war, 72% thought Iraq possessed WMDs, and 44% thought Saddam Hussein had been personally involved in 9/11. However, surveys taken last year asking people what they recalled of their views prior to the war found only 21% of Democrats remembered supporting the war, only 26% recalled thinking Iraq had WMDs, and a mere 14% recollect thinking Saddam had a hand in 9/11.

That, folks, is an example of cognitive dissonance. Clearly, a number of people have rearranged their memories based on what they think now, as opposed to what they actually felt at the time.

Of course, there is a difference between the dissonance liberals (and, to a lesser extent, independents) labor under, and that of conservatives - as the paper makes clear, the former group has been revising it's views as more information has come in (such as the fact Irag did not actually possess WMDs, and Saddam was not actually involved in 9/11), while the latter group has opted to retain its views and ignore contrary data.

I went and dug up some old correspondence of mine, which confirmed I did, in fact, oppose the Iraq war even prior to its beginning. At least on this topic, I am not revising my memories.

Quelle surprise!

An Investment News article from earlier this week declared the thing which scares financial advisers most is the notion a Democrat (shudder) might win the Presidential election.

Not the unceasing war in Afghanistan and Iraq (wasn't this mission accomplished already?). Not the looming recession. Not energy, not education. Certainly not health care - these guys can easily afford any care they want. Not the mortgage lending crisis and its spillover. Nope. The possibility of Democrats taking control of the White House is what keeps them from sleeping well at night.

Of course, the reasoning makes sense from their prospective - God forbid we actually tax capital gains at a rate comparable to other forms of income. Heavens forfend they actually be expected to provide any additional penny to the betterment of the country. The notion of actually increasing taxes to lower our national debt, pay for better health and education for the masses, or any similar program - why it's enough to make a strong man weep in fear.

Meanwhile, they will continue to make money hand over fist, pay for elite-level health care, pay more to send their children to the best private schools, and otherwise do all they can to avoid actually having to deal with the tired, the poor, the huddled masses this country purportedly welcomes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Election Rigging

Freakonomics has a very interesting Q&A post up with a gentleman named Allen Raymond, who has just written a book titled How to Rig an Election.

For those who don't recognize the name (I did not), Raymond was the G.O.P. political staff person who oversaw an operation to jam phone lines run by the Democratic party in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate primaries, so he's familiar with his topic. He spent three months in prison for his role in the affair.

I encourage people to take a look at the post. I may have to buy the book.

Romney's Last Stand?

Michigan holds it's primaries today. On the Democratic side of things, because both Edwards and Obama have had their names removed from the ballet while Clinton has not (all over a dispute on Michigan moving it's primary date earlier than the national committee desired), Clinton is expected to gain the majority of the delegates in a walkover. Supposedly, those delegates won't be counted in the nomination race. Yeah, right.

Because of that, all the interesting going-ons involve the Republican race, where McCain and Romney are essentially neck-and-neck, Huckabee trailing them by a little over 10 points. If McCain were to edge Romney here, the consensus seems to be Romney's campaign would be effectively over.

This seems odd on one level - after all, if Romney runs a close second he would have had a 1st and 3 seconds in the initial primaries, which would be a series of successful results in most endeavors. Given the current allocation of delegates it is very likely a close second by Romney would see him actually leading the totals at the end of the evening, and still be considered a dead candidate.

Of course, logic has nothing to do with a political campaign ... it's all about perception, and finishing second is simply being the first loser. All that seems to matter is actually winning a state, no matter how small the margin. If McCain were to edge Romney out again, after doing the same in New Hampshire, McCain would be perceived as having all the momentum while Romney would be seen as a lost cause after not taking any of the three states in which is heavily invested his efforts.

Some subset of Democrats, led by Markos Moulitsas, have reached the conclusion keeping Romney is the race is good for Democrats, and since the Dem primary has no real meaning this year are advocating progressive voters in Michigan take advantage of the state's open primary laws and vote in the Republican primary instead (someone even created a Democrats for Romney YouTube video). Given how close the polling shows the race to be, a few thousand liberal voters crossing over as a bloc to vote for Romney might be sufficient to push him past McCain.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Primary proposal

Opinion seems to be coalescing around the idea our primary system needs an overhaul, and I think there is good chance it will be for the 2012 race. If it is not, the reason will likely be because agreement can't be reached on what work better - a regional approach, random order, time zones, etc.

For whatever reason I was musing about this the morning of the New Hampshire primaries, and thought up a scheme I haven't seen elsewhere, so I wanted to throw it out for consideration.

Anyhow, the basic notions would be to start with the smaller population states and work up to the larger population ones, combined with spreading the primaries out over a regular period.

Pick a day, say the second Tuesday of January, as the day for our first primary. Take the two smallest states in terms of population and hold their primaries that day. One week later hold primaries for the next two least populated, etc. Continue until all primaries are held.

One complaint I can hear already is we already have two small-population states with undue influence on our nomination process. However, to some extent I want to keep that in play. No matter how much time a candidate spends in California or Texas, there simply is not going to be enough time for voters there to truly get to know the candidates in the same way voters in a smaller state can, given a few months of exposure.

I do think, however, this approach does help water down that influence a bit. Rather than having a flood of primaries one month after the leading ones (as is the case this year), it allows time for a candidate to gradually build up, or to overcome early missteps. The entire process would take 24 weeks from the first pair of primaries to the last, plenty of time for things to develop. On the other hand, having only the two primaries each week, and always a week apart, allows sufficient time for the candidates to get to and spend time in each state if they wish (they may opt to use time elsewhere of course if they wish).

I don't advocate going strictly by population. Shuffling things around a bit to keep paired primaries geographically closer seems like a good idea to me. As an example, the least populated states in reverse order (2000 census) are:

Wyoming (least populous), Vermont, Alaska, N. Dakota, S. Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Hampshire

Given this list I would suggest the following order for the first five weeks:

Week 1: Wyoming, Montana
Week 2: Vermont, New Hampshire
Week 3: Alaska, Hawaii
Week 4: N. Dakota, S. Dakota
Week 5: Delaware, Rhode Island

And so on.

While the least-populated states allow for voters to get to know candidates more personally, and allow candidates to start building some momentum, the greater mass of the delegates is always late in the process, which would allow for the possibility of late comebacks, voters reacting to events during the campaign, etc.

As I noted before, I haven't seen any proposal along these lines (although they are probably out there somewhere), so it's either inspired or stupid (or both). Feel free to let me know which, and why

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It's ... alive!

In the best tradition of zombie movies, Hillary Clinton proved reports of her (political) death were greatly exaggerated, rallying to edge Barack Obama in the New Hampshire primary last night. John Edwards was a distant third.

I imagine Liza and Roger were very disappointed with those results. I know I was.

Yesterday morning there was discussion of Obama having double-digit leads in polling, reports of a number of uncommitted Senators being in discussions to declare their support for his campaign, questions about whether Clinton's financing was drying up, discussion of an overhaul of the Clinton campaign staff, even speculation about Clinton ending her campaign if she was decisively defeated for a second time.

I haven't checked the blogosphere yet today, but I would guess there's none of that talk now.

I can't think of anything I read or heard the last two days that anticipated this result. Literally the only item I can recall that pointed in this direction was a one-sentence statement I saw somewhere (and now can't find) indicating that focus groups watching the NH debate tended to see support for Obama move over toward Clinton, but even that was buried in a much longer story discussing the Obama surge.

As in Iowa, voters turned out in record numbers, and as in Iowa far more votes were cast in the Democratic primary than the Republican one. ABC news found about 40% of the voters in each primary were Independents, and ultimately this likely cost Obama - Clinton has consistently drawn more support from established Democratic voters, while Obama beats her decisively among the unaffiliated. With McCain also drawing heavy support among Independents, it appears he may have attracted enough of them to vote in the Republican primary to condemn Obama to second in the Democratic one.

Clinton will get more help in a week when she wins Michigan in a walkover. Yes, I know the DNC has said the state's delegates won't be counted at the convention, but you don't really believe that, do you?

I do believe Obama and his campaign did a very poor job of managing expectations in New Hampshire in the few days between Iowa and yesterday. Just as Iowa is in his backyard, New Hampshire is the same for Clinton. She should have do well there, and polls for months had shown her with a massive lead. Handled correctly, finishing within 8,000 votes and 3% of her would have been viewed as a victory. Instead, it's being viewed as a defeat ... and I am afraid this defeat hurts Obama far more than losing Iowa hurt Clinton.

Edwards can't be under any illusions at this point, he knows he will not garner the nomination. Still, with neither Clinton or Obama looking inevitable now, it's entirely possible for Edwards to earn enough delegates to play a substantial role in determining which of the other two does win the primary, and that likely is worth staying in for the long haul. I would think he would be far more likely to align with Obama than Clinton when the time comes ... but last night's results have already shown what can happen to expectations.

Expected form did hold on the Republican side, where McCain comfortably defeated Romney, everyone else being much further back. For whatever reason, voters there really like him, and that carried him through despite New England being Romney's "home region" and dropping big sums of money into the state.

No matter how you slice it, Romney is now in trouble. He had been counting on winning one of Iowa or New Hampshire to indicate viability and open up the money spigots. However, with Huckabee cutting into his religious votes and McCain the independent ones, Romney is looking increasingly like a candidate with just enough support to stay in the race, but not quite enough to win.

Sooner or later, you figure he's got to decide he can't keep throwing his own money into the ravenous maw that is a Presidential campaign. I saw somewhere yesterday he's up to $53 million so far. Maybe Bloomberg has some spare change lying around he could pitch in.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Agent of CHANGE?

"Change" was the new mantra for the Domcratic party presidential candidates in the recent New Hampshire debate over the weekend. X4mr already touched on some of the reasons for this in his post last night, but anyone who didn't watch the debate missed how overwhelming a theme it was - at times it seemed the candidates felt the need to stress "change" the same way Giuliani reflexively spits out "9/11" in every other sentence.

Apparently the lesson Clinton took from Iowa was the message of "change" promoted by the Obama and Edwards campaigns trumped her message of "expertise" there, and she immediately set about putting that lesson to use. Whether it's good use or not remains to be seen.

Being cynical about such things, I have a hard time believing Clinton, who has unquestionably been running the most cautious campaign among the Democrats, who clearly has the closest ties to the party institutions and apparatchiks, truly embraces the concept the same way many of the Iowa voters did.

Don't get me wrong - should Clinton win nomination, and subsequently the Presidency, there will be changes from the way the country has been run the past seven years, and (in my opinion) many of those changes would be for the better. However, they would also be incremental, small change, changes within the existing structure.

If Clinton wins, things may change, but they won't CHANGE. If Democratic voters really hope to break out of the current structure and promote some form of seismic change, changes which will truly alter the political discussion in long-term ways, then they need to look to Obama or Edwards. Electing either is not a sufficient condition to create such change, but it is a necessary one.

Friday, January 4, 2008

This Justice isn't blind ...

... at least not that I am aware of, but I don't think much of his reasoning abilities.

I found this recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling interesting not just for the case itself (although it's interesting in its own right), but for the stupidity of the judge quoted at the end of the article.

Synopsis: a man agreed to be a sperm donor for his ex-girlfriend on the grounds he would have no responsibility for child support (and also no visitation rights). The girlfriend subsequently reneged on the agreement and requested support. The lower court ruled in her favor, awarding $1,500 a month in support as well as ordering the man to find $66,000 in back support.

Now, if I were in his shoes I might have begrudgingly agreed to pay the monthly support. I'd probably have felt screwed, since we did, after all, have a contract on the matter, but I probably would have come around to doing it for the sake of the children involved.

However, asking for $66,000 more on top of that, money we specifically agreed I was not liable for, would have driven me to outrage ... and to court.

The state Supreme Court did overturn the award, on the basis that if the original contract was not honored it would threaten the entire sperm donation system. After all, who would ever willingly contribute if they could then be held liable for child support years after the fact, in spite of a contract both parties willingly entered into?

One judge dissented, from the article:

Justice J. Michael Eakin, in a dissent, said a parent cannot bargain away a child's right to support. "The children point and say, 'That is our father. He should support us,'" Eakin wrote. "What are we to reply? 'No! He made a contract to conceive you through a clinic, so your father need not support you.' I find this unreasonable at best."
Of course, without that contract, the children would never have existed in the first place, and the donor wouldn't be paying child support ... so really, which is better for the children? Exist and no child support or don't exist and no child support?

I find the judge to be a moron.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Market analysis

I've written about prediction markets before, and with the start of the primary season officially upon us, and the race on the Democratic side expected to be tight, I couldn't resist revisiting Intrade to see what the speculators think will happen in the Iowa primaries.

As I write this, the market is trading Obama shares at 66.1, meaning the feeling is there is just about a 2/3 chance Obama wins tonight. Clinton shares are at 19.3, Edwards at 15.0. Also interesting is the change just today - Obama closed last night at 56, so he's up 10.1 points. Most of that has come at the expense of Clinton, who is down 9.2 from yesterday's close, while Edwards is down 2.1

I suspect the fairly steep change is in reaction to a Reuters/C-Span/Zogby poll which shows Obama moving out to a four-point lead over Edwards, with Clinton another three points back. Looking at the history, Obama shares were down to about 30 as recently as Dec. 31, meaning traders are extremely bullish about his chances.

Obama's had some good news this week, particularly in light of the Reuters poll and Des Moines Register poll yesterday which also showed him taking the lead. Still, that's a huge surge in Obama confidence, and seems much more "reactive" than I would have expected from a predictions market.

It's also worth noting that investors have far less confidence in Edwards than his polling results would seem to merit. He might be a good investment, if anyone is so inclined.

On the Republican side, investors are heavily backing Huckabee, who is trading at 70.1, up 11.1 today and also the beneficiary of a large surge in confidence over the past five days or so. Romney shares are at 29.7 (down 8.3 today) and no one else is given a chance - McCain is third favorite at 0.9, and looks like good value at that price, to be honest.

Looking ahead at upcoming primaries, I see shares of Fred Thompson winning in Nevada are currently trading at 8.9. I suggest you sell, quickly.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Modern Earls of Warwick

Over the long weekend I read a book about the Wars of the Roses, the struggle in the latter half of the 15th century between the houses of York and Lancaster for the English throne, a struggle which eventually saw Henry Tudor, a distant Lancaster claimant, found the dynasty bearing his name.

Among the leading figures of the era was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who earned the sobriquet 'Warwick the Kingmaker' by first providing the military support needed to place Edward IV, son of the Duke of York on the throne in 1461 in place of the Lancastrian King Henry VI and later, when his influence with Edward waned, helping overthrow Edward in 1470 to briefly restore Henry to the kingship.

This last success proved short-lived, however, as Edward didn't take his exile in Burgundy lightly, returning to England the following year, where he gathered an army and defeated Warwick at Barnet, with the Earl among the dead. Edward consolidated his victory by defeating another Lancastrian army at Tewkesbury the following month, and secured his throne until his death in 1483.

If not for the machinations of his brother Richard and the entire affair of the Princes in the Tower, it would likely have been the House of York, not the House of Tudor, which dominated the next 125 years. All-in-all, one of the more interesting eras of English history.

Which leads us an interesting date of our own, tomorrow night in the state of Iowa, where the caucuses will officially kick off the presidential nomination season, which, while not officially over when Super Tuesday arrives on Feb. 5, will most likely be over in any practical sense. A year or more of posturing and politicking, millions of dollars of campaign expenditures, all get compressed into this next month-plus, and that month begins tomorrow.

Polling of both parties in the last month has shown very tight races, and no one really knows what to expect - historically, accurate polling of the caucuses has been hard to come by. However, the latest set of data from the Des Moines Register shows Huckabee has overtaken Romney on the Republican side, which McCain a distant third, while on the Democratic side Obama has opened a gap on both Clinton and Edwards.

Considering the difficulty of accurate polling and margins of error, it's still a three-way race on the Democratic side, and it won't be a shock should any of the three win. The race will likely be determined not by the supporters of those candidates themselves, but rather by supporters of the other candidates: Richardson, Biden, Dodd and Kucinich.

In the caucuses, voters will initially group up by what candidate they support. However, any candidate who does not reach at least 15% support of all the voters at that caucus meeting (of which there was 1,781 around the state) is declared "not viable". At this point, supporters of viable candidates get 30 minutes to lobby these new free agents and attempt to garner their support. Once this period ends, supporters of non-viable candidates now get a chance to switch their preference.

All of which makes the polling difficult - what matters is often not just who a voter's first preference is, but their second preference as well.

The Register poll shows three "viable" candidates, then Richardson tied with Uncommitted (6%), Biden (4%), Dodd (2%) and Kucinich (1%). Given the closeness of the tally among the "big three" it's entirely possible for some combination of these candidates (or even Richardson alone, depending on how uncommitted voters split) to tip the final result to any of Clinton/Edwards/Obama by encouraging their supporters as to whom to support as a second choice.

Kucinich has already expressed his preference in the matter, encouraging his backers to move to Obama if his candidacy doesn't meet the 15% standard. However, it's Richardson and Biden who are the big guns here, and either might be able to extract some meaningful commitment in exchange for encouraging their supporters on who to back as a "plan B".

It will be interesting to see if either one has designs on becoming the new Warwick.