August 31, 2005

Endnote 8 or 9

Right on schedule, with the academic year just starting, Endnote has announced their annual integer upgrade that promises only minor new features (as I noted last year).

In a sign of how seriously the company takes its own product, they obviously recycled last year's press release, and forgot to change the HTML in the title.

(Image taken by the incredibly useful and free Snippy, recommended at Lifehacker)

Posted by robe0419 at 2:52 PM

In favor of looting and laziness

Perhaps I'm missing something, but why the big concern with looting in New Orleans? The city is flooded. It ain't coming back like it used to be. (I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought "Pity I never saw it before it was gone.") There are probably thousands of dead people, sewage, and what have you, floating around, creating a public health disaster in the making, and people are concerned about football jerseys being stolen. Moreover, some of these people "looting" stores for food might actually be hungry, their own homes and larders might well have been destroyed. In that case I'm all for looting.

Another thing I don't quite get is the fuss every year over President Bush's extended holiday cum temporary-office-relocation at his ranch. Where I come from the country's government pretty much hibernates from Christmas through Wellington Anniversary Day (around January 22). Now I concede that the New Zealand government's global importance ranks ever so slightly below the American government's, but it's just silly to expect the President to always be on the job. It has always been clear that the current President doesn't put in long hours, but it's hardly the worst of his faults. It is somewhat ironic that Bush wants to both accrue power to the executive branch and and not work such long hours, but it's the first desire—excessive Presidential power and its application—that should demand the media's attention, not how much time he puts in.

Another thing I don't quite get is why the mother of a dead soldier is given greater moral authority than others to oppose the war in Iraq. I'm sympathetic to what she says, and she and her supporters have done a good job at generating media coverage, and exploiting (I mean this as a compliment) the way the American media covers politics. But giving greater moral authority to the mothers of the dead, the fallen, and those who have served, is no way to debate the war in Iraq. Venerating soldier's mothers perpetuates the age-old notion that women's role in wartime is to breed and raise men for the war. Privileging the experience and critique of those who have served undermines the republican and democratic ideal that the citizens have ultimate authority over the military. The war in Iraq is an issue for all American citizens, not just those with a personal connection to the events.

What connects all of these narratives is the focus on the immediate and personal aspect of cataclysmic events and weightier abstract issues. I do get that.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:37 PM

August 30, 2005

Historical occupations

More occupations you didn't know existed from the 1880 United States Census.


Posted by robe0419 at 3:35 PM

What about the radio?

The iPod/cellphone is said to be on it's way. As my current cellphone and iPod don't "need" replacing I will console myself with the thought that when I do replace them the iPodPhone will be cheaper and most all the bugs will be ironed out. Never buy the first release of electronic equipment, I say. Even from Apple.

But what about a humble radio receiver? Is there no market for this device? Is it not technically possible? One of the things I enjoyed about the humble 1980s-technology Walkman was that it included a radio. Having paid my Minnesota Public Radio subscription it would be nice to not need an extra device for listening to the humble FM radio signal.

My next wish will be that all correspondence revert to the printed form, and that competitive athletic events take place at 3pm with mandatory dressing in dark-colored cotton clothing. In other words, I acknowledge that the portable radio market may be out with the Ark.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:14 PM

More little tips

Tyler Cowen has another interesting (link-rich) post on tipping.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:59 AM

August 29, 2005

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

A few weeks ago I finally made it down to the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge, but as I was running did not have a camera. With my parents visiting for about the fourth time in the five years I've been here, I needed a new place to take them, so off we went to my new favorite trail. With the camera.

We saw what is effectively pond scum, but my, it was pretty ...

This (below) is looking west across Long Meadow Lake

We also saw lots of carp in a culvert near Long Meadow Lake. The Refuge staff are trying to kill the carp as they are bad, bad, bad for the ecosystem down there.

And, it's late August in the Twin Cities, so while it could still be 90° any day, the first signs of fall are already appearing.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:50 PM


Among the activities that have diverted me to the mostly-picture, little-text entries (a picture is worth 1000 words, right?) is that it is Minnesota State Fair time. I've already been once. There might be another couple of trips. Always good times at the State Fair.

Still waiting for them to introduce the multi-day visit ticket ... If they sold a $20 ticket that would let you visit several times over the life of the event, I'd be a taker. I'm sure there would be many others. There's only so much food you can try at any one time at the fair, and if you can visit multiple times you can try more tasty things. The deep fried candy bars are still good.

The Strib has a neat article today on new eats at the fair. Some of these sound promising!

Another favorite at the fair is the Miracle of Birth. On Thursday only 2 lots of lambs and one litter of piglets had been born. There should be more at the next visit.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:02 PM

August 27, 2005

Don't put your children in Rubbermaid tubs

I'm back ... did you miss me? Thought not. But any regular readers should have an RSS feed ...

Posting will continue to be light the next couple of weeks, but the magic of pictures should keep you entertained when I do post.

Child accidents are no laughing matter (see, for example, the grisly catalog of child deaths in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Good Wives).

But I still found this label kinda funny ... I don't know why. I've always found warning signs and labels worth photographing.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:43 PM

August 18, 2005

Pizza advertising in New Zealand

(From http://www.flickr.com/images/spaceball.gif)

Posted by robe0419 at 1:37 PM

August 16, 2005

Veering left

If it doesn't kill you, you don't adapt.

Driving on the left is the natural thing to do (according to C. Northcote Parkinson), but it's not the way most of the world does it.

It's not at all difficult to adapt from side-to-side, as a driver or pedestrian, since the whole thing is very Darwinian. If you get it wrong you could die! Really, all it takes is about three weeks of being very conscious about what you're doing (look left, right, left again or vice versa when crossing the road) and it's pretty much ingrained.

The other social conventions that follow from the driving conventions do not seem to have embedded themselves in my little mind after five years on the other side. Much to my surprise.

Most of the time I do not walk down the wrong side of the sidewalk, but the habits of 25 years of veering left when faced with oncoming people is still with me. Last year I nearly ran down a woman with a heavy baggage cart at LA airport as I hastened between the terminals. As I had just been six weeks in left-hand drive/walk countries this was understandable.

But last Friday I was a good 18 months away from left hand drive/walk conventions and I still did the wrong thing. Ambling along the Minnesota river trails a mountain biker came round the corner, in the center of the trail, where I was running. So I veered to the left. He shouted at me. I kept on going left. Instinctively. Correctly. He skidded. The river loomed beside him. He put his hands out to save himself. I hopped to the right and managed to avoid his bike flying out from underneath him across the trail, and he got good value out of his gloves as he rolled onto the gravel. He picked himself up and swore at me. I apologized, hoping the accent would suffice as an explanation. But he was already peddling away, still swearing at me.

Watch out for me on the trails! And keep to the left right.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:18 PM

August 14, 2005

Women's throwing events

When it comes to watching track and field, the throwing events are normally bottom of my list.

But I'll pay attention for the moment, because Valerie Vili, at just 20 years of age, has won New Zealand's first medal of these world championships; a bronze in the women's shotput. New Zealand's only other medal in 22 years of world champs in athletics was Beatrice Faumuina's gold in the discus in Athens in 1997. I'm a fairweather fan of the throws.

At the other end of the body type spectrum, kudos to the New Zealand and American women who ran personal records in the World Champs marathon today. And good on Paula Radcliffe for winning her first world title in emphatic fashion.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:01 AM

August 13, 2005

David Lange

David Lange, one of New Zealand's greatest prime ministers (1984-1989) has sadly died at age 63. The obituary in The Age (Melbourne) is a fair summary of his life.

I interviewed David Lange once, for a 5th form (high school sophomore) history project. Wonderful, generous, witty man.

His memoirs have just been published. I hope I can read them soon.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:30 AM

August 12, 2005

The new Scopes trial

One of my favorite topics in 7th form (senior year of high school) history was America in the 1920s. Who couldn't feel love for the hapless Warren Harding and his friends in high places and mistresses in the White House closets? Or Clarence Darrow in the Scopes trial?

I never thought I'd get to see a modern version of the Scopes trial, but I clearly underestimated the religious fervor of modern America. The modern Scopes trial, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School Board, will go ahead in September.

This week's New Republic has an fantastic (and lengthy) article explaining the stakes and how creationism intelligent design evolution is supported by the facts. Well worth reading.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:31 PM

August 9, 2005

Best $4.95 I ever spent

It's the biennial IAAF World Championships in Athletics (track and field) this week, so posting may be light.

For the bargain price of $4.95 U.S. residents can watch streaming and archived video of the whole meet.

As I say, best $4.95 I ever spent to watch a 150 x 150 pixel screen of genetic freaks running, throwing and jumping faster and further than the rest of us ever could. If you don't want to pony up the $4.95, live outside the U.S., or have a slow internet connection, the IAAF has streaming radio available for free.

It's money well spent because the local TV news I occasionally watch regularly reports on a certain local football team's summer practice sessions before they report on actual, competive play in "America's pastime": baseball. Amazing!

So, the chances of seeing a report on the World Championships run of Katie McGregor would be slim to none. You know, she only finished 14th in the world. Far more important to watch 360lb men practice waddling and crashing into rubber dummies in 90 degree weather. Yeah.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:38 PM

Is past prologue?

They say that as a good graduate student you should have a good summary of your dissertation of various lengths; one minute (an elevator ride), five minutes (meeting a colleague in the corridor), or ten minutes. They also say that if you can't explain your dissertation to people at a party you don't understand what you're doing.

There's another challenge in explaining your dissertation topic at a party; the people who have a fixed idea about something relating to your topic, and aren't shaken by what you have to tell them. You're grateful that someone is interested, but it's like any conversation with a dogmatist—not much fun.

Back in the last century when I was researching department stores, people in New Zealand would often assume I was interested in the famous [in New Zealand] Ballantynes' store fire that killed 41 people in 1947. Little could be done to dissuade them from this belief, not even being told that I was most interested in the period before 1940. 1947. 1940. Just a long time ago.

My mother tells me that when she was writing her dissertation on New Zealand women authors of the early twentieth century, people would ask her if she could recommend any good new books. Jane Mander and Edith Grossman having been dead a while by 1978 she often didn't have so much to say.

I went to a party the other week, and met several of these types of people, who appear interested in what you're researching but really just want to tell you their opinion about a somewhat related subject.

As I may have mentioned my dissertation looks at married women's work in the United States between 1880 and 1940. I'm not unaware of the connection to current debates about "work and family." Indeed I wrote in a fellowship application, "The extent of paid work by married women remains controversial, with recurrent public and scholarly debates about the effects on children and marriages."

Not that I've promised to say anything about that current debate in the dissertation. Which is why I was sort of unprepared for two conversations in a row at a party where people tried to convince me that married women's paid employment was bad, bad, bad for children. Well, maybe ... It's quite a different question than the one I'm asking. I'm looking mostly at how families made decisions about whether wives worked, what factors (incomes, children, unemployment, racial differences etc ...) impacted those decisions, and what married women's experience in the pre-World War II workplace was like.

For the purposes of the dissertation I really couldn't care less about the kids! I exaggerate to make the point, of course. At least at that time, the impact of mothers work on children's lives was mixed. On the one hand, infant mortality amongst families with working mothers was much higher. On the other, mothers and wives going out to work let children in some families stay in school longer. It's not immediately clear to me what the relative costs and benefits for children of mother's working was in the early twentieth century. There's a calculation that would be interesting to do ...

My reading of current research about the effect of parents' work on children's lives is that it's pretty much a wash. Some good, some bad. It's probably the case that parents [understandably] over-estimate their own impact on their children, and also true that what works for some children and their families doesn't work for others. Personally, I feel that as an only child it was much, much better for me to be in daycare and meeting other kids than at home with my mother. <sarcasm>Daycare made me the well adjusted person that I am</sarcasm>

What I can't fathom is the notion that somehow the late nineteenth or early twentieth century was a better time to be a child because mothers were at home more. This was the proposition put to me at the party. First of all, there's just the huge general increase in material well-being in the western world that makes everyone's lives better today. Second, it's entirely fanciful to imagine that because mothers were at home that they spent lots of time on quality time with the kids. Not only did housewives spend a lot of time doing work around the house, there were also more children to take care of. Third, whatever the impact of mothers' work on infant mortality historically, infant and childhood death rates in the modern, developed world are much, much smaller than they were just 60 years ago. Those are huge, huge advantages to being a child today.

This is not to say that families choices about work and time with children are not subject to sharp constraints. The shortage of cheap daycare and inflexibility in working hours in many workplaces would be a national disgrace in America, if it weren't replicated in other countries making it an international one. But I will save my tongue-in-cheek advocacy of socialist daycare for another party ... It might make for more amusing conversation.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:56 AM

August 5, 2005

My past is a foreign country

It starts with fruit cake, because everyone can understand fruit cake.

Before I went "home" to New Zealand for the first time, after 3.5 years away I had a little crisis of confidence about what I'd confidently been telling Americans, that fruit cake was the Christmas and wedding cake of choice in Australasia (and Britain), and that it was wildly popular. (The secret is the alcohol, as the Temperance Union sort of knew.) Then as the departure date approached I wondered ... what if it had just been my family? what if my memory was misleading me? what if people didn't really eat it so much?

Three and a half years is not exactly a long time away from home, but it's long enough that you can start to forget what things were like, and lose touch. It was enough to make me see why some countries restrict their diplomats to being away for no longer than four years, except in special circumstances. How can you credibly represent a country you've really only vacationed in during the last few years?

I was reminded of these thoughts the other day when meeting some people who were moving to Wellington (from whence I came five years ago). I expounded rather confidently on what the city was like. The weather has likely not changed much, nor the steep topography, but the music scene? the restaurants? Well, it sure used to be good! Perhaps it still is. I will remember it that way until I next live there for a while.

One of the points that David Lowenthal makes in his book, or at least that I took from his book, The Past is a Foreign Country is that living in a place now doesn't privilege your understanding of the history of the place. America in 1920 is pretty much as foreign to most Americans as it is to me.

The converse is also true; after you've lived somewhere and moved away you're always carrying around a somewhat frozen picture of where you used to be. It amused me when I visited America around the time of the Clinton impeachment that I was occasionally asked what "the rest of the world thought about [impeachment]." That made me laugh because I didn't have much ability to speak for the Africans and the Asians and the remaining 99.95% of the world. But I would have quite confidently extrapolated my own views to what New Zealanders thought. More fool, me.

Six years on I'd hesitate a little more before I'd even generalize some things about where I grew up. The view I have of New Zealand is pretty much frozen in 2000 (last century! if you think of it like that), and will probably remain that way for a while.

While outsiders and travelers can often draw a scintillating portrait of the places they go—precisely because they are standing a little outside the society they're commenting on—I wonder if expatriates can do the same with their home country (and you can substitute far-flung states for countries, if you like). I have thought that over time it all became clearer in retrospect, the essence of the place, its mores and manners.

Now I'm not so sure that is does become clearer. If you go back you can be Tocqueville at home. But if you stay away, you're really just re-arranging your own memories of the place, and fashioning them into a seemingly more coherent story. Seeming is important, but it isn't being, and it isn't understanding. Memories can delude, until your own past life becomes nostalgia.

But I was right about the fruit cake. It really is good, and they/we really do eat it. Ain't the Empire grand?

Posted by robe0419 at 2:45 PM

Monkey can, monkey do

Norm Coleman gets a shout out from Talking Points Memo:

... an organ grinder monkey who happens, through tragic accident, to represent the state of Minnesota in the senate.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:10 AM

August 4, 2005

Grooving with Grover

Mark Schmitt has an interesting post up discussing whether the left needs a figure like Grover Norquist, who acts as an extra-partisan co-ordinating office for ginger groups round the party.

Good timing on Schmitt's part, what with a recent New Yorker profile of Norquist by John Cassidy. (Link to an interview with Cassidy, as the New Yorker wants and should get your subscription money ... just my recommendation) Anyway, the New Yorker article made one feel if not warm and fuzzy about Norquist, at least with a mixed appreciation for the man, in the way that most New Yorker articles do. You're left to form your own opinion, and it can be drawn one way or the other.

But back to Grover. At least in the New Yorker article he seemed to be someone a little too focussed on the acquisition of power for the party, than what the party would do in power. Norquist seemed a little too blase about sublimating his own personal libertarian beliefs (economic and cultural) to maintaining the dominant coalition in the Republican party of economic libertarians and social conservatives. There seemed to be a tribal loyalty to the Republican party that precluded thinking whether the party stood for the right things.

All organized politics has this tension, between the pursuit and acquisition of power—which in democracies means coalitions of some form—and advancing policies, regardless of their public appeal. And all parties need a mix of operatives and idealists, a different mix to win power than to exercise it, and keep it at the next election.

If you're out of power there's a premium to be placed on operatives who focus on winning electorally. (Of course, a compelling vision never hurt parties either) Right now the Democrats' fixation on obtaining a Norquist-like co-ordinating figure is correct. When you hold none of the three centers of power in the federal government, a single-minded ambition to win would be a fine thing to have.

But Democrats need to realize a couple of things. First, the left/liberal/social democratic groups are often less easy to unite than the conservative side of politics. In general, there are more people in conservative politics who are happy to win and exercise power for its own sake, or for personal gain, than to achieve particular programmatic and legislative goals. Spread the federal dollars and positions around, and you'll easily satisfy some conservatives.

Second, the Grover-like-figure you need in opposition is a little different than the Grover-like-figure you need in government. Grover's been around a while, and it might do the Democrats better to look at his early (pre-1994) life than what he currently does. If they're going to look at all ...

Perhaps I am just reading the wrong things, but many Democrats seem to believe that if they study what Newt did in 1994, or what Tony Blair did in 1997, or what someone did in some other election with some parallels to today, they will find their way back to power. Perhaps. I'm all for historical examples and parallels, but they're not a template for action.

The Democrats have this peculiar 48% crisis of confidence at the moment. By coming close enough in the Presidential election, and close enough in the Senate races, there is a feeling abound that the solution to winning must be relatively small, and that there is only one missing element to get to 51%, be that a Grover-like-figure, something simple and programmatic like the Contract with America, or "framing" issues "correctly." (In the long run, saying what you mean and doing what you say is the best way to keep winning elections)

But what gets you to 51% is not necessarily the 48% you have now, plus 1/17 of the other side's voters. Changing the way things are done in the Democratic party, by having a Grover-like-figure, for example, might lead some of the voters you have now to defect, so you have to make up the deficit elsewhere.

For the Democrats to achieve a popular majority, in 2006 or beyond, requires that they look at their total situation in the here-and-now, from the bottom up. A search for the one thing that gets 3% more at the next election will not be a durable model for winning office more often than not.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:09 PM

August 2, 2005

Taking the train

It has been said that "any marathon that doesn't involve the use of public transportation is a success."

I had that thought in mind as I set out on Sunday for a near-marathon length training run, with money in my pocket for public transportation. Idling through the easy miles down the West River Road, through Minnehaha Park, down the old Minnesota Central spur line that is now a bike trail taking you from Minnehaha Park to Fort Snelling, over the Mendota Bridge, and down to the Sibley House. (I would post photos of these places if I had been carrying a camera, but I rarely take the camera running.)

From the Sibley House there is a trail that runs 10km/six miles to the Cedar Avenue highway bridge (PDF map link). It's [mostly] cool and shaded, so at 7.30am on a Sunday morning it was relatively crowded with bikers and runners. Being so close—right beside, in fact—to the Minnesota River the trail is very prone to flooding. I suspect they leave the signs up saying "WARNING! Trail closed due to flooding" year round. If you're going to hike/bike/run/otherwise-perambulate on this trail summer through early winter would be the best times to go, so long as it hasn't rained much recently. The last times I tried to do this run in summer 2002 and summer 2003 I had to turn back between the 494 and Cedar Ave bridges owing to water over the trail.

At the Cedar Avenue highway bridge there is a bike/walking bridge that takes you over the Minnesota river. Carrying an old bike map of the Twin Cities I planned to head up Old Cedar Avenue towards Nokomis. But I was foiled! The old Cedar Ave bridge is closed, very closed (the second linked photo is the prettiest).

I was half-tempted to find out quite what they meant by problems with structural integrity, but decided that ending my days in Long Meadow Lake falling between the beams of a bridge was not the way to go. Having been running, at that stage, for 2:10 I followed the bike/walk signs for Bloomington. This trail is part of the Long Meadow section of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. From the Cedar Avenue bridge a 4.5 mile trail takes you northeast to 80th St in Bloomington. After 4.5 scenic miles you come up a hill and are confronted with the Park 'N' Fly and the Bloomington Hilton. Quite the scenic joy, I tell you.

From here, your options are somewhat less scenic. You can make your way round the side of the airport, following some suburban streets and make your way back to Lake Nokomis and the Minneapolis parkway system. Or, there is a bike bridge on 494 which will take you back to the southern side of the Minnesota river and you can return to the Sibley House the way you came.

After trying to find a shortcut back to Fort Snelling through the National Cemetery (you can't: the only public entrance is on 34th Ave) I was near the 3:00 mark for the run. Bloomington and Richfield are lovely suburbs, I'm sure, but the sun was coming out, I was getting hot, and concluding the run with 30 minutes running on the roads to the west of the airport didn't seem like much fun.

So with 3:04 on the watch I succumbed to the joys of having a light rail line that would whisk me home. I didn't quite do a marathon—probably accumulating 24 miles in the 3 hours—but this was a near-marathon in which the use of public transportation was a success by letting me wander so far from home.

(Water is available at the Sibley House, where there is a tap in the garden. It doesn't look like the highest quality water, but two days later I can report no ill-effects from drinking 10 fluid ounces of it. The MN Valley Wildlife Refuge headquarters—beside the 494 bridge on American Blvd—have fountains inside.

The closest light rail station to the MN Valley Refuge is the Bloomington Central station. On the linked map, the trail exit is about where it says "MN Valley ...")

Posted by robe0419 at 1:02 PM