December 29, 2005

Coleman going cheap, cheap, cheap for bad policy

Norm Coleman's vote to pass the Senate's budget proposal last week summed up the kind of cheaply bought, inconsistent naif that Minnesota has for a junior Senator. In exchange for retaining $30 million in subsidies to Minnesota sugar beet producers, and retention of milk price supports, Coleman voted for a budget that made deeper cuts in Medicaid and other welfare programs than he had previously deemed acceptable.

In some ways this is just normal budgetary politics; senators have to vote on the whole package with its inevitable compromises and trade-offs. But when you've said that you won't support certain cuts in welfare (low income heating assistance and Medicaid), and then support greater cuts in exchange for farming subsidies, you have to wonder what exactly Coleman stands for beyond his own political advancement. Farm subsidies are among the most wasteful elements of the U.S. federal budget, yet even Republican Senators line up to get their little snouts in the trough. Farmers are producing an absolute necessity—the worlds oldest industry and all that—it's not like the market for food will dry up without federal support. And sugar! Can anyone seriously defend subsidizing sugar producers in a country with obesity problems?

Posted by robe0419 at 4:03 PM

December 27, 2005

Boxing Day and plastic knives

Welcome back to work, if that's where you're reading from. Wasn't Boxing Day grand? Still wondering what Boxing Day is and was? I confess to not knowing the answer to this question until I moved to America (<tongue in cheek>a largely Christian nation that can't celebrate Christian holidays properly</tongue in cheek>) and had several versions of this conversation

me: You don't celebrate Boxing Day
puzzled American: What's Boxing Day?
me: It's the day after Christmas.
puzzled American: but why is it called Boxing Day?
me: it's a holiday, it's the day after Christmas
puzzled American: speculates incorrectly on pugilism and returning items to the mall.

The Wikipedia entry on Boxing Day is very lengthy, and quite informative, linking to a site that observes "even though Boxing Day is celebrated in Australia, Britain, New Zealand, and Canada, not all that many in those countries have much of a notion as to why they get the 26th of December off. Boxing Day might well be a statutory holiday in some of those lands, but it's not a well understood one. " Indeed. The OED settles on the definition of gifts to "post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box."

In New Zealand it was not uncommon to leave a gift out for the rubbish man and the milk man and the post man. I use the original gendered terms to signify that this practice may have died out too, along with such common luxuries as home milk delivery.

My most profound thought on Boxing Day was about plastic knives. Americans don't often use knives when they eat. So why do they make disposable cutlery sets with knives? (This website has some interesting stories on the oft-observed differences in what is uncouth behavior with your knife and fork in different parts of the western world. And the U.S. State Department chimes in as well, with the anodyne observation that 'neither method is right or wrong, but only different.")

Posted by robe0419 at 2:45 PM

December 22, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to any and all readers!

Unless you have been hiding from the American media, you'll be aware of the faux-controversy of the "war on Christmas." I find the whole thing mostly hilarious, actually. I'm about as secular as they come (atheistic foreign intellectual, though not from France!) and I'm quite distressed that I haven't been invited to be part of this conspiracy to ban Christmas. Not because I want to ban Christmas, au contraire, but because I'm clearly not moving in the correct liberal, secular, atheistic, non-American [blah, blah, blah] circles to hear anything, anything(!) about the Christmas banning thing.

So ... perhaps there is no plot to ruin Christmas. Thought so!

In any case, I have got more amusement than normal this year out of saying "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Christmas" to my liberal colleagues and friends who are also not part of any conspiracy, but being Americans say "Happy Holidays." As I mentioned in another post Christmas in New Zealand is like Thanksgiving with presents with Memorial Day weather. It's a largely secular celebration. There's not a lot of religious meaning to it. So you can "Merry Christmas" with no irony to the atheists, Hindus, Muslims, and Jews. It's an expression of good tidings and who could be against that (these people). And so is "Happy Holidays." The words are trivial. The sentiment is all.

Good will and good cheer, and Merry Christmas to you all!

Posted by robe0419 at 7:26 PM

December 21, 2005

Odd jobs



Posted by robe0419 at 6:01 PM

Nineteenth century occupation of the day

another entry in an irregular series

LAMPLIGHTER. It will probably surprise some people to read that most historical occupations have modern analogues and descendents. There are surprisingly few occupations that don't have a readily identifiable modern counterpart. This is because occupations and work are as much, if not more, the product of social and economic arrangements as they are defined by technological requirements.

We have fewer farmers than we did in 1880 (relatively and absolutely), but farming is still farming. One set of occupations that has just about disappeared is coach, stage and cart driver, but they live on in other forms. While your friendly UPS delivery man no longer whips a horse to make his deliveries, but the job of driver or delivery man has changed relatively little within companies and within wider society.

Lamplighters though are really an occupation that has disappeared, and has no modern counterpart [that I can think of]. The modern occupation of street light repairer is a more skilled job, and the nature of the work is responding to problems. Lamplighters trod a regular circuit lighting lamps. They were probably expected to repair broken lamps they could fix, but that was an exception to their normal tasks. In a large sense, their job was a service occupation, not producing anything tangible, and indeed producing something quite ephemeral. Yet the social impact of street lighting was significant and substantial -- it helped create urban culture as we know it today by allowing people to walk the streets in greater safety for longer. The demand for street lighting was high, and its adoption quite quick. Electrification came rapidly to American [and European and Australasian] cities, and by 1920 there were few lamplighters left outside small towns.

(from Library of Congress, American Memory website)

Further reading: Here are numerous images of lamplighters at work. Here is an interesting local history article about lamp lighters. Maria Cummins book The Lamplighter was a best-seller in the 1850s. Charles Dickens' short story "The Lamplighter" is online.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:32 AM

December 20, 2005

Is King Kong racist?

Interesting article in the Star Tribune by James Pinkerton (no lefty, having worked for the Reagan and Bush I campaigns and administrations), asking "Is King Kong racist?" Let me try and summarize his answer: "Maybe it is, but there is worse racism all around the world, so why not enjoy a good remake of a classic movie."

You can tell Pinkerton is not well informed about this issue, when he writes:

Director Jackson took people of Melanesian stock -- the dark-skinned peoples who are indigenous to much of the South Pacific, including Jackson's own country, New Zealand -- and made them up to look and act like monsters, more zombie-ish than human. Indeed, one is moved to compare these human devils to the ogre-ish Orcs from Jackson's mega-Oscar "Lord of the Rings" films. The bad guys are dark, hideous and undifferentiatedly evil. [emphasis added]

Ummm ... No. Melanesians actually live thousands of miles away from New Zealand. The indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand, the Maori, are regarded as Polynesian. It's an important distinction, since it was generally the case that 18th and 19th century Europeans regarded the Polynesians—if anything, especially the Maori—as being more "civilized" and assimilable to European manners and modes than the Melanesians.

The image of the cannibalistic Pacific savage with loin cloths and bones through their noses is a stereotype based on 19th century portrayals of Melanesians. Pinkerton is right: King Kong does trade on stereotypes of Melanesians. But since the comparison of Polynesian and Melanesian flattered the Polynesians—from a European perspective—it's hardly surprising that Peter Jackson and his New Zealand based collaborators could [re]produce a movie that implicitly damned Melanesian people. Indeed, if you read the credits you'll notice a non-trivial number of Maori names in the roll of people who worked on the film. Contemporary New Zealand society is sensitive to negative portrayals of Maori and Polynesian people, but it isn't at all surprising that King Kong generates little controversy there. In 1933 and 2005, the popular image in European culture of Pacific peoples praises the Polynesians and damns the Melanesians.

In the end it's an entertaining movie, if 30 minutes too long for its own good. Support the Wellington economy and go see it.

(For what it's worth, the discussion about King Kong and racism seems to revolve around what it implicitly says about black Americans. This mystified me. I came away from the movie wondering about it's portrayal of Melanesians, but I must confess to not seeing any implications about black Americans in the movie. I know, I know, the ape-black man connection, but I saw a large ape and thought that's meant to be a large ape. A little exploring with google found very little discussion of racism and King Kong from New Zealand, suggesting perhaps that this is a peculiarly American view of the film, and maybe also that the racial politics you see in King Kong reflect the racial politics you bring to it.)

Posted by robe0419 at 2:46 PM

December 19, 2005

What a difference a day makes

Random notes on recent runs follow ...

Back to Minneapolis and back into having to check the national weather service (for wind direction) and our indoor/outdoor thermometer for the temperature. Last Tuesday, before the heavy snow I got in a good 16 miler down to Fort Snelling, picking it up in the 14th mile over a measured stretch for a 7:05. The marathon a receding memory for the legs. Two days later the snow had fallen and been somewhat cleared, and a 21.5km loop I have down to Lake Nokomis and back took 1:45. Not bad with lots of soft snow, and leaping over the little hurdle snowbanks that build up every block.

Sunday's run was beautiful. 8 degrees, but only a light westerly when I started, so back down to Fort Snelling and along the lakeshore. Most of the trails are now posted for cross-country skiing only, but the road round the lake is snow-covered enough that it's well-cushioned. The wind turned slightly while I was out, and coming up through Minnehaha Park my hands went numb as I took off the mitts for just a couple of minutes to drink some water and change my hat (changing your hat regularly on long winter runs is the gist of my Running Times article. But you should still buy the magazine ...) I cut loose a little in the last four miles, 29 minutes for four miles is not flying but into an 8mph northerly and with the snow on the ground it was a good finish to an 18 mile run. 18 miles is a nice distance, though perhaps what I mean is 2:15 is a nice time to run for ... Long enough to log it as a long run in a short week, short enough you can do 2 or 3 of them in a week if you're trying to get in the miles in singles.

This morning it was 15 degrees colder, or -7°F when I stepped out the door. But really, there is no bad weather just bad gear. I probably overdressed a little. But there was no wind, and now that I think back there was a weekend in January when I did two 20km runs in similar conditions. So ambling through a 10km recovery run was not at all challenging. One shouldn't mistake several extra minutes getting dressed and undressed for running with actual difficulty in running itself.

Product recommendations ... I can highly recommend Red Ledge PM16 gloves as a good mid-weight glove. By themselves they seem good down to the mid-high 20s, and with a glove liner maybe lower. I've been looking for something intermediate between the mitts and the polypropelene liners for several winters now. I picked up a pair for $10 at Midwest Mountaineering, who now don't have any more (!!) and I can't seem to find any online. The Swix lobster mitts are also brilliant in cold weather. My hands have never been cold with them on, and they warm up very quickly after stripping down to liners to fumble with water bottles or change hats.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:18 PM

December 16, 2005

Historical census amusement of the day

"WORKS IN CUSTOM HOUSE AT DULUTH, WI" (From the 1880 census)

If you need it explained, it just won't be funny anymore ...

Posted by robe0419 at 4:06 PM


Presidents have been impeached for much less than this, reported in the New York Times: Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts. (with follow-up in the Washington Post)

Anyone who calls themselves a Republican—governments of laws and not men—should be embarrassed at this belief that the president is somehow above the law when there's a national security justification. Same goes for "small r" republicans, which I take most Americans to be. There's a word for this form of government that consists of the executive perceiving a threat to the nation and acting secretly against it: monarchy.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:07 PM

December 15, 2005

Historical medical literature

More cool historical databases. This time, online. Today I discovered IndexCat which indexes medical literature from 1880 to 1961.

While not relevant to everyone's research, medical journals have broader content than some might expect. For example, they will sometimes report on government and politics (especially as it relates to what we would now call health policy), issues of race and ethnicity, and social and economic conditions.

For example, I found a few useful references just searching on 'women' and 'industry' from around the time of World War I. In the manufacturing trade journals I found some concern expressed as more women moved into jobs in heavy industries, about (1) the impact industry would have on their and their children's health, and (2) women's capacities to do "heavy" work. Some of this debate is echoed in the medical and health literature.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:36 PM

Motherhood and work, today

Back in September there was a blogoflap (my neologism for flap in the blogosphere) about a New York Times article "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood." (See two posts by Kieran Healey at Crooked Timber, and Tim Burke, for good discussion). The gist of the article was that "many" young women at highly ranked colleges have plans to leave work when they have children. Since this is not unrelated to my dissertation topic I thought I should have something intelligent to say on the matter, but I couldn't think beyond my own prejudices and childhood experience, and felt I should take the time to write something coherent on a topic I know a little about (as opposed to nothing, like most of the other stuff I comment on ...)

A couple of things struck me then, that I didn't expand into a post. One is that there's a long way between what you think you'll do at 20, and what you end up doing at 29 when you have your first child. These women will learn that for themselves, as did we all. That said, expectations about your own life do have a powerful influence on outcomes (see this paper by Claudia Goldin). Another is that people at elite colleges are not exactly a big proportion of the American population. While fascination with what the east coast elites do is hardly unusual, it's a smaller and smaller proportion of American society so extrapolation is risky.

And in fact, that is the case. Heather Boushey at the Center for Economic Policy Research has some research that shows that, actually, the impact of motherhood on labor force participation has continued to fall (via Angrybear) In short, more mothers are opting in.

Another response to the New York Times article was by Linda Hirschman in the American Prospect, an article that received high praise from Yglesias and Atrios, but pretty strong criticism from educated women who have put family ahead of career.

A couple of things, at least, went missing in the debate.

One was much discussion of the role of fathers in caring for children. I thought this argument by Linda Hirschman addressed an all-too-common fallacy in people's child care decisions:

The economic temptation is to assign the cost of child care to the woman’s income . If a woman making $50,000 per year whose husband makes $100,000 decides to have a baby, and the cost of a full-time nanny is $30,000, the couple reason that, after paying 40 percent in taxes, she makes $30,000, just enough to pay the nanny. So she might as well stay home. This totally ignores that both adults are in the enterprise together and the demonstrable future loss of income, power, and security for the woman who quits. Instead, calculate that all parents make a total of $150,000 and take home $90,000. After paying a full-time nanny, they have $60,000 left to live on. (emphasis added)

Indeed. Even with the best will in the world to keep things equal, any relationship where one partner earns all the money, and the other partner earns nothing, is going to be unequal. Money begets power in subtle ways within romantic relationships and the households they form. If you doubt this, read Jane Austen and come back to me.

Moreover, any prospects that women will continue to advance their representation in American politics will slow down and founder if people get the idea that motherhood is a good full-time occupation. I say this not as a value judgment, but as an observation. Women that get elected to political office don't have to be good mothers, they just have to not be incompetent. For better or worse, the voting public tends to vote for women who have been successful in business, academia and civil society, not women who have home schooled four children.

Hours of work
Another thing that deserves a little attention is the expectations about hours of work in America, compared with other western countries, and in professional occupations in particular. First up, on average, Americans work more hours per week, and more weeks per year than Europeans (PDF). All that time working is time not spent with children, for both parents. If your choice is full-time or no-time, and some people face that choice because employers are inflexible about working hours, then it might make sense for families who can afford it to have one parent opt out.

The change in elite expectations about women's work is also striking, when you switch between the 1920s and 1930s, and current debates. The tone of the New York Times article, and a lot of other commentary, is that educated women should work. Think of that what you will, but it's quite the change from the early twentieth century. Things were somewhat different for the small minority of women who went to college, and then had to choose between career and family. It is striking to observe the number of professionaly successful women who remained single, whether that profession was managing an office or department in a department store, or teaching, nursing, law etc.

I don't want to step too far into a debate about whether feminism should be the handmaiden of capitalism, and merely seek to allow women to achieve success in the market. But it's a remarkable turn-around that current expectations in many quarters of society are that women should work. When you bring your head from the papers in which married women are castigated for having the desire to work just a little, the transformation to a world where they're expected to work 50 hour weeks is quite remarkable.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:00 PM

December 8, 2005

Industrial Arts Index

Good day in the archives. I came across a fat, fat publication called the Industrial Arts Index that indexed books and magazines in what we would now call business and technology. But in 1913 they called that kind of thing "industrial arts." Anyone doing any kind of research on early twentieth century American business or technological history should be acquainted with this publication. A quick World Cat search shows that it's widely held by libraries around the country, but not everywhere has complete runs (UMN Twin Cities does.)

Copying the index pages on "Woman -- employment" saved me from looking through multiple volumes of old journals like Factory and Industrial Management to find the articles about women in the workplace. They did not restrict their indexing efforts to manufacturing and extractive industries, also covering what they would have called "commerce" in the 1920s.

It is, of course, an old school index. You have to physically thumb through and look for your keywords. But there is extensive cross-referencing. Thus, under "Woman --" they pointed you to related terms such as "Business woman" or "Farm woman."

Posted by robe0419 at 6:26 PM

Things were different back then

More semi-interesting, not-related-to-my-research things noticed in the archives.

This ad is from 1911, it intrigued me that it appeared in a publication aimed at both men and women (a staff magazine in a department store). But notice how they differentiate themselves from their competition ...

Posted by robe0419 at 7:33 AM

December 7, 2005

Crossing the Brandywine

It snowed overnight in Delaware. I knew I wasn't in Minneapolis when I heard them talking about the "bitter" overnight temperatures—in the low 20s, ha!—that we'll be having.

But it was perfect today, an inch or so of snow, about 28° at 6am, and I was able to use the half-light of early dawn to get to the Brandywine Creek trails just as the sun peeked over the horizon. Some famous people have crossed the Brandywine. I had the advantage of not being chased by Redcoats, while lugging a sleeping roll, a musket and shot, and hard rations.

The high 20s are such a great temperature for running, though there will be much colder between now and March in Minneapolis. Bring it on! Ron Daws is still right: it's much easier to train in the cold than the heat. I used that quote from Daws in my Running Times article about winter running gear (hats, mainly). It's not online, you have to buy the January/February issue. Go buy it!

To inspire you to get out and run, here are some views near Brandywine Creek in the snow that I took on my run today.

Looking west along Brandywine Creek from the Rockland Rd bridge

Trail on the northern bank of the creek, part of the Northern Delaware Greenway

Looking east from the state highway 92 bridge

Trail on the south side of the creek

Looking across Brandywine Creek from the south bank (true right)

I also saw a fox scuttle up from the creek where it was drinking.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:39 AM

Encounters with marathon history

I was about to give up on the remaining volumes of Edison Life—the staff magazine of the Boston Edison company—as after 1935 they reported fewer inter-office marriages, and gave less and less detail on what Edison brides were going to do after they married.

Then I found this article about Johnny Kelley. Yes, the Johnny Kelley, 1935 and 1945 winner of the Boston marathon, only American finisher in the 1936 Olympic marathon, 61 (yes, sixty one) times runner of the Boston marathon. In 1938 he'd been working at Edison a year or so, it seems from his obituary he kept working there.

(Click on image for larger version)

And then a few pages later I found stuff for my actual research. Good end to the day.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:18 AM

December 6, 2005

In the archives

I'm in the archives at the moment--a meaningful, allusive statement to historians; maybe not so much to others. This week I'm reading a bunch of early twentieth century employee magazines, a genre many historians of the twentieth century will be familiar with. These ones are mostly from the American Northeastern states

Some random things that have been interesting, but somewhat irrelevant to my actual research questions
* The paeans to Warren Harding on his death ... If only they knew how he'd be viewed in retrospect. But compared to the current guy ol' Warren looks pretty good. Or not so bad ... depending on how you want to phrase it.
* There was, it seems, a big fascination in the 1930s with cross-dressing in amateur dramatic shows. Probably there's a book on this I'm just too lazy to search for right now.
* Frequent identification of employees as "colored" in situations where it didn't seem relevant, like reports on industrial accidents. Reliance on ethnic stereotypes about Irish and Italian people, though always in jest, was not uncommon.
* Rapid growth in personal photography in the 1920s. Vacation reports in the magazines are illustrated with several snapshots.
* The amazing change in women's dress and hairstyles from 1910 to the early 1920s. The bob, and other short hair styles, was very common in the 1920s on young women, and older women. You compare it to the way women dressed and did their hair just 10 years earlier, and you can see the social change.

Whenever I'm in the archives I feel a pressure to make the most of my time there, and work nearly non-stop from opening 'til closing, with just a short break for lunch. By the end of the day I feel this odd combination of being tremendously intellectually stimulated but also tired by the volume of text I've skimmed, noted, or copied. The first makes me want to plough into the writing. Yet, when I sit down to do that, even after food and coffee, I get about 100 words written in actual sentences, the tiredness of focusing on the process of "Is this relevant to my question, how much of it should I transcribe or summarize, is it so dense in useful information I should photograph it." Eight hours of that is enough. But I have a great collection of ideas that I've jotted down to write up more fully later.

(fn1) On which topic, these older articles are still worth reading: Estelle B. Freedman. "The New Woman: Changing Views of Women in the 1920s." Journal of American History 61, no. 2 (1974): 372-393 and Martin Pumphrey. "The Flapper, the Housewife and the Making of Modernity." Cultural Studies 1, no. 2 (1987): 179-194.)

Posted by robe0419 at 11:18 AM

December 4, 2005

Not on crack

When running on crowded roads, assume everyone driving is:
1. Drunk or on crack
2. On their way to Walmart in a hurry in their Hummer to buy a supersize 2 liter soda, a singing Santa made in China, a bicycle horn, and a "Livestrong" bracelet. You are just an obstacle in the way of this perilous and urgent and perilous mission.

So writes a man more experienced on suburban roads than I am ...

He's only exaggerating about the crack.

Running from my pleasant, temporary, abode at the Hagley Library to the beautiful running at Brandywine Creek State Park I actually saw several SUVs careen by, the driver on a cellphone, Christmas trees on top, and Target bags in the trunk. I don't know if they were on crack. Or drunk.

This part of New Castle Co. (DE) is something else compared to my normal running haunts. Most of the cars round here seem to be German. The people with just a Volkwagen Jetta are the poor people. The local poor people in their Jettas weren't trying to run me down. But the people in the Mercedes ... I swear some of them were using that emblem on the front to line me up and run me down if I got in the way of them getting back to their estate for whatever rich people do when they're at home. You know, the rich, they're different from you and me (they have more money).

Saturday was the first run since the marathon (two weeks ago) that I felt "good." Good is totally subjective, but defined here as I wanted to go further at the end of an hour, and I found myself back to my normal practice of pushing the pace when I came to a hill. Longest time it's taken me to get to that point after a marathon. Typically I feel good about a week afterwards. It was great not to hit any wall at the marathon, but the ability to race all the way to the finish meant I was more beaten up by the whole thing. When you hit the wall and have to do the survival shuffle for several miles your body is protecting itself by not letting you go any faster. An extra week of laggardly feeling runs is a small price to pay for a PR so I ain't complaining ...

Posted by robe0419 at 11:52 AM

December 3, 2005

Politically informed consumption

I see, via CultureCat that there's a handy list of where you can get prescriptions filled at places that don't let their staff's religiously informed biases determine what prescriptions they will or won't give you.

Boycotts of stores have a mixed, to put it gently, record of success. When I was researching retail workers and their unions I often came across the tactic of encouraging boycotts of certain stores for whatever reason. In general, these strategies were ineffective for the unions who could barely influence their own members shopping choices let alone other union members, or the general public. And these were smaller, independent, stores which might have noticed that individual customers did not return. Target will not notice if you, personally, don't return. Even if they notice a drop in sales because of these boycotts they might not connect it with the boycott.

For these boycotts to succeed in anyway companies have to connect the drop in sales with the boycott. You have to write to them and tell them why you're shopping elsewhere. For good measure you can write to the new store, and tell them why you're shopping there.

Posted by robe0419 at 6:30 AM

December 1, 2005

One of these is not like the others

In the email telling me race photos from the Philadelphia Marathon were available they included a small selection of photos they must have thought would make me order the photos. One of these people is not me ...

Posted by robe0419 at 4:13 PM

Relating to snow

Today's A.Word.A.Day was "nival": Of, growing in, or relating to, snow.

I've never heard or seen this word in conversation or print, and I live in a place where the incidence of snow is high.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:04 PM