September 26, 2007

Lighting up the Dominion

Today is the 100th anniversary of New Zealand becoming a somewhat independent Dominion in the British Empire, as opposed to the even less independent self-governing colony it was before, and the more independent nation it would become even later in the twentieth century. In commemoration they've lit the Parliamentary Library a bit like it was 100 years ago. The actual parliament that was around at the time burned down shortly after, and was replaced by the building below.

As well as lights, there are lectures, including this symposium on "Concepts of Nationhood" I will go to today.

Posted by eroberts at 5:20 AM

September 21, 2007


Now that I'm on the sample textbooks gravy train I'm not going to get off it by revealing which company sent me this invoice with (count 'em) a misused apostrophe, a missing hyphen, a spelling mistake, and a word missing. But I will say that one of the books I requested was about effective essay writing for history students. So the poorly proofread invoice was especially funny.




Posted by eroberts at 6:52 AM

September 20, 2007

Track tourism

When I'm traveling I like to look for tracks and trails. (By the way, in New Zealand people say "tracks" for paths through the bush/forest/woods, so you have to rely on context to distinguish 400m of rubber from dirt and roots). I call this track tourism. I use tourism ironically, because tourism is mostly about promoting the uniqueness of a place. 400m tracks are all about being precisely the same in the most important way.

Thus, one of the appeals of track tourism is finding something so similar in familiar and unfamiliar places. I've become very familiar with the tracks at Bierman Field in Minneapolis, and the Newtown Park track in Wellington (left). Another appeal of track tourism is a sort of insight into local history and culture. It is the same basic 400m piece of rubber everywhere. You're keeping something constant in statistical terms. The setting and the ownership of a track give some insight into the place of track and field in a community. Norwegian tracks are very open, owned by the city, and there's always a diversity of people there running and walking at various paces. American tracks are often at schools, and even the public schools lock them up some of the time. On the other hand, some American school tracks are open to all comers. In that diversity are some of the diversity and contradictions of American life. All in 400m of red rubber.

When I saw the photo to the right on Matthew Yglesias's site what intrigued me was not the discussion of public schools in Washington, D.C. but the odd shape of the track. I knew such things existed, and that not all tracks have the same dimensions, but take a look at that back straight. It's not parallel with the home straight! To say nothing of the cars parked on the high jump pad. The tracks are not the same everywhere. They do say something about the community.

NB: If you want to see some odd tracks, this webpage on California and Nevada tracks is a labor of obsessive love. I came across it years ago looking for a track before a trip to LA.

Posted by eroberts at 1:11 AM

September 18, 2007

Heads up

Starting a new job is busy ... there are going to be a lot of cheater blog entries with pictures. Really, Wellington is a moderately sized city, but it's very attractive to be able to reach farmland in about 15 minutes easy running while still living 5km from the central city.

Running on the hills and trails around Wellington has made me reflect on the importance of training environment. As I discussed a few weeks ago Lydiard's hill repeats are not in vogue in a city like this. The other aspect of Lydiard's ideas that I think is more local than he makes it out to be is the preference for smooth road runs. Again, this makes sense if you lived in Auckland where there are a lot more smooth, flat road runs near where his athletes were living. If Lydiard had lived in Wellington I'm not sure he would have suggested the smooth, flat road run was the universal ideal. It would condemn you to doing the same run round the waterfront all the time.

I ran a smooth, flat road run on Sunday. It was meant to be a half-marathon at marathon pace. I have a sneaky suspicion it was about 400m too long. The only 5km in the race entirely with a tailwind was the slowest 5km ... and the last "kilometre" took 4:44 with a mild cross-wind. I'm glad I didn't race this sorry excuse for course measurement.

Posted by eroberts at 12:07 PM

September 13, 2007

Writing your own report card

Amongst all the commentary on the Petraeus report on the situation in Iraq, and the apparent transferral of authorship from Petraeus to the White House I didn't see many people question that Petraeus would be a good person to write the report. The focus on how the White House was taking over set up the dichotomy that a report authored by Petraeus would have been some kind of independent assessment on the United States involvement in Iraq. It could not possibly have been.

Petraeus might be a fine, upstanding individual but no-one should be asked to write their own school report. It just doesn't work. With the best will in the world people rationalize their own situations and behavior. Yet the media proclaimed until the middle of August that an independent report would be delivered by a man with a long history of probity and independence. Petraeus himself had a good reputation, but it was only layered on top of an excessive deference in America to the views of the professional military.

It was for the best that the Petraeus report became a partisan political report, because the biases were seen.

Posted by eroberts at 9:53 PM

September 7, 2007


After coming/going back to Minnesota for the last two weeks of August I had to return to Wellington and teach. Such are the obligations of being employed to do just that. On account of a Saturday wedding in Minnesota I booked my ticket back to Wellington for Sunday. After flying over the dateline I was scheduled to get to Wellington at 8am on Tuesday. Having booked the ticket before I knew my teaching schedule I was effectively taking a 1/5 chance I'd miss a class, and a 1/5 chance I'd fly in and have to teach that day.

I got lucky, and my scheduled arrival time of 8am and lecture at 11am gave me 3 luxurious hours before I had to front up and tell my students about the Progressive era and the New Zealand Liberal government, and how modern life began in about December 1910 (at least, according to Virginia Woolf). While I was in America I got absurdly astonished reactions from people who thought that this plan to travel for 27 hours, and then give a lecture was a little too brave. While I'm using my New Zealand-United States comparative history class as an opportunity to impart the wisdom that you shouldn't rush to generalizations about national character, I will. Courtesy of New Zealand's isolation, long plane flights are a fact of life, and New Zealand people just get somewhat used to the idea of jetting in from halfway across the world, and working straight away. Most Americans aren't used to the idea that a 12 hour plane flight is just normal. Indeed, one of my colleagues, having done a similar thing a few weeks ago, told me that the lecture is easy, it's the discussion section/seminar/tutorial where you have to think on your feet that will get you ...

Two weeks of astonished Americans later I got back to Auckland airport, fortified with their astonishment, and determined to show that I was hard core enough to front up to class 3 hours after my 27 hour journey across the world. But I bumped into a colleague at Auckland airport who was just off the plane from Chicago, and heading for Wellington too, and it turned out that he was lecturing at 10am ... I wasn't even the most hard-core-traveling-lecturing person on the plane!

Lectures are easy. You just read a piece of paper and remember to cue up the next Powerpoint slide. Discussions are harder with mild jetlag. That's why you watch a video in the afternoon discussion section, so you only have to discuss articles for 45 minutes, rather than 2 hours.

All in all the arriving at 8, lecturing at 11 idea went very well, so well that I'll do it again when I have the chance.

Posted by eroberts at 6:32 AM