Check that bag, please!
I'm back. Glad to see (via statcounter) that my regular readers have lives of their own and were not checking to see if I'd posted in the past blog-free week.
Courtesy of this project (funded by NSF. Ultimately the American taxpayer continues to pick up the bill for my semi-interesting life) and this project (funded by the Canadian taxpayer) I was in Montreal and Ottawa for a few days. Nice cities.
Took the opportunity to run the Montreal Half Marathon which was on a flat, scenic course. Many of the participants were wearing the bright, orange t-shirts from the race pack during the run -- making it seem that the Dutch soccer team was out training. The only confusing aspect was that all the kilometre markers were in French ... As well as having the numeral (which I could read) they also contained some seemingly encouraging text. Four years removed from my French reading course I could make out some of what they are saying, like "Imagine you are a Kenyan." Ran the thing at intended/hoped-for marathon pace, though the kilometre markers seemed inaccurate. Let's just say that while an 8:00 minute 2km followed by a 7:28 2km pretty much averaged out to the desired 3:54/km, the 8:00 was with the wind behind me, and the 7:28 mostly into the wind.
People, please check your bags. By the time we've all waited for each other to shove the suitcase in the overhead locker we've lost any time saved at the baggage carousel. Women who cannot lift their own bags into the locker, please check your bags. Men who grin like idiots at the opportunity to help strange women on planes with their bags, there are better ways to meet women. Men traveling on business who think there should be a space in the coach class bin for their suitcase when they rush on board shortly before the doors close, if you were as important as you think you are you'd be in first class -- until then travel light or check your bags.
Los Angeles is a case study in how to take a beautiful natural environment and ruin it.
The topography of Los Angeles has begotten a different kind of low density development than in the Twin Cities. The largely flat Twin Cities area seems to have relatively large individual parcels for each residence. The hills in Los Angeles mean that where the land is developed the lots seem smaller and the houses close together. In between there are swathes of hillside that are not impossible to build on, just expensive.
The end result in Los Angeles is something no-one should try to emulate. Even five lanes of freeways are not enough when you have lots of people trying to get all over the place. Be thankful though for permanent carpool lanes which do at least get you places relatively quickly.
As in Chicago, Los Angeles has developed a commuter rail system down the middle of the freeway. I can see the appeal of this -- you put transit in the same corridor, and make the train stations conveniently close to the freeway. But in both places the result is grim, foreboding unattractive stations in the middle of a freeway.
If the Twin Cities develops more rail lines they should keep them out of the middle of the freeway, so that people want to develop commercial and residential property near the rail line. It gives me a bit of hope to see the new condos going up near the 50th St and Minnehaha station. Maybe there will be some more at other stops soon.
Spending time in the car in LA also made me think about how to pay for freeways. The economist in me thinks/knows that a gas tax can be equivalent to metered freeway access, but people don't think things through that way. The fact that there's no at-the-time cost to drive on the freeway, while you have to pony up $1.25 or more just to get on the bus is crazy. If people had to compare metered prices for freeway access to bus fares, the relative prices of driving versus taking transit would be much clearer.
It was "only" eighty years ago that people were moving out to Los Angeles for the clean air, unspoiled views, and good health. Now the air is dirty and ummm, I think those were the San Gabriel mountains on the horizon but I couldn't be sure ... The Twin Cities are similarly situated in a beautiful natural environment. But it's possible to ruin all the advantages of location with the wrong type of development. Anyone who thinks that we can build more roads on our way to happiness should see where that's gotten Los Angeles.
And if that's not a title that will bore everyone in some way I don't know what is.
On the back cover they promise that in next month's issue one of the articles will be "A History of Canadian Marathoning."
First of all, that's funny because Minnesotans find Canada funny, in the way that people jest with their siblings and cousins.
But it's also funny because, frankly, the history of Canadian marathoning is quite undistinguished at the elite level compared to the United States, Britain, Australia, or even New Zealand.
American and British men and women have held the world record, and both nations have won numerous Olympic medals in the marathon. Australia's Olympic marathon history is not as glorious, but Australian men held the world record for 17 straight years (1967-1984). Starting with Lisa Martin, Australian women have won numerous Commonwealth Games marathons, and Martin won Olympic silver.
Two New Zealand men won Olympic bronze (Barry Magee in 1960, Mike Ryan in 1968), and Lorraine Moller won bronze in 1992. And New Zealand men and women have picked up the lower medals in several Commonwealth Games marathons (Ryan in 1966, Foster in 1974, Moller in 1986)
But Canada? I can't remember a Canadian medalling at the Commonwealth Games, let alone the Olympics in the last 30 years. A Canadian won gold in the 1906 Olympics, which aren't generally recognized as counting towards Olympic medal totals. And that seems to be about it.
It's sort of odd because Canada has a pretty good distance running tradition that seems strong today, especially in men's middle distance and the women's 5000m, and Ontario schools seem to supply a lot of good athletes to American colleges.
But no marathon medals it seems. Obviously the history of Canadian marathoning is more than elite performances. However, over the long haul medals reflect depth in a sport. Canada's lack of major championship medals in the marathon seem to indicate that marathoning in Canada is not as strong historically as in its peer countries.
(In case anyone wonders, the Commonwealth Games while not having the depth of the Olympics or World Championships are taken seriously by all the countries involved, including the strong running nations in Africa, such as Kenya and Tanzania, and now South Africa.)
It's better to choose rich relatives than lottery numbers nowadays.
The House recently passed a bill that would do away with the estate tax. I don't particularly have anything against the rich, but inherited assets are income, and an efficient tax system should tax income broadly at low rates. An estate or inheritance tax is part of that. Rising inequality, and growing immobility over generations, is also something an estate tax can address.
The politics of getting rid of the estate tax are weird, since the Republicans have managed to convince many people that they may stand to inherit millions in the future, or could pass on millions to their heirs. Most people don't inherit or dispose of any such amount.
Most people have a better chance of winning a small amount in the lottery than they do of inheriting substantial estates. Yet if you win something in the lottery you'll be taxed on that. The Republicans still think that is income. I would hope the Democratic party might be able to exploit this kind of gap between Republican rhetoric and the reality of Republican subservience to wealthy donors, but I haven't seen the Democrats do so yet.
By the by, one of the reasons we don't see any major athletic events held in the United States (like the Golden League) is that the American government will tax the million dollar winnings. European governmnts won't.
Of course, Europeans also watch athletics in a way Americans don't ...
The "Nigerian spam" now has a New Zealand variation, from a "Mr. Raymond." How exciting, the country has really come of age. Whoever is sending these emails doesn't know that in New Zealand "Raymond Dobbs Keith" would be known as "Mr. Keith" and poeple would sometimes ask him if he was related to Ken Keith, the "world famous in New Zealand" judge.
My name is Raymond Dobbs Keith, a New Zealand citizen based in Europe. I am an International businessman who has made many supplies to United States and Canada.
I have a debtor, an investment company in Canada that owes me the sum of Four Hundred and Fifty Thousand United States Dollars (USD$450,000). Sequel to our correspondence with the investor in Canada, they are ready to pay the money and they requested for a bank account in United States of America or Canada so they can transfer the funds to the account.
Meanwhile, I do not have an account in either USA or Canada and further explanation to have the funds transferred to my bank account in Europe has met a brick wall.
So I want them to transfer the money to your account in United States (if you have one) and upon conformation of the transfer, I will send you my private account so you can then transfer the money to me.
Sincerely, you are not going to face any risk in rendering assistance, spend any money or demand anything from you.
In rendering your assistance in this transaction, you will be entitled to 10% of any money transferred to your account while the balance of the money will be transferred to me.
If you are interested in having my identity I will provide it as soon as you agree to assist.
What I need is your sincerity and just be honest with me.
Moreover, I will send you the contact details of the investor in Canada once you have accepted my offer. And I would let them know that you are receiving the money on my behalf.
Despite five years here the English I speak has more in common with the South than the Great Lakes. Some of the questions are a little odd -- "soda" should be Midwestern, I think.
Your Linguistic Profile:
|45% General American English|
|0% Upper Midwestern|
Now, look at the 10 day forecast for Boston. The marathon is on Monday and starts at noon ... 63 degrees is not awful, but it's about 20 degrees higher than ideal conditions for marathon running. Saturday would be like a dream day for the marathon if the forecast was right -- 40s and cloudy ... Good luck to all the runners. I personally hope that the 370 day forecast for Boston is good, because [barring injury] I plan to be there next year.
I guess this not-ideal weather is why people say you don't run Boston for the time, you run Boston for the experience, the screaming girls at Wellesley, and the history. But the net downhill will always tempt people to think a fast time would be nice to have as well!
Wouldn't the bus be even safer than an SUV?
A Matt Yglesias post on gas prices making less people buy SUVs makes me think of that ridiculous family-man-on-the-street argument that you can hear on the TV news regularly at the moment when they interview people who are "suffering" with the high gas prices and then claim they had to buy a gas guzzling SUV to keep their family safe in a bigger car. Ignore for a moment that this is not true.
But suppose it was true that bigger=safer. Shouldn't these people be hauling themselves only as far as the bus stop, or park and ride, or light rail station, and getting on transit? I mean, the bus is a whole lot bigger than even a Hummer ...
Via one more cup of coffee a music recommendation: Martha Wainwright. Good stuff. Another English woman somewhat inspired by Dylan. Interesting genre that includes Thea Gilmore. Other suggestions welcome ...
Wainwright digs out Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan. A common choice, but her reason for choosing it is not so common. "Bob Dylan wanted to fuck me," she announces, casually. "He had seen me in New York once when I was wearing a low-cut dress and he called me up and asked to go out on a date. But he knew about my family and he said 'I bet you're pretty good, aren't you?' - he was talking about music - so I asked if he would consider having me open up for him on tour. I sent him a record and I never got a response. So I guess the answer is no."
Interesting, as on his latest tour Bob has been promoting the musical and perhaps other talents of Elana Fremerman, whose band opened for Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan last year. She's a good violinist at the very least. What else Bob sees in her we'll wait a while to find out ...
Anyway, apropos of Wainwright, Amazon won't tell you quite what the album is actually called.
Tipping for coffee is a hot topic, it seems.
Caleb McDaniel asks "Does anyone have some rough and ready etiquette to guide tipping for coffee?"
No, I don't have a guide. I'm just relieved to see that other people have the same low-level-at-the-counter anxieties that I do about the issue.
My criteria is that if it's a good cup of coffee I'll tip. I would like to reward people who make good coffee. But the moment of tipping comes well before you consume the coffee. If I know the barista is good I'll tip before getting the coffee, otherwise I'll go back and put some money in the tip jar as I leave, and say thanks for the coffee then. I also tip more [frequently and at a higher percentage] at the two places I go to often. Like others I figure that this will be repaid in extra care the next time I come in.
Caleb points to this overheated discussion of the subject, largely revolving round tipping at Starbucks. As best I can make out the anti-tipping-at-Starbucks crowd have these points to make
If you don't want to tip, don't tip. But some of the elaborations offered for not tipping at Starbucks bear the mark of being cheap, mean, and secretly guilty about it.
The residency requirements if you're a citizen are not that strict -- I should have stayed a little longer last year and registered.
Luckily the next three weeks are full of academic and personal deadlines, so I won't have the time to spend following yet another election I cannot vote in!
It's the size of the market that matters. Size in the sense of how many people, and how big those people are.
It's crazy that at 6' I end up buying clothes in "small" sizes. Most of the time you can't find pants smaller than the size I fit.
What do genuinely small men do? Buy children's clothing? Women's clothing? Order stuff over the web? I find the small sizes comfortably loose, and I can only imagine that men of 5' 9'' and 130lb find it even harder to buy stuff that does not make them look like they're wearing their big brothers hand-me-downs.
(Google provides this answer. The salespeople at least suggest they shop in the kids section. For a suit. That'll work!)
Anyhow, in the process of purchasing tank tops/singlets I found that even in specialist running clothing I have to buy the small size. This, in itself, says something ... even in sporting goods the average size is still assumed to be pretty large.
More revealing was the adidas singlet which was labelled "US Small. UK Medium" Now it all makes sense ... I'm still buying the same sized clothes I did in foreign climes, they are just relabelled here to make others feel better about their girth!
if a student complained in writing that his or her instructor did not "speak English clearly and with good pronunciation," that student would then be entitled to withdraw from the class with no academic or financial penalty -- and would even get a refund.
Further, if 10 percent of the students in a class came forward with such complaints, the university would be obliged to move the instructor into a "nonteaching position," thus losing that instructor's classroom labor.
Take that, Betty Grande! (There go my hopes of a job in North Dakota! Of course, understandable by most people is not the same as "most understandable in North Dakota." I digress)
And, in a fit of bureaucratic bumbling when I arrived at the University of Minnesota I was required to take a spoken English language test, because it was supposedly required of all international students. They've now clarified the language to make it clear that it is non-native speakers of any nationality who have to take the test.
In any case, I've had non-native instructors who I've had to concentrate to understand. I can understand the frustration that North Dakotan students feel growing up in an environment more sheltered from different English accents than most everywhere else.
I also stood in front of my own classes, and told them straight out that if they wanted to understand what I had to say they'd have to listen more intently, and I would try not to confuse them by saying "mark" when they expected "grade," that I would say "very" instead of "quite" 'cause we all knew what that meant, and "slightly" instead of "quite" for the same reason ... I also told them that, yes, the burden would be asymmetrical because I'd been in America two years and was well used to Midwestern accents, whereas they were all getting their first sustained exposure to a New Zealand accent.
The problem is that we're all lazy listeners.
We're lazy for a good reason, it allows us to think about other things at the same time if we need to. Most of the time when we're listening to someone else we are subconciously anticipating what will come next -- not necessarily the content but the sounds. When the sounds don't match what we anticipate our comprehension is somewhat impaired.
In that sense, the non-native speaker (I will not say foreign, because there are plenty of non-native speaking Americans ...) can do their utmost and still have the listeners not understand as much.
The good news is that most people adapt to hearing unfamiliar accents relatively rapidly. Certainly within a semester students should be able to understand the non-native English of most instructors. Unless you're going to refuse to listen to people with different accents, a big part of the remedy is to suck it up and listen to multiple accents. If you've been exposed to multiple accents then you'll have fewer problems adapting to new ones.
I can attest to this -- because of the paucity of local production the radio and TV in New Zealand were filled with Australian, British, and American programming. (Not so many Canadian shows, if you're wondering. We played field hockey in New Zealand eliminating most Canadian broadcasting ...) Same in Australia -- lots of British and American shows alongside the local ones. It was hard not to grow up listening to multiple varieties of English.
A side-effect of this is that a lot of Antipodeans are able to more effectively mimic other accents -- it's not an accident there are so many Australian actors in Hollywood.
The weirdest thing is that since moving to the U.S. my ability to distinguish between different native accents has diminished. Non-Southern U.S. accents sound normal, but so do the Australasian ones I grew up listening to. I thought that surely I would find the British accents distinctive when I visited last year, but no, they just all sound normal. Except those Southern accents ... like the folks from northern Australia, I can only conclude that living in hot places screws up your accent.
The question really is, should you study your own group?
Thinking about this issue brought me all the way to Minnesota. I decided that if I was ever going to do New Zealand history it would be better to do my professional training out of the country. But I selected between universities in [predominantly] English-speaking countries that were either similar receiving countries in the 19th century migration out of Europe (U.S., Canada, Australia), or Britain itself. This is not exactly expanding ones horizons as far as they could go, and when American-born historians of America say how non-parochial I am for studying America (this really has happened several times), I think "we're both pretty parochial ..."
I've never understood the critique that "women" or "ethnic" or "Jewish" studies are too narrow either; after all it's perfectly acceptable -- it used to be the height of good learning, in fact -- to specialize in the study of elite Greek and Roman society 2000 years past. Non-national groupings are just as valid as nationalities as the basis for studying the human experience.
Where the "studies" approach goes awry is when the number of people studied becomes so trivial, and the merits of a broader grouping for study get lost. Rather than inadvertently offend my predominantly American readership by selecting some American ethnic or religious group I'll say that studying the Jewish or African experience in New Zealand would be an example of a study too narrow.
Large numbers are important! Groups with big populations are important historically. ("Big," of course, is relative). Large groups should get studied more.
Of course, the amount of artefactual information left for historians by different groups is quite different. Near universal literacy is established enough in the West that "we" tend to forget that one hundred years ago, many people didn't really get the chance to randomly contribute to the historical record. It's been said that social history is the study of laundry lists, but if you can't even write a laundry list we're not going to be reading your novel or diary or newspaper column.
I think this alone accounts for some of the differences between the ways in which historians approach the study of groups, and the way in which contemporary "studies" departments set themselves up. Historians are trained to ask and answer the question of how their evidence came to survive to the present. In other words, methodology is important, and I share the concern that "studies" approaches can short change students' learning of methods and approaches. (At the college level, this is not as much of a worry as at graduate school).
But should you study yourself? I don't think that being of a group gives you privileged knowledge about that group's history. Americans born in the 20th century don't come fully equipped with knowledge of their history -- they have to learn it by reading just like the rest of us from far away.
But on the other hand, studying a group that you can be a part of cannot just be dismissed as parochial. If the past really is another country, it's all the study of somewhere else.
This USA Today snapshot (via Washington Monthly) reminds me of a perennial bugbear -- the imprecise use of "costs," "prices," and "expenditure" when reporting on health care.
"Costs" often refer to how much is spent to produce something.
Prices are how much something exchanges for in the market.
If markets are competitive, and the goods and services being produced don't require very large fixed machinery or highly specific knowledge, and consumers know something about what they're buying, then prices and costs will be roughly equal.
See the problem? Health care does often require large fixed machinery or capital (hospitals and associated equipment), specialized training of labor (4 years college, 4 years medical school, 4 years residency anyone?), and patients/consumers don't know what ails and cures them as well as the doctors and nurses.
Expenditure typically refers to the total amount of money spent on something; that is it combines volume and price information.
As it happens prices, costs and expenditures for health care are all rising in the United States. What we hear most often are actually "health care spending" or "health care expenditure" numbers. In the press these are typically reported as "rising health care costs," even though some of the increase is driven by a people consuming more health care (in the aggregate).
This observation begs another question. If we are buying more health care despite rising prices within health care, what's happening to the price of health care relative to other goods? (The numbers are out there, but I'm writing this quickly ...)
(1) If health care prices are rising less quickly than the prices of other goods, then it's not hard to explain why we're spending relatively more on health care. It just looks cheaper compared to other things we could spend our money on.
(2) If health care prices are rising more quickly than other prices, but we're still buying more of it, this points to a couple of things.
(i)The first is that as incomes rise, people are choosing to allocate it in different ways. More simply, people would prefer to have a little extra health (however you measure that) than more possessions. This makes some sort of sense. In modern America you can buy an amazing and exhausting variety of goods to satisfy your desires, but there's a limit to how many goods you can take pleasure in. Trying to live a little better and longer might be more appealing than buying more furniture, or whatever ...
(ii) "Health care" is not the same product it used to be. Specifically, there are treatments available that never used to be. The availability of these choices makes people choose to spend their money on what we generically call "health care" when in the past they wouldn't have. For example, choosing to get mental health care now is a whole lot more enjoyable than it was in the 1950s ...
(iii) People are purchasing health care to offset the effects of other choices they have made. Specifically the choice to work long hours, to drive most everywhere rather than walk, and eat generally unhealthy food.
In short, spending 1/7 of the national income on health care, and rising, is not, in itself, a problem.
(and when I say people "choose" to work 10 hour days and drive everywhere I know that their choices are constrained by "social convention"/"oppressive managers" and the available transport options etc etc ...)
This idea--how to turn an Altoids tin into a beautifully-decorated little gift box with some clay and a pasta machine--is not time or effort saving.
Here's my lifehacker tip! Get to the drug store or Target and buy a gift box. $5 at most ...
The Onion's horoscope for Libra's this week reads:
The proper course of future action becomes clear this week when the stars in your sign mystically align and spell out, "You still owe Evan 10 bucks."
I'm a generous man. Interest will be 2% p.a. on your debt, well below prime.
I don't understand the liberal opposition, in principle, to a VAT (also known as GST for goods and services tax in Canada, Australia and New Zealand). A VAT at a moderate level (say 10%) with few exemptions is an efficient part of a well-designed tax system. It is ideally complemented with a relatively uncomplicated income tax, and taxes on inherited wealth and capital gains. And I do mean "few exemptions" -- in New Zealand they exempt house sales and financial services because these are the products its difficult to calculate the value added on. Food is not. If you are concerned with progressivity and making sure poor people don't starve bumping benefits up a little is the way to go.
I do understand the liberal hesitancy to get involved with how a VAT might be implemented by current Republican administrations. They are unlikely to get the details right.
I also think it would be politically wise for people to separate their discussion of reforming the tax system from what the revenues go to. In general I think the idea of dedicating taxes to specific purposes is something that needs to pass a high hurdle to be considered. It confuses the technical and distributional questions of raising revenue with the question of whether the expenditure is worthwhile.
For example, the proposed reductions in Twin Cities bus service come from dedicating motor vehicle sales tax revenue to the transit system. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time--make drivers pay for transit--but it also sets up completely the wrong incentives in the sense that if enough people drive less the revenue to transit goes down as the need goes up.
A VAT for health care wouldn't have quite the same perverse linkages, but it would conflate tax reform and publicly funded health care in a way that doesn't need to be done.
It's a commonplace observation that kids these days grow up so fast. In the sense that 'kids' hit puberty about 3-4 years earlier than they did a century ago they do grow up fast! It's not just the misperceptions of memory and anxieties of parenthood colliding.
On the train to Chicago I noticed several girls who must have been at least 10, probably older, carrying dolls. They weren't all related either. Four different families, it seemed. Four makes it a trend worth commenting on! A social fact, no less.
Perhaps Amtrak really is that scary, that 11 year old girls need the dolls of their earlier years to comfort them on the journey. When I was that age I don't think girls would have been caught in public carrying a doll. But this wasn't the first time I'd seen older girls carrying dolls around -- I've seen it elsewhere recently. And not just on scary public transport. Don't get me wrong, it's not like every 11 year old girl I've seen recently has been clasping her American Girl, but it seems more common than I would have thought.
Have things changed? Is it now socially acceptable amongst the pre-early pubescent set for girls to carry dolls in public?