Life of Dave

:: Life of Dave ::

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:: Sunday, December 26 2004 ::

I can't believe I just spent an hour doing work on Christmas. I am becoming one of those people I fear. But, that said, the last document for grad school has been sent, and I've hopefully cleared up enough confusion at work to keep them busy until my return. In a week. After I get back from Venice. For which I leave for tomorrow morning. Wooo!
:: David (19:10 in Michigan, 01:10 in Paris) - Comment

:: Saturday, December 25 2004 ::

After opening the Christmas presents, we headed into town to investigate the ice-skating. Both the eiffel tower and the hotel de ville were absolutely mobbed, so we simply watched for a while and then headed back. Sasha got me a wonderful bottle of port fr Christmas, which we opened upon our return. After a sip or two, we determined we would never go back to cheap port. Now we are getting ready to eat, and after dinner, the bouche de noel - a traditional christmas dessert, in the shape of a log. Apparently originally the log was a real log that was intended to burn the whole day of christmas, but the days of large fireplaces are gone, and thus the log of christmas is now made of chocolate.
:: David (13:19 in Michigan, 19:19 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

On Christmas day, spare a thought for the copts in egypt. There's an article in Al Ahram which gives lots of details of recent events. For a deeper view into Egyptian society, look closely at some of the phrases, which indicate the paper's bias. No wonder the copts were irritated.
:: David (04:37 in Michigan, 10:37 in Paris) - Comment

Everything you ever wanted to know (and many, many things you did not know) about the Cranberry. We speculate that this article explains why there are now cereals with things like blueberries and strawberries in them - flavoured cranberry husks.
:: David (19:36 in Michigan, 01:36 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, December 24 2004 ::

By the way - Merry Christmas, everyone!
:: David (18:55 in Michigan, 00:55 in Paris) - Comment

So, as near as we can work out the readings this evening at the Christmas church service were done by Olivia de Havilland, as in the actress from Gone With the Wind. No kidding. Absolutely astonishing.
:: David (18:50 in Michigan, 00:50 in Paris) - Comment

Holidays. I'm actually having a little difficulty slowing down - which is probably good, because we're about to hit mach 8 again on Sunday, when we head off to Venice. But for the moment, other than some email from my boss which required me to look at work related stuff this morning, all is well. I'm really truly looking forward to next year, when I can relax and work normal hours.
:: David (07:28 in Michigan, 13:28 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Thursday, December 23 2004 ::

Further details emerge on the attack in Iraq which killed 19 Americans. The current leaning is that it was not a mortar attack, but rather a suicide bomber who managed to get through the security checks and take up employment inside the base.

So now the Americans are going through the city trying to find people responsible for getting this guy equipped:

On Wednesday Mosul's governor banned the use of all five bridges into the city, as hundreds of US troops started sweeping the area to hunt for suspects.

City streets were deserted, with shops and even mosques closed, residents in the city of two million - and Iraq's third largest - said.

Think about that. A city of two million (is that like Chicago in the US? It's bigger than Detroit), completely shut down, noone moving, noone on the streets, everyone hiding in their houses, while a couple of hundred people, presumably armed to the teeth and terrified, wander around kicking in doors and searching houses. What a bizarre and freakish image. It's something you see in zombie movies (think 28 days later), not in real life.
:: David (04:38 in Michigan, 10:38 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, December 22 2004 ::

The headline says it all: French teenagers mug Santa Claus.
:: David (06:18 in Michigan, 12:18 in Paris) - Comment

I've just found a list of the 50 best restaurants in the world, as chosen by "an international panel of more than 300 hard-to-please restaurateurs, chefs and critics." Several are here in Paris, which makes me think I need to consider getting out more.
:: David (02:56 in Michigan, 08:56 in Paris) - Comment

The tolls for using the bridge to the island of Skye, in Western Scotland, have been removed. The story behind the tolls is quite interesting, and is worth thinking about the next time you read a story about bridges being built with private funds, in exchange for the company that builds the bridge having the right to charge tolls. A story like the one about the new bridge in Southwestern France.
:: David (02:42 in Michigan, 08:42 in Paris) - Comment

There's an article in the guardian this morning, ostensibly concerning the revision of rules regarding saints. However, it also takes a moment to talk about children:

I was in Hamleys on Saturday, picking my way through the revolting excrescences that cling to the wilting branch of humanity and comprise the nation's prepubescent youth. One was hyperventilating in the aisle, unable to complete his whining cries of "I want ... I want ... !" Pausing only briefly to kick him in the head ("I'm sorry - is that not what you wanted?"), I wondered if it would not have been kinder to bring him up expecting the kind of Christmas my father enjoyed. He and his 89 brothers and sisters were happy to find a cobble each and a bag of nutty slack under the tree.
Now, I don't know what nutty slack is, but anyone who can compose the phrase "the revolting excrescences that cling to the wilting branch of humanity and comprise the nation's prepubescent youth" gets my vote, any day of the week.
:: David (02:36 in Michigan, 08:36 in Paris) - Comment

:: Tuesday, December 21 2004 ::

So, a number of sources have been convering a study which indicates that use of a mobile phone alters DNA, and does so in a way that is perpetuated when the DNA reproduces. Since damaged DNA is considered a possible cause of cancer, this means that what the study has said, with many caveats, is that cell phones might cause cancer. Of course, people have been saying that for years. What's interesting is that the study is a big one, taking place over several years, and partly funded by the EU. Thus it will be much harder for the big phone players to hush this up. Rather than link you to one of the many stories about this, I will instead provide a link to the reflex study home page, as well as the news release. The wacky thing is that the news release appears to have come out in late August, so why this is hitting the media now is beyond me....
:: David (10:30 in Michigan, 16:30 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

Everything you need to know about the five Harry Potter books, so you can fake it with the young people this Christmas. Each book is summarized in about ten sentences.
:: David (08:48 in Michigan, 14:48 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: David (02:31 in Michigan, 08:31 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

The Cambodian government has requested that radio and TV stations stop playing "Leaving The Monkhood For Love" because they say it is 'disrespectful to Buddhists'. And, according to the BBC, "the video of the shaven-headed hero frolicking with his lover in a lake was a step too far."
:: David (01:29 in Michigan, 07:29 in Paris) - Comment

:: Monday, December 20 2004 ::

My parents' house from space! Thanks to Jason and Shelby for the impetus.
:: David (13:04 in Michigan, 19:04 in Paris) - Comment

Here's something interesting - apparently the coptic pope has gone into seclusion in protest over the treatment of Egyptian christians. We actually saw the pope while in Egypt this fall (in fact, here's a photo I took of him), and we had the opportunity to interact with a number of Egyptian Christians, thanks to my friend Jason who is working in the Coptic community. I hadn't heard that much about the issues the article raises, but there is certainly an opinion among the Egyptian Christians that they are not being treated well in Egypt. It's a topic far too long to go into on this page, and I suspect Jason could get a book out of his experiences were he so inclined. Suffice it to say that all is not rosy in Egypt.
:: David (12:38 in Michigan, 18:38 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

In the Guardian article Sluggish Europe proves Brown's case on currency there are some wonderful points made about the relative merits of growth, drawn from recently published essays by Adair Turner:

[...]while GDP per head in the US is about 30% higher on average than that in Europe, a great deal of that gap is accounted for by the fact that Americans work far longer hours than Europeans. The two blocs, he says, make different choices when it comes to the trade-off between leisure and income. In the US, increasing prosperity is reflected almost exclusively in higher income; in Europe it has been reflected in more leisure. Who is to say Europe's is the wrong choice? Moreover, the productivity boost given to the US by utilising IT is almost entirely the result of its adaptation to retailing and wholesaling, where the US has the benefit of being a big country with low population densities and can thus build hypermarkets on greenfield sites where they can be easily accessed by trucks. For environmental reasons, Europe may not wish to go down this route.

:: David (12:03 in Michigan, 18:03 in Paris) - Comment

A recent BBC article on migration from Mexico to the US includes a reference to a film called "A Day Without Mexicans". There's a website with a trailer, and the whole thing looks amusing as all get out. The basic concept is that California would cease to be a viable state were it not for immigrant workers.
:: David (11:43 in Michigan, 17:43 in Paris) - Comment

Well, for better or worse I have sent, I think, all the Christmas presents I am capable of this year. I am truly terrible at picking and choosing stuff to give to people. Hopefully at some point I can convince people that the whole 'gift exchange at christmas' thing is a bad idea, and that I will benefit far more from a lack of holiday shopping stress than I will from whatever present they give me. But until that day I will continue to prowl the halls of, seeking the perfect gift (preferably with free shipping!)
:: David (02:01 in Michigan, 08:01 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

:: Sunday, December 19 2004 ::

Back, after a weekend spent in Geneva. We headed over on Saturday morning, to see Sasha's brother's family, and theoretically to hit the Christmas markets. Sadly, the markets were a no-show, with only a smattering of stalls around the city. But it's a nice little town, and we had a good time, even though it rained all day today and we were absolutely drenched by the time we caught our 7pm train. The train ride was also an adventure, as we had to stop twice - once to pick up passengers from another train that had apparently (??) lost the car they were in (!) (one only imagines the story behind that - I think somewhere in Paris this evening someone is plotting revenge), and a second delay was caused by 'technical problems' with the signals. So our three hour return was more like 4 and a half. But we are back, safe and sound, and most of our stuff will dry by morning. I'll try to put some photos up before Wednesday, and after that I'll be too busy to think.
:: David (18:47 in Michigan, 00:47 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, December 17 2004 ::

In the grander scheme of derivatives, here's a winner - a player in a computer role-playing game has paid over $25,000 to purchase an island. The trick, of couse, is that while the island is not real, the cash is.

I find the 'shadow economy' of video games interesting. This sort of thing has been going on forever - witness, for example, Magic the Gathering, where certain cards sold for over $100 each. Now computer games have taken it to the next level - the thing owned is virtual. I am curious what's going to happen if the company which runs the game ever goes out of business - do those 'assets' simply disappear with the flick of a switch? That'll make some people very angry....
:: David (11:48 in Michigan, 17:48 in Paris) - Comment

Looks like the French aren't the only ones who misplace things while checking secutrity at airports - seems an American security team misplaced a fake bomb recently. It went through the machine, and triggered an alarm, but noone searched it. Whups.
:: David (09:14 in Michigan, 15:14 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

Friday again! If I make it through today, it's less than a full week until the Christmas holiday begins. We're crazy busy for the holidays, going to Switzerland this weekend to see Sasha's brother and his family, and then Sarah will arrive on Wednesday (or maybe Tuesday! Ack! I need to check that!) and stay until Sunday, the day after Christmas, and then on Sunday we're off to Venice.

Special thanks to Jason for pointing us to Easy Hotel, which may have saved us several hundred dollars on our hotel room in Venice. We're still working through the details of our trip, but we've pretty much settled on just staying in Venice for the week, because it looks as though everything will be quite crazy expensive that week. We may make day trips to nearby cities like Verona and Padua, but we may just stay in the city and see every museum (twice, even).

I am in dire need of the holiday vacation. We've been working on a paper the past few weeks, and I haven't been as productive as I could have been, so I've been staying later each day, trying to get done what I didn't get done during the normal day. But of course, as the weeks go by one simply get run further and further down, because it starts to feel like you never leave the office. I used to have a co-worker who left on time every day, and that got me in the habit of leaving on time every day. Sadly, she moved to another building, and now I find that, without prompting, I just don't leave. Perhaps that can be my New Year's resolution.
:: David (01:44 in Michigan, 07:44 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Thursday, December 16 2004 ::

There's a story on the BBC about a new website which lets you find halal restaurants, etc. in your area, and rate them. Good news for muslims, although I'm not clear if it's worldwide or only in the US.
:: David (12:12 in Michigan, 18:12 in Paris) - Comment

Thank goodness!

In a blow to the government's anti-terror measures, the House of Lords law lords ruled by an eight to one majority in favour of appeals by nine detainees.
I am so pleased that somebody has finally pointed out (and in a very decisive way) that holding people incommunicado is not in line with the concept of democratic governance. More details on the BBC.
:: David (06:15 in Michigan, 12:15 in Paris) - Comment

From Le Monde:

Michel Barnier declared that the recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915 by Turkey is a "question" but not a "condition". In your opinion, you believe that France...
...should make it a prerequisite to the accession of Turkey to the European Union. 55.8 %
... or leave it a question put to Turkey to enable Turkey to evolve/move on without addressing it. 38.5 %
Without opinion. 5.8 %
Number of voters: 8841
So there's an unscientific answer to whether France considers the Armenian question important to whether Turket gets into the EU.
:: David (04:12 in Michigan, 10:12 in Paris) - Comment

The BBC has another story about the coming disaster for textile makers. As you may or may not know, at the end of the year a lot of rules that kept China from completely dominating the textile trade will be rescinded. This has a lot of people worried that, starting next year, all the textile production in countries like India or Vietnam will suddenly look too expensive, and people will cut and run, leaving countries who once had their boats lifted by trade worse off than when they started. We'll see what actually happens, because there are some other forces in play, specifically the US is putting pressure on China to restrict its output. I also read an article that suggested that infrastructure was equally, or even more, important than the cost of labour. Perhaps this change in rules will tell us who is right, and who is unemployed.
:: David (02:18 in Michigan, 08:18 in Paris) - Comment

There's an article today on the BBC which suggests that printing digital photos at home can produce better pictures than the ones you get from a professional developing place - if you use the right ink. Given that I've always thought that the era of places to develop photos had come to the end of its usefulness, this was very interesting. More interesting, however, was the part where I found out just how much folks in the UK get ripped off when they have photos printed:

According to PC Pro, producing a print 8x10in on an Epson R800 printer using top quality paper costs £1.87. At Jessops the same image would cost £2.50 and at Snappy Snaps £9.99. A 10x7in snap at Boots would cost £4.99.
So an 8x10 photo will cost you almost $20 at some places. You can buy a news printer for $20 these days. I truly don't understand why the UK is so darned expensive for stuff!
:: David (01:36 in Michigan, 07:36 in Paris) - Comment

The world is a bizarre place. Milions of homeless everywhere, and the really big news is when a homeless hawk is allowed back to his swanky home in New York City. Oh well - good for Pale Male, anyway!
:: David (01:26 in Michigan, 07:26 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, December 15 2004 ::

David Blunkett has resigned.
:: David (13:31 in Michigan, 19:31 in Paris) - Comment

It is amazing to me how much money is being spend on a missile defense system that doesn't work. 10 billion per year, according to the article. As has been noted elsewhere, if the system doesn't work when they know the missile is coming, why would anybody expect it to work when they don't?
:: David (11:12 in Michigan, 17:12 in Paris) - Comment

Well, we have plane tickets to go to Venice, but it looks as though we're going to sleep on the streets. Who knew that one of the high tourist season periods was the Christmas-New Year's week? Prices for hotels rocket by 300%, and they're already overpriced. The average price for the week is looking like $1000 or more. Yikes! So it looks like I'll be sleeping on the streets (or sleeping in a hotel 50 miles from Venice).
:: David (01:45 in Michigan, 07:45 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[4]

:: Tuesday, December 14 2004 ::

As you may have heard, they're opening a really big bridge here in France today, as the English papers have been fond of noting "taller than the Eiffel Tower". Read all about it in French or English.
:: David (06:10 in Michigan, 12:10 in Paris) - Comment

:: Monday, December 13 2004 ::

I finally updated my contact info page, after yet another person noted it was wrong. She, however, was so cool she went to the pages jaunes (yellow pages) and looked us up. And there we were! (Click the word 'recherche' to see our address, and a map!)
:: David (16:02 in Michigan, 22:02 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[3]

For a truly depressing view of the United States, take a look at the US Census Bureau's Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003. This is the publication that was allegedly delayed (or was it published early) for election reasons. Of course, it didn't change the outcome, even though the report clearly shows the number in poverty rising every year Bush was in office. It has interesting things to say about health care coverage in the US as well - big surprise that lots don't have it....
:: David (15:33 in Michigan, 21:33 in Paris) - Comment

Commentary about the liberal bias of academia:

A few weeks ago, a pair of studies found that Democrats vastly outnumbered Republicans among professors at leading universities. Conservatives gleefully seized upon this to once again flagellate academia for its liberal bias.

Am I the only person who fails to understand why conservatives see this finding as vindication? After all, these studies show that some of the best-educated, most-informed people in the country overwhelmingly reject the GOP. Why is this seen as an indictment of academia, rather than as an indictment of the Republican Party?

I especially like the bit where he talks about the lack of conservative physics profs. What would that mean, exactly?
:: David (12:04 in Michigan, 18:04 in Paris) - Comment

Happy Saint Lucia Day! There were people downstairs singing and wearing candles on their head (I kid you not) but it's ok, because apparently it's a big Swedish holiday to signal the first day of the Christmas festivities. At least they had pretty voices.
:: David (10:52 in Michigan, 16:52 in Paris) - Comment

Oracle has finally purchased PeopleSoft. There are about a million reasons why this deal shouldn't have been allowed, but now it's done. PeopleSoft and Oracle both make software that helps businesses manage information - they automate all those annoying tasks like hiring, firing, paying (people and bills), inventory, and so forth. Here's the catch: all the applications of this nature (SAP being the market leader, PeopleSoft/Oracle now being number two) run on database software, and Oracle has a pretty strong hold on that market at the enterprise level. How the regulators could be so completely ignorant as to think that allowing the #2 and #3 companies to merge is good for customers is completly beyond me. It's insane. And it's going to cause havoc at those companies that have PeopleSoft installed (especially if any of the extreme measures PeopleSoft threatened when Oracle made its first offer come to pass).

And the funny thing is, even though all of these companies do basically exactly the same thing, their product is totally inoperable with any other product of the same nature. So I'm not even sure Oracle can get economies of scale from the merger - I truly think it might have simply been a manouver to eliminate a competitor. We'll see.

(If you need a login for the New York Times, visit Bug Me Not).
:: David (08:56 in Michigan, 14:56 in Paris) - Comment

Does anyone besides me find it problematic that the poverty rate in the United States is twice as high as that in France, and nearly twice as high as that in Poland? How in the world can the US think that having one in six people living in poverty is in any way a sign of being a 'modern country'?
:: David (03:56 in Michigan, 09:56 in Paris) - Comment

Yay! An article on Thornstein Veblen! His writings on the theory of the leisure class, and his coining of the term 'conspicuous consumption', have influenced my thinking for years. This article talks a bit about his ideas, and a bit about his wild and crazy life:

In his bohemian habits, Veblen was something of a nutty professor. His own consumption was conspicuously inconspicuous: He refused to have a telephone and made his furniture out of burlap sacks and wood boxes. He mumbled his way through lectures, and once posted his office hours as "Mondays 10 to 10:05." His libertine carousing also raised eyebrows. After seducing the wife of a colleague in 1906, Veblen was promptly fired. He moved on to Stanford, where he also fell afoul of administrators for his philandering ways.
Not exactly your typical boring economist.
:: David (02:07 in Michigan, 08:07 in Paris) - Comment

You know, I think only in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict would you see a story headlined '5 soldiers killed' and then, as an afterthought at the bottom, '8 school children wounded'. The difference being the soldiers were Israeli, the children Palestinian.
:: David (02:00 in Michigan, 08:00 in Paris) - Comment

Apparently the Real Madrid stadium was evacuated after a bomb threat by ETA. Given the number of bombs they've set off recently, it's no wonder the stadium was evacuated. Still, the idea of 70,000 people filing out of a gigantic stadium (and believe me - this is a big stadium. We saw it several times while we were in Madrid) is quite amazing. I have no idea how big a crowd of 70,000 would be - do they fill several square blocks? Several square miles? I don't know.
:: David (01:48 in Michigan, 07:48 in Paris) - Comment

According to the BBC, there is a push in Jamaica to have Bob Marley named a national hero for what would have been his 60th birthday.
:: David (01:38 in Michigan, 07:38 in Paris) - Comment

:: Saturday, December 11 2004 ::

We bought a christmas tree!
:: David (12:37 in Michigan, 18:37 in Paris) - Comment

In the grander scheme of random spam, I never expected to get a piece of mail telling me 'the truth is out there' from a guy calling himself "Fox Mulder" who wants me to visit websites telling me all about the plot to take over the world by rich bankers. I wonder, if I visited the websites, if the bankers would ascribe to any particular religion...?

Speaking of which, did I ever mention that for a little while someone was sending out Nazi propaganda using my email address? That was unpleasant.
:: David (12:27 in Michigan, 18:27 in Paris) - Comment

So, I was just sitting in the living room, reading the newspaper, when Sasha said 'ow' and all the lights in the house went out. She didn't say 'AaaAaargh' or anything like that, so I assumed the fuse had blown in some other manner than a catastrophic accident, but I rushed to the fuse box anyway, where she was rubbing her head and looking sheepish. I said 'what happened' and she told me she had hit the fuse box with her head, throwing the breaker. Ouch indeed.

But I was reminded, in that brief moment of blackness, that the house goes on, even if the power goes out. Our stove and heat are gas, and the computer can run for several hours without power, on battery. I guess, because we so rarely go without, that my natural assumption is that, without power, the world stops.

I remember being equally surprised in the summer of 2003, when that huge power outage took down the Eastern United States. It seemed as though the world should stop working, and in some ways it did - the cell phone tower died fairly quickly after the power went down, and all the restaurants and stores had serious problems (not to mention all the stuff in the freezer!). But so many things didnt stop working - public radio was back on the air fairly soon after things went down, and of course the car generated its own electricity, so you could hang out in the car with the air conditioner on and music blaring, and be totally unaware anything was wrong. Until you came to an intersection, where the lights didn't work.

It's funny the number of things we are creating which are more 'advanced', yet can't survive something as simple as a power outage. Fixed line phones work when the power is out, but cordless ones don't. Cable television goes down regularly, but if you hoist an antenna there's still broadcast. It's odd that we keep moving away from being able to work without electricity, despite the fact that we still generate electricity in such a primitive (and unreliable) fashion.
:: David (12:18 in Michigan, 18:18 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, December 10 2004 ::

One of the areas of research that has always bothered me is minimum wage literature. Here's an area that should be studied to death - we should have a ton of unambiguous results showing that either (a) high minimum wages are good, or (b) that they aren't. Instead we have a million billion different opinions, and a ton of flawed research.

I was reminded of this topic again today, when I read David Neumark and Olena Nizalova's "Minimum Wage Effects in the Longer Run". Here's an interesting idea, a paper which brings up some ideas of possible effects of minimum wages. For example, I had never thought about the idea that higher minimum wages might lead to lower school enrollment. But there you are. However, in the introduction they state:

If minimum wages lower training among young workers, reduce the accumulation of labor market skills and experience by deterring employment of young, unskilled individuals, and discourage school enrollment—all effects that have been documented in the literature, although not without some controversy—then we might expect more lasting adverse effects on both wages, employment, and other labor market outcomes.
Now, here's the trick - if people aren't willing to hire unskilled workers, that's not going to have an effect on school enrollment, is it? You can't have it both ways.

Now, I'm sure there are long term effects of higher minimum wages, some good, some bad. For example, children of higher income families tend to have better life outcomes than children of lower income families. Thus, we might expect that in places with higher minimum wages we would see a generational effect, and also possibly lower youth crime. On the other hand, if a higher minimum wage means only higher skilled people can get jobs, we might see just the opposite effect. This is the problem with so many researchers today - they bring their assumptions to the table, and it leads to flawed outcomes. In my opinion this paper is one such example.
:: David (13:13 in Michigan, 19:13 in Paris) - Comment

Looks like I've figured out one way to break the blog program - don't type the greater than symbol in an entry. Oh well. By the way - "sous la tour eiffel" is "under the eiffel tower" and "sur la tour eiffel" is "On the eiffel tower"
:: David (08:51 in Michigan, 14:51 in Paris) - Comment

So, I may be the last person to hear abotu this, but apparently they've put a skating rink on the first level of the eiffel tower. According to the CNN article that's some 150 feet above the ground. I didn't believe it when I heard about it today in French class - I said 'don't you mean « sous la tour eiffel »' and they replied 'No! « sur la tour eiffel »' I've also heard the ice is scented with vanilla, but I'm waiting for proof on that one.
:: David (08:49 in Michigan, 14:49 in Paris) - Comment

The Independent weighs in on exchange rates:

In reality, Mr Bush is determined to go on cutting taxes. He also wants to part-privatise social security, allowing Americans to invest part of their contributions in special investment accounts - a change that could add trillions to the budget deficit, just as the great wave of baby-boomer retirement is about to break over the system. Barring serious spending cuts or tax increases, the public finances of the US will be a mess for decades.

Maybe the worst won't happen. Maybe Mr Bush will finally choose between guns and butter, maybe Americans will discover the virtues of saving. Maybe China will revalue its currency, maybe Europe's sclerotic economies will reform their over-padded welfare systems. Maybe pigs will fly. Only one thing is sure. To borrow the immortal line of the late Herbert Stein, chairman of President Nixon's council of economic advisers, the last time the dollar was officially devalued: "If something cannot go on forever, it won't."

It's a lovely article, which starts off with a nod to the poor American tourist: "Once upon a time, their currency was king. Now a trip across the Atlantic is like a visit to the financial dentist, in which small fortunes are extracted from their pockets without even the benefit of an anaesthetic."
:: David (06:00 in Michigan, 12:00 in Paris) - Comment

So here's a fun one - since we got gmail, we've been having fun with the ads that it generates off the text in your email. Recently I noticed an ad for Free Desktop, and I was so amused I visited their site. It takes you to a form with a 'name' block, an 'email address' block, and a little checkbox which says "I would like to receive promotional emails from and select partners". The implication, of course, being that if you don't check the box they won't send you boatloads of spam. Right. So I clicked on the 'terms and conditions', and found:

By signing up for this website, the user agrees to receive emails we or another 3rd party may send about special offers on our website, as well as third party advertisements or offers.
which would seem to invalidate any checkbox you might or might not check. The rest of the terms and conditions are equally amusing and sketchy, as is their privacy policy, which basically states 'we'll be good, but we can't say what our affiliates might do'. Also on their privacy policy are some of the other sites they run:,, and Sounds like an upstanding corporate citizen to me....
:: David (04:50 in Michigan, 10:50 in Paris) - Comment

Just in case you thought the winemakers had gone away, there was a huge protest this week in France over the state of France's wine industry.
:: David (03:53 in Michigan, 09:53 in Paris) - Comment

A huge article on Nutella! Who knew that it was originally Italian, or that the company HQ was in Luxembourg (where they eat 10 jars per year of the stuff)? It's the article you've all been waiting for - now we just have to hope the book is translated into English!
:: David (03:50 in Michigan, 09:50 in Paris) - Comment

I would never dream of saying CNN was in any way a serious news outlet, but this article, titled "Students fight for right to bare all", definitely made me happy. Who knew that Bennington, Vermont was a den of iniquity? Fortunately, they are apparently not alone in this:

Recently, students at Hamilton College in New York turned the pastime into a sport by forming a varsity streaking team and traveling to rival schools to cavort in the buff.
Seriously, it is pretty funny when the Dean of Students has to say "Bennington College is not a clothing-optional campus and we don't live in a clothing-optional society". I would certainly say that Vermont in winter is definitely not clothing-optional!
:: David (02:04 in Michigan, 08:04 in Paris) - Comment

Oh yeah - I keep forgetting - the publication I've been working on finally came out. You can see the description on the website. There's also a copy you can read, if you really want to hurt your brain.
:: David (01:52 in Michigan, 07:52 in Paris) - Comment

I'll let you know it's happening, but I can't begin to say I understand. Apparently the Australian government has agreed to install (or fund the installation of) gas pumps in a remote aboriginal village if the residents of the village agree to "ensure that their children wash twice a day", "empty household rubbish bins twice weekly", and "fumigate their houses against pests four times a year." Needless to say, some have said the deal is patronizing. Read all about it on the BBC.
:: David (01:44 in Michigan, 07:44 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, December 9 2004 ::

Apparently all has gone off, and Sarah has, as of today, acquired my new computer. I can't believe how darned expensive it was. I think I shall make it a point not to buy a Dell again, on general principle. On the other hand, we'll see if the new computer can survive the beating I give it for any period of time. The funny thing is, there's no reason to replace a computer, really, unless you play a lot of brand-new games, or a new operating system is released. I certainly would have been happy to wait. Oh well. My next goal is to see if I can at some point track down a replacement hard drive so the Dell isn't a complete waste of space. Two years! It only lasted two years! OK - I'm fine now.
:: David (12:10 in Michigan, 18:10 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

It's a big day for same sex marriage around the world. First the New Zealand legislation, and now a supreme court decision in Canada. Basically, the court said that nothing in the constitution prohibits same-sex couples. In the actual text of the ruling there was also an interesting point about whether individual provinces could define marriage differently:

Is the opposite-sex requirement for marriage for civil purposes, as established by the common law and set out for Quebec in section 5 of the Federal Law-Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If not, in what particular or particulars and to what extent?

[...] Question 4 - In the unique circumstances of this reference, the Court should exercise its discretion not to answer Question 4. First, the federal government has stated its intention to address the issue of same-sex marriage legislatively regardless of the Court's opinion on this question. As a result of decisions by lower courts, the common law definition of marriage in five provinces and one territory no longer imports an opposite-sex requirement and the same is true of s. 5 of the Federal Law-Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1. The government has clearly accepted these decisions and adopted this position as its own. Second, the parties in the previous litigation, and other same-sex couples, have relied upon the finality of the decisions and have acquired rights which are entitled to protection. Finally, an answer to Question 4 has the potential to undermine the government's stated goal of achieving uniformity in respect of civil marriage across Canada. While uniformity would be achieved if the answer were "no", a "yes" answer would, by contrast, throw the law into confusion. The lower courts' decisions in the matters giving rise to this reference are binding in their respective provinces. They would be cast into doubt by an advisory opinion which expressed a contrary view, even though it could not overturn them. These circumstances, weighed against the hypothetical benefit Parliament might derive from an answer, indicate that the Court should decline to answer Question 4.

I don't know that I've ever seen that. Basically the court is saying "either way this gets settled in the legislature, we'll wait for them to do their thing".
:: David (11:59 in Michigan, 17:59 in Paris) - Comment

It seems that the main artery of the train network in the UK, which runs North from London, will be closed this Sunday to bring attention to the ongoing contract talks.

It's funny, because I used to associate the UK with an amazing train system, and now the whole thing seems to be collapsing. Don't get me wrong - service isn't as bad as in the US (I don't think any country that has trains will ever let their system get as bad as the US), but it keeps getting worse in the UK. The really strange thing is that everything I've seen seems to indicate that people in the UK want better service, yet noone seems capable of providing it. I know in part this is because of the whole Railtrack fiasco, but it also seems like the entire thing is a mess from top to bottom, despite my feeling that there is money to be made from train travel in Britain.
:: David (06:17 in Michigan, 12:17 in Paris) - Comment

65 to 55, the New Zealand bill allowing civil unions between same sex couples passed. You can read the short version in the New Zealand Herald. For the long version, you can read the entire bill, and you can read the government's (somewhat defensive) Questions and Answers page. Interestingly, it looks as though New Zealand has taken into account the fact that one of the two parties to the civil union might be from overseas - something that many other bills do not address.
:: David (03:59 in Michigan, 09:59 in Paris) - Comment

By the way - because my computer died, if you sent me a message recently (Lindsay, for example) it has gone to lala land. It is no longer among the living. And this means I can't respond to it. In fact, I may have lost several years worth of email, which would be sad. But, if you have the ability, please re-send your recent email (or at least send something, because most of my address book died too).
:: David (01:37 in Michigan, 07:37 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, December 8 2004 ::

According to the IHT, "A sustained rise in the euro to $1.35 or $1.40 would force the [European Central] bank to intervene directly in currency markets, many strategists believe." Given that the Euro is at 1.347, the moment of truth is getting closer. The question then becomes how the markets will react if the ECB does intervene.
:: David (08:40 in Michigan, 14:40 in Paris) - Comment

Woo hoo! Thunderbird 1.0 is out! Just in time for my computer to be broken, has released the 1.0 edition of their wonderful mail client. I like it a lot. And it does RSS, too!
:: David (08:01 in Michigan, 14:01 in Paris) - Comment

Jeremy Hinzman is an American who has applied for asylum in Canada, after fleeing his military post in California. Yesterday he had a former soldier testify at his asylum hearing that, telling all of the atrocities he had seen in Iraq. As reported in the Washington Post and the Globe and Mail.
:: David (07:03 in Michigan, 13:03 in Paris) - Comment

Don't get in a fight with a left hander - they'll trounce you! The BBC reports on a new study which suggests left-handedness is nature's way of giving people a leg up in combat situations.
:: David (06:59 in Michigan, 12:59 in Paris) - Comment

What to do if you want to travel Europe as an American, but don't want to be held responsible for everything Bush has done? Go Canadian! Yes, for $24.95 you can purchase a package to disguise yourself, complete with a 'how to speak Canadian' guide.

"I said, 'What are you going to do if someone asks you about the prime minister of Canada?' And he said, 'I'll study up,"'
I guess knowing something about the prime minister of Canada already is a bit much to ask....
:: David (01:41 in Michigan, 07:41 in Paris) - Comment

Apparently New Zealand has decided to legalize gay marriage in two steps, first by creating a legal partnership for homosexual couples, and then by making that partnership exactly the same as marriage. It's a little odd, but we'll see what happens. The BBC has the details on the first part, which is on its way to becoming law.
:: David (01:21 in Michigan, 07:21 in Paris) - Comment

:: Tuesday, December 7 2004 ::

The new couch is here, and boy is it cute! And comfy. Hooray for places to sit!
:: David (15:32 in Michigan, 21:32 in Paris) - Comment

Hm. The computer seems to have suffered a hard drive failure. This is sad. On the other hand, it seems I shall be getting a new computer sooner than I had expected. I placed an order with dell, although whether or not it will go through remains to be seen (there is a touch of difficulty with my credit card in the states, so I may in fact have no access to dollars. Which would be sad, in that it would make doing my Christmas shopping for those in the states a touch difficult.)
:: David (15:32 in Michigan, 21:32 in Paris) - Comment

Two! Two Christmas cards! Mwa ha ha!
:: David (01:27 in Michigan, 07:27 in Paris) - Comment

:: Monday, December 6 2004 ::

Photos are up from Madrid, complete with stories. The movie isn't up tho, because it's 25MB, and I'm afraid my server will die. But the photos are there, so you should go look at them.
:: David (17:42 in Michigan, 23:42 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

There is always a question, when an economy 'heats up', exactly why it is heating up. Maybe it's because of solid fundamentals. And maybe it isn't. An example is a country where the economy is a bit questionable, like Russia during the 1990s. People knew there was corruption, probably a lot of corruption. Thus, if you wanted to get people to invest in Russia, you had to offer them high interest rates. If the rates are high enough, people will overlook just about anything, figuring that a 30% yearly return makes a little risk worthwhile. However, at the first whiff of major trouble, those investors cut and run. All it took was a good story about how the house of cards is coming down and they bailed - in droves.

And that's what makes this IHT article so interesting. It compares Turkey to Argentina, which is another country that experienced a massive collapse when investors lost confidence. There are two reasons the article is interesting. First, it describes a very different Turkey than the one the EU likes to put forward as a cadidate country. Many of the things it puts forward as indicative of Turkey's precarious status I have not read before. Thus, the article is first interesting because it imparts information.

The second reason this article is interesting is because it has, potentially, the power to make news, rather than just report it. As I noted, this was the first mainstream media report I have seen on the idea of a Turkish collapse. If other media outlets pick up on this as a theme, it will become fixed in the minds of investors that there is the potential for a collapse. Then all it will take is one good scare and the money will bolt, and regardless of Turkey's actual economic underpinnings, a collapse will occur, because the investors, in their desire to 'get out while the getting is good', will bring about the collapse they fear. It's a classic game - if nobody cuts and runs, everybody continues to win. But the first person out is guaranteed a profit, whereas there are no guarantees that the other players in the game won't run off and leave you holding the bag. So you cut and run, trying to be the first out the door. And poof! The predicted collapse happens.
:: David (11:40 in Michigan, 17:40 in Paris) - Comment

While we were in Madrid there were a number of small bombings at gas stations around the city, and apparently there were several more today. It's interesting, because ETA always seems to call ahead and say "there will be a bomb at X place at X time", which seems to limit casualties.
:: David (10:37 in Michigan, 16:37 in Paris) - Comment

Looks like I just missed out on getting some free plastic explosives from the French government. Seems they were training a sniffer dog, and misplaced the suitcase they had planted the explosives in. Someone, somewhere, is going to be very confused....
:: David (07:39 in Michigan, 13:39 in Paris) - Comment

According to Fox News, "Musharraf tempered his words about the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which he was vehemently outspoken against before the invasion." This squares quite well with the CNN story which begins "The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a mistake that has made the world a more dangerous place, but a swift withdrawal would make matters worse, Pakistan's president says."
:: David (07:37 in Michigan, 13:37 in Paris) - Comment

I've been trying to work out if the Ota city that has decided to require fathers to take paternity leave, then give a report to their co-workers about what they learned, is written as "thick rice field" or "big rice field". Both towns exist, but only one of them is the real Ota city.
:: David (04:52 in Michigan, 10:52 in Paris) - Comment

Hm. Must be almost 8am - the people downstairs have started hammering. This is also the way you can tell it's ten at night. I have no idea what they're doing down there, but I know it involves lots of hammers.
:: David (01:53 in Michigan, 07:53 in Paris) - Comment

Haven't we heard this recently, from an entirely different quarter? "The war on terror has made the world less safe and is not addressing the underlying causes of conflict, Pakistan's President has told the BBC." Apparently General Pervez Musharraf is losing his taste for the war on terror. Given that he was definitely a beneficiary, that's a very interesting thing.
:: David (01:32 in Michigan, 07:32 in Paris) - Comment

Apparently the desire for more tourists must be carefully balanced with the annoyance factor of those tourists. France has discovered this the hard way, most recently in the many tourists following the Davinci Code trail:

St Sulpice undoubtedly exists. But it is not the site of a Roman temple. Nor, Michel Rouge says, does the obelisk there hide a secret cave. Nor, indeed, is the obelisk Egyptian.

So fed up is the church with tourists asking to see where the fictional nun was murdered that it has put up notices to make it clear that while the church is real, the events in the book are not.

Some visitors, though, simply do not believe it... and they keep stealing the notice.

The BBC decided, on the announcement of Tom Hanks being cast as the central star in the hollywood edition of the the book, to revisit the 'tourists follow Davinci Code trail' story, and found that, for the French, it is beginning to chafe.
:: David (01:26 in Michigan, 07:26 in Paris) - Comment

Our first Chirstmas card was waiting for us when we got home yesterday evening. Hooray!

We were discussing as we walked back from the station the fact that Chatou looked quite lovely, and that we were looking forward to spending Christmas here. It would be different if no-one were coming to visit, I think, but since someone is it means we get to have a Christmas which is different from the normal day-to-day. And the fact that we'll be leaving the next day to go to Italy won't hurt, either.

Speaking of Italy, Janna had just returned from Italy, and had a whole bunch of recommendations about places to see in Florence. We aren't sure if we'll head to Florence, as it depends if we'll want to leave Venice, but if we do go it looks as though we'll have plenty to do.
:: David (01:15 in Michigan, 07:15 in Paris) - Comment

:: Sunday, December 5 2004 ::

Safely back! Madrid was great - full of buildings and spanish speakers and stuff. We visited the Prado, ate lots of really good tapas, and generally talked a whole bunch with Janna, Sasha's friend who is living there, doing research on Berenguela of Castile (hopefully one of the things she will do when she finishes is write a better Wikipedia entry!).
:: David (16:33 in Michigan, 22:33 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, December 3 2004 ::

Thirty years ago, abortion became legal in France.
:: David (01:31 in Michigan, 07:31 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, December 2 2004 ::

Oh yeah - dig this - Mondovino, a movie I have been wanting to see for some time but have been unable to find, is playing here in the sleepy town of Chatou. I hadn't even really realized we had a theatre until a few weeks ago, and now there's something I want to see at it!
:: David (18:32 in Michigan, 00:32 in Paris) - Comment

We leave for Madrid in the morning, so I suspect the blog will be quiet for a little while. You all have a nice weekend, and I'll post lots of pics when I get back!
:: David (18:29 in Michigan, 00:29 in Paris) - Comment

The New York Times has an article about the new king tut exhibit circling the US, which raises all sorts of troubling questions about the partnership between art (or museum pieces) and money: "The Egyptian government intends to clear $10 million in every city visited by a new touring show of Tutankhamun artifacts. Its financial goals have cultural institutions around the United States weighing the crowds his treasures are likely to draw against the prospect of having to charge as much as $30." I myself am a big fan of the British model, where you walk in and give if you want. In part, it means that those with less can still get in. When Sasha and I went to the Boston museum two years ago, we found our way there (it was not conveniently located to where we were) and promptly left again, after seeing how much it cost to get in. There's no excuse for that.
:: David (18:28 in Michigan, 00:28 in Paris) - Comment

I read a paper today, an economic paper titled "Race, Ethnicity, and Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Substance Use and Adolescent Sexual Behavior" by Susan L. Averett, Daniel I. Rees, Brian Duncan, and Laura Argys. It was troubling, in that the authors had a real problem separating events that happened to coincide from causality: "For instance, increasing penalties for the possession or sale of marijuana might be expected to reduce the likelihood that Hispanics engage in sexual intercourse, but may have no effect on the behavior of non-Hispanic white adolescents." The obvious implication of this statement is that drug use encourages sexual activity. If this is the kind of research the policy makers are reading, it is no wonder we have draconian drug use laws in the United States.
:: David (18:23 in Michigan, 00:23 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, December 1 2004 ::

Apparently Merriam-Webster has chosen blog as the word of the year, or so says the BBC.You can see the M-W definition on their website, although if you have been reading here for any period of time you have a pretty darned good idea of what a blog is.
:: David (13:57 in Michigan, 19:57 in Paris) - Comment

The BBC has another story onthe Ukraine political crisis which includes a great timeline reproduced here:

  • 21 Nov: Viktor Yanukovych declared winner of run-off poll. Independent observers declare the elections flawed, thousands take to the streets
  • 25 Nov: Supreme Court suspends publication of result while it considers the opposition's complaints
  • 26 Nov: Yanukovych and Yushchenko hold talks and agree to seek peaceful solution
  • 27 Nov: MPs declare poll invalid, pass vote of no-confidence in election commission
  • 28 Nov: Threat by eastern regions to secede if Yushchenko declared president
  • 29 Nov: Supreme Court starts considering complaints of poll abuses and arguments of pro-government camp
  • 30 Nov: Parliament rejects motion of no-confidence in government
Now here's a funny thought for you - this is less than two weeks ofcrazy wild turmoil with a country that can't decide who its next leader should be. Now think again on the 2000 election in the United States. Can you imagine what other countries must have been thinking when theUS couldn't decide for over a month. Here's a timeline I created usingWikipedia:
  • 2 Nov: Election Day. National Networks call states before results are known,then retract calls. 3 states are too close to call.
  • Over the next few days two of the states are called for Gore, but the decisive state, Florida, governed by a family member of one of the candidates,is still unable to produce a total. Vote margins in at least two statesare within 500 votes of each other.
  • Several local courts become involved in the fray, with multiple rulings foreach of the two parties. Each of the campaigns calls in a former Secretary of State to oversee their half of the legal disputes.
  • 1 Dec: The supreme court of the United states agrees to review the case
  • 4 Dec: The Supreme court sends the case back to the state lever for further clarification, while it considers a second case in the matter.
  • 12 Dec: The house of representatives in Florida votes along partylines to give the state's votes to the candidate of the majority party.
  • 12 Dec: The state court authorizes recounts in several Florida districts,after the legislature decides to award the state's votes.
  • 12 Dec: Late in the day, the US Supreme Court decides that thevoting was irregular, but no further vote can be taken, so theresult will stand as it is.
  • 13 Dec: Gore concedes.
Can you begin to understand the kind of questions I was trying to answer frommy Japanese colleagues during the months of November and December? Even afterit was all over, it was all so weird that noone felt able to understand.
:: David (10:46 in Michigan, 16:46 in Paris) - Comment

It's World AIDS Day. The AIDS Epidemic Update 2004, released last week by the UN, suggests 3.1 million AIDS deaths worldwide in the last year. That's actually beyond my ability to visualize - when I hear about thousands or tens of thousands I can generally sort of get my head around the idea. But millions? It's absolutely insane.
:: David (09:54 in Michigan, 15:54 in Paris) - Comment

You know, I am now just about finished with the eighth book in Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar series. I go through a couple each week, on the metro to and from our apartment. They aren't particularly great, but they generally aren't terrible either, although Sasha had trouble making it through the first one (it takes some time to find its pace). I am amazed at how many words people can spin a story into - at least Feist had the good taste to follow the story over decades, with a cast of dozens, rather than pulling a Robert Jordan, and simply never finishing the story.

I go through phases with my reading, and right now junk seems to be the phase of the month. We'll see where I go next. Maybe back to news - I used to read five or six newspapers each day. Now I can barely read one. Perhaps it's because all the news is so bad these days....
:: David (09:36 in Michigan, 15:36 in Paris)- Comment - View Comments[1]

Martin Wolf of the Financial Times explains, in great detail, why some people think the dollar could fall by more than 50 percent.
:: David (07:24 in Michigan, 13:24 in Paris)- Comment - View Comments[2]

The BBC reports that folks in Iran really want the Persian Gulf to stay Persian. National Geogaphic has turned up on the wrong side of the dispute, as has google.
:: David (05:17 in Michigan, 11:17 in Paris)- Comment - View Comments[1]

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