Monday, December 31, 2007

Hoosier Daddy?

With retail-minded timing, on December 7 Ancestry.com (the Microsoft of online genealogy) released a marketing research study done for them in February. Neither the methodology nor the margins of error appear to be disclosed, so it's as dubious as a family history without footnotes. Still, some of the results are curious enough to nod to:

* Anyone who's spent time on the third floor of the Newberry knows that the age structure of active family history researchers skews way old, but supposedly among the general public, interest in knowing more about family history actually drops from 83 percent among 18-to-34-year-olds to 73 percent among the 55+ crowd.

* If you know the name of more than one of your eight great-grandparents, you're in the minority -- so all ages have a good deal to learn.

* New England, not the South, is the heartland of genealogy. (This difference is credible only because it squares with the publishing history in the two regions; the small differences reported could easily be wiped out by small sample size.) "Southerners know the least about their roots. Only 38 percent know both of their grandmothers’ maiden names, compared with 50 percent of Northeasterners. Also, only 47 percent of Southerners know what both of their grandfathers do or did for a living, while 55 percent of Northeasterners know both grandfathers’ occupations."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Mayor with a Conscience

The mayor of Salt Lake City, October 27, addressing the Bush Administration, a majority of Congress, and much of the mainstream media in words not heard often enough:
"As United States agents kidnap, disappear, and torture human beings around the world, you justify, you deceive, and you cover up. We find what you have done to men, women and children, and to the good name and reputation of the United States, so appalling, so unconscionable, and so outrageous as to compel us to call upon you to step aside and allow other men and women who are competent, true to our nation's values, and with high moral principles to stand in your places -- for the good of our
nation, for the good of our children, and for the good of our world.

"In the case of the President and Vice President, this means impeachment and removal from office, without any further delay from a complacent, complicit Congress, the Democratic majority of which cares more about political gain in 2008 than it does about the vindication of our Constitution, the rule of law, and democratic accountability.

"It means the election of people as President and Vice President who, unlike most of the presidential candidates from both major parties, have not aided and abetted in the perpetration of the illegal, tragic, devastating invasion and occupation of Iraq . And it means the election of people as President and Vice President who will commit to return our nation to the moral and strategic imperative of refraining from torturing human beings. ...

"We must avoid the trap of focusing the blame solely upon President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. This is not just about a few people who have wronged our country - and the world. They were enabled by members of both parties in Congress, they were enabled by the pathetic mainstream news media, and, ultimately, they have been enabled by the American people -- 40% of whom are so ill-informed they still think Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks -- a people who know and care more about baseball statistics and which drunken starlets are wearing underwear than they know and care about the atrocities being committed every single day in our name by a government for which we need to take responsibility."
Read the whole thing. Hat tip to Marilyn Katz for passing it along.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mixing god and politics: toxic cocktail?

Kevin Coe, a doctoral student in speech communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has just coauthored with David Scott Domke The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America. I haven't read it but I'm skittish about newly discovered watersheds, like their claim that things changed profoundly in 1980. Meanwhile he has some interesting thoughts on it here:
"What the omnipresence of the God strategy has created is a de facto religious test. ...We've created an environment that essentially excludes those who feel that faith is a deeply private matter, those who believe that religion can be practiced without being preached, those who observe a faith other than Christianity, and those who choose not to believe in a higher power. That environment is not good for democracy, nor is it good for religion."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Let's all move to California

At last, someone else is reading NBER working papers so I can quote the popularization. According to ENN, economists Enrico Moretti (UC Berkeley) and Oliver Deschenes (UC Santa Barbara) found that
Deaths linked to extreme cold account for 0.8 percent of the nation's annual death rate and outnumber those attributed to leukemia, murder and chronic liver disease combined. ...

The study also says that demographic shifts from colder climes to warmer ones -- for reasons such as better jobs, cheaper housing and sunshine -- appear to delay an estimated 4,600 deaths a year. The researchers also said that over the past 30 years, longevity gains associated with geographic mobility accounted for between 4 and 7 percent of the increases in life expectancy in the United States. ...

U.S. mortality rates peak in December and January and are at their lowest points from mid-July to mid-August. Cities recording the biggest numbers of cold weather-related deaths include Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis and Cleveland.

Nobody's written an engrossing sociology book on cold waves. Sounds like they should. And maybe Mayor Daley should have one of his environmental geeks draw up a cost-benefit on the urban heat island. The full 58-page paper is here.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Democratic takedown of the day

Chris Mathews interviewing Ralph Nader on MSNBC (transcript here, h/t Sam Smith):
MATTHEWS: I am amazed that you have now excluded Barack Obama from the
progressive coalition.

NADER: He has excluded himself by the statements he has made,
unfortunately. He is a lot smarter than his public statements, which
are extremely conciliatory to concentrated power and big business.
(FWIW Nader likes John Edwards, so far. Lotsa comments at Daily Kos, which I mostly haven't waded through.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Health care: stay north to stay well

In the layoff season, a middle-aged person's fancy lightly turns to issues of health care. A good place to catch up on what looks to me like reality-based information is the Commonwealth Fund's ten top story list. Two caught my eye:

"4. ...A Commonwealth Fund survey of primary care physicians and patients in five other nations—Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom—finds that the U.S. health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. ...While no one country provided a perfect model of care, there are many lessons to be learned from the strategies at work abroad."

Even more interesting, unless you're already headed for Canada or South Korea:

"7. A state scorecard finds wide variations in health care exist across states.The Commonwealth Fund's first state scorecard found that health care quality, cost, and access vary widely across states, suggesting that where you live can make a big difference to your health."
In this ranking, Iowa was #2, Wisconsin #9, Michigan #16. (There are lots of details.) Moving down a tier, Missouri #37, Illinois #36, Indiana #38. Moving down one more tier: Arkansas #48, Kentucky #45. As far as this part of the Midwest goes, you're likely to get better health care the farther away you can get from areas settled by people from the South. Taking the "hospital" out of "hospitality," I guess.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Midwinter Remembrance from 50 centuries ago

The best of blogging: Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber reposts an appreciation of Newgrange, a 5200-year-old wonder of the world in County Meath, Ireland, 500 years older than the Great Pyramid and a thousand years older than Stonehenge.

If you live in an agrarian society, as the overwhelming majority of people did until about two hundred years ago, and you are on the western edge of Europe, few times are harder than the dead of Winter. The days are at their shortest, the sun is far away, and the Malthusian edge, in Brad DeLong’s phrase, is right in front of you. It’s no wonder so many religious festivals take place around the solstice. Here were a people, more than five millennia ago, able not only to pull through the Winter successfully, but able also to build a huge timepiece to remind themselves that they were going to make it.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Peace on Earth,...

...good will to everyone except the torturers and war criminals running this country.

The only interesting Republican

Tucker Carlson nails Ron Paul in the New Republic:
Ron Paul is deeply square, and every bit as deeply committed to your right not to be. "I don't gamble, but I'm the gambler's best friend," he says, boasting of his support for online casinos. He is a Second Amendment absolutist who doesn't own a gun.
Carlson also shows up at a Ron Paul press conference in Nevada with Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, and two of his, um, tenants, Brooke and Air Force Amy.
The other, actual journalists looked confused. Dennis is built like a linebacker and was dressed entirely in black. Brooke and Air Force Amy looked like hookers because they are. All three slapped on Ron Paul stickers ("we could use these as pasties," Air Force Amy said, giggling) and sat near the front. Pretty soon, Paul showed up and did his 15 minutes on liberty and Austrian economics. If he noticed there were prostitutes present, he didn't show it.
Read the whole thing. Campaign coverage hasn't been this funny since, well, 1972.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What were your ancestors looking at?

Tara Calishain mentioned this database of historic wallpaper in her ever-amazing ResearchBuzz newsletter last fall. No kidding: search by year, designer, pattern number, or 20 other parameters.

Words fail me when I see some of what the old folks had to stare at. Actually it's mostly
New England wallpaper, but what did you expect? They seem to grow more history there for some reason.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Would you like a fine with that?

When fast food isn't fast enough. Hat tip to Kevin Hull for this link to the UK Daily Mail:

"McDonald's drive-through customers face £125 fine for taking too long to eat."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Republican takedown of the day

From the New Yorker's "Giuliani Time" quiz, Jimmy Breslin has the last word on the ghastly Rudy: "a small man in search of a balcony."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Blast from the past

Why is it that two of the best books about Presidential campaigns came out of the 1972 election, which resulted in the election of two criminals (Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew)? Rick Perlstein reminded me of The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse, which contains some observations that seem like they could've been written yesterday:

Reporters, especially campaign reporters, had no mandate to explore the past; recent history was just so much stale news. The story lay in the present. {300}

Journalism is probably the slowest-moving, most tradition-bound profession [sic] in America. It refuses to budge until it is shoved into the future by some irresistible external force. {321}

The other great one, of course, is the late Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Self-administered Republican takedown of the day

Mike Huckabee on CBS, after saying some reasonable things about a cap-and-trade system to control carbon emissions:

I think we ought to be out there talking about ways to reduce energy consumption and waste. And we ought to declare that we will be free of energy consumption in this country within a decade...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The denialists you will always have with you

Reading up on the past I keep running into the present. In Indiana History: A Book of Readings, I came across the memoirs of Oliver H. Smith, including the story of the turning point in his run for Congress in 1826. His opponent, Judge John Test, inadvertently aroused the wrath of the same wingnut intelligentsia that takes pride in (a) debunking, and (b) not reading about climate change today:

We met in Allenville, Switzerland county, on one occasion. The whole country was there. The judge was speaking, and for the first time introduced the new subject of railroads. He avowed himself in favor of them, and said he had voted for the Buffalo and New Orleans road, and then rising to the top of his voice, 'I tell you, fellow-citizens, that in England they run the cars thirty miles an hour, and they will yet be run at a higher speed in America.' This was enough. The crowd set up a loud laugh at the expense of the judge. An old fellow, standing by me, bawled out, 'You are crazy, or do you think we are all fools; a man could not live a moment at that speed.' {103}

Monday, December 17, 2007

The only enjoyable fundraising message I've read lately

From a Dec. 11 email from History News Network:

The success HNN has had this year in combating historical illiteracy has really paid off.
Politicians no longer make bogus analogies. They've stopped comparing their enemies to Hitler. And they have started reading Herodotus in the original Greek.

It's wonderful to live in a country where intellectuals can have such a great impact!....Click here to make a donation so we can make sure America doesn't backslide!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

There'll always be an England

Hat tip to Marylaine Block's Neat New e-newsletter for pointing me to the Knitted Garden. It's part of a UK site promoting knitting and strange factoids, such as, "448,000 men in the UK have an interest in knitting/sewing, 143,000 of these are very interested." If that's not enough for you, check out Oriland, an alternate universe made of folded paper.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kan't attack today

Are you ready for something more substantial in the political satire vein than "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me"? Well, this Kant attack ad (video) at Crooked Timber may not be it, but it'll do while you're waiting.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A religious test for high elective office

Sam Smith actually offers more than a dozen, in the form of rhetorical questions; this (#8) is one I can get behind:

Does faith primarily influence the candidate by providing positive
values or by supplying wildly unsupportable information posing as truth?

Of course, don't forget the possibility that faith may influence the candidate to believe that husbands have the right and duty to lord it over their wives, and that the wives should shut up and take it. More on this immoral and monarchical doctrine here. (H/t to Sam and Daily Kos)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Radio daze

If you ever wondered why I went in for the written word instead of the spoken word, you can listen to Outside the Loop Radio's podcast of Andy Hermann and Mike Stephen interviewing me about the Reader brouhaha. An abbreviated version will air on WLUW (FM 88.7) Friday at 6 pm. Thanks, guys.

Another window on Chicago

Did I sleep through this? Well, maybe you did too. Thom Clark's Community Media Workshop has a blog portal in addition to its very useful NewsTips. The blog portal includes links to nonprofit reports and media policy items, as well as several community news outlets: New Communities Program, Beachwood Reporter, Creating Community Connections, Afro-Netizen, Beep Central, Chi-Town Daily News, and Gapers' Block. Plus of course CMW's own podcasts and videos.

Is it my imagination, or are the for-profit media doing less while this not-for-profit is doing more?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cable TV as feminist vanguard

In fairness to a medium for which I have little use except on Sunday afternoons, economists Robert Jensen of Brown University and Emily Oster of the University of Chicago find that the introduction of cable TV to rural villages in India is good for women:

The villages that added cable were associated with improvements in measures of women's autonomy, a reduction in the number of situations in which wife beating was deemed acceptable, and a reduction in the likelihood of wanting the next child to be a boy. And, the effects were quite large. In a sample in which the average education level was 3.5 years, introducing cable appeared to have the same effects on attitudes towards female autonomy as 5.5 years of education. Cable also increased the likelihood that a girl aged 6-10 would be enrolled in school, although it had no effect for boys, and cut the yearly increase in the number of children or pregnancies among women of childbearing age.
This is from writer Linda Gorman's summary in the December issue of NBER Digest. The original abstract is here, or read the whole thing here (PDF).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The disinformation machine

Joseph Romm at Gristmill immerses himself in the garbage heap that is the Wall Street Journal editorial page so that we don't have to. Besides pointing out the WSJ's failure to honestly characterize this year's Nobel Peace Prize winners (they are Al Gore and the multitude of scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Romm does a good job of making the point I have made in earlier incarnations of this blog: the reasoning process of the denialist conservatives and libertarians is backward. Since they disapprove of many of the solutions proposed for global warming, they pretend it's not a problem rather than acknowledge the clear and present danger, using every trick in the book to spread disinformation about the established science.

I repeat: They are not honest disputants. I have personal knowledge of this from reading Fred Singer and Dennis Avery's abusive book (blogged here), which I chose because it was promoted by Chicago's local denialist outfit, the Heartland Institute. No one could cherry-pick the refereed scientific literature as Singer and Avery do without knowingly committing intellectual perjury.

Monday, December 10, 2007

ChicagoAncestors.org

The Internet Scout Report has discovered the Newberry Library's intriguing map-based site ChicagoAncestors.org:
First-time visitors to the site can just go ahead and type in a street
address or browse through the online collections which are culled from a
variety of local institutions. In the "Tools" area, visitors will find
address conversion tools [from the Chicago History Museum],
Chicago City Directory street guides, and a tutorial on researching
Chicago in the period before the fire of 1871. Visitors also have the
opportunity to add content information to this interactive resource
[actually, free registration is required to do this], which it should
be noted is open source.

Genealogists have in the past been known to collect birth, marriage, and death dates without paying enough attention to where these things happened. This geography-centric site is a wonderful antidote. Chicago researchers in particular will appreciate the scanned-in street guides from 1866, 1870, 1875, 1880, 1885, 1892, 1900, 1910, and 1923, and the ability to convert pre-1909 street numbers to today's system. (Of course, at the physical Newberry you can view microfilms of full city directories from these years and many more. Hmm, the family of my wife's first cousin three times removed lived at 346 West Walnut just off Western for a few years in the 1870s; now I know that that became 2344 West Walnut in 1909. I haven't been to check what's there now; let's see, Metrobot's not much help this time, but on the Center for Neighborhood Technology's City News Chicago site it looks like a big two-story building of 1948 vintage covers that address and several more...)

Oh. Sorry. You still here? I was going to say that while ChicagoAncestors has allowed registrants to submit new material since November 2, I couldn't find the help section that would tell you how.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

What should be the last word on the Mitt campaign

David Weigel at Reason's Hit and Run blog calls this the least convincing political quote of the week: "Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world." - Mitt Romney, Dec. 6

The candidate alludes to Mark 18:36 (King James Version), where Jesus is quoted as saying, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Careful readers will note that Jesus said nothing whatsoever about gaining the presidency.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The freelance state and the Reader's essence

The Reader got a fair amount of coverage for laying off four writers last week, myself included (there was some earlier when the creative and hard-working production department was outsourced and when the drivers were converted from employees to freelancers).

It's always nice to be agonized over; hear from long-lost friends, acquaintances, and colleagues; and mull over how on earth journalism is going to be paid for. But much of the paper has always been written by freelancers, and losing my job gave me a chance to chat with one of the best, Lee Sandlin, who has a gorgeous
web site. IMO any list of the ten best stories the Reader ever published should include "The Invisible Man," AKA the cat story. You don't have anything better to do today than read it.

And while you're there, the site's
dedication offers quite a different take on (a) the paper's currently embattled editor, and (b) the single quality that -- more than any individual writer -- has made it special over the years: the willingness to break our own rules if that's what it takes to bring you good reading.

It's not for me to say whether the Reader can get along without Conroy and Marlan and Bogira and me. But to the extent that it loses that willingness -- which has dwindled but not vanished in recent years -- it will be walking dead, no matter who's on the masthead.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Poetry Friday

On my last day at the Reader, I yield the floor to fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry, from The Country of Marriage (buy it, you won't be sorry). Years ago, this one resided on the wall of our downstate outhouse, which looked out on just such a tree. Don't read it too fast.

THE OLD ELM TREE BY THE RIVER

Shrugging in the flight of its leaves,
it is dying. Death is slowly
standing up in its trunk and branches
like a camouflaged hunter. In the night
I am wakened by one of its branches
crashing down, heavy as a wall, and then
lie sleepless, the world changed.
That is a life I know the country by.
Mine is a life I know the country by.
Willing to live and die, we stand here,
timely and at home, neighborly as two men.
Our place is changing in us as we stand,
and we hold up the weight that will bring us down.
In us the land enacts its history.
When we stood it was beneath us, and was
the strength by which we held to it
and stood, the daylight over it
a mighty blessing we cannot bear for long.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

"Creative destruction" for you and me

Economist and blogger Brad DeLong talks about his favorite economist:

"Marx saw that the coming of capitalist economies destroyed all feudal, traditional, and patriarchal relationships and orders. [Joseph] Schumpeter saw farther: that market capitalism destroys its own earlier generations. There is, he wrote, a constant 'process of industrial mutation -- if I may use that biological term -- that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in, and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.'"

Not to mention its employees.