Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November 4, continued

There were a quarter million people downtown celebrating on November 4, but I made it into the paper! Well, sort of: my friend Sarah found a picture of me in the user-submitted section of the Chicago Tribune's online coverage. Currently it's photo number 14 in the list that you can find by following the link here. Nicole is there, but only her forehead seems to have made the picture. The picture was submitted by a user named tonywint. Thanks tonywint, and thanks to Sarah for finding it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

November 4

So many things to say...it was simply the best day in American politics in my lifetime. We were fortune enough to get some of the free tickets to be there in Grant Park for the Obama victory celebration. However, as you can see from this picture, there were many many people there. We were in the large crowd off to the top right, and couldn't even see the stage. All we could see was the jumbotron broadcasting the results and the speeches.

When the West Coast polls closed CNN called the election for Obama and the place erupted. We were all cheering, hugging each other, crying...it was an incredible surge of emotion. I'm sure that with time we'll forget what this was like, and how momentous it seemed. Just for a moment, we could let go of our guilt. And in the days that have followed, I have felt that there is someone in charge who believes that it is important to take care of the future: my future, our future. Of course things like this can't be quantified, but I feel that maybe 15-20% of the unhappiness that I've felt over the last eight years can be attributed to the political direction that the country had taken and the lack of action on things that matter. Now I feel no bitterness towards Bush, just relief.

Just as it was hard to see, it was hard to get a picture of anything down there. There's a hat in the way here, but if you enlarge the picture you'll be able to see the crowd and get a sense of the scope of things. Obama has finished his speech here and you can see him with his family on the screen in the upper left.

Finally, you owe it to yourself to look at this sequence of photos, taken at a rally in Virginia. Hope indeed. Update: the original photographer has come forward: she's a 17-year-old named Nida Vidutis, and her site is here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gazing Globe I

I had an idea for what a younger kid might call an "art project" over the summer. Since we got a phenomenal camera as a wedding gift (thanks Auntie Di & Uncle Garth) and since Nicole decided my idea was worth pursuing and bought me the globe (thanks Nicole), this is the first of a series.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I spent last week in New York doing research, and I decided to take the train out from Chicago to get there. It was a 21 hour trip, which I decided to undergo to see our nation's rail network for myself. It was a worthwhile experience, involving some uncomfortable sleeping, an immigration raid that nabbed the woman sitting behind me, and some beautiful scenery (seen here) in upstate New York (Chicago to New York runs through Albany, and then south).

Here's what I liked: the cars were plenty modern, with lots more space than you would have on an airplane. They had footrests, you can obviously walk around the cars, and the seats recline well enough to sleep. If you were a couple and had seats next to each other, you could make a comfortable evening of it. There were two electrical outlets in each seat, so you could theoretically get some work done. Security was much less onerous than an airport, and it felt safe rather than threatening. It was cheaper than flying. The conductors were less stressed than flight attendants.

The problems are as follows: the train ride is not quite smooth enough to allow me to work efficiently, so I got to feeling a bit sick as I tried to write on my laptop. That's not good for a really long trip. There was far too much air conditioning, making it quite uncomfortable. When you can't quite stretch out to sleep, your feet fall asleep and wake you up. For too many long stretches, the train just sits there, not moving at all. It never seemed to go faster than 80 miles an hour.

Would I do it again? I've thought about it, and I'm still not sure. I felt that I could do it again right after I arrived, but I came down with cold symptoms for the two days that followed. I blame the frigid air I had blowing on me for 21 straight hours. If I could take away that problem, I'd think about it, but most people wouldn't and I wouldn't blame them either. To really begin to reduce flying and make it easier to reduce our impact on the environment, you need some functional long-haul service that's quite a bit faster. I used to think the United States was just to big to make that work, but I was convinced by this experience that that a really good rail network would work better than I had thought. Obviously there are some distances over which trains are faster than planes when you add in all of the time in airports. And train depots are generally more central to cities than airports, so that's another advantage. But even for long-haul, I think there's an opportunity that's being missed. Chicago to New York, for example, is about 800 miles, 1000 along the route through Albany that we took. If we had a serious rail network, you can easily have consistent speeds of 100 miles an hour. You could, like I did, begin at night, and go to sleep. I woke up in Buffalo and had to wait another 12 hours before hitting New York City. But if the trains had dedicated fast track, 100-120 miles isn't even particularly speedy by international standards. And you could put people to bed on long haul routes, and wake them up at their destination. Ten hours on a comfortable train designed for sleeping wouldn't be such a bad way to travel, and might not be such a bad trade with five hours of painful flying. Maybe someday.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On September 11, a picture of New York from the 10th story of the New York University main library, where I am doing some work right now.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


Noticed this mantis outside the other day. Kevin Drum blogs a picture of his cats every Friday...I'm thinking about starting Saturday mantisblogging. If I can find any more, that is. Which is unlikely.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Springfield Trip

Nicole and I and two friends drove down to capitol of the great state of Illinois on Saturday. Here's a picture of the Old Capitol Building, where Lincoln gave his "House Divided" speech. It turns out there were about 25,000 other people there that day too. Here's a picture of the Old Capitol.

And here's a hint of why we were there.

Infrastructure in Paris

I think that some Americans assume that Europeans have some kind of inherently superior way of living, and Americans are sort of inexplicably barbarous. I think that this is not right, and that what barbarism exists in the United States is perfectly explicable. Take for example this wonderful system of public bicycles that exists in Paris, although we weren't able to take advantage of it because we needed a special chip in our credit cards that we didn't have. For 29 euros a year, you can rent a bicycle at any one of these stations distributed throughout the city, every few blocks in the denser parts of town. So long as you return the bicycle within a short time (30 or 45 minutes, I can't quite remember), there's no additional charge. The longer you keep the bicycle, the longer you accrue additional costs, designed to increase exponentially to keep the bikes in circulation. Lots of people use this system to get around, and of course there is a fine metro system, and a good higher speed rail system. The investment in public infrastructure is remarkable by American standards.

And yet: people in Paris still drive a lot. They drive smaller cars, generally, that fit better on the streets. There are more scooter/Vespa type vehicles, mini-cars, and the like. All of these, naturally, get better gas mileage than the generally larger fleet we have in the United States. And guess what? Since the price of gas has risen in the United States, people have been looking to downsize their cars. Even still, because of taxes, gas in Europe costs twice as much as it does in the United States, and has for a long time. This has resulted in a better balance between cars, trains, bicycles...the full range of transportation options. And the United States is responding in similar ways to Europeans to similar inputs. Indeed, Washington DC has introduced such a system, and Matthew Yglesias, as usual, has some good suggestions about how to make it really work. I would only add that there are two reasons why biking is safer in Paris than in a US city, and it's not simply that Parisian drivers are more accustomed to sharing the road (although that's part of it). It's also that, in between parking spaces and sidewalks, there are curb-separated spaces designated exclusively for bikers, particularly along major boulevards. Also, driving speeds struck me as somewhat lower overall, so where bicycles are sharing the road, the chance of an accident, particularly a fatal one, are somewhat lower. We need to move in that direction, and I think there's reason to believe that, responding to the higher price of energy, we will.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Well that sort of speaks for itself!

Photo credit: Uncle Garth

Friday, August 01, 2008


So, I had to go to this library (named after former President Francois Mitterand) to get an ID card to go to an archive that interested me. There are four towers (you see two in the picture, there are two more behind me) that are L-shaped and supposed to look a bit like open books.

It's a nice facility, to be sure, and a pleasant, modern part of Paris. But you have to pay to use the library. The more days you want to use it, the more you have to pay. I believe that this is deeply wrong. This is the national library of the country.

More about what is right and what is wrong with France in a future post.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


It has been a busy month what with getting married and all, but I still don't have any pictures of that day's events. I was otherwise occupied.

Nicole and I are now in Paris, and I'm doing some work at the archives of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. UNESCO headquarters are found at the opposite end of the old fairgrounds (and behind the Ecole Militaire) from the Eiffel Tower. Here you can see the UNESCO globe and the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Iowa floods

Everyone I know in Iowa is doing fine and no one's house should be flooded. That said, if I still lived where I lived from grades 2 through 6, I'd pretty much be under water. Most of the route that I used to take to elementary school is a river. University of Iowa buildings where I used to work are being extensively sandbagged in anticipation of the rising waters. This is being spoken about as a 500-year flood.

See Iowa City's Press Citizen newspaper and the Des Moines Register for photos.

Best wishes to everyone in Iowa for a quick end to the flooding and a productive recovery.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Happy a few days after International Workers' Day

The University of Chicago's economics department is famous for its conservatism, especially in the era when Milton Friedman was its most notorious member. In those days the economics department was housed in Pick Hall (they've now moved across the Midway), seen in the background here. There's a sculpture in front of Pick Hall, by Italian artist Virginio Ferrari, that at first seems merely to be an abstract installation. But legend has it that on May Day, at noon, the sculpture casts on the ground the symbol of international Communism, the hammer and sickle, as if to taunt the free marketers inside the building. The artists says he didn't intend for this to happen, but you can be the judge. I took this picture around 11:00 on May Day. At the link below you can see what it would have looked like at noon.

Hat tip to Chicago Public Radio.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Epiphyte Club

From the United States Botanic Garden, the root system of an epiphyte that I thought would look interesting. I have a widescreen laptop so I took it with those proportions.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rivane Neuenschwander, three times fast

I went to DC's modern art museum this weekend, and I particularly liked a video installation by the Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander. You can see a description of it here. I wonder if she (and her collaborator) had to cover the confetti in honey or something to get the ants to clean up our human mess.

There's some more of her art here and here. The latter one is quite interesting because it's owned by MoMA; MoMA's director for many years was Nelson Rockefeller, who was also the head of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs during World War II, which sent Walt Disney to Brazil on goodwill tours during the war, which led to the creation of the Ze Carioca character, which Rivane's work criticizes/satirizes/comments on.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spring means capital fun

God made two things inherently beautiful, and I think I know why: flowers, to be attractive to bees, and derelict buildings in rural settings, to be attractive to looters. These are probably the easiest things to photograph in the world. The degree of difficulty is very low, though. It's very hard to do something surprising in those settings.

Thus most flower and derelict building photographs are mediocre. Nothing wrong with that: mediocre art is pretty, and pleasing for being so. But good art succeeds in showing us something in a new way, in getting us to see the familiar as something strange. That's why I'm not a good photographer yet, just a mediocre one. That's OK - I'm still thinking about how to get better. And if photography is my medium--and it has to be, since I can't draw or paint my way out of a Cubist-themed dance party--it's not going to be an easy one. "Photorealism" is inherent to the genre and to the technology, so it makes it challenging to produce something good, at least using the definitions laid out above. (Think about it: some of the best photographs you've ever seen use blurring or double-imagery or some other camera trick, pushing aside photorealism in favor of something genuinely illuminating.) Some of Nicole's best pictures, using light or lines in an unexpected way, achieve this. I'm still working on it.

But hey, it's springtime and I'm in Washington DC for two weeks of research! The bees have sprung fully formed from the ether, the cherry blossoms are falling to the ground, and open windows allow us to be irritated by our neighbors' behavior in ways that we had forgotten we could be over the long winter. Few things I like more, at such a juncture, than a walk in the woods, in this case DC's Whitehaven Parkway, near Georgetown University. The result: mediocre photographs. Sorry.

PS: There's another way to take good photographs, namely, to take them of people. Human beings are often quite interesting when frozen in time. But I don't have the social fortitude to do that. So I'll have to think of something else.

PPS: I didn't mean it about God; I meant the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

PPPS: I did try to take "good" pictures. I found these mushrooms on a log. The result is maybe mediocre+.

PPPPS: I went out twice today, and got rained on twice. It's been sunny the rest of the day. What does this mean? God didn't like my Flying Spaghetti Monster joke? But I hadn't even made it yet...but it's God...maybe he knew I'd make it.

PPPPPS: Maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster didn't like my God reference in line 1, and that's why I got rained on.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Indiana picture, part II

On the way back from Grandma's, we drove through Brown County in central Indiana. It's the...Napa Valley (?) of central Indiana, so it should be beautiful. It is also, however, the ugliest time of year. It was warm, though, and we stopped for a walk in a state park. I set myself the challenge of finding beautiful things in these moments that are post-snow but pre-wildflowers. I decided to seek out interesting textures, and to use close-ups as much as possible.

Vote for your favorite in comments.
No. 1:

No. 2:

And no. 3:

Indiana picture, part I

During Nicole's spring break, we went to my grandmother's in Indiana, where it has been raining and raining and raining. On the drive down, it was not raining, but it was cloudy. Spectacularly so, in fact. Nicole "demanded" that I take pictures. Some of the results were good. Thanks Nicole; thanks little camera.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Museum pictures

Recent comments clamor for more pictures of Nicole, and I can provide! Here are her feet on a crazy floor at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Nuts 4 Nuts

Nicole's here now and, as we walked through Central Park today, we found a Nuts 4 Nuts stand! Since this blog's primary contribution to world knowledge came in the form of explaining Chilean Nuts 5 Nuts vendors, we celebrated with a photo. And some sugary cashews.

Table for snow

Here's another one from that snowy day when I arrived in New York. This week I worked in the Yale special collections in New Haven and in the Rockefeller Foundation archives in Sleepy Hollow / Tarrytown. The Rockefeller Foundation archives are in the old mansion of Mr. Rockefeller's second wife. It's a huge house with some beautiful flooring and staircases, furniture, etc. At one point I was staring at three paintings on the wall that I liked a great deal before realizing that the signature in the corner said Marc Chagall. Go figure.

Friday, February 22, 2008


So I've made it to New York City, my base of research operations for the next couple of weeks. Today I went to the public library's main humanities and social science branch (the famous one with the lions), to consult the special collections there. Research was good, but they didn't open until 11:00 and I stupidly arrived at 8:30. Fortunately it was snowing - heavy, wet flakes that built up quickly. I took some pictures in Bryant Park, just behind the library and a few blocks from Times Square if you know your way around Manhattan. (I don't, but I do know how to get to Bryant Park now.)

There's something about New York that looks good in black and white, so those are the tones for today's picture.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I think I'm done with my research here in Ithaca, so it's on to New York where there are five or six sites that I need to consult. I don't have any new photos from today, so I'll post another one from yesterday - one that shows the scale of the waterfalls shown below. I was standing on the bridge you see at the left, more or less showing what happens to the lake once it begins to fall away. Cornell University used to use this waterfall for hydraulic power, thus the deteriorating building on the right, which is almost my favorite part of the view.

After work today I walked down the hill about a mile to Ithaca's downtown, where I had dinner at the Moosewood Restaurant, surely the world's most famous vegetarian restaurant...although...actually...it's not a vegetarian restaurant. But they do serve the world's most famous vegetarian food! One of the restaurant ideas I like best is to offer only 4 entrees, but change the menu twice a day, every day. Tastes like the cookbook!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Two Gorges. Damn!

That's right, there are two gorges on either side of Cornell's campus. The one that I saw yesterday is much smaller than the one I saw today, so they are not to be considered equal.

The archives close for an hour at lunch, so I'm forced to go wandering about for 40 minutes after I've had something to eat. Not a bad find for the day.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ithaca is Gorges

Perhaps you have seen the phrase "Ithaca is Gorges" on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt somewhere. My arrival in Ithaca has, unfortunately, coincided with the death of the man who coined that semi-famous phrase. But here I am, in Ithaca, at the beginning of a three-week dissertation research trip. I've never been here before, and in reminds me of home in Iowa, except somewhat more prosperous and somewhat prettier. For one thing, its woodsier: less of the land has been given over to agriculture. For another, it's less flat. Cornell University is situated at the top of the hill around here, and this administration building is more or less then top of campus. It's nothing too steep, but anyone mounting an attack on the campus with a bicycle brigade would certainly be slowed by its insistent verticality.

It hardly seems fair that glaciers should have left my corners of the Midwest with fewer undulations than a heart monitor hooked up to a pickle and this place with lakes, furrows, and waterfalls all around. But so it goes. Indeed, I learned today that the campus of Cornell University is more or less squinched between two gorges. I walked over one on my way to the library today, but it was impossible to get a really good photograph of it. I'll go to the other one tomorrow and see if I can get a better one. It also snowed tonight, so things should look a good deal more wintry. That's probably for the best.

Friday, January 18, 2008

New pantry shelving

So, after we did the floors in the pantry the shelves looked woeful. They were warped, wrapped in ugly faux-wood paper, and wedged into a crumbling wall. So they became the target of the latest condo modernization project, and perhaps the last one of any great significance: the previous owners did a lovely job with the kitchen and the bathroom, leaving only the pantry in a state of yuck. Here is the way things were, taken without flash to exaggerate the ugliness. The first picture shows in the inside of the pantry with from the kitchen. When you walk into the pantry and look to the left, you see the view in the second picture.

The old shelving had been attached with old wood nailed to the wall, and much of this wood was splintering, and much of the plaster was crumbling. I decided to remove the wood from the wall. Since it was in truly bad shape, chunks of wall came off with the planks. The next step was, then, to spackle and compound the wall back to health and even things out a bit, followed by coats of paint to make that side of the wall match its opposite, which we had painted when we replaced the floors. Because we didn't want the wall to support the new shelving, we bought a freestanding unit. It cost more, but seems much more stable. We're more organized, have a lot more storage space, and are finished with our pantry renovations!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A hard rain has a'gonna falled

I wasn't sure how to take a picture of a rainstorm in the dark, so I took a picture of a streetlight reflected in a giant puddle in the middle of the street. I don't think this experiment was a success, but you expect illustrations around here so you get it anyway. The amount of leafy detritus this time of year means that any heavy rain washes a great deal of it towards the drains...which then clog. There were 4-5" inches of standing water on my street until I went out with a neighbor and a shovel and unclogged the drain, removing at least 50 pounds of soggy leaves in the process (there were many many more pounds to be had, but the bag couldn't take any more.) The puddle began to shrink before our eyes, until we can the only dry corner for blocks.

P.S. I know I'm always on about how weather systems in these climes are chaotic, and there are natural random fluctuations that lead to unexpected and extreme weather events each year, and that, although these are "extreme", they are still normal. Similarly, if you flip a coin 1000 times, you expect to have some long runs of heads in a row in there...if you didn't get any sequences of 8 or 9 heads in a row over that amount of time it would surprise you and tip you off that perhaps the coin wasn't fair. So some apparently anomalous things are normal. All that said: it should not be 65 in January, there should not be tornadoes, and this rain should probably be a lot of snow. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt and laughing it up, as a local weatherman did, is not endearing. It's sick.