Monday, February 28, 2005

Nordic World Championships - Last Day

The Nordic World Championships ended with a bang, and Norway's dominance was confirmed.

Janne Ahonen's individual gold on the high hill seemingly positioned Finland well for the team HS137 ski jumping event, but Austria won handily, just as they had on the normal hill earlier. Led by Martin Hollwarth, who jumped 138 and 138.5 meters, the Austrians beat silver-medalist Finland (for whom Ahonen made a stunning 142.5-meter jump) and bronze-medalist Norway. (The Norwegians had gone out drinking after jumping miserably in the normal hill team event, and apparently the boozing helped them fly off the large hill.)

Like the team jumping event, the final nordic combined event, the sprint, saw a champion recapitulate his success. Germany's Ronny Ackermann had jumped well enough in the morning to start the ski race in second position, whereupon he outraced Norwegians Magnus Moan and Kristian Hammer to seize the gold. With two golds in the individual events and a silver in the nordic combined team event, Ackermann was Germany's most successful athlete at the championships.

The climactic event of the championships was the men's 50km ski marathon, contested in the classic or diagonal style. Always a war of attrition, the 30-mile event took place in a heavy snowstorm that slowed the racers and ensured that a big group would be in the hunt for the podium spots. At the 42.5km mark, only four seconds separated the top twenty racers - a tighter margin than had existed at 27.5km . Taking a cue from their compatriot Marit Bjorgen, three Norwegian skiers broke away from the lead group on the race's final climb and then fought to reach the line first. Ultimately, Frode Estil won by less than a second over Anders Aukland and 1.4 seconds over Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset.

Thanks to the hat trick in the marathon, Norway won exactly half of the dozen cross-country skiing events and collected 19 medals in total, far outpacing Germany and Russia (7 medals each, both with 2 golds). Among all the medal-winning countries, Canada was the only non-European nation to win a medal. The 2007 championships will be in Sapporo, Japan, where the host nation and China may have outside chances at medals.

Tennis, Anyone?

After I finally learn to play tennis, don't let me play here, okay? Scary.

(Link courtesy of Gulfstream.)

Copper Country Fun

Every now and then, I like to check out the newspapers for the two Upper Michigan towns where I grew up: the Daily Globe of Ironwood and the Daily Mining Gazette of Houghton/Hancock. Today's papers feature these reminders as to why the U.P. just ain't for everyone:

Boy dies in tubing accident
A Green Bay, Wis., boy died and his mother was injured when the tubes they were sledding on crashed into Caribou Lodge at Powderhorn Mountain Ski Resort Friday night.

Weekend hunt successful
The Keweenaw Peninsula has 12 less coyotes and one less fox after the first-ever Predator Hunt was held over the weekend. (Note the picture - that's livin'!)


Saturday, February 26, 2005

Nordic World Championships - Late Results

Well, it's been quite a couple days at the Nordic World Championships in Oberstdorf, capped on Saturday by what might be the greatest-ever performance at the championships, that of Norwegian ace Marit Bjorgen.

After some surprises earlier in the championships, ski jumping returned to form on Friday as World Cup leader Janne Ahonen won gold on the large hill. The event was delayed due to low visibility, but once it was under way, numerous jumpers launched flights long enough to assume temporary leads. But no one could match Ahonen's pair of jumps, which were two of the day's longest at 141.5 meters and 142.5 meters (just under and just over 155 yards). Norwegian Roar Ljoekelsoey won the silver and Jakub Janda of the Czech Republic took the bronze. Several pre-event favorites jumped too poorly to seriously challenge for a medal, including the Pole Adam Malysz and the normal-hill champion, Rok Benkovic. Ahonen's win was a triumphant return to form after a long bout with the flu.

On the cross-country trails, one athlete's dominance was no less evident: that of Marit Bjorgen. On Friday, Bjorgen and teammate Hilde Pedersen won the women's 6 x 0.9km team sprint, a new event at the World Championships. Each team's two skiers alternate laps around the short sprint course, which makes for lots of exchanges, many changes of the leader, and much racing through the stadium. In the five-team final, Russia's Julia Tchepalova caught Pedersen midway through the penultimate, fifth leg and endowed the Russian anchor, Alena Sidko, with a sizable 3.4 second lead over Bjorgen. But the Norwegian tore off in pursuit, catching Sikdo on the final climb of the last lap and then descending smoothly to sweep into the stadium and over the finish line for the gold medal. In her wake, Sidko faded badly, allowing Finn Pirjo Manninen to sprint past for the silver. The team sprint gold redeemed Bjorgen's abysmal performance in the individual sprint event, where she failed to make it out of the qualifying heats.

But Bjorgen was not finished. On Saturday, she raced in the longest women's event at Oberstdorf, the 30km classic-style race. There, too, she won in dramatic fashion, earning her fifth medal at the championships. The 30km race evolved slowly. At the halfway point, about 14 skiers were within three seconds of the leader. With 5km left to race, most of that group was still in the hunt. With the racers in that small group jockeying for position, it was Bjorgen who seized control, dashing up the day's final climb and leaving all but Virpi Kuitunen of Finland and Natalia Baranova of Russia well back. Bjorgen stretched her lead to nearly 9 seconds over Kuitunen, who earned the silver, and 10 over Baravova, who recovered from an early fall to keep the bronze. Bjorgen's two wins might be related to other athletic feats - perhaps a track-and-field athlete winnning the 400m dash on one day and the marathon the next or a bike racer - Lance Armstrong, for instance - winning a short time trial one day and a long mountain stage the next. Analogies aside, Bjorgen's wins were a nearly impossible physical and mental accomplishment for arare athlete.

The men's team sprint went to Norway as well, albeit in less dramatic fashion. Tore Ruud Hostad and Tor Arne Hetland won going away, with Germany in second and the Czech Republic in third. Norway had beaten the Germans in the 4 x 10km relay earlier in the week. With the men's 50km race the only remaining cross-country event at Oberstdorf, it remains to be seen if one of the male sprinters can duplicate Bjorgen's feat.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Nordic World Championships - Men's Relay

The men's 4 x 10km relay was the stunning race everyone expected - and for which the host Germans hoped. The big-time relays almost always include something bizarre or amazing, from equipment failures to a famous moment in the 2002 Olympic relay, when the two leaders briefly stopped at the top of the final hill to argue about who would descend first and who would take the second spot, from which a final charge to the line would be easier to mount.

As usual, the first leg of the 2004 men's relay was a big shake-out, with Norway, Russia, Italy, and Germany separating themselves into a leading pack. On the second leg, Norway and Russia started to pull away, putting nearly a minute into third-place Italyafter two legs and 20km of racing. (At this midpoint of the race, the skiers switch from classical to freestyle technique.) On the third leg, Norway and Russia stayed way off the front, but the race for third tightened, with Italy slipping back and Germany and France coming up.

The fourth and final leg of the race was where the real action commenced. Norway's anchorman, Torre Ruud Hofstad, had a 2.7-second lead over Russia as he started his leg of the race; the Russian Nikolai Bolchakov in turn had 53 seconds on Italy and 1:32 on Germany. But as Hofstad extended his first-place lead, German anchorman Axel Teichmann went wild behind him, catching not only the Italian skier in the bronze-medal spot but also outsprinting Bolchakov for the silver. With a few more kilometers, Teichmann might have even caught Hofstad, who finished just 18 seconds ahead of the German. As it was, Teichmann's medal-stealing performance clocked in at 23:41 - one of only two sub-24-minute legs on the day and a pace of 15.7 mph.

(Full coverage on Yahoo!, the Oberstdorf championships website, and Eurosport.)

Friday's big events at the championships are the men's and women's team sprints and ski-jumping on the large hill.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

War: Live or Memorized?

It's not only American men who love military reenaction. Turns out, Russians and Finns like it, too, though they recreate their countries' conflicts during World War II, not so-long-ago-as-to-be-meaningless conflicts like the American Civil War.

Nordic World Championships - Nordic Combined Team Competition

The team competition in the nordic combined discipline - which mixes ski jumping in the morning with a 4 x 5km cr0ss-country skiing relay race in the afternoon - went to Norway, whose athletes were peerless on both the hill and the trails. With a monstrous 136.5 meter jump in the morning, Petter Tande put the Norwegian quartet in first place over Austria and a surprising U.S. team. The strong German team was in fifth, just behind a disappointing Finnish team. After the points accumulated in the ski jumping event were translated into staggered starts on the cross-country race, the Norwegians started the relay with a 19 second lead over Austria, which in turn had 17 seconds on the U.S.

Once on the ski trails, the four Norwegians raced well, and maintained their lead over all four legs of the relay. Anchorman Kristian Hammer kept a slim 7-second lead alive over this final leg of the race and gave the Norwegian team the gold. Fading badly, the U.S. team slipped from third to fifth. On the other hand, Germany's team flew over the trails, catching not only the U.S. but also Finland (which ended the event in fourth) and Austria. German anchorman Ronny Ackermann slipped over the finish line just ahead of the Austrian Felix Gottwald, giving the Germans the silver.

(Full coverage on Yahoo!, the Oberstdorf championships website, and Eurosport.)
The past couple weeks have seen some interesting maneuvering between Iran, China, and the United States. On the one hand, we have Bush in Europe. He's already told the European Union that it should not remove the arms embargo on the People's Republic of China: "Bush administration officials are most concerned that lifting the embargo would allow the Europeans to sell such advanced technology to the Chinese that they will be able to move to a 'next generation' warfare capacity and develop the kind of sophisticated military systems that the United States has used in Afghanistan and Iraq." (So effectively, too!)

Bush also has parallel views on how to handle Iran's nuclear program, announcing his support "for European efforts to negotiate an agreement with Iran to abandon any move to produce nuclear weapons. But he offered no American commitment to join the talks, which the Europeans have wanted, saying that Iran 'needs to be held to account, not any of us.'" (Of course it's the mullahs who are erring.)

Underneath all of this rhetoric, China and Iran are growing closer, and nowhere more so than in energy: China needs it and Iran has it. "After nearly a year of talks with Iranian oil officials, China's Sinopec Group is set to sign the biggest deal Iran has negotiated in a decade. Its ripple effects over the next few years are likely to extend far beyond Iran's balance sheet. The long-term alliance with the world's fastest-growing economy could give the mullahs in control greater international security than they have enjoyed since the Islamic revolution 26 years ago. It could also seriously challenge the options open to Iran's bitterest foe—the Bush administration."

Geopolitics: Not Just for Bushes Anymore.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Nordic World Championships - Sprints

The men's and ladies' (in the parlance of the international ski federation) sprints were staged today in Oberstdorf. The sprints are interesting as spectator events, being staged in a 16,000-seat stadium, and as counterpoints to the far longer races that comprise the majority of nordic competition, from 5km for women and 15km for men all the way up to 30km for women and 50km for men.

On the women's side, the first surprise came early: Marit Bjorgen had won all but one sprint race over the last 17 months, but today she failed to advance beyond the qualifying heats. Instead, Sweden placed three skiers in the final, accompanying one Canadian. (That four skiers race for the three medals is another nasty twist to the sprint races.) Emelie Oehrstig had won each of her preliminary heats, and swept to victory in the final by a whopping 1.3 seconds. She covered the 0.9km course in 2 minutes, 15 seconds - about 15mph. With Lina Andersson in second, Canadian Sara Renner finished third, giving her country its first nordic world's medal and winning the first medal by a non-European at these championships.

In the men's final, the racing was even tighter. Vassili Rotchev of Russia and Tor Arne Hetland of Norway (a former Olympic gold medalist in the sprint race) fought it out, with the Norwegian seeming to seal up the win by outclimbing and outdescending the Russian on the final hill. But Rotchev made up the distance on the runout to the finish line and poked his foot across in first place, two-hundredths of a second ahead of Hetland. The top pair averaged about 17.5 mph over the 1.2km course. Swede Thobias Fredriksson, the defending world champ, finished third, nearly 7 seconds back, while fourth went to Bjoern Lind, whose improperly-waxed skis made it impossible for him to compete with the top three.

(Fuller coverage of the races on Yahoo!, the Oberstdorf event website [men - women], and Eurosport.)

Monday, February 21, 2005

A Week Off Would Be Just the Thing

This is kind of related to skiing, but I think it's related more closely to the swelling interest in work-life balance in America - specifically, women's - that has been sparked by Judith Warner's new book, A Perfect Madness. (On After School Snack, the other place I blog, Elise has written two posts on the book.) Anyhow, in Finland, schoolkids get a week off in the middle of February, and Finland being a cold, snowy place, many Finns head north to go skiing. As my granddad would say, "Holy mackerel." That's the kind of "choice" I could endorse in an "ownership society."

More Gadgets!

The Top 100 Gadgets of All Time, at least according to MobilePC magazine. Their criteria are suspect, but more than that, they're frighteningly focused on the 20th century - hell, the period since 1950. They do include a few older things - the abacus, the sextant, the marine chronometer, the telephone, but c'mon. The repeating rifle? The television? Did I miss those?

Life may be random, but Apple gadgets are certainly cool.

Okay, so I see I'm going a little nuts with the nordic skiing coverage. At least I haven't mentioned the Birkebeiner. Gosh. Anyhow, back to another favorite subject: Apple. I finally set up my wife's iPod Shuffle today (13 days after she received it as a gift - the woman is impervious to technology!) and I must say it's a beautiful little gadget. It was easy to set up, easy to load, easy to charge (same thing, really), and easy to listen to. My favorite thing about it, though, is that when you snap the end cap over the USB jack, the seam where the Shuffle body meets the cap is almost invisible. Amazing design and engineering.

Nordic World Championships - Women's Relay (updated)

With the new week comes the marquee pair of events at the World Championships: the men's and women's relays. The relay-winning teams earn bragging rights for their countries as the best nordic-skiing nations.

Today, Norway won the women's 4 x 5km relay, with Marit Bjorgen beating Julia Tchepalova to the line by 7.6 seconds. The two anchors had dueled over the whole leg, until Bjorgen attacked on the final climb and pulled away. The bronze medal went to Italy, and defending relay champions Germany were knocked off the podium in fourth.

The women's and men's relays (the men's 4 x 10km takes place on Wednesday) are designed to appeal to spectators by putting much of the racing action in stadium, where the start, the leg changes, and the finish all occur. The relays bracket another favorite spectator event: the men's and women's classic-style sprints, which happen on Tuesday.

(In other news, Finland is having a tough go at the championships...)

Tours de Stuff

First off, I'm glad Armstrong's going to ride in the Tour de France this year, seeking his seventh consecutive win. Just to review, Lance currently has more TdF wins than anyone else in event history. If past races are any indication, this year's tour looks good for Armstrong, featuring lots of climbing throughout the race and emphasizing teamwork.

Second, I think this is brilliant: "a 'Tour de Ski' in 2007 that would visit Germany, Switzerland, and Italy" and include a million-Euro jackpot.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Nordic World Championships - More Results

It was quite a weekend at the Nordic World Championships in Obertsdorf, Germany.

In the women's 15km pursuit - in which the skiers use the classic or "diagonal" style over the first half of the race before switching skis to use the freestyle or "skate" style over the second half - Julia Tchepalova of Russia won handily, relegating Norwegians Marit Bjorgen (the World Cup leader) and Kristin Steira to second and third, respectively. Bjorgen had led over much of the first 10km, but Tchepalova outmaneuvered her at the ten-k mark and skiied away to victory. Tchepalova had finished second by less than two seconds in the 10km race earlier in the week.

On the men's side, Italy continued to make a strong showing, with Giorgio Di Centa taking silver in the 30km pursuit. However, Frenchman Vincent Vittoz won that race in thrilling fashion, beating Di Centa and Frode Estil of Norway (who finished third) by just eight-tenths of a second. Vittoz's win gave France its first-ever cross-country gold. Just two weeks ago, Vittoz had been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, but further testing exonerated him.

On the jumping hill, Austria surprised many by winning the HS100 team competition, leaping beyond Germany and Slovenia. Finland, which has two of the top jumpers in the world on its squad, managed only fourth after its ace, Janne Ahonen, received poor style points on his 97-meter jump in the final round. (Ahonen has notoriously bad form, but rarely is punished with low style points.) The Austrians were led by Thomas Morgenstern, who landed the day's only 100-meter jump, and Martin Hoellwarth, who answered a 99-meter German leap with a 97.5-meter soar that clinched the gold medal.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Dream Houses

Wow - to someday live in a house like these...

Nordic World Championships - Jumping

An unknown Slovene, Rok Benkovic, outjumped the world in the HS100 event at the World Championships, relegating Bjorn Einar Romoeren to second and World Cup leader Janne Ahonen to third.

Tall Trees

Richard Preston has a long piece in the February 14, 2005, issue of the New Yorker on the tallest trees in the world, the coastal redwoods of Northern California. Preston's writing is almost painfully matter-of-fact, but he arrays a staggering amount of reportage and science in conveying the immense size and complexity of these amazing trees, which are less like your backyard pine tree than they are like islands or continents, if not planets.

Here's the magazine's blurb on it, which unfortunately sensationalizes the article:
Richard Preston on going up more than three hundred feet into a tree with the botanist Steve Sillett (“Climbing the Redwoods,” p. 212), who was the first scientist to map the canopy the two-thousand-year-old redwoods create, which turned out to be very different from the way scientists envisioned it. Preston reports that “on July 30, 2000, an amateur redwood researcher...discovered what is currently believed to be the world’s tallest tree.” Now measuring three hundred and seventy feet and two inches, it is currently growing roughly four inches a year. Of climbing these enormous trees, Sillett says, “The thing I fear most is a falling branch that hooks on my rope. It would slide down the rope into me, and it would tear through my body cavity.”
If you have even the slightest interest in the natural world, the article is well worth the price of the issue - which also contains a half-dozen other great articles.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Nordic World Championships - Early Results

Italy went 1-2 in the first men's cross-country event, the 15km freestyle race. Piller Cottrer won after putative silver-medalist Jens Filbrich fell in the last half-k of the race, a mishap which allowed Fulvio Valbusa to skate over the line in second, Norwegian Tore Ruud Hofstad to finish third, and four others to finish before poor Filbrich in eighth. Czech racer Katerina Neumannova won the first women's event, the 10km free, just ahead of Julia Tchepalova of Russia and overall World Cup leader Marit Bjorgen of Norway. Next up: the women's 2 x 7.5km double pursuit on Saturday and the men's 2 x 15km double pursuit on Sunday.

In the men's HS100/15K nordic combined event, German Ronny Ackerman went Armstrong on the lead pack, sweeping from third to first on a downhill in the last 2000m of the race and holding on for the race win, which in turn became an event win. Ackerman has finished well in the wind-marred jumping portion of the event, positioning him for the overall win if he finished well in the cross-country race. Ackermann's German teammate, Bjoern Kircheisen, finished second, just ahead of Felix Gottwald of Austria. Americans Todd Lodwick and Bill Delong finished well off the podium, as did overall World Cup leader Hannu Manninen of Finland, who jumped very poorly. Nordic combined resumes at midweek with the team competitions: 120m jumping and 4 x 5km relay. (Ski jumping begins on Saturday.)

[N.B.: This post edited for clarity, June 20, 2005.]

Is that a mirror?

Because I'm seeing myself in this.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Macleans has a good look at the growing practice of using product placement to help pay for television programs:

But increasingly, embedded advertising -- or "product integration" -- is becoming fundamental to how TV programs are conceived and produced. Corporations strike deals to have their brands built into the storylines of hit shows in order to piggyback on the emotional connections audiences have forged with the characters.
The article is an excellent review of the social and economic forces which are inducing television companies to "embed" products in the shows themselves. (Does that verb conjure up Gulf War II visions for anyone else?) For me, at least, the article also highlights why the web is just better than TV. You can use TiVo and regular old bathroom breaks to skip TV commercials, but not the junk that's embedded in the shows - especially when an Excursion's grille is right up in yours. On websites, I can either eliminate ads with pop-up killers or simply tune them out. The other day, I was interrupted while reading a Times article by a survey on one of their advertisers - one whose ads I had never even noticed. So much for my "mindshare."

The article also provokes more thought about the steady bifurcation of American society and culture into one realm for the elite and one for the rest of us - e.g., paid TV programming without embedded commercial content (but itself a product) versus free TV programming with such content. A few years back, I heard a scholarly paper which connected the 1990s expansion of express-delivery services like FedEx with the concurrent rise of private security firms offering both electronic and human security. The author argued that these two phenomena, along with others such as gated communities, indicated Americans' renewed comfort with the elite's explicit right to better services: overnight postal delivery, higher levels of personal security, improved medical care, greater access to political power. This right has always existed, but it had been tempered by populism and high middle-class living standards during much of the 20th century. I'm not sure if the historian's right, but it's an interesting idea that seems to align with this Maclean's piece.

Oil Jordan

Oh, goody. It turns out that, in an effort to help Jordan build up its oil reserves during the run-up to our invasion of Iraq, the United States helped Saddam Hussein circumvent the oil-for-food program - further enriching the guy just days before we started trying to kill him. But at least Ammanites could drive their VWs while we shocked and awed Baghdadis.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Nordic World Championships

Janne Ahonen plans to jump at this the world championships which start this weekend in Oberstdorf, Germany.

"Blog" is a funny word

A couple weeks ago, some friends and I were talking about the word blog and its oddity. Formed by combining web and log, blog is one of the few acronyms in English which combine contiguous parts of two separate words, rather than, say, the initial letter of several words. But as far as I can tell, blog is the only such English-language word.

Thinking more about this, I came up with three main categories of English-language abbreviation words. (You can look most of them up at

NATO, GATT, laser, radar, scuba

at the start: automobile, condominium, tabloid, carriage
in the middle: refri[d]gerator, influenza
at the end: omnibus, newspaper, airplane, kangaroo

web log

And I'm out - all the other words I think might be compound abbreviations are from other languages: SMERSH and Cheka from Russian; Gestapo from German... Are there other such words in English?

Nylon and on and on...

On February 16, 1937, a chemist at DuPont patented one of the first synthetic fibers, nylon. Happy birthday, nylon!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Monarcho-Libertariano-Anarchists Among Us

This is why higher education is the most interesting institution in modern America. According to this beautifully written piece by David Glenn in the indispensable Chronicle of Higher Education, a professor at UNLV, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, is demanding that the administration retract a disciplinary letter placed in his file after a student complained that the prof's economics lectures belittled gays. "In his lectures, Mr. Hoppe said that certain groups of people -- including small children, very old people, and homosexuals -- tend to prefer present-day consumption to long-term investment. Because homosexuals generally do not have children, Mr. Hoppe said, they feel less need to look toward the future."

Okay - quasi-homophobic, maybe. Somehow relevant to economic theorizing, maybe. Maybe not. (Was Alexander the Great not disposed toward the future?) And maybe the student is whining a little too loudly and unreflectively with sophomoric reasoning like this: "If it's speculation and it's an opinion, then it should not be inside the lecture. I'm there to get an education, and I'm paying for the course. If the professor is bringing in his opinion or bringing in speculation, then that's not true facts." That econ degree from UNLV didn't come with a side order of critical thinking, huh?

Anyhow, Hoppe is a far more than just an economic prof with an attitude. Or rather, his attitude goes further than just his ideas about gays and time preferences. Yes, it sure does. See, Hoppe's economics are those of the Austrian school, whose theoreticians, like Luwig von Mises, "were extremely skeptical toward all forms of taxation and state power." (See the article for a useful link to a Mises site.) Moreover, "Mr. Hoppe hastens to add that, while he prefers monarchy to democracy, he is not a monarchist. His ideal, he wrote in a 1995 essay, is a quasi-anarchistic system in which society is led by a 'voluntarily acknowledged "natural" elite' comprised of 'families with long-established records of superior achievement, farsightedness, and exemplary personal conduct.'" Wow. Talk about reactionary! Er, wait - talk about futuristic! Right this way, Jeb. Jenna, Barbara, can you stand just behind and to the right of your unka?

And where does this brave intellectual choose to work? In a country where a ruling family holds abolute power, like Saudi Arabia, Brunei, or Ruritania? Why, no, thanks for asking. He pulls down a salary at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a publicly-funded state university ($165 million in FY 2003). Of course Herr Hoppe does. A crypto-monarchist toiling in the stacks at a state school... I think I just heard the last gasp of the myth of the liberal academy. Michael Bérubé, are you listening, too?

IKEA? I hardly recognize ya.

Not everybody loves IKEA. I'd care, but those 15 meatballs and the three $9.99 chairs make me feel like not caring.

PR Problems

It turns out, shock of shocks, that the field of public relations is suffering a crisis of identity owing to certain of its practitioners' roles in propagandizing for the Bush administration. Well, duh. PR has always existed to "advocate" for corporate clients (a point made by the late historian Roland Marchand in Creating the Corporate Soul) and the current administration functions largely as the federal arm of American private industry. Stands to reason that the giant multinational PR/advertising firms would turn out to be neck deep in "advocating" for the government. We currently view corporations as legitimate institutions largely because, beginning in the early 20th century, PR experts adeptly depicted them as such. The historical point, as usual, is that it wasn't always so. Who knows - maybe it won't be so in the future.

Edifying Edifices at Northwestern University

Back in the day, I walked across the Northwestern University campus and thought, "God, I'd love to go to school here." The buildings and grounds are almost uniformly gorgeous, whether they're 80, 40, or 2 years old. The NU library now has a cool site on the history of many campus buildings, including the old Patten Gymnasium, the site of the first NCAA basketball tournament in 1939 (no, Duke didn't make the Final Four); the Shakespeare Garden, supposedly the best spot for outdoor trysting on campus; the Technological Institute, the biggest building on campus; and the Lakefill which allowed NU to expand in the only direction it could - east, into Lake Michigan.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Nordic Weekend

The big news in ski jumping this weekend was that the debut of the Olympic venue in Pragelato, outside Torino, wasn't a good one: the site is ugly and windy, which makes jumpers and spectators unhappy. I hope all of those crazy Japanese, German, and Finnish fans make the trip. The competition itself was lackluster, not least because World Cup leader Ahonen didn't jump at all, but another Finn, Matti Hautamaki, won, leaving second and third to Michael Urhmann (GER) and Thomas Morgenstern (AUT).

On another note, Amerian Todd Lodwick is quietly having a fantastic season in the nordic combined discipline, which combines ski-jumping and cross-country skiing. Lodwick is currently in third, which is awesomely high for an American and which puts him in a good position for the world championships in Oberstdorf, Germany, this weekend.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ahonen Still Grounded

Still ill, Janne Ahonen won't jump for the second straight weekend. That leaves the podium wide open at Pragelato, Italy, where the Olympic jumping will occur next year. Ahonen's still way ahead of everyone else in the World Cup standings, but the number 2 and 3 spots are increasingly up for grabs as others can accumulate event wins.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Holy Murakami

I just started reading Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, one of those books that's been on my shelf for a long time, and I'm deeply impressed. Several laughs-out-loud, a few wonderful sentences, an engaging main character. Stuff like this:

"She needed something more noticeable. But I couldn't think of anything. Which is not to say that I didn't have any distinguishing characteristics. I owned a signed copy of Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain. I had a slow resting pulse rate: forty-seven normally, and no higher than seventy with a high fever. I was out of work. I knew the names of all the brothers Karamazov. But none of these distinguishing characteristics was external."

The Times has the book's first chapter online, as well as lots of other material on and by the author.

Teacher, You Suck

Stanley Fish does not like student evaluations of college teaching. No, sir: "The evaluation forms have been revised and supposedly refined, but in general the revisions have followed political and sociological trends rather than any advance in our understanding of what is and is not good teaching... The majority of the questions encourage and reward behavior that is at best questionable. Were students invited to share their ideas and knowledge? Given that the point of a course is to improve student knowledge, it makes some sense to gauge the extent (or lack) of it at the outset of instruction; but surely one doesn't want student knowledge to be a major ingredient in a course, and as for 'sharing' it, that is an activity that belongs in the coffee shop or dorm room, not in a classroom."

Asia America?

In its January 2005 issue, the online history journal Common-place runs a set of articles which strive to write an American history of the Pacific Ocean. It's a noble goal, and collectively the pieces do offer a backdrop to that amazing Fed-Ex receipt I have somewhere, the one that shows how my iPod left Shanghai on one day, arrived in Anchorage the next, and then made it to me in Minneapolis on the third. Then, silver and silk. Now, consumer electronics.

I thought five of the essays were especially good. John Demos' "Viewpoints on the Pacific Trade" is a set of typically impressionistic and novelistic sketches on post-1792 Americans' trading ventures in the Pacific, from seal-hunting in Alaska to silk buying in China. Peter Conclanis' "Pacific Overtures" examines the idea of the Pacific as "Spanish lake" by describing the "Manila galleon," the Spanish silver ships which shuttled silver from Acapulco to Manila and brought Chinese goods like silk back. (Here's more on the largest Manila galleon and more on Spanish maritime activities.) Their fabulous wealth drew the attention of other imperial powers, including Britain, which ultimately expanded its global empire into the Pacific and Indian oceans. Paul Mapp's "Silver, Science, and Routes to the West" explains how Imperial France's Pacific policy created huge wealth but also contributed to the coming of the Seven Year's War by generating imperial competition in the Pacific and led to France's cession of Louisiana to Spain after a water passage to the Pacific eluded explorers. Two good pieces - June Namias' "First Meetings in the North Pacific" and Gwenn Miller's "Russian Routes" - describe Russia's push into the North Pacific, including present-day Alaska, British Columbia, and California. This pair of articles do the best job of showing how the the Pacific Coast is effectively continuous from China and Kamchatka to the Aleutians and California. They also tell familiarly brutal stories of contact between Europeans and natives which happened to have occurred in the Northeast Pacific, not the Northwest Atlantic.

Cumulatively, the articles approach but do not quite achieve the goal of writing American history from a Pacific perspective (thus complementing the "Atlantic World" history so en vogue right now). They do make a good start in that direction, though, and all present interesting, accessible historical narratives that, in combination, also offer good perspectives on what Coclanis calls "the West's fixation on the Pacific Rim today."

Apple Invictus

An ecomium to Apple's latest products, the mini and the shuffle, and a prayer for their success in the war against Wintel. (Requires the free day pass.)

Right or Left? It's Academic (updated)

During last fall's elections, one deeply-buried theme of rightist commentators was the pernicious threat to liberty and free enterprise posed by the legions of allegedly left-wing scholars in American colleges and university. Some right-leaning scholars released some interesting but inconclusive and unconvincing studies of academics which purported to prove that the tweed crowd was in fact a full of crypto-communists. (In November, the Times published a useful review of two key reports.) Their implicit argument was that the best schools are the most left-wing and most effective at "indoctrinating" youth in the ways of heroes like Marx, Lenin, Castro, Minh, and Fonda. The debacle over Ward Churchill's comments on 9/11 offer more recent evidence of the right's view of the academy as a font of unpatriotic idiocy.

In a few posts on this blog, I added my two cents to the debate, arguing essentially that the few left-leaning profs in certain elite schools and in certain humanities departments are far outnumbered and outweighed by the innumerable neutral/"objective" or right-leaning profs in many schools, good and middling and bad, especially in the many business, engineering, law, and professional programs which consume the lion's share of the American undergraduate majors. (This point has been made by numerous other commentators.)

Now, in this month's Academe, the scholar Lionel Lewis complements this argument by showing, in a dry, sociological way, that in fact the allegedly left-most institutions - the Ivies and their ilk - have actually produced numerous graduates who have gone on to be some of the most warlike statesmen (and, now, thanks to C. Rice, women) who have ever served the American polity. Interesting stuff, and chilling, if you worry at all about how power breeds power.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Krafty Take on the Super Bowl

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Ernst Mayr, 1904-2005

The eminent biologist Ernst Mayr died earlier this week, aged 100. Mayr was as important to the field of evolutionary biology in the 20th century as Darwin had been in the 19th century. Among other accomplishments, he completed his PhD in just 16 months; published more than 700 articles (200 since her "retired" from Harvard in 1975) and fourteen books; named 24 bird species; fused genetics, geography, and biology into the predominant theory of evolutionary change, allopatric speciation; devised the most commonly accepted defintion of a species (a population of organisms which can interbreed, but cannot breed with other populations); and distinguished the history of biology from that of other sciences. Read more on Mayr here and here.

(August 21, 2005: Edited to alter incorrect date.)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Growing U.P.

People sometimes ask me what it was like to grow up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, since almost nobody's from there and relatively few people know anything about ti. Well, it's the kind of place where non-freezing weather is a crisis and where cougars run wild.

Tom Brady: Super Bowl Dominator

An excellent profile of Tom Brady which makes him out to be both an overachieving everyman and a modest demigod.

Greatest Finn Ever, part II

Field Marshall Carl Gustav Emil von Mannerheim, Finland's national hero, is the subject of a new exhibition in Russia, where he served in the czar's military for decades. The exhibit follows the selection of Mannerheim as the "Greatest Finn Ever" back in December, but it's also curious in that these two nations - one of which possessed the other less than a century ago, and which attacked the other twice just about sixty years ago - are so calmly sharing an icon like Mannerheim. Russia must be desperate for heroes. I'd love to see how the exhibit catalogue interprets Mannerheim for Russians.

New York capitalists' founding father

Even New York capitalists need a founding father, apparently. The New-York Historical Society's soon-to-close exhibit on Alexander Hamilton - part of a Hamilton boom which also includes Ron Chernow's recent biography - was, according to the historian Mike Wallace, a severely compromised work of public history.

Wallace's review of the exhibit is long and meandering, but it does a very good job of deconstructing both the physical exhibit - statues, guns, documents - and the underlying ideological argument: that Hamilton created the conditions for modern capitalism to emerge in the U.S. and thereby profoundly shaped our present society more than the better-known founding fathers.

As Wallace points out, drawing those causal connections across more than 200 years is dicey history and actually obscures the picture of Hamilton as a figure who was as deeply interested in furthering what we'd call free enterprise as he was in creating a kind of aristocracy in the new United States. And - again, as Wallace points out - those intersecting concerns are the same ones shared by 21st century plutocrats like those who bankrolled the exhibit and who currently hold the reins in Washington. Wallace's piece is thus an excellent oblique comment on how our capitalism-mad society is remaking its history.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Nordic Skiing - Current World Cup Standings (Men's)

1 Axel TEICHMANN (GER) - 548 points
#1 in distance standings
2 Vincent VITTOZ (FRA) - 434
#2 in distance standings
3 Rene SOMMERFELDT (GER) - 330
#3 in distance standings
4 Tor Arne HETLAND (NOR) - 327
#1 in sprint standings
5 Tobias ANGERER (GER) - 300
#5 in distance standings
6 Mathias FREDRIKSSON (SWE) - 271
#4 in distance standings
7 Vassili ROTCHEV (RUS) - 234
8 Jens Arne SVARTEDAL (NOR) - 222
#5 in sprint standings
9 Andrus VEERPALU (EST) - 214
10 Thobias FREDRIKSSON (SWE) - 200
#3 in sprint standings

1 Marit BJOERGEN (NOR) - 890 points
#1 in sprint standings
#2 in distance standings
2 Kristina SMIGUN (EST) - 518
#1 in distance standings
3 Katerina NEUMANNOVA (CZE) - 511
#3 in distance standings
4 Claudia KUENZEL (GER) - 476
#2 in sprint standings
#5 in distance standings
5 Hilde G. PEDERSEN (NOR) - 425
#4 in distance standings
7 Virpi KUITUNEN (FIN) - 285
8 Aino Kaisa SAARINEN (FIN) - 284
9 Kristin STEIRA STOERMER (NOR) - 265
10 Gabriella PARUZZI (ITA) - 263

American Trees + Finnish Companies = Paper

My dad, who drives all over the Upper Midwest delivering paper from plants in Northern Michigan, has pointed out the pervasiveness of Finnish paper companies in North America. See, for instance, the cluster of Stora Enso facilities around the upper Great Lakes, including two mills in Duluth.

This little facet of globalization is endlessly fascinating to me not least because the Finnish companies are operating in places - like northern Minnesota - where there are lots of Finnish-Americans, an odd sort of historical coincidence. And the Finns are only getting more bigger: "Forest product company UPM plans to build North America's largest paper machine in Minnesota." This machine must be a leviathan.

(As an underemployed academic's aside, it sure would be nice to get a research grant to write about the world paper industry...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Super Bowling

This just in: Bill Belichick is a genius.

Super Bowl prediction: Patriots 21, Eagles 19.

Irish Wallets Are Smiling

A lot of writing on national or regional economic development concerns Asia, especially China, but the Times takes a good look at the country which the Economist magazine says has the highest quality of life in the world: Ireland.

In a little more than a decade, the so-called Celtic Tiger was transformed from one of the poorest countries in Western Europe to one of the richest in the world. Its gross domestic product per person, not quite 70 percent of the European Union average in 1987, sprang to 136 percent of the union's average by 2003, while the unemployment rate sank to 4 percent from 17 percent.