January 2007
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Month January 2007

Welcome RNC Chairman Martinez!

Today’s email message from the RNC…ostensibly from "Senator Mel Martinez and Mike Duncan" rather than Ken Mehlman…announced the former gentlemen’s election as the new RNC chairmen.  The message, in case you missed it (or don’t have the stomach to have Republican broadcast emails delivered to your inbox on a frequent basis) started out:

Mark, last November was a challenging election.

OK, that’s a nice way to put it.   Most of us call it an "ass-kicking," as you did in 2000, 2002, and 2004, not to mention 1994.  But hey, whatever makes you feel good.  Oh wait, you do remember 1994…

In 1994, we stood on principle and won on an agenda worthy of America’s majority party – lower taxes, limited government, and reforming how Washington works. Too often last year, our message wasn’t about our principles. It was about a party that was in the majority, but seemed to have forgotten why.

In the interests of historical accuracy, let’s examine what the 1994 "principles" were, and how well the Republican have stood on them.  1994, if everyone recalls correctly, was the year that the new Congressional majority promised a "Contract with America."  Oddly, the Contract sounds pretty applicable to today’s situation, after 12 years of Republican congressional majority and nearly two terms of Republican control of the White House (I was going to use the term "occupation", but that cuts pretty close to the bone, doesn’t it?). 

"As Republican Members of the of the House of Representatives and as citizens seeking to join that body we propose not just to change its policies, but even more important, to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives.

That is why, in this era of official evasion and posturing, we offer instead a detailed agenda for national renewal, a written commitment with no fine print."

The "Contract with America" continues to promise themes of fiscal responsibility, good governance, and fidelity with the wishes of the American people.  I’ll leave to numerous other commentators how few of these promises were ultimately fulfilled.  But I can’t resist one little observation:  the Contract talked about "strengthening our national defense and maintain our credibility around the world."  Hmm….

Of more interest is which traditional Republican and conservative themes are not reflected in today’s GOP rhetoric.  You’ll notice that fiscal conservatism is not mentioned in Martinez’s list of 1994 priorities, despite its prominence as agenda item #1 in the 1994 Contract.  Long the critical cornerstone of Republican politics, Mr. Martinez feels like it’s just not in the top three anymore, I guess.  Indeed, fiscal discipline isn’t even mentioned in Martinez’s email until the second-to-the last paragraph, when he calls on the party faithful to listen to Bush’s State of the Union address tomorrow night.

Whereas "fiscal responsibility" is featured prominently by today’s Democratic leadership.  The best example of traditional conservative principles of public finance and stewardship is, in fact, Speaker Pelosi’s first speech of the 110th Congress:

"And the American people told us they expected us to work together for fiscal responsibility, with the highest ethical standards and with civility and bipartisanship.

"After years of historic deficits, this 110th Congress will commit itself to a higher standard: pay as you go, no new deficit spending. Our new America will provide unlimited opportunity for future generations, not burden them with mountains of debt.

It would be tempting to think that the Democrats come out looking good here.  But I’m going to draw a more cynical, citizen-oriented lesson instead:  both parties will promise whatever they expect will "sell" with the public, and they’re not particularly worried whether we remember those promises down the road.  In 1994, the Republicans sold the country on fiscal discipline, and failed massively and spectacularly to deliver it.  The Democrats actually did a reasonable job of delivering it at the Federal level in during the 1990’s, though this is likely because of the longest economic expansion in the 20th century rather than deliberate policy.  A rapidly growing tax base conceals a multitude of small sins.  So we can’t exactly rest on our laurels on this score.

Sadly, a constant, slowly growing, or even declining tax base doesn’t conceal your sins, and reveals much, especially when those sins are large and egregious.  To return to Mr. Martinez:

To regain the majority and retain the White House, we cannot just show that we want it more.

We need to prove to the American people that we deserve it more. We need to be proud of our principles, confident that our ideas are best for the nation….

In 651 days, everything is at stake – control of Congress and the Presidency. 2008 could be the year we win everything – or it could be the year we lose everything.

Notice that in paragraph two, Martinez does not say that "we need to be proud of actually delivering what we promise," or anything that sounds remotely like it.  Instead, he trumpets principles and ideas, not actions.  He tells us we need to proud of the things we cannot measure, and doesn’t mention anything that will be measurable by voters in 2008.

The Democrats gets to show whether their words are something we can count on.  The very same rhetoric used by Democrats today was deployed by Republicans in 1994, and in weaker form in later elections.  It meant nothing then, as the historical record shows.  Does the rhetoric of Democrats mean anything today? 

In 651 days, that very proposition is at stake, as Mr. Martinez reminds us.  2008 will be the year that Democrats demonstrate that they can overcome "politics as usual," or it’ll be the year that many of us conclude, if we have not already, that there is no real difference between the major parties except their momentary rhetoric and the political tactics involved in a specific election. 

At the moment, my bet is on the Democrats:  throughout the 20th century they have, at key moments, risen to the challenge of the Depression, the need to rectify 80 years of shameful Jim Crow evasion of the 14th amendment, and the need to adapt to fiscal discipline in the 1990’s with PAYGO, welfare reform, and the elimination of Reagan/Bush-era deficits.  If they rise to the challenge today, it will put the lie to the persistent rhetoric proffered by GOP politicians and a string of increasingly hapless party chairmen, anxious to rewrite their party’s history in order to sell a record of failure to a new generation of voters.

The Great Generator Project of 2007

The generator project is near its conclusion. Friday we finished up the installation and rewiring 15 circuits from the house to be protected by generator whenever main power fails. This can happen manually, or automatically whenever the transfer switch senses loss of external grid power. The system tested out quite well, and currently it’ll self-test once a week whenever I’ve got the system on automatic.

There’s a couple of followup items, however. I need to move the propane tank a bit further away to be perfectly in code; that’ll happen fairly soon after we figure out a plan for moving the thing (it’s nearly full and darned heavy). In order to do the rewiring we had to peel away drywall around the main and sub breaker panels, so I need that replaced and those walls repainted — not a big deal. I also need to re-drywall the deck room/exercise room, after this fall’s freeze and subsequent frozen plumbing removal.

The big one is that I discovered that my previous electrician ran my new office outlets (2 blocks of 4) off a circuit which already had most of the upstairs lights, and that the circuit is only 15A, not 20. This isn’t causing major issues on a regular basis (we measured the draw), but at startup for my office UPS and the laser printer (while the lights are on, etc) is enough to cause transient voltage drops (the UPS logs an event). So we left one circuit free on the generator panel, and in the next few weeks we’ll rewire my office to a new 20A circuit and leave the old 15A circuit to simply run the upstairs overhead lights, which is what it’s designed to do in the first place.

In terms of house projects, there’s always more to do, especially when you first buy a house and try to rectify things you don’t like (or weren’t done well to begin with). But I’m hoping for a respite after I get the drywall fixed and the circuits split off. The phone wiring is pretty antiquated and nasty, but it’s not a critical issue. I can’t stand the countertops in the kitchen — sort of a mottled 80’s with a hint of purple, gah! — but they can wait. So drywall, finish the electrical, put up more bookshelves and finish unpacking the books to free up the garage, and I’m taking a break. There’s work to be done at school, after all!

Administrativia

Recently I registered a couple of domains that I’ll use to maintain both a normal, static website, and this blog. The purpose of the split is to give me the ability to post material about my doctoral research and maintain a list and links to my publications. The blog will continue along much as it has; I’m still debating whether to mix personal and opinion (i.e., politics) posts in with entries which might be more related to my areas of research. I’d like to keep these a bit separate, but without going to the hassle of actually having more than one blog — especially if the research one sees relatively light posting at times.

What I might end up doing is presenting a filtered category view of posts off my static website, and allowing my normal blog front page mix the two together. So stay tuned. I’m not sure what domains I’ll use for everything, but I did manage to register extendedphenotype.com (and .org) to match this blog’s long-standing title. That domain, as well as the current personal domain “mmadsen.org” point at this site, so use whichever you choose — I’ll likely maintain the equivalency indefinitely but I’ll probably switch to the new one as the “primary” domain that will appear in RSS feeds, etc.

The static site for research and academic purposes isn’t up yet — I’m taking the opportunity to play with the new version of Dreamweaver to see how far these tools have come (the last static website I wrote happened in VI, I think). But I’ll round up electronic versions of publications fairly soon and will post the link here when I’ve got something ready.

Week in Seattle

It’s a beautiful day on the ferry Yakima, headed up to Friday Harbor. Clear and cold, the remnants of this week’s snow hardened into icy hummocks in the ferry line. I have no idea what I’ll find when I get back home to the island, except possibly more of the same. As long as power has been fairly continuous and no trees fell, there shouldn’t be any problem at the house. I’ll feel better next week, though, when my generator gets installed (it’s now sitting on a little pallet in the garage).

I spent the week down in Seattle, handling beginning-of-school chores, finding a place to rent in town, and doing some social events.

In the latter category, our book group is reading Proust, and we’re making decent progress through Swann’s Way — most of us are reading the new Lydia Davis translation, which I have to say is very readable. Not sure whether I’d ever have read Proust without a group commitment, but between Richard Rorty’s writings on Proust and my friends, it seemed well worth it. This time around Christian hosted, serving a great Italian dinner, and we finished off with home-baked cookies and a 1983 Filhot Sauternes I had in the cellar (very tasty and nearing a full maturity in my opinion).

I also attended Roy Hersh’s “Great Seattle Madeira Tasting,” but since he makes his living writing about wine, I’ll give him a chance to write his article about the wines and the tasting before I comment on the wines. I will say, however, that it was a great opportunity to get a perspective across many great wines, and reconfirm my impressions about which producers and styles of Madeira I most enjoy.

I’ve found a place in Seattle, so starting February 1st I’ll have a place to live working at the UW. My landlord and roommate, Scott, is an artist and the house is chock full of art, deeply homey, and just a little bit funky. It should be fun. The only downside (if there is one at all) is that I’d been enjoying my time at the WAC — the king beds are amazingly comfortable and it’s really good for me to be a couple of floors away from the gym. But it’s also fairly expensive if I’m down in Seattle every two weeks, so it’s time for something different.

After some administrative preliminaries at school, I stocked up on academic-priced software (Mathematica, Endnote, and the Adobe CS2 suite) and math books (I need to bone up in several areas for my dissertation research). The University Book Store continues to be a terrific source, not just for textbooks, but technical books of all kinds. I wish I could say the same for Barnes and Noble at University Village, however. It still rivals and sometimes exceeds UBS for computers and programming books, but in days past the math and science sections were also highly competitive. Sadly, both subjects have been gutted, reduced to an aisle or so from their former 2-3 full aisles and a couple of side displays. Market forces, no doubt, but this does point out why the extreme libertarian argument for “markets in everything” ought to be rejected in certain realms of life — obscure and low-volume books might be useless commercially but they often serve a key role in research and scholarship. Which is why we have libraries and university-connected bookstores, I guess. And Amazon, of course.

We’re now past Lopez Island and on our way to San Juan Channel. The sky is clouding up a bit, and the island shores around us are white with light snow accumulation. It’s a frosty winter world up here, but a beautiful one. Seattle is a good change, but I can’t wait to be home.

iPhone announced

The rumors are true — Apple announced an iPhone today. Actually, are still announcing it, because Jobs’s keynote is still going, but they’re wrapping up the iPhone demo now. I think it’s going to be a great success, given the feature set and the photos I’m seeing on Macrumors from the conference. EDGE and wifi connections, IMAP email in addition to POP (which I’m very happy to see…I’ll be able to purge the last vestiges of duplicated-POP-messages from my life), and of course all the multimedia features one would expect and more. GPS is included, apparently, because google maps shows the current location of the phone — that will be handy for navigation and travel.

My friend Bill and I have a gentleman’s wager: he doesn’t believe the iPhone will be successful, and I do. Our bet was based purely on our analysis of cell phone markets and Apple’s track record of hardware and system design, but today we’ve finally got details to go on. I’m going to stick with my side of the wager, especially since there’s a dinner with good Chateauneuf-du-Pape at the end of it for me. But I wonder, after seeing the keynote details today, whether Bill will feel the same way about his half of the wager.

Wow…they just announced free Yahoo IMAP email to all iPhone customers. Not that I use Yahoo IMAP, but that’s a good thing to announce alongside the hardware. Jobs has clearly learned via the iTunes/iPod and OS X experience the importance of having an ecosystem simultaneous with hardware release is critical — a lesson that most of us believe drastically held back the Macintosh in its first ten years.

I’m not going to keep translating the great live notes from MacRumorsLive.com, but check out the transcript for yourself. All that remains between me and ordering one is details: pricing, carriers, timeline for availability. Even just looking at screenshots and the transcript, the iPhone is going to make my Treo 700w look sickly in comparison.

Full Circle

Tonight was unusual in that it combined clear skies, a nearly full moon, and a very low tide, so I spent much of it standing (not sitting — much too wet) on the deck enjoying the stillness and clarity that follows bad weather.  Smelling the characteristic scent of cedar, salt water, and seaweed,Dsc_0065
it brought back memories of my summer up here on the island in 1987, and caused me to reflect upon how my life has come full circle in several respects. 

Twenty years ago today, I was in college at the University of Washington, in my junior year.  I’d gotten past my freshman indecision about a major, realized that much as my childhood dreams might protest otherwise, I wasn’t a physicist, and instead was much more likely to be a historian or some type of social scientist.  I’d chosen history, but early in the preceding year, exposure to the College Honors Program core classes had convinced me that the nagging scientist inside could be appeased by anthropology but not by pure history, and over the course of my junior year I made the transition to a double-major (1).  Fall Quarter of that year was seminal for me, as I took the first-year graduate theory course as well as Dr. J.K. Stein’s methods lab class for upper-level undergraduates.  This followed a summer quarter in which I’d steeped myself in the philosophy of science course offered by the Philosophy department, in an effort to understand the underpinnings of what would follow, since anthropology is (at least to my mind) a unique blend of biology and social science, and in fact is the interface where these distinct ways of thinking, theorizing, and experimenting must come to terms with one another.

So twenty years ago this week, I began the second quarter of the graduate curriculum, in addition to honors classes in
the humanities and anthropology distribution courses.  I’d met a good friend, Kris Wilhelmsen, during the first theory course, who has remained (along with several other of my colleagues from those days, including his wife Kim) a close friend to this day.  We struggled through the second quarter of graduate theory classes together. 

Spring Quarter brought geoarchaeology, a history of anthropological theory with Dr. David Spain, and one of my favorite classes, Dr. Peter Ward’s upper-division course in paleobiology.  I took the course on my own whim; I doubt it was common for archaeologists to take it, then or now.  For sometime at my stage of scientific development, but with a powerful interest in evolutionary theory and history, the course was an amazing experience.  I was exposed to literature where Dsc_0086instead of arguing that evolutionary theory might be applied to a subject matter, here was a group of scientists who simply shared that assumption and were merely getting on with using it to explore the history of life.  Naturally, I’d read Stephen Jay Gould previously, but Ward’s course exposed me to his technical writings, along with folks like David Raup, Niles Eldredge, Dolf Seilacher, Geerat Vermeij, Joel Cracraft, and James Valentine.  We did minor fieldwork projects around Seattle, collecting echinoderm samples and speculating on taphonomy, sedimentation, and ecology even as we learned a bit about paleontological fieldwork.

I went on to archaeological field school in the late spring of 1987, here on San Juan Island at English Camp National Historical Park.  The project, known as the San Juan Island Archaeological Project (SJIAP), was run by Dr. Julie Stein starting in 1983.  I’d visited the project in the summer of 1985 and 1986 as part of courses (including the final time Dr. Robert Greengo taught Northwest Coast prehistory), and would do minor work for it in 1988 and again in 1991.  But that summer of 1987, nearly twenty years ago, I spent almost three months up here on the island, working in the summer sun and developing a love of the place that has led me back full circle as a resident. 

Having returned to live in a place I love, today is doubly special as I return to an activity I love.  Graduate school is a temporary thing, but it marks a return to a mode of life I previously tasted and very much enjoyed:  a life of research and study.  I feel very lucky today, going back to do something I’ve only dreamed of for quite some time.  Regardless of what I do after graduate school is finally over, I’m very happy to be where I am today. 

(1)  Though I declared a double-major, my later strong concentration in anthropology caused me to be short a few credits for the B.A. in History, and in my rush to continue graduate school I never bothered to complete that half of the degree.

(photos from a recent trip to Saltspring Island, on a frozen lake between Fulford and Musgrave Landing)