Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Here's Looking at You Kid

IMG_4616, originally uploaded by drtaxsacto.

On Wednesday last we spent the day going through the Museum of Anthropology in some detail. I say that without reservation - we spent a total of about six and a half hours there and only got through the first floor. The museum is a wonderful example of almost too much. It is divided into several viewing areas that represent most of the major archeological periods in Mexican history. My friend thinks the place is organized wrong - and going through it in the way that he suggests is actually more useful. He would suggest that the most logical way to cover the important cultures and institutions would be to go through more or less chronologically. Thus, he would deemphasize the Aztecs and increase the review of other cultures - even though many of the cultural periods overlap. There are a lot of unresolved issues in any way that you think about understanding the histories of these cultures. Clearly, each of the preceding cultures influenced their successors. But the natural tendency to think in a linear manner is, like in most areas of life, unproductive. Human beings are infinitely resourceful and also unwilling to think about life the way their archeologists want them to think about life. Second, the interest in human sacrifice is not uniform. At the same time, as you look at the development of cultures one can understand that to be able to concentrate on those aspects one needed to have a fairly elaborate economic and communications system - not the same as today - but still pretty good. Finally, the visions of the Spaniards coming over and "civilizing" is not that simple - a lot of the cultural aspects of the cultures the Spaniards encountered were more advanced than their counterparts. None of these revelations is truly amazing but all got me to think more about the dead ends pursued in all cultures.

The trip my friend took me through last Wednesday was truly inspirational and thought provoking. If you are in Mexico City - you should take a day and go there.

Unfortunately, our trip to the Castle at Chapultapec was not as illuminating. The history exhibits have been improved significantly - both to take out the ideological rap and to make the story of Mexican history (mostly of governmental regimes) more coherent. But for some odd reason - after an extensive and largely successful renovation of the interior spaces in what once was a place of government and is now the historical museum - there are no interior pictures allowed. There is a lot of great stuff to see but no legitimate way to record it. What's more there is no CD with pictures of the key works available in the gift shop.

There is a continuing conflict among Mexican historians as to the relative importance of Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz. Juarez, who was a contemporary of Lincoln is important but for shear development and even time in grade - the early years of Porforio may be ultimately more important. It is sad that the curators have not gone back to the tradition of allowing photos inside without flash or of offering photos of the key exhibits on a CD.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Mexico in three stories

For most of the last couple of weeks I have been in Mexico, separated by a quick trip to Baltimore, but I digress. I wrote about the AGU-Zacatecas trip in an earlier post. But this trip was to Mexico to visit another couple of friends. I stayed in the apartment of a friend in an area of the city that I had previously not been aware of - it is really handy to everything.

I came in on Friday and went to dinner with both friends - we talked about one friend's attempt to open a restaurant. He is meticulous in detail and wants to open a small place in Xalapa. We also decided to do the tourist things in Mexico City. So on Saturday we went downtown to the Templo Mayor and the Cathedral. My friend who is a priest is going to give a talk on the history of Mexico so I agreed to take some shots he could use to illustrate the talk - the Templo Mayor is (was) a big deal in the middle of the lake that was Mexico City at the time of Cortez. The TM is in the center of the city and has three layers. When Cortez entered the city, it was there. Right next to the TM is both the palace of government as well as the Metropolitan Cathedral Over the last decade the Cathedral has had a pretty massive engineering restructuring. Concrete was pumped into the foundation to add some support to the building. The interior is a beautiful classic church. In the center of that area of town is also a place where a lot of civic activity takes place. Right now, the Mayor of Mexico City - Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a lot of rallys there. At this time he is the putative favorite to be elected to succeed Vicente Fox in the 2006 election. He is a classic demagogue. When I was in Aguascalientes in early July one friend gave me a book on AMLO which is not a bit complementary.

Sunday in Mexico is family day. In the city lots of people bring their families to a place in the center of the city that includes Chapultapec Castle The castle went through a long renovation. It is a cross between a memorial to the PRI view of Mexico - which is decidedly areligious, a national museum to key events in mostly modern history (Porfirio Diaz is presented well - but so is Juarez. The Castle has three parts - a former military college, the former official site of government, and the private residence of the president (until Los Piños). Included in the Castle are several impressive murals and a pretty good treatment of the history of independence. On Sunday evening we went to the Bellas Artes. I've seen opera there but this time we saw folklorico. Unfortunately I did not bring a camera. This was an especially wonderful presentation with about 20 variations of Mexican dance. The Company is one started by Amelia Hernandez - their program is a cross between Alvin Alley and Riverdance. The Folklorico was very good and very colorful.

On Monday we went to look for some chairs with the friend who is looking to start a restaurant and then to the nurseries at Xochomilcho. The nurseries have a ton of small vendors of flowers. As I have done a lot of flower photography this was like kids day at the fair.

Tuesday we spent the day doing light stuff including going to Coyoacan. It is a pretty part of town. We ate lunch there and then searched some bookstores. We got caught in one as a result of a torrential downpour. I bought a brief history of Mexico created by the Collegio de Mexico. On the way home later in the week I began to read it. It is slow going but pretty good.

On Wednesday we spent six and a half hours in the Museo Nacional de Antropología. My friend knows a lot about anthropology in Mexico so we went through a tour that was exceptional - we purposely did not follow the way the museum is laid out but instead took a tour based on a historical timeline.

Thursday before I left for California, we went to the Shrine of Guadalupe. The site has several churches including a modern one built about the time of John XXIII and a more ancient one that was built a couple of hundred years ago. The site now has a memorial to JPII, which is fitting because he celebrated mass here a couple of times.

All in all the visit was a wonderful one.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Travels with Shuffle

Sorry to have been offline for so long but I have been on the road for most of the last two weeks. I spent last week with a friend in Mexico and will comment more on that later but first I wanted to comment on one aspect of the visit.

When I visited this friend in April - he was having some heart work done - I brought him an iPod shuffle. I included a bizarre mix of music on the iPod - in part because that is where my tastes lie but also because I thought it would be interesting as he recovered. He, like me, likes a pretty broad range of music. During this visit, we went to the Apple store and I bought a Dr. Bot kit which includes a nifty iPod holder (I keep forgetting the neat leather pouch I carry it in on airplane seats)and a bunch of connectors and an auto charger and an FM tuner. (All of those by the way are pretty good.)

As we visited places in Mexico he put the iPod on in his Honda and we listened to the music on my big iPod in the shuffle mode. I found out a couple of things. First, my music includes a range of music including Irish, Bluegrass, Folk, Classical, Mexican, Blues, Country and some other unclassifiable music - so the range of tunes is pretty wide. I had thought that there would be a bit of discordance among the collection I had assembled in part because there are so many moods and in part because I found it hard to understand how anyone could listen to Carmen and then Leadbelly and then Ricky Scaggs and then David Allen Coe and then DeDannen. But it actually fits together.

Second, I thought about music in their mode - the albums had become my security blanket - I always thought that Amelia Earheart's Last Flight Amelia Earhart's Last Flight should come after We need a whole lot more of Jesus and a lot less rock and roll - as those songs did on the Greenbriar Boys album - but that is not true. I am not sure I have the energy to make a lot of mixes - but with the shuffle I can get it to mix on its own.

Last night as I was coming back from Mexico - the movie (Sahara - probably the lamest excuse for an adventure movie ever) I tried out my friend's suggestion - my big iPod has 4000 songs (going to 10,000) and at least for the first 140 songs I found that the mix done by the shuffle is pretty interesting. Most importantly, I heard a couple of songs that I probably would not have listened to in my normal search for songs as I sit down on a plane. That is a little thing in life - but really makes the iPod even more useful.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Apple and Osborne (not Ozzie)

In CNET this morning a post was added questioning whether Apple and Osborne (the failed computer maker of the 1970-80s) had parallels. I had the unique experience of having dinner with Adam Osborne the founder and idea guy behind the company about a week before it folded. It was an odd dinner. He asked those of us at dinner whether we would be willing to risk our entire net worth with him on a new venture - if we were not willing to do it we were not "risk takers."

Earlier that year Osborne with a lot of flourish had announced a new version of his popular "portable" computer - 26 pounds and a 3X3 screen. Osborne had created a computer with something that people could actually use. For about $1800 you could get this computer and Wordstar (I wrote a dissertation on it), Visicalc, Basic and a database. Disks then were $50 each and were actually floppy (5"). Osborne's economic model was strange - he offered his computer and software for something less than it cost him to produce it. So even without the vaporware announcement the company was in trouble. He also spent cash pretty wildly - so his R&D was out of whack with his cash flow. Once he had hyped the O2 sales in the original machine tanked so cash dried up.

So how could that performance be compared to Job's announcement about moving to Intel be the same? Part of the problem is the Apple can't do it syndrome - there is a segment of the tech community that either does not get it about Apple or does not want to get it. But beyond that normal baloney is there an issue here?

A few weeks ago I wrote that I thought the deal with Intel was a good one. But there are some other reasons why the parallel with Osborne is not real.

#1 - Cash is king - Osborne burned cash, Jobs has sheparded it. Apple has a current ratio that is twice the industry and tons of cash from the sale of Ipods.
#2 - One trick ponys - Osborne had one product and then announced a competing product that was not yet real. With the Intel announcement Jobs announced an enhancement to one of his product lines that is backwardly compatible.
#3 - Integration - one of the interesting things about Apple in the last few years is they really seem to get product integration. An Ipod works with their computers and with all sorts of other products (iSight for example) - movies and photos as Walt Mossberg has suggested are better on Apple. The iLife and iWork products are bridges to link other technologies which are really pretty good.
#4 - Keeping the developers happy - In the announcement there was something called Rosetta which allows translation between PPC and Intel chips. That is critical for support but also to keep the developers in the mix.

With all those and more - all this worrying is silly.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Vin Scully and the Pope

Last night we had a dinner in Baltimore and I had the chance to sit next to a CFO of a California university and his family including a third grader. The family comes from LA and we talked a little about the challenges of being a Dodger fan and how great Chavez Ravine is as a stadium. They had been to Camden Yards earlier in the day and raved about the stadium and the wife was surprised that Camden is younger than Chavez. We were talking about famous people we have met and I said something like "in 2000 I was thrilled to have an audience with Pope John Paul II, but it was almost as exciting to meet Vin Scully." Scully was a boyhood hero of mine - I heard him on the radio in Bakersfield. The young boy exclaimed "You've met Vin Scully?" That was certainly the best line I have heard in a long time.

We're not afraid

I found a site this morning posted after the London bombings. It is a simple set of photographs all with the substantive message -we're not afraid. It is inspiring in a couple of ways. First, it shows that the average blogger has a good fix on whether the terrorists will ultimately be successful. But it also shows in a fine way the genuine positive forces in humanity.

Friday, July 08, 2005


For the past couple of days I have been in Aguascalientes and Zacatecas with my wife. I wanted to have her see the area - where I have been doing a lot of work recently and a good friend wanted her to meet his wife.

The friend is the rector of a start up university that is doing quite well - growing but also developing some very substantive assets for the region. His family is wonderful - two boys and two girls - the oldest in university and the next about to enter. The kids are thoughtful and well behaved. They are part of a class of people their age that seem quite comfortable with international visitors. My friend and his family took two days and showed us around. At the end of each day they were kind enough to take us back to their house to meet some of their friends. That was really wonderful. We also got to see both cities - Aguascalientes is in the center of Mexico (El Corazon de Mexico) and is a wonderful community of about 700,000 last fall I led a program for the new Governor (who is a new kind of Mexican politician) and his staff. We got to see the Governor briefly on this trip. The next day we went to Zacatecas which is about an hour´s north of AGU. Site of one of the most important battles in the Mexican Revolution but very colonial in feeling.

This afternoon we had a chance to catch up with one of our three Mexican ¨sons¨ - he is an attorney who is currently finishing his doctorate at one university while serving as dean of two other law schools. He has a girl friend and seems quite involved in a lot of interesting projects. It was a real pleasure to hear about all the things he is doing.

The warmth we experienced in both places gave me a great feeling. Our friends went out of their way to show us their city and to give my wife especially a good idea of the community. Our young friend in Mexico took a couple of hours out of his day just to catch up - coming to the airport on a Friday is a sacrifice but we had a great lunch and heard all about his things - family, dissertation, girl friend, politics, etc.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

NBC should fire Brian Williams

Last week NBC news anchor commented that the "first several US presidents were terrorists." Funny, I do not remember George Washington kidnapping innocent civilians. I also do not remember Thomas Jefferson blowing up explosives to kill and maim non-combatants. I do not remember James Madison beheading anyone in the name of the revolution. I may have missed it but I do not think John Adams held hostages.

A terrorist is someone who advocates repression and violence in pursuit of their aims. How does he justify his characterization?

Were he in any way responsible, he would resign. If he does not he should be launched. He might use some free time to learn a bit more care in his language.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Original Intent and Sandra Day O'Conner

The news seems to be all over the idea that Sandra Day O'Conner was a) a unifying force for the Supreme Court or b) a conservative. Clearly, not both of those judgments can be correct. But as I reflected on her 24 years on the bench the more I reviewed the decisions where she had a major impact the more I see the folly of not looking for someone with original intent in mind.

Should the Constitution be able to change with the times - what about writing a document when there were no corporations or internet or fast food or any other contrivance? Obviously, with a little thought about it we can bring the Constitution up to modern times when we do not think it is working right - we've done it 27 times. Now some are trying to make it 28 with the flag amendment (which I personally think is silly). Madison argued persuasively in Federalist #10 to avoid the "passions of the people" - unfortunately a lot of what has passed for clear thinking on the court in recent years has not done that.

In Grutter - Justice O'Conner argued that affirmative action may be troubling to the equal protection clause but we need to keep it in place for another 25 years to assure ourselves that racism has been expunged. What is the logical indicator in 25 years that will be used to test whether we have met our match? Will it change over time?

In Grutter she said ""We have repeatedly acknowledged the overriding importance of preparing students for work and citizenship, describing education as pivotal to 'sustaining our political and cultural heritage' with a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of society. This court has long recognized that 'education is the very foundation of good citizenship.' For this reason, the diffusion of knowledge and opportunity through public institutions of higher education must be accessible to all individuals regardless of race or ethnicity. . . .
"We take the law school at its word that it would 'like nothing better than to find a race-neutral admissions formula' and will terminate its race-conscious admissions program as soon as practicable. It has been 25 years since Justice Powell first approved the use of race to further an interest in student body diversity in the context of public higher education. Since that time, the number of minority applicants with high grades and test scores has indeed increased. We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today."
The motive is noble but the long term consequences of chasing a principle not properly grounded in the Constitution is also wrong.

Her comments in First amendment cases have been particularly troubling. The Establishment clause has been interpreted in modern terms far beyond its intent. I believe to the detriment of religious practice. Does the country bound itself on religious principles that a primarily Judeo-Christian? Absolutely. Should religious institutions be getting support to advance their religious goals. No. But what is the harm in allowing some recognition in public places for religious principles? In both the Texas and Kentucky decisions (where Bryer switched his vote for no apparent logical principle) O'Conner voted no. In a 1984 case (Lynch) she wrote in a concurring opinion "Government can run afoul of that prohibition in two principal ways. One is excessive entanglement with religious institutions, which may interfere with the independence of the institutions, give the institutions access to government or governmental powers not fully shared by nonadherents of the religion, and foster the creation of political constituencies defined along religious lines. The second and more direct infringement is government endorsement or disapproval of religion. Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community. Disapproval sends the opposite message." But clearly if we were founded on the base principles they should be recognized in public discussions - not to bring adherents or to embarass non-believers but more to recognize the fundamental founding principles of our nation.

In the recent stretch that the court went through on eminent domain Justice O'Conner caught the very essence of the issue - which unfortunately was missed by the majority. She commented "As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result. 'That alone is a just government,' wrote James Madison, 'which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own."

I hope the President finds someone who is a bit less political and a bit more intent on not trying to find a minimum winning coalition which Justice O'Conner did well in the legislative process - but to adhere to a clear understanding of principles. A good many of the cases the Court is asked to decide are "tweeners" but as I reflected on Justice O'Conner's long history on the court her luck with those issues was spotty at best.

Friday, July 01, 2005

How many is enough?

The Rivercats are playing Salt Lake for the next couple of days. Last night they lost a close decision. Tonight they came into the ninth with a seven run lead. They brought in Chris Mabeus before then and he had one good inning but then lapsed into his old ways. One of our seat mates in our section - who celebrated her 50th tonight - quoted the old Woodie Allen line a few weeks ago when in a similar situation - having Mabeus as a reliever is like being offered the choice between death and cake (and we're all out of cake.) Mabeus can have a couple of good innings but he is inconsistent.

The other heart breaker this evening - as with the last time they got together was the youngster Jairo Garcia - Garcia is 22 - has a fast ball is pretty awesome but not very consistent. He can throw a lot of pitches at more than 90 MPH - the problem is not many of them are over the plate.

In the end they were able to close out for a win but not until they allowed the Stingers to produce 5 runs. How many is enough - tonight 7 were just enough.