Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Morning walk with Grandpa

My cousin Dave Bass dug up some interesting information on our shared grandfather.

When he was born in Budapest in 1902, he was named Bányai Imre, but his family soon moved to America, where he became Emery Bass.

Various of Grandpa's kids had gotten different documents like wedding certificates and birth certificates, and Dave and other cousins pooled what they had, allowing Dave to track down addresses, such as the site of our great-grandparents’ wedding and the house where Grandpa was born. Dave and his wife Becky traveled to various sites in central and eastern Europe associated either with his ancestors or with hers. Afterward he sent along what he'd found.

I’m in Budapest waiting for the arrival this evening of a colleague and our students for our January course on “Life after communism,” so I took the chance this morning to follow up on the trail Dave had laid out.

My plan was to stop by Parliament to see the ceremonial raising of the flag, then hop on a bus to the Óbuda (Old Buda) neighborhood of the addresses Dave had found. But I didn’t get out the door quite as early as planned, so I got there just in time to hear from the distance the trumpet melody that sounds as the flag goes up. Now I know it ends at 8:30, so I’ll try to get there a little earlier some other morning.

On the way, however, I did see a curb-side charging station with two cars plugged in: a chargeable Prius, and what I think is a fully electric vehicle.

And this time with a framing that tells you you're in Budapest:

A little close to Parliament I got an unusual vantage on the recognizable dome, hemmed in by the buildings on the street as you approach from the south.

On the main land-side façade facing Lajos Kossuth Square, you can see the Hungarian flag on the right, and the Transylvanian flag on the left. Thereby hangs a tale, but that’s for a different post.

Walking on from Parliament, I got to the bus stop to ride to Óbuda, but I was feeling stingy about my transit tickets and didn’t mind the walk, so I continued on foot.

Some time later I remembered that one of Grandpa’s favored activities when visiting a city was to ramble through it on foot, so it seemed a fitting homage to do the same when looking for “his” Budapest.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Is environmental economics stupid?

Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign was famous for (among other things) the internal slogan associated with his advisor Jim Carvey. Reporters told us how, inside campaign HQ, there was a sign on the wall to remind everyone of the central theme of the campaign, the key to electoral victory: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

That perspective remains with us today and has been the framing device for untold column-inches of discussion as to the balance of social and economic forces in Trump’s squeaker win last year.

Did he appeal primarily to White racism?

Was he speaking to a segment of society left behind economically by globalization?

Were his words some sort of salve for people who felt culturally disrespected by coastal elites?

Or, in a hybrid explanation, did economic stagnation and decline leave people receptive to someone who elicited their cultural and racial anxieties?

Behind the noneconomic explanations there is, I think, a presumption that people nonetheless have important economic interests.

In a recent column Fareed Zakaria questions that assumption.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


A large number of Czech voters in October's parliamentary elections chose parties that are, at a minimum, somewhat leery of the EU, and at the other end openly hostile to the organization. That adds to the interest in following the progress of Brexit through the Czech press.

If I were being more thorough about this as a study of the press, I would read more widely, but as it is, there's a limit on how much willful stupidity I can absorb before completely going out of my mind, and I need to keep some of that capacity for reading Facebook comments on Mike Flynn's plea deal, so I generally limit my local reading to things on the logically consistent end of the spectrum.

Last week Respekt provided an article from The Economist that laid out the logic of the situation surrounding the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. (That's merely where I encountered it; the coverage obviously isn't unique to that publication, since Britske listy just presented a similar summary in translation from The Guardian). The underlying reality was merely implicit in the Respekt article, but it was spelled out more fully in The Guardian.

Consider two political entities that agree to have the same rules about business: the same standards for food and product safety, the same provision for worker safety and pensions, the same conventions for product labeling etc. In that case, the two entities can open up the border between them.

On the other hand, if there are too many differences in their business rules, they need a border. Country A could make products that violate Country B's standards - they're unsafe, or their made under working conditions the second party finds unacceptable, etc. - but Country A could still take its products across the open border, thus undercutting the standards and the businesses in Country B.

That means that there are only three outcomes for the question of the Irish border:
  1. The entire UK, including Northern Ireland, leaves behind the EU trading rules, so there has to be a border in Ireland.
  2. "Mainland" Britain (i.e., England, Scotland, and Wales) leave the EU trading rules, but Northern Ireland stays in compliance, so there need not be a border within Ireland. On the other hand, that means there would in effect be a trade border between different parts of the UK.
  3. The entire UK stays in compliance with the EU trading rules, so there's no need to have a border within Ireland, nor between Ireland and Britain.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A farewell symphony

Last week I saw a poster near our subway stop informing me that the Prague Symphony was playing Mahler’s 9th symphony. A heavy piece like that was not what Kate was looking for so soon after getting back from a trip to the States, but our friend Ewan was interested, so he and I went on Thursday.

It was the third time I’ve heard the piece live. I know the piece from recordings, though a recording rarely gets the same kind of focused attention as a live performance.

The nice thing about hearing performances of a piece multiple times over several years is that you hear different things in it each time. Part of that is simply that each performance is literally different, but think about how you find new things when you re-read a book. The book is literally the same, yet you can find in it connections or meanings you’d missed. The same thing happens with a piece of music.

My first hearing of this symphony was also here in Prague, six-and-a-half years ago, as I wrote about here, when I happened to see a poster on a lamppost advertising an upcoming performance by my old youth orchestra.

The second was in July, 2016, with the Boston Symphony, at Tanglewood, with my father, as well as my aunt and a friend of hers. It was the last concert I went to with Dad.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A modest proposal

So now it's Al Franken's turn.

And there have of course already been calls for him to resign.

And counterarguments that it's misguided for the Democrats to unilaterally disarm by having their own lions step down if the Republicans aren't going to hold themselves to the same standard.

So I have a modest proposal.

To me it's obvious that what Franken did was wrong, but also that (based on what we know at the moment) there is a meaningful difference between what he did and what it seems Roy Moore did.

A slap in the face is assault.

Dropping someone to the ground with a punch in the stomach, then kicking them in the head is also assault.

The law correctly treats the second one as being more severe than the first.

Similarly, having a pattern of slapping people over many years is more serious than slapping someone once.

So it's hardly special pleading to argue that Franken's behavior (based on current knowledge) is bad but not as bad as Roy Moore's.

Nor is it ridiculous to make such distinctions.

The difficult question is what political consequences there should be.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

No, no stereotypes here

Garrett has been invited to a classmate's birthday party tomorrow. Kate asked me to help him find a birthday card (she'd looked around and wasn't finding the kind of selection she'd been hoping for).

We passed a neighborhood bookstore this afternoon, but they close at noon on Saturdays.

So I looked up paper-goods stores, and the ones in the neighborhood also seemed to be closed.

"We'll stop in at the nearby tabák [a shop that sells, cigarettes, newspapers, snacks, etc.]. If they don't have any, we'll ask for where we might find them.

So we went to my "regular" tabák, the one where the proprietor was so jovial about showing me the cigarette pack with the picture of the guy apparently suffering from smoking-related impotence. And he had a selection of cards, some even viable for an almost-13-year-old to give a 13-year-old.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

What's weird about Olomouc

I was curious about Olomouc, the former capital of Moravia in the eastern part of the Czech Republic, so I turned to Wikipedia. Or rather, to Wikipedie, the Czech version of the online encyclopedia.
From Wikimedia Commons.
The "SPQO" is just like Rome's "SPQR", except with
Olomouc in place of Rome.
It’s no surprise that most of the time, the Wikipedie entry about something Czech is more fleshed out than the Wikipedia entry.

In this case, that’s less true.

The English-language page has a nice historical essay on the city.

The Czech page doesn’t bother having an essay and instead gives a list of dates with sentence fragments identifying important events.

Perhaps it does this to leave room for the first section, which is about the city’s name.

After a few paragraphs about the contested origin of the city’s name, the section goes on: