Tuesday, August 31, 2004

New layout

by Tom Bozzo

After the first night of the RNC riled me to the point of getting almost no sleep last night (in combination with a sniffly toddler and twarting a raccoon assault on the garbage cans), I'm under spousal orders to avoid the TV. So instead I'm testing the Wi-Fi reception upstairs (fine, considering the router is in the basement) and fiddling with the blog.

The new layout has a links section in place of the recent posts, which suits my HTML deficit. Read the incomparable Daily Howler! Read the incomparable Daily Howler NOOOOOW!!

Blog from Minnesota IV: North Country Road Food

by Tom Bozzo

Tobie's. Just off I-35, Hinckley, MN.

This is now considered a quintessentially Minnesotan kind of place. We went there because Suzanne and her dad would stop there on the way to Duluth eons ago -- he headed there on business (he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney at the time*), she tagging along. The place was rougher and tumbler at the time, a truck stop with a bakery counter, the latter serving locally renowned caramel and cinnamon rolls.

Modern Tobie's is a sprawling wayside family restaurant, with lots of salmon pink trim, incorporating the bakery counter, and a still truck-stoppish attached lounge that is the presumed source of cigarette burn marks on the non-heat resistant horizontal surfaces of the men's room. Various families, including former neighbors of my in-laws (who were headed up as we were headed down), made the restaurant seem perfectly ordinary at mid-morning.

Suzanne and I both had severe protein cravings -- fog thwarted our efforts to track down an Egg McMuffin in Proctor, just outside of Duluth -- and we both ordered pseudo-Eggs Benedict. Pseudo in that the menu didn't even pretend to offer Hollandaise, but rather a 'creamy cheese sauce' present in several other menu items. How bad, we thought, can one screw up eggs, ham, and cheese on a 'homemade' English muffin?

Plenty, as it turns out. The cheese sauce was the main culprit, a congealed brown mass neither cheese nor gravy. Plus the eggs were greasy and the muffins far too dense.

The legendary sweet rolls were inoffensive, but hardly in the same league as the efforts of Turtle Bread Co., or the L'Etoile Bakery Cafe's incomparable Spice Girls Wheel. I could imagine these not being improved by mass production.

Breakfast: F. Cinnamon and caramel rolls: an underachieving C+.

Norske Nook. Downtown Osseo, WI. (Also in Rice Lake and Hayward, WI.)

From seeing a lot of rural New York State as a kid, I was accustomed to seeing small towns whose past prosperity, though significantly eroded, was still at least somewhat evident. Rural Wisconsin, in contrast, seems to be dotted with towns that started butt ugly and have not improved with time. Osseo is one of these. But the Norske Nook is regarded as a road-food treasure of the area, even by competent authorities!

Specifically, the Nook is known for its pies, and if they offered a savory pie or two, I'd recommend skipping the non-pie offerings altogether, which would stick to their core competencies.

As it happens, a good portion of the non-pie menu is devoted to 'lefse wraps,' lefse being a tortilla-like round and flat Norwegian bread made fresh on the premises. Think burrito gone Norwegian. I chose a good Wisconsin filling, a cod filet. I'm pretty sure that the cod was better off inside a tube of buttered lefse than not. I'd have given them at least half a grade higher if the tartar sauce had been good; it was instead too sweet by a wide margin. Suzanne got the first all-iceberg lettuce salad I've seen in some time, and a vegetable beef soup in which the vegetables were apparently potatoes and carrots. I can't say that I actually saw the carrots.

Most all was forgiven when the pie arrived. My apple had large, al dente chunks of what I'd peg as heavily sweetened Granny Smiths in a flaky crust (still tender in a couple areas where the dough might have been overworked a little) that was resolutely neutral -- the crust had no noticeable sweetness apart from some juice from the apples and only the slightest bit of saltiness. Suzanne's raspberry sour cream pie was nicely fruity and had a similarly flaky bottom crust, though the filling inbetween the berries was perhaps more gelatinous than optimal. I'd go back for the pie.

Pie: a solid B, B+ if you like your apple pie sweet. Non-pie: C-.

*And managed to send five kids to college, including four to private colleges, which is in substantial part why I have no sympathy whatsoever for Tom Ridge's claimed need to earn more than a Cabinet secretary's pay to send his two kids to college.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Republican National Convention: No Class

by Tom Bozzo

I interrupt the ongoing series of reflections on the recent Minnesota trip to say that I had better not watch the RNC while working out again, lest the festivities there induce a major cardiovascular event.

Two examples of their M.O., from less than 30 minutes of CNN viewing (I was trying to read an old BusinessWeek for distraction part-time):

- Delegates are wearing band-aids as a statement regarding the 'scratch wounds' John Kerry received in Vietnam. Of course, this is in no way coordinated with the Bush-Cheney campaign, never mind this being a certified Republican spin point (scroll down to the "Bob Dole, Draft Evader" subhead).

- George Pataki claims that Kerry triangulates all of his positions based on polling, in contrast to the President who would never ever consider the political angle of his decisions. (Recall it was Bush's own ex-director of faith-based initiatives who coined the term "Mayberry Macchiavellis" before a horse's head was delivered to his residence he humbly retracted his unfortunate choice of words.)

Blog from Minnesota III: St. Paul Mayor Syndrome

by Tom Bozzo

The Star Tribune editorializes against the campaign to recall notionally Democratic St. Paul mayor Randy Kelly for campaigning for President Bush.

Their logic is relatively sound. Minnesota law apparently limits recalls to cases of "malfeasance" or "nonfeasance" -- a threshold that does not seem to be met, whatever being in the company of Zell Miller might make one otherwise.

What's interesting is that this story and the minor kerfluffle (barely mentioned at Wonkette!?)over Laurie Coleman's cheesecakey publicity pictures reminded me that the St. Paul mayor's office has yielded two turncoat Democrats in a row. Perhaps the DFL should test the water for long-acting psychedelic substances.

Actually it's the less pretty Coleman who seems to have the malfeasance issues, according to this widely linked op-ed from the Sunday paper (via Atrios among other first-tier bloggers). According to deputy editorial page editor Jim Boyd, Sen. Coleman submitted an piece to the Star Tribune opinion page containing a number of demonstrable untruths regarding former Amb. Joseph Wilson. Upon request, Coleman's office excised most but not all of the offending statements. After a request to substantiate the remaining statment reportedly went unanswered, the piece did not run.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Blog from Minnesota II: Duluth Shipping News

by Tom Bozzo

I confess to being a transportation geek -- dissertation on the evolution of propulsion technology for airliners, etc.

So Suzanne and I went up to Duluth for a couple days, with the Twenty-Month Old staying in Edina with Grandma. This was part of a deal that sent us to Rehoboth Beach last year, the North Shore of Lake Superior this. I confess to having a grand time. I give significant credit to the really big boats.

Note: ship horns at close range will startle a large fraction of the toddler population to tears. Fortunately, we did not have to discover this with our own toddler.

Our time at the Duluth waterfront effectively recapitulated 70 years of Great Lakes shipping history. If there is a moral to the story, it seems to be that productivity improvements, to whatever extent they may be good to society as a whole, don't benefit everyone.

Start with the SS William A. Irvin, launched in 1938 as the flagship of the U.S. Steel ore fleet, now on display as a museum piece (having been retired in the late-70s and subsequently saved from the scrapyard by the city of Duluth). The 630-footIrvin carried around 12,000 tons of ore with a typical crew complement of 38.

The 700-footers that rendered the Irvin obsolete, like the Montrealais (1962) and Canadian Progress (1968, one of the first lake boats to adopt the rear-superstructure configuration typical of oceangoing tankers) which we saw make their way under the Aerial Lift Bridge, and the more famous Edmund Fitzgerald operated with crews of less than 30 and carry more than twice the cargo.

Most modern boats were built or retrofitted with self-unloading conveyors and have a complement less than 20. This includes behemoths like the 1004-foot Mesabi Miner, which can disgorge 65,000 tons with minimal human involvement in the time it would have taken to clear a fifth as much from the holds of the Irvin.

Cargo tonnage at Duluth and Superior is just over half its 1950s peak (excluding a WWII surge). But ship movements are a quarter of the peak, thanks to the larger boats, and the automation effect suggests that the shipboard workforce has, presumably, fallen to something like an eighth of peak. (It also likely takes a lot less labor onshore to load and unload the boats, too.) So to whatever extent Duluth might look in places like a larger scale version of a hollowed-out Northeastern industrial town from a Richard Russo novel (and it does), it seems that but for the recreational value of the lakeshore, Duluth would be an economic disaster area.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Blog from Minnesota I: I Want My V.P.N.*

by Tom Bozzo

It's vacation week in Minnesota. The last few trips to visit my mother-in-law in Edina have had in common a trip to Punch Neapolitan Pizza in Eden Prairie. I'm partial to the "Palermo," with spicy salami and saracene olives.

The Eden Prairie Punch is a block from the Eden Prairie Center mall (location for Kevin Smith's "Mallrats"), which is to say in the tenth circle of strip-mall-and-chain-store hell. A recent redecoration ditched a European cafe ambiance in favor of rustic pizza parlor, and was accompanied by the elimination of table service (which has roughly halved our typical per-person tabs by eliminating second glasses of wine, etc.). Punch is still by far the best thing about Eden Prairie, and it is, in fact, the restaurant I'd most like to transplant to Madison.

Why not, say, Charlie Trotter's or Chez Panisse? Madison is not short of fine dining options, especially given its size. But a pizza version of Gresham's law is in operation there, thanks to the proliferation of outlets serving the questionable tastes and limited budgets of the UW student body. I'd have to think an outlet in one of the upscale strip mallslifestyle shopping centers on the far west side could make it.

*Vera pizza Napoletana

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Stupid Headline Watch I: New York Times

by Tom Bozzo

An Oil Shock That Could Be an Economic Stimulus in Disguise (page B1, Midwest edition)

I guess I must have missed macro class that day. In fairness to Eduardo Porter, the author, the piece is no worse than any other workmanlike effort attempting to show why the effects of the oil shock really won't be so bad.

Via Gretchen Morgenson, Morgan Stanley's Stephen Roach is more rationally pessimistic.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Madisonians for Kerry and the Willy Street Co-Op (not necessarily in that order)

by Tom Bozzo

In the blue-versus-red scheme of things, Madison is, of course, just about as blue as the Upper Midwest gets. "Some" would say that parts of the city tend towards the other kind of red, even.

If the electoral college race is close, then, John Kerry's fortunes will depend in no small part on how well he turns out us and our liberal neighbors. As with Al Gore in 2000, a win for the Democrats in Wisconsin amounts to rolling up a sufficiently large win in Madison and Milwaukee (and, to a lesser extent, a few of the smaller cities) to offset comparably large wins in the notoriously conservative Milwaukee suburbs and however reddish (in the new, not the McCarthy, sense) the rural areas break. Bush polled only 28% of the two-party vote in the city; 26% if you throw in the former consumer advocate who will not be named.

While it's still early, the initial signs from the near west side front of the ground war are encouraging. Kerry/Edwards yard signs put up by Dudgeon-Monrovians are outnumbered only by signs supporting the Willy Street Co-op's efforts to secure space in a proposed mixed-use building up on Monroe Street, perhaps three quarters of a mile up from the house. Visible support for Bush and N*der is nonexistent, so far. While Kerry's position is arguably defensible, I do worry about the voting intentions of the people with the "War is not the answer" signs, though.

It was interesting, though, to look at some ward-by-ward returns (Excel file) from 2000 and see that our new neighborhood actually voted almost identically to our old neighborhood, where a few of the bigger houses did indeed sprout Bush/Cheney signs back when, and slightly more Republican than the city as a whole -- though granted, Gore still got 2/3 of the two-party vote in each ward. I note this in part because I got a big laugh from Suzanne, one time when we were walking around here just before John was born and saw a bunch of police cars attending to something or other, by speculating that the offender had refused to put out an "Oppose Hatred" yard sign. This has us wondering: who is in that third? With a pair of German cars in the driveway and the stiff price of the house, the neighbors probably think it's us. Until the yard sign goes up, anyway.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have A Better Catholic Hierarchy Part LVI? (Fafblog nails it again edition)

by Tom Bozzo

The infamous communion story is already into its second phase as local interest angles start to appear as well as the definitive take from Fafnir of the inimitable Fafblog! (The AP wire story ran below the fold on A1 in this morning's Wisconsin State Journal.)

A version of the story in the Scotsman notes an actual mitigating factor -- the Diocese suggested taking communion as wine alone as an alternative (cf. Canon 925), which was reportedly refused by the girl's mother. Appeals have been made to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Perhaps If Elizabeth Pelly-Waldman succeeds, she might consider appealing the Bush Administration's changes to the "fill rule" for mountaintop removal mining.

Now, IANACL, but I would still suggest that, in the 21st Century, Canon 924 might be better drafted with less strict language than "must" for the form of the bread and wine. Moreover, the Bishop of Trenton might have taken better note (notwithstanding the weaker "is to be" construction) of Canon 899:

ยง3. The eucharistic celebration is to be organized in such a way that all those participating receive from it the many fruits for which Christ the Lord instituted the eucharistic sacrifice.

With apologies to Brad DeLong.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Getting underway

by Tom Bozzo

What better to launch a sometimes-economics blog with than... food.

UW-Madison sociology prof Jeremy Freese contemplates a fine dining rendition of "Super Size Me." Having had the good fortune to have dined at L'Etoile a couple dozen times (so far) while I've been a Madisonian, with only one significant disappointment about four years ago, I'd consider it a worthy project. Unfortunately, I might now be too old to survive it.

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