Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A crime against my stomach

So we're in one of the great culinary cities of the world (allegedly, it has more restaurants per capita than any city in North America bar New York), so there are plenty of great options within two blocks of the hotel.

What does the conference do? Have the hotel provide catered meals for lunch so that some CEO can blather on about how forward-looking their company is. I guess the students here appreciate the "free" food, but I'm against anything that keeps people inside a hotel complex when there's a whole world to explore.


Here's some presentation tips for everyone:
  • If you have more than 2 ideas on your slide, you don't have enough slides.
  • Look at the audience, not your slides, at least occasionally.
  • Don't derive equations during a talk; refer to the paper.
  • The most effective talk's I've ever attended had nothing but pictures on their slides. When you don't have words, you don't end up using your slides as notecards, and talk to the audience instead of reading to them. PowerPoint's bias towards bulleted lists (like, uh, this blog) is a black mark against one of Microsoft's most usable programs.
  • If you can't converse in English, perhaps you should bring some backup if you're expected to answer questions.
Most of this stuff is taught in virtually any public speaking class (or should be evident to anyone who's sat through 2 or 3 presentations), but in academic conferences, it occurs time and time again.

In Montreal

So I've been in Montreal since Thursday, September 21, and my internet access has until now been zero.

I came out here for a conference, but since I haven't been here in quite a while, and my wife never, we came out four days early to see the sights and visit some family. Now, my wife is back home and I'm on to the conference.

But what a city it is! Seattle city planners would kill for the layout of this city: dense neighborhoods, on-street parking only, and infrastructure (particularly transit) everywhere. I had the option to rent a car on the company's dime, but there's absolutely no reason to do such a thing. With very little trouble, I've gotten around on foot just fine.

There's only one problem with this place (other than the cold, which I experienced when my last visit occurred in a January): decrepit buildings. There's an awful lot of run down warehouses and apartments, boarded up structures, etc, and oh-so-few construction cranes on the horizon. I believe (after conversations with my cousin, and some of my own reading) that this a result of politics.

Most of you are presumably familiar with the persistent issue of Quebec's nationality and sovereignty. What you may not know is that the official obsession with the French language only dates back to the 1960s. This creates several economic problems:
  • Political stability is one of Canada's great competitive strengths. By introducing a drive for independence, you create instability that scares off business.
  • English is the world's lingua franca, and cities that can deal in English have significant advantages. While certainly its citizens are fluent English speakers, in many cases families are denied English-language classes when needed (which is particulary true for many immigrant families).
  • As they establish their immigration priorities, they emphasize not job skills, entrepeneurial spirit, or family unification, but speaking French.
Although I don't want to make Montreal sound like some sort of ghost town, in the last 30 years Toronto has shot past it in terms of importance, population, and living standards. I think there's a cautionary tale in there for people who would oppose immigration, trade, and openness to the outside world for a jingoistic idea of what the "right" society looks like.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Primary Elections

Yesterday, I voted in the Washington State primary. Although my wife likes the convenience of voting absentee, I've always liked the civic-minded feeling that comes with actually going to the polling place and putting your ballot in the slot.

So it stinks for me personally that the county is planning to go to an all-mail ballot. On the other hand, it isn't a necessary line item in the county budget to make me feel civic-minded. But anyway, I thought I'd tell you how I voted.

I consider myself an independent nowadays, but the first decision I had to make was to select a party for the purpose of the primary. (In Washington, you must pick a party for the day and select from only that party list, at least in the primary). I seriously considered not choosing a party and skipping on to the non-partisan judicial races, especially since exactly zero of the party primaries were in any way competitive.

But in the end, I decided to mark myself as a Democrat, and voted for Senator Maria Cantwell. Since her stance on the war is unpopular with her base, I think it takes some political courage to stick to her principles. There are a lot of things I disagree with her on, but I wanted to mute any protest vote by the loony left -- although there are good reasons to oppose our involvement in Iraq, the usual bunch of opponents are, as usual, invoking exactly the wrong reasons.

I didn't bother to vote in any of the other Democratic races, as they're all unopposed.

The judicial races were somewhat tougher for me decide. I happen to think that the initiative process is a fiasco, and my single biggest local issue is public transportation. However, I think far too much legislation is struck down by judicial review.

(I phrased that last sentence carefully: I didn't want to use the words "legislate from the bench", as I feel that terminology is hijacked by people who have an equally interventionist, but different, agenda from the sitting justices.)

So I had quite the dilemma: all of the conservative judges seemed more in line with my judicial philosophy, but I think they would have a very negative practical effect on programs that I care about. In the end, I split the difference by focusing on my perception of competence, for which I had to rely heavily on endorsements.

In the three supreme court races, I selected Gerry Alexander, Tom Chambers, and Stephen Johnson. One of these is not like the other. The first two are considered "liberal" incumbent judges, and the last is a Republican State Senator.

Alexander and Chambers were both facing weak opponents. Alexander opponent John Groen, though heavily funded, had no experience as a judge, and Chambers seemed to be universally endorsed as the more competent alternative in his race.

I had the most trouble with Johnson's race with Susan Owens. I'm concerned about the effect Johnson may have on efforts to control sprawl and complete infrastructure projects. On the other hand, Owens seems to get only lukewarm endorsement of her judicial brilliance. I also believe she failed to exercise judicial restraint in her vote to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While I believe DOMA is a bad law, I also believe it is the job of the legislature to decide that, and forcing it down the throats of Washingtonians is a poor substitute for convincing the electorate that the time has come.

This left me undecided until I entered the voting booth. In the end, it came down to election tactics. A lawyer named Michael Johnson was also in the primary, and it was quite evident that his only purpose was to confuse people who might potentially vote for Stephen Johnson. Owens' failure to condemn this anti-democratic maneuver clinched it for me.

The other competive race was for District Court, where Frank LaSalata was facing a serial also-ran and an incumbent that had been censured for judicial misconduct several times. I voted for him.

The last question on the ballot was to continue a levy that funded the county's subscription to a Fingerprint Identification Service. Here again was pragmatism vs. principle. On the one hand, this should come out of the general fund. On the other, where else will the money come from? It would be nice if they decided to keep it going by cutting a program I don't like, but in fact, it's likely to either die or be funded by cuts elsewhere in law enforcement. In the end, I had to vote YES on continuing the levy.

I promise, most posts won't be this long.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


To those of you who have wandered here, welcome! I hope to post fairly regularly about a variety of issues that interest me. I hope they interest you too.

This is probably death for a blog, but I plan to cover a wide range of subjects, from world affairs to local (Seattle) elections to what's on TV tonight. I welcome comments, as they let me know someone is out there, listening.