Saturday, October 31, 2009

Impressions of Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin

-- So this is what a real college town is like.

-- I’m in Madison for an academic conference at the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus.

-- One of the complaints I hear from fellow grad students at UCLA is that Westwood isn’t collegiate. The streets near UCLA have expensive boutiques and trattorio but not the mildewed, moderately priced, locally owned stores that serious students frequent.

-- Madison has ‘em. The main drag of State Street (pictured) features multiple book stores, worn coffee shops, many ethnic restaurants, three stores selling flavored popcorn (! – too plain for flashy L.A.) and used record stores (!! – they still exist?).

-- The university has two faces. Most of it is a green, lakeside campus. But a large part of the university is away from the core, built into the street grid. So, depending on where you are, the university can feel either traditional or urban.

-- It is a rule: Every campus in the United States has at least one grotesque, concrete monolith which some long-retired administrator thought was a good idea.

-- Compared to California campuses, the University of Wisconsin has few East Asian students.

-- There appears to be two or three of everything: two or three brewpubs, two or three sushi places, etc. The Swedish would call it lagom.

-- Madison is a frequent stop for musical acts. Multiple venues showcase live music, new (Five Finger Death Punch) and old (Ace Frehley). Plus, it makes sense to add Madison to a tour, because it’s a logical stop between shows in Chicago and Minneapolis.

-- All the other indicia of educated bobo culture are present. There are libraries and a farmer’s market and museums and a performing arts center. Plus, it’s the state capital, so there’s a Statehouse, places that cater to officials and -- I’m sure -- an undercurrent of political intrigue.

-- So living in Madison wouldn’t be like living in a sleepy town in the Midwest. It would be like living in Berkeley or Austin or Raleigh-Durham, but with more snow.

-- All that being said, Madison is a small city, population 208,000. Drive 20 minutes in any direction, and you’ll see fields with sporadic housing developments.

-- I would be concerned that, after the initial learning curve, the place would seem too tiny. My friends who live there said it takes about two years to get up to speed.

-- But, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the best schools in the country for South Asia studies, so I have to consider it.

-- The rent on one-bedroom apartments ranges from $500 to about $950 a month.

-- Madison appears to have four principal areas: the dense East Side, which has pockets of affluence but is a demographically mixed area; the Downtown area, which is on an isthmus between two lakes; the campus; and the West Side, which is more uniformly affluent and sprawling. The East Side looks more like an older East Coast city; the West Side reminded me of parts of California.

-- You could live without a car in Madison, but it would be a hassle, especially in the winter.

-- It was uncomfortably cold most of the time I was there in late October. I can’t imagine how frigid it must be in February.

-- Good place to hide for a few months and finish writing a book or an academic paper.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Now That's A Lede

Sherman Oaks, California

In 1841, the Rev. George Robert Gleig, a well-known British writer, published an authorized biography of Warren Hastings, a controversial former Governor-General of India who had been impeached -- but acquitted -- by Parliament for alleged abuses of power.

The famous historian Thomas Macaulay (pictured) reviewed the book and was not pleased, opening his piece with the line:

"This book seems to have been manufactured in pursuance of a contract, by which the representatives of Warren Hastings, on the one part, bound themselves to furnish papers, and Mr. Gleig, on the other part, bound himself to furnish praise."

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

I'm Taking The Wrong Classes

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Your Day's Dose of Anti-EU Rhetoric

Sherman Oaks, California

First, Shadow Foreign Minister William Hague mordantly mocks the fact that (1) Tony Blair desperately wants to be the President of Europe, and (2) Prime Minister Gordon Brown does not want his frenemy in such a high-profile post. (The phrase "on maneuvers" means something akin to "campaigning.")

Second, Peter Hitchens slams the British political elite's obsession with greater European union. (The "red lines" are areas of governance, such as defense and taxation, which, according to the Labour government, the U.K. will retain and will not cede to Brussels.)

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Prime Minister's Questions Are Back, But Not Back

Sherman Oaks, California

Parliament is back in session, which means that fans of informed, eloquent and decidedly uncivil debate have a treat waiting most Wednesdays. Opposition leader David Cameron's performances over the next few months will be important, as voters measure his prime ministerial mettle in anticipation of next year's general election.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a longer lag than usual in posting a video of today's PMQs at the official 10 Downing Street website. Perhaps Cameron could announce a reform . . . .

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why I Don't Take Public Transport

Sherman Oaks, California

Due to a set of circumstances I will leave opaque, I had to travel today from LAX to my house in Sherman Oaks by public transport. This was the procedure:

Wait 15 minutes on a polluted curb outside Terminal 3 for an LAX FlyAway bus.

Ride the LAX FlyAway bus to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles (which took about 25 minutes).

Wait about 15 minutes for a Red Line subway train.

Ride the train thirteen stops to the North Hollywood station (about 30 minutes).

Wait about 15 minutes for an Orange Line bus.

Ride the Orange Line bus to the Valley College station (about 5 minutes).

Walk four huge, suburban blocks to my house (about 15 minutes).

Whole thing: $9.50, which is fine, and two hours, which is not.

(If you are a supporter of public transport, you should read the most accurate article ever written on the topic.)

Pictured: The Orange Line in Los Angeles is not a subway. It is a separate road in the San Fernando Valley on which only Orange Line buses operate.


Monday, October 05, 2009

Cool Fact Learned In Class

Sherman Oaks, California

The philosopher John Stuart Mill (pictured) spent his entire working life in the employ of the English East India Company. In his Autobiography, he devoted one sentence to his career.

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