September 30, 2008

Edwards AFB

I've been teaching a class out at Edwards Air Force Base, which is about 45 minutes away.

Those are some long minutes of driving. Granted, the twice-as-long drive to Stinking Bakersfield sucks too, but the drive out to the base, making it through security, and then driving everywhere on cruise control has been something of a grind. And, while I've had some bright students, and there was nothing objectively bad about this class, the late nights, the angst of students who seem to think that they can get easy "A's", and all the attention and prep work that the class demands are also something of a grind.

So tonight was the last class and I'm glad it's over. I'd like to get paid now, please. Not that the money is all that great, but it's part of the reward for doing the work, and I've done just more than the amount of teaching work for this class than is fun to do. There is probably a good reason that I don't teach for a living full-time.

One Theory

This video contains rather long samples of copyrighted music, which is probably the reason why it keeps getting taken down. If it were edited and re-posted without music, it might be a little less entertaining but would still hit every bit as hard in its accusation.

By all means, watch it, as long as it doesn't get taken down. But here's the gist -- back in the 1970's, Congress passd, and President Carter signed into law, the Community Redevelopment Act. It provided incentives to banks to provide affordable mortgages to low-income families so that home ownership could increase and more people could participate in the wealth-generating activity of making mortgage payments and accumulating equity in residential real estate. A well-intentioned idea. A good idea. But it did not have a dramatic impact on the housing market because only a small number of potential borrowers fit into the CRA's regulated loan criteria.

Then, in 1995, Congress made substantial amendments to the CRA. The relevant portions of the amendments included a mandate that certain amount of loans be to low-income buyers looking for "affordable mortgages." This was coupled with deregulation of the terms that the CRA loans could offer. The loans were made available to more people, who were less creditworthy than the earlier regulations would have permitted, and banks were told that they had to write some of these loans or face various kinds of penalties or miss out on various kinds of incentives. The loans were to be funded by a trillion dollars of government-backed money sold through securitized instruments made available to the market through Fannie Mae.

The result became, in a few years, what turned into a ten-year running joke among internet users -- banks and mortgage brokers competing very aggressively with one another for loans to people with moderate incomes. In order to make the loans "affordable," (according to the video) the loans incorporated things like interest-only and adjustable-rate terms, so that for a period of time, the mortgage payments were very low.

As a result, more people could take out these loans and buy houses. Demand for housing increased significantly, and as demand increased, so did prices. Where before, housing prices roughly kept pace with inflation, after 1995, a housing price bubble began to inflate.

Here is where the video turns partisan. Somewhere around 2003, it says, the White House began to sense trouble brewing and called for regulation of these loans, specifically the creation of a new agency within the Treasury Department to oversee affordable loans guaranteed and securitized by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The video says that Democrats killed that proposal in Congress, and the political leaders of that effort received huge campaign contributions from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and their executives. And in 2005, John McCain sponsored a bill to regulate low-income loans but was shot down, again by Democrats receiving large contributions from these government-sponsored enterprises, including freshman Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Then there is some populism about the banking executives, their lucrative compensation pacakages and golden parachutes, and discussion of malfeasance and financial irregularities concerning these people -- many of whom are advising Senator Obama.

So the conclusion is -- Bush and McCain had been in favor of regulating this segment of the market all along, but Democrats prevented them from doing so. Maybe they did it because they were corrupted, maybe they did it because they were well-intentioned but misguided about using the amended CRA to benefit lower-income people. But the Republicans have been on the right side of the issue all along and if the GOP had won those earlier battles in favor of regulation, the current financial crisis would not be nearly so bad as it is now or maybe could have been avoided altogether.

Now, I realize that the conventional wisdom right now is that free market-loving Republicans are reflexively opposed to regulation of things and statist Democrats are reflexively advocates of regulation. But that is not only a gross oversimplification, but by the Second Bush Adminsitration, the economic ideologies of both parties left over from the end of the Cold War era had basically gone out the window. Bush II deficit-spent like a drunken sailor and the Republican Congress cried "Huzzah!" at the idea. Bush II signed on to the creation of Medicare Part D, the Pharmaceutical Industry Suckling At The Public Teat Act of 2005. Bush II and its docile Republican Congress -- with the near-unanimous assent of Democrats -- invoked national security to impose the most intrusive financial disclosure regulations of any kind known in American history, in the form of the USA PATRIOT Act and its follow-up, PATRIOT II. We can debate about whether any or all of these things were necessary, advisable, or have worked net benefits for the country another time. The point is, none of these things made the market any freer.

And Democrats are every bit as corruptible as Republicans, and we've seen plenty of examples in recent years of Members of Congress of both parties getting caught taking money where they shouldn't -- sometimes in the form of cold, hard bricks of Benjamins, wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in the freezer. That one was a Democrat, as I recall, but by the time it happened, it hardly mattered what party the guy was in. He had influence and it was for rent. And Fannie Mae likely did not relish the thought of being regulated in what seemed like a very profitable segment of its activities. So it also seems entirely plausible to me that certain Members of Congress got corrupted back when real estate financial giants were awash with money.

I don't know exactly what criticisms might be levied at the argument. There are some problems I see right away.

First of all, Republicans controlled Congress in 1995, 2003, and 2007. Especially later in the process, Republicans did so with fairly slim margins, and a large minority does have the power to kill some proposals, unless the majority really flexes its muscle on the issue. So it's not impossible to say that the Democrats (then in the minority in Congress) could have killed these regulatory proposals -- especially since the proposals were to regulate economic activity, something that Republicans traditionally would not have much of an appetite for doing, at least according to the conventional wisdom about who likes regulation and who doesn't. And Bush II could have used some of his executive authority to impose a degree of regulation on the loans without consulting Congress through his power to issue executive orders -- something that he has demonstrated a penchant for doing in other contexts, but did not do in this arena.

Second, there are probably plenty of Republicans who got corrupted, too. For every Democratic Congressman with bricks of cash in his freezer, there is a Republican Congressman getting a blowjob on his brand-new yacht at Gangplank Marina, with yacht, slip, and blowjob all paid for through campaign dollars donated by a profitable business regulated by the Congressman's subcommittee.

Third, it's not clear exactly how hard either Bush or McCain pushed for these new regulatory laws, whether they did so to forestall different kinds of regulation proposed by Democrats (if Democrats had proposed such regulation at all), or whether the laws proposed by Bush or McCain were shams to create a tissue of oversight without actually changing anything.

Fourth, Barack Obama's legislative inexperience is something of a shield here. Obama is not one of the architects of the amendment to CRA and really had nothing to do with it, one way or the other. At most, he probably thought it was a good idea at the time. But then again, so did a lot of people, from both parties. Not even this partisan video points to evidence of Republican resistance to the amendments to CRA in 1995.

Finally, never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity. Rather than assume that Democratic politicians were rapaciously exploiting their own constituencies to enrich themselves and their buddies while intentionally exposing the nation to a reckless risk, it seems more logical to me that they honestly believed that making some kind of home ownership vehicle available to low-income people would help alleviate poverty and work a net improvement in the national economy. What happened can rather easily be explained as an unintended consequence of a benign but not-fully-thought policy.

With all of that said, the video does raise an important point -- the government's interference with and participation in the housing market was a significant precipitating cause of the housing bubble, and the "reform" enjoyed more substantial political support from Democrats than Republicans. And there is plenty of evidence that they resisted attempts to soften the landing when the bubble inevitably burst. So if the question is who's to blame for the mess we're in, Democrats should belly up to the bar and prepare to eat a healthy portion of it.

Neither McCain nor Obama has demonstrated any appreciable leadership on the issue as of yet. In the debate on Friday, they both made noises about appreciating the gravity of the situation but neither of them had any sort of a solution or even any inkling that the financial problems this raises would require them to alter their agendas once in office. Either or both of them still have opportunities to step up to the plate and start being actual leaders in this crisis, as I wrote yesterday. But it's just not happening, so far as I can see. Both of them are hestitating and trying to figure out what the right long-term policy is and how to reconcile advocating that sure-to-be-unpopular policy with their short-term political advantage. That's not leadership by any meaningful definition.

But here's the thing. It happened on Bush's watch. And even if the Democrats are more to blame about creating the problem, they seem to have done more yesterday to try and solve it than Republicans did. So Obama, at least, doesn't need to lead yet. He can surf this one out, because a bad economy and a stalemated government is a net advantage to the Democrats. Which means, as Reynolds and I concurred yesterday, my bottle of scotch fell in to substantial jeopardy when House Republicans couldn't muster enough party discipline to get even a third of the membership to vote with their own President.

So although I enjoyed the video, it ultimately only reinforces what I said yesterday. McCain needs to step up and find a pair on this one. If he doesn't or can't, then maybe he doesn't deserve to be President after all.

Logarithmic Universe

The quirky and interesting XKCD presents -- well, everything:

September 29, 2008

Hobo Signals

As you prepare for the coming Second Great Depression, remember these!

Some Thoughts About The Bailout Bill

Why did it fail?

It didn't fail because Nancy Pelosi gave a mean speech attacking the Bush Administration.

It didn't fail because Republicans are disloyal to their President or suffer from irrational fears of creeping socialism.

It didn't fail because Congress and its members refused to take the situation seriously.

It failed because the basic idea of the government deficit-spending another seven hundred billion dollars to save a bunch of banks who all seem to buy each other out anyway is, shall we say, a hard sell to the American public. It failed because many Americans simply don't understand why a small number of mortgages failing because banks made bad loans isn't something that the market can take care of on its own.

How the market taking care of things on its own, of course, is what our leaders are trying to save us from. The market taking care of things on its own results in things like homes losing a quarter to half of their value in a two-year period. The market taking care of things on its own results in nearly 800-point daily drops in the stock market and peoples' retirement accounts being eviscerated. The market taking care of things on its own results in more profits from American commerce being gobbled up by foreign banks and businesses and not reinvested here -- exporting our wealth.

The reason for that is that everything in our economy is leveraged. Everything depends on the margin. How much money can a bank lend on the strength of its deposits? That the margin at which wealth is generated. Everything depends on cash flow -- on debtors making regular installment payments on their debts and creditors not withdrawing their assets too quickly. And when the market loses confidence in the assets of the institutions that generate wealth by creating debt, they lose confidence in the institutions themselves. The tissue of shared faith in the power of money as a symbol of wealth eventually reaches a breaking point.

And it may seem like these things just happen, massively, all of a sudden. It seems that way. But that's not really how it works. Read a book called The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and you'll get an idea of why -- the change is really creeping up all along, it's the resistance to the change that suddenly vanishes. When the realization that a change is upon us occurs, the perception of the change spreads quickly and it seems like there has been a sudden change in fashion, mood, or so on. Freeze some water in a pot. Then apply intense heat to the pot's bottom. The time between when the ice finally disappears and when the water boils into vapor will be much shorter than the time that it looks like the ice is just sitting there, not melting yet.

That's what's going on here. We all sort of knew that things were not right, that the real estate cycle seemed unusually intense. But the subtextual suspicion that the financial network underlying our economy was actually eroding rather than just cycling was there all along. And finally, something happened -- two banks got withdrawal runs that they could not handle (because no bank can handle a sustained withdrawal run) and failed and got bought out or taken over. And then another one did. And then it it Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That was the tipping point.

So what's to do?

My instinct is to do nothing. The market will sort itself out. Real estate will eventually come back. But nothing is what we did under similar circumstances in 1929, and nothing turns out to be a rather poor option. The stock market suffering a sudden decline was one thing -- the problem was people pulling their money out of the banks and rendering anemic the financial institutions that could have re-generated wealth in the wake of the crash. Today, what is needed is restored confidence in financial institutions. People need to stop withdrawing their money and, ironically, they need to continue borrowing it to generate debt, which in turn generates wealth.

A lawyer I worked for a partner who said that one day, there would only be two or three banks. At the time -- the mid-90's, banks were in the habit of buying one another aggressively (all on leverage from other banks) and he figured that Bank of America and Wells Fargo would eventually merge and become the Bank of the West, that Chase and Bank of New York would merge and become the Bank of the East, and MBNA would grow to become the Bank of the South. Maybe something like that needs to happen. Maybe we need to have fewer small, localized banks and a lot of big banks with very conservative approaches to their loans.

You can impose the latter by regulation. But it's better to encourage it because you want some degree of risk -- that's where innovation and profit come from, along with the inevitable failures. So maybe we bundle and securitize all manner of bank loans through regulated consolidators and spread the risk around like that.

So much for policy. Politics are another matter. No one likes to consider the murky, unsatisfying truth that banks lending money is how money is made. So someone very clever needs to figure out how to sell something like this plan to Main Street. Someone like, say, a Presidential candidate, who can say that he had been studying the bill for a long time and that he thinks he has the answer. He can propose an amendment that moves a lot of money around, take the reins of the issue out of the hands of the White House and shows himself to be a leader. It doesn't have to actually change much of anything -- the big deal is to get the money into the institutions so that consumers have confidence in them.

The candidate who can pull that off would gain substantially in the polls -- if the stock market does not immediately react to the newly-labeled plan by dropping a thousand more points. It would take a candidate with a little bit of nerve and a little bit of vision. It would take a candidate willing to take that gamble. If that candidate were behind in the polls, that would make things competitive again and steal the centerpiece issue from the front-runner. If that candidate were leading in the polls, it could put the Presidential race so far out of the other guy's reach that all further campaigning could be spent, say, building a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a Congress stocked with freshmen legislators who all owed their jobs to the new President and his powerful coattails.

I wonder if we have any politicians like that. The evidence would suggest not.

The Difference, Explained

A friend from Tennessee asked in an online forum:
If someone could articulate the distinction between the two parties, I would love to know. It would be lovely to have a major party that I could believe in. Also, it would do wonders to reduce my anxieties about the two!
My response:
Democrats: Expand the role of government in paying for health care. (Impliedly) Less military spending. FCC concentrates its efforts on increasing racial diversity in public television programming. Moderate danger of party being taken over by crypto-socialists intent on nationalizing most major industries. Mostly favor abortion rights and oppose international free trade agreements (exceptions exist for both issues). Justices appointed to Supreme Court like Steven Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "Vero Possumus."

Republicans: Do not expand the role of government in paying for health care. More, or at least current levels of, military spending. FCC concentrates its efforts on protecting us from unathorized exposure of nipples. Moderate danger of party being taken over by crytpo-theocrats intent on using the government to regulate consensual sex acts. Mostly would restrict abortion rights and favor international free trade agreements (exceptions exist for both issues). Justices appointed to Supreme Court like like John Roberts and Samuel Alito. "Country first."

Both: Rejigger tax code to make it "more fair for all Americans in these tough times," but somehow your taxes will increase. Lip service paid to balancing budget but deficit nevertheless will increase. Greater Federal funding to local schools and "radical" education reform package will fail to reverse continuing decline in education levels. Periodic overt references to Protestant Christianity and use of "faith-based initiatives" to use public money to subsidize religious institutions. No clue about reforming or protecting Social Security. No substantial definition of "success in Iraq" and withdrawl of most but not all troops from Iraq by 2011 after proclaiming "victory." Some pandering to the "immunization causes autism" crowd. "Under God" stays in Pledge of Allegiance.
Which about sums it up, I think.

Bailout Bill Fails

Looks like the bill did not pass out of the House, by a vote of 206-227. More later.

Dinosaurs and Presidential Succession

Some might ask why be concerned about Sarah Palin anymore. Tina Fey has lampooned her to within an inch of her political credibility on SNL (and props to Amy Poehler for being such a good foil for that):

And the latest projections are as bad for the McCain-Palin team as I've seen since Gov. Palin joined the ticket.

But where I had been initially intrigued and pleased with her, I've had to ask myself whether I would want this woman becoming President under troubled circumstances (when the President dies, it is by definition a crisis) and all the jokes and lampooning aside, I'm not comfortable with the idea of her hand at the helm. She thinks that the world is six thousand years old and that dinosaurs walked the earth along with humans. To her credit, she does not seem anxious to impose that belief system on others. But as I wrote earlier this month, if someone holds and expounds a bizarre world view, that fact alone raises a serious issue about their judgment and therefore their qualification for high office.

John McCain is a mortal man. He would be the oldest President in our history -- as old when he takes office as Ronald Reagan was when he left office.* Some have questioned his mental abilities, although personally I do not see cause for alarm there. But he is also a cancer survivor who must live with a lifelong threat of remission. And of the 43 Presidents we've elected, eight (Harrison I, Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Roosevelt II, and Kennedy) have died in office. That's a Presidential mortality rate of just under 19%. And it's been made deliberately obscure just how physically and mentally up to the job some other Presidents who survived their terms were by the end -- Woodrow Wilson had suffered a debilitating stroke and Ronald Reagan was beginning to feel the effects of Alzheimer's during his last days in office, for instance. Never mind Presidents who had become politically unviable like Buchanan, Johnson I, Ford, or Carter. Those men were all, at least, alive and physically and mentally able to discharge their duties; they were just incredibly unpopular by the ends of their terms.

All told, 14 of our 46 Vice-Presidents (just over 30%) have gone on to become President themselves one way or another. Eight of those 14 have done it during the twentieth century, and Al Gore came really close to doing it in 2000. So the office has become a better launching-point for the top job in modern times.

So on the currently about one-in-five chance** that McCain-Palin defeats Obama-Biden, there's a better than one-in-four chance of Sarah Palin becoming President herself. Much as I would like to throw my support wholeheartedly behind McCain, I haven't been able to make myself feel even reasonably comfortable with the idea of President Palin.

None of which makes Barack Obama look any better to me. We can't afford to implement his platform, especially not after our government takes out a second mortgage on our future to the tune of three-quarters of a trillion dollars in order to shore up financial institutions from the consequences of their own bad decisions. So do I hope for Obama to get elected but for his administration to suffer legislative stalemate? That doesn't seem reasonable, either.

* I've heard suggestions that because his parents and grandparents were all long-lived, that means McCain has a prolonged life expectancy, too. I've no way of evaluating that claim and I am moderately interested in actuarial data -- not anecdotes -- to see if there is anything to that.

** While my favorite projection site currently reports Obama winning just over 80% of its projected elections based on current state-by-state polling numbers, we can expect those numbers to narrow as the election draws closer simply because that's what the imminence of an election does. And I'm still feeling pretty good about that bottle of scotch, Mr. "Grant."

September 28, 2008


I don't want to talk about what the Green Bay Packers did today. Nor do I want to talk about Brett Favre's career day. Good for you, Brett.

No, I want to talk baseball. The Cubs lost and so did the Mets. And that means that, on the last day of the regular season, the Milwaukee Brewers earned themselves the wild-card slot for the National League playoffs. This is exciting -- the last time Milwaukee was in postseason play, I wasn't yet a teenager. Several days ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers locked up the NL West Division, earning their spot in the playoffs, also.

Which means that it is a not-out-of-the-question scenario that the Dodgers and the Brewers could compete for the NL pennant. Kind of like what I said was a realistic scenario nearly six months ago. Now, the Brewers have to get through Philadelphia, and the Dodgers have to get by the Cubs. Both of these will be tough series. The Brewers have a huge problem in the loss of Ben Sheets to injury. And the Cubs are, by the numbers, the best team in the NL. So I'm getting my gloating in now.

And it's also entirely realistic to imagine the Angels and the Rays compete for the junior league's pennant. Both of those teams should be favored at this point; the Rays don't even know yet whether they'll face the Twins (if the White Sox lose tomorrow) or Chicago (if the Sox win and then beat Minnesota in a one-game playoff on October 1). But I can gloat about that, too -- before the All-Star break, I floated the idea of an Angels-Rays AL pennant series. (No one laughed, either.)


Palinism (PAY-lin-is-um) -- n. A response to a question that exposes the speaker's lack of knowledge through the confabulated, improper, and preprogrammed use of seemingly-related catchphrases.

KATIE COURIC: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries; allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

SARAH PALIN: That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health-care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the -- it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health-care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing. But one in five jobs being treated in the trade sector today, we've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that.

It reminds me a little bit of pro per litigants who come into Court and say things like "He frauded me! He asked me to sign that oral contract and I wouldn't do it so I want punitive damages for all the stress he's put me through."

Gov. Palin's response to the rather simple question of "Why do we need this bailout?" was utterly incoherent. It borders on being as painfully incoherent as Miss Teen South Carolina's response to a question about maps. What happened here is that Gov. Palin has been briefed on a number of issues by the GOP handlers on how to field "economics" questions and while she has absorbed the phrases she does not seem to have listened for content. Syntax is sacrificed in favor of the sound-bite. Maybe some of these buzzphrases work well at the gubernatorial level. But in response to a question about financial policy, Palin responds with a rambling laundry list of words that have little to do with one another.

Seriously -- how do you blow an interview with Katie Couric? Somehow, Sarah Palin found a way.

September 27, 2008

Old World Wisconsin: More History

Finally, here's a few more pictures from Old World Wisconsin that don't fit into any larger category.

This pond is actually a "kettle," which is a leftover depression in the topsoil formed when the glaciers retreated from Wisconsin at the end of the last ice age. The glaciers left behind depressions (and also piles of of rocky deposits variously called "drumlins") that fall below the water table and today make up the tens of thousands of ponds that dot the Wisconsin landscape:

This tiny building is, believe it or not, a church. The church was moved from a community called Harmony Ridge, which was a racially integrated rural towns in Wisconsin (meaning black and white people lived and worked together). Wisconsin was never a slave state and so the black people who lived in this community were free -- which is not to say that there was not racial prejudice, especially in the more urban areas like Milwaukee, Beloit, or Green Bay. But the presence of a town where black and white people lived and worked together, before the Civil War, indicates that Wisconsin contained some elements that were significantly more progressive than many of its neighbors, and this is an element of their heritage of which Wisconsinites can rightfully be proud.

Finally, I have two pictures of a Danish farmhouse. We didn't tour it, because we needed to get into Milwaukee to meet up with my family for the Friday night fish fry. But the buildings strike me as particularly well-preserved and very evocative of the historical period the park is trying to capture:

This is an example of a "stump fence" on the Danish farm. This is what was done with the stumps of felled trees that were pulled out of the ground by oxen using huge hooks so that fields could be cleared and used for farming:

Old World Wisconsin: Raspberry School

Probably the most interesting of the exhibits in Old World Wisconsin was the Raspberry School. The school shows the trademarks of skilled construction, so the community obviously put a lot of effort into making a good building for their children to be educated. The fact that an expensive purple-pink paint, rather than the more affordable trademark red used on barns, also indicates that this northern Wisconsin community made a substantial communal investment in the school.

The docent, an attractive young lady in her twenties, gave a wonderful presentation to us tourists, who sat in the students' desks and could flip through the readers and draw on the students' slates. She explained that a typical teacher who would have worked in the schoolhouse would have been shockingly young by our standards -- schoolteachers sometimes started their jobs when they were 15 or 16 years old. (14 year old girls teaching were not unknown -- as soon as they finished school themselves, they could take the test and start looking for work.) The total education dispensed by these one-room schools would usually be the equivalent of today's high school and a year or two of college, so the program was relatively intense and aided by the one-on-one instruction. Boys typically took longer to make it through the school's program because they would be pulled out of school to help out with work around their families' farms. So some of the students would be older than their teachers, and it was not unheard of for teachers to strike up romantic relationships with, and eventually marry, their students. Once a teacher got married, she generally gave up teaching as a job because being the wife of a farmer was a full-time job. After touring some of the other farms and seeing just how much work went into them, it's easy to understand why.

Old World Wisconsin: Norwegian Farm

Ole Fossebrekke immigrated to Wisconsin from Norway. He built a two-story log cabin with no interior walls and a square footprint about twelve feet to a side. Ole grew pumpkins and raised pigs, and trapped animals for their pelts. This must have been enough to do more than merely survive, because at one point, seventeen people spent a winter living in Ole's cabin -- along with the baby pigs that were kept in an interior cradle so they could stay warm throughout the winter. Ole's house must have had a special smell to it indeed by the end of the winter.

Old World Wisconsin: Loomhouse Farm

This is the second of the German farmhouse exhibits we toured. This family supplemented its agricultural income by weaving flax into burlap and linen and the loom still works, although it was not demonstrated while we were there. They also harvested and prepared thatch, which was the main use to which they put their larger barnhouse. That was because they also built a fairly elaborate barn with corrals and stalls for various of their animals like the oxen, chickens and swine kept as representative animals of what it would really have been like on this somewhat more prosperous farm.

Old World Wisconsin: German Farm

This is the first of two farms of German settlers that we toured. Although this family lacked for money, they were prosperous enough to send their son back to the old country to find a wife (apparently, he struck out with all the girls in Wisconsin) and to afford the various outbuildings like a summer kitchen where the docent was preparing carrots, radishes, and cabbages grown on the premises for lunch, and to keep swine like the lovely sow pictured below.

Old World Wisconsin: Crossroads Village

These are the first of my favorite photos from Old World Wisconsin. This batch is from the "Crossroads Village", which the museum has created from a variety of buildings gathered from around Wisconsin. There are several interesting buildings right there. The first building most visitors see is a whitewashed church with a large stove placed right in the middle of the aisle. My father-in-law could have hung out in the blacksmith's shop all day long watching the docent make door hooks and nails if we hadn't pulled him out of there to look at other things, although I admit it was pretty interesting watching the guy use nothing but a hammer and anvil and his skill to turn a red-hot rod of steel into something useful. The washerwoman's stove shows some of the tools of her trade, like an iron and a ruffle-press. The middle-class family's parlor was calculated to impress visitors with a level of prosperity the family could barely afford to present (how little things have changed!) and while the decor seems a little bit busy and crowded to my eyes, we were assured that indeed, this was how they presented the room to guests and it was fashionable in the late 1860's. And there is also a shot of many of the docents in period dress headed to the village inn (which is, I presume, where they keep their regular clothes to change into when their shifts are done).

Images of Wisconsin: Racine Farm

Further to my earlier post about the corn maze near Racine, here are some still pictures from that same stop-off on our last day in the midwest. Same pig, llamas, goats, and corn maze, but if you don't care to watch several minutes of video, this may be a little bit faster for you, including a charming close-up shot of the razorback's snout.

Images of Wisconsin: Miller Park

Below are some of the pictures I took while we enjoyed the game at Miller Park in which the Brewers fought a back-and-forth game with the Pittsburgh Pirates, to keep their 2008 playoff hopes alive. As I noted a few days ago, the building, the food, the fans, and the general atmosphere is quite simply superior to what you can experience at a California ballpark like Dodger Stadium.

The retired numbers are of Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Bob Uecker. On the opposite side, but too blurry to publish, were the retired numbers of Hank Aaron, Rollie Fingers, and the honorary number of Jackie Robinson. Robinson was never a Brewer or a Milwaukee Brave, but I really like that every ballpark in the country honors him by posting his Dodger number 42.

In this mix of pictures are the electronic banner sign advertising Piggly Wiggly supermarkets with possibly the cheesiest slogan I've ever seen: "Shop the pig." Also you can see an action photo of the sausage race between the hot dog, bratwurst, Italian sausage, Polish sausage, and chroizo. The night we were there, chorizo won by a significant margin. The sausages run from third base to first base. Not pictured is the two-story display stand for the Brewers' mascot, "Bernie Brewer," who seems to be a cousin of the Pittsburgh Steeler's "Steely McBeam."

Finally, also included in the mix is middle-reliever Eric Gagne at work. Gagne won a Cy Young award as a Los Angeles Dodger a few years ago and gave the the Dodgers a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Judging by his performance as a middle reliever for Milwaukee, he's lost a little bit of zing to his pitch but has kept his trademark lengthy pre-pitch psych-out ritual of rubbing the ball over about twenty places on his body before winding up to deliver the pitch.

Images of Wisconsin: State Capitol

Following are a number of pictures taken of, and in, Wisconsin's impressive state capitol. As we learned this morning, a "capitol" refers to the building in which a government conducts its business, a "capital" is the geographic area designated for such business to take place. Thus, Madison is the capital of Wisconsin, and in that city you will find the capitol, which is what these pictures are of.

The gold statue atop the dome is an allegorical sculpture of Wisconsin, in a pose intended to embody the state's motto, "Forward." Atop the entrance to the State Assembly gallery is a guardian spirit in the form of a badger, the state's mascot animal. The capitol physical plant is remarkable in that when the legislature is not in session, tourists like us are permitted to simply walk on to the floor of the legislative chambers and wander about the various desks and caucus rooms. I was particularly impressed with Tiffany-style glass skylights illuminating the Senate and Assembly chambers. There are also no metal detectors or other security screens; you just walk right in off the street like you own the place. The Wisconsin Supreme Court chambers are also in the building.

The building is larger and accommodates more legislative and governmental offices within itself, reducing the need for adjunct buildings, despite having a larger legislative body (100 Assemblymembers and 33 Senators, compared to 80 and 40, respectively, in California) which leaves my the overall impression that Wisconsin's capital is better-suited for its purpose -- housing the business of state government, and impressing visitors with the wealth and power of the state -- than California's.