Tag Archives: Maus

Coming up Sunday: Adventures in Vexillology

This Sunday, in light of the closing ceremony of the Olympics and the attendant parade of nations, my friend Brandon and I will each be ranking our 10 favourite national flags on our respective blogs.

Here’s the thing: Brandon, who is a web designer, will be ranking the flags aesthetically, from a design perspective. I will be basing my rankings on the use of historical and political symbolism. There will no doubt be significant differences between our rankings. The only question is: Will there be any overlap?

Of course, I won’t reveal any of my picks until Sunday (I presume Brandon has taken similar steps to prevent leaks and discourage whistleblowers), but here are the factors I’ll be considering when choosing my top 10 flags:

Use of unique symbolism

Does the flag reflect the country’s unique circumstances? Can you learn something about the country’s history, politics or geography from the flag?

Is there really nothing else to see in the South Pacific other than the southern cross in the sky?  Ooh, your flag has an eagle on it? How original!

Originality in symbolism of colours

Of course, every country’s flag is intended to be full of meaning. But it seems like the symbolism of many flag’s colours tends to be pretty similar. I give high marks to flags whose colours have meanings that deviate from the standard interpretations.

Oh, oh, let me guess! The blue stands for the sky! The green stands for the land! And could it be that the red is for the blood your soldiers have shed?

Potency of political symbolism

Once again, all flags have some symbolic meaning, but many have rather banal and obvious symbols. Sure, a stylised representation of some topographical feature in your country is nice, but I prefer something that has multiple layers of meaning and that makes a statement about your country’s view of itself and its place in the world.

So these are my criteria. If you have a blog, and think you have some other perspective on how national flags should be ranked, then by all means, join this fool’s errand, and send us a link to your estimation of the vexillological victors.


An Open Question on European Ancestry

I recently discovered yet another site on which it is possible to waste your precious time while feeling like you’re learning something. The site is called Dynastree and allows you to map the distribution of surnames in the US, Canada, and a few European countries.

As you can imagine, it’s easy to get carried away searching the maps for your surname, your spouse’s, your mother’s maiden name, your grandmothers’ maiden names, et cetera, et cetera.

But as I was whiling away the minutes, I noticed a few trends which demand some analysis.

First, here is the distribution of the name “Maus” in the US:

The Mice first came to the US in the mid-19th century and settled primarily in Minnesota and Wisconsin. As you can see, they are still mostly concentrated in that same area, although there are also significant concentrations in a few magnetic states in the Northeast, as well as California and Florida.

Next, here is the distribution of the name “Ament,” which is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name:

The Aments came to the US at about the same time as the Mice, settled in the same general areas, and to this day, have a similar distribution across the US.

Both the Maus and Ament clans have only been in the US for a little over 150 years, which perhaps explains why neither has spread too significantly beyond their initial settlements in the US.

In contrast, have a look at the distribution of “Hathaway” which is my mother’s maiden name:

As you can see, the Hathaways are rather ubiquitous in the US. They can be found in every state and there are large concentrations of them in very disparate states — from Massachusetts to Indiana to Washington state.

This seems intuitive: the Hathaways have been in the US since the 17th century and thus have had more time to spread out across the country.

So, if I posed the following question:

“Why is the name ‘Hathaway’ more widespread in the US than either ‘Ament’ or ‘Maus?'”

The logical answer would seem to be “Because the Hathaways have been here longer.” BUT, here is where things get interesting. If the primary limiting factor on a family name’s spread is time, we should expect that in their respective European homelands, each of these names should be fairly widespread, since they all have had hundreds of years to move around.

So, let’s look first at the distribution of “Maus” in Germany:

The Mäuse came from the western edge of Germany in what is now North Rhine-Westphalia, and that is still where they are concentrated. They can be found in other areas of western Germany , but for the most part, they are spread very thinly.

Now let’s look at the Aments:

You can probably guess, from looking at this map, where the Aments came from. They came from the southwest of Germany, in what is now Baden-Württemberg. With the exception of the neighbouring state of Hesse, and a few small clusters around the urban centres of Berlin and Munich, Baden-Württemberg is still one of the only places in Germany that the Aments can be found.

Finally, let’s have a look at the distribution of the Hathaways in the UK:

The Hathaways originated in South Wales and were established in the Severnside and the west of England by the time that some of them left for the US. They are still most concentrated in Gloucestershire and nearby counties. The Hathaways have managed to spread somewhat in the south of England, although curiously, there are some counties with absolutely no Hathaways (such as Leicestershire and Avon) that are adjacent to counties with significant concentrations of Hathaways.

So here is the question that all these brightly-coloured maps raises: Why was it so much easier for families to spread across the US in only a few generations than in their respective European homelands over an even longer period of time?

I have a few possible explanations for this disparity in geographic mobility. Hopefully some of my readers will have more well-researched answers.

1. Ease of displacing neighbours. When the Hathaways and other early European immigrants arrived in the Americas, the land was very sparsely populated, and if they wanted more land, they had to annex it from Native Americans, who had little means of resistance. By the time my German ancestors arrived in the US, the country was much more densely populated, and the neighbours they would have needed to displace to acquire more land were now other Europeans who had better means of resistance than the Native Americans. Ditto in Europe.

2. “New World” effect. Perhaps there is something to that notion that the New World offered an opportunity for European immigrants to start afresh. Local rivalries and prejudices that might have prevented families from moving to nearby areas in England or Germany were either absent or less formidable in the Americas.

3. Time Required for Dynasty formation. Local dynasties can form that elevate a family to a place of regional prominence and therefore give members of that family a strong disincentive to stray too far from their dynasty’s sphere of influence. This would explain why the Cabots, one of the first families of the “Boston Brahmin” are still most concentrated in Massachusetts. But dynasties take time to form, and dynastic families in Europe had a several hundred-year head start on would-be dynasties in the US.  Note that this idea runs counter to the argument that the longer a family has been in the US, the more widespread they would be today.


Luxury Bikes for the BRICS!

New format: Idea up front, explanation later.

Idea: Luxury bicycles marketed specifically to emerging economies

Explanation: Anyone who knows me, or who reads my other blog, knows that I will go to great lengths to ride my bike, even if only for short lengths. Because of my appreciation for these machines, I now posit the Maus Hypothesis of Bicycle Appreciation. 

My hypothesis is thus: that the appreciation for bicycles in a given country or society correlates to income along a U-curve. That is, in the poorest of countries, where bicycles are ubiquitous, they are appreciated for their many functions. Here in Uganda, bicycles serve as taxis, pushcarts, and even, as bicycles.

As incomes increase, appreciation of bicycles lowers. Because bicycles are associated with the days of poverty, they are shunned by the new rich who see cars as a status symbol.  But at the highest income levels, bicycle appreciation recovers. Here, people now have time for recreation, and thus view bicycles as fun. Also, in some places, cars have become so passe that they no longer carry value as a status symbol, and in densely populated urban areas, have diminished value as a mode of transport.

Here is how I would visually depict this hypothesis:

Obviously, there would be some outliers on this graph. The US has higher incomes, but lower appreciation for bicycles, due mostly to America’s deeply entrenched car culture, and low levels of physical fitness (although this is perhaps both cause and effect). Additionally, in some poor countries, say Mongolia, cycling has never gained widespread acceptance due to geography or culture. Also, keep in mind that the y-axis plots appreciation not usage of bikes.

It’s mostly in the emerging markets that bicycles face the biggest challenge. I’m thinking specifically of the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and even more specifically of India and China. The BRICS account for over 40% of the world’s population, a quarter of its landmass and most of its current economic growth. Thus, the transport and lifestyle habits of people in these countries will have a massive impact on the future of the planet.

As I’ve suggested, bicycles are by no means scarce in these countries. But as soon as people have enough money, they usually trade them in for automobiles. There might be any number of reasons someone decides to purchase a car, but I would guess that the main one is status. After all, if you live in China or India, and you’ve ridden a bike your whole life, it’s probably because that was all you could afford. If you continue to ride a bike, people will assume your situation hasn’t changed. But driving a car will make it clear that you’ve done well for yourself.

If 1.4 billion Chinese people and 1.2 billion Indians start driving cars at the same rate as Americans, it’s curtains for those countries’ infrastructure and air quality. As in the US, the individual desire for status will probably trump any feeling of societal obligation.

If I’m correct that people buy cars to display their wealth and status (it’s hard to explain any functional benefit to having a car instead of a bike in Beijing or Delhi), the disadvantage of bikes is that they are associated with poverty, rather than wealth.

But not so for the luxury bike!

How is a luxury bike different from any other bike? In the same way that an Acura is different from a Honda: different branding and nicer accessories. A solid bike with a plush leather saddle, brake and shift levers made of chrome or some other unnecessary metal, and the right brand name on the frame could quite effectively convey one’s status.

Coming soon to a bike near you?

The production and manufacture of these bicycles would be the easy part. The branding and marketing would be more difficult. We could either try to develop a brand from scratch, equating our bikes with power and sophistication and recruiting a celebrity or two to endorse the brand. Or we could licence the name of an existing luxury brand, e.g. build our bikes and then paint the name ‘Gucci’ on then (and then perhaps encrust the name with diamonds).

These bicycles would be marketed to the fast-growing middle classes in emerging economies. This segment has shown a high degree of brand consciousness and is at highest risk of buying a car.

Who wants to go in on this venture???

The other blog

This blog is already targeting a dangerously narrow and specific audience.  But now I’m setting out to capture a new demographic: people who are not interested in my ideas, but are interested in my (and my wife’s) experiences.

So please, visit Faith and David…THE BLOG!

PS, a new post will be coming soon on this site as well, hopefully.

Drinks with David; My New Political Talk Show

The Problem:

Hyper-partisan, demagogic, damn-near un-watchable political talk shows and their corrosive effect on political discourse.

My relationship to political talk shows of any sort in any medium could be described using an SAT analogy:

Maus:Political Talk Shows::The World’s Most Interesting Man:Beer

That is to say I don’t often watch them.  The equivalent of Dos Equis would be those interviews that just sound so intriguing that I have to watch the clips online later, such as Lupe Fiasco on the O’Reilly Factor or Cornel West and Mos Def appearing together on Bill Maher.  But usually whenever I watch any sort of political talk show, I feel discouraged about humanity and annoyed at all the shouting.

Here is the question I asked myself last week, after a spirited, but ultimately amicable political discussion with my dad and uncle:

Why is it that ordinary people can have such discussions without descending into shouting and name-calling, but the professionals on TV can’t?

Part of the answer is that the people on TV aren’t like you and me or the family and friends with whom these discussions take place.  Oftentimes the people on TV have a sense of self-importance that makes them feel entitled to never be interrupted or corrected, and a need to verbally bludgeon anyone who deigns to do so.


I think an equally important reason is that the “debates” on political talk shows don’t happen under the same circumstances as those with friends and family.  The context of a discussion probably does more to shape its tone than the content. Think back to college and how a discussion about the exact same topic would play out in a classroom versus in a dorm.

This leads me to my grand idea for a show:

Drinks With David

The most important element of the show will be the set: instead of having one one of those big circular desks in the studio with a backlit world map, oversize monitors or some other gaudy backdrop, I would have two (or maybe three) comfy chairs in the center of the stage and a bar off to the side.

Exchange the bookshelf for a bar and the desk for a living room set

When I introduce the guest (usually some political figure) I would meet them at the bar, and we’d chit-chat while the bartender (whose character for the show could be developed) got our drinks.  We wouldn’t discuss anything political until we had our drinks and were sitting in the comfy chairs.

Hopefully the relaxed atmosphere would make for less heated exchanges, and having a drink together would make the conversation seem more like just that — a conversation.

Usually I hope someone with the means to actualize will still my ideas, but truthfully, I would be kind of jealous if someone else actually gets to host a show like this.


A Global Minimum Wage

Fanciful Utopia

The idea I’m about to foist upon you is not a new one, and it might not even be original (feel free to direct me to anything in the literature or blogosphere that might have scooped me on this one).

To make matters worse, it’s not even an enterprising idea — it’s a policy recommendation!  I first started formulating it when I was a wee undergrad, and when I pitched it to one of my Econ professors, he told me it sounded too much like “global utopia.”  I haven’t spent much time refining the idea since then, so it hasn’t changed,  but the times have, perhaps sufficiently to make the idea palatable…

The Idea

There are essentially just two big steps to this idea, the goal of which is to end exploitation of workers:

  1. Set a global minimum wage (GMW)
  2. Allow countries to place import tariffs on companies that pay below this global minimum wage
1. Set a global minimum wage
This will be very hard to determine.  It makes sense for whatever wage is agreed upon to be expressed in USD, but at purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than exchange rates, as that will make it more stable (If I’ve lost you, don’t worry, the rest will still make sense).
Where exactly the GMW should be set is tricky, to say the least.  It needs to be set high enough that it actually accomplishes its goal of lifting workers out of poverty and preventing exploitation, but low enough that it doesn’t push economic activity underground or off the books.
2. Allow Tariffs
This part is also tricky. I’m still not sure whether tariffs should just be allowed against companies that fail to pay the GMW or against product categories from an entire country if the respective government fails to enforce the GMW in that sector.
In any case, the enforcement for this plan would be through the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
As I said, this idea has not undergone significant revision since I first dreamed it up, but the current political climate might make it either more palatable or less so.  First, the reasons I think it might be more plausible:
Pro: Rising Protectionism
I’m not a big fan of “economic nationalism” but it’s a completely predictable consequence of a recession or downturn, and in this case it could be put to good use.  I think politicians in the US  would love the opportunity to slap tariffs on China and other emerging economies; European leaders would love it even more because they could do it in the name of Human Rights!
Con: Corporate Objections
The major opponents to this will of course be large multi-national corporations who rely on low wages at one end of their global supply chain.  Their objection to paying livable wages to workers in developing countries is nothing new, but their political power, especially in the US, has been growing significantly.
Recent Supreme Court decisions (Wal-Mart v Dukes, Brown v Entertainment Merchants Association, etc.) have solidified the Roberts court’s reputation as the most corporate-friendly in history; with the current composition of SCOTUS, it’s quite possible that any tariffs enacted in support of the GMW could be successfully challenged in court in the US, the biggest single market for imports.  And even that would require a treaty to be ratified in the first place; given the increased corporate influence over Congress authorized by Citizens United v FEC, it would be difficult, at best, to get any sort of legislation passed enshrining the GMW in law.
As with any other idealistic global scheme, it would be possible to proceed without US participation, but the effect would be reduced.

A Change of Direction

I think this blog is rather too young to really “reinvent” itself.  Because of its relative youth I think it is still in that angsty phase where it is “finding” itself.  Moreover, since this blog is not, in fact, sentient, I bear responsibility for that process of discovery, and I think I am about to take a decisive step toward that end.

The Problem(s):

This blog lacks a clear direction or unifying theme. This is not necessarily a bad thing.  If the blogosphere were to be purged of all blogs that lacked internal cohesion, there would be very few left.  Nevertheless, I’m not aiming to add just another amorphous scrap to the ever-increasing heap.


The Latent Sub-title. I knew the text “So Crazy it Just Might Work” meant something, but so far the blog has not exactly lived up to its subtitle (although it has, if only by virtue of tautology, lived up to its title).  The truth is, I have lots of crazy, potentially actionable ideas.

Social Enterprise. There is a growing cadre of entrepreneurial minds who want to use innovation and creative problem-solving not just to make money but to address various social problems.  A lot of my crazier ideas tend to fall in with this lot.  So even if this blog somehow produces a great idea and someone steals it,some good will still come from that intellectual theft.

You, my dear readers. I”m hoping that there can truly be some exchange of ideas in the comments section.  Specifically, I hope for insight and refinement from those who bring different disciplines and perspectives to bear.

The Idea(s):

While I will still occasionally share my thoughts on the pressing issues of the day, I will focus more on proposing ideas that are, as far as I know, original and that, if they could somehow work, would make people’s lives better.  If this doesn’t make sense yet, hopefully the next post will demonstrate what I have in mind…

I’ve entered the blogojevich!

Yes, I finally have my own web log.  I’ve joined the world-wide information supersphere! I can only hope that having my own blog does not mark the beginning of my inevitable descent into hipsterdom.  Stay tuned for the highest caliber of blog analysis!