miss usa shocker!

Well this has got to be the most unbelievable thing I've seen in quite a while.

Axl Rose is still alive????


our children will live in hot topic

This piece by Tim Cavanaugh has me wondering...in 20-30 years, will people be bemoaning the death of America's malls, while hipsters start rennovating abandoned shopping spaces into trendy housing?


the best pre-pubescent argentinian metal cover band you're likely to see this year

Being the late adopter that I am, I have made every effort to steer clear of YouTube. I mean, I already watch too much TV as it is. And I was definitely resolved to avoid posting YouTube videos on my blog.

Meh. Resitance is futile. This is just too awesome. Be sure to check out the little sister really starting to rock out around 2:46.

Their cover of Sepultura's Refuse/Resist is also pretty cool.



skipping out of work can lead to good things

...such as you happen to be listening to the radio at just the right time to find out that a living legend is going to be performing right down the street tonight.

It may be 20 degrees outside in Durham tonight, but the stage at Baldwin Auditorium is going to be hot...

UPDATE--So it was predictably great.

This was actually a Duke Jazz Ensemble concert, so the first half was just them (for a student group, they are quite good). There was an intermission, and Louie just came out on stage to re-set the drums to his liking. A few people--mostly kids--came up to the stage to take his picture while he was doing it. He would look up when they did and give them a big grin.

The thing is, he moves pretty much like you'd expect an 82 year old man to move. Not at all feeble, but a little bent over, and very slow and deliberate in his movements.

Until he starts playing. But what I found facsinating is that he doesn't play like he's 25--he plays like someone with 8 decades of experience. Effortless. Nothing to prove. Pure economy of motion, his hands just gliding from drum to cymbal to hi-hat and back again. And so smooth. Whenever he ended a solo, and started into his trademark hi-hat shuffle (doo-dicka-doo-dicka-doo) to bring the band back in, he had the exact same grin on his face that you see in pictures going way back. At one point he was using two sticks in his right hand, and he occasionally busted out some double bass chops that would give Dave Lombardo a run for his money.

Just amazing. And an absolute class act--he recognized every one of the student soloists by name before and after they played. See him if you ever get the chance.


repeal day

I have mentioned elsewhere that today is Repeal Day, the day (federal) Prohibition was ended in the United States. Which is kind of ironic in light of the story alluded to in the previous post, no?

Clearly, we have not shaken the legacy of Prohibition. Beyond its obvious reincarnation as the War on Drugs (a topic I'm known to say a thing or two about from time to time) the impulse to ban in the name of the "public health" runs strong in our culture. As a recent example, Maine banned a winter beer with Santa Claus on the label because it might appeal to--who else--children. An argument flawed on so many levels that it's difficult to know where to begin, especially considering that with regards to alcohol in this country, one is effectively a "child" until their 21st birthday. Forget about designing a beer label that doesn't appeal to an 8-year-old...how the hell do you design one that doesn't appeal to a 20-year old?

Contrast that to France, where they're concerned that kids might not be getting enough wine. Far be it from me to advocate the wholesale adoption of French social mores and values, but still...

I actually got started with this to make a very different point--that today marks an occasion that matters a lot more than booze. Today was a day in U.S. history where we actually took a step back from ceding power to the state. We took something back. We reclaimed something that was rightfully ours. FDR gets (and perhaps deserves) a lot of credit for pushing it through--but the fact remains that it took the people of 2/3 of the states to actually make it happen.

The system worked.


(Beer and wine stories via RW and the always entertaining Kerry Howley, respectively.)

Bloomberg to propose ban on untimely death in NYC

New York, NY (AP)--New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, no longer content with banning smoking and trans fats, said today that it is time “to just quit screwing around.”

His Honor is proposing a comprehensive ban on untimely death in the Big Apple, stating that it is the “logical conclusion” to his ongoing policy of promoting public health by policing anything and everything that isn’t good for you.

“People have said that the next logical step would be alcohol prohibition,” said the Mayor at a press conference today. “While I think prohibition is an excellent idea—I mean, what harm could possibly come of it?—the fact remains that even in a smoke/alcohol/potato chip-free society, people will continue to die of heart attacks and cancer for no apparent reason.

“And that,” says Bloomberg, “is simply not acceptable in New York City.”

The Mayor was circumspect when asked how he intended to enforce his ban on untimely death. “I can’t say too much about our implementation strategy at this time. However, some of you,” he said, indicating a few portly members of the press corps, “might want to get used to the idea of being banished to New Jersey.”

Anonymous sources in city hall have indicated that the plan is likely to include banishing of all automobiles from Manhattan, including taxis and buses, and replacement of seats on subway cars with stationary bikes that will actually power the trains, which are expected to both eliminate death by auto accident and promote exercise. All windows above the ground floor will be hermetically sealed, and access to balconies and rooftops will be restricted to an army of maintenance robots, all to eliminate death from falling. Elevators will be sealed, for obvious health and safety reasons. Stairwells will be coated in playground foam rubber throughout the city, and helmets will be mandatory to ascend or descend a stairwell. A giant UV light filter will be erected over the city to block out the sun’s harmful rays and prevent skin cancer. All sharp and blunt objects will be confiscated city-wide, which won’t be a problem for the city’s restaurants as only food reduced to portions which are too small to choke on will be permitted within the city anyway. As a final resort, draconian fines are likely to be assessed on anyone determined to have died “before their time.”

When asked why he had not decided to just ban death altogether, the Mayor replied, “Because that would just be silly.”


modest proposals

This is basically a core dump of stuff I've been thinking about lately, but have lacked the time/inclination to flesh them out:

1. Immigration, which is apparently a big deal to some people these days. An idea I have heard exactly no one address is the US putting some pressure on Mexico to privatize their petroleum industry and/or allow for foreign investment in the oil infrastructure of Mexico. It seems to me that the US has more than enough economic leverage to convince them to do pretty much whatever we want. Especially since they just elected and another (relatively) free market-friendly president. If Pemex wasn't the only game in town, I find it hard to envision that this wouldn't create at least a few decent jobs south of the border, and maybe reduce the insurmountably powerful incentives many Mexicans have to immigrate to the US, legally or otherwise.

To me this seems so obvious that there must be a flaw in it. I'd love to know what that is.

2. Currency for the blind. The Treasury Department lost a lawsuit this week which basically means they have to make US currency more friendly to the blind (i.e., not have all bill denominations be the same size and texture). Those that have traveled even a little will likely note that the US is waaaay behind the curve on this. Now, the reasons for doing away with the current uniform standard are not trivial: namely, that every cash register, wallet, ATM, and vending machine in the US is based on it. But if we went to different sized bills, wouldn't the cash registers and wallets at least be OK as long as none of the new bills were any longer or taller than the old ones? So what if some of our bills end up the size of Monopoly money? It might be problematic for machines that have to read bills electronically (i.e., vending machines) but isn't that no different than dealing with recent changes to 20's 10's and 5's?

(By the way, this would be even easier if we just got rid of the $1 bill and replaced it with a coin. And my current wallet has accommodated Euros, Pesos, and Canuck Bucks without a hitch.)

Again, this seems so obvious to me that there must be something wrong with it.

3. Iraq--isn't it obvious that all we really have to do is...I'm just kidding. I haven't got a clue how to deal with that mess...

get drunk friday lazy blogging

As it happens, I have the house to myself and am having a beer to celebrate the blessed arrival of Friday evening. I realized I have not written much here lately, and thought that I could perhaps steal RW's idea of "Get Drunk Friday". Or something. Then I started looking back through his blog and realized he hasn't done GDF in a while. And before I could find his most recent GDF entry, I came upon this one in which he presents a lovely little meme (read: an excuse to indulge in blogging endlessly about yourself) that I had made a note to go back and grab once I had forgotten about it. I know that doesn't make much sense, but hopefully it will, once you get into it...

1. Flip to page 18, paragraph 4 - in the book closest to you right now, what does it say?

Scientists have a nasty habit of writing very long paragraphs--especially when they are freed from the constraints and conventions of primary literature--as a result, the nearest book at hand contains a mere portion of a single paragraph on page 18 that actually began on page 17. So I will pick up at a random spot ~3/4 down the page:

"Because the diameter of the Airy disc is governed by the objective NA and the [lambda] of the light, the higher th NA of the objective, the smaller d will be. A shorter wavelength is also beneficial for increasing objective resolving power. Table 2.1 shows that the values for the limit of resolution..."

(You get the idea. What's embarassing is that I'm actually at home.)

2. If you stretch out your left arm as far as possible, what are you touching?

The interior of the northern wall of my house.

3. What's the last program you watched on TV?

An episode of Battlestar Galactica on DVD last night.

4. Without looking, guess what time it is.


5. Aside from the computer, what can you hear right now?

The odd car passing on the street, and my dog occasionally sighing.

6. When was the last time you were outside and what did you do?

About an hour ago. I was walking said dog.

7. What are you wearing?

Army green Achewood Calling T-shirt, blue jeans, and black Doc Martens.

8. Did you dream last night? If you did, what about?

Yes. It was one of the ones where I'm trying to get to class in high school, but can't remember what classes I take at what time and where they are. I have this dream a lot, and occasionally it occurs to me in the dream that I don't need to go to class anymore because I've graduated. A few times. But last night it didn't and it really sucked.

9. When was the last time you laughed?

Just now, before deleting RW's answer to this question from the text I pasted into this window. His answer was "1965".

10. What's on the walls, in the room you're in right now?

My degrees, a nice arty collage of scenes from Georgia Tech, a several group photos from scientific meetings, a collage of photos from the lab where I did my grad work and first postdoc (a goodbye gift), a portrait of my parents and sister and I taken around 1998 or so, a multi-panel frame of pictures of my sister and I ranging from babyhood to adulthood, a picture of M and I taken before L and K's wedding, a bodhran I brought back from Ireland, and an African mask that my sister brought back from Uganda. Also, a mirror from Ikea and a great deal of paint.

11. Have you seen anything strange lately?


12. What do you think about this meme?

It's pretty good, but you have to either do it the minute you read it or wait like a month and then remember to do it and do it without getting up or cheating.

13. What's the last film you saw?

Intimate Strangers

14. If you became a multimillionaire, what would you do with the money?

I would pay off all of my debts as well as those of my family. I would buy new cars for my wife and I, but not terribly fancy ones. We would travel a bit, but not all at once. I would probably quit my job, and start working towards figuring out how to open and operate a small brewery/brewpub, and when I felt confident I was ready to do so, do so. Sock the rest away and live off the interest if the brewery doesn't work out. Give some money here, here, and here.

15. Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

My right leg is about one inch longer than the left. I'm not kidding. It's a miracle I don't just run around in circles.

16. If you could change ONE THING in this world, without regarding politics or bad guilt, what would it be?

I'm not sure I understand the caveats of the question exactly, but...I would just like people to rely less on their superstitions and more on their powers of reason.

17. Do you like dancing?

Only when I'm really, really drunk, and so is everybody else.

18. George Bush?

He would have been a decent caretaker president, with policies almost indistinguishable from Bill Clinton, but for 9/11 and the collective insanity into which it thrust us all (albeit to different extents and for different durations.)

But as things are, I think he's shit.

19. What do you want your children's names to be, girl/boy?

I do not plan to have children, but if I did I would probably afflict them with some horrid, convention-defying moniker that they would grow to hate me for. Which only reaffirms my decision.

20. Would you ever consider living abroad?

I would and I do. Often.

21. What do you want God to tell you, when you come to heaven?

"I know, I know. Just play along, OK?"

22. Who should do this meme?

All who read and blog must carry this meme forth. I command it!


this is why i blend in so well

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The South
The Inland North
The Northeast
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

UPDATE--my Dad called to say he was categorized as "Philadelphia", which is incredibly odd considering that he has lived something like 11/12 of his life in the state of Georgia, and the remainder in Texas and Germany.

This test might not be very scientific, is what I'm sayin'...


your sanctimonious thought for the day

If as many people would get as pissed off about cops killing innocent people in the name a futile drug war as they do about Kramer using the "N-word", we'd be well on our way to a much better world.

(And yes, a 92-year-old woman with no criminal history and no reasonable expectation of being raided by the police opening fire in self-defense upon masked men breaking into her home talking about drugs is "innocent" in every possible sense of the word.)

Radley Balko has compiled an excellent collection of "isolated incidents" here.

fax this



"the entire world's stock of human capital has been diminished"

--so says Catallarchy, on the death of Milton Friedman.


larry summers, thou art avenged

Many studies have shown that women are under-represented in tenured ranks in the sciences. We evaluate whether gender differences in the likelihood of obtaining a tenure track job, promotion to tenure, and promotion to full professor explain these facts using the 1973-2001 Survey of Doctorate Recipients. We find that women are less likely to take tenure track positions in science, but the gender gap is entirely explained by fertility decisions. We find that in science overall, there is no gender difference in promotion to tenure or full professor after controlling for demographic, family, employer and productivity covariates and that in many cases, there is no gender difference in promotion to tenure or full professor even without controlling for covariates. However, family characteristics have different impacts on women's and men's promotion probabilities. Single women do better at each stage than single men, although this might be due to selection. Children make it less likely that women in science will advance up the academic job ladder beyond their early post-doctorate years, while both marriage and children increase men's likelihood of advancing.

Via Tyler Cowan. I have neither the time nor the expertise to read the paper critically (nor, frankly, the inclination) but it does seem to gel with a hell of a lot of anecdotal evidence.

It is amazing what you can find when you ask an honest question and make every attempt to be unencumbered by the prevailing ideological orthodoxy. Almost like, well...science...

UPDATE--Permalinks to Marginal Revolution are acting odd. Go to the front page and scroll down to "Politically Incorrect Paper of the Month.


some balls were meant to be dropped

OK--back to what matters.

M took me to the Tech-Carolina game today for my birthday present (it's not for another week, but no one asked me when they made the football schedule.)

It was great to see a win, but I have to say that as wins go, it felt pretty hollow. Like I imagine besting a senior citizen at arm wrestling might feel. Or perhaps beating a one-legged man in a footrace.

It's nothing to brag about, is what I'm saying.

I can't express in words how happy I am that next year our QB will someone--anyone--other than Reggie "Huck the" Ball. Seriously. That kid is overthrowing at the end of his senior season every bit as bad as when Gailey started him the first game of his freshman year. He could chalk it up to nerves then, but against an utterly anemic Carolina today, there's just no getting around it: Georgia Tech this year is living proof that a good quarterback is not a prerequisite to a winning football season. I guess it's great that Tashard Choice got showcased so well (32 carries!) but Calvin Johnson's talent is utterly wasted on Ball's incompetence. A halfway decent QB would put Johnson in the running for the Heisman. I mean, let's get real--they refer to him as a "Heisman candidate" to be polite. No one gets the Heisman after getting 13 yards against arguably the worst team in the conference.

On the plus side, Tech did a great job converting 3rd downs, and their red zone defense was brutal (2 interceptions in the endzone). And I'm really looking forward to seeing Tech play in the first ACC championship game.

But at the moment, I am dreading the trip to Athens.


post mortem

So Secretary of Defense (an unelected position) Donald Rumsfeld resigns a day after his boss’s party got their ass handed to them, but the likely Democratic sweep of Congress was not—repeat NOT—a repudiation of the ill-conceived and, um, even iller (more illy?) executed war in Iraq, and you would be a fool and a terrorist sympathizer to think so.



if you must vote tomorrow

...please make sure that you are doing it in self defense.

Me, I'm sitting this one out for a number of reasons, chief among them that at this point I really don't care about anything I could be voting for. It's a slow year in NC, and between Durham and Chapel Hill, the odds of my newly adopted congressional district electing anyone other than a Democrat are approximately equal to the odds that I will convert to Islam.

If I still lived in AZ, I would almost certainly be voting against Randy Graf and John Kyl (notice how they are both suspiciously missing letters from their names?) though I am at a loss for a single reason to vote for their opponents.

I will, however, venture a prediction, which I base on absolutely nothing factual or uniquely insightful: the Democrats will win both houses tomorrow (the House comfortably, the Senate just barely, and there will likely be recounts involved in the latter) and the next two years will be so spectacularly unspectacular that another Republican will coast into the White House in 2008.

You heard it here first.


today is everything’s going to be ok friday

Well, this is some of the best news I’ve heard in a while:

Researchers here say that padding the diet with resveratrol, a compound in the skin of grapes and in red wine, lets mice eat a high-calorie Big Mac-style diet without suffering many of the associated ill effects -- except to get fat.
Compared with animals on the same diet without the compound, the resveratrol-fed mice gained weight but lived longer, remained healthier, and had livers, blood vessels, and muscle tissue that was similar to those seen in mice fed an ostensibly healthier diet.

So…maybe you can eat what you like and live just as long, as long as you wash it down with lots of red wine.

Life is good.


the truth is ugly

I would like to say that whoever thought to get Michael J. Fox to do a pro-stem cell candidate ad while off his meds deserves a freakin' medal.

I know some folks in the sanctity of life crowd think it's a cheap shot...but since we've endured the odd bloody fetus from their camp over the past few decades my thoughts run somewhere along the lines of "fuck them". Fair's fair.

I think it should go beyond that. Someone should show what Reagan looked like in the final stages of Alzheimer's. I assure you there was nothing quiet or dignified about it. Before his personality completely disintegrated, he probably became very belligerent and erratic in his behavior, because his frontal lobes were gone. He probably said horrible things to people he had loved for years. Then it got worse. And by the end, he was almost certainly intubated, because he no longer remembered how to swallow his own spit.

Make you squirm? Good. Death is ugly enough, but the long slow slide into it from neurodegeneration is something that I would personally kill myself to avoid.

There's a time to respect the ideological differences you might have with others. There's a time for compromise, and meeting halfway. But frankly, I'm tired of seeing people and their families suffer through especially nasty exits from this world. And more than that, I'm tired of seeing the research that could help them being held up by an insane devotion to a particular interpretation of the will of some 4000-year old desert nomad's imaginary friend.

I'm glad to see the gloves coming off in this debate. May it ever be so.


1001 949 reasons to hurry up and retire

If there are two things that tickle my OCD-like tendencies, those would be books and lists. And especially lists of books.

Here are "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die". (via)

There are plenty of authors I would count among my favorites (Murakami, Saramago, Garcia-Marquez, McEwan, Dick, and even Heinlein and Palahniuk), some I've only read a bit of but thouroughly enjoyed (Roth, Eco, Atwood), some I've never read but always meant to (Greene, Wolfe, Rushdie) and many, many more that I've never considered or heard of.

Which is good, because I sure would hate to run out...

I do find it heartening to know that I've covered a respectable 9.5 (I'm in the middle of The Cloud Atlas) of the 69 listed in this century so far, but I'm way behind the curve on the 20th.

Before that...I just can't be bothered. My theory is that film and then especially TV forced people to write much better novels in order to make a living at it.

Oh, and the fact that Alan Moore's The Watchmen is on the list kind of makes it for me. I would have also included Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, mainly because it's the first thing I remember reading where the idea of writing with a particular style really clicked for me (I think I was 11 or 12).

Addendum--I finally had a moment during a lull in the lab to go through the entire list...it appears that I have read 52 books on the list in all (not counting the one I'm currently reading) and only 7 of those are from earlier than 1900 (and I'm pretty sure I read all of those in school).


why they hate us: our poor linguistic skills

There's an old joke about the Pope dying and being met by God himself in Heaven. God tells the Pope that he was most pleased with his work on earth, and would like to offer him whatever he would like in Heaven as his reward. The Pope, ever the pious and scholarly man, asks for a chance to read all of the scriptures and church documents in their original forms. Because, he figures, he finally has the time.

God is more than happy to oblige, and ushers the Pope into a comfortable reading room in Heaven's library, and has all the requested documents delivered.

The Pope reads for days, weeks, months...until one day, an awful wailing sound is heard coming from the library. The angels rush to the Pope, and find him seated on the floor, a book open on his lap, tears streaming down his face.

"What's wrong?" they ask.

The Pope points to a line of text, and says, "it says celebrate!"


No point to that joke except this: isn't it kind of funny (in that awful way things tend to be funny these days) that the best possible way this can reflect on the administration is that the State Department's "director of the office of press and public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs" goes on the biggest Arabic news channel, gives an interview in Arabic, and inadvertently says "stupid and arrogant" instead of...well, what did he mean to say, anyway? Competent and well-planned?

Maybe Mr. Fernandez should hire a good translator. Wouldn't want there to be any cultural misunderstandings here, after all.


in vino veritas

RW asks: what's the deal with non-drinkers?

At the risk of posting merely to point out that I completely agree with him, I must say that I completely agree with him.

I am not an advocate of frequent drunkenness. I am, however, a firm believer in frequent visits to the warm, happy, gregarious state utterly radiating self-assurance that anyone with a healthy state of mind can easily achieve with a couple of drinks and the right company. (And occasional drunkenness.)

Alcohol, after all, is the great social lubricant. Just this evening I had occasion to share a few pints of the black stuff at my local pub with an Irish fellow, also named Brian. He claimed to be part of an Irish noble family (among other things) which as far as I can tell was "bollocks" as they say (there really is no such thing as nobility in Ireland anymore, and even those that lay claim to title have no role in the government, ceremonial or otherwise, and this is important because among his many tales was one of going back to Ireland to vote his grandfather's proxy in the House of Lords), but really, it doesn't matter because the conversation passed the time and was entertaining. (The Irish are good storytellers). More to the point, there is absolutely no way this conversation would have occurred over coffee.


Not to mention the fact that good beer and good wine (and I'm told good liquor as well, though that really isn't my thing) are the perfect compliment to food and fellowship. Cultures around the world incorporate communal drinking into the most intimate and important rituals of social bonding: the new year, holidays, college football, courtship, weddings, and wakes (except for the Muslims, of course, and look how that's working out.) One of the greatest atrocities visited upon Christianity by modern Evangelicals is the substitution of Welch's for a proper wine at communion.

To be sure, there are few people more destructive and less trustworthy than a bona fide alcoholic, and for them, there is every reason not to touch the stuff. But I truly believe that they are a tiny proportion of the population--for the rest, alcoholism is just a convenient excuse for being an irresponsible jackass. What do you expect when you tell people the first step is to admit they have no control over their own behavior? But that's another rant entirely...


the perks of being back east

(And yes, NC is "back east" if your reference point is Arizona. Smartass.)

In travelling to the SFN meeting this weekend, I get to drive. Time was I would have jumped at the opportunity to take a 1-hr flight over a 7-hr drive, but the fact of the matter is that:

1) Under ideal circumstances, it would take me 30 minutes to drive and park at RDU plus an hour to check in and get through security relatively stress-free. This assumes no traffic problems and an on-time departure. Plus an hour for the flight. Plus 30 minutes absolute minimum to collect my bag at ATL. Plus another 30 to get where I'm going (assuming 'normal' traffic). So already we're at 3.5 hours if *nothing goes wrong*, and 4-5 is probably more realistic.

2) I don't have to sweat the amount or packaging of basic hygenic needs.

3) I get to bring my dog (admitedly, this wouldn't be the case if my parents didn't live in Atlanta)

4) Most importantly, I get to stop here for lunch.


today in cognitive dissonance

On the way to the gym this evening, I heard a promo on NPR for today's Fresh Air, on which the topic would be the "Christian X-Games" movement. Which I thought was funny, because King of the Hill was all over that like, 3 years ago. Score one for pop culture!

It turns out today's show was actually about the "Christian Ex-gay" movement, which is much more serious, I suppose, and yet...no less silly...

Multiple media consumption does strange things to your brain. Also, riding around in a Jeep probably isn't very good for your hearing.

Speaking of the gym...setting up on a treadmill in front of the Fox News TV covering "THE NORTH KOREAN MENACE" while rockin' some Arch Enemy and Sepultura on the MP3 creates a total two minutes hate vibe. I felt like I should be cursing at the screen every time Kim Jong Il's face popped up.

This is doubly trippy at the Y, where there's Bible verses on the wall.


random notes from the new digs

--The road signs in the Triangle are kind of funny...highways often don't give you much warning about what's coming up (it took me about half a dozen tries to master the Durham Freeway dead-ending just south of I-40) but yet, gigantic shopping malls visible from space often have small green and white road signs that say "SHOPPING CENTER -->" on the road in front of them.

--Speaking of malls, has anyone ever thought to call Raleigh "Malleigh"? If not, I would like to take credit for starting it. It's not as funny as "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees", but still, I think it's rather apt. (Yes, two weeks is all it took for me to immerse myself in intercity rivalries. Nothing makes you feel instantly invested like a mortgage.)

--I am still overwhelmed at the fact that we moved to an area that is notorious for being "suburban without an urb", that is filled with "subdivisions" and "developments", and yet we managed to land in a genuine "neighborhood". It's true--Durham kicks ass.



Hell yeah.

c and me

So there's this kid in our neighborhood. Let's call him C.

Here's what I've pieced together about C, both from talking to him and to our next-door neighbors, who know him pretty well:

--C is 12, and lives with his grandmother, because his mom is dead and his dad is "absent".

--His grandmother's ability to get around is extremely limited; as far as I can tell she doesn't have a car, either because she can't afford one or is not physically capable of driving or possibly both. (I've not actually seen her myself yet). Their church pretty much takes care of them.

--C doesn't relate very well to kids his own age. (Of course, at 12, who does?) He doesn't really seem to have any friends, though he is in Boy Scouts.

--In spite of all this, C is very friendly and polite. He's above average in his ability to initiate and carry out conversations with adults. He often will join us when we are walking Ollie (his house fronts on the park).

A couple of days ago, C was hanging out on our block as I was taking Ollie out. I said hello, and asked him what was up.

"I'm looking for someone to take me to get dinner."

"Oh," I said. Couldn't think of anything else.

He produced a handful of bills and a sheet of coupons for Church's. While the neighborhood right around our house and to the west is quite nice, the neighborhood along the main road to the east and north is not so good. Church's is about a mile up this road.

"I just don't want to get jacked for my chicken."

Well, I couldn't blame him for that. I'm not exactly small, but I wouldn't want to walk along that stretch by myself if I didn't have to. C is 12, and still on the happy side of puberty.

Needless to say, I ended up driving C up the road for some chicken.

This story isn't complete without mentioning that C is black and I am not. In a perfect world, this would be irrelevant to the story, but the fact is, when I drove up to the chicken joint with this kid, it was pretty obvious that he wasn't my son, brother, nephew, etc.

I drew some pretty hard stares, is what I'm saying. And I couldn't blame those guys, either. For minute, I thought one guy was going to come say something to me--I smiled directly at him and waved, and I guess that managed to convince him I wasn't up to anything creepy. Maybe.

It's terrifying how trusting children can be. I mean, I know that I'm a good person, but he doesn't. How could he?


the ghosts of the future

"You have to know, not fear, that some day you are going to die. Until you know that and embrace that, you are useless."

--Tyler Durden, in Chuck Palahnuik's Fight Club

The ghosts of the future are far more haunting than the ghosts of the past.

I'm realizing this these days. Regrets can be distracting, but fear can be utterly paralyzing. And at least we have a chance to learn from our regrets. To put them into perspective. Regrets may help you to do the right thing--next time. Fear keeps you from doing anything at all.

Nothing wastes your life like fear.

I fancy myself as someone who has taken some risks in his life. Maybe more than most. I haven't always done the safe or sensible thing. And more often than not, it's paid off. Still, I sometimes catch myself shrinking away from doing something I should do because I let myself get scared of how it might turn out.

Why? What is there to be scared of, really? No matter what decisions we make in life, the ultimate outcome is the same for everyone. I realize some--maybe even most--people would see this as a pretty bleak view of existence best suited to moody chain-smoking Frenchmen swilling absinthe. Maybe. But personally, I find great freedom in knowing that no matter what I do, I'm still going to die, eventually. And then it won't matter, anyway. It frees me up to screw up every now and then.

It's what we manage to get done in the meantime that counts, anyway. And if fear keeps you from doing anything, than life won't count for much at all.



The move seems to have gone off without any major hitches.

There have been about a million minor hitches, but seem to have weathered them all, so far. They include:

--A blown out tire on the rental truck...100 miles east of Tucson, which means about 100 miles from anyone that can help you...

--Hearing from my realtor while in Louisiana (of all places) that the piece of paper I thought would sign us up for flood insurrance did not, in fact, sign us up for flood insurrance.

--Having the our power cut off the day after closing because the people that were supposed to change the listing over to us did not do so. Which resulted in...

--Having to reschedule the cable hookup (which was originally scheduled during our blackout period which lasted most of yesterday).

--The cable guy noticing a gas leak (!) while working in the basement. (Thankfully, it was outside and promptly contained by the gas company.)

I think that's it. So far.

New job is cool, but overwhelming. I'm still getting used to the idea of actually commuting.

M is painting. A lot.

And I should probably go back to helping her...


the long summer is nearly over

On July 10, 1999, I set out from my hometown with a U-Haul and vague notion to become a scientist. I ended up in the Arizona desert. (Where else, right?)

On September 11, 2006, I will repeat this journey in reverse. I will be heading to parents' house on my way to a new job, a little beyond.

Seven years, two months, and a day.

What is different:

--I am now married to my favorite person in the world. Getting there was rough--in the intervening years, I had a string of relationships ranging from good to bad to downright destructive. The older I get, the more I realize how utterly ordinary this is--and probably necessary, too. On this front, I could not be happier than I am now.

--We have a dog. The significance of his presence in our lives became apparent to me when I realized the feature of the house that we decided to buy that cinched it for me was a dog door. I'm not kidding.

--I have a PhD. This is much less significant to me than I thought it would be seven years ago.

--I have more muscle mass, and less hair. I'm visibly older, but I also take much better care of myself. I feel better. I sleep better. I can run a 45-minute 10K on a good day. I've largely lost my taste for starch and sugar and cultivated one for vegetables and lean meat. I'm very much a work in progress on this front, and I always will be, but I can't complain about the directionality of changes.

--I've been to Europe 4 times. Canada 3. Mexico more times than I can remember. Seven years ago, I had been to Toronto for a day once.

--I've read at least 100 books since then, probably more. I might try to count them up as I unpack them on the other side. I actually have a pretty good memory for placing what I read at the point in my life that I read it.

--Strangely enough, my short-term memory isn't what it used to be. My wife points this out to me all the time. When I don't write out a shopping list, I usually regret it. I am especially bad at remembering appointments and other scheduled events. I don't think I've always been this way. But maybe I just don't remember that either.

Anyway, all of this is to say that things are changing, and fast. I do not expect to have much of an online presence until the end of the month. Until then,



are you tired of hearing about me moving yet?

I am.

But I've got bugger all else to write about, frankly.

When asking my father for advice about finding a lender, the first thing he said to me was something to the effect of, "Well, what you need to realize is that no matter who you pick, at some point they're going to piss you off."

So. True.

So basically mortgage brokers exist to request that documents be faxed to them. As far as I can tell. And never all at once. This signature here, don't forget about this, by the way what's you're checking account balance right now? How about now? How about now?

As though I've got nothing else to pay for in the next 10 days before closing, besides a U-Haul, motel rooms, and a hell of a lot of gas. As though I don't work during the day just like they do. As though I have unfettered access to a fax machine at any hour of the day. As though I don't get paid every two weeks like everybody else.

Seriously--these guys know more about my finances than I do. How is it that a $200 difference here or there two weeks out affects their decision to lend me...well, a lot more than $200???



tip for bloggers

If you want to find out how to get people to check your blog every day, check out my man Rob.


crocodile hunter, r.i.p.

Wow. So Steve Irwin is dead. That sucks. At least he got to go while doing what he loved. We should all be so lucky.


i need help

It's 2:30 on a Friday afternoon.

I'm waiting for a PDF to build for a paper I'm submitting revisions on, a piece of work that I've been plucking away at for nearly 2 years and I am so close to getting it published I can taste the ink. I can't wait to hit "submit" and be done with it.

I need to finish a poster and get it to the printer before I leave today.

In 2 hours, I am going to my own going-away party, after 7+ years in the same research group.

This time next Friday, I'll be cleaning out my desk.

The day after that, I will finish cleaning out my house.

Two days after that, me, my wife, and our dog will be off on a 2300-mile trek to a new job, a new house, a new life. I have about 800 things to do between now and then.

And all I can really think about is the fact that Georgia Tech kicks off against Notre Dame in 26 hours and 28 minutes.

so bad it's good

Saw a little movie called Snakes on a Plane last night. Perhaps you've heard of it. It's what the kids are into these days.

Snakes on a Plane is a brilliant allegory for contemporary America. Samuel L. Jackson's steely-eyed and determined character does what needs to be done. He speaks plainly, and without flourish. He approaches the menace of the snakes (on a plane) with a moral certitude and clarity of purpose that can remind us of no one but our own President, piloting the 747 of state to safety. The terrorist snakes are relentless in their violence. They cannot be appeased. They hate our freedom, damn it!

Just kidding. SOAP, however, is extremely awesome. It is a prime example of how anything worth doing is worth doing fully, completely, and without apology. In this case, making an over-the-top campy B horror flick. The cliched characters and situations are set up and knocked down like pins in a bowling alley, one right after the other. Very satisfying. The dialog is awful. The violence is cartoonish. The few attempts at character development are so awkward that it simply has to be intentional. Samuel L. Jackson actually yells, "I am tired of these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!"

Seriously--it's hillarious. I haven't had this much fun at the movies in a really, really long time. Probably not since the South Park movie came out. My only regret is that we saw an uncrowded matinee--we should have gotten tanked and seen it on opening night, in a theater full of people yelling at the screen. That would have been perfect.

On a related note, there's a great post and discussion over at Hairshirt today on the appreciation of truly shitty movies.


core dump

--I've rather enjoyed seeing that picture of John Goodman from the Big Lebowski at the top of my page every time I passed through (to surf over to blogs that update more often. Which is to say, at all.) I think I may make it my new avatar. I've been compared to Walter in the past, though I haven't the faintest idea why...

--I am becoming increasingly aware that I am better at editing other people's scientific writing than I am at writing myself. This is somewhat frustrating from a personal perspective, but from a career perspective, it's actually very good.

--I found the season finale of Rescue Me last night to be anticlimatic. I don't for a minute think that they are going to kill Tommy, so the 'cliffhanger' is a non-starter. (That said, I will be disappointed if Callie Thorne's character is killed off, because I think she is quite good. She was also good as McNulty's ex on The Wire. Someone should cast her in a bigger part.) For me, the real tension towards the end of the season was whether the crew would actually be disbanding, and that has been resolved. But will the Emmy-nominated main-character/producer/co-creator of the show survive into the next season? Come on...

--Art de Vany looks great on his 69th birthday. I am trying to implement as many of his "evolutionary fitness" principles as possible (lunch today: a small orange, a wedge of honeydew, 3 celery ribs, and about 4 oz of roasted turkey) but I do wish he would hurry up and finish that book...


sucks to be plutonian right now

...also, Dude, dwarf is not the preferred nomenclature...Little Person Planet Pluto, please...


and you think your job is hard

I don't usually blog about what I do for a living. One reason is that a big part of what I do is writing about what I do (and more so with every passing year). So by the time I get to blogging, I've pretty much got science written out of my system.

Another is that I'm just interested in lots of things I don't get paid to think about.

Still, I am incredibly lucky in that I do essentially get paid to think for a living, and that's pretty cool. And even though the nature of modern science is that you specialize in something very, very narrow, every once in a while, I do get to think about the bigger picture.

My colleagues and I study biological barriers. There are a lot of reasons to be interested in biological barriers--one is that they fall apart in disease, and this can be very bad. Another is that they can keep you from getting drugs where you want them to go. As you might imagine, the latter is of great interest to the pharmacuetical industry.

Today I was thinking about this, and it occured to me that what this boils down to is getting molecules into, through, or around cells. Sounds simple enough. The thing is--cells are pretty good at regulating what goes in, through, or around them. If you think about it, this is really all a cell is--a bag of lipids around some water that regulates what goes in and out of itself.

So it's fine and good to say that we're trying to control what goes from A to B. But we should probably keep in mind that the cells have agendas of their own. Plus, they have a bit of a head start on figuring out how to implement them. Of a couple billion years.

Man, I'm glad I didn't think of this until after I finshed grad school.

...and the 2006 william shatner award for outstanding acheivement in becoming a caricature of oneself goes to...

...the Hoff.

Which considering the year Cruise has had, is really quite an accomplishment.


someone needs to write this program

I need a filter that I could feed a large bit of text (~4000 words) that will convert from standard American English to standard British English spellings. Believe it or not, this has nothing to do with me bagging on the Brits in the last post. I'm just trying to publish something in an UK-based journal and I guess they don't pay their copy editors to add in superfluous vowels.

Also, it needs to cover medical and scientific terms. (Hyperglycaemia? WTF???)

two minutes hate

(sigh) England.

You used to be cool, man.

You gave us Churchill and Benny Hill. Ricky Gervais to laugh at. Rachel Weisz to look at. Monty Python and Black Sabbath. Iron f&*@ing Maiden, for crying out loud!

But now...now you're messing with our classic cartoons.

Not. Cool.

The review was triggered by a complaint to British media regulator Ofcom by one viewer who took offence to two episodes of Tom and Jerry shown on the Boomerang channel, part of Turner Broadcasting which itself belongs to Time Warner Inc...

In the first, "Texas Tom", the hapless cat Tom tries to impress a feline female by rolling a cigarette, lighting it and smoking it with one hand. In the second, "Tennis Chumps", Tom's opponent in a match smokes a large cigar.

First of all: Turner Broadcasting--you're a bunch of pussies, and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Second: Even if you accept the premise that the activities of cartoon cats influence childrens' behavior, smoking rates have been steadily falling in the UK (and the rest of the western world) for decades now. This is a solution in search of a problem. (I was unable to find reliable data on the rates of anvil-related assaults over the past few decades in the UK).

Sadly, this is only the latest incident in a long history of retroactively sanitizing our popular culture.

Personally, I dread sharing the world with an entire generation that has never been exposed to anything offensive. They're going to be even bigger tools than their baby-boomer parents.


privatize airline security now

I think I've managed to shy away from enough libertarian rants lately that I'm due one. Anyway, if I get this off my chest here, it might spare my dinner companions later tonight from having to sit through it.

Recent accounts (that's just one--I'm sure we could find dozens) of airport security in the post-allegedly-exploding-hair-products world (at least "post 9-11" something had, you know, actually happened) have led me to one inescapable conclusion.

The only way airline security has a prayer of being 1) effective, AND 2) not completely absurd, is to make each individual airline responsible for the security of its own flights.

Locks on cockpit doors? The only reason it took so long for that to happen--the airlines were waiting for the government to do it. If the airlines knew it was on them, how much do you want to bet they would have been installed on 90% of planes by September 18, 2001? (It's not like they were flying them that week, you know.)

Long lines at security? Do you think the TSA gives a shit if you miss your flight and have to rebook? Do you think the airlines might?

If/when there is another terrorist incident on an American flight, what will happen in the TSA? Do you think anyone will get fired? Do you think their budget will be cut? If anything, more people will be hired, and the budget will be increased. If the airlines were responsible for their own security, how long do you think the airline on which the incident occurred would be able to stay in business?

OK--so who really has an incentive to keep you safe when you fly?

Next time you're going through airport security, take a good long look at the person telling you to take your shoes off, and tell me if you really believe they're doing this job because they want to make a difference.

"But," you may say "won't that greatly increase the price of tickets"?

The last time I flew, nearly 20% of what I paid was taxes. We're already paying for this. We just aren't paying it to the people with the greatest motivation to do the job well.

[/rant] Thank you for your attention.


book meme (or, the brief return of lazy blogging)

Blogging has been sparse. I don't apologize--life beckons. It will continue to be sparse until at least the end of September, when I will be coming to you live from a new house and a new time zone. Details, if you care, can be found over multiple posts here.

Anyway, I saw this one over at Henley's place, and I thought it was cool, so I decided to grab it even though I wasn't tagged.

One book that changed your life:

It's cliche, but if I'm being honest, I can't think of another single book that shook up the way I thought the way Atlas Shrugged did.

One book you have read more than once:

Dancing Naked in the Mind Field by Kary Mullis

One book that you would want on a desert island:

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

One book that made you laugh:

Novel by George Singleton

One book that made you cry:

Atonement by Ian McEwan

One book you wish had been written:

I wish that Bill Hicks had written a book before he died.

One book you wish had never been written:

I don't know--pick any insidious self-help book that reduces the complexities of human relations into catchy slogans and simple answers.

One book you are currently reading:

American Pastoral by Phillip Roth

One book you have been meaning to read:

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Now tag five people:

Anybody who wants to, run with it...


unsolicited advice on buying a home from someone who hasn't even bought one yet

The wife and I just got back from a house hunting trip (this involved flying across the country, so it was kind of a big deal). It ended up being not as bad as I thought it might.

Cutting to the chase: we made an offer on a place, and it was accepted within hours. We found it in 1.5 days of looking around. So pending a satisfactory inspection, it's a done deal.

I feel like I've learned a great deal of terribly practical stuff in the past few weeks, a trend I hope continues (relatively painlessly) as we move into actually being homeowners. So, if you are thinking about buying a house for the first time, here's what insight I think I have on the subject now:

1) Get a realtor, and let them do their job. This should be obvious, but as someone with a very internal locus of control, this took me some getting used to. Talk to them a LOT before you even go out looking for houses, and be very clear about what you do and do not want. If you don't want to live in a brand new house in a clear-cut subdivision and you don't really care about school districts (beyond how they may affect your resale value, anyway) make sure that you mention that. If they don't seem to hear you, hire someone else.

Our realtor was excellent in this regard, but one that I spoke with while investigating a different job in a different place just couldn't get it through her peroxide-blonde-laquered hair helmet.

2) Figure out how much of a mortgage you can qualify for, and then start your search at listings at 1/2-2/3 that ammount. If you can't swing this in the area where you are looking, think long and hard about whether you should be buying right now, because you ARE going to end up spending more than you originally set out to spend.

The reasons for this approach are two-fold: in addition to enforcing some fiscal discipline, I think you do a better job of setting yourself up for satisfaction. If you start at the top of your buying power (or higher) and then work your way down, you are inevitably going to feel like you're settling or giving something up. If you start near the bottom and work your way up, then you get some perspective on what really matters to you.

We originally set out looking for 3 br/2bath with a basement. Pluses would have been a porch of some sort, and non-carpeted floors (we have a dog and allergies and we HATE carpet). Location was secondary, within reason, we thought.

Once we realized that getting most of that in our price range meant living in a pretty scary neighborhood--and more importantly, getting probably the nicest house in a scary neighborhood--we opened things up a bit. We ended up with a 2br/1bath with a full basement. There is no porch, but there are hardwood floors, and we are in a great neighborhood within walking distance (1 block) of a gorgeous park. We're happy with it, and are only spending 76% of what we qualified for.

3) Give yourself a deadline. Otherwise, you will toil endlessly looking for your dreamhouse that probably doesn't exist in your price range if you are a first time buyer. This is one of those tasks that will expand to fill the time allocated to it.


adventures in vagrancy

For the first time in my life, I just resigned from a job. Weird.

To be completely accurate, I gave my notice that I will be resigning in a month, to take another job. It just seems strange, because other than a part-time gig at Jesus's Chicken Shack when I was 16, every other job I've ever had has been for a predetermined limited time or was tied to my status as a student. So I've never had to quit--they just ended.

The time between my end date and my start date of the next job is 10 days. We relinquish our rental 3 days after my job ends. I don't know when we will close on the house we hope to buy, but it probably won't be until we get to where we're going, which will take at least 5 days.

So for about a week next month, I will be both homeless and jobless.



rw is going to be filthy rich

I'm not one to shy away from a challenge, even an insincere one...

The conventional wisdom about achieving fame and fortune (or at least fortune) is that you must come up with something unique, carve out a heretofore unclaimed niche in the marketplace, provide something so original and so compelling that everyone will want what you have to offer and will pay you handsomely for it.

This is, of course, completely and utterly wrong.

The key to fame and fortune is coattails. Find something that's worked for someone else, and just do an imitation of that. In fact, dumb things down a bit, and you will probably reach a wider market than the original.

Why be Alfred Hitchcock when you can be M. Night Shyamalan? Why be Radiohead when you can be Coldplay? Why be Umberto Eco when you can be Dan Brown?

So, as RW's self-appointed get-rich consultant, I am making the following recommendation:

You need to get on the Bourdain Train.

Seriously, this is so simple it's ridiculous. You already eat around and write about it. You write about other stuff as well. You also are traveling all the time. You both have wilder days behind you. You both have a slightly off-center view of the world (I hope you realize that coming from me, this is definitely a compliment.) All you really need to do is tone down the literary content a bit--not everyone "gets" that sort of thing you know--and you're golden. That, and find a publisher.

I'll expect my 20% cut when you get your first advance. Cashier's check will do.

posted without comment


everything will be metal

Caught Adult Swim's latest, Metalocalypse last night. Funny stuff. Imagine Josie and the Pussycats, but with a Norwegian death metal band. You can watch the first episode--in which the band performs a coffee jingle near the north pole, killing and maiming hundreds of fans in the process--here.

Dethklok rules!


friday fun fact!

In either type of [smoke] detector, steam or high humidity can lead to condensation on the circuit board and sensor, causing the alarm to sound. Ionization detectors are less expensive than photoelectric detectors, but some users purposely disable them because they are more likely to sound an alarm...

Funny that I had to move to the desert to learn this firsthand.

Swamp cooler + torrential rains = smoke detectors going off

Naturally, this occured while we were on vacation. A lot. Our neighbors love us right now...


a week in stumptown (or, a visit to the bizarro bible belt)

M posted some pics here, so I won't bother...

Portland--my hometown that I've never actually lived in. It's a beautiful place: cool architecture (both old and new), flowers everywhere, ten billion shades of green everywhere you look, tons of walkable neighborhoods, bridges, and parks. Even the people are more colorful in Portland--you stand out if you don't have at least one visible tattoo. Public transit is plentiful and clean (even the buses). You're never more than a short walk from 1) great coffee, 2) great food, and 3) great beer. I don't know--what else do you need?

The Portland politic I find fascinating. I'm reminded of the joke about Unitarianism: that it's church for people who don't believe in God, but who really like to get together and talk about how they don't believe in God. Portlanders are seemingly obsessed with displaying just how much they hate Bush/love the environment/are tolerant of everyone at every possible opportunity. Bumper stickers, bathroom grafiti, T-shirts, posters, etc., etc. I figure the most popular person in Portland would have to be a gay abortionist here illegally from Mexico who just converted to Islam.

The thing is--and I know some people are going to hate it when I point this out--it is almost exactly like the Bible Belt. Or more precisely, a Bizarro Bible Belt. It's a big echo chamber; people are surrounded by others that (at least outwardly) share their values, and it just resonates through every aspect of life. Visit any small town in the south or midwest, or the suburbs of places like Atlanta and Dallas, and you will see T-shirts and bumperstickers proclaiming affection for George Bush, guns, and Jesus in roughly the same proportion as their opposites in Portland. Talk to people, and you will get the same insular, self-assured sense of "everyone around me thinks like I do".

Whether this phenomenon is a net positive or not, I'm not completely sure. On the one hand, I think it greatly facilitates peaceful coexistance. On the other hand, I think it engenders a very provincial outlook, one that is becoming increasingly less sustainable in a rapidly globalizing society. As the world gets smaller, the folks in Portland will find themselves challenged not just by the values of Dallas, but of Beijing and Riyad as well. And vice-versa.

Regardless, I do hope that they will be able to keep their city the urban paradise that it is.


more listing

Why? Why not? Via RW...feel free to run with it...

...a strange combination of food you like to snack on.
2 fried eggs (over easy), cruchy peanut butter, and Srirahca on whole wheat toast.

...something you do that other bloggers who read you might find odd if they saw you doing it. Pretty much anything in my actual job.

...when you were 7, what you wanted to be when you grew up - that you never told anyone about. A professional wrestler.

...the thing you don't tell people at work about yourself.
I played drums in a Christian rock band when I was a teenager.

...what you like to do when no one else is going to be home for a stretch of time. Watch football, during the season, or movies I know my wife would hate (generally old stuff and/or war movies).

...the thing you believe - politically - that you don't admit to people who think you think like they do.
Depends on who I'm hanging out with, b/c my politics are sufficiently eclectic that a lot of different people assume that I think like they do. Among lefties, that I think everyone has a God-given right to be armed to the teeth; among righties, that I think the military should be gutted down to our own version of the Swiss milita; and among libertarians, that I think the NIH and NSF budgets should be quadrupled (which would be easily managed with the savings from gutting the military). Sorry, I know that's 3 things. So sue me.

...that one thing from your childhood, outside of your parents, that you try to maintain some kind of connection with, and how. I honestly can't think fo a thing. My childhood was great, but so is my adulthood.

...a song or group or singer you secretly like that everyone else groans about. Pick any Scandanavian metal band

...do you close the bathroom door when you're the only one home? I don't always close it when I'm not.


sentimental, but i'm on vacation now

Via my lovely wife comes the simplest of memes: list what you love.

We're off for some serious R&R today, and this gets me in the right frame of mind...see you next week.

the first mouthful of coffee - rain in the desert - Rodin - pork falling off the bones - football - a cozy pub - the end of a workout - the beginning of a weekend - Radiohead - data that doesn't make sense yet - hops - Atlanta in the spring - Paris in the fall - Tucson in the winter - Coltrane - my Jeep - new socks - old friends - Achewood - discovering a new author - inappropriate laughter - knowing something no one else does - bar trivia - Mahler - sleeping the whole way there - Murakami - remembering how to say something in another language when I actually need it - perfect scrambled eggs - falling asleep with my dog - the smell of the back of [m]'s neck - getting away - coming home - Bartok - walking around a new city - Rembrandt - hot fudge brownie a la mode - heavy metal - Japanese architecture - black leather - sitting in the kitchen with my family - porches - the perfect pint - a new perspective


i thought were all god's children anyway

Looks like someone else wants to cash in on The Da Vinci Code. This strikes me as a bit tardy, but Simon and Schuster are betting on it.

An author is about to claim that she is the living embodiment of the Holy Grail, a direct descendant of the physical union between Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ. She's American, she's 43, and she means it - every word.

Even though it seems her claim comes straight from the world of fictional make-believe, Kathleen McGowan, a married mother of three, is about to tell her story in a "partly autobiographical" novel that hopes to trade directly on the vast worldwide audience captured by Dan Brown. It promises to light almost as many fires of controversy as Brown's novel itself.

I've got no dog in this fight. However, I do find it amusing that so many people insist that Jesus was the human incarnation of the divine, lived a perfect, sinless life, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven--BUT, the notion that he got married and had kids is simply preposterous.

Anyway, it occurs to me that if Jesus did have descendants, then there are probably thousands of his progeny running around today. I mean, I've got over a hundred second cousins myself. So being one of Jesus' many-great-grandkids isn't really all that special.

Besides, wouldn't they be Jewish?


today i did something i haven't done in at least 2 years

I bought CDs. I actually went to a store, picked them up off the racks, and paid for them.

Seems rather quaint, doesn't it? Almost like dialing a rotary phone. Or balancing a checkbook.

99% of my music consumption these days takes place via Rhapsody, most of that at my desk (either at work at home) with headphones. Occasionally I pipe it into my stereo at home. There's just so much that it seems I never listen to an album from begining to end anymore. For that matter, if a song doesn't grab me in the first minute or two, I just grab another of the million or so at my fingertips.

Which is to say, I've become exactly the kind of consumer the recording industry has been so afraid of.

...or maybe not. After all, I did by CDs today. Four of them, to be exact.

One was the new Tool album. Which I probably would have bought in any case, but especially since it isn't available on Rhapsody. The other three are what's interesting. I got two by Arch Enemy and one by Apocalyptica...both of which have only a few tracks available on Rhapsody. Both of which I probably never would have heard of without the ability to surf from artist to artist at a whim.

The plural of anecdote isn't data, but still, I can't help but think the recording industry is going to be OK...


I suppose it was inevitable that Tina Fey would leave SNL--the good ones always do--but I'm still sad to see it happen. She has pretty much single-handedly kept that show from completely sucking over the past few years.

I realize that may sound like damning with faint praise, but let's be real: sketch comedy is a hard way to entertain people, week after week. Not sucking is pretty awesome. Even when an episode was lousy, Update was always good with Fey behind the desk.

Tina, I will miss you. I'd like to say I'm a loyal enough fan to follow you to 30 Rock, but to be honest, I haven't consistently enjoyed a sitcom on network TV since Seinfeld. So write some movies...or better yet, go work at FX.


israel starting to look like "that guy"

Like everyone with the unfortunate habit of following current events, I am left trying to form an opinion on the current violence between Israel and (nominally) Hezbollah.

I think I have always been inclined to be sympathetic to Israel, but these days I find myself questioning that inclination--more specifically, questioning why I had it in the first place. Is it because of my protestant upbringing, in which the idea of the Jews as "God's chosen people" was a theological cornerstone? Is it because I feel some sort of vague collective Western guilt about the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and laughing every time Cartman cracks on Kyle? Is it because I admire the culture and values of the Jewish friends I've made over the years? Is it because I respect the tenacity it took the Zionists to build a modern state in a stateless and hostile land?

Is it becuase I just don't find much to admire in those that who proclaim the destruction of Israel as their goal?

Perhaps it is all of these. The thing is, the existance of Israel as a Jewish state--indeed, as the Jewish state--I think has served to conflate and confuse the identity of the Jewish people with the State of Israel. This point ought to be obvious: opposition to Israeli policy is no more hostility to the Jewish people than opposition to American policy is hostility to Americans.

The news coming out of the Middle East these days is difficult for me to interpret as anything other than a callous disregard for innocents (on both sides of the border) on the part of the Israeli government. That Hezbollah is no better is irrelevant. If Israel wishes to be a modern, liberal state alongside the great nations of the world--you know, the ones that value life and liberty, albeit to varying degrees and through ideologically diverse mechanisms--then it simply has to aspire to be better.

(And so--by the way--does the United States.)

Alliances are dangerous things. Right now the U.S. ought to be feeling like the guy at the redneck bar with his friend who's just had too much to drink, and is itching for a fight with the motorcycle gang over by the pool table. The prudent thing to do is to get him out of there, if you can manage it, because you know there's no reasoning with the bikers.

The next best thing, of course, is to get the hell out and let him take his licks. Because if he knows you don't have his back unconditionally, maybe he'll think twice about picking the fight next time.


ben roethlisberger is my new favorite qb

"I don't think that that's my place," he said. "You know, I think that some people feel that, you know, I probably should be doing that and being a big advocate for that. But for me, you know, I'm going to let people make their own decision 'cause I think that's what it's about."

--Big Ben, on why he WON'T become an advocate for motorcycle helmets


the smartest political observation i've seen in months

"And, there is a growing consumer-driven ”green” movement that is a libertarian wet dream. It achives a social good (protecing the environment) by free market choice.

If anything, libertarians should embrace and encourage this to use it as exhibit A for their ideology."

--commenter "Hesiod" at Unqualified Offerings

bush finally finds his veto pen...

...sticks it up his ass, and writes:

H.R. 810 would overturn my Administration's balanced policy on embryonic stem cell research. If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers for the first time in our history would be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos.

I'm willing to set aside for a moment that he and I just don't see eye-to-eye on what constitutes "human life". We don't. We won't. And he's the one holding the pen. Fine.

But please, please don't insult me and every other taxpayer by framing this as concern for taxpayers having to fund something that they might find morally objectionable, because that is just bullshit. I find non-defensive wars morally objectionable. I find putting people in cages for what they choose to put into their bodies morally reprehensible. But nobody--and especially nobody in the GOP--is expressing concern for my having to foot the bill for such things.


everything is not going to be ok

Go see A Scanner Darkly at the first possible opportunity. The rotoscoping is a feast for the eyes. Keanu Reeves is at his best when animated. It's the best film adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's work to screen to date--and yes, I am including Blade Runner.

It's also the most faithful adaptation, at least as well as I can judge having read the book some years ago. All the other adaptations of his work have either captured the ideas and unsettling atmosphere pretty well, but changed the story to fit it into a movie (Blade Runner), or have taken only the slightest hint of the idea and made it into an action movie--including the good (Total Recall), the bad (Minority Report), and the ugly (Paycheck).

Scanner is pure PKD, though. Paranoid, unsettling, unfailingly pessimistic, suspicious of power, and darkly funny. It manages to transcend the story of a bunch of drug-addled losers and delve into deep questions of identity, power, and isolation. And it does so without dragging, lingering unnecessarily, or beating you over the head with just how insightful it is (which is to say, Linklater has matured a great deal since making Waking Life).

It casts a critical eye towards drugs, drug users, and drug cops in pretty equal measure. The users are pathetic. The cops are deluded thugs. And the industry that springs up in the name of "treatment" is the most insidious and contemptible player of all. It ought to leave you wondering what a society should be willing to give up in the name of fighting drugs, regardless of how dangerous the drugs themselves may be.

(Admittedly--on this point, they're preaching to the converted with me.)


mission creep, defined

From Stars and Stripes, via Hit and Run:

U.S. soldiers from Troop C, 4th Battalion, 14th Cavalry Regiment and Iraqi police discovered and seized a bumper crop of marijuana plants being cultivated in fields in northern Iraq, U.S. officials said Friday...

The plants were cut down, put into piles and burned, officials said.

With any luck, the prevailing winds were blowing toward Northern Israel/Southern Lebanon at the time.


What do I have to do to get the Messiah to comment on my blog?

(Do read Jennifer's actual post--it includes a heart-warming tale for anyone who grew up among or at least uncomfortably close to fundamentalists).

like sanding with fine grain paper

In my inbox this morning:

Dear Dr. [B],

The [journal] Editorial Office has examined your submission entitled [boring paper you don't need to know about] and found it to be incomplete.

* Your submission exceeds our 5,000-word limit. After factoring in 250 words for each of your tables and figures, we have determined that your manuscript is 263 words too long.

Curses. They counted the references and title page.

While I applaud their commitment to brevity (anyone who's ever handed a paper to me to edit can attest that I hack away at technical writing until you can see the bones), this is a real pain. Becuase it's already pretty tight.

Say farewell to adverbs, "as previously reported" and the word "the".

new slogan for montana, wyoming, north dakota, iowa, vermont, and maine

"Where you are much less likely to be killed by the police"

Radley Balko has been researching paramillitary-style police raids for over a year now. He's covered so many that I'll admit my eyes just dart over those posts when he puts them up at his blog.

He has now published a paper through the Cato Institute detailing his findings. Even if you aren't inclined to read that sort of thing (I haven't read it yet myself), the interactive map (entitled "An Epidemic of 'Isolated Incidents'") is worth a look.

The word "fascist" is one that gets thrown around a lot. It's abused to the point that no one really knows what it means anymore.

Which is a real shame for the times when it's so apt.


how long...

...until we get dragged into this shit?

tricks of the trade--first impressions

In Adler's schema, those who harbor substantial "feelings of superiority" towards others, who lack social interest, are those most likely to suffer psychological difficulties (typically experiencing "feelings of inferiority," a phrase first used by Adler).

Toying with "the underclasses" for sport is, of course, one of the key indicators of those with this personality make up. I've worked with companies who take candidates to dinner in order to, among other things, see how they treat the waitstaff.

--Tom Guarriello, commenting at Grant McCracken's blog

Man, I hope I was nice to the waitstaff when I got taken to dinner. I'm pretty sure I was--that's kind of thing with me. The only time I can remember overtly pissing off a server with something I said was when I asked a waitress if anyone had ever told her she looked like Belinda Carlisle. I'm damned if I know why she found that insulting. (Perhaps she was just too young to appreciate that I definitely meant that as a compliment. Which is to say, too young to know who Belinda Carlisle is.)

Anyway, I have since refrained from comparing the waitstaff with 80's pop stars.

The strategy Mr. Guarriello mentions is so obvious in its brilliance and simplicity, I can't believe I didn't think of it. Maybe it's because I've never had to hire anyone.

Interviews are strange things. I have interviewed people in a sort of "advise and consent" role for my bosses, and I have come to realize what a valuable experience that is to have. This is especially true for me for two reasons: 1--I will be in a position to be hiring people in the not-too-distant future, and 2--something I've realized about myself over the past few years is that I'm really not very good with first impressions.

Surely, much of this is innate skill. Some people just read others really well, really fast. They make good politicians and managers, and in extreme cases can make a great living off of people's grief.

Clearly, I am not one of these people. I misread people all the time. I'm a sucker for simple charisma and charm, at least intitally. People I tend to think of as "interesting" when I first meet them later turn out to be "bipolar". Conversely (and no, I will not give examples, so don't even ask) a few people I have found really off-putting when I've first met them have later become great and valued friends.

In the arena of personal relationships, this shortcoming is hardly cripling. Keep an open mind, pay attention, and when you realize that person you thought was "creative and vibrant" is actually "borderline schizophrenic", stop talking to them. (Change your cell number, if necessary.)

In professional life, though, the stakes are--if not higher, certainly more tangible. Hire the wrong person, and the cost of getting rid of and replacing them can be considerable. Take the wrong job, and getting away from your crazy boss can be even more expensive (to you, at least).

My point here is that getting better at first impressions is a worthwhile goal.

OK, so I've got the dinner trick. If he/she's a jerk to their waiter, you don't want them supervising your people. Another good one is that if they don't have the common sense to stay a drink behind you at dinner, they're probably not too bright, either.

What else? Eye contact--doesn't seem to mean much (sociopaths can hold a gaze like no one else). I think if someone owns a dog, they're probably good people, but there are always exceptions. If you could listen in on a conversation with a significant other, and see how they speak to him/her, that would probably reveal volumes--but that would be unethical.

I would be very interested to know how people go about reading people. If you have any stories, thoughts, or strategies you're willing to share, I would be grateful.


it'll be like lord of the rings for self-absorbed assholes

The Atlas Shrugged trilogy, that is, which is moving forward. Starring Angelina Jolie as Dagny Taggart. (Seriously).

Actually, I think these could be really, really good in the right hands, and it sounds like that is what the producers are committed to. A lot of what makes Rand's story bad reading could actually make for good filming.

Full disclosure--I devoured AS about 10 years ago, and thought at the time it was the single greatest piece of literature every produced. (Did I mention I was 18 at the time?) In the intervening years, my admiration for Rand and her philosphy has been tempered, in large part because it seems the more devoted to objectivism a person is, the bigger a prick they are. (I could draw a diagram to illustrate this, but I can't be bothered right now.) Like all religions (I think objectivism really is a religion) it's best taken in moderation.

As to the book itself--by going back and reading sections over the years it has become apparent to me that she was a much better advocate for her ideas than a writer per se. I do credit the book with shaping my general outlook on life in a pretty profound way, though, and would certainly recommend that anyone read it.




Jacob Sullum:

In the new study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins, 30 "hallucinogen-naive adults reporting regular participation in religious or spiritual activities" were randomly assigned to a group given psilocybin or a group given Ritalin. The subjects "were encouraged to close their eyes and direct their attention inward." Two months later, the two groups were switched; another control group of six subjects received Ritalin in both sessions. In questionnaires two months after the psilocybin sessions, "the volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as having substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance and attributed to the experience sustained positive changes in attitudes and behavior consistent with changes rated by community observers."

To which non-hallucinogen-naive adults may respond, "Duh."

You can get the actual paper here. For those of you that don't spend a significant portion of your time reading the pharmacology literature, Psychopharmacology is what those of us that do fondly refer to as a "real" journal. (Peer review and all that. This ain't High Times is what I'm saying.)

The spin being put on the story is instructive--not so much on the issues of scientific interest raised by the study as much as how the underlying premises of U.S. drug policy ultimately stifle real inquiry. NIDA director Nora Volkow is already in ass-covering mode (and considering who's in charge in DC these days, I can hardly blame her):

Although there is no evidence that psilocybin is addictive, its adverse effects are well known...Psilocybin can trigger psychosis in susceptible individuals and cause other deleterious psychological effects, such as paranoia and extreme anxiety.

Meh. So can church.

She goes on to imply that NIDA didn't know they were funding psilocybin research, which may be true (to use controlled substances, you have to be licensed by the FDA, not NIDA), but I'm not buying it. Giving human subjects a Schedule I substance is kind of hard to keep under the radar.

The default position of U.S. drug policy is that molecules (drugs) are either "good" (which is to say, FDA-approved--or in the case of nicotine and ethanol, lucrative tax generators) or "bad" (which is to say, not officially approved and/or prohibited). The sheer lunacy of assigning what amounts to moral values to particular arrangements of carbon atoms ought to be obvious on on its face, but perhaps not...

My point here is that the ability of certain classes of drugs to induce profound feelings of introspection, empathy, and insight is hardly news. In the western world, people have been talking about it for decades. (Naturally, other cultures have been aware of this for centuries.) That serious scientists have finally gotten around to replicating a study done in 1962--and are making news by doing so--is something I find more sad than anything else.

There is bottomless potential here to understand ourselves better. While so many neuroscientists toil away pretending that our brains are just like computers, we have ignored for nearly half a century the possibility that some simple little molecules can replicate such a fundamentally human experience as transcendence.

Some of the reluctance to go down this road may stem from a fear of reducing life's experiences to a series of chemical reactions. Perhaps. But my thought is...

So what?

So what if falling in love or religious ecstasy can be understood on a neurochemical level? Does that actually diminish the value of the subjective experience? I'd venture to say that people with firsthand knowledge that their experience has been manipulated would say that it doesn't matter much.

Actually, I don't have to venture. From the report:

Thirty-three percent of the volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as being the single most spiritually significant experience of his or her life, with an additional 38% rating it to be among the top five...