Two stats, quoted in seperate posts on Hit and Run today:

"Fully 65% of Americans agree with the idea that, in general, corporations make too much profit..."


"...polls by Gallup that document whether Americans believe the Bible is the literal, inerrant word of God (31 percent), "the inspired word of God" (47 percent), or "a book of ancient fables, history and 'moral precepts' recorded by man" (17 percent)."

I've occasionally wondered whether, in the absence of a viable libertarian (or at least libertarianish) party in the U.S., whether it would be nearly as useful to gather the populists and fundamentalists under one party umbrella, so that at least we'd have someone to vote against consistently.

Based on these numbers, it seems the problem with that strategy is that such a party would likely win. A lot.

There really is no place in this world for those that believe in neither an omnipotent god nor an omnipotent state, is there?


13 things when I am old

I will grab RW's open-ended non-tag, and predict 13 things that will be when I am old.

My operational definition of "old" will be the year that I turn 80 (2057), because by then:

1. 80 will be proclaimed "the new 70", 70 have been proclaimed "the new 60" around 2035 or so. This is good, because by now, the average person is in school until they are 35. (I'm not overeducated, you see...just an early adopter.)

2. A Pulitzer will be awarded to a 16-year-old for her MySpace page, which, having been online for 8 entire months, makes it the longest-lived periodical of the past 30 years.

3. Antipsychotics and antidepressants will be compulsory, while 40% of U.S. Customs enforcement resources will be devoted to intercepting clandestine tobacco shipments.

4. Populations will be much more decentralized. The largest city in the U.S. will be a suburb of Phoenix that hasn't even been incorporated yet.

5. English will be the most popular second language taught in American schools, more or less tied with Spanish. (Everyone's first language, naturally, will be Chinese.)

6. The Islamic Reformation will be well underway. The collapse of the oil-based economy (due to the development of other fuels and/or diminution of oil reserves) will have eroded the power base of dictatorial regimes who previously were able to support themselves by pulling money out of the ground. These regimes will be variously replaced by popular Islamist revolutionary types, secularist dictators, and maybe one or two quasi-liberal democracies, the processes of getting there being variously violent and relatively peaceful. The relative economic success of these societies will drive migration and calls for change within the more conservative societies. Fundamentalists will remain, but will be increasingly marginalized.

7. Most people in the developed world will die of accidents, because heart disease, most cancers, and many neurodegenerative diseases will be treatable, curable, or even preventable.

8. The global population will have plateaued around 15 billion as birth rates fell with increasing affluence in Africa and Latin America, just like they did everywhere else throughout human history.

9. Religiousity in the United States will be at more or less the same level as Europe's in 2007, and be similarly heterogeneous among various regions.

10. Though the overall standard of living will be much higher for everyone than it is now, the relative wealth of upper, middle and lower classes will be much, much more disparate than it is today. As a result, the political landscape with regard to economic and tax policy will look essentially the same as it does now.

11. Nuclear weapons will be widespread among the nations of the world, thus detering their use by anyone on anyone else.

12. Mars will have been colonized by Mormons, privately financed.

13. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will finally win another national championship, their 5th in 140 years. I will watch it via satellite from my house in Mexico, where [m] and I will have retired 20 years prior.

my 80's music--g n' r

Did Guns n' Roses do anything exceptional or innovative? No.

Did they change the musical landscape in such a way that it can be divided neatly into "before" and "after" them? Not really.

Did they kick ass?

Yes. Yes they did.

And you know what? I'm glad they only really produced two full-length studio albums (OK, three if you count "Use Your Illusion" as two). I'm thankful they imploded in a few short years. I'm thrilled that they didn't hang around long enough to produce an experimental album, or a midlife crisis album, or to end up on the has-been circuit playing tiny clubs and casinos.

They played unapologetic, balls to the wall rock, and they flamed out in true rock and roll fashion.


with an opposition party like this, who needs a majority?

If you needed further verification that we live in a one-party system, consider that the Democrats' bold new plan to end the war in Iraq is to give the president more or less exactly what he wants.


adventures in rennovation

I swear to god just as soon as I finish re-finishing our kitchen cabinets I am going to invent the time machine so I can go back and beat the hell out of whoever invented shelf paper.

Seriously, what is the point? Is it to protect the wood (that, if you glue freaking paper onto it, you will never see again?) It surely isn't easier to clean than a nice, enamel or satin-finish painted (or stained and sealed) surface.

And did it never occur to anyone that there might come a time when blue and white flowers would not be a universally appealing aesthetic motif? The beauty of paint, you see, is that you can always paint over it.

Well, you can for about 60 years (the current age of our house) at which point the paint is about the thickness of a dime, and you really, really need to strip and sand if you ever want anything to close, ever. That's another thing.

No, I haven't been drinking. And by "no I haven't" I mean "yes I have" and by "drinking" I mean "inhaling large amounts of industrial strength paint stripper and lead paint dust. And drinking."


does ron paul favor torture (or is he just really bad at debating?)

I'm home sick today, alternating between feverish napping and that weird head separated from the rest of the body feeling that Theraflu (the good stuff, with pseudephidrine in it) brings about.

Last night I came home late-ish and got sucked into the Republican debate just as Brit Hume essentially asked the candidates "what would you do as President on an episode of 24?" From the transcript:

"The questions in this round will be premised on a fictional, but we think plausible scenario involving terrorism and the response to it. Here is the premise: Three shopping centers near major U.S. cities have been hit by suicide bombers. Hundreds are dead, thousands injured. A fourth attack has been averted when the attackers were captured off the Florida coast and taken to Guantanamo Bay, where they are being questioned. U.S. intelligence believes that another larger attack is planned and could come at any time."

I have to admit I was genuinely frightened by the responses.

Hume--"First question to you, Senator McCain. How aggressively would you interrogate those being held at Guantanamo Bay for information about where the next attack might be?"

McCain--"If I knew for sure that they had that kind of information, I, as the president of the United States, would take that responsibility. That is a million-to-one scenario. But only I would take that responsibility.

The use of torture -- we could never gain as much we would gain from that torture as we lose in world opinion. We do not torture people..."

Later, after follow-up question, McCain called bullshit on the parsing of "enhanced interrogation techniques", (see below) and pointed out that there was a "sharp division" during the debate over the detainee treatment act between those that had served in the military and those that had not, with those having served being essentially unanimously opposed to torture.

McCain is wrong about a lot of things, but he is on the side of the angels on this one. What was truly disturbing was the chorus of answers from basically everybody else:

Giuliani--"I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of. It shouldn't be torture, but every method they can think of (Hume interupts: "Water-boarding?") and I would -- and I would -- well, I'd say every method they could think of, and I would support them in doing that..."

Romney--"...you said the person's going to be in Guantanamo. I'm glad they're at Guantanamo. I don't want them on our soil. I want them on Guantanamo, where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil...Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo." (He later said he supported "enhanced interrogation techniques".)

Hunter--"Yeah, let me just say this would take a one-minute conversation with the secretary of Defense. (Laughter.) I would call him up or call him in. I would say to SECDEF, in terms of getting information that would save American lives, even if it involves very high-pressure techniques, one sentence: Get the information. Have it back within an hour, and let's act on it."

Paul--"I think it's interesting talking about torture here in that it's become enhanced interrogation technique. It sounds like Newspeak. Nobody's for the torture, and I think that's important. But as far as taking care of a problem like this, the president has the authority to do that. If we're under imminent attack, the president can take that upon himself to do it."

This is a great example of why Paul is so abysmally bad at debating. He shouldn't have conceded the high ground to anyone by saying that "nobody's for torture." Giuliani and Romney made it pretty clear that they were, and Hunter didn't exactly back away from the idea. Of course, it gets worse:

Tancredo--"You say that -- that nuclear devices have gone off in the United States, more are planned, and we're wondering about whether waterboarding would be a -- a bad thing to do? I'm looking for "Jack Bauer" at that time, let me tell you." (Laughter, applause.)

Oh that's just great. While we're at it, let's get Dirty Harry, John Rambo, and Batman on the case.

Andrew Sullivan seized on this part of the debate, too:

Some issues really are paramount moral ones. Two candidates opposed [torture] clearly and honorably: McCain and Paul...For me, then, the debate winnowed the field of candidates down to two: McCain and Paul. That was quick."

Which is fine and good, except (and it really, really pains me to point this out) I don't really think that Ron Paul staked out the clear anti-torture stance that McCain did. True, his "newspeak" reply was both admirable and correct (although, probably over the heads of the audience--anyone want to bet on whether as many people got "newspeak" vs. "Jack Bauer"?) But he also said "the president has the authority to do that" which seems to leave things wide-open. I don't know if Dr. Paul meant it that way--he's clearly not a particularly adroit speaker off the cuff--but I think Sullivan (and others) are just assuming Paul is anti-torture because of his libertarian bend.

I read Paul's reply as acknowledging torture for what it is, but also leaving the door open to it in extreme circumstances. I could be misunderstanding him, but if so that is only because he was all over the place. Assuming for the moment that Paul does not actually favor torture, he had an opportunity to separate himself from the field by making that clear, and from McCain by pointing out that we wouldn't even be entertaining these scenarios in the first place but for our belligerent foreign policy, which McCain fully supports and would expand.

Either way, this is disappointing, to say the least.


if god has a sense of humor...

...I'd like to think he's having the angels dress as Teletubbies today.


my 80's music--anthrax

Apropos of absolutely nothing...I've wondered at what point "80's music" became a genre. Nobody really talks about "70's music"...they talk about disco, prog rock, soul, etc. But for some reason when people say "80's music" it generally implies the goofy, synth-heavy pop performed by people for whom neon was not an inert gas nor mousse a food item.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Except that most of it sucked.

I am a child of the 1980's, which means I remember the Challenger but I don't remember Reagan getting shot. More importantly, it means the 1980's were the years in which I cut my musical teeth.

And even in the 80's, I just didn't care for "80's music".

So I'm going to talk periodically about the music I did (and still do) like from the days when cell phones were car phones and CDs were a luxury item.

A is always a good place to start. Anthrax's "State of Euphoria" was one of the first cassette tapes I ever bought, and the first that could properly be called "metal" (unless you count Def Leppard and Whitesnake, which I don't.) I wore that thing out.

Anthrax was fast and loud, but not really angry. They had a sense of humor. While Metallica was being greeted backstage by armies of naked women and barrels of Jaegermeister, while Megadeth was trying their best to be the "smart" metal band, Anthrax was reading comic books.

In short, they were a band a comic book-obsessed kid in the suburbs could relate to. And they rocked.

i don't know if you can understand that, but our vertical leap is beyond all measurement

The Mooninites are free!

Long live Peter Berdovsky's hair!



This is just a friendly reminder that Achewood rules.

Pat is such a great character because he basically embodies everybody I hate.

viva los perros libres!

Something I've been meaning to do for a while now is to add a Durham-centric section to the sidebar, and start including material in that vein.

Maybe this piece by a friend and neighbor of mine will get that jump-started:

On April 16, I became a criminal almost without realizing it.

I let my dog off his leash in a public park.


Our area has its share of petty crimes. An occasional minor burglary, vandalism or attempted scam seem to be common nearly everywhere.

But on Easter weekend, someone was arrested on my street for selling heroin out of his mother's house. A woman was attacked on a jogging trail a few weeks ago. We've seen discarded condoms on the path to the dog park. An abandoned car sat across from a church for nearly a week before the police finally tagged it. (It took at least three phone calls.) And there are strong suspicions of drug deals happening in the park at night.

So the zeal of the Durham police officer who spotted us and pursued us through the park was particularly galling.

By the time he caught up with us he was out of breath, pale and determined. We were issued citations with $25 fines, plus $110 in court costs, and given trial dates. Yes, we could just pay the fines. Why was the court cost necessary if we didn't go to court? "You'll have to speak to the magistrate about that" was the answer.

It goes on.

I can see the point of leash laws in the abstract...but the reality is that there are hundreds (thousands?) of "nuisance" laws on the books that are almost never enforced unless, you know...someone is actually creating a nuisance. And this was not the case.

We usually walk our dog with Richard and the woman with him who got ticketed...if not for being elsewhere that evening, either my wife or I would have been cited, too. And it wouldn't have been because our dogs were causing a problem for anyone. If a leashed dog we don't know or anyone with kids comes within 100 feet, everybody hooks up. If the park is busy, the dogs stay leashed. We don't let them off anywhere near a street.

The only reason they got cited was because the officer didn't have to chase these otherwise law-abiding citizens down, didn't have to worry about a violent confrontation, didn't have to do anything resembling--police work.


thank you

...to everyone who has indulged my quarter-life crisis (hell yes I am going to live to 120), either by responding to that post or just by listening to me talk.

Seriously, you have no idea how much the various versions of "I know how you feel" that I have received have helped.

I have decided not to do anything rash for the time being, for a variety of reasons. But I do think that my next job search--when it happens--will include quite a few positions that do not contain the word "professor".


spiderman 3

Took in S3 on opening night, thanks to a last-minute invite from the next door neighbors.

Brian's "2 things" review of Spiderman 3 is thus:

1. If you could cut about 30 minutes out, you might have the best superhero movie of the past 5 years.

2. Unfortunately, 30 bad minutes is all it really takes to ruin a 140-minute movie.

----geeky and spoilerific details follow----

What was great about Spiderman 3 was that they brought in the Venom storyline, which occured right around the time I started reading Spiderman comics (late 80s) and therefore is kind of the core of the Spiderman myth in my mind. This necessarily explored some really dark territory. In my perfect universe, this movie would have gone full-out in this direction and been unapologetically R-rated. But, there's money to be made, and probably 80% of the audience in the theater we saw it was under 17 (and probably half of that under 12).

The casting was great. In fact, it was too great. Topher Grace did a superb job as Toby McGuire's foil. So much so, in fact, that I was left wondering why he didn't get the part of Peter Parker in the first place...and even more so, why Bryce Dallas Howard wasn't cast as Mary Jane Watson. (I find it very hard to believe that she is 50% Opie Taylor, natural hair color notwithstanding.) But the real scene stealer was Bruce Campbell, who did his part to make national stereotypes funny again.

What sucked were the musical numbers.

I wish I was kidding, and I wish the plural was an exageration. Seriously. Toby McGuire trying to look like a cross between 1970's John Travolta and Trent Reznor was funny for about 7.8 seconds (I timed it)--but Rami had to go and make a freakin' montage out of it. Then he snaps you back into the darkness with Peter hauling off and knocking Mary Jane to ground in a profoundly unfunny fashion, which has the net effect of killing the joke and trivializing the violence. (For the first time in my life, I think I felt an impulse that can only be described as parental--I sure as hell wouldn't want to explain that to an 8-year-old.)

It was a bit uneven, is what I'm saying.

Still worth seeing the theater for the effects, though.

presidential predictions


Why not? My record of political predictions on this blog is actually pretty good, if I do say so myself. So here is my main prediction, followed by a couple of contingent ones.

The most realistic scenario: Clinton vs. Romney, Clinton wins.

The Democratic nomination is Ms. Clinton’s to lose; all she really has to do is not screw up in the next year, and the past couple of decades have made her a very calculating, careful politician. Obama will implode, Howard Dean-style. The Republican field is weak, weak, weak. Guilani polls well with the general public, but Republican primary voters outside of the northeast (i.e., most of them) will not vote for him. McCain is old, and he’s hitched his wagon to the war, which I suppose could pay off but probably won’t (see the worst-case scenario below). This pretty much leaves Romney, though it will be close because his religion is a bigger deal to evangelicals than they let on. But he does have presidential hair, and I just don’t see any other Republicans (declared or otherwise) pulling it out. I don't buy the Fred Thompson hype at all.

If I were going to bet on the election today, this is the outcome on which I would put my hard-earned money.

Best case scenario that could conceivably happen, but probably won’t

Clinton and Obama peak too soon, Richardson manages to come from behind and steal the nomination. The Republicans do essentially what the Dems did in ’04, and nominate John McCain because they figure he’s ‘due’. Then Richardson wipes the floor with him, because at some point people will figure out that while there is much to admire about McCain as a person, he’d be a very, very scary president.

Slightly better case scenario that’s even less likely

Chuck Hagel pulls it together and gets in the race, because he realizes that between Guiliani’s socially liberal tendencies, McCain’s history of pissing off the GOP establishment, and Romney’s Mormonism, a fiscally conservative Midwesterner who also happens to be critical of the Iraq war probably looks pretty damn to most GOP primary voters. His anti-war stance makes him the Republicans' best hope for beating Ms. Clinton.

Worst case scenario that could happen, and I hope to God does not

There is a significant terrorist attack sometime late in 2007 or early in 2008. Republicans flock to McCain. Clinton still gets the Democratic nomination, but this doesn’t matter. McCain picks someone you’ve never heard of for a running mate, and this person becomes President of the United States sometime before 2013 when President McCain dies in office, inheriting a full-scale occupation of Iraq and a Cambodia-style campaign in Iran.


gentlemen! i despise each and every one of you!

I think this speech by candidate for governor of Tokyo Toyama Koichi might be the best political speech ever. Or at least the most entertaining.

It starts with the words "Gentlemen! This nation is horrible," and ends with him giving his audience the finger.



this is a very self-indulgent post you probably shouldn't bother reading unless you actually care

I am still alive (thanks for asking)...I took a much needed vacation last week and have been crazy busy at work on either end of it as a result. I was going to blog about the trip, but since I cannot improve upon [m]'s account I will simply refer you to that...

Beyond all that, I haven't felt like writing much. The events of the outside world hold little interest for me these days...I find most of them irrelevant, and the ones I do care about are so discouraging that I've found it necessary to my well-being to dwell on them as little as possible.

What's been weighing on my mind lately is much more personal, and not something I've wanted to think through "in public" until now. What it boils down to is that I'm giving serious thought to a pretty radical career shift...I'm getting to a place where the track I'm currently on does not seem to be the path to maximizing my happiness. Moreover, I am starting to see a difference between a career that is "challenging" and one that is "frequently difficult in ways that are utterly pointless".

I know it sounds like I am down on science; this is not exactly correct. I think an education in the hard sciences is excellent. I think (without exagerating) that people who pursue careers in the applied sciences are the foundation of civilization in the 21st century. And obviously, both of these ends require an academic/basic research establishment for their support and continued progress.

But I just don't think it's where I belong.

What attracted me to science in the first place was the notion of getting paid to think. And on the rare occasion when an idea or insight pays off into something novel that moves our knowledge a little bit forward, it's very, very rewarding.

The big problem I see is that I enjoy thinking expansively, and truly expansive thinking is not really rewarded in the context of basic research. What is rewarded is hacking away at one problem for so long that no one else in the world understands it any better than you do. This requires a degree of specialization and focus (on the scale of decades) that I just don't think I'm up for.

I've invested a great deal of time and energy into developing really solid analytical and critical thinking skills (the main benefit of a science education). I've also worked very hard at the crafts of both technical and non-technical writing (and have a respectable portfolio of publications to show for it.) Where I was always a quick study, I now have an astonishing capability to sift through very large amounts of information in relatively little time and distill it to its essential points (again, this is a benefit of the education, not a talent.)

And it just seems to me that to put all of that into a narrow little subfield of biology for the next 30 years or so is a collosal waste. Not to mention boring.

A lot of what interests me (as reflected to some extent in the occasionally thoughtful entry on this blog) has to do with issues of business and policy. I have a sense that if I could just get my foot in the door at either a consulting firm or a think tank I could probably thrive. That is to say, I just need to convince someone that all this education has taught me to think about anything and everything, and not just about molecules and cells and organs.

If you're still reading this rambling and immodest navel-gaze and have any thoughts about this nonsense, I'd sure be happy to hear them.

I'll try to post something witty and acerbic later this week.