creative destruction

The bane of our house's decor--the Dreaded Black Floor in the kitchen--is in the process of being replaced. I'm giddy. Though that may just be the ammonia-based floor cleaner talking.


mccain picks palin for vilf

I was recently making fun of a Hillary Clinton supporter on NPR who expressed that she felt (I'm paraphrasing here, but only slightly) that the Obama campaign had been personally disrespectful to her. Not to Ms. Clinton, mind you, but to her. To which [m] replied (again, paraphrased) that I really had no idea how a woman's mind works.

Fair enough.

So...to the extent that the passion behind Ms. Clinton's candidacy was motivated by the desire to see women break through to the highest levels of power (and let's be honest here...it was at least *partly* about that for a lot of women), does this mean that McCain putting Sarah Palin on his ticket is going to draw female voters to his side?

Don't get me wrong here--I think Palin is a pretty good choice (from McCain's POV) apart from her mere lack of a Y chromosome; she's a governor (and a popular one at that), pro-life, and has a reputation of fighting political corruption in a state whose politics are notoriously corrupt. She is also, like McCain, a westerner, which goes a long way towards moving the image of the national GOP away from dominance by southern/Texan evangelicals.

Actually, I think this has a very good chance of working out in McCain's favor. Sure, female Democrats are going to (perhaps rightly) call this pandering, but this doesn't really matter, because they weren't going to vote for him anyway. But the unaffiliated women drawn into the Hillary camp by the prospect of installing a woman in the White House are almost certainly up for grabs, and national elections are all about capturing the middle. The real question is how big a group this really is.

All of that said, in light of this choice, I don't know how anyone can take the 72-year old (and he looks older in person) McCain seriously when he criticizes Obama's lack of experience, considering he would put a first-term governor with *no* foreign policy experience within the proverbial heartbeat of the presidency.

ADDENDUM--By "pandering", I of course mean "pandering to the Battlestar Galactica fanbase":


(in which i ask for your money)

My life is a circle.

Eons ago, a young, wide-eyed would-be trumpet (later euphonium) player went door to door bugging his neighbors to buy overpriced candy, cheese, sausage, and god only knows what else. He sent the order form to work with his dad. He whipped it out at church. He hit up every sucker he could for what amounted to donations for the band.

And here he is again, only this time I am ditching the candy and using the intertubes.

I play in a group called the Scene of the Crime Rovers. We are a roving band composed of musicians of all skill levels and all ages, open to anyone and everyone that wants to join us. We play at no charge* at community events (sometimes whether they want us to or not). We are Triangle famous (infamous?) but now, we are looking to branch out.

We've been invited to play at HONK Fest in Somerville, MA this October. What is HONK? Basically, it's a big festival of bands just like us. And getting there is going to be expensive.

Look, lots of us vaguely resemble grownups with real jobs and stuff when we aren't wandering the streets of Durham improvising, and we can get ourselves to Boston and back, but quite a few of our membership are full-time students or do noble (if not lucrative) things like work for non-profits. I'm here on their behalf.

Also, if you live in or around Durham, in exchange for a donation, I am prepared to promise that we WON'T show up in your front yard at 3AM one night.

OK, I'm kidding about that last part (maybe). But seriously, if you'd like to put a few bucks towards supporting fun-loving, open-source and open-access arts in the community, please visit this page and hit the "Donate" button.

I can't give you all the disclaimers about tax-deductible non-profit blah blah blah (though we are working on that) but I promise that this Paypal account is legit (I've donated to it myself already) and the guy running it is really, really honest. 100% of the proceeds (less Paypal's cut) will go to defer travel costs for our members that need the most help.


*In the interest of full disclosure we have done the (very) occasional paying gig; all of that money goes back into the band and really, it isn't very much. Nobody's quitting their day job for 1/20 cut of $100.


(you're just like) crosstown traffic

In a post about radical traffic calming, Megan McArdle makes some great points about the relative value of safety versus the feeling thereof:

The problem is that in this case, there's a direct tradeoff between actual safety and feeling safe. The safer people feel on the road, the more likely they are to get into accidents--which is why lots of innovations, like seatbelts, have underdelivered in mortality improvements.

She later cites (a bit gratuitously) the stereotypical four-wheel drive vehicle from warmer climes emboldened by all that traction into driving poorly in winter conditions. Even though I happen to be the owner of a jeep with "southern plates" I am not terribly offended; in Arizona I saw no shortage of people under monsoon conditions that seemed to think that four-wheel drive enabled their vehicle to operate as a submarine. There is almost certainly something to this, and the problem, as always, is with the driver...

Anyway, the thread (predictably) generated into a conversation I have heard at least a thousand times, which begins with the thesis "people in [location X] are BY FAR the WORST drivers..." which is followed by an endless volley of counterexamples and/or affirmations.

This is silly. But it is, I think, instructive.

There are essentially two rules for which locale a person is likely to claim contains the world's worst drivers:

1) It is a place they have visited, not lived, or
2) If it is a place where they do live or have lived, it is almost certainly NOT the place where they learned to drive or are otherwise the most comfortable driving.

Driving in an unfamiliar place is stressful. Driving in an unfamiliar, large city in traffic is especially stressful. And stress colors our perceptions. You are paying attention to everything, or at least more than you would in familiar surroundings. As a result, you notice every sudden lane change, every tailgater, everyone lagging in the fast lane. And if someone cuts you off while you are in the (rather stressful) process of finding your next turn, you are very likely to take it personally, and generalize their behavior to that of the city's traffic in general.

By contrast, I had to slam on the breaks on the freeway home today because of a VERY sudden bunching of traffic. My slowing was sufficiently abrupt that I distinctly remember looking in my rear view and trying to calculate whether the car behind me was going to be able to stop in time, and whether I should tap my accelerator to at least soften the blow (he was, and I didn't). My heart rate didn't budge. This was just a brief moment in an otherwise utterly mundane and routine commute.

Having driven in more states than I haven't, in most major metro areas of the country at one time or another, I can honestly say that drivers everywhere suck about the same. Even in northern Mexico, it isn't a whole lot different.

The one place I have driven where I honestly noticed a difference was Germany. The lane discipline on the Autobahn is impeccable.


life is good when...

...you realize that the best parts of your day are moments that bookend it, because of who you share them with. Much better than all the nonsense in the middle.

Happy birthday, sweetie.


metal monday returns

Arch Enemy, playing Nemesis. Bonus points for anyone who can think of another band with a song title that is a synonym for the band's name.

(Yes, that is a woman singi...er, uh, vocalizing.)


this week in media consumption

--Watched Brick on Netflix. It was one of those that got put in the queue probably ages ago (we're not even sure by whom) and it finally came up. A truly excellent outing by a rookie director (Rian Johnson) and a very young cast (with special appearance by the Shaftastic Richard Roundtree), Brick is a classic film noir, but set in a modern-day California high school. It could have been a lot of things: goofy, pretentious, too clever for its own good. But it isn't. And it left me looking forward to Johnson's next movie, The Brothers Bloom, out this fall.

--Go see Tropic Thunder. Not only to support satire, but also because it's really, really funny. I have to say that I really respect Ben Stiller; I don't always like his movies--point of fact, I detest a few of them--but the guy is fearless when it comes to comedy. He's not afraid of sucking. Which of course means that sometimes, he sucks. But when he pulls it off, it's really good. This is probably the funniest thing he's ever done. Downey is excellent, as always. Jack Black is nearly dead weight in this one, but he is mercifully not on screen much. But--and I hate myself for having to say this--Tom Cruise steals the show. Really.

--Last weekend we caught Pineapple Express, which I also enjoyed immensely. More good stuff from the alumni of Freaks and Geeks; also, between this and TT, I think I'm going to declare this the "Summer of Danny McBride".


notes from the underground

Been a little preoccupied with work lately. Yesterday I started filling in a grant application form and I think I had something resembling a panic attack.

Maybe I'm overstating it...this one wasn't too terribly physiological. I've had that response once before, the night I asked [m] to marry me. We were sitting at dinner, and I had The Ring in a box in the breast pocket of my sports coat (hell yes I was wearing a sports coat) and I reached for it. When my hand closed around it I was overcome with a feeling not unlike what I imagine it would be like to be leaning out over the edge of a platform for a bungee jump and at the exact moment you achieve sufficient angular momentum that stepping back is now physically impossible it occurs to you that you don't know whether the other end of the cord is attached to anything. That is to say, the contents of my stomach plunged into my groin, the contents of my groin slammed against my diaphragm, all of the blood in my head departed for parts unknown, and my lungs ceased to function. At this point [m] began to look rather concerned and asked me if I was about to throw up. I hesitated to answer her for fear that opening my mouth might trigger a non-verbal response in the affirmative.

Needless to say, this was not the moment at which I popped the question. That occurred after dessert, coffee, and some deep breathing.

All of this is to say that starting to fill in the grant application wasn't quite that bad...it was merely an overwhelming sense of dread, rather than a physiological manifestation of immediately anticipated death. But still, pretty scary.

On a completely unrelated note, I calculated on my drive to work this morning that if we could own a modest home outright in a place where we didn't need a car and had no residual debt that we could live quite comfortably (i.e., at more or less our current standard of living) on approximately $30,000 a year. Which between the two of us could probably be managed with a couple of part time jobs that have little or nothing to do with science.


the pen is mightier

I'd like to nominate Radley Balko for, if not the Nobel Peace Prize, then something similarly impressive. He's basically a one-man scourge of railroad justice.


(in which i quote myself)

"Clearly, the only rational response to this is to start mailing weed to every politician in America."

--me, in regards to this.


nothing to see here...

So just as the FBI is about to charge the (latest) alleged mastermind behind the post-9/11 anthrax mailings, he offs himself. Just some things to think about:

1) Speaking as a scientist with access to stuff a lot less carefully monitored than anthrax, I'm pretty sure I could get my hands on a much more pleasant way to kill myself than Tylenol with codiene, were that my inclination, and since I wouldn't plan on sticking around for the consequences, probably wouldn't hesitate to do it, either.

2) The FBI has a pretty spotty record of settling on the wrong suspect in high-profile cases, including this one.

3) The narrative of a troubled scientist with access to the stuff being responsible for the mailings, and electing to kill himself at the news of impending prosecution, naturally, makes complete sense, and may very well reflect reality. The only reason I (and I suspect many others) feel skeptical about all of this is because our government has lied to us repeatedly about any and all things relating to terrorism for the better part of the last decade.

I'm just sayin'.