philadelphia: the paris of the mid-atlantic

Don't laugh, I'm being serious here. And don't think I'm trying to backhand Paris either; [m] and I honeymooned in Paris, and the experience left me an unabashed Francophile.

Anyway, we decided to take a weekend trip to Philadelphia to celebrate 3 successful years of being married to each other. Our reasons for choosing Philadelphia were:

1) It is close enough to fly (relatively) inexpensively and quickly
2) We like big cities where you can do lots of stuff without a car
3) Neither of us had spent any time there

We stayed in Center City, a few blocks from City Hall. We ate at the recently-opened Distrito, a Mexico City-style "tapas" place that is, in a word, unfuckingbelievablygood, at the excellent-but-perhaps-a-bit-overblown-due-to-celebrity Morimoto, and at a charming modern Mexican place called Lolita where, thanks to Pennsylvania's famously arcane liquor licensing, you can't order a beer but you can bring your own bottle of tequila and they will provide you with pitchers of fine concoctions with which to mix it. Also, we ate cheesesteaks for breakfast Saturday morning and found some very good dim sum on Sunday in Chinatown.

So how is Philadelphia like Paris?

1-As already alluded, there is excellent food to be had all over town, from street vendors all the way up through haute cuisine and everything in between.

2-Great beauty is interwoven with centuries of urban grit, pretty much everywhere. (OK, most of the scenery on the train ride out to the airport is just grit. But it's that way in Paris, too.) Art and artists everywhere you look.

3-Attitude; both Philadelphians and Parisians are (unfairly, I think) known for being unfriendly, even rude, especially to outsiders. I can honestly say that this was not my experience in either place, and in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the people we met in both places.

4-The Philadelphia Museum of Art is so ridiculously disorganized it is hard to believe that it isn't run by the French.

5-The airport and trains are very dated, but they get you where you need to go.

6-I find both cities chaotic in a way that I find genuinely endearing. This is difficult to explain, because it reflects my own (perhaps odd) sensibilities about such things, but I enjoy the general upheaval and random encounters you can experience in places like Paris and Philly (and Portland and Durham and [parts of] Tucson) that are the very things places like Thousand Oaks, Cary, and Peachtree City are specifically designed to prevent.

Bottom line: I think Philly is a great, and massively underrated town. If I had to pick a place to live in the Megalopolis, it'd be my first choice.


local links updated

Check 'em out. And if I've missed you, please let me know.

i'm going to solve the economic crisis

Somebody tell me what's wrong with my reasoning here (besides the fact that it implicitly accepts the premise that the government has got to Do Something):

1) Financial institutions are failing in large part due to mortgage-backed securities, which are hemorrhaging value because (duh) a bunch of people got mortgages they couldn't afford.

2) People being displaced from their homes (setting aside the question of whether they "deserve" to be or not) is a Bad Thing. Moving is a drain on productivity, money spent on moving adds very little to the economy (sorry, U-Haul), and vacant houses cause surrounding property values to slip, i.e., pretty much everybody loses out here.

3) Therefore, isn't the simplest way through this to ensure that a) mortgages get paid, and b) people don't have to move?

So I propose the following:

If a mortgage goes into default, the feds seize the house and begin to pay the mortgage. They offer to rent the house to the previous owners at a rate that defrays as much of the mortgage payment as possible, while remaining affordable to the tenant. There are steep lease terms--maybe 5 years, with a serious penalty for bailing, and maybe the rent is withheld from paychecks like income taxes--but the rent rate is locked in, just like a (sensible) mortgage would be. Maybe after 5 years of good faith rent payments, offer incentives to the banks to renegotiate financing and transfer the mortgages back to the previous homeowners?

This way, mortgages (and therefore their derivatives) retain most of their value, no one has to move, and a good chunk of the cost is borne by overextended borrowers while falling short of punitive.

Surely we could pull this off for less than $700 billion net, right?

Addendum--When you have a good idea, always assume someone else has had it already.


targeted advertising

Exiting Whole Foods, I saw an advertisement for consumer debt counseling on the blackboard by the door. I can't help but wonder if the first bit of advice might be "for starters, you probably shouldn't be buying your food at Whole Foods..."


one reason i enjoy obscurity

When you write a well-read blog, you can't even post about your new puppy without some killjoy prick showing up to make catty comments.


third friday

Everything today is just what I have to get through before I can get out and enjoy Third Friday. If you live in Derm and are sitting at home tonight you are lame, LAME, LAME! The weather is going to be perfect, and there's more to do and see than can be done or seen.

I'll be out and about with the Rovers from about 7pm on (starting at the Scrap Exchange, then moving on to wherever). Come up and say hi if you see us, and give us money. I'm the one with the, um, big horn...

"...and then of course, releasing the vultures"

My good friend Chris recaps the silly season as well as much better than any full-time pundit.


go read

this. Right now.

calling a spade a spade

Now I admit that my survey of the news outlets is a long way from comprehensive, but so far the only outlet that I have heard refer to the Fed's bailout of AIG as an "effective nationalization" of the insurance giant is the BBC. Presumably, the Brits know nationalization when they see it.

You know, if we just had a Republican administration, we wouldn't be paying for this utterly unconstitutional socialistic nonsense.

Oh, right...


mccain and obama on basic research

My intention was to post Sens. McCain's and Obama's answers to the following question in their entireties, and without comment except perhaps to emphasize excerpts of what each candidate actually said.

Sadly, I find this is not possible, because one candidate's response is so superficial and lacking in substance that I am genuinely at a loss of what to highlight. Really. Nevertheless, the following is worth reading if you are a scientist or someone affected by science (i.e., if you are anyone) and if your vote is still up for grabs.

Question: For many years, Congress has recognized the importance of science and engineering research to realizing our national goals. Given that the next Congress will likely face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in basic research in upcoming budgets?


With spending constraints, it will be more important than ever to ensure we are maximizing our investments in basic research and minimizing the bureaucratic requirements that eat away at the money designed for funding scientists and science. Basic research serves as the foundation for many new discoveries and represents a critical investment for the future of the country and the innovations that drive our economy and protect our people. I have supported significant increases in basic research at the National Science Foundation. I also called for a plan developed by our top scientists on how the funding should be utilized. We must ensure that our research is addressing our national needs and taking advantage of new areas of opportunities and that the results of this research can enter the marketplace. We must also ensure that basic research money is allocated to the best science based on quality and peer review, not politics and earmarks.

I am committed to reinvigorating America’s commitment to basic research, and will ensure my administration funds research activities accordingly. I have supported increased funding at DOE, NSF, and NIH for years and will continue to do so. I will continue my commitment to ensure that the funding is properly managed and that the nation's research needs are adequately addressed.


Federally supported basic research, aimed at understanding many features of nature— from the size of the universe to subatomic particles, from the chemical reactions that support a living cell to interactions that sustain ecosystems—has been an essential feature of American life for over fifty years. While the outcomes of specific projects are never predictable, basic research has been a reliable source of new knowledge that has fueled important developments in fields ranging from telecommunications to medicine, yielding remarkable rates of economic return and ensuring American leadership in industry, military power, and higher education. I believe that continued investment in fundamental research is essential for ensuring healthier lives, better sources of energy, superior military capacity, and high-wage jobs for our nation’s future.

Yet, today, we are clearly under-investing in research across the spectrum of scientific and engineering disciplines. Federal support for the physical sciences and engineering has been declining as a fraction of GDP for decades, and, after a period of growth of the life sciences, the NIH budget has been steadily losing buying power for the past six years. As a result, our science agencies are often able to support no more than one in ten proposals that they receive, arresting the careers of our young scientists and blocking our ability to pursue many remarkable recent advances. Furthermore, in this environment, scientists are less likely to pursue the risky research that may lead to the most important breakthroughs. Finally, we are reducing support for science at a time when many other nations are increasing it, a situation that already threatens our leadership in many critical areas of science.

This situation is unacceptable. As president, I will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade.

Sustained and predictable increases in research funding will allow the United States to accomplish a great deal. First, we can expand the frontiers of human knowledge. Second, we can provide greater support for high-risk, high-return research and for young scientists at the beginning of their careers. Third, we can harness science and technology to address the “grand challenges” of the 21st century: energy, health, food and water, national security, information technology, and manufacturing capacity.

Does this mean I am voting my own self-interest? You're goddamn right I am. And you should, too.

The candidates' responses to this and other science policy questions can be seen at sciencedebate2008.com.


polish film posters

I don't know if there is a legal/copyright history behind this, or just different cultural/aesthetic sensibilities at work, but communist-era Polish posters for American films are absolutely amazing.


the best two sentences written on the 9/11 anniversary

Jim Henley:

"If we’re going to have ceremonies every year, hold the big ones in Shanksville, and remind ourselves that it was only ordinary people who behaved with distinction that day. Politicians who wish to appear at the ceremony will be allowed to read from a prepared script reading, in its entirety, 'Sorry.'"

durham residents--killer yard sale tomorrow!

Details here. This is to raise money for the Scene of the Crime Rovers' trip to HONK!

There will be a ton of good-quality, gently used clothes, shoes, and accessories, as well as household items, books, some small furniture, and original works of art! There are about 15 households contributing, and we're only putting out good stuff. So come on by!


mccain--dc native?

I noticed something odd in a report on NPR this morning. John McCain was giving a speech, and I'm pretty sure I heard him pronounce "Washington" as "Wershington", which, as I understand it, is exactly the way (Caucasian) people born and raised in DC say it (and almost no one else).

I'm vaguely sympathetic here--I pick up speech patterns and pieces of accents without even trying, and have occasionally been mistook for Canadian after living with one for six years, but--if you're trying to project the image of an "outsider", maybe you should try a little harder to avoid such an easily identifiable idiosyncrasy of the natives...

ADDENDUM--OK, to be fair, per his bio, he did go to high school in Alexandria.


Dr. Henry (Hank) Yamamura

The field of pharmacology and The University of Arizona lost a giant this week. Dr. Hank Yamamura passed away after having fought cancer for quite some time.

Many (if not most) pharmacologists know Dr. Yamamura by his work, which is extensive, to put it mildly. I am fortunate to count myself among the (many, many) scientists who had Hank as a mentor; in 2000 he agreed to be on my dissertation committee, feigning reluctance and saying that this was probably going to be the last time he agreed to such a thing. (He subsequently sat on half a dozen other committees that I know of, and got at least two new grants funded.) He never failed to encourage, to praise, and to challenge.

He had a disarming sense of humor and a razor-sharp mind. During my oral qualifying exam, he asked me a question. I don't remember what it was; what I do remember is that he smiled and urged me onward as I unraveled an epic line of what I soon realized was complete and utter bullshit. He was watching my face carefully the whole time, waiting for the moment--after decades of doing this, he knew it was coming--when I would recognize the hole I had dug for myself for what it was. When it happened, he simply winked and nodded approvingly as I humbly asked if I could start over.

Hank also gave me my first opportunity to teach a real class, shortly after I had completed my PhD, which shows that even the great ones have momentary lapses of judgment.

He will be missed.

weekend highlights

--The kitchen floor is basically done (I have a couple of metal strips to cut and nail down across the thresholds of the back and basement doors) and it looks pretty sweet.

--Hannah was basically a non-event for us, although the creek about 100 yards from our backyard did jump the bank. I am slightly less pissed about how much we pay in flood insurance now.

--Braved the rain with a few intrepid fellow Rovers, and busked at the Farmers' Market late Saturday morning. The crowd was thin but generous, and we raised some decent cash for HONK!

--[m] and I bought tickets to go to Vietnam in December


metal monday (friday edition)

For some reason, I've got this song stuck in my head today...


Megan McArdle's "scattered" thoughts on Ms. Palin are, oddly enough, among the most coherent and reasonable I've read. She should write stream-of-consciousness bullet points more often.

I realize you have no way of verifying this, but...if I had been a paid political adviser to McCain, this is exactly who I would have told him to pick as a running mate. (If I had been working for Obama, I would have strongly suggested Ms. Napolitano of Arizona), for many parallel reasons, and because it would have actually put AZ in play for the Dems, which would be quite the coup.)

This is to say I think that McCain is getting (politically) smart advice, or he's smarter than he looks. And Obama is suffering from hubris and/or listening to the wrong people. McCain is looking better and better by sticking to what made him popular in the first place, while Obama is faltering because he's been slowly toning himself down since he clinched the nomination. I think this is a gigantic mistake on Obama's part, and one that it is probably too late to correct.

It's a good show, and I'm glad that I feel relatively ambivalent about the outcome at this point. This must be agonizing for those that feel personally invested in one candidate or the other.

(See you tomorrow, Barry!)


I listened to exactly 6 minutes of speech tonight, the time it took to drive from my house to the pub. It was Giuliani. To summarize the portion I heard:

"We're told every 4 years that this is the most important election in our lifetime. But this one really is!"


"America! Fuck yeah!"

Ugh. Wake me up in December.

palinwatch: day 6

It occurred to me last night that the two arguments I've heard in support of Ms. Palin's qualifications to serve as Commander-in-Chief are that she has a son in the Army and that she is the CIC of the Alaska National Guard. As it happens, I have a PhD in neuroscience and my mom helps run a free clinic out of her church. So I expect the offer for her to become Dean of Medicine at Johns Hopkins to be forthcoming any day now. (Good luck, Mom, and put in a good word for me when you get there, OK?)


I do hope that she does not get Eagletoned, mostly because I have a beer riding on it now.


tough, but fair

Bob Barr, on the issues, per The Onion:

(1995–2007) Trying to control the faith, sexuality, reproduction, drug use, and national allegiance of every single American.

(2007–) Aw, Fuck it.

Which oddly enough, still places him light years ahead of the contenders...