12.30.2009

day 8: seattle!

That's enough driving for now, I think.

12.29.2009

day 7: bozeman to spokane

Western Montana and the Idaho panhandle are quite breathtaking. I really, really want to go back to Bozeman and spend some actual time there. Ditto Coeur d'Alene. But for now, it's a just a hop, skip and a jump to Seattle, and our soon-to-be friend Annie's house to rest up for moving into the new digs on New Years' Day.

12.28.2009

day 6: fargo to bozeman

Yes, that's a long way. And that's all I really have energy to say about it.

12.27.2009

sometimes i repeat myself, too

Me, over three years ago:

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. [Ed. Clearly I overlooked pointless, stupid fucking rules will be added.] 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.


To which I will only add that they can have my book during the last hour of flight when they pry it from my cold, urine-soaked pants.

day 5: a break in fargo

Spending the day with my father-in-law, and waiting for the roads to get just a little bit nicer.

Tomorrow: on to Montana!

12.26.2009

day 4: st cloud to fargo

Or, "how 165 miles can feel like the longest drive of your life."

It sucked. But we're here. Possibly for two nights, depending on how this goes.

I'm pretty good at backing a trailer for someone who doesn't do it regularly...but doing it in an unplowed lot adds a whole new dimension of anxiety,

12.25.2009

day 3: milwaukee to st. cloud

Today I thought it would be fun to race a blizzard to Fargo. Guess who won?

No biggie...this morning I thought we'd be lucky to make it out of Wisconsin. We managed to hit the Twin Cities hours after their snow and just behind the plows. Lovely. It started snowing right after we passed St. Cloud, so I turned around and found us a Motel 6.

With any luck, the roads to the west will be cleared tonight/tomorrow AM, and we can make a short drive to rendezvous with the inlaws in Fargo.

Now begins the search for Christmas night pizza delivery in St. Cloud...

12.24.2009

day 2: huntington to milwaukee

Hauled ass today, for nearly 12 hours. Would have been less, but somehow ended up taking 90 east from Gary instead of west, despite following every sign to Chicago I saw.

Anyway.

I'm pretty sure we're going to get snowbound somewhere in Wisconsin or (if we're lucky) Minnesota tomorrow. A day off of driving wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen anyway.

Hope you all have a Merry Christmas.

12.23.2009

day 1: durham to huntington, wv

So far, so good.

Lots of snow on the ground in NW NC and western VA. The dog loved romping in big piles of it at the rest stops in VA.

I-77 through VA was crowded and slow...I think we'd be well into Kentucky tonight if not for that. Plus, apparently we managed to pass through Wytheville, VA the only day that anything of note ever happened there. A couple of state troopers flew past us in the emergency lane...since we never saw a wreck, I'm guessing they were headed there.

I have friends both from and relocated to West Virginia, so I've never been one to cast aspersions on the place or its people. But tonight at a local liquor store, I watched not one but three clerks puzzle over whether the young man who had presented them with an ID saying he was born in 1992 was able to purchase alcohol. This lasted for five minutes. I'm not exaggerating. And yes, they had one of those calendars that tells you what year you have to be born in to buy.

11.28.2009

I think I'm going to shut the doors here. Keep the personal stuff on Facebook and put the cerebral discharge on Twitter. I so rarely have anything worth saying that can't be expressed in 140 characters or less these days. Thoughts?

11.18.2009

thin line between heaven and here

10 minutes of some of the greatest lines from the best show ever on television. Audio not safe for work (depending on where you work, obviously.)

11.11.2009

happy armisitice day

I mean no disrespect to our veterans (which include nearly every male in my family except me) by saying this, but...what Jim Henley said.

11.10.2009

times' top films of the decade

I like this list because I've seen enough of it (well over half) to think that I mostly share their sensibilities, and that means I can take the rest of the list fairly seriously as suggestions for the Netflix queue.

Also, the decade is nearly over, and they've finally given it a name that I hope sticks: The Noughties.

11.09.2009

10.29.2009

lurch!



The undead will take over the streets of Durham again tomorrow.

You were warned.

10.23.2009

biblical literalism pisses off fundamentalists

At least it does when R. Crumb does it. His new illustrated version of the book of Genesis has some Christian groups upset over his graphic depictions of the rampant sex and violence (including incest and genocide) that made Genesis by far the most entertaining book in Sunday School.

Though, it should be said, not everyone of faith feels that way about it:

Other leading religious figures have been more supportive of the work. "I didn't think it was satire," said the Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Nick Baines.

"He set out to say; 'this is important, fundamental myth' and it seems to me he's done a good job."


You can buy a copy for your kids this holiday season here.

10.22.2009

(insert your blogger here)



This blog will be Seattle-based in 2010.

Details when I have them sorted out.

10.13.2009

the idea of obama

I generally find Tom Tomorrow preachy, pedantic, and (most egregiously) painfully unfunny. But man, he's nailed it with this one.

10.09.2009

in other news, i've been awarded the nobel for attempted chemistry

As has been covered at length in this corner of the internet, I voted for Mr. Obama last year almost exclusively because I saw in him a hope to improve the trajectory of US foreign policy, and by extension, to promote the cause of peace in the world. (I know--I feel terribly corny having just written such a sentence.)

But it should be said that there was--to put it mildly--vast room for improvement on the front of "improving international cooperation". The bar was pretty damn low.

I know the Nobel Peace Prize has often been absurdly political for its entire history; this is nothing new. So I'll just leave it at this: I sincerely hope Mr. Obama actually accomplishes something in the next 3-7 years to deserve the prize he was awarded today.

---

OK, one more thought on this. How often is it that a course of action is both politically savvy and the Right Thing to do? Declining the prize would be exactly that.

10.05.2009

question

Do we need to hold a bake sale or something to buy the City of Durham a paper shredder? Just askin'...

9.28.2009

the limits of my francophilia

Roman Polanski, who in his life has made some damn fine films (irrelevant), was arrested in Switzerland this weekend and is awaiting extradition to California on account of charges he pled guilty to over 30 years ago before fleeing the country to avoid sentencing.

The crime in question involved drugging and raping a 13-year old girl. But really, the girl's age is really rather beside the point, isn't it? The point is that he raped her. It would be no less infuriating if she had been 23 or 33 at the time.

And yet...the reactions on the other side of the pond I keep hearing fall along the lines of "it's a shame they've arrested such a great artist," and "really, this isn't that big of a deal."

Look, I love Chinatown as much as the next guy. And I also thing that America's collective hangups about the sexuality of teenagers are fair game for criticism, if not outright ridicule. But if the belief that fucking someone (anyone!) in the ass (or anywhere else!) without their permission ought to be a crime for which one is vigorously prosecuted makes me a bourgeois puritan, then I guess I'm a bourgeois puritan, after all.

9.23.2009

quick review: dos perros

M and I finally made it over to Dos Perros the other night. The space looks great, and is a welcome addition to downtown Durham's small--but scrappy and growing--restaurant scene. We sat at the bar, and (being a Monday and fairly late) had our server more or less to ourselves.

The requisite chips and salsa were good: chips cooked on premises, and the salsa (I think a roasted yellow pepper concoction of some sort) was pleasantly tangy, though M's super-sensitive taste buds quickly discerned that it needed salt. Once some salt was added, the salsa was great.

We shared an order of ceviche, which was very fresh and pleasantly subtle in flavor. Also, it was nicely layered (rather than mixed to homogeneity) with large chunks of seafood on a tostada and a more salsa fresca-like component on top.

For entrees, we had the chicken in mole poblano and a baked corn pudding topped with asadero cheese and garlic sauce. The poblano was competent, but not terribly interesting. Far too timid for my tastes, really, and the chicken was actually a little bit dry. The rice and beans that came with it, however, were both cooked to perfection and packed with flavor--I'd say about as good as rice and beans can be expected to be. (I realize this may sound like damning with faint praise, but I really don't mean it that way...attention to detail on "sides" that people tend to take for granted is the mark of a great cook, in my book.)

The corn pudding, however, was sublime. The melding of flavors and textures was really superb, and well complemented by the vegetables served with it. It isn't often that my eyes are drawn to the "vegetarian" section of a menu, but I am very glad that they were in this case. This dish will be hard to pass up in favor of trying something different on the next visit.

Also, I was very happy to be able to have a Dale's Pale Ale on draught with my meal. Hoppy pale ales and IPAs are the perfect complement to spicy food, and it's great to see restaurants catching on to this.

9.16.2009

the paranoid center

Jesse Walker's piece in this month's reason is truly stellar. Too many good quotes to pick one, but I will anyway:

"If the Oklahoma City bombing stands out, that is because it is unique in American history. Eliminationist rhetoric may flower in some of the fringes, but the violence that sometimes follows is usually petty stuff. The most formidable eliminationists have always been in the American center, not on the margins. They aim to preserve or extend the existing social order, not to subvert it. And they have the most guns...

It's comforting to imagine that violence and paranoia belong only to the far left and right, and that we can protect ourselves from their effects by quarantining the extremists and vigilantly expelling anyone who seems to be bringing their ideas into the mainstream. But the center has its own varieties of violence and paranoia. And it's far more dangerous than anyone on the fringe, even the armed fringe, will ever be."

9.13.2009

norman borlaug, 1914-2009


If I were going to nominate someone for the title of Greatest Human Being Who Ever Lived, I think I would be hard-pressed to come up with a better candidate that Dr. Norman Borlaug, who died yesterday at age 95.

Some people estimate that Borlaug's development of high-yield crops is responsible for saving a billion people from starvation in south Asia alone. And yet I doubt his passing will generate 1/100th of the attention that pop stars and career politicians do.

9.11.2009

9/10

I have nothing to add to Will Wilkinson's post today:

The United States’ government reacted to to 9/11 and that reaction has been, to my mind, an enormous disaster. Yet those responsible for this disaster have been successful in hiding behind the shock of the crumbling towers, as if support for their dangerous and deadly policies is inexorably implied by feeling deeply the full weight of 9/11’s tragedy. Those most insistent that we “never forget” 9/11 are those who need our continuing collective complicity in the erosion of our civil liberties, in the weakening of the rule of law, in the unjustified invasion of unrelated foreign countries and the murder of their people, in the policy of state-sanctioned torture. The difficulty many Americans have in separating remembrance of an act of terror from an endorsement of the war on terror may turn out be George W. Bush’s great legacy.

9.10.2009

kleptocracy in america

I'm broadly pro-yelling at politicians, so it's hard for me to get worked up over the Joe Wilson thing. Actually, I think politicians should probably be yelled at and yell at each other more, not less. I would prefer some genuine passion over principle to the microscopic oscillations between the Democratic and Republican wings of the American Party.

I also find it telling that the Republicans (or at least an awful lot of them) are worked up into apoplectic rage over what really amounts to some rather mundane domestic policy questions, while the Democrats (except Dennis Kucinich and a few other people no one takes seriously) just a few short years ago could not muster a fraction of that outrage over starting a god damn war on false pretenses.

I've sat on this a couple of weeks, but it seems appropriate in context: the only thing that puzzled me more than the general lovefest over Ted Kennedy was the visceral hatred he seemed to have inspired in so many of his political opponents. (It should be said that I find lovefests over politicians just icky generally.) By all means: disrespect the memory of a the late senator from Massachusetts, if you are so inclined, but don't do it because you think he represented some particularly virulent form of crypto-socialist-whatever, or because of your utterly manufactured outrage over the senseless death of a woman whose name you would not remember if she had been riding in the car with a less prominent politician.

Do it because disrespecting our rulers is our sacred right and (occasionally solemn duty) as Americans.

We are mostly ruled by liars and thieves. This is the normal human condition. There's nothing wrong with behaving accordingly.

transit fail

I was lacking a handy camera (and anyway, I was driving) so I will have to rely on the evocative power of narrative to paint this picture.

Roxboro Rd., the height of the morning rush hour. A DATA bus, broken down, police car behind it diverting traffic. A busload of weary people stand on the side of the road. A tow truck approaches in the distance. Another bus, nowhere in sight.

The LED sign on the bus reads "TRY TRANSIT".

9.09.2009

for the record...


...I am really, really, tired of hearing the Beatles. And about the Beatles.

This isn't to say I dislike their music...in fact, I really like a lot of their (post-drug use) output. But SWEET JUMPING JESUS ON A POGO STICK, I had to hear about Rock Band: Beatles on NPR this morning, and then I had to hear a brass quartet playing Lady Madonna while I got a sandwich at my freaking workplace. All of this is before noon.

I am willing to accept the inevitability of Boomer cultural hegemony until we can get the death panels rolling, but seriously: there has been so much great music made since the late 1960's that they could at least diversify a little...Hendrix, Black Sabbath, The MC5, The Stooges, The Ramones...and that's without even looking past the mid-70's...

[/rant]

9.05.2009

vanderbilt on traffic stops

In a piece on the positive side effects of traffic enforcement, Tom Vanderbilt writes:

Police insist there is no such thing as a "routine traffic stop." For one, there is the hazard of the stop itself. One analysis found that in a 10-year period, 89 officers were killed and more than 600,000 were assaulted by the persons they had pulled over.


This caught my attention for a few reasons. One, I recently had a friend who had a gun pulled on him by a police officer under pretty dubious circumstances, an incident that illustrates just how aggressive the default approach of the police to the rest of us really is. (No one was hurt or arrested, but that's rather beside the point.) Two, I read Radley Balko, and if that doesn't make you worry about police tactics--particularly if you live in an economically diverse neighborhood--nothing will. Finally, danger to officers is cited as the primary justification for the overwhelming show of force, even in a traffic stop. The thing about the statistic Vanderbilt quotes above is that it is immediately preceded by this one:

According to Department of Justice estimates, in 1999 there were 43,800,000 "contacts" between police and the public nationwide, and 52 percent of these were traffic stops.


By my back of the envelope calculations, that puts the number of traffic stops in a year at 22.8 million, and assuming that number is representative, this means the odds of an officer being killed during a traffic stop are about one in 2.6 million. As a reference point, the odds of being hit by lightening sometime in your life comes out to about one in 5000. (Other sources put the lifetime risk closer to 1 in 80,000. Either way, it's much, much more likely.)

I'm sympathetic with the large point Vanderbilt is making: that traffic enforcement can produce very real returns to public safety, particularly in residential neighborhoods. But I can't get on board with the idea that stops are "a net for catching bigger fish," particularly when this is coupled to the idea that the supposed danger inherent to traffic stops justifies police aggression against otherwise law-abiding citizens. And I find the fact that he puts "warrantless searches" in scare-quotes just plain chilling.

I do want to emphasize that I don't really have an argument with Vanderbilt on the public safety argument for traffic policing, insofar as "public safety" in this context is referring specifically to the safety of people on or near the public roads. My criticism is that the danger posed to pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers by traffic violators is sufficient to justify high levels of enforcement, and that his point about catching career criminals is 1)superfluous and 2) fosters the "us vs. them" mentality that is poisoning the relationship between police and the communities that they serve. Moreover, the actual danger to officers in the course of a routine (yes, routine) traffic stop does not justify treating every person pulled over as a potential criminal.

9.04.2009

why johnny can't read

I think it's pretty funny that people who (daily and for years!) turn their children over to the State for their education are freaking out about the possibility of their little darlings watching a speech by the President.

In terms of indoctrination, this is a fart in a hurricane.

8.21.2009

qft

Matt Welch:

You're a true patriot, Tom Ridge. When faced with senior administration officials deliberately trying to scare the crap out of the American people to win an election–a tar-and-featherable offense, at minimum–not only did you decide to eventually quit some day, you rushed out and told citizens about their duplicitous leaders in just five short years! For profit!

A banal point to remember, but foundational: Government is materially incentivized to frighten you, about everything. Power–surprise!–corrupts, no matter which set of angels happens to be exercising it this year. Which is why some of us don't gladly give the stuff over to Washington, D.C.

8.19.2009

"life here, began out there"

Well, maybe.

But scientists have confirmed that there are amino acids on comets. Which is pretty cool, and suggests that other organic materials found in meteorites may very well have originated off-planet (i.e., they weren't merely contaminated when they slammed into the earth.)

8.17.2009

angry neighbors with paintball guns




(image via Bull City Rising)






I saw this sign (or rather, one exactly like it) on my commute this morning, and it made me smile like few things can on a Monday morning. The one I saw was near the corner of Roxboro and Knox, a corner where pedestrian right-of-way laws and the laws of physics have a nasty tendency to face off with some frequency, no thanks to those charged with enforcing the former.

For the record, I have nothing to do with this, but I do wish I'd thought of it. God, I love Durham.

Kevin and Barry have more.


UPDATE--Based on the comments on the two news outlets who've picked up on this so far (WDTV and WRAL) I can't wait to see the crazy come out over at the N&O...

8.13.2009

(you are here)

This is pretty freaking awesome:



Pretty amazing how vast the universe is, what with it only being about 6000 years old and all...

(he's just a nihilist...nothing to worry about...)

The more I read and hear about the various issues of health care reform, the more I am convinced of really only one thing: that this is an issue sufficiently complex as to allow room for everyone to be completely wrong about it. And everybody probably is.

8.10.2009

health care, ctd

Last week I wrote:

"I think universal health care is a perfectly laudable goal... That said, I have absolutely no faith in the American political system to create and run a Canadian or French-style single-payer system (setting aside for the moment whether I would actually want it to or not). There are too many stakeholders in the status quo...we'd have to have public (only) campaign financing first."

Yesterday, Robert Reich pointed out a perfect example of why I think this is the case:

It's bad enough when industry lobbyists extract concessions from members of Congress, which happens all the time. But when an industry gets secret concessions out of the White House in return for a promise to lend the industry's support to a key piece of legislation, we're in big trouble. That's called extortion: An industry is using its capacity to threaten or prevent legislation as a means of altering that legislation for its own benefit. And it's doing so at the highest reaches of our government, in the office of the President.

When the industry support comes with an industry-sponsored ad campaign in favor of that legislation, the threat to democracy is even greater. Citizens end up paying for advertisements designed to persuade them that the legislation is in their interest [emphasis added]. In this case, those payments come in the form of drug prices that will be higher than otherwise, stretching years into the future.


It should be said that this is coming from an unabashed liberal whose support for universal insurance is much less qualified than my own.

A blind spot too many libertarians and most conservatives have is the danger posed by collusion between the private sector and the government. It isn't free enterprise when businesses game the government to their competitive advantage. I have no idea what Mr. Obama (or perhaps more accurately, his team) are thinking here, whether this is a necessary compromise on the path to universal insurance or is actually the way they want to proceed. In either case, they seem to be taking a page from some of the worst economic policy of the Republicans.

All of which goes to reinforce the fundamental silliness of the Team Red/Team Blue mentality...Republicans aren't opposing Obama's health care reforms because they think it's bad policy (it is) but because it's Obama's. More to the point, it isn't difficult to envision an alternate reality in which a Republican president would have struck the exact same deal, with full support from the party. Democrats/liberals/progressives that are supporting reform (it should be said that there is no shortage of liberal disappointment in the general half-assedness of the Obama "plan"), I can only presume, are supporting it primarily because...it's Obama's.

8.09.2009

great sentences

"Not so long ago she'd have dismissed such mysticism; but after last night she was obliged to be more open-minded. The world of mysteries she'd made light of in her spook and spaceship screenplays was not to be so easily mocked. It had come looking for her, found her, and pitched her--cynicism and all--among its heavens and hells...

She no longer had to keep her cynicism polished; no longer had to divide her imaginings from moment too moment into the real (solid, sensible) and the fanciful (vaporous, valueless). If (when) she got back to her typewriter she'd begin these tongue-in-cheek screenplays over from the top, telling them with faith to the tale, not because every fantasy was absolutely true but because no reality ever was."


--Clive Barker, The Great and Secret Show

8.06.2009

first, we take manhattan...


Not to brag, but...I'm totally going to brag.

Who has two thumbs and has already scored tickets to see Leonard Cohen play in Durham?

Yeah, that's right...

8.05.2009

qotd

So what do you think Bill Clinton said to Kim Jong Il?

8.03.2009

(more) disjointed thoughts about health care reform

1) It isn't that I am eager for the changes Mr. Obama has proposed (what are they again? Does anyone know? Does he?) so much as it is that there is very little about the current health care system that I find defensible. I understand that the Republicans do not want government-run health care (except, you know, when they do) but I am equally perplexed as to exactly what it is that Republicans are defending as I am about what the administration is proposing.

2) I think universal health care is a perfectly laudable goal. There really is no reason we couldn't do it (from a financial standpoint) if we weren't so keen on running a global empire. That said, I have absolutely no faith in the American political system to create and run a Canadian or French-style single-payer system (setting aside for the moment whether I would actually want it to or not). There are too many stakeholders in the status quo...we'd have to have public (only) campaign financing first. And that isn't going to happen.

3) That said, if the goal is actually universal care, then I don't understand why the discussion isn't focused on a substantial (and universally available, if not universally utilized) safety net-type system, built from the ground-up in addition to everything that already exists. (And no, I have no idea how to do this.)

This "public option" which is apparently meant to compete with private insurance and drive their prices down while (simultaneously!) not in any way affecting their ability to do business with the millions of people perfectly happy with their current coverage (like, for example, me)--all while the federal government is going to prohibit private insurers from denying anyone coverage for much of anything--is a bunch of incoherent nonsense. Might as well promise a pony to every little girl in America, while we're at it. (It'd be cheaper.)

4) I do worry about the effect of any reform--including the ones I am very vaguely proposing--on health care innovation in the long run. And you should, too, even if you find the notion of charging people money for life-saving care morally reprehensible.

5) If you think Americans spend a lot more on end-of-life care than the rest of the world now, just wait until the Boomers really start dying off. And if you think that they are going to be the ones to change this, I have an ocean-view condo to sell you. It's in Detroit.

7.30.2009

(insert chinese comment spam here)

Don't bots speak English anymore? Have they been outsourced, too?

7.28.2009

criticizing cops is protected speech

Via Radley Balko via Andrew Sullivan, a beautifully articulated opinion from Judge Alex Kozinski:

Defendant relies heavily on the fact that Duran was making obscene gestures toward him and yelling profanities in Spanish while traveling along a rural Arizona highway. We cannot, of course, condone Duran’s conduct; it was boorish, crass and, initially at least, unjustified. Our hard-working law enforcement officers surely deserve better treatment from members of the public. But disgraceful as Duran’s behavior may have been, it was not illegal; criticism of the police is not a crime.

[T]he First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers…

The freedom of individuals to oppose or challenge police action verbally without thereby risking arrest is one important characteristic by which we distinguish ourselves from a police state…

Thus, while police, no less than anyone else, may resent having obscene words and gestures directed at them, they may not exercise the awesome power at their disposal to punish individuals for conduct that is not merely lawful, but protected by the First Amendment.

Inarticulate and crude as Duran’s conduct may have been, it represented an expression of disapproval toward a police officer with whom he had just had a run-in. As such, it fell squarely within the protective umbrella of the First Amendment and any action to punish or deter such speech–such as stopping or hassling the speaker–is categorically prohibited by the Constitution…

No matter how peculiar, abrasive, unruly or distasteful a person’s conduct may be, it cannot justify a police stop unless it suggests that some specific crime has been, or is about to be, committed, or that there is an imminent danger to persons or property.


Kozinski is probably one of the best jurists in the country in terms of recognizing the constitutional limits of police power. Which is of course why he will never be nominated to the SCOTUS.

7.23.2009

the most infuriating thing about the arrest of Prof. Gates

...has nothing to do with his race.

What's infuriating is that you have to be a famous, tenured professor at Harvard to have "disorderly conduct" charges against you dropped, when the only thing you're guilty of is failing to be sufficiently obsequious to a cop on your own damn property.

7.16.2009

apropos of nothing whatsoever

What if instead of soliciting monetary donations to their campaigns, politicians could only sell bonds on their campaign promises, payable with interest on a certain date if said promise was not kept? So instead of giving $500 to Sen. Blowhard, you give $500 to "pull out of Iraq or pay me $600 next October."

Surely I cannot be the first person to think of this?

7.13.2009

fun with instruments



SOC Rovers @ Bombadil's CD release party this weekend. This is 10 minutes of sheer ridculousness, including our (rather deconstructed) tribute to Micheal Jackson.

And before you ask...yes, this is pretty much what we do.

You can see/hear most of the set in pieces here.

7.08.2009

why 6 is afraid of 7

Today's date is 7/8/9. There won't be another for 100 years*. Seems like there ought to at least be a commemorative pint glass or something.

*Except of course, in the rest of the world, where it will happen in a month.

7.06.2009

Man it just warms my black little capitalist heart to see a restaurant using lefty commie-chic to sell overpriced appetizers and cocktails.

the technical term is "going scarborough"

If Sarah Palin doesn't have a show on Fox News by the end of this year, I will eat my hat.

I really didn't want to blog about this, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to get on the record with this one.

6.26.2009

selection pressure

I'm working on a theory. It goes something like this:

1) High-status males (or alpha males, or dudes with big egos and powerful personalities, whatever you want to call them) tend to cheat on their spouses/partners. Not because they are intrinsically less virtuous than the rest of us, but because they are presented with many, many more opportunities to do so, particularly from high-status (read: attractive) females.

2) Most (successful) men in politics are high-status males.

3) Ergo, most men in politics cheat on their spouses.

4) Being caught cheating on your spouse often (though certainly not always) brings a political career to a close, or at least derails higher ambitions.

5) Proposed: Men who are successful at the highest levels of politics tend to not only to be liars and cheaters, but those who are very, very good at lying and cheating.

None of this is intended to excuse, dismiss, or minimize the behavior of any individual. Nor is it to say that we shouldn't concern ourselves with the moral fiber of those we put in power over us. I just wonder if by drumming out all of the inept cheaters in politics we aren't running a sort of moral/political Dosadi Experiment.

6.25.2009

they always come in threes....

Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Micheal Jackson. Oddly enough, this sounds like the setup of a Carnac the Magnificent gag.

6.21.2009

iran

I don't know if Iran's election was stolen or not. I don't know if "regime change" there will be a net gain for the freedom of Iranians.

But I do know that seeing riot police turn tail and run from a mass of very pissed off citizens make me feel terribly warm and fuzzy inside.

6.16.2009

why i continue to miss living in az (a continuing series)

Things really are different there:

"Here's to the good citizens, the town of Cave Creek and a Western tradition," said Thomas McGuire, the incumbent in the race. McGuire drew the six of hearts

Then challenger Adam Trenk stepped forward for his turn. He pulled the king of hearts, and McGuire politely conceded. Trenk pocketed the card as a keepsake.

6.15.2009

shining moments in pharmacological education

From the textbook from whence I am teaching:

"The widespread belief that [cannabis] increases the creativity of artists may have arisen largely because the drug was widely used by musicians and artists. Nevertheless, there is no consistent evidence from objective research that creativity is enhanced."

To which my response is to challenge my students with the question--what do you think is involved in "objective research" on creativity? A question I asked not having a clue myself what the actual answer is.

After some discussion, which pretty much went nowhere interesting, I blurted out something to the effect of "look, just listen to the Beatles' catalog in chronological order, and tell me marijuana didn't influence them creatively. Because really, those first couple of albums kind of sucked."

The response was....mixed.

I probably should have handed out those evals before class.

6.13.2009

fullsteam!

No longer content to merely scoop the local MSM, Kevin Davis of Bull City Rising appears to have the scoop on the much-anticipated location of the Fullsteam Brewery before it's even been mentioned on Fullsteam's own webpage.

(It is mentioned somewhat obliquely on their Twitter feed that an official press release is coming on Monday.)

This is needless to say great news. What I have gotten to sample of the beers these guys are making is really impressive. And I can be at 726 Rigsbee in less than 10 minutes by bicycle.

6.12.2009

the fda's plan to kill smokers faster

I have a lot of problems with the FDA, both in terms of its scope and how poorly it tends to execute its duties (which it should be said is largely the result of an overly broad mandate and inadequate funding to fulfill it.) But setting aside the manifold institutional problems with the agency, it's kind of silly that tobacco has enjoyed the legal status of "non-drug" for the decades since we've all known better. So on its face, I don't really have a problem with giving the FDA authority to regulate it.

However...

The manner in which the FDA is very likely to go about exercising this authority is going to be (with apologies to Dan Ariely) predictably irrational. Specifically, they are going to mandate lower nicotine content in cigarettes.

This is predicated on the (correct) assumption that nicotine is the ingredient responsible for initiating and reinforcing chronic use (I dislike the term "addiction"). In principle, this might make new smokers less likely to acquire a chronic habit.

However, it will almost certainly have a very different effect on the millions of people currently smoking: they will smoke more cigarettes, inhale more frequently and more deeply, and hold the smoke in their lungs longer. Manipulation of nicotine levels has been shown to have these effects in study after study: smokers modify their smoking behavior to maintain nicotine concentrations in their body. This goes both ways. What the strategy of mandating lower nicotine content ignores is that if you wanted to actually make a safer cigarette (a project that the public health establishment stubbornly and negligently refuses to contemplate), you would put more nicotine in it, not less, because then smokers will be exposed to much less of the tar, smoke, and ~4500 chemicals in cigarette smoke, all of which are more harmful than nicotine itself.

It's been argued that Phillip Morris is supporting FDA regulation because their market share will make them better positioned than their smaller competitors to deal with the impact of regulation on their business. This is almost certainly true. But I would also argue that they realize their best customers are about to get even better.

6.11.2009

the uighurs can have my house for a cool $200 thousand

I'm just sayin'.

Surely the main reason these guys are going to Palau is that the tiny nation is one of the few in Asia that does not have a diplomatic relationship with the government in Beijing. Beijing, predictably, is pissed.

Which begs the question...does anyone seriously think the Uighurs are going to be truly safe in Palau, if the Chinese government really decides they want to get their hands on them? I mean, these guys kidnapped Jack Bauer on US soil you know...

6.08.2009

(actually, here the sentence would have been "indefinite")

Two American journalists have been arrested and detained by North Korea--possibly not even within its own borders--charged with constituting an unspecified danger to the North Korean state, put through a dubiously opaque legal process, and have now been sentenced to 12 years hard labor.

I'm so glad to live in a country that doesn't do things like that.

6.05.2009

(in which my chances of an ambassadorship diminish considerably)

I’m having a hard time finding a link to it, but someone on the BBC this morning mentioned that there was a perception that German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not have as warm a relationship with President Obama as she had had with President Bush. Who would have thought Mr. Bush’s contribution to international statecraft would turn out to be the inappropriate shoulder-rub?

But seriously, I had to laugh at hearing the German Chancellor’s demeanor towards the President described as being a bit frosty.

In related news, it turns out that Gordon Brown is a bit stiff, Silvio Berlusconi likes to chase tail, Stephen Harper is boring, and Barack Obama can be kind of a dick sometimes.

6.03.2009

nixon delenda est




Read this and this.

I lack the historical perspective to give Rojas' thesis a decent critical evaluation, but I certainly find it difficult to refute on its face. Moreover, I would include in the "useful idiots to the Nixonians" not just Christian conservatives and free marketeers, but also the Democratic Party. After all, abortion has remained legal through several periods of GOP dominance, meaningful reform of the income tax and social security has never been seriously discussed beyond primary season, and every Democratic president from Roosevelt on has waged war on the world, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter, who is generally remembered as ineffectual among all but the most ardent liberals (god bless your bleeding hearts.)

6.01.2009

the simpsons already did it!

I'm actually more pissed off about this than the glibness of my headline might imply. Oddly enough, the perps are probably too young to fully appreciate how played out this prank really is.

UPDATE--Hooray!

5.31.2009

more on the means and ends of liberty

I think both the Civil Rights Act and the women’s movement did in fact lead to tremendous net increases in liberty... Federal intervention, while certainly limiting freedom of association and trumping more local jurisdictions, resulted IMO in an overall increase in freedom. That many traditional libertarian conservatives, such as Goldwater, seem to have been willing to sacrifice a great gain in overall freedom in order to maintain status quo levels local self-rule seems to me to betray a commitment to ancient ideals of liberty as community self-government in conflict with the modern idea of liberty as freedom from coercion.


--Wilkinson on Bartlett on liberals and libertarians.

My hypothesis is that conservatives (and right-leaning libertarians) tend to invoke "federal intervention" and "judicial activism" when talking about the means to ends that they don't personally care for and/or to which they are indifferent. If, for example, Kelo had been decided differently (i.e., correctly), would conservatives have been howling federal overreach in the governance of New London? I somewhat doubt it.

5.27.2009

gay marriage in california: a victory for democracy

...and a prime example of why democracy is seriously overrated. It's a means, not an end, people.

My understanding (which is admittedly limited) is that the CA Supreme Court could really only rule on whether Prop 8 was a constitutional change to CA's constitution or not. And I'm pretty sure that it is.

So to recap: if you're gay in California and pissed off (or even if you're neither but still pissed off) you should blame the people of California, not the courts. And you should give serious consideration to moving your talent and tax revenue to Iowa.

And if you're in California and happy your fine state is keeping the queers down a little longer, you should keep in mind that California has a clearly established legal precedent that your rights under the law can be abridged by a mere majority vote of the people. Have fun with that.

5.24.2009

the hops are free!

Congratulations to the beer lovers of the great state of Alabama!

Moving there just got a lot more tolerable...

5.21.2009

amen

Golly. Maybe Mexicans really were coming here to actually work and not merely drop “anchor babies” and collect welfare checks, after all.


Radley Balko, noting that Mexican immigration to the US is down in the down economy.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: we have only to benefit from an influx of people willing to risk their lives crossing a desert for the privileges of mowing our lawns, caring for our fat spoiled children, and being shit upon by opportunistic politicians every time the economy hiccups.

5.08.2009

obama and dc school vouchers

While I really like the spirit of what Megan McArdle has to say here:

I'm willing to countenance the possibility that Barack Obama genuinely believes that the DC voucher program is not helping the students who participate...[but] how come the Obama girls benefit from leaving the DC public school system?

...

What is it about the Obama girls that enables them, nearly uniquely, to benefit from school choice?


...I just can't get on board with the argument that Mr. Obama's (possibly wrongheaded) opposition to vouchers somehow obligates him to put his children in public school. Vouchers make it possible for people to send their children to private school that otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it. The Obamas can afford it.

You can argue that vouchers constitute a sort of tax refund rather than a simple entitlement, I suppose, but since they are targeted towards people who probably are getting more back than they "paid in" (and a great many more people pay in and get nothing), it looks a lot more like an entitlement to me.

Now, I don't think for a minute that Mr. Obama's opposition to it is rooted in a desire to cut entitlements--he's keeping the teachers' unions sweet. But I also don't understand why Megan and so many other conservatives and libertarians don't see vouchers as the wealth transferring entitlements that they certainly look like to me.

(Full disclosure: I am a product of public education, from kindergarten through a PhD.)

5.07.2009

w

Watched Oliver Stone’s W last night. Over all, I’d say it works pretty well, in that it is rather uncomfortable to watch.

Josh Brolin’s performance is to be commended, for capturing Mr. Bush’s speech, body language, and mannerisms without treading into SNL-style parody. (The same cannot be said for Thandie Newton, who actually seems to be doing an impression of Maya Rudolph doing an impression of Condoleeza Rice.) Jeffery Wright’s Colin Powell makes no discernable attempt to mimic its subject, but delivers a powerful and effective performance anyway. He, along with the elder President Bush, come out of W somewhat rehabilitated, if only by comparison to pretty much everyone else. Richard Dreyfus’ Dick Cheney is almost certainly over the top—one expects at any moment a scene where he is malevolently stroking a long-haired cat while seated on a swiveling chair in his secret lair—but since Dick Cheney is probably the closest thing to a James Bond villain that the United States has had in the last few decades, I’m OK with this.

The movie is genuinely funny in places, and touching in others. Both of these are severely muted by the shadow of the catastrophe that was the Bush presidency.

Oliver Stone being Oliver Stone, I take any and all “insider” details with a boulder of salt. The relationship between “Poppy” and “Junior” in particular seems terribly contrived, but who knows? But to be sure, some of the most jarring scenes are those that we all watched happen live on television, or were extracted from official meeting transcripts.

I’m sure the 26% crowd dismisses it as a partisan hatchet job, while a great many of Mr. Bush’s detractors are likely to view the film as more sympathetic than he deserves. I lean towards the latter camp myself. Stone’s (frankly uncharacteristic) nuance here may not be terribly accurate, but it sure as hell is interesting.

5.04.2009

images that make my blood run cold



(via Radley Balko)

Students of history (or like me, viewers of HBO) may recall that Roman soldiers were not permitted to wear soldiers' clothes within the walls of the city during the days of the Republic, a tradition that ended right around the time someone declared himself Emperor...

I realize that police can and do confront dangerous situations that may call for specialized training, powerful weaponry, and military-like tactics. In fact, I've been in a building that was (legitimately) cleared by a SWAT team (nothing can prepare you for having eight high-powered rifles pointed at your center of mass, let me tell you). But these are the exception, not the rule. The increasing militarization of the police as standard operating procedure should scare the hell out of you.

And now, a word from the Old Man:

There’s a reason you separate the military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.


Is it lame to quote Battlestar Galactica to reinforce one's argument? Most likely. But I don't know that I could have phrased it better in this case.

4.30.2009

some thoughts on swine flu

--No one in public health has anything to gain by being the guy/gal who said "this probably won't be a big deal". That is to say, no one has ever been given a commendation for accurately predicting a non-event, but many careers have ended because "they didn't see the signs". On the other hand, if they end up overestimating the scale and deadliness of this thing, they get to say that being cautious worked...and may very well be correct in saying so.

--Mortality rates in Mexico may be inflated, because utilization of health services there is much lower than here. There could be many mild cases of H1N1 that have not been reported at all, because they never went to the doctor. You can bet anyone with a sore throat and a mild fever in the U.S. (a combination of symptoms I routinely tough out 1-2 times a year) will be running to Urgent Care.

--I'm not terribly concerned. That said, I'm glad I don't have to fly anywhere any time soon (and wish my wife didn't have to), and I wouldn't go to Mexico right now.

4.22.2009

with great power...

I'm still catching up on the torture memos released this week, and the commentary thereon. There has of course been a great deal of more timely and insightful blogging on this than I can hope to produce. (See here and here, for starters.)

Generally speaking, I'm actually in favor of giving people in positions of great responsibility tremendous latitude in the execution of their duties. All possible contingencies cannot (and I think, should not) be prepared for within a broad and practical legal framework. This is true whether we are talking about the protocol for a traffic stop or how suspected terrorists in custody can be interrogated.

Where I part ways with what was apparently the prevailing wisdom of the previous (and possibly current) administration with regard to the latter is that I take the "great responsibility" part every bit as seriously as the "tremendous latitude" part. If you are someone with the power to make the decision to torture people, you are also someone who can and should take full responsibility for that decision.

By this, I mean a great deal more than standing up at a press conference and saying "I take full responsibility for the decisions I made pursuant to the execution of my duties," stepping away from the microphone, and going back to your job. I mean that you actually, you know, take responsibility for your actions by accepting the consequences thereof in real and personal way.

To allow government officials to make criminal decisions without any criminal repercussions is to put them above the law. It is the very antithesis of (lower-case) republicanism. If you made it policy for the CIA to engage in illegal acts of torture, then you are complicit in a criminal conspiracy. You can and should be prosecuted for it. Jay Bybee, I'm looking at you. (Again, for starters.)

At a bare minimum, these people should have the decency to resign from public service, publicly beg the forgiveness of the innocent people wronged by the policies they put forth, and write a big fucking check to Amnesty International.

Putting it another way...isn't allowing government officials (elected and/or politically appointed) to act outside the law with impunity--even if they did so in what they may have genuinely believed was in the best interest of the country, and I think that many did--the moral equivalent of "capitalizing the gains and socializing the losses"? What's a few years in prison if you actually save the world? Take the risk. Make the decision. And accept the consequences.

The problem with the Bush team seems to have been that their threshold for extra-legal* action was clearly much, much too low. Neither the world, nor the country, was ever at stake. A bunch of political appointees who never served in the military or intelligence services thought they were living in a real-life episode of 24. And acted accordingly.

All of that said, I'm actually in a agreement with Dick Cheney--yes you read that correctly--in that I also think information obtained from the interrogations in question should be made public. If the ticking time-bomb scenario really did happen, and this really did make us substantially safer, that would absolutely mitigate all of this to a considerable degree. At this point I don't believe for a minute that such evidence exists, because if it did, they would have hauled it out a long time ago. But if I turn out to be wrong, let the record show I'm willing to revise my position in light of new information.

Which is a damn sight more than will ever be said of the Bush administration.


*This modifier is spelled "illegal" when applied to the actions of mere mortals.

4.20.2009

cosmetic neurology

I just want to publicly thank Margaret Talbot for giving me the lecture I was trying to fill for summer term.

4.18.2009

dwt to be banned in nc

I don't really have a problem with NC banning texting while driving, in principle, because let's be real: texting while driving is a supremely stupid thing to do. (I can't even text while walking.) That said, I really wonder how it will be enforceable, particularly since talking, using GPS, and using pretty much any other functionality of a cell phone behind the wheel will remain legal. I worry that this, like the seatbelt law, will simply be a pretext to pull people over.

I also wonder how a certain local mayor feels about it, since I had the pleasure of observing him a couple of weeks ago (he helpfully has a vanity license plate that is his name) wheeling around the downtown loop, Blackberry prominently at 12, hands at 11:55 and 12:05.

To be fair, he seemed rather well-practiced at it, staying in the lane and everything.

4.15.2009

tax day in the old north state

It's a forgone conclusion that I am unhappy about income tax, generally. So I'll not belabor that point.

I do want to say a word or two about the state income tax in North Carolina, however.

NC's tax rate in our bracket is not as high as, say, California's. That is as it should be. It's only slightly lower than Oregon's--a place I would very much prefer to live, if we ever manage to land two jobs there--though it is worth noting that Oregon has no sales tax (it's 7% here), which I imagine puts Oregon ahead overall.

It is noteworthy that NC's rates (in our bracket at least) are higher than both "Taxechusetts" and New York. For the life of me, I don't know what I get for it. It certainly isn't forward-thinking transportation infrastructure, or a pleasant and efficient DMV.

To be sure, income tax isn't everything (see the example of Oregon, above.) Property taxes, gas taxes (NC's are the highest in the southeastern US), etc., also make a big difference; my observations here are by no means a complete assessment of the relative tax burden of the several states.

But what really gets me is the sheer retardedness of NC's D-400-TC form, which clocks in at a whopping 6 pages, sends you flipping back and forth to do calculations that could be handled in a much more straightforward manner, and (to top it all off) won't give you .pdf file in which you can save changes. And to add insult to injury, they instruct you to add a "consumer use tax" to recapture the sales tax they assume you would have otherwise paid on money you had the temerity to spend somewhere other than North Carolina. (There's a table that's essentially a straight percentage of your income. Then it says you can make an adjustment if you feel you owe more or less. Guess what I adjust mine to?)

I love Durham, and will miss it when I'm gone. But the State of North Carolina leaves much to be desired. I look forward to taking my income elsewhere.

4.10.2009

i'm smiling next to you in silent complicity

Today's post by Will Wilkinson is nominally about libertarian agnosticism in the debate over gay marriage, but this bit applies beautifully as a general principle:

One cannot use an ideological image of perfect justice to excuse or ignore an obvious injustice within the actual imperfect system. That these injustices could not arise within one’s vision of the best society does not mean that they have not in fact arisen. That a debate would not occur in an ideal world does not mean that it is not occuring or that nothing morally hangs on its conclusion. To decide to sit out the debate, with an eye on utopia, is not a way to keep one’s hands clean.

shovel ready

Dirt is being moved in Northgate Park! Any chance we're going to be able to walk on the west side of Ellerbee Creek any time soon without the benefit of hip boots?

4.01.2009

ted stevens walks

"I always knew that there would be a day when the cloud that surrounded me would be removed" --Ted Stevens

Um, you haven't exactly been exonerated here, sir...the prosecution screwed up the case.

That said, I have to agree with Jacob Sullum, who notes:

It seems safe to say that the actions of the prosecutors in this case are more worrisome than the crimes of which Stevens was accused, which amounted to filling out inaccurate paperwork.... the problem is that his real crimes, which involved funneling billions of dollars in taxpayer money to Alaska, were perfectly legal.


Anyway, I am happy to see the new AG taking prosecutorial misconduct seriously. I will be much happier when he applies the same standard to cases in which the defendants are not extremely well-connected former senators.

3.31.2009

the one enduring evil that actually could conceivably be blamed on the jews

In the shadow of the nation's most recognizable phallic symbol, they gather and march. There are about 50 of them, all ages, both sexes, nearly all white, smiling, quiet, enjoying the sun as they make a slow loop in front of the White House with their signs of protest...

It's Genital Integrity Awareness Week, in case you didn't know, as well as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Female genital mutilation has received worldwide attention and condemnation -- and was banned by Congress 12 years ago this week -- and now intactivists say it's time for equal rights for boys.


For the record, I don't actually support federal legislation banning circumcision. But I would very much like to live in a world where "mutilating the genitals of non-consenting infant boys is a bad, bad thing to do" is an uncontroversial statement.

(Story from the WaPo, via Ron Bailey)

3.25.2009

atlanta fighting johnston suit

The City of Atlanta has decided not to settle a suit brought by the family of Kathryn Johnston, the nonagenarian bravely gunned down by the narcotics squad of the APD while serving a drug warrant obtained on evidence that was fabricated by the police anyway.

My heart goes out to Ms. Johnston's family, who I am sure are ready to put this behind them. But I can't help but think that anything that keeps this in the news and puts the systemic corruption of the APD in particular and of drug policing in general on trial in open court may turn out to be a good thing.

Here's hoping the Johnstons get some serious pro bono legal muscle in their corner and tear the bastards a new one.

(via)

3.21.2009

doherty on the drug war

This a couple of weeks old, but worth quoting at length and reading in its entirety:

The international drug war ought to be of enormous meta-interest to students of policy, political science, and philosophy because it reveals better than almost any other issue the essentially unreasonable nature of our rulers—and our populace. There are few other huge policy matters in which the reason for pursuing a goal is more obviously ludicrous, archaic, and disconnected from any reasonable conception of a larger public good (and yet never questioned), and where the effort is more obviously utterly futile and wasted.

And yet the vast majority of documents studying, chronicling, and counting what’s countable about the drug war, even supposedly ameliorist ones that suggest a switch from, say, military means to medical ones in fighting the drug scourge, refuse to question the root of the absurdity. It is generally assumed (without even an attempt at proof) that stopping people from using the drugs they choose to use is as unquestioned a good as increasing human wealth or preserving human life.

In this era of stunning government debt, of the alleged need for domestic stimulus, and with frequent lip-service dedication paid to spending cuts, the U.S. is still planning to spend $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2009 on international drug war efforts...

One might think that the first place a reasonable politician would look to save a billion or so bucks a year is the category of efforts clearly marked “utterly ridiculous and proven completely futile”—such as the international drug war. But that will almost certainly not happen. If anything should make one hopeless about the future of sensible governance, it's the ongoing, apparently never-ending international war on drugs.


In a word, indeed.

I'm leafing through my library looking for supplemental material for a behavioral pharmacology class I'm teaching this summer. I have yet to find a single book that looks at drug use, addiction, etc. from a scientific point of view that doesn't advocate a serious reexamination of drugs policy in the US and the world.

3.18.2009

missing the point on aig

To bitch about AIG using federal "bailout" money to meet its contractual obligations to its employees is to miss the point entirely. The problem isn't the bonuses...the problem is that the "bailout" (I use quotes because it's properly pronounced "nationalization") occurred at all.

But whatever. If it takes some stupid populist backlash against rich people getting paid by the taxpayers (just what the fuck did you think was going to happen when the government got in the business of owning banks, brokerages, and insurance companies anyway?) to pull Obama and the congress off the nationalization track, then I'm all for it.

Businesses need to be allowed to fail. It's part of the cycle.

3.17.2009

your dose of irish culture

Death of a Naturalist
by Seamus Heaney

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

3.13.2009

pinhook tonight



Be there or be nowhere...

3.12.2009

watchmen

It's been reviewed to death, already, so I'll keep this brief: much like Sin City, the film adaptation of Watchmen exhibits a respect for the source material and the fans thereof that borders on reverence. Many scenes are storyboarded straight out of the book, and much of the dialog is verbatim, including, fortunately, many of the best moments from the book ("I'm not locked in here with you, you're locked in with me!")

The book is incredibly dense, making a complete translation to screen an impossibility (even with the entire comic-within-a-comic subplot axed, the film clocks in at just under three hours.) Still, Snyder is to be applauded for getting as much in as he could. And for many well-crafted (if easy to miss) references--mostly visual--to the parts he had to leave out. The opening titles in particular tell a ton of the back stories that were woven into the original.

Casting was superb (though no amount of old lady makeup can make Carla Gugino not hot...I would have cast her as the younger Silk Spectre, and someone actually old as her mother.) Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach in particular was stellar.

As much as I enjoyed it, I have no idea how it will stand up to a naive viewing. Actually, if you never read the book and have seen the movie, I'd be interested to know what you thought.

Anyway, all of the above is really just an excuse to post this, about the horror that could have been:

3.10.2009

why i won't be buying a hybrid any time soon

Some interesting discussion on whether holding out for a later model hybrid is worth it. The 2010 Prius is expected to get 50 MPG, which is widely considered a major benchmark. Upon reflection I'm not really sure why.

Setting aside the "feel-good factor" (which some people are certainly willing to pay for--witness the success of "fair trade coffee"), if you look at the raw money-saving potential of marginal increases in gas efficiency, it is worth considering that the relationship between miles per gallon and money out of pocket is non-linear. You can do the math yourself if you don't believe me, but here's a graph that assumes one drives 200 miles a week (this is about what I drive these days) and gas costs $2 per gallon (which is what I pay, to one significant figure.)



If the shape of the curve seems non-intuitive, what you need to keep in mind is that to get dollars/week, you have to multiply miles driven by gallons per mile (the reciprocal of miles per gallon) by the price of gas. (Remember dimensional analysis kids?)

So if I were to trade in my trusty old Jeep, which gets 16-17 MPG for pretty much any late model Japanese 4-cylinder car (which generally get about 30 MPG, at least on the highway), I would save $12.67 per week on gas. Not bad! But if I were to get the 2010 Prius, I would save...$17.00 per week. In other words, the difference between the Prius and the old-fashioned 4-banger is only $4 a week, or a little over $200 per year.

Of course, if the gas price jumps back to this year's high of ~$4 per gallon, you can multiply all of those figures by 2. In my opinion, still not worth it for the hybrid, but almost certainly worth looking into losing the Jeep for a 30 MPG used car of some sort.

Similarly, aggregate demand for fossil fuels could be reduced much, much more by getting all the vehicles that currently get less than 20 MPG (mostly trucks, SUVs, sports cars, and larger sedans) up to 25 or 30 than by getting the 2-door coupe already at 30 up to 50.

3.04.2009

500!

Just a quick note about the title...this is apparently my 500th post on (ith). (Incidentally, that was the first time I ever used that abbreviation to refer to the name of this blog). I don't know if that tally includes the dozens of drafts still on Blogger that never got published or not, and I am certainly not in the mood to figure that out*. Anyway, the dashboard said "499 posts" before I started this one, so I figured the milestone was worth mentioning. Or not.

If you're still reading, thanks for making it this far.

--

There is so much wrong with this piece by Bret Stephens that it is difficult to know where to start. It is also difficult not to descend into Tourette's-level profanity when trying to respond to it. But I will nonetheless attempt the former while trying to avoid the latter.

Mr. Stephens argues that "To make the case for [drug legalization in the U.S.] now while Mexico bleeds is an exercise in fecklessness." For the thesaurusly impaired, common synonyms for "feckless" include "ineffective," "incompetent," and "futile." To castigate opposition to the drug war as "an exercise in fecklessness" in the midst of defending arguably the most ineffective, incompetent, and futile policy in the history of the republic requires such a willful dissociation from reality that I am tempted to accuse Mr. Stephens of...well, of being on drugs when he wrote that.

All the more so since he closes the piece by acknowledging that all of the alleged praiseworthiness of Mexico's escalating drug war "...does not mean Mr. Calderón will win."

He also notes that "The government has managed to spark power struggles within and among cartels, and the vast majority of Mexico's murder victims are themselves involved in the drug trade," as though this were a good thing. The concept of selection pressure comes to mind. The criminals that survive this war (and to be sure, it will be criminals that survive it) will be the ones who not only outgunned the state, but each other.

Moreover, since the presumed source for his assertion that the "vast majority" of murdered Mexicans are involved in the drug trade is the very state he dismisses as corrupt and incompetent, this assertion frankly does not deserve to be taken at face value.


(via)

*UPDATE--I have been in "coming up with clever ways to analyze large amounts of data" mode today, and that might have to do with me figuring out a "clever" (read:"obvious once you realize it") way to determine this. So as it turns out, this was actually my 460tth post. But who's counting, really?

3.02.2009

the saddest sentence i've read today

"If I owned Detroit, and Hell, I’d rent out Detroit and live in Hell."

--A commenter at The Agitator, in a discussion of the news that the median price of a home in Detroit is now $7,500.

3.01.2009

12:26 PM barackalpse '91: hey
what ru doin?
ru looking at russia?
12:28 PM lipstickpitbull2012: ur such an a-hole sometimes
barackalpse '91: aw baby don't be that way
u know how really feel about you
i'm just having a little fun
12:29 PM

lipstickpitbull2012: whatever
hey how's the economy doing?
create any new jobs today?
12:30 PM where are you getting that bajillion dollars anyway? You can only raise so much cash raffling off abortions or whatever it is you liberals do when you need money
barackalpse '91
: ur so stupid
bajillion isn't even a real number
anyway that's a low blow
especially since I wanted to compliment you
12:31 PM

lipstickpitbull2012:
for what?

barackalpse '91: for picking such a great running mate for '12
bobby's speech was *awesome*

lipstickpitbull2012: really?
12:32 PM barackalpse '91: oh yeah, totally. way better than mine
you an he are going to be unstopable

12:33 PM

lipstickpitbull2012:
you really think so?

barackalpse '91: LOL
12:34 PM lipstickpitbull2012: that's not funny
barackalpse '91: i'm sorry
hey when are you coming back to the WH?
i miss you...

12:35 PMlipstickpitbull2012: i can't just fly over there any time you want me to, you know
i have a state to run
and people may start to notice...M would totally kick my ass if she found out

barackalpse '91: yeah she would
that's why we aren't going to let her find out
don't worry
besides she's all worried about the interns
won't let me hire any good-looking ones
damn clinton ruined it for the rest of us...

12:36 PMlipstickpitbull2012: you don't NEED interns
you're classier than that
i can be there on Tuesday

barackalpse '91: i love you
lipstickpitbull2012: don't say that unless you mean it...

2.19.2009

on a much lighter note

Please go watch my friend Rob's video application for the best job in the world and vote it up. He deserves it.

unbelievable

I've been following Radley Balko's tireless pursuit against railroad justice for as long as he has been writing about it--nearly to the point I don't even blink anymore when he points out another case of evidence tampering, of police and prosecutors cutting corners, and in particular, of the dubious forensic "science" practiced by people like Mississippi's Dr. Steven Hayne. But this story he breaks today in reason is just unbelievable.

In 1993, the two [Hayne and colleague Micheal West] conducted an examination on a 23-month-old girl named Haley Oliveaux of West Monroe, Louisiana, who had drowned in her bathtub. The video shows bite marks mysteriously appearing on the toddler's face during the time she was in the custody of Hayne and West. It then shows West repeatedly and methodically pressing and scraping a dental mold of a man's teeth on the dead girl's skin. Forensic scientists who have viewed the footage say the video reveals not only medical malpractice, but criminal evidence tampering.


The linked article contains photos and an excerpt of a video, which it should be said are as graphic as they are damning.

The man from whose teeth the mold was made was convicted of raping and murdering the girl. The only evidence of this crime was the dubious bite mark. He has been on death row in Louisiana for 10 years. (It should be said that Mr. Duncan is not strictly "innocent" here, and that he was likely responsible for negligent homicide of the girl...he admitted as much to police. But that's still damn long way from raping and murdering an toddler.)

There is no telling how many people are in prison, on death row, or dead at the hands of the state that have been wrongly convicted based on the work of these people. But the states of Mississippi and Louisiana had better start looking into it.

2.18.2009

stimulate me!

I haven't written about the great Keynesian experiment that we are undertaking for a couple of reasons. One is that on matters of hard economic policy, your time (and mine) is better spent reading people who know what they are talking about.

The other reason is that my opinion on this is rather lacking in nuance, and therefore doesn't make for interesting writing or discussion.

But I will say this much, now that some concrete figures are available. In 2006 (latest data easily obtained via the IRS website) there were 138.4 million individual tax returns filed, of which 53.3 million were returns of married couples filing jointly. That gives us (to a first approximation) 191.7 million income tax filers (not necessarily net payers) in the United States. If you divide $787 billion by that figure, you get just over $4000 per person. This is roughly equivalent to the annual federal income tax liability on $45,000 of income (if that's all you make...obviously, the liability on the highest $45K of $500K is substantially more.)

I'm not particularly interested in arguing over this or that component of the stimulus, mainly because I think that a vastly superior plan to anything that would have come out of congress and the White House would be to issue a check for $4000 to every individual income tax filer ($8000 per jointly filing couple). Why?

1) Simplicity--the database of recipients exists (did you file in 2007? Fantastic, here's your check), the infrastructure for distribution is already in place (fire up the printing press for those refund checks) and as a result, there is a minimum of dead-weight loss on the actual cost of distributing the stimulus. I have no idea what it costs to distribute $787 billion to a thousand different projects and entities, but I'm certain it is not trivial.

2) The wisdom of crowds--I frankly trust 192 million people making 192 million decisions on allocating small amounts of money than 535 people beholden to their contributors making one decision on allocating a huge amount of money.*

Of course, the important question is would this actually accelerate economic recovery? My intuition is that this approach would be substantially more effective, or at worst, a wash. But the only honest answer is that I have absolutely no idea. The thing is...neither does anyone else, about this or the stimulus plan that we actually have.

And that's what makes this so scary. Because "we" never had a serious discussion about whether massive state intervention in the economy is a good idea in the first place, if the stimulus fails to deliver the boost to the economy that has been promised, the likely explanation from its proponents will be that it simply wasn't big enough.

Perhaps you would like a check for $10,000?




*I realize that ultimately a lot more people will be involved in this (state and local governments, etc. But I think the basic principle here holds)

2.17.2009

louie bellson, rip

I got to see Louie Bellson play in Durham a couple of years ago and was absolutely blown away. At the time I wrote:

But what I found facsinating [sic] 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.


I had no idea at the time that he had Parkinson's disease. He did have the bent forward posture when he walked, and he moved very slowly, but siting behind the kit was like throwing a switch. He was in complete control.

Anyway, I'll let the man speak for himself, the way he did best:

2.12.2009

speaking of remote versus proximate risk...

The courts have finally caught up with the science on the (non-existant) link between vaccines and autism. Hooray science!

Now go vaccinate your rugrats.

2.11.2009

feet to the fire

Perhaps a more appropriate title for this post would be "hot stinging liquid ... poured into open wounds on [the] penis".

The Obama administration has had its first opportunity to make good on promises to review use of the (bullshit) state secrets privilege as cover for the use of torture. And failed miserably.

This continuation of Bush policy is perhaps most disconcerting because the stakes for the government here are, in relative terms, pretty damn low. The suit in question is actually against Boeing for providing air transport for extraordinary rendition of a suspect (against whom charges have been dropped) who reports being tortured. The fact that torture has occurred under the aegis of the United States government in the last decade is already a matter of public record, pretty much beyond dispute. All this represents is a naked attempt to deny a man his day in court to seek restitution for what was done to him illegally.

Mr. Obama campaigned on a lot of pretty promises about restoring our moral standing in the world. This a spectacular departure from those promises.

A country that behaves no better than its enemies is not worth defending, regardless of who's in charge of it.