March 31, 2008

Alley(s and) Cats

My wife and I live in an above-garage apartment in an older part of town with decent size lots, houses on the street (as opposed to garage maws), a nice grid layout and alley-ways which all of those things allow for.  Our "granny-flat" apartment backs up (literally) against one such and "working" from home as I do I am continuously surprised at how busy it is with all the necessary, good busy-ness of keeping a town/neighborhood running: repairmen, garbage pickup, green waste pickup, utility vehicles, and cats.  Yes, cats.  I don't know if there is any research on the subject but from my 3 months of observation I would have to wager that the presence of alleys reduces the incidence of cat vs. vehicle encounters quite dramatically.  Today, they were doing a little alley maintenance - grading and smoothing things up a bit: 

The alley is often criticized for its lack of neatness, but that is its essence: it’s where all the messy stuff goes. From garage doors to trash containers, transformers, electrical meters, and telephone equipment, the alley takes them out of public view, something that is all the more necessary these days with the advent of recycling bins and cable TV boxes. Also, by handling many of the neighborhood’s underground utilities, alleys allow streets to be narrower and to be planted with trees, which becomes difficult when water, sewer, gas, electricity, cable, and telephone are all placing demands on the front right-of-way. Alleys are also appreciated by the fire chief, since they allow firefighters another path to the building. Alleys may also provide direct access to backyard granny flats, giving them an address independent of the main house.

- Suburban Nation, pp. 81-82

Parenting Ammunition for My Brother

My brother and his wife's first child is quickly approaching her first birthday and thus they are anticipating the inevitable onslaught of birthday gifts from well meaning family, friends and loved ones.  However, they have, in general, some fairly different parenting philosophies than most of the aforementioned well wishers and are thus forced to try and navigate the treacherous waters of communicating their preferences without the gift bearer woefully misinterpreting that preference as "we can not accept the way you love our daughter."  Dicey.  Very dicey.  So, this post and pointer over at Kottke is right up their alley, if you hurry you may be able to order copies of the book and get them shipped before everyone buys their presents.  Or, in the case of my brother, he may just prefer to cite this passage on everyone's voicemail as it is pretty much verbatim his own toy mantra:
When you think back to the '60s and '70s, all the right-thinking progressive parents thought toys should be natural and open-ended. Crayola and Kinder Blocks and Lego were considered raise-your-kid-smart toys. Then, all this data that came out which said that kids need to be stimulated. They need sound! They need multi-sensory experiences! Now, the more bells and whistles a toy has, the supposedly better it is.

Our parents' generation actually had it right. The less the toy does, the better. Everyone thinks: "Toys need to be interactive." No, toys don't need to be interactive. Children need to interact with toys. The best toys are 90 percent kid, 10 percent toy, the kind of thing that you can use 20 different ways, not because it has 20 different buttons to press, but because the kid, when they're 6 months old is going to chew on it, and toss it, but when they're a year they're going to start stacking it.

FYI - I will be getting my niece a nice hardwood stick, about 3 1/2 - 4 feet in length, very smooth, and almost rounded because, while she may still be a bit young, for most of our childhood such bats, swords, bows, rifles, lightsabers, staffs, magic wands were the greatest toys we ever had. 

Two Possibilities?

With Sokwanele continuing to report this type of neck and neck result:

it seems that two possibilities are:  that ZanuPF is trying to make the final results seem so close that the eventual Mugabe victory seems more "natural" - Rigged?  Why would we rig a close election when you can rig a demoralizing landslide being their possible line of argument - or that they have been beaten so soundly that they are going to "allow" a MDC victory in the end, but one that will save face for Mugabe with a razor-thin loss.  Either way, given earlier on-site reports it is hard to imagine that these reported results reflect actual votes cast.


The reports from Zimbabwe all day yesterday and today are very troubling.  If you look at the delays, the posturing, the military/police in the streets on alert it is hard to think that this is a regime about to announce defeat rather than one that is busy cooking the books.  You can track results and ground level reports from bloggers here and here.  

ZBC (State television) is constantly reporting that Robert Mugabe and ZEC will not accept pre-emptive announcements from MDC, and any action like this will be considered as an attempt at a coup. The armed forces are on high alert.

Zimbabweans are waiting for Morgan Tsvangirai to claim victory (we have seen the results outside the polling station doors) and do not understand why it is taking so long?

Everyone is now convinced rigging is in place.

The debate raging is whether Morgan Tsvangirai is waiting for the ZEC to finish announcing and if ZEC will hold true to their mandate.

ZEC has not announced anything since 7.30am. What are they up to? What plots are they hatching?

People have gone to work, life is back to “normal” but is it?

Nobody knows what the reaction will be if and when ZEC announces Zanu PF victorious.

March 29, 2008


On Wednesday the heirs of Jerome Siegel were awarded a share of the US copyright to the Superman character he created with Joseph Shuster over 70 years ago.  The legal battle with Time Warner, who owns DC Comics, has been going on for years so this is pretty cool.  There is some good commentary here along with a link to the judges 72 page ruling on the case - it made me wonder if he was a comics fan as a kid.

March Madness meets economics.

New government research has found “large and growing” disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans, paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades.

Google goes dark for Earth Hour.  (they should have checked the sports calendar for a better US turn-off)

Heard a passing mention to the upper atmospheric phenomenon of "blue jets" the other day - it just doesn't seem like there are that many things out there that are being "newly discovered."  Picture here of the related "red sprite" and interesting video here and here.

Interesting piece in Reason on genetically modified seed/food and its impact on the developing world - I've got some quibbles with the way they present things that I'll try to remember to mention later.

Low probability, sure - but this is the kind of thing-some crazy scientists out in the middle of some vast frozen expanse tinkering away with the freakin' fabric of the universe-that gives me the willies.

Zim Update

Previously mentioned Sokwanele is collecting and compiling first hand on the ground reports from voters and polling stations - its a mixture of excited turnout, turned away voters, and some incidents of outright violence.  Here's what he says about his mother's trip to the polls this morning:
My 85 year old mother left her apartment block at 6.30 this morning to walk to the nearest polling station where they have been voting for years. She set off on foot with 3 friends, a foreign woman living here for 50 years, an Ndeble woman who retired from working in the media some years ago, and the last is an ex-zanu pf freedom fighter and retired party employee.

The motley crew arrived at the station and were turned away. They were told to head to another station, but being elderly the distance seemed too great.

A good Samaritan took pity on them and loaded them all into his aged vehicle, using his precious fuel to ferry them to the next station in the ward. Again, they were all turned away.

Finally at the third station they were allowed to vote.

Right now, they are drinking a celebratory cup of tea but sadly, no milk; they couldn’t get any yesterday.

March 28, 2008


Zimbabwean's will be going to the polls in a few hours so if you've got a prayer to spare send one along asking for peaceful, fair and uncontested elections.  There's a good roundup of where things stand over at Foreign Policy but the really interesting story is this one from NPR this afternoon.  Its a piece with Heidi Holland who wrote a recent book entitled Dinner with Mugabe.  You forget that thirty years ago Mugabe was Nelson Mandela before Nelson Mandela, until things went to hell.  Holland paints a picture of a sad, lonely, very shy man who never learned how to cope with the world outside of his own head much less run a post-colonial country - deluded is the term she uses several times.  One of the most telling exchanges she recounts is over the state of the economic collapse and Mugabe's insistent claims that the economy is essentially fine and healthy, the only minor problem he claimed is that "there just aren't any goods in the stores."  Ouch.  Worth a listen.

For My Wife

We spent most of 2007 living in a community that was heavily dependent upon ye olde metal folding chairs for seating at virtually all occasions, and this greatly appalled my wife's highly tuned aesthetic, utilitarian and yes, even existential sensibilities.  So I present to her this piece in yesterday's NYT offering ten alternatives to the traditional metal folding vise.

Disclaimer: I confess that I have never spent more than 3 minutes in any folding chair, regardless of the design or price tag, before I was dreadfully uncomfortable.  

Yeah, I'm getting a lot done today

My wife will attest to my long time fascination with Whiplash, but this is pretty cool as well:

Monkey Riding Mini Bike - Watch more free videos

I didn't see it at first but the monkey is on a really long leash . . .

In other monkey related news, My wife will also tell you that I always find these helper monkeys fascinating, watch their videos and tell me they aren't amazing. They also have such a great logo:

Their site used to have this great flash intro with a person in a wheel chair flying in from one side and a helper monkey flying in from the other and they would meet in the middle in a big heart, take my word for it, it was great.

My poor wife.

More from Madison Avenue

You have to think this ad will play well across most of America.  There are some good shots at Obama/Wright in there without being too heavy handed.  Is the bit with POW McCain at the end a bit odd though?  Maybe its the fact that he's lying down?  He looks good with the smoke though.  Whose voice is that narrating?  

Count Richards

This post over at Kottke reminded me of the old story about Keith Richards undergoing some type of crazy total blood replacement/transfusion to quickly rehab from heroin addiction in time to tour with the Stones - according to Snopes its not true.

Swear Jar

Along with comedians, struggling musicians, and Ron Paul you have to think that one of the groups of people that love the internet medium are the folks on Madison Avenue - you can put together and pitch ads that you know will never see traditional network airtime but that can still find a home and audience on the tubes.  Case in point:


March 27, 2008

Measure for Measure

Is a new blog over at  the NYT with songwriters talking about their creative process.  The first post is by one of my favorites, Andrew Bird (mentioned earlier here).  Its an interesting read on how he is working through writing an as yet unfinished song.

It Takes a Lot to Laugh It Takes a Train to Cry

If the United States had a better, more reliable, more affordable train system I would never get on another plane - and this is the type of thing that makes it even more depressing.  Never.  Period.  

In terms of railway network size by kilometers the US ranks near the largest in the world: 

A lot of that is necessitated by sheer land mass of course, not passenger demand.  This wikipedia page is more telling as you can see where the US ranks in terms of passenger kilometers travelled per year and even more telling average length of trip travelled and even more more telling average distance travelled per inhabitant by rail per year in kilometers.  I would imagine that most of the US rail travel is still centered around the north east and involves commuters, although I couldn't find a list of busiest US rail routes.  For more on the dismal state of US rail compare this list of existing US railroad companies with this incredibly long list of defunct US railroad companies.

Get us out of here Bob.

Occasionally Music: Video Edition

What we've been listening to lately:

My wife loves this song by Thao Nguyen, I like the whole album and I really like this video:

A bit of Santogold (the strangeness of the video apparently draws heavily from Alejandro Jodorowsky's film The Holy Mountain, which I've never seen but it looks like pretty much the whole thing is up on YouTube and you can see the inspiration at about the 9:30 mark in this clip.):

Which always makes me want to listen to M.I.A.'s (Caution: website may induce seizures) Paper Planes for some reason:

More records than the KGB, baby.

March 26, 2008

Fallin' with Mr. Cooper

Here is the very interesting wikipedia page for D. B. Cooper.  I had never heard of him or his hijacking exploits until this morning when they reported that a parachute had been discovered in Washington state that might be the one he used when he jumped out the back of the plane he hijacked in 1971.  How great is this gif: hmm - I can't figure out how to animate the gif on blogger so check it out on the wiki.

In Honor Of . . .

. . . my brother, on the day after his birthday, who bikes to school every day.


Two from NPR

Nine year olds in Dallas are addicted to "cheese."

Boston is harnessing the power of compost for energy production (or should that be energy of compost for power production?).

* Why can't you embed NPR audio streams?

March 25, 2008

Wiggum 2008

Hulu is now up and running full speed which will make my wife very happy as one of her favorite past times is the late night perusal of network TV content via the web.  Hulu is pretty snazzy.  The video quality is great, it seems to stream pretty quickly and you can do all kinds of cool things with embedding clips like adjusting the beginning and end points.  Here are two clips from Sunday's Simpsons, which again, is still really funny and this episode in particular will provide you with a much needed respite from all of the election rig-amoral going on.  Enjoy and then watch the whole thing.

Enough is Enough

Sokwanele, an Ndebele word meaning 'enough is enough,' has a very interesting map up documenting election conditions running up to Zimbabwe's March 29th election, about which no one seems optimistic.  It is reminiscent of the Ushahidi site that helped track the recent post-election violence in Kenya.  I really like this intersection of technology, activism and reporting.  

I lived in Francistown, just across the border in the southwest corner of the map, for two years.  

March 22, 2008

Links of Interest (mostly to me)

We've never lived in a home that had good shoe storage options - this or this looks really cool but how much space would it take up.

If you are from the south you know lots of folks like Mike Huckabee, and you really like them because they are the proverbial "good people."  They let you borrow their lawnmower, they show up to help you move a couch and they always go to funerals - you just might not want them running the country.  So, unlike many you aren't surprised to hear him making sense on Obama and Wright.

Two Bills:  two pieces touching on Bill Easterly, Bill Gates and foreign aid money.  The first by Easterly on why Bill Gates "hates his book" (an unfortunate byline choice by the editor which I would wager neither Bill thinks is true) and the second on the US kiss of death to Africa.

Article on Botswana's efforts to diversify their economy by moving from being simply the producer of 27% of the world's diamonds to being a player in their processing and refinement.

If you've been almost anywhere on the African continent you have seen the ubiquitous plastic water sachets that are discarded virtually everywhere and anywhere - this is a great article on an entrepreneurial effort in Ghana to turn an environmental eyesore into a fashion accessory. 

For reasons mentioned earlier I had a chance to watch a lot of TV the past few days - the most I've watched in years.  Back to the Future III is still pretty good, but not nearly as good as the original, The Haunting is absurdly bad and has one of the worst death scenes ever, and Big is still incredibly good and chokes me up at the end.

Recently Overheard: Southern Vernacular Edition

"I took my lawn mower over to Chap and he said it wouldn't be ready 'till Monday."

"Monday?  He always has mine fixed in an hour or two.  Did you tell him you knew me?"

"Yeah, that's when he said Monday.  Well, what can you expect from a jake-leg."

March 21, 2008

The Other Other Other America

For fans of The Wire.

Most Popular Searches

My most recent:  gastroenteritis and emetrol.

The former is highly discouraged.  The latter is highly recommended if you are unfortunate enough to incur the former.

March 17, 2008


I must confess I'm reluctant to trust someone who don't know how to buy a properly fitting belt.  Spoof?  Highly probable.

March 15, 2008


New Athiest backlash:  Chris Hedges in Salon and John Gray in The Guardian.  I don't know Gray but I like Hedges - son of a Presbyterian minister and graduate of Harvard Divinity, he knows that of which he speaks.

I looked for these Penguin Graphic Classics the last time I was in Barnes and Nobles, which admittedly was quite a while back, because I saw they had been getting a lot of praise but I didn't see them.  Apparently they've won some "legitimate" praise as well with this design award (Man, that Marquis de Sade cover is saucy, eh?) This is the Candide cover by Chris Ware which everyone loves followed by the Cold Comfort Farm cover by Roz Chast, which I like. (via)

Christian Science Monitor has a very good, from what I've read/watched so far, series of six articles entitled An End To Poverty.  Good place to start to get a handle on the current global situation, how we got here and some possible ways forward - good resource for yourself and others.

From Chris Blattmann, here is the syllabus (pdf) from Dani Rodrick and Rohini Pande's introductory course on development at Harvard's Kennedy School.  

Most people who complain that The Simpson's "just isn't as funny as it used to be" and that they "really haven't been fans for about ten years" are actually describing the process of growing up.  The Simpsons is still funny.  Watch it here.

This is a pretty geeky but fascinating (long) piece on an issue of the Fantastic Four that took 38 years to get printed.

The more things change, the more . . . wait, no, things don't change.

Occasionally Music: Damn Political Edition

Regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree with Jeremiah Wright's recently come to light statements - and everyone, including Mr. Obama, is scrambling to distance themselves from them - you've got to admit that the hullabaloo surrounding the fall(ing) out is pretty fascinating.  If you're Obama, you don't have a choice, you've got to do what he is doing and I'm sure it is happening with the blessing and encouragement of Wright - again, those are the rules of the game.  What I wish someone was writing more about is the character of the African-American church, the role of pastor as social critic within that context, and the reality that African-American faith communities tend to be much broader in their range of ideological spectrums than predominantly white churches tend to be - African-American churches generally play a larger social/cultural role in their communities and thus ideological/theological agreement tends to be much lower on the shopping list than it does for whites looking for a church to join.  If you are a member of Jeremiah Wright's church you can gloss over a lot of "crazy things being said from the pulpit" as they don't touch on the primary reason you are at the church, or even chiefly define your church - in the case of Trinity United Church of Christ its obviously their involvement in issues of social justice that define them and anchor them as a community.  That your pastor should be politically correct in order to qualify you for public office is laughable if for no other reason than the fact than being described as a "politically correct pastor" should disqualify you from the pastorate.  I don't agree with much of what Mr. Wright has said, nor with much of his theology for that matter, but I whole heartedly applaud the fact that having spent thirty years as a minister has resulted in a life and message that is out of step with the political and cultural mainstream - anything else would be hypocrisy.  

However, the real problem with Mr. Wright may have been that he simply doesn't sing very well.  In the 1960's Nina Simone gave voice to some similar sentiments, albeit in a vastly different context, in her now classic song, "Mississippi Goddamn."  Simone was reacting to the recent slaying of Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the deaths of four children in the Birmingham church bombings.  I'm not equating Wright's rantings with Simone's song but simply suggesting that there has been and probably should be a place in the discourse of the public square that allows for the hyperbolic "damning" of what appears from one perspective to be great injustice or hypocrisy - if for no other reason than that, as the case of Ms. Simone demonstrates, history has a way of occasionally bearing them out.  Most of the world doesn't live on the mountain top but in the valley and our attempt to act otherwise in the midst of selecting the most important leader in the free world is rather disheartening.  

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

I made you thought I was kiddin' didn't we

Picket lines
School boy cots
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
for my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You're all gonna die and die like flies
I don't trust you any more
You keep on saying "Go slow!"
"Go slow!"

Here's a video version of Nina performing:

Here's a better audio version you can download.

PS - Happy Ides.

March 14, 2008

Occasionally Music: Scary Movie Edition

Pomeroy just posted a trailer to the movie The Strangers.  This is the type of movie that scares my wife to death and makes me think about what everyday implements around the house I could turn into weapons to fend off an axe wielding maniac with a scary white face.  I would wager that this is a fairly common line of thought for married men-how do you defend the castle if need be.  There are of course your kitchen knives, we have a particularly nice Wusthoff chef's knife (great balance!) that could do some damage, but I don't really want to have to engage in any close hand-to-hand combat - not much margin of error there.  You've got your blunt instruments - your Mac Light, your lamps, your chair/table legs, but my go to crazy guy with an axe home defense choice is, oddly enough, an old axe handle I keep under the bed and have dragged around with me ever since I got married.  Because, frankly, my wife scares me.

Anywho, on to the music.  In the aforementioned clip, at about the 1:30 mark the record player skips down to a song and gets stuck playing the same 3-4 second sample over and over in the background (by the way if you stop it at about the 1:27 mark that is a pretty scary face on in its own right).  The song is My First Lover by Gillian Welch, off her Time (The Revelator) album, and the line that keeps repeating occurs twice in the song - once in the middle and then the ending lines, where she sings, "quicksilver girl."  Which is a reference to the Steve Miller song by the same name, which in Gillian's song is playing in the background of her first lover's tryst.  So this is a post about a song playing in the background that is itself partially about a song playing in the background.

Here's a video of a live performance with pretty poor audio:

Here is a better live audio version you can download, from the show mentioned before.

Not Spring Everywhere

Reporter Owned By Sled - Watch more free videos

March Madness

It is an incredibly beautiful day here today - and with highs projected near ninety degrees, one that hints not just at spring but the summer to follow.  So nice in fact that there is a high degree of probability I will end up here at some point this afternoon.

March 13, 2008

Markets in Everything: Indie Bands

With apologies to Marginal Revolution, driving home this afternoon I heard a decent piece on trends in digital music on Fresh Air.  What was most interesting to me was the discussion of websites Sell A Band and Slice the Pie where you can invest in a band trying to make it and once they reach a pre-determined price point they cut a record and you get a portion of the profits, you can also buy, sell and trade your "shares" in the band.  It was mentioned on Fresh Air that this is currently illegal in the US as it would qualify as operating an unregulated stock market.  Hopefully Sell A Band and Slice the Pie offer apologies to David Bowie.  You can read more here, here and here.


Dick Cheney:  Assassin of your future

March 12, 2008

Hulk Trailer

First full length Incredible Hulk trailer premiered tonight.  Hard to tell.  Who am I kidding, I still love comics and I hope this movie is awesome.

For those who can't remember their classic Hulk foes that is the Abomination he is fighting.  
The Abomination differs from the Hulk in three ways:
He is unable to transform into human form.
While stronger than the Hulk in "calm" state, his strength does not increase with anger as the Hulk's does.

He is also capable of regenerating from damage, but at a slower rate than the Hulk.

The Abomination is still very resistant to damage, can hold his breath for extended periods of time, and breathe underwater. The Abomination can also go into a state of suspended animation if in a climate lacking air or heat. Like the Hulk, he can travel many miles with one bound.

China's Red Herring

If you thought the elections this year were going to be shaped by the rise of the internet community wait till you see what they're shoving down the tubes for the olympics.  With fairly little mainstream press so far, but apparently the backing of both the Olympic Committee and McDonald's, the Olympic ARG launched earlier this month and will apparently culminate somehow at the opening ceremonies.  Entitled, Find the Lost Ring, it involves . . . man, I don't know what the crap it involves.  Try to sort it out yourself - here's the website, here's the wiki and below is the "trailer."

And yes, that tattoo on her arm is apparently written in esperanto.  ES. PE. RAN. TO.  Asia rules.


Oddly, this post over at The Atlantic comes, I think, closer to anything I've read in either the secular or the religious press to nailing the thinking behind the Vatican's recently released list of "seven modern moral sins."

March 11, 2008

Should I Go Netti On This Thing?

As the head cold enters the umpteenth day I'm starting to feen (i forget how funny Urban Dictionary is some times) for a netti pot.  Anybody tried one?

* Depending upon your company you may want to watch out for the f-bomb at the end.

Self-Refuting Ideas

From the Economist's blog comes this snippet of description from the Emperor's Club website, the emphasis is mine:

We specialize in marketing fashion models, pageant winners and exquisite students, graduates and women of successful careers (finance, art, media etc…) to leading gentlemen of the world. Catering to clients who will not compromise in any area of their life. We provide our customers and associates with complete discretion and privacy while we guarantee the most exclusively valuable dating and travel companionship.
The post also mentions a previous, ahem - seemingly very well informed, comment describing the demands and consensual nature of high-end prostitution - interesting.

March 10, 2008

Designed Random

I like both of these snippets posted on Kottke.  Eric Jacobsen says that churches should be concerned about cities for much the same reason (who, incidentally, is now here.).  And for all of it we owe homage to Dame Jacobs.

Regional News

As interesting as the news of the so called Southern Baptist Environmental and Climate Initiative is to folks in these parts, more interesting to me is all the buzz its getting in the press.  However, for an accurate read on what all that means for actual Southern Baptist's you'll want to go here for the spin and read through the diversity of comments here for what actual conversations in the pews might sound like.  It would be naive to think that in a ship as tightly run as the SBC is that everyone involved wasn't talking to everyone else long before this went live; and hey, if in a presidential election year you were wanting to try and get as many people as possible to give your brand of politics a glance, or ear to your counsel, it never hurts to give the impression of going big tent on an issue that may get a few more feet in the door.  There's moderation and then there are overtures towards moderation, this I would wager is the latter.   

Origins 3: Under the Weather

That's how I've been feeling the last couple of days as some sniffles and drainage finally matured into . . . something, whatever this is.  The folks at Phrase Finder say this
. . . To be under the weather is to be unwell. This comes again from a maritime source. In the old days, when a sailor was unwell, he was sent down below to help his recovery, under the deck and away from the weather.

. . . . "Under the weather. To feel ill. Originally it meant to feel seasick or to be adversely affected by bad weather. The term is correctly 'under the weather bow' which is a gloomy prospect; the weather bow is the side upon which all the rotten weather is blowing." From "Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions" by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey (Sheridan House, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1995. First published in Great Britain, 1983).

And yes, you can, with the exception of insulin, liquid anibiotics, and nitroglycerin, ignore those expiration dates on your medicine.


When your favorite flour provider starts talking about rising food prices you know things are getting bad.  Related:  here and here.

Unless you are a commodities grower of course.

More on the psychology of free. (via)

I have trouble feeling the threat of nuclear holocaust that those who lived through the heart of the cold war often speak of, but this piece on Nixon's insane brinksmanship gave me the willies. 

The UN finally makes good on its pledge to make available its wealth of global data to the common man.  Keep an eye on Gapminder in the days ahead to make sense of it for the common-common man.
This sentiment is becoming increasingly more prevalent:  "Oxfamming the Whole Black World"

Garfield Minus Garfield just keeps getting better.

March 9, 2008

Headline of the Day: Trisha Yearwoods Trinity

Origins 2: The Red Phone and Hobo Sign

Ever since the Clinton campaign ran its "3:00 AM, the phone is ringing ad" it has been impossible to escape discussions of which candidate is best qualified to answer "the red phone."  Most of the discussions explicitly mention "the red phone" even though the ad doesn't so it got me wondering if there was, now or ever, an actual red phone employed by the White House in crisis situations.  Here's what I found.
You can get a decent overview of the history of the Washington-Moscow Hotline, as it is more formally known, from Wikipedia.  There is a much more in-depth look at the history and technical specifics at this cryptology site.  In summary, not only is there no red phone but there has never been a phone of any color.  A couple of excerpts:  

The white paper "Origins, Use and Development of Hotlines" addresses the myth of telephones on the Hot Line.  "One of the lasting myths surrounding the Hot Line is that it consists of a telephone link. This was considered by both superpowers but there were strong arguments against using a telephone connection. All parties concerned preferred a teletype link. The Americans pointed out that a teletype system on a reserved line could have dual capabilities and be used for voice communications should that prove desirable.

Nevertheless, the image of the hot line as a telephone link has prevailed. This misunderstanding is not confined to the public. When it was suggested in the U.S. State Department in 1983 that speech facilities should be added to the hot line, many officials believed it already had a telephone as seen in the movies!

From a practical point of view, there was also the problem of translation. A vocal Hot Line required conversations to be translated instantaneously at both ends. Even though speed of communication was of utmost importance in times of crisis, accuracy in translation could not suffer because of it. Using a telephone link could therefore increase the possibility of misunderstanding rather than eradicate it. Organizing translation was no easy matter as was discovered when the London-Moscow hot line was discussed in 1966. Translators had to be on call 24 hours a day, which meant their residence had to be close to Whitehall. This led to discussions about getting two bachelors to live in a  flat or a hotel room nearby.

The spontaneity of the telephone conversation makes it unpredictable and therefore impossible to script. In times of crisis, people are under duress and pressure. Instantaneous and ill-considered remarks are dangerous. During conversations between heads of state in normal times, this can be an advantage depending on the situation, topic and the person's ability to think on his feet. However in times of crisis, mistakes come at a high price and none higher than the risk of a nuclear war.

As of 1986, the Hot Line consists of two satellite circuits and one wire telegraph circuit. The Soviets used stationary Gorizont-class satellites in the Statsionar system to replace the Molniya II satellites, also with a high-speed facsimile capability. Terminals linked to the circuits in each country are now equipped with teletype and facsimile equipment. Facsimile machines permit the heads of government to exchange messages far more rapidly than they could with the previously existing teletype system. They can also send detailed graphic material) such as maps, charts, and drawings by facsimile". 

I for one think the ad would have been even more powerful if instead of a phone ringing they had used the loud shrill sound of an incoming fax.  " . . . but there's a fax machine in the White House and its receiving incoming data.  Does it have paper loaded?  Is the toner cartridge empty? . . ."  Not just powerful, but accurate.

Now, that's all well and good, but of MUCH greater interest is the discovery while looking around for info on the "red phone" that the NSA has a whole section on their website devoted to hobo history and the codes (pdf) by which they communicated - how great is that!  I have no reason whatsoever to believe that the entire thing wasn't written by John Hodgman.  

Origins: Tie One On

I was trying to track down the origin of the phrase "tie one on."  Not much luck but this is what I came up with:

The folks at Phrase Finder have this to say:
From "The Wordsworth Book of Euphemism" by Judith S. Neaman and Carole G. Silver (Wordsworth Reference, New York, 1983, 1990) -- "Tie one on, to - To get drunk. (Eric) Partridge suggests that this expression is derived from 'hang one on' (ca. 1935), which originated in the United States and was later adopted in Canada. It is clear that a 'hangover' -- more politely, 'the morning after' -- is the miserable memento of having 'hung' or 'tied one on.' We are uncertain as to why drinking is described as tieing, hanging or belting..." 
: Some sites claim that the phrase "tie one on" dates back to the wild west here in the US in the 1800's where a cowboy would have to tie up his horse to a hitching post before he could go into the saloon and get drunk. I don't think so!
: The OED compares "tie one on" to the British slang phrase "tie a bun on," also meaning "to get drunk." Maybe some of our UK friends could shed some light on this.

Similarly, Word Detective says:

 a slang phrase meaning "to get drunk." I can't say that his theory definitely isn't true, simply because no one knows for sure what the origin is. And it is true that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the first recorded use in print of the phrase comes from a book called "Western Folklore." But that book was printed in 1951, and if the phrase had indeed been in common use in the Old West, it is difficult to imagine that it would not have cropped up at least once in the extensive body of "cowboy literature" written before the 1950s.

The one clue we have about the origin of "tie one on" only deepens the mystery. The OED compares "tie one on" to the British slang phrase "tie a bun on," also meaning "to get drunk." Unfortunately (I seem to be saying that a lot today, don't I?), no one seems to have the vaguest idea where "tie a bun on," which appeared around 1901, came from, or what a bun could possibly have to do with getting drunk. It's enough to drive a fellow to drink.

Wikipedia isn't much help, but offers:
To "tie one on" means to drink for the purpose of getting drunk, especially when one is currently still drunk or hungover from a previous drinking session, thus having something to "tie one on" to. Could be considered the drinking equivalent of chain smoking.

March 8, 2008


Apparently, the bag is the new hat.

Other emerging trends to keep an eye on:

The indian burn is the new kick in the groin.
The "curt nod" is the new "hello."
The sepak takraw is the new volleyball. 
The boil is the new abscess.


Its funny the way things bubble up to the top of culture these days.  My wife informed me that one of the contestants on American Idol - a one Jason Castro - performed the oft-performed Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah" this week.  The very next day Waxy pointed to this incredibly in-depth essay documenting the rediscovery and usage of the song by everyone from Bon Jovi to The L Word, complete with sweet graphs like these:

Then, about five minutes ago, I pop into the iTunes store to see what this weeks 99-cent movie rental is and lo and behold Jeff Buckley's cover of the song is currently the top downloaded song:

Thoughts on the top ten:  I've never heard of any of those other songs, Jeff seems a bit out of place, seems to be dominated by hip-hop which I assume is still the case for pop music in general-that's quite a run, if you've got two songs in the top ten then you should be allowed to seat your delegates no questions asked, Miley Cyrus is "real"?, Janet (Jackson?) is alive?

March 7, 2008

Hope for Zim?

This NYT piece is the first thing I've seen that says there may be hope for electoral change in Zimbabwe after all.  Maybe its the year for poorly rigged elections.


There was snow on the ground when we woke up this morning.  An inch or two on the car and in the shade.  Unfortunately, no pictures as its already melted.

March 6, 2008

Defending Food

Michael Pollan at Google on Tuesday discussing his new book.

You're Not My Father?

Video here.  I love how they all include the bizarre hand clench moment.

Is that the Honeymoon Bungalow (that is an incredibly bad site) about 1:30 in?


Everything Old Is New Again

Hoping to prevent a replay of last months rebel siege, the Chadian government is building a moat around the capital city N'Djamena.  

And while the government of Chad is building moats and chopping down trees to protect their citizens, the world is busy taking pictures of their fleeing compatriots from the relatively safe distance of 200 miles above the earth.  These are images (pdf) from UNOSAT (via War and Health) taken on Feb. 4th during the mass exodus from the capital, and you can't deny their power.  Satellites and moats.  Moats and satellites.  Its a crazy world.

March 5, 2008

Conspicuous Candidate Consumption

I was going to link to Richard Florida, re: his ideas about the creative class being necessary for economic development, in a post earlier today but didn't because, well, to be honest I've never read his book, only essay summarization's he's written and I often find myself agreeing with his critics more than him . . . but that's not the point, the point is that I saw this and now Tyler has linked to it and it got me thinking about the elections and the barrage of over-simplistic generalizations that will be making their way out of the mouths of pundits between now and November in attempts to explain how the nation is lining up behind the candidates and parties, I'm gonna stop this sentence right here because its getting out of hand.  Anyway, here are maps from some stats folks at Columbia U visualizing the number of Starbucks and Wal-Marts per capita.

Nothing too terribly surprising there.  Lots of Starbucks on the coasts, and lots of Wal-Marts in the heartland and the deep south.  (Insert blue state/red state corollary here)  Seeing this I was reminded that earlier in the primary season Obama was often referred to as "the Starbucks candidate" - a label intended to communicate, well, you know all the Starbucks cliches.  Hillary, likewise, was occasionally referenced as the Wal-Mart candidate in comparisons with Obama. So, how well do those characterizations hold up against actual Starbucks and Wal-Mart per-capita distribution?  Here's a map of Democratic primary results to date:

And, its pretty obvious that with only rare exceptions they don't match up - in fact they are a lot closer to being reversed with Clinton winning more of the coasts, Starbucks country, and Obama showing strong in the heartland and the deep south, Wal-Mart country.  Interestingly, both did well in Texas just as both Wal-Mart and Starbucks do well there.  Ok.  Well.  That was fun.  What do you know, generalizations don't usually hold up.  Good use of time there.

You Better Watch Your Ass Dracunculiasis

As far as I can determine this is the list of diseases slotted for eradication/elimination by the International Task Force for Disease Eradication and the WHO.

International Task Force for Disease Eradication - Sanctioned by The World Health Organization

Eradication and Elimination Programs Currently Sanctioned by The World Health Organization

Dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease): 1988 AFRO, 1991 WHA44.5, 2004 WHA 57.9. Target: 1995; revised to 2009

Poliomyelitis: 1988 WHA41.28. Target: 2000

Neonatal tetanus: Original target: 1995.1989 WHA42.32 (environmental)

Leprosy: 1991 WHA44.9. Target: reduce cases to <1>Onchocerciasis (West Africa OCP): 1973 Agreement. Target: eliminate onchocerciasis "as a public health
 problem" in OCP area by 2002 (qualitative)

Onchocerciasis (Americas): 1991 PAHO:XIV. Target: eliminate "as a public health problem in the Americas" (morbidity) by 2007 (qualitative geographic)

Trachoma: 1998 WHA51.11. Target: "global elimination of blinding trachoma" (informally: by 2020; "GET 2020") (symptomatic)

Lymphatic filariasis: 1997 WHA50.29. Target: eliminate globally "as a public health problem" (informally: by 2020) [cites International Task Force for Disease Eradication]

WHO Press Release in March 1997 reports that leprosy, river blindness (onchocerciasis), Chagas' disease, and lymphatic filariasis "can be eliminated as public health problems within ten years"; cites a new report by the Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases.

Article in The New York Times, dated May 6, 2001 ("Ten Diseases on the Way Out"), names polio, Guinea worm, measles, lymphatic filariasis, river blindness, blinding trachoma, leprosy, hepatitis B, maternal/neonatal tetanus, and iodine deficiency disorders.

And while you might think that such a list would contain, well, you know, EVERY disease there are apparently good reasons why it doesn't.  
Prompted by this article in yesterday's NYT and in light of this previous post.
Also worth a look:  For those interested the Malaria Atlas Project makes available some great maps and data on global malaria stats.

The Blunt Instrument of Democracy or The Mathematics of Big Vegetable

Thanks to that whole presidential hullabaloo going on the Farm Bill has pretty much receded into the nether from which it attempted to emerge last year.  However, hat tip to Marginal Revolution for bringing to light this op/ed piece by a farmer in Minnesota in The New York Times.  Its worth a read, here's a taste:

. . . . The federal farm program is making it next to impossible for farmers to rent land to me to grow fresh organic vegetables. . . . Why? Because national fruit and vegetable growers based in California, Florida and Texas fear competition from regional producers like myself. Through their control of Congressional delegations from those states, they have been able to virtually monopolize the country’s fresh produce markets.

Furthering the frustration is the sense of . . . "well, what the hell do you do now?"

Comic Books and Development

I wonder if there is any connection between economic development and indigenous comic book creation?  Aya is penned by Marguerite Abouet and set in her native home of Abidjan, Ivory Coast and now available in an English translation in the U.S.  At what point in the economic development of a country do "fringe" artistic pursuits like comic books/graphic novels become economically viable?  While working with youth/children in Botswana I noticed first hand that they are just as likely to doodle fantastical fight scenes and explosions in the margins as westerners.  

This one probably doesn't signal that there is such a market in Ivory Coast as I'm sure that the bulk of sales took place in Europe and now America.  Are there indigenous comics being produced and marketed in more established African markets like South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria?  Or are comic book writers and artists part of the brain drain as well (Abouet herself now lives in France.)?  Are there viable African super heroes?  I don't really get a good sense of things from either here or here.  


March 4, 2008

**UPDATE** Early Texas Primary Results: McCain Hates Laminate?!

I came home a different way, so here are some updated early Texas primary election results:

Clinton: 19*
Obama: 25

Paul: 4
Huckabee: 8
McCain: 0

*No, those aren't percentages they are actual votes.**
** Again, by "actual votes" I mean numbers of candidate propaganda stuck in the yards of houses I pass coming to and from my own.

Early Texas Primary Results: McCain Shut Out!!!

Here are some early Texas primary election results* coming out of the heart of Texas:

Clinton: 6
Obama: 12

Paul: 1
Huckabee 4
McCain 0

*"Election results" may more accurately reflect the number of candidate signs in yards while driving through the neighborhood on my way home than say, you know, actual votes cast.

The Myth of the Rational Candidate?

I have virtually no interest in politics.  No, thats not true . . . I have no faith in politics is probably more accurate and what interest I have is mostly generated by the trappings of the political process - call it anthropological interest.  This year is no different, with apologies to Mr. Obama, I am not hopeful and Tyler Cowen's statement that "its an election not a revolution" comes as close to summing up my own take on presidential elections (and politics in general) as anything else I've read this year (Bryan Caplan's Myth of the Rational Voter is another interesting read.)  So, all that to say that I really don't get very worked up about much that the candidates say as I really don't think it matters that much - which may sound like cynicism but I would argue that it is simply an honest recognition of how the rules of the game function, if you don't play by the rules you don't get elected and you can't fault candidates for playing by rules that we implicitly support and sanction.  However, Mr. McCain was in town yesterday and the local paper had this sound bite from his town hall meeting which caught my ear.

The fight against radical Islamic extremism was part of the “transcendent challenge of the 21st Century,” he said.

Does everyone believe this?  Is this true?  I must confess I heard it and I thought it was absurd.  Granted he said "part of" and not "THE" but "transcendent challenge of the 21st Century"?  Aren't there better candidates for that title?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  Yes.  Yes, there are.  And I'm going to make the case for some of them in the next few posts. 

March 3, 2008

Word of the Day

orthorexia:  or orthorexia nervosa is a term coined by Steven Bratman, a Colorodo MD, to denote an eating disorder characterized by a fixation on eating what the sufferer considers to be healthful food, which can ultimately lead to early death.

You can read more here and here.

March 2, 2008

Occasionally Music: Gillian Welch Covers a Multitude of Sins

I've always felt that I should like Radiohead more than I do given my age and social circles (point me out to me in a crowd and I would assume that I was a "Radiohead guy"), but truth is . . . .mmmah, its not really me.  I am however a pretty doting Gillian Welch fan and if Radiohead sounded like Gillian covering Radiohead then I would be an enormous Radiohead fan.  If you've ever been to one of Gillian's shows you know that she and partner David Rawlings are leading virtuosos in the fine art of covers and they are almost always guaranteed to pull out one or two gems in the midst of a set of their own stellar material.  Their cover of Radiohead's "Blackstar" is one of my favorites and this is a version I recently acquired which they did in New York while touring last year with Bright Eyes.  The trumpet accompaniment on the track is by Bright Eyes' Nick Walcott and it makes a lovely song even lovelier.  Enjoy. 

* Photo from their performance the night before, you know, just in case you've got continuity issues.  

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (w/ Nick Walcott): Blackstar - Live at Town Hall, New York, June 1, 2007

March 1, 2008

HIV/AIDS Animation/Video Resources

This is a pretty good animation of the replication of the HIV virus - the voice over is a little medical lingo heavy but if you combo it with a more layman's explanation it could be useful (you can download it from the creators website here).  This, however, is still my favorite video to use with groups - its designed to use with kids/youth but its honestly about the right level of science talk for most adults and the format provides something a little lighthearted in the midst of a heavy discussion.  While we're on it this short Doctors Without Borders advert is another animation I use to intro discussions on the wide sweeping cultural, social and familial destruction HIV/AIDS is wrecking across most of sub-Saharan Africa.

Mmmm, I had tracked down a higher res downloadable version somewhere but I can't seem to find it . . . . I'll keep looking.

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