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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Going to Peru

So, I'm going to Peru on Saturday morning. In rushing through the end of the term and Christmas, it hasn't really sunk in that I'm about to make my first-ever trip to the southern hemisphere, and I'll be there for two weeks.

There is surprisingly little advance planning at work here. Femi and I have tickets down there, and have booked a side trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu for a few days, but that's it. Because we're staying with Karen, who lives there (in Lima), we have the option of not doing much planning. (We are planning to go to her family's beach house for part of the time, however, probably for New Years.) Hopefully I will recover some of my Spanish, too...

I got a new digital camera, so I should be able to take plenty of pictures. I will post some updates here while I'm gone if I have internet access, or when I get back otherwise.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


If there were any doubt about the pull that Iraq is exerting on national politics:

Monday, December 25, 2006

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Best Videos of the Year

A sort of nasty, rainy drive today, but I'm here in Connecticut now for Christmas.

Anyway, everybody loves year-end lists, right? I thought I'd make one of the Ten Best Videos I Found on YouTube In 2006. They sort of get joint consideration for music and video, with video being the larger part. No particular order.

Daft Punk - Technologic > A very well-executed paranoid-creepy vibe.
RJD2 - Since '76 > This is a great song, and the video is very slick.
Royksopp - Remind Me > A very impressive piece of work.
They Might Be Giants - Don't Let's Start > This captures the personality of the band very well.
Blur - Good Song > When the guy tries to leaf-blow the dead squirrel, it somehow just hits the nail right on the head...
Talking Heads - Once In a Lifetime > If there were any doubt that David Byrne is totally awesome...
OK GO - Here It Goes Again > Eight treadmills make an instant classic.
The Vines - Ride > Michel Gondry is the master of 1) coming up with really good concepts for music videos, and 2) executing them really well.
Radiohead - No Surprises > This video is a perfect mate for its song.
Wolf Parade - Modern World > A very cool stop-motion video.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More videos

I have added two videos on YouTube, both silent and taken with my old digital camera in 2002. One shows geese running away as I chase them off Mai Fete Island, the other shows a few of us doing a very nice bike wave while on the Cannon Falls Trail.


The "Most Emailed Articles" list on NY Times is just on fire today:

Say Yes To Mess provides some interesting thoughts on the nature of mess and handy justifications for my own pathological messiness.

An op-ed column titled The Devoted Student draws an insightful parallel between political correctness and "religious correctness" and makes an articulate plea for nuance and doubt.

For the Uninitiated: A Pancake Primer gives the rundown I've always wanted on how to tweak pancakes every which ways. I don't agree with him on the bananas, though -- for my money, raspberries picked from behind Doug's house are the addition of choice.

Congressman Criticizes Election of Muslim highlights the ridiculously mean-spirited and xenophobic reaction of Virginia congressman Virgil Goode to Keith Ellison's decision to use a Koran instead of a Bible at a swearing-in ceremony. Ellison was just elected from my old district in MN, and this also happens to provide him a nice opportunity to sound intelligent and reasonable on a national stage.

Anyway, re: my last post, I slept for more than 12 hours last night...I was late for work, but I think it was worth it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Worn out

Man, the last couple weeks sure have been murderous. It suddenly became apparent that my innocuous-seeming thesis research (talking to participants in the policy process about a bill that passed last year) had to go before the Institutional Review Board for human subjects research, meaning that I had to scurry to get together all manner of research plans, data protection plans, informed consent scripts, etc., etc., to get the stamp of approval. They moved quickly, and I got my approval Monday, but it put the brakes on my interviewing process. Rest assured that all my records are now kept under lock and key, be it physical or digital, and interviewees are informed that there are no benefits to them personally from participating in my study...

And of course it's the end of the semester. By my tally, I produced 51 pages* of written products for finals between last Thursday afternoon and this afternoon (two all-nighters in there). Meanwhile, we've been busy at work, so I've been keeping up my schedule there, too. I just came back from my last class at Public Health for the semester, and I now have only one smallish final remaining, for Ethics, and it's due...the day after Christmas. I think I'm going to try and do it tomorrow. Anyway, all that whining adds up to big relief that I'll be heading to Connecticut for Christmas on Friday. It will be a welcome relief and visit. And about a week later, I can hardly believe, I'll be going to Peru!

*Since I seem to be into dividing totals across time lately, that comes out to a bit more than a third of a page every hour for all 6 days in that period.

Monday, December 11, 2006

You've got to be kidding

Tom DeLay has started a blog! No, I'm not kidding.
It is a regrettable fact of the current American political age that too many Republicans have failed to continue an aggressive fight for the principles which bring us together as Republicans and as conservatives.

Really, Tom? Pardon me while my head explodes.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Google ads on the radio

This is pretty amazing, if you ask me. Because of all the practical barriers (poor information, inaccessible markets, etc), most industries operate a long way from how economic theory would like to think they do. This is part of the reason that I frequently see people with a "the market can solve any problem" attitude as being silly and obnoxious. However, Google and technology in general are rapidly bringly lots of things closer to theory...


From the NY Times article about the political landscape regarding Iraq after the Iraq Study Group report [pdf]:
“You know, bipartisanship simply means Republicans cave on their core principles and agree with Democrats,” Mr. Limbaugh said on his program this week. “That’s why everybody is praising the stupid report."

That's as good an indication as anything of how things have changed since the election, isn't it?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Food, glorious food

I've spent more time than usual thinking about food in the past few months. Not sure why, exactly, but I've noticed the trend.

Not that I have a lot of time to make decent food these days. So it's a good thing that this is a big week in takeout food here in Charles Village. For one, today is opening day for the new Chipotle in the condo development on St. Paul Street. Much as I resent its yuppifying influence and McDonalds ties, I have to admit that it's a pretty good, pretty big burrito for $5.50.

More satisfyingly, I stumbled upon this new counter service Trinidadian place only a couple blocks from our house. Susie and I both tried it last night, and it's really good. The co-owner is this very friendly guy who took the time to explain all of the stuff we were ordering, and to pack little containers of their four chutneys/salsas (hot, mild, mango and tamarind) for us to try with our roti (flat bread with stuff on top). I got the veggie one, and it came with an enormous mound of seasoned green beans, pumpkin, squash, chickpeas, potatoes and some greens I didn't recognize. It was delicious, though the hot chutney nearly incapacitated both of us. Anyway, I think I'll be heading there every week or so.

Now I've made myself really hungry, of course...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Saab longevity

The Star Tribune notes a traveling salesman who drove his 1989 Saab 900 SPG for more than a million miles (in snowy Wisconsin, no less). When it says he bought another Saab to replace it, I assume that means he bought another classic, pre-1994 900, since the GM influence hasn't been so good for character or reliability.

Hopefully my 1992 900 will be with me for a while to come (it's got 186,000 miles, but I'm not placing any bets on a million). I confess to wanting a classic 900 SPG, the performance version of the car, but it would not be a sensible move...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Plans made

A couple weeks ago I said that I was offered a job. Well, today I accepted it -- so it's definitely off to DC next year.

I'm thinking of living in Capitol Hill/Eastern Market, where the bike ride to work would only be about a mile and a half. Anyway, the nice part is that I have plenty of time to plan this move...

A music video triumph

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, I found this Lionel Ritchie video. It features the most spectacularly awkward opening and closing transitions from scene-setting to music video ever. It also features a character whose name is "Tony Billy Boy."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

13.5% of my life

Okay, this is pretty cool:

In a fit of extreme procrastination, I discovered this afternoon that you can export the listings from your iTunes library to a text format that can be read by Excel. This includes things like the count that it keeps of how many times you've played a given song.

It also happens that all my iTunes info got transferred from my old computer to my new one, so this doesn't just reflect the last 6 months of listening -- I think the version of iTunes that keeps track of the times played came out in September 2002. I realized that by having Excel multiply each song's length by its play count, I could get the total amount of time spent listening to that song in the last 4+ years. From there, I could add them up to see how much time I've spent with iTunes. Some interesting stats:

Time spent listening to iTunes since September 2002:
17,877,222 seconds
297,954 minutes
4,965.9 hours
206.9 days
13.5% of my life during that period

Whoa. 207 days! And that doesn't even count time spent with my iPod, or listening to CDs on the stereo, which are also substantial. It's not completely accurate, because I've eliminated some songs from my library, and I've occasionally left iTunes playing while I'm away from my computer...but it's only off by a percent or so in either direction, I would guess. So I've spent a lot of time listening to music.

The song I've spent the longest amount of time listening to is "White Lies, Yellow Teeth" by Modest Mouse, at 8.7 hours. This makes sense, because it's an unreleased song by my favorite band (thus one I want to listen to but can't on CD). On average, I've listened to each of my 4,273 songs 69.7 minutes apiece.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> Love Is All - Ageing Had Never Been His Friend
> Fog - Pneumonia [mp3]
> Weezer - Say It Ain't So [YouTube] (Note: Linked video contains the most-non-sequitur use of hacky sack footage ever.)
> Xiu Xiu - I Love the Valley OH!
> Rage Against the Machine - Sleep Now In the Fire [YouTube]
> The Halo Benders - Foggy Bottom [mp2, no kidding]
> Bruce Springsteen - Atlantic City [YouTube]

That Springsteen video is really nice. Too bad the Rage Against the Machine one is so amusingly crappy.

Love Is All is the band that opened for Tilly and the Wall when I saw them in October, they're from Sweden. I bought their CD at the show, and it's really great. The track I list above isn't available for free, but another, Talk Talk Talk Talk, is.

I don't think the mp3 for Pneumonia used to be available for free online, you really ought to grab that.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Thanksgiving, MMJ

Thanksgiving was really nice. It was great to see everyone -- especially Dad, since at this time last year he had just been admitted to the hospital (he's doing well, though not yet completely recovered). We had 17 people (some from each side of the family) over for dinner. I also found out that a couple of my young cousins are really quite good at ping pong.

It was nice to get out of the city, too -- I seldom leave Baltimore, so being in the woodsy setting of Guilford is a nice change; we took a hike up to the bluff, and I took a ride on some of the trails.

I bought an Amtrak ticket at the last minute on a "Holiday Special" train to NYC and it turned out to be one of the MARC commuter trains that I rode all summer, but all the way to New York. (I took Metro North to New Haven.) Kind of a drag, but it wasn't very crowded, which certainly wouldn't have been the case with the actual Amtrak trains. When I rode back to Baltimore with Jaclyn on Sunday, getting through all 20 or so miles of Delaware took a couple hours.

Then, on Tuesday night I went to see My Morning Jacket at the 9:30 Club in DC, again with Jaclyn. They were really great -- it was the third time I've seen them, so it's not like that was a surprise, but that didn't make it any less awesome. I was pleased that they played "Phone Went West," which is very impressive live. Here's a clip of them playing Letterman a few months back; they played this song on Tuesday, but they Boston Pops weren't there, and the band weren't in tuxedoes...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gobble Gobble

Gobble gobble gobble. Gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble. Gobble, gobble gobble gobble gobble. Gobble -- gobble gobble gobble.

Monday, November 20, 2006


The battery for my MacBook Pro was recalled a while back. I finally got around to requesting a replacement on Saturday afternoon, and was impressed to see that it arrived today.

Even more impressive, however, was the pickup of the defective battery that I sent back. The instructions said to call DHL to request a pickup, which I did. I hung up from the phone call, went downstairs to get a piece of packaging tape to seal the box, put it on the box, turned to head back upstairs and saw a DHL dude coming up the front steps. It couldn't have been more than a couple minutes. I'm not sure if he just happened to be driving by, or if they have a teleporter. Our house doesn't even have a number on it...

Friday, November 17, 2006

New Modest Mouse

I may be the only reader of this site for whom this is exciting, but I'm going to write about it anyway.

Modest Mouse has a new album on the way called We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. In a completely random yet awesome development, the legendary Johnny Marr of the Smiths is now a member of the band, having been pulled in during the course of making the album. Original (and very impressive) drummer Jeremiah Green returns for this record, too. The release date has been delayed until some unspecified time early next year. Isaac Brock described it as "a nautical balalaika carnival romp", but I have this suspicion that that might just be his way of making fun of the indie music press.

Despite the album delay, the band has played some new material at a few shows recently, and it can be heard in bootleg recordings online. They sound great to me, despite the iffy sound quality, and I'm really excited about the new album. Some mp3s you can listen to, if you like:


And there's even a YouTube of "Fire It Up" where, lo and behold, Johnny Marr can be seen on stage (far left) with Modest Mouse:

Unrelated interesting development: The New York Times publishes an article with multiple embedded YouTube clips? Crazy -- I never thought the editors would come around to something like that so soon. YouTube was started in February 2005, and hardly anybody had heard of it at this time last year.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Feeling so grown-up

Today, while surreptitiously checking my personal email at work, I received...a job offer. Holy crap! I'm hesitant to be specific out here on the internet, but although it was not completely out of the blue, it was extremely exciting nonetheless. I need to respond by early next month, so I'll be thinking about it over the next few weeks. I'd say it's likely I'll accept.

So it's looking more likely than ever that it will be off to DC come this spring. And looking toward the remainder of my year in school, approaching it with a job offer in hand is a reeeaaally nice feeling.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A bit harried

Whew, sure have been busy.

Jesse was up here for dinner last Wednesday, amid his fall visit to the USA. In response to my request for British foodstuff oddities, he brought me a few items. The highlight, I'd say, is a can of "All Day Breakfast," which is a tomato-based concoction containing baked beans, pork sausages, mushrooms, bacon slices and -- wait for it -- an omelette. The picture on the label shows a fat little sausage and a half-moon omelette floating in tomatoey beans. Eeew. Well done, Jesse.

This weekend I went to NYC to visit Alex again. It was good; taking advantage of his free museum admission, we went to MoMA and the Brooklyn Musuem (which had a fabulous exhibition by sculptor Ron Mueck, who started his career with the Muppets. (His stuff doesn't translate to photos well.) MoMA also has a couple theaters that you can also get into free on Alex's card, so we saw Midnight Cowboy, which was quite impressive.

We also verified David Byrne's claim that this arch in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn
does in fact contain a large number of cool puppets. Byrne was himself varifying the claim of a friend that this was true -- I think it's just the sort of thing that doesn't seem like it should be true. But I'm glad it is. The New York Puppet Lending Library takes up the leg of the arch, and they have a small performance space in the top, no joke.

I also did a lot of eating this weekend, including my quota of three Doughnut Plant doughnuts. (Vanilla bean, strawberry jelly with vanilla bean glaze, and tres leches cake style, in case you were wondering.)

In the Annie Leibovitz exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, there was a posed picture of the main movers of the Bush Administration -- W, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet, etc. looking at the camera steely-eyed and purposeful. The galleries were extremely crowded, and the picture was exerting a forcefield of political distortion in the room. Unlike the other photos, it had created a little half circle of empty space. As people stood and looked or milled past, everyone was forced to acknowledge it. A man sighed loudly. A woman rolled her eyes. Another woman made a sarcastic remark to her companion about how the crew really looked like they had it together. There was visible displeasure on the faces of many of the people walking by as Bush suddenly intruded on their pleasant afternoon of art photography.

Not exactly an unbiased sample of the voting public, but hopefully a similar dynamic of repulsion will be at work in the elections today. I've got my races I'm paying particular attention to, and a few of us will be gathering at John's place to watch returns. Fingers crossed.

Monday, October 30, 2006

As much fun as a...

...root canal. Much to my chagrin, I got to set that baseline for non-fun yesterday.

The mood wasn't exactly upbeat when I had to wait half an hour while a recalcitrant little girl screamed and the dentist tried to work. But the hour I spent in the chair wasn't as bad as you might think. I found it helped not to think about what the dentist was doing with all those implements in there -- instead, I pictured him making tiny woodblock carvings of forest creatures (why he was doing that inside my mouth was unclear).

The most painful part was writing the check, actually. It was $400, and it will be more than a thousand dollars in total once I have my two additional visits -- my dental insurance doesn't cover it. My advice is go to the dentist frequently and not eat as much candy as I do.

In much happier money-spending news, I booked a trip to Peru today! We have more or less all of January off, and my classmate Karen is from Peru, so Femi and I will be joining her down there from December 30 through January 12. Plans are still fuzzy, but we'll be staying at her house in Lima part of the time, going to Cusco/Machu Picchu, and possibly spending New Years at her family's beach house.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Tilly and the Wall

I saw Tilly and the Wall in DC on Wednesday night. Susie is from Omaha originally, and she knows a member of the band, so we got in free on the guest list, which was great.

They put on a very good show. Their music is relentlessly upbeat, with multiple vocalists, keyboards, and a tap dancer instead of drums. The crowd was into it, which always makes a show better. It was actually the second time I had seen them live; they had opened for Bright Eyes at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis. They're actually on Letterman tonight, if you want to check them out. I'm not sure Middle America is ready for a band with a tap dancing rhythm section, but I sure hope they are.

Also, the second opener at the show was really good, Love Is All. I bought their CD.

I'm off to see The Last King of Scotland.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Most interesting tidbit in this article: There's an NPR Labs?

I'm picturing Dr. Benson Honeydew blowing up a speaker, the cone of which somehow gets lodged in Beaker's hair. I took a tour of NPR headquarters over the summer and saw nothing of the sort, but we didn't go to the basement...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> Love-Cars - Let's Start a Band
> TV on the Radio - Dry Drunk Emporer [mp3 - TVotR's post-Katrina protest song]
> Dosh - I Think I'm Getting Married
> Hockey Night - Battlestar Scholastica
> RJD2 - Cut Out to FL
> Built to Spill - Still Flat [Epitonic BtS page, w/ mp3]
> Mates of State - Fraud In the 80s [YouTube]

Saturday, October 21, 2006

TV on the Radio

I saw TV on the Radio last night at Sonar. Shane and Stephen (both significant others of classmates) went along, too, and we had a good time. The album is so spectacular -- and well-produced -- that I think Stephen was right when he said that they have trouble reproducing the full experience live. But the show was great nonetheless. I think the song that gained the most from the live performance was "Dirtywhirl," with its slow crescendo. Here's TVotR playing it at a show in Seattle, which gives you an idea:

I also particularly enjoyed hearing "Staring at the Sun" live.

I bought their first LP, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsy Babes at the show. We went to Club Charles afterward for a while -- a satisfying evening.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Farewell, April

April is officially moved out as of today. She had been sticking around briefly after graduating last spring, continuing to work for the Casey foundation in Baltimore. But now she's gotten a job in Tanzania. Yes, Tanzania.

(This is one of those hold-the-camera-at-arms'-length pictures.)

She will be working on development and external relations for an orphanage. I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember the name of the town, but it's the jumping-off point for most excursions to Kilimanjaro, so there are a fair number of westerners there. (Maybe the town is Arusha.) Tanzania is actually rather stable as sub-Saharan countries go, so relocating there is not as crazy as it might sound -- though it still qualifies as a major life decision, I would say.

In any case, we will miss April. Now we are only five, and the plan is to remain that way. It does mean, however, that we have a guest room (with futon) if you would like to pay a visit.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hot Air

This is so frickin' awesome:

It's the 2006 Balloon Race in Reno, NV. Funny how computer-animated it looks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New Bike!

I've had it for a few weeks, but permit me to post about my new bike anyhow (your eyes might glaze over now):

There it is. As I had said earlier, I had mostly been considering Treks. But the last place I looked was Light Street Cycles, which is where I had taken my bike to be repaired. They don't really do Treks, but they did have a Gary Fisher that was $40 cheaper than the cheapest Trek I was considering. It also had a front shock, which the Treks did not -- a consideration given the extremely rough pavement in B-more. It didn't feel quite as nice on the test ride in terms of shifting and other niceties, but between the lower price and front shock, it was a good deal. Plus, the wheel rims are slightly thicker, which decreases the chances of me throwing them out of true on potholes. And part of what made me take the plunge with this particular bike is that Light Street Cycles is a friendly local shop that's a hub for bike activists and other community folks.

So it's a Gary Fisher Tiburon (no, not a Hyundai Tiburon). A mid-to-low-range bike, but a huge improvement over my poor old green Trek. And I'm really enjoying the front shock -- the little "pfft" sound it makes when I hit the unavoidable bumps is more satifying than having it rattle the whole bike (and my whole body). There's one of those slightly dorky shocks in the seatpost, too.

As you can see in this photo, I got a new rack for it, because it turned out I had cracked the frame on my old rack by carrying too many groceries. (Plus, the screws were so rusted that no amount of effort or Tri-Flow could get them off.)

Anyway, I'm trying to take better care of my bike now that I have one that's in decent shape. I'm keeping it in the parking garage at work, and I've pimped the pantry to hold it, along with Dana's bike:

It's more effort to keep it inside, but it's worth it to keep it from the weather and the risk of theft. Anway, I'm excited about my new means of transport.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I'm on YouTube

My YouTube profile says that I have watched a staggering 1,679 videos since joining in June. I don't remember exactly when I joined, but it works out to around 14 videos per day. Yipes! That must count repeat watchings...I've probably watched that OK Go treadmill video 20 times. (My favorites list is a running tally of my favorite music videos on YouTube.)

Anyway, yesterday I actually posted some videos myself. You can watch them through the magic of the internet. I haven't made anything lately, so they're all from a while ago:
  • An angry montage of the Target/Cub Foods development in Northfield. It was built while I was in college, and I was mad about it because it made downtown Northfield more like a tourist attraction and less of a real town. I took the pictures for this at 3am, and I wrote about getting pulled over on the way back.

  • A weird piece that shows how to make molasses cookies with the assistance of DJ Shadow. Moves a little slow at times.

  • The movie we made for DVD Fest junior year at Carleton, a musical number of sorts surrounding "Ooh Child" by the Five Stairsteps. (A number of readers of this blog helped make it.)

Other things I made in college were just too embarrassing to watch now. Not like I hate them now, but I'm just not sure I want other people to see them. I would have posted our spoof Library Patrol, but a bunch of the clips were missing on my hard drive. I've got it on tape somewhere, so perhaps I'll get around to posting it at some point (perhaps I should ask Peter first).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mouse solution

Perhaps we won't be able to completely solve our mouse problem until we resort to extreme measures like these:

I really like this video a lot -- the animation is great, it syncs well with the sounds and dynamics of the track, and there's an impressive amount of narrative for a short little music video. The song (by Margot & the Nuclear So and So's) is pretty good, too, first time in a while I've found myself liking traditional, smooth vocals.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Nesting Instinct

Perhaps it's winter setting in, or perhaps it's that I'm 26, but I have lately had the urge to make the house more home-like. Mind you, this is only in relative terms, since I spend less time on this stuff than many others, but still noticeable.

Anyway, this manifests itself in the form of things like me sweeping the leaves and berries off the back walk, and buying items for the house. I went to Ikea yesterday and got a pot lid rack for the kitchen, and an end table and lampshade (to rehabilitate a lamp) for the living room. It was a little worrying how pleasing it was to spiff up that dull corner of the room.

I've also ordered some bike hooks to put my bike and Dana's bike in the former pantry (abandoned because of extreme rodent vulnerability). Actually, I got a new bike last week, but I haven't remembered to take a picture of it while it's light outside. I'll post about it later...

On a completely different note, here are some things you can learn by reading the Transportation Research Board's 50 Years of Interstate Structures: Past, Present and Future:
  • "It is clear that concrete has played a major role in the construction of interstate bridges."

  • "During the 50 years of the Interstate system, the culverts have matured right along with bridges."

  • "It is impossible to separate the history of steel bridges from history in general."

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Rich State, Poor State, Red State, Blue State

A study by that title noted (last item) in the October Atlantic Monthly makes a very intriguing observation.

Historically, Democrats were the party of the lower class, Republicans the party of the rich. But in the last couple decades, the richest states have tended to be the ones that vote for Dems, and our popular conception of Democratic voters has shifted to someone with a latte in their hand. The authors of the study point out, however, that the strong correlation between class and voting habits (in the traditional direction) still exists on a nationwide level. Looking at class voting patterns state-by-state, they find that while class remains a potent predictor of party preference in poor states, it has recently disappeared as a factor in rich states -- the rich and poor in "blue" states are extremely similar in their partisan makeup.

The study is subtitled "What's the Matter with Connecticut?", a play on the book "What's the Matter with Kansas?", which looked at the political realignment of rural America. The realignment of places like Connecticut is just as striking, though it hasn't gotten as much attention, and the authors point out that the subtleties they explore in state-by-state trends have led to confused analyses by journalists and pundits.

Since we don't actually know what's causing this trend, it doesn't serve as punditry fodder as easily as "latte liberal"-type stuff. It seems to me, though, that in the poor Southern states where the retention of class-based politics is most pronounced, there is a much more oppositional stance between the classes, and a lot of it stems from race. It looks like the researchers controlled for race statistically, but I think it's also pretty obvious that the effect of race is not the same from state to state.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Spoken music

I think this is clever/amusing enough to merit a look.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Portland trip pictures

I posted a few crappy pictures of my trip to Portland and Washington state back at the end of August, but ReeD now has his very handsome pictures posted on his site. You can look at our walk in Ape Cave, a St. Helens-scoured landscape, the smoking crater, or just look at the whole collection.

Also, I'd like to note how much this picture seems like a scene from the computer game Myst.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Check out this map thing I got that plots where the visits to my blog come from. A thumbnail version of it is now perched a the bottom of my righthand navigation links. The map on Raja's blog (where I found out about this) is a lot more impressive. He's got readers on multiple obscure Pacific Islands...

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bikes, Tornadoes, Becky, Davin

I did some shopping for bikes yesterday and today, test-riding at a few different places. Partly because they're the ones everyone seems to sell, and partly because they're the best no-unnecessary-frills fit for what I need, I'm primarily considering Treks. Specifically the 7.2 FX or 7.3 FX, about $380 and $460, respectively. Either would be a significant improvement in bike, though for at least 200-some dollars more than I could fix my current bike for. And then there's having to be more careful about where I leave it...though it was really nice to ride a decent bike on my test rides. I'm mulling it over until Monday, in any case.

In other news, Becky Anthony was unexpectedly in town this morning (she's here for a wedding). We went to the farmer's market and had brunch at Pete's Grill down the street. (Blueberry pancakes and hash browns, I need to find an excuse to go there more frequently.) I hadn't seen her in quite a while, so it was good to catch up.

We talked about what our siblings are up to. As for mine, I just got some pictures of what he's doing. Having finished his season as a whitewater rafting guide, Davin is rebuilding the deck on our uncle Lin and aunt Elaine's house in Moraga (Marin County), California. At least he's got a good view:

A free place to stay in Marin County isn't bad, either.

He's also repairing a water-damaged corner of the house. Lin was inspecting last week and stepped on a rotted part of the roof and fell through to the room below. Given that he's in his 60s, it's miraculous that he's mostly okay.

In more aunt and uncle house adventures, the first tornado to hit Maryland in four years managed to hit Helena and Michael's house in Severna Park last night. They have a hole in their roof and trees down, but everyone is fine.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Euthanizing my bike

My bike was skipping sprocket teeth when I tried to pedal hard, so I brought it in to Light Street Cycles for service. Unfortunately, they called me later in the day to tell me that it needed more than a tuneup, it would cost between $120 and $160, and that it might not be worth it to put that much money into it. I sheepishly admit that it felt like the vet was calling to tell me it was time to put my dog to sleep. After all, I've had the bike for more than 6 years, and have ridden it almost every day for the last three or so.

So they're holding off on the work while I think about it over the weekend. Looking around, it seems like I'd want to spend about $400. I ride enough that investing in a decent bike would be worth it, but worrying about a $400 piece of equipment getting stolen might be the deciding factor leading me to just get my Trek repaired.

I definitely need to act fast, either way. It was gorgeous outside today, and it just about killed me to take the Hopkins shuttle to work.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Newman's Own

I got a kick out of this:
Mr. Newman makes his own salad dressing at home, too, though he occasionally reaches for the stuff that started the Newman’s Own empire. To date, the food company has generated $220 million in charitable donations and has expanded to include popcorn and a line of fruit drinks and salsas, which he sometimes buys in jars at the grocery store. While the stunned checker grapples with the fact that Paul Newman is buying Newman’s Own salsa, he gets a kick out of saying, “It must be really good if I’m paying retail for it.”

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> TV on the Radio - Blues From Down Here[mp3]
> The Long Winters - (It's A) Departure[mp3]
> Dizzee Rascal - Fix Up Look Sharp[YouTube]
> LCD Soundsystem - Losing My Edge[Quicktime]
> M83 - Don't Save Us From the Flames[YouTube]

I just got the Long Winters and TV on the Radio albums recently, and they're both great. Especially TVotR -- it's been a while since I've been quite this excited about a new album.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


This is just weird:

"Wouldn't having Hillary as our Presidential candidate in '08 be great? Well, vote for me now, I'm awesome like her!" Right. Not only is that a dumb argument, but there are a lot of folks who don't even like her very much (myself included). So the fact that Allan Lichtman lost the US Senate primary shouldn't be too big a surprise.

At least he went out with an evocative metaphor:
From the start, a year ago, I described this campaign as a boulder, which if it got moving would roll over the state of Maryland and begin a new era in state and national politics. Ultimately, the boulder did not move, but it was not for lack of effort, ideas, or support from wonderful people like you.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Talking Heads

I've wandered into what I believe is the leading edge of a period of fascination with The Talking Heads. This has mostly happened via YouTube. Now I need to get some albums.

You probably already knew this, but David Byrne's blog is great. I like this rundown of "Recent Doublespeak:"
War in Iraq used to refer to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Unlawful combatants — a meaningless phrase intended to allow trial without due process, which turns back the legal clock in a developed country by at least 100 years.
Rendition has been substituted for kidnapping.
Freedom has been substituted for economic exploitation and corruption.
Globalization has been substituted for corporate rule.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I'm excited to go see The Long Winters, TV on the Radio and Broken Social Scene in the near future after a period of thin concertgoing. Made me want to make a list of bands I've seen live, seen here in the order they come to me (with some alphabetical ones toward the end, as I scrolled through iTunes). This includes some that I saw as opening bands, and a few I saw at festivals:

Modest Mouse (x2)
Ugly Casanova
Built to Spill (x3)
Jason Collette
The Weakerthans
My Morning Jacket (x 2)
Broken Social Scene (x 3)
Ted Leo & Pharmacists (x 3)
Matt Pond PA
The Eels
The Flaming Lips
Sigur Ros (x2 -- best concerts I've been to)
The Album Leaf
The Long Winters (x2)
The Decemberists (x2)
Bright Eyes
Xiu Xiu
Hail Social
Spoon (x2)
Super Furry Animals (x2)
Belle and Sebastian
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Dan Bern (x2...or is it 3?)
De La Soul (x2)
Wilco (x3)
Mark Mallman (a number of times)
Kid Dakota
The Olympic Hopefuls
Hockey Night
Cat Power
Death Cab for Cutie (x3)
The Delusions
The Shins (x2)
The Dismemberment Plan (x3)
The Faint
Fountains of Wayne (I got a guitar pick!)
French Kicks
Guided By Voices
Har Mar Superstar
Interpol (x2)
Jim Yoshii Pileup
John Vanderslice
Les Savy Fav
The Hold Steady
Love-Cars (x2)
Mike Doughty
Orenda Fink
Pedro the Lion (x2)
Q and Not U
The Reputation
Rogue Wave
They Might Be Giants
Oranges Band
Urban Hillbilly Quartet
The Walkmen
The Wrens (x2)
Yo La Tengo

That's 67 bands I've seen live (not including the ones I've seen live and didn't like). Off the top of my head, my favorite shows were probably Sigur Ros, Ugly Casanova, Les Savy Fav, Blur, The Faint, My Morning Jacket and Spoon.

Alright, that's enough self-indulgent posting for now...

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Here's the antidote to my previous post -- TV on the Radio playing Letterman last week:

Holy crap is that awesome! They're in Baltimore on October 20, and I am so there.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Kidz Bop Must Stop

I already thought Kidz Bop was an extremely annoying cultural phenomenon (a chorus of children sings crappified versions of pop songs). But it has come to my attention that they covered Float On by Modest Mouse, which I find extremely dismaying. Here, someone has set the Kidz Bop version against video of a Modest Mouse performance:

I'm not sure I've ever heard anything more unpleasant, I'm never watching that again. So painful. (Yet, like a car wreck, I could not avert my attention.) And it's really weird to hear a bunch of kids sing "I backed my car into a cop car the other day."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bagged villain

I realize that the suspected E. coli outbreak is actually quite serious, but this is such a hilarious sentence for an official to utter at a press conference:

“At this point, there is nothing to implicate bagged salad.”

My mental picture is bagged salad sweating under the interrogation lights. "You look nervous...you made those people sick, didn't you?" "No, no, I swear I'm innocent! This sweat...it's just condensation, I've been in the fridge!"

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years on

It's pretty hard to avoid the fifth anniversary of September 11th, 2001 -- it's wall-to-wall. I feel myself recoiling from the commemorations slightly, as they sometimes seem to veer toward wallowing in a feeling of victimization and a sense that anything we might have done wrong since then is cancelled out by the evil unleashed on us.

Of course, it's a major national tragedy, so I'm not exactly sure how we could commemorate it in a way that would soothe my discomfort. Perhaps if we all gathered 'round for a fireside chat with President Gore about how we have won a victory against the terrorists by refusing to bite the bait for the clash of civilizations that they clearly want, opting instead for a plan to address the petro-political roots of terror backed up by more aggressive security and policing. But there's not too much point in indulging counterfactuals, we are where we are.

I recall that just after the attacks, I was spending a lot of time listening to Beulah's When Your Heartstrings Break, which I had borrowed from Matt. A line in "The Ballad of the Lonely Argonaut" about how "their poker face/cannot hide the fever of the children's crusades" stuck in my head and seemed foreboding. The country's anger was so intense that -- coupled with leadership in Washington all too willing to embrace a guns-blazing response -- I was more scared of what feverish actions we would take than how the terrorists would strike next.

Those fears have come to pass, in large part. But I hope we wise up soon and start trying to address root causes instead of maintaining our permanent war footing. (See Declaring Victory by James Fallows, in last month's Atlantic Monthly, for a sketch of an alternative way to confront the terrorists, though without the addressing root causes part.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Truth

Syncing my cell phone with my computer got a little heavier than I anticipated. I was presented with these options:

"Merge data with the truth"
"Push the truth on the device"
"Pull the truth from the device"

I chose to merge the data with the truth. I figure any distortion of the true truth is probably worth the added convenience of having my phone remind me of appointments.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Hold the Mayo

What would you say if someone who comes from China asked you what mayonnaise is?

"What is this?"

"Is it spicy?"
"Uh, no."

"Is it salty?"

"Is it sweet?"
"Uh, not really"

"I wouldn't really recommend it."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> Bjork - Unison
> Sleater-Kinney - O2
> Dosh - India India
> Fountains of Wayne - Bright Future In Sales
> Tom Waits - The Day After Tomorrow
>Built to Spill - Three Years Ago Today

Also, Built to Spill go to knight school in this somewhat inscrutable video for "Conventional Wisdom."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Summer over, NYC

I finished up my summer internship successfully last week. As I left after my last day, it was storming pretty well as what was left of Ernesto came through. This sums up the weather pretty well:

It continued like that on my way up to NYC later that evening. My Amtrak train was leaking, though thankfully not on me. It stayed pretty nasty on Saturday, but Alex and I got out and around anyway. (Including to Doughnut Plant...I ate three of their doughnuts and did not regret it.)

Alex's new place in Queens is nice, enormous by NYC standards, only a couple blocks from the elevated subway station. And I liked his neighborhood, which is nice in a pre-gentrification kind of way...it's heavily Greek, and there's a corner grocery store and most other things you'd want within easy walking distance. The subway ride to Manhattan is easy.

We had a number of very New York experiences:

  • Sitting in a bagel shop, a man ushered in a four-piece brass band that was for some reason walking down the street and cajoled them to play. They were about to start when he said, by the way, he's not paying them or anything. The band stalked out.

  • We went to see a movie that was only out in NYC and LA, and the director just happened to be doing a Q&A in the theater after the show. (Mutual Appreciation, it was absolutely fantastic, like an Alexander Payne film from my generation, stripped of the slight goofiness and not afraid to be awkward. See it if you can.)

  • While eating gyros, a man sat down at our table. He was difficult to understand due to his poor English and the fact that he was presumably very high on something; he proceeded to stare at us and scold our gyro-eating technique.

  • We went to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum next to Central Park, housed in the old Carnegie mansion, and saw, among other things, a very extensive exhibit on silverware design throughout the centuries.

  • When we attended a stand-up comedy club, we were seated in the front row and became part of the routines of three different comics. They only said nice things, of course.

  • After Alex had to leave for a grad school orientation event, I went to Coney Island and got a chili-cheese dog from the original Nathan's Famous hot dog stand. (Decided the $6 for one ride on the Cyclone wasn't worth it.)

A very good trip. Here are some blurry cell phone pictures:

The view from the subway platform near Alex's apartment.

This gator occupies a place in the roof garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; he evidently incurred the wrath of some restaurant patrons.

This bit of categorization at the Duane Reade next to Penn Station struck me as unorthodox.

I got home late last night, and this morning was hectic because my car had been parked at a city meter all weekend with its key broken off in the ignition (I'll spare you the story). I cleared things up with some help from Jaclyn shuttling me around, Andrew feeding the meter, the Saab dealership in Hunt Valley, the title to the car, and a pair of tweezers.

But it also turns out that classes don't start until next week, I just have my public health ones this week. An unexpected respite, since I apparently can't read a calendar...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Great Northwest

My trip to Portland last week was great. The work part was interesting and went smoothly (and, crucially, was free). Portland has such a nice vibe...it's sort of the anti-DC. Washington DC is very yuppie and very status-obsessed; "What do you do?" is always the first question someone in a bar would ask. By contrast, Portland is pretty, friendly and low-key. People are hip and artsy, but in a less pretentious way than elsewhere. It was definitely nice when we went out on our first night to the Lucky Labrador Beer Hall near our hotel -- it was just a converted warehouse with a bunch of picnic tables inside, an indoor bike rack, and Modest Mouse's The Moon and Antarctica playing on the stereo.

The city also (famously) pays lots of attention to urban planning/design and public transit. The streetcar and light rail are nice, and people on bikes are everywhere. Powell's, apparently the biggest bookstore of them all, is very impressive.

We had a little extra time one afternoon and took a drive on the old Columbia River Road along the side of the gorge. It's pretty even through my cell phone's camera:

I continued my doughnut obsession by hitting the famous Voodoo Doughnut in Portland. Picture me wearing a suit walking into what I think is best described as a punk rock doughnut shop where "Movin' Right Along" from The Muppet Movie is playing. I stuck out, but the maple doughnut was delicious.

Reed flew in on Thursday night and we proceeded to put 550 miles on a rental car between 9am Friday and 7pm Saturday. We drove up to Mt. St. Helens in Washington State. We took a walk through the freezing cold Ape Cave. We camped one night in the national forest surrounding the volcano. I did lots of driving on winding national forest roads, which was fun some of the time in the kinda-sorta sporty Chevy Cobalt. It was a two hour roller coaster drive from our campsite to the Mt. St. Helens overlook (and we got slightly lost on the way back).

The mountain itself was extremely impressive. We went to the Windy Ridge viewpoint, which is the more remote one on the far side of the park from the Interstate. The drive in takes you first through standing dead trees, and then a stripped landscape with only low brush reclaiming the area. From the viewpoint you can see the huge side of the mountain that was blasted away in the eruption, as well as the area below that it swept across. You can also see more or less inside the crater, including the smoking new cone that the volcano is creating.

We drove out to the Oregon coast on Saturday. It was quite striking, very different than either the east or west coast landscapes I'm used to. Dramatic hills and lush greenery, and a middle-of-nowhere feeling you can really never get anywhere on the east coast.

Anyway, here are some crappy pictures I took using my cell phone camera (my digital camera is on its last legs). Reed had his digital SLR along, so I'll post some of his pictures later if I can convince him to send me a selection.

Spirit Lake was partially filled in the eruption of St. Helens (outside the picture to the left), and still has some dead timber floating in it to this day.

We stopped for a while in Oceanside, Oregon. The fog was rolling in.

We ate PB&Js on the beach, but the wind was blowing pretty well, so my second sandwich was a little crunchy. We were using forks because Safeway didn't have any free plastic knives to offer us...

The Mears Point lighthouse was cool.

There was this spit of land sheltering a bay that you could drive out on.

This is my last week of work. I'm off to visit Alex at his new place in NYC this weekend, and then classes start next week.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Unpopular Pop

From the Aaron Spelling eulogy in the issue of The Atlantic that I read cover-to-cover out of desperation on the (snake-less) plane ride home yesterday:
We don't really have popular culture anymore, so much as a fragmented market crowded with expertly segmented, mutually hostile opposing camps of various forms of unpopular pop culture.

The author's point in saying this is that Spelling ("The Maestro of Jiggle TV") was of the old school popular pop generation. A very well-put, relevant point (see Snakes on a Plane below), but I'll take my Modest Mouse anyway. (But wait, that's popular now. I got sort of cranky at the overgrazing of my cultural niche -- guess I don't know what I want.)

Once I wade through my email backlog, I'll post some Portland pictures.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

A few words about Snakes on a Plane.

I can be a bit of a pop culture hermit at times, but there was no missing this cultural juggernaut. When I first heard the title a couple months ago, it was pretty clearly a brilliant title. It was so ridiculously blunt about its ridiculous premise that it stuck with me; it appears to have had the same effect on a lot of other people.

The movie got a lot of buzz on the internet, and somehow managed to gain a lot of fans prior to the movie actually being being finished. As the NY Times review put it, "snakes + plane + Samuel L. Jackson" was really all anyone needed to know. It appears to be the first movie ever to have material re-shot based on what bloggers demanded. (They had Samuel L. Jackson deliver the online-coined catch phrase, "Get these motherf***ing snakes off my motherf***ing plane!")

Because the entire hilariously gripping idea was captured in the title, it kept appearing everywhere I went...people were talking about it at work, it was referenced months ago on the Colbert Report, I overheard people on the street laughing about it. Online forums about audience participation elements (e.g. everybody throws toy snakes in the air when the snakes escape into the plane) were underway for months prior to the movie's release. The media writeups of the movie are already obsessed with what the film and the fuss mean culturally.

This is going out on a bit of a limb here, but I think this phenomenon might be in part due to a mass longing for common experiences. There are so many centrifugal forces in today's society, from suburbia to political polarization to the narrowcasting of the internet (a favorite topic of mine) that something that allows you to connect with a broad swath of other human beings is really appealing. We all get "snakes on a plane," and the opportunity to hoot and holler in a theater along with a bunch of other people feels good; it's nice to have something besides the weather that you can talk about with anyone.

I'm necessarily overstating my point here, and in large part it's just an entertaining movie. But I think the social dynamic is in there, too.

And with that, I'm off to see Little Miss Sunshine. Hah.

Happy Blogiversary

I just realized that I started this blog a bit more than a year ago. I've made 125 posts, which comes out to almost exactly one post every three days, on average. It doesn't feel like I posted that often, but I guess I did. I've enjoyed having a place to write things that are interesting enough to want to tell folks, but not interesting enough to call as say "Hey, guess what?" Anyway, I plan to keep it up for the forseeable future.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Fall approaches

The summer is rapidly drawing to a close. I have two more weeks at my internship, and it's been really good -- hopefully I'll get the chance to come back next year.

Not sure how I'll manage to do all of the things I've got on tap for the fall. Right now I'm signed up for six classes:

> Evaluation (required)
> Ethics (required)
> Advanced Quantitative Methods
> Juvenile Justice Seminar
> Intro to Health Policy (Public Health)
> Health and the Law (Public Health)

The Public Health ones only last for half the semester each, so I'm really only taking 5 classes. But that's still one more than a full load. I think I need to drop one, and it will probably be Juvenile Justice.

I will also be working on my thesis, which actually counts as a class. So I guess I'm technically enrolled in the equivalent of 6 courses right now.

I will also be working at the State Highway Administration again, which will be nice.

And finally, it was confirmed this week that I will be the teaching assistant for the first years' Policy Process class. I'm excited about this because it will be neat to see the first-years "in action," I like the course material, and my thesis is based on the process approach, so reabsorbing the materials will actually be helpful. Plus, it's a new professor, so it will be from a slightly different point of view. (Interestingly enough, she works at GAO, on my floor. She's on vacation now, so we haven't gotten together yet, but I think I actually met her earlier this summer.) It will also mean some extra money, which is always nice when you're tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Anyway, that adds up to a lot of stuff. The spring will presumably be calmer.

The end of summer is pretty hectic, too. I will spend all of next week in Portland, Oregon for work, and will stick around in Portland through the weekend to hang out with Reed, who is flying up from San Francisco. Never been to Portland before, so I'm looking forward to it. The following week is my last one at work, then I will visit Alex at his new place in NYC for Labor Day weekend, and classes start the following week.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Fishy Video

I thought we had solved the mystery about the shellacked piranha I got in the mail when Hannah refused to out-and-out deny she was behind it. But new evidence throws that into doubt -- perhaps her confession was under duress?

In my YouTube binge of the last couple days, I ran across this video for They Might Be Giants' Ana Ng. And who should appear on the set, but my shellacked fish! Or at least his shellacked uncle -- see the family resemblance?

My conclusion: They Might Be Giants sent me a shellacked fish.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Perfect Rebuttal

Okay, sorry for having two posts in a day that just point to YouTube clips, but this bit from the Colbert Report about Gitmo is positively brilliant:

Not just hilarious, but depressingly true.

When Dogs Fly

This video is truly awesome:

Does this mean I wasted another afternoon watching music videos on YouTube? Yes, it does.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Not So Dull

I'm going to break the no blogging about work rule briefly to mention that we had a tour of Dulles airport yesterday, and it was awesome. I thought the highlight was going up to the tower and watching them move aircraft around...so cool. I would also point out that there is more than one way to take the name "Explosive Dog Unit."

I telecommuted today so that I could sit in on a breakfast meeting that was related to my thesis. I'm a little unsure about the etiquette for blogging about meetings with people, so I'll be general and say that I think my thesis will provide the opportunity to work with some really cool people, including a guy who's writing a book who I might be able to share interviews with.

This weekend I'll be putting some final touches to put on my thesis proposal, but aside from that I'm looking forward to finally having a few days where I don't have all that much to do.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Community policing

As I was riding home from the train station today (in the sweltering, sweltering heat), I passed a police car stopped in the middle of Guilford Ave. There was a Razor scooter lying in the road in front of the cruiser, and the officer was speaking through the car's loudspeaker to a couple young boys sitting on front steps a few feet away. "DOES THAT BELONG TO YOU? THE SCOOTER IN THE STREET. DOES THE SCOOTER IN THE STREET BELONG TO EITHER OF YOU?" The boys were mostly just looking unsure of what they should do. But it was a sort of pathetic example of the poor state of police-community relations...if you're 10 and leave your scooter in the street, and some cop comes along and tries to talk with you/reprimand you through his freaking loudspeaker from a few feet away, that doesn't exactly build mutual trust and respect. I guess the officer probably didn't want to get out of his car because it was really damn hot. Still, a clueless bit of policing.

The Baltimore police department has some really obvious problems, like a recent instance of a suspect raped by officers while she was being detained at a station. But I think the broader problem is in how the department relates to citizens. For instance, they just installed some additional police cameras in the neighborhood south of us (right where I was riding through this afternoon). These are on lightpoles and supposedly allow the cops to keep an eye on things from afar; a blue strobe light on top lets people know that they shouldn't try anything funny. Come on. They can't possibly be very effective, and they're such a grim symbol of the emotional distance of the police and the degree to which they feel overwhelmed.

The police helicopter is another symptom. It's forever hovering overhead here because of the high-crime neighborhoods to our east; it makes a lot of noise, they shine their searchlight around at night, etc. I'm sure there are some things a copter is really helpful for, like when someone is fleeing arrest. But there's this sense of siege and fear that comes with having a police helicopter overhead that I don't think is worth the tradeoff. Plus, I know it's insanely expensive (especially since it's in the air ALL THE TIME), and that money could be put to better use on cops who are actually a human face, not just a "thukka-thukka-thukka."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Thesis Etc.

Our internet at home hasn't been working properly, and Comcast is in no rush to fix it, so I'm writing from a lab on campus.

After some equivocating as to whether I would write a thesis or not, last Monday I finally decided to go for it. I met with a professor at Public Health (who's a friend of Annie's) who told me that he wasn't sure there was anyone there who could help me very well with my idea about consumer health information and market mechanisms in health care. But after describing my interests he recommended doing an analysis of Maryland's so-called "Wal-Mart Law," which requires large employers that don't spend more than 8% of payroll costs on health care to either spend more or pay the state the difference to help cover the extra Medicaid costs. Of course, the only company that fits this description is Wal-Mart. The law, passed last year, was just struck down by a federal judge a couple weeks ago, so its future is uncertain, but it attracted a lot of notice and other states are considering similar moves.

I thought this was actually a pretty good topic idea, so I'm going with it. To some extent, I will do an analysis of what the effects of the law are likely to be and whether it's an effective policy, but the main focus of the paper will be on a policy process perspective -- i.e. how did we move from a problem to this particular solution. For many people with a stake in the debate, the law came out of nowhere, and seems not to follow some of the major theories of process literature, so it'll be an interesting case study. The Public Health professor knows the main advocate behind the law fairly well, and he apparently would be happy to work with me, which will be a great resource for getting a good sense of all the machinations. My research will be very heavy on interviews with the parties involved (legislators, advocates, lobbyists, etc).

I stayed up rather late last night to write my proposal (an exciting Saturday night), because the proposals are due a week from tomorrow -- last-minute as always. I'll be revising it this week with my advisor. There is no requirement to write a thesis in my program, and it is supposed to be seen as an honor to do so; there is a faculty committee that selects the students who will write a thesis based on these proposals. So I do have to get past that first.

In other news, we have lined up a final new housemate, Susie from Oakland, CA. I've never met her, but she seemed cool the times we talked on the phone. She'll be starting a PhD program in epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the end of August.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Home invaders

So, it's bad enough to have mice and rats in your house. But you know it's a bad sign when plants infiltrate your home:

I found this plant coming through the baseboard the other day. Couldn't believe it. We're showing the place to potential housemates right now, so I wanted to get rid of our new foliage ("uh, yeah, we like to keep a natural vibe"), but I'd sort of like to show the maintenance guy when he comes just to make a point. So it's still there right now. It's behind the bar, so people aren't that likely to notice, anyway.

Looks like we'll decide on someone to take our empty room by the end of the weekend. Three people have already said they would like to take the room, and I'm showing it to a couple more today and tomorrow. Then we'll have a little house conference tomorrow afternoon and see who we think would be the best fit. Actually, April and Jason are out of town and Steve hasn't moved in yet, so I guess Dana and I will be the only ones conferring.

I'm working from home on Monday (brought my laptop with me any everything) so that I can be here when the exterminator comes, and so that I can go to a midday meeting with a professor at the medical campus about a possible thesis topic.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> Blur - Out of Time
> Guided By Voices - Everybody Thinks I'm A Raincloud (When I'm Not Looking)
> Modest Mouse - Here It Comes
> Elf Power - The Naughty Villain
> Pavement - Gold Soundz
> Ted Leo/Pharmacists - The Great Communicator
> Radiohead - No Surprises

Those videos for Out of Time and No Surprises both happen to be great examples of simple music videos that work really well.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Concerts, house, international politics, etc.

Still pretty dang busy this week, thus the lack of posting. Hopefully things will be less hectic by next week. (Be warned, you may find this post to be a rather tiresome listing of what I've been doing lately, but it's perhaps more for my benefit than yours.)

Last weekend was that Belle & Sebastian/Broken Social Scene/Ted Leo concert. (It's sort of funny, it's the only show where those three bands are playing together...not sure what the impetus was.) It was a great show. I go through cycles of enthusiasm for Belle & Sebastian, and hadn't been blown away by my first few listens to their most recent album, so it was nice to find that they were really excellent to see live. They played the three songs I most wanted to hear -- If You're Feeling Sinister, Judy And The Dream Of Horses, The Boy With the Arab Strap -- so that was satisfying (though no Fox In The Snow, Jesse/Seb). Their stage banter is also really good (and really Scottish!), which I've come to realize makes a significant difference in how much I enjoy a show, since my tendency is to want to place the songs in the context of the artists that make them. Broken Social Scene and Ted Leo were also very good (I'd seen each of them twice before), but BSS had the singer from Stars in place of regular member Leslie Feist, who is probably irreplaceable. (Thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can watch a variety of crappy videos of the performances.)

Last week I saw the Weakerthans at the 9:30 Club in DC. It was also a great show. Their music is obliquely political, and the lead singer made a remark that it felt strange to be playing in "This dying capital of the world...or is it the capital of this dying world?" Which, as the news got more depressing over the course of the week, felt a little too true. And while I'm on that topic, you should really check out this blog written primarily by Raja and Doha, whom I know from my program (Raja just graduated, Doha is his girlfriend). Raja is in Lebanon right now and provided gripping dispatches from the field as things unfolded. He's been out of touch for a few days now, though, so Doha is now writing the entries from DC. Seeing the Lebanese point of view is valuable, and in the comments there are Lebanese and Israelis talking, debating, and wishing things weren't so screwed up. It's heartening.

In more domestic matters, last weekend I auditioned five women who responded to our Craigslist ad for the room (we wanted to keep the house gender-balanced). In the end, only one person wanted it, but she was probably the one we would have chosen anyway. Dana needed a place right away, and she moved in on Friday. She's a student at Hopkins, too, and has spent the last few years in various countries outside the US, so she'll be good to talk to.

Meanwhile, Caitlin, one of the two incoming students in our program who was going to live here, bailed out, so I am now finding someone else to take her spot. Are you a woman looking for a place to live in Baltimore? Talk to us. I will be glad when this is all done, it's kinda stressful and time-consuming.

Oh, and did I mention that Zach (who I hired as an intern for Local 33 back in MN, and is now the national legislative liaison for AMFA in DC) got a letter published in The Economist? Not only that, it's about nuclear weapons and it's semi-rebutting the letter in front of it by Ted Turner! Holy crap!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Wiped out

Whew. I feel like I've been going non-stop all summer -- that free time hasn't really materialized. I guess I do leave home at 7:00 am and get home at about 7:00 pm each weekday.

Of course, I did have a nice vacation last weekend, even if it was slightly hectic. I left for the airport straight from work on Friday afternoon. Coincidentally, I saw Dan Poppy on the Metro on the way there; he was also going to the airport, and also going to Minnesota (though not on the same flight). It seems like I've run into him randomly in odd places several times since Carleton.

Sun Country Airlines, based in Minneapolis, runs a single flight out of Dulles each weekday. You have to sidle up to the Continental counter to get your boarding pass -- almost seems illicit, like somebody's going, "Pssst! Want some Sun Country?" Anyway, part of their schtick is that you get a hot meal on board. On the way out they announced that they would be coming around to give each of us "A cheeseburger and a cookie." Sounds sort of like kindergarten. Anyway, the cheeseburger was disgusting -- tan, flavorless meat and a bun hardened on the outside from being microwaved inside its plastic bag. I ate it anyway because I was starving. I'm not sure why I'm telling you this.

It was great to see everybody in Minneapolis, and especially nice that I unexpectedly got to see Sebastian and Becky the first night even though they were going out of town for the weekend. Andrew and I took a ride (with me on Eden's bike) out the Greenway on Saturday morning and went to the French Meadow for breakfast, two things I really miss about Minneapolis (I should probably add that I miss Andrew, too).

We left for St. Croix State Park midday Saturday, and stayed there for two nights. Matt, Risa, Alex, John, Hannah and I went. It was quite nice, as I will now demonstrate through a photo montage:

We went for a long hike on Sunday.

We took a break in the Kettle River (which flows into the St. Croix). There were lots of crayfish, but unfortunately also some leeches.

The foil packet dinners the first night were delicious.

Climbing this fire tower was pretty cool.

Anyway, I returned to Baltimore to find that housemate Sarah (in NYC for the summer) had suddenly decided to move out before our new lease starts in August. Having just completed arrangements for Steve and Caitlin, incoming students in our program, to move in, this threw everything into flux. Caitlin understandably doesn't want to be the only woman in the house, but at this point there are no more females in our program looking for a room. So I posted on Craigslist for a female roommate, and a few people responded. I'm showing the house to four women today and one tomorrow. Both of the ones I've already met seem cool, and hopefully we'll get one or more who wants to take it and have everything squared away. I hate this housing crap.

Tonight I'm going to see Belle and Sebastian, with Ted Leo and Broken Social Scene opening. It's at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia; nobody else from Baltimore is going down with me, but I'm meeting folks from work there. Should be great.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Considering an Ark

What had been a couple days of rain on Sunday has now turned into what feels like a week of rain. It rained incredibly hard Sunday night, and apparently we got something like 7 inches. I obliviously toodled down to the train station as usual on Monday morning, only to find it chock full of stuck commuters. Originally the trains weren't going all the way to DC, but by the time I got on one they had fixed the track flooding. My 45-minute delay was mild compared to the folks in my office who live in DC, where the Metro wasn't coping so well.

It was still raining (though less ferociously) yesterday, and for much of today as well. Tonight we are supposed to get several more inches of rain, so hopefully I can get to work tomorrow.

Jaclyn and I went to see Calexico last night in DC. It was the first time I had been to the 9:30 Club, the best rock venue in the city. For those familiar with Minneapolis, I would call it a classier version of First Avenue. Since we didn't have anything else to do after work besides get dinner, we got to the club early and stood right up front, which I enjoy. The opener, Jason Collette, was quite good, I thought. Calexico was great, with that really nice southwest vibe that doesn't feel at all forced. I love the horns. And I was pleased that they played Crystal Frontier and Quattro (though not with the full mariachi band onstage). All in all, worth getting back to B-more at 1am.

Non-sequitor: For those who had some interaction with Josh Grier at Carleton, you might find it surreal to see him in a music video or on MTV.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Rainy Sunday

It's raining here today, so I'm just hanging around inside. We've had some pretty fierce thunderstorms throughout the week. Maura and I were leaving work at the same time on Monday amid one such storm, and since we were at risk of missing our MARC train, we made a break for the Metro despite the torrential downpour. Despite my travel umbrella, we got unbelievably soaked during the 2-block walk, and as we were getting on the escalator down to the Metro station, lightning struck the flagpole right in front of us. Yipes.

The weather was good, however, for the Physical Infrastructure picnic on Thursday. It was quite nice, though as government employees we had to pay for our picnic ourselves. The most amusing part of the day was the "Blue Book Toss." Blue Book is the colloquial name for a GAO report; mine only went about 10 feet.

Last weekend, Steve, an incoming MPP student, was here to check out the house. He seemed cool, and liked the house, so it looks like he'll be taking John's place. April has decided that she's going to stick around while she finds a job in Washington, so she'll be taking advantage of our extra bedroom for a couple months, and we'll find someone to replace her. To that end, Liz, another incoming MPPer, looked at the house today, and will decide by the end of the week whether she wants to live here. Jason is figuring out this week if he's moving out or not.

The mice had been gone for a while, but we just saw them again. Our landlord is going to come patch holes again tomorrow, but also offered to split the cost of an exterminator with us. I think we're going to do that, because the rodents are getting hard to take.

Anyway, it's hard to believe, but it's less than a week until my 4th of July camping trip in MN with Carleton folks. Should be great!

Sunday, June 18, 2006


I've recently started poking around YouTube. It turns out there are a lot of pretty cool music videos and live performances available there. If I've got this technology down correctly, I think you will now see a box below where you can watch a playlist of my favorites:

Note that if you click the button in the middle, it plays here; if you click elsewhere in the frame, it opens a new browser window to the clip page at YouTube.

Doug got me into this by sending me the link to Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" video last month (which is on this playlist). If you want to, you can see a larger list of my favorite videos at my YouTube profile page.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Fishy Fishy

Erin visited briefly on her way to visit Matt and Risa in NC, spending last night here. So I was a bit perplexed when I got home from work last evening to find a package waiting for me -- from Erin. This was odd, seeing as she would be arriving in a couple hours, and was driving, so it wasn't like bringing what was in the box would have been difficult.

I opened the box and found a ferocious shellacked fish:

There was no note or explanation, nor any reason I could think of that Erin would send me this fish. (It appears to be a piranha.)

So, Erin arrived later:

Me: By the way, uh, thanks, I got the fish today.

Erin: What?

Me: The fish you sent me -- I got it today.

Erin: Fish? I didn't send you a fish.

Me: [showing fish] Somebody else sent me this?

Erin: Holy crap!

We examined the box for clues.

If you look closely, you can see the letters "MSP" on the barcode sticker, and the ZIP code "55111" on the postage sticker, which was clearly purchased from an automated machine to avoid detection of the illegitimate return address. A check with the USPS website confirms that it was sent from Fort Snelling, which shares the same plot of land with the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

I think the evidence points to Sebastian/Becky as suspect number one. Other "persons of interest" include LJ, Hannah, Andrew, Eden and Alex.

Anyway, the piranha decided that Erin's coconut shampoo made her too pleasant-smelling to devour.

What's especially funny is that no one else knew Erin was visting yesterday, so the fish's near-simultaneous arrival was a coincidence.