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Saturday, April 29, 2006


Just this afternoon, I finally got around to putting the TerraPass I bought a few months ago onto my car.

This is a very cool idea. You tell them what kind of car you have and how many miles per year you drive it. Then they sell you a TerraPass that offsets the carbon dioxide emissions from your car for one year. This is done by investing the cost of the passes in projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions elsewhere, mostly renewable energy capacity. They calculate how many pounds of carbon emissions are eliminated based on your investment. It's a lot more affordable than you would think -- it cost me $30. My car is relatively efficient, and I don't drive much, but it's still relatively cheap even for people with more emissions.

Obviously, the calculations involved here are inexact. The more troublesome part is whether the carbon emission reductions your investment creates really wouldn't have happened without your money. I guess as an economic matter, every additional increment of investment expands a given industry. But every bit of money invested in, say, wind farms also has an effect on the decisions of others to invest. So that complicates things, but I can't imagine a scenario where TerraPass investment wouldn't decrease net overall carbon emissions. (Unless people feel less guilty about driving their cars as a result, and drive more -- but I don't think that's all that likely on a large scale.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Point, click

Reading through the booklet that Apple inserted in a 1984 issue of Newsweek promoting the launch of the Macintosh, this passage, extolling the mouse, is striking:
To tell Macintosh what you want to do, you simply move the mouse until you're pointing at the object of function you want.

Then click the button on top of the mouse, and you instantly begin working with that object. Open a file folder. Review the papers inside. Read a memo. Use a calculator. And so on.

An ad that has to explain to people what a mouse is! The tagline on that page is "If you can point, you can use a Macintosh, too." Only 20 years ago...

Still awake

I feel compelled to (semi-) publicly note that I did not go to sleep last night and yet it's after midnight tonight and I'm still awake. Not sure why, maybe my internal clock has just been wound a little too far and the gears are sproinging out all over the place.

The reason for the all-nighter was a term paper due in Social Policy today. It's done, though I did arrive 10 minutes late to class.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Glad I could help...

"Excuse me? Hi, it's my bachelorette party. I have this card here that says I'm supposed to find a bald man and kiss him on his head. I couldn't help noticing from across the bar...would you mind if I kissed the top of your head?"

She came back a minute later to do it again because her mother had forgotten to take a picture.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dear Leader

President Bush has apparently morphed into the mean-spirited alter ego of Dr. Seuss:
I'm the decider, and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense.

He also issued a stirring call for us to make decorative toothpicks out of all Truffula Trees.

Anyway, this is the sound of heels digging in.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter, Biking, Duckpin

Aunt Helena and Uncle Michael had me over to their place for Easter dinner. It was nice to get out of the city (they live in Severna Park, not too far from Annapolis) for a change, and it was good to see them and the girls, too. Oh yeah, and it was nice to have a home-cooked meal for a change, especially since my cooking ambitions have inexplicably waned recently. Helena made a sweet potato cassarole that I found especially good. We also went for a short trip on their boat.

Earlier in the day, Battle and I took a bike ride that we had talked about doing back in the fall, on the newly-completed Gwynn's Falls Trail in West Baltimore. (To those not from the mid-Atlantic region, a "falls" is a local name for what might elsewhere be known as a river or a creek. It took me a while to figure this out.) The trail starts near the Inner Harbor on city streets, goes past the football stadium, and passes through a decrepit industrial area, prompting Battle to observe, "This is sort of what I imagine the apocalypse would look like." It eventually gets into the undeveloped parkland surrounding the Gwynn's Falls. It's a pretty interesting ride, going through woods that make it hard to believe you're in Baltimore, but also occasionally emerging into neighborhoods, most of which are run-down but not menacing. Gwynn's Falls is pretty, but you can also tell where the high water mark is by where there stops being trash in the trees. We took a shortcut back home instead of retracing our path, and saw a number of people with very impressive Easter dresses and hats. All told, at a very hilly 15 miles, not bad considering I didn't do much biking this winter. (Here's the route we took.)

Turns out that duckpin bowling alley I was raving about, Patterson Bowling Center, is the oldest still-operating duckpin alley in the country (and therefore the world). And it also turns out that duckpin bowling was invented in Baltimore (but not at precisely that location). But there are only 70 alleys left today, according to this article in the Baltimore City Paper about the mechanic who keeps things running at Patterson. It turns out that the current owners bought the alley a few years ago with the specific intent of preserving duckpin amid its decline.

You can check out some additional duckpin history in this 10-year-old City Paper article that also involves Patterson. A few highlights: No one has ever bowled a 300 game in duckpin. "Duckpin country" is roughly bounded by Massachusetts to the north, North Carolina to the south, and Indiana to the west. There is also duckpin in the Phillipines. No one has made duckpin pinsetting equipment since the 1970s, so alleys that are still in existence have to scrounge machinery from alleys that are closing.

Anyway, pardon me if I'm assuming that you share my sudden fascination with duckpin bowling...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Deciding Whether to Panic

So, LJ and I were discussing in the comments to the previous post how terrifying all the talk about Iran is. The Seymour Hersh New Yorker article that everybody is talking about makes it sound like: 1) The Iranians are crazy, nobody knows how soon they will have nuclear weapons, but we know they want them. 2) George Bush and company are crazy, they are considering all sorts of unwise military options on Iran, and are seriously thinking about using tactical nuclear weapons to take out Iran's nuclear and military facilities.

Scary stuff indeed. I have no real way of evaluating how reliable this information is, but it seems possible that this portrayal is accurate. For now at least, Bush scares me more than Iran in this confrontation because his actions are less constrained by outside forces than Iran's. He apparently sees himself as the only one with the guts to confront this threat, and regime change is the ultimate goal. I don't need to tell you what a bad idea using nuclear weapons is.

Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo has been pointing out that the Iran threat talk bears a striking resemblance to administration strategy in the lead-up to our invasion of Iraq. So one logical line of inquiry is whether the threat is as severe as it is portrayed. Today, Josh notes one indicator pointing in the direction of over-hyping the threat: playing up the off-the-wall radicalism of the current president, while everyone spent the entire term of the former president (a moderate reformer) observing that his changes didn't really matter because all the power lies with the sane-but-hard-right Ayatollah Khamenei.

Not that this means there is nothing to worry about. But we'd be wise to try to figure out how much exaggerating is being done.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Okay, a break from politics -- it's been a while since I've posted what I'm up to.

I'm supposed to be swamped with free time now that I only have a normal number of classes, but it hasn't really seemed that way. Though I did goof off all Saturday. I guess one reason I've stayed busy is that I was asked to increase my hours at State Highway from about 12 to 16 per week. Nice to feel needed, and I enjoy it most of the time, so that's good. Earning money's always nice, too. (It'd be cool to write about what I'm doing there, but as per personal policy, I won't.)

Andrew P. visited as planned to check out the Hopkins fiction writing MFA program he'll be attending next fall. (Picking him up, I found out that I don't actually know how to get to the airport, but figured it out eventually.) It was cool to have him here for a few days; I gave him a brief Baltimore tour and told him the things I wished I had known before arriving. At one point he said something to the effect of "This place is so strange," and I must agree. (I'm looking forward to seeing more of it on my bike this summer.) He's trying to pick a neighborhood, and seemed to be leaning toward Mount Vernon, the very old and pretty neighborhood just north of downtown.

We hosted Chris S's 24th b-day party here on Friday. After some folks left for barhopping in Federal Hill, a few of us stayed behind and talked. I made a bet with Thom that Iowa won't have a nuclear plant for turning corn into ethanol fuel within 5 years. I think I'm gonna win this one, long as I remember to collect.

Saturday, we had an IPSSA (IPS Student Association to you) social event that was supposed to help us socialize with the international fellows, whom we barely know. But they ended up with something on their schedules that conflicted, so it was a bit of a failure from that point of view. The duckpin bowling place we went to, however, was awesome. It's in an only-recently-reviving neighborhood in east Baltimore, and is housed in a typically skinny two-story rowhouse -- I think there are maybe 5 lanes on each floor. For those who know our old Sunday morning hangout in Mpls, Stardust Lanes, this is even more authentically retro. Wood paneling, decrepit pin resetting/scoring equipment, a couple running it who are prone to making cranky announcements over the (perhaps unnecessary) PA system, and a rudimentary snack bar. And, I kid you not, it's BYOB. We brought a 24 case of beer. I think we need to go back before the hipsters find it and drive a stake through its authentic little heart.

That neighborhood (Patterson Park) also rose in my esteem a couple weeks ago when I rode my bike there and found an adorable bakery with the best doughnuts I've had in a long time. Patterson Park also has a strong Community Development Corporation that has been fixing things up, and another group doing a lot of good work on the titular park. I've arranged for the guy who founded the CDC to speak at IPS at the end of the month -- should be cool to see what he has to say, because the neighborhood is definitely a success story. And not in the "We drove out all the poor people and our new condos are awesome!" way.

Yesterday, I went to see the Orioles get beaten by the Red Sox with Ira (from Carleton) and two of his visiting Boston friends. It was good to get out, and Camden Yards is a really nice ballpark, even if they don't have a good team to go with it. I'd say the stadium was almost half Red Sox fans. I acquired a sunburn on the left side of my head. This is convenient because if I stand one way, it looks like I'd been out goofing off all weekend. If I stand the other way, it looks like I've been inside studying. I'm like a reversible parka.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Stewart and McCain

Like plenty of other people, I respect John McCain, because he has taken a lot of honorable stands on issues like global warming, campaign finance, and detainee torture* that made him unpopular in his own party. In general, he seems to have actual principles (though very conservative ones) that he uses to guide his actions.

But he's all but officially running for president, and seems to have decided that this time around he can't just run on "straight talk" and needs to ingratiate himself with the party faithful. So he's been making some nauseating attempts at that lately. In perhaps the most depressing such move so far, he's scheduled to be the commencement speaker at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. But John Stewart called him on it Tuesday night, and though McCain used humor to deflect the questions, he was clearly having trouble defending himself, and maybe a little sheepish that he had compromised his own principles. (Stewart ran a clip of him criticizing Falwell to start the interview. Watch the whole segment here.

* How sad is it that taking a stand against torturing our prisoners is an act of courage?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> Of Montreal - Requiem For O.M.M. 2
> Pretty Girls Make Graves - A Certain Cemetery
> Urban Hillbilly Quartet - Rapture of the Deep
> My Morning Jacket - Evelyn Is Not Real
> Super Furry Animals - Some Things Come From Nothing
> Butthole Surfers - Thermador
> The Pixies - UMass