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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Say Cheese

A picture of family members taking pictures to go along with the one I posted after Thanksgiving.

(The kids were posing for a picture.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas...

...from this soldier ornament I made in Cub Scouts in 1987.

Judging by his facial expression, he may have taken a nasty bayonette hit moments before.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Containing myself

I went to nearby Taqueria D.F. last night to get a takeout burrito for dinner, and inadvertently caused a bit of a scene by bringing my own container from home. (They have tasty food, but normally use those nasty styrofoam containers that blow my carbon footprint way out of proportion.)

The woman who took my order gave me an amused but pleasant smile when I asked if she could put my order in the container. As I sat and waited, a gregarious pair of older guys in at the table in the corner who obviously just hang out there all the time chatted away in Spanish and talked in broken English to the couple Anglo regulars who came in. When the lady emerged with my sturdily-packaged burrito, one of the guys asked me (in a friendly way) if I use my own container in order to keep the food warm. Responding to his incomplete English in only somewhat more complete Spanish, I said "Estoy tratando conservar...uh...." [confused looks] "...el medio ambiente y todo."* Which was the perfect opportunity for the gregariousness to spring into action for a short impromptu speech about how everybody, including him, talks talks talks talks talks [with hands moving to illustrate flapping mouths] about the environment, but here I am doing something about it! Bringing my own container! At which point I think everyone in the place was looking at me...it wasn't really uncomfortable, but I wasn't really sure what to say (or how to say it), so I just smiled, thanked him and left. But I think I had better bring my own container again next time I go, or I'll get razzed...

*Roughly, "I'm trying to conserve...the environment and all that."

Sunday, December 16, 2007


After Andrew noted that Google Street View had added imagery for Minneapolis, I browsed some of the other cities they added. I ended up getting sucked into a couple hours of wandering Detroit, which appears to be astoundingly dead in many areas. Baltimore has many depressing areas with few residents and boarded up buildings, but it does not compare with Detroit.

There appear to be large sections of the city where there is only a smattering of occupied houses, with the rest either abandoned or demolished. For instance, plunk yourself down at the intersection of Kirby and Mitchell, just five blocks south of the Cadillac Assembly Plant. The impression you get is that you're in the countryside, but for some reason there's a grid of streets running through it. (According to the Detroit Wikipedia entry, the term "urban prairie" has been coined for the vegetation taking over vacant lots.) You can catch glimpses of the overgrown vestigial sidewalks and a fire hydrant, but aside from that it ain't too urban-looking. Wander around and you can see just how few houses there are, and how many of the ones that remain are abandoned. (Just like Google Maps, you can drag the image to look around, and here you can click in the arrows on the streets to move to a new position, or just drag the figure that notes your position on the map.)

Nearby, something that is pretty urban-looking is the totally decimated commercial area on Chene Street. If you head northwest from there on Chene, you can see that it's block after block of dead businesses and vacant lots.

I also wandered by Partee Catering, an even-more-ragtag-than-usual storefront church, and one very glum park.

Learned from Wikipedia entry: The city's motto (translated from the Latin) is "We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes". (I wonder what it was before? In Baltimore, all those bus benches on dirty and desolate street corners proclaiming it "The Greatest City in America" seem a little sarcastic after a while, so count me a fan of Detroit acknowledging reality with its motto. Though "we hope for better things" strikes me as a bit passive.) Also, Detroit's population was 465,766 in 1910, and only 20 years later it was 1,568,662 amid the boom in the automobile industry -- dang. It peaked around 1.85 million, and is about 900,000 today.

Anyway, I really ought to get out of this internet rabbit hole and go to bed...

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I love this.

Admittedly, you may find it somewhat disturbing.

Turns out Liars are coming to DC in February -- I'd been wanting to see them for a while, so this is excellent news.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cruising Minneapolis

Andrew noticed that Minneapolis has just gotten Google Street View, and that the 35W bridge (and its construction port-o-potty) are alive and well in the images.

It also allows me to take nostalgic glances at my old apartment, grocery store, favorite pizzeria, favorite bakery/restaurant, light rail station, asian grocery, and beloved bike trail.

EDIT: You can also see the desk that David put out by the curb. Whoa.

Oil map

Andrew Sullivan doesn't credit anyone with this map he posts, so I'm not sure who made it. But it shows the nations of the world in proportion to the oil they have in the ground (with color coding for consumption).

[click for larger version]

In summary, we'll be in hock to the Saudis for a long, long time unless we get our act together.

Seek the Homogenized

From the new NY Times Magazine piece about Mike Huckabee*:

"Six weeks ago, I met Huckabee for lunch at an Olive Garden restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. (I had offered to take him anywhere he wanted and then vetoed his first choice, T.G.I. Friday’s.)"

I'm trying to stay away from politics on the blog, but this I can tell you: I do not want a president whose first choice of restaurant in all of New York is T.G.I. Friday's (and whose second choice is The Olive Garden).

*Interesting, if a little excessively mean at times.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Animal Collective - Banshee Beat
> The Smiths - Well I Wonder
> Radiohead - Videotape [mp3]
> Richard Thompson - Cooksferry Queen
> The Arcade Fire - Keep the Car Running [YouTube]
> Feist - Sea Lion Woman [YouTube]

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


The "Religious Views:" field on Facebook is a reliable source of amusement and quirks (if not so much of actual religious views -- 72% of my friends don't post anything).

A browse through the profiles of my friends (or is that Friends, or "friends"?) finds the following Religious Views represented:

I believe in the essential vowel nature of the letter Y.
Politically Progressive Militant Agnostic
Magical Realism
Christian - Lutheran
Gnostical Turpitude
self serving
Unitarian Universalist
Jewish - Naturalist
New York Yankees
I like communion wine and those wafer things.
I believe in the Almighty coffee bean.
Roman Catholic
Intractable conflict generator

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I was going to send this cell phone picture I took to the very amusing “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks, but I think the photo came out a little too blurry for that.

I took this at Quiznos (I know, I know, but it's right across the street and I was very hungry) -- perhaps they suspected the substance in the soup of being turkey. Plus, bonus misspelling of "chilli."

Browsing that blog, I point you to someone who is doubly confused about how to use quotation marks, as well as what is only secondarily a bad use of quotes, primarily just a pretty stupid church slogan. (Oh, hold on, I think this is probably my favorite.)

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Hey, I had this same idea!

The video trick, I mean. I think it looks especially cool at around -1:15 when Thom Yorke is weaving his head back and forth, because it looks like his head is waggling his body. An added bonus is that this is one of my favorite tracks from In Rainbows.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Teach the children

Here's a picture Davin took of me at Thanksgiving. I am showing our cousins how to bounce really high on the trampoline while lying on your back.

Monday, November 26, 2007

True Crime

Browsing the Washington Post's Google-mash-up crime map
for my neighborhood, this crime catches my eye:
10:50 p.m. June 17
Two males approached a male pedestrian. One showed a handgun and took the pedestrian's cellphone, then made a call and returned it. The robbers fled. Two men, ages 40 and 37, were arrested.

Well, there are fewer pay phones these days...

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I'm back in DC after a very enjoyable Thanksgiving with my family in Connecticut. (Between the earlier-than-usual Thanksgiving and a warmer-than-average fall, there was also still a good bit of fall foliage, which I've not really been in CT to see since 1998.)

I was rummaging in the basement a bit while I was down there playing ping pong with Davin, and came across a few rather outdated items (I think all of them originally came from other basements, like my great-grandmother's). Marketing has definitely changed over the years -- check out this old tic-tac-toe game:
According to the package, it's a game of "skill and concentration." I also like how it says the game is "fun to win" -- well, yeah...though if you manage to win at tic-tac-toe, it probably means you're playing a 5-year-old.

This is not as old, but this baby is psyched about his Pee Dee Dose.

Aside from the very period-specific illustration on the game Trouble, note that its tagline is the "new frustrating chase game." Who wrote that ad copy? "Hey kids, let's play the new frustrating chase game!"

Friday, November 23, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Safety Dance

If you should find yourself in the medieval English countryside accompanied by a colorfully-dressed midget and doing The Safety Dance, make sure your facial expression is super-serious so that nobody tries to mess with you.

(Andrew Sullivan is holding a best-worst 80's video contest.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Really Good Hummus

In a very exciting development, Giant now sells the best hummus there is (readymade, at least) -- Sabra hummus. I picked up some this evening, and the following exchange took place at the register:

Grocery Bagger Dude: [quizzical] Hummus? What's hummus?
Cashier Lady: [perking up, after sullenly ignoring my "Hi, how are you?" a few moments before] Yeah, what is that? Everybody's been buying it.
Me: Well, it's made with chick peas, olive oil...and other stuff...it's really good. It's Middle-Eastern.* Everybody's buying it because this particular hummus is really, really good.
Grocery Bagger Dude: What do you eat it with?
Me: People eat it with pita bread, or you could put it on a sandwich, or you can dip vegetables in it.
Cashier Lady: Huh, crazy, I never heard of that.
Grocery Bagger Dude: You learn something new every day.

Now, if only Giant would stock my favorite Sabra variety, Hummus with Roasted Pine Nuts...

*Although my geoculinary description is more accurate, Sabra has apparently done some market research and found that "Go Mediterranean!" makes a better slogan than "Go Middle-Eastern!", which, at this particular political moment might be taken by some to mean "Go Terrorist!" (Also, real hummus is made with tahini, not olive oil.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Turning over a new leaf

...a new mutant leaf, that is! I went out for a bike ride late this afternoon and found this:

I'm not sure what kind of tree this is, but the leaves are huuuge. I was on a bike trail that's a branch off of Rock Creek; it's not very heavily used, and it was covered with fall leaves, so I had to be careful. But these ones are trouble, you could practically get your front and back wheel on one at the same time...here's where I found it in case you want to get one of your own.

Personal footprint goals

I had calculated my environmental footprint as part of an assignment for Global Change Biology back at Carleton, but I can't remember how it came out. There are a number of tools available online for calculating your environmental footprint, so I tried out ZeroFootprint.

All of these calculations are quite approximate (and many of my estimates of transportation, food, electricity, etc. are also approximate), but my carbon footprint comes out to 16.2 tons of carbon annually. My "ecological" footprint is 3.8 hectares/year. (How this second one is calculated is less clear to me, and I'm not sure if they interact.) For reference, the average American's carbon footprint is 13.1 tons, and the average ecological footprint is 6.3 hectares. So, despite the fact that I prefer to think of myself as environmentally aware, my carbon footprint is above average; I think a big part of my ecological footprint being low is that I don't eat a lot of meat, and generate relatively low amounts of garbage.

On my carbon footprint, the thing that really hurts me is air travel, which has huge carbon emissions. I flew a lot last year (Peru, Europe, Minnesota), and flying accounted for 6 tons out of my total 16. Other big sources were, not surprisingly, food and home energy use.

Since I'm already biking to work, one of the easier reductions is already factored in. But I've set the following modest goals for reducing my footprint:
  • Fly 50% less. This should actually be pretty easy, since I already wasn't planning to travel as much in the next year as I did in the past year.

  • Grow some of my own food. This will be pretty miniscule in the scheme of things, but we've already got garden beds, and it's satisfying, too.

  • Compost organic waste. Madeleine left a compost bin in the back yard, so this isn't too hard, either. I just have to make the effort to collect and take out the compost. Plus, synergy with growing my own food.

  • Put electronics with transformers/without "hard" power switches on power strips so they don't suck energy while they're not being used.

I post this in the hopes that having told other people, it will make me more likely to actually follow through. According to ZeroFootprint, these reductions come out to about a drop of about 3.5 tons (everything besides the flying is a pretty small change). Not that great, but enough to put me just under the average American.

EDIT: Some motivation for reducing your individual environmental impact from No Impact Man, who has some good thoughts about the false choice between individual and political change:
"Actually, in my optimism, I believe wholeheartedly that both how I vote and how I live influences how other people vote and how they live, at least if I'm willing to talk about it. Also, calling a politician up to tell them that I already try not to make waste is more powerful than opining that society shouldn't make waste. It all mingles and merges."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bike comparison

Last night I rode my new bike home from work, and then went out for groceries on my old bike (which, at this point, is the only one with a basket). It felt like it was broken or something -- as if someone had bent the frame all out of shape. I guess it's kind of like trying to jump after getting off a trampoline and feeling like you're tethered to the ground. Part of it is just that it's different, but it also drove home how much more I like the way my new bike rides...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


This picture from outside Bhutto's house in Lahore has it all -- a sulky man, a high-stepping police officer, and a tasty sandwich.

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Tom Tancredo achieves a mash-up of two kinds of xenophobia:

Excellent parody of immigration and national security politics, Tom. Oh...you're not kidding? Okay.

Monday, November 12, 2007

New Bike!

I bought a new bike! See:

It's a Surly Cross-Check. I plunked my money down yesterday, and picked it up this afternoon with all my accessories installed (I got a duplicate pair of brake levers installed on the upper bar). I spent a long time deciding whether to buy it, but I definitely felt like I had made the right decision while riding it home today. It's so light and nimble, yet solid-feeling, compared to my old bike (which I'm holding onto for situations where it's called for). It'll be great to ride it to work, but it's a three-day weekend for us government workers, so I'm going to take it out for a big ride tomorrow (after the scheduled game of Risk with Zach and Adam).

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bike bits

Seems like I've been spending a lot of time thinking about bikes and biking recently:

  • Somehow I managed to break the rear axle on my year-old bike. For a few weeks I had been noticing that there was more play in the rear hub than there usually is, to the point where when I really pumped the pedals starting from an intersection, the tire would sometimes rub the frame a little. Wasn't sure what to make of that, but last week I got a flat, and after I fixed it, the back wheel was seriously goofy, visibly wobbling as I pedaled. I may not know enough to have noticed it while I had the wheel off, but the dudes at the bike shop figured it out right away. Anyway, that set me back $50...

  • Although having just invested money in my current bike makes it harder to justify, I am seriously pining after a Surly Cross-Check. Andrew was nice enough to let me use his when I visited Minneapolis last summer, and I really liked it, more than the other bikes I've tried. City Bikes has one left...it's white, it fits me, and I've test-ridden it three times now. And they're sold out wholesale, so once this one is gone, I can't put my hands on another for a while. It's so much better to ride than my Tiburon (which may as well be a Hyundai by comparison), but it's a $1,000 investment. Sigh...I can feel myself breaking down.

  • I only make two left turns on my ride to work, but they're definitely the trickiest part of the ride. In both places the road is four-lane, so I have to move through two lanes of traffic going in the same direction as me before I actually turn. The traffic usually isn't going much faster than me, so it's not terrible, but it definitely requires care. This morning, I signaled and moved into an opening in traffic large enough to fit a car, and paused a moment to make sure there was space to move into the next lane. As I was glancing back, I saw that the lady in the Honda behind me was positively fuming, yelling at me through her windshield and gesturing wildly with her hands. I didn't react or anything, just moved into the next lane, but seriously...I signaled, gave more space than a car would have, and was only keeping her from the traffic at the red light up ahead. I see this sort of anger from time to time, and I really don't know where it's coming from -- pardon me for turning left.

  • I am trying to convince myself that I do not need to buy one of these shirts.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


A man visiting from Japan gets hauled off an Amtrak train in New Haven by the police for...taking pictures out the window (which, it turns out, is not against the rules). I'm guessing he looked a little too Arab for the conductor -- who should really read James Fallows' Declaring Victory. Terrorists cannot destroy our country -- only we can.

Convenience store mirrors

From We Are Real by the Silver Jews:

my ski vest has buttons like convenience store mirrors
and they help me see
that everything in this room right now
is a part of me

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

That Would Be a Big Splat

Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav makes an excellent human-size mosquito in this PSA for an NGO that provides mosquito nets in Africa to prevent malaria:

Monday, November 05, 2007


Your perspective on the world is different when you're a biologist's kid:

"Dr. Kunkel once encountered a roach at a restaurant, and his 4-year-old son blurted 'Daddy, there is a Blatella germanica!' The other diners didn’t make the connection, he recalled, and he finished his meal."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fashion Flashback

In 1977, it was totally hip for guys to hang out with their friends in sundress-length "stretch terry" polo shirts.

A blogger has a field day with the 1977 JC Penney Catalog. "All-Purpose Jumpsuit" and all.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Renaissance Man

Sufjan Stevens:
> Songwriter extraordinaire.
> Analyzer of Brooklyn-Queens Expressway detritus.
> Philosopher of highways and hula hoops.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


The jack-o-lantern I carved last night: It's got frickin' nostrils!

He did not scare away enough of the trick-or-treaters -- I ran out of candy. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wedding on the TV on the Radio

Somebody made this video for TV on the Radio's "I Was A Lover." At first I wasn't sure what I thought, but after finishing it, I decided it was completely awesome. You may hate it, but give it a try:


I saw The Weakerthans at the 9:30 Club this evening. Really good show, and I picked up their new album.

I went by myself, which I don't do all that often. That left me time to contemplate something that occasionally runs through my head at shows: What would a society comprised entirely of fans of a given band be like? For example:

Rage Against the Machine fans - Complete disaster. A mix of anti-authority sentiment and aggressive tendencies does not make for a coherent or cohesive society.

Xiu Xiu fans - I think Xiu Xiu Land would be kind of a nice place to live, but it would be very quirky. I think some very interesting traditions would develop -- there might be a national holiday dedicated to citizens reading their own confessional poetry in public places, for instance. Social norms would be much different across the board.

The Decemberists fans - First of all, 89% of the population would wear glasses. Everyone would be quite polite, and good at listening. 20% of the public budget would be devoted to arts. Actually, I think Decemberists Land would rather resemble Scandinavia.

I was thinking tonight at the Weakerthans show that their fans would be the ones whose society I would most like to inhabit. The band writes songs that skillfully and compassionately pick apart the human condition, and the fans have one of the highest rates of people singing/mouthing the lyrics that I've seen. People in the crowd are really polite, but friendlier and not as reserved as with some other bands.

Now, if I could only exert this much energy thinking about more practical matters...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Pavement - Stereo [YouTube]
> Radiohead -Jigsaw Falling Into Place [mp3]
The new album is pretty good on first couple listens. This track stuck out.
> Joanna Newsom - Sawdust & Diamonds [awesome YouTube]
I finally started listening to this album, and this song stopped me in my tracks.
> Olivia Tremor Control - Memories of Jacqueline 1906
> Sufjan Stevens - Romulus [YouTube, poor music video]
In the running for saddest song I know.
> The Smiths - The Headmaster Ritual [extremely retro YouTube]

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Three-Way Race

You may have seen this elsewhere, but be sure to note the results of the latest Rasmussen presidential poll:

Clinton (D) 45%
Giuliani (R) 35%
Colbert (I) 13%

Colbert also drew 12% against Fred Thompson. In their writeup, Rasmussen rightly italicizes "In both match-ups, Colbert has more support with young voters than the GOP candidate." To repeat, more young people said they'd vote for a mock candidate than the candidate of a major party. Of course, one hopes and expects that those people would not pull the lever for Colbert if they were actually voting, but it does say something about the level of disaffection.

Monday, October 22, 2007

From the Fridge (an occasional feature)

The other day, I was rooting through my official "box of random junk that is useful in certain circumstances" (I believe everyone has such a box/drawer/etc.), trying to find the safety pins that my mother had sent to college with me. No luck with those, but I did find my old Magnetic Poetry Kit, which I had pretty much forgotten about. I put it up on the fridge (actually sort of time-consuming, there are 400+ magnets), and it was soon providing me with amusement while waiting for my soup to heat up or whatever.

I've decided to occasionally post pictures of the poetry that appears on our fridge. Satisfaction not guaranteed. Here's one:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Onion

Haven't looked at The Onion that much recently, but this video news bit is pretty funny -- they really nail the tone and style of TV newscasts. The snippet from the district attorney's news conference just kills me...

Beyonce Unhurt After Stray Bullet Miraculously Hits Passerby Instead

(Also, in the news ticker at the bottom of the screen: "New videotape from Quaker extremists hints at plans to befriend thousands.")

Alloy Wheels

"...males must compete for female attention. That means evolution is busy selecting for antlers, aggression and alloy wheels in males, at the expense of longevity." -The Economist

Concert Coincidence

I went to a concert this evening by the Canadian band Stars. It was a great show -- actually, NPR did a webcast of it, so you can listen to it here if you like. They're sort of like Arcade Fire, but with apocalyptic angst replaced with lovelorn angst.

Anyway, I met up with Aron at the show, and we were waiting a while for James, a friend of his. When I came back from getting some water, James had shown up, and brought a friend of his along. My brain sputtered for a moment as he was about to introduce me to his friend, and then I realized the reason I had been thrown was because his friend is Seth Kingery, who I know from Carleton (but not well enough to know he's in DC). Weird. We caught up a bit...turns out he lives just south of me...

Friday, October 19, 2007


I finally succeeded in obtaining a ping pong table this week.

It was an effort...I got a Zipcar pickup truck, headed out into 'burb oblivion in NoVa (Northern Virginia, for those not in the know), and the guy helped me disassemble it and load it in the back. Zachary helped me set it up when I got back.

But it was definitely worth it, because I HAVE A PING PONG TABLE!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


This web ad, which appeared when I went to look at my ClustrMap, doesn't seem all that effective to me. Mostly because the woman looks like she's being held hostage, but has been told to smile.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Store smell

I was walking down the street near my office yesterday and thought to myself, half subconsciously, "Hey, it smells like a CVS here." Then I looked up, and sure enough, someone was just coming out the door of a CVS pharmacy. What is it that makes all their stores have a distinctive smell? I would be surprised if it were intentional...probably a combination of the carpet, sugary merchandise and various VOCs coming off of vinyls and plastics. Anyway, I think a list of chains with distinctive smells is in order:

> CVS - As discussed above.
> Subway - This one's pretty strong, and can often be detected from a distance. It's quite consistent...I suspect it's the bread they bake on-site, probably with some special chemicals in it to facilitate the shipping/baking of the dough.
> Dairy Queen - Not quite as consistent, but in DQ's walk-in locations, there is usually a light, clean, almost antiseptic scent. I'm guessing it's the ice cream.
> Burger King - No consistent smell inside (though I haven't been in one for years), but the smell of cooking from outside is distinctive among fast food restaurants. They all smell like greasy food, but BK has a much more noticeable charbroil scent.

Hrm, so CVS is the only non-food example I can think of. The phenomenon is much more interesting when its source is mysterious...I bet I'll remember some more later. (Feel free to help me out in the comments.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Old/New Bike

Check out this crazy bike. It really cracks me up that it has a brake cable down to that tiny back wheel...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Modern Movements

Now that TimesSelect is no more, NYT columnists are again free to roam the most-emailed articles list. (Which, I admit, has undue influence on which articles I read.) Today, both Tom Friedman and David Brooks talk in broad terms about my generation. This stuff is kind of ponderous on the whole, but the second half of Friedman's column gets at a real issue -- the changing means of political activism:

"America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q [Ugh! Another Friedman coinage! -ed.]. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them.

"Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms. Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual."

Okay, good point. Much of what now passes for political action is totally lame and impotent (e.g. the ONE Campaign), but large quantities of people marching in the streets still have the power to force action, or at least change the debate. However, I've heard some folks, especially people my age, saying that mass protests are outdated, a relic of another era. And it's true that there hasn't really been a successful mass movement (to my mind, anyway) in the U.S. since the civil rights/Vietnam era. So I'm not convinced that protest marches remain the best political tool for grassroots movements at this moment in our history -- they may be, but it's worth considering the alternatives.

(A slightly peripheral observation: Economic research I've read about says that the value people place on their time has increased substantially in recent decades. Given that the biggest cost in attending a rally is time (especially if you're taking the overnight bus to DC from Minnesota), this could be a factor in the difficulty of getting together a big march to protest, say, the Iraq War. But I would guess that cynicism and lack of consensus on alternative policies play a big role, too.)

So, what are the alternatives to protest marches? I admit that I don't have a good answer for that. But I think we can identify some basic characteristics that would make an effective mechanism for mass political pressure. Movements need to demonstrate the depth of their commitment to the cause to political leaders, as well as galvanize/convince fellow citizens. With protest marches, the commitment is shown by virtue of the fact that people have taken the time to come to the rally just for the sake of the political cause. The convincing of other members of the public is helped by the same mechanism ("gee, I guess it is important, all these people care about it so much"), as well as by the fact that people tend to feel more comfortable on a bandwagon.

Any alternative to protest marches would have to demonstrate to political leaders the commitment of the individuals involved, and some mechanism to speak to and convince not-yet-committed citizens is also needed. Current internet activism tends to fail this test -- "click to sign petition" merely signals that you had an extra minute at the end of your lunch break. Your resolve might be much greater, but the people who get the petition won't know. MoveOn.org has tried to organize real world protests in many cities using email bulletins, but I'm not sure this is effective -- too dispersed. (MoveOn might be considered successful if you look at all their activities, but many of their techniques are actually pretty old-school, and I'm not sure they're really a mass protest movement, anyway.) It seems like there should be some virtual or real-world action that people could take as part of an online-organized protest movement which would take some commitment and signal the importance of the issue. And new communications technology could give it an advantage over protest marches in the persuading of fellow citizens.

Anyway, if I had a really compelling, specific vision of what that could be, I guess I might be off trying to make it happen. But although I don't have any actual ideas (and this makes for a pretty boring end to a blog post), I'm not writing off the possibility that someone will make online activism really work by inventing a new model. Though, until that comes along, we could probably use several different protest marches, stat.

Monday, October 08, 2007

New York

A great long weekend all around -- I always enjoy going to visit Alex in New York, but we did a particularly large number of cool things this time. We browsed galleries in Chelsea, which was surprisingly enjoyable, and went to a modern dance event. I got to hang out with Shane and Nina, who are now living in the city, and who (very coincidentally) were also hanging out with a couple GAO intern friends of mine from last summer. I guess the world of public policy folks is pretty small.

And one particular highlight was this art installation called "A Psychic Vacuum," which was one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time. Basically, this artist convinced the city to let him use an entire large abandoned building on the Lower East Side (conveniently, right near Doughnut Plant) for an art installation that's open for a couple months. First clue that it's unusual: you have to sign a waiver before going in. Then, you enter through a derelict Chinese restaurant:

Then you head out the back door and into a dingy, dirty maze of rooms filled with very evocative junk. Some of it was found in place in the building, some was put there by the artist, but he did a very convincing job, and the line between art and reality is very hard to identify. The overall effect is of a place that was abandoned many times by different people doing different things, but they all left behind evidence of their situation that has somehow remained in creepy stasis. There weren't very many other visitors, and wandering through the space for an hour or so, opening rickety doors and hitting dead ends, was quite immersive. Very, very cool -- I put up a gallery of photos on Flickr.

As if that weren't enough to keep me occupied, there was also the blockbuster concert on Randall's Island with Les Savy Fav, Blonde Redhead, LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire. It was a great show -- I had been picturing a more traditional club-sized show, but there were 25,000 people there, according to the Village Voice. This would have been a problem if we were way back, but thanks to our hours of stolid standing to keep our place, we we up reasonably close to the stage. Here's Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav after running past me into the crowd with his very long mic cable and his, erm, "body" suit:

LCD Soundsystem's set was great -- and I agree with Andy that everything besides "Someone Great" came off very well (I especially liked "All My Friends").

The Arcade Fire's performance was pretty impressive. The Village Voice article framed it as nouveaux stadium rock, and it was anthemic -- they do drama well. The stagecraft enhanced that, with monochrome red projections on the curtain behind them, and screens on the stage cutting to shots from tiny cameras positioned on microphones at key moments. This blurry picture doesn't do it justice, but gives an idea:

Since the show was on an island without subway service, we walked back to Queens over the looong Triborough Bridge with thousands of other concertgoers, which was actually pretty neat with Manhattan all lit up. Random shots from my visit are up in another set on Flickr.

Once back in DC, I finished off the weekend with a Pinback concert last night, "government brunch" at our house today (for all us government workers with Columbus Day off), and a hike along the Potomac with Louise. If only I had more 4-day weekends...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Sufjan Stevens - For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti
Damn, I cannot believe how good Sufjan is.
> The National - All the Wine [mp3]
> The Decemberists - Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)
This album is great, and they're in town next month.
> Spoon - My Little Japanese Cigarette Case [mp3]
> Superchunk - Why Do You Have to Put a Date on Everything
> Wolf Parade - I'll Believe in Anything [YouTube]
> Arcade Fire - Keep the Car Running

I'm taking Friday off and heading up to NYC this coming weekend. Alex got us tickets to see a concert featuring LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Les Savy Fav and Blonde Redhead -- given that the first three all appear on my list of favorite artists, I'm pretty pumped.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Dealing with the tail has always been a problem"

Corporate training videos are inherently funny (unfortunately, you have to stifle the laughter). When the subject matter is how to play the freakish-looking Chuck E. Cheese mouse (rat?) character, and the video was made in the 1980s, there are some serious comic possibilities. Via Andrew Sullivan:

Peachy Scene

The weather is absolutely gorgeous this weekend. It's in very pleasant limbo between summer and fall (though I would have no objection to all-out fall, either). One sure sign that the seasons are changing: There were some peaches lingering around the farmer's market last week, but none this week. I bought three peaches last week, and while two were mediocre, the last one was awesome. I cut it up and put it on top of vanilla ice cream...I post this picture as a memorial to the passing of summer.

Monday, September 24, 2007

New House

The view out my window at dusk this evening (Andrew Sullivan-style). I have posted a few photos of my new house over at Flickr.

I was hot on the trail of a ping pong table for the basement earlier this evening on craigslist, but somebody beat me to it. Soon, though...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Neighborhood

I've been living in Columbia Heights for a couple weeks now. A few observations on the neighborhood:
  • The neighborhood is definitely diverse -- the apartment building behind us appears to be exclusively Latino, along with most of the large buildings in the area; the single-family rowhomes like ours seem to be mixed black and white residents.

  • Mount Pleasant, a historically Latino neighborhood just across 16th Street from us, is a really nice amenity. There's a small independent hardware store, a bakery (with good doughnuts!), ethnic takeout food ("Burrito-Fast", anyone?), a bank, and several Latino groceries. There's also a small but good farmer's market on Saturdays, the best news there is that my favorite fruit vendor from Baltimore, Reid's Orchard, is also at this one. Their fruit is great, and their apple selection is huge. (If you've never had the opportunity to try a Pink Lady apple, I highly recommend it.)

  • When my friend Paul was in town last week, I took him to a bar in Columbia Heights that I had heard was cool. The Wonderland Ballroom turns out to be really cool indeed -- an awesome jukebox, grungy vibe, neighborhood crowd my age, patio out front, and, amazingly for DC, cheap food and beer (who can argue with "$2 footlong hotdogs with chili and/or cheese"?). Nice to have this in the neighborhood.

  • The local Giant (supermarket) is good, though about a 10-min walk. And though I'm somewhat ashamed to say it, I'm really looking forward to when Target (and Staples, and Marshall's, and Bed Bath & Beyond...) opens across the street in a few months. Big-box chain stores they may be, but those big boxes will be stacked and shorn of their surface parking lots, and it's mighty handy to be able to walk down the block and buy pretty much anything you might need.

  • As for neighbors we've met, the retired couple who live to one side of us seem to be very nice. The husband told us to avoid the guy who's often sitting on the front porch to the other side of us. The guy seems relatively harmless, but he's pretty much always drunk, and wears his flourescent mesh Comcast contractor safety vest no matter what he's doing (which may be a result of the drunkeness, or it may be meant to convey an air of authority, or both). In any case, turning down his offers of handyman help does seem like a wise idea.

  • The bike ride to work turns out to be about 20 minutes, a tad longer than I had hoped, but still pretty good. I have a bike lane most of the way, and there are more cyclists than in Baltimore, so it feels comfortable.

Anyway, I'm really liking the new place. And with the loaner dining room table that Laura and Stephen so kindly delivered today, the house is feeling pretty homey. Come visit...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is only a couple blocks from my office, and like all Smithsonian museums, it's free, making it a good place to go during lunch. I finally walked over there yesterday, with relatively low expectations because the idea of portraits didn't really excite me -- I was really just looking for a peaceful break from the office. But it was surprisingly satisfying. For one, the building is rather grand, providing lots of dignified peace and quiet for lunchtime ruminations (especially in the middle of a weekday). As I Iearned from a nice little exhibit on its history, the building was originally the Patent Office, then the largest office building in the U.S. at 333,000 square feet (I wasn't taking notes, that's just an easy number to remember). They needed all that space because back in the 19th century, not only did they keep lots of paper records, but patent regulations required aspiring inventors to submit models of their inventions. The building's great hall was filled with display cases holding tens of thousands of models of newfangled gadgets, which attracted many visitors. It would be really awesome if we were still able to gawk at mock-ups of all the little wrong turns in forward progress, but most of the models were lost in a fire in the late 1800s.

Anyway, like I was saying, the Portrait Gallery is actually pretty interesting, too. (It shares the building with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which I've not been to yet.) Part of why it works is that the context they provide for the portraits makes them more meaningful, and even if you've seen that famous portrait of George Washington hundreds of times, seeing the (rather large) original goes a long way toward making you actually look at it. And while it might be different for someone who is more immersed in history than me, the touches of personality detectable in some of the portraits I looked at reminded me that these larger-than-life historical figures were actually people. (I realize this reads as incredibly corny and cliche, but this is the actual reaction I had.) This photo of Lincoln, taken shortly before he was assassinated, was particularly striking when looking at the large print in person:

Along those lines, watching footage of FDR giving speeches also made him a less imposing historical figure, and made today's political discourse seem a little less depressing by reminding me that the history book version doesn't really do justice to the crass everyday give-and-take of politics -- which makes the historical points of reference look better than the churning mess you're immersed in.

Well, enough meandering -- in any case, I'm glad to have these museums down the street (and the National Building Museum right across the street).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Live in DC

With some help from my parents this weekend, I moved my remaining things to my new house in Columbia Heights, and am now officially living here. Still lots of unpacking to do, and our living room, dining room and sunroom are seriously lacking furniture, but it's really good to be done with the moving around. I'm also pumped about the new place -- it's really nice, really clean (grime- and dust-wise), and has central air. I feel a little guilty about the central air, but it is really nice.

I will post some pictures later, more for my benefit than yours...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No, you can't come in

(Sorry.) This was followed by susequent appearances at the screen door, asking "How about just with this intestine-spilling torso?", and other progressively more disgusting versions. It follows the original critter-munching incident, and another one this past weekend while Kitty was in town when Hershey turned a bird into a pile of feathers in broad daylight.

I realize this is all very deep-seated in dog instincts, but seriously, does an elderly eleven-year-old dog need to keep it up? And Hershey, if you're trying to make me barf, you're definitely on the right track...

Anyway, the dog and I will only be spending a bit more time with each other -- I'll be moving into my new place on Monday, with some help from my parents this weekend.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> The Decemberists - Sons and Daughters [mp3]
> Spoon - Finer Feelings [downloadable mp3 stream]
> Washington Phillips - What Are They Doing in Heaven Today
>Weezer - Undone (The Sweater Song) [YouTube]
> Sufjan Stevens - Detroit! Lift Up Your Weary Head (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)
> TV on the Radio - Province [mp3]

Saturday, September 01, 2007


From an article in the Washington Post on Republicans' bleak hopes in the Senate for the 2008 election:
"It's always darkest right before you get clobbered over the head with a pipe wrench. But then it actually does get darker," said a GOP pollster who insisted on anonymity in order to speak candidly.


Thursday, August 30, 2007


Charming song lyric of the day (Bjork - The Modern Things):
All the modern things
Like cars and such
Have always existed
They've just been waiting in a mountain
For the right moment
Listening to the irritating noises
Of dinosaurs and people
Dabbling outside

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Housemate selected

I guess I never posted about the conclusion of our housemate search. Not like you were waiting on the edge of your seat, but I can report that Zachary will be joining Kate and I in the house. It's a good sign that he rides his bike to get around, and he works at the Federal Reserve, which makes us a 100% federal employee house (Kate being at NIH).

An appropriate epilogue to the small-world coincidences surrounding the housemate-seeking: Today at work, this guy Dan, who sits just down the hall, stopped by my desk to ask if I was the Teague he had emailed with about the house (he ended up staying in his current place). He's going to come by to play some ping pong once I get a table...
This Dept. of Homeland Security web ad is just begging to be used in a large number of "your mom" jokes...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Miss South Carolina

Okay, this is a little too easy and kind of mean to post, but I couldn't resist. Dear lord...

(From the most-viewed list on YouTube)

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Underdog

Not to be lame and just post music clips, but I'm totally addicted to this song, "The Underdog," from Spoon's new album. The trumpet part is catchy as anything, and the song has that subtle sense of drama that Spoon does so well. As a bonus, the song also has a great (and impressive!) one-shot video.

And after a YouTube commenter said this, I couldn't help but notice myself: It sounds quite a bit like 1980s Billy Joel. Especially at 2:54 remaining (0:56 in), as Britt Daniel sings the line about "got no regard for the thing that you don't understand," it really reminds me of a Billy Joel song I can't quite place (it helps that his voice is similar to begin with):

I keep hearing great things about their new album, I really should pick it up...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Art Brut

I'm a little late to this party, but it has come to my attention that Art Brut are a pretty good band. It's hard not to get sucked in by the idiosyncratic non-rockstar stage persona of Eddie Argos, the lead singer, which is on display in this live set [Quicktime].

Another interesting twist to the band: They have "franchises" -- other musicians who sign up to call themselves "Art Brut 35" or whatever (the original band is Art Brut 0) and get to play covers of their songs. The band doesn't charge; as Marketplace tells it, it's a punk rock thing. And as Marketplace also points out, it can be a form of guerilla marketing, though a pleasantly forthright and uncynical one.

(Also, is their drummer drumming standing up?)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Puppy Saviors

A promo seen on weather.com:

Which is a pretty stupid question, of course. Puppies can save anything they want to.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


The Baltimore Sun gets credit for having the weirdest multimedia feature I've seen, allowing you to try different styles of moustache on celebrities like David Beckham and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. (It goes with this article on moustaches being in fashion in certain circles.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

CARE Tells Agribusiness to Shove It

Erin was talking the other day (well, blogging, actually) about people in farm country trying to opt out of the existing deeply flawed agricultural system. When I posted a comment on her post, I talked about how hard it is to break out of the long-standing interest-group-driven political consensus, but that there might be some hope of change.

And this week in the NY Times, there was a sign of resistance: CARE, one of the biggest overseas aid charities, turned down $45 million in government food aid because the system is inefficient and, more crucially, undermines the very people they are trying to help.

In a nutshell: The US government buys agricultural commodities from US agribusinesses (a nice market subsidy), ships them to Africa (or wherever), turns them over to the aid organizations, who then sell the food on the local market to raise money to support their programs. Among the problems pointed out in the article: 1) More expensive for the government to buy stuff and ship it there than it is to just send money. 2) The aid organizations don't have expertise in the farm commodities market, and tend not to be able to get a good price for the food. 3) These organizations are trying to help people like small farmers, whose prices are undercut by cheap, subsidized crops being dumped on the local market.

So, only an idiot would design a food aid program this way. Unless you're with the farm lobby, and your self-interest helps you swallow all that cynicism. Of course, the article also points out that many other food aid organizations are critical of CARE's move, probably because they figure that having a powerful interest group on their side gets them enough additional support to make up for the inefficiency of the program. CARE has looked at the hidden costs of this tradeoff and decided that its subversion of their mission is too severe to be tolerated. Good for them -- such Faustian bargains not only stand in the way of effective policy, but collectively they also undermine public faith in the effectiveness of government, which is ultimately a huge drag on our political system.

(You might consider making a donation to CARE.)

Happy Blogiversary

I started this blog just a smidge more than two years ago. I'm mildly surprised, though not that surprised, that I'm still writing it. I've posted 273 times, which works out to a post every 3-4 days...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Spoon and robot

A very friendly robot named Keepon was shown in a YouTube clip dancing to "I Turn My Camera On" by Spoon. It became a bit of a hit, logging more than a million views.

Now, a presumably grateful band has teamed up with Keepon's creators to do a video for "Don't You Evah," off their new album. It's really quite well-done, especially the end:

And Spoon are in DC in October!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Carleton World

This may not be interesting to anyone else, but I'm a little preoccupied with intersections like this right now: Aron, who I'm housesitting with right now, met Kat G., a friend of mine from Periscope at Carleton who I've not been in touch with, at a wedding a few weeks ago. We went to meet up with her tonight (on the Mall where they were showing Casablanca outside!), and it turns out she lives a couple blocks from where I'll be in Columbia Heights. Then, a woman wearing a Carleton shirt sat down in front of us, and it was Becky J., who I remember from Carleton. Also, at work last week, new hire Jeff moved into a cube down the hall...and he graduated from Carleton in '02.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Small Worlds (part 2)

Kate and I spent much of the day at the place in Columbia Heights meeting potential housemates, showing them the house, and trying to get a sense (from little tidbits of information and interaction) who would be the best housemate for us. We told people to let us know by tomorrow if they're interested, and then we'll make a decision within a day or so. So hopefully we'll be all set by the middle of this week. (I was there yesterday, too, and went to the farmer's market that's a short walk away...it was pretty nice, and combined with a nice doughnut from the bakery, I'm getting pretty psyched about moving in.)

Anyway, we were sitting on the porch today talking to potential female housemate A, when potential female housemate B comes up the steps; they look quizzically at each other for a second, and then B says something to the effect of "Hey, what are you doing here?" Turns out they're friends from high school, and were even scheduled to meet up for coffee later in the afternoon. A few minutes later, potential male housemate A has arrived, and I'm showing him and female B around the house, when Kate brings potential male housemate B inside. "Oh, hey, how's it going?" says male A to male B -- A had previously looked at the apartment that B is moving out of. I refer to a previous post to explain this.

This was capped by the fact that while I was loading the groceries onto my bike outside the Giant here in Bethesda this evening, I ran into another guy who had been by to look at the house today...

Square peg, round hole

Erin had posted about locally-driven efforts to find alternatives to industrial agriculture. Today in the NY Times, there's a reminder about how hard it is to get fundamental reform within the context of the existing system. It's about the rise of "cage-free" eggs, which even Burger King, of all companies, has recently pledged to move toward. Chickens in most egg-laying operations live in a cage "about the same area as a laptop computer" where they pretty much can't do anything except sit there and hope that if they lay enough eggs, someone will let them out of this damn cage. So no cages = good thing. But, here's the Times' picture of a well-respected cage-free operation:

Not exactly chicken heaven, and not what most people picture when they give a small self-congratulation in picking up cage-free eggs at the store. But, of course, the problem is that there is basically no way that the same industry structure that brings you zombie-chicken eggs can bring you eggs from chickens who get to live like we'd like them to be able to. And there is no way that Burger King can deliver 350 Enormous Omelet Sandwiches at each of its 7,600 US locations every morning made from eggs from farmyard-roaming chickens raised a few counties away. That whole system and business model speaks in terms of units per dollar, and nothing we currently have at our disposal can meaningfully reform it, so for the time being you're going to have to opt out entirely to make more than a marginal reduction in your impact.

Which is why the best option is to buy eggs from your boss Ted, who has a bunch of chickens behind his house out in the country...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> The Thermals - A Stare Like Yours [mp3]
> Ugly Casanova - Hotcha Girls [mp3]
> Ted Leo / Pharmacists - Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone? [YouTube]
> Supersystem - Miracle
> Spoon - Revenge! [mp3]
> Soul Coughing - The Idiot Kings
> Bjork - Innocence [mp3]

Friday, August 10, 2007


Lady in front of me in the checkout line at Safeway this evening:
  • box of Nilla Wafers
  • Dora the Explora fruit snacks
  • two bottles of Martinelli's Sparkling Cider

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Most likely to...

Last night I met up with a high school classmate, Elise, who I haven't seen in eight years -- I had found via Facebook that she just moved to Bethesda. It was cool to catch up after all this time; she's in town on a fellowship at NIH as part of her medical program.

It occurred to me that we had both been voted "Most Likely to Succeed" in high school. (In the accompanying yearbook photo, we improvised on the photographer's suggestion that we look like we were being competitive by having Elise hold me in a headlock.) I mentioned this, and her quite logical reaction was, "So, are we successful?" Which, for one, highlights the absurdity of the designation, since it strongly implies a narrow definition of success, but it also draws your attention to just how long it takes to settle into adult life these days, since I don't think most people our age feel comfortable answering that question, even given their own definition.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Kate and I are looking for someone to share the place in Columbia Heights with. Here are some stats on the 25 people who have responded in the 24 hours since I posted the craigslist ad:

Men: 11
Women: 14

People from France: 2

People from Texas: 2

Vegetarians: 3 (one vegan)

Best line: "I'm a former camp counselor (well, once a camp counselor, always a camp counselor) who likes old soul music and bad party rap...but I promise I will never play either too loudly!"

The emails sometimes read like personal ads, but that's what you get when you ask people to talk about themselves, and they are reasonably helpful on the whole. On Sunday we're trying to meet the 15 or so who sound like they might work...we've invited 9 of them to come at the same time -- we'll see how crazy that gets!

Monday, August 06, 2007

New Identity

Last week I went to the DC DMV for the second time to get my vehicular affairs in order. Despite the long wait, it wasn't actually that bad for those sorts of places. To get my car registered, I had to give up my Minnesota license (or "surrender" it, as the website put it). I was a little sad about it, partly because I still feel an affinity for Minnesota, and partly because my license photo was totally awesome:

When I got to the counter, the guy went through my documents, and upon inspecting the license, unceremoniously put it in a shredder that sat on the counter. Sigh...anyway, I've now got a shiny new DC license, and it's maybe a slight disappointment how respectable I look.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Golf Cart One

Seriously, guys?

I guess I've always had a somewhat antagonistic emotional response to the whole apparatus of golf, so while that joke might strike many as funny (or at least "cute"), the collision of the golf course flip-ness with the daunting problems they've got on their plates rubs me the wrong way.

Not like I should really hold it against them personally, because the sign was probably somebody else's idea. But I do notice that Bush has his best golf cart drivin' face on. And Brown has his best unruffled Brit face on.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Moving and Minnesota

Today was a long day, but my bulky items are now at the house in Columbia Heights that I'll be moving to in September.

At the Budget car rental office this morning, the guy who was setting me up with my van looked at my Minnesota* license and asked me how I was liking DC so far, and how I liked Minnesota, adding that he had heard it was nice, the people really friendly. He seemed possibly Somali, and there are a lot of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, so I asked him if he knew anybody in Minnesota. Yes, he said, quite a few, uncles, cousins, etc. "And they all talk about it like it's just the greatest place." Which warmed my heart, I must say...score one for Minnesota (or immigrant optimism, or both).

*I actually tried to get a DC license this morning, but when I arrived at 8:30, 15 minutes after they opened, the line was out the door, around the side of the building, then around the next corner and down the back of the building. And that was just the wait to get through the security checkpoint (x-ray machine and everything), once you got inside you took a number. I am so dreading going back there to get a license, car inspection, and registration.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Eclectic Baltimore

This weekend is pretty much dedicated to moving the rest of my stuff from Baltimore (where my lease is ending) to either here in Bethesda or the place in Columbia Heights (where Madeleine is kind enough to let me park bulky items I can't store here). This will be a huge pain (rental van, etc), but is very boring for you to read about, I realize.

Anyway, again it makes me think about what I will miss from Baltimore. I think it's safe to say that paying less than $400 in rent is one thing. But more to the point, there is a genuineness to Baltimore that has been gentrified out of most of DC. And while DC has its own unique feel because of its status as the world's biggest company town, it's not quirky like Baltimore.

This sort of comes through in some pictures I just put up in my Baltimore album, taken on a long bike ride my last day in the city. This, for instance, strikes me as very Baltimore:

See how that person neatly pivoted an act of illegal dumping into a benevolent offering to fellow citizens? Genius. Not that I'm saying this sort of character is what B-more needs, but it is at least pretty amusing. (Taking this as inspiration, I no longer bring unpleasant doggie doo bags when I walk Hershey, just little signs mounted on toothpicks that say "Free Fertilizer.")

And then there's the Patterson Park Pagoda...

...and its view of downtown.

And not too far out of town, there are places like North Point State Park, the abandoned site of an early 20th century amusement park:

And you might ride down the jetty and get a fish hook in your tire 15 miles from home and need Kat to bail you out, but it's still pretty...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


This is Hershey, the dog who comes along with the house I'm sitting. (Or maybe the house comes along with her.)

She's very sweet, and as you can see, she's going a bit gray. But she still has some spunk:

Last night as I was about to go to bed, she was standing by the door to the patio, so I let her out. When she didn't come back in a few minutes, I went out to retrieve her. I found her in the dark, uncharacteristically standing in one spot on the yard. She acted oddly when I tried to bring her back in, skittering away. But a minute later she ran back in the open door. As I was heading upstairs to bed, I noticed that she was still acting strangely. I went over to her, and she avoided me again, but that's when I noticed that there was a mouse tail sticking out of one side of her mouth, and a mouse head sticking out the other side. Eeeew. I took her outside and tried to get her to drop it, but after a moment of that, she got the whole thing inside her mouth with a toss of her head, and then chewed, complete with crunching noises, and swallowed hard. Well, I guess that takes care of it...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Bishop Allen

I met up with John, his fiance (!) Heather, and a couple friends of theirs last night to see Bishop Allen at the Black Cat. It was a great show -- their stuff is poppy and smart, and they're good show(wo)men, too. (You can check out a few mp3s at their site, if you like.)

What made it particularly interesting, though, was that Justin Rice, the lead singer, also played the lead part in Mutual Appreciation, one of my favorite movies of the past year. In that movie (an extremely indie movie, self-released), he plays a young musician, and performs some material from his fictional band. Meanwhile, I got into Bishop Allen after hearing Things Are What You Make of Them in Funny Ha Ha, another movie by the same director, Andrew Bujalski. Got that?

Anyway, it was similarly disorienting to see Rice up on stage being an indie rock musician -- one who bore some resemblance to his character in the movie, but definitely a different person. (You can see him in both personas by looking at the trailer for the film and at concert clips on YouTube.) It's quite odd to "know" someone first through one medium and then see them in another, especially when his character riffs off his actual life without actually playing himself.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

New Green Neighbor

Check it out, Erin has a new blog on the issues around crafting a greener society. (Though she has already figured out how to make a greener blog.)

Only two posts old, but good stuff already...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Squirrelly espoinage

"In recent weeks, intelligence operatives have arrested 14 squirrels within Iran's borders," state-sponsored news agency IRNA reported. "The squirrels were carrying spy gear of foreign agencies, and were stopped before they could act, thanks to the alertness of our intelligence services."

Unfortunately, Iran has noted that the Geneva Conventions guarantee no specific rights to squirrels. Godspeed, fluffy-tailed sentries of freedom, godspeed.

(Appears to be an actual news story, reported in a number of sources. Definitely excellent Photoshop fodder for the bored.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


While it is my policy to not blog about work, I will break that rule for a moment to say that I have begun my first week on the job. It's going well so far -- I like the project I've been assigned to, and the three other people on the team are going to be good to work with. It turns out one of them went to Carleton, actually; she graduated a couple years before I arrived on campus.

The "real job" thing is still weirding me out a bit -- even though I had a job that was full-time and very engaging before grad school, I am now embarking on what can reasonably be called a career, and that's an odd thing to realize.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Photos of my recent trip to Minnesota can now be seen on Flickr, if you like.

Back here in Bethesda, we had a small 4th of July BBQ yesterday, and it was good. Then we went to the Georgetown public policy building overlooking the Potomac to watch the fireworks (Adam's a student, so we could get in). Today I'd wanted to take a nice long bike ride to get myself oriented in Bethesda (and try out a bike route to work), but it keeps threatening to pour. Maybe tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Settin' 'Em Straight

In an appropriately dorky activity for me in the week before I start my new job as a policy analyst, I got a letter (last one on page) published in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune. Andrew had noted that the Strib ran a story on Minnesota's traffic being among the worst in the nation on the same day as an article about how many people bike to work in the city. I wrote in making Andrew's point, as well as noting that the figures they used to proclaim MN's traffic "worst" were totally wacky. I was pleasantly surprised when a couple people emailed me to say it had run -- nice.

Descending further into dorkiness, I couldn't help focusing on their copyediting of my letter, which involved a few small changes. They broke off the first sentence of my final paragraph and made it a standalone paragraph, which I found annoying. But I see that they did let me get away with using the first person plural, which seems funny since my letter is marked as being from Baltimore, but is nice nonetheless.

Anyway, speaking of Baltimore, I'm now moved out and housesiting in Bethesda. It's going to be pretty great -- I took the Metro down to Dupont Circle this evening to meet Lauren, Adam and Sarah for drinks, and it's really nice to have real public transit at your disposal for stuff like that.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


From a reasonably interesting article in the NY Times Magazine on Wikipedia's growing role as a source for breaking news comes this statistic:

". . . [Wikipedia] now accounts for a staggering one out of every 200 page views on the entire Internet."

That really is quite amazing. It's already filling an important role in society, and I think it has tremendous potential (though the pitfalls are numerous and much-discussed). I haven't gone looking for it in any serious way, but I wonder if anyone is doing serious research on the way Wikipedia operates? There's so much data kept (histories of all edits, by user ID) that it has the potential to be a very rich subject for research on a variety of subjects, including the central question of whether an open system for aggregating humanity's knowledge is feasible.

(Okay, a quick search does turn up some stuff like this conflict resolution study and this symposium on researching wiki endeavors (Is it a problem that the syposium page is run as a wiki? Isn't that like the author of a study on pot smoking being high while he analyzes the results?*). But I have a feeling it's still an underexploited resource due to its novelty.)

*For the record, no, I do not actually think that is an analogous situation. But using a wiki to study wikis has got to induce some weird conceptual vertigo. And doesn't it sort of impugn the impartiality of the researchers?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Best of Europe

I'd better write about my trip to Europe before it fades into pleasantly fuzzy memories of scattered moments. Feeling too lazy to write actual prose, I present the following list of Bests:

[Best Pastry] Hands down, the raisin brioche I had the first morning we were in Paris. Actually, this is also an all-time best -- it was really frickin' good. True, it had an unfair advantage over competing pastries because it was hot from the oven. But it was so sublime that it couldn't have owed it all to its warmth. (Plus, later in my visit I had another pastry that was still warm, and it was very tasty but not up to the same level.) The best part is that this came from an ordinary pastry shop down the street from our hotel, and cost about one Euro. In America, not only are the pastries a pale imitation of the real thing, but they also cost twice as much.

[Best Museum] This is tough, because I went to a lot of museums, but I think I most enjoyed the Musee National d'Art Moderne, located in the Pompidou Center in Paris. A lot of really cool stuff in a neat setting (one of the few thoroughly modern buildings in central Paris, contrasting with the old charm of the rest of the city), and we spent a solid chunk of a rainy afternoon perusing it.

[Best Hike] Well, though I did lots of walking throughout the trip, I only went on one walk that could properly be called a "hike." But it was a good one: Kat and I took the train out from Barcelona to Montserrat, a spectacular setting of rocky ridges and mountains. The area is anchored by a monastery hanging on the edge of a cliff that was founded where a religious icon was supposedly found. Though that part was mobbed with tourists, the amazing hiking trails were pretty empty, which was great.

[Best Fountain] Definitely the hilariously overdone fountain in Barcelona's Parc de la Ciutadella.

[Best Stroke of Luck] After taking the overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon, Kat and I arrived at our hotel feeling a bit tired and dirty. But despite arriving at 8am, we were able to get straight into our room to freshen up, and the hotel was still serving complementary breakfast. Made our first day in Lisbon a lot better.

[Best Market (Food)] La Boqueria in Barcelona. I stopped here most days I was in the city, the highlight being the fresh fruit. You can get an excellent variety of fresh juices and fruit salads.

[Best Market (Goods)] The Feira de Ladra (Thieves' Market) in Lisbon was what I hope for in a market: Lots of random stuff that looks like somebody pulled it out of their grandmother's basement. (And plenty of people selling cheap knock-off fashion items, but that's not so interesting.) But it's in another country, so it's even more fascinating than the same sort of thing back home.

[Best Purchase] At the above market, I purchased a vintage, and extremely red, Portuguese telephone. I'll have to make sure to get a landline at my new place in DC so I can use it. Then, when you call me, it'll look like I'm getting instructions to go to DEFCON 4.

[Best View] Lots of competition in this category, but the best was probably the view from San Jeroni, a mountain Kat and I climbed while we were at Montserrat.

[Best Park] Park Guell in Barcelona, designed by revered native son Antoni Gaudi, is amazing. It's up a hill overlooking the city, and was apparently originally designed as a very snazzy subdivision (before they started calling them that), but only two houses were ever built. Gaudi's style makes excellent use of organic forms, and lends itself very well to a park. Reed and I got there near dusk, and it was gorgeous, so it was a little disappointing when I went back with Kat in mid-morning and found it mobbed with tourists.

[Best Overheard Conversation] In Montmartre, Paris, while we were looking for a place to eat dinner, I overheard the following snippet, from an American girl talking to a French man who was leaning against a wall: "How do you...how do the French stay so thin? I mean, there are so many carbs!"

[Best Biking] It was cool to see the bike sharing systems in Lyon and Barcelona, but we couldn't use them because the machines can only read European credit cards that have those little gold chips in them. However, when Kat and I took a commuter train up the coast from Lisbon to the picturesque town of Cascais, we found they had bikes you could use for free just by giving your name. We borrowed them and rode five miles or so up the coast on a bike path to a nearly deserted beach.

[Best Public Transportation System] All the cities I visited had very effective metro systems. But the Paris one definitely wins because of its extensive network and high-frequency service. And its cool signs.

[Best Meal] A lot of competition in this category, too. I think the distinction goes to the Catalan place where Reed and I ate in Barcelona. I had sole with nuts and raisins, which was excellent, and this awesome merengue dessert. But close runners-up include the crepe places we ate at in Paris, Indian food with Jesse and Sophie in London, and the bistro-y place Kat and I ate at the last night in Portugal.

[Best Idea That We Should Appropriate] Permanent ping-pong tables in the park, as seen in Barcelona.

[Best Doughnut] Portugal is famous for its custard (custard tarts are a big thing). At a tiny little pastry shop that was overrun with sailors from a docked Portuguese navy ship, I ate a truly excellent doughnut that put any American "custard" doughnut to shame. It was a more or less spherical model coated with granulated sugar, but the master touch was that they cut a slit in it an placed a fold of custard inside. This custard is not the runny, flavorless pudding we have here, but firm, somewhat eggy and deeply vanilla custard. It does not squish out all over when you bite the doughnut, and it tastes really, really good.

[Best Neighborhood] Alfalma, in Lisbon, is a charming, old neighborhood that I spent the last day of my trip wandering around. It climbs a hill just east of downtown, and has tiny, tangled streets that force you to consult your map frequently if you're trying to get anywhere specific. It was here that I ate the doughnut I cited above. Adding to the atmosphere was the fact that the entire neighborhood was busy preparing for the festival for the city's patron saint the next day, stringing decorations across the streets and setting up endless charcoal grills and kegs of beer.

[Best Walk Sign] In the suburbs of Paris, where we were looking at the house Reed's parents used to live in. Seems to say, "Walk, but please do it in as French a manner as possible."

Anyway, it was a great trip. And I'm grateful to Jesse and Sophie for letting me stay with them, as well as Reed and Kat for traveling with me -- having such cool company made the trip for me.

A collection of photos is on Flickr.