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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Animal charisma

You have probably heard that Barbaro, the former Triple Crown contender racehorse, was put down after a struggle to save his life. It was big news, and a lot of people got emotionally invested in the whole story. The Times editorialized on the death, noting the grief that many felt and that "nearly every horse — Barbaro included — is pure of heart."

It's sad he died, and it's nice that his owners tried to save him. But seriously -- who are all these people who can muster so much concern for the life of one horse when the meat industry treats millions of animals atrociously every day? I'm not a vegetarian and I don't work for better treatment of farm animals, but I just think the enormous disparity of our response is astounding. Part of what makes the Barbaro story compelling is that instead of putting him down right away when he was injured, his owners put lots of effort into trying to save him. (Barbaro has been a boon to horse health care, with the Barbaro Fund raising $1.2 million and the State of Pennsylvania giving $13.5 million to a clinic at the University of Pennsylvania.) In contrast, animals raised for food receive not help, nor even indifference, but practices that actively make their lives miserable. You know the story: They're kept in tiny pens where they can't turn around, teeth and beaks are cut off so they can't injure themselves amid their desperation, and they're fed things they don't naturally eat and pumped full of drugs. Intelligence (and thus capacity to experience suffering) should probably be a factor in animal welfare decisions, but pigs, for example, are by most accounts more intelligent than horses.

We like horses. But I don't think whether we find animals charismatic or not is sufficient moral grounds to determine how much pain and suffering we are willing to submit them to. We'll raise millions of dollars so that horses can have surgery that might help them survive, but don't care about the ongoing suffering that enables us to buy $3.99 pork chops. Are pigs not "pure of heart"? Granted, the PETA slogan that animals are "friends, not food" is ridiculous -- we eat animals. But we have very selective empathy if we get this upset about one horse and ignore all the other domestic farm animals that we bring into the world. I realize that most people are only aware of factory farm conditions in a vague sense, and that everybody saw Barbaro on TV, but there's nothing more infuriating than a good instinct so spectacularly misdirected.

(For a less pedantic tone on this subject, see the very clever Meatrix cartoon. And if you're bored, we did a show on meat back at Periscope in my KRLX days at Carleton.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

DC Rally

Yesterday I caught a ride down to the anti-Iraq-escalation rally in DC with Kat and her parents, who had come down from Long Island. These events can be annoying because by their very nature they tend to attract any random person with a way-out political axe to grind...i.e. I oppose sending more troops to Iraq, but that doesn't mean that it won't be unpleasant to stand next to the guy yelling crazy leftist rhetoric. But this rally was relatively focused compared to others I've seen. I took some pictures you can check out.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Modest Mouse (or perhaps more accurately, Epic Records) set a release date for We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. It'll be out March 20th.

I heard the first single, Dashboard, on the radio today on my way to Annapolis. (I went down there to go to the Legislative Library for some thesis research, and I took some pictures while I was there.)

Rage Against the Machine

In high school, right after I finished being a Billy Joel and Dave Matthews Band fan, I got into Rage Against the Machine. I know, I know. Though I was just listening to Bulls on Parade today, and it's still pretty good.

They broke up in 2000. Guess what? They're getting back together for a one-off gig at the Coachella festival in April. Rage is one of those bands that has loomed larger in retirement, it seems to me, and I think most people had written off the possibility that they would reunite. A lot of people are going to be very excited about this reunion (the article was the most-viewed story on the LA Times website yesterday). Though I admit that I sort of would like to go, 1) it's really expensive, and 2) the chances of being physically injured at that particular show are very high.

!!!'s Nick Offer had the same thought [halfway down the page] as me when he was told by an interviewer that RATM are getting back together.

On a completely different topic, this clip of Steven Colbert explaining the complicated corporate history of the AT&T name is brilliant and hilarious.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Union

We had 15 or so people over for the State of the Union. (Sarah: "It's like our Superbowl!")

I don't think anyone in the room was particularly struck by anything Bush said. But I'm not sure what he could have said. And as Andrew Sullivan asked, Baby Friggin Einstein? That's the best they could find for a successful entrepreneur to be held up as a paragon of American ingenuity? Some lady who carefully played upon parental anxieties to sell baby-genius snake oil. Sheesh.

Anyway, I'm certainly not on board with the "surge." I don't really see how it changes the depressing facts on the ground. The current approach is obviously not working, and this is not a wholesale change of direction. Just 20,000 more troops on top of the 140,000 or so who are there now. That's approximately 14% more of the same thing that isn't working now, so don't count me optimistic. In fact, count me cynical in wondering if the administration isn't just running out the clock on the Bush presidency and hoping they don't have to be the ones to admit defeat. (I'm considering going to the anti-escalation rally in DC this weekend, though at these things you always seem to end up next to the guy yelling about how Hugo Chavez is being persecuted by the US.)

The health insurance proposal is interesting. This conservative blogger hated it. (Note, down in the comment section, multiple people agreeing that government single payer is inevitable (!).) I admit that it sounds bad to me at first blush, too -- introducing taxes on good health insurance policies. But I guess I see the point. I'll be interested to see what I think of it by the end of my Health Insurance and Managed Care course that I'm taking this quarter at Public Health. I asked my professor what he thought after class on Tuesday (the general outlines of the proposal were already available), and he thinks it's a good idea, though not a solution unto itself. It's probably dead on arrival anyway, but I'm going to keep it in mind nonetheless.

In more everyday stuff, I finished shopping classes today...looks like I'll just have class on Tuesday mornings and afternoons, and Thursday mornings. Nice and compact (until my 4th quarter class starts at Public Health). State Highway and TAing are in there, too, but I still have more open time than before. And after my thesis is done, it will actually be "free time!"

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Repurposed peanuts

Last week, while still getting over my cold, I decided, on a whim, to go into the Baltimore Museum of Art when I walked past it on my way home. It's sort of criminal that I don't go more often, since it's only a ten minute walk away, and it's free (it has always been free with my JHU ID card, but since October it and another museum downtown, the Walters, have been free to everyone, which is a great thing).

The BMA is a pretty good museum, one of those kitchen sink collections that has some of practically everything (an approach that Alex finds unsatisfying, and I do see what he means). There's prehistoric art, American art, a fine collection of Impressionists, and even an entire room of "English Sporting Art" (in other words: a variety of depictions of dignified gentlemen on horses chasing foxes).

In the contemporary art area, I found a temporary installation that I think is hilarious (in a good way). It's by a DC artist named Dan Steinhilber. It consists of a room with mounds of packing peanuts, as well as some carpet blowers, shop vac blowers, and Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners. This very crappy picture from my cell phone might help you visualize it:

There's another large mound of packing peanuts and some blowers out of the frame to the right. The hanging shop vac blowers are on a track that can move them around.

Every half hour, the room does its 10 minute or so routine. First the floor blowers make the peanut pile in one corner go up into a huge plume. Then a couple of Roombas are released, which proceed to roam the area randomly, pushing paths in the scattered peanuts and burrowing into the piles, temporarily disappearing. Eventually, the hanging blowers cycle on for brief intervals, flaying all over the place and blowing the peanuts around. They also move around their track. The whole thing is quite a spectacle.

I definitely experienced this first and foremost on a geeky, "that's awesome!" level. But I guess I can appreciate it as art, too, in that very flexible way that a lot of contemporary art seems meant to be absorbed. It's interesting to see everyday materials used to make art (that's Steinhilber's thing, apparently), and the abstract patterns and interactions it creates can lead to meandering thoughts on any number of subjects -- consumerism, human relations, serendipity, etc., etc.

Anyway, after I go to the museum, I'm always glad I did. Having it be free is ideal, because I seldom want to commit to the few hours I'd want to take if I were paying, but an hour or so in the museum is the perfect respite. My sincere thanks to the city and donor grants that let the BMA and Walters go free!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Finally, snow

We saw our first snow of the season today, which made me happy. I've been seriously jonesing for some snow. Not that it's really any meaningful amount of snow, less than an inch, but enough to put some flakes in the air and turn the ground white. I got excited enough to take some pictures and go for a short bike ride.

Judging by our weather this year, this may be all we see of winter. I bet the flowers that were popping out of the ground in our back yard when I got back from Peru were taken a bit off-guard.

Meanwhile, my class at Public Health started last week, and Homewood campus classes start this week. The next couple months will be hectic, while I finish my thesis, take classes, work and serve as the teaching assistant for the Policy Tools class. But after my thesis is over with, the second half of the semester should be pretty stress-free until graduation.

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> Sufjan Stevens - Jacksonville
Davin gave me Illinois for Christmas, and I had heard a lot of people say it was good, but man...it's awesome.
> Liars - Grown Men Don't Fall In the River, Just Like That
Hearing this band proclaim "we got our finger on the pulse of America" is excellent. They clearly don't in the sense that it's usually used, but if you take it to mean that they are keen observers, then it works and hints at how empty the typical use of that phrase is.
> Modest Mouse - Heart Cooks Brain
"I'm trying to get my head clear, I push things out through my mouth, I get refilled through my ears"
> Fog - Pneumonia (Coldcut's Uptight Duck Remix)
Okay, I'll admit that I recently spent $9 to order the Pneumonia single from Ninja Tune just so I could get this remix, which we had back at KRLX at Carleton. It takes what is already one of my favorite songs and adds this great plucked string part and some other tweaks that play off of the dreariness nicely.
> Wilco - Company In My Back
> The Pipettes - Pull Shapes
Extremely catchy retro sound from a trio who surely induce many indie guy swoons.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Teague Tag

Okay, here's a fun game you can play with Flickr if you've got an unusual name that you're not used to seeing attached to other people:
> A guy named Teague
> A woman named Teague
> A dog named Teague
> A cat named Teague
> A kid named Teague
> A woman named Teague hugging a giant Peep

Monday, January 15, 2007

Back from Peru, with photos and videos

I'm back. Actually, I got back early Saturday morning, but I managed to catch a nasty cold on the way home, so I've mostly just been lying around. In any case, it was a great trip, and I am extremely grateful that Karen invited us to visit and that Femi was there for company (Karen had stuff to do, so she wasn't with us the whole time).

We bookended our time in Peru with some days at Karen's family's beach house. It was really relaxing, consisting mostly of eating, reading and lying on the beach (the water was cold, but I went in briefly a few times). The family's maids cooked excellent food (though I must say that having a maid is something I don't think I could ever really get used to), and there were lots of ridiculously good local fruits, most notably mangos that were a thing apart from the poor approximations available in the US. I read Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies," which turned out to be a really good book to read while visiting a foreign country, especially one that is part of the "developing" world -- it basically sets out to explain how different cultures evolved the way they did as a result of factors like proximity to other cultures, locally available plants and animals, and other factors of geography. His ultimate point is that humans were the same everywhere, but that entirely exogenous factors led societies to develop differently; the book ends up being a devestating critique of racist logic.

I already talked about how impressive Machu Picchu was, as well as Cusco.

Lima is a teeming metropolis of 9 million people, very vibrant and very polluted. The traffic is insane both in the sense that there's a lot of it and in the sense that there are few rules, lots of honking. (Are you not currently hitting another vehicle? You're fine.) At any number of moments during our time there, in taxis or riding with Karen, I was sure we were about to get into an accident, but we never did. We also walked all over, and I took many opportunities to eat the caramel-filled churros that you could buy for about 15 cents from sidewalk windows. And the empanadas (a glorious version of a Hot Pocket) that cost about 35 cents.

I took about 250 photos, and I've slimmed that down to a selection of 65 that you can take a look at on Flickr. (Unfortunately, if you choose the "View as Slideshow" option, you don't see my descriptions, so if you want those, manually advance the photos.)

I've got some videos, too, since my new camera does that, too. There's a look out the front window of our taxi early in the morning on the way to Machu Picchu, as well as a look at the train we took to Machu Picchu (it's about a four-hour trip, moving from an arid landscape around Cusco to almost jungle).

In a country that is not too many years removed from military rule, we also saw a military parade in Cusco.

There's also a panoramic view of (smoggy) Lima from the top of San Cristobal, a big hill with a cross on top not far from downtown.

Whew. I'll probably write a post or two more about Peru, but that's it for now.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Back to Lima

We´re leaving Cusco this afternoon. This is a neat little city, which the guidebook calls "the cultural center of Peru". It´s very compact, like Guanajuato Mexico (where I went while studying in Morelia), and teeming with international visitors. It makes for a very odd mix of developing-country features like stray dogs and people constantly trying to sell you the most obscure services (a guy asked if he could shine my beaten-up sneakers), and very first-world hip restaurants and art galleries. The city is quite picturesque, and I´ve taken loads of pictures.

Machu Picchu was great. The train ride out there is cool in itself, and then of course you top it off with a visit to an ancient religious center on top of a friggin' mountain. It's one thing to see pictures of a place like that, and quite another to actually go there. Took lots of pictures there, too, and I'll post a bunch on Flickr when I get back.

We´re now heading back to Lima, and we will spend the rest of the time before we leave on Friday in Lima and at the beach, possibly with an excursion to Ica, which is south of Lima. If there's anything not too large and not too expensive you want me to bring you from Peru, send me an email.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

In Cusco

Well, I'm in Peru. It's pretty awesome. We spent the first few days at Karen's family's beach house south of Lima, and it was very nice. Quite relaxing, and quite Peruvian.

We are in Cusco now, having flown here this morning, and we will be taking the train to Machu Picchu tomorrow. My hour's up at this internet cafe, so that's it for now.