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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.