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Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween update

The snow that I mentioned was purely of the "conversational" variety here in DC, but as you probably heard, it hit hard in Connecticut. My parents have been without power since Saturday, and have been told it could be a while yet before they get it back. This is only two months after losing it for a week because of hurricane Irene!

Meanwhile, it's unusually brisk for Halloween here. Nevertheless, I saw plenty of costumed kids walking around on my ride home. Sort of disappointed that I don't get to hand out candy this year (having moved into an apartment), but it meant I didn't have to feel bad about getting home as trick-or-treating hours were ending.

I did, however, put together a costume this year for the first time in a while, for a party on Saturday. I was Boris Yeltsin's agent. It required some explanation, but gave me ample opportunity to practice my Russian accent.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kickin' mouse pad

The weather has turned cold, and I'm putting off turning on the heat. I've always been annoyed by how cold my mouse-using hand gets while sitting at the computer, so I googled "microwaveable mouse pad," thinking that maybe someone had made a mouse pad that you can stick in the microwave to warm up.

My search did not turn up any such thing. But I did find an "I [heart] microwave risotto" mousepad being sold through the Sears website. I realize it's from some tiny outfit with an affiliate deal with Sears, but still, I have some questions: Does anyone actually love microwave risotto? If so, at what point does that person say to him/herself, "Hey, since I really like -- no, love! -- microwave risotto, perhaps I should get a mousepad that says so"?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October snow

It was a cold rain coming down when I ventured out to the farmer's market in the morning, but this is what it looked like outside by late afternoon:

I remember when it snowed on October 1 my first year at Carleton. That was pretty early, even in Minnesota, but the end of October is really early in DC. While looking out the window at the snow, I saw a flurry of people coming outside to take pictures.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


  • This Post article on Google Street View in the Amazon seems like a good real-life example of the now-you-can-talk-to-a-kid-in-Africa utopian visions from the early days of the internet in the 1990s.
  • An interesting NYT column on an initiative from Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO, to provide small business financing in $5 bites from consumers. I think there's the germ of a good idea here, but it also sounds kinda wacky.
  • Bad restaurant reviews are always more fun to read than good ones, and the latest Frank Bruni column in the Times is a doozy. He reviews a restaurant that appears to be a parody of itself, and wisely broadens the critique to the fetishistic tone that has crept into some corners of our increasing obsession with food.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Outer Banks

I spent a long weekend at the beach in the Outer Banks with Matt, Risa, Leslie, Andrew, and Frances. It was quite lovely -- food, games, and hanging out on the beach. Not quite as warm as during our stay there at this time last year, but we were still able to swim. Beach houses are cheap this time of year, and ours even had an outdoor hot tub.

Some pictures are on Flickr.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street protests are getting some news coverage. Some observers have been mocking, while others have been more sympathetic. Almost all, it seems, have noted the lack of a coherent message or achievable demands. Which is a sensible thing to mention, since the protest doesn't really have either of those things.

However, I'm not sure that calls for dismissing the sentiment entirely. The Tea Party, after all, was pretty scattershot, and many of the participants couldn't articulate what they were protesting or specific things they wanted. But by giving it a name, it has turned into what is generally seen as an influential political force, even if politicians and the movement itself are still trying to figure out what the Tea Party is and what they want.

Along with a name, the other important thing that the Tea Party provided was a unifying opponent: government. This new protest has Wall Street filling that role. Both visions are big oversimplifications, of course, but they're probably necessary. People approach issues from a lot of different perspectives. If you're trying to get a lot of people mobilized, it's difficult to get everyone to agree on exactly what they want, and much easier to rally people against a symbolic opponent with some emotional resonance. Mass political movements don't coalesce around detailed policy plans. (The estimable Nick Kristof suggests, in the Times column I linked to above, specific demands for the protesters to make, including "moving ahead with Basel III capital requirements and adopting the Volcker Rule." Such a stirring rallying cry!)

The muddled message of the Occupy Wall Street folks is as much an indicator of the complicated issues in play as it is an indicator of the protesters' naïveté. They know something's wrong, and that it has to do with money and greed, but they can't quite put their finger on the exact source the problem. (Or rather, they've put their fingers in many different places.) It's worth noting that experts generally agree that there's something wrong with our financial system, but also can't agree amongst themselves on the exact nature of the problem or what the solutions are. If your town floods, it's easy to get people to agree that the issue at hand is the water inundating buildings, and it's fairly easy to get folks to help fill sandbags now and chip in later on for a new levee to keep it from happening again. When it comes to the complex, interrelated forces of the world financial system, not so easy.*

In any case, the Occupy Wall Street movement may fizzle, but it's disingenuous to dismiss it as a bunch of confused kids. Like the Tea Party, it's a crude representation of feelings that are amorphous but nonetheless deeply-felt among a wide swath of the public. In fact, you could argue that both groups are arguing similar points from different angles, as this Times column from a month ago argued, despite predating the Wall Street protests. Both are resentful of elites who appear to lack accountability, and angry about economic challenges in a system which seems to be stacked in favor of large institutions that don't share the interests of the country as a whole. The two groups have very different opinions about the types of solutions that are needed, however, so it will be interesting if these become competing narratives in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

*Incidentally, NPR's Planet Money excels at making this complicated stuff understandable, and just last week they had a podcast episode that boiled down the changes in finance over the last few decades with a critique that made a lot of sense to me.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

John's new bike

World Bicycle Relief provides heavy-duty bicycles to people in the developing world, and my friend John participated in a WBR fundraiser this weekend. They had a raffle at the end, and much to his surprise, he won a bike! Not just any bike, but one of the custom-designed bikes that the organization distributes in the field.

The bike weighs 55 pounds. It has one gear. The tires are made of car-grade rubber, and say "Inflate Hard" on the side. The rear rack carries 200 pounds. There's a toolkit attached, in a case made of recycled car tire. This is one no-nonsense machine.

We tried it out this afternoon. It was pretty fun -- the handling is much different than anything I've tried before. It's big and hefty like the Capital Bikeshare bikes, but has an extremely long wheelbase and swept-back handle bars. Its one gear is actually pretty high, and I had to stand up and really mash on the pedals to make it to the top of the hill at the exit of the parking lot. I put a few pictures up on Flickr if you'd like to see.

(Incidentally, John doesn't think he can keep the bike because it barely fits in his apartment. He's thinking he'll "sell" it to someone who's willing to make a donation to WBR. If you're in the DC area and are interested, let me know.)