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February 14th, 2009

01:46 pm: A list almost no one will agree with
25 things I think humanity would be better off without but do not think should be illegal:

1. TV
2. movies
3. fashion
4. spectator sports
5. coffee
6. brand loyalty
7. celebrities
8. organized religion
9. the belief that individuals can divine the nature of the universe based on what feels true
10. astrology
11. alcohol
12. tobacco
13. packaged mayonnaise
14. prostitution
15. Republicans
16. marijuana
17. computerized grammar checkers
18. California "bagels"
19. doctors who went to med school because their parents told them to
20. AAA batteries
21. sushi
22. pet birds
23. carob
24. elective cosmetic surgery
25. corporations worth more than $1 Billion

12:40 pm: Weightloss tips
Good: Running

Bad: Running to store for pound of butter and cake ingredients

February 7th, 2009

10:06 pm: 200th
If I didn't think astrology made about as much sense as still thinking W did a great job, I'd make a big deal about the fact that Darwin and Lincoln were born on the same day.

08:20 pm: Letter to congresscritters
I wrote to my senators and congressperson. Rarely have I stretched a metaphor so far.

Dear Representative Tauscher:

I am writing to urge you to do everything you can to fight for a larger, longer-term and more spending heavy economic stimulus bill. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill make too many concessions to those more interested in political posturing than in providing effective solutions.

I am very much in favor of fiscal responsibility, just as I am very much in favor of water conservation in California's drought. However, now there is a raging fire destroying this nation's economy, and people are losing their homes and businesses, and the firefighters have been called.  Those who started this fire, the deregulators, the corporate securities experts, the trickle-down economists, urge our nation to spend frugally, to sprinkle some drops of water on the roofs and hope some of it reaches the flames vaporizing the foundations of our economy. Please do not be swayed by the new-found water-conservation ethics of the arsonists.

You must worry more about keeping the fire from spreading than about how many gallons we use, or the conflagration racing though the economy will make the Great Depression look like a campfire.  The Republican "leadership" urges you to go slowly, to spend thriftily, to use the same economic stimulus tools that the Bush Administration so capably proved are counterproductive. Firefighters must use fire hoses, not eyedroppers, and not napalm. The Republicans urge a slow, measured, status quo response. They would have us turn on the lawn sprinklers and pretend the fire they started does not exist.  We cannot afford to let their political posturing and economic deafness block a rapid and energetic response.

I'd like to offer one final thought if I may: In the Bush era, we all got used to government that was more interested in rhetoric than in science, history or facts. Economic science tells us that spending does more to combat economic disaster than do tax cuts. History tells us that economic stimulus packages are usually too small. The fact is that in order to have a realistic hope of avoiding a depression, we need a larger response, spending heavily in both the near term and over the next few years. President Obama has promised a reality-based approach to governance. If bipartisanship is needed to get that done, please be bipartisan. If the reality is that Republicans are united in unpatriotic obstructionism, standing in the road, blocking the approach of the fire trucks, please feel free to go over, through or around them. Putting out the fire is more important than pretending that everyone in government is helping.

Many thanks for your hard work.



12:28 am: Translation
Iris and I have heard that we will receive temporary resident permits when we go to Germany, which should allow both of us to work. The one stipulation was that we had to prove we were married by bringing along our marriage certificate and a notarized German translation thereof. I was not sure how one got a notarized German translation, so I looked at http://www.translation-services-usa.com/marriage_certificate.php which states,

"We are very concerned with quality and always employ only best translators available." 

I decided maybe I would find a different company.

February 5th, 2009

09:11 pm: The main topic of conversation in our house?
Iris: My friend Jen was telling me about this Cat Circus she wanted to see in Chicago. I was thinking we could make these cats finally earn their keep if we started our own cat circus.
Me: We might have more success if we called it a cat freak show.

Iris: FeLion has lost so much weight, she thinks she wants to start a support group.
Me: Oh?
Iris: She'll call it Kibblers Anonymous, and it will help cats build the self control to lose as much weight as FeLion has.
Me: How will she do that?
Iris: The other cats get to watch FeLion eat a bowl of kibbles, and practice self control.

Iris: I think the kitten is feeling better.
Me: How can you tell?
Iris: He's eating your printer cable.

February 3rd, 2009

05:06 pm: Kitten
I took Tigrinum to the vet this morning. He got scratched by another cat a few days ago, and one of the cuts got infected. He needed anti-biotics.

While I was there, the nurse asked me, "Do you want to get his rabies shot while he is here?"

"Is it time for another already?"

"He hasn't had one yet, they don't get them 'til they are four months."

"I brought him in at four months for his rabies shot, he was sick for two days afterwards, and when I called you told me that was normal after a rabies shot. He must have had the shot."

"Mmmm, no our records show an FIV shot, but no, he didn't get the rabies."

This pissed me off because we only started letting him outside after they told us they had given him the rabies shot. We've been letting him out for months, knowing there was rabies in the area, thinking he (and by extension we) were protected. So I made them promise, in writing, that once the kitten is better, we will bring him in for a free rabies shot. Then we will find a different vet.

January 31st, 2009

08:11 pm: Headline from the BBC
"The Italian city of Venice launches a website to help it deal with the 15m tourist who visit every year"

Clearly this headline is grammatically challenged.

Either they mean "15m (15 million in number) tourists who visit every year," or they mean "15m (15 meters tall) tourist who visits every year."

I would like to think that Venice has launched a website to advise people how to safely deal with the 50ft tall tourist who takes his annual holidays there.

04:04 pm: You know you are writing a dissertation when...
you sit down in the morning and type, "   D~=R*c(a(1-(1-P)^(L*b)-a(1-(1-P)^((L-1)*b)))* c(a(1-(1-P)^(L2*b)-a(1-(1-P)^((L2-1)*b)))*..."

January 27th, 2009

08:21 pm: The joy of tink.
There are few things in life more satisfying than finding something that someone is throwing out because it doesn't work, taking it apart, cleaning it, and putting it back together and finding out that it works. The fact that I usually don't end up knowing why it wasn't working is part of the joy. This is especially true when the object of my tinkering is something I actually need, like a radio-alarm-clock to replace the one the kitten destroyed.

January 20th, 2009

12:19 pm: My favorite part
of the inauguration was when President Obama said, "They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint." As he was saying this, the camera was on Bush, who was hunched down squirming and scowling like a petulant toddler being scolded by a grown-up.
About bloody time.

January 17th, 2009

11:55 am: Inaugural Ball, our house, Sunday, 8PM, you
My brother's band is playing at not one, but two inaugural balls in DC. Which raises the question, "Can just anybody up and have an inaugural ball?" To which the apparent answer is yes.

Ergo, Iris and I decided we needed to have one of our own. And we need you there.

Sunday, 8PM, our place. You and your democracy loving friends are very much invited.

January 16th, 2009

02:55 pm: Hillarious
Conservatives are all in a froth about TARP, the Troubled Assets rescue program, better known as the financial sector bailout. Their stated objection is not that it is ineffective (which it is), wasteful (which it is) or gives the financial industry incentives to continue their lavish recklessness (which it does), but rather that it unconstitutionally vests too much power in the executive branch.

To me this is hilarious. The same conservatives spent the last eight years arguing that anything and everything unconstitutionally gives too little power to the executive, and now, less than a week before that executive power changes hands, they suddenly disbelieve everything they said over the last eight years? Apparently the text of the Constitution differs depending on who is in the White House.

I forget, is Eurasia or Eastasia the enemy?

The organization leading the charge, sporting the Orwellian name "FreedomWorks Foundation" was founded in what year? Oh, of course. 1984.

January 14th, 2009

07:06 pm: Iris's view of history
"If we had more people like Martin Luther King, we wouldn't have to go to school on so many Mondays."

07:00 pm: Sock News
I decided to take my sock's fate into my hands. Time to call in the posse.

To: A bunch of my friends and family
From: Me
Date: Today


I have good sock news and bad sock news. The good news is that I won second prize in a sock design contest! No bull. You can see the design here:

and read about the contest here:

The bad news is they say they may not actually manufacture my sock design, because they have to be confident they can sell 80 dozen pairs, or something like that, to make it worth their while to print any. They aren't sure how much demand there is for a marine life themed sock.

I don't get any material profit if they make my sock, but I'm hoping they'll use my design anyway. So here is where you come in. If you looked at that design and said, "Oh, I want a pair!" please email contact@ozonesocks.com and tell them so. A one line email is fine. The name of the design is "30000 Feet" If you want to you can direct your email to the attention of David Rood-Ojalvo.

Many thanks to all.

The accidental sockist,

January 10th, 2009

01:45 pm: And on the fourth try, they got my prescription mostly right.

01:25 pm: Could possibly be starting a cult. Can't be sure.
It occurred to me today that if the Bush Depression gets too bad and I can't find any other work, I could always try being a cult leader. Oh sure, I'm not exactly your stereotypical prophet, but if L. Ron Hubbard can do it, why can't I?

I think I have a lot going for me. I'm good at sounding like I know what I'm talking about, I can grow an impressive beard and I don't drink, smoke, eat meat, own a car or watch TV. I'm sure there is a parable in there somewhere.

Most importantly, I have a great idea for what creed I can claim to be bringing to my followers: agnosticism. I can argue with unassailable logic and messianic certitude that I don't know anything for absolutely certain. Poverty, war and disease could conceivable be solved within a year. For all I know your dead loved ones may come back to life. We cannot rule out the possibility that you, as an individual, are the center of the universe. There may be an all-powerful creator who has already forgiven all your sins. And simultaneously, for those who prefer to think that there is no God, that is a distinct possibility as well. The world may end next week, but this could possibly be forestalled by you giving me ten million dollars.

Mine is a message of eternally non-zero hope and infinitely divisible possibilities. It may also be the world's first cult specifically designed to avoid the need for any claim of special knowledge. I could never be debunked. My working title is "Church of All Things Possible" (CAT-P for short) but I am open to suggestions. I may also have openings for disciples. Can't be sure.

January 8th, 2009

06:08 pm: Funny
I went today to the gym. First I used the rowing machine until my hip began to hurt, then I switched to the treadmill. For half an hour I went 2.5mph with the machine tilted to a 15% grade. The funny thing was, my heart was racing like mad (175 bpm according to the machine and according to feeling my pulse) but my breathing stayed near resting pace and volume, even though I made no effort to control it. It was like my heart thought my muscles were starved of oxygen, but my lungs thought everything was just as normal. Even now, after several minutes of rest, my heart is still going at above 100 beats a minute and my breathing is still unaffected. It feels strange, although not at all unpleasant, to have the one reaction but not the other. My muscles felt well oxygenated, and my heart got a good workout. I guess my lungs are still on vacation.
And yes, my hip still hurts, but no, not that bad yet. Time to go home and take a bath.

January 7th, 2009

11:08 pm: Musings from a poorly insulated apartment
I have been feeling increasingly lucky to have a job lined up for next year. It might be more accurate to say I've been feeling anxious about the possibility that that job might, for whatever reason, not work out. I know a rapidly increasing number of people who are unemployed, and even more who are underemployed or misemployed. Many of my students who graduated several months ago haven't found jobs, or are using their biology degrees and impressive intellects to operate cash registers. I tell them to blame Bush.

The University is cutting staff, canceling faculty searches and extending furloughs. We were worried that Iris wouldn't be able to find an assistantship to cover her school fees this semester, but now her perseverance and good reputation in her department seem to have won her a position grading papers for the next few months. She's also looking into tutoring positions. Even if that fell through, we would be in no danger of going hungry.

But if my job for next year fell through, we could be in some trouble. And that possibility does not feel too remote if one counts my hip objecting violently to the German climate as "falling through." If we can't make things work in Germany, I'll have to quickly find something else. There are not a lot of universities hiring right now. Some of those friends who are unemployed have Ph.D.s, and I don't particularly want to end up flipping burgers. "Would you like fries with that, or perhaps you'd be interested in hearing my ideas about the evolution of sex-biased longevity in primates?" I just have to make sure I am highly employable, which means I should spend more time writing papers and less time writing blog posts. There will be plenty of time to write about how badly Bush and his trainers have screwed things up, but later. After my ill defined employment anxieties prove prescient.

January 5th, 2009

06:37 pm: Mouth

January 1st, 2009

03:55 pm: Proverb of the month
A tiger does not proclaim his tigritude.
(apparently Nigerian in origin)

EDIT:  There are no tigers in Africa. Ergo, not a Nigerian proverb.

December 29th, 2008

09:16 am: A three hour tour
There were seven of us in the boat, two crew and five passengers. This struck me as strangely appropriate, as this was the same number as the castaways listed in the Gilligan's Island theme song, which I sang as the outboard motor pushed the boat gradually up the flank of another lumbering ten foot high wave. None of the other passengers could hear me over the crashing waves, cloths flapping in the wind and my wife's gleeful shrieks of terror. As we crested the wave I stole a glimpse of the real desert island we were headed to, Isla Espíritu Santo, then felt the boat dropping out from under me as the wave rushed out from under it.

I prepared for what seemed the thousandth crash landing in the few minutes since we had left the mainland of Baja California. I concentrated on landing softly, extending from a squat to standing on tippy-toes and back to a full squat, clinging with one aching hand to a pole that supported the panga's little canopy. I would have sat, as all the other passengers were doing, but for two things. First, I knew my bad hip would never forgive me if I took all those impacts butt first on the boat's hard narrow wooden benches. Like being spanked by 10ft high waves wielding a 25ft long, boat-shaped paddle. Second, it was much more fun to try to predict the boat's motions by watching the waves and listening to the screaming outboard motor, then perfectly time my jumps and landings to avoid almost all of the impact of each crash. This time as I landed one foot slipped from under me and I half fell on to Iris, sitting in front of me, who was too terrified even to notice. The tour operator had warned us it was unusually windy but not dangerous, and Iris seemed more convinced of the unusual wind than the lack of danger.

I got back on my feet as we slowly climbed up the next oncoming wave, momentarily loosing my death-grip on the pole to force each finger to uncramp, straighten and reclamp. Our speed relative to that moving hill seemed tremendous, and I knew another drop was only a few seconds away. Our speed relative to land was slow enough to portend a long trip before we reached the lee of the island. The boat dropped again and I timed the landing better, feeling only the smallest stab in my hip as we landed.

In the instant we had been falling, the engine had sounded exhilarated to be suddenly unopposed, free to spin its rotor as fast as it pleased. No sooner did we all land with a terrible bang then it started groaning again, straining to push self, boat and passengers up another wall of moving water. And there, preparing for yet another sharp drop, I laughed out loud as metaphor popped out of some stressful little recess of my brain. In a tourist boat on an unusually windy day on the Bahia La Paz, on my belated honeymoon with my wife, and suddenly I was thinking about the work I had successfully forgotten about for over a week of luxuriant inactivity. The extended metaphor burst forth fully formed. The boat ride was the several (but frighteningly few) months between now and when my doctoral thesis must be finished. The unending waves were clearly the many drafts and papers I must write, hills to climb, one after another, without pause until the moment when suddenly all was done. Isla Espiritu Santo was my goal, the rest I could earn only by climbing each potentially crushing wave and smoothly moving to the next without pause. Iris was Iris, there to catch me should I fall, far more certain than I of my ability to pull of what I'd said I could.
I laughed so hard at the absurdity and epically mundane megalomania of the metaphor, that I failed to notice the boat was once again in free-fall. At the last moment I had time only to lift my right leg, and let the left, my good one, bear the brunt of the impact. A couple of toes in my left foot went momentarily numb, then came back on line howling their bitter objections to my negligence,  ineptitude and bias. I flexed them, found them not seriously injured, and readied myself for the next drop. I timed it beautifully, not even distracted by the Blue-Footed Booby shooting by just over my head.  I concentrated on the rhythm of the waves, the sound of the engine and improving my technique, learning how to remain untossed on a wildly bouncing vessel. The two crew members, standing up straight and still, laughed at me, and I laughed with them.

December 10th, 2008

07:10 pm: Ijits 2: The Return of the Glasses
The University Optometry Clinic called me to come pick up the latest iteration of my glasses. The prescription is still wrong. I wore them outside and tried to look up at the top of a tall building. I had to cross my eyes and squint to resolve it into a single clear image. I have an appointment for tomorrow to get a whole new eye exam, as it is quite clear the student who did the last one got something wildly wrong.

December 8th, 2008

08:03 am: Lists
I am attempting to become so organized that I just can't help but finish everything I need to finish before May. I have a list of all the papers I need to write, when I need to have drafts of each, and then sub-lists of the things I need to accomplish to be ready to write those drafts. I have lists of all my students and what they are working on and which of my papers they are contributing to and when I need them to those tasks done. I have an organized list of my lists so I can quickly find the information I need.

Okay, I don't actually have all those lists. But I will soon. Making them is on my to do list.

December 4th, 2008

05:32 pm: Ijits
The student health insurance plan now covers eyeglasses, if one gets them from the university's optometry clinic or the health center. So a few months ago I went in for an eye exam at the clinic, because it is much easier to get an appointment there. Mistake.

The optometry student who examined me didn't seem to have that much idea what she was doing, and two staff members were arguing in the hall about how they had ended up scheduling four people for one slot. A doctor came in to "check" the work of the student, found that the first couple of things she checked weren't quite right, but didn't bother checking the rest of it.

Next the people who were supposed to help me pick out frames and lenses were so useless and rude Iris offered to beat them up for me. When I said I wanted something really scratch resistant, one of them (staff, not student) demanded that I should get goggles instead of glasses. It took me a while to convince her that this was not going to happen.

A few weeks later, they called me to come pick up the glasses, The prescription was wildly wrong, and I wasn't too surprised. I told the young woman who was "helping me" that I would like to speak to an optometrist, and she went and got one. He quickly determined that yes, the new prescription was quite wrong in the left eye, and told me they would make a new left lens and call me. They never called, so I stopped in yesterday and found out the glasses were there waiting for me. I put them on and felt that something still wasn't right, but they suggested trying them for a little while to see if my eyes "adjusted."

Today I went back in and spoke to the head optometrist. I told her that while the image was sharp, I had to constantly squint slightly to avoid getting two images. She took the glasses into the back room and determined they had made the new left lens with a focal center significantly above the focal center on the right lens. In other words, the glasses were out of parallax, with each lens focused in a different direction. So she took them and said they will make a third left lens and she will put the information in herself and have them back to me next week, before I leave for Baja. I am not expecting to have them before next year.

My advice to you: avoid the optometry clinic unless you enjoy slow rude service, incompetent clinicians and botched eye wear.  If you have SHIP, go to the TANG center. If not, avoid the university's eye care system altogether.

December 3rd, 2008

08:11 am: Rumor has it
that my brother is one of the 135 people the Washington Post is writing about here.

December 1st, 2008

11:00 am: Grrrrr
There is no rain forecast in the next ten days. This sucks. In the last eight months, we have had one day of decent rain.

November 30th, 2008

07:25 pm: Hotel Security
The New York Times has an article, following the Mumbai attacks, about how hard it is to provide real security for hotels when there are armed groups who are looking for a soft target. I would generalize this to say that there will always be some soft target, and the only way really to prevent attacks, short of building a wall around your country and locking out everyone who could possibly have ill intent, is to have fewer desperate armed groups. Secure the airlines and hotels and nightclubs become more appealing targets. Secure the hotels and nightclubs and perhaps these groups will go after movie theaters and universities. Secure those and subway stations and highway underpasses are still vulnerable. There will always be weak points. We cannot build defenses at every place where any group of civilians could ever be. That strategy is flawed and self-destructive.

This brings to mind one of the many crime stories from my time in PNG. I don't think I ever wrote about this one, as it blended into the general background of lawlessness.

The story.Collapse )

The Gateway certainly could have had better security planning, and if they had the criminals probably wouldn't have even tried to attack the Gateway. They would likely have checked into one of the other hotels. Putting in stronger security might be a good strategy for an individual establishment to make themselves a less appealing traget, but it is a lousy strategy for a society that wants to reduce attacks, wherever they happen.

06:37 pm: A video from my undergrad graduation

02:25 pm: Mix a bit of this with a lot of that, heat and add whatever looks good
We had a wonderful Franksgiving. 13 people on Friday night. I was in charge of making hummus, Turkey, Stuffing, Turkey Gravy, Mushroom Gravy (for  vegetarians), and Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Everything turned out great. It was only after the meal that I realized I had done all that cooking without measuring a single ingredient. My cooking has become so improvisational that I no longer use any measuring devices at all.

This is why Iris does all the baking.

November 24th, 2008

04:52 pm: Honeymoon
Iris and I have tickets to La Paz for late December.

02:44 pm: GO (AWAY) TEAM!
I make very little attempt to hide the fact that I am devoid of school spirit. To be frank, I am not even sure what school spirit is, beyond one's feelings about being a member of a Granfalloon. Not that I think there is anything wrong with my University, I think it is a very good university, with lots of people doing very good research, and a fair portion of the students getting a pretty good education. But the fact that I and certain athletes are both currently associated with this university makes me feel no urge to see them win.  Our "proud and meaningless association of human beings" in my opinion would be less proud, but better off, if we had no high profile sports teams. I am very much in favor of having students stay physically active, participate in fun and stimulating sports, and avoid the poor health that comes with inactivity. But that is very different from the high resource, highly competitive us vs. them hero worship that dominates the university athletics program. 
I don't just see little good in the high resource athletics programs, I see them as causing verifiable harm to the university. The enormous crowds and traffic jams of sloganneering drunken chest-thumpers, the use of valuable space on campus, the distraction of the students.  In addition to this, every student I have caught cheating in any of the classes I was a teaching assistant for was a student athlete (Note that in each case I found out that the student was on a team only after turning him or her in for cheating). Not that all student athletes cheat, but my anecdotal experience suggests that students on high profile sports teams are many times more likely to cheat than others.
One class in particular had a real cheating problem, and a disproporitonate number of student athletes. Several of the students in this course explicitly told me that it was my responsibility to make sure they pass without distracting them from their sports training. The assumption being that coursework was an unimportant distraction from what was important, sports. For some of these students, sports clearly are more important than coursework; at least one of the student we caught cheating on an exam is now very highly paid by the NFL. This student would likely have been expelled before even a professional team could snap him up, but the professor involved expressed concern about the ramifications of expelling such a high profile athlete.

Last year I suggested to the professors of this course ways they could change the course to make cheating less easy (it was very easy, as, for example, they had used slight modifications of the same test questions every year for several years), and many of these suggestions were adopted this year. I now hear that this has sent the portion of the university assigned to make sure athletes keep up their grade point averages into a tizzy fit, as they had counted on this as a science course most of their athletes could pass with minimal help from them. When large number of athletes started doing very poorly this year, recriminations flew. I think it likely that I am, in part, responsible, but I don't feel too bad about it. Rather, I think the pressure to have these students be the best possible athletes first and foremost, but as a necessary second goal maintain good grades, creates an unacceptable conflict of interests for the students, their professors and the university as a whole.

There are not many people at the university who would agree with me that these programs should simply be disbanded. I am okay with that.

November 20th, 2008

07:44 pm: Ooops.
My gaggle of undergraduate assistants and I spend a lot of time in our very small lab space, doing very repetitive, very detailed tasks. It is absolutely necessary that we entertain each other enough to keep us awake and not hating lab. So while the students work they tease each other, I remind them not to sexually harass each other, then they tease me and every once in a while, I tease them. Being their boss, I try hard not to go too far. Occasionally, I don't succeed in that.

My student, PB, and I were taking the daily census of our rotifers.

PB: "G8 has an egg and three juveniles. No never mind, only two juvis."
Me: "What happened to the third juvi?"
PB: "That isn't a juvenile, its just a funny little piece of crap."
Me: "That's just what people used to tell your mom."

Then I apologized for the inappropriate remark, trying hard not to grin. PB feigned outrage. The other student working that morning, RL, said, "Wow, Dan, I didn't know you cracked Your Moma jokes!" She was clearly thrilled by the discovery. Still, I don't feel great about having said it out loud.

06:15 pm: People who watch more TV are less happy.
I told you so.

November 17th, 2008

03:13 pm: Iraqi Anti-Corroption Officals Fired
If you haven't been assassinated yet, you ain't doing it right.

November 16th, 2008

11:53 am: Exxon and Detroit
I've been boycotting Exxon since well before it was ExxonMobile. Here is an excellent example of why.

What is remarkable to me is how similar their mantra about, "the need for oil and gas to power economies for decades to come" and the line the US automakers were feeding themselves about how people would just keep buying larger and larger SUVs forever. For decades Detroit treated reliability and fuel efficiency how ExxonMobile has treated global warming and water quality: waving between lip service and outright dismissal. Exxon is proud to be the oil company that cares the least about the environment, like Detroit was proud of their ability to sell the largest family vehicles.

The Big Three automakers are now very much in danger of ceasing to exist. Without enormously expensive government intervention, at least two and possibly all three will shortly collapse under the accumulated weight of managerial ineptitude and inflexibility. The automaker and their supporters argue that they are simply too big to be allowed to fail. They, their suppliers and companies that rely on the employees of them and their supplier for a majority of their revenue collectively employ well over 1% of the US workforce, concentrated in the already struggling Great Lakes region. If the big three fail, that region will be economically worse off than during the great depression, even if the rest of the country is not. But if we bail out these three former corporate giants, what message does it send to Exxon and other current giants? It tells them, make large profits now, be as dishonest and destructive as you please, and don't worry about the future, the US taxpayer will assume all risk. This is just as unacceptable as allowing the rust belt to reach complete economic collapse. What do you do when presented with two unacceptable options? You create a third, acceptable, option.

So here is what I propose, and for the record, most or all of this has been proposed elsewhere. The government takes ownership of all of the debts and all of the assets of the Big Three. We nationalize them, and their obligations. We fire their entire upper management with no severance and no benefits. It does not pay to reward public idiocy.  For similar reasons, the stockholders get nothing. They hired the idiots and let them go on being idiots for far too long.

Next we bring all the people to whom they owe health insurance into the national healthcare pool Obama is proposing anyway. We nationalize their pension funds, and their pension obligations.

So then we have a bunch of factories and a bunch of workers, with no companies and no management. What do we do with it? First, we spin off and resell bits and pieces of the companies that are viable and desirable. We create two or three companies specializing in hybrid vehicles. We still have enormous numbers of workers and factories to put to work. With them, we modernize our energy and transportation sectors. A factory that builds Hummers can be converted to build rail cars or busses for our new public transportation system. A factory that builds enormous SUV engines can be converted to building wind turbines. A factory that builds gas-guzzlers can be converted to build plug-in/solar electric cars that use none of Exxon's product. And so on. My point is that we do still have a serious need for heavy industry in this country; we just don't need it to be churning out trash.

Anything like this plan quickly brings charges of socialism. FDR's critics shouted "Socialism!" 'til they were horse whenever he proposed anything that would help us out of the Great Depression. And to some extent, Social Security is socialist. Unemployment insurance is socialist. Medicare and Medicaid are socialist.  Public education and public support for hospitals are socialist. The FDIC is socialist. Government subsidies given to ExxonMobile are socialist. Bailing out banks is socialist, and so is bailing out automakers. Anything we can do at this point, short of allowing complete economic meltdown, is socialist.

The last step in my plan, after we have taken the Big Three and made them into hundreds or thousands of smaller companies and given these companies orders for stuff the country needs is more in line with the American capitalist system. We sell off stock in these companies and let them compete in a fashion far more in line with what Adam Smith envisioned than is possible with heavy manufacturing being so heavily concentrated in so few companies. We do this because some of the critics of socialism have a point. Competition really does play a vital role, and governments frequently don't do a great job managing companies.

None of this is cheap, or politically easy, or guaranteed to work.  But giving the automakers huge amounts of money to continue failing is in the long run more expensive, politically more risky and less likely to work. Ditto for letting them simply fail. And if we reject the false dichotomy put forth by the automakers, we can simultaneously send the right message to Exxon and its like, revive the rust-belt and begin to remake our dangerously outdated energy, transportation and environmental infrastructures. We can't do worse than the options the automakers offer us.

November 15th, 2008

08:25 pm: No good kids
Iris: You're so smart. Your parents did a good job raising you.
Me: Don't tell them, they'll take all the credit.
Iris: Some day we'll take all the credit for the things our kids do.
Me: They won't tell us either, ungrateful wretches.

04:29 pm: Similarities
A shoe store chain near us, Shoe Pavilion, is going under. Iris and I both needed new sneakers, and we were in Berkeley, so we went into their clearance sale today. She went into the women's shoe section and chose from a couple of hundred pairs of sneakers. I did the same in the men's section. We chose sneakers that are identical other than size and width.

03:14 pm: I take chocolate croissants seriously.
Dear Semifreddi's Bakery-

I am a big fan of Semifreddi's breads, especially the seeded baguette. I have a complaint though, regarding your chocolate croissants. To be direct, they are deeply disappointing. The pastry itself is fine; what truly sets your chocolate croissants apart is how little they offer in terms of chocolate.  Whoever designed these things very clearly has no love for chocolate. Chocolate should be a dominant flavor in a chocolate croissant, not just a decorative element thinly drizzled on top.

Your chocolate croissants have about a 3/4" cylindrical tunnel through the center of them, and this tunnel is clearly designed to hold chocolate. The first time I bought one, I found a pathetic 1/8" wide trickle of chocolate at the very bottom of this large tunnel, and assumed it must be a manufacturing defect.

Being a great fan of chocolate croissants, a month or two later I bought another of yours, and was shocked to find that the second had even less chocolate in it than the first. I took it home, poured a quarter cup of chocolate chips into the gaping hole where the chocolate is supposed to go, heated it until this melted, and ended up with a decent if somewhat dry chocolate croissant.

Since that time, two years ago, I have made a habit of asking if the chocolate croissants come from Semifreddi's before ordering, and have enjoyed croissants with significant chocolate in them. This last week I forgot to do this, and found myself once again biting into a hollow croissant with effectively no chocolate inside. I also had the impression that the quality of the pastry had declined. I threw it out.

I request that you take one of two steps. Preferably, start putting at minimum ten times as much chocolate in the croissants, and put it in a flat layer across the entire interior, rather than in a machined bore-hole down the middle. This is the general pattern in all of the good chocolate croissants I have had. If you cannot do this, I request that you discontinue your chocolate croissants, so as to save people who enjoy chocolate the disappointment and wasted money. Semifreddi's has earned a reputation for excellent baked goods, and this product does not live up to that reputation.

Thank you for your time and attention.


November 13th, 2008

06:54 pm: Election suspence not over yet
The Obama administration is inheriting a long list of extremely urgent problems which will require swift bold changes to our nation's laws, budgets and policies. Happily, that administration is clearly dedicated to change and will have healthy majorities in both houses of congress to speed things along. The one catch is the Senate, where it takes 60 votes to agree to stop talking about an issue and actually vote on it. Given the election results that have come in so far, the Democrats will have 56 Senators (including Sen. Sanders of VT, who is a Democrait in all but name) and the Republicans will have 40. This leaves two recounts (in Alaska and Minnesota), a run-off election (in Georgia) and Joe Lieberman (Connecticut).
More politics here.Collapse )

I therefore estimate that the Dems have a 30% shot at winning enough seats in the Senate to actually be able to get stuff done swiftly even if Republicans drag their feet.

03:09 am: I've been meaning for a while to write on the future of the Republican Party, and haven't had time. Most of what I intended to say has been said, but I'll say it anyway.

Three possible futures for the GOPCollapse )

01:39 am: Traditional Marriage Hard Core
I think we should put an initiative on the California state ballot amending the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman of the same ethnicity, religion and social class, from the same region and stipulating that the woman must be younger than the man. We should furthermore include a requirement for written proof of the woman's father's consent, and that either a dowry or a bride price (tax deductible) must be paid.

If we are going to return to traditional marriage, why go half ass about it? 

November 12th, 2008

09:22 pm: In the news
Guy I've never heard of and whose name I've already forgot wins Entertainer of the Year award for the fourth time.

November 5th, 2008

08:59 am: Proud of my country
We finally got something right. Something big and important. We are going from having a president who is a symbol to the world of American hubris, incompetence and unreason to one who stands for thought, cooperation, opportunity and change. The race baiting and gay baiting and fear mongering failed gloriously, and Americans went with the guy who is articulate and knowledgable and knowns how to organize and communicate. We went with the vice president who takes the train to work instead of the one who shoots endangered wildlife from helecopters. North Carolina chose the Senator who was a Sunday School teacher over the one whose best known campaign tactic was fabricating evidence that the Sunday school teacher is a closet atheist. We decided that for the first time in at least a couple of thousand years, and possibly much longer, the world's most powerful person will have dark skin.

Last night, listening to Obama's victory speech, I clung to my wife and we cried and laughed and then cried some more. This morning on the BART I grinned at everyone I saw, and they all grinned back. I have never before seen a train car full of such proud Americans.

November 3rd, 2008

08:45 pm: Adblock
Adding http://ads.* to my list of Adblocked items removed the ads from an amazing number of sites.

01:03 pm: When we will know that Obama has won.
Earliest: 7PM Eastern.
Latest: 9PM Eastern.

October 31st, 2008

06:50 am: Yeah, Rain!
Oh how I missed thee.

October 30th, 2008

09:59 pm: Rain!
The ground is wet. Garden snails crunch under foot as a plod from the BART to the house. The kitten slips past me as I open the front door. By the time I catch him, he is wet.

We finally got rain today. Rain! Well, not pouring rain, not ground drenching rain, not water flowing down the sidewalks rain, but still more rain than we have had in the last six month combined.

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