Friday, December 30, 2005

Humility is a picky squirrel

Well, it looks like I was wrong. Almost a week on, a carrot hangs untouched on our squirrel feeder, days after the corn has been picked clean. I thought I had it figured out: squirrels are rodents, so they must like carrots. Find me a rodent that doesn't like a carrot. Rats, rabbits, hamsters, raccoons (OK, not rodents, as it turns out, but kind of similar) - they can't get enough of the orangey, rooty goodness. But not squirrels.

And to think that I disparaged Hermanito Scott. He critiqued my squirrels-eat-carrots theory by noting the large number of cartoons that do not show squirrels eating carrots. Actually, I remain convinced that I was right to mock him, as using cartoons as a nature guide is ridiculous. All the same, the cartoons were right this time. (I should send a note to Acme Co., telling them not to drop their coyote-centric product line.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A babe lying in a manger

Our youth minister at Glen Mar, DC, had a great message for the kids this past Sunday. Well, it was meant for the kids, but I was moved by it, too, so with full credit to him for the theme, I summarize and share it with you. He led a discussion to make his point, while I'm trying to write the condensed version, but I hope that at least some of the message comes through.

In Luke's gospel (the Christmas story Linus recites), an angel tells the shepherds that "a babe lying in a manger" will be the sign for them of Christ's arrival. Why a baby? Why a manger? Yes, we know, there was no room at the inn, but surely God could have picked a time when there were vacancies, never mind a more dignified mode of arrival. But He did not, and not by chance. The great God of the universe did not come to mankind as a king, arriving with trumpets and heralds in a grand procession of power and glory because that's not why He was coming. He was coming to meet mankind in their darkness, in their dirt, when they were weak and lost. And so that's how He arrived: a weak, helpless baby, in a dark, smelly barn. (My apologies to any readers who are proud to have kept clean stables. You have to expect that barn out back of the Bethlehem Dewdrop Inn was probably not the finest in the land. And I don't care how clean your barn is, it's likely not where you would receive the king of all the world, if he came to visit.) We don't have to be dressed in our finest out on the high street to find God. When we are weak and we can't see, and our whole world seems like a dark, smelly place, Christ will meet us there. That is where He started His work on this earth.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Garrison Keillor is fascinating

Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion is not entertaining or amusing to me, but it is fascinating because it almost is. I never seek it out, but when I happen across it on the car radio, I always listen. Some shows, on TV or radio, are immediately and obviously not enojyable, so I quickly move on. But with Garrison I always get the feeling I'm on the cusp of enjoying it. It's like a barely foreign language: if I would just listen a little bit longer or cock my head just so, I would get it, and hours of NPR entertainment each week (and 30 jillion hours of archived delights) would be mine. But it never happens (or hasn't yet), and so I arrive at my destination confused and unsettled, a wheezy, twisting voice of middle America haunting my steps.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


USA Today had a good article for the 40th anniversary of "A Charlie Brown Christmas". I had not realized that, at its 1965 debut, the show was considered risky and even flawed for many of the reasons that it was and remains exceptional. The jazz soundtrack, the extended reading from the Bible, the absence of a laugh track - it's easy to point to these kinds of differences today and say, "Boy, things were different back then." Well yes, they were different, but not on those counts. Perhaps anything truly excellent will always seem anachronistic.

Cool but wack

Rice scientists (spend eight years to) build world’s first nanocar

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Inspiration, thy name is Germany

In last week's "News of the Weird", the Washington CityPaper reported on a $35-million media campaign to boost Germans' self-esteem. One script was translated as, "[O]utdo yourself. Beat your wings and uproot trees. You are the wings. You are the tree. You are Germany."

Huh. There's something about German marketing that just doesn't quite cross the Atlantic. I can't help but recall these enigmatic Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown ads that appeared in The Economist a few years ago, featuring strange-looking men in awkward poses, captioned by unsettling claims about high-quality investment and wealth management services. (Kerry remembers. The balance of the Hollerer readers are wondering how I can dare to use this post to accuse anything else of being "enigmatic" or "awkward".)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fun with style guides

After their first, full-name mention in an article, The Economist always refers to a person as "Mr Smith", "Ms Jackson", etc. This practice pays unexpected and hilarious dividends in the 24 November issue where an article makes multiple references to rapper 50 Cent as "Mr Cent".

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Design flaw

Everybody hates to lose a button from a coat, but this morning, I discovered a drawback of having your buttons firmly affixed to your overcoat: when a button gets caught in the Metro ticket gate, and you walk forward, the firmly-affixed button will pull an eight-inch tear right down the front of your coat. Clearly, this coat could have been better engineered. The breakaway strength of the button affixment system should not exceed the rupture limit of the base fabric. I will submit an RFC (Request For Change) to my coat designers.

On the bright side, though, I'm ahead of the crowd. Everybody else will have to wait until tomorrow to see "Rent".

Monday, November 14, 2005

At last, Autumn is in the air

The leaves have turned and many fallen, the morning air is fogged and brisk, and today, I saw the first ponchos of the season. One woman wore a simple red in light wool, while the other was resplendent in rich browns and blacks of faux fur.

The garment of a prophecy! O poncho,
If Autumn comes, can Winter be far behind?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Lost and Found, found

Last Saturday, Kerry and I went to see Lost and Found play a concert in Bowie. We missed most of the opening act by going to the wrong venue first. (Watch out, faithful reader! The Lutherans will put a "Trinity" and "Holy Trinity" church within miles of one another.)

Lost and Found are a two-man group in the nasal singer-songwriter tradition of They Might Be Giants. Their instrumentation is a bit more limited than TMBG - guitar and keyboard, with occasional recorder and Slinky (tm) - and they're not quite as quirky, but they have a similar sense of humor. And of course, they are a purposefully Christian band, playing songs and about God and Jesus, and thrashing versions of classic hymns (well, as thrashing as you can be on acoustic guitar).

You can hear samples of Lost and Found at their website (, but their recordings, while enjoyable, have nothing on their live shows. They're not as much concerts as lounge shows (with the lights up, in a church). Between songs they tell little stories, take requests (they don't have a pre-set song list), and talk with audience members, learning names and little facts. The closing song is always "Slide Girl" (OK, I guess their song list is somewhat pre-set), where the lyrics are improvised about that night's show. The level of interaction with the band makes the show super-fun.

Note: If you are motivated to go look hunting on the Internet for Lost and Found tracks, do be aware that they are not the same as *The* Lost and Found, a bluegrass band.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Congratulations to Carlie and Scott

Last Wednesday, 2 November, Carlie and Scott had their first child, Liliana. (I've held off sharing the news as long as I could; if Scott hasn't told you himself yet, well, he's just too darn slow.) Scott reports that Carlie was "a trooper" (a characteristic I had thought was reserved for boys no older than 14), and baby and mom are both doing fine.

Kerry and I are delighted for Scott and Carlie, of course, and we're also excited to be aunt and uncle, respectively. (And what is the collective terms for aunts and uncles, anyway? Moms and dads are "parents". Grans, grandads, grampies, omas, geenaws, etc, are all "grandparents". Brothers and sisters are "siblings". "Cousins" is gender-neutral. Are aunts and uncles special, wonderfully unique family members, like no others? I think maybe.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

When in doubt, state the blindingly obvious

Fresh parmesan cheese, shredded straight off the block, is really good. We made some lasagna earlier this week, and the fresh parmesan tastes great. It's not worth mentioning that it's better than the powder in the can, but it's also markedly better than the jars of shredded that you can find in the deli or the cold case.

Now you've always liked the fresh-shredded parmesan at Macaroni Grill, but you've suspected that most of the enjoyment was the ritual: the waiter bringing over the huge block and the wood rasp, to be followed by pepper from the three-foot-long peppermill. I assure you, dear reader, it's all about the cheese. Get yourself a block for home; you won't regret it. The only trouble is that it's so good, you'll want to put it on things where it doesn't belong: not just pasta, but sandwiches, corn flakes, your toothbrush, etc.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

When in doubt, write about statistics

According to a report on NPR this evening, Halloween is the second-worst day of the year in the US for drunk-driving fatalities. The worst, of course, is the Fourth of July. (Surprised?)

Monday, October 31, 2005

Passing by Mrs Parks

Last night, on the way home from the DC United game - the most comprehensive beatdown I have the misfortune to recall witnessing - we passed Rosa Parks's funerary motorcade heading south. It was an impressive procession, with at least a dozen motorcycle cops, a dozen police cars, numerous SUVs, and three passenger buses accompanying the hearse.

The Economist had a nice obituary for Mrs Parks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The joys of city life

In my opinion, one of the best things that can happen as you walk down the street is this: You see a person approaching, and you note the fur-trimmed hood they have pulled up over their head. Then, as you get a bit closer, you see, oh no, that's no hood, and that's no fur trim; that's their hair.

Question: The hair was magenta-pink. Should that have made it more or less likely to be hair versus fur trim?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

National Youth Workers Convention

I spent Saturday through Monday at the National Youth Workers Convention in Pittsburgh, a gathering of a few thousand, largely youth pastors, who work with adolescents through the church. There were large worship, music, and comedy sessions, as well as over a hundred exhibitors with resources and services to support youth ministry, but I was most moved by some of the smaller seminars I attended. I heard strong, thoughtful words on a range of topics, including youth culture, politics, and post-modern theology. (I mention seminars I attended on politics and post-modern theology because they were interesting and challenging, but also to preempt any accusations of being cool.)

Probably the most intriguing, though, was talk from Chap Clark, a pastor and professor who conducted an ethnographic study of teenagers, described in his book Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers, published in 2004. As an ethnographer, he studied adolescents not (primarily) with surveys and interviews, but by observation, spending a year substitute teaching in a southern California high school. (This wasn't deceptive; the kids knew he was also conducting research on their culture.) His study found that mid-adolescents (about 13-20 years old) truly do have a culture distinct from the adult culture, and that it is a culture that has largely grown out of a sense of abandonment from adults. Obviously he's not necessarily referring to cases of physical abondonment and material neglect, but to psychological abandonment. The recognition, in the last hundred years or so, of adolescence as a phase of life distinct from childhood and adulthood, has followed the centuries-long elevation of the importance of the individual. As a result, adolescence has become a time when teens, by necessity on their own, determine how they will fit into adult society. Their responses to this challenge - including forming "clusters" of 4-10 friends who become like family and the numerous, distict personalities they have in different arenas (school, sports, home, church, etc) - are different from adults' responses, and indeed, are different from the responses of teenagers just 20 years ago.

This is a brief and necessarily incomplete summary of Clark's presentation, never mind his book. But I wanted to mention it, as the conclusions are powerful. They suggest that the existing institutions of adolescence (school, sports, and yes, even youth group) are better structured to reinforce than to ameliorate the isolation. The results are relevant to any adult interacting with teens, parents most of all. But more importantly, Clark's findings have been presented to thousands of adolescents in the US (and even some abroad, now), and they overwhelmingly say that he is on the money. I hope to return to the topic once I've read the book (currently en route from Amazon).

Friday, October 14, 2005

No, really, that's it: pictures of dogs wearing bee costumes, with just a splash of light wit.

Props to the Washington Post Express for sharing this site. The Express - it's more than just snarky comments about celebrities.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Today's reason to stay out of politics:

What you write in birthday cards becomes part of the public record. (See The Australian's reporting on the Miers nomination.)

Schoutout to Schelling

I'm glad that Thomas Schelling co-won the Nobel Prize for Economics this year. I find his work thoroughly engaging (and I thought he had won previously, so future my future mis-statements are now corrected). If you are interested, I can send you a 1984 lecture he gave on personal preferences that change with time and strategies of self-control. It's ten pages of great reading for anyone who's ever studied the rational actors who make the world of classical microeconomics go 'round, but it's also completely accessible and thought-provoking without any formal background (or interest) in economics.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


You have undoubtedly been wondering, "What would happen if I put two hard-boiled eggs in a microwave for about a minute?" Wonder no more, dear reader, as The Elkridge Hollerer is reporting the news that you need to know. If the shells are intact when the eggs go in the microwave, they won't be for long, as the eggs in question will explode with spectacular completeness. Our investigation indicates that, afterwards, you'd be hard-pressed to find a piece of egg greater than a quarter-inch across.

I can't possibly communicate how funny this is. Kerry can attest to this - or at least to how amusing I find it - as it was my guffaws that woke her on Saturday morning following an uneggspected eggsplosion in the kitchen. When you try it for yourself, I suggest detonating your eggs under a Pyrex mixing bowl; that will greatly simplify clean-up, as you can just put the bowl and the rotating microwave platter in the sink/dishwasher, versus having to wipe down every square inch of the inside of your microwave. (If any readers have knowledge of Pyrex exploding in a microwave, please let us know ASAP, 'cause that doesn't sound like much fun.)

For the scientifically-minded among you, why, do you reckon, does the egg explode? That the shell should crack as the hot interior expands makes perfect sense. But I assure you, this is much more than a crack; this is a catastrophic containment failure followed by ovid disintegration. What's going on?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

"And during the few moments we have left...

... I want to talk right down to earth, in a language that everybody here can easily understand."

Maybe Columbia Association board member Philip Marcus, of Kings Contrivance, is a Malcolm X fan, or maybe he just likes Living Colour. But when the need for a new sewer line in Howard County was the topic of discussion, he took those words to heart. Said Mr Marcus, "Popping manhole covers are really fun when they're in the movies, but in real life, sewage comes out of it."

Who Without a Cause?

I saw Rebel Without a Cause for the first time last night and was left baffled. I found the title totally misleading. It ought to have been called The Only Sane Guy in Town; with the exception of policeman Ray, James Dean's character was by far the most balanced, well-adjusted person in the movie. Sure, he had his weak points, but he was 16 years old; I think he handled the nuts around him pretty well. The whole thing didn't make much sense to me, but maybe you just had to be there ("there" being 1955).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Editor's note: Anti-spam

Spam comments have been posted to the Hollerer with distressing frequency. No, not yours, William, but automatically generated comments offering money-making opportunities and displeasing clutter. I like comments only from you, dear reader, so I've turned on a verification feature for commenting. The comment dialogue will provide you with a code word you have to type in before your contribution is posted. I hope that this doesn't cause you any trouble.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Happy Feast of St Francis

Cuzzin Carrie shared this interesting summary of the life of Saint Francis:

Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is the co-founder (with Clare of Assisi) of the Franciscan Order. He was born the son of a wealthy cloth merchant named Pietro di Bernardone, and he was very worldly in his early years.

When about twenty, Francis went out with the his youthful buddies to fight a neighboring group called the Perugians. The Assisians were defeated this particular time, and Francis, being among those taken captive, was held as a prisoner for over a year in Perugia. A low fever which he contracted there seems to have turned his thoughts to the things of God and the Sprit; we do know that he realized that the life he had been living was empty, and he wanted more.

After gaining his freedom and returning to Assisi, Francis still joined with his buddies in the noisy pursuits of his former friends, but his changed attitudes showed to his friends that his heart was no longer with them. Francis had began to yearn for the life of the spirit Who had possessed his heart. After a short period of uncertainty he began to seek in prayer and solitude the answer to his call; he had already given up his fancy clothes and wasteful lifestyle.

One day, in the church of San Damiano, he seemed to hear Christ saying to him, "Francis, repair my falling house." He took the words literally, and sold a bale of silk from his father's warehouse to pay for repairs to the church of San Damiano. His father was outraged, and there was a public confrontation at which his father disinherited and disowned him, and Francis in turn renounced his father's wealth--one account says that he not only handed his father his purse, but also took off his expensive clothes, laid them at his father's feet, and walked away naked! That took real commitment in those days when there were no "safety net" of public assistance. Francis told every one that he was "wedded to Lady Poverty", and renounced all material possessions, and devoted himself to serving the poor. Francis then wandered the hills behind Assisi, improvising hymns of praise as he went. "I am the herald of the great King", he declared in answer to some robbers, who promptly robbed him of all he had and threw him scornfully in a snow drift. Naked and half frozen, Francis crawled to a neighboring monastery and there worked for a time as the lowest of the kitchen servants.

In Francis' day the most dreaded of all diseases was leprosy. Lepers were kept at a distance and regarded with fear and disgust. Francis cared for them, fed them, bathed their sores, and kissed them.

Francis began to live as a hermit and soon attracted followers. He preached the necessity of a poor, simple life-style based on the ideals of the Gospels. He got his meals, not by asking for money so that he might live at the expense of others, but by scrounging crusts and discarded vegetables from trash-bins, and by working as a day laborer, insisting on being paid in bread, milk, eggs, or vegetables rather than in money. Pope Innocent III approved his way of life, gave him and his disciples permission to preach on moral topics, and had Francis ordained a deacon. The followers increased and were called Friars Minor by Francis, that is, the lesser brethren. They would have no money, and no property, individually or collectively. Their task was to preach, "using words if necessary," but declaring by word and action the love of God in Christ. Francis sort of liked drama (just look at his parting from his father, for example), and it was probably he who set up the first Christmas manger scene, to bring home the Good News of God made man for our salvation, home to men's hearts and imaginations as well as to their intellects.

With the collaboration of Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), Francis founded (1212) a branch of his Order for women, called the Poor Clares. Clarehouse here in Tulsa is named for her. Later, Francis established (1221) another branch for lay men and women, called the Third Order. In 1219, during the Fifth Crusade, Francis made his famous but fruitless attempt to convert the sultan al-Kamil while the crusaders laid siege to Damietta in Egypt. Francis returned to Italy, but a permanent result of his mission was that the Franciscans were given custody of the Christian shrines then in Muslim hands.

After returning from the Crusades, Francis retired from the government of the order to a life of contemplation, during which he received the Stigmata (the imprint of the wounds of Christ in his own body) and composed his famous poem, the Canticle of Brother Sun. He died on October 3, 1226 and was canonized in 1228. Francis's feast day is October 4.

Well, maybe you should doubt William Li

William calls social conservatives unhappy with the nomination of Miers for the Supreme Court "so arrogant as to believe that they own the President" and says that the President can accuse them of being disloyal if they don't back Miers. Well, they may be arrogant, but they are reasonably ticked, and I don't think the President can accuse them of being disloyal. The social conservatives were important to the President's re-election, and they were not coy about it. They wanted their agenda (on abortion, homosexual rights, etc) advanced, and they saw a Supreme Court justice nominated by President Bush as a good (the best?) way to do it. The President has now made two politically expedient nominations. (This not to say that they are not qualified, or that you shouldn't like them, but they are expedient.) With Democrats falling over themselves to be vaguely non-commital yet supportive, Roberts and Miers hardly look like the stalwarts the social conservatives were hoping for. So they're feeling not like fair-weather friends, but like crunch-time allies, who the President turned to in the election, and now is not risking anything on their behalf. I don't think the "how can you leave me now?" line will carry much water.

The Brits love baseball!

The Guardian has a nice summary of the Major League baseball season and upcoming playoffs. It's kind of interesting to read an article written for people generally unfamiliar with the game, to see what gets explained, and what unusual wordings creep in.

Friday, September 30, 2005


This morning, I saw the brightest earthshine on the Moon I think I ever have, so bright that the mare were visible in the shade. And further south, Orion shone bright. It was a beautiful fall morning in The Holler.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Paging Dr Freud

Dreams about flying are really about sex. "So what does it mean when you dream about sex?" asks the old chestnut. And I ask, "What does it mean when you dream about having hot-rolled bangs?"

Monday, September 26, 2005

Fenway South

Kerry and I attended the Boston Red Sox's shellacking of the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yard on Sunday afternoon with Maia, a fellow SAIS alum, and Grant. At least the tickets and the signs said Camden Yard; the crowd said Fenway Park. It was like going to a UT or A&M football game at Rice: you may not have to travel, but the crowd was wearing all the wrong colors and cheering for exactly the wrong things. We had a good time, tho. Both of us like going to a baseball game at least as much as watching a game. We got to talk a lot with Maia and Grant, and with 12 runs scored, there was plenty for the baseball non-afficianado to appreciate.

Friday, September 23, 2005


This afternoon, I calculated the all-in cost of some loans. "All-in" means that you take all the loan disbursements, all the fees, all the interest, all the repayments, and mash them all into a single number, to get a simple way to describe the cost of the debt. Well, that's what "all-in" means to a true financier. To me, it still means as much poker as finance, so I get this mental image: One of the bankers we work with, sometimes with a dealer's shade on, sometimes with the big shades and old-school track suit, sits at a conference table. With both arms, they sweep together all the project documents and lending covenants and lean slightly forward, pushing them to the center of the table. Then, without a word, they sit back, eyes never leaving the borrower, and wait.

Welcome to London Hold 'Em at the World Series of Banking.

Friday, September 16, 2005

"No matter how cynical you get, it's nearly impossible to keep up."

Thus spake Lily Tomlin.

So according to the President, emergency planning is now a "national security priority". Indeed. One might have thought that putting FEMA in the Department of Homeland Security would have been a sign that emergency planning was part of security. (Whether it makes sense to couple flood-fighting with anti-terrorism is another issue.)

I don't know, perhaps I'm disproving Ms Tomlin's claim and I've overshot the proper levels of cynicism, but I'm not impressed by the latest responses (re-responses, really) to the disaster in New Orleans. Don't get me wrong, the week following the storm was awful and a shame for the country. I'm certainly glad to see Michael Brown get canned from FEMA, a rare show of accountability (and more meaningful than the President's acceptance of responsibility). But now the race seems to be on to commit as much money as possible ($200 billion from government, and counting) to rebuilding, never mind where or why.

Poor action at multiple levels of government turned a natural disaster into a humanitarian one, and those mistakes should be addressed. But the natural disaster, the flooding of the city, wasn't caused by poor action; it was caused by having a city below sea level, guarded by levees. (Yes, I know that the budget for levee maintenance was cut, and that was poor action, too. But the strength of the levees relative to the depth of the city and the expected sizes of storms was a design decision that, one day, would have come up short.)

Among others, New orleans Mayor Ray Nagin spoke of the re-building after Katrina as a historic opportunity to reshape the city, to change some fundamental elements of the city's physical and social shape. Yet when Dennis Hastert suggested that every part of the low-lying city shouldn't be rebuilt just as it was, the howls of protest came from all corners. With the floodgates of money open (sorry) and the President now desperate to regain popularity, it seems less and less likely that there will be much thinking about how and why the rebuilding of New Orleans will proceed. And with all this energy devoted to building as fast as possible, I'm less hopeful that there will be real consideration of what went wrong in the emergency response or what the implications of the immediate and long-term responses are for other high-risk cities (eg, LA).

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that I underestimate the ability of the City of New Orleans to simultaneously move fast and move smart. I hope I underestimate the ability of bureaucrats in DC to act, not without compassion, but with a national perspective that looks beyond the next 12 months in Louisiana. For the good of the people who've lost so much and need their hope, I hope I'm too cynical.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Don't doubt William Li!

When you ask your good and knowledgeable friend, William, for advice on printers, and he says, "Don't buy an HP," don't buy an HP.

No prizes for guessing how I've wasted half a day (just counting today) at work.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Current events

Kerry is about two weeks into her year-long course of study in clinical investigation (research). Her current coursework includes biostatistics, epidemiology, ethics, research writing... I think there's another one, but it escapes me. These courses are through the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Hopkins, so some of her classes (eg, biostatistics) are very large, with 300-400 students. I've been struck by how quickly she's gone full-blast into student mode, reading and doing problem sets without ceasing. I shouldn't be surprised; after all, she's always been a good student. The funny thing is, between undergrad and med school, she's been a full-time student for five of the eleven years I've known her, but this is the first time I've actually lived with her as a student, so maybe it's reasonable that I don't recognize her academic habits. Or maybe, having worked for a few years, her habits have changed somewhat. When I started at SAIS two years ago, I felt that difference.

But speaking of being together for eleven years, we celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary on Sunday. (Thank you for the cards and calls.) Kerry took us to a nice restaurant in Baltimore, Taste. It was a fairly quiet night at the restaurant, as one might expect with the Ravens opening their season against the Colts at the same time. We had a lovely, leisurely dinner under the canopies of rope strung wall-to-wall. We enjoyed everything we tried from the eclectic menu, including some froofy martinis and a piquant sweet potato soup that was far too spicy to be in Maryland (which means it was delightful).

After a lull in late August, when vacations ruled the earth, things have picked back up for me at work. The biggest item on my plate right now is building a generic financial model for a company that develops power projects. (That is, they plan out a facility, do all the regulatory legwork, then sell the concept to a big firm that actually builds and operates the plant.) This means I'm spending lots of time creating in Excel. Since I'm a big nerd, this is a good thing.

Last Sunday was my first day teaching senior-high Sunday school. Actually, I'm co-teaching, and one of my two colleagues has been doing this for the past few years, so that first day wasn't near as hard as it could have been. In fact, for all the warnings, it went fine. I knew the majority of the kids from youth group, and they acted about like I expected. Sitting here five days from my second day teaching senior-high Sunday school, I'm thinking that the class time itself may not be the biggest challenge; rather, it will be the time between classes, trying to come up with what to do during the class. Any advice (beyond prayer) would be welcome.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


We all know that "Shazam" is a magical acronym, conferring on Billy Batson the qualities of heroes of old:

Solomon (wisdom of)
Hercules (strength of)
Atlas (stamina of)
Zeus (power of)
Achilles (courage of)
Mercury (speed of)

So what does "Shazbot" stand for?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

300 is a lot of mums

That's about how many potted mums I saw sitting in serried ranks on the DC sidewalk this morning. To plant that many in one day, the landscapers will need to communicate clearly: no mumbling. They should watch out for their health; if they get swollen jaws, they should get checked for mumps. If they get bored, they could take a quick break to play mumblety-peg. Kerry's mum sure would like seeing all those flowers, maybe even more than the Egyptian mummies at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Speaking of New York museums, though, MoMA is pretty good, too. But enough of this. Time to get some coffee and get back to work. Mmmm... maybe I should sprinkle some cinnamum and cardamum in my coffee...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The days are just packed

Kerry and I made the most of the three-day weekend. We began Saturday morning with a trip to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, with Ros and Brian. It was our first trip in a couple of years, so it was good to catch up with Johnny Fox, swordswallower extraordinaire, and a big ol' turkey leg.

We continued south to Angus and Julie's. We had missed AJ's birthday party, but the jumpy-jump was still inflated in the front yard, so that was all right. As is his wont, Angus prepared a meticulous and delicious recipe from Cook's magazine: chicken, this night. We watched the US soccer team secure their place in the World Cup with a lovely 2-0 victory over Mexico. (We then watched most of a drear and dull defeat of DC United by Colorado. Team loyalty is all well and good, but we, the spectators, should have quit while we were ahead.)

The next morning we had delicious fruit-filled French toast (thanks to Jamie Oliver and cuzzins E & C for the recipe), then went sailing on the Potomac with Angus and Haley. Neither Kerry nor I had been sailing before, or maybe just not in the last 25 years. It was a beautiful day for it, and we had a wonderful time. It's easy to see how people become dedicated to and passionate about it.

Sunday afternoon, we met Kha-Linh, one of my fellow interns from the World Bank last summer, at the Smithsonian. She's a student in France, currently doing an internship in New York, and was in DC to see her brother for the weekend. We went to the Museum of Natural History, where we saw the renovated hall of mammals for the first time. They've done a lovely job, brightening the room and exhibiting the animals in poses that capture them as living beings, not fuzzy statues.

After the museum, a bit of ice cream, the sculpture garden, and seeing Kha-Linh back to the Metro, we headed north to a long dinner at the Ram's Head. The Ram's Head isn't necessarily a "long dinner" kind of place, but our visit was made the longer by first trying to go somewhere else, where the wait had grown from "one party" (so described over the phone just before we left home) to "over one hour". (The somewhere else will not receive coveted Elkridge Hollerer publicity until we actually get to eat there.) When we did get to the Ram's Head, they were busy and short-staffed. The meal was good; it just ended up consuming most of the evening. We barely had time to get home and fall asleep on the couch watching Singin' in the Rain.

We used the holiday to have Ben, Rachel, and wee Sophie over for a Labor Day cookout. I made way too much of Dad's Piri Piri chicken and E & C's mint pineapple - again with the cuzzins' recipes - Kerry made brownies, and there was some corn and the biggest sweet potatos ever. Sophie eschewed all for pureed peas and a bottle of formula. (There's no accounting for taste.)

The weather was sparkling all weekend, we got to do lots and see lots of our friends. It was a great way to wrap up the summer.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

New Orleans

There is nothing particularly unusual or insightful about this post, but I am amazed by the disaster in New Orleans. In a matter of days, a city of half-a-million people has functionally ceased to exist, and it will be weeks or months before recovery can really begin. Maybe it's the duration of this calamity that is most unsettling. At least with a earthquake, tornado, or (poor Mississippi) "normal" hurricane and flooding, the disaster hits, then minds and hands turn to rebuilding. But this inundation just continues, and will continue. I suppose the relatively slow nature of the flooding may have saved many lives. If so, that's a blessing, but many more will be needed in the time to come.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Take notes, Pat Robertson

This is how you use the media*:

Venezuela announces assistance plan for poor people in US

The Venezuelan government said Sunday that it will provide assistance for at least 7 million poor people in the United States, the world's first economic power, despite struggling against poverty in its own territory.

In a Sunday radio and television program, President Hugo Chavez said that there are many poor people in the United States, and every year a large number of them die of cold during the winter.

That is why "we're going to offer fuel for heating that is 40 percent cheaper" than market prices, said Chavez, adding that the plan would benefit 7 million to 8 million poor people in the United States...

(from Xinhua, 30 Aug 05)

* OK, this is how you use the media and oil export revenues out the wazoo.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Drinking coffee confers immortality

OK, the headline from The Scotsman, "Study says coffee delivers more health benefits than fruit and veg", isn't quite that misleading, but it still overreaches. Turns out coffee is better than fruits and vegetables solely as a source of antioxidants. And that conclusion is based on Americans' actual eating habits, ie, Americans do get more antioxidants from coffee than from fruits and veg, but it's not clear from the article if that's because coffee is such a concentrated source, or because we're just not eating our veggies. Don't get me wrong, I'm always happy for a reason to drink more coffee, but I hate to see the noble bean associated with such misleading writing.

[Ed. note: I'm glad to see that William and I read the same news.]

To every thing there is a season

On 27 August, for just a little while, there was a fall sky over Elkridge. The clouds were low, lumpy, and glassy-grey, straight out of November. The air was too heavy and humid, the trees were still too green, but they sky was pure autumn.

I've always thought that it was the variety of the seasons that I enjoyed, the distinctive sights, smells, and feels they all four have. And I do enjoy that variety and the changes from one to the next, but overlaps like these are rare treats. It is a striking moment to glimpse something unmistakably from another time.

It's the first day of school in Howard County. Kerry won't be far behind; her full class schedule starts on Thursday.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Happy feet

My right foot is happy because the new tires I just got on the Protege rock. It feels like I'm skiing, carving turns (which no doubt will delight Kerry when I drive her home from the airport today). My left foot is happy because the strange chuck-chuck-chucking I used to have in the mornings pulling away from a stop or shifting into second is now gone. I guess the old tires skipped until they warmed up, but these have no such problem.

I'm no tire wizard. All credit goes to the user reviewers on, who spend a lot of time thinking about tires. I should probably reserve judgement until I see how these new Kumhos wear in and hold up, but this looks to be the third time 1010tires has steered us right on tire selection.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Yes, you should enjoy this site for the cats themselves. But take a moment to appreciate how darned good the pictures are. (Half the time, I can't even time it right to take a picture of the Furryous Two sleeping.) And certainly do notice the insanely clean apartment behind the cats. I think the only departures from immaculate are the mussed bed covers (only in one picture) and the one glimpse of the photographer wearing sweatpants.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

His Grayish Materials

I'd like to follow up on an earlier comment on Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. Kerry and I have finished the trilogy, and our reaction is mixed. The first two-and-a-half books were very good. They were engaging and inventive, with fun concepts like the daemons that animal-morphized people's souls, "experimental theology" (my second-favorite new phrase of the summer, after "bring the venom"), armored bears, and the setting for it all: a world parallel to our own, but subtly and cleverly different. The characters were memorable and interesting, and the plot pulled us along. The story also spread out the discovery; into the third book, we were still exploring and learning about Pullman's invented world(s).

Unfortunately, the story lost its footing at the end. The climactic action relied on God and the host of Heaven portrayed as thuggish tyrants, so one-dimensional and shallow as to make Dan Brown look like an apologist for the Catholic Church. (The Church itself - there's only one organized religion in Pullman's books - doesn't come off too well, but at least it's populated with characters, not stick-figure personalities.) Then there was a strange Adam and Eve, Mark II, which though foreshadowed for 2+ books, felt shoehorned in to a generally forced closing. It was a disappointing conclusion to the series. I'd recommend reading the first two books and stopping, but the plot would leave you hanging, and undoubtedly you'd want to continue. So either steer clear altogether, or consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

George Will has tapped my phone

A couple of weeks ago, Dad and I were talking about nominal versus real oil prices. Now George Will writes a column about it. Coincidence? I think not.

Will this appear on "SAIS in the News"?

From the Washington Post Express, 22 August 2005:

Francis Fukuyama Is Always Right

Communist mainland China wil soon have its own version of "The Apprentice." Donald Trump will be the executive producer of the show, which will be hosted by Beijing property mogul Pan Shiyi. China's version will closely follow the U.S. original, in which contestants compete for a job with Trump. Details of the deal are under negotiation. The show will run in direct competition with "Wise Man Takes All" - which was inspired by "The Apprentice."

[Ed. notes:

1. Francis Fukuyama is on the SAIS faculty and is best known for his 1992 book, The End of History, about the inevitable triumph of democratic market capitalism.

2. Washington Post Express, the commuter-friendly tabloid from the Washington Post, is better known for its snarky comments about celebreties than for its coverage of international affairs.]

Dangit, Pat Robertson

I had so many other things I wanted to think and write about this morning, and then I heard that Pat Robertson has advocated the US assassination of Hugo Chavez. I'm not a fan of Robertson (or Chavez, for that matter), and I know he's said dumb stuff before, but this has just stuck in my craw. How can someone so surrounded by, and ostensibly promoting, Christian teaching be advocating a political assassination or the invasion of Venzuela that he treats as a foregone conclusion? Or fine, put the morals aside, if you really do think that Chavez is a threat, do you think that an assassination proceeded by trumpets is the way to meet it? And this guy is an icon of the political movement that is increasingly defining the Republican party.

Please don't feel compelled to answer my questions. (A fine thing to say after throwing a lit match at the twin gasoline cans of politics and religion.) This is me venting, and you're just unlucky enough to read it.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Central planning from the ivory tower

Please enjoy the real-life titles of one UC-Berkeley faculty member:

  • Associate Professor of Energy and Society
  • Director, Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory

The more I think about it, the more I conclude that these might not be horrendous concepts. But I'm pretty sure I can't stand the titles. (And I definitely want to know how they measure appropriateness at the RAEL.)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

I love me some street food

My enthusiasm for street food is typically focused on the hot-dog vendors in DC. Without a doubt, the best lunch deal in the city is two half-smokes, a bag of chips, and a coke for $3.50. (My main hot-dog guy, Mohammed, just south of Dupont Circle on Mass Ave, makes the deal even sweeter by not charging extra for a bag of Bon Ton chips. "Bon Ton means good taste", as the bag says, but a 7/8-oz bag of chips means you're eating way more chips at a sitting than any human should, never mind when partnered with two half-smokes and a coke.) But my street-food horizons were broadened yesterday while I was out for my two-monthly jog. Along the railroad tracks, I found plump, deep-purple blackberries that practically melted in my mouth. If I were truly of my family, I would have come back with a grocery sack to collect them for a cobbler, but I was satisfied with grabbing a few as I passed by. It was a real treat that only could have been improved by Kerry being home. Then she could have shared in the joy of sitting up at night with abdominal cramps and retching.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Swatting the air from in front of your face

This afternoon, I heard a journalist/historian of the Catholic church claim that, as John Paul II used the Papacy to fight against Communism, Benedict XVI is taking on Western relativism. If that's really what he has in mind, I think he will be disappointed. It's difficult to see how, dealing with someone truly convinced that there are no absolute truths, only personal understandings, one can directly persuade them otherwise; there is no common ground between people from which a shared journey (or clash) towards knowledge begins. But that points out a deeper problem with this line: "relativism" itself can't be a belief that denies the existence of universally true beliefs; it does not exist as a concrete philosophy (pardon the awkwardness) that can be attacked, as the analogy to Communism suggests. The closest that comes to disbelief in absolutes is mere unwillingness to consider them.

Really, I suspect that most of what passes for "relativism" today is grounded in humility, cynicism, or both. As our vision has expanded in space and in time, we've seen truths turn out to be not always true, things done in the names of "truth" and "right" that look wrong and false. And so the "relativist" refrains from claiming truth, maybe judging that it is an issue without absolute right or wrong, or maybe suspecting that there is a right, but contrary to his hopes and intents, he's not in it. There can also be a thread of liberalism, respecting the right of others to seek the truth themselves and honoring that right above the desire to see them reach one's own conclusion. "Relativism" can even have religious roots; one may have a firm, clear, trusted revelation and understanding from God, but what person would claim to see His path and know His way for all people? Are these the "relativism" the Church will fight? (Perhaps not.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bring the venom

Thanks, William. That phrase is a keeper.

Who made Clippy, the late, hated Microsoft Office assistant? I feel a bit bad for the graphic artist somewhere who, presumably, worked long and hard to create Clippy. She drew his shape, gave him movement and motion, polished his wire body to healthy, but not ostentatious, sheen. And after all that toil, the artist had done worse than fail. Certainly not liked, Clippy wasn't even inoffensive; his appearance on the screen prompted loathing, rage, and "the venom".

Admittedly, it wasn't all the artist's doing. She probably had nothing to do with the twisted, programmed logic that summoned Clippy only when a user least wanted him. And regardless, some number of attempts to shove improvements down the throats of the masses are bound to fail. Nonetheless, the image the artist created is what still, years after Clippy's demise, triggers visceral spitting and hissing. It must be disappointing to her, but I hope she can laugh about it.

[Ed. note: Before you ask, I really don't know about the gender of Clippy's creator, but "she" makes it easier to distinguish her from Clippy. For Clippy is definitely a guy, unless you would wish that albatross and Gilbert Gottfried's voice on the fairer sex.]

Monday, August 15, 2005

Is a working knowledge of Basque obscure?

Thanks to seeing Eric twice over the last week, I know that the answer is "not enough". After all, being able to translate from Basque to English got Eric published. (Zikloa, by Joseba Olalde, Arabera, Gasteiz, 2004 - and yes, all of those words are spelled correctly.) So now he's off to spend two years studying patristics, the theological debate and evolution of the first five centuries of Christianity. It's not just St Augustine; there's a dizzying array of bishops and heresies and monk rumbles.

It's a joy to me that I know someone who wants to study these things, who has the knowledge of ancient languages to study these things, and who can already discuss them at length in historical context, and see the connection to his personal and modern Church life. People really can be extraordinary.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Apparently my daemon is a kiwi

Courtesy of Ros, Kerry and I have been enjoying the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. Actually, Kerry finished this week, and I'm close behind. (No spoilers, please.) One of the prominent inventions in the book are the animal-formed "daemons" that accompany all humans. They are reflective of the person's true nature and emotions, so I expect it's a very common reaction for readers to speculate on what their daemon would be.

My wonderings were put to rest when I ran into some troubles with the router at the office this morning. It's taken to rebooting itself, which takes down the network for 5-10 minutes - annoying and embarrassing for me, the keeper of all things IT. Of course it's more difficult to diagnose the problem as the reboot erases the event log on the router, so to create a remote log on one of our computers, I installed, yes, a daemon. But not just any daemon: a Kiwi Syslog daemon.

And so my true nature is revealed, all thanks to the half-bit router Verizon gave us with our DSL service.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On your MARC...

I write you from the gently-swaying sumptuousness of a MARC commuter train, gliding home in quiet, dignified comfort, befitting a day well-spent in productive labor.

OK, I'm probably a little excited about it now, but it's been years since I've taken the train for my regular commute from Columbia to DC. Though I've said many times that I don't mind the drive down to the Metro at Greenbelt, I find that I mind even less the 7-minute drive to the Dorsey train station. And with the price of gas double what it was when I last a MARCsketeer, I don't mind shaving 40 miles of driving from my daily routine. Plus, the MARC gives more space and more uninterrupted time than does Metro to do useful things, like write The Hollerer. (Now if only I could actually post it from the train...)

A new commute is part of settling in at my new job at Greengate. In fact, it will become a proper job next Monday when I switch from working under a short-term contract to being employee #1 of the firm. (Actually, they have not dubbed me "employee #1", but if I claim it, who's around to argue with me?) I'm pleased and excited. I've enjoyed this job for the last two months, and I've learned a good bit. Admittedly, a lot of it has been about copiers and phones as I coordinated our recent move to a new office, but doing some of everything is part and parcel of working in a firm of four, and something I looked forward to when I accepted the job in May. I get on well with my three bosses, or so it seems; none of them suspiciously pick up the phone or leave on international travel when I knock on their door. This job is a great opportunity, and I couldn't expect to be more pleased by it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Honoring Aunt Debbie

My Aunt Debbie, Mom's eldest sister, passed away last spring. This last weekend, Kerry and I spent a couple of days in Duxbury, her hometown, with her sisters, children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, remembering her life. The capstone was a beautiful time, arranged by Debbie's children, at the arboretum of her old home. The arboretum itself is a lovely sight, designed and first created by Debbie's father, my Grampie, then in turn re-created by Debbie. Around the edges of the large yard were about 25 pieces of Aunt Debbie's artwork, from the meticulous and inventive collages of the last ten years, to photographic portraits, poetry, letters and cards, and even some of the books she wrote for her grandchildren. As her eldest daughter, Melanie, put it, it was as much an art show as a memorial, and the many family and friends of Debbie there truly appreciated the chance to remember and revisit her creative spirit. There were also numerous photos of Debbie's life with family and friends, which called up fine memories. The entire event was wholly fitting and moving; I am certain she would have appreciated it.

As at any memorial, there was also the joy of seeing family whom we see too infrequently, in this case Debbie's sisters, children, grandchildren, etc, mentioned above. We were together less than 48 hours, but all under one roof - a 350-year-old roof, at that - we were able to catch up quickly. We are intending a reunion next year in South Carolina, reprising a great gathering in the summer of 2002. We are already looking forward to it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Harry Potter - spoiler-free

Kerry and I finished Harry Potter and the Unbelievable Piles of Money on our way to West Virginia last weekend. (OK, we really finished it after arriving that night, but there were less than 10 pages to do at that point.) It was good, maybe the most twisty of the books yet. We like the way the series keeps growing through its characters. (All credit to J. K. Rowling for letting Harry become a whiny git in book 5, but thank heavens he's passed that phase.) So we're marking our calendars for a few years hence, when we'll re-read books 1-6 and be properly prepared for the conclusion of the series.

By the bye, the author's name rhymes with "bowling", not "howling". I've been botching it all along.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Unsettling Adam Smith

  1. William is as passionate and insightful about commercial media as anyone I know.
  2. He has worked in IT since undergrad and is now going to law school.

In light of (1) and (2), I'm having a hard time with the free market's efficient allocation of resources.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Natural Wonder

The Holler is blessed with a kind of firefly that neither Kerry nor I have seen elsewhere. The same size, color, and brightness as typical fireflies, these distinguish themselves with short, repeated flashes of light, like a strobe, and by flying and flashing to the very tops of our trees. They also swarm in great numbers well past sundown. Last night, we walked to a small wooded park in the neighborhood and saw a line of trees filled with these fireflies. It looked like a stadium full of people taking pictures. Or in my mind, always trying to find patterns, I could see moments of chaser lights around a marquee, or a flashing arrow ("We're Open!"). Most of all, though, it was simply an amazing sight, a wondrous sight that I would never have imagined.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Bill Frist moves from strength to strength

2005 has offered an impressive string of fumbles from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. First was his shameful Senate-floor "diagnosis" of Terry Schaivo, his medical judgement informed by years of practice and a few minutes of videotape. Since then, he has been a prominently ineffectual leader in the Senate. He pushed for the "nuclear option" to eliminate filibusters of judicial nominees, only to be outflanked by the bipartisan group of 14 centrists who found a compromise. (Can you really be "outflanked" from the center?) This week, he said that there were no options left to get a confirmation floor vote for John Bolton. Or that was what he said until he went to talk with the President. Afterwards, he was all for the up-or-down vote again.

In general, it can be uncomfortable to watch someone flailing in ineptitude. The observer might wish that the unfortunate would catch a break, or even stop trying. But in Frist's case, it's just funny. His bold stands and maneuvers are for his own ends, designed to demonstrate to the true faithful of the GOP that he's their man for 2008. What he's really showing is no political acumen and consistently poor judgement. He's got the rope, and he seems hard at work on making a noose of it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

PR challenge du jour

From The Economist, June 18, 2005:

"Microsoft agreed to block the words 'democracy' and 'freedom' on its new internet portal in China. The company claimed that it was acting in accordance with its principle of respecting local laws."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I'm glad I don't pay Virginia taxes

This is so for more than the general reason.

On NPR this afternoon, I heard that the Virginia DOT has just completed a groundbreaking, year-long study, involving real-time, in-car monitoring of over 100 drivers. The results of this cutting edge research? Leading causes of accidents and near-accidents are - wait for it - drivers talking on the phone, talking with passengers, and being drowsy.

Surely there was no better use for that money and time than to expand the frontiers of human knowledge thusly.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Batman Begins... and is rad

Kerry and I saw Batman Begins last night. (I'm still not sure how we managed to just roll up and get tickets for 9:15 on opening Friday.) It was wonderful. I remember how, when the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman came out in 1989, much was made of its darkness, inspired by Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. And so it was dark, certainly compared to Adam West, et al. Batman Begins goes even further in that gritty, realist view of Batman. It is a hard, and not a happy story, of how Bruce Wayne goes from seeing his parents killed to fighting crime. The movie also gives depth and character to how Bruce Wayne fights crime. He's not just beating guys up while wearing a costume; he's taking them on as an elemental of the night. There's a difference (which, for all the kicking and punching, leaves no room for "POW!" and "BLAT!"). But the script still shows that, for Batman's obsession with justice and order, he's not a sociopath.

Christian Bale is a brilliant Batman/Bruce Wayne. The rest of the loaded cast (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, some dude you've never heard of as Dr Jonathan Crane) delivers, as well. Even Katie Holmes, whom many reviewers have been poor-mouthing for gold-digging on Tom Cruise - I mean, being too young and fresh-faced to be a hard charger in the DA's office - does a fine job.

Batman Begins is wholly entertaining and smart. (There are as few calls for suspension of disbelief as you'll find in a superhero/action-adventure flick.) Top notch.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it

Not so.

From The Economist, June 9, 2005

Anti-hurricane technology

How can you slow down a hurricane? Moshe Alamaro, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a plan. Just as setting small, controlled fires can stop forest fires by robbing them of fuel, he proposes the creation of small, man-made tropical cyclones to cool the ocean and rob big, natural hurricanes of their source of energy. His scheme, devised with German and Russian weather scientists and presented at a weather-modification conference in April, involves a chain of offshore barges adorned with upward-facing jet engines. Each barge creates an updraft, causing water to evaporate from the ocean's surface and reducing its temperature. The resulting tropical storms travel towards the shore but dissipate harmlessly. Dr Alamaro reckons that protecting Central America and the southern United States from hurricanes would cost less than $1 billion a year. Most of the cost would be fuel: large jet engines, he observes, are abundant in the graveyards of American and Soviet long-range bombers.
Visit The Economist website for a picture of the hypothetical barge.

On the arrest of Chancellor Palpatine, the rule of law, and liberty

Note: If you're really afraid of spoilers for Star Wars: Episode III, read on. There's nothing significant in here.

If my memory serves, the Jedi Council sent Mace Windu to arrest Chancellor Palpatine on suspicion of being a Sith. Was there a law of the Republic against Sithery?

  • If not, it certainly casts a shadow on the Jedi as "protectors of the Old Republic". Just what were they trying to protect: the notion of the Republic created within their unelected, secretive body?

  • If so, it was a disturbing measure of illiberalism for the Republic. Was it illegal for anybody to channel anger and fear into accomplishment and power, or were those emotions illegal only when used to engineer a faux civil war?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

An inverse relationship

It seems that the more news I have, the less I post. For example, have I not written since 18 May because nothing has happened? Well, no.

  • I've graduated from SAIS with my master's in international relations, concentrating in energy and environmental policy. The most common question has been, "Does it feel good to be done?" Yes, I suppose. From before I started in August 2003, SAIS was inherently temporary, a transition to a new career. So I reckon it is good to finish, particularly since I do have a job (more below), but it's not with a strong sense of relief or elation.
  • A host of family came to visit us and attend my graduation. Beyond giving me a hearty and appreciated cheer at the ceremony on the 26th, they also did almost all the work the next day for a barbecue that, ostensibly, I was hosting. Thanks to all their efforts, we had a nice, long, relaxed afternoon, with visitors from SAIS, NR, and the hospital.
  • I made a quick trip up to Pennsylvania for my cousin Ken's 80th birthday. On the way back, I saw the Blue Angels flying over an air show.
  • Since last Tuesday, I've been on the project finance job. I'm really enjoying it. They had lots of work ready for me, which is my preferred way to start a gig. It also helps that I'm such a nerd that modeling finance in Excel seems great fun, and that I'm interested to read loan conditions over the weekend. (Not all weekend, mind you. Let's not be silly.)

So thanks for reading, particularly since I'd given you little reason to think it was even worth checking the blog.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

George Will surprise

No, it’s not a dessert or a variety show. George Will’s bi-weekly column is probably my favorite thing about Newsweek (edging out riot-inducing, retractable stories). His current column contains a nice array of stunning factoids about our surprising universe and (somewhat awkwardly) uses that as a way to say that we ought to be careful about claiming too much certainty. It’s interesting coming from Will, as he is typically passionate (in his intellectual, conservative way) about ideas. Perhaps his point as simple as someone quoted someone else to me yesterday: ideas are good; ideology is bad. (But I wonder if that’s not a bit too facile.) Anyway, not his best-written column, but the one I chose to share.

Notwithstanding my smart-aleck crack above, I’ve been dismayed by the violence and deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan in response to allegations of Qur’an desecration at Guantanamo. It’s my own ignorance, but I did not appreciate the regard for the physical Qur’an and/or the depth of anger and resentment of the US that this story released. The deaths are obviously tragic for their families, but the broader situation is very discouraging for US policy and foreign relations. What do we do to improve things?

As for Newsweek, it’s a chilling confirmation that they and their traditional media brethren still do matter; it’s not just about blogs and talking heads. (But remember, dear readers, it’s Newsweek. If the story’s not about P Diddy, it’s probably best to take it with a grain of salt.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

It's all over (including the shouting)

That is to say, I passed my comprehensive oral exam last Friday, so unless any of my written work comes back with a big frowny face on it, I've finished SAIS.

Sorry to be tardy about posting the news. It is exciting, but the way the semester wound down over a period of weeks - finished two classes, then the third, then the fourth, then four days until orals - I didn't have any sort of burst of relief and accomplishment. More of a solid satisfaction. Good stuff, but not the sort of thing that sends one dancing down the street or racing to tell one's friends.

Kerry and I celebrated my finishing schoolwork and her being on academic (light workload) time with a frenzy of errands, spring cleaning, and planting this weekend. We're domestic dorks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


In a recent post, our guy William commented on his self-censorship:

... I notice how much the kindly Mr. Peebles looks like the evil leader of the Axis during the 2nd World War (Are you crazy? You think I'm going to let either of that name or that word be a search-engine match to my blog? Get the net.)
Huh. Is the occasional reference to Hitler or the Nazis really going to flag a site for search engines? If so, will netiquette lead people to be as aware and conscious as William of the potential for unfavorable associations? Will I not be able to say that I don't like Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore, nor rail against shockingly unprincipled French foreign policy? How will one be able to mention a female friend who thinks that both Lenin and the suited, in-jail Saddam Hussein are pretty handsome guys? Will anyone ever be able to write of Van Helsing again? Will it cut both ways? Will the Aryan Nation and KKK erase all their screeds against Martin Luther King, for fear of lighting up Google under "racial tolerance"?

Even more troubling is Will's admonition to "get the net." I guess it means "get a clue", but specific to the Internet. It's an ill phrase, a vile phrase. I'll lose a lot more sleep over the thought that "get the net" will catch on than that The Hollerer will be universally indexed to that which I loathe.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Working alone

I was reminded today of the subtle encouragement I get from working around other people. Not working with other people; that's something different. But even if ostensibly working on something alone, being in an office where there are other people working on related things can be kind of motivating. The tangential email, the phone call, the tap-tap of another keyboard - I suppose they can be distracting, but now that I have the experience of working without those things, I miss them. At least I think that's what I miss: a sense of community. All I'm sure of is that working at home alone all day on, say, a national energy policy for Colombia is draining.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It's mad - completely documental

I've just seen two interesting documentaries:

  1. Control Room follows the Al Jazeera satellite news network in the leadup to and during the US invasion of Iraq. At the same time, we also meet Marine Captain Josh Rushing, a press officer, and a couple members of the Western press. Al Jazeera has been called "the mouthpiece of Osama bin Laden" and otherwise accused of hideous bias by members of the Bush administration. The documentary shows that, indeed, they are biased, but based on what we see, no more so than Fox News. More interesting are the contradictions or surprises seen in the individuals: the senior producer at Al Jazeera who resents US arrogance, but who dreams of sending his children here to study; the Marine who recognizes his own bias and hatred of war; the cynical Al Jazeera reporter who is convinced that America (the people) will stop the aggression of America (the political leadership). It's a good reminder that, even at the heart of a polarizing event, individuals are more complex than the positions they espouse.

    SAIS hosted a screening and panel discussion - including now former-Capt. Rushing - of the film in March. I don't know how long it will be available, but currently you can hear the discussion online at the SAIS homepage.

  2. Genghis Blues was a surprising treat. Chris had recommended it to me years ago, but I've only just now gotten to it. The film tells of Paul Pena, a blind American blues musician, who travels to Tuva to compete in a triannual throat singing symposium. I won't try to describe any more than that. I'll just say that it is a delight, offering:

    - throat singing, which sounds unbelievable
    - some moving moments of pain, fear, and loss, even in the midst of a triumphant/fun-loving road movie
    - beautiful scenery of central Asia
    - scenes and history of Tuva and its people
    - Richard Feynman
    - sheep sacrifice

    Surely something in that list appeals to you.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Coruscant Today

USA Today's cover story today is about Darth Vader. Good heavens, what's next? A CNN exposé on snowblowers? Oh, wait...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"Working Man"

1. In 1974, Rush were still considering becoming BTO.

2. I got a job. I'll be working for a project finance advisory firm, currently focusing on oil and gas. You needn't bother looking for it on the Internet; it's a new firm, recently formed by my finance professor and two of his colleagues. Strictly speaking, it is a temporary job; I've got two months to determine that it is a place I'd like to keep working, and to convince them that they'd like to keep me around. I'm optimistic, though. I had a very enjoyable conversation with the three founders yesterday, and I felt like we connected well. A small, private-sector firm will certainly be a departure from my work experience to date, but I feel ready for the challenge.

I still marvel at how this came together. At 0600 last Friday, less than a week ago, I was thinking that, if I was going to pursue any alternative to Alliance to Save Energy, I should get on the stick. By 1300 I had had a phone interview and scheduled a live interview, and now it's done. Even more, things I was a bit nervous about - start date, compensation during the first two months - were painlessly and favorably resolved. All sorts of pieces fit together, even mistakes from previous interviews I didn't repeat this time. God has given me a wonderful opportunity; I resolve to make the most of it.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

April in Elkridge

Chestnuts may be in blossom. I'm not sure; I'd only know a chestut if it fell on me, and my noggin's been un-struck for a while now.

But as of this weekend, all the plants are on their way back. Not everything is blooming, but everything's at least got buds, shoots, and the like. And the weather this weekend has been idyllic: low 70s, clear blue sky. I know this is a flashback to February for our southern readers, but it's a delight here, now.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

All our fondest memories are of the past

If Yogi Berra didn't say it, he should have.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Emotions hedged

I’m too clever by half. In my entry to the NCAA pool, I picked Duke to win it all. I didn’t want it to happen, but I figured they’d be facing UNC in the semis, and if the Heels lost, being right in the pool would offer me some consolation. Then Duke went and lost too soon, so I sunk my entry for nothing.

But yay Heels for winning it all. Congratulations to “seattle feets” Dave, who also won it all (in the aforementioned pool), and to Kerry for guessing her way to third place. (Curse my Y chromosome. It has a paltry collection of genes, and it doesn’t even confer superior knowledge of sports.)

I’ve got just under five weeks until my last school assignment is due. It’s all writing and presentations this semester; my only exam is my final oral, sometime between 11 and 23 May.

As for post-graduation, the only news is that I’m interviewing at the Alliance to Save Energy this Friday.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Those wacky Googlons

or maybe they're Googlites, or Googlizens. Anyway, their wackiness is on display for all to see at

Run, don't walk to check it out. I wouldn't expect to see it tomorrow.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Easter review

I had a wonderful Easter weekend, largely thanks to three services in 36 hours.

Good Friday - On Friday night, I participated in dramatic presentation of the stations of the cross. Center stage, a young man in simple white portrayed Jesus, adopting static poses to represent each of the stations (eg, kneeling in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, on trial, on the cross). From the side, a monologue was spoken with each station. Some were from central Biblical figures (Peter, John, Mary) and others not so much (a street kid from Jerusalem, a centurion). Each of the characters spoke about their perception of the events of the Passion and their personal response. I think the congregation appreciated it. I know for me it was a powerful experience, to see these events not historically, from afar, but through the immediate eyes of a witness.

(The drama was written by Rob, one of my fellow youth advisors at Glen Mar. He's planning to polish up the script, after which I'd be glad to share it with anyone who was interested.)

Easter Vigil - At 11PM on Saturday night, we began our Easter Vigil around a campfire. (Thank heavens for the cold spring we're having.) We then processed, singing, with candles, into the sanctuary. The service was structurally similar to lessons and carols, with readings reaching all the way back to Genesis alternating with Easter hymns. It was a small service, as you might expect at that hour, but in a way that made the music quite moving. Not pretty - I could hear lots of individual voices, mine included, wandering all over looking for the key - but genuine: we were singing to honor God. (We clearly weren't going to impress any earthly ears.) The service concluded with a short sermon and communion.

I was told that the Easter Vigil is the oldest Christian service. Originally and properly done, it apparently goes through the night and finishes with a sunrise service. (One of my fellow attendees said that, in her college days, they updated that tradition to include 3AM food at the HoJo.) We finished up around 12:30.

Easter - Kerry and I went to the sunrise service. OK, it was indoors, and the solid overcast meant that the sun could have risen or not without us knowing, but we got to go together, so that was good enough for me.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Reality Reimmersion Syndrome (RSS)

RSS is the psychological phenomenon that occurs when one ends a period of blissful holiday or vacation and experiences a heightened awareness of future responsibility. Symptoms may include a compressed perception of time (the entire future appearing to exist within the next week-and-a-half), an all-encompassing sense of obligation, an inability to conceive of ever having fun again, and the obligatory drymouth, fatigue, and headaches.

Having just passed through an acute bout of RSS myself and fully recognized the syndrome, I think it could be useful to better characterize it by some quantitative measures. One metric to judge severity could be the period of time between RSS onset and the the first action that the patient recognizes as irresponsible (eg, watching TV, staring off into space, laughing, sleeping) that is not followed by guilt.

(At this point my friends can stop hiding their mouths behind their hands and go ahead and openly laugh at me.)

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Stop spreadin' the news

Kerry and I spent four days and three nights (as they might say on Wheel) in New York City this week. It was the first time I'd been to New York for more than 12 hours, so I was thoroughly entranced. Kerry had a good time, too, in spite of the fact that it was cold.

As is our wont, we dove into museums. We were absolutely impressed by the American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. Watching all these school kids traipsing through the museums, I realized what a distorted view you must get growing up in New York. The first time you go to a museum in all but a handful of other cities: "Sorry, I can't seem to find the Picasso rooms." "You have no mummies!?" "Oh yes, of course your diorama of dinosaurs is... impressive."

We saw two shows: Rent and Shockheaded Peter. Rent was entertaining, though I thought the second act fell far short of the first. We saw Shockheaded Peter based on reviews I saw in the New York Times and somewhere else. I don't have time to describe it well, but it's more of a play with musical numbers interjected than a musical. The theme is unusual and amusing - children perishing of their bad habits, like fidgeting at the dining table - but the whole production didn't really click. Seeing it second, it made me appreciate Rent more.

One day we went on walkabout downtown. We started at the World Trade Center site, headed to the Hudson, and walked down to Battery Park. Then we turned north, stopping to use the bathrooms at the architecturally impressive Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian / former Customs House. We walked through the narrow canyons of Broad and Wall Street, seeing a frenzy over a table of silk ties on sale for $1 each. We continued to the South Side Pier on the East River, with its great view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Less than ten minutes further, we were in Chinatown, where dumb luck took us to the Harmony Palace (I think), serving mysterious and tasty dim sum. Then Little Italy, SoHo, and after a slight detour courtesy of an error in the AAA Guidebook, Washington Park.

We spent an evening with my cousin Kathy and her husband Ron, bona fide New Yorkers who have lived in a west side apartment for over 25 years. Thanks to Aunt Ann for connecting us, I saw Kathy for the first time in 28 or so years. (She looked just the same.) She and Ron graciously hosted us for some wine in their home, then took us a great Cuban restaurant, Calle Ocho, for dinner. A great time, and I hope to see them again before I'm 59.

One last food note: As Kerry would be delighted to tell you, I've eaten roughly the same breakfast for about ten years: cheap-ass, generic corn flakes with golden raisins and a banana, and orange juice. (We'll ignore some variation in the accompanying breads.) If I lived somewhere where toasted bagels, piled with delicious cream cheese, were sold with a coffee for $1.50 on every street corner, I might change my ways.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Brittle fracture: It's not just for Liberty ships any more

We had a nice, freezing rain today, so when I got off the Metro to drive home, I found the Mazda covered in ice. The whole way home, it made creaking, sanpping noises, as you hear in any movie when the ice is about to give way and tumble down in chaos, or when the liquid metal robot is walking through liquid nitrogen, just before being shot by a future governor of California. So I was just waiting for that sharp bump that would cause the car to crack in two, like a Liberty ship at her fitting out pier. Happily, it didn't come to that; I arrived home safely, another beneficiary of the miracle of modern materials science.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Mutual of Elkridge's Wild Kingdom

  1. March has come in like a lion: a fair bit of snow on the ground on the 1st, followed by clear, cold, windy days.

  2. I just realized I didn't mention that we saw whales off the south shore of Kauai. From Gloria's at breakfast, we could see their backs and spouts breaking the surface.

  3. I swear I saw Ein (sans data goggles) walking down Mass Ave this evening.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Enter the snow

It's snowing in DC. The forecast is for 3"-6", and though the first flakes fell around 0945, all the public schools in the area have been closed for the day. Last Thursday, the federal government closed early because it was snowing all day, though not a flake was sticking. DC tends to be semi-hysterical about snow, and I'd thought that I might riff on that, until I saw an editorial that (half-jokingly) called for salary penalties for school officials who cancelled school without sufficient cause (after the fact, of course). I realized that the issue is not necessarily one of judgement, but of transparency. The percieved problem with cancelling school, sending people home from work, etc, is not (or shouldn't be) that it sometimes snows more or less than expected. The issue is that the decision criteria used by officials are unknown. It seems to me that this ought to be a fairly simple decision tree: If there is X"of snowfall by 0600, or if Y" are predicted for the day, school is cancelled. Admittedly, it's probably a bit more complicated than that, but I can't see that it's so hard that it can't be put in a clear form that can be communicated to the public. If people wanted to criticize the decisions, at least it would be obvious what the decisions were. It would be possible to actually have data, versus anecdotes, to evaluate the decisions, and to consider the effects of other criteria. It would also highlight that it's not the school board's job to forecast the weather. They're relying on the NWS et al, just like the rest of us.

Of course, this tedious talk about transparency and public decision-making presumes that those complaining actually want to resolve the issue and move on to something more interesting, or that they would actually pay attention to publicized decision criteria (which, for all I know, are already out there). Probably very questionable assumptions.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

4 short movie reviews

I, Robot is a terrific summer movie. It is flashy and exciting, and the plot and characters are good enough not to get in the way. (I've no idea if it takes anything from Isaac Asimov's novel of the same name beyond the virtually ubiquitous three laws of robotics.)

Wicker Park is disappointing. It's a puzzling, non-linear story with potential, but the whole thing is undone by some glaring contrivances, eg, there's approximately one cell phone in the entire movie. (Actually, the contrivances are what make the whole thing possible; what they undo is the viewer's belief in the plot.) The story would have been perfect as a period piece in 19th-century England. Maybe you'd enjoy it more if you imagined Josh Hartnett in a high, starched collar.

Shaun of the Dead is a great send-up and reprise of zombie movies. The hero, Shaun, is an underachiever. Some of the best scenes in the movie are him being oblivious to the growing number of ghouls and chaos around him. It is a movie about fighting off hordes of the undead, so there's lots of blood and a disembowling scene that was more vivid than anything I'd prefer to see again. On the whole, though, it's well-done, crude fun.

A Man For All Seasons is wonderful. OK, not a bold call, as it won six Oscars in 1966, but it's true. Virtually all dialogue, it tells the story of Sir Thomas More's effort to be faithful to God, king, family, and friends. His integrity, even as he loses all but the first, is moving and inspiring. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I note that Kerry calls this one of my "snooty" movies. Take that for what it's worth.)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Not for the faint of heart

Anheuser-Busch is introducing a new beer: BE

As if it weren't horrifying enough that the so-called "beer" will contain caffeine, guarana, and ginseng, with cherry, raspberry, and blackberry flavors, A-B's information insists on spelling out that the loathsome concoction is to be called "B-to-the-E" (not C-to-the-R-to-the-A-to-the-P, as the hip-hop-minded among you might have been planning).

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Carbon monoxide mystery solved

It was the GE worker, in the kitchen, with a gas oven. According to the BG&E range man at The Holler today, GE is "notorious" for overgassing their ovens, causing incomplete combustion (hence, CO) and a funny smell. (I thought that was just my cooking.)

My Funny Valentine

As she was heading to the hospital on Sunday, Kerry asked if she could take my car, so that I could wash hers. Unwilling to pass up such a wonderful opportunity, I agreed. Little did I know that she had an ulterior motive for getting inside the Mazda. When I opened the car door on Monday morning, I discovered an interior decorated with shiny, heart-shaped stickers. Steering wheel, gear shift, rear-view mirror, radio controls, and more, all were appointed in sparkly red.

I got her a card. And a couple of days earlier, I had replaced the (broken) mobile-phone earbud I had bought her for Valentine's Day 2004, so you don't need to tell me how to be romantic.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Rapid-fire update

In order of being ordered:

  • The IFC Global Business School Network website I've been updating has moved to the production database, so if you want to see my handiwork, visit Your comments are welcome; please be advised that my deflections are at the ready: "Oh, that's standard IFC webpage format," and "They gave me the content; I just posted it," promise to be heavily used. (Sarkiness aside, I think it's a decent site for a very interesting program.)

  • We're experiencing high carbon monoxide levels at home. The previous residents left us a detector, which alarmed for the second time in a couple of weeks on Sunday night. The fire department came out and confirmed the elevated levels, though still below any health advisories we could find. Unfortunately, they could not trace the CO to an appliance. In fact, the lowest levels they found were right next to the furnace. So we'll just diagnose this non-specific, systematic problem. Piece of cake...

  • A belated happy Valentine's Day to all and birthday to Aunt Ann.

  • Ookla the Mok - a band that finally answers the question: What if They Might Be Giants were more (yes, more!) geeky, more (yes, more!) nasal, and not quite as musically talented/creative? You've got to love music that makes innumerable references to comic books, turns Dylan into a word problem, and offers incisive criticism of Sting's musical career.

  • I'm writing a short paper about the SARS outbreak. It's fascinating, and the early months (Nov 02-Feb 03), when the disease existed in China but no one outside knew about it, read like a thriller. The Chinese government's behavior was truly reprehensible. I understand that there are reasons for a country not to report health problems (fear of (often unjustified) trade and travel restrictions), but the suffering they caused to their own citizens, never mind outher countries, through their secrecy and deception is shocking. And the word from the UN, before SARS, was that they were doing the same thing with HIV. Hopefully they are changing their approach.

Monday, February 07, 2005

And the Hollers go to...

  1. Dave, who as of today has been living on Earth for 30 years. Keep up the good work!
  2. Our neighbor, Ted, who not only invited us over for the Super Bowl, but also correctly predicted the final score, and that the winning score would be a Vinatieri field goal.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Dangerous Ruminations online

In his first post on Dangerous Ruminations, my good friend, Angus, made an overly flattering (or keenly ironic) comment about my writing/blogging habits. There are any number of comments I'd like to make in reply, but Angus's second post is poignant and clear; it deserves to be read without any shallow attempts at wit intervening.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

"It's all on the wheel. It all comes around."

Commander Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick) of Megaforce was speaking of war, but he might also have been referring to my professional development. I'm back at the World Bank Group, specifically at the International Finance Corporation. IFC is the arm private sector lending arm - well, digit, more accurately - of the World Bank. I'm updating a web site for a group whose current web site dates from before they had any programs underway. I'd point you to it, but seeing as how they've recognized that it is well out of date, that seems ungenerous. Anyhow, it's only a couple-week job, but it's been fun so far.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Van Helsing followup

From Dateline: Hollywood:

Britain’s Prince Harry, who caused outrage by wearing a Nazi uniform to a party earlier this month has caused another major controversy to erupt. New photos of Harry, third in line to the British throne, have been splashed across the front pages of tabloid newspapers showing him at a different party wearing a Van Helsing costume.

That was a painful chapter for moviegoers around the world,” says Earl Wethers, a Royal Family observer. “That film hurt so many people with its offensive script. Evil forces were at work when that film was unleashed on innocent eyes. So many people suffered, and for Harry to turn up at a party dressed up as Van Helsing is inexcusable.”

Secure property rights means never having to say you're sorry for breaking your own stuff*

Since classes started a week ago Monday, I've been surrounded by a cloud of things breaking:

  • Last Monday - The screen cracked on my Clié. For a touchscreen PDA, that's pretty much fatal.
  • Wednesday - The shoulder strap on my bag broke, sending all, laptop included, crashing to the ground. Well, the strap could be fixed; no harm done. (Or was it? Read on...)
  • Friday - At about 0600, the window in our bathroom broke with a sharp pop. No sign of impact, it just broke. Happily, it stayed in the frame.
  • Saturday - Visiting Ros for dinner and a movie, I neatly tore the tray out of her DVD player with a devil-may-care swipe of the hand. (You must understand, a DVD was falling towards the carpeted floor. I had to try to catch it, to avert the terrible consequences. Those consequences were, of course, realized, as my hand was too busy destroying her entertainment center to actually grab the disc.)
  • This Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... - My laptop has displayed a cavalcade of errors, from the blue screen of death to my blue streak of swearing, from the red badge of courage to the Red Duke of Caladan.
I don't think that any great number of warranties have just expired. I guess I'm just lucky.

* But it does mean having to say you're sorry for breaking other people's stuff. Sorry, Ros.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Good news from Iraq

Today's news concerning the vote in Iraq has exceeded my expectations. Even if the turnout was only 60%, versus the 72% reported earlier, it is still more than most had predicted. CNN, Reuters, and Agence France Presse all had similar, upbeat stories to tell. Aljazeera had a pessimistic view, but they seemed to be highlighting some peripheral issues to find things to be down about.

Personally, I find the news not just good, but moving. In many of my classes on development, there is question about the "appropriateness", or even compatibility, of democracy with development. Many people believe - and maybe the prevailing wisdom is - that security and stability must come first; political liberalization can and will follow once the country is prosperous enough. Certainly that's the history from South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile in the latter 20th century. Even more than just a model of how development "ought" to go, some suggest that people are perfectly willing to make that trade of political liberty for stability and prosperity. That's part of many descriptions of China, 15 years after Tiananmen Square. But events today in Iraq showed, in dramatic terms, the appeal of liberty and a voice in one's own government. In spite of the thousands of deaths before the poll, the threat of further killings today - sadly realized for at least 35 people - and widespread resentment of being under occupation for almost two years, millions of Iraqis did turn out to vote. Only time will tell what their decisions portend for their country, but today I hope they are proud.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

You can't spell "cockfight" without O(c)K

A big thank'ee holler to faithful reader Jen Falk for alerting us to the ongoing efforts of Oklahoma state senator Frank Shurmer, who is trying to return cockfighting to the Sooner state, this time using protective vests and boots, and electronic scoring, à la fencing. If you have about 3-1/2 minutes, it's definitely worth listening to the interview with Mr Shurmer on NPR, if only for the choice of music at the end (Béla Fleck, I think).

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Steelers post-mortem

It's a bit late, but I feel I should mention the Steelers' defeat. I suppose I didn't keep up my end of the bargain, as I did watch most of the game. By the time I stopped watching, it was too late; Pittsburgh could only slow the bleeding.

Actually, I'm pleased by the final outcome, at least relative to what I was feeling at halftime. The way the Patriots owned the first 30 minutes, I wouldn't have been surprised by a final score of 48-6. As it is, it's hard for me not to agree with the masses favoring New England in the Super Bowl (regardless of Terrell Owens's status). In the last two weeks, the Patriots put the smack down on the best offense and the best defense in the NFL, with two significantly different game plans. I can't see the Eagles stopping them.

As for the Steelers, the Jets game and this defeat made a lousy end to a great season. During the off-season, I hope they figure out how to build on their regular season play, as opposed to getting bogged down by a disappointing playoff performance.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Happy Birthdate, Jason Li!

After days of eager anticipation, Jason Li, son of Louren and William Li, finally debuted at 1122 Central Time, weighing 7 lbs, 9 oz.

A congratulatory holler to Louren, William, and big sister Dakota!

For more news on Jason in the days, weeks, and years to come, see 3 of 4.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Letter to David Rapp, Editor of the Congressional Quarterly Weekly

Dear Sir -

Well, which is it?

Sir Robert the Irritable GCB

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Can you believe it? Another freaking cicada post!

Unfortunate readers of The Elkridge Hollerer last spring will recall interminable reports of Brood X, the 17-year cicada swarm that emerged in 2004. Believe it or not, I still find things to discuss about those critters.

The cicadas emerge from their long life underground to mate and to lay their eggs under the bark of trees. This is typically described as being harmless to trees, except for saplings. Not quite so: apparently the damage of the egg-laying is too much for the smallest branches at the extremities. As such, last summer, all of the green trees were fringed with dead leaves.

Half a year later, I mention this as those early-dead leaves are now the only leaves on many of the trees. My guess is that the damaged branches were unable to communicate the chemical message in the fall to jettison all leaves, so the cicada-killed ones remained. Our arboreal skeletons have clumps of dead leaves, like dried flower bouquets, hanging from their fingertips.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

True to my heritage

My family talks about the weather - a lot - so I reckon I should report on the snow today. It's not been too bad so far. We got several inches, but no more than half a foot, I don't think, between 0830 and 1600 today. It may have started back up, but it's dark, so I can't see it, and Kerry's home from the hospital, so I don't care too much. We're not going anywhere.

I need to call Hermanito Scott and see how he's enjoying the 1+ foot of snow and 50 mph winds in Boston. I expect he's not enjoying it much at all, and I can't see how my calling him will help, yet I feel a strong desire to speak with him. How odd...

On the plus side of the snow, I got to know one of our new neighbors, Ted, much better, as we shovelled the Holler's ultra-driveway. If Kerry wakes up, he and his wife, Eileen, may come over tonight, and we can all meet and chill.

I'm not too good at remembering people's names when I meet them, but Ted and Eileen were a piece of cake. I can't even think of them without hearing Dexy's Midnight Runners singing their names to me.

Friday, January 21, 2005

"Life on Earth snuffed out by global warming"

In case you didn't know it, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but The Australian reports that life on Earth has indeed ended.

OK, it's really just a misleading headline. The article is about a paper published in Science, suggesting that "continuous volcanic eruptions in Siberia", versus a huge meteor impact, set off mass extinctions 250 million years ago. The eruptions released a lot of hydrogen sulfide which set off global warming.

Actually, the article is kind of misleading, too, since it just talks about climate change, while the abstract of the paper emphasizes a lack of atmospheric oxygen and indicates that "sulfide toxicity was a driver of the extinction and a factor in the protracted recovery." Well, until there's a heated debate over regulating volcanic emissions, I guess we'll never get the full story.

Meanwhile, it's a small comfort to me to know that I'm not really looking at a squirrel eat our little remaining birdseed. After all, life on Earth was snuffed out.