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 1010tires.com, 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.