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.