Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year 2008

After a number of attempts...

Katie wishes you all a happy new year.

Reprising her role from last year, Maggie the Beagle joins in the well-wishing.

(Molly the Beagle would join in the fun, but there aren't enough treats in the world to get her to wear those glasses long enough for a photograph to be taken.)

Update (12/31):
A photograph of the elusive Molly the New Year's Beagle has been obtained.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Nur noch wir können uns retten. (t)

Hearing the sad news of Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Pakistan earlier today, I looked back at my reaction to the London bombings of July 7, 2005.

It isn't yet clear who is directly responsible for today's slaughter, but initial indications are that those behind today's attack are of the sort who share goals in common with the London bombers and with other bombers whose actions have scarred the world during the past decade.

Reading my London bombing post 903 days after I wrote it, it's clear that at the time I greatly underestimated the potential for intra-Iraqi and jihadist violence during the intervening 2 ½ years. Looking back, I realize that my intuition that the violence would quickly flame-out stood in contrast to the basic thesis of the post, that – in the long run – it's all but impossible for groups of people to force a De-Enlightenment upon the world, even if the short run shows little progress toward reducing global ignorance and provincialism. 2 ½ years later, on a dark day when apparent extremism wounded the hope of a country, I still feel that the horse is out of the barn for extremist views, though extremism and responding to extremism might be the most dominant geopolitical forces during my lifetime.

Despite my opinion that the extremist's struggle is ultimately for naught, events like today still depress me greatly. Somehow, the depression of today reminds me of the dark words Martin Heidegger said in his famous interview with Der Spiegel in 1966 (published posthumously in 1976), titled "Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten" or "Only a God can still save us":

HEIDEGGER: Those questions bring us back to the beginning of our conversation. If I may answer quickly and perhaps somewhat vehemently, but from long reflection: Philosophy will not be able to bring about a direct change of the present state of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all merely human meditations and endeavors. Only a god can still save us. I think the only possibility of salvation left to us is to prepare readiness, through thinking and poetry, for the appearance of the god or for the absence of the god during the decline; so that we do not, simply put, die meaningless deaths, but that when we decline, we decline in the face of the absent god.
I agree with Heidegger in the view that there's no one philosophy, mode of being, or way of life that will unite humanity under a single banner, smoothing out the cultural differences. Yet – and I haven't studied enough Heidegger to know if he'd disagree with me on this point – it's precisely this diversity and intellectual disunion that promises to save us.

The global proliferation of pluralistic cultures, whether through the gradual introduction of democratic institutions or through the rapid technological baptism of individual citizens into a connected world, forces an increasing percentage of world citizens to an important daily realization. The realization is as follows: There are other ways of coping with the world that differ from mine.

Certainly, most greet this realization with fear, and some greet this realization with violence.

Yet, from this first exposure, can there be anything but eventual tolerance?

From that eventual tolerance, can there be anything but eventual intolerance for the ancient intolerance?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Let's Teach Them the Strangest Songs First

It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I've heard and sang more nursery rhymes in the past 10 months of dadhood than in the previous 25 years of non-dadhood. Living with a toddler means singing songs that are so ancient in your memory that they practically come out with cobwebs.

Now, I knew that one nursery rhyme – Ring Around the Rosie – had an alleged connection to the Great Plague of London, and that another nursery rhyme – Pop Goes the Weasel – was a drinking song in Cockney rhyming slang, but I'd never really paid much attention to the marvel that is I've Been Working on the Railroad.

Railroad is a musical oddity. It has a verse (I've been working on the railroad...), a chorus (Dynah won't you blow...), and a bridge section that is repeated (Someone's in the kitchen with Dynah... & Singing fee-fi-fiddily-i-oh...). In short, there's a lot going on.

The origin of this nursery room musical hodge-podge? Yep, you guessed it — it's two racially-charged folk songs smashed together.

Popular culture, your strangeness never fails to impress and confuse.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Right to Bear Ye Olde Arms

(Crossposted from American Constitution Society :: Columbia Law School)

The ACS/Federalist Society sponsored discussion/debate on DC v. Heller – the first SCOTUS case since 1939 to address the meaning of the Second Amendment – won't begin for another 2 hours, but I am prepared to upstage the speakers by offering a workable solution for Second Amendment jurisprudence in the 21st Century.

Although the language of this amendment provides infinite grist for the mill of constitutional interpretation, my solution focuses exclusively on one word: arms.

My proposal: The Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms as such arms existed at the ratification.

Arms in 1791

Let's look at arms – specifically, guns – as they existed at the time of the ratification.

Guns in 1791 WOULD
Guns in 1791 WOULD NOT
Courts can't wish the Second Amendment away, but they can construe it in a manner that works in today's society.

Arthur Goldberg, the little-remembered Supreme Court Justice who sat on the bench from 1962 to 1965, has been long-derided by social and political conservatives as something of a fool due to his concurrence in Griswold v. Connecticut, where he found a right to privacy in the Ninth Amendment. Lately, these same conservatives have been quoting and paraphrasing Justice Goldberg when they say things like "while the Constitution protects against invasions of individual rights, it is not a suicide pact," a line Justice Goldberg included in Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144, 159-60 (1963). Applying an admittedly severe form of originalism to cabin the Second Amendment prevents the kind of suicide pact that Goldberg was worried about.

Michelle Obama created a bit of a stir earlier this week when she talked about how the need for guns might vary regionally within the United States. A backstop interpretation of the Second Amendment – one that only protects the individual right to bear arms as they stood in 1791 – permits states to develop right to bear arms appropriate to their circumstances.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Mine! All Mine! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!

Although he played it cool on Thanksgiving morning during the parade down Central Park West & Broadway, Ronald McDonald let his true thoughts on world domination be known the night before at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation.

Lest you think that the balloon inflation is an intimate affair, here's a shot of the crowd gathering at the entrance to the inflation area.

My advice: Unless you're bringing someone with an early bedtime, go after these kids' bedtimes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

One Laptop Per Child: Give One. Get One.

Back in 2005, I was at the conference in San Francisco where Nicholas Negroponte first announced that he and others at the MIT Media Lab intended to sell a laptop for $100 with the goal of putting a laptop in the hands of every child the world over.

That mission has since become One Laptop Per Child, an organization that has just started manufacturing these machines for use around the world. Rather than describe at length the wonders of this little machine, I encourage you to watch this review from the New York Times' inimitable David Pogue.

On the theory that this machine is targeted at the developing world and that sales to rich countries would unduly divert computers away from kids who desperately need these devices today, it's going to be pretty difficult for you to get your hands on one. That's right, you can't buy one.

Well, that is, starting in two weeks you can't buy one.

For the next 15 days, you can buy one of these remarkable machines through a program called "Give One Get One." For $400, you can buy a laptop and pay for a laptop to go to a child in the developing world. As a bonus, you'll get a one year subscription to T-Mobile's Hot Spot service. (As Amos pointed out to me, the T-Mobile promotion, which can be used on any wifi-compatible device, appears to have a retail value of $360.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Smarty Pants

This cool gizmo lets you know what level of education is required to understand a given blog.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Found On The Internets: Unusual Instruments' Music Videos

The creative and strange set of folks who brought you A Soviet Poster A Day now bring you the Unusual Instruments' Music Videos blog. As with its sister site, once you've written the title there's really no need to describe site's contents.

One of the gems from the site:

The instrument at the core of that performance is a theremin, played masterfully in the video by a musician adjusting the proximity and shape of his hand relative to two antennae. If you've ever heard the Beach Boys' song Good Vibrations, you've heard a theremin an instrument designed to sound like a theremin (see comments). The model above is an Etherwave Pro Limited Edition theremin recently manufactured by Moog.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Massive Market Irrationality in Alibaba IPO?

I'm no economist, so I'm really looking for some clarity.

3 Steps to a Massively Irrational Market

Step #1: Yahoo buys 39% of Alibaba's holding company.

Step #2: Today, the Alibaba IPO skyrockets its market cap to $164B. Yahoo's stake should be worth $64.2B.

Step #3: Today, Yahoo's market cap remains at $37.72B.

What am I missing here, people?

Link: Efficient market hypothesis

Update (4 pm, 11/7/07): When you quickly post something to your blog, only to later realize that you've made a big blunder, there's a temptation to redact the mistake. In this case, I'm going to resist the temptation to erase and leave the mistake up.

Alibaba is worth 164.71 billion Hong Kong Dollars, not US Dollars. In US dollars, Alibaba's currently worth 21.21B USD. Thus, Yahoo's 39% share of this company is hypothetically worth 8.27B USD, not 64.8B USD.

The market may still be behaving irrationally regarding the relative valuations of Alibaba and Yahoo (After all, Yahoo does now own an asset that went from being worth 2.75B USD last week to being worth 8.27B USD this week. Its share price has not moved in accordance with the increased value of this asset.), it's just not irrational on a truly massive scale.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Durian: The gift that keeps on giving

The majority of the posts on this blog could be classified as "ramblings." We see something odd, unusual, captivating, or just shiny, and we post about it.

I'd like to use today's post to provide an important public service announcement....about durians. A few months back, Andy introduced Sauntering readers to the durian. His post doesn't do justice to just how terrible this fruit is, the fruit that has been most accurately reviewed as tasting like like the musty crotch of Satan himself. My roommate purchased one of these in our local asian market, where it can be found deep frozen in a special freezer wrapped in plastic wrap. This should have been a give away. That and the weird, flexible thorn-like things covering the outside of it.

The smell and flavor of this thing have been well described elsewhere. What they don't tell you is that these things seem to be pressurized. That opening them releases a burst of terribleness that probably gives a fair taste of what tomb raiders would have encountered. You can also fire directional bursts of durian smell as visiting guests if you are handy with a nail and a hammer.

What they don't tell you is that after eating durian, you will burp durian for hours.

What they don't tell you is that if you vomit durian, and you may, your vomit will also taste like durian, causing more vomiting until you lie, depleted, currled like a child at the base of your toilet.

Its been three days. My fridge smells like durian. The patio smells like durian. Oh, oh God, this is terrible. Who thought this was a good idea? Even the raccoons aren't eating the leftovers.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

So What'll It Be, Oklahoma City?

Last night, the group that owns the Seattle SuperSonics announced its intention to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City. Although Seattle certainly would lament losing its basketball team, Oklahoma City did show itself deserving of an NBA team through its rabid support of the New Orleans Hornets during the two seasons that team played in Oklahoma after Hurricane Katrina.

If the Sonics move to Oklahoma City, the main question I'll have is what the name of the team will be.

The Sonics began in 1966 and were named after the Boeing 2707 airplane, a supersonic plane to be built in Seattle to compete with the European-made Concorde. Environmental concerns and federal budget cuts led to the cancellation of the Boeing 2707 in 1971, before a single plane was manufactured. Thus, the Seattle SuperSonics are named after a plane that was never manufactured. [If other cities followed this example and had sports teams named after things that were never built, I guess we'd have the Chicago Mile-High Buildings and the New York Expressways (or, arguably, the Cathedrals).]

So what are the Sonics going to do with a name that is only relevant if it is in Seattle? Well, they've got a number of examples to follow.

The Region-less Name
First, most relocated franchises aren't in the position of the Sonics. It's not too confusing when the aforementioned Hornets decide to retain their moniker after moving from Charlotte to New Orleans, since no one exclusively associates flying pests with North Carolina. In baseball, the Athletics have marched from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland and (it appears) now to Fremont without changing their name.

The Abandoned Regional Name
If the Sonics dump their current name, they'll follow in the footsteps of the former Houston Oilers.

Before they rebranded their team the Tennessee Titans, the former Houston Oilers played one season as the Tennessee Oilers. Although this franchise (quite bitterly) held onto the rights to the name "Houston Oilers" (preventing Houston from following in the footsteps of Cleveland and returning the Houston Oilers to the field down the road), they escaped to a different (if not more relevant) name the next season.

The Retained Regional Name
If the Sonics retain their current name, they'll join a strange group of teams whose names hearken back to an abandoned geography.

Two of these regionally confused teams are in Los Angeles. What are the Los Angeles Dodgers dodging? Trolleys in 19th century Brooklyn, of course. What lakes are the Los Angeles Lakers talking about? Well, that'd be the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, back when they were the Minneapolis Lakers.

Finally, the gem of relocated franchise names: What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Utah? Jazz music, perhaps? Mormons in Utah get to swing because the Utah Jazz played five seasons as the New Orleans Jazz before moving to Salt Lake City in 1979.

So what'll it be, Oklahoma City? Are you keeping the Sonics – and with it a Seattle-centric reference to a plane that was never built – or are you going in a different direction?

My advice? Go with a truth-in-advertising name. Giants, Titans, Chargers — these mythic names are generic, for all their braggadocio. I like my teams named after an occupation that is associated with the region: Packers, Steelers, Brewers. (I guess gambling on this theme is what got the Sonics in trouble.)

Since Oklahoma City is home to two of the nation's largest energy companies, how about a name along those lines:

  • The Oklahoma City Drillers or Oklahoma City Pumpers (probably too much playground taunting with these two)
  • The Oklahoma City Carbon (a name Al Gore would love)
  • The Oklahoma City Wranglers (too close to Cowboys?)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Radiohead's In Rainbows:
Online and Available for Free
(or for Whatever Seems Fair)

Absurdly talented rock band Radiohead is a band unencumbered by a record contract. Thus, they can do great things like offer their new album In Rainbows available for download directly to their users without having to ask anyone's permission.

Since Radiohead gets 100% of the proceeds of the record (instead of the meager slice they'd get from a deal with a record company), they're comfortable letting users download the record and name their own price. Grab it for free if you'd like. I paid £5.00. That seemed fair.

The tracks don't have any accompanying cover art. Make you own art or obtain the Radiohead-blessed art here if you'd like to have something pretty staring back at you when you listen to the track on your music player.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Way to Help the Hungry

I just wanted to plug a charity that one of my friends is working with. Yorkville Common Pantry (YCP) is dedicated to reducing hunger while promoting dignity and self-sufficiency. The largest, nonsectarian, neighborhood-based provider of emergency food in New York City, YCP provides 1¼ million meals annually to all who come seeking relief from hunger. YCP’s 24/7 program is New York City’s only emergency food pantry that never closes.

Those readers of the blog who live or work in New York City know the great number of people who beg for food or money to buy food. They beg on the street and on the subway, and most of us (myself included) ignore them. Donating to organizations like YCP is an efficient way of helping our fellow urbanites most in need. YCP has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator.

You can donate here.

Additionally, YCP is hosting a Junior Event Celebration on November 7, 2007, at the Mercedes Benz Showroom (430 Park Avenue at 55th Street). Highlights include specialty cocktails with Belvedere, hors d’œuvres by On the Marc, Hoffman Auto Showroom Design by Frank Lloyd Wright, and a silent auction including the chance to win a S-class for a night. Tickets are $60 per person ($65 at the door) and can be purchased here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Do You Have Any Jodie Foster From Taxi Driver Costumes?

Disclaimer: In this post, I reveal that I have not seriously shopped for a Halloween costume in over a decade. I also foreshadow the crotchety old father I'll be when my daughter is a preteen.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan likes to opine that he enjoys Halloween for a lot of reasons, "not just because of the candy or that women use Halloween as an excuse to dress up like prostitutes." Of course, Gaffigan's not saying anything original with the prostitute bit. You'd have to live on the moon to avoid noticing that people have started turning to Halloween more and more as a means of expressing or releasing their Ids. This trend doesn't bother me in the least — in my view, a little catharsis can be a good thing.

At least that was the attitude I had when I found myself in the Halloween store on Broadway. Our daycare has a Wizard of Oz theme for Halloween this year, and on a lark we were checking to see if infant wigs exist, and if they do, if a Dorothy infant wig is to be had. (Now, with the benefit of the internet, I learn that yes, there are infant wigs. Sadly, it appears that Dorothy wigs may only be on offer for older children.)

En route to the baby costumes (Man, are there some super baby costumes out there. Want a rhino?), I passed by a Geisha costume... for a 12-year old.

That's right, a Geisha costume.

For a 12-year old.

Let's review:

  • (Modern) Geishas are not (really) prostitutes.

    Want to know more? The discussion page for the Wikipedia entry on Geishas will tell you everything you need to know. (A Wikipedia discussion page is where people debate what content is worthy of inclusion on the site. These people have the time and the inclination talk a topic to death, trust me.)

  • Almost ALL Westerners who have ever heard of Geishas think that they're prostitutes.
So, in summary, your child is not dressing as a prostitute for Halloween. Your child is dressing as a cultural figure that will be almost universally confused for a prostitute by the set of folks who know what a "Geisha" is when your child tells them that's what she's going to be for Halloween.

I see a slim opportunity for cultural exchange here. But mostly I see a chance for other parents to think that your parental judgment is not quite up to snuff.

Things we don't know about climate change.

(Editor's Note: Garfield's post below is part of Sauntering's participation in Blog Action Day, where 15,000 blogs have agreed to address climate change on October 15, 2007.)

With the award of the Nobel Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC, global climate change has officially hit the big time. It's been trendy for a long time, but awarding the Peace Prize signifies an important recognition on the part of the international community: Global climate change isn't just an effect on the planet, its an effect on how human beings interact with one another.

The reason that global climate change will have such an impact on human interactions isn't because its going to get warmer. Warmer conditions would certainly mean trouble for some, the Maldives most notably, but probably a boon for others as warmer climates mean longer growing seasons and a lower dependence on heating oils. Some win, some lose. Nothing new about that.

What's makes climate change a problem is that so many of the consequences are just so uncertain, and human beings have never dealt well with uncertainties. Here are the facts as we know them.

1) We are dumping more carbon dioxide into the air than the earth has seen since the Bartonian, when sea levels were 100 feet taller and the planet was filled with crazy looking mammals (the later is probably unrelated).

2) The mean global temperature is increasing. We moved up 0.6 degrees Celsius in the last century, and, on average, its just going to keep getting hotter.

3) The world is a terribly complicated place, and we have just about no idea what these changes will mean for our planet. But whatever these changes are, we'd better get used to them, because even if we were all to give up driving right now, there's a general consensus that it will take decades for our planet to process the current glut of gasses in the air.

This uncertainty, I think, is the real problem we're facing. If we knew it was going to get warmer by .06 degrees every decade from here on out, we could plan. As the oceans rise, people would move away from the coast. Farms would move ever northward (or southward if you live down there), and there would be massive-scale efforts to secure the residents of every major city an air conditioner to ward off the rash of heat-related deaths we've seen the past few summers. Or at least this is how it would go in rich countries. Poor countries would be sort of screwed, but I digress. That's someone else’s problem and we have a solution - fences to keep out the flood of migrants...and you'd better believe there would be a flood of migrants as crops to the south begin to fail.

The problem is that we don't know that this is going to happen, at least not everywhere. One of the most surprising findings from both models and actual observations is that some areas may actually get cooler. The gulf stream, that magical river of water that keeps merry old England from feeling the wrath of old man winter like Siberia (which lies on the same latitude) has a real chance of going away if the Artic ice melts, which would pretty much put an end holidays at the beach for most of Western Europe. In the Antarctic, paradoxically, there appear to be areas that are getting cooler, the result, ironically, of the gigantic lack of an important greenhouse gas called "Ozone" right above Antarctica.

The uncertainties seep even into things we feel pretty sure of. One thing that seems certain is that levels of C02 are rising. But it isn't happening as fast as we might expect. The reason is that oceans and plants turn out to be remarkably good at sequestering carbon, at least for now. But they aren't doing it for free. Oceans are able to absorb carbon dioxide through a reaction involving the Carbonate buffer, but at the cost of making the oceans more acidic. This, in turn, is known to affect the ability of organisms to use calcium for building shells and skeletons, leaving us with a lot of sad barnacles, sea urchins, corals, foraminiferans, and coccolithophorids. Never heard of these last two? That's too bad, for you see it is they are producing a fair amount of the oxygen you breath every day. Kind of complex, isn't it? And this is for a system we know a lot about. What don't we know? Pretty much all the rest.

Sadly, we aren't likely to get a better handle on these changes before its too late. Outside of military efforts, less is being spent on scientific research in this country than last year....or the year before...or the year before..... Changes are coming. We'd better start getting used to living with uncertainty.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Internets are better than parents or school

I think I've found my new favorite website:

It's basically a home economics class online done by some wacky brits.
You can learn some useful things like how to make a chicken masala or how to care for your bearded dragon.

But the best section by far? Love and sex. Really. This is how sex ed was supposed to go.
The links, I think, speak to their own utility.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Common Eponyms

An eponym is a word that was once a person's name but has come to have a broader meaning. Most eponyms are obvious — even if you don't know anything about the eponymous individuals, it's still clear that phrases like Benedict Arnold or Ponzi scheme or Achilles' tendon reference individuals (whether real or fictitious).

These proper eponyms don't interest me very much. I do enjoy, however, eponyms where the person's name has become such an utterly common word or phrase that the users of that word or phrase are completely unaware that it was formerly a person's name. I suppose the most typical examples of this kind of common eponym are sandwich (from the Earl of Sandwich) or teddy bear (from Teddy Roosevelt).

In the cumbersome paragraph below, each linked word is an eponym of this common sort:

Somehow, the diesel derrick's silhouette reminded the sideburn-wearing chauvinist of the daguerreotype of a mausoleum he had seen back when he was a mere guppy. "Bloomers or leotards?" his mentor asked. "Neither," the guy said. "I'm boycotting them. I'd rather be pierced by shrapnel, guillotined and lynched than to end up looking like a doily."
Link: Wikipedia List of Eponyms

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Stanford vs. U$C, October 6, 2007
Greatest Las Vegas Upset of All Time

It's been about a year since I last posted anything about Stanford athletics and about three-and-a-half years since I've posted my reaction to a Stanford victory. Sparse discussion of Stanford athletics has something to do with a conscious attempt to avoid reliving college in print, but it's also fueled by Stanford's inability to seriously compete in football or basketball these past few years.

Well, last night Stanford really competed.

In 2003, Forbes magazine estimated that somewhere between $80 to $380 billion is illegally gambled annually on sports in the United States. And although ESPN's website maintains a link to the Las Vegas odds on various sporting events, the network likes to pretend that gambling doesn't exist. Since they largely ignore gambling, here's a statistic about Stanford's 24-23 victory last night over #2 USC that you won't hear repeated ad nauseum on SportsCenter:

(According to the Aspergerians running Wikipedia) Stanford's 24-23 victory over USC was the greatest football upset in the 60-year history of spread betting. Stanford entered the game a 41-point underdog.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Things I Love about Durham. Part I: Weird puppets.

Durham, NC is a strange and wonderful little city. Since moving here three years ago, I've totally fallen in love with the place, not least of all because of the strange folks who live here, work here, and sometime do strange puppet shows out of their garage for, as far as I can tell, no financial benefit whatsoever.

Its things like this that make me love Durham.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sidewalks Are For Schlepping, Dining, and Baby SUVs

I moved to Manhattan 850 days ago. Should you eventually follow in my footsteps, permit me to be the first to welcome you to the sidewalk. It's going to be like your second home.

Unless you're one of the happy few for whom a $700-per-month parking garage bill is no problem, moving to Manhattan entails giving up your wheels. Manhattan might be interlaced with roads, but 99.9% of the time you (and everyone else you know) have no use for them. Your life is lived on the sidewalk.

Carless, you quickly learn that although schlep might be a Yiddish word, schlep is above all else a New York-living word. The kind of hoofing you do in Manhattan, where owning a car is perceived in some circles as a Gatsby-esque luxury, is so different than the normal walking burden experienced elsewhere that it really merits a separate word. You do not "carry your stuff around." You schlep.

Schlepping about town, you quickly learn that you can never really buy more than about $40 of groceries — since any more than that results in the kind of backbreaking load that keeps chiropractors in business. You must schlep wisely.

Schlepping, New Yorkers develop relationships with their bags that are barely distinguishable from the relationships that drivers elsewhere have with their autos. Your day is in your bag. Or, if you're my wife, several days are in your bag. And a little bag is in there, too. Kind of like the tiny car that gets pulled behind the motor home.

Now that I push a stroller about the streets rather frequently, I realize that a stroller is not a stroller when you're pushing it around New York.

It's a sidewalk SUV.

Yes, I will jam the net beneath the stroller to the breaking point with items. This is my SUV, and I will buy $80 worth of groceries, even if that means that the frame is visibly sagging and junior appears at risk.

When not schlepping around the sidewalks, New Yorkers are eating upon them. I'd add my two bits on the phenomenon that is New York sidewalk eating, but this Sunday's New York Times is running a wonderful piece that saves me the trouble.

"Curbside, We'll Never Have Paris" is one of those wonderful We're-New-Yorkers-and-We're-All-Nuts pieces that details the differences between the sidewalk cafés of Europe and New York. I highly encourage you to read it. Every word of it is truth, and it further illuminates this strange relationship between New Yorkers and the raised concrete dividing the buildings from the cabs.

If you move here and stay for a little while, mark my words: you'll come to appreciate that sidewalk in ways you never did when you were walking about the provinces. And you'll come to embrace it as part of your lot, however filthy and frantic it might be.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Found On The Internets: YouTube — Gallery for the Unconventional Artist

First up, this guy is the Bob Ross of one-minute spraypainting:

Next, I can't even fathom how much time and effort went into this stop-motion work of art:

(Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan for the second link)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What if MLB Had Promotion & Relegation?

I've mentioned before in this blog that the system of promotion & relegation in European league sports is the "awesome Shiva of sports, destroyer and transformer." US sports leagues are worse for not having promotion & relegation; however, even with 24/7 coverage of sports in this country, most sports fans have no idea what promotion & relegation are and how they'd change their favorite sports.

O Dear MLB Fan, if your sport had promotion & relegation like the European soccer leagues, the bottom three teams in the MLB would move down to the AAA league, and the top three teams in AAA would move up to the majors. The end of the season wouldn't merely mark a battle for the wild card spot: It'd be a life-and-death battle to stay in the MLB and we'd all be glued to our televisions.

If the baseball season ended today, and MLB/AAA promotion & relegation operated the same way it does in the English Premier League, the Nashville Sounds (89W/55L, .618) of the Pacific Coast League and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (84W/59L, .587) of the International League would be promoted to the MLB. Playing a 4-team mini-tournament for the final slot would be Sacramento River Cats (.583), the Toledo Mud Hens (.573), the Durham Bulls (.599), and the Iowa Cubs (.549).

As it currently stands, 6 MLB teams – the Chicago White Sox (.433), the Kansas City Royals (.433), the Pittsburgh Pirates (.427), the Baltimore Orioles (.427), the Florida Marlins (.427), and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (.414) – are seriously at risk of finishing in the bottom 3 slots for the year. Relative to other teams in the league, these teams are horrible. And because we have a system where they're locked into the top flight professional baseball league, they can get away with being horrible.

Under a system without promotion & relegation, the players for these teams will simply go through the motions for the rest of the season, playing their remaining games lackadaisically. The best of these teams, the White Sox and the Royals, are 25.5 games out of playoff contention: What do they care who wins or loses the remaining games?

Under a system with promotion & relegation, these players would be playing like madmen. Presently, sportswriters are shocked when teams that have had a rough season play their best at the end of the season. If we had promotion & relegation, this would be commonplace, as each threatened team battled to stay in the top league.

Owners would be forced to invest in their teams or risk falling out of the league — you wouldn't see them employing a penny-pinching strategy of running a wildly profitable but unsuccessful team (See Bud Selig or (outside of baseball) the Golden State Warriors).

What do we get instead of relegation & promotion? We get a Congressionally-sanctioned monopoly for major league baseball. We get meaningful games at the end of the season only for those teams at the top. We get a farm system where the teams are locked into their divisions and financially dependent on their big-league paymasters. We get less.

7 of the Chicago White Sox's final 14 games this season are against the Kansas City Royals. The team that wins the majority of these games will move up the table. The team that loses the majority will probably end the season in the bottom three teams.

Without promotion & relegation, you don't care about these games and nobody else does, either.

With promotion & relegation, you'd care, the players would care, the owners would care, and you can rest assured that the people of Chicago and Kansas City would care.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Making Mannahatta

Following up on my 1685 map post of 2 weeks ago, the New Yorker has an online slide show with computer-generated images that attempt to depict Manhattan (probably from the Lenape "Mannahatta" (Island of Many Hills)) as it was in 1609.

Although I'm a new and almost certainly a temporary New Yorker, permit me to speak as one for a moment. As a New Yorker, the shape of Manhattan is etched in my mind. If you live in this city, you see it every time you take the subway. You could draw it in the dark.

To see it bare of buildings and concrete and landfill is just haunting.

(Hat tip to Gothamist)

Science does it again!

Every once in a while we stumble across a paper that brings the office to a standstill for a while, a paper the epitomizes what good science is all about.

This week's wonder comes to us from Japan, no stranger to unusual technological achievements.

Yes, we can now continue to eat species long after we've eaten them down from a stable, reproductively viable population size.

Science brings you Inter-species Sperm Transfer.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad & Academe

At the end of the Columbia Hillel Reform Kol Nidre (Yom Kippur) service, the rabbi urged all the congregants to join the protest Monday against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whom Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs is hosting for its annual World Leaders Forum.

At the time, I generally agreed that protesting Ahmadinejad was worthwhile. Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, calls for destruction of the State of Israel, and generally holds odious and illiberal beliefs on many subjects. Furthermore, he is in a position of political power to effectuate at least a subset of these despicable beliefs into action.

Ah, but the protest is only partially against Ahmadinejad. Most of the rhetoric seems to be directed against Columbia University for allowing Ahmadinejad to participate in the World Leaders Forum.

The main argument against Columbia's action (or inaction, depending on how you view the events) is that providing Ahmadinejad with a forum at Columbia University either (1) implies academic or Western endorsement of his beliefs, or (2) legitimizes him as a political figure. Andy's post effectively addresses the second prong, so I will address the first.

Despite various disclaimers by Columbia President Lee Bollinger that Ahmadinejad's participation does not amount to a University endorsement of his views, the millions of people who hear of this event will likely fail to make this distinction, and may think more highly of Ahmadinejad or his beliefs than before. Even though the University interlocutors promise to "sharp[ly] challenge[]" Ahmadinejad, the simple granting of a forum to some extent implies that his beliefs are worth challenging.

The critical difference, as I see it, is that Ahmadinejad is not simply a layman who holds such beliefs. In other words, he is not "a Grand Wizard of the KKK who called for African nations to be wiped off the map." He is being invited because he is the leader (more accurately: second in charge) of a large and influential nation. If Ahmadinejad were just a shopkeeper in Tehran, Columbia would really have no business inviting him.

But even in this last case, I think Columbia should still have the right to invite him. This is a question of academic freedom. Specifically, it raises the following question: Are there people whose beliefs or actions are so odious that they should be forbidden from speaking at a university? This is a tough question, but I'm inclined to answer No.

As Mike Dorf has pointed out, refusing to allow some people to speak would imply university endorsement of everyone else who speaks. Since drawing the line once would mean having to draw the line forever, from a pragmatic standpoint it makes sense to adopt a hands-off approach.

At bottom, however, it comes down to how much one values the special position of the university in intellectual discourse. Yes, there is a danger that Ahmadinejad may gain in influence by participating in this event (though unlikely to gain much from the one person who matters: Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran), but academic self-censorship is more dangerous precedent. Most ideas are odious to someone. If universities are closed to ideas that lack a consensus, where can they be subject to rational criticism?

We have the powerful institutions of diplomacy and the military to oppose Ahmadinejad's implementation of his ideas outside the borders of Iran. What do we have to prevent the spread of academic self-censorship outside the borders of Columbia?

Ahmadinejad on Campus

Entering the Columbia campus today was no small feat, as the subway entrance outside the gates ejects you into a security cordon. The Columbia campus, a 6-square-block quad, is sealed off except for the two main gates. After presenting my Columbia ID card, I made my way to the law school, passing through a locked-down campus littered with the indicia of a protest-to-come.

New York civic leaders of all stripes are up in arms at Columbia welcoming Ahmadinejad to campus, some threatening to find economic ways of harming Columbia. Yet New Yorkers have had to do their cosmopolitan duty and entertain ghoulish figures since the dawn of the U.N., and my words to those who oppose his presence at Columbia – not to those who oppose him through their questions and remarks at the event or to his ideas through their protest signs – is the same as Josh Marshall's reaction to the Ground-Zero-visit opposition: Grow Up.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been around for almost 30 years — whether its 2nd in command is invited to face U.S. students or not doesn't really matter when questions of legitimacy come up. It's not a question of legitimizing a less-than-democratically-elected leader. It's a question of dialoging with a presence on the world stage that won't go away, however much we choose to avoid diplomacy and dialogue.

Lost in the furor over the Ahmadinejad visit are two interpretational lenses that I find instructive.

First, it was almost a year ago that supporters of the Iranian progressive movement were heartened by the vocal opposition that met Ahmadinejad when he spoke to students at Tehran's Amir Kabir University. I was elated that Ahmadinejad met vocal opposition then, and I hope he meets vocal opposition today. If I could engineer society so that he met vocal and informed opposition every day, I would.

(In this sense,
Ahmadinejad's interlocutors inside the auditorium serve roughly the same purpose as the protesters outside the auditorium. But for Ahmadinejad coming up to Columbia, how would he ever encounter those strenuously opposed to his message?)

Second, our country needs many things, but it especially needs to reacquaint itself with civil debate, even if it looks like civil debate with monsters. For 7 years, we have suffered under a President who appears afraid to face his opposition. This is a problem. Just as the UK's Prime Minister must face bombardment every week during Prime Minister's Questions, we should demand a society where political views of all stripes engage opposing ideas, even if those opposing ideas sound odious in the extreme.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Banks Over Broadway: My Own Personal Liechtenstein

Prior to recent changes in European banking law that diminished its role as a tax and regulation shelter, I'd been told that you knew when you entered Liechtenstein because bank branches began immediately at the border. (A bit like casinos in Nevada, gun shops in Maryland, and fireworks stands in Missouri.)

The same principle applies in my neighborhood. When you visit me, the immediate, overwhelming presence of banks will indicate that you're getting close. I live in a retail banking Liechtenstein.

Until a few months ago, there was Ann Taylor store at the corner of Broadway & 87th. Some weeks back, construction workers began toiling away at the site, combining the vacant space with the space next door. Today, as we walked down Broadway, Steph asked a construction worker what was going to occupy this new, enlarged location.

"It's going to be a Bank of America."

Cue Claude Raines. I'm shocked, shocked that another bank is popping up on Broadway.

A recent Congressional report (.pdf link) on limited access to banking for the poorest New Yorkers reported that in 2006 the Upper West Side had one bank for every 7,000 residents. However, the same report also counted 11 banks on the Upper West Side. Today, I count 8 banks in one 8 block stretch of one street on the Upper West Side. (Traditionally, the "Upper West Side" has referred to the 250+ blocks to the immediate west of Central Park.) Somethings tells me that there are far, far more than 11 banks on the Upper West Side as of this writing.

The New York Times has covered the recent bank branch explosion, and is predicting a slow down in branch creation. Thank goodness. I'm bank-overloaded.

(The interactive map below may not work on all browsers. If you don't see My Own Personal Liechtenstein, click here or on the image at the bottom of this post.)

View Larger Map

Friday, September 21, 2007

Suing God: Jurisdictional Purgatory? (Part II)

God has apparently answered the complaint and is – you guessed it – disputing jurisdiction.

The manifestation of the divine legal writ out of the ether brings new meaning to the phrase special appearance.

Earlier: Suing God: Jurisdictional Purgatory?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Found On The Internets: A Soviet Poster A Day

When your website is called A Soviet Poster a Day, what it does is pretty self-explanatory, Comrade.

(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Suing God: Jurisdictional Purgatory?

To make a point about frivolous lawsuits, Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers is suing God.

Although such a case might have political or social merits, my first thought was that a cheeky court willing to hear Chambers would come to the same conclusion as the court in Gerald Mayo v. Satan and His Staff, where a Pennsylvania court found that it lacked jurisdiction over Satan (who was being sued), as the defendant was "a foreign prince" probably beyond that court's jurisdictional reach.

It occurs to me, however, that suing God might present a different set of jurisdictional issues than suing Satan. I'll merely get the conversation started and hope that you all can expand it via the comments:

  • Foreseeability: Here the omniknowledgeability (yes, I shall create that word) of The Almighty works against He/She/It if He/She/It wants to avoid lawsuit in Nebraska. Even if God is a non-resident of Nebraska (naturally, you'd need to test for domicile to determine its status), the ability of God to foresee that its actions would cause in-state injury could subject it to Nebraska's jurisdiction under Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984). Of course, Chambers's complaint would still need to arise out of these Nebraska-directed-Almighty actions, as Calder concerns specific personal jurisdiction. To satisfy the broader general personal jurisdiction standard, God's actions would need to satisfy the continuous and systematic contacts that SCOTUS reiterated in Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408 (1984).

  • One Person, All Persons? If we're talking about a Triune God, it's unclear to me whether getting jurisdiction of One Person is sufficient, or whether jurisdiction of all Three Persons must be obtained. Since tag jurisdiction – transient jurisdiction where notice is served on a party while that party is physically in the jurisdiction (e.g. visiting friends) – does not apply to corporations, an analogous jurisdictional limit might apply to a deity with multiple instantiations. See Burnham v. Superior Court, 495 U.S. 604, 609 n.1 (1990).

  • Book of Mormon Connection? Although various Mormon scholars believe that the Book of Mormon describes God as physically present in the Great Lakes region several hundred years ago, it is unclear if God was physically present in Nebraska at this time, or whether these corporeal contacts should even factor in to determining jurisdiction several hundred years later.

  • Other jurisdictional possibilities are out there, – Agency Law, Foreign Relations, etc. – so please feel free to add them in the comments section. Also note that Australian cinema has already addressed this question.
Many thanks to Dan & Colin for many of the above points. Where the points sound inspired, that's them. Where they sound insipid, that's me.

Update (9/21/07): God has answered the complaint and is disputing jurisdiction.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Law School Tabloids: Principles and Policies of a Scandal

This past week, the law school world got its own, far more clothed, version of tabloid scandal as the as-yet-to-exist UC-Irvine School of Law hired Erwin Chemerinsky , reknowned constitutional scholar, to be its founding dean, then fired him for being too controversial, then said that it wasn't because he was too controversial, then hired him again, because the decision to fire him had turned out to be too controversial. Blawgers everywhere have hashed and rehashed the ins and outs of this embarrassingly public situation (see here, here, and here).

However, I fear that not all these sharp legal minds pay enough attention to the population most commonly affected by these sorts of break up-make up cycles to accurately analyze the situation. Therefore, we need to provide them with some assistance. What do you predict is in store for Chancellor Drake and Professor Chemerinsky?

  1. Chancellor Drake, previously unknown, will squeeze the publicity for all the endowments he can get, while Professor Chemerinsky falls down the law school tiers, last spotted drunkenly trying to read from Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies at Regent University School of Law.
  2. Professor Chemerinsky will attract large crowds to UCI, but they will leave largely disappointed with the overall result, while Chancellor Drake will make increasingly pointless public appearances which only serve to draw attention his waning relevance.
  3. Despite putting the ring on Professor Chemerinsky's finger, Chancellor Drake will back out yet again, unable to play second-fiddle. Professor Chemerinsky will go back to his roots at USC and focus on the treatise work that made his star shine so brightly in the first place.
  4. Against all odds, they will make it work, produce a beautiful baby law school, and watch their careers fall off a cliff.

The legal world needs your expertise!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

North of Wall Street, There Be Dragons

Although Wall Street got its name from the Walloons, a group of French-speaking settlers in early New Amsterdam, the street actually was laid out in 1685 along the fortified wall which capped the north side of 17th Century Manhattan.

This stunning overlay on Yahoo Maps – combining a map of the city in 1660 with a modern map – shows exactly how much the tip of Manhattan has grown in the last 400 years.

Note that Pearl Street, nearly a quarter mile from the water today, was Manhattan's original eastern shoreline. Broad Street's original canal is also visible, as is the original battery standing guard over New York Harbor.

(Hat tip to Gothamist.)

Arbitrator vs. Arbitrageur

It amuses me that two words with more-or-less the same etymology would have such different modern meanings:

When an arbitrageur sees bias and imbalance,
she seizes upon it for personal gain.

When an arbitrator sees bias and imbalance,
she tries to even the imbalance and undo the bias.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ogden's Ode to the Boys I Loathe

You're able to quote copyrighted works
without being dragged into court,
but it's hard to legally quote a poem
because a poem is short.

I quote the passage that comes below
not to take away this poet's money.
I quote the poem that follows below,
because it is true, and funny.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
Contrariwise, my blood runs cold
When little boys go by.
For little boys as little boys,
No special hate I carry,
But now and then they grow to men,
And when they do, they marry.
No matter how they tarry,
Eventually they marry.
And, swine among the pearls,
They marry little girls.

from Song To Be Sung by the Father of Infant Female Children by Ogden Nash
Although I link to the full poem, it – like other poems similarly situated (published before 1978 with copyright notice, renewed with the copyright office, etc.) – is covered by U.S. copyright for 95 years from the point of publication.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Simple Rules for Jaywalking in Manhattan

This week, New York City launched a new tourism campaign called Just Ask the Locals. The campaign is devoted to making tourists feel in-the-know about the city. The program provides them with helpful tips and encourages visitors to, as you might have guessed, ask local New Yorkers if they need help.

Though the thought of a Bermuda-shorts-wearing tourist asking Johnny New York for directions sounds at once dangerous and amusing, I think the campaign is a winner. I've found the average New Yorker to be shockingly friendly, bordering on chatty. A New Yorker's friendliness is borne of necessity: We're all in this together, living right on top of one another — we might as well make it livable.

In the spirit of Just Ask a Local, I thought I'd provide visitors to Gotham with some simple guidance that will help them navigate the city and avoid calamity. I'm going to help you jaywalk.

Jaywalking is ubiquitous in New York City, especially Manhattan. However, crossing at the crosswalk in the face of a DON'T WALK sign is not due some lawless impulse lurking deep in the hearts of all New Yorkers, it's due to the layout of the city.

In Manhattan, the roads running roughly north/south (or uptown/downtown) are avenues. At Central Park, Manhattan Island is 15 avenues wide. Generally, these are 4 lane boulevards, sometimes with a median. Crossing 15 avenues on foot would mean walking nearly 3 miles.

Conversely, streets in Manhattan run roughly east/west. There are almost 300 streets from the southern tip of Manhattan to its northern end. (Although highest numerical street in Manhattan is 220th Street, 1st Street is not even close to the bottom of the island.) Most streets in Manhattan are one-way, one-lane affairs. Crossing 15 streets translates into walking a little over a half mile.

So let's say you're a New Yorker walking south down 10th Avenue between 46th and 45th. It took you a little over a minute to traverse this block, and now you're facing an illuminated DON'T WALK sign, even though you can clearly see there are no cars coming down this one-way, one-lane, 30-foot-wide street. Like everyone else, you're going to jaywalk. Here's how you're going to do it.

Sauntering's Simple Rules for Jaywalking in Manhattan

  1. At an intersection, if you can cross the street at a casual pace, you may jaywalk.

    This is really the only rule. If you are able to casually cross the street, walk signal or no, you may do so. Naturally, the rule has a number of caveats:

    • So you want to jaywalk across an avenue or a through street.
      Manhattan jaywalking is an art developed for the one-way, one-lane streets, not the broad avenues. However, the same rules apply. If you can see clearly and walk casually across multiple lanes of traffic, feel free. If you run, we will secretly believe that you have robbed a store.

    • So you want to jaywalk with your infant, your luggage, or your dog.
      You still may jaywalk while encumbered with cumbersome, precious, or cumbersome & precious cargo, but please do so only when you can still obey the casual pace rule. Watching a person hurriedly jaywalk with a stroller makes even the most thick-skinned New Yorker wince.
      • Note: You will occasionally see people in this category engage in Principled Non-Jaywalking. These are the conscientious objectors of the New York City streets. You look at them and you know that they know the deal, yet they choose not to jaywalk. Maybe they're teaching a child to obey the traffic signals (a useful skill elsewhere in the world, if not in Manhattan) or maybe they're a nanny, eager to appear concerned with their charge's welfare, should a friend of the family be about.

    • So you want to jaywalk in the presence of other tourists or the elderly.
      Jaywalking in Times Square or near Rockefeller Center means jaywalking in the presence of people who have never been exposed to Manhattanite jaywalking. They will follow you into the intersection, oblivious to the signals and the traffic. Unawares, they will take terrible risks and tempt death. Look out for them a little bit.
      • Note: When walking in one of these touristy areas, you will be able to discern local New Yorkers from the rest of the throng because locals will walk in the gutter/parking lane.

        Tourists walk umpteen abreast, choking foot traffic on even the broadest sidewalks. Staying near the gutter guarantees locals that their pace will not be impaired by the skyward-looking mob.

      One of the joys of New York is that the elderly live among the rest of society, not sequestered away in their suburban homes or care centers. Yet, one of these senior Gothamites might follow your example without your locomotive ability, jaywalking dangerously. Please keep an eye out for them.
What does the NYPD think about jaywalking? In 1998, then mayor Rudy Guliani announced a crackdown on jaywalking. A year and a half later, the New York Times reported that a "spokesman for the Police Department wavered between saying the anti-jaywalking initiative was over and that there never was an anti-jaywalking initiative."

So there, New York visitor. Jaywalk to your heart's content, but please jaywalk correctly.