Monday, December 15, 2008

You Can Take It With You

Last week, Blogger – the Google-owned entity that runs blogspot.comannounced an enlightened feature. Writers can now export their blogs in toto. As a result, bloggers can easily backup their writing or move their blogs to a different location, hosted by different vendors.

Such a feature is unfortunately rare for Web 2.0 applications, even as they grow into maturity. (One might ask, Where is the export button for Facebook?)

The addition of this feature settles a lingering doubt that I've had while I add to this blog: What should come of all this writing if Blogger decided one day to suddenly close its doors? Now that I can easily export and backup the entire blog, I have one less worry.

Thanks, Blogger.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bonus? Don't Mind If I Do!

The New York Times presents this little gem of an article on Wall Street bonuses. The gist of the article is this: After a year of record losses where the only profit on the books is likely to be in the form of government bail-out funds, the banks are taking steps to restrict their year-end bonuses.

Restrict their bonuses?

I thought the whole point of bonuses was to reward a job well done with a share of the profits that you helped to generate. And now? It appears bonuses are being given out to those employees (which is apparently most of them?) who have sucked the least.

The article is a great source of drunken rants. I'm sure I'll give it good use this weekend. But I worry that it encodes a real, and very dangerous, fact about the ways in which salaries are dictated in this country. It is now an expectation that you will receive a bonus at many of these Wall Street firms, not because you have done an especially good job, but because you have managed to show up for the terrible hours the job demands to accomplish nothing.

This week, three members of my graduate class over on the Cell and Molecular Biology end of the world (these are the people researching your pharmaceuticals) left the program for...you guessed it....Wall Street! The government has been making a lot of lip movements recently about the need to recruit more researchers into science and industries that actually produce things. I have news for them. Researchers are people too. They will not work for carrots. If the government wants to do something about failing technology industries in this country, it should take a serious look at the financial incentives it gives for going into research.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I'll Miss About New York:
#12 — Dogwalkers

When we moved from California to New York in 2005, I was worried that leaving the suburbs for the city would mean that our dogs' quality of life would plummet. Gone were California's shirt-sleeve winters, here were New York's ice & snow, congestion & concrete.

How wrong I was to worry about Maggie and Molly! Their quality of life has never been better than those days in New York, and we have two people to thank above all for their joy: Marco & Marlon Araujo. These Brazilian brothers and their cousins were M&M's dogwalkers during our three years in the Big Apple, and their care meant that Maggie and Molly lived the good life.

5 days a week, Maggie and Molly spent 2 hours at the local dog run in Morningside Park with Marco and/or Marlon, with Maggie repetitively chasing tennis balls like an OCDog and Molly trying and failing through her incessant barking to maintain order amongst the assembled mutts.

Now that we've returned to California and a stand-alone home, the girls have a yard and the ability to show themselves out through their own dog door. Though they can venture out into the gentle California weather whenever they like (no more brushing snow from their paws), I'm too lazy/buzy/occupied to walk them at all in the same manner that they were walked in New York. They don't have Marco & Marlon out here, and I like to think that somewhere in their doggie minds they miss the smelly streets of New York and straining with a brace of other hounds as they pulled their way to their daily dog run.


Update: As I look back on some short videos I took of the dogs during the snowiest single day in New York City history, I'm reminded that beagles like wintry weather just fine:

What's this? After living in New York City for three years, I'm returning to California. These are the parts of my New York experience that I'll miss the most.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Toddler Audibles

Every Saturday and Sunday during the fall and winter, American TV sets feature quarterbacks changing the play at the line of scrimmage. "Blue 42!" or something similar, they bark out, changing the play for their teammates.

I'm reminded of this phenomenon when I hear Katie learning to count out loud. As she reaches the limit of what she remembers, she gets creative.

"Five . . . Six . . . Yellow. . ."


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It's a Good Day to be an Obama Geek

If it's not illegal in California to take pictures with your iPhone while driving your car, it should be. Still, I couldn't let this shot pass me by during my commute this morning:


Those are Obama/Biden '08 stickers in the middle of the W00T!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Poor Voter on Election Day

As with the past two federal elections, a poem to remind you to get out and vote:

The Poor Voter on Election Day
by John Greenleaf Whittier
December 23, 1852

The proudest now is but my peer
The highest not more high.
Today, of all the weary year,
A king of men am I!

Today alike are great and small,
The nameless and the known.
My place is the people's hall,
The ballot box my throne.

Who serves today upon the list
Beside the served shall stand;
Alike the brown and wrinkled fist,
The gloved and dainty hand!

The rich is level with the poor,
The weak is strong today.
And sleekest broadcloth counts no more
Than homespun frock of gray.

Today let pomp and vain pretence
My stubborn right abide.
I set a plain man's common sense
Against the pedant's pride.

Today shall simple manhood try
The strength of gold and land;
The wide world has not wealth to buy
The power in my right hand.

While there's a grief to seek redress
Or balance to adjust,
Where weighs our living manhood less
Than Mammon's vilest dust -

While there's a right to need my vote
A wrong to sweep away,
Up! Clouted knee and ragged coat -
A man's a man today!




Sunday, November 02, 2008

Election 2008: Thank God These Months of Massively Reduced Productivity are Finally Over

Back in 2006, the consulting firm with the strangest name of all last-name-based business entities – Challenger, Gray & Christmas – reported that the dollar value of the worker productivity lost due to the NCAA men's basketball tournament was somewhere in the neighborhood $3.8 billion. That number makes sense. For that first Thursday of the NCAA tournament, offices everywhere are paralyzed with worker bees refreshing webpages in the vain hopes that they are still competitive in the office pool.

$3.8 billion in lost productivity due to 63 basketball games may sound like a big number, but it's nothing when you think about the nonstop distraction that is a presidential election during the internet era. This appropriately (and profanely) named website sums it up well: This election feels like it began when God was a Boy and will continue at least until the next phase in human evolution.

If you're like me, your initial temptation when faced with the firehose of useful and useless, meaningful and meaningless information generated by this election is to attempt to drink it all up.

You load every webpage, thrice per hour. By the time you get to Political News & Commentary Website #8, enough time has passed that you decide you should probably restart the cycle of information consumption by returning to Political News & Commentary Website #1. You repeat this cycle during all waking hours, breaking only for the restroom, eating, sleeping... and for occasionally talking to your spouse, minimally tending to your dogs, attempting to contribute to your child's upbringing, or actually doing your job.


I feared the above condition this time around, and in January I wrote that I was hoping for strength to deal with this election year. Well, Election 2008 is almost over and I've survived. And I've got some people to thank.

Now, these people played almost no role in shaping my views about the content of the election. They did not shape my view on either of the general election presidential candidates or any of the stable of primary election candidates. What they did do was save me time and trouble, enabling me to spend less time following the election and more time doing everything else in my life.

Thank you, Nate Silver.
Nate Silver is easily the media darling of the pundit class for this election cycle. Silver is a statistician whose previous claim to something approximating fame was as an expert on baseball's sabermetrics, a movement within the culture of baseball statistics that questions whether traditional measures of baseball greatness (home runs, runs batted in, etc.) are actually the best measures of determining which baseball players were of the greatest value to their respective teams. This movement created a new generation of statistical measures like value over replacement player that effected big changes to major league rosters.

This March (only this March!) Silver started a website called FiveThirtyEight.com (538 being a reference to the total size of the electoral college). On his site, Silver created a clearinghouse for state and national polls, handicapping the performance of polls against primary results, generally talking about polling methodology and why the methodology underlying some polls may be suspect.

Silver's site saved me from clicking all over the internet in search of which way public opinion was blowing in the states that will be determinative in the election this coming Tuesday. I went to 538 and felt like I knew what was going on. And I stopped surfing. Thanks, Nate.

Thank you, Jason Linkins.
I have a problem. I like the information conveyed on the Sunday morning political talk shows but I find all of them completely unwatchable.

Time and again, important news breaks on these shows, as policymakers, politicians, and wonks let slip something that hadn't really hit the airwaves before. Still, the valuable information that can occasionally be gleaned from these shows is outweighed in my eyes by the need to be exposed to so much hackery and blather. Plus, the shows take forever to watch.

This is where Jason Linkins comes in. Linkins, a contributor to the Huffington Post website/growing empire, TiVo's (TiVos? TiVoes?) each of the Sunday morning talk shows and summarizes the discussion for you. He watches the shows so you don't have to. This guy deserves a medal.

This would be a valuable service even if Linkens were submitting little more than Cliffnotes of the various shows, but Linkens is funny. I mean, really funny. Like, I-think-I-need-to-go-get-my-inhaler funny. I was pleased to see that Comedy Central recognized him as the funniest political blogger, speculating that he might be the funniest writer alive. I'm putting him in the same category as Greg Giraldo. That's some rarified funny air, if you ask me.

Linkens's yeoman's work on Sunday morning saved me time and frustration this election cycle. As Comedy Central noted, "he’s the only person in this campaign who’s ever really fought for you." Thanks, Jason.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Chicago Tribune's Crystal Ball
circa January 2005

On January 20, 2005, Chicago Tribune writer Eric Zorn penned a blog post entitled '08 reasons why Obama will run for president in 2008.

Looking ahead almost 4 years, Zorn observes:

  • "Sure, Obama is a huge celebrity now" but his star might fade
  • Democrats would not choose Clinton due to her status as a "poisonously polarizing figure"
  • Senator John McCain will be too old to run for President in 2008
  • "Obama is the Midas of fundraisers" because he had $600k in his campaign fund (Obama's campaign raised $150 million September 2008 alone)
He ends the article with the following:
[Then Obama spokesman Robert] Gibbs denied again Wednesday that Obama will run in 2008.
Don't you believe it.
Thanks, Ryan!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Voting in North Carolina

Today, thanks to the wonder that is early voting, I voted in my first presidential election since moving South.

I have to say, it was a simply wonderful experience. Though the electoral equivalent of the Battle of Gettysburg may be raging in the state as a whole, the contest here in Durham is more like Picacho Pass. There's some blustering, and burning of hay, but the casualties are minor. Durham, simply put, is as blue as it gets. Still, it has been an interesting electoral experience for a number of reasons.

1) The battle-fury of the state has inspired people here. Each time a new voter cast his or her ballot into the electronic-era's version of a marble jar, the room erupted into a huge cheer. It was wonderful, this feeling that our votes matter. Most of these new voters were African American or hispanic. The election volunteers were almost exclusively white and over 65, and it was these volunteers that cheered louder than anyone. If that doesn't stand as an example of just how far we've come as a city in mending the terrible legacy of race relations in North Carolina, I don't know what does.

2) As I stood in line, car after car arrived driven by volunteers working to take those with limited transportation to the polls. One of my favorite moments was the Prius that arrived decked out in Obama stickers to deliver an elderly woman in a wheel-chair wearing a McCain-Palin button. The line of voters (mostly wearing Obama t-shirts) moved her right to the front of the line.

These were my favorite things. But I noticed something else too, something that made me thankful that, for all the partisan bickering of the last few weeks/months/years, it really is nice to have a 2 party system, and it'd be even better to have a few more parties in the dance hall. In local elections here, many candidates run unopposed. Pragmatically, this is a wise move for the state GOP. Republicans have a snow-ball's chance in hell of getting elected in Durham, and it's better to spend what funds haven't been allocated to Nieman-Marcus to run candidates in Raleigh. But in more than a few races for local attorney and judge positions, the unopposed candidates are, well, douche-bags, a fact I was made aware of not by local news coverage (reporters pretty much leave uncontested offices alone in their endorsements and review) but by bar-room chat with the progressive lawyers I drink with. It gives me a sense of understanding about why people in Kansas vote the way they do. When everyone you interact with and every local media outlet you have access to has the same political view you do, its just about impossible even for an educated voter to have a grasp of just how weak their party's position may be on some issues.



For now, I'll give these local candidates the benefit of the doubt, but one need look no farther than our former DA to see what happens when candidates are allowed to pander only to their base. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled with the very real possibility that my state will elect a Democrat for president and that the long reign of Libby Dole may at last come to an end. But it is worth remembering that a little bit of The olde Venice Treacle, while bad for fevers, is good medicine for politics.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alden Clarke — Painting Samsara

Alden Clarke is a friend, a co-conspirator, a physicist and an artist. Some of his painted work is now available online and I find it stunning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When did Welfare Become a Dirty Word?

[This post is a part of Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty.]

wel•fare. n. The good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization; well-being.

The title of this post is a bit misleading—I’m pretty sure I know when welfare became a dirty word: ending welfare was a plank of the Reagan platform (“Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.”). But it got really dirty in the 1990s, when President Clinton promised in his 1993 State of the Union address to “end welfare as we know it”:

Later this year, we will offer a plan to end welfare as we know it. I have worked on this issue for the better part of a decade. And I know from personal conversations with many people that no one, no one wants to change the welfare system as badly as those who are trapped in it. I want to offer the people on welfare the education, the training, the child care, the health care they need to get back on their feet, but say after 2 years they must get back to work, too, in private business if possible, in public service if necessary. We have to end welfare as a way of life and make it a path to independence and dignity.
A year later, House Republicans and Republican candidates signed the “Contract with America,” the third tenet of which was:
3. THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: Discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs, and enact a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility.
Finally, in 1996, Congress passed Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program that had been in place since 1935. (PRWORA actually expired in 2002, but Congress has continued to fund it in the absence of a replacement program.)

The question really is, then, should welfare be a dirty word? Current events provide decent context for answering the question.

Welfare in the United States began with the Aid to Dependent Children program as a part of the original Social Security Act of 1935 (it was later renamed Aid to Families with Dependent Children for obvious political reasons). It helped fund state programs that, in essence, provided financial assistance to single mothers (later revised to cover any single parent). The general idea, it seems to me, was that children should not suffer because their remaining parent cannot bring in sufficient income to support them. This was obviously a serious concern during the Great Depression, but, in fact, many of the state programs were started much earlier in the century.

In this context, it makes sense that the 1990s saw the culmination of the backlash against welfare. Reagan Republicanism created the belief that welfare was a “reward” for not working. The flush economy of the 1990s reinforced the impression that not working was a “choice.” And, of course, the characterizations of “welfare queens” by the media had become the image of welfare.

But, of course, single parenthood didn’t go anywhere. Just the opposite. Divorce rates continue to climb at the same time that most states have eliminated alimony (child support remains, but is notoriously insufficient). The drug war has broken up millions of families, particularly those of color. And abortion has become a scarce commodity in many communities.

And now the economy, for lack of a better word, sucks. Commercial paper is the foundation for most large companies’ payrolls. The lack of credit will make it increasingly difficult for parents to house and clothe their children during gaps in employment. And, god forbid, should the equity injection prove insufficient or overseas investors start calling in debts, the federal government will have little choice but to print more money—read, inflation—making it next to impossible to pay for everyday goods.

In 1929, our generation’s grandparents were teenagers. Most came out the other side of the Great Depression able to house, feed, and educate our parents, making them most prosperous generation in history.

Don’t we want good fortune, health, happiness, and prosperity for the children of 2008?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Smart Folks Talk Economics

Periodically, among friends and occasional blog readers, I have expressed some reservations about the motives of the Southern Institute of Higher Learning at which I am employed, but yesterday it did good. Real good.

Duke for all its odd politics and the occasional "southern charm" of its administrators, is one of the most open places I have ever been to. I mean that literally. There are no locks on the library (open 24 hours a day), and the pianos in the music department are for use by anyone in the community. The parking still sucks, the public transit is non-existent, and we have an honest-to-goodness coal plant in the middle of campus, but I will forgive them all that for today for putting together such an interesting panel of experts to discuss the recent financial crisis.



Now I don't agree with everything these folks say, but this is the first time I've had access to a real candid discussion about what the recent proposals on the Hill are supposed to do. If you're at all curious about the details that have been left out the stories politicians have been telling us of late, I encourage you to take a look/listen. The video is a little long, and gets dull at times, but its a good way to pass an evening paying bills or folding laundry or what not.

That is unless you are playing Palin-Biden debate Bingo tonight. That should take priority.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Snow Falling on Mars

I'd love to be able to write something cogent about the happenings on Capital Hill. But I'm just plain too frustrated. I'm frustrated that the vote today came down to petty politics of the worst sort. And I'm even more frustrated that NOBODY on the Hill has bothered to tell me just how the current plan is supposed to work, or what these so-called "alternatives" that have captured the minds of the Republican party are. If there's one thing that pisses me off more than anything as a voter, its that the politicos don't have the backbone to explain to me, uncertainties, warts, and all, what's doing on.

But I can't write that post. Because I'm angry. So instead, I've been watching clouds move on mars, and thinking of snow falling on another planet. Its a nice reminder of what we, as a people, can do. And that there are some really beautiful things out there.



Thanks, Tyler, for the link.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oktoberfest Parenting FAIL

Sauntering field operative Johnrob reports from Munich, where Oktoberfest is still in full swing:

My buddies and I were enjoying our umpteenth liter at Oktoberfest when an attractive young hat saleswoman approached our table. After some humorous banter, the young lady claimed that she could pound an entire liter of beer — because she was, you see, a real Bavarian woman. Sadly, she could not demonstrate while on the job, so we had to settle for her word.

Later that afternoon, we arrived at our reserved table a little early. While waiting for the previous seating to clear out, we saw just how these Bavarian women hone their drinking skills...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What I'll Miss About New York:
#13 — Escape from the City

Manhattan. Sometimes from beyond the skyscrapers,
across the hundreds of thousands of high walls,
the cry of a tugboat finds you in your insomnia
in the middle of the night,
and you remember that this desert of
iron and cement is an island.
Desert Island (New York), Albert Camus, 1946
I'm not too concerned whether New York is the financial and cultural capital of the world, or whether that title should belong to London or Paris, Tokyo or Hong Kong. All I know is that the city is a strong taste, and there's a certain kind of relief I get when I get a break from that taste.

As wonderful as it is to go weeks on end without setting foot inside a car, there's a certain kind of relief that I feel when I step into a cab to race to the airport or rent a car to flee the island.

"When was the last time you left the island of Manhattan?" I used to ask Steph as we'd head toward the airport. It always surprised me that we could months on end without leaving our 23-square mile island home.

One trip away from New York stands out from among the rest. It was a trip to attend a good friend's wedding a few months after we'd moved to the city. I woke up early in New York, went to the airport, sped to California, and before I knew it I was on Ocean Drive in Carmel, CA. To go from the din of New York – the ambulances and the unending human motion – to this, the hushed motion of the waves, was a shock to the system.

What's this? After living in New York City for three years, I'm returning to California. These are the parts of my New York experience that I'll miss the most.

What I'll I Continue to Miss About New York

I thought I would probably wrap up these What I'll Miss posts prior to leaving New York at the end of August. Yeah, that didn't work out.

I still plan on finishing these posts during the next few weeks and months though I've been in Palo Alto, California for more than a week now.

What's this? After living in New York City for three years, I'm returning to California. These are the parts of my New York experience that I'll miss the most.

The Toilet Won't Stop Running.
Consider Yourself Sued.

After Kramarsky v. Stahl Management, 92 Misc.2d 1030, 401 N.Y.S.2d 943 (N.Y.Sup. 1977) – where a landlord refused to rent to a woman because she was a lawyer – New York City amended its landlord/tenant law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a "lawful occupation."

California has no such bar on discriminating on the basis of a "lawful occupation." Of the roughly 10 places we applied to before finally signing a lease for a house last night, fully a third of them expressed reservations to renting to a couple where both people were lawyers.

Why were they so worried? We should sue them. ALL OF THEM.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Less porn? No, just really bad statistics.

Reuters is running a story, Porn passed over as Web users become social, based on book by and interview with Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at Hitwise, an Internet tracking company. Obviously, I had to read the piece (I get Reuters for the porn) to see if this shocking revelation could possibly be true.

Thankfully, my worldview remained intact—porn isn't going anywhere. The relevant part of the article:

Tancer . . . said one of the major shifts in Internet use in the past decade had been the fall off in interest in pornography or adult entertainment sites.

He said surfing for porn had dropped to about 10 percent of searches from 20 percent a decade ago, and the hottest Internet searches now are for social networking sites.

"As social networking traffic has increased, visits to porn sites have decreased," said Tancer, indicated that the 18-24 year old age group particularly was searching less for porn.

"My theory is that young users spend so much time on social networks that they don't have time to look at adult sites."
I haven't taken stats in at least twelve years, but I'm pretty sure I've spotted a hole in Mr. Tancer's theory.

According to comScore, one of the more reputable Internet-use tracking firms, who started tracking search in 2003 (which makes me suspicious of claims of reliable search statistics from 10 years ago), search has been growing exponentially, as anyone with a pulse and an Internet connection already knows. For example:Now, I'm not very good at math, but even I can calculate 20% of 4.2 billion—840 million—and 10% of 16 billion—1.6 billion.

Even if we give Mr. Tancer the completely unreasonable benefit of assuming that there was no search growth from 1998 to 2004, and none again since 2007, the past ten years have seen the number of searches for porn double, not drop off. Young people aren't spending any less time searching for porn, they're just spending that much more time on the Internet.

Phew. Although I don't think I'll be hiring Hitwise any time soon.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

McCain Campaign Now Officially a Joke (Albeit a Dangerous One)

Steve Harvey's comedy routine from a few years back contained a commentary on communications between men and women. In his routine, Harvey famously concluded that men lie when the truth will do.

As the past two weeks have revealed, the same is true of the McCain campaign. They will lie when the truth will do. There's no shame in saying that Sarah Palin visited Alaska National Guard troops when they were stationed in Kuwait, but that – apparently – is not sexy enough. So they said she visited them in Iraq. She has not been to Iraq.

They've become so comfortable lying, the McCain campaign now lies when the truth will do.

Friday, September 12, 2008

My Little Dermatologist

Katie, what's this? Nose. (in truth, she says noe.)
Katie, what's this? Teeth. (tee)
What's this? Eyebrow. (eye-bow)
What's this? Mole. (moe)

Yes, somewhere down the line my 19-month old daughter learned to identify moles on necks and faces. This perceptive ability has yet to offend anyone who holds her, but I suspect that her observations and someone's sensibilities will collide sometime soon.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

This Day in History

Its been a slow few weeks here at Sauntering. But we're still here for you, and most importantly, here for your education.

This Day in History is one of a small abundance of websites that allow you to see what other events happened on on days like your birthday, or other memorable dates. For instance, the day of my first kiss falls on the anniversary of the first day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Those who know me know that I have exceptionally bad luck on the timing of life's little milestones.

..But I digress. The real point is this; it appears that the people who run This Day in History are not with out a sense of humor. See if you can find the odd-ball in this list of events for September 6th.

394 Battle of the Frigidus: The Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I defeats and kills the pagan usurper Eugenius and his Frankish magister militum Arbogast.

1522 The Victoria, one of the surviving ships of Ferdinand Magellan's expedition, returns to Sanlcar de Barrameda in Spain, becoming the first ship to circumnavigate the world.

1620 The Pilgrims sail from Plymouth, England, on the Mayflower to settle in North America.

1628 Puritans land at Salem, from Mass Bay Colony, witches soon to settle

1669The siege of Candia ends with the Venetian fortress surrendering to the Ottomans

1776 Hurricane hits Guadeloupe, killing more than 6000.

1781 The Battle of Groton Heights takes place, resulting a British victory.

1839 Great fire in NY


Also, our editor in chief was born. Happy Birthday, Andy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Scene of the Crime Rovers

When I'm not doing science, I play music. Sometimes with real bands, and sometimes with this one. If you've any interest in seeing some really weird stuff, I encourage you to check out my new little blog on this music side-show. Hey, I'm not above e-busking.


Image courtesy of the News and Observer

Monday, August 18, 2008

Facebook: Easier than Spying on Your Neighbors

Dearest Facebook,

I love how you make it easy to keep up with people. Until the day comes when you're no longer a popular destination on the web, I don't need to update people's contact information once I'm their "friend" on your site. People keep their own contact information current.

I hate how you make it easy to keep up with people in the most voyeuristic way possible.
Just glancing at your landing page exposes me to a psychodrama that I sometimes wish I could unsee.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Great Moments in Toddler Language

To Katie, fruits are either blueberries (actually blueberries), pronounced "baa", bananas (actually bananas), pronounced "na-na", or apples (everything but blueberries and bananas), pronounced "app-ah".

This morning Katie pointed to this picture in a book, looked at me, and said "Mama":

I'm working on "Dada":

What I'll Miss About New York:
#14 — The Center of it All

About ten minutes after the hour, the announcer on NY1, New York's own 24-hour, low-budget, local news CNN-clone, says "...and now for a look at the news from the world outside New York." When I hear this, I usually imagine a hypothetical New Yorker responding "Wait — there's a world outside New York?"

As Saul Steinberg's famous New Yorker cover makes clear, the prototypical New York view of the world is one where you're either in New York, you're in the provinces, or you're in some bizarre hinterland. Without so much as an iota of self-consciousness, most New Yorkers consider their city to be the financial, political, and cultural capital of the world, a place of unparalleled cultural diversity unlike the rest of the United States or anywhere else. (Every decade or so, a handful of New Yorkers reignite the New York City secession movement, a project that illustrates the degree to which residents of this city feeling that they are also unlike residents of their own state.)

There's little I could add to the well-worn discussion of New Yorkers' fascination with themselves, so I'll be brief. I'll miss living in a place where such a large percentage of residents are convinced that they live in the center of the universe. Granted, denizens of the Bay Area are more than enthusiastic about their home, convinced that they lead the way culturally and technologically for the rest of the world (More than one person has told me there's a reason that Star Trek located Starfleet's headquarters near the Golden Gate Bridge). Yet, few people in the Bay Area would claim that their area is the epicenter of the world's attention. To me, it seems most New Yorkers would make that claim.

What's this? After living in New York City for three years, I'm returning to California. These are the parts of my New York experience that I'll miss the most.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

2 Trains are for Babies

Like many New Yorkers, I'm a big fan of the subway. In fact, enough New Yorkers are big fans of the subway system that the MTA maintains a store where you can buy all manner of subway-themed merchandise, permitting you to flaunt your mass transit ardor to the world through bags, pencil holders and the like. Advertisements for these items are occasionally placed in the cars, and one caught my eye last month as I was studying for the bar exam.

You see, the typical subway rider is attached to one train above all others, as you generally enter the subway on the line nearest your home. For me, that means that I ride the 1 train more than any other. Appealing to this single-train affection, the MTA sells t-shirts for adults and toddlers, permitting subway patriots to tout their favored lines.

The MTA does not offer t-shirts for all 23 subway lines. What's strange about this whole effort is that the selection of shirts offered to toddlers differs from the selection available to adults.

Toddlers can proclaim their love of 9 subway lines: 1, 2, 3, 4, A, E, F, G, and J.

Adults have the option to promote 15 lines: 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, A, D, E, F, G, J, L, N, R, and S.

Based on the selected lines, it appears to me that no one likes the 5, B, C, M, Q, V, W, or Z trains — or at least would not attest to this affection in public via a garment. Moreover, certain trains are adults only. Hold up there, little feller! Them 6, 7, L, N, R, S trains? They ain't for kids!

Conversely, the 2 train shirt is toddler only. In a perfect world, maybe the 2 train would be toddler-sized. It'd be a kids train with stops at every playground and F.A.O. Schwartz.

Finally, I'm stunned they left out any line and yet still included a shirt in honor of the S line. I wonder if they've sold any to people who aren't conductors or engineers on this train? You see, there are three trains designated as S, and they do nothing more than ferry people between two to five stations that would otherwise be unconnected in the system. Getting fired up about the S train is a little like getting excited about the shuttle train at an airport.

What I'll Miss About New York:
#15 — City Kid

Steph and I joke that in 2020, our then 13-year old daughter Kate will attempt to pass herself off to her friends as some kind of sophisticate. "You know, I was born in New York City. That's why I have such a good sense of style," she'll say, ignoring the fact that she moved from New York when she was 18 months old.

Once we found out that we'd be having a child during our time in New York, I suspected that we'd want to race out of the city. I thought that the oddities of Manhattan life – the expense, the carlessness, the feeling that you lack room to move – would propel us away. I was wrong.

Sending Kate to daycare for the past year has meant that we've met the parents of her classmates. These families are similarly situated to us, with similar experiences and jobs — and they're not leaving New York any time soon. Moreover, we've met the families that live in our building, with children now heading to college who have lived their whole lives here on 89th street. They're not racing to get out of the city.

All of this is not to say that it's easy to raise kids in Manhattan. You need only look at the expense of Manhattan living to grasp the challenge of raising a family here. Money magazine's online cost of living calculator indicates that someone earning $50,000 in Hastings, Nebraska (just down the road from my hometown), would need to make $119,397.45 to maintain the same standard of living if they settled on the island of Manhattan.

Some examples will help illustrate why my gut thinks the Manhattan number above is on the low side, at least for our neighborhood. First, the annualized cost for Kate's daycare is on par with what my parents paid to send me to Stanford in 1995 (we paid 3x what our friends in Dallas, Texas paid for comparable care). Second, as we look to rent a home in the SF Bay Area (where Money says you must earn $94,771.31 to approximate that Nebraskan $50k), we find that the same price we currently pay for a 1-bedroom apartment in Manhattan gets you a 3-bedroom house in the nicer parts of Silicon Valley.

Despite the expense, despite the concrete and the pace, despite the pollution and the claustrophobia of being in a city without owning a getaway car, we could live here. We could stay. Kate could grow up here. Granted, we'd probably move to Park Slope in Brooklyn, participating in a yuppie migration as predictable as a seasonal bird migration, but we'd still be in New York City.

But we're not staying here. We're leaving New York. It's impossible to know what the future holds, but it looks like Kate's not going to grow up here. She's not going to grow up as a city kid.

And that makes me a little sad.

What's this? After living in New York City for three years, I'm returning to California. These are the parts of my New York experience that I'll miss the most.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Michael Phelps v. Mark Spitz

Tonight, Michael Phelps equaled Mark Spitz's 1972 record for Olympic productivity, winning his seventh medal of these Olympic games.

Of course, it's unfair to compare Spitz's performances to those of today's Olympians. Spitz was forced to swim through water as viscous as an oil slick wearing a 3-piece woolen suit, and today's Olympians swim downhill both ways and have suits made of fish scales.

Still, it bears noting that Spitz's gold medal winning times would barely win the women's events today.








RaceSpitz's TimeCurrent Women's World RecordCurrent Men's World Record
100m freestyle51.22Libby Trickett 52.88Eamon Sullivan 47.05
200m freestyle1:52Federica Pellegrini 1:54.82Michael Phelps 1:42.96
100m butterfly54.27Inge de Bruijn 56.61Ian Crocker 50.40
200m butterfly2:00.70Zige Liu 2:04.18Michael Phelps 1:52.03
4×100m freestyle relay3:26.42Netherlands 3:33.62US 3:08.24
4×200m freestyle relay7:35.78Australia 7:44.31US 6:58.56
4×100m medley relay3:48.16Australia 3:55.74US 3:30.68
See Also:
Modern Women's World Records vs. Historical Men's World Records
Modern Women's World Records vs. Historical Men's World Records — Part II

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What I'll Miss About New York:
#16 — The Urban Life

At the risk of sounding like a complete Scaredy Cat, I have to confess that I did not ride the subway the first time I visited New York in 2003. I was a mere babe of 27 at the time.

I knew that New York had experienced a stunning decrease in crime during the Giuliani and Bloomberg eras. Only a year later, in 2004, New York would be named the safest large city in the United States. Still, the subway seemed dangerous to me during that first visit. Some irrational part of me suspected at the time that stepping underground meant that I'd be easy prey for dangers lurking around every darkened corner. I'd be as good as dead.

At Steph's insistence (and mild taunting), I succumbed to reason on Visit to New York #2 and discovered by personal experience that entering the New York subway system did not mean certain death. Indeed, I soon learned that nearly 7 million people survive the subway system each workday. 9-year olds even manage to survive it on their own. Since that first courageous day, I bet I've survived the trip 800 times.

Having moved here from the SF Bay Area, I'd lived in a major metropolitan area before; however, I'd never experienced anything like what it means to live in New York. Attending Stanford and living in the surrounding communities thereafter meant living in a socio-economically segregated setting — a state of affairs that is not unique to the Bay Area, but miles away from life in New York City.

Changing coasts and moving to the most populous city in the country combined my fear of the unknown with my unease with urban poverty. It's easy to have a noblesse oblige attitude about social class when you can remain safely ensconced in the familiar and safe, yet moving to New York reminds you that whatever fear you have of urban violence is built on a foundation of fear about poverty and the fruit of desperation.

The daily demands of living here quickly started the process of exposing and eroding defenses that I didn't know I had, yet this process continues as Katie's dad. Toddlers reach out to people, and people reach back. On a recent trip on the subway, Katie wouldn't stop staring at the brightly dressed person on the other side of the car. Clad from head-to-toe in black & gold, the guy was obviously a member or aficionado of the Latin Kings. No matter for Katie — she had soon melted him into making faces across the subway car in an attempt to make her laugh.

Of course, this brief time in New York has not inoculated me from a fear of the dark or the unknown, but I like to think that this experience has helped me acknowledge some of the roots of whatever unease I feel when faced with a landscape far removed from the Nebraska of my youth. Next month, I'll start a chapter of my life that's much more white picket fence than these past three years have been. Here's hoping that the lessons of New York's urban life are lasting ones.

What's this? After living in New York City for three years, I'm returning to California. These are the parts of my New York experience that I'll miss the most.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Poor, Desperate Souls — Click Here!

When I made my Facebook account, I gave the website my age; therefore, I'm not bothered just because Facebook occasionally reminds me of my age when it serves ads on the pages I load.

Still, something about this ad is beyond creepy.

This Way to the Bar Exam

Google Maps driving directions to the bar exam from my father-in-law's house.

"The bar exam is a complete waste of time and resources," a fellow student said to me while we both were studying for last week's terminal law exam. "It's a drag on the economy." A law graduate's time was better spent, he said, on something – anything – other than a test that required each graduate to review the basic framework of so many areas of the law. (In California, an applicant can be tested on 17 subjects. In New York, it's 21.)

Critics of the bar exam see it as little more than a protectionist measure. By forcing new lawyers to jump through a challenging set of hoops, the state bar accomplishes two goals. First, it limits the number of new lawyers, thereby hampering competition and raising prices. Second, the bar uses the exam (and other legal entrance requirements) to deflect criticism without actually improving the profession. Want to make lawyers more ethical? Well, one way to try to do so is to raise the lowest acceptable score on the MPRE (the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, a pre-bar exam test for law students), as California did this January. Because, of course, unethical students couldn't learn legal ethics for the purposes of a multiple choice exam. Of course they couldn't.

I've taken a lot of standardized tests in my day: LSATs, SATs, ACTs, an AP exam or two. The bar exam was the first such test I've taken where the body giving the test makes it abundantly clear that they are NOT on your side. The bar exam is inflicted on would-be lawyers by current lawyers, with all the care of a fraternity paddling.

You hear stories of the guy who forgot to turn off his cell phone and was bounced out of the test. The chief proctor remains you again and again that various minor misdeeds – for example, getting up to go to the bathroom during the last 5 minutes of any of the six 3-hour sessions – will result in the administration an Orwellian sounding Rule 12 Violation. The test is capricious, spiteful, and arbitrary, and it's a damn shame that it has such a profound negative economic effect on so many people who graduate law school only to struggle to pass the bar.

Yet, the bar is a necessary evil on two fronts.

1) It's good to force every lawyer to look deeply into a varied set of subjects. Out of the subjects that could have been tested last week, I knew practically nothing about criminal procedure, wills, trusts, community property, or partnerships prior to studying for the exam. Beyond these unknown areas, most of the other subject areas were topics that I'd studied during the first year of law school, only to never think about again.

I'm joining a law firm this fall that has a narrow and specialized practice, focusing exclusively on securities work and other corporate matters for start-up companies and venture capitalists. Of the 17 areas I studied like mad for the bar exam, only three (contracts, corporate law, and partnerships) will be applicable in the job that I'm about to begin.

Yet who knows what the future holds for my (or any one else's) legal career? Much as I think I'll enjoy this new job, I may someday find myself doing divorces, handling real estate transactions, helping someone plan their estate, or arguing a constitutional claim. Who knows?

What's for sure is that my friends will know that I'm a lawyer and, in a pinch, they're not going to care what kind of law I practice. They'll want me to provide them 30 seconds of counsel regarding their divorce, their home purchase, their arrest. And even though the best advice I could give them would be to usher them toward someone who is experienced in their particular problem area, it'll be helpful for me to have at least a baseline understanding of what they're facing.

Does the bar need to make the exam so onerous to accomplish the goal of making sure each lawyer has a sufficiently broad understanding of the law? No — they could make the second year curriculum as rigid as the first year, insuring that each student took the bar exam courses, even at the cost of studying areas of the law they find interesting. But a softer test with more required courses is not going to happen because of the next point.

2) Law schools – at least my law school – are rather lax about quality control. I went to law school with some of the most intelligent, hard-working people I've ever met. I also went to law school with some of the most unrepentant slackers I'll ever hope to meet.

As I noted a few months back, if you make it to the final semester of 3L at my school, you're practically guaranteed to graduate. Even prior to passing this graduation event horizon, the degree to which people skate by, er... customize law school to their own needs is really amazing.

To pick one area where people are permitted to graduate while phoning it in, let's look at lecture attendance. Sure, the ABA paternalistically requires perfect attendance from law school students. Yet, (in my experience) such a rule is only enforced by hollow threats and mock professorial scorn. The Socratic method means calling on students each class, and there were a set of names that I got used to hearing in law school that just weren't connected to people. Listening to the optimistic and naive professor calling their names reminds me of the words of the great philosopher Mitch Hedberg:
When you go to a restaurant on the weekends and it's busy, they start a waiting list. They start calling out names, they say "Dufrane, party of two. Dufrane, party of two." And if no one answers they'll say their name again. "Dufrane, party of two, Dufrane, party of two." But then if no one answers they'll just go right on to the next name. "Bush, party of three."

Yeah, but what happened to the Dufranes? No one seems to give a shit. Who can eat at a time like this — people are missing. You fuckers are selfish... the Dufranes are in someone's trunk right now, with duct tape over their mouths. And they're hungry! That's a double whammy.

We need help. Bush, search party of three! You can eat when you find the Dufranes.
Granted, having attended almost all the assigned classes during law school, I can see why people don't come. On occasion, class took on the feel of oral argument before the Supreme Court: It was an exercise that is just for show, because the result is determined on the basis of other factors. Just as the justices make up their minds on the briefs, if you've already made you mind up regarding a case's holding after reading it, class just might confuse you.

Naturally, the basic problem with the I-don't-need-to-go-to-class attitude is that you are never the problem, it's always the other guy. They might need to go to class to really master the material, but you're past that. You get it. It's not your problem.

It's the reliance on donations – donations that come from graduates, not drop-outs – that provides the systematic impetus for pushing people through law school who are incapable or uninterested in pulling themselves through. Yet, the bar exam doesn't have any such conflict. It's not going to cut you any slack, applicant.

The bar exam is a train wreck, and the test could be administered far more equitably. If the goal of the exam is to insure lawyers have at least a basic level of knowledge in the tested areas, I'd prefer that they test ALL the areas every year, instead of only rotating through essay topics, thereby testing a fraction of what you've studied and forcing you into the dangerous game of guessing the content of this year's test.

I disagree with my fellow classmate who saw the exam as little more than a waste of time. Despite the frailties of the test itself , the sixty day frantic review that precedes it produces social value by creating more generalists and offering law school slackers a chance at redemption.

"The bar exam only tests one thing," a future co-worker of mine said earlier this summer. "It tests whether you can set aside your regular life in the service of a big project." That's about right.

Friday, July 11, 2008

This Would Be Kind of Cute...

....if it weren't so scary. See the rest of the pictures here .

Friday, July 04, 2008

Some Heroic Moments for this Independence Day

At some point, our society began holding lawyers in low regard. This cultural contempt goes beyond despising the relatively more affluent or detesting ambulance chasers.

As I navigated my way through law school, it occurred to me that one of the primary sources of frustration against lawyers is our frustration with society itself. Our society – like any developed society – can be a morass of regulations and requirements, limitations that are (at least in theory) designed to protect us from ourselves and others. Since we can't lash out against this faceless system, we choose to vent our frustration at those who seem to guard the gates to this machine.

Although going to law school means choosing to become one of these social pariahs, most (many?) would say it was worth it. On this Independence Day, I want to celebrate a hidden benefit of law school. Although law school's tour of legal history reveals more than a few legal villains, it also uncovers a number of legal heroes.

Here are a couple lawyerly actions that I first learned about in law school and which make me proud to be an American today. The first is heroic for its effect, if not its intent. The latter, for both.


  1. President Dwight D. Eisenhower on September 8, 1953: Chief Justice Fred Vinson died on September 8, 1953, after the rehearing of Brown v. Board of Education had been reordered but not heard.

    Had Vinson survived to rule on Brown's rehearing, Justice Felix Frankfurter believed there would have been 4 dissenters. According to legal legend, Frankfurter remarked that Vinson's death was "the only evidence I have ever had for the existence of God," for it permitted the nomination of Earl Warren to replace him on the bench.

    At Vinson's death, Eisenhower kept a promise to then California governor Earl Warren to nominate him to the first available seat on the Supreme Court. With Warren at the helm, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Brown's rehearing that separate but equal facilities were unconstitutional.

    Though Eisenhower would go on to consider his nomination of Warren to be a mistake, Eisenhower's promise to Warren led to the creation of the Warren Court and the dramatic expansion of civil rights in the decades that followed.

  2. Senator Clair Engle on June 10, 1964: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was filibustered in the Senate for 57 days and its passage looked uncertain.

    California Senator Engle, who had been struggling with brain cancer since 1963, returned to the Senate floor on June 10, 1964, to participate in the vote to end debate. Unable to speak due to his advanced cancer, Senator Engle pointed to his eye to indicate "aye" as his name was called in the roll-call vote. Engle's vote ultimately was one of the deciding votes, as cloture was met, ending the filibuster and permitting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to become law.

    Clair Engle died one month later.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Personally, I Prefer "S/H/It" or "S/H/Its"

Much as I dislike Facebook's use of the singular they throughout the site, today's change to its mini-feed is bound to aggravate someone.

Facebook has a tough time with the basics of language. Last year, it caved into user demands to remove "is" from its status message template, permitting a user to have a status outside the third-person singular present tense. Daring!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Modern Women's World Records
vs. Historical Men's World Records — Part II

Following up on last week's post comparing current women's world records in track & field with historical men's world records, here's a graph to illustrate what I see as a trend (To get a larger version, click on the image):

The y axis is the year that the historical men's record eclipsed the current women's record. The x axis is a logarithmic scale showing the distance of the various events in meters. I'm no statistician, but I see a clear trend here.

Simply, the longer the event, the more impressive the women's best is relative to men's historical performances. Whereas the world's fastest men have been running faster than Florence Griffith Joyner's (somewhat disputed) 10.49s in the 100m since Charlie Paddock ran 10.4s in 1921, it took until 1958 for the world's fastest male marathon runner to go any faster than Paula Radcliffe's current world best of 2:15:25.

Why might this be the case? I can think of a few reasons.

First, the longer distance events – and the training required to excel at them – appear to have not been taken very seriously by athletes at the dawn of the last century. Wikipedia notes that the winner of the first modern Olympic marathon in 1896 thought it wise to stop at an inn for a glass of wine mid-race.

Second, it may be that whatever athletic advantage men have due to human sexual dimorphism, this advantage is reduced when it comes to the traits that make for successful long distance runners. Men may have an insurmountable advantage over women in the creation of fast twitch muscle fibers that make for successful sprinters, but may have a much smaller (or nonexistent) advantage in the development of slow twitch muscle fibers and cardiovascular fitness that make for excellent marathoners.

Previously:
Modern Women's World Records vs. Historical Men's World Records

See Also:
Michael Phelps v. Mark Spitz (comparing Spitz's performance against today's female records)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Modern Women's World Records
vs. Historical Men's World Records

Unable to find a webpage that had all this material easily available, I decided to make one.

The table below contains track & field world record information taken from Wikipedia. On the left is the current women's world record. On the right is the first historical men's world record that surpassed today's best female performance. (The list is limited to those events that have a world record progression page on Wikipedia.)


Current Women's RecordHistorical Men's Record
100m Florence Griffith Joyner 10.491988Charlie Paddock 10.41921
4 x 100m East Germany 41.371985United States 41.01924
800m Jarmila Kratochvílová 1:53.281983
Ted Meredith 1:51.91912*
1500m Qu Yunxia 3:50.461993
Jules Ladoumegue 3:49.21930
1 Mile Svetlana Masterkova 4:12.56
1996
Paavo Nurmi 4:10.4
1923
3000m Wang Junxia 8:06:11
1993Gunder Hägg 8:01.2
1942
5000m Tirunesh Dibaba 14:11.15
2008Taisto Maki 14:08.8
1939
10000m Wang Junxia 29:31.78
1993
Emil Zátopek 29:28.2
1949
Marathon Paula Radcliffe 2:15:25
2003
Sergey Popov 2:15:17
1958
High Jump Stefka Kostadinova 2.09m
1987
Lester Steers 2.10m
1941
Long Jump Galina Chistyakova 7.52m
1988
Peter O'Connor 7.61m
1901*
Triple Jump Inessa Kravets 15.50m
1995
Daniel Ahearn 15.52m
1911
Pole Vault Yelena Isinbayeva 5.01m
2005
John Pennel 5.05m
1963

* There is no men's record on the Wikipedia world record progression page that would be defeated by today's female world record holder. The entry listed is the first world record recognized in the world record progression page.

Subsequently:
Modern Women's World Records vs. Historical Men's World Records — Part II


See Also:
Michael Phelps v. Mark Spitz (comparing Spitz's performance against today's female records)