Thursday, December 21, 2006

Person(s) of the Year

Here are the results of my own little POTY survey, conducted via e-mail. Multiple votes in parentheses.

Donald Rumsfeld (3)
Keith Olbermann (2)
George W Bush (2)
Borat (2)
Michael Richards (2)
Milton Friedman
Democratic Party
Britney Spears
Sanitation Workers
Al Gore
The Blog
Steven Colbert
Jack Murtha
This Moment
Barack Hussein Obama
Rahm Emmanuel
Wilford Brimley
JPL's Mars Recon Observer

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

$77 per Ton

Earlier this fall, Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist for the World Bank, issued a report on the potential economic costs of climate change. His headline figure was that the annual worldwide costs due to climate change could amount to 20% of world economic output by 2100. Insurance companies are already beginning to take note of such dire warnings and are raising premiums on waterfront property or refusing to insure it altogether.

The report also contained another useful estimate: a present-value "social cost" of $85 per tonne of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere -- equivalent to about $77 per U.S. ton. It represents the discounted sum of all the future climate-change costs imposed on society by each ton of CO2 that we take out of the ground and send into the atmosphere. For example, at eight-tenths of a pound of CO2 emitted per mile, driving the typical car costs society 3 cents a mile -- or $300 for every 10,000 miles -- just in terms of climate change.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Crastpog Catalog: PastaBelt Organizer

Having a hard time finding the right pasta, or the right belt for that suit? You need to get organized. The PastaBelt Organizer neatly stores up to 40 varieties of fresh pasta -- from linguine to angel hair -- plus 28 belts on non-slip hooks. Push the toggle switch and they rotate forward or back. The motor is so efficiently designed it's almost completely silent. The convenient non-glare light comes on automatically when the rack begins rotating to help you pick the right noodle and/or belt. Adjustable bracket mounts to most closet rods or kitchen cabinetry. Matte finish with natural wood trim. Uses 4 D batteries (not included). Not recommended for use with gnocci.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

William James on the Unconscious and Religious Conversion

According to William James, the unconscious mind plays a key role in religious experience and conversion. People who have conversions are especially susceptible to "incursions" from the unconscious into the conscious.

But even if a person’s individual psychological makeup is the cause, James argues it does not reduce the religious significance of a conversion. In James’s formulation, we ought to judge a conversion by its “fruits, not its roots.” James also argues that the "subliminal theory" does not rule out the participation of a Diety in a conversion. He proposes that higher spiritual agencies might touch us through a “subliminal door.”

Here James confronts the medical-materialist view, which posits a natural explanation for all supposedly religious phenomena, and James tries to accommodate religion by building a doorway between the natural and the supernatural. It’s the sort of accommodation that tends to displease both sides of the issue, and it makes the whole system less elegant.

Overall, James’s conception of the unconscious and its role in conversion is powerful and coherent in either the psychological or the theological realm. The trouble comes when James tries to argue that the unconscious can serve both masters at once. Scientists find his accommodation of religion superfluous, and theologians find the psychological mechanisms insufficiently supernatural or even heretical. James says both camps are excessively sterile, dogmatic, and monistic. Forget about One Big Truth in favor of billions of individual truths, says James.

James’s pluralism is admirable. And his pragmatism – judging beliefs by their fruits, not their roots – is a remarkably good way to live, day-to-day. But at the end of the day, for someone seeking to understand the way the world really works, James’s pluralism and pragmatism constitute elaborate cop-outs, evasions of the question. Many, if not most, of the people who have religious or conversion experiences become dogmatists themselves – what of those fruits of conversion? Unfortunately, James does not say.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Mayonnaise Sleigh

Inject a little Christmas spirit into every-day condiment consumption with this battery-powered sleigh that also holds your favorite mayonnaise, sauce, or spread. Integrated circuitry plays "The First Noel" and "Jingle Bells" repeatedly as the sleigh tours the dinner table in an 18" diameter circle. Keeps kids pretty well occupied.

13 oz.

From the Crastpog Enterprises "Home for the Holidays" Catalog, Christmas 1986.

Funny cat photos

From BoingBoing. There are many more photos here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cheney Finally Overruled: Rumsfeld Gone

With Bush's replacement of Rumsfeld with Bob Gates, from the Bush 41 crowd, the 2006 midterm election has turned out to be the equivalent of a presidential election where power changes hands in the executive branch -- at least in terms of Iraq policy. NBC is reporting that Bush finally overruled his vice president in deciding to can Rumsfeld and the neocon approach and bring in a realist. Had Kerry been elected in 2004, I don't think he would have been able to implement a much more important shift in policy.

On MSNBC all the pundits are gushing about how great it is that Bush finally made a decision on his own and told Cheney to take a flying leap. I have to admit I didn't see it in him, and I confess to finding myself impressed by the long-awaited acceptance of reality that Bush displayed in the press conference. I know he'll never admit that the Iraq adventure was a big mistake (sinister oil grab? wacky neocon fantasy?) founded on manipulated intelligence, but the DOD housecleaning is better than nothing. Presumably the neocons won't be on anyone's foreign policy dance card for a long while now, which is also good.

It's not all happy-happy-joy-joy. The invasion was still a crime, in my opinion, and the perpetrators will probably escape prosecution, and that's not right. But I do appreciate Bush's willingness to listen to the message of the election, and I'm glad to see that an election can have an effect. I hope it is a real, lasting effect.

China Already Ahead of US on Auto Fuel Efficiency

According to the NYT, China is burning coal like crazy, but they have set fuel-economy requirements for new cars that are more stringent than the United States.

As David Brent would say: Pathetic.

Our fleet fuel economy hasn't budged since I was in grade school. What am I missing here?

Most Relieved Man in America

"You don't have to be crazy to work here, but help?"

I didn't do so well on my October 18 predictions, which were way too pessimistic. I predicted only 12 Dem pickups in the House; they'll get at least 30 or so. And I was way off on the Senate. Of 8 contested races, I got four wrong -- RI, MO, TN, and VA, assuming Webb holds on in VA.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I Let My Fingers Do the Walking, and used's nifty phone number and script generator to make a few dozen calls from my home to voters in some tight House Districts around the country. The numbers and scripts were generated on the fly and after every few calls I'd get transferred into a new district. Before calling into a new district I'd check out the candidates' websites so I wasn't totally ignorant, but nobody I talked to was interested in chatting about the candidate. An enjoyable geography lesson if nothing else.

Here's where I called, in order, (with results added later on during the night as they came in):

New York 24 - Central New York - Michael Arcuri (D) is looking to replace Sherwood Boehlert (R) who is retiring. This district went for Bush in 2000 and 2004 but Arcuri had a small lead over Raymond Meier (R) going into the election. RESULT: Arcuri won 54-45%.

New York 26 - Western New York - Jack Davis (D) trying to unseat Tom Reynolds (R), the head of the House Republican Congressional campaign committee. Reynolds was hurt a bit by the Foley scandal but has recovered since then. This race was called a toss-up. (Hoo-boy, one of Davis's planks was to "Eliminate the Death Tax.") RESULT: Reynolds won 52-48%.

North Carolina 11 - Ashville and Western North Carolina - NFL-quarterback-washout-turned-politician Heath Shuler (D) hopes to unseat incumbent Charles Taylor (R). NY Times says the district is leaning toward Shuler. RESULT: Shuler won, 54-46%.

New Hampshire 2 - Rural New Hampshire - Paul Hodes (D) trying to knock off moderate Republican Charlie Bass. NY Times calls it a toss-up. RESULT: Hodes won, 53-45%.

Florida 22 - West Palm Beach, Boca Raton - Ron Klein (D) hopes to unseat Clay Shaw (R) in the land of the Buchanan Butterfly Ballot. This ticket-splitting district voted for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. NY Times calls it a toss-up. RESULT: Klein won, 51-47%.

Illinois 6 - Chicago western suburbs - Iraq War vet and double amputee Tammy Duckworth (D) vs. Peter Roskam (R) to see who will succeed Henry Hyde (R), one of the Clinton impeachment poobahs; the district was Bush country in 2000 and 2004. A toss-up. RESULT: Roskam won, 51-49%.

Nevada 3 - Las Vegas suburbs - US Senate staffer Tessa Hafen (D) takes on two-term incumbent Jon Porter, who is a slight favorite. RESULT: Porter won, 48-47%.

Texas 22 - Sugar Land, Houston southern suburbs - Tom DeLay's district! Democrats are running Nicholas Lampson. DeLay's name is still on the ballot -- the Republican, Shelly Sekula-Gibbs, has to run a write-in campaign -- but the district is so conservative that Lampson is only given an even chance of winning. RESULT: Lampson won, 52-42%.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mussel Motel

Clams check in, they won't check out. Control household mussel population. Non-toxic.

Item no. MM-4576
$5.95 / pack of 3

From Crastpog Enterprises "Back Home for the Holidays" Catalog, Christmas 1986.

Henry David Thoreau

Now here's a philosopher I can get behind. Thoreau is the featured writer for this, week six of my "Classics of American Thought" class. Up to now, we've had five philosophers, four of which were clergymen, and they're all so darned positive about everything. Winthrop with his City on a Hill, Berkeley with his God is controlling each and every one of our thoughts at all times, and that blowhard Emerson with his "Oooh look at the pretty night sky...I think I shall faint with joy" schtick.

In Walden, Thoreau is realistic about the grim prospects life might hold.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.
Unless it was quite necessary. Finally, someone who admits that ultimately, there might not be any meaning to life whatever, and resignation might just be the only sane course. Such an admission makes me credit the rest of his views all the more.
I reduce [life] to its lowest terms, and , if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world.
I also appreciated his professions of frugality in the service of stripping away all luxuries, such as his discovery that bread without yeast tasted just as good as bread with, even if I didn't always quite believe him.

Friday, October 27, 2006

One Set of Ecological Footprints in the Sand

For my Sustainable Development class I calculated my "Ecological Footprint" according to a questionnaire on a website maintained by the organization Redefining Progress. The questionnaire covered my eating habits, the size of my home, and modes of transportation, among other topics.

The results are returned in the number of acres of biologically productive land that it takes to maintain my bad self. Overall, I require 22 such acres. The average for the U.S. is 24 acres. Worldwide, there exist only 4.5 such acres per person.

Here's the breakdown by type of resource used:

Food: 5.9 acres
Mobility: 1.7
Shelter: 6.7
Goods / Services: 7.7
TOTAL: 22 acres

One of the questions was about how many hours per year I spend flying. There were five possible answers: 100 hours, 25 hours, 10 hours, 3 hours, and 0 hours. I answered 25 hours. I had a vague idea that air travel is incredibly resource-intensive, so I redid the quiz, and this time reduced my air travel to 10 hours to see how much of a difference it would make.


Food: 5.9 acres
Mobility: 0.7
Shelter: 6.7
Goods / Services: 6.7
TOTAL: 20 acres

By spending just 15 fewer hours in the air, I would reduce my mobility acreage and my goods and services acreage by one acre each.

I also did a Carbon Footprint calculator at another website sponsored by a British organization. This calculator measures how much carbon dioxide I spew into the atmosphere with a questionnaire based on home energy use and modes of transportation.

The results: I personally belch 19,801 kg of CO2 into the sky each year.

On the one hand, I live in a city and drive less than 25 miles a week on average. On the other hand, our apartment is in a draughty old house that could use some good weatherstripping. And, once again, there's the air travel.

By far the largest contributor to my carbon footprint was air travel, which added 9,000 kg of CO2, or 45% of my total carbon footprint. Right now I don’t have to travel for business, but even the three to five vacation trips I take per year emit a huge amount of CO2.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Getting Out the Vote

Generally, I take Election Day off to do Get Out the Vote (GOTV) stuff. In the past, I've done door to door canvassing and always wondered if it was worthwhile, compared with other methods, such as phone banks.

According to Get out the Vote!, a study of GOTV efforts between 1998 and 2002, door-to-door yields 1 additional vote for every 14 people contacted, while phone banks average 1 additional vote for every 35 people contacted.

In 2004 I and a friend did targeted door-to-door in a semi-rural area of New Hampshire. This meant visiting a pre-determined list of identified voters, not simply going up and down a street knocking on every door. I estimate we actually talked to 8 people per hour, or four per hour per canvasser.

Four contacts per hour -- that's a pretty low contact rate, especially compared with phone. The phone canvass looks like it might be more efficient, even though the vote-per-contact yield is over twice as low.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Specifics on the Senate

Dem Pickups:
Montana: Tester
Ohio: Brown
Pennsylvania: Casey
Tennessee: Ford

Dem Holds:
New Jersey: Menendez

Republican Holds:
Virginia: Allen
Missouri: Talent
Rhode Island: Chafee

Election Prediction

Democrats need to pick up 15 House seats to gain majority. I say they'll get 12.

Democrats need to pick up 6 Senate seets to gain majority. I say they'll get 4.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Regarding George "It Rhymes With Darkly" Berkeley, "Alex" writes,

I am starting a list of names that are mispronounced and I wonder at what point that will fade from oral history. For example, the VP of the CSA was Alexander Stephens but pronounced "Steffens". Or Florida had a Senator named James Talliferro, but pronounced Tolliver. Any others?

Yep...Gnarls Berkeley is how I like to think of him. A few years ago a guy walked up to me and asked me, in a British accent, how to get to the Chandler Hotel "on Barkley Street." After a couple seconds of confusion, I pointed him in the direction of Berkeley Street.

According to Wikipedia, Berkeley, California is named for the Bishop.

As for your list, how about Mark Teixiera of the Texas Rangers? Not that it's mispronounced, but that I don't think the average American would know how to pronounce it by looking at it. And maybe we Americans are mispronouncing it as "Teshera," anyway.

And Alexander Cockburn, columnist for The Nation. In the Spring of 1989, I applied for a summer job at The Nation. Despite the fact that I addressed my cover letter to Ms. Micah Sifry (because I had never seen or heard of the Hebrew name Micah before and wrongly assumed it was a woman), Mister Sifry called me for a phone interview, during which I said that I enjoyed reading the columns of Alexander Cockburn, pronouncing all the letters as written. Only later did I discover that his name is pronounced Coe-burn, just like that awesome actor James Coburn. I didn't get the job.

I don't know of a specific one, but there's got to be a Beauchamp ("Beecham") out there somewhere whose name is routinely mispronounced. And how about a Leicester?

In Connecticut it is "Grenitch." In Rhode Island I believe they say East Green-which.

In Minneapolis, we often drove along Nicollet Ave., pronouncing that last "T" like our lives depended on it. Same with the final "N" on Hennepin Ave.

I think the very first McDonald's Restaurant was in Des Plaines, Illinois. That's "Dez Planes," thank you very much.

And how about 50 Cent? If you don't say "Fitty," it's like there's a giant neon sign above you saying: Bonehead. Bonehead. Bonehead.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

George Berkeley's Epistemology

I'm taking a "Classics of American Thought" class. So far we've read John Winthrop on why economic and social inequality is actually pleasing to God, and John Locke on the basis for property rights and his epistemology, particularly the difference between primary (shape, size, solidity, number, and motion) and secondary (color, taste, smell, sound, and texture) qualities of objects.

This week is George Berkeley who sets out, in "Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous," (1713) to oppose Sceptics and Athiests by, in the first dialogue, adopting the Sceptics' point of view, namely that it is impossible to definitively prove the existence of objects. It's impossible because, as I understand it, we are slaves to our perceptions and to our experiences, so that everything we think we perceive is actually the production, in our mind's eye, of an archetype. For example, our eyes perceive a round, red, shiny thing with a little brown protruberance at the top. The particular combination of these shapes and colors is compared with a set of archetypes stored in our memory, resulting in the idea of an "apple" to form in our minds. We then proceed as if the apple exists.

Basically, as he presents the Sceptical point of view, Berkeley is saying that it's impossible to escape from our perceptions. We can't be certain that our perceptions are real -- after all, we perceive things in dreams but that doesn't make them real -- so we are left with doubt as to the nature of reality.

I follow the scepticism argument with respect to the sensory perceptions like color and sound, but things like shape, size, and motion are a bit more difficult for me. Can't we use a yardstick to measure the size of something? Or a yardstick and a stopwatch to measure its speed? I guess Berkeley is saying that we have to perceive in order to make those measurements, so we're back where we started.

What about pure intellectual ideas, like that of a circle? According to Berkeley's treatment of Scepticism, one cannot conceive of a circle without giving it some secondary qualities, such as, "Is it filled in or an outline?" If filled in, what color is it? If an outline, how thick is the line? Etc.

But what if I conceive of a circle as the set of points in a plane a units from a specified center point? I suppose Berkeley would say that I'm simply using other archetypes and symbols.

Where all this is going remains to be seen. Now I'll read an exchange of letters between Berkeley and Samuel Johnson.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Serge Gainsbourg

Today I was at Java Jo's and they were playing an album of French pop music that I hadn't heard before but really liked. One of the songs was about Bonnie and Clyde. I went home to itunes and determined that the artist was Serge Gainsbourg. His bio on itunes made him out to be quite the character.

The weather here is sparkling -- only a few more weeks before a mammoth gray nimbus cloud descends on Boston for five straight months.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Lucky duck

So I was watching a bit of Israel-Hezbollah coverage tonight and it sorta struck me: I really have no idea what it's like to be in a situation where I felt so strongly about something that I would decide that the only possible course was to take up arms and be willing to die, or more importantly, to kill, for that something.

I try not to take for granted how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born a white male in the United States in 1968. About the worst I can say about my fortune is that the U.S. economy started to be just so-so in about 1973. The postwar boom ended that year, growth slowed, inequality increased, and the marginal gains from increased productivity have shifted to capital from labor. So as a wage-earner it's been an 8 or a 9 instead of a 10, like it was for my parents' generation. But I have never wondered where my next meal was coming from, never worried that a militia was going to ethnically cleanse my neighborhood, and, apart from a general anxiety about nuclear war, never worried that my house might be hit by a rocket or a bomb.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Deeply disappointed... attend a baseball game at the Great American Ball Park, hosted by the Cincinnati Reds, the so-called "Royalty of Baseball," the oldest team in major league baseball, established in 1869, that's four years after the end of the Civil War, the first team to host a night game under the lights, and be subjected to the same slew of asinine between-inning "promotions" and contests, not to mention the pre-game cheerleaders...
...and the made-up "mascot" Gapper that you might find at a Tampa Bay Devil Rays "game." Even the hydrocephalic yet strangely magnetic Mr. Red...

...was relegated to driving an ATV around the warning track in the pre-game gloaming. The fact that we visited the excellent Cinti Reds Hall of Fame and Museum before the game made the actual game experience all the more poignant.

Nice enough park, though, but as a replacement for a riverside concrete doughnut, nothing can compare with Pittsburgh's PNC Park, where we saw a Pirates-Brewers pitching duel in July 2001. Too bad the Pirates should be relegated, European soccer-league style, to the minor leagues, along with my boyhood idols the Kansas City Royals. (Calls to mind the time that I watched, alone, in my Hutchinson, Kansas basement, Chris Chambliss end the Royals' inspired 1976 playoff run with a toilet-paper festooned walk-off home run in Yankee Stadium.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Book Nook

The Stand, Stephen King
This was the 1100-page "expanded edition" published in 1990, 12 years after the original version came out. In this post-apocalyptic tale, inspired by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, a bioweapon virus escapes from a military installation in California and kills 99.4% of the world's population within two weeks. The story focuses on about 20 of the "immunes" as they slowly polarize into two camps, Good and Evil. As a fan of post-apocalyptic scenarios, I enjoyed King's imaginings of how the authorities would respond to a fast-moving, unstoppable, and lethal virus, and then how, after the authorities had been wiped out, how the few thousand survivors who remained would organize themselves. Also: richly detailed characters and spot-on, often hilarious, dialogue. I finished this book in about three days, basically reading non-stop.

Natural Capitalism, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins & Hunter Lovins
Lots and lots of examples of how manufacturing, transportation, construction, and urban planning can be done more efficiently and more profitably by learning to mimic nature's automatic recycling processes. A key insight is to reorient business toward providing services, rather than manufacturing and selling products. The photocopier industry already operates like this. Another example: instead of manufacturing and selling big rolls of carpet that have to be ripped up and landfilled when it gets stained and worn out, Interface Corp. sells "floor covering services," using individual carpet squares that can be pulled up and replaced as needed. Since the customer is paying for the floor covering service rather than for the carpet, Interface has an incentive to produce long-lasting carpet. Not only that, Interface completely recycles the old carpet into new carpet. This book made me want to learn more about the pros and cons of tradable polution credits as an alternative to regulation as a means getting polluters--both businesses and consumers--to properly account for the damage they cause to our air, water, and soil.

It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks
A sober, scholarly look at an old question: Why no Socialism in the U.S.? Lipset and Marks identify several factors, including the lack of a feudal heritage, the two-party duopoly, the refusal of the Socialist Party to work with organized labor, particularly the AFL craft labor unions in the early part of the 20th century, a high degree of ideological orthodoxy which turned off the great mass of Catholic white ethnic immigrants, a refusal to organize among African-Americans, and a rigid sectarianism which prevented a coalition with FDR's Democratic Party. (Even the Communists, as part of the "popular front" strategy, joined the New Deal coalition, but the Socialists refused to make any such compromises.) Overall, the Socialists come off as a sectarian, educated clique more concerned with ideological purity and hostility to "reformism" than with gaining power, and it is little wonder that they failed as a political party. I see some of the same dynamics in the American left today.

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
A first-person account of Orwell's service on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War. Fascinating description of the sectarian struggles among the various Marxist and Communist factions. The infighting on the Republican side probably contributed to their defeat. As in America during the New Deal, the Communists here are the pragmatic ones, trying to support the bourgeois Republicans against the Fascists while at the same time fighting the hard-line Marxists on the Communists' left who wanted an immediate workers' revolution in Spain. One reason the USSR didn't want a revolution in Spain is because it didn't want to upset its bourgeois ally France.

The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell
In 1937, a Socialist book club in the UK sent George Orwell north to coal mining country to document the condition of the unemployed worker. In the first part of this book, Orwell paints a gripping but unsentimental picture of a coal-miner's life: 12 hours a day, six days a week, shoveling coal while on his knees because the ceiling is only 4 feet high and prone to cave-in. In the second part of the book, Orwell tears into the smug complacency of his fellow middle-class Socialists for whom Socialism is little more than a fashion. He doesn't believe, if push came to shove and Socialism really did come, that these armchair theorists would actually give up the class privileges that they enjoy.
Related Posts with Thumbnails