Jul 31, 2008

today's questionable links

Jason Rosenhouse asks, "What is multiplication, really?"

Nick Bilton asks, "What natural food, other than eggs, turns from a liquid to solid, when heated?"

Mark Olson asks, and I paraphrase, For a Christian, does animal extinction have a moral dimension?

Peter Wall asks
, "So what does it mean when a city council 'slaps' a mayor?"

Bill Pickert asks, "Would you forfeit your capacity to make decisions regarding how you live your life in return for a guaranteed place in Heaven?"

Tara Smith asks, "Dinosaur soft tissue--just bacterial biofilm?"

Geoff Baker asks
, "When's the last time two pitchers of record in the same game were on different teams the following day?"

Katherine Mangu-Ward asks, rhetorically, "Who says materialism is a bad thing?"

Jul 30, 2008

the "GOP Party" makes a show of force

We interrupt this summer blog hiatus for a brief Washington State Top 2 Primary Voter's Pamphlet update. Highlights include:
  1. A great batch of quixotic candidates, details soon.
  2. A motto that recalls the fun we had in 2004: "I vote, I count," thanks to 4th grader Gabriella Spring, still too young for cynicism.
  3. The Republicans who quit the Republican party, preferring the "G.O.P" Party instead. In order of appearance: Dino Rossi, Jim Wiest, Jim McCune, Richard DeBolt, Gary Alexander, and Randy Neatherlin. Getting the wrong memo, Herb Baze "prefers R party."*
  4. Our own Brendan Williams, blazing a new trail and starting his own "Progressive Democrat Party."**

Update: Among the GOP Party ranks in districts far from mine: Larry Ishmael, Mike Novak, Kelly White, Mark Schoesler, Steve Hailey, Norma Smith, David M. Morris ("prefers Cut Taxes G.O.P. Party"), Keith Ljunghammar (same), Bill Hinkle, Thomas Thomas (the redundancy two-fer), Jan Angel, Dave Dooley, Alex Rion, Todd Gibson, Tan Lam, Leslie Bloss, Steve Litzow, Larry Countryman, and, avoiding redundancy, Gordon Allan Pross ("prefers Grand Old Party").

*Dan Kristiansen got it, too.
**Fellow trailblazer Hue Beattie prefers the "True Democratic Party."

new homes, but not for regular folks

Just heard a radio spot for Quadrant's new community in Redmond Ridge, unfortunately called Cascara at the Villages. They're constructing "income-qualified duplex homes for active adults," provided at least one of the buyers is 55+. So, when you realize what cascara is often used for, you'll understand why the title of this post is a horrible, horrible pun.


At least it's not named "Lipoma Firs," like a neighborhood and golf course in Puyallup that also should have employed a Wikipedian.

"...because I have big thighs..."

When a kilt-wearing postman named Dean Peterson tries to freshen up the official USPS wardrobe, but has to run the change past conservative leadership first, who wins?
Says Brooks Bennett, executive board member of the letter-carriers union in Washington state, "In Washington and Oregon, I guess we like to see ourselves as being progressive. Things get a hearing here that might not in other places."

But at the national convention, reception was frosty from the decision-makers. At one point, Peterson was so nervous that he mistakenly said "UPS" when he meant "USPS," for United States Postal Service. That got him roundly booed.

The committee in charge of the resolution nixed the kilts, saying there wasn't much demand for them.

Peterson says it was the older members — "the fuddy-daddies," he calls them — who didn't like the kilts. He says he could see them staring at him as he wore a kilt on the convention floor.

"All you could see was dirty looks."

He vows to return with his resolution at the next national convention in 2010.
So, who wins? Why, parliamentary procedure, of course.

Jul 29, 2008

can't keep up with the office politics

Josh, this is for you.

Study Finds Young People Remain Apathetic About Office Politics

an egg a day

This New York Times blog entry merely confirms what I've been unafraid to believe for some time: my cholesterol--and, in all likelihood, yours, too--can handle a daily egg just fine.
As the Berkeley Wellness Letter, from the University of California at Berkeley, reported in March, eggs have an undeserved bad reputation because of their high cholesterol content. Although there are 210 miligrams in the yolk of a large egg, the newsletter notes that for most people eggs don’t raise blood cholesterol. “They may even be good for your heart in some ways,'’ the newsletter reports, noting that eggs have unsaturated fat, B vitamins and other nutrients. In addition, there is some evidence that people feel fuller after eating eggs and that regular egg consumption may boost eye health.
Since I've started eating one for breakfast at 6:15, and not just carbo-loading, it's taken me much longer to approach the hunger that used to growl up by 9:30. Now I can usually last until at least first lunch, 11:05.

Mmm, eggs.

[Via Instapundit]

Jul 28, 2008

counting coup and the desecration debacle

PZ Myers acquired a consecrated host and desecrated it, along with a page from the Qur'an and The God Delusion. His point: "Nothing must be held sacred." Not a blessed wafer, not a holy book, not an atheistic screed. His action prompted my brother to ponder,
My question is whether Myers’ iconoclasm is rooted in the same sort of religious impulse as the iconoclasts you mentioned. As best I can tell, it is. Myers, after all, is doing a bit more than making a truth-claim. It’s one thing to say the idol has no power–it’s quite another to tear it down as a demonstration of its impotence.
Matt's armchair anthropologizing made me think of a story I heard a couple summers ago.

An indigenous Canadian tour guide was explaining his people's custom of "counting coup." Wikipedia explains it just like he did:
Counting coup was a battle practice of Native Americans of the Great Plains. A nonviolent demonstration of bravery, it consisted of touching an enemy warrior, with the hand or with a coup stick, then running away unharmed. Risk of injury or death was involved, should the other warrior respond violently. The phrase "counting coup" can also refer to the recounting of stories about battle exploits.

It can also involve stealing items from the enemy.
To illustrate the latter version, the guide told the story of a relative, who, in the recent past, went to visit the Pope in the Vatican. While there, he surreptitiously stole a hat, and got away with it. By taking something from a powerful man, he achieved a contemporary coup.

Bravado, testosterone, adrenaline, showmanship, roguery, and spirit: the coup-taking impulse can't be reduced to a single impulse, but requires them all.

I'm not claiming Myers destroyed a consecrated host in that same vein, even though his story of the deed bears many of the hallmarks, including the desire to tell the tale around the blog-fire. My only point is that human motivation is complex.

One might even say irreducible.

Update: I almost forgot the incident that prompted the entire ordeal, which, to employ my extended armchair anthropologizing, situates Myers' action in a sociopolitical context.

Jul 27, 2008

photos of Tongue Mountain

The title says it all--nearly. Captions will say the rest.

This is what you see when you leave 294--a motorcycle trail that takes you most of the way--for 294A. Helpfully, someone has added text, errors in original: "NO SHORT PEOPLE BEOND THIS POINT UNLES THEY HAVE THEIR HUSBAND'S PACK ON THEIR BACK WITH SANDWICHES IN IT." Must have been a fun trip.

This is what you see if it's partly cloudy, rumored to be clearing in the future, the distant future when they'll have automatic trails that carry you through virtual vistas, and it's only cloudy if the tour guide is a jerk.

The tip of the tongue, where all good ideas lodge, and refuse to be dislodged.

There was more to see here, I've read. Next time we ascend, we won't take the long way, and we will make sure the weather report says that the nearest cloud is cowering in Canada.

But it's not so bad if you bring along a friend.

The forest, new growth since a 1935 fire, is lovely and ethereal in the mist. It is dusty and decidedly unmysterious in sunshine.

One photo of firs will never suffice.

I heartily recommend a trip to Tongue Mountain. Be sure to take the recommended trail, though. Don't get any silly ideas about challenging yourself by linking up from the High Bridge Trail. As described by the Forest Service, it is "steep in parts." It also connects to 294 way, way down the slope, which is steep through and through, so the return is a knee-killer.

Jul 26, 2008

he lost on Jeopardy!, baby

I, like the Comics Curmudgeon, have often been told I "Should go on Jeopardy." After reading his detailed account of the experience, my emotions in response to that suggestion are as mixed as ever.

Anyway, read it. Maybe it'll inspire you to new directions in your trivial purs--endeavors.

Jul 25, 2008

today's orthography links

1. Sucks to misspell your own name. Suck doubly if you're a newspaper, and infinitely if you blow it on the front page. It's one step below "The Tmise regrets the error." At least they didn't spell it "Noose." [Via Matt Welch]

2. If you misspell Obama's name, what kind of websites come up? Why didn't somebody think of this sooner?

3. The Scrabulous / Scrabble battle brings out the spelling puns.

4. Portuguese spelling is now standardized.

5. Korean prof says, we can't let the Japanese take our island. Step one: let's all spell its name the same way.

6. Miss Spelling--Tori--is writing another book. This one, titled Mommywood, at least doesn't misspell the word "Story."

7. It's "Myers." Why do almost all of his critics spell his name wrong?

Jul 24, 2008

confidential to The Hedgehog

When you're old enough, you should start a HedgeBlog!

parasites outnumber hosts

By anywhere from 10:1 to 1000:1, and, collectively, outweigh the biggest predators in the food web. NewScientist reports:
Put together, the parasites in each estuary weighed as much as the local fish and between 3 and 9 times more than the local birds. Parasites that "castrate" their hosts – prevent them from reproducing – had the greatest cumulative biomass and on their own weighed as much as the local winter birds.

For Andrew Dobson of Princeton University, one of Kuris's collaborators, this shows that that castration is the most effective way for parasites to survive. Castration allows parasites to keep the hosts alive while preventing them from spending any energy on their own reproduction.
I will resist all urges to draw an anthropomorphic conclusion.

Jul 23, 2008

four quickies

1. Man Man, Rabbit Habits
Easily my favorite album of the year, out of all the hundreds of albums I have maxed my credit cards, drained my checking accounts, and sold my soul to purchase. Actually, I've purchased the three found in these mini-reviews. I dare you to listen to "Top Drawer," then excise it from your brain. Good luck. Man Man has fun with music, and if you don't like them, you're stupid.

Warning: Contains graphic drawings. Think about the phrase "Rabbit Habits," only applied to the people in your apartment.

2. Mates of State, Rearrange Us
I bought it despite Joshua Alston's scathing review, because I heard "The Re-Arranger" and found it irresistibly itchy. I'd never heard Mates of State before, so that could be why I found this record pretty and pensive rather than dull, with only one or two minor exceptions. Let the color schemes arrive. Oh, and screw you, Coldplay. At least, that's what I'm pretty sure the first track is saying.

Warning: Contains indy-like substance. May have been produced by a label that manufactures sentiment.

3. Tilly and the Wall, O.
Tap-dancing percussion is not a gimmick. Do not compare them to Sleater-Kinney. That out of the way: A fine album full of sweet hooks, and even sweeter tapping. If you like Sleater-Kinney, and are sad that their touring days are done, you might find consolation in the existence of Tilly and the Wall.

Warning: Contains an original artwork suitable for framing.

4. Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
The only movie on the list, part of my summer of film. I won't say much more than has already been said, except to note that the "War on Terror" parallel is made pretty obvious, not only by the whole "every democracy needs a tyrant from time to time" subplot, but by the SWAT-ted up cop who, under rocket-propelled grenade attack from the Joker, notes, "I didn't sign up for this."

Warning: Contains gratuitous chuckling violence.

Jul 20, 2008

privacy? who wants it?

Enterprising prosecutors are now trolling MySpace and Facebook for embarrassing photos that might, say, prove that you weren't exactly remorseful for that drunken crash. In a related story, enterprising investigators, similarly fishing for leads, were blocked, at least until they found a warrant, by a librarian with more knowledge of the Patriot Act than the overzealous flatfeet.
"The lead detective said to me that they need to take the public computers, and I said 'OK, show me your warrant and that will be that,' " said Flint, 56. "He did say he didn't need any paper. I said, 'You do.' He said 'I'm just trying to save a 12-year-old girl,' and I told him 'Show me the paper.' "
Privacy is a gold standard of the library experience: you're supposed to be able to check out books or surf the web without the government reading over your shoulder.

Judith Flint's fellow librarians strongly supported her, and rightly so. After all, privacy is a right. As long as MySpaceCadets and FaceBookies post every last loving photo of their inebriated weekends, though--and, more frightening, as they start taking over positions of power--privacy is threatened, and will only become more threatened. Techno-wizardry is just too alluring.

To complete the triptych, consider what the Lacey Timberland Library now offers: the ability to check out the books you've reserved from other branches. They're shelved in a special section, and you take them home without any assistance from an employee, through the magic of self-checkout. It seems flawless, until you realize that now anyone who recognizes your first name and the first three letters of your surname can see that you're a secret Flashdance fan. It's easy: when I picked up my hold, I figured out that the books next to mine were my dad's. Wasn't malicious; his books were right next to mine, and I couldn't help noticing the covers.

I'm not saying everything you do or say or read is nobody's business. I'm a blogger, after all. But when you want something to be, will it?

Privacy. Convenience. I know where I'm placing my bet.

Jul 18, 2008

even better than the real thing

Reducing my carbon footprint while increasing my moral superiority, I've been walking everywhere, and sometimes riding public transit. $4.30 gas makes it worthwhile, and too much free time makes it inexcusable. I love Olympia's bus system, for the most part--a half-hour delay on the 62A, yesterday, was an aberration.

This, to my knowledge, never happens:
The transit fanboy got an official shirt, jacket and hat from two actual drivers he had befriended, Gordon said. Both drivers have been suspended as the county moves to fire them. The hat was important -- he wore it pulled down low with big sunglasses, Gordon said, theorizing that may have helped him amble past security guards at the depot....

He spent the afternoon picking up 25-cent fares along the South Beach Local. The route, which circulates around Alton Road, 17th Street, Washington Avenue and South Pointe, is a popular line.

There was no sign Harris pocketed any of the cash, no complaints from passengers. He returned the bus undamaged to the Miami Springs yard around 7:45 that night, Gordon said.
Harris, if you want a job driving the 62A from Lacey to Olympia, you're welcome to it.

[via Obscure Store]

Jul 17, 2008

four eyes

For the first time since high school, I own a pair of glasses. Since the summer of '96, I've happily worn contacts. Allergies finally got to me, though, so spectacles it is.

Glasses are really, really weird.

Jul 16, 2008

today's whoops links

1. Apophis may end up coming closer than we think. Much, much closer.
Whether Apophis ends up on a collision course with Earth depends on what happens during a close encounter between Apophis and our planet in 2029. During this swingby, the Earth's gravity could alter the asteroid's path enough to put it on a collision course with us when its orbit brings it back in 2036.
2. Memorize this rule to avoid being taken for a chump: People who carry large sums of money--real money--will never ask for a stranger's help.

3. Dan Uggla's performance in last night's endless All-Star contest: abominable. But he's gonna be fine.

4. Maybe convenience store thieves should wear safety helmets. Like boxers do.

Jul 14, 2008

one fewer Anderson to worry about

1. Caroline is now a Hoffman, enjoying her first days sans the Swedish appellation that has served all of us so well.

2. While the hitching went swimmingly, everything else was full of hitches. Sample exchange, from the day trip taken with our relatives on the mom's side:
Mom, driving backseat: We need to make sure Susan is still following us.
Gary, driving: They're going to be fine.
Melissa, taking sides: They're behind a long line of trucks. They can't see us. We need to pull over.
Mom: Pull over!
Gary: Okay, okay. I'm pulling over now. Everyone calm down.
Jim, riding shotgun: I seem to recall someone a while ago saying we were fine, no worries, we have a cell phone in every car. And it came from the back.
Mom: Sounds like someone has to be Last Word Larry.
Jim: You mean, you?
Mom, laughing: I guess so.
Cousin Tawnya, befuddled: Who's Larry?
Mom: I don't know, it just rhymes with L.
I am home. Photos may arrive soon.

Jul 10, 2008

greetings from Portland

The occasion: the last Anderson sibling, Caroline, is getting hitched to a fine young fella named Isaac. Hordes of family and friends have descended, or will soon descend, upon the greater Portland (Oregon) metroplex. Thus, for the next few days, light blogging, if at all. I may have photos to share in a while.

Need something to do? Go outside. Incapable or lazy? Browse the archives, or check the links at right.

P.S. No, I'm not a doctor. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. So, you can't sue me for malpractice, because, as I mentioned previously--now where did that scalpel go?

Jul 7, 2008

today's might links

1. You might have to learn a few new words:
Many of the new entries reflect the nation's growing interest in the culinary arts, including prosecco (a sparkling Italian wine) and soju (a Korean vodka distilled from rice). Others define new technology or products, such as infinity pool - an outdoor pool with an edge designed to make water appear to flow into the horizon.
2. If you're an English teacher, you might be dismayed to read this:
In the four minutes it probably takes to read this review, you will have logged exactly half the time the average 15- to 24-year-old now spends reading each day. That is, if you even bother to finish.
3. In tennis, at least, sheer might won't suffice:
This year's results aren't a sign that power no longer matters in the men's game; one look at Nadal's arms would dispel any such notion. It's more that power in tennis today is largely manifested defensively; thanks to high-tech rackets and weight training, the best players can now hit shots on the run with incredible pace, depth, and spin, immediately placing them back on the offensive.
4. The headline is enough: "Wasps use parasitic mites as baby bodyguards."

Jul 5, 2008

sudoku and the novel

A while back I found myself at the forefront of the sudoku craze. It quickly developed into an addiction, so I quit cold turkey. But I relapsed--solving five puzzles per day at my peak-- and had to quit again, never looking back. (Seriously. I've been clean for over two years. Not that I'm counting.)

One afternoon, I made a sudoku puzzle for my younger sister. I figured I could do it by hand. The first part seems simple at first: you have to line up the numbers just like when you're solving it, according to the rules, except you get to pick where many of them go. Once started, you realize the complications, that it's best to work in pencil, because you're likely to screw up. Worst, though, is when you realize the scheme you've plotted can't continue, because 62 boxes in, you need two 3s in the same row.

The second part is even trickier. Now, with your key in hand, you make a copy and start erasing. The goal is to clean up as many spaces as possible, so the solution logically follows from a minimal starting point. Too many numbers gone, and your puzzler might as well make their own. Too many clues, and they might as well try today's crossword.

(If you're planning on trying this for yourself, for the second part, think symmetrically along a diagonal, as if you're folding the puzzle in half to make a triangle. If you erase one number, erase another that is its diagonal doppelganger.)

All this is to extend a metaphor, and a rather poor one, for writing a novel. Even though I'm not a big fan of the Mystery genre, every novel I've ever liked has been a mystery at heart. Suspense, foreshadowing, plot twists, flashbacks, murder, tortured souls... Bulgakov, McEwan, Pears, Orwell, O'Connor, Fuentes, Dostoyevsky... It should surprise no one that one of the most influential novels in my life is The Count of Monte Cristo.

My point: every story has a certain structure, a certain logic, that seems to grow organically until the point where the words form naturally into rows, columns, and grids, like wisteria on a trellis. Unlike crafting a puzzle, though, the solution and the creation can swirl about together, reshaping each other until the story is complete.

If you're a writer, I suppose I'm not telling you anything new. It's just that I've found a new obsession. I'm 8,000 words along, hurriedly filling in rows and columns and grids. I'll let you know when I'm finished erasing.

Jul 3, 2008

so long, Sonics

Oklahoma City gets: a new sweetheart.

Seattle gets: 45 million up front, maybe 30 million later.

Fans get: hearts broken.

Howard Schultz gets: one more chance to save the squad.

Sidebar: You're doin' fine Oklahoma, Oklahoma, O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A Oklahoma! (City.)

Added: Geoff Baker explains the upside.

Jul 2, 2008

10 worst questions to ask a girl

1. Is that a mole?
2. Are you pregnant?
3. Wanna see my scar?
4. Why do they call them "Fruit of the Loom?"
5. So, are you seeing anyone?
6. Could you pass the Funyuns?
7. Why are you crying?
8. Could you please pass the Funyuns?
9. Hypothetically, if I told you that you have beautiful body, would you hold it against me?
10. What's your name again?

[153rd in a series]

WALL-E: behold the power of anthropomorphism

Any film that can make you root for a garbage-crunching robot's pet cockroach is a guaranteed winner.

Jul 1, 2008

Carl Zimmer's new pad

Carl Zimmer, in the running for America's best science popularizer, has moved his blog to Discover's website, since he's got a monthly gig writing about brain science. Excellent news. As they say, update your links and feeds accordingly.

visualize a world without the Ugly Building

Or, have someone else visualize it for you.

critics predict flicks' tix

Small reason for optimism: with some careful calculations, Erik Lundegaard shows that critically acclaimed films actually outperform the dreck.
The numbers are starkest with limited-release films (fewer than 2,000 screens). Art-house films that critics loved, such as Away From Her and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, averaged $3,113 per screen, while arthouse films critics were iffy about, such as Interview and Margot at the Wedding, didn't even do half as well, averaging only $1,322 per screen. Some people are paying attention.

Percentagewise, the critic effect is less pronounced for the supposedly critic-proof blockbusters, but it's still there. On average, the "fresh" blockbusters, such as Harry Potter and I Am Legend outperform the "rotten" blockbusters, such as Wild Hogs and The Bee Movie, by more than $500 per screen. Almost any way you slice it, if a majority of critics like a movie, chances are it will do better at the box office than a similar film the majority of critics don't like. Far from being elitist, movie critics are actually a pretty good barometer of popular taste.
More like a thermostat than a barometer, I'd reckon. Barometers measure; thermostats measure and influence.

summer of cuts

I feel for this year's crop of teachers fresh out of their ed programs and ready to change the world, or at least Washington. My district won't be hiring anyone new. And we're hardly alone. With Washington salaries behind those of other western states, and with such dicey prospects, will we see a mass migration of rookies in this summer of cuts?

rubber stamps and potted plants

Bob Shirley and Russ Lehman, in rapid succession, resigned from the Olympia School Board. Both cited health reasons--Shirley's, thankfully, "non-life-threatening." They left the Board in turmoil