Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Aaand we're off...

on our vacation travels. But before we go, here's a quick video of Quinn taking her first steps (oh, yes she is very much walking now).

This video is from early November, right after she figured out the whole walking thing. She's scooting around with much more assurance and speed these days.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Science: Especially When Inconvenient

Barack Obama roled out his science team this week:
"Because the truth is that promoting science isn't just about providing resources -- it's about protecting free and open inquiry. It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It's about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it's inconvenient -- especially when it's inconvenient."
(Also this week UCS released recommendations for the president-elect and the new Congress for restoring scientific integrity.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ecuador Reading List

Laura Jean and I are heading off to Ecuador for 10 days right after Christmas (Quinn is staying with my parents). We're going as part of a Global Exchange trip to learn about environmental and social justice issues in that country - particularly involving disputes between Amazonian communities and foreign oil companies. Should be an interesting trip.

To prepare for the trip, I've been doing some reading on the issues and the country in general. (A good intro to the Chevron dispute is here; a defense of Chevron is here.) Here are some links:

Biodiversity and Conservation
Oil Company Disputes
Recent Ecuador Politics
[Updated 3/1/09]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rubik

This is pretty impressive:

It kind of looks like it's been sped up, but of course, it hasn't. Saw this via an interesting NY Times article about Jessica Fridrich, the inventor of a common speedcubing method. I confess I've never solved a Rubik's Cube. Sure, I've picked them up and fiddled around, but I've never really thought it through (do I have to turn in my geek credentials now?). I'm pretty sure I would feel good about myself if I solved it in several hours, much less 10 seconds.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Top 8 in 08: Books

'Tis that time of year again to engage in the ultimate blog activity: making lists of stuff! Being a new parent greatly cuts back on the time available to consume popular culture -- this year I got most of my reading done in bits while riding the train to work. Here are my top eight books this year; click-through to read my goodreads review for each:
  1. The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon
  2. The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
  3. Dubliners, by James Joyce
  4. Coyotes, by Ted Conover
  5. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  6. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
  7. Peddling Prosperity, by Paul Krugman
  8. Speaking with the Angel, short story collection edited by Nick Hornby
I also wanted to give a shout-out for a book I haven't finished reading yet -- Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity. Co-written/edited by my friend Ari, it's a hybrid textbook/coffee table book packed with the latest science on a really interesting and timely topic.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sign of the Coming Apocalypse #4401

Snorkelers  exploring the coral reef at Green island
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 19% of all the world's coral reefs have died over the past few decades -- mostly due to climate change threats like acidification and rising sea temperatures. Although there are apparently some hopeful signs, climate change will continue to be bad news for corals unless significant emissions reductions happen.

So that sucks. Particularly because it turns out that corals are really fascinating. For example, corals usually grow asexually, but also reproduce sexually via massive, synchronized spawning events triggered by the lunar cycle (coral apparently have primitive photoreceptor eyes) that spread fertilized eggs over large distances to form new colonies.

Stuff like this makes me wish I knew the first thing about biology. Biology is kind of awesome.

Monday, December 08, 2008

51 Quarters

Fifty state quarters (plus a stand-in for D.C. which doesn't get its own) arranged in rough geographic order:

I started collecting them as soon as we moved somewhere that didn't have coin-operated washers and dryers. Yes, I am a dork.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Social Change

Kevin Drum has a pointed article on what Barack Obama needs to do to actually pass the ambitious progressive agenda he campaigned on. In short, Obama needs to use his considerable rhetorical gifts to convince the nation not just to vote for him (check), but also to support him. The public still needs convincing that his specific policies will indeed bring about peace, prosperity, justice and sustainability. I bet this part will be harder.

Capping greenhouse gas emissions and securing universal health coverage won't come easy - the entrenched interests aren't just going to lay down. It's going to be a fight. Leaving Iraq won't be a cakewalk either. Interestingly, Drum dredges up an old story about Franklin Roosevelt that nicely illustrates the other side of the policy change equation.
In a possibly apocryphal story told by I.F. Stone, FDR once met with a group of reformers who explained at length why he should support their cause. "Okay, you've convinced me," he told them. "Now go on out and bring pressure on me."
Janinsanfran is thinking along the same lines:
One the hardest truths for people in power to remember is that having a noisy, demanding, outsider grassroots constituency helps them govern. This is so even when they are getting jacked up and called names. This is something Obama should understand from his days as an organizer. Pushy people give cover to a progressive politician to get things done.
Having been in DC for over two years now this seems correct to me. Politicians are not leaders; they are followers. Watching the U.S. Senate (and to a lesser extent, the House) deliberate on various topics, I am constantly struck by how slow, conservative, incremental it is ... and how important agitated constituents are in providing cover for wavering politicians.

No successful social movement ever succeeds thanks to elected officials. Rather, the demands of social movements are institutionalized by politicians once they have built enough strength to be undeniable. That said, I think Obama understands this dynamic and his role in it. Here's hoping his supporters do too -- and don't let up after he's sworn in. There are great opportunities here, but still lots of work to do.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In the skies over Canada...

Here's a beautiful video of a small meteor that lit up the skies over Edmonton, Alberta last week. I feel like I've seen the CGI version of this scene numerous times - but this is real!

Apparently folks are using this and other videos to triangulate likely locations for any remains. It would be very cool to see an analysis of that. (via APOD.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Geeky Public Service Announcement

I found a way to link my various status updates together (Gmail Chat/AIM >> Twitter >> Facebook) and thought I would post it here in case anyone else might find it useful.
  1. Set up an account on friendfeed.com. You can use this site to grab a feed of your Gtalk/AIM status messages and export it as an RSS feed.
  2. Set up an account on twitterfeed.com (login using OpenID). Feed the above RSS to this site, and it will automatically update your twitter account.
  3. Finally you can use the twitter app to automatically update your Facebook status message.
Now you never have to think about it again! Might not be the most elegant method, but it works. Improvement suggestions welcome!

One bummer is that this only works in one direction. This is fine with me since I'm constantly logged in to Gmail, but only periodically check Facebook. Second bummer is that Google status messages are stamped with "(via Gmail/Google Talk)"

This post mentions you can use Yahoo Pipes to edit your friendfeed and strip out the message stamp (among other things). And this works fine, but for some dumb reason, Yahoo Pipes is currently blocking twitterfeed's IP (at least according to the help page). So that's unhelpful. But if that problem ever gets solved, it would make the whole project a bit more nifty.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Two Presidents

Yesterday's meeting between Bush and Obama reminds me of my favorite Obama anecdote. Back before the 2004 election -- when Obama was running for the U.S. Senate -- Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) visited the White House for a meeting with the president:
On her way out, she said, President Bush noticed her “obama” button. “He jumped back, almost literally,” she said. “And I knew what he was thinking. So I reassured him it was Obama, with a ‘b.’ And I explained who he was. The President said, ‘Well, I don’t know him.’ So I just said, ‘You will.’ ”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Election-y Thoughts

I was watching election returns in Arlington, Virginia -- just a two hour drive from the capital of the confederacy -- when a black man (with a hugely unlikely name) won the votes of that state and then the presidency of the United States. It was a great and hopeful moment. I think Abraham Lincoln must have looked down and smiled.

Anyway, here are some random election thoughts:
  • Barack the President. Poor guy has to be president now and deal with two wars, a crappy economy and still find a way to press a progressive agenda. Honestly, I have no idea why anyone would want this job, but I'm glad we have such a savvy and accomplished person to fill it.

  • John McCain sure gave a gracious, classy concession speech didn't he? It reminded me why I used to like him. I think that the final result wasn't so much a repudiation of McCain as of Bush. McCain ran away from his straight-talking, moderate Republican brand and let Karl Rove's henchmen talk him into a negative, 2004-style, get-out-the-base campaign. He shoulda stuck to his guns, picked Joe Lieberman as a running-mate and ran for the center. He still might have lost, but I bet he would have had more fun doing it.

  • On Wednesday I thought maybe I would pick up the dead-tree version of the Washington Post as a souvenir. Except that the vendors sold long before I got out of the house and there were no copies to be had for love or money anywhere that I could see. Everyday the Newseum displays front pages from around the world -- here are the headlines from Tuesday.

  • I didn't actually tear-up about Obama's victory until I read this article about the celebrations in Kenya and elsewhere and realized that this really does matter hugely to the rest of the world.

  • The gloomy lining to the silver cloud is the passage of Prop. 8 in California -- just the latest in a long line of terrible propositions to come out of my home state. What the hell!? I seriously cannot understand the motivations of people who want to take away human rights from their neighbors, but that's a rant for another time. In the long run I have faith that justice will be done, but for now it's just depressing.

  • Apparently Alaska may have elected a convicted felon back to the Senate and Minnesota may end up sending a comedian. Good times, good times.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Survey Says

Now no one knows who will win tomorrow until the actual votes are counted ... I certainly won't believe Obama wins until Fox News admits it. But if Obama doesn't win tomorrow, there will be a lot of pollsters out of work come Wednesday. Just sayin...

As of right now:
  • fivethirtyeight.com has Obama 346.5 - McCain 191.5 in the electoral college and Obama +5.9 in the popular vote. They give McCain a 1.9% chance of becoming the 44th president.
  • pollster.com has Obama 311 - McCain 142 in the electoral college (with 85 as tossups) and Obama +7.0.
  • realclearpolitics.com has Obama 278 - McCain 132 (with 128 tossups) and Obama +7.3.
  • electoral-vote.com has Obama 353 - McCain 185.
(Chart courtesy of Charles Franklin.)

As John Scalzi says, it will be nice once this election is over so I'm not constantly "refreshing FiveThirtyEight.com like a rat at a feeder bar." That said, we're off to VA tomorrow morning for GOTV.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Exhuming McCarthy

Kevin Drum runs down all the various names that Republicans have called Obama over the past few months: anti-semitic, anti-American, Marxist, socialist, extreme afrocentrist, who pals around with terrorists. (Update: also, traitor.) Terrorist fist jab. There's a lot of 'guilt by association' here, and not a little bit of nudging innuendo about the guy with the foreign sounding name. At least the socialist stuff is marginally topical (if absurd). I'm reminded of this great R.E.M. song, Exhuming McCarthy:

"You're honorable, more honorable than me
Loyal to the Bank of America."

The sleaziest attack has to be this latest one on the respected middle-east historian Rashid Khalidi. I heard Khalidi talk a few times at U of C -- he's very thoughtful and obviously knows his stuff. Of course, he's a vocal (some would say militant) advocate for Palestinian independence, which is apparently a hugely controversial stance for a Palestinian-American to take. Indeed, John McCain compared Khalidi to a neo-Nazi.

At any rate, it is not Obama's position we're talking about here. This collegial connection with a fellow faculty member is supposed to "raise questions" about Obama in the minds of voters. (It is honestly hard to believe there are questions about either candidate left to be raised. After 18 months of non-stop campaigning I feel like I know more than enough about both of 'em. "Raising questions" is code for "making slimy, unsubstantiated claims about my opponent without coming right out and saying anything directly.")

I'd say the same thing about Jeremiah Wright (and even William Ayers). We shouldn't penalize public figures for listening to or befriending people with views outside the mainstream. For eight years we've had a president who has surrounded himself with yes-men and lives in a bubble free from any criticism. It hasn't worked out.
The Washington Post editorial on the whole affair states, "Our sense is that Mr. Obama is a man of considerable intellectual curiosity who can hear out a smart, if militant, advocate for the Palestinians without compromising his own position."

Its been fairly depressing to watch the descent of John McCain into negativity. Before this whole election started I had a fair bit of respect for McCain. I didn't agree with him on much, but I felt that he stood above some of the lamer aspects of modern politics, like its obsession with soundbites, talking points, "message of the day," as well as the smears and negative campaigning. I guess that's all gone now, maybe it was never there to begin with. A big election made of small things.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Early Voting

We voted yesterday at lunch. The only hitch was we had to go through security to get into the DC government building, but the lines weren't bad. I'm about ready to be done with this election already - how about you all?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Russian Dance

by Tom Waits. Music from the play, The Black Rider.

(In college I had a small part in a staging of Gogol's The Inspector General where this song was used for the surreal, dream-like climax of the play. It worked really, really well in that context. I have no idea where the video is from--Russia, perhaps?--but it's kind of awesome.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Theoretical Maximum

We were playing Scrabble tonight and Laura Jean mentioned that you can score something like 1,500 points on a single turn if you play your tiles right. This blew my tiny, tiny mind, but it's true!

In the right context, playing the word "BENZOXYCAMPHORS" will net you a cool 1,962 points. Thank you, triple-word-scores. If you want to be a stickler and restrict yourself to words found in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, you can play "DEMYTHOLOGIZERS" for 1,682 points. And back in the real world, these two guys netted a total of 1,320 points in one actual game.

Blog Traffic

So this is odd. This blog normally gets somewhere around 10 visitors per day -- mostly friends and family plus a few other folks (hi yall). But then last month I got a sudden upsurge of visitors -- 185 on September 8 -- before it tapered back down to the normal level.

What's more, all of these new visitors were looking at one page (this post from 2006 on the seasonal distribution of birthdays) and had been directed from a website called ravelry.com--which is apparently an online 'knit and crochet community' (and how awesome is that!). Perhaps this is the knitting equivalent of getting farked? I have no idea why knitters are suddenly interested in birthdays, but welcome!

[Actually that birthdays post has popped up a few places on teh internets - for example, here. Also: not to completely geek out, but I spent far too much time in grad school staring at plots like the one above (or this one) not to instinctively calculate the signal-to-noise ratio (it's 20.6). HETE-2 would totally get a decent localization on this one.]

Friday, October 24, 2008

You have your vice...

... I have mine.

Quote 'o' the Day

From Alan Greenspan, testifying before Congress:
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said.

Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” Mr. Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”
Lord knows it's hard to admit you're wrong, particularly in the midst of an economic meltdown. It's hard to place love of truth ahead of ego and long-held ideology. So, kudos to Mr. Greenspan for his intellectual honesty. I suppose not everyone will be happy to accept his apologies, but at least they will set Ayn Rand spinning in her grave. Strange times...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chicago Tribune Endorses Obama

The Chicago Tribune endorsed Barack Obama last week, saying "We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago ... He is ready."

For Chicagoans this is kind of a big deal since the Trib is such a staunchly Republican paper. Dating back to Abraham Lincoln in 1860 the paper has never endorsed a Democrat for President. Indeed, during WWII, a nasty feud between editor Robert McCormick and Franklin Roosevelt nearly resulted in charges of treason. And lest you think this is just hometown favoritism, Adlai Stevenson has a freeway in Chicago named after him, but Eisenhower got the endorsement. Perhaps the times they are a changing...

I always think of the Chicago Tribune when people talk about the "liberal" media. I grew up in an area where the local paper was probably more liberal than most of its readers. In contrast, Chicago is a big city that voted strongly for both Gore and Kerry, but the Tribune backed Bush twice. (The more populist Chicago Sun-Times went with Bush in 2000 and switched to Kerry in 2004.) Which is not to say that I think the Tribune is a bad paper for being editorially conservative - just that bias is relative and hard to measure objectively. In the end, media outlets are primarily interested in maximizing profits.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fingerpaint

Quinn has been finger (and toe!) painting at day care. Here are some of her first masterpieces. I think I can see the beginnings of a distinctive and revolutionary style... but then I might be biased.






Saturday, October 18, 2008

Today in Real America

According to Sarah Palin, Washington DC isn't "real America" and she likes visiting "pro-America areas of this great nation." And then we have a McCain spokesperson saying that Northern Virginia isn't the "real Virginia."

As a current resident of DC and a former resident of NoVa, I have to say: Thanks a lot, jerks. Now, Palin's spokesperson says she didn't intend to insult DC per se, which would be a lot easier to believe if the McCain campaign hadn't been waving the bloody shirt of cultural division for months now.

I remember when the GOP used to talk about itself as the 'big tent party,' home to a diversity of types of people and points of view. Now they seem to be drawing smaller and smaller circles around what they consider to be the "real America." I guess we'll all see how that works out for them...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Here There Be Dragons

When I was a kid I used to draw my own maps of imaginary worlds, mostly inspired by Tolkien and the other fantasy novels I devoured. I especially remember the upside-down V's I used for the mountain ranges.
(With luck, those maps have been burned, along with any and all teenage attempts at poetry.) Yet even today, a map adorning the inner cover of a novel is an exciting thing. In addition to being helpful for keeping those fantasy place names straight ("Now where/what exactly is Grobulor...?") maps are instrumental in preserving some of the mystery that draws us in to fantasy in the first place.

The twin hearts of fantasy (and science-fiction, too) are deciphering the ideas that make the book work and exploring the worlds created by those ideas. In the beginning, all is mysterious--names and places and concepts are tossed around with little explanation--and gradually the pieces fit together and become clear. But a smart fantasist will always leave a whiff of mystery hanging in the air, a feeling that there are still frontiers to be explored (the better to set the stage for an infinite number of sequels, of course).

With Tolkien, I was always fascinated by the parts of the map that didn't enter into the storyline: Far Harad, the Northern Waste, Rhûn. As I got older, I also realized that a lot of fantasy never really dragged itself out from under Tolkien's shadow (trolls! swords! Old English diction!). But there are a lot of younger writers who are taking deliberate aim at the cliches of the past and I was thrilled to discover that some of them like maps too.

China Mieville's Perdido Street Station is a fantasy novel for urban planning majors. Instead of farmboys and fair maidens, Mieville gives us the teeming metropolis of New Crobuzon where five or six species coexist uneasily with a corrupt police state, organized crime, street gangs, vigilantes and all manner of religious cults, political movements, labor unions. Fittingly, the inner cover map delineates neighborhoods and provides a helpful overview of New Crobuzon's subway system.
The city itself is a tangible character in the story and Mieville delights in describing its streets and hoods and regaling us with stories from its past. (In one corner of the city, life goes on beneath the towering bones and ribcage of a prehistoric beast.) Of course, nothing warms the heart of an urbanite quite like a tube map, but the book as a lot more to recommend it than geography. Mieville also writes terrific, grown-up characters and has a smart nose for science and politics (in real life, he's a committed socialist). Like a lot of genre novels, the ending is lame, but the road there is terrific (full review here, he's also written two further novels in this world which I haven't read yet).

To Mieville I would also add Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is famous for reworking ancient myths into a modern context, and in his first non-graphic novel Neverwhere he constructs a netherworld (London Below) out of the 40 odd abandoned Tube stations on the London Underground.


Ultimately, Neverwhere is not Gaiman's strongest book, but it is quite charming in how it weaves magic into the everyday of grit of London. Gaiman treads lightly -- I could easily imagine a series of books inhabiting this world, but many of his most promising ideas are given only a glance. In this sense, Neverwhere is a little sketchier and less ambitious than PSS -- but I thoroughly enjoyed its merging of fantasy and modernity.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pronunciation

I've always loved my last name - Donaghy - partly because it's not all that common (rogue NBA refs notwithstanding). But, I can count on one hand the number of school teachers or other people who pronounced it correctly the first time. Everyone assumes it's 'Don-a-hee' when really we say it 'Don-a-gee' ('g' as in 'geologist' -- not 'g' as in 'geek').

So, I was amused to learn from a colleague that this pronunciation conundrum popped up as a gag on '30 Rock' (the 'Fighting Irish' episode), where Alec Baldwin's character is named Jack Donaghy.
Liz Lemon: Can I help you?
Eddie Donaghy: Yeah, sweetheart: I'm looking for Jack Donaghy.
Liz Lemon: And you are?
Eddie Donaghy: Eddie Donaghy - Jack's brother.
Liz Lemon: Really? 'Cause Jack never mentioned a brother, and his name is "Donagee," not "Donahee."
I couldn't find a video clip online (probably because the first season is out on DVD), but apparently Jack changed his name in order to succeed in business. From what I can tell, the 'Don-a-hee' pronunciation is more common in Ireland, and given the number of times I've had to correct people, it would almost be easier to change it back the other direction. But, what can I say? We're Irish-American - may as well own it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

F-U-N!

Here's Quinn enjoying life during our trip to California...


Monday, September 29, 2008

Data Blogging: the Electoral College

Defenders of the Electoral College claim that it serves to amplify the popular vote margin of victory and therefore (theoretically) enhances the legitimacy of the elected president. I was curious what the data looked like so I plotted it up. (Data courtesy of wikipedia - god help me caveat emptor - here and here.)

This is a plot of percentage of electoral votes vs. the popular vote margin for presidential elections in the past 100 years. Sure enough, the trend shows that the electoral college 'saturates' at somewhere around a 20 percent margin. That is, a 60-40 split in the popular vote will more or less win you a landslide, although there is a fair amount of scatter in the data.

Which is all well and good if you're Reagan in '84 or FDR in '36 (the two largest electoral college landslides on the right end of the trendline), but some of the outliers are pretty interesting too. The two largest popular vote margins (Harding and Coolidge) didn't exactly run away with the electoral college. And for the really close elections (the ones where the winner might want some legitimacy amplification) the effect tends to be pretty small.

And then of course there's poor Al Gore - the only datapoint, in this century, to fall below the x-axis.

[Update: Barack Obama beat John McCain by 6.5% and received 365 electoral votes, which puts him right on the trendline (red dot), and quite close to Bill Clinton's first election.]

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Golden Age

TV on the Radio has a new album out called Dear Science. I can't say I was blown away by the first single ('Golden Age') or its goofy 'cops turn into Care Bears' video, but it's growing on me. It reminds me of Prince or early Michael Jackson filtered through Peter Gabriel. Anyway, here it is - enjoy.

Half the appeal of TVOTR are the beautiful soundscapes they create, so I imagine the actual CD track sounds better than the youtube version. Another track (the raucous 'Dancing Choose') is available streaming from their website.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Strategy and Tactics Redux

James Fallows has some interesting thoughts on the subject, following last night's debate. Worth a read.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Has John McCain lost his mind?

Some things that happened today in the campaign:
  • Obama is up by as much as +9 points in some national polls
  • The NY Times reports that McCain campaign manager was, until recently, receiving $15,000 a month to provide Freddie/Fannie execs with "access" to McCain
  • McCain decides to "suspend his campaign" to focus on the financial crisis and calls for postponing Friday's debate (and the VP debate!)
It really is fascinating to watch these two campaigns because they are total mirror images of each other. The McCain campaign is all tactics, no strategy. They focus on winning the news cycle, attacking and scoring points--which makes perfect sense for an underdog. On the other hand, Obama (the front-runner) is pure strategy. They've got their plan for victory mapped out to the precinct. They keep their head when crises rear up and rarely change course. Sometimes it seems they could care less about the news cycle.

So: a few weeks of bad news and McCain hits the panic button. I'm sure McCain's advisers are high-fiving each other over their latest brilliant move. But I'll bet your average swing voter will see this as McCain trying to get out of turning in his homework. We'll see.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Random Thought about the LHC

So the Large Hadron Collider has turned on, and weirdly, every time I read something about it I am reminded of this exchange between Gandalf and Saruman:
"For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman the Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!"

I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.

"I liked white better," I said.

"White!" he sneered. "It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken."

"In which case it is no longer white," said I. "And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."

[J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring, p. 252]
It always struck me as a weird thing for Gandalf to say. Is he really worried about "breaking" white light to understand how it works? Does it count if you learn enough to put it back together again? Still, I guess it fits with the platonic and pre-scientific feel of Tolkien's universe.

So, anyway, let's raise a flagon of mead, smash some atoms and give a toast to reductionism! Good luck to the LHC - it would be cool if they found the Higgs, but even cooler if they found supersymmetry, or something even wackier.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palindromes

I thought Barack Obama's response to the Sarah Palin family craziness was typically classy:
“Let me be as clear as possible,” said Obama, “I think people’s families are off-limits and people's children are especially off-limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin’s performance as governor, or her potential performance as a vice president.”

Obama said reporters should “back off these kinds of stories” and noted that he was born to an 18 year-old mother.
Hell of a lot classier than John McCain's ugly joke about Chelsea Clinton from back in the 90s, that's for sure (to be fair McCain did apologize, but that's a lot to apologize for).

I've been meaning to post something about Obama's awesome speech last week, but the unrelenting nuttiness of McCain's veep selection process has really been too distracting. Did he seriously just pick someone with a pending ethics investigation and ties to a party advocating for Alaska's secession from the union? Did his team know about this stuff and just think it was no big deal? Or did they - as has been reported - just wing it and go with a clever pick figuring the time had come to take a chance? I mean, she seems like a genuine person, but still. Just. Weird.

As for how this will play out politically, pundit-y types are split on whether it is a bold, game-changing moment from the original maverick ... or a desperate, Hail-Mary ploy from a losing campaign. I'm gonna say that Palin, like virtually all VP picks, will make very little difference in the eventual outcome. Most people vote the top of the ticket. She'll play well to the religious right, but her extreme social conservatism will cost McCain with moderates and her thin resume will blunt his attacks on Obama's experience. I seriously doubt she'll have much appeal to grumpy Hillary voters.

But, honestly, I have no idea how it will play out. This presidential race continues to be exciting and bizarre.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Words Creep Up Inside

In the last week or so Quinn has started talking. Her first real word is "bye" and she loves to repeat it whenever someone leaves the house, or the room, or just looks like they might be going somewhere. She pronounces it "bah," which according to a co-worker is a very southern pronunciation.

The other word she has been saying is "daddy." A few days ago she pointed to me and very clearly said "da-ee." Then she pointed to me in our wedding photo and repeated it.

I was of course totally blown away by this! But since then there has been some evidence that she has a more expansive definition of the word than others do. A variety of other things sometimes get called "da-ee" as well (e.g. Mama, the doorframe, a candle, random other pictures, etc.).

There are other words on the cusp too, like "mama" and "baby." This is just another reminder that there is no bright line between speaking and non-speaking and that we evolve into it gradually. But there is no doubt that Quinn absolutely wants to communicate and will probably be talking up a storm before we know it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gustav Approaches

Since they just decided to evacuate New Orleans in front of the approaching Category 4 Hurricane Gustav, here's another vignette from our trip to the Gulf Coast:

During our work trip we took one afternoon off to go to the beach in Biloxi, hoping that there might be a cool breeze off the Gulf. No such luck. The beach was deserted in the early afternoon (local Biloxians knew better) and hot as the Sahara. The sea water was literally the temperature of a warm bath and there were no waves or wind. After less than hour we were thoroughly boiled and retreated to our air-conditioned trailer. I remember thinking as I waded out into the soup kettle: warmer sea-surface temperatures lead to stronger hurricanes.

(Now I have no idea whether sea-shore temperatures actually really count for much of anything when it comes to hurricanes, but still, it was kind of scary to contemplate.)

(For more hurricane-blogging, check out Chris Mooney and Jeff Masters, and read this plea for not-forgetting from the good folks at Common Ground Relief.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Lower Ninth Ward

I plan to post more on our trip to Biloxi, but for now--on the 3rd anniversary of Katrina's landfall and another hurricane about to swing into the Gulf--I wanted to briefly mention our brief experience in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans last week.

Since we flew into New Orleans and rented a car, we decided to drive through some of the flooded neighborhoods on our way back to the airport. We came into the city from the east along Claiborne Road, and there were clear signs of devastation and rebuilding. We saw entire shopping malls boarded up, but also new and refurbished homes and stores. Maybe one in three buildings still looked badly damaged. As we drew closer to the Canal separating the Lower Ninth from the city center, we decided to take a turn off the main drag onto a side street, and...

I think Laura Jean and I might have both gasped audibly at what we saw. The entire neighborhood was just ... gone. What had once been a full neighborhood of small family homes was now returning to bayou. The grass was four feet tall. Only every twentieth home was still standing and most of those looked like they had been bombed. There were few attempts at rebuilding and even the roads were destroyed--giant potholes and standing water everywhere. It felt like driving through an Iowa cornfield, or a township. Laura Jean described it as being under the ocean.

I'm not entirely sure what I expected--perhaps more like the 'back to life' feeling from the main road--but not this field of bulldozed foundations. In a word, it was shocking.

No photos to share since our camera had stopped working by that point, but this flickr set captures some of the feel of being there. Also after poking around a bit, I found this map showing the depth of the flood waters throughout the city and you can see that these houses were totally destroyed by 1-5 feet of water -- other parts of NOLA were submerged by more than 11 feet!

You can also see some of the destruction in the current google map images of the neighborhood (zoom in), although I think since these pictures were taken many of these houses have been razed to the ground.


View Larger Map

Sunday, August 24, 2008

This Does Not Bode Well...

We're back from our trip to the Gulf Coast, and I have to say, flying sure has become more annoying in the past year. The second leg of our journey was on US Airways and they:
  • charged us $55 to check our bags,
  • tried to charge us $2 for water and $1 for coffee on the in-flight beverage service (no thanks), and, worst of all,
  • we had to listen to an advertisement for a credit card offer, announced over the PA right after they completed the usual safety instructions.
I guess all that brings the face-value of the ticket down a few bucks, but still ... yuk. And all this after the flight was delayed by an electrical problem and they needed time to "reboot" the aircraft by hitting "Ctrl-Alt-Del." Maybe not the best choice of words, is all I'm saying...

At any rate, the flight back was uneventful and we got out just before tropical storm Fay swung through the area.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

withdrawal?

The internet went down at work today ... for the entire day. After the trauma subsided, I was actually fairly productive! It seems that when it comes to the internet, distraction and usefulness fight each other to a standstill. Hmm.

Anyway, we're off on more travels tomorrow - back in a week!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Maps: Pub Trans Edition

DC has a really great Metro system. Measured in terms of density and usefulness, I would place it on the second tier of subway systems I've experienced, behind the London Tube or the NYC subway, but better than BART, CTA and everyone else. In terms of architecture and cleanliness, it really has no equal. It's easy to gripe about, but really, the Metro is quality.

But it could always be improved! Every time I look at the system map I mentally play connect-the-dots and create new and useful subway routes. Greater Greater Washington likes this game too and resurrects a map of proposed Metro additions from the early '90s. Click the image for the full-size version; the current system map is here.

This fantasy version has some nifty features (the Dulles connection and the outbound routes to Baltimore and Annapolis would be great, and the ring line would do miracles for Beltway traffic, I'm sure) but I have to take exception to the Georgetown-Chevy Chase-Wheaton route.

Granted, a Georgetown station would be super-popular and would help the kids who want to go drinking on the weekend not have to pile into taxis to get home. But there are so, so many places in DC more in need of a Metro stop than these. Not for nothing does ggwash dub this the "rich white people's line."

Instead, we really should head north from Georgetown up to Cathedral (drop off some tourists) and then turn east back to Woodley, cross the Rock Creek into Adams-Morgan (another hit with the bar and restaurant crowd) and connect to the Green Line at Columbia Heights. From there the line could turn north up 14th or 16th streets towards Takoma and north DC.

Or, alternately, the route could continue into Northeast towards the Washington Hospital Center (currently not served by Metro!), the Rhode Island Ave station, turn south through Trinidad and Capitol Hill and connect to the Orange/Blue Lines at Potomac Ave. It could even (gasp) jump the river and add some options for the folks in Anacostia.

Anyway, those are my fantasy picks. Granted, a tradeoff does exist between expanding service for suburban commuters (which would take a lot of cars of the road) and creating a truly usable public transportation service for city and inner-suburb people that need it most (i.e. those hardest hit by rising gas prices).

Realistically, the politics of expanding Metro revolve around getting either Maryland or Virginia to pony up some cash (hence the planned Silver Line to Dulles or the Purple Line proposal) whereas increasing transit density and usefulness for DC residents falls mainly on our already overstretched tax base. Still, these types of investments are bound to payoff in the long run.

(via transit pornographer Matt Yglesias. More Metro extension proposals found here.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Crawling!

In which Quinn crawls around, acts cute, shouts, pulls herself up on stuff...

Quinn's actually been crawling for about a month now, but this video shows off her mad skills pretty well I think. (For best results, turn down the volume - the guy talking in the background has an annoying squeaky voice, apparently.) YouTube link here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Katrina aftermath reading list

This coming weekend we'll be flying down to New Orleans as part of a mission trip with our church to rebuild homes (mostly in Biloxi, MS) destroyed by Katrina. Yes, it will likely be hotter than hell down there. Woo hoo.

Anyway, I've been doing a bit of reading about what's been going on in the 3 years since Katrina. Here are a few interesting articles:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oil Lobbyists Say The Darnedest Things

Quote of the day, from an unidentified Chevron lobbyist to a Newsweek reporter:
"The ultimate issue here is Ecuador has mistreated a U.S. company. We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this—companies that have made big investments around the world."
I mean, wow, god forbid a U.S. corporation could be held accountable by a sovereign nation for screwing over Ecuadorians and poisoning their environment. What has the world come to? Thank god we have lobbyists around to pressure the Bush administration to revoke their trade status in retaliation.

(For more info see chevrontoxico.com, and Chevron's rebuttal here.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Quinn Around the World


We just got back from several weeks of travel (Las Vegas, Fresno, San Francisco, and then New York City) so I thought I would post some pics. It's been a big several weeks for Quinn - she's gone mobile in more ways than one. Apart from seeing the world, Quinn has started crawling with a vengeance, and loves pulling herself up on anything within reach to see what trouble she can get herself into. Also, she's sprouted teeth. Very exciting on the parenting front!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quote/Music

Quote of the Day:

"The Germans must have a word for the heartbreak you experience when you see that some of your favorite music is on sale at Starbucks." --Spencer Ackerman

(Jackie, is it true?) Thankfully I haven't seen Fugazi on sale there yet.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Annals of Dumb, Vol. 6,772

The ACLU credibly estimates that the terrorist watch list (i.e. the "no-fly list") now has over one million names and is growing at an estimated 20,000 names per month.

Apart from the huge problem of the complete lack of due process in getting on or off this list, does anyone really think such an enormous list has any serious purpose? A bad database is worse than no database at all if you're actually trying to catch real terrorists. You just can't convince me that each of these names are backed up by solid information. More likely, it's a handful of useful info smothered in a big steaming pile of hunches, aliases, handles, common names and other stale spreadsheet bilge.

This list is just the names -- you'd have to multiply by the number of likely false positives to get the total number of people affected by this. And remember, these are the same geniuses who are reading data-mining your emails and phone conversations.

(h/t Kevin Drum.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Earth From Above


The shoreline of Lake Mead. (While on our trip to Vegas, we took a brief plane ride over the Grand Canyon -- amazing! -- and snapped this photo.) The region is currently in a drought and the lake is way way down and so this stretch of shoreline is usually underwater. Which is partly why it looks so bleached, although, honestly, the area around the lake is pretty stark to begin with.

(fyi Earth From Above is also the name of a fairly amazing series of photos by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Vegas (with) Baby!

We're off to Las Vegas and points beyond tomorrow night for weddings and vacation, so no bloggy for a while. But for now I'll leave you with John Stewart and yet more shenanigans at the EPA.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Harper's Ferry

My mom and dad (and, later, my sister Jessica) came to visit us over Memorial Day weekend for Quinn's dedication ceremony. To celebrate we decided to skip town. We rented a house with a terrific view of Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, and spent a day or so wandering around and sitting on the porch swing.

Harper's Ferry sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, which eventually flow down from the Appalachians to D.C. and out to the Chesapeake Bay. It was the site of John Brown's failed slave uprising (although he was executed there, his body lies a'mouldering elsewhere) and a series of battles in the Civil War. The town is now a historic park (flooded with school kids most days) and it shows its history. For example, right beneath our house stands a ruined church and the headstones in the cemetery behind the house date to the mid-1700s. The Appalachian Trail ran just yards from the house to take you to either Georgia or Maine, depending.

Anyway, it was a fun and relaxing weekend - here's a slideshow of some pics (picasa link):

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Quote of the Day

Hoo boy.
"If there's one thing poll after poll indicates, it's that the science is not settled on this issue."
-- an anonymous Republican Senator
"This issue" is, of course, climate change. (via Yglesias and the National Journal.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Baby's First Baseball Game!

My family was in town a few weeks ago (more on that soon) and we took Quinn to see the Washington Nationals play the Milwaukee Brewers. It was a beautiful day at the ballpark - even if the cellar-dwelling Nats lost 2-5.

Here's Quinn with her rally cap, getting some baseball tips from her two grandpas.

Here's Grandma and Auntie Jessica having a good time...


Shiny new Nationals Field (which is actually pretty cool - the food is darn good, as advertised)



Monday, June 09, 2008

Hyde Park Hit

This week the cover article for the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard is about Chicago's Hyde Park -- home to the University of Chicago and, of course, Barack Obama. The article is a mix of insight, glaring oversight and a handful of cheap shots. The author, Andrew Ferguson, more or less concludes that Hyde Park, for all its racial integration, is really an exclusive country club in disguise. To paraphrase one interviewee, Hyde Park doesn't have any class conflict because there is only one class -- upper. And thus, Obama's neighborhood betrays all his supposed faults, especially his lack of authenticity, wealth and elitism.

This would hardly be blog-worthy if it were just the same old line used on every democratic nominee since McGovern. But, damn it, I lived in Hyde Park for six years, and if you're going to slam the hood (and all the good people who live there) at least get your story straight. My main impression of the article was that Ferguson had spent a couple of days there, walked around a bit, talked to a bunch of rich acquaintances and then wrote it up. He mentions all the pieces that don't fit this cozy thesis (like the lack of expensive restaurants), and breezes right over them.

To be sure Hyde Park has some wealthy inhabitants and the university loves to burnish its image as the ivory-est of ivory towers. And crucially, as Ferguson relates, there is an ugly history to its isolationism that the university is still trying to live down (although considerably less ugly than other parts of Chicago).

Yet when I lived there, I had friends who were waiters and construction workers and, you know, starving humanities grad students living out of their cars. Our church had a handful of professors but a larger number of regular neighborhood folks. Next door was an immigrant family who were running a church out of an un-rented apartment in our building. In the summer, everyone goes to the beach and plays softball in the park and enjoys the long evenings. Among the students, there was a fair bit of griping about the place - but almost none of it had to do with HP being too upscale.

In fact, the rep was usually just the opposite. One prof of mine used to complain about how hard it was to find a decent latte. Non-south-siders often worried for your safety when you told them where you lived. Obnoxious freshmen made jokes about bullet-proof vests. But that's not fair either. HP isn't the ghetto - it's a middle class black neighborhood with a world class university grafted onto it. This combination makes it unusual, but not in the trite ways Ferguson implies. In short, a college town, warts and all.

Hyde Park is by no means perfect, but I loved living there, and it deserves a fuller telling of its charms and flaws and history than this cheap political pop psychology.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

5K of Muggy

Yesterday morn we ran the Race for the Cure down on the national mall, and even though it started at 8am, the day was hot and humid and shrouded in fog. (The fog burned off after it got up past 99 degrees later that afternoon). Absolutely terrible weather for a run, but still fun--so long as you hydrate properly.

I ran the course, while Laura Jean and Jesse pushed Quinn and Grace in strollers (running the last mile once it spread out enough). (Laura hurt her knee in a kickball-related injury and had to watch from the sidelines.) I started at the back of the runners pack and there were so many people in front of me that I really couldn't run for the first full mile and I was dodging in and out of the crowded pack all the way to the finish line. You can get some idea of the sheer number of people from this picture at the finish:

The most fun about these mass events is the people watching and tracking the swirl of subcultures. It is amazing to see such a broad swath of America represented at this race--all colors, ethnicities, ages, genders, regions, orientations--a sure sign that breast cancer intrudes on far too many lives. T-shirts representing teams from all types of jobs, families galore, homemade testaments to loved ones, pink shirts heralding cancer survivors. (Two of the more amusing are the ever-present "Save the Ta-Tas" shirts, and clever, homemade versions proclaiming "Save Second Base".)


It was also great to see family. Above Grace is giving Quinn some big-cousin-ly support. And here's Team Torgerson attempting to cool off in the shade after the race.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Race For The Cure

Laura Jean, Quinn, myself and several other Torger-folk will be run/walk/stroller-ing in the Race for the Cure this Saturday. Here's our team page; donations go to support basic breast cancer research and community outreach. It's also (allegedly?) the largest 5K race in the world.

Pictures will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Finish Line

Obama wins! What a crazy primary - can't say I'm sorry its over (fingers crossed). More to say later, no doubt, but for now I think its a great night for the nation and potentially a first step for a potentially great president.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Back Before Babylon, Sh*t Was Coooool

Everyone knows that hippie jam bands are, like, totally the opposite of punk, or at the very least, are not easily reconciled to the harsher genre. And yet, this track by Les Savy Fav is like a rambling 30-minute Grateful Dead jam compressed and intensified by high-pressures at the center of earth.

A maddening guitar riff kicks off the song like your 6 a.m. alarm clock, goes around in circles and then abruptly disappears halfway through the track, never to return. Just as I'm feeling its absence, a deeper riff rises up and kicks the song into outer space. Like some of the best New Pornographers songs, this one seems bursting at the seams with 5 or 6 good ideas crammed in on top of each other.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Simpsons and the EPA

For obvious reasons, over the past year I have become a complete and utter nerd about anything to do with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I've had my pop-culture feelers uniquely attuned to EPA-related tidbits, and I have to say, for all the non-stop talk about the environment, the EPA is almost never the focus. Environmental stories are often about global warming (which isn't really the EPA's beat...yet), or more interested in the polluters (think Erin Brockovich) than the cleaner-uppers. The agency simply doesn't have the cultural cachet of NASA or the FBI. Not too surprising, I guess.

With one recent exception: the Simpsons Movie.

For the record, I thought TSM was hilarious and awesome, even apart from the EPA-related plotline. The movie gets a lot of comic mileage out of portraying the EPA as a ruthlessly efficient SWAT team for the environment (heh, if only) whose slick administrator, Russ Cargill, has President Schwarzenegger's ear:

Another quote:
Cargill: You know, sir, when you made me head of the EPA, you were applauded for appointing one of the most successful men in the America to the least successful agency in government. And why did I take the job? Cause I'm a rich man, and wanted to give something back. Not the money, but something. So here's our chance to kick some ass for Mother Earth!
To me, the message here is a little muddled, but no matter. The show's libertarian and skeptical (nay, anarchist!) tendencies are apparent in the plot, which involves an environmental catastrophe and the EPA's modestly proposed "solution." The disaster is visited on Springfield not by Mr. Burns (who, sadly, only merits a short scene), but by Homer's stupidity. It's an actual environmental threat, but the EPA's over-reaction might have been scripted by the Heritage Foundation. The bottom line for the Simpsons: the people in charge don't care about you! And that goes equally for politicians as for sinister nuclear plutocrats. If anyone is going to save us, it will probably be Lisa Simpson.

To peel back another layer, the DVD has an alternate deleted scene of the meeting between Cargill and the President. In this scene the EPA head is an entirely different character. This model of Cargill is a dowdy, earnest, Mr. Rogers-looking bureaucrat (perhaps a scientist?) who goes through a complicated, Al Gore-like pantomime to try to communicate the pollution problem facing Springfield:


The Simpsons Movie: Deleted Scenes

So it seems we can't quite decide if we think the EPA is meek and competent, or forceful and misguided. Maybe it's funny both ways? Sadly, in the real world, the current EPA administrator seems to combine the worst of both worlds. For example, NRDC's John Walke provides the insider details of EPA's attempt to set ozone air pollution standards and getting totally pwned by the White House.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

0.5

Quinn is six months old today! Happy Half-Birthday Quinn! We love you and are amazed at how big you've grown. Six months sure does fly by. Love, Mama and Daddy




Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Here. Have some R.E.M.

R.E.M.'s new album sounds pretty damn cool, I have to say. In addition to this one ("Hollow Man"), their first single ("Supernatural, Superserious") rocks pretty hard too.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mothers Days

Happy First Mother's Day, Laura Jean! We love you! love, Quinn and Tim



And Happy Mother's Day to my mom also!


and to all the other wonderful mothers in our lives!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Interference at the EPA

A few weeks ago we released the big report I've been working on for much of the past year, entitled Interference at the EPA: Science and Politics at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Based on a survey of more than 1,500 scientists who work at the EPA and a series of interviews, the report documents our investigation of political interference in the work of those who keep the American public safe from air pollution, toxic chemicals and other environmental threats. Anyway, you can download the PDF and other goodies at the link.

We got a fair bit of press, including stories by the Associated Press (which quoted me!), the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. There were also some very thoughtful blog posts including Chris Mooney writing on Science Progress, the Wonk Room and the Pump Handle.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Quote of the Day

I'm not a huge fan of the Post's Sebastian Mallaby, but this was spot on:
Excuse me, but which is it? Am I supposed to believe that Obama is a supercilious elitist or a menacing ghetto radical? Is he contemptuous of religion or too close to a religious leader?
Good question. Also: what Bill Moyers said.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Life Finds A Way

One of the coolest things about our neighborhood are the beautiful trees lining our street. (These pics were taken in the fall, but now that its spring we're getting outside and getting to know our hood a little bit more, and the trees have suddenly burst into green. I'll try to post newer pictures too.)


These trees all have enormous root structures that have pushed their way up through the brick and concrete. I'm guessing they have such a weird low-lying shape because they expanded laterally under the concrete for decades until they could be contained no longer and finally burst forth. They always remind me of risen loaves of bread...


From this angle, the root seems to drip over the edge of the curb, like a pot of wood that has boiled over and then hardened. Or a lava flow.


This tree has long since captured a street signpost and twisted it like a plastic straw. Life finds a way.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hillary for Veep?

Kevin Drum provides a little solace for those of us worried that this interminable Democratic primary is harming the party's chances in the fall (see also: Chait Cohn and Douthat). Apparently the Clinton - Obama bickering isn't really helping McCain at all in the polls.

Elections are non-reproducible experiments, and all the myriad commentators are simply generals re-fighting the last war, so really ... who knows what the fall will bring. Still, I keep wondering if a "party unity" Obama-Clinton ticket will emerge out of the fray? As a strong Obama supporter, I know this isn't a likely or popular position to take. I still think the winds are blowing in a Democratic direction this year and either Obama or Clinton can realistically beat McCain, but it seems to me a unity ticket might still be the best option for doing so.

Barring any shenanigans it looks like Obama has the nomination within his grasp and it's possible that the party elders will pressure him to offer the veep job to Hillary to stave off a total convention meltdown. And actually she might be a good fit. A good VP brings balance to the ticket and serves as an attack dog, allowing the candidate to stay above the fray. Hillary could easily fill both roles. She might also quiet criticism about Obama's lack of experience -- playing Johnson to his Kennedy, Bush to his Reagan.

Plus, in a weird way, taking the VP job might be Hillary's best path to the Oval Office. But, like I said, who really knows?