Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Big Snow

Last weekend we got walloped by almost 2 feet of snow - the most snow DC had seen in decades and the city basically shut down for a few days. Anyway, here's a cute clip of Quinn playing in the snow and helping us shovel the steps.

The next day, the sun came out and we all dug out our cars.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Top 9 in '09: Books

It seems like I spent half the year reading Infinite Jest (it's really long!), but I actually did get to a few other books too. Here are my favorites from the past year. Click to read my mini-reviews on goodreads.
  1. Infinite Jest :: by David Foster Wallace
  2. Doubt is Their Product :: by David Michaels
  3. The Name of the Wind :: by Patrick Rothfuss
  4. Anathem :: by Neal Stephenson
  5. The City & the City :: by China Miéville
  6. Globalization and its Discontents :: by Joseph Stiglitz
  7. Watchmen :: by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  8. Road Dogs :: by Elmore Leonard
  9. Michael Collins :: by Tim Pat Coogan

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I lived on the moon

Awesomely trippy music video from a band called Kwoon - definitely watch until the 2-minute mark, where the gentle acoustic vibe upshifts into Pink Floyd territory. (Via.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

DC Driving

Yglesias nominates for "Worst Intersection in DC" this one, at the confluence of RI, FL, NJ avenues, S street and 4th street NW. Its funny since I used to live two blocks away from this and it still features prominently in my bike route to work. The tangle is exacerbated by DC's overly-restrictive traffic laws - for example there are no guarantees that you'll be able to (legally) turn the direction you want to at any given light.

In fact, it's better not to drive anywhere new in DC without having google-mapped it first. Between the diagonal streets, the circles, the one-ways, the bridges, the Mall, the Park and other distortions, it's not a very fault tolerant city for driving.

It's not so bad on a bike, but could stand to have a lot more bike lanes.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Climate Psychology

I've been thinking about the SwiftHack scandal, that frothy souffle of messenger-shooting that has been whipped up on the eve of the Copenhagen climate negotiations. As I'm sure everyone has read, the computers of the University of East Anglia were hacked and many years of e-mails between the world's top climate scientists were posted on the internet to great hullaballoo.

The intertubes are clogged with analysis of the incident so I won't add more, but scientifically speaking, there doesn't seem to be a smoking gun here (although some of the FOIA-related e-mails are troubling from an open-government perspective). Yet, as a media-driven political scandal, it seems to have legs. Chris Mooney is even worried that it will seriously damage the credibility of climate science.

Part of this persistence is undoubtedly due to the widening partisan gap in perceptions on climate change science. But the fact that climate science is tough for your average layperson to viscerally relate to is undoubtedly a key underlying factor. Global warming is a slow-moving crisis that you can't really understand without wading into scientific studies -- and that requires "trusting" experts rather than your own eyes. For example, Matt Yglesias makes a good point:
The choice of a Scandinavian capital in December is in some ways unfortunate since it’s bound to give rise to some scenario in which it’s very cold one day and this “proves” to Matt Drudge that climate change is fake.
And not just Drudge! I would guess that many well-meaning people are honestly convinced, one way or other, by a particularly memorable hot day or extended cold snap, or their own local experiences. This instinct is totally natural, but of course the whole idea of science is to move beyond supposedly "obvious" first impressions.

One interesting result that might feel more "real" came last month from Meehl et al. at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. They studied record high and low temperatures across the U.S. and found that, over the past decade, record highs were twice as common as record low temperatures. And that ratio has been growing over the past 50 years.
Might be worth mentioning next time someone recalls a cold day as evidence of global cooling.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Is the decade over already?

The AV Club has been pulling together its "best of decade" lists for (among other things) books, music and movies. (Jackie blogged about the best books list here.)

There are so many sub-genres in music and books and the sheer volume of artistic production making any "best of" list somewhat idiosyncratic and provincial. For example, the AV Club music writers specialize in hipster indie rock, with a smattering of other genres (hip hop, metal, alt-country) dropped into the mix. Which is great, but it makes you wonder what you're missing.

But there are only so many movies made each year, such that a dedicated film critic can actually see a fair fraction of them. That makes the inevitable movie lists somewhat more canonical.

The AVC movie list doesn't disappoint. In particular, I really can't argue with their choice for Best Movie of the Aughts -- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Every time I see the film it looms larger - wholly original and oddly comforting for a movie that deals with the fading of love and memory reprogramming. It dazzles you with its cleverness and intricacy but ultimately wins your heart (or at least mine) by tapping into more primal feelings of rebirth and possibility. It is not often that movies hit both of those notes as clearly as this one.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Spike Lee's 25th Hour clock in at #2. I liked it a lot when I first saw it, but it would be interesting to see if it holds up. Edward Norton rocks. I was also happy to see some love shown for:
  • Spirited Away (#6)
  • Children of Men (#10)
  • Y Tu Mamá También (#15)
  • Mulholland Drive (#18)
  • United 93 (#22)
  • The Incredibles (#26)
  • A.I. (#32) [*]
  • Pan's Labyrinth (#36)
  • The Prestige (#39)
  • City of God (#40)
  • The Dark Knight (#41)
The rest of the list is rounded out by excellent films. Of the films I had seen, the only one I scratched my head at was The Man Who Wasn't There, a lesser Coen Bros. effort that I remember finding fairly dull at the time. Totally on board with No Country For Old Men at #4, however.

[* Laura Jean mocks me for liking this one. She thinks it is pretentious crap.]


Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster -- a massive chemical release at a Union Carbide plant in India that killed between 4 and 10,000 people in the first few days and more than 20,000 people in the years since. The Big Picture devotes its daily photo essay to the tragedy, which can be seen here.

Justice for the victims has been elusive and the company (naturally) claims its innocence. Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemical) settled with the Indian government for a pathetically small sum in 1989 and the actual victims saw very little of the cash. Furthermore, the company never cleaned up the site, chemicals from which are apparently still leaking into the local groundwater. There is apparently a warrant out for the arrest of the former CEO, should he ever set foot in India.

So yeah, a pretty crappy situation. If you're interested in learning more check out Students for Bhopal, who recently helped organize a series of actions to mark the anniversary.