Thursday, January 31, 2013

Winooski, Vermont

So the Daily Dish has a weekly contest where he posts a random "View from Your Window" and his readers guess where it is. (Actually, they geek out and often not only identify the exact location but also the specific location from which the picture was taken.) This week's picture was from Winooski, Vermont, which I used to travel through on a weekly basis when growing up in Essex Junction and attending college at UVM. Sullivan's readers, as they solved the contest, weighed in with all sorts of minutia that taught me so much about this small town that I spent a large portion of my life in. And pointed me towards the excellent video embedded above. Damn, I love Vermont.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

When Two People Meet

"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."

- Carl Jung

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Funny

An excellent xkcd:

Quinoa Dilemma, Cont.

The Dish has posted some reactions to the article I linked to yesterday with some excellent points, disparaging the knock on vegans (I agree) and also making the excellent point that
"Nowhere in the article does she even mention that farmers become wealthier when the price of their crop increases. I am not an expert in the industrial organization of Bolivian quinoa farmers, but presumably they could choose to continue consuming quinoa, instead of exporting it, if they felt that was best. For Bolivian farmers, at least, the rising price of quinoa only increased their set of options."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Quinoa Dilemma

The Guardian alerts us to the fact that Bolivians can't afford their once-ubiquitous quinoa because of price increases driven by high demand. Money quote:
The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fueled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.

In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It's beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country's food security
I'm torn about this one. On one hand, it would be hard to give up quinoa, mainly because it's awesome. As this and many other articles states, it's extra tasty and "...has a high protein content (between 14%-18%), and it contains all those pesky, yet essential, amino acids needed for good health." On the other hand, the picture that this article paints is not a pretty one for the farmers of the grain (although I might add, it's a bit too judgmental on "self-obsessed vegans" for it's own good). I'm afraid that I don't know much about growing quinoa, but the article implies that it's only grown successfully in South America:
"Three years ago, the pioneering Fife Diet, Europe's biggest local food-eating project, sowed an experimental crop of quinoa. It failed, and the experiment has not been repeated. But the attempt at least recognized the need to strengthen our own food security by lessening our reliance on imported foods, and looking first and foremost to what can be grown, or reared, on our doorstep."
One of the under reported elements of the global food explosion, to me, has been the unintended consequences of the appetites of the first world. In some instances, like the importance of shade-grown and fair trade coffee, the effects are well-known. Others, like the effect of cheap US-grown corn on the Mexican  farmer, or apparently the quinoa issue, are much less so.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Speak So Loudly

“What you do should speak so loudly that no one will hear what you say.”

- Marv Levy

Thursday, January 17, 2013


You know you're a parent when you've been hard at work for four hours, and you've just gotten to work.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First Lines of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's "Roadside Picnic"

"The other day, we're standing in the repository; it's evening already, nothing left to do but dump the lab suits, then I can head down to the Borscht for my daily dose of booze. I'm relaxing, leaning on the wall, my work all done and a cigarette at the ready, dying for a smoke - I haven't smoked for two hours - while he keeps fiddling with his treasures."

- Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, from the first "real" chapter of an excellent translation of Roadside Picnic. This book, a majority of which is written in a mesmerizing first-person narrative, is much better than I expected. I can see why it inspired both a movie and a video game.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Power of Love

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."

- Sri Chinmoy Ghose

Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Review: Pete Townshend's "Who I Am"

Pete Townshend is a dauntingly intelligent man – so much so that he rightfully gained a reputation as the “go-to” interview in rock music from the time The Who exploded on the scene in 1965 to the early 90s when he released his last solo album.  His blog, before mystifyingly disappearing behind a paywall at, was an extension of his interviewing voice, a piercing intellect that’s pretentiously well aware of its place in history but tempered with an almost crippling sense of humility. In addition, starting in the mid-80s, he  spent a long period of time as an editor at Faber & Faber. All of this made me anticipate his memoir, Who I Am, released late last year, all the more. I mean, Townshend’s such an articulate thinker, his take on his own life was bound to be good.

So it came as quite a shock that he didn't devote the insight he demonstrates in other arenas to his own life.
On the whole, Who I Am follows the typical rock-star narrative of formative years, early fame, excess, and a leveling off. Dates, albums, and names (so very many names) speed by in numbing proliferation. Occasionally, the book comes alive when he takes the time to detail more specifics, like his childhood, some of gestation periods of his more famous albums, and when relating the confusion that led to his arrest on suspicion of child pornography (he was quickly exonerated). While I suspect that his publisher really cut the narrative to the bone in order to get his whole story within two hardcovers, this is a book that could have been so much more - where's the open ended musings that mark the best of his past writing?. Ah well... As Hall n’ Oates sang, “All I see are missed opportunities.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Writing Advice from the Jazz Age

I'm not a big fan of "how to write" books, but Brain Pickings has posted two letters of writing advice from F. Scott Fitzgerald to two aspiring writers - one of whom is his daughter! - that are witty, intelligent, and moving. Money quote:
"You've got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell."

Selling Door-to-Door

Within the span of three hours last night, I had no less than three people come to my front door in an attempt to sell me something. Dear Girl Scouts, Comcast, and WGBH, a few factors to consider when trying to separate me from my hard-earned money:

  • Door-to-door sales do not work because they work on your timetable, not mine. 
  • If I tell you i'm busy, and have a crying infant in my arms, I really don't want to talk to you. Trying out different arguments won't make any difference.
  • If you do your rounds and notice that people in the neighborhood are frustrated because they've been bothered THREE times in one night, it might be time to hang it up for the night. 
  • No means no. If I say no, don't keep talking. The odds of me buying your product just dropped incrementally.
Quite frankly, i'm amazed that people still try to do door-to-door sales anymore - it seems inefficient, alienating to your customers, and resource intensive. Is there some success metric arguing against this of which that i'm unaware? 

The Man in the Arena

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hagel and Cutting Military Budgets

While I don't pretend to know anything about foreign policy, and even less about US/Israli relations, even I know something is up with this big dust-up with Obama's nominating Chuck Hagel to be Defense Secretary. I mean, when the GOP turns on one of their own, you know something bigger is going on. The general sense I get is that he's unafraid to speak truth to power, meaning that he'd have no problem with cutting bloat in the Pentagon budget (which, despite what many in the beltway think, is a good thing!)

Anyways, to learn more, I found Peter Beinart's article in the Daily Beast informative, this passage in particular:
What makes Hagel so important, and so threatening to the Republican foreign-policy elite, is that he is one of the few prominent Republican-aligned politicians and commentators (George Will and Francis Fukuyama are others, but such voices are rare) who was intellectually changed by Iraq. And Hagel was changed, in large measure, because he bore within him intellectual (and physical) scar tissue from Vietnam. As my former colleague John Judis captured brilliantly in a 2007 New Republic profile, the Iraq War sparked something visceral in Hagel, as the former Vietnam rifleman realized that, once again, detached and self-interested elites were sending working-class kids like himself to die in a war they couldn’t honestly defend. It is certainly true that some politicians who served in Vietnam—for instance, John McCain—did not react to Iraq that way. But it is also true that the fact that so few American politicians and pundits lived the kind of wartime hell Hagel endured made it easier for them to pass through the Iraq years unscathed.
But Iraq and Afghanistan have convinced Hagel that boosting American military spending, and extending America’s global military footprint, can weaken national security if they drive America deeper into debt. Like his hero, Eisenhower, who slashed defense spending because, according to his Treasury secretary, he “feared deficits almost more than he feared the communists,” Hagel believes the defense budget must “be pared down,” because he refuses to divorce the conversation about military spending from the conversation about fiscal solvency.
If true, this is an encouraging development. Here's hoping this country can take the first step towards reigning in the military/industrial complex, without which any real debt-management effort will be handicapped.

Monday, January 7, 2013

First Lines of "Under the Volcano"

"Two mountain chains traverse the republic from North to South, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaus. Overlooking one of these valleys, which is dominated by two volcanos, lies, six thousand feet above sea level, the town of Quauhnahuac."

- Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Ghost in Me

There's a ghost in me/
who wants to say I'm sorry/
doesn't mean I'm sorry

Ladytron, from "Ghosts" off of Velocifero